One sunny morning, as I was driving down the highway headed to the mall, I listened to an interview, on CBC radio, with Chrystia Freeland, then Minister of International Trade in the Canadian government. She was explaining, clearly and in a way I could perfectly understand, the Canada-European Union Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which had taken years to negotiate and which had finally and very recently been signed. And I thought, what a well spoken, impressive, confident young woman she seemed. Especially when the interviewer asked her about the possibility that the trade deal might only serve to enrich the already rich, the infamous 1% in our society… “Well, as you know that has long been an area of interest of mine,” she said. “In fact I wrote a book on it,” she chuckled. Not a brash or snide chuckle of bravado, more of a rueful chuckle, as if she were embarrassed that she’d been called upon to toot her own horn. And of course she knows perfectly well what she’s talking about in this area. She’s written two well respected books, the latest one called Plutocrats: Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.
My intention is not to go into the trade deal specifics here, or even to discuss politics. I just want to say that right then, at that moment, I kind of wished that I was fifteen again. Because, if I were fifteen again, then I could say that when I grow up I want to be just like Chrystia Freeland.
|Freeland, left, at the swearing in ceremony last week at Rideau Hall. source
And I smiled to myself again today when I heard Chrystia Freeland, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, speak about the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. How lucky we are to have this woman as Canada’s top diplomat. I’m pleased that this smart, savvy, Harvard and Oxford educated, former high-flying journalist, author, grandchild of Ukrainian immigrants is, in many contexts, the face Canada presents to the world. What a fabulous role model she is for girls and young women in Canada. For young women anywhere, actually.
Because I think the world needs positive role models right now. In particular positive female role models. Leaders in our society who present to the world a smart, caring, compassionate face. Leaders whom we all can look up to, but most importantly leaders our young people can look up to, and hope to emulate. I mean that’s the really important part, don’t you think? And they’re out there, folks. It’s just that we haven’t been focusing on them lately.
Take Jody Wilson-Raybould
, for example. She’s Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General. And she’s aboriginal. A lawyer and former regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. How’s that for a positive role model for Canadian girls, and most especially for Canadian girls of First Nations heritage? Pretty darned cool, I’d say.
And ironically, sitting beside Wilson-Raybould in the photo below is one of my own former role models. Kim Campbell. Oh, how I admired her back in the day. I remember when I first heard her on the radio when she was Minister of Justice back in the nineties, so cool and smart and measured in her responses to the interviewer. The first woman in parliament who I thought had it all goin’ on. I still think that actually. So what if she became Prime Minister in 1993 only because she won the Progressive Conservative party leadership when the hugely unpopular Brian Mulroney resigned a few months before an election? So what if she was only Prime Minister for a few months? I remember that she was pilloried in the press during the election campaign. In particular, I recall one evening becoming incensed on her behalf when a reporter commented on the unflattering (according to him) white pants she was wearing at a rally. So what that she lost the election when the Liberals won a landslide victory? According to one source
I’ve read, one of the reasons she lost was that her “frank honesty,” in direct contrast to Mulroney’s “highly polished style,” got her into hot water. And the fact that she admitted to a reporter that it was unlikely that the deficit or unemployment would be much reduced “before the end of the century.” No matter that that’s exactly what happened. Mustn’t be honest during an election campaign, Kim. Sigh. I still think she’s fabulous.
|Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada with former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, herself a former Minister of Justice.
So maybe we should pause here to think about what makes someone a good role model. Certainly all these women are smart, very well educated, and highly successful in their careers even before they entered the political ring. And as far as Kim Campbell goes, successful when she exited the political fray. They all wield or have wielded considerable power. But it’s how they wield this power and what they choose to do with it that matters most, I think. Being successful, or rich, or powerful alone doesn’t make someone a good role model. In fact, I’m not even sure that I know what makes a good role model. I guess we all have our own definitions. For me it’s always been someone who holds values and qualities to which I aspire. And who can wield power responsibly, sensibly, and with respect for others. As a young woman, I admired Kim Campbell’s calm confidence and her obvious intelligence. And her ability to survive in a field dominated by men. And later I admired how she remade her life, and her career, after her crushing political defeat.
I’m chuckling now. I can almost hear the internet trolls growling as I write this… what about when she did this, or said that, or spent this amount of taxpayers money on such and such? And I want to emulate Bugs Bunny, another one of my heroes, and say: “Aah, shaddup.” Let’s not split hairs. Stop talking partisan politics. And let’s all agree that whether or not we like or dislike the political views of any of these women, we have to admit that they are impressive.
But you know, you don’t have to be powerful, rich, or even that successful… in the sense that these women have been successful… to be good role model.
Many years ago when I was a young teacher and was desperately trying to finagle a transfer from my job at an adult high school to what I really wanted to be doing which was teaching adolescents, I remember my principal encouraging me to keep trying. He said that I would be “a good role model for teenagers.” I kind of laughed at that. Really, me? I know he probably meant that I was a lot younger than many of the high school teachers in our board at that time. Declining enrollment in our schools had slowed the hiring of young teachers to a trickle. I know he was thinking that I was lively, had a good sense of humour, loved sports, and reading, and such. But he didn’t know what I knew, that I was anything but a good role model.
I mean, hadn’t I flailed
about for years before I settled into teaching? Hadn’t I tried numerous jobs, quit university, worked as a cosmetician, then returned to school to finish my degree, took a job I hated, then chucked it all and moved back home for a year, before I finally returned to Ottawa and settled down to the job I grew to love? Yes, I had. And who wants to emulate someone who has taken that convoluted pathway?
Well, turns out it was all that flailing which helped me relate to kids in high school. Kids who were facing that huge question: What to do with their lives? Especially kids who were struggling with the answer. Turns out that opening up to kids, and to parents, about my own struggles was a good thing. As one friend who has sons who were flailing said to me, “Oh, Sue. I look at you and it always makes me feel better about the boys. If you turned out so well, maybe they will too.” I never, never forgot that. I think that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Anyway, I guess my point here is that role models don’t have to be perfect. Or have taken the direct route to success. Sometimes the scenic route can be more inspiring or comforting to kids who are plotting their own course.
I’ve digressed a bit from my earlier discussion about positive role models for young women. I guess the whole point of this post is that we all need to try to be positive role models for girls and young women. And not to underestimate the power of our ability to make a difference in someone’s life. Whether we’re parents, teachers, politicians, sales clerks, or snow plow drivers.
I love the fact that the new snow plow operator who plows our road is a woman. Hubby says the “lady driver” is much better than the male drivers ever were. More considerate. We live at the end of a road, and after she turns the plow, as she passes by a second time, she makes a dip into our driveway to scoop out some of the pile she’s just deposited there. Thus saving Hubby a heck of a lot of shoveling. Then Hubby gives her a cheery wave from the window, and she always waves back. So… considerate and friendly.
Now, that’s behaviour we all should emulate.
As I was writing this post, on one of my trips into the kitchen for a cup of tea, I asked Hubby who his role models had been when he was growing up. What an interesting discussion we had. About who each of us had admired and why.
So now it’s your turn. Want to weigh in on the power of positive role models? Who were your role models when you were growing up?