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Strong roles, no rules July 15, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, family, journey, learn, life, women.
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17 comments

in Eden

Janet (Lavenderbay) took this photo of me getting close to… nature.

Not that I’m feeling nostalgic or anything, but yesterday I found a fascinating quiz thanks to a post on Feminist Philosophers. The quiz is based on a Marital Scale which “draws on the opinions of over 600 couples in the 1930s and what they most frequently voiced as flaws and virtues in their spouses”.

Yes, this test is loaded with 1930s’ expectations of how husbands and wives should look, act, and talk. You are rated on whether you leave your socks on the floor or squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube, whether you praise your partner in front of friends, or boast about your bachelor days.

Mme LiberteBut the 1930s were not that long ago. My parents grew up in that era, and if you are younger than me, you may still have been brought up to meet 1930s’ standards.

Although I’m contrary by nature, I believe my nurture instilled in me certain ideas that are sealed into my psyche. These ideas were based not only on my parents’ roles and relationship, but also on what I saw in the wider world. We had policemen and firemen, and the church minister and the mayor were male. Although there were some strong female models — the principal of my elementary school was a woman, and I grew up reading girls’ adventure stories — by and large, I didn’t imagine myself in a strong role. Until I reached university, I never really expected to be anything other than a housewife and mother.

crucified womanIn university, my world turned upside down. I fell in love… with a woman. From that point on, I’ve consciously tried to resist any expectation of women in a secondary role. I now work for a women’s organization, so this doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I have challenged more than a few men who’ve left a mess in the kitchen at work. Sure, I can make coffee and put the mugs in the dishwasher afterwards, and I’m glad to do it, but you’d better take your turn, too!

But figuring out how to split up our roles at home is more complex. Should we take turns at all tasks, or split them between us? Somebody has to keep the apartment clean and change lightbulbs, somebody has to make supper and pay the bills. But the fact is that neither of us likes housework, although we have a different level of tolerance for dirt and clutter. We both enjoy cooking, but not all the time. It would be much nicer to sit in the computer/television/reading chair all day while someone else takes care of us, but that’s not going to happen. So stuff gets done by whoever has the energy and the inclination at the time, or is most bothered by the dirty dishes/clothes/bathroom/etc. So much for roles.

St. BrigidIronically, the only people who seem to be talking about roles for husbands and wives these days are religious conservatives and academics. But whatever your partnership, surely there are some roles that need to be worked out. What do you see as appropriate roles for women and men? Do you have to constantly negotiate the roles in your relationships?

The public art illustrating this post celebrates strong roles for women, but think about all the art you’ve seen which depicts women as property or decoration, innocent victim or evil seductress. How do you think this has influenced your (or others’) expectations? Although I’m writing here about women’s roles, I’m interested in knowing whether you think men’s roles have changed, too.

Now here’s a challenge: take the test as a wife and as a husband… you might be surprised which role you fit best!

Oh, so how did I score? I make an average wife, but a superior husband. Go figure. For more on this, check out the interesting discussion on Boing Boing or look at the scans of the original test here.
Classical styleAboriginal woman

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Related Links
“Women’s Roles in the Late 19th Century” by Dorothy Hartman
Montreal Gazette: “The volunteer who visits you is probably a woman – and here’s why”
New York Times: “A breadwinner rethinks gender roles”
The Independent: “Where have all the strong women gone?
Suicide Bomber Barbie – irony, or not?

A fine balance May 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, energy, family, journey, learn, life.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

all is calm

“Work-life balance” has become one of those catch-phrases which seems to sum up a modern conundrum: the clash between personal and professional satisfaction. But, after reading various work/life advice sites on the internet, I find their solutions unsatisfying. And that, I realize, is because work and life don’t split neatly into two halves; the struggle for balance is not two-sided, but multiple-sided.

And I have been struggling for balance. Work is a given — from approx. 9 to 5 every day, I’m committed elsewhere — and work stresses do have an effect on my life. But enough about work. My main concern is how I spend the rest of my time, because that’s where the balancing act is the most difficult for me. (My partner is having similar difficulties: check out her litany here.)

After all, there’s a new puppy, which has meant less sleep, more interruptions in the rhythm of the day, and definitely a lot more mopping up. (Of course, there’s lots of benefits too… more on that at another time.)

There’s family time, catching up on my partner’s day and actually having a conversation from time to time. There’s eating and sleeping and trimming my toenails — all the aspects of personal care. And, yes, that should include exercise… my balanceball and weights are languishing in the cupboard, but at least I’m bicycling to and from work nearly every day so I can take the puppy out for his lunchtime pee break.

Then there’s my own particular (or peculiar) computer interests: besides my sometimes-near-addiction to computer games (also known as “the great escape”), I am halfway into a do-it-yourself Dreamweaver course, I have a slideshow project that I’ve committed to create for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary next month, and then there’s e-mail correspondence and co-op board information to keep up on. And besides this blog, I post photos and participate on Flickr, and I’ve recently started a new blog as well. So, I’m obviously having difficulty finding balance because I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to another.

A-ha! I hear you conclude: I obviously do it to myself. Why oh why would I take on so much stuff if I’m having trouble with balance? Hmm… good question. It might be the perfectionist side of me, or the workaholic, but to tell you the truth, I don’t think those aspects are very strong. You’d realize that if you saw what a messy packrat I am.

I think my own particular (peculiar) challenge is that I love a challenge. And, more specifically, I love starting a project, I love the thrill of learning and mastering something new. But… I’m not that good at continuing once the freshness has worn off.

Oh yes, speaking of freshness, let me say a few words about my new blog, which I’ve called “Wondering eye“. I was inspired by seeing the new photoblog design that WordPress announced recently, and thought I’d use it to showcase some of my favourite photos. And I discovered, as I thought about what to say that would harmonize with an attractively framed photo, I re-discovered a former interest of mine: poetry.

You may have noticed the “Haiku of the Day” from Shaw Malcolm (thanks, Shaw!) which I feature in my sidebar, and occasionally I’ll quote a line or two of poetry in my posts (I especially enjoy the poetry of Jan Zwicky). And I also owe thanks to faithful blog-friend Richard, who more than once has remarked that my writing is poetic. But I once wrote poetry — ok, I was in my teens, and it was pretty bad — and I’ve decided to give it another try.

Writing poetry is not at all like writing this blog; it needs time for reflection, carefully chewing over and choosing the best words, trimming, listening, and trimming again. The point is: it can’t be hurried. I have to wait with it, sit with the words and the feeling I’m trying to capture, until it seems right. So, I don’t know yet whether it’s any good, and maybe that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, through writing poetry, I’ve found a way to stop hurrying through my life, and listen.

tall gillian leaningAnd when I listen, I can hear my body saying it needs more exercise, or less junk food. I remember how much fun it is to take photographs and start planning for an outdoor excursion. I find I have time to sit on the sunny lawn and watch the puppy romp and sniff the dandelions.

I haven’t found the perfect balance yet, not by a long shot. But I hope I can continue this new project, because I believe the contemplative listening involved in poetry will help.

So, maybe poetry doesn’t work for you, but what helps you keep your balance? I’m still looking for ideas and advice on this one.

And while you chew over that question, here’s a Life Balance Quiz I adapted from one I found online. There are several quizzes out there, but I think this style is more effective than the multiple choice version. See what you think:

Elements of Life

Think about your life today. What is most important to you? Take a moment to examine your priorities. Below are some of the important elements of your life you may try to balance every day. In Column A, circle the importance of each element of your life as you would like it to be (1=not important; 5=very important).

Elements of Life ………………. Column A …………………. Column B

Family ……………………………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………… 1 2 3 4 5
Personal Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Spiritual Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Volunteerism …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Education …………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Career …………………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Physical health ………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Emotional well-being …………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Relationships/Friends ………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Recreation ………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Other ______________ …………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5

How did you rate these parts of your life? There is no right “formula” but there should be a balance. Everything cannot be a “5”. That would set unrealistic expectations for life. You will probably feel more in balance if you have a variety of numbers circled. Take some time to think about what is right for you.

Now, in Column B, circle the number that most closely represents each element as it actually fits into your daily life. Cover up Column A while you do this, so you don’t subconsciously echo your previous answers.

When you are finished, compare the two lists. If Column A and Column B responses match, then you are giving proper attention to the areas that you feel are important. That’s great! You are probably better able to cope with the stresses in life that come your way.

If the Column A responses are very different from the Column B responses, then you are not providing enough attention to those areas that are important to you. Is it possible that this imbalance is hindering your ability to deal effectively with life’s changes? Think about what you can do to align what is important with your daily patterns.

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A step back in time May 4, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, diversity, explore, learn, life, world.
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7 comments

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 1This past week, I had the privilege of visiting an Old Order Mennonite couple. The group of us stayed for about 40 minutes, listening to tales of harness-making and quilting, ploughing and making preserves.

My only previous exposure had been seeing the black horse-drawn buggies near St. Jacob’s, and buying Mennonite sausage at the market. (Yum!) You may have seen the women, in lace caps and flowered dresses, and men in their dark suits and sober hats. They belong to a tight-knit community, and as much as possible try to stay out of the public eye.

The Mennonites are sometimes known as “the quiet in the land.” A few years ago, I saw the award-winning play (“Quiet in the Land“) by Anne Chislett; its portrayal of the tension between tradition and change in a small Amish community is heartfelt and compelling.

Out of the approximately 50 types of Mennonites in Canada (the Amish are a Mennonite offshoot), many have modernized to some extent. Most of the Old Order Mennonites now have telephones and electricity, and more modern groups drive cars and go to university.

Descendants of a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, the pacifist followers of Menno Simons (1492-1559) endured two centuries of bitter persecution in Central Europe. During these two centuries, many Mennonites sought sanctuary in Prussia and southern Russia. Others, like the Swiss ancestors of the southern Ontario Mennonites, emigrated to North America. Their descendants now live all around the world, from Paraguay to the Congo, with two-thirds living outside North America.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 4

This global perspective means that the Mennonites are active in reaching out to people around the world through relief organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the volunteer-run self-help stores known as Ten Thousand Villages.

During our conversations, I observed the care given to crafting everything from leather bridles to hockey gloves, peach preserves to quilted chair covers. I looked at the weathered hands of the old couple, and their faces lined from sun and smiling, and I could see that their simple hard-working life had been full and fulfilling.

Although I am modern in my desire for freedom and self-determination, part of me longs for that kind of connection — to the land, to the community, to their craft, to their beliefs — that the Mennonites show in their lives.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 2Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 1

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 2

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Related Links:
NY Times Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Introducing the Mennonites
Special section: Modern Mennonites
Mennonite Central Committee
Third Way Cafe
Ontario’s Mennonite Heritage

The world’s food, our fortune April 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, consumer, diversity, energy, food, learn, life, nature, world.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

wheat seeds - Time

One of my favourite family stories has to do with food. My mother grew up near London, and remembers standing at the back door and watching bombs falling during the Second World War. The frequent air raids meant that visits to the nearby bomb shelter became part of the family’s daily routine. On one occasion (that I know about), her mother ran out of the bomb shelter during a raid to fetch the roast from the oven. Bombs may be falling, but the family has to have its dinner!

The western world’s focus has recently turned from the consumption of “stuff” to the consumption of food. Much has been written about the current global food shortage crisis.

Yet how can it be a crisis is when people have been talking about a global food shortage for at least 10 years? There have been famines and other food-related crises in the world before now. Perhaps this time is different because the wealthy countries are sitting up and complaining, too.

The food shortage is affecting countries in different ways. There have been protests in Mexico, where the price of tortillas rose 400% in at the end of 2007, and Haiti, where the poor are eating “dirt cookies” (made of dirt, water, salt and butter. India recently banned the export of all except the highest quality rice. A sharp increase in the cost of milk (blamed on floods in Argentina and a drought in Australia) have affected foods from cheese to croissants. Higher wheat and fuel costs were blamed for a 20% increase in pasta in Italy. There have been bread-queue riots in Egypt, and unrest across Africa.

Global Food Crisis - Der SpiegelIn some parts of the world, food prices for staples have risen 50% or more over the past year. However, in the United States, consumers have had to cope with a 6.5% increase in their grocery bill.

A UN official recently listed a number of causes:

  • growing populations
  • crops being used for biofuels
  • more sophisticated (or diverse) diets in places like India and China
  • a lack of strategic grain reserves
  • the effects of climate change causing drought conditions in places such as in Australia, affecting wheat production in recent years.

A related problems is that of inefficient food distribution and food wastage. Have many of us have refrigerators full of food we don’t need and might not get around to eating? I can’t even imagine how much wasted food restaurants and grocery stores throw into the garbage. In 1995, the BBC reported that 17 million tonnes of food is added to landfills in Great Britain each year because it’s cheaper for the food industry to dump it than give it away.

And with the globalization of food production and distribution, more people are beginning to rely on processed or pre-packaged food. Western foods (can you say MacDonald’s?) are a cultural as well as commercial influence.

The fact is, like the cheap energy we have been used to, food doesn’t get any respect. I’m not suggesting that high food prices are good — there are too many people in this world who have barely enough to eat as it is — but that the North, as the source of much of the world’s food, doesn’t know how to tighten its belt. (And while I’m on the subject of belt-tightening, I know I’m not the only person who should be eating less!) The word “rationing”, familiar with the Second-World War generation but a foreign idea to most westerners today, is coming into vogue again.

People react to the threat of a global oil shortage produces in two ways: by panicking and and buying up all remaining stocks (have you seen the price of gas lately?), or increasing research into alternative energy sources in order to wean themselves off oil dependency.

That’s why I think the boom in biofuel research and production — as wrong-headed as some of it is turning out to be, what with everyone running off madly in all directions — is a good sign. It means that costs are now high enough to make people value alternatives, and maybe think more carefully about conservation and how to stop wasting the energy we produce now.

And so I recommend the “don’t panic” approach to the current food shortage. (Waves of panic-buying of staples and rice-rationing have already hit some U.S. food stores.) Greed won’t get us out of this difficulty, but thankfulness might. We need to appreciate what we already have, and support ongoing work to better manage food distribution, diversity, and sustainability. Let’s get our governments to find some swords-into-ploughshares funding and share the wealth… of food, that is!

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Related Links:
CBC interactive: Global Food Prices
CBC: “Beef is out, wheat is in: farmers”
Guardian, UK: “Change in farming can feed world: report”

Telegraph, UK: “Potatoes could solve food shortage”
ABC: “UN warns on food shortage riots”
Financial Post: “Forget oil, the new global crisis is food”
Time: “How to End the Global Food Shortage”