Celebrating International Women’s Day

Canada and International Women’s Day

Women’s rights look different all over the world. I am blessed to live in Canada. While we still have a lot of work to do here (and have a dark side when it comes to the historical treatment of women), I acknowledge and value the fact that I am blessed to live where I do.

Under Canadian law, women were not consider a person until 1929. If you think about it, it wasn’t really that long ago. We seem a little desensitized to the fact that many of our mothers and grandmothers in this country experienced things like legal spousal rape, the inability to access their own finances or access birth control without permission from their husband, and so much more. If you were an Indigenous woman or a woman of colour, you had the added struggle of experiencing even more. Examples include: systemic racism targeting women, over sexualization, increased risk of poverty, as well as blatant racism. Trans women have also had a long standing history of mistreatment in Canada, as well as those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Trans women today are often left out when it comes to research and conversation about violence towards women. There is obviously so much more I could cover, but I encourage you to do some research, and not just take my word for it.

Today in Canada, women are now able to vote, manage our own finances, spousal rape is no longer legal, we can access birth control, and hold jobs. Things aren’t equal by any means, and women continue to experience discrimination and under representation in positions of power, as well as many fields . I’m barely scratching the surface of things, but I think I’ve painted enough of a picture for you to understand that women have not been treated equally over the course of history. This is why we celebrate International Women’s Day. We give power and recognition to the voices of women in honour of those who fought so hard for us to come as far as we have.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that I am a poet. You know that I publish under J.L. Fizzell and not Jessica Fizzell. What you might not know, is why so many female authors and writers chose not to publish under their full names. You might also be surprised to know that I chose my pen name when I was eight or nine for some of the very same reasons I’m about to list below.

Not that long ago, female voices were unwelcome in the literary circles. Often times, women would write under pen names that didn’t include their real or full names in order to have their work published. By the same token, once allowed into the publishing world, women writers were not taken as seriously. I don’t know if you’ve watched the reboot of “Little Women” (which is the movie version of Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women“), but there’s a scene that comes to mind that highlights what I’m talking about. One of the female characters, Jo, sits down with a publisher who tells her that her character must end up married in the end. I couldn’t find the exact scene for you, but I am going to link another amusing scene in which she negotiates her terms for publishing with this particular agency. In any case, what I am trying to illustrate is that there were certain standards that women were held to in order to be published, often sticking to themes of domesticity and things of a “female nature”. In order to avoid being restricted, or to encourage people to take them seriously, women often published with their initials so as to avoid gender biased literary criticism. This still goes on today.

Now for second, go back to the fact that I chose my own pen name when I was a child, long before I was published. At a young age, I was already hyper aware of the fact that women were not taken seriously, and that anything “girly” was often relentlessly made fun of or deemed trivial, overly emotional or frivolous. I didn’t want to be categorized by gender. I wanted my work to speak for itself. While years later I chose to publish under the same pen name my younger self had chosen, it wasn’t for the sake of gender elusiveness, but as a nod to the journey that has led me to this point. I grew up in the nineties and early two thousands. My privilege as a female exceeds many, if not most of my predecessors. Still, I have spent an entire lifetime being judged based on my gender and not my ability. I have been excluded because of gender. I have been subjugated to name calling, sexualization, the pink tax, being afraid for my personal safety, misogynistic views, grossly inadequate care for gender specific issues and more. My story is still one of privilege. I recognize fully, that I am one of the lucky ones. My own experiences with gender based violence are merely a drop in the bucket, when hear the stories of the others. Don’t believe that we still have a problem? Here are some more examples. In 2019, Statistics Canada released data stating that approximately every six days a woman is killed my her intimate partner, there are thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada who have been grossly neglected at every level of Canadian government, and the fact that human tracking is alive and well. These are just some of th major issues in hope that they hit home with you. Chances are if you look for discrimination in almost any given area, you will find it.

Despite all of this, women continue to fight for a better tomorrow. We have a long ways to go, and many paths to the same destination. As a poet and a patron of all things artistic and creative, I would be remiss to not highlight some of my personal favourite, beautiful and strong Canadian voices who were/are change makers in Canada. Below you will find a brief synopsis as well as links to six incredibly talented writers who use(d) their voice to make powerful statements and reach the hearts and minds of many through the arts.

Lee Maracle

I’ve had the opportunity to watch Lee Maracle live on a few occasions before her passing, and I can’t tell you what I would do to spend an afternoon talking with her over a cup of tea. Not only was she an influential voice in the realm of Indigenous activism and education, she was a brilliant author and poet. Her passion is evident in every aspect of her work, and her words move you in ways that you didn’t know were possible. She was, and continues to be, one of my all time favourite literary voices – especially in the realm of poetry and story telling. In the one of the links, I’ve highlighted her speaking. You’ll note that she states that in Canada, Indigenous Women come last, so in her honour, I put her first.

Browse some of her works here.

Watch her speak here.

Margaret Atwood

What kind of post on Canadian female voices would this be if I didn’t mention Margaret Atwood? She’s made a huge name for herself on the world stage, most notably with “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which has since been turned into one of my favourite TV series. She is notoriously prolific, and her works make strong statements on issues of culture wars, feminism, and oppressive social hierarchies. What you may not know about Margaret is that she is also a poet and children’s writer.

Browse her work here.

Watch her speak here.

(Dr.) Afua Cooper

Dr. Afua Cooper is a African Canadian of many hats and talents. It would be a feat to properly give her due credit for all the work she has done both academically, as well as for the literary community. She is the seventh poet Laureate of Nova Scotia, an advocate for literacy, the arts and champion for diversity, equity and inclusion strategies and tirelessly works towards ending racism, with specific attention to ending racism in the workplace. She has published many poetry books as well as two historical fiction titles, and many academic publications. Her work is rich, honest and gives voice to the dark, and greatly untold history of Canada and slavery.

Browse her work here.

Watch her speak here.

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Where does one start with Sylvia D. Hamilton? She’s a filmmaker, writer, poet, and an Assistant Professor in the school of Journalism at King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her poetry has been published in several publications in Canada, in addition to being a keynote speaker in multiple countries. She’s a truly remarkable woman, who has managed to use her artistic voice to stretch across multiple mediums, ensuring that her message finds a home with people. “And I Alone Escaped to Tell You” is a must read, which will provide you will greater insight into the lives of early Black Nova Scotians and the generations that follow. Hamilton gives voice to a part of history that is largely unknown, and widely denied. This book deserves a place in the hands of every Canadian.

Browse her work here.

Watch her speak here.

Nicole Lyons

Nicole Lyons is one of the first Canadian voices I stumbled across when I started my own journey as a poet, and I cannot say enough good about her work. Her rawness, and honesty give a strong voice to some of the darker issues we can experience as humans – things that have not been spoken about enough in the past. She has a way of using metaphor and imagery so that you feel her words in the depths of your soul.

Browse her work here.

Hear her read a piece of poetry here.

Cherie Dimaline

I’m ending this list with a recent addition to my favourites. Cherie Dimaline is a Metis author who wrote the Best Selling “Marrow Thieves”, and its companion “Hunting by Stars”. The books are about a dystopian future in which residential schools have been brought back to life. Their goal is to harvest the marrow of Indigenous peoples in order to cure the dreamless madness of the non Indigenous population. These books are a haunting read that will sit with you long after the last page. Her work is an amazing opportunity to spark dialogue about the historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as a testament to the strength and resilience that was necessary for the survival of Canada’s First People. I’ve seen her work pop up in the high school curriculum, and I wish that every Canadian student has the opportunity to read her books.

Browse her work here.

Watch her speak here.

Other Notable Favourites:

Lucy Maud Montgomery for crafting one of my favourite literary characters, Anne with an E – a smart, outspoken, book loving, not afraid to be herself, well rounded woman.

Dionne Brand for her incredible poetry, and passion for social justice.

Kelley Armstrong for crafting strong female characters who kick some serious butt.

Celebrate International Women’s Day with me, and sound off in the comments with the names of your favourite female voices.

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