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Fearless Girl arrived in Manhattan's financial district just in time to mark International Women's Day last March 8. People were instantly charmed by artist Kristen Visbal's bronze sculpture of a little Latina girl, fists on hips and ponytail flying, appearing to stare down Wall Street's famous Charging Bull.
I'm Kathryn Mills, a member of The Globe and Mail's editing team, and I have to admit, I seldom (well, never) mark my calendar with events to attend or things to do on International Women's Day. So when I was asked a few months ago to write the March 10 edition of this newsletter, I did not immediately note the significance of the date. I had another plan.
But as often happens in journalism, the story can change, even as we write or edit it.
As I thought about what the occasion would mean this year, it was tempting to portray the appearance of Fearless Girl a year ago as a preview of the remarkable progress that was made on women's issues over the past 12 months, and to celebrate a year of change. But if a piece I was editing said something like that, it would be my job to say it was not telling the whole story. As this column by The Globe's Elizabeth Renzetti points out, women and girls in many parts of the world still can't afford to be fearless, and the unfairness and toxic behaviour that was brought into the light by the #MeToo movement has shown how much work is still to be done. After all, Fearless Girl turned out to be an investment firm's carefully designed marketing campaign for a financial product that emphasizes gender diversity in the workplace. And that company faced its own day of reckoning on employment equity later in 2017.
So instead of making an inanimate Instagram star my hero for the year, I decided to spend International Women's Day thinking about some of the remarkable women whose stories we have told lately.
The one who comes back to me most often is Thelma Favel, foster mother of 67 children and the great-aunt of Tina Fontaine. The death of 15-year-old Tina nearly four years ago gave new urgency to calls for the federal government to launch an inquiry into why so many Indigenous women and girls go missing and are murdered. Favel raised Tina and her sister from a young age and has weathered many family tragedies. When the case against the man accused of killing Tina ended in an acquittal last month, Favel responded with hope and pride in the achievements of the young woman she called "my baby." The Globe's Kathryn Blaze Baum spoke to Favel before the trial, and Nancy Macdonald told Tina's story in the aftermath of the acquittal.
I get to edit a lot of stories about important decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada, and Beverley McLachlin – Canada's first female chief justice – wrote many of those rulings. She retired from the top court a few months ago, and justice reporter Sean Fine marked the occasion by tracing her path from fearless girl living off the grid in rural Alberta to the pinnacle of our country's justice system. Want more? This spring, McLachlin makes her debut as a murder-mystery novelist. I might not even wait for that to come out in paperback.
My third hero for the day is a hockey player: Jessica Platt, the first openly transgender athlete in the Canadian Women's Hockey League. Rachel Brady's account of Platt's journey is lovely and moving. Maybe the best quote comes from her dad: "I've been in awe of her strength and determination."
My favourite International Women's Day event in Canada this year was the unveiling in Halifax of the new $10 bill. It features Viola Desmond, an early civil-rights champion, and is groundbreaking in a whole lot of ways. Desmond, a Halifax businesswoman, was jailed 71 years ago for refusing to sit in the section of a theatre designated for people of colour.
If you plan to toast the achievements of women such as these this weekend, here's The Globe's Tavia Grant with 16 reasons to celebrate.
I still love Fearless Girl, and so do countless others. It was supposed to be temporary, but art has a way of transcending its original purposes, and the people who experience it are ultimately in charge of its place in the world. The City of New York is working on a plan to keep the sculpture permanently.
What else we're reading:
You might wonder what it's like to be a man watching #MeToo and #TimesUp. Chatelaine magazine did, and asked 1,000 Canadian men about that and a great deal more, including how they learned about sex, what it means to be a man, how often they look at pornography and whether they think women should be paid the same as men. They also invited some guys – Justin Baldoni and the Prime Minister among them – to sit down for a chat about stuff. The results are sometimes surprising. I learned a lot. – KM
Deb Bergeson said she never wanted to be "less than a man." As a kid growing up in a farming community of 350 people in Alberta, she played hockey and baseball in the boys' leagues, just because she could.
While in high school, Bergeson fell in love with the sport of luge and played on the national team for 10 years, winning six national championships. In the early 1990s, she was one the best heading into the Olympics, but the recently hired coach didn't want to send a women's team.
It was Bergeson's first major experience with gender inequality, and it wouldn't be her last. Still, she was physically fit and capable, and she wanted a job where she could be active and help people. Then, she heard from someone in the industry that firefighting was the "best job in the world." So, in 1998, she applied to the Calgary Fire Department. Bergeson was one of 32 people chosen out of 1,600 applicants, and she was only the third woman hired at the time. She says she loves the customer service aspect of the work, where she can help people when they're having the "crappiest day of their lives."
She says, "I'm proud to wear the uniform and help people's lives be better."
Twenty years after joining the department, Bergeson, now 53, reflects on a job she loves, but knows it's been a battle. "I've fought almost every moment I've been a firefighter," she says. She remembers feeling the need to assimilate to the culture, the constant scrutiny, and feeling like she had to prove she belonged. But in 2014, she became Calgary's first female captain. And she's been encouraging men and women on the squad to celebrate each other and use their voices for change. "We can't move forward without supporting each other." – Shelby Blackley
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