The Two Faces of Poverty and Privilege

I am at the park for my early morning walk with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle. He has attempted to demonstrate to a little grey fluff ball of a dog that he is boss. The fluff ball will have none of Beau’s nonsense.

I call Beaumont to my side. “He truly does not know his size,” I say to the woman walking with the fluff ball. “I’m sorry he acted so inconsiderately.”

The woman leans on her walking cane, laughs and tells me not to worry. “She’s 13. She takes no guff from nobody.”

I thank her for her understanding and am about to turn away when she says, “I know you. You look really familiar.”

I turn back towards her and look at her weathered face closely. I don’t think I know her but my memory for faces is often suspect.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

I tell her and she smiles, nods her head and says, “I knew I knew you!” And she mentions an agency I did some consulting for several years ago. It’s a social services agency providing housing and supports for Calgarians facing physical and mental barriers. Many of their clients are housed through Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

I am surprised she recognizes me. It’s a bright but chilly morning. I am wearing sunglasses and a toque pulled low on my forehead.

I say, “Wow. What a great memory.”

She laughs, picks up her cane and waves it in the air as she replies. “My body may be falling apart but at 63 I’ve still got my faculties about me.”

She goes on to tell me about her mom who, at 95, still drives and lives on her own in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. “Though she is thinking it’s time she gave up driving.”

I tell her about my mom, who when she died at 97 last year, was still intellectually sharp, though her physical health was decimated by arthritis.

She looks at me and says, “When you get to be my age you’ll be grateful for your mom’s sound mind too.”

I do not tell her I am five years older than she is. I also don’t tell her I am surprised by her age. Looking at her weathered and lined face I would have given her at least 10 – 12 more years.

And I wonder if what I see is the price of poverty, of a life lived on the margins and its constant struggle to make every dollar and cent stretch to meet a month with too many days. Of worry and strain and fear of one more mishap leading to the last place you want to go, a homeless shelter.

Because I do remember her. Not from the agency that provides housing for her now. I remember her from the adult homeless shelter where I used to work. She wasn’t there long. An adult, predominantly male homeless shelter, is not a particularly safe environment for a woman. Once in, getting out is the number one priority for most women.

But it can be difficult. Especially for ‘older’ women. Lack of education, lack of work experience make it difficult to divine a way back out beyond the shelter’s doors. Compounded by a life time of living on the margins, divorce, death of a spouse, spousal abuse, loss of health and/or an addiction, what little emotional, physical or financial reserves women had are stripped away, leaving them exposed to not just homelessness, but the hopelessness that walks in its every step.

This woman was one of the fortunate ones. She connected to the appropriate supports and is hanging on to them with every breath and every step she takes.

As I sit at my desk this morning looking out at the beauty of my environment, the green/golden leaves of autumn not yet ready to fall, the river flowing past beneath a cerulean sky, I think about my life and the lives of other women in my cohort.

Our privilege is subtle, but it is there. It creates a natural anti-aging barrier that keeps it from lining our faces with worry and stress, aging us beyond our years. It gave us options throughout our lives that women like the woman at the park probably never had – access to education and training, access to gyms and massages and facials and so much more. It allowed us to choose between a live-in or live-out nanny because we could afford to pay for what we wanted. It filled our fridges with an abundance of foods that left us free of having to make the difficult decisions of whether to send our children to school with a breakfast in their belly or have a dinner for them on the table that night.

It opened doors to career-paths of our choice. Because, if we chose to work or stay at home, if we took a minimum wage job or a second part-time one, it wasn’t out of necessity. It was our choice.

For too many women, the deck they were dealt is weighed down by poverty and its limited choices. Full hands are rare and under the weight of of poverty’s pervasive nature, every card played can take you out of the game, leaving you empty-handed, fighting for your survival.

I met a woman at the park this morning. She reminded me how blessed and fortunate I am to live this life of mine.

I am grateful she is safe now.

I am grateful she touched my life.

I am grateful for it all.

Namaste

Don’t Be So Aggressive They Said #ShePersisted No. 76

The original quote for this page read, “They said, don’t be so aggressive. It’s a real turn-off. She said, I’m not here to turn you off or on. I’m here to wake you up.”

I debated. A lot. About leaving it as it was. Because… well you know… would people think I was being too aggressive?

And there’s the catch. Someone will always have something to say if we speak our minds. Speak out. Stand up. Get heard. Get seen. Do what we want. Go where we want to go. Ask for what we want. Demand our rights. Fight for justice.

If we act sexually. Act demurely. Dress provocatively Dress plainly. Wear make-up. Wear no make-up. Colour our hair. Don’t colour our hair. Speak loudly. Speak softly. Laugh uproariously. Don’t laugh enough. Sit with our legs crossed. Sit with our legs open. Stand with our chest thrust out to (so they say) ‘show ’em what we’ve got’. Stand with our shoulders hunched to hide what we’ve got. Put on weight. Lose weight.

Want to be a doctor. Want to be a nurse. Sit at the boardroom table. Sit behind the reception desk. Be an outside-the-home working mom. Be a stay-at-home working mom (because no matter how you cut it, women are always working wherever they are). Put our children in day-care. Have a nanny. Use the TV as a nanny while we try to clean up the messes all around us.

Sure, we’ve got options. But those options always come at a price. And that price is based on whether or not we ‘fit’ into a man’s world and how men will see us in their world.

It’s not their world.

It’s our world too.

A friend sent me an article from the BBC this morning about two sisters who have begun a campaign to stop catcalling on the streets of their city.

Let’s be clear. Their campaign is not to stop women from catcalling men. It’s to stop men believing it is their right to harass women as they walk down the street. Sit on buses. Subways. Theatres. Stand in hotel lobbies waiting for friends (which happened to me once. A man decided I must be looking for someone to pay me to have sex with them because I was standing alone in a hotel lobby waiting for a friend for a drink. (I almost added how I was dressed which goes to show how insidious the thought patterns are. How I was dressed doesn’t matter.) He came up, stood beside me, flashed some money at me and asked if I wanted to go have a good time with him. I (politely – my mother always told me to be polite) informed him I was waiting for a friend. He kept persisting. Eventually, I told him to get lost. He informed me I didn’t have to be rude about it. Excuse me? You are trying to solicit me against my wishes to have paid-for-sex with you and I’m being rude?)

When I told my friend, who was a male, what had happened he laughed and said, “Maybe you should just take it as a compliment.” I didn’t throw my drink at him but I did set him straight. It wasn’t about paid-for-sex. It’s about my right to stand where I want, how I want without being accosted by strangers who believe it is their right to say whatever they want about my body and what I do with it.

Anyway, where was I?

Right. The article my friend sent me. (Thank you IM for inspiring me again!)

You can read it here.

The fact that this behaviour continues is not a shock because historically, women have been blamed for men’s bad behaviour. Women have been forced to adapt their ways to avoid unwanted sexual advancements.

What is shocking is the fact that so few men are waking up and telling one another, “We Must Change.”

To those men who have. Kudos to you. But dare I say it or will you think me too aggressive? It’s about time.

To those who still believe Boys will be Boys – Change your belief system. Hold yourselves accountable.

Boys learn from men. When men think it’s okay to catcall a woman/girl walking down the street or to pass by and stick their hand out the window of the car they’re riding in and slap the derriere of a woman walking along the sidewalk (as happened to my eldest sister) then boys will continue to believe it’s not their fault. They’re not accountable because ‘she’ shouldn’t dress that way or walk down that street alone because… That’s just askin’ for ‘it’.

It’s the ‘it’ that needs to change.

The ‘it’ of believing your words don’t have impact. Your acts don’t make a difference.

The ‘it’ of believing when you catcall a stranger’s daughter or sister or niece or cousin or mother, it’s just ‘fun’ or boys being boys. No harm done.

There is harm being done. And if ‘it’ can happen to a stranger’s daughter or sister or cousin or niece or mother, ‘it’ is happening to the women you love in your life too.

So yah.

Call me aggressive. Call me rude.

But do not call me names while I walk down the streets where I have the same rights as you to pass by unmolested by your words telling me what you know I want.

You don’t know what I want but I’m willing to tell you.

I want you to stop.

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