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OPINION: My three favourite females on International Women’s Day

A humbling life lived alongside my powerful mother, my wife, and my daughter
Three-year-old Nadège Henderson and 74-year-old Judith Henderson baking in Chilliwack in 2012. (Paul Henderson photo)

My mother is in hospital right now recovering from a broken hip.

Judith Henderson (nee Murdock) is 84. She is an old woman. We all get old. She wears hearing aids, and hasn’t moved around easily for several years, unless it’s swimming in the lake at our family cottage.

I only see mom once a year in the summer, so when I think of her, the image that comes to mind isn’t “old mom,” it is from my childhood. It is her on stage as Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 12th century Queen of France in the play The Lion in Winter.

(The Lion in Winter was of course made famous by the 1968 Hollywood film starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.)

Born in 1938, I am thinking about what a force my mother was as a staunch feminist in the 1970s and 1980s on this International Women’s Day (IWD).

She opened an art gallery in Yorkville in Toronto in the late ’70s with two partners. She worked with the Canadian Mental Health Association, she canvassed for cancer research, and late in life she completed a college degree and then went on to teach programs to adult women at a community college.

Most recently she has been involved with Oomama, part of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign led by the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Africa.

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Mom also told me to stop picking my nose when I was a kid. She told me to “ar-tic-u-late” when I was mumbling. And when I came home with B-minus high school marks she (and my dad) aptly told me that I had “reached the height of mediocrity.”

She was a community theatre “star” in the 1980s, often playing lead roles of strong women with the Oakville Players, in the town where I grew up.

Most importantly, my mother taught me that women can do anything men can do, if they want to and are given the chance. She also taught me that sometimes you have to take what you deserve if you are not given the chance.

I always put the toilet lid down after I pee because of her. But, that might be more because of my older sister.

My mother is one of the three important females I am thinking about on International Women’s Day.

The second is my wife, Joanne, who is a force of her own, a self-employed health professional who pretty much runs our family. We share most household duties, as most modern couples do, but I’d be destitute without her.

Then there is my daughter Nadège who is 13, a bright and lovely and happy girl who can skate so fast she leaves defenders in her wake before she roofs the puck. Seeing her on the ice is so amazing, especially since I never even played hockey.

She also plays volleyball and rugby and fastpitch. She does well in school. All athletic and academic traits she does not get from her father.

So without being too self-effacing, I can’t help but ponder how confident and articulate my mother is where I have been shy and mumbly, how organized and successful my wife is where I am just a hot mess in every way, and how athletic and enthusiastic my daughter is where I am, well, just not.

International Women’s Day is, according to Wikipedia, “a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8 as a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.”

Have things changed? They certainly have, but we have a ways to go.

As a young female, my mother dealt with a patriarchal society in the 1950s. My wife dealt with the echoes of that as a child in the 1980s, but also had to guard herself against sexual violence at university in the late 1990s. And now my daughter has a whole new set of concerns for us to worry about, not least of which is the perils of sexual exploitation on social media.

“We’ve come a long way baby,” Loretta Lynn sang in 1978 and she was right, but 45 years after that, sexualized violence is on the rise and there is still a gender pay gap, according to recent Statistics Canada data.

It’s long time past that my mother, my wife, my daughter, and all the women and girls out there just deserve to be treated the same as men.

It’s 2023 for goddess’s sake.

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Three-month-old Nadège Henderson and her grandmother Judith Henderson in February 2010 in Toronto. (Paul Henderson photo)