A colourful moment catches my eye as I stand in line at the deli this week.
Two hands meet across the top of the cheese display case: one with long artificial fingernails painted in delicate pink swirls on a deep blue background, and one with short nails, weathered skin and a cut on the thumb – markers of manual labour.
The deli worker (fancy-nails) passes the freshly-made sandwich to the woman from the mine camp. They swap a joke and carry on.
It’s a snapshot reminder that an important part of what makes the Yukon tick is how so many answers to “what does it mean to be a woman?” can expand and flourish here.
International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations, planned on March 8 around the globe, are built on an awareness of how women develop many different ways of being successful and strong, all over the world.
In Whitehorse, the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre holds an open house all day, so anyone can drop by and have a look at the building (usually it’s a women-only environment) and there will be a soirée with snacks from 5-7 pm.
During the day, there’s a selection of films running from 11 am – 5 pm, all directed by women, including Poor No More.
This film, hosted by the witty television star Mary Walsh, looks at Canadians stuck in low paying jobs with no security and then goes to Ireland and Sweden to see how these countries have simultaneously tackled poverty and built up their economies.
March 8 is a Tuesday, so many people will be busy during the day, but Poor No More shows at 3:15 so some may be able to get downtown for this screening at the Women’s Centre.
The Women’s Centre also brings an emphasis to the “international” part of IWD this year by having former New Democratic Party leader Audrey McLaughlin speak during the soirée.
McLaughlin’s political career is long and full of firsts. She was the first NDP MLA for the Yukon (elected 1987) and when she became the leader of the national NDP party in 1989, she became the first woman to lead a Canadian federal political party.
She speaks about her recent time in Afghanistan, bringing back information and insights into what women there are doing to organize their education and rights, at 6 pm.
Leading up to IWD, LesEssentiELLES is organizing Les Femmesues, an art show for Women’s Day, showcasing work by French women and French-loving women.
Since this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of IWD (see page 9), the theme for the exhibition is “Women of Today and Women of the Past”.
Les Femmeuses is a made-up word for women, says Ketsia Houde when she describes the show.
“It’s a play off of ‘fameux’, the masculine for famous men,” says the LesEssentiELLES Executive Director.
Fame obviously applies to women now too, but there is no specific word for females who hit the big time, so this nickname has been applied for the past five years that LesEssentiELLES has hosted an IWD art show.
One of the paintings in Les Femmeuses reaches back further than 100 years. Nicole Bauberger, who writes often about art for What’s Up Yukon, offers a reproduction of a painting by seventeenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
This Italian painter is often honoured by contemporary artists as the first woman accepted into Florence’s Academy of the Arts of Drawing after years of struggle and personal difficulty.
As WUY writers are generally focused on others’ talents and successes, not promoting their own work, here’s a moment to celebrate Bauberger and a second writer too, Virginie Hamel.
Hamel has also been painting and drawing for years, working with images that combine the sea, ocean creatures, tissue paper sewing patterns, and a little girl.
“She’s the expression of the child, the young little girl that we can have inside of us, and how tormented or sad she can sometimes be. I’ve been drawing her for a few years now,” says Hamel.
Les Femmeuses opens on March 3, with music that night by Hélène Beaulieu and Dan B (and others not yet confirmed at press time).
“I’ve participated three or four times, and I really like it,” Hamel muses. “I think there’s a really big sense of cohesion between the women of the territory here, and it’s a nice occasion to meet other women.”
Other events connected to IWD include a special edition of Rencontres, the Francophone radio program broadcast on Saturdays from 5-6 pm on CBC North.
On March 5, Rencontres will discuss French women from the Yukon who have made changes in their community.
There’s a lot more room in public conversations for women’s thoughts – about creativity, social justice, democracy, families, health and anything else – thanks to many people insisting, over decades, that all genders’ views need to be valued and shared.
International Women’s Day is a good time to celebrate that change, and to think about how public space can continue to be enriched by women’s talents and voices.
Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.