I have returned from Ottawa.
While there, I toured Canada’s Parliament and looked at the endless paintings of all the past prime ministers; white men all, each in various imposing postures and looking quite self-satisfied.
I saw no one that represented me.
Today, our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that he would ensure that half of his new cabinet would be female. As I was listening, I realized that until right at that very moment, I hadn’t known that I had resigned myself to things always looking like that hall of portraits. Until today, I didn’t know that I had given up.
But something in me woke up with his announcement.
So, in honour of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau’s plan for equity, I decided to post something I wrote a long time ago…
I am not a woman who typically wears cowboy boots.
But then, this was not a typical night. My boots were gleaming like a crow’s feathers. My jeans were ironed hard and flat. The turtleneck was brand-new and black and my belt was the thickest one I owned. I was a carefully constructed image of a woman-not-to-be-messed-with.
I entered the vast banquet room. It seemed barely able to contain the success of so many middle-aged, well-dressed men. As I entered, I saw them all drinking and heard their laughter. And then – they saw me. The buzz died.
As I walked through this crowd of my business associates, they turned their backs and moved away. Men I had hosted at trap shoots, golf games, taken skiing, to the theatre, expensive restaurants, hockey games and some who I had talked to for over fifteen years, no longer knew me.
Suddenly, I knew the heady sense of accomplishment Moses must have felt when he parted the Red Sea. Apparently, my mere presence could achieve the same result.
I walked to the bar. I stood as tall as possible and blessed my boots for the extra inches that brought me up to 6’.
Breathe, I told myself.
The bartender was black.
I tried to smile but could feel my lips tremble.
His eyes locked onto mine, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m getting initiated.” I replied.
“Holy shit.” he said.
“Yes,” I whispered, “would you please do me a favour?”
“Anything you want.” His smile was the only bit of warmth in that very large and very cold room.
“I’d like you to make me a non-alcoholic drink but I want it to look like a serious double…and please…just talk to me, OK?”
“Done,” he said.
Then. It was time. All the initiates were to go downstairs.
About twenty of us were blindfolded and made to walk up the stairs on our knees. My brain ran in circles. I promised myself that they surely wouldn’t be so stupid to do anything too mean, because they must know I’d raise holy hell. And surely no one had ever died.
My sweat was cold.
Once at the top of the stairs, and still blindfolded, we were made to stand in a line. Someone came by and forced a spoon of something revolting in my mouth. I repeated my aforementioned assurances, tried not to gag, and swallowed. I could smell the sharp tang of vomit from the man next to me and felt his shuddering heaves.
Other rites and ridiculous intimidations followed, and then the blindfolds were removed. I found myself blinking in disbelief. We were facing a table of what I imagined a Ku Klux Klan meeting would look like.
Forest industry businessmen were wearing long white robes and pointy Wizard-style hats. The chairman smashed his gavel. A speech swearing us to secrecy, and to the ideals and rules of the International Order of Hoo-Hoo and our allegiance to the Grand Snark of the Universe ensued.
It was so ridiculous. It should have been funny. It was gravely serious.
We were handed our membership cards and a pin with our secret identity number engraved on its back.
I had finally broken into the tree fort of the all-male British Columbia forest industry fraternity. I had done what they had told me couldn’t be achieved. But I had come upon an unforeseen discovery. Revealed to me was the distinction between friendly business relationships and friendships.
I would never again confuse the two.
I escaped to the washroom, reapplied my lipstick, and steeled myself for the rest of the evening. When I emerged, it seemed the mood had softened slightly although I knew some men were missing. They had quit in protest at my acceptance.
Eventually, I found a few who would talk to me. It was a short reprieve. Dinner was announced and they all drifted off, beckoned by their friends to join the filling tables.
No one invited me to sit with them as I walked past table after table. I went to the last one by the back wall. I sat alone with my stomach tight and my spine straight.
The president of the club came towards me and asked if he could join me. He had risked a lot in accepting my nomination. I nodded, unable to speak. Another man came, and then, one more. We were a table of four surrounded by tables of a dozen on every side.
I feigned eating. I recall none of the conversation. After dinner, a few more joined in and kept me in a closed circle of animated conversation, strategically ensuring that the stripper would be at my back. I drank a lot of club soda dispensed from my new best friend behind the bar.
Late that night I drove the long, rainy highway home to Mission City. My body felt unbearably heavy.
I had gone through this because it was wrong to exclude me from access to my fellow business associates based on gender. As a log broker, I had the same pressures as many of the members. In fact, when it came to the number of employees and the amount of dollars handled, I probably had more responsibilities then many of them.
I wanted to be able to have what they had – easy access to as many players in the industry – in a casual club atmosphere. I knew it would be a lot easier to have an informal conversation with a potential supplier at a Hoo-Hoo meeting, than my rather formal (not to mention expensive) efforts of having to host each one individually.
I’d like to say that happened…but it didn’t…I never attended a meeting. In fact, I quit the whole business a year later.
I’d also like to say other women joined after me…but I don’t think that ever happened either.
Did I change the world? I don’t think so.
But it changed me.
Today, our newly-elected Prime Minister promised to open the door of another tree fort.
I feel more hopeful than I have in a long time.