“Living a Feminist Life”
with Rosemary B. Ganley
Tuesday, July 18, 2023 at 2:00 pm ET
WATER is grateful to Rosemary B. Ganley and all who joined in the tea to discuss “Living a Feminist Life.” It was a great opportunity to think anew about our deep commitments, and to ponder next steps for actualizing those in the many ways WATER people do.
Introduction of Rosemary B. Ganley by Mary E. Hunt
Dr. Rosemary Burns Ganley is well known to WATER audiences. She is an esteemed colleague, a feminist friend, and a remarkably talented observer and writer.
Her weekly columns in the Peterborough, Ontario Examiner, collected into various anthologies, are simply wonderful. Her recent piece on the Catholic Synod on Synodality was the most fair-minded, balanced approach to that process and meeting that I have read.
She brings global experience having spent three years with her husband John and their three then young sons working in Jamaica and later founding the Canadian-based development organization “Jamaican Self Help.” They also worked in Tanzania for several years, again learning how to be global citizens with deep roots in Canada.
A life-changing experience for her was attending the Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Prime Minister Trudeau (the Younger) included her in the G7 discussions on women in 2018. Trent University in Peterborough awarded her an honorary doctorate last June.
Rosemary sees the world through a feminist lens with intersectional justice her goal. That said, she knows enough about sports to write on the sports page of any Canadian or American newspaper. In all things she “calls ‘em as she sees ‘em.” She seeks out local cultural events, ferrets out the kindness, and enriches the discourse with her insights.
I have learned over the years to follow her lead and step right along smartly.
Rosemary Ganley Remarks
Rosemary began July’s WATERtea by saying, “Grace happens spontaneously all the time. Just this morning I read the honorable Joan Chittister, and she said that friendship is as deeply spiritual as it is social. When I look at 36 friends here with common cause, deep roots, and spirituality, I thought Joan Chittister’s comment about friendship among women and their male allies is as spiritual as it is social.”
She went on to remark, “It’s been a feminist principle that I learned early on that whenever we gather, we look around and say, ‘Who’s not here?’ That can be instructive.”
Rosemary discussed how it is the most excluded women, including the mentally ill, indigenous, and criminal offenders that feminist gatherings need to recognize, “just like a land acknowledgement.” Every time we engage in discourse of this type, everybody should keep in mind which identities are not present so that we can be aware of the limitations of our perspectives and keep expanding our circles.
Having become an empowered feminist through personal experiences, with positive relationships with her father, husband, and three sons, Rosemary gratefully admitted that what shaped her ideas of feminism is based off of her own life’s circumstances. She says, “Feminism is a political analysis. It has personal and communal implications. It is an analysis of the world, and it is also a resolve to do something about laws, attitudes, and structures that prolong this exclusion and discrimination.”
There are multitudes of definitions of the word feminism, so Rosemary chose to give her own interpretation of what that word means. The question of how we each define the term, and if it should even continue to be used at all, was a theme throughout this tea.
Rosemary brought up an encounter she had with the late Rosemary Radford Ruether about the common struggles we face. The feminist theologian said, “Don’t tire, but take breaks, and come back to it.” Another encounter she observed involved a person asking the theologian Elizabeth Johnson, “When will we know when our work is done?” to which she responded, “When the poorest, most abused woman in a South African township is thriving, our work will be done.”
Small groups met to discuss two main questions:
- What is your feminist vision?
- What large/small actions will you take to actualize your vision?
Plenary conversation included:
After reconvening following our discussion groups to share our thoughts, many points were made in regard to how we should approach feminism as a concept. The first was how we must buy and consume products in an ethical manner. A participant said that “one of the things we do in our community through my church is offer weddings at a budget with things that are recycled.” Using products created by exploited labor is categorically anti-feminist, so making sure we are thoughtful and economical is a vital part of supporting women. Furthermore, we must be mindful consumers so that we can minimize damage to the environment. For example, one participant said that she avoids buying clothing made of polyester.
The next point raised was “to see what women are doing in other parts of the world where they don’t have the privilege to discuss what feminism means.” By supporting not only these women, but the people helping them, we can be useful. See below for specific suggestions.
Another person in the conversation brought up the reluctance of young women to self-identify with the word ‘feminist’. People felt that some younger people “do take a lot for granted” and that they do not understand the struggles the older generations faced in getting equal treatment and privileges. One person said, “We have to keep educating young people about how things were and what things that actual women did to change them.” Women’s rights are something that we must continue to teach new generations so that the fights and sacrifices it took to obtain them can be remembered.
Questions came up about feminism and the arts, how women are depicted in film. The Bechdel Test for movies is a good start: Are there at least two women in the film, do they speak with one another, and do they speak about more than men?
In her concluding statement, Mary mentioned a mantra of WATER as another feminist principle: “If we share, among us there is enough.” It was an uplifting reminder that we must work together to find the answers we seek.
The July 18th WATERtea was a lively discussion that served to both question and encourage how we approach living a feminist life.
Additional resources to add to the conversation:
- The discussion included mention of braveyoung Kenyan and Afghani women who are doing critical life-saving, feminist work in their communities. Anyone interested in learning more about and/or supporting that work is encouraged to contact Mary Yelenick (email@example.com).
- There are young women who need help to leave Afghanistan. Again, if you want assist in this please contact Mary E. Hunt (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get in touch with people involved in supporting them.
A hearty thank you to Rosemary Ganley for kicking off this session with wisdom and grace. It has already bearing fruit. One person called it “life changing,” while another said she kept thinking about the issues all night! WATER is toying with the idea of a session for an intergenerational conversation of the new “Barbie” movie. Stay tuned.