Celebrating Women

“Celebrating Women”   a sermon  March 9, 2014

Rev. Brian J. Kiely  Unitarian Church of Edmonton


When we met to brainstorm this service, Audrey and I settled on a theme of mentors and role models.  You have already spent some time lighting candles for the women who have been examples for you, and that is good.


The whole idea of mentors and role models is an interesting one.  They aren’t the same thing.  Usually the best role models are the individuals who don’t especially want the job.  They do not court it.  Sometimes they don’t even understand that they have that title.  They are just women and men who want to live their lives according to their own moral code.  They want to do their best, pursue the activities they love, whether those be professional, maternal, political, personal or something else.


Mentors are a little different.  They typically are more intentional about offering guidance.  Sometimes that comes with the job:  parents, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches…even ministers – these are folks who are charged with sharing what they know. Mostly they want to pass on what they have learned in the most helpful way they can.


Of course some people find themselves having that job, but they don’t really want it. They don’t accept the responsibility.  We have all met poor teachers and even poor parents, folks who for whatever reason are unable to execute these responsibilities.  But there is a blessing of good mentors out there.  How many young women have found their guidance from some individual who saw in them a special spark, and who fanned that spark into a flame?


And, of course, human nature being what it is, the some person who is a great mentor for one is completely unable to reach or help another.  That diversity makes life interesting.  But ever the optimist, I do deeply believe that there is a mentor – perhaps several mentors out there for everyone.


Role models and mentors.  I suppose the other distinguishing feature is that role models may not ever know the people they are influencing, while mentors are able to develop a kind of intimacy with the person they guide.


Role models are people we see from afar.  Maybe not very far – they might live on our street, go to our school, but they are usually people whom we admire from a bit of distance. They become role models because of who they are and how well they manage to live their lives.


Unfortunately, we sometimes make the mistake of casting the job of role model onto people who are simply very good at some one thing.  Sports heroes and movie stars are good examples.  We might want to study how a hockey player scores a lot of goals and plays the game, but that talent doesn’t confer ‘good person’ status automatically.  But to look deeper and find out what else makes Hayley Wickenheiser tick…that makes a role model.  Sure, she has been a gifted hockey player on our national team for 20 years.  But she has also raised an adopted son, trained as a kinesiologist, plans on medical school after hockey, gives countless hours to young hockey players, earned the Order of Canada, was named flag bearer for the Olympic team and elected as the athlete’s representative of the IOC – these speak of depth of character, honour and strength of spirit.  That makes a good role model.


Earlier in the service I played a song by a young New Zealander named Lorde.  It reached #1 on the Billboard chart a few months ago. Young…she was 16 when she wrote and recorded that song.  A bit young for the role model mantle and yet she is being touted for the job.


There is good reason.  For one thing she is unafraid of the term ‘feminist’ – a title rejected by her industry peers who prefer ‘strong woman’ out of fear of alienating anyone.  For another she writes songs about the kinds of values that place love and friendship over money, that that talk about working for a common goal.  This 16 year old also speaks her mind and embraces both her talent and success as her earned due and not simply some lovely “Ohmigosh I’m so blessed” bit of gush.


Why are women like Lorde and Wickenheiser important?  Because these are the women influencing our children.  These are the women they know, who stand out against the backdrop of Barbie and Disney princesses.  They make a difference.


The celebration of women and their struggle to become fully equal  citizens has been a long and challenging journey in this nation.  It is far from over.  But there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.  I look around this room and see a lot of wise elders, crones if you will, who were part of the first generation to be called feminists.


When they were young and chose to have careers – those who did so out of choice and not economic necessity – they were the odd ones.  I know for a fact some of them can tell you of how they were judged – sometimes harshly – even by members of their own family.  They had to fight for their place, and even when they could find work it was often in limited fields, with less pay and limited prospect for promotion.  And then they had to go home and manage many if not all of the ‘traditional’ roles of running households and raising families.


Those battles are not completely over, but the generation of young women and girls today have many more opportunities and freedoms thanks to these pioneers.  Above all they have more choices.  They face different struggles in finding good paying work, but that has more to do with the economy and much less to do with their gender.


We must thank these older women, just as they must thank the Famous Five and others who worked for suffrage and the recognition of women as full human beings.  If you want some good role models, look up the UCE History page and read some of their stories…and then maybe go find one of them some Sunday and ask them questions about what their lives were like.  It will be time well spent.  If you were here two weeks ago when we had a conversation about social justice, you will know what I mean.  You would have heard a few of these women standing up and talking about what it was like to be a social worker or nurse or teacher 20 or 30 years ago.


We may not think there has been enough progress for women, for cultural change is slow and grudging, but there has been change…good change.


I mentioned Disney princesses a little while back.  Before Christmas I took my daughters to see the latest iteration in the movie Frozen.  Last Sunday it won the Oscar for best animated feature.


It’s a story of two sisters orphaned at young age.  They are indeed princesses, but the elder one – Elsa- carries a curse…everything she touches turns to ice.  In her fear of hurting people she becomes a recluse.  Meanwhile the younger sister Anna longs only for her companionship not understanding why her sister keeps away.


Years pass and Elsa emerges to be crowned queen.  In the celebrations Anna meets a young prince.  In traditional Disney fashion she falls completely for her ‘one true love’.  The thing is he is a cad who acts like a lover, but really only wants to steal the throne.  It is a shocking moment when hong Anna finds the truth, but she picks herself up and fights to foil his plan.


Well there are lots of other plot twists and storyline, but by the end Anna – the younger- the one who seeks one true love – discovers that the only way to save her sister and the kingdom is to sacrifice herself for her sister.  And that, the simple thing of touching the hand of her sister is the real act of one true love that breaks the curse and allows the happily ever ending.


It was breathtaking!  Finally!  77 years after Snow White waited for her kiss e, 77 years after the establishment of the Disney Princess genre, there were two vibrant young women who did not need a man to save their world.


As you might imagine, my daughters heard a bit of a sermon in the car on the way home.


We all know that the media images of women are not always healthy or good.  We all know that our daughters and granddaughters and yes our sons and grandsons are subjected to manipulated images of supposed beauty and sexuality in TV, film, music and on the net.


It is our job to mentor them, if only to the degree of helping them see women who can be positive mentors and true role models.  It is our job to name the falsehoods when we see them and to celebrate the real values women bring to our world and our culture.

It is our job to celebrate women for who they really are and what they really do…for that is plenty good enough.