Women friends

March 4, 2011


Katherine Govier is the author of nine novels and three short story collections.  Her most recent novel The Ghost Brush is about the daughter of the famous Japanese printmaker, Hokusai, creator of The Great Wave. The opinions expressed are her own. Thomson Reuters is hosting a live blog on March 8, 2011 on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

On my last trip to Vancouver I walked around the sea wall with Hanna, a girl I particularly liked in Grade 7. It had been – egad don’t say it!- close to 50 years since I’d seen her.

It was raining. She had the only pair of mitts, so she offered to share. Each with one hand in a pocket, the other, snugly-mitted paw on an umbrella, we walked for 2 1/2 hours. With our acquired wisdom and the women’s movement between us and our 1960s teen years, we had lots to say. She told me something I had never known: her doctor father was an alcoholic. We laughed at our devious efforts to get birth control pills in 1969. Our marriage, our kids, my books, her teaching, her volunteering at a women’s shelter. We were soaked and frozen by the time we cut back through Stanley Park and found a restaurant on Robson Street.

Two days later Diane and I picked up the trail at almost the same spot Hanna’s and my footsteps turned off. Diane and I danced the cancan together at The Calgary Stampede. It was a summer job and it paid well. Now she’s involved in law reform. We walked the part of the seawall that was hit by the tornado, around by Siwash Rock. Indian legend has it that, rather than be separated, lovers were turned to stone here.

There are no monuments to women’s devotion to their women friends. It’s less romantic, but more life sustaining. To the Indian maiden whose lover was lost the friends would have rallied, coming over with take-out, taking calls at all hours of the night, wrestling time away from family because ‘she needs me’.

We may — we certainly do — make less money than men but we have great wealth in our friendships. For a woman who came of age in 1971 — and in those days, coming of age meant getting married – chances were her friends would be with her longer than her husband.

That’s been true for me. Thank god for my friends. How many times have you heard that? I’ve been the giver — when Edna’s parents were both killed instantly in a car accident and she had two young children. I’ve been the receiver, when my husband left me the day before I had a deviated-septum operation. We’ve mounted round-the- clock vigils as one of us is dying. Dozens of women I know belong to book clubs which in themselves would make novels, as their members trek through the peaks and valleys of their own lives.

The women’s movement made for a revolution in friendships. For one thing, we’re less in a ghetto of powerlessness. Our friendships aren’t based on vulnerabilities. We make our own decisions and we make decisions that shape our societies. We have powerful connections. We shape to charities. We improve the lot of other women.

All this, and a shared mitten. I feel lucky.

Photo Credit: Handout picture shows Patricia Bradbury (L) and novellist Katherine Govier in Britt, Ontario, Canada in August 2009. REUTERS/Tim Zuck

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