Times have changed for women - Keith Roulston editorial
As I contemplated, on the weekend, what to write this column about, outside on our country acreage the sound of steam whistles at the annual Huron Pioneer Thresher Reunion leaked across the fields.
As I recalled the last days of threshing (I’m old enough to remember the experience), I thought about how different the world of women is today from back in the 1950s and beyond.
We threshed (we said thrashed) in my early days on our farm north of Lucknow. My father and bachelor uncle shared work with our neighbour to the west for a short harvest season, beginning with wheat in mid-summer and oats and barley in late summer. Our neighbour across the road stored his grain sheaves in the barn to be threshed later in the fall by a large crew that handled many farms in a wide area. Our neighbours to the east were ahead of the game, drawing a small combine behind their tractor.
The role of women, particularly farm women, was much different in those days. Though she had worked in a factory when my Dad was overseas during the war, my Mom became a farm wife again when he came home and they bought the farm. She grew the garden and preserved quarts of fruits and vegetables by the dozen (we didn’t have a freezer back then).
Monday was washday with our ringer washer and a clothesline for drying - much better in summer than winter when clothes quickly froze and came into the house as man-sized cut-outs. Tuesday was ironing day - a task that was much more serious in the days before nylon and other easy-care materials.
So it went each day in a house that was much more susceptible to dirt from two sons who tracked in muck, various pets, two men working dirty jobs and hundreds of flies from the nearby barn.
When I think about the Thresher Reunion, the glory of remembrance is around the men’s work and their machines. But farm women played a huge role. In the days of threshing gangs, like the one that arrived at my neighbours’ farm across the road, preparing two meals a day for a dozen workers who ate like two dozen because they worked so hard, brought all a farm wife’s neighbours to help share the work, whether cooking the meal beforehand or cleaning up afterward (with a short time to share a meal themselves before gearing up for the next meal).
Ironically, though most of the time they worked alone in their own kitchen, I recall a busy social life for farm wives of that era. My mother gathered with all her neighbours once a month for her Women’s Institute meeting. There were meetings of clubs at the churches. In the winter, there were Farm Forum meetings in our neighbourhood in a different home each week that brought men and women together to discuss topics of importance, followed by cards (Shoot in our area, Euchre elsewhere) and ending up with lunch and much gossip.
My wife Jill came from a suburban neighbourhood so, aside from church gatherings, and Bridge instead of Shoot, shared few of the experiences of my mother. But she still stayed home from work, did laundry and kept a spotless house, despite having four
Few things have probably changed more than the role of women in our western society. I thought of that the other day as I did my exercises and listened as Jill watched the TV news. More than half the voices I heard were female reporters. That was changing when I went to journalism school in the late 1960s when there were many young women in my classes, daughters of mothers, I would guess, who were full-time housewives.
I’ve also spent much of my life around theatre, with many, many young actresses. Go back in history, however, to the days of William Shakespeare, and female parts were played by men. Women weren’t allowed to be corrupted by the world of theatre.
Even today, some of the conflict in the world is still between nations where women are treated equally, and nations like Afghanistan where, when the western powers withdrew, the dominant government forces have declared that women must hide their faces in public and can’t have jobs like doctors, nurses and teachers.
Even closer to home, there is uncertainty among some U.S. voters as to whether women should be running for public office. For that matter, Canada has had only one female Prime Minister when Kim Campbell succeeded Brian Mulroney for a brief seven-month term in 1993. In the U.S., the despicable Donald Trump defeated the only female presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
So, women have come so far since my childhood, but they still have so far to go to attain equality.