When my cousin was a young man, he came back to Toronto from California to visit his girlfriend. The family was beside themselves because he wore white pants in winter, obviously contravening the unbreachable rule that white could not be worn after labour day. It was the cause célèbre back then, all shaking their heads at that affront to civilized society. We should have know he was a trail blazer.
When I read that Prince Harry was marrying his divorced sweetheart, I thought of poor Princess Margaret, the Queen’s harassed sister prevented from marrying her heart’s delight, Peter Townsend, because he had been previously married. Later Prince Charles and Camilla both sheared of former loves were eventually allowed to marry, the first royals allowed to divorce, Henry viii and Anne of Cleves in 1540. Perhaps for to grab at a few vestiges of prior days, Meghan Markle who attended a Catholic high school will actually submit to baptism in the Church of England.
How things change over time. From clothes to technology and mores . And what of the shame and disgrace brought on to a family should a child be conceived out of wedlock. In deed women years back were not even allowed to teach school if they were in the family way. And early paintings hid the improper condition by the empire line dress that allowed for the fabric to billow over the stomach disguising the body shape.
Michael Adams the president of the Environics that surveys, researches and consults with leading thinkers on public opinion, demographics, and trends, spoke in a forum for University of Toronto’s continuing education classes, addressing how Canada has changed as well :perhaps as a response to the country’s population that is now compromised of 40 percent of first and second generation newcomers to Canada. He postulates that around 1970, with the rise of Quebec Nationalism, Canada gradually began to embrace a new ideology of integrating foreigners into our society : one that still had considered Sunday as the Lord’s Day and hence no Sunday shopping- until 1992. How well I recall my mother telling me she, a newcomer to Canada, had been chased down the street with taunts of “tin can, popcorn, five cents a piece.” From our imperial traditions of moose, Mounties and maple syrup and the tight lipped British, we too have altered our attitudes over time. Jews recall the attitude of None is Too Many, the turning back of the ship of refugees on the St. Louis , eventually contrasting it to the acceptance of 60,000 boat people from Viet Nam years later. And ironically too,we learn that most Christmas songs were penned by Jews, reinforcing idealized traditions that never were, as they fled Russia, Poland for America, that mythic land of equality.
What a difference a day, a month or a year makes…
Adams listed our Canadian values of tolerance, respect, the desire for gender equality and acceptance of paying taxes because we trust in government to better our lives. As well, our country has, two official languages.My children in the 70’s attended a duo school that taught both French and English, but many French Immersion schools sprung up over the city. Our thinking was guided by a sense of a broader world space and although Canadian children, unlike their American counterparts, tended to return home after their college educations. But with the purposely widening of a cosmopolitan outlook and view towards the world, we foresaw that our children might permanently leave the nest and locate their futures in places where French might be spoken. I’ve often told the story of our own children’s ease in Paris where they effortlessly slipped into conversations with locals, being accepted as competent speakers of French, worthy of a dialogue. And in fact, a former childhood friend of theirs eventually became a foreign correspondent in Morocco. In considering how we differ from the United States, Adams cited , as well our healthcare and an educational system pretty well equal across the country, again unlike that great gap between public schools in Massachusetts and Mississippi. Ironically to possess the American Dream, one must come to Canada, we believing government in its power to ameliorate our lives. The Americans still debating health care, demonize ours lauding theirs. Yet just last fall, we waited for almost four hours to be seen in Emergency in California.
Maybe because I am almost 70, I can take the long view, comparing life then and life now. It is a truism that people are people and for the most part, we are still built the same with skin, bones and emotions, but we are set, as our ancestors were into changing times, lingering prejudices and a requirement to adapt. Unlike our grandchildren, we did not grow up with iPhones and IPad. Years ago when we visited Disneyland’s Futureland, the question was posed : if you could augment your knowledge with a computer chip placed in your brain, would you? I imagine soon we will.
Cars that drive themselves may appear on the roadways before boomers die. We all ready have vacuums by Dyson who replace Molly Maids. Sadly, kindles replace paper books yet paper proliferates.And the internet through email speeds messaging. New developments and greater research have increased life span. Just read the obits to see how many lives have been prolonged have into the 90’s.
Exposure of male abuse of colleagues is openly condemned, the hypocrisy of it previously known but allowed to persist, an open secret. Pushed into the light of day prior assaults are now being contributed by victims. And truthfully, I believe almost every woman has experienced some form of inappropriate behaviour . I remember arguing with one of my girls about a top I felt too provocative and she asserting, even 20 years ago, she had a right to wear what she wanted. Because I anticipated the impact of said top, I countered her sense of emerging self , but as raging adolescents will do, she prevailed. Years later with more experience of the world, she understood the need to modulate her clothing to avoid those lascivious looks, calls or grabs.. .( obviously not her fault) .Ironically Trump’s own words of pussy- grabbing did not stop his election to the position wherein exemplary behaviour for the nation should be modelled.
Here also, we support the battlecry of the abused, note our radio celebrity Jian Ghomeshi, accused but released for his unwanted predator behaviour. Unlike his brothers in the US, his case could not be proven, and he has slinked away from society. And although there is the condemnation and chastisement for Lindsay Shepherd, a lecturer at Laurier University reprimanded for showing a video debate on the use of sexist pronouns by a U of T professor. As Alice might murmur, life gets stranger and stranger. We seem to push and pull away and towards, unable to find as Ralph Waldo Emerson and many others preached, “the middle road.” But even as I watch Outlanders and protagonist Claire’s return to 300 years earlier in Scotland, and her knowledge of who will succeed and who will fail, I am caught as we all by the evolution and its backward thrust of society that steadfastly maintains people in its maw, twisting and turning them as the world responds to the wisdom or folly of those making and enforcing the rules of civility.