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Women we love

They wow us with their talents, dazzle us with their determination and move us with their courage

Women we love

Margaret Trudeau by Sophie Gregoire Trudeau
Margaret is all woman: feminine and strong, ebullient and profound, funny and articulate. She is a dreamer, a doer, a reader, a talker, a home cook and a world traveller, a good listener and a great gossip. (Who else can give you the dirt on Studio 54?)
She understands the responsibility of the public spotlight, and by speaking out about coping with her bipolar disease, she is helping so many Canadians. Now Margaret has created balance in her life, finding time for her public speaking and for herself.
Over the past two years, she’s had a new role to revel in, that of an active, present, fabulous grandmother. My 10-month-old daughter proudly wears her name: Ella-Grace Margaret Trudeau. And when she turns 16 and asks me to call her Maggie, I’ll tell her: “Trust me, there’s only one!”

The women of Iran by Maryam Sanati
There was a time, before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, that I remember well: when the law of Iran did not force women to cover their hair and neck and limbs, did not segregate them from men in public, did not deny their right to seek political office and did not (generally) censor their communications. When I was a child, Iranian women — at once the sturdy bones and beating heart of their families — expressed their opinions and tested their fearlessness out in the open, and not just behind the closed doors of their homes.
Now, we watch images of crushing defeat — the last moments of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan’s life broadcast on the internet. She is bleeding on the ground, eyes blank, shot in the chest by a militiaman on June 20 in Tehran, while a rally raged against the sham elections.
And yet I still hear of open acts of bravery: the “Mourning Mothers” who meet in Tehran public parks, protesting the deaths of their activist daughters and sons. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate, lawyer and human-rights champion, routinely disrupts the rule of silence in the country where she still lives. She speaks defiantly: She will not be driven from Iran despite the escalating threats to her life, the defacing of her law office and the demonstrations by fundamentalists on her doorstep. “I will continue on the same path,” she says.
Women with such convictions may be, at any minute, rounded up by the “law” and thrown into a place as evil as Tehran’s Evin prison, where they are tortured and killed without hesitation.
Their daring is monumental.
Now the world knows. But what will the world dare to do?


Salma Hayek by Hannah Sung
Last September, Salma Hayek, 43, took her high-watt Hollywood spotlight to Sierra Leone, the nation with one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the world. There, she encountered a sick baby, whose mother was unable to feed him. So Hayek, who was still nursing her daughter, breastfed the week-old boy herself.
(She recounted family lore of her great-grandmother having once done the same thing for a hungry baby back in Mexico.) Cynics called it a publicity stunt — and that’s exactly what it was. In Sierra Leone, women are often discouraged from breastfeeding, and UNICEF is trying to counter those cultural biases. In stark contrast to the modern phenomenon of Hayek’s celebrity diplomacy, her moment feeding another woman’s child was powerful precisely because it is the most ancient and real way one mother can help another.

Mia Farrow by Margaret Trudeau
In the celebrity world, you seldom see people as they really are. But Mia Farrow is different. She stands by her convictions. Her forceful protests against China’s backing of the repressive regime in Sudan forced her colleague Steven Spielberg to withdraw from his role as an artistic adviser for ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics.
And this past April, the 64-year-old mother of 14 children endured a water-only fast for 12 days to protest the Sudanese government’s expulsion of aid agencies from Darfur. I am moved by her devotion to Africa — the people, their welfare and especially the children. Mia Farrow has lived an extraordinary and privileged life, but it has also been a real life, full of such compassion.

Laura Archer by James Maskalyk
Laura Archer is doing what she does. She is in her Montreal studio, painting. Surrounding her are the faces of the people she has seen around the world; some are patients, some are friends, some are ghosts. They look out from the canvases with a rare humanity, captured by the artist who glimpsed it, eyes wide open.
Painting the world is a way for Laura, 31, to make peace with its hardest edges, the ones she has felt as a nurse in Chad, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan, where she was abducted on March 11, and held captive for three days, while working at a health clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). With her pictures, she shifts our focus to stories that would otherwise remain untold and, through that, moves us closer to the truth. She paints with the same courage she has shown throughout her career as a humanitarian.
Our conversation turns from her art, back to its inspiration: her time in the field. “When I returned home from being kidnapped, mostly the response was, ‘Oh, the poor thing, she was just trying to help.’ I had been there for months. I understood the risks. I knew exactly what I was doing.” She was doing what she does.


Lauren Woolstencroft by Steve Podborski
How hard is it to become the best in the world? To overcome the fear and doubt, not only the voices from within, but from those around you who think, “I grew up with that kid and she is not that special.”
But sometimes those kids are special and then the will, the compulsion, comes over them. The goal is set that few ever aspire to, never mind plan for.
Lauren Woolstencroft, 27, was one of those kids. When she wakes up each day she could choose to reflect on her achievements as a smart and talented young woman: engineering degree, great job with BC Hydro, a home in North Vancouver. On the other hand, she might instead focus on the reasons that she might not succeed, one of the very real ones being that she was born missing both legs below the knees and her left arm below the elbow — challenges that many would find completely demoralizing.
So why not really take on the demons? Why not aim for global domination of your chosen sport? Lauren has convincingly done so in para-alpine skiing — having won five medals at the Paralympics in 2002 and 2006 and eight world championship titles.
No demons, no voices, nobody will stop her from skiing faster than any other racer can dream of going. She did it yesterday. She will do it tomorrow. She will win at the Paralympics in 2010. She is that good.

Tassie Cameron by Katrina Onstad
Without her, entire worlds don’t exist. Torontonian Tassie Cameron, 40, is our country’s most in-demand TV writer, and that country next door digs her, too. Last spring, Cameron — quashing butterflies — walked into an L.A. boardroom at ABC with a stack of cue cards and pitched a series called Copper: “Grey’s Anatomy with rookie cops.” She wowed, and the show is an upcoming Global-ABC co-production. (Her other birth this year will be her first child.) Flashpoint, Degrassi: The Next Generation and the TV movie The Robber Bride have all benefited from Cameron’s gift for creating characters — especially women — with rich, knotty inner lives. Her trade, as she sees it, is stories: “I just happen to tell them on TV.


Leila Boujnane by Sara Diamond
Count on a woman to find a needle in a haystack. Meet Toronto’s Leila Boujnane, CEO and co-founder of Idée. She’s a dynamo who has helped figure out the hard science of image recognition — how to match images and (voila) invent a visual search on the internet. Leila’s perseverance, computer-science savvy and acute visual sensibilities allowed her to unleash a revolution in how we use the web. Need to pick a photo out of millions in an archive? Cue Leila. Need to identify copyrighted pictures? Leila. Need to find a missing child? Leila. Inventors take raw science and translate it into stuff that people can use, and Leila is a brilliant inventor. She’s also a generous, perky and eloquent advocate for digital media. She is a passionate promoter of, as well as a role model for, women who want to play close to the machine and create new technologies. Too few women are entering careers in mathematics, engineering and science. Which is why Boujnane supports Toronto Girl Geek Dinners: They’re helping to develop a social network of powerful females who mentor emerging talent in the field. Count on a woman to help us find visual beauty online. And count on a woman to help make the internet accessible to all those who understand the world through images more easily than through words.

Mavis Staines by Guillaume Cote
I was 10 years old when I met Mavis Staines and I didn’t speak a word of English.
I had just auditioned for Canada’s National Ballet School and was considering leaving my family and home in Northern Quebec to pursue my dream to be a dancer. My parents were reluctant to let their young son go to boarding school 1,000 kilometres away from home and Mavis was the one who made them feel more comfortable with making this big decision.
She assured them that it was something I needed to do and that my future would be brighter for it. During my years at the school, Mavis was demanding of all of her students, including me; I must’ve been sent to her office every week for one thing or another. But through her constant attention and great diplomacy, she helped me to grow as an artist and as a person. I believe that without Mavis, I would never have left home and would never have become the dancer I am today. I owe my career to her dedication to her students.
Since my years at the school, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary , Mavis’s accomplishments as artistic director have been remarkable. Only 55 herself, she has managed to get the support from the community to build one of the most beautiful dance facilities in the world and she’s given Canada’s National Ballet School graduates a world of opportunities with her international connections. Mavis’s students are now all over the world; we are all part of her lasting legacy of dance.


Kristen Wiig by Jessica Holmes
If you haven’t heard of Kristen Wiig — that funny, wispy scene-stealer from Ghost Town and Knocked Up — it’s only because she’s humble. Yes, you read right: She’s an actor and she’s humble! Maybe that’s because when the Rochester, New York–raised comedian auditioned for Saturday Night Live in 2005, she wasn’t hired until the season was well under way. Wiig, 36, didn’t let the shaky start throw her; instead, she grabbed the producers’ — and our — attention with her hilarious characters. Now she appears in more sketches than any other cast member. Her creations, like Penelope (the über-braggart) and the Target Lady (a cashier who lacks boundaries of any kind), are extremely popular. But they’re also wild and weird, more outside the box than any other mainstream comedian’s. Becoming a character requires an exhausting amount of commitment, but here’s the payoff: For the five minutes that each sketch is on, you feel like you’re a kid again. It takes courage to take those chances, to admit to the public that this is the kind of crazy stuff that goes on in your head. And it takes talent to turn those ideas into something intriguing for an audience. Kristen nails it each time. I hope her playfulness onscreen reminds us all to indulge in childish behaviour every now and then.

Carol Ann Duffy by Roland Pemberton
Poetry is a loaded word in our modern world. With so many digital means of expression, where does something perceived as being so traditional fit into our lives? It is through individuals like Britain’s newest poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, that poetry can be personified and socially relevant.
Glasgow’s Duffy, 53, embodies the role with a more incisive direction than those before her, not merely because she’s the only out bisexual or female to hold the post in the three centuries of its existence, but also through the political and personal place from which she draws her populist poetry.
“Politics,” her first piece as poet laureate, directly confronts the U.K.’s parliamentary- expenses controversy in a piercing, fluent stream of emotion. The ideal candidate must be an individual who can tackle the problems of his or her community, and represent and celebrate that community with integrity. Carol Ann Duffy is that person, a truly admirable figure.


Alice Munro by Margaret Atwood
There’s a chunk of public statuary in honour of Alice Munro in the centre of Wingham, Ont., her birthplace. It shows a young bronze girl lying on a bronze lawn reading a bronze book. “It’s really pretty good,” comment the two not-young, non-bronze women observing it, one of whom happens to be Alice Munro, the other myself. “It’s very nice.” Their tone is that of two women checking out — for instance — curtain material: cautious, evaluating, understated.
This statue is in a town that once sent Alice Munro her first vicious hate mail. What was the hate mail about? I ask.
“People thought I’d put them into my books,” she says.
“And did you?”
She shoots me a look. “People always think that.”
How did it come to this — bronze statues? (Spending good money, Munro’s own characters mutter. Useless!) And the Alice Munro Literary Garden? And a tour of “Alice Munro’s Wingham,” which may be arranged through the museum? And the stories published in the New Yorker, and the many volumes in hardcover and paper, and the prizes — three Governor General’s awards and two Giller prizes among them. And now the Man Booker International Award for her entire body of work!
It’s been a long journey. Alice Munro, 78, has often been compared to Chekhov, but perhaps she’s more like Cézanne. You paint an apple, you paint an apple over again, until this utterly familiar object becomes strange and luminous and mysterious; yet it remains only an apple. Isn’t she, after all, something of a mystic? “Thou art in small things great, not small in any,” said George Herbert. And so it is with Alice Munro.
(“Oh for heaven’s sakes,” says the voice of Alice. “Restrain yourself! Herbert was talking about God! Wasn’t that statue enough for one day? Anyway, are you sure it’s bronze?”)

Bonnie Brooks by Jeanne Beker
It’s not every day you hear Karl Lagerfeld talking blankets, but that’s what I witnessed last January, when the Bay’s newly appointed president and CEO, Bonnie Brooks, 56, chatted up Chanel’s legendary stylemeister at the Fashion Group International Awards gala in New York. Bonnie’s paid her dues in fashion’s trenches, breathing new life into Hong Kong’s spectacular Lane Crawford retail operation — a feat that won the store an esteemed International Retailer of the Year award. But besides all of her dynamic business abilities, hip merchandising savvy and off-the-map creative vision, the real secret behind her success is that she’s got heart: Despite her often unbridled drive and ambition, Bonnie, raised in London, Ont., is an endearing romantic who’s all about compassion. Her sensitive nature keeps her real and in touch, yet always committed to the importance of dreaming. Above all, the lady’s a doer, poised to inspire generations of Canadian women with both her passion for great style and her dedication to finding solutions that are at once practical and exciting.


Eva Aariak by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Eva Qamaniq Aariak, 54, is part of a generation of Inuit women who are placing the Arctic in the spotlight on the national and global stages. Originally from Arctic Bay in northern Baffin Island, she is renowned for her strong grounding in our Inuit language (Inuktitut) and culture, and her collaborative approach to all things. Eva has had a varied career as a teacher, a CBC reporter and a public servant committed to increasing Inuit participation in the workforce. In the lead-up to the creation of Nunavut, she helped lay the cornerstones of its future government. With the dawn of the new territory in 1999, she was named its first languages commissioner.
After launching a successful business and becoming a new grandmother, Eva ran for office in 2008. She was soon chosen by her fellow members of the Legislative Assembly to lead the largest of Canada’s provinces and territories. She is currently the only woman in the country serving as premier and we are all certainly very proud of her.

Sonia Sotomayor by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
Justice Sonia Sotomayor — a wise Latina woman indeed.
And a brilliant one, whose love of the law and grace under pressure during the nomination process moved many on
this side of the border to enthusiastically celebrate her appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
Surely it was long overdue for the U.S. final-appeals court to embrace its third woman. How inspiring that she is Hispanic, was raised in the projects in socio-economic deprivation and lived a life far different than many, if not all, of her new colleagues. Yet she never set aside her Puerto Rican culture or heritage to find the American dream.
Justice Sotomayor embodies the very idea of equality, which infuses Anglo-American law and justice — no one
is above the law, which is open equally to everyone.
A most poignant moment for me was watching when, following the confirmation vote, after beating the odds and making history, Justice Sotomayor, 55, walked to her home. Neighbours — Latinos, non-Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasian-Americans, Asian-Americans — lined sidewalks as she passed, clapping and shouting congratulations.
While her confirmation is about her achievement, it’s also about those neighbours and who they represent. Equality lifts everyone in its path. It is the true soul of the rule of law.


Margo Goodhand by Stevie Cameron
Warm, heartfelt applause greeted Margo Goodhand in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel ballroom in June 2009 as she accepted the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Excellence in Journalism Award for her newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press. One of the very few female editors-in-chief of major Canadian dailies, Goodhand backs important stories, including a recent series sparked by the death of a five-year-old native child, Phoenix Sinclair, who was tortured, murdered and buried in the woods by her mother and stepfather. The paper’s work, under Goodhand’s leadership, forced Manitoba to rewrite its child-welfare act. As someone who seems to be able to do it all with grace, imagination and passion, Margo Goodhand is a woman we must cherish.

Michaelle Jean by Paul Wells
Can we go over this whole seal-heart thing one more time? It’s really not that complicated, and it teaches us something about our governor general that’s worth knowing. Michaëlle Jean was in an Arctic community, is all, and when she cut into the animal’s heart and snacked on a slice, she was simply following the example of her hosts, as any proper guest does. Her hosts, in turn, were feeding her the best part of some valuable game. The dominant spirit in the room, from all hands, was generosity.
This, we are beginning to learn, is what Michaëlle Jean does: She inspires generosity. And she replies in kind. There are worse ways to go through life.
There were skeptics aplenty in 2005 when Paul Martin plucked the then-48-year-old, vibrant, Haitian-born broadcaster from news-channel obscurity and made her the Queen’s representative for Canada. Her resumé was slim and her husband, documentarian Jean-Daniel Lafond, liked to hang out with separatists. But she has disarmed the skeptics with her boundless good nature. She will leave fancy theories about Canada to others. She brings to the table a bedrock conviction: that her fellow Canadians are decent people. It is a simple idea. The powerful ideas always are.

Kate Harding by Ben Berry
Thirty years ago, British psychoanalyst Susie Orbach cracked our cultural-belief system on eating and weight when she published Fat Is a Feminist Issue. Though her book became an international bestseller, we continue to live in a world besieged by the tyranny of thinness — a world where beauty begins and ends at size zero; where health is judged by the broken scale of BMI (which once considered George Clooney obese); and where who you are is defined by how you look.
But we are not going down, because Chicago’s Kate Harding is on our side. Kate, 34, shares Susie Orbach’s vision for her generation; she is a fat-acceptance crusader who uses the voice and vehicles of today to rip apart the fictitious links between weight, health and human nature, to expose why diets don’t work and set us on the path to peace with our bodies. Combining sharp wit and compelling arguments in blog posts and tweets — as well as in her book, Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere — she reminds us that fat is still a feminist issue. For now. The more we learn from Kate, the more we will free our time and money from trying to change our bodies and turn to rediscovering ourselves.


Siwan Anderson by Mia Kirshner
Sometimes quietly and sometimes as in a violent crash, many of us collide with a profound awakening that will inextricably change our lives forever. For Professor Siwan Anderson, 41, an economist at the University of British Columbia, this awakening happened in 1992, when she travelled alone to Delhi, a city known for its scorching heat and heart-stopping contrasts. Anderson, a visiting graduate student, was the sole female researcher at a local institute. During that year in Delhi, she noticed an absence of women. It was a depressing culture shock.
Eventually, her observations led her to write a groundbreaking epidemiological work, “Missing Women: Age and Disease,” developed in conjunction with Debraj Ray, a professor of economics at New York University. Using statistics on mortality and population, they discovered that between 100 and 200 million women, primarily in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa, were missing or dead due to inequality — largely related to health care. Anderson’s research is brave: It exposes parts of our collective humanity or lack thereof. Her work demands that we examine the world around us and do so much more for it.

The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women by Padma Viswanathan
India’s Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women started as a peaceful response to the violent actions of a group of moral vigilantes in Mangalore. In January 2009, members of the Sri Ram Sena (SRS) attacked a group of female pub-goers, suggesting they had no right to be in a bar. (Any bar.) They threatened further action on Valentine’s Day, prompting the consortium to start a cheeky protest: mailing their unmentionables to members of the SRS. The Pink Chaddi Campaign — chaddi is slang, used for both “underwear” and “right-wing hard-liner” — attracted 30,000 members within a week. Not all pub-going, loose or women, either: homemakers, schoolboys, you name it, they buried the SRS offices in panties, as if with so many rose petals for the altar of some errant Hindu gods. The group has since taken other initiatives to publicize violence against women. “What we’re losing with modernization in India is actually generosity,” Nisha Susan, the consortium’s keystone, has said. “And a very, very rich Hindu tradition of saying ‘Let everybody find their own truth.’ ”


Jennifer McLagan by Laura Calder
Australian Jennifer McLagan, 55, arrived in Toronto 30 years ago and had a long career as one of the country’s top food stylists before she decided it was time to write books. Jennifer is probably the best cook I know, but she didn’t want to publish a book of her everyday recipes; instead she wanted to say something serious and relevant to our time. She did, and to international acclaim, first with Bones: Recipes, History, & Lore and then, even more dramatically, with ,i>Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. Jennifer is passionate and opinionated about the quality of the food we eat and I, for one, am grateful that we have such a talented, learned and articulate Canadian voice speaking up on the importance of real food.

Alexandra Shulman by Christine St-Pierre
In a letter to Versace, John Galliano and other high-fashion houses (the very same labels whose glossy advertisements pay her bills), British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman railed against the jutting-hip-bones-and-no-breasts-or-hips physique required to model minuscule sample sizes, and encouraged the designers to resize their garments to reflect more realistic body standards.
Her brave words are highly significant for all of us who believe that it is indeed time to rethink the way women are viewed in fashion, media and advertising. In Quebec, for instance, we have convened leaders from each of these fields to develop a voluntary charter designed to increase acceptance of body diversity and address the risks of excessive thinness and anorexia.
I sincerely thank Alexandra for her commitment and urge her to continue using her bully pulpit to exert a positive influence on society as a whole. The health and self-esteem of millions of women and girls are at stake.


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