“I started out with an idea to interview a St. John’s woman in her 60s who had been through feminism and the Catholic church,” says dancer and documentarian Louise Moyes. “I wanted to have her talk about all of the changes that have come over those years for women here. But then a colleague suggested talking to the three women, one from each generation. And that was a really interesting idea.”
The result is St. John’s Women, a collaboration between dance and documentary film that will be presented and danced by Moyes at the LSPU Hall from September 19-22.
The piece centers around interviews with three women: Kay Haynes, a woman in her 60s; Ashley Kapoor, a woman in her 20s; and Moyes herself, a woman in her 40s.
Moyes asked each of them the same questions about feminism, religion, children, and life, and their responses were captured on video and will play on screen, interspersed with Moyse’s own responses, which are both spoken and danced. She also performs a dance for each woman, capturing their spirit with music and movement.
So what did she learn about St. John’s women?
“We are all very much of our generation,” she says.
Haynes, now a real estate agent, grew up on Barnes Road in the 1940s and 1950s. At 15, Kay had to pay rent, and so went to on Water Street to work in a bank.
“She loved it,” says Moyes. “She had people from all over the world coming off the ships and coming in to exchange money. Then she got married. And back then, when you got married, you stopped working, that was it. You stayed home with the children.”
In the film Haynes talks about growing up in a household with a widowed father and learning from the woman who eventually become her stepmother, who was born in the 1920s and worked her whole life, and helped other women of her generation to have the courage to do the same.
“Kay says she isn’t militant, but that she is a feminist,” says Moyes. “And it’s wonderful, because she helps dispel all the stereotypes of feminism: the women in battle, hating men, and not looking for equality but to be better than men. She is so gentle about it.”
Moyes herself also identifies as a feminist.
“For me, it means recognizing that things aren’t equal yet,” she says. “There has been great progress, for lack of a better word, but there’s still a glass ceiling. And those battles are hard won. Those rights can be taken away pretty quickly. We don’t have to look far beyond our borders to see other cultures where women are very clearly oppressed. It keeps me vigilant.”
Kapoor, the third subject of the documentary, has worked with the local chapter of Oxfam dealing specifically with women’s issues in developing countries.
“And yet she doesn’t consider herself a feminist,” says Moyse. “I worked with Ashley for a time in the same office, and I was fascinated by her and the other women her age that I worked with: they were smart, independent, gorgeous, and they had a confidence that our generation of women just didn’t have. And though they recognized that these struggles came before them, they did not call themselves feminists.”
Moyes has mixed feelings about their reluctance to use the word to describe themselves.
“In some ways I find it exciting that she doesn’t feel that there’s a need. It means there has been progress,” she says. “But it does make me nervous that a ball may be dropped, that we could go backwards.”
“I wonder, does feminism need another name? Is it a dirty word?”
When it comes to having children and building the families, Moyes says the women she spoke to are all, again, products of their time.
“For Kay, well, you just got married and had children,” says Moyes. “That was it.”
Moyes’ generation, on the other hand, were encouraged to focus on their careers and have children when it was convenient for them.
“We were almost an experiment,” says Moyes. “Most of us had our children quite late, and we had every intervention possible: in vitro, borrowing eggs… You name it and we’ve been through it. It turns out not to be true, you can’t wait forever.”
Kapoor doesn’t have children, and hasn’t yet decided when she would like to have them.
What does unite the women, though, is that they all consider themselves to be St. John’s women. It’s an interesting idea in Newfoundland, where the sense is takes a few generations before one can honestly call themselves a Newfoundlander.
“Kay is a multi-generational Newfoundlander,” says Moyes. “So she is a Newfoundland woman. But she is a St. John’s woman, through and through.”
Moyes’ parents moved here from England in 1964.
“They came here and they integrated,” says Moyes. “But I don’t think they will ever feel like full Newfoundlanders. But I am a St. John’s woman. What else would I be?”
Kapoor’s mother is a Newfoundlander, but her father is from India. She spent the first part of her life living in Toronto.
“Ashley came here when she was 11 or 12,” says Moyes. “She often says that when people ask her where she’s from, she forgets, because she’s brown, they’re expecting her to say something other than St. John’s. But St. John’s is where she is from.”
Louise will be digging deeper into these ideas on the show’s opening night, which is doubling as a fundraiser for Oxfam. The performance will be followed by a panel discussion with three immigrant women discussing how they identify as St. John’s women: Zainab Jerret, the Coordinator of the International Food and Craft Fair for the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador; Mimi Sheriff, who works for Oxfam; and Yamuna Kutty, president of the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador.
St. John’s Women and My Secret Pig run at the LSPU Hall from Sept 19-Sept 22. For more info see our listings on page 24. For ticket info visit the LSPU Hall’s website.