I have lost count of all the interviews I have done about Fort McMurray in the last year. From journalists to film-makers, I have talked with a string of people about our community, our triumphs and our issues. One of the intriguing developments, though, has been the recent focus some of these interviews have been taking - and it's all about being a woman in Fort McMurray.
I have done a few interviews now that are taking the angle of "life as a woman in Fort McMurray". I suppose the journalists are being inspired by the fact that there does seem to be some gender disparity here, with our population more heavily weighted to those of the masculine gender than the feminine. Apparently this is a topic of some interest in some circles, and hence the interviews and subsequent articles - and yet the funny thing is that as a woman living in Fort McMurray I rarely think about it at all.
The questions I am asked are often the same, particularly now that I am a single woman in Fort McMurray.
Do I feel isolated? Um, no. I live with a teenage kid, a dog, a cat and three ferrets. I work at what might be the busiest place on the planet other than Disney, have a full circle of friends, freelance work and spend my time doing things to improve life for my kid, myself and my community. In order to feel isolated I would have to have 5 minutes to actually be alone, which hasn't happened in recent memory and actually sounds rather lovely given that I can't even go to the bathroom at home without a dog, a cat and a kid shouting at me from the other side of the door. Isolated? I wish.
Do I feel outnumbered by men? Well, I suppose I could if I looked at it that way, along some great gender divide. Actually I feel outnumbered by people in general, there are so many of them and just one of me! I also happen to work in a place where there are a lot of women, I have many female friends, I live with a young woman...no, I don't feel outnumbered, at least not in any sense that matters.
Are there any unusual challenges in being a woman in Fort McMurray? Well, other than the fact that there isn't a Nine West shoe store and I need to do most of my shoe shopping online, no. The challenges here for women are much the same as the challenges for men here - high housing costs can be difficult to address, no matter your gender. It could be a lonely place if you didn't get involved and meet people. And I suppose if you were focused on gender then it might seem a bit weird to be in a place that is predominantly male - except that I have never viewed that world across that gender divide, and to be honest the gender disparity is something I have rarely even noticed. It is, as they say, what it is.
As a single woman here do I still have hope? I must admit this particular question rather floored me, as I was tempted to respond that I was in fact hopeless and planned to slit my wrists immediately after the interview. Instead, though, I would say the odds are in favour of single women here given the gender disparity (but then again in order to date one would need five minutes free from kid, dog, cat and ferrets, so I can't comment too much on this angle as my other commitments preclude much other than the occasional attempt to get more than 5 hours of sleep). And then too there is the assumption that life is all about dating and finding love, when in my house life is more about trying to figure out if it is the dog, the cat or the washing machine that is responsible for the ridiculous number of missing socks.
What is intriguing about this community is the opportunity. I have met so many women here who are pursuing careers that may not be considered the norm, trades in which they may struggle in other places. I have met so many women who advance quickly in their chosen profession, because this is a place that needs those with talent, ambition and drive. I have met women here who may struggle a bit to find their place initially, but once they find it they discover what a remarkable place it is regardless of your gender, because the potential and opportunities are truly endless.
Once again this last week rumours surfaced of a producer interested in creating a "real housewives of Fort McMurray" style show, which is at least the third time I know someone has floated the idea in the last three years, as well as various other "reality" show ideas about "single life" in Fort McMurray. The reality of theses reality shows, though, is that the lives of women here, and men, are no different than the lives of men and women everywhere.
We go to work, we come home, we play with our kids, we walk our dog, we make supper, we chauffeur our kids to events, we go to see movies, we visit our library, we attend concerts, we participate in sports, we go the mall, we go out for coffee, we meet friends for dinner and we volunteer. We are married, single, divorced and widowed. We have kids or we have dogs or we have cats (or none of the above, or all of the above, plus some weasels). We drive cars or we take buses. We own houses, rent houses, rent apartments or live in condos. We are the women of Fort McMurray, and we are truly no different than women anywhere else, except perhaps that we get a lot of questions about what it's like to be a woman in Fort McMurray - and I suppose in that regard we may be slightly different indeed.
So, that's my synopsis of life as a single white female in Fort McMurray. And for the record, yes, I still have hope ;)