A Woman’s Agenda by Karen Helm

It’s that time of the year when you turn a new page, start afresh, begin a new chapter…I am, of course, talking about diaries and calendars.

Back in my corporate life  I used the Time Manager to plan my workday. The corporation gave this agenda to all its management employees; I was young enough to be gratified by such accouterments.  The Time Manager consisted of the “binder, dividers, a box with approx. a year’s supply of forms including dated plans for the current year, a pen/pencil, and a user guide.” It looked like this, except mine was in black leather.

This one costs $255.76. Seriously. Follow the link.

Now that I’m self-employed (oh how I miss you, corporate expense account), and now that my interests have shifted from money to literature and women’s rights and race and immigration (wait! I still like money!), this agenda seems excessive, not to mention unaffordable.  An interesting alternative appeared in my mailbox not long ago–A Woman’s Agenda, published by Second Story Press, a feminist publishing house in Toronto.

Yes, instant love. And this one is priced at $14.85.

A Woman’s Agenda consists of a spiral-bound binder, and, uh, paper. The layout is pretty roomy, with 3 weekdays per page; the weekends get a little less space. There’s place for note-taking, and a chunk of pages for addresses and phone numbers. All pretty standard; the interesting stuff is the lunar calendar (useful for werewolves and menstruating women!) and the woman-specific material. No, the agenda doesn’t tell us to go in for regular Pap Smears or to cap the lip-balm tight before tossing it into the handbag, useful as those reminders would be. A Woman’s Agenda features twelve stories of kick-ass women from all over the world–January is Aung San Suu Kyi, February is black US congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, March is Canadian hockey heroine Cassie Campbell, April is Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, and so on. Each month begins with a new story, and the weekends showcase quotes from the featured person. The women are all spectacular, each with a strong story to tell, and the narrative concentrates on the facts without sentimentalization.

What I like best about this agenda is its arrangement. A Woman’s Agenda insinuates the good stuff into our chore-ridden lives without interrupting the flow of the calendar.  We sometimes get sucked into the daily routine without ever surfacing for deeper contemplation–it takes real effort to shrug off duty and think of what’s important than what’s urgent. By juxtaposing the struggles and achievements of these women next to our daily plans, this agenda nudges us to weigh our priorities, and to be grateful for the stuff that works. Family. Books. Friends. A back that lets me shovel snow. Books. Central heating. Books.

I was, however, a bit bewildered while looking for a match between month and story. The choices seem mostly arbitrary; wouldn’t it be so much more satisfying to make  a connection between the person and the month? For instance, February is Black History Month, and the choice of Shirley Chisholm is meaningful in this context. But the agenda mentions that May is Asian Heritage Month, and then features  Dr. Cornelia Wieman, an Aboriginal psychiatrist. And June (the month National Aboriginal Day is celebrated in Canada) features Zaha Hadid, the Iraq-born, London-based architect.  An unforced organic fit between the chosen women and the events on the calendar could have been beautifully engineered had someone spent an extra five minutes.  Ah, well, perhaps it’s on the agenda for 2012.

Despite my quibbling, I recommend this agenda wholeheartedly. You can order it off the Second Story Press website; I doubt the mainstream outlets will make space amongst their Time Manager clones for this one.

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2 responses to “A Woman’s Agenda by Karen Helm

  1. What a great idea, generally I open my planner so rarely, a planner like one with stories of interesting people might actually get me to look at it once in a while. I’ve already got mine for this year, but I’ll definitely have to keep it in mind for next year.

  2. @ de Pizan: Yes, it’s quite an inspired/inspiring idea!