I’ve been thinking a great deal about culture recently and what I could say about it that might be new, or interesting, or challenging. It’s not been an easy process; my thoughts have been going back and forth, ebbing and flowing like ice in the Charlottetown harbour.
So, I looked in my dictionaries and they didn’t help much; but there were so many different definitions of “culture” that I at least understood why I was having trouble deciding what to write.
The New Yorker (I love this magazine) helped me organize my thoughts best. An article by Joshua Rothman from December 26, 2014, quotes the critic Raymond Williams, who in his dictionary, Keywords, wrote that “culture has three divergent meanings: there’s culture as a process of individual enrichment, as when we say that someone is “cultured”; culture as a group’s “particular way of life,” as when we talk about French culture, company culture, or multiculturalism; and culture as an activity, pursued by means of the museums, concerts, books.”
I am indeed enriched by the artistic culture of all types that can be found here on Prince Edward Island: poetry, theatre, music, films art, and more. We are blessed not only by having extraordinary creators here but by having what I think is an extraordinary support system. This small community supports far more artistic activity than I would have believed possible before moving here. If I am “cultured” because of my access to this, I can only thank all those involved. So I think that Williams’ first and third definitions of culture are intertwined. I choose to actively seek out and enjoy the cultural opportunities available in Charlottetown.
The second definition is harder, parts of it may be celebrated and parts of it enrich us. PEI has been indisputably enriched by newcomers. We are all benefiting from learning about, participating in, and supporting each other’s cultures. I was so proud of Islanders during the walk to support the Muslim community. But there is another side to Williams’s definition of culture as a group’s “particular way of life.” This may be positive or negative. Personally, my particular way of life, my culture, has changed as I have grown, learned more and developed my beliefs. I am fortunate to have a wide group of friends and acquaintances who broaden my life in countless ways. But culturally I cleave to my feminist friends; the women I hang out with are strong, vibrant, and beautiful. This is not to say that we agree on all matters, we don’t. It is to say that in this community there are opportunities for disagreement, for discussion and for sharing information and experience. I like this culture and I like the fact that it is positive and focused on the good of society. I am proud to call myself a feminist.
If, as Rothman writes, culture also “represents a wish that a group of people might discover, together, a good way of life; that their good way of life might express itself in their habits, institutions, and activities; and that those, in turn, might help individuals flourish in their own ways.” Then this is what I think feminism is all about: making a better world for all of us, men, women, children, and elders.
I could write reams of words about the bad things in Canadian culture. I choose not to as part of this article written as I celebrate my 70th birthday. I wish to imagine a world in which our collective attitudes and institutions further everyone’s individual growth. Maybe, in such a world, the meaning of “culture” would be more obvious; I wouldn’t have to look it up.
—Ann Sherman lives in Charlottetown, is retired and spends too much time in her own head. This summer she will focus on horti-“culture” as she works to create a garden in her back yard.