I’m a woman. It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that women’s issues - our rights and our constant struggle to ensure that those hard-earned rights are not tampered with - remains a huge preoccupation of mine. What’s the other word for it? Oh, yeah… feminist.
I continue to find it astounding that when I routinely enter into debates (arguments, even) with friends of mine on topics that offend me or worry me as a woman, I’m often looked upon as too quick to jump the gun, too willing to pick a fight; as if none of this concerns me! As if I didn’t already have a horse in the race.
Injustices that range from the severe (genital mutilation, child brides, honour killings, etc.), to the seemingly innocuous, like airbrushed magazine covers and female athletes being chastised for their weight, are my business as a woman navigating her way in this world. I know that my propensity to discuss everything sometimes brands me the angry female version of the boy who cried wolf. If everything is a crisis than nothing’s a crisis, right?
I’ve seen some of my male friends occasionally wonder what the fuss is all about. These are usually pretty awesome men who truly believe in the sexes being equal, so they make the mistake of assuming everyone else thinks like them. I sometimes catch them treating my questions and constant “harping” in a dismissive way. As if defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women were just a cute little hobby for me; something to kill time with, now that the hockey lockout has materialized…
Unfortunately, this past week alone illustrates my point nicely. A few days ago, our MPs voted on a private motion submitted by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth on when to legally define an unborn foetus as a human. I’m not even questioning whether debates like this should be happening, because it would be hypocritical of me to demand my rights be heard, while denying those who disagree with me, not to have their say. It’s a democracy. Debates should take place. But preferably between the couple concerned and not a bunch of old men who biologically will never run the risk of ever having to make such a difficult decision.
Yes, the motion was defeated 203 to 91. To his credit, even Prime Minister Harper voted against it! However, the very person entrusted with women’s issues in this country, the Minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose, voted in support of the pro-life motion. Responding to intense criticism, she stated that she voted this way overwhelmed by worry over… discrimination against girls through “sex-selection abortion.”
I know that my propensity to discuss everything sometimes brands me the angry female version of the boy who cried wolf. If everything is a crisis than nothing’s a crisis, right?
Seriously? This is a problem in Canada? This is analogous to me refusing to sign my organ donor card because I heard there’s an illegal underground organ trade market somewhere in Asia. Opening the debate on women’s hard-earned, and always questioned (look at what’s going on south of the border) right to make our own decisions for our own bodies needs to be justified by more than some intangible concern over a non-issue in this country.
This very same week, Folio magazine's annual survey revealed that female editors-in-chief make $15,000 less on average than their male counterparts. The pay gap was even wider at the executive editor level. What’s that, you say? Hasn’t equal pay for equal work already become a reality? Guess the joke’s on us!
Just a few days ago, Republican Senator Todd Akin, (he of the famous line “women can’t get pregnant if raped; their bodies have ways of shutting it down”), commented that Senator Claire McCaskill was less "ladylike" in their debate. By less “ladylike”, of course, he meant aggressive, because everyone knows that “ladies” are supposed to be subservient, right?
Examples are never hard to find. Society continues – in ways subtle and not so subtle – to always define and ultimately limit what women are and ultimately can be.
And yet, if you, as a woman, still find yourself questioning if feminism applies to your life, I’ll quote the brilliant Caitlin Moran (whose book How to Be a Woman I’m currently reading and highly recommend):
“Here’s a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hands in your underpants. a. Do you have a vagina? And b. Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”
And you know what? If you’re a man who has a mom, a wife, a sister, or a daughter, you owe it to them to be one too.