Monday, December 7, 2009

My feminism: a rebuttal

This feminist wears bras.

This feminist blushes when a man pays her a compliment.

This feminist smiles sweetly and says thank you when men hold the door open or let her off the elevator first.

This feminist has rejected the title of feminist at times because of the association with the bra-burning, drum-beating militant crowd with which she has been identified.

But this feminist knows where her roots lie and she hurt on Dec. 6, 1989, when a lunatic entered l'Ecole Polytechnique and gunned down 14 of her sisters.

These sisters were pursuing an education in engineering, a profession not typically chosen by the 'fairer sex.'

On that very day, I was pursuing an education in English literature. My ability to write took me to a career in journalism, my passion for athletics took me to a specialization in sports.

A male-dominated profession, for sure.

I plied my trade for 15 years until I was laid off in 2006.

I beat no drum and set no fires.

No one heard me roar 'I am woman.'

But I'm still a feminist.

And that part of me had her fires lit when she read a column today calling out women for not doing enough.

In some ways, Barb Gustafson and I see eye to eye. We don't want to be pigeon-holed by someone else's label, because each one of us has a different definition of 'feminism.'

We each understand the 14 women who died 20 years ago weren't studying engineering because they wanted to prove a point that they could do a 'man's job.'

Our paths diverge, however, when Ms. Gustafson charges that we have stopped fighting, that we have let our guard down.

A CIBC report reveals a 50 per cent increase in the number of self-employed women in Canada. It projects one million Canadian women will own a small business by 2010.

It reveals 800,000 women are business owners in Canada and the number of women-owned businesses is growing 60 per cent faster than those run by men.

We are MPs and MLAs. We are senators, cabinet ministers, scientists, soldiers, police officers, firefighters, web designers, managers, presidents and vice-presidents of corporations, doctors and lawyers ... and sports writers.

Many of us are forging career paths and balancing lives of great variety.

We are role models and we are leaders.

We aren't, however, wearing T-shirts announcing our feminism and brow-beating our brothers into submission.

Instead, we should now - as a society, sisters and brothers together - take steps to educate men about the effects of their words and actions.

To teach men rape is wrong.

To teach men hitting women is wrong.

To teach men women are equal partners and merit respect.

We need to stop teaching that women are victims.

And by expecting us to take all the responsibility for change, we perpetuate that notion ... and victimize the girls who will be following in our footsteps and blazing their own trails.


  1. Damn straight, skippy!

    In all this 'women should do more' business, where is the part where men MUST be responsible for all facets of their OWN behaviour?

    And where is the part that MEN are also responsible for educating other men; the men who are their fathers and brothers and their sons, yet to become men.

    Until all men recognize that no matter what a woman wears, what profession she chooses, what colour she wears on her nails; no matter how exciting she may be or look or sound, it is always, at all times, a man's responsibility to manage himself and never put the blame for how he acts on outside things.

  2. Thanks, lady! We need to shout this from the rooftops.

  3. Two years ago almost to the day I was marching at midnight with many, many other women while men marched alongside me, to commemorate the Montreal Massacre. Not only did I march, I was the one who assisted in organizing that march. I wasn't a woman screaming about equal rights, I wasn't wearing any brightly coloured clothing and I wasn't angry. I was raising awareness, and helping other women, my sisters, to discover and acknowledge their rights and privilege.

    I consider myself a gentle feminist. You won't see me burning my bras, but you will see me with a sexy one that accentuates my figure. This does not mean that men have the right to grab my ass or treat me as a lesser (which happens, often).

    I am lucky enough to have surrounded myself with men who believe, just as I do, that I can do anything I want to. I recently read an article from a "advice columnist" who told a girl who was raped that she, in fact, wasn't raped because she had put herself into a situation that 'put her in danger' (she was at a party). Well, Ms. Advice Columnist, she WAS raped, and she is NOT responsible for any body else's actions.

    We are all responsible for how we act, what we say to and how we treat our peers. I truly don't believe that I will see the day when each person in the world recognizes that, but I sure as hell hope my daughters will. Until then, it is up to me, and all women to set the standard for ourselves, to teach by example our gentle yet firm ways, while building our self esteem and in turn, others.

  4. While I definitely agree that men need to be taught about all of the things you listed, as well as little things like the ways they are also oppressed in a patriarchal system to help them be more sensitive to and understanding of women's issues, that's only half of the problem.

    It's one thing to understand that there are as many different feminisms as there are feminists, but to accept that, you can't judge certain versions of feminism as being "not feminist enough." When reading Barb Gustafson's article, that was really the first thing that popped out at me. Instead of focusing on ways that women can work together to make things better (which created that "militant" vision of feminism), too much time is spent focusing on trying to establish a single definition of feminism by criticising women for not seeing eye to eye on what are truly just small issues. It breaks my heart that we have been socialized to think that putting other women down is a normal and acceptable practice. Sadly, I noticed this behaviour in my peers while taking Women's Studies more than I do in everyday life.

    By constantly criticising and cutting down other women, we create insignificant insecurities that work to make women less likely to stand up for themselves and use their voice. While standing up and using their voices is what those 14 women were tragically killed for, it is important to recognize that as a freak, one-off incident caused by severe mental instability. One of the most important ways to pay respect to those women is to be strong and know how to protect yourself from things like abuse/attempted rape, and most importantly, to make a conscious effort not to live your life in fear of that happening.

    In an ideal world, instead of having to define your feminism before discussing women's issues, feminisms of all sorts will be accepted. I really dream of a world where the belief that all people should be treated equally and be free of oppression isn't a revolutionary idea.

  5. Perhaps the reason the author feels women have stpped fighting is because fighting is part of our lives now. We're not marching and waving flags. We're fighting the fight every day with everything we do.

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