Why Feminism Still Matters In Canada
“But you’re not, like, a feminist, right?”
Well, yes, I am. Getting this response after telling a male classmate that I was taking a women’s and gender studies course last semester shows how stigmatized the word “feminist” really is in today’s Canadian society. It’s treated like a dirty word. The media is partly to blame, because many times the label FEMINIST is slapped on any riots and protests which involve women’s rights, from the radical to the more tame. Whether we choose to be radical feminists or merely people who see merit in establishing equality between men and women, feminism is still important and needs to remain in the conversation.
At its base, I see feminism as being an ideology that strives for equality between men and women — equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal treatment. Being a feminist doesn’t mean that I burn bras and hate men, just that I believe everyone should be treated equally. As was pointed in the wonderful article about feminism in the United States, the feminist movement has been criticized for focusing on white, cisgendered (someone who identifies with the gender he or she was assigned at birth) women, but the movement has branched out in recent years to include all women, regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability, or gender at birth (basically, anyone who self-identifies as a woman).
We’ve got it pretty good in Canada — abortion is not illegal, the Constitution gives men and women the same rights, birth control is readily available to all, and women aren’t owned by their fathers or husbands. But just because the laws say that men and women are equal and should be treated the same way doesn’t mean that society works that way.
Of the 309 elected members of Parliament, 76 of them are women, accounting for only 25 per cent of the total. Only one of the 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada in 2010 was a woman, a report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives revealed. According to a report published in 2011 by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, women make up more than 55 per cent of undergraduate students at Canadian universities and colleges, but it seems that they don’t get the same opportunities given to their male counterparts. Even when women get jobs on par with men, they don’t bring home the same amount. After looking at annual earnings of all workers, a 2010 report published by the government found that women make 64.4 per cent of what’s earned by their male counterparts.We need feminism so we can continue to bridge the gap between men and women in business and politics.
Females are even more scarce in academia. According to a study published in 2010 by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 20 per cent of full professors are women. As my female English professor explained to our class a few weeks ago, only one of the seven tenured professors in the department is a woman, and she “had to fight for it.” Once someone receives tenure, he or she is guaranteed academic freedom, and the right to not have his or her position terminated without just cause. Overall, only 30 per cent of tenured positions go to women.We need feminism to ensure that women are guaranteed their academic positions, and given equal opportunities to attain these jobs.
Among many different groups of women in Canada, the Aboriginal or Native population stands out as one that is doubly oppressed — because of their race and gender. You may have heard about the Canadian pig farmer who was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. The remains of 33 women were found on his farm, in British Columbia, where he fed their flesh to his pigs. According to an article from the Globe and Mail, he once told an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women. Many of the women who he likely killed were poor, Aboriginal, drug-addicted, or involved in prostitution, so police shrugged off their disappearances for years until finally some justice was served.
The problem extends further from one man’s farm. 600 Aboriginal women have been reported missing or murdered in the last 30 years, says a report conducted by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Nearly half of the 153 murder cases remain unsolved. These are startling statistics because it seems that the police’s lack of response to these Aboriginal women is not mirrored in cases involving women who are not Aboriginal. Patrick Madahbee, a grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, representing 39 Indian communities, says he can’t remember ever seeing an Amber Alert issued for a missing Aboriginal teen, while the message that any other child or teen has gone missing is broadcasted to people in the community, seemingly without reservation.
Abortion is a contentious issue in Canada. Last year, I wrote a story about a group of protesters, Carleton Lifeline, who go to different areas and events and hold up posters the size of people, depicting aborted fetuses that look like tiny red babies. These images are horribly graphic and I’m sure anyone who has gotten an abortion — absolutely not an easy decision to make — would feel upset and guilty having to walk by these pictures. These protesters also yelled at passers-by, telling them that they’re responsible for the deaths of almost a million babies every year because they live in Canada and aren’t standing with them, protesting to make abortion illegal. Since when did you get the right to decide what a women does to her body? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and beliefs, but it isn’t necessary for you to force your ideas onto someone or to guilt someone into agreeing with you. Another thing that really bothers me about this is that the co-president is a man. Someone who will never have to carry a baby for nine months, will never have to give birth, and wouldn’t have to deal with an accidental pregnancy.
The most recent data about abortion from Statistics Canada looks at 2005, and states that there were almost 97,000 abortions performed that year. This was down 3.2 per cent from the year before. A member of parliament from the Conservative party, who are in power, wanted to reopen the abortion debate, and spoke in the House of Commons in April, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper, among many others, voted against the bill, defeating it, and preventing it from moving forward, which is reassuring and a relief.
When I was out one night last summer, the club where I was dancing had at least five or six television screens displaying pictures of scantily-clad women — clearly objectifying them. I complained to one of the guys working there, who I knew from high school, and he simply told me that the photos cause men to buy more drinks, and although they degraded women, they would not remove them. Really? In this day and age must women be treated like an object, a means to an end, something there only for someone else’s pleasure?
We need to continue to call out others, male and female, on sexist remarks. When a dude sleeps with a bunch of girls, he is admired and patted on the back by his buddies, but when a girl is even slightly promiscuous, she is labelled as a slut, by men and women alike. There’s a double-standard that clearly works in men’s favour.
Previous articles on Feminspire discussed the rape culture that exists in Britain and the U.S., and as much as I wish I could say that Canada is the exception, it is not. Last year at my school, at least four sexual assaults took place. Three of them happened within a week. The mood on campus felt tense and strained. I didn’t feel safe walking alone outside or in the tunnels at night, and was constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was following me. We shouldn’t have to live in a culture where women must constantly be on their guard against sexual predators. Instead, men should be taught not to rape, taught that it is not okay, even if she’s “asking for it” because she’s wearing a low-cut top.
Furthermore, by cracking jokes about things like women belonging in their “rightful place,” the kitchen, people perpetuate gender roles and stereotypes. These ideas are archaic. We live in a world in which women can become doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, you name it — but people still believe that women must clean the house and cook dinner. Thanks to Twitter accounts that celebrate sexism and misogyny, these comments endure in the public consciousness. Being told over and over again that all women are good for is tending to the home and raising children is bound to have an impact on how our society thinks.
Feminspire’s much-loved comedian Daniel Tosh is Canadian. This wonderful man was the one who joked about rape after a woman in the audience called him out on making a joke about it.
For these reasons we must continue to celebrate women and work toward the goal of future generations seeing all genders as equals. I think it’s far from ridiculous to think that women should warrant equal respect as men. Men demand respect and many are happy with the way things are because we live in a patriarchal society. It’s all they’ve ever known, and they have the advantage, so why would they want it to change?
And no, I won’t make you that sandwich.
Header image courtesy of Toronto Sun
May 20, 2013
May 19, 2013
May 17, 2013
May 16, 2013