International Women's Day
LINDA SILVER DRANOFF
"Anyone who thinks feminism is dead…think again"
International Women’s Day March 8, 2017 will be regarded as unlike any before it. The misogynistic threats to women’s equality rights are real and troubling, yet the power of feminism has risen to withstand them—which gives hope. Let’s face it. Misogyny has lurked underground for as long as time itself, showing up in the assumptions and underpinnings of society, often disguised as paternalism or sex-role stereotyping. Now it has become a more blatant infection that has seeped into the mainstream of the body politic. And it’s everywhere—even here. But we can withstand it, as the worldwide women’s marches have demonstrated.
In the United States, the misogyny seems widespread (just read the daily news), emboldened by the electoral win of a president in spite of his denigrating statements about and degrading actions toward women. The support for him—even among women—demonstrates a distressing acceptance of misogyny in its current shameless form. There, the women-hating attitude is also reflected in the threat to abortion rights, the dearth of organized maternity leave, inadequate government support for childcare, equal pay, and equal rights of all kinds.
In Canada, we may feel more enlightened because we now have a government with avowed feminist attitudes. But don’t forget that a female contender for the leadership of the Alberta Conservative party dropped out due to an onslaught of vicious harassment and intimidation. Face up to the fact that Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley has been beset by sexist-based death threats and chants of “Lock her up.” Other female politicians in Canada have been revealing the nasty vitriol they contend with. And one or two of the federal Conservative leadership candidates appear to be modelling the trends set by the leader of the U.S. Yet, here in Canada, we have substantial advances to maintain, even though we still have a distance to go concerning many issues—childcare, pay equity, anti-violence initiatives, and electoral reform among them.
Internationally, misogyny is also a challenge. A 2016 Inter-Parliamentary Union survey of 55 female parliamentarians from 39 countries found that 44.4 per cent had received threats of death, rape, beatings, or abduction, 21.8 per cent suffered sexual violence, and 65.5 per cent said they had been subjected to humiliating sexist remarks from male colleagues. Russia just changed its law to permit domestic violence.
With all these developments, it would be easy to feel hopeless. But consider this: The day after the presidential inauguration, the Women’s March in the U. S. attracted more feminist protesters (female and male) than the inauguration’s supporters could muster the day before. So many women took to the streets to send the message, You can’t do this to me—I won’t permit it. Around the world, including here in Canada, women marched to give voice and support to feminist ideals of equality and fairness for all, and, in the way of women, to speak for diverse minorities as well.
The message? Anyone who thinks feminism is dead…think again. The fact that women were willing to rise up spontaneously shows that the ideas of feminism have become embedded in our culture over the past 50 years, whether or not an individual woman is willing to define herself as a feminist. All those women and men who marched peacefully against misogyny and inequality and discrimination spoke with their feet, their voices, their placards, and their strength of purpose.
"Pay attention to the threats to equality rights."
But those demonstrations must be transformed into organized vigilance. Those voices of protest must be harnessed and trained for alertness and action. Democracy allows us to speak to power. Defend the structures of our democratic society meant to help you. These democratic institutions, including the rule of law and a free press, are our friends; they exist to protect us.
Rule of law ensures a stable society, whereas rule by whim and tweet makes everything unpredictable. Make governments accountable for illegal and unconstitutional actions. Challenge unfair laws and treatment in the courts. Lobby politicians for better legislation. Question their decisions. Support a free press that provides truth. Write letters to the editor. Pay attention to the threats to equality rights.
The Canadian women’s movement has been doing those things since the 1970s. That is how we achieved family law reform, Charter equality rights, abortion rights, pay equity laws, maternity and paternity leave, laws against sexual harassment, and more.
So on March 8, 2017 when we celebrate International Women’s Day, we can proudly observe that the reports of the death of feminism have been greatly exaggerated, and the dismissal of feminism as unnecessary is mistaken. The struggle for equality and fairness continues. Give voice to the rights of women as fully equal members of society in a pro-active way. Take responsibility for the future; be the leaders. On March 8th, let us resolve anew to carry on, regardless.