Why International Women’s Day still matters

The most dangerous idea about feminism is that it is no longer needed
Photo: blogocram

March 8 is just around the corner, and in predictable fashion, articles on women’s rights are popping up all over news feeds.

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I initially didn’t want to write one. Much like Sisyphus, I’m often just plain tired of rolling that rock up the hill every day, only to have it roll back down on me every night. How many articles explaining the need for feminism can you write before you no longer want to talk about it? How many panels can you sit on where angry men constantly interrupt because they’re upset that you’re taking up public space previously monopolized by their gender? How many troublesome statistics can you fire off to people unwilling to acknowledge them?

I’m exhausted by the naysayers, the doubters, the ones who find it tiresome that gender equality is still discussed, who exclaim, “My God, why are you women nitpicking so much when it’s so bad over there?” as they conveniently point anywhere but here.

I’m tired of people who refuse to accept cold hard facts on gender-based violence, pay inequality, and lack of representation in boardrooms and government, as if the uninformed opinions and anecdotal evidence of those who don’t like to be confronted with their own privilege should trump carefully compiled statistics.

Over a century has gone by since International Women’s Day was officially celebrated in 1911, and the most dangerous of all challenges feminism faces today is the idea that it is no longer needed, that everything has already been achieved, and that the whiny crybabies still discussing gender equality today just need to move on.

There’s no denying much progress has been made over the course of a century. Women have fought for and achieved voting rights, better legislation, and improved overall social and financial status.

But to say that everything has been accomplished in the struggle for gender equality, and that continued vigilance isn’t required, is akin to a long-distance runner stopping 10 kilometres before the finish line and declaring themselves a winner, just because the spectators on the sidelines are tired of hearing them grunt.

It’s been an interesting year for feminism. For the first time in a long while, I’ve experienced a profound sense of hope. The Jian Ghomeshi scandals brought sexual aggression — and the blatant and rampant double standards experienced when reporting rape and abuse — to the forefront. Debates, arguments, online spats were the norm for weeks as the story unravelled. As facts came to light, the mansplaining petered away.

There seemed to be a public awakening on men’s part. Many who had been too quick to question, deny, and dismiss the allegations against Ghomeshi as the work of “vengeful ex-girlfriends” became mortified when they found out how wrong they were. Discussions on sexual aggression, issues of consent, and abuses of power went viral and made national headlines.

One by one, I saw several men around me quietly concede that they had no idea what kind of a world women live in — our society views women’s bodies as sexually available for men to ogle, comment on, harass, dehumanize, hit on, objectify, and inevitably assault. This awakening was amplified a thousand times over when the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag made its way to the forefront of conversations.

The Bill Cosby rape revelations that resurfaced with a vengeance also served to make many aware that too many women find accusing someone of rape way more punishing and harmful to their reputation and emotional well-being than simply living with the trauma.

But it’s been a confusing year as well. Feminism increasingly became a buzzword and a tag too many people superficially attached to themselves for self-serving motives. When Karl Lagerfeld introduced a faux feminist march on the fashion runway, the long-term advocate in me shed a silent tear as a movement was used to sell overpriced designer gowns.

Feminism’s next move is to truly understand and embrace intersectionality. Living in an increasingly multicultural and multiracial world, the movement will need to escape its old focus on Western values and become more inclusive and aware of cultural, racial, and religious differences as it navigates the current challenges of childcare for working parents, cyber-sexism, and notions of personal religious freedom versus feminism in the public sphere. Respect of differences will be vital.

This doesn’t mean that feminists need to agree on everything. Public disagreement doesn’t have to dilute and weaken the movement. The truth is that feminists have been arguing since Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer refused to see eye to eye, and they will continue to argue long after any of us are around to watch.

That’s what a healthy, active, constantly evolving movement does.

With every push back from legislators, politicians, and religious authorities, we react and we fight back. We evolve and we adapt. We respond and we reassess. Dialogue and debate are vital and necessary.

This is a more equal world for women than it was in 1911, but that doesn’t mean it’s equal. Gender-based violence is still a huge problem. Rape apologists exist in larger numbers than we think. Our hard-fought-for reproductive rights are constantly challenged. Moralizing nonsense and double standards, unrealistic ideals of beauty, fat shaming, and slut shaming still permeate our daily existence. Online harassment has become a plague for feminist bloggers, as trolls seek to minimize women’s voices and take away a desperately needed public space.

I’m grateful for the progress that’s been made, but these running shoes are staying on.

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