Feminism is not for the Faint of Heart

I have seen many posts going around about why women do not feel oppressed and why they did not need to march this past Saturday. The ‘not our march’ crew need to listen to other women. They need to understand history. They need to understand the present. Most importantly they need to understand that while they may have privilege, many others do not. It really is as simple as that. We need to break free from this culture of individualism that cannot recognize struggles outside of our own bubbles.

Often times when I talk to people about what they think feminism ‘is’ they say it means that women should be equal to men. It’s a simple palatable sentence. But we have to recognize that it is about so much more than equality. Feminism is about recognizing that women have systematically been disadvantaged in society in a number of ways and also understanding those ways. This is not a general feeling or a hunch. This is represented in facts (not alternative ones- real ones!), statistics, and the experiences of women. We need to be able to articulate those differences. These include (not exhaustive) gender socialization (the way we learn to be women), the devaluation of women’s work (paid and unpaid), the pay gap, motherhood, poverty, reproductive rights, violence against women, and media representations.

We also have to understand that feminism is and must be intersectional. To say that feminism is intersectional is to understand that race, class, and sexual orientation are all factors that impact the way one experiences gender based disadvantages in their lives.  Women do not experience patriarchy equally. 

This means when you have privilege, you need to check it at the door. I am a privileged white women with a high level of education. I have not had to face the same gender based struggles as other women, particularly women of colour and LGBTQ. Yet somehow I still have faced the following gender based disadvantages (to name a few):

  1. Body image issues
  2. Sexual harassment in the workplace and on the street
  3. Being told that I need to ‘lean in’ and dress in certain ways to be taken seriously in academia when men are not held to the same standards.
  4. Being valued/judged based on my appearance and not on anything of substance
  5. Being reminded that I am not getting any younger and that I should probably have kids ASAP
  6. Speaking my mind in the workplace and being demonized, while seeing male counterparts be promoted.
  7. The division of labour in the workplace – men lift things, women are cashiers.

I wanted to share a few of my own struggles to show that even for a woman who is privileged, there are still major issues we need to work on. For the women who apparently have not had to experience any of these things or any difficulties because of your gender, congratulations! However, no one needs to hear from you right now. The women who refuse to acknowledge the plight of other women are elevating the notion that everything is fine and women are systematically equal- when this is just not true.

Here are some serious reasons to consider why women do not have equality and why we should all be fighting for it, even in Canada.

ON JUDGING WOMEN 

As women we are socialized to believe our value derives from our appearance, therefore as we age we lose value. This as a ‘truth’ needs to be dismantled. The policing of women’s bodies also needs to be dismantled. The idea that dressing a certain way is an invitation for harassment or insult needs to be dismantled. The idea that we can police the dress of other cultures rather than listening to the women from those cultures needs to be dismantled. We need to recognize that our own culture is not THE culture. As women we need to stop competing with other women and working ‘with’ men. This is hurting us.

ON WOMEN AND WORK 

The pay gap is often cited as one of the biggest factors still in play for women’s equality. We should make the same pay for the same work, right?

Often in discussions of women’s equality we hear the pay gap expressed as a point of intervention. We hear about celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright not being paid the same as their male counterparts and yes this is a problem. We hear about how female CEO’s are paid less. However, applying our intersectional lens to this problem recognizes that race nor social class are factors at play in this disparity. There are far bigger concerns than celebrities making millions of dollars. This is not to trivialize these differences. They shouldn’t exist, but the ‘pay gap’ is felt far more in feminized low paying jobs with little room for upward mobility.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian born women have higher rates of employment, lower levels of unemployment and higher incomes. Full time earnings for recent immigrant women on the other hand average only 80% of the earnings of Canadian born women. Women who are visible minorities in Canada experience lower rates of employment, higher levels of unemployment and lower employment earnings than other women. So women of colour and immigrant women are predominantly experiencing the impacts of low waged work and unemployment. This is a problem.

Even though this has improved over the years, women are still predominantly taking on the burden of unpaid labour in the home. According to Statistics Canada, men reported spending an average of 8.3 hours per week on domestic work, while their female counterparts spent an average of 13.8 hours. This stems from cooking and laundry to yard work to house maintenance. When you are working what sociologists have referred to as the ‘second shift’ in addition to a paid job, this leaves little time for things like self care and time with friends. Women also systemically take on more of the responsibility of caring for elderly parents, spouses, or family members. Yes, the patriarchy is exhausting.

ON MOTHERHOOD 

We need to stop judging women who do not want to be or cannot be mothers. We need to stop assuming that motherhood is the end goal or should be the end goal for all women. If women are getting to the age where you think they ‘should’ be having kids, do not incessantly ask them about it. It is okay to not have kids. It is okay to not be able to have kids. It is okay to not want to have kids. It is okay to wait to have kids to pursue a career. You have value as a woman outside of your mothering capacities or capabilities.  Always remember this.

We also need to stop judging mothers. You do not breast feed and you are judged. You do not feed your baby whole grain organic baby mush (that’s a thing, right?) and you are judged. You go back to work too quickly you are judged. You don’t go back quickly enough and you are judged. I am starting to get the feeling that this is one of those lose-lose situations. Recognize that women are different and that being different doesn’t make you a bad mother. Don’t hold yourself up to the standards of others. Realize that you are being held to impossible standards and that male parents are not held to the same standards at all.

It has been said that motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism and this is true in many ways. This has to do not only with the unrealistic standards we apply to mothers but also to the lack of affordable childcare for women that inhibits women’s participation or upward mobility in the workforce. High childcare costs mean that women question whether they should spend all or most of their salary on childcare or stay at home. In Quebec, a provincial subsidized daycare program has been instituted, which currently costs $7.55 per day. It was estimated that this policy brought more than 70,000 women into the workforce who otherwise wouldn’t be. This is a huge deal.

In Ontario and more so in big cities like Toronto, the cost of childcare is quite high. This reality puts women in a position where this choice may not be so clear. Live in nanny caregiver programs are another option that can be comparable or even less than full time day care programs. This option sometimes appears more desirable than daycare programs but is wrought with problems for the temporary foreign workers that take on these jobs. These jobs are predominantly undertaken by Filipino women under the federal government’s caregiver program. These women, who are seeking Canadian citizenship are often not in positions to complain about their labour conditions due to their precarious immigration status. They are often overworked and underpaid and this policy drives down wages of caregiver jobs (that are already predominantly done by women). We need better childcare policies in this country if we want to pretend that we are striving for gender equity. These cannot be policies that exploit temporary foreign workers who are predominantly women of colour and are trying to secure status in Canada.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS….

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin ‘Cuz it’s 2016’ Trudeau may identify as a feminist and that is great. We need people to openly express that who are in positions of power. This certainly stands in stark contrast to our American counterpart. We may think that we are okay over here and that our rights are safe and we are generally headed in a good direction. Democracy, however, is a process not a product. Progress is not guaranteed. As I see it there are a few points of intervention that we can take on in Canada that will systematically help women:

  1. Affordable childcare throughout the country
  2. Access to reproductive health services throughout the country (especially in remote areas)
  3. A higher minimum wage (women are predominantly in low waged work)
  4. Valuing women’s work: paid and unpaid

Let’s also do our best to make ourselves accountable to other women. We need to listen to other women. We need to recognize our privileges and that we may not be at the center of a social movement or struggle but we can still be allies.

 

 

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