*Trigger warning: discussions of sexual violence, rape, harassment.*
On this 106th International Women’s Day, I find myself wondering: how much has really changed for women over the past hundred years or so? We are still harassed on the streets, at home, at work. We are still raped, even in our own beds and everywhere else imaginable. We are still beaten by our partners and watch as society formulates excuses and justifications for the men who do such things. We are fed obscene fantasies that glorify domestic violence and stalking.
We claim our rights within specific arenas, only to watch as each area so hard won shifts and recedes into irrelevance as rights of any kind are eliminated from it. It is becoming increasingly obvious that fighting for equality within a neoliberal context of unbridled capitalism and vicious austerity (read: a cover for increasing economic inequality) is pointless and futile. Feminism is not just about “women’s rights.” It is about dismantling the hierarchical systems that place more value on one person over another due to gender, race, class, ability, religion, sexuality, and so on. It is about recognizing the interconnectedness of our struggles. I am hesitant to make sweeping generalizations
about women in differing cultures and regions of the world. However, in this increasingly globally connected time if I open the news to see that Tuğçe Albayrak can be beaten to death for trying to prevent a man from harassing two other women, do the rest of us feel free to move through the public sphere? If Anita Sarkeesian can receive death and rape threats for daring to criticize the misogyny of video games, are the rest of us free to speak out? If a man convicted of raping and killing a woman on a bus in India can boldly state in an interview that he believes women should shut up and not resist rape, do the rest of us feel safe using public transportation? How can we “celebrate women’s equality,” as news sources have framed various marches for International Women’s Day, if these earth-shattering events are still occurring every day?
I may not be walking around with a purple sash draped across my chest declaring “votes for women!” But I do move through the world with a button pinned to my jacket which reads: “this is what a feminist looks like.” And in the grand scheme of things, is there much of a difference? Because 96 years after women were granted the right to vote in Canada, I still feel the need to assert my belief I should have equal rights, regardless of my gender. I still walk out my front door everyday knowing that it is well within the realm of possibility that I will be disrespected on the basis of my gender: that I will be cat called on the street, groped on the subway, receive unwelcome and uninvited texts of a sexual nature from a male acquaintance, be sexually harassed by my boss, or simply be bombarded with objectifying images portraying women as sub-human objects, existing solely for men’s pleasure, or the incubating of babies. Indeed, all of these things have happened to me within recent memory. These everyday instances of misogyny and sexism accumulate, resonating against each other into a tidal wave of experience, in the process exposing the invisible thread of patriarchal violence that encircles us all.
We may have the vote, but what use is it to us when those who are elected are uniformly in favour of a capitalist, racist, imperialist status quo? What is the point if women and people of colour and LGBTQ politicians are so harangued and harassed that they are forced to occupy the most conservative corner of their (already centrist, tepid) political party (perhaps we could think here of the optimism and failed promises of Obama’s presidency)? Does it matter that we can vote, when corporations and the wealthy are increasingly utilizing their financial advantage to influence the outcome of elections? The politicians who govern this country are so out of touch and so insulated by their own privilege and wealth, is it any wonder they have no idea how the vast majority of us feel? The fact that a petition exists to convince federal party leaders of the need for a debate on women’s issues illustrates this point perfectly. Women make up slightly more than half of the population of Canada. Why are the concerns of the majority relegated to a special debate? The issues we care about should be discussed in every debate, should in fact be the bedrock upon which our political parties’ platforms are built!
Instead, we learn not to smile in public, lest our joyful expression inadvertently fall on a man and be interpreted as an invitation. We learn not to wear our favourite skirt if we’re out by ourselves, lest we be mistakenly identified as unclaimed property. We learn that we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of achievement than the boys, at work, at school, online. We attempt to starve, coerce, poke, prod, lace up, and slice our bodies into perfection, because we believe that if we should reach that non-existent Holy Grail, we will find satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment. And any time that we dare to speak up or voice our truths against these pressures, we are punished for daring to believe that we could or should be equally human (and equally imperfect)…
To be a woman in 2015 is to be awash in miraculous hopes and frustrated desires, a heady cocktail of progress, contradiction, and rage evoking injustices.