Why we Need International Women’s Day

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Article submitted by KDLC executive member, Harmony Raine

Even though I was among a group of enlightened, progressive, likeminded people at last night’s regular meeting of the Kamloops and District Labour Council, I felt compelled to speak out about why we need International Women’s Day.

My short address was inspired partly by an uncomfortable incident that occurred in my workplace several months ago, and partly by recurring questions (and snide comments) about why we have International Women’s Day but not International Men’s Day.

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One day, two male CUPE members came into the CUPE 3500 office where I was working at my part-time job and wearing my awesome Rosie-the-Riveter T shirt.

Without even saying “hello,” one of the guys pointed to my shirt and blurted out, “This is exactly the problem, right here.” I asked what he meant, to which he unapologetically replied that “the reason there are no jobs for men is because there are too many women in the workforce taking all the men’s jobs.”

Surprisingly, this inflammatory statement wasn’t even accompanied by the all-too-familiar “just kidding” intended to legitimize bad behaviour. The second man shot me a look that can only be described as wide-eyed horror and shrunk into a mortified little ball, but did not come to my defense.

I calmly offered my opinion that the real threat to all of our jobs has been globalization – outsourcing, temporary foreign migrant workers being imported and used as slave labour, contracting out, and privatization. The member, obviously opposed to having a meaningful dialogue on the subject, continued to berate and blame women for all of working men’s woes.

I considered the source – an ignorant person who was unwilling to engage in a fruitful discussion – decided to ignore his remarks, and changed the subject.

Myth #1: Women have achieved equality with men

Unfortunately individual attitudes, such as the one above, are the reflection of a systemic problem.

If you are think women and men have equality in Canadian society, please consider as just one tangible aspect of inequality, the indisputable fact that it is 2017 and women still don’t have wage parity (equal pay for work of equal value) with men. In fact, Canadian women who work full-time still earn only about 73.5 cents for every dollar men make. Canada has one of the largest wage gaps in the world, and the gap is even greater for Indigenous women and women of colour.

But wage disparity is not a women’s issue or a feminist issue. Paying women lower wages has serious negative impacts on the lives of women, men, and children. It is a blow to families and local economies.

It is not difficult to imagine that our high divorce rate (conservatively 40% in Canada), has resulted in an immeasurable number of single-parent families. About 80% of single parent households are headed by women; but even in two-parent families, many women are the primary or sole wage earner. Continuing to pay women lower wages is not just about inequality as an abstract concept; it hurts families and children and keeps them trapped in poverty. As one KDLC delegate duly pointed out, wage-gap related poverty is greatly exacerbated in same-sex partnerships where both parties are women. Another member related that he earns double what his wife earns, which is not only unfair in principle, but places an undue amount of pressure on him to provide financially for his family.

Myth #2: Feminism (aka the “F word”) is pro-women and anti-men

It is disturbing enough when our peers and fellow members exhibit sexist and misogynist attitudes, but is much more disheartening to know that there are people in positions of power, leadership and influence who share the same sentiments. I have witnessed this in the form of such comments as “feminists are a bunch a radicals” and “women don’t want equality with men, they want more” (just kidding, can’t you take a joke?).

If you think these types blanket statements represent a valid opinion, are benign, non-discriminatory, or that women are over-sensitive, try subjecting them to the litmus test by substituting the word “women” or “feminist” with the name of any other group. If you wouldn’t call people of colour “a bunch of radicals” on the basis that it is racist, then it is sexist. For some reason, micro-aggressions against women are part of mainstream culture, and more acceptable than discrimination against other marginalized groups.

I believe that anti-women/anti-feminist rhetoric has its roots in early attempts to discredit feminists by right-wing politicians and media. Fear mongering and accusations that feminists were man-haters and that feminism was destructive to men, the family, and society took hold and continues to thrive today (as illustrated by our friend’s opinion at the beginning of this article). Feminist-bashing has woven itself into our culture and feminism is still considered “the F word,” which is why so many women are reticent to identify as feminists. We can and must change the dialogue.

True feminism is decidedly not anti-men, but rather is grounded in the belief that men and women should have equal social, political, and economic rights and opportunities. True feminism strives for equality and fairness for both sexes, which involves the elimination of prescribed gender roles. Just as feminism advocates for women’s social, political and economic equality outside the home, it is also about encouraging and supporting men to take on a more prominent role within the home and in raising their children.

Myth #3: If we observe International Women’s Day, we should also have a special day dedicated to men

Questions are often raised (with more than a hint of indignation) regarding why we celebrate International Women’s Day, have women’s committees, etc. and why men don’t also get a special day.

The primary reason we don’t have International Men’s Day or men’s committees is simply because men don’t need them. Men are not a historically oppressed group. This is not to say that individual men are not marginalized on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation, or poverty; but as a group they do not face discrimination, oppression, or violence on the basis of their gender the way women typically do.

Secondly, we celebrate International Women’s Day for the same reasons we observe the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, World AIDS Day, Black History Month, Pride Parades, and so on. These days serve as a valuable form of consciousness-raising and visible support for our marginalized brothers, sisters and friends; they are a celebration of our progress, successes and achievements as well as a means by which to shed light on areas that still need a lot of work; they keep important issues alive, allowing us to examine our troubled collective history so that we can learn how not to repeat it.

Myth # 4: I’m not a woman, so I can’t possibly be a feminist

Feminism is not for women only, is not pro-women and anti-men, and does not operate on the basis that women should have more than men. Feminism strives for fairness and equality and acknowledges that we need men as allies, partners, and advocates. As a mother, it is inconceivable that I would want more my daughter than my sons. We want our sons and daughters to have equal rights, equal opportunities, and an equal shot at success, fulfilment, and independence.

If you believe that all people – women and men – deserve equal access to social, political, and economic opportunities, spoiler alert: you are a feminist.

If you have a mother, grandmother, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, female friends and co-workers, or a female partner, you had better be a feminist or at least work toward becoming one.

As a society, we have come a long way. Women’s rights have long been protected under the law and by human rights and labour legislation, but we can’t legislate or enforce individual attitudes. The sad reality is that in almost every society, including our own, women are treated as second-class citizens either overtly or insidiously.

The encounter I had with my co-worker is just one small example of why we need to change our culture. Acknowledging and celebrating International Women’s Day is one way of doing this. It is an important part of our ongoing activism and consciousness-raising, and represents a meaningful step toward building a just and equitable society for men, women, families, and members of all marginalized groups.

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