Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. It is also:

Blog Against Sexism Day

When I woke up this morning, June Callwood was on the CBC being interviewed about being honoured with the Writers' Trust Award for Distinguished Contribution at last evening's Canadian Literary Awards. Because she is who she is, she was also speaking about International Women's Day - about how she looks forward to a time when such a day will be unnecessary. Not because we don't care about women anymore, but because we can look beyond the definition given to us by gender to become fully integrated, male and female, in all aspects of living (my poor words, not hers). And this is a sentiment with which I agree. Her example was that of a female professor she heard speak when she was still in high school. I can't remember the professor's name. But, this was the first woman Callwood had ever heard speak in public - directly, straightforwardly, like a "man". There was no giggling, no silliness, no eyelash batting - no acting. This was something truly exciting for her at the time. To discover that women can be thoughtful, intellectual, and powerful in a public setting. Callwood's take is that this has become the norm. That girl's today don't find it in anyway extraordinary to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. And, to an extent I agree. There was never any question in my mind that I would go to university, have a career (though my career is in a very traditionally female area), and be independent in life. But, I don't think (and, to be fair, neither does she) we've come quite far enough to do away entirely with the day. Not quite yet.

So what do I have against International Women's Day? Nothing, really. But it smacks of essentialism and segregation. By having this day, we set ourselves up as "the Other". Yes, I do want that to be a Big "O" other. For instance, when I was in University I was something of a student activist. At a national conference of this progressive, forward thinking, young group of well educated, thinking, progressive people, there was a women's caucus which DID NOT allow men in the room for their meetings. What? I was horrified. How can you possibly hope to have a group see you as equal if you do not allow them to speak at your table! How can you push for rights if you deny rights to others? It was disgusting to me, and it was shortly after this that I left the National Executive of the organization (for this, and other reasons). Don't get me wrong, I think having a caucus that looks at the needs of any group in a position of less power is an important thing. But the caucus should be about finding common ground, moving forward together toward equality and integration and harmony. So perhaps a gender equity caucus (with perhaps a better name) is more what I am looking for.

The other problem I have with celebrating things like International Women's Day is that, by celebrating only once a year, we are often likely to forget to celebrate the rest of the year. Today on the radio, in the hour I spent getting to and from work, I heard innumerable stories about women's suffering around the world. And that is great. We need to know that an average of 2 women a day are killed in Guatemala, that gender-based violence is on the rise in Iraq, that students in New York City are being suspended for using the word "vagina" on stage while performing an excerpt from The Vagina Monologues in a school open mic night (perhaps they should have called it the hoohah monologues?), that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to get a driver's license, that women and girls make up the majority of the 800,000 to nearly 4 million people trafficked internationally each year, that women represent the vast majority, approximately 70% of the world's people who live on the equivalent of less that $1(USD) a day, . But why don't we hear these stories for the rest of the year? Why are we shocked to learn about gender-based inequalities and even atrocities one day a year, and content to not know about them for the other 364 days? Why do we only think to celebrate how far we've come this one day?

But, on the other hand, the fact the we set aside this one day to think about these things ensures that we do think about them. And for that I am grateful. Because we are not equal yet. There is no true equity, even in suburban middle class Ontario.

For instance - sexism is rampant within the female population of my female-driven workplace. Yes, all of our management is female. But, the way the women further down the chain react to, and treat, my male coworkers who are at my level as opposed to me, is incredible. And this is women! Being sexist against themselves! Its unbelievable. You see, in my workplace there are 2 people at my level of pay and power. Me, and a male. We have the same workload (if anything mine is heavier). The same responsibilities. The same everything. But, the women we work with treat us completely differently. They have absolutely no problem demanding that I assist them with tasks, cover them for their breaks and lunches (while they take longer than expected on these breaks), drop their problem customers on me, wander off from their service desks leaving me to cover for them, etc. The male coworker? They rush through their lunch so that he is not inconvenienced. They say "oh I can't bother him", "I have to get back so that he can back to his work", "he's too busy"..... What? I'm not too busy? And there's worse. And this is women, placing a man above another woman. It is a constant source of shock to me. Also in my workplace, when I am the person "in charge", I am constantly being asked if our security guard is my manager, and can people speak to him. Why? Because he's a man? Probably.

So yes, we need to celebrate this day. We need to remember what our mothers and grandmothers went through to bring us to our current position. We need to carry on their work. But we need to do it, not through segregating ourselves, but through working with all genders, and all orientations, to bring about true equality. A very difficult, perhaps utopian, goal. But, hey, who would have thought 100 years ago that women would not only have the vote, but be running for high office, that women would be working in all sectors of the workforce, that women would be priests (ok, not Catholic ones, but a lot of other faiths), that women would be CEOs and incredibly powerful business people, and the list goes on.

And, we need to work to end all of the violence and discrimination, inequality and attrocities within our own community and around the world.

Some interesting links:

1 comment:

Canadian Economist said...

I really enjoyed reading this posting. Thanks for brighting the day.