Women’s voices or feminists’ voices?
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
International Women’s Day is meant to celebrate and uplift the efforts of women while speaking to the struggles they face around the globe. In volume 46 of The Other Press our Editor-in-Chief Jessica Berget spoke about the gap separating men and women in the world today. She spoke about the horrors of domestic violence that trap millions of women in painful relationships that should be places of love. She wrote about rape affecting 10 times more women than men per capita; poverty and mental health also made appearances in her writing. This week, however, is a more critical look at women’s day and what it stands for to women around the globe. Namely, women’s day seems to speak for the loudest of liberal females while forgetting that other women have voices and differences of their own.
Women have created many things and been denied recognition for their efforts by the world for decades if not centuries. Women like Eunice Newton Foote who first published a paper regarding the greenhouse effect in the 1800s only to see science go with a man’s slightly more comprehensive study—released three years later—as the academic foundation (John Tyndall); or Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who as a PHD student discovered radio pulsars, but in the all-too-common practice in science, had her rightful spotlight and Nobel prize stolen by her male professor, Antony Hewish. Then there’s the myriad of literary women—we may never know all of them—who published under a male name just to get their work out there. The list of injustices goes on and on. But now, some women are short-changing their gender just as the world used to.
After the election of Donald Trump it was clear that feminist media was happy to label any conservative woman as “brainwashed by the patriarchy” or “living in fear of their husband’s wrath,” …as if no women could be Christian and choose to make America great on her own terms. This obvious bias has continued uninterrupted into two key political debates: the place of transgender women in the female world and the determinacy of abortion rights. Last month, three female high school athletes put forth a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut to prevent transgender athletes competing in their disciplines (first and second place going to the transgender athletes in the 55-yard dash—one setting the state record at 6.95 seconds…the biological female finisher was a very distant third). The reasoning of the suit echoes that of the so-called TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists): that there are biological differences in the capabilities of a man’s body and a woman’s, and that there should be an acknowledgement of the spaces where these differences cannot be bridged. Yet, event after event has seen TERFs cancelled or booed off stage, as if these women’s opinions are not welcome amongst the opinions the mass movement has sanctioned. The very same castigation has been brought against any conservative women who believe that abortion is morally wrong or is misused to the detriment of the human psyche at large. It seems to be unsightly for a woman to state too loudly or too proudly (on International Women’s day) that she does not agree with abortion at all. The liberal female mass will move as one to push her aside or remove her from any and every panel. So much for listening to her voice.
Then we come to a problem that follows women from one end of the world to the other: the weight of oppression bearing down on their backs. The pertinent need for feminism is obvious in countries like Saudi Arabia, which only recently allowed women to drive vehicles and travel via plane by themselves… “privileges” women have enjoyed for decades in the Western World. We cannot pretend that the femicide used by many drug cartels to intimidate or inflict damage on rivals isn’t horrific nor can we turn our eyes against human traffickers that target and exploit young women around the world. But as we look at these things, we also must know that oppression is not as evenly spread as it once was, and clearly this is for the better. When I see feminists in Egypt and the UAE, I know exactly what they are fighting for and support them absolutely. But a feminist in Vancouver confuses me: you’re fighting for the right to not shave your legs and wear high heels? You scream that the patriarchy prevents women from getting jobs in tech while you smear menstrual blood on canvas at Emily Carr? The spirit is clear but the fight eludes me.
For as long as I’ve been acknowledging that I am not a feminist I’ve been struck at every turn by one question: what is a feminist act? Is it not feminism that my mother raised three boys by herself? Is it not feminism that some women choose teaching over coding and nursing over surgery? When is it feminist to wear the hijab and when is it not? Do you get to call yourself more womanly for your short hair and entrepreneurial spirit or can you be just as womanly in church with your high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband and two kids? What is a feminist act? Why is it that a woman whose YouTube channel supports Trump is less feminist than the channel about fat acceptance and body positivity? I will never have the answers and neither will anyone else; but I do know that someone decides who gets invited to the Women’s March and that many remarkable, talented, truly oppressed women are intentionally excluded.