Feminism (Part 2) – Why?
[Part One in this series, which focuses on defining feminism and hears from mothers on the topic, is available online: www.synergymag.ca/what-is-feminism].
Our society values what are generally known as “masculine” traits, such as single-minded determination, aggressiveness, a take-charge attitude, decisiveness and competitiveness which are viewed as symbols of strength. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, women increasingly sought to attain “equality” through pursuing careers in a manner akin to their male counterparts by shedding typically “feminine” traits such as collaboration, co-operation and nurturing in order to climb the corporate ladder.
Leadership books and management training at the time encouraged these “masculine” traits and discouraged the “feminine”. I remember being told during a sales training course that most deals were made on the golf course, and if we expected to make a decent income, we’d better play golf. I never did pursue golf, and each time I would overhear a male colleague making plans to take a client golfing (or discussing the latest hockey scores, which I couldn’t care less about), deep down I felt like I was missing out due to standing by my principles. Although women reading this may feel they have experienced equality on the job, take note of what happens when a man exhibits typically “feminine” behaviour on the job – sensitivity, caring, or talking through problems in order to come to solution. He, more often than not, is subconsciously considered “weak” and becomes the target of teasing by his male co-workers.
In forwarding feminism, we forward the acceptance of feminine traits as valuable, necessary and integral parts of ourselves and our culture.
Kathy has found balance in her work by utilizing both masculine and feminine qualities, she explains… “The masculine being the power, the drive, the ambition and the focus needed to get ahead. The feminine being the nurturing, inclusive, encompassing, intuitive, empowering part of ourselves that revels in relationships.”
She continues, “As a young woman creating her career path, then becoming a wife, mother and business entrepreneur, I have engaged in this quest for understanding, meaning and application throughout my life. In the world of business, I found that some confusion in roles exists: women trying to make it in business like a man; men being at a loss of how to deal with women; women feeling stressed and overworked by trying to have it all – family, career and personal satisfaction.”
Roles that were typically dominated by men or women, now demand a rebalancing and integration of the masculine and feminine.
So how do we accomplish that?
Karen, who belongs to a union in her work-life, feels fortunate to experience equality, “I make the same wages as my male counterparts, I choose to surround myself with like-minded people, I choose what forms of media to view, I had the same education and educational opportunities as male students, and my leisure activities are also equal to both sexes. I speak and model equality.”
Rose shares an example of how feminism is reflected in her life, “…by me carrying out an interest in activities that may not meet the prescribed, female ‘norm’. For example, I am a part of a fairly radical, natural building collective. I am learning conventional, ancient and alternative ways to build homes and other structures, and I am using these skills to build and earn an income. This is a consensus-run collective of women builders. We are free to share insecurities and express caring for each other while we build homes. Anyone who has worked with a conventional, mostly male crew of builders has expressed amazement at the contrast in our collective’s communication style. Our collective often gets asked ‘why only women?’ The easy answer is because when it is only women, we are free to be ourselves. We are free to not be that good at something and do it anyway. We are free to function without the distracting limitations of our own ingrained gender role issues. This may not be ‘fair’, but it meets our needs. And it stands in conflict with the idea of opening up traditionally gender segregated institutions. I guess I see a value in a certain amount of segregation. But it should be noted we are almost always working with, teaching, helping and getting help from males in some form or another, so it isn’t like we’re holding an attitude of separateness. It is just that it works so well to be a women’s only collective, and we are all thriving in it so richly, that we want to keep doing it how we are doing it! And I should be clear that even in saying ‘we’, I am only speaking from my own perspective.”
Kim shares, “I was raised to always speak up for what I believe in. Sometimes I’ve been a bit too aggressive, as though I was making up for not having as loud a voice (figuratively or literally) as a man. It is still a bit of a balancing act to find the ‘right’ way to be heard as an equal and not try to be acting ‘like a man’ but simply be firm and not any more assertive than I need to be to make my point.”
She continues, “Unfortunately I have encountered many women who end up labelled as the ‘bitchy broad’ or ‘feminist’ as almost interchangeable adjectives. Many of these women are aggressive and seem to fight their way through life feeling that they need to constantly push to be heard or get ahead and they hide or nearly lose their own femininity in the process.”
I can relate. I’ve spent much of my life acting out of anger when I’ve felt misunderstood or felt the injustice of being passed over for a raise or having my efforts and opinion be ignored.
Kim admits, “It has only been recently (is it the magic of being in my forties?) that I have begun to really appreciate the strength of the softness and intuitiveness of the feminine. I am now more fully realizing that we, as women, are just as strong as men although it is a strength expressed in different ways.”
So why do we use the term “feminism”. How is stressing the feminine “equal”?
Rose: “I find when feminism is argued against, it is often from a perspective that it isn’t fair to be woman-centric, or perhaps we’ve already got a gender balanced society. But an analysis of my culture doesn’t show me this. True, it isn’t fair to be woman-centric. But it is important for the pendulum to swing to extremes in order for people to have a more complete perspective in the long term. Right now we live in a culture where the male is norm. Granted there are so many ridiculous stereotypes for both genders, not to mention a total lack of acceptance of the concept of a person being both or neither gender. But for the sake of exploring feminism, I must assert that I do believe [we live in] a masculocentric culture.”
By taking a look at Canadian statistics, we certainly are living in a masculocentric culture – a patriarchal society. In Canada, women still only make 78% of what men do, in the same job. Only four cents of evey dollar we spend, is spent in a female-owned business (yes, that means 96% of our purchases go to a male-owned business). According to the Canadian Association of Social Workers, women make up a disproportionate share of the population with low incomes, “the poorest of the poor… 2.4 million in 2001 as compared to 1.9 million men”. And they found that “family status has a profound effect on poverty, [where] 42% of unattached women ages 18 to 64 lived in poverty compared to 12% in families.” This year, 2010, Canada ranks 50th on the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s annual list of women’s representation in world Parliaments. In This Magazine (www.this.org), Katie Addleman wrote, “Iraq—a place not renowned for its achievements in gender equity—ranks higher.” Even Rwanda, at 56.3% has over double of Canada’s representation of women in Parliament, a mere 22.1%!
Zeni remembers, “A powerful experience as the Canadian Delegate for the Million Women’s March, in Los Angeles in 1996, motivated me to become more involved at a political level. At the Million Women’s March the theme was ‘Strengthening the bonds of the family’. Women speakers attended from all over North America, and the message that stood out for me was that we could not have true equality and make a difference if we did not have a voice in governance. At all levels: municipal, provincial and federal.”
She continues, “Policies and legislation that effects all of our lives, are not driven by the ideologies of feminism to establish equal rights and legal protection for women. Right now the majority of single women over the age of 65 live in poverty. We have not yet established equal pay for equal work. We do not have a viable, affordable childcare program in our country. Post Secondary education that leaves many of our children with a debt sentence for life.
“Feminism feels like this powerful, positive energy that is created when men and women come together to build a better world for democracy, for social justice and for human rights.”
So back to my question: why use the term “feminism”? Because we live in a patriarchal society. The statistics in this article are but a few examples of the inequality between the sexes.
In order to achieve equality, both women and men need to embrace the feminine. In doing so, together we will create a world that is fair, collaborative, nurturing, safe, harmonious and in sync with the rhythms of nature.
“Feminism to me means that girls and women have choices, and support, to make their lives whatever they want them to be, without restriction by patriarchy.
There are many important choices that females need to be able to make freely: the choice of a good education to train for whatever career we choose; receiving equal pay, benefits and recognition for our work in the world; to choose our friends and sexual partners of either gender and any background; access to birth control and legal abortion so that we can choose to bear children or not, the ability to live in a world of peace and environmental harmony, and a decent pension and supported housing when we retire so that none of us have to live in poverty.
But the most important for me, is that none of these choices will be truly manifest until women seek and are accepted into political decision making at every level; all the way from exercising their vote and supporting feminist candidates, to running for office and making up a representative portion (51%) of all of our elected bodies and our justice system.”
Nicole volunteers her time to publish this magazine with the hope to encourage deeper awareness and courageous action.
For more information on gender inequality:
Centre for Social Justice website
Article: Gender inequality distorts politics www.thestar.com/comment/article/280026