Monday, December 23, 2013

6 Gifts for a Feminist New Year

Every year I write a holiday gift list. Here's the one this year needs.

Fair and decent representation in the media

In 2014, I'd like to open a magazine without worrying about my thigh gap or my six pack. I'd like to see women of all shapes and sizes and colours represented on my TV screen and in my movie theatres. I'd like the Bechdel test to become obsolete, because of course women talk to each other in movies and of course  its not only about men. In the news, I'd like women to be treated as equals by their male counterparts and not have themselves or their opinions degraded, shamed or belittled simply because they are women. When women run for office, have babies, wear dresses, eat food or exist in the public realm, I'd love if we didn't shame their bodies, dress choices, food consumption or general behaviour based on their gender. When Hilary runs for President in 2016, I can only pray I don't read a million articles on her pantsuits, her haircuts, and how she can be so 'manly' or, conversely, so 'womanly'.

Women are not victims

Under my Christmas tree I'd like an absence of victim blaming. When a woman gets raped or abused in 2013, I'd love if we didn't hint that maybe alcohol/short skirts/flirting or, more generally, having a vagina made him do it. Lets not state that because the woman is fat/skinny/black/white/etc. she should enjoy it because no one would look at her otherwise. Please stop making the streets, stores, busses and clubs I enter into soft war zones: I can do well without the catcalling, the general harassment, the touching and the leering. I know its difficult: many men grow up being told that power and strength are the most valuable assets, that women are possessions to be taken and controlled and that their maleness is defined by their last dollar or last sexual encounter. But these things are simply not true. I promise to respect you as a being capable of the full range of human emotions; so please respect me as one too.

More female superheroes (or:A seat at the table)

When Hilary Clinton runs for the Presidency in 2016, women in the United States will rise in such unprecedented numbers, the government will have to retake the census. We need more women in visible positions of power, more women who have decision-making power: who are part of political, economic and legislative processes from their inception to their implementation and beyond. We need strong women from all walks of life to be seen as capable and powerful so that young girls can grow up knowing that women can access many different ranks, that there is no glass ceiling that impedes them, that they really can do anything, be anyone. When young girls stop wanting to be president by the time they are 15, when they fail drastically at maths and sciences due in large part to external factors, when their chief concerns turn to body image and getting a man's attention, we have failed future generations of female leaders by not showing or giving them opportunities or images of female success. And by doing this, we have failed future generation of boys and the relationships, friendships and partnerships they could be having with equally competent, intelligent, ambitious and successful women. Never underestimate the power of mentors, heroines and superheroes. (My current favorite is Qahera, a Muslim feminist superhero.)

Can feminism please allow for diversity?

My feminism is intersectional or it is nothing. I've had it reading about if Beyonce/Miley Cyrus/Barack Obama is a feminist. I'm a bit tired of Sheryl Sandberg and all the other women giants telling me what to do. (Although, I really do love Sheryl, she has such perception.) I want female heroines, yes, but I want a diverse spectrum of what it means to a be a woman (and the same should apply to men). There is no one way to lead, or to succeed, or to be a feminist! I think that if we examine our choices, we can only fault ourselves at the end, but its okay because we are not always perfect, not always strong, not always leaders.

1. Advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

Feminism is large enough to be inclusive of everyone (just as patriarchy has been doing for years, quite negatively and perversely), women and men and everyone on the gender spectrum.

We all have a duty of self-respect under oppression

Although feminism is inclusive of everyone, and I am advocating for an acknowledgement of the diversity within our opinions, contexts and histories, I still strongly believe that we have a duty to self-respect in the face of oppression. Emanuel Kant wrote that because we are beings who can think and reason, we are deserving of respect, and of being treated for our ends and not as a means (ie, don't use people, its not nice). He goes further to state that we also have a duty to self respect - and feminism takes that to say: in the face of oppression you have a duty to stand up. Standing up can take many forms: from a violent riot to a marching protest to a peaceful sit in, to telling yourself, inwardly, that you will never allow this to happen to you ever again. Whatever it is you choose, we all know when our self respect is being harmed. Some of us can advocate on behalf of entire people, some of us can advocate on behalf of just ourselves. Sometimes, the latter is the hardest. In 2014, I hope we all take a stance on our bodies, our thoughts, our actions, and we get the respect we deserve, while endeavouring to give it amply in return.

Finally, give a little communication!

We could solve so much of these misgivings and abuses if the sexes learned to communicate amongst themselves and with each other. If we understood that feelings are meant to be expressed, problems meant to be solved and that we don't continuously have to resort to power struggles to get our way. If we learned a language that was not so aggressive, not so gendered/sexist and not so dismissive, we could come to empathize with our opposites, see the world from their perspective and understand their struggles.

In 2014, I hope that men will look at a situation through a woman's perspective, and that women will be open to understanding the difficulties men face as well. What I've found more often than not, is that we are all struggling with the burdens that a patriarchal society places on us: heightened body image awareness, gendered pressures and roles within social interactions and in the workplace and relationships are not solely a woman's arena. If only we would allow each other some leeway to express a full range of emotions, a full range of struggles and wants and frustrations, we might be able to work better together - and progress might be a source of mutual happiness and love instead of competition and discourse.

I wish you a more conscious New Year, one where breathing comes more easily and kindness, love and compassion are mixed in to your every day.

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