Hi reader! Long time, no write and I will blame med school for that one. I also was doing the thing where I sit on my writing for so long trying to make it “perfect” which will never happen so I am just going to feel my fear and post regardless. Thank you SO much to everyone that reads these. If you want to always know when I post a blog you can sign up for an email here.
At this time, I am writing from Katarokwi (Kingston) situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory.
Content warning: sexual assault and violence against women, violence against Indigenous women and girls
The term women when used in this piece = anyone who personally identifies as a woman
Feminism is a topic that we’ve challenged for centuries at this point. The history of feminism is much vaster than I can reasonably go into in this single written piece. To snap us all to the present, we are considered to be in Fourth-wave feminism, which resurged around 2012 as social media exploded.
“Everyone should be a feminist” is a phrase that makes some people cringe. If we are being honest, many do not identify with feminism as it is sometimes rally-cried today. For me, being a feminist is a natural extension of my personal outlook on life: we all deserve to feel safe to pursue what fulfills us in this life without socially constructed barriers. Simplified, feminism focusses on how treating women inequitably can keep them from this freedom. Most importantly, feminism amplifies the need for women to be able to learn, choose for, and support themselves.
We may not realize how much better things have become because of feminist movements. For example, Factfulness by Hans Rosling (a read I will always recommend) features the following question: Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school?
- 9 years
- 6 years
- 3 years
The vast majority of people will answer this incorrectly. The answer is 9 years:
Things are better in some undeniable ways. Throughout the decades, we have seen women in societies around the world receive the right to go to school, vote, and own property. Over time, feminism as a movement has grown to include the conversations around the #MeToo movement, reproductive rights, and the gender pay gap.
With this said, feminism can feel distant for people who no longer fit the mainstream narrative – noting that what is “mainstream” is a subjective experience depending on what you are fed on social media. For women who choose to dress modestly. For women who still just want their basic needs met. For women who are racialized and do not relate to the priorities of white women in this movement. Where do they stand within fourth-wave feminism?
First thing I feel we get wrong: Being a “homemaker” or a stay-at-home mother does not intersect with feminism.
A little background on me because I always want to give you context on why I see things the way I do:
April 2021 marked 20 years since my family moved to Canada from Switzerland. My mom recently sent me a photo of when we first landed in December of 2000 before moving the following April. I was three years old.
Growing up in Canada, my mom was always around. My parents started their own business upon immigrating here and because of this, my mom had the flexibility to be at home. She was at every school play or band performance, made me pancakes for breakfast a couple of times a week, and came on school field trips. (She also reads these blogs so hello to her). Where I’m going with all this is that my mom had a profound impact on how I view day-to-day life. As time goes on, I surprise myself with how similar I feel I am becoming to her. Yet, with my current career trajectory, it’s unlikely I will spend my life the way she did. Still, I do not see the work I will do as any less significant than the role she played in my life. I am sure others who grew up with stay-at-home moms feel the same, even if that is not the path we may be choosing for ourselves.
In the book turned film Little Women, we see the lives of sisters with vastly different aspirations. For protagonist Joe, she wanted to be a writer and have her work read widely. While her sister Amy wanted to be a wife and homemaker, supported by someone she loved and who loved her deeply. Both dreams were valid.
In the early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (spoiler alert!), Cristina Yang pursues Cardiac Surgery and is unwavering in her decision not to have children. In comparison, her best friend, Meredith Grey chooses General Surgery and goes on to have three children. Again, both paths were valid.
We are at a point where we have strides to make for women with Joe or Cristina’s aspirations and I can recognize this. We see women pushed out of leadership positions or deterred from seeing themselves in those roles likely due to various factors including Imposter Syndrome. There has even been a surge of women leaving the workplace in light of the pandemic due to the disproportionate pressures of home life on women, lower pay relative to their male partners/spouses, etc. However, we are also seeing more and more women facing shame if they do not choose a career. Women who may choose to stay at home, often sacrificing income, to do the full-time job that can be keeping a household afloat, and to be physically present for more moments of their children’s’ upbringing.
I understand that we are not at a point where this some form of radical advocacy to be done to help women achieve their desire of being a homemaker. But I do think we are entering a phase in society where we are seeing rising costs of living and the norm becoming two-income households. Thus, women who choose to leave the workplace, or never enter it in the first place, are told that something is wrong with their decision. On a similar vein, women who choose to dress modestly whether that is for their personal, religious, or cultural beliefs are told that this desire must come from a place of “oppression”.
I feel a friendly societal reminder is needed that feminism is about giving women options. It is about widespread acceptance of our ordained right as human beings to make choices for ourselves. Reni Eddo-Lodge describes “bikini obsession” and “modesty obsession” as two ends on the same spectrum of obsession over women’s bodies and objectification. Whether the choice is to be a rising career woman who chooses to dress modestly, a stay-at-home mom who likes to show some more skin, or anywhere in between on these spectrums – normalize it all.
On a more personal note – where do I stand on these spectrums? For my career, I decided early on that I wanted a job that would give me ongoing fulfillment and financial independence. (No fairy-tales for me!) I often see people, specifically other women, questioning feminism because they believe a relationship and having someone to “provide” should be what women aspire towards. This may be true for some, but my independence contributes to my peace. There is little more important to me than being able to care for myself regardless of whether I have a partner in the picture. I understand other women may try different lifestyles for themselves and make a completely different decision than I have. Feminism has given more of us this choice.
Second thing I feel we get wrong: Feminism is just about advancing women in the workplace.
Gender equity in the workplace is often the first issue that comes to mind when people think about feminism today. Although the gender pay gap is a pressing issue for women in the workplace, I think for many people, this issue is not one they can identify with. Modern feminism focuses on the issues facing higher SES and often white women, rather than grappling with basic survival needs women still face in our communities.
These issues are in your own backyard. As a single example, we do not see nearly enough advocacy for women experiencing homelessness as we should. Homelessness for women also has implications for heightened risk of experiencing sexual assault on the streets. In Kingston-Katarokwi, Ontario where I live at the time of writing this, 55% of people experiencing homelessness identify as women. Additionally, 24% of people experiencing homelessness in Kingston-Katarokwi, identify as Indigenous. (Source) The intersectionality of these issues when we think about the still growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada cannot be ignored. Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to go missing or be killed than any other woman in Canada. Indigenous women account for four percent of the Canadian population but were the victims in 28 per cent of all homicides perpetrated against women in 2019. (Source)
We unfortunately tend to ignore issues that do not directly affect our community or people we love. We have cycles of outrage and then we forget. Otherwise, we would be more alarmed when we hear stories like Tina Fontaine’s, a 15-year-old Cree girl who was murdered and left in the Red River in Winnipeg in 2014. Or Joyce Echaquan’s, an Atikamekw woman who faced racist abuse from Québec health care workers as she was dying in the hospital in September 2020.
Similarly, Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga describes experiences like this and more, sharing harrowing instances of lives lost and the impact on entire communities. I would argue that addressing this crisis is some of the most important advocacy we could be doing – especially for women and girls. Yet, Indigenous communities do more to rally search teams and support for their missing members despite their losses than our societal structure has ever attempted to.
In short, we need to be putting arguably more work into guaranteeing all women shelter, dignity, and safety than any other single feminist issue.
Third thing I feel we get wrong: Safety for someone to express their gender identity affects anyone else.
Gender expression is something we are all entitled to. Our perceptions of “masculinity” and “femininity” have always evolved with societal trends and even differ between cultures. Western culture is often amnesiac to the fact that we aren’t the only ones around. We also forget how long human beings have actually existed. In many Eastern societies, men wore skirts or sarongs for centuries – since ancient history. People today will scoff at Harry Styles for wearing a dress when just a couple centuries ago, people would be appalled to see women in jeans or trousers today. Go figure.
Some folks see feminism as a movement that discourages women to express their “femininity”. I think it is because many cannot conceptualize that perhaps, and I’m just spit-balling here, someone does not want to express this femininity by the definition you use for yourself.
On the contrary, feminism should give us all the empowerment to choose how we would like to outwardly express our gender identity in any setting. In medicine, we see women posting #ILookLikeASurgeon, a traditionally male-dominated field, in diverse attire of their choosing. We see AOC posting about looking her version of her best in her signature red lip while working in politics. All this to challenge the notion that:
a) anyone else has a say in how you choose to present yourself and
b) that certain settings or even workplaces can dictate how you should present yourself.
Within the medical field, I see health care as a fundamental right we all should have access to safely regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other labels. When we see medicine adopt principles often introduced by feminism, when we use terms like “people who menstruate” rather than simply “women”, we slowly make health care a more comfortable space for everyone to engage in without anyone else losing the safety they once had. We should do this out of love and respect for every human beings’ access to basic needs. The only belief system we need to make room for in health care is love. Talking about love in medicine should not make us uncomfortable – it is integral to humanity. Showing love to people irrespective of whether their lifestyle aligns with our own should not be a touchy topic of conversation.
I hope I have been able to add some nuance to this conversation. I thought Why We’re Wrong About Feminism would be a catchy title but I do consider myself a feminist. Perhaps, some of you feel more open-minded to the idea and will one day call yourself a feminist if you do not already.
Recommended Reading: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. One of my first reads of this year that heavily inspired this post.
Thank you for reading! As always, take a screen break if you need. Walks, books, and stretching are encouraged on here.
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