International Women’s Day can create contradictory sentiments in participants. While people coming together to fight women’s oppression is a source of inspiration for most, it is a reminder that a world where women have to fight for their rights is not free of sexism: far from it.
At a recent conference held by the Canadian University Press, National Post columnist Rebecca Eckler said she didn’t feel it necessary to call herself a feminist, for the battles of the past have been fought by her sisters. While sexism remains in her workplace, it can be fought without labels and slogans. Eckler has a right to her opinion, but to hear it from a voice for young women in Canada’s mainstream media is unnerving for women who believe the title “feminist” gives meaning to their daily struggles.
International Women’s Day provides a moment of pause for those who believe the fight is over. Women of colour, poor women, immigrant and refugee women, disabled women, transgendered, transsexual and queer women, old women and young women, put a crucial question to the women’s movement when 15,000 of them marched in the streets of Toronto, demanding an end to their oppression. If feminism is dead, which women died?
On Saturday’s rally, Salome Lukas from Women Working with Immigrant Women, organizers of the march, put politics and the media into a new light. With many other speakers, Lukas took on the issues facing women in North America and introduced a different interpretation—a tradition of International Women’s Day. She posited that while the post-September 11 media dove into Osama bin Laden, anthrax and American propaganda, the women’s movement was fighting a war of its own as immigrant women were targeted and civil rights attacked.
In a similar spirit, annual IWD speaker Cherie McDonald from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty took a creative approach to the province’s idea of targeted policing. McDonald doesn’t think the police target the right people by focusing on poor neighbourhoods and people of colour. According to her, in a world of “feminist targeted policing,” headlines would read “Business Council on National Issues arrested for organized crime” for placing thousands of Canadians in poverty with their focus on economic growth by supporting business rather than social services. The “Axis of Evil” would include Bush, Chrétien and Harris.
It is these interpretations that show what’s missing from the way the world is presented. For some women at Saturday’s rally, a series of clips from feminist perspectives has the power to reinvent “women,” redescribe the truth and claim experience that has been ignored.
While IWD may not have caught the attention of media or governmental powers, it reaffirmed a sense of pride in women who feel that “feminist” is not only a good word but a crucial one. It allows for the power of interpretation. It is a word that claims perspective.
A discussion of the meaning of “feminist” is perhaps useful for men and women who have the time to discuss such matters. But for others, it is a given. It is a starting block to direct action. It is necessary for everyday existence, because existence, for many women, is a struggle. For those who remain skeptical, consider where women would be were it not for the feminists of the past, then decide whether the future needs them to exist now.