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Translated by Vincent Chartier
We need to talk...
“They’re all worked up!”
“They’re just a bunch of man-hating lesbians.”
“The fight for gender equality… what is this nonsense, this isn’t the 30s anymore!”
“They must have been traumatized by men when they were young…”
Do these statements sound familiar? Have you ever heard these comments from your loved ones, from strangers on the street, or even from a colleague in university? I can confirm that these words grate my ears on a daily basis. Every day, I hear these statements directed at women who identify as feminists.
There it is, I’ve said the word: feminist.
The word evokes fear and reluctance not only among the general public, but also sometimes among women who identify as such, because they fear rejection or stigmatization (North, 2009). According to Zucker (2004), even if a woman defends and supports the feminists demands, she does not always accept to identify with the label associated with this movement.
This word is too often associated with aggression, hostility, and frustration. Women who identify as feminist are perceived as harsh, stringent, rude, and mean (North, 2009). Why do women who strive for gender equality suffer these pejorative perceptions? Let us first define what feminism is.
First off, what is feminism?
“It is a political movement that advocates for true equality between men and women in both private and public life. In a wider sense, feminism [...] denounces the inequalities suffered by women and [...] proposes avenues to change these conditions" (Université de Sherbrooke, 2016).
Defining “feminism” is no easy task. There are many types of feminism, all of which are equally important and relevant, presenting different demands and strategies for change (Bard, 2015). Moreover, like any social movement, feminism can be broken down into different theoretical currents. Three great traditions of feminist thought have been identified (Relais-Femme and CDEACF, 1997).
Among these is liberal egalitarian feminism, which advocates for equal rights between men and women, primarily at the political, civil, economic, and educational levels. Next, Marxist or socialist feminists consider that the power imbalance between men and women is the result of a social system that assigns distinct social roles to each gender, in which the man works and the woman stays home. Finally, radical feminism provides that the root of inequality between men and women is the patriarchy, a social system in which men are in a politically, economically, socially, and sexually dominant position over women (Relais-Femme and CDEACF, 1997).
Two big questions:
When and why?
The feminist movement is divided into three major waves. The first wave of feminism was born at the end of the 18th century, and lasted throughout the first half of the 20th century. Let us take a look at some of their demands (Brodeur et al., 1981).
Suffrage. In Quebec, women only obtained the right to vote in 1940 thanks to the arrival of the Liberal Party (Brodeur et al., 1981). Ladies, could you imagine? If it wasn’t for those feminists, we would have no control over the election of the party in charge of our society.
Participation in the workforce and workplace equality. At the time, women’s work was in opposition to clerico-nationalism, an ideology popular mainly among members of the Catholic clergy, who are very conservative in regard to family traditions and positions themselves against any changes to gender roles. Women should stay home and leave the economic power to men.
Women who went against this traditional role were forced to work in bad conditions and were paid a lower salary than their male counterparts. As such, one of the many feminist fights centered on the “equal pay for equal work” demand, while also eliminating workplace discrimination (Brodeur et al., 1981). A relevant request, right?
Abolition of legal discrimination. Feminists at the time requested reforms to the Civil Code of Quebec. For example, in 1931, the League for Women’s Rights managed to have one of their demands fulfilled: married women would henceforth have access to their salary!
However, they had to wait a little while longer when it came to appeal in cases of unfaithfulness. More specifically, when a woman was unfaithful, a man could automatically divorce her, but she could not divorce him unless he had committed adultery, that is, if and only if, the unfaithfulness had happened outside their shared house. Rather unfair, no? This demand for equality of appeal was only granted in 1955 (Brodeur et al., 1981).
Second-wave feminism starts after World War II, presenting revolutionary and political goals. During this time, women’s groups multiplied and the number of demands for women’s emancipation increased. Let us look at a few of those (Brodeur et al., 1981).
Abortion rights. In May 1970, the first fight for abortion rights took place, bringing together women from all around Canada. Women wanted to fight the oppression against them, including the control exerted over their reproductive functions (Brodeur et al., 1981).
Let us remember that abortion rights have been threatned for our closest neighbours ever since our dear Donald Trump became president of the United States… Even in 2017, after all these years of activism, abortion rights are still far from guaranteed (Blanc, 2017).
Unrestricted access to birth control. Various feminist groups demanded the right to have control over birth planning. As such, every woman could decide when they want to have children for themselves, without pressure from society or the clergy (Brodeur et al., 1981).
Fight against violence and rape. Given the increasing number of sexual assault cases, many centres and associations that fight against violence against women were created during this second wave. In addition to helping sexual assault victims, women wanted to put an end to myths about rape in our society.
The feminist movement has a multitude of demands to fight violence against women, such as tackling the legal procedures that pose the burden of proof on the victim, as well as a more in-depth analysis of the causes of sexual assault (Brodeur et al., 1981).
You might think that we have currently reached our goal of eliminating sexual violence against women. Considering that 84% of sexual assault victims are girls or women, (Ministère de la sécurité publique, 2014), this is clearly not true.
Fight against sexual repression and discrimination. Feminists fight against the oppression that women feel when it comes to expressing their sexuality. More specifically, female sexuality is only accepted within an established framework, which encompasses either love with a capital L, the couple, or the family. Moreover, men’s sexuality is experienced very differently, because they have the societal “right” to go way beyond that framework, under the guise of sexual freedom and the seduction game (Brodeur et al., 1981).
This double sexual standard is still present in our society. For the same sexual behaviour, women are criticized, while men receive praise (Zaikman et al., 2016). Do you find this acceptable?
PART 3 : Postmodern Feminism
Starting in the second half of the 80s, the second-wave feminist movement comes to an end, announcing the beginning of postmodern feminism. Also referred to as “third-wave feminism,” this movement’s various demands advocate for diversity. In other words, even if feminists generally rely on gains made during the previous wave to lead the charge, there are now several feminist subgroups, each taking different approaches (Oprea, 2008).
The feminist movement is no longer universal and uniform, but heterogenous and diversified (Oprea, 2008).
Every feminist wants to make this movement their own, depending on their sexual identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or inner political ideology. In addition, it has been observed that some groups of the third wave welcome men; they are invited to take on the label and join the fight for these demands (Oprea, 2008).
It is important not to favour one type of feminism to the detriment of another, but to take into account every aspect of the context in which it exists (Bard, 2015).
What is the take away? That today...
“Women still suffer from economic inequality.”
“Women are still victims of sexism.”
“Women are still subject to violence.”
“Women still fight against oppression regarding their sexuality.”
And that every type of feminism fights against this oppression in its own way (Oprea, 2008).
By reviewing the overall definition of feminism and its main demands, do you perceive...
A deep hatred of men?
An uncontrollable daily frustration?
The obligation to have lived emotional trauma in order to share the will to benefit from the rights advocated for by feminists?
Do you believe these demands are still relevant and pertinent?
Every type of feminism has a different action strategy, such as implementing non-sexist education, overthrowing capitalism, and fighting against the patriarchy by giving women the possibility to take back control of their lives (Relais-Femme and CDEACF, 1997).
These strategies for change are created with the objective to help women fight against a society that promotes unequal relationships, not to undermine men. Man as he is should not be represented as the enemy or the cause of women’s oppression (Relais-Femme and CDEACF, 1997).
No matter the type of feminism addressed by society or the various strategies for change used, this social movement has always been associated with two qualifiers: negative and disruptive (Loke et al., 2015).
As a result, people have associated those who uphold feminism with various stereotypes based on judgment, rather than verified and rigorous theory. Therefore, the importance of the social and political demands are pushed aside and replaced with pejorative prejudice (Loke et al., 2015).
So, in the end, what is feminism, really?
It is a social and political movement that fights against the systems of oppression women are subjected to daily, not simply a ridiculous and meaningless phase.
Bard, C. (2015). Une histoire de l’histoire des féministes de la première vague. Presses universitaires de Rennes. Retrieved from http://www.pur-editions.fr/couvertures/1449052903_doc.pdf
Blanc, S. (2017, January 23). Aussitôt aux commandes, Trump s’attaque à l’avortement. La Presse. Retrieved from http://www.lapresse.ca/international/etats-unis/201701/23/01-5062309-aussitot-aux-commandes-trump-sattaque-a-lavortement.php
Brodeur, V., Chartrand, S. G., Corriveau, L. and Valay, B. (1981). Le mouvement des femmes au Québec. Montréal : Centre de formation populaire. Retrieved from http://virtuolien.uqam.ca/tout/UQAM_BIB000474105
Loke, J., Bachmann, I. and Harp, D. (2015). Co-opting feminism : media discourses on political women and the definition of a (new) feminist identity. Media, Culture & Society, 39(1), 122-132. doi : 10.1177/0163443715604890
Ministère de la sécurité publique du Québec. (2014). Mieux comprendre les agressions sexuelles : Quelques statistiques. Retrieved from http://www.agressionssexuelles.gouv.qc.ca/fr/mieux-comprendre/statistiques.php
North, L. (2009). Rejecting the « F-Word ». How Feminism and Feminists are understood in the Newsroom. Journalism, 10(6), 739-757. doi : 10.1177/1464884909344479
Oprea, D-A. (2008). Du féminisme (de la troisième vague) et du postmoderne. Revue Recherches féministes, 21(2), 5-28. doi : 10.7202/029439ar
Relais-Femme (Association) & CDEACF. (1997). Qu’est ce que le féminisme? Trousse d’information sur le féminisme québécois des vingt-cinq dernières années. CDEACF Montréal: Relais-Femme Montréal. Retrieved from http://virtuolien.uqam.ca/tout/UQAM_BIB000296975
Université de Sherbrooke. (2016). Perspective monde : Outil pédagogique des grandes tendances mondiales depuis 1945. Retrieved from http://perspective.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/servlet/BMDictionnaire?iddictionnaire=1503
Zaikman, Y., Marks, M. J., Young, T. M. and Zeiber, J. A. (2016). Gender Roles Violation and the Sexual Double Standard. Journal of Homosexuality, 63(12), 1608-1629. doi : 10.1080/00918369.2016.1158007
Zucker, A. (2004). Disavowing Social Identities : What It Means when Women Say, « I’m Not a Feminist, but… ». Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(4), 423-435. doi : 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00159.x