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Paula Ethans
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Is there longevity to the Women's March on Washington?

January 26th, 2017 by

The shelf life of solidarity

 
 

Though the Women’s March on Washington materialized as a grassroots initiative in the days following the election, it quickly developed into a full-fledged movement, gaining the attention of political organizers and activist groups. The fact that WMW caught on like wildfire is inspiring, but among the hundreds of thousands expected participants in Washington, DC (and the countless sister march participants), how many know what WMW exactly is? What does the movement seek? What are people marching for? Is there an end goal with WMW, or are we just showing how much we hate the new President?

The day after the election, concerned individuals around North America took to the streets. Conservatives moaned that these people were just ‘annoying millennials being sore losers.’ And, in a narrow sense, there was some truth to that statement. While these people (not just millennials) have very valid reasons to be upset, furious, and terrified, their marching was perhaps just an avenue to paint a sign and yell random chants.

The same concerns could be said for WMW. Originally dubbed the Million Woman March, WMW started out as a broad pro-women march that was so vague it was everything to everyone. Its poorly defined edges were ripe for disappointment: setting itself up to let down both apolitical types who need an outlet for their despair, and those committed to taking a strong stance.

Though I wanted nothing more than a kickass feminist march to overshadow the horror of the election, I was cautiously optimistic at best. I was scared that Trump supporters, Hilary haters, and conservatives would point to WMW as evidence for millennial disorganization and a lack of foundational activist work. I didn’t want millions of distraught individuals to have their very rightful concerns seen as invalid because they had no legitimate movement to stand on. I cringed at the thought that this could simply be dubbed an anti-Trump march.

In good news, WMW recently released its Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles, including an expansive policy platform that takes a strong stance on equal pay, worker’s issues, reproductive rights and immigration reform. The WMW platform seeks to honor the legacy of many other progressive movements, from the Civil Rights Movement, to the suffragists, to Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. The organizers have laid out an unapologetically radical, progressive vision for justice in the USA, placing the march in the epicenter of almost every issue that was at play during the election period.

These influences listed by WMW can be seen in its principles. WMW took a hard line on not just traditional feminist issues like violence against women and reproductive rights, but also a myriad of race and class issues. It channels Black Lives Matter (BLM) by calling for an end to police brutality and racial profiling, mass incarceration and the demilitarization of American law enforcement. WMW showed support for the Labor Movement by highlighting the critical importance of unions and by advocating for the rights of all workers, from sex workers to farmworkers. The third wave feminist movement is reflected in its protection of LGBTI people through health care, anti-discrimination protections, and gender affirming identity documents. The immigrant community is also supported through WMW’s rejection of family detention, mass deportation, and violations of due process.

While I am optimistic that this is a move in the right direction, my initial concerns still stand. WMW is not just trying to be Superwoman, but the entire Marvel collection. The net WMW casts is far too wide. It will attract so many people, with so many different interests, that unity within the movement may be very hard to achieve.

WMW needs to create a more solid platform like BLM. Although BLM was initially a response to police brutality against black people, it grew into a broader movement. That said, BLM remained contained, concise, and focused on one theme: the value and worth of the black population in America.

While it is admirable for WMW to fight for the rights of America’s most oppressed, it is possible to do all of that in an effective way?

My concern is the longevity of the movement. Will it be able to keep up this momentum? Will its supporters continue to stay energized, passionate, and organized? My guess is no. My guess is the committed, long time activists will get frustrated with the newcomers, and many of the newcomers will taper off as the dramatic flair of it all wears off. For WMW to maintain its momentum, to stay relevant, and to keep its supporters happy, it will have to narrow its policy platform.

Am I another crappy white feminist saying, ‘there’s no room for race issue or class issues in feminism because feminism is just about women?” Absolutely not. Lord, no. But I am being annoyingly pragmatic right now. No movement can do everything. If it could we wouldn’t have so many movements. That’s like asking the BLM to tackle immigrant rights, worker’s rights, and women’s rights, on top of its daunting task with respect to race issues. WMW is trying to tackle every human rights issue: civil rights, political rights, social rights, economic rights, cultural rights, and collective rights. The civil rights movement, which was expansive enough, only sought to tackle civil rights. Imagine how that movement would have looked if it tacked on five other types of human rights.

As impressive and aspirational as WMW is, no movement can take on every human rights issue. There is no one-size-fits-all movement. WMW cannot properly cater to all of its followers when they each have such diverse views, values, and goals.

Millions of Americans lost faith in their fellow citizens as well as the dominate paradigm – being distraught and disorganized is understandable. But only for so long. The policy platform laid out by WMW is a step in the right direction, but for the movement to truly succeed and maintain long term momentum, it will need to consider what can realistically be achieved and reformulate its guiding principles.

WMW is an impressive, admirable movement. I just hope WMW will still be a movement to stand behind in the years to come.

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Feminism is a hipster

September 14th, 2016 by

Why there may be hope for us yet

 
 

The last decade has been a real struggle for feminism.

The movement became ‘cool’ around 2008. We started hearing the term feminism more and more. We saw celebrities adopting the label and news anchors discussing the merits of the movement.

In 2010, there were actually feminism themed products. You could buy clothing with big bold letters saying, “This is what a feminist looks like”. You could buy pillow covers featuring Ruth Bader Ginsberg and mugs with the definition of the term feminism printed right on them.

And while feminism got cool, many people continued to hate feminism.

People bought the apparel, people argued about shallow sub topics, and some people even started self-identifying as feminists. That’s when it all went downhill.

Millenials wanted to be feminists; deep down they thought it was a neat thing. But other people, the loafer-wearing squares, grandmas, middle-aged bosses and football jocks all scoffed at the notion. They said it was ridiculous and declared, ‘you look and sound preposterous!’

You see, feminism is a hipster.

In the same way that people mock individuals for growing long beards and wearing grungy clothes, individuals are criticized for saying that women deserve to be on equal footing with men. In the same way that being a hipster made you part of an underground club, so did feminism. That is, until the mainstream population began to adopt feminism/a hipster disposition. The mass adoption sullied the ‘cool’ factor of being a hipster. Suddenly, something that had garnered appeal for being “out there” was no longer so radical. How can one be a hipster when everyone is a hipster? Simple: you can’t.

In the same vain, as hordes of people started to self-identify as feminists and strutted their new label around town, the feminist movement became sullied. People rushed to claim involvement of the movement without actually giving a crap about it. People eagerly debated whether or not Taylor Swift was a feminist, without actually understanding any theoretical underpinnings needed to properly discuss the matter.

Feminism, as it became cool, got really, really uncool. The more popular the movement became, the less intelligent, revolutionary, and rousing it became.

But there may be hope for us yet.

If the hipster is dead, and the “yuccie” is alive and well, the same can be said for feminism. Third wave feminism died when Wikipedia informed men and women adopted the movement. It became saturated with bubble gum feminism and watered downed politics. But after a while, feminism lost its luster to its newest recruits. After a few years of claiming the feminist label, those people grew tired of defending their newfound ideology and suffering through insults and attacks.

Today, feminism is slowly beginning to resemble its former self; the feminism that came before the influx of celebrities and politically charged tweets. We are in a new stage of our own; our own ‘yuccie’ stage.

Are we post-third wave feminism? Are we feminism 2.0? Are we fourth wave feminism? Who knows. All I know is that the only thing that upsets me more than being vehemently hated is being ignorantly loved and falsely represented.

I’m glad bubble gum feminists are fed up of fighting the good fight, and I am excited for my sisterhood to continue on our journey towards justice.

Because, let’s be real, there’s nothing easier to hate than a hipster.

Other

Feminism isn't always about choice

July 5th, 2016 by

When did making an independent decision become a feminist act?

 
 

In the peak of third wave feminism, ‘choice’ has become not just a buzzword, but also a school of thought for some feminists. Today there is the notion that making an independent decision or a choice is an inherently feminist act.

Read or listen to almost any feminist discussion and you’ll see that the comments inevitably bring up choice. No matter the topic, people are quick to characterize an issue as one of female empowerment and the right to choose. This unfortunately provides an easy way to divert the discussion away from institutional power structures and social norms that restrict feminized people, which compel them to conform, to an oversimplification of an issue.

The idea of a woman’s ‘choice’, as it is so commonly used today, is often more a deflection of the real issue rather than a political statement. If followed to its logical conclusion, the liberal strain of ‘choice feminism’ can justify any act. This is problematic for two overarching reasons.

1. This is a low standard

Let’s give ourselves a little credit here - feminists are strong, intelligent people. As such, we need to come up with a better bottom line than ‘as long as it was their choice.’ I’m sorry to say this, but not everything is feminist. Period.

It is not feminist to call someone else a bitch, whore, slut, etc. It is not feminist to exploit other women for one’s own gain. It is not feminist, or sexually empowering, to have unprotected sex with multiple individuals.

It may be one’s choice to do these things, but these things are not positive actions. They do not promote equality, respect, and peace. These are, quite simply, bad decisions.

2. It simplifies how we make choices

Another criticism of choice rhetoric focuses on how the school of thought can have a deeply deleterious impact on women’s economic status, body image, professional success and more. For example, if a woman wears make up, and it is her choice to do so, many would argue this is empowering and therefore feminist. But this way of thinking generally fails to take into consideration the many external factors that play into a woman’s decision.

A ship may consciously decide to sail West, a choice, but if there was a storm in the South, a strong wind coming from the East and danger in the North, this choice becomes much less empowering and much more of an accommodation of one’s surrounding realities.

For example, to say that it is automatically feminist for a woman to quit work and stay home with the children while her husband continues his career path is mistaken. We need to think about what actually influenced her, compelled her, to make this decision. What is the norm in her society? Was her work/boss hesitant to give her a good maternity leave so she had to quit and was therefore already out of the workforce? Was there pressure from her husband or family members? Was her job already so low paying that there would be little yield if she and her partner had to hire childcare?

If a woman’s community is not plagued by gender norms and she lives in a progressive society that affords her equal opportunities and supports, perhaps an autonomous decision can be made. But to assume that a woman’s decision in today’s world is always self-governing is woefully misinformed and harmful to the feminist movement.

Suggesting that a woman’s choice is always autonomous mistakenly assumes that the institutions around her carry a lack of force. If we tout that societal norms and systemic structures do not have an influence on the average woman (or even the privileged woman) then we are downplaying the pervasiveness of the patriarchy. We are feeding into the idea that many skeptics believe - women in today’s society are equal and that they can make their own decisions.

If only that were true.

Other

Wanting it all & having some of it

June 16th, 2016 by

Two letters, a million possibilities

 
 

“‘Shonda, how do you do it all?’ The answer is this: I don’t. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” - Shonda Rhimes

Women want it all.

We’ve heard this declaration countless times over the last decade. Arguably, it has been a mantra of third wave feminism. Yet, what does ‘all’ mean? How do we define it? Is there only one definition? Furthermore, does every woman want ‘all’ of it? What if we don’t? Lastly, how do we get ‘it’? Must we sacrifice our balance and tranquility to achieve this lofty goal?

“You can’t have it all at once. Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time, things were rough.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Some argue that no matter who you are and how you measure this evasive ‘all’, it is impossible to achieve it. Life is full of tradeoffs, fluctuating priorities, and decisions. No one, of any gender, can achieve this goal. Besides, it sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

“After women became those things anyway, then society said, ‘All right, you’re now a lawyer or a mechanic or an astronaut—but that’s only OK if you continue to do the work you did before—if you take care of the children, cook three meals a day, and are multiorgasmic until dawn.’” - Gloria Steinem

Others argue that urging women to ‘have it all’ is a misstep of feminism (or a byproduct of patriarchy, depending on your version of feminism). Why must we have it all? We have achieved positions as astronauts or lawyers, so now must we also clean the house, write a collection of short stories and raise two children? 

“Telling women that some women ‘have it all’ only makes others feel less-than. I think we all have different struggles and issues…. My mother once said to me, ‘There’s a time to mother, a time to be single, a time to work, a time to volunteer, a time to pray, a time to be active, a time to be, a time to do, a time to talk to yourself, and a time to be quiet.’ …Get up, be grateful, try to center yourself, and try to do your best that day.” - Maria Shriver

Other circles argue that the goal of ‘having it all’ is actually insulting. Does that mean that being a stay-at-home mother is a life half lived? Is a working professional woman only worthy of limited praise because she does not have a family?

And what about the choice to not pursue it all; to make a conscious decision not to strive for totality in every facet of your life? Must we be a super human to be considered a successful woman in today’s day and age? That seems like a pretty high standard, and particularly difficult for marginalized women (women of colour, different abilities, low socio economic class, non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity, etc.) to achieve.

No, we need not have it all. Of course not. We do not need to strive for this illustrious work-life-fun-community-beauty (and whatever else) balance. We need not measure our worth by what we lack in the pie chart of life.

But we do want the opportunity to have it all. We deserve to live in a society where every woman has the potential, the support, and the space, to chase this dream. If we want the sun and the stars, let us embark on this same journey.

Furthermore, recognize that no two women will share the same dream, and that is a critical part of understanding what ‘all’ of it really is. My dream and your dream will differ, yet we are both equally deserving of the opportunity to fight for our dream. And we want both options available - we want it all.

Show us all the mountains that will lead us to life’s opportunities, and we will decide on which summit we will climb.

So yes, women do want it all. We want the freedom, the opportunity, and the support to seek and achieve our goals. Then, when we have achieved our personal goal, we want societal to accept that we only have some of ‘it’.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. The thing is, we want the whole cake, so then we can decide which piece we will eat.

 

Other

What Has Feminist Television Done For Us?

June 7th, 2016 by ,    photos by

Galentine's Day, for starters

 
 

I grew up watching TV shows like Full House, Lizzie McGuire and Zoey 101. I would race home from school, plop myself on the couch, and settle in for 23 minutes of family friendly entertainment.

In every single show I watched there were the aged archetypes of women. The clumsy-but-adorable teenage girl; the cold, bossy ‘bitch’; and the ‘strong’ female character that shows so little emotion she might as well be a robot.

At the age of eight years old, I was not critiquing television shows for perpetuating gender roles or failing to properly represent women. I was, however, devouring their message. I was learning that women who are dependent upon men are ‘cute’, girls who deviate from the norm become social outcasts, and girls who speak their mind are ‘bossy.’

I was being exposed to what it meant to be an appealing woman. I was absorbing tips and tricks on how to be an amicable cooperator, a beautiful flower to admire. I was learning how to be digestible for the average man; serving only the sweetest parts of myself in bite size portions.

Today's variety

Television has come a long way since then, especially in the last few years. We have greater representation of women, with a little more diversity, and female leads are becoming more common. There are hard working people out there, striving to provide us with proper feminist television. Among my favourites are Broad City, Orange Is The New Black, How To Get Away With Murder, Veronica Mars and Parks and Recreation. Veronica Mars (no longer in production) followed a self-assured teenage detective, who refused to conform to societal standards of desirability and tackling her own (and other peoples’) problems. The show Broad City may just be the best depiction of female friendship on television to date. These girls talk about real, relatable things: what is pegging? Where can we buy the best weed? What do I do when I take a huge poo when a guy is over and it won’t flush?

But of course, the shortcomings of television are not so short.

That’s the trouble with ‘feminist television’. Any show can crank out a female lead and proclaim it ‘feminist’. In the same vein as celebrities rushing to self-identify as feminist without understanding what that really means, Hollywood executives are using the brand of feminism without actually incorporating it into their shows.

Sex and the City is a perfect example of this. Yes, this show focused on the fierce friendship of four women who were all smart and independent, but they existed in a male-dominated cultural landscape. Let us not forget that the overarching theme of the show was searching for love and Carrie’s most important accomplishment, as depicted by the show, was finally landing Mr. Big. These four women, whenever they would meet for a cocktail, would inevitably discuss men. Furthermore, the characters were about as relatable as a seventy-year-old man finishing his last days on the dairy farm. How can the average female television viewer be expected to relate to a size 2 fashion designer with a closet the size of Russia or a gorgeous publicist with a stream of gentlemen callers?

Girls is the perfect example of ‘feminist television’, which has both helped and hurt the feminist movement. Unlike in Sex and the City, Hannah Horvath and her friends are much less likeable - they are insecure, self-obsessed and open about their shortcomings. As such, they are more relatable to many women.

Unfortunately, Girls is also a prime example of white feminism. It is not to say that the series doesn't address real and important topics (abortion, mental illness, female sexuality, etc.) but these discussions cannot compensate for its lack of diversity. And that’s the exact issue with white feminism - the notion that depicting complex, educated white women is adequate. I’m not suggesting that all TV shows must perfectly reflect all facets of diversity, but they do more harm than good when they ignore the realities of the world or play into racial stereotypes.

Even the show Scandal, written from the oh-so-impressive Shonda Rhimes, has its shortcomings. On the surface, the drama seems progressive. Olivia Pope is a black woman, in a position of power, who is a strong, independent woman with a soft side and a breaking point. Furthermore, it’s rare to have such a diverse cast, fighting together for a collective cause on mainstream television. But although a woman of colour is allegedly at the center of the plot, the ingredients that comprise the show are the usual Hollywood suspects - sex, violence, violation and action. In fact, aside from the fact that Olivia Pope, a black woman, saves the day, there is virtually no shift from the normative patriarchal Hollywood recipe.

We are going in the right direction, but let’s not kid ourselves. We still have a long way to go. Feminist television has both helped and hindered the movement. The fact that such a label exists, people are talking about it, and shows are trying to debunk gender roles and better represent women are all good things. But feminist television has hurt us by becoming the trendy marketing label for producers to brand their shows. We do ourselves a disservice by proclaiming, “We have 17 feminist television shows airing this year!” when half of them are deeply flawed or fail to fully embrace feminist principles. This diminishes the movement and dilutes the message we seek to spread.

If teenagers grow up believing that Girls is a good representation of feminism, then we will be left with misinformed youth and an inadequate movement.

Am I splitting hairs here?

Maybe. But there can be no ‘basically feminist’ individuals; there can be no ‘good enough’ feminism. To produce and applaud misguided feminist television is to suggest that only advocating for the rights of certain oppressed groups, or only fighting against the patriarchy when it is convenient, is OK, is acceptable, is good enough.

There is no perfect feminism, but there cannot be a halfhearted movement either. Feminism is a fight, and we must all give 100%.