The complicated ‘F’ word

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth.

The definitions of feminism and why it still needs to be applied in Canada today

I’m bringing up the “F” word again, and some of you may not like it. Some find it uncomfortable and are unable to situate where they stand on the matter. Some are passionate about it, while others are annoyed over how repetitive the topic is. However, seeing as we’re in the midst of Women’s History Month in Canada, I think it is fitting to once again open up the conversation about feminism.

Feminism is a difficult word to define. Google it and you get an endless amount of web pages trying to define it, outline the different types and argue whether or not we need to define it. After searching through more than 100 pages to find a worthy article, it seems Wikipedia provides the longest list of the different types of feminism, including mainstream feminism, intersectional feminism, ecofeminism and even Marxist feminism. It’s daunting to even try to define this complex term and it raises the question: can feminism really be defined?

Since I personally identify as a feminist, I believe feminism can be defined with a very simple explanation: feminism is the movement of equality for men and women—regardless of your ethnicity, religion, culture, age, profession, etc. I believe the need for feminism is due to society’s gender norms that continue to be applied today. Feminism is necessary because it breaks down these norms. However, this is my own interpretation and understanding. As mentioned before, there are several ways of interpreting feminism today, but it seems this multitude of ways leads some people to think there’s no way to simply define it.

Is it a movement that cannot be justified due to society’s indefinite perceptions, sexism and patriarchy? Throughout history, Canada has made great strides in applying laws to instill women’s rights, such as the 1883 Married Women’s Property Act that allowed women to have legal control over their earnings. Also, women’s right to vote was fully established nationally once Quebec jumped on the bandwagon in 1940. The Civil Rights Act later prohibited discrimination in the workplace. Equal pay was established in 1977, and abortion was made legal in 1969.
Back in 2015, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, he made the bold move to form Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet. Many applauded his act and saw it as something obvious that should have happened years ago. But little action has been done to improve the state of feminism in Canada since then, or at least that’s how some see it.

However, women are still not treated the same as men. One in four North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to Sexual Assault Canada. And despite the equal pay law, women are still only making 72 cents to a man’s dollar, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Furthermore, women of colour, women with disabilities, older women and women of specific religions and minorities face even more extensive oppression.

I personally believe the relation between what is considered “feminine” versus “masculine” has disrupted the freedom of choice to living independently. Why are women still struggling to find their voices in corporate, technological or political settings? Why are they worried about getting a job and starting a family?

This traditional understanding of gender norms must be rehashed since it’s one of the prime reasons feminism is still being fought for today. The application of human rights and respect is not being understood as rights for a “human,” regardless of gender. They are being applied as a division of rights: men’s rights and women’s rights. In order to combine this division into one issue, both women and men have to be more vocal about changing the way we view gender.

Parents must begin educating their children about the fact that the polarization between genders is wrong, and that it places unfair expectations on people. Society, as a whole, has to realize we are all entitled to make personal decisions, receive quality education and be respected. Until this is universally applied, the need for feminism will still exist.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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