30 August 2006

Harper's Base Making a Mistake

I suppose that it was only a matter of time until segments of the Conservative base made their voices heard on an issue that rubs me the wrong way. I'm very concerned about the full-court press launched by an entity calling itself REAL Women of Canada to have the Status of Women Canada agency eliminated. This statement in particular is damaging to the efforts of numerous women (some of whom are linked in my sidebar) to achieve genuine equality in Canadian society:

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, says Status of Women's time has passed and is no longer relevant.
"It's based on the premise that women are allegedly victims of a patriarchal society and need support and special recognition," said Landolt.
"Our view is that the vast majority of women are not victims, and quite capable of making decisions in their lives."

I have absolutely no qualm with the idea that women are "quite capable of making decisions in their lives." Of course they are; to deny women, as a collective, possess agency and self-determination is to be out of connection with reality. However, I know of very few radical feminists who espouse the victim mentality that REAL Women claim they do. Women do not want to be seen as victims, but they are raising their voices to declare that they are not being treated equally and are often treated as second-class citizens within this patriarchal society. To declare that SWC is "no longer relevant" is to declare that equality has been achieved and that there are no pressing issues that women face in either their day-to-day relations with men or the systemic nature of the system. In order to undercut the feminist movement, REAL Women intends to cause severe damage to those women who may fall into what they would describe as the "vast minority" and leave them left behind. I guess that of all the supposedly Republican-influenced ideas that Harper et al. have brought across the border, "compassionate conservatism" wasn't among them.

A favourite feminist slogan of mine is "There is no equality while women feel unsafe." Many, many women do not feel safe in this society. Many do not feel safe walking alone at night because they're afraid someone will accost or even rape them. Many are wary of undertaking the task of purchasing a vehicle by themselves because they're concerned that the dealer with take advantage of them. Many women cannot feel comfortable standing in line at the grocery store because some lech is staring them up and down to "rate" them. I could go on for hours with basic and complex examples such as these.

It is fantastic that many women do feel as though they have achieved equality with their male peers. What REAL Women seek to do is to remove a mechanism by which other women that have not reached that plateau can organize and discuss strategies and tactics to overcome the obstacles that still remain in the system. The work of SWC is dedicated to the objective of ALL women being treated as equals in every respect, something which really doesn't seem like a lot to ask, but in practice turns out to be a formidable monster to defeat.

We are at a point in which it is believed that 1 in 2 women will experience some form of violence in their lives. How can we plausibly claim equality when these are the facts on the ground? How can a small segment of the female population declare that the struggle for women's equality is over when forms of female exploitation and humiliation such as rape, pornography, prostitution, and so forth are not only still in existence, but a thriving and growing problem?

Ah but wait, what about the empowered woman? By this, I refer to "the confident, photogenic, entirely fictitious female who inhabits TV ads, “Sex in the City"...and the popular imagination. Today’s woman isn’t a feminist. She doesn’t need to be, because she’s empowered." Is it me, or is it just a coincidence that the "empowered woman" of today strangely resembles the "hot chixxx" that are displayed en masse in men's magazines such as Maxim? Wouldn't that mean that the ability to distinguish between an "empowered woman" and the latest centrefold is diminished? Yes it is, because in the end, if men are consuming "Sex and the City" at the same rate and with the same purpose as the lad mags or Playboy, isn't it really just exploitation with the tagline that it's actually "for women, too"?

I'm hopeful that Harper will not cave in to the demands of his social conservative base on this issue. Female equality is far too important an issue to be playing politics with, particularly given the greatly-premature claims of REAL Women. I wish that they were right and that SWC's time had passed. But it isn't. And with that in mind, I give you the long-overdue-to-be-posted series of Legislation Recommendations (note: right-click and Save it to your computer, sometimes the site is a little wonky with the actual webpage) that I recently sent to Minister of Justice Vic Toews. Download it, read it, discuss it with your friends, and let me know what you think of it.


Jason Bo Green said...

I too find this, "She's empowered because she's HOT!" idea to be somewhat alarming.

Isn't that a lot like the empowerment of being able to marry well?

Jason Bo Green said...

On the other hand... being "hot" is rather empowering in our society, so - I guess there is a point there after all...

RGM said...

Yes but it's a temporary and fleeting superficial "empowerment." I dunno, in that position, I'd rather be respected for my abilities than for, as Fergie would put it, my humps.