I don’t want to dampen excitement about the groundswell of feminist activism that we have seen via #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, the record number of women elected in the US midterm elections and the emergence of powerful new feminist public figures, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Kamela Harris to Christine Blasey Ford to Captain Marvel. But I do want to caution that we conceptualize feminism in waves, but waves swell and then recede. We have let the waves recede before: after white women got the vote in Canada, after “women’s libbers” got women the right to have bank accounts in their names and started the first women’s shelters, and after Anita Hill stood alone on Capitol Hill to disclose the sexual harassment and assault she experienced by someone nominated to the Supreme Court (that sounds…familiar). The risk of this fourth wave of feminism receding is even greater because social media is a funhouse mirror that distorts the steps we are taking to build the movement and secure gender equality.
So we need to get to work. Take our activism off Twitter and into our workplaces, community leagues, council chambers, churches, campaign offices, locker rooms and homes. Because what a difference this year can make for gender equality if we let it. Time, Newsweek and Fox News can keep declaring feminism dead, but feminism has been declared dead dozens and dozens of times. Make no mistake: feminism is the zombie of political ideologies. You can try to kill it, but it has unfinished business, and it will not rest until our world provides the same opportunities, safety and respect for all people, regardless of gender identification.
Feminism means creating a world where who does the housework, who gets promoted, who gets to play for the Oilers and not just clean the ice in midriff-baring tops, who stays home with the kids, who gets to wear pants and not a miniskirt and heels at popular restaurant chains, who takes whose last name in marriage, who gets promoted to senior leadership positions, who gets to be prime minister, are determined by skills and not by anatomy.
While millions marched for women’s rights and the #MeToo movement continues to challenge our understanding of sexual violence, that commitment to gender equality needs to exist in our daily lives, not just in public displays. And men need to be a consistent and loud part of this change because we know men listen to other men — and boys are watching them. But men have been pretty quiet; Hollywood is happy to let their Time’s Up pins do the talking for them and, closer to home, the death threats against female politicians are being made by some guy’s friend or roommate or nephew or dad. We know that when men speak up and reach out, gender equity advances — what a superpower to have.
It is imperative that women play their part too. Too often people associate sexism exclusively with men. Make no mistake, patriarchy is a deeply entrenched and powerful system of male domination, but it is not just about men. Women are helping patriarchy carry out its mission to keep women out of power. While men punish the weak, women punish the strong. Women: we need to stop eating our own. We need to be loud and proud of each sister brave enough to run for office—whichever party she chooses as a vehicle; for each splinter a sister puts in the glass ceiling; for each woman who calls out sexism at her dinner table or board meeting. Because fighting to be heard or promoted or believed is hard and exhausting, and if we can trust that our sisters will give us a safe, soft place to fall, we can climb higher and fight harder.
The goal of International Women’s Day (IWD) isn’t to celebrate women: we want equal pay and not to be blamed for violence against us, not flowers and chocolate. The goal of IWD is to create a world where awareness leads to action and action leads to feminism finally being dead — for the right reasons. If we all work together, if we commit to bravely examining how we might be part of the problem and identify even one way that we can be part of the solution, we can create a world where women don’t just get one day a year but are fully acknowledged and respected — at home, at work, on the sports field, in the entertainment industry, in politics — all 365 days. ❚
Cristina Stasia is the Director of Instruction at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta and founder of Level Consulting, a gender equity consulting business.