Progress? Feminism not a dirty word

There's no doubt there have been advances for women over the last century.

There’s no doubt there have been advances for women over the last century.

We almost take for granted that here in Canada women can do something as basic as vote. It’s tempting to think it was always this way, or that there is a long tradition of this most basic form of political equality. But the reality is much different.

Women in Canada didn’t get the vote federally until 1918. Provincially, some saw even more sluggish progress. Manitoba was the first province to allow women to vote in 1916. But Quebec didn’t give women the franchise until a jaw-dropping 1940. Some of Canada’s indigenous women were still denied the vote until 1960.

And none of that even begins to describe the barriers to women wishing to run for and hold political office. Agnes Macphail was the first woman to win a seat in the House of Commons, and that was in 1921. Today, we still see a notable dearth of women in political office, whether it’s at the national, provincial or municipal level. The quest for equal representation is not over, though all too often those who aim to fight for it are given short shrift.

It’s depressingly common to hear the terms feminism and feminist used as dismissive insults. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of feminism is: the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; and organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

Who would be against that in this day and age? And yet for some, calling someone a feminist is like using a curse word. There is an intimation that being a feminist somehow makes the person a radical, and importantly, man-hating, person. It’s an attempt to co-opt a powerful statement and turn it into something ugly. It’s an attempt to silence important voices.

But shouldn’t we all be feminists by the dictionary definition? Both women and men, we hope, believe in the equality of the sexes.

There are still battles to be fought. Women aren’t paid as much as men. As noted above, women make up only a small portion of our elected representatives. Sexual assault, a crime where the vast majority of victims are women, garners some of the least satisfactory outcomes in our judicial system, if it is reported at all. The plague of domestic violence also disproportionately hurts women. And that’s right here in Canada.

So as we reflect on International Women’s Day (March 8), consider where we’ve been, and where we want to go.