By: Laura James
International Women’s Day is about creating a world that is equal, and is a call to action to have each person be the change that they want to see. This day feels particularly poignant for me this year. I grew up being told that I could do anything I put my mind to, and that my contributions were equal to my male counterparts. In recent years, I have become acutely aware that this equality isn’t always a reality. So many things have happened in the world that threaten equality, and so many women still do not enjoy equality in rights, employment, freedom… you name it.
I have faced a number of barriers entering into a still predominantly male profession, the law – one that women have not historically been entitled to. Women often have to work ten times as hard as men to get to the same place, face harsher criticism for the same behaviour as their male counterparts, and are still often discouraged from following career paths instead of raising a family.
Feminism has been a hot-button topic in the last few months. Instead of actively protesting or marching, I have chosen to engage in self-reflection — to take the opportunity to remember our historical struggle as a gender, to educate myself further, and to consider how I can personally represent the change that I want to see.
As women, we all fight our own unique battles: some may face racial discrimination; some do not share the rights that we enjoy in a western democracy; some are regularly subjected to sexual harassment/abuse at work, at home, or at school; and some face professional disadvantages because society doesn’t always value us as equal. These are battles that we should not have to fight, but, alas, we do. For me, International Women’s Day is about reminding everyone that these battles are still a reality, and that it takes constant work to be the change that you want to see.
I have learned a lot in my own journey of discovering feminism. It is not an easy thing to grapple with, so I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I have learned along the way.
- First and foremost, I have learned not to be afraid of the word “feminism”. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it, as it is still stigmatized in today’s society. It’s not an ugly thing, and don’t let anyone tell you that it is. And for the men out there, you can be a feminist, too.
- Feminism is how YOU define it. Everyone has their own unique way of expressing their feminist beliefs. No woman fits into a unified mold of “womanness”. Embrace your own version of “womanness”, and embody it boldly. Do not judge others for their own self-definition.
- Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, for your female friends, family, colleagues, and women you don’t know. Women are often counselled to let abuses roll off our shoulders. Don’t! Speak up. Just because someone might not like our views, doesn’t mean that we should have to stand idly by. Your strength in speaking out could make differences that you cannot fathom.
- Take the power out of the ugly words that vilify femininity. I personally try not to use any of these terms. By not recognizing them, you remove their negative power.
- Remember that women or colour, women from racial minorities, and transgendered women face untold difficulties that we don’t all have to deal with. Take the time to listen, learn more about these struggles, and do what you can with your privilege to make a difference in your own way.
I am thankful for the strength of women past and present, and the support that I have enjoyed in my own life from both women and dedicated men. Despite setbacks and people who have wanted to hinder my progress, I am still a firm believer that we can all do anything that we put our minds to.