Why I’m a feminist

Manchester Slut Walk, 2011.

OTTAWA, CANADA

In early July the Women’s Worlds Conference was held in Ottawa and it reminded me of how and why I became a feminist. The conference, which brought together more than 1,600 delegates from across the planet, aimed at exploring inclusion and exclusion in a globalized world. The five-day event included workshops, lectures, arts and culture events, and – I bet – a lot of informal brainstorming and planning for future organizations, events, and campaigns.

I followed the local media treatment of the conference while I was in Ottawa, frustrated and disappointed – though not surprised – at the lack of both the quality and quantity of coverage. I wrote a piece for OpenFile Ottawa, calling the local media to account for their choice to prioritize a local concert series and a flash-in-the-pan royal visit over the massive and important global conference. Once the dust had settled and media outlets had responded by claiming that they had indeed “covered” the event, I took some time to consider whether I had been fair to them. After all, news organizations have to make decisions – it’s a world of scarcity in terms of time, space, bodies, and attention spans. But, in the end, their choice reflected a deeper reality: many people just don’t care very much about feminism and women’s issues.

My unlikely feminist turn

Growing up in a mid-sized, central Ontario city in the 1990s, I had no idea what feminism was or why it mattered. Attending a Catholic high school and being fed the positions of the Church of Rome didn’t help much, either. By early high school I was absolutely sure of a few things: I knew that I liked sports, that girls were pretty, feminists were slackers, and that thanks to the Liberal Party of Canada everyone in the country was equal and should therefore just go ahead and enjoy that equality. Save the bellyaching, forget the special rights, just go on and be equal.

I never thought about how I used language, how I had been unconsciously trained to think about women and girls in a misogynist way by social trends and the media, or about the other subtle and persistent systems, entrenched deep in the belly of history, that operate to preserve gender inequity and general global inequality.

My mother had worked hard while I was growing up, sometimes working a few jobs at once so that me and my brother could do things that other kids do: play sports, wear new running shoes, go to camp, participate in school trips, and eat food. She struggled in the ways that single mothers struggle, and in some ways that many don’t. While growing up I never connected feminist movements and struggles to my mother’s day-to-day life, but, years later, memories of those sometimes-rocky, sometimes-wonderful days of early-mornings, late-nights, and endless chores and tasks would crystallize into a grounded position on the importance of feminism.

The struggle to become a feminist took time as my entrenched standard-equipment misogyny and liberal-proper bias took issue with the “weak” and “scattered” thinking of the feminists. But by my third year, a few strong feminist classmates, two life-altering professors, and the arrival into my life of a dear friend who had experienced first-hand the brutal effects of male privilege run rampant, had provided me with both the theory and the evidence for the importance of feminism.

Globalized feminism

It was thus the memories of my childhood and the localized contact with strong women, enlightened men, and an exposure to very real, very persistent struggle that turned the tide for me. My development as a feminist, however, was fueled by further exposure, in theory and practice, to issues faced by women globally. Issues ranging from pay gaps and sexual harassment to genital mutilation and honour killings brought into sharp relief a sense that the only sane position for any person to hold was “Yes, of course I’m a feminist: here’s what kind…”

Over time I came to accept that there are myriad kinds of feminism – feminisms, as some social and political theorists like to say. Some of them I agree with, some of them I take issue with. But all of which fit into a complicated and sophisticated web of theory and practice aimed at transforming the state of global gender relations.

My feminism today is animated by a deep concern for the need to establish equality in difference. Populations throughout the world remain diverse, as do the traditions, practices, and beliefs that mark their lives. And yet it is becoming increasingly difficult – though not difficult enough, yet – to justify the violence, exclusion, seclusion, and under-representation that some wish to fold into the category of “cultural” expression or the “choices” that women freely make.

Also felt is a deep irritation that in countries with established liberal legal systems, those who maintain the position that feminism is redundant given formal legal equality are ignorant to the reality that the grasp of the law is far less than the reach of social practices. Informal decision making practices, the media and entertainment industry’s depiction of women, and social and cultural mores still largely support a misogynist and bizarre concept of gender and gender relations. Any hope of entrenching deep gender equity and equality will require a massive reprogramming effort on the part of us all.

 

David Moscrop (@david_moscrop) is a co-founder of Thought Out Loud. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where he is a PhD student in political science at the University of British Columbia and a part-time freelance writer.