Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feminism and Paradigm Shifts

I recently helped organize an event called Daughters Day, the purpose of which was to celebrate the lives and achievements of girls and young women, while raising awareness of human rights abuses against them.

One of the comments I met again and again was that, in order for a better quality of life and equality for all girls and young women to be achieved, there needs to be a paradigm shift in society. We can decry human rights abuses and lack of equality all we want, but unless there is systemic change, things will remain the same.

These comments seem vague. Digging deeper, here are the two major issues that need to be addressed by society as a whole to make things better for one half of it.

Attitudes of Men

Early on, a woman leader in the Aboriginal community emphasized the need for men to take a stand on issues pertaining to women's rights. In Edmonton, there are two major walks for missing and murdered Aboriginal women - both organized by women. Both featuring mostly women speakers. In fact, most protests and rallies dealing with women's issues feature a program of women.

This is why the organizers of Daughters Day specifically asked a male Aboriginal activist to be a speaker (Lewis Cardinal), about being a role model and the need for men to speak up.

We were very encouraged that so many men attended Daughters Day and brought their daughters - and sons - with them. A question I was personally asked frequently in interviews was if boys and young men would have anything to gain from Daughters Day. I said yes - part of the mission of Daughters Day is education and hopefully we are contributing towards raising a next generation of men who will be more enlightened and in a better position to stand up for their sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers - and, of course, their own daughters, eventually.

Popular Culture

Popular culture has always been a woman's worst enemy. From airbrushed photos to models who are painfully thin, girls internalize an impossible (and unrealistic) standard of beauty from a young age.

Exposure to media that glorifies feminine weakness and abuse is also a rampant problem. Look at what movie and book series is very popular with "tweens" right now: Twilight. At the centre of the story is a relationship between a female human and male vampire that is physically and emotionally abusive on a number of levels. I have to admit I have not read any of the books, but I have seen all of the movies thus far (don't judge me).

Why do so many young women think that this is okay? For some, it started when boys started teasing or hitting them. When they complained to an adult they were told that boys acted that way when they "like" a girl. I know - this was told to me numerous times. Later on, when a man is ignoring or stalking or yelling at or hitting a woman, it is just seen as an extension of that childish behaviour. Adults should never condone bullying in any way, especially when boys are picking on girls, because of how this can set the tone for the rest of life.

Just look at all of the women falling head over heels for the fictional character of Christian Grey in the best-selling novel 50 Shades of Grey. I am currently reading it (don't judge me - okay, judge me) and besides the atrocious writing and plot that is barely beyond pornography (and badly written porn, at that), is the character of a woman who abandons her morals, values, and seemingly her brain just because she meets someone who is "ridiculously" good looking (and well-endowed, as she learns later).

I'll tell you what is ridiculous - the fact that so many grown women are joining in the swooning. Swooning over a man with a broken character who takes advantage of a woman simply because he knows how to charm her - well, this is buying into the old stereotype that women care about looks and money (Christian's wealth is mentioned ad nauseum - which is a good description of how I often feel after reading the detailed sexual exploits described in the novel).

If this is the kind of literature (and I use that term loosely) we women glorify, we really have not come far at all. I challenge women who enjoy 50 Shades of Grey to read something - anything - that features strong girls and women. Books like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and anything by Jane Austen should be required reading in schools. Personally, I'd love to see a novel featuring a hot, sexual relationship that is between two people who are equals - and which is not pornographic. Anyone have any suggestions?

In Conclusion

Women will move closer towards equality when society experiences paradigm shifts in terms of how men treat and stand up for us, as well as how popular culture portrays us. We have a role to play in helping to educate our brothers while not glorifying media that continues to expound bad stereotypes and glorify abuse as romance or eroticism.

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