Blog for International Women's Day: Undermining the backlash

I would be surprised if there wasn't someone, probably many people, who ask why we need an International Women's Day. It's fine to ask. The answer is "yes." Here's why.

A while back, I reviewed the film Miss Representation. If you haven't seen it yet, you really should. Even though you probably already know about much of what it shows, there are still eye-openers. And it presents evidence in support of a very important point: right now, we are living through a powerful backlash against women's equality.

It's a man's world. It has always been a man's world—made by men, made for men, run by men. By default, a person is male. If you say "president," "CEO," "news anchor," "doctor," "rock band," and many other designations, the first person to come to mind will probably be male. The only exceptions are positions traditionally associated with women, such as "nurse" or "secretary."

It's less of a man's world than it once was, at least in parts of the world. We now have female presidents, CEOs, news anchors, doctors and more. Women are in positions of power. Women experience greater equality than, say, 60 years ago. The women's movement has had an impact, not just in the West but globally.

Therein lies the problem for those with power. People who hold power rarely give it up voluntarily. If they sense it slipping away, they do what they can—through means fair and foul—to regain it. But just as with the apartheid regime in South Africa, if those with power can read the writing on the wall, they just might negotiate.

At this point, the backlash is still strong. The powerful are in fighting mode, even more so in the rest of the world than in the West, but here as well. Yet there is more and more writing on the wall. We have to keep it up.

As part of this backlash, girls are under assault. In the West, while we tell them they can do anything they want, the media has stepped up the message of hypersexualization. Girls still get the message that they can't do certain things that boys can. But the girls—and boys—of today are the adults of tomorrow. We really hope that tomorrow is better than today.

In the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, I offer what are variously known as Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls or Girls Rock Camp. They originated 11 years ago in Portland, Oregon, as a way for girls to have an environment for a week where they could feel free and safe to be as creative as they wish. The girls form bands, learn to play an instrument, write their own song together, rehearse, and finally play the song in a public showcase. But music is really the vehicle for building confidence, self-esteem, teamwork, and leadership. The girls also create their own 'zines and buttons, learn how to silkscreen T-shirts, get the basics of self defence, and talk about what it means to be a girl in today's world.

I volunteered in the summer of 2009 and 2010 at Girls Rock Camp Vancouver, once as a guitar instructor, once as a band manager. It was life-changing for me, the (alleged) grown-up. I got a strong sense of what it all meant to the girls. I watched them grow, ask questions, open up, tell us what life is like for them, and discover their own strength and power and creativity. It was amazing to watch, and amazing to be part of.

(Lest you think this is only for well-off white girls, GRCV offers scholarships and reserves several spots for First Nations girls. Ladies Rock Camp Vancouver, which runs this year from May 25 through 27, raises funds for those scholarships.)

Girls rock camps are only one small effort in various urban locations in North America and Europe. So much more is needed in so much more of the world, especially with regard to girls' education, safety, protection from forced marriages...the list goes on. But the seeds of cultural change are sown among young people, both girls and boys.

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