Long road ahead

Yes, it's time for another International Women's Day post.

The thing that struck me today won't be any surprise to academic feminists. But it still seems to be something the rest of the world doesn't get. It's not something I understood when I was younger. I'm not sure if anyone did at first. But it's certainly something I understand now.

And that is that feminism isn't about making a place for women at the table. It's about making a new table. The present table was made by and for men. "Leaning in" is at best only a start and might well do more harm than good by validating the current male-oriented paradigm. Equality isn't about women being allowed into the boys club. It's about creating a "people's club."

That new table, that people's club, is not just about women. It must be radically inclusive. It has to go far beyond non-discrimination to active participation by people from all parts of society. We need to turn our non-discriminatory values into inclusive values. Not just white women and men at the table, but people of colour, people with mobility issues, people of all sizes, people who lack money. We can't solve the issue of women's equality while ignoring issues of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, size, and more.

It's about power and agency, the ability of people to control their own lives. At this point, those who have political power make laws that affect those who don't. Those who have economic power also exert a huge influence on the lives of those who lack that power. It would be no victory for women to join the current power structure, since only certain women would benefit and basic inequities would continue to exist.

The world I envision is not necessarily the same as the one envisioned by other feminists. Unlike many feminist writers and activists, I am not a socialist. A social democrat, which is why I (a) live in Canada and (b) am a Liberal, but not a socialist. I will go so far as to submit that espousing socialism is something that only those from wealthy, powerful nations can afford to do. Socialism, a product of European academics, is in fact a form of cultural imperialism. Women in developing countries don't want socialism. They want to create items, grow food, build things, and ultimately to sell their goods to others and make themselves better off. Creating, selling, and buying aren't modern, Western innovations. They are as ancient and widespread as humanity.

It is often difficult to explain that while I do not think socialism is a good answer, neither do I think that the current form of capitalism is any kind of answer. Women's equality without economic reform would be like that problem of sitting at the men's table. What I espouse is free enterprise within a social democratic framework. Enterprise creates wealth in a way that socialism never will, but only with a strong social democratic structure can we deal with the gross inequality that crony capitalism has engendered.

Just as I'm not on the same page as socialist femimists, it seems there are people who are more in the "lean in" camp. A great many people, because that's usually what "feminism" seems to mean in the popular press. And if women really want to have equality in a man's world, if such a thing is even possible, then I guess all I can say is that I disagree. I don't think it's a long-term solution, and I don't even think it's the best possible first step. It harks back to the "women have to be more like men" school of thought, to which I say that the world has to become more like women.

I say all of this while realizing the danger of falling into essentialism. I don't think that men automatically think one way and women another. I don't think women will automatically bring some kind of nurturing quality to boardrooms. Men and women are from earth, not Mars and Venus. But there are tiny differences between the brains of men and women, real ones, which then tend to be augmented by societal conditioning. And if you don't want to go with that, the other biological differences matter. Even if women take on stereotypical male behaviour, a great many men will still view women as weak baby-makers who need to be protected and have decisions made for them. Far too many of those men sit in legislatures, and far too many men and women vote for them.

On this International Women's Day, we celebrate how far we've come and remain mindful of how far we have to go.

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