As a child the word ‘Feminist’ meant little more than hazy black and white images in the newspaper. Images of semi-hysterical women, mouths agape, angrily screaming towards the photographer’s camera, all the while burning their undergarments and waving placards expressing solidarity with other women doing the same. These newspaper photos generally sat next to similar photos showing angry mobs of long haired people calling for the United States to get out of Vietnam, or Laos, or Cambodia or some such place that meant not much more to me than coloured countries in the Atlas. These events in the news barely registered on my radar. I was collecting stickers and articles about the race to get to the moon, Sputnik be damned!
Then, as I grew into a teenager I became more politically and socially aware. I didn’t fully understand why the US was in southeast Asia, but I knew that all those fellows around my own age shouldn’t be forced to be there, killing and being killed. I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to be told I had to go! As for feminism, my first real exposure to the concept of what was happening was John & Yoko’s song on their 1972 release Sometime in New York City. “Woman is the Nigger of the World” sent shock waves around the world! I might add that in this day and age of ‘political correctness’ that song would be censored as entirely offensive to just about anyone! But the truth of the matter is this; it took courage to call out the wrongs of the world, and it still does. Their song coupled with an increasing understanding of the ways of the world, nudged me into looking a little deeper into the issue of women’s rights. I was in grade nine.
In its essence, women’s rights meant equality with men. Imagine my shock when I realized that women did not have equal rights with men!
Let me back up a bit…I was raised in a (I think) typical Newfoundland family where mother and sister had every bit as much say in the domestic affairs of the household and anyone else. Everyone was expected to pull their share of the weight (I am guilty of evading the dishwashing whenever I could, but that was not a gender thing, it was a ‘teen doesn’t want to do it’ thing – besides, I shoveled my share of snow). My environment was apparently way ahead of a large portion of the world in terms of gender equality, I just didn’t realize it. It was only later that I clued into the fact that women actually had to organize into the Suffrage Movement and fight for the right to vote in Canada, something they were denied until 1916 and in some provinces even later. The story is a similar one in those one would consider ‘forward thinking’ countries worldwide. More shockingly, in some countries women are still treated as chattel!
Once I grew up (or what passes for growing up...let's call it 'aging') I soaked up some experiences, managed to get an education, became more 'worldly' and have concluded that I was born and raised, and most certainly still am, a Feminist! I believe in equal pay for equal work; equal rights and equal opportunity. In fact my line of business is very heavily loaded on the masculine side (shipbuilding and technical design) but in the thirty odd years that I've been in this racket there's been great strides towards gender balance in all of the engineering fields. Not only that, the capacity that I normally work, as a contractor for hire, the women that do the same work as I get exactly the same rates! I'm not saying that this is always the case but its been my experience that this is so. And if it isn't it certainly should be.
I have a son and daughters, equally sharing in all that I have and I've raised them to respect one another as people, and to respect others as people, not on the basis and bias of gender. I hope that I've instilled a work ethic that will help them get what they desire and I see no reason that either of them, son or daughter, should tolerate anything less than total equality. Men and women are different in many ways, but not in equality nor gender based rights. These rights are Human Rights and we should all live by them.
I know lately that there's been some conflict in the press where female journalists have been ridiculed, put down, harassed and have had many other distasteful acts prosecuted against them. To those women I say Keep it up, do not bow down to the bullying of anyone who would see you belittled, and accept nothing less than total respect. And also take strength that you are not alone in this. There are far more feminists than there are antagonists in a true free society.
I remember an old cigarette advertisement (Virginia Slims?) that stated “We’ve come a long ways baby”. Well, that's true, although having equal rights to die of lung cancer is not much of an endorsement in my mind. But there's still a long ways to go.