It’s hard not to heave a big ol’ feminist sigh on International Women’s Day. But, in many ways, I think that’s just fine. International Women’s Day isn’t intended to be a celebration, from my perspective. Rather, it is a reminder. A reminder that we still need an International Women’s Day.
Across the world women are fighting for their rights. They are fighting for equality, for workers’ rights, for reproductive rights, they are protesting poverty and raising awareness about violence against women. Strangely, many Westerners like to imagine that we inhabit an egalitarian society. I’m not sure where they’re looking, but from where I’m standing, we still have a lot of work to do.
On Friday, Jarrah Hodge covered the Vancouver and District Labour Council’s annual International Women’s Day Dinner. Hodge quoted activist, feminist and founder of rabble.ca, Judy Rebick,writing:
“We achieved a lot, but we still have a way to go,” Rebick added, singling out particularly the struggle to end trafficking of women and to end a “rape culture” that blames victims for their assaults.
While there are, of course, many who do treat International Women’s Day as a holiday and a celebration, which is wonderful, because we certainly should celebrate women and women’s achievements, coupled with that positivity is a sense that, not only do we sometimes forget the continued need for the feminist movement, but that we, as third wave feminists, lack respect for the incredibly hard work women from previous generations did on our behalf.
The third wave, which is the wave I’ve found myself in (I was born in 1979 so I had little choice in the matter), seems decidedly marked by what could almost be viewed as a backlash against first and second wavers. Certainly it isn’t fair to paint the entire third wave as ungrateful, burlesque-loving, Slutwalking, post-modernists, as there has certainly been valuable theory and critiques to come out of this generation of feminism, but when I imagine us looking back at this particular wave, I am sometimes overcome by a sinking feeling that very much resembles embarrassment.
While radical feminists, bra-burners, and hairy, man-hating, lesbians (which, for the record, are super awesome caricatures, in my opinion) seem representative of second wave feminism, what we’ve been stuck with, in the third wave, are half-naked, stiletto’d, women and girls, stripping on-stage and calling it empowerment, or marching through the streets calling themselves sluts under the guise of “sexual freedom.”
Amid a culture that hypersexualizes women and girls, so much so that we seem to have lost any understanding of the word “objectification,” are blessed with the ability to ignore the ever-increasing violence of the porn industry in favour of conversations of the “grey areas,” and seem overly committed towards engaging in desperate attempts to derail every conversation into one about the supposed existence of “feminist porn,” it can feel as though the third wavers are a somewhat confused bunch.
In the face of very serious threats to both individual women and the rights and freedoms of women as a whole, white, privileged, Western women are….Slutwalking? And framing stripping as empowerment? Really?
As Laurie Penny wrote so articulately in a piece published earlier today:
Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice”, “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores.
Sadly, she is so very right. Talk about oppression, exploitation, and objectification and, without a doubt, someone will throw the word “choice” at you as though it’s a weapon. Watch out, critics of burlesque! Some women feel individually empowered by taking off their clothes on stage! Criticize the sex industry or men who buy sex? Well, clearly it’s because you hate sex. Which is a bad thing, by the way. Sex-positivity preaches that women must like all things “sexy” in order to be empowered. The blanket of sex-positivity means that, suddenly, exploitative and sexist industries equal sexual freedom for women! How about that.
Don’t we have anything real to fight for? It sure feels like we do…Are we so unimaginative that the only thing we can come up with, in terms of fighting for women’s rights, is to take off our clothes? It just makes me want to cry.
We need to do better than this. We don’t need to fuck our way to freedom (but hey, feel free to fuck all you want on your way there if you’re into that) and if we think the only way to accomplish anything is by wearing lingerie and calling it feminism, I’ve got to say, I’m really ready for another wave, women.
International Women’s Day exists because women are not yet free. Because women are raped and murdered and abused by men around the world. It exists because sex sells, which means that people are making money off the backs of women. Like, at our expense, not to our benefit. If you think men and the media are going to get on board with Slutwalks and the strip-clubs-as-empowering-spaces-for-women messages and with hot, naked, lady protestors, a la Femen, well, you’re right. They will. Because none of those things challenge male power or privilege. This is the stuff privilege is made of. And you may well feel powerful with the eyes and attention of the world glued to your breasts, but I’m afraid I just can’t imagine how it’s going to make women any more safe from violence and I’m afraid I just don’t see stilettos and boobs as the things that, in the end, take down the patriarchy.