International Women’s Day was co-opted by misogynists

“Not today, men,” was the bold tweet posted by renowned feminist ally, Twitter Inc., to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). One wonders which one of the brave staff at Twitter elected to post such an ironic statement, considering their policy of banning women who dare tell the truth about misogynists on their platform, or to simply acknowledge the material reality that “men are not women.”

It’s hard to say whether or not those who claim to support women’s rights see the irony in silencing feminists in support the most virulent of misogynists.

Case in point: on March 8th, the Toronto Star published a round up of “women” describing how they “identify with the word” feminism. This would imply a view that International Women’s Day has something to do with the feminist movement, that is to say, the global, woman-led fight for women’s rights. But instead, Andrea Macdonald writes:

“… Mostly, it’s a very personal term. It’s an -ism that’s full of emotion. Feminism can’t really be captured by a dictionary entry — it’s a tapestry of women’s experiences and influences”

While, in the very next breath, Macdonald acknowledges that the first IWD was celebrated by the suffragettes in 1911, she apparently does not understand that first wave feminists did not fight for the rights of men to share change rooms with women, but for the rights of females to participate in public life and to be counted as autonomous people, not simply a subset of their husbands. Part of this fight involved things like property rights, access to education, as well as, of course, the right to vote in elections. But it also involved fighting for women to have access to public washrooms so that they could leave the house to participate in public life.

Prior to the Victorian era, public facilities in the West were male-only. Women had to either hold it, or “improvise.” In 1887, Massachusetts passed a law requiring workplaces that employed women have washrooms for them. It wasn’t until the last decade that female firefighters succeeded in having their own washrooms and locker rooms to change and shower in. Even today, women lack adequate access to washrooms in public spaces, as many older buildings were designed at a time when contractors, architects, engineers, builders, and government procurement officials were primarily male, so women’s needs were not considered.

While “bathrooms” are far over-discussed within the debate around gender identity legislation, and used as a means to distract from many of the more serious issues at hand, what is behind this issue is important. The reason women have not historically had equal access to public facilities (and, in many parts of the world, women and girls still don’t have access to safe toilets, putting them in danger of disease, rape, and death) is because they were expected to remain in the home, and not be out in public. This is very much a feminist issue. If women do not have access to facilities where they can use the washroom or change, they cannot participate in public life.

I suppose, considering Macdonald’s lack of understanding, in terms of IWD and the feminist movement, it is unsurprising she would make such a glaring mistake in her piece.

Featured within the roundup of “women” discussing how they “identify with feminism” is Morgane Oger: a failed politician, a previous vice president of the BC NDP, and a man. But not just any man: a man who has actively fought to defund Canada’s longest standing rape crisis centre; who engages in the reckless, hateful libel of feminists on a near-constant basis, threatening legal action against women who challenge his belief that males can become female, and who fight for women’s rights; who suggested women who do not wish to touch a man’s genitals should “grow up;” and who stalked me around my neighbourhood in Vancouver last year.

It is repulsive and shameful that, considering all this, Macdonald and the Toronto Star chose to feature a quote from this man in an article about feminism, on International Women’s Day. If not for Oger’s disturbing history, the quote might be laughable:

“Feminism is the beating of my heart. The power of all women to take control of our bodies and our lives. The right to determine what makes sense for our own bodies. The work being done to free everyone from the conventions of compulsory gender roles that Trans lives show can be escaped. The banishing of patriarchy’s henchmen. Feminism is both a source of inspiration and a collaborative movement chipping away at oppression. It lifts us all up by helping our world become more equitable. It leaves no one behind. It frees our children to reach their full potential to be their very best selves, whatever sex or gender that may be.”

Oger is, of course, to all who can see, patriarchy’s henchman. He is working to frighten, bully, and silence women, and destroy the rights we and our foremothers fought for over more than a century.

The Star was far from alone in their ironic IWD statements. Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, whose most notable statement on women, since being elected to office, was to publicly call my advocacy for women’s rights “despicable,” tweeted:

“On #IWD2020 and every day, we need to work towards a more gender equitable society. That is why I’m moving to establish an annual gender & diversity audit of City Council that will recommend how it can be a more inclusive place for Councillors & non-elected staff alike. #vanpoli”

One presumes city council will not become a more “inclusive” place for women who support Vancouver Rape Relief’s (VRR) right to operate women-only facilities or who believe that a woman is an adult human female whose historical oppression is rooted in that reality, not her feelings about “gender.”

Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle, who also supported the rescinding of a longstanding grant the city had been giving to VRR for public education, tweeted:

It is true that IWD is about all women, but this actually means all women — including ones who have some forms of power. I mean, what does she think happens: women gain power and stop being women? No longer need rights? Does she think women should not have power? What on earth does she think feminism is for, anyway? Well, apparently, men. Seeing as her primary focus, in terms of her “feminism” is to insist that men’s feelings are prioritized over women’s safety.

There are countless more examples of such obtuse statements, that functioned as a slap in the face to women, on International Women’s Day. The co-optation of IWD by misogynists and those who seek to destroy women’s rights has been enormously successful. The men, women, and corporations who used IWD to virtue signal while actively working against all the feminist movement has achieved, to date, should be ashamed.

Luckily for Vancouver’s politicians, they have an opportunity to redeem themselves, and join the conversation about women’s spaces, sports, and rights, on March 21st. #GIDYVR is offering free tickets to city councillors and the mayor to attend our upcoming event at the Vancouver Public Library, so they can hear women’s concerns, learn about women’s rights, and share their questions and concerns.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.