It is just over 200 years since the women’s suffrage movement began in Canada. Not even 100 years has passed since we were declared legal persons, and all women, regardless of race, won the right to vote. A mere handful of generations have passed (which, historically speaking, represent only a drop) since women won their sex-based human rights. And once again, our rights are uncertain.
I am of a generation of women whom feminists warned not to become complacent. I reaped the benefits of the sacrifices of first and second wave feminists. I took for granted that women had gained inalienable rights that could not be revoked. I have been in a long slumber of complacency.
As a therapist, I think a lot about the concept of “the shadow”: the power of that which we do not want to face within ourselves — things like complacency and fear. If we do not turn towards our shadow, it can obscure our consciousness and blind us to psychological forces that may become unseen drivers of our actions, such as misogyny.
I grew up in a radicalized, fundamentalist religious organization run by a hierarchy of men. Women were not permitted leadership roles that might allow them to disrupt the established power structures. The organization’s dominion was cult-like: people were instructed not to befriend anyone outside the organization and to cut off even family members who did not believe. Followers were convinced of an impending apocalypse — a doomsday that would never arrive.
The male fraternity of leaders claimed they possessed the one true interpretation of what God himself demanded from earthly beings. The organization’s views were often science-denying. They forbid followers certain life-saving Western medical interventions, and taught that dinosaur fossils were fakes, evolution was a lie, and humans were only a few thousand years old, created by an aged, male God. They brainwashed followers into believing magical stories of demons hovering nearby, waiting to enter followers’ minds if they were not vigilant against the intrusion of “misinformation” or evil from the outside world.
The organization’s leaders demanded converts believe that myths and lies were real. They interpreted biblical teachings literally in order to legitimize enforcing women’s subservience to men and to gender-stratified roles. We were taught that women were only an extension of men, because we were made from the original man — Adam’s — rib.
Dissent from the dominant narrative was prohibited. Followers who could not reconcile material reality and scientific facts with the magic and superstition the organization fed us were deemed heretics. Anyone found to be introducing ideas that challenged the approved narrative, no matter how rational, was labelled an apostate. Punishment was meted out through forms of humiliation, public shaming, and ostracism. Likewise, those who left on their own accord were shunned — treated as though they were dead.
I took for granted that, when I left at age 15, I would survive. I sought freedom and autonomy. I wanted to define myself as a young woman distinct from who I had learned I was under extremist, fundamentalist religious dictates — merely the rib of Adam.
So one cold fall evening, with several plastic grocery bags stuffed with clothing, I left. I used the money I had been saving for driver’s education to pay for my first month’s rent in a rooming home. In my room I had a small fridge, a countertop stove, a pillow, and a sleeping bag. Most importantly for a girl on her own, I had a door that locked.
I was courageous (and likely also reckless, given my adolescent brain’s propensity to underestimate risk), yet never reflected on how my courage rested on the backs of the women who came before me. It was only because of the relentless work of women who had fought for my freedom that I was able to leave and get a job, make money, and provide myself shelter.
I was struck by the freedom I could exercise by choice. I knew even at the most difficult times that there was hope because I could make choices that would determine the course of my life, for good or ill. No one would force me. I was free.
Decades passed and it never occurred to me that my rights could be precarious.
When I saw the attack on women’s sex-based rights begin to gain momentum in the West, in the form of gender identity ideology, alongside the hard left’s science-denying radicalism, I did not join the public outcry. I watched as the very same sort of magical thinking from the extremist religion I grew up in took over many faculties of post-secondary education. The academy — once a bastion for the pursuit of truth through critical thinking, science, and debate — began to look a lot like a religious cult of the left.
I watched as ideology moved from the academy into our cultural institutions and then through society. Some parts of history became acceptable to remember, and others not, creating selective cultural amnesia. It was suddenly a social justice right to spew hate and vitriol, or to deface, burn, or otherwise destroy cultural symbols and institutions. Science — the method of investigative observation, questioning, hypothesizing, and testing that helps create knowledge — was labelled a politically-biased, colonial “idea.” Not even math was immune, with some academics suggesting the “belief” that 2+2=4 was not reflective of “other ways of learning,” and therefore not always true.
Gender studies — an outcrop of postmodernism and constructionism — chipped away at the biological, immutable fact of sex differentiation, insisting the sex binary was not real. It posited that humans could be deconstructed into disparate parts and existed on “spectrums,” that perhaps dozens of “genders” existed, and that male and female were not fixed categories. Those who wanted to erase the sex binary weaponized both invented genders and pronouns, targeting any person who did not agree as “discriminatory.” As this ideology dismantle
When these beliefs were challenged using scientific evidence, data, or historical and present realities, in a further Orwellian turn, truth itself was labelled bigoted.
It may have been institutions that introduced these ideologies and newspeak, but it is individuals that ushered in the crisis we face now. It is only because of each person’s willingness to ignore, conform, pretend, and lie that we allowed science-denying ideology to first become common vernacular, then the dominant narrative.
I had lived this before. Humans with rational faculties will abandon reason, sacrifice their own family members, and subscribe to outrageous and harmful ideas in order to maintain their position in the tribe.
I watched from the sidelines as women were deconstructed into non-entities, and children were set on by those determined to dismantle immutable categories dictated by nature. I sat in a terrible mix of fear and lethargy until I could not anymore.
I needed to investigate my shadow.
I understand now that I was acting from a part of me that still subscribed to the internalized misogyny I had learned in my youth. I knew that taking powerful action — to not comply and to speak the truth — meant that I had to confront two specific fears.
One I had met before in the rare, but dangerous, predatorial men with whom I had crossed paths as a young, vulnerable girl on her own. And, as any woman who has been intimidated, overpowered, or physically or sexually assaulted by a man knows, men and women are very different indeed. This is a physical reality that vulnerable women face more often. If a man loses his way and combines predatorial behaviour with physical prowess, he becomes a danger that can not only harm, but kill us. For women, sex-based rights, such as the right to women-only spaces, are not optional.
In 2017, trans-identified people were granted special rights and protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, preventing discrimination on account of gender identity or expression. This was not enough for some. The demands became intrusive, as self-identified transwomen insisted also on access to women’s spaces and sports.
This scared me for a time. No one wants to meet the mob.
I don’t believe that most men are misogynist or that all transwomen want to destroy women’s rights and safety. But we must ask what it says about a man — trans-identified or not — who refuses to respect a woman’s “no.”
It is important also to note that there are numerous women supporting this ideology, allowing men to trample over women’s boundaries. The phenomenon of women offering up women’s identities and sex-segregated spaces to men who demand it may be related to internalized misogyny, but is more likely a part of what Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz described as the confusion of offering the teat of compassion when one should be wielding the sword of discernment. These women believe they are helping a marginalized population, but they are hurting half the population and abandoning their own, and others, rights and safety in order to “be nice.”
Fear also visited me because I had previously experienced exile from the group. Although I gained my freedom and autonomy at a young age, it came at a high cost: losing my family and community. Shunning takes an incredible psychological, emotional, and physical toll. Those of us who want to say “no,” and fight to protect our sex-based rights know we will be subjected to a modern version of old-fashioned mobbing and shunning. The deep slumber of unconsciousness can be a compelling alternative to facing our fear.
Yet there is a driver even more powerful than fear, and it is the protective and courageous force of love. A woman who watches another woman be harmed and does nothing psychologically damages herself. Women also cannot collectively watch children become victims of delusional ideologies and still face the mirror. Ignoring our protective instincts demands an incredible separation from ourselves. When we are connected to love for self and other, we know both rationally and instinctively that we have a responsibility to protect each other and children.
We are at a profound historical moment. In a few short years, efforts to erase biological women have snowballed. The ideologies that seek to deconstruct all categories and boundaries of protection are now dominant narratives in our mainstream media, public school systems, legal and justice systems, workplaces, and even, disturbingly, our medical and related health institutions. It is a surreal experience to witness ideology get into bed with science.
Community organizations across Canada have quickly fallen in line. Women’s centres have opened their doors to “self-identified women,” obliterating long-standing community supports for women. Even women’s rape shelters are open to biological males. The oldest rape crisis centre in Canada, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, was subject to vitriolic attack after refusing to allow access to biological males. The shelter was targeted with hate. Dead vermin were nailed to their door. “F**k TERFs” and “Kill TERFs, trans power” was graffitied across their windows. Activists petitioned to have this community pillar’s funding pulled, and Vancouver City Council caved. The shelter did not. They were attacked for saying the one word perpetrators of aggression or violence against women do not respect.
In 2017, Canada’s Liberal government paved the way to compromising women’s sex-based rights when they passed legislation ostensibly to protect people from discrimination based on gender identity and expression, but which far exceeded its purported aim. These laws entitled activists to manipulate language, which is what allows us to speak about and understand reality, so women could no longer be spoken about. Progressives applauded such female-obliterating language. Women became “birthing people” and “uterus-bearers.” They produced chest milk. A woman might have a penis, or male gametes. A woman was a thought. A woman was a feeling. A woman was a fiction.
Around the developed world, men who self-identified as women were allowed into women’s prisons, health centres, bathrooms, shelters, changerooms, and gyms. Men were self-identifying as female competitors in women’s sports. These men started smashing records. Women who had worked their whole lives to reach their competitive potential were being beaten by biological men. It was — it is — unbelievable.
In 2023, we are at the precise place feminists warned we would arrive should we fall into complacency. Hard left extremism, fervently religious in nature, has pulled us nearly to the nadir of its radicalized, science-denying demolition of rights and protections. Science denial harms women and children the most. It defines women as non-persons, viewing them instead as subjects of men, and uses children in harmful ways as pawns of radicalized ideologies.
In Canada, we are led by a head of state, Justin Trudeau, who is leading the demolition, declaring “transwomen are women,” and whose government has paved the way for the decimation of women’s sex-based rights and the ability to differentiate ourselves autonomously as persons from men.
We must make conscious what has been alive in the shadows all this time. There are still some men who believe women’s identities belong to them. To them, women are only a rib of Adam, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. This historical moment is evidence of the society we create when we fall into slumber, refuse to see our shadow, accept myths as reality, and deny science and history.
Women have historically been refused legal personhood specifically and only because of our sex. The purpose of the women’s suffrage movement was so we could take equal part in the political system, just like the only other sex: men. This was not only so we could participate fully in public life, but so we could vote in favour of our own interests.
Those of us who have been complacent are waking from a long slumber precisely because the threat of not facing the shadow of cultural misogyny is so high. Each time those who want to erase women threaten or intimidate one of us, they wake up legions more. As our right to exist as biological beings unique from men, to choose women-only spaces, and to represent ourselves are again being colonized, we must not allow ourselves to shirk from fear but face it. Women know we are not a fiction. And we will force leaders who dwell in the shadows, believing we do not exist, back into reality when as embodied females we enact our legal right to vote and remove them from power.
Carla Duda is a therapist and author of the upcoming book, “The Art & Practice of Responsibility: Improve relationships, create meaning, foster well-being.” Learn more about her work and writing on topics like ethical therapy, relationships, and parenting at carladuda.com.