08 March 2011

Things I Believe - International Women's Day

Today marks the 100th celebration of International Women's Day. Twitter this morning has been a source of inspiration, as I watch the people I'm following recognize, congratulate and celebrate the women they admire: women who've left their mark in history, women who've achieved success by their own definition and on their own terms, and also women in their personal lives - their moms, sisters, aunts and friends. Just thinking about how far we've come makes me stand straighter and feel taller. But it is devastating to think about how far we've yet to go.

I'm lucky; I'm geographically blessed. I was born in Canada - the personhood and equality of women is enshrined in our constitution and laws.

I'm also temporally fortunate. My mother in law, a doctor - one of only three women in her med school graduating class - was occasionally accosted in mid-1960's Vancouver and asked - by other women, mind you - how she could leave her children in the care of another and take work away from a man. I was born in 1970. I was raised by parents who both worked, and whose religion has, as one of its major tenets, the equality of men and women.

I have a tremendous amount of freedom. I've never known anything else. Sexism exists in my culture and in the media I consume, but I have a voice. And no one can silence me unless I let them.

In much of the world, that is not true.

And so, I celebrate the women I know, and the women I don't know. The fearless, the resolute, the everyday. Unreservedly, unabashedly, and unapologetically.

I've seen more than one mention in my twitter stream today exhorting the importance of discussing International Women's Day with our daughters, and I don't disagree. It is essential to teach our girls where we've come from, how strong we are both individually and as a group, and how much we've accomplished, sometimes against staggering odds. We need to teach them to think critically about princess culture, about how women are portrayed in media, about the war against women's rights that seems to be happening, not just "over there" in developing nations and the Middle East, but just south of our own border.

This is crucial, I don't argue that.

But as a mother of a son, I say that's not enough.

We have to include our sons in these conversations. They are exposed to the same cultural biases, the same images of perfect airbrushed bodies, the same hypersexualized pictures of younger and younger girls, the same portrayal of women in the media, the same news stories. And I would argue that this popular portrayal of women does just as much harm to a boy as it does to a girl.

Simply put: we cannot expect women to succeed unless we educate our boys about women's issues too. We cannot expect degradation of women to end unless we point out the discrepancy between the "ideal" image of the woman on the bus stop ad, and the real person standing waiting for the bus. We must empower boys to celebrate real women, not caricatures of femininity. We must teach boys to question what they're being told to want.

(And don't get me started on the way men, especially fathers, are portrayed in popular culture. That's a rant for another day.)

Strong female role models are important to boys too. As a feminist, and a mother, it is one of my primary goals to teach my boy to respect all women.

Unreservedly, unabashedly, and unapologetically.


  1. Glad you finally got this one out. Fantastic thoughts and agree completely that as a mother to a young boy I have a big job in ensuring he is educated to respect all people - equally.

  2. What a wonderful post. I'm embarrassed to say that I let the day go by without all that much reflection. I'm really glad I read this.

  3. It's as important. I agree 100%. And the fact is any boy or man who is using his power to degrade or influence a woman is not a whole person himself.

  4. I agree, as well. I have a daughter and a son, and I need to teach them both about equality. This is not a "women's issue", it's a HUMAN issue.