IWD, a 100-year work in progress



One of the striking aspects of the civil protest that brought about a relatively peaceful revolution in Egypt was that the protesters were a mixed population of men and women. Even as they were amassing to force the government to step down, this blend of the sexes taking a stand for democracy in a Middle Eastern country was a marvel. For, as the spark that began in Tunisia spread across the region, that kind of blended crowd was not witnessed again outside of Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Could it have been as peaceful, and therefore as effective, if there had not been a feminine presence?

Look carefully at who the protesters and fighters are in Libya, in Yemen, in Jordan and Bahrain. They are men.

Is there a person on this planet who exists without the genetic contribution of one female and one male? Yet the struggle to find a balance in power between the sexes still eludes us, whether we live in the presumably liberal West, where the battle cry of feminism was first raised, or in places like the Middle East, where feminine power is so feared subconsciously that it has been systematically repressed for generations.

Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) and we may have ‘come a long way, baby’ but we have a way yet to go to find gender fairness.  We like to think that we have the edge over places where a woman, upon threat of death, must cloak herself from head to foot in the burqa, (whether in or out of the cloak women in far off places are both disregarded and unsafe) but in Canada, considered one of the most progressive countries in the world, we have a Manitoba judge, who happens to be male, handing down a lenient sentence to a young man found guilty of rape while commenting that what the victim was wearing at the time of the lead up to the crime played a role in her being sexually assaulted.

We still have to fight to have people grasp the understanding that wearing “a tube top with no bra, high heels and plenty of makeup” may be an attempt to look ‘sexy’ but it is not a signal that a person welcomes sexual battering and sexual assault. Strangely, women still have to face the heavy penalties of the fashion police. Yet, what this kind of narrow reasoning routinely ignores is the fact that females of various ages and forms of expression in attire – and that includes nuns – are victims of rape.

And in case there is an urge to dismiss the judge’s comments as isolated, recall that it was just over two weeks ago that a Toronto police officer offering sincere counsel to a small group at Osgoode Hall law school advised that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. This then makes clear the burqa constraint.

Recognizing the need for internal control – and exercising it – is not a requirement to be placed on males only. Nonetheless this awareness would go a long way toward preserving the personal safety of countless women. Where individuals do not recognize the internal source of personal unease they conflate their uneasiness with external conditions that they conclude must be controlled externally. So that, in places like Afghanistan, women live daily completely covered from head to foot, ostensibly to protect their modesty, but is moreso one form of externalized masculine control of the feminine form. Imagine trying to quiet the entire planet to accommodate your sensitivity to noise. More practical would be to buy yourself a pair of earplugs.

One hundred years after the first IWD, males and females would be better served by each learning to understand the way the other communicates. A popular book from the early 1990s made the problem clear by its title “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus“. Also a work in progress is the new balancing act facing women, trying to merge their career ambitions with their urge to raise their children. These desires remain essentially either/or. In Canada where women are proportionately more highly educated than men, one effect is a falling birth rate as many women choose careers while delaying having children.

A note on the changing times…

You know you are in a new era when you witness two seniors tussling in a public space because one was refusing to relinquish use of a computer once her allotted time was up. Computers: Not just the domain of kids anymore.

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