Another One of Those Damned Feminists...

Posted by hlinfield on October 2, 2013 at 3:00 PM

My nine-year-old son loves to draw pictures of soldiers. Currently he’s working on the Alien Defence Unit. This elite fighting force (which defends Earth from evil aliens) is comprised of six men and one woman. All seven of them have demonstrated themselves capable of being members of this elite squad. He designed their uniforms and showed me his illustrations. The men’s uniforms were blue. The one woman’s uniform was red.

“Why is her uniform a different colour?” I asked.

“Because she’s a girl.”

“So? She doesn’t really look like she’s part of the team,” I said.

“Well she is. She just has the girl’s uniform.”

I pondered this. “But why does she get a different colour?”

“It’s so if her team sees her from a distance, they’ll know who she is.”

“Well, what if they see one of the guys from a distance? How will they know who he is?”

This went on for some time, my son growing more and more frustrated with me because I couldn’t comprehend the importance of her having a different colour uniform.

“Why don’t you make the soldiers with dark skin wear a different colour than the soldiers with white skin?” I asked.

“Because that would be ridiculous!” he said.

“I agree,” I said, nodding. When I followed up by asking why it was ridiculous to divide them by race and not by sex, he couldn’t give me an answer.

So here I am, big bad feminist, debating with a nine-year-old boy about an issue that is so deeply ingrained in our society that only a tiny minority of people can even see to question it. Chances are most of the people reading this will not even understand why I feel the lone female Alien Defender should have the same colour uniform as her male counterparts.

And that’s one of the reasons why I support changing the lyrics of O Canada from “all thy sons command” to “all of us command.” It’s for the same reason that when I sing, Mary’s Boy Child Jesus Christ, one of my favourite Christmas carols, I sing, “And we shall live forever more,” instead of “And man shall live forever more.” It’s for the same reason that I cringe when I still hear ministers say, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” (And to all those who say no big deal, how would you feel if the couple were pronounced "woman and husband"?) It’s for the same reason that I suck in a breath whenever I hear a girl, say, “Oh, I’m such a girl,” as though being a girl is a negative thing.

I’m saddened by women who say they don’t even know what part of the lyrics to O Canada are at issue. This just shows how deeply ingrained and accepted inequality among the sexes really is, even today. I can remember being a little girl and getting this feeling, not really in words - more of a general sense - that I was not included in the term “mankind.” I don’t know why I felt this when others didn’t, but I do know that when I hear the word "sons" I do not feel that it applies to me, and I’d bet that a lot of people - men and women - feel the same way. They might not be able to articulate it, but it’s there, lying beneath the surface, informing the way we think.

When people say, “Oh it’s no big deal,” and “Why do they make such a fuss about such a little thing,” I would say that is pure ignorance talking. There are more male flight attendants now than there were in the past. Is it possible, perhaps, that the fact that flight attendants are no longer called "stewardesses" is one reason for this shift? Is it really just coincidence that our language has become more gender neutral at the same time as women’s rights have improved? The way we think influences our language, but the influence works in both directions. At a subconscious level, language shapes our thoughts.

I am a feminist.  I am not aggressive (though I have at times been called argumentative), and I believe that to exact certain changes in society aggression is sometimes necessary.

I support the rights of all people, men and women, to make their own choices without any other person butting in, within reason. (I’m not keen on anarchism.) I believe a woman should have control over her own body, her own mind, and her own resources. I also believe a man should have these controls. I believe a woman should be able to have a legal abortion if she chooses. (That doesn’t mean I think abortion is a good thing.) I believe a mother should be able to breast feed if she wants and not breast feed if she doesn’t want and that her boobs shouldn’t be anybody’s business but her own. I believe a mother should be able to stay at home with her children without feeling worthless and I believe a mother should be able to work full time without being attacked for having the audacity to want a career. I believe a woman who has spent her life as a stay-at-home mother and housewife should be legally and financially protected in the event of a divorce. If some of our laws go too far, it’s because the dangers of them not going far enough are unthinkable.

A feminist seeks to define woman not in relation to man, but as a human being, as an individual. What in the world could possibly be wrong with that?

And so it wounds me when I hear people use expressions like "damned feminists." I fully understand that there are some small, vocal branches of feminism that go too far, that feel so threatened by the male-dominated society in which they’ve lived that their ideals of feminism pass promoting the equality of women and turn to the attacking of men. I even had a friend at one time who considered all sex to be rape. (Strange that she had a boyfriend...) But I also understand the frustration that women can feel when they butt up against ingrained, archaic notions. Yes, some feminists go too far, (as many would say Malcolm X and the Black Panthers went too far during the Civil Rights’ Movement) but that doesn’t mean the issue isn’t there. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If it hadn’t been for aggressive feminists, women would not be allowed to vote, study at universities, own property, get divorced when they wanted, demand legal punishment for an abusive husband, and work in sectors of the economy other than nursing and teaching.

But everyone knows this. Everyone must know this because it is 2013.

And yet, clearly a lot of people don’t appreciate the huge value to our modern society that those “damned feminists” gave us. Women today have the luxury of not having to be aggressive in demanding our rights because the women of the past did it for us. But we are fooling ourselves if we think the battle has been completely won. When people use words like, “I think it’s true that women have been treated unfairly by men in the past,” I want to shout out, “You think? Think? You don’t know this?” How can anyone not know this?

You only have to glance around the world to see that women are still struggling to be seen as humans first and women second, and it’s not just the developing world. Look at what happened to the women who fought to get Jane Austen’s face on the ten-pound note. They're still receiving rape and death threats.

The vitriolic response to the requested lyric change ought to be enough to jar us into the realization that the battle for true equality has not yet been won. Why the vitriol? What is it about changing a few measly words that most Canadians apparently don’t even know (in spite of having heard it every morning for their entire school lives) that excites so much anger among those who would curse the “damned feminists”? Is it just that the status quo hates change, that they hate being challenged? Or does this whole debate stir something up deep down inside people that they subconsciously feel but don’t want to admit?

‘In all thy sons command’ seems very harmless and in a world of child brides with their uteruses ripped to shreds, female genital mutilation, girls shot in the face for daring to attend school, and rape and death threats to influential women who dare to express their opinions, there are more pressing battles to be fought.  But that doesn’t mean gender-neutral language isn’t worth the fight.

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Reply Hayley
5:31 PM on October 21, 2013 
Thank you Lyn! Nice to hear from you.

Lyn Alexander says...
Hello Hayley Linfield
I just happened in upon your blog. Love it so far (read two only). Didn't have time to read more, so will have to come back ~ so put your URL into my favorites list. I shall return.
I write historical novels; and was born before Women's Lib was even a twinkle is some secretary's eye, so I know where this is all coming from. I like to think of myself as the first women's Libber. I never talked about it, I just went ahead and lived my life my way.
Reply Lyn Alexander
4:36 PM on October 21, 2013 
Hello Hayley Linfield
I just happened in upon your blog. Love it so far (read two only). Didn't have time to read more, so will have to come back ~ so put your URL into my favorites list. I shall return.
I write historical novels; and was born before Women's Lib was even a twinkle is some secretary's eye, so I know where this is all coming from. I like to think of myself as the first women's Libber. I never talked about it, I just went ahead and lived my life my way.