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Today is International Women’s Day, always a day that gives us plenty to think about. I admire optimists and people who make a point of thinking positively but it doesn’t seem that I was ever destined to fit either of those descriptions for reasons that will become clear.

I’m republishing here a column I wrote in early 1991. Don’t let my playful tone fool you. There was a war on then too, the Gulf War, entered into by the first George Bush. A few days before I wrote this column, I had participated in a teach-in about the war at Mount Saint Vincent University. My feminist presentation was about the sexual and erotic imagery used to describe war. The proceedings at the teach-in were recorded and later that same day, part of what I’d said was played on CBC Radio’s As It Happens, “for the record.”

There was a lot of response to that radio spot and one person’s response led to this column.

February 17, 1991

Well, ladies, I had just popped an apple pie into the oven and was getting the ironing done when I decided that what I really should do is go out and get my hair done and then go shopping for something nice for myself. A new hat maybe … or some perfume … or maybe a nice frilly feminine dress. That should cheer me up, shouldn’t it?

You see, girls, I had just opened my mail and had a letter from a fellow in Ontario who had heard some remarks I made on the radio about the sexual imagery of war. From his letter, I discovered that I’m really on the wrong track and I should change my way of thinking or just shut up. I should lighten up, give it a break, get a life. I should try just being a normal woman and I might discover that I like it.

This particular letter, interestingly enough, kept calling my views “ubsurd” (sic). He went on to say that they’re half-baked, pop-feminism. He said he has a feminist friend who also heard me and she said it’s terrible to hear someone who’s supposed to be on your side and you wish she was on the other side.

Each to his own opinion, of course, but in the last few months I’ve been called ridiculous and vindictive, mean-minded, sour and hostile, and accused of spewing vitriol and being anti-male. Goodness, girls. Can this really be me?

  • violence against women: (more than 100 Canadian women will be killed by their life partners this year; one in four women and girls will be sexually assaulted; one in 10 women is regularly beaten by her partner; popular culture — videos, movies, books — still portrays violence against women as a form of eroticism.)
  • sexual harassment: (even as I write this and as you read it, some woman somewhere is being denied a raise or a promotion because she refuses to sleep with the boss; or a female student is being offered a chance to pull an A+ on her toughest course if she favours the professor — if you know what I mean; or a woman working in a roomful of men is being subjected to sexual jokes, often having to do with her own body.)
  • inequality in the workplace: (women still make only 69 cents for every dollar that men make; in the workplace, 41 per cent of women earn more than $27,500 per year compared to 84 per cent of men; 21 per cent of aboriginal women earn more than $27,500, compared to 81 per cent of native men; 28 per cent of women in visible minorities earn more than $27,500 compared to 75 per cent of visible minority men.)
  • the feminization of poverty: (the number of women living in poverty increased by 110 per cent between 1971 and 1986, while the number of men living in poverty has increased over the same period by 24 per cent.)
  • child care: (the percentage of women with children who work outside the home reached 77.4 per cent in 1989 but the number of publicly-funded child care spaces has not increased — in 1989, there were 450,000 more pre-school children with mothers in the labour force for whom no child care was available than there were in 1979.)
  • pornography: (how come every time I whisper the word “pornography”, there’s someone to yell “freedom of expression” and I’m accused of advocating censorship — when I’m not? Then, how come I could to listen to 50 minutes of a CBC Radio Maritime Noon phone-in asking the question “should news from the war be censored?” and 99 per cent of the callers (all callers except one were men) intoned their support for censorship because of the “special circumstances” of war and no one says boo?)
  • Well ladies, you just know I could go on and on but I think I should defrost the fridge, mop the floor and make a quilt. I’m trying to be a normal woman.

    I just want to add, however, that I don’t invent the situations and statistics I’ve cited above and I’d like to ask why the people who are the perpetrators of those situations and responsible for those statistics are never called anti-female? Ubsurd, isn’t it?

    Here is an interesting version of Bread and Roses, sung by the Boston Workmen’s Circle (A Besere Velt — A Better World) Yiddish Chorus. Bread and Roses is woven together with an anthem dedicated to the fighters in the Spanish Civil War. But also, just before the three-minute mark, they sing, “We are marching for health care, universal and affordable …” to great applause from their audience.

    Happy International Women’s Day, 2010. There’s still much to be done.

    One Response

    1. #1
      Robbie Lochead(Pereira)MGH 1964 

      Well Sharon, making apple pie, mopping floors and writing to inform and keep woman aware is essential so that women remain an integral part of society and are safe. I hear what you are saying and congratulate you.

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