Vancouver Province

March 5, 2003

Feminism No Longer In Touch With What Women Really Want

The Province

Women everywhere will gather on International Women’s Day this Saturday to celebrate…women.

They will proclaim their victories over a misogynistic and patriarchal society, and lament the workplace struggles and biological barriers that have yet to crumble beneath them.

But most women won’t be there. In fact, most women don’t know they have a ‘day’, and if they did, they wouldn’t have time to celebrate it. They’re too busy living the lives they have chosen to pick up a placard and march for an undefined, outdated vision of feminism.

The majority of Canadian women between ages 20 and 50 are focusing on trying to make their lives work. They have jobs, careers, children to raise and marriages to keep on track. They know what they want, have made the necessary choices and sacrifices to get it, and now strive to keep it together. They are dedicated to self-improvement and advancement – but not at the expense of emotional fulfillment and family.

In short, most modern women have moved beyond group identity politics and want to see themselves as ‘individuals’, not merely as women. Today’s women seek relevance in all aspects of their lives (work, emotional, spiritual and physical) and, for many, that means choosing to have a family and ‘a life’ outside the office – even if it puts limits on career success.

This is where the women’s movement and the women it supposedly represents seem to have diverged. Having exhausted challenges to equality in the workplace, the women’s movement has chosen to be the spokesperson for causes such as abortion, gender politics, and sexual identity.

At the same time, it has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of women choosing motherhood and has failed to support families and be a resource for women who want to juggle a career and home.

Consequently, the National Action Commission for the Status of Women (NAC) now represents only a handful of Canadians and has been almost marginalized into non-existence. It has openly acknowledged that it is struggling to find a purpose or a cause to unite women in Canada.

The perception is that feminists are there to support marches for empowering working women – but are notably absent when it comes to empowering women as mothers or helping them to reach goals at home and work.

Feminism has lost sight of what women really want. Ironically, it has lost its purpose even as individual women are realizing theirs.

Historically, feminists fought for women’s recognition as citizens in the public sphere and for equality with men. Consequently, women’s rights were expanded through legislation, education and affirmative action. Divorce laws were changed to give women power, and medical ethics were set aside to grant women control over reproduction.

Feminism has opened the doors of opportunity for women. But the ‘career woman’ is just one aspect of who some women want to be. Feminism must now 1) accept that not all women will make the same choices and 2)accept the choices that most women make.

Feminism no longer defines who women are – and it will only regain its relevance if it allows the majority of women to define it.

© Copyright 2003 The Province