In case I haven’t mentioned it specifically in my posts thus far, I am a feminist. I’ve been a feminist since before I knew the word existed. It’s as much of who I am as my eye colour or my love of cheese.
I first wrote my Feminist Manifesto 14 years ago not long after I left my job at the Women’s Centre of Hamilton. The Center was committed to providing resources and programs to marginalized and immigrant women in the community. Working there gave me the language to be able to articulate what I believed for so many years but struggled to put into words.
What I believed then…
I left the non-profit world to work in a global, Fortune 500 corporation at its Canadian headquarters. I believed, at the time, that my mix of non-profit experience, community volunteerism, and small business ownership gave me a well-rounded view of the world and how to impact it in a positive way.
Since then, after leaving the Centre and over time, I have learned I have so much more to learn. Today when I read the first iteration of my Feminist Manifesto from all those years ago, I hear my youth. I hear my inexperience and most clearly, I hear my white privilege. I didn’t want that to be the case when I wrote it obviously, but it’s there, nonetheless. One might think the easy thing to do would be to not even mention my original draft. To just let it languish and fade into cyberspace oblivion. But I think it’s important to acknowledge failings, take responsibility, and do better.
Even while I rewrite this essay today, I fear I will look back on it years from now with the same sense of embarrassment that I have today. But as the superbly wise, Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, do better.” I am committed to that.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do betterMaya Angelou
So, I am writing a new feminist manifesto for myself. Today, because it is International Women’s Day. ‘A global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’ Today because I have too many times been dismissed, spoken over, ignored, or condemned solely because of my sex. I now know that my experience is mild. Just compare it to women of colour or people who identify somewhere else on the gender spectrum.
Some of my messages remain from all those years ago because so much of our society is just the same. And much is new because my eyes are opened. Let’s begin.
This is my Feminist Manifesto 2022. I write this in my voice as a cis-gender white woman still learning.
My Feminist Manifesto Revisited
These are my ideals. They are the values I do my best to live my life by. And I encourage others to do the same. I believe them to be feminist ideals because to be a feminist is to be a humanist. They are one and the same. All feminism does, in my mind at least, is more clearly highlight the imbalance that exists when it comes to gender equity.
As a woman, I claim the right to be treated with the same respect, dignity, and honour of which all humans are deserving, but are so often denied. A person’s security should not be determined by where they were born, their gender, sexual orientation, or their religion. An injustice committed against a person in Kenya is as wrong as one committed against a person in Ukraine. Both are horrific. Both deserve global action and attention.
The impact of intersectionality
As a feminist, abuse survivor, and whistle-blower, I have experienced firsthand bias based solely on my sex. Through listening, watching, and reading, I have come to learn that my experience is safe from the intersectionality of race, sexual orientation and identity, and religious prejudices. Until all of us take up the fight for broad-based equity, regardless of any of those identifying factors, none of us will succeed.
Although it is true that love finds a way, so too does hate. If these last six years have taught us anything, it’s that contentment is foolhardy. We must wake up and pay attention. Not only to our own discomfort and upset but to that of communities of colour, First Nations, and LGBTQ2S+. In the sunshine of our complacency, hate and bigotry have grown.
I do not believe that happiness or success is a pie. There are not limited ‘slices’ available only to a chosen segment of the population. A black woman’s success does nothing to limit my possibilities. A trans youth’s achievements do nothing to hamper the potential of my grandchildren. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Imagine a world where everyone had what they needed to be healthy and secure.
I do believe that the North American construct of masculinity harms men as much as it harms women. Society teaches boys at an early age to be strong, don’t cry, toughen up, be the provider, and shoulder the burden. Emotion is a ‘female’ trait that boys are denied. I believe if boys were allowed to feel as freely as girls, to fail without shame, their anger, frustration, and aggression would diminish and their self-satisfaction and love would improve. And that would make things better for everyone.
I believe that women fall into these gender constructs that have confined us for years. It’s so deeply ingrained into the fabric of our upbringings, that we don’t even notice that fabric is silencing us. Until we, as women, acknowledge and commit to changing these biases, we will be contributors to our own repression.
My bra size does not determine my value. Nor does my waist size, the home I live in, or my bank account. Nor is anyone else’s. The person living on a street corner has value and deserves respect in the same measure as I. People who are incarcerated are victims of a system designed to subjugate and silence people of colour. Until this reality is changed, we are deserving of the rage that comes from those communities. Until white lawmakers, politicians, and influencers acknowledge their role, especially if their role is one of silent observation, in the suppression of communities of colour, all white people carry the shame. Because the shame belongs to all of us.
I have squandered my freedom if I sit by and do nothing. So I choose to act by writing my political representatives. When I shop, I spend my money with companies that don’t participate in dehumanizing employment practices. I refuse to give my financial endorsement to businesses that turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the governments of the countries in which they do business. I try my best to be a good global citizen in the hope that it encourages others to do the same.
What have I been given this voice for, if not to use it to effect change?
Trust the voices of the oppressed
I am not a whore or a slut or a freak because I have taken ownership of my own sexual identity and reproductive system. I have known what I need for my body when I need it and I would trust a teenage rape victim, a trans youth, or an abuse survivor to do the same. It is not for me to make their choices for them. My trust is with them, I believe them and am committed to a world where support services are provided to them with the same ease and gentleness that I have received.
I have given birth to three sons and am proud of each one and the men they have become. Over time, I have done my best to instill in them the ideals that I profess here but acknowledge the changes in them fostered by a culture that demeans women, diminishes their impact to sexual interference, or objectifies them. I am committed to continuing my education of my adult sons and listening when they have lessons to teach me about their male experiences.
My identity is a cis-gender white woman and this is my Feminist Manifesto. I’m trying to do right in a world where so much is going wrong. I know that I am not alone and today of all days, I celebrate other women who have done far more than I to effect change. I know that I will not get everything right; I’m striving to get more right than wrong.
Together is the only path forward. And forward we must go.