The Feminist Comparison Trap

On being a feminist.

This past week the conversation about women’s rights came to the forefront of media and conversation throughout North America. You would have to either be dead or be deaf and living under a rock to not have read about or watched the Women’s Marches and the resulting commentary.

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Much to my chagrin, feminism is not something I openly discuss much because, as the past few days have proved, participating in the conversation can put labels on you that are so sticky you can’t seem to peel them off.

  • Sometimes the labels are fraught with stigma and fear, so much so that the doors they seek to open often get slammed in your face when the labels are visible.

I do my best to be excellent at what I do so no one can help but notice me for who I am, not what sex I am not … yet … sex-based discrimination and marginalization is deeply ingrained in our culture.

To march or not to march is not the question.

The real question is how do we continue the conversation without judgment and work together to move the world forward in the fight for equality and freedom for all people?

Most of my professional life I have been the only or one of the few women in the room. I know what it is like to suggest an improvement, have it be perceived as nagging and then have a man suggest the same thing 12 seconds later and somehow in the space of two breaths my idea is suddenly valid and accepted because it was uttered from the mouth of someone with a Y chromosome.

Fact: women are marginalized in this world, both in big and small ways.

A few ways marginalization and sexism in my personal world has showed up …

  • Earning 50% less than my male peers.
  • Being told I have to submit to a man and do what they say because they know better simply because they are male.
  • Turning down sexual propositions from men in authority who hold the future of my job in their hands and have no accountability for their actions.
  • Hitting the glass ceiling in an organization because I hold the highest role any woman in the organization can hold and it is middle management.
  • Unwanted physical touching in a social work setting and having other women and men make light of the situation when I have asked for help.

No, I have not been beaten for showing my face in public, been mutilated, disallowed a bank account, sold into a marriage for my family’s financial gain or forced to do slave labor and pretend it is being a wife.

I have not suffered greatly; after all I live in Canada.

Yet I have suffered; we all suffer, men and women alike.

  • If I have to have another conversation with a new college grad struggling to make her way through the sexism in her first real job or a high school girl about how it isn’t fair that she is perceived as a sex object and is thought to only be capable of answering phone for the rest of her life, it will be one too many.
  • If I ever have to sit at a business dinner next to a man who asked me to have sex with him the week prior and then found ways to brush up next to me and pretend like it never happened just so I can have a job and take care of myself while I find another job, it will be 1,000 years too soon.
  • If I have to reorient my opinion to be perceived as helpful and submissive instead of confrontational in a business meeting just so the message can be heard and I can be part of the conversation, they will be words which are bitter to speak.

Why do I put up with this? Why not speak up?

If I am honest with myself about the times I have not spoken up, it is because speaking up creates more peril than safety. Losing future work, risking the next promotion, no longer having a seat at the table and losing my job are real threats. I can’t even start to understand what it would be like to have beating, rape, murder and enslavement as real threats in my daily life simply because I am a woman.

And so I, a woman who has experienced low levels of suffering which has been judged this past week on social media as a first world problem, appreciate the voice put to the problem; appreciate the reminder that I have a voice and I am entitled to use it for both myself and others.

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Even those of us who are perceived to be strong, powerful and privileged find it hard to speak up at times; we sometimes lose our voice and our way and find ourselves shrouded in shame which is not our own.

My marginalization isn’t better than your marginalization.

Marginalization, abuse and discrimination is completely wrong and needs to be stopped wherever and whenever it happens, no matter how big or how small.

It is time for us to stop marginalizing the suffering and simply work together to stop the suffering, whatever the suffering is and wherever it is happening. When we no longer listen to understand, stop suspending the belief that we are right and harshly judge other’s experiences, we are driving down a perilous road.

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Its true, to create opportunity it is going to take a lot of hard work but I have a feeling we are up for it. At least I know I am up for it, labels and all.

This weekend was a poignant reminder for me to be the woman I want to be 30 years from now, risk a little bit more and judge a whole lot less.

Everything valuable comes at a cost – what are we, what am I, willing to pay? What am I willing to risk for freedom?