Be a Rebel

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

The 2010 IWD theme is: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.

This year’s Canadian theme is: Strong Women. Strong Canada. Strong World.

“For Canadians, equality means women and men sharing in the responsibilities and obligations, as well as in the opportunities and rewards, of life and work.”

I wrote a draft of this post several months ago. Seems appropriate to post it today, particularly considering this year’s IWD theme.


Grrr. I am so tired of hearing people say that feminism is “about choice.” Feminism is not “about choice.” Feminism is about equality. The choices you have today are a consequence of equality. They follow from it.

This is not semantics; it’s huge.

Why does it matter?

When feminism is presented as “about choice” it becomes me-centered. It means a woman can “choose” stereotypically female things without any thought for how her “choice” is affecting women as a group. Why should she? According to the “about choice” school of feminism, she is being a feminist simply by making a choice. Even if that choice is ridiculous. (Flashing one’s boobs in a Girls Gone Wild video so Joe Francis can get rich? Not a feminist act.)

When we remember that feminism is about equality, it changes how we act (or, at least, it should). Equality means thinking about how our actions—our choices—affect others, as well as ourselves.

Let’s say there are two choices: A and B. If women always choose A and no one ever chooses B, then is B a real choice? Maybe some women really want to choose B, but at the same time, no one wants to be the Weirdo Who Chose B, so in the end, succumbing to peer/societal pressure, most, if not all, end up choosing A (albeit reluctantly).

This goes on for a time until the next generation doesn’t know anyone who ever chose B. Until B is taken off the market, so to speak, as a choice for women. As an A-chooser, would this upset you? After all, you chose A—so why would you care that there’s no B any more? You—and your sisters and daughters and nieces and granddaughters—can still “choose” A.

But, but, but…

Yes. But. The point is, for B to stick around as a real (and not just theoretical) choice, someone has to choose it some of the time. And that “some of the time” has to be non-trivial. If 99/100 “choose” option A, that is not a real, legitimate choice.  It discounts societal pressures to conform.

Example! Statistics I see quoted on the rate of women “taking their husband’s surname” after marriage range from 80-90% or higher! In 2010.  Articles abound on the topic (just google; here’s one from last month). And every time I see one, I am gobsmacked. I cannot believe this is still a topic for discussion in the 21st century.

Go back to the example above and insert “take husband’s surname” for A and “keep own name” for B. Now think about how you would feel if A (take husband’s surname) was automatic upon marriage and B (keep own name) was not an option. As in not allowed. Illegal. As in that’s how it used to be. Before feminism. Before equal rights.

I like to use this as an example because so many unconventional choices are hard. They require financial sacrifice or the ability to withstand harassment, and it’s simply not possible for everyone to make them. But keeping one’s surname is effortless. It is, in fact, the easier (and cheaper!) choice. It’s likely the only time you can be a rebel simply by doing nothing!

I’m not saying that women should always choose the unconventional over the traditional. My point is that we mustn’t forget the choices we have today are a consequence of the equal rights that women fought for in the past. But for there to be true equality between men and women, there needs to be more than just formal equality (i.e. under the law, everyone, male or female, has the option to choose A or B), there needs to be substantive equality. And you don’t have substantive equality if all women “choose” A and all men “choose” B.