December 6

People are always twisting themselves up in knots about feminism. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard a celebrity say, “I’m not a feminist, I just want to…”

Just want to what?

  • Go to school?
  • Study whatever subject you like?
  • Attend the school of your choice?
  • Have a job/career?
  • In the field you studied for?
  • Keep your name after you marry?
  • Keep your job after you marry?
  • After you have children?
  • Own a business?
  • Own property of any kind?
  • Vote?
  • Drive a car?
  • Travel alone?
  • Go outside without being harassed?
  • Have autonomy over your own body?
  • etc. etc. etc.

All the people who claim to not be feminists want some, if not all, of these things. So what I have to say to them is: you are wrong when you say you’re not a feminist. You are a feminist, because that’s what feminism is.

Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

That is all. And yet, it is everything.

On December 6, 1989, a man killed fourteen women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He killed them because they were women studying engineering.

On December 6, 1989, I was an undergrad, a biology major. I wasn’t an engineer, but I was studying sciences. The fourteen who were killed were my age or just a little older. They were, essentially, my peers. This could have happened in one of my classrooms.

People who know me know I’m wary of co-opting other people’s tragedies. Obviously, people who were there that day, people who knew the fourteen women, have been far more deeply affected by this event than I can even imagine. But it did have one profound, lasting impact on me.

I have never wavered on the subject of feminism.

I am a feminist because I believe women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.

Geneviève, Hélène, Nathalie, Barbara, Anne-Marie, Maud, Maryse, Maryse, Anne-Marie,  Sonia, Michèle, Annie, Annie, and Barbara had the same right as any man to go to school, to study engineering or nursing or to work at the university. Their choices should have been unremarkable. They should not have made them targets for murder.

While it’s true that most women won’t be murdered for choosing to study engineering or computer science or math or chemistry, most will be ridiculed or harassed (even jailed in some jurisdictions) at some point in their lives for making a choice that would be mundane if a man had made it. The sentiment underpinning the Montreal massacre—the belief that women should not have the same rights and opportunities as men—is still prevalent.

Why is it that people are embarrassed to say they’re feminists when really they should be embarrassed to say they’re not? Because they’ve bought into the rhetoric (“feminists are man-haters”) of those who would like women to return to the place they were a century ago. When you say “I am not a feminist” even though you believe that a woman should have the same rights and opportunities as a man, you are, in effect, supporting a position you don’t actually believe in and, if you are a woman, you’re sabotaging yourself. So stop saying it. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to those who fought for the rights you currently have, you owe it to those for whom you are a role model, and you owe to those who no longer have a voice.

You are a feminist.

Own it.


5 thoughts on “December 6

  1. kingmidget

    Agreed with everything you say here, but for one thing that I’ll get to in a minute. When I first started reading this, I had my typical reaction to something about labels. I’m not a feminist because I hate labels. Why can’t we just be people, individuals with beliefs and ideas and thoughts. By the time, I got to the end, I’m proud to say I’m a feminist. I totally agree.

    But this statement …”The sentiment underpinning the Montreal massacre—the belief that women should not have the same rights and opportunities as men—is still prevalent.” … I can’t agree with. Yes, maybe there are still pockets of society or the world where this is the case, but I don’t think it remains a generally prevalent sentiment.

    1. Theryn Post author

      I’m glad I changed your mind 🙂 I’m not sure if there’s another word with such a huge disconnect between what it actually means and how people feel about it.

      I meant ‘prevalent’ in the sense of being common (not universal) and, yes, I was thinking worldwide. I guess I’ve read too many depressing stories lately. In North America, the issue is obviously more one of substantive (vs. legal) equality. More subtle, not ‘you can’t do X’ but ‘we’re going to make it really hard/unpleasant for you to do X.’ (Example.)

      1. kingmidget

        I hate to say it, but I changed my mind. I’m not a feminist. This is the problem with labels like this. They suggest that there is something more important about this group than other deprived groups. Rather than saying that I’m a feminist, I prefer to think I’m an equalist — one who favors equal opportunity for all. One who prefers that opportunity is available regardless of color, gender, creed, etc.

        1. Theryn Post author

          Well, like I said, you can deny it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true (I’d insert a devil banana here if I had one).

          “They suggest that there is something more important about this group than other deprived groups.”

          There’s no suggestion of that at all inherent in the definition. Supporting or identifying with one group or cause doesn’t limit your capacity to support or identify with others, and imo, the best feminism is intersectional feminism.

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