An open letter to Arlene Dickinson about Feminism.

 

Dear Arlene,

You won't remember this, but we met once. It was a brief meet and greet, after you gave a great presentation in Bon Accord, Alberta, of all places. I told you how much I looked up to you and appreciated your amazing ability to turn your story and your story-telling into a multi-million dollar marketing company. You thanked me, shook my hand and then off you went with your entourage. 

I've been a fan of yours for years and that moment was a total fan-girl one for me. I loved watching you on Dragon's Den and always thought you made the best decisions. You are wicked smart, incredibly well-spoken, and when you had to be, you were brutally honest with the entrepreneurs pitching you. You were what I aspired to be at one point in my life. 

Today though, I am disappointed. And I suppose I shouldn't be, putting people on pedestals never really goes well for anyone involved, and I have to admit that I had you up on one and kind of thought you could do no wrong. 

Last night you posted a status on Facebook that immediately set the hairs on my arms to "full bristle". And it's no secret why. I am a Feminist. My blog is called The Stay at Home Feminist. My feminism colours all that I do in my life, both online and off, and even though my husband and closest friends warned me to not publicly declare myself a feminist on the big bad internet, I ignored them and I do it LOUDLY and PROUDLY every damn day. 

Because I believe in feminism. I believe that we live in a world that needs to see and hear how women (and by association children) are treated in all parts of our world as second class citizens, as objects, as people who have no agency over their most basic of human rights. You may think that I am exaggerating, but I assure you I am not, just turn on your nightly news and you'll see.

You said in your post,

I confess that the word Feminism has taken on a different connotation for me. It has a meaning I personally no longer truly understand. I find myself wanting to distance myself from this word that doesn’t represent the way I feel about inequality in general. Forgive me but I simply don’t relate to the war that’s being waged. The fight that I have in me isn’t about baring my chest, or acting in a way where I make men submissive to me in some imaginary power struggle.

Can I tell you something Arlene, just between you and me? I get it. I get tired of all of it too. I see the fighting online and women calling each other out and everyone telling everyone else that they are doing feminism wrong. Beyoncé dancing on stage in a revealing outfit in front of the word feminism was VERY confusing for some people. Women {and men} walking annually in rallies across Canada called SlutWalk, doesn't jive with certain folks. Women of Colour calling out White Feminists for their lack of intersectionality can sometimes seem counter productive, when in an ideal world we all want the same things. It's OK if you don't get it. Here is the thing Arlene, you don't have to understand everyone's feminism. I know I don't. But here is what I do know; when I don't personally understand something or feel like I just can't relate to it in any way, I DO NOT OUTRIGHTLY DISMISS IT AND TRY TO NAME IT SOMETHING ELSE. (Sorry, I won't shout again, I promise.)

You also said in your Facebook update that,

The fight that I can be passionate about, however, is standing against inequality for any human. Why is THAT word – equality - not what we as women choose to stand in solidarity for? If we won the war on inequality then all humans would be treated fairly. Why focus only on women and not those of any human not being treated equally? Since when did women only stand for women? Why must it be just she for she?

I know this is not going to be a popular post. I profoundly recognize that without fighting for equality in this world we wont get it. And I want to continue to fight. I want to fight for equal pay for all people in the same roles. For equal rights for all humans. For equality that knows no colour, race, religion or gender. I am tired of bra burning to make a point. I love being a woman. And, as a woman, I love mankind. There are men treated unfairly, there are children treated horribly. I have a growing lack of concern for the human condition in general.

Real question Arlene: what do you think feminists are fighting for, if not equality? And what makes you think that we are not standing in solidarity for that? This is where you lost me. Do you know why inequality exists? Because women and children have always been considered second class citizens of the world and women of colour even more so. You are talking as if the holders of the power in our world are just going to sit down at a table and say, "yes, of course you should have your equal share of the pie", but you fail to recognize that this means that they will then have to take some pie off of their own plates to do this. They will have to GIVE UP some of their power to make things equal and I think you and I both know that this is never going to happen. Not without a fight. 

And we have to gear up more for this fight, not less. We have to dig in our {high} heels and like Roxane Gay said in her TED talk from earlier this year, "BOLDY claim your feminism". And for a lot of us, perhaps those of a certain vintage, we have a lot to navigate on this journey to turn in our claim tag. In her book Yes, Please, Amy Poehler says, "It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate."

Arlene, I think that maybe this is what is happening right now. Women are seizing their real estate, and they are doing a lot of it online and in public spaces. I think that women who have traditionally stayed quite about a lot of inequality are starting to find their voices and USE THEM. Women, especially women of colour and those in the LGBTQ communities who have never had platforms to express themselves are doing so more and more, and yes, it's making it messy and confusing and very uncomfortable for a lot of people. People that I would hazard to say, are coming from places of relative social, racial and economical privilege. Revolution is never pretty, and I don't see why anyone would think that the work of feminism to bring about the kind of cultural revolution that would see women on equal footing as men, as FULL human beings, would be any different. In her 2013 TEDx talk, We should all be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that she is angry. "That we should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change." 

And I don't think that women are only standing for women. I have a son and a daughter. Yesterday my eight-year old son asked me what a feminist is. I told him it was someone who believes that all people are created equal and should be treated that way in all things. That includes him, and it includes us fighting the harmful gendered messages that boys receive as they grow up, just as much as we fight the ones that girls hear. These are messages that I know I am going to have to fight continuously through out their lives, because as sad as it is to admit it, we still live in a culture that socializes us to believe that being male is better, that our gender prescribes how we should be and not how we actually are. All you have to do is take a look at this recent ad from BIC Pens celebrating Women's Day is South Africa to see what I mean. Think like a man, you know, because thinking like a woman is not good enough.

#BICfail

As the CEO of a marketing agency, after seeing this, can you really say to me, and to women everywhere, that we don't need feminism? 

Arlene, you don't need to ask for forgiveness because you don't relate to another person's feminism, but you do need to sit back and understand that just because you don't relate to something or someone, doesn't mean that their reality is any less valid than yours. In 1980, the Carribean-American civil rights activist and radical feminist, Audre Lorde, wrote a paper titled, Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. I highly recommend you read the full paper if you get the chance, because even though this paper was written 35 years ago, almost ALL OF IT rings true right now, on this day, in 2015. On the subject of equality, Lorde tells us that "our future survival is predicated upon our ability to relate within equality. As women, we must root out internalized patterns of oppression within ourselves if we are to move beyond the most superficial aspects of social change. Now we must recognize differences among women who are our equals, neither inferior nor superior, and devise ways to use each others' difference to enrich our visions and our joint struggles. The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference." 

Relating across differences. This is the basis of intersectionality and is maybe the crux of why you are feeling this lack of relatability to the current iterations of feminism in our world. I would like to invite you to not back away from feminism because of this, but rather, step into it more. Speak to young feminists, feminist women of colour and those in the LGBTQ communities and find out what it is like being a woman trying to make it in the world these days. 

The last words in your post where the ones that truly sank my heart Arlene. You said,

Is there any reason at all we can’t change the misunderstood word “feminism” to the empowering word “Equality”? Women, as 50 percent of the human race, need to do what we do best and stand to protect the rights of all.

They sank my heart because when I read them, they had a familiar ring to them, one that sends chills down my spine whenever I hear it and because I know that while it may seem to come from a place of solidarity, it really does not. It comes from a place of privilege. Changing the word Feminism to Equality and protecting the rights of ALL, smacks me in the face with the same kind of willful, blind, bullshit that is #alllivesmatter. In a blog post on BlackMillenials, it is explained like this: "#AllLivesMatter is a cheap attempt to neutralize the fact that certain injustices and brutality are experienced by those with darkened skin. Please do not reshape the narrative in attempt to remain colorblind."

Yes, Arlene, ALL people should be treated equally and that is what we all want. For ourselves, for our children, for every woman, man and child on this planet of ours. But we can't get there if we don't do the work. And Feminism is the work. Getting messy and uncomfortable and out of our safety nets is the work. Changing the narrative or the words, this is NOT the work. Some of us do this work on a small scale, influencing our neighbours, our schools, our online communities, and some like you, have over 200K followers on your various social media profiles and your words have immense power (your post has been shared 437 times and has over 2700 likes). Especially to women, like myself, who look to you as a role model not just in business, but also in life. 

Roxane Gay says it best and most succinctly in the last few lines of her book, Bad Feminist (another one I highly recommend you pick up),

"No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism.
Like most people, I'm full of contradictions, 
but I also don't want to be treated like shit for being a woman. 
I am a bad feminist. 
I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all."

Feminism doesn't have to be perfect Arlene, it just has to BE. And no, we can not change the name of it. 

Sincerely,

Natasha Chiam

The Stay at Home Feminist