As news reports came in following 8th March it quickly became apparent that women had more to protest than to celebrate, despite significant breakthroughs in Canada and elsewhere this and last century. It was also notable that a generalised perception of women as inferior to men seems to still be at the foundation for abhorrent behaviour that includes everything from gender pay disparity to domestic violence to unspoken chauvinist policy in public sector, private sector, and in media. In short, everything is connected, and to an almost primal misunderstanding about the sanctity of life.
One might be deceived with a much-circulated, “Well at least Canada isn’t as bad as country x…” myth that suggests we’re ahead of the competition. After all, we’ve had our very own Rosa Parks in the form of Viola Desmond. Equally, Idola Saint-Jean and Thérèse Casgrain put suffragettes on the map in Quebec. The trials of Agnes Macphail ensured women made it into Canadian parliament and – indeed – women practically took over the place last week in a move that would have made Guy Fawkes grin in masculine solidarity. One might also assume from corporate media that the biggest issue for women in Canada right now is just being paid 20% more, not fighting for survival from one day to the next like in India or Saudi Arabia, right? And besides, isn’t the Great White North’s utopian-like status universally accepted by now?
While it’s fair to say that great strides towards gender equality have been made during recent decades, reality still doesn’t quite match its PR image. Yes, women are now fighting in the ‘Old Boys’ club’ back yard. Arianna Huffington took the battle to media and technology, two masculine strongholds, and Anita Roddick became a role model in entrepreneurialism while still maintaining her environmentalism. Hillary Clinton’s recent dalliance with the oval office might be construed as women almost taking the top job on the planet, dominated by men exclusively since white European USA was founded in 1776. Unfortunately, in order to get that close she had to ‘out-testosterone’ the men, not necessarily win based upon a true manifestation of feminine energy. And the same might be said of Huffington and Roddick. Worse, the suppressed reality even in pin-up Canada is that while overall rates of violent crime against men and women are similar, women are more likely to experience certain forms of violence. For example, according to police-reported data, women were 11 times more likely than men to be sexually victimized, and three times as likely to be stalked. Overall, men were responsible for the majority of violence committed against women (83%). Male accused accounted for 60% of police-reported violence committed by friends or acquaintances, 68% of non-spousal family violence, 74% of stranger violence and 98% of intimate partner violence. Even worse, this violence against women is only 30% of what really happens in Canada day-to-day.
This emotionally-charged issue came up in BILS’ own humble celebrations of International Women's Day last week. Two dozen current clients and alumni of BILS’ womens’ abuse program had a social gathering in solidarity and discussed, amongst other things, who their own sources of female inspiration were. Interestingly, business moguls and political candidates were nowhere to be seen as Mother Theresa, Helen Keller, Eva Peron, and Frida Kahlo rose to the top of the conversation. The subtlety here is perhaps not so much the difference between men and women as it is the difference between masculine and feminine energy. In short, which women truly embody what it means to be women, versus those who just attempt to out-do men in endeavours that blatantly favour masculine energy?
The BILS women counsellors would likely conclude that ‘equality’ isn’t so much about womens’ right to be men-like as it is about womens’ right to be women, and have that be appreciated rather than commiserated or penalised. It’s fair to say that many social ills suffered in Canada and elsewhere might be the result of failing to appreciate the feminine as equally relevant as the masculine. Further, it could be suggested that we need to evolve our confrontational, profit-oriented, short-term societal viewpoint into something more aware of where we are heading as a species. This means accepting that the feminine point of view is just as pertinent and urgent as the masculine - if not more so - regardless of topic. And it’s probably why BILS consistently receives feedback from current and former clients that they ‘find themselves’ during counselling, and emerge from our program with a stronger sense of who they are than ever before. Indeed, the aim of the program isn’t just to rehabilitate women enough to find a ‘better’ male partner next time around, it’s to enable women to achieve financial and emotional independence as best as they can in a still male-dominated world society.
As Statistics Canada’s announcement on International Women's Day last week confirms, programs such as BILS’ will need to continue for some considerable time. Chauvinism, misogyny, nepotism and other forms of bigotry continue in a societal system so rife with political correctness that less than a third of violent crime against women even makes it as far as the police, let alone into the media or public discourse. Women have yet to find parity in such a male-dominated society, let alone evolve that society into one where such parity becomes a moot point rather than a ferociously-defended line in the sand of an unending war. Perhaps every day should be International Women's Day until then?
Regardless, if you are passionate about the issue of womens' abuse or - more generally - gender equality in Toronto then do please get in touch if you’d like to support us in the essential work we do.