Women’s Voices

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Originally published on May 25, 2014 on https://wordpress.com/post/dstluke.wordpress.com/422

I read a blog today by Leigh Patrick called “What a Straight White Man Knows About Strong Women”. In the blog Patrick talks about the strong women of his family. It is this interaction with a few emotionally and psychologically strong women that Patrick assumes he understands feminism. In a Twitter battle where he first accuses me of saying that all men are potential rapists and later calls me an idiot and a psycho, I get the full brunt of his “understanding”. But someone somewhere is missing the point.

I’ve heard the same refrain over and over from other people. It goes like this; person A has met or lived with a woman who is strong and intelligent. This leads person A into the false sense that this experience leads them to have an understanding of what women are like/go through in their lives. The idea being that because the woman or women in their lives were strong that means that all women are strong or have a well of strength to draw upon. After all, this one or few women did it, why can’t we all be like that?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if women and girls around the world were able to draw upon such a well of strength on command? Shouldn’t we all be able to share in this strength? It’s been proven that it can be done. Why not?

Let’s start with circumstances. I’m privileged to live in Canada, a country that embraces diversity and supports those who cannot support themselves. As a Metis woman, I draw upon a culture that has a rich heritage from my Metis side and embody that stubborn Scots blood that runs so thickly through my veins. Yet I realize my privilege and I still struggle with anxiety daily. I see the problems women around me have that are not of their own doing.

I can honestly say I don’t know what it’s like to be a young girl who gets shot for posting a video on YouTube explaining why she wants to go to school. Yet, Malala Yousafzai is one of my heroes. I don’t know what it’s like to be a young girl in Nigeria, ripped away from her home and family simply because she had the audacity to go to school. My heart bleeds for them. I have never been a five year old girl enduring a genital mutilation without anesthetic where my labia is ripped away all in the belief that it will ensure my virginity will remain intact. I have never miscarried five times as a result of beatings administered by a man who kidnapped me and held me as a slave in his basement. Nor have I been a woman who has survived giving birth to a child in that basement amid terror and pain. I am lucky.

The person who has known the strong woman doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a curvy woman and to feel the fear she feels just going outside. He doesn’t hear the whispers or see the stares as she walks down the street. They don’t know what it is to be a young woman dressed in a short skirt on a spring day to get leered at and have guys assume she’s a slut simply because of what she wears. Those strong women don’t look in a mirror and hate what they see because the media says they aren’t perfect. They don’t spent three to four hours on makeup trying to hide the flaws that only they see. Flaws that are beautiful like the brush strokes on a painting.

I’ve heard people rip apart female celebrities because of what they were wearing to an event. Call into question their very existence because of a few snips of fabric. I’m tempted to tell the celebrities to start going naked and see how that fixes the critics’ little red wagon. If a woman like Angelina Jolie is torn down because of a dress, how much better can I fare when wearing shorts from Walmart?

I see women endure abuse, abuse themselves, hurt themselves, hate themselves, injure and kill themselves all because of the pain they hold inside. A woman who is a saint, a mother, a nanny, a caregiver, a grandmother is held in esteem and may be forgiven those mistakes and flaws they have made of themselves. A slut, a whore, a cunt, a bitch, a vixen, a succubus can never be forgiven. She must be ridiculed and beaten down for the error of believing her sexuality, her being is her own. She must be transformed into the Virgin Mary so society can feel safe around her. She must have a husband, although a wife is allowable in some circumstances, to keep her from straying away from her path and becoming a danger to all around her. She must never alter her gender, her genetic code defines her. We do not talk about those who have an XY gene but live as females.

So many women have lost their voices and do not wish to or cannot speak out. They hide in terror at being less than perfect and mutilate their every flaw or imperfection. If I could say one thing to those women it would be this; please show those flaws. They are beautiful. Those scars, those pains, those small things that make you who you are. Please paint them so I can see them. Please be proud of them. They are your flowers. They are your voice. They are you and they are beautiful.

I understand, Mr. Patrick, that you’ve had a few strong women in your life and I applaud them. Most of us, though, aren’t that strong. We’re scared and afraid of the ridicule and scorn we face daily. So we’d appreciate it if, until you’ve experienced some of that, if you’d kindly keep your opinions to yourself. We’ve had enough opinions of who we should be in our lives. We really don’t need another.

I Wear What I Choose

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Girl wearing hijabWhen I was a little girl, there was a Muslim family living in our apartment building. I didn’t know what Islam was but I noticed the girl, about my age, wearing a hijab. I asked her about it and we talked about it. I thought it was pretty and was horribly jealous that I didn’t get to wear one. I went home and secretly wrapped a towel around my head in the bathroom to see how it would look on me.

Since that time I’ve come to learn the significance of the hijab and still maintain that it looks beautiful. I love the way it frames the face and brings out the individual features of the woman. I’m no longer jealous of those women who get to wear one but I do still admire them.

So when I heard about a woman not being allowed to wear a hijab in court and another who was denied her Oath of Citizenship over her niqab, I was sad. I didn’t see this as a religious rights thing, although there is that aspect to it. What I saw was women being denied the right to choose what they wear.

Historically, to be a “good girl” a woman had to present herself a certain way. Dress a certain way,¬†walk a certain way, talk a certain way, think a certain way, be a certain way. Those who act outside these rules are segregated from “polite society” with such designations as “slut” or “whore”.

Isn’t, then, the hijab and niqab just another piece of clothing forced on women by men and religion? No. To make this assumption is to buy into the very crap women having been buying into for millennia. It is this very thinking that we have to fight against.

When a person; male, female or trans; chooses a course of action, it is their choice. This means, barring those choices that cause harm and destruction to others, that they get to make that choice and the rest of us get to live with it. If a woman chooses to wear a hijab or niqab we get to respect it. No, you don’t get an opinion on the matter.

What? Everyone gets an opinion.

Nope. Not on this. You get to put your tongue behind your teeth and shut up about it. The reason is this; you do not live her life. You do not get to make a statement about her choices.

Until people are willing to admit that women are capable of making their own choices and respecting them for it women will make no forward progress in their movement towards equal rights. This issue goes far deeper than just religious rights. It delves into the heart of equal rights.

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