Feminism part one: How far have we come?

“The doctor was God.”

The doctor was male.

Jackie Butler, 47, worked as a nurse in South Africa from 1990-94. As far as women’s rights go, Butler says they were 30 years behind.

Butler says she was not allowed to offer input on what she believed a patient needed.

“They were more concerned about whether my uniform was pressed and my shoes were nice and polished,” she says.

Butler remembers countless instances where she felt angry due to her inferiority to men.

She simply tried to set up a telephone line for her new South African home but the phone company refused.

“I had to have [the papers] signed by my husband or my father. As a female, I had no rights,” says Butler.

Needless to say, our current society has evolved immensely.

International Women’s Day, March 8, celebrates all that women have achieved over the decades. From the workplace to political life to the home, improvements on gender equality have flourished. Courtesy of the first two waves of feminism, Canadian women can vote, legally have abortions, and theoretically have any occupations they desire.

While these steps are revolutionary, it is important to note that the pace of these changes differ worldwide. According to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of 2013, South Africa ranks eighth out of 190 for the countries with the highest percentages of women in parliament.

Canada, on the other hand, ranks 45thwith only 24.7 per cent of parliament being female. Rwanda ranks first with 56.7 per cent.

Laurier Brantford academic staff member Sasha Cocarla, who holds a Masters in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory, says “feminism is still needed and there is much work to be done.”

Cocarla is excited to be part of the third wave of feminism since it is currently in progress. The first wave was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the second wave was from the 1960s to the 1990s. We are now living the third wave.

As an active feminist, Cocarla sees the third wave as having many benefits such as involving youth through social media.

“The third wave of feminism has been more concerned with looking at the ways gender inequality intersects with other forms of oppression,” Cocarla says.

Cocarla points out that feminism, like anything, has had some setbacks. The first two waves of feminism were not entirely inclusive—not all races were represented, for instance.

“Some areas of feminism have also been intolerant or ignorant of transgendered women and their needs and rights,” she says.

But the third wave is changing that by being “intersectional feminism” which includes all races, classes, abilities, and etcetera. As she is completing her doctorate in Women’s Studies, it is becoming very clear to Cocarla how feminism can take many forms.

When Butler was in Grade 9, she was involved in the protest for women to be able to wear jeans. At the time, only skirts, dresses and dress pants were allowed in high schools. If a girl wore jeans to class, she was sent to the principal’s office and was expected to change.

“It would have been different if we were in a Catholic school and there was a definite uniform. But us girls weren’t allowed to dress a certain way and the boys could wear whatever they wanted,” Butler says.

Jeans may be something we now take for granted. But each time a woman wears a pair, it is a result of acts of feminism.

Cocarla believes that the conversation of women’s issues must take place early in life, not simply in post-secondary education. So Cocarla has contributed to the Miss G Project to help Gender Studies become part of the Ontario Secondary School Curriculum. After eight years of lobbying, the project is a success.

Another part of the third wave of feminism has been the SlutWalk that started in Toronto 2011. The movement protests how some blame sexual assault on the victim’s appearance and wardrobe. SlutWalk has grown into an international movement involving all genders and ages.

Both behind the scenes, like the Miss G Project, and in the public sphere, like the SlutWalk, feminism is constantly taking place.

Today, Butler says she feels equal to men. Even though she estimates that men hold 75 per cent of the higher positions at her hospital, St. Mary’s,, she believes this tradition is slowly fading. In her cardiology department, there are no female surgeons but there are female cardiologists and nurses.

In day-to-day life, some women may feel equal. It is undeniable that women have moved towards this goal in leaps and bounds over the decades. But when we zoom out, or perhaps zoom in, gender inequality is not just a thing of the past. Next issue, we will look at the long road ahead that feminists must travel.

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