This is our chance to do better

Today is a historic day for women’s rights. Millions of women are gathering in their respective cities around the world to ​march in protest against one of the most infamous president-elects in United States history.

A man whose platform relied on xenophobia, misogyny and sexism — effectively dividing his country, and leaving women, Muslims and other vulnerable groups stranded in fear of what is to come.

Donald Trump — best known for coining the phrase “You’re fired”, exploiting vulnerable tenants and making disparaging comments about women — encapsulates a new kind of demagogue for our generation.

He rode a popularity founded on deep-rooted prejudices, exploiting white middle class fears to make it to the country’s top position. And he succeeded, even if he lost the popular vote by three million votes to Hillary Clinton.

The world watched as the majority of votes were counted, and found out that in the American Election, 5​2 per cent​ of white women voted for Trump. A man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, threatened to jail women who sought abortions and blamed women for sexual harassment in the workplace. He’s now in charge of protecting more than half of the population (50.6 per cent of the American population are women) — the segment he continuously disregarded along the campaign trail.

So why did so many white women vote for Trump? Historically, white women have had it easier than their minority counterparts in the United States and around the world. Yes, white women were considered second class citizens, but we also have not been disenfranchised in the same way.

Even in Canada.

Some of the signs at Winnipeg march Jan. 21, 2017. /REBECCA HENDERSON

I watched the American Election, like many Canadians, with the terrifying notion that Trump could win. I fell asleep before the results were read, but woke up at 4 a.m. with a sense of dread (which I’m going to attribute to a woman’s intuition) because the election’s worst outcome had been confirmed: Trump had won.

It’s easy to be smug as a Canadian in this scenario. We have universal healthcare, our prime minister is an outspoken feminist and as a woman, my rights to an abortion and reproductive healthcare are protected. For now. But that doesn’t mean policies, laws or ideologies can’t change. Trump made me realize that.

The Women’s March on Washington (and those in support) is a fight against political patriarchy, which aims to strip women of their rights and protections, and limit their ability to prosper with health and dignity.

But what we need to realize moving forward is the role white women have played in oppressing other women. We can’t have unity and solidarity if we don’t recognize the historic disenfranchisement of minority women and how white privilege has perpetuated it.

One of the most overlooked disparities in the history of women’s rights in Canada is the vote. White women in Canada began celebrating their right to vote in 1916 (Quebec white women were finally allowed to vote in 1940).

Indigenous women, however, were not allowed to vote until 1​960​. That’s a 44, and 20 year difference. And it’s a facet we don’t often mention when patting ourselves on the back at how far we’ve come.

Canadian women are fortunate. Our generation stands on the shoulders of the feminists who came before us, but at the same time, we can’t be willfully ignorant to the reality that not all women are or feel protected the same way white women do. It’s a privilege to feel that way.

The ​RCMP​ estimates there are 1,200 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. To put this in perspective: Indigenous women make up just 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women. They are also three to four times more likely to go missing or be murdered than non-Indigenous Canadian women.

White Women: why it’s our chance to do better

We can’t fight the patriarchy without recognizing our role in the oppression of other women.

The divide between white women and Indigenous women is a reflection of the divide between white women and black women in America. This divide has festered since our European ancestors immigrated and colonized North American soil, while attempting (and thankfully failing) to kill the Indian in the child.

We failed feminism (in the true sense of the word) by privileging white women over Aboriginal women, by not backing protests like Idle No More and not holding our government accountable for the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women murdered or unaccounted for.

We cannot move forward if we don’t address this. We can’t stand in solidarity if we don’t understand how some women in Canada aren’t afforded the same luxuries like access to m​enstrual supplies​, which has been preventing girls in Northern Saskatchewan from attending school, or the high rates of suicide​ and sexual abuse​ on reserves. And if you feel removed from these struggles, it’s because you’re privileged; but one can fight against that feeling of apathy.

It’s important to recognize and understand that your privilege doesn’t negate your own struggles. We all have overcome obstacles, which might feel overlooked in the current political landscape. However, it’s necessary to empathize with others with the notion that sentiment will be returned. That is the true meaning of solidarity.

We never imagined a country like America would backtrack the way it has since the election, but we can’t dismiss that our own government, or those in power, do not have similar ideologies.

A couple of current examples are conservative MP Kellie Leitch​, who commended Trump on his victory, and ​Kevin O’Leary, a venture capitalist who wants to “make C​anada great again. This glittery facade that Leitch and O’Leary want to bring to Canada is nothing more than campaign jargon, which hides the real struggles we face everyday.

When we march today, we are marching for all women. And in order to fight against patriarchy, misogyny and sexism, we must recognize our privilege within society.

It begins with educating ourselves on what needs to be done for the advancement of women because it isn’t necessarily broad or all-encompassing. It’s understanding the disenfranchisement of Indigenous women, it’s protecting the religious rights of Muslim women, it’s providing understanding and empathy towards women who work in the sex trade.

So nasty women it’s time to take a cue from Beyonce and get into formation.

Rebecca Henderson

About

Rebecca Henderson is a freelance writer and comedian, living in Winnipeg. She enjoys a glass of red wine when helping dismantle the patriarchy.

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