My first article for TamilFeminist and as the first male contributor too. I’m honored to be invited to join the collective.

Why Feminism Was and Is Still Important: Especially for Men

Posted on: June 12th, 2013

Why Feminism Was and Is Still Important: Especially for Men

June 8, 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the death of British suffragette Emily Wilding Davison[1]. The suffragette militant died from fatal injuries received while disrupting the King’s horse at the Epson Downs’ Derby on June 4, 1913. Davison had wrapped two suffragette flags around herself and ran onto the racetrack in an attempt to bring attention to the women’s suffrage movement, a movement demanding that women have an equal right to vote and hold political office. In 1918, suffragettes won the right to vote in English Canada; 1920 in the United States; 1928 throughout the United Kingdom; 1931 in colonial Ceylon; 1940 in Quebec; independence in 1947 brought universal suffrage for Pakistan and India, which followed the 1921 partial suffrage gained in the Madras Presidency. These constitutional victories occurred only within the last 100 years, during the lives of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers; my own maternal grandmother was born 1923 in Ceylon.

While most countries have full women’s suffrage today, the struggle for women’s equality is still as relevant as it was in Davison’s day. As evidenced by the abolition of legal slavery and the ending of formal colonialism, the end of formal political discrimination against women only exposed the deeper system of economic exploitation and social violence that had underpinned the political marginalization of women. Constitutional reforms may have improved the lives of a few wealthy and privileged women but left the majority of working class women unaffected: working class women such as my grandmother who struggled to support her family while her husband struggled with illness, because all the best jobs were reserved for men; women such as my mother who lost her opportunity to finish school because as the oldest daughter she was expected to stay home and help raise her siblings while her mother worked, even though she was as bright and ambitious as, if not more, than her brothers; or the women of Tamil Eelam targeted by the Sri Lankan state’s campaign of sexual violence and murder to silence any political dissent to the Sinhala chauvinist colonial project.

We still need feminism because it’s not much different today in Canada where a white woman on average only makes 70.5% of what a man makes. The wage gap[2] is even wider for women of colour earning 64% and aboriginal women 46% of what men make. We need feminists when countries like Venezuela recognize the non-salaried labour of housewives as productive work and extend state pensions to include them[3], but Canada still prefers to leave housewives dependent on their husband’s pensions for retirement; or that nearly half of all women in Canada will be the victims of sexual and physical violence[4], with a quarter living in perpetual fear of violence[5], which is all underpinned by Canada’s own colonial campaign of rape and murder of aboriginal women. This system of oppression and control, manifested by patriarchy, is what feminists continue to struggle against.

Beyond the fact that an injury to one is an injury to all, why should patriarchy matter to Tamil men? Patriarchy has repercussions for men. One of the foundations of patriarchy is the segregation of people into binary social relationships of man/woman. While patriarchy demands that women be submissive and subordinate, patriarchy designates that men must be aggressive and dominant. Folan labels this narrow and limiting binary the ‘gender straightjacket’ and attributes to it the growing trends of men falling behind in academic achievement, having problems with alcoholism, engaging in higher risk behaviours, facing more conflicts with the law, becoming victims of violent crimes, and suffering higher rates of depression and suicide[6].

Closer to home in Toronto, working class communities such as Tamils are haunted by the spectre of youth violence, such as the Danzig shooting. To not join feminists in challenging patriarchy is to allow young Tamil men to grow up thinking that to be a man is to be aggressive, dominant, and violent. To allow such a patriarchal ethos to fester in young Tamil men who are already constantly being antagonized, dehumanized, and marginalized by a racist-capitalist system is to create the explosive mix that leads to deadly gun violence in the community. While wealthier and more privileged communities can mediate patriarchy by ritualized and controlled displays of violence and dominance among their youth such as through sports, working class communities can only save their youth by confronting patriarchy and other root causes. We can no longer collectively absolve ourselves as Tamil youth unleash their anger and frustrations against each other and against women. We can no longer pretend that such violence is something that happens to ‘other communities’ or that the community has finally moved past the era of rampant gang violence started in the 1990s. Young Tamil brothers are still dying violently including in two[7] separate shootings in the Eaton Centre and Cabbage Town[8]. If, as a community, Tamils want to end the flow of tears and blood, we must not only support Tamil feminist’s struggles against patriarchy, but as Tamil men we must also become allies and take up our own struggle against patriarchy.

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[1]Kira Cochrane, “The Gaurdian,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/29/nine-lessons-suffragettes-feminists (accessed June 3, 2013)

[3]Thomas Ponniah, “Common Dreams,” https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/05/17-3  (accessed June 6, 2013)

[4]“Toronto Police Service,” http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/sexcrimes/sas/statistics.php (accessed June 4, 2013)

[5]“Government of Canada,” http://www.victimsweek.gc.ca/res/r52.html (accessed June 4, 2013)

[6]Peter Folan, “The Good Men Project,” http://goodmenproject.com/education-2/unlocking-the-gender-straightjacket/ (accessed May 24, 2013)

[8]    As of writing, a third Tamil man has been gunned down in Scarborough. Because of the unclear motivations and circumstances for the shooting, the third shooting has not been grouped with the first two youth murders.

Andrew Livingston, “The Star,” http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/30/morningside_and_finch_shooting_leaves_one_man_dead.html (accessed June 9, 2013)

It was challenging to strike the right tone for this, the first ever article I’ve written on feminism. I got some critique on my early drafts that I had been extremely liberal. I have to acknowledge that when it comes to feminism I do turn into bit of a liberal because I’m still pretty new to the theory. Thanks for all the comrades who gave me feedback.

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