How to Kill Feminism

Feminism is the largest, oldest gender equality movement on the planet. Despite its complexity, setbacks and attacks by counter-movements it persists and pervades. Why?




Photo by Vinopa Sivakumar

Well the good news is, you can’t kill feminism.

Many have tried and still are trying. From Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s, to the likes of Jordan Peterson, Suzanne Venker, and Penny Nance who have also discovered that, unlike advocating for feminism, working to crush feminism has become a fast way to get an audience and make serious cash. But they will ultimately fail.

Here is why.

Because feminism lives in our hearts—not our pocketbooks.

It’s always a surprise to me to learn how few people realize feminism is both a gender equality movement and a set of values which serves to unleash undervalued human potential; its origins are rooted in compassion and love. From Maya Angelou to Louise Arbour to Zunera Ishaq, its history sparkles with stunning stories about overcoming man-made odds and finding the courage to speak truth to power despite searing personal risk. Though the mountain that feminists must negotiate to drive change is steep, rubbled, and treacherous, not to mention career and income limiting, its ethos is learning-centred, innovation-led and entrepreneurial– punctuated by brilliant bursts of Schumer-esque killer insight and humour along the way.

Feminism realizes that what humanity has today is not even close to having it all. Its passion for realizing the benefits of fresh alternatives to current systems is what fuels its persistence to ascend again and again—like Tomoyuki Tanaka’s gender non-confirming Godzilla, also a mother, who rises from the sea with a vengeance to defeat man-made monsters designed to do nothing but destroy and empower its masters.

If It Ain’t Working, Why Is It Still Here?

Against a backdrop of disruptive technological and political change in the past 100 years, women’s place in society has evolved little by comparison. We have cryptocurrency and driverless cars, but gender equality somehow still eludes us. There remains little appreciation for cultivating the power of the feminine in all of us. Bro culture operates like The Nothing in the movie The Neverending Story and is now even darkening the shores of the emerging cannabis industry—an industry built largely not by stoner-hippie, man-boy, Cheech & Chong types but professional and health-sector based entrepreneurial women inspired by its healing and wellness properties.

The winning political slogan these days is “Make (insert a regressive idea here) great again.” Its adherents dismiss the concerns of feminism. And, while some women (mostly the culturally or economically privileged ones) have enjoyed more opportunity in recent decades, the vast majority of them, as well as gender non-conformists, continue to struggle against entrenched cultural bias that systemically devalues them and strips away their potential to contribute to improving our world.

Setbacks, in any fight for deep change, are commonplace.

Fortunately, the feminism movement is robust, resilient and, look out, tech-enabled. The movement’s integrative thinkers learn at the speed of the latest AI bot. Its tiny but mighty organizations competently leverage full-stack development concepts to amplify its impact. Effective feminism at the same time wisely uses 18th-century change-making chisels such as encouraging face-to-face dialogue and promoting evidence-based critical thought and constructive discourse. The movement charges into the 21st century thoroughly intersectional, inclusive, and multicultural, which in these challenging times empowers feminism to spread and build community like commensal lichens. Today, feminism is an all-gender movement. It is an open-source, multi-node, and networked operating system that makes the loins of Linux enthusiasts actually quiver.

Feminism isn’t a goal post. It’s a set of values, a way of thinking, a nurturing community, and a way of living. That’s how it endures even when obstacles continue to crop up and progress seems slow.

Levelling Up: Introducing the Feminist City

What might a whole feminist city achieve if current grassroots feminist communities, media, enterprise, and art collectives successfully helped its members thrive and flourish in ways that are impossible within the dominant system? What if we all worked to advance feminist values?

Back in the 1990s, academic Richard Florida made a name for himself by introducing the idea that dying cities can turn themselves around by attracting creative class workers to drive economic growth. His theory? Cities or regions that embraced differences, supported innovation, and enabled human development and wellness would attract the creative class who in turn would attract new investment to the city thereby unleashing new economic growth. While scholars debated the specific index’s metrics, the theory, when put into practice in dying rust belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit, apparently worked.

Can we make the same argument for feminist cities? Can we replace Florida’s three Ts (talent, technology, and tolerance) with the three Es: equity, equality, and eclectic? If cultural capital drives wellness and growth, could feminist capital do the same?

If we think about these three Es and the underlying metrics, one could argue that Toronto might well be on its way to becoming a leading global feminist city. First off, Toronto is in Canada, which already ranks high on global gender equality indexes. This gives us a decided advantage even over the U.S.’s “best” feminist cities.

But there’s more. Toronto is home to long-established feminist organizations as well as new initiatives such as Ilene Sova’s Feminist Art Collective (2013); T.O.FemCo Toronto Feminist Collective (2015); Sarah Kaplan’s Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management (2016); the first Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (2017); Gender Equality Network (2017); Aerin Fogel’s Venus Fest (2017); Canada’s first self-identified feminist hotel, Gladstone; and the world’s first and now annual Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum (2017).

Toronto is also home to the now global SheEO initiative (2015), The Big Push (2016), a women-led investment fund, and a long list of other initiatives that seek to rebalance access to startup incubators and venture capital for women entrepreneurs. We also have new feminist media including Nasty Women’s Press (2017), GUTS magazine (2015) and, of course, LiisBeth (2016), which, in two years, has profiled more than 40 feminist entrepreneurs who rock this city.

Does feminist capital matter? To draw a direct link would take funded research (hint, hint). But we do know that Toronto is one of the top-performing cities in the world on several measures. Coincidence? We think not.

If feminist capital can be linked to social wellness and economic prosperity, killing or even diminishing feminism should a crime.

Has a Feminist Epoch Finally Arrived?

Against atrocities like the internment of children in the U.S., scary displays of bro-culture fist bumps between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, the recently tallied declining numbers of women CEOs in 2018, and rollbacks on environmental and equity-oriented policy in Ontario, the fact is feminism looks better than ever. It may well be the defining movement of this century. Yes, we have Trumpification spreading around the globe plus mini-me Ford Nation. But fellow feminists everywhere, take heart. Hobbes’s Leviathan may be in the house. But Godzilla has been called out of the sea. And ze is a feminist.

If we persist, there will be no slithering back.

Additional Reading

Another Brick in the Wall: Anti-Feminists in Canada

When a Catalyst Becomes an Inhibitor

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