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Transformative Ideas

Why the World Needs Feminism, NOW

Photo by Jimena Roquero

Upon my last check-in with my daughter to see how her online exam went, I learned that her pet Betta fish, Obie, had died. With as much compassion as I could muster, I said, “How? What happened?”

“Fin rot,” she replied. “But I got a new one.” She told me she went online and had her replacement pet delivered by a local breeder—in a bag of water in a box—curbside for a fee of $5. “That’s how it’s done nowadays, Mom.”

This little anecdote got me thinking about how much our day-to-day lives have changed since COVID-19 impounded us in our homes. And yet how so little has changed at the who we are as a civilization level.

For instance, while small businesses scramble to reinvent themselves to survive and 26 million Americans lost their jobs, US billionaires somehow added $308 billion to their wealth.

It is this paradox, not the threat of contracting COVID-19, that keeps me up at night.

On a street level, it is heartwarming to see community-led mutual aid networks popping up over night, especially in cultures where individualism ruled. I love that people are using this pause to rediscover homesteading crafts such as baking and pickling. As a feminist, I have found it validating that the corporate media has been, for a change, reporting on the women-dominated need economy (health, food, caregiving) and local enterprises more than the greed economy. It is exciting to hear people talking about wanting to emerge, post-lockdown, into a “new normal” rather than returning to the status quo.

Tactics in the air include reducing carbon-spewing business travel and excess consumerism; increasing work-from-home options and reimagining education (ideally without surveillance technology); shortening supply chains (good for local enterprise); rethinking housing and rental agreements to accommodate micro-communes consisting of perhaps two to three couples with kids and elders versus the traditional nuclear family; and accelerating the mainstreaming of urban agriculture.

These initiatives are all good for people, local economies, and the planet.

But will these small changes lead to the kind of fundamental, civilization-level overhaul required for everyone—and Mother Earth—to survive the the coming “Black Swan” era let alone flourish?

We have witnessed first-hand in recent months that when those with power and political will are tightly aligned, we can move our socially constructed walls and mountains, poof, just like magic. Our sense of what’s possible has changed. But what’s probable? There, the jury is out. I suspect we will still have to fight—despite one hand tied behind our backs due to COVID-19—to advance foundational levels of change-like gender equity and equality globally.

The feminist movement, in all it’s diversity, is needed now more than ever.

If we look to the past as a teacher, the roots of patriarchy and its persistent, enabling systems have survived all major global shocks: world wars, famines, numerous pandemics, depression, recessions, and even progressive revolutions. While the most oppressed and distressed among us—plus a handful of well-positioned women—are tossed a new deal or human right in the thick of the crisis, the same old systems of inequality and dehumanization bulldoze through, creating an even greater inequality and bringing the world to the brink of environmental collapse.

Sadly, early indicators that this pandemic “pause” could be the tipping point we have been waiting for accelerate social, political, economic, and environmental stewardship change needed are not encouraging.

Illustration by Graham D Brown, World Future Society

Reality Check #1: Patriarchal-Enabled Violence is on the Rise

Feminist organizations around the world predicted that domestic, gender-based violence (the “shadow pandemic”) would skyrocket—and it has. Reporting countries show increases as high as 200 percent since COVID-19 lockdowns began. In Canada, calls to domestic crisis hotlines early on increased by up to 300 percent and are now reported to have decreased; women in isolation find it hard to get to the phone when he’s at home all the time, along with the kids.

This month, Canada suffered its worst mass murder in history when a Nova Scotia man assaulted his female partner and then went on a 12-hour-plus shooting spree, killing 22. A group, Nova Scotian Feminists Fighting Femicide, pointed out in a press release that “most mass murders begin with violence in the home. It is often wives, partners, and children of men who kill who are their first victims . . . it is now clear that the murderer began with acts of torture and violence toward the murderer’s female partner.” Sickeningly, one male tweeted this explainer: “Push a man to the edge and shit happens. Never any mention of what women were doing to provoke this.” There were a lot more tweets like this that followed.

Misogyny—expressed in the form of domestic violence—remains deeply embedded across all cultures and countries around the globe. And it is flourishing along with the virus.

Patriarchy enables and validates the propagation of toxic masculinity that deforms men and kills women. At present, media and governments are broadly acknowledging the scourge. Opinion leaders talk about the need for more funding for shelters and higher pay for frontline workers but say nothing about what it will take to dismantle the root cause, patriarchy.

Reality Check #2: Tech Surveillance Tightens

We pay a price for the privilege of citizenship. We disclose a lot about our personal identity in return for benefits such as health care, financial support, and legal protection. Will the price soon be cell-phone tracking surveillance while inside your home? Or perhaps even a chip embedded in our bodies to track our virus status and every physical movement?

According to The Guardian, “Governments in at least 25 countries are employing vast programmes for mobile data tracking, apps to record personal contact with others, CCTV networks equipped with facial recognition, permission schemes to go outside and drones to enforce social isolation regimes.”

Corporations have already been electronically mining, harvesting, and reselling our personal information to increase their wealth and power over us. Think of what they will lobby for next under the guise of public safety.

As a leading indicator, Google recently announced a new advertiser policy that, in the near future, will suspend the accounts of advertisers who do not provide proof of identity, including W9 forms, passports, and other personal identification and business incorporation files. That’s a corporate grab at a level of personal data and now private company ownership data that puts Google on par with governments. Or would that be “Google-ments”?

AI technology can be leveraged as a tool to benefit our world, but never forget that male-dominated and governed tech companies built the network on which it relies, a network that is now growing up and teaching itself to “think” like their creators: a privileged, mostly white, patriarchal man.

Reality Check #3: New Pandemic Power Grabs Entrench Old Systems

Turns out, the one-percenters somehow easily generate more of it during pandemic times. Meanwhile, the next level down, the 10 percenters, are working hard from their lakeside cottages lobbying #MeToo for their share of government business subsidies.

Some of this activity makes the news (see the growth of billionaire wealth in COVID-19 times). But some of it doesn’t. Might as well see it all.

For example, during an ordinary April Zoom meeting between the National Angel Capital Organization of Canada (NACO) and Mélanie Joly, who serves as Canada’s Minister for Economic Development, one investor complained about how much time and effort he had to put into coach startups for no wages. His recommendation and ask from Minister Joly? The government should adopt a COVID-19 policy to support accredited angel investors (read: millionaires) by matching their investments in high potential startups (read: disruptive tech) to the tune of 30 percent (approximately $43.5M based on last year’s collective investment number) to help angels like him avoid losses. NACO also suggests it should be the arbiter of what startups should receive these matching public funds, suggesting those funds would flow only to “high potential” vetted startups participating in their “accredited” 40-member incubators. Problem is, there are 200-plus amazing incubators and growth accelerators in Canada if you include independent, women-focused, Indigenous, newcomer, and social enterprise programs.

We need to support startups. And angel investors play an important role in their development. But we don’t need public money, once again, disproportionately going towards the male-dominated startup-oriented investors, incubators and accelerators who favour extreme growth, venture-capital oriented startups. Recent studies tell us clearly how status-quo thinking in this space turns out for this nation’s one-million-plus equally aspiring and talented women entrepreneurs innovating differently in largely undervalued essential sectors.

Note that there is a precedent for direct support. In 2018, the Canadian Women’s Enterprise Strategy fund processed 3,000 applications and deployed $30 million directly to qualifying women-majority-owned and -led startups and early-stage enterprises in record time. We know how to do this.

So, how do we advance a brighter future?

We start by acknowledging grief. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions more may well, whether from COVID-19 or the economic devastation that has yet to land. We have suffered massive fear and a deep-system shock that has revealed how terribly vulnerable our patriarchal economies and governments have made us.

Understandably, immediate policy and strategy ideas will come from a place of denial, anger, and bargaining for a time. And some of these, like investing in the care economy, will go a long way to improve resilience, advance equity, and better individual lives.

But sooner than later, we will need to turn our attention back to the root causes of suffering. What values, visions, and ideas that have been repeatedly pushed aside as too radical and unaffordable do we take more seriously now? What do we resource and what needs to fall away? And how do we deal with the middle millions, used to being insulated by privilege, who are now outraged and no longer comfortably numb by the sweeping changes to the status quo that worked so well for them, at least, for so long?

So, as solutionary feminists, we need to consider: What does feminism and feminist work look like in a post-COVID-19 world (increased collaboration with other intersecting social change movements)? What advocacy tools and skills do we need to develop in a world where gathering becomes luxury (digital activism)? And how can my personal superpower be of service?

Then, we must gather up the wisdom of generations before us, the spiritual depth of our superhero goddesses, the strength of the sisterhood and we must press our feet to the ground and get running.

Because we must emerge from this rupture working fiercely to make the kind of deep foundational change required to achieve, finally, equality between genders, and between people and the planet.

Or, put another way, we must create the conditions that enable all people and the planet to flourish.

This is, and always has been, the purpose of feminism.

As author Sarah Ahmed wrote in Living A Feminist Life, “It’s sweaty work.”

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