On International Women’s Day, Sophie Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called for women to “celebrate the boys and men in [their] lives.” Her controversial Facebook post included a picture of herself and her husband holding hands and an invitation for others to post photos of themselves and a male ally doing the same. I believe that Trudeau had only the best intentions with this post that was meant to encourage male involvement in the battle for gender equality. However well-intentioned as she may have been, Trudeau’s comments reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of International Women’s Day.
For many of us here in America, the 2016 presidential election provided jarring proof of the dismal state of gender equality in our country. We live in a country where powerful women are automatically ‘bitches’ and a large number of people are willing to rally behind a president who condones a man’s unrestricted access to a woman’s body. When girls and women even in a supposedly modern country have to endure systematic abuse and discrimination it becomes more important than ever that we remind ourselves of our strength. For me, International Women’s Day serves as a monument to remind women that they have a right to personal safety and achievement as individuals. When Trudeau says that we should celebrate the men “who encourage us to be who we truly are,” it implies that we need their blessing in order to feel comfortable expressing ourselves. Yes, we all need support and encouragement at times. It is only human to desire encouragement to complete a particularly difficult task or to take a risk to achieve a long-held dream, but do women really need encouragement from men to simply be?
Trudeau then goes on to say that we should use International Women’s Day to celebrate men who “treat girls and women with respect.” I would like to think that treating all human beings with respect would be an act that society demands from all of its citizens. I don’t get celebrated for paying my taxes on time, listening to my boss or respecting my male peers, because these are all behaviors that are simply expected of me as a functioning citizen. Claiming that we should celebrate men for respecting women either greatly diminishes the rights of women or the faculties of men.
One could argue that this critique of Trudeau’s post is largely based on semantics and to a certain extent that is true. But the fact that even a well-educated former journalist advocating for a feminist movement managed to employ ideas and language that diminish the strength of
women proves just how deeply patriarchy is engrained in our everyday lives. This is not to say that semantics like this are the problem, but they are a symptom of the real issue. If society continues to condone violence against women and to place value on quiet, well-behaved women who “rarely make history” then women will continue to be abused and dismissed. The only way to stop these more serious symptoms of institutionalized patriarchy is to reinvent the paradigm that was founded on those very notions of inequality.
Though I am among those who find Trudeau’s remarks at odds with the spirit of International Women’s Day, her idea of welcoming men to the fight for equality is an admirable one. As Wellesley alum Hillary Clinton asserted, “women’s rights are human rights,” so of course the feminist movement should welcome warriors of all genders. That being said, I still believe that it is important for women to lead the calls for reform. The act of women taking their own power back is almost as important as actually having it. If the world were to simply wake up one day and acknowledge that women deserve just treatment, then nothing would have been done to disrupt the societal structure that put women in such a position in the first place. I suppose my point here is that though the fight is unfair and may seem impossible, it is crucial that we continue to fight it.
International Women’s Day should be a day not only to stand in solidarity, but also to celebrate all of the incredible things that we as women are capable of despite the state of our society: fantastic feats of strength, thought and compassion. We should be able to embrace our identity without the need to thank men for allowing us to do so.