by Myrrhanda Novak
It’s important to acknowledge how far women in the developed world have come in the past 100 years. We’ve gone from being considered men’s property to, well, where we are today. Still, we also need to acknowledge that we have further to go to achieve full equality in our workplaces, in our families and certainly in other parts of the world. It’s not a burden, it’s an exciting opportunity to continue the work done by those before us. If you’re not sure how to be a part of the change, here are some ideas to help you recognize that you – yes, you – are a crucial part of creating a feminist future.
GET IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
If you watched any one of the recent Royal Weddings, you may have noticed that there were no wedding dresses in the driver’s seat of the get-away cars. Imagine the reaction if feminist Meagen Merkle refused to ride shotgun to her groom. What if she had opened the passenger door for Prince Harry and then driven the car herself? It would have been international news. We’ve been programmed to expect that men will always drive when accompanied by a woman, but have you ever asked yourself why?
Men are possibly four times as likely to commit a motoring offence than women, suggests recent research. And far more men are guilty of driving distracted, according to a 2018 survey by Smith's Lawyers. So let’s ditch the old stereotype that men are better drivers and take some initiative to get behind the wheel, even when driving with a man.
MAKE ROOM FOR MEN IN THE ‘WOMEN’S WORLD’
We know that many women are working high-level jobs outside the home and still doing the majority of the house keeping and family management. This can create an unhealthy imbalance in relationships that can often lead to women resenting their partners. But we need to ask ourselves how we might be contributing to this imbalance. Do you expect everything to be done your way? Do you nag your spouse to finish a task and then just complete it yourself? If we stop over-managing our home affairs, we may find there's more room for our partner's full participation. (See Six Ways to Improve Your Relationship Equality for more on this topic.)
LEAN IN AND KNOW YOUR WORTH
When it comes to top leadership positions and average salary, there are still significant gaps between women and men in Canada. Recent census data shows that women with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, close to $30,000 less per year than men with the same level of education. So, if you haven’t already, take some time to determine if you are fairly compensated compared with your male peers. In their book, “Ask For It,” Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever advise that when you do decide to ask for a raise, be strategic - go into the conversation with your boss confident and well-informed.
If you are at a point in your career where you are experienced in salary negotiations or perhaps influence salary decisions, consider becoming a mentor to women starting out, or if necessary, speak out against a gender gap in your workplace.
MODEL EQUALITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN
I remember a male friend at summer camp once telling me that I should wash his dishes because I was a woman. I don’t think he had ever seen his father (or grandpa or uncle) wash dishes, and in his mind, this was something men didn’t have to do. It’s important for both parents to ensure that their children hear and see them share home responsibilities.
Of course, feminism is more than sharing housework. We can have meaningful conversations with our kids about why it is important to use inclusive language in our national anthem or about how women are viewed and treated in some parts of the world and what we can do to help. Consider discussing gender stereotypes and the different expectations for boys and girls – you may be surprised what your kids have observed.
OFFER YOUR PARTNER YOUR LAST NAME
Men are still so unlikely to take their wives’ last name, that Portland State University researchers called it a “micropractice.” As more women pursue influential careers and marry later in life, they are increasingly aware of what they might lose by changing their name after marriage. Though this has resulted in more women hyphenating their names, or keeping their names unchanged, it has done little to increase the frequency of men changing their names. But if a couple wants to share the same last name, doesn’t the option of taking the woman’s last name at least warrant a conversation?
Truthfully, that was not on the table when I got engaged 14 years ago. My now husband would have been hurt if I had refused to take his last name, and I can understand why. I had been raised to take my husband’s name, and he had been raised to expect that I would take it.
Now that we’re raising two boys together, we have discussed the importance of teaching them about the different possibilities. Old practices won’t change until personal and public expectations change. It’s truly powerful to teach our kids that it does not need to be how it has always been. Reaching equality requires having conversations we haven’t had before.
THE FINAL WORD
Even if you think the idea of men taking their wives’ last names is absurd, feminism also means teaching girls in Afghanistan to read, helping women in Canada escape human trafficking and providing healthcare to new moms in India. Contributing to positive change can be as easy as donating $5 per month to a good cause. No need to burn your bra, just find a way to get involved.