Feminism wins must spread beyond the West
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 28 August 2018)

Feminist principles, passionately expressed, have in recent decades created wonderfully impressive social change. They have transformed the structure of our society by changing public beliefs about the abilities, needs and desires of women. The effect on social equality in North America has been stunning.

In the 1950s, when I accepted a job at a magazine with a female editor, a leading Toronto journalist of the day made a point of telling me he could never, ever work for a woman. I thought him old-fashioned but didn't imagine I would see the day when a remark like his would be simply outlandish, a long-forgotten notion from the past, offensive as well as antiquated.

In the 1970s the late Christina McCall argued that feminists should work for the day when women would fill half the seats in Parliament. Her friends thought that far too ambitious, but today it's entirely possible.

These triumphs have affected our governments, industry, education and everyday life - and for the better. But feminist principles, as usually described, apply to all women, not just those in this part of the world. Feminists, male as well as female, have learned a great deal about the art of changing opinions. Now, perhaps, they can develop a global focus and try to raise the standards of the many places where women and girls are victimized.

Consider Turkey, for example. About four out of 10 girls under 18 in Turkey are forced into marriage. A government commission recently suggested that, according to Islamic law, girls as young as nine could marry. Turkey's former president, Abdullah Gül, co-founder of the party that has ruled Turkey since 2002, was 30 when he married his 15-year-old bride. Apparently Gül received nothing but congratulations.

Or consider India. Women are not encouraged to seek jobs and the independence that often comes with a career. It's the common view that a family enhances its status if a married woman stays at home. A poll shows that a large majority of Indians believe that men have more right to a job than women if jobs are scarce. The percentage of women who are employed is shrinking even as the Indian economy expands.

What can feminists in the West do about this and the many limitations on the opportunities of women around the world? They can do what they know how to do -- change the quality of thinking about women, alter the intellectual air everywhere. They can speak, research and argue. They can hold meetings, make films, publish books. They can focus on one issue at a time, bringing it to the attention of the whole world.

The suffragettes in the early 20th century announced that they would win by "deeds, not words." They broke windows, fought with police, invaded Parliament, disrupted elections, got imprisoned and went on famous hunger strikes. One of them attacked with an axe Velázquez's Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery. They had 600 branches all over Britain but they grew unpopular. It was easy to dismiss them as hoodlums, which conservative men were glad to do.

The feminists of recent years never promised to deliver "words not deeds," but that's what they did. They exchanged their experiences and observations until they were sure they understood the issues, then made demands that always seemed more or less reasonable, never beyond possibility.

Rather than worry about offending nations whose religions demean women, feminists should campaign to improve the lives of women everywhere. Perhaps Canadian feminists will want to follow our foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, who outraged the easily offended Saudi Arabians by criticizing their plan to execute several women's rights activists for their non-violent protests against the regime. In any global feminist campaign, life in Saudi Arabia will be carefully studied.

Return to the List of Robert Fulford's Columns

Return to Robert Fulford's Home Page
typewriter image