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The f-word came up a few weeks ago and now it seems I cannot get away from it…

When I started this doctoral program to research the gender balance in engineering question, I wanted to completely avoid the f-word. In fact, during my final presentation at the end of the first residency period, I said outright that I am not a feminist. A feminist would want to be known as a female engineer but my greatest wish is that I am no longer introduced that way. I’m just an engineer.

I thought the feminists had done their work. Those militant women in the 60s and 70s had won us the vote, the right to stand up for ourselves, and the right to free and fair employment. I have a good paying job, I have three beautiful children and a loving husband, I have the freedom to pursue higher education, and I can walk safely down the street (in most neighbourhoods, but then even my husband wouldn’t walk in the ones I feel unsafe). What more needs to be done? 

Well, I have become aware of something going on today that makes me uncomfortable: young women are not safe. They are not free to pursue careers in any field.  They are not receiving equal pay for equal work. They do not have the same opportunities for career advancement. They cannot walk safely down the street in all parts of this land.

How can this be? There appears to be nothing stopping them. At least nothing overt… Until last fall, I was completely unaware of the rape culture at most post-secondary institutions, even in my safe corner of the world.

So, just last week, I chatted about feminism (yes, I can actually say the word, now) with my daughters and a couple of their friends, all in their 20s. They finally told me how surprised they were that I had not been calling myself a feminist when I am so clearly concerned about and conducting research on women’s issues. Apparently, there are several waves of feminism, the first being that militant one, so familiar to me, in which women won the vote. I apparently belong to the second wave: I benefited from equal rights legislation and remember so well the protests of the era. But today’s third wave seems to be more focused on sexuality. This makes me uncomfortable, yet perhaps my discomfort is a good sign of my ability to learn. I am reading more about feminism. And I am starting to understand what is happening today.

So, while the feminism discussion only came up for me a few weeks ago, I am obviously part of it and am willing to continue to be part of the continuing change that needs to happen. 


Further Reading:

Rampton, M. (2008). The Three Waves of Feminism. Pacific: the magazine of Pacific University. Retrieved from http://archive.pacificu.edu/magazine_archives/2008/fall/echoes/feminism.cfm 

Ridgway, S. (2014). 25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture. Magazine: Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/ 

Wente, M. (2014). Women against #WomenAgainstFeminism. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/women-against-womenagainstfeminism/article19970342/ 

Wilby, R. (2013). What happens when militant student feminists grow up? The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10146895/What-happens-when-militant-student-feminists-grow-up.html