Feminism feels like it's more top of mind than ever before, at least in my lifetime. A day rarely goes by without stumbling upon an inspiring video clip or discovering a new organization aimed at advancing rights for women. It's a wonderful time to be a woman but also an era where feminism is changing, perhaps evolving into a completely different narrative. At least it should be.
By definition, feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. While sadly this still defines the struggle women are facing in much of world, feminism has taken on new meaning for me. At 37 years old I certainly will never know the struggle or adversity faced by women of my mothers or grandmother's generation. Which is why I think it's my responsibility to take the tools made available to me because of those brave women and do my best to strengthen the momentum.
The idea that feminism would still be relevant to my generation never really dawned on me growing up. My mom worked. Both my parents maintained that I could be whatever I wanted to be. As far as I was concerned, the sky was the limit -- not a proverbial glass ceiling -- because that's all I knew.
The Canadian federal election in 1997 was my first opportunity to vote, having turned 18 the previous year. I'll never forget my mom excitedly coming with me to our local polling station and taking a photo of me before heading inside to cast my vote. When I asked her why she was making such a fuss, she reminded me that women didn't always have to right to vote in Canada. And many women around the world still don't. It was important to her that I understand the weight of what I was about to do because so many women before me didn't even have the option.
As I entered my twenties and began my career, I don't remember ever feeling like my male counterparts had an edge over me professionally simply because they were men. The male leaders I've worked with have, for the most part, been champions of women. But as my career progressed, I understood this wasn't always the case. I had friends -- educated, ambitious, talented women -- who were asked to perform degrading tasks for their male bosses or who were never considered for plum roles or promotions simply because they weren't part of the boy's club. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.
I've also worked alongside a lot of inspiring, successful female leaders. In fact, the company I work for now has an executive made up almost exclusively of women. I know that's not the norm, but thankfully in 2016 it does and can happen.
What led me to revisit my experience with feminism was my 23-year-old sister, who recently asked for career advice. When I really thought about what helped me to advance in my career or successfully land an opportunity I was pursuing, it was to simply ask for it. This is where I see the shift in narrative taking place. It's not a matter of whether or not women are capable of succeeding in whatever field they choose. That's not the debate anymore. It's about women understanding what they're worth and feeling OK about asking for it.
I encouraged my sister to come to the table with a plan. Show how she would tackle the job in the first 90 days. Set some goals and demonstrate how her skillset will drive results, while highlighting past successes. Right then I understood how important it is to teach our girls to articulate their value and to unapologetically go out there and ask for what they're worth.
I'll use Jennifer Lawrence as an example, not because her income level is particularly relatable, but because she said something in an essay she wrote for Lenny Letter that rang true. When the Sony emails were hacked and it was revealed that Lawrence wasn't compensated as well as her male co-stars, she admitted she didn't negotiate as hard as she could have. Given her star power in Hollywood at the moment, she's most certainly in a position to ask for the same compensation, if not more, than many of the men she's co-starred with. She writes that she didn't ask for more because she didn't want to seem "difficult or spoiled." It made me think, maybe income inequality wouldn't be the issue it is today if women felt comfortable to simply ask for what they're worth.
Last year I had the opportunity to see author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem speak at an event promoting her latest book, My Life on the Road. Someone from the audience asked her what we should be doing to advance the feminist movement. And her answer has stayed with me: Educate our girls and boys that there should be no gender imbalance. Do our best to encourage the next generation of women to feel empowered to pursue what they want and ask for what they're worth. Continue to have that dialogue until the idea that women were once paid less than men for equal work seems just as strange as not having the right to vote did for me when I was 18.
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