03/08/2017 03:57 EST | Updated 03/08/2017 03:57 EST

Stop Shaming Advocates For Not Being The Right Kind Of 'Feminist'

Reading and watching the stories arising around International Women's Week, I was struck by the divisiveness around the meaning of feminism and how it translates into behaviour. Emma Watson, who is a passionate advocate for feminism, was criticized for her Vanity Fair poses.

Articles also regularly question whether Justin Trudeau is a feminist or a hypocrite (depending on his actions on a particular day). Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is currently being criticized for suggesting that women thank the men in their lives and hold their hands on International Women's Day.

I am an advocate for equality and advancement of women. To me, feminism and feminists speak to this desire for equality, recognizing that we have not achieved equality until both women and men can fully achieve their potential without discrimination and barriers.

Although we have made progress, equality for women has not been fully achieved anywhere in the world. In many countries women are still subjected to forced marriage, violence, and exclusion from education and decision-making in their homes, communities and governments. In Canada, women are still subjected to violence in their homes, there are many missing and murdered aboriginal women, we do not have earnings parity, nor are we equitably represented in leadership roles or on boards.

Does posing for Vanity Fair make Emma Watson any less a feminist or an advocate for women's equality? Not in my books, unless there is a rigid code of behaviour that is required of feminists. Over the years, feminists have marched in the streets, burned bras, refused to wear make-up and excluded men, along with many other approaches. Restricting acceptable behaviour seems counter to the idea of feminism, which should give women the choice of how they express their personality and feminine side.

If I choose to bare my upper body hidden behind a justice's robe, as did former Prime Minister Kim Campbell when she was justice minister, should that disqualify me from being a feminist? I believe it is time to accept there are multiple ways to express our support for equality and be able to fully express our selves in any way that is legal. If feminism demands a particular code of behaviour, we will be recreating all of the behavioural norms that have kept women from achieving equality over the decades.

Women were once supposed to be nice, dress modestly, not wear pants, and stay in the home, raise the children and cook and clean. We will recreate the very barriers that we have fought to eliminate over the decades.

Is Justin Trudeau any less a feminist because he has not magically overnight created gender equality in Canada? Can he legitimately speak to other world leaders who do not share his views of equality? Is he a hypocrite because he has not achieved equality in Canada or taken enough steps in that direction, even though we are aware equality will not happen overnight?

These are different but equally challenging questions. We need men to support equality for women. This is not a women's issue, but a human rights issue. When a leader speaks out, he/she can have tremendous influence. Male leaders can influence their peers and encourage them to take action. We can ask our leaders to take specific actions that will advance equality.

Be bold -- stand up and end this harmful debate around feminism. Let us support Emma Watson and all of the other women and men of all ages who believe in equality and advocate for it through their words and actions, instead of criticizing their dress or their behaviour that is allowing them to freely express themselves. We see a lot more provocative dress at the Oscars without criticism -- is this because the actors have not called themselves a feminist?

We do not have to agree on a definition of feminism beyond the fundamental desire to achieve equality. We can be open and accept our many ways of expressing our feminism. Offer support to men and women who take leadership to advance equality whether they call themselves a feminist or equality seeker. Let us expend our valuable time and energy on achieving equality instead of creating more barriers.

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