One of my least-favourite buzzwords associated with Canadian politics is “feminism.” As flashy as it sounds on the campaign trail, its meaning has been dismantled and reassembled so many times that it seems no more than a tool for mobilizing voters.
The “feminist” claim is an easy one to make. There have been many MPs who identify as female and have labelled themselves thus, as if it could single handedly put them in office. However, simply being a female MP doesn’t automatically make one a feminist, nor does voting for a woman MP necessarily further gender equality.
Although the definition of a “feminist” has become more nuanced as the conversation has evolved, the general defintion asserts that feminists work towards the socio-cultural and economical equality of the sexes. This includes one of the most heated debates, both at home and south of the border: abortion. A woman’s right to choose has been called into question several times by the political powers that be and, dishearteningly, it hasn’t only been questioned by men who are more concerned with their spray tans than they are about the health and safety of women.
At home, a number of female MPs in Canada have been elected in the recent federal election that have voiced a problematic stance on abortion. Rachael Harder, who won her seat in Lethbridge, decided to challenge the liberal definition of feminism by citing a problematic bias against Christian values, which, by the way, includes the pro-life agenda. When asked if she was a feminist, she responded, “How can you not be?” It seems that her specific definition does not include a woman’s autonomy over her own body.
Other seats went to Manitoba’s anti-abortion MP Candice Bergen, and Saskatchewan’s MP Cathay Wagantall, who introduced Bill C-225, which would permit separate charges to be laid on behalf of the fetus when an expectant mother is murdered or loses her unborn child in an attack. Critics of the bill said it could provide legal backing for potential anti-abortion legislation.
Being a “feminist” has been regarded as a carte-blanche for deflecting criticism of their views.
Although the Green Party didn’t come away with the highest volume of parliamentary seats, their leader, Elizabeth May, “a feminist all [her] life,” recently had to clarify her personal views on abortion, after saying that she wouldn’t attempt to control how her MPs vote on abortion. Regardless of the fact that May has insisted that she, as a federal leader for her party, would not allow for the abortion debate to be re-opened, her comment is concerning. As a feminist, and as a woman, alluding to giving the abortion debate any further credence is in direct conflict with everything she tells us she stands for. She may have offered some assurance, but the comment itself leaves room for skepticism.
Despite the outcome of any election, as a feminist leader, it’s crucial for May to support all aspects of the feminist agenda, whether it wins popularity for her party or not. Withholding the principles of health, wellness and safety for all women is non-negotiable, especially considering the crisis that could occur, should the abortion debate be re-opened.
The magic is in the language. For many female MPs, particularly ones aligned with the right or centre, asserting the power of being a “feminist” has been regarded as a carte-blanche for deflecting criticism of their views. Harder is a prime example of using feminist rhetoric as a shield from criticism. This defence tactic, however flimsy, is often under the guise of “freedom of speech.” Unfortunately, this only furthers the problematic nature of the abortion debate, as it lends unnecessary credence to the assertion that a woman’s legal right to choose is merely a matter of opinion, as opposed to a fundamental aspect of their suffering.
Voting for a female MP who identifies as a feminist without upholding the agenda of equality is not the answer. As Canadian voters, it’s our responsibility to research each of the platforms of our leaders and MPs, understand their values, and match their ideals with our own. As a feminist, it’s even more important to understand exactly what each politician upholds, and whether or not their platform can be used as a basis for true gender equality. Although this may not have necessarily happened with some female MPs in the previous election, I have hopes that it can in the future.
No one candidate is here to embody feminism, even if they are female.
So, just how does the abortion debate influence future elections? Although Andrew Scheer has stated quite clearly that he’s pro-life, the abortion debate won’t be re-opened under a Conservative government, especially under the new minority government. Trudeau, despite some of his feminist platform being called into question, remains firm in his position to not re-open thee abortion debate. Does this mean that feminists are safe in future elections?
To me, appropriately enough, it all comes down to choice. As a feminist, you need to educate yourself on all platforms, and have a greater understanding of what your feminist values are in order to make a decision as a voter. Equality looks different to different people, and the only way to fully understand it is to be informed. However, it’s important in that understanding to know that no one candidate is here to embody feminism, even if they are female. Feminism and equality is a process, and ultimately, it all comes down to who you think best embodies progress, regardless of their gender identity.
The best possible weapon against ignorance is information. When it comes to the feminist vote, this is more prudent than any politician’s stance on the tough issues.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this Opinion piece stated bill C-225 was an anti-abortion bill. We have added details on the bill for context, and attributed the anti-abortion read of the bill to its critics.
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