10/17/2013 12:39 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Quebec's White, Privileged Feminists Don't Speak For Me

As the Charter of Quebec Values debate continues to heat up in this province, proponents and opponents of this cafeteria-style secularism (pick and choose what you like, remove what you don't) continue to duke it out publicly, via every possible media outlet they can get their hands on.

The latest to make waves in our media landscape was a letter recently written by author Janette Bertrand and co-signed by 20 other women (among them well-known personalities like director Denise Filiatrault and Julie Snyder) coming to the Charter's defense.

In their letter, published simultaneously in three Quebec daily newspapers yesterday, the women (who refer to themselves as the Janettes) explain that they, as ardent feminists, can't possibly be against the Charter. They then proceed to refer to all Muslim women who wear the veil as "manipulated" and "crazy". Isn't solidarity grand?

"We (and the women before us) didn't fight for feminism, so these Muslims would reverse all the progress that has been made, you see!"

"I feel so uncomfortable when I see them being manipulated, I want to reach out my hand and tell them not to be afraid."

And the final cherry on the sundae of intolerance pretending to be feminism to the rescue?

"I would be afraid to be treated by a Muslim doctor wearing a veil," reveals Bertrand, without a hint of shame.

«Misère...» as they say here in Quebec.

There is so much wrong with this letter, one hardly knows where to begin, but for edification purposes I'd like to bring attention to something that really bears repeating.

A while back, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trended worldwide on Twitter. It's my suspicion that not a single "Janette" who signed that condescending and highly ignorant letter ever bothered to take a look at those tweets.

Perhaps if they had, they would have understood what was so obvious to me right off the bat: that a group of all-white, all-French speaking, predominantly all Judeo/Catholic group of women pretending to school all other women on feminism reeks so badly of white privilege and patronizing "I know better than you" attitudes, they might have second-guessed their impulse to write and publish such a letter.

I urge everyone to click on this link and learn something about their own deep-seated biases and preconceived notions that govern so much of our decisions and views about the world. Because, ultimately, you don't know what you don't know.

In the meantime, here are a few published words of my own to these women.

Dear Janettes,

You completely missed the mark. Feminism is first and foremost about choice. The choice to live free of religion. The choice to live with religion. You don't get to treat a woman who made a different choice from you as "crazy" and "manipulated." Other ways of life are not just pale imitations of your own. Not everyone aspires to live their lives in the exact same way you do, and you expressing discomfort at that doesn't reveal your empathy; only your intolerance and ignorance.

You seem to think that feminism and equality are under attack in this province by women in hijabs and burqas. Aside from the sad fact that all religious and intellectual debates on equality always seem to focus on women's attire (what they don't wear, what they do wear) this is simply untrue.

Veiled Muslim women don't diminish Quebec women's emancipation. A woman choosing to wear a hijab prevents me from exercising my choices just as much as a woman not wearing one does. In other words, they are both completely irrelevant to my day-to-day choices, so why are we pretending to give them powers they don't even have or aspire to have?

What diminishes Quebec women's emancipation is a Charter that aims to prevent veiled women from working in hospitals and schools! Such a restrictive step backwards devalues everything the feminist movement in this province has worked so hard for: the choice for women to do as they please.

It not only doesn't remove religion from state affairs, but it manages to -- once again -- allow it to dominate our daily discourse. How unfortunate...

Let's make one thing clear. You, dear Janettes, are not acting on behalf of Quebec women. You're acting on behalf of yourselves. As a Quebec feminist, I resent the fact that you -- and your sanctified intolerance and prejudice -- pretend to represent me. You don't.

And even if there were some Muslim women resentfully wearing a veil (why has the Charter debate focused solely on what women can or cannot do?) do we really think that preventing them from wearing one during work hours has solved equality once and for all? Can we implement this law, pat ourselves on the back, exclaim "job well done!" and move on to the next pressing issue?

Are we really all that naïve in believing that such superficial changes would succeed in bringing about the lasting kind of gender equality we aspire to?

Like a brilliant friend of mine recently said: "Arguing that banning hijabs and kippas from SAAQ wickets will create an equal society is akin to saying that painting clear lines on the road will magically create a society of fantastic drivers... it just doesn't add up."

It really doesn't.

All women are limited in one way or another and some worse than others based on their income, their religion, and their race. While Quebec may be a great place to be a woman, it isn't free of sexism, racism, and gender inequality. Serious issues still plague us.

So while I appreciate that the Janettes took a break from solving those problems to extend a hand and guide the ones who just don't know any better, I'd rather they didn't.

A bunch of highly-privileged white women pretending to know what is right for a bunch of women from different cultures, nationalities and religion is just as arrogant and misplaced as an all-male panel on a commission on the status of women. How do they even know what they're talking about?

Western feminists who state that they want to get rid of the veil and the niqab are really only openly engaging in acts of Islamophobia, but they don't even see it, because Western white privilege allows people to be blind to the discrimination that Western feminists unintentionally perpetrate against women of color and other religions. It's really that obvious, once your eyes have been opened to it.

Ultimately, what disappoints me the most is how this Charter debate has managed to create a breeding ground for state-sanctioned intolerance and xenophobia to flourish.

Have we reached the point where someone can publicly -- and without shame -- declare that they're afraid of a specific religious group and have people agree with them? That someone can refer to women who made a different choice as "crazy" and "manipulated" and have people defend them as concerned feminists who can't possibly be xenophobic ("they staged and produced Hairspray for God's sake!"), but only concerned citizens?

Has the PQ's Charter actually accomplished what it set out to do before even becoming law? Have we reached the point where we're no longer focused on the economy and the budget and the party's well-documented failure on these fronts, yet are spending time involved in knee-jerk, emotional spats over identity and religion?

Watching all the vitriol fly back and forth, the unsubstantiated fears, the state-sanctioned and archaic prejudices disguised as concern, I'd have to grudgingly admit that it pretty much has.

Quebec Values Charter