International Women’s Day felt a little different this year.
For one thing, there seemed to be an air of hopelessness to it. Women have made incredible strides over the past year, on the local, national and international scale, and yet the arrival of March 8 – recognized as International Women’s Day by the United Nations since 1975 – carried a few solemn reminders that misogyny still lurks among us, and is often rewarded by those we expect to know better.
Let’s start here in Nova Scotia, where Judge Gregory Lenehan’s recent acquittal of a Halifax cab driver charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated female passenger included the appalling declaration that “clearly, a drunk can consent.”
Among the many reasons this left me cold: It seemed universes apart from the regular reminders we received at my Halifax university campus in the early ‘90s, with “No Means No” posters impossible to miss as I headed to the lecture hall.
Watching the regional morning newscasts that routinely updated me on the Lenehan ruling, I caught sight of a female weather forecaster. I suddenly remembered that, only two years ago, she had confirmed to CBC News that she had been a victim of the horrific “FHRITP” campaign, which saw dozens of men running up to female reporters across North America and shouting the full version of that obscene phrase into their microphones.
South of the border, International Women’s Day came with sad reminders of what could have been, and arguably, what should have been – mainly, the concept that we could have been watching America’s first female president giving a joint address to Congress.
Instead, not only was it yet another man, but a man who formerly owned (and routinely barged into the dressing rooms of) the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. A man who declared – on The View, no less – that if his daughter wasn’t related to him, he’d be dating her. A man who boasted, only a decade ago, that his celebrity entitled him to do as he wished with the genitalia of any woman he chose, and a man who spent the hours following a major presidential debate on Twitter, chiding a former beauty pageant contestant for her weight.
Not just a man – that man.
No wonder the Statue of Liberty went dark in the early hours of International Women’s Day, which also coincided with the nationwide protest A Day Without A Woman. Yes, I know, the 105-minute disruption to the world’s most famous torch was actually due to a temporary, unplanned outage launched by repair crews fixing leftover damage from Hurricane Sandy. But in the early days of the Trump era, it feels a little darker for America, and especially for America’s women.
If there’s any solace I take in all of this, it’s the inspiring sight of women and their male supporters – across North America and around the world – reacting, rising up and refusing to take any of this garbage any more.
The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, half a million protestors descended on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington – a full 300,000 more than organizers had originally expected. A total of 408 marches took place across the United States the same day, drawing estimated totals ranging from a low of 3.3 million to a high of 4.6 million. And that’s not counting the 673 similar marches held on the same day across the globe, including 29 in Canada and 20 in Mexico.
That momentum continued last Wednesday as part of the aforementioned A Day Without A Woman. Apart from the outdoor protests, we saw some creative reminders of the presence of women in such sectors as the mass media. The Canadian-born host of the weekly TBS series Full Frontal With Samantha Bee briefly stormed off last week’s episode, after the (temporary) absence of her female writers, researchers and producers left the show’s opening a confused mess.
Closer to home, hundreds of people turned out at Halifax’s Grand Parade on March 7 to angrily and noisily protest the Lenehan ruling and its asinine commentary on the ability of an intoxicated person to provide sexual consent. One day later, in the House of Commons, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose cited the case as she won all-party approval to fast-track her bill to require would-be judges to take courses in sexual assault law.
For these and many other reasons, I’ll remember International Women’s Day 2017 as a harsh reminder of how far we have to go, but also an inspiring call to action for all of us.
It may be a long journey, but it’s worth making if it means even one woman feels safer and more respected than she did yesterday.