(First of all, to everyone visiting here on Blog Against Sexism Day–welcome! Enjoy the blog, feel free to bookmark and link as you like.–‘Bina.)
A couple of years ago, on International Women’s Day, my brother happened to ask me, rather snarkily, “So, when’s International Men’s Day?” To which I replied, quite seriously, “Every other day.”
I didn’t mean alternating days; I meant the remaining 364 days of the year.
Actually, according to my calendars (including the iCal on my PowerBook), it’s all 365. Standard calendars don’t list International Women’s Day at all. They do, however, mark commercial holidays (Mother’s Day, inapplicable to unmaternal me) and obscure British religious holidays. (What the hell is Mothering Sunday? And do we really need two mothers’ days–one for the church, and one for the shopkeepers? Anyway, even Mother’s Day is still in some sense a man’s day, because you can’t become a mother without at least a sperm donation from some man–and until we figure out a way to commit human parthenogenesis, that’s unlikely to change.) What with the calendars all overlooking it so consistently, a day historically dedicated to women’s general strikes for peace, equality and justice just too easily and too often slips my mind. I bet it slips yours, too.
Isn’t that always the way of it? Thanks to a bunch of British churchmen and the ignorance of the calendar industry, we’re more likely to remember the oddball date of St. Swithin’s Day than that March 8 is the day we fair ladies are supposed to get all uppity for the sake of global social change.
And then, too, there’s the dilemma of women like me, who aren’t conventionally employed. I’m a freelancer. How the hell do I go on strike? Against whom? And what kind of protest should I mount, all by my lonesome, in such a way as to make it meaningful (and myself not ridiculous)? I live in a small town, where protest marches are seldom seen. I did go on one here, against Gulf War II, in February 2003. It felt less like a protest and more like an affirmation, though, since the cops cordoned off the street so we could march in safety, and our local Member of Parliament addressed the rally at the town hall, letting us know that we had the Prime Minister onside, trying–futilely, as it turned out–to talk some sense into Dubya.
And that was, honest to Goddess, the last time I marched or rallied here, or anywhere. In some ways, it’s a mark of how fortunate I am to be living here that there is so little left to mount mass protests for–or against. We’ve had full abortion rights in Canada since 1988, when massive pro-choice marches (of which, yes, I was a part) convinced the Supreme Court to strike down our last existing abortion law as unconstitutional. Since then, there’s been no new one and very little interest in creating one; something like three-quarters of us are pro-choice almost by default. We don’t have a near-theocracy here, as they do in the States.
And it seems highly unlikely that we ever will have one; we’re more multicultural and less monocultural than our neighbors to the south, and most of us like it fine that way. Sure, we get the odd old grump here complaining, say, that devout Sikhs shouldn’t be allowed to wear turbans with their RCMP uniforms or carry kirpans to school because “this is a Christian country”, but those grumps are odd. And old. Undoubtedly it’s for their benefit that the calendars still mark St. Swithin’s Day; the rest of us have moved on to a more secular view of the world, in which it’s a strictly private matter as to whether you choose to recognize St. Swithin or not. Religious freedom is fully realized here; the right of one religion to lord it over others, however, is another story (which chaps the would-be theocrats’ arses no end.)
So here I am, all dressed up for the protest rally–and with noplace to go and not a lot to protest for or against. Should I still care about International Women’s Day, or just fuck it?
As it is, I still care. And I want to contribute in my own small way, even if I don’t have the stomach for marching all alone with a homemade placard protesting the still-endemic sexism in society and our calendars. So, here is my contribution: a blog entry, which I’ll close with a true story illustrating why women’s rights still matter and must be fought for everywhere and never taken for granted, even by one so fortunate as myself:
In 1992, I had what I’ll call a pregnancy scare. My period was more than a day late, and I was feeling tired, woozy and wobbly all the time. The ground seemed to undulate under my feet at irregular, unpredictable intervals; I was chronically unsteady and constantly reaching out to brace myself.
A co-worker in the fabric store where I worked part-time had recently gotten pregnant with her first child, and when I heard her describing, joyfully, how it felt, a wave of nausea washed over me.
I was 25 and unmarried. I had one yet-to-be used university degree under my belt, plus a lot of vague hopes and dreams not even crystallized, never mind realized.
Did I love my boyfriend? Yes, although I suspect now that I didn’t love him as much as he loved me.
Did I want to marry him? No.
Did I want “his” child? Hell, no!
So there I was–period late, scared shitless, and without a clue as to what I should do next.
I told my mom about the wobbly spells, and the first thing she asked me, point-blank, was, “Are you pregnant?”
I shuddered. “God, I hope not!”
My mother looked at me in horror and made some noises about how I really should have waited until I was married before doing that.
I laughed a little, feeling sick–wasn’t it several years too late for that lecture? And then I excused myself, and that was the end of that.
I was on the Pill, which I took faithfully, never missing a dose. But I was only too aware that for one or two women in every hundred every year, even the Pill, taken religiously, can fail. I knew right down to the day when I should expect my period, and it hadn’t come. And I had no intention of marrying, ever; I couldn’t even see myself in a wedding dress, never mind as a Mrs. Anybody. And to cap it all: hadn’t the times changed such that it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows if I lived by my own choice–even in this conservative little town?
But there still was one choice that would raise eyebrows if anyone ever found out, and it was the one I hesitated to even think of making. Still, it had to be done, and better sooner than later. Every day counts if there’s a chance that you might be pregnant.
So that same day, after I got off work in the afternoon, I bought a pregnancy test kit at a drugstore in a nearby mall. And, in a mall-washroom cubicle, I opened it with shaking hands. Then I urinated on the stick, as per the very simple instructions.
The five minutes I waited for my result were the longest of my life, and the most frightening.
And this, mind you, even though I’d suffered a broken pelvis in a car accident at 14, and spent what were probably several hours without any painkillers, wondering if I were going to die! But I had survived the broken pelvis. It hadn’t changed me in any essential way that I could think of. But as I waited to see whether the indicator window of the little pee-stick in my hand showed a purple line or not, my entire being suddenly hung in the balance.
I weighed my options and discovered that I did not like any of them. But abortion was the one I disliked least, and so abortion it would be, if it came to that. And oh, how I prayed it would not come to that.
The allotted time ticked past. I turned the stick over…
No purple line.
A breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding whooshed out of me in one great gust. I stuck the s
tick back in its package, and stuffed the whole mess into the napkin-disposal box on the cubicle wall, grinning a little shakily at the irony of what I’d just done. I walked out into the sun feeling, if not a whit steadier, at least several pounds lighter.
The next day, my period came. And I was glad to see it, never gladder in all my life.
I never found out what was causing my wonky spells; after a while, they went away spontaneously. I went on to journalism school in 1994, eventually earning a second degree. I’m still happily unmarried and child-free by choice.
Happy Women’s Day to all, and to all a good fight.