Thursday, March 08, 2007

Le 30e anniversaire de la Journée internationale de la femme

Right now (at 8:29 p.m. on 8 March 2007) both Radio-Canada and CBC Radio Two are broadcasting a concert live from the Spectrum concert hall in Montreal. 30 Ans, Une Voix/30 Years - 1 Voice celebrates the 30th anniversary of International Women's Day (IWD). I was unaware, until 8:08 p.m. (when, in search of some nice nighttime jazz music, I tuned into Espace Musique) that it was IWD. I feel badly that I didn't know.

The United Nations established IWD in 1977. Status of Women Canada's website reads that, each important 8 March thereafter, we have celebrated the advancement of women's rights and have assessed the challenges that remain. IWD is to encourage us to work for equality for women and girls.

What's more, this year Canada marks International Women's Week (IWW) from Sunday, March 4, to Saturday, March 10. Oops. Now I feel like a real moron for failing to notice this week-long commemoration. Why do I feel badly? Well, primarily, because I am a woman. Shouldn't I have known? Shouldn't IWD be among those annual events I deem it important to remember?

Perhaps my guilt, and Radio-Canada/CBC's concert, resonate particularly strongly with me in the wake of our discussion about historians telling others' stories. As a member of the female sex, I feel obliged to mark IWW and IWD. My guilt is a genuine, authentic reaction to the sense that both are events for women, commemorated by women. 30 Ans, Une Voix corroborates that notion. Patti Schmidt and Sophie Durocher host the evening. All of the performers are female. Schmidt and Durocher introduced Renée Claude as "the image of a modern woman." The evening's songs, they explained, tell of love, liberty and of striving for equality.

'Well, of course, that female focus only makes sense', I am wont to say. Would Canadians, then, (men and women) find it strange if a man was included in the concert bill? What if male artists comprised two of the nine performers? What if the evening featured two female, and seven male musicians? Can men celebrate International Women's Day? What kind of listener responses would inundate CBC and Radio-Canada had their broadcast been a male artist-only affair?

Historians, we seemed to conclude on Monday, should be free to tell others' stories. I recall, however, a particular tutorial that I led in the fall on women in medieval Europe. Surrounded (literally) by young women, a male student blushed in response to a question about power relationships. "I'm not gonna touch that one" he laughed, gesturing to the female students to answer my question, instead.

Let's imagine that male student were to take up women's history and, in 2027, were to curate an exhibition (as was Diana's interesting suggestion) about women and menopause at the ROM. What kind of response, Diana challenged, might his work garner from the Canadian public? I am unhappy to admit that, no matter how learned that man might be about menopause and related women's issues, how much he had conversed with women's groups in the development of his exhibition and to what great extents he had involved women in the exhibit's production, I would wonder at his qualifications for the job. I can't reconcile my 'gut feeling' that, in this hypothetical case, only an 'insider' to the group could best represent issues pertaining to women with my sentiments about the ROM's controversial Into the Heart of Africa exhibition. About that case, I believe that if she had communicated effectively with members of African and Caribbean communities in Toronto and adequately involved such members in her exhibition planning, the ROM's Jean Canizzo could have mounted an exhibition on objects collected by Canadians in Africa. I can't, right now, stand behind a firm personal philosophy on the telling of others' stories.

Incidentally, 19 November is International Men's Day in Trinidad and Tobago. Australia's Dr. Michael Flood has written an interesting open letter rejecting IMD as an inappropriate, and ineffective way to improve men's health and well-being. IMD invites a conservative understanding of gender relations, he argued. Flood's argument against "me-too-ism" has challenged me to think on ways that men could participate, with authority, in telling women's history and in marking International Women's Day.

55 comments:

austin said...

No anonymous comments allowed! Had to sign up just to say that I too happened to tune into the performance last night while driving.

I really liked what I was hearing, but can't seem to find a list of the songs performed or anything (My search is what led me to find your post).

At any rate, I liked what you had to say. I don't think you should feel guilty -- such things don't receive too much attention whith the world being a busy frantic place and all. (Not to mention that advertising is expensive!)

I think your other comments are spot-on. Ultimately, I think the best way men can participate in things like International Women's Day is simply through a humble (and mostly reserved/quiet) presence. In a perfect world, these subtle 'gut' biases wouldn't exist, but we are funny creatures, and that's why I probably could never become a well-respected expert in women's history/studies. It works that way with a lot of things. If the USA decided to have an "International United States Day!", that'd be pretty retarded and in bad taste (considering our already *glistening* public image). On the flipside, if there was an "International Uganda Day", that'd be perceived as much neater. "Me-too-ism", as you put it (and I rather like that phrase), is not always a good thing, and is a result of the nature of past and current status quos.

So, as a guy, I think the 'female-only' focus makes sense. I wouldn't find it strange to see a few male musicians playing in the orchestra, but would expect all the soloists and vocalists be female.

I think I'm starting to ramble so I'll just say again that I like the points you bring up, and am happy to have found your post!

Greetings from Michigan,
-Austin

Historical Distortion said...

I just wanted to say that your post hit some interesting points with me. Most specifically, the issue of telling the stories of "others"... Isn't it possible that we may develop a skewed perspective without even realizing it if we only let the inside group tell the story? Since its impossible for any one actor to have a complete grasp on reality, could it then be possible that multiple perspectives on the same issue create a truer picture of the same situation?

-AD
historicaldistortion.blogspot.com

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Tom said...

Interesting stuff.

On the subject of telling other people's stories I remember sitting dumbfounded through a compulsory program when doing my undergrad on women's history. The dumbfounded expression was after the very respected but rather blunt lecturer had announced to the room that "only women can ever write about women's history."

I rather wondered why I was there.

But then I took issue with it in a more constructive way and wondered what had so affronted me, and I think it is the presumption that to investigate, write about or produce meaningful contributions on a subject we have to have complete ownership of it.
As a white male from the United Kingdom I will never fully have ownership and inside understanding of so many important areas for study. My understanding of them will forever be through the lens of my white, western, masculine upbringing no matter how I try.
However far from excluding me from the study I believe this makes it important that I undertake it. But that I undertake it with full realisation of the privileged that colours my perspective. As historian's we are always looking in from the outside; and we are always aware of how our perspective affects the events we are observing. I can add “born in the late 20st century” to my list of things that exclude me from areas of research, because I will forever be an outside to the past; but my understanding of the present gives it context. Likewise I will never be an insider to women's history, never have ownership of it, but my reflective and careful understanding of the masculine privileged give me a different context on it.

I'm not saying your thoughts are wrong, but this is what got me through a difficult moment of questioning my attempts at feminist historian credentials.

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