It’s not feminism, if it’s not intersectional is what my sign for last night’s demonstration in Turku says (this is a sign made by some gender studies students at Åbo Akademi university, I made a similar one myself!)
Of course, the International Women’s Day, or naistenpäivä or kvinnodagen as we call it in Finland, has a long history that has, at times, had extremely strong focal points. However, the struggle has shifted and changed as we’ve become more aware of the people around us, about struggles of other groups of people that might be similar yet different from ours. When we hear ”feminism” we often hear ”intersectionality” and ”solidarity” in conjunction with it. This is my feminism, the very reason I am doing what I am doing politically and the way I try to do it: acknowledging that there are countless amounts of social factors and positions in society and these all affect us both negatively and positively.
Being a woman or being feminine is, in the big picture, generally not a good thing according to this structure, since we live in a patriarchy where masculinity is valued above femininity. When we are in the process of celebrating Women, however, there is a history that needs to be remembered and a time that needs to be made visible, because we will come to see that woman-ness isn’t basis for a homogenous category that we can lift up and celebrate on its own. The International Women’s Day website features a timeline where we can see that the beginning of the movement as we know it was a struggle for equal pay, for better working conditions, for shorter days and, classically, women’s suffrage (the right to vote in general elections). A march with 15 k attendants, a Socialist party declaration and an International Conference for Working Women (featuring the three first women elected to the Finnish parliament!) in the early 1900’s, that’s how we started off.
Where we are now, in Finland in 2017 is a place where the state keeps basking in the glory that is ”an equal Finland” but people, women, suffer. I quote my smart friend Pihla, who wrote a social media entry on the theme:
There are many marginalised groups of people in Finland whose problems aren’t taken seriously, because there isn’t enough political will to fix them. Par example the current Trans act goes against the human rights of trans women, the unnecessarily tight immigration politics are pure discrimination against refugee women who are already on the run, and the process of moving the Finnish support money system from municipal money to KELA (the national social security institution) has completely been fucked up, which affects many poor women’s positions and lives in a decisive way. This, not even mentioning the macro scale problems such as gendered sexual health issues (female genital mutilation, the difficulty of obtaining an abortion or proper contraceptives etc), illiteracy, austerity and famine that affects the lives of millions of women. We aren’t even close to equality yet. (Pihla Hänninen 080317, my translation)
This is not a day where I want to hand out chocolate and roses.
This is a day when I want to bring up that 52 % of young trans women in Finland have considered self harm, and 56 % have considered suicide (Alanko, 2013).
This is a day when I want to bring up that Invalidiliitto (an organisation that works with disability themes) gave out a press bulletin last night, where they tell the story of a couple of Finnish women. One hasn’t been able to visit the doctor’s because the health clinic wasn’t wheelchair accessible. A young woman with cerebral palsy had to move into a care home for seniors, where all the seniors would tease her and repetitively tell her to stop with her tics (tics are sounds or movements that you can’t consciously control).
This is a day when I want to bring up that women wearing hijabs are reduced to dolls or slaves without their own will (by us white people!), whereas it might just so be that she’s wearing it proudly and voluntarily. That racialized women are exoticized: that my friend (who is of Vietnamese descent) recently was asked where she comes from – in a discussion in fluent Finnish – and that the one asking the question was visibly shocked when she replied ”Lohja” (a Finnish town).
It’s self-evident that we need to discuss how the female euro is less than the male one. We need pay equality. I do, however, think we also need to realise that the Finnish Woman, lower wage or not, is no longer and hasn’t in a while been the blonde Elovena figure we are used to see her as.
Besides the demonstration last night, I also participated by talking about feminism in media. I was invited to YLE Vega’s Slaget efter tolv debate together with Professor emerita of gender studies Harriet Silius and doctoral candidate of comparative religion Nana Blomqvist. Check it out and practice your Swedish a bit! And remember – we need a common effort to get somewhere. Send e-mails to those in charge. Participate in demonstrations. Talk to people. Donate time or money to campaigns. Be a human being to others. Especially if you’re protected by a privileged position.