Happy Women’s Equality Day! The good, the bad and the work-in-progress

womens equality day
Photography by Peter Stigter

Today is Women’s Equality Day, and it feels pretty good to say that there’s actually a lot for women to celebrate this year. There has been a noticeable trend of strong women taking charge of their bodies, their appearances, and their stories in 2015. Seriously, everyone gets a high-five. You deserve it.

On the other hand, it’s equally important to use this day as a reflection of not only the progress we’ve made but also the issues we still need to work on. True equality is not achieved overnight, but as a result of years of hard work, setbacks, and struggle. And let’s be honest: 2015 saw its fair share of struggle.

Here are the top three achievements of 2015 to celebrate on this Women’s Equality Day and the top three issues we still need to eradicate to make next year’s Women’s Equality Day even more worth celebrating.

The Good:

Period pride is a thing
From menstruation to breastfeeding, the natural functions of a woman’s body have been treated as shameful by the public sphere for too long. When Kiran Gandhi chose to run the London Marathon sans tampon, she helped to raise awareness about period shaming and the lack of resources for women in developing countries. Of course, we’re not saying women everywhere should just let it flow once a month. But it is important to change the fact that menstruation is often considered a dirty topic that shouldn’t be discussed or acknowledged in public. So many women in homeless shelters and developing countries desperately need donations of sanitary products. Many young girls don’t know that there’s something wrong with their health (such as endometriosis) because we don’t encourage or even allow them to speak frankly about their periods.

Gandhi sparked a public conversation about period pride with her tampon-free run. The trend continued when women started proudly live-Tweeting their periods to Donald Trump after he made a scathing comment towards Fox News host Megan Kelly that seemed to imply she was moody because she was on her period.

The message that women sent this year: You can’t shame me because of my period.

Body positivity is what it’s all about
It’s also been a great year for body positivity. Melissa McCarthy recently launched her clothing line Melissa McCarthy Seven7 with the goal of rejecting the “plus-size” label and making great fashion for all body types, saying “Women come in all sizes. Seventy percent of women in the United States are a size 14 or above, and that’s technically “plus-size,” so you’re taking your biggest category of people and telling them, ‘You’re not really worthy.’”

That’s not the only example of women striking back at society’s body-shaming tactics. When Instagram banned the hashtag “curvy” in July, there was an outcry from women who use the hashtag to promote body positivity, leading Instagram to reinstall #curvy. Overall 2015 has seen women of all sizes publicly promoting body acceptance and diversity, from the explosion of plus size collections like the Gabi Gregg & Asos CURVE collab and designers like Ashley Nell Tipton, Project Runway’s first plus-size designer to brands like Aerie showcasing what real women look like sans Photoshop.

Pop culture is becoming more and more feminist
We still have a long way to go before all types of women are included in front of and behind the camera, but 2015 made a lot of progress in that regard. TV shows and movies showed a more frank, honest depiction of women’s sexuality, whether it was a scene that presented the strong female heroine masturbating in Lifetime’s UnREAL as a mundane or films such as Trainwreck and The Diary Of A Teenage Girl that portrayed the sex lives of women in totally different but equally honest ways.

There’s also been an upsurge in diverse types of women being portrayed in pop culture, from transgender women such as Caitlyn Jenner and Amiyah Scott to ethnic women on shows such as Empire and Fresh Off The Boat.

The Bad:

Equal pay: Where the hell is it already?
As of 2015, the gender wage gap in Canada is twice the global average. Women in Canada make on average 18% less than their male counterparts, and it’s even worse for women who are minorities, disabled, or Aboriginal. The good news is that there has been a lot of awareness and discussion of this issue lately, with high-profile actresses such as Patricia Arquette speaking out. Arquette demanded equal pay for women in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Academy Awards. The bad news is that awareness is no longer enough. More concrete action needs to be taken to banish the pay gap, because let’s be real: this should not still be an issue in 2016.

Online and street harassment needs to stop
Harassment is still a huge issue that women deal with daily, whether it’s online or on the street. According to the Pew Research Center, about 25% of young women have suffered from online sexual harassment, and about the same percentage of women have been stalked online. The recent Project Harpoon (a Facebook group in which men Photoshopped women to make them appear thinner) is just one example of how women are harassed and shamed online. There’s also been no shortage of videos made this year that show just how much street harassment women face every day (this video and this video are just two popular examples from 2015). Although it’s great that videos such as these have raised more awareness of the problem, the fact remains that it’s a prevalent problem for women that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Women should be able to walk down the street wearing what they want without harassment, just as they should be able to express their views and celebrate their appearances online without being put down or threatened.

Violence against transwomen and women of colour is all too prevalent.
One of the most vital aspects of modern feminism is that it includes women of all kinds: this is called intersectional feminism (and if a 13-year-old like Rowan Blanchard can understand this so well, the rest of us have no excuse) So it’s important to acknowledge on Women’s Equality Day that there is still a long way to go towards the rights of trans women and women of color. In 2015, the deaths of women such as Sandra Bland and Sumaya Dalmar brought into sharp relief how unsafe it is not only to be a women in our society, but especially a woman who is also a minority or transgender. Going forward, let’s all remember to try a little harder to make safe spaces for all women.

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