Opinion

Social media users rage against Sophie, but the most powerful feminism is something much quieter: Robyn Urback

This International Women's Day, remember the quiet feminists, those totally not-woke women without Instagram accounts who vacuum the carpet in the House of Commons after the prime minister finishes his statement on gender parity in cabinet.

We're supposed to dedicate March 8 to whipping out our feminism to show how strong it is

Daughters of the Vote filled the 338 MP seats of the House of Commons on Wednesday. International Women's Day is a bit like Valentine's Day, for which love is only real if others see you walking hand-in-hand with your beloved, carrying an overpriced bouquet of roses. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

I have a hard time mustering much of a reaction to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau's Instagram post for International Women's Day, which called on women to celebrate the male allies in their lives while showing a picture of her holding hands with Canada's Feminist-in-Chief.

The photo captures the Trudeaus staring soberly into each other's eyes, as if they're observing a moment of silence to remember the lost wages of historically undervalued women's work.

It's obvious why a caption that begins: "This week, as we mark International Women's Day, let's celebrate the boys and men in our lives…" wouldn't go over too well with certain online crowds (nothing goes over well with most online crowds, mind you).

But this is all part and parcel of an administration that has made Trudeau's Feminism© a defining aspect of its government. Few things in politics happen by accident, and that includes Instagram posts by the prime minister's wife. And with the Trump administration offering the perfect backdrop against which Justin Trudeau's feminism can really shine, why not seize the opportunity to show that off, even on International Women's Day?

The rules of this international day for women are, at present, mostly undefined: men are supposed to voice their support for the movement but also not tweet or post about it because it is not their day; we're supposed to celebrate women's achievements but also not talk about them too much because they obscure the struggles women continue to face; and this year, we're supposed to go onstrike to show the world what a "day without a woman" would look like, but at the same time not go on strike because only privileged women with comfortable careers could afford to take the day off work.

So the particulars of the day are still rather ambiguous, but if there is one near-consensus, it's that we're supposed to dedicate March 8 to whipping out our feminism — to borrow a phrase — to show how strong it is. Companies share pictures on social media of all the women on their payrolls; stores promote special International Women's Day deals; and political party leaders take turns in the House of Commons expressing their devotion to smashing the patriarchy (in nicer words). It's a bit like Valentine's Day, for which love is only real if others see you walking hand-in-hand with your beloved, carrying an overpriced bouquet of roses.

There is a case to be made that expressions of feminism are important in an era when the White House, dominated by men, seems poised and ready to roll back women's reproductive rights, among others. That's a defensible claim. But eclipsed by these ostentatious declarations is that other type of feminism — the quiet type of feminism — that doesn't operate through Instagram posts and hashtags, the overpriced roses of March 8.

It's the feminism of your mom's or grandmother's era, which probably couldn't make sense of the controversy over whether men are supposed to tweet about International Women's Day. There we find the totally not-woke women without Instagram accounts, the women who vacuum the carpet in the House of Commons after the prime minister finishes his statement on gender parity in cabinet. The women who don't know, or don't care, that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau made a social media faux pas — they're too busy living their lives to worry about whether they're being properly congratulated for doing so.

The performance by these women on International Women's Day is silent and, arguably, most persuasive in terms of emphasizing women's worth: they're just getting it done. Don't worry about buying them flowers on Valentine's Day, either.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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