Out in the Open

What do longtime feminists think of today's feminism?

It depends on who you ask. Journalist Michele Landsberg wakes up each morning laughing with joy; Sunera Thobani is profoundly concerned.
Activist and academic Sunera Thobani (left); writer and social-justice advocate Michele Landsberg. (UBC/UofT)

Both Michele Landsberg and Sunera Thobani have long fought for the rights of women, Michele as a journalist and social-justice advocate and Sunera as a head of the now defunct National Action Committee on the Status of Women, as an academic and activist. 

They've both seen various waves of feminism come and go, and come back again, which gives them a particular perspective on what they are seeing today. Actually, two particular perspectives...

Here's a taste of their conversation with Piya:

Michele: I wake up laughing every morning. I'm laughing with astonishment and delight because women are being heard. This is the first time in my memory that women have been taken seriously and there have been consequences for men who abuse their power. I've never seen that before. Up until, maybe, fifteen years ago even rape was rarely prosecuted, still is rarely convicted. These crimes against women have been brushed aside. It's a horrific truth of our lives, but now, suddenly, things are beginning really to change. So I'm delighted with the state of feminism.

Piya: Ok Sunera, how do you wake up?

Sunera: How do I wake up? I guess I wake up worried, concerned. You know, I'm really concerned about what is happening, not just to women's lives, when I see the kind of violent order that we live in today. Like the situation of Indigenous people, the increased racism that we're seeing with this resurgence of white supremacy across North America, across Europe. We're seeing it completely change the political discourse. So those are some of the concerns I don't see feminists taking up really. 

On Men

Piya: Given both of your long term advocacy and fights for feminism this is not new to you how you bring men into the fold, so to speak, but how do we do that? Because I think that's part of the opportunity that we have now or that we must have now. Michele?

Michele: This isn't my problem. Someone who cares much more about how grown men are now feeling excluded can work on that. I'm not interested. If they're grown-up adult men and they can't see what we're talking about then I think they're past redemption. I know plenty of men who fully grasp this issue and are with us on this. I think the problem about men is how are we bringing up boys? ... You have to go outside a lot of societal norms to bring up a boy that's a full human being and not a squashed down, emotionally repressed, aggressive person, which is what we're all dealing with among so many adult men. That's the only part of the male question that I'm really interested in.

Piya: Sunera, where are you on this?

Sunera: Well, you know, I think it is men's responsibility to end this violence. And of course this is a responsibility not many men are willing to take up or they don't see it as something of a priority for them. This is a responsibility that they absolutely have to take up.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.