A Message for Hamilton's Daughters

By Tanya Ritchie
Published March 08, 2012

That my daughter - and everyone else's daughter - can grow up without fear of violence or oppression: this is what International Women's Day means to me. While we can cheer ourselves with the thought that things in this day and age may be better than they once were, the fight is certainly not over.

But why? Because those of us who are not minorities, racially or culturally, don't always appreciate that we have a better time of it than those with a smaller voice. Not that everything is a bed of roses for English-speaking, educated, middle-class white women - but it's certainly better than our sisters who represent minorities, especially those who live in less progressive areas of the world.

In her poem "Warning", Jenny Joseph famously wrote, "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple". This was a musing on old age rather than on feminism, but the colour purple has been inextricably linked with womanism (a word coined by Alice Walker to make a more inclusive sisterhood). And what women wear is often an outward symbol of our oppression, or lack thereof.

This objectification has two extremes, and I object to them both. At one end is the absurdly crippling idea of Western beauty - focusing on body shape above all else and driving even very young girls to depression, lack of self-worth and self-harm.

At the other extreme, most often seen in the Middle East and places influenced by Muslim culture, we have the non-person of the woman completely covered, wearing the uniform of every other woman, indistinguishable, chattel.

I stand by the right of any woman to wear whatever she likes, even to these two extremes. But here is the rub: it's her choice.

You're not going to see me in a burqa any time soon, and nor are you going to see me in a bikini top and short-shorts. But that doesn't mean others can't. It has to be her choice, not one that's foisted upon her by society, family or laws.

Hamilton is home to women from all corners of the world. We all deserve to be safe, to be ourselves. We all deserve to achieve our best and live happy lives.

So wear what you like. But today, March 8, International Women's Day, make it purple.

Tanya Ritchie is an immigrant who moved to Hamilton ten years ago and lives in Ward 3. She is the co-owner of Hamilton Guest House, Hamilton's only backpackers' hostel.


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By Seeing (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2012 at 22:40:12

This is taking a comparison too far. Women dressed in scantily clad clothing, by choice, or societal pressure in the west, are not to be compared with a religious movement. The Muslim world has customs and mores to protect and honour their women, and that is in no way a tremendously forced thing. I do not like these comparisons.

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By ???? (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 05:19:24 in reply to Comment 75115

Some Muslim counties are doing a very poor job of 'honouring & protecting' their female citizens.
It seems the more insistent the culture is in demanding that women wear head to toe clothing, the more insistent they are in denying women basic human rights. A Burqa will not protect the wearer from a bomb, a bullet, or a psychopathic husband, brother, or father.
What/whom is it supposed to protect them from?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2012 at 00:30:40 in reply to Comment 75115

Given the way burqas have been treated in recent years, I'm very wary when it comes to western criticism. Laws which prohibit veiled women from voting, simplistic racial stereotypes and military occupations aren't measures which empower women. I wholeheartedly support the right of women to reject burqas, but I don't have a problem with them if that's what they choose. It's not my place to judge, or to tell them what they can't wear for "their own good".

It's so easy to condemn other cultures for these issues, but few dare say the same about our own society. Afghanistan was condemned for laws regarding "marital rape" only years after it was criminalized in many American states. "Honour killings" frequently make the news if the participants are from Central Asia, but few ask if our own epidemic of gendered violence serves the same patriarchal purposes. Women may not be allowed to walk the streets of Afghanistan freely and safely, but sadly, that's a daily (or nightly) reality for far too many here.

First let's put our own house in order.

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By get a grip (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 04:34:54 in reply to Comment 75116

What planet are you from? Are you really trying to compare the rights and safety of women in some archaic sadistic backward backwater like Afghanistan to Canada? A place where a women can be stoned to death because she had sex outside of marriage because she was raped? Give your head a shake. Our country may not be perfect but it is a magnitudes above what that armpit of the world is. Honour killings by parents of their own children are not something that I have ever heard of outside of the muslim world. Yes I know that kids do get hurt and killed by their parents in all countries but we (here) in no way shape or form try to pass it off as something that needs to be done to protect our families honour from god knows what. We treat morons who hurt their children as criminals and punish them for it, their they are commended because they saved their families honour. How in any way can you even try to justify such actions?

A women should be allowed to wear whatever she wants, as long as it is her choice, almost all the time. Their are times when a women or man or child needs to make their face visible for the powers that be, like police, judges, juries, election officials etc. I know that many things the brave sons and daughters of this country died to protect have been eroded but this is going way to far. It is time to put a stop to this. If anyone wants to live in a muslim ruled country they are free to do so there are several of them out their, but this is not one of them and hopefully never will. If you really like that level of depravity then why in the world did you leave there and come here?

I am all for the right to worship (or not worship) whatever god(s) you wish but when you try to force your views and wishes upon others by force and violence, especially when that violence is directed at your own children then there is something terribly wrong with your views and some of that violence needs to be directed at you.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 12, 2012 at 16:22:30 in reply to Comment 75141

This is exactly what I'm talking about. Outside of my friends who work for women's shelters, I really don't know that anybody understands how bad and widespread this is, even in relatively prosperous countries like ours.

A LOT of women and children are murdered in our society, and far more live for years with regular violence. Generally by family and lovers. These cases have far too much in common to be random - they happen at far higher rates to poorer or racialized victims, for instance. It clearly has not only the effect of making the victims subservient to the perpetrator but also acts a little like a terrorist attack to any other women in the area, forcing them to limit their speech, actions and movements "just in case".

While I'm not the biggest fan of Stephen Pinker's latest book (Better Angels...), it's definitely worth perusing. His discussion of murder in western societies is really fascinating - very few murders are actually committed for reasons like theft or hatred - most (~90%) are committed for reasons of "justice", at least as seen by the murderer. A cheating spouse, a wild kid, "shaming" the family, etc, are far more common reasons to kill someone than wanting their wallet. Or, in other words, honour and perceived morality have a hell of a lot to do with most murders in our society.

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By Thank You! (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:11:25 in reply to Comment 75191

I accidentally ran into a chilling website, done by a local man, about how to avoid "Devious & Controlling Women"
It seems, according to him that a 'devious women will force you to chase her, by not returning your phone calls, emails, & avoiding personal contact with you'.
So this man clearly cannot take "No" for an answer. Any efforts the woman makes to avoid him are seen as 'playing hard to get', thus... Entrapping Him.-???
This is the universal kind of Crazy that takes women's rights to refuse away from them, blames them, & possibly gets them hurt or killed for their lack of interest. It doesn't have a nationality, religion, or culture. It is simply bullying & treating women like none-people.

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2012 at 09:07:47 in reply to Comment 75116

My point is almost the antithesis of what you've taken it to be. The house to be "put in order" is the universal dignity and safety of women, regardless of origin. This is not an us vs them scenario.

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By get a grip (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 13:49:03 in reply to Comment 75121

But it is an us versus them scenario. Do you want to have our system of laws and courts or do you want Sharia Law? Or do you propose to have dual sets of laws in place? Then I can pick and choose which one I decide to follow depending on my mood that day. What if I work with someone and I decide to follow Sharia Law and he decides to follow Common Law? Then it would be ok for me to attack his daughter for wearing a bikini when she brings him his lunch but he cannot do a thing about it because I am following my laws and a women should never wear a bikini.

One country one law. If you do not like our laws then please do not emigrate here. If you like your laws please do not emigrate here. This is one of the best countries in the world because of our laws and now some minority group wants to come along and change them to model the laws they left behind in their armpit of a country. If you like your old laws better than ours then please stay there and save us all a lot of grief.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2012 at 13:06:21 in reply to Comment 75121

I'm not trying to single you out, and I totally agree with your basic point. In today's context, though, these arguments need some context. Words like "chattel" have very specific meanings dripping with racial connotations. Allegedly "feminist" attacks on Muslims and others are way too common these days - it was an important part of the rationale given for the war in Afghanistan, and that alone should give us pause.

Afghanistan didn't look like this until the US and USSR decided to use it as a piece in their chess board. Until the end of the 70s is was a comparatively modern, mildly socialist society where women were more than able to attend university. The folks imposing strict radical forms of Islam were set up by the CIA. Similar religious rules in Saudi Arabia are carried out by a regime utterly dependent on American aid and arms sales to survive. In Iran, a fundamentalist regime rose out of revolution against a despised, Western-backed dictator. Westerners can't "fix" other societies, and the history of our attempts to do so is utterly bloody and totally self-serving. That can't be left out of the discussion.

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By get a grip (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 13:39:46 in reply to Comment 75128

I beg to differ with some of your comments and assumptions.I do not ever remember hearing that the U.S. decided to go into Afghanistan to support feminine rights. They actually went to fight a war on the terror groups. It might have been a misguided thing to do but had absolutely nothing to do with women's rights.

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2012 at 19:05:41 in reply to Comment 75128

Don't even make me respond to your putting the word feminist in quotation marks.

The word chattel comes literally from the same word as cattle, meaning owned belongings, often livestock. It's used with racial tones sometimes, but it's also used (for many centuries) to describe the plight of women who are owned by their husbands. ALL over the world.

And I agree that Western imperialism = bad. US and USSR using other countries as pawns = bad. All those things you mention ate true, but they are not relevant to my point.

It is insulting to women all over the world that some great hero (ie US soldiers) need to come to the rescue. Your example of Afghanistan is a poignant one. Look up the maternal mortality rate there. One in SIX. The ones who need to save the women of the world are ourselves.

Which is not Western/secular/Christian women getting Muslim women out of their burqas, it is all women regardless of nation or religion or whatever standing together, metaphorically, and raising our collective voice.

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By Thank You! (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:22:53 in reply to Comment 75135

Very well said!!
I've been very upset by the 'token women' hand picked by the power structure in the West to supposedly 'represent women' & draw their votes to that Party.
I've been equally unimpressed by their male counterparts. (What planet do these people live on?)

Rick Santorum..Sarah Palin..Christine 'Imnotawitch'.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2012 at 17:00:53 in reply to Comment 75135

There's a difference between marriage and slavery, and another large difference between most slavery and chattel slavery. Neither wives nor slaves in Muslim societies qualify, as they still have some rights, albeit very few. For instance, wives cannot cannot be sold by their husbands.

And why was my use of quotation marks inappropriate in that context?

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By Can tthey (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 05:06:36 in reply to Comment 75162

be given away, or rented out? & then charged with adultery if they do their husband's bidding? Or killed if they do not?
Over 800 women in Afghanistan are in jail for 'running away' from abusive situations. They cannot even leave. If that's not slavery, I'm not sure what is.

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By Correlation=Cause (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2012 at 08:35:35

Undustrial, that is a bit tired. Just because the west isn't a total utopia we have no business making judgements on Islamic countries. We have problems, but we don't mutilate genitals, marry off children or kill out of caste system pride. These are things that can happen, but not as a sanctioned order from religious dogma.

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By mad matt (anonymous) | Posted March 17, 2012 at 13:54:25

I spent 2010 in Afghanistan working for the Forces at Kandahar Airfield. 9-11 and the whole "terrorists threaten our lifestyle" argument was not my reason for volunteering, nor that for most of the non-Americans I met.
Every Saturday they have a bazaar with local merchants selling all types of things: pirated videos to hand made carpets and amazing gems, marble and jewelry. It also had a school for the children. Not once did I see a local Afghan girl or woman; only the boys went to the school and no women worked at the stalls. We were not allowed off the base, so I have no first hand knowledge of life in the villages, but from what I saw flying in and out or from looking through the wire, it must be a truly harsh life for anyone, let alone for females living in an an oppressive, medieval, male dominated society. I have 2 daughters and 2 grand-daughters, and there is no way I would tolerate them living under those conditions.
Although many young people in the larger cities want to move forward(many have cellphones and internet access), the country is by far dominated by the backwards Taliban mind-set that cannot tolerate any variation from their insane interpretation of Islam.
Here's a link for pretty decent band from Kabul;
I can only hope the future is brighter for those in Afghanistan(and all over the planet).
On a side note with regard to cellphones, the rates and coverage in Afghanistan are better than here. Pretty much everyone on the base used local provider Roshan. $20 US would last me a month, including phoning home every week!!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2012 at 00:07:54 in reply to Comment 75258

I'd really question anyone who didn't think the Taliban was inanely misogynistic, and would heartily oppose anyone who sought to impose something like that here. I simply wish to point out that their views are hardly representative of the billion Muslims on earth. Misogyny is certainly not limited to Muslim countries, and fighting sexism can't be conflated with fighting Islam.

Let's be realistic, there's about as much risk of Hamilton coming under Taliban-style rule as there is of Godzilla walking up onto Bayfront Park. Religious patriarchy wears a different costume here, but the fact that David Sweet (of the Promise Keepers) holds a seat in Parliament shows that such ideals certainly hold some sway. This isn't to say we're "as bad as the Taliban", just that we, too, have a long way to go before our own daughters are safe.

PS It is utterly amazing how many third world countries have better cell phone service than us. Strange days we live in.

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By But... (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:27:02 in reply to Comment 75263

Are you not forgetting that Dalton McG. thought about the installation of Sharia Law in Ontario?
The only thing that stopped him was the anger of people, a lot of them women, who had come to Canada to get away from Sharia Law.

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By Thank you! (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 03:57:03 in reply to Comment 75263

For pointing out a number of things..including David Sweet. :)
The GHA is by far, one of the most paternalistic larger urban centers I ever had the misfortune to live in. O.K., it's not a Middle Eastern theocracy,but it could do far better. I think a lot of fundamentalist Christian dogma has more than a bit to do with it. I don't think that being a 'perpetual victim' makes you a better woman, nor do I think that refusing to be one makes you a "slut, bitch, whore" or whatever. Gas Bags Geezers take note! Save the verbal abuse for those 'near & dear to you' who have to put up with your nonsense. What would Jesus do? I'd think, "Judge not, lest ye be judged"?

The West did support The Taliban in a effort to get Russia out of Afghanistan. It supported them with money, arms, & military 'know how', & set up the 4000 steps back into a near feudal system that is now common place in much of the conflicted areas in the Middle East. By "fighting communism", the U.S. managed to blind side the rest of the region by supporting groups that are rooted in their own kinds of oppression.

Would you believe I was actually called out ( 4 blocks from my home in the GHA) & not in Kandahar) on wearing purple a few years ago? By a woman! According to that 'style maven', I was too old to wear purple. Maybe what she was saying was, "My father, husband, brother..would not allow Me to wear purple, so who does she think she is wearing purple?"

But: "I don't care what yo' Daddy don't allow. Gonna wear some purple anyhow, even if Daddy don't allow purple wearing 'round here."

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