Happy International Women’s Day 2016

female signFor a long time it was thought that women were inferior to men and that this related to differences in our nature. It was thought that women (and people of colour) had brains of smaller size that equated to less intelligence and capacity for public life. Similarly, women’s reproductive abilities were seen as a reason to exclude them from many forms of public life.


Clearly we have come a long way since the 19th century or even from the 1970s when a resurgence of biological determinist arguments lead Edgar Berman to say, “You would not want the President of your bank making a loan under the raging hormonal influence of that particular period”.


It is certainly far less common to hear these arguments that justify inequality on the basis of human nature or biological differences – thank goodness. In fact it seems to be a little out of fashion these days to talk about differences of any sort. As a result I can’t help but wonder if we are missing out on some important insights by focusing only on our sameness rather than  embracing and celebrating our differences.


Difference should not ever be the basis for discrimination or oppression, as it so often has been in the past. In fact difference should be a cause for celebration and a rich opportunity for learning and growing as human beings. There is much that we can learn from each other – much women can learn from men and men can learn from women; much that Indigenous people have to teach non-Indigenous people and vice versa; and so it goes on. But there appears to be a general lack of acceptance or willingness to embrace our differences.


There is an idea in the field of knowledge generation that the position or standpoint that we each occupy holds a certain view of the world around us and that we can learn a great deal from sharing our standpoint with others. Of course what most commonly happens is that the standpoint of those who occupy the dominant positions of power in society become those that are most highly valued and that all others aspire to.


But what if there are certain human qualities that thrive in some contexts more than others and that therefore some of us have access to more than others? Surely our world will be more balanced and well rounded if we value all these qualities, even if they are not ones that are readily available to us.


For me, there is much to be gained by embracing qualities such as connectedness, vulnerability, emotion, relatedness, warmth and nurturing – qualities that have traditionally been negatively associated with the feminine. The danger here is that we will all become more like those who occupy dominant positions of power where masculine qualities are more highly valued.


So on this International Women’s Day 2016 my hope is that we will more strongly embrace those qualities that women have cultivated for generations and that we will regard these as essential to the progress of a fair and just society.


Wishing you all a very happy International Women’s Day 2016.