As part of Why Are We Still Here?, a series of 12 blogs written by women around the world to mark International Women’s Day, writer and academic Martine Delvaux reflects on the importance of feminist writing in countering the erasure of women in Canada.
I was probably ten when I heard a news story about a young girl who had disappeared. That night, I lay in bed wondering: What happened to her? Where could she be? I imagined her knocking on the door of our bungalow. We would let her in. We would call her parents and if we weren’t able to find them, she would stay with us and be safe.
Ten years later, when I’d left home, my mother called me one day to tell me that a girl I used to be friends with had disappeared. She lived around the corner from my parents. Her purse and coat were found on the ground inside a bus shelter. She was never found. She became a Jane Doe.
I have often wondered if this is the reason why I am a feminist, and why, for the last twenty years, I have been writing novels and essays on women’s lives and women’s writing, why I have chosen to teach women’s literature and feminist thought. I have been haunted for a long time, and I realise now that my work has to do with undoing disappearance. It has to do with the desire to make women appear, to have their voices heard and their lives acknowledged. Writing, reading, thinking and teaching are the means, for me, to counter the erasure of women.
Women disappear, every day, the only reason being that they are women and that they have been made to live precarious lives. Little girls are abandoned, young women are raped and shamed and women are battered. Everyday, lives are broken: lives led by women, as if these lives were not worth as much as men’s.
Despite the disappearance of 1300 Native Canadian women since 1980, there has been neither a national inquiry nor an action plan to investigate this tragedy. This intransigence can only be explained by a refusal to acknowledge systemic racism and misogyny; by the suggestion that it is always something other than misogyny. But it IS about misogyny, the silent and not so silent hatred of women. The entitlement that one portion of the population grants itself to hurt another portion of the population. And THIS is what feminism fights against. To want the equality of all human beings implies the rejection of hatred directed by one group towards another. For what does it mean to live, if one is not to able to live a life without being hated for the mere fact of being alive?
Being a feminist doesn’t mean hating men. It means hating the hatred of women. It means staying vigilant to this hatred’s expressions: sexism, discrimination, harassment, sexual assault and violence. Yet it also means staying vigilant to the act of turning away from women; mocking them, shaming them, ignoring their presence, pushing them away, leaving them no room to act or speak, forgetting about their existence and its specificity, letting or making them disappear. These are the crimes of misogyny. A male-conjugated world where women are not seen and their point of view is ignored. This is what I, as a feminist, try as hard as I can to work against. This is why I am still here.
Martine Delvaux is a writer. She teaches women’s literature and feminist theory at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her most recent books, translated into English, are: Bitter Rose and Serial Girls: From Barbies to Pussy Riot.