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Wednesday, June 09, 1999

What women want

Tasha Kheiriddin
National Post

The Amazons at the National Action Committee on the Status of Women are on the warpath again. According Joan Grant Cummings, NAC's president "[The government is] afraid to be confronted by women's real feelings and women's experiences." So, apparently, is NAC. Funding has been cut, membership has dropped and public interest has waned to an all-time low. If 51% of the population really looked to NAC as a voice of reason in the endless battle of the sexes, presumably their eyes and wallets would open as well.

At the other end of the spectrum stand REAL Women, who send most females I know into convulsions. At the recent Civitas conference in Toronto, REAL Women spokesperson Gwen Landoldt decried the promotion of contraception in the Third World. We're not talking abortion here, but contraception. I'm all in favour of staying home with young children, but with children you want, thank you. And while the institution of the family may be under assault, it's not scapegoating the gay community and a benchful of Supreme Court judges that will save it from extinction, or rally today's young women to your cause.

The contemporary sexual arena is messier than an unmade bed. After being exhorted to revel in our promiscuity by Naomi Wolf, women are now being admonished by the virginal Wendy Shalit to don a chastity belt and a demure attitude. Author Danielle Crittenden recommends marrying young and having a family early. (Well, been there, done that, and we're certainly both glad we didn't put an innocent child through the fallout.) The truth is there is no one clear path to happiness. While sleeping with someone on the first date probably isn't a good idea, holding out until your wedding day isn't necessarily the path to lasting love either.

What's a modern woman to conclude? Most women I know dutifully absorb all the information and then do what they want anyway. There can be little doubt, however, that powerlessness breeds insecurity and unhappiness both inside and outside of a relationship -- and that the first step to taking charge is achieving economic independence. In this area, Statistics Canada doesn't lie: The average college-educated woman today makes more than her male counterpart. The message to women is clear. If it's equality we're after, then let's educate our daughters and equip them for work.

At the same time, let's not teach them that work is everything. Admitting that we are social animals, who need companionship, love and affection, is the first step toward a complete life. A fulfilling relationship is neither a trap to be avoided, nor an end in itself. This applies as much to men as it does to women. While there will always be those who seek the traditional bargain -- cash for coitus -- if a relationship exists by virtue of dependence, can it be said to be truly equal? An equal partnership can only exist where there is choice: Both partners have the option to leave, but they elect, for their own happiness, to stay.

So what do women want? First and foremost, to be taken seriously. Not to be put on a pedestal (as the old saw goes, it's not the fall that hurts, but the sudden stop) and not to be trod on like a doormat. To be accorded the same opportunities as men, but to be done no special favours because of our sex. No employment equity, no quotas, thank you very much. If we are truly to compete on a level playing field, the solution is not to lower the bar but to raise ourselves to the applicable standard.

All these things are accomplished every day, by thousands of women, through small individual actions. Working with, not backbiting, the other women in your office. Not taking abuse from men -- and not giving it either. Never telling your daughter she can't do that, because she is a girl. The stuff that my colleagues, friends and parents do. Sorry, NAC and REAL Women. Empowerment is a personal battle. Canadian women don't need associations with fancy acronyms to speak for us, or tell us how we should behave.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a television producer in Toronto.

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