‘Still feminist, still fighting’: Tracing 50 years of women’s movements with photos and protest signs

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‘Still feminist, still fighting’: Tracing 50 years of women’s movements with photos and protest signs


Still feminist, still fighting. Take back the night. Girls just wanna have fundamental rights.

Women have pulled out placards with slogans like these and taken to the streets for decades.

The first march for International Women’s Year was in 1975, and every March 8 since has been known as International Women’s Day, a day women have used to call attention to the fight for equality.

Here is a brief look at some of the moments and causes that have influenced women’s movements in Toronto and across North America over the last five decades.

1970s

The women’s movement in the 1970s was the peak of second-wave feminism, which carried over from the 1960s. and focused on expanding equal rights beyond suffrage. Work opportunities, reproductive rights, shared home duties, financial independence and women’s freedoms overall were what brought women to the streets.

At the start of the decade, the women’s caucus in Toronto took place in Nathan Phillips Square, where hundreds of women gathered in solidarity with the U.S. feminist movement.

1980s

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Black American author Alice Walker coined the term “womanist,” in the late 1970s, and it became a moniker for Black women and women of colour who felt that issues affecting them were being overlooked by mainstream white feminists. For example, reproductive rights were a major concern, but the face of it was largely contraception and abortion, and not necessarily forced sterilization that Indigenous women faced.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s name can be seen on many signs at women’s rights rallies of the ’70s and ’80s. Morgentaler was charged in 1983 with performing illegal abortions in Ontario. At the time, so-called therapeutic abortions could be performed legally only at a hospital and then only if the procedure was approved by a hospital committee. The Supreme Court ruled that requiring women to obtain hospital permission before having an abortion denied them fundamental justice. The 1988 decision — by a ruling of 5 to 2 — struck down the legislation as unconstitutional, which essentially meant abortion would become a matter discussed between a woman and her doctor.

Instances of violence against women — most tragically the Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989 — also marked this decade and spurred action from feminists.

By the late 80s, activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw introduced the term “intersectionality” to describe the intricacies of sexism created by factors such as race, class and sexual orientation, which would become a crucial component of third-wave feminism.

1990s

By the 1990s, third-wave feminism was in full force. The nature of contemporary feminism was changing, and growing more encompassing and inclusive, while also being critical of cultural norms surrounding gender roles and female sexuality.

Despite the political strides, women were still fighting for equality on other fronts. The Take Back the Night movement, which spread in Canada in the ’80s, was going strong, bringing crowds of hundreds to the streets of downtown Toronto in an effort to speak against sexual violence, and demanding a cultural change.

In the early 90s, intoxication was still permitted as a defence for men accused of rape, which prompted protests, before Bill C-72 was introduced in 1995, prohibiting this defence.

2000s

On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida’s attacks on New York and Washington, and the political response to them, set the tone for the decade. The tense climate fed Islamophobia, which could be particularly felt by hijab-wearing Muslim women.

The 2000s would be a time marked by war in Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter with Canadian participation). The wars became an organizing topic and sparked another anti-war movement. As in the 1960s, it had ties to the feminist movement.

As the third wave of feminism continued, this decade also saw more discourse on sexual liberation and reclaiming derogatory terms.

2010s

Social media and the internet peaked, so did another outlet for sexism and harassment.

There were notable instances like Gamergate, where women in the video game industry were targeted and harassed, and the Yonge Street van attack by Alek Minassian, who was said to be connected to incel culture online.

The internet presented challenges to women’s safety in some ways, but it also became another way to engage with feminism and rally together.

When women in the entertainment industry came forward with sexual misconduct accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, it let loose an avalanche of women sharing similar stories. This started a wave known as the #MeToo movement, based on a hashtag coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. #MeToo saw people speaking out mainly about accusations of sexual misconduct in work environments or committed by people in positions of power.

The 2010s were also a time where discourse on gender fluidity and trans rights expanded. Provinces across Canada added language on “gender identity and expression” to their human rights codes throughout the decade, and in 2017 it was added federally to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. In Ontario, this also meant IDs would feature gender identity as opposed to sex.

This decade also saw renewed focus on the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. This led to a national inquiry conducted by the Liberal government.





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