By Joanne Linka (May 15, 2020)
Power Shift: The Longest Revolution, Sally Armstrong, House of Anansi Press, September 17, 2019, 304 pp., $19.95
So let me be clear from the outset: I loved this book. It is not often that I read a non-fiction book about feminism (or any other work-related topic) that I really love. I might say I love a book, but deep down, I know that it was still a bit of a slog to get through. However, I can unreservedly and unabashedly say, I love this book!
Sally Armstrong is an extremely articulate writer who captures the essence of her topic with solid facts and research, peppered throughout with stories and real-life word-images that illustrate her point. She takes a difficult topic – the centuries-old oppression of women – and deconstructs it with insight, wisdom and most of all, hope. She has spent her career in journalism writing about human-rights abuses, with an emphasis on women in conflict zones. Her stories of meeting with women in war torn areas are more than just stories – she enters into their lives, captures their hopes and fears and tangibly relates them to us, the reader.
Armstrong starts by stating that
the story of women is the longest revolution in history… and that the hard truth is that in almost every civilization, women have been deemed the secondary sex. It’s an idea that has become so ingrained it’s been written into history as a biological fact.”
History has been portrayed with men as the “default human,” relegating the other half of humanity into silence (Criado Perez). This is perhaps most painfully obvious in medical research that has focused almost entirely on men, with the assumption that symptoms and treatments must be the same for women – a mistake that has cost many women their lives.
The idea of men as default human carries over into relationships – especially when they go sour.
Intimate Partner Violence continues to be an epidemic around the world – one where the victim is blamed rather than the perpetrator. Women choose not to report the violence, knowing that they will be re-victimized at every level of our society, from how they are treated in the ER to how the judge rules in their court cases. They will risk losing their jobs, their children, their home and their community. It is no wonder that they choose to stay with their abuser. And just once, when I hear the question asked “Why doesn’t she just leave?” I would love to hear the real question asked: “Why doesn’t he just stop beating her?”
Armstrong strides through history, culture, policy, religion, the work place and relationships to point out the misogyny in each area, looking at how it began and how far we have come to change it. While looking back is painful and discouraging, there are also bright lights and movements that have made great steps forward in the revolution – most recently, #MeToo.
The book concludes with this thought:
The struggle women have endured to regain our rights, to be ourselves, to be treated and paid and understood as men are treated and paid and understood, has been epic. This is our time. Now is our hour."
Women have been fighting this revolution for centuries. It is time that the other half of the population drops their weapons and realizes that cooperation, mutual respect and collaboration will ALWAYS be more effective. What will the next chapter of this revolution hold?
Joanne Linka is Manager of Communication and Fund Development at The Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria BC – the oldest running charity in Western Canada.