I recently saw George Ryga’s “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe,” a play about an aboriginal woman lost in a big city’s legal and social system. I was struck by its depiction of a contemporary situation – how people treat each other when there is no personal connection. Once I realized the play was first performed more than 40 years ago, I was shocked that what the artist was bringing attention to still needs attention. I was saddened that little has apparently changed in how we treat fellow human beings.
The play resonated with me because I could relate to Rita Joe standing in front of a judge. Recently, I was standing in a courtroom appealing to a judge to overturn a criminal conviction of a woman because she did not have the intention to commit the act. On behalf of my client, I argued that abuses she suffered in the past and the treatment she had received from social institutions should be considered when determining where her mind was that night. It struck me that like Rita Joe, on this particular day, the justice system was not interested in hearing about why a woman may have acted the way she did, or how her life story may inform why she is standing in the courtroom. I wondered whether we are allowed to look at the big picture and ask – what is the purpose of a judicial system? Would it serve this woman and society’s greater aims by convicting her? That day, I questioned whether we should be ensuring laws are adhered to strictly or whether we should be facilitating the functioning of all parts of society, including those that are having difficulty in meeting their needs.
Flaws in our society, made visible through voices of marginalized women and those around them, remind me that a fundamental piece is missing in how we interact not only as feminists, but as members of society. I long for a collective sense of responsibility when something is not right; that we cannot simply do our own jobs and hope that the next person will pick up the pieces. Are we shuffling ourselves through revolving doors in our society?
Can we as feminists reclaim responsibility and set an example? Our society awards individual achievements, discoveries and creations. We give so much praise for straight A’s and merit. Can we fundamentally change what we value as “excellence” and “achievement” and steer our collective behaviours to include individual sacrifices, unselfishness and true care of society? Can we harness recent hard fought freedoms, such as leisure time, to bring about this change? We can no longer expect government to do it all. Instead of waiting and lobbying, can we get our hands muddied? My hope is that by asking these questions, feminists today can debate about change and our collective responsibilities. My hope, is that through our blogging and eventually our feminist example, the struggles of women in our time do not become just feminist’s responsibilities, but everyone else’s.
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