Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week

November 15th– 21st is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.  Ontario has designated this week to help promote safe schools and a positive learning environment.  During this week, Ontario students and school staff are encouraged to learn more about bullying and how it affects a student’s learning and well-being.  The Ministry of Education defines bullying as “a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation”.  It goes on to describe the different forms bullying can take and more information about what this week will look like in Ontario’s schools.  What is missing from these types of conversations about bullying is the true motivations behind the actions we have associate with bullying.

The word “bullying” is often used as a softer alternative to describe what is really going on when these actions occur- racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, sanism, etc.  Think back to your own elementary and secondary school experiences; these are the places where the language of bullying is most often used.  Think of the kids who were bullied because they wore the same clothes everyday or didn’t wear the popular brands- that is classism.  Think of the girls whose bras were cut, snapped and undone in the school yard- that’s sexism.  Think of the children of colour who were questioned and tormented following 9/11- that’s racism.  Think of all the kids who came out as LGBTQ in your high school that were harassed relentlessly by students and staff- that’s homophobia and transphobia.  Think of the students with disabilities who were harassed for the accommodations they received at school- that’s ableism and sanism.

Even after our primary and secondary school experiences, the language of bullying is still being used to soften and leave what is happening unnamed.  This past week, Black students at the University of Missouri were threatened following protests and action regarding the university’s unwillingness to address racism on campus.  Howard University and several others saw threats and/or white supremacist presence on campus.  Despite the threats against Black students, the University of Missouri did not cancel its classes, prompting many students to e-mail their professors requesting to be exempt from class the following day as they did not feel safe on campus.  One professor, who is white, responded to his students with a challenge to attend class to defeat the “bullies”.  Bullies? You mean white supremacists and racists who are threatening Black students’ lives?  Using the term “bully” attempts to make these threats less serious and leave the racism that is occurring on campus unnamed.

The language of bullying has also been commonly used in describing the Rehteah Parsons case.  This was a sexual assault rooted in misogyny and rape culture, and what took place after could be described as nothing less than harassment rooted in sexism.  When this story hit mainstream media, the term “cyber-bullying” was used to describe what Rehtaeh endured after photos of the assault were posted online.  “Cyber-bullying” is a softer term for harassment using technology and social media.

I think there should be conversations in schools around bullying prevention and awareness but this conversation is meaningless if we do not address the motivations behind the behaviour we determine to be bullying.  The Ministry of Education website states, “bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance”.  Let’s talk about what this power imbalance is; it’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and ability.  The racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, classist, transphobic world we live in does not only begin when we graduate high school.  It trickles down into our elementary and high schools where we name these children’s experiences as “bullying”.

Sources:
https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/safeschools/prevention.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/11/11/as-threats-spread-fear-at-mizzou-a-professor-asks-students-to-defeat-bullies-and-attend-class/

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Men’s Issues Groups: Maintaining the Status Quo

This semester, a men’s issues awareness group has been trying to organize and be recognized as a student group on Ryerson’s campus.  This has been a hot news story for Ryerson media as a similar group was denied student group status in 2013.  I’m a co-organizer of the Ryerson Feminist Collective; we are currently applying for student group status with the Ryerson Students’ Union.  My fellow co-organizers, Jackie Mlotek and Areezo Najibzadeh, and I have been doing a lot of interviews with Ryerson media about our group as well as our opposition to men’s issues awareness groups.  Each time we have talked to a reporter, I have added more each time.  As of now, these thoughts are scattered amongst a variety of Ryerson media and could possibly not be included in the articles, so I’m going to put them all together here.

Fear on Campus:
One of the reasons I do not support men’s issues awareness groups is that students are fearful of them organizing on campus.  Several sexual assault survivors have disclosed that they have not been attending their classes after seeing men’s issues presence on campus.  The specific group on campus has claimed that they are not misogynistic because 45% of their membership is women.  A few women being comfortable and feeling safe enough to join this group does not negate the fear other women, feminists and survivors feel.  Men’s issues groups have a long history of harassing and threatening women, feminists and survivors across university campuses, I don’t blame people for being fearful and suspicious of these groups.

Intersectional or Bust:
Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that people experience multiple oppressions and privileges simultaneously.  Many feminists have recognized that any discussion of gender cannot be done without an intersectional framework as race, class, sexuality, ability, etc. influences the way one experiences gender.  For example, my experience of being a white woman is very different than a Black woman’s experience.  Men’s issues groups do not seem to have taken any type of intersectional approach in their work.  Issues these groups address are often chosen by white, straight, cisgender men based on their experiences.  Discussions of other identities and issues that do not affect white, cisgender, straight men are absent from the conversation.

I’ve never seen or heard of men’s issues groups address issues that do not impact white, straight, cisgender men.  They have been absent from any discussions of men of colour experiencing police brutality.  They are very vocal about how there are more men in prisons than women, but the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous men is never mentioned.  Transgender men are not even included in discussions of men’s issues.  The group on campus wants to discuss literacy rates in schools; will the experiences of Black youth who are pushed out of school be part of this discussion?  How about the unequal practices in suspending students from school based on race?  Where does poverty and class come into these discussions?  I haven’t seen any men’s issues groups out protesting the closure of a men’s shelter.

Are you really addressing men’s issues when you only talk about those experienced by the most privileged of the group?

Ideology:
Men’s issues groups completely ignore the social structures that shape experiences.  Men’s issues groups gather angry young men and provide them with an outlet for that anger which is to blame women and feminism.  Young men are angry; pointing the blame of that anger to feminism and women adds fuel to the fire.  This does not constructively dismantle where that anger comes from.  The unattainable expectations of men today were not put in place by women and feminism, they came from a patriarchal system.  While patriarchy undoubtedly privileges men, the system also harms them.  A lot of the issues men face would be resolved with the dismantling of patriarchy.  So why blame feminism and women?  It’s a lot easier and unlike patriarchy, we are a tangible source of blame that you can see.  Plus, they may not want to dismantle a system that ultimately privileges them.

Men’s rights groups only address larger social structures when they perceive themselves as a victim of those oppressions.  In the wake of several school shootings in the United States, many have pointed out these shooting rampages are mostly committed by white men.  Men’s issues groups call this sexism and racism.  You cannot be sexist towards a man and cannot be racist towards a white person; there’s no such thing as reverse racism and sexism.  These things have historical context and are upheld by institutions; they do not apply to you when are privileged in that system.

These groups also call for equality, which implies that men do not have equal status to women.  Men have never had to fight for their rights based on their identity of being male.  Men have fought for other rights based on other aspects of their identity such as race, ability, class, sexuality, etc., but never based on being men.

A Way to Talk about Men’s Issues:
Men do have issues and they should be discussed; I don’t oppose these groups for simply wanting to talk about the issues men face.  The White Ribbon Campaign does an excellent job talking about men’s issues; it’s done within a framework that recognizes the privilege of being a man and that harmful ideas of manhood can lead to violence against women.  It frames manhood and men’s issues in the larger context, which is missing in men’s issues groups.  The White Ribbon Campaign talks about men’s issues without being disrespectful or threatening towards women, sexual assault survivors or feminists.

It is possible to talk about men’s issues in a healthy way but current men’s issues and rights groups cause both harm to the individuals who join them and those who oppose them.  Men’s issues groups simply maintain the status quo; men stay angry and unaware of their privilege while women remain marginalized and vulnerable to men’s expression of that anger.

White Ribbon Campaign: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/

 

In Conversation with Stephen Lewis

Human immunodeficiency virus, or more commonly HIV, is a deadly and destructive infection that has plagued our world from, potentially, the late 1800s onward. Researchers believe that HIV can be traced to a type of chimpanzee in West Africa and that contact with their blood through hunting is what allowed the virus to enter the human population. HIV and AIDS came to North America in the mid 1970s and in 1981 appeared on the global medical radar when the level of infection was out of control and the pandemic and pandemonium began. As fear of this unknown killer virus spread through the Western world people began to look for answers, solutions, and wrongly, someone to blame. The scapegoat for HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and into today has been homosexual men as this was a major population the virus infected, while this was entirely false the discrimination still exists and is still stigmatizing. In reality, there are several risky behaviours that put someone at risk for infection with HIV. Also, transmission occurs because the individuals partaking in these behaviours are unaware that they are infected with the virus or that the people they are engaging with are. Unfortunately, the spread of HIV is only one of the problems in this discussion, the treatment of HIV and AIDS and the funding required are an entirely separate demon. This is merely an introduction to one of the most controversial and unsettling discussions our world has had and will continue to have as the fight against HIV and AIDS goes on.   

 

This past Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending one of the Stephen Lewis conversations, which is an ongoing series of discussions put on by the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University in collaboration with the Planetary Health Commission. The discussion, co-hosted by Dr. Alan Whiteside, was on the AIDS pandemic and where we are now in its development. Stephen Lewis is currently a professor of distinction at Ryerson and at one time was the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Commissioner on the Global Commission on HIV, Board Member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the co-founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which works with community-based organizations in Africa that are trying to end HIV and AIDS. Dr. Alan Whiteside is an internationally recognized academic and AIDS researcher, he is the co-author of numerous articles and books regarding AIDS, and he established and is the executive director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal in South Africa. These are two very short biographies of two very remarkable men who exposed some of the truths of this horrible disease to the world and continue to do so. Both Stephen Lewis and Dr. Alan Whiteside focus their HIV and AIDS work in Southern Africa where the virus is still rampant and where their discussion on Wednesday was localized. I will try to relate what was discussed so as to provide a better understanding for those who could not attend.  

 

It is important to note that the vocabulary in health has changed; we say that people are living with HIV and yes that’s true in Canada, there are people living with HIV because they have access to medicine and can remain on that medicine. However, this vocabulary is not necessarily applicable to Southern Africa where people are dying from HIV, where it is still a threat as it once was in Canada. It is believed that HIV has killed over 30 million people since 1981, and that 2 million people are infected annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2014. HIV is a virus that we know how to prevent and control, and yet there are at least 6 million people infected with HIV in Southern Africa and 400,000 new infections every year. What is going wrong? Why is it that we have the answers but still haven’t solved the problem?

 

Looking at prevention, there are some very easy ways to slow the spread of HIV. As mentioned above there are certain risky behaviours that put us at an increased risk for HIV infection, these are most commonly having unprotected sex and sharing infected needles. The reason men who have sex with men (MSM) are more readily infected is that HIV is taken up by the body more easily during anal intercourse rather than vaginal. With the added dangers of not using a condom it is more than likely that an untreated individual with HIV will spread the virus to their partner. Unfortunately, the homophobia that is endemic to Africa does not help. Homosexuality is illegal in some African countries. Homosexuals are driven underground and fear death if they are outed, which makes access to medication even more difficult. Another risky behaviour is sharing needles with infected drug users. When intravenous drug users (IDU) shoot up, their blood enters the needle and is then passed on to the next user thus spreading HIV. IDUs have the highest risk of infection as they have direct blood to blood contact with HIV, this makes transmission extremely easy and the virus can spread throughout the community and beyond fairly quickly. One solution to this problem is safe injection sites, such as the Insite in Vancouver, which provides a clean space as well as equipment and medical staff to ensure that IDUs are safe while they are injecting themselves. It may seem odd to help someone inject themselves with illegal drugs that harm them, but these people are suffering from an addiction and still have the right to health. After all, they are still human and if they are going to use drugs we can at least make sure they are doing so safely and negating the spread of disease and avoiding potentially deadly overdoses.

 

Other at risk groups are sex workers, if they are having unprotected sex, and most notably women. In Southern Africa women are the population with the highest infection rates of HIV. The reason women have such high infection rates is because they face sexual violence. Women are often raped and abused sexually and this is the gateway for their infection. These women then have children and pass the infection onto their offspring, who will not live a long or enjoyable life if not given medication. Within the infected female population in Southern Africa, teenage girls have the highest rates of infection; they have 8 times the level of infection compared to boys in the same age group (15-18), again due to sexual violence. This is an at risk population that does not have an easy solution. How do you stop girls from being raped? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer but I do know that if these girls are given medication and resources they can stop the spread of HIV to their children and other sexual partners and live a much better and longer life. If medication is the answer to this problem and we have the medication, then why is the disease still spreading. The answer is simply that these people are not getting the medication. They belong to stigmatized and oppressed groups that no one cares to think about and often are left to die. HIV infection is in itself a stigmatizing factor in Africa; add in the fact that you are a homosexual, a drug user, a sex worker, or a woman and people stop caring whether you live or die. Aside from the oppression that keeps people from their medication, there are rumblings that global AIDS funding given to African governments keeps disappearing after it is given out.

 

Corruption within African governments is not a new phenomena and it doesn’t seem to be going away. Both Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside commented on the way Southern African countries are run by their kings and while the King of Swaziland has a jet his people can’t seem to find their HIV medication. There are billions of dollars raised and donated to AIDS funds every year and for some reason the grassroots organizations in Southern Africa aren’t seeing this money. Where is it going? The United Nations (UN) stipulates that global AIDS funding needs to be distributed through HIV and AIDS committees which give the money to governments and presumably health departments to be used for medication, education, and the spread of resources so that infected individuals can live. However, people are still dying and being infected and kings are buying jets. Of course, some people in Africa are getting medication but money is still evaporating. The only way to determine where this money is going and to make sure it is going to the right places is through auditing. Neither Mr. Lewis or Dr. Whiteside knew why these governments are not being audited. What makes this reality even more terrifying is that AIDS funding is beginning to flatline globally. While the global funding is not going down very much it is not getting any higher and there is a risk of it beginning to diminish. Countries are slowly stagnating with their funding, such as the Netherlands which cut its AIDS funding by 1 billion Euros. Additionally, at the UN the funding for communicable diseases is starting to be targeted by non-communicable diseases as they begin to take a stronger chokehold on global populations. The funding pie is now being sliced for more diseases and more causes and this means that eventually HIV and AIDS will begin to lose funding. This leads into a much larger ethical discussion that is beyond my scope, but I will leave you with a question: how do you decide which diseases need more funding, how do you decide the cost of human life?

 

Dr. Whiteside did have one suggestion for the issue of AIDS funding and it was to be smarter about the way researchers and organizations go about asking for money and how it is spent. Dr. Whiteside was explicit in that governments should be responsible for the health of their constituents and that non-government organizations (NGO) should be there to pick up the pieces and to remind governments of the diseases that are being forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Africa at the moment. The grassroots organizations are the ones providing health to the people of Africa and the money is going to the government. So one solution is to get the money to the organizations on the ground and skip the corrupt kings and health ministers. How this will be done still needs to be determined.    

 

In our society we don’t always think about the threat of AIDS. However, prevention is shockingly simple and that’s probably the more devastating side of this story. A simple condom or having access to safe and clean injection sites- in essence having harm reduction policies in place will protect us. HIV and AIDS have been devastating our world for over 30 years and they are not going away unless everyone takes the responsibility to be safe. Behaviour change is difficult and it takes time but isn’t it worth it? Isn’t your life worth wearing a condom?

 

HIV and AIDS are two topics that require lengthy conversation and attention and that is why I will be writing about them again in another post on December 1, World AIDS Day. In the meantime, to learn more about HIV/AIDS visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, UNAIDS, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the World Health Organization. One last side note, free condoms and lube are available at the Student Centre, as well as at Ryerson’s Medical Clinic (KHW 181). Outside of Ryerson but still close to campus there is the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation at Sherbourne and Gerrard and the Hassle Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard (above Starbucks) where free medical testing is also available.  

It’s a Devastating Thing to Forget

It seems September is always about mixers; a party that every student association wants you to go to and wants you to partake in. Ironically I went to my first mixer in my last year at Ryerson. RyePRIDE, an Equity Service Group, represents the voice of the Queer and Trans community at Ryerson, hosted a mixer this past week as part of the Equity Services Orientation Week. If this mixer is just a taste then I like the way RyePRIDE parties. Dirty bingo with dirty prizes, drag performances by Church St’s Divine Darling, educational trivia, and everyone’s favourite: free condoms and food. The dim lights, loud music, sounds of sex, and group swearing made for an exciting night. And buttons! So what else does a student party need? Rainbow coloured penis shaped shot glasses? They had those too! Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything but I’m hoping they will have those shot glasses at their next event because that’s what I need, and maybe the vibrator.

 
There’s more to RyePRIDE than just fun parties, they are trying to create an inclusive and open community that is safe for all its members and have been doing so since 1977. They make this well known at their events by pointing out that discrimination towards anyone is not tolerated. RyePRIDE works with the Queer and Trans community at large to provide support, advocacy, education, and a little fun for Ryerson students. In addition, RyePRIDE has an open door and ear, so if anyone wants their help they are available for assistance.

 
One support service that Ryerson offers for students is their Crisis line (416-979-5195) and Centre for Student Development and Counseling in Jorgenson 07, where any student can get immediate support if they are in a crisis. There is also a lesbian, gay, bi, and trans youth line (416-962-9688), which is a local crisis line that provides peer support to youth. In addition, the Sherbourne Health Centre (416-324-4180) provides comprehensive health care to the LGBTQ community. The services offered by Ryerson and RyePRIDE came about as a response to the rampant homophobia that plagued Ryerson’s campus in the past which still affects students today.

 

Digging in the Ryerson Library Archives (on the third floor of the library) reveals some horrifying realities. While skimming through 30 years of Ryerson newspaper clippings I found far too numerous accounts of dangerous homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. From the beginning, with the first meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Club in 1980- which received bomb threats and forced the group underground- you will see a history of hatred that tormented Ryerson. In 1982, the club received a new space in Jorgenson and this was met with vandalism and ultimately set fire to. Throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the 2000’s the queer students of Ryerson were terrorized by peers- verbal harassment, hate mail, threatening phone calls, destruction of queer rights material, and death threats were day-to-day occurrences.

vandals paint gay office in fourth attack this year, dana robbins ryer, apr 6 82In the fall of 1991 the homophobia pot began to boil over with three physical attacks of students on campus. The first, in a library washroom where a female student who was putting up posters for the new Bisexuals, Gays and Lesbians of Ryerson club (BGALOR) was cornered by three girls and assaulted verbally and physically. The second, another female student was physically assaulted by four men outside her classroom after admitting to being gay in a class discussion. Details about the third attack were lost in the files, but needless to say these three attacks were the catalyst that pushed then Ryerson president Terence Grier to initiate a study of the homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. A study led by George Bielmeier, a social work professor and head of the Advisory Committee on Homophobia, which was also created as a response to these attacks.

img002After eight years of research, the study was released and everyone knew the realities of homophobia at Ryerson. The finger was pointed in the direction of business and engineering students, however, all of the faculties shared responsibility in spreading homophobia, even the university itself. Ryerson had a hand in the homophobic attitudes that were present on campus, but this was the attitude of the time and Ryerson made strides to remove homophobia from its grounds and still does. However, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world and when a gay students’ association has to boycott its own school’s department for harassment and discrimination because they dismissed their complaints, there is a problem. When a school newspaper is allowed to publish anti-gay commentaries and quotations that attack and hurt members of its own community, there is a problem. When staff are denied health benefits for being openly gay and have to watch their partner die because they can’t afford medication, there is a problem. When students are terrified to be who they are because they are afraid of their peers and don’t feel protected by their school, there is a problem.

ryer nov 27 92Ryerson has its share of problems and thankfully they take care of them. Throughout its history, Ryerson has tried to change the attitudes on this campus. In 1986 Ryerson became the first university in Canada to offer a credit course on gay and lesbian studies as well as being one of the early institutions to offer same-sex health benefits in Ontario. Ryerson acknowledged the homophobia that had taken root and now every student and staff are established the same rights. Because of this we are fortunate enough not to experience the level of day-to-day violence that once occurred within Ryerson. That being said, homophobia is still a part of our world and with the vandalism of the RyePRIDE offices in 2008 and the hate crimes against Ryerson students in 2011, it is clearly still a problem.

img015One event in particular that shocked the Ryerson community was the violent murder of graduate Christopher Skinner in 2009. Christopher was an openly gay man and his murder was speculated as being a hate crime. Christopher was an active member of Ryerson’s community and now RyePRIDE offers a bursary in his memory – any self identified gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans student who feels they have contributed to challenging homophobia or transphobia can apply for the $500 Christopher Skinner Memorial Bursary.

img014This truncated journey through Ryerson’s history has taught me something, for which, I am very fortunate. I live and love in a place that fought and changed public opinion, a place where we can feel safe. I still look over my shoulder because it’s not over yet, but there’s hope that it will be. Going through the 30 odd years of Ryerson’s history has exposed to me and hopefully to others events that we can never forget. The work and pain that has occurred on this campus is too important to be lost in a dusty file at the bottom of a drawer. Thank you to the people of history, who rallied not only for their own opportunities but for mine and for every lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans, queer, two spirited, questioning, asexual, intersex, and any other student. To all of your stories that will not be lost or forgotten to a bottom drawer.

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We Need a Feminist Group at Ryerson

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Ryerson needs a feminist group on campus.  It needs to be intersectional, grassroots and run by students.  I realized this when I attended CUPE’s rally in response to the threats made against women, feminists and departments at the University of Toronto.  York University and the University of Toronto were both present at the rally; members of student groups from both universities spoke.  We were not there.  While students and faculty from Ryerson attended, our school was not present at such an important moment to show solidarity.

My friend Jackie Mlotek and I came up with the idea mid-march down Bloor Street; we would organize a solidarity event at Ryerson.  The following day, 25 students and faculty members joined us at Lake Devo to make solidarity signs and take a photo to be sent to the effected departments at U of T.  Several students who attended asked which group we were with and if we had other things planned for the future.  We weren’t with any group; just two friends with an idea.  This lead to idea #2: start a feminist group on campus.  That is where we are now; putting together a student group on campus that addresses women’s issues.

Why do we need a feminist group on campus?  Sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, abelism, and other issues women face are still alive and kicking.  A recent report on campus violence determined 4/5 women in post-secondary institutions will experience harassment, abuse, sexual assault, etc.  This is unacceptable.

What about the Women and Trans Centre?  I think this centre is great and I am so impressed by the work they do but supporting women and trans people, running a sexual assault crisis line, creating campus campaigns and advocating is a lot for one group.  I don’t know how the equity centres within the RSU work but I assume they may be subject to a lot of policy around what they can and cannot do.  A grassroots group of students wouldn’t have this limitation.

We also need a feminist group because there is so much happening on campus that should include women and trans peoples’ voices.  We have a new sexual assault policy that came out in September, there is a new job position being created to address sexual assault on campus and Men’s Rights Activists and pick up artists are planting their flags on Ryerson’s campus.

Last year, a Men’s Rights Activist group held a meeting on Ryerson campus.  While there were a lot of people who were angry about this, there was little collaborative effort to stop it or respond to it.  A feminist group on campus could coordinate an effective response to misogynist groups that make campuses unsafe.

We are starting to get together, plan, organize and figure out what this group should be.  If this sounds like something you would be interested, please get in touch with myself (alyson.rogers@ryerson.ca) or Jackie (jmlotek@ryerson.ca).

Back Up, Not Down

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I’m the outspoken feminist that you were warned about.  If you follow my blog posts, you have probably already figured that out.  It may not come as a surprise that I get into arguments with mostly men about gender equity.  It’s important to challenge sexism and bring awareness but sometimes I don’t want to.  I go out with my friends to have a good time, not challenge and debate with someone who’s spewing extremely offensive nonsense about women.  This is where I back up but I don’t back down.

These debates and arguments are always hard to navigate, especially in social settings.  It may not be safe to challenge sexist ideas or maybe you would just rather have your beer in peace.  This happened over Easter when I was visiting home.  My friend finished her final clinical day for her nursing degree and we went out to celebrate.  Mid-conversation one of the young men I had just met turned to another and started talking about how women are… well I won’t repeat exactly what was said because it’s offensive, but the gist of the conversation was that all women are dumber than men.

One thing you should know about me is that I wear my feelings on my face.  My face could not have ignored this conversation even if it wanted to.  My eyes were wide and my eyebrows were up to my hairline.  While I’m not surprised people in the world feel this way about women, such blatant misogyny still catches me by surprise.  I cleared my throat in hopes he would a) realize I was still sitting there and b) stop talking.

My throat clearing certainly got this man’s attention but he wanted to debate me on the issue.  I was thinking of what I was going to respond to him with but then I stopped; I didn’t want to debate this guy. I wanted to relax, enjoy a beer and hangout with friends I don’t get to see often.  While I wanted to disrupt that conversation, I did not want to debate it.  His argument was ridiculous and would have likely lead to us talking in circles.  I didn’t want to back down and let him think he was right but I didn’t want to talk gender with this person.

I put my hand up and said that I would not be engaging in any kind of debate with him on the topic because his argument was so ridiculous.  I made it clear that my silence on the issue did not mean I agreed with him but I wouldn’t be discussing it further.  Although he apologized for all men being smarter than me on my way out, I was able to avoid a night of arguing, sexist BS and more misogyny than was already present at the table.  Back up, not down.

Photo: beaveronline.co.uk

Laci Green at Ryerson: The Right Presentation for the Wrong Audience

On March 18th, Laci Green came to Ryerson.  Laci Green is from San Francisco and is the woman behind YouTube’s most popular sex ed show, “Sex Plus”.  She is an activist for a number of issues including gender equality, a crisis counsellor, a peer sex educator and a YouTuber.  Her outgoing personality, sense of humour and knowledge on sex and healthy relationships makes her YouTube channel both informative and entertaining.  Laci’s lecture at Ryerson addressed feminism and why it is important.  It was the right presentation but for the wrong audience.

Laci’s presentation on the “F-Word” (aka feminism), was amazing and I really enjoyed it.  She discussed the historical roots of feminism and addressed the many myths that exist around what feminism is and what it seeks to change in society.  Laci made the audience laugh throughout the presentation and ended with a compelling speech about not “shutting the hell up” about social issues.  The presentation was excellent but I feel it would have been better delivered to a different audience.

Those in attendance on March 18th were mostly women, many of whom I have seen at different social justice events at Ryerson and in Toronto.  These women are active, aware of the systemic issues of patriarchy, politically aware and likely identify as feminists.  This presentation was a shortened version of the main feminist course at Ryerson, one that most of the audience has probably taken.  Many of us already identify as feminists and are aware of the myths and common beliefs that exist around the concept of the word.  It was preaching to the choir.  As much as we enjoyed the presentation and seeing Laci Green in person, we were not the people who needed to be in that lecture.

The purpose of the lecture was to address the F-Word; feminism.  It was referred to as the F-Word because some consider it a “bad” word.  The right audience for this would have been people who don’t think feminism is necessary, people who believe feminism is bad and people who buy into the common but misguided beliefs about feminism.  I think that lecture could have potentially been very eye opening if you don’t identify as a feminist.

I don’t know how we get the right audience for this type of presentation.  People who don’t care aren’t going to go out of their way to attend an event like this; it’s those of us who care about the topic that will.  I don’t know how we get the right audience into these presentations but we need to figure out a way to as gender, race, sexual identity, ability, gender identity, etc. are still issues that exist today that need to be acknowledged and addressed.

International Women’s Day Faux Pas

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International Women’s Day was on March 8th.  This day was also the day we lost an hour due to daylight savings time.  In true patriarchal fashion, International Women’s Day only got 23 hours instead of 24 (feminist humour).  Over 5000 people came out to participate in the International Women’s Day March.  There were signs about all different types of issues pertaining to women including sex trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous women, Islamaphobia, the need for universal child care, violence against women, pay gaps, racism, precarious work and many more.  As with most discussions and events about women, there is always someone doing something they should not be doing.  We will call these International Women’s Day Faux-Pas:

Asking why there is no International Men’s Day:
This seems to be the most popular question of the day.  There actually is an International Men’s Day, it’s on November 19th yet no men seem to discuss it until March 8th.  It’s not our fault you didn’t organize a march.

Telling women what to wear:
At the rally before the march, there were a lot of groups with signs, petitions and flyers for different causes.  The last group before entering the OISE auditorium, where the rally was held, was a single man yelling loudly and carrying a sign that said “no to the hijab”.  The organizers and general consensus of those in attendance is that our feminism is inclusive and intersectional.  That means a woman should be able to choose what she wears based on her own beliefs, including a hijab.  Go home “no to hijabs” man

Being a white feminist:
A white feminist doesn’t literally mean you are white and a feminist.  It means you practice white feminism which is the western status quo of feminism.  It’s exclusive, oppressive and further marginalizes other groups.  It’s made up of a demographic of white women that do not experience other forms of marginalization and view their brand of feminism as better and more “real”.  Check out a list of shit white feminists need to stop doing here: http://bellejar.ca/2015/03/08/4389/

Being the ally that takes up too much space:
Many men joined the International Women’s Day March which is great but allies always have to be mindful of the space they are taking up.  No one likes that guy at the women’s event who is obnoxiously loud, wants to be in the front and keeps running into women.

The street harasser tactics:
Businesses often use street harassment tactics to sell.  Their employees are out on the street trying to talk to you or shouting their message at you.  The entire pathway to the rally was filled with these people shouting, forcing pamphlets in your hands and continuing to yell in your ear.  Street harassment is an issue women deal with daily and using its tactics is not cool.  All of these causes were important and I would support them.  A table with some information would have sufficed.

Bringing zip ties to the march:
Here’s looking at you Toronto Police Services.  As with any march that takes place on a city street, the police are there to escort us on their bikes.  They are often cold, unfriendly and look unhappy to be there.  There never seems to be any female officers at these kinds of events, which would be appropriate.  One of the cops riding a bike happened to leave the bag on the back of his bike unzipped.  Sticking out of the bag was a bunch of zip ties used to bind peoples hands during mass arrests.  Excuse me Toronto Police… what were you expecting to happen?  What were you planning to do?  Did you bring 5000 of those?

MMIW: Criminal Negligence Causing Death

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Section 219 (1) of the Criminal Code states that “everyone is criminally negligent who a) in doing anything or, b) in omitting to do anything that is his duty to, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”.  Section 220 of the Criminal Code states that, “every person who by criminal negligence causes death to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable”.  In regards to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the Government of Canada is guilty of criminal negligence causing death.

On February 26th, amidst the national roundtable that took place on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a study was released detailing the lack of action taken by the Government of Canada over the past two decades.  Researchers with the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women reviewed 58 reports on violence against Indigenous women and girls.  The documents reviewed included government studies, reports by international human rights bodies, and published research of Indigenous women’s organizations.  Over 700 recommendations were made by these reports yet only a few of these recommendations have ever been fully implemented.

These recommendations were made to reduce the violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls.  Their purpose was to address the high numbers of Indigenous women that are murdered and missing in Canada.  Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs asked, “How many Indigenous women and girls would have been found or would still be alive if governments had acted on more of these recommendations?”  I think a lot of us are asking the same question.

By not implementing any of the recommendations, the Government of Canada has been criminally negligent, as defined by the Criminal Code.  A government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and failing to act on recommendations to reduce violence against Indigenous women shows a reckless disregard for the lives of others.  The Government of Canada is fully aware of number of Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing.  They are aware these numbers continue to rise and that not addressing the issue would result in more Indigenous women being murdered.  Therefore, the Government of Canada has been criminally negligent and that negligence has caused death.

This study further shows why a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is needed in Canada.  A government who has refused to implement over 700 recommendations and then has the audacity to claim these reports as reasons for why we do not need an inquiry has no business defining the problem, claiming to not play a role in the problem and certainly does not possess a viable solution for the problem.
Sources Used:
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/02/26/national-roundtable-on-missing-murdered-aboriginal-women-a-beginning.html

http://www.leaf.ca/legal-strategy-coalition-on-mmiw/

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-113.html

Photo from: Amnesty International Canada

Ontario’s New Sex-Education Curriculum

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I write this the day before the Liberal government will reveal a new sex-education curriculum that will be rolled out in Ontario schools next September.  Ontario’s sex-education curriculum has been outdated and in desperate need of modernizing for a long time.  Five years ago, the Liberal government put forward the idea to update the sex-education curriculum but backed down after outcry from political and social conservatives.  I have no doubts there will once again be outcry from political and social conservatives.  While sources say there will be no backing down by the Liberal government, I will believe that in September when the curriculum is in schools.  As for the outcry from political and social conservatives, the government needs to do what’s best for Ontario and its students and that is updating the curriculum.

We need an updated sex-education curriculum because Ontario is not doing so well in any area regarding sex.  A large piece of this update is to include consent in the curriculum.  Every sexual assault offender, unless from outside of Ontario, has sat in an Ontario school classroom for sex-education.  With sexual assault rates rising while all other violent crime is decreasing, there was clearly a gap in learning about sexual assault and consent.  It’s actually very frightening that people from all age categories are unable to explain or define what consent is.  What’s even more frightening is the blatant disregard of consent.

One of the news headlines today read that students in the 4th grade will learn about the dangers of sexting.  Many of the comments that followed were outraged that 9 and 10 year olds will be learning about sexting.  Children this age and much younger are being given cell phones and webcams.  If a child has a cell phone with a camera or a webcam, they need to learn about sexting no matter how young they are.  In my opinion, if you don’t want your child learning about sexting at that age, don’t give them a cell phone or webcam so young.

We also need a sex-education curriculum update because we have multiple generations of people who don’t understand what healthy relationships are.  People of all ages do not understand what an abusive relationship looks like or when they are being abusive in a relationship.  Among the younger generations, it seems to be the idea of being controlling means that my partner cares and that I have a right to control the person I am dating.  An outdated sex-education curriculum is setting up children for failure in their romantic relationships.

I would also like to see the sex-education curriculum become less heternormative (focusing on male-female relationships as the norm).  Despite gains made by the LGBTQ community, homophobia and transphobia is still widespread and is present in schools.  Sex-education should be inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities.

I’m looking forward to reading what the new sex-education curriculum will include.  I’m even more excited to see updated sex-education being taught in our schools.  There will be outcry but the bottom line is Ontario’s children will one day become Ontario’s adults.  This change isn’t just for children; it’s for the province as a whole to move towards positive changes in sex and relationships.

Sources: Martin Regg Cohn: The sex-ed update Ontario badly needs in the Toronto Star (February 22, 2015).
Photo from: Wellness Education Consiglio