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Intersectional Feminism Or Nothing

If we aren’t practicing intersectional feminism, we’re doing feminism wrong. And we’re not serving who we want to serve. I’ve been reading a lot about this, especially since the Women’s March on Washington, when I found myself scanning crowds here in Vancouver to check for representation. Scanning crowds and speakers. Looking at planning committees and reading concerns on Facebook pages.

Probably the simplest way to put it, that I read in Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional, is ‘one-size-fits-all feminism is to feminism what #AllLivesMatter is to #BlackLivesMatter’. It diminishes the plight and the issues of subgroups of women. It’s not entirely the same fight and we shouldn’t pretend it is. It doesn’t speak at all to racialized sexism. It doesn’t address transphobia. Indeed, feminism in the historical sense, is the fight of middle-class white women. There is evidence that this is changing, but I think we can speed up the process by understanding intersectional feminism and truly getting behind it.

As I do further research in the way of readings and interviews, I wanted to share this with you. Jillian Christmas lives in Vancouver, and she is an award-winning poet, mentor and teacher.

Listen to her poem, Black Feminist, and notice how it makes you feel. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s ok. In fact, that’s good. Feminism, intersectional or not, is not here for anyone to feel comfortable. And when we meet there, in that tight space that makes us itch and even perspire, we can truly start to move forward.

 

 

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Dear Men: You Can Be Feminists

In recent conversations with my husband – a kind, generous man who grew up in a house full of women – I’ve realized that not everyone understands what feminism is, who a feminist might be, what is detrimental about our current social system, and how to make change. For the men who love us and want to be our ally, I have decided to write this piece. I hope this offers some insight into what feminism really is, and how men (and women) can be part of the movement.

  1. Understand what feminism is (and what it is not)

As a young girl, I understood feminism to be a movement from the past when angry bra-burning women screamed obscenities at men and hated the world in which they lived. I thought of it as a movement aimed at bringing men down and declaring women to be superior. A feminist then was someone who hated men (and bras), didn’t use personal hygiene products, and was too far out in left field to carry any weight in the present times or the future. I now understand that this isn’t what feminism is.

Feminism is the advocacy for women’s equal rights to men, on political, social and economic ground. Equal. That’s what we’re working toward. Yes, there is anger behind this movement – because why doesn’t this equality exist yet? But the anger is directed at our social system, not at individual men or women who unknowingly uphold this system. And personal hygiene products, bras and makeup aren’t necessarily tied up in this movement; I think what women really want is the freedom to be able to make choices about their bodies and lives without being confined by social thinking. So, we can get caught up in the many ways that women express their outrage, or we can look beneath the surface and ask ourselves, “Why does feminism exist?”

  1. Understand what the word feminist means (and that you should be one)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared himself a feminist. Author and TED speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests that we should ALL be one. But what does it mean to be a feminist? Can men be feminists?

A feminist is a person who supports feminism. If you believe that women and men should be equal on political, social and economic fronts then you fit the bill. Men absolutely can be feminists, and in fact, we really all need to be on the same page here for change to come. And while it might sound honourable for a man to say he is a feminist because he has a mother, a wife, a daughter, a niece or whatever, a feminist simply believes in equality for equality’s sake. For example, I don’t believe I know a single Sudanese person. But I still believe that any Sudanese person is deserving of rights. I don’t need to have an actual, tangible connection to someone to believe they are worthy.

  1. Understand and dissect socialized thinking

Being aware of social thought is critical to making change. It’s the system that needs revamping and that system is engrained in each of us; it has had a heavy hand in our upbringing and is reinforced in our social interactions, in the marketing of our products, in the expectations we have of each other and ourselves. It’s passed down through parenthood and the stories we tell our children, consciously and subconsciously.

Listen to the ways in which girls and boys, men and women, are placed into categories. Listen to the words we use when we describe the actions of each sex. Listen to what comes out of our mouths when we refer to gender roles.

Observe. Observe how women are treated in work situations. Observe how women are treated in social situations. Look at the industries that tell women what their limitations are. Look at how sons and daughters are treated.

Think critically: are these differences based on biology or sociology? Are women paid less because they are biologically different from men or because they are sociologically different from men? Are women slut-shamed because they are biologically different from men or because they are sociologically different from men? Are there fewer women in certain fields of study because of their DNA or because of society?

We can’t change something we don’t recognize, so we better get really good at recognizing the issues.

  1. Understand the ways in which you can be positively disruptive

So, how do we shake up a system that has existed this long? We call it out situation to situation. Men, if you notice your colleague being spoken over in a boardroom meeting, call it out. Call out sexist jokes. Call out sexist comments.

First, draw attention to the comment and name it: That’s sexist. And then, depending on the situation, you can spout a fact: When a woman wears a short skirt, she is not asking to be sexually assaulted. Or you can even turn it back to the commentor: What do you mean by that comment? Why would that be funny? Alternatively, you can explicitly point out the difference between the treatment of men and women by saying something like: When a man is promiscuous, society congratulates him. When a woman is promiscuous, society shames her.

Men must do this, too. Not saying anything is the same as silently agreeing. Speaking up, calling out, can be difficult but often the right thing to do is not always the easiest.

  1. Listen to the lived experiences of women and accept them

One of my favourite Canadian authors, Lawrence Hill, received an honourary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Guelph during which time he addressed the gatherers with some remarkable comments about women and their right to be heard. He touched upon the fact that when women are brave enough to come forward about being sexually assaulted, they are often silenced or vilified. He spoke about how women who bring forward cases of sexual harassment whether in a professional or personal setting are at risk of being further abused by society through social or traditional media.

Hill asserted that the only response to a woman in these situations should be respectful attention and the assurance that she will be kept safe. Had I been in that audience, I would have jumped to my feet clapping when he said, “And they have the right to carry on with their studies, their work and their lives without fear of censure if they speak up about their fundamental human rights.”

This is how a feminist thinks, man or woman. And this is what we need.

Modern Love: Female Friendships in A New Day

It hit me with tsunami force: a wave of remembrance and longing, as deep as a craving, for the comfort of a particular female friend. In my mind, she could break the drudgery of my day by steeping a pot of tea, offering a smile and a warm scone. These are not simple free associations, but activities we shared often when we lived around the corner from each other. Both entrepreneurs, our youngest children the same age, we had many things in common. I don’t need to use the past tense, and yet I do. Since I moved 64 miles and an entire stretch of ocean away from her, our time together is either abbreviated – the 2 hours before my ferry leaves to return home after a work trip – or digital. There is always a sense of loss in this communion now.

Female friendships are powerful forces we too often take for granted in the hustle of our everyday lives. In “What Women Find in Friends That They May Not Get From Love” writer Rebecca Traister calls her female friendships “replenishing.” It is a “fill-my-cup” kind of nurturance that is unlike romantic love. She goes on, “Female friendships are not a consolation prize, some romance also-ran. Women who find affinity with one another are not settling. In fact, they might be doing the opposite, finding something vital that is lacking in their romantic entanglements…” (Source).

I believe female friendships to be vital currents through which we re-define the very nature of love and community, as well as ourselves. In communicating with another woman, in sharing pieces of your life and emotions, you learn not only about her, but about yourself, the world and your place in it. Further, female friendships are the glue of society. When this kind of bonding was the norm in cultures, women came together in the name of strengthening civic and familial ties. Think church groups and fundraising circles, communal baking and childrearing.

And yet in the backdrop of all female friendships is the cultural dark side that casts woman-to-woman connection as some kind of sinister practice – plotting against the patriarchy, a male fantasy lesbian love scene. Emily Rapp writes in “Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship”, “people diminish and poo-poo the real power and strength of female friendship … which is either supposed to descend into some kind of male lesbian love scene porn fantasy or be dismissed as meaningless or be re-written as a story of competition. Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones, Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers and sometimes children.” (Source).

Research also shows that friendships, for both men and women, reduce stress. Women, however, are more likely to seek companionship as a stress response. This “tend and befriend” response has been well-documented in the research by Shelley E. Taylor. She writes, “…women more reliably turn to their social contacts in times of stress, responses that are, as just noted, protective of health and longevity. The fact that men may be somewhat more likely to cope with stress via fight or flight and women to cope with stress via tend and befriend may help to explain the world-wide gender gap in mortality.” Her theory is fascinating, and seems to be upheld in real-life examples of men and women demonstrating different responses to stress. She cites the Soviet Union in 1989, when the social environment of Eastern Europe left many people unattached. Women often came together during this time in informal groups to share the daily management of tasks. Men were more likely to seek substances and aggressive encounters with other men. (Source.)

Today feels like an apt time to discuss the power of women coming together to heal, soothe and strengthen. Women in the United States of America are organizing to march on Washington and many people here in our own country of Canada are planning to do the same in solidarity. Memes are popping up around the internet expressing with seriousness and humour the desire to take over the patriarchy.

There is in this revolution then the very foundational need for women’s friendships. On one level, women coming together provides the mass and the message needed to leave an impact. On another level, the finding of intimate spaces for women to lift each other up, nurture and strengthen provides the individual impact we all need in order to live full, rich lives that include achievement of our highest potential.

If friendships have dangled when life has evolved alongside your role within it, now is the best time to pick up the phone, send a text or write an email. Making a step toward contact, repair, rejuvenation and yes replenishing the well of female love is the way forward right now. For each of us.

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Give The Gift Of Solidarity: 8 Canadian Organizations For Women That Can Use Your Help

Does it feel more difficult each year to come up with gift ideas for your friends and family who, honestly, have what they need? Last night I was going over my list – checking it twice, if you will – trying to dream up items to give people I know don’t want for anything. I was stretching, going beyond ‘need’ and into ‘what could I give them that they wouldn’t otherwise treat themselves to?’ and still feeling stumped. It felt like a strange exercise when I could easily rattle off the very basic human needs that aren’t being met for countless others in my current city and across Canada.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me: stuck for creative, generous ways to show that you love and appreciate somebody. Maybe you want to honour your loved ones by supporting someone in the community who truly needs it.

To help you (and me) with this, I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of Canadian organizations that support women and women’s causes. Here are some they came up with.

8 Canadian Organizations That Support Women:

  1. Surrey Women’s Centre

Surrey Women’s Centre is a crisis centre for women and girls escaping domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. It is a safe place for women and girls to turn to, 24/7, and is the only centre of its kind in Surrey, B.C. In addition to the crisis line, they offer support in court and weekly accompaniment to a family law clinic, as well as individual and group counselling. As a resource centre, they provide a housing and income clinic, free clothing exchange and a community kitchen.

You can gift these women with continued program support by donating here.

I also encourage you to read their stories – because our stories connect us to each other.

2. Pacific Post Partum Support Society

Approximately 1 out of 6 women, and 1 out of 10 men, experiences postpartum depression and anxiety after welcoming a baby into the family whether by birth or adoption. Pacific Post Partum Support Society has been around since 1971 helping mothers and their families who are experiencing the symptoms of post partum distress. And their treatment model? Mothers helping mothers. There are a variety of free or low-cost programs available that are individual and specific to each mom’s needs. Today their support reaches 3500 women and their families each year.

There are several ways to help – from cash donations to volunteering on the fundraising committee or becoming a member of the society. A creative idea might be to forego a gift exchange between you and your best friend, and instead commit to volunteering together. A joint project could be a more meaningful way to connect throughout the year.

3. Canadian Women’s Foundation

Canadian Women’s Foundation is a comprehensive organization whose mission is to invest in the strength of women and the dreams of girls. They raise money to end violence against women, remove them from situations of poverty, and build resilient girls. Their approach is to assist women and girls with the greatest need with a priority being First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls. Every year over 30,000 women and girls benefit directly from their programs which is just one of the reasons they list to consider supporting one of the top ten women’s foundations in the world.

One of the founding mothers of Canadian Women’s Foundation, Rosemary Brown, the first black woman elected to provincial office in Canada said, “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” If you agree, please consider giving in one of these ways.

4. Mom2Mom

Mom2Mom is a community-based organization to improve developmental outcomes of children living in Vancouver’s inner city. It really is a support group for women to help them parent in the best way possible, with resources, compassion and women-centred mentorship and support. They understand that when families are stressed due to basic needs not being met, children are at risk of not thriving. Vancouver is a wealthy city but Mom2Mom knows that there are many women, children and families who fall through the social cracks.

There are many ways to support Mom2Mom including some fulfilling volunteer opportunities and through monetary donations. Learn about the ways to give here.

5. 1UP Victoria’s Single Parent Resource Centre

Since 1978, 1UP has served Greater Victoria’s single parent families with a wide selection of programs and free services to create stronger, healthier families. They provide counselling, mentorship, practical support (free clothing room, bread pantry, free toy and book room, and more). 1UP also holds an annual back-to-school drive and has a Christmas hamper program you can be part of.

Again, there are many different ways to give. You can find a way to partner with them in honour of a loved one this Christmas.

6. YWCA Metro Vancouver

Did you know that YWCA Metro Vancouver has been around since 1897? And their greatest vision is to help women achieve equality through advocacy and services that foster economic independence, wellness and opportunities. They have incredible resources for women facing violence, poverty, single parenthood, sexualization and more. And they are true champions of women as shown through their Women of Distinction awards – their annual fundraiser that honours extraordinary women leaders.

Here are some ideas for getting involved, not just at Christmas but all year ’round.

7. Ovarian Cancer Canada

The only Canadian registered charity dedicated to overcoming ovarian cancer, they support women and their families living with ovarian cancer, raise awareness among the general public and health care professionals, and fund research. Their research focuses on early detection, treatment and ultimately, a cure.

Here are some video stories of women living with ovarian cancer – they talk about diagnosis through treatment and the impact this disease has on their lives.

Be inspired by these generous ways to give of your time and money.

8. Ikwe Widdjiitiwin (Women Helping Women) Aboriginal Crisis Shelter

A crisis centre for aboriginal women in Winnipeg, Manitoba offers culturally appropriate services for women escaping domestic and sexual violence and has been around since 1984. Their programs include a crisis line, residential services, children’s program, interim housing program, followup services and outreach services. They are able to provide help in native languages and serve with integrity and compassion holistically, keeping in mind a woman’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.

To donate to this registered charity, please visit here.

I hope this gives you some unique gift ideas to check off your list and leave a lasting impact.

Storytelling Challenge – December

News Release

For Immediate Release

December 1, 2016

Contact: Karen Bannister and Taslim Jaffer

Her Story

250-616-3444 | karen@herstorymedia.ca

Storytelling Challenge Gives Voice to Women’s Experiences

From December 1 to January 15th, women across Canada are invited to interview another woman-identified individual in their life, and to share the story told in this exchange on their blog or Facebook page. The movement is to create more stories about the lived experiences of Canadian women, and to encourage bonding over the holiday season.

The challenge comes from two storytellers, Karen Bannister and Taslim Jaffer of Her Story, a magazine and podcast launching in 2017 to tell the stories of Canadian women and raise awareness for women’s rights and social concerns.

According to Karen and Taslim, “Sharing and telling stories makes all the difference in the world when we are trying to bridge gaps between people. Storytelling creates a shared space between speaker and audience where reflections of ourselves can be found in the other party. What happens when we find ourselves in someone else? Their story becomes our story, their pain becomes our pain, their joy becomes our joy; the separation between us diminishes. This is the basis for Her Story, and it is a community effort.”  

If you would like to participate in this challenge, you can interview another woman and record her story in video, audio or print format. You are asked to post your story to a blog or Facebook page by January 15, 2017. Please tag #HerStoryMedia to encourage sharing. Every storyteller will be entered into a draw to win 1 ticket to the Her Story launch event happening in Vancouver in March, 2017. For more information visit HerStoryOurStory.com

Here are some story-starters for you to choose from, but feel free to use your own ideas, too:

1. What is a favourite childhood memory?

2. What message do you have for a woman 10 years younger than you?

3. What was your favourite thing to do when you were between 10 and 12 years old?

4. How do you remember your mom?

5. What would make you laugh out loud today?

About Her Story:  

Her Story is a platform for sharing the lived experiences of Canadian women who have faced marginalization or injustice. We create awareness for important social issues through media campaigns and through our own media platforms: Her Story, Our Story magazine and Her Story podcast. We use the power of story to empower and incite other women to stand up, join together and be bold and brave in asking for what we need.

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Her Story: My Call To Action

My husband’s hands pushed hard on my lower back as I draped myself over the hospital bed, moaning through the contraction that threatened to split me in two. Desperately clinging to my breath, my mind searched for something to hold on to. From the foggy depths of the pain, emerged one thought: My girl. The much-anticipated little sister for my daughter and my son, and the one who would complete our family. I focused. I inhaled. I exhaled. As the contraction eased, I wiped the sweat from my upper lip. One day, this girl who was trying to burst into this world, as well as my firstborn daughter may find themselves draped over beds, or squatting, splitting from the inside out, to do what women have been doing since the beginning of time.

Women are bonded in our pain and in our joy. We are bonded in our fears and in our dreams. We belong to each other in this way, yet I feel there is still a disconnect. A painful separation, a cracked foundation. Even a gaping hole. There are lies that keep us apart, beliefs that have been fed to us knowingly and unknowingly, and a great deal of emphasis placed on the ways we are not the same. And therein lies our greatest obstacle.

Her Story is our way of demolishing that obstacle and creating a smoother path for us to tread together. Through the stories of women we don’t even know, we will see our own reflection. Through partnering with organizations who serve these women, we will answer the question, “What can I do about this?” Because when we see ourselves in each other, we will realize the importance of doing something.

Karen and I share a passion for storytelling and for bringing women together. When she started talking to me about Her Story, my soul lit up! I had already been contemplating travelling North America to interview Muslim women and write their stories, revealing them to be very much like women you already know. Broadening my scope to include women of all backgrounds facing a variety of social injustices that one might not visualize against a Canadian backdrop, was the perfect way to get me out of the ‘thinking’ mode and into action mode – which is where I want to be.

I told Karen, “I want to do something.” And through Her Story, we will mobilize you, too. If you have ever thought to yourself, I want to do something, you have come to the right place.

At Her Story, we listen first. That is a huge part of doing. It directs us to be the right kind of support, and maps out the best way to make change. Let’s listen together to the stories of our Canadian sisters so that we can best know how to serve them.

And then, let’s mobilize. Each quarter, we will partner with different organizations to shed light on the social issues the women in our country face. We will ask them what they need. We will listen and we will act. There’s a way for each of us to do something – whether it’s sharing what we read or hear with family and friends, donating time or resources, or participating in rallies or fundraisers. If you want to do something, we will help you find that thing.

When I see women hurt, it’s like an injustice has been done to me, and to my mom, and to my daughters. I need to be able to look at my daughters and say, I am doing the very best I can to create a world where your femininity is celebrated, where you are handled with care – physically and emotionally, where your merits are discussed more than your makeup. I want to look them in the eyes and say, I’m championing you every step of the way.

I anticipate this journey to be eye-opening and sacred. I will likely need help to pick my heart up off the ground at times. But I would much rather be broken open so that I can grow into the highest version of myself, than remain closed, uninformed and empty.

Join me, please, on this journey. Let’s hold each others’ hearts and hands.

 

Why Her Story, Why Now

“There’s nothing to see here, folks.” says the man as he lightly pushes people behind the yellow tape, drawing his own shoulders back in an untamed display of authority and cautionary aggression.

We huddle, only half-hearing his warning, unable to tear our eyes from the wreckage in front of us. We are a sudden community of onlookers, all with an innate desire to bear witness, pulled as we are to acknowledge suffering and then wonder aloud, “What can I do to help?”

I have no specific story to attach this scene to, though you might imagine me at the side of the road watching with horror as lives are changed instantaneously. You might imagine me walking in chain formation through thick fields of grass and weeds that crunch and split beneath my feet earnest and hopeful as I search the ground, calling the name of a child lost quietly, violently only days before. You might imagine me huddled with a friend in the lobby of a police station, as she uses my sleeve to dry the flood of tears that can’t be dammed since he tore inside of her. You might imagine me drawing the curtains around a woman who wails for God to take her too; there’s too much pain left in the wake of her child’s death.

We cannot turn away. We cannot shelter our eyes and our hearts to what is happening in our communities, around the world, in the homes of friends, neighbours, loved ones maybe even our own.

There is a lot to see here, a lot that others may not want you to see. But our innate desire to observe is linked with our innate desire to stretch our arms around the wounded to shelter with love, kindness, understanding and community. It is our innate desire, that must be tapped like a wellspring and channelled into marches and movements that send clear messages to the lawmakers who have the power to stop and protect: we aren’t going to take this anymore.

We must first bear witness.

We must second take action.

When the idea of Her Story first came to me – as a strong desire to tell the stories of women – I became enamored with the following African Proverb:

Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

The master narrative which glorifies is told by the white man.

I thought at first I wanted to travel the world and find the untold stories of women: in the hovels of Egypt, war-torn villages of Afghanistan, the laneways of Haiti. Then I realized, these stories – the lived experiences of women living with tremendous injustice and emotional pain – are right here in my own backyard.

Canada.

We are a progressive country with national health care, a self-declared Feminist Prime Minister, warm examples of an inclusive immigration policy and a first world economy.

1 in 7 Canadians live in poverty.

Women who work in Canada earn about $0.72 per every dollar earned by a man.

1 in 3 women will experience some sort of sexual violence in her lifetime.

There are currently 582 cases of murdered or missing Aboriginal women in Canada.

We have communities living in our country’s borders without adequate clean water.

Death by suicide amongst aboriginal teens in Canada is 5-6x higher than it is amongst non-aboriginal youths.

Look beyond the statistics: there are real stories standing behind you in the grocery store line, they are collecting their children from the same playground you stand beside after school. These co-workers and school parents, teachers and friends of friends their eyelids hide tales of prosecution, persecution, discrimination, and suffering. And when I started looking for these stories right here in my own community, I was painfully startled by how easy they were to find. I only needed to become aware. I only needed to stop and listen.

Taslim and I began to speak about our shared passion for storytelling, women’s issues and social change. She told me something beautiful. She loves to write and she’s good at bringing her own story to paper. What she wants now is to listen.

I am ready to listen too.

And I am ready, as I hope you are too, to not just huddle, to bear witness to the wreckage but to bear the weight of responsibility too. It is up to me. It is up to you. It is up to us all to create the world we want to live in.

This is where I start: Her Story, Our Story magazine and podcast dedicates itself 4x annually to telling the stories and exploring the issues that matter to Canadian women. We give ourselves over as captains of a ship sailing social media campaigns that raise awareness and shine the spotlight on the good work of social service agencies fighting for a difference. Hope you join us.