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Allied Arts & Media Systems

Opening the Door for Men?

On September 29th, the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario is hosting its second  one day, virtual and in-person “Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion” conference at Fanshawe College in celebration of Gender Equality Week 2022.

But who founded this new organization? Why now? And what’s the difference between feminist organizations and gender equality organizations?

To find out, we spoke with Dr. Amanda Zavitz, the Coalition’s Leadership chair, small business owner, former small-town truck stop waitress, scholar, Marxist, labour activist, mother of two, conference lead and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Fanshawe College for over 20 years.

LiisBeth:  Tell us about the coalition—how did it get started?

Zavitz: So the gender equality coalition is an Ontario registered nonprofit organization based in London, Ontario. Linda Davis and Danny Bartlett co-founded the organization in 2019 because while there are several women’s advancement groups in the area, there was no organization that fought for gender equality for all genders, including men. The coalition is funded in part by the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE). Any individual or organization can become a member. At present, coalition members include Champions of Change (London), Urban League (London) and Unicef (Western University). 

I joined as Chair of the nine person (five women, four men) board in 2020. Coalition members believe that gender inequality, patriarchy, colonialism and white supremacy also negatively impacts men. In feminist spaces, we focus on women and talk a lot about the social construction of femininity being damaging, but we also think that the social construction of masculinity is equally damaging for men and boys. We believe this gap needs to be addressed.

LiisBeth:  What does the gender equality coalition do that feminist organizations don’t already do?

Zavitz: I think that one of the things our coalition achieves is that it helps us move beyond the ill-informed, but still broadly held stereotype that feminism is anti-men. It invites a broader, intersectional conversation about gender and creates a space where we can talk about how its social construction impacts all genders. So by simply saying that we think that men are affected by gender inequality as well, we create a space where men, including queer and trans men feel as though they can be part of the feminist conversation and be heard. Since we’ve started, I’ve noticed it really does allow all people, men, women, gender, diverse to let their guard down and feel as though they can be part of a conversation about challenging gender constructs together.

LiisBeth:  The idea of gender equality organizations, for many feminists, is problematic. Some feminists see it as watered-down, corporatized version of feminism (all genders matter) which detracts from the real and more dire, urgent work of ending the systemic oppression of women. Thoughts?

Zavitz: I don’t necessarily disagree, but we ultimately need to have gender equality for all in order to realize the ultimate feminist dream, or at least to move the feminist movement forward sustainably. I don’t see the two things as separate. So, I get what feminism is. I understand the importance of women-only, women-led spaces. Women will always be the torch bearers of the fight. I am an active participant in the feminist movement, but we need an evolved feminist movement that has gender equality for all at its roots.

If we look at where we are today, rollbacks included, we actually need to have a feminist movement that’s more inclusive of men. Not because men need help getting equality, but because men are also impacted by gender constructs in ways that allow them to justify their role in the perpetuating harms and prevents them from participating as informed allies in the feminist movement. The gender equality space can serve as an alternative gateway for men who are keen to learn more about feminism—and want to amplify its work.

LiisBeth:  Men have always been part of, or served as allies in the feminist struggle. There were men supporting the suffragettes, men marching alongside women in the 1960’s and again in the women’s march of 2016. Allyship between male-led social justice organizations has always been there. And look where we still are.

Zavitz: That’s true. If we look today, we find some men still marching alongside a lot of women. At a recent protest against sexual assault at Western university where I work, men were included in the organizing. There were some men that were marching alongside a lot of women.

We are not saying men have not been allies or supportive of feminist work. But not enough of them have signed on to tip the scales. What’s different about our organization is we’re willing to understand the extent to which men, your average Dick and John, have also been impacted by systems of oppression and make this part of the feminist conversation. We know that today’s definition of masculinity remains toxic for men and boys. By creating a space where all genders can talk about this together, we believe we can mobilize higher levels of allyship.

There’s been so much debate about what feminism is and what feminism isn’t. For me, feminism is about ending inequality and all kinds of systemic oppressions. And if we really understand that, then we know we have to include men in not only the discussion, but also in the movement.  I argue in class that the next wave of feminism should be a much more gender-diverse, collective movement; An inclusive, intersectional gender movement of both individuals and allied organizations that work together intentionally to dismantle power structures that are actually killing us all.

Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion conference speaker line up, September 29th, 2022. Click to register.

LiisBeth:  Wow. OK. We hear you! Now tell us what you are most excited about regarding the upcoming conference.

Zavitz:  Oh, so many things! But I will mention two.

First, our speaker lineup is incredible. Secondly, our activists-at-large program design feature.

On the speaker front, we have Jeff Perera, a well-known North American activist who talks about the construction of gender, helpful versus harmful ideas of manhood, race and masculinity, the importance of empathy-building and who calls on men to help end gender-based violence. We also welcome the incredible Dr. Raven Sinclair who will provide an indigenous perspective on gender equality, and Teneile Warren, playwright, community organization, plus intersectional equity educator, transformative justice practitioner specializing in anti-Black racism education who will talk about how gender was built on the foundation of racism.

The activist-at-large idea is a new exciting experiment! Here we invited well-known, and lesser-known feminist, anti-oppression activists and authors to participate in the conference, not as speakers but as people charged with the task of mingling with the attendees and participating in, versus leading, round table discussions. We want them to share their wisdom but also encourage connections that continue to develop well beyond the event. We believe that this is better done on the floor rather than mediated by the stage. Among those attending as activists in residence are Joseph Pazanno, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) professional, strategist, and attorney, Judy Rebick (socialist feminist, reproductive rights), Nora Loreto (feminist and union organizing) and Lori Fox (queer, working-class rights and anti-capitalism).

Oh! And we also have a terrific panel discussion focused on the future of feminism.

It’s going to be a great day!

LiisBeth:  It sure sounds like it! And we will be there. Thank you for speaking with us Dr. Zavitz!


Publisher’s Note:  This is a sponsored feature. Thank you to the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario for its support of LiisBeth.com. You can still register for the event. Price is $25.00 for students or $75.00 for general admission. 

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Our Voices

The Equal Futures Summit Delivers

An image showing four panelists at the Gender Equality Summit 2022. All women.
(Advancing Gender Equality in Canadian Politics Panel, from left to right: Moderator Kylie Adair, Future of Good, Raine Lillifeldt, Interim CEO, YWCA, Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), Fae Johnstone, Wisdom2Action, and Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.) Photo: pk mutch

Big tent gender equality events are high wire acts.

They involve juggling multiple feminisms plus deft handling of picky funders and powerful politicos in the room. It also requires mastering the aerial feat of balancing the needs and expectations of two distinct changemaking cultures—non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and grassroots feminist organizations.

The recent and first Equal Futures 2022 Gender Equality Summit, aced the first two. The latter? Not so much.

NGOs are insiders, researchers, and focus on mobilizing government. They prefer polite, parliamentary style interaction and connecting over LinkedIn. Grassroots feminist organizations are outsiders, revolutionaries, and work to mobilize people. They crave voice, action and prefer to connect in more informal ways—like a hot tub after hours.

Of the 10 leaders of organizations and student attendees interviewed, all agreed that the format and ambience was pretty institutional, meaning top down and polite, with little room for attendee-led discussion or debate. No action plans or collective next steps were co-created. Panel moderators did not make space for questions, comments or counterpoints from the lecture hall’s continuously seated audience, in which case, we could have saved travel costs, and simply watched the moderators and panelists talk among themselves on ZOOM.

However, there were bright spots.

Image of indigenous woman on stage speaking with a mic wearing black and white jumpsuit
Keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, Shaneese Steele. Photo: Equal Futures Network

On the second day, Shaneese Steele, a 28-year-old Mukaade Anishinaabe Kwe (Afro-Indigenous person) took to the stage to lead over 100 BIPOC, Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, Queer and White participants in a two-hour talk about how to be an Indigenous ally. Addressing the diverse crowd of predominately Gen+Z and Millennial folks, Steele began by presenting Canada’s indigenous history. 

Not long after her presentation began, a woman in the back (let us call her Justine) broke the Ted Ex flow and asked for the mic. “With respect” she said assertively, “I have to tell you your definition of Metis people is incorrect.”  Steele received the outburst as a gift. However, there were more gifts to come from Justine: A self-identified Alberta-based, Blackfoot, indigenous activist, traumatized mother of four, forty plus woman at the back of the room who made it clear that she didn’t just study the history with the intensity of a scholar; She had lived it–and still lives it today. Justine didn’t–wouldn’t– let anything slide.  Justine was not going to go unheard. Her interjections were just the kind of thunderclaps needed to change the energy in the room.

Just like that, the two-hour session transformed from being a institutional workshop—to a truly messy, emotional, interrogative feminist space. Many hands went up. Folks of all genders told their stories. Sometimes tears were shed. Steele embraced the flow and transformed from speaker to facilitator.

Indigenous history and the nature of feminist and ally work was not just learned that morning. It was felt.

You can’t get that stuff on ZOOM. It made attending in person worthwhile.

The rest of the summit was more conventional in format and experience.

It featured a stellar lineup of NGO CEOs and other organizational leaders, not one but two Liberal Ministers (The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), The Honorable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of International Development) and a former WAGE Minister, Maryam Monsef. Monsef lost her home riding seat (Peterborough) in the last election. Her message was about rest and the impact of burnout on progress and the sector.

Hella yes to that.

Other bright spots included the incredible knowledge and insights shared by top tier panelists and keynote speakers. Key insights and calls to action include:

Erosion of democracy leads to the erosion of women’s rights

Panelist Meghan Doherty, Director of Global Policy & Advocacy for Action Canada for Sexual and Reproductive Rights says “We cannot rest easy.”

The panel on Health and Gender Equality cautioned participants not to underestimate the impact of this emerging double whammy: The weakening state of democracy coupled with the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion regarding Roe v. Wade will ultimately erode women’s reproductive rights globally. That includes Canada. Citing Poland’s recent decision to create a pregnant woman registry as an example, panelists agreed the number of nation states providing access to safe, affordable, shame free abortions could be expected to decline. The panel reminded everyone that while abortion is a legal procedure in Canada, access can still be deeply undermined if political will was so inclined.

The recent occupation of Ottawa by the so-called, trucker led, Freedom Convoy and rise of the alt right in Canada shows that democracy is also subject to attack in Canada. History, past and present, shows that when democracy weakens, so do women’s rights and freedoms.

We need anti-hate legislation now

“I have been an LGBTQ+ activist for eight years now and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared,” says Fae Johnstone, a trans woman, small business owner, feminist, writer, and Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, an 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Johnstone adds “I don’t think we have fully opened our eyes to the degree of backlash that is coming in the very near future. We know there are far right groups who, today, specifically target school boards, lobbying for policies that are harmful to queer and trans youth.” 

Canada is home to 100,815 people who are transgender or non-binary, including 31,555 who are transgender women. As awareness of trans folks increases, so does trans hate. Panelists agreed that Canada urgently needs to monitor all forms of hate and move forward on creating strong anti-hate legislation.

Let’s shift the relationship between grassroots organizations and institutions

“Grassroots movements have forced us to think differently about policy and I think we need to give these groups more credit,” says Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.

Our decades old legacy civil society institutions were a part of our white supremacist, colonialist past, and today, are often still part of the problem. Working more closely with grassroots groups, investing in local organizations, and directly funding these organizations will help us identify, amplify and implement ideas that often don’t get enough credit. “

It’s all connected

“So, Ghana introduced an anti-LGBTQ+ “family values” Bill in August 2021. When you read it, you see right away that it wasn’t homegrown,”says Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, a Ghanian-Canadian and Executive Director for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD)

The Bill was, for all intents and purposes, a copy of a similar bill introduced in the U.S. “If this law can successfully pass in Ghana, considered a to be like a social justice golden child in Africa, this type of bill can be fair game for every single country on the continent.

Feminist groups in Canada need to pay more attention to happenings on the international stage because it informs what we may experience here.

An image of diverse women facing forward to hear a speaker talk at a conference
Attendees at the Equal Futuress Summit Evening Keynote Talks. Photo: Equal Futures Network

What happens next?

The Equal Futures Summit, funded and coordinated by Equal Futures Network (a project of CanWaCH)  may not have met everyone’s expectations, but Julia Anderson, CanWaCH CEO, was pleased with how it all went down.

“I was so energized to see how people didn’t just show up, they were truly ‘present’. To me, this is critical as the road ahead is going to require us to continue to work hard together through the ever-growing challenges,” says Anderson.

There will be more big tent events to come.

The Summit reminded us why rebuilding our capacity for effective feminist organizing and creating spaces for learning and dialogue in Canada is both medicine for what harms us today, and a bridge to the future.

The Gender Equality Summit was a strong, post pandemic lock down event where in addition to seeing each other’s feet for the first time in two years, we saw each other’s feet, and together, watch them take a first collective step.

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Activism & Action Our Voices

Growing Into Feminism

Photo: Clique Studios

 

In her book “Living a Feminist Life”, Sara Ahmed asked the question: “When did feminism become a word that not only spoke to you, but spoke you, spoke of your existence, spoke you into existence?”

In other words, how does someone reach a point when, without apology, you identify as a feminist? Especially when it seems the only place you can find courses on the subject are in university calendars?

Last week, CV Harquail, a colleague, shared this remarkable article with me: Amanda Sinclair’s Five movements in an embodied feminist: A memoir. Sinclair says we become feminists over time by experiencing physical and intellectual struggles thrown at us by a system that routinely subordinates women and gender minorities. She says our lived experiences and feelings lead us to feminism. We don’t seek it out. It finds us.

I decided to consider my own journey and put this theory to the test.

My first awareness of feminism came in 1975, which coincided with the United Nations’ declaration of the Year of the Woman. I learned about Gloria Steinem. Morgentaler risking his life to open abortion clinics to make the procedure safe and more available to women in Canada. The Equal Rights Amendment in the United States (and a woman!) Phyliss Schafley fighting against the extension of women’s rights. Cheeky Iona Campagnolo who ran for leadership of the Canadian liberal party and endured a pat on the bum from the eventual winner – and returned it! Iris Rivera, who taught us you can get fired for not making your boss a cup of coffee.

When all this turbulent media coverage swept over me, I was 13.

The stories, good and misleading, followed by brutal backlash, created fireworks that awakened me. From personal experience, I saw that girls were encouraged differently than boys. This felt unfair. Now I was learning that I was not alone. In the library, I found Sisterhood is Powerful, a collection of essays from the front lines of feminist struggles and devoured it. Shortly after, I joined a grown-up feminist club with my like-minded best friend. We simply believed that anything boys could do, girls could do. And we wanted others to believe that, too. Naively, we thought this idea was an easy sell—until we invited two women from the club to speak to our grade 8 health class about gender equality. Our lockers were vandalized. From then on, classmates routinely taunted us and called us lesbians. So much for prospects of a first kiss at that year’s dance!

During high school and university in the early ‘80s, feminism wove in and out of my life, by comparison, in quiet ways. Yet, it influenced my choice of study—journalism—as I had witnessed the power of the pen. Feminist leaders became my role models for their courage to speak truth to power—and endure the often terrible consequences with such grace. I thought it was cool that feminists were considered dangerous. They taught me what standing up for myself looked like.

When I got married, feminism inspired me to hyphenate my name rather than follow tradition and take my husband’s.

Though the 80’s and 90’s, I rose through the ranks of a publishing company, mostly by fitting into the system, then started another company.  I soon learned that life in corporate environments is a truly a sheltered one. Once outside, as an entrepreneur again, in a male dominated industry (agri-food), I routinely encountered gendered prejudice—suppliers of equipment would ask where my husband was before they would believe I was serious, Canali-suited men in boardrooms and talked over me as though I didn’t exist–even though I was the founder and operator. After the exit, and upon re-entering the world of working for others, I learned that I was paid less than male predecessors and replacement for doing the same job. So much for #Becauseits2015.

As I reflected on defining moments in my life, I was astonished by how often I drew on the work of feminists to navigate through challenging personal and professional times. It turns out that, yes, experiencing gender inequality—and feeling it physically and mentally—is how I “grew a pair” of eyes to more clearly see the exploitative social, political, and economic systems that work to nail potential to the floor. It also ignited hot-metal level of desire to dedicate myself to working for change.

Sinclair is right. Feminists are forged over time by women, gender nonconformists or men willing to challenge inequality. Many of our struggles are personal, waged against day-to-day injustices. And sometimes, like Dr. Christine Ford, those struggles are splashed on the world stage, forcing us to see how easily a woman and her lived experience can be brushed aside by norms that privileges all that is masculine and male. It’s actually astonishing to realize how little has changed since Anita Hill, or the UN’s bold declaration of 1975 as the year of the woman.

I experienced Ford’s story like it was my own. And to make sense of the matter, I once again reached out to find support and grounding in feminist analysis, ideas and inspiration. In many ways, feminism is a little like that wise, leather-clad, New York auntie in your family—the one that other family members side-eye and sometimes “forget” to invite to dinner parties–but still, you go to her for advice and sense-making, when explanations by others around you just aren’t cutting it.

 

 

Photo: Stocksy