If I was in Ottawa this Friday, March 8, I know what I’d be doing: going to what looks to be a really fun and creative, superhero-themed celebration of International Women’s Day.
I chatted with Kate McInturff, one of the people on the event’s organizing committee, about the plans for this year – their fifth event – and their experience putting on engaging and entertaining IWD events over the past four years. The idea to take a new approach to celebrating International Women’s Day came when a couple women from local groups attended an Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum that got them thinking about different ways to have conversations with people and bring them into feminism. They got to brainstorming and pulled more people and groups in to help organize.
“The group that came together was really diverse, including folks from international NGOs like Oxfam and Amnesty and the Nobel Women’s Intitiative, Inter Pares and also folks from local organizations like Harmony House, Planned Parenthood Ottawa…the thing that was really interesting and kind of dynamic was that we had women’s organizations from all those different levels,” said McInturff.
That first year they came up with something that was out of the ordinary for an IWD celebration: they invited people to come and debate about the relevance of feminism today. They interviewed people about their confusion over what it means to be a feminist or misgivings about adopting the term and helped clarify terms. Being so open really brought people in: the event sold out the 375-person venue at the National Archives.
“I had people I knew who said, ‘I was never sure if I was a feminist or not but that sounded interesting so I think I’ll come’,” said McInturff, “I think asking it as a question and opening it up, making it clear that joking would be allowed…all of that really drew people in. We had a really diverse audience: men and women, folks of all ages, folks from different kinds of ethnic backgrounds, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, just a really nice, diverse group of people.”
Since that first year the group has continued to come up with innovative IWD ideas, including a “Canada’s Next Top Feminist” event and a feminist year-in-review component.
This year’s theme is Femicon and is centred around feminist superheroes and feminist comics. They’re collecting video submissions from women answering the following questions: 1. What is/would be your feminist superpower?, 2. What do you keep in your cape?, 3. What is the dark force you are battling? and, 4. Who is/are your feminist superhero(es)? and the responses will be edited into a short film for the event.
They even have a celebrity submission from This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Geri Hall:
McInturff outlined the rest of the program for me: “Doors open at 6:00 pm at the National Archives and there’ll be free food. We’ll have a traditional welcome from an Aboriginal elder followed by the short superhero video. Then we’ll have this fun, Oprah-style ‘What the F?’ panel doing a feminist year in review, then award the Femmy awards to our fabulous winners, and then DJ and dancing, mingling and more snacks.”
The Femmy Awards are given out to five or six individuals who’ve been nominated for making a contribution to women’s lives in the capital region and it’s usually a diverse group of winners making many different kinds of contributions.
McInturff says she thinks the events draw lots of people because there’s “a lot of room for humour, not taking it too seriously, having it be a fun moment and a chance to celebrate. We have a dance party and give some awards and food. I think that chance to socialize and do something fun and celebratory brings people in. It’s free – we pay for everything from donations so the whole thing is self-sustaining.” They also try to increase the accessibility by making the event as bilingual as possible and providing free, on-site childcare.