Quebec “Charter of Values”, Islamophobia and Feminism

Image from press packet showing articles of clothing not allowed to be worn under proposed Charter of Values

Items that public sector employees will not be allowed to wear under the proposed “Charter of Values”

by Arwen McKechnie

I am a long time reader of the Toronto Star, and like many progressive Canadians, I see it as the only major paper that consistently reflects at least some of my views and politics. Admittedly, I don’t agree with every piece or editorial, but with few exceptions, I can usually respect the conclusions that are drawn and I admire the Star’s stated goal of working to advance the cause of social justice and their commitment to ethical reporting and coverage.

I have always particularly enjoyed Haroon Siddiqui’s column, and the elegant way in which he punctures the seemingly well-intentioned rhetoric used to promote anti-Muslim bigotry. But reading his column of September 29th, I noted with considerable dismay that he had fallen into the same trap he accuses “feminists” of: painting an entire group with the same brush. Those who identify as feminist are no more a monolithic bloc than adherents of Islam.

As the #solidarityforwhitewomen hashtag and better authors than me have amply covered, white feminism frequently has a problem with race. White feminists too often use their relative privilege to make blanket statements about “all women”, assuming that their experience is the universal one, and erasing others from the conversation. Siddiqui’s article plays into that narrative fairly seamlessly.

Quite evidently some people are raising the banner of feminism to support their prejudice against the hijab and niqab and, by extension, Islam. But those people do not speak for all of us.

There are many feminist individuals and groups that absolutely support a woman’s right to determine how she should practice her faith, and which cultural markers to choose to adopt. I am one of them. I believe absolutely in a woman’s right to choose, and that choice extends from if and when to have children to whether or not to wear a niqab. Otherwise we fall into a paternalistic trap of assuming “we” know best. But that kind of assumption is not limited exclusively to white feminists, nor to non-Muslim feminists of colour and there are people within both groups who are more self-aware than Mr. Siddiqui seems willing to credit. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Can-Con, Feminism 3 Comments

Intersections: Gender and Disability

London Fourth Plinth sculpture 2005 woman with disabilityby Matilda Branson

A girl is born into a very poor family living in a remote rural village. As she grows up, it becomes apparent to her parents that her limbs don’t function the way they should and is unable to walk. Rumours flit about the village that the girl’s mother may be cursed for giving birth to such a child. The child is kept at home, hidden away, a constant source of shame and embarrassment to the family. She does not go to school. She associates only with her family and is confined to the home. In her teens her father begins to sexually abuse her. As she reaches adulthood, she remains at home. Socially, culturally, economically, she is not seen as what a woman should be. She will never marry, bear children, or work. That is her lot in life.

It may seem pretty heavy, but the above scenario could be any one of the many case studies in a range of countries on gender and disability. Throughout the world, 650 million people – 10% of the world’s population – live with disabilities (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995). I’m not going to blab on about definitions of disability as that’d take forever – but yes, definitions vary, and yes, one shouldn’t necessarily make “disability” a huge umbrella term. But the point is that women with disabilities in general are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence; lack access to economic opportunities, health, and education; and experience conditions of poverty and forced medical interventions to control their fertility.

While mainstreaming gender into the disability sector is becoming more and more common, all too often you see that women with disabilities are perceived as asexual, passive beings, in need of constant care. What’s with that? Protective instincts? Surely we’ve moved beyond that though, in this age of rights, choice and autonomy. Quite a common issue the parents of young women with disabilities face, or refuse to face, is the fact that their daughter is a sexual being who may be keen to have boyfriends, have sex, get married and have children. This issue pops up in the shocked conservative Australian media from time to time about irresponsible parents choosing (imagine!) to allow their sons with disabilities to visit a brothel – yet these stories only seem to centre around boys with disabilities.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about developing or developed contexts, the real question is how do you, the people around you and wider society perceive gender and disability?  Is there any way that you – in your school, uni, workplace, wherevs – can perhaps help to mainstream the issue a bit more? Educate people; transform some of the persisting attitudes into seeing women and people with disabilities as empowered, autonomous individuals who can make up their own minds about things.  It just makes sense, right?

(photo CC-licensed, part of the Geograph Project)

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment

Indigenous and Women of Colour Media Makers Resist!

Tailfeathers (center) with star of A Red Girl’s Reasoning Jessica Matten (left) and Rose Stiffarm (right)

4th post as part of  Joanna Chiu‘s series of posts for Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services on media representations of violence against women in recognition of Prevention of Violence Against Women Week. Read the whole series at the BWSS Ending Violence blog.

Today, as I was walking down the street to write at my favorite coffee shop, I received the usual afternoon greetings from my neighbours: “Hey baby!” “Konichee-wa!” “Ni hao! “Look at that ass!!”

As all Indigenous women and women of colour know, if sexism wasn’t bad enough, we encounter racism on a daily basis as well—on the street, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the media. (See the theory of intersectionality on how oppressions like racism, ageism and classism intersect.)

In media, women of colour are often hyper-sexualized, and depicted in racial caricatures: Kung Fu ladies, geishas, sexy Latina sirens, Pocahontas types, etc. That is, if we see ourselves represented in the media at all. According to’s State of the Media report, race and gender issues only accounted for 1% of overall news coverage. And how many women of colour lead actresses can you name in Hollywood, or who have graced the covers of glossy magazines?

The absence of representations of people of colour in the media is as bad as racist representations in the media, because it implies that we simply don’t matter. Read more

Posted on by Joanna Chiu in Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism 2 Comments