The Powerful Language of Feminism

Photo of young women holding a feminist protest signby Matilda Branson

I often wonder about how to engage young non-feminists in feminism. When I say “non-feminists”, I’m not referring to people who are sexist, or anti-feminist – I refer merely to the majority of the world who just haven’t come into much contact with feminist principles or gender equality/equity debates.

That is not to say they haven’t been touched by feminism in their everyday lives, navigating gender roles and societal norms, encountering sexism or discrimination at work, or facing the baby vs. career question. They have been shocked and appalled by Half the Sky, or have campaigned for LGBT rights – it’s just they haven’t been exposed to Feminism as a concept with a capital F, and might not go out of their way to read a book or article on it, or actively define themselves as A Feminist.

It’s not a bad thing, it’s just how it is. I used to do the very same – from a young age I was highly interested in all issues promoting gender equality in every sphere of my life, but when I was 15, if someone had asked me, “Are you a feminist?”, I’m not sure I would have given a downright “Yes”. All I knew about Feminism were the negative stereotypes: feminists don’t shave their armpits, they’re often vegetarian or vegan, never wear high heels and generally come across as a bit prickly.

I delighted in smooth legs and underarms, pretty summer dresses and loved my steaks cooked blue. A lifetime of exposure to these negative stereotypes left me unconsciously hesitant to actively embrace that Matilda Was A Feminist, at the risk of being mistaken as a bearer of those negative stereotypes. It took those formulaic years at university when one’s identity begins to take on a stronger form that I gained a more nuanced understanding of the many shades of feminism, and where I fit into it all, and how I could identify proudly and comfortably as a feminist. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment

Youth Can Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls

infographicRe-posted with permission from the Battered Women’s Support Services Ending Violence blog.

1. Use Social Media-Social media has an empowering effect send articles, with the click of a button, you can spread the word. Youth do not need the mainstream media to voice their views!

2. Report- Report photos that exploit girls and young women when you see them on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram

3. Be media literate and critical-Be critical of what you see otherwise it become normalized and we are desensitized! The media regularly uses images of violence against women and objectifies girls and women to sell products. Women are also objectified in movies, music and magazines. If you see an ad or commercial that is sexist and degrading towards women – write or e-mail the company and don’t by their products. Read more

Posted on by Battered Women's Support Services in Can-Con, Feminism 2 Comments

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Talking to Youth about Body Image

by Ashli Scale

Last month I did something really brave – I set aside my fears of public speaking and co-facilitated workshops for junior high girls on body image and beauty standards. The workshop is a tool developed by Hopewell Eating Disorder Support Centre to raise awareness of body image concerns. It covers a range of topics such as:

  • The unrealistically “thin ideal” for women and “overly-muscular ideal” for males which, when internalized, can create feelings of anxiety, shame and guilt since we are not able to achieve them (Cash & Fleming, 2002; Grogran & Wainwright, 1996). Results from research show that young girls exposed to Barbie report lower body esteem and an internalized “thin ideal” (Dittmar, et al., 2006). Additional research results demonstrate that teen magazines with slender, enhanced images create high levels of body dissatisfaction in young girls after just 5 minutes of viewing (Monro & Huon, 2005).
  • The concept of media literacy, which we defined as viewing the media with a critical and informed attitude. Part of this is challenging the practice of Photoshopping images by explaining the extent of digitally enhanced images in the media and showing before/after images for analysis.
  • Exposing the diet industry with particular emphasis on fad diets and providing information on popular fad diets, explaining how to critique the ads and listing the dangers of losing weight in this way. We shared results of studies that found 95% of people who diet gain the weight back within one year (Grodstein et al., 1996, Weinsier et al., 2000).
  • Defining negative self-talk and discussing how to combat it and promote positive self-esteem. Promoting the overarching message: “Don’t question why you are different, question why the images are all the same”.

I observed two disturbing trends throughout the series of presentations. First, the narrowness of beauty ideals being taught to our youth was clearly demonstrated when we asked how women are portrayed in the media. At every workshop the very first answer was “skinny”. The only other answer provided was that women in the media are made to look “perfect” with no flaws like acne, moles, scars or wrinkles.

Read more

Posted on by Ashli Scale in Feminism, Pop Culture 3 Comments

New Survey May Say More About Gender Expression than Youth Mental Health

crying boyby Ashli Scale

Last week Global Montreal posted a news article about a survey conducted by Queen’s University in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. A total of 26,000 youth between the ages of 11 and 15 were surveyed. The main gist of the results is that girls are more likely to have emotional problems and mental health concerns than boys. However, the method of information gathering and the types of questions asked may actually tell us more about gender expression than mental health. To illustrate my concerns I have analyzed two survey conclusions below.

1. “While boys are more likely than girls to report behavioural problems such as cutting classes or skipping school, talking back to teachers and getting into fights, girls are more likely to report emotional problems – feeling low, feeling nervous or helpless, feeling left out of things or feeling lonely” (Global Montreal, 2012).

I provide social support to homeless and street-involved youth. In my experience, the vast majority of male youth DO experience feelings of depression, nervousness, loneliness or alienation but DON’T feel comfortable expressing these feelings. Instead, they act them out in more masculine and socially-approved ways – getting into fights, bullying or withdrawing. Remember, boys are raised to be MEN and told that real men don’t cry or show signs of weakness. Read more

Posted on by Ashli Scale in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

Panel: Do We Need New Words for Bullying?

Pink Shirt GirlYesterday was Pink Shirt Day or Anti-Bullying Day and it got me thinking about the words we use to describe bullying. Some people have raised the concern that the word “bullying” isn’t strong enough – that it lends itself to to be written off by someone saying “kids will be kids”. Take, for example, the following quote from Jowhara Sanders in an interview with Children’s Voice Magazine:

“I don’t even think the word bullying is a strong enough word for what is going on.” She believes that what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger, she reiterates, “but it is killing them.”

Others – feminist organizations in particular – have brought up the issue that much of what we call “bullying” is in fact sexual harassment. The argument is not only that the word “bullying” is not seen as as serious as “sexual harassment” but that it obscures the sexism and objectification behind the behaviour. Here’s a quote from a related article on the Ms. Magazine blog:

Despite headlines that label all harassment in schools as bullying, there is a difference between sexual harassment and bullying. And it’s an important one. When schools, the media and the public mislabel sexual harassment as bullying, they negate the role that sex and gender play in the abusive behavior. Bullying is not based on a student’s sex; sexual harassment is. Students are bullied because they may be annoying to a classmate, wear their hair differently, don’t wear the “right” brand of shoes or come from the wrong side of town. Their victimization is not based on their sex (or other protected classes such as race, religion or disability). Most significantly, bullying is not a violation of federal and state civil rights laws–but sexual harassment is.

Similarly, some, such as educators Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, feel homophobic and racist bullying would in any other situation be called “hate speech”: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 4 Comments