Posts Tagged ‘feminist anti-oppression’

The University of Toronto Students’ Union is hosting their 2011 eXpression Against Oppression (XAO) week, and last night they featured keynote presentations from writer and activist Ward Churchill, and Professor Angela Davis. The topic focussed on academic freedom, public education, and student autonomy.

The night began with Professor Roland Sintos Coloma (OISE/UT) who gave a short lecture on the politics of apologies. “What does it mean to say ‘I’m sorry’?” Apologies are both necessary and dangerous. Professor Coloma listed three of the most notable public apologies in Canadian history: 1) 1988, Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to Japanese Canadians for the internment during WWII, 2) 2006, Prime Minister Harper apologized to Chinese Canadians for the head tax laws, and finally 3) 2008, again PM Harper apologized to Canadian Aboriginal peoples for the residential school system. Professor Coloma co-wrote an open letter to Maclean’s magazine, calling for the elimination of anti-Asian racism.

Next up, was Ward Churchill, American scholar, author and political activist. Churchill’s lecture was absolutely enthralling (albeit a little over my head at times!). He spoke about the obligation we as social advocates feel for speaking truth, but the problem lies in the fact that POWER does not listen to TRUTH. “You don’t speak truth to power, you speak truth to people”. And it is the power of speech, of communication, and of galvanization that makes individuals a threat to the systems of oppression, that makes individuals targets. Churchill went on to look at specific examples of individuals who became such targets: Fred Hampton, John Trudell, Kate Richards O’Hare, and Norman Finkelstein. Linking these cases to the idea that university students are removed from their communities, planted into universities, and begin working within and for the institution. Students are there to serve the goals of the university. And when they resist, they are expunged from the institution.

Lastly we arrive at Angela Davis, political activist, scholar, author and feminist. And Oh the topics she touched on! Davis talked about the need for a collective quest for social justice. A collective that will spread globally: a need to produce global solidarities that can challenge imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and ALL the other ‘isms’ and oppressions out there. Davis also referred to the prison-industrial complex, and insisted that “we can never say we’ve made significant progress as long as we have this prison-industrial complex in place, as long as the numbers of people incarcerated continue to rise, as long as the number of women, of Aboriginal women, incarcerated continues to rise”. And in what direction is Canada heading? Following in the footsteps of the US of course, and investing over $2 billion dollars to expand prisons. Why is it that the imprisonment of human beings has become so profitable? Why would we be heading this way, when studies have shown that increases in prison complexes leads to the decline of public education, the decline of addressing health care needs, and in fact increases racial disparities within those prisons. And the racial disparities are huge: Aboriginal women make up less than 2% of Canada’s population, yet they account for approximately 27% of the women in penitentiaries. Davis says that we have learned a few things about racism: We are able to recognize and reprimand someone who uses racist language. We are able to reprimand someone who egnages in racist activities. But what remains invisible is recognizing the structural consequences of racism. February, is Black History Month, and in closing Davis reminded us of what Martin Luther King Jr said in one of his speeches: “Justice is indivisible”. Justice links us across the globe, and it will not come for one struggle until it comes for all.

What a night with the academic activists!

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The Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton launched a new campaign in November 2010. Me, being crazy-busy with school and placement and life, kept forgetting to spread the word on its brilliance. So here it is…

The typical sexual assault awareness campaigns we see specifically target potential victims: women. These campaigns focus on preventative measures women should use for their own safety. Women are told to restrict and modify their behaviour: always stay with a friend, never put your drink down, stay in safe spaces, etc. But what message is still being implied in these campaigns? The message is: “If you neglect one of these ‘rules’, and happen to be sexually assaulted or raped, of course it is not your fault, BUT . . . Maybe if you had just stayed with your friend, this wouldn’t have happened”. And there it is. BLAME. Victim-blaming and shaming.

So why do I love this new campaign so much? It shifts responsibility onto potential offenders. Because, aren’t the offenders the ones who make the choice to violate someone? The length of a woman’s skirt, in fact, has no actual effect on the decision of a man to rape a woman.

I therefore tip my hat to you Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton!

Check out their posters:

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The first journal entry! I am looking forward to these weekly journal entries, as I too have found that journalling is a great way to reflect on concepts, experiences, and the ways we exist in the world.

This week our class discussion looked at feminist anti-oppression beliefs and what these beliefs meant to us individually. To me, a feminist anti-oppression framework is a way of looking at the world that recognizes, acknowledges and seeks to change the privilege-oppression dichotomies that exist in our society. It is a philosophy that seeks to undermine, eliminate and dismantle discrimination and oppression, specifically in terms of challenging sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. It was interesting in class to see how other womyn interpreted this feminist anti-oppression term. Most womyn commented on a subtopic or aspect of feminist anti-oppression, rather than a general statement. This made me think about how people interpret concepts (and consequently the world) in incredibly different and unique ways. Even what it means to be a feminist differs significantly depending on who is speaking.

Since my first course in Women and Gender Studies, my understanding of feminism has changed dramatically. I remember being very hesitant to take the introductory course to WGS, but with my mum encouraging me, I decided to give it a try. Initially, I thought in order to self-identify as a feminist you had to be radical. After all, all the cool feminists were radical, right? Now I’ve developed a much more inclusive and open idea as to what it means. To me, in its most basic form, being a feminist means wanting equality for all people (which means we need to start by empowering the most oppressed groups). We can extend this and suit it to our own personal values, beliefs and visions for the future.

For this reason, it is important for me to work at an organization (be it a student placement or a real job in the field) where the mission statement and goals closely align with my own. This means that I will be looking to work at an organization which self-identifies itself as having feminist foundations/principles for action. Since my first course in WGS 6 years ago, I have found some way to be involved in feminist work: school, paid work and volunteerism. Bringing feminist, anti-oppressive principles to my work and life is important to me. I did a double major, one of which was in WGS, and then continued to complete my Masters degree in the same field. I worked at a maternity home for pregnant and parenting young mothers for a year and a half. I began working as a volunteer crisis line counsellor for the rape crisis centre in Peel two years ago. Being involved with these organizations has been important to me, and will continue to steer where I go and what I end up doing in the future.

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