Feminist Journeys/Voies féministes

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March 2010 Marguerite Andersen

This first volume is a rich and varied collection of feminist “click” stories. It is edited by Marguerite Andersen.

In response to an open call, women from all parts of Canada tell share how they came to define themselves as feminist.

The contributors are diverse, illustrating the interplay of gender, race, class, geography, culture, dis/ability, language, sexual identity, and age in women’s experiences.

The collection speaks to what is at the heart of feminism – a deep desire for the full development of every girl and woman, a dedication to an affirming society, a capacity for openness and learning, a commitment to community, and, a willingness to make change personally and systemically.

Marguerite Andersen

The personalities and experiences, turning points and transformations, jump from the page, embracing the reader in a journey to both familiar and new places.

Marguerite Andersen, born in Germany, is a teacher, a writer, a mother and grandmother, who has lived in Canada since 1958. She has taught at all levels, including the University of Guelph (where she was Chair of Languages and Literature and a founder of the first women’s studies program in Canada), Concordia University and Mount Saint Vincent University (where she held the Nancy Ruth Chair in Women’s Studies). In 1971, she published Mother was Not a Person, a collection of feminist essays that sold a remarkable 6,000 copies. Marguerite has published more than ten works of fiction, short stories and poems.

We are pleased to post stories about how women came to identify as feminist, following the theme of our first book, Feminist Journeys/Voies féministes, edited by Marguerite Andersen. We’ve included some of these voices in the comment section below. Please feel free to join the conversation by adding your comment..

3 Responses to Feminist Journeys/Voies féministes

  1. Megan Reid says:

    Growing Into Feminism by Megan Reid

    My parents are farmers, and they raised me as a feminist. While they would not have used that word back then – it wasn’t exactly de rigueur in our blue-collar town, or on our farm – and they were not overtly political about it, they espoused women’s equality in their own way, and promoted positive change, by example. When it came time for me to identify as a feminist, I initially decided against calling myself a feminist. It wasn’t until I began university and saw feminism’s true beauty through the eyes of others that I recognized that feminism had been nurturing me all along, and realized that feminism was one of my aspirations.

    I was born in 1983, in the small agricultural town of Leamington, Ontario, and of two very different parents: a father, a white-Anglo-protestant farmer whose family had harvested from the same land for generations, and a mother, an immigrant from Lebanon, who, along with her large family, came to a new land with hopes for a better life.

    My parents met in the late 1970s, in Leamington. Even though they’ve been married for 30 years now, some people still refer to them as “the farmer who married the Lebanese girl.” The prospect of a “mixed” marriage in our small town did not deter my parents, who were guided by their own moral compass, despite the resistance of others.

    My parents taught me to appreciate the gifts inherent in peoples’ diversity, never to belittle people, and to find solutions. My parents look very different from one another, they have vastly distinctive cultures, they were raised in different religions, and they take different approaches to nearly everything. The women on my mother’s side never bought anything unless it was on sale, and ate pita bread with every meal. The women on my father’s side spent hours quilting and made salads with mandarin oranges and marshmallows. Thankfully, I was a curious child, and found the diversity among my family members to be both interesting and entertaining, and I enjoyed eating whatever people fed me – it was an easy fit.

    The second thing my parents did to prepare me for life as a feminist was that they valued equality, and taught me to change that which was unfair.

    Cuddled securely in my mother’s warm embrace as a child, I recall being struck by my mother’s comment, out of the blue, that she wished she could protect me from all the terrible things in the world. I had no idea what my mother was talking about. My life consisted of school and playtime on the farm with my two sisters. I loved school and when I wasn’t there, I spent my days collecting tadpoles from our ditch, kicking around chewed-up soccer balls with our dog Muffin, building forts with old sheets and tall furniture in our basement, and organizing musical performances with my sisters. The world was my oyster!

    I was coached on how to address issues that were important to me. For example, my Lebanese grandmother, a food-lover who was always giving her grandchildren goodies, always carried hard candies in her pocket. One spring afternoon, after eating candy during a walk together, my grandmother littered the wrappers. The shiny wrappers were caught by the breeze, and floated away almost instantly. I was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a dolphin flanked by the words “Save the Dolphins”, and while the shirt was many sizes too big for me and unflattering as could be, it was my favourite. My grandmother, sensing that I was upset by her littering, reassured me that the tiny wrappers were already gone, evaporated, and that there was nothing to worry about. But all I could imagine were our pretty wrappers drifting into my dolphin’s beak, and the adorable dolphin suffocating and dying so senselessly. Still tormented by the potential death of the dolphin that I had set-out to protect, and overwhelmed by the fact that my grandmother, whom I had always imagined was all-knowing and wise, had put the life of dolphins at risk, that night I told my mother what my grandmother had done. My Reid grandparents, like most of their country neighbours, burned their garbage – surely no dolphins were harmed by this, I thought – why did my Lebanese grandmother choose to litter? My mother encouraged me to address the problem with my grandmother, emphasizing that I should do so respectfully and without hurting my grandmother’s feelings, and I heeded to her advice. I realized that authority figures, were not perfect, but could be respected anyway. I also realized that despite being an awkward kid in a t-shirt, I could promote positive change. I’m happy to report that I haven’t seen my grandmother litter since that time.

    As I moved farther outside the shelter of my parents’ home, I began to see inequality first-hand. I was devastated when I discovered that girls could not be altar servers at our church. Before I knew it, thanks to my mother’s intervention, and a receptive parish priest, that problem was fixed. My mother was a courageous and tireless ally in resolving inequality in my world, reinforcing my view that once barriers were discovered, they could only come down.

    As a child and adolescent, I was idealistic and optimistic. I truly believed that I could achieve whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it. I had no reason to believe otherwise, and I had the backing of both my parents, who were both very encouraging. This is one of the great victories of feminism. Like many young women of my generation, I did not feel the sting of inequality. Sure, I felt a little pinch from time to time, but overall, I simply coasted on the hard work done by other women, sailing easily to wherever I wanted to go. My experience also illustrates one of the biggest hurdles for feminism. Many women of my generation, those who have had the buffer of privilege to protect them throughout their lives, are oblivious to the stifling impact inequity has on other women.

    It was not until university that I began to describe myself as a feminist, but even there, I got off to a bit of a rocky start: It was my first semester at the University of Ottawa and I was studying health science. I was about to receive a youth’s Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. On the eve of the award ceremony, I felt compelled to reassure my friends, in no uncertain terms, that although I was receiving the award, commemorating women’s equality, I was certainly not a feminist. I had never known anyone who self-identified as a feminist. I’m not sure how, exactly, but I had adopted the opinion that feminists were heartless, bitter, and vicious women, the type who would harm a dolphin without a good reason.

    The awards ceremony was a pivotal moment for me in that I saw, for the first time in my life, and through the eyes of the other recipients and the participants of the ceremony, feminism as it truly is – humane, progressive, and wonderful. We were celebrating feminism and I was struck with the realization that it seemed like something we truly ought to celebrate. Moved by this recent discovery, I enrolled in a women’s studies course beginning the following semester. That course changed the trajectory of my life in a positive way. Knowledge is power, and I am indebted to my professor for the gifts she has given me, for inspiring me to be a better feminist.

    Feminism was always in me – my parents planted that seed – and feminism protected and benefited me even when I didn’t have the ability to recognize it by naming it, and did little to nurture it. It’s a work in progress, and while the I still find the t-shirt to be too big for me, I’m confident I’ll grow into it one day.

    Megan Reid practices labour and human rights law in Toronto. She is involved in social justice initiatives and volunteers with LEAF – the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, and CRIAW – the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. She enjoys bicycling and visits to her hometown of Leamington, Ontario.

    Posted September 1, 2010

  2. Amy Avis says:

    An Open Seat by Amy Avis

    I can’t say that I had a moment of awakening into feminism at a particular time or as a result of a particular event. Most of my identity as a feminist came from a desire to emulate my mother – a strong, smart woman of her generation who, to me, embodies the drive, strong sense of self and refusal to be bound by conventions that typifies what I understand to be a feminist. So I strove to develop the qualities exhibited by my mother and the other strong female role models in my life — my teachers, professors and other mentors.

    It was not until later that I came to realize that being a young — I am in my early twenties — strong, assertive female, who strives to further social justice in the small ways, makes me a feminist and that this might not be perceived positively by others. I have met with certain adversity and, surprisingly, much of the negativity I faced originated from other young women.Most women of my generation have not been confronted with the need to make a socio-political choice, to be a “feminist” or not. Young women like me who attend university, and who may not be a visible minority, are not as overtly confronted with the gender inequality experienced by women of past generations. Perhaps this is why the thought of self-identification as a feminist does not occur to many of us, and when asked if we are a feminist, social conventions and the desire to conform drive us away from the idea of fighting for gender equality.

    As a female studying law this worries me. In many of my law school classes, filled with intelligent, driven and educated women, many roll their eyes, or scoff and refuse to be identified as “one of them” when introduced to feminist approaches to, and framing of, legal issues. I believe that feminism has become the ultimate “F-word” in many social and academic circles. I often find myself struggling to decide if I should vocalize my feminist opinions since they seemingly have become socially unacceptable, especially in the presence of young men. I find it difficult to muster the courage to speak my mind when I know that it changes others’ opinion of me – often for the worse. And I am embarrassed to admit that sometimes I keep silent to avoid being labelled ‘that type of girl’.

    We young women need to examine our unwillingness to identify as a ‘feminist’ or to align with the feminist movement. I think it is important to remind ourselves that we have been afforded the luxuries of education and opportunity, which should not be taken for granted. We need to consider that when we, as young women, refuse to identify as feminists or mock ideas of feminism, we disrespect the women of the past and present who faced and continue to be confronted with persecution for this identification. We disrespect the women who fought for us to be considered ‘persons.

    We need to respect and honour their perseverance and dedication rather than refusing to align ourselves with them. We must honour and respect their sacrifices, and the adversity they faced, instead of mocking it for the sake of conformity. Only with appreciation for the strides of the women who came before us can we truly understand where we stand. Knowing where we stand, we can better appreciate what faces us, what we should be striving for, and then how to live and work in order to achieve those goals.

    Sexism is truly a global issue, which transcends borders and intersects with colour, race, class, sexual orientation and age. Though young Canadian women may have the luxury of ignoring small sexist comments or veiled discrimination, these same attitudes are realized in much more brutal and horrific acts on women throughout the world, manifested in a violent way in the rapes of women in Darfur and the Congo — their bodies are a battlegrounds upon which war is waged.

    So I believe that I and other young women of my generation, specifically those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy higher education, are charged with a duty. We young feminists are charged with a task.

    There was one moment of awakening for me as a feminist: Constance Backhouse, described to our first year Criminal Law class at Ottawa University the Women Are Persons! monument created by artist Barbara Paterson and located at Parliament in Ottawa. The monument depicts the Famous Five and serves as a landmark of the gains made in women’s rights and the democratic triumph accomplished by these trailblazing women. Prof. Backhouse pointed out that the sculpture comprises a sixth and empty seat left that beckons the viewer to interact with the other five women. The sculpture with its empty seat is a stirring symbol for young women. The open seat among next to the incredible women heroes of 1929 serves not only as an invitation, but also a demand, a call to action firmly and forever transfixed in stone.

    Amy Avis is a law student in the English Common Law program at the University of Ottawa. She is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario with an Honours Specialization in Media, Information and Technoculture. Amy looks forward to furthering feminist and social justice goals and objectives in her practice of law.

    Posted September 1, 2010

  3. Monika says:

    I am imreesspd by the quantity of information on this website. there are a lot of good resources here. I am sure i will visit again soon.

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