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Survey Results

In April of 2022, CSWAG’s Education and Research Subcommittee created a survey for the student-body in hopes of getting to understand how our students feel about the various nuances and issues surrounding gender and sexuality at our school. Hence, these five articles written by subcommittee members discuss the responses of our youth, showcasing areas of growth and areas of pride. 

Question 1: Is gender equality attainable? Explain your response. 

By Heba Badahman

The first question that was laid upon the students of Western Canada High School concerned our ability to achieve gender equality, and if it is even possible. Most of the answers showed a similar pattern, as the general point of view was that gender equality is indeed doable but not in the near future. Though one of the students, optimistically stated that this equality being seeked will be reached during their lifetime. Solutions or methods of achieving this goal were also provided by the students, including more female representation and unlearning the stereotypical, misogynistic ideas that have been ingrained in our minds by society. However, between the responses that shared commonality, one comment stood out to me: “Men will never be able to equal or surpass women’s ability to bear children. Men and women do play different roles in life.”  The student talked about how men can never equal women in their ability to bear children, and therefore both genders cannot be equal in every aspect of life. I believe the point that this student highlighted is that equality does not require uniformity. People, no matter which gender they identify with, possess different societal roles. Equality comes into play when people are given the same rights and treated with the same dignity, with no bias no matter where they are on the gender spectrum. Overall, the students recognize the work and time required to achieve a goal of this magnitude, while their initiative to participate and learn (for instance, by doing this survey) is a step in the right direction for our school community. 

Question 2: Do you see the impacts of gender roles in school? Explain. 

By Ava Wagner and Hanko Ngu

On the topic of gender-based issues in our society, we asked students whether they see an impact of gender roles in school. In order to understand the question, first, we must define what gender roles are.  Google defines gender roles and stereotypes as “how [individuals in society] are expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct themselves based upon their assigned sex.” From our conducted survey, we received an even 50/50 between two different points of view; yes, gender roles are present and play a role in the school environment, and no, they do not have an impact. This tells us that there is no clear consensus among the student body on this issue. Furthermore, two contrasting responses stood out to portray the previous statement. The first response talked about how they did not see any impacts of gender roles in school because of how clubs and extracurriculars at Western aim for gender diversity and appropriate representation. For example, a stereotypical society would allow for men to make choices for the greater body of the community, however, Western’s Students’ Council consists of members that are “not one-sided when looking at the gender of the students” as stated in the response. Conversely, the second response sought to bring up the issue of gender roles within casual conversations amongst students and friend groups. As expressed in this response, they mentioned how misogyny and toxic masculinity are “disguised as humour”, while the use of the word feminist implies an insult. From our findings in the survey, we can infer that in professional environments, such as club and extracurricular settings, individuals tend to act self-aware and advocate against these issues. However, in private and amongst comfortable friend groups, the filter is removed. This goes to show how more work needs to be done by family, friends, and our society to extract the normalization of toxic gender role joke culture behind closed doors. 

Question 3: How does social media influence gender equality? 

By Madeleine Embury 

Overall, the answers to this question tend to come to the general conclusion that it depends what type and side of social media the user is on to understand the effect on gender equality. The majority of students that answered agreed with the idea that social media is a crucial tool, as it is used to spread knowledge and information, as well as, to start discussions around gender equality. However, several responses also highlight the negatives of social media use in combating this issue, adding that “some people use social media as a place to publicize their [sexist] opinions”, or that popular uses of social media such as the spread of infographics “don’t really do anything to solve the issue”. In general, the answers, coupled with modern professional opinions on the subject, can lead us to the conclusion that social media can influence the fight for gender equality in a productive way if it is used correctly and paired with more concrete initiatives to make change. This type of media can have a very large impact on the way that people form opinions, and as such it is critical that the discussions being had on these platforms are constructive so that this impact is felt to be positive. 

Question 4: Do you have role models who exemplify/strive to accomplish gender equality at school/within your community? Tell us about them!

By Sanjit Samanta and Weilan Zhang

Role models are crucial to ensuring that an individual can directly seek inspiration in their actions from others around them. Students offered a variety of responses to the inquiry. From mothers to classmates to CSWAG itself, students pointed to different role models they found significant within their community. Students also went as far as to name their role models, referring in particular to Eliza and Hayley, two inspiring students who have taken a large initiative in advancing the ambitions of the project. A single student also reported not having any role models; while this may be initially received as an unfortunate circumstance, it serves the intent of being an incredible source of motivation to advance the fight for gender equality. Consciously or otherwise, almost everyone has identified someone in their life that prompted them to live and act with integrity.

Guidance and influence are evidently crucial to the individual on their journey to maturing; in escaping toxic mindsets surrounding body image and mental health, many look to their mother’s affirming words. The role of the maternal figure is one that not only provides comfort but emotional growth as well, which is crucial to an individual’s esteem and self image.

Contrastingly, in navigating convoluted social climates where the disparity between the sexes can cause widespread struggles, many look to role models that exemplify an actively feminist way of life — one that seeks to reconstruct the narrative surrounding the systemic patriarchy. Hayley and Eliza’s way of teaching by demonstration normalizes advocating for equality on an individual level, and in this way, the impacts of their efforts as role models to the student body reaches far beyond the media coverage of activist events; they’ve inspired steps in the right path — a collective shift — in all of our hearts.

Question 5: How do you show activism and/or support gender equality? 

By Joshua Himmens 

Throughout CSWAG’s survey, one thing became clear in response to the question: “How do you show activism and/or support gender equality?”. Many people, evident through their responses, don’t know what they can do to support gender equality. It’s perfectly understandable. Gender equality and activism are necessarily complicated issues because they involve fundamentally reconsidering ideas once held as fact. Truthfully, it’s hard to act thoughtfully all the time and even harder to make incremental improvements on such a huge issue. The only way to progress is if we do our part to create a safe and welcoming world around us. 

Though flashy acts like protests and walkouts have their place. Most of us don’t regularly have the opportunity to participate in them or ample reason to do so. What we can do, though, is act in our day-to-day lives. I know that almost all of us have had an experience where we have seen inequality in action. From subtle disrespect based on gender to blatant sexism, I guarantee that everyone has seen it. The most significant impact we can have is simply standing up for ourselves and the people around us. Don’t accept that any level of bias or discrimination will be tolerated. Additionally, normalizing these small acts will ensure they become as integrated in our society as the past discriminatory systems have been. Overall, the students’ vague or unsure responses demonstrates the importance of CSWAG, and other committees alike. 

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Why feminism matters to me

Feminism is a term that has come to mean a lot. Fundamentally though, it’s about respecting the rights of women and girls, especially in cases where women have been historically or systematically disenfranchised and discriminated against. It seems like a simple idea, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ways in which women have been slighted systematically by society and the government have been and continue to be enumerable. This includes everything from the basic right to vote to the toxic attitude towards femininity displayed through phrases such as: ‘women shouldn’t play sports’.

In day-to-day life, I and the people around me, of all genders, notice this sexism and discriminatory attitude at play, yet continue to choose a path of inaction. The main reason many choose a path of inaction is that they do not believe it to be an issue, don’t know how to, or most damaging of all because it does not seem to be an issue that affects them directly. This ideology is harmful and pushes the toxic, discriminatory environment onto all social situations. 

Furthermore, the ideology that sexism is not an issue could not be farther from the truth, with 80% of women haven experienced some kind of sexual violence, and 40% reporting workplace discrimination, the issue of sexism is ever-present in the lives of women and girls. It is no longer a question of whether there is an issue but how you can work to mitigate it. The stunning statistics present a world in which no matter your gender you cannot distance yourself from this issue. Everybody will invariably have friends, parents, siblings, or coworkers who have experienced sexual assault and discrimination. The fact that you might not often hear about it speaks nothing to its prevalence and everything to the societal attitude of sweeping it under the rug.

Simply by listening openly to those around you, you realize that the prevalence of this issue is undeniable and the lack of support towards those who are victims of this issue becomes inhumane. Hence, as a supporter the best things you can do is listen, and call out discrimintation or inappropriate behavior. Though there is a lot of work to be done to eliminate this issue, these seemingly small acts of support will ensure that perpetrators of this discrimination know that it’s not acceptable in any form. In simple terms, be a feminist, and stand up for those around you. 

By Joshua Him

Sources:

“https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics”

“https://writersblocklive.com/blog/sexism-in-the-workplace-statistics/”

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The Shackles of Language on Gender Equality

In today’s world, women suffer from many burdens placed egregiously by the collective against them. By neglecting the identification of these faults and by failing to seize our agency in resolving them, there lies individual guilt in the allowance for perpetuation. To analyze this further, we must search in introspection the reason for why it is that the profanity used commonly in mainstream media is directed towards female-identifying individuals. We must ask ourselves why the comparative used in these insults place women in an inferior position to “the normal”. What differentiates the extent of insult that is expected to be felt between being regarded as a “dog” to a “female dog”? 

As Oscar Wilde remarked on the nature of identity, “most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” The fundamental pursuit of many, as outlined, are simply reflections of other people. According to many reports,[]  language in the status quo continues to retain a large influence in how the society which uses it thinks. Without even realizing it, many of one’s opinions and passions are products of the culture surrounding a particular language, which, in perpetuation, maintain the doctrines that the language is grounded in; principally, this is regarded as linguistic relativity. By continuing to use the language in a way which its faults are never corrected, the language becomes further entrenched in problems that become only harder to solve. [] 

Heavily gendered languages also demonstrate the complexity of worldviews and their role on the state of the equality of the sexes.[] In this, even if the language does not place forth a false pretense of female inferiority, removing negative connotations associated with a particular gender becomes much more difficult due to the rigidity of the linguistic structure.[] Ethically, the preservation of equality in society is the most clear direction in upholding values seen in a just society. Practically, gender equality will allow for unseen windows of opportunity and streams of ambition to be found free where it was caged before. What can be exposed from this understanding then are the barriers that disallow these practical, and ethical, benefits from being as readily implemented as they should. 

As it was alluded to earlier, language appears to be one of the most difficult barriers to cross in conquering gender inequality; while language is not solely responsible, it’s inevitable attachment to the formation of stereotypes paints it as a culprit of many of today’s systemic problems within the conversation of gender but also beyond. By increasing our individual accountability for the words we use, and by working to actively understand the connotations of words in an ever-growing and ever-changing language such as English, we must venture forth wary of how impactful language can be. Perhaps, if the cultures of these languages sought this maturity and initiated its natural course towards a linguistic metamorphosis, from a shackled language, as tethered as a caterpillar to the ground, may a butterfly emerge, and break free of its chains. 

By Sanjit Neil Samanta

Sources:

“The Subtle Ways Language Shapes Us,” BBC Culture (BBC), accessed February 19, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20201006-are-some-languages-more-sexist-than-others.

Barbara C. Scholz, Francis Jeffry Pelletier, and Geoffrey K. Pullum, “Philosophy of Linguistics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, January 1, 2015), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/linguistics/#Who.

World Bank Group, “Gendered Languages May Play a Role in Limiting Women’s Opportunities, New Research Finds,” World Bank (World Bank Group, February 7, 2019), 

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/01/24/gendered-languages-may-play-a-role-in-limiting-womens-opportunities-new-research-finds. 

“The Problem with Gendered Language That No One Realizes but Should,” IndiaTimes, September 12, 2018, https://www.indiatimes.com/lifestyle/the-problem-with-gendered-language-that-no-one-realises-but-should-352556.html. 

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What is the Bechdel Test, and Why Does it Actually Suck?

The Bechdel Test, created by Alison Bechdel in 1985, is intended to be used as a test to measure the extent of female representation in film and television. The test includes these three criteria:

1. There must be two named female characters.

2. They must have a conversation with each other.

3. The two female characters must converse about something other than a man. 

Quoted by Victoria Lara, a writer for The Daily Free Press, “while the premise may be simple… only 58% of all movies in the Bechdel Test database pass in all three areas”. 

We need to acknowledge how the majority of movies and shows within the Bechdel database released in 2021, barely pass the three criteria. Victoria Lara’s statement brings up the possibility of the problem being placed upon the screenwriters and how they write women into their works. However, what if the problem is not necessarily within the films themselves but in the test created by Bechdel? 

    Movies with a single strong female lead, with insightful dialogues with their male co-stars, challenge the Bechdel Test. Take Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock as an example. Bullock plays an independent female lead capable of dealing with the same issues as her male counterparts, however, the movie fails to pass all three criteria since she is the only woman cast in the whole script. Furthermore, another great example of why this test “sucks”, is deliberately executed in the Rick and Morty Bechdel Test skit. Rick is arguing with Morty about the three criteria in the Bechdel Test and urges him to come up with a storyline for that episode to pass the test. The story Morty comes up with shows how you can write a horrible plot about your mom and sister talking about tea, then going to fight an army of female scorpions using nothing but their “special time”- which is Morty’s interpretation of female periods, can still meet all three of the criteria. Whatever his mom and sister’s “special time” is and whether it involves lasers or not, does not really matter because the whole skit passed the Bechdel test. Morty did it, everyone!!! #feminisminfilm 😀

    In the investigation for a conclusion, we came to realize that films should focus primarily on accurately portraying female stories through an artistic lens rather than filling a specific quota to be feminist approved. Proven in Rick and Morty, just because a segment of the script checks off the three criteria of the Bechdel Test, does not mean the show has successfully portrayed empowering female leads. Lastly, as seen in the example of Gravity, a movie can accurately display the success of a woman yet not pass any of the three Bechdel criteria. Perhaps, the test had demonstrated usefulness in the eighties for promoting better female representation, however, in the twenty-first century, it needs to undergo a complete overhaul. The Bechdel Test provided a general guideline to get us to where we are now, but it’s time to go beyond. 

By Hanko Ngu and Ava Wagner

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“Sexism” and “Misogyny” : Synonyms or Not?

With the start of the twentieth century, the first wave of feminism was initiated with the hope of highlighting the struggles associated with being a women and the strive of opening more opportunities for them. As the ideology of feminism and movements to fight for the equality of sexes progressed through history, words like “patriarchy,” “misogny,” and “sexism” became extremely popular, even making their way to the mainstream vocabulary. This led to the two words “misogyny” and “sexism” not to be only mistaken as synonyms, but to also be partially misunderstood. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word sexism is defined as the “unfair treatment of people, especially woman, because of their sex.” Sexism is prejudice and discrimination towards a specific sex and condonement of it as inferior. In a patriarchal society, it is the ideology that supports the stereotypical norms that surround the faulty gender roles. With this understanding in mind, it can be argued that sexism is not only limited to women. For example, believing females are delicate  creatures that are not fit for strenuous exercise such as weightlifting is considered sexism, in which it would be specifically targeted towards women. However, if a man enjoys wearing feminine style of clothing and is consequently mistreated at work, this person would also be considered a target of sexism. Marcia Klotz, an assistant professor in English and gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, states that “Sexism includes misogyny, but is not limited to it,” as it is a broad form of discrimination that is deep rooted in our society and is the cause of many instances of discrimination. 

Misogyny, on the other hand, is defined as a “feeling of hate or dislike towards women.” In fact, the word itself originated from the Greek roots “misein” and “gynē” which mean to hate women respectively. Misogyny is way more blatant than sexism as it enforces the bias against women in a hostile manner. Although sexism can sometimes be unconscious due to the stereotypes society created around women, misogyny is often  a different case since misogynists truly feel women should not be equal to men and that the gap should be sustained no matter what. An example of misogyny would be a person hating on feminists because they cannot tolerate women trying to achieve equality. Misogyny could be perceived as the “law enforcement of a patriarchal society” as it aims to keep women at a lower status than men.

Language is the essential aspect of our communication as a society. Gaining a better understanding of words like “sexism” and “misogyny” helps us not only understand important issues around us, but also how other people perceive these issues. 

By Heba Badahman

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Intersectionality and its Importance

Coined by African-American feminist, Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a framework for understanding social relations by examining intersecting forms of discrimination. Discrimination against race, sex, and age exist on their own, but when combined, they compound themselves to transform a persons’ experience with oppression. Furthermore, intersectionality acknowledges the unique oppressions that exist, while also examining how they change in combination with one another. 

However, as people continue to build equality, many initiatives to end discrimination can often fall into the trap of considering only one element or ‘section’ of their demographic (e.g. race, sex, gender). For example, while the career of a young cis white and able-bodied woman might improve with the help of gender equality movements, a lesbian disabled woman of colour will continue to face discrimination due to aspects of her identity such as race, sexuality, and disability. Taking a look at the past, during the suffrage movement race was not considered critical in expanding the right to vote, hence, it took significantly longer for women of colour to gain the right to vote. In fact, Indigenous women were only given the right to vote in Canadian national elections in 1960. 

Thus, the idea of intersectionality becomes especially important when we as individuals and society try to work toward understanding the systematic disenfranchisement and discrimination that people experience. As we continue to forge an equitable society it is crucial that we learn from the lessons of the past and consider how marginalization can come from different sources for many reasons, and addressing one must involve addressing them all. After all, intersectionality is not about agreeing that people experience discrimination for many reasons, rather that it’s impossible to tackle such systemic and societal injustices individually. Understanding that the fight for equality is a fight for everyone’s equality and that working together cooperatively is crucial.

 By Hanko Ngu and Joshua Himmens

Sources used: 

Chandler, Leigh. “What Is Intersectionality, and What Does It Have to Do with Me?” YW Boston, July 2, 2020. https://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/

Columbia, Law School. “Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later.” Columbia Law School, June 8, 2017. https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later

Crenshaw, Kimberlé “Opinion | Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 28, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/

Goertz, Gary, and Amy Mazur. “Politics, Gender, and Concepts Theory and Methodology.” Cambridge university press. Cambridge university press. Accessed December 12, 2021. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330464972_Introduction_and_Republican_Universalism_Resists_State_Feminist_Approaches_to_Gendered_Equality_in_France_In_State_Feminism_Women’s_Movements_and_Job_Training_Making_Democracies_Work_in_the_Global_Eco

Hankivsky, Olena. “Intersectionality 101 .” BC Campus. The Institute for Intersectionality Research & Policy, SFU, April 2014. https://bccampus.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Hankivsky-Intersectionality101-2014.pdf

Runyan, Anne Sisson. “What Is Intersectionality and Why Is It Important?” AAUP, January 24, 2019. https://www.aaup.org/article/what-intersectionality-and-why-it-important

Steinmetz, Katy. “Kimberlé Crenshaw on What Intersectionality Means Today.” Time. Time, February 20, 2020. https://time.com/5786710/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality/.  

University of, British Columbia. “Intersectionality: What Is It and Why It Matters.” Vice-President Finance & Operations Portfolio (VPFO), March 8, 2021. https://vpfo.ubc.ca/2021/03/intersectionality-what-is-it-and-why-it-matters/.   

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Feminism: A (Brief ) History Of The Pursuit For Equality

“So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”

Malala Yousafzai

These words, spoken by Malala Yousafzai, encapsulate perfectly the ambitions of the feminist movement. While feminism has taken many forms across many decades, fundamentally, it will always be about equality. And so, it is important to recognize feminist philosophy’s growth over history to truly understand its progress. Let us begin with Canadian feminism, and how it relates to you. 

Historians often describe the progression of feminism using the ‘wave metaphor’. This breaks down the history of feminism into four distinct generations, each defined broadly by the characteristics of the issues they fought. Modern feminism began with the first wave, occurring between the late nineteenth century until the early 1920s. First-wave feminists centred around issues of labour rights and the right for women to vote. Notable early Canadian feminists include; Mary Ann Shadd, the first black female news publisher in Canada, and Thérèse Casgrain, a prominent activist and radio host. 

The second wave occurred from the early 1960s to around 1985. Prominent issues of this generation included reproductive rights, domestic violence, traditional gender roles, workplace equality, and racism. During this time, notable events included the formation of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the decriminalisation of abortion in Canada in 1969, and workplace strikes in the 1970s-1980s against women’s oppression in employment.

 Third-wave feminism is generally thought to have spanned from the early 1990s until the beginning of the fourth wave in 2013. The third wave emphasized confronting sexual harassment in the workplace, transgender rights, intersectional feminism, and violence against women. The latter in Canada became particularly relevant following the École Polytechnique tragedy in 1989, and the rising numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Many Canadian feminists embraced a wider battle against inequality, as members of the LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous women, immigrant and refugee women, disabled women and many other groups became a bigger part of a growing campaign for equal rights across communities. 

And finally, today. In contemporary society, social media has come to play an instrumental role in helping advance the feminist project. Movements such as #MeToo and #YesAllWomen are examples of social media’s influence; that the resharing of these ideas have allowed for them to become an integrated piece of our culture. The fourth wave has made tremendous strides in allowing for ideas to be spread faster, rallies to be organized better, and demands to be heard louder. Powerful hashtags allow for empowering stories to be spread, helping to grow the platform and provide opportunities to make a change. Ultimately, feminism is about fighting for the equality of everyone. We must recognize the pioneers of the movement and the individuals who dedicated their lives to it so that we can continue to build each other up and pursue the betterment of our world. 

By Madeleine Embury and Sanjit (Neil) Samanta

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What is sexual assault?

As the Status of Women and Girls, we feel the need to educate our western student body about sexual assault and the severity of it. Together, we must all keep our classmates safe

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Feminism around the world

This week, CSWAG wants to highlight the inspiring work of feminists in moving towards a more equitable future. Here are a few examples across the globe that are doing just that.

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