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She The People: Laughter is a women’s movement #too

 

Spending time at a comedy club can be an uplifting experience that leaves one with a warm glow, but The Second City show “She The People” is also absolutely hilarious and brings tears to the eyes. As the subtitle suggests, ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves’ it is a show for women, and men—I took my partner with me and he shook with laughter—acted, written, directed by women. If the purpose of the show is to demonstrate that women can do it by themselves, they totally succeeded. Not only are The Second City women capable of writing, directing, acting, singing, dancing, and putting a show together without male input, but they are equally capable of making the audience shriek with laughter while making cutting political statements.

The show is an edgy collection of sketches—I counted at least 20—that portray situations that women live through on a daily basis, in the attempt to deconstruct and highlight the sexism that still exists in everyday life. The show was originally conceived and written for the Chicago theatre before the #MeToo movement broke. The Toronto edition has been updated to better reflect the present time, a different geographical context and to draw inspiration from the #MeToo movement. It is unquestionable that the sheer number of women coming forward to speak out against sexual harassment and various shades of sexism could no longer be swept under the rug. The vast explosion of incidents worldwide have made us all more receptive to conversations highlighting not only the injustice in a largely male-dominated society, but the stereotypes that revolve around women, including racism and misogynism.

Carly Heffernan, director of the show commented “I do think the #MeToo movement has made audiences more receptive to a show like She The People. More and more individuals want to support women telling their own stories with their own voices. For She The People, the movement also directly affected some of the show’s content. The Second City, being a satirical sketch comedy theatre, should reflect the world around us, no matter how tough, unfair, or just plain absurd that world may currently be. Shining more light on uncomfortable issues is how we move forward and more than ever audiences are craving the catharsis that comes from that light being shone.”

Carly’s words are reflected in a sketch that sees one of the six female characters waking up following a ten-year coma and learning that all her favourite actors are sexual offenders, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey. But that is not all! Donald Trump is President of the United States. Every shock from receiving such astonishing news was measured by the water she was sipping being spat into the face of the unwitting deliverer of the news.

Another sketch sees the character of a school girl who complains to her female teacher that a boy pushed her. The teacher tells her that no one will believe her. After all who else saw! An early warning to prepare the girl to the reality that women are not to be believed when they speak out. Although, as the teacher adds, things are getting better, which also means they are getting worse.

Many aspects in the present culture include stereotypes  of immigrant communities. In this sketch, the character of an Asian woman is asked where she is from. It seems still common enough to assume that non-white people are from a faraway land. However, as it turns out, she is from Scarborough.

Which woman has not feared becoming like her mother? I have and overcame it, and so did the character in another sketch. After being confronted with the realization that she is more similar to her mother than she likes to admit, acceptance kicks in.

A few sketches address the issues of women’s looks, body image, outdated beliefs of femininity, and how women are depicted in adverts. Advertising still relies heavily on gender stereotypes, pressurizing women to attain impossible standards of beauty and perfection. Women are still judged based on their looks rather than what they say, states the character hiding under the guise of a dinosaur. In another sketch, a strip tease performance never ends as there are multiple layers of spandex to remove.

In the penultimate sketch, an alien has taken all men away, aside from Justin Trudeau whose mother fought off the invaders. With no more men around, what are women to do? How do they envision their life to be? Will they stop wearing a bra? Perhaps even wearing pants will be optional! They could have their first elected female Canadian prime minister! They will even ensure that the Ontario’s sex ed curricula stays the same. With a finale that sounds like a hymn for women to find self-assurance and self-confidence, the possibilities seem endless.

As Carly stated “it was an absolute joy to work on!” It certainly was an absolute joy to watch!

Tanya Ramond, aerospace engineer and BridgeSat leader, talks focus, balance and equality

I had the chance to speak to a truly remarkable woman. Her name is Tanya Ramond and she is an aerospace engineer. Currently she works at BridgeSat as the Director of Product Development and prior to this she had worked with big  companies like NASA and York Space.

 Initially I thought she would be an intimidating figure to talk with but that wasn’t the case at all. She is actually extremely friendly, and thoughtful.  She spoke with purpose, thinking carefully about the answers she was giving to my questions in our discussion.

Tanya’s main focus is on engineering and science but she has a great interest in business and marketing, which is why she chose to step out and join BridgeSat. She is in a leadership role  and is a member of the company which focuses on  connecting satellites from space to the ground while meeting the demand for big data collection from low Earth orbit.

She spent 10 years in aerospace engineering at large companies, but knew that she wanted to expand into development and marketing.

“I think that I was ready to just go for something different. I’ve worked at a fairly large established aerospace company…but I think at that point my interest in not just engineering but also the business, was coming to life.”

Tanya completed her MBA, and now uses these relative skills in her role at BridgeSat. Ramond  has her sights set  on taking control by making an impact and pioneering development and new technologies with her team. She shares that this is what BridgeSat and herself will focus on from this point.

Tanya has achieved great success over the years , but the roles she has held, have also come with great challenges.

She is often the lone woman in a room filled with men. Tanya is open and explained that while her team came up with groundbreaking technologies and products, as the only woman often in the group, she sometimes feels  like an outsider and is treated differently.

“There’s this layer of blatant sexism. Past that is a deeper layer that is a lot harder to articulate,” she said

When other women are present, Ramond encourages them to voice their opinions and mentors female co-workers to “chime in and to not be made to feel intimidated.”

Tanya spoke with me about how most  of the challenges she has had come down to being a woman in a workplace filled with men. She  knows there is a need for change and that it takes each one of us to step forward and explain what is and isn’t acceptable- as many are doing now that the #MeToo movement is sweeping the globe. Gender disparity must be driven out of the workplace and like many women, she wonders if she has the power to change the current environment.

Tanya agrees that “awareness is of most importance” and that “just the common acceptance that [these actions are] not OK” is a step in the right direction toward change. 

It would be wonderful to have the power to make that change instantly happen, but many more hurdles need to be cleared. I asked Tanya what super power she would most want to have and her response is what you might think an aerospace engineer would select-the power to fly. “If I were flying the plane, I’d do better,” she said.

As I think back to my interview with her I realize that Tanya is a strong, brilliant woman, she is a leader in her field and in her own way she soared beyond the limited structure of a male-dominated industry.

For more about the remarkable work that Tanya Ramond and BridgeSat do, go to http://www.bridgesatinc.com/

Why are reporters still describing female athletes as ’emotional’?

Last week, fans were shocked to hear that well-respected coach John Herdman will be leaving the Canadian women’s soccer team and heading up the men’s national team.

Herdman has led the women’s soccer team to two Olympic bronze medals and two CONCACAF champions, as well as numerous other international wins. The Canadian women’s soccer team is a force of nature, and is the only Canadian olympic team to win medals two Games in a row.

But, the article I’m going to write is not about Herdman himself or his move to the men’s team. Instead, it is about an article written in the Toronto Sun by Kurt Larson that diminishes the women’s soccer team’s accomplishments and frames Herdman’s transition as a step up within the industry.

The article itself contains a number of condescending remarks, but the top zingers are these:  “Matches aren’t won via athleticism and emotion as they are in the women’s game. Results are secured through tactics and technical ability on the men’s side” and “The source invoked San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the site of Canada’s infamous 8-1 loss, as being far different from playing at BC Place in front of thousands of screaming pre-teens, donning red face paint and Christine Sinclair jerseys. Simply put: The stakes are higher on the men’s side.”

Herdman’s experience with the women’s team far outweighs the capabilities of the former men’s soccer coach over the last few years. The women’s team has gone to the olympics to win medals while the men’s soccer team…well, they haven’t competed on that stage in a while.

My household is full of soccer fans. I often come down in the morning to the sport being played on television on Saturday mornings. I’ve watched the men play and I’ve watched the women play. I can personally tell you the women are stronger players on many levels. Their athleticism, their sportsmanship, and their skill far outweigh what I’ve seen at a men’s soccer game.

I urge you to watch a game for yourself. When the women are knocked to the ground or hurt, they get back up immediately and jump into the game with a level of ferocity unseen on the men’s playing ground. The men? Well, they hang on to their ankle and shed crocodile tears until the referee calls for a free kick. Is that the “tactic and technical skills” this reporter was talking about? If so, I’m not sure that is something to celebrate.

This year, people are celebrating the strength of women — and yet reporters are still using words like “emotion” to describe female athletes. My question is why? What makes a female athlete so damn more emotional than a male athlete? They both put their heart, soul, and body on the line each time they compete. They each try their best to represent their team and country on an international stage. And yet, every year some journalist seems to fit the word “emotion” into a sentence about a female athlete, despite the only difference being reproduction organs. It’s incredibly disappointing.

The Sun even admits their own feelings for female athletes when they explain why Herdman is so respected. “He even showed a bit of fire last year when he took the Toronto Sun to task over not covering his women’s team with the same enthusiasm it covers the men.”

I guess nothing’s changed.

Featured Image taken for Canada Soccer.

Hundreds march in protest of Quebec’s Bill 62

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Montreal to protest the provincial government’s decision to enact Bill 62, also known as the religious neutrality bill.

This bill makes it illegal for public service workers, as well as people seeking government services, from wearing this any face-covering garb such as the niqab or the burka. The ban also includes the use of public transportation.

While the bill itself doesn’t mention these pieces of clothing, it implies a religious and ethnic target — muslim women. Very few other people wear face-covering materials. The protestors are calling this bill racist and hateful, something that is inviting Islamophobia in Quebec.

The protested marched down Berri St. between Ste-Catherine St. and De Maisonneuve Blv. One hundred and sixty groups from diverse backgrounds were represented in the crowds. They also signed an online petition asking for an end to Islamophobia and hate.

Bill 62 is being challenged at Quebec’s Superior Court. The plaintiffs claim “The Act gravely infringes the religious and equality rights of certain Muslim women in Quebec.”

“While purporting to promote the goals of advancing the religious neutrality of the state and facilitating communication between public employees and private citizens, the Act does the opposite,” the court challenge reads. “It imposes a significant burden on the exercise of religious freedom, and it does so in a discriminatory manner that will isolate some Quebec residents, making it much more difficult for them to participate in Quebec society.”

A judge is expected to review the case on Wednesday. If the judge agrees, the law will be suspended temporarily.

What do you think will happen on Nov. 15th when the judge looks at the court challenge? Let us know in the comments below!

Tens of thousands of women share #MeToo stories of sexual harassment

I don’t really have a #MeToo, but I stand with those who do.

I’m extremely fortunate (so far) and I know that. I have my own experiences with sexism — I’ve been treated differently by employers, mocked during interviews, and called a bitch by random strangers on public transit — but my stories are tame compared to those being shared on Twitter right now. And for them, as well as my friends and colleagues who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, my heart breaks.

Following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, women started to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The latest forum is Twitter, using the hashtag #MeToo.

This particular movement started with American actress Alyssa Milano, who asked her followers to reply with the words “me too” to show how widespread sexual harassment really is.

Tens of thousands of people replied to the battle cry, and that number is increasing with every minute. Some people simply used the hashtag, while others provide context describing their situations. The responses have been from people of all genders, sexual orientation, professions, and economic demographics.

On Oct. 13, women boycotted Twitter in support of actress Rose McGowan, who was blocked by the social media agency for her criticism of Weinstein and those who are supporting him. Now, it seems like women have reclaimed this platform, using it to voice their opinions and show exactly how prominent sexual harassment is in the twenty first century.

The number of people using this hashtag should shock us, but it doesn’t. One in four women in North America will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, and of every 100 assaults, only six are reported to the police. These statistics are even more grave when you consider that most people don’t share their #MeToo stories.

The are many reasons for not doing, and no one should be chastised for choosing to remain silent. It could be the victim was told to be ashamed of their experiences. It could also be that they were made to believe the attack was their own fault, or that alcohol or their wardrobe was to blame. It could also be that they are not yet ready to talk about their traumatic experience, which is okay. As many people on Twitter pointed out, just because you don’t talk publicly about your experience or use the hashtag, doesn’t make your story any less real.

I am a bit worried that this campaign will fall on deaf ears. These are real women who were brave enough to share their stories with the world in hopes of inspiring change. But, who will listen? In the United States, the White House is in the midst of making abortion illegal and removing birth control from insurance packages. While Canadian government officials pride themselves on providing free abortion pills, the debate surrounding safe spaces has become much too political. Every day a new challenge presents itself. Women who do accuse their attacker are often shamed in courtrooms or treated as liars. What happens when the Weinstein story dies down? Will these women be ignored once again?

Every few minutes someone experiences a #MeToo. It could be a family member, a friend, or a coworker. It could even be you. It’s incredibly important to stand with the courageous women and men speaking up today and realize the struggle to end sexual violence is an uphill battle. It will take decades.

What will you do tomorrow to help?

Hillary Clinton stops in Toronto with praise and a look to the future

“Resist, insist, persist, and enlist.”

That was the message former Democratic presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left with the crowd of over 5,000 people squished into the Encare Centre near Exhibition Place in Toronto.

“I’m here tonight to talk about a book, but more then that to talk about the issues that confront us,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to give up because it’s hard. It’s not going to happen just because we want it to. We have to work for it.”

During the hour-long talk on Sept. 28, Clinton discussed the results of the 2016 election and looked to the future of politics, not just in the United States, but around the world.  With a nod to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his gender-equal cabinet, Clinton reminisced about what happened a year ago. She spoke candidly about the mistakes she made during the campaign, how the FBI director’s investigation directly interfered with the votes, and the continuing influence of Russia in U.S. affairs.

Finally, she spoke with grace and honesty about her experiences as a woman in politics. “I admit that I’ve always felt that I had to be careful in public, to keep my guard up. Well, that’s all gone.”

Her new memoire, What Happened, has been criticized by many current politicians in both parties for staying in the limelight following her loss to now President Donald Trump. But Clinton, as she says, is not letting go of her opinion. Her newest organization, Onward Together, was founded in May to help encourage young people to get involved in the democratic process and to support grassroots organizations that are helping engage youth in the conversation.

“I am not going anywhere except in the middle of the debate about our future!”

Here are four of the most powerful themes Clinton touched during her speech:

Women in politics

“The only way I know of to get sexism out of politics is to get more women in to politics.

For men, professional success and likability go hand in hand. Not for women. In other words, the more successful a man becomes, the more people like him. With women it’s the exact opposite. The more professionally successful we are, the less people like us. Probably a few of you in this room have an inkling as to what I’m talking about. And not only that, women are seen favourably if we advocate for others, but unfavourably if we advocate for ourselves. That struck a cord.

It is eye-rolling to see a picture of a group of white, someone elderly men, sitting around a table deciding what health care women need. So I’d like more women in politics so our politics is more representative and then the voices of families and communities and entire nations are heard. “

On accuracy and truth

“There is no such thing as an alternative fact. Despite the best efforts by some, to wage a war on reason and evidence, we can’t let that happen

We are living through an all-out assault on truth and reason. When leaders deny things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of a crowd at an inauguration, or refuse to accept sound science when it comes to urgent challenges like climate change, it isn’t just frustrating to those of us living in the fact-based universe. It is insidious and deeply subversive to democracy.

Democracy is under assault. We must insist on truth and accuracy and we must hold elected leaders and the press accountable when they do not perform on behalf of truth and accuracy.”

On Trump looming over her during the debate

“I wrote about this because I wanted to take you into my mind about what it’s like to be on a stage in front of probably 60 to 70 million people watching and to have you opponent stalking you, and making faces, and generally drawing attention towards himself in contrast to what we were supposed to be talking about – simple things like how to create jobs and give people better futures by making college affordable – so, I had prepared for the debate and I suspected he might try to do something like that. We actually practiced it. I worked on keeping my composure because I thought you’d kind of want a president who is composed. It’s one thing to practice it, and another to be there in the moment.

Yes, my mind was going, calm, composed, versus ‘whip around and say you like to intimidate women, you are not going to intimidate me, back up you creep.” It might have been more satisfying, but I’m not sure it would have been the best strategy. “

On seeing a woman as president in our lifetime

“Well I certainly hope so. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen. Our system though is really tough. How come other countries have had at least one woman as a head of government? In our system, literally anyone can run for president. As we have seen. In our system, it comes down to the level of your devotion to the job you want to get and why you think you would make a good president and why you think you will make a difference. And it comes down to your pain threshold and I think we may well have in 2020 maybe 20 to 25 who will run.

Eventually, we will have a woman president and I hope she is someone I can agree with so I can support her!”

 

Featured photo by Gage Skidmore.

Breaking: Saudi Arabia King gives women right to drive

In extremely surprising news, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences. According to media reports, this royal decree will lead to the creation of a ministerial body that will provide advice and implement the decree by June 2018.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not permit women to drive. Women who disobeyed this law were fined, beaten, or imprisoned.

This decree came out a week after the government launched a reform program that allowed women to enter a sports stadium to celebrate a national festivity and attend a concert. The government has been criticized by those within the clergy for gender-mixing.

 

Stick to your knitting Minnan-Wong, Keesmaat is out of your league

“Stick to your knitting.” Reaction to this phrase can be mixed — and it completely depends on the context in which it is used.

For example, using it in a business meeting to indicate that employees should play to their strengths while allowing others to do the same is a commonly acceptable use of the phrase. “Stick to the knitting” when used by a professional colleague to describe an incredibly accomplished woman who has her foot in all aspects of her craft can come across as derogatory, sexist, and downright rude.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong is being accused of sexism for using the phrase in relation to outgoing Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat in an interview with the Toronto Sun last week. Minnan Wong said this in response to Keesmaat’s use of Twitter and how she debates municipal affairs publicly on the platform.

The history of “stick to your knitting” is a bit obscure, but the phrase has been used widespread in the business community since the mid 1800s. Many business professionals use this phrase when giving advice to young entrepreneurs. Stick to what you know and let others stick to what they know. That way you have the benefit of different experience instead of pretending to be an expert in all fields.

And yet, many politicians get in trouble for using this common phrase — and it’s all because of the context. Especially considering most of the time it’s used to describe women.

Despite its history, the phrase in itself is slightly derogatory. The person who uses it is telling their co-worker they don’t value their opinions. As a woman, this is especially offensive because women fight hard to be heard in the first place. In the case of Keesmaat, she has expertise in city building and most of her tweeting revolves around different aspects of this field. To say she shouldn’t have an opinion on how the City of Toronto is run and/or built is a bit farfetched and, frankly, sexist.

There is also the democracy angle that makes the use of this phrase even more strange. Minnan-Wong decided that posting discussion on city affairs on Twitter was not appropriate, but isn’t public discussion a foundation of democracy? Keesmaat has previously told Women’s Post that defending her planning choices and discussing them with the public was a critical step for accountability. In that case, her activity on social media is an extension of her role as city planner and an active citizen.

“If you have planners gone wild you could end up in a totalitarian type of environment, so the due diligence that comes from the vigour of being questioned by councillors and by the public is an essential part of the planning process from my perspective,” she said.

Why shouldn’t Keesmaat, or any person for that matter, use social media as a platform for public discussion? If everyone on Twitter was told to stick to their knitting, then it would be a pretty boring place. The whole purpose of social media is to allow people to share information and opinions.

And then there is the final point — why would Minnan-Wong care about the social media habits of a city staff member who is leaving their position in a month’s time? The only reason to use this phrase is to remind them that once they leave city hall, their opinions shouldn’t matter. Well, what does that mean for the rest of us? I hope Minnan-Wong’s constituents don’t have any opinions they want to share or ideas they want to suggest, because it appears like he won’t be listening to them.

Ultimately, Minnan-Wong made the same mistake many politicians make — trying to create a sound bite using clichés, hyperbole, and commonly used phrases in order to capture the attention of the media and the public.

Looks like he did — just not in the way he expected.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Time to shut down the pregnancy questions

There are certain things, as proper etiquette, you may not ask a woman: her chest size, her weight, and her pregnancy plans. It seems like common sense, but I guess sometimes men need reminding.

Jacinda Ardern is a newly elected 37-year-old politician in New Zealand and she is the youngest ever leader for the New Zealand Labour Party. Of all the questions that Ardern has faced, this one seemed the most absurd. While appearing on radio talk show, The AM Show, Ardern was asked by male host Mark Richardson of her pregnancy plans. Ardern was asked live on air if she plans on becoming a mother during her time in parliament. Richardson based his questioning stating he thinks it’s a legitimate question to ask on behalf of New Zealand because she could potentially become their Prime Minister.

In what world is it okay to ask this type of question to a woman, regardless of the position she may hold? Ardern, however, quickly shut down the radio host, calling the question out of line.

That is unacceptable in 2017,” Ardern said. “It is a woman’s decision about when she chooses to have children and should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have got opportunities.”

Ardern is familiar with Richardson’s stance on women and pregnancy in the workplace, as the host previously said that employers should know this information from their female employees. Richardson’s bold question asking if it is ok for the Prime Minister to take maternity leave left many upset.

Ardern has already publicly spoken out about her plans to to start a family and she doesn’t mind discussing it, however the comparison to women in the workplace is what caused the upset. Ardern insists that women should not have to be worried about maternity leave and consider this a struggle in the workplace.

Ardern even went on to ask Richardson if he would ask a man this question, to which Richardson responded with an unenthusiastic “yes”. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of this young woman, many seem to be stirring up drama and provoking emotions from the public about her personal decisions. This is not the first time that Ardern was asked this question. During an appearance on a New Zealand TV show called The Project, she was asked by male co host, Jesse Mulligan, if she planned on having children. In this case, Ardern responded politely and said her situation is no different from any other working woman looking to balance priorities and responsibility.

In New Zealand, many activists are debating this form of sexism. The Human Rights Act of 1993 prohibits any employer to discriminate on the grounds or pregnancy or plans to start a family.

Ardern’s case is no different.

Wonder Woman partners with thinkThin

I want to be excited about the new Wonder Woman movie coming out this year, but at every turn Warner Bros/DC Comics does something insulting and sexist that makes me change my mind.

Like accepting a promotional partnership with thinkThin, for example.

Wonder Woman, one of the strongest and fiercest female superheroes and first to receive a standalone film, is now the face of a diet bar. Good job Warner Bros. Good job.

Photo curtesty of thinkThin.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I have never tried a thinkThin bar. The website does not emphasize weight loss, but rather promotes general wellness and healthy lifestyles. The bars themselves are described as a “nutritious” snack to satisfy hunger without the guilt.

But, with a name like thinkThin, the image it creates is not a positive one.

This is what Michele Kessler, the president of thinkThin, was going for in terms of message: “We wanted to celebrate a hero film featuring a woman in the leading role,” she wrote in a press release. “We love that Wonder Woman has super strength and we’re proud to offer delicious products that give women the everyday strength they need to power through their day.”

 

I respect that comparison, but I doubt that message will get through. Instead, most people, particularly young girls, may see it as body shaming.

It’s bad enough that most female leads in film, especially superheroes, are extremely lean and thin, representing a certain type of woman. The larger, plus-size woman is always the funny friend or the wise confident. Magazines and news publications are jam-packed with articles about diet fads, offering up 10 ways to lost that stubborn belly fat while showcasing dresses only available in size zero. Women are berated with these images on a daily basis — do we really need it from Wonder Woman too?

Wonder Woman should be promoting acceptance as much as physical strength. She should be focusing on self-love, courage, intelligence, and independence. This character is a huge inspiration to young girls worldwide! Remember when the U.N. announced this fictional character was to be the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of girls and women? Think thin — is that the message this former ambassador is sending?

This is a serious missed opportunity. Warner Bros screwed up big time and I’m not sure if they can do anything to rectify it now. Wonder Woman is supposed to be a role model for girls. She is supposed to represent a strong-willed woman, someone who doesn’t need a man to save the day — someone who is smart enough to save both Batman and Superman at the same time!

But so far, all I see is another disgraced sell-out.

What do you think of this new partnership? Let us know in the comments below!