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Why consent should be included in #MeToo movement

A woman has made allegations of sexual misconduct against television actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. In her claim, she says the two went out on a date and when she indicated, using “nonverbal and verbal cues” that she wasn’t interested in having sex with him, he tried to seduce her over and over again. Eventually, he called her an uber and she went home.

Ansari has told the media that “it was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.”

While the allegations may not be as serious as those against Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, these kind of stories do expose an important issue of consent, or basic respect, on the dating scene. The criticism this woman is receiving online is reason enough why this story is so important. People are saying this woman should have been clearer about her sexual desires, and that it wasn’t fair to Ansari to ruin his career over something he didn’t know he did wrong. An opinion columnist in the New York Times actually said the only thing Ansari is guilty of is not being a mindreader.

Essentially, those responding to this story are saying that because this woman didn’t cry out “no” and push Ansari away, this story has no value to the #MeToo movement. I disagree.

This story is one many women, and probably a few men, are familiar with. Their date indicates a need to slow down, and are promptly ignored. You kind of like the person, so you try to express your consent in a different way. You do this by joking around, distracting your partner, suggesting alternative activities, and finally, by saying you aren’t in the mood. This can result in anger, frustration, embarrassment, and sometimes lead to dangerous situations.

I was dating a man for a few weeks I met online. He was funny, smart, and nice — pretty much exactly what I was looking for. During conversation at dinner, my date invited me back to his apartment. I said that while I liked him, I wanted to take our relationship slow. I like to really get to know a potential partner before jumping into bed with them, especially considering the dangers of the online dating scene. I was about as clear as a person could be about my romantic intensions, and my date seemed understanding. He said there were no strings attached to the invitation, and we could simply watch a movie, drink coffee, and spend more time with each other.

Isn’t that sweet?

Of course, once I arrived at the apartment, there was no coffee. He did put on a movie, but as soon as the opening titles started scrolling along the screen, he was blowing in my ear (is that a thing!!??). The next thing I knew, his hand was on the back of my head, pushing me towards his face. I broke away a few times, joking about how we were going to miss the movie. A few minutes later, his hand was on my cheek, guiding my face back to his.

I consider myself a strong and independent woman, but when I was confronted with such an uncomfortable situation, I am ashamed to say that I lied. Instead of telling my date that his behaviour was unacceptable, especially considering our conversation at dinner, I looked at my phone and said “my dad just called me. My dog is badly injured and he needs help lifting her into the car. I’ve got to run.” And out the door I went.

All that is to say it is not as easy to say “no” as people may think. When you are alone with a person in their home, you are vulnerable. Your partner has the advantage.

It’s also important to remember that consent is not the absence of the word “no”. Consent, according to the Oxford dictionary, means to give “permission for something to happen.” In the case of a sexual relationship, both parties must clearly agree to a sexual act and each person has the right to say no. Consent should never be assumed or implied.

Again, let me stress, consent is not defined by the absence of the word “no”. And that is why this conversation should be a part of the #MeToo movement. Understanding this definition is part of that patriarchal mentality women are trying to change. It is something that will take time and needs to be exposed in order for people to learn.

Could Ansari really not understand this woman’s non-verbal cues? It is absolutely possible. Should he be punished professionally and personally for his actions? I’m not too sure. His reaction is probably similar to hundreds of thousands of men out there who were in similar situations. Men who don’t understand what those non-verbal cues mean and are subject to retaliation in the media.

For those men, here is a very simple guideline: just ask. Ask your partner if it is okay to kiss them. Ask if they want to go to the bedroom. Ask if they are willing to have oral sex. Always ask. When you ask, you will get a firm answer. And continue to ask! Is this okay? Are you okay with me touching you there?

It’s really rather simple. And no, it doesn’t detract from the mood. Trust me, it’s actually quite attractive to have a man stand by your door, saying “you look absolutely beautiful, I would like to kiss you. Can I?”

Sexual assault and sexual harassment within industry and the workplace may be the foundation of the #MeToo and TIME’S UP movement, but it shouldn’t end there. Let’s add consent to the discussion.

‘Feminism’ is the word of 2017

Merriam-Webster has announced their Word of the Year for 2017: feminism!

While the term may not have been included in Google’s most searched words this year, it was the centre of many discussions, arguments, and protests over the last 12 months. Here at Women’s Post, the term is used weekly.

Webster’s said the word “feminism” was a word looked up constantly throughout the year, “with several spikes that correspond to various news reports and events.” Events that sparked an increase in searches included the Women’s March in Washington, when U.S. President Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed she wasn’t a feminist, and the #MeToo movement that has rocked the entertainment industry. And of course, there were television shows like The Handmaiden’s Tale that explored a number of women’s issues and inspired women to become more active in politics.

According to Webster’s definition of the word, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

On average, the term was looked up 70 per cent more often than in 2016.

Some of the words searched in Webster’s include:

  • Complicit: “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” Remember when Ivanka Trump was accused of being complicit to her father’s actions int he White House and she claimed not to know what the word meant? I’m sure she does now!
  • Dotard: a person in his or her dotage” (dotage is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness”). The term was used in a news release in North Korea to describe U.S. President Donald Trump.
  • Syzygy: “the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system.” The term was searched during the December super moon, which was partially caused by this phenomenon.
  • Gaffe: “a noticeable mistake.” Anyone else remember the 2017 Academy Awards?
  • Empathy: “the ability to share another person’s feelings.” This term as searched in response or in relation to political decisions this year, as well as the #MeToo social media campaign. I don’t know about you, but I think more people should be looking up the definition of empathy.

Gender equity budget tool is a win for women’s rights in Toronto

Last weekend, the world watched in awe as women around the globe marched in support of gender equality.

But, change begins on a local level, and requires leaders, real decision-makers and politicians, to step up. Cue: Ward 23 Councillor Wong-Tam. She recently led a motion that was passed at Toronto city council to embrace gender equity perspective tools in their budget process. Wong-Tam also contributed to educating women at a gender equity town hall last week, and spoke at the Women’s March in Toronto on Saturday, attended by over 50,000 women.

“The march was much larger than anyone anticipated and it was very peaceful,” Wong-Tam says. “I thought the focus was going to be on the U.S., but clearly Canadian women wanted to be heard and seen here as well.” Wong-Tam spoke up on Saturday about how $91 million worth of budget cuts have impacted women specifically in Toronto, ranging from shelters to childcare subsidies.

With 18,000 women and children currently sitting on the housing waitlist, Wong-Tam points out that women are disproportionately affected by the annual budget process when it comes to transit, housing, and daycare subsidies. “We already have women’s shelters at capacity, not just in Toronto but across the country,” Wong-Tam says. “Women and children that are trying to flee violent households are turned away. Where are they going to go?”

Luckily, a gender equity perspective as a part of the annual budget-making process would help ensure that women received more support and protection. “The proposition to create a gender responsive budget is not to create a separate budget for women, but to create a budget that has equal benefit to men and women,” Wong-Tam says. “We achieve that by creating a set of questions that policymakers would use.”

Creating a gender responsive budget is a concept that is already being used by over 150 cities around the world. According to Wong-Tam, creating a gender equity tool in Toronto would begin by developing a complex series of questions for policymakers. “We need to start off by compiling aggregated data to understand who uses what services and budget allocations,” Wong-Tam says. “We would then ask service users if their needs are being met. If most are women using that particular service, we then recognize that.”

Creating a gender equity tool for the budget process is a dynamic solution to include people with various intersecting identities. “Women also come from a range of groups and vulnerable populations facing equity issues of their own, including racialized women, women with disabilities, women who are seniors,” Wong-Tam says. “The intersectional lens allows us to look at the full picture. We want to create a single budget that encompasses everyone.”

Toronto city staff is not prepared to enact gender equity tools within the 2017 budget, but Wong-Tam has hope for the following year. The councillor has created a task force full of service providers and female economists to help financial city staff create a gender equity tool for 2018 — and she vows to make it happen.

“I’m encouraged because there are so many young women who were energized around this issue. What I want to say to them is that we need to find a path from protest to power. The march on Washington has been ongoing asking and demanding for certain rights. The energy that I personally witnessed can fizzle out if we don’t keep organizing. We can be active around protests, but the only way to change the system is to hold the government accountable and keep organizing.”

Wong-Tam believes the way to finding equality for women is to act, and Women’s Post agrees. Vote for women, vote for gender equity, and fight for women’s rights using the power of the law and political will. If anything, the women’s march on Saturday showed that the world is on the precipice of change, so engage! Follow Councillor Wong-Tam’s lead and make Toronto a better place for future women and girls.

What to take away from the Women’s March on Washington

It started out as a mere Facebook event created by a few, ordinary women looking to voice their opinions following the unpredictable 2016 presidential election back in November. What arose  in the next few months turned into a record-breaking global demonstration, with an estimated five million people, with confirmed numbers yet to be announced, taking part throughout the U.S alone.  Although it was generated as a response to the incoming Trump administration, it exceeded all expectations in turn-out and universal messaging. Almost 700 rallies took place in all 50 states of the US, including our very own city of Toronto, in addition to every continent in the world. 

What started off as a march intended to protest on women’s issues quickly expanded into a human rights movement, highlighting key issues pertaining to people of colour (PoC), the LGBTQ community, immigrants rights, economic participation, the criminal justice system and disability rights, to name a few. As stated by many speakers at the march, women’s issues cannot be compacted into the stereotypical bubbles of reproductive justice or sexual violence. Although these are incredibly important issues, they are not the sole focus of a complex and diverse gender. Whether  you were at home watching powerhouses like Angela Davis,  Alicia Keys, Van Jones and many others speak and perform, or on the streets marching, rest assured that the Women’s March on Washington and seven continents over is currently being deemed the largest U.S-centric protest in history

And while that is a huge reason to celebrate the solidarity and unity of humanity, particularly sisterhood, it is equally important to look at the steps that need to take place following this historical movement, as well as to reflect on the history of peaceful demonstrations and the array of responses they receive.  So, as a sister invested in the movement and a proud WoC, I have a few friendly requests for fellow sisters and transwomen and other allies who want to see positive change going forth from this historic uprising.

Ground your work in understandings of intersectionality and the dynamics between privilege and power. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of pink “pussy hats’’, bold posters and  empowering chants. There is more to solidarity than just showing up for one day. Unfortunately, despite the physical unity and solidarity that was witnessed by hundreds of thousands over the weekend, marches such as this cannot deem us as sisters – at least, not yet. In order to identify as ‘sisters’, we’re going to have to respect the long and sometimes violent history of fighting for justice. A fight that it seems minority groups have taken on by themselves. The fact is, women of colour and other marginalized folk have faced challenges long before Trump and his cronies came into power. The oppression that we hear about goes beyond any one president.

The need to start having real conversations about institutional violence and where other women come in to further the oppression of other sisters, even if it’s unintentional is more important than ever. It is something that needs to be acknowledged. Yes, there were millions on the streets and it’s about damn time, but ask yourself this – where were these crowds when black and brown bodies were being murdered and abused in broad daylight? Where were these protests when Indigenous lands and waters were being threatened and destroyed? If it’s one thing that this march showcased, it’s that the strength isn’t in the numbers, but in listening and respecting stories of the many issues and forms of violence that affect all of us.

It’s just a matter of paying attention.

I’m going to take a moment to specifically speak to my white sisters who are just joining us in the fight for equitable justice: your solidarity and intentions, while sincere, are not always going to be trusted, at least not right away. As stated by the New York Times, ninety-four percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton. Sixty-eight percent of Latina women did so. But 53 percent of the white female voters in the United States voted for Donald Trump. Your white privilege has offered you many cushions against racial, economic and law enforcement violence. There were no arrests at the women’s march, barely any suspicion on the motivations of the attendees from security personnel.

If this needs to be made any more clear, all we need to do is look at the #J20 protests that took place on inauguration day. Protesters, mainly people of colour, were tear gassed and confronted with military-style interventions during their marches. Be critical of what it means to be a true ally – show up not just when your rights and values are threatened, but when other communities’ existences and humanity are questioned and attacked, as well. Help us. But, before jumping into action, please take the time to ask other groups what they think is the best way forward. Don’t just assume what they need. 

To everyone else; remember, protests look to make a statement. It’s not a trendy activity that you do on a Saturday afternoon. Sure, #womensmarch was trending worldwide on social media, but a movement does not take place overnight. Do not let the hashtag die down. Using hashtags as a buzzword, which is what happens with a lot of other movements (i.e #BLM), undermines the meaning and power behind it. A hashtag is not to be used for the benefits of retweets and shares, but to bring forth hard conversations, not just virtually, but in your daily lives. A hashtag, a representation of the greater movement, let’s voices be heard – often those voices which are systematically silenced.  

To show true solidarity, it’s important to remember that resistance looks very different to many women across the spectrum. Sometimes it isn’t just about the right to make choices over our bodies, but for many others, it is a constant fight to survive. This fight didn’t start with the Women’s March on Washington – but for many generations. It’s time to propel ourselves, together, into the next stages of true intersectional feminism.

My sisters and I need you. Are you here for us?

Strength in unity: Women’s March brings millions together

You would think the politics of the last week would divide people. Instead, it brought over a million of women, men, and children of all ethnicities, religions, and economic statuses, together. No matter how I think of it, the feeling of awe is absolutely overwhelming. Did anyone else expect the movement to be this big? I knew it would be impressive, but the turnout blew my mind. I couldn’t remember when a group of people this large marched down the streets of Toronto with a simple purpose: gender equality and women’s rights.

Think about it: Millions of people got together to walk through their city of choice, protesting a government that doesn’t respect their bodies or their rights as a basic human being. That, my dear readers, is a beautiful thing.

In Toronto over 60,000 people marched through the downtown core, surprising skaters at Nathan Phillips square. Photos lit up social media using hashtags #womensmarch and #womensmarchTO, to spread messages of love and resistance. There were participants of all age groups, skin colours, and religious affiliations — all with their own independent voices. But, no matter the cause or the reason why someone joined the march, the overarching message was quite clear: “Love Trumps Hate” — and it always will.

Photo courtesy of Madeleine Laforest

Here are some of the highlights from the march in Toronto:

In Washington, people marched not only in support of women’s rights, but also to protest the new president Donald Trump. Over 200,000 of people attended (although numbers haven’t been officially confirmed), in addition to the slew of celebrity speakers. Here are some of the highlights:

Angela Davis, political activist: “The freedom and struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.”

Kerry Washington, Actress: “When you go back home tonight… and you feel like ‘Wow, there is an agenda at work to make me feel like I don’t matter, because I’m a woman my voice doesn’t matter, because I’m a person of colour my voice doesn’t matter, because I’m an immigrant, because I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, because I’m an old person, because I’m a young person… because I have a fucking voice, I don’t matter.’ You matter.”

Elizabeth Warren, Senator: “Yesterday, Donald Trump was sworn in as president. That sight is now burned into my eyes forever. And I hope the same is true for you, because we will not forget. We do not want to forget. We will use that vision to make sure that we fight harder, we fight tougher, and we fight more passionately than ever — not just for the people whom Donald Trump supports, but for all of America.”

“We can whimper. We can whine. Or we can fight back! We come here to stand shoulder to shoulder to make clear: We are here! We will not be silent! We will not play dead! We will fight for what we believe in!”

Natalie Portman, Actress: “[Women] must seek leadership positions, and support other women who do the same. Until we make it normal to have at least half, if not more, of our leaders be female, we will be serving, and with our taxes financing, a government that believes it’s within their domain to make decisions for our future.”

America Ferrera, Actress: “The president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America. And we are here to stay. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance. We march today for our families and our neighbours, for our future, for the causes we claim and for the causes that claim us. We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war. He would like us to forget the words, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,’ and instead, take up a credo of hatred.”

Scarlett Johansson, Actress: “President Trump, I did not vote for you. That said, I respect that you are you our President-elect and I want to be able to support you. But first I ask that you support me, support my sister, support my mother, support my best friends and all of all girlfriends. Support the men and women here today that are anxiously awaiting to see how your next moves may drastically affect their lives. Support my daughter who may actually, as a result of the appointments you have made, grow up in a county that is moving backwards, not forward, and who may potentially not have the right to make choices for her body and her future that your daughter Ivanka has been privileged to have.”

Bernie Sanders, Senator: “President Trump, you have made a big mistake. By trying to divide us up by race, religion, gender and nationality you have actually brought us closer together. Black, white, Latino, Native American and Asian American, gay or straight, male or female, native born or immigrant we will fight bigotry and create a government based on love and compassion, not hatred and divisiveness.”

Photo courtesy of Madeleine Laforest

Did you go to one of the Women’s Marches? Let us know how it went in the comment below!