In late July, local Radical Feminist group RFU held a mini-conference in downtown Toronto to examine various topics related to women’s rights and the feminist movement. Several talks were presented, including one on the concept of gender and one on pornography and its impact on women. Guest speaker Bridget Perrier, an exited survivor of the sex industry, told her personal story of childhood trauma, years in prostitution in Canada and the US, and her eventual exit and founding of SexTrade 101, a sex trade survivors and abolitionist organization in Toronto.
Women came from within Toronto and from out of town to take part in the conference.
The first presentation, on the concept of gender, discussed the difference between sex and gender, critically examined the tenets of queer theory, and made a case for a more radical feminist analysis. One takeaway point is that, contrary to popular belief, queer theory relies on upholding more rigid gender systems in order for its adherents to be able to ‘transgress’ these systems—in effect, queer activism is mainly performative and does little to reject or transform the patriarchal establishment or to improve women’s lives.
The presentation on pornography gave an overview of the increased depictions of violence against women in porn and how normalized these images have become, and their impact on women (and men). Questions about pornography as it relates to public health and women’s sexuality were addressed, by the speaker and the audience, in a dynamic discussion. Pornography’s sexualization of objectively cruel acts, like choking and abusing racist power dynamics, was criticized. One particularly elucidating slide displayed quotations from men in the porn industry that showcased their hatred of women. One example:
“I’d like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we [pornographers] serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.” – Bill Margold, porn industry veteran, quoted in Robert J. Stoller and I. S. Levine, Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-rated video; 1993.
Panel discussions on the presentation topics were thoughtful and lively. There was debate over how to deal with the public health crisis that excessive unregulated pornography has created—some felt a concerted educational campaign and content warnings before all porn videos would have a large impact, while others thought this approach would be meaningless unless something more fundamental changed within men who view porn. Most women agreed that in our current patriarchal establishment, there cannot be such a thing as ‘ethical’ porn, though some women extended this further, to include all heterosexual sex as well.
Bridget Perrier’s highly anticipated talk was revealing and emotional. Her raw recounting painted a disturbing picture of men (especially men of money and power) in Canada. Abused by parental figures, men in law enforcement, men in the criminal justice system and an array of pimps, Bridget was trafficked throughout Canada and occasionally south of the border for seven years before successfully exiting the industry. Her story, like many others’, begins with a difficult childhood peppered by acts of abuse from adult caregivers. Today Bridget works with SexTrade 101, and she discussed some of their activism with regards to enforcement of Canada’s prostitution legislation (i.e., arresting and charging johns) and supporting women in prostitution who desire to exit the industry. Learn more about SexTrade 101 here.
Overall, the first RFU mini-conference was a wild success, and there are already two presenters signed up for the next iteration—date TBA. If you are a Toronto-based feminist interested in joining RFU, please get in touch.
In response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, a Women’s March on Washington was held in the U.S. capital and sister marches were held in many cities across the world. The purpose of these marches was to protest the type of right-wing political sentiment that has increased across our continent as a result of Trump’s election, which has caused an increase in racist, misogynist and anti-immigrant attitudes, behaviors, and hate crimes in the United States as well as in Canada.
The mission of the Women’s March on Washington, from their web page, is the following:
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.
In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”
In Toronto, a women’s march also took place, and was attended by members of Radical Feminists Unite. We agree with many aspects of the march’s vision, such as the need to end racism, violence against women, and homophobia, and the need to protect worker’s rights. As radical feminists, we are against capitalist patriarchy and want justice for all people currently oppressed by systems of power.
We have some criticisms to make, however, of the neoliberal nature of the march which seeks to be so “inclusive” of various identities that it fails to name women as a distinct class of people and refuses to name exactly where our oppression is coming from. The paragraph from the march’s Guiding Vision, available in their PDF statement, demonstrates this problem:
“We believe in Gender Justice. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes. We must free ourselves and our society from the institution of awarding power, agency and resources disproportionately to masculinity to the exclusion of others.”
This statement about “gender justice” confuses what gender is and hides the reality of sex-based oppression in order to align itself with transgender politics. Women are oppressed because of our sex— that is, our female biology. The reason we are targeted for such hate crimes as rape, incest, sexual assault, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, and sexual slavery is because we are members of the class of people who can become pregnant and the system of patriarchy gives men power over us and the use of our female bodies. Women are not oppressed on the basis of our identities as women. Male abusers do not check to find out what a woman’s identity is before abusing her—if they did, they wouldn’t abuse any of us, because all of us identify as human beings deserving of rights and none of us identify in such a way as to invite male violence against us. Male abusers target women because they can identify that we are female and our patriarchal society gives them the power to harm females.
The paragraph above claims that power is given to “masculinity,” but this is not true—power is given to males. Women who display masculinity are not given any power; in fact, they are ostracized and they are targets for sexism due to the fact that they deviate from the social norms placed on women. It is males, as a class, who have power over females, as a class, and masculinity is a part of the social manifestation of that power.
It is terrible that a Women’s March would cater to a set of politics that erases the existence of the class of people who experience sex-based oppression, women. The politics and activism being put forward by the transgender community is in direct opposition to women’s rights, since it imagines women to be in a position of privilege over men who feel they have a gender identity, and seeks to eliminate sex-segregated spaces for women in order to include such men in women’s spaces. A Women’s March should recognize what women are (human females), should name sex-based oppression and should name the perpetrators and beneficiaries of patriarchy: men.
The March on Washington also claims to support ‘the sex workers’ rights movement.’ The ‘sex workers rights’ movement is a movement of people who support the sexual exploitation of women and girls, rebranding it as a woman’s choice. The term ‘sex worker’ can include anyone in the sex trade, including the perpetrators of crimes against women, such as pimps, procurers and profiteers, who obviously do not have the best interest of women in mind. The rebranding of prostitution as ‘sex work’ is a deliberate attempt to hide the violence inherent in prostitution and silence the voices of prostitution survivors. A march that was truly for women would take a position against the crime of prostitution, elevate the voices of the survivors who speak out, and demand that male abusers of women (pimps and johns) be held accountable for their violence.
Here in Toronto, survivors Natasha Falle and Bridget Perrier of the group SexTrade101 issued a statement to the local women’s march, after they attempted to use their photos on their page:
“As a prostitution survivor coalition (SexTrade101), we do not agree with your use of terminology (sex-work-er) when referring to the sexual exploitation and abuse of women in the sex trade. Your decision to legitimize this form of violence against women is both appalling and offensive to our survivor sisters (and bros). We do not wish to be affiliated with your March, as it excludes a countless number of voices who tell the truth about prostitution violence, and using terminology as such, discredits our traumatic experiences with pimps; escort owners/mgt, strip club owners/mgt, massage parlour owners/mgt, street level pimps, drug dealer pimps, etc, and buyers of sex.”
Natasha Falle & Bridget Perrier
Survivors of Prostitution
We believe in supporting the most marginalized women, not the most privileged. The majority of women in the sex trade are there due to lack of other options and wish to get out. It is those women who should be prioritized, not the vocal minority of women who claim empowerment through ‘sex work.’
Despite our differences with the stated mission of the march and some of their neoliberal politics, we found it necessary to attend the march, to show our solidarity with progressive values, to oppose the inauguration of Donald Trump and to bring with us a radical feminist message. We were pleased to see lots of signs that clearly focused on women’s rights and that contained images of female biology. Clearly, there is a large mass of women who still know who feminism is for. Although several of us noted that we felt it was dangerous to put explicitly radical feminist slogans on our signs, for fear of harassment, we did name male violence against women and misogyny on our signs. We felt that it was necessary to be clearly feminist in our messaging.
Two days after the march, we have seen the photos pouring in on social media and we’ve witnessed how large and widespread the women’s march has been. We’ve also seen the backlash coming from trans activists who complain the march focused too much on female biology. It is our hope that this event, and the reason behind it (Trump taking away women’s rights and a rise in misogyny in the country in general) will galvanize more women into feminist organizing. Our rights are always under attack, and over the next few years there will be lots of work to do.
The conversation around basic income has been gaining traction in Ontario, with the provincial government releasing a pilot program survey that will be open until January 31st. The gist of a basic income program is to grant everyone a base ‘livable’ amount of money per month on a sliding scale that decreases the amount a person gets depending on how much they make from work or other sources. Unlike some other forms of income assistance, basic income is a safety net that isn’t dependent upon working, looking for work, having to stop working in order to qualify, or proving disability. (A full report on the project from the Ministry of Community and Social Services is available here.) We at RFU support the concept of basic income because, if implemented properly, it would make a considerable material difference to countless women.
The Feminization of Poverty:Women have higher rates of poverty than men virtually everywhere. Women as a class also have more burden of responsibility for others in terms of money, time, and energy. Poverty is, of course, also correlated to race and immigrant status: women of colour, First Nations women, and immigrant women make up a high percentage of low-paying, difficult, and insecure jobs like Personal Support Workers. Women and girls living in poverty are at high risk of entering prostitution in order to survive.
Abuse and toxic relationships:Financial dependence is the primary factor that forces women to stay in abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. In addition to women’s higher rates of poverty in general, abusers usually isolate women from other sources of support in order to cultivate their dependence and destroy their sense of functionality. Making rent alone can be extremely difficult, especially in a place like Toronto, so many women feel forced to move in with partners or parents even though the power imbalance in the arrangement can be detrimental to their well-being.
Mental and physical health: People with invisible or high-functioning health problems–mental and physical–can have a difficult time getting income assistance for their disabilities and may refuse assistance due to stigma against ‘welfare.’ Women suffer from high levels of health problems including anxiety, depression, PTSD, PCOS, and untreated pain. Those who can work are still at the mercy of employers who are not particularly sympathetic to any need for reduced hours, flex time, or other accommodations.
It’s no exaggeration to say that basic income could mean the difference between life and death for millions of women and girls in the province. Although basic income isn’t inherently radical, it does have the potential to give workers some leverage against exploitation under capitalism by giving them leeway to reject jobs with poor working conditions, low pay, and excessive hours.
Basic income is a good idea simply because no one should live in poverty. No one should become homeless and starve to death because they don’t make good fodder for capitalist exploitation. No one who can work should have to choose between exploitation and poverty. We don’t exist to be exploited for fun or profit.
RFU has sent an abridged version of this post as a joint statement in support of the Basic Income Pilot to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. We hope that eligible readers will take the survey, and we welcome women to comment with what basic income would mean for them and what material effects it would have on their lives.
We would like to voice our support for the Federal government’s launching of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We recognize that Canada was created by force on unceded First Nations land, and Indigenous people did not consent to be subjected to colonialist culture or law. It is our belief that this legacy of colonialism in Canada has resulted in a disproportionate level of violence impacting Aboriginal communities. The intersection of, sex, class, and race leave Aboriginal women and girls at an even greater disadvantage in Canadian society. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine factors underlying the systemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls, particularly the role of the government, coroners’ offices, and existing provincial and federal laws. However, we are disappointed that the Terms of Reference exclude the examination of police conduct.
There are those who have expressed doubts about the necessity of the Inquiry, citing that the root causes of poverty, addiction, and racism are well-known. However, our hope is that in formally exploring these factors, the Inquiry will force these uncomfortable truths out into the open and provide the information necessary to carve a tangible way forward that results in actual material action. Furthermore, Canada needs to face the reality that sex trafficking exists in this country and acknowledge the connection between the prostitution industry and what is happening to Aboriginal women.
“Girls have described that they were sex trafficked from group homes and motels that are part of the child welfare system. We have a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in the criminal justice system. These issues are all interrelated and our expectation is that one reason we are having the Inquiry to address how these issues relate to violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
The Federal government has named a 5-member commission led by Marion Buller Bennett. Marion Bennett is B.C.’s first female First Nations judge. She brought to light that the mainstream court system has not worked for Aboriginals in the past and articulated the specific gaps in our knowledge that an inquiry serves to address:
“The families who feel the death of their loved ones were called a suicide or an accident or an overdose as opposed to a murder, those patterns are the kinds of things the commissioners will have to look into.”
Michele Audette is a leading women’s First Nations advocate and former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. When asked why an Inquiry was necessary, she pointed out that the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been increasing, and that the relationship between Aboriginal women and the police needs to be addressed. When asked what’s behind the disproportionate numbers of missing women, she said:
“Racism, discrimination. We are a target. Because we are Aboriginal women, we are a target.”
Qajaq Robinson is a Nunavut-born Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in Aboriginal issues and land and treaty claims. She represented Ian Campeau in filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about the Redskins Football Club name in Ottawa. When asked how she felt about the harassment she and her client received, she responded:
“It was worth it, hearing accounts from residential school survivors who had that term used on them and their accounts of feeling so weak and vulnerable and unable to fight against that.”
Marilyn Pointras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan. She has expressed her disappointment with the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in legal decisions in Canada:
“The country is losing out on the opportunity to gain from Indigenous perspectives on everything from sentencing to the factors that lead to crime. When you start to incorporate Indigenous thinking into the justice model, you start talking a lot more about preventative measures and that’s where we should be taking things.”
Brian Eyolfson is a First Nations and human rights lawyer and former vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Mr. Eyolfson has worked for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and represented that group at the Ipperwash inquiry, which sought justice for the murder of Aboriginal activist Dudley George.
We are pleased to see Aboriginal women are well-represented on the Commission, and that federal resources are being attended to this very pressing issue, which Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has called a “national tragedy, but an international shame.”
For more information about the Inquiry, please visit https://nwac.ca/mmiwg. For more information about prostitution from a local abolitionist perspective, please visit http://www.sextrade101.com, the Toronto Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization.
“The allegation dates back to 1999, when Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin — who has a story credit on The Birth of a Nation — were charged with raping an 18-year-old student when they were studying at Penn State. Parker was 19 years old at the time.
The woman said she was unconscious and didn’t consent to the sex. Parker testified that he and the woman had previously had sex and Celestin maintained it was consensual.
Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, but that was later overturned when the woman opted not to testify again for a 2005 retrial. She sued Penn State and was awarded a settlement out of court.
The case came into the spotlight after Variety reported the woman committed suicide at the age of 30 in 2012.
When asked if he thought about the incident over the last 17 years, he said he “hadn’t thought about it at all.”
We provided a statement to a journalist who inquired if this situation was on our radar, and here is the statement we wrote:
The matter is on our radar in that it is business as usual in a patriarchal society. You can add Nate Parker to the long list of men for whom committing rape or domestic violence was no obstacle to their success (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown, Jian Ghomeshi, and recently Johnny Depp, to name a very few). Our position is that the asymmetry between the frequency of sexual violence and the scant justice for victims is an indictment of the way society views women. Certainly, there is some outrage after accounts of sexual violence surface, but it is nothing but a minor nuisance to these men who are not only defended but even celebrated by the Arts community and the wider public. In reality, it is often the victims who suffer in the long term due to harassment and retraumatization when they go public with their stories.
The media is sanitizing Parker’s history of sexual violence by using obfuscating words like “controversial,” “dark,” and “painful,” to describe his past. TIFF disingenuously defended their decision to screen the film on the grounds that controversial and provocative subject matter is what the Arts are all about. But what is up for debate is not the story in the film- which does, of course, have value- it is the story of the filmmaker, being swept under the rug by those who have invested in the film.
While it would be ideal for TIFF to cancel the screening to show solidarity with women, the AFI’s cancellation of the screening has turned out to be nothing but an empty gesture, considering they plan to go forward with screening the film at a later date anyway (once outrage has inevitably died down). This allows them to appear socially conscious but still benefit financially from the situation. Whatever TIFF’s decision, the root of the problem remains the grounds on which Parker’s conviction failed. Ultimately, our concern lies more with this fact than whether or not a film screens at a film festival.
On Saturday, April 9, seven members of Radical Feminists Unite got together for a potluck and film screening of Gail Dines’ documentary Pornland. You can rent this film for only $10 on this website and we highly recommend it.
The film presents similar information to what she wrote about in her book by the same name. It describes how the porn industry is connected to other mainstream industries, the way porn has changed over the years and the violence perpetrated against female performers. The difference between the book and the film is that the film shows actual clips and screenshots from porn films and websites and therefore offers visual evidence of the violence that occurs. It was very difficult to watch, but very informative.
It is clear that the porn industry is deeply embedded within global capitalism, since mainstream industries such as banks, credit card companies, Internet companies, and hotel chains are all profiting from porn. Pornography is a business that sells violence against women for a profit.
We had an excellent discussion after viewing the film about the way pornography affects our lives and our relationships. We talked about the expectations that men have during sex and the way we navigate the dating world. We also talked about the reasons why women watch porn, such as a desire to look “cool” in front of boyfriends and being so used to misogyny that it’s hard to even see. Women who have watched porn uncritically and who haven’t had a chance to develop a feminist consciousness will often accept violence and abuse as normal in their intimate relationships—a terrible consequence of living in a porn culture.
If you are a woman in the Toronto area who would like to discuss the effects of porn culture in a female-only feminist environment, please contact us!
The annual International Women’s Day march was held yesterday here in Toronto, drawing a turnout of around 3,000, according to CityNews. Two of our members attended part of the rally and the march from OISE at the University of Toronto to the Student Campus Centre at Ryerson University. Following are the impressions of one member speaking as a radical/socialist feminist, and not claiming to speak for every member of RFU. These impressions come with the caveat that, due to the adventure of commuting by TTC on weekends, I missed most of the rally (up to the point of the final set of speakers) and did not visit every table at the fair.
The proletarian history of IWD was highly visible with various socialist/Marxist/communist groups present, and working class issues made central. Many union and industry worker groups were behind banners, as well as 15 & Fairness, which aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 and create better conditions for low-income workers (we were near a Chinese contingent of this group that increased access to their message by carrying Chinese language signs).
The international intent of the day was not just lip service. Groups representing workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Latin America, etc. were in the march. (We were behind the Communist Party of Iraq, whose slogans included “No to Discriminating [Against] Women in Iraq,” “No to Iraqi Personal Code, which is inspired by Sharia,” and “Separation of Religion is the demand of Iraqi mass.”) Canadian First Nations women were at the forefront with Idle No More and demands for the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
After a great disappointment with Take Back the Night 2014 being used as a pulpit for the prostitution lobby, I had low expectations for acceptance of the sex commodification industry in large mainstream ‘feminist’ demonstrations like this one. However, I did not personally see this happening at IWD.
IWD hasn’t been taken over by corporate interests like Pride unfortunately has (I say that as someone who marched in World Pride 2014).
There was some opportunity to carry forward with activism (more about my issues with this subject below). The most concrete example of one organization giving women the means to do something tangible was the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. They handed out stickers to put on TTC and street ads for crisis pregnancy centres in order to warn women that these organizations are anti-choice.
The march generated a lot of interest (and surprise) from people on the street. I only heard one person yelling at us that we’re slaves and should go to hell or something.
The Not So Good:
As a proletarian event, I felt that the focus on women and the roots of our oppression was sometimes lost. Women’s lived realities are of course inseparable from our class, race, immigration status, and so on, but women’s activism is uniquely expected to cater to every other issue, even if it means putting our oppression as women last on our list of concerns.
There was not as much female-erasing / trans-centric language as I feared, but there was a general lack of identifying the source of women’s oppression: patriarchy and men as a class. What appeared to be the overarching theme of “No More Violence, No More Hate” does not name the perpetrator and holds no one accountable for misogyny. The (hundreds) of men who attended got to pat themselves on the back for their participation without having to consider–much less change–their own misogynistic thoughts and behaviour. In fact, there was so much focus on labour issues that it would be easy to march without having to think about women much at all.
Though I didn’t see pro-prostitution and porn messages at the march, I also didn’t see anything calling them out as violence against women. (Please comment below if you saw messages about the ‘sex’ industry in either direction!)
This may be an inherent challenge for rallies and demonstrations like this, but I left with little sense of what we can do going forward other than “donate money” and the questionably effective “sign this petition.” Consciousness-raising has long been a central component of radical feminism, so I respect that it’s necessary, but we can’t stop there.
Overall, it was encouraging to see everyone coming together in good spirits with some class consciousness and the desire to amplify the voices of marginalized women, but I left ambivalent about the effectiveness of the day. To elaborate on my last point, as a radical/socialist feminist, I want to leave an event with the feeling that something has been accomplished, or the sense of a concrete plan going forward. I didn’t leave feeling this way, but I hope that other women did. I hope that they discovered new groups and women to build community with. I hope that they find a way to engage with feminist activism that doesn’t set women back with empowerful pole dancing and Slutwalking. I hope that the events of the day will inspire women to actually get involved with feminism, and not just stick on the label because the label is all the rage these days.
If you attended (or if you didn’t) and this post has clicked with you, please feel free to contact us via comment or email. Let’s get together and plan the smashing of patriarchy!
We would like to highlight this investigation into human trafficking in Canada by the Globe and Mail.
“The Trafficked project sprang from an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In the course of that reporting, the issue of human trafficking surfaced as a factor that puts some aboriginal women at even greater risk of disappearing or being killed.”
Please read the entire article here as well as the report The Trafficked with interviews from three Indigenous women survivors. It is important to note that Indigenous women account for just one in every 25 Canadians, but one 2014 study estimated they are about one in every two victims of human trafficking.
The pro-prostitution lobby would have us believe that women choose prostitution with their “free choice” and “agency” but the truth is that many of these women are coming from a population that is kept in vulnerable positions due to racism, misogyny, poverty and ongoing colonization.
Survivor and activist Bridget Perrier says “I didn’t choose prostitution. Prostitution chose me.” In a video provided by the Globe and Mail, Perrier talks about how men were purchasing her when she was only twelve years old, and they knew her vulnerability and that she was sexually abused. Aboriginal women are more likely to be in a vulnerable position due to the ongoing effects of residential schools and due to the combination of racism and misogyny that means our society sees them as disposable.
Women and girls do not choose or enjoy being sexually exploited. The men who purchase and sell women and children for “sex” need to be held accountable for this horrific crime.
We would like to congratulate the survivors and activists who are fighting back against the world’s oldest oppression on behalf of all women.
Lesbians are female homosexuals; that is, biological females who are sexually and romantically attracted to other biological females. While all women are allowed to refuse sex with males at any time, lesbians in particular exclude men from their sex lives as a matter of policy due to being only interested in other females.
Lesbians have always represented a challenge to patriarchy and have angered men who believe that all women should be available to them. In recent years the popularity of the “trans women are women” narrative has meant that lesbian events and organizations have been bullied into including males who wish to call themselves lesbians.
In Toronto, the concept of the “cotton ceiling” was coined by a male-to-female transgender porn star, Drew DeVeaux, who wishes for lesbians to consider male-born persons as possible sexual partners, despite the fact that lesbians, by definition, are not attracted to males. Planned Parenthood of Toronto supported this concept in 2012 and ran a workshop that encouraged male-born persons to find ways to overcome the “cotton ceiling” of lesbians’ underwear in order to become their sexual partners.
Dyke March Toronto encourages males who wish to call themselves lesbians to participate in the Dyke March and requires all participants to pretend as though males can be lesbians and that lesbians should consider males as possible sexual partners. Anyone who points out the inherent lesbophobia of this policy is called names and has their comments deleted.
Toronto is a hostile environment for lesbians, since female-only lesbian events and spaces have been abandoned in favour of events that include men. The very idea of excluding men from our sex lives and private spaces is regarded as bigoted by all of Toronto’s institutions, who prefer to cater to males who identify as women. Lesbians are being gas-lighted by these institutions that attempt to make lesbians believe that their sexual orientation includes men.
Radical Feminists Unite promotes female-only space and supports the rights of lesbians and all women to refuse to include men in our sex lives and in our private spaces. Lesbians are welcome in our group and will be fully supported as females who are exclusively attracted to other females.
We would like to thank the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario, the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry for putting on a fantastic panel discussion on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at the University of Toronto. Speakers from these three organizations spoke about the roots of oppression faced by women of colour in Canada, with particular attention to the temporary foreign worker program and its effect on Filipino women, the effects of residential schools and the Indian Act on Indigenous women, and the system of prostitution which disproportionately affects Asian and Indigenous women.
Canada’s temporary foreign worker program has brought large numbers of Filipino women into Canada to become caregivers in private households. Panelists explained that 84% of these women have a university education and 67% of them have children. Although these women are mostly educated professionals, they are performing low-skill work for low wages and are facing many barriers in upgrading their education or finding work in their fields. While performing caregiving work, women are often overworked, underpaid, subject to sexual violence and economic exploitation, and separated from their children, all of which have negative effects on their mental health. They are separated from their children for about 8–10 years, on average. Most of them continue with caregiving work or other “survival” work after the temporary foreign worker program has been completed, due to years of working outside their field and being unable to upgrade their education.
The Residential School system in Canada, which continued until 1996, separated Aboriginal children from their families and attempted to assimilate them into the white colonizer’s culture. In these Residential schools, white teachers taught patriarchal values to the children and instilled in them the belief that Aboriginal women and girls have no value. The Indian Act also reflected the beliefs of white male settlers and took status away from Indigenous women. The government of Canada is still failing to properly investigate the murders of Indigenous women, who are often dismissed as living a “high-risk” lifestyle. It is a high risk to be an Aboriginal woman in Canada, but this is not because of their own choices—it’s because of the systemic racism and sexism in Canada that continues to go largely unchallenged. Indigenous women are over-represented in prostitution in Canada, even though this is not a part of Aboriginal cultures. There is no word in any local Indigenous language for prostitution—this is a system introduced to this land by colonizers. It is in fact racist to claim that prostitution is the “oldest profession” in Canada, because this oppression did not exist here until colonization.
Revolutionary changes are needed to end the oppression of women in Canada. Women’s place in society needs to be changed—women need to be treated as equals in society rather than subordinate to men. New immigrants in Canada need to be treated as skilled workers, not as babysitters, and should not face barriers to obtaining meaningful employment in their fields. The temporary foreign workers program should be abolished and immigration laws changed to reflect the fact that immigrant women are skilled workers like everyone else. Many Filipina nannies are working for upper-class women so they can further their career goals. Even privileged women find that they are responsible for all the childcare due to attitudes about women’s place in society and their husbands not doing child care. A state-funded childcare program would ease the burden on all women and would eliminate the problem of upper-class women depending on the low-paid work of less privileged women in order to secure their place in the workforce.
Indigenous women deserve full safety and equality, and prostitution is incompatible with this goal. The organization Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry supports the new prostitution law in Canada, which regrettably has not been enforced much so far, because it holds men accountable for their violence. Much more needs to be done by police officers to hold male abusers accountable for the rapes and murders they inflict on marginalized women. Unfortunately, police officers are often the johns and the abusers of Indigenous women, and they represent the colonizers. There is understandable skepticism that the white colonizers’ justice system will ever be any help; however, we need to keep working to hold men accountable in every way that we can. The cultural construct of masculinity needs to be redefined—men should not learn that ownership and control over women is their right, and that violence is a part of being a man. All Canadians need to understand that Indigenous women are valued and deserve safety and respect.
Members of Radical Feminists Unite attended this event and were very moved and energized by the excellent speakers who talked about getting to the root of women’s oppression and centering the needs of women of colour in our organizing. Women are not free until the most marginalized among us are free.