Impressions of IWD Toronto 2016

 IWD participants gather outside of OISE before the march.
IWD participants gather blurrily outside of OISE before the march.

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 Good:

  • 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!)
  • Amnesty International was there.
  • 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!

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If you are in downtown Toronto you may see some of our posters. We are recruiting! Women who wish to join a feminist group should review our core beliefs to see if they are a good fit. If you are interested, please send us an email and let us know. There is a screening process in place for all new members.QP Poster

The Globe and Mail Investigates Human Trafficking in Canada

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.

RFU Position Statement: Support for Lesbians

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.

Taking The Revolutionary Road: Ending Violence Against Women

EVAW poster

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.

RFU Position Statement: Anti-Capitalism

Class analysis and prioritization of the most economically oppressed women is essential to radical feminism.

Radical feminist class analysis has historically had close ties to Marxism. However, Marxists often fall short on recognizing how poor/working class/proletarian women and women of colour are oppressed differently under capitalism than men of the same class and race.

We are explicitly anti-capitalist. We recognize that women are disproportionately poor under capitalism, and that capitalism depends fully upon women’s unpaid, underpaid, and otherwise exploited labour. This is especially true on the global scale where women (and children) make up the vast majority of those living in poverty, and usually have significantly less or no sociopolitical power, education, resources, etc. The bodies of women and girls are also disproportionately exploited and violated under global capitalism in the form of prostitution, pornography, ‘sex’ tourism, and associated trafficking.

As radical feminists, we recognize that no one can dismantle capitalism through their individual choices. We are critical of any “feminist analysis” that is highly individualistic, focused on personal ’empowerment,’ or suggests embracing capitalism as the solution to women’s oppression. At the same time, we encourage everyone to reject harmful choices, actions, and words that perpetuate misogyny and hurt women as a class.

[This post is intended as an expansion on our statement of principles (About Us page) and not as a comprehensive post on the subject.]

RFU Position Statement: Reproductive Rights

We fully support every woman’s right to an abortion at any point and for any reason.

We trust women to be the best judges of their own circumstances and fully capable of making their own decisions. We are strongly against shaming and ostracizing women for choosing abortion. We reject the idea of compulsory motherhood. We reject religion-based fearmongering that women are condemned for choosing abortion.

Further, as part of our anti-capitalist position, we believe that full access to proper and respectful medical care should be free and accessible to all. Abortion is a necessary procedure that should not be cost-prohibitive. Women also need access to comprehensive and accurate information about abortion in order to challenge the many myths and stereotypes surrounding it.

At the same time, we recognize that the language of reproductive rights can be co-opted by the political left in order to increase men’s access to women’s bodies. We also recognize that women may be coerced through economic, social, or other means to have abortions they do not want. We believe in being vigilant and critical about the misuse of reproductive rights without letting that misuse take away from our core pro-choice position.

[This post is intended as an expansion on our statement of principles (About Us page) and not as a comprehensive post on the subject.]

Welcome to Radical Feminists Unite!

Group logo

Radical Feminists Unite is a group of women in Toronto who get together on a regular basis to discuss feminism and to hold potlucks and film screenings. The political beliefs that brought us together are the following:

  • Under patriarchy, women are oppressed on the basis of our sex and have a right to organize against our oppression without the presence of men.
  • We define woman as someone who is born female or born intersex and raised female from birth.
  • Sexual inequality is institutionalized in society. Focusing on women’s individual choices within the system misses the point. We prefer class analysis.
  • Pornography and prostitution are violence against women. BDSM represents the eroticization of violence against women. We are for the Nordic model that decriminalizes the women in the sex trade and criminalizes pimps and sex buyers.
  • Biological sex is innate (male/female/intersex) and gender roles are a social construct. Gender is a hierarchy that reinforces men’s superior status over women. We are critical of the politics of transgenderism.
  • We are committed to anti-racism and seek to prioritize the concerns of women of colour.
  • We are pro-choice when it comes to abortion and we promote woman-centered reproductive care.
  • We are workers who are anti-capitalist. We prioritize the concerns of those disadvantaged in the capitalist system.

You can contact us at radicalfeministsunite@gmail.com.