Radical Feminists Unite Mini Conference 2017

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.

RFU statement on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

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.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada said in a press release:

“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.