ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:
By DAVIDA ANDERS
Mom told me yes I could Dad told me no. All I wanted to know was whether patterned socks were allowed at wedding parties. Mom said let’s go now. Dad said no. I said nothing. Sometimes I think colourful socks are all everybody needs to be happy. Mom said Elise, do up your jacket, it’s cold. Dad said, let her feel the breeze, it’s nice out. Mom and dad didn’t dance together at the wedding. I wore my white frilly socks but carried my striped ones Because holding onto something colourful makes me feel happy.
Illustrations by TAMMY LUNG
Mom wanted Violet Vista Dad wanted Blooming Blue. Now our kitchen walls are white. Personally, I didn’t like either. I wanted the Orange Spark. Because that’s the colour our family felt like before And white makes me feel blank. Mom says you spell predator with “or” Dad says it’s “er” I don’t know what it means so I’ll just stay quiet. I think Mom and Dad are missing the point. I think they need some more Orange Spark in their lives. Some more patterned socks And some more
Photo taken by BRIAN BATISTA BETTENCOURT
A recent report prepared for Saudi Arabia’s legislative assembly, by a conservative academic, stated that if Saudi women were given the right to drive, it would mean the end of virginity in the county. The premise is that driving would encourage premarital sex. Now, people are standing up for what they believe in, and getting to the root causes of such apprehensions. There is no formal ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and they can still be arrested if they are caught driving. The ban may be up for further review. Manal al-Sharif is the woman who served as a catalyst to the beginnings of this discussion. She shares her story, for the first time, with McClung’s in “Driving for Freedom” (pg 24). Al-Sharif was imprisoned for nine days at a women’s prison, with countless other women and 16 children. An estimated 1,200,000 people around the world used alSharif as their Facebook profile pictures, to show support of her, and the Youtube video of al-Sharif driving that soon went viral. She says she is happy to have been a part of possible change. This year Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Leymah Gbowee, a women’s rights activist, and Tawakkul Karman, a journalist and founder of the human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains, were all awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was for their work in fighting sexual violence. They are calling on all women to speak out against female oppression. There have only been 12 previous female winners of the peace prize. This issue, we have compiled a timeline of Nobel laureates (in all categories) in “Lady Laureates” (pg.28). As noted above, the threat of female sexuality has been a thorny issue for awhile (all of history). In “Pink Arousal” (pg. 8) we explore the implications of newly developed pharmaceutical drugs that promise to put an end to ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction,’ with comment from Orgasm Inc. director Liz Canner. And, we review “Virgin Daughters” and the idea of young girls in Colorado promising to be abstinent to make their fathers happy. Subverting the very ideals of patriarchal rule, we turn things around in our satire photo essay “The Good Housewife’s Guide” (pg. 19). But we appreciate men who care about women’s issues and delve into the logistics in “The XY Feminists” (page 15). We hope you enjoy our 20th anniversary issue and encourage feedback. Email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our site, mcclungs.ca. You can find us on Twitter @mcclungs. Yours, Sam and Niki
EDITORIAL Editors-in-Chief Samantha Anderson Niki Singh Managing Editors Julianna McDermott Claire Prime Assitant Editor Jannen Belbeck Head of Research Elayne Teixeira-Millar Handling Editors Otiena Ellwand Portia Favro Breanne Nicholson Roohi Sahajpal Olivia Stefanovich Copy Editors Nicole Gabourie Astoria Luzzi Sofia Mikhaylova Victoria Nguyen Rhiannon Russell Olivia Stefanovich Fact-Checkers Veronika Latkina Erica Lenti Victoria Nguyen Hana Shafi Tricia Strachan ART Art Director Tammy Lung Assistant Art Director Michael Guo Illustrators Lauren Gatti Jessica Ku Danielle Olesen Christopher Rosier Ybb Villegas Photography Director Katherine Engqvist Assistant Photo Director Brian Batista Bettencourt Photographers Yeugenia Kleiner Lucy Lu Nick Spector ONLINE Web Designer Julie Tran Social Media Director Portia Favro Online Editors Roohi Sahajpal Lakshine Sathiyanathan BUSINESS Advertising & Outreach Director Catherine Nguyen Marketing & Promtions Directors Breanne Nicholson Angy Xi Circulation Directors Yeugenia Kleiner Julia Mei WRITERS Davida Anders, Samantha Anderson Shannon Clarke, Otiena Ellwand, Hafsa Lodi, Lucy Lu, Jasmine Pazzano, Rachel Phan, Acey Rowe, Rhiannon Russell, Roohi Sahajpal, Lakshine Sathiyanathan, Gin Sexsmith, Niki Singh, Mafaz Al-Suwaidan, Nick Spector, Leah Wong SPECIAL THANKS TO: Chris Kauffman, Oakham House, PointOne Graphics, Jaclyn Mika, Avary Lowell, Cashlyn Teggart, Otiena Ellwand, Allyssia Alleyne, Portia Favro Cover photo provided by Manal Al-Sharif
car culture.” The lessons cater to students in all stages of driving – from long-time drivers to beginners. Team SGR also provides an open forum for questions and it teaches students how to handle their cars under extreme situations.“It is so much fun and it really makes me feel great about myself,” she says about her part-time passion. “Cars are such a big part of my life and I love working with people and showing people that they can do it.”
By RACHEL PHAN
Anna He has found a positive way to channel her need for speed. “In our society, it is assumed that women will know nothing about cars, that we don’t care and that we’re supposed to be in the kitchen,” He said with a loud laugh. The 30 yearold car enthusiast is the co-founder and president of Sweetie Girl Racing, a Toronto-based all-female auto team. Since it began in 1999, Sweetie Girl Racing, also known as Team SGR, has become North America’s largest organization to connect women and cars. While she admits that she wasn’t always the best driver, He knew she had to channel her love of speed into something safe and positive. In 1999, when she suggested that women should race, she received criticism. She responded to this by winning a race. In 2004, she took over Team SGR and gave it a makeover to emphasize female empowerment and to encourage more women to “get dirty and change [their own] spare tire.” “We started out as an import car club, just about showing cars,” He says. “I took over in 2004 because, at this point, the import car scene fizzled and the whole
industry took a hit because of scrutiny over movies like Fast and Furious.” He said the media went crazy over the notion of street racing and car modification. “I saw it as an opportunity because a lot of the industry at the time didn’t go with my values,” He said. “I felt the organization was ready to make a difference and empower women – not just telling them what they need to know, but showing them how to do it.” The organization currently runs various clinics like “Intro to Kart Racing” and “Advanced Driver Training and Lapping”. While not racing in the classical sense with pylons or concrete walls, students are taken onto a racetrack to learn. The group also runs workshops exclusively for women who want to learn basic car care and maintenance. With the advanced driving training, Team SGR strives to teach participants real life skills in order to prepare them for situations that are not taught under the graduate license system. This includes collision prevention, dealing with leak transfers and learning the language, such as under steering versus over steering. Generally, lessons also feature a zig-zag course and sudden stopping maneuvers.“We want to spread the word and say, ‘Hey, this is fun and women can do it,’” He says. “We advocate drivers’ training and driving safety in a controlled environment while connecting women to
The organization also works heavily within the community by supporting and organizing various charity events like the SGR Annual Charity Car Wash and Dyno Day. In the past, it has supported the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Gilda’s Club. “We’re trying to promote women connecting to the car culture without having to wear a bikini all the time,” He said. The organization wants to show females their potential by breaking down the barriers preventing them from entering this male-dominated pastime. “The mentality of women is the biggest road block usually because the female demographic has [a skewed] perception of their own abilities,” she said. He and her team have been featured in the Toronto Star, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. They have also won numerous awards, including He’s recognition as one of Canada’s top 100 “influential and powerful digitally connected women” in 2010. In the future, He is planning to take a big leap and establish a full female-staff of instructors. She also aspires to open courses across the country and go international. “Us girls, we have to stick together,” she said. “We embrace our sexuality, but we don’t need to flaunt it. At the end of the day, we are sisters, wives and mothers – so treat us with respect.” M
Photo provided by source
“Hair, whether natural or chemicallytreated, must be a choice that works for the individual,” she says. The salon is not just a space for women to get their hair styled but to feel positive and safe and “for our clients to share their frustrations and to share their joys,” Watson said. This is achieved at workshops the salon offers to parents and caregivers on their children’s hair and those to encourage discussion about hair – a source of pride and insecurity. Parents bring their youngsters to the workshops where stylists demonstrate how to wash, style and maintain curly, frizzy or somewhere-in-between hair. For an adoptive mother of two young girls with afro-textured hair, a one-on-one class with Watson gave her valuable understanding on how to care for her children’s locks. “It is wonderful to be able to learn more about afro-textured hair care in an environment so open to sharing and learning,” Watson wrote on the salon’s blog. So far, the salon has held two public workshops on “good hair” and hair and sexuality. “The workshops were created to create awareness and engage critical discussions about hair and image.” However Watson says there are still plenty of signs that natural hair is yet to become fully accepted. Her natural hair can invite stares, fascination and the stranger who dares to reach out and feel it. “I find this highly problematic, if someone wants to touch my hair, I am willing to touch theirs.” In business, Watson finds that she is taken less seriously. “If my other business partners are around, I am overlooked by clients,” she says. “I become invisible.” But Watson is unfazed. “I love the look and feel of my natural hair,” she says. “My black hair was and is my symbolic message that I am here to stay.”
By LAKSHINE SATHIYANATHAN
Illustration by MICHAEL GUO
ichola Watson so longed for a boyfriend to touch her long, glossy locks. So much so that she sought his help to choose a human hair weave. “That was magical,” she says. “He wanted to stroke my long, silky hair and my desire was [for it] to be stroked.” But it was never about the desire for a boyfriend to run his fingers through her hair or the thrill of flipping it back. “Inwardly, I lacked appreciation for my natural hair,” Watson says. “I connected socially with what I thought were strong feminine identities of lustrous, thick and straight human hair weaves and synthetic extensions.” Her hair has been braided, weaved and dreadlocked. It has been treated with chemicals and left natural. Now, with an afro, after trying different styles for years, Watson adopted the natural hair movement.“I love my natural hair and my blackness, because they speak to my experience,” Watson says, “styling my natural hair is also an expression of self-love.”“Going natural” is the term used by black women who ditch the wigs, weaves and chemical relaxers. But it’s no easy feat. It’s a move that can be burdened with panic, confusion and sometimes, discomfort. Many women with afro-textured hair have never seen it untreated. And those who go natural may have difficulty styling their hair or are unsure which hair-care products and tools might work. So there is Afro Diva – believed to be the only full-service hair salon specializing in afro-textured hair on Vancouver Island. Though they still cater to all hair types. Watson opened the salon a little over a year ago in response to calls for a family-friendly space that offers expert hair care. “Having the opportunity to contribute to the external beauty of our clients is a privilege,” Watson says. The salon’s most important mandate is that it’s not just about collecting clients’ money. She considers it more of an investment in each person intellectually and emotionally. But Watson does not deter women who want the weave or chemical hair treatments, though chemical treatments are reserved for clients over the age of 15.
By RHIANNON RUSSELL
iagra commercials make it seem so easy. Have issues with arousal, gentlemen? Pop this pill and enjoy some loving with your lady. But if you’re a woman experiencing a lack of sexual desire, things can be more complicated. Since Viagra hit the market in 1998, drug companies have been searching for a women’s version–often referred to as “pink Viagra.” It’s proving to be elusive. Initially, these companies tried to treat women’s arousal problems using pills, gels, creams and patches that increased blood flow. These methods were largely unsuccessful, because many women don’t struggle with physical arousal, but instead lack sexual desire. There’s even a term for this “condition”–hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). Companies’ focus has now shifted to treating HSDD as a sexual disease or dysfunction and by boosting female desire with pharmaceutical drugs.
Critics are skeptical of HSDD’s legitimacy. Maria Gurevich, a psychology professor at Ryerson University who specializes in human sexuality, says labelling women sexually “disordered” is problematic because with sexuality, there is no “normal.” Who’s to say how often women should have sex, have orgasms or masturbate? “It raises the question of why would we expect everybody to behave similarly in relation to their sexuality,” she says. “And what are we fixing when we’re trying to find a drug?” Some products have garnered media buzz but none have been FDA-approved. Gurevich says it’s unlikely there will be a drug that successfully treats female desire. “They’ve been banging their heads against the wall for a while now, and given how much money is invested in this, if there was going to be a drug like that, it would have been produced by now,” she says. Treating arousal with drugs à la Viagra is one thing, but trying to increase desire with them is another thing completely. Desire has to do with the psyche, and increased blood flow or added testosterone won’t affect it. “All the evidence we have suggests that most desire problems … have nothing to do with physiological issues, but have to do with psychological and psychosocial issues,” says Gurevich. These issues
can include stress, anxiety, relationship problems and ambivalence, which, in the context of sexual desire, drugs can’t aid. Of course, the issue remains that there’s a sexual double standard in society. “If [women] are too sexually active or too comfortable with their sexuality or have more than x number of sexual partners, they’re labelled as promiscuous and all the words that are associated with that, and men are rewarded for those things,” says Gurevich. Women’s sexuality is not addressed as frequently and as openly as men’s. This may affect perceptions of what’s healthy and practical. “I think that sexuality is something that a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about publicly,” says Liz Canner, director of the documentary Orgasm Inc. “In our society, we’re constantly bombarded with images of fabulous sex in the media and the message that we should have orgasms every time. This is just not accurate.” Since sexuality is different for every woman, a one-pill-fits-all approach just isn’t realistic. “This idea that you can be dysfunctional is problematic,” says Canner. “It would be beneficial to have more discussions around female sexuality…but instead we put pressure on women that they have to perform in a certain way.” M
VGVGR GR R VGGVV RVGR
VG VGR RR VG
R G V
R R RG
VG R VGR VG V R
RR GG R R V VG VGGRV V R G V RGR R GV VG VG V R R
Illustrations by LAUREN GATTI & MICHAEL GUO
VG V VRG
By SHANNON CLARKE
weat, weights, satisfying pain and exhaustion – Lianne McTavish loves the gym. She loves it more, in fact, than her scholarly career and intellectual accomplishments. At 44, McTavish is a writer, professor and figure girl. A cross between female body builders and pageant queens, figure girls are expected to have muscle, but not too much muscle, as excessive muscle is considered undesirable. They aspire to have almost zero body fat. They are judged on their proportions, definition and tone and are expected to have the waists of schoolchildren, legs of dancers and faces of models. If these standards sound extreme, it’s because they are. And McTavish thought so too, at first. “I was frankly appalled by these competitions,” she writes on her blog, Feminist Figure Girl. “Were figure contests designed to counteract the transgressive potential of female heavyweight bodybuilding?” Turned out, McTavish fit right into the figure girl world. After meeting figure girls she realized they weren’t girls at all but women she describes as “dedicated, disciplined and admirable.” And so she did what any talented academic with an idea and a goal would do: she started a blog. It was an experiment more than anything; she wanted to know how, if at all, a feminist could take part in figure girl competitions. Women pumping iron in the gym, pushing themselves to be stronger and harder, don’t fit the traditional feminine model and for that they are lauded. But they make themselves vulnerable to the same level of scrutiny about their bodies. Feminist Figure Girl started last August, and McTavish competed in her first figure girl competition this summer at the North Alberta Bodybuilding Fitness Figure Championships. She placed tenth out of 23. At the competitions, the women line up and one by one, they walk across the stage and pose for the judges. They are tanned, their hair is styled perfectly and their eyelashes are curled. Unlike beauty pageants, there are no talent portions or Q&As about hobbies or dreams. They are judged on the culmination of all their training. But, like beauty pageants, they do it all in colourful gowns and two-piece swimsuits. It’s a process McTavish doesn’t enjoy but she
writes that meeting these women, some balancing grueling training with their jobs and motherhood, was worth the experience. Figure competitions are held all across Canada every year and trainers offer services in diet, fat loss and other health-related issues. They are overseen by the Canadian Bodybuilding Federation, which connects both male and female bodybuilders to competitions around the world. For over a year, McTavish has written about extreme dieting, beauty politics and and gender. Her posts range from essays on performance enhancers to biting rants about emails from her students. She reveals more about herself than perhaps she intend – sharing details you’d never expect to know about your university professor. There is a post dedicated entirely to laser hair removal. But the initial question remains: do figure girls defy gender expectations or are they an extreme example of body policing? Certainly, some of McTavish’s posts point to the latter. The amount of time and space dedicated to dieting, counting calories and agonizing over weight is frightening on its own. Add this to hours spent in the gym, staring at your butt and thighs, and people could potentially develop the makings of an eating disorder. Except, as McTavish writes in a post, entitled “Disordered Eating”, she isn’t unhealthy or hungry. “Those who strive to achieve a lean, athletic body are often pathologized,” she says “This eight-week-out frame is visibly muscular, relatively lean and hard. It is the result of years of working out, targeted weight training and clean eating, notably during the last 80 days.” McTavish, having accomplished her goal of competing, has returned to working out for the rush of it and is letting her body go back to its pre-bodybuilding proportions. This is a concept she writes, that is usually reserved for mothers: “There is no going back to the Garden of Eden, pre-fall from grace.” Slightly unsettled and slightly unrelieved, McTavish is getting reacquainted with her body. She is currently writing a book about her experience and is becoming a certified trainer, sharing her fitness training with women who can’t afford the gym. M
Photo taken from feministfiguregirl.com Credited to: David Ford
By OTIENA ELLWAND
isa Paulson dangles more than 15 metres beneath flying helicopters on a regular basis. She ice climbs, rock climbs, hikes, skis, camps and shovels. She also rescues people off of mountains. Paulson is a visitor safety specialist at Banff National Park in Alberta. She’s the only woman on the nine-person rescue crew. After Paulson graduated from high school in 1987, she fled Calgary for the mountains of Lake Louise. She had no intention of becoming a mountain safety specialist at the time; she just wanted to ski. At 14 she became a certified ski instructor and at 17 she acquired level one avalanche training. Next, she started volunteering with the park wardens who were doing avalanche control on the ski hills. “All I thought wardens did was ski around and throw bombs, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I had no ambition to be a mountaineer, I’d just go out mountaineering with whomever I thought I wouldn’t get killed out on the mountains with,” says Paulson at a busy café in Banff, Alberta last November. Once she had her first taste of the warden’s life, she was addicted. She began to work seasonal jobs for Parks Canada, doing everything from maintaining trails to putting on educational skits as an interpreter – a job she found terrifying at first because it meant performing in front of hundreds of people. She studied renewable resource management and finally landed a job as a seasonal park warden in Saskatchewan River Crossing, Alberta. Then, on Nov. 26, 1992, the unthinkable occurred: the mountains became the site of her own personal tragedy. Her boyfriend, Patrick Sheehan, fell while they were ice climbing together and died. “It was my first time ice climbing, he’d let me down,” Paulson says. “He came over the crest of the waterfall and his anchor pulled.” Sheehan fell about 60 metres and was seriously injured, suffering a broken femur, punctured lung and
Photos taken by OTIENA ELLWAND
They were dead, but we wanted to confirm their identity. I was happy I didn’t have to stay up there all night while pregnant.
skull fracture. “There was no way he was going to survive that. He sort of got up and said, ‘I’m okay, we’re going to get out of this,’” says Paulson. She called in on the radio to start the rescue, but then Sheehan went unconscious. Paulson performed CPR until the rescue team arrived. After he was driven to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. “That was a big, big event. It definitely shook me for sure,” Paulson says. “It took me a long time to trust ice anchors. I have a huge respect for ice… there’s no room for error.” She had planned to move to Jasper National Park, Alberta to be with Sheehan, but instead made the move alone. Even though she wasn’t yet an official visitor safety specialist, she was always on alert, ready for the rescue calls. “My little shack was close to the helipad, so I’d beetle home, pack for whatever terrain they were going into and was ready to go,” she says. “I was under their noses. I got clued into some really interesting rescues with the team there.” In 2004, she married Joseph McKay and was hired as a full-time visitor safety specialist in Banff National Park a year later. She continued to do rescues until she was six months pregnant. During that time, she was called to a rescue at the Wapta Icefield in the Canadian Rockies, where a snow cave had collapsed on two young adults. “The weather was closing in, so we dug really fast. We didn’t want to get stuck up there and have to navigate our way out,” Paulson says. “They were dead, but we wanted to confirm their identity. I was happy I didn’t have to stay up there all night while pregnant.” While still breastfeeding her second child, she completed her 10-day mountain guide exam this year. It involved
climbing some of the biggest mountains in Rogers Pass and Lake Louise, glacier and ice climbs, rock climbing and camping in the mountains for three nights. “I didn’t want the exam to be the reason why we quit feeding,” says Paulson, who was the only woman taking the exam. “So it was important to me to carry on. My tent mate was male, and although he’s expecting a child, it might have been a bit much to have a woman beside him expressing milk...which probably hasn’t been done before on an exam!” Nevertheless, Paulson passed and was officially awarded her mountain guide pin by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides at the association’s ball on October 29. When people first find out that Paulson works for Parks Canada, she says they tend to assume that she works at the information centre, or for the dispatch. “It takes a while for them to realize that I’m also the one that hangs under the helicopter.” Similarly, when she’s running a rescue, or in the office with her male colleagues, she says people generally make eye contact and direct their questions to the men first. “That’s the one thing I notice, it’s just so subtle, it’s not intentional, it’s just how society is.” She’s quick to name the other women in the field who’ve paved the way for her and have helped her along the way. Paulson says that she’s not breaking new
It takes a while for them to realize that I’m also the one that hangs under the helicopter
ground for women, or leading the pack. Her husband has also played a lead role by supporting her, staying at home with the kids, and preparing her sandwich and thermos of tea so she can get out the door at whatever hour the distress call comes. “I like the rescue puzzles and figuring out how to efficiently make everything work and giving people in the mountains the best possible care,” Paulson says. “I just love looking at snow and forecasting and trying to predict what it’s going to do, that’s always been a big passion. I’m so excited to see a bit of snow out there today,” she says, while looking wistfully out of the café window. The snow-cloaked mountains in all their luminescent glory and unknown danger beckon her. She climb off her stools, zip up her jacket, and heads out into the bright afternoon. M
By JASMINE PAZZANO
woman stares at a light blue lace bra displayed on a mannequin. She admires it with her husband and wonders if it’s for sale.“Is it going to fit properly?” she asks herself. “Will I look normal?” She wants this, of all shopping experiences, to be a painless one. In the fitting room, she changes her clothes behind a Japanese rice paper screen. A bright pink silk robe hangs off of it. Sheri Panesar, the owner of the store, hands her client a beige bra with a lace trim. She says to pair it with her client’s favourite dress — a tight-fitting 1940s replica covered in beige and brown houndstooth. The bra’s lace peeks out of the heart-shaped neckline, and it looks like it is part of the dress. She steps out from behind the screen. Panesar and the client’s husband agree she looks fabulous. She smiles – she feels like herself again. After two hours of trying on 15 bras, Panesar’s customer takes home an array of colourful designs, including a leopardprint set. “Thank you,” she says as she hugs Panesar. New lingerie was not the only thing her customer took home from the boutique that day. She also bought a prosthetic breast form to fill her bras. Panesar, 43, owns Twin Sister’s Mastectomy Boutique, a haven for women who have had the surgery. Her office is stocked with breast forms of all sizes, as well as bras and tank tops made to fit anyone. She also carries colourful head
scarves for women who have undergone chemotherapy. Her business is run in the lower level of an Etobicoke medical building, resembling the many beige and boxy offices surrounding it. Panesar’s only advertisement is a small, baby-pink sign on the side of the building. Panesar since she was a child, has always wanted to own a business. Instead, she pursued training to become a lab technician at the Career Canada Training for three years and then studied psychology part-time at York University. In 1997 while in university, she trained medical representatives who help fit prostheses for people. She watched her trainees deal with clients out of the representatives’ homes. “If I were being fitted, I’d want my experience to be more private and personal,” she says. She fulfilled her childhood dream when she created a mastectomy boutique with a partner in 2006. After a year in business, her partner left, but Pansear is now a happily independent owner. “I have a vision, and now I can do it my way,” she says, nodding. Women visit her boutique from all over Ontario. Her main lobby resembles a spa. Soft piano music plays, and a pair of slippers lies outside the change room door for each of her clients. Panesar works on an appointment-only basis, but she gladly takes emergency calls any time of the day. She also offers services to drop off her client’s
purchases if they can’t pick it up themselves. “Crying is common in here,” she said. “People come in feeling like a part is missing, and they walk out beaming.” She says her biggest worry is when clients cannot pay for what they need. A single breast form can cost up to $400. Panesar keeps a stash of gently-used forms to give to clients who cannot afford her products at full price. She also helps her customers fill out time-consuming insurance paperwork. Yet, Panesar says she feels her job requires more than what she is doing. Besides a doctor, Panesar is often the first person women see after their surgery. Her customers confide in her about the pain of their mastectomy process—both physical and emotional. They’re looking to me for answers, and the best I can do is be a good listener,” she says with a slight shrug. “I want to be a better listener.” Panesar says she hopes to turn her boutique into a fullfledged help centre for women and their families. “Husbands feel helpless, and kids come in scared,” she said. “I want to eventually fit women’s bodies as well as create a support group.” Panesar says she is ecstatic to help women every day and that she would not want to do anything else. “I have the best job in the world,” she said as her smile steadily widened. “What other job ends with a hug and a thank you?” M
Photo taken by LUCY LU
F E AT U R E S
icture this – it’s the hottest day of the summer. You’re at the beach. The sand scalds the soles of your feet and the air is thick. In Canada, hot days like these only stick around for a couple of months, and you know it’s now or never to work on your tan. Every man around you has his shirt off, but your bikini top still clings to you. You awkwardly try to brush away the itchy granules of sand trapped against your nipples under your top, hoping no one will notice. It would be so much easier to just strip it off, if not for the gut reaction that keeps you from unfastening the ties. In Ontario, it’s legal for women to go topless in public parks and beaches. But the catch is that police can still arrest you for disorderly conduct. The possibility of arrest, coupled with immoral beliefs and the stereotype that a woman who bares her breasts in public is sleazy, keeps most women covered up. “If men are allowed to be topless, women should be allowed as well,” says Diane Brisebois, the coordinator of Toronto’s GoTopless organization. The organization held its first event in Toronto last August, despite being denied a permit by the city’s parks and events administrator. “I think they didn’t want to give us a permit because they were afraid that too many women will want to do it and it will become normal,” Brisebois says. Her guess proved to be true when many female bystanders took off their tops and joined the organization’s march down Queen Street East. To Brisebois, women who assert their right to be barebreasted are not being superficial – it’s about women taking charge and accepting who they are. “It’s a lot more than just seeing titties,” she says, “I hope women can see the bigger picture. We’re demonstrating feminine values.” The bigger picture is to improve self-confidence by showing that beauty is diverse. By normalizing female toplessness, Brisebois believes that both women and men will be more at ease. “We’re not going to stop because we’re helping women develop and feel comfortable with their bodies. The more they do it the more men will become aware that they need to respect women regardless and be able to control their hormones.”
Illustration by TAMMY LUNG
By GIN SEXSMITH When you Google “breasts” the first advertisement that pops up is a link to www.theplasticsurgeryclinic.com, which promises “real and natural enlargements”. “The only reason breasts are such a taboo topic is because our society has sexualized them to be a thing of secrecy,” says Amelie Marlin, a fourth-year social work student at Ryerson. Marlin realizes that it’s up to young women to determine how we’re all treated. “For women to be feminists, we need to not only support the importance of women’s equality and justice, but also speak out. We cannot just accept that men have more rights than us and be silenced by this,” says Marlin. “Exposing your breasts doesn’t make you a slut – you’re not opening your legs at the same time,” says Gisele Gagne, assistant organizer of GoTopless, adding that there are many men with larger breasts than women, and no one is asking them to cover up. On the contrary, Brisebois says that a lot of times it’s husbands or boyfriends who encourage their partners to free their breasts and it’s women who resist. Women say that they would never go topless because they don’t want men to ogle them or because our conservative society has made them modest or insecure about their bodies. While some women support other women who have the courage to bare their breasts, others look down on toplessness. “If I were to see a woman topless in public I would think she was deranged or a floozy,” says Amy Vanderwey, an accounting student at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont. Brisebois says that GoTopless will host another event in August 2012, but that the organization is still in its infant stage. She says it’s up to the younger generation to show their support. “I know that not everyone is ready to do it, and I perfectly respect that. If there are women who support us, but are not ready to go topless, come join us. You don’t have to remove your top. You won’t be forced to do anything that you don’t want to,” she says. “The bra in our brains is much harder to remove than the one on our chests, but when you do it you empower other women to do it too, and it’s time for women to step into their greatness.” M
Unclothed on the Catwalk
lexander McQueen sales skyrocketed when his successor, designer Sarah Burton, created a conservative wedding gown for the Duchess Catherine Middleton. The looks displayed at her Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2012 runway show during Paris Fashion Week were anything but conventional. Russian born model, Alla Kostromichova, wore a gown consisting of a black feathered skirt, an embellished high-neck shoulder/cape piece, and a strip of fabric running between her breasts, connecting the shirt to the shoulder. Sheer chiffon was stretched across the top of the ensemble, making Kostromichova’s breasts bare, and completely visible under the see through fabric. The 27-year-old women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Toronto-based beauty blog LadyAtelier.com, Melanie Gorka, took offense to the fact that the model’s face was covered. “The model’s face was covered in a black mask, and by covering her face, the viewer no longer sees the woman but a sexual object parading in a black evening gown,” she says. Burton was not the only designer to dispose of the bra this season—the trend spread like a disease at fashion weeks in New York, Paris, London and Milan, amongst prominent international fashion houses like Nina Ricci, Fendi, Missoni, Elie Saab, Valentino and Vera Wang. “Models are a means to display a designer’s work,” explains fashion student Nadia Baker, 19. “They’re like moving mannequins, and being bra-less might make them seem more like ‘clean canvases’. It’s quite ironic, because in a social context, a woman with exposed breasts is mostly seen as raunchy and vulgar,” she says. It’s a baffling style movement, as runway shows are traditionally held to attract buyers, who in turn sell the clothes to women who prob-
By HAFSA LODI
ably won’t be so keen on giving their bras the boot. “Usually when women wear sheer, they leave something to the imagination by wearing a bra—most would shy away from wearing it without one,” says Gorka. Jen McNeely, 23, founder and editor-inchief of shedoesthecity.com, a website that covers fashion and nightlife in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, explains that sex appeal is an aspect to be expected at any fashion show. “It’s shock value and a party favour,” she says. “The same way you might add a piñata to liven up a birthday is why a designer might include breasts in a catwalk.” Some fashion critics agree with McNeely, and assume that the sheer styling is either a shock-and-awe strategy, or a male artist’s form of homage to the feminine body. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Burton, along with many other designers inflicted with the bra-less model syndrome, is female, whereas bare-breasted models may seem more characteristic of male designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, a known employer of the “sex sells” methodology. Furthermore, according to a report in the UK-based Guardian, Burton was “taken aback by any suggestion that she had desired to shock.” According to Gorka, there is a fine line between being artistic and being provocative, and sending bra-less models down the catwalk can have negative ramifications on society. “It creates an environment that takes away their dignity and provokes slut-washing, sexual violence and discrimination. I don’t think that is something high fashion should support, no matter how artistic the designer deems it to be,” she says. Fashion may be becoming more naked, but although the sheer-shirt-with-only-a-braunderneath trend is tolerable, the idea of women wearing sheer shirts without bras is not. Baker believes that when women see models walking down the runways with their breasts exposed, they may feel intimidated by what is considered fashionable. “I’m all for embracing your body, but you don’t need to have exposed breasts to be considered stylish,” says Baker. Hopefully, this is one runway trend that will be short-lived, and won’t ever see the light of day on the streets. M
F E AT U R E S
By SHANNON CLARKE
The word â€˜feministâ€™ often has negative connotations for women rights activists. Shannon Clarke looks into the re-branded world of male feminism.
fter SlutWalk Toronto came and went in April, it became a phenomenon that quickly spread around the world. As of September, over 70 cities have held their own walks to fight slut-shaming and sexual violence against women. Photographs of the marches worldwide show women together addressing the comment, made by one male law enforcement officer about a distinctly female problem. However, what these photographs don’t often show, the men who marched as well. At the pioneering walk in Toronto, sprinkled among the groups of women, were men. They held signs of support and rallied with wives, sisters, daughters, mothers and friends. These men are regarded as commendable and noteworthy. They might even be considered brave. What they are rarely called are feminists. Men have been on the cusps of the feminist movement since it emerged, officially in North America and Europe, with the suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Though feminism at its barest definition, advocates for equality between the sexes, it has historically dealt with “women’s” issues. Being disproportionately affected by rape, domestic violence and poverty, underrepresented in positions of power and overrepresented as primary caregivers, it’s no wonder people are thrown by the femme in feminism.
The word’s effectiveness has been debated for years and women, many of them young third wavers, are finding alternatives for themselves. In 2011, the list of stereotypes associated with women and feminists is exhaustive (see: bitch, manhater, lesbian, etc.). However, the stereotypes facing men who call themselves feminists are rarely challenged in the same way. Globe and Mail columnist Micah Toub took the question one step further with his November 2010 article, “Am I a male feminist or shifty opportunist?” Toub has written about masculinity with a “feminist leaning” and found some readers took issue with his maleness more than his politics. “[A commenter] suggested I was just falling into that old cliché of a guy who enters the Women’s Studies program more for the women than the study,” he writes in his column. His response did little to silence nay-sayers and skeptics. When a video entitled “Dear Woman” appeared on YouTube in March, the men featured were essentially told to “man up” in the more than 3,000 comments and video responses it received. The intent of the video was to acknowledge male privilege. Instead, it inspired a spoof by Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die and more displays of anonymous misogyny. Amid the usual online jabs at feminism, the men themselves were personally attacked for being, as one commenter put it, kind of “rapey.”
The public slamming of men who sympathize with feminism may be what turns so many others away. So these men call themselves “allies” and “supporters”, safe labels for men who oppose patriarchy, but are non-threatening and “masculine.” “We don’t recognize the pressure women and men put on other men,” says Jeffrey Perera. He spoke with McClung’s two hours before leading a workshop called Blueprints for Change, a discussion on the wide-reaching influence of patriarchy. “The only tools we equip young men with are being aggressive and angry and not showing emotion.” And emotion is often the catalyst for change. David Rayside is a professor of political science and former director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. He is also a longtime activist for gender equality. He co-founded the University of Toronto Men’s Forum in 1989, a response to the Montreal Massacre. The group was well received. Following the murders of 14 female engineering students in a heinous gender-motivated crime, students at the St. George campus (and campuses across Ontario) mobilized to talk about sexism and violence against women. “The fact that the Montreal trauma occurred on a university campus was a bit of a jolt for lots of people who frankly hadn’t thought about these issues,” he says. “It’s like any kind of activism. Often a particular crisis,
Illustrations by LAUREN GATTI
or a particular event gets people going.” The Men’s Forum eventually dissolved in 1994 and many of its founders and participants went on to support the women’s movement in other ways. But, says Rayside, young men today are slowly becoming more gender aware. The apprehension of some of these men to call themselves feminists is not just fear of stereotypes. It’s the misconception that the movement is “angry at them.” “Any social movement has a variety of voices… Some of those are understandably going to be angry voices,” Rayside says. “The problem is that a lot of men who haven’t really thought about these issues have always exaggerated the strength of this voice within the women’s movement.” This broad characterization of women and feminism has contributed to a misunderstanding of a complicated concept. “We have to think critically about the word ‘feminism’. I think it means different things to different people,” says Jessica Yee, founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. She is a self-described “Two-spirit, multiracial, Indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter” and whose work on feminism has been featured on panels, in documentaries and in interviews. “What is a feminist and who decides?” she asks in a phone interview from her office in Wisconsin. “I’ve heard people say, many times, that men can’t be feminists and I always wonder what that means because since when do they get to be the police of what feminism is and isn’t?” The malleability of feminism means our idea of who fits into the feminist box is always changing. It’s what Yee calls the “gatekeeping of feminism.” Feminist groups are, for many, all women’s spaces. Aware that his presence at a discussion this year on abortion might make some in attendance uncomfortable, Perera was asked not to attend the event. It is this thinking that Yee questions. Although she is supportive and understanding of the need for women-only groups, they leave men out of discussions they might be interested in.
So now there’s a chicken-egg
paradox at work, one with no definitive answer but plenty of impact: Do men stay out of feminist conversations because they don’t care, or do they care less because they are asked to stay out? Unlike pro-feminist groups such as Men’s Forum, Men’s Rights organizations believe the empowerment of women has been achieved through the oppression of men. Although they vary in their attitude towards women, they share the same goal: protect men’s rights in the face of feminism (or “feminazis”). The groups use “Father’s Rights” and “Men’s Rights” interchangeably, probably because activists have made the most gains in family law, where gender bias often works in favour of mothers in custody hearings. Feminist scholar Adie Nelson writes in Gender in Canada: “Men’s rightists also decry negative images of men (“male bashing”), which they believe are promoted by feminism.” It’s easy to write off the men’s rights perspective as a denial of privilege and anti-feminist, but Yee says, whether or not their anger is justified, is not up for anyone to decide. “If people feel like they’ve been hurt by something can I really say ‘no, you haven’t’? I think a lot of it comes from a misunderstanding of what feminism is.” Rayside argues that, while their perspective may not be always in sync with feminism, Men’s Rights groups are equally important. Whatever the relationship between the sexes and feminism, gender equality isn’t just a woman’s problem. Rayside says that sexism, like racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all inequalities, are related. “We need to extend issues beyond the groups directly affected.” This is the mandate of groups like the White
Ribbon Campaign (WRC), which was also founded following the Montreal Massacre. Allies, in every sense of the word, the WRC holds events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. On September 29, they made their way through Toronto in high heels in an effort to raise awareness of their goal to end violence against women in a way that was fun but respectful. But they acknowledged that a few hours in heels can only do so much. “[The event] can offer a brief glimpse for men, and a way to open our eyes to a critical reflection on gender that most men never have to contemplate in their lives,” writes Nick Rodrigue, director of development at the White Ribbon Campaign, in an email. The WRC collaborates with feminist groups before, during and after the event, something both Yee and Perera say is important for male allies. Women have almost exclusively led the feminist movement for the last hundred years. While gender equality can’t be achieved without the support of men, there is a lot that can be learned by accepting female leadership. But first, they have to gain interest—without shame or pressure to “be a man” about it. “Men don’t have to do what we’re doing and become a poster child or an advocate,” says Perera. “Think about how you view women, how you view positions, the language you use. That is huge. You get guys doing that and all of a sudden they might think twice…They might speak up,” he says. “That’s what a feminist voice is.” M
BEN BARRY Niki: How did this business idea come to you? Ben: Well it started when I was in high school. I had a friend who had taken a modelling course, but was told that if she was going to make it as a model she needed to lose weight. She was probably a dress size 12 and her agency wanted her to go down to a dress size two. She didn’t think that was possible, her family didn’t think it was possible, so she didn’t know what to do. I decided I was going to help her and I took her pictures and sent them off to a local magazine in my hometown, Ottawa. I got a call back from the magazine and they liked her and they hired her. With that, I started to represent her and I started my own agency. Niki: Do you think there is this reluctance to have ‘real’ women models? Ben: Absolutely. It’s still an uphill battle. If you look through most fashion magazines and most runways you see one type of beauty represented. There’s a cultural mind set in the industry that there is only one idealized form of beauty: tall, slim, Caucasian, able-bodied, young. It’s moving beyond that comfort and getting people to shift – and they are shifting Niki: Do you think there more organizations will get involved with this? Ben: I’m really confident that there’s going to be growth. Over the past 10-15 years there have been so many more brands that have started to use diversity. From big companies, like Sears and Wal-Mart, to emerging designers who are realizing this is the way forward . If they’re going to survive in this competitive industry they have to represent their consumer in a real way. I think consumers are smart.
They’re savvy and they’re skeptical of fashion advertising. I think they realize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and forms. forward . If they’re going to survive in Niki: Have you ever felt pressured to switch gears and work with more traditional models? Ben: At the beginning when I first started, absolutely. Everyone said to be successful as a model, you had to look a particular way. For a time I thought that if I was actually going to find jobs for the people I was going to represent, I had to only represent models of one type of look as well. But pretty quickly I realized it wasn’t the way forward. To create change, an idea has to challenge convention, it has to challenge the status quo. Because I was doing something different it didn’t mean I was wrong, it actually meant I was on the right track. Niki: What do you say to your critics? Ben: I thinking believing that only one type of model conveys fashion is an out-dated way to think and is out of touch with what real shoppers think everyday. It’s just reflective of a disconnect between the advertiser and the consumer and there’s a need to try new things and to really listen to what your consumer is saying. Niki: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Ben: Yeah, Absolutely. M
Photo provided by source
Always have a home-cooked meal prepared
The ideal woman is perfect, poised and presentable. She knows her place. Photos by KATHERINE ENGQVIST Styled by PORTIA FAVRO
Always listen to your spouse
Always make sure your home is spotless
Always wait-up for your spouse
Always look your best
In Saudi Arabia itâ€™s taboo for women to drive. Manal al-Sharif challenged this convention by taking the wheel and filming herself- becoming a youtube sensation. In an exclusive interview with McClungâ€™s, Al-Sharif speaks out about her experience and subsequent arrest
It was a conversation with a male colleague that added fuel to the fire for alSharif. She was complaining to him about a time when she wished she had been able to drive. He informed her that there was no law that said she couldn’t. “I looked it up and felt like someone had slapped me,” al-Sharif said. “I thought if the law doesn’t stop us, why can’t we do it? Sometimes I cry out of anger that this is just something forced upon us by society.” This frustration sparked the Women2Drive initiative, uniting young women from cities across Saudi Arabia hoping to change their circumstances. They held group meetings online and used the only media outlet that would bring attention to the cause: social media. The group released a statement on their Facebook and Twitter pages detailing their purpose, goals and evidence. “What we started was an initiative, not a campaign, [because] we were lobbying a social decision, not a law or religious belief,” al-Sharif said. “We wanted to tell women that it is [neither] illegal nor problematic in terms of religion.” Al-Sharif and her colleagues view driving as one of the most important issues facing Saudi woman. “We can’t walk in our cities,” she says, “nor do we have any public transport.” So they put out a call with a date: June 17, 2011. That was the day the initiative set out asking all women with valid driver’s licenses to get out and drive, not in protest, but to go about completing their daily errands. “We were able to be successful for three reasons,” al-Sharif said. “First, we used social media. Second, we came out as women with our names and pictures and took the lead, with men as only supporters in the shadow. Third, we [set] a date -- so now we were serious.”
We Will Drive
With the call to drive set for June 17, the questions and accusations came pouring in. People began asking what the group was about, why they chose that specific date and whether it was legal. When the team realized that people weren’t reading everything that was written online, they decided they had to release something that could be watched and easily understood. That’s when al-Sharif released her first video. “We took all the major questions people were asking and I answered them,” she said. “I hadn’t written my answers down, I just spoke from my heart.” Al-Sharif recorded the video at 5 a.m. in her home in Dhahran dressed in a hijab, an Islamic headcover, and speaking in a calm voice with a smile. started out by introducing herself and ended her seven-and-a-half minute video with a statement that would become famous: “All there is to it is that we are going to drive.” She continues, “So many people have mentioned this phrase to me…I said that because I wanted to say that this is not as big of a deal as you are making it.”
Video Gone Viral
Al-Sharif drove twice before June 17, in order to encourage women to take part in the initiative, once on Thursday, May 19 and again on Saturday, May 21. Her first drive was inspired by 45-year-old Najla Hariri. A week before al-Sharif’s first drive, Hariri had declared that she began driving her son to school whenever her driver was not available. “I spoke to my brother and said, ‘I’m going to do something crazy.’ He asked me what, “I said, ‘I’m going to go out and drive.” al-Sharif says, “He said, ‘I’ll come videotape you!’ “She needed someone to capture her driving on video, so that it could be used as encouragement
in the online campaign. Thursday was the day al-Sharif usually bought her groceries. She decided she was not taking a taxi to the store. In the morning, however, al-Sharif’s 28-year-old brother overslept. She had no one to come along to film her. That’s when she called longtime women’s rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider. Al-Sharif had only met alHuwaider once, but asked her to leave all other engagements to come along and record al-Sharif driving. Al-Huwaider agreed and became the second voice in the video that exceeded 700,000 views in one day. “I met her at 12 p.m. We went out and [I] drove [while] she recorded me,” al-Sharif said. The Women2Drive team uploaded the video to Youtube the next day. To al-Sharif’s surprise, it became the mostviewed video in the world that day. “A colleague of mine came to me and said, ‘Manal I saw your video,’ I said, ‘OK?’ He said, ‘It’s the most viewed video in the world!’” Al-Sharif says she couldn’t believe it.
I told my brother I wanted to drive and pass by a police car.
The Second Drive
Two days later, al-Sharif was going out with her six-year-old son and family for lunch in the city of Khobar, where alSharif’s brother lived. “I told my brother I wanted to drive and pass by a police car.” She wanted to see how she would be treated. The police car stopped her. Al-Sharif describes the police officer as being wellmannered, almost letting her go with only
a ticket. Someone had seen her however, and called the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as the “Religious Police.” The “Religious Police” stood alSharif and her family on the street for two hours, questioning and ridiculing them. Then they took her and her brother to the police station and brought in the Saudi intelligence service. “At 11 p.m., they made me sign a pledge and they let me go,” al-Sharif said. “At 2 a.m., they came to my house to take me. At 4:30 a.m., I went back to the police station.” Al-Sharif said she underwent seven hours of questioning and degradation without access to a lawyer. At 2 p.m., she was transported to a prison with no knowledge of where she was going, and with no charges laid against her. “[I’m] an engineer, a consultant, and daughter of a respected family, she said, “and suddenly I found myself in prison with criminals.”
Nine Days In Jail
After being transported to a women’s prison in the city of Dammam, al-Sharif was completely cut off from the rest of the world. “I was completely isolated from the world,” she said, “It’s very painful to talk about it. I haven’t talked about it to anyone before -- I’ve tried to block it out.” Al-Sharif counted 167 women, 16 children and seven cells in the prison where she felt was stripped of all humanity. On her first night, al-Sharif had nowhere to sleep. “I slept on the floor the first night. I spread my abaya and slept on it,” she said. The prison manager was there to receive her detention papers. Al-Sharif said he was rude and demeaning to her. “I told him I just want to speak to my son. There was a phone right next to him,” she said of the prison manager. “I was crying, saying, ‘Please be merciful let me speak to
my child.’” The Women2Drive movement estimates about 1,200,000 people around the world changed their Facebook picture to al-Sharif’s portrait in support of her freedom. The association of al-Sharif’s face with the women’s revolution in the Middle East has led some to refer to her as the female Che Guevara. “I stayed in my abaya for nine days,” she said. “The women in prison kept telling me to take it off and I’d say no I’m leaving today.” Al-Sharif was released on bail on May 30.
Her arrest, and the subsequent consequences, social disapproval and widespread gossip, left the Women2Drive
Had I known at the time of the consequences, I might not have done it. But I did it fearlessly. I didn’t think about it. I just did it.
team fearful that women in Saudi Arabia were no longer motivated to join the cause. To their surprise, al-Sharif’s arrest actually backfired. One hundred women were reported themselves to have driven that day. More than 40 recorded themselves and posted it online. “A girl told me, ‘I went and saw the prison I might be taken to and prepared my clothes for it. Let them do whatever they want to me, [she said] I will not tolerate oppression,’” al-Sharif said.“ Other women told me that what happened to me made them see the injustice clearly. It was
a wake-up call to Saudi women.” Although she’s still haunted by the memory of her days in prison, al-Sharif said she does not regret it. “Had I known at the time of the consequences, I might not have done it. But I did it fearlessly. I didn’t think about it. I just did it,” she says. “I left jail with my head up high. I didn’t feel ashamed.” In a country where protests and civil disobedience are not allowed, al-Sharif’s arrest was controversial. “Saudi society is divided down the middle, as though with a knife, about me,” al-Sharif said. “Some people even say we support women driving, but not in the way of Manal.“Martin Luther King Jr. [said], ‘A right delayed, is a right denied.’ I like that quote,” she says. “They are always telling us it’s not time yet.” She compared the Saudi situation to that of neighbouring countries such as the UAE, pointing out that both are conservative, but women face no problem driving there. “It’s a taboo,” she said. “If you [talk about] women driving here, it’s like saying Satan or blasphemy. We needed women leaders to come out and speak about this taboo, so I had to do it myself.” Forbes recently wrote an article titled, “How the Occupy Wall Street protesters can Learn from Saudi women.” Al-Sharif said she once wished that, instead of being pitied by the world, Saudi women would inspire the world. “My wish came true when I read that article,” she said. “We really inspired the world.” M
By NIKI SINGH
1903 and 1911, Marie Curie
he first and fourth woman to win a Nobel prize and the only woman to win in multiple categories. First she was given the physics award jointly with her husband, Pierre, for their research on the process of radiation. She would then earn the Chemistry award in 1911 for her discovery and research on Pollarium and 1935, Radium. Irène Joliot-Curie
Intelligence clearly runs in the genes. Daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie followed in her parents’ footsteps when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 1976, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams
Jointly won the award for founding the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (now known as Community of Peace People) pro1979, moting peace in Ireland. CorriMother Teresa gan is, to date, the youngest One of the most woman to be awarded a famous women to gain Nobel Prize, at the Nobel Laureate status, age of 32. Mother Teresa was internationally renowned for her work with the world’s poorest people. She won the Peace Prize for bringing dignity to these people, often feeding, clothing and sheltering them. She has been quoted as saying that “being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.”
Illutrations by JESSICA KU
2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkul Karman
All three of these women 2009, were awarded the Nobel Elinor Peace Prize for their Ostrom international womFirst and only enâ€™s work. They all woman to have advocated win the Nofor equality for bel Award 2009, Most women, like the in Ecowomen awarded fundamental nomic Nobel Prizes democratic Sciences Five women had won in four right to categories The Nobel Prize in vote. M Chemistry, Ada E. Yonath; The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Carol W. Greider; The Nobel Prize in Literature, Herta MĂźller; The Prize in Economic Sciences, Elinor Ostrom.
2004, Wangari Maathai
Maathai is a woman of firsts. The first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and the first African woman to be awarded with a Nobel Prize. Known for founding the Green Belt Movement, an initiative to promote community-based environmentalism, 1991, this Kenyan woman won a seat in Aung Parliament in 2002 with an San Suu Kyi outstanding 98 per The only woman to cent of the 1986, be awarded a Nobel Prize vote. Rita while under arrest. Suu Kyi was Leviawarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Montalcini her non-violent fight for democracy in Levi-Monthen-Burma. (Now Myanmar.) She talcini won promised to donate the money the award with she received from the award Stanley Cohen, her to build an education and colleague at Washhealth care system ington University. for the Burmese Levi-Montaicini is the people. oldest living laureate, celebrating her 102nd birthday in April 2011.
By NICK SPECTOR
I don’t remember when I became a sexist. It just sort of happened. I guess it started with opening doors for women. All it took was once, and from there it began to spiral out of control. Soon, everywhere I’d go, I’d open doors and let women walk through first. I’d offer my hand to help them out of cars. I’d be out with a lady on a chilly night and, in a truly disgusting act of misogyny, I’d offer her my jacket. I blame my parents for my behaviour. Being the raging sexists that they are, they brainwashed me into the belief that I should treat women with courtesy and respect. Whether I mean to or not, I’ll inevitably pass that down to my children. It’s truly a vicious cycle. Chivalry, a collection of simple, courteous acts performed by a man towards a woman, gets a bad rap these days. The standard argument presented by some is that chivalry demeans a woman and perpetuates the idea that she’s inferior: too weak to open her own doors; incapable of getting out of a car under her own power; not physiologically in control enough to regulate her own body temperature. So she needs a big strong man to figure things out for her. See, because it was born out of a culture where sexism was far more rampant and blatant than it is today, chivalry is an evil that must be driven back to the past, where it belongs. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. We shouldn’t do away with gentlemanly behaviour just because it used to be associated with sexism. It’s not perpetuating an unequal society. Chivalry shouldn’t die, but rather evolve. And a lot of that has to do with women, and how women react to this gentlemanly behaviour.
Guys like me aren’t being chivalrous because we think you’re weak. If I’m out on a date with you, I’m not pouring you your glass of wine because I don’t think you’re capable of handling a wine bottle yourself. I only insist on holding the umbrella on a rainy day because, in most cases, I’m taller — it’s just practical. Really though, I do these things because it’s telling of who I am, and maybe it’ll set me apart from some other guys. It’s a simple way of saying “look, I’m considerate and I think you’re important.” Think of chivalry as foreshadowing a relationship. Sure, you don’t need anybody to take care of you, but dating is about finding a suitable, caring companion. Even the everyday acts of chivalry, that have little to do with courtship, are harmless. Is it so terrible that a guy lets you get on the streetcar before him? When a guy does something gentlemanly, there’s no malice behind it. He doesn’t see you as his lesser. In fact, it’s probably quite the contrary — he probably wants to make a good impression. In regards to the everyday stuff, those acts often walk a thin line between chivalry and plain old common courtesy. Someone has to go through the door first, right? So the next time a guy helps you out of a cab, pulls out a chair for you, or takes your hand to help you hop a puddle, remember he still sees you as his equal. Of course you’re not helpless, that’s not what chivalry is about anymore. It’s up to you to either keep seeing it for what it used to represent, or seeing it for what it is now. A good step towards equality is getting on the same page about this. Ladies first.
Photo taken by KATHERINE ENGQVIST
Delicately draping a jacket over my shoulders. Taking the bill even after I offer to pay. Sure, chivalry is seemingly good, and maybe I “benefit” from it from time to time. But what it truly does is bring people back to times when women, quite simply had no say in their own lives. We are living at a time when gender roles can be as flexible as we want them to be. There is nothing pledging autonomous individuals to the hetero-normative lifestyle that doesn’t make sense anymore.
I was strong, physically strong. I knew, while scraping bits of egg yolk and ketchup into the sink where I worked dishwashing, that I had to make my own money and that I had to spend it on myself. I knew that whenever I had a “date”, I wanted to send a message across – that I am important and I do things for myself. Forget holding someone’s hand while hopping puddles – I’ll splash right through them. (While reaching to open a door and pour myself a glass of wine).
I worked in a mining camp for a brief period of time. It was mid-July in the wilds of the Yukon Territory. I would fall asleep listening to the sound of heavy equipment digging deep into the earth, searching for copper, a garbage bag pinned to the wall in my room to keep out the light. It was rumoured that the best operators were women. I believed it. As I worked through the night spreading mayonnaise onto sandwiches and being offered a pink hard hat in case any of the boys wanted to “take me for a ride” one day, I believed it. As I laundered the sheets in the daytime and men asked me to throw their laundry in too for an extra 20 dollars, I believed it. There is nothing genderless about gender roles, and it’s up to all sexes to subvert them, well-intentioned or not.
Chivalry isn’t offensive. It’s outdated and a mark of thinly-veiled disrespect.
The best part of the mining camp work week was when the freight came in. “Sam, it’s your lucky day, the freight’s here,” my co-workers would tell me and I would rush outside from chilling in the walk-in fridge eating yogurt ready to haul the pallets in with my bare hands. I lugged cartons of juice and boxes of apples, oranges and kiwis and my favourite – huge bags of potatoes and carrots. I would load them into the stock room while stealing bites of chocolate covered strawberries secretly pleased with the slight bulge of my biceps.
Whether or not Spector is saying that women are incapable, it is the history of these gestures (and the implication that women will always need help) that make chivalry hard to digest. Can one really respect my ability, to say, chop wood, if I supposedly need help getting out of my car? What I ask for is to be treated with real respect, not like a porcelain ornament that is too easily broken. The reason is this: If I want to help a boyfriend/husband when he is moving, or when a jar is too tight, or maybe kindness when he is down, I’ll do it. Both parties should be treated like strong and functional people. If men can’t get away with treating women like useless dolls, then women shouldn’t be able to get away with never paying for anything. There are real people hidden under all of the socioeconomic, privileged babble of the North American dating scene. M
By SAMANTHA ANDERSON
By NIKI SINGH
Female dancers are a common sight in traditional burlesque.Â But an emerging trend in the industry is letting men put a gender reversal on an old style of show
Photos taken by KATHERINE ENGQVIST
their efforts, stealthily pulling their clothing off when they’re not looking. First he peels their exterminator suits down to their waists, then he removes their undershirts… This is Boylesque TO, the first all-male burlesque troupe in Canada. Traditional burlesque usually involves women, stripping down to flamboyant nipple tassels and thongs. Boylesque takes on the tradition—but with men. “People aren’t used to seeing what we do,” says founder Benjamin Paley, who goes by “James and the Giant Pasty” on stage. The group often makes guest appearances in other burlesque shows throughout Toronto, but will sometimes run their own productions.
The music is blaring. On stage, a woman in a sheer white negligee is brushing her hair. A ghostly figure sneaks out from backstage and tries to grab her. She shrieks and runs to the nearby phone. The music speeds up, and four Ghostbusters dressed in exterminator suits and ghost-catching proton packs emerge. These clumsy characters bounce around on stage, trying to nail the pervert ghost. The speedy ghost mocks
The Ghostbusters on stage are naked from the waist up, their suits hanging down their sides. Their shirts are off, revealing the body types of the men on stage. Some chests are covered in hair while others are completely bare. Some of the dancers are slim, with wired frames, some are larger, and others are more muscular with defined pecs and biceps. The ghost on stage takes control of the exterminators and, acting like a puppeteer, forces them to fondle each other and thrust their pelvises.
Body types vary in burlesque. Female bodies of all shapes and sizes have often been celebrated in traditional burlesque. Male burlesque does the same. “They’re not physically always what you would see Boylesque started in 2008 after in the magazines,” says York University Paley attended a professor Darfemale burlesque cey Callison, Female bodies of all show at the Gladwho researches stone Hotel. Half- shapes and sizes have often gender roles in way through the dance. “[They’re] show, he was been celebrated in traditional displaying their dragged on stage by burlesque. Male burlesque bodies and teasthe tall drag queen ing the audience does the same. who was hosting the in a way that show. He announced to the crowd that Pal- men are not supposed to,” he says. ey would be performing his own burlesque act. Paley was hesitant as he had never A self-declared “introvert” with stripped in public before and he wasn’t a slim frame, Greg Wong, a.k.a. “Wrong wearing his good underwear. He tried to Note Rusty,” has been a part of Boylesque leave, but the audience booed and the host for the past three years. He wasn’t shy pulled him back up on stage. The DJ started about stripping his clothing off when the some music and with a few drinks in him, music started. Wong says that male burPaley caved to pressure and stripped for lesque today is where female burlesque the crowd. “It was pretty amateur and pret- was when it started. “Male burlesque is ty bad,” says Paley laughing. It was this at the point where it’s fresh and excitincident that he says inspired him to start ing. There’s a lot of comedy and playthe all-male burlesque troupe. Six months ing with gender stereotypes,” says Wong. after the events of that night, auditions “It’s like a reversal of the male gaze.” were held and Boylesque TO was born. In a climactic ending, the Ghost Traditionally, women perform busters point their exterminator guns, held burlesque, as the genre typically plays with by the waist at the ghost. The force of their female sexuality. “[Female] burlesque guns shakes their bodies so violently that it has been around a lot longer,” says Paley. removes the rest of their suits, leaving them “We’re playing with the masculine [and] standing in their tighty whities. The crowd what the roles are for male archetypes.” cheers wildly at the near-naked men on Boylesque acts usually poke fun at sexual- stage. As the four Ghostbusters exit stage ity by playing characters like gay fathers left, the song chants, “Who ya gonna call? and circus strongmen. “Why can’t men play Ghostbusters!” The ghost and the woman with their sexuality?” says Paley, who adds are left alone on stage. He grabs her, but that women have been doing it for ages. this time she doesn’t seem to mind. She “If you don’t [let men play with sexuality] gives in, and, legs wrapped around him, you miss out on these great opportunities.” she begins motorboating his flat chest. M
By LEAH WONG
group of women walk towards the rural Kanaia clinic, all carrying babies. The younger three of the group are bundled in blankets, some made from flour sacks, while the oldest is strapped to his mother’s back with a vibrant, patterned cloth. These four babies were born healthy. Their mothers were healthy. They are lucky: childbirth is the second highest killer of women in Ghana, outranked only by infectious diseases. In 2008, the Ghanaian government declared maternal health – a term that encompasses the health of a mother from
conception to the period following delivery – a national emergency. Each year around 451 women die per 100,000 live births. Efforts are being made to reduce maternal mortality, but progress is slow. There is no one-step solution to reduction. Getting women to see doctors more regularly during pregnancy is just one problem. When it comes to maternal health, all aspects need improvement. Women need to be able to prevent pregnancies through family planning services. At the core of the problem is an issue of gender equality. On the door of the office at the Kanaia clinic is a sticker that says, “Be a good
dad.” It invites fathers to register for the Mobile Midwife, a mobile technology application created by the Grameen Foundation. The application notifies expectant mothers and fathers about prenatal health information and reminds patients when they should go in for checkups, or take medication. Patients are registered for the program at the Ghana Community-based Health and Planning Services (CHPS) clinics, such as the Kanaia clinic. Either automated voice or SMS messages are delivered to the patients in their language of choice – currently it operates in Kas-
Photo taken by LEAH WONG
sem and Nankam, the two local dialects in Ghana’s Upper East Region. The program is trying to get fathers more involved in pregnancies. Dr. A.T. Odoi, head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, the coun-
Equality and Empower Women is yellow. This means the country is doing better, but it still hasn’t meant the MDG markers. Last June at the KNUST graduation ceremony, many young women walked across the stage to collect their diplomas. Women are working in hospitals as doctors. In the summer, the former first lady contested the leadership of “Women bare responsibility for pregnancies. If a female high the ruling party. There is also a women’s causchool student gets pregnant she is asked to leave. If a male cus in parliament. classmate got her pregnant, he could continue to go to school But it’s not just women politicians who without consequence.” are putting women’s issues on the agenda. try’s second largest city, says, “Most male as post-partum hemorrhaging. This is Male politicians initiated the current partners don’t participate [during pregthe leading cause of death for pregnancy maternal health policy says Antwi, which nancy]”. In a farming community such as related causes, says Odoi. Doctors know grants pregnant women free health care Kanaia, this could mean the mother works that it, and many other complications of under the NHIS. in the field up until childbirth, continupregnancy, can be prevented. Antwi says getting husbands to care ing to work as if she were not pregnant. Trained medical practitioners are about their wives health, just as male It might also mean that the best food for delivering a high percentage of Ghana’s politicians are caring about the needs of the health of both mother and baby is not babies, but the period before childbirth mothers, is important. By teaching men purchased. is equally important. Mothers need to be the problems associated with not eating “Most of our women depend on able to access antenatal care – health visproperly and ensuring they are purchasmen for subsistence,” says Dr. Gifty its a mother makes during pregnancy – to ing the right food for their wives, healthy Antwi, from the School of Medical Sciidentify potential problems early on. babies, such as Aretiga’s, will be born ences at the Kwame Nkrumah University Health care for mothers and infants is across the country. of Science and Technology (KNUST) in free under the country’s National Health By the time she went into labour, Kumasi. “Men still have the upper hand.” Insurance Scheme (NHIS). However, her hemoglobin levels were normal. She For one of the Kanaia mothers, Chrisfamily planning services are not covered delivered her son naturally. While talking tiana Aretiga, getting her husband to get under the scheme. Modern contraception about Mobile Midwife, she lifts her breast involved during her most recent pregis heavily subsidized, but services, such as out of her dress to feed her son. He latches nancy was crucial to the well-being of counseling about birth spacing, are not. on and suckles away as she talks. M both their baby and her health. She suf Family planning is a preventative fered from low hemoglobin levels during method against maternal death. “It is likeher pregnancy. When detected and treated ly to decrease the usage of more expensive early in pregnancy, health practitioners services,” said Anand Grover, the UN can prevent further complications, such as Special Rapporteur on Health in his initial hemorrhaging, during childbirth. findings presented to the Ghanaian press When Aretiga’s antenatal checkups in May 2011. indicated low hemoglobin levels, nurses Antwi says acceptance of family encouraged her to eat more eggs. Her planning services in the country is low husband listen to her Mobile Midwife because of cultural and moral values. notifications and knew she needed to get Women bare responsibility for pregher hemoglobin levels up for the health of nancies. If a female high school student their child, so he started buying her eggs. gets pregnant she is asked to leave. If a At the clinic, her son sits on her lap, latchmale classmate got her pregnant, he could ing onto her breast as she talks about her continue to go to school without consepregnancy. She looks older than the three quence. mothers she sits with. Their faces are Gender equality in Ghana is still a smooth and unmarked by time, while Areproblem, but the country is making progtiga has fine lines appearing around her ress. The United Nations Development eyes. Programme ranking for the Millennium This is not her first child. Before utiDevelopment Goal 3: Promote Gender
lizing the Mobile Midwife application, her husband didn’t pay special attention when she was pregnant. Now he lets her use his cellphone to receive notifications, listening to them himself as well. Getting hemoglobin levels up can prevent severe bleeding after childbirth, known
F E AT U R E S
McClung’s Twenty turns
By ROOHI SAHAJPAL
n the fall of 1990, Caroline Nolan had an idea. After looking all over Toronto and around campus, the first-year Ryerson journalism student couldn’t find any publications representing a broader range of women’s issues. “The traditional women’s magazine was about cooking and decorating, which is fine, but there was no vehicle for women’s voices,” Nolan recalls. So, the following spring after recruiting like-minded students and selling advertising space to local businesses, Nolan, along with Shelagh Lenon and Corinne Clark, launched the first issue of McClung’s. “It was an exciting time,” Nolan says. “The reception at Ryerson was welcoming and we got a lot of positive feedback.” Nolan’s inspiration for the magazine’s name came from Nellie McClung, who spearheaded the women’s movement in Canada. She was featured on the cover of their first issue underneath her famous quote, “Never retreat, never explain, never apologize, get the thing done and let them howl.” “The name just came to me,” Nolan says. “I thought it was significant and symbolic for everything Nellie McClung did.” Nolan also approached McClung’s granddaughter, who was living in Toronto, to ask permission to use the name for the magazine. She gladly obliged. “We probably didn’t have to ask her, but it seemed like the right thing to do,” she says.
Canadian feminism magazines like
Herizons and Shameless have become staples in the Canadian media for their coverage of feminist issues across the country. From female contraception, drag kings, body image, and most recently, the SlutWalk, McClung’s Magazine has never shyed away from covering a wide range of topics. The volunteer masthead is composed of mostly female Ryerson journalism students and is published twice a
director in Vancouver. She says being a strong woman is important in her field. “I work in a field dominated by men,” she says. “Slowly we are seeing changes with more female directors and producers coming up in the ranks. Fortunately, in my current position I am able to help women get a start in this industry.”
Nolan, who after graduating worked as a journalist and launched several magazines, now “I remember long nights drinking red works in the field wine and listening to Prince.” of environmental sustainability. Her year. The magazine, which is distributed views on feminism have changed over the for free throughout Canada on campuses, past twenty years. “I don’t like the word coffee shops and bookstores had humble feminism. The word conjures up a radical beginnings. view from people” she says. “I believe in women’s equality and in self-determina Lenon says she remembers long tion. We all, female, male, transgendered nights doing the layout of the magazine are able to decide what we want to make by hand, cutting and pasting pages and things happen.” putting it all together in Oakham House, where McClung’s had its first office. “This Lenon works at Bow Valley College was before computers,” she says, laughin Calgary and has developed and creing. “I remember long nights drinking red ated a website for ESL Literacy. She says wine and listening to Prince.” feminism plays just as significant a role in her life as it did before, especially since For Corinne Clark, putting together becoming a mother. “You can’t help but the magazine was a learning experience. be a feminist if you’re going to parent in “It was complicated and required a lot of the 21st century,” she says. “Kids see so time and commitment,” she says. “I strugmany images, especially girls, and you gled with balancing a job and a part-time have to be conscious and critical about it.” job at the CBC.” For Lenon, her definition of feminism has become about choice. “Twenty years later, For all three women, their experience feminism to me is about choice. Choice with McClung’s has shaped their definifor all women to have power to create the tion of what feminism means to them lives that they want.” M today. Clark is now working as a casting
Illutration by JESSICA KU
D I Y
By LUCY LU
Need a guitar capo to change the key of a song? Donâ€™t have the money to spend on one? Do not fret (pun intended)! Hereâ€™s a way to make one yourself.
Wind the rubber bands around one end of the pencil a couple of times. Place the pencil on the thread of the guitar you want barred and wrap the pencil around the neck.
Supplies: Short pencil Some rubber bands
Bring the rubber bands to the other end of the pencil and wind it until the pencil is secure.
Give it a try! It should work just as well as a storebought capo. If it sounds a little funky, all you need to do is tighten the rubber bands to ensure all the strings are pressed down by the pencil. Happy playing!
Illutrations by YBB VILLEGAS
While we celebrate a new lineup of quirky leading ladies on comedies like New Girl and Whitney, let’s take a moment to pay homage to Liz Lemon. Tina Fey’s not so alter ego is awkward, hilarious and in charge. Fey’s roles as executive producer of 30 Rock and head writer on Saturday Night Live were the obvious inspiration for the title Bossypants: “People have asked me, ‘Is it hard for you, being the boss?’ I can’t answer for Mr. Trump but in my case, it is not,” she writes. Fey makes sharp observations but never elaborates. While there is an entire chapter dedicated to body image and the media, it’s doubtful Fey set out to write a book that would appear on any Women’s Studies syllabus. This is the same woman who inspired the term “Liz Lemonism” – a sort of dubious, pseudo-feminism that only extends as far as personal experience. But that’s what makes the book fun to read. Executing an analysis of internalized homophobia while discussing your summer stint at theatre camp takes skill. Skill that Fey clearly has. Bossypants reads like a series of long emails from a good friend, full of self-deprecating humour that goes beyond the beforeI-was-famous-I-was-really-unpopular-with-the-boys cliché. Critical, insightful and fantastically sarcastic, it’s perfect if you’ve ever wanted to know what it is was like to play Sarah Palin or if Amy Poehler is as awesome as you think she is. And if you want tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, Fey has this to say: “No pigtails, no tube tops. Cry sparingly.”
There is a sweet spot right above Niagara Falls where, if you get close enough to the edge, mist soaks everything and the crush of tourists and sounds from tacky Clifton Hill disappear into the roar below. Here you can see the Falls for what they are - a huge, powerful, all consuming force that is both overwhelming and intensely calming. Ohbijou’s music could be described the same way. It is incredibly fitting that Track 1 of Metal Meets (the Toronto Indie darlings’ third full-length album) is titled “Niagara Falls”. Fundamentally an indie rock act with elements of pop and folk, Ohbijou have always been instrumentally complex. Their songs are built on intricately layered strings and vocals, with band members often trading instruments during live shows, or adding ornamental elements of Glockenspiel or harpsichord on top of their regular roles. At a recent performance at Trinity St. Paul Church in Toronto, lead singer Casey Mecija even wandered through the audience accompanying herself with a hand-held radio, playing back a recording of her own voice. Ohbijou are unique in that, even from their first album, they have always seemed fully musically mature. While Metal Meets impresses with a yet new level instrumental creativity, it is the album’s conceptuality that garners the most attention. The central themes of this album circle around love and loss as expressed through elements of the natural world. Mecija interweaves imagery of blood, rust, snow, water, trees and rock into ominous love songs, and she tells tales of loss and escape as if they are one in the same. Metal Meets is an ambitious band’s most ambitious album yet, and may even grant Ohbijou their first ever Polaris Music Prize nod for the upcoming 2012 cycle. So, if you can’t make it to Niagara Falls anytime soon, just head to your favourite outdoor haunt with Metal Meets on your headphones. Let’s just say that if mother Earth ever rocked a pair of headphones, she’d probably be checking out Ohbijou.
Sex, love, and intimacy- everyone has an opinion the proper way to deal with these. In a Colorado community, that opinion is the same: not before marriage. Director Jane Treays gives an inside-look into the leading American region that idealizes virginity in its young population. The opening scene is from a purity ball: an event that combines the promise to remain virginal until marriage with a fatherdaughter dance. Here, young girls in white dresses stand with their fathers, microphones in hand. One by one, they stand by a homemade wooden cross in the middle of the room. Individually, they pledge their purity to their fathers- agreeing not to have sex until marriage. Their fathers, in turn, promise to protect their purity until they can find a suitable man to give it to. (Yes, only men. Forget same-sex partnerships.) According to the documentary, 1 in 6 girls in America have pledged their purity. But purity doesn’t just mean no sex. Many girls chose not to have any physical intimacy until their wedding day, which includes no kissing or holding hands. Dating happens in groups, usually with parents of the bride. Realities of modern love are often brushed aside. Issues like divorce and sexual dysfunction aren’t spoken about. Girls don’t think their lives would have these issues if they “remain pure.” Treays tries to get at the core of the expectation for these young girls. Sexually inexperienced, they are dependant on their families for making life decisions on their behalf. Who is acceptable to date? How do you date? What level of intimacy is appropriate? Treays implies throughout the documentary that this parental control may not be a good thing. It’s not just individual families participating in purity pledges. It is entire communities; producing generations of young people who are naïve about love and sex. The director asks a young girl: (who’s saving her first kiss for marriage) “What if you don’t like the way he kisses?” She replies that he would probably be a good kisser. With nothing to compare it to, she’s probably right. After all, ignorance is bliss.
Sherry Hormann’s film Desert Flower (2009) depicts the life of the first woman who spoke out publicly about female circumcision to the United Nations. Waris Dirie, played by Liya Kebede, is based on the autobiographical book she wrote about her life in 1997. The film opens with the main character, Dirie, as a 13 year-old child, in the desert tending to a herd of goats with her younger brother. The audience is taken through flashbacks of her memory. After running away to escape marriage to an older man, barefoot through the desert, cutting her feet open on sharp rocks and branches and fighting off a man who tries to rape her, Dirie, who had been ritually circumcised, reaches Mogadishu. She finds her grandmother who sends her to live with a relative in London at the Somali Embassy. There, she will work as a maid. Her grandmother tells her there will be a war and to never come back. War breaks out in Somolia and Dirie flees the embassy. She steals food from garbages and eyes a revealing dress curiously. The nature of consumerism acts as a harsh juxtaposition that existed in Waris’ life. Dirie finds a roommate, played by Sally Hawkins, who reluctanly takes her in when she could barely speak English. Soon after, she meets a photographer named Terry Donaldson in a local fast food restaurant where she had found a job mopping floors. The audience is taken through the ups and downs of her life, and all of the startlingly real moments that seem too unreal to be based on non-fiction. With the help of Terry Donaldson, Dirie goes on to become a supermodel and when asked to do an interview about the day that changed her life she agreed. To the surprise of the interviewer the day her life changed was not the day that launched her career as a supermodel. It was the day when she was three years old in Somolia, when her mother held her down on a large rock in the middle of the desert and an old Somali women known as a cutter, cut her clitoris away along with her inner and outer lips of her vagina. After the article was published, she was invited to the U.N. where she spoke about the need to stop this mutilation of young girls. A weak point of the film is the consistent boy-meets-girl narrative that occurs when Dirie meets a man on her first night out dancing with her roommate. Other than that, Desert Flower offers a look into the life of a brave woman who spoke out against a painful cultural practise. “Let us try to change what it means to be a woman,” Dirie’s character says in the film.
33 JARVIS STREET - TORONTO - (416) 362 - 3937