tuum est – by Madi Pomreinke

welcome to ubc freshman orientation

i hope you brought your rain jacket!

you’re going to need it to save you

from all of the bullshit we’re about to dump on you.

 

the first thing you should know is that ubc is

a place of community.

we’re here to help you

live well to learn well.

unless you have a mental illness.

unless you have a disability.

unless you’re a minority.

unless you’re queer.

unless you can’t afford it.

unless you’re a woman.

unless you’ve been raped.

because we’re the image of progress

here at ubc – look at all of our

recycling bins!

 

try out first year residence

if you’re new to the area.

you’ll make great friends.

you’ll eat dinner with them.

you’ll follow them to San Francisco

you’ll smoke your first cigarette and

toss it off the golden gate.

you’ll make a new home

within the arms of other people.

trusting

that they’re a safe enough place

for your heart.

 

one of them will take your body

and break it on top of a

shitty dorm bed.

for months after

you’ll feel like slitting your throat

when you think of his hands

unbuttoning your jeans.

when you finally get the words out,

they all will make excuses

for him –

he was drunk he doesn’t remember.

you’ll spend your student loan money

on plan b and pepper spray.

people you once cried with

in the dark

will say that you just want attention.

you’ll spend the next year

tearing down walls with your hands

and realizing that you now

have nothing but splinters.

 

you’ll be too ruined

to let anyone touch you.

every hello another threat,

every hand a new bruise.

you will learn to never feel

safe and forget

how to raise your voice.

you will walk past groups of boys

with your eyes focused

on the pavement,

too afraid of recognizing

his face.

 

you’ll cancel plans,

you’ll cancel plans,

you’ll cancel plans.

and then you will no longer

be invited.

you’ll spend Friday nights

watching old episodes of the x-files

and googling ways to kill yourself

that won’t hurt too much.

 

when you tell student health that you’re

suicidal,

you will have to get a referral.

you will be put on a four month waiting list.

you will be sent to a male

psychiatrist who

makes a joke when you tell him

about what happened last December.

you’ll wait three more months for

a female psychiatrist to have an opening,

the whole time calling student health

on a weekly basis, begging for help,

because you want to die,

but you think maybe you already have.

 

the new psychiatrist

will put you on meds that don’t work

and dismiss

your problems as

academic stress,

a pre-existing mental illness,

and a negative outlook on life.

she’ll discourage you from reporting.

you’ll miss a few appointments

because you can’t get out of bed

and soon stop going altogether.

ubc will charge you $334 for wasting

their time.

 

your gpa will drop

because there are too many days

where leaving your house

feels like kicking a chair out from

underneath and

you can only ask to borrow notes

so many times.

you’ll be given a “late withdrawal”

from your german class

for missing a midterm

even when you provide doctors notes

and try to explain everything

that has happened this year

in the too short fifteen minutes that

arts advising schedules for you.

you won’t get your $500 back

because rules are rules.

it’s in the syllabus.

 

you’ll stop calling home because

you don’t know how to lie to your

parents anymore.

you’ll stop eating anything other

than microwave popcorn and

campbells chicken noodle

because nothing else stays down

and everything feels like sand in your mouth

anyway.

you’ll stare at bottles of pills

at three AM

because your boyfriend forgot to call.

you’ll start burning your wrists

with the pink lighter

one of your old friends

gave to you for Christmas

freshman year.

 

you’ll debate dropping a few classes,

go from five to four to three a term.

you’ll debate dropping out school altogether.

you’ll debate dropping out of life completely.

you’ll learn to hate yourself

a little bit more

every time you cry in the shower.

because who else can you blame?

they always said

it was up to you.

Reflections on International Women’s Day – Amanda Wan

Reflections on International Women’s Day, March 8th 2016: Finding Intersections (and what to do if you get lost)

Amanda Wan

My name is Amanda, the Intersectionality & Ally coordinator here at the UBC Women’s Center. I am majoring in Honours English Literature, with a minor in Asian Canadian & Migration Studies (ACAM). I go by the pronouns she/her/hers. I am a 1.5 generation Chinese Canadian (i.e. my parents were immigrants), and I was raised/currently live on the occupied, unceded, ancestral, and traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples; this includes the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations. As an uninvited guest on this land, I continue to benefit from its space and resources, even as I make efforts to learn and work against harmful colonial structures and narratives.

 

The reason I am telling you these things about myself is because I would like to give you a little bit of context as to where I am situated as I share my thoughts and shape my ideas, because–inevitably–my thoughts and ideas will be affected by my identity and the intersections that are involved with it.

 

What do I mean by “intersections”? Most people involved with feminism today have heard the terms “intersectionality” or “intersectional feminism” floating around, but in case you are not quite familiar with what those mean, “intersectionality” basically refers to the intersections of identity and/or experience. In other words, it refers to the places where different aspects of identity (including, but not limited to, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, immigration status, nationality, etc.) intersect, or meet to form a complex identity or experience that is affected by all these aspects of their identity, at the same time. This means that someone who identifies as a queer, cash-poor, Chinese woman, for example, may have less social privilege and less representation than someone who is a heterosexual, middle-class, white woman. Even though both are women who are harmed by systems of sexism and misogyny, they experience sexism and feminism in unequal ways, because of those differences in their identities. It gets more complicated than that, of course, and it is not as simple as a top-to-bottom hierarchy or privilege. For example, a queer, cash-poor, Chinese woman may not have the same experiences as a queer, cash-poor, Black woman faces. Although both face queerphobia, classism, and racism in addition to sexism, they face different types and levels of racism. Generally, intersectional feminism as a theory seeks to acknowledge these imbalances in power even within a gender identity like “woman”.

 

Of course, since we’re talking about context, it’s significant to note that we owe the term “intersectionality” to Kimberlé Crenshaw and her paper “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”. This particular bit of context is extremely important if we are to interact with ideas about intersectionality, and to label ourselves as “intersectional feminists”. While I cannot pretend to be particularly educated in theories or histories of Black feminism, I can say that to some extent I, as a woman of colour, benefit from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s illuminating intellectual work without first having to face specific issues that Black women like Kimberlé Crenshaw must face. Even as someone affected by a number of intersections besides race and gender, I know that my story, my context, cannot speak for all women. Even as someone who is not privileged in many ways, I still hold many privileges over other people with their own intersections–to name one example, I’ve mentioned my major and minor program, showing that even as a marginalized student I am privileged enough to be studying at a university. In many ways the university system fails me; in other ways, it benefits me. So we come to the issue that it’s one thing to agree with the idea of intersectional feminism, diversity, and inclusion–it’s another thing to actively question the harmful systems (e.g. sexism, racism, etc.) that benefit some and hurt others, and that make these intersections so dangerous to navigate in the first place.

 

I take this up specifically for International Women’s Day, because this year I began to question what we mean by “International Women’s Day.” It is true that many women around the world share the experience of sexism, even if they experience different intersections. It’s not a bad thing to celebrate International Women’s Day, or to demonstrate solidarity to women around the world! But we need to come back to the idea of context. It’s easy to say “international” and flatten sexism and feminism to one single idea, or story, of what a feminist looks like. It is important to remember that not all women have the same context. Not all women face equal amounts of discrimination; some have more privilege than others. Additionally, not everyone can, or wants to recognize, International Women’s Day as it is recognized in North America, because not everyone in the world agrees on the same definitions of what it means to be a “woman”. And because there will always be different ideas of what it means to be a woman,  there will also be different ideas of what it means to be a feminist.

 

This means that being an intersectional feminist (and/or an ally) requires an ongoing, continuous process of questioning systems of oppression–not just a one-time promise to be a feminist. This can be difficult. This can be confusing. It requires a lot of hard work, and sometimes it requires us to be disappointed in ourselves, so that we can recognize (and change) the problematic ideas that we can carry inside of us even as people who genuinely want to do good. While I dedicate a lot of time to thinking and talking about intersectionality, I know I still have so much more work to do in recognizing the problems that go beyond what I personally understand or experience.

 

I also know that with all its complications, intersectionality has incredible potential to make us stronger, better, kinder, more aware of differences. It is also absolutely necessary to creating a future of social justice and equality. The intersections–the contexts that make us who we are–cannot be ignored if we are to imagine and create a future where we can truly love and care for each other in ways that do not exploit or hurt, but instead nurture and value difference. That said, to be truly intersectional, we have to not just agree with intersectionality but constantly asks ourselves: what do we mean by intersections? Who defines these intersections, and why? What are the problems of intersectional feminism as we understand it right now (for example, a lot of discussions about intersectional feminisms in Canada fail to recognize Indigenous women and their experiences)? How do we make sure that we do not see this as just a “label” but a way of thinking and acting? As I’ve mentioned, it can be confusing, and it’s easy for anyone to get lost, especially if we’re trying to understand ideas that come from identities or cultures that society is not familiar with because they have been erased or ignored.

 

If we get lost, there is one thing we can do. Instead of trying to force those different identities and cultures (which we are not familiar with in our (Western) ideas of what it means to be a feminist) to explain themselves to us, we can try and become more sensitive and mindful of what these “different” types of feminism are already saying. Instead of speaking about or for “other” feminists, we can think about how to listen to, and work with the communities and identities that have historically and presently been erased, forgotten, oppressed, or simply ignored. Hopefully, by locating these intersections and by being sensitive to these contexts, we can come to value difference and to work–together–towards a social future that allows us all to grow.

 

***************************************************************************

At the Women’s Centre, we are working to make the Women’s Centre a space where all women can feel welcome.

This includes women of

  • any assigned sex at birth (i.e. transgender + transitioning  women are welcome)
  • all sexualities
  • all racial, ethnic identities
  • all abilities
  • all bodies
  • all migration statuses
  • all cultural, religious identities
  • all ages

 

What is not welcome:

  • transphobia and transmisogyny
  • anti-queerness, lesbophobia, homophobia
  • racism, colourism
  • ableism
  • xenophobia
  • classism
  • other exclusionary, violent, or hateful speech/action

We understand that this is a work in progress for everyone, and that we are all learning every day.
We hope that you can join us in making the Women’s Centre a safe space for all.

Madi Pomreinke – How the current refugee crisis in Europe has given rise to representations of the racial “Other” as a threat to the nation.

The current refugee crisis in Europe is more convoluted than simple concern over ‘population growth” that has been proposed by much of the West. “Europe’s immigration crisis, if indeed there is such a crisis, is not one of numbers. It is a crisis and fear of the other, constructed as undesirable and different on imaginary criteria of affinity and inclusion/exclusion – historical, cultural, linguistic, corporeal – that demarcate our spaces versus Other spaces.” (Mekonnen, 504) The truth behind the concern for growing numbers of refugees approaching Europe is a question of mobility rights and individual desirability as determined by European hierarchies of race, age, gender, and class. Due to the economic processes of globalization, these rights reflect structures of power and racialized systems of inequality that can largely influence the mobility of individuals of migrant or refugee status. These mobility rights are structured by nation-state discourses that often have nationalist and racialized undertones. Nationalist dichotomies of inclusion and exclusion that are drawn on lines of “we versus them” are key factors in the racialization, criminalization, and securitization of migration that contribute to the stereotype of the migrant or refugee as a racial “Other”, and as a threat to the European nation.

The racialization of immigration in Europe is largely compounded by attempted controls at “cultural identity” of the nation. Although individuals of Western background, whether migrating within Europe or from other Western nations, compose the majority of European immigration, this fact is largely ignored. The overt racism apparent in the erasure of “white” immigration contributes to the racialization of the “undesirable” migrant by creating a contrast. The ignorance of intra-Western migration proves that this issue is not a question of numbers, but a question of immigrant identity and desirability – Western immigrants remain unacknowledged because they already are part of the “criteria of belongingness” that is required for them to be considered part of the nation. In contrast, this presents migration as exclusively from Third World nations, and portrays individuals from these nations as outside the national identity.

Furthermore, this depiction of an exclusive Third World migration as a “flood”, “mass”, or “explosion”, puts an inherent negative context on those who are a part of this movement of people. These descriptions describe migration as a primarily Third World issue driven by population growth and poverty, which erases the fact that most of these migratory situations stem from outcomes of Western colonial intervention or consequences of economic globalization. It also creates a sense of fear within European communities, spreading anti-immigration sentiment throughout the population. By stereotyping different forms of life such as Islam versus Christianity, the migrant is constructed by popular prejudices in the media, by the government, and throughout the community. These stereotypes are used to subordinate refugees and migrants, naturalize differences and exclusion, and equate migrants with various economic, social and political problems. Through stereotyping an “Other”, the nation reaffirms the sense of a “we” identity and is able to divert attention from the actual causes of national issues.

Immigrants are constructed as immutably different, whether through language, religion, or culture, and depicted as unwilling or unable to adjust to host societies. It is suggested that refugees are selfish in their utopian visions of new lives for themselves, and need to accept the living areas allocated to them. Refugees are expected to “respect laws and social norms of European states”, which privileges the Western lifestyle and constructs migrant culture as inherently opposite and unable to coexist peacefully. These racist depictions are used to explain the apparent welfare and unemployment of immigrants by constructing them as the problem, rather than as complicated individuals in a racialized system.

Stereotypes of refugees and migrants often relate to the criminalization of these individuals as well. These constructions of criminality are largely based on assumptions of race, gender, and class, and are predominantly associated with racist ideals of global terrorism. The construction of the migrant largely relates to their general status – they can easily be a criminal, a terrorist, a threat, but if wealthy, become viewed a tourist or an investor. “Persons of a certain skin colour and/or bodily features are considered carriers of “undesirable” qualities and equated with terrorism, drugs, crime or diseases.” (Mekonnen, 508) In regards to gender, female refugees and migrants are largely stereotyped as being active in sexual trafficking or other sex work, when in reality they are often the victims of these situations. Many migrants are constructed as drug traffickers, and due to the large increase of Islamophobia post-9/11, most brown bodies from the Third World are conflated with ideals of terrorism and fundamentalism. Because migrants are the targets of paranoia and aggression, they become associated with guilt transference, and become seen as the source of this aggression, which constructs them as external threats. This criminalization of immigration allows governments to implement ever more intense and abusive security measures in the name of “protecting” the nation from the “threat of migration”.

The securitization of migration allows for governments to control and pacify their populations with the appearance of “protection”. In reality, harsher border controls, increased registration and surveillance of migrants, and redefinitions of asylum rights just push migration further underground, largely erasing the consequences and human rights abuses that it can create from the public sphere. Governments promise that exclusion of migrant threats guarantees survival and a cohesive cultural identity. They portray inclusion of immigrants as essentially damaging to national boundaries – political, economic, and social – and as a “dissociation factor” that will destroy the nation from within. These securitization measures reinforce the stereotypes and perceptions of the racial “Other” as the source of these national problems, equating them with threat, danger, and undesirability. Creation of special police and security forces such as the Trevi group in Europe conflate mobility and migration issues with terrorism and violence, increasing the racist assumptions that limit these individuals and placing them at further risk for human rights abuses.

Altogether, the discourse surrounding the racialization of the migrant “Other” in the case of the refugee crisis in Europe is largely linked to racist stereotyping of Third World individuals, the criminalization of these individuals and their immigrant status, and the securitization of migration. Europe’s policies regarding migrants and refugees are overtly racist and nationalistic, based purely on xenophobic assumptions of threat that limit the mobility rights of those who are already marginalized by the Western capitalist system. It is grossly hypocritical of Western nations to ignore the consequences of their imperial and global economic interventions by rejecting those who have been left most vulnerable in globalization’s economic wake. It should be absolutely required for these states to take in an adequate amount of refugees and migrants, and to grant these individuals equal mobility rights. However, to do this, there must be steps toward international economic change that does not cause such global turnover and inequality of nations, as well as a further pursuit of overall global equality of social, economic, and environmental conditions.

Leilan Wong – On Aboriginal Women’s Rights in Canada

In light of the recent news regarding sexual violence and mistreatment of Aboriginal women by provincial police in Quebec, I believe it is important that women confront the inequality Aboriginal women face not only across Canada, but in our own communities. First, I would like to start by acknowledging that there are different forms and perspectives on feminism, and that is okay. But I am frustrated. We cannot apply a hierarchy to pain and suffering, but we must realize that for Aboriginal women in Canada, the issue of inequality concerns their safety, and their very lives.  Is life not a priority?  Why do I only hear about issues of female university professors wage gaps? Let’s talk about what is happening in our country, in our very province, and in our very city where women, because of their race, fear for their lives. The majority of Aboriginal  women, faced with systemic racism and marginalization, are not even afforded the opportunity to go to university! Why are we not talking about this? A 2014 RCMP report suggest that there are 1,200 cases of either homicide or unsolved cases of missing Aboriginal women. Taking into account the reports of police sexual mistreatment of Aboriginal women, let me suggest that these numbers are low and do not represent the true number of women who have been victims of sex crimes. Also, an Amnesty International report reveals that “70 percent of all violent crimes against Indigenous people in the U.S. – and 90 percent of sexual assaults – are reported to be carried out by non-Indigenous people”.  Since Aboriginal people are the victims of these crimes, not the perpetrators, it is crucial that we do not make this an “Aboriginal issue” and step down from talking about it because we see it is not our place.  It is Non-Aboriginal people that Aboriginal women fear.

Therefore, it is everyone’s discussion when women do not have the economic status or networking to make their voices heard. We need to stand up and talk about the issues of women who face multiple oppressions, and recognize what is happening in our own backyards. Every woman’s struggle is important, but safety of lives due to engrained racism must come before issues experienced by a very privileged demographic.  Anita Olsen Harper asks what is ultimately one of the most important questions today, “Does the public think that these “uncomfortable” issues will perhaps just somehow “go away?”” They will not go away unless women take a stand to protect the safety of other women, instead of falling “comfortably and passively” into the media’s trend of silence.   Women, let us realize that there are life threatening issues (the most important human right) in our midst.

Here is a related video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUt6sxF2s2U

 

For those who would like to learn more about Aboriginal women and their fight against oppression, the UBC Women’s Centre will be screening the film Highway of Tears later this month.

Acknowledge Rape: Following the April 10th, 2015 Sit-In

 

The most violent element in society is ignorance

-Emma Goldman

Our intention for the event was to emphasize the coercive perfidy of the University administration while demonstrating self-determination. The response of the university (or lack thereof) perpetuates a culture of fear, in essence- a rape culture. The response has been abhorrent- the same trite rhetoric that places the onus on students most susceptible to sexual violence (women, lgbtq minorities) in place of addressing why this violence occurs. As the semester comes to an end, we demand that the university administration allows for the creation of new precedents for the following year; a substantive approach to ending sexual violence which integrates feminist pedagogy. We cannot dismantle rape culture without supporting survivors, the approach must be preventative and also restorative. Survivors need to heal, there must be resources in place to support survivors of sexual violence. In order for UBC to be a place where survivors and those who live in fear to be visible, to exist autonomously and to feel entitled to take up space, the response must change. For too long, we have been silenced, reduced, ignored and repudiated. We cannot divorce sexual violence from colonial, racialized and gendered contexts. Rape is a tool of colonialism. Colonialism is a patriarchal endeavor that works to exploit groups through racist and sexist subordination. Historically and currently, Indigenous and racialized groups of women are disproportionately targeted as victims of rape and other forms of vale violence. A colonialist framework justifies sexualized violence against women. Such a framework continues to perpetuate the deliberate silence of the State and the lack of political and legal action regarding thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. As UBC is an extension of the Canadian political climate, we cannot move forward without centering the voices who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, and more susceptible to cyclical discrimination (i.e reporting). An example of UBC’s complicity in perpetuating colonial violence would be the Pocahontas chants (following the RAPE chants) during UBC’s Frosh (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/insulting-pocahontas-chant-sparks-changes-at-ubc-1.2129023).

sit in 

On Friday, April 10th, approximately 50 students gathered in the waiting area, outside of President Gupta’s office (located on the 7th floor of Koerner library). Prior to the occupation of said space, some of us met in the Women’s Centre to make signs. Shortly after, we proceeded to walk down to Koerner Library to occupy President Gupta’s office for an hour and a half. Promptly at 11am, as soon as we began taking up space, the university administration surprised us by addressing those gathered at the sit-in. As we voiced our demands to the students in attendance, Louise Cowin, Vice President of Students, entered the space to listen in on our purpose for organizing this action. After hearing what we saw as a deliberate failure on the part of the university in responding to sexual violence on campus and the unacceptably limited resources and support available to survivors, Cowin decided to speak to these issues following our initial reading.

sit in 3

Cowin purports the the university administration is attempting to ameliorate the response to sexual violence on campus…

While acknowledging the failures and inaction of the university in addressing sexual violence on campus, Cowin, suggested students access information regarding the steps to report and receive support following sexual assault through a recently created university website. One student asked for the name of the website URL, catching Cowin off guard, who took several moments to recall it, admitted she didn’t know and “would have to look it up” and then later remembered it’s address. Understandably, students were unsatisfied with this reductive remedial strategy and other delayed attempts to inform students of ways they can individually take action (obscuring the complicity on behalf of UBC as an institution and neglecting the systemic inequalities that produce rape culture.) One student interjected that she, like the majority of students attending, were not even aware of this webpage and felt it’s existence did little to actively change the current climate of disregarded misogyny on campus. An obvious tension developed between disappointed students after Cowin’s authoritative response failed to establish any tangibility of empathy or action. Agreeing that the onus should be taken off  of survivors of sexual violence and placed onto those who are perpetrating these acts of violence, following questions directed to Cowin demanded action and continued to name the abject failure of the university in responding to sexual violence as a key agent in the maintenance and tolerance of rape culture on the UBC campus.

Lack of resources, perpetuation of the stranger rape myth and campaigns that warn women not to walk alone on campus were also discussed between Cowin and attendees. We demanded a reconstruction of the message, literature, and rhetoric on campus regarding rape, and asked instead for a campaign highlighting the consequences of committing assault, targeting those who commit acts of sexual violence. Additionally,  demands were made for funding and resources to launch an alternative campaign that provides clear, practical, accessible steps for reporting sexual violence could encourage survivors to report knowing that they will be believed and supported. Cowin did little to discuss logistics and particulars when addressing our demands, but maintained an understanding position and acknowledged that the failures of the university. When asked if she felt UBC’s response was adequate, Cowin agreed it was not and ensured that the administration was constructing a better response. Until we meet with Cowin and other officials, the details of this new approach are unknown. While engaging in questions with attendees, one student asked if someone from Cowin’s office could take notes to revisit as often these conversations are productive in the moment but are not accounted for and the ideas discussed are never actualized. Cowin reminded that a meeting with the Women’s Centre would be a more appropriate place for note-taking and the discussion went undocumented. While Cowin’s presence was appreciated, there was an undeniable feeling that as attendees, we were being clouded with potentially empty rhetoric, in hopes of temporarily amending the issue until the attention on sexual assault diminishes. However, we will continue to insist that the University address the rampant misogyny and sexual violence on campus and transform the popular discourse regarding rape by addressing systemic, institutional powers that delimit and disempower marginalized individuals and target perpetrators of rape rather than warning students to avoid victimization.

Following Cowin’s address, students gathered in groups to discuss their experiences, ideas and expectations of the university following this action. We are in contact with the President’s office regarding a meeting between the UBC Women’s Centre and the UBC administration to discuss our demands and seek action.

Our demands are as follows: The University must allocate resources to prevent sexual violence on campus, in addition to supporting survivors of sexual violence. Without accessible resources and a comprehensible avenue to report, UBC is complicit in reproducing systems of violence.

The university must delineate adequate resources such as…

  • Improved sexual assault training for Resident Advisors
  • Mandatory consent and anti-violence training for FROSH leaders and groups or organizations who have been historically sexist (fraternities, sports teams and other male-centric groups which champion masculinist traits)
  • Funding for an independent survivors of sexual violence support group on campus (for example, survivor support group initiated by the Women’s Centre)
  • Creation of manuals and resources with clear steps to report sexual assault distributed to first-year and other campus residences and organizations
  • Funding for a campaign to encourage survivors to report to the appropriate body (whether a university funded crisis line or SASC) knowing that they will be believed and supported unequivocally
  • Change the language/literature and rhetoric on campus regarding “don’t walk alone.” Include disciplinary consequences of assaulting
  • Fully funded self-defence training for all women and LGBTQIA+ persons made available and accessible
  • 24 hour accessibility of the Women’s Centre
  • Creation of a task force dismantling gender violence (e.g. C.A.R.E)

Note: We will be posting a public report demonstrating the political reasons for our demands prior to our meeting with UBC administration

Historically, the university has failed to act on their word. Following Louise’s “talk,” we reiterated that we will be returning in protest until our demands are met. This is imperative, and we will not allow for the university to eviscerate women on campus and deny us resources; we are entitled to their time. We are aware of the university’s tactics, and Louise Cowin may be empathetic to our cause, as a woman herself, but she is also an actor for a neoliberal institution. We will be having another meeting this Thursday, April 21st at 7pm in the Women’s centre (http://www.ubcwomenscentre.com/ this is a space for all women ). Our intention for this meeting is to debrief and discuss our motives for the meeting with the University administration.

 

Lasty, if you are experiencing sexual violence currently or presently, do not hesitate to contact us at UBC women’s centre (located at 245 G in the SUB). We can offer peer support and guidance regarding resource accessibility on and off campus. Positive spaces on campus such as Pride UBC and SASC may also be useful. As there is no clear trajectory for those seeking support, we can only strive for more.


Emily and Alexis on behalf of UBC Women’s Centre

 

sit in2

Photos by Kay Ho, editor of the Talon. 

 

21st Century Digital Feminisms: Women’s Centres’ Role in Facilitating Activism

A piece collectively written by the coordinators of the Women’s Centre at the University of British Columbia

It comes as no surprise that twenty-first century feminist movements gain much momentum through Tumblr re-blogs, tweets, Facebook, WordPress, Change.org petitions, and other online spaces. The Internet’s ability to reach previously unreachable audiences faster and more conveniently than any other media outlets affords feminism (and other forms of progressive activism) a powerful educational platform. Indeed, one Tumblr user insists the medium has taught her “more about feminism, women’s rights, rape culture, slut shaming, etc, than school ever had,” a statement that testifies to the Internet’s role in maintaining relentless grassroots feminisms beyond institutionally-sanctioned, academic parameters.

For societal change to happen, however, online mobilization ought not be central to political organizing. At its heart feminist activism is concerned with bodies and how they exist in the physical world. For this reason, it’s vital that women’s centres exist to continue providing resources for self-identified women of all backgrounds.

This article will provide an introduction to feminist concerns about women’s bodies, explore the connections between these concerns and women’s centres’ function as activist spaces, and situate women’s centres’ role in our rapidly digitized, disembodied times.

Patriarchy, Socialization, and Global Feminisms

Systems of patriarchal oppression ingrained in modern society have an acute effect on how bodies exist in the physical world. Such systems attempt to control, regulate, and manage nearly every aspect of women’s bodies, turning personal presentations and decisions into sites of negotiation and conflict. Numerous examples could be given: in beauty standards, which attempt to regulate how women’s bodies are supposed to look and dress; in the notion that women’s bodies are available for public consumption and comment; in the resilient concepts of purity and virtue; in attempts to restrict reproductive choice; in the way that societal institutions categorize and label trans and intersex women’s bodies, removing their power of linguistic self-determination.

How women’s bodies move in the world is no accident, nor solely the result of individual choices. All bodies (human and non-human) need to acclimatize to surrounding environments in order to survive: as social creatures, human beings communicate and embody cultural symbols present in social environments. This basic premise drives feminists to study socialization—the interactional, dyadic process through which norms are passively and actively performed—and furthermore, the media, which reinforces specific behaviours and ideas about embodying an identiy. Feminists ask: how does society teach men and women to interact with one another; how do families, peers, institutions, and nation-states expect genders to relate?

Even a cursory analysis of how socialization affects boys and girls reveals sharp discrepancies. Toy consumption shows how gender policing sequesters women’s role in society to housewives, caretakers, and princesses. Meanwhile, boys enter the world playing Lego® to practice becoming future engineers, as well as perform positions of authority such as police officers, firefighters, and doctors. As articulated in Frantz Fanon’s work on colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth, “the official, legitimate agent, the spokesperson for the colonizer and the regime of oppression, is the police officer or the soldier” (3).

What is true under colonization is true also under patriarchy: toy soldiers and battlefield scenes teach boys early on that legitimate performances of masculinity involve aggression, violence, and actively imposing one’s authority upon enemies. While boys are present in girls’ play fantasies, girls are absent in boys’ except to symbolize the ontology of an emasculated soldier–the defeated enemy. Women thus grow up in a society that collectively fails to challenge men’s assumed power, authority, and intelligence, until even they believe in their intrinsic dupability, weakness, and inferiority to men.

Though mainstream Western feminism gravitates towards critiquing the visual rhetoric of blue for boys and pink for girls, women’s centres’ feminism should not be based on the classist assumption that parents can afford to buy toys in the first place, nor the idea that women’s liberation ends at certain borders, or looks the same for all cultures. Furthermore, a binary model of equality-seeking may be satisfied with elevating women to have as much power as men do, but abandon the goal of liberating all genders to live freely with each other.

Looking beyond the limitations of a white, neoliberal feminism, a cross-cultural analysis highlights strong commonalities in all forms of patriarchal socialization: marginalized genders internalize sexism and loathe their bodies to the point of continuous self-harm; gender violence is trivialized and used as a tool for war and genocide; women, seen as either virgins, mothers, or whores, are objectified as properties to be bartered and replaced by fathers, husbands, and other male authorities.

In light of this global context and the ubiquity of gender-based oppression, women’s centres’ role in dismantling patriarchy must focus on ending gender violence, especially for women of indigenous communities who endure environmental racism from corporations in addition to racialized forms of misogyny.

Women’s Centres: Feminism of Proximity and Bodies in the World

To understand women’s marginalization in a global context is not an invitation for economically and geographically privileged feminists to feel entitled to aid women of the global south. Rather, it’s at least one way to see how digitized feminisms can create stronger alliances and potential for solidarity work. Distance and borders no longer limit activists to access support from neighbouring feminists but are able to reach out to allies organizing in vastly different circumstances. Stories are no longer paraphrased but articulated in full through text, images, and film from their original authors. Petitions and mass tweeting indeed have the momentum and political power to effect concrete change.

The internet is of course no free market. Language and accessibility barriers, censorship, and net structures that enable easy government surveillance are only a few limitations that hinder potential revolutions. Moreover, solely relying on digital education and interactions does not mobilize women to escape abusive relationships (assuming escape is the only option), provide prolonged financial support for survivors of violence, or offer the healing possibilities of better, safer spaces. Arguably, the psychological, physical, and spiritual harm that gender and sexual violence cause demand empathic support that can only be given with the trust fostered from intimate, close contact.

Indeed, the anonymity that online spaces afford can cause significant harm. Much of that anonymity, as seen in spaces like 4chan and Reddit, create an environment where the worst forms of misogyny, racism, ableism, classism, and general ignorance are permitted under the name of ‘free speech.’ Meanwhile, current laws against cyberstalking are insufficient for coping with the rampant verbal and physical threats hurled at women, especially when law enforcement agencies have not adapted to take online harassment as a serious crime. The disembodiment online representations create only hasten patriarchal domination when it is the men who become hackers, learn techniques for tracking IP addresses, and carry out exploitative schemes via untrackable servers. Meanwhile, it is women who are continuously attacked and abused online, and women’s bodies used constantly as click-bait.

As powerful a connection as the digital world can create, feminists across the globe can only use social media spaces on the net as a tool for communicating strategies and fighting back. The end result of digital activism therefore needs to be found in bodily well-being; structural change can only be measured in significant reduction of and elimination in violence against women and other marginalized folks. On principle, women’s centres allow for a reconfiguring of ways bodies are situated with one another. They can facilitate the creation of new vocabularies and value systems that counteract white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and distribute ideas that could help continuously renew feminist principles and re-examine them. They do this while at the same time as ensuring that women inhabit safer spaces, or, at the very least, open up opportunities for creating them.

A women’s centre can mobilize individual women and their allies to create an emotional environment where personal experiences can be situated in a larger political framework.  By ensuring that marginalized genders have opportunities to re-connect with their bodies, with each other, and with their land, the abundance of activism which digital social media spaces facilitate so successfully can become even more effective. Furthermore, as a strategic space for movement-building and a haven for ensuring physical and emotional support, women’s centres address both state and interpersonal violence against women in its attempt to defy the structure of androcentric, colonized spaces dominated by racist, cis-sexist, classist, and ableist discourse. Given that physical spaces are subject to the laws and regulations of colonial institutions, this defiance does not come easily.

The Women’s Centre at UBC, for instance, insists upon a door which is always open. We try our best to stock our shelves with food and supplies, all of which are free. But our Centre is not open 24-hours, is not wheel-chair accessible, and do not have windows which can be opened for fresh air. For some students, the Centre is truly safer than the rest of campus. These limitations ought to galvanize feminists, supporters of women’s centres, and fellow student activists to pay serious attention to the way physical spaces are constructed, especially when those spaces are as important and meaningful as women’s centres.

[Version 1. Revised version to appear in the forthcoming edition of The Knoll, UBC’s alternative student paper]

Letter to President Toope regarding the “Genocide Awareness Project”

WomensCentreLettertoToope (PDF)

January 28, 2014

Dear President Stephen Toope,

Every year the “Genocide Awareness Project” is shown on campus, a display created by the Centre for Bioethical Reform and endorsed by a UBC pro-life club. This display consists of a series of magnified images of what the group claims are appropriate visualizations of abortion, placed next to images of historical genocides. This pairing is done to convey the message that abortion is comparable to genocide, and that people who receive abortions are morally equivalent to those in power who allow and commit genocides.

As coordinators of the AMS Women’s Centre, we hold the responsibility to support the ending of anything which compromises the safety and well-being of women (and everyone else who experience gender-based oppression) of the UBC community. The ongoing presence of the Genocide Awareness Project at UBC deeply concerns us because of its capacity to trigger, traumatize, and shame the same bodies for which the AMS Women’s Centre exists to provide safety. We write this letter to formally request the emplacement of an official ban to prohibit the public presence of the Genocide Awareness Project imagery on campus. To be clear, we are asking for the banning of graphics used in this display; we are not asking to prohibit the opinions, voices, or bodies which promote these images.

Due to the following considerations, we are requesting a formal ban of the Genocide Awareness Project’s graphic imagery at UBC:

These signs contain images of bloodied bits of fetal flesh, dead babies, emaciated children, (usually bloody) corpses of people killed in genocides and wars, as well as victims of animal testing. The UBC community is comprised of people of diverse backgrounds including people who have experienced abortion (personally and otherwise), and survivors of genocide and war. These groups are especially vulnerable to being triggered from the violence these images depict, and it is unjustifiable to make them relive traumatic experiences they endured. These images are displayed outside in areas of high traffic; sometimes these locations are particularly inappropriate. For example, last year the Genocide Awareness Project contained images of Holocaust victims, and was displayed in front of the Hillel House (an organization for Jewish students).

The Genocide Awareness Project states that anyone who gets an abortion is as blameworthy as people who incite war and commit genocides. One example of this shaming was visible last year, when a woman (associated with GAP), donning a grave facial expression, stood in front of the display with a sign around her neck reading “I regret my abortion.” Such statements moralize against women who get pregnant even as a result of being raped. Given the recent reports of sexual assaults on campus, and knowing that most acts of violence against women go unreported, we find this shaming unconscionable.

The claim that abortion is in any way equivalent to genocide is unwarranted. Genocide is defined as the systematic extermination of a specific group of people. Saying people who support and/or receive abortions are doing so to deliberately commit mass murder is blatantly illogical. Abortion is a surgical procedure performed for a variety of complex reasons, such as in the case of when one’s health is jeopardized by a pregnancy. GAP uses occurrences of genocide to promote their message, and in doing so they deflect the past and present horrors these events carry in the world. This is especially unacceptable considering the colonial history of the land UBC occupies, and the genocides committed  here and across Canada against First Nations peoples.

The AMS Women’s Centre is aware of the longstanding presence GAP holds on campus, as UBC was the first post-secondary institution in Canada to advertise this display. We respect all opinions regarding abortion, and as a group we take no specific stance in the debate. However, we are unable to accept the university’s allowance of Genocide Awareness Project displays because of their potential to traumatize and harm our peers. There is evidence that our student body is disturbed by GAP; petitions, protests, and narratives follow the display year after year, but these appeals are continuously ignored by the university administration. For your reference, we are enclosing examples of the graphic imagery used in Genocide Awareness Project displays. Please note that we are publicizing this letter, and may publicize your written response. We expect a response from you by February 4, 2014 (one week from today), and welcome the arrangement of a meeting with you. However, if the safety needs we expressed in this letter remain at risk by this date, we as a centre are obligated to take further action.

Sincerely,

AMS Women’s Centre Coordinators, 2013/2014

Original Response to The Province’s Interview on “Pickup Artists”

Click here to read The Province’s original piece on pick up artists online.

The primary analysis for Pickup Artist culture I have is on the specificity of misogyny they display and the mechanical persistence they insist upon performing such misogyny.

Before we begin talking about what pickup artists do, let’s pause over the name they have for themselves. They are picking up women as if women’s position in relation to them (i.e. men) is inherently that of objects to be picked up: immobile, blind to what these ‘artists’ are doing, and wedged between ‘uninitiated,’ unskilled non-artist men in their lives. One doesn’t think of Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo, but rather or con artists who commit identity theft.

Indeed, pickup artists have no pretence of wanting to present themselves as ‘good’ – or perhaps in their terms, ‘chivalrous’ or ‘romantic’ – because they already believe that women don’t want that. They feed into the abuse women are accustomed to by offering something just a bit more concrete that what ‘other’ men are willing to give. In fact, what they’re doing is centering the woman, but more specifically centring the ways in which she is flawed and inadequate.

PUA’s misogyny is specific in nature. They believe that women are mechanical puzzles they can solve using different combinations of the same moves/strategies. They view women as toys.

This isn’t a “female perspective” on PUA. This is an accurate analysis of what they do.

As to PUA’s persistence, it is accounted for by the fact that they have entered a world in which they are players of this game, and like video games and gambling, they become addicted to the thrill and validations and risks. They believe the rules of that game, and through confirmation bias they truly believe that their techniques work whenever they happen to ‘succeed.’

– Jane Shi

Responding to the Third Reported Stranger Sexual Assault on Campus

In light of the Women’s Centre re-launching this year (you may have noticed that we’ve decided to change the “y” in our name back to the traditional spelling of ‘women’), its coordinators would like to express deep sadness and anger at yet another stranger assault having occurred on campus, when the woman in question was walking alone at night. We are also disappointed to read the familiar refrain that the RCMP has dutifully issued, which cautions the public to be more vigilant while walking out late at night.

These warnings, while containing no allusion to gender, are implicitly directed at women. Women are told from a young age not to talk to strangers, walk alone at night, or even go to the wash-room without a girlfriend. These good-intentioned warnings do nothing to address the manifold nature of gender-based sexual violence; they do nothing but perpetuate the ‘stranger-in-the-bushes’ myth that makes sexual assault appear as an anomalous crime that only psychopaths commit. Yet we know that 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, either in the assailant’s home or the victim’s. It happens to women every 17 minutes in Canada.

Make no mistake: stranger harassments and assaults are horrifying and unacceptable. The police’s law enforcement efforts are an important piece to obtaining justice for the women victimized. Furthermore, everyone is entitled to follow what they perceive to be reasonable safety precautions.

Continue reading Responding to the Third Reported Stranger Sexual Assault on Campus