Archive for the 'Ponderings' Category

FDQ: Ask a Feminist*

Friday, March 7th, 2008

I joined up with a group of people who want to do a group project called “Ask a Feminist”.  The basic premise, as I understand it, is that various people will ask questions they’ve “always” wanted to ask a feminist, and the various feminists, all of whom come from different backgrounds and ideas, will answer them.

I’m really quite interested in this project, as one of my main frustrations with discussing feminism with people is that I’m suddenly expected to defend everything any feminist has ever said or done for the past 30 years, as though all feminists everywhere not only have a Hive Mind, but we walk in lockstep together and never have difference experiences or interpretations of the same event.  It also, of course, leads to people saying things like “Oh, I like lipstick, thus I <i>can’t</i> be a Feminist, because feminism doesn’t allow lipstick wearing.”

For myself, I have two things that say “this person is a feminist” to me.  The fundamental belief that women are people and men are neither monsters nor children; and self-identifying as a feminist.  It may be that I secretly think most of the people on my flist are Feminists, but if none of you have said “I am a feminist”, I’m not going to force the label on you.

After that, though, it becomes more in depth.  At the moment, my focus and energies are going into dealing with issues of poverty and issues of disability & accessibility.  I like to read about women in comics.  I want to read more about women in Fandom and in the media, and want to write more about issues of racism in the media.  I  am beginning to read more about Third World Feminism.  I like general media criticism, and things like “Killing us Softly”, a documentary on how advertising uses women.  I have many and varied thoughts on the issue of sex work, and try and read as much as possible about it, from people opposed, people in favour, women working in the industry, etc.  Womanism is something I want to understand more of, so I’m reading and reading and reading because a lot of it is based in the US and for all that we share a common border, I do not understand racial issues there.  I’m excited because my local feminist bookstore has many books dealing with racism and sexism around First Nations people.  Queer & Trans issues are being brought to my attention more often now, especially with Trans being closely related to the Disability Blogosphere, and I’m finding a lot of my assumptions on “safe” questioned.

I’m not sure if everyone and everything I read would identify as feminist, but each of those topics has branches that work within feminism, and there are many more.  Many of them take issues and don’t agree on them in the slightest, as there isn’t one overall solution that will magically make all our problems go away.  It’s complicated, and whereas I do think there are some very legitimate concerns about main-stream feminism, I think a great many problems are caused not by what the majority of feminists do or think, but by how the media portrays feminism.  (I have been doing a lot of critical thinking about the media this week.  It’s certainly not an issue unique to feminism, but I will save that discussion for Monday.)

The point of all this is that I’m very excited about the idea of working with people on this project, and I would like to encourage others to participate, through the asking of questions.

If you could ask a group of feminists anything, what would you ask?

My personal questions about feminism have a lot to do with the history, of course.  I want a better timeline on how Women’s Shelters came into being.  I want to have a better understanding of where this concept of “The Lavender Menace” came from, and how one combats the past.  I want to know where the feminists in my life stand on issues like accessibility, and Gay Marriage, and Queer Adoptions.  I’m always up for a spirited discussion on Women’s Only Spaces, both for and against them, both in public and in private.  I want to better understand the racial issues outside of my personal sphere, and get a better bead on what is happening.  I like asking feminists for book recommendations.

But, what are your thoughts?  What would you ask?

(*My random sense of humour now has the theme from “Ask a Ninja” running through my head.)

Toronto Opens Black-Focused School

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I got another email from my friend, Mark, forwarding me a link with this comment:


The City of Toronto has just decided to open up a “black-focused school.” This school’s main emphasis will be to teach Black History and other things that have a strong appeal to black people.Some are calling it segregation. Some are calling it a victory for the Black community.

I just want to point out that it will be a public school, and open to people of all races, creeds, and colours.

Toronto trustees vote in favour of black-focused schools

[I have quoted the text here, as I am unsure how long things remain available on CBC’s website.]


A proposal to create Canada’s first black-focused public school was approved by Toronto District School Board trustees Tuesday night.

They have recommended the creation of an alternative school that features a curriculum and teaching environment oriented around black history and culture.

The vote took place after an evening debate on the controversial proposal, which critics believe is a plan for segregation, while supporters believe it could keep more black students in school.

Trustees heard from a number of delegations including academics, parents, teachers and students.

A presentation was also made by the mother of Jordan Manners, a15-year-old boy shot dead in a Toronto school last May. Loreen Smallstood in opposition to the black school plan, calling it “segregation.”

“This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms.

Some parents have said they want to try something new because the current system isn’t working. As many as 40 per cent of black students don’t graduate from Toronto high schools.

Angela Wilson is a mother of two who has been at the forefront of a push for Africentric or black-focused schools for years.

“Make our education system better for everybody,” she said.

“It’s not a one size fits all education system. It’s actually working its way to be one size fits few — and the few that are successful do not look like me.”

Trustees were supposed to have discussed a report delivered last week that makes four major recommendations:

  • Open an Africentric alternative school in 2009.
  • Start a three-year pilot program in three other high schools.
  • Work with York University to improve school achievement.
  • Develop a plan to help failing students.

Supporters said those options will keep black students engaged and in school, but opponents said it will lead to greater isolation.

“I just feel being with a mixed group of people is better, you know, you get to learn different cultures, different aspects of different people, the way they live,” said Grade 10 student Terrin Smith-Williams.

Board chair John Campbell sees an Africentric school as just one option for dealing with the problems facing young blacks in Toronto’s education system.

“It should not be viewed as the sole solution to a problem, but should instead be seen as a response to a community request for action,” he said in a news release issued before the vote.

My thoughts:
(anything in italics I took from the article)

- “This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms. I do definitely agree that there needs to be more work done on getting teachers to engage in multi-racial classrooms, but how long should students have to wait for that to happen?

- I’m not entirely certain what’s wrong with a black-focused classroom. With all due respect, the classroom I went to was white-focused, and it wasn’t like every student in the class was white. White (colonial) history was taught, white (male) artists were taught, the default assumption was white. If a black-focused classroom is a bad idea, why is a white-focused classroom a good one?

- As Mark says, it’s a public school - there’s nothing stopping people from sending their kids there at all. Which doesn’t necessarily follow that that will happen, sadly. I wonder if it will. I wonder if the school will be successful in what it wants to achieve. I really hope there are many news reports on it, because I’d like to follow it and see what happens.

- I have to admit, I went to school in B.C., which meant a lot of East Asian people as opposed to black people. I didn’t see a lot of history focused on the third of the class that wasn’t white. In fact, I have no idea of much of went on in countries outside of Europe during the 20th Century. (My high school history classes were mostly about the 20th Century, and a lot of talking about Germany, which is where my history prof was from.)

- I really just wish we could have properly integrated schools that didn’t act like races other than white (and countries outside of Europe) didn’t exist, but I don’t know how long that would take to fix, and again, how long should students wait?

- I’m certain I’m missing some very important aspects of all of this.

- Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of talk that goes on when there’s a move to segregate “women’s only” transportation (like buses and trains in Japan, for example) about how doing this gives an implication that women who decide not to ride in the women’s only area are indicating that they’re okay with the typical groping and other forms of assault that go on in “regular” train cars. I’m wondering if there’s going to be comments about how “if you want education about black things, go to the black school, you black person!” (which, of course, won’t be that polite) if there are complaints in the other schools. I mean, I never went to school in Toronto, so I don’t know what it’s like there in terms of teaching.

- Arg, can’t something be easy?

What are your thoughts?

Thinking Day

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I found this quote interesting:

In grad school my department chair (a man from South Carolina, no less)told us of a classroom experiment he conducted for a semester in which he called on women and men in exactly equal proportions. Despite the fact that he did this by taking turns (calling alternately on men and women), the male students complained in the course evaluations that he called on women “all the time” and clearly favored women.

I’ve often wondered what would happen in a classroom if I did the same thing.

What are your thoughts?