PERSPECTIVES ON SEXISM

By: The Enemy Staff

Yesterday was the centennial anniversary of suffrage for (some) women in Manitoba (excluding Asian and Aboriginal Canadians, who weren't able to vote until 1948 & 1969, respectively). Throughout the week, numerous foundations and sumptuous organizations have been recognizing the great struggles and vicious discrimination that Nellie Mcclung and the Famous Five had to overcome to achieve the start of women's suffrage in Canada. To mark this event, we talked to a number of women from different backgrounds, areas of the city, and occupations about the more subtle problems of discrimination they face in the province today. How far have we come from 1916, and how do our city's young women currently diagnose the issue of sexism here?

Mubo
26
Inner-City Community Sports Program Coordinator

Fort Richmond

What part of the city did you grow up in?

I grew up in the South End, more specifically Fort Richmond.

What was it like growing up as a black girl in Fort Richmond?

Uhm, it was funny because I remember—when I was in elementary—I remember distinctly being one of very few black kids. But I guess as I grew up, and got into junior high, when the different elementary schools conglomerated, and then into FRC (Fort Richmond Collegiate), my high school, there were more and more black kids. But you were still a minority. Now, going back to FRC, it feels like there are more minorities than there is Caucasian people. Even though there were a lot of black kids and Asian people when I was going to high school, it was still predominantly white. I think it’s kind of the opposite now, especially in the South End. A lot of immigrants are migrating to the Fort Richmond area and Fort Garry.

 How involved were you in sport as a youth?

I was super involved. I feel like I have always been pretty athletic, but I didn’t start playing organized sports outside of school until Grade 6. It was primarily basketball, but in school I would do volleyball and track…I tried to do wrestling but that didn’t work out very well [laughs]. But yeah, I got really good at basketball so I was playing elite level basketball from Grade 8 until university where I played with the U of M.

What challenges, if any, did you feel playing in a male-dominated sport like basketball?

This is still prevalent now, more so with the U of M, but because the NBA is more advertised than the WNBA, it trickles down the system [to] where people want to watch boys’ sports more than girls’ sports. Our games would be kind of like the warm-up for people to start trickling in, and by the time the guys’ game rolled around at 8 o’clock, it was like that was the event. The gym would be full, or at least half-full for the guys’ game but our games would just be parents, maybe a few grand-parents, and friends that you begged to come. That was pretty much it. People don’t take it as seriously as male sports, and I don’t know why because it’s not like we’re any less of athletes. That’s probably the biggest thing I noticed and continue to notice now. People just prefer to watch men’s sports.

So is advertising the biggest barrier for people to get into women’s sports? Why do you think there are fewer opportunities for women in professional sports?

I don’t know how philosophical we wanna get on this but I think that we live in a patriarchal society, and whether or not people believe in that, that’s the foundation of our society. So everything leans towards male…not domination, but preference. You know, even the way we say "hey guys" in a group of people. You can’t say "oh let's go girls" to a group of people that are both males and females. People know that "girls" is restricted for girls but "guys" can be both, you know? So just the language, and that way. I think advertising definitely has something to do with it. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’m sure there’s a lot more money going into advertising men’s sports than women’s sports. Look at [the] FIFA [World Cup] when it was here in Winnipeg. The stadium was kind of full for some games, but if it was men’s, people would be trying to climb over fences, it would’ve been a completely different story. So yeah, I think advertising has something to do with it, but people recognizing that female athletes are just as good as men. But I think it really stems from years and years back where we started from as a patriarchal society. It’s hard to break that, because it’s the only system we know how to work in. As angering as it can be for a woman, it’s just the system that we know how to work in.

Tori
22
Law Student

St. Vital

What discrimination have you faced, or seen other women face, in law school, if any?

There's still a really strong boy's culture/old boy's club, especially within big firms but also just within the legal community. There's this group called the Feminist Legal Forum, and one of the things they were dealing with that got taken up to the admin of the school was...I'm not sure of the details, but it was a legal journal or something, with news in the legal community, that was sanctioned by the staff, and a lot of staff and faculty contributed to it. It had a lot of derogatory articles about women, and cartoons and stuff, and it was really gross, and so that was found to be contravening the faculty's standards of professionalism. So there are going to be consequences for that, and we didn't know if there were actually going to be consequences for that because it's been going on for so long, and so we thought it might be swept under the rug. But, a lot of the other issues we talk about are that firms expect that young women are going to get married and have babies, and so they're reluctant to hire them or they don't pay them as much.

Women do tend to be excluded from a lot of opportunities, and the thing is that it might not be on purpose, but it's just kind of a systemic thing. For example, there's a lot of sports teams within firms, and they'll have recruitment opportunities that have do with hockey games or softball games or things that are more male-oriented, and so they'll get a lot of the boys to participate and there just aren't those equivalent opportunities for girls who aren't involved in those things. Sometimes they won't even pick girls for them because they just assume they're not gonna be interested even though they are. I went to a law dinner a little while ago, and I found it interesting that a bunch of us were sitting around a table, and there was this man that worked for one of the groups that I was interested in, and he refused to talk to me. I would talk to him directly, and he would go "hmm, okay" and go back to talking to the boys on either side of him. They had this hushed conversation about football, and I knew what they were talking about, and I was trying to contribute to it, and they just wouldn't hear any of it. That felt kind of gross, because I felt like he was clearly more comfortable talking to the boys and he wasn't willing to go outside of his expectations for that. So that was kind of shitty.

But I would say, also, from the friends I've talked to, especially my Aboriginal friends who are women, they're pigeonholed, and expected to go into family law, or something along those lines, because that's more of what 'women do'. They feel that strongly as Aboriginal women, while there isn't any standard of that for guys, as guys can go into pretty much any field they want to, and it doesn't surprise anybody. I've heard that from my friends who wanna go into corporate law too, that it surprises people that girls would wanna go into that, for some reason. I dunno.

Wow. That's really eye-opening.

[laughs]. I think Robson Hall in general though is really progressive in terms of trying to advocate for women, and for female lawyers. Our outgoing dean is very feminist and very forward-thinking, and she is very serious about women's position in law and having equality in that sense. There are a lot of really feminist professors and I would say that their perspectives definitely outweigh anyone who would be to the contrary. I'm gonna generalize and say that it's men who are kind of like the anti-feminist professors, and if there are any, you don't really hear from them and it kind of seems like backwards thinking, which is nice. There's not that culture within the law school, it's more within the outside world, and they [Robson Hall} really advocate for us to try to change that in our careers. I feel like there's a lot of progress that's already been made, and there's a lot of opportunity that wouldn't be there for us, maybe even a decade ago. There's still a long way to go in terms of changing the mentality that people don't even realize that they're excluding women, or not being as inclusive as they could be.

For new lawyers that have been practicing between 0-5 years, women are the majority, or close to, in a number of fields. In Manitoba, 52.8% of the new lawyers are women. What do you think this says about the province? [1]

I'd say that has a lot to do with the school's effort to be inclusive, because most of the lawyers that stay in Winnipeg went here. Most people went to Robson and stay in Winnipeg. I think it's interesting that that is for the first 5 years too, because I think a lot of people get discouraged once they're in their 30s and they maybe have a child and find that their firm isn't helping them out as much. Or they're in a big corporate firm where billable hours are a big thing. There are pretty strict limitations on what you can bill for...like if you do paperwork that's not billable hours. So, even if you're doing a ton of paperwork throughout the day, none of that will count for your billable hours and you'll still have to get in your 8 hours or whatever. That's where you hear [about] people staying for so long, because they're so swamped and there just aren't enough hours in the day. If you're working at a firm with billable hours, and your kid gets sick and you're a single mom or the wife in that situation, I think our society is still constructed in a way where it falls to the women usually, and that type of billable hours structure doesn't allow for a lot of room like that. Because where are you gonna make up the hours? So I think for a lot of women, if they get discouraged, they get discouraged around that time or after several years. But hopefully that'll be changing, and there are a lot of opportunities for women here [in Manitoba]. I don't know the stats for here, but in general, there's a slightly higher balance of women than men in university settings, and this [stat] might be a reflection of that too.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that young women face in Manitoba in 2016?

I don't know in general, but I feel like the call for the Inquiry on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has really resonated a lot. Until women from all walks of life are taken seriously and their lives are taken seriously, then what progress have we really made? If women go missing and it's like a shrug or [people] try and justify it, then I feel like...if a life doesn't mean anything, then what's the point? This [sentiment] contributes to the challenge of confronting the MMIW problem, because [Aboriginal] women's views and experiences aren't taken as seriously and that's compounded by systemic racism.

Even sexual assault, if that's happening and lives aren't valued, and the sanctity of a body and consent isn't valued, then are our opinions valued? If our bodies aren't valued then are our minds valued? That's gotta be dealt with swiftly. There needs to be a culture that accepts women's opinions and experiences, and lived experiences, and doesn't try to undermine them.

Even when we're talking about sexual assault in crim class, it's a weird conversation because, to me, anything short of enthusiastic consent every single time is not consent, and when people try to debate that it makes no sense to me. If someone's not being like "Yeah! I'm totally into it!" then what are you doing? You shouldn't be proceeding any further. To me, it's super black and white, and I have a hard time even talking about it in class sometimes, because when people are trying to undermine that, I feel like that's so repulsive.

Karen
49
Executive Assistant
Elmwood

So you’ve lived in pretty widespread areas of the city, and even outside of Winnipeg-like Vancouver. Are there certain places where you’ve lived which it was harder being an Aboriginal woman? Were some neighbourhoods more accepting than others?

Winnipeg is more accepting than Vancouver was. I experienced huge discrimination in Vancouver. Especially when me and my husband at the time would go looking for a place to live. I would phone and make an appointment to go view the apartment. When we would walk up, they would slam the door shut and lock it. Through the door they’d say, “It’s been rented already.” So my husband stopped coming with me to go look for places. Many times when I would be on the phone, tenants would ask, “Are you Native?” I’d reply, “Um, yeah” and they would say, “We don’t rent to natives” then hang up. And that was just renting a place… Vancouver was so bad. There was one time my sister and I were asked to leave a store because we were Native.

You’ve worked at three medical clinics and one law office in the past, how did you feel like the offices that you’ve worked at handled the issues of racism and sexism? Was gender/ethnic discrimination brought up at all when/if it occurred?

I actually applied for a job at Indian affairs. The supervisor was going on maternity leave very shortly. When I went for the job interview she looked at me and said, “Oh, well you’re Native..” I said, “Yes, I’m just finishing my paralegal right now” she asked, “Do you have children?” I replied, “Yes I do, I have a two year old at home.” She then proceeds to tell me that this was not going to work out because there’s too many possibilities that I won’t be able to stay on, or be reliable; I'm native and have a child at home, so she won’t be able to offer me the position ..AT INDIAN AFFAIRS! [laughs] I thought, ‘do I fight this?’ I don’t even know. I’m not even sure. I had no clue. I didn’t know how to react. There are just so many things that happen all the time, you kind of become numb to it.

I remember when I worked in social assistance doing house cleaning, one of the caseworkers harassed me so much it was ridiculous. One time I had to go clean a house in St. Vital so I took the bus out there but I couldn’t find it. There was no such thing as GPS at the time! I looked for this place, wandered around, and I still couldn’t find it. I got back on the bus to go back to the office. I said I couldn’t find the place. He was on me saying, “You probably didn’t even go there. Where’d you go? Did you go home? That’s typical of you people.” He followed me around and kept harassing me. At one point he had me up against the wall and said, “You know you’re never going to amount to anything—ever! You’re probably going to end up like one of those Native girls living on Main Street.” I never came back again.

So white women could vote in 1916, while aboriginal women weren’t given the vote until 1960—

1960? 1970. Aboriginals weren’t allowed to vote until 1970. In the 1960s you still needed a piece of paper to get off of the reserve saying I’m going to go to the city, here’s my form showing that I can leave for 3 hours to go to the city and come back. You needed permission to get off the reserve.

Anna
23 years old
Honours Student, Philosophy
Wolseley

How do you define feminism? Do you find in general that peoples’ ideas about the ideology are misconstrued?

I guess I’m kind of a dictionary definition person, so.. [laughs] I mean the real definition is equal rights for the sexes; political, social, etc. It probably depends [on] what circle of people you find yourself with. Most of the people I know don’t have any problems, but when you talk to a lot of people who are perhaps not feminists themselves, I think there’s a negative connotation. Even though most people would not subscribe to the MRA movement because it is very extreme, even though people don’t actually admit that they wouldn’t support the extremism of that, I feel like the sentiment is still kind of rampant and that’s why there’s such a negative connotation.

In what ways has ignorance and hostility toward feminism reared its ugly head in Winnipeg and what would be the best way to better introduce dialogue on the topic?

I don’t know if there is a specific Winnipeg way. I mean, to be fair, obviously I’m female but I think other than that I’m pretty privileged, I might not have faced the same kind of things that women of other backgrounds might’ve faced. I mean there’s kind of obvious things, like catcalling…When I talk to friends more people who are women are less likely to go outside in certain places by themselves at night because they feel more unsafe. But I also think that—I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a bus and had someone come up and just start talking to you and not go away, because they think you should just be nice to them, and you try and just not talk to them…I don’t know if that’s a universal thing to all sexes, but I feel that it’s probably not.

I’ve had a guy follow me home from the bus. Like, I got off the bus and he followed me all the way home. It was very uncomfortable. He said he “liked the way I bounce when I walk”. And I was like 17!

Well that’s the thing too—I remember high school and stuff, where people would get catcalled as soon as they went through puberty, or even before that. And it’s just awful, you know? I think that there’s a lot of aesthetic pressure on women, not just in Winnipeg but in general, and that’s probably true for men but less so. [laughs] None of that’s specific to Winnipeg, sorry.

Let’s say, hypothetically, gender equality has finally been achieved in this lifetime. What difference would this make to your life?

I think gender equality is actually kind of a misnomer. I think gender equality implies equality between males and females and I really think that it’s more about ‘people equality’ regardless of gender so that people are able to define their own...not only their own gender but their own expressions of that. So for example, if you look at drag queens that dress up as women and people are like “wow they look so convincing,” but all of that is artifice. It’s all make-up and certain types of hair and it shows how artificially constructed indicators of gender are. So, I feel like if there was ‘gender equality’, most people would look the same, but there would be some people who would be liberated, to not feel pressure to conform to certain standards. And I think there’s lots of choices people make that they think are their own choices but they actually aren’t. You have to take into account the fact that you’re choosing that from having grown up in a certain kind of way and under a certain kind of pressure, so it’s not really an actual free choice. I feel like there’d be a lot more diversity in appearance among people if gender equality happened.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Manitoban women in 2016? In another interview, Tori was talking about the value of Aboriginal women, of women of colour. For example, recognizing that we’re celebrating the 100th year anniversary of women suffrage, but it’s mostly for white women...

Yeah, they should probably change the date to when actually everyone could vote, because yeah it’s a misnomer. It shouldn’t be women's suffrage; it should be like, Caucasian women's suffrage or something, that’s what that’s the anniversary of, right? I think that’s improving though, the kind of awareness of intersections of different kinds of oppression is better probably than it used to be. I think there’s still a lot denial though. I think the biggest challenge is that people are afraid of being sensitive, or having someone say “oh well you choose to do that” if they admit to feeling pressure around a certain thing or feel treated a certain way. I think it’s kind of in a lot of ways an invisible bias, in the sense that if you ask someone why they do something, they’re probably not going to say there’s a system in place that makes me feel like I have to make these choices--but if you actually look at why they made those choices I think that might be the case.

Rowena
23 years old
Music Therapist
West End

What are certain expectations that come with being a 1st generation Canadian of Filipino descent in Winnipeg?

A lot of it comes down to still keeping your Filipino roots-the traditional sense at least. Making sure you keep the traditions and culture alive, but still understanding that as a Canadian you also have your own roles and to find that balance where you don’t lose yourself.

Do you often get the “are you going to be a nurse?” question?

Yup! I still get that, especially since I’m in music, it’s just the worst.

You’re in school for music therapy and you’re currently working with people with eating disorders specifically...how is that?

It’s challenging, but I enjoy it a lot. It’s really different from the population that I’ve worked with previously, but it’s cool, especially because they’re teens.

What kind of challenges do you find with teenage women having eating disorders? Is the population largely female?

Well within this program, it’s specifically just females and teenage girls. Statistically, there are a lot more recorded females that experience eating disorders. Partially I feel because if a guy were to come up and say that they have that, it’s viewed differently. A lot of the time they don’t go in for treatment.

So how much impact does media have on body image?

Surprisingly enough, a lot of the factors that play into how these girls developed an eating disorder didn't even have to do with body image. It was the stress and anxiety from parental expectations. Partially from societal pressures but also from familial and academic performance-it wasn’t something I expected.

You’re active in the church, are there any circumstances of gender bias that occurs in the church?

Specifically in the church that I grew up in, more or less, there's nothing too glaring. Depending on your denomination, there’s the whole idea that biblical rules and laws say that women can’t be pastors or leaders in the church. However, there are churches I know where they do have a female pastor. The First Mennonite Church off of Arlington and Notre Dame has a female pastor, which isn’t unheard of, but really unique. There’s also a female Filipino pastor at the church behind Young’s on William.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that young women in Manitoba face in 2016?

The pressures of actually doing something and taking charge. Now that there are so many opportunities, they’re kind of expected to take a stand. That’s obviously not a bad thing, but it can add pressure to someone who’s not sure or not ready. Now there’s the whole, “stand up now that you have a voice” thing, but maybe they don’t want to shout, maybe they want to start small.

Sources:
[1] - Catalyst