Who is She? – Stolen Sisters and Canada’s Reputation

As a young girl, I was always incredibly proud to be Canadian. When I travelled internationally I wore my flag on my pack with pride. Through university when talking to foreign students about our culture, I did so with a sense that I was sharing something great with them. I was lucky enough to grow up with a close family friend who was Cree. I was honoured with attendance of pow wows and trips through Algonquin park during which he shared his knowledge of the land and all its gifts. I had so much respect for him, for the Indigenous people who knew and loved this land before the settlers came. To me, that was Canadian culture. That being said, learning about the way we have treated the Indigenous people is deeply horrifying to me. More recently, the tally of missing and murdered Indigenous women continues to strike terror into the very depth of my being. Recently, I found an article that discussed a major piece that is missing from the discussion around our stolen sisters.

I had long known about Canada’s deeply troubled past between Indigenous people and colonial settlers. Many citizens don’t have an understanding of Residential Schools or the Sixties Scoop, two of our nations nastiest secrets. Between 1840 and 1996 Indigenous children were taken out of their home and put into what they called Residential Schools. They were run by Churches, and then by the Government in an attempt to convert them to ‘the more civilized’ Christian religion. Roughly 150, 000 children were put through these schools where they were forced only to speak in English or French, and separated from their families for long periods of time (often indefinitely.) Survivors of these schools recounted histories of mental, physical and sexual abuse, the schools had mortality rates of 40-69%. There was also the 60’s Scoop in which children were taken from their families and placed into the Child Welfare system. Throughout the 1960’s to 1980’s it was believed that these children would be better off adopted, in foster homes, or as wards of the state rather than in their original Indigenous homes.

Between these two instances, and many other systematically racist programs implemented by Canada’s government, there was a massive cultural genocide. Many of their ways of life were destroyed by settlers, many languages were lost by the forced assimilation to English and French. This left a legacy of mental illness ranging from post traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. It also left a long history of criminality. Young Aboriginal people are still being incarcerated and criminalized the system that had harmed not only them, but their ancestors and their culture. As is described in the article linked above, this was the state-sanctioned trafficking of Aboriginal children. This systematic degradation of culture paired with a culture ridden with misogyny has left women, girls, and two spirited people at their most vulnerable.

Between 1980 and 2012, over 1100 Aboriginal women, girls, and two spirited people have been murdered or have gone missing. Although women are devalued throughout most of the world, we happen to live in a country with a history of heavily engrained racism. According to a report put together by the RCMP, women are grossly overrepresented as victims of these crimes. Aboriginal women make up just 4.5% of the population, but make up 11.3% of missing persons cases and 16% of homicides. This issue has long been recognized not only by the communities themselves, and by premiers of the provinces, but also by international human rights organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. Still, nothing has been done.

As early as 2008, this problem has been mentioned in multiple reports: Amnesty International, UN Committee Against Torture, UN Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Reports, UN Convention on Rights of the Child Reports, and UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women Reports, to name a few. A more extensive report can be found here, put together by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Feminist Alliance for International Action.

If you thought the international shame of this neglect would be enough to spur Canadian politicians into action, think again. Over the last decade there have been multiple actions taken that if anything, have exacerbated the problem. The most notable would be Bill C-36, as well as cuts in funding to both Children’s Aid Society and Sisters in Spirit.

Due to years of systematic discrimination, many Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women and girls, live in extreme poverty. Human trafficking is both the reason and the outcome of this. In Canada, human trafficking and prostitution are often conflated when it comes to the rule of law – Bill C-36 was passed shortly after the laws that criminalized prostitution were struck down. There was a vague glimmer of hope for sex-workers that they might have safer work spaces, that they might have even had access to labour rights. This bill crushed any of those hopes.

This bill criminalizes the buying of sex as opposed to the selling, making Johns the target of the law. If you, like many lay people, believe that prostitution should be illegal, then this surely sounds like a great idea. We’re saving them! We’re protecting these poor, victimized women! Unfortunately, that is a sad misconception. Critics of this bill warn that it will increase violence towards sex workers. When one Conservative Senator asked if this would protect sex-workers, he responded that it would work towards decreasing and eventually abolishing prostitution. To continue to view sex work as morally reprehensible is only further damaging to women who engage in it.  We’ve all heard the White Feminist plight not to decriminalize sex work. Sadly, the fact that their cause is signed by many a celebrity makes it the more popular, all be it more harmful opinion. Thus bills such as C-36 are still widely supported, despite the harm they continue to bring.

In a similar vein, under the Harper government, groups such as the Childrens Aid Society (CAS) and Sisters in Spirit (SIS) have seen massive cuts in funding. In the article by Colleen Hele, Naomi Sayers, & Jessica Wood, the authors described situations in which CAS had driven them back to a home they had attempted to report for sexual and physical abuse. This story reflects a truth lived by all too many -it has been reported on many an occasion that the organization treats children differently based on location, poverty level and social issues within the area. Rather than trying to create equality in treatment of children through training or programming, the government has kept a hands off approach, even cutting funding to CAS over the years. Similarly in the case of SIS, an organization that was conducting research on the growing epidemic of violence towards Aboriginal women. Any funding the organization once received was eliminated by the Harper government, despite calls from premiers to invest more in an inquiry. This blatant disregard for such issues has unfortunately become a well known characteristic of our government, and by extension, our citizens.

The Adbusters video linked above never fails to give me chills. I, like the woman in the video feel I can’t defend my country against someone asking ‘What happened? You used to be one of the good ones.’ This is something I can’t stand for, a drastic change needs to be made. First and foremost, as many organizations and people in power have called for, we need an inquiry into this issue. Before we can properly understand how to solve the problem we need to have more information. Harper’s removal of the long form census has stunted our ability to make change. We are not fully informed about what is going on in our country, which paralyses us and stunts any positive change we may want to make.

The Chiefs of Ontario have taken the first step in starting a crowd funding campaign to conduct their own inquiry. The campaign, called “Who Is She,” aims to produce a First Nations led, community driven process to eradicate violence against Indigenous women and girls. I believe that this campaign is the best possible option, as the First Nations people can bring a contextual understanding of the problem within the greater disrespect our government has directed towards them. The report drawn up by the RCMP was quick to say that spouses and acquaintances were the most likely culprits. This kind of understanding can be spun by the media (as stories with Indigenous people often are) to blame the problem on their community rather than looking at it contextually. I hope this inquiry will follow the footsteps of Sisters in Spirit, which had compiled over 200 possible contributing variables to the problem.

There is also plenty that can be done beyond supporting the inquiry. We need to slowly chip away at the racism that is so deeply engrained in our society. Educate yourself on the history of Aboriginal people in this country, or go to one of the many incredible events that celebrate their culture. There is a long history that can only be changed if we work against it collectively. Most importantly right now, we can vote out the government that has changed the way Canada is viewed internationally. On October 19th, we will be voting and hopefully changing the leadership of our country. Ensure that you are registered to vote, figure out which platform suits your beliefs, and which party will be the most likely to defeat the Conservatives in your riding. Both the Liberals and the NDP have made promises to address this issue if elected into office. While we cannot erase the history of oppression, we can certainly move forward in a way that develops stronger relationships and reduces harm.

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1000 Reasons to be happy

This week my blog reached its 1000th view of the year! I’m absolutely elated. I started this blog one night out of rage. I read something that made my blood boil, as much of an activists reading tends to do; and so I wrote about it. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loathed social inequality. During school I always had an outlet for this. I used essays as a space to vent my rage about the world. When I finished my degree I no longer had a space to do that and so Bearcat Boo was born. When I started this I never could have imagined what it would bring me! This is my catharsis, for anyone who knows me well knows I hold a lot of anger. This stems from injustice, from standing in a space that is both disadvantaged and privileged, from caring so much and from knowing that I still have so much to learn. I never imagined I would have have people sharing what I wrote, or that people in the Netherlands, Uganda and South Korea would be reading my work.

The support I have gotten has been incredible. This has spanned from kind comments on WordPress and Facebook and told to me in person, to friends sharing my work with others, to people sending me articles saying they want my view on them. It has been an incredible journey so far and I can’t wait to see what more is in store for me. I’ve been reminded again and again how important it is to have a strong network. I couldn’t be more thankful for the group of people I have surrounding me and caring about me and my work. There have been periods of time since I started my blog where activism has been hard. Burn out is something that people in these circles don’t talk about enough. There are day where the rage is too deep to wade through, or where there is so much else going on that I get lost on negative thoughts. When I first started blogging I told myself I was going to post every week. I learned pretty quickly that this isn’t how I work best. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and started only publishing work I was proud of.

While this blog has brought me some stress, the support and the catharsis it has brought me far out-weights any negative energy it has brought. The articles I’ve written, but more importantly the responses I’ve gotten are always high on my lists of reasons to be happy and things I do to care for myself. I found myself giving advice to a student the other day. She was beyond stressed in a way that was all too familiar to me. I told her what I wish I had been told years ago. You are enough, you are capable, you are worth it, you are loved and you are not alone in the way you feel. I’d like to share with you a few of the ways, beside this blog, that I have reminded myself of these things over the last few months. Because as much as this blog has been incredible for me, it is but one of many ways I take care of myself.

First and most importantly in my head, you have to be all there. You have to pay attention to the little things. Remind yourself of all the ways your life is amazing. Count them in your head, write them down, whatever you need to do. Stop thinking about the hard things and the bad things and focus on what is going well instead. You’ll be amazed at how long the list becomes when you actually give yourself a chance to think it through. Some days its going to be too hard to fight the good fight. Taking a break doesn’t make you a bad person, if anything it makes you a stronger person for being able to say ‘I need a break today.’ Take the break you deserve, buy yourself a $5 latte and try not to think about the working conditions of the farmer or the how sustainable the farming practices are or the fact that its probably not fair trade even though its from Starbucks and they claim to do all these things.

Let yourself cry. Do some kick boxing to get the rage out. Stand on your roof and yell at the world. There is nothing shameful about your feelings. They are natural and expected and valid. You can’t tell yourself you shouldn’t feel them because that isn’t going to make them go away. You have to give yourself space to have feelings, because we are unfortunately horrible at compartmentalizing them and dissociating them from our life. If you are one of those people who is really good at that, they you probably have a whole other host of problems that you should be worrying about. I sometimes find it helpful to remind myself that my feelings are caused by a bunch of neuro chemicals and as much as I can’t completely control them, they are mine and only mind. If you try hard enough, you can turn even the nastiest feelings into positive, productive ones.

If none of that works, which someday’s it wont, then you move on to external support. Reach out to a friend, I can guarantee you there is at least one person out there who wants an honest answer when they ask you ‘how are you doing?’ Give them the honest answer. If you are as lucky as me then you have friends who will Skype you even with the shitty train WiFi just to talk because they can tell you need to hear a friendly voice. Call your parents, or your sibling, or your best friend who is basically family. They want to be there for you because they will need you someday soon, networks work best when there is mutual support. They will probably tell you when you get off the phone with them to make tea or go for a walk or listen to your favourite song. It sounds cliché but its good advice. Go for a run, or a walk, or a bike ride. Do some yoga or have a dance party. Sit in the bottom of your shower with the water on the back of your neck, have a bath, make a grilled cheese, eat Nutella straight from the jar.

If the stress still hasn’t lifted and you’ve exhausted your list of people to call and you’ve taken their advice to heart, this is where you get creative. Make a mind map, draw, paint, make a collage, write about your feelings. You don’t have to share it if you don’t want to, or you can share it with the world. It’s all up to you. If you’ve gotten this far without turning to destructive vices good for you. If you haven’t, there is no shame in having a drink or a smoke. Sometimes its the only thing that works. It’s not something I would suggest because usually it makes you feel worse, but sometimes two fingers of scotch and a cigar are the things you need. Many of the most impressive people on this planet had some kind of destructive vice. This doesn’t mean you have to, but if you do you shouldn’t let it add to the list of things that are getting you down.

All of these ideas are just that, ideas. I could make a list a mile long of pick me ups. Taking a long drive with a friend, the smell of rain, the sound of the river near your house, the birds chirping outside your window. The point is that you are surrounded by amazing little things that out-weigh the big bad scary things by a landslide. If you paid attention of every sucky thing then you would be long dead. Some of the best advice I ever got, and that I’ve relaid a bunch of times is this “take lots of little breaks, it will stop you from having to have to take a big one.” You have to make space for your feelings, you have to take care of yourself. You are the only one who knows how best to do this, and you are the only one who will can commit to doing it consistently.

I am so thankful to be surrounded by such an amazing network of creative, intelligent, caring and inspiring folks. These people are in my life because I chose to have them there. I have burned plenty of bridges but I have also constructed and tended to plenty of fantastic bonds. The people I keep around are the ones who will commiserate with me, but only long enough to make me feel heard. Sometimes you need tough love, or someone who is eternally optimistic. Keep around the people who make you feel loved and supported. I find it incredibly hard to create things when I’m not in a mildly negative head space. The awful stuff in life gives birth to some of the most beautiful things in existence. Without the bad you have no way of understanding how good things can be. But as my mother has always told me, you can’t let it consume you.

Girl enters stage left, I am left in the wings.

I have been an anxious person for as long as I can remember.  I was bullied growing up, and there is a family history of anxiety. My parents were always surprised at the difference in me between home and my behaviour at school. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a social butterfly. I’m the kind of person that strangers feel comfortable talking to in elevators or waiting for busses. This is not at all compatible with social anxiety. I sometimes think of my anxiety as gremlins in my head or vultures hovering over me. Calling things like ‘they don’t really want you to come out with them, they just invited you because its polite’ or ‘he doesn’t care about you, why on earth would someone like him pay attention to you’. This is something I’ve been combating for years and I’ve gotten pretty good at covering it up and handling it in ways that allow me to have decently healthy friendships and relationships. That isn’t always the case though, sometimes the vultures get too close to consuming me.

I recently made an interesting connection in my head. I’ve always identified with my femininity, but I’ve also felt dissociative from a lot of things that are inherently feminine. I grew up in a household where I was told I was smart instead of beautiful; I went camping and hunted tadpoles and played in the dirt and climbed trees. My parents did a great job of instilling confidence in me. Telling me I could be whatever I set my mind to, without adding anything about gender. Society however, has never been kind to women. I remember having breakdowns as a teen and screaming at my mother “I’m sorry I’m not the perfect daughter” only to have her tell me later that she never expected perfection of me. Somewhere in school, or interactions with other kids or because of the media I had learned that I wasn’t perfectly feminine. Because I was loud and bold and emotive and a woman, there was something wrong with me.

I started trying to fit this role more, I developed a way of censoring myself. This is something I still struggle with, I’m working on it. I feel like my opinions often take up too much space. I tried to be more nurturing and caring. I tried to take up as little space as possible. I tried not to be so ‘hysterical’. Roxane Gay writes about this in her essay ‘Garish, Glorious Spectacles’. She calls this ‘playing the part of girl’ and talks about how this can be done in such a way that at times it stands in place of your own identity. She talks about a self-awareness that makes you close in on yourself.

I grew up with a lot of guy friends, maybe this had something to do with having a stay at home dad and a brother. I was always one of the boys. It also didn’t hurt that the few people in my class who would talk to me and stick up for me were mostly boys. As a kid this was fine, but when puberty hit all of a sudden we were more adversarial. We all know girls and boys ‘can’t be friends’. I remember wanting to have boys like me, wanting to feel desirable. All the girls who got this kind of attention fit the feminine mould better than I did. In my head, this meant I needed to change. In Gay’s essay she discusses how ‘girl’ craves attention but at the same time despises it. She dresses up her identity in a way to attract attention, and then feels removed from any pleasure she is supposed to derive from this because it isn’t actually directed at her, but at ‘girl’.

Throughout high school I changed from being the little sister, or the ‘bro’ and then took matters into my own hands and developed the ‘playful, sexy girl.’ I now teach sex-ed on a volunteer basis. If you told any of my friends from high school no one would be surprised. I wasn’t the most sexually active of my friends, but I was the most knowledgeable. Being the anxious person I am, I like to heavily research everything before I get myself into something. When I tried smoking I knew every chemical that I was inhaling into my body, I researched drugs and alcohol before ever imbibing (and choosing to generally avoid drugs because of the possible mental health outcomes I had read about.) The same applied to sex. When I started going through puberty I researched everything, from periods and uterus’s to testicles and androgen. When my friends started becoming more sexually active I researched STI’s and contraceptives. I really didn’t feel like the scary version of sex they told us about in health class could be accurate if so many people were still choosing to have sex. I was the go to for many of my friends to ask the embarrassing questions. I didn’t judge, I only informed and protected. I became, as one of my friends called me ‘Mama Sex Tips.”

I was doing pretty well at matching up pieces of my personality with things that boys found desirable. I did this so well that I managed to land myself a boyfriend. Unfortunately for me he ended up being of the manipulative and abusive variety. I looked back on this for the longest time with shame and pain. I was supposed to be an empowered woman, how could this happen to me? My feelings were the feelings Gay describes ‘girl’ having. Removed from your body, as if watching the whole thing being played out. I am lucky enough now to have a better understanding of what happened. In Gay’s essay she talks about how people ‘break themselves against each other in terrible ways.’ I can no longer demonize him in my head because I know he too was performing a sort of role that didn’t fit himself. Our matching cover stories seemed to fit together. Rather than realizing the part and admitting it to one another our real identities, we descended further into our roles. He was aggressive in his sexual demands, I was passive and nurturing, giving him what he wanted. If we had owned up to our true desires maybe we could have avoided a lot pain.

I read an article called ‘Queers, Kissing, Accountability’ by Shannon Perez-Darby in a zine called “Learning Good Consent”. The way the author described their desires and the relationship with them was familiar and validating to my own experience. ‘I’ve learned to go along with it, to not make waves…. I get lost in messy places between us and that’s not love and that’s not accountability…. I know I can do better than sort of showing up.” Radical feminism has put forth this idea that sexual interactions between men and women are inherently non-consentual because of the power imbalance. With our gender roles, men have been titled actor and given the agency while women are objects to be acted upon. While this may be true in discourse, it is not completely true on reality. Perez-Darby puts forth the idea of accountability on both sides, in all relationships. We’re creating a false dichotomy that is hurting everyone involved, that is what we need to change.

Perez-Darby puts forth that by not talking about the coercive dynamics we are simply isolating ourselves and allowing it to be perpetuated. I know plenty of men who struggle with a similar role play of ‘boy.’ ‘They shouldn’t be accountable for their actions but they also shouldn’t be demonized.’ This can be said both for perpetrators of sexual assault and for victims. I would bet there are many perpetrators who fail to see how their actions are wrong because that’s how they’ve been socialized. This occurs to victims as well, they blame themselves and never come forward because they are socialized to keep quiet and not make waves. These roles of perpetrator and victim are gendered in discourse, and in reality, but they aren’t cut and dry (like any gender role.) Women can perpetrate and men can be victims in both hetero and homo relationships.

There are some questions posed towards the end of the article. “How do we know when we have power, how do we figure out how to shift power dynamics and what do we do when we use our power in fucked up ways? How do we hear and respond when someone says they’re not feeling heard or that they feel like their lines have been crossed? How do we honour what an amazing thing it is that someone is even able to say that at all?” When someone uses their power against you inadvertently, how do you hold that person accountable without demonizing them and then reverting to the nurturer to make them feel better about what they’ve done to you? How do you step out of the role you are playing and back into your identity?

I was once told by a speaker at “Beyond 101: Consent” conference to explore my desires in a critical way. Be honest about the structures behind them, and be honest with yourself about how that makes you feel. For me, this has taken months of unpacking. I suppose I still am unpacking it, I think I may never be able to stop. Similarly to Gays ‘girl’ this hasn’t yet made me feel any less powerless against it, any less empty or filled with longing. Perez-Darby spoke to how understanding this complexity is painful. You can’t throw yourself into the fire again and again hoping someone has your best intentions at heart. We are all going to make mistakes but I, like Gay and Perez-Darby try to find hope from holding this knowledge. I’ve vowed to myself to keep an open mind to it, and to have open dialogue with people in my life about it. If we constantly engage in conversations that combat this maybe we can reconstruct the world into one that is more friendly to all of us. In the mean time, I’m learning to own my desires and my anxieties. I’m learning to talk about them, and to hold people accountable for respecting my boundaries. I’m hoping that by doing this I will allow other people a space to be honest with themselves and with me. These realisations could be terrifying, but I have to choose to see them as empowering instead.

TSM for SHAME

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https://twitter.com/totalsratmove/status/623191751759544320

Total Sorority Move has never been known for being particularly socially aware, but this tweet pushes things over the edge. I have three major issues with this. First, #blacklivesmatter is something that I can’t stand to see mocked, especially by a group that is generally known for being elitist and racist. Second, being blackout drunk shouldn’t be a punchline as it is a problem both from a standpoint of alcoholism and personal safety. Lastly, as many have already pointed out in the comments, Greek culture is already fighting for its reputation and things like this only dig the grave deeper.

I cannot sit here furiously typing on my phone and pretend that I am the pinnacle of an ally to people of colour. I can guarantee you I have said and thought racist things in my life. I grew up in a rural town in southern Ontario where the only visible minorities were cookie cutter stereotypes, much like the cookie cutter subdivision housing many of my classmates grew up in. When I came to university, my biggest fear was that because of this, was that I was inherently racist. I do my best to educate myself on the issue so that I can challenge it when I see it. I know that these attitudes can be unlearned and I am doing my best to unpack my privilege.

Making a punchline out of being blackout drunk is something I also can’t take kindly too. Regardless of the identities you prescribe to yourself, this is a dangerous state to be in. This could be a whole article in and of itself.

Greek life has a serious problem with its reputation. Being a member of a sorority, I hate to admit that this reputation is completely warranted. I was blessed to be a part of a chapter where racism was not tolerated. We had members representing a wide variety of racial backgrounds. As VP of Communications I wrote to headquarters about our outrage that another chapter would not extend bids to incredible potential new members on the basis that their racist alumnae threatened to halt funding to the chapter if the gave bids to black girls. When I joined Pi Beta Phi I pledged to uphold values like honour and respect, integrity and sincere friendship. I couldn’t imagine how that could permit for me to treat another human being as less than me based on the colour of their skin. With TSM tweeting this kind of garbage it paints us all with the same racist brush. How can we expect the good done by so many of us if one of our prominent media representations keeps up this image? I understand that every chapter is different, but I can’t see how anyone could back this. I’m so proud to wear my letters, but tweets like this make me less proud to call myself Greek.

To have hair or to go bare?

A recent article on Everyday Feminism talked about the history of pubic hair and its removal. The largely discussed the illusions that media and society have about the female body. The author had one particularly interesting comment about how she had assumed that because her Barbie had no hair down there, neither would she. When her body sprouted hair it was cause for feelings of surprise and even betrayal.

I personally have no issue about grooming, in whatever form you may choose. While society does often dictate how we are made to feel about our body hair, I’m not going to tell you to ignore your socialisation if it makes you uncomfortable to go au natural. Your body, your choice has always been my stance. That being said, I do take one issue with the article. With the exception of one comment on how the style of all clear has a prepubescent connotation, there was little talk about how this relates to sexualization of young girls and infantilization of women.

I’ll launch from a point made by the article, that pornography serves as a sort of sexual education for most of America. If we look closely at the general make-up of porn, we can see a tendency towards younger women, or even ‘girls’ being hyper sexualized. Drawing some statistics from an article in Daily Mail UK, the average porn star is 22 years old on their first shoot. Most would agree that this isn’t terribly young. When you look at the roles they are portraying, that’s when things become problematic.  In a sample of almost 6000 videos, 65% of them involved ‘girls’ with titles that suggested youth and vulnerability (teen, cheerleader, daughter, co-ed, girlfriend, sister, babysitter, sorority, schoolgirl, and runaway.) That only leaves about 35% of pornography to portray older women (wife, nurse, cougar). Another alarming trend is that women who are being shown as MILF’s (Mom’s I’d like to fuck) are around 30. Even more alarming is the fact that less than 7% of women in porn are over the age of 40.

This is problematic for two reasons. First of all, we are sexualizing young women early. In most cases this means they are partaking in sexual activities with people who are older than them. Normally this suggests some kind of power imbalance. I certainly don’t want to suggest here that young women do not have sexual desires, however, I do want them to be exploring those desires with people closer to their age, experience and ability level for the sake of good consent. The second thing this does is tell women over a certain age that they are not desirable. I think its pretty clear cut as to why all of this is problematic.

I think its important that we recognize where this obsession with young women comes from. ‘The Purity Myth’ by Jessica Valenti does a really great job of unpacking this idea. Our obsession with virginity and purity perpetrates the idea that female sexuality is supposed to be passive, clean, nurturing etc. By focusing on this we deny women agency in choosing their own sexual narrative. This idea of virginity and purity perpetrates masculine ownership over female bodies. She is passed from the ownership of her father to the ownership of her husband.

This idea is further validated by comments from women poled on why they choose to groom. Reasons like ‘men prefer it’ ‘my partner likes it’ and (slightly more empowered, but still problematic) ‘it makes me feel more attractive’ or ‘I feel more feminine, comfortable and cleaner.’ While this is a choice that women make, I can’t help but feel like many of them feel their hand is forced in the situation. I’m all about doing what makes you comfortable in your own skin, but I also think its important to understand where these ideas come from. Our desires and the way we portray ourselves as sexual beings is so heavily influenced by media and society, it is important that we are knowledgeable about it. The more we know, the more true we can be to our desires.

My Pi Phi Story

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the 70th Biennial Convention of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women. I am overwhelmed with all the emotions I have. I am so honoured to be a part of this sisterhood. If you had told my high school self that I would join a sorority, I would have laughed. Growing up I didn’t have many great girl friends. Not that I had none, I had a handful of girls who were there by my side. Unfortunately, I also had lots of girls who called themselves my friends but spread rumours about me and didn’t treat the friendship with the honour and respect I think any friendship deserves. I mostly hung out with guys. I don’t say this because ‘guys are more chill’ or they are somehow better friends. I’m by no means a ‘guys girl’, I just had, and still have a lot of male friends. I sometimes joke that I feel like a female imposter, a sheep in wolves clothing if you will.

That being said, my experience in Pi Beta Phi has been one that I hold so close to my heart and that I will cherish my whole life. We talked a lot this weekend about how each of us is in the fraternity together, but how no two Pi Phi experiences are the same. I would like to take some time to share some of my favourite Pi Phi memories. I would also like to talk about some of the things I have learned from these women, not only this weekend but in the last 4 years.

I initiated in the Fall semester of 2011, it was my second year of university. My first year had been hard. On top of moving to a city, living on my own for the first time and starting university, I had also just gotten out of a 2 year, abusive relationship. I was really low on confidence though out that year. I still made friends, I still volunteered a little, but I hadn’t quite found my home away from home. One of my friends had joined a fraternity and I became close with many of its members. Because of this I was introduced to one of the Pi Phi’s. We had a class together and studied together, her I and my friend from Alpha Epsilon Pi. She told me about the philanthropic service, the sincere friendships and the personal and intellectual growth that the group had brought her. I decided that in the fall, I would go through rush.

At our school, recruitment is unlike most schools. Pi Beta Phi was the only sorority on campus while I was in school. They held parties at peoples houses and picked us up in front of cafe’s. I was only able to make it out to one recruitment party, but luckily for me, I got a bid any ways. The girl who drove me to my first recruitment party ended up being my president one of the years that I served on exec. One of the only members I talked to at that party later became my big sister.

My first semester was magical. On the big/little date I went on with my big we both had to check emails, we pulled out our laptops to realize we had the same case on the same computer, and were both wearing the same nail polish. We got on famously from the beginning. Later that week I was having a hard day, I saw her and she asked if I was okay. That question ended in me bawling my eyes out to her. Sensing how embarrassed I was to be crying in public she wrapped herself around me and hid my face while comforting me in a way only a big sis can. (I still am not sure how she managed to engulf me in that hug given she is a tiny human, but that’s half the magic of it.) All through big/little week I hoped we had chosen each other, turns out we were each others first choices. I’ll never forget at reveal hearing her voice read out family poem and knowing I had a mentor and friend for life.

In my first active semester I became VP Membership. This is unprecedented, but our chapter is small and we sometimes have trouble filling our exec. I interviewed for a different position, but was asked if I would be willing to be slated for the position. I didn’t think I was ready, but the current President and VPM saw something in me and gave me the honour of serving on exec for my first year. That semester I went to Atlanta for a Leadership Academy where I learned so much. I met Paula Sheppard (who is now Grand President, and was just elected to serve her second term.) I also met girls from the Ontario Alpha Chapter at the University of Toronto. The friendship I developed with Winnie turned into a friendship between two chapters. We now frequently make Chapter trips to the Toronto house for their philanthropies and to celebrate Founders Day together.

My first semester as VPM I also got my little. The very first recruitment party she showed up earlier than everyone else. We both had a feeling that we knew each other, turns out we had been University Ambassadors together and I had given a tour of campus that included her room earlier that year. I knew from that first party (as did my big and grand big) that she had to be my little. We have one of the most incredible big/little relationships I’ve ever seen. We were also each others first choices. We call each other non-romantic soulmates, know most if not all of each others deepest darkest secrets and have supported each other through so much. While I am supposed to be the mentor, I often feel like she has taught me more than I could ever teach her. She is so fiercely motivated, she has high expectations for everyone around her, and she is one of the funniest people I have ever met. I will never be able to explain how much she has taught me, and how much I have grown while being the best mentor I can be to her.

The next year I was planning on being a member at large, but my little wasn’t having any of it. She talked me into running for VP Communications, something I will always owe her for because it ended up being the best exec I served on. We lucked out that year, everyone was so well suited for their position, and such a good fit with each other. To this day I know that any woman who served on that exec I could call in an emergency and have as an ally. We accomplished so much that I can’t even begin to list. I couldn’t be more proud to have called those women my colleagues and to have taken part in the work we did.

That year was also an incredibly hard year for me. My family struggled with financial and health issues which took a huge toll on me. My VP Member Development found out about this and came to me with the Emma Harper Turner Grant application mostly filled out. All I had to do was fill out the remaining personal information and write a letter. My exec took care of the recommendations and the nomination and then we sent the application off. I will never forget hearing the news. I got a phone call from my mum who had received the letter, I asked her to open it and tell me over the phone. When she found out the news she was in tears (which she rarely ever is), we both wept over the phone. If I didn’t already have proof that these women would support me through anything, this was my sign. Never in my life have I been so grateful to women I had never met. All of the Pi Phi’s who worked so hard to raise money for the Foundation made it possible for me to go to school and keep my position as VPC. If I hadn’t received this grant I would have likely dropped out of school. At the Recognition Luncheon on Saturday all of the Grant recipients stood for recognition. It was everything I could do not to cry. There are no words to explain how grateful I am to have been blessed and honoured this way.

In my last year I wound up being co-senior transition officer with one of my favourite people. Scarlett and I had so much fun with the position. My graduating class was full of some of the most incredible women I have ever met. The Toronto Area Alumnae Club came to visit and did the Alumnae Initiation Ceremony with us. This allowed me to meet Jessica Riehm, her commitment to her chapter and now her alumnae club is amazing. I am so pleased to have gotten a chance to spend time with her this weekend, and can’t wait to make more memories with her as an alumnae. I repeated a line that my big had sent me via text over and over again that year. ‘I’m so happy to have you in my life now and forever.’

As if all these memories are not incredible enough. I recently found out that my great Aunt had also been a Pi Phi at Ontario Alpha, she initiated in 1952. After graduation my Mum and I were visiting with her. We talked a little about Pi Phi and we did the handshake. She’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which has made her more and more hesitant to travel and meet new people. She asked me if I would wan’t to wear her badge, as she doesn’t have much use for it (she wasn’t a very involved alumnae and pinning it on has become a hassle.) This year at convention I had the honour of wearing her pearl badge and dangle. They have her name, chapter and initiation date and number engraved on the back. I have added my dangles to it as well. It’s such an incredible feeling to wear a piece of history with her initiation year on the back, and now the ‘Reaching New Heights, Chicago 2015’ dangle to accompany it.

This weekend was magical, I couldn’t be happier that I attended convention for the first time in my first year as an alumnae. It reminded me that I have surrounded myself with people who see hard work as the norm. Some of the women honoured this weekend have such incredible stories and I can only imagine the stories that us young collegiate and recent alumnae will have by the time we have the experience they do. I was reminded of our purpose, our ability as a group, and the need to constantly reach for a new goal. I’m so excited to share in the initiatives we have, from Read>Lead>Achieve to Arrow in the Arctic to Critical Conversations (two literacy philanthropies and an education model aimed at alcohol awareness, enthusiastic consent models, being active as opposed to a bystander when it comes to sexual assault and making allies with fraternities and other men to stop the pandemic on our campuses.)

I know many people have false ideas about what sorority life means. I hope these memories go to show how untrue most of those stereotypes are. I am beyond proud to wear the arrow, beyond blessed to have my sisters and their support and most importantly, beyond excited to see what goals we can reach in the upcoming years.

The Difference Between Boys and Men (Alternately: The Consensual Dick Pic)

The other evening I spent about half an hour or so up on my roof doing yoga and reading. I live in a small apartment that is the attic of an old house, so the roof is our only outdoor space. The building next to mine has kind of been built on top of it. This provides a nice flat roof that is ideal for yoga, reading, watching other peoples firework displays, and as I found out that night, getting unsolicited sexual advances. My building is two stories high, across the street there are a few taller apartment buildings with balconies. As I laid out my yoga mat on my roof, I caught the attention of three men, nay, boys drinking on their balcony.

Because I am a woman, I am therefore an inherently sexualized being in our society. This, over the years, has been grounds for a lot of attention. In the case of that evening, I was trying to have some me time. I don’t do yoga for anyone other than me. It is a space where I get to face my fears, strengthen myself against them and reflect on my life. Or at least so I thought. My choosing to do yoga on my roof made me a performer that evening. The boys on the balcony provided a running commentary. ‘This isn’t her first time at the rodeo!’ ‘Look at how flexible she is!’ ‘Stretch that ass baby.’ ‘She’s so sexy.’ ‘She can probably hear us’ ‘I’m 25 by the way! And I know my way around a woman’s body’ ‘We should go over there, which house does she even live in.’ Then when I switched to reading (a book of poetry) one of them quipped ‘I’m gonna tell myself she’s reading the Karma Sutra for the sake of my fantasies later.’ All of this was followed by a round of applause as I rolled up my mat to go back into my apartment. I ignored them, as I’ve been taught to. I know they want attention and they aren’t worthy of it if they’re going to act like that.

This kind of attention is all to familiar to many. It comes in many different forms. From cat calls and wolf whistles to being grabbed in a dark club to unsolicited dick pics on social media and online dating websites. As women we have been type cast as passive, helpless, emotional, needy beings who must be objectified. The only way we could be sexual is if someone found us attractive and made sure we knew it. What I know all to well, is that all of that is a load of bullshit. Last time I checked I had agency, I could be pursue those I was interested and as I did that evening, ignore those I who didn’t interest me in the slightest.

These stereotypes seep into our relationships. I couldn’t tell you how many boys I’ve fallen for who put their own desires on me as if I were a blank canvas. These relationships never work out well for me. They’re the kind of people who pursue you with no remorse, who try to manipulate you into being what they want, who push you into doing things that make you uncomfortable. On the other hand, I’ve had the pleasure lately of having quite the opposite experience. The men I have been dating lately give me agency, they ask me what I want, they tell me their desires and ask if I would be interested in partaking. Things like ‘Can I hug you?’ ‘Would you like me to walk you home?’ ‘Can I kiss you?’

One of my favourite stories as of late, is one I like to call ‘My First Consentual Dick Pic.’ Anyone who has ever received a dick pic before knows that most of the time, its unsolicited. Unless you’re sexting, and even then sometimes it pops up out of the blue. This particular case, was much different. One of the men in my life lives in another city so seeing him isn’t always easy. We were texting one evening, at first about life and art and things that thrill us. Then, as the conversation went on it slowly tiptoed back to the last time we had been together, from which the conversation got a little steamy. That’s when he asked ‘Do you want to see what you are doing to me?’ This man, in all his poetic glory, had asked me to consent to him sending me a picture of his penis. It was a revelation.

Over the years I have learned the patterns of what I do and do not like. I have been hurt by stereotypes bleeding into my relationships. I have been objectified by people who were supposed to love and care about me. I’ve been lucky enough lately to have some lovely gentlemen wander across my path. I may not have the code cracked just yet on how to never get hurt again. (If any of you reading this have, please let me in on your secret.) I have however, discovered one pattern that seems to lead you to good outcomes. Pay no mind to the boy who objectifies you, but instead give your attention the the man who recognizes your agency.