Radical Feminists Unite is a group of women in Toronto who get together on a regular basis to discuss feminism and to hold potlucks and film screenings. Under patriarchy, women are oppressed on the basis of our sex and have a right to organize against our oppression without the presence of men.
We were recently approached by a journalist with some questions about the men’s rights movement and the feminist movement in Toronto. Here are our responses.
Have you seen opposition and hostility toward feminists grow during the last few years? Has it become more difficult to be a feminist or easier? In what ways?
In recent years, it has become harder and harder for feminists to speak, particularly if they’re radical feminists or even if they’re just perceived as such. We don’t think it’s gotten harder for other political groups to speak to the extent that it’s gotten harder for feminists. Although there are protests against right-wing and anti-feminist speakers, they usually do manage to speak despite protesters, and some of them have a solid support base and lucrative careers. However, radical feminist speakers tend to have their talks canceled before they even begin, and we often receive death and rape threats and are subject to harassment that is quite out of proportion to any objection people have over our politics.
To illustrate the difference in treatment between two political types in Toronto who are considered controversial, let’s look at the RadFem RiseUp conference in 2013 vs right wing academic Jordan Peterson.
In 2013, a group of 30 women met for a weekend in Toronto to discuss feminist activism. A protest against this meeting reached gigantic proportions. The first venue the feminists attempted to use for the meeting was inundated with hundreds of vicious emails within a 12-hour period which succeeded in getting the venue to cancel. A woman infiltrator paid the registration fee just to find the location of the second venue and helped protesters locate the feminists in order to harass them in person. Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo was quoted as saying that she hoped new laws regarding gender identity would make such feminist gatherings illegal. All this just in response to a group of women getting together to talk!
Contrast this with the response to Jordan Peterson, a conservative professor at the University of Toronto who has been expressing controversial views lately on subjects such as the liberal values that have inundated universities and the use of preferred pronouns by university students. Although his opinions are of a political nature and are opposed by the same liberal activists who harassed RadFem RiseUp, Peterson still has his job, his book is a bestseller, and he is earning $50,000 per month through crowdfunding. There have been small protests against him but nothing that had any effect on his ability to work or speak.
In 2015, violent threats were made online toward sociology and women’s studies classes at the University of Toronto—the same university where Jordan Peterson is thriving.
A very recent example of a feminist woman being no-platformed before she could even speak was Yuly Chan from Vancouver, Canada. She was scheduled to speak at The Vancouver Crossroads Conference about The Chinatown Action Group who organizes to improve the lives of low-income residents of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Three individuals launched a bullying campaign and managed to get her talk canceled, making claims that Chan is a “bigot,” despite her campaigning for human rights.
Our group, Radical Feminists Unite, is aware of the ongoing harassment of radical feminists from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, which is why we have no public presence. We don’t hold public events, we don’t release our names or faces and we carefully screen new members before allowing them to join. We would fear for our safety and our jobs if our information were to be made public. In fact, we have received a death threat on our website already.
Some of our group members feel that we are “retreating from politics” because we no longer feel safe to discuss issues and feel we need to remain silent.
What is it like to be a feminist in Toronto today? Has the recent van attack changed anything?
Our answer to question 1 describes what being a feminist in Toronto today is like, and we don’t feel the van attack changed anything. It’s been a hostile environment for years now and although the van attack was horrible, it unfortunately wasn’t surprising. It underscored what we already know about the cultural climate and the threat.
The van attack incident opened the door for public discussion about misogynist ideology (for example the idea of “incels.”) However we still don’t think the general public is willing to connect the dots between misogynist ideology and other incidents of violence against women (such as domestic abuse, rape, etc).
It took 25 years to recognize the shooting attack at Montreal’s École Polytechnique as a crime against women, even though Marc Lépine had written a lengthy manifesto explicitly stating his hatred, and had separated men from women in the classroom before declaring feminism had ruined his life and opening fire on the women, killing 14 of them. Incidents such as this and the Toronto van attack resist being recognized as domestic terrorist attacks against women, even in public discussion let alone under the law, despite meeting the legal definition.
The Facebook post written by Alek Minassian “situates the attack as extremist and terrorist,” says J.M. Berger, an expert at the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague.
Serial killer Robert Pickton boasted about murdering up to 50 women and was convicted of second degree murder of six women in 2007. He targeted a vulnerable population of prostituted, drug addicted, homeless and mostly indigenous women, with impunity for years due to police sexist and racist negligence.
Canada is experiencing a national epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. The estimated number of women affected ranges between 1,000 to nearly 4,000 depending on the estimate, and a national inquiry has been launched on the issue.
These are just a few high profile cases. As of May 1 of this year alone, 57 women have been killed in Canada, which is one woman every other day. On average in Canada, a woman is killed every 6 days by her intimate partner. Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. It is estimated that about one in three Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life.
There is always a tendency to deny. None of these crimes are recognized under the law as hate crimes against women, nor does the general public discourse seem to want to see the cultural undercurrent of misogyny threaded through them all as a pervasive systemic issue.
Why might Toronto be an important location for misogyny to flourish? Members who have lived outside of Canada have noticed a marked complacency and passivity in Toronto, and in Canada more broadly, when it comes to debating contentious issues and the idea that not all beliefs and ideologies have the ‘right’ to go unchallenged. These members feel that Canada’s emphasis on diversity and everyone getting along is extended past its intended use for individuals and applied to ideas, suggesting that criticism is a form of unacceptable hostility. The relative safety of Toronto compared to most other large cities in the world may also give people a false sense of security about harmful ideas, such as woman-hating, only being ideas and not dangerous in the real world. Women who live here, however—particularly women in prostitution, Indigenous women, Muslim women who have been attacked on the street, and others who have faced threats or direct violence at the hands of men—know that Toronto’s ‘safety’ doesn’t apply equally to everyone. The van attack is only a reminder for those who have been paying attention, and hopefully, a wake-up call for others.
In your opinion, is this manosphere thing something that is concrete or just a marginal internet phenomenon?
In today’s age of the internet and social media, it’s important to rethink what we understand as “organized” hate groups. The “manosphere” refers to individual men who may be geographically spread out but are loosely connected via various social media groups, internet forums and sites. They share common misogynistic views, unified by what Michael Kimmel coined aggrieved male entitlement, and find validation and support from each other online, reinforcing and expanding their toxic value system and emboldening each other.
Radical feminists and many leading experts in terrorist and hate organizations – eg, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Centre that monitors hate groups – have been warning about “manosphere” groups for some time. The manosphere cheers on misogynist rampages and holds up Marc Lépine, Anders Behring Breivik, Elliot Rodger, Chris Harper-Mercer, Alek Minassian and the like as heroes. Several such perpetrators have been direct participants in the manosphere where violent fantasies are entertained, and detailed instructions, strategizing, and advice are offered on how to dox, intimidate, terrorize, rape and kill women. As evidenced, some do indeed act on this. Notably, they have been promoting vehicle attacks as “easier” and “more effective” since before Charlottesville and the Toronto “incel” van attack, with celebratory comments after these incidents. “Incels” have also been advocating for mass acid attacks, with discussions on how to effectively implement such an attack, which kind of acid is best, and recently created an “acid app” to generate images of how any woman would look after an acid attack.
Also, they do indeed find each other locally to gather and organize offline. While Roosh V (“Return of Kings” Pick-Up-Artist who advocated that rape should be legal, among other misogynist rhetoric) was overwhelmingly not welcomed in Canada; and the Honey Badger Brigade (Gamergate group of MRA sympathizers) were kicked out of the Canadian Comic Expo, there are nevertheless some men’s rights organizations that have concrete homes in Canada, including here in Toronto and the surrounding area.
One of our members first observed MRA flyers posted around downtown Toronto approximately 10 years ago. They were filled with misogynist rhetoric against feminists, with distorted statistics and “facts” to paint men as oppressed by women. The flyers were a recruitment call, with contact information, to other disgruntled men to unite, spread the word, and organize against feminists.
A couple of group members have been hit on by PUAs. One group member was coming out of the Eaton Centre (a downtown mall) when an “odd man” approached and asked for a date. His approach didn’t fit the usual trajectory of these types of interactions. He bowed, said he would like to request a date, and when she said she was just rushing to meet a friend, he handed her his “dating card” which proclaimed him as Dmitri the Lover. The website on his card turned out to be a website for women to apply to date him. She thought he was just an oddball until a friend called her about an uncomfortable experience she’d had when a bunch of local so-called “pickup artists” descended en masse on the Eaton Centre using almost exactly the same lines on women. She received the same pickup line from several guys in a row and it seemed orchestrated, as indeed it was, and creepy. Some more research revealed that these guys are not simply harmless, pathetic men with no social skills. Some of them are very dangerous, including Dmitri, who also goes by the name James Sears. He has multiple sexual assault convictions, a charge of weapons stockpiling and enough bad press to paper over the entire CN Tower. Judging by the name used by the person who left death threats on our website, we think that it was this same man, Dmitri the Lover, or James Sears, who told us we should die by beheading.
Comment left on this website.
Another group member was hit on while she was a university student on her way from one class to another, passing the Eaton Centre. The man was significantly older than her, and though he was pushy and uncomfortable, she was too young to be anything but polite, so she attempted to brush him off by saying she was going to class and had to hurry. He gave her his business card, and on the back it said he was a “graduate of the sexual guru program”. When she got home she looked it up and it was a PUA class run by James Sears. The website was alarmingly misogynistic and anti-feminist. Oddly a second time, at the Eaton Centre some months later the same man hit on her again (clearly not remembering he had talked to her before), and told her that her ass looked great in her skirt.
Some people think a person like Jordan Peterson validates anti-feminist ideology that’s common to all of these “movements.” How do you feel about this?
Although the manosphere reveres Jordan Peterson, among many others, and we do recognize that his ideology is anti-feminist, we don’t think that he is the string holding together the men’s rights movement. He is interesting to us in the sense that he is proof that controversial men are doing far better than controversial women, but we don’t see him as a major threat to our safety. He is more of an old-fashioned conservative and, although this is damaging, it’s not quite as scary as the men who harass women and assault us in public, or who send death threats and carry out violence.
What’s wrong with CAFE?
This organisation appears at first glance to be about equality between the sexes, but when you dig deeper you see that they are actually an anti-feminist group who are supportive of more explicitly misogynist men.
Good overviews of CAFE can be found here and here.
CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada. They have groups on university campuses in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa and Peterborough as well as two Toronto groups and off campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Ryerson University banned CAFE in 2013 from their campus after student council ruled it to be a hate group.
falsely obtained via application that suggested support of groups/orgs (LEAF, EGALE, Status of Women Canada) that don’t in fact support them or have any ties or affiliations with them at all
also falsely claimed in application that they are working with university scholars from women’s studies depts
whitewashed its mandate on application which it described as “educat[ing] the public about equality issues in order to foster equality for all Canadians,” with the status of men and boys being “one key area of focus.”
CAFE misrepresent and deceive regularly
Claims org working with support of Toronto city councillors and MPPs but would not provide names or any proof—see NOW phone interview May 2014
Misrepresentations to groups and venues when hosting or participating in events (eg, “Equality Day” concert in support of men’s child custody rights at Toronto Islands cancelled when their ties to MRAs became known)
Banned from marching in Pride 2015 but defied ban and snuck in anyways to march
Links between CAFE and other MRAs
Ties with extremist and misogynist org A Voice for Men—numerous links and associations despite denials by CAFE when asked by media (eg, press release by CAFE director Adam McPhee lauding AVFM conferences, linkages between the two websites, etc) .
Stages numerous controversial speaking events (eg U of T with Warren Farrell, leading MRA spokesman, and Janice Fiamengo) which spark anti-hate protests. See also VICE coverage of April 2013 lecture “From Misogyny to Misandry to Intersexual Dialogue,” in which the speakers were to discuss a supposed hatred for men inherent in our culture.
December 6th, 2017 is the 28th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, otherwise known as the Montreal Massacre. 28 years ago, Marc Lépine opened fire on female engineering students because he was angry he did not get accepted into the school. He cited feminism as the root cause of that, shouting “I hate feminists!” before shooting at the women. Fourteen women were killed and are remembered today by many across the country. Not only do we remember the massacre and the fourteen women whose lives ended far too early, but we also remember it as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which was established by the Canadian Parliament in 1991.
Many towns and cities across the country held vigils to commemorate the day, and some universities joined in with their own events or shared those of others:
However, there were many centers that simply didn’t acknowledge the day, let alone host or promote a vigil that was happening in the area. Two of these centres were the Centres for Women and Trans People at Ryerson and the University of Toronto.
Most of these centers didn’t post anything on December 6th, vigil related or not, but one centre in particular received criticism for only making a post on transgender terminology.
Wilfrid Laurier’s Centre for Women and Trans People made this post in reference to Laurier’s President Deborah MacLatchy’s apology to trans students who claimed they had not been represented in the recent events on campus surrounding hate speech vs. freedom of speech
Later that day, an individual commented on the post, expressing her disbelief at the centre’s forgetfulness or disregard towards the day. The Centre for Women and Trans People (CWT from here on) was full of excuses in their response to the individual, claiming there are more “pressing issues” on campus, and implying that by not making the above post they would be “neglecting trans students”:
In this post, the CWT belittles the events of the massacre, saying it happened “nearly 30 years ago” while ignoring the fact that the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women happens every year, and is acknowledged every year by many women’s organizations.
After receiving more comments on their status, the CWT posted another response, claiming now to have forgotten about the massacre:
They also go on to claim that violence against trans women is much higher than that of “cis” women while in reality violence against females is extremely high, in Canada and across the world in countries such as the United States, UnitedKingdom, Russia, Colombia, Japan, and South Africa, surely among very many others.
It is not difficult to see that violence against women exists, and in huge numbers too, so why are organizations such as this one not even acknowledging it, let alone attempting to create events or discussions around it?
The CWT also pointed out that other campus groups are tackling “gender” based issues, but if that’s really the case, they haven’t been promoting these events much. The page is filled with mostly their own, often trans related concerns and events, as well as those of other groups and centers.
The CWT ended up going and deleting all the comments on their post aside from their own last, sad response:
I would like to ask the CWT a few questions. I ask these questions as a young woman who attends university and volunteers at a women’s centre myself. I ask these questions not with the intention to attack anyone, but simply to discuss and voice my concerns, something that is being sorely erased by many transgender activists these days.
Why do you have to use the term “cis-white women” as if this day does not focus on ALL women? While all the women who died at L’ecole Polytechnique were white, this day commemorates all women whose lives are lost to male violence. Not too far from Laurier University, there was a vigil being held in Kitchener by the Canadian Federation of University Women Kitchener-Waterloo (CFUW-KW) which not only commemorated the important and tragic events that happened 28 years ago, but was also co-hosted by Indigenous women who discussed the ongoing issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.The CWT wouldn’t have had to look far to find this event and could have at least shared it on their page a few days prior.
The safety and rights of transgender people are important and deserve a space to be talked about and publicized, however it’s concerning when it’s done at the expense of women and our issues. On November 20th, you took the time to make a post about the Transgender Day of Remembrance, reminding us that it is our duty to create a world of safety and acceptance towards trans people. Why do you not extend the same sentiment on December 6? Why is that day either so forgettable or not important enough to make a small simple status about such as the one below?
Why, instead of apologizing either publicly or to the women in the comments did you delete all the comments with the views opposing yours? Transgender people claim to be silenced, however, in universities certainly, they are doing a lot of the silencing. Between a research project on de-transition being denied by a university in the UK and another one “no-platforming” a Black, lesbian feminist because of her gender critical views it would appear that the feelings and views of trans people are very much validated and considered at many universities. By briefly engaging with the women on your status and then deciding to delete all the comments without even considering the criticisms and concerns that were being presented, it is apparent that women’s voices don’t matter much to you, unless they’re agreeing with or promoting your views.
I would like to ask you in good faith, as a fellow university student, as a woman and as a feminist, to consider the concerns presented to you by the women on your status, as well as those written above. It is evident that violence against women not only still exists, but is extremely prevalent all throughout the world. These issues are not given much of a platform in other parts of the university or other institutions, hence why women’s centres have come into existence. I ask you to center the voices of women, to share our stories and events just as you have done with those concerning trans people. I sincerely hope this is not too much to ask for from a women’s centre.
One of our members had the opportunity to attend an early screening of the documentary “Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial,” which documents York University student, Mandi Gray’s, personal, legal, and social experiences following the report of her rape. The following are her thoughts on the film.
According to criminal lawyer David Butt, the strategy for the Defence in a rape trial can be boiled down to the phrase, “Slut or Nut.” For anyone who has followed rape cases in the past, the ways in which accusations of rape against a man are quickly overtaken by allegations against the victim are unsurprisingly common and follow either of the two directions (or both):
She’s an immoral woman without values or decency who must have welcomed the sexual assault, and is therefore lying about what happened i.e. a slut, OR
She’s a crazy, unstable, attention-seeking woman whose version of the story therefore cannot be trusted i.e. a nut
This strategy is often successful in giving the judge or jury the reasonable doubt they require to find the accused not guilty of rape. Given the nature of sexual crime, there is often little evidence left that is useful for conviction under the current system, and when it comes down to a man’s word versus a woman’s, we live under circumstances where the man’s will always take priority.
I understand the difficulty that exists when it comes to prosecuting a case with little hard evidence. However, I am struck by how rarely I hear people say, “He may very well have done it, but unfortunately there is not enough evidence to prosecute under the rules laid down by the court of law.” Instead, we hear: “She is ugly, she is a liar, she is a whore,” which is illustrative of just how fair these trials are and how consistent society’s commitment is to the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. There seems to be a lack of a good-faith search for further evidence or any willingness to adamantly listen to the victim and understand her perspective. What follows the report of a rape is quite often the opposite: a concerted and organized effort to silence the victim and disparage her. This tactic serves to protect systemic male violence by thoroughly shaming sexually assaulted women in hopes of silencing victims in the future and discouraging groups of women from organizing to overthrow a system because the nature of these verdicts seem inevitable.
Despite the fact that there are so many repercussions for speaking out, we are seeing more women come forward, like Mandi Gray, who bravely face and address this issue. I admire Gray’s willingness to publicly document her process and disclose information on what happened to her, which (to be expected) has her receiving wildly disproportionate amounts of vitriol. While I wasn’t blown away by the documentary, it provides a good overview of the way victims are treated when they decide to seek justice. And while I was distracted by some of the stylistic choices made by the creators of the film (e.g. a cartoon fox used to represent “Jane Doe,” an anti-rape activist), I was pleased to see Gray pursue important material surrounding rape trials and make tangible criticisms on what the victims of rape and sexual assault have come to expect. She sheds light on the need for mental health programs and counselling services, the economic costs of rape (so damages can be taken seriously in legal cases), and challenges several York University policies for their ambiguity.
People defend the system as it stands by appealing to the rule of law and due process, but as long as women are expected to walk among rapists, the system is broken. I’ve noticed that in having conversations about rape and sexual assault, people express a very visceral disgust at the thought of a man being falsely accused of rape while they actively avoid the thoughtful consideration for a woman who has been raped. This asymmetrical empathy shapes the legal and social experiences of victims, and manifestations of this attitude are apparent throughout the entire documentary.
The film left me thinking about how to address the reasonable objection to adjusting standards for criminal conviction. I worry that this could backfire on women and present a danger for black people and Aboriginal people who are already overrepresented in prison. However, with the way things currently stand, criminal conviction for rape is very rare, and men are still agitated when the balance of power leans too far in favour of the victim. In many instances, men will complain about their vulnerability due to the social backlash they receive if accused of rape (the assumption that these men are all innocent remains unquestioned– an assumption apparently not extended to women). So what is it really for, then, that we are so willing to accept that some guilty men will walk free, when men can’t even accept some minor social backlash (which never lasts) as a potential punishment? Especially when statistically it is likely that they deserve it (and much more)? And when currently, women like Mandi Gray are exposed to all sorts of harassment themselves for coming forward? It is easy for men to repeat “innocent until proven guilty” in the context of a crime they are statistically unlikely to be victimized by.
The documentary’s tagline is “This is the documentary film rapists don’t want you to see.” Indeed, the film addresses the medical, legal, and social avenues and options for assaulted women, which can provide awareness and help toward making informed decisions when taking action. However, I am left with an uneasy (but not absolutely hopeless) feeling about what can be done on the societal level. I am in agreement with Gray that victims deserve more comprehensive services and better resources, but for women to be fully liberated, we must whole-heartedly acknowledge the patriarchal system that enables rape culture and the current legal system that supports it, in order to prevent rape and to prosecute all rapists. The answers to these questions are understandably outside of the scope of this particular documentary, but my hope is that the film will pave the way for these crucial issues to be addressed by future pieces of media. I believe the answers to these difficult, structural questions are the only way for the radical feminist vision of a rape-free society to be realized.
Note: This piece assumes that readers have a basic familiarity with what TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) means to transactivists, and that it is applied to women whose views are not in alignment with any facet of transactivism whether or not they are actually radical feminists. Readers who are not familiar with this term may want to read the links provided at the end of this piece first, as time will not be spent on the term’s definition or lack of legitimacy.
The misogynistic left and progressives have always had a problem with women. From socialist revolutions to anti-racist and indigenous rights movements to gay liberation, misogynistic leftists and progressives (abbreviated here to “misogynistic ‘left’” for simplicity’s sake)* have expected women to struggle in the service of ‘their’ men and to be silent about women’s oppression or to put women’s concerns on hold until men have achieved their goals. In 1964, American Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael infamously said, “The position of women in [the organization] is prone.” Whether he meant it as a joke or not–so often the excuse we still hear to this day–the statement was emblematic of the environment female activists endured throughout the left. The misogyny of the New Left, an unbroken legacy of patriarchy’s thousands of years of existence, has not been resolved half a century later.
Radical feminists and other leftist feminists are quite familiar with misogyny from all points on the political spectrum. However, this blanket condemnation of a subset of women who recognize the relevance of biological sex and gendered socialization–a minority of activists in neoliberal centres of capitalism, perhaps, but the vast majority of women worldwide–is uniquely weaponized by the misogynistic ‘left.’ In the past, it was more difficult for liberals leftists to find broad support for their overt misogyny because they were not as easily able to hide behind virtue-signalling in order to deflect criticism onto “problematic” women and turn focus onto ejecting women from their own movement. The creation of the concept of ‘TERF’ has been a gift to the misogynistic ‘left,’ from the increasingly accepted and constantly escalating threats of violence to concrete acts of violence against women labelled ‘TERF.’
A brief examination of the functions of ‘TERF’ is important for understanding how its use has come to be an acceptable expression of misogyny. Radical feminists and other theorists critical of the ‘TERF’ terminology have varying opinions about whether or not ‘TERF’ can be considered a slur or hate speech. (Readers can consider the links in this post or do additional research and come to their own conclusions.) However, these facts about ‘TERF’ are clear:
What is the solution, then, to this excuse of misogyny on “feminist” grounds? Although misogyny will exist until patriarchy is eradicated, it can and must be opposed.
The primary responsibility belongs to men on the left. Men, if you truly want to be allies to women, you will condemn misogyny, even against women you disagree with. You must refuse to exploit the brand of ‘TERF’ or ‘SWERF’ in order to silence women, and recognize that terrifying women out of speaking or asking questions is not winning a debate. You must not accept divide-and-conquer tactics being used to exploit rifts within feminism purely to undermine female solidarity and shared goals. You must respect women’s right to our own spaces where your participation may not be welcome, and our right to define and shape our own movement without your uninvited input. Most importantly, you must challenge the misogyny of other men and never allow it to be considered acceptable activism in your movements.
Women must recognize misogynistic tactics regardless of who they come from. We must refuse the use of ‘TERF,’ ‘SWERF,’ and other anti-feminist labels. We must not sacrifice other women on the altar of leftist misogyny–least of all the trafficked, impoverished, abused, and enslaved women and girls here and around the world for whom biology is all too consequential. We must not fall for externally-created, artificial divisions between women and instead must work to end racism and uplift marginalized women within feminism. We are not obligated to brand ourselves with a label that does not represent us, or that classifies us as subhumans deserving of violence. We are not obligated to unquestioningly follow ideologies that deny material reality. We are not obligated to shut up and do as we’re told.
Women who would be considered ‘TERFs’ have always been the left, and the left could not exist without us. There is no liberation without the full liberation of women and the end of patriarchy. It’s time for the rest of the left to realize that.
Footnote: *The misogynistic ‘left’ is, unfortunately, not just men. See Miranda Yardley’s videos for the perspective of a gender-critical transwoman who was a scheduled speaker and eye-witness to the attack at Speakers’ Corner. Particularly notable is a young woman who says she’s “glad” that a transactivist hit a woman, and who is later seen flinching away from the aggressive action of the male attacker on ‘her side’ of the conflict. Misogynistic men benefit from/instigate/encourage divisions between women, utilize women against each other, and discard them when they are no longer of use. Women who side with misogyny eventually tend to find out that they are not safe from it. However, since the root of this problem is patriarchy and the victims are largely women, the male misogynistic ‘left’ remain the focus of criticism.
In late July, local Radical Feminist group RFU held a mini-conference in downtown Toronto to examine various topics related to women’s rights and the feminist movement. Several talks were presented, including one on the concept of gender and one on pornography and its impact on women. Guest speaker Bridget Perrier, an exited survivor of the sex industry, told her personal story of childhood trauma, years in prostitution in Canada and the US, and her eventual exit and founding of SexTrade 101, a sex trade survivors and abolitionist organization in Toronto.
Women came from within Toronto and from out of town to take part in the conference.
The first presentation, on the concept of gender, discussed the difference between sex and gender, critically examined the tenets of queer theory, and made a case for a more radical feminist analysis. One takeaway point is that, contrary to popular belief, queer theory relies on upholding more rigid gender systems in order for its adherents to be able to ‘transgress’ these systems—in effect, queer activism is mainly performative and does little to reject or transform the patriarchal establishment or to improve women’s lives.
The presentation on pornography gave an overview of the increased depictions of violence against women in porn and how normalized these images have become, and their impact on women (and men). Questions about pornography as it relates to public health and women’s sexuality were addressed, by the speaker and the audience, in a dynamic discussion. Pornography’s sexualization of objectively cruel acts, like choking and abusing racist power dynamics, was criticized. One particularly elucidating slide displayed quotations from men in the porn industry that showcased their hatred of women. One example:
“I’d like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we [pornographers] serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.” – Bill Margold, porn industry veteran, quoted in Robert J. Stoller and I. S. Levine, Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-rated video; 1993.
Panel discussions on the presentation topics were thoughtful and lively. There was debate over how to deal with the public health crisis that excessive unregulated pornography has created—some felt a concerted educational campaign and content warnings before all porn videos would have a large impact, while others thought this approach would be meaningless unless something more fundamental changed within men who view porn. Most women agreed that in our current patriarchal establishment, there cannot be such a thing as ‘ethical’ porn, though some women extended this further, to include all heterosexual sex as well.
Bridget Perrier’s highly anticipated talk was revealing and emotional. Her raw recounting painted a disturbing picture of men (especially men of money and power) in Canada. Abused by parental figures, men in law enforcement, men in the criminal justice system and an array of pimps, Bridget was trafficked throughout Canada and occasionally south of the border for seven years before successfully exiting the industry. Her story, like many others’, begins with a difficult childhood peppered by acts of abuse from adult caregivers. Today Bridget works with SexTrade 101, and she discussed some of their activism with regards to enforcement of Canada’s prostitution legislation (i.e., arresting and charging johns) and supporting women in prostitution who desire to exit the industry. Learn more about SexTrade 101 here.
Overall, the first RFU mini-conference was a wild success, and there are already two presenters signed up for the next iteration—date TBA. If you are a Toronto-based feminist interested in joining RFU, please get in touch.
In response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, a Women’s March on Washington was held in the U.S. capital and sister marches were held in many cities across the world. The purpose of these marches was to protest the type of right-wing political sentiment that has increased across our continent as a result of Trump’s election, which has caused an increase in racist, misogynist and anti-immigrant attitudes, behaviors, and hate crimes in the United States as well as in Canada.
The mission of the Women’s March on Washington, from their web page, is the following:
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.
In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”
In Toronto, a women’s march also took place, and was attended by members of Radical Feminists Unite. We agree with many aspects of the march’s vision, such as the need to end racism, violence against women, and homophobia, and the need to protect worker’s rights. As radical feminists, we are against capitalist patriarchy and want justice for all people currently oppressed by systems of power.
The Women’s March on Washington—Toronto. Photo by Jessica Wilkes
We have some criticisms to make, however, of the neoliberal nature of the march which seeks to be so “inclusive” of various identities that it fails to name women as a distinct class of people and refuses to name exactly where our oppression is coming from. The paragraph from the march’s Guiding Vision, available in their PDF statement, demonstrates this problem:
“We believe in Gender Justice. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes. We must free ourselves and our society from the institution of awarding power, agency and resources disproportionately to masculinity to the exclusion of others.”
This statement about “gender justice” confuses what gender is and hides the reality of sex-based oppression in order to align itself with transgender politics. Women are oppressed because of our sex— that is, our female biology. The reason we are targeted for such hate crimes as rape, incest, sexual assault, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, and sexual slavery is because we are members of the class of people who can become pregnant and the system of patriarchy gives men power over us and the use of our female bodies. Women are not oppressed on the basis of our identities as women. Male abusers do not check to find out what a woman’s identity is before abusing her—if they did, they wouldn’t abuse any of us, because all of us identify as human beings deserving of rights and none of us identify in such a way as to invite male violence against us. Male abusers target women because they can identify that we are female and our patriarchal society gives them the power to harm females.
The paragraph above claims that power is given to “masculinity,” but this is not true—power is given to males. Women who display masculinity are not given any power; in fact, they are ostracized and they are targets for sexism due to the fact that they deviate from the social norms placed on women. It is males, as a class, who have power over females, as a class, and masculinity is a part of the social manifestation of that power.
It is terrible that a Women’s March would cater to a set of politics that erases the existence of the class of people who experience sex-based oppression, women. The politics and activism being put forward by the transgender community is in direct opposition to women’s rights, since it imagines women to be in a position of privilege over men who feel they have a gender identity, and seeks to eliminate sex-segregated spaces for women in order to include such men in women’s spaces. A Women’s March should recognize what women are (human females), should name sex-based oppression and should name the perpetrators and beneficiaries of patriarchy: men.
The March on Washington also claims to support ‘the sex workers’ rights movement.’ The ‘sex workers rights’ movement is a movement of people who support the sexual exploitation of women and girls, rebranding it as a woman’s choice. The term ‘sex worker’ can include anyone in the sex trade, including the perpetrators of crimes against women, such as pimps, procurers and profiteers, who obviously do not have the best interest of women in mind. The rebranding of prostitution as ‘sex work’ is a deliberate attempt to hide the violence inherent in prostitution and silence the voices of prostitution survivors. A march that was truly for women would take a position against the crime of prostitution, elevate the voices of the survivors who speak out, and demand that male abusers of women (pimps and johns) be held accountable for their violence.
Here in Toronto, survivors Natasha Falle and Bridget Perrier of the group SexTrade101 issued a statement to the local women’s march, after they attempted to use their photos on their page:
“As a prostitution survivor coalition (SexTrade101), we do not agree with your use of terminology (sex-work-er) when referring to the sexual exploitation and abuse of women in the sex trade. Your decision to legitimize this form of violence against women is both appalling and offensive to our survivor sisters (and bros). We do not wish to be affiliated with your March, as it excludes a countless number of voices who tell the truth about prostitution violence, and using terminology as such, discredits our traumatic experiences with pimps; escort owners/mgt, strip club owners/mgt, massage parlour owners/mgt, street level pimps, drug dealer pimps, etc, and buyers of sex.”
Natasha Falle & Bridget Perrier
Survivors of Prostitution
We believe in supporting the most marginalized women, not the most privileged. The majority of women in the sex trade are there due to lack of other options and wish to get out. It is those women who should be prioritized, not the vocal minority of women who claim empowerment through ‘sex work.’
Despite our differences with the stated mission of the march and some of their neoliberal politics, we found it necessary to attend the march, to show our solidarity with progressive values, to oppose the inauguration of Donald Trump and to bring with us a radical feminist message. We were pleased to see lots of signs that clearly focused on women’s rights and that contained images of female biology. Clearly, there is a large mass of women who still know who feminism is for. Although several of us noted that we felt it was dangerous to put explicitly radical feminist slogans on our signs, for fear of harassment, we did name male violence against women and misogyny on our signs. We felt that it was necessary to be clearly feminist in our messaging.
Two days after the march, we have seen the photos pouring in on social media and we’ve witnessed how large and widespread the women’s march has been. We’ve also seen the backlash coming from trans activists who complain the march focused too much on female biology. It is our hope that this event, and the reason behind it (Trump taking away women’s rights and a rise in misogyny in the country in general) will galvanize more women into feminist organizing. Our rights are always under attack, and over the next few years there will be lots of work to do.
The conversation around basic income has been gaining traction in Ontario, with the provincial government releasing a pilot program survey that will be open until January 31st. The gist of a basic income program is to grant everyone a base ‘livable’ amount of money per month on a sliding scale that decreases the amount a person gets depending on how much they make from work or other sources. Unlike some other forms of income assistance, basic income is a safety net that isn’t dependent upon working, looking for work, having to stop working in order to qualify, or proving disability. (A full report on the project from the Ministry of Community and Social Services is available here.) We at RFU support the concept of basic income because, if implemented properly, it would make a considerable material difference to countless women.
The Feminization of Poverty:Women have higher rates of poverty than men virtually everywhere. Women as a class also have more burden of responsibility for others in terms of money, time, and energy. Poverty is, of course, also correlated to race and immigrant status: women of colour, First Nations women, and immigrant women make up a high percentage of low-paying, difficult, and insecure jobs like Personal Support Workers. Women and girls living in poverty are at high risk of entering prostitution in order to survive.
Abuse and toxic relationships:Financial dependence is the primary factor that forces women to stay in abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. In addition to women’s higher rates of poverty in general, abusers usually isolate women from other sources of support in order to cultivate their dependence and destroy their sense of functionality. Making rent alone can be extremely difficult, especially in a place like Toronto, so many women feel forced to move in with partners or parents even though the power imbalance in the arrangement can be detrimental to their well-being.
Mental and physical health: People with invisible or high-functioning health problems–mental and physical–can have a difficult time getting income assistance for their disabilities and may refuse assistance due to stigma against ‘welfare.’ Women suffer from high levels of health problems including anxiety, depression, PTSD, PCOS, and untreated pain. Those who can work are still at the mercy of employers who are not particularly sympathetic to any need for reduced hours, flex time, or other accommodations.
It’s no exaggeration to say that basic income could mean the difference between life and death for millions of women and girls in the province. Although basic income isn’t inherently radical, it does have the potential to give workers some leverage against exploitation under capitalism by giving them leeway to reject jobs with poor working conditions, low pay, and excessive hours.
Basic income is a good idea simply because no one should live in poverty. No one should become homeless and starve to death because they don’t make good fodder for capitalist exploitation. No one who can work should have to choose between exploitation and poverty. We don’t exist to be exploited for fun or profit.
RFU has sent an abridged version of this post as a joint statement in support of the Basic Income Pilot to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. We hope that eligible readers will take the survey, and we welcome women to comment with what basic income would mean for them and what material effects it would have on their lives.
Radical Feminists Unite supports the London Abused Women’s Center and its decision to pull out of Take Back the Night after it announced there would be pole dancing featured at the demonstration. As feminists, we are against the sexual objectification of women.
*TO: Megan Walker, ED London Abused Women’s Centre, The Board of Directors London Abused Women’s Centre, Staff and Clients London Abused Women Centre
Women in Canada and around the world look to the London Abused Women’s Centre as a leader in the provision of services to women who have experienced male violence, whether in intimate relationships, from strangers or through the sex trade. We admire the willingness of the Centre to take public, feminist positions regarding the oppression and exploitation of women, and particularly its recent decision to withdraw its support for the London “Take Back the Night” event because of a proposed pole dancing demonstration that was to take place as part of a larger protest highlighting public violence against women perpetrated by men.
Like LAWC, we understand that pole dancing emanates from the highly objectified practice of stripping and “exotic dancing” performed for the benefit of men to the disadvantage…
We would like to voice our support for the Federal government’s launching of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We recognize that Canada was created by force on unceded First Nations land, and Indigenous people did not consent to be subjected to colonialist culture or law. It is our belief that this legacy of colonialism in Canada has resulted in a disproportionate level of violence impacting Aboriginal communities. The intersection of, sex, class, and race leave Aboriginal women and girls at an even greater disadvantage in Canadian society. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine factors underlying the systemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls, particularly the role of the government, coroners’ offices, and existing provincial and federal laws. However, we are disappointed that the Terms of Reference exclude the examination of police conduct.
There are those who have expressed doubts about the necessity of the Inquiry, citing that the root causes of poverty, addiction, and racism are well-known. However, our hope is that in formally exploring these factors, the Inquiry will force these uncomfortable truths out into the open and provide the information necessary to carve a tangible way forward that results in actual material action. Furthermore, Canada needs to face the reality that sex trafficking exists in this country and acknowledge the connection between the prostitution industry and what is happening to Aboriginal women.
“Girls have described that they were sex trafficked from group homes and motels that are part of the child welfare system. We have a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in the criminal justice system. These issues are all interrelated and our expectation is that one reason we are having the Inquiry to address how these issues relate to violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
The Federal government has named a 5-member commission led by Marion Buller Bennett. Marion Bennett is B.C.’s first female First Nations judge. She brought to light that the mainstream court system has not worked for Aboriginals in the past and articulated the specific gaps in our knowledge that an inquiry serves to address:
“The families who feel the death of their loved ones were called a suicide or an accident or an overdose as opposed to a murder, those patterns are the kinds of things the commissioners will have to look into.”
Michele Audette is a leading women’s First Nations advocate and former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. When asked why an Inquiry was necessary, she pointed out that the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been increasing, and that the relationship between Aboriginal women and the police needs to be addressed. When asked what’s behind the disproportionate numbers of missing women, she said:
“Racism, discrimination. We are a target. Because we are Aboriginal women, we are a target.”
Qajaq Robinson is a Nunavut-born Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in Aboriginal issues and land and treaty claims. She represented Ian Campeau in filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about the Redskins Football Club name in Ottawa. When asked how she felt about the harassment she and her client received, she responded:
“It was worth it, hearing accounts from residential school survivors who had that term used on them and their accounts of feeling so weak and vulnerable and unable to fight against that.”
Marilyn Pointras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan. She has expressed her disappointment with the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in legal decisions in Canada:
“The country is losing out on the opportunity to gain from Indigenous perspectives on everything from sentencing to the factors that lead to crime. When you start to incorporate Indigenous thinking into the justice model, you start talking a lot more about preventative measures and that’s where we should be taking things.”
Brian Eyolfson is a First Nations and human rights lawyer and former vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Mr. Eyolfson has worked for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and represented that group at the Ipperwash inquiry, which sought justice for the murder of Aboriginal activist Dudley George.
We are pleased to see Aboriginal women are well-represented on the Commission, and that federal resources are being attended to this very pressing issue, which Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has called a “national tragedy, but an international shame.”
For more information about the Inquiry, please visit https://nwac.ca/mmiwg. For more information about prostitution from a local abolitionist perspective, please visit http://www.sextrade101.com, the Toronto Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization.
“The allegation dates back to 1999, when Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin — who has a story credit on The Birth of a Nation — were charged with raping an 18-year-old student when they were studying at Penn State. Parker was 19 years old at the time.
The woman said she was unconscious and didn’t consent to the sex. Parker testified that he and the woman had previously had sex and Celestin maintained it was consensual.
Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, but that was later overturned when the woman opted not to testify again for a 2005 retrial. She sued Penn State and was awarded a settlement out of court.
The case came into the spotlight after Variety reported the woman committed suicide at the age of 30 in 2012.
When asked if he thought about the incident over the last 17 years, he said he “hadn’t thought about it at all.”
We provided a statement to a journalist who inquired if this situation was on our radar, and here is the statement we wrote:
The matter is on our radar in that it is business as usual in a patriarchal society. You can add Nate Parker to the long list of men for whom committing rape or domestic violence was no obstacle to their success (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown, Jian Ghomeshi, and recently Johnny Depp, to name a very few). Our position is that the asymmetry between the frequency of sexual violence and the scant justice for victims is an indictment of the way society views women. Certainly, there is some outrage after accounts of sexual violence surface, but it is nothing but a minor nuisance to these men who are not only defended but even celebrated by the Arts community and the wider public. In reality, it is often the victims who suffer in the long term due to harassment and retraumatization when they go public with their stories.
The media is sanitizing Parker’s history of sexual violence by using obfuscating words like “controversial,” “dark,” and “painful,” to describe his past. TIFF disingenuously defended their decision to screen the film on the grounds that controversial and provocative subject matter is what the Arts are all about. But what is up for debate is not the story in the film- which does, of course, have value- it is the story of the filmmaker, being swept under the rug by those who have invested in the film.
While it would be ideal for TIFF to cancel the screening to show solidarity with women, the AFI’s cancellation of the screening has turned out to be nothing but an empty gesture, considering they plan to go forward with screening the film at a later date anyway (once outrage has inevitably died down). This allows them to appear socially conscious but still benefit financially from the situation. Whatever TIFF’s decision, the root of the problem remains the grounds on which Parker’s conviction failed. Ultimately, our concern lies more with this fact than whether or not a film screens at a film festival.