Today I went to a conference organized by the Women Empowerment Club of a local university. The conference theme was “Suppression of Oppression.” Given that the conference was at a university and my special price was only $5, I had really low expectations.
When I arrived this morning and discovered their “full breakfast” was a bag of bagels and no coffee – I repeat no coffee on a Saturday morning – I feared that I had made a bad decision, but I was 45 minutes from home and figured I may as well stick it out. I’m so glad I did.
Today I was inspired by women sharing their voices in the hopes of helping us to uncover little pieces of the activists within us; I was inspired by university students expanding their views in ways I could not even have imagined at their age; and I was encouraged to see a handful of men there, listening and learning about women’s experiences of oppression in the world.
We talked about being silenced and feeling shame, and how those things are so pervasive and deeply embedded in our lives that we don’t even know how they got there until we start ‘unpacking’ them.
We talked about online violence and about ways that we can and must become involved. We talked about how bystander involvement isn’t always about confronting the bully, sometimes it’s about getting someone else to help and sometimes it’s about offering support to the target. (Read more about the 4 D’s of bystander involvement.) We have options, there are lots of ways to make a difference.
We talked about how going to the police rarely results in justice for female victims because the judicial system, and really society at large, is not set up to support or even believe the victim. How many women had to come forward about Jian Ghomeshi before the first woman was believed? Why do we give so much benefit of the doubt to somebody just because he’s famous? Well-spoken? A man?
We talked about the use of rape as a war tactic, and how young girls who were taken from their homes to be raped for years by Japanese soldiers are now old women still waiting for the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for forcing them to be sexual slaves to the military in the second world war. (You can read more about “comfort women” and sign a petition here.)
And we talked about our own battle against rape here at home, finally taking a step forward with consent finally being added to the sex education curriculum in Ontario.
At lunch, I shared with a group of young women the story of a Manitoba judge who only a few years ago didn’t send a rapist to jail because the judge felt the woman’s attire, drinking and flirtatious behaviour that night made it reasonable for the man to believe she was up for sex. The judge called the man who raped her “a clumsy Don Juan”. I remember that story was the first time in my life that I really began to think about victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and began to question my beliefs and my understanding of the world around me.
One of the women at my lunch table had recently begun to work for an agency that supports immigrants and newcomers, organizing programs for women. She asked if I would come speak at a future event she is organizing. I smiled and politely declined her offer – I hate public speaking – but it seems inevitable that I am heading in that direction.
Though I’m not ready yet to speak quite as loudly and publicly as the inspiring women who presented today – I am still finding and shaping my voice – I can feel my voice is becoming clearer and stronger every day, as is my awareness that in this world every one of us stands for something. We can show it through our action or we can show it through our inaction, but either way we have an impact in shaping the world we live in; the world we will leave to the generations of women who will come after us. Today, inspired and emboldened, I choose for my impact to be in the suppression of oppression, and it’s clear to me that I am in great company.