Women with Opinions


Social Stratification 

Social Stratification

by Natasha Boorman

I have been bothered by the issue of social stratification since before I even had a name for it. What is social stratification? It is the hierarchical division of people into castes or classes. It’s something most of us experience daily, and quite unfortunately women tend to be clustered near the bottom. This isn’t a choice, or at least I can’t imagine it is. After all, who would willingly choose to be looked down upon? It is the great failing of our society; the assumption that the talented will rise to the top, that good things happen to good people, that bad things happen to bad people, and that if you live in poverty then you must have done something to deserve it. As comforting as the just-world hypothesis may be for some people we need to move past it and see things as they really are.

This is the issue the Occupy movement tried to address; the issue of some people being unable, or barely able, to afford life’s necessities. It can affect anyone. Economic independence can be nearly impossible for some and getting help is difficult and often seen as shameful in our society. I mention this in relation to women because we are a prime example, although it extends to other marginalized groups as well. Why though? Why are we still struggling to make ends meet? As things stand there are more women than men currently employed in British Columbia. However, they are twice as likely to work part time as the men are. I won’t deny that in some cases this may be a choice. After all, some of these women likely have children to look after. That being said, not all women want to work part time. Furthermore, women make less than men do on average. I’ve heard far too much rationalization for this discrimination, as I’m sure everyone else has.

I am hopeful though. That with enough education women and other marginalized groups will be seen as the equals we are. That with enough time people will begin to realize how unrealistic the just-world hypothesis is. It isn’t going to be easy but as long as we all stay strong and speak out against injustices and apathy we can bring about a society where people are treated equally. I can’t wait to live in a world where our worth as human beings isn’t determined by our yearly income; a world where even those in the lowest income brackets can still afford life’s basic necessities.


The Power of Experience

Johanna Lee in her environmentThe Power of Experience

by Johanna Lee, BA Environmental Studies

We all have values that shape our behaviors in life. And we are all influenced by cultural norms that guide us, usually subconsciously, toward what is deemed culturally and societally appropriate. But it’s our belief systems, our worldview and our personal norms that most inform our decisions and actions. Often times these beliefs and norms are based on our education and our experiences in life, especially those experiences that create a sense of connection or emotional awareness that was absent before the experience took place. This is the basis of the experiential learning model.

For many students in the greater Victoria area, being part of the Dancing Backwards pilot program is one of those formative experiences. I’ve been in their classrooms; I’ve watched them take in the information offered, like hungry sea anemones. Young people are ready for change; they’re ready to make informed and conscious decisions. And this is how we’re helping them become informed and conscious citizens. With my background in Environmental Education (EE), I’ve been excited and honoured to help Sandy create the Dancing Backwards curriculum. Using the experiential learning model, we focused on two specific EE theories; the experiential learning cycle, and the value-belief-norm behavioral model.

The experiential learning cycle is four-fold. The first step is the experience itself, for the students involved in the Dancing Backwards pilot program that’s the Dancing Backwards presentation led by Sandy. The second step is processing the experience. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately it is often the most overlooked, yet important, stage of any learning experience for young people. During this time the students are asked about the experience and content learned. They are encouraged to evaluate what they learned, think critically, answer questions based on their own assessment of the material and engage deeply. The third stage is to generalize. This is when the material becomes a bit more abstract as students are asked to compare, contrast and generally come to understand their experience and feelings. The fourth stage is to apply the knowledge gained.

The beauty of the Dancing Backwards curriculum is that these four distinct steps in the experiential learning cycle are wonderfully integrated within the lesson and project. For instance, we applied the method of inquiry-based learning, asking students to think critically and offer their own analyses rather than merely delivering information – to create chances for processing and engagement throughout the presentation. Students then generalize their knowledge through extensive group work and research of a female politician’s role in Canadian history. And they are asked to apply this knowledge to the questions; “What would be different if we had more women in our government?” and “Why do we need more women in government?”

All the while, the value-belief-norm model is working its way through the project, whispering changes in the outcome of future voter engagement and political activism and involvement. The value-belief-norm behavioral model is a model for helping create positive behavioral change, particularly geared toward future activism and involvement with an issue, and is based on the supposition that a person’s behaviors are a direct result of their beliefs, values, worldview and sense of what’s appropriate. A sense of equality and treating every person with respect is a value that grows out of this model and these formative experiences. Using the tools of Environmental Education we have created an experience that is engaging and emotionally powerful so that young men and women are able to see the importance of their political behaviors and involvement with a fresh perspective and integrated, deeply processed learning.


Famous and Forgotten Faces

Agnes Macphail, Canada's First Woman MPFamous and Forgotten Faces ...

by Merna Forster, author, historian and creator of heroines.ca  www.heroines.ca

The tall young woman walked into the House of Commons to join 234 men.  "My devotion to Canada was so great, and my nerves so taut at the time, that tears sprang to my eyes."

Taunted as a "sharp-tongued spinster," Agnes Macphail was so miserable in her first month on the Hill that she lost twelve pounds.  But the determined country schoolteacher made an impressive debut as Canada's first female MP back in 1921, championing the causes she believed in over three decades in politics. As we mark International Women's Day on March 8, it's the perfect time to celebrate trailblazers like Agnes.

 When I was a kid in school I learned about many great men in history. Still remember things I memorized in grade school, starting with 1000 AD: Leif the Lucky, Viking. I actually loved HIStory. It wasn't until my university days that it suddenly dawned on me that I had rarely heard about any women. I needed HERstory.

 Once I became a "heroines sleuth" I began discovering amazing historical figures across the country, through my studies, work and travels. While exploring the remains of Dawson City and hiking the Chilkoot Trail I found Martha Black, the spunky gal who decided to trek to the goldfields even after her husband Will backed out at the last minute. One of the most renowned sourdoughs in the north, she operated a successful sawmill and became Canada's second female member of Parliament at sixty-nine.

Amid pioneer pilots, preachers, politicians, activists, artists, explorers and inventors, I even found  an adventurous female Viking   Gudridur   who visited Atlantic Canada about five centuries before Columbus landed in America. And knew I'd have been thrilled to learn about her in school -  along with the likes of Leif the Lucky.

Author Merna ForsterTo help popularize the stories of some of these impressive women , I wrote the books 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces and 100 More Canadian Heroines. I hope people will be inspired as well as entertained by the stories of these incredible women who helped shape Canada. Role models all.

Blog post for Dancing With the Octopus

February 28, 2013

copyright Merna Forster


Kim Campbell, gone too soon… 

Alanna Edwards, SFU Gradby Alanna Edwards, SFU, Women Studies Gender Sexuality, Grad.

A tune all too familiar to Canadian women politicians begins the Youtube ballad I conceived after enrolling in a Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies course at Simon Fraser University during the summer of 2011. Taught by Dr. Catherine Murray, a greatly admired Communications professor, the course examined the position of Canadian women politicians in government and the difficulties faced when entering the good ol’ boys club. 

Volunteer hours were required as part of the curriculum and as the class partnered with Dancing with the Octopus, I decided to push myself creatively by envisioning a video performance of an original song in an ode to a documentary our class had watched called Kim Campbell, Through the Looking Glass. Never having written a song before, but with images of Steve Martin’s King Tut routine stuck in my head, I wrote lyrics to which my dear friend Vaughn Swenson put music.

Although sometimes grandiose visions don’t always come to fruition, pushing myself to write a song and to record and edit a video with no previous experience was extremely rewarding on both a personal and professional level. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of challenging yourself, as my experience in Dr. Murray’s class boosted my confidence to continue in fields dominated by men. If a young woman happens to stumble upon this video, my only hope is that she’ll pick up a camera and record her own political parody, or even think that hey, politics IS cool and does have a space for me!

Check out The Ballad of Kim Campbell on youtube, click here.


Status update: We need change

Rebecca Hansen, winner DWtO video contest 2012

by Rebecca Hansen

Think about politics. Particularly, think about politics in Canada. Maybe think a little into the past but preferably a bit closer to home. Now what’s your first reaction? If it’s a) yuck b) eww or c) we’re doomed, keep reading.  The fact is the current political climate isn’t pretty.  A general feeling grips Canada, a feeling of gloom about the events on Parliament Hill. And at the same time a general group grips the House of Commons: old men. That doesn`t seem very representational considering Canada has a population with normal gender ratios and (mostly) average age levels. So how can we, the general, equal public take back control of the country?

Well, the answer ridiculously obvious: get a more diverse group of people into politics. But, why not save some time? Let’s kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and target both age and gender. Let’s engage young girls and women. Let’s introduce these people to politics and get them interested in what’s going on.  After all, they’re a group of pretty bright creative people (if I do say so myself).  If we got them in to politics, we might give it a refreshing overhaul. 

But it’s a long step between the thought and action.  Working from the ground up, we need to start with schools. As much as I dismiss the whole idea that kids haven’t learned/don’t understand/aren’t independent enough to be involved, politics isn’t talked about much in the classroom. Part of this is because it’s hard to keep discussions neutral, but there’s also a feeling of apathy which comes with the political climate right now. But school is the perfect place to begin.  By grade 5, many kids already have lots of strong opinions and know what issues they want to work on.  What about creating a website targeting these ages, or adjusting the curriculum to include political activism or teaching what governments do, and how youth can create change. 

 Being engaged in politics should be something started at the elementary school level, but also continued through the next stage: teenage-hood. This is where the gender split needs to be addressed. You’ve got a lot of girls changing rapidly, concerned about the world but trapped by stereotyping and peer pressure. By reaching out, using social media and government connection programs we could harness the anxiety of girls’ teen years and use it to bridge the gap between young women and politics.  Get women activists and politicians to create links through schools and the internet, proving that speaking out is more than okay. Programs like internships with politicians would show how interesting (and how important) politics are.  Imagine holding mock elections exclusive to Canadian high school students that, using schools as “ridings”, created a body that would speak out for their “constituents”.  It would be a way to highlight how our political system works and the impact young people can have.

Our parliament needs to represent us and we can’t sit back and wait for something to happen.  So let’s take up the challenge. Let’s share the responsibility, not only with the people who’ve done their share but also to those who are looking to make a difference. Maybe, instead of letting one group hold power until the last possible moment, we should take advantage of the collective knowledge.  The world has changed. Let’s change our government with it.