Oct 30, 2012

McGill students host “Who Needs Feminism?” week

Participants draw attention to long-standing issues like gender inequality by participating in photo shoots on campus

Jessica Fu

McGill students host “Who Needs Feminism?” week
Participants of “Who Needs Feminism?” week wrote personalized signs for the photo shoots. (wnfmcgill.tumblr.com)

The launch of McGill’s first “Who Needs Feminism?” week—an event organized by McGill students, took place last week. As part of the event, photographers took photographs of students and members of the McGill community holding signs reading, “I need feminism because…” followed by their personal explanations of its importance.

Inspired by a similar event held last spring at Duke University in North Carolina, organizers promoted the event through their Facebook page, and then conducted photo sessions around campus and within university residences. They uploaded the photos to their tumblr blog, wnfmcgill.tumblr.com.

“One of the goals was to begin conversation and dialogue around feminism—and it has, on so many different levels and within all [these] different groups around campus,” Courtney Ayukawa, U2 arts and science and an organizer of the event, said. “In that sense, I think [the event has been] a huge success.”

Many students reacted positively to the event, and the demand for photo shoots exceeded original expectations. Many supporters spoke in favour of bringing attention to feminism, which they viewed as an issue worthy of more discussion.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” Ethan Zmenak, U0 management, said. “It points out stuff that you don’t realize all around you and how inequality still happens.”

The initiative also reached students at other universities, such as Mafisa Kap, an art history student at Concordia.

“The thing about gender inequality … is that I find that it’s something that’s so institutionalized, so systematic, that it’s hard for women to even necessarily be able to point out when they’re not being treated like equals,” Kap said.

“Feminism doesn’t just look out for the equality of women, it looks out for all marginalized people, whether those are people of low or middle class, whether those are people of colour, whether those are people of sexual or gender differences,” Kap added.

Participants also commented on various situations in which inequalities—both economic and cultural—continue to present themselves in modern society.

“I think that the wage discrepancy is just astounding,” Elizabeth Flannery, U2 arts, said. “When you’re raising a child as a single woman, and there’s such a huge discrepancy, it’s just terrifying.”

Flannery also addressed the complex connotations associated with feminism today.

“What I see feminism as is fighting for equality,” she said. “Feminism has proven to me [that] I can do things like start my own business. I should really thank the people who started the feminism movement, because we wouldn’t be where we are without their help.”

Despite the widespread support and enthusiasm demonstrated by participants, the initiative also received some negative critiques.

“We’ve gotten criticism for not having an exceptionally high level of understanding of the background of feminism,” Brooke Nancekivell, U2 arts and another event organizer, said. “But from our angle, the whole point is to start these conversations, and [the event’s] accessibility and openness has allowed for that.”

Looking forward, organizers expressed both short and long term goals for future events and dialogue on the topic of feminism.

“Something we have talked about [for next semester] is … [having] a series of workshops, film screenings, critical discussions on feminism, feminist issues, [and] women’s issues, and how they relate to our society,” Nancekivell said.

“The dialogue about feminism that this campaign has started will hopefully lead to people learning about other forms of privilege and structural oppression, and really start thinking critically about their role [within] it,” Ayukawa said. “Hopefully, this is just an entrance to all of the things in our society that can be really looked at again and again and again.”

On Tuesday Oct. 30, the event will conclude with a McGill community discussion on feminism in the Shatner Ballroom of the Students’ Society of McGill University building.

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