Thursday, June 19, 2014

Decolonizing Street Art!

Here at the Wall of Femmes, we take a keen interest in what types of images install themselves into our consciousness by virtue of being present in our public space. Seemingly innocuous visuals are in fact loaded with meaning and they contribute to shaping our attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about the world around us and about ourselves as we internalize the messages that these images carry. 

We are committed to the elimination of all manifestations of oppressive habits and attitudes, and support projects that work towards achieving this goal. In this spirit, we would like to shine a light on a project that’s underway in Montreal right now:

Decolonizing Street Art is a convergence of local and international street artists scheduled to take place in Montreal in August, 2014. The organizers, a collective of Montreal street artists including Cam, Zola, and Swarm, are presently running an Indiegogo campaign (ending on June 26) to raise funds to assist with putting on the convergence. Costs involve purchasing supplies like paint and scaffolding, and travel costs for artists from outside the region. The Wall of Femmes is proud to support this project!

The organizers of the convergence describe the project in these terms:

“This project fosters the idea of bringing together street artists of indigenous and settler origins and build an artistic community of shared anticolonial values. The convergence will promote a type of street art that advocates the decolonization of Turtle Island and will remind the montrealers of the city's colonial history. The artists, living across Canada and the USA, already focus part of their work on issues related to indigenous resistance such as environmental struggles against pipelines and mining and justice for missing and murdered native women.  
Decolonizing street art : Anti-colonial street artists convergence will organize its activities around two different axes. The first artistic axe will bring together the street artists to create art pieces in the streets of Montreal. The works will differ in medium, subject and relationship to the public sphere. The second community axe will foster the idea of creating spaces to discuss political issues related to colonialism between the participants and organisms devoted to the urban native community of Montreal. There should also be activities specifically designed to involve the indigenous youth. 
Decolonizing street art : Anti-colonial street artists convergence establish solidarity and eradicate prejudices and stereotypes about Aboriginal people who are still struggling today to take their place in the visual arts.  The project will enable a better understanding of the historical, social and cultural realities of Indigenous world by promoting the exchange of knowledge between nations. 
The fact that it is included in the public space will initiate a dialogue on decolonization with public. It is imperative to develop a collective discussion on colonialism to better identify opportunities for collective decolonization.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stencil Workshop with DESTA Black Youth Network

A couple weeks ago, we at Wall of Femmes were oh-so-happy to be invited to give a "Stencilling 101" workshop to folks at DESTA Black Youth Network.

DESTA: Dare Every Soul To Achieve, was founded in 2007 with a 6-month seed grant from the government to launch a pilot project on youth empowerment and employment. It has since grown into an essential community hub and resource centre in Little Burgundy, Montreal.  

At DESTA, youth and community members have access to educational, housing and counselling resources, a drop-in space, and on-going community projects.

One upcoming project is hitting the streets of Montreal with a spoken-word flash mob! Are you as intrigued as we were? Well be sure to check it out! The first “Speak Up” flash mob is scheduled to take place the morning of July 21, 2014.

To prep for the event, about 10 of us spent a Friday night, full of laughter and good vibes, creating promo cards to hand out to folks.

We started with a simple proof, spent a good deal of time carefully cutting the delicate letters, laid it out and sprayed away. Here's a little taste!

-   We think they turned out great!

A big thanks to everyone who participated, and most especially to C-Uni-T, for coordinating and setting up the workshop, getting us in touch, and providing the colourful supplies. Hearts!

To find out more about DESTA, and the upcoming Speak Up events, check out their website:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Solidarity with the Awan Family!

Hey y'all! Today at Wall of Femmes, we’re standing in solidarity with an incredibly courageous femme, Mme. Khurshid Awan.

Mme. Khurshid Awan is a Pakistani refugee who is currently living in sanctuary in a Montreal church. In August 2013, she made the brave decision to defy a removal order which would have seen her returned to Pakistan, where she faces targeted violence, lack of access to appropriate medical care, and indefinite separation from her daughter and grandson, who live in Montreal.

Despite evidence that Mme. Awan continues to face ethnically motivated violence if she returns to Pakistan, the Canadian government refuses to grant her status. She came to Montreal in 2011, to join Tahira, her daughter, and Ali, her grandson, who themselves arrived as refugee claimants in Canada in 2000. Tahira and Ali are now both permanent residents of Canada. Mme. Awan continues to endure stress, isolation and uncertainty to keep her family together.

In July 2013, during a meeting with the Canadian Border Services Agency, Mme. Awan suffered a heart attack, and was hospitalized as a result. Despite Canada’s own guidelines prohibiting travel for 6 weeks after a heart attack, the CBSA attempted to forcibly remove Mme. Awan from the hospital in order to send her back to Pakistan.

In August, she was offered sanctuary by an Anglican church in Montreal. Taking sanctuary means that Mme. Awan is bound by the walls of the church in which she resides.

Here at Wall of Femmes, we reject the imposition of arbitrary borders governing public space. We affirm Mme. Awan’s right to freedom of movement and mobility, and the right to live a life free from violence.

We support the growing movement of individuals, churches and organizations demanding that Mme. Awan is granted Permanent Resident Status by the Canadian government on humanitarian and compassionate grounds without delay.

To find out more about the grassroots mobilization, head to Parc Jarry at 2PM on June 15th, for A Picnic Against Borders and in Support of the Awan Family. The event is being hosted by the Awan Support Committee and the Food for All committee of Solidarity Across Borders. Food, speakers, soccer and fun are all on the table. Bring your kids!

Find out other ways to get involved here:, and check out this great tumblr:, of people showing their support!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mad Femme Love

Welcome back to the Wall of Femmes - after a period of some quiet on our forum here (not to be mistaken with inactivity), we’ll be picking up right where we left off. 

One of our goals with this project is to acknowledge, highlight, disseminate, share, support, and give mad respect to the work of women who are making this world a better place for all of us to live in. They are all around us, and they generally do not seek accolades for themselves. However, sometimes they shine so brightly, that it’s impossible for their impact to go unnoticed. 

Today we’d like to give a special shout to Montreal activist, educator, and friend of the Wall, rosalind hampton, who was recently acknowledged by the FRO Foundation when they awarded her the “Fro Ubuntu Personality Award” for 2014. 

Photo: FRO Foundation
Presented during the organization’s annual FRO Festival on February 22, 2014 by keynote speaker and legend Kathleen Cleaver, this award honours rosalind hampton for her more than 25 years of work supporting youth and families in Montreal, and particularly within the anglophone black community of the city. 

In addition to her work supporting youth and families, rosalind is extremely active within several community organizations, whether as a founder, director, or worker, through which she has developed and supported programs that seek to strengthen community ties and engagement by using artistic mediums as a forum for education, expression, and communication. Some of these organizations include the Alfie Roberts Institute, Black Star Big Brothers Big Sisters of Montreal, and Community-University Talks (C-Uni-T). As a PhD student, rosalind is also engaged in the McGill community by representing her colleagues in student government. Through her role as a student leader and organizer, she was instrumental in developing resolutions supported by CLASSE during the 2012 student strike to ensure issues of race and gender were addressed in the platform and strike mandate of the largest syndicate of student associations active in that year’s Printemps Érables. 

Here at the Wall of Femmes, we have the utmost love and respect for this woman and the work she’s done to build our communities and dismantle the structural elements that allow racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression to continue to exist in our institutions. We could not agree more with the FRO Foundation’s decision to acknowledge rosalind with their Personality Award for 2014. 

The FRO Foundation had this to say about their selection of rosalind for their 2014 honour:
“FRO strongly believes that the fight to develop the full potential of our communities should and must include creating environments that allow our children to thrive. Systematic policies that stifle cultural communities must be denounced, as we carry out intervention work with our youth. We want to take the time to acknowledge the great work of one of the many exceptional people we have had the privilege of working with. She has had help along the way; however, sometimes the path of selflessness must be travelled alone.

The recipient of the Prix Personnalité Fro Ubuntu 2014 is a cultural worker whose career has spanned the fields of social services, community work, art and education. She has worked as a youth and family worker in both institutional and community settings for over 25 years and has been working with Montreal’s Black communities since 2007. She has worked at the Alfie Roberts Institute and has served as a director at the Black Star Big Brother Centre. She is in the third year of a PhD program in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education and holds degrees in Special Care Counselling, Art History and Art Education. She has also worked as a youth and family intervention and support worker, community worker, artist, educator and researcher. She is the proud mother of a community mural artist and maintains strong ties to Montreal’s Black communities.

Her current research at McGill examines social relations between Black people and the University. She is starting her second year as the VP of Diversity & Equity at the McGill Education Graduate Students' Society and is the co-founder and coordinator of Community-University Talks, a collective of Black community members, students, and teachers from a broad range of ethno-cultural backgrounds. She works with Students of Colour Montreal* and was co-organizer of the 2013 Congress of Black Writers and Artists: Create Dangerously. During the student strike, she contributed, along with several colleagues, to the submission of a motion for CLASSE to adopt an official position of anti-racism and anti-colonialism in all communications, including publications, media relations, speeches, and conferences.

We would like to invite Ms. Kathleen Cleaver to present the Prix Personnalité Fro Ubuntu 2014 to Rosalind Hampton.”

Photo: Kevin Calixte

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Elizabeth Hawes and Fashion is Spinach

If you’re interested in 1930s American and French fashion, read Fashion is Spinach! I highly recommend this brilliant (and witty!) autobiographical analysis of the fashion industry by American clothing designer Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971). Hawes began her fashion career in Paris working in a dressmakers’ shop that produced copies of high quality haute couture dresses. She later moved to New York city to start her own fashion label, Hawes Inc. Over time, Hawes became known for her radical and outspoken philosophy of fashion. She encouraged women and men to dress in what they found comfortable rather than in what was dictated to them by the fashion world. She used high-quality fabrics to make well-sewn and well-fitted clothing while the rest of the American fashion industry dove into mass production. Hawes criticized mass production for its emergence of cheap, synthetic fabrics and poor fitted clothing. She concludes that the fashion industry is not in the business of consumer comfort or health- its only interest is in making sales. Her criticisms from 1938 are still relevant... maybe fashion IS spinach?! Read for yourself!

Elizabeth Hawes, 1938

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

This weekend: Montreal Anarchist Bookfair!

Montreal Anarchist Bookfair
Two days: Saturday, May 25 & Sunday, May 26
10am to 5pm on both days
Closest metro: Lionel-Groulx

The book fair takes place in two buildings in Parc Vinet: Centre Culturel Georges-Vanier (CCGV), 2450 Rue Workman and Centre d'education popular de la Petite-Bourgogne et de St-Henri (CEDA), 2515 rue Delisle. The event is free and open to all. For anarchists, and people curious about anarchism. 

Saturday, May 25

  • Building a Solidarity City: The practice of anarchism in Montreal (EN/FR) – Solidarity Across Borders
  • An Anarchist Working for the State: Trojan Horse? (FR) – David Gagnon
  • Autonomous Archiving: History in Our Hands (EN)
 – Interference Archive
  • Women and Anti-fascism (FR) - Montreal Sisterhood


  • No Borders, No Nations, Smash White Supremacy! APOC struggles in North America (EN/FR) – No One Is Illegal-Montreal
  • “We Are Ungovernable” – A Book About Contemporary Anarchism in Quebec (FR)
  • All writers of anarchist fiction – meet the Anarchist Writers Bloc (FR/EN)
  • No System but the Ecosystem: Earth First! and Anarchism
(EN) – Toby V. Potter


  • Anarchist People of Colour (APOC) Caucus: Take Care of Each Other So We Can Be Dangerous Together (EN/FR)
  • Direct Democracy: A Project by and for White Men? (FR)
 – Myriam & Camille from the Union des communistes libertaires 
  • Notre Dame des Landes Airport (Nantes) in France: useless, costly, anti-ecological and anti-social (FR) – No Pasaran 
  • Strategies for Solidarity with Women Prisoners (EN) – Gully Good, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back and Claudia Medina

Sunday, May 26
  • Women, Prisons, and the State (FR) – Clara & Josée
  • Anarchy After Fukushima (EN) – Ayumi Hirai, Yoko K, Sabu Kohso & Norihito Nakata
  • Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind (EN) – Vikki Law & China Martens
  • “We don’t give a fuck”: An alternative history of the spring 2012 uprising in Quebec (FR) Collectif de débrayage
  • RASTA: The Anarchism of the Poor? (FR) – Hélène Lee
  • Decolonization, anarchism, and addressing violence against Indigenous Women (EN) Candice Cascanette
  • Parents and Caregivers Caucus (EN/FR)
  • Anarchists resisting fascists and the far-right: The example of Greece (EN)
 – Christina Xydous et. al.
  • Is the personal political? (FR)
 – Maille à Part
  • Police Brutality and Political Profiling (FR)
 – Francis Dupuis-Déri and Marc-André Cyr
  • Anarchist Education (FR) – Marike Reid-Gaudet and Mubeenah Mughal
*For detailed descriptions of events see here

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Grande Feministes au la Grande Bibliothèque

For those interested in learning more about Feminism within Québec, the Grande Bibliothèque is hosting "An Exhibition on Feminism and Writings by Women in Québec" over the course of the coming year. 

As part of this exhibition, the library will be hosting a Public Reading from the Feminist Archives, on Thursday, May 23 at 7:00pm in the library's auditorium. 

From the library's description of the event:

"BAnQ presents a captivating reading of archival materials revolving around 20 major personalities of the women's rights movement, including Léa Roback, Thérèse Casgrain and Lise Payette.

As a complement to the exhibition La moitié du monde est une femme, the Place aux femmes performance, created by the collective grou Archives à voix haute – Montréal, illustrates the long historic road towards women’s empowerment."

Don't miss out!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cycle Femmes

Montreal is a city of cyclists, and this week, the Coalition Vélo Montréal is inviting the city to celebrate Urban Cycling Week!

Organized as part of the week of workshops, forums, rides, and other events, a panel discussion will take place Tuesday, May 14 from 5-8 at Bar Alexandraplatz, featuring a panel of women cyclists who will be sharing their experiences of navigating Montreal on two wheels, and highlighting issues that are of particular interest to women cyclists. 

From the Coalition's description of the program developed for Urban Cycling Week:

"Montreal Urban Bike Week was born of a simple intention: to survey the Montreal community and discover issues that are important to cyclists. A public appeal to the various stakeholders involved in Montreal cycling has led to a rich program covering several themes: cycling infrastructure, sharing the road, personal safety, regulations, mobilization, adaptation and maintenance of equipment for urban cycling, local initiatives, female / feminist perspectives, art and activism."

Photo via

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Natividad Llanquileo

Natividad Llanquileo is courageous and lives resistance. She is a fierce Indigenous rights activist from the Mapuche people in Chile. Her activist efforts have concentrated on fighting the criminalization of the struggles of her people and the militarization of their indigenous territories.

She comes from a family of fighters. Her father was active in the Indigenous movement in the 70's, and two of her brothers are currently in jail, accused of being "terrorists" because of their participation in the current Mapuche movement.

Natividad Llanquileo
Forced to leave her rural reserve in the South because of poverty--imposed by the Chilean state after allowing the corporate pillaging of Mapuche lands, she emigrated to Santiago to work as a live-in nanny at a private home. Tired of the injustices she experienced both as an Indigenous woman living in an Indigenous reserve and working as a nanny, she decided to go to law school to become a lawyer and work for her people, hoping to find "justice within injustice".

Natividad was chose by her people to act as the spokesperson of the weichafe [Mapuche warriors] from the Arauco-Malleco Convergence, an activist group that fights for the self-determination of the Mapuche people. Although she is no longer the spokesperson of this group, she is still active in her fight against the Chilean state.

Sadly, there is very little information about Natividad in English. However, there is some information about the struggles of the Mapuche people available in English. You can check out this video to know more about the persecution and criminalization of the Mapuche. There is also this channel on YouTube.

Contributor: Simona

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nawal El Saadawi

"I'm fighting against the patriarchal, military, capitalist, racist post-modern slave system. I am going to fight for this for ever."

Nawal El Saadawi is a woman who doesn’t quit. Trained as a medical doctor, she has written extensively and passionately on the realities of women in Egypt, from their sexuality, to the practice of genital cutting, to their deprivation of full social and political equality. Her criticisms of the ruling authorities in Egypt led to her imprisonment in 1980. 
While in prison, she continued to write, this time about her experience of living inside the Egyptian prison system. Without access to proper writing materials, she resorted to writing on toilet paper, with an eyeliner pencil. 
In addition to her lifetime of work as an activist fighting for equality for women and against political, imperial, and class-based oppression of all people, El Saadawi enthusiastically participated in Egypt’s spontaneous revolution in 2011 which ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. 
Here at the Wall of Femmes, we are proud to honour Nawal El Saadawi for being a tireless and tough-as-nails campaigner who, as she herself admits, is getting more radical with age. Her writings and arguments have changed lives and minds in the Arab world and beyond. She perseveres with a sense of hope for the future which is built upon her intimate knowledge of the achievements of the past. When this woman talks, we sit up and listen. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937)

Amelia Earhart - photo by Steven Fadellin

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can change and control your life; and the procedure, the process its its own reward."

Amelia Earhart, a daring pilot and creative author, gets respect from us here at Wall of Femmes. Earhart was strong in her convictions and defied conventional gender stereotypes by challenging many obstacles that she encountered in her life. She supported other female pilots, believing that women must work together to counter gender discrimination. Earhart saw aviation as liberating for women, and with her courageous ideas and life, she remains to have an impact on women's history today. 

"Amelia Earhart was tied for first place in the inaugural 1929 Women's Air Derby going into the final leg of the race. Just as she was preparing to takeoff from the runway, however, she noticed that something was wrong--the plane in front of her hit a tractor while it was taking off, and fell nose-first into the ground, where it burst into flames and subsequently exploded. With the clock ticking on the final stage of this super-imporant race, Earhart did the one thing any real badass with nerves of steel would have done--she stopped her plane, jumped out of the cockpit, ran through the flames, and pulled the helpless pilot to safety. As soon as she confirmed that the somewhat-scorched woman she just dragged from the jaws of death was conscious and breathing, Earhart jumped BACK into the plane, took off, and finished the race. She came in third; not too bad considering that she had to make a little detour to save someone's life in the process." (For an entertaining read, check out more Earhart on Badass of the week!)

"In her short time doing ridiculous insane shit in the skies over the planet Earth, Amelia Earhart was totally awesome. She kicked ass at a time when "proper women" weren't supposed to be allowed to kick ass, she gave the finger to anybody who told her what to do, and she is still remembered as the most popular and well-known female aviators of all time." (Badass of the week)

Since putting up the Earhart stencil in the streets, the stencil has garnered a response, "World was amazing with you // Keep flying" -- We think so too!

And, we completely agree, Amelia, "adventure is worthwhile in itself."

More info:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Feminist graffiti artist, Stela: Think critically or die tryin'

think critically or die trying, Stela // Starchild Stela 
If you are in Montreal, and you are like me, you've been getting out more since the days are warming up. It's been much nicer to take walks and bike rides on sunny days with snow-free sidewalks and back-alleys. Maybe, on your excursions, you've been paying attention to what's on the walls and in our public spaces? What's really caught my interest is the work of Montreal graffiti artist, Stela--I promise that you will be drawn in by her beautiful pastels, swirling cursive, and powerful feminist messages.

In an interview on The Art of Getting Ovaries, I've learned that Stela sees her work not as "street art" but more as a "hybrid form of graffiti" most often using spray-paint, but not painting letters. In relation to the historical significance of graffiti she speaks to it as a form of resistance, "talking back, reclaiming the space that is controlled by people beholding power." 

Stela was asked if her graffiti takes on a social message, in addition to style, or if it was a combination of both. She says it's both. "I love adding a little feminist twist to my pieces. I don't' really intend to add a social message to my pieces, the words I add often reflects the discussion I'm having with friends. But indeed we are talking about what matters to us, and what makes us pissed off. I guess the social message resides in the eyes of the viewer too."

cats against cat-calls
fuck you and your macho bullshit
While Stela talks about how her graffiti is a combination of both style and message, for her, it is primarily about self-care. "It's a way to make me feel better first, a way to cope with society's and personal bullshit. I like adding sentences like, "Think critically or die tryin'" or "Fuck your macho bullshit" under my characters." It's clear that the presence of Stela's work in our public spaces is resonant with viewers.

If you are interested, I really suggest checking out her interview where she touches on "the value of finding a peer to paint and talk feminist politics with, her social and political aesthetics, public reception and how painting helped her 'reclaim her girlhood' and her feminist identity, the value of illegal graffiti, and being an out queer graffiti writing wishing for a community." 

Wall of Femmes loves what you are doing, Stela!

More info:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Not Buying It

So, Dove Soap has released the newest instalment of their "Campaign for Real Beauty," with this video called Real Beauty Sketches. In it, women are asked to describe their own faces to a former police sketch artist, who sketches them sight unseen based on their description. 

Then, they have a chat with a stranger, who also describes their new friend's face to the sketch artist. The new sketch is much more attractive than the sketch based on the women's own self descriptions, since they told the sketch artist about all the things they don't like about their own faces, but the new friend only thought they looked great. 

On the surface, this seems like a nice message. Of course we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves and we should recognize our own beautiful qualities. 

However, I just can't shake my cynicism when it comes to this campaign. I can't help noticing that the ad begins with the women listing things they don't like about their faces. They have crows feet, or they have dark circles, or their face is fat and round, or their lips aren't full enough. You know when I start to feel that I don't like my face? When other people start talking about all the things that might be wrong with it. 

Even when the more attractive sketch is revealed, the women portrayed describe them in terms that are more "Hollywood Beauty" than "Real Beauty." For example, the positive descriptors include "thin," "small chin," "short, cute nose," "much younger," etc. 

The ad goes on to emphasize how important it is to be grateful for your natural beauty (much easier when you're young, thin, have a short, cute nose, full lips, and no crows feet), stating that "It couldn't be more critical to your happiness!"

I can think of a few things that are more critical to your happiness than fitting into culturally dominant beauty standards, and the people I know who focus on them are radiant regardless of the shape of their nose. 

As well intentioned as this campaign seems, at the root it's still about instilling insecurities into women, thereby manufacturing an artificial need to compel them to buy products (that are incidentally full of unhealthy chemicals). 

Sorry Dove, NOT BUYING IT!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We resist, we rewrite: Representations of women in the media

Screenshot of google image search for "beauty"
Try this out: google "beauty" and look at the images that come up in the search results. Scroll down to see if the images change or not.

  • What do you notice about about who is (or isn't) represented? 
  • What social, political, economic and cultural attitudes are reflected in the images?
  • What do the images imply/say about "beauty"?

While a google search of "beauty" isn't necessarily direct 'corporate' advertising, the overwhelming representation of whiteness, age and body type of the women that come up in the search is remarkable. While we can be critical of mainstream media, knowing that companies pay to have certain images shown in our public spaces, what does it say when we do our own search on google--from our own homes--and see what images come up in the results?

Addressing what they see being represented in mainstream media, students from the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah, Kayla and Dylan, examine gender role representation in advertisements by creating a project for their Women and Gender Studies class. Through the project, they bring attention to sexist, negative and objectified images of women in mainstream media. 

The project looks at gender represented in advertising on a male/female binary and illustrates how women are sexualized, often in submissive or violent ways, to sell products. They contrast this with hyper-masculine stereotypes that portray men as strong, dominant and aggressive. The strategy for their project is to present images that show gender role reversals to demonstrate how mainstream media portrays gender roles and stereotypes in advertising. 

Representations of Gender in Advertising is just one example of a student project that critiques representations of women in the media--maybe you've seen Rion Sabean's popular set of photographs, Men-Ups? Or, you might have taken a look at the article, When Will the Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?, where Tracey Ross highlights the book, Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Womantaking an in-depth look into media's portrayal of black women. 

In a world where our lives are often saturated with corporate messages, it's important to be critical of the media and the corresponding messages. The relentless reproduction of these images, accessible for mass consumption, normalizes sexist and racist representations of women. Because of the way in which these images are circulated--as a norm or standard--it's important to make alternatives visible and challenge gender stereotypes and racist representations in various sources of media. 

Jarrah Hodge, from Gender Focus, asks some good questions about what it means to look at media critically. She writes, "media literacy is asking who is creating this and why. It's asking where the funding is coming from and whether that's influencing the message. It's asking what it means when the majority of messages we're receiving in mainstream media are coming from similar interests. It's also asking, "How does this make me feel?", "Are there people who aren't being reflected here?" "What pieces of society does this reflect?", and "Is this part of a larger pattern in pop culture today?".

Despite the abundance of corporate messages in mass media, viewers can, and do, position themselves as critical respondents to messages that are sent; they resist and rewrite through responses to mass media by culture jamming, doing street art, and self-publishing in zines and blogs. Responses through these mediums provide avenues to represent transgressive ideas and identities that are often not represented in mainstream media and pop culture. 

If you know of any resources that offer a feminist media critique or analysis, please share them!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scarlet Road: Sex work and disability

"Scarlet Road follows the extraordinary work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specializes in long over-looked clientele--people with disability."

Catherine Scott's Scarlet Road is a compelling documentary that tells the story of Australian activist and sex worker, Rachel Wotton. The film is primarily situated in Rachel's life in the Australian state of New South Wales, where sex work is legal. She also travels to speak and work with groups in Sweden, Denmark and the UK and trains sex workers to work with clients with disabilities. Through the film, we meet some of Rachel's clients, and their families, who allow the camera into their homes to provide insight on their struggles and what Rachel brings to their lives.

Rachel has also been instrumental in the foundation of the organization, Touching Base, which was developed out of a need to support people with disabilities and sex workers. The organization facilitates workshops, training sessions and provides information that focusses on addressing discrimination, human rights and legal issues in addition to confronting attitudinal barriers and stigma associated with sex work and disability. Touching Base provides options for those who haven't easily found intimacy due to physical or cognitive barriers.

Touching Base has been receiving more media coverage after the 2012 release of The Sessions--a film, based on an essay by Marc O'Brien, a poet who was paralyzed from the neck down due to childhood polio, who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity.

Rachel has made it her life's work to raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding sex work and disability. Her philosophy, that advocates the therapeutic benefits of physical touch and intimacy, is evident throughout the film. Through the documentary, we see how many of Rachel's clients primarily experience touch in medicalized ways. It's clear that she makes a dramatic impact with her work by offering sexual intimacy, companionship and comfort to her clients.

"People with disabilities are not seen as sexual beings and on the other hand, sex workers are often portrayed as oversexed, victims or damaged goods. I really wanted to tackle these stereotypes head on," says director, Catherine Scott, who filmed Rachel for over three years. "It was a delicate balance. I wanted to show the touch and intimacy, without objectifying Rachel or her clients and reveal the sexual tenderness without titillating or shocking the audience."

Despite the acclaim for Scarlet Road, there are still some questions worth asking. As Leah Jane from The Quixotic Autistic points out, "not all sex workers are able to do what Rachel does, because of the circumstances surrounding how they came into sex work, they may not have the chance to advocate for themselves, or if they do, they won't have as receptive of an audience or be taken as seriously. Rachel's university education and ability to travel to advocate for sex workers abroad, going all the way to countries like Denmark and Sweden in order to speak out, are not the universal truth for sex workers."

Although the film primarily challenges stereotypes surrounding sex workers and people with disabilities by highlighting Rachel's experiences with male clients, it only touches briefly on the experience and sexual identity of a woman with cerebral palsy who volunteers at Touching Base. While it is important to highlight the positive impacts of Rachel's work with male clients, I'm interested pursuing questions that address the ways in which systems of misogyny might be perpetuated or challenged in her work.

Despite being a moving documentary, might the focus on male clients reinforce the rendering of women with disabilities as invisible, de-sexualized persons and further perpetuate damaging ideas about women's sexuality? While Scarlet Road is a powerful and worthwhile film to take in, I hope to see more documentaries that focus the lens on sex workers and their female clients.

For more information:
Sex Workers Unite!: The SXSW Interview with Catherine Scott and Rachel Wotton
Rachel Wotton, Australian Sex worker
Elizabeth's Story-Touching Base
Scarlet Road - Trailer
Watch Scarlet Road from inside Canada on CBC

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wow, Montreal, so many things!

Some upcoming events, taking place in Montreal:
Anti-capitalist Teach-in (May Day & Labour)
Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 10am to 7pm
Centre d’éducation populaire de la Petite-Bourgogne et de St-Henri (CEDA) 2515 rue Delisle

Reproductive Work and the Construction of the Commons in the Era of Primitive Accumulation 
(with Silvia Federici)
Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 10am to noon
CEDA, 2515 rue Delisle Room #119

Manifestation/Concentracion: No nos vamos, Nos echan!
Sunday, April 7, 2012 at noon
Spanish Consulate : 1, Westmount Square (dans le carre entre les 4 tours) ( Metro Atwater)

Scarlet Road with Rachel Wotton
Monday, April 8, 2013 - 7pm to 10pm
Cinema Politica, Concordia University, Room H-110

Learning from the ground up: Book launch
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 6pm to 9pm
2150 Bishop Street - Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore

Articulating the Unspeakable: Confronting Gendered Violence through Story-telling
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 6pm to 8pm
1500 de Maisonneuve (Suite #404)

Textiles, Fabrics and Knitting Pro-Choice
Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 6pm to 8pm
Centre 2110 (1500 de maisonneuve Ouest, suite 404)

Radical Formations: Sex, Race, Trans
Friday, April 12, 2013 - 4pm to 5:30pm
Leacock 232, McGill University

An Evening with Alison Bechdel
Friday, April 12, 2013 - 7pm
Ukrainian Federation Hall, 5213 Hutchison Street, Montreal

Friday, April 5, 2013

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

The life and work of Audre Lorde, a self-described black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior, was highlighted at the event, An Evening with Audre Lorde, held in Montreal, Quebec. The event was hosted at Café l'Artère, through Politics & Care--a project that works to make explicit the links between the process of creativity, through holistic healing, street art practices, and an integrated political discourse around well-being and self-care in activism and organizing. A big thanks goes out to the organizers who made this event happen!

The event featured readings from Lorde's book, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, by members of C-uniT, followed by a film screening, The Berlin Years 1984-1992, by Dagmar Schultz. The film focuses on Lorde's relation to German Black Diaspora, her literary and political influence, as well as a serves as a visual documentation of the time Lorde spent in Germany. 

Particularly resonant, was a reading of Lorde's Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, where she discusses the way in which anger is an appropriate response to racism. She explains how "anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in this painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy" (p. 127). 

Also highlighted, was Lorde's paper, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, that was originally delivered at the Modern Language Association's Language and Literature Panel in Chicago, Illinois in 1977. In the paper, she makes a powerful call for action with her questions; "What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself--a Black woman warrior poet doing my work--come to ask you, are you doing yours?" (pp. 41-42). 

She draws on a conversation she had with her daughter to think through the ways in which her silences have not protected her. Lorde confesses that of course she is afraid, "because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger." After telling her daughter about the topic and the corresponding difficulty she has with it, her daughter said, "Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside" (p. 42). Lorde moves beyond her silences and insists that your silence will not protect you; she reassures that speaking will get easier and easier, urging folks to teach by living and speaking their truth. 

Further reading and information on Audre Lorde: