Raising Little Activists: 7 books worthy of the next generation

I spent the weekend before last visiting one of my good friends and her two adorable children. My friend is one of those rare people who radiate compassion and positivity. She follows the same world events I do and holds dear the same values I have, and yet her outlook is somehow different. I always leave our visits feeling distinctly more hopeful, like the future is just slightly brighter.

I’ve known since my first Women’s Studies classes that there is more than one way to be a good feminist. There is more than one way to bring about meaningful social change. But often I think of this work as public, whether it be advocacy through the courts, in the media, or in our workplaces. I don’t often think about the ways we can change the world from home. My friend and her two adorable children reminded me of one of the most important and perhaps most effective ways to change the world: by raising the next generation.

I’m not just talking about parents here. I’m talking about all of us. Whether we be aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers or friends. We all play a role in raising the little people who will one day have to fix our mistakes.

So how do we raise socially conscious kids while we are being bombarded with messages about fear, prejudice and violence? How do we teach kids compassion, equality and hope while we are barraged with rules about appearances, gender roles and who should be with whom? Well, for starters, we can read to them.

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of do’s and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” — Philip Pullman

I did some digging and I compiled a list of socially conscious books that I consider worthy of the next generation. Here goes.

  1. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

inde6xBefore there was Katniss Everdeen there was Princess Elizabeth. It should come as no surprise that this was one of my favourite books growing up. It is about a heroic princess who outsmarts a fierce dragon to rescue her prince, wearing only a paper bag. It turns out the prince is a superficial doofus, so she dumps him and lives happily ever after. Robert Munsch wrote this book after his wife asked him, “How come you always have the prince save the princess? Why can’t the princess save the prince?” And so this treasure of a story was born. I love this book because it bends gender stereotypes. And let’s be serious, there aren’t enough girl heroes in literature.

  1. Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

index6This is a book about standing up for your beliefs despite the obstacles in your way. It is about the power each of us has to make a difference in our world. Each page references a famous person in history who overcame adversity to change the world. As an adult, it’s fun to try to identify the heroes. The message: no one is too small to make a big change. I’ll admit, I felt pretty inspired myself.

  1. Migrant by Maxine Trottier

index1Migrant tells the story of Anna, the daughter of temporary foreign workers who come to North America for the agricultural season. Throughout the book, Anna feels like various animals: a jack rabbit, a bee, a kitten. Each analogy reveals a different aspect of the hard life of temporary foreign workers and their families. We have a lot of temporary foreign workers in Canada, and as citizens we greatly benefit from their hard work. And yet, we do not afford them the same rights, respect and protections that we extend to citizens and visitors alike. This story makes you question why that is.

  1. I Have the Right to be a Child by Alain Serres and Aurelia Fronty

indexThis book illustrates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It describes in accessible language what it means to have rights – from the right to food, water and shelter, to the right to go to school and be free from violence. This book would be a good way to introduce the concept of human rights and to start a conversation about the situation in other parts of the world where children do not have the basic things we take for granted.

  1. The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch

index2This is a book about war that really is about peace. The story begins with two soldiers, each in their own hole. The soldiers are enemies. As the story unfolds we see that these enemies really are not that different. They both get hungry, they both look at the stars and dream of peace and they both miss their families. And yet they each believe that the other is a monster. This book is about seeing “the enemy” as a person and about the futility of war. Given current world events, the message that we should see each other as fellow human beings is an important one.

  1. Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

index4This book tells the true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Horrified by the deforestation in Kenya and the impact it was having on her country and its people, Wangari empowers the women in her village to plant trees. Word travels and soon other women in other villages and towns and cities plant trees too. Until there are over 30 million tress where there were none. This book is about environmental stewardship and the empowerment of women.

  1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

index5Roy and Silo are two boy penguins who fall in love. Like the other penguin couples, Roy and Silo want a family. Unfortunately for them, no matter how long they sit on their nest of stones, there is no baby penguin. Until a zoo employee slips an egg that would otherwise not have been cared for into their nest. I love this story because it celebrates diverse families in a totally disarming way. Even better, the story is true. What a great way to start a conversation about gay and lesbian families.

These are seven of the best socially conscious children’s books I found, but I’m sure there are many, many more. If you know of any others that are worthy of the next generation, please share. My wife and I are building our collection.


Sexy Hamburgers: A Feminist’s Guide to Halloween

It’s almost Sexy Costume Day! I mean, Halloween. My wife and I love Halloween because it gives us an excuse to pull out our glue gun and have a craft day. We usually make our costumes, but a few weeks ago we went to one of those pop-up Halloween shops to get some inspiration. I guess it had been a while since we’ve been in one, because we were pretty surprised by what we saw. For one, there was not one woman’s costume in the entire store that was not “sexy”. Even costumes that you would think should not be sexy, were sexy. Like sexy potato head, sexy minion, sexy Bert and Ernie and sexy hamburger. Seriously, there was a sexy hamburger.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to use this is an excuse to post photos of scantily clad women dressed as sexy scrabble. I thought I’d let some dudes demonstrate instead.

But these costumes are for adult women with agency, so no harm right? I’m not going to answer that just yet. I want to first tell you about our second observation in the Halloween store, this one in the kids’ section.

In this store, there were little girl costumes and little boy costumes. But despite the fact that between the ages of 4 and 6, little girl bodies and little boy bodies are pretty much the same, the costumes were very different. The little girl costumes looked like miniature versions of sexy _______ (fill in the blank).

00_21_van_halloweenkids_contributedYou’ve probably read about the mom in Victoria who took her 4-year-old daughter shopping for a Halloween costume at Value Village. The little girl wanted to be a firefighter. Her mother found a cute firefighting costume in the boys’ section. It had an axe, a fire hat and a red jacket.

She then found the equivalent costume in the girls’ section. It had a skin-tight black shiny dress and a fascinator in the place of a fire hat. The police officer costume was equally appalling. The little girl version was a dress with a short skirt. In real life, policewomen have not had to wear skirts as part of their uniform since 1990.[i] And this was a change women really fought for.

“What those costumes tell me is that the boys can wear the real thing. They can be a real firefighter. The girls, on the other hand can’t. They can dress up pretty and pretend to be a firefighter, but they could never aspire to be the real thing.”[ii]

This should be especially concerning when you consider that firefighting remains very male dominated and has traditionally been a hostile workplace for women. In 2006, allegations of severe sexual harassment were made by women firefighters from Richmond, BC. The alleged incidents included hard-core pornography being displayed in their presence, human feces being put in a woman’s boots and pants, a condom with the word “cunt” written on it being placed in a woman’s locker and water pressure being turned off as a woman battled a fire. [iii]

Fortunately for the mother in this story, Value Village heard her complaints and decided to take down these gender specific costumes.

But not all shops are so progressive. If the store I went to was any indication, there are sexy toddler costumes being sold all over Canada.

I don’t think it is difficult to understand why sexualizing a 4-year-old is problematic. For one, it’s pedophilic. But more than that, it can have a very significant impact on how girls and women see themselves.

In the documentary Miss Representation (which I highly encourage anyone with Netflix to watch), author Jean Kilbourne talks about the message these sexualized images send to young girls.

“Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look, that their value, their worth, depends on that. And boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls….So, no matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look.”[iv]

The documentary goes on to discuss how this sexualisation leads girls to self-objectify which has disastrous consequences.

“The American Psychological Association has found in recent years that self-objectification has become a national epidemic, a national problem. The more women and girls self-objectify, the more likely they are to be depressed, to have eating disorders. They have lower confidence. They have lower ambition. They have lower cognitive functioning. They have lower GPAs.” [v]

In Canada, women are not well represented in leadership positions. Only 17% of Conservative Members of Parliament are women. The percentages for the NDP and Liberals are 38% and 25% respectively. BC has the highest rate of women MLAs in Canada at 36%. The other provinces and territories range from 10% (Northwest Territories) to 35% (Ontario).[vi]

Could there be a connection? Dr. Caroline Heldman, a professor of political science, says yes. Women who are high self-objectifiers have lower political efficacy. Political efficacy is the idea that your voice matters in politics and that you can bring about political change. As she sees it, if we have a whole generation of young people being raised with the message that the objectification of women is normal, we have a whole generation of women who are less likely to run for office and less likely to vote.

So after 18 years of being told by advertising, films, television shows, pop-up Halloween stores, you name it, that our value as women lies in our bodies, how free is our choice to buy a sexy adult Halloween costume? Are we dressing as sexy a Girl Guide because we would feel awesome and empowered in that costume? Or have we been conditioned by marketing and social pressure? To be honest, these are very complicated questions that I do not have an answer to (Philosophy 101 was my only B in undergrad).

But here is something I can answer. Is it possible to enjoy Halloween in a socially conscious way? The answer to that question is YES! Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for selecting a totally awesome, feminist Halloween costume.

#1 Do celebrate women heroes

There are so many women heroes in history, literature and modern day who have made a difference, fought the system, broken the glass ceiling, bent gender norms and kicked some serious ass. Why not celebrate one of them? There’s Katniss, Hermione, the Paper Bag Princess, Amelia Earhart and Rosie the Riveter, just to name a few.

#2 Do not appropriate someone else’s culture

I’ll admit, it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that this is a problem. When I was a kid I once dressed up as Tiger Lily from Peter Pan. Another year, I wore my mother’s burqa from her days living in Saudi Arabia. It really didn’t occur to me that dressing up as someone else’s culture would be offensive. The way I reasoned it, I would not be offended if someone dressed up as a lumberjack or fur trader to represent a Canadian. Well, as I’ve learned, that is because this is not a proper analogy. “There are no pervasive stereotypes for whites on the same level that allow for them to be caricatured as a Halloween costume.” [vii]  And Canadians are not a marginalized group.

untitledStudents from Ohio University have launched a campaign to make revelers think twice before reducing a culture to a caricature. The message: We’re a culture, not a costume.[viii] When we dress up as another culture, we reduce sacred and culturally significant attire. We perpetuate inaccurate, stereotypical and often offensive portrayals of someone else’s heritage. We temporarily “play” an exotic other without experiencing any of the daily discrimination faced by them, like dressing up as a “sexy squaw” while being completely unaware of the horrific rates of sexual violence Aboriginal women face.[ix]

#3 Do not dress as a famous oppressor

This seems so obvious, but every year people dress in horrible costumes that glamorize violence and violations of human and civil rights. In 2005, Prince Harry dressed up for a costume party with a swastika on his arm. This year, men have been reported dressing up as Ray Rice, the football player who punched his then-fiancé in an elevator. This is incredibly disrespectful to women who have been victims of domestic violence. And there are a lot of us. One half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.[x] Dressing up as an oppressor trivializes real discrimination, persecution and violence. It can also re-victimize survivors.

#4 Do not dress as a member of a marginalized group

I think most people know that it is not ok for a white person to don blackface. Yet people dress as other marginalized groups all the time: Indian, hobo, illegal immigrant. This is what one Aboriginal woman had to say about people dressing as a Native person:

“But you don’t understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone misrepresenting your people and your culture. You don’t have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence. You don’t walk thought life everyday feeling invisible, because the only images the public sees of you are fictionalized stereotypes that don’t represent who you are at all. You don’t know what it is like to care about something so deeply and know at your core that it’s so wrong and have others in positions of power dismiss you like you’re some sort of over-sensitive freak.”[xi]

#5 Do highlight your talents

383940_794751944775_1584700703_nHalloween is an opportunity to get creative and think outside the box. It is also an opportunity to make a statement. A few Halloweens ago my wife and I went as Mrs. and Mrs. Potato Head. Not only was the costume a political statement about gay marriage, it had super awesome Velcro facial features that we could swap around all night.

#6 Do not denigrate women who choose a sexy costume

Some women find demonstrating their sexuality really empowering when they can do it safely and without pressure or judgment. Halloween is, for some women, one of the only days of the year that they feel comfortable really having their sexuality on display.[xii] That is great. These women do not deserve judgment. “Slut shaming” is a different side of the same sexist coin. Instead of assigning women value for being sexy, it strips women of value for being too sexy.[xiii] But ultimately, it is still determining a woman’s value based on her appearance. That is not ok.

Bottom line, have a great time this Halloween, but don’t do it at someone else’s expense. Halloween is not an excuse to leave your feminism at the door.



[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/17/female-mounties-wear-pants-boots_n_1797203.html

[ii] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/sexy-halloween-kids-costumes-at-value-village-anger-mom-1.2805428

[iii] http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=7817f631-f71c-4f55-8630-8589aebd718b

[iv] http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=miss-representation

[v] http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=miss-representation

[vi] http://www.equalvoice.ca/assets/file/Fundamental%20Facts%20-%20Elected%20Women%20in%20Canada%20by%20the%20Numbers(1).pdf

[vii] http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/26/living/halloween-ethnic-costumes/

[viii] http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/26/living/halloween-ethnic-costumes/

[ix] http://bitchmagazine.org/post/costume-cultural-appropriation

[x] http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/rape-myths/

[xi] http://nativeappropriations.com/2011/10/open-letter-to-the-pocahotties-and-indian-warriors-this-halloween.html

[xii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/31/in-defense-of-sexy-halloween-costumes_n_4182233.html

[xiii] http://thoughtcatalog.com/chloe-angyal/2013/10/youre-not-a-feminist-if-you-call-halloween-costumes-slutty/

The Jilted Ex-Girlfriend: The resurrection of rape myths in Canada

It is almost Halloween and to celebrate the occasion I had planned to write a post about Halloween costumes gone wrong. But then something much scarier happened that demanded my attention. Tens of thousands of people across Canada, some of whom my friends and family, took up the cause of an alleged abuser of women. You all know who I’m taking about. Jian Ghomeshi, the popular CBC radio host of ‘Q’ whose employment was recently terminated amid allegations about his sex life.

Ghomeshi’s fans have voiced their support for him and their anger at CBC management for terminating his employment. They have proclaimed his innocence. They have attacked his accusers. And they have demand retribution for his firing. And with these passionate cries, they have given new life to age old rape myths.

We all know the story. Man dates woman. Man breaks up with woman. Woman is upset. She decides to seek revenge by fabricating allegations of sexual assault to ruin man’s life. Man is branded as rapist and loses job, public respect, friends etc. even though he is innocent.

Sound familiar?

“I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer….

Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety….

She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign.”

Since this post appeared on Ghomeshi’s Facebook page Sunday evening, it has been liked by 109,082 people and shared by 41,328 people. There is even a petition at Change.org to show support for the radio host.

As a woman, I find this familiar narrative disturbing. But much more frightening to me is how quickly it has been accepted by the public without question or critical inquiry. I would hazard a guess that not many of the tens of thousands of people who have liked and shared Ghomeshi’s post have actually met him. And I would be willing to bet that not one of them knows what actually happened between Ghomeshi and his accusers.

But here is what we do know.

At this point, four women have come forward to allege sexual violence perpetrated by Ghomeshi. The allegations are serious. Three women say that Ghomeshi physically attacked them on dates without consent.  They allege he struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out; covered their nose and mouth so that they had difficulty breathing; and verbally abused them during and after sex.1

The fourth woman was Ghomeshi’s co-worker at the CBC. She says that Ghomeshi groped her from behind while at work and told her “I want to hate f— you.” The woman says she reported this behavior to a union representative but no real action was taken and she left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.1

Thanks to years of research, we also know quite a lot about sexual assault. Here are some highlights.

#1 Sexual assault is terrifyingly common

Statistics show that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In British Columbia, that number is almost double at 47%.2

In 2009, there were 677,000 self-reported sexual assaults in Canada.

#2 Sexual assault is very rarely reported

Studies indicate that only 6-8% of sexual assaults are reported to police.3 The numbers for “date rape” are even worse, only 1-2% of these assaults are reported to police.4 Acquaintance sexual assault is the most underreported crime in Canada.

#3 Women do not routinely fabricate allegations of sexual assault

It is a common rape myth that women lie about being sexually assaulted to get revenge, for their own benefit, or because they feel guilty afterwards about having sex. The reality is that women rarely make false reports about sexual assault. False accusations of rape happen no more often than false reports of other types of crimes: about 2-4%. This means that 96-98% of sexual assault reports are true.2

#4 Women do not report sexual assault because of how we as a society treat victims

Women choose not to report sexual assault for many reasons including re-victimization by the police and courts, low conviction rates, fear of the rapist, feelings of shame and guilt and fear of public harassment.2

More than half of the 1,609 women who responded to a poll carried out by the parenting website Mumsnet said they would not report a sexual assault because the legal system, media and society at large are unsympathetic to rape victims.5

None of the four women who have alleged violence by Ghomeshi have filed police complaints or agreed to go on the record. The reasons given include the fear that they would be sued or would be the object of internet retaliation.

Can we blame them? Last year, a woman wrote about a bad date with a Canadian radio host some believe to be Ghomeshi. In the days following the post, the woman received hundreds of abusive messages and threats. An online video that has been viewed over 397,000 times called her a “scumbag of the internet.”1

#5 Rapists are often someone we know

Sexual assault is not most often committed by strangers. In over 80% of sexual assaults, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim. In 38% of cases, the perpetrator is the woman’s husband, common-law partner or boyfriend.6

Studies of rapists show that they are not mentally ill or sexually starved, they are ordinary men. They come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. Similarly, women who are sexually assaulted are from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.2

Sometimes, rapists are famous personalities loved by the public. Take the late BBC host Jimmy Savile as an example. It wasn’t until almost a year after his death that his victims were able to come forward. But when they did, the numbers were staggering. Savile has now been accused of sexually abusing 450 victims ranging from prepubescent girls and boys to adults.8 Or consider Australia’s Rolf Harris. It took more than 30 years before his victims were able to come forward.7 In June 2014 he was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1969 and 1986 on four victims who, at the time, were between the ages of 8 and 19.9

To be absolutely clear, I am not saying Ghomeshi is guilty of the sexual violence he is accused of. I don’t know that. What I am saying is neither do we know that he is not guilty. I’m saying we the public should not allow ourselves to re-victimize a potential victim of sexual assault. We need to think critically and not jump to conclusions based on a familiar narrative that has no basis in fact.

The narrative of the jilted ex-girlfriend harms victims of violence who are abused all over again, this time by tens of thousands of people all over the world. And it harms all women, because every time a potential victim is viciously attacked on the internet the message to the rest of us, the one in four of us who will experience sexual assault, is to keep quiet.

The narrative is false. The truth is he can ruin her life, far worse than she can ruin his.



  1. CBC fires Ghomeshi over sex allegations: Kevin Donovan and Jesse Brown http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/10/26/cbc_fires_jian_ghomeshi_over_sex_allegations.html
  2. Rape Myths: VAVAW http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/rape-myths/
  3. Statistics: VAVAW http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/statistics/
  4. Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada http://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm
  5. 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual assault, survey claims: Martin Beckford http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9134799/Sexual-assault-survey-80-of-women-dont-report-rape-or-sexual-assault-survey-claims.html
  6. Sexual Assault Statistics: SACHA http://sacha.ca/fact-sheets/statistics
  7. Liking ‘Q’ isn’t a good enough reason to side with Jian: Justine Beach http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/justin-beach/jian-ghomeshi-fired-cbc_b_6051938.html?utm_hp_ref=tw
  8. Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Savile_sexual_abuse_scandal
  9. Rolf Harris: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Harris#Charges

Bad Math: The truth about poverty in British Columbia

What would your life look like if you had only $3 a day for food? With only $3 you wouldn’t be able to shop at Whole Foods, Choices, Nesters or even the Farmer’s Market. You certainly would not be able to buy organic, free range or cruelty free. You wouldn’t be able to buy $2 Starbucks coffees or ever go for take-out. You might not even be able to afford fresh produce. At my local Nesters, a non-organic red pepper costs $2. A non-organic apple costs $1. Looking at my own food bill for the last 30 days, I spent $312.19. That’s $10.41 per day, just for me.

So what can you buy for $21 per week? Participants of the Welfare Food Challenge had to find out.

Welfare Food Challenge

1441974_53809405The Welfare Food Challenge is a yearly campaign conducted by Raise the Rates to raise awareness about the reality of life on welfare and how much change is needed for people living in poverty. The Challenge has participants experience one aspect of what it means to be a recipient of welfare, lack of food security.

The participants can only spend $21 on food for the week and they may not rely on food banks, friends or family or use any food products in their home like salt, pepper or hot sauce that they did not purchase with the $21.

Here are some examples of what $21 can buy.

Bif Naked used her $21 to buy: brown rice, 2 cans of chickpeas, 2 heads of (non-organic) iceberg lettuce, a pint of cherry tomatoes, six zucchinis, six bananas and a bag of (non-organic) spinach.

Kate Kysow, another participant, used her $21 to buy: a can of peas and carrots, a can of maple beans, brown sugar, Quaker Oats, coconut oil, chickpeas, eggs, milk, rice, rice cakes and bananas.

The Numbers

As a social justice lawyer, many of my clients are recipients of some sort of income assistance. And I can tell you from experience that many of my clients would be very happy if they had $21 for food each week. In reality, they often have a lot less. To fully appreciate what it is like to live on welfare, it is helpful to review the numbers.

In British Columbia, the welfare rate is $610 per month for a single adult. This is made up of a maximum shelter allowance of $375 per month plus $235 for everything else. Welfare rates were last raised in April 2007. Allowing for inflation, a single person on welfare is $60 a month worse off than in 2007. By contrast, your MLA’s pay has gone up 34% since 2007.1

Since 2010, between 174,000 and 184,000 British Columbians have been on welfare every month. In 2013, 20% of welfare recipients were dependent children.2

Is it possible to live in British Columbia, safely and securely, for $610 a month? The resounding answer to that question is no. And here’s why. According to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, the average rent for a bachelor suite in Greater Vancouver is $876 per month. In the lowest rent areas, the average is $630 per month.1 That is more than the monthly welfare rate.

815892_67861026Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms have traditionally been considered the housing of last resort before homelessness. These tiny hotel rooms do not have a private kitchen or bathroom and often have poor management, mice, rats, cockroaches and bedbugs. This year, the average rent for an SRO was $469 per month.3

Finding an SRO willing to accept someone on welfare is a different matter altogether. Increasingly, management of these accommodations are trying to get rid of tenants on income assistance and market the units to students and working people. The Carnegie Community Action Project’s 2013 report found that last year alone, 236 rooms were lost to low income people.3

And what about the cost of food. In 2011, the Dieticians of Canada put out a report entitled “Cost of Eating in BC.” This report set out the provincial average cost of nutritious food for families of various sizes. For a single man between the ages of 31-50, the cost per month for nutritious food is $243.59. For a woman of the same age, the cost is $206.00.4

So let’s do some simple addition. $469 for an average SRO, plus $206 for nutritious food is $675 per month. That is $65 more than the monthly welfare rate. And this does not include any other expenses. I looked at my visa bill to see what else I pay for in a month. I came up with the following list: bus pass, cellphone, internet, electricity, water, laundry, tenant’s insurance, car insurance, personal hygiene, clothing, student loans, medical and dental. And these are just what I consider my essentials, I also pay for haircuts, Netflix, a gym membership, field hockey dues, the occasional Starbucks coffee and going out for dinner or drinks with my friends and family.



The poverty line is defined as the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life. One would think that welfare rates would meet this threshold. Not so. Estimates based on data from 2011 show that in BC, two-parent families with two children on income assistance will live $21,287 a year below the poverty line. Lone-parent families with one child will live $11,602 a year below the poverty line.5

Looking at the numbers, I understand why my clients often tell me that they have to choose between a roof over their head and a full stomach. The government’s math simply does not make sense. I guess that explains why every year BC food banks help about 100,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children.6

British Columbia’s Dirty Secret

606709_78930809Having seen the numbers, it should come as no surprise that BC is the worst province in Canada when it comes to major measures of poverty. We have an overall provincial poverty rate of 15.6%. The highest rate in Canada. Our child poverty rate is 18.6%. We have had the worst child poverty rate for 10 of the last 11 years.6 We also have the most unequal distribution of income among rich and poor families with children and a shocking rate of poverty for children living in single mother-led families at 49.8%.6

Despite these statistics, the provincial government has refused to follow the lead of almost every other Canadian province and territory by implementing a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. When such a plan was proposed by a member of the opposition in May 2014, Premier Christie Clark stated that her government does not believe such a strategy is necessary.

At the same time, the government continues to support policies that keep families poor such as the child support claw back. Unlike other kids, children whose parents are on welfare do not benefit from child support paid by the non-custodial parent. The government deducts child support payments dollar for dollar from the mother’s welfare cheque. This means parents on welfare do not get to use this extra money for nutritious food, a more secure roof over their family’s head or other things that would improve their children’s quality of life like extra-curricular activities, books or toys. The government, it would seem, is intent on keeping the poorest British Columbians poor.

The Cost of Poverty

These policies should concern us. Not only out of compassion for the people on welfare who cannot afford both a roof over their head and nutritious food, but because they cost the rest of us a hell of a lot of money.

In 2011, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) put out a report entitled “The Cost of Poverty in BC.” In this report, the CCPA calculated the yearly cost of poverty in this province. Poverty is consistently linked to poor health, lower literacy, poor school performance for children, more crime and greater stress for family members.   Society as a whole bears the costs of poverty through higher public health care costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity and foregone economic activity. The estimates presented in the report are conservative and yet the estimated cost of poverty is $8.1 to $9.2 billion dollars a year. By contrast, the cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in BC would be only $3 to $4 billion per year. The plan would include policies like investing in new social housing, increasing welfare or implementing universal access to child care. Sounds like a bargain to me.7

If you would like more information about these numbers, here is a short video that summarizes the report.

Sadly, this research has been out since 2011 and the government is still denying that a poverty reduction strategy is necessary. Meanwhile, British Columbians continue to foot the bill for the government’s inaction. And so, every year, in an attempt to raise awareness and put public pressure on the government, Raise the Rates holds the Welfare Food Challenge. Were this year’s participants successful? Here is what some of them had to say:

“Today was the worst. For the entire day I felt so helplessly tired, and like half of my brain was gone and the rest was washed out. I walked and moved slowly, took much longer to do the same tasks, forgot things, and made mistakes. The severe, sustained fatigue is something different from the attacks of restlessness, anxiety, and irritability I experienced from hunger. I am perhaps, on the sixth day, starting to see signs of prolonged or repeated hunger / malnutrition.” – Sieun Lee, Day 6

“I am irritable dizzy, wanting to isolate but feeling left out. My work duties are suffering and this is no fun. Conclusion = We as a society are punishing the less fortunate for having the courage to ask for help.” – Tammy Battersby, Day 5

And this was after just 5-6 days, with a whole $21, which is more than many welfare recipients will actually have for food. For some, this is reality. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to choose between food and a home. No one should ever have to make that choice. So enough with apathy. It’s time to make fighting poverty a priority. It’s time we demand that our government stop neglecting our most vulnerable citizens and, for goodness’ sake, RAISE THE RATES.



  1. Raise the Rates Report of 2013: Raise the Rates http://raisetherates.org/
  2. BC Employment and Assistance Summary Report: Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation http://www.hsd.gov.bc.ca/research/14/09-aug2014.pdf
  3. Carnegie Community Action Project’s 2013 Hotel Survey and Housing Report: Rory Sutherland, Jean Swanson and Tamara Herman http://ccapvancouver.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ccap-hotel-and-housing-report-2013.pdf
  4. Cost of Eating in BC: Dieticians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca/downloadable-content/public/costofeatingbc2011_final.aspx
  5. West Coast LEAF 2014 CEDAW Report Card: West Coast LEAF http://www.westcoastleaf.org/userfiles/file/CEDAW%20Report%20Card%202014.pdf
  6. West Coast LEAF 2013 CEDAW Report Card: West Coast LEAF http://www.westcoastleaf.org/userfiles/file/CEDAW%20report%20card%202013.pdf
  7. The Cost of Poverty in BC: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives https://www.policyalternatives.ca/costofpovertybc

Through My Grandma’s Eyes: Changing the world one cookie at a time

My grandmother is not well. Last week, her doctor told her she had only a few days to live. My mom immediately hopped on a plane to be with her. She’s still here, and for that I am thankful, but the thought of losing her led me to reflect on the ways she has touched my life. Grandparents, I’m sure we can all agree, are pretty amazing. I have three sets so I consider myself pretty lucky in that department. The way I see it, the world would be a much better place if we saw each other the way our grandparents see us. This post is dedicated to my grandmother.

If we saw people for who they really are

unnamedMy Oma and Opa are very Catholic. I remember going on camping trips with them and finding a nearby church on Sundays so we would not miss Mass. When I was ten, my Opa taught me prayers, in English and in German. You would think that very Catholic grandparents would have a hard time with a granddaughter who is gay. I certainly thought so. That is why I made my step-dad break the news without me. But my Oma and Opa surprised me. As my step-dad tells it, they didn’t even bat an eye. They said something like, “well that’s her business isn’t it” and then moved on. I don’t doubt that that is the truth because they have completely embraced by wife and tell everyone what nice young women we are after we visit.

Unlike so many of us, my Oma and Opa didn’t see me as a collection of labels. They saw me as the girl they have known and loved for 21 years. And to them, being gay did not change who that girl was.

The world would be a better place if we too could see people for who they really are, and not a collection of stereotypes.

We all know that prejudice has a negative impact on those who experience it, so I won’t get into that. What I do want to share with you is a study that found that even “benevolent stereotypes” can cause harm. By benevolent stereotypes I mean the stereotypes that ascribe positive characteristics to certain people, like “poor but happy” or “women are nurturing and kind.” Researchers found that these positive stereotypes actually sustain the perception that inequality in society is fair and justified. For instance, after hearing positive gender stereotypes, women subjects were more likely to unconsciously justify gender inequality on the basis that each gender is “well-suited to specific roles.” In this way, benevolent stereotypes actually stifle social change and help maintain existing systems of inequality. Who knew?1

If we truly listened

When I was 16, my parents got jobs in a new city. They planned to move the summer before my grade 12 year. For a 16 year old, this was the worst thing that could possibly happen. I had excelled at school and was highly involved in extra-curricular activities. I had a great group of friends and I was in love (high school is where I met my wife). I was also pretty shy back then so the thought of moving to a new school in a different city where no one knew who I was was terrifying. I was devastated to think that I would be eating alone in the cafeteria the year I should have been celebrating my graduation.

30825_430078771538_2857504_nThat spring my grandmother came to visit. In the few days she was with us, I spent hours confiding in her about the move. I told her about my dreams of university and scholarships and how I didn’t know if they would come true in a new school. I told her about my sadness to leave my friends and community. I told her about my fear of eating alone in the cafeteria. And she listened. And then she went to my mother and made the case for me to stay behind. Ultimately, my mother agreed and I had a wonderful graduation year.

My grandmother could have easily dismissed my concerns as silly or childish, but she didn’t. I will forever be grateful to my grandmother for listening to me without judgment. Not only do I have wonderful memories to thank her for, but I also have my wife who may not have stayed in my life had we not had that extra year together.

The world would be a better place if we too could truly listen to each other without judgment.

When we listen with an open mind we build trust and respect, reduce tension and create a safe environment that is conducive to collaboration and problem-solving. We increase the speaker’s self-esteem and confidence and we elicit openess.2 I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that listening is essential for community building and positive social change.

If we were generous

66632_111481268916751_4140910_nMy other grandma, the one on my father’s side, is one of the most generous people I know. When my sister and I were kids, she would bake dozens of cookies before every visit in each of our favourite varieties. She would keep them in tins on the lowest shelf so that even as kids, we could always reach them. She and my grandpa would also stock their kitchen with all our favourite treats, even the gross ones that they would be stuck with after we went home. We never left their house without twice as much luggage as we came with, whether it be treats, canned goods, knitted clothes or crafts.

My grandma is also generous with her time. She is the one who taught me how to knit three times and crochet twice because I kept forgetting the technique between visits. When my grandpa got dementia, she took care of him from home until the end, despite the toll it was taking on her own physical and mental health.

The world would be a better place if we too could be so generous.

The research is clear that generosity makes people happy. Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. It is also linked to the feeling of empathy toward others. And generosity is surprisingly contagious. Studies show that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. This can spur a ripple effect of generosity through the community. Because of this effect, each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has never met.3

A teacher in Coquitlam decided to test these theories in her classroom. The result was beyond her wildest dreams. The experiment is summed up in this short video. If you have a few minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. I cry every time.

I still have five of my six grandparents and I know that makes me luckier than most. But lately I’ve been so involved in my own life that I’ve forgotten to be grateful. The news about my grandmother was an abrupt reminder that my grandparents won’t be around forever, so I need to appreciate them and learn as much as I can about the special way they see the world.

I’m sure everyone has stories about how their grandparents have touched their lives, so please share, I’d love to hear them.



  1. Stereotypes Do Reinforce the Status Quo: Stanford GSB Staff: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/stereotypes-do-reinforce-status-quo
  2. Empathic Listening: Richard Salem http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/empathic-listening
  3. 5 Ways Giving is Good for You: Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_w?ays_giving_is_good_for_you

Stepping Out of Line: How wearing shorts became a punishable offence


The incident of September 27, 2014 has been described as a black cloud over the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey League. A shocking event that lit up the channels of communication in the field hockey community like never before. A scandal for the League and a source of shame for my field hockey club. The outcome was an investigation to which only one side was invited, a harsh rebuke and a grave threat about future “misconduct”.

So what actually happened that day?

The Truth

A few years ago, my wife and I decided that we would no longer play field hockey in a skirt. We were adults, we were playing in a beer league and we decided that it was time to openly reject the outdated and discriminatory beliefs about women’s sports that the skirt represents. So we went out and we bought shorts the same colour and approximately the same length as our teammates’ skirts. For while, we played without incident. And then September 27, 2014 happened.

On that day, my wife and I took the field in our shorts, as had become our custom. And at first, the game proceeded like any other. At some point in the first half of the game, one of the referees noticed that I was wearing shorts. When she asked me why, I told her it was an ideological choice.

At halftime, the referee spoke to my team captain and told her that she would have to make a notation on our game card that two of our players were out of uniform. This had happened before and so my captain agreed. However, after speaking to the mother of one of the opposing players, the referee changed her mind and decided that the penalty should be much harsher. She told my captain that no player wearing shorts would be allowed back on the field.

This caught me and my team off-guard. Being thrown out of the game is a pretty extreme penalty for a uniform infraction in a recreational league. Uniform infractions, after all, are very common. Players often don’t have the right colour socks or skirts, sometimes players wear glasses or hats, and in winter almost all of us wear leggings and shirts in various colours to stay warm. None of us had ever heard of such a serious penalty for such a minor infraction. In fact, in my seven years of playing in this league, I have never seen such a serious penalty for any infraction.

On top of everything, this penalty would have left our team short-handed. It was a call that likely would have cost us the game.

As a team, and under our coach’s direction, we decided to take the field. All of us.

As centre-forward, I stepped up to ball to wait for the referee’s whistle.   As I did, the referee told me that she would not start the game until I left the field. I told her politely that I would wait. And so that is what we did.

After a few minutes, the referee told us she was calling the game and that my team would forfeit. One of my teammates who had found the league constitution on her phone approached the referee and calmly advised her that the constitution did not provide for such a penalty. She told her that we have played in shorts for a long time and we had never been told that we might face such punishment. The referee told my teammate that she would discuss the matter with the other official. My teammate thanked her and then left her to confer.

The referee ultimately decided to let us play with the issue to be referred later to the Games Committee. In the end, the game was a tie. We shook hands with the other team and my captain apologized to the referee so there would be no hard feelings.

At no point in the game did anyone raise their voice, utter expletives or speak to the referee in anger. All my teammates and I did was express our disagreement with the skirt requirement and the unduly harsh penalty through respectful dialogue and peaceful resistance. We are a team of professional women after all and field hockey is something we do for fun.

Ironically, there were other uniform infractions on the field that day that went unnoticed by the officials. One player on the other team was playing in eyeglasses. Unlike the skirt requirement, the prohibition on eyeglasses has a fairly rational purpose. It is to prevent glass from shattering into a player’s eyes if hit by a ball. The player with the eyeglasses actually did get hit in the face that game. But the referees said nothing. It was at that moment that I knew the referee’s reaction was not about my compliance with the strict letter of the constitution. It was about my rejection of the belief system represented by the skirt. It was about a woman stepping out of line.

The Fallout

Any hope that I had that this would blow over and my wife and I could continue playing the sport we love without incident was shattered on the evening of October 2, 2014.

At 11pm that night, the women’s captain of my field hockey club forwarded to my whole team an email from the league president. Apparently, a complaint had been filed with the Games Committee about the incident of September 27, 2014. The Games Committee, made up of representatives of each field hockey club, deliberated on my team’s fate without ever giving us an opportunity to present our side of the dispute. It was recommended that our “poor conduct” on September 27, 2014 be punished with two of the harshest penalties available in this league: a red card for our captain with a suspension and fine and a forfeit of the last game for our team.

The league executive decided that this time we would be given a formal warning, but that stepping out of line again would not be tolerated.

In her email to our team captain, the league president, who herself was not present on September 27, said the following:

Now that the reports have been reviewed by both the Games Committee and the League Executive, I am writing to inform you that this kind of blatant disregard for the league constitution and total disrespect of the officials will absolutely not be tolerated. …

[The umpires] are there to uphold the rules of the league, FIH and FHBC and they are able to card a player who deliberately breaks any of these rules and are certainly permitted to red card any player who intentionally misbehaves in a serious manner towards another player, umpire or other match official.

The league will not allow umpires to be subjected to the abuse, harassment and aggressive behaviour as was witnessed last weekend and you were all very fortunate not to have been given red cards there and then.  Should you or your team mates repeat this type of behaviour, red cards, along with the game suspensions and fines that accompany them, will be issued.

A few days later, at our next game, the president of my club took it upon himself to wade into the dispute. Without the permission of my coach, he decided that it would be appropriate to deliver a speech at halftime about how ashamed we should be of ourselves. This man has never known what it is like to be a victim of sexploitation. He has never had to choose between a sport he loves and his principles. He has no idea what it is like being a woman in sports. And yet here he was speaking to a group of professional women about how we had humiliated our club and tarnished its good name and how we best do everything in our power to repair the damage we had done. He told us that our conduct was inexcusable and shameful.

He didn’t have time to finish his speech at halftime so he came back at our next practice to finish putting us in our place. When my teammate asked him what he had done as our representative to investigate the false allegations against us, he told us that it wasn’t his place to get involved.

Feeling a little confused? You are not alone.

My teammates and I racked our brains trying to remember what conduct on our part could be characterized as abusive, aggressive or harassing. We came up with nothing. We simply could not reconcile our collective recollection of the game with the conduct that had been ascribed to us.

My teammates and I are not thugs. We are professional women in our mid-twenties to early fifties. We are nurses, pharmacists, accountants, lawyers, paramedics and scientists. Some of us are even mothers.

The only thing we could come up with is that our rejection of the antiquated skirt rule was so offensive that any dialogue, no matter how respectful, was perceived as a threat.

Of course, it doesn’t matter anyway, because no one in the League or even in our own club seems to care about what actually happened. It seems that everyone is content to perpetuate the rumours and misrepresentations that have been flying around the field hockey community. Content to attack the character of professional women who have to work and live in this city.

The Silver Lining

DCF 1.0At a personal level, this controversy has taken its toll. In the last two weeks I have felt more sadness, outrage and disbelief than I usually feel in a year. I have been blown away by how strongly people feel about what I put on my body. I have even contemplated leaving this sport altogether.

But it has not been all bad. I have also felt tremendous gratitude towards my teammates and coach who continue to stand beside me in this struggle.  I have seen firsthand how strong, brave, insightful and passionate my teammates are, and it makes me hopeful for the future. My team is my silver lining.

Looking Forward

Buoyed by our teammates’ support and kind words, my wife and I decided that we will not be leaving field hockey. But neither will we give up the fight.

The League has taken away our voice on the field, but they can’t take away our freedom off of it. It is our hope that we will be able to use this ugliness as an opportunity to make real, meaningful change. Not with anger or violence but with hope and principles and determination. The first step is raising awareness so please share our story with anyone who will listen. And if this is an issue you care about, please contact me. This is not over. We look forward to hearing from you.


This is Part 3 of a series about Women in Sports. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Fit for the Bedroom, Fit for the Field: My beef with women’s uniforms

What do lingerie, bikinis and miniskirts have in common? If you answered a teenage boy’s wet dream, you are only partially correct. These three articles of clothing are also all sporting uniforms worn by women athletes. StateLibQld_1_45199_Two_women_sparring_with_a_speed_bag

Women have fought hard over the last hundred years for the freedom to play all the sports men play. And in large part, we have succeeded. The London 2012 Olympics were the first Olympics ever where women were permitted to compete in every sport contested by men. This is significant progress when you consider that in ancient Olympics a woman’s participation was punishable by death.

Wouldn’t it be great if that were the end of sex discrimination in sports? How I wish I could end this post here and congratulate the human race on its considerable evolution.

Sadly, equal participation does not mean equal respect. Women athletes continue to be differentiated from male athletes in terms of influence, resources and media coverage. But today I’m going to talk about another way women athletes are distinguished: uniforms. Let’s start with some examples.

Lingerie Football League


“LFL65” by Sevan Pulurian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ll admit, when my co-worker told me about the Lingerie Football League, I thought she was pulling my leg. For those of you who don’t know about the Lingerie Football League, it is a full contact professional football league where women play wearing lingerie and the most basic of football pads. The women athletes are not paid, although the coaches and managers are. The league is marketed primarily to beer drinking male college students over the age of 21.1

The uniforms in this league may be outrageous, but the players are no joke. Women in this league are exceptional athletes who truly love the game. And they take it seriously, spending at least six hours a week practicing on the field, rehearsing and studying complicated plays. So why would they be willing to play in lingerie? Well for starters, this league is the only professional women’s football league. For these women, the choice is stark. The price of playing the game they love at a high level is to dress up like Victoria’s Secret models and risk having their tops or bottoms ripped right off. Yes, that sort of thing actually happens in this league.2

Beach Volleyball


“Bump up” by Craig Maccubbin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Until March 2012, the mandatory uniform for a female beach volleyball player was a bikini. And not just any bikini would do, the bikini could have a maximum side width of 7 cm. By contrast, men beach volleyball players wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Fortunately, this rule was changed heading into the 2012 London Olympics out of respect for the cultural beliefs of some participating countries.3 While this rule change is commendable, it is a little disappointing that the International Volleyball Federation did not recognize that the bikini might be problematic for reasons other than religion.

Boxing, Badminton and Field Hockey

With the addition of women’s boxing to the 2012 London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association faced a major dilemma: how would the spectators tell the difference between the male and female boxers? To address this serious problem, it was proposed that female boxers be required to wear skirts.4

Badminton’s international governing body faced a different dilemma: how could they attract more fans? Looking to beach volleyball for inspiration, the body proposed that female badminton players be required to wear skirts rather than shorts to achieve a more “stylish presentation of the players”.4

In both cases, there was uproar. And in both cases, the skirt was made optional.


“China vs S. Korea, Women’s Olympic Hockey” by Ben Freeman is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Unfortunately, not all women athletes are so lucky. From beer leagues to international competitions, field hockey continues to require all female athletes to wear skirts.

So much has been written about the wardrobes of female athletes. But the question of what women should wear when competing in sports has a very simple answer: why not the same uniforms as men?

For the most part, the justification goes like this: in order for women’s sports to get media attention and funding, they need to attract an audience, and what better way to do that than to make it about sex. As the Lingerie Football League openly admits, sex sells.

The other justification I’ve heard is that skirts honour tradition. Now I don’t know about you, but as a woman I am always a bit skeptical of any argument based on tradition. After all, I can think of a good number of traditions that do not deserve honour. Nonetheless, I decided to research the tradition of skirt wearing in field hockey (and by research, I mean I asked google). It might surprise you to know that the internet does not have an answer. The best I could find was an educated guess by a long-term field hockey player and coach. Her answer to the most commonly asked question about field hockey was:

“I really don’t know. Wikipedia doesn’t even have a satisfactory answer so that must mean no one does. It might be a vestige of field hockey’s origins in the US. Constance Applebee, an Englishwoman, introduced America to the sport in the early 1900’s at women’s colleges like Vassar, Wellesley, Smith and Bryn Mawr. I imagine women didn’t have Nike tempo shorts back then, so they wore skirts and it stuck. I have no idea though.”5

no authNow to be clear, Constance Applebee did not wear a spandex miniskirt that is the modern day field hockey uniform. She wore a full length skirt. And not necessarily because she loved said skirt or thought it was a very practical uniform for field hockey, but because in the early 1900’s women were not permitted to wear anything else. Not out grocery shopping, not on an afternoon walk, not swimming and not to the ballot box (because of course another tradition of that time was that women were not allowed to vote). I shudder to think what my life would look like if other traditions from the 1900’s were as jealously guarded as the field hockey skirt.

So why is mandating a feminine uniform such a big deal? The United Nations and the Australian Sports Commission say because it sexualizes women athletes. The sexualisation of women athletes is so pervasive it even has a name: sexploitation. Sexploitation is a serious problem for many reasons, but here are the top 6:

  1. It trivializes women’s sports.

Feminine uniforms such as skirts draw attention away from the athlete’s skill and towards her body, suggesting that the value of women’s sports somehow derives from the appearance of the female athletes.6 Don’t believe me? A recent study found that sexualized images of female athletes in the media led viewers to see them as “less talented, less aggressive, and less heroic than athletes whose athleticism received more attention.”7 I think this comic makes my point.


  1. It lowers the self-esteem of girls and young women.

Sexualized images of female athletes in the media prompt adolescent girls and young women to self-objectify and focus on outer beauty. Rather than empowering young athletes and having a positive influence on women’s sports, sexualized images actually lead women and girls to feel negatively about their own bodies and may result in lower self-esteem.7

  1. It perpetuates stereotypes about women.

Much of the freedom that girls and women feel when participating in sports is because it allows them to escape from the restrictions of traditional gender roles. However, sexploitation of female athletes reinforces gender stereotyping.8 Case in point, I came across a wikiHow article entitled, “How to be Ladylike (Teens)”. The article, which had been viewed 37,556 times, consists of 17 directions to teens who are “having trouble being ladylike.” Amid suggestions such as “dislike dirty things” and “don’t smile too much” is the following:

Avoid sports, especially football, basketball and other manly sports. Being sporty and fit may be nice but sports does not make you seem particularly ladylike, though horse-back riding does. If you are interested in sports, field hockey is a classic women’s sport in the US and involves adorable skirts!”9

  1. It discourages participation in sports.

The sexualisation of women athletes creates a certain expectation about what an athlete should look like. Studies show that the pressure many female athletes experience to conform to that standard results in decreased body esteem, distracted playing and poor game time performance.7 And for some women and girls, a revealing uniform is reason enough to choose another sport or even no sport at all. Sexy uniforms may be culturally inappropriate for some women, they may be seen as sexist or embarrassing, they may make women feel more self-conscious about their bodies and they may alienate lesbians who don’t conform to the stereotypical heterosexual image.8

  1. It promotes sexual harassment.

The United Nations and the Australian Sports Commission have both found that sexploitation puts athletes at greater risk of harassment, exploitation and violence from persons within and outside their sport.8 In Canada, this is a real problem. In a survey of female athletes, 40-50 per cent reported harassment in sport.6

  1. It is darn impractical.

“Wedgie” by Nathan Rupert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My wife refers to the field hockey skirt as the $40 wedgie. Anyone who has watched a field hockey game knows why. From what I have read, volleyball players have a similar problem. And then there’s the poor women of the Lingerie Football League who are seriously under-padded and who risk losing what little uniform they have altogether.

I’m sure you can think of many more reasons why sexy or feminine uniforms are a problem, but the bottom line is despite the major strides women athletes have made, they continue to receive less respect, less dignity, less worth than male athletes.

This is an issue I care about personally because field hockey, the sport that I love and have played for over 15 years, is one of the worst offenders. Believing, as I do, in equality and respect for women’s sports, I decided to challenge the antiquated skirt rule. What I was met with was anger, indignation, prejudice and, I’ll say it, hate. For my efforts I was chastised, shamed and threatened with the harshest penalties known to field hockey. And I’m dying to tell you all about it. In my next post.


This is Part 2 of the Women & Sports series.  Find Part 1 here.


  1. Pass, Run, Walk: Lingerie Football and Slut Walks: Melanie Persaud http://blog.ywcatoronto.org/pass-run-walk-lingerie-football-and-slutwalks/
  2. Lingerie Football: So Sexy or Just Sexist? Female Players Say They Love the Game: Juju Chang and Allison Markowitz http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/lingerie-football-sexy-sexist-female-players-love-game/story?id=20318487
  3. Uniform change for all beach volleyball events: FIVB http://www.fivb.org/viewPressRelease.asp?No=33699&Language=en#.VDlhXn5ra00
  4. At London Olympics, women’s athletes’ wardrobes are source of debate: Liz Clarke http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/at-london-olympics-womens-athletes-wardrobes-are-source-of-debate/2012/07/26/gJQAPcrQCX_story.html
  5. Field Hockey FAQ: Jane Beall http://wlusidelines.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/field-hockey-faq/
  6. Women, Gender Equality and Sport: United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Women%20and%20Sport.pdf
  7. Media Coverage of Female Athletes and Its Effect on the Self-Esteem of Young Women: Scott Aligo http://ydi.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/researchBrief29_final.pdf
  8. Sexploitation: Australian Sports Commission http://fulltext.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2000/ascweb/sexploitation.asp
  9. How to be Ladylike (Teens): wikiHow http://www.wikihow.com/Be-Ladylike-(Teens)

Skirts, Grunts and Falling Uteruses: Women’s complicated relationship with sports

To say I wasn’t a very athletic kid would be a considerable understatement. My first attempt at monkey bars when I was 6 left me with a sprained arm. When I was 7, I was taunted by the kindergarteners for still having training wheels on my bike. My step-father, bless his heart, tried to introduce me to soccer when I was 8. My only real memory of my soccer days was the time I tripped over the ball in practice and wound up on my face.

So it was a big surprise to my parents when I fell in love with field hockey in grade eight. Field hockey, after all, is a pretty challenging sport. Not only must you stickhandle with only one side of a very short stick, but the ball is comparable to a bocce ball in weight and has the tendency to soar when hit by a novice player. Anyone who has been hit with a field hockey ball knows that it can be a pretty dangerous sport. To start, I wasn’t very good. But after hours upon hours of stickhandling in our backyard I got the hang of it and started to excel.

491482_31106062Some of my happiest memories from high school are tied to field hockey. It was the first time in my life I could identify as an athlete. That was a pretty big self-esteem boost for a nerdy kid. Being part of a team also lead to some amazing bonds with my teammates, many of whom became my closest friends. There was only one problem with field hockey. The uniform. As you may know, field hockey is the last remaining sport that requires its female athletes to wear a skirt.

As an adult, I continue to play field hockey in a women’s league in Vancouver. Unfortunately, my love of the game has recently been overshadowed by controversy. The game I love and have played for over 15 years has come into direct conflict with my strong belief in women’s equality. But more on that later.

Because of the controversy in my own life, I decided to explore the relationship between women and sports. As you might guess, it has been a difficult relationship marked by division and discrimination but also by accomplishment and empowerment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASports started opening up to Canadian women by the end of the 19th century. However, at that time, women were encouraged to participate in sports such as horse riding, skating and golf, activities that were considered graceful and ladylike. More vigorous exercise, such as riding a bike, was discouraged by some doctors who were concerned it would cause damage to the uterus or, God forbid, would produce a female orgasm.1

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in North America and with it increased participation in women’s sports.1

Today, the sporting world looks very different than that of the past. Across the country, women are participating in high numbers in sports including those traditionally seen as masculine or inappropriate for women.1 Women athletes such as Hayley Wickenheiser and Christine Sinclair have become national heroes. This is a very good thing, not only for women and girls but for society as a whole. Participation in sports may seem trivial but its outcomes are anything but.

Studies show that participation in sport and physical activity can prevent a myriad of physical illnesses which account for over 60% of global deaths. Participation in sports can also promote psychological well-being through building confidence and self-esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. This is especially important to adolescent girls who are significantly more likely than boys to have seriously considered suicide by the age of 15. Participation in sports can even lead to social change. The United Nations identified sport as a key vehicle to the promotion of gender equality. According to the UN, participation in sports expands opportunities for education and for the development of a range of essential life skills, including communication, leadership, teamwork and negotiation.2 Sadly, the positive outcomes of sport for women continue to be constrained by gender based discrimination in all areas and at all levels of sport and physical activity. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some modern day headlines.

“Grunting” Controversy Continues on Wimbledon’s Opening Day3 

412106_8549This headline is not a joke. It refers to the real controversy in women’s tennis about the players making unladylike “grunting” noises when they hit the ball. Some officials apparently find these noises so disturbing that players have been warned that they could be fined for making excessive noise. One tennis coach was of the opinion that a series of graduated penalties ranging from the loss of a point to the loss of a match should be implemented to cut down on excessive grunting. One former Wimbledon champion actually went so far as to claim that the role of female tennis players is as much about “selling sex” as their physical ability. He suggested the best way to reduce the amount of grunting in women’s tennis is to, “Just play it back to the women. It sounds disgusting, ugly, unsexy!” So why do tennis players grunt? Different explanations have been offered, but they include to help the player relax, to bring confidence, to apply maximum force to the ball, to increase core stability and strength and to intimidate the opposition.4 Notwithstanding of the legitimacy of these justifications, it would seem that many coaches, officials and spectators are willing to reduce women’s competitive advantage to preserve the sex appeal of tennis.

The Outrageous Reason Why Women’s Ski Jumping Was Banned From The Olympics until Now5

Can you guess what that reason might be? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same reason women were advised not to bicycle in the 1890s. That’s right, high ranking officials thought ski jumping might mess up your uterus. The president of the International Ski Federation in 2005 said, “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” The good news is women ski jumpers were finally permitted to compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics. So far, there have been no reports of falling uteruses.

FIFA Women’s World Cup: gender discrimination allegations dog promotional efforts6


Kobe Bryant ✔ @kobebryant This is @DrinkBODYARMOR athlete @sydneyleroux after playing on turf! #ProtectTheAthlete #USWNT 3:24 PM – 13 Aug 2014

As you might know, Canada is set to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, Canada’s recent announcement that the tournament would be played on artificial turf rather than real grass has caused quite the uproar. The Men’s World Cup is played on grass because artificial turf is an inferior playing surface which leads to more physical injuries. Need proof? This picture, tweeted by Kobe Bryant, shows Sydney Leroux’s bloodied and bruised legs after playing on artificial turf. A group of elite international athletes have actually filed a lawsuit over the issue alleging gender discrimination. “They would never in a heartbeat think of putting anything less than grass for men,” said former Canadian national player Carrie Serwetnyk. “They’d protest. It would be a scandal.”

And of course we cannot forget the issue that is in headlines again and again, the one the United Nations describes as a constant area of controversy and resistance, the one I have been waiting to speak publically about: women’s uniforms. But I’ll get to that. In my next post. -Kaity


  1. History of Canadian Women in Sport: Tabitha Marshall http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-history-of-canadian-women-in-sport/
  2. Women, Gender Equality and Sport: United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Women%20and%20Sport.pdf
  3. “Grunting” Controversy Continues on Wimbledon’s Opening Day: Margaret Hartmann http://jezebel.com/5300061/grunting-controversy-continues-on-wimbledons-opening-day
  4. Wimbledon 2014: Why do women players grunt: Kathryn Dobinson http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10919656/Wimbledon-2014-Why-do-women-players-grunt.html
  5. The Outrageous Reason Why Women’s Ski Jumping Was Banned From the Olympics Until Now: Tony Manfred http://www.businessinsider.com/why-womens-ski-jumping-was-banned-2014-1
  6. FIFA Women’s World Cup: gender discrimination allegations dog promotional efforts: CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/fifa-women-s-world-cup-gender-discrimation-allegations-dog-promotional-efforts-1.2756465