Vote YES for Women in Metro Vancouver’s Transit Referendum

With only three weeks left to vote in the Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation Referendum, less than 30% of residents have cast their ballots.   If you’re a procrastinator like me and that referendum package is hiding somewhere underneath last month’s bank statements, this reminder is for you. In case you haven’t decided how you intend to vote, here is my take on the Referendum, from a feminist perspective.

I’m sure you’ve heard how voting YES will keep Vancouver livable as we gain 1 million new residents by 2045. How voting YES will protect the environment. How voting YES will reduce traffic congestion and provide better commuting options. But you probably haven’t heard how voting YES will promote women’s equality.

The simple fact is, safe, reliable and accessible transit is a women’s issue. Women rely on transit more than men. A Case Study on public transportation use in Western Europe and North America found that 75% of all bus journeys are undertaken by women. One reason for this might be that only 30% of women have access to the use of a car during daytime hours.

Not only do women use public transportation more than men, we also use it differently. Women do not simply go from place A to place B in a day, for example from home to work. Rather, as primary caregivers and members of the informal and formal labour force, women make more complex journeys. One trip may involve multiple destinations for diverse purposes like dropping children off at daycare or school, going to work or picking up groceries. It is very common for women to have to get off at multiple destinations, pay multiple fares and travel during off peak hours. Many women, particularly women of colour, need affordable and 24 hour public transit because they are concentrated in low-wage, night shift, temporary or part-time work. As such, by necessity they must travel through the city very early in the morning and late at night when public transit is typically unreliable and trips less safe.

Women also experience public transportation spaces differently because of the diverse forms of gender-based violence that occur on a daily basis, including sexual abuse, harassment, groping, the use of vulgar language, intimidation and assault. A study by the World Bank in Peru concluded that while men’s first priority with public transit is speed, women’s is personal security. Accessibility is also a priority for women. More often than men, women must navigate public transportation while carrying small children, children’s strollers and packages.

For all of these reasons, women need accessible transportation that runs reliably off commuter channels and outside of peak hours. Transportation that takes us near schools, daycares, shops and employment locations so we may have access to education, healthcare resources and employment opportunities.   We need well-maintained footpaths, pedestrian streets, bike lanes and well-lit sidewalks that connect us to bus stops and SkyTrain stations. And we need all of this to be affordable.

The Mayors’ Council Vision may not address all of these needs, but it does make important strides. Here are some of the highlights of the Vision:

  • Transit will be accessible to more residents across Metro Vancouver
  • Light rail transit will be expanded into Surrey and Langley to offer more reliable transportation to these rapidly growing communities.
  • Bus service will be improved in new and growing lower density neighbourhoods across the region.
  • HandyDART service will increase by 30%.
  • Transit will run more frequently, outside of peak hours.
  • Bus service will be increased 25% across Metro Vancouver.
  • All-day bus service will be more frequent, with a significant expansion of the routes that provide service every 15 minutes or better, all day, 7 days a week.
  • 70% of Metro Vancouver residents will have transit service so frequent throughout the day a schedule is not needed.
  • Night bus service will increase by 80%.
  • There will be more safe alternatives to transit.
  • There will be 2,700 kilometers of new bikeways, including 300 kilometers of fully traffic separated routes making cycling a safer choice for both cyclists and motorists.
  • Walking and waiting facilities at or near transit stops and stations will be improved for better connections to transit.
  • Moving around the city will take less time.
  • Traffic congestion will be reduced saving drivers and transit users 20-30 minutes per day on many of the region’s most congested corridors.

If the referendum does not pass, we are looking at a deterioration in our existing levels of transit. The Mayors’ Council estimates that within 10 years we will need an additional $140 million per year just to maintain the quality of service and infrastructure we currently have. Even with this level of investment we will likely see worse overcrowding, more passengers being passed up by full buses and trains, no new or expanded transit service for growing communities and no new investment in pedestrian connectivity or safety. For women, this will mean more difficult access to transit, more time spent waiting for transit and fewer safe alternatives to transit.

Seems like an obvious choice to me. Vote YES. Support the women of Metro Vancouver.

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Cyber misogyny: the new frontier for hate

On August 3, 2013, 14-year-old Hannah Smith hanged herself in her bedroom. In the weeks leading up to her death, Hannah was subjected to cruel taunts and insults about her weight and a family death on Ask.fm, a question and answer social networking site that allows anonymous participation. According to Hannah’s father, she went to Ask.fm to look for advice on the skin condition eczema. Instead, she got bullies on Ask.fm urging her to drink bleach and cut herself.

Last week, I started a series about the different ways sexism is impacting girls and women today and how feminism can be utilized to help them. This is the second post in that series. This post is about cyber misogyny.

In many ways, cyber misogyny is an old issue taken to new extremes. Sexual harassment, domestic violence, hate speech, stalking and threats have long been problems for women. However, in real space, where people’s identities are known, it is easier to identify and punish abusers. The Internet offers expanded opportunities to perpetuate harassment and abuse. At the same time, it allows abusers to avoid social and legal consequences for their actions by hiding behind anonymity. In its report “#CyberMisogyny: Using and strengthening Canadian legal responses to gendered hate and harassment online” West Coast LEAF calls the Internet “the new frontier for hate.”

The term cyber misogyny encompasses a wide range of conduct. In this post, I will discuss the five types of online violence discussed in West Coast LEAf’s report.

  • Revenge porn

Revenge porn can loosely be described as the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Revenge porn is often associated with the termination of an intimate relationship and is disturbingly common. According to the US-based Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, one in ten ex-partners has threatened to expose a risqué photo of their ex. Sixty per cent of them follow through. Ninety per cent of victims are women.

It is not only teenagers who are affected by revenge porn. This year, well known celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst had intimate photos stolen and released publically. In Canada, the Associate Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba had nude photos taken by her husband posted online without her consent.

Revenge porn is so prevalent numerous websites exist for the sole purpose of ruining people’s lives by posting embarrassing photos or forwarding them to family members, friends and business contacts. Because of websites like these and the hundreds of thousands of daily viewers, women have lost jobs, economic opportunities and personal relationships.

Studies by Cyber Civil Rights show that 47 per cent of revenge porn victims contemplate suicide. Ninety-three per cent suffer significant emotional distress.

  • Sexting

Sexting is the sending of sexy, nude or partially nude photos via cell phone. Recent studies show that sexting has become a fairly common practice among young people as part of their sexual exploration. In a study involving students in grades 4-11 across Canada, researchers found that eight per cent of students in grades 7-11 with access to a cell phone have sent a sext. Twenty-four per cent have received a sext. The numbers rise as students get older.

While youth seem to feel ok about sending sexual images of themselves to others, when those images are forwarded without their consent, the results can be devastating. Just under one quarter of teens who said they had sent a sext of themselves reported that the person who received the sext forwarded it to someone else.  Several teen suicides have been linked to the forwarding of nude photos and the resulting harassment and abuse.

  • Online sexual exploitation of children and youth

Online child sexual exploitation includes child pornography, luring, child prostitution, child sex tourism and child trafficking. The number of child sexual exploitation reports received by Cybertip.ca, a national tipline for reporting online sexual exploitation of youth, has increased from 179 reports in 2002/2003 to 7,913 reports in 2009/2010.

The vast majority (90.2 per cent) of reports between September 2002 and June 2010 pertained to child pornography.

  • Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking includes monitoring email communications, sending abusive messages, sending viruses, using the victim’s online identity to send false messages to others and using online sites to collect a victim’s personal information and whereabouts.

Technology, including social networking sites and global positioning systems, facilitate stalking behaviour by making it easier for perpetrators to keep tabs on the activities and location of their targets.

These technologies also make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to escape their abuser. Electronic communications now play a role in nine out of ten domestic violence situations.

Statistics from the U.S. Justice Department suggest that 850,000 American adults, mostly women, are targets of cyberstalking each year. A study of youth conducted by MTV found that more than half surveyed had experienced abuse through social and digital media. Seventy-six per cent felt that digital abuse was a serious problem for people their age.

  • Hate speech

Messages promoting hate and glorifying violence against women proliferate on the Internet. Unfortunately, thanks to a recent amendment to the federal Human Rights Act, gender-based hate speech is no longer prohibited under Canadian federal law.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for outspoken feminists to be threatened with rape and murder for their online presence. In 2007, well-known blogger and software developer Kathy Sierra shut down her blog and cancelled public appearances after she was subjected to threats of rape and strangulation and her personal information, including her address and social security number, were leaked. This year, feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian cancelled an appearance at Utah State University after an email threatened the deadliest school shooting in American history.

In 2006, a study showed that individuals writing under female names received twenty-five times more sexually threatening and malicious comments than those writing under male names.

Unfortunately, cyber misogyny in its many forms is too often trivialized by the public. Many consider online bullying an inconvenience that should simply be ignored. Others respond that “boys will be boys,” especially on the Internet. This leaves women with a stark choice: tolerate the abuse or opt out of life online.

So what can we do, as feminists, to protect women and girls from the serious repercussions of cyber misogyny? According to West Coast LEAF, the varied nature of cyber misogyny means that there is no quick fix, and a wide range of strategies will be required. Three such strategies are information gathering, law reform and public education.

  • Information gathering

In order to create effective solutions, we need to fully understand the problem. West Coast LEAF recommends the government create a new office housed within the federal Ministry on the Status of Women to conduct research, facilitate dialogue and make recommendations to government about appropriate legal responses to cyber misogyny.

  • Law reform

A major contributor to the prevalence of cyber misogyny is that on the Internet, lawlessness reigns. Holding harassers and hatemongers legally accountable for their actions is one way to educate the public and send a strong message that these behaviours will not be tolerated.

On December 9, 2014, Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, became law. This legislation makes it a criminal offence to knowingly publish, distribute, transmit, sell, make available or advertise intimate images. The Bill also provides courts the authority to order the seizure of intimate images and to order the custodian of the computer system on which the image is made available to delete the material. Only time will tell, but one major impediment to the effectiveness of this legislation is that it only applies to Canadian servers.

Unfortunately, in addition to these important cyberbullying provisions, the Bill also includes broad law enforcement provisions which have raised significant privacy concerns and are likely unconstitutional.

While the cyberbullying provisions of Bill C-13 are a step in the right direction, they are not enough. As we’ve seen in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault, criminal law is often not an effective means of addressing violence against women. Criminal convictions are rare and often come at a significant personal cost to the victim. As such, we should be exploring other legal options that are more victim-friendly.

As an example, provincial governments could enact legislation creating a “cyberbullying” tort which would allow victims to sue for cyberbullying. This way, victims could receive monetary compensation for the harms experienced.

Provincial governments could also follow Nova Scotia’s lead and amend Education Acts to create a legislated duty on principals, vice-principals and teachers to take disciplinary action in cases of harassment and abuse, whether it occurs on or off school property, when such behaviour has a negative impact on students’ ability to feel safe and learn at school.

The federal government should also reinstate the hate speech provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act repealed in June.

  • Education

Another way to promote a culture of respect, acceptance and ethical behaviour in schools is to make sure that human rights and non-discrimination are an essential part of the school curricula throughout a child’s education. Education about good “digital citizenship” is also crucial.

Jessica Logan, an Ohio high school senior, ended her life after her ex-boyfriend forwarded a nude photo of her to everyone at her school. For months Jessica was cruelly harassed by the other girls at her school who called her a slut and a whore. Her mother found her hanging in her closet on July 3, 2008.

Jessica Logan, Hannah Smith, Hope Witsell, Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and others ended their lives because of the effects of cyber misogyny. It is time we took this issue seriously. In case you needed another reason why we still need feminism, this is it.

-Kaity

In defence of the “F” word: why we need feminism now more than ever

I started blogging a few months ago because I’d had enough of the smear campaign against feminism that has been underway for many years. Like the #WomenAgainstFeminism phenomenon on Tumblr where women would take photographs of themselves holding signs that state why they do not need feminism, such as, “I don’t need feminism because my self-worth is not directly tied to the size of my victim complex.”   Or the recent Time magazine article which included “feminist” in a list of annoying words that readers could vote to ban from public discourse. Or the public distancing from feminism by celebrities like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, who, for better or worse are role models for young girls.

These anti-feminism sentiments have led smart, progressive people to distance themselves from a movement that’s aim is equality. I know because I’m married to one. My partner is a strong woman. She grew up playing hockey and baseball with boys because our small town didn’t have girls’ teams. She has always known what she wants and isn’t particularly concerned with conforming to societal expectations. She is tough. She is egalitarian. But she is not a feminist.

And she’s not the only one. Most polls say that fewer than half of younger women identify with feminism.

From my conversations with my wife, I’ve learned a thing or two about anti-feminism sentiments. In many ways, anti-feminism campaigns are grounded in misunderstandings. Misunderstandings about what it means to be a feminist.

I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture – beer, bars, and muscle cars.” – Lady Gaga

Misunderstandings about what feminism stands for.

No, I wouldn’t say feminist-that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.”- Kelly Clarkson

And misunderstandings about where women are at in terms of equality.

“I don’t need feminism because men are now the true victims of discrimination.”

It’s this last misunderstanding that I’m most concerned about. It’s true that women have made a lot of progress in the last forty or fifty years. But it would be a mistake to believe feminism is no longer necessary. The way I see it, sexism still abounds. Both in the ways it always has and in completely new ways.

How far we’ve come

Let me start by acknowledging that women’s equality has come a long way since the 1970s, especially in terms of women’s education and participation in the workforce.

Young women in Canada are pursuing post-secondary education at impressive rates and are now more likely than male youth to hold a university degree. In the United States, women earn almost 60 per cent of undergraduate degrees and 60 per cent of all master’s degrees. They also hold almost 52 per cent of all professional jobs.

In terms of labour force participation, women have gone from 37.97 per cent of the workforce in 1970 to 47.21 per cent of the workforce during 2006-2010. Women have also made significant gains in certain occupations. In 1970, very few women were accountants, police officers, lawyers, pharmacists and doctors. Between 2006 and 2010, 60 per cent of accountants were women, 52.6 per cent of pharmacists, 32.4 per cent of physicians and 33.4 per cent of lawyers.

Rates of domestic violence have also declined significantly since 1999. This decline is partly due to increased social equality and financial freedom for women, which makes it easier for them to leave abusive relationships at earlier stages. However, after falling for a decade, rates of domestic violence have now flat-lined. In 2009, the rate of self-reported spousal violence was the same as in 2004. Unfortunately, reporting rates have not improved over the years. Victims of domestic violence are now less likely to report an incident to police.

How far we have to go

Despite these significant gains, women still lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions. For example, only four per cent of CEOs in Canada’s top 500 companies are women. Ninety-six per cent are men.

Women are also seriously outnumbered among Canada’s elected representatives. Although there are more women in politics now than in 1974, when only four per cent of MPs were women, men still outnumber women four to one among Canada’s elected representatives. And the Conservative caucus is a mere 17 per cent female compared to more than 40 per cent for the NDP.

Women also have a long way to go in terms of pay equity. Even with a university degree, women on average earned almost $30,000 less than men in 2008.

In some areas, women are actually losing ground. For instance, the percentage of women appointed to Canada’s more than 200 federal tribunals, boards, agencies and Crown corporations has dropped from 37 per cent before Harper’s Conservatives took power in 2006, to 32.5 per cent. The numbers for judge appointments are even worse. Fewer than a third of federally-appointed judges by the Conservatives were women. By comparison, nearly 40 per cent of the judges appointed in 2005 by the then Liberal government were women. The Supreme Court of Canada’s high-water mark for women judges was four out of nine. Under Harper, we have slipped to three. As we saw with the attempted appointment of Marc Nadon, the Conservatives have no intention of remedying the imbalance.

Despite these stark comparisons, Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay has tried to defend his government’s low rate of female appointments by blaming women. Earlier this year he stated that women don’t apply to be judges because they fear the job will take them away from their children– and that children need their mothers more than their fathers.

In BC, the numbers for judicial appointments are no better. Last fall, retired B.C. Supreme Court judge Donna Martinson wrote that only five women and one non-Caucasian were included among 31 judicial appointments since January 2009.

Violence against women is another area where progress has stalled or started to backslide. Rates of self-reported violent victimization against women have not decreased between 1999 and 2009. In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19 per cent, the third increase in four years.

In Canada, the backsliding of women’s progress may be partially attributable to our government’s lack of commitment to women’s equality. In 2006, the Conservatives cut Status of Women Canada’s budget by 37 percent and closed 12 of its 16 regional offices. They also eliminated funding to women’s groups doing research, advocacy and lobbying.

This may be one reason the UN Annual Human Development Index for 2012 revealed that inequality in Canada is actually growing.

New forms of misogyny

Beyond the traditional indicators of women’s progress, we see girls facing new forms of sexism in their daily lives. In many ways, these new forms are even more pervasive and difficult to escape. Like cyberbullying, the sexualisation of women and girls in the media and the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation.

The effects of these new forms of misogyny are devastating. Eighty per cent of ten year old girls in America say they have been on a diet. The number one magic wish for young girls age 11 to 17 is to be thinner. With these numbers it should come as no surprise that we are seeing record declines in mental health among adolescent girls.

We are also seeing high levels of sexual violence. In 2008, over 11,000 sexual assaults of girls under the age of 18 were reported to police in Canada. Since only about ten per cent of assaults are reported, the actual number is much higher. Rates of sexual assault are much higher for certain populations of girls. Tragically, about 75 per cent of Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 have been sexually abused.

We are also seeing high levels of sexual exploitation on a global scale. The U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Eighty per cent of them are women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation.

The way I see it, feminism is not irrelevant. Girls today need feminism now more than ever. In the next several posts, I will be exploring the new ways sexism is impacting girls today, and how feminism can be utilized to help them.

-Kaity

Picture: “feminism” by Jay Morrison is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

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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.

-Kaity

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

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

legs

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

Sources:

  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