Feminism, Social Media, & Intersectionality; My Volunteer Work
by Laura-Camille on May 15, 2017 - 7:52pm
"We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back." -Malala Yousafzai
"The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity" -Viola Davis
"In my nervousness for this speech and my moments of doubt, I've told myself firmly, 'If not me, who? If not when, how?'" -Emma Watson
These quotes accurately sum up the work I have been doing during the last months; I have dedicated most of this semester to researching and writing about feminist issues. I summarized newsworthy articles and linked them to subjects like new power and social justice, and these articles enabled me to learn more about feminism and its complexity. In one of my posts, I wrote about a feminist issue here in Canada; the National Inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada. This news influenced the volunteer work I would do in the next weeks, and more importantly my overall perspective on feminism.
Briefly, in 2014, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mountain Police) revealed that in the past 30 years, at least 1200 aboriginal women had gone missing and/or were murdered. This statistic is alarming, as such numbers indicate that these women are overrepresented four times more as victims of violent crimes than their average representation in the country. The main reason for this crisis is that the police force is accused of neglecting investigations, or under-investigating crimes against indigenous women. As a result, the government took the initiative to put a national investigation into place. However, while the government was mostly pressured by the families of the victims, there was very little outcry by feminist organizations in Canada. This lead to my reflection on the importance of intersectional feminism (to be discussed later on) in Canada. To learn more about this story, read my blogpost or consult the links at the end of this post.
As part of my volunteer work, I got in touch with two women at the head of the Manif des Femmes organization and key organizers in the Women’s March Montreal on January 21, 2017. I was first invited to participate in a discussion on the future of feminism in Québec and Canada. About twenty people were invited, including representatives of various feminist groups, such as the FFQ (Fédération des femmes du Québec), the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux), the Centre des Femmes UQAM and the Montreal-based organization Stella. Two main themes were discussed during the two-hour meeting. The first one was the presence of intersectionality in the feminist narrative, while the second theme was focusing on ways to establish a stronger influence on younger generations and encourage them to get involved.
By definition, intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping in discrimination or disadvantage” (Oxford dictionary). In the meeting, an intense debate arose between parties present on the range of intersectionality, how it applies to feminism, and what feminism should look like in the country. Naturally, I was able to apply the knowledge I acquired during the semester to this debate, including the case of the missing and murdered indigenous women.
The second issue brought to the table was developing ways for the younger communities to get involved in feminism. Given that I was the youngest person there, it was an opportunity for me to give my insight as a student and a millenial on what I thought the best approach could be. One of the solutions proposed was an increased presence on social media by the organizations, as young people are often very present on the different social media platforms. I believe that social media activism, which I have been a participant in for a long time, is an efficient first step to educate people on feminism.
South of our border, in the United States of America, the cases of the missing black girls of D.C. went viral on social media in March, with the hashtag #FindOurGirls. When the Washington, D.C. Police Department tried to raise awareness about missing children and teenagers by sharing their images on social media, it sparked outrage and fear over the challenges children and teens of color face in society. The police force is more likely to assume that girls of color are runaways rather than abducted. If they are runaways, the lack of social and financial resources makes them much more vulnerable to violence, negligence and sex trafficking. Although there was public outrage for a few days or weeks, the event also shed light on the disappointing previous lack of activity by feminist organizations concerning the raise of awareness about the additional challenges, struggles and injustices women of color have to endure.
This issue shows how much of an impact social media can have on otherwise overlooked injustices. Youth are the majority of internet users and therefore influencers. However, it is important for these issues to not be summarized by a simple hashtag, but rather be the first step to having conversations and taking action to stand up for the oppressed. The challenge for feminist organizations is to increase their presence on these various platforms in order to gain more exposure, and then finding effective ways to sensitize and educate the public, especially millenials.
Despite my “social media activism”, I realized that I had not acted concretely in promoting equality. As a result, I decided to get involved; I wanted to be a participant, and not someone who simply shared news stories on Facebook. This is what lead to the second part of my volunteering experience, which was my involvement in the #ICantKeepQuiet flashmob event in Montreal on April 8th 2017. This movement is dedicated to “celebrating women’s unique voices and identities in an effort to break the cycles of oppression and fear, perpetuated by today's media”. Furthermore, it encourages women to speak up against gender-based injustices and prejudice. People in the United States and around the world gathered to sing MILCK’s I Can’t Keep Quiet, the song that inspired the project. I encourage you to visit the project's website and give the powerful and moving song a listen. I was approached by the organizers to livestream the event on the Manif des Femmes’s Facebook page after demonstrating my interest in the event, and to promote the event the night before. Unfortunately, the phone I was provided for the livestream had technical difficulties, but I still managed to film the flashmob and upload it later onto social media. The responses we got were very touching; In fact, both the social media and the live audience had a very supportive and positive reaction to the flashmob. The crowd unanimously asked for the choir to sing the song again, and many people in the crowd sang along the second time around thanks to the lyrics that were distributed to them before and during the flashmob. The event made me realized how much even the smallest actions could in fact help. This crowd may have gone home afterwards, and told people they knew about what they had witnessed. Maybe this lead to conversations on feminism for some, which participates in the public consciousness aspect of feminism. This to me is what was the most satisfying, that an event like this could encourage people to reflect on their beliefs and actions regarding feminism, and decide to change and/or possibly become an active participant in the movement.
Marché Jean Talon before the flashmob
Members of the Maha Choir singing "I Can’t Keep Quiet" by MILCK
Marché Jean Talon during the flashmob
Since April 8th, I have kept in touch with the organizers and I provide my help, when needed, to translate from English to French any text or picture the group wants to put on Instagram, Twitter, etc. This way, they increase their presence on social media by reaching a bigger Quebec audience: English-speaking as well as French-speaking Canadians. This was previously an issue, as the people responsible of the social media presence were mostly anglophones. I intend to continue to help in any way I can, and look forward to attending any other discussion on the future of feminism in our province and country. My goal is to continue being an active and not a passive participant in feminism.
My activism in the Future
My past two years as a CEGEP student have given me the opportunity to improve my critical thinking skills, which have lead to the development of my strong convictions about various social issues, including feminism. This volunteer experience was a perfect and meaningful way to act upon my beliefs, get involved in a cause I am passionate about, and conclude my CEGEP years. When people see how passionate I am about social justice and feminism, most of them have told me that all they can see is an “angry feminist without a cause”. Unfortunately, this is the result of the mainstream idea that feminism is not necessary in developed countries, and even if it is, some people cannot own up to being feminists because of the bad image the radical branch of the movement projects on society. One of my male family members is not able to speak the words “I am a feminist” because of some fear or idea of it being emasculating or radical, even when everything he says about the issue is considered feminist. This is why I take it upon myself to challenge this erroneous mainstream idea, by acting on my opinions and teaching people about feminism’s principles of equality between sexes, genders, religions, etc.
Considering the extensive research I have done on the issue, I recognize that women do not face oppression in the same way and that feminism cannot be approached the same way from one country to another. In the future, I would love to merge my passions for human rights and travel by getting involved overseas in the defense of women’s rights. Thanks to one of our assignments we had for this class, I know that there are multiple organizations that offer overseas volunteer opportunities such as Amnesty International and Crossroads International. Finally, I am also going to law school with the goal to become a human rights lawyer. I believe that this will enable me to have more influence and opportunities to accomplish things that help and matter to oppressed groups. My volunteering experience has made me realize how gratifying it is to help others, and how small actions can have an impact. I will continue to embody and values of empathy, open-mindedness, and justice in my life and future volunteer experiences.
"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." -Audre Lorde
Social media pages to follow if you are interested in feminism in Canada:
-For more information on the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, consult the following articles:
-For more information on some groups present at the discussion on feminism, consult their websites:
-For articles about the missing black girls of Washington D.C., refer to the following articles:
-For more information on the #ICantKeepQuiet movement and flashmob, see: https://www.icantkeepquiet.org/