After organizing a die-in at the Legislature today, May 14, to counter-protest the annual March for Life, the Fredericton Youth Feminists organized a panel on intersectional feminism at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
Megan Hill from the FYF introduced the panelists: Deborah Stienstra, Professor in Disability Studies at the University of Manitoba and Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Stepha Zapata, a biracial first-generation Canadian feminist with a BA in Women’s Studies & Creative Writing at UNB, Milo Demerchant, a trans man and chairperson of Fredericton Gender Minorities Group and Astrid Deurloo, a trans woman and member of Fredericton Gender Minorities Group.
Forty people showed up to hear them speak at Marshall D’Avray Hall. Panelists explored and discussed the importance of practicing this particular kind of feminism and discussed racism, transphobia and ableism within the feminist community, as well as spoke from personal experience.
Intersectional feminism is feminism that acknowledges the ways in which different forms of oppression (sexism, racism, classism, transphobia, ableism, etc) are interwoven, and it attempts to liberate people from all forms of oppression.
A person “who has the privilege of passing as white,” Stepha Zapata offered her version of “Dear White People,” a poem about her particular experience in confronting the people around her about her identity: “we are not Halloween costumes.” She also altered “Dear White Feminists,” saying that “all women experience oppression, but not all women experience oppression the same way.” Zapata ended with a call to “stop over-generalizing feminism.”
Stienstra acknowledged that she speaks from that place of privilege while thanking the indigenous people for having us on unceded Wolastoq territory. For Stienstra, a descendant of European settlers who had a partner who lived with a disability, “each of us [feminists] comes from a place of intersectionality.” She reminds us of intersectionality’s community roots, since academia is not a place where certain people fit in. In order to be inclusionary, there must be “intent and attention” to the audience and the possible needs of the audience.
Stienstra shared stories from other women whom she has learned from, such as Diane Scribe-Niiganii, from Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba Accessibility Advisory Council; Valerie Wolbert, from Poplar Point, Manitoba, Former President of People First of Manitoba (an advocacy organization for people with intellectual deficiencies); and Carmela Hutchinson, from Irricana, Alberta, one of the directors of DisAbled Women’s’ Network of Canada (DAWN-RAFH) and President of the Alberta Network for Mental Health. These women have taught her about the complex question of intersectionality.
Milo Demerchant, a trans man, discussed exclusionary language in the fight for reproductive justice. The language used is sexist because activists often work under the binary assumption about gender. Demerchant has found statistics regarding the problematic relation of trans men to health care, who “have to present a palatable trans identity” in order to be looked after. The province of New Brunswick has no coverage for transitioning and requires people to register as gender dysphoric. Demerchant has had discouraging personal experiences with discrimination in searching for employment, often asked about his gender and required to use his birth name on a name tag.
Astrid Deurloo defined transmisogyny as “the intersection between misogyny and transphobia.” Deurloo asserted that “all people who aren’t trans women are transmisogynist” and that it is almost impossible to find a safe space as trans women. Trans men are often accused of “residual male privilege” and are ostracized and demonized as “men in disguise.” This deprives them of safe spaces that “they desperately need” to feel secure. For trans women there is a more acute danger for not “passing” for the chosen gender identity: “we often find ourselves unsafe in all spaces.”
There was a thought-provoking Q&A session after the panel where the audience had the opportunity to ask for clarification and comment on the presentations. One person present asked for tangible ways that people can go beyond their privilege. Stienstra proposed that the first step is to recognize and unpack the privilege, then to learn how to be an ally, acknowledge, listen and create space for others. Zapata clarified that there should be space, but not using others as sole representatives of an entire subgroup.
Sophie M. Lavoie is a professor of culture and language studies at UNB and writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.