Monday, March 24, 2014

Where I've been and where I am going

A lot has happened in my life in the past few months.   About the time of the last post (five months ago!)  I was finalizing my decision to run in the next civic election, hoping to win a seat as a School Board trustee.  Instead of blogging I’ve been learning;  Learning more about the schools in my division, learning about the needs of students and families in the communities of that division, and learning how a School Board works and what it does. I’ve been having coffee with local politicians and learning how to introduce myself to strangers at the bus stop.   In every way I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and enjoying this new adventure. 

After almost 25 years working in social services, 22 of those providing counselling services to youth and more recently to adults, I am ready for something new. I don’t plan to resign from my position working in an eating disorder treatment program... but I do plan to decrease my hours while I grow into this new (part time) role, assuming I am elected and have the opportunity to serve my community in this way. 

On this blog I have mostly written about how we, as women, can love ourselves, appreciate our own worth and model that for our daughters. I’ve written about teaching girls to love themselves and feel good in their bodies. But I’ve been writing from a place of assumption that people reading my blog have the basics down. I’ve assumed that you love your children and want the best for them. I’ve assumed that you and I both want our children of all genders to grow up strong, proud, comfortable in their own skin and safe in the world.  I've assumed that you had choices and resources. 

Over the past few months I have written a few posts that are still waiting to be published.. one on bra shopping with your pre-teen, something on the pressures of Grad night (or Prom night depending on your region of the country) and another on the difference between low self-esteem and depression. 

I haven't published these posts yet because I have been trying to sort out where blogging fits into my life now that I am trying to figure out how to be a public figure in a new way.  I’ve wondered if my passionate positioning might turn voters off and questioned the optics of giving advice to other parents while hoping to assume an important role in municipal governance.  I’m not there yet...  I haven’t fully decided what my campaign means for the future of this blog but I do know that there is something I really do need to write about and it is too important to worry about if my comments will be well received.

This is the topic of sexually exploited children. Early in my career when I first worked with pre-teen and teenage girls - almost all of them had experienced some degree of trauma – some form of physical or sexual abuse.  Some had been street involved and others had traded sex for clothes, food, shelter and sometimes drugs.  Nearly 100% of the adolescents I encountered had been victimized in some way.  This gave me a skewed perspective; I was almost consumed by the rage and the passion that I felt in those years.  

Since moving across the country 15 years ago, I have worked much less with sexually exploited youth and instead have worked with a broader cross section of adolescents with a vast array of experiences.  I’ve worked with the very privileged and the very impoverished.  I’ve worked with girls from incredibly supportive and protective families and occasionally girls who were casually exploited by the ones who are supposed to love them best.  My counselling work became very generalized.  I still knew how to help a client cope with a traumatic event like a sexual assault or a death in the family but I could also help a girl who had boyfriend troubles, body image worries or generalized anxiety that made it difficult for her to focus at school or make friends.  I have since moved on to working almost exclusively with adults who experience eating disorders. 

The interesting thing is that in this pursuit of the role of  Trustee, I have recently found myself back at my roots and my early passion.  Recently I attended All Children Matter: Protecting Sacred Lives Forum which was focused on the sexual exploitation of youth in our city and in particular the experiences of Aboriginal children and youth.  

Sexual exploitation is a world wide problem, rooted in an inherent lack of equality for women and children.  I've been told that in Canada, the average age that children first enter the so-called sex trade is 12 or 13.  At that forum I heard stories from youth who had managed to leave the trade as young adults, after much of their childhood was lost to exploitation - these were perhaps two of the bravest youth I have ever had the privilege to listen to.   In my city, it is primarily Aboriginal children and women  who are impacted by sexual exploitation and these reasons are deeply embedded in our country’s history of colonization and it’s subsequent cycles of generational poverty and hopelessness.  

I’m learning all I can about my responsibility to the children of this city and I am certain there is an even stronger role that schools can play in reducing victimization and promoting self-esteem, self-worth and pride in children of all backgrounds and in particular the children of this country’s First Nations. 

The words that stay with me most from the Sacred Lives Forum was a simple statement spoken by one of the hosts of the event: 
If your life has never been touched by sexual exploitation - be grateful; For you are privileged.
In her world, a life free of sexual exploitation is rare. I am passionate about changing this outcome and helping create a world in which all children, truly, DO matter.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Feminist Sheros: Take Back Halloween

A year ago, in the Halloween Costume Challenge, I explored how to be creative and have fun with costumes that don't sexualize children or rely on racist or sexist stereotypes.

Today I attended a work event where we were encouraged to dress as our favourite Shero.  Costumes depicted a wide range of women who have gone before and led the way in sport, literature, medicine, science fiction, and music just to name a few.

My photography skills are limited and I only had a phone camera...  but this was such a perfect opportunity to capture a whole bunch of creative and empowering ideas for future halloween costumes. Please ignore the fuzzy photos and bad lighting and instead appreciate the evidence that it doesn't have to be a challenge to costume ourselves and our children as heros, sheros, role models and other powerful figures from history.

And just to keep this page smart as well as fun...  I've included links for more information on each of these Shero's, as needed!  

[Note... it turns out that the layout of all these photos & words isn't working well in mobile format so I hope you are reading it on a computer.]

Huge thanks to my colleagues who let me share their pictures here!!  

Starting with today's prize winner for best costume...   Clara Hughes

She is a six-time Olympian medalist, Officer of the Order of Canada and Member of the Order of Manitoba. As a spokesperson for mental health initiatives she has used her voice to reduce stigma and create positive social change.

 Two interpretations of  Rock 'n Roll icon 
Joan Jett; performing since the '70's she helped paved the way for women in rock music.

The most historical female of them all... 
Mother Nature

Annie Oakley (1860-1962), known for as a famous sharpshooter and performer in the Buffalo Wild West Show; She was also known for her philanthropy in the support of women's rights. 

This Shero doesn't need an explanation if you have daughters or were a child yourself sometime in the past 20 years!   Of course she is the beloved Paper Bag Princess from the story book by Robert Munsch. 

 Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was first arrested for providing contraception to women in 1917 and arrested multiple times for speaking her mind.  She founded the organization that became Planned Parenthood.


 Tavi Gevinson is the 17 year old American writer who founded Rookie Magazine featuring topics that range from pop culture and fashion to social issues and feminism.  Unlike a few of our more historic Sheros, you can follow Tavi on Twitter

Velma Dinkley,  was the adorable brainiac part of the gang in the animated series Scooby Doo!

The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter shouldn't need an explanation, but there is a pretty fabulous collection of artifacts, stories and photos here of American women who served at the home front during the second world war.

Kathrine Switzer first ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 - five years before women were legally allowed to enter the race.  She tells her story here. 

Katherine was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running.

Fans of Battlestar Galactica won't need an introduction to Kara Thrace aka "Starbuck" one of television's most complex action (s)heros!
Perhaps she is a lesser known Shero to some... but here the management team pays tribute to our Executive Director, Joan Dawkins.  Well done team! 

Channelling Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this colleague arrived as her own Shero:  
Sharon the Patriarchy Slayer! 

Beloved Canadian author and feminist (and some hope... future Mayor of Toronto?)  Margaret Atwood

You can follow her on Twitter too! 

One ambitious colleague dressed to capture an entire genre... here she embodies Film Noir

I confess I couldn't find the Shero in the genre itself (femme fatale perhaps?) but I believe this costume was just an excuse to wear that stole and fabulous hat - and that is good enough for me! 

In case you aren't up on international punk rock protest groups, Pussy Riot is a  feminist Russian, guerrilla performance group. Two of it's members are currently in prison in Russia as a result of peaceful protests. Super fun costume but also a really serious issue! Please check out the link to learn more about these women and the organizations that are supporting their efforts to be released from jail:   Help Free Pussy Riot

And finally, the last Shero of the day... Athena, a goddess from Greek mythology. 

Athena is the Goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, math, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts and skill. 

That pretty much sums up all the awesomeness of the women I spent my day with, numbering far more than those featured here. 

Have a safe, creative, empowered Halloween everyone!!    

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

International Day of the Girl 2013

Friday October 11th, 2013 marks the second annual International Day of the Girl.  

This campaign was initiated by Plan Canada, and the cause was taken up by thousands and thousands of supporters. Responding to advocacy efforts,  Canada proposed a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly. In December 2011, the UN declared that October 11th would be an annual international observance day in honour of the girl child.  You can read the full text of the resolution here.

Around the world girls face multiple barriers to education, and in many parts of the world they are at higher risk of poverty than their male counterparts.  Many are forced into early marriage and childbirth.  This day serves to shine a spotlight on these issues and to encourage action  all year round.

As stated by Plan Canada:
 ... when you invest in girls, the whole world benefits. If a girl has enough to eat, a safe environment, and an education, she’ll work to raise the standard of living for herself, her family and her community. And in time, she can even strengthen the economy of her entire country.  (The Girl Issue)
On October 11th, 2012, the very the first International Day of the Girl (IDOG), I was invited to facilitate a workshop and spend the day with several hundred girls from the Toronto District School Board's Young Women on the Move Program at an event hosted by Plan Canada and the Dove Self-Esteem Fund.

Participants had their awareness raised about the experiences of girls in developing countries, and many of them also brought their own knowledge and experience of having immigrated or been refugees from a country where their choices would be far more limited.  While systemic barriers to attending school and early marriage may not be an issue here in Canada, we talked about how our culture imposes barriers on girls as well.  Media pressures, lack of self-esteem or self-confidence and an over-focus on weight and body were issues that girls identified as getting in their way of achievement and healthy development. 

Throughout the day we had some fun with media awareness, learned about effective goal setting and practiced skills to overcome dis-empowering self-talk.  We discussed our responsibility to build up and support other girls as well as ourselves.  It was an honour and a privilege to share the day with such an amazing group including the  the fantastic, dedicated teachers that support them in this area of personal growth. 

This year, I'll spend October 11th at my counselling job... where I work with amazing & dedicated women providing support for other women who are working at eating disorder recovery.  Our work is a daily reminder that hunger (of the body and of the spirit) can also be a barrier to women's full achievement even in Western culture.

My contribution to IDOG this year is to use my blog as a platform for this remarkable event and invite you to support the important goals of International Day of the Girl.

Please consider donating your time or resources

I don't sell advertising to my blog and I don't earn any income from this writing but today I will ask this:     If you like what I write or if it has ever been helpful or raised your awareness about issues in the lives of girls and women... then please show your appreciation now by following the links below.   

You could donate money to help send a girl to school or discover other meaningful ways to help educate, empower and change the outcome for hundreds of thousands of girls around the world.