F-word symposium

Feminism was celebrated on campus during the F-Word Symposium where groups of students, professors and non-profit organisations gathered to dispel myths and engage in a broader discussion on the issue. Some groups that attended on Thursday, November 18 in the Research and Academic Centre include Aboriginal Student Services, Project Empathy and the Rainbow Alliance. It was a project geared towards equality and understanding.

The first event was called ‘Build Your Own Barbie,’ where students could construct a doll that wasn’t necessarily in line with the traditional Barbie look – the starry-eyed, borderline anorexic girl whose chief ambition is to become a princess or housewife. But at the Symposium, the dolls was meant to represent real women. Some of the toys featured included Freedom Fighter Barbie, Tatt’d Up Barbie and Star Wars Punk Barbie – not the kinds of toy you’d see in the girls’ aisle at Toys ‘R’ Us.

All traditional Barbie etiquette went out the window – students were encouraged to draw on them, cut their hair and in some cases, dress them as ninjas or superheroes. Laurier student Michele Cybulski settled for a bit of realism, showing what Barbie would look like after all those years of botox and face-lifts caught up to her.

“It’s what Barbie would look like if she followed the standard aging pattern,” says Cybulski.

The event was planned last spring by several of Laurier’s faculty in response to government budget cuts of women’s rights groups. To raise awareness, several of Laurier’s faculty worked together with Dorothy Vu, a 4th-year Concurrent Education student, to bring about this event to raise feminism awareness. Vu got involved to learn more about feminism herself.

“I didn’t really get it in high school,” says Vu. “I saw a very negative stereotype of it. Once I came here, I learned more about feminism in society. I’m still questioning feminism and I wanted to get involved to learn more.”

Females far outweighed the males at the event (not surprising considering the 7:2 ratio of girls to guys on campus) and one could easily spot other students raising awareness in the crowds, through movements like the Day of Silence and Movember (the scarves across the mouths and half-grown moustaches were difficult to miss). Cody Lee was one of the male students who attended the event, showing his support of feminism while also participating in a vow of silence.

Bruce Gillespie, Journalism professor and event co-organizer, weighed in with his opinion on the notion of male feminists.

“Men should be able to identify themselves as feminists,” he says. “There’s clearly a problem in society and women shouldn’t have to fix it on their own.”

The day took a more serious turn with a lecture from four Brantford area feminists. Among the topics discussed were the stigma male and female feminists face, the cut in government funding that led to this event in the first place and even the Laurier Brantford Women’s Studies minor. Didn’t know we had one? It was quietly cancelled two years ago.

Sadly, while fighting against feminist stereotypes, many feminists have become stereotyped themselves. Some women (and men) are reluctant to identify themselves as feminists, due to the attached and unfortunate stigma of the take-charge, bra-burning, humourless women leading marches downtown. Really, anyone can be a feminist. It’s not limited to personality, position of power or even gender. All it takes is a bit of understanding. According to the panel of Brantford feminists, simply accepting the feminists around you is a good start.

Dr. Sue Ferguson, who also helped to organize the event, discusses plans to raise awareness in the future.

“There’s going to be a faculty meeting on feminism next week,” she says. “We’re also hoping to do something for March 8th, International Women’s Day. I consider today’s event a success. We were very impressed with the turnout.”

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