Politics / Sex / Social issues

The year in Canada’s #HashtagFeminism

They are the hashtags that launched a thousand revolutions on Twitter around the globe – #BringBackOurGirls, #IllRideWithYou, #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen – sparking movements that set streets ablaze from the town of Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno State; to Ferguson, Mississippi; Sydney, Australia; and places in between.

And Canada was no different.  Twitter, the medium where voices marginalized by the mainstream media reverberate around the world, continued its ascent as the battleground that disrupts the status quo. And it was a medium dominated by women’s ingenuity.

Antonia Zerbisias (right) and Sue Montgomery (left), founders of #BeenRapedNeverReported. Image by Brett Lamb. Source: The Torontoist

Antonia Zerbisias (right) and Sue Montgomery (left), founders of #BeenRapedNeverReported. Image by Brett Lamb. Source: The Torontoist

In 2014, Canadian Twitter shook with #MarleneBird, #TinaFontaine, #LorettaSaunders, #JusticeForBella, and #RinelleHarper, vibrating with cries demanding justice for Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW),  asking #AmINext and calling out the Harper government’s callousness with the sardonic #CatsWhoCare, created after protester Hailey King disrupted Laureen Harper during a cat film festival to demand an inquiry into the country’s Stolen Sisters.

Canadian Twitter came alive with #WomenOnlyExcusesForPaikin, which called out misogyny and the lack of diversity in mainstream media; it became the pulpit from which media and social media activists angrily flouted the publication ban imposed on Rehtaeh Parsons’ name with #YouKnowHerName; the tribune which aggressively took on Dalhousie University’s failure to quash rape culture on its campus with #DalhousieHatesWomen.

And when Jian Ghomeshi took to Facebook to defend himself during his spectacular fall from grace as CBC Radio’s golden boy, Twitter exploded with a flurry of critically important hashtags – #IBelieveLucy/#IBelieveWomen/#IBelieveHer and #BeenRapedNeverReported/#AggressionNonDénoncée – “a virtual outpouring of rage, solidarity and strength,” a safer space where survivors of sexual violence could give voice their stories.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness and long-term effects of hashtag activism, but there is no doubt that Twitter continues to democratize feminist dialogue and discussion, widening the scope of ideas and amplifying the voices of communities that are so often sidelined in the mainstream.

Digital feminist warriors – particularly when they are marginalized as a result of race, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or poverty – have pushed the feminist movement from one that demands equality, to one that also demands justice and immediate action (read this great analysis of what that might look like in the U.S.).

And Canadian feminists have been at the centre of it – consider that some of ElleBeaver’s favourite hashtags were pioneered by women of colour – like #AmINext and #WomenOnlyExcusesForPaikin (#BlackLivesMatter, of note, is the work of three feminists) – to tackle issues which, while they affect us all, strike at the very heart of the future of the feminist movement in Canada.

While many privileged feminists (read: those who do not have double, triple or even greater ‘burdens’ of being a woman of colour, or a trans woman, for example) may like to argue that a “house divided against itself cannot stand,” we would do well to remember this: dissent is good. Subversion is healthy. Arguments are crucial to the growth of our movement.

Feminism deserves to be an inclusive movement that seeks justice and equality.

And because frankly, #MyFeminismIncludesYou.

In retrospect, here are only a handful of the feminist hashtags that have defined Canada in 2014.

Canada’s Stolen Sisters: #AmINext 

2014 may yet be the year where Canada’s colonial legacy of violence against Indigenous women became an important mainstream media news story. But #MMIW and #StolenSisters were rallying cries on Twitter long before this turning point in the mainstream.

And in 2014, Indigenous women elevated Twitter’s 140 character-limit to transcendent heights with #AmINext, a hashtag spurred by Holly Jarrett, a cousin of Loretta Saunders, a young Innu scholar whose murder resonated across the country.

The hashtag saw Indigenous women take to Twitter to call out the colonialism and racism that have allowed violence against them to flourish across Turtle Island (the name given to North America by some Indigenous peoples) with impunity, asking the very question: Am I next?

Source: Global News.

Source: Global News

The hashtag also advanced and highlighted themes Saunders had been researching and and writing about as part of her thesis: the “theft of land base, legalized segregation and racism, residential schools for several generations, continued dispossession = social chaos.

Of #AmINext, Jarrett told PressProgress:

We wanted to move it forward for her. She was really passionate about telling her story, to stand up and tell the brutal truth.

But above its political importance, #AmINext is also beautifully touching, taking its name from ‘ain,’ an Inuktitut term of endearment for a loved one, a digital nod to the tobacco tie, which brings prayers to the Creator.

#AmINext – 140 characters of love, anger, and hopefully, of change.

Women in the Media: #WomenOnlyExcusesForStevePaikin

When Steve Paikin, the TVO journalist who presides over Canada’s national electoral debates, took to his blog to pen his now infamous Where, Oh Where, Are All the Female Guests, deploring the lack of lady pundits in commentary, he was met #WomenOnlyExcusesForPaikin, coined by “Fierce Indigenous Feminist” Naomi Sayers.


Sayers, a law student, sex work activist, and feminist blogger (whose critical work on Kwe Today you can crowdfund here) took to Twitter to not only call out the inherent misogyny of Paikin’s blog post, but also to highlight the invisibility and disenfranchisement of diversity, voice and lived experiences by the mainstream media, writing:

Once you factor in race, a racialized woman is expected to be an expert on race AND gender issues (but more likely race). The discussion touched a bit of race near the end. But Paikin made it clear at the beginning that this was about gender and not diversity which begs the question, how is gender different from diversity when the majority of the guests are males? Maybe this just spoke to the reality that there is an issue with inadequate of representation of women in MSM.

#WomenOnlyExcusesForPaikin left its mark not only because it called out basic misogyny, but because it is an example of the Twitterphere’s important role in elevating diverse, intelligent, and deliciously subversive voices – whether as participants, or in Sayers’ case, as a hashtag innovator.

Rehtaeh Parsons: #YouKnowHerName

Her name is Rehtaeh Parsons — and now everyone can say it.”

#YouKnowHerName erupted on Twitter when courts imposed a publication ban on Parsons’name, who was declared a victim of child pornography when images of her sexual assault by peers were captured and trafficked, ultimately ending with her suicide in 2013.

Parsons’ parents cried foul, openly defying the ban by distributing shirts and buttons with the slogan “Rehtaeh Parsons is her name.” Her father Glen Canning argued, “It “basically silenced our daughter.”

And freelance journalist Hilary Beaumont pushed it one step further with #YouKnowHerName, a viral hashtag that sought to decry the injustice committed in Parsons’ name.

But it took open media defiance from the Halifax Chronicle Herald for Parsons’ name to again see the light of day in print.

A cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon summarizes the publication ban on Rehtaeh Parsons' name. Source: Halifax Chronicle Herald.

A cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon summarizes the publication ban on Rehtaeh Parsons’ name. Source: Halifax Chronicle Herald.

And because nothing happens in a vacuum, #YouKnowHerName and the late-breaking #DalhousieHatesWomen brought Canada’s rape culture full-circule.  One tweet by Julie Lalonde, head of Hollaback Ottawa, showed that when it comes to rape culture on campuses – whether high school or university – there is no such thing as cognitive dissonance in Halifax,

When Rehtaeh Parsons died, people put up “Support the boys” posters around town. Dalhousie is in that community. #dalhousiehateswomen

Halifax and Dalhousie’s daughter Rehtaeh Parsons was, in the end, denied any form of justice by Canada’s legal system, with no jail time given to the young man who captured the assault on tape.

Of #YouKnowHerName, Parsons’ father said:

It means an awful lot. It really touches you to see how much impact there’s been in this story. (…) Obviously this story can bring about an awful lot of positive change and I think a lot of people want it to bring about positive change so erasing her name from it just wouldn’t be fair.

Denied justice, but her name restored by an angry public unwilling to stand for silence.

Canada vs. #TeamJian: #IBelieveLucy & #BeenRapedNeverReported

It was a Sunday afternoon when Jian Ghomeshi, once the darling of CBC Radio, sent Canada reeling and wrote the prologue to what would become a national conversation on sexual violence.

It was an exchange born from social media – a graphic and perplexing self-defense of Ghomeshi’s sexual proclivities (read: crimes) and a rapid-fire response from journalist Jesse Brown. Mysterious tweets from @bigearsteddy.

And the rapid rise of Ghomeshi advocates and apologists rallied around #TeamJian.  Random trolling against unknown, anonymous victims: who were these women? Why didn’t they report the attacks?

And then Lucy DeCoutere went public on CBC Radio’s The Current. And with her broken silence, a deluge of supportive hashtags on Twitter: #IBelieveLucy.  #IBelieveWomen. #IBelieveHer.

But the question persisted: why had DeCoutere and Ghomeshi’s other victims not reported their assaults?  WHY?

It was on that moment that The Montreal Gazette’s Sue Montgomery and retired Toronto Star journalist Antonia Zerbisias said: enough.

Both had survived rape. Neither had reported.

Source: Twitter/https://twitter.com/stories4screens/status/527866311951806465/photo/1

Source: Twitter/https://twitter.com/stories4screens/status/527866311951806465/photo/1

Zerbisias broke her silence, tweeting: “#ibelievelucy #ibelievewomen And yes, I’ve been raped (more than once) and never reported it. #BeenRapedNeverReported”

Montgomery followed suite with a first tweet: “He was my grandfather. I was 3-9 yo. Cops wanted to know why I waited so long to report it. #BeenRapedNeverReported”

And a second tweet: “He was senior flight attendant. I was summer student flight attendant. Learned later there had been many victims. #BeenRapedNeverReported”

Montgomery and Zerbisias were the catalyst for a movement that took the conversation from Canada to the globe, translated to French and Spanish, and cropping up as far away as Iran, South Korea, South Africa and Colombia.

The hashtag created a safe space where survivors of violence could find comfort in each other, stamp out the stigma of sexual assault, and lift the veil on why victims of sexual assault rarely go public with their accusations.

Of that pivotal first tweet, Zerbias writes:

It felt like ripping off a bandage, and exposing the festering wound to air and light.

It hurt like hell at first.

But now it feels like healing.


You May Also Be Interested In…

Canadian Women of the Year: The Political Agitator – Dalila Awada

Remembering École Polytechnique and the State of Violence Against Women in Canada

One thought on “The year in Canada’s #HashtagFeminism

  1. Pingback: Canadian women of the year – The Whistleblowers: Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth, and Kathryn Borel | Elle Beaver

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