|Image courtesy of Project Feminist U|
#YesAllWomen #WhyIStayed #WhyILeft #AskHerMore These are just a few of the hashtags that dominated social media last year. Each represented a collective of individuals who wanted to come together to say “We can do better.” And just in case you’re wondering: better for what? The answer, though a complex one that touches upon a number of intertwined issues, would be that we can do better for gender equality.
As a campus that has a history of being progressive and responsive to conversations around equality through initiatives like Safe Spaces, The Landing, Pride Week, and the Gender Based Violence Prevention Project, we’ve proven that the U of A is a place where the phrase “we can do better” is taken seriously. And as I learned when I sat down to talk with Navneet Khinda, VP External for the Students’ Union, the U of A is the perfect place to continue the equality conversation by opening a dialogue about the F word – that’s right, it’s time to talk feminism. Khinda is currently running the unapologetically in-your-face Project FU. This initiative hopes to not only increase the participation of women in student leadership positions, but to also facilitate a campus-wide conversation about feminism.
In Khinda’s perspective, “there is a lot of talk about feminism, but it’s not constructive. It’s actually quite destructive, and it is not educational.” And I have to agree. It only takes a quick glance at UAlberta Confessions to see that how we approach the topic is divisive and violent. You can walk through the Garneau community and around campus and still see graffiti from last year which pits one group against another.
That’s not how we improve.
One thing that Khinda was quick to point out is the fact that this project does not define the word “feminism” from the beginning. This is one of the conversations that Project FU hopes to initiate. If the project starts with a bias, voices will be silenced. Which is contrary to the project’s mission, but getting people to talk is quite hard.
|Image courtesy of Project Feminist U|
This was the basis for a name that makes you stop and think. Khinda discussed the naming of the project with me which was a long process in itself. While they could have named it something like “Equity Week”, the abrupt nature of Project FU made it ideal. She “personally [doesn’t] like the idea of backing down or shying away from what feminism is or stands for.” And that appears to be working. It’s hard not to see it pop up on your Facebook newsfeed, or on a poster and not read what it is about. Even in my personal experience, walking through the halls I see students stopping at posters and reading the quotes that are printed there.
And those quotes, they come from you. Over 500 students voluntarily and anonymously shared their experiences online through a survey that was posted weeks ago. I asked Khinda which story had the greatest impact on her. She told me the following:
“Sexism isn’t really loud in engineering – no one tells you that you don’t belong because you’re a woman, but you feel it, which is somehow worse because then you think it’s in your head. My best analogy for this is imagine you’re wearing a sweater that looks like what everyone else in your Faculty is wearing. But instead of a nice cashmere or angora or whatever, yours is synthetic polyester and every time you wear it, you feel terrible. But yours looks the same as everyone else, so you can’t explain the subtlety of it (without the other person trying it on).”
(Female, Engineer IV).
It’s the experiences like this that assures Khinda that this project is necessary. And these types of stories are common across cultures and communities.
Over the next few days, Project FU will be hosting a series of ten events that will start many conversations. I am personally excited to see the Debate Society tackle the role of men in the feminist movement on Tuesday night at 5pm in CCIS; it’s promising to be a rapid-fire, hard hitting event. On Wednesday night in SUB at 6pm, I’m sure that you’ll be able to meet Navneet at Undressing Feminism which will present ways that the feminist movement has influenced fashion over the years. You can check out the entire lineup of events here.
Project FU is one of the many steps that we can take in making our campus and our community better. After all, we’ve already made significant traction with our other initiatives. By having the conversation about feminism—what it is and its role—as a community, we have the opportunity to improve. I challenge you to be a positive part of the conversation. Participate, engage, and uplift with your words and your actions. No one deserves to feel like they do not belong on this campus. Help make that a reality.
----About the Author
My name is Chris, and I have a problem; there is too much to do at the University of Alberta! How can you go to class when there are concerts, philanthropy initiatives, services days, food specials, and so many interesting people all over the place?
I am in the sixth year of my Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Trumpet Performance. When I am not practicing, you can find me planning the University of Alberta Dance Marathon, planning community service events for my fraternity, two-stepping all night long at Cook County, or discovering the best restaurants in Edmonton. I also love long walks through the River Valley and enjoy looking at pictures of cute puppies by candlelight while watching romantic comedies—that’s only partially a joke.
I am excited to be writing for YouAlberta this year. I’ll be bringing you insights into some of the hidden gems of the University of Alberta experience. Stay tuned for more about YOU!