Tag Archives: feminism

Beware the echo chamber

This first appeared on the MaRS blog October 19, 2012.

There’s a black hole that we’re in danger of being sucked into, and it’s more treacherous than Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. The danger I’m talking about is the echo chamber.

Usually when I reference the “echo chamber,” I’m talking about social media. I’m in complete agreement with many of the contemporary thought leaders and pundits who have written and spoken at great length on the issue (see Eli PariserElizabeth LesserClay Johnson and Rebecca MacKinnon). They all warn us of the dangers of filtering out a variety of voices and listening to only one point of view. Social media and a curated web experience are enablers of this, but it’s not just social media that is responsible for that closed perspective. It’s us. And I want no part in it.

“echo chamber” used by permission @gapingvoid

While attending the Techtoberfest event at Communitech last week, I realized a number of things.

  1. I am so proud to have surrounded myself with friends and colleagues who are passionate about what they do and what they bring to the world.
  2. I know some incredibly talented people who work incredibly hard to build an ecosystem that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship, and to drive prosperity in Ontario.
  3. We’re all in danger of stagnating if we don’t pay close attention—and fast.

Out of Techtoberfest’s 15 breakout sessions, only two were facilitated by women.

Out of a total of 19 companies that pitched, only one team had women on the stage. One.

I sat in one of those breakout sessions, titled “Y Entrepreneurship,” and while it certainly intended to be a take on the Y generation, it could have been more representative of the gender in the audience. Besides my colleague and myself, the only other women I saw in the room were part of the hard-working team thatactually work for Communitech to make these events happen.

One of the facilitators asked the audience to participate in the conversation regarding “Why entrepreneurship?”—and he encouraged us all to participate. He asked about six audience members (who he all knew by name) why they were drawn to entrepreneurship. Those six people were all male, all (seemingly) in their 20s and all Caucasian. All of the panellists were also Caucasian and male. I took the opportunity to share an observation.

Do you see the danger?

The point I made to our facilitator was thus: literature exists ad naseam stating that businesses that have women in roles of leadership perform better. They have more longevity and they realize more financial success. Whether we’re talking about entrepreneurs, the whole startup ecosystem in Ontario or each one of us as individuals, the threat is the same. When you don’t have the diversity of views and experience that come from people of different ages, different races and different genders, you’re living in that echo chamber of “Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great?.” You may be great, but without a broader scope of input and ideas, you’re about to stagnate. Thankfully, there were a lot of nodding heads in the room in support of this discussion.

There are definitely two parts to this. I tweeted my observation about the lack of women represented, and author, speaker and columnist Julia Moulden and I had a great dialogue online about the need for women to be invited into the discussion, but also about how many women don’t ask to participate or don’t say “yes” to opportunities to speak.

From that, we’ve started a new hashtag campaign. It’s time for women to stop wondering if they have something important to say or share. It’s time for them to take the mic and #BeAYesWoman.

This experience is certainly not limited to the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I see it in Toronto and, quite literally, in every startup community—both online and in real life. The startup community needs to include more women as speakers, it needs to draw more women into the entrepreneurship fold and it needs more women as leaders in their businesses if they want to succeed.

If there is anyone who can realize this, it’s the community of people I’ve met at our fellow Regional Innovation Centres and universities, and in our extended startup communities. We’re the ones changing things because we’re talking about it, we’re calling it out and we’re reaching out to do something about it, too. But this will not change through and by women alone. And it shouldn’t—because that would just be an echo chamber of a different kind.

We need everyone involved in this conversation. Everyone calling for change. Everyone striving for something more for each and every Ontarian.


Oh, I sure do use the “F” word

When I was 24, I went to university. I was a single mother, with a two and a half year old daughter. Before I started at York U., I spent one year at an adult day school in Toronto called CALC: City Adult Learning Centre. I wanted to upgrade my OACs so that I wouldn’t be restricted into the adult learning stream once I started my university studies. My daughter was in daycare at the same site that I was, and I was supported, and encouraged by wonderful teachers and mentors that cared and saw my potential.

There were generally three types of students during my time at CALC; many refugees and new immigrants to the city, whom I always had such a great respect for as they were working hard to create a new life and already knew two or more languages. There were also those that spent their time mostly smoking joints in the back of the field and were biding their time, ensuring they were getting their welfare cheques. Then there those like me, working on their upgrades, vying for the opportunity to head to university and get on with it.

In spring of that year, the news was reporting about a particularly violent weekend in Toronto. I didn’t realize why it stuck out to me at first, but there were a number of reports about multiple assaults and murders. Notably, the victims were all women. I remember thinking of this as I headed into my first class on Monday morning, when the head of the Social Sciences department pulled me aside and let me know that one of our classmates and her mother were in fact two of the victims that I had heard about on the news.

This woman was a recent immigrant from Poland. She was probably my age, and although we didn’t agree on a number of issues in our World Issues class, I respected the fact that she was vocal, opinionated, and strong-willed. Her boyfriend had apparently attacked her, her mother and her father, and only her father ended up surviving the assault.

It was around this time that I was starting to investigate what it meant to be a “feminist”. I actually went to the dictionary to look it up. Webster’s defined it for me as “one who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of women.” Easy. I was a feminist. Really, I always had been. I had the “When God Created Man, She Was Only Joking” t-shirt when I was a kid, and my mother had always instilled in me a great sense of pride in being a woman, but it wasn’t until I was about 23 that I started to really educate myself and self declare.

I started to read Ms. Magazine, Marilyn French, Gloria Steinem (seriously, have you ever read If Men Could Menstruate?), Susan Faludi, and Naomi Wolf. Then I started talking about being a feminist. Inevitably, the response I would get from most was “I’m a humanist”. Funny thing was, as soon as I would provide the actual definition of feminist, it wasn’t really surprising to me how many would say, “Oh, then I’m a feminist”.

Labels are scary. They can pigeon hole us, restrict us, cause judgments that we may or may not welcome.

I feel that one of the most important things that define us as human beings is our use of language. It is our language that frames our thoughts, and expresses our emotions. When my daughter was six years old she asked me one day, “Mummy, why do you use ten dollar words when two dollar words will do?” “Oh, because I love those ten dollar words,” I would respond.

So, I choose to use those ten dollars words, and I certainly choose to call myself a feminist. (It’s also not a surprise that my daughter, now 19, does the same. ) And I do it for many reasons; for the women that are afraid to, the women that no longer can, the next generation of women who deserve to see examples of what feminism look like across all the demographics, and most importantly, for myself.

Oh yah, I am feminist, hear me roar. You betcha.

My vagina’s angry. It is. It’s pissed off.

My vagina’s angry. It is. It’s pissed off. ~The Angry Vagina, The Vagina Monologues

About 11 years ago, I sat in a theatre in Toronto with a gathering of girlfriends, waiting to see Margot Kidder, Amy Sky and Maggie Cassella deliver The Vagina Monologues. As expected, the content was compelling, enraging, emotional, and belly laugh inducing. When Maggie Cassella opened this monologue with the above quote, I laughed as every girlfriend I was with turned and looked at me, mouth agape, as if it was me up on the stage delivering the piece.

Yah. Sometimes, my vagina is angry, and it’s with good reason. Lately, it’s become really, really angry. Every day, I am assaulted with stories that reinforce how around the globe, women are still mostly regarded as either reproductive ovens, or disposable pussies. I read troubling accounts of atrocities being committed against women, which come under a variety of guises, from a variety of sources.

In Morocco, Amina Filali, a 16 year old girl committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

In Arizona, legislators are pushing through a bill that would “require women who wish to have their contraception covered by their health insurance plans to prove to their employers that they are taking it to treat medical conditions.”

Even in my own backyard, a “gentleman’s club” (read: brothel) was being setup in The Tannery, the hub for technology companies and startups in the Kitchener-Waterloo region before someone got wise and shut the place down before it opened.

What. The. Fuck?!

The conservative assault on women’s rights is frighteningly alive and well in North America. One only has to look at the political headlines capturing the Republican candidates race to know how poorly regarded women are; from Rush Limbaugh, to Rick Santorum, to Mitt Romney, women are regarded as sluts, prostitutes or invalids that don’t know how to take care of ourselves or our families. These men are gaslighters and appallingly, openly misogynistic.

So are the Canadian Tory MPs that wish to re-open the abortion debate in Canada.

Again. What. The. Fuck?!

So, my reputation apparently precedes me. I’m known both in real life and online as the person that “calls it as I see it.” Yes, I’m the “elephant hunter” and while I may make some people uncomfortable, I’m way okay with that. I don’t accept gaslighting, nor cop outs, nor devil’s advocate stances just for the sake of it.

I demand accountability, rational thought, and intelligent discourse.

And as you try to belittle me by calling me emotional, let me save you trouble. Goddamn right I am emotional. These are my sisters, my daughters, my mothers that you’re fucking with. They’re my kin. I will fight for them, defend them, stand in front of them and behind them. They are me.

So, don’t call me a girl; I’m 42, have my period, and can vote. I’m a woman. Don’t patronize me as you talk about my “little” ideas, ones that you go ahead and use. Don’t avoid the dialogue by hiding behind niceties. Don’t pat me on the head, call me a bitch (unless you’ve got the balls to do it to my face), or undermine my opinion by sexualizing me. Seriously, suck my dick. And you know why I can say that? Because I have bigger balls than a lot of men I know.

So, here’s my theme song for today. Don’t like it? I don’t care. There are bigger issues than your ego at hand.

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