Washroom Wars: Yay for Gender Neutral Bathrooms; Nay for Ignorant Buffoons

by Ruwani Dadallage. Ruwani is a volunteer at Women Against Violence Against Women and an all-around kickass feminist. 

I never thought I would write about washrooms on a feminist blog. But an incident that happened at work made me realize how important feminist advocacy is no matter where we are.

My colleague, a smart, politically correct woman we shall call A, brought up the need for at least one gender neutral bathroom in the building we occupy. Since anyone outside the hetero-normative archetype has an increased risk of rejection, judgement, mistrust, bullying and assault, the idea was proposed in an effort to create a safe and comfortable environment in the building for anyone transgendered, gender non-conforming, gender queer, and anyone of all gender identities and expressions.

Seeing how we occupy a historic Vancouver building, and how we would probably need permission from the gods and a sacrifice to get approval to renovate, the easiest solution was to assign the existing men’s single stall restroom as our new gender neutral washroom. Open and shut case. So we only needed approval of our boss to take down the old sign and replace it with a cool gender neutral sign. We were so pleased with our resolution and pat ourselves on the back for being such great allies. However, in my feminist bliss I sometimes forget that not everyone thinks of inclusive solutions.

Enter colleague B. First he guffawed. Then added that this was one way we were attempting to increase the number of washrooms for women (okay, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, women always have to wait in line), and no way was he going to share a restroom with everyone. He didn’t want to go into a washroom after a girl has taken a stinky dump!

I wished he stopped rambling there. He also believed that transgendered persons would have to learn to face the harsh realities of the world, and get used to there not being spaces like this for them. He went so far as to say that even in the more progressive public spaces the gender binary is still clear, with respective washroom stalls for men and women. Then concluded by saying picking which washroom to go to would be the least of worries for a transgendered person.

I had steam coming out of my ears. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this rubbish. This is a professional, adult male, spewing forth blatantly myopic, male privilege beliefs. By not taking the time to understand these concerns it is easy to overlook how much violence and discrimination someone would face because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity. A transgendered person could be in danger of experiencing transphobic/homophobic slurs, harassment, violence in relationships, physical abuse, sexual assault or murder.

These experiences are particularly grave for trans women due to transmisogyny. Many cisgendered women have the misconception that they would be in danger if allowing transgendered women in a shared restroom. They are expected to prove that they are “real” women. The number of cases that are reported of a trans woman driven out or assaulted just for wanting to use a washroom are far too many, and these assaults are carried out by other women as well as men.

Colleague B apologized the next day for his behaviour and the way he held onto his beliefs. Nonetheless, he still stood by what he had said earlier and did not apologize for thinking that way.

In the midst of supportive colleagues it only takes one person like this to bring me back to reality to remind me of the palpable tyranny that exists, of the oppressive patriarchal dogmas and why feminist advocacy is so important. We may have won the battle this time with the newly installed washroom, but there is a long war ahead of us.

- Ruwani Dadallage xx 

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Stealthy Freedoms and the Colonial Gaze

by Zishad Lak.

Zishad is a PhD student in Canadian Literature in University of Ottawa. Her thesis examines the relation between names and migration in contemporary Canadian novels.

A few months ago a Facebook page created by a London-based Iranian journalist caught a lot of attentions and was shared mainly by my non-Iranian friends on Facebook: Stealthy Freedoms. Stealthy Freedoms is a Facebook page where Iranian women post their pictures with headscarves removed in public to protest the compulsory head cover. Their hair is often romantically disheveled by the wind; smiles are in order for the camera: pictures worthy of Facebook profiles. In fact, if one did go through the Facebook profile pictures of Iranian residents I suspect they will find a large number of women among them are not wearing a scarf in these pictures and a number of these unveiled clichés are taken outdoors in public spaces. This is not in any way to justify the compulsion of certain attire on women, that is absolutely not defendable, but rather to maintain that the mere uncovering of hair in public is no longer shocking in Iran, if it ever were, nor does it break a taboo. It is in no way comparable to Amina Tyler’s denudation that risked her life. The difference between the method used by FEMEN and the pictures posted on Stealthy Freedoms Facebook page is worth pondering.

In the past decade or so we have been seeing an emergence of queer and feminist movements of colour criticising the white supremacy inscribed in what they call white feminism. This has been a place of contention and has often created a gap between feminists of colour that found themselves silent victims in the discourse of white feminism and white feminists who refuse to see and accept their privileges. The latest Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen, attests to this divide; one that I believe invokes much needed debates and is an essential part of a dynamic feminism, or any decolonising movement for that matter. Those feminists who deny such divides choose to close their eyes on the omnipresence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy and reduce the movement to mere legal equalities in a justice system that is inherently sexist and racist.

Whoever claims to be a feminist is then a feminist, no question about it, far from me to police that. Feminism after all, is a political imperative, an affirmation that such a movement is required here and now. But this does not mean that every unthoughtful action in the name of resistance must be praised. Feminism comes with a commitment and a responsibility. It is costly; if it isn’t you are not doing it right. It is lonely; if you are praised by right and left you are not disturbing much. So sometimes lighthearted, non-radical actions don’t translate into small contributions or do not simply die in obscurity but impose set backs on the movement.

We saw that following her release from detention, Amina Tyler bared her body again, this time, inscribed on it were words that denounced FEMEN’s Islamophobia and in doing so she set an example of how a dynamic decolonisation must constantly interrogate itself and the repercussions of its actions. So it is not necessarily the group, FEMEN, whose leader in turn denounced Amina, that I evoke but rather the method of protest that is used by this group or similar manners of protest (such as this) The subject in these protests is not still, she interrupts a formed body and unsettles the naturalised norm before those most loyal to it.

In the opening picture of this article, for example, FEMEN protesters appear topless before the eyes of anti-abortion protesters and their children. The parents cover the eyes of their children to protect them from being exposed to desexualised breasts, breasts that unlike those of their mothers, are not maternal and do not serve any purpose in reproduction. What is more, the rage of heterosexual men in online forums and comment boards against these demonstrators illustrates the unsettling effect and affect of these bodies. I have read men use the most abominable terms to describe these women’s bodies, expressing their utter disgust over the exposed cellulites, criticising the women for being too thin, too fat, but most importantly and most often as sexually undesirable. These de-monstrating bodies are monstrous in that they deny these men the object of their desire. They move, are moving; for these women often march into an event to disrupt it. When captured in picture, the text inscribed on these bodies compels the eyes of the spectator to move, these bodies are not still, not even in the picture. I cannot however help but see in the picture of a woman, with wind in her hair and smile on her face the reproduction of the immobilised object before the gaze of the other. It is then not surprising that reaction to these pictures were often times positive. Many on social media hailed these women for exposing ‘the beauty of a woman’s hair’, the reason for which, expressed these users, it should not be covered. If breasts of topless FEMEN protesters are desexualised, hair in the case of these Facebook freedoms becomes the object of fetish, much like it originally was for those who imposed the compulsion in the first place.

 My second point, going back to my introduction about the feminist divide, is the gaze. Feminism has traditionally bemoaned, and continues to do so, rightfully might I add, the male gaze and its dictating dominance. Yes, that is still there. But – and this is why the uphill battle for racialised women is steep – what is often neglected in mainstream feminist discourse is the colonial gaze, including that of ‘white’ feminists. This gaze, much like the male gaze, objectifies the subject. The body becomes the picture, the picture represents the ‘affectable other’ aspiring to be human. As Andrea Smith justly points out, in her article, “Queer Theory and Native Studies”, ‘the very request for full subjecthood, implicit in the ethnographic project to tell our ‘truth’ is already premised on a logic that requires us to be objects to be discovered.’

There is of course a danger to criticisms like the one I presented in this post and it is a valid one at that: local resistance risks being thrust into obscurity to be protected from colonial interpretations. What we should be wary of is the audience or the interlocutor that is implicit in the message around which the actor organises her actions. I find it hard to believe that the Stealthy Freedoms’ page was set up merely as a local resistance, the fact that the organiser herself does not reside in Iran confirms to a great extent my suspicion. Iranian feminists inside of Iran, much like other feminists all around the world, are faced with and fight against the heteropatriarchal powers in micro and macro levels. As Western feminists we have a responsibility too: to be critical about the kind of struggle that is brought to our attention and reflect upon the reasons behind the publicity they receive. As coloured feminists, we should be alert about the colonial relations that appropriate our movements and not hesitate to denounce them, as Amina Taylor did so bravely and in doing so exposed the racism engraved in certain Occidental feminist movements. I strongly believe that despite all the good intentions behind it, Stealthy Freedom is deeply invested in a naïve heteropatriarchy that makes of immobilised women objects to be saved by the humanity of the universal subject. The struggle faced by women of colour cannot be assimilated into a universal and international feminism. For as long as the universal is defined by the Western subject, women of colour are, to use Andrea Smith’s words, a particular aspiring to humanity, to the universal humanity of the ‘self-determined’ Western subject.

(Image from a Toronto Sun report of the event (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency))

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Vegetarianism & feminist food autonomy: Why I don’t care what you ate for dinner.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my fairly recent decision to stop eating meat (I was pescetarian for about 2 years before also choosing not to eat seafood a couple of months ago). Because it’s recent change, a lot of people have asked me what motivated the decision. However, my answer always feels too complicated to adequately explain in casual conversation. Thankfully, that’s exactly when blogging comes so in handy! 

Firstly, here’s some reasons why being vegetarian works for me. I’m an animal person. I wholeheartedly believe that you can be an animal person and still eat meat but, lately, that just hasn’t worked for me. Not eating meat made sense for me philosophically and it didn’t disrupt my relationship to food or eating negatively so I thought, “why the hell not?” 

Secondly, in North America where so much meat is produced by factory farming, vegetarian diets* can be a way to build a more sustainable relationship with food and the environmentHowever, this is not to say that there aren’t plenty of ways to eat meat in a sustainable way and it’s important to consider that non-meat diets contain products which are the result of environmentally (and socially) harmful practice. (My decision to be vegetarian is similar to my decision to compost or take shorter showers. It’s just something I decided to incorporate in to my life as a way of reducing my negative impact on the planet.)

Being a vegetarian has also improved my relationship with food in general. Food shame is something we’re often taught to do to others and it’s definitely something women especially are taught to do to ourselves. Being a vegetarian hasn’t stopped me from food-shaming myself entirely (that kind of complicated unpacking of patriarchy is the sort of thing that requires a lifetime of work) but it has helped me to deflect some of my negative thinking. Instead of being concerned about calorie content, I can research what leafy greens have the most protein. Instead of searching a menu for the meal with the least amount of fat, I can ponder the many ways to replace meat with mushrooms. It’s not a perfect system. But, for the moment, it’s working and I’m having a lot more fun with food than I have in the past. 

Despite all of this, the most important pillar of my philosophy around vegetarianism is that I couldn’t care less whether or not you are.

This often confuses people and I can understand why because the vegetarians we’re used to seeing in the media are the kind of militant PETA-style anti-meat campaigners who tend to see discussions of diet through black and white lenses. Trust me, people who “diet preach” make me just as uncomfortable as the rest of you and most of the vegetarians I know are respectful folks who’ve just chosen to eat a certain way. Here’s three of the most significant reasons why my decision to eat or not eat meat has nothing to do with you and why your decision to eat or not eat meat is the least of my concerns.

1. Choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet is a privileged choice to make. Having the financial means to cut meat from a diet while still eating in a way that’s nutritious is challenging because fresh fruits and vegetables are often inaccessible and non-meat sources of protein like tofu and nuts are expensive. In 2012, Stats Canada determined that 13% of Canadian households are food insecure. On a collective level, ensuring people have enough to eat seems a hell of a lot more important than arguing about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating. 

2. Food and eating are cultural phenomenon and, for a lot of people, meat is an important piece of cultural expression. Colonization, environmental degradation, and unsustainable practices of resource extraction have disrupted traditional ways of eating across the planet. In opposition to this, emphasizing culturally significant relationships to food can be essential components of decolonization. My friend Laura phrased this so well in her very poignant Facebook rant:

animal liberation activists screaming ‘it’s not food, it’s violence’ in front of my work on july first – a day which should be reserved for protests against the ongoing violent colonization of those indigenous to this land we call canada, who have sustained themselves by eating meat since time immemorial, who are only harmed by western animal rights movements, whose diets have been colonized and continue to be colonized, as with every aspect of their life and culture since contact. partake in vegetarianism/veganism if you want, stand up against animal abuse, fight against capitalist/corporate greed, eat ethical meat if you can afford it, do NOT lose sight of the privilege inherent in making any of those choices, and do not push your settler-colonial diet activism bullshit onto those whose land you stole.”

3. The way people (and especially women) are taught to relate to food is, to put it simply, fucked up and we really need to stop shaming each other about it. Food is a feminist issue. It’s a feminist issue in the ways that it intersects with class, culture, and colonization. But it’s also a feminist issue because judging you for eating meat is just as harmful as you judging me for eating dessert. From the very foundations of our relationships to food, eating, and each other, we need to see food-shame as any act that creates a hierarchy of diets. For many, feeling good about eating is hard enough – we don’t need to shame each other about what we’re eating too. 

To make a long story short, being a vegetarian makes me happy. However, what makes me even happier is emphasizing respect, compassion, and kindness when it comes to food and eating in general. So go ahead and order the ribs. I won’t judge you for eating them but I might make fun of the barbecue sauce on your nose… sorry.

*I use the word “diet” several times throughout this blog. To clarify, I’m using the word to just mean “the kind of food that someone eats” as opposed to it’s more colloquial reference to the restriction of food.

Image credits: (1) durangofoodnotbombs.wordpress.com; (2) spookyfemme.tumblr.com; (3) 4.bp.blogspot.com; (4) thickthreads.blogspot.ca

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Thinking through Thinness: Understanding Fatphobia as Oppression.

**Heads up: In the following post I talk about body shaming and fatphobia. I choose to use the word “fat” to describe people who are targeted by fatphobia because that it is the language I’ve learned from the fat politics experts and activists in my life. I believe in the importance of reclaiming a word like fat so that it can be used not only positively but also just as a way of describing the way that some bodies are. I won’t use the word “overweight” because it implies that there is a “normal” weight that a person can be “over” or “under” and I believe that it feeds into a discourse on “health” that functions to police bodies in harmful ways.

Most of us are aware that popular culture sets up unreasonable and generally unattainable standards for body size/image. Many of us know how harmful this can be and have very real experiences of negative relationships to our body as a result. However, there is a difference between the proliferation of ideal body image and the outright shaming of fat people. While these two things are undeniably connected (and are situated along a spectrum of sizeism), we often fail to acknowledge that many people who are harmed by body ideals can still occupy a relatively privileged position in relation to a system of sizeism that values thinness while shaming, dehumanizing, and silencing the experiences of fat people.

So what does this mean for those who are affected negatively by sizeism but might still have thin privilege? Trying to answer that question has led me to a lot of surfing the internet as well as to a complicated conversation with my roommate about our own relationships to our bodies and to fatphobia. For both my roommate and I, relating to our bodies positively has always been a struggle and that has often reflected negatively on our mental health. We’ve felt pressure from friends and family to look different; we’ve related to food and exercise in unhealthy ways, and we’ve carried long lasting guilt and shame that our bodies don’t look the way they should. However, both of us undeniably have thin privilege. To quote a blog called, “This is Thin Privilege, my roommate and I will

never be kicked off a plane for ‘not fitting into a seat’ … never be barred from adopting for having ‘too high’ of a BMI… will still be able to walk into nearly any mainstream clothing store and buy clothing that fits and flatters at affordable prices… will still live in a world made for [us].

Neither of us has ever walked into a doctor’s office only to have our concerns ignored in favour of being lectured about losing weight and we’ve never been harassed or approached on the street by a stranger offended by the shape of our bodies. These, and a thousand experiences like them, are manifestations of fatphobia that have never been part of our lived experiences.

Coming to this understanding was not easy because of the ways that fatphobia functions to erase thin privilege. Blogger Miss Mary Max explains that

Since most of us — fat, thin, and in between — struggle with anxiety about our weight and shape — we may find it more difficult to recognize that others perceive us as “thin” and that we receive certain treatment based on that assumption… Our poor body image — made possible for the fat and the skinny by fatphobia — works to disguise thin privilege as an oppressive system.  By convincing us that we aren’t thin (enough), and therefore cannot have thin privilege, the system tricks us into perpetuating oppression 

I may be negatively affected by sizeism because it causes me to relate negatively to my body but ignoring my own position and denying that sizeism privileges my body over others only works to silence experiences of those for whom fatphobia functions to police, shame, and oppress.

It is important to really understand the scope and depth of fatphobia because it is all around us. It manifests in online harassment campaigns like fat shaming week,” a Twitter stunt organized by the men’s rights group, Return of Kings, that speaks enormous volumes both to thin peoples’ sense of entitlement to comment on fat bodies as well as men’s sense of entitlement to comment on women’s bodies. Fatphobia is the overwhelming ignorance that led a woman to decide that publicly shaming kids based on her own reductive notions of “health” is some form of fucked up “public service” instead of an incredible violation of a child’s dignity and sense of self. Fatphobia is the power, hatred, and myth-making that allows doctors, employers, friends, coworkers, family, and popular culture to scrutinize, belittle, and criticize fat bodies. Fatphobia can be found in the many stories shared on the pages of blogs like “This is Thin Privilege.”

The thin privilege I experience everyday shields me from many manifestations of fatphobia. But the fact that I have been raised in a world that has wanted me to hate my body, change my body, and understand my body as never good enough implicates me deeply in systemic sizeism. The stratification of bodies into “good” and “bad” categories stands in direct opposition to our ability to love our bodies, no matter what size, shape, or form they come in.

Listening to the voices of fat politics experts and activists is essential to standing in solidarity with work that seeks to dismantle sizeism and end fatphobia, as is respecting the knowledge and authority of fat peoples’ stories and experiences. Blogs like “This is Thin Privilege” and organizations like Fat Panic!, It Gets Fatter!, and NOLOSE are incredible places to find resources and to learn more about fatphobia and thin privilege. So if fatphobia and thin privilege are new ideas to you- happy reading! And remember… 

(image courtesy of Fat Panic!)

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Part 5: Radical Feminist Hygiene: Resist the Patriarchy, Save Mother Earth!

Our menstrual culture is rooted in shaming of women as dirty and unclean. This is what the feminine hygiene industry plays off of to sell us products, presenting menstruation to us as a problem that needs to be dealt with discreetly. Since the topic of menstruation is so taboo, most information that is available to young women about menstruation is offered by the feminine hygiene industry, whose main objective is to market their products. In order to keep a market for their products they must perpetuate myths that menstruation is embarrassing and should be kept a dirty little secret. So they come up with marketing messages like, “Discreet. Small. Extends and protects. Only you’ll know its a tampon,” or “Small enough to keep out of sight.” These phrases bank on shame and the fear of people knowing we are having our period and reinforce the culture belief that menstruation is a shameful condition. God forbid someone knows you’re on your rag! But its treated like its the unpardonable sin, that you may contaminate those around you if they know you’re bleeding. Even the words “feminine hygiene” invoke the feeling that there is something unclean about the way our bodies function and that we require a product to make us hygienic again.


Other advertisements insist that a tampon will give you the freedom to go on living life as normal. We’ve all seen commercials with the sad girl sitting in her room unable to take part in day to day activities, like a pariah. But then she finds out about tampons and soon enough she is riding horses, playing sports and twirling barefoot on the beach! The message in these commercials reinforce social stigma about menstruation and are dangerous because they tell young women that our periods are an irregularity and in order to continue living “normally” a product needs to be used to hide our bleeding. This could not be further from the truth! Menstruation is normal and natural and the tampons those commercials are peddling can have adverse effects on women’s bodies.


The problems with the fem “hygiene” industry don’t stop at the perpetuation of harmful attitudes about the period. The products they are peddling are also bad for women’s bodies and bad for Mother Earth. Menstrual products such as the tampon are a health risk for women masquerading as cleanliness. Tampons can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome or TSS. TSS is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, in fact in 1980, 38 women died from TSS caused by tampon use! The symptoms of TSS are a sudden high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, sunburn-like rash, dizziness, muscle aches and fainting or near fainting when standing up. TSS is caused by the staphyloccus bacteria which can grow on synthetic fibres. ALL mainstream tampon manufacturers have at least one type of synthetic fibre in their products! Manufacturers of tampons continue to use highly absorbent fibres such as viscose and rayon even though they know they are linked to TSS!


Tampons often contain dioxins because of the bleaching process they undergo. Tampons are bleached white in order to appear sterile, but the dioxins that remain make them anything but clean. Dioxins are toxic chemicals that have been linked to decreased sperm count in men (yes this affects the men too!) and decreased fertility in women, as well as endometriosis. Dioxin is carcinogenic! But the Fem “hygiene” industry insists that the amount of dioxins in tampons are so miniscule that they do not pose any threat to women’s health. But what about compounded exposure to dioxins month after month? Also, dermal contact in the vagina might differ from regular dermal contact as vaginal tissue is highly absorbent. Tampons have also been known to alter the natural bacteria and micro-organisms in the vagina. And vaginal dryness and ulcerations may occur when a tampon is too absorbent for your flow. All of your lovely, perfectly natural and needed secretions are being sopped up by TSS inducing tampons. This does not sounds like a great “hygiene” option to me.


If the dangers of tampon use are not enough, mainstream menstrual products are also bad for the earth. Tampons and pads create excessive waste and the plastics in pads and tampon applicators sit in landfills.  It is absolutely true that we need to attend to our periods and that includes having menstrual products, but we need products that are healthy for our bodies and the earth. So we want to discuss some alternative options, reusable ones without toxic chemicals, that are great for you and Mother Earth.


Reusable tampon: The Reusable Tampon is used like a regular disposable tampon, but washed and reused. As the rayon in commercial disposable tampons is one of the factors in TSS, cotton tampons (disposable or reusable) are a safer option.





Interlabia pad: An Interlabial Pad is basically a tampon worn externally in the labia, rather than internally. These cannot be worn while swimming, but can offer a step between an internal product or a pad for those who don’t want to use an internal product.





Sea Sponge: This is a naturally occurring sea sponge that is used in the vagina to absorb the flow, much like a tampon. They are moistened for use, allowing them to be comfortably inserted. They are washed and reused, and can be boiled in a pot of water or submerged in sterilising solution if desired. Not a great option though, if you are vegan.



Menstrual cup: There are now several brands of Menstrual Cup available around the world. A Menstrual Cup is a soft bell shaped item which is used inside the vagina to collect the flow. They are removed to be emptied, rinsed out and replaced. They can be boiled in a pot of water to be sterilised before and after each period. The one cup can last many years, can be used while swimming or sleeping and does not have the same TSS risks as tampons do. They also have a much greater capacity than tampons and can safely be kept in place for 12 hours.




Cloth pads: These are essentially a washable fabric version of a disposable menstrual pad. Mostly made by small businesses, these come in a huge variety of types. Using fabrics such as bamboo or cotton, they can be very absorbent and some even include a waterproof layer to give the same security as a disposable pad. Colourful fabrics can add to the positive aspect of using these, as can soft fabrics such as velour. Cloth Pads can be reused for many years. After they have been worn, they can be rinsed clean or left to soak and washed in a washing machine with the rest of the laundry. Some women like to use the water on their gardens to make use of the nutrients the blood gives. You can also make your own.

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