Lost rights, lost pride: My view of the Roe v Wade ruling as a young American woman living in Canada.

By Sarah Cassidy  |  Photo: Ted Eytan

 

As a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, I’ve struggled with identity. I was born and raised in the U.S. but am the daughter of two Canadians. 

Growing up I was exposed to American and Canadian politics, from what I learned in school to what I heard on the news and at home. In high school, I was taught politics from the American point of view, without learning much about the Canadian political system. When it was time for me to go to university, I decided to accept my offer to attend the University of Toronto. As a Political Science major, I took American political courses from the Canadian perspective, along with taking multiple Canadian government classes. 

Living in Toronto for the past 4.5 years, many of my experiences discussing politics have been met with negative reactions. People have commented “Your personality is very American” or “I can tell you’re from the U.S.”  While I often did not know whether to take these comments as mere observations or insults, for the most part, living through university and into my adult life in Canada, I have remained proud of my American citizenship and steadfast in my liberal beliefs.

But I no longer feel proud. 

Instead, I feel ashamed. 

Heartbroken. Furious. Disgusted. Afraid. Confused…The list goes on and on. 

On Friday, June 24th, the United States’ Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, stripping the immense progress women’s civil rights, reproductive rights, and healthcare have made over the last 50 years. 

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade has deemed a woman’s right to an abortion as “unconstitutional” and allows for states to ban the performance of the medical procedure immediately (I stress the word medical here because that is what an abortion is: a medical procedure meant to aid in the promotion of women’s health). 

“I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating my life, my body, and what I can do to help. I have never before felt so powerless and irrelevant.”

What this means is that women living in the United States are no longer full citizens. We no longer have control over our own bodies or healthcare. We no longer possess the bodily autonomy necessary to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, nor to take care of our bodies and health. We are no longer considered equal to a man. And we are no longer free.

I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating my life, my body, and what I can do to help. I have never before felt so powerless and irrelevant. I have never felt as hopeless, angry, confused, scared, or heartbroken as I do now. And I have never felt so alone. 

We have been betrayed by our government — the very institution meant to protect and preserve our human rights. Yet, those essential rights have been violated, even though the majority of Americans disagree with the decision

We can sit here and talk about the sheer hypocrisy of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the picking and choosing of the Biblical verse, “Thou shall not kill,” and deciding which issues to apply that to. Obviously, it was absent in their decision to strip states of their autonomy to enact gun-carrying restrictions, making it a Constitutional right to carry a gun outside the home (in a year with at least 314 mass shootings by Independence Day). 

I will never be able to explain or justify the malicious, uneducated, and illogical rulings of the five Republican Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade. I can name their names, scream “DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY,” ask “Where is our separation of church and state?” and wrack my brain to try to understand why this is happening. 

But the thing is: it happened. It already is happening.

No matter what we feel, abortion bans are already in place. Women are already at risk of death. We can’t go back in time and change what has transpired.

Instead, we must act. 

“This ruling affects more than half the population of the United States, but it is perhaps more importantly an example of a branch of government abusing its power to manipulate the Constitution to fit the minority’s wants.”

Over the past few weeks, I have seen videos of fellow Canadians, along with people of all nationalities, reacting to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the same way I felt. Seeing this almost universal reaction brought me to tears. It made me feel like the world was coming to our aid, recognizing the unimaginable attack on our humanity, and standing in solidarity with us. It made me feel supported, cared for, and loved by millions of people who didn’t care if we were American. They cared that we had lost our basic human right to bodily autonomy.

This ruling affects more than half the population of the United States, but it is perhaps more importantly an example of a branch of government abusing its power to manipulate the Constitution to fit the minority’s wants. It is an example of the assertion of religious beliefs, that should be completely separated from state acts, being used to oppress millions of people. It is an example of how power can be abused by those who yield it, and it will likely not stop here.

I know I said I felt alone. And I did. And I know there are millions of people who feel the same as I do at this very moment. 

But we are not alone. 

There are millions of women who feel the same pain that we do, not only in the U.S., but across the world. No matter who we are, where we’re from, who we love, or what we look like, we all share in this fight together, this blatant attack on women, this war on human rights. 

 

It’s time to do more than just ditch ‘The Bad Apple Defense.’

Four years ago, I wrote what felt like a strongly worded open letter to the newly elected President Trump. I did not hesitate to call out his racism or misogyny, or mask my disappointment that America had failed to elect its first woman leader, who was — love her or hate her — unquestionably more qualified to lead the world’s biggest superpower.

And I remember thinking at the time, have I gone a tad too far? Am I giving in to emotionally-driven hyperbole?

Oh, Stephania of 2016, how naive you were. It’s been four years of “Did that really happen? How could this possibly get worse?” followed quickly by, “This, this is how it gets worse.” I am now beyond eloquent rage. A list of all the ineptitude and horror delivered by Trump and his regime during his first term would take up an entire article (if that’s too triggering, try this delightful song version instead); in the last week alone, we’ve seen police pepper-spraying peaceful voting marches and a Trump caravan attempting to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway.  

And someone, somewhere, is rationalizing that these are the acts of a few bad apples, and not indicative of his supporters as a whole.

It’s an excuse I’ve heard far too many times over the course of 2020. In a year in which we’ve had a nearly global reckoning on institutional racism, and plenty of proof of the toll it takes, there has been no shortage of talking heads explaining that the issue is actually just a few bad apples. Trump himself said it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and again during his visit to Kenosha after the shooting of Jacob Blake

And before I let Canadian exceptionalism rear its ugly head, let’s be clear that politicians and other public leaders have made the same claims here, and some have been relying on this defense for a long time. There’s plenty of evidence to show, as one recent survey did, that Canadians themselves “are more likely to view racial discrimination as the attitudes and actions of individuals, not a systemic issue embedded in Canadian institutions.” That’s fancy talk for ‘blame the bad apples.’ 

It’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous to assume that the problem is contained to this small group — and you only need to look as far as the origin of the saying to see why. For the past few decades, ‘bad apples’ have become most often used to denote a handful of people behaving unacceptably, thereby negatively affecting the reputation of the community or institution they belong to. That entirely eliminates the latter half of the phrase, which points out that these bad apples have the capacity to make an entire bunch rotten. (If you want to really dig into the history, the first recording dates all the way back to 1340, written as “A rotten apple quickly infects its neighbor.”)

There’s been plenty of think pieces written about how the ‘bad apples’ saying has morphed over the years, but here’s the part that I don’t think we pay enough attention to: pointing out how the meaning has morphed is about as effective as saying ‘the system is the problem’, as if stating what should be obvious is somehow the solution. 

It doesn’t matter if we recognize that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, if we don’t actually take that as a call to action to change the system so that it no longer allows for bad apples to thrive or survive. 

Take the case of Donald Trump. It is not hyperbole to say he is one of the most rotten and infectious apples we’ve seen in modern times. (If you think his putrefaction is contained to the US, let me tell you about what it was like to watch a caravan of maskless Canadians, waving QAnon and Trump flags, drive down Yonge street.) If the community he belongs to does not vote him in the trash heap where he belongs, I shudder to think of what will happen to the world in the next four years (or more, if you listen to Trump). 

 

Enough Excuses: It’s time for positive change towards workplace gender equality

 

 

 

In the move towards workplace gender equality, progress is moving glacially slow on many key measures. Is that the way it has to be — or are we just making excuses?  

 

By Stephania Varalli

 


 

In 2017, the World Economic Forum predicted we’d be closing the economic gender gap in 217 years — 37 years longer than the estimate they provided in 2016. It wasn’t, unfortunately, that surprising; in many key measures, from workforce participation to the gender wage gap, we haven’t moved the needle significantly in two decades.

Which leads to the question: Why is our progress towards workplace gender parity so slow?

We could argue that there are a lot of reasons. Or we could recognize that these are just excuses, and start moving towards change.

 

Excuse #1: The issue is embedded in our culture, and we can’t change culture that quickly it takes generations.

Let’s step away from gender equality for a moment and look back at the technological developments of the last two decades. Google officially launched in 1998, revolutionising our ability to access information — and having a measurable impact on how our memory functions as well as our reliance on each other for storing knowledge. The integration of social media into our daily life, from Facebook (2004) to Twitter (2006) to Instagram (2010), has transformed how we interact with each other and the world around us, how we create and maintain relationships, and how we view and document our personal experiences. The adoption of the smartphone, coupled with the ubiquity of an internet connection, has changed how, when, and where we work and play — as well as our balance between the two.

Yet, in the same 10 years that I transitioned from a rarely-charged flip phone kept in my glove compartment to a smartphone that I treat like an appendage and use like a mobile office, the World Economic Forum’s global economic gender gap narrowed by just 3%. In 1994, when Netscape Navigator began fighting for browser dominance with Internet Explorer, full-year, full-time female workers in Canada were making 73 cents for every dollar a man made. In 2014, that number had only reached 74 cents — despite women surpassing men in education achieved. And starting in 2017, the #MeToo movement has not only shown us that workplace harassment is still pervasive and damaging,  it has also highlighted how we’ve spent the last twenty years punishing victims for coming forward, rather than their perpetrators.

How are we capable of effortlessly evolving so rapidly in some aspects of our culture, and stall so spectacularly in another? It is apparent we can handle massive change in 20 years, rather than 217. The question becomes how we make it happen.

 

Excuse #2: The problem is huge and complex — solving it will take a long time.

Yes, the problem is huge. It encompasses a multitude of issues, from the gender wage gap to the lack of women on boards to how we value care-giving. And while some countries are better off than others in a few of these areas, economic inequality remains a global phenomenon. Yes, the problem is complex. There are a number of interwoven factors that feed into it, from a lack of sponsorship to limited visible role models to unconscious bias. We may not have a simple solution to address the whole problem, but we have proven strategies to focus on its parts.

 

“How are we capable of effortlessly evolving so rapidly in some aspects of our culture, and stall so spectacularly in another?”

 

Take Women of Influence, for example. Not enough female role models are given the opportunity to share their insights, so we give them the podium, and write about their stories of success. And you don’t need to be an organization dedicated to women’s workplace equality to follow the same principle.  

In January we partnered with Catalyst Canada on the first annual Radical Change Summit, which brought together business leaders who had taken a leap forward in gender equality, rather than a small step. They discussed not only their successes, but also how they achieved them — with the goal of inspiring others to take similar action. There were many valuable insights shared, and a notable theme tying them together: a planned and determined focus addressing specific issues. 

As our keynote speaker, Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, put it: “We don’t need three silver bullets, we need a thousand flowers blooming.”

 

Excuse #3 – We can’t get people on board for progress.

Convincing one person to join the cause is doable, right? From the business case to the moral imperative to personal life experiences (men get less sexist when they have daughters, for example) — there are countless ways that skeptical or reluctant individuals become supporters and advocates.

Now here’s the connection we don’t always make: one individual can be a catalyst for broad change. If a husband is willing to take on more of the home chores, his wife has more time to focus on her career advancement. An enlightened hiring manager can build a diverse and inclusive team. And when senior executives are on board, they can guide their entire organization towards greater parity — a power we need to encourage them to recognize. When we asked Mike Henry, executive vice president and chief data officer for Scotiabank, how he became an internal champion at the bank for gender equality, he responded: “We kept making comments about the Bank needing to do more and then we stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here’.”

 

“We stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here.'”

 

If we can get organizations to change, what about an entire industry? We have a very recent example that shows how possible it can be: The impact of the #MeToo movement has only just begun, and it has already pushed the conversation into the mainstream, taken down high-profile perpetrators, forced organizations to rethink policies, and men to rethink their actions. Yes, there has been backlash, but that doesn’t mean we should be halting progress.

 

Excuse #4 – Change is painfully hard, so we need to go slow.

Our opening keynote speaker from the Radical Change Summit — Blake Irving, director and former CEO of GoDaddy — informed the crowd that “The status quo does not go down easy.” He should know: When he took the helm, GoDaddy was best known for an advertising strategy that many viewed as sexist, if not misogynistic, and the company culture was just as in need of an overhaul. He led the transformation of the organization — inside and out — into one of the most inclusive in tech. And he did it in five years.

Not all men recognize that there’s even an issue, so it’s not surprising that they’re resistant to change. I think it’s about time we accept the fact that this isn’t going to be comfortable — at least not for the currently advantaged groups — and that’s okay. 

We can move forward, and we can move forward quickly, if we stop using the challenge of change to keep us from making it happen. Let’s make 2018 the year we forget the excuses, and get the job done.

 

A few letters in response to the election of Donald Trump

typing-vintage-technology-keyboard

Donald Trump, defying all the polls and pundits, pulled out a win in the presidential election. We are now looking to the future, recognizing the work that needs to be done, and getting it started by writing some important letters.

We invite you to read them, share them, and respond to them.

 

Sincerely,

Christine, Stephania, and Teresa

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES

AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR MEN

AN OPEN LETTER TO DISHEARTENED HILLARY SUPPORTERS

 

An Open Letter to Disheartened Hillary Supporters

hillary clinton supporter

By Christine Laperriere


Dear disheartened Hillary fans,

Today I feel like we Hillary fans are suffering a major setback and personally, as an American, I am working hard to restore some hope and optimism in order to move forward.  While I was stewing over the election results this morning, an old idea re-surfaced for me that brought me a little peace on such a sad day…

A few years back, a coach and mentor of mine introduced me to the term “Anti-Fragile” (quoted from a book by Nassim Taleb).  Anti-fragile is the concept that “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it anti-fragile.”

To put “anti-fragile” into visual terms, I remember my mentor explaining how in most cases a light gust of wind would typically blow out the flame of a candle (fragile) but a very strong persistent wind can turn a small forest fire into a ranging hot inferno (anti-fragile).  In essence, the resistance or setback results in a newfound strength that couldn’t exist otherwise.

In political terms, this makes me think of Rosa Parks – her refusing to give up her seat on the bus and getting arrested may have looked like a setback but this act fuelled the flame of a Civil Rights movement that ultimately made the country stronger as a result.

So, when I think of this disappointing election outcome, I know what the fragile response looks like – I felt it this morning as I was sad, angry and apathetic.  I wanted to denounce my citizenship to lash back and let the world know I was angry.

But when I got calm, I started to ask some very different questions.  What could be the anti-fragile outcome in response to this setback?  How could our response to the election of Donald Trump ultimately result in more equality for women, more diversity and inclusion, less racism, strengthen relationships with other countries, better healthcare for everyone and a better environment for future generations?  If that were possible, how might it happen?

When I start to ask these questions, my mind started to get peaceful and creative again… and somehow I started to find a bit of hope…

 

 

An Open Letter To Donald Trump, President-Elect of the United States

By Stephania Varalli


Dear Mr. President,

I started writing this letter while watching the election unfold, as states began to flip in your favour, as it became clear that the polls weren’t telling the whole story, that the pundits had miscalculated the odds, and that the democratic machine had underestimated both you and your supporters.

I spent the night and the following morning passing through the stages of grief — a textbook path of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression — until finally landing on acceptance. You, Donald Trump, will be the next President of the United States.

Ultimately, I want to believe that it was your message of change that enabled you to be elected. Not that it was wrapped in nativism, bigotry, misogyny, and racism. Not a triumph of showmanship and sound-bite promises (Build that wall! Lock her up!) over preparedness and thought-out policies. Not a reaction to the fear tactics you expertly employed. Not a reflection of unreadiness for a female leader, a campaign that showed all the markers of gender inequality (from scrutiny over her voice to her wardrobe), just another example of a qualified woman losing out to a less-qualified man.

But even if it was your anti-establishment rhetoric that ultimately won you the presidency, it would be dangerous and irresponsible to ignore the fact that many of your supporters voted for you because of these negative reasons — and the rest voted for you in spite of them.

I have made it no secret that I believe your campaign has already had a negative impact on gender equality. I am hopeful in your term you will work to support women’s advancement, rather than set it back. In your victory speech, you pledged “to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” Let this be the one election promise that you keep.

Surround yourself with experts that represent the mosaic of your nation. Stop complaining about political correctness and start creating an inclusive culture of decent human beings, and persist until speaking your mind doesn’t mean spouting discrimination. Recognize that women are not objects, that their greatest value is not based on a physical ranking out of ten, and that treating them as such ignores the capabilities and rights of half your population. Know that “locker room talk” is not appropriate, ever, never ever ever, even if it’s confined to the locker room.

Most of all, know that the world is watching. People of every race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and age, including the boys and girls that will go on to determine what America will become as a nation. As a Canadian, your time in office will impact me differently than your fellow Americans, but there is no denying that your Presidency extends beyond your borders.

After this campaign, after this election, I now see that there are deep-seated issues in your country that many failed to recognize and that need to be fixed. I reject the notion of making America great again — but there is plenty of room to make it better.

 

 

An Open Letter to Our Men

man in front of train

By Teresa Harris


To my brothers, my father, and my friends. To all of the men I love and have loved in my life, I ask you this: please listen, and please learn.

Listen to the message this election has so clearly announced about what our neighbours — and what we can assume many within our own borders — think of powerful females. Hear the words “nasty woman” and “Miss Piggy” and understand where they are coming from. Feel the weight of the fact that the source is America’s 45th President-elect.

Learn that although your intentions may be good, your actions matter. Your words matter. Your legacy — the impression you leave on the countless young boys who will grow into the men of our future — is one of the most important responsibilities you’ll have in your lifetime, and right now the climate is ripe for that legacy to be tainted.

We love you so deeply and wholly that it breaks our hearts to know you, the good and decent ones, have this letter to bear. I ask you to be brave in this time of hostility and confusion and exercise your power for change among your peers. It is critical that you do so.

That is what I ask of you today.

Here is what I do not ask of you.

I do not ask you to rally underneath the women you love and respect in an effort to lift us. I do not ask you to stand in front of us to shield us from the cruel reality we’ve suddenly realized our world represents. We are not frail, and even well-intentioned offerings of protective strength in reality are benevolent insults to our capabilities.

What we need is for your voices to be quiet at times when ours should be heard. We need you to look at us when our faces should be seen. We need you to stand beside us when our numbers are low. We need you to exist not as our scaffolding or our armour, but as our allies.

There has been an assumption in recent time that led us to believe a woman’s work is done. What we’ve realized is that the work of this generation of women is far from complete, and that no level of qualification or sum of money can do that work for us. That has never been made clearer than in the past 24 hours.

And despite your loving intent, you cannot do it for us either. But you can do it with us. You can and you should and you will, because the future of our humanity depends on it. So please listen, and please learn.