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Tickets sold out twice for a lecture by Marie Henein at the University of Toronto last week, in which one of the country's pre-eminent criminal lawyers promised to talk about the #MeToo movement. Henein famously defended Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC radio host against allegations of sexual assault, in a case that was a preview of many of the issues that the #MeToo movement has since turned into a global conversation. Yet until now, Henein had remained silent on #MeToo.
Her message was pointed: It's time for coverage and attention of #MeToo to move beyond Hollywood to the problems faced by blue-collar women, in Canada and abroad. The numbers support her call: Sexual harassment claims are far higher from women working in food and hospitality services, retail, manufacturing and health care than for those in the arts, professional jobs or education. (Based on U.S. data).
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Other feminists have also called for the #MeToo conversation to include many more voices outside Hollywood, starting with that of Tarana Burke, the movement's original founder.
I'm Simona Chiose and I cover higher education at The Globe and Mail. This year that means I've covered a season of free speech fights on campus, the recruitment of international students, and increasingly, harassment and assault cases. Like other reporters covering this terrain, I find the resilience of the women who call me to share their stories and hold their institutions accountable remarkable.
But as these calls have increased over the last few months, I have asked myself why the #MeToo movement does not appear to be empowering all women. It is not janitorial staff or food service workers who reach out to tell their stories, nor is it lower-level clerical workers. The fault is obviously largely mine, for not leaving the office enough, and not cultivating sources that can lead me to these other women's stories. At the same time, higher education institutions are also not making an effort to understand the experiences of this group in equal measures to the attention and innovation they are expending on preventing sexual assault by students.
Yet, as the legendary social reporter Barbara Ehrenreich points out, harassment is basically baked into the structure of jobs like waitressing, hotel cleaning or domestic work. Waitresses who rely on tips for their livelihoods are twice as likely to put up with harassment than those who are salaried, one organization found. And in the unlikely event that a service worker speaks out, Alicia Elliott wrote in The Globe late this fall, her boss is not happy: She could be upsetting a customer.
Hollywood's female stars tried to highlight those issues at the Golden Globes last month, bringing along activists who earned a mention from the TV cameras, but there was little coverage of the causes these activists represented. This piece at least begins to show the way.
Some have argued that the differences between women – shaped by their race and education level – are far more important than their common gender. How else can we explain Trump's win? Regardless of who they voted for, however, all women share a vulnerability to sexual violence. Hard as it is to find a source of strength in that vulnerability, the power of #MeToo is enough to even frighten Steve Bannon, former Trump whisperer. "It's an anti-patriarchy movement. Time's up on 10,000 years of recorded history," he told Bloomberg columnist Michael Lewis.
As author Kayleen Schaefer writes, women have always looked after each other. Sometimes that's through whisper networks, or just by making the simple request to "text me when you get home." Can we extend the same care to those outside our social networks as we do to those inside them?
For me, that care means listening closely to the stories women do bring, being curious about why some women never call and going out – leaving the office! – to find those whose stories have yet to be told.
What else we are reading :
I have learned that it is almost inconceivable for those who work outside a university to fathom that the job of an academic – professor or administrator – can be difficult and exhausting. But social media regularly lights up with professors debating whether it's possible to do the job in 40 hours a week or if at last part of each weekend, if not the entire two days of rest, must also be devoted to work.
Long academic hours impose multiple burdens for women, as this essay from someone who collapsed with exhaustion details: The burden of students turning to female professors for emotional support, the need to save something for the people – children and adults – one is responsible for at home, and the fear that talking about all that emotional labour violates the academic convention that thou shalt not talk about emotion.
And those are the good problems to have. Last week, Erin Bartram, a historian, wrote about her grief after she decided that she would stop looking for a tenure-track job, realizing her chances of landing such a position were close to zero. Jobs as humanities faculty can receive hundreds of applications, and new PhD graduates rallied around her story. People outside academia, however, basically told her to get over herself, as she says in a follow-up post.
The travails of those working in the mines of academia seem far from those of blue-collar women. I would like to read more conversations between them, to understand just how far apart their lives truly are, or if they share more than just exhaustion in common. – SC
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Susanna Fuller jokes that she sabotaged her science career the day she found advocacy. The East Coast native was in the middle of earning her PhD in marine biology at Dalhousie University when she realized a major piece was missing. If she wanted to work toward preservation of marine life, advocacy needed to play a part, too.
That's when Fuller, now 44, decided to go the NGO route, pairing her science knowledge with the advocacy needed for meaningful change. Today, she's one of Canada's most effective ocean activists as a senior marine co-ordinator at Halifax's Ecology Action Centre, where she works on marine, transportation and green-building issues. She also travels across the globe to talk about sustainable seafood and fisheries, and marine planning and protection. As for her current stance on the intersection of science and advocacy? "I think that there is, in fact, a false dichotomy between advocacy and science and that the science-policy interface is the place where real progress is made," she says.
Though Fuller says her job comes with plenty of rewards, a fat salary isn't necessarily one of them, as it might have been had she chosen a different path (in fact, she recently turned down two jobs that would have doubled her pay). Her income, and that of her eight-member mostly female team, is tied directly to the centre's fundraising. But some things are priceless, she says. In addition to a deep belief in what the organization does, Fuller is grateful for a flexible work environment and the short walk to her home.
Those attributes make balancing a full-time career with motherhood to a four and nine year old that much more manageable. It's still a struggle though, admits Fuller, who sometimes travels for five weeks straight. That's possible, she says, thanks to her husband's support. And, she says, she is a better parent because she is able to pursue a job she is passionate about. Day to day, though, Fuller finds herself in the same position as so many working mothers. "I love my job, I wouldn't give it away, but I feel guilty being away from my children and there's a balance I'm still striving to find." – Shelby Blackley
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