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The oversized posters made from headlines about sexual and gender-based violence in Canada showed the Ontario Minister of Education that, in three years, much can be done to prevent such violence in the future, if there is political will. | photo: Shae Gowland

The oversized posters made from headlines about sexual and gender-based violence in Canada showed the Ontario Minister of Education that, in three years, much can be done to prevent such violence in the future, if there is political will. | photo: Shae Gowland

Reviews

the education of Miss G__

by Sarah Ghabrial | February 20, 2008

Last week for Valentine’s Day, The Miss G__ Project for Equity in Education held one of our most critical campaigns to date. We called it “No More Miss Nice G__!” and we meant it.

Our message to Ontario’s Ministry of Education: Hell hath no fury like a Miss G__ scorned.

Our strategy: Asking all of our supporters – from wherever they were in the world – to join us in a phone-in to the Ministry. We wanted to remind the government that it had made promises to us and to the students of Ontario, and that our emotions are not to be toyed with.

how it all started

It’s been exactly three years since a few colleagues/sister-friends and I began The Miss G__ Project. It is a grassroots organization of young feminists dedicated to ending oppression in and through education. We want a Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) course to be added to the Ontario high school curriculum. Despite having organized what Ontario’s current Education Minister, Kathleen Wynne, has called “the most effective lobby effort the Ministry has seen in recent history,” we have witnessed little action to address our demand.

The words of Elizabeth May inspired us to give our effort one more push:

Dr. Ursula Franklin, a wise woman, has said, “I used to believe that people in government were well-intentioned but ill-informed. I believed that if I made a strong and clear case, the officials would be bound to change their view. But after years of frustration, I now believe that people in government are well-informed, but ill-intentioned.” This is likely too harsh, but it makes a point. To win this fight, you will need to do more than make an overwhelming, solid, scientifically irrefutable argument to government. You need to create public support and media scrutiny so strong that the politicians will not dare ignore your case.

the big day

With the wisdom of Ursula Franklin and Liz May as our guide, this is exactly what we set out to do. First, we took our campaign to the Internet:

  • hitting the blogosphere,
  • setting up a Facebook event (Facebook: every activist’s new best friend),
  • creating YouTube promotional videos to share information and bring supporters together, and
  • encouraging participants to email if the phone lines were backed up – they could even send our custom-made Miss G_ Valentines!

Within a few days, hundreds had visited the Facebook listing. By Valentine’s Day, over 1,200 people had shown their solidarity.

The response was beyond our expectations. By 11 a.m. on the Big Day, so many calls had already been made to the Minister’s office that her voicemail was shut off. Wynne’s assistant got used to the pattern quickly, and was soon cutting calls short, taking only names and numbers to save time.

But what really made this campaign a success was the way supporters then regrouped on the Facebook page, sharing their experiences, encouraging and congratulating each other, and generally feeling the love. An online community came together – perhaps the best part about it all:

“I CALLED! This was muuucch easier than I though. I was sooo nervous.”

“aaaah! I just did it. I think a lot of people must have already phoned in because the office assistant anticipated my message.”

“I addressed my self as a father and concerned citizen, and left a message. That was too easy ... shall I compose an email? Much love to all involved with the Miss G project!”

“the minister’s assistant cut me off before I could get my say in, so I just sent an email to kathleen wynne, dalton mcguinty, and my mpp!”

“I just called. The assistant didn’t want to hear my smooth and cogent rhetoric, so I shall now compose an email instead.”

“‘Will Minister Wynne be reaching me shortly?’
‘Well ... with the amount of calls we’re getting, I’m sure a general message will be going out.’”

A particularly awesome email came from a teacher in Kirkland Lake, whose entire class phoned in as a group activity (a bit of anarchy, she told us, since cell phones are not allowed in school).

“The students had a great time and really started to feel heard when the receptionist began anticipating our calls and sounded frustrated and bored,” she wrote. “This has been a great learning experience for all of us.”

On the Wilfred Laurier and Guelph campuses, our chapters held phone-in and postcard-signing days. (Our Ottawa chapter is holding one in a few weeks.)

Between phone calls, emails, and postcards, we estimate that some 500 people contacted the Ontario Ministry of Education on Valentine’s Day.

a wall of gender violence

The phone-in was not the only action we staged last Thursday. In Toronto, a handful of us stood on Bay Street in front of the ministry’s headquarters. We held a 1.2 x 4.9-metre “wall” made from headlines about sexual and gender-based violence in Canada, which had been published over the past three years.

Between grisly and tragic stories of domestic violence, the sexual abuse of children, the stalking of ex-girfriends, and homophobic harassment turned deadly, peeked the words:

“… because a lot can happen in three years.”

This message held two meanings:

  • The wall was meant to provoke reactions to the sheer immensity of the problem of gender-based violence.
  • It was a way of saying that, in three years, much can be done to prevent such violence in the future, if there is political will.

The barrage of phone calls must have caught the Minister’s attention. At about 1:30 p.m., she accepted our invitation to join us on the sidewalk to talk with our supporters, and witness for herself the difference three years can make.

She brought with her Deb Matthews, London Member of Provincial Parliament and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues.

Putting this wall together was a grim task. With more time and resources, we could have covered an area twice as large. It was striking that so many of these articles and headlines were so small – almost footnotes in the news. As barely visible “incidents,” stories like these are easy to ignore. Collected together, they demonstrate the gravity, immensity, and systemic nature of this nation-wide epidemic.

The wall also included a shocking number of articles related to youth – sexual assault, bullying, and abuses of power by trusted teachers and principals.

Two recently released reports about some school environments in the province detail the extent of these oppressions and the damage they do to students’ lives – “The Road to Health” (also known as the Falconer Report), and “Sexual Harassment and Related Behaviours Reported Among Youth from Grade 9 to Grade 11” from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

A high school Women’s and Gender Studies class would be a safe and inclusive place in which students could talk openly and critically about these issues – one that would empower them to oppose injustice in their daily lives, in high school and afterwards.

Shae was on the sidewalk that cold Valentine’s Day. She was one of our high school interns last summer. Now Shae runs a Miss G__ Club at Ursula Franklin Academy in Toronto. She had skipped school to be part of our demonstration. Her teachers were proud of the truant.

background: what’s in the name?

In 1873, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard Medical School wrote in Sex in Education: or, A Fair Chance for the Girls, of a certain “Miss G__” who was a top student "leading the male and female youth alike" at a time when women were just beginning to push the boundaries holding them from higher education.

Unfortunately, Miss G__ died.

The Story of Miss G__, Miss G__ Project

section15.ca blogs it: no more Miss Nice G__ | February 6, 2008

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