Published in the Fall 2006 issue • Features
If The Miss G__ Project for Equity in Education gets its way, high school as we know it will be radically transformed
One day in early June, women and men (including a few under five years old) spread themselves out on the manicured lawn of Queen’s Park, Ontario’s parliament building, for a sit-in, feminist style. A banner reading “Put your three cents in ’cause history owes you one” — a slogan cribbed from feminist folk singer Ani DiFranco — hangs behind a makeshift stage. Entertainment is provided by a parade of local female singers and poets. Three female members of provincial parliament stop by to read to the group.
Sandra Pupatello, minister of education and minister responsible for women’s issues at the time, recites the lyrics of R&B singer India.Arie’s “Video.” “Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t, sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t,” she reads into a microphone. “Am I less of a lady if I don’t wear pantyhose? My mama said a lady ain’t what she wears but what she knows.” The crowd cheers with delight. After all, the day has been designed to show politicians inside Queen’s Park that young women know what they want when it comes to their education.
The feminist read-in was the handiwork of The Miss G__ Project for Equity in Education, a group of young women on a mission to get a women’s studies course into Ontario’s high-school curriculum. They put together the read-in to demonstrate what they feel is missing from the curriculum: women’s voices, writings and experiences. They believe exposing students to ideas about gender equity and oppression while they’re still in their teens can help combat sexism, racism and homophobia and bolster girls’ self-esteem. As their mandate states, equity in education — a policy commitment of the Ontario Secondary School Curriculum — can’t be achieved without recognizing gender and its implications. The group is lobbying for an optional Grade 11 or 12 intro to women’s studies course. Such a class, geared to both male and female students, would be modelled after university courses and would cover women’s and feminist history, violence against women, gender stereotypes and women’s roles in sports, the arts, politics and media. Most of all, such a course would address what the group sees as a major gap in the high-school curriculum. “What you choose not to teach is just as important as what you choose to teach,” explains Dilani Mohan, a 23-year-old Miss G__ coordinator.
Mohan founded The Miss G__ Project with her friends Sheetal Rawal, 23, Sarah Ghabrial, 23, and Lara Shkordoff, 21, who met through the Women’s Issues Network at the University of Western Ontario and its affiliate, Huron University College. Inspired by their women’s studies classes, they began thinking about how difficult it was to be a high school student and how having access to a women’s studies course could help students negotiate pressures and make sense of the world as a gendered, racialized and classed place.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t you learn about feminism until university? Where has all of this information been?’” says Ghabrial. “High school is the site of a lot of gender oppression. Why is that still the case after so many years of women’s movements and activism?”
And so it was decided: the four women would take the project on themselves. Recalls Rawal, “We thought we’d go to the minister [of education], knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, you should do this,’ and they’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, right on!’ But we quickly learned it wasn’t that easy.” They had no idea they were about to embark on the biggest activist journey of their lives. “We didn’t see any of this coming,” says Ghabrial. “We just had a goal.”