In December 2014, I decided to start a feminist club at McGill called McGill Students for Feminisms. I was asked, again and again, “Isn’t there a feminist club here already?” The answer was no, but until then I had not fully considered the impact of the sentiment that this club must already exist. Part of my desire to start a new club was rooted in my disappointment with social justice movements at McGill. I found that many of them were attracting the same relatively small group of people and, in all my naivete, I had the grand goal of appealing people who wouldn’t be normally present at every activist event on campus, or who wouldn’t take a Women’s Studies course.
Unfortunately, when myself and my fellow club members applied to the SSMU Interest Group Committee (IGC), which oversees the acceptance of new clubs, for official club status within SSMU, I was told that our club’s application had been rejected on the basis of overlap with the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE). The UGE, a collective whose members are very dear friends of mine, does an amazing job fighting the gender binary through support and educational resources, which is an important aspect of feminist action. But the existence of this resource in no way precludes the creation of a club focused on serving as a general hub for feminisms on campus. Although I discovered that there are many difficulties that come with trying to maintain a solid political stance while simultaneously appealing to broad groups of people, I maintain that making feminism accessible to more people is important.
Despite this, I was told by the IGC that there were “so many feminist clubs” on campus that our club would not be improving student life. We appealed this decision, this time with a letter of support from the UGE (as suggested by the IGC), with an extensive list of all clubs and groups on campus with an anti-oppressive mandate, their approach, audience, and how we would differ from them. We were rejected again – we were told that our list of clubs “made the overlap with other groups even clearer” and that we wouldn’t be able to reapply “without substantial changes” to our application. Subsequent requests to meet with the IGC and VP Clubs & Services were denied, as it was apparently too late for anything to be done by the time we received responses to our requests.
The very fact that we do live in a patriarchal society is evidence that more feminism is needed. And it is needed here at McGill.
I have tried to forget how demoralizing this was to the wonderful and dedicated team of feminists I have been working with, who, in the span of just three months, organized seven events in the winter semester. This made me wonder: is there a limit to how much feminism is allowed in a patriarchy? I chose McGill because of Montreal’s reputation for activism. In some ways, the city has lived up to this reputation – McGill and Montreal are both packed with social justice events and movements. At McGill, we have the feminist publication the F Word, the UGE, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and a Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) branch. These groups may have a feminist mandate, but having a feminist mandate as part of a broader mandate does not mean these groups focus solely on feminist activism and events as such, and does not mean that there is no room for more feminist spaces. In a patriarchal society, there appears to be a quota on the number of feminist spaces allowed.
Not all feminisms are the same and not all feminists have the same approach to different issues. There is room for many more feminist groups to flourish at McGill, like a pro-choice group, an interfaith feminist group, a women of colour-only group, or even a feminist book club. Saying otherwise is like saying it would be okay to merge NDP, Liberal, and Conservative McGill into one club, and salsa, tango, ballroom dancing, and swing groups into another, because politics are politics and dance is dance, right? As of now, there are eleven music clubs, seven dance clubs, and more charity clubs than I can count listed on the Activities Night website. But another feminist club? Now that’s something McGill just doesn’t need.
The idea that there is too much feminism is incredibly flawed to begin with, and only serves to reinforce the normalcy of the patriarchy. There can’t be too much feminism, ever, in a patriarchy. There can’t be too much anti-racism in a white supremacist society, and there can’t be too much queer activism in a heteronormative society. The very fact that we do live in a patriarchal society is evidence that more feminism is needed. And it is needed here at McGill, where a modest request for a few hours of women-only gym time faced hostile backlash, and had negotiations unilaterally shut down by Ollivier Dyens, the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning); where three students were allowed to stay on the football team for over a year after being charged with sexually assaulting a Concordia student; where a Conservative McGill letter addressed its members as “fellow preservers of the patriarchy.” How feminist is our campus when all of the above events took place within the last few years?
Not all feminisms are the same and not all feminists have the same approach to different issues.
Having talked to fellow feminists at other universities, I’ve realized that the “too much feminism” narrative is common at other student unions. At the University of British Columbia (UBC), students had to fight to get the UBC Feminist Club chartered by the Alma Mater Society because there was already a women’s centre and a sexual assault centre operating on campus (along with 14 Christian clubs, but who’s counting?). It took two years of student activism and pressure to convince Concordia that it needed a sexual assault centre, which was finally established in 2013. The “too much activism” narrative is not limited to feminism; at McMaster University, the student union denied status for the United in Colour, a group aimed at empowering people of colour, stating that its service was unnecessary because there was already a Black students’ union on campus. The idea that there can ever be “too much feminism,” or too much resistance to any kind of oppression, contributes to a society in which under-represented voices are silenced when they demand the space they deserve.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this experience is that a lot of the IGC committee members probably identify as feminists. But feminism is more than a label, and identifying with it does not mean you can’t unwittingly behave in an anti-feminist manner. I have many self-identified feminist friends that believe in reverse racism, and that men’s rights activism may be necessary, and that no opinion can be harmful if it’s just an opinion, and that being a “loud-mouthed feminist” makes me part of the problem. To my dismay, half of the IGC consists of women, and one of the men on the committee was the founder of the Women for Women International chapter at McGill. I say to my dismay because I expect more from women and their so-called allies. So let me tell you this, my beloved SSMU: your professed commitment to social justice leadership is misrepresentative if you refuse to see the value in having more feminist spaces on our campus. To be a feminist, you don’t need to join us at every march, talk, and conference, but you do need to be aware of the value and the necessity of a diversity of feminisms on our campus.
Paniz Khosroshahy is a U2 Women’s Studies and Computer Science student. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.