On October 17–20, UTSU brought to light several equity concerns with their semi-annual Expression Against Oppression week (XAO), this year focusing on women’s issues.
Created to serve as a forum for students to discuss and challenge issues of oppression and discrimination, XAO events help empower marginalized voices and include them in a broader dialogue, according to UTSU President Danielle Sandhu.
[pullquote]“We need to … create new norms wherein women are encouraged to speak up instead of subjecting themselves to uncomfortable and unwanted situations,” said third-year student Sana Ali. “We think that if we don’t make a big deal, we won’t expose our vulnerabilities, and instead we [blame ourselves].”[/pullquote]
And as one of this year’s XAO highlights, a drop-in Wen-Do women’s self-defence class aimed to do just that, said instructor Denise Handlarski.
“Taking self-defence classes is an opportunity for women to step into the power we already all possess,” she said. “We still live in a world [where] women are perceived as weak … and are actively discouraged from fighting back.”
Third-year student and Wen-Do student Stephanie Abrahams agreed.
“We have been socialized to feel inferior and to be submissive,” she said.
She mentioned that it’s important for women to understand that they can assert their rights, make choices, and take control of unwanted situations, something that is ingrained in the three A’s of Wen-Do: awareness, avoidance, and action.
In the classes, students were taught to be alert of their surroundings, avoid potentially dangerous situations, and act when necessary, be it through physical resistance or accessing support systems like U of T’s Community Safety Office and Campus Police, to name a few.
“We need to … create new norms wherein women are encouraged to speak up instead of subjecting themselves to uncomfortable and unwanted situations,” said third-year student Sana Ali. “We think that if we don’t make a big deal, we won’t expose our vulnerabilities, and instead we [blame ourselves].”
During her Wen-Do class, instructor Handlarski explained that self-blame is one of the biggest problems that lead women to succumb to oppression.
She told her students that women often blame themselves in an effort to explain or defend their attacker’s actions, highlighting that a large percentage of aggressors are usually people known to and trusted by their victims.
“There are so many pervasive myths about violence against women,” she said. “It is easier to talk about stranger attackers out on the street than the much more likely reality of our attackers being partners or family members. But we have known for decades that we are most likely to need to defend ourselves against loved ones.”
After studying Wen-Do, Abrahams, who admitted to not knowing that she has a choice in unwanted situations, has developed a firmer grasp on her rights as a woman.
“Prior to Wen-Do class I was oblivious to the difference knowledge of choice can make, [but] now I don’t feel as powerless. I have options other than simply being submissive.”