Op-ed: Blanket solutions won’t bridge U of T’s wage gap

U of T’s attempt to rectify the wage disparity once again proves its inability to address systemic issues

Op-ed: Blanket solutions won’t bridge U of T’s wage gap

On April 26, the University of Toronto announced a 1.3 per cent salary increase for all tenured or tenure-stream women faculty members across campus, to be implemented as of July 1. The University of Toronto’s number-one status in Canada stems largely from its reputation as a top research institution. However, the administration’s newest approach to addressing the gender pay gap on campus has once again proven its inability to fully research and assess systemic issues within the university itself.

It was stated that the decision was made on the basis of the Provostial Advisory Group on Faculty Gender Pay Equity’s findings on gender-based pay equity, and after a mediation process between university administration and the University of Toronto Faculty Association. In a statement, U of T President Meric Gertler, noted that the university is taking “immediate action to close the pay gap between men and women professors who are tenured or in the tenure stream.”

“The University of Toronto’s decision to distribute a uniform increase to all salaries attempts a “one size fits all” approach, reminiscent of first-wave feminism.”

Despite being well-intentioned, this approach is noticeably performative and unconducive to real change. Simply providing a 1.3 per cent increase to all women’s pay overlooks the systemic disadvantages women face in academic environments that hinder career growth. These challenges — commonly referred to as the “pipeline problem” — suggest that the gender wage gap in academia represents barriers women face everywhere that prevent integration into the larger economic fabric.

U of T’s decision disregards the intersectional systems of discrimination and disadvantages that women experience throughout their careers in academia. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Indigenous women working full-time in all fields earn an average of 35 per cent less than non-Indigenous men. Furthermore, racialized women in general working full-time earn an average of 33 per cent less than non-racialized men.

The University of Toronto’s decision to distribute a uniform increase to all salaries attempts a “one size fits all” approach, reminiscent of first-wave feminism. Moreover, the policy fails to encourage meritocracy within the respective demographics. In order to adequately rectify this issue, the distinct ways in which wage disparities affect diverse women in the workplace must also be assessed. This is because dialogue about the gender wage gap is not complete without acknowledging both the gap between men and women, and the gap between minority groups and everyone else.

It is also worth noting that the wage increase will not apply to librarians, contractually limited term appointments, or part-time faculty. This emphasizes the extent to which the attempt to remedy wage-gap disparities at U of T exists merely as a band-aid solution to a complex problem. Through the implementation of this salary increase, U of T fails to comprehensively address pay disparities in a way that would benefit all working women.  

It is apparent that U of T is acknowledging the long-established gender pay gap issue within the institution. However, the university does not offer compensation for past years of underpayment. The simple acknowledgement followed by a blanket solution does not address past injustices.

The wage increase announcement speaks to U of T’s attempts to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. The goal is especially relevant in the dialogue on how postsecondary institutions should actively ensure their ranking is reflective of their capacity to allow students and faculty members of different races, genders, and ethnicities to thrive on campus. Yet, in order for initiatives spearheaded by the administration to carry any weight, they must move beyond simply ticking a box. Acknowledging that a gender wage gap is a significant issue on campus is a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, a broad-strokes pay increase fails to address the complexities of the wage gap and U of T’s role in reinforcing institutionalized disparity.

The University of Toronto’s administration indirectly exacerbates social issues — such as wage disparities — by failing to address their root causes. U of T consistently commits itself to implementing change, yet fails to fully invest in understanding the lived experiences of individuals affected by the same structural barriers it seeks to tackle. Simply providing money will not fix the problem, and it is clear that these initiatives do little beyond satisfying administrative requirements. They are shortsighted and will result in the re-emergence of the issue.

Therefore, it is imperative that the University of Toronto moves beyond programs that are likely to make headlines. On the contrary, the administration should commit to understanding the root causes of issues, empowering marginalized communities, and ultimately dismantling systemic barriers to equity.

Lina Maragha is a third-year Political Science and Criminology and Sociolegal Studies student at University College. She is the University College Director at the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

Tenured female professors at U of T earn 1.3 per cent less than male counterparts: report

University to correct difference, boost salaries of over 800 female faculty

Tenured female professors at U of T earn 1.3 per cent less than male counterparts: report

Tenured and tenure stream female faculty earn on average 1.3 per cent less than their male counterparts, according to the findings of a committee convened by U of T Vice-President & Provost, Cheryl Regehr.

In response to the committee’s findings, the university has announced that it will increase the salaries of “all women faculty members who are tenured or in the tenure stream” — around 800 women — by 1.3 per cent.

The pay bump builds on previous university initiatives, including the increased hiring of women into the tenure stream, providing bias training for faculty and tenure appointment committees, and support for starting salary equity.

The report was carried out by the Provostial Advisory Group, a committee of staff, faculty, and educational administrators convened in 2016 as the product of a pre-grievance mediation between the university and the University of Toronto Faculty Association.

The report was carried out by faculty members specializing in statistics, one staff member, and a graduate student. In addition to analyzing salary differences among tenured professors, the group examined the male-female divide in professorships and calculated pay gaps for teaching stream faculty.

Men drastically outnumber women in professorships

Using numbers from 2015–2016, the group found that of the 965 tenured or tenure stream professors then employed at U of T, only 27 per cent were female. The numbers increased for associate professors and assistant professors, with women respectively accounting for 45 per cent and 43 per cent.

The “raw” salary difference within this group was 12 per cent, meaning that the average tenured or tenure stream male made 12 per cent more than his female counterpart. However, after considering academic rank, years since highest degree, and field of study, that difference was lowered to 1.1 per cent.

This large initial difference of 12 per cent was chalked-up to the tendency for women to hold junior positions and specialize in lower paying fields. In the relatively high-paying Economics faculty, for example, there is only one woman for every eight men.

The final model incorporated three more variables, including whether the person had received a Canada Research Chair, and if the person was holding, or had held, an administrative position. Taking these into account with the original model, they determined that gender was responsible for roughly 1.3 per cent of the salary gap.

Working by percentage, the corresponding increase will affect salaries differently. A woman earning $350,000 will receive an extra $4,550 per year, while a woman earning $100,000 will only take in an extra $1,300.

Ratio even, salaries equal in teaching stream

The committee also investigated pay differences within the teaching stream faculty, comprised of professors who are expected to exclusively teach. The data, taken from 2016–2017, showed that women accounted for 50 per cent of the 336 full-time teaching stream faculty.

Unlike the 1.3 per cent divide within the tenured and tenure stream, the committee found no discernible gap between male and female salaries within the teaching stream.

Still more to come, promises Regehr

According to Regehr, U of T will be “conducting a similar analysis for librarians in continuing appointments.”

In an interview with U of T News, Regehr also recommended that the university check in on salaries periodically “to ensure that a gender-based pay gap does not reappear over time.”

The Varsity’s own analysis of professors who earned over $100,000 in 2017 showed that women were not only largely under-represented in high-paying positions but also faced various pay gaps.

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Breaking down the publicly released data the university collected in 2017

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Every year, the Office of Planning and Budget Office releases a report on the demographic data that U of T collects, including figures on international enrolment, the number of degrees awarded by field, and even the average number of wireless connections per day.

Notably, engineering and science degrees were heavily skewed toward male recipients, while education and physical education degrees were mostly given to female students.

The report also shows that an overwhelming amount of international students at U of T are from China, with other countries making up a small percentage in comparison.

Here’s a breakdown of what that data shows and what stood out.

Student gender balance

Of the 65,051 full-time undergraduate students last year, 55.7 per cent identified as female, 43.7 per cent as male, 22 students as another gender identity, and 341 students’ gender identities remained undisclosed. In its collection of data on student gender, the university only started including the category of “another gender identity” in 2017.

In comparison to figures from 2007, the university has maintained the ratio of female to male full-time undergraduate and graduate students.

Part-time undergraduates were 61 per cent female in 2007. The 2017 data shows a slight majority male student population among part-time undergraduates.

Part-time graduate students had the largest disparity in gender, with 64.4 per cent of the population identifying as female — two per cent up from 2007 numbers.

Data on the number of degrees awarded by field of study for the 2016 calendar year shows large gender disparities in the areas of engineering and physical sciences, education and physical education, and mathematics and physical sciences.

Engineering and physical science degrees overrepresented male students, with only 380 undergraduate degrees out of 1,186 being awarded to female students, amounting to less than 33 per cent.

Disparities are especially apparent in doctoral engineering and physical science degrees, where only 26 per cent of the 156 degrees awarded were to female students.

Among the 1,115 undergraduate mathematics and physical science degrees awarded in 2016, 39 per cent were to female students. These same disparities appear for doctoral degrees as well, with only 24 per cent of the 105 doctoral degree recipients and 31 per cent of the 118 master’s degrees being awarded to female students.

Education and physical education degree recipients also showed gender disparities, where female students are overwhelmingly represented. Across 1,287 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees awarded, three-quarters were female, with the largest disparity among the 759 masters students, where only 21 per cent were male.

International student enrolment

International students who attend U of T are overwhelmingly from China.

With 65.1 per cent of the undergraduate international student enrolment, the 10,463 Chinese international students made up 14.6 per cent of U of T’s total undergraduate population in 2017.

The second-highest international population was from India, with a comparatively few 677 students enrolled. Students from South Korea, the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Nigeria made up the remaining international undergraduate student population with roughly 12.8 per cent share of total international undergraduate enrolment.

Trends remain similar for graduate international enrolment. Students from China made up 34.7 per cent of the graduate international student population — with students from the United States and India having made up 11.4 and 11.2 per cent of international graduate students, respectively.

By geographic region, undergraduate international enrolment has fluctuated. Enrolment from North America has increased from 281 to 449 students since 2013, while international students coming from the Caribbean and Latin America are on a rapid decline, with 2017 seeing about half of the 2014 enrolment. However, European international student enrolment maintained high levels, at around 800 students per year.

The Asia and Pacific region’s enrolment has seen a 68.9 per cent increase since 2013, more than any other regional division of international enrolment for undergraduate students.

Again, these trends are mirrored in the graduate student population. Of the 3,118 international graduate students in 2017, more than half were from Asia and the Pacific, with North America and the Middle East making up the next largest populations.


In the 2016–2017 school year, U of T received $274,854,977 in pledges and gifts, with 37 per cent of donations coming from alumni. Research grants also made up a large proportion of donations at $62,535,116. The university also received money from various corporations, foundations, and “friends.”

The largest donors are listed online. Donors who have gifted $25,000,000 or more include Paul and Alessandra Dalla Lana, Sandra and Joseph Rotman, John H. and Myrna Daniels, and Peter and Melanie Munk.

If an individual donates $1,827 or more, they can join the Presidents’ Circle club. The club holds special lectures and events presented by “the University’s most celebrated, insightful and inspiring professors.”

Donations are also accepted online, where various funds can be selected to specify where the donor would like their money to go. This includes funds specific to programs, institutions, campuses, and colleges. There is also a President’s Fund for Excellence, listed as part of the Boundless campaign’s “area of greatest need.”

Student Residences

New College had the most students in residence in 2017, holding 900 students with a 901 capacity.

Of the 6,616 residence spaces for students at U of T, 4,017 were occupied by first-year students. University College held the highest number of first-year students relative to its capacity. Besides graduate and family housing, Trinity College held the lowest number of first-year students among the 460 spaces available.

All residences at UTSG were operating at 95 per cent capacity or above in 2017. Chestnut Residence, University College, and Victoria College were all operating at 100 per cent capacity last year.

UTM’s undergraduate housing had a 1,462 student capacity with 642 first-year students. Residences at UTSC housed 754 students of its 767 spaces available, with 613 first-year students in residence.

Wireless connectivity

The university also collects data on the number of connections to U of T’s wireless network across all three campuses. Similar data also shows how students use university-provided web services such as ACORN, including the number of students changing or choosing academic courses, how many students have added bank information, and the number of credit card fee payments that declined.

The average number of connections to U of T’s Wi-Fi per day has doubled since 2013. In 2017, 59,636 unique users accessed U of T’s network per day, with an average of 95,578 devices connecting.

Data reveals extreme gender imbalances among faculty

Women make up less than 26 per cent of full-time professors

Data reveals extreme gender imbalances among faculty

Data released by the Office of Planning and Budget shows a disproportionate overrepresentation of men in both tenured and non-tenured professor positions at U of T. Women make up only around 26 per cent of total full-time tenured and tenure stream Professors — a less than five per cent improvement from data collected in 2007.

This data goes along with an analysis by The Varsity of the Ontario Sunshine List, which showed clear gender pay gaps among the university’s top-paid professors.

In a breakdown by rank and gender, both full-time tenured and non-tenured Professors were overwhelmingly male in 2017.

Of 948 tenured and tenure stream faculty, 26.05 per cent were women. Of 1,091 full-time staff of professor rank, 26.12 per cent were women.

This aligns with historic trends, as the 2007 Facts and Figures book shows the same tenured and tenure stream faculty had 795 professors with 21.26 per cent women — the representation of women from 2007 to 2017 has increased just 4.8 per cent.

Nursing and the Rotman School of Management have the largest disparities in gender balance among tenured faculty. Out of 21 full-time tenured faculty in Nursing, 19 were female and two were male. Conversely, at Rotman, 87 out of 102 total tenured faculty were men.

The faculty with the largest number of tenured faculty, Arts & Science, was 34.32 per cent female among 679 professors.

Assistant Professor and Associate Professor positions have a better gender balance than the higher rank of Professor. Among tenured and tenure stream faculty, 46.64 per cent of Associate Professors and 37.54 per cent of Assistant Professors were women.

University responses

In a statement to The Varsity, Heather Boon, Vice-Provost Faculty and Academic Life, admits that the low percentage of female tenured and non-tenured Professors is due to historical hiring practices. However, Boon expects the number to increase as more women move up the ranks.

Boon also lists a number of initiatives that the university is working on to improve gender equity, including funding from the provost, appointment of a Provost’s Advisor on Women in STEM, and establishing mentorship programs for new faculty.

Also listed is an updated employment equity survey. While the university has committed to demographic surveys in the past, ambiguity still remains around their timeline.

Associate Professor in the Department of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Management at UTM Sonia Kang isn’t surprised by these results. Kang explains the systemic issue of gender imbalances where fewer women make it into traditionally male-dominated top ranks in many institutions. Expounding on her research, Kang describes the major hurdle that exists between the rank of ‘Professor’ and ‘Assistant’ or ‘Associate Professor.’

In her research, Kang describes how women have low rates of participation when put into opt-in competitive environments, such as tenure streams. However, when that same choice becomes an opt-out, meaning the decision has to be made to not apply, women reached an equal number of tenure into competitive environments as men.

Whereas tenure at U of T is an opt-out system, promotion to the full rank of Professor is opt-in. Kang suggests that an opt-out system for promotion from “Associate” to full-rank “Professor” could help in U of T’s underrepresentation of women in the higher ranks of academia.

“[Women] tend to display as being more risk-aware so they’re more aware of the risks of certain decisions so they might not take them. It can also be… women are socialized maybe to be less confident, but there’s a whole bunch of different reasons why you might lose women at that juncture.”

While these problems may be conditional to competitive fields like academia, Kang also thinks that there are greater societal issues at play creating large disparities in gender representation.

Editor’s Note (November 26, 6:51 pm): An earlier version of this article misstated Sonia Kang’s title. It is Associate Professor, not Assistant Professor. This article has also been updated to provide additional context on tenure streams at U of T. 

Shining light on the Sunshine List

Analyzing the gender wage gap among U of T’s top-paid professors

Shining light on the Sunshine List

U of T’s top earners are disproportionately male, The Varsity’s analysis of previous Sunshine Lists has revealed.

The annual Sunshine List, published by the Ontario government, reveals the salaries of all public employees who make over $100,000. There were 131,741 people on the 2017 list, over 3,800 of whom were University of Toronto employees.

The 2017 Sunshine List revealed a significant absence of women in top-paying positions, as well as a persistent pay disparity between the top earning male and female professors at U of T — even for professors with the same title, same years of employment, and the same starting salary.

The 2014–2015 gender equity report, the last-released study on gender equity at U of T, reported an increase in the representation of women in full-time tenure-track faculty positions from 30 per cent to 35 per cent. Women in the position of Professor made up only 27 per cent of all full-time Professors at U of T in the 2014–2015 academic employment year.

The top 100

Professors with the top 100 highest salaries on the Sunshine List are from a wide variety of departments and all three U of T campuses, yet the majority are men, with only 14 women making the cut.

Median pay for the top 100 female professors on the 2017 Sunshine List was $337,105.74, whereas the median pay for men in the top 100 was $346,854.07. This translates to female professors in the top 100 making 97 cents for each dollar that a male professor makes.

While this is still a smaller gap than the Canadian average, it alludes to other larger disparities that can be seen throughout the Sunshine List, ranging from the median starting salary differences to the median 2017 salary for men and women.

While the average male professor has been on the Sunshine List for two more years than the average female professor, the overrepresentation of men on the list combined with the median salary gap of $9,748.33 points to a historical absence of women in higher-paying positions. In this regard, the top 100 list reveals no new information, as women are frequently underrepresented and unequally-paid in high-paying jobs.

A closer look at professors of Philosophy, Religion, English, Rotman Organizational Behaviour, Law, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE), Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics reveals that, while the trend of pay disparity does not apply to every individual department, a pay gap occurs in all areas of U of T. These departments were chosen for analysis as they had the largest number of professors with the same job title on the 2017 Sunshine List.

Top 100 earning professors based on 2017 salaries. (Click to expand)

Humanities and Social Sciences (Philosophy, Religion, English, Rotman, Law)

All of the Humanities and Social Sciences departments investigated had pay gaps across the board.

Female professors on the Sunshine List were, on average, hired only two years later than their male counterparts, yet consistently received significantly smaller pay raises across their careers and were always outnumbered in their departments. While these female professors saw an average increase from their starting salary of $48,012.73, male professors averaged a $78,103.22 increase.

While Religion, English, Rotman, and Law all had higher starting median salaries for women when compared to men, with gaps of $1,719.00, $1,401.50, $53,682.00, and $11,916.00 respectively, male professors still had a higher median salary on the 2017 Sunshine List.

Philosophy professors on the Sunshine List — all of whom had the same job title — held the smallest margin of median salary disparity, with a pay gap of $5,490.73 in favour of men in 2017.

The largest average pay gap in 2017 among these departments belonged to Rotman Professors of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management, where women on the Sunshine List made, on average, 29 per cent less than men.

With the exception of Philosophy, these Humanities and Social Science departments all show the same characteristics: the average woman on the Sunshine List made less than their male counterpart in 2017 and departments with higher overall pay maintained increasingly wider divides in median and average pay.

Sciences (MIE, Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics)

While more egalitarian in pay when compared to the Humanities and Social Sciences, professors in MIE, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics — representing the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) — had pay disparities favouring men in every department but one.

The largest pay gap in the Sciences existed among MIE professors on the Sunshine List, where only two women held the same title as their 28 male counterparts. While the median starting salary for women was $4,121.50 higher than for men, the current pay gap is commensurate with the employment gap — women on the list made 19 per cent less than men in 2017. This means that, though women may start out with higher salaries, they do not see as much progress throughout their careers as men do.

In contrast, Computer Science salaries were, on average, equal for men and women. The median pay gap was $711.67 in favour of women, an anomaly on the Sunshine List.

All Science departments analyzed had at least double the number of men than women on the Sunshine List. MIE had the largest disparity, with 26 more men than women, while Computer Science had the smallest gap, at 10 more men than women.

Physics and Mathematics both maintained a pay disparity between average starting salaries and average 2017 salaries. On the 2017 Sunshine List, women in Physics were paid 87 cents per dollar made by their male counterpart, and women in Mathematics made 94 cents per dollar.

In addition to the gender pay gap, the Science departments reflect a STEM-wide problem: the underrepresentation of women. Between 1987 and 2015, the percentage of women working in STEM fields across Canada increased from 20 per cent to 22 per cent of the workforce. By contrast, female science professors at U of T who appeared on the Sunshine List made up only 16.5 per cent of the investigated Science departments on the list.

Gender pay gap for humanities, social sciences, and sciences in 2017. (Click to expand)

Analyzing direct discrimination

When comparing professors within the same department, with the same starting salary within a $500 margin, and the same number of years of employment, direct gender pay disparity becomes much more apparent.

Among nine pairings with these conditions, only two had women making more than their male counterpart; the largest pay gap in favour of women was $4,296.36.

The other seven cases demonstrated greater gender-based pay inequities, with the largest pay gap in favour of men at $78,033.09. In this case, the male professor who started with the same salary and worked for the same number of years as his female counterpart still made 48 per cent more.

Broadly, the average starting salary across all nine cases was $106,885.11 for women and $106,792.56 for men. Though women on the 2017 Sunshine List had a small starting salary gap of $92.55, in the end the average man still made $14,993.06 more than the average woman.

Across the nine cases mentioned above, women made on average 9.6 per cent less than men in 2017, despite having been on the Sunshine List for the same number of years, with the same starting salary, and with the same listed job title. These cases, however, do not take into account external factors that would affect salary, such as teaching additional courses and conducting research. It’s unknown how these 18 male and female professors compare on those counts, as either the male or female professor could have more experience.

Responses and reactions

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T Vice-Provost Faculty and Academic Life Heather Boon said that, “The matter of gender pay equity is an important issue at U of T. We, like many other large and complex institutions, are in the process of looking carefully at gender pay equity as it relates to our faculty.”

Boon explained that gender is more balanced for Associate and Assistant Professors, citing the 2014–2015 Gender Equity Report that states that Associate Professors and Assistant Professors have 42 per cent and 43 per cent female representation, respectively. Any analysis comparing the pay of the most senior rank of Professor will be affected by the prevalence of men in those more senior positions.

Boon’s statement corroborates the findings of The Varsity’s analysis: the top 100 earning professors at U of T are overwhelmingly male, and make more money in almost every case.

Boon listed initiatives the university is undertaking “to foster and support a diverse faculty complement,” including increased funding to support diverse faculty hiring, unconscious bias training, mentorship and leadership programs for new and diverse faculty, and an updated equity survey that would collect detailed data on U of T’s workforce.

“The University of Toronto is one of North America’s leading research intensive universities,” concluded Boon. “We are committed to excellence in education and research. That requires us to attract and retain the best educators and professional staff with competitive salaries and compensation.”

However, Professor Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy, and Professor of Strategic Management at Rotman, contends that little progress is being made to rectify the gender-based pay disparities and employment gaps at U of T, particularly for faculty on the Sunshine List.

Kaplan added that the Sunshine List “has many problems,” which makes analysis of it “a little bit apples to oranges.”

“For example, if a professor has a salary that is $100,000 but they teach two extra courses that year, they might get paid to just teach those courses in addition to that load, so their overall salary would look higher,” she said.

Despite the issues with the Sunshine List, it is the only publicly available data on U of T salaries. The university does not release any information on employee diversity, and the last report on gender equity was published based on data from four academic years ago. Although it isn’t perfect, the Sunshine List still demonstrates gender disparities at U of T’s highest levels.

“We’re not alone at U of T,” said Kaplan when discussing the pay gap in the wider Ontario and Canadian context. “But we’re a leading university in the country. We should not just be comforting ourselves by saying ‘we’re not alone.’ We should actually be at the cutting edge of trying [to] resolve this.”

Within Ontario, McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Guelph have all enacted pay boosts to female faculty after task forces and studies revealed systemic gender-based inequities in salary. Kaplan believes that U of T should follow suit by collecting the appropriate data and equalizing pay. However, she has little faith that these changes will come swiftly. “In the university or government context, where change is going to be slow, it’s going to take some guts to do it and I don’t see anyone having the guts,” she said.

“[U of T] should recognize that there’s these gendered processes that produce these unequal outcomes,” said Kaplan. “They should be making up for those differences and be willing to take whatever political heat they would take for doing it.”


average vs. median: The average pay calculates the arithmetic mean, which tends to be higher than the median, the middle of a given set. Whereas the average would account for wide ranges in pay, the median more accurately represents the ‘typical’ man or woman when considering pay. However, the average, in many cases, is able to fully reflect pay gaps by accounting for the overall higher pay among one group over another.

starting vs. current (2017): Ontario first began publishing the Sunshine List in 1996. The starting salary of professors who were researched represent their salary when they first appeared on the annually published Sunshine List.

Illness as aesthetic

On the hierarchy of eating disorders

Illness as aesthetic
From the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, tuberculosis ravaged the Western world. Then known as consumption, this deadly infectious disease was responsible for 25 per cent of the deaths in Europe during this period, earning it the nickname ‘captain among these men of death.’

Those afflicted suffered from fevers, coughing, diarrhea, and emaciation. Yet, at the same time as it reached epidemic levels, tuberculosis became somewhat of a fashionable disease. There was a strong glamourization of patients who were observed to have pale skin, flushed cheeks, and extremely thin physiques, all attributes of the ideal female form. Regardless of the havoc that it wreaked, the appearance of tuberculosis patients was almost immediately popularized for its association with femininity.

Victorian fashion was taken over by pointed corsets with voluminous skirts, and red lips and pink cheeks against porcelain skin. Nineteenth century ‘consumptive chic’ was, in other words, an obsessive emulation of tuberculosis patients.

Thinness had become both a necessity and an aesthetic. By the end of the nineteenth century, anorexia nervosa was officially recognized as a mental disorder. Evidently, this dangerous cultural fascination with extreme restriction and thinness did not end there.

Anorexia nervosa has been in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since its first edition. However, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder were not officially recognized until over 30 years later. Despite being relative newcomers to the DSM, both have higher prevalence rates than anorexia nervosa. Conversely, bulimia and binge-eating appear far less frequently in pop culture.

Our value-laden notion of appropriate feminine appearance and behaviour has generated a hierarchy that is reflected in media content. There are a slew of movies and books about anorexia, but seldom any about other eating disorders.

This narrow portrayal is not new. Romantic poets of the nineteenth century wrote of the pallor and near-emaciated thinness of tuberculosis patients, assisting in its fetishization. In today’s world, this is perpetuated by filmmakers and social media. This results in disproportionate representations of the three eating disorders, and creates a toxic ranking based on how nicely they fit into our definition of acceptable female demeanour.


Normative femininity

Writers such as Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath are just a handful of the many brilliant women in literature who have suffered from disordered eating. As a response to patriarchal constrictions, their confessional writings turned their pain into stories and their psyches into vivid characters.

This brought about curiosity among readers, and created an entirely new genre. Their refusal of food was seen by many as a commitment to femininity, and the documentation of their accounts as products of creative genius. Anorexia reproduces itself in literature as an idolized character of discipline and ideal femininity.

Hollywood today displays vestiges of Victorian standards and Victorian expressions of eating disorders. With films monopolizing eating disorder narratives, we are only hearing a fraction of the story. Where does that leave bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder? Where does it leave those afflicted by eating disorders who don’t fit into the narrow model of an archetypal patient?

Dr. Allan S. Kaplan, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, explains the discrepancy with a general conception of the three eating disorders: “You can characterize the three eating disorders on a continuum of weight. Anorexics by definition are underweight; they have to be. Bulimics almost always are normal weight and it’s hard to know that someone has bulimia; it’s kind of a closeted illness. Binge-eating, because they’re binging and they’re not getting rid of the calories, they’re almost always obese.”

He says, “In our society, and especially the society that young people are drawn to — that can be fashion, modelling, show business — thinness is valued,” but when it comes to other eating disorders, “it’s private, and there’s a lot of shame associated with binge-eating and purging.”

The roots of hierarchy

Among patients, anorexia is often heavily defended as a life choice because it’s predicated on self-control. The ability to restrict is practically sacred, and many will go to great lengths to protect it, whereas bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are viewed as embarrassing secrets.

“Psychotherapy is important as a cornerstone of treatment but establishing a trusting relationship with somebody with anorexia is not easy… They deny that they have an illness. That’s the first problem. How do you get somebody to engage in the treatment of a condition which they actually deny they have?” says Kaplan of the treatment process.

On the other hand, when it comes to bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder, “a person will come to you and say ‘I can’t stand the binging, it’s driving me crazy. I’ll do anything you want, just help me stop binging.’ It’s a very different mindset and much easier to connect with somebody.”

These illnesses are conceptualized on a spectrum of control replicated in pop culture. Women with bulimia are described as lacking in discipline, a sense of responsibility, and bodily integrity. Bingeing places them in a derogatory light, presenting them as helpless and at the mercy of their compulsions. On the other hand, anorexics have the ‘incredible’ ability to fight impulses. It’s like a superpower. We understand and demonize self-indulgence, but extreme self-control and self-denial? That fascinates us.

What often goes unmentioned is the inevitable psychological and physiological response to the stress of constantly under-eating. After fighting with a deficiency for so long, over half of anorexics find themselves experiencing bulimia and binge-eating disorder somewhere along the way. But this part of the journey is often missing in media. These one-sided narratives skew the reality of the illness, taking out chaos to maintain its ‘clean’ image.

Representations in pop culture

With decades of sweeping the severity of disordered eating under the rug and using it for character idiosyncrasies, this brings about the greater question: is pop culture even the right place for these stories?

“I think what you want to do is portray the illness accurately,” says Kaplan. “Most sufferers are women, but men do get anorexia nervosa. And they tend to be more difficult to treat and they tend to have a poorer outcome.”

Films such as Netflix’s recent To The Bone often place a white, pretty, popular young girl front and centre. Over time, anorexia begins to be mistaken for an exclusive illness. Although young females in Western countries occupy a greater percentage of the diagnostic pool, prevalence rates in non-Western countries have been on the rise, and up to a quarter of eating-disorder sufferers are male.

Men may account for only 10 per cent of eating disorder patients, but the stigma surrounding this condition is far greater for them, which results in many being underdiagnosed and undertreated. They face the challenge of limited resources for recovery, as most are geared toward women.

Men of the LGBTQ+ community were also found to be 10 times more likely to exhibit signs of disordered eating. Transgender individuals in particular are at a greater lifetime risk of developing eating disorders, especially those with low visual gender conformity. Yet these findings remain largely unknown, despite rising prevalence rates in these communities.

A heteronormative and rather misogynistic template exists in this tale. Somehow it became possible to be not white enough, or feminine enough, or straight enough to be taken seriously while having the same illness.


Within the transgender community

Only in the last few decades has it become better understood that individuals who experience gender dysphoria are much more vulnerable to mental health issues, and only in recent years have eating disorders in the transgender community been studied critically.

Studies have shown that transgender people are far more dissatisfied with their bodies than cisgender individuals, regarding reproductive body parts or otherwise. A survey of just under 300,000 college students revealed staggering statistics: those who are transgender are four times more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, and twice as likely to show symptoms than their cisgender female counterparts. Transgender women tend to share the same reasoning for engaging in restrictive behaviors as cisgender females. Impacted by the same thinness imperative, their habits are used as a means of suppressing masculinity to conform to female beauty ideals.

Much of the existing academic literature on this particular topic has been on transgender women, and the social and cultural parallels drawn to cisgender females. However, a specific case study from 2013 detailed the experiences of an adolescent transgender male who suffered from anorexia nervosa. After his diagnosis, he admitted that he had engaged in restrictive habits to get rid of the feminine features that he disliked on his own body.

Immense body dissatisfaction does not have to be associated with a desire for thinness to manifest in disordered eating patterns. When individuals feel that their own body is foreign to them, they may resort to the most accessible way of modifying their body shape. Those who have yet to undergo hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery find that their bodies are the primary source of their suffering, and that the misalignment of their sex and gender identity causes them significant distress.

Whose story?

We need to reject false narratives, and we need to tell the whole story. Recognize that maladaptive behaviours don’t discriminate, that anyone can fall victim to them, and that there is nothing poetic or brilliant about eating disorders. Depicting them as such is unethical.

Pervasive shame can result in a fear of stigmatization, preventing bulimia nervosa and binge-eating sufferers from seeking help at all. Anorexia nervosa must be removed from romantic, sexualized contexts to begin deconstructing the hierarchy, and for all eating disorders to be seen as devastating as they are. Currently, these illnesses are organized in a way that is destructive to patient recovery.

Kaplan explains that it’s important to ask about the agenda of media productions for eating disorders. “Is it to portray information accurately or is it to be sensationalistic or to attract attention? That’s two different agendas there,” he says. “It’s more often the latter than the former and it’s a problem because misinformation is portrayed and talked about, then there is often a glamorization and it’s often described as having an achievement.”

Eating disorders are complicated amalgamations of cultural, environmental, and biological factors. “If it was just an issue of being affected by the culture, you’d have way more people than just one per cent of the adult female population evidencing the disorder,” explains Kaplan.

While it may not cause dramatic increases in prevalence rates, communicating the right information is still vital. Poor representation only robs marginalized groups of the attention and resources they need, and glamorization is offensive to the truth of mental health struggles.

We’ve had a long history of getting it all wrong. But that doesn’t mean disordered eating is impossible to talk about. Narratives need be to rid of conditions marking who can or can’t be afflicted by eating disorders. People of colour suffer from eating disorders, and so do men, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of all socioeconomic classes and ages.

Hollywood can’t, and shouldn’t be the only setting where conversations about disordered eating take place. As for where discussions on the U of T campus are occurring, Kaplan comments, “I think if it comes from anywhere, it’s often the student body who initiates it. Should the faculty be more aware of it? Absolutely.” Kaplan believes material on disordered eating “should be part of a course in health regardless of what faculty that happens to be in, whether it’s kinesiology, whether it’s medicine, whether it’s psychology… I think there needs to be an increased awareness of these conditions.”

Students and storytellers have the responsibility to search for the right language to discuss this illness, without contributing to the culture that perpetuates it.

‘She Talks’ about social change

“Sport is an awesome place for social change”

‘She Talks’ about social change

“We’ve come so far in some ways in the conversations that we’re having, but we haven’t in so may other ways,” said Kristine Drakich, head coach of the Blues women’s volleyball team. “There’s almost like there’s this great distance from where we’re moving ahead, but we’re not picking up from behind.”             

Drakich was one of four women from the U of T community to participate in the third installment of Hart House’s She Talks last week. She Talks rose out of the need for campus-wide conversation about issues women face in sport: sexism, misogyny, and sexualization.                 

Joining Drakich on the panel was national women’s dodgeball team member Savannah Burton, U of T masters student Alexandra Maris, and Blues rugby player Rachel Pham — all of whom have faced or fought against discriminatory and exclusionary practices in the world of sport because they are women.               

For Burton, who is Canada’s first openly trans athlete to compete internationally in a team sport, the support she received from her teammates was enough to help her overcome the fears she had about returning to sport after her transition.

“I was ready to give up on playing sports, like I was ready to give up everything,” said Burton who, after taking a year off, was unsure of her future in sport. After being approached by a friend to join a rowing team, Burton explained that participating in a sport where she was relatively unknown helped her gain the confidence necessary to return to her favourite sport — dodgeball.

“It was a horribly terrifying thing to do and the unknown was just really hard to deal with,” Burton said. “I was so relieved because I was worried about how I was going to be perceived and how people would treat me, and it was a really positive thing and kept me going to dodgeball Canada.”  

She Talks. Nyima Gyalmo/The Varsity

She Talks. Nyima Gyalmo/The Varsity

The acceptance and support Burton received from her team and sport community is a thread that was woven into every panelist’s experiences. For Pham, who has competed in a myriad of sports including field hockey, track and field, and rugby, the team aspect of sport helped her navigate some of the stigma and sexist stereotypes that are all too common for women in sport.

“Really for me what I loved so much… about sport boiled down to… the community. I am very fortunate to be on a team that is very inclusive, we are very tight” Pham said.              

For Pham, the decision to pursue sports at an intercollegiate level meant making the decision between conforming to traditional societal standards of femininity or becoming a successful, competitive athlete. “I had to make the choice of going to be able to be more socially acceptable or have a larger more muscular body, and obviously I chose to be an athlete” she said.

Rounding out the discussion, Maris, who is pursuing a masters degree from the faculty of women and gender studies at U of T, explained that in order to combat sexist practices in sport, we need to start with how women are portrayed in the media. “If there were pictures of women doing sports everywhere, I think there would be a more social acceptance of women being in sport and doing it,” she said.

Drakich followed with a comment that those at U of T need to be critical of gendered practices on campus, so that we can foster a strong and supportive sport community.

“We have to look at what we do, how critical are we of what we do, from you know recreation to intramurals to varsity” Drakich said. “What you need to have is some form of a community that you can go to, where you know your voice gets heard and that change will actually work, action will happen.”

Controversial CAMH gender identity clinic winds down

Clinical & research leader at the clinic, Kenneth Zucker, fired

Controversial CAMH gender identity clinic winds down

Editor’s Note – February 11, 2016: This material is subject to legal complaint by Kenneth J. Zucker. This article was published based on the content of an external review, the results of which were published by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on December 15, 2015. That report has since been removed from CAMH’s website and replaced with an executive summary. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is winding down services at their Child Youth and Family (CYF) Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) for children and youth.

Reparative therapy, or conversion therapy, is an outdated practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is illegal to perform conversion therapy on children in Ontario.

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a medical director at CAMH and professor of psychiatry at U of T, said that the review was not intended to investigate whether or not conversion therapy was taking place. “Our clinicians have always said, and still say that they do not practice reparative therapy. The review made it clear that it could not say that reparative therapy was taking place. But it could not say that it was not. Our position is that this should not be an issue,” he said, adding that he was satisfied with the way in which the investigation was conducted.

CAMH released a report on the review’s findings on December 15, 2015. The report made mention of several complaints submitted to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, the former functional clinical and research team leader at the CYF GIC.

Marissa Hetherington, a former patient at the GIC, said that she was happy to hear the clinic was winding down. “As a former patient, it was…really not a positive experience, and my opinion of it has only degraded over time,” she said.

Hetherington said that she was repeatedly deadnamed — referred to by the name given to her at birth instead of her chosen name — and that the views and principles held by the clinic caused her to break down crying during her interviews.

“[The] basic ideology practised was one completely lacking in empathy. It was, at best, only interested in potential research, and if you’re to ask me, it came from a thoroughly bigoted view that posited that just by existing as who I am, I was sick,” Hetherington said.

Zucker worked at the clinic for 30 years and is also a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. After the release of the report, Zucker was released from his position at CAMH.

Hetherington, who interacted with Zucker during her time at the clinic, said that sacking Zucker was the step towards any possible reconciliation, if CAMH is to continue services.

When asked what Zucker’s termination at CAMH meant for his position at U of T, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of news and media relations, said that the university does not comment on personnel matters.

“The diversity of our students, faculty and staff is a mark of quality and a source of strength. The University respects and supports all of its faculty, staff and students, including those in the transgender community. Specifically, we offer a range of services through the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office,” said Blackburn-Evans.

Jades Swadron, an organizer with the Trans Inclusivity Project at U of T, said that Zucker should have no place teaching at a university. “How can an institution where critical thinking is purported to be taught wash [its] hands of blame in situations like this so easily without looking into its impact?” she asked. “The university is playing dumb, while mistreating trans students in many ways.”

CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto as a teaching hospital. According to Blackburn-Evans, the institutions support each other’s research.

The report states that the clinic operates in isolation from CAMH and its resources, such as legal and public relations, the University of Toronto Division of Child & Youth Mental Health Services, as well as community agencies such as schools and child/youth organizations. Additionally, there were no opportunities for clients, family, or stakeholders to contribute to the direction or services of the clinic.

The report did not recommend that the current approach be sustained, acknowledging, “The GIC and CAMH in general, are not seen as a “safe space” for gender questioning & transgender populations.”

McKenzie said that he was pleased with the approach that the clinic took. “What was different in January 2015 was a group of community partners, including Rainbow Health Ontario, came forward in an organized way and with evidence. We met with them, we examined their evidence and we decided to have an external review. I’m proud of the way we approached this. The community came to us, we listened and then we did due diligence by looking to the international literature and taking evidence before acting,” he said.

According to McKenzie, CAMH hopes to improve and rejuvenate its approach. “Our overall interest and motivation is to determine the best approach for kids with gender identity issues, and it’s important that this process continues to be open and collaborative. Our next step is to consult with our community partners and have their input on to see what role CAMH can play to best serve these young people,” he concluded.

Hetherington said that she would like to see CAMH’s services closed down entirely. “[Including] a gender identity clinic at an organization for mental health is already making some highly questionable connections, and the way it has been cast as a central authority allows for abuse to occur with little oversight,” she said, adding that a move to an informed consent model with general practitioners rather than a centralised gatekeeping authority would be the only method that would provide appropriate services to clients.

“The difference between my experiences with CAMH and the informed consent model, which ended up being my path to actually getting a prescription for [hormone replacement therapy], was impressive,” Hetherington said.

“I spent somewhere close to ten months or a year waiting between my referral to CAMH and my first appointment, whereas after searching out a general practitioner that practised informed consent, I managed to start HRT a month after my first appointment, with only a two week waiting time between looking for a doctor and that appointment.”

Correction (Monday, January 11th): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CAMH is winding down services at their Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic for children and youth after an internal review reported that the clinic was practicing reparative therapy. In fact, the review, which was conducted by external experts, did not find that any clinician was practicing reparative therapy.