A Grade 11 Saanich student looks forward to sharing her insights into feminism during a panel with local academics next week.
“I think it’s going to be a good learning opportunity for myself and others who are around,” said Jennifer Dayton, who currently attends Claremont secondary school. “I’m excited to be able to share the insights that I have. Most of the people who are part of it, or who are attending, are either more educated or just a bit older, and don’t have the experience that I have as a young person in this day and age.”
Dayton will join three other women to focus on the contemporary meaning and experience of what organizers are calling the F-word: feminism. Scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Victoria’s St. Ann’s Academy, the event is the third Women in Leadership panel discussion.
Organizers asked Dayton to participate in the panel after Dayton’s mother had shared Dayton’s interest in the subject with one of the organizers.
Kathy Sanford, a faculty of education professor at the University of Victoria, chairs the panel. Dayton’s co-panelists are Astrid Pérez Piñán, assistant professor at UVic’s school of public administration, Val Napoleon, chair of Aboriginal justice and director of Indigenous law research unit at UVic, and Layla Robbie of West Coast LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund).
It is an impressive, potentially intimidating list of individuals, whose credentials outweigh Dayton’s.
“That was definitely one of my biggest concerns, when she offered me the position on the panel,” said Dayton. But organizers nonetheless wanted Dayton to be part of it.
Dayton’s interest in feminism dates back to Grade 4. “My teacher was talking about different opportunities for people based on sexes,” she said. “I stuck up my hand and said an appropriate word for Grade 4 [students] is gender. And she said, ‘Actually, gender is completely different than sex.’ That conversation kind of opened my eyes. Also that conversation made me aware of the different prejudices that women do face.”
Caitlin Moran’s How to Be A Woman has proven especially inspiring for Dayton. “It’s a lovely book, although there are a few things I don’t necessarily agree with,” she said. “She [Moran] defines feminism as you have to be a women. I think anybody could identify any way they want to. I don’t think you need to be a woman to identify as feminist. I don’t think you need to identify as a feminist to fully believe in feminist ideals.”
The upcoming panel takes place against the backdrop of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against powerful men in politics, media and entertainment, including U.S. President Donald Trump, former CBS anchor Charlie Rose and disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein among other prominent figures around the world.
“It is disgusting,” said Dayton, when asked about this context. “It is setting everybody, who has worked so hard for so long, back.
“If the president of the United States, arguably the most powerful person in the world, can get away with saying ‘grab her by the [pause],’ who is to say other people cannot do it?” she said, alluding to the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which then presidential candidate Trump bragged about committing sexual assault.
On the other hand, the recent run of revelations can also be beneficial, inspiring like-minded people, regardless of their background, to band together in opposition to figures like Weinstein.
“I think it will do good things for people who already care about it, and it will do bad things for those who chose to ignore it,” she said.
For all the recent bad news, Dayton tries to maintain faith in the world. “I don’t think anybody is born a bad person,” she said. “I think people are just poorly educated, and I think one day, we can all look at this and laugh: ‘Man, remember when Americans elected this guy?’”
Lifecycles Project Society will provide light refreshments made from fresh produce. Admission to the panel discussion is by donation.