National Post

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Thursday, March 09, 2000

Many women shy away from 'feminist' label: researcher
Robert Remington
National Post


Greg Fulmes, National Post
Jan Brown, a former Reform MP, listens to speaker Shannon (Sam) Sampert yesterday at the Gender Research Symposium at the University of Calgary.

CALGARY - Many feminists are reluctant to identify themselves as such because the word has become too politically charged, a researcher told an academic symposium on gender studies yesterday.

"A lot of women are not comfortable calling themselves feminists. It has become the new f-word," Shannon (Sam) Sampert, a master's student in communications at the University of Calgary, told Gender Research Symposium 2000, an annual presentation of graduate student research held in conjunction with International Women's Day.

The three-day symposium, held annually at the University of Calgary in conjunction with International Women's Day, will hear papers on topics ranging from the ambiguous gender of Mayan dwarves to hyper-feminist theory.

It is presented by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Women's Network and the Institute for Gender Research, which was launched by the university earlier this year. One of the organizers of the symposium was Jan Brown, former Reform party MP.

Among the dozen research papers presented yesterday, the symposium's opening day, was an analysis of women's roles in Hollywood movies that concluded female characters are marginally better off now than in the '70s.

Susan Pell, a sociology master's candidate, examined women's roles in five movies from each decade and concluded: "Filmatic representations of femininity seem to be still confined within the narrow margins of patriarchy."

In an examination of movies such as The Exorcist , Silence of the Lambs and My Cousin Vinny, Ms. Pell found that while female characters in the '90s work more outside the home and are not as objectified sexually as their 1970s counterparts, they still lack power and authority. "It is still an advantage to be a man when it comes to cinematic portrayals of gender," she concluded.

Pre-Columbian dwarves are the topic of two papers to be presented today. In "The Shorter Sex: The Alternative Gender Identity of Classic Maya Dwarves," master's candidate Marc Zender concludes that dwarves of the Mayan Classic period (A.D. 250-900) were considered to have an alternative gender that gave them privileged access in society as shamans, political advisors, ritual performers and clowns.

In "Alternative and Ambiguous Gender Identities in Postclassic Mexico," two researchers conclude that in Aztec culture, dwarves and hunchbacks were considered divine with supernatural abilities.

Psychology master's candidates Gregory Fouts and Kimberley Burggraf are to present research today showing that girls 10 to 17 who are frequent watchers of television have a greater propensity toward eating disorders. Other social factors were also considered in the study.

In Ms. Sampert's paper she said the word "feminist" was one of 51 pejoratives used by the National Post to portray Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube in a negative light in its coverage last year of the so-called 'No-Means-No' case.

Ms. Sampert, in a paper titled Bitch on the Bench: The National Post and Feminist Ideology in the No-Means-No Case, examined nine days of coverage in the Post and The Globe and Mail last year and concluded that the Post coverage reflected what she called the newspaper's anti-feminist agenda.

The paper was prompted by media coverage of the Supreme Court of Canada decision overturning the acquittal of Steven Ewanchuk, a 44-year-old Edmonton man the court found guilty of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl during a 1994 job interview.

The case provoked a war of words between Justice L'Heureux-Dube and Alberta Justice John McClung, who had upheld Mr. Ewanchuk's original acquittal.

In the Supreme Court decision, Justice L'Heureux-Dube rebuked Justice McClung, for his comments that the woman "did not exactly present herself in a bonnet and crinolines."

Ms. Sampert argues that the Post was more critical of Justice L'Heureux-Dube than the Globe, which she said "was far more charitable" toward her. Ms. Sampert found 51 words and phrases in the Post that she said denigrated Justice L'Heureux-Dube.

In response to a question from the audience, she said she had no intention of interviewing anyone from the Post about her findings. "Feminists are not people they [the Post] want to hear from. They are anti-feminist and anti-gay in their rhetoric."

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