‘Miss G_’ wants women’s studies in high school

Miss G_ Project supporters are lobbying the provincial government.
Miss G_ Project supporters are lobbying the provincial government.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of the Miss G_ Project

If supporters of the Miss G_ Project get their way, Ontario high school students could see a new addition to their academic options as soon as September 2007.

“I’ve taken women’s studies since first year, and the classes have made me challenge some of my deeply held beliefs,” said Carolyn Desrosiers, ArtSci ’06 and chair of the Queen’s Women’s Issues Committee, which started a chapter of the Miss G_ Project on campus in September 2005. “I think it’s worthwhile for younger students to experience that as well, and begin to address some of the deeper issues related to gender at an earlier age.” The Miss G_ Project is a campaign to introduce a women’s studies class to Ontario high schools by September 2007.

The project was started in February 2005 by a group of students at Huron University College, an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario. It was named after a woman called Miss G_ who in the 1860s and 1870s became a top student above and beyond both her male and female counterparts.

According to the Miss G_ Project website, a Harvard Medical School doctor blamed her death on the fact that her female brain was overworked.

“A friend of mine invited me to come to a women’s studies course, and after a few weeks I was really taken by the material and surprised that it had taken until my third year of university to encounter it,” said Sarah Ghabrial, project co-founder and a student at Huron University.

Dilani Mohan, a founding member of the project, said Miss G_ has made rapid progress towards attaining their goal.

“We started working with faculty and around the London community, and we now have branches at Queen’s, Guelph, the University of Toronto, Brock, Carleton, and more on the way,” Mohan said. “There is buzz in the Ministry of Education right now, and things are happening.”

The project was recently endorsed by the Ontario Secondary Teachers Association and representatives of the Miss G_ Project have been in contact with MPP Gerrard Kennedy, who is the Ontario Minister of Education.

Mohan said they are confident that their message is being heard.

“We’re on Kennedy from all angles, with support from faculty, students and unions,” she said.

Ghabrial agreed.

“I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t hear from someone about us and our project,” she said.

Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said that Kennedy and the Ministry of Education were taking the group seriously.

“We are working with their suggestions,” she said. “Kennedy has met with the group in December, and they are in ongoing discussion with our Parliamentary Assistant.”

The group’s latest initiative is a postcard campaign that began yesterday, Desrosiers said. Each chapter distributes postcards on their campus, and students are asked to write down why they think women’s studies should be included in the secondary school curriculum before the postcards are sent to the Ministry of Education.

Desrosiers said she has high hopes the campaign will succeed. At Western, almost 5,000 postcards have already been sent to the Ministry.

“Other schools have already started their campaigns, and things have been going well,” she said, adding the Queen’s chapter had a table in the JDUC yesterday and today.

The Miss G_ Project also has two upcoming events which are meant to put even more pressure on the provincial government, Ghabrial said. The first event will be a New Girls’ Club luncheon on Mar. 29 in Queen’s Park in Toronto for female MPPs.

“We want to highlight how this idea that a ‘Boys’ Club’ starts early and is ongoing,” Mohan said. “All 25 female MPPs will attend the luncheon, which I think sends a really strong message of solidarity.”

The group will also host a Read In event in Queen’s Park on June 9, and is hoping to have writers like Margaret Atwood and entertainers like the Be Good Tanyas in attendance.

“We want to draw attention to the Ministry that there is a need and demand for this course, which is why we’re holding the demonstration,” Mohan said. “We’re hoping to have people come out in the thousands.” Blazina said that while no curriculum changes had been made yet, things are moving in the right direction.

“The fact that there is ongoing discussion between the group and the ministry is very significant,” she said. “In terms of status, all I can tell you is that we hope to have more to say on this issue soon, but we are working with them.”

Although the project founders said the group won’t be directly involved in deciding what would be included in the women’s studies curriculum, Desrosiers said they have been able to make some suggestions.

“We’ve made suggestions to the government that it include issues such as women in politics, women in history and not so much critical feminist pedagogy that you’d get from a class in university,” she said. “We want it to be more appealing to younger students.”

All three group members said that the benefit of the class is by no means limited to women.

“There is a culture of women in the media right now that is troubling,” Desrosiers said, citing Paris Hilton as an example of a someone she believes to be a dubious role model young girls find in the media. “But there is also a challenge for men with regards to the gender hierarchy that they are taught, and guys do suffer from stereotypes like hyper-masculinity.” Both Ghabrial and Mohan said they’ve seen a lot of male support for the campaign.

“Of course, men have a huge stake in this,” Mohan said. “They have girlfriends, mothers, sisters, so obviously this is a big issue for them.

“One individual wrote on a postcard that he wanted women’s studies in high schools because he was tired of seeing fear in the faces of the women he loved.”

Although September 2007 is only six months away, Ghabrial said she is confident students will see women’s studies on their list of options.

“Things are happening at an astonishing rate,” Ghabrial said. “So I’d say we are being hopeful but realistic. We really think this can happen.”

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