Conversations about young women, sexuality and stereotypes

With debates about “twerking”, cultural appropriation, and Miley Cyrus in full “swing”, other conversations about young women’s sexuality and stereotypes are also taking place. Ciann Wilson kicked off the Tubman Speakers Series on October 3rd. She presenter her very interesting research based on work with African, Caribbean and Black young women (between the ages of 14 and 18) on sexual health, HIV/Aids education, and stereotypes: the Lets Talk About Sex study. Wilson found that while the participants in the 9 week program were surprised at what the academic literature says about HIV in their communities – in and around Jane Finch – they were not surprised by the stereotypical images of hyper sexualized Black women. These stereotypes, of course, have long histories and damaging impacts. It is the impacts that Wilson explores in her work with young women.


Wilson’s research is exemplary of community-based, social action methods which included nine weeks of meetings as a group, concept mapping, photovoice, digital story telling, side conversations about sex ed, individual interviews, and follow up focus groups. You can see the photo essays and watch videos produced by the teens on the website for the Sex and YOUth Initiative. This particular photovoice project (left) is called “Condoms are like Textbooks”. As someone said in the seminar today, young women are speaking back to dominant images through these media.


Last week and downtown, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) released its report on forced marriage in Ontario. SALCO has worked on the issue of forced marriage for a number of years as a community service provider and conducted this study of the incidence of forced marriage in the province over two years.  SALCO found there to be over 200 cases in Ontario. Only 5% of the cases reported involved men forced into marriage against their will; 25% of those cases were teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18; and the overwhelming majority of people are citizens and permanent residents. Some of these statistics may not challenge our assumptions about marriage without consent, but others will. For example, the common perception is that forced marriage, if it happens at all in Canada, takes place in new immigrant families not citizens. Further, the issue spans religious and cultural groups. 

As Ciann Wilson found in her work with teens, discussions about consent to marry are linked to questions of pressures to be sexually active, religion, family, surveillance and racism. And as in other areas of domestic violence in marginalized communities, the SALCO report stresses that forced marriage should not be criminalized as a separate offense. The emphasis, they say, should be placed on education for the general public and training for service providers while also setting up better consular supports for people who are taken out of the country to be married. The issue is very much on the radar of the federal government (Baird spoke to the issue at the UN last week) and will be a foreign and domestic policy to watch.

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