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Bill C-16: Vancouver Rape Relief’s submission to the Senate Committee on Legal And Constitutional Affairs

By Hilla Kerner
May 10, 2017

Bill C-16: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act

Transgender people must live in safety and have the equal rights and opportunities that are promised to us all.

We have no doubt that people whose behaviour is not consistent with the tyrannical, socially imposed definition of manhood or womanhood, including transgender people, suffer condemnation, discrimination and violence. Women have been punished since the dawn of patriarchy for disobeying the suffocating constrictions of girlhood and womanhood.

For Canadians, the Montreal Massacre is an extreme example of the punishment of women who dared to reach beyond educational and professional norms for women at the time. All over the world, women are punished for having abortions and for not submitting to compulsory heterosexuality and choosing lesbianism. Women and their children are living in our own shelter because these women’s husbands are threatening to kill them for breaking up the marriage.

Whenever women challenge the gender straightjacket that maintains our subordination, we risk punishment. We are worried that well-intentioned legislation will be used to undermine the rights of women and the crucial work of women’s groups to serve and organize with female-born women. From birth, through our girlhood and womanhood, we are treated differently. That treatment constitutes our oppression. Female-born women and people who were born male and self-identify as women have different life experiences. I don’t know what it means to “feel like a woman” — I know what it is to be a girl and to be a woman, and the experiences and the feelings I have because I am a woman. My experience is reflected in the experiences of the women who call us. We know the embarrassment of having our clothes stained with blood from our period, the anxiety of facing an unwanted pregnancy and the fear of being raped. We know the horror of being raped and we know the comfort of grouping with other women.

We connect the personal individual experience of how we are treated as girls and women to the collective political reality of women’s oppression.

To the specifics of Bill C-16, and the use of the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression,” there is no social consensus on what these terms mean. We, like other feminists, use the term gender to mean the socially imposed division of the sexes. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex that, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman,” and that it is a destiny imposed on her by her teachers and by society. We understand that the authors of the bill use the term gender to describe an internal feeling or state of mind that can be consistent or inconsistent with one’s sex. Some say that these internal feelings innate and some say they are fluid, and therefore in this concept, living out one’s true gender identity is supposed to be liberating not confining.

Similarly, they use the term “gender expression.” In the bill, it means how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, makeup. From our understanding, gender expression describes the behaviours that oppress and control women. That includes men’s violence against women. Males are not inherently violent. Men are violent because of the social construction of masculinity and manhood. In this context, rape is a gender expression.

Clearly, this is a very controversial issue and not just in Canada. We have barely achieved formal equality rights for women, let alone changed the reality of women’s lives, and we are asked to concede to a concept and legal applications that contradict the core understanding of women’s oppression, which is the starting point of our fight for our liberation. We are calling on the Senate to apply sober second thought. We must have legislations that protects both the equality interest of women and the equality rights of transgender people. We urge the Senate to expand the study of the bill to allow full discussion, serious and complicated thinking and careful, nuanced articulation that will result in the legislation that reflects the noble promise of protection and advancement of equality for all. 

Full Audio Visual of the Hearing (Rape Relief submission starts at 17:21)

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