Arriving at Queen's Park during a beautifully sunny lunch hour on June 6, I see a cluster of 50 or so well-dressed academics sitting in a haphazard semi-circle around a folksinger who's making do without a microphone while a nearby city worker trims the hedges loudly.
This is a read-in hosted by the Miss G_ Project, a group of women from the University of Western Ontario campaigning to get women's studies into Ontario high school classrooms.
There are mothers with babies in T-shirts that read "Future feminist" and the occasional sensitive boyfriend type. A gaggle of organizers clad in "This is what a feminist looks like" shirts get the sound system going. The hedge clipping abates and the park starts to rock in an encouraging, inoffensive women's studies kind of way.
Young women dance with a mix of self-consciousness and joy in front of a banner bearing an Ani DiFranco lyric. The earnestness quotient is high indeed, but the undeniable feeling of positivity is in the air for a reason. The Miss G_ project is a success. (The name comes from the writings of a 19th-century doctor about a certain Miss G who., as a woman, was "unable to make a good brain that could stand the wear and tear of life.')
"We're very optimistic because it looks like [women's studies] is going to go through," reports Windsor-based organizer Sarah Ghabriel. The group, she says, chose a read-in action featuring women musicians and writers because "we wanted to demonstrate literally what we think is missing from the curriculum."
The course outline on offer is based on an intro course currently taught in Canadian universities. If accepted officially, it will be available to students across the province.
Angela Rawlings, a Toronto poet, wows the crowd with a reading from her new book, Wide Slumber For Lepidopterists. Rawlings, who teaches creative writing to high school students, says her life would've been remarkably different had she had access to women's studies at her northern Ontario high school.
"I was fortunate to have a librarian who brought me a Larissa Lai book in my final year, and it totally changed my idea of how I could write."
Minister of Education and Women's Issues Sandra Pupatello, a big supporter of the project, stops by to read the lyrics to India.Arie's hit song Video to a cheering crowd. Pupatello infamous in Windsor for her hysterical crackdown on rave culture and unloved by anti-poverty activists during her stint as minister of community and social services seems in her element amongst the crowd she calls "a group of energetic young women with high levels of self-esteem."
About the project specifically, Pupatello says, "We are looking at a curriculum review across the system, so this is very timely. They can actually be part of that conversation."
Shannon Mills, an English and history teacher from Parry Sound High School, brought students in the school van to support the project.
Mills, surrounded by an enthusiastic group of teenagers, says teachers can choose to include women's issues in their courses if they like, but when they get busy and have to get through the curriculum, it's usually the first thing they chop.
"I designed my own women's studies course, but it certainly would've been easier if there had been a curriculum there."
So far, the Miss G_ project has lobbied through a mass letter-writing campaign, consulted with teachers and school boards and formed 10 chapters of the project across Ontario.
As the crowd grows, a young woman with the word "brazen" painted on her arm urges participants to knit or make crafts in the crafting area or come to the mic to read. I leave before agonizing memories of early-90s open-mic nights overcome me.