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Activist wants women’s studies in high school

Ginny Gonneau combines Aboriginal activism with feminism

AND WHY NOT WOMEN'S STUDIES? Ginny Gonneau is an activist with the Miss G Project, among other causes. The project aims to make women's studies part of the high school curriculum. Credit: Pat Croteau

Ginny Gonneau has played croquet at Queen’s Park, completed a 2,300 kilometre canoe expedition and been called a feminazi on more than one occasion.

The 22-year-old is chair of the Ottawa chapter of the Miss G Project, which is devoted to making women’s studies part of Ontario high school curriculum.

“High school is no longer just English, math or drama. There’s world religions, for example, so why not women’s studies?” asks Gonneau.

She’s a women’s studies major at Carleton with a minor in history, specifically Canadian Aboriginal history. “Women’s studies is something that needs to be available in high school,” she says.

Gonneau grew up in Barrie, Ontario and attended a Catholic high school.

“It was one of the better ones. Less cliquey, less drugs. But it had the highest pregnancy rate,” she says with a laugh.

She lived with her father and his partner before moving to Ottawa in 2002 for university. Initially, she was in journalism at Carleton and hated it. It was an introductory women’s studies class where she found a calling. She started her practicum at the Miss G Project in September 2005.

But back to the croquet on Queen’s Park. It was a protest where 75 Miss G women gathered in their Sunday best for the New Girls’ Club Ladies Luncheon in March of last year.

“Everything we do is kind of a mockery,” says Gonneau with a bright smile. “We wanted media attention.”

And they got it. The Toronto Star covered this event with an interesting spin. “They made it sound like we were wearing skimpy clothes and rolling around on the grass. Very sexualized,” says Gonneau.

This pissed the Miss G women off, because photos of the luncheon show the girls were conservatively dressed and by no means rolling in the grass.

Gonneau has also been working for the Métis Nation of Ontario since 2003 when she started as an intern. Now she’s the provincial youth services coordinator and will be transferred to the Métis Nation British Columbia, to be their director of youth starting in May of this year. She’s very excited.

“I’m going to have to get a crackberry,” she says with disbelief. “And I get headaches when it rains.”

She was the culture and heritage recipient for the 2005 National Métis Youth Role Model Awards and won the group achievement category for taking a canoe trip from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Batoche, Saskatchewan, following the Métis fur trade route.

So far, the Miss G Project, based out of Toronto, is exclusive to Ontario with seven chapters and about 100 members. They’ve been called one of the most successful lobby groups ever seen, and have a great relationship with the ministry of education. “The current minister, Kathleen Wynne, is a strong supporter and feminist identified,” says Gonneau.

The group is by no means an edgy organization; in fact they are very down to earth about what feminism means to each person, no matter what gender. “It’s really grown from four women in a dorm at Western University,” says Gonneau, whose boyfriend is very supportive of her work.

The project is named after the unknown Miss G who was a top student at Harvard Medical School in 1873. She died, and Dr Edward H Clark said it was because, as a woman, “She was unable to make a good brain, that could stand the wear and tear of life, and a good reproductive system that should serve the race, at the same time that she was continuously spending her force in intellectual labor.”

For Gonneau, her family background is reason to keep going. “Some women in my family have been victims of abuse, which isn’t uncommon. I’ve seen a lot of male-dominated relationships and it just motivates me to do what I can,” says Gonneau.

The group does workshops in Ontario high schools to bring awareness to gender issues, but has yet to do one in Ottawa. They were supposed to meet with the Ottawa-Carleton District School board recently but, Gonneau says, “apparently they can’t fit us in.”

But she’s confident they’ll listen-up eventually. “We just won’t go away,” she says with a smile.