Cultural Pluralities: Situating the Studies of Sexualities, Relationships, and Families

Not So Perfect Strangers
Investigating a Shared History in Service of Reconciliation

What is remembered and what is forgotten in the study of Indigenous people and the study of Canada?  Do dominant stories of Canadian history encourage Canadians to distance themselves from and abdicate their responsibility for the inequities that exist in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada?  In this talk, Dr. Dion explores the tensions that emerge in the intersection of speaking and hearing across difference and illuminates the challenges of crossing cultural boundaries in service of reconciliation. 

Dr. Susan D. Dion is an Indigenous scholar (Potawatami /Lenape) who has been working in the field of education for thirty years. Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto her research interests include Decolonizing and Indigenizing education; Urban Indigenous Education; and violence prevention in Indigenous communities. Dr. Dion works in collaboration with the Toronto District School Board Aboriginal Education Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Education on research and program development. She is widely consulted by diverse community groups, workplaces, and institutions on developing methods for building more equitable, respectful relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. Dr. Dion’s book titled Braiding Histories: Learning from Aboriginal Peoples’ Experiences and Perspectives is available from University of British Columbia Press.

Session Info: 
No Hymen, No Diamond: Cultural Practices of Virginity and the effect on Women’s Agency

Alyssa Strachan

(Trigger Warning: violent content. I will be discussing some of the violence that can occur against women in regards to their virginity status).


 I will conduct a cross-cultural analysis of virginity practices and their effect on the agency of women within a number of different cultures. I will be looking at different practices concerning virginity as well as examining how the larger social and legal structures reinforce these practices. I argue that although virginity is constructed differently cross-culturally, it does impact women’s agency at a global level. Medically, there is no way to prove female virginity through an examination of the hymen, but the myth of an intact hymen is still an international standard for verifying virginity.  


Due to immigration, cultures are coming together in new areas, and this leads to new cultural practices in the contact zone. These contact zones have led to medical interventions like hymen reconstruction. As well, violence against women who violate this construction of virginity happens globally, and this is not only because of these contact zones, but because of the constrictive way we have defined female virginity.


Virginity continues to be desired cross-culturally for women, while men are expected to be sexually virile. This double standard only further limits a woman’s autonomy in regards to sex. I will be using a structuralism and feminist lens to analyze how each culture’s own practices of virginity are being reinforced, and the overall effect on women. I will also be looking at contact zones where new virginity practices have arisen to straddle these cultural boundaries and the violence that occurs when women do not remain virginal. These constructions of virginity represent the global limitations that are put on women’s sexually, and though each culture has its own practice, cross-culturally women’s agency is negatively affected.

Adoption: Homosexual vs. Heterosexual Standard

Amanda Willing

Same-sex prospective parents stand on unequal grounds compared to prospective heterosexual parents. This paper will specifically focus on how same-sex prospective parents face discrimination and homophobic attitudes throughout the adoption process, which interferes with their ability to form families. Adoption is a major pathway to parenthood in which lesbian and gay men encounter the consequences of attempting to construct “alternative” families. This paper will question how adoption agencies and a lack of legal policies negatively affect the adoption process for same-sex parents. I will discuss conflict theory and then proceed with a brief background on the legality of same-sex adoption in the United States. Religious beliefs and attitudes, a lack of formal policy and the best interest standard are examined in relation to how same-sex parents face unequal treatment in the adoption process in the United States. Through a conflict theory perspective, same-sex parents experience discrimination through the adoption process by being compared to the heterosexual standard, which negatively affects adoption outcomes.


This paper is written through a conflict critical theorist perspective, which emphasizes the role of power and coercion in maintaining social order. Karl Marx, the founder of conflict theory argues that the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power in society resulted in the dominant group imposing their morals and ideas on the masses (Boddy and Crotty 1975: 1-2). Inequality exists because those in control actively seek to maintain their advantage. This paper is specifically framed around Siedman and the notion of compulsory heterosexuality and how it is ingrained in adoption agencies and legal policies (Siedman 2009: 25-26). Compulsory heterosexuality was first developed by lesbian feminists and gay liberationists in the 1960s, and refers to the institutionalization of heterosexuality (Siedman 2009: 18-19). Compulsory heterosexuality is examined in relation to same-sex parents and the construction of alternative forms of family

“Modern Family”: How One Gay Man and Two Racially Diverse Boys Formed a Family

Claude Olivier

In this paper, I report on factors that affected my bonding with two adopted boys as part of a larger process of forming a family. Using primarily an autoethnographic research design, I explored factors that include the age of the child at time of adoption, my preconceived ideas about what it is to be a parent, and the perceptions of others. For example, I initially found it more difficult to form an attachment to an older child at time of adoption versus a younger child (my oldest son was 13 when he first joined me). This was largely due to a lack of insight on my part on what I hoped to gain from parenting. Through a process of reflection and insight, I was able to acknowledge and then let go of aspects of a parent/child relationship that might not be possible due to the child’s older age. This enabled me to develop a strong emotional bond with my older son and to appreciate our relationship for what it offered in the here and now. One factor that impeded this process was societal messaging that devalues adoption of an older child. In contrast, my youngest son arrived with all of the dependency expected of a 4 year old. Seeing myself as critical to meeting his needs and engaging in a broad range of activities associated with parenting a young child were contributing factors to my quickly developing a strong bond with this boy. In addition to my ideas about parenting, in this paper I explore how the boys’ own personalities, temperaments, behaviours, and attachment issues factored into our coming together as parent and child. Furthermore, I bring in critical analysis of these factors in relation to age, sexual orientation and race. I also make links to attachment theory, which remains a current framework for explaining child/parent relationship dynamics.

Arranged Marriage Versus Choice Marriage: Does One Lead to Greater Satisfaction?

Cyndi Carroll

Marriage is a foundational  institution in all cultures around the world.  Studies have shown that physical, mental, and spiritual well being are directly related to marital quality.  Different cultures take different approaches when it comes to the institution of marriage. Individualistic cultures value independence, emotional autonomy, and the right to privacy. Collectivistic cultures, on the other hand, value the solidarity of a group, sharing, and group decisions. Mate selection and marriage differ between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.  In individualistic cultures mates select one another; selecting a potential mate and falling in love is the norm with love being the primary prerequisite for marriage.  In collectivistic cultures however, family members often arrange marriages. Arranged marriages are viewed as an agreement between two families rather than an agreement between two individuals.


I will examine the following research question: is marital satisfaction greater among couples of arranged marriage or choice marriage.  Studying marital satisfaction is important because of how society benefits when strong marriages are formed and sustained.  Marital satisfaction has been proven to impact the psychological well being of individuals within a marriage.  Greater marital quality is associated with lower levels of depression, better health, and less physical illness. However, little research has examined cross-cultural differences in marital satisfaction.  Using a sociocultural lens, I will examine the research that exists around individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures in regard to marital satisfaction.  Research shows that marital satisfaction is higher among individuals of arranged marriages in comparison to individuals of choice marriages.  Studies of marital quality in individualistic cultures often find that marital quality declines over time, while marital quality of those who have an arranged marriage tends to increase over time. It is also important to study the marital satisfaction of arranged marriages and choice marriages because North America contains individuals from both individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures, and although choice marriages are much more prevalent in North America, arranged marriages do still occur.  It is important also, to address the pressures of Western society on those who immigrate to Canada or the US.

The Past to Present: Indigenous Women and Their Risk of Sexual Violence

Danielle Furlong

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada brought forth many issues on how colonialism has damaged Indigenous culture and indigenous people. The Commission stresses that the lasting effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples are still present and need to be further analyzed in order to try and fix the wrong doings of the European settlers and the Canadian government. Sexual violence is a prominent topic in social research and is mainly focused on women. Sexual violence is one of the largest social issues that involve women, especially women who are Indigenous (Razack, 1994). The residential schools that were used to change Indigenous values and beliefs have increased the risk of sexual violence. This is because in these schools Indigenous children were taught the Western values and beliefs that women are second-class citizens and were abused (physically, sexually and emotionally). Violence has also become rationalized and normalized within Indigenous communities because of the colonialist views of using violence as a way to enforce policies and alter gender relations. With the continuation of devaluing Indigenous women by men and society, research needs to focus on what increases the risk of violence and what can be done to prevent it. By using a systematic literature review I will be looking at how colonialism has increased the risk of sexual violence for Indigenous women. I will be arguing that as a result of colonialism there is an increased risk of sexual violence for Indigenous women. The literature shows that colonialism has changed the indigenous culture, beliefs and practices, resulting in a change in the way women are viewed and valued. Women within the indigenous communities are at risk for sexual violence more than their non-indigenous counterparts which is because of the “double jeopardy” these women have; they face racism and sexism which influences the risk of violence. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada can help Canada move forward and proposes solutions that can change the way Indigenous communities are viewed and governed.

The Weight of Blame and Shame: An Auto Ethnography of Anorexia Nervosa from a Mother’s Perspective

Kimberlee Friesen 

This paper will argue how stereotypes, shame, and blame have a detrimental effect on all aspects of anorexia nervosa including: barriers to seeking, accessing, and receiving treatment as well as the outcomes of treatment. After background information is given on definitions, statistics, and demographics of anorexia nervosa, the ramifications of the false stereotype that this disease afflicts only white privileged girls will be noted. It is seen across all genders, age groups, socio-economic classes, sexual orientations and ethnicities. Basically, it can afflict anyone at any time. This paper will be written using an autoethnographic approach as I have a daughter who has been recently diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I will infuse my own personal experience with this issue. My experience, I acknowledge, is from a place of white middle class privilege, which I will reflect on in the critical evaluation of the literature.


Anorexia nervosa is a complex issue with many causes. These include: body image, trauma, perfectionism, expectations for athletes and dancers, and societal views of thinness as beauty. My daughter is influenced by several of these factors. Many of these issues can be tied to blame and shame as an underlying cause. There is also shame from blame placed on family members and particularly mothers. This can be seen in some of the research questions which focus on the mother as the source of a daughter’s anorexia.


Treatment will also be discussed and will include barriers to access such as a lack of treatment facilities, wait times, and affordability. Even from our place of privilege, and relative proximity to an eating disorders clinic, treatment was difficult to attain and once in, is very demanding. These demands include time, emotional strength, and money. These can all be barriers in not only accessing treatment, but the treatment itself.


Shame and blame can be seen in all aspects of anorexia nervosa from the causes right through to the treatment of this disease for the person afflicted but also the family, particularly the mother. These false stereotypes, stigma, shame and blame need to be addressed in order for treatment to be available and successful for all who need it.

CA Comparison of the Media’s Representation of Sexual Assault within the U.S. versus India

Lakshmi Jeyakumar

Please be cautious that there may be some content and wording that can be triggering to some individuals


There has been a recent rise in the media’s coverage of rape in both India and the U.S. There are noticeable ways in how rape is conceptualized in the media, regardless of geographical boundaries. As such, it is important then to understand how the media perpetuates rape culture within certain societies. In order to investigate this, I will compare the media’s representations of rape in India and the United States.  According to the literature in these two countries, there are overarching themes in terms of the English-language media’s representations, which are victim blaming, the perpetuation of rape myths, and the sole reporting of prototypical rape cases. I will conduct a discourse analysis on two popular rape cases, one from India and one from the U.S. The rape case in India is of the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, and the rape case in the U.S. is the 1993 Houston gang rape of Jennifer Lee Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. Through a comparison of the two cases, I will evaluate the degree to which these themes are prevalent. In identifying and mapping the similarities of the representations of rape, I will show that rape culture is a systemic issue that each country needs to acknowledge within their own societies, while contributing efforts in ending the global rape epidemic.

Barriers to Contraception: An Intersectional Approach to Understanding the Barriers to Proper Contraceptive Use for Women in America

Maggie Hamel-Smith Grassby

Politically and socially, there has been much recent debate surrounding the right to abortion in the USA, but these debates have lacked focus on the real issue. Instead of trying to understand the ethics of abortion, proactive and preventative measures should be focused on encouraging women to avoid making the choice altogether – by avoiding unwanted pregnancy. This project will outline the barriers that prevent American women from accessing proper contraception. A systematic review of the literature will identify various social, medical and economic barriers that prevent proper contraceptive use. Taking into account the fact that each person experiences the world differently, an intersectional approach will take the results from the systematic review and further look into the way that these three categories intersect with age, education level and geographical location, as these often determine access to contraceptives and contraceptive knowledge.  These three variables will be looked at together to understand where they intersect with race and ethnicity to further increase the barriers women face when trying to access contraception. For example, in 2015, the U.S. federal government renewed the bill that provides grant money for abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) education programs, despite these programs not being supported by research. While the individual states can determine whether they use this money or not, those states and communities that are lacking in financial resources are more likely to accept these funded programs out of desperation. The residents of these states are not only suffering economically, but since low-income is connected to race; these states are likely to be made up of certain ethnic groups. Now these residents are potentially seeing the intersection of economics, ethnicity, location, and education all impacting their access to knowledge about contraception, much less contraception itself. This argument will be taken further to acknowledge social, medical and economic barriers as well, and specific suggestions will be made on how to minimize the impact these barriers have socially and politically for women in America.

When God gets Kicked out of the Family: A Systematic Literature Review Examining the God Image in Grief

Melanie Garrett

In my research paper, I aim to shed a more practical light on repairing a person’s relationship with God in grief.  Many will agree that it is difficult to maintain the image of a kind and benevolent God, especially when a family member suffers a traumatic or seemingly senseless death.  As more research surrounding complicated spiritual grief takes form, there is good reason to ask:  how do we forgive God?  How can a therapist help clients forgive God?  In the past two decades, there has been a good deal of research surrounding the concept of the “God Image”—a term which refers to a quite literal personification of God in a person’s life.  Some researchers discuss the concept of God as a member of a family system from a Bowen Family Systems perspective, and many researchers have discussed how a person’s relationship with God changes when a family member dies and the system is shaken.  I aim to perform a systematic literature review from a North American context, which utilizes a combination of these basic ideas to theorize about how a relationship with God can be repaired when the therapist cannot see or fully understand a client’s God.  Although independently both areas are well-researched, this topic will require a good deal of deep analysis and connection-making, and will lean heavily on a Bowen Family Systems perspective as it would apply to a living animate member of the family system.  I am excited to pursue this unique endeavour, as the concept of a personified God in complicated spiritual grief has been discussed very sparsely, and I hope that the application of already established concepts will create interest in further research on the topic!

“That’s Disgusting”: Denaturalizing the North American Assumptions Around Nudity and Breastfeeding

Melissa Smith

There are multiple views about breastfeeding in public around the world.  In Western society female breastfeeding in public is sometimes seen as taboo.  For some mothers this affects the way they internalize the natural process of breastfeeding and some shy away from it.  Although there are proven health benefits to breastfeeding, the stigma and discomfort surrounding public breastfeeding has altered the way women experience breastfeeding.  Within a society that equates nudity with sexuality how are we to help women feel comfortable in their bodies and in their roles as mothers?


Drawing on an anthropological framework, and completing a textual analysis of media sources this paper will critically analyze how sexuality and breastfeeding intersect in North America.  After providing some background information about breastfeeding and its health benefits, negative attitudes towards women breastfeeding in public will be explored.  Through examining media outlets, newspapers and comments in multiple mediums I will unpack multiple discourses and ideas surrounding women breastfeeding, as well as articulate how North America understands nudity and the meanings associated with it.  By denaturalizing the assumptions that woman’s bodies are solely sexual we can understand the role of breastfeeding in different ways.  When we recognize the intersection between misogyny and motherhood we can understand that the issue around breastfeeding in public can be about the policing of women’s bodies and lives.  By normalizing breasts as a functional feeding source the discomfort around this dual process could be reduced.  In understanding what makes individuals uncomfortable around nudity I will question the framework in which North America society views women’s bodies and will challenge notions of how sexuality operates and affects beliefs about breastfeeding.

Becoming Devina: Childhood and Transgender Belonging in America

Sajdeep Soomal

On October 30th, 2015, launched a short webinar series about the Keswanis–an American family that has apparently taken over for the Kardashians. The television show, titled The Keswanis: A Most Modern Family, follows the challenges that mom Vaishali and dad Anil face as they raise three kids–each working to overcome their own struggle. In this paper, I explore the narratives that structure the storyline of their youngest child Devina–who is the “transgender princess” of the modern American family. Whereas American popular media representations of gender-variant, preadolescent children have invariably focused on children who “express extreme gender dysphoria or in some way “signify the ‘tragic queer’ motif,” I show how Devina is championed as the poster child for the modern American body politic (Kelso 2015). I argue that in the television show, Devina is presented with an affective trans belonging that closely fits a contemporary homonationalist imagining of gender and sexuality (Puar 2007).


I break my analysis of Devina’s story into three sections: loss/death, travel, and home. I begin by examining how the discourse of loss and death reframes the moment of gender transition to obscure Devina’s pre-op status in order to imagine her as a transfixed transgender subject. I move forward by exploring the theme of travel, to look at how Devina’s transformation takes place outside of the home space so that “the indeterminacy of gender during the transition is obscured” in order to appease national anxieties about gender liminal subjects (Cotten 2012). In the final section, I reflect on Devina’s pledge to the American Girl Scouts and her incorporation into the structures of white homonormative America.


Ultimately, I argue that the (re)incorporation of their “new child” is contingent on Devina’s capacity to transform “from pre-op to post-op, from transitioning to transitioned, from transgressive to transfixed” and fully embody American girlhood (Cotton 2012). Considering how the Keswani family is constitutive of what media studies scholar Benjamin Schwartz has called the “well-educated articulate ethnic American family,” the pressures of incorporation into white America play out against a backdrop that implicates questions of race, ethnicity and diaspora (Cotton 2012). While the television series has been heralded by South Asians across the diaspora as politically progressive and radically inclusive, let us not forget how the possibilities for gender alterity remain closed for Devina as long as the Keswanis continue to perform the “heroic (national) march from tradition to modernity” (Cotton 2012).

“The Invisible Crime”: Addressing Violence against Sex Workers in Canada

Shalini Mallik

Trigger Warning: This presentation might contain sensitive material


“She’s a sex worker, she was raped. I have to bring her to a place where she will be helped.”


Until I received this call as a support hotline volunteer at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, I did not think that a person’s profession could deter them from receiving medical assistance. My research for this year’s SMF Symposium will analyze how Canada’s new 2014 prostitution laws were put in place to decrease the violence against sex workers, and how this has been ineffective. Sex workers around the world, in countries where this occupation is criminalized or de-criminalized, still face violence, which is often invisible to the public eye. My research will specifically focus on Canada the 2013 Supreme Court case of R.v. Bedford, where it was successfully argued that previous provisions of the Criminal Code were unconstitutional. Prior to R.v Bedford it was a criminal offence to sell sexual services; new legislation enacted in 2014 now criminalizes those individuals buying sexual services.


My analysis will focus on personal violence and structural violence within the public and private sectors of prostitution. Research has shown that the level of violence and the type of violence differs within public sectors, “street walkers,” and private sectors, “brothels.” Finally, I will discuss methods to support sex workers who are victims of violence and how it will encourage them to come forward to receive assistance. Employing a Sociological perspective and methodology, I will examine the negative view that society has of sex workers. Taboo views of prostitution are correlated with the kind of abuse sex workers face, which makes it difficult for them to reach out and receive support; sex workers are reluctant to seek help because they may still have misconceptions of being prosecuted for their profession. Finally, this research will discuss how violence against sex workers is inhumane and as coercive as any other type of violence against another human being.

Diversity in Culture Means Diversity in Gender: How the Gender Binary Could Affect the Experiences of Immigrants with Non-binary Genders

Taryn Fleischauer

Our recently elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, takes pride in Canada for its diversity, but there are structures in place that restrict the inclusion of people from different cultures.  I will be using intersectionality to understand the experiences of gender minorities who could, or already have immigrated to Canada, and how current structures create a contradiction between Canada’s dominant gender binary of male and female, and Trudeau’s expectations and goals of creating a diverse and safe country. Specifically, I will be looking at the expectations that surround the gender binary, as there are cultures who, both legally and socially, recognize people who do not identify within this Western concept of gender.  I will use the Hijras— a population in India who are recognized as a third gender— as an example, to demonstrate the limitations this binary enforces.  Using an intersectionality approach will help piece together how different aspects of a Hijras identity will affect their experiences in Canada.  The aspects of identity that I will look at include being a potential visible minority, having immigrant status, being lower class, earning money as a sex worker, and lastly, having an ambiguous gender.  Furthermore, I will critically analyze research in this field that may be perpetuating problematic ideas, including viewing sexuality and gender in other cultures with a Western understanding.

Comparing Parents’ and Teachers’ Importance of Early Learning Activities and Expectations Prior to JK: Implications for a Successful JK Transition

Tiziana Ceccato

A positive relationship between parents and teachers prior to a child entering formal schooling is important as this is one of the key factors to ensuring a child has a successful transition to school and future school success (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012; Xu & Gulosino, 2006).


Encouraging an established connection among parents and teachers can help diminish the mismatch between parents and teachers regarding what skills teachers expect children to have prior to Kindergarten entry, and what parents believe are the essential skills required. Clear communication of such expectations between parents and teachers will ensure that children will have stronger results for a successful school transition (Barbarin et al., 2008). It is apparent that interactions and conversations between parents and teachers are an essential component to school readiness even though there is variation in terms of how it might take place. Such communication will “ensure the child’s needs are being met both emotionally and academically, which helps ensure the child will be ready for Kindergarten” (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2008, p. 347).


This proposal focuses on a recent study that investigated parents’ and teachers’ views of the completion and importance of social and cognitive early learning activities and learning outcomes by the end of Junior Kindergarten. A mixed methods approach was incorporated, using questionnaires and interviews. Findings demonstrated statistical differences between parents and teachers about early learning activities and expectations for children by the end of JK. Specifically, significant differences were found parents and teachers about early learning activities involving computer and workbook use, reading books, and encouraging independence. Interviews revealed that differences also existed about the development of self-regulation and socialization. Overall, both parents and teachers valued activities that promoted socialization, reading, and independence; however, parents believed socialization, and teachers believed reading and independence to be of greater importance. Parents and teachers also differed about JK learning outcomes involving academic skills, independence, and self-regulation with parents and teachers valuing social skill development as being important. Recommendations to improve the communication between parents and teachers as well as the transition to JK and learning outcomes for JK will also be presented.



  • Picture of SMF staff and speaker
  • Dr Susan Dion presenting keynote
  • Assistant Professor Denise Whitehead addressing guest
  • SMF Symposium Cultural Representation