By: GARRETT BARRY
As young, straight males, Alexander Waddling says that he and his team are almost “inherently ignorant” of women’s issues.
“Like walking home at night and feeling scared. I can try to put myself in those shoes — I really don’t know what it’s like,” he says.
Despite this, Waddling and three of his friends spent all of June biking from Toronto, Ont. to St. John’s, N.L., to campaign against violence against women.
They call their project Ride for a Dream.
Their 30 day trip across the country, which ended June 30, had them both educating others and learning for themselves.
“A lot of it is just simply listening to the stories, listening to what people have to say about the issue,” Waddling says. “Understanding that there are certain things we can’t understand.”
Waddling and his teammate Danny Surjanac, who rode from Toronto to Vancouver last year, were joined by Jason Rego and Micah Markson for this year’s ride.
This year’s tour raised money for the Barbara Schlifer Clinic, which provides legal and other assistive services to women who have been affected by violence.
The clinic offers translation services in over 90 languages. That’s part of the reason, Waddling says, the riders decided to support that clinic.
About two weeks into the ride, the team had raised about $5,000 for the clinic.
Though frequently questioned about why four men would devote so much effort to women’s issues, the men say they can use their own gender to bring their message into new circles.
“One of the debates has been, for quite some time, [should] men be allowed in feminist spaces,” Waddling explains. “I like to think that the solution is actually taking male-oriented spaces and making them more feminist.”
“We can engage men in a way that women can’t. I’m not saying that we are the solution, but we are a part of the solution,” he continues, his teammates nodding along.
Waddling, who spoke most often for the group, can easily discuss sexism and the systems of power that he sees in the world. But often, to bring their message into new spaces, Waddling and the group simplify it.
One of their efforts this past year has been the creation of a “bearded feminist” campaign — an image macro, or “meme,” that deadpans a feminist message over Surgenac’s smirking face.
“We can’t necessarily come out, in a public way, and just harp on people,” Waddling says. “Guilt and shame is not the way to address this issue.”
“If you can kind of subvert [the] defensive mechanism with a little bit of, maybe satire…it’s a really good way of challenging people’s thoughts.”
Their tactic is to get people talking and thinking about their own actions, in hopes that they might see change.
But the group agrees most of their work is hard to measure — how can they tell how many minds they’ve changed, impressions they’ve left, or how many ideas they’ve implanted?
“As long as you’re progressing, then you’re doing something right,” Surjanac says.
“I’m really happy with how it’s turned out,” he adds. “It’s no longer just two guys just doing this thing.”
This year, the team has two more riders, a documentary in the making, and high profile interviews with George Stroumboulopoulos and Olivia Chow.
“It’s snowballed in a really big way,” Waddling says, comparing this year’s ride to the last.
Although, some of Waddling’s favourite moments aren’t the big ticket events. They’re the individual conversations that he and his team have had along the way.
One moment that stands out is a confession by a university professor that she had been assaulted several times.
“To hear that from somewhere like that, I didn’t know quite how to take that,” Waddling says. “But afterwards I [thought] ‘I’m giving her some kind of hope.’
“That to me means more than an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.”
The group has plenty of stories about moments like these; waiters insisting to give a donation to the men themselves, strangers who suddenly confided their very personal stories.
“For [a woman] to say thank you and give me a hug afterwards makes me actually feel like all the shit I’m saying is actually kinda coming through,” Surjanac adds. “That’s huge.”
And there’s still lots of riding to be done. Waddling has already been dreaming about potential plans for next year’s ride.
As for how the campaign will eventually end?
“We can’t know until we get there,” Waddling says.