Content Warning: Some of these terms address sensitive subject matter.

Part of engaging in this work is understanding the power of language. The following is a list of terms that we think may be useful in our collective growth as organizers and participants in social movements.

This list of terms has been provided primarily by the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, via their “Campus Toolkit for Creating Consent Culture”, with some additions.

General Terms

Ally: A member of a privileged group who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit (e.g.. a white person who does anti-racist organizing). Being an ally means acting in solidarity with marginalized groups.

Ageism: The normalization and privilege of people within the preferred age range in a society. This age range defines who is taken seriously, catered to by most goods and services, allowed to have an impact on decisions in society, and valued as a human being. Results in invisibility of, and discrimination and inaccessibility faced by, people outside that age range (both younger and older).

Classism: Refers to the ideological belief that people deserve the privilege or oppression of their class based on their “merit”, “social status”, level of education, job, work ethic, etc. Although many people suffer under capitalism, classism is relative (e.g. Student poverty) Classism also refers to the social dynamic of privilege or elitism. Access to knowledge or to education, the privilege to choose when to be an “activist”, when to be risk taking (e.g. risk arrest), and the use of exclusive language (i.e. “activist” language, acronyms, “academic” language) are examples of elitism embedded in class privilege.

Coalition: An alliance (usually temporary) of organizations or collectives with different mandates but who share similar goals or identities. Coalitions are usually formed around a particular issue or topic and have definitive goals to achieve.

Collective: A group of people who come together through shared experience or a shared set of goals. A collective can work to build a community within itself and work together to influence change. By working together a collective has more organizing capacity and potential.

Equality vs. Equity: Equality is based on the idea that everyone in society has the same opportunities. However, in recognition that structures in society disadvantage marginalized groups based on race, class, gender, sexuality, orientation, ability and equity takes into consideration the advantages and/ or disadvantages people face in society and recognizes that equality does not mean the same thing for everybody.

An example of equity is Affirmative Action, which tries to break down barriers for people who are normally left out of certain positions. The idea of equity is that we cannot all be equal until we recognize the differences that privilege some and disadvantage others.

Harassment: Harassment is normally considered to be a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours, or communications in any form based on a prohibited ground of discrimination where the person responsible for the remarks, behaviours or communications knows or reasonably ought to know that these are unwelcome. Example: “Jokes”, comments, or e-mail messages which demean and belittle an individual(s) and which are based on race, ethnic origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. constitute as harassment.

Marginalization: A form of oppression where an entire category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination. The material deprivation of marginalized groups is unjust, especially in a society where others have plenty.

Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Oppressor: An oppressor is someone who uses their power to dominate another or who refuses to use their power to challenge that domination.

Oppressed: An oppressed person is someone who is dominated by an oppressor and by those who are complicit in oppression through their silence.

Oppression: The power and the effects of domination. There are many forms of (often) interlocking oppressions: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia ablism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia etc.

Power: Access to resources and to decision maker’s power to get what you want done, the ability to influence others, the ability to define reality for yourself and potentially for others. Power can be visible, hidden, or invisible. Power can show up as power over others, power with others, and/or power within a group.

Privilege: Systemic advantages based on certain characteristics that are celebrated by society and preserved through its institutions. In North America, these can include being white, having money, being heterosexual, not having a disability, etc. Frequently people are unaware that these characteristics should be understood as privileges as they are so effectively normalized.

Psychologist: Psychology is the study of the human mind and our behaviours, as individuals and as couples or groups, such as family groups. A psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology and is trained to perform psychological research, testing, and therapy.

Psychotherapist/Therapist: A psychotherapist engages in a therapeutic relationship with you to talk about your challenges and re-frame your thought patterns and life experiences to create meaningful change in your life. Psychotherapists see opportunity for growth in emotional health challenges.

Social Worker: A social worker is a helping professional who is focused on both the individual and their environment. Social workers perform interventions through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice and teaching.

Psychiatrist: Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders with the goal of finding ways to diagnose, treat and prevent them. This area of research assesses not only a person’s history and surroundings, but also physical factors that may contribute to mental health. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the assessment and treatment of such mental behavioral disorders. This is also the person who prescribes and monitors medication.

These definitions are provided by

Mental Health Terms

Sexual Violence Related Terms

Rape: Rape is an act of power and control, in which the victim is humiliated, degraded, and left with feelings of shame, guilt, and anger. The Criminal Code of Canada does not specifically define “rape” in terms of specific acts. The crime of sexual assault is codified within the general assault provision (s. 265(2)), which makes it a crime to intentionally apply force to another person without their consent.

Rape Culture: A culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence and dominance over women and blames victims for their own abuse.

Sexual Assault: The sexual exploitation, forcible penetration, or an act of sexual contact on the body of another person without their consent. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, and it includes rape (such as forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration or drug facilitated sexual assault), groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner. The term includes but is not limited to, sexual harassment, the threat of sexual assault, criminal harassment (stalking and cyber harassment), and intimate partner violence.

Sexual Harassment: Includes, but is not limited to gender-related comments about an individual’s physical characteristics or mannerisms; unwelcome physical contact; suggestive or offensive remarks or innuendoes about members of a specific gender; propositions of physical intimacy; gender-related verbal abuse, threats, or taunting; leering or inappropriate staring; bragging about sexual prowess; offensive jokes or comments of a sexual nature about an employee or client; rough/vulgar humour or language related to gender; display of sexually offensive pictures, graffiti or other materials, (including through electronic means); demands for dates/sexual favours.

Survivor: While individuals who have experienced or are experiencing sexual violence are victims, they are also in a constant state of “surviving” the experience. The idea of survival carries within it’s definition the ongoing fight to live or “survive” a traumatizing experience, a process that includes dealing with a multitude of feelings and health consequences. It is important to note that there is no singular survivor narrative for violence.

Race and Culturally Related Terms

Anti-Black Racism: Anti-black racism refers to the pervasive and systemic nature of racism that actively targets black bodies and communities. It is the recognition that even within Racialised communities Black people are seen as the furthest from whiteness and as such are viewed as less than. Anti-black racism can look like the under representation of Black people on college and university campuses, high rates of police violence in Black communities or the maintenance of stereotypes that regard Black people as dangerous, lazy or criminal.

Colonialism: Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism is a set of unequal relationships between the dominant state and the colony and between the colonists and the indigenous people.

Intersectionality: The interconnected nature of all forms of oppression (cultural, institutional and social) against particular groups, and the way they are imbedded within existing systems such that they operate in subtle, covert and compounded ways (e.g. gender and colour; religion and race; sexual orientation and race)

Islamophobia: Unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of Muslims. Broadly this presents Islam as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change and characterizes Muslims as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

“Racialised” v. People of Colour: People of Colour refer to anyone who isn’t white. Racialised refers to anyone who experiences racism because of their race, skin colour, ethnic background, accent, or culture. Racialised people are people of colour, aboriginal people, and ethnic, linguistic and cultural Minorities. Racialisation is the process of producing racial identities. Put simply, a group of people is seen as a “race” when it was not done before. Racialised is a more inclusive term to describe people who experience racism due to perceived minority or person of colour status. Racialization is used because it acknowledges that race is a social construct. The discrimination is not based on just ethnicity but more on what the dominant culture perceives that ethnicity to be.

Racism: A system of advantage based on race; the ability to act on the belief that people of different races have different qualities and abilities, and that some races are inherently superior or inferior. Racism manifests in many ways, from dislike and avoidance of people based on their race to discrimination against them on an institutional level to acts of race-based violence Racism is related to power, who has power, and who is given power by society and exists beyond one-on-one interactions.

White Privilege: A privilege is a right, favour, advantage, and or immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. White privilege is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of:

  • Preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin colour and/or ancestral origin from Europe;

  • Exemption from racial and/or national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Arab world.

  • U.S. institutions and culture (economic, legal, military, political, educational, entertainment, familial and religious) privilege peoples from Europe over peoples from the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Arab world. In a white supremacist system, white privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin.

Xenophobia: A person who is fearful or has an aversion to people and communities who are perceived as being “foreign.”

Gender Related Terms

Cisgender: A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender identity: The gender that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation and assigned sex.

Gender queer (Genderqueer): A person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries.

Gender vs. Sex: Sex is a designation at birth based on reproductive organs and chromosomes that differentiates male from female. For many people their sex matches their gender identity, though these should be considered separate. Transgender people, for example, are assigned one sex at birth but have a different gender identity.

Gender, on the other hand, denotes a social, cultural, or psychological condition, as opposed to that of assigned sex. Some people do not have a gender identity that corresponds to their assigned sex, namely transgender, transsexual, intersexed and gender queer individuals.

Intersex: Intersexuality is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomalies of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male or female. The existence of intersexuals shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed.

Misogyny: A fear and/or hatred of women. This is frequently linked to sexism and is often the root of violence against women.

Misogynoir - A fear and/or hatred of black women. The term combines “misogyny” and the French word for black, “noir” - coined by the queer Black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the particular racialized sexism that Black women face.

Women of any other race cannot experience it, but people of any gender or race can perpetuate it. For example, any discomfort expressed by a Black woman is unreasonable, unacceptable and stereotyped as the “angry Black women”. Similarly, Transmisogynoir is racialized misogyny towards Black trans women.

Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it.

Sexism: Perpetuates a system of patriarchy where men hold power and privilege and women are subordinate to men.

Transgender: An umbrella term to describe individuals who were assigned one sex at birth but who identify as a different gender.

Transphobia: A personal, societal and systemic desire to maintain the gender binary (the strict categorization of “men” and “women”) which obscures the reality of the fluidity of gender and diminishes or ignores the experience of persons who do not identify with either or both gender categories.

Sexual Identity Related Terms

Biphobia: Irrational fear, aversion and hatred of individuals who love and sexually desire men, women and non-gender conforming individuals. Similar to homophobia but is also the inherent discounting and erasure of the experiences of bisexual people.

Heterosexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and thereby its rights to dominance. Describes an ideological system and patterns of institutionalized oppression that deny, denigrate, and stigmatize any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community. Examples of Heterosexism include:

  • Media portrayals of love/couples in shows/movies/ examples

  • Exclusion of historical and political figures’ and celebrities’ queer or trans identities

  • Censorship of queer characters, themes, and issues in works of art, literature, entertainment

  • Assumptions that someone is “straight until proven gay”

Queer - An umbrella term used to describe people who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/gender variant or have an otherwise alternative sexuality or gender identity. At one time this was exclusively used as a slur by non-queer people, however, recently this term has been reclaimed by certain queer communities and is conceptualized as being more inclusive.

  • A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as fluid.

  • A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer.

  • Many older LGBT people feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it, which opens discussions to reclamation and its purpose/effectiveness.

Disability Related Terms

Ableism - Prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities. It can be difficult to detect ableism as it may express itself in the form of expectations, assumptions, values, actions and/or verbally. Furthermore, there is the implicit assumption that everyone is able bodied and have generally the same abilities. Some examples are; having bathrooms that are not wheel chair accessible, type/print that is very small, activities that require a great deal of walking, etc.

The normalization of able-bodied persons resulting in the privilege of “normal ability” and the oppression and exclusion of people with disabilities at many levels in society. Ableism involves both denying access to people with disabilities and exclusive attitudes of able-bodied persons.

Accessibility - The state of being open to meaningful participation by all people, in particular people whose participation (in a specific activity or in society at general) is usually limited by oppression of some kind. Accessibility in general means being free of barriers which can be placed by the dominant group inadvertently or advertently (e.g. lack of childcare or a members-only policy) and/or can be placed by society (e.g. housing must be paid for rather than being a right, etc.)

Sometimes the term “accessibility” is used with specific reference to the needs of people with disabilities. A space cannot be deemed “accessible” in this sense if the atmosphere is ableist, even if measures are in place (e.g. wheelchair-accessible entrance/facilities that are safe and dignified, Braille/large-print/audio-tape resources, TTY (text telephone) and sign language interpretation).

Indigenous Related Terms

Aboriginal Peoples - Aboriginal Peoples is a collective name for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. The Constitution Act of 1982 specifies that the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada consist of three groups – First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

First Nation - Some communities have adopted First Nation to replace the term band. Many bands started to replace the word band in their name with First Nation in the 1980s. It is a matter of preference and writers should follow the choice expressed by individual First Nations/bands.

The term First Nation is acceptable as both a noun and a modifier.

First Nations People - Many people prefer to be called First Nations or First Nations People instead of Indians. The term should not be used as a synonym for Aboriginal Peoples because it doesn’t include Inuit or Metis people.

Indigenous - Refers to the original peoples of any given land. In Canada, the Indigenous peoples of this land are Aboriginal people, that is to say, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Inuit - The Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada, who live above the treeline in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and in Northern Quebec and Labrador. The word means “people” in the Inuit language - Inuktitut.

The Indian Act does not cover Inuit. However, in 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the federal government’s power to make laws affecting “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” as extending to Inuit.

Metis - The term refers to Aboriginal people of specific mixes of First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis people, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins, such as Scottish, French, Ojibway and Cree.

Native - A term used to refer generally to Aboriginal peoples. The term “Aboriginal person” is preferred to “native”.

Two Spirit - The term reflects traditional Aboriginal gender diversity, which includes the fluid nature of sexual and gender identity. The term can also refer to having both feminine and masculine spirits within one person. Two-spirit recognizes gender as a continuum and includes identity, sexual orientation and social roles. It is important to note that an individual may identify as two-spirited because of their sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity or roles.