Monday, October 31, 2011
Oh and, this if you're one of those assholes who believes the brouhaha about 'slutty' Halloween costumes.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
My journey to becoming an activist all started with my desire to become a nun.
Let me explain.
Growing up, I went to Catholic school. In my house, we were definitely of the C&E Catholic variety. For the uninitiated, this is the type of Catholic family that will write down “Catholic” on their census but really only attend mass for Christmas and Easters. Oh and weddings and funerals, of course. (Catholics love the concept of ‘forever’).
My Catholic upbringing was rather non-existent except for some bizarro inclusions like the whole “No sex before you get married” thing which was mostly my mother’s quiet way of saying “Please don’t get knocked up and ruin your chances at a life”.
Because you see, my folks were also hella progressive in so many ways. I got the “It’s okay to be gay” talk at like… 4. And I routinely was told that I was smart first and pretty second and that I never, EVER needed a man to be happy.
I include all this because I really want to emphasize that Bible-thumping-Jesus-Praising just wasn’t a part of my reality. And yet, I really loved nuns.
See, I didn’t love Catholicism as a whole. I found the actual class boring as fuck. All the memorizing of prayers and scripture just seemed hella pointless. The occasional time that I was dragged into Sunday school, I hated the patronizing tone of the clearly-unhappy-at-home Sunday School Teachers.
The only things I loved about being Catholic was the stories and the rituals. I LOVED some of those stories. (Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t call them ‘stories’ since they are really just passages of the Bible but I can’t help but treat the Bible like Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes so yeah, they’re stories to me).
Obviously as a budding feminist, I loved the way Jesus was all down with Mary Magdalene’s sinful ways and I remember thinking “GET OFF YOUR KNEES WOMYN AND SAVE YOUR DIGNITY” when she went to wash the guy’s feet. I knew she was better than that.
I also loved this one story about a guy named Zack or something? He heard that Jesus was coming into town and he was so in awe of the guy, that he didn’t feel worthy of being in his presence. So for the fancy procession into town, little Zack went and climbed up a tree and just admired from a far. When the big JC rode into town on his ass, er, I mean donkey, he saw Zack and was all “Hey dude, come and walk with me. You’re obviously cool enough to join my posse”. (I’m paraphrasing).
I thought it was cool that Jesus was down with anyone and everyone. That he forgave folks, chilled with the disabled and homeless. He did to leprosy what Princess Diana did for HIV/AIDS.
And anyone who knows me at all, knows that I’m a fan of ritual. Or as my mother would say – TRADITION! (Only you have to say it in a loud booming voice while raising your hands, à la Fiddler on the Roof).
I refuse to let my parents buy a fake Christmas tree because it’s TRADITION! Tradition dictates that we go to my uncle’s, get a real tree and decorate it as a group. Then either my brother or I (we alternate years) put up the really hideous tacky star, the same star that my dad has wanted to change for years but I refused to let him because it was TRADITION!
Even as a lefty progressive person, I really value tradition and in particular, refuse to do something that is ‘traditional’ unless I know what the meaning of the tradition is. Since tradition is important to me, if I’m going to be passing it on, I wanna know what it is I’m replicating.
My love of nuns stems from this. Nuns are not only ALL ABOUT traditions but they are also hella devoted. And if there’s anything I love more than stories and rituals, is devotion. And so from afar, I would admire me some nuns. I never got to see them in real life until high school (more on that later) but the very existence of nuns intrigued me.
For one, they were the only ‘womyn’ I ever really associated with the Church. They also wore really interesting outfits and had wedding bands because they were MARRIED to God. If that’s not hardcore, what is? They also lived in some secretive convent where I first imagined giggling girl talk and later, some serious queer action.
The coolest part about nuns though is that they had been ‘called’. THIS is what I was all about. Womyn who had been handpicked by the big G-O-D to do his work. At the time, I didn’t see it as an oppressive relationship but more of a “God thinks you’re hella special? Then you’re special to me”.
As a youngster, I felt a ‘calling’. I wasn’t really sure what the calling was to do but I felt a strong feeling that I was meant to do something. Since I had no role models of other people who had a strong calling for their work, I figured this is it, I’m meant to be a nun.
Unfortunately, when I started high school where I was taught by REAL. LIVE. NUNS I realized that they actually sucked. Unlike “Sister Act”, they weren’t badass dancers in a penguin suit. They were actually homophobic, self-hating, hypocritical and BORING.
So then I thought “Fuck… now what?” If I feel a strong calling to do something and to work with people but I hate Christianity, don’t identify with nuns and quite frankly, don’t want to spend my life as a celibate, what the fuck am I supposed to do?
Thankfully for me, my parents wanted me to have what they didn’t and paid for me to move to Ottawa and get a post-secondary education. There I met tons and tons of people whose vocation was basically doing all the truly benevolent things that I wanted to do, without the colonialism and Jesus-lovin’.
My relationship with nuns has simply become this ironic fetish that involves nun action figures and Gothic Christian imagery. Got a picture of a holy virgin with some nice flashing lights and a crown of thorns? SIGN ME UP. But as for that whole “Life of celibacy and rubbing one out to pictures of a light-skinned Jesus?” No fucking way.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Here is part I that I wrote a little while ago:
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an intense person, yes, but I laugh at funerals, use sarcasm when I probably shouldn't and really do believe in a silver lining.
If you know me well you also know that there is no room in my life for religion or even much of spirituality, either. I call myself agnostic, but really I'm apathetic and really over all discussions of the sort. It just doesn't interest me in the slightest.
I say all this because the following might seem incredibly out of character but it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately.
I am deeply concerned about activism in my community lately and rather than complain about it, I want to make a call for a better environment and see who is interested.
I've been doing activism in an official capacity for about 8 years. Like most people, I've done things that would constitute activism for much of my life, but it's only been since I've lived in Ottawa that I've made a concerted effort to do activism and to identify it as such. The overwhelming majority of my work has centered around womyn's lives and in particular, violence against womyn, access to abortion and equity in education.
I've previously written at length about my feminism and how I came to do the work that I do now, so I won't get into that.
My issue is that the environment in which I do my activism has become ugly and I have really struggled with how to deal with it.
I know that I am a product of my environment but I am also part of my environment.
As activists, we are not car mechanics or meteorologists whose work is limited by the tools and physical structures available to us. We are the tools and structures. The only limits are our imagination.
So it is frustrating to see how people buy into the idea that we are tangible, objective entities rather than the subjects of our own doing. The rules that govern what we do or how we think are subjective and arbitrary.
There is absolutely no reason why we must treat each other the way we do.
Everyone I've ever known to have left the activist community, the feminist movement, social work, etc. did so because of the environment and their colleagues and not because of the actual work. Let me repeat this.
People whose jobs it is to listen to horrific stories, to support people who feel hopeless and to advocate for a better world in a political environment that is pessimistic and discouraging, end up leaving the work not because of their clients or because of their 'enemy' but because of their so-called allies.
This is often treated as fact; an inevitability.
By setting ourselves up in this way, we are doomed to fail again and again. And every time we do, the enemy wins. And I'm not okay with that.
There is no reason why we must treat each other this way.
I came into this world 'whole' and I intend to leave it the same way.
My mother is Native and an incredibly spiritual person. I deeply admire her for this. (The spirituality part, not the Native part. 'Cause no offense, ma but you had no say in the other part!)
She believes that when someone is deeply hurt in their life, either as a child or an adult, they lose a part of their soul, a part of their 'being' and then spend the rest of their life looking for it.
I believe this.
I believe that most of the issues within activist communities stem from people who've experienced (or who currently experience) deep, deep pain. Whether that pain was because of the work they're doing, or is part of the reason they started this work in the first place, they carry that pain with them. Because we've set activist communities up as 'warrior spaces' where nobody gives up, everybody does 110% and nobody admits defeat, people bury that pain. They bury that pain and bury that pain until they can't anymore but when they lash out, it is to the nearest person; regardless of whether or not that person has caused them any pain.
As people who've spent years and years listening to horror stories of violence against womyn, we do not lash out at rapists, anti-choicers, politicians, or judges. We do not lash out at racist education systems, sexist media or ableist institutions.
We lash out at our comrades.
And this needs to stop.
I am not the least bit delusional about the fact that many activists are damaging to us. Many people who claim to be activists, myself included, have done things (or do things) that are racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. We all need to challenge each other in ways that are productive and about improving the situations and not simply about lashing out.
We need to remember that the enemy is not in the room.
I firmly believe in my heart of hearts that anyone who dedicates their life to ending violence, fighting for equitable education, fighting for access to clean water, etc. is an ally and someone who should be worked with, not against.
And so as things get uglier and uglier (and then better and then ugly again, as it goes), I question why I'm here, why I do what I do and whether it's worth it.
I believe it is.
I do not believe that the revolution will cease without me or that it will fall apart. I believe that there will always be good people in this world who want to fight for a better one and who will step up and replace us all if/when we leave.
But this work is in my blood, it is a fabric of my being and I want to find a way to continue.
So this is what I'm proposing:
I want to build a movement based on the premise that anyone who joins does so in good conscience.
I want to build a movement that is a safe space for everyone, including those who have much to learn.
I want to build a movement that refuses all buzzwords, all lip service and all cliches. No more alienating people with academic language, no more preaching self-care but refusing to partake in it or demonizing those who do.
I want to build a movement that recognizes that just as survivors of violence and womyn who've had abortions deal with their lives in ways that are unique to them, so do activists. There is no 'one way' of doing activism. If you sign every petition and letter that comes across your inbox, hooray! If you march at every protest and raise your fist high, good on you! If you stuff envelopes and write letters behind the scenes, thank you! If you call out your co-workers at the water cooler and take on your racist grandpa at Christmas, you rock!
I want to build a movement that understands that sometimes, your organization is a business unlike any other. You just happen to be in the business of kicking ass and taking names. But you still need to spend time making sure you've crossed your Ts and dotted your Is. You need to be accountable to your stakeholders, you need to respect different forms of leadership and you need to know your role. A movement that understands that sometimes, you just gotta get the work done and not bog it down with checking up on every one's feelings and pussy footing around things that are 'touchy'.
I want to build a movement that is optimistic, realistic and practical.
I want to build a movement that truly recognizes that womyn are equal, that we are strong and that we need not break down into tears to be heard. We are valuable because we exist and that is enough.
I want to build a movement that rejects martyrdom, embraces creativity and remembers ALL of Andrea Smith's work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Smith_%28academic%29). In particular, the parts where she calls out activists for creating a movement that is depressing, reactive and not focused on being proactive and engaged.
I want to build a movement that allows people to enter 'whole' and to exit with all their pieces intact.
You with me?
Friday, August 26, 2011
I recognize that I've been an incredibly lazy blogger as of late. I apologize about that. I've been extremely busy.
And then beloved Jack Layton died and I've been reeling.
But one thing that's gotten be riled up as of late is the entire case of DSK.
Unless you have the pleasure of living under a rock, you've heard about Dominique Straus-Kahn. Even my last blog post was about the joy of being famous, referring in part to DSK's treatment even though he face(d) serious charges of sexual assault.
Since that last post, the victim in this whole story as come forward. We now know her Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant womyn of colour who is also a single mother and chambermaid in a New York hotel. She came forward and told her story.
She says that she walked in to clean DSK's room and found him partially undressed/exposing himself. She apologized, he told her she didn't have to and then sexually assaulted her.
DSK has since done what most men do in those situations do: Claimed it was consensual.
It was recently announced that all charges against DSK in the United States have been dropped because of inconsistencies on the part of Ms. Diallo. He will however go on to face similar charges in France for a sexual assault that he committed against a journalist there. Or rather, is "alleged" to have committed.
And that's where I start feeling a little.... stabby.
As an outspoken advocate against sexual violence and as someone who works as a front-line, support worker, Ms. Diallo's story is all to damn common.
On the one hand, you have a poor, single mother who also happens to be an immigrant of colour. On the other, you have a rich, powerful and 'important' man. In many circumstances, people like DSK would deny having any 'sexual relations with that womyn' (Sound familiar?) But in this case, like in Clinton's case, once you get to the point where all evidence leads to some sexual contact, then they play the 'Cried rape' card.
"It was entirely consensual!" they say "It makes total sense that a womyn who makes barely over minimum wage in a precarious job would risk it all to bone me, even though it was not until she saw my face on TV that she knew I was famous. And even though I'm a married rich powerful man, it makes total sense that she would just walk into my room and say 'I WANT TO SUCK YOUR COCK' and then go home. Yup that makes perfect sense".
Let's not kid ourselves folks. That is exactly what DSK is saying. I'm just doing you the favour of sparing you the BS elements of it.
Meanwhile, DSK's wife diligently stands by his side, even though at best, he had oral sex with a complete stranger in a hotel room and at worst, he sexually assaulted her.
"But! But! He should still be in the running for France's President and we should definitely be supporting him, because 'bitches be lyin'."
This narrative happens over and over and over. And then we wonder why 8 womyn a day are sexually assaulted in Ottawa and only 1 reports it to the police. (Source: OCTEVAW)
Because it doesn't matter if you're white, of colour, rich, poor, able bodied, disAbled, queer, straight, etc. It doesn't even really matter if he is either. (Although that's not always the case, particularly around men of colour, queer men and men with disAbilities or mental illnesses, but that's a whole other story).
It doesn't matter what the circumstances are because 'bitches by lying' and 'men getting framed'. ALL THE TIME.
And so in this case, you have a womyn saying she was sexually assaulted by a complete stranger. She got a high powered lawyer, had a publicity machine and she STILL wasn't believed. So do you think that someone who was assaulted by their partner/coach/professor/parent is going to be believed? What if that person was intoxicated? Good luck with that.
Nobody knows for sure what happened except for Ms. Diallo and DSK. Let me clear about that. I cannot prove that she was sexually assaulted just like I can't prove that he didn't. What I can say is that the way in which we talk about this case says a great deal about the culture we live in and the way we treat survivors.
Language is important. I wish I was half as eloquent as fabulous anti-violence advocate Jackson Katz but since I am not, I will let him say it for me "Every time we call [Ms. Diallo] an accuser, we undermine her credibility and bolster [DSK's]". AMEN.
I know that personally, I use the term 'survivor' but I know that's not legally appropriate or universal. I use the term 'survivor' for very political reasons, but also because it's what people who've been sexually assaulted have asked me to refer to them as. So I listen. But I know that we can't all use that term and that's fine.
But in this case, I'll take victim 100x before 'accuser'. Using the term 'accuser' in the case of DSK is the equivalent of the time the New York Post called her a 'hooker', even though they had absolutely no proof she was a sex worker. (Newsflash: She isn't).
Why is that we insist that DSK is innocent until proven guilty but Ms. Diallo? "Oh clearly she's a lying, money grubbing prostitute who is accusing him of a crime he didn't commit!"
Yes, in strictly legal terms, he is accused of a crime by Ms. Diallo and that makes Ms. Diallo the accuser. I understand this. But let's not pretend that legally, socially or otherwise, we treat sexual assault as we do other crimes. We just don't. When people say they've been robbed and have 'proof' that their items are stolen, do we say 'The supposed victim of a robbery'? No, we don't. Even though people make up that their items were stolen, their houses were burnt down, their cars were jacked, etc. So if we treat the accused of sexual assault with kid gloves, why don't we do the same for the 'victims' of sexual assault?
All in all, the DSK case leaves me feeling sad.
There are no winners here. Well, except for the patriarchy, of course. In this case, the patriarchy keeps on marchin' on.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
What do the President of the IMF, the former Governor of California, an information 'freedom fighter' and a Hollywood Director have in common? Why, sexual assault of course!
I know what you're thinking. "No, no Ms. FC, you mean sexual assault accusations." Ahh yes, pardon me! Rape accusations thrown at famous men because womyn are opportunistic whores. Ahh yes, my bad.
So the President of the IMF, Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) has been arrested on charges of at least 1 sexual assault of a hotel room cleaning staff. He's also been accused of sexually assaulting at least 1 journalist a few years ago. In fact, Mr. DSK was known as being quite the 'charmer'.
Then you've got the Governator himself who is not only filing for divorce from his Democratic wife Maria Shriver over allegations of cheating (and fathering a 'love child'), he also has a well documented history of being well... grabby.
Julian Assange was accused of sexually assaulting two womyn, but we all know that didn't happen because he's a lefty who wants to take down the greedy government, so it's clearly all just a big old conspiracy to take him down.
And Roman Polanski? Look dude might have anally raped a young girl that he had plied with drugs, but her mom shouldn't have let her come over anyway and it was such a long time ago. Plus, have you seen Chinatown? Cinematic gold!
FYI - This list fails to include athletes, although we could easily talk about Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, and Check-Out-Photos-Of-My-Dick Brett Favre.
See, when it comes to sexual assault, you're pretty much off the hook to begin with, but if you happen to be famous? You're in the clear, my dear!
Every time these 'scandals' come out, we hear the same victim-blaming bullshit, we have other 'celebrities' coming out to 'support them' and we have this whole conspiracy theory machine that states that they're being unfairly scrutinized because they're rich and famous.
To which I say - so what?
Why are we appalled that Paris Hilton only spent a few days in jail for drinking and driving but we're downright infuriated that DSK's case is being investigated at all?
Sexual assault, unlike most crimes, is rife with stereotypes. There are stereotypes around who commits sexual assault, who is actually sexually assaulted, who 'cries rape', etc.
According to the myths, who commits sexual assaults? Well, old men with mental illnesses, of course! They are always strangers to the victim in question, have some sort of sick sexual fetish and in many cases are a person of colour/Queer/disAbled, etc.
Does that mean that never fits the profile? Absolutely not. But the % of people who sexually assault who fit this very narrow and specific profile is slim.
And because we continue to perpetuate this same sadistic bullshit, we are equally appalled by the profile of the rapist as we are by the crimes themselves.
Need I remind you of Colonel Russell Williams? People were SHOCKED that a decorated Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces committed such heinous crimes and yet, it makes perfect sense. Here is a man with ample amounts of power who leads a secretive life where people who know him fully understand that they don't really know him. Not to mention how he was trained to do just that.
And because we continue to perpetuate the stereotype of who is a rapist we continue to victim blame those who are assaulted by someone who doesn't 'fit the profile', because we just don't believe someone like them could do something like that.
Newsflash, skeptics: Rapists come in every size and flavour. They are decorated military colonels, actors, directors, governors, weight lifters, city councillors, janitors, fathers, sons, cousins, colleagues and people of every background, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, ability and sexual orientation.
Maybe we don't want to believe this because it's too scary to think about. Maybe we want to believe that rapists are easy to spot so that we can sleep better at night, knowing that our radar is on the right people. But this isn't helping anybody.
This mentality is blaming womyn unnecessarily, it's framing men of colour/queer men/ disAbled men/ poor men as sexual predators and it's allowing rich, entitled, privileged piece of shit dudes walk away, consequence free.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a world in which we let people get away with sexual assault just because they wear a nice suit and have cushy bank accounts. I gotta believe that we are better than this.
** I'm willfully interchanging the words sexual assault and rape here just for the sake of being concise **
Monday, May 16, 2011
But all the media kerfuffle and critiques of SlutWalk have got me galvanized to write again. Now, I'm not going to link to any of these critiques because they are just way too many and many are shit and I don't want to increase their page views. But just Google "SlutWalk" and you'll get more responses than you'll ever have time to read.
This blog post assumes that you know what SlutWalk is and what prompted it. If you don't know, Google that shit then come back and join me. It's been said all over the world over and over again, so I won't bother to repeat it.
So Ottawa had its own SlutWalk and you better believe I was there. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to speak at it, too. But that's where it ends, for the record. I've never organized a SlutWalk, have no part in organizing future ones and quite frankly, spent 5 minutes at the Ottawa one talking about systemic violence against womyn.
I must admit that I was initially a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I'd heard about it in its planning stages and felt that it might have been a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to highlight an issue.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
It seems that people want to talk about sluts, sluttyness, slut-shaming, slut-positivity and all things slutty. People love sluts, other people love to hate sluts and some people hate that they love sluts.
And that's the fucking point.
See, the organizers knew that if they organized another "Take Back the Night" or "Anti-Sexual Assault" or even a "Stop Victim Blaming" march, you'd get the same little handful of diehards, maybe a blip or two in the media but not much else. The unfortunate reality is that the average person and media outlet doesn't give a flying fuck about violence against womyn and sexual assault. Because only sluts get raped, and womyn falsely accuse men all the time and feminists are whiny and don't know how good they have it and on, and on and on.
A name like SlutWalk catches people's attention, provokes a reaction and is just downright impossible to ignore. The sight of stiff journalists on the nightly news saying "And now, let's go to Marcie who is over at SlutWalk" can't help but solicit raised eyebrows.
And once again, that's the fucking point.
Whether you want to reclaim the word 'slut' or not, you can't help but perk up your ears when you hear the word being used in mainstream, every day conversation by your average folk. And the organizers knew that. They knew that the only way to ensure this cop's comments didn't go unnoticed was to shock people into reacting.
They hoped maybe a couple hundred people would show up, they'd find some solidarity and be able to sleep better at time. Instead, thousands of people showed up, an international media machine was started and there are Satellite SlutWalks around the world. Not bad for a handful of novice organizers in Toronto.
But what about this reclaiming business?
That part is tricky and complicated.
Many womyn of colour have commented that it's not easy for them to do, considering how slut-shaming and labeling is so tied into racism, colonialism, etc. Makes sense.
Others (including myself) think it's also classist and rather 'in-crowd' to assume that everyone can safely embrace the label. Tell that to poor, 16 year old rural girls who are just trying to survive gym class.
But that's okay. See, SlutWalk isn't really about everyone embracing the label Slut because like most things in life, if everyone is one, then nobody is.
But you can embrace the name on a political level while still recognizing how problematic it is at the individual level.
Example: We can embrace Ottawa's annual "Dyke March" while recognizing that a 16 year old high school girl has no desire to embrace the 'dyke' label that is thrown on her daily.
Ideally, everyone who identifies as 'dyke' could choose to do so and others who don't could escape the labeling. But we're not there yet, although we're working towards it.
SlutWalk is not an end, but a means to an end. It's a way to rip open the universal covers on sexual assault and to expose the deeply entrenched stereotypes that enable it to continue at epidemic levels. It's meant to prompt discussion, to test your knee-jerk reaction.
You don't want to call yourself a slut? - Why?
You don't think it can be reclaimed? - Why?
Regardless of what your answer is, it got you thinking and that's the point.
As someone who has been doing anti-sexual violence work in Ottawa for close to 8 years, I've been to every conference, march, demonstration, letter-writing campaign kick-off, red tape cutting, award ceremony, you can imagine. I've been there, I've spoken at them, I've shaked my head at them and I've marched in them. And none of them had the turn-out that SlutWalk did.
Ottawa is an extremely conservative city with a small, (too) tight-knit feminist community and here I was, standing amongst a thousand other people, many of which I had never seen before. The crowd was diverse in age, background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. And despite what you might have read or seen about the celebratory nature of SlutWalk, it was a rather sombre event. People were angry, not laughing. As they should be - sexual assault isn't funny.
So you've got a conservative community out on a Sunday afternoon, talking about womyn's sexuality and sexual assault in a constructive and meaningful way. Regardless of how you feel about reclaiming language, you have to be impressed by the power it had that day in Ottawa.
(Say it with me) and that's the fucking point.
I have no desire to call myself a slut. None. My reasons for this are many but include the fact that I don't want to define myself by my association with other people (ie: how many people I sleep with, who I sleep with, etc). It's also difficult to call yourself something when a definition doesn't exist. We know that a slut has something to do with sexuality but ask ten people and you'll get ten different answers.
I was called a slut for holding a pro-choice sign at an anti-choice rally.
I was called a slut for attending a new school in grade 10 with no friends or history in that city. A rumour was started that I was chased out of another town for having slept with someone's boyfriend. The truth? I was a virgin who'd had to move for her dad's new job.
Hell, I was called a slut for defending SlutWalk. (The irony.. it hurts...)
But even though I do not long for the label doesn't mean I fail to see its importance. As Jaclyn Friedman so amazingly said, we must all stand under the banner of 'Slut' and recognize that when it is used against one womyn, it is used against all womyn. Because we can all be called a slut by someone at some point and in many cases, the sting of that word not only offends us, but decides whether or not our rape is convicted properly, whether we get access to housing, a job, a promotion, a reference, or even someone's Facebook friend request.
So even if you don't want to call yourself a slut, learn to respect those who do.
And finally, to Gail Dines and every other 'prominent' feminist out there who is using the media as the soapbox from which to criticize SlutWalk, shame on you. I'm particularly upset by Gail because she has some truly excellent things to say and has contributed quite a lot, but her methods for critiquing SlutWalk are downright patronizing. Ironically, she's accusing SlutWalk organizers of shifting the attention away from victim-blaming and yet she's the one doing just that on every major media outlet.
The media longs to create tension and division between womyn and thankfully for them, Gail Dines is ready to do just that. *sigh* Get a clue, lady.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
FULL DICLOSURE: I have not read the book. And I hate it when people tear down shit they didn't read/attend/listen to, etc. So I completely understand if you turn this car around. Totally. The biggest criticism with the Professor's book is that it's an unfair critique of feminism.
Although he has said that he doesn't consider the book a critique of feminism but a critique of misandric feminism. And this is where I take issue. I believe in feminisms, plural. So yes, there is certainly feminists who do not like men, who hate them, resent them, etc. As I've said, if I respect Sarah Palin's right to call herself a feminism, then I gotta respect the right of man-haters to do their thang, too.
My issue is with misandry in general. Mostly, because I don't really think it even exists. Yes, I think hatred of men exists but I don't think misandry does because hatred of men is not systemic. Now I realize I could be arguing semantics in the eyes of many and I accept that but misgony is called misogyny and not just chauvinism because it's a systemic hatred of womyn and rejection of anything feminine. Although I see individual cases of man-hating and full blown perpetual man-hating in certain contexts (that I will get to soon), I don't believe for a second that 'men' are systemically oppressed, hated or disadvantaged.
Disclaimer: I am referring to the gender, here. I am willfully ignoring intersections and fully recognize that trans-men, men of colour, queer men, disAbled men, etc. are not living the high life of acceptance and praise. I'm just referring to the idea of 'men' as a gender, as the Professor does.
Where I see the hatred of men is in popular culture: a realm in which feminists have little to no say. (Think of what pop culture would look like under a critical feminist lens for a second, if you're skeptical). The fact that most men in sitcoms are complete neanderthals, that you can't see a cleaning product commercial without seeing a dude who can't change a roll of toilet paper, that every time I turn around, men are depicted as slaves to their sex drive and completely 'frat boy' like, rather than complex individuals with a wide range of emotions and characteristics. But this is not a result of feminism.
And so I take objection to the idea that feminism or specifically, 'misandric feminism' has a role to play in perpetuating shitty sketches of masculinity and men. Another reason I object to this book? The fact that the Professor describes the purpose of the book, which is "to praise men – to recognize their massive and heroic contributions to social life and to civilization.” Yes, to offer men praise because apparently years of sexist, racist, cisgendered, ableist, etc, etc, etc history books and stories have forgotten to mention how privileged dudes did nothing to bring us to where we are today. Because every time I look around , womyn, people of colour and indigenous folks are being thanked for bringing the world 'modernity', classic literature, paved roads, philosophy, etc. Oh wait...
If you need me to deconstruct how problematic that is, then I have no idea why you're reading this blog.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
I’m a feminist. (duh...)
But when I say ‘feminism’, I’m not talking about theorists or jargon (I’ll get back to those in a second…)
See, I never came to feminism through academia, readings or even activism. Although I only began to identify as such after being in University, feminism was part of how I was raised.
My family is made up of tough, working class people. I don’t remember hearing much about ‘feminism’ growing up but all the tenets were there.
As a womyn, I was told that I had to work twice as hard to make it anywhere because people were going to try and take me down. I was told that I never needed a man to be happy or complete and that I was always intelligent first and pretty second. I was told that people are going to tell you that being gay or being a boy who identifies as a girl is BAD, but that it’s not. People should be free to love whoever they want. I was also scolded harshly for being racist and learned through my Oma that people with disabilities are as competent as anyone else in the world. I was told that money doesn’t equal happiness or intelligence and that formal education was a ticket to a better life – that it’s a privilege.
I was taught that nobody gets anywhere in life without hard work but that everyone is doing the very best they can.
And I’m doing the best I can.
For me, that means attacking an issue through different methods. I don’t really identify as a radical and I’m okay with that. As I stated here around the G8/G20 stuff, my politics are about accessibility.
My first introduction to ‘volunteering’ or ‘activism’ was in my early 20s, when I realized that my life was centered around ME: I worked, went to school and hung out with my friends. I had copious amounts of privilege but wasn’t giving back.
Not being connected to any kind of community, I became a Big Sister. And I loved it. I loved (And still do!) the two amazing girls I worked with and saw the brilliance and power of girls.
But then I started working with more and more groups and as exciting, energizing and exhausting as it all is, I've realized what I am not.
I am not an anarchist. I don’t think that makes me delusional or ignorant.
I don’t believe in elitist feminism. So yes, that means I don’t identify with academic feminism. But it also means I don’t identify with many activist circles.
I don’t think the world is going to be a better place by dropping Judith Butler bombs or by claiming “I’m oppressed”, “No, I’M oppressed” or differing to theory rather than having anything concrete to say.
I am a feminist that lives in the real world.
I do not interact only with other feminists every day. I live in a world where the vast majority of people have no fucking clue what ‘marginalization’ means, but they can tell you what it feels like. They think ‘rape culture’ is a scary generalization and would never claim to live in one. Until, of course, you explain it to them and then womyn slowly start raising their hands.
My feminism means that accessibility isn’t just building a ramp and oppressive languages isn’t just saying “That’s so gay”.
I live in a world where the vast majority of people who assault are men and the vast majority of the people I see in that world are men.
I cannot isolate myself from men nor can I allow myself to be co-opted by them.
My feminism includes men. No. Scratch that. My feminism must include men.
The role of men in feminism is situational and must always come from the direction of womyn.
You are not my ally if you challenge the sentence “Womyn are sexually assaulted” with “Men are raped, too!”
My feminism is trans-inclusive. I do not feel threatened by your definition of gender and how you self-identify.
I also firmly believe in the need for womyn-identified-womyn ONLY spaces. I think anyone who disagrees fails to understand the systemic nature of sexism and has yet to observe the dynamics of 12 year old girls.
I do not believe in collectives as a structure or a political strategy. I have come to this conclusion through personal experience and chats with those who’ve been there – including the beloved ‘Jane Doe’.
My feminism respects the herstory of the movement and the history of humanity as a whole. I firmly believe that if we don’t learn from history, it will simply repeat itself. This means recognizing colonialism, systemic discrimination against categories of ‘disabled’, and the sacrifices of those who go to war.
I recognize November 11th as an important day to pause and reflect on the sacrifices of those who died on muddy beaches for my right to demonstrate.
I do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I recognize that Agnes Macphail, Katharine Mackinnon and Peter Singer are important AND terrible.
My feminism believes that sex is marvelous, dangerous and political all the time.
My feminism is not dogmatic. It strives on diversity and therefore inherently recognizes the right of bell hooks, Andrea Dworkin, Sarah Palin and Ginger Spice to call themselves feminist. Even if it makes me uncomfortable.
Oh yeah and my feminism spells women with a ‘y’ not because it hates men or even thinks that the spelling of a word will revolutionize the world. It’s spelled with a ‘y’ because it pisses you off. And your anger speaks volumes.
*My feminism also reserves the right to change any and all of this without notice. All sales are final.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
The role of men in feminism and the very obvious ways in which men benefit from it has always been apparent to me. Not because I grew up in a progressive, hippie household or that I went to some alternative school. Quite the opposite, in fact. I came to feminism not out of some deep hatred for the male species or a general chip on my shoulder, but by being curious about gender as a whole.
I’ve been challenged on this before but I do think gender is the foundation of society. Regardless of whether or not you’re conscious of your gender or your knee-deep in trans* politics, gender is everywhere, all the time. Most of us take it for granted until we date a trans* person who can’t use public washrooms or we compare our 72 cents on our male partner’s dollar. Most people require a serious dose of reality before we start unravelling how gender plays into our daily lives. Which brings me back to how frustrated I am that ‘good men’ don’t understand how feminism can benefit them.
I say ‘good men’ because I do believe there are some dudes who aren’t ever going to get it. These are the men who are well aware of gender dynamics and like them just the way they are, thank you very much. They like women to stay in their place and pray so deeply to the altar of misogyny that we shouldn’t waste on breathes trying to recruit them to the feminist team. But I think most men fall outside of that shitty box and are either clueless or confused. So if you’re that person, listen up brother because it’s about to get juicy!
Well actually.. not really. Because it’s all rather obvious. The primary function of feminism (or rather, feminisms like mine) is to challenge people about gender assumptions and in turn, to emancipate all genders. That means, as a an educated womyn, I want to make 1$ for every dollar my male partner makes. I want to walk down the street without being hollered at and want every man with a passion for fashion, beauty, nursing, homecare, women’s studies, etc. to be able to work in that field. I want all genders to stop competing against each other while vying for a mate. I want womyn to stop feeling like losing 10 pounds of weight and wearing 10 pounds of makeup will make them worthy and I want men to stop feeling like the only emotion they’re allowed is anger. I want trans* to stop being the butt of every fucking joke, too. I’m being simplistic here but hopefully you catch my drift.
See, you can’t emancipate womyn without emancipating men and trans* people. To say that womyn are equal to men and deserve equitable treatment gets people thinking “Well, why is that? Are womyn not that different from men? And if womyn and men aren’t that different, then trans* people can’t be scary, then can they? And if trans* people are legitimate people and womyn aren’t to be afraid of, then why am I so paranoid and worried about protecting my manliness?” And that’s what it all comes down to.
You can’t combat rape culture, without emancipating men from stiff definitions of masculinity that see men as necessarily aggressive, violent, homophobic and misogynist.
You can’t combat gender discrimination in the workplace without emancipating men from the definitions of masculinity that see men as competitive, unemotional and all-too-happy to give up time with their family over a pay check.
I could go on and on and on. Because as much as stereotypes of womyn see us as overly emotional, irrational, catty, motherly (and of course, white, straight, cis, able bodied, fertile, middle-class and ‘beautiful), stereotypes about masculinity aren’t healthy either.
I’m not a dude, but if I was, I’d want to live in a world where I could drink beer with my friends, watch UFC , work out at the gym AND attend social justice rallies, spend quality time with my grandmother and blog about gender issues. I’d want my desire for a challenging job AND a close-knit family to be accepted. I’d want to have no shame in discussing my plans to start a family. I’d want to drive a car that I like and not have it send a message about the size of my genitalia or feel like I can congratulate a male friend on a job well done without ending it with ‘no homo’.
Unfortunately, in today's world, the only people loudly advocating for TRUE male emancipation are frightening ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ or ‘Pick-up Artists’. Both are deeply, deeply entrenched in misogyny and paranoia about womyn and in turn, will do nothing to create a more equitable world.
So men, be brave and join us feminists who are sick of being raped, beaten and denied equal access AND who know you are, too. There’s no deadline and you’re never too young or too old. Plus, we have some pretty cool swag. Just sayin’.
Monday, March 21, 2011
[EXTREME TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of sexual assault, rape and violence. Assume a trigger warning for this entire post and all links within it]
I’ve been thinking about writing a post on ‘rape culture’ for a while but after scanning the news today, I feel like I have no other choice.
I did a little search through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and this is what I found in ten minutes:
- Nurse jailed for sexual assault in Iqaluit
- Sex worker found dead in Caledon in an article that speaks more about her occupation than humanity
- Maclean’s runs an ‘amazing’ “Escort vs. Prostitute” ‘joke’ column that includes the ‘fact’ that escorts like horses and prostitutes look like them. (I’d link to it but 1- it’s been pulled down thanks to activism on Twitter and 2- I don’t want to give Maclean’s anymore traffic)
- Youth pastor had sex with queer teens to ‘cure them of their homosexuality’.
And I’m sure it’ll just get worse as the day goes on.
But even in the context of all this BULLSHIT, I still hear tons of rape apologists and flat out haters claiming that the term ‘rape culture’ is dramatic and exaggerated. As someone who routinely complains about rape culture and the war on womyn around the world, I’m used to hearing this kinda stuff. But my goodness, does it ever piss me off.
Part of the insidious nature of rape culture is that it’s taboo to even talk about it. So when I hear the haters and sceptics, I think to myself “Maybe they just don’t know. They don’t get it because they’ve never had it explained to them”.
So let me explain.
Since the internet age has completely killed people’s attention spans, I decided to make a handy little list for y’all:
Rape Culture is the creation and maintenance of an environment where rape is condoned and where those affected by it are systemically silenced.
Rape culture is
- The fact that 1 in 4 Canadian womyn will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime
- Studies have found between 80-100% of womyn have experienced street harassment at least once in their life
- The fact that this street harassment is normalized
- The fact that it’s often referred to as ‘cat calling’, which not only makes no logical sense but reaffirms that womyn are deemed less than human
- That a womyn makes an incredibly racist video attacking ‘Asian students’ and rather than challenge her for her racist views or her absolutely vile comments, the internet trolls make threats of rape
- In expressions like “I just raped that exam” or “Wow, we got raped by that team” when referring to victory or defeat
- The fact that we’d rather discuss the details of someone’s ‘escort’ girlfriend than the actual scandal, which is scandalous contracts for much needed water treatment on reserves
- The fact that a 21st century university institution chose to blame a survivor of sexual assault for her own assault, legally stating that she ‘failed to take any steps to protect herself’
- The fact that every day in Ottawa, 8 womyn are sexually assaulted and only 1 reports it to the police
- The fact that Harper’s “Economic Action Plan” built more animal shelters than womyn’s shelters
- Journalists who create torture porn out of news stories
- The fact that Canada sits around 21% womyn in the House of Commons (How does that relate to rape culture, you say? Well rape culture is inextricably linked to sexism and the entire notion of ‘keeping womyn down’ and ‘in their place’. And time and time again, we’ve seen that ‘their place’ ain’t the House of Commons, it ain’t in the public sphere and it ain’t about making noise)
Rape culture is viewing sexual assault as a rite of passage for womyn.
Rape culture is the fact that more people know about "Womyn crying rape" than they do about "Rape culture" or "Trigger Warning".
It is the fact that we only care about the sexual assault of men because society is homophobic; we don’t care about the violation of boys but the fact that they were the subject of a homophobic act.
Rape culture continues to exist because it benefits those in power. It keeps womyn out of politics, out of the media, sports and unions. It keeps police, lawyers, insurance companies and advertisers in business. It allows men to climb ladders on the backs of womyn and call it ‘meritocracy’.
Rape culture is alive and well in the hearts of those who read about it and roll their eyes, rather than their sleeves.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
So Jezebel has an article about the situation of womyn who are working to promote their work. Check it out.
This article means a great deal to me because I'm currently in this battle. To be a successful professional, you need to 'sell yourself' and learn to self-promote. But apparently, to be a 'good' feminist, doing that means you're in it for the wrong reasons, egotistical and other evil things.
How do we ensure that our issues get brought to the fore and are discussed in the mainstream when doing so puts us at risk of losing our 'cred' in the feminist bubble?
Do we honestly think that men outside social justice circles go through the same dilemna?
This whole thing feels so gendered to me; it's like womyn have to be meak and downplay themselves or else they're not 'good' womyn. So my initial thoughts are a giant middle finger to the feminist haters for internalizing sexism in that way. But then I can't ignore the way that Jessica Valenti, for example, has been treated. Is she perfect? No way. But the pros of her work far outweight the cons, in my book. And yet, she's been ripped apart by feminists (not to mention the all around misogynist bullshit she's had to deal with). Being shat on by people in your 'circle' is tougher than any anti-womyn BS. So it's not as easy as saying "Ignore the feminist haters" and moving on. There's gotta be some reconciling.
So how do we support feminists and bring their work to the maintsream (which in my opinion, is the only way we'll ever make change) without falling into the traps of questioning everyone's intentions all the time?
Particularly when you add in the extra layer that you may not call yourself a leader, but they'll make a leader out of you. The media, the average Joe-The-Plummer kinda person, wants to see leaders. So even if you insist a hundred times over that you're part of something bigger, you're just one of the pack, etc. they'll paint you as THE person because it makes an easier narrative.
So do you say "I don't want to be part of this at all" and lose the opportunity to have the work be exposed or do you embrace the label and the backlash that comes with it, knowing that at least the work was discussed?
Monday, January 31, 2011
And thinking about activism.
As someone who spends 90% of her time doing activism of some kind, I've had plenty of time to ponder the pros and cons of left-wing-so-called-progressive circles. And I keep coming back to the same two gripes: egos and impatience.
The biggest problem I've seen in these circles is the issue of egos. Many of these circles view 'collectivity' and consensus decision making as the be-all, end-all of anti-oppression organizing. Hierarchy is seen as inherently evil and oppressive and the pursuit of a 'collective' is the marker of a 'legit' organization.
You can probably discover from my tone that I ain't buying it. Haters, hear me out.
I think it's an admirable pursuit - I really, truly, genuinely do. But I think it's BS in practice.
Much like white, Western folks espousing the virtues of communism without clearly reading a history book, I think the idea of 'collective or bust' is idealistic and quite frankly, ridiculous.
I want to believe in collectives, I do! I work in many such environments and when I read the stuff on paper, I get really excited about the possibilities. But then I actually step into them and see that these same collectivity-loving-folk are as hierarchical and power hungry as dudes on Bay Street.
Collectivity will never work until people get over themselves. Not to sound all "Back in the good old days..." but there really was a time when activism was about more than a photo op or having a popular Twitter feed. More and more lately, I've been seeing a shift towards visual markers of 'legit' and 'radical' which make people competitive. It's a dog eat dog game of trying to one-up each other with one person screaming "GOTCHA!" when they feel that they've really nailed the other person to the floor.
People are more interested in appearing legit and in being the "best goddamn ally the world has ever seen" than in actually being legit. And so on one hand, they are criticizing societal power structures and then re-creating them in their own way.
It reminds me of this girl I met once in my undergrad. (Which sounds pompous as fuck, I apologize). She had all the visual markers of 'legit'. She was a white girl with dreads, a nose ring, Blundstone boots, corduroy pants and a vintage cardigan. She was shooting the shit with another classmate when they said "Omg, you went to such-and-such alternative school?!" and she sheepishly replied "Yup." The other classmate was clearly impressed and they chit chatted back and forth until she eventually said "Oh, it was like every other school except that instead of bullying the kids who were goth or queer, we bullied the kids who read Seventeen Magazine and watched MTV".
See what I'm getting at?
This pursuit to be the ultimate 'radical' is actually extremely detrimental to the cause. Which leads me to my second issue.
Far too often, people come to a realization, make a discovery, get accepted into the organization/circle/clique and then act as though that knowledge always existed within them. They don't acknowledge that this is new, that they are newbies or that they are even struggling with it. Instead, they adopt the dogma and in turn, lack empathy for those not in the know.
Rather than admitting that they had their own racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic tendencies (either previously or currently, as we all do) they act as though their new found knowledge is old wisdom. And then a newbie comes along or someone from outside the activist circle who asks a genuine question or slips up and says something awful and rather than seeing it as a teaching moment or an opportunity to enlighten someone, it becomes "OMG, just fucking Google it, you jerk with unchecked privilege".
How is that making the world a better place?
Call me naive, but I thought that was the whole point of this progressive-train we are riding. It sounds simplistic but isn't that our ultimate goal? To make the world less shitty? Well, how are we going to go about doing that when we create dogmatic politics that are inherently about who is good enough and who is not?
From my (albeit limited, I suppose) experience in doing feminist-social-justice activism, too many people live within the circle and ONLY the circle. Sure, it's nice and cozy and (sometimes, if you're lucky) anti-oppressive and safe. For some people, those circles are a means for survival. And that's a-okay. In fact, that's beautiful.
But sometimes, we need to step outside those circles or heck, even broaden them, open the door a bit, let some air in. We need to live in the 'real world' in order to change it. We have to at least straddle both sides. And we need to have a patience with those who ask the newbie questions that we've heard so many times that they've become nails on a chalkboard. But if we don't take the time to answer them, challenge those people in a respectful way and engage them in a dialogue, then we not only missed an opportunity to challenge someone, we perpetuated a stereotype about who we are.
Now I get it. We're exhausted and we're tired of having the same conversations over and over and over. I get it. (Seriously... I get it). But if it's getting to the point where answering a question, offering someone a good article or clarifying a point makes you rip someone's head off, then maybe you should do us all a favour and take a fucking break.
It's easy for the world to ignore us and our demands when we're written off as cliquish, self-interested and egotistical. And at this point, I'm not convinced we're not.