05 November 2008

Obama Wins !....and so does Prop 8

First: Woooooooohooooooo!

It's so good to see somebody that I can recognize as a thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent human being in the White House. It's been a long fucking 8 years--and I don't even live in the States.

Obama is a politician; Obama's political views run further to the right than many of us would want; Obama will, inevitably, disappoint everyone at one moment or another (he is human and whatnots); all of these things are true.

And none of these things change the fact that his presidency is a historic one. Just his presence in the Oval Office is enough to catalyze discussion and new ways of thinking about and looking at race relations in the US, and I cannot see that as anything but a good thing. Add to that the fact that he is both intelligent and capable, as well as being (by US-presidential-politics standards) fairly progressive, and you can be that I'm looking to our neighbours to the south with a little of that much-trumpeted Hope (TM).

It almost takes the sting out of the fact that we got stuck with Harper-bot for another gorram term. Almost.


Second: WHAT!?!

I've known, intellectually, that the US is not that progressive a place when it comes to LGBT rights, and that the Religious Right has been damn influential and just plain hateful towards folk like me in recent years (not that they weren't previously; I've just come to notice it being right the fuck out there in the open since I started paying attention to US politics). I knew that this would be a close fight. I think I even acknowledged the strong possibility that this hateful piece of shit would pass.

But I still don't get it on any kind of emotional/intuitive level. I flat out cannot understand how over 5 million people could say "yes" to the following wording:


* Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
* Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

It has the words "eliminates right" in it. How? How could you vote to take away another human being's rights and still call yourself the "greatest democracy on earth"? I hope the next time an anti-gay bigot (or bigot of any stripe) tries to say those words, they choke on them and die. Or end up in the hospital with no health coverage. And are denied visitation rights from their partner.

I've never cried over an election result--certainly not over one in another country. I cried this morning when I read the news that Prop 8 had passed. I flat out cannot comprehend that there are people in the world who would work hard and spend millions to take a basic right away from another person because they don't like the way they fuck. I think it hit even harder for me because this wasn't just a refusal to grant LGBT people the right to marry (bad as that would have been on its own). This was the choice to take away a right we already had.


The academic in me is already thinking about cultural setting, and historical factors, and social pressures, and the way that the "Yes"/"No" campaigns were run, and the particular emotional buttons that the ads pushed. She's already formulating a plausible hypothesis (or, rather, plausible hypotheses) for why people might have voted "Yes". The compassionate person and the bisexual in me are huddled in a corner, alternating between crying and hurling abuse, and they can't understand this kind of hate.

I feel so very fortunate to live in Canada (where we've allowed same-sex marriage for years and the country has not yet imploded into chaos and anarchy), and in a particularly tolerant corner of it at that. But man, is it clear now how unusual my situation is when looked at from a broader perspective (gets even scarier if you look globally). And how fragile that bit of safety that LGBT folk here have really is.

To the bigots in California (and Florida, and everywhere in the fucking world that cannot grant LGBT people basic fucking dignity and equal rights and protection under the law): fuck you. I don't have that kind of hatred for other people--but you're bringing me closer than I have ever been before.

30 October 2008

The Daily Show on "Women's Health": full of win!

This bit from the October 28th episode of The Daily Show was one of the best responses to McCain's outright dismissal of women's health and right to bodily autonomy I have seen. It's just brilliant:

For the impatient, the relevant bit starts at 2:40 or so, and I've included a transcript below:


[preceded by a series of clips of McCain putting scare quotes around a bunch of things Obama has said, from "assault weapons" to "spreading the wealth" to "nuclear power safety" and the "middle class"]

Jon Stewart: But McCain's "air quotes", or "dick fingers" as we call them, don't just apply to energy independence or assault weapons or economic policy; they can really be applied to any issue:

[clip plays of McCain's statement in debate that "health of the mother" is an extreme position of the pro-abortion movement]

Stewart: [stares in shock and disgust]

Samantha Bee: I'm sorry, Jon, may I?...do you mind if I...?

Stewart: Oh! Sam B, of course! Thank you, I...I...

Bee: Thank you, Jon, thank you.

Stewart: Oh, okay.

Bee: And thank you John McCain for finally exposing the seedy underbelly of the women's "health" scam. Let's face it: women love abortions, and will do anything to get one. The later the better. "Hemorrhages". Severe "uterine infections". "Dying". Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And while we're at it, enough with the whining about "rape", "incest" and "incest rape". We're on to you, ladies. Those aren't a golden ticket to the abortion factory, okay?

Stewart: [stares in embarrassment at tabletop]

Bee: [points finger at audience] That's right, you know.

Stewart: uh...that...seems a little harsh...uh

Bee: Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. Why don't you strap on a pair, okay? Listen, John McCain has finally put the concerns of women where they belong: in derisive air quotes. And this transcends politics, Jon. Reasonable people can disagree about abortion, but still agree on the unimportance of women's health.

Stewart: You don't think that that position might alienate some women?

Bee: Nooooo. Not at all. It's about equality. And I'm sure if John McCain was raped, and had a baby growing in his penis, he would want it publicly discussed at the same level of abstraction without concern for his specific "life", or "penis".

Stewart: All-all right, well, uh, thank you very much Sam.

Bee: Well fuck you, Jon.


It was just a good response until that last bit where she points out how such abstract discussion completely ignores the reality and humanity of those involved that really did it for me. Pointed, intelligent and hilarious.

What was that again about feminists being humourless and women not being funny?




19 October 2008

I Could've Danced All Night...

Actually, I almost did.

Last week was one of the most emotionally intense and stressful weeks I've had in a long time. I came thisclose to having a complete and utter breakdown.

Then, on Friday, everything turned around. Just as I was at an emotional low, my supporters came out of the woodwork and made me feel that I was far from alone, that I was understood and that there were people I hadn't expected who care about me and will stand with me when shit goes down. It was amazing. A few hours later, I got the phone call I'd been waiting for and dreading, and got the unbelievable news that the source of all of my trouble had...gone away in the 11th hour. And then I made a call I'd been dreading, and got the answer I'd wanted so badly to a question I'd been afraid to ask. I can't remember the last time I've felt such relief.

And last night, I danced: cut loose on the dance floor in a stuffy basement bar with tacky floral carpet and a cat. Threw tired arms and anxious hips and neck and head and chest and every single part of me into the flow. And I danced until I could barely move from the ache; until I could barely breathe. I lost myself in the music sometimes, and threw myself into the crowd of other dancers at others. And I danced until I felt it was time to stop--that I'd danced and sweated and worked the poison of the past week out of my system--and strode off into the cold night, floating on the amazing high that comes from dancing until there's almost nothing left.

I feel alive again.

16 October 2008

Election Post-Mortem

Damn. I can't say I'm surprised that Harper got another minority, but I definitely am disappointed. I have a few (somewhat disjointed) thoughts about the election results:

On the one hand this really is a victory for the Conservatives. The timing of the election (although calling it early broke that pesky law that the Cons themselves had pushed through) could not have been better: the looming financial crisis in the US turned the economy into the single biggest issue, which certainly worked in Harper's favour. It's not so much that the Conservatives are unarguably better on the economy than the other parties (in fact, I think they are worse, but it's at least somewhat debatable), but that they are not unarguably the worst the way they are with other issues, such as the environment, women's rights and the arts. And they did win another minority government, which allows them to appear more moderate than they are while at the same time sneaking in little nasties like Bill C-484, which would grant an unborn fetus legal status--something that could have serious ramifications for abortion rights in Canada. If they play their cards right and continue to gain seats as they did in this election, we could be looking at a Conservative majority within the decade.

On the other hand, it may prove to be an illusive, or at least temporary victory. For starters, I doubt I'm the only person to question the wisdom of breaking the law in order to call a costly election ($290 million taxpayer dollars--in these oh so uncertain economic times, natch) that did not result in a majority--or even a particularly significant shift in the status quo. In fact, some conservatives (to say nothing of the opposition) are already calling it a waste:

"I think we'll have wasted our money if we don't get a majority," Conservative supporter Jan Sproule said as she watched the results.

(from BC's Province newspaper, which is a bit of a rag but is also, I suspect, just the first of many to be making comments of this type).

I won't be surprised in the least if the election's failure to accomplish much of anything will become a bit of an issue in the weeks and months to come. The fact that we are still looking at a minority government also gives me some small amount of hope. While it may help make him look more moderate and potentially gain more votes down the line, Harper's need for cooperation from the other parties (all of which sit to the left of him on the political spectrum) to make this government work--especially now that he failed to win a majority for the second time in a row, which is not exactly a show of voters' unfailing trust in the Conservative party--means that he will have to compromise on issues where he faces the most opposition from those parties. Issues like, oh, the environment. Or the arts. Once again, that fine Canadian art of compromise may actually make this end in everyone's favour (or at least make sure that no one group gets stomped too hard).

Political implications of the results aside, I think this election also demonstrates clearly (and, yet again), the shortcomings of our first-past-the-post electoral system, where whoever wins in a riding (by any margin) gets a seat in parliament, and the actual amount of votes they won is essentially irrelevant. All it takes is a quick look at the numbers:

Parties Ranked by # of Seats won (i.e. rank determined by our current system):

1. Conservatives (143 seats)
2. Liberals (76 seats)
3. Bloc Quebecois* (50 seats)
4. NDP (37 seats)
5. Independent (2 seats)
6. Green Party (0 seats) = "Other" (0 seats)

Parties Ranked by % of Popular Vote (i.e. how it would have played out under a system of Proportional Representation):

1. Conservatives (37.63%)
2. Liberals (26.24%)
3. NDP (18.20%)
4. Bloc Quebecois (9.97%)
5. Green Party (6.80%)
6. Independent (0.65%) ~ "Other" (0.51%)

When you're dealing with the winners in an election (i.e. the top two spots, reserved for the ruling party and official opposition), there's little variation between the two sets of results, except that the second list shows a smaller gap between the two parties in terms of support. Where things get really interesting is with the lower half of the list. Take, say, the NDP and the Bloc: although the NDP won almost twice the number of votes that the Bloc did, it ends up with less seats (and thus less power in parliament) under our current system. Likewise, the Green Party, which got a solid 6.8% of the vote gets no seats at all (and so about 2.2 million people get zero representation**). I don't think either of those results is particularly fair, or directly reflective of the wishes of Canadians.

It's time for a change in how we elect our governments.


* The PQ is a bit of an oddity here, in that it only runs candidates in the province of Quebec. I find it fascinating that a party that residents of 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories can't even vote for can gain about a 5th of the total seats in parliament.

** My numbers are based on the latest Statistics Canada population estimates I could find, taken from here.

14 October 2008

It's Election Day!

My fellow Canucks, get the fuck out and VOTE!

...and here's hoping that Steve-o doesn't get any closer to a majority than he did last time around. Hell, while I'm hoping, hows about a Liberal-NDP coalition government running things for the next while?

09 October 2008

On the Politics of Stilletos

The shoes, not the knives.

In a conversation about an article discussing Michelle Obama's appearance and apparent level of self-acceptance over at Shakesville, the fact that she wears flats rather than high heels was brought up as a sign of her refusal to kowtow to societal expectations of what a professional woman in the public eye looks like. It was then mentioned that she is six feet tall: my height.

And that got me thinking about the funny way that heels fit into our society's policing of women's appearances. On the one hand, they are seen as a symbol of femininity--and particularly the feminine ideal that has been constructed by men and imposed on women, whether we find it appealing or not. In fact, I'd say that heels, along with makeup, are the first symbols of imposed femininity that get tossed out the window in a show of defiance by feminists who wish to reject society's expectations for women. In a way, they've become shorthand for submission to those expectations, for appeasement of the male gaze. And there's some truth to that. But then we get to the other hand: if you are a woman above a certain height (5'9", 5'10"? Certainly once you hit 6' it's a given), you are too tall. You become threatening, unladylike. And there ain't no way that you're going to wear high heels without catching serious flak for it. "Why do you need those? You're too tall as it is," is a common one. Some people will even tell you that you aren't "allowed" to wear anything higher than a running shoe. High heels become something that proper women, appropriately feminine women, get to wear. When you wear them, it's emasculating. You just have to hope that one day, you'll be lucky enough to find a man taller than you--because, apparently, that is the natural order of things and, for many men, having a female partner who is of equal height to or taller than them is a fate worse than death--who will grudgingly accept your excessive height, so long as you stick to flats.

I've take enough crap over the years for my height that height issues have become a deal-breaker for me. I tend to be attracted to smaller men (in fact, I feel downright threatened by men who are significantly taller than I am and have never managed to date one for long), which means I've ended more than a few relationships because men just couldn't deal with my size (or other aspects of my physicality: I'm also quite muscular for such a slim build, and just plain don't fall into the "delicate flower" ideal).

And then, one day, I decided I didn't care anymore. I love the way I look in heels, and I love the way they make me feel--towering, powerful and yes, sexy. And I bought my first pair of 4-inch stilletos. I was in a new relationship at that point, and actually took my 5'9" partner shoe shopping with me. His enthusiastic reaction to my choice--largely because he could see how amazing they made me feel--was one of the big cues that this was a relationship I wanted to stay in. We're getting married next summer, and damned if I won't tower over him at the wedding.

Since then, I've bought several pairs of high heeled shoes. And every time I well them, I still feel that little thrill of rebellion, and I still think I look like I could take over the entire world when I stand in them in front of the mirror. For me, high-heeled shoes are a way of magnifying and owning my height and my power as a tall woman who is beautiful on her own terms. To throw my stilletos out the window would not be a rebellion or an affirmation of my independence from patriarchal norms (though I don't for a moment disbelieve that it is that for a great many women); it would be submission. It would be just another way of sitting down and shutting up, of being a nice girl and fading into the background, of not rocking the boat. And I refuse to do that.

I think that stories like mine bear remembering when we start talking about the politics of women's appearance, especially in terms of conformity and defiance of social norms. One woman's total submission is another's glorious rebellion, and vice versa. If we keep the nuances in mind, if we remember that every woman's relationship with her body and appearance is an intensely personal one, then maybe we won't be so quick to judge other women's choices. And maybe we can look at those stories, those little personal victories, and celebrate them.

25 September 2008

Conscientious Omnivores

Well, I guess I can actually write longer things while I procrastinate on that one post.


There's a discussion going on over at Jezebel that started out being about all the recent issues with formula and milk, and has largely fallen into a debate over the merits of vegetarianism/veganism. The location isn't really that important, as it's a debate I've had over and over in recent years. I'm part of the local outdoor community--in particular, the student/working class end of it--which tends to be fairly activisty (why yes, "activisty" is a word, why do you ask?) and has a particular interest in environmental and sustainability issues, as well as a general obsession with health. You can see how the whole "what you eat" discussion might come up on a regular basis. And so, because this really is something I've done a heck of a lot of thinking about, I'm gonna put my two cents out there:

As best I can parse it, there are three main aspects to the pro-veg* argument:

1) the animal rights argument: both the dairy and meat industries are run in ways that are unnecessarily cruel to animals, and we should not condone their practices if we are to consider ourselves moral human beings. The most extreme iteration of this would be the "meat is murder" argument that killing animals for food, regardless of how it is done, is immoral.

2) the sustainability argument: livestock farming is damaging to the environment in many ways: it consumes enormous amounts of resources relative to what is produced, it leads to the destruction of sensitive habitats through over-grazing and clearing of new pasture in places like the South American rainforests, and it leads to the production of hazardous wastes, including astonishingly high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

3) the health argument: eating vegetarian/vegan is just plain better for you. This tends to be based on the cholesterol and saturated fat issues often associated with consuming meat and dairy, the high incidence of lactose intolerance within certain ethnic groups, and the frequent use of low-quality feed, antibiotics and other drugs within the meat and dairy industries that will affect the quality of the food we consume (this last point is subject to the most variability with regards to local farming practices--eg. the much lower use of antibiotics in Canada as compared to the US).

To me, these are three distinct arguments with varying levels of power, depending on whom you're speaking to. I personally find argument #2 the most compelling, followed by #1 and then #3, but your mileage may vary. Unfortunately, they tend to get lumped together into a single meta-argument that is much less effective in the long run, because it treats three aspects of an issue that are going to be ranked differently in people's minds as if they were (or MUST be) of equal importance to everybody.

here endeth the summary portion of the evening, and beginneth the criticism and requisite navel-gazing

The first problem that tends to crop up for the pro-veg side in these debates is one of delivery. Many people, when they have found a way of living their life in accordance with their principles and, in this case, physical requirements, get really, really excited. This is no surprise. Some of them get excited enough that they want to tell everyone in the world about this amazing thing they have discovered, in the hopes that it will be as amazingly helpful to others as it was to them. No surprise here either. Some of these people then get a bit...sanctimonious...and preachy, and fall into the trap of believing that there is One True Way to attain health and ethical purity, and that anyone who doesn't believe in it is brainwashed/stupid/morally degenerate. This is also not surprising; nor is it particularly helpful. Nobody enjoys being talked down to, and it's really hard to convert anybody to a particular way of thinking if you can't convince them that you actually value them as an independent human being first.

Of course, there are loads of vegetarians/vegans out there who are not sanctimonious twits. I rather like them, and will happily engage in discussion over our respective dietary choices with people who are willing to listen to what I have to say and treat me like an equal human being. A lot of them are even willing to admit that it is possible to be an ethical human being with a significantly reduced ecological footprint and still eat meat. A conscientious omnivore, if you will.

And that is important, because the discussion over whether to go veg or not gets framed as an all-or-nothing question far too often. I believe there is a middle ground, and its existence is predicated on how one addresses the 3 arguments I've listed above. I don't really think that the ideas at the core of #1 and #2 are up for debate. There are serious ethical and environmental problems with the way that meat and dairy are produced on an industrial scale, and we each have to make choices about how we wish to address those, even if we do continue to consume these products.

Where things get thorny, at least to my eye, is with argument #3. I seriously doubt that there is One True Diet that will work for every body on this planet. Some of us really do better eating absolutely no meat or other animal products. Some of us really don't. I'm all for educating people about various aspects of nutrition, as i think that it is really important for us to understand how to keep our bodies running as well as possible, and to be able to recognise and deal with problems that will significantly impact our quality of life (some of these, like lactose intolerance, can be mild but still problematic, while others, like diabetes, can be tougher to manage).

But the key here is knowing what you need to be healthy. I'll use myself as an example, because I know my body better than I know anybody else's.

I'm a very active person: I commute by bicycle as often as possible and walk most of the rest of the time, I rockclimb and mountaineer (both pretty high-output activities) in the summer and ski tour (think hiking up a mountain with skis on and then skiing back down) in the winter. I'm also naturally slim. All of this means that (a) I need a fairly high caloric intake just to keep myself going and (b) I have a high ratio of muscle to fat, and need to consume a lot of protein to maintain that muscle mass. A lot.

And, yes, I am well aware that there are great sources of plant-based protein out there. A few major sources are soy; pretty much any other bean; nuts and seeds; and certain grains, most notably qinoa. There's lots to choose from, on the face of it, and I know several people with requirements similar to mine who do just fine consuming those sources. I don't. The biggest reason for this is that I have significant difficulties digesting soy, and lesser but still significant issues with most kinds of beans. They invariably make me gassy, bloated and (in the case of soy) mess up my normal digestive function for a few days. It's not pleasant, to say the least, and I doubt I'm getting what I need from them.

In fact, my symptoms are pretty close to those of lactose intolerance, a condition that is reasonably common and has been shown to be genetic and generally tied to a person's region of origin and how much cow's milk their ancestors consumed. I'd bet my first-born child that dairy isn't the only thing that humans adapt to consuming (or don't) over time. In fact, I'd say that really fucking likely that a group that has a had a consistent diet over a long period of time would adapt to get the most benefit possible out of that diet, and wouldn't have the same adaptations for foods that it had never historically come in contact with. I'd volunteer myself as test-subject for a study to look at how this works, seeing as my family has been in the same place for so long that one side of it takes its name from a village that got swallowed up by the bigger city that now stands on that spot (and that is my mother's home town) some 700 years ago. I'm from peasant stock, which also suggests that we would have been very closely tied to what the land could produce, even if wealthier Poles would have had access to more exotic foodstuffs acquired through trade. And the local diet? Pork, potatoes, dairy, beets and cabbage. Nary a soybean (or kidney bean, lentil or chickpea) in sight. I doubt that it's an accident I have difficulty digesting them.

If I rule out, or at least significantly limit beans as a source of protein, we end up with nuts/seeds and quinoa. Quinoa is a new addition to my diet, and I'm trying to see if I can eat more of it on a regular basis, but the stuff sits like a brick in my stomache, so I'm looking at limited intake for now. That leaves nuts and seeds. I might be able to consume enough of them to get the protein I need, but I doubt it. I think that they're a great way to supplement one's protein intake, but I don't think they work particularly well as one's primary source of protein. All of which means I have to eat meat, if I want to get the nutrients I need to keep my body functioning at my current level of activity. I suppose I could just throw my entire lifestyle out the window and become sedentary, but that doesn't exactly come without its own set of health problems.

I doubt I'm the only person who really does care about reasons #1 and #2 for why our current modes of meat/dairy production and consumption are seriously flawed, but doesn't really have the option of opting out entirely. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Because our economy is consumer driven, and those who stop consuming meat/dairy no longer don't have any power over the industry until their numbers get so high that there is no longer a large enough consumer base to support animal product production at all. And I doubt that will ever be the case, at least in part because non-consumption of these products isn't a viable option for a lot of people such as myself.

But responsible consumption is, and therein lies our power as conscientious omnivores. As consumers of meat and/or dairy, we get to choose whom we buy our meat, milk and cheese from, and we have the responsibility to call out producers on unethical and unsustainable business practices. And they have to listen, because their profit margins are dependent on our willingness to buy their product, and not the one produced in more ethically (free range, non-medicated, etc) and environmentally (organic, small scale, etc) sound fashion by the guy down the road. There is some truth to the "voting with your dollar" model, as problematic as the entire consumer-driven system is in the first place, and it is our responsibility as consumers to shop consciously as best we can**. We can all stand to reduce our consumption of the least sustainable products, such as beef, and favour ones that have a smaller impact, such as certain kinds of fish. And we can all be ethically and environmentally conscious while still consuming meat. In fact, we damn well ought to.

If we stop framing the argument as an all-or-nothing game, we can stop fighting over whose side is more morally upright and look at ways in which all of us can work together to make our food-production practices better for everyone, including the animals we kill and eat and the world we live in.


* I'm including both vegetarianism and veganism here and tend to lump them together in this debate, though I recognise the difference between the two terms.

** I'm aware that there are huge class and regional issues at play here as well. Deciding what kind of food to buy is a privilege. It's damn hard, if not impossible, to choose the (currently more expensive) free-range or organic chicken over the cheaper bulk pack when you can barely scrape together enough to feed yourself or your family, and where you live hugely affects what kind of options (eg. farmers markets vs. supermarkets) you actually have with regards to where you get your food and what kind is available. My point is that those who care about these issues should be doing what they can, within their means and working with their particular limitations, to address them. It's also why I think it's hugely important to make environmentally and ethically sound production affordable so that these choices are available to most people, but that means a whole different scale of activism and intervention, as I don't see a way of getting that ball rolling without the involvement of the highest levels of government.

16 September 2008

Bits & Bobs

Here's a round up of random things I found interesting today, as I continue to avoid going back to work on the epic of a post I have brewing:


The old spectre of appearance policing within the feminist community has reared its ugly head again, and some interesting shit is going down both over at Hoyden About Town--a very worthwhile place to visit, by the by--and Shakesville in response to an opinion piece by one Monica Dux, who seems to think that non-conventionally attractive, hairy lesbians are bad for feminism's image (because, you know, it's a brand and we need to pay attention to what sells). Women on both sides of the appearance question--those who reject feminine beauty standards, and those who don't, at least not entirely--are talking about how it feels to be judged for their appearance, and there's a fair amount of judging going on as well. I don't have too much to add, as I think this whole business of presentation policing ultimately doesn't do anybody any good, except that somebody at a bigger blog than mine seems to have come to a similar conclusion: lookee.


On another note, I love that the CBC is broadcasting results/news from the Paralympics with the same frequency and giving it the same prominence (first item on the hourly news) as they did with the "regular" Olympics. It's encourage to hear these amazing athletes getting the coverage they deserve, free of obsessive discussion of what exactly their disability is or other such fetishizing and othering bullshit.


While flipping through the Hoyden archives, I came across this bit of brilliance from earlier this year. While I get the impression that trying to discuss anything with mAndrea is a little like arguing particle physics with the cat (I mean, shit. Her entire stated purpose for writing is to sway people to her one true path of feminism through her amazing powers of logic, and then she admits the following, "The extent of my study of logic consists of reading a couple webpages"? Really? Lauredhel is right: that is just desperately bad performance art) the arguments that many of the posters put forth--especially tigtog and Lisa Harney--are sheer brilliance, and I want to keep them forever and ever as a reference to make use of the next time I end up arguing with an anti-trans* arsehole.


And finally, I saw a girl on the bus today wearing a shirt that said, "I'm just pretending to be gay for all the social benefits." It made me laugh in a way that snarky t-shirts seldom do, because it was just so...pointed...and smart.

13 September 2008

Asshole Customer of the Day: Special Uber-Sexist Edition

I still don't really want this to be a recurring feature, but I find it useful to remind myself of how much bigotry is still out there in the world, and that complacency and "post-feminism" (damn right those are scare quotes) won't get us anywhere. Onwards:


[I was helping a customer with walking poles, and was having difficulty explaining to him the differences between the two types we carry. He was dealing with back/hip problems, and both his doctor and physio had suggested he get some. Problem was, they'd given him conflicting information--one had suggested one type, and one had suggested the other--which he was conflating in his head. He kept insisting that this mythical 3rd type existed, and that I just didn't know about it, and tried to prove it to me by invoking his health professionals' authority.]

Asshole: "Well, they're men, and they told me I needed [list of qualities of non-existent product].


Note that he could have been just as much of a patronizing jerk by going with, "Well, they're doctors/have PhDs." But no; there had to be that extra little note of putting the uppity woman in her place to really bring his point home.

Unsurprisingly, I was livid after the interaction (years of working in customer service have left me with the useful ability to completely shut down my emotional responses until the customer has left the building and is out of range of my fists) and went to commiserate with some of my coworkers. They were likewise unimpressed, and brought up their own experiences with the sexism that they could not believe was still around. A lot of it was either some men's inability to believe that women actually know what they are talking about when it comes to sporting goods/outdoor recreation (this happens way too frequently) and second-guessing us with our male coworkers, or their inability to recognise and respect personal boundaries and doing things like asking "can I watch" when one female coworker was giving another a quick shoulder rub.

There were a couple incidents that really stood out for me, though. The first didn't actually involve an altercation, but was still disgusting: one of my female coworkers had to serve a guy who came into the store wearing a t-shirt that said, "Your fish smells like pussy." She was polite and professional, which I'm not sure I could have managed.

The other involved one of my male coworkers--let's call him "Boogie"--and another asshole he was helping check out at the registers:


[Girl who checked out before Asshole sets off the alarms by the doors, and Boogie motions her back to the till so that he can re-check her tags. She and Asshole are complete strangers to one another.]

Asshole: "Strip search!"

Boogie: "Excuse me? That was completely inappropriate."

Asshole: "Oh, come on, she'd like it."

Boogie: "No. What you said is inappropriate and offensive. Stop right now."

Asshole: "Man, what happened to your sense of humour?"

Boogie: "My sense of humour is just fine. That wasn't funny."


Thankfully, the vast majority of the men and women I work with would (and have) respond the way Boogie did, and get as angry as I do at the shit that gets thrown at women in this world. They're one of the reasons I love my job, even if one of its occupational hazards is exposing myself to this kind of treatment. It's people like that that give me hope for all of us, and they remind me just how little it costs to call people out on their bullshit. If each of us did even that much, this world would be a safer place to be a woman (or any minority, if we expand our calling out to racism, heterosexism, ablism, classism and all the rest of the nastiness that's still out there).

25 August 2008

Another one? But you said...nevermind.

Okay, so apparently all it takes to get me writing again is the public declaration that I need to step back and do some thinking and therefore may not be writing much. Awesome.

This is just a quickie (omg! double entendre! She's letting that evil sexuality taint her already--a lost cause, this one), to say how much I love THIS.

It makes me happy. So very happy. Even if there are actually people who think this way in all seriousness--which, really, ought to frighten me more than it amuses right now, but what can you do?

Part II is here.

Gone Astray

I haven't been posting much lately.

It's not because I don't have things to say--I do; lots, in fact--it's just that I feel like I'm drawing too much on what's outside for my inspiration. Or, to put it more clearly, I'm immersing myself in cultural and social issues that aren't my own. This isn't in itself a bad thing, as a little cross-cultural understanding (or attempts at it) can do a lot of good, and since racism, sexism, mountaineering and the environment (yeah, yeah: one of these things is not like the others) are important anywhere. That said, I don't think I should be diving head first into how these things look in the States without a clear understanding of how they function up here.

The more I read about the current climate and political situation in the US, the more it feels alien to me and the ways in which I think. I want to figure out if this disconnect is happening because I'm a weirdo (highly likely, but not necessarily the answer), or because it doesn't reflect my reality in Canada (which I suspect is largely the case).

And so, it's back to the drawing board for me. I value a lot of what the American bloggers I read have to say on issues I care about (and those that maybe only they do), and I will continue reading them, but I need to step back, and maybe step inside myself a little.

Time to plug myself into what's going on up here in the Great White North, and to what matters most to me, mine, and the world that I live in (on the neighbourhood-city-country scale; I'll get back to dealing in depth with the rest of the continent when I've gotten that straight).

15 August 2008

Shit, shit, SHIT


I get that the home country is paranoid as fuck about the Russians getting land-grabby again, considering their behaviour in the past century alone, and I get that the U.S. is the symbol of everything that is wonderful about the West mostly because, well, it ain't Russia, but setting yourself up to get bombed out of existence by a nation that hasn't been afraid of stomping all over you in the past has bad idea written all over it. In neon.

From the International Herald Tribune:

At a news conference Friday, a senior Russian defense official, Colonel General Anatoli Nogovitsyn, suggested that Poland was making itself a target by agreeing to serve as host for the antimissile system. Such an action "cannot go unpunished," he said.

Shit. I fear for my country and my family. Even if these are just empty threats to get the Poles to back down, the situation is bad fucking news.

So much for regained sanity.

ETA: I know, I know: Russia actually bombing Poland into oblivion and/or invading isn't really going to happen. Especially now that we're in the EU. I've simmered down a bit and am no longer panicking about our imminent destruction.

But here's the thing: the situation stinks. It stinks because it's stupid posturing that just aggravates existing political tensions. It stinks because bad relations with Russia will have a political and economic impact on Poland. Mostly, it stinks because nothing will happen to the States. And they know that. Because what they've done is exploited Poland's bad history with Russia and our fear of Russian expansionism and used it to set us up as their cannon fodder.

I hate feeling that my people are being exploited again, that we are being treated as disposable again, and that this is further proof that, so long as it stays profitable, the western powers will continue to throw us under the bus whenever they feel like it.

I'm tired of our being used, and that's what this is about for me.

14 August 2008

Happy to Be Alive, Indeed

It occurs to me that the subtitle of this blog has been rather poorly represented up until now. Not that the ranting isn't fun, but it's been a bit grouchy around here.

Turns out I just needed a vacation. And so, after a week of this:

I am doing much better. Minus the sunburnt nose, that is, but it's a price I'll willingly pay for my sanity.

29 July 2008

The Assholes Ride Again

So, I realize this post is rather late to the party, but it has some points I'd still really like to make, so I'll throw it up here anyway. I should really stop putting half-finished things in 'drafts' and then going AWOL for days on end.


There's another interwebs shitstorm brewing. This time, it's about a rather problematic cartoon being used to bolster anti-porn arguments by Nine Deuce and Heart. Belledame's got a good play-by-play and lengthy comment thread going on here, so I think I'll skip the summary. A lot has already been said about the numerous problems with the cartoon itself, and I'm really more interested with ND's and Heart's responses to other people's concerns about it.

Briefly: I didn't immediately read the cartoon as racist, transfixed as I was by the no-way-in-hell-this-is-feminist representation of a dumb blonde in the centre of the image. That's likely due to my own frame of reference--I've been on the receiving end of that stereotype enough times to be hypersensitive to it, and it immediately called to mind this gem of a "feminist cartoon". I saw it as soon as it got pointed out (even if some of the men's features read as "white", the whole light=good/dark=evil dichotomy is obvious and has been closely tied to racism for a long time). I think it's offensive for many reasons: it's misogynist, misandrist and dehumanizes sex workers--a real winner.


What really gets my goat is the way that both Nine Deuce and Heart (but especially Heart) reacted to others' politely-phrased concerns about the cartoon. There was no stepping back and re-evaluating the image, not even any acknowledgement that such concerns were worth considering. There was no real discussion. Instead, the whole post devolved into defensive ass-saving and, "but, but, but I can't be a racist, I married a black man!"

In other words, it got personal.

This is the point where I saved the post as a draft and left myself the following notes for when I took it up again:

-closed-minded non-intersectionality
-it's not all about you, you fucking jerks
-image vs substance

That sums it up rather nicely, really.

To elaborate: my first point* refers primarily to Nine Deuce, as the whole "i removed the cartoon as the thread was getting derailed by concerns of racism" thing really irked me. Just because you're fighting for the rights of one particular group of people doesn't mean you get a free pass on offending/dismissing another group. If, say, POCs (or anybody else) respond with concerns about something they identify as racist on a feminist site, it's probably a good idea to actually listen to their concerns and make room for a bit of anti-racism in your work as well. Telling them that their concerns are invalid or are a distraction--not so much. Besides it just being rude and dismissive, it alienates women who are also feminists ; from a purely pragmatic point of view, alienating your allies or others on your side is just poor politics.

The rest is largely directed at dear Heart, but certainly applies to miss I-have-the-giantest-brain-in-the-whole-wide-world as well. Any feminist or otherwise socially/politically motivated writing is going to have a bit of the author in it: we write largely from our own experiences, and we certainly have unique perspectives on our particular cause. I'm not suggesting that there should be no personal aspect to anyone's blog, because that would make the whole business a bit faceless and creepy, not to mention that it wouldn't really be blogging anymore. But there are certain cases *cough cough* where the personality of the writer--their image--becomes so overbearing as to completely draw attention away from that person's chosen cause. If your response to people raising concerns about one of the pieces of evidence in your argument (as often happens in debates) is to start talking about how you are not in any way a racist, and therefore could never possibly use a racist argument, you're missing the point in precisely this way.

It's not all about you. It's about the intersection of sexism and racism; it's about being careful about what kind of images we want to associate with feminism; it's about respecting the concerns of all elements of a community; it's about looking critically at all media, including "our own". The fact that it's your blog that the discussion is taking place on is not completely irrelevant, but please don't turn concern about an argument and an image that has been put out there into ad hominem attacks. Because, really, when you start using your feminism as a jumping-off point for a presidential campaign, or as singular proof of your amazing genius, people are going to start to wonder what your writing is really about. And when the egotism shines that bright, they're likely to move on to greener pastures and try to find feminist (or any other -ist of choice) writing that really is a space about women, and not one particular, fabulous woman.

* Interesting typo here: I originally wrote "porn". Shows where my mind goes pre-coffee on a workday.

21 July 2008

Not my Feminism

I'd been intending to write a longer response to Cassandra's awesome post about the nastiness she's seen coming from some feminists towards beautiful women, but I think what I was going to write can be applied just as well to the discussion currently going on over at Renegade Evolution's. For Ren's original thoughts, see this , this , this and this) It all begins with the usual slut-shaming, victim-blaming and general anti-woman bullshit going on over at Twisty's "I Blame the Patriarchy" (I ain't linkin').

Now, just like Twisty, I am not the keeper of all feminism who gets to decide who is a feminist and who isn't. It isn't a club, for fuck's sake--you can't just kick people out of the movement when they disagree with you. Feminism is a way of engaging with the world and a lens through which to process it, it's the belief that women deserve equal consideration and rights as human beings. That's it. There's no membership card or secret handshake, no "10-step guide to removing the patriarchy" to follow, no rules. Well, except maybe one: if you engage in behaviour that shames, denigrates or otherwise attacks any woman (or group of women) for her appearance, job or lifestyle, you are not acting like a feminist. In fact, you're acting like an asshole. You might still be a feminist (remember, there's no card to revoke). After all, some feminists are assholes, just like some people are assholes. Nobody is going to kick you out of the movement (some, like Ren, may leave in protest, because it's a label that you get to choose to apply to yourself or not).

But here's the thing: you're not helping.

In fact, all you're doing is perpetuating a double-standard that has been around for centuries and is part and parcel of that patriarchy thing you hate so much. The virgin/whore, good girl/bad girl split isn't exactly a new one. I've read a lot of medieval literature, and I can say with absolute certainty that the idea of the libidinous woman who tempts men to evil and sin has been around since at least (and I'd warrant a good few centuries before as well) the 9th century CE*. The wording may have changed slightly--the sluts are no longer causing good, Christian men to fall from grace (nope, that idea would be too patriarchal); instead, they're tempting evil, depraved men to hurt women--but the blame is still dumped squarely on the shoulders of the women in question. Actually, the latter example is worse, in some ways, because it absolves men of true responsibility (since they've been so completely warped by the patriarchy, they cannot do anything but harm women--it's in their nature, and therefore kinda beyond their control) for their actions, and because it is presented as a feminist argument. At least our medieval misogynists are up front about their hatred of these women, and tend to also blame the menfolk for succumbing to temptation. I'm not Twisty (or any of her cheerily supportive commenters), but if my feminist rhetoric was actually harder on women than the arguments put forth by male misogynists 1100 years ago, I'd either take a step back and reconsider just what the hell I was saying, or give up on the "radical" label altogether.

A lot of the feminist version of slut-blaming (my new catch-all for the above nastiness) seems to be intended as a complaint that some women are encouraging the men, are giving them an excuse to attack women. But if, as IBTP seems to argue, men really are this malevolent enemy who can only hurt women, then they don't actually need encouragement or excuses. If they're so far beyond saving, then even if all the sluts/sparkleponies/funfeminists/yay-pornies in the world vanished overnight, they would still rape and hurt all the nice women left behind because that's what they do. The two halves of the argument don't mesh.

So if the slut- and men- (sorry, "patriarchy") blaming argument doesn't actually hold water, why stick to it?

Because it's so easy to put the blame on everybody else.

Because if you're not responsible for the bad shit that happens to women in patriarchal society (that lies with teh evol menz and the sluts), then you must be a saviour, or a hero. Your mere existence, as a patriarchy-blamer, rather than a patriarchy-upholder, is a blow to the system. You don't actually have to do anything to address injustice. You can just sit back and bask in your glory as a blamer and occasionally "tsk" at the disgusting rabble that continue to uphold the system that you can see right through. You're just that special.

And really, you have a right to feel special and heroic. You can go right on with your radical blaming. It's your goddamned right as a person and as a woman to feel and act as you see fit. But I have the same right to call you out on your own misogyny (just because you only hate some women, rather than all women does not make it okay) and to distance myself from the arguments put forth by assholes like you. Because, to me, blaming everyone but myself for a system that is everyone's problem isn't liberating, empowering or helpful. My feminism isn't about making myself feel bigger by making things worse for other women. Nobody deserves that kind of dehumanising crap getting thrown at them.

Your feminism is not my feminism.

*Obligatory medievalist's disclaimer: this isn't an accurate representation of everything that was being said about women in the Middle Ages. There was a very wide range of ideas and writing on women's rights and role in society from the bullshit I've mentioned to amazing pro-woman writings. I've just chosen a particularly nasty and widespread argument for this post to demonstrate the longevity of slut-blaming.

18 July 2008

When binaries attack!

I know I really shouldn't be getting overly worked up (or rather, shouldn't be in the least surprised) about the way sexuality is dealt with by gossip sites, but this profile on Lindsay Lohan from Gawker irked me. Specifically, it was the "is a newly minted femme lesbian" bit. Because, you see, Lindsay has now completely forsaken the menfolk and is a freshly created (never mind that the mint reference calls up images of some strange Lindsay Lohan figurine line being pumped out on the assembly line: "now with same-sex desires!") lesbian. Considering her many previous (and ostensibly happy) relationships with men it just might be a possibility that she's bi. Or maybe all of the sex-with-men really is a thing of the past and Lindsay is a lesbian. I dunno, I haven't asked her. I just really wish that every time a public figure had a same sex relationship, it didn't automatically generate all this kind of "switching teams" nonsense. Because, you know, there are only two possible sexual orientations and, once you go gay, you can never go back (as if it was always about "going" anywhere--some of us like it here in the middley bits and we're staying put).

Okay, rant over. I should really just stay off the celebrity news; I don't actually know who half the people being talked about even are, and it tends to just raise the stress levels unnecessarily.

17 July 2008

Hooray for Public School Sex-ed!

I overheard the following conversation in the changeroom at a local community centre today. The two girls came in while I was in a stall, and decided to share one to save space as they got into their swimsuits.


Girl 1: "Okay, but you're not allowed to look when I'm changing my bottoms."

Girl 2: "Why? Do you have hair or something?"

Girl 1: "Yeah. Wanna see?"

Girl 2: "Okay. Eeeewwwwww!" [pause] "How old are you?"

Girl 1: "Eight."

Girl 2: "That's abnormal. You're not supposed to have it yet."

Girl 1: "Yes I am. Girls get it between 8 and 14. That's why they start teaching us this stuff in Grade 5*."

Girl 2: Oh. Okay.

[They finish changing and run out to the waterpark].


I love that we have an education system that teaches girls (and boys too, but this post is about the girls) that the changes their body undergoes are completely normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. I particularly like Girl #1's matter-of-fact response to her friend's confusion, and #2's acceptance of the facts once they got explained to her. Hearing that conversation kind of made my afternoon.

* In BC, children going through the public school system (I'm not sure what it is for private institutions) get sex-ed twice: the first time is in Grade 5 (9-10 years old), and focuses on the biological end of things, covering both puberty and the nuts-and-bolts of sexual reproduction; the second time is in Grade 11 (15-16 years old) and covers STIs, all manners of birth control--including putting condoms on a class set of wooden penises--and some of the emotional complexity of sexual relationships.

Twitching at Binaries I: Us and Them

Right then. I suspect that my sexuality has a wee bit to do with my uneasiness at (some, perhaps even most) people's tendency to neatly parcel up the world into opposed pairings: good/evil, black/white, gay/straight, left-wing/right-wing, sane/insane, able-bodied/disabled, right/wrong, kinky/vanilla, us/them.

I could go on listing for a while, but I think that, ultimately, the majority of these binaries are just rephrasings of the last one. Us vs. Them.

It's a tempting way to view the world: on the one side of this imaginary line in the sand, there is us--a group of people just like me, who share my views and/or background and are the right people for me to associate with, because they are like me, and that makes me comfortable--and on the other side are those people who are against us. Their disagreement, or fear, or difference frightens me. It's alien. Maybe even a bit icky. I don't understand it. So I dissociate myself from their difference: stop listening to their arguments, cross to the other side of the street when I see them coming, and seek out people who are comfortingly like me.

There is a certain value to this approach, especially for more marginalized groups who often fall on the "wrong" end of the binary for the majority of people, and need to come together to create a safe space. I get that. I've done it myself, sometimes, when I want to just wall myself off from hatred, bigotry or just plain ignorance. The trick is to not let it become permanent. The only way to make the things I don't understand become less frightening is to engage with them.

When it comes to ideas, exposing myself to those I disagree with is key to my forming my own--if my beliefs don't stand up to opposition/counterargument, I seriously need to reconsider why I hold onto them at all. Disagreement will either make my ideas stronger or it will shatter them, and if the latter is going to happen anyway (it always does, so long as a weakly constructed argument keeps running up against reality), then the sooner it does the better. I can pick up the pieces, start thinking about the issue again, and not be a closed-minded idiot the second time around.

When it comes to people who are different, who don't fit with what I consider us, I have a lot to gain by stepping out and getting to know them. After all, there's always a humanity behind the difference. Seeing people as people, not ideologies (a "communist" is a person, not the faceless drone of an -ism I might disagree with) and not representatives of a particular group (I am a woman, an immigrant, and a thousand other things, all of which represent me, and none of which I am the sole representative of) can be difficult sometimes, but it is necessary. Ignoring others' humanity is what allows one group of people to deny others basic human rights, or one person to bully/abuse another because of their difference, it's what allows us to go to war over ideas. On the other hand, seeing the person behind the idea, and finding some common ground with them, or learning to like them despite disagreement, means that the circle of us expands to admit a new member. And anytime that circle gets bigger, it's enriched by new perspectives and experiences. I become better for letting myself embrace difference. And that disagreement on ideas? Still there. Association, even friendship does not require agreement. It only requires basic decency and compassion, and creates a space where disagreement can exist without it leading to destruction, because you can dislike the belief and still care about the person that carries it.

Of course, there are people out there that I doubt I'll ever accept into my us (which is starting to sound more like some kind of exclusive club and less like a metaphorical device, for which I apologize): I can't deal with people who are outright hateful towards any group, or who are proudly apathetic towards injustice. But I can learn to accept that they too are people with the same rights to exist as everyone else, and stop wishing painful death on then whenever I get in a bad mood.

ETA: this started out as a post about something different, but I like the "can we try to at least be civil?" direction it went off in, so I'm leaving it as is. I'll discuss my other big problem with binaries in another one.

15 July 2008

Asshole Customer of the Day

I really don't intend for this to become a daily feature, but the occasional bitching about the treatment that comes with working in customer service helps me keep my sanity. Right, then:


[I had just gotten together a large and work-intensive order for a customer: measuring out 100m of heavy 11mm rope by hand, and simplified the process somewhat by measuring out a quarter of the length, and then doubling the rope back over itself a few times--hardly rocket science.]

Asshole: "Wow, that was pretty clever. I guess that stereotype about blondes isn't true after all."

Lankydancer: "No. No it's not."

[customer quickly thanks me and walks off after taking a good look at my tits.]


It's been a hell of a long time since I've met somebody who still thought "dumb blonde" jokes were funny. Or appropriate. I must have found the last one left in this city. Lucky, lucky, me.

14 July 2008

Empty Space

...there's lots of it here at the moment. I'm planning to change that soon.

I'm so much better at working things through out loud (or on paper) than in my head, and there are a lot of ideas I need to work through at the moment. I want this blog to be my sounding board: somewhere to post my raw thoughts and see how they look, and maybe to get some input from outside my own brain. I suspect I'll also end up blithering about my daily life once in a while.

That's the nice thing about having your own space--you can do whatever you damn want with it. I'm interested to see how this one evolves.