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.