Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gender Neutrality, for boys!

I've been reading a lot lately about this gender neutral Easy Bake Oven petition and I think it's a really interesting idea. I think it's nice that a young girl was motivated to approach a large corporation and ask them to change. I think it's nice that she was trying to make the world a little easier for her baby brother, who wanted an Easy Bake Oven but assumed it was "just for girls" because of the insanely pink and purple, hyper girly way it's marketed. 
By now we all know, pretty much, that toys are marketed for girls or for boys using stereotypes about what each gender should be like and I can't really think of many toys that aren't. Toys seem to have become much more focused on gender in the past few decades: for girls toys have become much more feminized and sexualized; for boys masculinity and violence seem to be really played up. Walk down a toy aisle of boys toys and you see a lot guns, fake grenades, war-themed games and objects, cars and trucks, or trade themed toys(construction etc). The toys I saved from when I was a child that are still in production today have changed so much I can't even recognize them. Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite look like a bizarre mixture of grown woman and baby deer -- girls toys especially focus on appearance highlighting humongous eyes, teeny tiny noses, and pouty mouths.
It's just a fact that people buy different toys for girls and boys.These two lists from Squidoo of the "top toys of 2012/2013" are really telling:

Boys toys are all like "action!" "adventure!" "learning!" While girls toys seem to be more like "hair!" "caring!" "friends!" There are some crossover toys, like the Leap Frog Explorer Tablet, but a tablet would sell games and apps separately and I imagine they are pretty different when it comes to girls and boys.
These are "Novi Stars", one of the top ten girls toys for this year:

I'm sorry, but wtf are those things? When did we start making toys for girls that look like this? Each of the "stars" is wearing spiked heel shoes, have splayed feet, short skirts, massive doe eyes, and pouty pout lips. What does a girl do with these toys? Is she like, "heeeey, I love not being able to walk because my shoes are so cool!" What is the point of creating suggestive dolls for little girls? So that they want to wear high heels and show off their sexy alien legs? I don't know, but if I had a daughter and she said she wanted those I'd be freaked the fuck out.

Next we have a toy from the boys list, the Brachiosaurus! This toy is a machine AND a dinosaur PLUS you build that shit yourself. The dinosaur has no real physiological features, as a real dinosaur would, and you're encouraged to view it as a mechanical thing rather than an animal. Very similar to a Transformer. Sure, you can buy this for your girl and I'm sure she'd enjoy it but the point is that it isn't being marketed for girls.

I'm not saying there are no gender stereotype breaking toys -- On the girls list there is Doc McStuffins(also on the list) , a show about a little girl who "fixes" toys. The boys list doesn't really include anything all that stereotype busting and this is one of the reason I am really conflicted about this gender neutral Easy Bake Oven.
I think it's really problematic to push for gender neutrality based on the assumption that "girls toys" are damaging for boys. Gender neutrality on boys behalf ignores the fact that "for girls only" marketing and toy design also hurts girls by acclimatizing them to stereotypes that they may or may not be inclined towards. Why has a black and silver Easy Bake Oven been on the design table for 18 months if what they're building is gender neutral? If it's gender neutral then just take the toy you have and make it a different colour, use a plethora of colours! Kids love colour! The fact that Hasbro had to re-design the "girly" Easy Bake Oven suggests that gender neutrality is not actually the goal, but rather that satisfying a more "boy friendly" audience is. It's not alright for boys to play with a pink Easy Bake Oven, but allowing girls to play with it is fine? How does the Pink Paradigm damage girls at the same time as it alienates boys? Go gender neutral Hasbro but don't ignore that often times "gender neutral" really means "not girly."
Another thing I find interesting about the Easy Bake Oven debate is the voice of celebrity Chefs piping in. Bobby Flay publicly supported the petition, saying that he used to play with a green Easy Bake Oven as a child and it pushed him towards cooking as a career. This makes me really, really uneasy. Are we really suggesting that making Easy Bake Ovens more available to boys will make them more likely to become chefs? If so, then we need to take a huge step back and look at the gender dynamics of the Culinary Arts. I think it's really important that boys learn to cook, just as girls should.  I think boys should be made to feel comfortable cooking as a hobby or for family, with love, just as girls are taught. What I'm not comfortable with is that men outnumber women in the Culinary Arts, particularly at the executive level. Talk to any female Chef and she will tell you how few women she works with and how hard it was for her to get into a kitchen (except, of course, as pastry Chefs; the area of Culinary Arts that women often get funneled into). There are so few female Executive Chefs and women are underrepresented in kitchens so I don't really think that boys need an Easy Bake Oven to inspire them to be Chefs. What about an industrial Easy Bake Oven for girls that isn't about making cookies for your friends but instead helps develop skills they'll eventually need to become real Chefs, as a career?
What about all the toys for boys that leave girls out? How do we make a Construction set more appealing for girls? By making it pink? No. We make it more acceptable by changing societal views about who does what. We don't tell girls that pink is for them and blue is for boys. We don't applaud aggressive behaviour in boys while reviling it as "unnatural" in girls. We don't assume that boys who play with a pink Easy Bake Oven(or any pink toy) are 'fags' or 'wusses'.  We teach children that they can play with whatever they want, be whoever they want, and they will not be judged for it. That is gender neutrality.
Gender neutrality is an important but lofty goal especially when we consider that anything labelled female or feminine is looked down upon. Gender neutrality cannot mean "for boys" just as much as it shouldn't mean "for girls." Neutral isn't always neutral and we shouldn't applaud something right away just because someone tells us it's a step forward. An Easy Bake Oven that is black and silver does not mean that we've reached some kind of gender equity, it just means that now there are black and silver Easy Bake Ovens. I guess the only real question that needs to be answered is since there are still separate toy aisle for girls and boys, which aisle will they display it in?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Way Must Be Tried.. Over and over and over again.

The Way Must be Tried.. Over and over and over again.
contributed by Tasia Alexopoulos

What is that old adage, oft used but rarely followed? "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

It seems that our administrators at York University, who exalted the past during York's Anniversary, are refusing to learn from history at all. For several years, like most Universities, York has experienced a very serious issue with sexual assault of all forms. From groping to stranger rape, York has seen it all. This isn't a new phenomenon: sexual assault is common on all campuses, in all towns and cities, and in all people's lives. What should be new is the way we approach this issue.

Yesterday the University and our illustrious President Shoukri help a Forum on Community Safety for students, staff, faculty, and community members. Instead of being an actual open Forum for questions and serious discussion the event was a mere publicity stunt; an opportunity to reveal the University's "new" security measures and dedication to safety.

At the open Forum yesterday President Shoukri announced that the University would be graciously spending over $10 million on safety and security on campus. Shoukri not only announced that the money would be spent, but that he has "embraced" the effort to increase safety on campus. The promised funds have already been allocated, with no real input from the University community nor those who are experts in gendered violence. Not once has the President, the Dean, or any VP stepped up and said "Hey, Women's Studies students: What do you think we could do about violence on campus?" Not once have they seriously approached any anti-racist group on campus and asked what those students would consider meaningful safety measures. Unfortunately for all of us, York has a bad track record when it comes to dealing with safety in all forms despite taking a hardline stance. We've seen over and over again how they deal with sexual assault and more often than not it entails telling the ladies on campus to "be aware of their surroundings" and to "lock their doors." For real, several years ago Alex Bilyk of York University told women that the moral of the story (because sexual assault is a story with a moral other than "don't be a rapist") that they need to keep their doors locked. He was responding to a stranger assault in a University residence, perpetrated by someone who did not live in the dorm.

In almost every Security Bulletin we receive about an assault on campus women are advised to buddy up, to be aware of their surroundings and the people around them, and to report suspicious people to York Security Services. This is an outdated approach and hopefully the new Security strategy takes this into account. It does not matter how aware you are of your surroundings or of suspicious people, it does not matter if you buddy up, if somebody wants to assault you they will assault you. The most recent assaults on campus have been in daylight at busy times -- one of them occurred in the lineup for the 196 York Rocket bus, one of the longest bus lineups of all time. A person who will assault a woman in broad daylight, surrounded by people, is someone who knows that the culture on campus permits them to do so -- they know that they will not be stopped and they will not be caught, they feel invincible.

This has nothing to do with how many Security guards are around or how well armed they are. It has to do with the culture on campus that does not take safety seriously, or racism seriously. It's about being part of a campus community that doesn't educate young men about misogyny or assault but, instead, chastises women for not being aware of their surroundings. We are part of a campus that allows sexist advertising to pervade. On a broader political scale we are part of a University that has only had ONE female President and in which some Faculties have never had a female Dean. We are part of a University that discourages students to stand up for themselves when they are harassed by Professors or employers. We are part of a University whose Administrators treat students, staff, and faculty with outright scorn. There are parts of campus that still aren't wheelchair accessible. We are not part of an inclusive, respectful, anti-sexist, anti-racist campus.

The Open Forum on Community Safety shouldn't have been an opportunity to smile at the cameras and pledge your allegiance to the flag of safety, President Shoukri. It should have been an opportunity for students to voice their discomfort, their feelings, their ideas. Instead, when a group of students came to the forum to express their concern about racial profiling on campus they weren't given space, the moderator instructed the microphone runners to ignore certain questions, and VP Morrison smirked the entire time they spoke. A culture that doesn't accept sexual assault also encourages respectful dialogue and this is just not occurring at York. President Shoukri claimed that the "floating" microphones were used to address accessibility issues but when asked how the moderator planned to manage the questions queue he had no response.

So the University will spend $10 million on re-training Security Staff, arming them, and giving them the power to arrest people. They will install more emergency phones. They've created new staff positions and renamed committees.  Nowhere does it say that York is committing itself to ending sexism or racism on campus. Nowhere does it even mention gender. It's great to increase Inclusivity training, but what does that really mean? What we need is York to take a political and ideological stance against what really causes assaults and violence: power imbalances.

I wrote this two years ago, about York University, and in the years since then nothing has changed:
"Sexual assault is an epidemic in Canada and York needs to address the culture of sexism on campus more than it needs to release the metrac report. Sexual assault is not leverage. It is not fair to say "sorry you were raped, young lady, that could have been prevented with more lighting". We need to think, "hey, maybe we need to educate ALL students about sexual assault." Maybe we shouldn't cut funding to women's studies programs, maybe we should increase education around the politics and issues behind sexual assault instead of just acting like cameras and lights are going to save the day."

What is the point of re-training Security officers when you're not educating students?When you're not combating rape culture, sexism, and inequality on campus?

York's motto is "The Way Must Be Tried." This way HAS been tried. It is time to recognize, once and for all, that women have taken responsibility for their own safety and that telling us to be aware of our surroundings will not save us from being assaulted. More Security will not mean less assault, because more Security does not mean less sexism. More heavily armed Security personnel will only increase violence against University community members. It is time for the University to stop calling itself innovative and actually innovate new responses to violence on campus.Yes, prevention is the key but prevention cannot occur until we begin to seriously address the sexist and racist culture on campus. We can't let the administrators, and whatever corporations or political interests they may serve railroad true change just because they hold a community meeting and grace us with their presence. These "safety" initiatives are not enough, we need the University to commit itself, once and for all, to social justice. We need education and cultural shifts, President Shoukri, not more Security guards with tasers. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

You know what's a fun thing to make a wager on? Hungry people!

I'm going to be a killjoy here and burst the bubble of everyone going nuts about Mayor Bet. If you didn't already know the Grey Cup is happening soon and the two teams footballing against one another are the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders. There aren't very many teams in the CFL so I get confused sometimes about why we have a Grey Cup at all, but I don't mind football and Canadian teams should get the same "rah rah rah" as NFL teams I suppose.

Today the Mayor of Calgary offered up a little bet to our own Rob Ford: the losing city's Mayor will donate his weight in food to the winner's food bank and also wear the winning jersey for a city council meeting. First of all, is this a jab at our Mayor's weight? If so, I don't care.

What I do care about is that I think it's kind of stupid of Mayor Nenshi to reach out to Ford right now. He's being sued for libel, people are starting to realize he's corrupt, he's pretty stupid, he says horrifying things constantly, and he skips out on his job to coach football. I also just feel like it's kind of a stupid wager. I'm sure that whoever wins will also end up donating to the other's food bank, but it's in really poor taste to make a food bank donation seem like a free-wheeling charitable fun time for all. Men betting! Mayors having a jovial time! I think a Food Bank donation is a great thing but for a few reasons I think their wager is ill-timed and kind of offensive.

Since 2006, the recession, and the increase in fiscal conservatism in our country, Food Bank usage has absolutely skyrocketed.

Here are some Toronto statistics:

And here are some Calgary statistics:

 A 70% increase in Calgary since 2006.  Over 100'000 Emergency Food Hampers. 42% of their clientele are children. An 18% increase in Toronto since 2008. Food Banks aren't just a natural thing that pop out of the ground, they were supposed to be a temporary solution to the immediate issue of hunger. Food Banks are understocked (and overly stocked with sugary and processed foods lacking in nutrition), rely mainly on volunteers to keep them running, are underfunded, and are not meant to be a permanent fixture in society. These two Food Banks are just that: two Food Banks. That doesn't take into account all of the organizations that provide emergency food, soup kitchens, churches, ands student food banks on college and university campuses. People aren't just hungry because there is no food. People are hungry because our government allows corporations to operate here, use our resources, exploit our labour, pay little to no taxes, and then put absolutely no money into our community infrastructures. People are hungry because they are losing their jobs, because their Unions are being busted. People are hungry because they have to choose between eating properly or paying for childcare so that they can go to work at all. People are hungry because women make less money than men in the same positions, are more likely to have to work several part time jobs, and more likely to have to raise children alone.

Nobody should be patting these two men on the back for making a measly donation to a Food Bank out of the goodness of their big, fat, rich hearts. Applauding Rob Ford for taking on this wager is completely forgetting that he once threw a hissy fit because City Council wanted to have a homeless shelter in every Ward of the City. Since, you know, people are homeless and not properly housed everywhere in Toronto. Having to house the homeless, he said, was an insult to his Ward. How many people in that Ward, I wonder, have ever used a Food Bank? I'm sure Rob Ford would be astounded at the number.

This is the kind of attitude our Mayor has about those who are in need: that they are an insult to those who are not. Last year Rob Ford tried to take budget money out of high priority areas like Day Cares and Community Centres, Homeless Shelters. This year he announced a war on those homeless people who found themselves sleeping at Nathan Phillips Square.

Why don't you make a donation to a Food Bank in Toronto, Mayor Ford? Why don't you address poverty in our city? How can you possible try to throw people out of Nathan Phillips Square when they have nowhere else to go? This is a man with blinders on, he has no idea how society operates for anyone who isn't him: rich, white, privilege. I don't know much about Nenshi's policies on these issues but I would suggest he not align himself with a truly self-righteous and ignorant bigot, who would rather ignore the social issues he is responsible for as Mayor of this City.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Toronto Sun calls two peace activists "Taliban supporters", noone blinks.

This letter, written by two Afghan-Canadian women peace activists, is circulating right now. I'm just going to reproduce the entire thing (I have permission). These two women are being really unfairly attacked by the media who have accused them of disrupting a Remembrance Day Moment of Silence, of being "Taliban supporters", of being "jihadists", and of symbolically sitting on the rights that veterans won them. According to the Toronto Sun, Canadian forces are the reason Afghan women have any rights at all and so basically these women should just sit down and shut up.

It should not be acceptable for any media to write such baseless and racist accusations. It should be especially unacceptable for activists to be targeted because they are women from a country in which Canada has a military stake. The Toronto Sun should prove what they've written about these two women or they should apologize and retract their statements.


The Afghan-Canadian women peace activists respond to false accusations in Toronto Sun article, “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead”

November 13, 2012
Written: Laila, Suraia Sahar

We, as two Afghan Canadian women, were present at the Remembrance Day ceremony with a banner in remembrance of Afghans murdered by the Canadian military operations. We were not responsible for the alleged disruption of the Moment of Silence as the news media falsely reported, which has censored and discredited our peace activism. From our account, we will provide an honest chronology of events that occurred minutes before and after the police-incited scuffle, recorded on November 11th at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto. There were also two other separate groups at this ceremony with banners, one promoting anti-fascism and the other promoting peace through non-violence. In total, there were three groups located at different parts and times around and outside of the ceremony.

The anti-fascist group began to chant slogans after the police aggressively confronted them and confiscated their banner. They were then pushed towards the sidewalk where we were silently holding our banner. As a matter of fact a elderly veteran chose to stand right beside us and shared no opposition to our message. As the group struggled to retain their banner while it was being crumbled, the police unexpectedly snatched ours. It was during this moment that a bystander began to video record this incident when we were shouting to have our banner back. It appears as if we were shouting for no reason other than to disrupt and provoke. However, in the start of the video, you can hear Laila saying “As an Afghan woman, you will not let me hold a sign. What freedom?” We were avoiding and preventing confrontation since the police had removed us earlier and threatened arrest before the ceremony began. Meanwhile, a mob of white, men escalated the incident when they branched out of the ceremony crowd towards the anti-fascists. They singled out one of them and began to physically attack him with punches to his head several times. At this point, we attempted to stop the violence being inflicted on this protester from his attackers. Once the attackers were pulled off, the police ordered us to leave in which we did and did not return.

We were unable to exercise our freedom of expression. We did not plan or cause any disruption to the Moment of Silence which can be proven by the fact that the memorial was on schedule. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the Toronto Sun and its Sun News Network has misrepresented us, such as the following:

1) A Toronto Sun columnist was tweeting us with accusations of being Left-wing Islamists. His followers tweeted us even more racist and islamphobic tweets as well as a threat. He did not condemn such explicit racism and islamophobia but participated in it. He also continued to bother us and another Twitter user to answer to his unprofessional questioning.

2) A Sun News Network host Michael Coren aired an interview uploaded by a YouTube user ridiculously titled “Remembrance Day with Islamic Jihadists”. This user falsely writes in the Description that we were “shouting jihad during a Moment of Silence” and associated us to Islamic Jihadists. In this program, Coren interviews a Sun News Network reporter who has the same opinion about the incident as him. This reporter uses the term Jihadist and suspects “enemy is within the midst.” The islamophobia is reinforced by Coren, he says that they are “many people within the Islamic community who do believe that no foreign troop should be on Islamic land.” Our anti-war activism is not about representing Islam, we are representing our own individual political positions. This tactic to criminalize a religion by the actions of a person who they would like to deem as representative of that religious community is an old, racist and popular media trick.

3) The November 12 feature article in Toronto Sun by columnist Joe Warmington titled “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead” was advertised on its websites front page in a banner titled “The ugly side of freedom.” The article wrongly attributes the entire disruption to us with no inclusion of our voice but a private e-mail from Suraia that was shared with them by their conservative media friends at NewsTalk 1010. The disturbing part of the article is the description under the photo of the scuffle, it baselessly states that we were the cause of this “chaos.” Another even disturbing false accusation is that we were “women supporting the Taliban¹s position” and are “Taliban sympathizers.” A tactic to censor anyone else in the future who publicly does not support the Canadian military in fear of being labelled a terrorist. Mr. Warmington’s article Comment Section is now full of closet-xenophobe-racist-sexists rampaging with threats and hate-speech, reinforced by the articles dishonest reporting. A comment demanded that we be water-boarded and stripped of our citizenship, this was liked 143 times - very telling of a so-called peacekeeping nation.

The ugly side of freedom is the state-run military spectacle supporting the NATO-led imperialist war and occupation in Afghanistan but parading as a false guilt-trip memorial for those who sacrificed to fight for “our” freedoms. Well, just in case you selectively forgot, your parade is and has always been on stolen, occupied, Native land - what about their freedoms to sovereignty and the Afghan peoples for self-determination? What about our freedom of speech which was infringed on when an officer called our message “trash” and “laughable.” We courageously endured a violent and racist crowd calling out: “go back to your country”, “kill more [Afghans]” and “we dont care about Afghans.” There is no real freedom or peace - it is a national myth - when cultural, economic, military and political imperialism is what maintains it.

After this protest, we have received strong love and support from reputable groups and individuals, thanks to the integrity we have built in our peace activism:

Im sorry for the hate you have to endure. Its a sad state of affairs when one is branded a “Taliban sympathizer” for remembering the innocents killed in a blatant act of aggression. You’re a brave person.
-B.H, US veteran served in Afghanistan

Stereotyping is a particular kind of failure, I know, but sadly nationhood is the language of the hour. There was a time when Canadians were rightly held throughout the world as a shining counterpoint to their rapacious cousins in England and America and I say that as an Englishman who has fought in US contrived wars. Can a culture really exist among that people in which committed young women – fine Afghan-Canadians, no less! – are pilloried and threatened for opposing the prevailing jingoism? If this is the case, then a people once thought plucky and stubborn in the face of power have been robbed of their enviable history of sheltering resisters and dissidents. If our idealistic Johnny Canuck has truly gone when the world cries out for his contribution, as it does lately, then it’s a bloody grim day for the rest of us
- Joe J. Glenton, UK veteran served in Afghanistan

“Seems people still continue to listen to the myths they believe about their country and military. Violence seems to be the standard with those racists.”
-A. B., York University alum

They weren’t engaging in any violence nor were they saying things like “fuck the troops” etc. You should realise that Remembrance Day is being used by many governments now that celebrate it to promote their war of aggression in other countries, and this should be spoken out against! If the governments really cared about these veterans they wouldn’t send more soldiers to die, no? And the entire point that Remembrance Day was created for was to realise what the soldiers went through and say NO to war, not to make more of it!
A.A, student University of Waterloo

The comments under [Toronto Sun’s] article just goes to show how unsafe it is for Muslim people here. And even worse, how the media reinforces hate by lying and manipulating what you guys actually did there….. that is terrible.
-A.R, student at University of Toronto

The image of the peaceful Canadian was always a myth, but at least it was based on a grain of truth - no doubt many Canadians aspired to live up to the mythical ideal. However, the facts of Canada’s colonial history through to the current evermore aggressive foreign policy regime disprove the myth. I do agree Joe that “Johnny Canuck” should fight for his soul - the mythical ideal of the peaceful Canadian should be pursued.
-M.K, York University professor

We gratefully thank those who stood by us with such love and support when mainstream news media began a shameless campaign singling out two, young, Afghan Canadian women peace activists to be wrongfully hated, threatened and abused. How can a nation be “liberating” Afghan women overseas when it is not protecting its own here? Now this is history to not be forgotten but remembered and honored.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Holding out for that Christmas Worm feeling.

Some people go bananas over Christmas. They decorate their houses, their cars, their workplaces. They listen to Christmas music and make Christmas themed treats. They have Christmas parties and wear ugly Christmas sweaters.

I like Christmas. I think it's a nice time of year (mainly because it coincides with breaks from school and work). I always look forward to spending time with my family, eating cookies, playing xbox, putting a tree up.  I also like many of the accoutrements of Christmas: the decorations and lights, the occasional snow. I live in Koreatown so I always look forward to the Tiger Lights going up, courtesy of the Koreatown B.I.A. Christmas is generally a time of year when people are feeling simultaneously stressed out to the max but also generous so it feels like people are less likely to push you out of their way or close a door in your face. Also, my oldest friend on the planet was born Christmas Day and I'm pretty sure that for the first few years of my conscious life I thought she was the reason we had Christmas at all.

So, I don't hate Christmas. I like it. That being said I also understand that many people do not like Christmas or don't celebrate the holiday for many different reasons. Even if you like Christmas it can still feel overwhelming and jarring at times, so I can imagine it must be hell on earth for people who don't celebrate Christmas or who don't like Christmas. As soon as the Halloween decorations come down the Christmas ones go up and we're all in for two months of non-stop cheery elves, drummer boys, and wrapping paper.  Christmastime (especially for the non-religious who are like "Jesus who?") is also unprecedented in its pressure to BUY ALL THE THINGS. Buy the things to show your family and friends you care, buy the things to show your partner how much you really love them, buy the things to make that person you like realize they like you too. If you don't buy all the things then noone will like you, everyone will think you're rude, and you are a cruel monster who doesn't understand the Spirit of Christmas. 

For all of these reasons when I read that Shoppers Drug Mart was going to hold off on the Christmas music for a few weeks I felt happy. Christmas music and decorations that pop up right after Halloween really bother me because it's like I just bought all the candy and the costumes and the decorations for spookytime, give me a break! It's hard to transition from blood and guts to baby jesus and peace on earth so a little time in between would be grand. Also, two months of Christmas music is too much, it's just too much. It seems that many people do not share my opinion. I decided to go over some of the comments on Shoppers' Facebook page (where they made their announcement) and I was shocked by the backlash (why would they announce it at all? Just don't play the music and noone will notice, right?).

Some commenters supported the decision, saying that it's respectful to wait until after Remembrance Day to "honour the vets" etc. Some people said "hurray, only one month of Christmas music, my ears thank you!" Some people were not so understanding. 

This person is angry because if Wal-Mart does it then everyone should. They think that the people who complained about the Christmas music should "remember" Christmas as a holiday with "good cheer, family time and warm memories." November is dreary enough, the music helps! This person clearly has no understanding of the fact that some people don't believe in Christmas but, also, that some people have bad memories of Christmas.

I was surprised at how many of the comments were angry because Christmas music is basically a natural phenomenon that God sent to earth to cheer us all up because we all LOVE Christmas. It doesn't seem to occur to some people that Christmas is not a thing for some people, or that some people may not have families, maybe they were abused at Christmas, maybe their parents died at Christmas. Christmas Cheer is not an innate human instinct, it's a learned thing and not everyone wants to experience it.  A lot of people threatened to take their business elsewhere: "I'm going to London Drugs!" "I'm going to Rexall!" It's like, really? Because you can't listen to music while you buy your tampons and toilet paper you're going to go buy them elsewhere? You need to hear Silent Night while you pick out the right suppository? It's a Drug Store, not a fancy Department store where you'll spend hours perusing. You go in, buy your conditioner and dental floss,and you get out.

Then of course we get into the racists. The racists who are like this is CANADA! Play our music! We are Canadians and Canadians love Christmas!! This person doesn't even have to elaborate when he bemoans the end of Canadian identity from his mobile device:

This next one I reported to Facebook for hate speech:

THAT race. That race insisting on praying to "Allah" but denying ALL christians the right to pray. That race is ruining Christmas and they're doing it because they are not Canadian. They are foreign and if they don't like Canada they can go back to the Pacific Ocean from whence they came. Like WTF. Really? First of all, race and religion are not the same thing. Second of all, you are a racist. A lot of religions don't celebrate Christmas. A lot of people who are religious don't celebrate Christmas. Blaming the decline of Christmas because of one "race's" insidious attack on Christianity is insane. Third of all, Madison Avenue is not in Canada so.. you know, your argument about this being Canada and all might not really work on that one.  This is insane, if this person exemplifies the Christmas spirit then the Christmas spirit is fuuucked up.

It's just truly bizarre to me that people will rant and rave about a few weeks of Christmas music. Who cares? Everywhere else is playing music, is it going to kill you to have one five minute reprieve from it a day? How often do these people go to Shoppers' anyways?

So people are nuts about Christmas. They will defend listening to Christmas music in every single store they shop in until they are blue in the face. People are racist. People are mean. People think that their customs should be everybody's customs. This last comment is my favorite: Christmas music gives us that worm feeling this time of the year and that worm feeling is really what Christmas is all about, right?

We should all take a cue from mystery Facebook commenter four, who in the midst of all this insanity took it upon herself to remind us all (from her mobile device) about what really matters, to remind us of the true symbol of peace on earth and the Christmas season: The Christmas Worm Feeling.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finally, a car just for women!

There are a lot of products on the market "just for women." Some of them are necessary such as, you know, tampons. Some of them are kind of necessary like just for women back packs that have a narrower strap so they don't pinch your side boob when you're hiking. The rest of "just for women" products are basically useless and exist to grab cash from women, who will apparently pay extra for something stamped with a flower or something that smells like a tropical rain forest under their armpits.

Some of my least favorite products for women include anti-perspirant (because you actually can't buy deodorant for women) which I wrote about here : "Because nobody wants to be with a girl who is careless about her underarm odor." The ad campaign for this particular product (which is a "motion sensor underarm anti perspirant) wanted to remind women how much they move by making them wear jingle bells on their wrists all day. Shudder.

There's also the new Bic for Women! A pen designed specifically for a woman. I haven't written about that at all, partly because I was away and partly because I was just like fuck that, I'm not writing about a pen for women.

Another product I can't stand are razors for women. In "Gillette: the choice of women, girls, and pedophiles everywhere" I looked at how this craze for women's products is starting younger and younger and how women's products mainly just capitalize on sexist fears around women's bodies. Hey, 12 year old girl, better shave those legs unless you want someone to think you re DISGUSTING. Right?

There are trillions of products for women that are pink. Pink computers, pink phones, pink headphones. You  name it, there's a pink one for the ladies. Superfluous, unnecessary, transparent, and sexist are basically all of the words that come to mind when I see any "for women" product and today I came across a new one: The new Honda She's, a car for women.


The website is in Japanese, so you'll have to use the translate function but here's the general gist of it: this is a car just for ladies. Ladies who don't work. Ladies who use their cars to jet off to the coast and buy flowers in their pink skirt. Ladies who want "adult-cute".

What are the special "women only" functions of the new Honda She's? Well She's' trim is all pink, pink stitching, it has a pink interior, but it can also be bought in 'eyeliner brown'.The really annoying thing about this car is that the windshield blocks 99% of UV rays and they've created a new AC system that is meant to improve air quality within the vehicle. Why would that possibly be annoying?  Air quality and UV rays in a car are serious issues but the Honda She's isn't interested in anything serious (how could She? She's a lady after all) and these new features are sold as being "anti-aging." Anti. Aging. Car. Apparently women don't care if the UV blocking windshield protects their skin or eyes, they'll buy it because they're told it will guard against premature wrinkling. And the new AC system isn't touted for its allergen decreasing, pollution halting filters but rather for "improving" your lovely porcelain skin.

If you want a pink car, that's great. Go buy yourself a car and get it in pink. Spend the extra cash and even get some pink trims if you feel like it. Cars are just like any other personal product and people want (and should be able to) customize them however they want. This isn't about pink. It's about how companies target women using sexist stereotypes about what women want. As a woman who drives a lot I don't want a car that everyone is going to stare at. When I used to have to drive in Northern Ontario on lonely isolated highways, surrounded by big trucks, I wouldn't have wanted to have a pink fucking car that looked like a blown up toy because that just seems unsafe to me.  I don't want a car with a sassy trim. I want a car that has a seat belt that doesn't cut my arm because I'm petite. I want a car that has an airbag that isn't going to cut my head off because I weigh under 120lbs. I would love a car that had an AC system that increased air quality and I would love a car that had UV protection in the windows, because those are things that everyone would want. Driving is serious. Being a driver is serious. Have a nice car, add some personality to it, but this ad campaign makes it seem like women drivers don't need safety features and also that they don't exist in the world of actual driving.

I have read pretty  much every review of the She's that's been written so far and not ONE of them mentions a single safety feature. Normally when a new car is released the reviews focus on the exciting aesthetic features, the comfort, the luxury but I have never read a car review that didn't mention a safety feature at all. This is why I don't like products for women. When you buy a car you should know everything about it. You should like how it looks, how it feels, and you should understand how it works and how it's going to keep you safe. Different cars are safe for different terrains. Some cars aren't good for certain areas. Some cars are designed for cities, some for country. If all of the reviews of this car (and the website) ignore the features of a car that would normally be selling points what it's saying is that women who are going to buy this car ONLY care what it looks like and in the world of cars that should never be encouraged. Buy this pink car because you're a lady and ladies love pink! All you need to know is that it's soooo cute!! Who cares about anything else? Caring about safety will give you wrinkles! Is the seatbelt actually just a silk ribbon that you can tie into a pretty bow? Maybe the airbag could just be a gigantic powder puff. Perfect!

Women are not children. A pink car for women, whatever. But a pink car for women that only publishes anti-aging features and trim colour infantilize women and sets a dangerous precedent not only for acceptable ways that companies can sell cars to women but the kinds of cars they can sell to women. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cathal Kelly and the Spectrum of Seriousness: Homophobia versus Sexism

In today's Toronto Star Cathal Kelly addresses Yunel Escobar's eye black gaffe. Escobar had the phrase "Tu ere maricon" into his eye black which is a Spanish phrase that can sometimes be interpreted as a homophobic slur.

It's pretty stupid, regardless of what Escobar meant, to write anything in his eye black that could be considered at all homophobic. There are a billion cameras taking your picture so maybe just keep the messages off the field. But no, Escobar did it and now he has to deal with the fall out.

Cathal Kelly is on a mission to educate us all about "how bad" this slur really is. Is it really so bad, he asks.  Yes, the phrase COULD mean "faggot" but it can also be an "effeminizing epithet" according to one of three Spanish professors Kelly approached. Some of the professors said that depending on the different cultural contexts the phrase could mean something different, but all agreed it was offensive. What Kelly seems to be insinuating is that there is a spectrum of offensiveness here that we need to understand: full on homophobia is OFFENSIVE where as a little jab about a man being like a lady is only a bit offensive.

That's bullshit.

I don't really know how many sports Cathal Kelly has played but the idea that calling a man a wuss, a "girl" is actually an insult to women is ridiculous. What are effeminate men? Fags. So telling someone they throw like a girl or that they're wimpy and prissy,is short hand for calling them a big fat homo. And even if Escobar wasn't using it as an outright homophobic slur(despite what the Cuban experts said about the cultural context of that phrase in Cuba, where Escobar is from) it's still offensive to belittle the physical prowess of women and it still calls into question a man's masculinity.

Let's deconstruct this phrase in very terms of basic sexist and homophobic assumptions that are not uncommon:

Women are weaker than men. They are bad at sports.
Men should be strong and naturally they are great at sports.
If a man is not good at sports he is not a real man, he is "less" than a man.
If a man is not a real man, he is more like a woman.
A man who is like a woman is gay.
Gay men are like women, they are weak and bad at sports and less than a real man.

How is this, as Kelly puts it, a "grey area?" It isn't grey, the language and context can vary but the phrase is always in bad taste and is at most extremely aggressive and offensive. Why is it not "on the dark side of the spectrum" to make a sexist remark?

Oh, I forgot that this article comes from someone who doesn't believe that women's boxing is a real sport because it's degrading to women's "nature." So I guess to someone like Kelly an offensive phrase about women isn't so bad on the spectrum(because they're probably true) and Escobar can be forgiven as long as he wasn't doing the worst thing of all: questioning the sacred realm of Masculinity.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Toronto will never solve the problem of gun violence

Last night The Agenda's topic was "Targeting Gun Violence", an appropriate topic after the several gun related tragedies Toronto has suffered this year and in years past.  The Danzig shooting this summer seemed to be the tipping point, prompting the Mayor to puff out his chest and demand that gangs stop terrorizing his city. "This is about gangs and gang violence" he said. "The criminals" were wrecking our fair city and we needed to use every legal means to curb the violence. One of his solutions was to "ban" people who are convicted of gun crimes, which I wrote about HERE and to make gang life "miserable." I don't believe that we can solve gun crimes by villainizing gang members, who are often people with so few options or resources that a gang is the only way to survive. I don't really think we can take a huge, complex issue and boil it down to a few bad gang apples ruining Toronto for everyone, which is what brings me back to The Agenda.

A show on "Targeting Gun Violence" could be interesting but when I went to the website to see who the guests would be I was annoyed but not surprised.
Here are the guests listed:
  • Bill Blair: Toronto Police Chief
  • Dr. Gary Slutkin: Founder and Executive, Cure Violence
  • Alvin Curling: Fmr Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
  • Peter Sloly: Deputy Chief, Toronto Police
  • John Sawdon: Executive Director, CTI Canadian Training Institute and Breaking the Cycle
  • Irvin Waller: Criminology Professor, University of Ottawa
  • Lekan Olawoye: Executive Director, For Youth Initiative
Every single one of these guests has a unique point of view on violence and many of them work directly with under serviced communities and have done work on reducing violence, they are all perfectly qualified guests for this show and I'd be interested in hearing what they all have to say. My issue with this list of guests is that the show didn't bother to find one single woman to pipe in.This isn't just about token women, it's about acknowledging the fact that women experience gun violence in different ways than men and their opinions and knowledge have to be taken into account in any discussion on gun violence and that there are innumerable qualified women who head organizations and write academic work on violence reduction.

So Rob Ford wants to ship out foreign gangsters who bring guns to our city and people claiming to want to get to the bottom of the issue ignore 50% of the population. These are two small reasons why we will never solve the issue of gun violence in Toronto. That may seem pessimistic but it's just honest. How can we attempt to solve such an enormously multifaceted problem when public discourse and policy are based on such simplistic ideologies? When it seems totally acceptable to only have men on a panel about gun violence? When we only view the issue from our little Toronto lens?

Somebody said to me yesterday that it was alright to just have men talk about gun violence because "men get shot more than women" and that women can't discuss guns without becoming hysterical. It is true that men are killed by guns more often than women, but that doesn't mean that women aren't killed by guns or hurt by them, threatened and coerced with them. And did men just drop out of the sky? No, men have mothers. Irregardless of who is being killed by guns, communities suffer afterwards. Mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, grandmothers may not be getting killed on the streets of Toronto by gangs as much as their husbands, partners, sons, brothers, and grandsons but that doesn't mean that gun violence doesn't touch their lives deeply. When we don't included women in the conversation around gun violence then we aren't serious about understanding the issue at all. Toronto is the home of so many anti-violence movements, including the United Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere(UMOVE) -- a presence at most anti-gun events and comprised of women who have lost their children to gun violence, amongst others. Internationally, organizations against gun violence have been primarily organized by women, such as the International Action Network on Small Arms.

We also can't just focus on gun violence as being gang related. If the issue of violence in Toronto is going to be truly addressed it has to be looked at as part of a bigger picture. Yes, gun violence on the streets of Toronto is a problem but it isn't disconnected from the culture of violence produces the men who are sexually assaulting women in our neighborhoods. It also isn't disconnected from the men who abuse their partners, who use their registered guns to intimidate and threaten them. Criminals are not just young, black men and the culture of crime and violence is pervasive.  The culture of masculinity and male privilege is something we have to address across the boards. How can we say we are dedicated to ending gun violence when our government has eradicated gun registry? The gun registry was developed specifically to address gun violence against women (read more here) so why is it being dropped? Because law-abiding citizens shouldn't have to register their guns? Because we trust the general population with their guns? It is based on the underlying assumption that the general, gun-owning population (read: white men) aren't going to use their guns for evil, that the "real" problem is the unregistered crime guns (read: black men). This is crazy. Violence against women and children happens at the hands of all men, regardless of their colour or class and if gun violence is an issue we actually want to start understanding we have to face this.

Not only did The Agenda program lack women but it lacked a true presence from the Toronto communities most affected. Lekan Olawoye, the  Executive Director of For Youth Initiative is an important voice for youth in under serviced areas but the program has two representatives from the Toronto Police, why not throw in some more community members?

Gun violence isn't just about gangs, criminals, bad boys. It's about systemic violence, discrimination, poverty, power and masculinity. It can't be solved with more police(because Toronto also seems to have a problem with police brutality). The Agenda seems like a small thing to be annoyed about, but it's an example of how we approach complicated issues in problematic ways.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Olympics and the spirit of sexism

The Olympics are interesting. Seeing the best athletes in the world compete is thrilling. For some reason during the Olympics people seem to feel that National boundaries slip away and the world comes together, which is kind of bizarre considering the athletes compete country vs. country. National pride during the Olympics is akin only to national pride during soccer tournaments, which can border on the absolutely insane. But people like to watch sports,and people like to have national pride so during the Olympics we have a healthy sense of cognitive dissonance and we pretend that the countries pitted against one another haven't fought wars, engaged in exploitative economic or political campaigns, or launched genocide.  The world has a lot of problems, so the Olympics is a nice distraction.

The one conflict we seem unable to give up during the Olympics is the gender war. The Olympics, more than sport general, is the battleground for gender as binary and only binary. Considering athletes bodies are put on a pedestal as better than normal, as beyond normal, as almost transcendent, people sure spend a lot of time trying to ensure that female athletes fit into a normative female gender framework. The most recent example of this is the Caster Semenya "scandal" in 2009. Semenya, a South African runner, a World Championship runner and gold medalist in the Commonwealth Games, improved her time on the 800m by a margin that made the IAAF(International Association of Athletics Federation) suspicious and when women improve vastly and quickly the first test that Officials do is the "Gender Test." In Semenya's case her gender testing was made public and she quickly became the target of intense scrutiny, sexism, racism, and moral panic. Semenya ended up withdrawing from competition for a period of time but was eventually "verified"as woman.

Here's the thing about gender testing, it isn't just a simple blood test or a peek under the skirt. gender testing today includes a trip to the gynecologist, endocrinologists, psychologists, and internal medicine specialists. All of this testing is extremely invasive physically and mentally not to mention it adheres to old and outdated considerations about gender. This testing reinforces the idea that there are two genders and that everything else is an anomaly that needs to be fixed. In fact, more recent scientific discovery about the genetic makeup of human beings has asserted that there are more than two genders and that, chromosomally and physiologically, the two gender model just doesn't work anymore. Ideas about gender, about femininity, have been used against women for centuries: your boobs are too small, your labia is too long, your clitoris is too big, your muscles are too manly, you have a mustache, you have internal testicles. This policing of femininity causes women to constantly be on guard, constantly defend themselves, or constantly be working to look more feminine; fuelling the billion dollar cosmetic/skinlightening/weightloss/plastic surgery industries. Considering we all grow out of the very same material, it makes sense that our bodies wouldn't be cookie cutter copies of "perfect genders"--which, by the way, have historical roots in colonialism, racism and slavery.  Women athletes have not only had to fight to participate in sport at all, but have had to battle stereotypes of women being incapable, too weak, of women athletes being unnatural, all to do what men are allowed to do naturally.

Unfortunately, the Olympics has a long and disturbing history with gender--up until 1992 gender testing was compulsory and once included female athletes derobing and being examined by an Olympic board in the nude to ensure their "female-ness". Apparently this comes from the fear that males will pretend to be women in an effort to win more medals for their nations. I think it's more likely that it stems from a fear that allowing women to be fully athletic undermines the carefully cultivated control over women's bodies, that if we accept that there is no such thing as "female" and "male" then we can no longer put men at the top of the hierarchy of strength.

It is with all of this in mind that I stumbled upon a surprisingly disturbing article in The Toronto Star yesterday."Some sports-like women's boxing- don't belong in the Olympics", written by Cathal Kelly. To be honest, I saw the headline and ignored it. Generally speaking when there are articles about a sport that shouldn't be in the Olympics it's because it hasn't been developed to a high enough level, there aren't enough competitors, or that there aren't enough interested spectators. When I actually read the article today I was surprised that it had made it into the Star's official coverage of the Olympics because it reads like an opinion piece. Kelly's premise is that women's boxing doesn't "belong" in the Olympics because watching women beat each other up is "distasteful" akin to "bear baiting and gander pulling."  Interesting, both of these examples are considered cruelty towards animals so... are two women boxing like two animals being pitted against one another? I'm so confused.

Kelly claims that once the women's match started the audience went silent  and "several thousand people were having a simultaneous internal ethical discussion, trying to figure out if it’s OK to enjoy watching women beat each other up."  Not only is it pretty presumptuous to assume you know what everyone else is thinking, but it's pretty telling that Kelly assumes those thousands of people are thinking what HE is thinking. I'm going to guess that somewhere in that gigantic crowd there were people enjoying the sport, cheering for the women, impressed by their skill, and not experiencing sexist tension around whether or not it's okay for them to watch two amazing athletes compete at a high level.

Kelly rips the "post-bout" drama of "one day old" women's boxing, comparing it to a Soap Opera. Has he ever watched men box? Men's boxing is all about the drama, it's about posturing and showmanship, it's about constructing rivalries. Only when it is two women boxing does a mainstay of the sport become catty and silly. Women's boxing, somehow, is "kitschy" and Kelly doesn't seem to recognize that it isn't a new sport at all, it's just new to the Olympics.

Kelly continues his embarrassing tirade: "If this is about inclusiveness, the International Olympic Committee will cave to the British male synchro swimming team that is lobbying for a spot in Rio. Since no one will watch guys in nose plugs doing pas de deux, the IOC is not going to cave. Some sports just don’t translate across the sexes, however long we hold our breath and wish for a perfect, genderless world."

Why doesn't synchronize swimming translate across the sexes? Most major synchronized swimming competitions allow men to compete and it makes no sense that no one would want to watch men in this sport when they already DO. Some people value the skill that synchro swimming demands, and those same skills have been valued in male gymnasts and male dancers. Ballet translates across the sexes, and hundreds of thousands of people watch men without nose plugs do a pas de deux  so why wouldn't they want to watch them in the Olympics?  Nobody is holding their breath, wishing for a perfect genderless world. Men being able to synchronize swim at the Olympics doesn't symbolize a "genderless world". People have desires and wants, they fight for the right to fulfill those desires and wants, and what we get is a more balanced world where people are just people doing what they like to do.

So, Kelly doesn't want to watch a sport that doesn't reinforce traditional gender roles. Watching women beat each other up is distasteful to him because women haven't traditionally been encouraged to beat each other up in the ring. Well, if Kelly wants to watch sports that only make sense in terms of gender maybe we should have child birth as a sport. Or rape. Maybe we could build a complex arena that simulates a city, fill it with predators, and have female "athletes" traverse it. Maybe women could compete in "who can change a diaper fastest"? Who can roll their hair in curlers the fastest?  I'm not trying to be facetious here, I just really want to point out where a statement like "women's boxing doesn't belong in the Olympics" comes from and what kinds of stereotypes it upholds and perpetuates. Just because something is accepted or traditional doesn't make it right or natural. It is only distasteful to watch women beat each other up in a culture that feminizes women as weak caregivers, who are innately more loving and nurturing than men, and that strength and aggression are unnatural. If you aren't a sexist, then watching two women compete at the highest level at their sport doesn't throw you into "ethical" turmoil.

What is truly distasteful is a white, privileged man assuming that he knows the thoughts of thousands of sports spectators. It is distasteful for a male journalist to devalue a sport that demands rigorous training and dedication, to relegate it to the realm of a circus act. Just because this is the first time women are boxing in the Olympics doesn't mean it's the first time these women have boxed at all. These women are world champions, they are incredible athletes, they are disciplined and focused and for some journalist sitting in the crowd to pompously proclaim their sport as garbage simply because of their gender is truly shocking. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Myths of Men and Women. Or: Myths of Men, because what they say about ladies is true.

Yesterday the Metro News published an article written by Julia West entitled "Myths of Men and Women: He said/She Said, How to overcome gender stereotypes in the office."

"Gender stereotypes can be a severe hindrance to your work", writes West. A stereotype is something commonly believed or accepted but that rarely reflects reality. Gender stereotyping can completely hinder your work and your career advancement because any decision based on a stereotype is defined as discrimination. In Canada, discrimination is illegal. It is illegal to discriminate against somebody based on something that should not factor into your decisions: race, religion, age, sex,gender, sexual orientation, ability. Discrimination violates the Ontario Human Rights Act, the right to be free of discrimination is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and most businesses have policies around discrimination at work.

When I read the first sentence of her article I was encouraged. I thought maybe it would outline processes around dealing with discrimination or solidarity building tools for workplaces.  I was wrong. I was very, very wrong.

What I thought I was about to read was something along these line: "gender discrimination still happens, it's a big problem, and it's bad. So, here's how to fight it."

What I actually read, was this: "[gender stereotypes] also distract from serious issues and affect a person's comfort level. "Women who unwittingly adhere to gender stereotypes are less likely to be taken seriously for their abilities and contributions."

The article is essentially a How To Guide on "Proving Stereotypes Wrong" and the first piece of advice to women is to from Brenda Fiala, a Strategy SVP at some company: "Be Excellent...Set for yourself an expectation of delivering excellent work, and strive to do it positively and consistently," she says. When you're a good employee it gets noticed, regardless of sex."

Oh really? How interesting! I guess that explains the pay equity gap : women just aren't as good as men at their jobs, which makes it an individual problem and not a systemic one. Problem Solved! Thanks lady!

 Another business lady/author adds to the advice:  "Your to contribute to the success of the business.  If you are not doing that first, you will be hard-pressed to blame gender discrimination."

That is because we live in a Meritocracy, a society in which the only thing holding us back is ourselves. If you are a dedicated, talented, hard worker than you will be rewarded and be successful. Right? Pull yourself up by your boot straps, get yourself off the ground, get back on the horse. We are supposed to be able to get what we want by working for it but, in reality, there are invisible(and not so invisible barriers) to our success. Sure, if you're a shitty employee you probably can't blame gender discrimination, but by definition discrimination is actions that are baseless and not informed by facts which is why discrimination is illegal. People realized that no matter how hard they worked, or how much better they were at their job than their colleagues, they weren't advancing. They were given more of the crappier work to do, got less recognition, less pay, and less opportunities for raises and promotions. That's because "being excellent" can't stop discrimination. Being an excellent worker, doing your job, "contributing to the success of the business" doesn't mean anything because the people who are evaluating you and who are in control of your well-being are only looking at one part of you, in this case they're only looking at the "woman" factor.

When Julia West writes "it's time to stop stereotypes in their track and move forward" she doesn't mean stop stereotyping, she means women need to stop being so stereotypical. "If there's a stereotype that you find offensive or degrading, simply don't perpetuate it." Resist your natural urge to gossip, because women are stereotyped as gossipy. "Maybe you know someone who insists that female bosses are moody or rash?" Well, in this case you shouldn't report them to your superior,you should prove them wrong by being "a strong leader by laying out expectations clearly and giving direct feedback." This advice isn't problematic because it's stupid, it's problematic because it assumes that stereotypes about women being bitchy, moody, irrational, and catty are true and that it's a woman's responsibility to "unlearn" these things. This flies in the face of decades of evidence that shows that certain groups of people are less likely to make equal pay, advance through promotion or salary raises, or even be offered job positions.  Individualizing a systemic issue doesn't stop gender discrimination, it allows it to become more entrenched because we ignore the true causes and effects of it. Acknowledging discrimination IS moving forward, what West and these other businesswomen have done is take a huge step backwards.

West's final piece of advice is about the "important of an appropriate wardrobe." No, seriously. If you want to be taken seriously, or as she puts it "a vital contributor to the company" you have to "look the part." Don't dress like you're "going out" you should dress in attired that you are comfortable in but that build confidence. "This doesn't mean dress like a man--it means keep it clean." Ohhh, I'm not making as much as my male colleague because I dress like I'm going to a club instead of going to work? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that most professional women have to deal with sexism so much that they are hyper vigilant about their business attire.

Women aren't discriminated against because they're naturally dumb shits and have historically proven that they can't work like men can. Women are discriminated against because they have been systemically oppressed and shut out of the public work sphere for centuries by institutions like the Church and State who benefit from having a group of people to do unpaid domestic labour.

That this article ran so nonchalantly in a paper with huge circulation is a testament to how ingrained sexism and gender discrimination still are.  Metro News should be ashamed that they ran something so insipid and uninformed, and Julia West should be ashamed that her name is on an article that sounds so ignorant.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Mayor is confused. This should be a Heritage Minute.

Wow, Rob Ford. Just, wow.

This is the most recent headline in Ford's continuous responding to the horrible shootings in the city:

I think I might be more confused that Ford is at this point. I don't even really know where to start, so I guess I'll just start at the beginning. Rob Ford announced his intention to explore the option of "banishing" convicted gang members from Toronto all together. This is very, very puzzling for many different reasons.

Immigration Laws. I'm not a legal expert by any means, but, immigration laws (by definition) deal with immigration and refugees. Canada regulates immigration under the umbrella of several "Acts" and "policy" including The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Citizenship Act and Regulations, and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Generally speaking, immigration and refugee matters are not automatically considered criminal matters. For instances of "crime" we have what is called the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Canadian Criminal Code,or (in terms Rob Ford can understand) Crime Laws. In Canada we have a Criminal Code, with "codifies" not only criminal offences in Canada but also the procedures to which the criminal justice system should adhere to. This is a handy code and it outlines for us criminal behaviour as well as punishment for criminal behaviours. Immigraton law is generally not included in the Criminal Code of Canada unless an immigrant breaks the law, however, things related to gang violence often are. One of the nice things about "justice" in Canada is that if you break the law and are caught, you will be penalized accordingly and after serving a sentence, fulfilling community service, or paying your fine you are no longer penalized(unless you are a dangerous offender or a sex-offender in which case your movements are monitored and the community you reside in are warned of your presence). Obviously this is theoretical, and we understand that the criminal justice system is not perfect and operates within the confines of human behaviour which includes racism, sexism, classism, stereotyping, discrimination, and all of those fun things that come with being part of this society. But, generally speaking, crimes belong to the Criminal Code, because other laws deal with with mainly procedure and definitions. 

Using Immigration Laws to deal with convicted gang members is not possible in Canada unless the gang member is an immigrant, a refugee, or an illegal. Even then, the Immigration Laws of Canada wouldn't be used to penalize (because that's what the Criminal Code is for). Immigration Law would more likely be used to ensure the proper procedures are followed and that the proper definitions are applied to the peoples in question. If an immigrant breaks the law in Canada, they're subject to the Canadian Criminal Code. It's really as simple as that.

To "banish" gang members from Toronto one would have to amend the Criminal Code to include "banishment" as a proper and allowable punishment for a crime. Considering our societal understanding of crime and punishment is that you do "your time" for a crime and then re-enter society with no lingering penalty, this seems like a very bizarre fantasy. I'm at a loss to understand how a politician doesn't understand not only the difference between Immigration laws and the Criminal Code of Canada, but also doesn't understand the process or procedure around amending laws. As well, that the Mayor of the largest city in Canada doesn't seem to grasp that Canadians have been guaranteed certain rights(whether or not these rights are always adhered to is, of course, a different debate). 

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines our rights as Canadians. Assuming that ``gang members`` are Canadians, they are also entitled to these rights. This includes Mobility Rights, the right to live anywhere in Canada. This also includes the right to be excluded from any cruel or unusual punishment if you are convicted of a crime.
In Canada we don`t currently use exile or banishment as a form of punishment, formally. In some instances, parole may entail that a person has to stay in a certain area but this usually isn't for the remainder of their lives. Sex offenders aren't supposed to live within a certain range of places where children or vulnerable people may live or congregate. So that would make banishment not only a very bizarre departure from how we as a society view punishment, but also it could be considered cruel or unusual.

Anyways, these are just logistics. I mean, they`re only how we structure our nation legally. What I find equally mind blowing is that Rob Ford wants to banish gang members to other municipalities. WHERE? To the Island of Misfit Toys? To Guantanamo Bay? To Amish Country? Is there a town somewhere that's like "send us your convicts!" No. There isn't. This is because every town, village, city, and municipality has their own convicts and they probably won't appreciate Toronto shipping theirs off to become someone else's issue. It's kind of just plain rude. 

By Ford's logic(I think, trying to understand what he means is a bit.. difficult)he wants to "use" immigration law to control the "migration" of criminals. What he doesn't seem to understand is that this does not fall under the purview of immigration law as we know it in Canada.  So.. does he wants to banish them to somewhere unpopulated? Or, to some kind of camp? It's all very bewildering and I'm not really quite sure how a grown man who is supposed to be charge of a City and understand politics can recover from this. He doesn't have a basic understanding of Canadian laws, policy, or procedure and that should probably be something one acquires after years and years of earning tax payer dollars.

As I wrote earlier today, I just really feel like Rob Ford is picturing a Hunger Games scenario in his brain and he's too afraid to just come out and say it. Unfortunately for Ford, this is "real life" and we have to abide by the "Laws" in place

Next thing we know we'll catch our Mayor engaged in some kind of otherworldy ritual, trying to banish evil from his city, and save us all from those "thugs." 

Gang Hunger Games: Problem Solved.

Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford seems to be losing grasp of the city. After the tragic shooting which resulted in the deaths of two young people this week, Ford went Reagan and declared a war on gangs. More specifically, he blamed gangs for the recent uptake in violence in our city. To quote
 Ford:  “We must use every legal means to make life for these thugs miserable, to put them behind bars, or to run them out of town. We will not rest until being a gang member is a miserable, undesirable life.

Most people who have studied gangs or gun violence will say that a prevalence of gangs often indicates deep poverty in an area,a lack of community services and resources, restricted access to education and well-paying jobs, and communities that have faced systemic and historical discrimination.  Many people would also agree that "being a gang member" is already a miserable and undesirable life because it's more often than not something you have very little choice about. 

The week before this terrible tragedy, Rob Ford voted against every one of the city's community development grants program, in some cases being the sole vote against them (including his brother, Councillor Doug Ford). Of particular interest is his vote against accepting federal money for a gang prevention program that would be free for the city. Many of the projects Ford voted against were explicitly designed with community safety in mind, including improving race relations and promoting community participation,the largest amount of funding was for programs that are focused on vulnerable,marginalized, and high risk communities.

Rob  Ford has mentioned his dislike of community programming and he doesn't seem to think that community programing and socially responsible education can curb gang violence. He told reporters:“Some people have suggested there is a gang war brewing. I don’t know if that’s true. But, I do know it’s time for us to declare war on these violent gangs.”

He doesn't know if it's true,he doesn't know what causes gang violence, but he DOES know that the appropriate response is a war on gangs. 

I think that Rob Ford is wrong. This is not the right response to violence, it does not address the deeply rooted systemic issues of racism and poverty, and it will not stop gangs or gang violence. Rob Ford has the perfect solution right in front of his face, and I suspect he secretly knows it but doesn't have the courage to put it forward.

Rob Ford, let me do it for you. Toronto's solution to all of these complex issues is very simple:


Gang members SHOULD go somewhere else, as Rob Ford so eloquently put it today, a gigantic stadium in which they will fight to the death for the entertainment of the rich and for the benefit of their district! It's so clear! I'm sure there will be some naysayers to this proposal, but let me break it down for you.

Toronto is already broken into "districts" if you think about it. Our neighborhoods have distinct boundaries and are generally divided by factors that would be important in choosing Hunger Games contestants: the poor, immigrant, and "minority" populations are pretty consistently stratified in different neighborhoods than the rich, white folk.

A lot of Toronto DISTRICTS are desperately in need of the basics of life: better access to affordable food, safety, a break from negative scrutiny. Putting these people in a situation where they can help their communities is exactly what Rob Ford is prescribing: a job is the best social program of all. Because this is real life and not a novel, we can proceed in ways that differ from the original Hunger Games. For instance, those who are in the lottery for participation should really be people who make under the Low Income Cut Off (which includes myself). This ensures that priority communities in Toronto are addressed and given something productive to do. It also ensures that people who already contribute to the city by being rich won't have to get their hands dirty.

The best thing about the Hunger Games is that it keeps people in line, which is exactly what this city needs. Contribute to the city, find a menial job even if it doesn't pay well or anything, tow the line, or else your district will be punished. Don't ship the gang members and poor people OUT, Mayor Ford,take advantage of them and ship them into a fanciful and intense fight for survival.

This also solves some of the cities issues with money. The elite will pay a great deal to view the Games! It will rejuvenate city pride and give people something to focus on besides politics and how bumbling the Mayor is. And we already have some great venues to hold the Games in: any of the new Pan Am games features, including the stadium; the Toronto Islands; any of the Universities or Colleges. Toronto is really the perfect place to stage a Hunger Games.

Finally, the Hunger Games will address this whole "making life miserable" thing. It will make those people value their lives, because obviously they don't right now(According to Mayor Ford). Life is too rosy for gang members and the poverty stricken in this city, and Hunger Games would really help them appreciate life.

I guess it isn't very politically "correct", but let's just call a spade a spade here. If Rob Ford wants the gang members to leave, if he doesn't want to support community programs that will address violence systemically, if he wants to make their lives miserable, then the Hunger Games is really the way to go.  Maybe the Low income cut off requirement for the Hunger Games would make people FINALLY pull themselves up from their bootstraps, get a job, and be productive members of society.

Problem solved, you're welcome Mayor Ford.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...