Friday, March 30, 2012

Thanks for nothing, Feminism!

 Yesterday Jenn Floyd Engel, Fox Sports Columnist wrote an article about how outraging it is that Tiger Woods' mistresses are writing a book about their sexual exploits with the golf superstar.

The super popularity of "socialites, the girls whose rise to fame started with a sex tape", "The Real Housewives", and mistresses is sending girls the wrong message about "what it is to be truly successful, truly powerful, truly famous."

I actually agree with Engel here. I think that being famous for nothing sends a bad message, but I tend to think that it's equally damaging for girls and boys -- boys, as much as girls, learn how to comport themselves through popular media. This is where our similarities end.

Engel seems to think that women have gotten to this point because of feminism. I could be wrong, but it just seems like Engel goes from making a feminist argument to a blame feminism argument really quickly and it doesn't really make sense because if you read the comments under her article she gets attacked constantly just because she's a woman writer.
"Long live feminism, baby" she writes after describing the many "career moves" that Tiger Woods' mistresses have made. To be perfectly honest though, I don't really think that  feminist culture produced the Howard Stern Mistress Beauty Pageant and I have to say that I don't know many feminists who consume Tiger Woods' themed pornography. In fact, I don't know many feminists or even any progressively minded human being that watches and enjoys Celebrity Rehab.

Engel thinks that the Rush Limbaugh "slut" controversy wasn't really about using the word slut but rather a reaction to Limbaugh saying it.  "Listen to how Bill Maher talked about Sarah Palin, or the lyrics to that Soulja Boy "Superman" song that plays at many arenas?" 

 At the same time that she recognizes how saturated with sexism popular culture is, she ignores the work that is being every single day to combat normative sexism. Despite what she says, the reaction to Limbaugh saying "slut" wasn't "disingenuous": after an organized, intelligent, and thoughtful campaign against the use of the world slut Limbaugh lost 58 advertisers from his radio show. This is exactly the kind of work that is happening all of the time, although usually it doesn't get any kind of media attention.

"What I am afraid this Tiger tale has done is reinforce for young girls that their chance of being famous is better sleeping with Tiger than being the Tiger of their chosen profession. There certainly is less vitriol hurled at the women sleeping with Tiger than say Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton or even a young female private citizen testifying before Congress about birth control."

Engel fails to mention that there are countless articles calling these women sluts and whores, they're not just handed golden goose eggs and being patted on the back. Where's the slut-shaming for Tiger? Who really cares that he cheated on his wife? It's not really anyone elses business, but he has sex with a bunch of different women and he's just a man? They're sluts and whores, but he's just Tiger Woods.

"Of course, young girls are confused....We are selling study hard, promise rings and you can be whatever you want and then talking about and watching and paying big bucks to girls who do otherwise."

This is what really got me.  Promise Rings? So, to be a successful and powerful woman you have to be chaste and adhere to the principals of heteronormativity? Give me a break. Young women are confused because they're told they have to save their bodies for the man they will marry some day and if they don't, they're sluts. Young women are confused because they're sluts for sleeping with more than one person, but the same behaviour is celebrated when men do it. Young women are confused because they're told that if they're good they'll be safe and happy but then they are gang raped and murdered. Young women are confused because they're told to speak their minds and then they're bullied or harassed for being too smart. Young women are confused because people who attack them rarely face punishment for their words or actions. Young women are confused because they're told their whole lives that strangers are dangerous, but then they're abused by their families or partners. Young women are confused because they are never taken seriously. Personally, I am confused as a young woman when I write a blog about something that has nothing to do with my profession(Women's Studies) and I receive comments like this:

Sexless, Joyless, Perpetually Offended, Resentful. Young women are confused because their hard work gets automatically slotted into these categories instead of considered thoughtfully. If you scroll through the comments under Engel's article you'll find a bunch accusing her of being a joyless, sexless creature as well - nobody escapes it and isn't that worse then some ladies writing a book about being mistresses to someone famous?

A 2011 study on National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. The numbers from the study were compared to statistics on smoking with jarring results: sexual assault and violence is more common, statistically, than smoking in the United States.

Paris Hilton and the Real Housewives of Beverley Hills are the least of young women's worries right now and if a certain writer was really so offended and morally outraged by these kinds of trends then maybe they would quit their job with the enormous corporation responsible for disseminating that garbage. Engel writes her article to "chicks only": her "team" needs some real talk because "we are still embarrassing ourselves." What I find embarrassing is that a writer with such a wonderful and wide-ranging platform would start to explore something interesting and then cop-out and make it a feminist bashing party.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ian Brown and the Case of "Casual Sensuality"

by: Tasia Alexopoulos


"Dorsal view. Glimpse of shiny skin between T-shirt and white gym shorts. Bending, over a window sill, in the act of tearing off leaves from a poplar outside."(Nabokov, Lolita)

After reading Ian Brown's column in the Globe and Mail, "Why men can't--and shouldn't--stop staring at women", I mainly just felt embarrassed for the author. Spring fever has inspired Brown to try to compose something 'sensual', honest, raw, and fundamentally masculine. Maybe he's been watching too much Mad Men and he's yearning for bygone years, but he doesn't seem to realize that very few (talented) authors in history have been able to really pull off this kind of writing without coming off like old perverts justifying their leering.

This sloppy essay probably seemed like a really sexy idea after a respective drink with each source of "research" Brown encountered; writing at his desk late at night, under lamplight, some kind of fancy scotch at hand but in the cold, hard light of day all illusions of grandeur are completely dispelled. Not only is this piece badly composed and unfocused, it's also completely boring.

We all know that some men stare at women. Women, especially, know this. It's creepy sometimes, scary other times, once in awhile it can be reciprocal, and it's always an every day occurrence. Most people also know, by now, that turning women into objects that need to be admired to survive is probably not ok. It's not surprising to me that a bunch of 50-60 year old upperclass professional men are sitting around waxing philosophical about staring at 20 year old asses, what surprises me is that Brown insists on painting all men with the same brush.

It's natural, all men do it, because no man can help it. Men are animals! And women should be flattered when men look at them because, as one charmer puts it:

"[men are always]only two clicks away from double penetration and other forms of pornographic nastiness, the act of merely looking at a girl who is naturally pretty – I mean, we should celebrate that.”

Can the Globe and Mail just casually print the term "double penetration"? Also, because there is a huge market for pornography and this married man can access any type of woman any time, women on the street should celebrate still being viable? This guy isn't making a good point, he's just pointing out that he's sleazy. He and Ian Brown want to convince the reader that all men are like them, but that just isn't true.

Brown's compatriot laments “the problem for us as men is that we're in the wrong culture, and we're men at the wrong time. We're not a culture that empowers men with casual sensuality.” What does being a man at the wrong time mean? Does it mean that you weren't alive during a time when women had no rights and, therefore, truly were objects? Does it mean a time when women were sexy secretaries and flight attendants? Casual sensuality exists, it just doesn't mean what these men think it does. Casual sensuality isn't blind to the conditions of the world because 'casual' and 'predatory' are two totally different things.

What Brown and these men(and lady) are doing is projecting their own wants and desires onto young, female bodies without considering how that human experiences the world. Women as works of art, women as flowers, women as trophies. It's not sexy and it's not sensual, it's gross and passé. Brown doesn't ask the young women that he's describing in such detail how they feel about his lechery, he doesn't ask their names or what their professions are because he's decided that the opinions of his male friends is more accurate and carries more weight.

What Brown is doing, I think, is most deftly demonstrated by Nabokov in Lolita. Nabokov's narrator describes in detail his voyeuristic experiences with young girls and women, and when his affections transfer to Dolores Haze(his Lolita) he completely erases her identity. Readers don't experience Dolores they experience Lolita, because the narrator can't enjoy his compulsion for young girls if they are humanized. The reader doesn't experience sexual assault or rape, kidnapping or abuse, the reader experiences the gratification and fruition of all of Humbert's sexual desires. Brown engages in this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric when he says things like "it's not as if they're hiding", "Ki's waitresses are brain-stopping, cleavage seems to be the prix fixe", or saying that the girls are so appealing because they are "free." How does he know they're free? He doesn't but any attempt to fill out this "free" girls' personality would effectively kill his fantasy.Brown and his fellow men discuss how the women they are staring down are the same ages as their daughters but that doesn't make them off-limits. How can men who have daughters be so disconnected from the experiences of young women? How can they care so little? So they accept and are completely fine with the idea that their daughters are some old man's Lolita? Really? That kind of mental disconnect just seems bizarre.

For all of these reasons I found Brown's article less infuriating and more humiliating. It makes me shudder to think of these men sitting at fancy restaurants and coffee bars enacting this manly, sexy shtick , throwing back their "manes", and revelling in their virility. Sad, fading masculinity, grasping at any and all vestiges of power that they can.

Ian Brown (and those like him) is not special or interesting and is no Vladimir Nabokov, but he is kind of a Humbert Humbert.

Friday, March 23, 2012

People want subways!!! SUBWAYS!!!!!

"Build a world-class city"

"Make Toronto a world class city"

Ever since Rob Ford became Mayor we've been hearing a lot about what it's going to take to make Toronto "world class": better and more efficient TTC(Ford Style), better garbage collection(Private), less strikes, no car tax, and less libraries.

Am I the only one who feels lost when people start pontificating about our world class city goal? I've been operating under the assumption that Toronto, despite our best efforts, is already a world class city. Am I missing something?

Toronto is small in comparison to some of the world's largest cities, but it's still the largest in Canada and that automatically gives it a boost. But it isn't just size that matters here, walking around the city in the summertime can be painful at times when you have to navigate around tourists cemented to the sidewalks taking photos or scouring their maps. If you can go a week without meeting someone who has moved to Toronto from elsewhere in the country, or the world, you might be living in a hole.

A world class city hosts events that invigorate the locals and attract people from all over the place. I'd say Toronto scores on this front as well. In both Winter and Summer you can usually find some sort of cultural, art, food, fitness, or environmental festival or event happening. This week alone you could go to a Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival,a Mussels and Wine Festival, exhibits at several Museums and Galleries, see an NHL or NBA game, A SuperCross Championship, attend a Black History Month event, get tickets to Musical Theatre, or go to the world Premiere of a new film. These are just a few of the listings at Toronto Tourism, and they don't even begin to describe the hundreds of shows, launches, and parties that are happening every single day in this city.

In June Toronto attracts what could be the highest number of tourists all year. Hotels are packed, restaurant and bar sales skyrocket, and the city gets sexy. Pride Week in Toronto is one of the biggest money weeks, and people from all over the world attend. It's been estimated that Pride events in 2011 attracted almost a million people. People also attend from all over Ontario-- people from every small town, from every medium sized town, even from other cities in Canada. Some people who are politicians in this city might not realize that Pride Week is one indicator that we have a world class city, probably because they've never been to a Pride event and are homophobes. *cough, Rob Ford, cough*

World class cities have Universities and Colleges, independent Education Centres, and a lot of different venues for exploring ideas and learning. Toronto has an unlimited amount of top notch educational shit. If I wanted to I could go learn how to pickle beets or make Ukrainian Easter Eggs tonite. I could learn how to do any imaginable thing that could possibly pop into my head, from fetishes to knitting. In September I could have gone to a Fetish Ball, tomorrow I could go to the nude beach, and the day after that I could go to any number of Churches in the city.

Toronto has about a billion Farmer's Markets and food related organizations. From Wychwood Barns to the St. Lawrence Market you can almost always(if you have the money and the time) have a chat with someone who actually grew or produced what you're buying. There is also food related activism happening in a lot of Toronto's under served neighborhoods. Most of us can find our specific cultural comfort food in different neighborhoods whether we be Greek, Ethiopian, Polish, Mexican, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino , or Indian. Toronto has some seriously great food and drink. There is an amazing locally produced scene, an appreciation for craft brews, some amazing fromageries, butchers, and a love for eating copious amounts of food in our myriad of beautiful parks.

We live in a world class city. It's undeniable. LRTS vs. Subways is not going to change the fact. Having efficient public transit will make our lives better of course, but it's not going to have a huge impact on what Toronto has to offer, which is everything.

I complain about this city a lot. Pretty much every single day I say "I hate Toronto, Toronto is the worst, Toronto sucks" but that's just because I live here. We all inevitably start to get annoyed with a place that we've lived too long in, but in all honestly Toronto is a wonderful city.

After a series of tantrums, name calling, and walking out on council our Mayor lost his biggest dream: Subways. If Mayor Ford really believed that subways were the right avenue for this city because he really believed we need it to be world class, maybe he should have spent his time in office gathering research and having studies done to prove WHY, instead of just threatening to hold his breath until he got what he wanted.

The one thing that is currently making Toronto sub par is our Mayor, who seems to know absolutely nothing about the city he claims to want to save, doesn't do the work necessary to accomplish the goals that he campaigned on, and consistently embarrasses us in the national media.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

As always, the media keeps it classy.

I really don't like the Huffington Post. I used to like it, because it was a good source of a lot of different kinds of news and non - news items from varied sources. Over the past while, though, it just seems like the Huff Post (and more so, Huff Post Canada) basically regurgitates stories from other news papers or websites without even bothering to re write. It's lazy journalism at best, especially in a time when so much of our mainstream media is homogeneous and owned by one corporation.

Today, the Huffington Post Canada Front Page really cemented my dislike:

Today, on International Women's Day of all days, they run a front page that demonizes a mother who has lost her child in the most horrifying of ways. They run Blatchford and Dimanno articles as though they are actual sources of news (they're comment pieces, which doesn't count), and sensationalize a day of testimony with a ridiculous headline like "Sins of the Mother".

Tori's Mom Bought Drugs at Home of Child's Killer!

Oxycontin Addiction!

It doesn't matter that the child was never introduced to either of the accused killers, or that testimony has showed her to be a content and happy child who was well taken care of. What matters is that her mother had a substance abuse issue which, according to the defense and to Dimanno and Blatchford, led to the circumstances which allowed her murder. The family moved to a cheaper house, a kilometer away from school, unlike their old home which was right across the street. Apparently, if you can't afford to live somewhere that you can see your child leave school and walk home you are a bad mother. Like, she spent all of her money on Oxycontin, so her child was murdered? That is just plain offensive. There are parents who sell their children for drugs. There are parents who put their children in dangerous situations to get drugs, do drugs, or sell them. Yes, this happens. But that is abuse, and if the defense is going to play this blame game then maybe they should back it up with a child abuse or neglect charge. You can't just insinuate that a mother is culpable for the death of her daughter and then be like "oh never mind." I hope that the jurors in this case ignore the character assassination and focus on the people who abducted this child. So, the murderer and rapist is less guilty because his victim's mom was addicted to Oxycontin? Is that the implication here? She didn't call the police right away when Tori didn't come home, so she is responsible? Guess what, a lot of people are very uncomfortable calling the police. Not to mention, when you do call the police they give you shit for not waiting longer before calling. It's really easy to sit behind a computer and judge the actions of someone else, especially a single mom. There probably isn't a group of people who are more easily stereotyped and demonized than single mothers--in fact, at one time, single mothers were the cause of every societal ill imaginable.

In 2010 there was a publication ban put on the details of this case and "reporters" like Rosie Dimanno went batshit crazy about it, but this is exactly why the judge saw fit to impose the ban in the first place. When anyone's life is under a microscope there will be scandalous details that come to light. There will always be bad things. I for one am glad that this family didn't have to endure these kinds of character attack all year because God knows that idiots like Blatchford and Dimanno have nothing better to do than blame a mother for the murder of her child to sell more newspapers, and the Huffington Post Canada has now proven that they are no better.
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