Tuesday, April 23, 2013

John Baird stop making it so easy

Today there was an article about foreign policy and Canada, which of course included a photo of the illustrious John Baird.

I couldn't help myself.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A little bit of "Third World", please.

Contributor: Tasia Alexopoulos

The Toronto Star ran a knee-jerk piece on the Temporary Foreign Workers program this morning. Written by Haroon Siddiqui, the article is an example of the critiques being levelled against the journalism industry right now. Zero research, bombastic argument, and stereotyping all thrown into one sloppy page filler: journalism!

In "Stop importing temporary foreign workers into Canada" Siddiqui makes a pretty bold argument with little to no evidence supporting it. Considering the ramifications of what he's suggesting, I think it deserves a second look. 

Third World? In Canada? Ew.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program, Siddiqui argues, has allowed the creation of a "Third World" in Canada. Let's just set aside for a moment that most people don't use the term "Third World" anymore, historically and politically the term isn't useful -- it describes a particular moment in time (the Cold War era) and its usage encourages stark black and white divisions. It's boring, it's not complex, and it completely ignores social and economic intricacies within nations. Actually, Siddiqui's article is a perfect demonstration of why the term isn't used as often anymore. What does it mean to  create a little "Third World" in Canada? Siddiqui doesn't bother to explain (journalism!) what these Third World conditions look like and he just repeats that jobs are being taken from Canadians and given to Temporary Foreign Workers.

Colloquially,  the term Third World is often used to describe   ‘underdeveloped’/over-exploited geopolitical entities, i.e. countries, regions, even continents; and to refer to oppressed nationalities from these world areas who are now resident in ‘developed’ First World" (Cheryl Johnson-Odim). So does Siddiqui mean that Canada is just letting in too many non-Canadians? Or, does he mean that the Program is creating Third World like conditions in Canada? Is he living in some kind of fantasy land where Canada is perfect? Is the introduction of too many "aliens" upsetting the precarious Canadian ecosystem? How about the fact that really shitty conditions already exist in Canada? Maybe Siddiqui hasn't heard this idea about a "Fourth World", a term applied to populations or areas that live in conditions that are sub-par to say the least, conditions that could be considered "Third World in the First World"(hierarchy, super fun). This is often used to discuss child poverty, under served neighborhoods in cities, Reserves, or certain rural areas. Conditions on Reserves and Northern communities, in particular, have been a source of humiliation for Canada on the international scene. Child poverty and well-being is not great for a "rich" country (recently rated 17 out of 29 in a UNICEF report). Women are still likely to make less than men in the same jobs, despite pay equity law. Labour casualization is rampant, which often means no benefits for workers and no job security. The number of working poor is rising. Are these conditions really made worse by Temporary Foreign Workers? If so, how? You can't just make crazy claims like this and not back them up.

All Siddiqui provides to support his claim is that there are too many jobs and too many unemployed Canadians and somehow that is Third World-ish. This seems to be the level of his rhetoric:

Mad, mad skills.

Siddiqui clearly did not do his research. I'm amazed this article crossed an Editors desk and they were like "yeah, sounds great buddy!" It's not great and it is riddled with inaccuracies. According to Siddiqui, Temporary Foreign Workers are "brought in ostensibly because of extensive skilled labour shortages" and he goes on to point out that of the approximate 338'000 TFWs in Canada, 44'745 are in accommodations and food services. He writes "That's your foreign worker pouring coffee at Tim Horton's, baking pizzas at Boston Pizza, making beds at some motel and tending to a senior citizen somewhere... How much skill do you need for such jobs?"

No. No. No. First of all, that is rude. Really? How much skill do you need for such jobs? Has Siddiqui ever worked in the service industry? Of course you need skill for those jobs. What, because those of us who work in the service industry aren't writing for illustrious The Toronto Star we aren't skilled? After reading Siddiqui's article I'd guess that journalists for the Toronto Star don't need skill, either.  Second, there are four different skill levels in the TFW program and those who work in the service industry are considered low-skill workers.

If the Toronto Star and Haroon Siddiqui were at all interested in accuracy they might have looked into the Program and discovered that workers are classified as Agricultural Workers, Live in Caregivers, Lower-skilled Occupations, and Higher Skilled Occupations.  So high skilled workers are not brought to Canada to serve pizza. These people are often highly skilled, many having University educations and professional training, but they are classified as low skilled workers because of the occupations available to them. The Program defines them as low or high skilled, but not all jobs are considered skilled as Siddiqui seems to be asserting.

He continues that "the real issue is that Canadians don’t want those jobs, certainly not at the wages on offer" and that the "skills shortage mantra is a bit of a scam." Give this guy some kind of big award, he just solved the mystery of the TFW Program! Investigative Journalism!  Hurray! Rounds of applause.

Really? Some Canadians don't want to work in certain jobs? This isn't a new thought and actually this is kind of the impetus for the Program to begin with. Some jobs are not desirable. Some jobs don't provide enough flexibility. Some jobs have exceptionally high turn over rates. Siddiqui writes that there are six jobless Canadians for every available job, but what about businesses that are desperate for workers? Let's take a step back from the Boston Pizzas and the RBCs. There are small businesses that depend on Temporary Foreign Workers and who pay them the same wages as Canadians. What does Siddiqui say to those people who would have to close their business without these workers? Well, he doesn't say anything because apparently journalism is all about presenting one side of an incredible complex and nuanced story. He says: Third World! They're taking our jobs! GRRRRR! Shut it down! 

Shut that shit down

What would be the best solution to the problem? As the headline reads: we should stop "importing" Temporary Foreign Workers,  "Ottawa should end the temporary worker program — forthwith — and forbid businesses from paying 15 per cent less to those already here."

That is stupid. I'm sorry, but it's just plain idiocy. You cannot shut down the TFW Program. The logistics alone are mind boggling. The businesses, the workers, what happens to everyone? They just.. leave? Who is going to pick your locally grown tomatoes in Leamington, Ontario(watch the film El Contrato, if you haven't already)?  What we can do is insist that the Program be less exploitative. What Siddiqui could have done was look at the historical, political, social and economic reasons for the existence of such a Program. He could consider the major question "who benefits?" Almost 400'000(documented) workers who have less rights than "Canadian" workers, who can be paid less, who can be housed poorly, who are extremely vulnerable to abuse, and who have very little chance of remaining permanently in Canada? That has to benefit someone. There is obviously a need for workers, skilled and otherwise, but there is a greater need for security and permanence. Make it harder to abuse the system. Yes, forbid businesses from paying foreign workers less money. Increase regulation. Inspect housing. Crack down on Agents who exploit vulnerable people for their own gain. Canada could go ahead and sign the The UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. In fact, Canada could be one of the first migrant-receiving State to sign the convention.

Canada shouldn't toss out the Program, it should realize what an incredible embarrassment it is and work to make it better and more equitable. Why are people coming to Canada to work uncertain jobs in potentially horrible conditions? As a nation, Canada has a hand in creating the circumstances in other countries that make it necessary for people to leave to find employment.

Stop being idiots, maybe.

In conclusion, the solution isn't to write some ill-researched and misleading article about shutting down a Program that can't be shut down. The solution is to be thoughtful. The solution is so think about how we can make human lives better, without penalizing them. Less sanctimonious bullshit, more careful consideration. Unfortunately, careful consideration is something that seems to be sorely lacking in the media.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The horrible reasons Jonathan Kay feels compelled to "explain" rape

Contributor: Tasia Alexopoulos

Jonathan Kay, Gender Expert Extraordinaire.
Jonathan Kay is a name I associate with many things: "feminist" is not one of them. This morning while I was scrolling through Twitter I was surprised to see that an article he had written about rape was being circulated by smart, feminist peoples. Unless I really want to subject myself to bigotry, idiocy, and a far-right politic that terrifies me I generally ignore Kay's work (this ban also applies to his mother, Barbara Kay).

"The many horrible reasons why men rape women"  encapsulates why I ignore Kay's work and why I think the National Post is ridiculous for giving him a platform. There is no point of his article, he is barely making an argument, and he's using anecdotal evidence to make sweeping generalizations about rape and sexual violence.

Apparently being at a famous party where someone was raped makes Jonathan Kay an expert on the issue. The infamous Zeta Psi assault was a galvanizing event and, certainly, an important moment on the Canadian political landscape in terms of how we understand and view assault. It raised questions about the culture of sexual violence and rape on campuses, the silencing of victims, and the shortcomings of the justice system.  It was not, however, an isolated incident nor are incidents like it uncommon today. What I find offensive about Kay's piece is that he refuses to contextualize this moment in time, he doesn't refer to any of the work done around it (including the personal voice of the woman he discusses who has written about her own experience), and he seems to think that having a cursory knowledge of it gives him a unique view on the general topic of sexual violence.

Careful to point out that the victim admitted she was "too drunk" to know how she arrived at the location of her assault but remembered details from the actual assault, Kay discusses how no charges were laid due to "questions about the reliability of the victim's recollections of that alcohol-soaked night. As well, according to Kay, "this was the era before cell phones and so there was no hard evidence." Does Jonathan Kay realize that there have been successful rape prosecutions without photo and video evidence? There are other kinds of evidence but at the time (and now) the most important evidence of all, a woman's own recollection of what happened, was ignored and discounted. Had Kay done any research at all on rape/assault cases he might see a distinct pattern of ignoring women's voices, invalidating them, claiming they were too drunk/too slutty/too scantily clad, accusations of story changes, improper collection of evidence, and police insensitivity when it comes to "proving" allegations of assault. It is never as simple as there not being "evidence" to support a charge. In fact, women's difficulties within the justice system was a keystone of this case but rather than even doing a cursory Google search or paying lip service to this Kay trusted that his own personal opinion and recollection was enough.

Kay goes on to discuss the motivations of the perpetrator (there were three and others watching, but he focuses on one). In the mind of the accused, what he did was a "sort of lurid sexual theatre for his pals," "he was quite giddy during the incident, acting as a sort of sexual emcee for the others... he'd treated the whole thing as a show and at the time seemed delighted by the attention." So, because a rapist is "giddy" during the act or enjoys the attention it garners him, he doesn't realize that what he is doing is wrong? Or that him appearing to enjoy himself means that the act is not really rape because it's not really about power or violence? I'm so confused. What appears to be a point is forming here, but it's so convoluted that I can barely understand it. The man, writes Kay, was not popular. Before he became "sexually infamous" everyone in the fraternity already knew that letting him in was a mistake, which he knew. Ok.. so does being unpopular make someone more likely to be become a violent gang rapist? Is that what he's getting at here?   As far as Kay "can tell" the motivation behind the rape wasn't sex or violence but was a "desperate attempt to bond with higher status peers through the collaborative humiliation of someone helpless." The collaborative humiliation of someone helpless sounds a lot like violence to me. Proving that one views women as objects also seems like violence to me, violence that stems from a culture that sustains itself on privilege and entitlement. What Kay doesn't seem to understand is that even if this guy was raping someone to make his frat brothers like him more it is still violence and still a wielding of power. It is a product of systemic misogyny and sexism. There are people who are actual experts on this type of thing, maybe Kay could have supplemented his bizarre expoundings upon the nature of rape with some actual facts.

Kay concludes with some ask and answer: "Is rape sex? Yes. Is it violence? Yes. A criminal pathology, a product of booze and incapacity, perversion, sadism, an expression of dominance, a bonding agent for mobs, a means for dumb men to climb within hierarchies of other dumb men? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Rape can be any twisted combination of those things, which is why the crime is so tragically common, and so difficult to eradicate. It is also why the concept of rape can’t be reduced to mere slogans about sex and power. It’s much more complicated than that."

Who is reducing the concept of rape to mere slogans? What is the point of this article?!?! And, actually, rape is not sex. Rape is rape. Sex is sex. Kay simultaneously borrows from feminist rhetoric on sexual violence while spitting on it, offering no solutions.

This coming from a man who publicly berated anyone who had the audacity to connect the Montreal Massacre with sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. Writing the Massacre off as having "no larger social or political message at play [as just a] horrible tragedy that symbolizes nothing more than our inability to prevent bad things from happening to good people," Kay not only tightened his blinders in terms of the power  of social inequalities but also did so at the expense of the women who were murdered that day by a man who was a self professed woman hater. Jonathan Kay is correct when he says this problem is complicated and difficult to eradicate but it's not because rape is a nuanced thing. If we refuse to target the root of the issue, the systemic sexism and misogyny that operate at every level of our society, then how can we ever hope to eradicate symptoms of such inequality?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bladerunner and the double edged sword of "disability"

Contributor: Tasia Alexopoulos

I'm not going to mince words: Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Let's just be honest for five minutes and admit that he most likely murdered her like tens of thousands of people murder their domestic partners every single day. Women are most likely to meet an untimely demise at the hands of their intimate partner, this is a fact. I imagine that pro athletes have an increased rate of domestic violence considering their predilection for certain hormonal treatments that increase their rage and control issues(testimony today revealed that Pistorius was allegedly shooting testosterone). Sure, maybe that's a generalization, but in a world where most women have experienced violence at the hands of a loved one I'm just going to go ahead and generalize away.

I just think it's bullshit that you'd wake up in the middle of the night, partner out of bed, sounds in the bathroom and think "oh my god, there's a burglar in the bathroom!" Don't you think that if you figured a burglar had broken in your first thought would be "where is my girlfriend? Is she in danger?" Not if you're the Blade Runner. If you're the Blade Runner you whip out your 9mm and shoot blindly into a closed, locked door. Then later on you sob about how sorry you are and how much you loved her. Well, you didn't love her enough to call out her name when you thought there was an intruder in your home.

The trajectory of the bullets showed the gun was fired pointing down and from a height which conflicts with Pistorius' account of shooting up at the mystery intruder from the ground because he was without his artificial legs. Because he wasn't on his legs he felt "vulnerable." When you're feeling vulnerable you shoot wildly into the night, not caring who you might hit with your errant bullets! This is where I think the case gets incredibly interesting: if Pistorius was an "able bodied" athlete would his defense be using the vulnerability argument? I just really don't think it would be the same if they were like "OJ Simpson was feeling so vulnerable you guys, he was so vulnerable he didn't even think of what he was doing!" "Chris Benoit and Mark Rogowski were just feeling so terrified!" No. We don't say those things in the media about "regular" men. We talk about their rage. Their anger. How uncontrollable they are. Those are masculine characteristics and after wading through report after report of men killing their partners I haven't found a single one that said he did it because he was scared she was a burglar. In fact, masculine passion use to be considered a viable defense in a case where a man killed his partner. Seriously.

It's ridiculous. Pistorius is a world class athlete. He ran at the Olympics. This guy is fitter and more confident than most people in the world. Feeling vulnerable in his gated community, in his mansion? That is crazy. It is absolutely insanely crazy. The only reason that the defense is saying he felt scared is because he is a double amputee. His defense is using Ableism to convince the world that he didn't murder his girlfriend. They're using the argument that he is suddenly "less than" to say that fear made him shoot without thinking. Despite the fact that, even without his artificial legs, Pistorius could probably take down a burglar they are telling the world that we should pity him.

Well, we shouldn't pity him. We shouldn't think of him any differently. He is a man accused of shooting his girlfriend to death while she sat on the toilet in their home. A more pertinent question would be: if Pistorius was really so paranoid of a burglar that he would shoot madly like that, what the fuck is wrong with him? Instead of being swayed by the vulnerability argument why don't we look at statistics, at the world, at every single piece of evidence that points to the fact that Pistorius probably killed his girlfriend as part of a larger pattern of domestic violence.  Let's not ignore that women are most unsafe in their own homes.  Guess what: dudes without legs are capable of domestic violence too and of murder, even murders of beautiful law students who deserved much better.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Girls are dumb and need instructions on how to enjoy everything.

Today the New York Rangers (that is a hockey team, in case any GIRLS are reading) posted an unfortunate article via twitter. A Girls Guide to Watching the Rangers was a little puff piece about how girls can pretend to enjoy sports, for the sake of the men around them because only men watch sports. No, really: "when having either guy friends, brothers, boyfriends or husbands in your life watching games in any sport becomes unavoidable." Besides this being a terribly written sentence, it's also really stupid. I get it, some ladies do not like sports. Sports are traditionally a "male" thing and this has more to do with gender stereotypes (and also historical laws that banned ladies from going into the public to do things like watch sports) than it does with being endowed at birth with some kind of magical appreciation for sports just because you have a penis. Some men do not enjoy sports,some women love sports, this whole idea of "girls" needing to learn about sports and how to be acceptable whilst spectating is just so boring.

The author, Mirna Mandil (how can it be offensive when it's written by a girl?! Girls can't do sexism!) came up with the idea for the piece after being at a house where football watching was taking place. The men, she says, were there for the game. The women women were there for the deep fried turkey.  She could have sat and watched the game, but she doesn't care about foot ball "nor does [she] pretend to." Faking an "alpha male obsession" is exhausting. But that isn't going to stop her from telling other girls how to pretend to like watching sports!

She goes on to say that the NHL lockout caused a lot of excitement in the "male world" and was comparable to either a "70% off sale" to ladies. So, to help ladies understand what the end of the lockout means she says we should think about how we would feel if "the premier of the newest season of Girls being delayed by months" and suddenly it's coming back!! Oh my God, I totally get it now(this is what girls and women are supposed to say at this point, but they don't because it's stupid). Even if you don't understand the game, you don't understand what's happening in your man's mind, and even if you're bored as shit watching hockey or football Mirna is going to "help you understand
obsession, enthusiasm and passion, and help you hold your own during game nights."

THANK YOU LADY! Girls, obviously, don't understand anything unless we can see it in Guide format and our learning potential increases exponentially when there are slide show photos involved.

I'm not going to go through every point she wrote and rip it to shreds, because the article was taken down and I think that's enough embarassment for her for one day. What I'm more interested in is this idea that women should "pretend" to like sports and should schedule their lives around men who like sports. Also, women do like sports, so probably we don't have to fake liking it. Women also "understand" things. It's like explaining how to breath. We have this basic instinctual capacity that allows us to interact with other humans in appropriate ways, mostly, and this allows us ladies to partake in a night of sports watching without having to do weird things like "ask all the right questions at the exact right moment."

In case you doubt the veracity of my claims, I copied the text and it's also still available here.

Living: you're doing it wrong!!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Good grief, more of this shit?

Sometimes the lack of actual thought in this world seriously baffles me. Yesterday the Huffington Post published an article about former MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who tweeted about the horrific gang rape in India. Dosanjh tweeted the following:

"Absurd 2blame female dress 4 rape. If men unable 2control penises, they shud have them removed

 He went on to say (the Huff Post didn't cite where he said this) that "Obviously this issue is much broader and wider than the Indian case. Usually men blame women for the way they dress and I just wanted to put it succinctly to show the absurdity of the position."

I agree with half of what Dosanjh says, the half about women not being responsible for their assaults. What I don't agree with, and what makes me incredibly angry, is that people are having emotional knee-jerk reactions to this rape and they're saying things that are not only untrue but completely dangerous to the progress women and men have made when it comes to perceptions of sexual assault. The Huffington Post's tweet about their own article called Dosanjh's statement "bold" and I saw multiple retweets that applauded his sentiment. I understand the impulse to wish harm upon rapists, I think it's natural and can be a really helpful coping mechanism. This is not what Dosanjh has done. This is not a bold tweet, it is an incredibly stupid and incredibly revealing tweet about how ignorant people can be.

He, like many others(especially those who have no been exposed to the daily and often extreme violence which victims of sexual assault survive), has decided to take a "stand" against sexual assault in the worst way possible. In an attempt to be "supportive" without educating himself about the issues of assault he has attributed the gang rape of the Delhi student, and all rape and sexual assault, to lust. It doesn't matter how many penises you castrate, rape and sexual assault have absolutely nothing to do with sexual desire, sexual impulses, or controlling either of those things. Rape and sexual assault are always about power and control. You can only be an ally, you can only be part of the solution, if you know what it is you're fighting against. We aren't fighting against men who can't control their dicks. We're fighting against the GLOBAL inequality of women that leads to men feeling entitled to the control and denigration of women's bodies. It's a fight against people wielding power and control over women, men, and children not for bodily pleasure but because they feel entitled to the position that inflicting that kind of hurt puts them in. Castrating a rapist doesn't address systemic inequality. Castrating a rapist doesn't take into account that his penis has nothing to do with the crime.

This specific instance of idiocy is a great example of the way reactions have been pouring out in the media, facebook, twitter etc about this case of rape.It is a horrible crime, unimaginable to some. But the fact is that for some people it is all too imaginable, and not just in India. The Huffington Post article goes on to say that it in India it is "common for women to be blamed for sexual assaults, which in turns means few report it to authorities. Those who do find police often do not take their cases seriously. Politicians and decision makers in India regularly suggest that women should not go out at night or wear "provocative" clothes."

This statement could be said for any country in the world, at any time. Remember how Slutwalk started? When a Toronto Police Officer told women not to dress like sluts if they didn't want to be raped? This isn't an uncommon sentiment and the idea that women "ask for it" is not a rare response to sexual assault. Not so long ago it was legal to rape your wife in Canada because the law recognized a woman's husband as her master. What about the Christie Pits groper this summer? What did the police tell us? They told us to be alert, dress a certain way, don't go out after a certain hour etc etc. Mayor Rob Ford's niece tweeted that women should not dress like a slut if they don't want to be groped.  All things women need to do to protect themselves and "not ask for it." Women in Canada and the U.S also don't report their rapes and assaults because, guess what? Cops often don't believe them and the trauma of having to try to get police to believe you is sometimes too much for someone to bear. It isn't as easy as going to the police station, reporting your rape, and the bad person goes away. You have to give statement after statement, you have to describe what you were wearing, how they took it off, how they hurt you. Then you have to do it all over again in court. Then your rapist gets like two years in prison. In a perfect world where racism, sexism, and classism didn't exist everyone would report their assaults. In a world where there is so much inequality and so much discrimination it makes perfect sense to me that people choose to keep their assaults out of the justice system. The justice system in Canada, the U.S,  and India all have one thing in common: they are not designed for the comfort and security of victims of assault and rape and they have all been built on sexist assumptions and stereotypes.

After the Delhi rape a woman was gang raped in Thunder Bay and left for dead. So where are the tweets about that from our politicians? Where is the outrage? How dare a former MP of BC tweet something so ill-informed about rape when he used to represent a province famous for the murder and rape of indigenous women, which was essentially allowed to continue for years because authorities didn't care about the victims? This is not support for rape victims. This is not support for progressive legislation. This is emotion unfocused and set upon a world that doesn't need any more muddled ideas about sexual violence.

So let's just stop it with the "things are so bad in India" thing because we all know things are just as bad here. Let's also stop going with our gut reaction: you may wish your rapist had his penis cut off to punish him, but the idea that castration could stop rape perpetuates misconceptions we can no longer afford. Let's stop applauding every man or politician who turns their noses up at the Indian Gang Rape and calls for change while they totally ignore all other violence against women, all over the world.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Because you can be anything Barbie can be!

Barbie is an interesting figure. Yes, she's weird and blonde and has a torturously perfect body but she's also come a very long way from the first Barbie. I won't lie, I played with Barbie as a child and our Barbies had a lot of outfits and accessories, cars and houses. It was fun to play with Barbie. Now Barbie has a lot of different careers, she comes in different colours (not sizes..), and so she's supposedly supposed to encourage young ladies everywhere to be whatever they want to be because if Barbie can, so can they.

Barbie, I'm sure, has had some questionable careers over the years but when I saw this certain career path I was a bit surprised. Apparently there is a "Splash and Spin Dolphin Trainer Barbie" available.

I guess I was surprised by the complete and total lack of subtlety involved. This isn't just like "hey kids, you can be a "Dr." or a "Lawyer" it's " look how much fun it is to be dolphin trainer!" A dolphin trainer? Who encourages their children to be dolphin trainers? I don't get it. I'll get to the morals and ethics of it later but first, let's look at the product details.  

"Your Daughter can Pretend to Be a Professional Dolphin Trainer." Your daughter can be pretend to be a dolphin trainer, but God help you if your boy wants to play with this toy. This thing is so geared towards girls:  "dolls and accessories let girls play out different roles and "try on" fabulous careers, including professional dolphin trainer."  Girls don't just get to pretend to be a dolphin trainer, they get to be "stylish" while they're at it: "Barbie doll knows how to make a fashion splash! She wears a sparkly pink wetsuit and matching pink flippers, so she always looks stylish while twirling in the water!"  And Barbie doesn't just "swim" with the "pretty pink dolphins" she spins with them too! "Girls will love playing out all the training..in the bathtub or pool!" 

The toy makes swimming with and training wild animals sound like so much fun, so safe, and so cuuuuuuuuute!!! In reality, dolphin training is just not cute at all. Dolphins, whales, and seals held in captivity for human entertainment are not "happy" nor are they even "cute" most of the time since they're usually sick, fatigued, and depressed. Maybe in the Product Details they should be more realistic: "Your daughter will love trying to force dolphins to come up for air while they're trying to commit suicide! Dolphins are voluntary breathers and often try to kill themselves by sinking to the bottom of the pool because they're so miserable so Barbie has an extra sparkly outfit for such occasions!!" "Your little girl will love withholding food from her animals to force them to do unnatural tricks on command so a corporation can make huge amounts of money!" Or, maybe "your daughter will have the time of her life escaping gigantic killer whales that try to hold Barbie under the water and kill her, then thrash her lifeless body around like a..doll!" Does this Barbie come with a kit for masturbating whales, which is essential for the perpetuation of the billion dollar breeding program for killer whales? Because if you're really seriously about letting your girl become a dolphin trainer she should probably be aware of the perks that will come with her "fabulous" new job.

Every single parent who buys their child this toy should have to sit through a mandatory viewing of "The Cove." Dolphins in captivity are often caught in the wild and a major source of captive dolphins are captured in Taiji, Japan during the annual dolphin slaughter. Animal "trainers" from around the world come to Taiji to pick out the "prettiest" and most show able specimens while they ignore the hideous and cruel slaughter around them.   It's annoying when toys reinforce gender stereotypes but it's more annoying when toys are encouraging children to enter a career by misrepresenting it. If Mattel were honest, this is what the Barbie Dolphin Trainer would really look like: 

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.
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