Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lefty humour

I have a class with an older white male professor who casually uses the word 'retarded' to describe ridiculous situations. I'm not sure why he uses this language, but it seems flippant, and without thought.

Often people on the left - particularly in academia - think that their humour, their irony, and their lack of concern with politically correct language is subversive. Perhaps this is because in academic circles it often is. Language is a powerful tool in both academia and the social realm but its specific uses have very different implications in these two worlds.

Words like genderfuck, land rape, sissy-boy ...etc disrupt dominant discourses in academia by make the reader purposefully uneasy. In a non-academic context, however, they can trigger deep emotional reactions, and can even give people the opposite reaction. This language can reaffirm the status quo.

This is a similar problem to the humour/comedy issue, with which I am sure you're acquainted. We've all been there... we're watching a comedy special on television and the comedian does impressions of people from diverse cultural/ethnic backgrounds. His impressions (because, let's be honest, it is normally a man) usually draw on problematic stereotypes. And here we are, white, middle (ish) class folks, laughing our asses off. We laugh because first, we are uncomfortable, second, we know that these stereotypes are false, and third, because we see the comedian drawing attention not only to the stereotypes, but highlighting how regular people often don't question the implications of these stereotypes. When a comedian says something outrageous about women, I am often laughing along. But now and then, the statements become more nuanced, less outrageous, less discernible from a real statement of the comedian's beliefs, and that is when I, and others like me, get uncomfortable.

The problem is that in every day conversations, most jokes of this nature is more nuanced, and less discernible from the teller's true beliefs. We are not being subversive by telling our wives that they belong in the kitchen, and we are not be subversive by drawing attention to our Jewish friends' noses or spending habits, and we are not being subversive by comparing a Black athlete to a gorilla. We are being sexist, xenophobic, and racist. This does not mean that we believe the things we are saying. It's just that our jokes are indiscernible from our actual beliefs.

On the other hand, if my husband tells me he wants me barefoot, pregnant, and scrubbing the floor on all fours, while breastfeeding and forfeiting my right to vote, I know that he is joking. But it is only in the context of our actual lives, in our own home, between the two of us, that this joke is understood as a joke. Online, where the world can see this 'joke' and does not understand the context in which it was originally spoken.

So, when my professor uses the word retarded to describe a frustrating or difficult concept, because I do not know him personally, this is problematic. When my neighbor calls the gay boy down the street a sissy boy in jest, because I do not know him personalty, I assume that he is saying it not in the subversive, empowering way that some queer folk may use the term, but rather I assume he is being deprecating.

And I hope that others on the left (or near the left) come to understand that just because you  meant it  in a certain way, does not mean that it is perceived in that way.

Here is an anecdote for you:

When VOMD and I were first dating I once told him to get the fuck out of my kitchen. I was clearly saying it jokingly, but it was clear only to me. We ended up having an argument, during which I came to realize that because we did not know each other well, and because of our own emotional baggage, this dismissive, abrasive language was taken as aggression, rather than a joke. I defended myself at first, and I continue to do it in this relationship. When I say something in jest that hurts VOMD's feelings, or makes him angry, I say "sorry, but I was just joking". What I should say is "sorry, that joke was not funny, and I should remember to take your feelings into consideration when I am speaking to you."

The lesson to be learned from my experience, within the intimacy of my marriage, is that when speaking with a complete stranger, "I was just joking" is not an excuse to hurt someone's feelings.

There are ways to fight for social justice without insulting already disenfranchised folks. Why is it that so few comedians do impressions of upper/middle class white folks? Where are all the jokes about WASP men? Why is your Black/Jewish/Woman joke the only way that you feel you can draw attention to racism and gender inequality?

Stop defending your poor use of language against the people that this language hurts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The politics of fear; and harnessing fear in the fight against Trump (and racist, sexist patriarchy, more generally)

I don't know who said it, but there is a popular (ish) saying that goes: "Fear is a powerful motivator."

This is very clearly the case. Fear motivates us to hold our children, family, and friends close. It motivates us to save our money for a rainy day, to give our animal and human family members vaccinations to protect them from diseases...

But it can also motivate more dangerous emotions. When faced with someone or something that we do not understand we often immediately fear...and when we are unable to get beyond our fear to a proper understanding of the other, we are lead to hate. Fear can make us to hate. And hate is terrifyingly more powerful than fear.

I'm not saying that we should not hate. There are many things - mostly ideas or actions - that we should continue to hate. I hate racism, sexism, Islamaphobia, speciesism, violence, gender norms, homophobia...

In my fear for those who are victimized by Trump and his supporters, I became angry and hateful towards all those who voted for Trump, or who supported the Conservative party in Canada's most recent election.  In my anger I decided to hate...not just ideas, and actions...but people..often ignorant, uneducated people who may not understand the implications of their support for Trump of Harper. During the past week I have seen others take this turn. The world that I know has erupted into a mess of shit slinging in all directions, from the left and the right. People are terrified, and the mass media and social media are allowing for this fear to descend into anger, resentment, and violence (verbal and physical) in a way that I have never experienced. I was too young to give a shit when Al Gore lost to GW Bush, but I know that there was probably similar outrage.

And some of us are hurting each other, and losing sight of the big picture in our terror.

This past week I have seen images depicting violence against visible minorities and women in the name of Donald Trump. I have seen young people cry trying to understand why our world is such a shitty place.

I can imagine that this week is just the beginning. Judging by my conversations with friends, family, and strangers, the fear is very real. And very powerful.

But it is not entirely unproductive.

Women across North America are organizing and harnessing their terror and demonstrating against the the fear turned hate of the radical right. Sons and daughters of immigrants are joining together with queer and trans folks to take a stand against the violence being perpetrated against them. Where the radical white right wing fear of the other has led them to hate those who they see as invaders, the invaders - feminists, people from diverse backgrounds, LGBTQ+++ folks - are taking an opposing, though not opposite approach. They/we fear the hate, and as such we hate the hate, and we are harnessing our collective otherness to fight it.

How are we/can we continue to do this? How can you get involved?

Consider these options (some of these are taken from a Facebook post by some women on the left who are committed to the fight against Trump):

1) Donate to the following organizations:
American Civil Liberties Union
Sea Sheppherd
20 Feminist Organizations…/20-womens-organizat…
2) Learn how to practice compassion and model it for your kids…/about…/why-cultivate-compassion/
3) Write An Op-Ed For Your Local Newspaper <--- teaches you HOW to write an Op-Ed
4) Have an impact on the economy by boycotting big businesses, and in particular those owned by Trump and his buddies.
5) It might sound vague, but 

In solidarity, and with love,


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The aftermath

I'm so sorry. I'm sorry that we were so cocky. I'm sorry it took too long for us to take Trump seriously. I'm sorry that a sexual predator, child rapist, and woman beater is the President Elect of the United States.

I'm sorry for my queer, trans, and visible minority friends in the United States (and everywhere else). I know that many of you, and your family and friends, are in the streets right now. I am proud that you are fighting this. But I am also scared for you.

I can't do much from over here. But what I can do is take a stand with my dollars.

I will no longer purchase American made goods.

I don't know what else to do, or to say.

Stay strong. Keep fighting. Demand change.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

American Election 2016

Tonight we will know for sure who will run America for the next four years. I have a few thoughts on that, though they are not all entirely connected.

I suppose some of us might feel like we already know who has won. The choice is clear to us. Either a politician who supports big business and capitalist enterprises that disenfranchise the third world, and perpetuate systemic inequality in North America and beyond, or a business man who does exactly that, but is also probably a rapist and a child sex offender. If given the choice myself, I would of course stand with the victims of violence.

At the same time, it is troubling that numerous republican commentators and outspoken advocates for Mitt Romney, and George Bush before him, are now proud supporters of Hillary Clinton. It is only right that we will recognize the inhumanity of the alternative option, but is it not telling that Clinton is so far from left that the right embraces her as their candidate as well? I'm not saying vote for a third party candidate this election... Unfortunately we all know how that might end up. But I am saying that we should be concerned that both candidates in this election are essentially republican, even if one is dressed in democrat's clothing. That said, I hope that a woman beats a woman beater this time around...

But, whoever wins the election, it is clear that this year, the white, upper capitalist class, patriarchy won this year. And they keep on winning. It doesn't matter what face they wear, they have still won. And they win because every four years we become suddenly interested in politics, while the rest of the time we sit silently as rich white men make decisions that affect the whole world. This is not only true of the United States. Canada is equally implicated in this phenomenon.

There are a number of brilliant, outraged, and passionate people who continue to rage against the machine year long, term long, never ceasing. But there are too few. There are too few of us who write letters to our government, who make phone calls, who stand on the streets, who protest, who break things that need breaking and fix things that need to be fixed.

We should, perhaps, take the water protector's example and see that politics is bigger than an election. It is about the real lives of people and peoples. It is about the way that we live together, among ourselves and with the land.

I don't know what more to say.

If you are in America, and you are scared about the outcome of this election, know that, for what it's worth, I, and many others here in Canada and elsewhere in the world, stand with you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Being Married

So, VOMD and I have been married for precisely 30 days, and I have to say that we are officially marriage experts who have it ALL figured out...

Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration.

There is this myth that the media shows us that marriage is the happily ever after, the end of the line, the happy ending, the conclusion. But once you get married you quickly begin to realize that marriage is just the beginning of a whole new story that comes with its own trials and tribulations. VOMD and I are working to become better partners, more supportive of one another, more open to each other's views and opinions, and hopes and dreams. But being married didn't magically make us experts.

So, here are some lessons that I've learned since getting married.

1. Things that you (or your partner) did to one another before you were married, and things that you said will be excused by the statement "yeah, but we weren't married yet back then". This can be very frustrating on the receiving end.

2. You will not suddenly become comfortable with your partner's bodily functions, but they may feel like you should be and leave the door open while pooping in the morning or suggest that you pee while they brush their teeth.

3. You will not stop fighting, but half way through a fight it will not be uncommon to start thinking to yourself why the hell are we fighting? this is so stupid...I should just say sorry....we're married after all.. That being said, thinking that and actually saying it and ending the fight are two different stories.

4. The things that you got as wedding gifts may become sacred objects...and putting those nice shiny forks and knives in the dishwasher, or leaving the coffee grinds in the coffee pot become taboo.

5. Conversations about the future stop being magical and become pragmatic - you can no longer casually suggest that you may want to live on the other side of the world for a year without expecting a long and drawn out discussion of the implications and practicability of that proposition.

6. Really mundane things like watching your partner cook, clean or cuddle your animal friends become incredibly sexy in a way they never were before. Perhaps this is because your biological clock is ticking and you link these activities with their potential ability to be a good parent...

7. EVERYONE will begin asking you when you're going to have babies. Even if you want babies, like VOMD and I, it can become incredibly frustrating.

Altogether, being married has so far been a great experience. I love VOMD more with every day, and in totally new and unexpected ways. I am learning to love the things about him that I would have liked to change before we got married - like his insistence on taking his pants off in the hallway, or his unwillingness to put the toilet seat down because, in his words "it's not my responsibility to make sure you don't fall in the toilet when you get up to pee in the middle of the night"!

Happy Monday,


Monday, September 19, 2016

Why I don't mind that my husband is not a feminist

The problem with being a feminist is that everyone seems to have an opinion about what being a feminist entails. When a contemporary feminist icon like Nikki Minaj tries to distances herself from feminism, while maintaining that she is a “woman who wants other women to be bosses and to be strong and to be go-getters,” feminism becomes murky water indeed.  Groups like Women Against Men claiming that feminism is a hate group, an idea that unfortunately permeates much of society, doesn’t help either.

An article in the Huff last year, by Hannah McAtenmey, claims “There is no sitting on the fence. You are either a feminist or sexist.” This is a such an unfortunate perspective because it potentially alienates a large proportion of people, who will likely never call themselves feminists, yet are strong advocates for the rights of women. I’m no coward, but I do believe that you can be a feminist in some circles and an advocate of equality in others. And I also believe that being a non-feminist does not make you a sexist. There are very legitimate reasons to take issue with feminism - particularly the white middle class feminism for which people like McAtenmey advocate.

When I first met my husband we had some very complicated discussions about the concept of feminism. He asked me “if it really is about equality of the sexes, why is is called feminism?” His question would have been a very good one, were we not living  in a society that is still struggling to overcome the historical baggage of female subjugation, and were we not living in a society where men and women are still so far from being equal. Recently he mentioned to me that he learned that the wage gap between men and women is a startling 27%. This is not so startling to a woman in academia, who is constantly struggling for legitimacy among her largely male colleagues, but being a man who has worked in the trades for most of his life, where most people start off with the same wage, and female applicants are uncommon, women and men making different rates for the same work never crossed his mind. Now he is heading into a degree in computer game development, and he is for the first time being faced with questions of inequity and inequality in the workplace and in academics. This is how feminists are made. But it is very unlikely that my husband will ever call himself a feminist. Like Minaj says, some words just “box you in”, and try as I might, I will probably never convince my husband to embrace the term. But the concepts, those are easy to grasp once you do some research, and once you give the facts some genuine thought.  

I do not wish to distance myself from feminism, and in fact will continue to proudly associate myself with a movement that seeks equality for all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and class. But as an intersectional feminist I have begun to recognize that the term feminism may also carry with it a lot of cultural baggage from the Western World, and there are many strong female writers from across the globe who decline to associate themselves with feminism largely because they feel the term erases their particular struggles.  

For example, Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta says: “I will not be called a feminist...because it is European. It is as simple as that… I do believe in the African type of feminism. They call is womanism…” What Emecheta is trying to explain is that Western Europeans and North Americans do not share the same experiences of women from Africa. Our experiences are not universal, so the words that we use to describe our struggles may not be universal either.

As Western feminists we can have a tendency to think our values are universal. We can get bogged down in our own experience of the world. Whether we do this by claiming that any person who is not a feminist is a sexist, or by insisting that women in Africa care about the same struggles as us, we are creating a situation that alienates our potential allies.

Does it weaken the movement that a large proportion of the ‘feministic’ population will likely never call themselves feminists? I don’t think so. Whether you call yourself a feminist or not, if you believe that women should be raised up in our society, and that there are certain accommodations that women deserve based on their sex in order to level the playing field of business, academics, politics etc. then your position is a feminist one. I don’t mind that my husband isn’t a feminist, because I recognize that my understanding of feminism is not universal.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Why are you getting your PhD (or: What will you do with a PhD in the Liberal Arts?)

I get asked this question almost every time I tell someone that I am getting my PhD. Honestly, it even happens when I talk to other people who are on their way towards their PhD, or who have one already. Academia is becoming increasingly precarious, with a large proportion of people with PhD working outside of the University or travelling over seas to teach or do research in the Middle East or Europe.

I don't want to live in another country. And I really don't want to do policy work or work for a think tank. So, what the hell am I getting a PhD for?

There are very few things that one can "do" with a doctorate in my field. My PhD work will focus on issues of gender and the development and reinforcement of gender norms through popular culture and media - particularly children's media. It will question why, for some reason, people always assume that Blue from Blue's Clues is a boy (even through it's a female dog, y'all), and how it is that children come to recognize themselves and others as male or female based on the clothing they wear, the length of their hair, and the activities in which they participate.

 I don't see the task of pursuing a PhD as being about engrossing myself in an ivory tower-like atmosphere. I actually hate the ivory tower metaphor. It implies that all academics are disconnected from the practical aspects of life. The majority of academics I have met are deeply invested in real world problems and are working their asses off to come up with solutions. My own research is also about the real world. There is also a myth circulating that people who pursue higher education are unprepared for "real life", but that is an absolute absurdity. My friends getting their PhDs come from so many backgrounds. Some are parents; some are retired people seeking new challenges; some are refugees seeking a better life; most have worked and continue to work in the "real world"; most have a vested interest in finding solutions to problems that impact all of us because their lived experiences inform their research.

So, I plan to spend the next 4-6 years of my life immersing myself in gender and cultural theory, and even if I don't come out of this degree with epic career prospects, I will have spent those 4-6 years doing something that I love, which is more than I can say for the many, many people I know who are miserable at their jobs. I will do research that matters to me, I will learn, I will soul-search. I will grow. Or I guess I might fail.

Could I do this type of research, learning, and soul-searching without going to university? Maybe. But doing this work in a university setting provides me with a support system and a relatively stable (if somewhat low) level of income on which I can rely. Will it be a waste of time? Perhaps, by some people's standards. But for me, hell no. Even if I fail. This is going to be such a fun ride.

Happy Monday!