February 4, 2016 § 2 Comments
Yesterday, one of my alma maters, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, sent out a video from Facilities about #NationalSweaterDay, which is a Canadian initiative to turn down the heat in the winter, to remind consumers about environmental responsibility (and the cost of heating). The video itself is several years old, but it was circulated again.
To my eyes, this is horrible. A female professor is named “Pinkums” and is addressed as “Miss.” I know from conversation with my female colleagues that they have a real struggle to be addressed as Doctor, or Professor. Oddly I, as a white man, do not. And, frankly, this video is degrading.
News of the video became widely known through the blog of Elise Chenier, a professor at SFU. I was appalled when I came across this and tweeted my shock and dismay at SFU. No university should engage in this. Ever. To the credit of the university, it apologized almost immediately. And the video had long been pulled from circulation. According to the CBC:
SFU vice-president for external relations Joanne Curry later released a statement addressing some of Chenier’s concerns. In the statement, Curry agrees the videos were “inappropriate, sexist, and not in keeping with our equity commitments.”
“As the video was produced by an external vendor, I had not seen it. When I did watch it, I immediately agreed with the feedback we had received,” the statement read.
“We took steps to remove the video as quickly as possible and have followed up with the group who produced and distributed the video to ensure it will no longer be used.”
Note, however, that Curry immediately passes by buck, noting that it was made by an external vendor. But, the university did the right thing, as Chenier notes.
Today, I awoke to find my Twitter feed aflame with trolls. Interestingly, all but two were men. The two women both noted they were “anti-feminist” in their bios. Getting trolled on Twitter is nothing new. It has happened before, it will happen again. I have received all kinds of hate on Twitter, including death threats. But today’s trolling was interesting in the sense that the men, all of whom were white, who attacked me descended into homophobia from the get go. Some hoped I got raped, others told me to perform sexual acts on other men. One threatened to rape me. And then there was the garden variety name-calling.
I spent a good amount of time blocking and reporting people today, thinking that this happens everyday to feminists on Twitter. I can only imagine the abuse Chenier is getting right now. There was #Gamergate. Or what about when women suggested that a woman’s face be put on paper money in the UK? This happens every, single, fucking day to women who are threatened with rape and death for calling out patriarchy and male privilege. And we let that happen. Every single one of us. Right-thinking men, in particular. We need to find a way to fix this, we need to figure out a way to marginalize these kinds of men, or the likes of Roosh V. This is not ok.
MLK noted that the problem African Americans in his time faced wasn’t actually an African American problem. It was a white problem. Hence, he worked to raise white consciousness. To convince white people they were the problem and had it in their power to fix racism. By no means have we succeeded, but we have made a lot of progress.
Misogyny and sexism, similarly, is a male problem. But, it seems that sexism and misogyny is considered acceptable for some men. When people are offended by things like the SFU video, they respond with banal statements like “Can’t you take a joke?” Yes, I can. But this isn’t funny. This is the basic laddish response. But then there’s the anger, the violent, misogynist, threatening anger.
Male anger needs to be curbed.
But as much as I want this kind of thing stopped, I still struggle with the basic question of why some men act like this? Is it simply about power? Is it because they feel marginalized? Why do some men feel the need to respond to feminism with vile, disgusting language? And in some of these men, I think it goes beyond words and there is a danger in their threats and fits.
Sadly, I fully expect more trolling in response to this post. The trolling will continue on Twitter. And there will be some nasty comments left on this blog.
February 6, 2015 § 2 Comments
I watched The Punk Singer, the documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the frontwoman of the Riot Grrrl band, Bikini Kill, as well as Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, the other night. Hanna was, essentially, the founder of the Riot Grrrl movement back in 1992; she wrote the Riot Grrrl Manifesto. I’ve always been a fan, and I remember going to Bikini Kill shows back in the day. Hanna would insist the boys move to the back of the crowd and the girls come down to the front. And we listened to her. She was an intimidating presence on a stage. The girls came down front so they could dance and mosh and not get beaten to a pulp by the boys. Early 90s mosh pits were violent places, and they got worse as they got invaded by the jocks after Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and a few other bands went mainstream. Bikini Kill never did, but their shows, as well as those of L7 and Babes in Toyland, still attracted these wider audiences, at least the gigs I went to. Hanna and Bikini Kill were unabashedly feminist. If you didn’t like, you could just fuck off.
Yesterday in class, in a very gender-segregated room (women on the left, men on the right), we had an interesting discussion. We were discussing Delores Hayden’s The Power of Place, about attempts to forge a public history on the landscape of Los Angeles that gives credence to the stories of women and minorities. So. I asked my students if women were a minority. To a person, they all knew that women are not a minority, at least not in demographic terms. Women are the majority; right now in the United States and Canada, around 51% of the population. But. Women are a minority in terms how they are treated in our culture, how they are second-class citizens, essentially. The women in my class all knew this, they were all adamant about it. The men stayed silent, though they nodded approvingly at what the women were saying.
Despite the fact that close to nothing has changed in the mainstream of our culture, that we still live in a rape culture that is designed to keep women de-centred and unbalanced, I was so happy that my students knew what was what in our world, and I was so happy that the men knew to keep their mouth shut.
In The Punk Singer, Lynn Breedlove, a queer feminist writer, singer, and punk, noted that feminism is about the struggle of the sub-altern, about the struggle of the oppressed. And feminism should fight for the oppressed, no matter the fight, be it race, sexuality, or class. And I had this lightning bolt moment. This is why I have always been pro-feminist. I had a prof in undergrad who argued that men cannot be feminists; feminism is a movement for and by women. Men could be allies, in fact, they were welcomed, but it was a women’s movement. Hanna reflects this, she has always worked to create a space and a voice for women, and men were welcome, but in a supporting role. I like that.
I was raised by women, and my mother instilled this pro-feminism in me at a young age (thanks, Ma!). But, feminism (along with punk) helped give me the tools I need to emancipate myself from the oppression of class. From these two movements, I gained a language of emancipation. To recover from being told by my high school guidance counsellor that “People like you don’t go to university,” because I was working-class and poor. Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, in a 1993 book, talk about the ‘hidden injuries of class.” Hidden, yes, but still very real.
November 7, 2014 § 4 Comments
FCKH8.com, a website dedicated to eradicating hatred, posted this video a few weeks back. Not surprisingly, it caused a bit of a sensation
After all, we can’t have little kids swearing, can we? Never mind the fact that they’re noting the ridiculous gender imbalance in our world. Of course, that’s not shocking. Denise Balkissoon published this devastating opinion piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail today; she argues that the Jian Ghomeshi situation is not some magical watershed for violence against women, reciting a long litany of shocking moments that should’ve marshalled our collective anger to stop it. And this is just the Canadian context of violence against women.
But it’s not just violence. A couple of weeks ago in class, two of my female students commented on their own experiences. Both are incredibly intelligent young women, and both come from a place of privilege. They are white, and they come from relatively affluent backgrounds. Both grew up treated equally and fairly vis-à-vis the boys, but when it came time to graduate from high school and go to university, they discovered the world was not so fair. Both report they received diminished opportunities in comparison to the men they knew, in terms of their choices for university, the internships they received, the jobs they got. Why? Because they’re girls.
The Facebook post I first saw this FCK8 video on had a bunch of comments tut-tutting about the foul language of these little girls, not on the fact that what they were saying was true. And that is the entire point. If it takes a famous Canadian radio host beating his dates, a South African athlete killing his girlfriend, or little girls swearing to draw our attention to this general societal problem, we’ve failed.
June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
I was recently in a situation where something blatantly both tasteless and racist occurred, through the actions of one individual. This individual apologised, heartfully and seriously. Most accepted his apology, including at least some of the aggrieved. But, in the aftermath of the apology, I overheard people complaining that “some people need to learn to take a joke” and so on. Oddly enough, it was always white, middle class people saying things like that.
In response to my previous posting on why we need feminism, I got trolled on Twitter, by men, telling me that women bring on rape, sexual assault, and other unwanted attention themselves. In the past, these kinds of trollings have also led to me being called names that challenge my manliness.
Racist jokes are not funny. Nor are threats of rape. Same for homophobic comments. And yet, some white people, some men, and some heterosexual people think they are. This, my friends, is privilege. The worst thing about privilege is that most people with it do not realise they have it. I don’t honestly think that many people who laugh at racist/misogynist/homophobic jokes are actually racist/misogynist/homophobic. They’re not trying to offend, oppress, or hurt other people. And yet, they do. Without realising it. And quite often, when they realise it, they get defensive and say things like “some people need to learn how to take a joke.”
Privilege is usually blind, those with it don’t see it, don’t understand all the advantages they’ve earned due to a calculus of skin colour, gender, sexuality, and class status. Take, for example, Julian Casablancas, the frontman of New York rock band The Strokes. Casablancas is the son of John Casablancas, a rich businessman and founder of the Elite Model Management group. Casablancas as a new solo project, called “Tyranny,” and in the press release, he says,
Tyranny has come in many forms throughout history. Now, the good of business is put above anything else, as corporations have become the new ruling body. Most decisions seem to be made like ones of a medieval king: whatever makes profit while ignoring and repressing the truth about whatever suffering it may cause (like pop music, for that matter).
Meanwhile, in England, comedian Russell Brand is trying to stir the people up against their government, to protest, to demand accountability. On the one hand, I admire Casablancas and Brand for their rabble-rousing, but both live incredibly privileged lives. Both are very wealthy men, and both of them have earned a lot of money due to the very things they are protesting, power relations and corporations. And they are apparently being unironic in their new stances.
Privilege is a funny thing. We live in a culture where some talk of “mindfulness”, and yet do not practice it. In order to be aware of privilege, we need to be aware of it. Be aware of the advantages we have gained in life due to that nexus of skin colour, gender, sexuality, and class. There are hierarchies all across society and there are hierarchies within sub-cultures. And we need to be aware of power and privilege.
June 23, 2014 § 5 Comments
I am blessed with three insanely wonderful, talented, beautiful nieces, they are really amazing, and I don’t get to spend enough time with them. The oldest of the three, Haley, is in a rock band in Norway, Slutface. The band just released a new single, “Angst,” which, aside from being catchy as all get out, struck me for its lyrical content. Haley sings about female objectification, dumb boys, and misogyny. It kind of took me by surprise, because you don’t really hear lyrical content of this sort in pop music today. Listening to the song, I thought back to a recent exchange I had on Twitter. I posted something hashtagged #yesallwomen, and a troll responded that it was campaigns and hashtags like this that led to women being sexually assaulted and raped. Yes, seriously. In his delusional little world, rape and sexual assault didn’t happen until social media appeared on the scene. He was, as you would imagine, hyper-aggressive about making his point, too.
When this current trend of feminist hashtags and campaigns on Twitter and social media exploded last year, I was kind of surprised. I came across the account @everydaysexism and was gobsmacked. Women were documenting their experiences of being catcalled and harassed walking down the street. I was shocked. I though this kind of shit ended thirty years ago. I asked the women in my life, and they confirmed that this was indeed their daily experience. It angered me.
Back in the day, every woman I knew had been raped or sexually assaulted, so perhaps I should not have been surprised. “The day” was the early 1990s. But I seriously thought things had got better since then. I’m not sure why I thought this. I am a professor, everyday in the hallways, across campus, and even in my classroom, I see examples of sexism and outright misogyny. Almost all advertising is based on the objectification of women to sell everything from cars to beer to razor blades to men. In the post-Britney Spears, “post-feminist” world, this kind of objectification has become part of the day-to-day. And for many of my female students, the very word “feminism” is a bad one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a student say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then go on to make a very basic feminist point.
Sexism and misogyny isn’t funny. Women don’t need to learn how to “take a joke” when men say stupid shit to them. Men need to stop being pigs. It’s that simple.
September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments
This article from a TV station in Texas is unconscionable. A truck decal business in Waco, TX, created a decal for the tailgate of a pickup truck of a women tied up and looking like she’s been abducted. I will not re-produce the image here, it doesn’t deserve it, but you can see it if you follow this link. The decal is bad enough. But the article on the TV station’s website is even worse. After noting that the majority of the feedback for the decal has been negative, moron journalist Matt Howerton says that the feedback leads to the question as to whether or not the decal is “‘Poor taste or good business?'”
I’m gobsmacked at how this question is even asked. An image of a distressed women tied up and looking like she’s in the back of a pickup truck is never good business. It’s beyond poor taste.
A few days ago that I know we live in a misogynist society, but sometimes it just hits me in the face how misogynist. This is one of those moments. By now, everyone in Canada has heard about the students during frosh week at St. Mary’s University and the University of British Columbia (my alma mater, I’m ashamed to admit) chanting about underage rape. Seriously. It’s not funny, it’s never funny.
Pretty much every single woman I know has been the victim of sexual assault at least once in her life. And yet we as a society accept that, we even encourage it with idiocy like KWTX’s question about the truck decal. This is a nothing less than a disgrace.
December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Last week was the 23rd anniversary of the Montréal Massacre. On 6 December 1989, a deranged man wandered into the École Polytechnique de Montréal, the engineering school of the Université de Montréal. After clearing the men from a classroom, he opened fire. He killed six women and injured three more before leaving the classroom and wandering the halls, where he wounded three more before he made a failed attempt to enter a locked classroom, wounding another woman in the hallway, before killing a support worker in her office. Upon reaching the cafeteria, he continued shooting. By the time he turned the gun on himself twenty minutes later, he had killed fourteen women, as well as wounding another thirteen, as well as one man.
I was 16 at the time, still in high school, at the other end of the country, in Vancouver. I remember coming home from school and being glued to the TV that night, shocked, amazed, dismayed, and depressed this could happen. Not that it could happen in Canada. Of course it could. But that it could happen. Period. This deranged man shot and killed these women because he hated feminists. To this day, 23 years and 5 days later, I refuse to utter his name.
But I know his name. It’s seared into my memory. This is true for pretty much all Canadians old enough to be cognisant of the massacre in 1989. But we don’t necessarily know the dead women’s names. There are:
- Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student
Each year, as we get further and further away from 6 December, we forget the importance of the event just a little bit more. And each year we get further and further away from 6 December, we lose the shock and dismay we felt that day.
That same week, there was a meme on Twitter, We Need Feminism because. One of the images that came through my timeline struck me.
Her words say it all. And so I thought back to my frosh week in 1991 at Carleton University in Ottawa. We were taught that “No Means No.” Full stop. Period. No does not mean “maybe later,” or “not now,” or “maybe.” It means “NO.” Very simple. That phrase was beaten into our heads, not even two full years since the Massacre.
But reading the words in this image, I realised I haven’t heard the phrase “No Means No” in a long time. At least a decade. And I spend a lot of time on university campuses. In fact, I have been on a college or university campus every academic year since my first year undergrad in 1991-2 every year except two in the late 90s.
And now, apparently young women are taught to avoid being raped. Men are not taught not to rape. One would think that teaching “No Means No” would have benefited the women at Amherst College who were raped. One would think that all young women on all university campuses would benefit. As would all young men. “No means no” taught us to respect words. And we all, men and women, need that respect.
Certainly, I would much prefer to live in a world where sexual assault and rape did not occur. But I don’t see that happening, unfortunately. But I would also much prefer it if universities did their part and taught young men and women that No means no. That simple. Three little words.
And for that reason, we need feminism.