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.