The True North Strong and Free

November 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Last week, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette gave a speech at what the Canadian Broadcast Corporation calls ‘a science conference‘ in Ottawa.  There, she expressed incredulity in creationism and climate change denial, and called for a greater acceptance of scientific fact in Canada.  Payette is a former astronaut, holds an MSc in computer engineering, and has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence.  In other words, when she speaks on this matter, we should listen.

Her comments ignited a storm of controversy in Canada.  Some people are upset at her comments.  Some people are upset the Governor General has an opinion on something.  With respect to the first, Payette spoke to scientific fact.  Full stop. Not opinion.  Fact.  With respect to the second, Governors General and opinions, I will point out that our former Governor General, David Johnston, also freely expressed his opinions.  But, oddly, this did not lead to massive controversy.  What is the difference between Payette and Johnston?  I’ll let one of my tweeps, author Shireen Jeejeebhoy answer:

But then I found a particularly interesting tweet.  The tweet claimed that for the very reason that Canada has the monarchy, the country cannot have democratic elections.

Um, what?  There is no logic to this tweet.  I asked the author of the tweet what he meant. In between a series of insults, he said that he thinks the Governor General, which he mistakenly called an ‘important position,’ should be an elected post.  That gives some clarity to his original post, but he’s still wrong.

Canada is a democracy, full stop.  Elections in Canada are democratic, full stop.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State.  The Governor General is her representative in Canada (each province also has a Lieutenant-Governor, the Queen’s representatives in the provincial capitals).  The Queen does appoint the GG (and Lt-Govs), but she does so after the prime minister (or provincial premiers) tell her who is going to be appointed. In other words, Payette has her position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected her.

Canada, unlike the United States, did not gain ‘independence’ in one fell swoop.  In 1848, Queen Victoria granted the United Province of Canada, then a colony, responsible government.  This gave it (present-day Ontario and Québec) control over its internal affairs. All legislation passed by the colonial assembly would gain royal assent via the Governor General.  Following Confederation in 1867, the new Dominion of Canada enjoyed responsible government (which the other colonies that became Canada also had).  But Canada  did not control its external affairs, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland did.  In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which granted control over foreign affairs to the Dominions (Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand).  In 1947, Canadian citizenship was created.  Prior to that, Canadians were subjects of the monarchy.  In 1949, the Supreme Court of Canada became the highest court in the land. Prior to that, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was.  In 1982, the Canadian Constitution, which had been an act of the London Parliament (the British North America Act, 1867) was patriated and became an act of the Parliament in Ottawa.  So, choosing when Canada became independent is dicey.  You can pick anyone of 1848, 1931, 1947, 1949, or 1982 and be correct, at least in part.  We tend to celebrate 1867, our national holiday, July 1, marks the day the BNA Act came into affect.  That is the day Canada became a nation, but it is not the date of independence.

Either way, Canada is an independent nation.  Lamarche’s claim that, because we are a constitutional monarchy, we do not have free elections is ridiculous.  The role of the monarchy in Canada is entirely symbolic.  The Queen (or the Governor General or Lieutenants Governors) have absolutely no policy input. They have no role in Canadian government beyond the symbolic.  None.

 

I’m not even sure how someone could come to this conclusion other than through sheer ignorance.

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Double Standards and False Equivalencies

October 12, 2017 § 1 Comment

Harvey Weinstein is disgusting.  At the very least, he is guilty of being a lecherous, disgusting man.  At the worst, he’s a rapist.  His defence of coming-of-age in the licentious 1960s and 70s is bullshit.  Many men came of age then, and they don’t commit sexual assault.  Nor is Weinstein alone, I’m sure.  As my friend Matthew Friedman noted, he is certainly not the only Hollywood mogul who used his power to bully young women into places they didn’t want to go, to use his power to sexually abuse them.  Think of the long-standing and endless jokes about casting couches and the like.  Weinstein just got caught. After 40 years.  In many ways, Weinstein is like the president, who, of course, boasted on tape for Access Hollywood, how he commits sexual assault.  As Marina Fung noted in the Huffington Post, the Weinstein tape is the sequel to the Trump tape.  And, of course, let us not forget last year’s scandal in Canada, where Jian Ghomeshi was accused of similar things as Weinstein and walked.  And then, of course, there is Bill Cosby.

Make no mistake, Weinstein, Trump, Ghomeshi, and Cosby are just the tip of the iceberg. And thus far, there have been no criminal consequences for any of these men.  Hell, Donald Trump was elected president.  Weinsten, Ghomeshi, and Cosby have lost their good reputations, so there’s that.  But that doesn’t really amount to much.

Republicans, of course, are having a field day with Weinstein, especially because he is such a huge donor to Democratic Party causes.  And he donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year (and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012, and John Kerry’s in 2004, and Al Gore’s in 2000, and Bill Clinton’s in 1992 and 1996, and so on).  A lot of conservatives are calling Hillary Clinton to account for Weinstein (and her husband, and Anthony Weiner).  And even some progressives are calling on her to account for Weinstein (and her husband and Anthony Weiner, and Donald Trump).

This is also bullshit.  It is also creating a false equivalence.  Hillary Clinton has nothing to account for when it comes to Weinstein, nor do Democrats in general.  What Weinstein did is downright reprehensible, as I’ve made clear.  But he is one (formerly powerful) man.  She has nothing to do with what he did.  Nor does she have anything to do with what Anthony Weiner did.

We can start with the hypocrisy of conservatives demanding Hillary Clinton account for Weiner when they refuse to for Donald Trump.  But we can go further.  Calling out Hillary Clinton is just further proof of the sexism and misogyny in our culture.  It is further proof of the way in which our culture (and I mean the totality of our culture, progressives, centrists, and conservatives) holds women to a double standard.

It is bad enough that Harvey Weinstein violated countless young women.  It is worse that our culture expects the female Democratic Party candidate for President in 2016 to account for this disgustingness.

The Perilous Territory of Roman Britain

August 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most fascinating things become the centre of public shitstorms.  For example, recently, a British conservative got all worked up into a later over a BBC cartoon for kids that appears to show a Roman family as African, as in black.  Chances are, this character was based on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the Roman Berber governor of the province of Britain from 139-42.  He was from what is now Algeria.  Mary Beard, Professor of Ancient Literature at Cambridge University and author of the Times Literary Supplement’s column/blog A Don’s Lifegot involved on the discussion on Twitter and noted the ethnic diversity of the Roman Empire in general, which is kind of obvious, given the geographic spread of said Empire.

And then, things got insane, as they do on Twitter.  Beard was attacked in the typical misogynist tones of social media. And then, NYU Professor of Risk Management, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, got involved and mocked Beard on Twitter.  Now Taleb is usually somewhat of a buffoon on Twitter, he seems to have fun with the platform. And there is nothing wrong with this.  But, he acted like a prat.

His response:

Then British journalist Nick Cohen got involved:

Ah, the fragility of the male ego.  But, here’s the thing, Beard did not go after his credentials.  She went after his knowledge-base and area of expertise.  Beard, of course, knows a thing or two about a thing or two about Rome.  Taleb, on the other hand, is a professor of risk management.  Apples and oranges.  But, male privilege means that one does not need to defer to greater expertise on the part of a female colleague.  This reminds me of the time that my wife, who was then writing a dissertation on Northern Ireland, was told by a male colleague that The Troubles were ended because of the Cranberries’ song, “Zombies,” as if the people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, suddenly realized that they were the zombies!

But Taleb was just a bore.  He became the cover Twitter misogynists used to attack Beard, not for her ideas or commentary.  No.  They commented on her body, her age, and so on.  And they denigrated her academic qualifications.  Commentators continually referred to Prof. or Dr. Taleb and to Ms. Beard.

This, I hate to say, is par for the course in academia and the wider world.  I cannot count the number of times I have seen or heard this in action, where my female colleagues are disrespected in this manner.  One reported that her course evaluations talked more about her body than her teaching efficacy.  Another reported that her looks seemed more important to her students than her knowledge.  The now largely disused site RateMyProf initially only allowed hot tamales to indicate the hotness of a professor for women.  Eventually, it was applied to men as well.

Women have to work harder to gain the respect of students.  I see this almost everyday at work.  And, frankly, this is bullshit.

The thing is, we’re taught to believe that we live in a time of progress, that things are getting better.  They’re not.  The simple economic measurement women’s wages as a percentage of men’s for equal work has barely changed in the past 30 years.  And then there’s social media.  Remember #Gamergate?  That’s one egregious example.  Beard’s story is another. But it happens every single day.

I don’t think this is getting better.  I think it’s getting worse.  And the same is true, in many ways of racism, homophobia, and the like.  Social media allows people to hide behind anonymity to be bullies.

We need to be better.  This cannot keep happening.  We need to do a better job of educating people, so that they’re not bullies.  And the thing is, I’m not sure that many of the people who act like this online actually recognize their real-world actions.  As in, it’s easy to call someone names on a computer screen, not seeing the actual impact of it.  There are, essentially, no consequences for the abuser in this world.  Thus, education.  We need to convince people that there are consequences of their on-line actions, just as there are consequences for their real-world actions.

Maybe then we can live in a world where women, amongst others, aren’t attacked on-line for the simple fact of their gender (or race, orientation, etc.).

 

Clint Eastwood and Political Correctness

August 5, 2016 § 22 Comments

I have to admit, I like Clint Eastwood, the artist.  He’s the star of one of my favourite films of all-time, The Good, the Bad & The Ugly.  And he’s made some mighty fine films of his own.  He’s also a complex man.  He claims to be libertarian, but he’s supported both Democrat and Republican politicians.  He’s called for gun control since the early 1970s.  He was also a progressive mayor of Carmel-By-The-Sea, at least on environmental issues.  And he’s long been an advocate of environmental controls.  And, clearly, since he’s been mayor of his little resort town, he clearly isn’t opposed to government at all costs, nor is he opposed to using government power for the common good.

But, in recent years, he’s become a bit of a loose cannon.  His speech at the 2012 Republican Conference, the so-called “Empty Chair” routine, was unforgettable.  But this week, he was in the news again, complaining about the “pussy generation.”  See, Ol’ Clint is tired of political correctness:

[Trump]’s onto something because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells.

We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist.

My response? So what? First, Clint Eastwood loves to come off as a tough guy when he’s going off on a tangent like this.  Clint Eastwood ain’t no tough guy, he plays them in movies. That’s a big difference.  Second, Clint Eastwood is 86 years old.  When he was growing up, Jim Crow and segregation existed in the US.  Is that what he wants to return to? I presume not.

As for “political correctness,” you know what?  I’m sick of this one too.  Creating an environment in the world where people feel comfortable, where we are all respected and treated fairly is not a bad thing.  It’s easy for a multi-millionaire 86-year old white man to complain about the things that weren’t called racist 80 years ago.  What discrimination has Clint Eastwood faced in his life?

And this is the thing, the people who complain about “political correctness” tend to be white and middle class, and quite often male.  In other words, they tend to be people who don’t know what it feels like to be the target of discrimination or hate speech, or, worse.  It’s easy for them to claim there is no discrimination, no racism in society.  They’re not targeted by it.  It’s easy for Eastwood to complain about the “pussy generation.”

In short, you cannot complain about “political correctness,” or claim there is no such things as racism, sexism, misogyny, or homophobia if you are of the dominant group in society.

More to the point, a long time ago, a great man once noted that the mark of a democracy was how it treated its minorities.  And that is most certainly true.  That great man, by the way, was former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (the father of current PM, Justin “Hotty Pants” Trudeau).

 

The Violence of the Misogynist Mind

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.

Why We Need Feminism. Still.

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.

That depresses me.  As does this picture. 542999_200584493411003_2052673512_n  We ALL need feminism, for the reasons outlined above, and for the reasons this woman points out in the picture.

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.

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