Guest Post – Dear Robert F. Kennedy Jr: Autism Is Not A Catastrophe

16 Apr

Guest post by Allison Garber

Dear Robert F. Kennedy Jr:

I’ll start by thanking you for your apology for comparing Autism to the Holocaust. That was good of you, since likening my child’s existence to one of the most horrific acts of mankind was pretty brutal.

Your apology, sadly, was not directed towards my son, since you went on to say, “I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families”.

I’d wager a guess that you struggle so hard with this because you don’t actually understand Autism. I’d also wager a guess that you don’t really care to understand Autism; instead, you prefer to believe that Autism is caused by vaccines and that Autistic people don’t have minds of their own. In fact, in your recent speech in Sacramento, you described Autistic children’s brains as being “gone.” It would have been nice had you spoken to any actually Autistic people before making these remarks, but I guess it’s more convenient to your agenda to paint Autism as the post-vaccine bogeyman who comes in the night to steal your children and ruin their lives.

While apologizing, you said that you you were struggling to find the appropriate expression to convey the “catastrophic tragedy” of Autism. I’ll be honest here; my struggle right now is to push aside my hurt in order to draft a response to you that is kind and impactful.

I won’t wade into the scientific facts that dispute basically every single thing you are saying about vaccines. Those who are much more educated in this field have tried to change your view to no avail, so my efforts in that regard would be futile.

Let me instead speak to you from the heart about how your words impact my family. My five year old son is Autistic. He’s a wonderful, energetic, smart, fun-loving boy. Being Autistic brings forth a number of challenges to his day-to-day life, but many of those challenges exist because of our society’s inability to take the time to understand him and the way his brain works, and therefore barriers and obstacles are continually put up in the way of his success.

You contribute to those challenges, Robert. Because of your beliefs and the beliefs of those like you, many people are unwilling to accept and embrace Autistic kids and adults. Your framing of Autism as a tragedy and a catastrophe directly impacts how people treat my son. You need to understand that. When you tell people that my son’s brain is “gone,” you make it impossible for them to accept him the way he is. You foster an environment where parents are afraid to let their neurotypical kids play with Autistic peers. Your fear-mongering means that employers will hesitate before hiring Autistic adults. You frighten people with the idea that they may one day be parents to an Autistic child.

My child is not a thing for you to hold up as some kind of warning or scare tactic. He is a person. And when you call him a tragedy, what you are telling him – and people like him – is that they are not worthy to be here.

I want you to imagine what it would be like for my son to someday read your words. I want you to picture him – a bright, thoughtful little kid already struggling to make his way through the world – reading and absorbing the fact that you and people like you think he is a catastrophe. Imagine telling my son to his face that his existence is the reason why families fall apart. Imagine telling my child that he is a mistake, a result of “something gone wrong”, and that he is not deserving of inclusion in his community. None of these are nice images, are they? And yet this is the message that you are putting out in the world.

The thought of my son internalizing that message is my greatest fear.

My hope, however, is that he’ll remember that he is loved, that he is valued, and that he is one of the greatest gifts my family has received in this lifetime (his little sister being the other one). My hope is that I will be part of a community that surrounds my son with so much love that there is no room for the words “tragedy” or “catastrophe.” My hope is that by the time he reads your words we will have made big strides in destructing the perception you’ve created about Autism.

What I want you to know is that we will make those strides.Do you know why will be able to make those strides? The answer is simple: because the fear and hate that you spread are no match for hope, love and inclusion.

I have never doubted my son. I’ve never doubted who he is, and I’ve never doubted what he has to offer this world. And I can say with certainty that no mater what he does in life, his legacy will be more positive and more rewarding and long-lasting than the one you will leave behind.

Kindest Regards,

Allison Garber

Proud parent to an incredibly perfect five year old boy

Allison and her son

Allison and her son

Allison Garber is a communications professional based in Halifax, NS. She sits on the Board of Directors for Autism Nova Scotia and is the mother of two awesome kids. You can follow her on Twitter at @allygarbs

The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem

14 Apr

Last week, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market announced that several “prepared food vendors” would be moved from the market’s busy main level up to its mezzanine level. According to the Halifax Port Authority (the government agency in charge of the market, not to be confused with the Halifax Party Authority, which used to be some drunk dude’s house on Hunter street) this will be done to make room for more farmers. Which, fine, makes sense since it is, after all, a farmers’ market. Farmers gonna farm, I guess. Here’s where things get tricky: all of the vendors asked to move were “ethnic” foods, including Mary’s African Cuisine, Viji’s Veggies, Stella’s, Pierogis 4 U, Turkish Cuisine and Amin’s Indian food. Meanwhile, two other prepared food vendors – Julien’s Pastry Shop and The Cake Lady – are allowed to stay where they are on the first floor.

It would be easy to argue that there aren’t any racial undertones to this situation. After all, pierogies fall pretty firmly into the camp of Foods Traditionally Consumed By White People. The argument put forth by the Port Authority that they’d prefer to have all of the farmers on one level and all of the ready-to-eat food on another seems reasonable enough at first glance. And if there are enough businesses operating on the mezzanine, well, won’t that just draw more traffic up there? Plus, the Port Authority is really, really insistent that “Ethnicity has nothing to do with this decision.”

First of all, I think there are probably racial undertones to anything that even just maybe sort of seems to have racial undertones. Secondly, I feel pretty cautious about anyone who feels the need to insist that no, for sure, this decision which impacts only “ethnic food” vendors definitely has nothing to do with ethnicity. Finally, I’m skeptical of claims of not-racism because this is Halifax, a city that struggles with its deep-seated racism. Not only that, but this is the same farmers’ market that a few years ago considered flat out getting rid of the “ethnic” vendors based on the idea that cruise ship passengers shopping at the market are looking for “authentic maritime culture.”

Of course, what they mean by “authentic maritime culture” is: white people culture. Specifically, they mean the pseudo Scottish-Irish-Celtic culture the east coast is famous for. They for sure do not mean M’ikmaq culture (although there’s nothing more authentically maritime than that), or Black Nova Scotian culture (in spite of the fact that there’s been a thriving Black population in Nova Scotia since the 1700s), or any of the other races or ethnicities that been in and around Halifax for hundreds of years. In Halifax municipal government speak, maritimer is synonymous with white and everyone else is a come-from-away. Even if their family has been occupying this land since long before the white people arrived.

I love Halifax. Both of my father’s parents grew up in the north end, and I was lucky enough to visit at least once a year when I was growing up. Later, I moved there for school and wound up staying for nearly a decade. It’s one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived, and has a lot going for it – friendly people, a great local arts scene, a sweet work-to-live-not-live-to-work vibe and a really big hill with a clock tower on it. It’s also the most white supremacist places I’ve ever lived, and I say that as someone who grew up in a city that used to be called Berlin and at one point had a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm in a downtown park.

A big part of Halifax’s race problem is that it doesn’t want to admit that it has a race problem. Ask most people about the destruction of Africville (a predominantly Black community that was literally razed to the ground in the 1960s) and they’ll glibly tell you that it needed to be torn down to build the new bridge and anyway wasn’t it, like, actually a dump? They don’t want to hear about the tight-knit community that existed there; they’d rather not know about how the provincial and municipal governments purposefully placed a prison, an infectious disease hospital, a slaughterhouse, a fecal waste depository and, yes, finally the town dump next to Africville. If you mention the fact that the Africville church was secretly demolished by the city at night to limit protests, they’ll roll their eyes and say that was a long time ago and why isn’t everyone over that by now.

It was not a long time ago. The church was torn down in 1969. The final house in Africville was demolished in 1970. And the pervasive racism that led to the demise of Africville is still going strong in Halifax today. According to Sherwood Hines, three businesses in Halifax have been fined in the last year for not serving Black customers. IT IS 2015 AND BUSINESSES IN HALIFAX ARE FULLY NOT SERVING PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN. That is literally a thing that is happening and I don’t even know what to say about except: Halifax, you should be fucking better than that.

During the last few years that I lived in Halifax there was a lot of talk about “revitalizing” the north end. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea, especially since there was a several-mile radius that contained no banks or grocery stores or pharmacies. I was like, “Perfect, I can’t wait to not have to haul food all the way from Quinpool road. Bring on the revitalization.” Except, of course, what folks meant by “revitalization” was gentrification. Almost all of the new businesses that have moved into the north end are owned by white people, employ a primarily white staff, and serve white customers. The Black population in the north end no longer feel like they belong in their own neighbourhood.

The movement of the “ethnic” food vendors and the gentrification of the north end are all part of the same problem: cultural erasure and whitewashing. White Nova Scotians are eager to preserve the idea that maritime culture is a bunch of white people singing sea shanties and downing cod, and the folks selling samosas and dolmas don’t fit into that narrative arc. But you know what, Halifax? Not only is that narrative racist, reductionist and completely inaccurate, it’s also played out. YOU ARE BETTER THAN A BUNCH OF DRUNK FRAT DUDES PUKING ON THE FLOOR OF THE SPLIT CROW BETWEEN VERSES OF BARRETT’S PRIVATEERS. Nova Scotia is diverse. Nova Scotia has always been diverse. How about we recognize that and celebrate it instead of tucking away those inconvenient shish taouk vendors and pretending that Black culture isn’t a thing that’s been happening in Nova Scotia for three hundred years?

Halifax, you need to get your shit together. You have an amazing population, and it’s time to start serving all of them.

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Writing Sucks

1 Apr

I am trying to write a novel and it sucks.

It sucks for all the reasons I’d expected: the weeks and weeks of writer’s block, the stilted clichés that sneak out the moment you’re not vigilant enough, the grinding frustration of trying unsnarl a set of words that for whatever reason just won’t do what you want them to do. I knew about all that stuff and, on some level, was prepared for it; after all, these are all things that I’ve experienced to some degree as a semi-professional freelance writer. What I wasn’t ready for was my inability to justify writing a book. Every time I open that goddamn Word document all I feel is this rush of ugly panic, and the cloud of oh my god what am I doing why am I doing this displaces every confident thought I’ve managed to muster up.

Here’s what I’ve realized: I am afraid of creative writing in large part because I’m worried that it will be a waste of my time and resources. I’m worried that it will take away from the other work that I do – including unpaid gigs like this blog – and that in the end the measurable satisfaction that I get out of writing a novel will be less than the effort I put into it.

Even more paralyzing is the fact that I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. Art is supposed to be this thing that you do because you’re a Very Special Person who has to create or else you’ll die. That’s why artists starve, right? Because their passion is noble and authentic and above the heights of reason, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be real and free and I don’t know, whatever other garbage people believe about art. Creativity is supposed to be a calling, and if you worry about failing then you’re Doing It Wrong because you can’t fail if you’re being true to yourself. And forget about considering finances, because real art has nothing to do with money. Talk of money sullies the purity of art.

The thing is, all of that is very high-minded and beautiful, but it’s also not really how shit works.

We live in a culture that simultaneously holds the idea of art up to these ridiculous standards, and at the same time provides very little concrete support for the people actually creating said art. Our society loves the idea that artists are these ascetic geniuses with a single-minded dedication to their craft, a belief that tends to let us off the hook when it comes to funding art. I mean, if artists are going to create art anyway, then why bother offering assistance, financial or otherwise? And really, doesn’t poverty somehow heighten the legitimacy of art? Like, if the art you’re consuming isn’t created by some tortured soul living in a rat-infested tenement, then you might as well be buying framed prints from Ikea and reading Danielle Steel.

If wanting money is crass, then wanting fame  – or, at the very least, some kind of recognition – is worse. Because you’re not supposed to create with an audience in mind; that kind of thinking is for people who use words like “brand” and “content.” A true artist only ever makes things that are a perfect reflection of their most precious ideas, without ever wondering how other people will react. Who cares how people react? People are peasants, and if they don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate then the failure is theirs and theirs alone.

But, like, fuck that. Fuck all of that. Why are people allowed to want money for literally any other job besides creative work? I know writing is supposed to be a vocation or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you only ever do it without expecting payment. I’m not out here expecting free childcare because my son’s daycare teachers are performing a labour of love or whatever. And sure people should be making things that they’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever possibly consider their potential audience. What is so filthy-dirty wrong about wanting success?

I know that anything that brings you joy is never a waste (uh, I guess unless the pain of others brings you joy, in which case maybe it’s time to reevaluate your life), but I’m tired of pretending that the act of creating itself is the be all and end all in terms of fulfillment. Making money for what you’ve created is also fulfilling; so is receiving praise. If I said that I never thought about either of those things while writing, I’d be lying. So either I’m just not cut out to Write Fiction (which, let’s face it, is entirely possible), or else maybe we need to revisit how we view creativity.

Art is work. Most of the time it’s lonely, boring work. Sometimes you feel your internal needle slide into the groove and you feel unstoppable, but most of the time it’s kind of miserable. And not miserable in a romantic, 19th century painter with a weirdly attractive case of tuberculosis kind of way. Miserable in the sense of I wish I was doing literally anything else but this. But the fact is that you’re still doing it, and that must count for something.

So how do i justify writing a book? I don’t have an answer for that yet. What am I doing and why am I doing it? I don’t know. Will it be worth it? I have no idea. What metrics do you use to determine your own personal satisfaction? The heart wants what it wants. In short: I’ve got nothing. I just want to take this space to acknowledge how sucky creative work can be, and how the high ideals we have about art don’t do much to alleviate that suckiness.

I am trying to write a novel and it sucks.

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Dear Everyone: Here’s Why I Don’t Want To Read Your Crappy Opinions On What Mothers Should Do

25 Mar

Earlier today, Lydia Lovric, a Montreal-based “columnist, talk-radio host, stay-at-home mom,” wrote a scornful response to piece from 2013 about why Sasha Emmons chooses to work outside of the home. Don’t ask me why Lovric is responding to a two year old article, because I’m as baffled as you are. I’m sure she has her reasons, such as maybe she some type of wizard who exists outside of the linear bounds of time and space; this would explain why she is writing about the evils of mothers who work outside the home in 2015.

You guys, it’s 2015. It has been two thousand and fifteen years since the alleged birth of Christ and we are still having this goddamn argument about whether or not a mother is morally obligated to stay home with her kids, should finances permit. And as much as it’s tempting to write off Lovric as a Throw-Back Thursday with outdated opinions, the truth is that the question of mothers working outside the home is still burning up parenting blogs, websites and message boards. As far as parenting wank goes, the debate about whether or not mothers should stay home is right up there with breastfeeding, circumcision and cloth diapering. Lovric is certainly not alone in her belief that women who choose to work are selfish.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than watching women tear each other down, especially within the context of parenting. It’s sad and it’s gross and it’s the purest example of internalized misogyny that there is. There’s no benefit to these discussions; they’re just endless cycles of women shitting on other women’s happiness and security under the guise of concern for The Children. What’s even more enraging is how gendered these arguments are – even when they say that it’s best for “a parent” to stay home with their kids, what they really mean is mother.

I’m not going to get into the layers and layers of privilege that have allowed Lovric to write this article. I’m not going to address her claim that “you need not be rich in order to live off one income.” I’m only going to mention in passing how fucking shitty it is to refer to a mother as “absent” because she works outside the home – I’ll just say that I know my fair share of absent parents, and I promise you they are not out there working to pay the bills and feed their kids. I’m not even going to discuss the fact that plenty of single mothers raise their kid on one income and, by necessity rather than choice, work outside of the home. Instead, I’m going to talk about how gross and oppressive our persistent cultural biases about motherhood are.`

No one ever says that fathers are selfish for working outside the home.

No one is writing think pieces about how “absent fathers” letting strangers raise their kids just so that they can pursue an enjoyable and fulfilling career.

No dads are out there penning thoughtful letters to their children about why they chose to work. If they were, they’d probably read something like this:

Dear Daughter,

I chose to work after you were born because it literally never occurred to me to do otherwise. I certainly did not consider disrupting everything I have known and loved about my life outside of the home because I decided to have kids. I do not feel guilt or shame for my decision, because why would I?

Much love,

Dad

As a culture, we have a weird obsession with women being “selfish.” Mothers especially are prone to accusations of selfishness any time they make a choice that doesn’t directly and obviously benefit their children. Even when mothers are encouraged to practice self-care, it’s often approached with the idea that feeling happy and rested will make them better partners and parents. And while that may be true, why can’t a woman ever just be happy for her own damn self? Dudes don’t need to come up with excuses for why they should be able to do things they enjoy, and women shouldn’t either.

And by the way, here’s a list of the reasons Emmons gave for going back to work that Lovric found “selfish”:

“I work because I love it.”

“I work because scratching the itch to create makes me happy, and that happiness bleeds over into every other area, including how patient and engaged and creative a mother I am.”

“I work because this nice house and those gymnastics lessons and those sneakers you need to have are all made possible by two incomes.”

“I work because I want you and your brother to be proud of me.”

So: just to clarify, Emmons is selfish because she enjoys her job, a dual income helps pay for the lifestyle her family enjoys, and she hopes that the work she does will make her children proud of her.

In what world is it selfish to love your job? What is it about women specifically that makes them terrible people if they aren’t prioritizing their children 24/7? I mean, yes of course parenting involves some amount of sacrifice, but the idea that you should only live for your children is a pretty dangerous road to go down and, again, not one that any dudes are being told they have to travel.

Lovric’s counter to all of Emmons’ selfish reasons for working includes the following:

“I stay home because although writing and radio did make me extremely happy, I knew that you seemed happier when I was around. And your happiness was more important to me than my own. And making you happy also made me happy.”

“I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions. A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.”

“I stay home because I want you and your brothers to be proud of me because I gave up something I truly loved in order to put you first.”

In short: a healthy relationship dynamic between a parent and child does not involve the parent supporting their child financially by working outside the home, but does include expecting your children to appreciate the fact that you made the ultimate life sacrifice for them.

I am just so exasperated by the continuing circle of shaming mothers for whatever choices they make. It seems like no matter what, the conclusion is always “MOMS: STILL PRETTY MUCH THE WORST?” It’s the 21st century and at the very least we can all agree that we want to raise kids who are proud of us, so let’s work on building each other up us parents and caregivers and mentors instead of fighting to push each other off the Pedestal of Motherhood. We’ll all be better for it.

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Anathema Device, Feminist Hero

13 Mar

Terry Pratchett died today.

I know that this isn’t exactly shocking news, since he has been very public about living with Alzheimer’s and was a passionate advocate for assisted suicide (although his publishers have said that his death was “natural and unassisted”). People nerdier and smarter than me will write better tributes to Pratchett, and I will read them all greedily, although they’ll be a poor substitute for any further books he might have written. But I do want to take a moment to talk about one of Pratchett’s characters and how fucking rad I think she is. She’s been a feminist hero of mine since I was nineteen, back in the bad old days when I rejected the label feminist and instead preferred to call myself an “anti-capitalist” (spoiler alert: you can be both). The character’s name is Anathema Device, and she’s from Good Omens (1990), a book Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, and she is just perfect.

The first time we meet Anathema, she’s eight. She’s lying in bed, reading a book of prophecies with a flashlight. The book, it turns out, was written by an ancestor of hers, Agnes Nutter. Agnes, who was burned for witchcraft in the 17th century because what else are going to do with a woman who can see into the future, was great at being psychic but shitty at marketing. The copy that Anathema has is the only one in existence, mainly because literally no one bought the book after its first and only printing. Which maybe makes sense, since it’s both so obscurely accurate that it’s often only useful after the fact (like the advice “Do Notte Buye Betamacks,” a prophecy for 1972), and mostly it just tells the futures of Agnes’ descendants. It ends with the apocalypse, at which, Agnes prophecies, Anathema will be present.

Anathema always goes by her full, improbable name. You’d think someone would shorten it to Ana or Annie – especially since the definition of anathema is “a person detested or loathed” or “a curse” – but no. She’s a four-syllable, say-my-whole-name kinda gal.

Anathema, at age eight, is described as being “a bright child, with a pale face, and black eyes and hair.” That’s really the only description we get of her for the entire book. Pale, dark hair, dark eyes. We don’t know if she’s gorgeous, or ugly, or fat, or skinny, or tall, or short, or just sort of average – which is pretty magical in and of itself, given how invested most books (especially those of the fantasy genre) are in describing the appearance of women.

Part of it may be that Anathema’s too busy doomsday prepping to are about how she looks. The next time we meet her, she’s nineteen and zipping around the countryside on her bike, tracking ley-lines and, I don’t know, doing other witchy stuff. Because of course she’s a witch; she even subscribes to special witch newspapers. But she’s more than just a sorceress in training – she’s basically an early version of a Social Justice Warrior.  According to the book:

“Anathema didn’t only believe in ley-lines, but in seals, whales, bicycles, rain forests, whole grain in loaves, recycled paper, white South Africans out of South Africa, and Americans out of practically everywhere down to and including Long Island. She didn’t compartmentalize her beliefs. They were welded into one enormous, seamless belief, compared with which that held by Joan of Arc seemed a mere idle notion. On any scale of mountain-moving it shifts at least point five of an alp.”

One of my favourite scenes in Good Omens is when Anathema sleeps with Newton Pulsifer, this dude she’s just met. She knows she’s going to sleep with him, because it’s in Agnes’ book (along with about a billion lewd/encouraging comments from Anathema’s various ancestors in the margins). Having it foretold that you’re going to sleep with someone makes consent a bit tricky – after all, is it really your choice, or are you only doing it because the book suggested it? On the other hand, Agnes’ seeing is described as a kind of backwards remembering, so in that sense she can only prophecy the future as it has already happened.

Or something.

Anyway, the point is that Anathema has known her whole life that she’s going to bone a guy with a weird name. What happens afterwards is just perfect:

“‘That was wonderful,’ said Newt.

‘Good,’ said Anathema, ‘The earth moved for everybody.’ She got up off the floor, leaving her clothes scattered across the carpet, and went into the bathroom.

Newt raised his voice. ‘I mean, it was really wonderful. Really, really wonderful. I always hoped it was going to be, and it was.’

There was a sound of running water.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

‘Taking a shower.’

Then Newton’s like “… maybe we can do it again?” but Anathema shuts that down real quick by telling him it’s only prophesied that they’ll fuck once and only once.

I just love Anathema so much. She’s sensible, smart, independent, feminist as fuck, and funny. She’s a total boss at not giving a fuck (which, ok, fair enough, it’s possible that having a book that tells your future and also knowing that the world is going to end when you’re nineteen take away whatever fucks you had to give), and meets all of her detractors with a cold, hard stare. She also has her PhD. She’s nineteen and she has a witch and she has her PhD. I literally defy you to create a better character than her.

I’m more than ten years older than Anathema, but I still aspire to be like her. I want to be as unafraid and as fierce in my beliefs as she is. I want to work with the same dedication and drive that she does. And, I mean, obviously (this should go without saying) I want to be a un-fuck-withable witch biking around and flipping everyone off.

Thank you, Terry, for creating Anathema. Thank you for all the amazing, multifaceted female characters you wrote over the years. I know that I’m not the only one who’s drawn strength, encouragement and humour from them, and I’m sure your daughter (a kick-ass lady in her own right) will turn to them many times in the days to come.

Thank you for all the gifts you gave us. I hope your passing was swift, and suffering is eased. Sleep well.

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Shit White Feminists Need To Stop Doing

8 Mar

I’m a white feminist, and let me tell you something: white feminism* is pretty bullshit. It’s exclusive, oppressive, and serves to further marginalize the people who are most impacted by misogyny. Unfortunately, white feminism is also the western status quo of feminism, meaning that white feminists have the biggest platforms, have increased access to resources and media, and are generally considered to be The Voice of Feminism. In theory, someone truly interested in equality would use these assets to amplify the voices of women of colour. In practice, white supremacy is a real thing and white feminists often seem to forget that their white privilege makes it easy as hell to trample over women of colour as they work to dismantle the patriarchy.

So, in honour of International Women’s Day, here is a non-exhaustive list of Shit White Feminists Need to Stop Doing:

1. Believing Their Experiences of Marginalization Are Universal

White feminists like to pretend that they get it. They get it because they’ve been there. They’ve experienced sexism. They’ve experienced misogyny. They’ve been passed over for promotions, whistled at on the street, and had to listen to boring dudes at parties who require approximately ten years of your time in order to explain how fascinating they actually are. These white women have been down in the feminist trenches for years, and like your world-weary Grandpa, they’ve seen it all. They understand the oppression of all women, ok?

Except not. Intersecting forces of oppression mean that women who are queer, racialized, disabled or trans will experience misogyny in very different (and frequently more deadly) ways than white women do. Saying that just because you’re a woman you totally understand all different ways that women are marginalized is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s also just plain ignorant.  Just because you don’t have male privilege doesn’t mean you aren’t the proud owner of a whole host of other types of privilege. And whether you like it or not, those various forms of privilege influence how people treat you.

White women don’t own womanhood, and they don’t get to explain it to women of colour. End of story.

2. Crying About How We’re All On The Same Team

Also known as: “Why are you being so mean to me?”

White feminists tend to have this fantasy that we’re going to tackle this giant, slavering beast called The Patriarchy, and then once that’s done everything will be magical and all of the world’s problems will be solved. They’ll vaguely explain that destroying The Patriarchy will also end racism, transphobia, homophobia and basically everything other societal ill, but they don’t seem to have any clear idea of how exactly that will happen. It just will! Because science.

These feminists will choose specific causes to back – often those that most benefit straight, white, cis-gender women – and will balk if anyone questions why they’re ignoring other types of marginalization that have a greater impact on, say, Black women or trans women. But we’re all on the same team, they’ll tweet frantically. I thought you were on my side. We’re all women, right? The subtext is: you should help me now with the things that directly hurt me, and then maybe one day I’ll help you.

They never seem to wonder why they get to be the ones who delineate the borders between “sides,” or why they get to constantly call the shots about who’s on what team.

3. Talking About Hijabs (Or Burqas, Or Sex-Selective Abortion, Or Anything, Really)

Literally I just want to see all the white feminists take a back seat when it comes to hijabs. It’s amazing that these women will talk up the idea of pro-choice when it comes to pregnancy, but flip out if a woman chooses to cover her hair.

Look, I get it. You think those women are being oppressed, even when they very kindly and patiently tell you they aren’t. You know better than them, right? Because you’ve thrown off the shackles of … something? You think their culture or religion is forcing them into something they don’t really want, and if they believe differently, well, that’s just their internalized misogyny talking.

White women: you literally aren’t more enlightened than everyone else. Stop talking. Go to bed.

Also, explain to me exactly how telling a woman that she shouldn’t wear a specific article of clothing is “empowerment.” It seems to me that limiting women’s choices is the opposite of feminism.

4. Thinking That All Sex Workers Are All Miserable Wretches Who Hate Their Lives

This one isn’t really white women-specific, but I’m going to include it because I’ve seen a lot of white feminists pull this shit and frankly it’s garbage.

Like, this is literally what you’re saying: “I believe women have agency and can make decisions about their lives except for when it has to do with sex work, at which point I will assume that either someone is exploiting them or else they are self-hating gender traitors only interested in the male gaze.”

So just to clarify, you think that women can make choices except when it’s a choice you disagree with, at which point you’re pretty sure she’s being coerced. You also think that sex workers need to be “rescued,” even if they’re happy with what they do. You would rather see women further marginalized by anti-prostitution laws than find ways to keep sex workers safe.

Again, explain to me how this is a pro-woman stance?

5. Arguing That All Other Forms Of Oppression Are Over So We Need to Focus On Women

I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ARQUETTE.

Look, I know that her Oscar speech has been critiqued and analyzed to death, so I won’t dwell on this too much, but – come the fuck on. First of all, saying that we need “all the gay people and people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” kind of insinuates that none of those gay people or people of colour are women, no? Second of all, literally read a book or something because racism and homophobia and transphobia are far from over. Third of all, you are a white woman who has benefitted from enormous privilege her entire life. You don’t get to tell other marginalized groups what to do.

I know that her remarks were well-intentioned. I get that. But that’s a huge part of the problem – white feminists toss this kind of shit off the cuff, then get huffy when they’re called out, and then we’re right back to number two on this list. Just own your privilege for a hot second and stop bleating about how mean everyone else is being when they point out how you’ve rightfully fucked up.

White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you – we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.

solidarity___intersectionality

* by “white feminism” I mean a certain demographic of white women who are straight, cis and able-bodied and view their brand of “feminism” as being better and more “real” than that of anyone else’s.

Spock Feelings

27 Feb

I was wandering around the art gallery during my lunch break when a message buzzed through on my phone. I saw that it was from my friend Audra, and expected it to be a continuation of an earlier discussion about bullying. Instead, it said:

“Oh no Leonard Nimoy died!”

I stared crying. I tried to be secretive about it, breathing deeply and casually wiping the corners of my eyes over and over like not-crying people just casually do. The cry was rebellious, though. It wasn’t going to be a secret cry. It was going to be a cascading-over-my-lower-lashes, messy-eyeliner-splashing, tidal wave of a cry. There wasn’t a washroom in sight, so I sat down on a bench and tried to sob quietly until the worst of it had passed.

A security guard came over and asked me what was wrong. Probably she thought my house had burned down or my dog had been run over.

I told her that Leonard Nimoy had died, hyper-aware of how snotty and disgusting my face was. The security guard looked confused and medium-sad; she offered to get me a kleenex, which is probably the best that I could have expected given the circumstances.

Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop, scrolling through twitter and stewing in my feelings. I’m having a lot of feelings. Some of them are Nimoy-feelings – my love of his Full Body Project, my admiration for the fact that he advocated for equal pay for Nichelle Nichols – but, to be honest, most of them as Spock-feelings.

Spock was a magnificent misfit, even beyond the realm of the human crew of the Enterprise (and the very human-centric Federation). To Vulcans, he seemed wildly emotional; to humans, he seemed cold and rational. He was heartbreakingly too much of both to ever be either; no matter where he went, his features, actions and general manner marked him as alien.

The son of the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation, Sarek, and a human lady who dressed like she was some kind of artist, Spock grew up on his father’s home planet. He spent a good chunk of his childhood getting the shit bullied out of him by Vulcan kids with Draco Malfoy-eqsue levels of obsession with blood purity. Spock had to work twice as hard as anyone else just to be considered half as good, but eventually he gained entry to the Vulcan Science Academy.

And then.

And then.

And then it turned out that all along Spock had been playing the long game, and when they finally told him he was Vulcan enough to go to their school, he flipped everyone off (including and especially his dad) and was like, “Fuck all of you, I’m going to Starfleet Academy.”

This was, without a hint of hyperbole, literally the most illogically rebellious thing anyone had ever done in all the history of Vulcan.

Spock presumably had a somewhat easier time as a Starfleet cadet, but he still didn’t really have any friends. I mean, he had classmates who respected and feared him, and professors who envied his intellect, but no actual friends. Just a bunch of people whose idea of a good time was to get drunk and try to provoke some kind of emotion in Spock.

Then he joined the crew of the Enterprise and even though he was still totally weird everyone was cool about it.* He just did his thing, and didn’t try to be extra Vulcan or extra human or whatever. He was just himself, and his colleagues were more like his cool space family than anyone else. Especially Kirk. I mean, the entirety of Star Trek is basically the story of those two beautiful bros exploring the universe together and at the same time learning about each other’s adorable eccentricities.

And every time some alien conflict would come up, Kirk would be like, “Hey, let’s fight these guys,” Spock would be all, “No, let’s chill and hug it out. Except don’t hug me. I hate hugging.” The kicker? Every time Spock would be right.

Spock was just like this high-cheeked, slant-eyebrowed space wizard travelling around and teaching people to talk things through.

Also every seven years he had to have ritual sex or else he’d die, but I mean. That’s another kettle of fish.

Here’s the thing: Spock is every weird kid who grew up feeling like they were incompatible with the world around them. He’s every kid who was teased, or bullied, or had the shit kicked out of them for being different. And then he grew up and found people who loved him exactly for who he was.

I know that it’s weird to be sad about Spock right now, because Spock isn’t dead. I mean, for one thing, he’s a fictional character. Second of all, he’s not even going to be born for another 215 years. Thirdly, Zachary Quinto makes an extremely babely Spock, so no complaints in that department. But still.

I can’t help but wonder how much of himself Nimoy infused into the character of Spock. As the child of Jewish immigrant parents growing up in Boston during the second world war, I’m sure that there were times when Nimoy very much felt himself to be between cultural worlds. And I can’t help but wondering if he also experienced some kind of bullying or social isolation as a kid. So maybe mourning Spock is a way of mourning Nimoy. Or maybe I’m mourning them both. I don’t know.

I just know that I have a lot of feelings right now that and I’m not sure what to do with them.

Farewell, you beautiful bro. You’re finally on your way to exploring those strange new worlds. I hope they’re wonderful.

spock_smile

*Except Bones, but Bones was a bag of dicks and doesn’t count

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