Tag Archives: down with the patriarchy

Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women

24 May

TW for violence against women, misogynistic language, violent language, talk of rape

Last night, a 22 year old man named Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured seven more in what most news outlets are describing as a “shooting rampage.” Rodger died later that night from a gunshot wound to his head, though it’s still unclear as to whether or not it was self-inflicted or from responding deputies shooting back after he opened fire on them.

Almost everything I’ve read about him has referred to him as a “madman” or “mentally ill.”

No. We have no evidence yet that he suffered from any kind of mental illness or was seeking any sort of treatment. Immediately claiming that with no proof to back that fact up leads to the further stigmatization of the mentally ill, and contributes to the (incorrect) assumption that mental illness equals violence, and vice versa.

We don’t know whether Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. What we do know is that he was a Men’s Rights Activist, or MRA.

He was an active member of the “PUAhate,” an online forum (which has been down since the shootings) dedicated to “revealing the scams, deception and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to mislead men and profit from them.” And just to clarify, they’re not revealing these scams because of how vile and misogynistic they are, but rather because these men have tried these techniques and still failed to trick women into sleeping with them. These are men who both feel entitled to have sex with women and also blame all women everywhere for not fucking them. See, they want to have sex with a woman because that’s what they deserve just for being dudes, but they also hate women for withholding what they view as rightfully theirs. And I mean, boy do they ever hate women. The PUAhate forum has, according to an article on The Hairpin, threads with titles like “Are ugly women completely useless to society?” and “Have any hot women ever committed suicide?”

Rodger also subscribed to several YouTube channels on how to be a ‘pick up artist,’ including The Player Supreme Show and RSDfreetour as well as multiple MRA channels.

Last night, shortly before going on his killing spree, Rodger posted a video on YouTube to serve as his manifesto. In it, he declares that he’s a 22 year old virgin, and then goes on to say:

‘College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it,’ he says in the video, which runs to almost seven minutes.
>‘I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them,’ 

‘I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male …’

This is what the Men’s Rights Movement teaches its members. Especially vulnerable, lonely young men who have a hard time relating to women. It teaches them that women, and especially feminist women, are to blame for their unhappiness. It teaches them that women lie, and that women are naturally predisposed to cheat, trick and manipulate. It teaches them that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It teaches them that women who won’t give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment.

We need to talk about this. The media, especially, needs to address this. We live in a culture that constantly devalues women in a million little different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take that devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women. And I don’t mean that all these men have been physically violent towards women, but rather that they use violent, degrading, dehumanizing language when discussing women. Whose bodies, just as a reminder, they feel completely entitled to.

Another reminder: this isn’t an isolated incident. Not by a long shot. No, most men don’t go out in a blaze of glory after shooting up in a sorority house, but there are so many examples of men becoming violent towards women after being rejected. Like the kid last month who stabbed a girl to death because she wouldn’t go to the prom with him. The threat of violence is the main reason why many women feel unable to leave an abusive relationship – because after leaving is when they are at their most vulnerable. When you look the statistics on violence against women, Elliot Rodger’s act doesn’t seem so much like a one-off incident. He was participating, albeit in a grandiose public way, in the time-honoured tradition of controlling women with violence and punishing them when they don’t behave as desired.

We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day. We can’t just write this one off – we need to talk about all of the fucked up parts of our culture, especially the movements that teach men that they have the right to dominate and intimidate and violate women, and we need to change things. Because if we don’t, I guarantee that this will happen again. And again. And again.

‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’

Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

ETA: A few people have been commenting to tell me that I’m wrong about Elliot not having a mental illness, as his family members have reported to the media that he had Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is not a mental illness – it is a neurological condition, and it does not predispose people to violence. Correlating Asperger’s with violence is wrong and uninformed and you are doing more harm than good by saying that.

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Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)

14 May

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I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of dark had that goes from my belly button all the way down to my pubic hair. I had my ears pierced when I was eight years old because I was dying to wear for-real earrings. I wear makeup pretty much whenever I leave the house. And you know what? I like doing all of these things, because they make me feel pretty and more comfortable in my skin. But I also acknowledge that I grew up in a culture that taught me from day one to associate all of these arbitrary little changes that I make to myself with the concept of prettiness.

I’ve heard a few people say that the point of feminism is choice, and that the whole idea is that women should be able to make choices about their lives. For the record, I totally agree with that sentiment. But I also think it’s important to talk about the fact that choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and also that some choices aren’t feminist. Shaving your legs, for example, is not a particularly feminist choice. And I’m not saying that you can’t shave your legs and still be a feminist, but I do think we need to talk about stuff like this without immediately jumping to, “well, feminism is about choice and I made my choice and that’s that.”

For one thing, I’m not sure that a lot of women do actually feel like they have a choice about removing body hair. I mean, yes, technically, they do get to choose what happens to their body, but it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re actually making a fair, unbiased “choice” when your options are a) removing your body hair and enjoying the approval of our society or b) not removing your body hair and being on the receiving end of stupid jokes, insults and even harassment because of this. It’s pretty hard to frame it as a “choice” when society overwhelmingly approves of one option and punishes the other. So let’s not pretend that we’re not playing with loaded dice here.

The truth is that I play into patriarchal beauty standards every day. I wear cute dresses and I smear goop on my face to highlight my “features” and make my skin tone look more “even.” I wear shoes with heels on them because they make me taller and make my legs look longer. I push thin metal rods through holes that have been punched in my earlobes because I think that decorating my ears looks good. I carefully remove any body hair that might be visible when I’m wearing a bra and panties. And all of that is fine and none of it makes me not a feminist, but also those are all objectively anti-feminist choices. Because those choices don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen because I woke up one day and thought, “hmmm, I’d really like to take a razor and remove the hair from some of the most sensitive skin on my body and endure painful, itchy razor burn for the next few days because that sounds like fun.” They don’t happen because just happened to be experimenting with painting interesting colours on my lips and decided that red and pink were my favourites. They happen because I grew up in a toxic culture that taught me that in order to be beautiful I had to alter my body, and every time I play into those ideas of beauty, I am reinforcing and validating that toxic culture. Every time I wear a cute skirt and heels, I am making it harder for women who want to break out of this fucked up ideal we’re forced into. And as much as I don’t want to, I need to own that fact.

It is fucked up that women are expected to change their natural appearance in order to be considered beautiful, or even just acceptable. We have body hair – growing it is a thing that naturally happens during puberty. Literally everyone has it. So why is it considered to be disgusting? Why are mannequins in underwear or bathing suits just fine, but these American Apparel models are thought to be hilariously obscene?

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Like, that is literally what I look like when I don’t shave. Possibly I am even hairier than that. This is what my body looks like. Why is that so gross to so many people?

We all make choices about our appearance, and none of those choices are going to make the feminist police come take our feminist cards away. But sometimes those choices reinforce the status quo and therefore contribute to the difficulty other women experience when their appearance varies from the strict norms that society dictates. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever wear dresses or makeup or jewellery, but rather that we need to talk about why we do these things. And we need to stop pretending that such-and-such is a feminist choice because feminism is about choice and if I’m a feminist then everything I do is automatically feminist. No. That’s not how it works.

Wear dresses if you want to. Wear cute shoes and earrings and bright red lipstick. Shave off every hair on your body if that’s what feels right. But please recognize that you don’t do any of those things because you just happen to like doing them. Please acknowledge that you made a choice that was heavily informed by the fucked up misogynistic culture we live in. Accept that sometimes your choices are anti-feminist, not because you’re a bad feminist but because that’s the world we live in right now. And once you’ve done all that, let’s try to figure out a way to change things so that girls no longer have to feel like their bodies aren’t good enough just the way they are.

 

 

The Sexualization of Willow Smith

8 May

We need to talk for a hot second about the sexualization of young girls.

Specifically, we need to talk about the sexualization of Willow Smith by the media.

In case you’ve somehow missed the whole hullaballoo, the picture below of thirteen year old Willow and twenty year old actor Moises Arias was recently posted on Instagram, and the internet subsequently exploded.

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Everyone immediately leapt to the conclusion that the photograph was somehow sexual. Hollywood Life referred to it as “compromising.” Complex Magazine said that it was “creepy.” Folks on twitter said that it was “disgusting on so many levels,” and promised that the picture would “seriously gross you out.” Even Sesali Bowen, coming to Willow’s defence in an article on Feministing, wrote, “The photo itself is sexy. I can’t deny that.” The general consensus seemed to be that, whether you thought (or cared) that the photograph was inappropriate, it was undeniably sexual in nature and indicative of some kind of romantic relationship between Willow and Moises.

And that is incredibly fucked up.

It is fucked up that people are creating this narrative about a sexual relationship between two people based on one picture in which they are not doing anything sexual. It is fucked up that news outlets are throwing a thirteen year old to the dogs in order to get page hits and retweets. And it is unbelievably fucked up how quickly and easily we sexualize young women (especially women of colour), to the point where their every look and gesture is dissected and somehow turned vulgar. Jada Pinkett Smith gets it exactly right when she calls the media “covert pedophiles.” That is exactly how they are behaving, and the fact that they are peddling this so-called “compromising” picture for their own profit is appalling.

It is an enormous leap to go from seeing a candid photograph of two people – one of them sitting, the other lying down, one of them shirtless, the other fully clothed, their bodies barely touching – to assuming that something inappropriate is going on. It says a lot about how we view girls, and especially how we view black girls, that this captured moment was immediately sexualized. As bell hooks wrote in her review of Beasts of the Southern Wild (which she uses to criticize the eroticization of the film’s protagonist and of black girls in general), “black children no matter their age are always seen as miniature adults.” The reaction to this photograph is certainly proof of that. If it had been a white girl, would we have had this reaction? If it had been a thirteen-year-old Elle Fanning or Hailee Steinfeld or Kiernan Shipka, would we have been as quick to leap to the conclusion that there was something untoward going on? Maybe, but probably not.

Had this been a picture of a young white girl with a man a few years older than her, it most likely would have been written off as totally innocent. If there had been a media narrative at all, it would have contained the facts that a) the two of them were not alone; they were hanging with Willow’s older brother Jaden and b) Moises is a family friend and particularly a close friend of Jaden’s and c) the three of them were attending Coachella (where, as is my understanding, going shirtless is pretty standard). But those details are all missing from most articles about this picture – instead, it’s presented as an intimate moment between two lovers.

Black women are so consistently devalued and dehumanized by the media that most people barely even notice it anymore. Young black girls are sexualized from the moment they hit puberty (and often even before that). Black girls are barely allowed to have a childhood before they become the object of the male gaze – especially the white male gaze. And when we share and judge and comment on pictures like this, we are contributing to that problem.

I mean, Jesus, she’s just a little kid – even if you do look at this picture and see something sexual, why would you think it was fine to attack and humiliate a kid like this? Think back to when you were thirteen, and then imagine that the entire world was passing around a humiliating picture of you and calling you all kinds of horrible names. I don’t know about you, but I would pretty much have died of shame. So why would you do that to someone else? And don’t say that as a celebrity she’s asking for it – she’s thirteen. She hasn’t asked for anything. You are the adult here, so start behaving like it.

Female bodies – especially black female bodies – do not exist purely for our voyeuristic enjoyment. We need to actively push back whenever stories like this are created by the media, and we need to work hard to protect the privacy and autonomy of young women. Most of all, we need to stop ascribing sexual intentions and desires to young girls, because doing so is dangerous and damaging. Treating a picture like this in this way says far more about us, and what we project onto black girls, than it does about anything else.

 

To All Of The Girls Accused Of Just Wanting Attention

6 May

TW for talk of suicide

Also a note to mention that I recognize that it’s not only women who are accused of being attention-seeking – however, it does seem to be a highly gendered thing

The first thing I need you to know is that there is nothing wrong with wanting attention. Asking people to notice you does not make you needy or pathetic or anything of the other things people have called you when you’ve somehow been too honest about your want. Wanting attention is human nature – we’re social creatures, and it’s perfectly natural to want some kind of social regard from other people.

The second thing that I need you to know is that your feelings – whatever they might be – are valid. If you want attention because you are lonely or sad or scared, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that fact. Those are very good reasons to ask for attention. Try not to let people discredit your feelings because your emotions make them uncomfortable. That is their issue, not yours.

There are so many good reasons for wanting attention. You might want to be complimented, or comforted, or distracted. You might need reassurance that the people around you love you and value your presence in their lives. You might just need that little boost to get you through the rest of the day. There is no wrong reason to want attention. Attention is not a bad thing. In fact, attention is necessary to our survival – we need attention in order to grow and thrive and develop as people. As mammals, we need other members of our species to love and care for us from the moment we’re born. That’s what sets us apart from other animals.

The third thing that I need you to know is that the best way to get what you want is to ask for it. You’ve been taught your whole life not to ask for things, to sit passively and sweetly until they come to you, but try to fight that urge. Be as clear as possible about what kind of support you want – it’s unfair to expect people to guess. If you want a compliment, then say so. If you want cute pictures of animals or funny gifs, then ask for those. If you want a shoulder to cry on or space to vent, then be honest about it. It’s hard for people to give you what you need if all they have to go on are vague suggestions.

The fourth thing that I need you to know is that you have been socialized from a very young age to compete for attention. You’ve been taught that other women are the enemy and men are the prize. You’ve been told in a thousand subtle ways that what’s most important is that you are pretty, charming, and sweet. You’ve learned to cut other girls down in order to make yourself look better. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I need you to know that you can ask for attention in a way that is not at another girl’s expense.

I also need you to know that accusing another girl of just wanting for attention is another way of cutting them down.

The fifth thing that I need you to know is that you are worth so much more than how you look. There’s nothing wrong with wanting compliments on your appearance, but you should know that your value does not depend on how pretty you are. I know that you’ve been taught since day one that beauty trumps everything else, but please, please try your hardest to unlearn that lesson. You are a smart and talented and creative and interesting creature. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough: you are so much more than your looks.

The sixth thing that I need you to know is that not all attention is created equal, and what might feel affirming in the moment might create damaging patterns in the long term. If you cannot feel pretty without having other people confirm your prettiness, asking over and over for that validation will not change your self-perception. And maybe that’s not your goal – maybe you don’t want to change. You’re allowed to not want to change. But you should know that it is dangerous to base any part of your self-esteem on the opinion of other people.

Finally, for anyone who might roll their eyes at someone who just wants attention, I need you to know that sometimes that attention – even if it’s just a hug or a phone call or a quick text message – can make an enormous difference. Sometimes it can even mean the difference between life and death. Studies show that suicide is an impulsive act, and, contrary to popular belief, if someone intervenes most often the survivor will not immediately go find some other way of killing themselves. Your text could be that intervention – you have no way of knowing what type of mental state anyone else is in, and if you sense that they need some kind of help, you should offer them whatever you can.

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An Open Apology To All The Girls I’ve Been Mean To

22 Apr

I’m sorry for all of the times that I’ve said that I’m not like other girls, implying that there was something defective or inferior about being a girl. I’m sorry for how hard I’ve tried to be “different,” not because being different felt authentic but because I was afraid that I would never measure up to you.

I’m sorry for all of the times that I’ve made fun of traditionally feminine things, like make-up and pretty clothing. I’m sorry that I derided these things as stupid and frivolous – the fact that I did that says more about my own insecurities than it does about anything else.

I’m sorry that I called you a slut. What I meant was that I was jealous that boys wanted to sleep with you. What I meant was that I was jealous of how comfortable you seemed to be in your body, how easily you wore those short skirts and low-cut tops. I could never imagine what it must feel like to be as happy or as beautiful as you, and it seemed like your pleasure was somehow my loss.

I’m sorry for how often I’ve talked about you behind your back. I’m sorry for how meanly glad it made me to strip you down and bare all your petty little faults over coffee with a mutual friend.

I’m sorry for all the times that I’ve told myself that talking about you behind your back was fine because I was doing it from a place of love and concern.

I’m sorry for all of the ways I sneakily took out my anger on you, saying sly little things to cut you down or else aiming a thousand cruel barbs straight at your heart. I was too afraid to confront you over what you’d done, so instead I tried to hurt you as badly as you’d hurt me.

I’m sorry for all of times that I failed to back you up when you were right just because I wanted the approval of the men sitting at the table. I’m sorry for all of the anti-woman garbage that I’ve laughed at and pretended to agree with just because I wanted to be a chill girl. I’m sorry that I was afraid to stand up for what I believe in.

I’m sorry for all of the ways that I’ve undervalued our friendship, or left you feeling unappreciated. I’m sorry for how often I’ve taken you for granted.

I’m sorry for all of the times that I’ve prioritized my relationships with men – all men and any men, not just the ones that I’ve dated – over my relationship with you. I’m sorry for how often I’ve ditched you to hang out with the boys and assumed that you’d be cool with it because, hey, boys. I’m sorry for how frequently I’ve made you feel that you are lesser than. I’m sorry that I’ve treated you as if you were lesser-than.

I’m sorry for all of the times that I made you feel as if we were secret competitors for titles like The Smart Girl, or The Funny Girl, or The Writer Girl. I’m sorry that I bought into the idea that there could only be one of each, and that one of us would have to fail in order for the other to succeed.

I’m sorry for all of the times that your successes made me so sick with jealousy that I could barely stretch my mouth into a smile. I should have celebrated them, but instead I thought about how much of a failure I was compared to you.

I’m sorry for all of the little tricks that I pulled to make you feel unwelcome. I’m sorry for the cliques, for the obvious laughter at your expense, for the notes that you weren’t-supposed-to-see-but-yes-of-course-you-were-supposed-to-see. I’m sorry that I’ve allowed these tactics to bleed into my adult life, into workplaces and friendly get-togethers and social media.

I’m sorry that I encouraged you to confide in me, and then treated your secrets like a sort of currency that could buy me higher social standing or else five minutes of some boy’s of attention. It didn’t do me any good anyway – all it did was teach other people that they couldn’t trust me.

I’m sorry for all of this and more. I’m sorry for the ways that I’ve been a bad feminist and a bad friend. I can’t change what I’ve done – all that I can do is apologize and promise to do better.

I’m so sorry.

And I will do better.

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An Open Letter To Tom McLaughlin And Joshua Sealy-Harrington

15 Apr

We need to talk about your recent article in the Globe and Mail.

Specifically, we need to talk about the fact that you have cast yourselves as allies and yet are doing far more to hurt the causes that you claim to believe in than you are doing to help them.

First of all, let’s get a few things straight here:

1 You are not being silenced – and the fact that you try to claim that in a column published in a nationally syndicated newspaper is sort of sublimely ridiculous

2. Not everyone’s perspective can “positively contribute” – for instance, I do not think that the KKK’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on race, nor do I think that the Westboro Baptist Church’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on sexuality

3. You are being bad allies

That being said, I want to ask who, exactly, you imagine to be the target reader for your piece. Is it your hope that anti-oppression activists, specifically those who are marginalized, will read what you’ve written and realize how wrong their approach has been? Because if that’s the case, then unfortunately you’ve missed the mark by quite a bit. On the other hand, if the group you are writing for is one made up of privileged people who feel distressed by what they perceive to be deliberate silencing and disenfranchisement, then congratulations, you’ve succeeded! If your goal was to confirm what privileged people everywhere have long suspected – namely, that “equality” means that their voices should always be heard on par with everyone else’s, even though their voices have long dominated nearly all forms of discourse – then you’ve done a great job. If what you were trying to do was make sure that the oppressive status quo – you know, the one that so many of us are trying to tear down – is maintained, well, mission accomplished. You only need to read the comments on your article to know that you’ve done exactly that.

I also want to ask you how, exactly, you consider yourselves to be allies to any kind of social justice cause when your main message is that oppressed groups need to make room for the voices of traditionally oppressive groups. You write about this dynamic as if the opinions of the privileged aren’t already culturally dominant, and as if privileged groups don’t already have an excess of places to spout off about their beliefs. I mean, look at the platform you’ve been given – an enormously popular newspaper with a huge reach. And yet you have the gall to worry that your voices aren’t being heard? Because I promise you that your voices are being heard.

And yes, sometimes your opinions will be discounted because of your identity – because you know what? In the context of social justice, lived experience trumps everything else every time. When you are speaking, you are not speaking from a place of knowing or understanding, and that means that your arguments, no matter how well-crafted, do not count for as much as the arguments of someone who has experienced oppression and marginalization firsthand. Oh, and by the way, comparing an oncologist who has never had cancer to a male doctor treating a female patient is probably one of the worst pieces of rhetoric I’ve ever read. Cancer is a disease; being a woman is not. An oncologist may someday develop cancer; chances are good that a doctor who lives as a man will not experience life as a woman. People who have cancer are not marginalized by a pervasive oppressive force that systematically silences and discredits them; people who identify as women have lived with that force their entire lives.

You say:

The use of terms such as “mansplaining” (and its racial counterpart, “whitesplaining”) can cause disengagement. These labels are sometimes used to dismiss arguments when men and white people simply disagree. But if a man or white person makes a poor argument, why not just refute it? 

And somehow you don’t seem to understand that marginalized people spend so much time coming up with intelligent responses to poor arguments. In fact, sometimes it feels like that’s all we do. If I were to reply to every bad piece of logic that came my way with a lengthy and intelligent response, that is literally the only thing I would be doing, all day every day. And you know what? If I were to do that, the vast, vast majority of what I had to say would fall on deaf ears. It is both impossible and just plain not worth it to engage every person who says something problematic and thoughtfully explain to them why they are wrong.

It’s not worth it, and it’s also just plain not my job.

If you really want to be good allies, then you need to understand that your job is to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Your work here isn’t to tell traditionally oppressed groups that they need to be more open to the opinions of privileged folks like yourselves – and by the way, this isn’t exactly a new or radical message, though I get the feeling that you think it is. As an ally,  your work is in educating yourself and maintain your engagement. Your work is to help educate other privileged folk. Your work is to get to the back of the room and sit down and let someone else take the stage for a hot second. That is what an ally is supposed to do. That is what you should have used your platform to do. Instead, you used it to castigate already oppressed groups for not participating in activism in the way you think they should

And for the record, being sweet and nice and engaging has never done much for social justice activists. Making room for the thoughts and opinions of oppressive groups has never gained us anything. Women weren’t granted the right to vote because they valued the opinions of the men who didn’t think they had the mental capacity to participate in democracy – they won the right to vote by fighting for their beliefs, by being imprisoned for them and sometimes even dying for them. Their refusal to engage misogynists did not stifle progress – in fact, it hastened it. The sad truth is that it’s only when privileged groups realize that their voices can no longer fully dominate the discourse that we begin to see real change. Otherwise, if marginalized people continue to “make room” for the privileged, if they continue to stroke their egos and promise them that their thoughts are valued – in part because too much time is spent licking the master’s boots to actually get anything done, and also because if privileged voices are given free reign in a discussion about marginalizing forces, then they will almost always take over. Because that’s how privilege works.

Look, I get it. You’re both young guys, and maybe this is your first taste of not having your opinion automatically valued simply because of who you are. And I’m sure that the backlash to your article has not been a nice experience – no one, especially not someone who believes that they are an ally – wants to believe that they are hurting or oppressing other people. But you are being hurtful and oppressive, and until you sit back and listen to what we’re trying to tell you, you will continue to be so.

Also I truly believe that someday you will be deeply embarrassed by this tweet:

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Fredericton’s Morgentaler Clinic Is Closing, And Here’s Why You Should Care

11 Apr

The Morgentaler abortion clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has announced that it will be closing in July due to lack of funding.

The Morgentaler clinic is the only abortion clinic in New Brunswick. In fact, aside from the Athena clinic in Newfoundland, it is the only abortion clinic east of Montreal. It serves not only the population of New Brunswick, but also that of Prince Edward Island. Currently, abortions in those provinces are not covered by medicare – in fact, Regulation 84-20 of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment act includes the following under procedures which are “are deemed not to be entitled services”:

(a.1) abortion, unless the abortion is performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located and two medical practitioners certify in writing that the abortion was medically required 

So just to clarify, women in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island cannot access safe, legal abortions unless two doctors declare in writing that the abortion is medically necessary.

Medically. Necessary.

Women cannot choose to terminate a pregnancy unless two doctors agree that it is medically necessary.

It doesn’t matter how many times I type those words – I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around them. Medically necessary. Medically necessary. Jesus Christ, what decade are we living in?

Scratch that, what century are we living in?

The Morgentaler clinic is the only facility in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island where women can access safe, legal abortions without having to demonstrate medical need. It is the only place where women can exercise their rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive choice. It is unbelievably necessary to the population that it serves – since it first opened in 1994, 10,000 abortions have been performed there. There is a demonstrably urgent need for the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick.

And yet, even within the Morgentaler clinic, there are still barriers for women who require access to abortions. Because provincial healthcare does not cover abortions, women need to pay between $700 and $850 (depending on how many weeks along they are) in order to terminate their pregnancy. This means that the most vulnerable, economically disadvantaged women – arguably the women who would benefit the most from access to safe, legal abortion – are often unable to pay for the procedure. And that is incredibly fucked up.

Think about what it would mean to your family to suddenly have to shell out $850 on just a few weeks’ notice. Think of what it would mean for you to have to get that money together in a short amount of time, or else face the burden of an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy. I live a pretty comfortable middle class existence, and even I would struggle to come up with that kind of money on short notice. And I know that I’m luckier than most – I have a steady income, I have a partner with a steady income, and we have a stable home life. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a single woman working at a minimum wage job, barely scraping enough together for rent and bills each month, to discover that she has to scrape together $850 or else face raising a child that she does not want and cannot afford on her own.

I also want you to think about what will happen in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island once the Morgentaler clinic is gone. Do you honestly believe that women just won’t have abortions? Are you seriously buying into some kind of anti-choice fantasy where a woman gets to the halfway mark in her pregnancy and suddenly falls in love with the idea of being a mother and then her boyfriend shows up on their doorstep and asks her to get married and it’s all roses and white picket fences from there on? For fucking real?

If that’s the case, let me tell you what’s actually going to happen – women are going to die. Women are going to die because they will be forced to turn to unlicensed abortion providers who might prey on their vulnerability by charging extortionate rates for unsafe procedures. Women are going to die because they will attempt to terminate their own pregnancies at home, by themselves, with little or no knowledge of what they’re doing. Women will die because their pregnancies will force them to stay in abusive relationships that they might otherwise have been able to leave. If you think that closing an abortion clinic will somehow equal more happy endings or at the very least more babies, then think again – worldwide statistics and history both show that the real outcome of this situation will be the loss of women’s lives.

This cannot happen. We cannot, in good conscience, let this happen. We need to do everything that we can to allow women to exercise reproductive freedom. We need to stand up for the right of women in New Brunswick – and all across Canada – to have access to save, legal abortion.

Our voices, united, can affect change. There are so many things that you can do to help create a better future for women in this country; here are just a few:

1. Reach out New Brunswick’s NDP party  – they are actively working to end the two doctor requirement for abortions, and will happily provide you with the contact information for members of the legislative assembly so that you can write to your local representative. Call 1-844-NDP-NPD1 or email info@nbndp.ca

2. Put pressure on your MLA to have the law changed by writing to them, calling them, and emailing them

3. Tweet about this using the hashtag #NBProchoice

4. Sign this petition on change.org asking the New Brunswick government to fund the Morgentaler clinic

5. Check out the New Brunswick Pro Choice Facebook page

6. Share this story on social media – chances are that many Canadians are not aware of how limited access to abortion is in New Brunswick

I want to leave you now with one of my favourite quotes from Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who was a feminist hero, agitator for women’s reproductive rights and founder of the Morgentaler abortion clinics. D. Morgentaler was a Holocaust survivor, and his experience at Auschwitz left him with an enormous desire to make the world a better place. While receiving an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Western Ontario, he said:

“By fighting for reproductive freedom, and making it possible, I have made a contribution to a safer and more caring society where people have a greater opportunity to realize their full potential.”

It’s up to us to continue his fight for that safer, more caring society.

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On Being Useful

8 Apr

I often worry about being useful.

Especially these days, when I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of bad moods and even the most basic daily activities are a struggle to complete. The truth is that for this past month I’ve barely been able to take care of myself, let alone do things like wash the dishes or give my kid a bath or think up genius words to write. For most of this year so far I have been the opposite of useful, and that’s been frightening and disorienting. I am so accustomed to being the unstoppably active one, the go-getter, to do-er of things that I just don’t know what to make of myself right now. All that I know is that I am not useful, either to myself or to anyone else.

I don’t just mean in a general sense, like a broad what-am-I-doing-with-my-life sort of thing, but rather an exhaustive catalogue of every little thing that I accomplish in a day. I worry about what I should be doing at any particular moment, and even times of rest are evaluated by what and how much they are accomplishing. For example, if I spend half an hour sitting in a coffee shop reading my book, then I tally that up as thirty minutes of preparing myself for the rest of the day, or thirty minutes longer that I will be able to work that night, or thirty minutes of “getting better.” I’m told that focussing on myself will help me get better, as if I don’t spend all of my time already mired in the stupid fucking mess that is my pathetic self. At least being useful helps me forget myself, even just briefly.

I’m encouraged by many people – by doctors, therapists, friends and family – to think that doing pleasurable things is part of the cure for for what ails me. And I know that these people have good intentions, and I know that they only want me to relax and be happy, but the truth is that telling me this only results in me feeling that experiencing pleasure is yet another thing that I have to check off my list. Pleasure is not something to achieve in and of itself, but rather a means to an end – it’s a way to fix my broken brain, or a way to create or maintain a relationship with someone else, or else just a way to swing from one moment to another so that I can make it through the day. On my worst days, the idea of pleasure seems like little more than work. And if I’m going to work, then why not be useful?

I worry about how much love I will lose if I am not useful. If I am not constantly on the move, if I am not always somehow working towards something important, if I am not proving my worth at every chance that I get, then how will I convince people that they ought to keep me around? Surely my value to them depends solely on my ability to keep the conversation going, to offer whatever help I can, to soothe hurt feelings or give encouragement or else plan interesting activities. Surely if I were to sit there and let my face go slack, if I were to let every little bit of happiness, eagerness, optimism, charm, sweetness or whatever else it is that I think people want from me drain out of my expression, then everyone would turn and run. Surely if I were to let anyone see my true self, the self that doubts and is sometimes afraid and sometimes clueless about what to do, then no one would love me. What else, other than my usefulness, do I have to offer?

I’ve been wondering lately if this desire to be useful is a gendered trait. The men that I know don’t seem to have any trouble kicking back and spending an hour or two watching a movie or playing guitar or reading a book. It seems to be mainly the women that I know who are constantly bustling about, washing a dish here or tidying a room there. The men seem much more capable of just being, whereas the women seem much more intent on justifying why they should be allowed to be. And when these women are sick or hurt or otherwise unable to fulfill what they see as their duty, they are the first to apologize to everyone around them for how useless they are. Perhaps there’s a part of us that believes that if we want to have it all, then we need to do it all, if only to convince the world that we’re capable enough for this.

Sometimes the feeling of not being useful brushes uncomfortably close to what we imagine female frailty might feel like. And that is the last thing that we want.

But the truth is that equality lies not in our ability to tackle everything, but rather in our ability to share responsibility. And feminism doesn’t just depend on women enthusiastically tackling every issue that comes their way in an effort to fix the gender gap; it also depends on our being able to sit with ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are in that moment rather than constantly looking for areas of improvement. And none of this is to say that we should give up or try to stop bettering ourselves and the world around us, but rather that if every single goddamn moment of every day has to be a fight in one way or another, then what are we fighting for? If we are fighting for equality, then we are also fighting for the right to sometimes take time for ourselves, time that might otherwise be employed doing something practical.

And if I don’t ever learn how to sit with myself, if I don’t ever learn to love myself even just enough to be present in my own body with my own thoughts, then I’m never going to get better. Yes, doing useful things distracts me from how I feel, but at the end of the day I always have to come back to myself. And no matter how much I feel that I’ve accomplished, if I can’t comfortably live in my own skin then it’s hard to feel as if I’m succeeding.

The fact is that I don’t always need to be useful.

I don’t need to fill every second of my day with activities that prove my value in this world. I am not on trial; I am not expected to prove my worthiness of being able to occupy space. My grandmother was wrong – idle hands are not the devil’s playthings. Sometimes they are just resting. Sometimes they are enjoying themselves. Sometimes they exist in the space between one thing and another, and the truth is that they have every right to do that.

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Why The Men’s Rights Movement Is Garbage

28 Mar

I need to take a moment here to talk about the Men’s Rights Movement, because there seems to be some confusion. Actually, there seems to be a whole lot of confusion.

Over the past little while, I’ve had a number of people challenge me on calling out men’s rights activists (hereafter referred to as MRAs). “But men are oppressed too,” people say. “Feminism is sexist, and it teaches men that masculinity is wrong.” “Straight, white men aren’t allowed to be proud of themselves anymore.” “If you believe in equality, then you should want men to have the same type of activism as women.” “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

First of all, yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But let’s not pretend that all opinions are created equal – some are based on fact, and some are total bullshit. Like, I could tell you that I believe that vaccines cause autism, and that would be my opinion, but it would also be demonstrably untrue. So let’s not pretend that all opinions should be given the same consideration, because we both know better than that.

Second of all, let’s get one thing straight: men, as a group, do not face systematic oppression because of their gender. Am I saying that literally no men out there are oppressed? No, I am for sure not saying that. Men can and do face oppression and marginalization for many reasons – because of race, class, sexuality, poverty, to name a few. Am I saying that every white cishet dude out there has an amazing life because of all his amassed privilege? Nope, I’m not saying that either. There are many circumstances that might lead to someone living a difficult life. But men do not face oppression because they are men. Misandry is not actually a thing, and pretending that it’s an oppressive force on par with or worse than misogyny is offensive, gross, and intellectually dishonest.

MRAs believe that feminists are to blame for basically everything that’s wrong with their lives. The Men’s Rights Movement is a reactionary movement created specifically to counter feminism, and most (if not all) of their time and resources go towards silencing and marginalizing women. They do things like starting the Don’t Be That Girl campaign, a campaign that accuses women of making false rape reports. They attend feminist events in order to bully and intimidate women, they flood online feminist spaces with threatening messages, and they regularly use smear campaigns and scare tactics to make the women who don’t back down afraid for their physical safety. They do literally nothing to actually resolve the problems that they claim to care about, and instead do everything they can to discredit the feminist movement.

There are certainly issues that disproportionately affect men – the suicide rate among men is higher, as is the rate of homelessness. Men are more likely to be injured or killed on the job or because of violence. Men who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault are less likely to report these things. These are the issues that MRAs are purportedly working on, and by “working on” I mean “blaming feminism for.” The problem is that none of these things are caused by feminism, or equal rights for women, or anything like that. You know what’s actually to blame for a lot of these issues? Marginalizing forces like class and race, for one thing – I mean, it’s not rich white men who are grappling with homelessness or dangerous workplaces or gun violence. You know what else is to blame? Our patriarchal culture and its strictly enforced gender roles which, hey, happens to be exactly the same power structure that feminism is trying to take down. The patriarchy has some fucked up ideas about masculinity, ideas that make men less likely to seek help for issues that they perceive to be too feminine – such as being hurt or raped by a female partner, not being able to provide for themselves, or not seeking help for health issues like depression and anxiety. On a societal level, it means that resources are not as readily available for men who face these challenges, because patriarchal ideas tell our courts, our governments and our charitable organizations that men don’t ever need that kind of help. Yes, the patriarchy overwhelmingly privileges the interests of men, but it also hurts men. It hurts men in all the ways that MRAs are apparently so concerned about, which means that you would think that MRAs would be totally on board with dismantling the patriarchy, but they’re not. Instead, they would rather blame women for their problems.

See, the problem with the Men’s Rights Movement is that they are not doing anything concrete to resolve any of the above issues. They are not raising money to open shelters for homeless or abused men. They are not starting up suicide hotlines for men. They are not lobbying for safer workplaces or gun control. Instead, they are crying about feminism, pooh-poohing the idea of patriarchy and generally making the world a sadder, scarier, less safe place to live in. In fact, I would argue that their stupid antics are actually a detriment t0 the causes that they claim to espouse, because they’re creating an association between actual real issues that men face and their disgusting buffoonery. So good fucking job, MRAs. Way to fuck vulnerable men over in your quest to prove that feminism is evil. I hope you’re all really proud of yourselves.

The Men’s Rights Movement is not “feminism for men.” It’s not some kind of complimentary activism meant to help promote equal treatment of men and women. And it fucking most certainly  is not friendly towards women, unless we’re talking about women with crippling cases of internalized misogyny. I believe in equality for men and women, but I also believe that we’re not born with an even playing field. Women still face disenfranchisement, discrimination and a lack of basic freedoms and rights, and although feminism has done a lot of great work over the last century or so, we still haven’t undone several millennia’s worth of social programming and oppression. So that’s why it’s not “men’s turn” to have a social justice movement. That’s why we have the fem in feminism. That’s why fairness and equality involve promoting the empowerment of women, rather than promoting the empowerment of both genders in equal amounts. Because, to use a stupid analogy here, if one person starts out with no apples and another person starts out with five apples and then you give them both three apples each in the name of fairness, one person still has five more fucking apples.

So yes, let’s talk about issues that affect men. Let’s come up with solutions for problems that disproportionately hurt men, like suicide and homelessness and violent deaths (while at the same time recognizing that the fact that there are issues that affect more men than women does not mean that men are oppressed because of their gender). Let’s work on opening up shelters for abused men, let’s create campaigns bringing awareness to the fact that men are also the victims of rape, and let’s pressure the government to improve workplace safety. But let’s find a way to do this that’s not at the expense of women. Instead, let’s join together and fuck up the patriarchy real good, because that way everyone wins.

p.s. If you actually think that straight white men aren’t encouraged to be “proud” of themselves you need to check your privilege a million times over and then check it some more because seriously

How I Feel About MRAs

How I Feel About MRAs

You Don’t Have To Be Pretty – On YA Fiction And Beauty As A Priority

23 Mar

“I’m not trying to be self-deprecating,” I say, “I just don’t get it. I’m younger. I’m not pretty. I –”

He laughs, a deep laugh that sounds like it came from deep inside him, and touches his lips to my temple.

“Don’t pretend,” I say breathily. “You know I’m not. I’m not ugly, but I am certainly not pretty.”

“Fine. You’re not pretty. So?” He kisses my cheek. “I like how you look. You’re deadly smart. You’re brave. And even though you found out about Marcus …” His voice softens. “You aren’t giving me that look. Like I’m a kicked puppy or something.”

“Well,” I say. “You’re not.”

Veronica Roth, Divergent

This handful of sentences, spoken by Divergent‘s protagonists Tris and Four, might be some of the most revolutionary words ever written in a young adult novel. In fact, they’re pretty incredible no matter what the genre. These words may not look like much, but trust me, they’re actually pretty mind-blowing when you really think about them.

Let’s just take a moment to digest what’s being said here, shall we?

Tris, Divergent‘s heroine and current YA dystopia It Girl, has just kissed the boy she likes. He’s a few years older than her – in fact, he’s her instructor – and, although it’s been clear throughout the book that she has a total lady-boner for him, she didn’t think she stood a chance. Throughout the book she and others consistently describe her as homely, skinny and flat-chested; she herself says, “I am not pretty – my eyes are too big and my nose is too long,” and one of her antagonists, catching a glimpse of her naked, crows “She’s practically a child!” Among her peers, she either fades into the background or else becomes a target because of her apparent helplessness and vulnerability. In short, she’s a real Plain Jane.

Having the female protagonist of a young adult novel believe that she’s ordinary-looking, uninteresting and unnoticeable is nothing new. In fact, it’s a trope that’s been pretty widely covered throughout the genre — from Katniss Everdeen to Bella Swan to Hermione Granger to Mia Thermopolis, it seems like just about every heroine needs some convincing to realize how beautiful they are. Because, of course, they are beautiful — though often the character requires a makeover before she herself and the world around her (except, of course, for that One Special Boy Who Always Knew) realize her true beauty. Think of the scene when Katniss first arrives in the Capitol, when they shave off her body hair, tame her eyebrows and slather her with makeup. Or the part in The Princess Diaries when Mia takes off her glasses, straightens her hair and poof, she’s a babe! Or else Hermione’s appearance at the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when she puts on a fancy dress, bewitches her frizzy hair into submission and suddenly gets everyone’s attention. The message that we get over and over is that beauty, even hidden beauty, is somehow part and parcel of being an exceptional, successful young woman. And of course every girl longs to be pretty, right?

But not Tris.

Tris is pretty matter-of-fact about not being beautiful; she mentions it once or twice, but it’s not pivotal to her character. She doesn’t seem to give her appearance all that much though, probably because she has other, more pressing concerns like her own survival. She does get a makeover of a sort, but not one that especially improves or feminizes her appearance. Being pretty is not a priority for Tris and, amazingly, her prettiness is not a priority for her love interest either. Look at the words he uses to explain why he likes her – smart and brave. These attributes are the reasons that he wants to be with her, not her appearance. Of course he finds her physically attractive – he does say that he likes how she looks, after all – but that’s not her main appeal for him. He’s more drawn to her because of what she does rather than how she looks. And that is pretty amazing. Having a plain, ordinary-looking female protagonist whose looks don’t, at some point over the course the book or movie, wind up being “fixed” is something I have actually never seen before.

When we talk about women’s appearance, we often get hung up on the idea that all women deserve to feel beautiful. Many initiatives meant to empower women hinge on the concept that all women are beautiful in their own way. The message is that though we might not all be super model material, each of us has our own special brand of prettiness. This is thought to be helpful in deconstructing the beauty ideals that our society for women – the idea that “pretty” only comes in a package that’s tall, white, skinny and blond – and is often embraced as part of feminist ideology. But while I know that the intentions behind this message are good, I can’t help but feel that it’s not a very healthy thing for young girls to be hearing.

The problem is that when we promote this idea that all women are beautiful, what we are really doing is emphasizing that it is important for women to be physically attractive. We are telling girls that, as females, the way that they look is a huge part of who they are – that we expect prettiness from them, and that we expect them to want it. Even if we don’t mean to, we are still attaching a high value to physical appearance. And that’s messed up.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for people feeling good about themselves and being comfortable in their own skin. I want everyone to be happy with how they look. But I don’t want girls believing that feeling pretty is equal to or more important than feeling smart, competent or powerful. I also don’t want them to think that not feeling beautiful or not putting a premium on their own beauty means that there’s something flawed or unfeminine about them. Instead of living in a world where every woman struggles on a daily basis to find something attractive about herself, I would rather live in one where women are told that it’s fine not to care about how they look.

I know that this has been said before, but it bears repeating:

Girls, you don’t have to be pretty. Your sex does not place you under any obligation to feel beautiful. You are so much more than your appearance.

We never say that all men deserve to feel beautiful. We never say that each man is beautiful in his own way. We don’t have huge campaigns aimed at young boys trying to convince them that they’re attractive, probably because we very rarely correlate a man’s worth with his appearance. The problem is that a woman’s value in this world is still very much attached to her appearance, and telling her that she should or deserves to feel beautiful does more to promote that than negate it. Telling women that they “deserve” to feel pretty plays right in to the idea that prettiness should be important to them. And having books and movies aimed at young women where every female protagonist turns out to be beautiful (whereas many of the antagonists are described in much less flattering terms) reinforces the message that beauty has some kind of morality attached to it, and that all heroines are somehow pretty.

Can we please change the script here? Instead of saying that all women deserve to feel beautiful, can we instead say that all women deserve to feel smart? How about all women deserve to feel respected? Or all women deserve to feel capable? Let’s tell women that they are something, anything, other than pretty. Because seriously, we deserve to be so much more than just pretty.

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