Tag Archives: gender

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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Tired of Talking To Men

15 Mar

I am tired of talking about feminism to men.

I know that I’m not supposed to say this. I know that as a good little third-wave feminist I’m supposed to sweetly explain to you how much I love and value men. I’m supposed to trot out my husband of nearly five years, my son, all of my male friends and relatives and display them as a sort of badge of honour, proof that I am not a man-hater. I’m supposed to hold out my own open palms, prove to you how harmless I am, how nice I am. Above all, I’m supposed to butter you up, you men, stroke your egos, tell you how very important you are in the fight for equality. This is the right way to go about it, or so I’ve been told. As my mother would say, you catch more flies with honey.

But still. I’m tired of talking about feminism to men.

I’m tired of explaining to men that the feminist movement will, in fact, benefit them as well as women. I’m tired of trying to hawk gender equality like I’m some kind of car salesman showing off a shiny new sedan, explaining all of its bells and whistles. I’m tired of smiling through a thousand thoughtless microaggressions, tired of providing countless pieces of evidence, tired of being questioned on every. single. damn. thing. I’m tired of proving that microaggressions exist, tired of proving that I’m unfairly questioned and asked for proof. For a movement that’s centered around the advancement and empowerment of women, why do I feel like I’m supposed to spend so damn much of my time carefully considering how what I say and do will be taken  by men?

I’m tired of men who insert themselves into feminist spaces with claims of hurt feelings. I’m tired of men who somehow manage to make every issue about them. I’m tired of men like the one who recently stopped by a friend’s Facebook thread in order to call feminism “cunty,” then lecture the women involved for being too “hostile” in their responses to him. I’m tired of men telling me that my understanding of feminism and rape culture are wrong, as if these aren’t things that I have studied intensely. I’m tired of men who claim to be feminist allies, then abuse that position to their own advantage. I’m so fucking exhausted by the fact that I know that I will have to, at some point in this piece, mention that I understand that not all men are like that. I will have to note that some men are good allies. And all of those things are true! And all of you good allies get cookies! But honestly I’m tired of handing out cookies to people just because they’re being decent fucking human beings.

I spoke today on a panel about rape culture, and while the whole experience was fucking fantastic, I was totally disheartened by how many of the other presenters went out of their way to convince the men in the room that rape culture affected them, too. The phrase “rape culture isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a everyone’s issue,” kept coming up, and though I understand why it could be valuable to frame it that way, the rationale behind that makes me kind of sick. Because what we’re really saying is that if rape culture is understood to only be a woman’s issue, then it won’t be as important to men.

Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

Is it really so hard to have compassion about something that might not directly affect you?

I find that the more that I engage in activism, the more men seem to think that my time belongs to them. There seems to be this idea that if I’ve set myself up as an educator about feminism and gender and women’s rights (and I know that I have, and by and large I enjoy that role), then  it’s somehow part of my job to take the time out of my busy day to explain basic feminist concepts to them. If I don’t, then I’m accused of all kinds of things – not properly backing up what I say with facts (though the facts are easily accessible to those who want them), not caring enough about “converting” men who might be on the fence (though they could convert themselves if they really wanted to), not being strong or smart enough to engage in a discussion (which we both know isn’t going to go anywhere). I used to burn myself out by patiently laying out my talking points over and over, directing people towards resources, never walking away from an arguments be it big or small. But I’m not doing that to myself anymore. This is my space; I get to decide what happens here. If I don’t want to reply to comments, then I won’t. If I don’t want to engage someone, then I’ll ignore them. Yes, I am here to educate and to explain, but I am not under any obligation to do anything that I don’t want to. That is not my job. If you want to learn more, then that’s your job.

I’m going to call on all the men out there who consider themselves to be allies and ask them to step up to the plate and walk their own talk. When you see a woman being mansplained, you be the one to step in and call him out. When you see a bunch of men making misogynistic jokes, you be the one to tell them to fuck off. When someone asks for “proof,” don’t wait for a woman to provide it – you be the one to offer resources. Show us what a good ally you are by standing in the line of fire for once, and when you do, don’t immediately turn around and ask us for praise.

I’m tired of talking to men about feminism, but it doesn’t have to be like this. The burden of this discussion doesn’t have to be on women; we don’t have to be the only ones fighting the good fight. So please, men who are reading this – instead of the usual knee-jerk reaction towards these types of posts, instead of rolling your eyes and saying, “great, another feminist shitting on men,” I’m asking you to instead get involved and do what you can to affect change. I’m not going to condescend to you and try to explain why that will make the world a better place; I trust that you’re all smart enough to figure that out by yourselves.

This image came up when I googled "mansplain" and I'm just going to run with it.

This image came up when I googled “mansplain” and I’m just going to run with it. ETA: this is apparently Milan Greer, a sort of cat whisperer from the 50s. Apparently he was pretty rad and feminist so why someone tagged his picture as “mansplain” I’m not sure. WELL YOU LEARN SOMETHING EVERY DAY AM I RIGHT?

 

“But Not All ______ Are Like That!”

25 Feb

I see this happen all the damn time.

Someone describes the actions of a privileged group of people and how these actions, purposefully or not, encourage the marginalization of a less-privileged group. Most often this description occurs within the context of trying to explain to the privileged folks how this dynamic is hurtful and oppressive. The hope is that the privileged group will listen to the marginalized person, examine their own behaviour, and try to do better in the future. The reality is that the person doing the explaining is nearly always met with a chorus of, “but not all men/white people/straight people/cis people/able-bodied people are like that!”

Look. I get it. You, whatever privileged group you happen to fall into, are a good person. You want to remind the marginalized group that you view yourself as an ally. You want them to know that not everyone is against them – the world, after all, isn’t such a grim place as all that. You want to make it clear that although you understand that your group has done some not-so-great things in the past, you are a better, more evolved person than that.

Maybe you even think you are somehow helping the marginalized group realize that you’re more than just a blank face in a group – you’re an individual person with your own thoughts and actions.

You know what, though?

You are not helping.

You are just making things worse.

In fact, you are only helping to prove the original point: that you, as a privileged person, perpetuate actions and ideas that oppress less privileged people.

See, what you’re really doing with your comment is a classic derailment tactic. In a discussion that is supposed to be about those who have frequently been silenced, you are contributing to that silencing by making it all about you. The message that you are giving out is that your feelings, your poor, hurt, privileged feelings should be taken into account no matter what the topic at hand. You are putting yourself in the centre of the discussion, and pushing the original topic off to the side. You are occupying a space that was created by and for people who don’t have many other spaces to occupy, and yet you feel entitled to be there because your privilege has taught you that you are entitled to be anywhere you want. You are telling oppressed groups that they cannot discuss the issues that affect them unless they have first considered the feelings of the oppressive group.

You are being a bad fucking ally.

I’m going to give you three pieces of advice:

1. If you don’t feel like the action attributed to the privileged group is something that you do, then assume the person is not talking about you

If you are not guilty of this particular oppressive act, then great! You are a good ally! Here’s a cookie for you! You can revel in the knowledge of your goodness without having to ask for reassurance from anyone else.

2. Take a moment to examine your past actions and ask yourself if this might, in fact, be something of which you have been guilty

The truth is that you may very well have been unconsciously participating in subtle forms of oppression without realizing it. Often our privilege is so deeply ingrained that we don’t always recognize when we are abusing it; before you decide whether or not you’re fully innocent of any wrongdoing, it’s worth taking the time to check in with yourself and see if you’re being totally honest.

3. Use this as a learning opportunity, and an opportunity to educate others

Whether or not you are guilty of involvement in some kind of oppression (and, I mean, spoiler alert: you probably are), any marginalized person relating their lived experience should be something you take seriously. Rather than just dismissing what they’re saying as something that you would never, ever, ever do, use what they are telling you as a chance to further educate yourself on the dynamics of oppression. Not only that, but use your privilege to amplify their voice – share their post, retweet their message, reblog it on your Tumblr. Instead of crying that not all ____ are like that, use your actions to show that you, personally, are not like that.

Whether or not you intend to cause harm, you, as a privileged person, have almost certainly engaged in some form of oppression or marginalization. Our culture has taught you that your skin colour or gender or sexual orientation mean that your thoughts and feelings are more valuable than those of other groups, and that is some social programming that takes a lot of hard work to undo. But if you want to consider yourself to be anti-oppression – if, instead of just saying that you’re not racist or homophobic or a misogynist, you actually want to actively not be any of those things – you need to put in the time to try to dismantle the fucked up outlook that your privilege has given you. Otherwise, you have absolutely no place in any kind of social justice movement.

And if you really want others to believe that not all men/white people/cis people/straight people/able-bodied people are total assholes, then instead of whining about how good you actually are, you need to prove it.

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“Why Won’t You Educate Me About Feminism?”

22 Feb

He doesn’t hate women.

Above and beyond everything else, he wants you to know this: he does not hate women.

He has two daughters, for god’s sake, and a wife that he adores beyond anything else, and a sister that he texts every day and a mother who is the strongest person that he’s ever known – yes, stronger than any of the men he’s met. So don’t think that this is because he hates women.

If anything, his real problem is loving women too much.

See, he just wants his daughters to grow up safe and happy. And to be honest, some of the things that you’re saying – that these feminists are saying – are troubling to him.

He just wants to have a sort of academic chat. Peer to peer. Grownup to grownup. That’s all. He’s not saying you’re wrong – not by a long shot! He just wants you to explain a few things. He’s a reasonable, logical man, and he’s only asking for what any reasonable, logical person would want: proof.

After all, if you’re going to call yourself a feminist, you should be willing to back that belief up with facts, right?

And if you’ve got all the facts, it should be easy enough to convince him, shouldn’t it?

And after all, how is he supposed to understand anything if you won’t educate him?

He just wants so badly to understand.

If you don’t mind, could you start by providing him with some kind empirical data that women continue to suffer from systematic oppression? He doesn’t care about the past, and doesn’t want a history lesson. He wants to talk about the here and now. And from what he can see in the here and now, women are doing pretty well. Just look at you! Smart, well-educated, pretty. What about your gender could you possibly imagine has ever held you back? If anything, it’s probably done you a few favours!

He wonders if, for instance, you knew that there are now more women in post-secondary institutions than men? Gee, it sure seems like being a woman has benefited you in that regard!

He wonders if knew that more men were killed on the job than women, or that more men died violent deaths than women.

He wonders if you were aware that the rate of suicide was higher for men than for women.

He wonders if you even care about men, the way that he cares so much about women.

When you bring up the wage gap, he tells you that women make less because they work, on average, fewer hours. He tells you that men receive bonuses for doing more hazardous work, which skews the numbers. He tells you that the wage gap isn’t based on discrimination, but rather on mitigating factors that you obviously haven’t taken into consideration.

When you bring up rape and domestic violence statistics, he tells you that of course he’s sympathetic to female victims, but then asks why you didn’t mention male victims. He ponders aloud how interesting it is, the fact that you focus so much on women and seem to care so little about men. Don’t you think that men are victims of rape and domestic violence too? Have you ever thought about the fact that men’s numbers might be so much lower because stigma prevents so many victims from reporting their attacks? When a woman is raped or beaten, she’s treated with kindness and pity, but if it happens to a man, well, you can only imagine the comments about his masculinity and sexuality. And there are no men’s shelters for male victims of domestic abuse, there are no workshops for men to learn how to defend themselves against rapists. So wouldn’t you say that men actually have it worse with regards to these issues?

He doesn’t like the term “victim-blaming,” because, well, he finds that people use it when they want to escape the consequences of their actions. The thing is, if you’re a young girl out drinking and partying with the boys, he’s sure we all know that certain things might happen. Of course any rapist is a terrible person and deserves to be punished, but. Well. Women need to practice risk management, don’t they? If we know that rapists exist (and we do), then logically why would women make certain choices that would increase their risk of being raped? Rapists are monsters and we can’t change that, but women can certainly do their part to make sure that they stay safe.

After all, if someone’s house is robbed because they didn’t lock their door, we acknowledge that locking the door could have prevented the crime, don’t we? We don’t hold the person whose house was robbed to be completely blameless just because in a perfect world crimes would never be committed, do we?

Or to put it another way, when we drive cars, we wear seat belts, not because we think that we are bad drivers, but because we can’t control what other people on the road might do.

He wants his daughters to dress and behave modestly because although he trusts them, he can’t trust other people. That’s not victim-blaming, that’s just common sense.

He asks if you think that his daughters should serve as collateral damage for some point you are trying to prove.

He asks why it’s fine to put his daughter’ lives at risk for your so-called feminist principles.

He asks why you would want his daughters to dress and act like sluts – wouldn’t you rather they attract boys with their brains and character rather than their looks?

You see, it’s not that he hates women – not at all. He cares a great deal – obviously more than you do – about their health and safety. He wants his daughters to marry men who treat them well – men who hold open doors, men who pull out chairs, men who treat women as the exalted creatures that they are. He tells you that women – all women – deserve nothing less than this, because they are better, kinder, sweeter people than men. Women are stronger than men, he says – how else could they endure childbirth? Women are more nurturing and loving than men, he says – that’s why for thousands of years they’ve stayed home with the children while the men were out providing for the family.

Why would you want to deny his daughters all these wonderful qualities of womanhood and femininity?

Why would you want his daughters to be more like men, who are so obviously the lesser sex in so many regards?

You bring up the way that we as a society perpetuate and reinforce traditional gender roles; he counters with anecdotes about little boys being naturally interested in trucks, while little girls gravitate towards dolls and cooking sets.

You bring up the extreme beauty standards that women are held up to; he scoffs and asks if you’ve noticed how attractive the men in Hollywood are. He wonders if you think that women are alone when it comes to having body image issues – do you truly believe that men don’t face the same pressure that women do?

You bring up abortion; he bemoans the fact that men have no say over whether their child, their own flesh and blood, is born.

He uses the term “logical fallacy.”

He uses the term “straw man argument.”

He uses the term “ad hominem attack.”

When you tell him that he is not using any of these terms correctly, he calls that an ad hominem attack.

When you try to end the discussion, he accuses you of being too emotional about this. After all, here he is being all calm and rational, while you seem very, very upset. Here he has sat politely listening to you, presenting some very valid arguments, treating you exactly as he would treat a man, but you can’t seem to handle it. He humbly suggests that, if you cannot have a calm, rational discussion with him, perhaps women are not as equal as you imagine.

He asks why you so enjoy the role of the victim.

He asks why you would want to reduce his smart, competent daughters to victims.

He asks why you want to think of his mother, his brave, strong mother who raised him all on her own, as a victim.

He would never think of women as victims because, unlike you, he does not hate women.

mensClub

On Babies and Gender

21 Jan

When I was pregnant with Theo I was, like most expectant parents, very much a blind idealist about what raising children in general and my child in particular were going to be like. Oh, I wasn’t going to be one of those parents, plunking their kids down in front of the television, feeding them sugary food, giving into their tantrums. I was going to be always alert and engaged, loving but firm, and naturally I would feed my child nothing but the homemade goodness that I, Betty Crocker aspirant that I am, would whip up from raw, organic ingredients. My kid would sleep through the night. My kid would never cry on a crowded bus. My kid would be perfect.

My kid would be raised without all of the gender baggage that my peers and I had grown up with.

I had (and continue to have, I suppose) such an incredibly specific hangup about the word gender and the way that it’s tossed around in relation to babies and small children, especially with regards to the mid-pregnancy anatomy ultrasound. This ultrasound, for those of you not in the know, happens at about twenty weeks gestation and is meant to look for any fetal anatomical issues. In reality, most people look forward to it as the first chance that they get to find out their baby’s sex. Except they don’t say sex. They say gender. They speak excitedly about learning what gender their child is, and then plan out cute gender reveal parties to spring on their unsuspecting families. They start picking out pink or blue coming home outfits, and plan their nursery decoration scheme around the idea of either boy or girl. They talk about sex and gender as if the two words are synonymous, and either can somehow be discovered by a cursory look at someone’s naked body.

I seriously cannot emphasize this point enough: sex does not equal gender.

You cannot learn an unborn fetal gender through an ultrasound. Gender is a social construct that has nothing to do with a person’s genitalia and everything to do with certain ideas that are programmed into us about how a person should dress and act based on certain physical characteristics. And for that matter, you can’t even tell fetal sex based on an ultrasound – the only way to know the particular arrangement of X and Y chromosomes of any given person is through a DNA test, which in the case of an unborn baby would typically mean amniocentesis. Ultrasounds cannot reveal gender. So whenever people refer to their anatomy scan as a their “gender scan,” I feel like I want to tear my own hair out.

It was even worse when I was pregnant, probably because I was a member of several online parenting communities and wound up wading through all kinds of baby ridiculousness every time I went online (although, now that I have an actual kid and not just an ideal baby in my head, I may, admittedly, no longer find all of the posts to be so terrible after all). I was part of a small but rabid group of people who felt the need to comment and correct every single time someone conflated sex with gender. We were well-intentioned but oh-so-smug, and for almost all of us the birth of our children proved us to be hypocrites. It’s incredibly easy to talk a good game about raising children without gender; in practice it’s much, much harder.

The gendering of my son began the moment the doctor exclaimed, “it’s a boy!” Though I had no more way of knowing my child’s gender five minutes after his birth than I had five minutes before, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t felt expectations and anxieties forming around those three little words. Our child, who had been referred to during my pregnancy as Pele or “it,” immediately became a he. My husband and I gave him a traditionally male name (Theodore) and the hospital wrapped him in a blue receiving blanket. Although I’d bought only gender-neutral clothing before Theo was born, I quickly fell into the trap of the (insanely adorable) Baby Boy section at Baby Gap. Soon he was wearing tiny sweater-vests and button down shirts, a mini-version of a corporate executive in a high-stakes job. I thought he looked equal parts adorable and hilarious.

Still, pronouns and pint-sized business-wear aside, I’ve tried to keep Theo’s life pretty gender-free. My mother had given me all the beautiful little caps and sweaters she’d knitted for me when I was a baby, and I often dressed him in those, complete with all the ribbon and rosette detailing. In the summer, I put him in onesies and leg warmers because it was easier to change his diaper that way. My grandmother sent me a pink sleeper with butterflies and kittens on it, and I dressed him in that. People would often stop me on the street to tell me how sweet my daughter looked; I wouldn’t bother to correct them, but if I dropped a “he” or “him” into the conversation they would become confused or sometimes even upset, apologizing profusely for guessing the wrong gender. I would just laugh it off and say that it was basically impossible to tell if a baby was a girl or a boy, but I felt uneasy about the whole thing. Their language and their entire attitude often changed once they realized that Theo was my son and not my daughter. I couldn’t understand why – after all, he was the exact same baby that they’d been cooing over five minutes before.

I guess I’ve spent the last three years trying, in ways big and small, to deconstruct gender for Theo. I’ve given him trucks and trains to play with, yes, but also dolls and a kitchen set. I switch up the pronouns in books so that it’s not just boys doing boy things and girls doing girl things all the time. He still wears sweater vests and cardigans and dress shirts, but he also wears leggings and skinny jeans, and I always try to find him clothing in brighter colours whenever possible. He has long hair because he doesn’t want to get it cut, and I have no real interest in forcing the issue because he should be able to have his hair whatever length makes him happy. What’s funny is that though I’m conscious of how I teach my son about gender, I don’t think of him as a boy, really – I just think of him as Theo, his own individual person with his own likes and dislikes. I mean, yes, I call him a boy, but I try pretty hard not to attach any specific meaning to the word boy. So I was surprised, and a little excited when, after posting his recent birthday letter, a handful of people began leaving comments about what a wonderful relationship I seemed with my daughter, while others mentioned how sweet my son was.

I thought, I might actually be doing something right.

Because when I went back and re-read what I’d written, I realized that, because it was written in the second person, there was no way of telling Theo’s gender. And looking through the list of his likes and dislikes, nothing seemed to especially indicate traditionally male or female interests. That, coupled with the picture of him in a yellow cardigan, long hair and skinny jeans, gave people the idea that he could be anything. Not definitely a boy. Not definitively a girl. His very own person, whoever that is.

I might actually be doing something right.

I recognize that it’s going to be hard-going to keep up even a semblance of this sort of gender neutrality as Theo gets older, especially once he starts school. Eventually he will realize that the world has sorted almost everything into two neat little boxes: boy things and girl things. He may no longer want to play with dolls. He may no longer play at cooking or cleaning. He may ask me to stop switching pronouns in books, may no longer want to wear skinny jeans. Or he may not stop doing any of those things, an act of gender defiance that carries the very real threat of teasing or bullying by his peers. This last fact is why I don’t push too hard to erase all ideas of gender from Theo’s head – because I know that unless I’m willing to stay home full-time, homeschool him, and only allow him to be around like-minded people, he’s going to have to interact with folks who are frightened, and might even become violent, over the idea of someone not fitting neatly into the gender binary.

And it’s not that I want Theo to fit in at all costs; I just want him to be safe.

It’s important for me to remind myself that Theo is a person in his own right, and not just an extension of myself or else some kind of social experiment. I have to weigh the benefits of my idealism and good intentions against the possible real-world consequences that he might face, especially in places like the classroom or the schoolyard or the school bus, places where I am not there to protect or explain. There’s so much that I want to him to understand about gender and how it functions in our society, but I worry that if I explain it too soon or too quickly, he might repeat what I say to his friends and end up ostracized as the weird kid. And while I believe that what I say is the truth, I know that it’s a truth that so many other people don’t believe in. To say that gender is a social construct does not mean that it does not play an oppressive role in society; just because something was invented by people does not mean it can’t be used to hurt others. So I don’t want to make this his fight, at least not until he’s old enough to know that it is a fight, sometimes a dangerous one.

Mostly, though, I just want my kid to be himself. I want him to like whatever he likes, and dress however he wants to dress. I want him to be fully comfortable expressing who he is in whatever way he needs to. I want to be able to mitigate the idea that he can’t do or like certain things because they’re girl things. I want him to know that all toys and all games and all jobs and all clothing are for anyone, no matter what they’ve got between their legs. I want him to know that whether he’s a boy or a girl or anything else that he happens to be, that I will love him just as fiercely as I do now.

Because I love this person so, so much.

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On Women, Religion and York University

10 Jan

When I first heard about the student at York University who asked to be excused from a group project for religious reasons, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’m still not, to be perfectly honest.

The student, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, enrolled in an online sociology course. After learning that he would have to participate in an in-person student-run focus group as part of the course, he sent the following email to his professor, J Paul Grayson:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Grayson forwarded the email to his faculty’s dean and the director of the school’s Centre for Human Rights, expecting that the student (who the university is referring to as Mr. X when speaking with the media) would have his request denied. Grayson was shocked when the student’s request was permitted, with the reasoning being that students who studied abroad were given the same accommodation when it came to in-person meetings.

Grayson’s response was as follows:

“York is a secular university. It is not a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Moslem university. In our policy documents and (hopefully) in our classes we cling to the secular idea that all should be treated equally, independent of, for example, their religion or sex or race.

Treating Mr. X equally would mean that, like other students, he is expected to interact with female students in his group.”

Although the the dean ruled that an exception should be made in the case of Mr. X, Grayson and the other professors in his department passed a motion refusing any student accommodations if they marginalize another student, a faculty member or a teaching assistant.

The student, whose religion has not been disclosed, did end up participating in the group project, and writing Professor Grayson that,

“I cannot expect that everything will perfectly suit what I would consider an ideal situation. I will respect the final decision, and do my best to accommodate it. I thank you for the way you have handled this request, and I look forward to continuing in this course.”

In spite of this fact, Grayson may wind up facing disciplinary action for disregarding the dean’s ruling and creating a new departmental policy.

Now.

Before I get into the meat of this issue, I have to admit that there are a few things about the story that strike me as being odd.

First of all, I honestly can’t think of a major religion that forbids men from meeting in public with a group of women. Even the most orthodox sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that I am aware of do not have such restrictions. And seriously, if this restriction existed, how would you even function in the world? How would you go to the grocery store or the bank or even leave your house if you cannot share a public space with women? And while I understand that it would be possible to set up a religious community where total public avoidance of women would, technically, be possible, it seems odd that someone from such a community would seek an education at a secular university.

It also seems strange that someone with such strict religious beliefs would be so quick to set them aside and participate in the group project once they realized that they were not going to get their way. Surely if your religious sect was so adamant about you not meeting publicly with women, you would fight even just a little bit harder to avoid that?

A third point that seems worth mentioning is that most organized religions (especially Judeo-Christian religions) do not restrict the activities of men; rather, they tend to marginalize and even oppress women. This isn’t to say that all religions everywhere are anti-woman, but rather that in most major religions the interests of men are typically elevated above those of women.

Maybe I’m much too cynical, but I honestly can’t help wondering if Mr. X, a student enrolled in a sociology course at a secular university, decided to organize his own sociological experiment – both to see how far he could push student accommodations made for religious reasons, and to stir up the media. It’s pretty easy to put the feminist blogosphere into a frenzy (and this is said by someone who participates heavily in the feminist blogosphere), and I could definitely see someone getting their kicks that way. If that’s the case, then Mr. X has wasted York University’s time and money, as well as putting a professor’s career in jeopardy.

But let’s assume that this isn’t some sort of hoax. Let’s assume that a student is making a legitimate, religious-based request to not have to work with women. Let’s assume that Mr. X’s religion, whatever religion that might be, actually does forbid him from meeting women in public.

Actually, you know what? Regardless of whether the student’s request is legitimate, let’s talk about the fact that certain people quite high up in the university’s food chain were willing to grant the accommodation that the student was seeking. Even if this was some kind of covert sociological study, let’s talk about how quickly York University was willing to throw Mr. X’s female classmates under the bus in order to make life easier for him. A secular university – I seriously cannot stress that point enough – was more than willing to make an exception based on a religious belief that women were ultimately so different from men that the two genders could not interact in public.

I wonder how differently the university would have reacted had Mr. X’s email read something like this:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of homosexuals (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Or this:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of Muslims (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Would they have been so quick to accommodate the student and cite religious freedom in either of those cases? I’m going to wager that they probably wouldn’t. So why is it any different where women are concerned?

Let’s consider, too, what the end result of such requests could be. One potential outcome could be the creation of male-only academic spaces – as if the dearth of women in academics isn’t already a problem. Another could be the physical separation of men and women in the classroom, perhaps divided by a curtain the way it’s done in certain orthodox synagogues. Whatever we can imagine, it would certainly be a step backwards for our nominally secular country.

Objectively, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, both in the long and short terms. I’m interested to learn what, if any, consequences Grayson will face for his actions. I’m also interested to see what other religious accommodations will be requested after this incident, and which of those will be granted. Most of all, I’m interested in seeing what impact this will have in the long run on women in academics. Because I can’t imagine that this case bodes well for the rights of women in higher learning.

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The Consolidated List of Stuff That Isn’t Feminist

9 Dec

As Charlotte Raven helpfully pointed out in the Feminist Times this morning, wearing high heels is not feminist. Nor, apparenty, is staying in an abusive relationship. After reading her piece, I hope that both shoe aficionados and domestic violence victims see how badly they’ve been fucking up and either shape up or ship out, because the feminist movement isn’t interested in the likes of them. I would also like to thank Ms. Raven for being brave enough to say what no one else was women to say – namely, that women who like fancy footwear and who just sit there and let their partners abuse them are failing all women everywhere and just need to find another way to get their kicks other than Louboutins and men who make them fear for their lives.

If I have one criticism of Raven’s piece, it’s just she didn’t go far enough. Sure, high heels are anti-feminist, but so are a lot of things! What we really need is a handy-dandy guide put together by a privileged white woman telling us exactly how to be as feminist as possible. Since Raven has failed us in this regard, it’s obviously necessary for someone to step in and correct this failing. Please allow me, a privileged and lily-white member of the feminist tribe, to be of service.

Feminists Do Not:

1. Wear makeup

2. Wear short skirts. Or any skirts. Or leggings. Or tights. Or tight jeans. Or a bra (note: bandeaus and cute lacy camisoles are fine).

3. Wear saucy shirts that reveal any of the following: cleavage, midriff, shoulders, elbows, collarbone, neck, wrists

4. Shave any part of their body (eyebrow maintenance is, however, strongly encouraged)

5. Get married, even if it’s to another woman. Seriously. Take a close look at the tradition of marriage and tell me WHICH part of that, exactly, is feminist? Is it the part where your father gives you away as if you’re a piece of property, or the part where you promise to love, honour and obey your husband? And don’t tell me that your marriage is different – it’s still promoting an institution that has been and continues to be oppressive to women. Be in a “committed” relationship all you want, but leave marriage out of it unless you want your feminist card revoked.

6. Take their partner’s name – this is basically like stamping “I am my husband’s property” on your forehead. I don’t care that it’s tradition, or that you think it’s nice, or you’re doing it for the kids – it doesn’t matter what argument you come up with, it’s still patriarchal bullshit.

7. Watch network television, except to criticize it (self-explanatory)

8. Let men hold doors, give compliments or pay for dinner. If a man you know tries this, offer him a swift kick in the groin.

9. Have children, unless they have access to a hospital-grade breast pump and a staff of round-the-clock nannies and nurses so that they don’t have to miss more than a few days of work at their high-power jobs.

10. Stay home with their children. Who ends up paying for your cushy suburban life of trips to the library and ice cream cones in the park? A man, that’s who. Feminists are self-reliant – if you think that a man funding your stay-at-home mommy life is empowering to women, you need to sit in the corner, read the Feminine Mystique, and think about what you’ve done.

11. Make jokes, laugh, or otherwise display a sense of humour. Duh.

12. Watch sports. They’re nothing but a masturbatory homage to heteronormative patriarchal ideals. Do you think it’s a coincidence that most sports feature BALLS of some sort? Well, think again. And let’s not even get into the phallic imagery of baseball bats, hockey sticks and golf clubs.

13. Watch ballet. You think high heels classify as self-harm? Check out the damage toe shoes do to feet.

14. Listen to Beyoncé, try to emulate Beyoncé, or even think about Beyoncé. And while we’re on the subject, let’s just be clear about one thing – Beyoncé is categorically not a feminist. How is this even up for discussion? She’s broken basically every rule on this list so far. SHE CALLED HER LAST TOUR THE MRS. CARTER WORLD SHOW TOUR. When the revolution happens, Beyoncé albums will be the first to be burned.

15. Let women of colour speak, unless it’s to toe the same old white feminist line that fails to address many of their most pressing problems. Real feminists know that intersectionality can only be addressed once all white women everywhere are equal.

16. Treat their children in any way that reinforces the gender binary. In the future, the terms “girl” and “boy” will be done away with and everyone will wear sexless onesies with snaps at the crotch. FEMINIST UTOPIA.

17. Diet, or otherwise try to lose weight. If you feel uncomfortable in your body, it’s your own damn fault for buying into patriarchal ideas about how women should look.

18. Smile, unless you’re smiling in anticipation while scheduling your next abortion.

19. Watch or enjoy anything even remotely problematic. See: everything in mainstream culture so far. I don’t care that the Gilmore Girls was your favourite show when you were a kid and you and your mother watched it together when she was dying and it gives you nothing but good feelings – that shit is PROBLEMATIC.

20. Experience any emotion other than rage. There is so much to be outraged about that I cannot fathom how you could feel anything else, unless it’s joy over the aforementioned abortion.

Real talk, though: a lot of the stuff on this list genuinely does not fall within the parameters of what would be considered feminist or egalitarian in a perfect world. In that world, I wouldn’t feel that in order to be attractive and respected I had to slather makeup on my face, shave my armpits, or dress a certain way. In a perfect world women wouldn’t find it romantic to ditch their own last name in favour of a man’s. In a perfect world we would all hold doors for each other, and acts of politeness would not have sexist undertones. But you know what? We do not live in that world.

Yes, we do things that buy into or even promote patriarchal beauty standards. Yes, we sometimes uphold traditions that have been oppressive to women. Yes, we sometimes enjoy stuff that could and maybe should be considered problematic. We’re only human, after all, and we all grew up being brainwashed by the same ideas about how women should look, dress and act. If I hadn’t grown up in a world that told me that removing all of my body hair was considered sexy, would I reach that conclusion on my own? If I didn’t live in a culture that prized a traditionally misogynist ceremony of lifelong commitment as super romantic and de rigueur for all women everywhere, would I have gotten married? The answer to both of those questions is: probably not! But nothing exists in a vacuum, not even feminism. Especially not feminism. And it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about these things – things like why we might get married or take our partner’s name or want our body to look a certain way. We definitely should talk about these things – and we should also talk about why we choose to do them.

We all do things that could be considered anti-feminist. We all compromise sometimes. We give in on some things, and fight tooth and nail on others. We pick our battles and learn to hold two opposing truths at the same time. We let ourselves feel pretty in high heels and makeup while still remembering that this is mainly because men have made us believe that these things make us pretty. We enjoy movies and books that don’t pass the Bechdel test and maybe say some not-so-great things about women, while acknowledging that media representation of women needs to be so much better than it is. We call our children “girl” or “boy” even while accepting that gender is a social construct. We do these things, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t call ourselves feminists.

If I were to make a real list of things that feminists don’t do, there would only be one item on that list: tell people how to be feminists. Because when an individual begins dictating what a movement looks like, then it stops being about what’s in the best interests of women everywhere (spoiler alert: very few things are in the best interests of all women everywhere) and becomes about that person’s biases and opinions. And that? Is pretty unfeminist.

Definitely Not A Feminist

Definitely Not A Feminist

Gilmour Girls: A Reading List for David Gilmour

7 Oct

This list is not as diverse as I wish it could be. It’s still very white, and there isn’t a super great representation of queer and trans* folk. It sort of ended up being both a reading list for David Gilmour and a list of my favourite books by women. Writing this has been a great exercise for me, and has illustrated pretty clearly that I need to expand my own reading repertoire – I do love women writers, but I still tend to favour white, cis-gender women. Helloooooo to my own cultural bias.

I didn’t include any Alice Munro or Virginia Woolf because Gilmour says that he likes both of those authors, and I don’t have multiple books by the same author. Those were some rules that I arbitrarily made up for myself.

Please feel free to add to this list or to fangirl with me over how much you love some of these books. Fangirling is the best!

1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ohhhh, books about Ordinary People set against the backdrop of Serious Historical Events, you get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME.

2. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The best book that I’ve ever read about the nearly-invisible cruelties that little girls practice on each other, and the lifelong fallout of that sneaky, subtle bullying.

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

One of the best depictions of depression and suicidal ideation in classical literature.

4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

My friend Jesse said it best: Alison Bechdel’s memoirs are like magic. You read them, and they’re technically about her, but somehow you end up learning about yourself?

5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Shut up, I don’t even care, I fucking love this book. DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. 

FEMINIST KING ARTHUR, Y’ALL

6. Villette by Charlotte Brontë

I don’t care if Jane Eyre is your favourite book of all time, I swear to you that this book is better.

7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

I have four words for you: Lesbian. Coming. Of. Age.

In the south.

With cheerleaders.

And bourbon.

8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Oh good lord I am such a sucker for dystopian fiction it is not even funny.

9. My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Sort of like Little House On The Prairie for grownups. Except for the fact that Little House On The Prairie is totally for grownups too.

10. Chéri by Colette

In which a young, beautiful man (who loves silk robes and pearls) is kept and petted and spoiled by a woman twice his age, and then has to deal with her departure when he gets engaged to a much younger woman. Maybe one of the best role reversals in literature? Anyway I love Colette so much.

11. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Like Jane Eyre except better, spookier and more accurate in terms of how creepy and skin-crawly the Mister Rochester character is. You guys, MISTER ROCHESTER IS AWFUL. 

12. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read and that’s saying something.

13. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

I think this is my favourite novel about transgender experience?

14. The Butterfly Ward by Margaret Gibson

This weird little book of short stories found its way into my hands on my birthday about ten years ago. I’ve never read anything else by this author – never even seen anything else by her – but some of the stories in this book haunt me still.

15. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t even care if you liked the movie. Suck it up and read the book.

16. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The book that made me realize that I needed to cultivate better, stronger friendships with women. Friendships where I felt empowered instead of competitive.

17. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

I don’t even know how you could see this book’s title and not immediately need to read it

18. The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri

If you read this book while you are pregnant you will suddenly begin obsessively stock-piling baby names as if there might be some kind of baby name shortage.

19. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I read this as a very impressionable teenager and was hooked.

20. Small Island by Andrea Levy

Race and class in post-war London how does that sentence fragment not make you tingle with excitement even a little?

21. Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald

I have read this book so many times and it is so painfully near to my heart that I don’t even know what to say about it. Frances Piper is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time ever.

22. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Thomas. Cromwell. THOMAS CROMWELL. MARRY ME THOMAS CROMWELL.

As a post-script, I think that, as David Foster Wallace would say, this was Hilary Mantel’s way of imposing her phallus on the consciousness of the world seriously thought what does that even mean.

23. The Group by Mary McCarthy

A lovely, weirdly prescient little midcentury gem about a group of friends and how their lives diverge after college. A lot of discussion about how fucking hard it is for women to have it “all” – if that’s even possible.

24. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

If this book doesn’t give you Feelings I am pretty sure that means that you don’t have a soul.

25. The Street by Ann Petry

A single mother living on her own 1940s Harlem. Do I have your attention yet?

26. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As if this was not going to be on this list. Have you even met my blog.

27. Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung

Faye, a second generation Korean-American, says at one point that reading is, “just a way for me to see how other people live. I haven’t found a book yet written about the people I know.” And then Kim Ronyoung wrote that book.

28. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This one took me two reads to love, but love it I do.

29. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Speculative fiction gives me a total boner.

30. Push by Sapphire

Ohhh this book made me break out into a sick sweat. Maybe one of the best reminders of my privilege that I’ve ever had?

31. Memoirs Of An Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Schulman

Another one that took me a while to love – I felt like the main character was so privileged and whiny. And then I realized that that was kind of the point, and also that those things didn’t take away from her experiences.

32. Caucasia by Danzy Senna

Probably the first book to really make me think about race – definitely the first time I ever questioned the idea of being colour-blind, and my first encounter with the idea of passing privilege.

33. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

The most painfully accurate description of what it’s like to be a white, lower-middle-class girl.

34. A Tree Grow in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I don’t even care if this is a YA book, it’s balls to the wall one of my favourite books. BALLS TO THE WALL.

35. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

One of those epic books that spans several generations and several families, except this one explores race and class in 1980s England. And it’s so unbelievably good.

36. Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

I don’t even care that this book is super dated, it is the book that made me fall in love with historical fiction and also bromance.

37. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor)

Probably the most selfishly awful, incredibly unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever encountered (and that’s including Holden Caulfield), but. 

38. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Heartbreaking and darkly funny and also Miriam Toews is one of the best human beings on this planet maybe.

39. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t so innocent. Also you will want to punch Newland Archer a bunch. But it’s good, I promise.

40. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Scary Evangelical Christian Lesbian Coming Of Age. No but seriously.

book-porn

Guest Post: Three Compliments

4 Oct

This week has been incredibly hectic, and I haven’t had the chance to write anything here, not even the reading list for David Gilmour which I promise is STILL COMING. In light of that, a few friends have stepped in and offered guest posts – here’s one from my lovely friend Joanna, whom I’ve known since high school, about the ways that we “compliment” babies and toddlers. Enjoy! 

Three Compliments by Joanna Schmidt

Three “Compliments” I’d prefer you wouldn’t give my baby:

I love my kids. They are the most important people in my life. So naturally, hearing them complimented warms my heart. I love when they are called cute or pretty or someone says their hair is lovely. Even more so, I love when people tell me that my child is clever or funny, kind or a good older sibling.

There are, however, a few “compliments” that I find to be not so complimentary:

1. “He’s such a flirt” or “ooo, he’s flirting with me!”

My son is 13 months old. Sometimes he’s outgoing and has a quick smile that lights up his face. He will play peek-a-boo with anyone that will give him a grin, whether at home or with a stranger in the grocery line. Funny noises make him break into an infectious giggle. Like all of us, he’s sometimes shy, and that means he sometimes puts his head down and looks up at strangers through the lashes on his big blue eyes, a nervous smile on his face.

Also, he wants to kiss ALL the babies.

However, none of these things is flirting. He is socializing. He is learning about his environment and the people in it. He is developing a sense of self worth as his smiles and interactions are causing others to smile back at him. He is playing games and having fun.

Check out the Wikipedia definition of flirting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flirting Flirting has sexual undertones or seductive undertones. Babies are cute and cuddly. They give drooly smiles. They are adorable. Babies are not sexual. They are not seductive.

2. “Watch out mama, the girls are going to love him!”

This one is tricky. Because, you know, it might be true. He’s classic cute baby. He has these lovely wispy curls and big Disney Princess eyes. He’s tall for his age. It is likely that he will fit society’s narrow definition of traditional attractiveness when he gets older.

The thing is, as parents, we’re busy trying to teach our kids that being attractive is not necessarily what makes you loveable. We’re teaching them that how you act and what you do are the things that define you.

One of my proudest parenting moments to date has been in a conversation with my then 4 year old daughter. She was watching Beauty and the Beast and turned to me, totally unprompted and said of Gaston,

Belle doesn’t like him because he’s mean. The other three beautiful girls think that he’s beautiful but he’s not because he’s not nice. He’s a bully and I think that he’s really the beast.”

SO FREAKIN’ PROUD!

Secondly, the idea of watch out mama also bothers me – what are you saying about these girls that you imagine are going to love my son? Why would I need to watch out? What does this statement say about how we view young women?

And finally, I’m also very conscious that at his age, he has not asserted anything about his sexuality yet. His sister is six. Recently two of my female friends were married. She was very excited for them and proclaimed, “I’m so glad they are happy but I don’t want to marry a girl”. She says things like, “When I grow up and fall in love with a boy, I think it will be L______.” We’re pretty safe now to use terms like boy/man/husband/boyfriend with her. But my boys are younger than her and have not expressed their preferences yet. With them I use terms like person that you fall in love with, or the partner/person that you choose to marry. Statistically it is likely they will be attracted to females, however, until I know for sure I don’t want to make assumptions. Assumptions can alienate. Assumptions could make it hard for one of my boys to express who he is. And really, wouldn’t that be so incredibly sad?

3. He’s going to be such a heartbreaker!

And here’s the big one. This is what made me write this. I hear this often about my little baby boy.

Since when was it a good thing to break someone’s heart? Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever had to break someone’s heart? It SUCKS!

My hope is that he is NOT a heart breaker. My hope is that he finds just the right person at just the right time and they love each other forever. I know this is unlikely but I don’t want my son to be a person who causes or feels pain. I still like to wish that he’ll be one of the lucky few that falls in love with his best friend in high school and lives happily ever after.

The other thing that I don’t like about the “heartbreaker” comment is that it sets him apart from the babies that are not “heartbreakers”. Does that mean there are babies that are not as conventionally attractive that are bound to have their hearts broken over and over?

So, here’s the thing. Please feel free to compliment my child. Sometimes hearing that you’ve noticed that he/she has grown up a lot in his/her behaviours lately, or hearing that they made a choice that was kind or compassionate is what gets me through my, at times, difficult days. If my child overhears that, (s)he will catch my eye and see pride and joy and hopefully make a good choice again.

And me? I’ll try to notice the same moments and communicate that pride to your children too.

Joanna's three children

Joanna’s three children

Intersectionality and Art

10 Sep

My friend Audra asked the following question on her Facebook a little over a week ago:

“Which do you think is worse: intentionally only ever buying art* made by women, or accidentally only ever buying art made by men?”

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think that either is worse, because I don’t think that either of those things are bad or wrong, necessarily. But I do think that it’s super important to look at how and why we consume media. I also think it’s necessary every once in a while to take a long hard look at the media choices we’re making, and ask ourselves whether or not we are making conscious decisions about the type of artists that we are supporting and promoting.

This point was driven home today as I took a short break from the enormous tome that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (because what better time to tackle this beast than on a 60-hour train trip across Canada?) to read Dave Egger’s introduction to the book. In this brief five-page preface, Eggers manages to name-check the fourteen following artists:

Thomas Pynchon

Elmore Leonard

Jonathan Franzen

William Gaddis

Saul Bellow

William S. Burroughs

Fred Exley

Marcel Proust

Stephin Merritt

Howard Finster

Sufjan Stevens

Jack Kerouac

William T. Vollmann

Michael Apted

You’ll note two uniting features about everyone mentioned this list – they are all white, and they are all men.

Now, I don’t think that Dave Eggers only reads books by white dudes. In fact, I happen to know that Eggers both reads and promotes books by all kinds of non-white-dude writers. But I can’t help noticing that when he’s talking about the crème de la crème, when he’s mentioning the artists to whom he’s comparing a book that he claims will, ultimately, leave you a better person, they are all. white. men. Every single last one of them.

And I don’t think that the exclusivity of this list is intentional; I don’t think that Eggers really thinks that men are better writers than women, or that white folks are better writers than people of colour. But what I do think is that it’s really, really easy to fall into the trap of only consuming art made by white men. I mean, it’s the status quo, right? You go into a bookstore and almost all the featured books are by men (although, being in Canada, I have to admit that they pretty much always include at least one Atwood because it’s the law or whatever). Only four women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; only one has ever won. If you’ve ever been in a comic book store, you know how hard you often have to dig to find something by a woman, let alone a woman of colour.

And it’s like, sometimes I just feel invisible, you know? I mean, I’m really just starting out and I haven’t even published my first book and in spite of that I have a fairly decent online following and I am super grateful for that and I’m luckier than a whole lot of people, but. BUT. I feel like I’m always going to be excluded when it comes to these types of lists. I’m never going to be allowed into the Old Boys’ Club (because then it wouldn’t be a boys’ club, duh), or if I am permitted to join in every once in a blue moon, I’ll be treated as a pet, a sweet little thing, a curiosity, and never, ever as a serious writer. And this exclusion won’t be malicious, and it won’t be intentional; it’ll just be because my name (or any other woman’s name) will never be the first (or even fourteenth) to spring to mind when a man is coming up with a list of his all-time favourite, greatest, most influential writers.

And that sucks.

So let’s take a moment to share our favourite not-white-dude artists, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll all come away with some new and exciting books, movies, paintings, sculptures, songs, television shows, etc, to check out.

Here’s my list:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Haim:

Margaux Williamson, Teenager Hamlet

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The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

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Ginger & Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter

* Any form of art or media, be it literature, visual art, film, music, television, etc.