Tag Archives: I like to rant

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.

 

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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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.

Divergent-roof-jumping-scene

No, I Won’t Stop Swearing

20 Mar

For those of you who somehow haven’t noticed, I occasionally use cuss words in my writing. I’m a grownup writing for grownups, and I just kind of figure that these are all words we’ve heard used at one time or another. Like, does anyone actually find the words fuck or shit all that shocking? Especially on a blog (as opposed to a For Real Credible News Source)? I mean, come on.

And yet every time I have a post go viral, the pearl-clutchers come out in full force.

Oh, they don’t tell me that they’re taken aback or upset by my language – after all, they don’t want to seem prudish or old-fashioned. No, they frame it as concern for me and my well-being. People won’t take me seriously if I swear, they say. No one will read my posts. I sound like I’m uneducated, “common,” with a limited vocabulary. Swear words devalue what would otherwise be quality writing. I would be so much more successful if I would just stick to politely outlining my points; swearing makes me seem hostile, and that turns people off. And, perhaps my favourite: cussing isn’t ladylike.

Friends, that is a lot of shit to unpack right there.

Let’s start out with the most easily refutable stuff. For one thing, it seems weird to tell me that no one is going to read my stuff when, whether I deserve it or not, I have a pretty wide readership. There are 8,639 people who currently subscribe to this blog and receive an email every time I publish something, I have 4,415 fans on my blog’s Facebook page, and 2.563 followers on twitter. And yeah some of those people are my mom, but the vast majority of them are people that I’ve never met who genuinely like my writing. I’m not throwing out those numbers to be like GUYS LOOK HOW GREAT I AM, because I am constantly humbled and baffled by how popular this blog is, but I do think it’s important to point out that a fuck of a lot of people read my stuff and take me seriously, even with all the swears.

Now, as for the rest of it, let’s take a look at what’s being said and why it’s problematic. First of all, there’s a lot there that’s true. For example, I am relatively uneducated, at least compared with many of my super-smart fellow bloggers. I graduated from high school, but didn’t complete any kind of postsecondary education unless you want to count yoga teacher training. Most people don’t. And you know what? I am common, whatever it is you want to mean by that; I certainly don’t consider myself to be upper class or elite in any way. Sometimes I’m hostile, especially when I’m writing about something that I’m angry or upset about. And I’m certainly anything but a lady. So I’m not offended or hurt by the actual content of any of these remarks.

What does offend me is the fact that we think it’s acceptable to use someone’s level of education and their perceived social class as insults.

These comments – comments making assumptions about socioeconomic status, comments telling me that choosing the wrong words, the “common” words, devalues my writing – are incredibly classist. They operate on the assumption that only writers of a certain social class have any kind of merit. They perpetuate the idea that only people who speak the right way, work the right jobs, and live in the right parts of town are worth listening to and taking seriously. These comments lay bare what every poor person already knows and what deeply entrenched social systems and cultural ideas tell us every day: the poor don’t matter.

I mean, sure, poor people matter when we need workers for dangerous or degrading jobs. The working class matters when we want someone to clean our house or serve us food or take care of our children. We like to objectify them, especially if they’re people of colour, and make dehumanizing comments about them. We talk down to them, condescend to them, even lose our shit at them if we feel like it because seriously no one is going to step up and tell us to stop. I had a friend who worked at an upscale grocery store, and during his time there he was subject to all kinds of abuse from the wealthy clientele. One older gentleman screamed at him that he was stupid and a child because the leeks that my friend was trying to ring through for him weren’t coming up at the right price. Another time a customer told him they were going to shove a cookie up his ass because the lineup to the cash register was moving too slowly. These people say these things because they know they can get away with it – they know that business owners will side with them, because the customer (especially the well-heeled customer) is always right and workers are disposable. This is the world we live in.

I’m not going to change the way that I write because it might make some people assume that I’m uneducated, or poor, or working class. You know why? There is nothing wrong with being any of these things. Being poor isn’t some kind of moral flaw; lack of education is not indicative of low intelligence. Using “common” words does not mean that what you have to say has no value. Fuck everyone who buys into this kind of thinking.

And as for the comments about hostility, I want you to sit back and ask yourself – seriously ask yourself – if you would say those things if the writer of this blog was a man. Would I still come off as hostile if I had a dick*? Or would you perceive me as being justifiably outraged? Because in my experience the word “hostile” is typically applied to women who aren’t being sweet and demure, and I am neither of those things. In a funny way, I almost take remarks about my hostility as a compliment, because it means that I’m subverting people’s expectations about what a woman should be. If I’m coming across as hostile, that makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

What I really want to get at is this: if you are someone who reads my writing and thinks, “well, I fundamentally agree with her but all those swear words make me wince,” you might need to take a moment and check your privilege. If, out of all the things that are printed here on this blog, it’s words like fuck and shit that get you hot and bothered, then you might need to rethink your priorities. If you think classist remarks about language somehow prove what a smart, enlightened person you are, I’d say that’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. And finally if you think that I care about your opinion on my use of swears, well, you’re wrong. I care about your opinion on a whole lot of issues, but not this one.

Because fuck it I will fucking cuss if I want to, because swear words are funny and awesome and sometimes no other word will do.

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*Not all men have dicks and not all people with dicks are men but please allow me this one dick joke

Beauty Standards Are Bullshit

17 Mar

You’ve probably heard that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.

Or a size 16, or a size 12, or a size 10, depending on who you ask.

Whatever number someone quotes you, the message is always the same: our standards of beauty have changed, and not for the better. The women whose bodies we worship now are thin and sickly, all of them suffering from eating disorders. Things aren’t how they were before, when we appreciated “real,” “normal,” “average” bodies. Our current standards of beauty should serve as evidence of how deeply fucked up our society is; we ought to return to our parents’ and grandparents’ ideals.

This whole concept is so popular that there have been a string of memes made about it:

89ujy1

become-hotter01

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You know what makes me say fuck society? The fact that we think it’s totally cool to compare two women and declare one of them the champion of sexy. Because you know what’s super empowering to women? Telling them that there’s only one right way to be.

Beauty standards in the past maybe have been different than today, but that doesn’t mean they were better. They still offered a narrow, rigid idea about what made a woman attractive, and anyone who didn’t fit that ideal was not good enough. Why do we have the idea that the past was some kind of magical time when women had it easier in the looks department? Because let me tell you something: when it comes to their appearance, women can never, ever, ever fucking win. They’re always too old or too fat or too thin or too tall or too short or some combination of the above. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about now, or fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, the story is always the same: women can never win.

I see people swooning over shit like the picture below, and I want to tear my hair out with frustration.

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This is not some kind of revolutionary fat-positive advertisement; It’s the same old shit we’re being sold day in and day out, just packaged in a different way. Stuff like this isn’t so very different from all the diets pushed on women today – both are ways of making women feel bad for whatever size they are. Both are ways of making money off of women by encouraging them to feel that their bodies are wrong or inadequate. Shaming one body type in order to promote another is never acceptable, no matter how you do it. There should never be a right way or wrong way for a person to look. All bodies are good bodies. I seriously cannot emphasize that enough.

All bodies are good bodies. All bodies are real bodies. All bodies are worthy of love and respect.

And if I hear one more person talk about how much “healthier” women looked in the past, I’m going to start flipping tables. You can’t tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding that fact, so let me repeat it: you cannot tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. Unless you are someone’s doctor, unless you have run extensive tests and made note of their blood pressure and their iron levels and their thyroid function, you have no idea how healthy another person is. This applies to all people everywhere – you have no way of knowing if a fat person exercises or eats vegetables just by glancing at them, and you can’t tell if a skinny person has an eating disorder based on the circumference of their waist.

I’m not saying that our society’s obsession with skinny women is anything other than problematic –  the recent spike in eating disorders can almost certainly be attributed to how pressured women feel to be a certain size. We’re obsessed with thinness, and that obsession permeates nearly every aspect of our culture, from how food is branded and marketed to us, to “vanity sizing” in clothing, to every headline ever in women’s magazines promising to tell you how to lose weight, how to keep the weight off, and which celebrities lost their “baby weight” the fastest. Our attitudes towards weight and size are actively harmful to women, and I seriously cannot overstate my concern about girls and young women growing up in this climate. I think we’ve only just started to see the detrimental effects of our infatuation with thinness, and unless a major societal sea-change happens, things are only going to get worse.

But.

But.

None of this means that we should be criticizing thin bodies, because all bodies are good bodies. Some people are naturally quite thin, and making comments about how unhealthy they look is pointless and hurtful. And if someone genuinely is unhealthy? If someone has an eating disorder? How do you think they will end up perceiving their comments, when their disease is warping how they view body size in general and their own body in particular? I can promise you that any remarks you make will do them more harm than good.

I would wager that all women feel fucked up about their bodies, and sometimes tearing down another body shape (especially if that shape is the status quo) in order to build yours up can seem like the fastest and easiest way to make yourself feel better. But seriously, you guys, we have to get out of this cycle of putting each other down, criticizing each others’ looks, and making each other feel bad. The best way to fight the patriarchy is to stand united. The best way to empower ourselves is to celebrate all body types. The best way to fuck with beauty standards is not to change them, but to do away with them all together.

And the best, most feminist thing that we can do is to love ourselves just as we are and refuse to let anyone profit off of our insecurities.

Woman Files Sexual Harassment Complaint, Is Suspended From Work For Five Days

10 Mar

Trigger warning for talk of sexual assault

If a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, then she must have done something to cause it.

At least, that’s the message being put forth by the Toronto’s parks and recreation department, where late last month a woman was suspended from work for five days after accusing a male co-worker of unzipping his pants and rubbing his penis against her in the lunchroom.

Susan Rose was responding to a comment made by her colleague John Maynard with, “I will punch you in the dick.” Maynard then became, in her words, “aggressive,” saying, “Do you want to punch me in the dick?” while unzipping his pants and walking towards her. Rose turned away from him and grabbed onto another colleague’s arm, but felt Maynard pressing his body up against hers. She then heard a third colleague tell Maynard to wash his hands, which he did, finishing by wiping his hands dry on Rose’s back.

Rose filed a report on the incident, and an internal investigation found that there was “some merit” to Rose’s claims (the main contention seems to be over whether or not the accused actually pulled out his penis – since Rose was turned away from him, she cannot reliably say whether or not that part occurred). In a February 28th decision letter sent to Rose, parks general supervisor Jim McKay said that the claims of workplace harassment against Maynard had “been addressed,” though he didn’t mention whether any disciplinary action had been taken. In the same letter, Rose was told that her own comment – “I will punch you in the dick,” which she says was a joke typical of their workplace environment – was “inappropriate” and “in violation of the City of Toronto’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment Policy.”

The letter then went on to say, “The city aims to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect. All employees are responsible for respecting the dignity and rights of their co-workers.”

The letter also says, ““By your own account, you regularly participated in banter and inappropriate workplace behaviour with Mr. Maynard.”

Rose was suspended for five days beginning on February 28th and will be required to take a course in human rights, anti-harrassment and discrimination.

I’m not going to argue that what Rose said was appropriate – obviously it wasn’t, a fact that she admitted in an interview with the Toronto Star. However can we just talk for a hot second about the fact that she was suspended for harassment and violation of human rights while Maynard seems to have gotten off scot-free? Can we take a moment to think about how absolutely fucked up that is?

Let’s review the facts here: a woman is made visibly uncomfortable by the sexual actions of a co-worker, she files a report about the incident, and she is basically told that she is at fault for having said, in jest, that she was going to punch him in the dick. Like saying “dick” is some kind of magic spell that charms penises right out of the pants that contain them. Like Maynard can’t be faulted at all for whipping his junk out, because she made a joke about his dick. Like making a joke inappropriate for the workplace is somehow on equal footing with physical act of pressing your genitals up against someone.

Suspending Rose and forcing her to take an anti-harassment course are the equivalent of saying, “she was asking for it.”

Telling Rose that she regularly engaged in “inappropriate” banter with Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “his actions are the predictable end result of all the sexual jokes both of you have engaged in.”

The decision not to suspend Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “boys will be boys and, honestly, what did you expect?”

How do we even live in a world where a woman reports an incident of sexual harassment and is then punished because her workplace decided that it was all her fault? Jesus Christ.

If you’ve ever needed proof of rape culture, if you’ve ever needed proof that we live in a society that downplays sexual vioelence while regularly shaming and blaming victims of sex crimes, well, here it is.

Still not convinced? The comments on The Star’s coverage of the story are even more enlightening:

‘She got what she deserved. She wants to be one of the boys when it suits her. Her comments caused this who situation to occur and now she cries foul.’

‘She wants him to be punished for things she did also.’

‘ … it was she who started it by threatening to assault his private parts.’

‘sounds like she was a willing participant in antics that got out of hand’

‘Sorry, but I don’t quite believe her side of the story. She lost me when she got into the standard dialogue of being traumatized, degraded, him being violent, etc. Assault? Please. She won’t be bullied? Give me a break. Why do I get the idea that she’s a problem employee?’

‘Why is everybody getting so uptight about anything remotely connected to sex? How long before society can shed its phony Victorian attitude.’

These are the kinds of things that victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault are used to hearing: you must have done something to deserve this, you started it, you wanted it, you liked it. I don’t believe you. It doesn’t sound that bad. It sounds like you’re the one with the problem. This is what you get for daring to be a girl who wants to be “just one of the boys.” This is what you get. This is what you get. This is what you get.

No. This isn’t what anyone “gets.” Sexual harassment is not the natural consequence of telling an off-colour joke. Sexual assault is not just a regrettable thing that happens when a woman spends too much time in the company of men. No one else has the right to tell a victim how they should or shouldn’t feel about being assaulted.

And people wonder why more victims of sexual assault don’t come forward.

Susan Rose

Susan Rose

Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa

28 Feb

On February 10th, Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, was sent screenshots of a chat that had taken place earlier in the month between two student federation board members and several other students who are either elected to or participate in various faculty associations. The chat had taken place during the student federation elections, and all five men involved were members of a campaign opposing Roy’s (Roy has been president of the student federation since May 2013, and was re-elected this month). The conversation was about Roy, and the portion she was given contained graphic sexual descriptions about what the men wanted to do to her, including a rape joke that could, potentially, be taken as a rape threat.

Below are the screenshots. The participants are as follows:

Bart Tremblay: a non-elected student involved with the association for the Arts faculty

Alexandre Giroux: On the board of directors of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, and VP Social for the Science Student Association

Alex Larochelle: VP Social for the Criminology Student Association

Pat Marquis: VP Social of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa

Michel Fournier-Simard: VP Social for the Political Science and International developement Association

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Bart Tremblay: Let me tell you something right now: the “tri-fluvienne” [nickname for someone from Trois-Rivières, Québec] president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat [Marquis]’s desk

Alexandre Giroux: Tri-fluvienne? Who’s that?

Alex Larochelle: PJ I believe?

Bart Tremblay: Anne-Marie Roy, you dipshits, she comes from Trois-Rivières

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Alexandre Giroux: What? No. What a shit-eater. She says that she comes from somewhere in Ontario.

Alex Larochelle: Fuck yeah Anne Marie Roy

Bart Tremblay: She told me Trois-Rivières

Alexandre Giroux: Haha shiiit

Alex Larochelle: Someone punish her with their shaft

Alexandre Giroux: Well Christ, if you fuck Anne Marie I will definitely buy you a beer

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Alex Larochelle: Hahah, I’d buy you a beer too

Bart Tremblay: Lol

Alexandre Giroux: BAHAHA

Pat Marquis: I’ll get a 24 for Bart if he does it

Bart Tremblay: [Thumbs up symbol]

Bart Tremblay: Yeeee

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Michel Fournier-Simard: Dude she has chlamydia. And she told francophone students that she was from Trois-Rivières but she moved to Southern Ontario when she was five years old. It’s a super political strategy.

Alex Larochelle: Hahaha I heard she has syphilis

Alexandre Giroux: Well look hahhahahah

Alex Larochelle: But those get treated bro lol. Someone told Pat and I when we were in Boston. It’s such bull shit hahaha.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.

Can you imagine anything like this ever being said about a male leader? Try to picture, for a moment, a female candidate saying that her opponent is going to eat her out, or that she’s going to “punish” him with her vagina. Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? And yet, this is the kind of thing that women are subjected to all the time; the truth is that no matter how far we might think we’ve come, no matter how many female CEOs there might be, the belief that women are little more than a collection of fuck-holes persists. Oh sure, people might pay lip-service to the fact that women are equal to men in intelligence, talent, and capability, but at the end of the day we can’t escape the fact that a woman is still viewed as being less than a person. Because that conversation right there? That is not how you talk about a person.

What’s even worse is that events like these are nearly always downplayed. It’s just a joke, people say. They would never have said that if they’d thought you would hear it. In fact, three of the five men involved in the conversation are considering legal action against Roy on the grounds that it was a private conversation that should not have been made public. That’s right. They want to pursue legal action against her because she publicly called them out for making rape jokes about her. This is the fucked up culture we live in.

To make things even worse, these men are all in a position of leadership at the University of Ottawa. These are the people that the students look up to, that they use as a sort of moral compass to navigate university life. If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?

Since this incident was first brought to light, Pat Marquis, the VP Social for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, has been in discussions with Roy about the accountability measures he can take for his role in this conversation. It is their hope that these measures can be a public conversation between Roy and Marquis, and could serve as a learning opportunity for the student body. Alex Larochelle has also contacted Roy and tentatively mentioned participating in this conversation as well. As for Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux and Michel Fournier-Simard, they are continuing to attempt to pursue legal action against Roy.

I reached Roy this afternoon for a statement, and she had this to say:

“It’s definitely concerning because these are individuals who are responsible for putting on social events, many of which involve alcohol, and they are also responsible for the safety of membership at these events. On a personal level I feel that this is very misogynistic, I feel that this is a reaction that these men are having because I’m a woman in a position of leadership. My concerns on this are twofold: first, the issue of student safety in general, and second, that women are not going to feel safe running for positions of leadership on campus.”

I think she pretty much hits the nail on the head with that assessment.

ETA: comments are now closed on this post

“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.

white-privilege-and-prejudice

“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