Tag Archives: open letter

TTC Posters pt. II

16 Aug

Tonight I spoke on the phone with Joe Burton, the president of Mystery Room Ltd., and I was honestly blown away by our conversation. He apologized right away for the posters on the TTC, and said that while he hadn’t thought about the reaction that people living with mental illness might have to the idea of a “psych ward” escape room, he now totally understood how hurtful it could be.

I feel like it’s so rare for people to genuinely examine why something they’ve done or said is problematic and then offer an apology for it. Like, so damn rare. So I just want to take a minute to recognize how rad Joe Burton is. He is a real, honest-to-goodness solid human being. Thank you, Joe.

Here is the email he sent to the reporter from The Toronto Star, which I found really touching:

Thanks [redacted] for bringing this story to my attention.

I just want to let everyone know, particularly the lady in question, that it was not our intention to offend anybody with the theme name “Psychiatric Ward”.
 
We were looking for themes/names for our rooms based on pop culture and Hollywood movies (e.g. “Psycho Ward”, 2007).
However, after reading her blog, we can truly understand how someone with mental illness can be really hurt by such a portrayal.
 
We have renamed the room to “Haunted Hospital” and we will take the following additional actions…
1.We will contact the lady who wrote the blog to explain and apologize.
2.We will contact the TTC and ask them to change the posters.
Sincerely,
Joe Burton (President)
Mystery Room Ltd.

Ahhhhhh, I think my little heart might burst. It’s so lovely to have these occasional reminders of how amazing people can be.

Happy weekend, y’all.

ttc-map2

An Open Letter To The TTC – Please Remove These Posters

11 Aug

Dear Toronto Transit Commission,

I am writing with regards to the following poster found in some of your subway cars advertising “Mystery Room,” which is apparently a sort of spooky role-playing game where you have to escape scary situations.

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As you can see, some of the frightening scenarios that you can participate in include “Satan’s Lair,” prison, something called The Mummy’s Curse and a psychiatric ward. All of them are problematic in one way or another, but one of them hits particularly close to home for me.

I am writing this because I am a person who has spent time on a psychiatric ward – in fact, I’ve been a patient at multiple mental hospitals. The first time was when I was sixteen – I saw a clinical psychologist to help figure out what medication would best manage my depression. The second time was when I was twenty one and suicidal – that time I was admitted and spent the night in the hospital. Last year I went to the CAMH emergency room because, again, I was depressed, overwhelmed and suicidal. I was accepted into the cognitive behavioural therapy program there and spent several months completing that as an outpatient this year.

I am not scary. I am not violent. I am not a monster.

I am not some trope that should be used to scare people in a haunted house. I am a for-real person, who struggles daily with an illness that colours nearly every aspect of my life. The same goes for every other person living with mental illness. We’re not the punch line to your “crazy” joke. We’re people coping with very real, sometimes deadly illnesses and that alone is a hard enough row to hoe without tossing mental health stigma on top of everything else.

And that stigma is exactly what these posters perpetuate – both stigma against the mentally ill and stigma against psychiatric hospitals. It plays right into the old belief that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and violent, even though we’re far more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators of it. It also makes psychiatric hospitals look like frightening, terrible places, which is pretty discouraging to someone who needs treatment for mental health stuff. Dealing with this shit is scary enough without advertising campaigns like this.

To make matters even worse, here’s what Mystery Room has to say about the mental hospital scenario on their website:

Ward 15 is the place the mentally disturbed were contained. Dr. Johansson had a passion for experimenting on the unanesthetised living. The patients grew mad, losing the ability to speak as their throats ruptured from constant screaming. These people now haunt the ward, seeking and exacting their revenge on unsuspecting victims. As you enter the ward, one thing is certain: it is going to take all of your knowledge and skill to get out alive.

That is actually a thing that has happened. I seriously cannot stress that enough – that is actually a thing that has happened to psychiatric patients in this country. In the 1950s, the CIA performed “mind control” experiments on patients at a Montreal mental hospital. Similar experiments were done in the United States. To make light of this type of violence inflicted against the mentally ill is beyond awful, and to turn it into a form of entertainment makes me pretty much choke up with rage. There are victims of these experiments who are still alive, and you’re advertising a game that makes a joke out of the horrific things they’ve experienced.

Look, Robin Williams died today of apparent suicide; according to his publicist he was “battling severe depression” in the time leading up to his death. My chest hurts for him and his family, and it’s hard not to think about all the other people whose illnesses have or might turn equally deadly. People with mental illnesses are failed by our society on a daily basis, and every time we let something like this Secret Room program pass without saying anything, we are failing the mentally ill even harder.

I’m asking you to please take down these posters. They are not appropriate for public transit, and they do not reflect the values of this city. We, as citizens of Toronto, deserve better than this.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Anyone wishing to lodge a complaint about these posters can do so here.

P.S. here is a list of suicide crisis lines – if you are thinking of hurting yourself, please call someone

An Open Letter To Tom McLaughlin And Joshua Sealy-Harrington

15 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

3. You are being bad allies

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

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

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

You say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.17.08 PM

 

An Open Letter to David Gilmour

25 Sep

Dear David Gilmour,

As a woman writer I’d like to say thank you.

No, honestly, thank you.

Thank you for being privileged enough, culturally tone-deaf enough, and even just plain stupid enough to say that you don’t love women writers enough to teach their works in your class. Thank you for saying what so many other male professors think but are afraid to admit. Thank you for opening up this huge fucking can of worms that most people are happy enough to pretend doesn’t even exist.

Seriously, thank you for reminding me that, as a writer who happens to be female, I will always be a woman first and a writer second.

Oh and thank you especially for throwing in that little racial comment about how you also don’t love Chinese writers, because you might as well shit all the beds while you’re at it, right?

But thank you. Thank you for proving how very unequal the world is when it comes to female writers and queer writers and trans writers and any writer whose skin isn’t lily-fucking-white. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and showing the dark, misogynist, racist underbelly of academia. Because when people like you pull shit like this, everyone is finally forced to pull their collective heads out of the sand and accept how very biased the academic world is.

Look, I’m not here to tell you what literature you should love or not love. None of us can help which writers resonate with us while others, though we can admit that they are technically proficient, brilliant with language, and certainly not without talent, fail to move us. We like who we like. I get that.

What I don’t get is how very little self-reflection there seems to be in your discussion of which writers you love and why. Have you ever wondered why you might possess such a bias against female writers, Canadian writers, and (apparently) Chinese writers? Have you considered what influence your own professors and their prejudices have had on you and how they have warped your perspective and taste? Have you thought about the fact that your own relative privilege means that without serious thought and introspection it’s going to be a real fucking challenge for you to understand the context and nuance of writers who don’t fit the mold of cis-gender white male?

And maybe what I really want to know is if you were ever up for that particular challenge, and if the answer to that question is yes, then I need to know when the fuck you got so literarily lazy that you could no longer stretch yourself enough to inhabit a skin that didn’t resemble your own. Because that’s what the best literature does, right? It takes us completely outside of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a completely different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us. Hopefully it makes us better people. I don’t understand how you could ever become a better person if you only ever read books with protagonists whose take on the world is, ultimately, not so very unlike your own.

I also want to tell you that as a professor, your first responsibility is to your students, not yourself. Like a good book, a good professor should change a student. The best teachers that I’ve had in my life have been the ones who’ve taken me out of myself and made me see the world in an entirely different way. Passion for what you teach is, of course, incredibly important and can’t be discounted, but so, too, is the ability to extend yourself beyond your own petty likes and dislikes in order to give your students a well-rounded view of literature. How can you possibly be doing that when every year you devote all of your time to re-hashing all of your favourite books? How can you open someone else’s eyes when you refuse to do anything but perpetuate your own biases? And honestly, if you can’t challenge yourself when it comes to how and what you read, how can you ever challenge anyone else?

Finally, I want to ask you how, as someone who is a writer who also happens to be female, I am supposed to process this. When you say that you “teach only the best,” what should I take away from that? Am I supposed to just sadly shake my head and assume that my vagina* prevents me from ever writing anything interesting or good? Am I supposed to laugh in a world-weary way and say, “well, that’s just one man’s opinion,” as if your opinion isn’t symptomatic of a much larger problem within academia? Or am I supposed to think that you are somehow trying to throw down the gauntlet, as if you could maybe bully women into writing something that you love?

Because the thing is, I’ve got my own fucking gauntlet to throw down.

I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you – I fucking dare you – to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed.

I’ll even put together a top-notch reading list, if you like.

In return, I will let you teach me to love one of the books on your curriculum. I live in Toronto; I can easily audit one of your classes. Prove to me that you’re a decent professor, and that the books that you teach will, in fact, change me the way that the best literature can and should.

I’m totally up for this if you are.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Photo on 2013-09-25 at 4.18 PM

*Not all female writers have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are female. However, since in my case my sex aligns with my societally-expected gender, and because I love the word vagina, I’m gonna run with this.

It’s Okay To Feel Weird About Your Pregnant Body

23 Feb

Dear Fug Girls,

I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve been reading your site for, like, probably ten years now. I remember the days when Jessica wrote X-Files recaps for Television Without Pity (and those were some good days!). So, suffice to say I’m a pretty big fan.

And, as a fan, I want to tell you that what you wrote yesterday about Kim Kardashian wasn’t cool. Like, really not cool.

I get that hearing women talking about their weight can be stressful, maybe even triggering, and that one of the ways to deal with that is through humour, but I don’t think that it’s ever okay to make fun of a woman for being uncomfortable about her body. Because you know what? Everything in the freaking world is conspiring to make her feel uncomfortable about her body, and mocking her is not helping.

Look, pregnancy sucks. I mean, in some ways it’s kinda neat, but in a lot of ways it sucks big time. Your body, which has probably remained fairly static for most of your adult life, is suddenly taken over by a parasite and starts expanding in all kinds of weird ways. And suddenly, it’s not your body anymore. I mean, it is, but it’s totally unfamiliar to you, and also its housing a weird tiny thing that kicks and squirms a bunch. I spent a lot of my pregnancy feeling like the dude in Alien, to be honest, although thankfully I gave birth to an actual human being who was surgically removed from my abdomen rather than bursting out in a totally badass, metal way.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that even though I’m a thin woman, and even though my pregnancy weight looked perfectly fine on me, I still felt uncomfortable gaining weight. And I am not someone whose appearance is routinely picked apart by tabloids. I am not someone who felt obligated to prove that she’s “bikini ready” at six weeks postpartum. So if pregnancy made me feel weird about my body, I can only imagine how hard this must be for Kim Kardashian.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know a whole lot about Kim. I know that she’s with Kanye West, and I know that she’s done a bunch of reality shows, and I know that people love to hate her. I know that people like to make comments about how she’s famous for “nothing” (which is a hilarious criticism, because if anyone offered to let me be famous for nothing, I’d be like, “sign me up, bro” – who wouldn’t want to get tons of money for doing nothing?), although the number of times I see her out promoting stuff make me have a hard time believing that she really does nothing. I know that she’s a woman of colour who’s got hips and boobs, and I know that she’s already endured tons of criticism about her size from the media, long before she ever got pregnant. I know that she’s a woman, and as such she’s going to be scrutinized and mocked and ridiculed far more than her male counterparts.

At the end of the day, I’m just not really interested in shaming anyone for their feelings. Especially when those feelings have totally valid roots in the way our media and culture treat women. If Kim Kardashian wants to talk about how gaining weight while pregnant is upsetting, then more power to her. I’ll be happy to tell her a thousand times that she looks fantastic no matter what. Because there’s absolutely no good that can come from telling someone that their feelings are wrong, or bad, or stupid.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you guys will consider this the next time you post about someone’s weight gain. I mean, as much as I know that making fun of the way people dress is your gig (and usually it’s a pretty funny gig!), maybe you’ll be able to be a bit more empathetic the next time something like this comes up.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. The pants were pretty ugly, though, I’ll give you that

p.p.s. Say hi to the Mulder and Scully action figures for me! I hope they’re locked in an eternal embrace now that they’re retired from TWOP

p.p.p.s. I kinda hope these crazy kids make it, not gonna lie

kim-kardashian-kanye-west

 

ETA: Go Fug Yourself put an addendum on their post, which is pretty awesome:

** I may need to clarify that I am not trying to say that pregnant women can’t be thrown off by the changes in their bodies. But there is a difference between that and denial. To me, wearing those pants doesn’t say, “I am feeling awkward about my changing form.” Rather, that garment, to me, is a fingers-in-ears scream of, “LA LA LA NOTHING IS
CHANGING AT ALL.” My point was, don’t let denial get in the way of biological necessity — and also, those trousers are odious. But the former is dipping into armchair psychoanalysis, so I apologize if I overstepped…

Dear Wil Wheaton – Only YOU Can End Mansplaining

5 Feb

Hi Wil,

I know, I know, this is the second open letter I’ve written to you in, like, a month. And I know, you didn’t even read the first one, even though I poured my heart and soul into it, and tweeted about it extensively (and by extensively, I mean obnoxiously).

The thing is, Wil, I need your help. I know we don’t know each other very well, or, really, at all. I’ve tweeted at you a lot while drunk, so you already know how funny and awesome I am. I’ve watched a lot of Star Trek, so I know what you look like in terrible sweaters. One time you tweeted back at me (actually, you tweeted twice, but the second one was to correct a typo), so I am pretending that means that we’re internet buds. That’s how these things work, right?

So anyway, here’s the whole story:

Last night, I was wasting time on twitter (as is my wont). You tweeted a link to something on his tumblr, and since I think you’re aces, I clicked to check it out.

Guess what I discovered on your tumblr? Oh, just something that you reposted about women’s reproductive rights.

“HOLY CATS!” I yelled, scaring our actual (unholy) cats.

Matt, naturally, asked me what the hell I was yelling about.

I told him that I had just stumbled upon a trifecta of the the three things I love the most – Wil Wheaton, women’s reproductive justice, and social media.

Matt wanted to know why he and Theo weren’t part of that trifecta.

I told him that they were part of a different trifecta.

He tried to argue that if it was a trifecta of three things that I love the most then he and Theo should be on it.

I told him that there were two trifectas of things that I love the most. There’s the one I mentioned above, and one involving Matt, Theo and cake. He told me that I couldn’t have two trifectas of things that I love the most. I told him that I can have as many damn trifectas as I want, because I am the boss of trifectas. I told him that he gets no say in how many trifectas I have.

He just rolled his eyes and left the room. Then he came back and asked if, out of all my trifectas of things I love the most, his came first.

“Sure buddy, whatever,” I said. I wasn’t really paying attention to him, because I was having an IDEA.

See, the thing is, I get mansplained a lot. Maybe not here, on my personal blog, but on posts that I write for other sites. My post about that rape joke on The Oatmeal that went viral? You better believe I got mansplained to hell and back on that one, both on BlogHer (which picked it up and featured it), and on various other Serious Business News Sites that linked to it. Oh and the mansplainers and misogynists came here, to my post about The Oatmeal’s 5 Super Neat Ways To Use A Hooker, intent on proving that I don’t know anything, ever and am just silly feminist who likes to get worked up over nothing.

So now that I know that you love protecting the rights of lady parts (and, hopefully, ladies themselves), I have this brilliant plan. See, I realized that if only I had a picture of you holding up a sign that says “STOP MANSPLAINING”, I could just post that picture whenever dudes are mansplaining. And they would be like, WELL, if WIL WHEATON says I should stop, PROBABLY HE IS RIGHT.

I know what you’re thinking – a picture like this is a powerful tool. In the wrong hands, it could definitely be used for evil. But just think of how much good I could accomplish with it!

An added bonus is that if you ever happened to catch yourself in the act of mansplaining, you could look at the picture and be like, “Oh, great, advice from someone I trust.”*

So please Wil? Just one little picture?

Remember when you told everyone not to be a dick, and it was great, and world peace was achieved?

Now you can do the same for people facing mansplainers everywhere!

Anyway, that’s all. I’ll let you get back to your whatever it was you were doing.

Sincerely,

Anne

p.s. You could also take a picture of yourself holding a picture that says “Anne Is The Best,” and it would be great because it could mean your wife OR it could mean me. Everybody wins!

p.p.s. Sorry again for all the drunk tweets

p.p.p.s. Sorry for all the annoying sober tweets, too

p.p.p.p.s. Here is a picture of me in a Star Trek-inspired sweater I found at a thrift shop. I thought maybe you would like it? In like a geek solidarity kinda way? I really tried to 80s up the makeup to make it more TNG authentic

star_trek_sweater

p.p.p.p.p.s. This is the face I make when I am getting mansplained

*The credit for this joke goes to Jesse Dangerously, who is way funnier than me on social media AND in real life

An Open Letter to Margaret Wente (please stop perpetuating gender stereotypes)

23 Nov

Margaret Wente wants me to know that I don’t care about my son.

Well, not my son, specifically; she thinks that I don’t care about any boys. Or, at least, any “real boys”, whatever that might mean.

See, Ms. Wente recently wrote this lovely and super-balanced article for the Globe and Mail about the gender gap in education. For this piece, she interviewed the principal of Upper Canada College (one of our country’s most prestigious boys’s schools), two of his colleagues, and the executive director of the International Boys’ School Coalition (a not-for-profit coalition of schools that promote the “education and development of boys world-wide”) – so, all people who have a vested, financial interest in promoting the idea that boys need to be educated separately or differently from girls. She did not interview anyone who does not make money from boys-only education. See what I mean? Balanced.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that, percentage-wise, less boys are entering university than girls, and that more boys are dropping out of high school. Margaret Wente, and others like her, argue that this is because Canadian education today favours the learning styles of girls over that of boys. However, I find it interesting to note that the percentage of males obtaining a university degree has, in fact, increased by 5% since 1991 (though admittedly the percentage of females has increased by twice that amount), and the high school drop out rate for both males and females has been steadily declining for the past 20 years. Also interesting to note is that the gender gap is much smaller for those enrolled in college – there is only a 2% difference between the number of male and female college students. So what, exactly, am I trying to prove with all these numbers? That things maybe aren’t so dire as Margaret Wente makes them out to be, because according to her the situation is pretty dire. See, Margaret Wente thinks that we’ve reached some kind of boy-ocalypse that will certainly end with the extinction of males in academia.

Ms. Wente wants us to believe that women have “stormed the gates of medicine and law” (which may or may not be true – it’s hard to say, because she provides absolutely no sources for any of her claims), but interestingly she neglects to mention that a heavy and persistent bias against women in science still exists, or that most law firms are little more than old boys’ clubs. Ms. Wente wants us to know that,”In the most prestigious programs at some of our leading universities, the gender ratio has reached 70:30″, although she totally neglects to tell us what those prestigious programs are, and which leading universities offer them. It’s kind of hard to argue with someone who provides you with no reference for her “facts”, but I will say that my department at university (Classics) was overwhelmingly male. It’s possible that my program just wasn’t prestigious enough, or that Ms. Wente doesn’t consider Dalhousie to be a “leading” university. Who can say? I mean, other than Ms. Wente, that is.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of hyperbole, Margaret Wente finally gets down to brass tacks and explains what, exactly, she’s trying to get at: she feels that our school are not addressing boys’ needs in the classroom. Fair enough! So, what, according to Ms. Wente, are those needs?

Let’s take look, shall we?

“Boys’ existential issues are different from girls’. For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents?”

Huh. That’s funny, because those things are both really important to me, too! Ms. Wente neglects to mention what the two most important “life questions” are for girls, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she believes they have something to do with marriage and babies.

“When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.”

Well, that makes sense, because those are all things that are definitely not very important to girls. I mean, except for the fact that I would say that most of these are the driving forces in my life.

‘Boys also need to imagine themselves in heroic situations. When girls are asked about Vimy Ridge, they say, “Whew, it must have been horrific.” When boys are asked, they imagine what they would have done if they’d been there. “Our most powerful assembly is on Remembrance Day,” says Mr. Power. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”’

Well, I’m sure that that has nothing to do with the fact that we live in a culture that glorifies violence and war, right? Also, and this might just be my vagina talking, I tend to think that “horrific” is a pretty accurate description of Vimy Ridge.

Boys love rituals, trophies and tradition. Those also make them feel part of something bigger than themselves.

None of those are things that girls like. Ever. Girls hate working to achieve something, and if they do somehow manage to stumble upon an achievement, they definitely don’t want a trophy for it.

So far, I’m kind of having a hard time seeing what Ms. Wente is getting at, but then she decides to really lay it out for us. The problem with boys and education is that we’re not allowing them to be manly enough.

Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

This argument might make some sense – if you’re someone who believes that masculinity is nothing but a social construct. But people who care about real boys know that’s not true.

See? I told you that Margaret Wente doesn’t think that I care about real boys!

Time to get real, you guys. I’ve been pretty flippant up until now, but I have to tell you, it makes me pretty fucking angry that Margaret Wente likens understanding and acknowledging your feelings to behaving like a girl. First of all, I don’t think that there is any way to behave “like a girl”. Second of all, I think being “in touch” with your emotions is an excellent idea for anybody, regardless of their gender. Third of all, I am so fucking sick of people equating breaking down gender barriers with making boys “behave more like girls”. How about we just stop insisting that people fit into narrowly-defined gender roles?

The funny thing is, it’s those gender roles that are responsible for so many of the issues that Margaret Wente is complaining about.

Here are some examples:

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening.”

But why doesn’t she question the fact that we live in a culture that puts value in boys behaving in a threatening way? Why doesn’t she wonder how, in our fucked-up view of masculinity, we equate violence with power?

[Women have] all but taken over pharmacy and veterinary work.

Gee, do you think that’s maybe because those career paths have come to be seen as more typically feminine? Do you think that there’s a chance that less boys are entering those fields because they’re afraid of compromising the masculinity that Ms. Wente praises so much?

Before the Industrial Revolution, boys spent their time with fathers and uncles, often engaged in strenuous physical activity. Now they spend their time in the world of women, sitting behind desks. If schools threw out the desks, they’d probably be a lot happier.

It’s interesting to note here that Ms. Wente fails to mention that before the Industrial Revolution it was only boys who permitted to attend school. And guess what? Schools back then included desks as well. In fact, I would argue that, in the past, formal education involved far more sitting at a desk than it does today. And you know what? If we’ve come to equate the idea of school as being part of “the world of women”, then that gender stereotype is likely one of the reasons boys aren’t thrilled with being in school.

Look, I’m not here to argue with the idea that boys are lagging behind in our educational system. I’m not here to say that things don’t need to be changed, or that I don’t believe that boys develop differently from girls; having watched my son and his peers I know that, for example, girls tend to have an easier time with language, whereas boys excel at spatial awareness. I’m not even against the idea of educating boys and girls separately (although I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about the equality of the education they would receive). What I am saying is that I don’t think that re-inforcing gender stereotypes is what is going to fix this. In fact, I think that those gender stereotype are what got us into this mess.

What if, instead of having this be a battle of boys vs. girls, we use this as an opportunity to find a way to meet each student where they are. Can’t we engage our students as individuals, rather than saying that the whole curriculum has to be rejiggered to benefit one or the other? Is there any way to find a curriculum that will be the perfect middle ground? Or will we constantly be going back and forth between uh oh now the girls are doing better, no wait now it’s the boys, no wait the girls without ever finding a balanced way to address the subject?

I hope that when Theo starts school, his strengths and weaknesses aren’t treated as being boys’ strengths or boys’ weaknesses; I hope that they are treated as his own individual issues, his own successes and failures, and that his teachers are able to see past his gender and appreciate him for himself.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it?