Tag Archives: politics

CANADA: LAND OF MISANDRY? NOT ANYMORE

28 Jul

I think that we can all agree that the main problem with Canadian history is that men are just way too underrepresented. Take our money, for example. I mean, the queen is on all of our coins! What kind of misandry is this? Sure the five dollar bill boasts our old pal Wilfred Laurier, and the ten dollar bill shows everyone’s favourite confederation-loving racist Sir John A. Macdonald, and the fifty dollar bill has séance-holder and dog enthusiast William Lyon Mackenzie King and yeah, fine, the hundred dollar bill is devoted to Nova Scotia’s good ole boy Sir Robert Borden, but I mean, come on. Queen Elizabeth II graces all of our coins and our twenty dollar bill. Every time you open your wallet it’s just ladies ladies everywhere and nary a dick in sight*.

If you’re not seeing the feminist conspiracy that’s clearly at play here, then you must have taken the blue pill and I hope your happy living in your fantasy world where you think women aren’t angling for world domination. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be out here fighting the good fight for all those poor, ignored white men of history.

Thankfully, those of us with even just an ounce of good sense can count ourselves lucky to have Lord and Saviour of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper on our side. I mean, here’s a guy whose political party is fighting for rights of oppressed white dudes everywhere. After his disappointing failure to ban abortion in our fair country – though fear not, beloved reader, he’s doing his best to make accessing abortions as difficult as possible! – he has now set his sights on a new and very worthy enterprise: getting all the ladies off of our money.

Obviously it would be silly to start by taking the queen off of our money. For one thing, she’ll be dead soon and then it’s kings ahoy for at least the next century. For another, if Harper did that he wouldn’t be invited to any more royal garden parties, and if there is one thing Stephen Harper loves, it’s garden parties. Full of white people. Who speak English. Preferably with a refined accent. He’s also a big fan of those little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

With that in mind, Harper began his de-ladyfying of the Canadian currency back in 2012 by removing the Famous Five and an image of the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award from the fifty dollar bill. The Famous Five, for you lucky few not in the know – how nice it must be to live in ignorance of Canada’s deplorably lady-infested past! – were Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Edwards, the five women foolish enough to ask if the word “persons” in Section 24 of the British North America Act included female persons. Which of course was a trick question because we all know that there’s no such thing as a female person – just male persons and hysterical, irrational women.

Thérèse Casgrain, bless her unreasonable little female heart, came a bit later than the Famous Five and was one of those pesky suffragettes. You know, those women who thought that female-persons (OXYMORON) should be allowed to have a say in who was running the country. As if men weren’t capable of making that decision by themselves! She also went on to do many unfeminine things such as being made an Officer of the Order of Canada and becoming a senator. No wonder so many fatherless teenagers are getting pregnant and shooting innocent white people.

Pierre Trudeau, noted socialist and French-speaking person, created the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award in 1982 as a way of honouring Canadians who deserve recognition for doing things for free (which is the opposite of capitalism). Note that Trudeau and Casgrain are both from Québec – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that fact, but with mention that you can totally anagram “separatism” into “parasites m” (the M is for Murder All The Anglophones). I think it’s pretty clear to everyone here that this award was all some sort of front for the FLQ, who are probably bombing your staunch anglo mailbox as we speak.

Thankfully for all of us true, red-blooded (BUT WHITE-SKINNED, AMIRITE FOLKS?) Canadians, it has recently come to light that Stephen Harper put a stop to all those Thérèse Casgrain shenanigans back in 2010. In lieu of that stinky french commie award, he created a Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award to be awarded instead, with a picture of the prime minister’s banner on it. I MEAN IS THAT CANADIAN OR WHAT. BEAVERS AND MAPLE LEAFS FUCK YEAH. I’M GONNA GO DO A LINE OF TIMBITS TO CELEBRATE.

I would suggest that all of us loyal (white) Canadians should kneel by our bed and offer a prayer of thanks to Jesus (also white) that we live in this wonderful country that works so hard to erase the memory of any and all women who might ever have done anything of note.

Thank you, Stephen Harper. Thank you.

Amen.

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*Not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, but as far as I know QEII has a very royal vagina and all of the men on Canadian money were happily be-penised.

 

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

11 Apr

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

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

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

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

Medically. Necessary.

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

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

Scratch that, what century are we living in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Tweet about this using the hashtag #NBProchoice

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

5. Check out the New Brunswick Pro Choice Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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Canada’s Apartheid

17 Dec

Thomas Mulcair wrote a very touching tribute to Nelson Mandela in today’s Toronto Star, using Mandela’s story of struggle and eventual triumph over a deeply racist regime as a call to arms to Canadians to affect change in our own country. Like so many of the things that I’ve seen presented by the NDP lately (and by lately, I guess I mean since Jack Layton’s death), it has a nice, socialist gloss to it but, upon closer inspection, doesn’t actually live up to what I expect from my party. To give credit where credit is due, there are several things that Mulcair gets right in his piece. There are also a few things that he gets very, very wrong.

I’ve read quite a few tributes to Mandela written by prominent white folks over the past week, and Mulcair’s is, on the surface, different from many of them. What sets his piece it apart from most of the others is the fact that Mulcair makes a fairly direct comparison between South Africa’s apartheid regime and Canada’s treatment of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. He’s not wrong, either – in fact, the apartheid system was based on Canada’s Indian Act. Our residential schools, Indian Reserve and many other deeply racist systems inspired South Africa’s oppressive regime. I’m glad that at least one of our federal leaders has (somewhat) acknowledged this in their remarks on Mandela’s death.

What Mulcair gets so very, very wrong is in how he talks about the fall of the apartheid and Mandela’s role in it. South Africa, he says, is a “miracle.” Mandela, he said, “inspire[d] people to be more forgiving, to be more united, to be better than they ever thought possible.” There is no mention of the involvement of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, which Mandela co-founded, in violent political resistance, resistance that was key in bringing apartheid to an end. There is no mention of the fact that Mandela himself was implicated in that violence; no discussion of the fact that part of the reason Mandela was sent to prison was because he was responsible for bombing a power plant. Though we seem to like to imagine that Mandela brought change to South Africa with nothing but wise words and a kind, grandfatherly smile, the truth is very different. Mandela fought for his freedom, tooth and nail.

And yet the western world has somehow managed to whitewash all of Mandela’s actions, to the point where we no longer remember that at one point in time America considered him to be a terrorist. And the same people who are lauding Mandela are those that I see complaining about First Nations blockades and protests on a regular basis. It’s a funny sort of cognitive dissonance – if we declare ourselves in support of the fight to end the apartheid in South Africa, then shouldn’t it necessarily follow that we also support the fight to end the oppression of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples? If we can have this kind of unwavering love and support for a man who bombed a power plant in order to bring down a racist regime, then shouldn’t we offer some kind of aid and encouragement to the citizens of our own country who are trying to protect their lands from environmental devastation? How is it that we, as Canadians, manage to view these two situations as being entirely different?

It also seems pretty funny that what Mulcair wrote could almost be taken as an endorsement of radical and perhaps even violent tactics in order to further decolonization, considering that his response to almost any type of First Nations protest is to ask them to work with the Canadian government.

Take, for example, his official statement on the current events in Elsipogtog:

New Democrats are very concerned about the escalating situation involving the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. We are monitoring the situation closely. We join the Assembly of First Nations in calling for calm on all sides. The safety and security of all parties is our number one concern at this time. This situation underlines the importance of peaceful and respectful dialogue between governments and Indigenous peoples.

Or else his response to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike:

I would sincerely call upon Chief Spence to realize that there has been a step in the right direction, to try and see now if we can keep putting pressure on the government to follow through. The government seems to be moving so I think that the best thing to do would be to step back from that now.

It’s just the same old racist bullshit of asking the oppressed to work with their oppressors. He’s not adding anything new or helpful; he’s just reiterating what the First Nations peoples have been hearing for generation after generation. His approach is not going to solve anything. Peaceful talks with a racist and oppressive government, a government that has a vested interest in continuing to marginalize the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, are not going to bring about any kind of real change.

As NDP candidate Shannon Phillips said,

“Nelson Mandela didn’t do 27 years in prison for sitting in the wrong seat on the bus. He was there, in part, for his role in bombing a power station in order to make the machinery of a racist regime grind to a halt. A regime most of the world, including Canada under those Great Liberals Pearson and Trudeau, thought was completely a-ok. So can we just remember that next time we see indigenous people blockading a highway? Thanks.”

So the next time you hear about a First Nations blockade or protest or hunger strike, I want you to look at it from a different angle. I want you to consider how our government’s treatment of the Aboriginal peoples of this country compares to the South African apartheid. And most of all I want you to ask yourself: if he were here, in Canada today, what would Nelson Mandela do?

Photo credit: Ossie Michelin

Photo credit: Ossie Michelin

Trayvon Martin, The East, and the Consequences of Privilege

16 Jul

I remember being a kid and wondering why the fuck all of the grownups I knew seemed so incredibly laissez-faire about everything that was wrong with the world.

I mean, here I was being told that I should treat other people with respect, that I should be kind to and tolerant of those who were different from me, that I should recycle and compost and pick up litter and do all kinds of stuff that was supposed to help turn me into a model citizen. And I did do all of those things, both because I was told they were important and because I wanted to; my understanding was that these things needed to be done if we were going to live in a decent world.

I remember thinking, though, that none of the adults around me seemed to be holding up their end of the bargain. Like, I was doing what little I could, but they should have been doing so much more: shutting down environmentally dangerous power plants or stopping cities from dumping raw sewage into the river or flying around the world ending wars or whatever. Instead, I would catch them tossing recyclable items into garbage cans, and when I called them out they would just shrug sheepishly.

And I was like, fuck grownups. It was pretty obvious to me that our world was such a fucking mess because all of the people in charge were both grossly incompetent and frighteningly uncaring. My only consolation was that some day I was going to be bigger and older, and then I would finally be able right all these wrongs.

Of course, every kid’s a zealot, and they don’t understand things like grey areas or compromise or picking your battles. Everything is done full-throttle, every issue is black and white, and every battle is there to be fought and won. If you’re in it, then you’d better be in it to win it, at any cost. And there’s really nothing wrong with living this way when you’re seven – in fact, these are very normal and natural tendencies to have. Unfortunately, this take-no-prisoners philosophy becomes a bit problematic once you have to earn your own living and raise your own kids.

All of which is to say that I’m not the grownup I thought I would be.

I have an easy life. It’s so easy that I mostly don’t even have to think about how easy it is. My life, society and culture are set up in such a way that I am able to benefit from certain things like race and class without ever really having to acknowledge that those realities exist. And, I mean, that’s real privilege, isn’t it? If you can forget that you even have privilege, or if you can easily ignore the various ways that it improves your life – well, that’s basically the definition of privilege.

Two things happened on Saturday night. First, I saw The Eastwhich is a smart, thoughtful movie about a woman who infiltrates an eco-terrorism group in an attempt to bring them down. Then, I got home and found out about George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

I should probably also add a third item to that list, namely the fact that after learning about Zimmerman’s verdict, I spent an hour on social media watching white people either denying that race had anything to do with the outcome of the trial or else trying to somehow make this whole thing about them.

The idea that we live easy lives built on conveniences that are deeply detrimental to others was a theme that came up over and over in The East. We burn coal for power, and the leftover waste poisons our rivers and lakes. We drive cars powered by fossil fuels and ignore the fact that burning those fuels is causing our planet to heat up at an alarming rate. Unless it directly affects us, we very conveniently ignore the environmentally destructive ways that both coal and oil are extracted from the earth. We buy clothing made in unsafe working conditions because it’s cheap. We cut corners in all sorts of dangerous ways because a few moments of ease is so much nicer than contemplating a lifetime of consequences.

The East is, for the most part, about a group of people who have decided that they’re not going to stand by and watch rich white people profit off of the misery of others. So they start fighting violence with violence, taking and eye for an eye and not really giving a shit if all of us end up blind because, to extend the metaphor a little further, most of us are already halfway to being sightless. Saying that an eye for an eye will make the world blind is to work off the assumption that all of us start out with two eyes, but really, that that’s just not true. Rich white people are born with two functioning eyes; the rest of the population has to figure out how to get ahead with whatever disadvantages they’re given.

On Saturday night I watched the neighbourhood watch captain of a gated community get off scot free for murdering a Black teenager in a hoody. I watched privilege play out both in the official news reports that I read and in people’s reactions on social media. I watched a whole fucking lot of people refuse to admit that the conveniences that make their lives as easy as they are exist as the flip side of the same coin that let Zimmerman walk free. I watched white people ask for comfort and sympathy when faced with hard evidence of a system that they are happy to benefit from until something like this comes along and shows its dark underbelly. I watched white people share pictures of kittens and cute babies, watched them tweet about how they were going to go home and hug their kids, without ever accepting the fact that because of their tacit permission for the way things are some folks wouldn’t ever hold their kids again.

I watched white people make this about them, and then I watched them slowly but surely provide themselves with the tools to forget that this had ever happened.

And I watched Black people wonder if their kid was next.

I live an easy life. I live on the backs of others, because I was lucky enough to be born at the top of a pile that has hurt and killed a whole lot of people. My life is safe, and the real kicker is that most of the choices that I make mean that it will continue to be so. And why shouldn’t I want to be safe? Why should I want an easy life, not just for myself, but for my kid?

Because my safety and ease come at a pretty fucking high cost, that’s why.

This is one of those days when the world seems to be nothing more than a relentless list of one terrible thing after another. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed – how and where do I even start to fix any of this? It’s too much, and I’m not enough. I want to pick up my magic time-travel phone, call my seven-year-old self and explain that I’m really, really sorry, but I’m not who she wanted us to be. I’ll try to explain all about grey areas and compromise and all that stuff, and maybe she’ll even try to understand, but I think that both of us will know that I could have tried harder.

I should try harder.

I’m just not sure what trying harder would look like.

I mean, how do you fight against problems that are so deeply woven into the fabric of the way you live? How do you fight, for example, against environmentally destructiveness of coal-fired power when every time you turn on the light or plug in your computer or watch your favourite movie, your actions contribute to releasing an extra little bit of noxious gas into the air? How do you fight against huge, often unethical drug companies while at the same acknowledging that they create and manufacture the drugs that have helped keep you and your loved ones alive? How do you fight against something like the mining of the Alberta oil sands, when every time you ride in a gas-powered vehicle you add a little more carbon dioxide to the air? And sure, I don’t own a car, and I take public transit just about everywhere, but isn’t that what we call compromise? I mean, I tell myself that I’m less responsible for ruining the environment than, say, the dude with the fancy SUV, but really, I’m still culpable, you know? I’m still benefitting from mining and burning fossil fuels, and I’m certainly not doing anything to end these practices.

Most of all, how do you fight against all of the insidious, institutionalized racism that you encounter a thousand times every day? You can call out the more obvious stuff, you can take people to task for using racial slurs or referencing racial stereotypes, but what do you do about all the big and little ways that privilege affects your life? What do you do about the fact that you live in a mostly white neighbourhood, a neighbourhood whose whiteness is definitely a large part of why it’s considered to be “safe”? What do you do about the fact that your career caters almost exclusively to privileged white people? How do you handle the dawning realization that the majority of your encounters with people of colour are mostly when interacting with those working service jobs, and could, at best, be described as casually friendly?

My seven-year-old self would almost certainly want me to take the route of the eco-terrorists in The East, complete with living off-the-grid in the burned out shell of a house in the forest. My seven-year-old self would want me to fight fire with fire, taking no prisoners and teaching huge asshole corporations that they can’t knowingly hurt others and get away with it. My seven-year-old self would want to do something equally huge and visible as a protest against Zimmerman’s acquittal. She would want me to fly to Florida, raise a ruckus, start a riot; she would want everyone to know how outraged she was.

And ohhh of course there’s a part of me that sides with my seven-year-old self. I want to do something big; I want to stand up against evil, and, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I want everyone else to see me doing it. There’s a strong desire in me to right the wrongs of the world, of course, but there’s also a dash of ego in there, whispering that I should right those wrongs in a way that makes me out to be a hero.

I mentioned the other day on Facebook that I want to be a brave person who changes the world, but that I wasn’t sure what bravery was or how change happened. In response to this, my friend Jennie said,

Bravery is not a single decision. It’s the overall effect of every brave decision you make: every time you do something because it’s right, or kind, or honest, rather than because it’s convenient or because it’s less hard. So do the needful, kind, honest, things, one thing at a time. Then, when something really hard comes up, you’ll have the practice you need, and you’ll do the needful thing.

So this is how I’m going to start: by practicing bravery in all kinds of little ways, so that when the big things come, I’ll know what to do.

I’m going to initiate more discussions about my own privilege, and the privilege found both in my neighbourhood and in many parts of the Toronto yoga community.

I’m going to think about the ways that my life more closely resembles George Zimmerman’s than it does Trayvon Martin’s.

I’m going to think about more items that could be added to this list.

I’m going to start teaching Theo about racism and privilege in ways that are appropriate for his age.

Most of all, I’m going to try really, really hard to not make this about me. When people of colour raise their voice, I’m going to do my best to make sure that they get a megaphone, and then I’m going to hightail it to the back of the room and listen. I’m going to try harder to promote writing and thoughts and music and art that come from marginalized people. Rather than wearing a hoodie in solidarity or joking about starting riots, I’m going to talk about how I, a white woman, can do these things without fearing for my personal safety. I’m going to keep calling out racism and classism and sexism and ableism and homophobia and transphobia and all that other bad shit, even when I feel uncomfortable doing that.

I’m going to be brave.

civil-rights-march

A Safer And More Caring Society

30 May

I keep thinking of ways to start this post, but I can’t figure out the right words to use.

What do you say about someone whose contribution to your life, and the lives of all women, is invaluable?

I guess that I should start with the most basic fact: Henry Morgentaler, doctor and agitator for women’s reproductive rights, died today. He was 90. His work helped save the lives of countless Canadian women.

Henry Morgentaler was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1923. A Polish Jew, he was sent to Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation of his homeland. He survived. His parents did not. He came to Canada in 1950. In 1955 he opened a family practice in Montreal. He soon began petitioning the government to reconsider their stance on abortion, and opened an abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969. At that time, attempting to induce an abortion was a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Dr. Morgentaler’s clinic was raided, and he was arrested, jailed and acquitted multiple times, both in Quebec and Ontario. Abortion was legalized in 1988, in no small part because of Dr. Morgentaler’s actions. In 2008, he was named to the Order of Canada.

I’m only giving the briefest of biographical details, because I know that tons of other publications will discuss and dissect his life much better than I can. And anyway, that’s not really what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about how Dr. Morgentaler’s struggle to legalize abortion affected all of us, and continues to affect us to this day.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had an abortion, and I hope that I never have to. Not because I think they’re wrong or bad, but because I try to avoid medical procedures if and when I can. But I have friends, many friends, who have terminated pregnancies. And I know that most, maybe all of them would not be in the same happy, secure places in their lives had they chosen not to terminate.

Every baby should be a wanted baby. I have a son, and I wanted to have him. But carrying a pregnancy to term and then raising a kid is hard fucking work, and those things shouldn’t ever, ever be forced on any woman. My friends who have had abortions are able to live the lives that they do because they had the ability to choose. Many of them have very successful careers. Some of them have gone on to have planned, wanted children since then. Some of them already had children before, and have been able to enrich those children’s lives by giving them the time, care and resources that they worried would be diminished with the addition of another child. For some of them abortion was a difficult, emotional choice, and for others it wasn’t. But for nearly all of them, choosing to terminate meant being able to finish school, being able to work in demanding fields without having to make sacrifices for their families, or just being able to focus on their lives as they were, without adding an additional complication.

Anti-choice groups nearly always talk about what kind of cancer-curing genius any given fetus might grow up to be, but almost no one talks about what a woman might become if she chose to terminate her pregnancy. We already know that it’s basically impossible for the average woman to “have it all,” so really, who knows how many women would have gone on to make incredible scientific discoveries, be brilliant world leaders or do one of any number of things that might have changed the world for the better had they chosen to terminate a pregnancy. Or else consider the number of smart, successful women that you encounter every day  – your doctor, maybe, or your lawyer – who may have been able to get where they are now because at some point in their lives they had to choose whether to have a child, and they chose not to. On a more mundane level, think of how many women would have felt able to leave abusive situations earlier if they didn’t have a child complicating the situation. Think of how many women there are worldwide live in grinding poverty, working two or more jobs just to make ends meet, because they were unable to choose to have an abortion.

Above all, think of how many lives Doctor Morgentaler saved by helping to legalize abortion. First of all, because the legalization of abortion helps Canadian women avoid the same awful fate as Savita Halappanavar, who died because Irish law prohibited her doctors from terminating a non-viable pregnancy that was medically dangerous to her. Second of all, because history has proved time and again that criminalizing abortions does not stop them from happening, it just makes them more deadly to women. Without Doctor Morgentaler’s work, Canadian women would still have to seek back alley abortions if they wanted to terminate a pregnancy, procedures which often resulted in infection, sterility or even death.

Doctor Morgentaler was someone who understood what true lack of freedom was. In 2005, after receiving an honorary doctor of law degree 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.”

He then went on to add,

“Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps, do not rape and do not murder.”

Having seen what the escalating restrictions of rights and freedoms had resulted in during the Holocaust, Doctor Morgentaler dedicated his life to giving Canadian women autonomy over their own bodies.

He said, “I felt, as a humanist and as a doctor, that I had a moral duty to help these women.”

Thank you, Doctor Morgentaler. Thank you for fighting for my right to choose, should I ever need to do so. Thank you for working tirelessly so that my friends could have the freedom to do whatever they want with their lives. Thank you for letting working class mothers choose to devote the time, energy and resources that they have to their existing children, rather than forcing them to add another mouth to feed.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Henry

Men and Feminism

19 May

I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking lately. I mean, most of it has been about, like, cat videos and comic books, but over the past week a significant part of my brain has been occupied by the following question:

What place do men have in the feminist movement?

First of all, let me straight up say that I think that they for sure have a place, and an important one at that. I like dudes, I think they are super great and that many of them have important, valuable things to say about feminism. And I don’t think that we have a hope in hell of achieving equality if only self-identified women are welcome in the feminist movement.

But.

BUT.

I don’t think that men have any place as leaders in the movement. I don’t think that they should ever, ever lecture women on how to be feminists. And I sure as hell don’t think that they should claim to support equality while at the same time decrying things like the term “privilege” as a silencing tactic.

There have been a few things this week that have kept this issue at the forefront of my thoughts. First, there was this article that a friend of mine wrote for the Huffington Post about Charles Clymer, the man who runs the Facebook group Equality for Women. Clymer styles himself as a feminist and supporter of gender equality, but has been known to silence women (deleting their comments if they disagree with him, banning them if they question these deletions), and has also written troubling things like this post on why “bitch” and “cunt” can’t ever be reclaimed by women. Even worse, Clymer wrote this email to one of the women who was unhappy with his behaviour:

Stephanie, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, apparently, no one has had the guts to tell you up to this point in your life: having a vagina does not grant you magical powers of perception and nuance anymore than my penis magically blinds me from the horrors of the world.

You have to earn respect for your opinion. I’m not going to hand it to you because you’re a woman talking women’s rights.
And yes, I am the leader of this page. These are my moderators, who I have selected for the page that I created and into which I have poured money for advertising, and make no mistake: I do hold executive privilege (your favorite word, apparently), and I do have the final say on decisions. However, I trust my mods, and instead of being a dictator, we work as a team of equals. They let me know when something’s off, and I listen to them and heed their advice.

I run this page, a feminist blog, write a column for another feminist blog (under a woman editor-in-chief who respects my writing and invited me to contribute articles), and on top of all that, I volunteer 30-40 hours a week at a feminist lobbying firm.

Here’s a good question: what the fuck have you done for women’s rights, lately, other than troll the page I created?

You want to talk about privilege? Fine, we’ll talk about privilege. What about your idiot privilege? It would seem you’re so used to people not calling you out for being an absolute fucking moron that you’ve become blind to how your asshat actions affect others.

So no, after us reaching out to you, you decided to insult me, and, more importantly, my moderators with your bullshit, half-hearted, tongue-in-cheek apology.

Supposedly, you’re an outstanding feminist but have no problem telling my women moderators how they’re supposed to think and feel.
Please accept my invitation of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.

And one more thing: If I ever see your name on my page again, I will report you for harassment and block you.

Feel free to relay this message to the 1% of women feminists out there who foam at the mouth and put their bullshit on everyone else who disagrees with them.

Charles

I just … I’m not even sure that I have the words to explain how fucked up this is. Wait, no, here are a few: a man who is purportedly trying to raise women up is using his position of power and influence to belittle and silence women. He’s disrespectful, condescending, and seems to think that because he took Feminism 101 that trumps any kind of lived experience that women might have had.

Another thing that’s got me thinking about men and feminism is the discussion that this article inspired on The Belle Jar’s Facebook page. In it, a few men (men that I know and really like!) mentioned that they find the feminist movement to be unfriendly towards men, and that they believe that women should “make room” for men in feminism. And you know what? I honestly do think that men have a place in the feminist movement, I swear to God that I do. But I think that place is, as my friend Ryan would say, at the back of the room. If you, a hypothetical dude, really want women to achieve equality, then you do whatever you can to give them a platform. You stand back, let them speak, and you fucking listen. And above all, you let women shape the direction of the feminist movement. Dudes, you know I love you, but this ain’t about you.

The final thing that really got me going this week was this speech given by Ronald Lindsay at the Women in Secularism conference. The talk starts out fine-ish, with some discussion of the history of the subjugation and subordination of women, but then, somewhere towards the middle, things become problematic.

This brings me to the concept of privilege, a concept much in use these days. Let me emphasize at the outset that I think it’s a concept that has some validity and utility; it’s also a concept that can be misused, misused as a way to try to silence critics. In what way does it have validity? I think there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there are socially embedded advantages that men have over women, in a very general sense. These advantages manifest in various ways, such as the persistent pay gap between men and women. Also, I’m not a believer in a priori arguments, but I will say that given the thousands of years that women were subordinated to men, it would be absolutely amazing if in the space of several decades all the social advantages that men had were promptly and completely eradicated. Legislation can be very effective for securing rights, but changing deeply engrained patterns of behavior can take some time.

So, basically, it’s fine to talk about privilege as long as it’s only in a general, societal sense. That’s totally kosher. But calling a specific male out on his specific male privilege? That’s apparently called “silencing critics.”

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

First of all, you can’t listen if you don’t shut up. Pretty much physically impossible. And guess what? If you are a man, then you fucking don’t know what it’s like to experience x, y and z, and if you are actually interested in learning about, then yes, you have to shut up and listen.

This approach doesn’t work.  It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Dude. We’ve tried reasoned arguments, and you (general male you, not you, Ronald Lindsay, specifically) didn’t want to hear them. We’ve tried explaining ourselves and you called us hysterical and accused us of overreacting. We’ve tried to engage and include men in the feminist movement, only to be told that we’re not going about it the right way. We’ve been pushed around, condescended to, belittled, and much, much worse. And now? Now we’re exhausted. If you’re not interested in shutting up and listening to what we have to say, then you’re not interested in gender equality. Not really. Not in any meaningful sense, anyway.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

No one is saying that you can’t “question” or “engage,” but you need to understand that at the end of the day, yes, women’s lived experiences make them an authority on the inequality of women. I can’t believe that I have to say that, but apparently I do.

I started my talk with that reading from the New Testament which unmistakably assigned women a subordinate role.  Both the symbol of that oppression and the vehicle for enforcing that oppression was silence.  Enforced silence is always and everywhere the enemy of truth and progress.  If someone is forbidden from speaking, you are obviously not going to hear what they have to say.

Good lord, no one is silencing you. And this time I am specifically talking to you, Ronald Lindsay. Do you even know what the word “silencing” means, old white dude? You have a huge platform, your organization has 14,000 fans on Facebook, and you have so many people listening to you. Just because someone reminds you of your privilege does not mean that you are being silenced.

As my grandmother would say, Jesus, Mary and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

(I added in the Gordon-Levitt part, in case that wasn’t clear)

But enforced silence is also a way of robbing someone of their humanity.  Part of what allows us to give meaning to our lives is the ability to exercise certain core freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and reproductive freedom.  We need these freedoms to take control of our own lives, to give shape and direction our own lives; otherwise, we are just going to be forced into a role that has been assigned to us.

You are not being robbed of your humanity. No one is trying to rob white, middle class men of their humanity. All that we’re trying to do is continue to assert our own humanity, which is apparently something that you want as well. But if you’re really interested in giving women a hand up, then you need to listen, even when it gets uncomfortable for you. Even when you don’t like what’s being said. Even when the word privilege comes up. And if you can’t do that? Then get the fuck out of the way, stop speaking at feminist conferences, and make room for someone who actually understands how equality works.

Look. There is certainly a place for men in the feminist movement, but that place is not in a position of leadership. Men should never, ever tell women what feminism is, why it’s necessary, and how it works. In the same way, a heterosexual person should not lecture LGBTQ folks on how to advocate for gay rights, and a white person shouldn’t be telling People of Colour how to fight against racism. It just doesn’t work that way. Privilege is a real thing, and it really does blind you to what an oppressed person’s life is really like.

If you want to be a good feminist man, you need to learn to be challenged. You need to learn to feel uncomfortable. Above all, you need to shut up and listen.

white-privilege-and-prejudice

My Uncle Eric

26 Mar

When I was a kid I had this uncle, Uncle Eric.

Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name was Eric Donkin, and for a while (quite a while, actually) he was kind of a Big Deal in Canadian theatre.

Here is a picture of Uncle Eric as Julius Caesar:

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Pretty badass, no?

He wasn’t really my uncle. He was actually one of those family friends your parents force you to call auntie or uncle or cousin. His father had died over in England when he was a baby, and he and his mother had emigrated to Montreal when he was only 11 months old. His mother, who I called Nana Donkin, had met my grandparents not long after arriving in Canada and soon became their close friend. She used to babysit my mother and her siblings, and Eric had been like a (significantly) older brother to them.

Anyway, Uncle Eric was very well-established as an actor by the time I met him – he was already in his mid-50s when I was born and living in Stratford with mother and his friend John. Or rather, Nana Donkin lived in one large, gorgeous Victorian house in the middle of town, and Eric and John lived in another right next door.

My mother referred to John as Eric’s partner, and Nana Donkin called John his chum. My grandparents simply referred to John as Eric’s friend. None of the adults I knew ever spoke aloud what must have been obvious to everyone: that John was Eric’s lover, and, had gay marriage been legal back then, he likely would have been his husband.

As a kid, you don’t question language or titles a whole lot, I guess. So when my mother told me that John was Eric’s partner, I thought she meant business partner. I figured that they lived together because they had a lot of businessy stuff to do, and probably they were both bachelor-types who liked having the company of a roommate and friend.

As I grew older, I didn’t think to question John and Eric’s relationship. They were never demonstrative, never open about their love for each other; probably because both had grown up in a time when that just wasn’t done. Even when I was old enough to know what being gay or queer meant, and old enough to know that you couldn’t legally marry someone of your own sex, and certainly old enough to know that gay people often referred to their significant others as their partners, I still didn’t put two and two together.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen and attending Uncle Eric’s funeral that I realized that he was gay.

I was (and still am) a theatre nerd who, at the time, had dreams of someday sweeping across a Stratford stage in a period gown, loudly and beautifully enunciating my way through one of Shakespeare’s more famous monologues. So I was understandably a little overwhelmed by the fact that I was sitting in a private family-only box at the Festival Theatre listening to Richard Monette and Martha Henry eulogize my uncle. As I sat there entranced, drinking in every theatrically-spoken word, I had a lightbulb moment.

Someone, I can’t remember who, was reminiscing about performing with Uncle Eric at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. She told a story about how one night, after whatever show it was that they were doing, all of the chorus girls ran into Eric’s dressing room and covered him in bright red stage-make-up-y kisses. Eric had just laughed and said, “I think I’m playing for the wrong team.”

There was, like, a record scratch sound that went off in my head.

Whoa. Hold up. What team were we talking about? What was she saying?

I leaned over and whispered to my mother, “Mom? Was Uncle Eric gay?”

“Shhh. Not now, Annie,” she said, distracted.

“No, but really,” I said, my voice entering “inappropriately loud” territory. “Was he gay? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Annie,” my mother hissed. “We’re in the middle of a memorial service. We will talk about this later.”

How had I gone my entire life not knowing that John and Eric were in love? Why hadn’t anyone every told me?

It seriously still blows my mind by the time Eric died in 1998, we, as a family, still couldn’t talk about the fact that he was gay. And it’s not like my parents were in any way conservative or homophobic – they were usually very open and liberal about everything. We’d already discussed the fact that being gay was normal, that it was just fine and dandy to love or date or co-habitate with someone of your own sex. I had gay friends at school; my father had taken me to my first pride parade when I was 14.

Every single one of us said that it was okay to be gay, but we never talked about the fact that Uncle Eric was in love with a man.

Later, after eating miniature sandwiches at John and Eric’s home, after letting John show me the pond in their backyard that Eric had built and proudly stocked with goldfish, after I’d hiding myself in a corner with Eric’s copy of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy in an attempt to avoid having to talk to family, I grilled my mother about Eric. At fifteen, I was loud and somewhat abrasive, and I think I might have accused her of being a complacent middle-aged homophobe. For some reason, maybe as a way of transferring my grief and surprise at Eric’s death (he’d died suddenly of a heart attack during a rehearsal for Much Ado About Nothing), I was strangely upset about the fact that she’d never told me that Eric was gay.

“I don’t really know why, Annie,” she said. “I guess we were afraid of Nana Donkin knowing, and I thought if I said the word gay to you, you would repeat it in front of her.”

“She must have known, though. How could she not have known?”

“Well,” said my mother, not looking at me, “I think that it’s possible to stop yourself from knowing something if you really don’t want to know it. You have to remember that she grew up in a different time, and this wasn’t something that was acceptable back then.”

I’ve been thinking about Uncle Eric a lot today, what with the hearing regarding Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage in California, that are happening at the US Supreme Court right now. I’ve been wondering how different things would have been if John and Eric had been allowed to marry. Surely, then, we would have had to talk about it. Surely we wouldn’t have been able to tiptoe around the issue the way we did.

Surely one of the number of articles and obituaries that I’ve read about him today would have mentioned John, his partner of dozens of years, if they’d been married.

There are people, nice people, who want to convince you that it’s possible for LGBTQ folks to have equality without necessarily having marriage equality. They want to ban gay marriage not because they’re homophobic, but because it goes against The Bible (which is obviously what should be informing American laws, because who needs separation of church and state?) and is somehow Morally Wrong. They’re totally fine with people being out of the closet, and starring in sitcoms and getting up to hilarious gay shenanigans, so long as they can’t get married.

And I think it’s great that so many people who, a generation ago, would have publically been against gay anything are now only against gay marriage. I do, actually, think that that’s a big step forward. But I believe that it’s wrong to say that the LGBTQ community is fully equal in a society that affords one, huge, particular right to straight people only.

And you know what? Remembering Uncle Eric has reminded how easy it is for straight allies to stay silent when their voices are needed the most. All of us, my whole family, could’ve spoken out against the casual, insidious homophobia that John and Eric faced. But we didn’t, and it’s hard for me to figure out the how and why of that.

Fifteen years later, I can’t help but be upset and embarrassed by the ways we let Uncle Eric down. I can’t help but re-examine my life to try to figure out the ways I’m letting down other oppressed groups that I call myself an ally of. I suspect that there might be more ways than I can think of.

For now, please enjoy this clip of Uncle Eric in The Mikado: