Tag Archives: politics

Idle No More

26 Dec

Last night, as we sat down to Christmas dinner, my mother’s dining room table practically groaning under the weight of all the food, I couldn’t help but think of Chief Theresa Spence, who is now on the 14th day of her hunger strike. As I piled my plate high with turkey, stuffing, potatoes and turnips, as the members of my family bowed their heads for grace and then raised their glasses in a toast, I thought of the woman who, only 100 miles away in Ottawa, was willing to die for her people.

Today, as others are rushing out to buy cheap goods in a glut of mass consumerism, I’m reminded of how very much so many of us already have, while others have so little.

Theresa Spence is the chief of the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation, a Cree community near James Bay, which drew media attention earlier this year due to its ongoing housing crisis. Residents in Attawapiskat, and many other First Nations communities, face a shortage of funding when it comes to, well, just about everything, but the situation is especially dire with regards to housing and education. Late 2011 found families in Attawapiskat, including young children, living in uninsulated tents; some of those who were lucky enough to have more adequate housing still lacked basic necessities like running water, and were using buckets for toilets. Although the crisis in Attawapiskat drew significant media attention, it seems that little there has changed over the course of the year.

Chief Spence’s hunger strike and the Idle No More movement it helped spark aren’t just about the subhuman living conditions in Attwapiskat and other reserves, though. It’s not just about the dire conditions found on so many First Nations reserves across the country. It’s not just about Bill C-45, which was passed earlier this year and both reduces the federal protection for Canadian waterways and also facilitates the government selling of reserve lands without consultation. Yes, it’s part of the fight against all those injustices, but it’s also about so much more.

It’s about the fact that our government has continued to ignore or downplay the rights and needs of this country’s Indigenous Peoples.

It’s about the fact that a small group of powerful, mostly white people still insist that they know what’s best for the diverse and culturally rich Canadian First Nations, even though history has proved time and time again that they don’t.

It’s about the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized in 2008 for the Canadian residential school system, which forced countless Indigenous children from their homes and into schools where they were beaten, sexually abused and grossly mistreated, and actually promised to help forge a “new relationship” with the First Nations based on “partnership” and “respect”, and yet refuses to meet with Chief Spence.

It’s about the fact that the next year, at the 2009 G20 summit, Harper said that Canada had “no history of colonialism.”

It’s about the fact that in the years since Harper promised to improve relations with First Nations peoples, he has instead cut aboriginal health funding, and his government sent body bags to a Manitoba reserve after its leaders requested federal assistance in dealing with an outbreak of swine flu.

It’s about the fact that over 600 Aboriginal women are missing, and no one seems to give a shit.

It’s about the fact that the Indian Act is so fucking oppressive that I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, a First Nation can only be “formed” and formally recognized by the crown if the Minister of Indian Affairs approves it, even if that nation and its people have existed since long before white settlers came to North America. For another, First Nations peoples have very little control over reserve land, and the Minister must approve any land sales or transfers. Not only that, but First Nations people need to seek government approval for selling or bartering any crops, livestock and other products grown, reared or cultivated on reserve lands; any First Nations person failing to do so will be guilty of an offence. Reserve lands, including roads, bridges and fences, must be maintained by the Band Council, and if the Minister decides that they’re not doing an adequate job, he can order them to make repairs, and any money for those repairs must come from the Band Council. Oh, and if you’re an Indigenous Person, you’d better hope that the government doesn’t declare you to be “mentally incompetent”, as that means that the Minister can force you to sell, lease or mortgage your land as he sees fit. Even a dead Indigenous person isn’t safe from the Minister; no wills drawn up on reserve lands are considered legally valid until the Minister approves them.

Like, what in the actual fuck? Other Canadians don’t have to live this way, and if they did, there would be a fucking revolution. Why are we okay with our government treating the First Nations this way? Even worse, why do people make remarks about Indigenous Peoples wanting special treatment, sneering at things like government-funded post-secondary education and exemption from paying certain taxes. To anyone privileged enough to make comments like that, I have only this to say: you fucking try living through a Northern Ontario winter in an uninsulated tent, shitting and pissing in a bucket and knowing that the government maintains control over nearly every aspect of your lives but pretty much refuses to lift a finger to help you, and then come talk to me about special treatment.

Chief Theresa Spence’s demands are simple: she wants to meet with the Prime Minister and the Governor General. She wants to sit down with them and discuss the plight of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. She has said that, should Harper refuse her request, she will die for her people.

Harper won’t meet with Spence. Instead, as Spence starves herself in a teepee near the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, he’s enjoying Christmas with his family in Calgary, and composing hilarious tweets about bacon.

Rather than engaging Spence himself, Harper has deputized his Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan, to meet with her. Duncan, in turn, has publicly decried Spence for refusing to meet with him, and has urged her to end her hunger strike, out of “concern” for her health. As if it’s not offensive to Indigenous Canadians to say that our Prime Minister is so busy and important that he has to pawn them off to the ministry that has been specially created to deal with them. As if there’s nothing inappropriate about a white man to telling a First Nations woman how to behave or what to do with her body.

Look, I’m not a member of the First Nations. I’m a product of colonialism, descended from settlers who came here from France in 1645. I’m as white as they come. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t my fight. This should be every Canadian’s fight. The treatment of the First Nations peoples should matter to everyone, no matter what the colour of their skin; this is a case of human rights, not just Aboriginal rights. We all need to take action on this issue.

At the end of the day, we all share the same country. And we need to make this a country that treats all of its citizens with dignity and respect, not just its white citizens, not just its privileged citizens. Other countries view Canada as a fair, peaceful nation where all people have the same rights and privileges – we as Canadians need to start living up to that reputation.

The Canadian First Nations have spent more than a century waiting for things to improve, waiting for better treatment at the hands of the government and hoping that every new promise made by each successive Prime Minister would prove to be more substantial than the empty talk of all the ones that came before. The time to wait is over; now it’s time to stand up and fight back.

Thank you, Chief Theresa Spence, for being so brave, braver than I could ever be. I stand in solidarity with you.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

Dear NRA, The Answer Is Almost Never More Guns

21 Dec

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard about the NRA’s press conference earlier today regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting. After waiting a week and remaining “respectably” silent (do you think they meant “respectfully”?), they are now ready to tell us how to solve the problem of gun violence:

More guns.

I mean, naturally, the answer is always more guns, isn’t it?

It gets worse, though; the answer isn’t just more guns, it’s GUNS IN SCHOOLS.

That’s right, you read correctly: the answer is armed personnel in schools in order to protect innocent children.

Because, says the NRA, the real truth is,

…that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?

Because it’s fear-mongering and exploitative when people rightfully point out how dangerous automatic and semi-automatic weapons are, and how lax gun control laws lead to tragedies like what happened at Sandy Hooks, but it’s totally not fear-mongering to say that society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters.

And because having men and women carrying guns in our schools is totally going to make children feel safe. Seeing an armed man or woman every day definitely isn’t going to make them feel as if being at school is a dangerous, life-threatening activity.

I mean, pardon my language, but Jesus fucking Christ, when does it end?

Is there ever going to be a time when more guns isn’t the answer?

Don’t worry, though; the NRA has another solution to gun violence.

They want a national registry of the mentally ill.

Yes, you heard that correctly: they don’t want a firearm registry, but they want the government to register every single person diagnosed with a mental illness. Because apparently what they’ve taken away from the whole “now is the time to talk about mental illness” discussion is that, rather than improve access to mental healthcare and work to reduce stigma, what we actually need to do is keep tabs on all the crazy people.

Never mind the fact that the mentally ill are four times more likely to be the victims of violence. Never mind the fact that “mental illness” is an incredibly broad category that includes an array of disorders ranging from anorexia nervosa to depression to schizophrenia. Never mind the fact that not all people with mental illness are violent, and not all violent people are mentally ill. Let’s just get on with this and start keeping tabs on the one in four Americans who have been or will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.

And fuck, I know that it doesn’t even bear saying, but how the hell do you think this will affect the stigma surrounding mental illness? Do you think that people will be more willing to go to their doctors and ask for help if they know that a diagnosis will land them on a national registry of people that the NRA believes to be deranged, evil monsters?

There is one thing, and one thing only that I agree with the NRA on: we live in a culture of violence. We live in a society that not only normalizes but celebrates violence. What I can’t wrap my head around is the fact that they don’t seem to understand that owning and using a gun contributes to that culture of violence.

I also don’t think that Grand Theft Auto makes anyone go on violent rampages, but hey, what do I know? Not as much as the NRA, apparently.

Look, I get it – guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But you know what? Adam Lanza would have been able to kill a fuck of a lot less people had he been carrying a knife, a club, or a crow bar. Saying that guns don’t kill people, etc., is like saying that polio doesn’t kill people, shitty immune systems do. But guess what? You still wouldn’t have died of polio had you not been fucking exposed to virus in the first place.

You guys, the way we view guns and violence is fucked up, and we need to fix it. I don’t know what the answer is; I can theorize, based on events that have happened in other countries, that stricter gun control is what’s needed, but it’s true that I can’t say for sure that that would fix everything. What I do know that is the answer is definitely not more guns. The answer is not a national registry of the mentally ill. And the answer is most definitely not armed personnel in schools.

gun-da-kop2p44

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

7 Dec

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:

399036_s

I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, totally removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident; a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

Female Feticide Is Not A Thing

29 Nov

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about “female feticide” lately.

First of all, there was this Toronto Star article, published back in April, about the six GTA hospitals (all in areas with large South Asian populations) that won’t reveal the baby’s gender to parents because of fears of “female feticide”.

Then, there was Conservative MP Mark Marawa’s Motion 408, which reads as follows: “That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.” 

Most recently, I had the following image pop up on my Facebook feed:

 

Female feticide, or sex-selective pregnancy termination, is typically defined as an elective abortion performed after a pregnant woman has learned that her fetus is female. In cultures where males have higher status than females, and male children have more value than female children, it is becoming more and more common for women to terminate pregnancies based on the fetus’ gender. Two countries where this practice is especially prevalent are India and China; it’s estimated that the gender ratio in India for children under the age of six is currently 109.4 males to 100 females, and in China is around 106 males to 100 females (although in some provinces it goes as high as 130 to 100).

The fact that these abortions happen because girls have so little value in some cultures is abhorrent to me. The fact that a woman would terminate a pregnancy just because of the gender of the fetus both horrifies and sickens me. But you know what? Female feticide is not the problem, it’s just a symptom. The treatment of girls and women in certain cultures, and the underlying beliefs that lead to this treatment, are the problem.

There are so many things about the discourse surrounding female feticide that bother me; I even find the name itself problematic. I mean, first of all, let’s be super clear on one thing: FETICIDE IS NOT A THING. This is not a word people should use, unless they want to be seen as part of the pro-life movement. It doesn’t matter that it’s female fetuses being aborted; it’s still not called feticide. If a woman chooses to abort her fetus because prenatal testing has shown that is has some form of disability, do we call that “disabled feticide”? If a woman terminates her pregnancy because she can’t afford another child, do we call it “penurious feticide”? No. No we don’t. Why female feticide, then? Why do we target this one type of abortion as being so much more heinous than others?

All of which brings me to my next point:

There is no hierarchy of abortions. There is not one type of abortion that’s fine and another that isn’t. You can’t say that it’s all right for a woman to terminate her pregnancy because it’s just not the right time in her life to have a child, or because it’s her first abortion and she was using birth control and it’s totally not her fault, but then turn around and say that a woman can’t choose to abort based on the gender of her fetus. You are either pro-choice or you aren’t. It’s as simple as that. Sure, you can feel uncomfortable about the reasons why another woman might terminate a pregnancy, but guess what? You don’t get to say shit about it, because it’s her choice.

See, that’s really the crux of the matter here: choice. Choice, and bodily autonomy, and agency. When you don’t give a woman all of the information available regarding her pregnancy because you are afraid that she will make the wrong choice with that information, then you are removing her agency. Ultimately, don’t we want to be empowering women and girls in these cultures that give their lives so little value? How is removing a woman’s agency empowering her at all?

I know exactly what you’re going to say. But what if she’s pressured into the decision to abort? What if she asks for an abortion because her husband is forcing her to get one? 

For one thing, there is no foolproof way to tell if a woman is being forced or manipulated into something. None. We can’t just go around operating on the assumption that any given woman out there is being controlled by a man; I think we have to assume that they are acting under their own power until proven otherwise. For another, what is a woman going to learn if she goes from a partner who is trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy to a doctor who is also trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy? The main thing that she is learning is that she has no agency over her own body. Finally, maybe a better solution would be to provide safer spaces for women who doctors feel are at a higher risk for being in abusive relationships; we should give them the chance to speak their own mind and present them with information and resources, rather than just refusing to reveal their fetus’ gender.

Another issue that I have with the term female feticide and the ways that we talk about it are that it’s hard not to feel like this is an effort by the pro-life groups to try to get feminists and liberal left-wingers on board with the idea that abortions are wrong. It kind of happens in baby steps, you know? First we say that one type of abortion is wrong and should be made illegal, and then another, until finally the procedure is outlawed altogether. I mean, it seems very telling that Motion 408 was put forth by a Conservative Party MP, you know? Looking at that graphic above, I can’t help but imagine it without the text at the bottom – just a fetus with the text, I want to live, Maa. Seen that way, it bears a striking resemblance to a lot of the pro-life rhetoric.

I guess that at the end of the day, I just don’t see how limiting a pregnant woman’s knowledge about her fetus, or not allowing her the choice to terminate her pregnancy, is going to empower women. All that will happen is that she will give birth to a daughter that she (or her husband) doesn’t want, who might end up being neglected, hurt, or even killed; if that daughter somehow makes it to adulthood, she will likely marry, get pregnant, and continue the cycle. What we really need to do is find ways to change these pervasive and damaging beliefs that males are more valuable than females. We need ways to to alter all the big and little cultural practices and ideologies that elevate one sex over the other. We need to attack the root of the problem  if we ever truly want to solve this.

Ultimately, what we really need to do is to find a way to make the world safer and better for all women, so that female children are no longer viewed as a curse. Because they’re not a curse; they, like male children, are a gift.

Odds and Ends

28 Nov

Just a few quick things:

1. I have another post up on Shameless Magazine’s website. It’s called Rape Culture in Popular Culture and includes hot pictures of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Something for everyone!

2. I am now a regular contributor to Shameless Magazine’s blog, rather than just a guest poster. YUS. WRITER CRED.

3. In the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death, many people have been wondering if there’s anything they can do to help other women who might be in her position. The Abortion Support Network helps women travel from Ireland to the UK in order to get abortions. They provide financial support, emotional support and accommodation for Irish women seeking abortions, and are a pretty awesome organization.

4. I love, love, love this article from Vice, You’re a Pussy if You Think There’s a War on MenEspecially this part:

“Yeah, no shit men are “pissed off” about “competing” with women. It’s pretty simple—decades ago, lazy men didn’t have to worry about talented women taking their jobs because they were largely relegated to being housewives or teachers or nurses. Now that women can dictate the terms of relationships and don’t need to latch onto a man as soon as possible, they aren’t willing to start pumping out babies and taking care of a household the way some guys would like. Boo-fucking-hoo. Cry me a river.”

Haaaaaaah.

5. I actually cannot stop listening to this song right now. Frig, I hate winter.

6. My kid is hella cute:

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?

The Senseless Death of Savita Halappanavar

15 Nov

In the early hours of Sunday, October 28th, Savita Halappanavar died a death that was, most likely, totally preventable. She died because the hospital where she was a patient denied her a lifesaving procedure, one that she requested, a procedure that she would have likely been granted nearly anywhere else in the western world.

Savita’s death, which many believe was brought about because of her doctor’s refusal to terminate her pregnancy, has sparked worldwide outrage. Ireland and India in particular, the former being the country where she died and the latter being the country of her birth, have seen massive vigils, memorials and protests in the wake of her death. What happened to Savita, and the role that her doctors’ decisions may or may not have played in her death, are currently under official investigation. Ireland’s Minister for Health, James Reilly, has confirmed that the findings of that investigation will be part of an “abortion report” brought before the Irish Cabinet, although experts estimate that it will be 2013 before their government takes any kind of official stance on the issue.

There has been a lot of talk, and much conjecture, about what happened to Savita Halappanavar in the last days of her life. Here are the bare facts:

Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was admitted to University Hospital Galway in western Ireland on October 21st. She presented with severe back pain, and it was quickly determined that she was actively miscarrying. Although doctors were still able to find a fetal heartbeat, Savita’s cervix was fully dilated, and she was leaking amniotic fluid. She was told that there was nothing they could do to prevent a miscarriage or save her child; she was still 7 weeks away from viability, the point at which a fetus could, with serious medical intervention, live outside of its mother, although the survival rate for babies born at that gestational age is only 50%.

After enduring over 24 hours of debilitating pain, Savita asked to have her pregnancy terminated. Although it was a wanted pregnancy, she had been assured repeatedly that the baby would not survive, and she was in too much pain to continue miscarrying naturally. She was denied a termination of pregnancy, however, and told that as long as there was a fetal heartbeat, the hospital would do nothing to help end her pregnancy. Savita was told that because Ireland was a Catholic country, doctors could not terminate her pregnancy; although she explained that she was neither Irish nor Catholic, her requests continued to be rebuffed and ignored.

On Wednesday, October 24th, the fetus died. Savita, who had been growing increasingly ill, spiking a high fever and vomiting until she collapsed in a washroom, was rushed into surgery in order to have the fetus removed. That night, her condition worsened and she was moved to intensive care. She remained sedated and critical but stable until Saturday, October 27th, when her heart, liver and kidneys began to fail. She died early the next morning, with septicaemia given as her cause of death. She was 31.

Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland. Termination of a pregnancy is permitted in cases where it’s necessary to save the life of the mother, but what happened to Savita demonstrates that this idea isn’t always practiced. And anyway, how does a doctor determine if a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy? What fool-proof test does he perform? None, because there isn’t one that exists. The doctor has to base his decision on his own, faulty, human judgment, and when a life hangs in the balance, that just isn’t enough.

Another part of the issues surrounding abortion legislation is that there seems to be a lot of magical thinking about how women’s bodies work; people think that pregnancy does not happen in cases of “legitimate” rape, or that, in cases of miscarriage, the body will complete the task naturally and on its own, without the need of any kind of intervention. Maybe there are men who truly believe that the female body has superpowers, or maybe we’re all just so disposable and interchangeable to them that it doesn’t matter if we die during pregnancy or childbirth, because there will always be other women to take our places. Sometimes that’s how it feels, anyway.

To any of you out there who are anti-abortion, I honestly want to ask you: what good do these Irish laws do? They certainly don’t prevent abortions; in 2001, 7,000 Irish women travelled abroad in order to obtain safe, legal abortions. Not included in that number are the women who went to back-alley abortionists, the women who were exposed to unsafe situations and unclean medical instruments, the women who put their lives at risk in order to exercise their reproductive rights. Anti-abortion activists tell me that these laws are in place to protect unborn babies, that they are meant to save lives. These laws do not save lives. They end them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Savita’s last days must have been like – first, having to learn that her child, who was both loved and wanted, would not be born living. Then, devastated by the knowledge that her baby would die, being forced to continue her pregnancy while in agonizing pain. Savita was forced to listen to the heartbeat of her dying baby several times a day. She was forced to wait until that soft, speedy pulse faded away into nothing before something, anything would be done to save her life. She was forced to lie in a hospital bed and have her own bodily autonomy denied again and again. Savita died in a country that was not her own, for laws that were not her own, because of a religion that was not her own. She died frightened and despairing and in crippling pain, and for what? For nothing.

We talk a lot about how important safe, legal abortions mean for women, and rightfully so; what we rarely discuss is what safe, legal abortions mean for men. Savita’s husband, Praveen Halappanavar, lost both his wife and his child in the same week. The last time that Praveen spoke to his wife was shortly after the surgery to remove their dead child from her womb; her condition deteriorated so quickly afterwards that the hospital was forced to sedate her before they contacted him. She spent the rest of her short life sedated; he was never able to hear her voice again, or tell her that he loved her, or that he would miss her.

Reproductive rights are not just a women’s issue – they are everyone’s issue. What happened to Savita was not an accident. Her doctors did not do everything in their power to save her life. Her doctors did not respect her wishes with regards to her own body. What happened to Savita is tantamount to murder, slow, painful, terrifying murder.

Given the right set of laws, given the right government, Savita’s death is something that could happen to any woman, any family.

Please don’t let Savita’s death be meaningless; please fight for your rights, and for the rights of the women you love. Please help make sure that this never happens again, to any woman, for any reason. Please.

Savita Halappanavar