Tag Archives: scary shit

The Ten Dollar T-Shirt Is Not The Problem

6 May

In the wake of the April 24th Bangladesh factory collapse, which is now considered to be the most deadly accident in the history of the garment industry, I’ve been hearing a lot of people sharing some pretty uneducated and uninformed opinions.

I’ve heard stuff like, “Well, where did you think your ten dollar t-shirt came from?”

And, “Major clothing brands should refuse to do business with manufacturers in Bangladesh.”

And, “Why do we even make stuff overseas anyway? It’s all crap.”

There are a lot of problems with these types of statements. For one thing, the price of a piece of clothing is not at all indicative of the working conditions of its manufacturer. For another, implying (or outright saying) that there is something morally wrong with paying ten dollars for a t-shirt is incredibly classist. And finally, saying stuff like this shows a serious lack of understanding about how the garment industry works.

So let’s debunk a few of these myths, shall we?

1. Expensive, high end brands are ethically preferable

This is not at all true. Spending more money on an item of clothing doesn’t guarantee that the factory worker in Bangladesh who made it is earning a higher wage. It doesn’t even mean that the quality of the garment is any “better” than something you could buy for half the price. The truth is that when brand names charge higher prices for their items, that extra cash usually goes to two places: into the pockets of CEOs and other higher-ups, and into the company’s advertising budget.

Even buying clothing with a “Made in Italy” or “Made in the USA” label doesn’t guarantee that that piece of clothing was made by people working in decent conditions. In Italy, for example, labelling laws are extremely lax. A product can be almost totally manufactured elsewhere, but so long as it’s “finalized” in Italy (adding leather trim, for example, or sewing on buttons) it can be labelled as “Made in Italy.” As well, it should be noted that just because something is manufactured in Western Europe or North America doesn’t mean that the factory employees who made the item were paid a fare wage – illegal immigrants are often hired and paid under the table, meaning that employers can pay them whatever they like and the employees believe that they have no recourse for action. In Prato, Italy, Chinese immigrants were found to be working in garment factories for as little as €2 an hour.

But even when companies do pay their workers minimum wage, it’s often not enough. In many countries, minimum wage is not a living wage, especially if you live in a big city.

2. Our society’s desire for cheap clothing is exploitative and unsustainable. People should be willing to pay more money for their clothing.

First of all, let’s talk about how classist this assumption is. I mean, if you’re well off, then sure, you can probably afford to pay more than ten dollars for a t-shirt. But if you’re making minimum wage and living below the poverty line, then cheap clothing is the only type of clothing you can afford.

Take Toronto, for instance. Ontario’s minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, and the average cost to rent a bachelor apartment in Toronto is $840 per month (this figure most likely does not include utilities, phone/internet, or parking). If you’re making minimum wage, then you’re only bringing home $1,640 monthly before taxes. If you’re paying the bare minimum in income taxes (so, no union fees or anything like that), then you’ll be taxed $236.38 a month (according to this calculator on a government website), leaving you with $1,403.62. After paying rent, you’ll have $563.62. That $563.62 has to pay for everything other than rent – your phone, internet, food, transportation, utilities, clothing. And those are just the basics – what about entertainment? Things like going out to see a movie or having a few drinks with friends at a bar?

And all that is assuming that you’re single, childless and living in a bachelor apartment. Imagine how little would be left if you were the only breadwinner in a family with several dependents.

At that point, even a ten dollar t-shirt starts to seem astronomically expensive.

3. Major brands should just stop doing business with manufacturers in Bangladesh

And this would solve what, exactly? It certainly wouldn’t improve working conditions in Bangladesh factories. In fact, it would probably lead to a loss of employment opportunities in Bangladesh, meaning that the few companies that still hiring would be able to pay their employees even lower wages if they chose. People would be scrambling and competing for jobs, and would have to accept whatever came their way, no matter how badly it paid.

The other thing is that no matter what country those companies are manufacturing their goods in, so long as they are trying to keep their wholesale prices as low as they are, the manufacturers will have to cut corners, pay their workers substandard wages and skirt safety regulations in order to satisfy the companies’ demands.

Here’s what major brands actually should do: cut CEO salaries. Seriously. In the US, the average multiple of CEO compensation to rank-and-file employee is 204. Yes, you read that correctly. A CEO earns, on average, two hundred and four times what their retail employees earn. And let’s not even get into how much more a CEO earns when compared to one of the employees in their overseas factories.

How is that even a little bit ok?

Imagine how inexpensive clothing could be if we cut CEO wages. Imagine how much we could improve working conditions in countries like Bangladesh if CEO salaries were cut in half?

Companies also need to institute frequent, surprise inspections of the factories that manufacture their goods. They need to find ways to ensure that their goods are being made by employees who have fair wages and decent work environments. They need to actually take responsibility for how their business is being operated.

4. Why do we even make stuff overseas? Why not manufacture more stuff in North America/Europe/etc.?

The truth is that manufacturing clothing in North America and Europe is becoming more and more difficult. It’s less expensive to manufacture in Asia for a variety of reasons, and not just because labour is cheaper there. Another important cost factor is that many of the raw materials are now more readily available overseas than they are here. For example, China is the leading grower of cotton in the world, meaning that even if an item of clothing was sewn in Canada, the used would most likely come from overseas. Is there really a difference in how “ethical” your clothing is if the finished product is made here but the raw materials are harvested and processed by underpaid workers overseas? How ethical is it if the water used to grow those raw materials (cotton, for example, is a notoriously water-intensive crop) is partly responsible major water shortage in China? How can we ever make sure that every person who has somehow contributed to making our clothing is treated fairly?

Look. The garment industry is fucked up and major changes need to happen. Factories need to be unionized, workers need better conditions, and CEO pay needs to be cut. Here at home we need to increase minimum wage to a livable wage. We need to figure out a way to make sure that everyone who participates in the garment industry, whether they’re an employee in a retail store, a worker in a factory or a small child whose water supply is being used to water cotton crops, is getting a fair deal.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how we can make any of this happen, or what the world would look like if these changes were to take place. But what I do know is that the way that we live now is not sustainable, not by a long shot. I know that we need more accountability from the companies that make our clothing, and more tools like Good Guide to hep us figure out where to spend out money. We need to make more of an effort to educate ourselves about how and where our goods are made.

Most of all, though, I know that the ten dollar t-shirt is not the problem. It’s just a symptom of the problem.

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Five Year Old Indian Girl Kidnapped, Sexually Assaulted and Left For Dead

26 Apr

Trigger warning for rape, sexual assault, abduction, torture and murder.

A reader from India asked me to blog about this at the end of last week. At the time, I told her that I was feeling burned out, but promised to write about it on Monday or Tuesday. I’ve been procrastinating, though. As much as I know that this is something that’s important to talk about, I’ve had a hard time bringing myself to read about it, let alone write about it.

But I promised that I would. And it’s important. So let’s do this.

In India, a five-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped, tortured and left for dead.

She was held captive for four days.

Her parents say that the police ignored their reports that their daughter was missing.

Her parents say that the police offered them money to keep quiet about their daughter’s rape.

She is now in critical condition in the hospital.

She’s five.

When I was five, my biggest upsets in life were that I couldn’t wear my party dresses to kindergarten and that I wasn’t allowed to have chocolate milk with every meal.

And, you know, here I sit in my privilege saying that I’m too burned out to read her story, that it’s too hard for me to write about.

Of course, for other people, other women, this type of story is the daily reality that they have to live with. They don’t have the ability to tune out and think about other things the way I do.

This girl, this five year old girl, is fighting for her life, in part because the police weren’t terribly interested in finding her. Because she’s just a girl. Because she’s disposable. Because she was born in a country where sex-selective abortion is so common that, in some provinces, 126 males are born for every 100 females.

This, on the heels of the brutal gang rape in India that happened back in December. In that case, the victim wasn’t so lucky – she died of her wounds several days after her attack. The most brutal of her rapists, who was sixteen years old, received a sentence of only three years in a “reform home” because of his status as a minor.

This, in conjunction with another breaking story about a five year old Indian girl who was raped and murdered.

And yet another breaking story about a thirteen year old Indian girl who was gang-raped.

And a story about a six year old Indian girl who was raped.

And a story about eleven and thirteen year old sisters who were raped by their mother’s boyfriend.

All of these rapes happened within a week’s span. All of this is in just one country. And these are just a few select stories I pulled – there are more, so many more. Not just in India, but everywhere.

There are people who want to dismiss this as a problem with the way that Indian culture treats women. There are people who say that, sure, this type of thing happens over there, but it would never happen here. Maybe India has a culture of rape, but here in the West we sure don’t.

But, of course, we do.

Rape culture knows no borders, and while it might be worse or more obvious in certain parts of the world, the truth is that it’s everywhere. We all live in it. We all participate in it.

In fact, just today, a university student in Arizona was photographed holding a sign that said, “You Deserve Rape.” This man, Dean Saxton, is well-known for delivering “inflammatory sermons” on the University of Arizona campus. Today’s sermon was about how women who dress like “whores” are responsible for being raped or assaulted.

It just seems so relentless. Every day there’s a new story of some kind of horrific sexual assault, every day I hear about police and politicians who don’t care, every day there are men and women spreading the message that rape is somehow the victims fault. It just feels like it never ends, and it’s sometimes so hard to keep fighting in the face of something that’s so unbelievably pervasive and overwhelming.

But we need to keep fighting. That much is obvious.

I want to share with you guys the message that my reader sent me, because her words are more powerful than anything that I can come up with right now:

The last time it happened, I signed petitions with friends for severe punishment to those rapists who raped a 23 year old, I wrote articles, protested, debated. But the second case, that happened just yesterday has shattered me so much I seem to have lost my voice In India, we all protest and then our voices just die down. No kind of internal pressure makes the government take strict decisions. Rather, in the December 2012 case, a religious leader came up with the hideous statement that had the girl begged for her life from the rapists and called them her brothers, they would have stopped and she would have survived. One of the leading female politicians said, “Women shouldn’t go out after 9 at night or dress provocatively.” We scream, we shout and the police bashes up innocent protesters and social workers and students. Our voices die down within the country and awareness is blindfolded by our own leaders.

I am writing to you to beg you to talk about these women just like you talk about those who are close to home. Perhaps international pressure and shouts for justice would reach the deaf ears of our religious and political leaders and the pathetic, perverse men who don’t think twice before doing this to us women. Why should we dress modestly? Clothes provoke them, no clothes provoke them, we get raped in a sari, in jeans, in skirts, in salwaar kammeez and even if only our face shows. We get raped in the morning and at nights. If they can’t control their desires after 9, shouldn’t the men be locked up after 9? A lot of people blame the victim back home and not the criminal. How is that fair? 

Indian women today are aware, enlightened and educated but far from safe. We are scared to go out and work and we’re scared to stay inside. Who knows what familiar face would be the Big Bad Wolf? And he strikes us at any age, at 23, at 45, at 5! 

So as a woman to another, this is a plea to support our protest because even though we may speak different tongues and belong to different nations, we suffer the same abuses. 

Please raise your voice. Help spread the word about this. Join us in this fight. Because together, we are much stronger. Together, we can beat this.

We have to.

A few inspiring images from the protests in India:

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Rehtaeh Parsons

9 Apr

The story is disturbingly familiar.

A teenage girl goes to some kind of get-together, maybe a party.

She is raped by multiple assailants.

The rape is photographed and distributed via social media.

The girl is subjected to horrifying acts of bullying and shaming. She is branded a slut. Her life becomes a living hell.

This girl is not Steubenville’s Jane Doe, although their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. This girl is Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who hanged herself on April 4th, a year and a half after being raped. Her family took her off life support this past Sunday.

Reading the account of what happened to Rehtaeh is like watching a deadly accident slowly, methodically unfolding in front of you. And there are bystanders, plenty of bystanders, who had any number of opportunities to step in and do something, but none of them do.

And, in many ways, you are one of these bystanders, too. I am, too. We all are.

Rehtaeh did not have a rape kit done because she was too ashamed to tell anyone about her rape until several days later, at which point it was thought to be too late to retrieve medical evidence.

The boys (there were four of them) accused of raping Retaeh were not interviewed until long after the family tried to press charges.

They were not separated for their interviews; they were interviewed together, meaning that they were easily able to corroborate each others’ stories.

The investigation took over a year. In the end, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence of sexual assault, no charges were laid, and the boys got off scot free.

No legal action was taken with regards to the photographs of the rape that were distributed through social media. Rehtaeh’s mother was told that this was because there was no way of proving who had taken the pictures.

Rehtaeh struggled to survive for seventeen months. She moved to Halifax, unable to cope with the fact that her rapists were also her high school classmates. She checked herself into the hospital when she felt suicidal and stayed there for six weeks. She made new friends. She saw a therapist. She fought to live. She fought hard.

And then one day, she couldn’t fight any longer.

And when I read her story, I can’t help but wonder:

Where the fuck were all the grownups?

Where were the grownups who were supposed to love her and protect her? Where were the grownups who should have kept her safe? Where were the grownups who were supposed to make sure that she received some kind of justice for what she suffered?

And I don’t mean her parents, because it’s clear that they, too, have been struggling for the past seventeen months, doing what they can to try to help and advocate for their daughter. I mean where the fuck were the school officials, the members of the law enforcement, the people who should have made sure that she had adequate follow-up mental health care after her hospitalization? Where were they, and why didn’t they do anything? Or if they did do something, why didn’t they do enough?

Rehtaeh’s rapists are still out there. They are still in high school, they are still going to parties and they are, quite likely, still raping. Why wouldn’t they? They got away with it once, didn’t they? Rehtaeh’s rapists are still living normal, untroubled lives, and she is dead.

She’s dead, but even in the wake of her suicide and the attention her case has gained, government officials are refusing to review why the RCMP declined  to lay charges against Rehtaeh’s rapist.

Instead, Nova Scotia’s justice minister, Ross Landry, released this fucking joke of a statement:

“As a community, we need to have more dialogue with our young people about respect and about support to educate our young boys and our young girls about what’s appropriate behaviour, what’s not appropriate behaviour,” Landry said.

“We have to make sure that we’re cognizant about what gets online and what doesn’t get online and what the impacts are, so it’s having that dialogue.

“That still doesn’t take away the fact that we’ve lost a beautiful young woman … and I’m very upset about the loss.”

Saying that we need to educate boys and girls about appropriate behaviour is victim-blaming. Saying that this wouldn’t have been a problem if the pictures hadn’t ended up online is like saying that rape is fine, but publicly broadcasting it isn’t. Calling Rehtaeh’s death a tragedy because we’ve lost a beautiful young woman is a joke – seriously, what bearing does her appearance have on how sad her death is? And since Landry is refusing to open an official review into how the RCMP handled this, isn’t he basically saying, “I think she was lying about the rape, but gosh, she sure was hot”?

All of this, every single word of this statement, all of the things that Rehtaeh endured, every single detail presented here is rape culture.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

I never thought in a million years that I’d be saying this, but I wish that Rehtaeh’s case had had the same outcome as Jane Doe’s. Because while Jane Doe had to endure some spectacularly vile, awful shit, at least she made it out alive. At least her rapists suffered consequences. At least her case actually made it to trial.

rehtaeh parsons

This is Rehtaeh Parsons. When she was fifteen, she was raped by four boys. When she was seventeen, she committed suicide.

She is dead because we, as a society, failed her.

There is a petition up demanding an inquiry into the police investigation of Rehtaeh’s rape. I’m not sure if it will do anything to help, but signing it sure as hell won’t hurt. Right now, this petition and bringing awareness to what happened to Rehtaeh seem like the only concrete ways of helping her. Right now, I need to do something, anything to stop myself from feeling like a bystander. I’m not going to just shake my head and sigh over this. I’m going to raise my voice until everyone knows what happened to Rehtaeh.

Edited to add:

Ross Landry now says that he will be moving forward with a review of Rehtaeh’s case. Thank God. An excerpt from the article I linked to:

Justice Minister Ross Landry said today, April 9, he has asked senior government officials to present options, as soon as possible, to review the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened – as I think are all Nova Scotians – by the death of this young woman,” said Mr. Landry. “As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain this family is going through at this time. My thoughts are with them.”

Mr. Landry said he hopes to meet with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, to discuss her experience with the justice system.

“I know that law enforcement and the public prosecution service do their best, every day, to administer and enforce the law,” said Mr. Landry. “It’s important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities to ensure the system is always working to the best of its ability, in pursuit of justice.”

Mr. Landry said he has been reviewing details of the case and consulting with officials throughout the day, and expects options within the next few days.

On Race and Feminism

3 Mar

In the online fallout of The Onion’s vile tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, one fact has become abundantly, dismayingly clear:

White feminists have a hard time talking about race.

And we have a hard time talking about the fact that we have a hard time talking about race.

Jessica Luther has a fantastic post up over on Shakesville about the lack of white feminists decrying what happened to Quvenzhané. And while I think that what she wrote is perfect and spot on and everyone should go read it right now, what I find truly fascinating is the weird backlash that she’s received from other white feminists.

It was the same backlash I saw on Twitter the other day when @graceishuman called out white feminists for not defending Quvenzhané.

That backlash? A whole bunch of white feminists explaining why they, personally, chose not to write about it. And I’m sure that they had some spectacularly good reasons (I’m not even being sarcastic), but that’s not what this about. Not by a long shot.

I have actually never seen so many people miss the point of something all at the same time.

What this is about is the lack of intersectionality in feminism. Specifically, it’s about the fact the women of colour do not feel that they are represented or heard within the feminist movement. As Kirsten West Savali wrote for Clutch, it can feel like the feminist movement encourages women of colour to,

” … shrug off our Blackness for the greater feminist good; the end result being a contemporary plantation tableau defined by Ole Miss and Mammie slaying the patriarchal dragon while the issues of racism and classism are hidden behind the veil of  “progress.”  And while this scenario is about as feel-good as The Help, expanding white privilege — feminist or otherwise — is not equality.”

So how the fuck did it ever get to this?

Is it because we (white feminists) feel that racism is an entirely separate issue from feminism? 

Most white feminists that I know would answer that no, of course it’s not, in the same way that homophobia, fatphobia and transphobia are not separate issues either. They would readily admit that women of colour experience misogyny in ways that white women do not. They would say that of course they care about racism.

But these same women, in their own writing, mainly stick to topics that specifically affect them or women like them. They very rarely address issues that are faced only (or mostly) by women of colour. They almost never talk about racism within the feminist movement. Which is funny, considering the racist history of our movement; shouldn’t this be something that we still talk about, all the time?

Is it because we worry that we’ll be co-opting women of colour when we speak out against something like what happened to Quvenzhané? Is it because we’re worried about making a misstep, about somehow accidentally being racist in our fight against racism? 

I would wager that the answer to this is yes, yes and yes. I’ve heard this same argument from several women as explanation of why they didn’t speak out against The Onion, or why they primarily focussed on the misogynist aspect of The Onion’s tweet and not the racist aspect. White feminists mentioned again and a again that they felt that women of colour should take the lead in this discussion, the rationalization being that white women speaking for others’ experiences was, in itself, a racist act.

And yeah, I guess if you’re a white feminist speaking for women of colour, that’s racist, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t call out racism when you see it. Like, fuck, I don’t want men speaking for me, but I sure as hell do want them to stand up against sexism. We complain so often about having to educate men with regards to feminism, and yet we (white feminists) do so little to educate ourselves when it comes to racial issues.

We make comments like, Well, I don’t even know what to call them, like do you say black or Black or women of colour or Women of Colour or minority or non-white or what? I don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing.

We make comments like, They can write about the issues they face, and I can write about the issues I face. What’s wrong with that?

We make comments like, I thought we were all in this together.

For a group of people who are so hell-bent on (rightfully) pointing out male privilege, we sure as hell don’t like to be reminded of our white privilege, do we?

Which brings me to my next point …

Is it because we don’t want to admit that, as white women, while we do face a lot of overt and insidiously subtle misogyny in our day-to-day life, we face less barriers than women of colour do?

Privilege is comfortable. Privilege is easy. Privilege is invisible and difficult to quantify, facts that make us comfortable ignoring the fact that we benefit from it.

Privilege lead to write a post the other day that I felt was clever and insightful but, as others pointed out, was in several ways flawed and problematic.

I have a lot of privilege, white privilege, cis-privilege, thin-privilege, but it’s easier for me to talk about the privilege that I don’t have. I suspect that the same is true for many other women.

Being reminded of privilege makes people defensive – especially when those same people are complaining about the oppression that they face as women. There’s a tendency within feminism to want to gloss over racial issues and say, Well, first let’s fight against the problems that ALL women face, and THEN we can talk about racism, and I think that feels okay to a lot of us because in a fucked up way it feels like equality. In reality, though, it’s not equality at all – it’s asking women of colour to do work that will especially benefit white women, and then having those white women turn around and refuse to address the additional challenges faced by non-white women.

I think that another issue at play is that it can be hard to view yourself as both the oppressed and the oppressor. But the fact is that we do participate in the oppression of others, and our reluctance to examine that is pretty fucked up. Like, white feminists are perfectly articulate about how privilege works when they’re talking about male privilege, but they seem to plead ignorance pretty quickly when they’re reminded of the privilege that’s associated with their skin tone.

So what do we do about all of this?

Well, first of all, we fucking sit up and pay attention when women of colour tell us that they feel that we dropped the ball on this one. Because you know what?

A) They know what they’re talking about, and

B) They’re right

And then, after we admit that we fucked up, we talk about it. We talk about race until we’re blue in the face. Because pretending that this isn’t happening isn’t doing anyone any favours, and continuing to ignore the racial issues within the feminist movement is only going to serve to further divide us.

Finally, we need to change how things are structured in order to see real equality. We need to give more platforms to women of colour. We need to be more willing to listen to what they have to say. We need to be willing to be called out on our racism. Most of all, though, we need to let women of colour lead the way and let THEM tell us what they want and need in order to do that.

Because reaching down and giving a boost to someone who has less privilege than you do is what real fucking equality looks like.

And to those of you who aren’t interested in doing that, I would ask that you please stop using the word equality. You’re not interested in equality; you’re only interested in benefitting yourself.

I don’t want to just benefit myself. I want my actions to benefit everyone. And right now, I especially want my actions to benefit this kid:

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Checking In

20 Feb

I know that I haven’t written here in a while (SIX WHOLE DAYS, LIKE, YOU PROBABLY THOUGHT I’D QUIT BLOGGING OR SOMETHING), and I just wanted to check in and let you guys know that I’m doing all right.

More than all right, actually. I feel better. Frighteningly, miraculously, tentatively better. It’s so new and so strange that I’m a bit hesitant to write about it yet or even say it out loud – like I could jinx it or something. But I also want you to not worry about me, so I thought I should tell you: I feel better.

I don’t know if I would say that I was happy exactly, but then I’m not sure that “happy” is the opposite of “suicidal”. I’m coming to distrust the idea of being happy anyway – I hear the word thrown around too much, hear too many people talking about how they deserve happiness. But I’m not sure that anyone deserves happiness, you know? There’s a quote from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth that the cynic in me has always loved, and I feel like it might apply here:

You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, ‘Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He just couldn’t deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.’ Now how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll—then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.

I’m starting to think that maybe not everyone deserves happiness all the time. Actually, I think I’m just getting tired of hearing people talk about deserving anything – I’m tired of people’s sense of entitlement, their willingness to trample over others in order to acquire something they feel that they deserve.

But anyway, I digress.

I’ve been trying to follow the hospital psychiatrist’s orders and prioritize things that make me happy, and I think that by and large I’ve been succeeding. I’ve started keeping a proper, paper journal again, and it’s actually wonderful to be able to write without thinking about having an audience (except that I basically always think about having an audience, but I’m figuring that no one will read my journals until I’m dead and thus don’t care). I’ve been taking time out of my day to go to hip cafés where I sit and scribble happily in my notebook while sipping a latte, feeling like everyone looking on must know that I am a For Real Serious Writer Lady.

I’ve been doing other things too – things like spending an hour or two at the art gallery, or wandering around Roncesvalles and checking out the cute shops. Today I went to a friend’s place and lay on her couch for three hours, sipping gin and tonics, dissecting Salinger books and watching Star Trek. It was nice – more than nice, really. And I felt like myself, for the first time in a long time. But I also felt guilty.

Let me see if I can explain the guilt. It’s like this: I constantly feel like I’m running out of time. I don’t just mean that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done (although I do feel that way) – I also mean in general, in my life. I feel like I spent too much time fucking off (read: being depressed) in my early 20s and now I’m 30 and all of my peers are ahead of me and I’m struggling to catch up. And I know it’s not a race, but it still feels like one, and I feel like I now have to work extra super hard just to prove that I should even be allowed on the track.

Anyway, what all this amounts to is that I have a hard time doing anything that I don’t view as useful or productive. Even spending time with Theo fits into this category, as I see parenting as a way of creating and shaping an awesome future adult. And yeah, being Theo’s mom is pretty rad, but sometimes that seems more like a pleasant side effect of parenting rather than the main point.

I also feel guilty because it’s like, who am I to get to do all these nice fun things? Like, why do I get to go out and see my friends and hang out in coffee shops while Matt has to stay home and parent? How is that fair? What if he starts to resent me?

Do I actually believe that being depressed gives me special privileges or something?

And then I think, if I were sick with anything else and the doctor’s orders were to take it easy, would I feel guilty?

No, probably not. But if I were sick with anything else, there would be blood drawn, tests run, and hopefully some kind of irrefutable scientific proof that I was sick. But with depression there is no proof, not really. You all have to take me at my word that some days, I feel like dying.

And what happens if you ever stop taking me at my word?

After years and years of talking about suicide but not actually dying, won’t I start to seem like the boy who cried wolf?

I don’t want to lose you guys. Because I love you. Because I’d be lost without you. Because your support has mostly been what’s kept me going these past few weeks.

Anyway, all of this is to say that you don’t have to worry about me, because I’m feeling better.

And that means that, at least for now, I don’t have to worry about losing you.

xoxo

Annabelle

P.S. On a lighter note, just in case you were wondering what a Shrevolution looks like:

shrevolution!

I Am At Least Three Times As Ugly As Jessica Valenti

15 Jan

Today the website Return Of Kings (which I had never heard of, but I’m sure is super important and relevant) published their list of The 9 Ugliest Feminists in America.

My first thought was: What, they couldn’t find one more ugly feminist in order to round it out to an even ten?

My second thought was: I wonder which pictures of me they chose for their post?

Everyone knows that I am at least the third ugliest feminist in North America.

For example, I am way uglier than Jessica Valenti. Like, this is your ugly picture of her?

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Bitch, please.

You want ugly? Let me show you ugly.

ugly

Hey, at least my kid is cute, right?

Science has proven that I am at least three times as ugly as Jessica Valenti. Here is a graph demonstrating our comparative ugliness:

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You know that there is some real fucking science involved when there is a GRAPH. Science is awesome.

Imagine my surprise and embarrassment, then, when I realized that I’d been overlooked for this, the definitive list of ugly feminists. Me. The one with the bad skin, hooked nose and squinty eyes. The one who was voted ugliest in class by a group of 12 year old girls. The one who is eternally on the receiving end of remarks like, well, at least you’re smart.

All right, all right, I know what you’re probably thinking.

“But Annabelle,” you might say, “These women are all famous feminists. Sure, you’ve had a few posts go viral, but you’re nowhere on the same level of recognition as, say, Hanna Rosin.”

And you know what? That would be a fair criticism to make if this was a list of the  nine ugliest famous feminists in America. But it’s not. It’s just a list of the nine ugliest feminists. And I am deeply, deeply hurt that I wasn’t included. Because, seriously, what is my point in life if I’m not grossing out the men’s rights activists with my Medusa-like face?

So, come on, Return of Kings, let me know what I can do to put myself in the running for next year’s list. Should I gain weight? You seem pretty fatphobic, so that could be a winning strategy. Should I lose weight? That might seem strange to some, but I think that if I could get to the point where men consider me “scary skinny” (as the tabloids say), I might have an advantage over more average-sized women. Should I wear more makeup and have you accuse me of looking like a whore? Or should I wear no makeup  and let you mock my face as-is? Should I dress badly so that you can make fun of my fashion sense? Or should I dress well so that you can laugh and laugh about how those silly feminists want to be taken seriously and look good?

Come on, guys, throw a girl a bone here!

In all seriousness, though, the funniest thing about your whole post isn’t your pathetic attempt at making “she’s-so-ugly” jokes – it’s the fact that you seem to think that any of these women care about whether you find them attractive or not. Sadly, most of them don’t even know you exist. They write off your comments and tweets and posts as trolling, and, honestly, don’t even give you a second thought. Sorry. I know the truth hurts. Someone has to say it, though, right?

But hey, I gotta thank you for helping me show that feminism is still relevant and necessary. Because as long as there are still douchebags like you out there publishing crap like this, it’s easy to prove why we still need to fight for women’s rights and equality. Your list has actually done more to help the feminist movement than hurt it. So please, keep on posting stuff like this and making my job easier.

Seriously, though, don’t forget me in 2014!!!

Is This A Crisis?

3 Jan

This morning I misunderstood something my friend Audra said, and ended up saying something that I shouldn’t have.

She very gently pointed out what I’d done, and I apologized.

Over. And over. And over.

By the end, I wasn’t even apologizing for what I’d said; I was apologizing for annoying her, for always being wrong, and for just plain being myself. This, amid protestations from her that it was fine, that she wasn’t upset, that she hadn’t communicated clearly in the first place.

Finally, I said, “I’m just awful, and I’m overwhelmed, and I’m not doing enough to help myself because I don’t know how.”

All of that was true, even if I hadn’t meant for it to come out like that.

She asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I balked and asked why. I didn’t see any reason to go to the hospital – I was fine, just having a bad day. Well, a string of bad days, really. Maybe a bad month. But certainly nothing more than that!

“I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do in a crisis, love,” she said. “I feel like you’ve been in a crisis for a bit now.”

But how can I be in a crisis when I seem perfectly fine to everyone else? How can things be that bad if no one else has noticed?

What does a crisis even look like?

When I asked Audra, she said, “Like, I feel like you’ve got the brain equivalent to not being able to breathe, you know?”

Yes. That is exactly what it’s like right now.

Maybe a crisis looks like weeks and weeks or maybe even years of not sleeping.

Maybe a crisis looks like letting my son watch Fraggle Rock after dinner so that I can pass out on the couch behind him, because I can’t stay awake for one more second.

Maybe a crisis looks like waking up shaking and sweating at night and not knowing why.

Maybe a crisis looks like not being able to focus on any one task long enough to complete it.

Maybe a crisis looks like not allowing myself to eat, or have fun, or relax until I’ve finished my work as a pathetic attempt to motivate myself, and the beating myself up when I can’t get anything done.

Maybe a crisis looks like never being good enough, never being smart enough, never having enough hours in the day.

Maybe it looks like my hands shaking as I try to make a cup of tea.

Maybe it looks like crying alone at my desk for no discernible reason.

Maybe it looks like taking everything way too personally.

Maybe a crisis is all of these things taken together; maybe its more than the sum of its parts.

Maybe this is a crisis.

I don’t know how to get out of this. I’m trying all of solutions that I know, like medication, therapy and yoga, and none of them seem to be doing much good. I feel like I’m doing my best, but I’m not sure how to proceed if it turns out that my best isn’t good enough.

I’m scared.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m writing about this publicly. Maybe because it’s easier than talking about it face to face with anyone; maybe I’m hoping someone else will tell me that they’ve been here, and that’ll make me feel less alone, or make me feel like I’ll be able to come out the other side mostly unscathed. Sometimes it feels like talking about my depression on here was like opening a Pandora’s Box, and now I just can’t stop. Often I worry that I’m being awful and attention-seeking. I tell myself that I’m helping combat stigma, but is that true? Or do I have other motives in place?

Is all this negative self-talk part and parcel of my depression? Or am I just being rationally critical of myself? After years of living like this, how do I untangle my actual self from the disease? Or is it just a part of me, part of my personality now?

It’s taking every ounce of my self-will not to apologize for writing this, for annoying you, for being a bad person. Even writing that is a sort of apology; it’s a compromise that I’ve made with myself, a way of showing you how bad I am without actually saying the words I’m sorry.

Is there even any point in getting help? Sometimes it seems like the hope that things will get better is even harder than the depression itself; not only do I feel rotten, but I also have to deal with the disappointment of each successive doctor, medication and therapy not working.

I don’t know what to do.

But I think that this might be a crisis.

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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.

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Violent Crimes and Mental Illness

16 Dec

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there’s been a lot of talk about mental health. Comments like, “Now is the time to talk about mental illness!” and “We need mental healthcare reform NOW before this happens again!” are littering my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Many people, people that I care about and whose opinion I respect, want to use this tragedy as an opportunity to talk about how America’s mental healthcare system needs to change.

But you know what? Now is not the time to talk about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I am hugely in favour of mental healthcare reform, both here in Canada and in America. We need better access to mental health professionals, and shorter wait times to see the ones that are available. We need to end the system of patient abuse that occurs in group homes across the country. We need to make therapy and expensive medications more accessible to people who may not have a steady income. We need to increase the monthly payments to those who are too ill to work, because what they receive now from the government is not enough to live on.  We need to give people with mental illnesses the tools they need to advocate for themselves, and we need to work towards ending the stigma that comes with the term “mental illness”.

I do believe that talking about our mental healthcare system is something that we need to do, and badly.

What we don’t need to do is conflate mental illness with shooting 20 small children.

See, the thing is, mental illness is a pretty broad umbrella term that covers all kinds of things. Depression is a mental illness. So are anxiety, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and many, many other things. And yes, some symptoms caused by some of those illnesses can cause violence, but, given the fact that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, I think that we can safely say that most people who are mentally ill are not prone to going on shooting sprees. In fact, studies have shown that people living with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victim of violence.

It has recently been reported that Adam Lanza was, according to his brother Ryan, suffering from both Asperger’s syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum) and a personality disorder. However, according to the same report, the brothers hadn’t been in contact since 2010, and it is currently unknown whether Adam Lanza had received further diagnoses since then. But the term “mentally ill” was being tossed around for a while before Ryan Lanza’s statements were made public, and, from what I can see, there is still a lot of assumption going on about what Adam might or might not have suffered from.

I know that most of the people who want to talk about mental illness right now are good people. Like the rest of us, they’re trying to figure out what just happened and why, so that we can make sure that we never have to live through a tragedy like this again. I’m sure that these people think that it’s kinder, more humane to say that Adam Lanza was mentally ill, rather than just calling him a monster. Unfortunately, what they’re actually doing is making mental illness the scapegoat here. What they’re doing is adding to the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

At the end of the day, saying things like, “Now is the time to talk about mental illness,” is not going to help anything. It’s not going to make an event like this less likely to happen again. In fact, if anything, by continuing to spin the narrative that the mentally ill are violent killers, you are probably making it less likely for those with mental health issues to seek treatment. By making mental illness out to be this big, scary thing, you are making it more likely that friends and family will ignore any signs of problems in their loved ones out of fear and denial. By simplifying the gun control debate to something like, “Well, mentally ill people just shouldn’t have guns,” you are contributing to the idea that people with mental illnesses are scary, dangerous and cannot be trusted.

And although I don’t feel like it should need to be said, let me reiterate: yes, I want to talk about our mental healthcare system. Yes, I want to talk about mental illness. But I don’t want to talk about it today, not when all anyone can think of are those 20 children whose lives were lost. I don’t want to talk about it when the term “mentally ill” conjures up images of a young man storming into a school, armed to the teeth and ready to open fire on innocent people. Because while there are people whose illnesses cause them to be violent, and those people certainly do need a better healthcare system, the vast, vast majority of people who desperately need to see mental healthcare reform will never harm anyone.

I guess that what I really want to say here is that this hits home for me. I’ve been pretty open on here about living with depression and anxiety; I received my first diagnosis when I was 16, which means that I’ve been grappling with these illnesses for nearly half my life. These disorders are a part of me, and I try hard not to be ashamed of them.

So please keep in mind that when you talk about mental illness, about the tragedies it causes and the lives it takes, you are also talking about me.

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