Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Facebook status

Just an observation...

When I comment on facebook about needing a new cell phone, preferably one that has email functions, I get several responses about what to (or not to) purchase. As a sidenote, I am annoyed by my dependency on my phone... I only got it in the first place because it was required by daycare, but now I feel naked without it.

However, when I write a post that has more meaningful social commentary, such as supporting the local OPSEU strike, I'm lucky if one person "likes" it... and this occurs even though my friends list is full of social activists and leftist grad students and professors (granted, they aren't the ones commenting on my cell phone choices).

Priorities, I guess. Sometimes it seems as though people (at least on facebook) are more invested in small purchases that have nothing to do with them than they are in important current events.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Disney princess videos

I've come across these videos before, but I think they are such a brilliantly funny critique of Disney princesses that I wanted to post them here too.

I guess many of the role models out there for little girls to look up to might leave something to be desired...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A third post about body hair

It seems as though posts about body hair (especially leg hair) might become regular installments on this blog because I have had so many experiences around being outside in the summer without properly groomed legs.

This time, it was my mother who commented. I was at her house and she said;
I don't know why you do that to yourself (referring to not shaving my legs).

To which I responded;
You mean why I don't do that to myself.

It is not me doing something to myself that my mom is questioning, but the absence of doing something that, as a cisgendered woman, I am expected to do. My mom gave me my first razor the summer before grade 4. At that age, I wasn't doing it for boys but because women were not supposed to have body hair. I wonder how many hours I have spent shaving over the past 18 years. And how much money I spent on razors, waxes, depilatory creams, shaving gels, and moisturizers to soothe sore skin. It is something that is largely unquestioned by the women I know.

I am currently almost 8 weeks razor-free (shaved once after going about 6 weeks without prior to my son's birthday party at the beach). My legs are actually the softest (and most comfortable) they have ever been, no razor burn, rashes from harsh chemicals, or any discomfort whatsoever. That being said, I am sitting here in shorts debating over whether I should change into capris before I go out this afternoon so I am obviously not completely comfortable yet, but I'm working on it.

And I think the next installment might be a post about dating with body hair.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Real boys can't dance

I was at my son's soccer party today and really had to bite my tongue at another mother's comment... one of the parents was talking about enrolling her daughter in dance this fall. Another mother said (and I wrote this down right away so I could quote it)
I wish I had girls. I only have boys so I can't put them in dance cause that would be a little, you know... (trails off).
A little what? Gay? I was about to tell her off right there, until I realized that we were surrounded by 5 year old children. I started to think about how to approach this when another parent stepped in and talked about the cute little boys in her daughter's dance class.

As a former dancer/ figure skater/ gymnast, I have heard the boys is my classes get ridiculed for being there by their peers. Were some gay? Probably, but then, some hockey players probably were too. Most were not gay. It is just another example of things that are designated as feminine being off limits for males.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gender and beauty standards

How long do I have to hold strong feminist values before some of the dominant views of women begin to erode? Or how strongly do I need to hold beliefs about healthy body images before I stop comparing myself to other women all the time? Have any women reading this made it that far? If so, please share your story, as I am getting frustrated with some of these knee jerk reactions that are so incompatible with my politics.

I was at an event not too long ago where there were a couple other women about my age, and right away I found myself sizing them up, comparing their physical appearance to my own, judging them based on their appearance. This lasted about a second and a half before I caught myself and snapped the proverbial elastic band around my wrist, but it was a lesson for me. I, of all people, am still buying into these dominant gendered beauty norms.

My friends and family know better than to make a sexist statement around me, and are careful when making any comment on a woman's appearance, as they know that I will call them out if I believe it to be inappropriate. I tell people off when they make catcalls on the street when I feel safe doing so. I think I have shaved my legs 4 times in the last year, and I've recently made a commitment to not shaving anymore because I miss the soft hair. I wear make up maybe once a month. I style my hair about every other week. More often than not, I wear jeans or capris and a T-shirt. I am not remotely high maintenance, and I try not to care what I look like in relation to dominant standards of beauty, but I still worry about body image.

Maybe it dates back to when I was a competitive figure skater and gymnast, as we were very hard on each other and ourselves to look how we thought a female athlete was supposed to look. Note that I said female athlete and not just athlete... athletes are supposed to be strong and muscular, female athletes on the other hand, at least in the sports I participated in, were supposed to have long lean muscles. I know I define myself by my figure to an extent... I still exercise regularly and get concerned if my pants start to get too tight (although I have convinced myself that I just don't want to buy a new wardrobe... maybe that is only part of the problem).

So, now I am trying to find a balance of some sort. How do I exist in a world where everywhere I look there are photoshopped images of women posing in various (often contorted) positions, and still try to maintain a healthy body image? How do I try to enjoy television programs that feature women who were often picked because of their appearance along with men who are allowed to be chosen because of their acting abilities (not that being a conventionally attractive woman is incompatible with strong acting skills, all I'm saying is that there are different standards for actors and actresses).

I think another part of the problem is that appearances do have actual consequences in real life. I have been wanting to dye my hair purple and teal again.. not sure why... but I am hesitant to do so before I present at an academic conference in a few days because I feel as though I may not be taken seriously if I don't have "normal" hair. When I worked as a server at a bar, my tips were largely dependent on how well I fit into the box that has been constructed for hetero cis-gendered women. So, I am trying to change my beliefs about what I am supposed to look like, while realizing that there are actual consequences to whether or not I fit in to a specific mold.

It is not incredibly difficult for me right now. I am a grad student, work at the university, and am very involved in an academic union- not really areas where gender conformity is highly scrutinized. But, I wonder if this will still be the case when I graduate and go into the workforce- when I have to worry about being passed up for raises and promotions if I don't conform to specific standards.

Dr. Phil comments on pornography

I tend to avoid watching shows like Dr. Phil, but for some reason it was playing in the background the other day. He was talking with a couple and the wife was upset that her husband was watching internet pornography. When I heard Dr. Phil's response, I had to rewind it and write it down.

He said
You have a daughter, right? Well, that's somebody's daughter that you are leering at on the computer.
Although I like the idea of humanizing women in pornography rather than further objectifying them, and I like the idea of seeing them as actual human beings with families, friends, jobs, histories and aspirations, I do not like this comment at all. To me, Dr. Phil may as well be saying that these women are another man's property. It is reminiscent of criminal laws in Feudal and early industrial Western Europe, where rape was a crime of property against a husband or father, and not seen as something that was harmful to women.

Stop watching pornography, not because your wife is very uncomfortable with it and not because many of the images are objectifying (note- I'm not saying that pornography is innately objectifying, as I don't think this is the right post to get into that pornography debate), but because you are somehow offending the father of the woman in the movie.

Edited to Add
I just saw this related post. The author explaines that Montana Fishbourne is not a possession of her father, and her decision to do pornography should not be looked at as something she did to her father.

Airplane conversations and scattered thoughts

I was on a short flight in a small loud plane - basically a greyhound bus with wings - and began talking to the girl sitting next to me. The conversation started when she apologized for taking up too much space. She was a bigger girl, so her bum didn't quite fit in the small seat. Luckily, I don't take up much room, so we fit together into the double seat, and I told her that it is absolutely not a problem and there is no need to apologize... this annoys me, as I have never sat beside a man who felt the need to apologize for taking up some of the space that the person who made the seats designated as mine... but it is not relevant to the rest of this post. Also not relevant to the rest of this post, why do flight attendants always wear high heels? It must be required or something. Flight attendants (mostly female) are on their feet most of the flight for as many as 8 flights per day, often through turbulence, in high heeled shoes while the (mostly male) captains get to sit down in loafers.

Anyway, the girl sitting next to me told me that she was about to start university in a couple weeks. She told me, in detail, about how she was taking biomolecular (or was it biomedical?) engineering, and how the bachelor's degree is 4 years, then a double master's degree (or something of that sort) for another 4 years, and then another 4 years for her PhD. She went on to talk about exactly what it was she was going to do for the rest of her life. She had just graduated from high school and was on the flight with her parents, returning from one last vacation before she moves away for university. She then turned to her ipod(or some other similar contraption- I am technologically challenged) and began to watch what appeared to be a Harry Potter movie.

I looked out the small window at the grey clouds scattered underneath me and the city lights glowing in the distance, and wondered what I was doing 12 years ago... trying to think about anything other than how guilty I felt about the environmental impact of my unnecessary air travel. I struggled to place my exact age. To be fair, it was almost midnight, and I was returning home from a union conference which involves living at a hotel in a strange city, and there were a lot things happening for me mentally and emotionally... simple thoughts were difficult to come up with and math can be nearly impossible.

All of a sudden it came to me. Twelve years ago, give or take a week or two, I spent my first night on the streets; I was homeless. Talk about a defining point in one's life. Twelve years ago (before homelessness) I could have told you with that same level of certainty that I was going to be a lawyer. I was never going to have kids. I was going to travel a lot. I was politically conservative and quite anti-feminist. I was also described as "boy crazy" by my mother. I had a list surprisingly similar to that girl on the plane, but it fell apart exactly 12 years ago.

Twelve years ago, if you had told me that I would be a single parent with two young children, a graduate student in sociology, and working with various social justice movements, I would have thought you were crazy. I would never have believed that I would later identify as a queer Marxist Feminist.

Now, if you ask me what I am going to be doing in 12 years, I wouldn't be able to come up with a firm answer. I could tell you a variety of things that are quite possibly what I might be doing in 12 years (teaching, research, writing, union work, social activism, and the list could go on). But I no longer have a plan; I don't know what city I will be in, I don't know what type of relationship I expect to be in (if any). I have goals, but no plans, and I think that is a good thing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

discriminatory language as part of everyday conversations

I had a facebook argument that I would like to reflect on, and because I have a blog and (hopefully) readers, I think this is a good place to do so. I get really annoyed when people use discriminatory language in passing. I understand that most do not mean to offend anyone, and they tend to think it is just a normal word used in everyday conversation, but I like to point it out (maybe not as tactfully sometimes as I should), and generally speaking, people are quite receptive to thinking about the language. Today, a friend's facebook post used the word 'gay' in a way that I'm sure most of us have heard it used dozens of times before.

If anyone has a more appropriate way to address this issue next time it comes up, please let me know, as I realize when I try to use humor, it can put people on the defensive, especially online... or maybe they would not have been receptive either way.

The thread ended up being very long with a lot of different unrelated posts, so I am going to post only the ones needed for this to make sense.

So, this is the status update in question;
J- has just realized it's Sunday. Meaning everything closed at six, including the hair-chopper. Oh well, finished building the quad-core PC. Only three cuts on this build, not bad. :)
And further block quotes here are the comments:
A-yeah. gay. building pcs is so 4 years ago
So, at this point I was a bit shocked... like, I completely forgot that people actually still used the word gay as something that means bad. So I write;
Me- and homophobic language is so 40 years ago.

A- I was referring to everything closing on sundays. J knows i'm not homophobic.

Me- using the word gay to refer to something bad is using homophobic language... i didn't say that you were homophobic... I think it is important to point out heterosexism when it occurs in order to stop it from being a part of everyday conversation.

A- i wasn't referring to something bad? i know what homophobic language is. thanks for the refresher. that's just how i talk to j, sorry if you or anyone else is offended by what i said. i do agree with you though, it should be weeded out of everyday conversation. it's strange though- i only use that word, especially in this context with people i am very close to.

J2(my humorous yet somewhat offensive brother trying to further enforce my point)- im not racist, i only use the n word with close white friends so its ok.
So, if you are still following, here is my thought process at this point. She said she isn't referring to something bad- it's just about stores being closed on Sundays (gays are closed sundays?). She agrees that the language is inappropriate, but she only uses it in private conversations with close friends (and on their facebook walls, apparently, where us gay folk can read it). That being said, I was content with this response from her in this context... at least she thought about it, and I am not likely to make an impact on someone through facebook by taking it any further. However, a few minutes later, she put another comment on the thread.
A- words are simply descriptors. if you're going to be offended by a word then you've got a whole other set of problems, just saying. what are we going to start doing soon, being offended because of the use of the word ..."straight"? seriously, think about it. it makes no sense. gay means homosexual. just a meaning. you can probably even find the word in a dictionary with that meaning. [...] it's like me getting mad because someone saying i'm straight. i'm not gonna be like..."nooooo, i prefer the term heterosexual."
So, gay simply means homosexual, nothing more. Than, according to her first statement, it is homosexual that stores are closed on sunday in the city in which we reside. No need to be offended, right?!? And I'm not sure how the discussion got here, I did not say don't call gay people gay, call them homosexual... I prefer the term gay personally... actually, I identify as queer, which would likely shock her, but pointing that out didn't help either... instead, I said
Me-when you use the word gay to refer to something bad, you are calling gay people (myself included) bad people... You referring to the fact that stores are closed sunday is gay or J building pcs is gay makes no sense if you are saying that gay simply means homosexual... in that context, it had negative connotations... read your first comment replacing the word gay with homosexual.. that is obviously not what you were referring to. Can we please just agree not to use that word on J's facebook status updates and be done with it?

no. freedom of speech and all that, you're going to learn to grow a thicker skin. the world will never completely -stop- using that word. the more you can deal with it, the better.
Ok. I will grow thicker skin so that people like her can make fun of people and circumstances using my sexual orientation as a descriptor. Sorry to have bothered you with the thought of being considerate of other people's circumstances.

J- I think she's referring to the fact that I'm acting in a FASHION (tadah!) that represents a non-masculin behaviour.
Umm, no, she is referring to the annoyance that stores are closed on Sunday... and even still, is it any better if non-masculine behavior makes you gay? And since when was building PCs "feminine" behavior?

And because I know when it is a lost cause, possibly a bit later than I should, I gave up here. I don't even know what to say about this conversation. Sometimes when I point out things like this, such as in class or even on previous facebook status updates, people seem to be quite receptive. I have had people apologize saying that they never realized that they were using language that might be discriminatory in any way. Other times, people are ready to fight for their right to use discriminatory language, often in the name of free speech, because it would be hard to express yourself without such language. The fact that stores close early on Sundays is not inconvenient, annoying, inopportune, bothersome, senseless, irritating (although possibly not so for the employees who would have to work these hours)- I could go on, but I think I've made my point. These words don't aptly describe the situation, but the word 'gay' does.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New iphone commercials

For the past couple of weeks, there have been iphone commercials playing on television that have been bothering me a little bit. In these commercials, a female has some kind of change to her appearance (braces / haircut) and needs validation from a male before they can be happy with their new look.

Yes, it is a cute haircut, and she does look good even with braces, but I just wish they could decide this for themselves without needing their appearance to be validated by a man... or even getting that validation from a female friend or mother (instead of father and boyfriend) would be slightly less patriarchal in my opinion, even if it were only on some of the commercials...

As a sidenote, I have had the exact same hair situation that she talks about... I went in for a bob and left with more of a pixie cut, but even with reassurance from various men (and women) that I know, I wasn't happy with it until I had time to adjust to the new look.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Experiences of single motherhood and children-as-a-burden

I am a single parent, and I am trying to get to a point where I can experience being the primary caregiver for two children as just a normal part of everyday life as opposed to a burden on me... for some reason, I feel the need to note that I love my children, I love being a parent, and I enjoy their company- I am writing about the specific times where things come up that children cannot go to (or are not "supposed" to participate in)-things that children on TV sitcoms magically disappear for.

Generally speaking, it is not difficult for me to enjoy having children around as part of my everyday life- they can make a weekend more exciting and open up a wide range of activities that I can do, such as going to various parks and playgrounds, and I love a good game of tag or follow the leader on the climbing structures when they aren't too full. However, as much as I try to get away from the children-are-(sometimes)-a-burden framework that used to dominate my thinking right after my divorce, I find that various circumstances are pushing it back into my life- two main examples right now being the university and my position as a union executive.

I begin grad school this fall, and it is a small program at a small university. Two years ago, there were fewer students and 2 more course options. This year, there are basically no electives being offered due to a severe prof shortage. Anyway, the part that is relevant to parenting is my schedule. My earliest course is at 4:30pm, and I will be in class at least two nights a week until 10pm. So, I help the kids get on the bus to school in the morning and do thesis work and readings through the day (things that I could easily do at home in the evening), then the kids have to go to daycare all evening while I attend classes.

I am really struggling with whether it is ok for me to spend that much time away from them. It is important to note that their father does not feel guilty about only seeing them for a couple of hours every other week, so why do I have to feel guilty about leaving them at daycare until 10pm 2 nights a week? I think it has something to do with my youngest's "behavioral issues" that developed at school last year when i was in class until 6:00 twice a week. He stopped listening to his kindergarten teacher and refused to go to bed for me at night, and when we consulted a specific agency about the behaviors, they suggested that it was because I wasn't spending enough time at home (with no suggestion that an absent father could be partially to blame).

Combining this class schedule with mother-blaming, I've gone as far as to debate whether I should actually get a graduate degree because it might not be fair to the children... but, on the other hand, would it be any more fair to them for me to take whatever type of job I can find with my current degree (insert liberal arts joke here) instead of following my own dream and my passion to continue my education and get the job that I see myself doing for the rest of my life?

The other issue I have been having related to my children is about working on a union executive. Our union has been having regular meetings and conferences 4 hours away (driving- 1 hour flight- 7 hours by train) to combat wage restraint legislation. My university needs to be represented, and, until we find more members to step in this fall, I seem to be the only one who is willing/able to do this. My union has a policy where children are welcome- daycare is provided at the meetings and speakers often talk about how happy they are to have entire families able to attend. However, there are activities that are planned at night, which means I cannot fully participate in the activities that are taking place as "good" parents put children to bed at a "reasonable" hour. Most participants have a spouse to stay with the children while they go out, but, for the single parents (in my experience, all of the attending single parents have been mothers) who attend, things like games night and camp fires are cut quite short. I have even had to miss evening meetings where important document wording was being debated in detail.

I'm not saying that I think there should be daycare all night at these events so I can go play games night and then go drinking with my peers, I am just saying that having children has stopped me from doing things that I might otherwise be able to do. So, I now need to try and reframe this discussion and get to a place where I can get around some of these experiences where having children sometimes feels like a burden... keeping in mind that when my children are together, they are not really capable of being quiet enough for non-child-friendly situations.

So, I guess my point is that as hard as I try to not see my children as a burden, I feel like this view is being pushed back on me- and my experience is that they are my burden, not their father's.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Odd conversation...

I had this weird conversation with my 5-year-old son yesterday.

J- (pointing at a picture) He's a bad guy
Me- really?
J- Yes, because his eyes are green. Bad guys have green eyes.
Me- I have green eyes.
J- Oh. But not really green eyes.

This may seem innocuous, even cute, but it parallels multiple conversations that I have been a part of or overheard that have perpetuated racist, sexist, heterosexist and various other stereotypes. It is also an example of how these beliefs continue, even with contradicting evidence.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Montessouri ad

I just saw another bench today that compares to the one I previously posted advertising for Montessouri Schools. I am going to skip details about the school, but I do have a class analysis at the previous link, which was further discussed here.

Sorry about the image quality, but it was taken from a cell phone camera in a moving vehicle. The ad reads
1 to 8 VS. 1 to 30.
You do the Math. Our students can.
This refers to class size and student teacher ratios... Of course, it doesn't mention that they can afford to have extra teachers because parents are paying for their children to attend these schools, where as the government has been cutting funds to public schools.

This suggests that public school classes are too big and public school teachers are overworked, I agree so far. But rather than actually doing anything about it or trying to get additional funding to public schools, middle to upper class families should merely put their children in a private school and leave the large class sizes for the children whose families cannot afford this "better" education...

Who needs social mobility when the status quo is so much more advantageous to the elite who write our social policy and decide how much funding to put into our schools... all while sending their children to private institutions.

And, to add insult to injury, they need to include a comment implying that public school students cannot do simple math.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wage restraint legislation in Ontario

I want to start by apologizing to any regular readers about the lack of posts over the last few weeks. There has been so much I wanted to write about but I feel like I haven't had a moment to breathe, nevermind write.

I am the president of a student workers union in Ontario, and there has been a threat of wage restraint legislation by the Ontario Government. All non-unionized public employees' wages have been frozen for some time now, and the government is going into "consultations" with unions where they plan to get unions to accept two years of zero compensation on their next collective agreements, with the threat of legislating this freeze if we don't agree to it. This is being presented to us as the only way to protect public services.

According to some recent surveys (both the ones conducted by unions and the ones by the government), people seem to think that workers in the public sector are highly overpaid. This is definitely not the case if you look at front line workers in comparison to University Presidents, for example. My membership last got a raise in 2003. Over that period of time, housing has gone up more than 30%, tuition has increased by 4-8% per year more often than not, and the salary of the university's president has increased by approximately 124%! Yet, it is not the president that is overpaid, it is me... and I am making less than half of what some of my peers at other universities make- and nevermind living below the poverty line, my wage doesn't even cover the cost of my education at the school where I work.

I don't believe that forcing workers to take zeros is good for anyone, even those who do earn a living wage, but my point right now in this particular post is that we also need to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations about public sector employees. One of my union colleagues at a different university spoke about how his membership went from about 100 full time janitorial and maintenance staff to about 10 full-time and about 100 part-time, the majority of whom work between 3 and 12 hours per week... I'm pretty sure they don't feel overpaid. I can make many similar comparisons throughout the sector, and I am rather sure that people in different parts of the public sector have similar stories to tell.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with how quickly some people are buying in to these assumptions. I am baffled by how the government can demonize public employees so fully that even the NDP supports wage restraint legislation because doing otherwise would fail to gain votes at the upcoming election.

This government clearly represents the economic elite in the province. And yet, they try to make us feel guilty because many of us have kept our jobs during the recession; so guilty, that we should accept concessions in order to do our part. What about not cutting $4.6 billion dollars in corporate taxes? What about actually protecting our social services by providing services that help people rather than punishing them?

I have yet to figure out how legislation that goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Labour Relation's Act is supposed to protect Canadians. To me, it is just another example of the Ontario government picking and choosing which Rights Canadians are entitled to, not unlike what happened at the G20... they just spin it the right way in the media and they come off as protecting us. The only thing that we need protection from right now are these neoliberal politicians.