Saturday, January 30, 2010

National Post and Feminism

Tuesday's National Post contained an article entitled "Women's Studies is still with us" in which their editorial board (made up of 3 women and 8 men) comments on women's studies courses- and by the sounds of it, none of them have ever actually taken a women's studies course. And by comments on, I mean they completely bash these programs, blaming them for all kinds of problems.

They write "The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women." I wish I could say I was surprised that arguments such as these continue to exist... I don't think this point is worth the energy of trying to argue, it has gone on since the 1960s (and, in some cases, since the mid 1800s) and has been argued by many women much more articulate and knowledgable than myself.

They also write that "Women's Studies courses have taught that all women--or nearlyall-- are victims and nearly all men are victimizers." Now, I've taken many women's studies courses, and I have never gotten the impression that I was a victim. They discuss rape culture as problematic, but none of my profs have tried to say that all men are victimizers (however, I can see how some writers, such as Dworkin and MacKinnon, could be interpreted as such). Women's studies courses have empowered me to see how power relations come into play, which I believe will help me navigate my way through a patriarchal system. They have not led me to believe that I am a victim, but have taught me that the victim/abuser dichotomy is much too simple to explain what is actually hapenning. We are all oppressed and we are all oppressors in various capacities, but that does not come up in the article.

It also explains how, in the current judicial system, men are being victimized by women studies. "Divorcing men find they lose their homes and access to their children, and must pay much of their income to their former spouses (then pay tax on the income they no longer have) largely because Women's Studies activists convinced politicians that family law was too forgiving of men." Yet, studies show time and again that men benefit financially from divorce, whereas women's income drops substantially, and courts will not take access to children from a parent except under the most extreme circumstances.

I could go on like this with every sentence in the article. The article makes employment equity sound like a reverse hiring scheme to trick men out of their jobs. It makes non-essentialist gender difference arguments sound ludicrous. The article also makes it seem as though all feminists equate PIV intercourse to an act of violence. It scares me that people who have never taken a women's studies class are going to read this article and believe that all of this is true; it must be true- it is in the newspaper and written by an entire panel of people.

The article ends with a terrifying conspiracy theory; that although women's studies programs appear to be disappearing, in reality the same ideas are just being shifted to other disciplines. Now it isn't just women's studies majors that we have to fear... it is all liberal arts students. Society is doomed!

Is asking for 'reliable' workers discriminatory?

In England, an employer was placing a wanted ad asking for reliable and hard-working employees, but was told that she could not do so because it discriminated against non-reliable applicants.

On one hand, isn't being hard-working and reliable kind of important to find and maintain employment?

On the other, I may not be as reliable as a worker without dependents... should I be penalized for having children without a grandma or neighbor available to babysit when kids are too sick to go to school?

I'm wondering what other people think. And I would be very interested to hear a coherent argument as to why it might be discriminatory to ask for reliable and hard working employees.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pelvic exams without consent?

According to the Globe and Mail, pelvic exams are being performed by med students at teaching hospitals on women undergoing surgery without their consent. I am in shock that this could possibly be true.

The article asks "Do you consider this okay, or an outrageous violation of your rights?"

I wonder how anyone could consider this ok... as much as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that side of this debate. What is the difference between med students performing exams on women without their knowledge and a rapist taking advantage of a woman who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

The article also says that "The patients – unlike medical educators – seem to be quite clear on the concept of informed consent. You don't probe, poke or otherwise invade the orifices of a patient without their permission, regardless of how educational it might be. Period."

Interestingly, it seems as though in Canada (but not in the United States or Britain) the consent forms that patients need to sign somehow cover this type of procedure- possibly not in so many words. One commenter pointed out that without signing this consent form, the patient would not be operated on at all, thereby bullying women into signing without telling them what it is they are agreeing to.

One blogger used twitter to ask her followers if they had surgery in Canada and if they were aware of whether or not they had been given a pelvic exam and comments have come back show that this is not just a matter of implicit consent. The women who are responding are not ok with this procedure. They are shocked and sick to their stomach, they feel violated, and they are referring to this as assault, not a simple medical practice.

I really hope information comes out showing that this was just some kind of sensationalized story and really not a common practice, but, even if it is done in only one hospital, it needs to stop. Consent should not be implicit. This is evident in the new direction feminist analysis of consent has taken from 'no means no' to 'yes means yes.' The lack of objection is not the same as consent, especially when the person is unconscious. This applies not just to pelvic exams, but to any medical procedures that have not been fully explained to the patient unless it is medically necessary.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

California school district bans dictionary

A California school district banned the Webster's Collegiate dictionary from fourth and fifth grade classrooms because it defines the words "oral sex." A committee of parents and teachers then decided to bring the dictionaries back, but to let parents decide whether their child is to be able to access this dictionary.

I can't get over how far these parental consent issues at school have gone. I don't think it should be up to parents to decide whether their children are allowed to look at a dictionary. I also do not think it should be up to parents to decide whether or not their children should have access to comprehensive and accurate sex education- I think children have the right to this information. There is little that annoys me more than denying people information that they want/need for no reason other than an authority figure doesn't think it is appropriate... why not just present facts and various arguments surrounding them, and teach children to think for themselves?

Nevermind this debate over whether or not it is acceptable for ten year olds to have access to this information, I wonder how many students have actually gone to the dictionary to look up the term "oral sex". I would guess very few of them... although, as punishment for talking in class, I occasionally had to write out dictionary definitions. It would have been slightly uncomfortable (or amusing) had I randomly selected that page... but no more so than with a multitude of other words. It doesn't mean they should be banned from classrooms.

I guess we now need to ban the internet as well. I would much rather my children get information from the dictionary than google... at least I know the stuff in the dictionary has been filtered through various editors to ensure it's accuracy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trust Women

As some of you may know, January 22, 2010 is the fifth annual Blog for Choice Day. The date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Every year, there is a specific question that is intended for us to think about. This year, that question was developed in honor of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who performed abortions that was killed because of his work. Dr. Tiller often wore a button that read "Trust Women." The question this year is: What does Trust Women mean to you?

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the phrase "Trust Women" in the context of abortion and birth control rights, is that it is by and large not women that get to make the social policy and legislative decisions about their own bodies. One of the most telling examples of this is this photo, which shows Bush signing legislation outlawing "Partial-birth abortions" surrounded by male lawmakers in 2003. Apparently, it is still men we trust to make decisions for us.

I believe we need to Trust Women by allowing women to govern their own bodies, both at the level of individual decisions, and with social policies.

For many women, having an abortion is often a shameful thing. That started to change for a while with the "I had an abortion" T-shirt, but there is still a lot of stigma surrounding women's decision to have an abortion. Trust women also means that we need to trust women's decision to have an abortion as the right decision for her and her uterus, as well as anything that might happen to be inside of it.

We also need to trust that women have thought out their decision to have an abortion. It is not a choice that is taken lightly by most people. Legislation require that women view an ultrasound or undertake a waiting period to think it over is not only redundant, it is also dangerous. The lack of access to doctors that provide abortion services, and the high rate of poverty for women in general, when combined with this waiting period, will ensure that abortions even less accessible to many women... but I guess that is the point. Here is a satirical look at where this might be going next (I apologize, but it starts with a 10 second commercial):

New Law Requires Women To Name Baby, Paint Nursery Before Getting Abortion

I am very worried about where abortion laws are headed in the near future. I think that we need to be aware of what is going on in order to make sure that Roe v. Wade is not overturned. The Stupak amendment in the US is the first step in this erosion, where no federal funds are used to cover abortions which means that American women without private health care will have even less access to abortion.

With Canadian social policies often following our neighbors to the south, I wonder how long it will be before abortion becomes a hot topic here too. Currently, the procedure is funded by Medicare, which means that women who reside in large cities often find them quite accessible. Women from rural areas often find it expensive to travel for abortions. For example, PEI does not have an abortion clinic, and neighboring provinces often refuse to perform abortions on out-of-province patients. Canada does have it's share of anti-feminist and pro-life groups, but I think the main issue in Canada is with regards to access to abortion services.

I also think that if we become too complacent, abortion is a right that could be taken away, especially with the apparent popularity of more conservative political parties. Maybe trust women should also mean that I have to trust that women will not be complacent if/when the attack on abortions that is being experienced in the USA ever begins to transpire in Canada.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cute... but sad

Found here

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Study about how men benefit from marriage misses the mark

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center was discussed on USA Today to show how men are beginning to benefit from marriage because women make more money than they used to. This article mentioned factors such as women's wages rising 44% over a time frame when men's rose only 6%, and women's higher rate of education as factors for why men benefit from marriage now (as though they didn't before). This research was cited on a local radio station today.

This article fails to mention that women still only make 71 cents on a man's dollar in Canada, much better than 50 years ago, but down from 72 cents in the mid-1990s.

Another slight oversight is the many ways in which men have benefited (currently and historically) from the unpaid work that women do in the home. According to many studies, women still do two thirds of the work in the home, even when both she and her husband work outside the home. Historically, men were only able to work because women took care of the children and the housework, thereby producing and reproducing workers.

The article's first line is "If you think women still reap more economic benefit than men do from marriage, you may be living in the past." This assumes that I think women benefit more from marriage than men, which I do not- and remarriage rates support this theory. It would be difficult to question women's dependence on men for economic survival, especially at times when women were not expected to work outside the home, but I think the amount that men have gained from having an unpaid worker in the house needs to be stated. This research also doesn't explain why single mothers and widowed women are by far the poorest groups in the country. If marriage were as important economically to men as it is to women, would they not have equal rates of poverty when not married?

The question shouldn't be "who has the most education" or "who makes the most money" or even "who spends the most" all of which are mentioned in the article. Here are some suggested questions that I believe could better be used to study equality within marriage:

Why is it that even with higher rates of post-secondary education, women make less money than men? And I don't mean falling back on human capital theory or biological determinist arguments.

How is it that we continue to allow unpaid childrearing and domestic labour to remain invisible? And what impact does this have on women's wages?

Are these figures specific to certain groups? For example, do these trends hold across various ethnic groups and social classes within the population? And how do non-heterosexual couples factor in to this type of study?

Are arguments such as these being used to tell women to sit down and shut up because we've never had it so good?

And why have I never heard it argued that historically (or in other countries) men have it much worse than men in contemporary western society, so they should be grateful for what they have?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Primetime television and the continuum of violence against women

In this post, I will attempt to bring awareness to some of the ways women are portrayed in primetime television by mentioning a few examples of rape culture and women's sexual availability to men from recent episodes. I am sure there are hundreds of examples, and feel free to add any more you think of in the comments.

Private Practice
Addison and Mark, two doctors who have had a relationship in the past, are discussing some recent problems in their lives. Addison mentions that she wishes there was some kind of drug to help her cope, that she wants to put something on top of the pain. Mark proceeds to undress- to which she responds "I said put something on top of it, not put you on top of me." He continues to take his clothes off and talk about how horrible his life has been recently, and she has a change of heart and they have 'great' sex right there on the floor of her office. In this case, no means keep trying.

A female police officer is sexually harassed by a detainee (who was originally suspected of murder) with comments about her appearance and their potential compatibility as a couple. He persists, even after she angrily tells him to stop. Then, when he is not looking, viewers see her smile as though flattered by his persistence, leaving the impression that women enjoy mens' advances, even when we pretend we don't.

I don't know how detective Kate Beckett could have given stronger signals to author Richard Castle to back off. She repeatedly tells him to leave her alone, even threatening violence if he comes too close to her. She does not consent to have him nearby, but the mayor gave him permission to follow her on investigations, and she must now accept his presence in order to keep her job. He then goes on to give unwanted comments on her appearance and personality in every episode, and, unfortunately, it seems as though he is slowly winning her over. She is not the only woman who must endure his sexist remarks, as he makes similar comments about most of the hegemonically attractive women on the show, even, on occasion, murder victims.

Mad Men
There have been three rapes on this show now, by my count, and in many message boards, none of them are talked about as rapes. The first was between fiances, so it isn't really rape... it is often referred to as sort-of-rape, nevermind that marital rape has been a crime in Canada for 20 years. The second is often not referred to as assault because a relationship followed the initial attack. And in the third, a woman repeatedly (but politely) rejected a man's advances, even telling him not to come in to her house, but submitted when he came in anyway and forcibly kissed her. What is often ignored in message board posts about this particular event is that submission does not equal consent. I believe that the intent of the writers is to show real situations in which sex can be coerced, and therefore non-consensual. I am appalled (but not necessarily surprised) by how many viewers fail to label it as such.

That 70's Show
This specific scene plays through my mind often, annoying me further every time (especially since it is one of my favorite sitcoms). Kitty (the mother of the teenage main character, Eric) was grocery shopping, when Kelso (Eric's friend and classmate) grabs her buttocks, not realizing that it is his friend's mother because her back was turned. After some harsh words, she smiles and says thank you before walking away with a bounce to her step. This leaves the impression that women not only enjoy mens' advances, but that women like men to touch them, even when we pretend that we don't.

I'm not even going to touch on shows like Dollhouse or crime dramas, that portray sexual harassment and assault in various ways.

There are so many examples in pop culture where women submit to mens' advances after repeatedly telling them they are not interested, or are shown as being flattered by behavior that is actually quite threatening, that it normalizes these behaviors in our everyday lives. It teaches men that it is ok to persist, because we might change our mind, or we actually like it when strangers comment on our appearance when we are walking down the street... I mean, it is meant to be a compliment... we can't expect them to understand the power dynamics or the implied threat involved.

In Surviving Sexual Violence, Liz Kelly talks about violence against women as a continuum. This continuum includes many acts that western culture deems trivial, such as catcalls, pressure, and implied threats, and places them as no more or less severe than other forms of abuse. These acts are all connected to “the everyday aspects of male behaviour” (256) and therefore work to reinforce other behaviors.

All of these examples work not only to undercut women's power, but to limit acceptable forms of masculinity, thereby created a culture in which nobody is exempt from strict regulations on how to do gender.

Friday, January 15, 2010

work space

I had never really thought about the importance of work space before this week. By work space, I mean the office space, work area, and location that is available to workers, or in this case, students. When I was in the Social Work Program, students had a small office in which we could study or read. In sociology, undergrad students only have the library or student center. This may not seem like a problem, but I find that the library has too much going on for me to get anything done, even in the quiet section, my train of thought is interrupted every time somebody walks by.

This week, I spent a lot of time at various graduate programs in the school. Sociology has a small office with a couple computers and a table that is shared by all of it's students. Psychology has even less space, as they had an office taken away last week without any notice- they just showed up one day to find that it had been cleared out.

I went to a graduate room for students in various natural science programs. It was much larger, it used to be a computer lab, and had about 10 L-shaped desks, each with a student's name on it. In this room, each student had their own personal workspace, rather than the have-to-come-in-early-to-guarantee-a-spot rooms or use-the-sign-up-sheet-for-office-hours that most of the social science and humanities students have become accustomed to sharing.

In engineering, each student had a very large workspace, consisting of a desk more than double the size of the science students' desks with built-in filing cabinets and desktop computers. Each of these students has the same amount of work space as the entire sociology master's program must share. It also became apparent that the quality of students workspace is related to funding available to individual students in a given program.

It seems to me that the university really tends to favor natural sciences and business students at the expense of social sciences and humanities (who do not receive guaranteed funding, or even their own desks).

I was talking to a friend in the sciences about this yesterday, who said that it is unfortunate, but because the natural sciences and business contribute to society in a more visible way, they receive more money. I believe it is more that they contribute to the neo-liberal political agenda. My own thesis involves making a post-secondary education more accessible, especially to groups who currently have trouble accessing funding for their education. This also contributes to society in very visible way, as it could help people find good jobs, but because it would require increased social spending in the short-term, it does not fit with the neo-liberal agenda that underpins recent Canadian politics.

And speaking of Canadian politics... professors, please note that I am proroguing any further assignments until after the Olympics... no penalties expected. Thank you.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Facebook colors

I wonder how this facebook color thing started... who was the person who wrote the first letter, and exactly how far did they expect it to go? I think that it is fascinating from a networking perspective that facebook is so influential that most of you know what I am writing about by my title. Today alone I have read more than 25 facebook status updates referring to a color, or simply stating 'none.'

For those of you who don't know what I am referring to, the email I received said:
Some fun is going on.... just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY girls no men .... It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status... HahaI was asked to do this by my good friends daughter so here it goes... have fun

The issue I am having is with regards to how this is supposed to spread cancer awareness when there is absolutely no mention of cancer anywhere except this email that men aren't allowed to see?

I worry that instead of raising any kind of awareness, all this does is give men a chance to picture the women who write their color in their underwear, which is not my idea of fun. I am pretty sure that many of the people who have posted their color would never tell hundreds of people what color bra they are wearing under any other context...

I commented on it in my status, writing "do we actually believe that posting bra colors is going to raise cancer awareness as opposed to just making people think about what we look like under our shirts?" To which I received the response (from a woman) "it's supposed to be a game. you know, fun? and now you just told every guy on your friends' list what the game is. take a chill pill. you really don't need to rant about everything."

I don't need to rant about everything, but I have to love how I am often not only dismissed, but silenced when I give an opinion (pet peeve right now, because it is the second time this week). If I were presenting a dominant opinion, it wouldn't be considered ranting.

The best quote I've read about this topic was found here

"Call me a humourless Feminazi if you like, but this email is not about raising awareness of breast cancer. It's about using a disease that has a devastating impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people as a spurious justification for discussing saucy undies. It's about women trying to show that they're uninhibited and up for a laugh by inviting their friends to speculate about them in their underwear rather than to think about them as sentient, intelligent human beings. It's about women objectifying themselves. And for anyone who believes that the updates are really only for us gals I'd invite you to compare the number of updates saying "red satin w little bows" with the number saying "grey cotton (orig. white), straps frayed, bought Bhs 2001"

To sum up my opinion, I am not going to 'post my color' nor do I think this has anything to do with breast cancer. Neither do the men who have figured this out, considering someone just posted "things would be much better if women would just post a profile picture"

No title needed...

Apparently said by Senator Mary Ann Tobedo (Republican, Colorado State Senate), said in parliament in 1995...

Also said that minority cultures encourage sexual promiscuity for girls...

Ain't I a person?

According to the Canadian Labour Relations Act 1995 " Every person is free to join a trade union of the person’s own choice and to participate in its lawful activities"

But, according to the current Ontario Work Act
No person shall do any of the following with respect to his or her participation in a community participation activity:
1. join a trade union
2. have the terms and conditions under which he or she participates determined through collective bargaining
3. strike

Community participation activities refer to what is commonly known as workfare, where recipients of Ontario Works must participate in low-waged or even slave labor (sorry volunteer work) in order to remain eligible for benefits. I guess not every person is allowed to join a trade union.... or maybe poor people just don't count as people at all.

Participants are also banned from attending post-secondary institutions.

So, not allowed to participate in many of the activities that will help find 'good' jobs. It's a good thing the program's mandate does not involve helping people become employed or effectively serving people needing assistance.... oh, wait a minute... it does. I guess the mandate to be accountable to taxpayers of Ontario (cheap) is more important.

Gotta love Walmart

found here

What I find particularly interesting about this is how it relates to neo-conservative value systems. This strongly ties into the moral regulation of women, as well as the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, where women are seen as either 'good'- pure, asexual, like a mother or sister, or they are seen as 'bad' women, which is associated with sexual woman. I find it hard to imagine what reason they could possibly give for not allowing girls/women to have access to birth control.

This is having far reaching implications in the USA right now, where Obama's proposed health care changes are not going to cover abortions, and the Stupak Amendment ensures that federal funds are never used (even in private health care plans) to cover abortions unless the woman can prove that she was raped or the mother's life is in danger. And as much as Canadians tend to pride ourselves on health care, we are by no means safe from such changes. For example, my city (of 150,000 people) has only one abortion practitioner than I am aware of, and women often have to travel 4 hours to access to these services and cannot afford the expenses associated with travelling.

Really now, will the whole world fall apart if ALL women had access to birth control?

Monday, January 4, 2010

And the number one answer is....

From a rerun of Family Feud

Name something they put in beer commercials to (host was cut off by contestant buzzing in)-

Beautiful girls

And that was the number one answer, with 91 out of the 100 people surveyed answering "Hot Women"

It certainly says something about our culture when the host doesn't even have to finish the question, but I think the most telling part is that with 91% of respondents giving the same answer, people are aware of the way women are being portrayed in advertisements. People are fully aware that women's bodies are being used as tools to sell items for already rich companies, like those that sell beer. Does this mean that people largely don't think it is a problem?