Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New childcare subsidy regulations

Dear whichever neoliberal policy maker is currently in charge of childcare subsidy,

I know that your intent is to save "taxpayers" money by cutting "unnecessary" programs, and that is why you decided to change subsidy this year. You have succeeded. I might be forced to spend the summer (maybe longer) on welfare because of your cuts, but, hey, with our abysmal rates, that is actually cheaper for you than paying my childcare expenses while I get a minimum wage job.

Last April, when I finished my exams, you gave me 90 days to find a job before I lost my childcare funding. You understood that jobs do not appear out of thin air, they take work to aquire. This year, you decided that I am to lose my childcare space the day the exam period is over.

Now I ask you, Mr. Neo-liberal Policy Maker, how am I supposed to find a job without daycare? You say I can look for work while my children are in school. I accept that premise, but what you don't answer is what I am supposed to do when I find a job and have already lost my daycare spots? I will have to turn down the job because I won't be able to go to work without daycare- especially because my son is in kindergarten, and, as such, is not yet in school full-time. It took me 3 years to get through the waiting list at the daycare my children need to be in for me to attend grad school in September because it is the only childcare center in the city that is open later than 6:00 and my classes will run in the evening. That means that if I lose this daycare spot, I may not be able to go to grad school in September. But I'm glad you saved a few dollars.

I am not asking for you to pay for this "uneccesary" childcare indefinitely; just give me a month or two to find a job. I am currently finishing a placement, which also involves preparing a 30 minute presentation and 20 page paper, my fourth year honours essay is due by the end of the month, which also includes a 30 minute presentation, and I have an exam in fourth year statistics. As much as I would love to begin my job search right now, that is not feasible because I am a full-time student which is why you are providing me with daycare in the first place.

So, because you want to save a few dollars by not covering daycare any longer than necessary (necessary as defined by you, Mr. Neo-liberal Policy Maker), I may lose my daycare and not be able to attend graduate school. Thank you. I am glad that you are doing your job and saving a few dollars.

By the way, I'm sure Ontario businesses really appreciate the cut to their electrical costs in the recent budget. And I'm sure Canadian businesses appreciate having the lowest tax rates in the "developed" world. But 30 days to find a job is asking for too much I guess.

former grad student candidate

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Assembly Required...

Usually, in the context of this blog, I find negative images and criticize them because of an aspect that I find discriminatory in some way. Today, I thought I would post a positive image, and talk about why it is good instead of why it is bad.

I was out trying to price a new desk for my daughter (and of course that involves going to every new and used furniture store because I don't want to pay a dollar more than I have to) and I found this tag attached to some of the products at one of the stores...

Notice that it is a woman with a tool box next to the caption "this item requires assembly!" First, I think it is great that they don't go to the default male for such "manly" jobs as building furniture. And secondly, I think it is really great that they don't try to sell the woman as an object (yes, they often do that even with cartoons). She is still thin and whatnot, but she is not overly sexual- actually, at first I thought it was a man in the picture.

Although, I wonder if putting this type of tag on, where a woman is capable of building the furniture, serves to sell more products by making the build seem like a less daunting tasks to potential consumers... especially female ones..

Either way, I happen to like this picture, at least in comparison to images of women that are often present in advertising.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Facebook status posts... again

I have written about facebook status updates a few times on here. I am finding that, more and more often, they serve to uphold traditional gender roles. Last week I posted about how mothers are supposed to "sacrifice everything" for their families... This week, I saw a married woman on my facebook friends list post this onto her status.

If you have a wonderful husband, fiancĂ©, or boyfriend that works hard to take care of you and would do anything just for you and your family, then repost this as your status to give the honest, well behaved men out there the recognition that they deserve. Because great men are few and far between, and I have one of them! ♥

The first thing I asked myself is what exactly is meant by "take care of." In this context, I don't believe they are referring to cooking dinner or housekeeping- I believe that they are referring to his ability to financially provide for his family.

A man would do anything for his family, but a woman must sacrifice everything for her family... doesn't seem like a big difference at first, but I see a lot of meaning in these differences, even just in the sense that men are actively doing whereas women are passively sacrificing.

I also find it insulting to men, stating that there are not many great men out there, and even mentioning that good men should be "well-behaved." Sounds like words that we would usually use with children.

I am so over these copy/pasted facebook status updates... I have seen a few good ones, such as one a year ago urging women not to use the f-word (fat- not the other f-word), but, for the most part, I find them offensive and I am often surprised to see who has posted them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blaming the victim in a local news story

In a small town in Northern Ontario, there was a sexual assault that has "left a town in shock" (because sexual assault is so rare). A teenage boy went for a walk with a friend and sexually assaulted her.

The news story led with a resident who said "If it's true, I'm disgusted"

If it's true? Really? Is that how we want to talk about these things? I am so annoyed right now. Every time I hear something implying that a rape victim could be lying about what happened to them, I worry that more rapes will go unreported. False reports are extremely rare, more often the victim recants because of the court systems or allegations are just not prosecuted because of the he-said she-said thing.

Then, the news story went on to talk about underage drinking and warned girls to use the buddy system. More implicit victim blaming. Even if she didn't lie about it, she should have stayed sober and should never have left the house with a boy- even one that she knew. In all seriousness, as far as she knew she was using the "buddy system."

If a news story is presented on a similar topic, programs need to make sure that they are not blaming or shaming the victim. She has been through enough.

Quick note to Ryan Seacrest

It is not called babysitting when Mike is carrying his infant son in a newborn carrier, it is called parenting. Father's do not babysit their own children. It would never be called baby-sitting when it is a female contestant with children.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Censorship at University of Ottawa

Ann Coulter, a very controversial conservative speaker, was supposed to talk at the University of Ottawa yesterday, but the talk was cancelled due to apparent threats of violence from people who were opposed to her support of certain acts, such as the murder of specific racial/ethnic groups and abortion providers (an interesting stance for a "pro-life" advocate).

On the CTV morning news, Ezra Levant, a conservative analyst speaking on her behalf, called it censorship. He said that Canada was strong and free, freedom that was being denied by this censorship.

He questioned how they could allow an "anti-Semitic hatefest" for Israeli apartheid week, but not let Coulter speak. I am appalled that he could call apartheid week anti-Semitic or a "hatefest." Granted, I have never been to U of O, but I did participate in anti-apartheid week at my school and found that it was anything but hateful- actually, it advocated for ending an illegal occupancy of Palestinians in Israel. However, I am no expert on this topic and am not able to really discuss this occupancy in any detail.

Speaking of censorship, our school censored emails about Israeli apartheid week, first deleting previously sent emails from the server, then putting out a letter saying that "these announcements do not reflect the views of the department, or the university."

They also refused to send out an email telling students about a book launch for an amazing book written by a former student that criticizes workfare because they do not endorse events that critique the government's welfare system.

But I guess it is only called censorship when it quiets conservative opinions... even those that advocate for murder of people who do not agree.

Lost and neo-liberal ideologies

I love the show Lost. I have only been watching it for 3 seasons, but I've started watching season 1 to see all the old episodes too. It is likely one of my favorite shows- actually, I even read blog posts about episode recaps and speculation as to what all the crazy stuff that goes on actually means...

But, last night I was not happy with where the show went. It seems that the island is like a gateway for 'hell', protecting the world from all the 'evils'... the only thing keeping the 'devil' away from the rest of the world... ok, weird, but it kind of works in with the story line and I was super happy that they were finally answering some of the many questions they've posed.

However, the 'devil' is right there whispering in your ear and making deals with you. Jacob, the 'good' one, who keeps the gates of 'hell' closed, says that he does not talk to people because he is letting them make their own choices. For people to be proven 'good' they need to step up and make the right decisions even with the 'devil' in their ear.

Maybe it is just me, but the way it was presented reminds me of the rhetoric surrounding neo-liberal welfare cuts. The phrase about giving the poor "a hand up not a hand out" seems to fit this. Like, it is easy to sit on welfare all day, but you should have to work really hard to pick yourself up and make a good life for yourself. This hides all of the barriers that exist that make it nearly impossible for many people to "pick themselves up" in this way.

I'm told that I look too far into things, but I worry that when this type of discourse, even when in a different context, will continue to uphold neo-liberal regimes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Assault Prevention Without Regulating Women

Too often we heard about how women should regulate their behavior in order to protect themselves from being raped or otherwise victimized. I'm sure most women reading this have heard about those tips since they were young; don't go anywhere alone, don't drink, etc. This leads to blaming the victim for putting themselves in a position where they could get hurt. I just found a different list here that I hope exposes how absurd the regulations that are imposed on women actually are.

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don't put drugs in people's drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON'T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don't pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don't communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don't forget: you can't have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone "on accident" you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Funny Menstruation Commercial

This commercial actually makes fun of all of those other commercials about your period... you know, those ones that feature people horseback riding, swimming at the beach, and dancing in white pants?

Although it is still not perfect, it is a vast improvement on most commercials. And finally someone calls out that ridiculous blue liquid that everyone is pouring onto their pads.

I wonder if women would hate their periods less if they weren't told they were supposed to go out and do rhythmic gymnastics wearing a white spandex leotard every month.

Where do I begin???

I was out for a walk with the kids at the local conservation area, and I saw a car parked with this bumper sticker. It is wrong on so many levels I'm not sure where to begin...

In case you cannot read it, it says "my other ride is a hooker"

After the walk, I mentioned the bumper sticker to my brother's friend, who responded something along the lines of both are products and services. I can understand how sex work is a service, but I do not like how this bumper sticker takes that and turns women into products. Vehicles are often referred to as she, given women's names, and used as a status symbol for men, much like an attractive girlfriend.

I'm not going to really go into detail about this here, but I feel like I should mention that I am not opposed to sex work in theory as I believe there could be a place for it if it is what someone wants to do, however, I do not see how it can be empowering to be viewed in the same way as a car. This type of product exists because we live in a culture where women are constantly being objectified and judged for their willingness to please men, visually and physically.

I do not find this sticker humorous at all, I find it very offensive... I also think the fact that this type of message can be attached to a car is evidence of just how accepted it has become to objectify women. It reminds me of the decals and mudflaps that show the outline of a nude woman with cartoon-like curves.

I have yet to see a man objectified in this way on a vehicle.

Site Makeover...

I've had a few comments that the light writing on dark background is hard to read for some people, so I decided to try something else to see if it would be any easier... I'm not entirely happy with the new look yet, so it may change one more time in the next few days... Don't worry, it won't get like facebook changing every few weeks.

Let me know if you have any comments regarding the new or old looks...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OSAP and the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star ran an interesting article about how it is difficult for students to eat on the budget they are given, which is no surprise, considering all the jokes within pop culture about surviving on Kraft Dinner and frozen pizza. The purpose appeared to be to raise awareness that OSAP (student loan) rates are very low, however many people were unsympathetic, and wrote letters to the Star about how students do not deserve more money and they need to either figure out how to live on that income, or get a job. I am not going to go into too much detail about them, but check the links if you would like to see the stories. I wrote a letter to the Star about it, and I am copying it here, so it gets read whether or not it is published...

I am a student and a single mother with two children and I would like to discuss my experiences with OSAP. One writer said that OSAP's allowance does not go towards housing, but this is not true. If you are a student who lives with your parents, you generally do not qualify for OSAP. People on OSAP do have to pay for housing, tuition, and books, which leaves students with $6,500 per year, at best, to pay for rent and food.

When I left Ontario Works to go back to school, I had about $50 a month more to live on, so I assumed it would be easy. Then I realized that I lost most of my health and discretionary benefits that I received with Ontario Works, as well as my special diet allowance (my son is allergic to wheat and dairy, and is quite expensive to feed). I have also had to pay for childcare out of my own pocket for two required courses that are only offered in the evening as I could not get a licensed childcare space after 5:30. Ontario Works would have paid extra for my son's allergy and asthma medication, my daughter's glasses, and evening childcare; OSAP did not.

I am offended by the comment that one particular reader is "astounded that intelligent students struggle to feed themselves on $7.50 per day." Unexpected expenses come up all the time, especially if you have children. For example, my daughter just brought home her school and daycare running shoes as she has outgrown them. If the local second hand clothing store is not currently carrying her size, I will have to spend money allotted to several days worth of food on shoes.

Also, the foods that I can afford on what is left of that $7 per day may not be very nutritional. With a few extra dollars I would be able to get whole grain (and gluten-free) wheat products, high protein foods, and a rich assortment of fruits and vegetables that my children's bodies and brains need in order to grow to their fullest potential.

The universities themselves do not make things any easier either, with meals costing a minimum of $8 for a small sandwich or $6 for a slice of pizza with a beverage at my school and water in a vending machine costing $1.75. I have to be sure to come prepared every day because I often cannot afford to purchase water; coffee is actually cheaper at the on-campus Tim Hortons.

One reader said that "students should be grateful that they get money to begin with, and if it's not enough, get a part time job." OSAP is a loan; we do have to pay most, if not all, of this money back. When we, as a country, have some of the highest tuition rates in the developed world and women need to earn a post-secondary degree to earn the same income as men without a high school diploma, pardon me if I do not feel entirely grateful. As for the comment to get a job- I have two children and a part-time job as well as a full-time courseload including a thesis and a placement. For my teaching assistantship, I work only 5 hours a week and feel guilty about the time this takes away from my children. You can look at my schedule and tell me where to pen in that part-time job, as well as how to pay for the childcare expenses while I am at work, because they will not be covered by OSAP.

Food is not a luxury. We should not be expected to live on rice and plain pasta or cucumber sandwiches. Food and proper nutrition should be a right that all Canadians are entitled to.

Motherhood and Facebook status

A few friends of mine posted this in their facebook status this week:

"A real mother has to make sacrifices in her life to ensure her children are well taken care of and would make every sacrifice in the world for her children. She come first, always have, and always will! :-) Put this as your status if you're a devoted mother who will always put your children first...!"

It annoys me that, as a mother, I am expected to make "every sacrifice in the world" for my children, and yet, their father is not. Once a woman becomes a mother, that role is supposed to be her entire identity. I make sacrifices for my children, as I'm sure all parents do, but I do not make EVERY sacrifice for my children. One of the best lessons I can give my daughter is that women are whole people, not just mothers, and that we have interests and needs of our own too.

I am often annoyed that father's aren't expected to make such sacrifices, both in my personal life and in my academic research. My ex-husband can take the kids 2 out of every 14 days and it is considered normal, however, if I were to only take them every other weekend, I would be considered an absent mother by many people.

In my thesis research, I have found study after study showing how a woman's wage falls after having children, whereas a man's wage actually goes up when he has a family. Generally, it is women who stay home with their kids when they are sick or cannot apply for that promotion because they would have to work late or travel.

I would like to stop hearing about how we choose this role when we become mothers; that it is a personal problem that is based on individual family decisions. Domestic work and the paid work force are organized in a systematic way that makes it more profitable for men to be the primary wage earner. When we take a step back and look at the big picture, it is not about certain choices made by specific families; it is a systemic issue rooted in capitalism and the division of labour.

Mothers should not have to feel guilty for going to school, having a career, or pursuing their own interests. While children should be provided for and both parents are likely to have to make some sacrifices in order to ensure that their children have everything they need, I would love to see the day where the burden of childcare and domestic responsibility does not fall so heavily on women. I am not going to sacrifice myself, as a full human being, for my children, as that will only teach them to do the same.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Man Hungry"

According to the author, who was on Canada AM this morning, "mad hungry means they [men] are very hungry, so you have to feed them to make them happy, then you have to teach them how to feed themselves"

As we all know, men are very hungry (but women and girls aren't), and they are only happy when fed (but girls can be happy while starving, somehow). And you have to teach men to cook, because they obviously don't know how, however, it is assumed that girls will know how, naturally, as opposed to having to teach them.

I, for one, came from the womb knowing how to cook. Anyone that has ever tasted my cooking will understand how outrageous that statement is- i have set a pot of water on fire.

Friday, March 5, 2010

monument to victims of "communism"

In my opinion, communism doesn't exist... I wish it did, but it doesn't. I've read that it probably existed in certain gatherer-hunter tribes and pre-colonial aboriginal communities, but I wasn't there, and I don't know if we could use our words for social, political or economic organization to describe something that happened in such a different context to the world that we understand. And yet the Canadian government plans to erect a monument to victims of communism. I want them to create one right next to it for victims of dragons- dragons are much scarier than communism, except possibly for the super-rich who could buy dragon slayers so long as they remain wealthy.

I have two problems with this monument. First, it encourages the dichotomy between capitalism and communism as the only possible ways to organize, with communism being represented by what I would call totalitarian states. This makes Marxist and socialist minded people appear to support Soviet style military control.

My second problem with it is that in demonizing 'communism' it further entrenches the belief that capitalism is the only option. What about a monument to victims of capitalism, as is suggested here. I would like to see a statue erected for all the people who died of hunger or froze to death while sleeping on the streets. All the people who had to struggle to make ends meet or go to bed hungry, whether they were working at low paid jobs or struggling to make a social assistance benefit last through the month. People who died, were injured, or became ill from performing dangerous work for very little money, while somebody else made huge profits. And yet, capitalism is the only socially just way of organizing, right?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gendered wage gap in the media

Canadian newspapers have been taking an anti-feminist perspective regarding women and paid work. There was a recent study done by The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and the Canadian Labor Congress. I should start by saying that I have not yet had the opportunity to read through this 40 page report (I know, bad blogger... but I have a big test tomorrow and I am quite behind on my thesis, so I will have to finish reading it later).

Anyway, the report states that Canadian women earn 70 cents on a man's dollar. Canadian newspapers are accusing them of using incorrect data, claiming that the actual number was 84 cents on the dollar, hour per hour, because of women choosing part-time work. Women typically work fewer hours per week than men, and at different types of work. But this article blames women for making bad choices.

Women often work part-time for long periods of time, especially when they have young children, whereas men generally only work part-time as students under the age of 25. Women are believed to be naturally suited to childcare and household responsibilities, and by working part-time they can contribute to the household income while maintaining a close attachment to the home.

Another important aspect of part-time work is the discourse of chosen part-time work. Often, when a woman, especially a mother, chooses part-time over full-time work it is not because she would prefer to work fewer hours or because she does not need the additional pay that comes with full-time employment, but there are structural factors that make fewer hours the more practical choice for them at that time. For example, if a mother takes part-time work because she cannot access quality daycare services in her area, she may not have actually chosen part-time work; it was an external influence that shaped her decision. I think it is also important to note that rarely do such structural forces surrounding family life dictate whether a man/father works full-time, as it is women who are socialized to plan their lives around a family, while men are encouraged to plan their lives around a career.

Even when women work full-time, they are often not able to take on certain careers because of long hours, shift work, or a need to take time off when children are sick. It is generally not the father that stays home from work with a sick child- it is the mother. Of course, the article doesn't state any of the factors that might influence a woman's "choice" to do certain types of work. I have a possible career opportunity right now that would pay quite well, but requires a lot of traveling. If I were not the primary caretaker of two young children, I would apply for the job, and I believe I have a good chance at getting it. Because I cannot expect to find people to take care of them 4 to 10 days a month, I am instead going to graduate school in the hopes that I can find an equally good job that does not require traveling.

The article also talks about how women, who work proportionately more in the public sector, would then qualify for better pensions and maternity benefits than jobs which men predominate. If women have such great pensions, why is it that the poorest group, other than families headed by a single woman, is elderly widowed women? And parental leave can only be obtained if one has worked 900 hours in the previous year, which would be about 18 hours a week if I'm not mistaken, so, many part-timers wouldn't even qualify. And when they do qualify, it is based on a proportion of how much you made while working. This is usually 55%, but the article says many women get up to 93% of their income during maternity leave. This is misleading as 93% is the highest negotiated maternity leave by any public sector employer; it is not the norm.

The article ends by saying that we need to start by looking at the real numbers. I suggest they do the same.