Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another post on enthusiastic consent

Last week I wrote about the concept of enthusiastic consent as it relates to sexual acts between adults. This same basic idea can be used not only for sexual acts, but for many different aspects of everyday life, including children playing with each other and standards relating to everyday touch and physical contact.

When I was a child, one thing that I remember vividly is distant relatives and friends of my mothers hugging me without my consent, and being powerless to stop them because saying so would be rude. I remember the prickly stubble on the face of a man who kissed me on the cheek when I was 5 or 6 years old and really not liking it. These people were almost strangers to me, and you don't go up to a stranger in the mall and give them a hug because that would be inappropriate, but when you are a child and the adult knows your parents then it is considered fine because children are property of their parents. It is well accepted under normal circumstances that a boss should not be able to touch an employee (such as to give them a hug) because of the power relations involved, but when the recipient of that touch is a child it is fine as long as it is not sexual.

I think we need to move beyond this 'good touch, bad touch' dichotomy (with bad meaning sexual and everything else being acceptable) to teach our children to be empowered about their rights to their body. How can we tell a little girl that she is not supposed to make a fuss when grandma gives an unwanted hug and kiss, but she must yell, scream, and fight a decade later when her date tries to touch her or it is her fault if he doesn't stop when she wants him to? I have long been confused by these mixed messages. Although I do not see these two situations as identical, they are very similar in certain ways when you think about it in that they both involve a non-consensual touch. This does not only apply to children, every person should have the right to decide who touches them at any time and who does not, I just find it most obvious with children.

When people infringe on our space and touch us without our consent, it hurts... it makes us feel bad, regardless of whether it is a person that we like and might want to be touched by at other times and in other circumstances. The problem is, and I have faced this myself recently, informing them that you do not want to be touched hurts their feelings (even though it shouldn't). So, we are left with the choice of dealing with it or risking hurting another persons feelings. Being a parent or even a spouse does not give you entitlement to touch another person's body. Sometimes they might want to be touched, tickled, hugged, or kissed and sometimes they might not. And they have to be able to express that without worrying about hurting someone's feelings. The right to not be touched seems so simple to me that I am often surprised that it needs to be articulated, but it really does because it is so commonly infringed on and it is not considered to be a big deal.

It also translates into many different areas of people's lives... For example, children and play. Instead of waiting for a child to tell the other kids to stop wrestling or stop playing in a specific way, I try to teach my children to stop when it appears as though one person is no longer having fun (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it is worth working on). This is hard for them to do because they can get really caught up in a game, and as children, I believe they have less capacity to be aware of others' feelings than adults do (although I am not sure of this). I am hoping that this teaches them to learn how to be in tune with the people that they interact with. This skill is likely impossible to fully master, but think of the possibilities that will come later if it is learned in childhood as a principle guiding play.

There are times when children do not have a say over who touches them. For example, if a child is hurting themselves or another person, it might be necessary to move them whether they want to be touched or not. But it is important to start from the premise of enthusiastic consent and then come up with a few specific exceptions from there.

Some people like being touched casually... they sit and stand close to others, they make physical contact in ordinary conversation and they are quick to hug friends when they see them. I, however, am not like that, and neither are a lot of people that I know. Today, for example, the person serving me at Tim Hortons touched my hand when he took my money and it made me extremely uncomfortable. I don't like when family members insist on hugs... never have been comfortable with that. That's not to say that I never like to be touched... I just like to feel that I have a sense of control over the circumstances upon which it happens and I beleive that I am fully entitled to that control, as are my children and every person that I come in contact with.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Constructions of gendered differences in perceptions of colour

My brother sent me a link from a joke website that plays into a few stereotypes about men that I thought would be interesting to look at a bit closer. Here is the image

Notary Republic Not Necessary

It is a poster from a paint store that reads "Notice Husbands choosing colours must have a written note from their wives"

I am assuming that readers have all seen the commercials or TV shows where men are depicted as not knowing how to coordinate colors, whether it be paint, home decor, or dressing themselves (especially when it comes to picking out ties to match their shirt). It is a way that men and women are constructed as different from each other. It also makes women look as though they are actually the boss in the home, as men cannot make a purchase without a written note from their wives, like a child needing permission to go on a class trip or something. See, we don't need feminism because women can decide what color goes on the wall. And if women are naturally better at seeing colors, then there must also be things that men are better at, like everything more important than picking out paint.

That link reminded me of these two charts showing gender differences in color. The first is a joke depicting what some people think about how men and women view colors.

Color names if you're a girl ... Color names if you're a guy ...

Next is a more realistic look at how men and women actually view colors, according to one study conducted at xkcd (the article itself at is interesting too). They found that "men and women tended on average to call colors the same names."

There are still some differences between people who identified as male and those who identified as female in the study, but not nearly as many as the many jokes suggest. There was even at least one color that men said and women didn't, being salmon.

I should also point out that I would not have come up with aqua, hot pink, or probably even magenta... and I would have called one of the purples blue. I guess I shouldn't be picking paint colors or dressing myself.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Student paper's sex position of the week depicts sexual assault

Building from the previous post on enthusiastic consent, I came across a disturbing comic strip printed in a student newspaper at Purdue University. There is a great critique on Jezebel.

I was not sure if I was going to link a picture because I find it very offensive, but I think in this case a description alone will not suffice, so here is the comic strip in question.

The text describes Man 1 having consensual sex with a woman while man 2 hides. Then, without her knowledge, man 2 takes his place while man 1 gets her attention from a window, at which point she is surprised. Because she did not consent to the second partner, this becomes a rather obvious case of rape. And it is not funny.

One commenter on Jezebel added a fourth panel to the comic that I think sums it up nicely

The fortunate part, if one could call it such, is that the editor has issued a genuine apology (as opposed to an "I'm sorry if you were offended" type apology that is so often the case with offensive college newspaper columns). Here are some quotes from the apology;
First things first: We made a mistake in printing Friday’s sex position of the week, and I, the editorial board, and The Exponent are extremely sorry...

On Friday and over the weekend, we received a flood of e-mails and phone calls telling us that this sort of graphic is unacceptable. And as soon as we received the first one and looked at it again – really looked at it – we agreed. If someone engages in any sexual act with anyone without his or her explicit consent, it’s rape...

The first step, however, is to admit our mistake and apologize. That’s what I’m doing here. We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.
Contrast this to The John Hopkins Newsletter's statement about "fat chicks" at a lingerie party, where he writes "Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article."

I have seen numerous examples of college papers running completely inappropriate material, whether it be an opinion piece, a (failed) attempt at satire, or a comic strip like the one described above. Every time, I wonder how it makes it through editing, and I am not familiar enough with how newspapers are run to comment on that. What I can comment on is that only in a culture where sexual assault(under certain circumstances) is trivialized can this type of material make it into print.

I hope that The Exponent uses this as a learning opportunity and uses its influence to fight rape culture at Purdue rather than being a part of it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Enthusiastic Consent and how "yes means yes" can replace "no means no"

I have seen a lot of news stories on consent in the past few week, and in light of the Take Back the Night march that took place here Thursday, I thought I should post about this issue now. And I should start with a trigger warning for discussion around consent and sexual assault.

The most recent news story about consent was with regards to a really terrible incident that happened in British Columbia last week. It is all over the news here, but for readers who haven't heard, a 16 year old girl was drugged and then raped by several boys and men at a party, and pictures of the incident have been spreading online, beginning on facebook. That isn't even the part that has me most outraged. The part that really makes me angry is the very public response to the photos online and even on the news. She is being called names like "whore" and "slut." Some are saying that she asked for it, or that she is exaggerating- it wasn't really rape. Some commenters have even made jokes about it, including "Cmon, whose not down for a gang bang." Someone went so far as to suggest that she is making up the rape accusation because she regrets having slept with all of these people. I can't even begin to imagine what this girl is going through right now (ok, maybe I can begin to imagine), but I am shocked at this response. Having a glass of champagne that happens to be laced with a drug of some sort does not mean that you are consenting to having sex. It also does not mean that you are asking for it. And just because women are often cautioned not to accept drinks from men does not mean that she should have known better. This is NOT her fault.

But I have some ideas about why it is happening. I can think of two reasons, one being the relative anonymity provided by the internet... I'm sure most of these commenters do not know her and do not expect to be identified, and many are just expanding on previous comments. But the more important reason- the reason we can do something about- is the fact that we live in a culture where violence against women is accepted and even celebrated.

Just look at this T-shirt (posted on socimages)

See, non-consensual sex is fine! As long as she doesn't actually have the ability to say no, right?

Here is another example, this time from the show Big Brother. The contestant who ended up coming in second place told a story about a game he likes to play. This game involves a man having his friends come into the room when he is having sex with a woman and forcibly restraining her for 8 seconds so everyone in the room can see her. When Enzo (the contestant who came in third place) asked if that was rape, Lane laughed it off. Even Britney, the only woman remaining in the competition at the time, after saying that she would kill herself if it happened to her, got involved in the description of the game and was joking around about it. As far as I am concerned, if he has done this, he should be in prison.

And there was another incident over the summer that keeps coming back to me as absolutely inexcusable. A young woman was dancing at a Girls Gone Wild party. The cameraman asked her to expose her breasts, and she refused. Another woman came up behind her and pulled down the first woman's shirt with the cameras rolling so that her breasts were captured on tape. When she found out that the incident made it onto one of the movies she decided to sue. Despite the fact that they have her on camera refusing to show her breasts, a jury decided that merely being at the party was a form of consent, and that she did not have the right to keep her shirt on in front of the cameras! Good girls don't go to these parties, and if you do, then I guess you are "asking for it."

There are so many other examples that it is absolutely ridiculous, but I'm not going to describe any more of them here because I believe I have made my point.

I have written at length about sexual harassment as well as the regulation of female bodies in previous posts, and I think this topic just adds to that discussion because it is all based on the same basic premise that women's bodies exist for men... and we need to make it clear that this is not acceptable. I think that the best way to help change this is with the notion of enthusiastic consent. Enthusiastic consent goes far beyond "No means No" and is often described as "Yes Means Yes." Having sex with someone who is not fully capable of consenting is rape. Having sex with someone who you reasonably believe would rather not be having sex at that moment is not following the standard of enthusiastic consent and should therefore be seen as rape as well.

The main difference between these two standards of consent is with regards to responsibility. In the first standard (no means no), the victim is responsible for making it clear that they are not consenting. If they do not yell, kick, fight, and scream, it can be hard to get a conviction. And it is often the case that victims of rape do not realize that what happened to them was in fact rape because they feel they did not make it clear enough that they did not want to participate or that they did something to mislead their rapist into thinking that they might have been "asking for it." If we switch to the standard of enthusiastically consenting, it then becomes the responsibility of both partners to ensure that the other is affirmatively expressing desire to engage in each act that takes place. This can get tricky from a legal perspective, but there is a great post here specifically pertaining to how this can work as a legal standard.

I'm not sure that it will stop every rape from occuring, but I do believe that enthusiastic consent would make victim blaming a thing of the past. I think that if it were adopted as the dominant standard of consent, the previously mentioned examples of rape culture would be different (if they even happened at all). The T-shirt would not be funny, the "8-second game" would end in an arrest and Girls Gone Wild would have lost the lawsuit. And if pictures existed of a girl being raped, they would be turned over to police, not posted on facebook and joked about.

It would also make sex seem less dangerous in many ways. The focus could be on pleasure and communication instead of sexuality being something that is feared and commodified at the same time. Maybe this is still too ideal of a way of thinking... maybe we are too far from that point to make the change right away, but if we start talking to our kids about enthusiastic or affirmative consent (which I plan to write about very soon), then we can hope that it is not that far off for the next generation... but I'm not sure they will get there if they are constantly being exposed to the various other aspects of rape culture.

Tyra bullies contestants in an anti-bullying episode of ANTM

Today, I am going to do a post on reality television, more specifically, this week's episode of America's Next Top Model (which, unfortunately, means admitting that I do watch the show on occasion, lets just pretend it is for research purposes).

This weeks' episode really bothered me. The aspiring models did a photo shoot where they had words written on their bodies, one was a 'bully word' which was supposed to represent names that they were called by others. The other word was supposed to be an empowering word, reframing the bully word into something more positive and powerful. I like the idea of drawing attention to real world problems like bullying, however, I didn't like how it played out. Some of the women were obviously not comfortable with their 'bully word' and others did not seem very genuine (I guess not everyone has experienced bullying). Some of them even had fun with it, laughing at their bully name as though it were all a big joke, whereas others broke down crying at the thought of painting a word that has been used to hurt them so many times on their body.

One woman used the word Queer as her 'bully word' and Free as her 'power word'... it was a beautiful picture, but I wish she had used queer for both in order to further reclaim it, but that is probably hoping for too much on a show like this.

Then, in judging (where the judging panel rips apart the models' photos, poses, and overall appearance), they reverted to name calling. Here are a list of the words and phrases used in the 2 minute judging panel that appeared on television to describe these women
  • dreckitude (This is a new word, which appears to be a combination of Dreck and Attitude. If I am not mistaken, the word Dreck is a German word, something like 'dirty' in English, used as a sexist and classist form of moral regulation)
  • Gauche (can mean socially awkward, or lacking social class)
  • Don't like her muscle (she had awesome biceps)
  • her body does nothing for me (sounds very sexualized)
  • Terrible picture of her
  • she is trying to model
  • hoochie, too overly ripe, almost stale (this woman had large breasts, but was not dressed or posed any more provocatively than many of the other women)
And these comments end with a panel member saying "This has been a wonderful wonderful first, cause it's really social consciousness. I think we helped so many of those young ladies."

Please don't help me Tyra. I'd rather be left out of all of this supposedly therapeutic coming-to-terms-with-bullying than have you and your elite friends tear my body apart like that (yes, I understand that this is a big part of what modelling is about right now, because only perfect female bodies sell clothing, but don't pretend that you are helping these women and fighting bullying when you are picking apart their bodies).

The episode got me thinking about my own experiences of bullying, and I realized that I could not come up with a bully word if I were asked to. I was tormented at school from grades 4-10, especially in grade 7 and 8. Acne combined with good grades and poor social skills led to bullying that made school a frightning experience for me. I would stay up all night worrying about how to try and avoid it the next day or how to convince my mother to let me stay home. Still, I could not take these experiences and sum it up in a single word or a short sentence, it was so much more complicated than that.

And I don't mean this to sound like an afterthought, but I think it needs to be mentioned that there was also a model who appeared as though she might have an eating disorder. She was quite skinny with protruding bones and she discussed being on a strict low calorie diet. Tyra told her to eat some bread and butter before eliminating her from the competition. I'm really hoping that there was more follow up for this contestant than just telling her to eat, because I'm pretty sure that is not how to help someone who may (or may not) have an eating disorder. I would suggest that it is a form of bullying to go up to a skinny person and just tell them to eat; if she is anorexic, it is so much more complicated than just going to the kitchen and buttering a slice of bread.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The gendering of toys at a second hand store

I was trying to pass the time while waiting for my daughter to finish drama class on a rainy day, so I took my son to a used clothing store to let him look at the toys. This has always been a treat for my kids... to go to a consignment shop or a used clothing store and when we were done looking at the things that I wanted to look at, they would play with the toys. One of my favorite things about it was that all of the toys were mixed together, so there was no division based on age or gender of the children who are supposed to play with the toys, like in other toy stores. Much to my disappointment, this is no longer the case.

The section labeled "Girls Toys" contains stuffed animals, toys that are pink or purple in color, dolls and for some reason, board games (although that could partly be because there is room for game shelf here).

These toys include a purple My Little Ponies playhouse, a pink Littlest Petshop playhouse, a Littlest Petshop ice cream parlor, purple secret diary with a key card, jewelry and craft sets, a Bratz toy of some sort, Barbies, Dolls, High School Musical Cheerleading pompoms, skipping ropes, a cooking set and plastic dishes, and many other things that I cannot see or cannot identify (as well as what appears to be an electric drum and black boys dress shoes that I think waere left behind by a shopper, as they don't seem to fit in with the rest of the items). All toys that I have consistently seen gendered as female in advertising. The next picture shows the board games and stuffed animals.

The section labeled "Boys Toys," on the other hand, is a bit different. Although it does contain toys that I would suggest are typically gendered as being for male children (Tonka Truck, monster truck, transformers action figure and various other cars and trucks just to name a few), it also contains many toys that I don't think are typically gendered (Rubix cube, chess set, M&Ms Candy toy, math and reading flashcards, outdoor activities/sports toys, waterguns, keyboards, etc). Not seen in this picture, but still in the boys section, were 3 average lego sets (the kind that was marketed for all children before they came out with pink lego sets for girls).

This is just another example of male as standard or normal, along with the devaluation of all things female. All children are allowed to shop in the boys section. Boys, however, will not find anything suitable in the girls section (thankfully, my son would dispute that.. he loves Littlest Petshop and jewelry crafts). I think this store needs to seriously reconsider this new setup. I just want these toy stores to put everything back together on one big shelf and just let kids be kids.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Explaining privilege to children

Today, I realized that I have to try harder to explain the concept of privilege to my 5 and 7 year old children and I'm not entirely sure how to go about doing this. My 7 year old just came up to me with her shirt up, rubbing her stomach, crying, and said "I'm starving."

I don't like when people who are actually just hungry say that they are starving, but I understand that I need to be somewhat forgiving when children speak. Usually, I just correct her and say "no, you are hungry" and get her a snack. Today, something set me off. Maybe it is because she just ate a rather large dinner followed by dessert only an hour before this comment. She also had a larger than usual breakfast and lunch, followed by a trip to the store with her father for a snack. Is it possible that she was having a growth spurt or something and was legitimately hungry? Yes. But more likely, she was just bored and wanted to eat.

The drama really bothers me. Crying and rubbing her stomach as though she hadn't eaten all day. She is often quite dramatic, such as when she gets hurt or when something exciting happens, but this was beyond excessive.

I told her that she is not starving. I told her that there are children all over the world who have not eaten ANYTHING today, or who have eaten very little, many of whom are not putting up the same fuss as she is. I reminded her that there are children who die because they do not have enough food. I told her that she needs to understand how privileged she is to get 3 meals and 2-4 snacks a day. Every day. I told her that she does not know what it means to be hungry... truly hungry. I am vaguely aware of what it means; I have gone days without eating because I did not have the means to get food, and weeks without eating anything more than a bowl of soup with bread a day from the soup kitchen, but I do not understand what it means to be starving.

I would like to find a book, movie, or even a youtube video that is age appropriate for her. The problem is that most of these films are deeply disturbing for a variety of reasons, often just because they can be incredibly ethnocentric. I want her to understand her privilege.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I read some Marx (and I liked it)

This video was sent to me today and I had to post it...

It is a bit simplistic at times, but then I think that is to be expected when trying to fit a complex theory into song lyrics.


I thought I just wanted to pass;
Good grades were all I cared for.
My college made me take the class
More stuff for me to ignore!
But then I found out that
His theories weren't so bad:
Labor and class combat,
What a very clever man!

I read some Marx, and I liked it;
The friend of the proletariat.
I read some Marx, just to try it;
Hope Adam Smith don't mind it!
It felt so wrong,
It felt so right;
Men of the working class, unite!
I read some Marx, and I liked it;
I liked it!

There is a spectre hanging o'er
The face of Europe!
'Tis communism, and it's more
Than just a social hiccup.
A time will come soon when
The masses rise as one
To carve out their place in
The brand new poetry to come!


Marx is the man, he's working for you;
The bourgeoisie, they just ain't your crew.
Alienation of labor is bad,
Commodification is not a good fad.
The capitalists are greedy you see;
A shorter workday, now that's what we need!
I'm reading some Marx, and I'm liking it;
Rise up now, proletariat!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jacob stores no retouching policy

Jacob has announced a new "no retouching" policy for their ad campaigns. The ads show three photos; the raw image, the slightly re-touched image they plan to use for their campaign, and the fully retouched image that they would have ran before this policy.

According to the press release:
With the launch of its new fall campaign, JACOB has committed to no longer digitally alter the bodies of its models in images for both its JACOB and JACOB Lingerie brands....

“As a socially responsible company, JACOB has always made an effort to promote a healthy image of the female body. By adopting an official policy and broadcasting it publicly, we hope to reverse the trend in digital photo manipulation that has become excessive in our industry,” says spokesperson and Communications Director Cristelle Basmaji. “Our decision to never reshape the bodies of our models is particularly innovative for our JACOB Lingerie campaigns.”

The basis of the new “no retouching” policy is to promote an honest and realistic image of the female body. However, JACOB is not against all forms of touch-ups. Certain digital enhancements cannot be avoided in order to produce an image the size that is required for advertising. In all transparency, JACOB will continue to retouch its photos in some regards, as there will always be a need to calibrate colours for better product representation and to even out skin tone or erase tattoos and scars.

Here is an example

I will concede that the first two images are more realistic than the third. That being said, I would definitely like to draw attention to the fact that we have a young, thin, white model who conforms to all of the dominant beauty norms wearing underwear and high heels to sell clothing. With only one example available at the moment, it is hard to say whether they will promote a "healthy image of the female body" but I am of the opinion that this image isn't it.

This ad campaign is not particularly different from mainstream ads, but I do like that it shows the image as it would be retouched, which hopefully will expose some of the ways that photoshop works in advertising to people who would not otherwise see these before and after images.

I am also a bit upset about the no tattoos or scars policy, as I have written about before, there are times that I think that these 'imperfections' are better than the retouched images would look, but maybe that is just me.

So, is this campaign better than most of the images out there? Yes, it is. It shows how retouching works to raise the standards of beauty to something that is absolutely unattainable to women in real life, which is a good thing. It definitely goes further than most campaigns. But unless the other images that are yet to be released feature models whose appearance varies a bit more from dominant beauty standards, this is not going to be enough to change how women see themselves in any significant way. But it does get them in the news, and get bloggers (such as myself) talking about them, so I'm sure this campaign will at very least help them sell more clothing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anorexia jokes and celebrity diets

***Before reading this post, if you are a person who is triggered by discussions about eating disorders, you might not want to continue. I talk about my personal experience with body image, and unhealthy thoughts that I have had about my appearance, and I want to make sure that writing this does not normalize unhealthy thoughts, but instead informs people who do not have these thoughts where they might come from and how it can feel to be really uncomfortable with your body. I have also deliberately left out things like measurement numbers, actual weight, and comments specific to my body or appearance when it was not integral to my point, because I believe that such comments can encourage the type of thinking that leads to unhealthy body image.***

My brother, in search of a good profile picture, sent me this link that he thought I would find interesting... it is called "11 secrets to taking amazing nude photos"... for the record, he would probably like me to note that he insists all of his photos will be clothed, he was just looking for tips on things like flattering lights and camera angles. The site is a joke site, often in good humor... I used to read it regularly and found some of the columns quite funny, but I stopped reading it a while ago because there is often sexist, misogynist, heteronormative and occasionally even racist humor. This one got me thinking about my own relationship with diet and exercise.

For the purpose of this post, I would like to show tip number 3... and at this point I feel I should include a trigger warning for eating disorders.
Don't eat on shoot day. Have you ever gone a day without eating anything? It completely changes the way you feel. When you look in the mirror, you'll just feel like you look great. It doesn't matter if you weigh 95 pounds or 295... if you go without eating for the day, when you look in the mirror, you'll think you look better.

So don't eat on shoot day. (If you're anorexic, on shoot day, skip the can of Diet Coke for breakfast and lettuce leaf for lunch to avoid third worlding out your belly.)

By not eating, you'll (1) look better without a meal sitting in your belly and (2) more importantly, feel like you look better. It comes back to that confidence thing.

I could understand, maybe, if it said don't eat a heavy meal before the shoot... but this is definitely crossing the line. I, for one, do not feel like I look great if I haven't eaten all day... I feel like I'm going to pass out. If I think I look better when I look in the mirror, it is only because the image is probably getting blurry. Without food, I do not feel confident, I feel sick. It upsets me that women might feel more confident when they are starving. Just look at these quotes from models/actresses...

I don't think there is ever an appropriate time for anorexia humor... it just isn't funny. It is a very serious medical condition that kills women (and men, but mostly women). With websites purposefully encouraging anorexia, it needs to be clear that none of this is funny.

My own struggle with my weight has been quite unhealthy. In grade 4, our teacher had us each go up to the front of the class and weighed us in front of the entire class. We had to write down everybody's weight and make a chart out of the data. To this day, I can tell you how much I weighed when I was 10 years old. There were 4 girls in the class who weighed less than me, and I was jealous of them because, even at that age, I knew that weighing less was a good thing, but only for girls. So my best friend and I would talk about dieting and exercising to lose weight. We would spend our allowances on teens magazines and used them as step by step instructions on how to diet, exercise, and aspired to look like the models from the fashion pages.

This was the same year that a girl in the class started telling me that my butt was so big that I wouldn't fit through a door sideways (I was a gymnast, so I was very muscular). I can remember spending long stretches of time standing on the ledge of the bathtub so that I could see my body in the bathroom mirror and thinking that I looked like a freak... and I was 10 years old. I also remember wishing that I had the willpower to become anorexic, because I thought that would help me. At night, I would resolve to stop eating the next day, then I wouldn't make it past lunch. But I would exercise instead to make up for it; it was about body image, but it was also about control. Did I mention that I was 10 years old?

By the time I was 13, my best friend and I would exercise together and discuss food, weight, boys, fashion, makeup... all of the things that this magazine told us to that we were supposed to think about. We even began counting calories and measuring ourselves regularly to make sure puberty was not making us get bigger.

By grade 8 I was a competitive figure skater. I was really healthy and fit and in great shape, but I hated my legs because they were so thick... it didn't matter that I could press more weight than any of the boys in my class using the leg press, or that I could beat them at the 1500 meter race (the longest in my age category). I was a girl, and girls leg muscles were supposed to be long and lean, and mine weren't lean enough, so I would do a lot of ballet-style stretching and exercising to try and lengthen my muscles.

My first pregnancy was terrifying for me as well. Women are actually supposed to gain weight... but I heard so many horror stories about trying to lose that weight that I was scared to gain it. From the day I found out I was pregnant until the day I gave birth, I gained a total of 12lbs... The doctor had me coming in for weekly visits at 5 months because I was losing weight instead of gaining. I started exercising 5 days postpartum (most doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks). I would go for long walks (10+ km per day at 2 weeks postpartum) with the stroller and work out in my livingroom 2-3 times a day. And people kept complimenting me on getting my pre-baby body back, so I kept at it. And the less control I had over my life (the more abusive my partner became), the more I would exercise.

I am currently the heaviest I have ever been in my life, with the exception of my second pregnancy... which means only that I no longer have to purchase any specific clothing items from the children's section at most stores. I eat... I always have... that is not my issue. I struggle with exercising. I need to figure out how to find a healthy balance. I tend to begin exercising, go all out for a week or two, get scared, and stop altogether. Maybe the healthiest way to do this would be to pick 2 or 3 days a week and only exercise those days. Or to only choose fun ways to exercise, then it is entertaining and not compulsive. I'm not sure... I haven't thought about it much yet. But I can guarantee you that it does not help when I see jokes about how great I will feel if I don't eat for the day. Or quotes from celebrities normalizing unhealthy dieting behaviors. Or ads depicting which standards of beauty I am supposed to conform to.... this list could go on...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Street Harassment comic

This comic, found here, sums up way too many of my experiences.

I could literally tell hundreds of stories about street harassment that I have experienced, one of the most intimidating was a look without any comments at all. I could also tell a few stories about being physically attacked by men who thought that it was ok to force himself on me. I don't think it is fair to try and separate street harassment from physical and sexual violence.

Now, when I am walking in nearly deserted school hallways, I always get that knot in my stomach if there is a man walking behind me. Although it isn't fair to men for me to always assume the worst, it is a much better option than assuming otherwise and getting hurt. This is how it works for me, and I'm sure this is true for many women; we hear about sexual assault a lot, it plays on television, we have been warned about how to protect ourselves since adolescence (if not childhood), we know people who have experienced it, and many of us have experienced it ourselves. Upon hearing comments, such as those depicted in the image above, I am reminded about my position in relation to men. And I am reminded that men are usually stronger than I am. And I am reminded that we live in a culture where the objectification of female bodies is normal. This is why I don't welcome street harrasment, even the most 'innocent' comments.

J (daughter) learned about street harassment when she was only 4 years old. Everyday, when she got home from Junior Kindergarten, we would walk 5 minutes to her brother's daycare and another 5 minutes home. And more often than not, I would get harassed while holding J's hand and pushing a stroller with a 2 year old inside. At first, she thought that people were honking because they knew me, but it didn't take her long to realize that I didn't know that many people. Some comments were difficult to explain, mostly things like whistles, "hey baby" and "want a ride?" but sometimes vulgar comments were made even when I was with my children. And this happens regardless of what I am wearing.

Daring to go outside while female does not mean that my body is public property for men to look at and discuss. It does mean that I have to take added safety measures, compared to most men that I know. It means that I check the backseat before getting into my car. It means that I don't use specific parking lots on campus when I have night classes (which sometimes costs me money). It means that I usually avoid going outside alone at night, and the odd time that I do, I learn rather quickly not to do it again (at least for a while).

And I am not being irrational, as so many people have suggested. This is a real fear, not just for me, but it has been written and blogged about by so many other women... the fact that the above comic exists means that it is something that is really affecting the lives of women. My suggestion for men is that if you want to approach a woman on the street, maybe try holding back and just smiling from a distance. If she maintains eye contact and smiles back, then consider approaching. If she does not, than she is not interested at the moment. That does not mean try harder, it means leave her alone.

How to be a princess

My mother purchased a book for my daughter when she was on vacation in England and Scotland. It is called "The Usborne Princess Handbook: Your Top Secret guide to becoming a True Princess." I think she does this just to annoy me, as she was carefully watching my reaction as she began reading it.

Some of what it says is so awful that I hope it is meant as a joke, but my 7 year old daughter (who is obsessed with all things pink, sparkly, and "princess-like", definitely does not see it as anything other than explicit how-to instructions. In 6 years of trick-or-treating at halloween, she has dressed as a princess 3 times (and Hannah Montana once, which is basically the same thing). So this is serious stuff for her.

I will just type a few specific sentences and phrases that I have found in the limited reading I have done in this book.

Every girl has an inner princess - you just need to find her.
So this book applies to every girl, no exceptions. Tomboys, you aren't looking hard enough.

...there's more to being a princess than traipsing around in tiaras. You also need to know how to behave like one...
It is not about being born into a royal family of some sort... it is about behaving in specific ways. And since every girl has an inner princess, every girl (and woman, presumably) should behave in these ways.

The first step to becoming a princess is to be helpful... polite... and kind to everyone. A true princess never loses her temper... goes off in a huff... or makes a fuss.
Can you imagine a book telling boys that they have to be helpful and kind to everyone? Me neither... Boys are important. They are allowed to make a fuss on occasion. But a good princess must be groomed into taking orders from her father and husband, and giving orders (kindly) to children and servants.

Remember to keep clean! You can only sparkle if you're spotless.
Another double standard. Boys aren't only allowed to be dirty sometimes, but it is expected of them. Boys play in the mud, they play sports, grass stains on boys are an accepted part of life. Girls, however, must sparkle.

Don't cake yourself in make-up. It can be very unattractive.
But there is a limit on how feminine a girl is allowed to look before it crosses a line. We wouldn't want to be too sparkly, lest the princess be mistaken for a prostitute. The Madonna/whore dichotomy is alive and well in children's literature.

As a true princess, you need to be graceful at all times, from the turn of your head to the sweet of your curtsey. That means no tripping, no falling, no slouching, no plodding.
Great advice! It would be horrible for a princess to slouch on occasion... or trip and fall. That would be so unladylike... And again, advice that would never be given to a boy. Boys can't be graceful... that would be a little...

...try not to eat too much, or too fast.
Eating disorders. Let's start them early. Because there is nothing worse than a fat princess.

...the rule is quite simple: princesses don't run.... After all, you have to give the prince of your dreams a chance to rescue you.
Seriously?!? How are you supposed to play if you can't even run? I guess a good princess doesn't need to play sports or a good game of tag, but what does she do for fun other than kissing random frogs in the hopes that one will someday turn into a prince? And what do princesses need rescuing from, exactly? According to the book, things like hairy spiders and fire breathing dragons.

So, princesses (and by princesses I mean all women and girls out there, cause we all have inner princesses, remember), if you see a spider, don't kill it yourself, wait for a prince to come rescue you. And if you see a fire-breathing dragon, do not run away. If you run, how are you going to meet prince charming? Sure, if he isn't on time, the dragon might burn or eat you, but at least you know you died doing everything you could to meet a prince, right?

Thanks mom! (BTW, your other gifts were wonderful and very appreciated, even the purple tartan tights! Who knew I would ever wear tights?). And no, the book has not been banned in our house, we are reading it critically, and I am trying to turn it into a joke about how ridiculous these standards are, whether or not it was meant that way.

Coca-cola closing 3 unionized plants... blames new tax

As if there weren't already enough reasons to boycott coca-cola, there is now another one. According to a Seattle news broadcast this morning, coca-cola is closing 3 plants in Washington (Aberdeen, Bellingham, and Marysville) despite having negotiated with striking workers. These plants will close permanently on September 17th, 2010. Not all of the employees will be laid off, as some will be offered different jobs at nearby plants.... I wonder if the new jobs will still be unionized positions.

The main issue in the strike was the company's attempt to raise insurance premiums for workers. Far from a small increase, workers insurance rate would increase as much as 800% and retirees would no longer be able to buy in to the health care program. Coca-cola cancelled the striking workers' benefits, leaving them without any health care and forcing them to return to work prior to bargaining, which left them in a tough position at the bargaining table. The strikers then filed a class action lawsuit and unfair labour practices against the company for cancelling benefits.

Coca-cola had revenues of $31 billion in 2009. I find it difficult to believe that they could not afford to maintain previous benefit levels or keep these three plants open. The Bellingham plant has been open since 1905.

A company spokeman cited a new tax as a reason for closing plants. This tax will cost them a total of 2 cents per can (that will likely be passed on to consumers).