Friday, October 22, 2010

Students and Class Consciousness: A story from the picketline

There is currently a strike taking place at the university I attend. The workers are part of the medical school on campus, which means that many students take the position that the strike doesn't concern them at all, other than to inconvenience them by making them wait in a short lineup and accept a piece of paper before arriving on campus despite the obvious connections between the medical school and the university more generally.

I am currently a teaching assistant for an intro to sociology course. The professor decided to hold class on the picketline yesterday rather than forcing students to cross in order to write their previously scheduled midterm exam. About two thirds of the class showed up on a very cold day to take part in this class (and witness the year's first snowfall at the same time). There was a really interesting series of events that took place during the class.

Part of my job was to take attendance, and a lineup of students were waiting to sign in. Two young guys were joking around, and one said something like "Imagine if a striker got hit by a car" and they both started laughing. I responded by telling him that several strikers have been hit by vehicles, one even went to the hospital. Keep in mind that because strikers must be off university property, the person who is going up to cars to hand out information and talk to drivers is in the middle of an intersection. The two students stopped laughing, but I'm not sure if they really thought much of it.

The professor asked how many of them would be interested in walking the picketline with the workers, and less than 10 of the 60 students present raised their hands, the rest agreed to watch from the side after the mini-lecture and conduct participant observation.

About 10 minutes later, a driver refused to stop for the picketers walking across the road at the entrace to campus. As the car inched forward slowly, one young male worker stood his ground and refused to get out of the way of the vehicle. The car drove slowly into his legs and continued to drive forward, pushing the striker backwards. He turned around, presumably so that the car was on the back of his legs so they would bend instead of break, the car continued to drive forwards, pushing the striker another 2 feet forward and he was almost seated on the hood of the car from being pushed. Meanwhile, a dozen strikers on the line were yelling at the driver to stop, and another striker ran accross the street to get the police officer who was nearby. When the police officer came, he pulled the driver over and made him wait for about 10 minutes while he talked to him (and hopefully wrote a ticket).

The students watched this transpire, some looked horrified by the event, others amused, but I think it affected most of the people who saw it in some way. After the lecture, most of them spent some time walking the picketline with the strikers and very few stood on the sidelines to watch. Seeing one piece of the abuse that these striking workers face every day seemed to bring about a form of class consciousness (or at very least solidarity) that was not there previously.

Now, if only I could find a way to take this experience and bring it on campus to show other students that we need to support these workers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Heterosexism, Homophobia and "It Gets Better"

I have been watching the news (and various TV programs, as well as reading blogs and news articles) covering the recent deaths of several gay teens and young men. Like so many others, I am saddened and outraged that the suicide rate is so high for this group. I also would like to mention that it is not any higher than usual this month, there has just been media coverage stemming from the circumstances surrounding Tyler Clementi's death. I would also be curious to investigate whether this is also the case with other queer groups... I know the suicide rate is astronomical for transgendered people, but I haven't seen any reports of lesbian suicides over the past month and am not as aware of what these statistics might look like.

Many celebrities, in an attempt to prevent more suicides, have began a campaign entitled the "It gets better" project. I am happy that they are trying to help, and I am glad that so much attention is being brought to the issue, but I have some problems with the concept of it gets better. I feel like I need to add a disclaimer of some sort, because I don't want this to come across as being overly cynical... I think this campaign is important to continue, despite what I am about to write. I think that it is a good start to opening up debate on bullying, especially in relation to people who identify as LGBTQ (I never know how many more letters to add here). And I think that it could conceivably help to save some lives. That being said, I think that it is quite limited and limiting, and should be opened up into a broader campaign to make things better now, instead of getting people to hope that it will get better for them someday.

To me, it is almost like they are condoning the bullying (which is far from their intention). They are saying that it won't last forever, but it can come across as "yes, kids will be cruel, but when they are all grown up, you will be able to find a niche within society where you can fit in most of the time." Note that it is not saying that broader society becomes more accepting, only that these celebrities have found a place where they fit without the bullying.

Another teen committed suicide right after a city council meeting, when after having been told that it would get better, he realized that some things never change when he heard adults giving homophobic arguments opposing LGBT awareness month.

My uncle has told me (and anyone else who will listen) that non-hetero lifestyles are wrong because his God said that a man should be with a woman. Yet, his god is fine with him emotionally abusing his wife, and his god is fine with him being financially abusive to his family, and his god is fine with him screaming at my sister (who, due to a mental illness and past trauma cannot handle loud noises or angry people). I am all for people believing in whatever they want to believe, but I don't want a god who is ok with being cruel to people, but not ok with allowing two consenting adults to have a relationship because they have the wrong genitals for each other. (after reading this part back, I want to note that I am not saying that he is representative of religious people or any religion specifically, merely an example of how things, in my life, have not always gotten better).

As I was walking to the bus stop this morning with my 5 and 8 year old children, I am pretty sure a neighbor yelled a homophobic slur at me. It wasn't loud enough to be clear, and I am a bit on edge due to a really upsetting bullying incident that I faced at the co-op earlier this week, but even if I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, I can't think of what else she might have said. And when I told my best friend about this, his response was that I should be more careful who I tell that I am queer. I understand that he means well, he is concerned about me and trying to protect me, but why should I have to live closeted or in fear? I have not had girlfriends over to my house or done anything for people to label me as gay (not that it would matter if I did), but I have told a few people in private conversation when it came up because I don't feel like it is something that I should need to hide. My sexuality is such a huge topic of discussion for community gossip that people who I don't even recognize know that I am The Gay person in the co-op.

Do people get better? I am not so sure... It is not something that I have to face everyday, so maybe it does get better... but does it ever end?

Overall, the people in my life are generally more accepting than they were highschool, not because it gets better, but because I spend most of my time at university. I study in the social sciences and work in an academic union, where people are generally open to all kinds of things that are not accepted throughout some areas of broader society.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, which said that instead of "it gets better" maybe we should change slogans to "make it better." I would suggest reading the post, especially if you are interested in this from the point of view of someone who Taught While Gay (brilliant... I only hope my kids get a teacher like this).

Why should we ask children to tolerate the bullying at all, even if it does get better? How do we accept that any child anywhere is being bullied for sexual orientation, nevermind when it is this widespread. What is the most insulting word that you can call a teenage boy? I'm guessing most would say it is a gay slur or feminine term (you probably know which ones I am talking about, I'm not going to repeat them here, that is not what my blog is about).

So, how do we fix this, if not by telling children that it gets better and hoping that someday it actually will? It seems so simple... end institutional forms of heterosexism. Sarah Silverman made an excellent point when she said
Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can't serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you're telling that to kids too. So don't be fucking shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they're different. They learned it from watching you.

What we learn from instutionalized heterosexism is that to be queer is to be different. And if we are different, than we can be treated differently. And because the assumption that we are somehow different is taken as common sense, then it becomes ok to say that it will get better eventually, instead of making it better for everyone NOW.

Bad photoshopping on the cover of Maxim

Check out the cover of Maxim. Does it look normal too you? Look closely at Avril Levigne's right arm. But as long as her waist is unnaturally skinny, I guess it is ok. Gotta love photoshop!

I haven't actually seen the cover, but saw the story here


Monday, October 11, 2010

Why the justice system doesn't work, as a comic

The comic doesn't exactly provide any answers, but the critique is good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

facebook memes... for breast cancer?

I like it on the livingroom floor

I like it on the kitchen counter

I like it on the table

What am I talking about? Well, breast cancer awareness of course! Posting the location of your purse on facebook raises awareness about breast cancer. And of course, sexuality must be implied to get attention... for the cause, right?

At least the bra colour meme from last year was somehow linked to breasts... this one is a ridiculous.

My purse status was "I like to open it and actually give money (and time) to support a specific cause rather than re-posting inane memes that use sexual innuendo to get attention while pretending that purses are somehow linked to breast cancer... BTW, cancer is not sexy, even when it has to do with parts of the female anatomy"

I could tell you that the cell phone case that I usually carry instead of a purse is on the coffee table. Or the schoolbag I carry when I need more room is on the floor. Or the purses that I rarely use are in a cabinet. But how does that help raise awareness for breast cancer?

And why is it that breast cancer is the "sexy" way to support women's issues? It isn't bad enough that any product in existence, colored pink like toys designed for little girls, is meant to support breast cancer, but now we have to show off how sexy breasts are at the same time. Advertisements tell men that they should care about breast cancer because they like breasts... not because women are dying and not supporting the leading cause of death in women (cardiovascular disease- hearts are not sexy)... simply because men like breasts.

What, other than breast cancer do these ads have in common?

Using a cartoon sex symbol as a spokesperson...

I know I like to box in uncomfortable lingerie...

Nudity is common in these ads

And T-shirts like this one don't even pretend to be about a woman... just boobs.

In my opinion, they are as much about sexualizing and objectifying women as they are about trying to get money for researching breast cancer.

Don't do this research to save women's (and some men's) lives because you value women as people, or because they have a right to expect researchers in related fields to look for a cure. Support this research because you like breasts, and breasts happen to be attached to women.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mother blaming and conceptions of normal child behavior

I really haven't had much time for posting lately, which means I have missed some really important events (like the Ontario court decision to strike down laws that are harmful to sex workers). In this post, I will be discussing one of the many reasons why I haven't had time to post (other than grad school, union work, teaching, and all of the other work involved with being
a single mother with two children).

My son has always been a bit different in comparison to other kids his age, but I just thought that was his personality. I thought he was just shy when he wouldn't come out of a closet at a new daycare for a couple hours, or when he went more than 2 weeks without speaking to daycare workers and still won't make eye contact with them. I thought he was just a mama's boy when, at the age of 5, he still wants me to carry him a lot and will cry if he doesn't sit beside me in a restaurant. And I thought he was just really interested in art and building when he spent hours working on puzzles, coloring, or playing with lego without breaking concentration. I never really saw it as a sign that something might be wrong. Actually, I find him to be very intelligent, artistic, affectionate (with me, anyway), and even funny (like when he tells his only joke over and over again- knock knock, who's there, why'd the chicken cross the road- laughter).

But, after a few problems at school, I went to a referral agency to be connected to free services in the area that might help with parenting strategies, and after a few lengthy tests, they want me to have him assessed for Aspergers.

Now, I don't know much about Aspergers other than reading a few websites and watching a season of the TV show Parenthood, where one of the children has it and I've heard the writers and actor are quite realistic with this portrayal. I don't know what a diagnosis would mean about things like the possibility of discrimination within the school system. As a sociology major, I don't like labels and I am uneasy about the idea of giving a label to my child (yes, I know many sociologists are all about labels and categories, but that is not how I do sociology). But as a parent who has been raising him alone for years without understanding why I can't get him to listen to simple rules, this seems to offer an explanation and new strategies to deal with his behavior.

But I have been having some trouble figuring out how I feel about it. My first instinct is relief. Relief that it is not my fault that he is acting up. Relief that my family and his teachers and behavioral therapists will no longer look at me as though I am not a capable parent, that I am too strict or too lenient, that I am just not good enough. Relief that I will not be told that I need to drop out of school to control my kid (yes, that was suggested by a behavioral therapist). Relief that I am not to blame when he acts up. Then I feel guilt. Guilty that part of me hopes that this is what is going on with him, because it is not something that is likely to go away the way shyness could. That being said, the limited knowledge that I have suggests that Aspergers would have a better prognosis than the previous suggestion that he might have Oppositional Defiant Disorder along with Obsessive Compulsive tendencies. Have I mentioned that I really despise labels?

So, what I am now trying to figure out is how can I move beyond always feeling guilty about parenting. His father doesn't feel guilty about only seeing him for 1-2 hours a week. His father doesn't feel like his lack of parenting has contributed to the problems he's been having at school and daycare. His father thinks it is because I am not a good enough parent. This is a sentiment that, although changing, I still hear echoed throughout pop culture and from teachers and family members. I feel the same way about mother blaming as I do about labels. And yet, I still always blame myself.

I guess the big question that I am facing right now is whether it is in his best interest to try and get a diagnosis. I am hesitant because I have trouble conceptualizing what Aspergers really is. I mean, it isn't something that simply shows up on an x-ray or some other physical test, but a name that covers a group of behaviors that differ from how "normal" children are "supposed to" behave. I understand that categories and classifications can be useful, but I am still trying to locate information on the benefits of not getting an official diagnosis as well.

And, to bring in a bit of a class analysis, I would like to point out that if I had a few thousand dollars to throw around, I could get the diagnosis rather quickly. I could also get all kinds of help without a diagnosis, if I wanted to pay for it. However, as a student who is surviving on a scholarship meant to support a single person and not a family, he might need an official diagnosis before I could access many of the support programs available.