Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beauty ads in feminist articles

Don't you love how posts that are supposed to help with self-esteem contain ads or links that do just the opposite?

In the following picture, an article on helping children value thier inner beauty is accompanied by a link to another article called "How to get Victoria Beckham's Legs" at the top and centre of the page.

Girls' self-esteem will not be helped by tips on how to get the best-looking legs possible. Also, I think that we should move away from the term "inner beauty" and use an entirely different word. The concept of inner beauty as being something that we should strive to achieve suggests that the word "beauty" is important, and I don't think that we can ever move beyond dominant conceptions of beauty while using this word.

Similarly, this is one of my favourite feminist blogs, called feministing, but it has ads on the top of it; this particular ad being for eliminating belly fat.

I am guessing that they don't get to choose who advertises on this space. I am also quite sure that the writer of the article about girls' self-esteem did not pick the articles that are linked on that page. But it annoys me that this content can be so difficult to avoid, even when reading articles or blogs that are considered to be feminist and are actually trying to fight against these problems.

murderers, occupiers and mobsters, oh my!

I couldn't sleep last night, so I turned the tv on and the news was playing. I almost never watch the news, but last night I decided to keep it on while I tried to sleep. A news story about hackers came on that I found particularly annoying. The video is here, but I'm not sure how long the link will work for.

First, they showed a person using a smartphone, then went on to talk about the dangers of web connected cars; apparently hackers can unlock them or even apply the brakes when you are driving. Seriously, I'm not sure which hackers with the sophistication to break into car computer systems are going to want to apply the brakes to your vehicle. But, be afraid, relatively wealthy people with computerized cars, very afraid.

Here is where it really pissed me off. Check out this quote...
far more dangerous are the threats to embedded medical devices. A hacker could stop an insulin pump, turn it on, and drain all of it's contents. Banks are also being warned about the occupy movement, that they might team up with so-called hack-tivist groups
So, they bring up the occupy movement right after talking about a way that this hacking could be life threatening. They don't actually link the two together, but they definitely do not break up these to sections. So you go straight from thinking about how hackers can kill people to learning that the occupy movement might team up with hackers.

Then, just in case we aren't afraid of the occupy movement yet, the next sentence goes on to talk about crime syndicates getting your banking passwords, and how we can protect ourselves against these cyber threats.

So, murderers, occupiers, mobsters. Great links to make.

Those in power are afraid of occupiers, so they have to make sure that everyone else is too because if they weren't afraid of us, the system as we know it would have to change.

Thanks CTV news.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crossdressing as a form of humor

This post is inspired by criticisms of a new sitcom (here), that I am actually not going to talk about at all, but figured that I would mention...

Yesterday, when I arrived at daycare to pick up my kids, two boys (about 10 years old) were dressed up as girls, wearing sleeveless dresses and high heeled shoes from the dress up bin.

This, in and of itself, is not a problem. I love when kids play dress up, I have a wide array of dress up clothes in a dress up toy box at home and there are no gender rules when it comes to who can wear what costumes. The problem that I had was with regards to how they were wearing the clothes, the way this was seen as humorous by the other kids, and the reasons behind this humour.

At first, I tried to tell myself that it was the element of it being unexpected that was funny to the kids... like when I make used to make my kids laugh, as toddlers, by putting one of their toys on my head like a hat or by using a shoe like a telephone and pretending to be confused when it didn't work. But I think this is more than that... little girls at the daycare dress up in men's clothing all the time, wearing suit jackets and ties or a variety of other outfits that are gendered as masculine. I have yet to witness this being seen as funny. But as soon as these boys came out of the change room in dresses and heels, the daycare exploded in laughter.

If femininity was equal to masculinity within society, this would not be funny. It becomes funny for boys to wear strapless dresses, high heeled shoes, and to walk with exaggerated hip motions because femininity has less value than masculinity, and the children at daycare know it.

I'm not saying that drag is misogynist, I love drag for a variety of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post, but I am mentioning this to differentiate someone who is gendered as male dressing in ways designated for females as a joke and those who do it for reasons related to gender identity, expression, or to expose problems with the gender binary (among other reasons).

I believe that for someone who is gendered as a male to dress in female clothing for humor (with some exceptions)is not unlike a white person wearing blackface; it is someone from a dominant group making fun of an oppressed or marginalized group.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution this specific issue would be... I don't think it would be appropriate or helpful for daycare workers to enforce gendered dress up rules; gender policing would make things worse, not better. But I do think that education could help, try to teach children why it isn't funny. I also think that the only real solution would be to end patriarchal social relations that lead to this being funny in the first place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gender and Sleds

I was looking at sleds for a possible christmas gift for my children, and was annoyed with the gendering of these sleds. There were a total of 12 sleds at the department store I went to; one was wooden, one was a pink and purple Dora the Explorer sled (meant for young girls) and the other 10 were various "boys" sleds... Bakugon (if you don't know what this is, consider yourself lucky) Spiderman, Ironman, and other such comic-type characters that I did not recognize in battle ready positions. Apparently girls don't go sliding as much as boys.

Even the helmets for when they are sliding/snowboarding, had only one option meant for girls, being disney princess (which my 9 year old has outgrown) and tons of "boys" options. Luckily, one of those was a rather plain black and white one that I felt was relatively non-gender specific.

Also, I am wondering what the implications are regarding the infantalization of girls, as Dora is geared towards preschoolers whereas comic books are typically meant for older kids.

Now, I have nothing against getting my daughter a spiderman sled, but my son would think it was for him and I'm not sure my daughter would like it... she's all about the pink and frilly. She rides her brother's Marvel comic book sled all the time, but I'm not sure how she would feel about owning one. It seems as though it doesn't matter how much I tell them that these products are needlessly gendered, I am only one voice, and their peers and the media tells them otherwise.

I am not advocating for making a bunch of pink sleds for girls to ride... All I wanted was a sled in pretty much any colour that didn't appear as though it were being marketed only to children of one specific gender. I'm sure I can research it online and get the kind of sled I am looking for, so I'm not posting this looking for sled advice, just commenting on the annoying gendered sleds.

Friday, December 16, 2011

psychology today on vaginas

I saw an article entitled "15 crazy things about vaginas" through facebook that i thought of writing about, then a friend brought up the article in conversation, and I decided to go ahead with this post (found here)

Here are a few comments on some of the points.

1. Pubic hair is not just a biological accident that forces us to the waxing salon. It serves three critical functions. First, it protects the delicate vagina. Second, it serves as a reproductive billboard to alert potential mates that you are biologically (if not emotionally) prepared to procreate. And last, it's a pheromone carpet and traps the scents that lead potential mates to the promised land. So you might think twice before you shave it all off. It's there for a reason. Embrace it.

So, the first reason, which seems to be the most important is talked about in passing, without saying how or why it protects... but sociobiological arguments that have nothing to do with how we currently have sex are emphasized and appear to be more important.

3. The average vagina is 3-4 inches long, but fear not if your guy is hung like a horse. The vagina can expand by 200% when sexually aroused, kind of like a balloon. Remember, the vagina was made to birth babies, so it's exceedingly
elastic. If you have pain when getting it on with someone large, you can use
dilators to help stretch the vagina so you can accommodate the whole package.

Hetero-centric. Vaginas exist for penises. And if the penis doesn't fit, the answer isn't to have different types of sex, but to learn to accommodate it.

5. Yes, it's true -- your vagina can fall out. Not to belabor the sock metaphor, but it can turn inside out just like a worn out sweat sock and hang between your legs as you get older. But don't fret; this condition -- called pelvic prolapse -- can be fixed.

Isn't that a pretty thought? So many things that we can talk about without having to make women's bodies seem even more disgusting... warn out sweat sock? Really?

6. Vaginas have something in common with sharks. Both contain squalene, a substance that exists in both shark livers and natural vaginal lubricant. (Cue music: "She's a maneater...")
Ewww... vaginas are disgusting... and psychology today is misogynist. I'm not sure how they get away with the maneater comment.

7. You can catch sexually transmitted diseases even if you use a condom. Sorry to break it to you, but the skin of the vulva can still touch infectious skin of the scrotum -- and BAM! Warts. Herpes. Molluscum contagiosum. Pubic lice. So pick your partners carefully.

This is the first practical thing that was said, but again, very heterocentric.

8. The average length of the labia minora is less than ¾ inch long (yes, someone got out a ruler and measured 2981 women). Only 1.8% of women have labia longer than 1 ½ inches. But remember, every vulva is different and special. Some lips
hang down. Some are tucked up neatly inside. Some are long. Some are short. Some are even. Some aren't. All are beautiful. You're perfect just the way you are.
If you don't want to make one type seem preferable to another, why use words like "neatly"? Also, they tell us what normal is with statistics and measurements and everything, then say not to worry if we aren't normal. If we don't want to worry about not looking "normal", why tell us what "normal" is in the first place?

11. Only about 30% of women have orgasms from intercourse alone. The clitoris is where the action is. Most women who do orgasm during sex have figured out how to hit their sweet spot, either from positioning or from direct stimulation of the clitoris with fingers.


13. Vaginal farts (some call them "queefs" or "varts") happen to almost all women at one time or another, especially during sex or other forms of exercise.
So don't be embarrassed if your hooha lets out a toot. You're perfectly normal.
I don't not trust anyone that refers to a vagina as a hooha.

15. Safe sex (or even just orgasm alone) is good for you. Benefits include lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, reducing your risk of breast
cancer, bolstering your immune system, helping you sleep, making you appear more youthful, improving your fitness, regulating menstrual cycles, relieving menstrual cramps, helping with chronic pain, reducing the risk of depression, lowering stress levels, and improving self esteem. So go at it, girlfriends!

I'm confused about the separation of safe sex and "even just orgasm alone". To me, this gives an assumption about what counts as sex (vaginal intercourse)... I think it should say something more like "sex and masturbation are good for you." Also, why is it "just orgasm alone"... prioritizing certain acts above others? Maybe this is unintentional, but this kind of language can shape how we think about sex.

This is an example of why I sometimes really don't like psychology as a discipline. The idea that these medical "experts" get to shape so much of what we know and how we know it. The underlying assumptions in this article, such as heterosexuality and what counts as sex, never have to be explicitly stated, and come to shape what we "know" and how we think. Hopefully this pop psychology is far worse than academic psychology. Also, I don't mean to offend psychologists as a whole because I know some that do fantastic work and I know some sociologists who do terrible work.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Would you like fries with that diploma?

This is a comic I made for a zine, using my campus map and attempting to turn it into a factory pumping students through on a conveyor belt to McJobs or unemployement.

I have been reading and thinking a lot about privatization within universities lately. Maybe not universities so much as within the particular institution that I currently attend. In the almost 6 years I have been here, I have seen so many changes occur, and like many academics, I am getting increasingly concerned about the future of my program and university educations more generally.

I have done a few presentations lately on the cuts within the university, and the main point that I have been trying to get across is that this is an organized attack on the quality of education and the quality of jobs on campus in the name of profits.

My university, like many others, has been changing from a public institution of knowledge to a private service where students purchase a degree and investors purchase research. Within neoliberalism, an attack on the idea of public goods is rather typical -- whether it be education, health care or social services -- the idea of publicly funded anything is counter to neoliberal ideologies, and for the wealthy to become as rich as possible these ideals must permeate into other areas of our social worlds.

With regards to employment on campus, there have been many changes. The highest paid positions are increasingly becoming even more high paid (our president just recieved a $79,000 wage increase) and the lowest are becoming even lower paid (from full-time to part-time). The combined salaries of the 10 highest paid people in the university are higher than all 240 GTAs combined. This past summer, 25 unionized positions were cut, as they were deemed redundant, and yet they are being replaced by contract workers. There are rumors that there will be another 25 jobs cut this coming summer.

The cuts to services on campus have been terrible. We went from having 6 counsellors to 2, and there is currently a 4 week wait to talk to someone. Tutoring services used to be free for all students; now they only exist for those with special needs and the rest of the work falls to GTAs and professors. There used to be a shuttle to take students around campus, as the parking lot is quite far from some of the buildings and it is sometimes -40 degrees in January and February, but this shuttle was cancelled despite rising parking costs.

My undergraduate program was quite small. When I started, there were about 10 full-time faculty and several sessionals. Last year, there were 6 full-time faculty and many sessional professors. Next year, it looks like we may only have 2-3 full-time faculty as well as fewer sessionals than in previous years. We are also be one of the only sociology programs that I have heard of that does not have a (non-sessional) female professor!

If these were strictly cost-saving measures, as the university claims, cuts would be felt across the board. There would be no raises or bonuses for upper admin, and there certainly would not be more upper administrators right now than there was 3 years ago.

One of the reasons I think this is happening is because of the change from universities being run by academics to them being run by business people. The current president was just named one of Canada's top 40 people under 40, and has a background in business. He does not have a PhD, and has no experience teaching in universities. How can we expect that the needs of educators will be met when those making the big decisions are not educators, but business people trained to make a profit? Our university is not a corporation, and I resent it being run like one.

Another consequence of this is what happens to academics. Academic freedom is lost. Researchers only take up certain types of studies because searching for knowledge is no longer funded. Those that speak out against certain companies or corporatization more generally can be reprimanded as it can affect corporate donations. So, business friendly administrators receive profit and power while employees see eroding wages and working conditions and students see diminished quality and access.

The only way to fight back against an organized attack like this one is with a coordinated response. Students and workers will have to work together across campuses if we expect any kind of meaningful change.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jokes where men get raped still aren't funny

In case it isn't clear from the title, this image could be triggering for some people. I sometimes question whether I should include the image, because I don't want anyone reading it uncritically, but I also feel as though I cannot talk about it in any detail without including it... I apologize in advance if anyone is offended by it (I sure as hell was).

I saw this on a memebase site, and I just want to reiterate that rape jokes in which men are the victims are still not funny. The point of this "trolling" site is to do things to deliberately trick or annoy people, sometimes they are very funny, but they sometimes really cross a line.

It's simple, both parties should enthusiastically consent to sex, and that this consent needs to be ongoing. If one party changes their mind and the other continues, it is sexual assault. It doesn't matter why the other party changes their mind, just that they changed it. The thought of what this would actually look like makes me a little sick to my stomach.

Male victims of sexual assault have the lowest reporting rate because it is often not thought to be serious when it happens (the whole can't-rape-the-willing bullshit). This can make it incredibly difficult for male victims of sexual assault. Females sexually assaulting males is relatively uncommon, especially compared to statistics with women, trans people or children as the victims or male on male assaults, but it does happen and it is not funny. Let's stop complicated things... if any of the involved parties do not want to be involved for whatever reason, it is assault.

I also wrote about a similar "joke" here, but it had the woman as the victim.

Position Troll - The Rodeo

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wente, poor men, and the mancession

Wente has done it again, with another brilliant article on what is wrong with the world... or at least the country... found here.

In this article, she talks about how men in Canada have it so rough because of our "mancession" (when men do not have jobs, but apparently women do).

If you ask Statistics Canada, men have a slightly higher unemployment rate than women (8.7% for men, 7.2% for women in 2010). That is only part of the story, however, because when you look at the employment rate, men's is much higher.

When men are not gainfully employed, it is a crisis because "without work, there's no path to manhood" (according to Wente). I could go on about the implications on manhood here, but suffice to say that it must suck to be gendered as male during an economic recession when the only way to become a "man" is through paid employment.

When women are not employed in the paid workforce, it is often called being a wife and/or mother, or taking a break in one's career to raise a family.

According to Wente;
the biggest economic challenge we face today is not income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth among the top 1 per cent. It’s the increasing failure of young men with high-school degrees or less to latch on to the world of work.

Make up your mind Wente, you are confusing me!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Assault prevention tips for men

I have seen this before, and I am pretty sure I posted about it like 2 years ago, but now it comes as a pretty picture that is being circulated on facebook!

I think my biggest critique is that number 7 should be highlighted... maybe put as the first or last one or something because, statistically speaking, it reflects the most frequent assaults.

I hope this points to how absurd some of the ways that we ask women to regulate their behaviours to prevent assault actually are. Reading this still makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time... at first, it seems kind of funny, the "rules" are so absurd that I almost want to laugh, but then I remember that they are written down here because there are a lot of men (and women, but mostly men) that don't follow these simple rules.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sexism and neoliberal language in comments from the Wente article

Overall, most of the response I have received about the article in the Globe and Mail has been quite supportive, but not all of it. I may actually need to start screening comments, thanks to Margaret Wente. Last night, this message came in;

You got completely pwned! You're just another moron with an MA is Queer Theory...and you thought you were going to land a job in a non-profit...what a loser!

I wonder what qualifies this person to start judging others for bettering themselves and getting a degree. Not that it matters, but my MA is in sociology (or applied social research) and my main topic is access to education... I'm not sure where this queer theory stuff comes from, except that I post about it often on this blog.

Similarly, on the Globe comments, there have been people who have jumped to this assumption that I am a typical "welfare mom" without ever bothering to find out more about my individual circumstances.

I have read relatively few comments (there are about 2000 of them in total right now), and it seems as though most of the comments are about Wente's article being terrible - bad ideas and poor journalism. However, I am intrigued by some of the negative comments about me. As soon as the words "single mother" come up, certain types of comments begin.

One commenter suggested that the only way for me to earn money with a liberal arts degree is if I have a nice rack and can work at hooters. Do I even need to point out how sexist, objectifying and degrading this assumption is?

Another suggested that I go on Maury and have my kids' paternity tested so that I can collect child support. I was married, I do know who fathered my children. And the commenters do not know whether or not I receive child support at all.

And my favorite comment was along similar lines. After asking whether or not I knew the "stud" who "did the deed," this brilliant Globe reader went on to say "I am glad to know her name (and hope she does not change it) as under NO circumstances do I want such an idiot applying for a job in my company"

A reader then replied (I would love to find out who this was) informing that commenter that I am "a brainy person who won a ton of scholarships" and then said "I think you are pretty safe she would have nothing in common with your business"

These comments are sexist in many ways. If it were my ex-husband, as a single father, being retrained for an education, would his decisions be put on trial like this? Or would he be seen as a saint for taking care of his own children? But then, when he was injured and laid off, he was handed a financial package for retraining through Second Careers were he could get another degree debt-free, so I guess he would not have found himself in the same situation. I could not access second careers because being a stay-at-home-mom and a housewife is not a first career, even when done within the bounds of the nuclear family.

I have also been amazed by the ideology behind some of the comments. Even people who think that I was unfairly attacked sometimes write about how sociology used to be a viable option, but is no longer a productive way to contribute to society. Contributing to society means earning money, clearly. We should all find jobs that conform to capitalist and business needs.

Does anybody bother to question why it is that a liberal arts degree "is worth nothing?" (as so many commenters' stated)?

What sociology does, for me anyway, is make visible the social relations that are behind structures that appear to be naturally existing - such as capitalism itself. Throughout the liberal arts, we can trace out how capitalism developed and why it emerged as it did. We can see that it is not naturally existing, it is not ahistorical, and it is not the only successful option that has ever been presented. This is not good for business.

Through sociology, we can also look at the systemic forms of oppression that are being used to benefit those who are at the top of the hierarchy within neoliberal capitalism. We can look at how the moral regulation of single mothers (such as the comments I wrote about here) serve to uphold the status quo. We can look at how sexism, heterosexism, racism, ableism, and social class (among other factors) work to uphold a system where some people have everything they need (such as Wente) as they are born into wealth. Others, such as myself, are vilified for bad choices.

As long as they can pin poverty on the poor, the government can continue to funnel more and more money tax breaks for wealthy corporations. Commenters are quick to point out that a portion of my tuition comes from the government or that my subsidized childcare is paid for by their taxes. Do they realize that RRSP contributions for middle class families cost the government more than post-secondary education? Or social assistance? Or daycare? But, like wealthy corporations, the middle class are not seen as dependent on "the system". Why is that? I think that Wente, and her corporate friends, are even more dependent on "the system" than I am. And that is why they have to work so hard to get the rest of us working against our own interests, which is why her article exists in the first place.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A second post about Wente

I have read this article by Margaret Wente a few times over now, and I am still trying to put together exactly how horrible I think it is. In this post, I am going to respond rather directly to her arguments, although most of them are so absurd that I don't think it is all that necessary, and I will soon write a post about the broader implications of these neoliberal attitudes, especially with respect to single mother students, which, coincidently, is directly related to my thesis research.

The article is about how I am representative of Occupy Toronto (funny, since I have been critical of the movement here and here, but how would she know that, not making any effort to contact me... and I'm not even from Toronto), and it is condemning me personally for getting a degree in sociology, for being a single mother, and for wanting to find work that would involve helping the poor at the expense of the rich.

First of all, according to wikipedia, Wente was born into a wealthy family. She is the 1% (possibly even the 0.01%). It is no wonder that she is fighting back against a movement that is questioning the idea of wealth.

Also, she has a master's degree in English from the University of Toronto... how is that any different from my degree in sociology? Are there lineups of jobs for English majors? If so, can you point me in that direction because I have a few friends in that field who have been looking for work (as well as fields like mechanical engineering, which she indicates is a better option for people looking for work). Or is it ok for her to get an arts degree because she is independently wealthy?

She writes
[I am] in a fix. But I can’t help wondering whether she, and not the greedy Wall Street bankers, is the author of her own misfortune. Just what kind of jobs did she imagine are on offer for freshly minted sociology graduates? Did she bother to ask?

Yes, in fact, I did. Moving to sociology from social work was a decision that took me more than a year to come to. I am afraid to think about what the world would be like if everyone in the critical parts of social sciences and humanities decided to (was forced to) abandon their degrees because jobs might be hard to come by... it would be like Orwell's 1984! Or if arts degrees were only attainable to those who sought to uphold the status quo.

I think it is absolutely crucial that we have people earning degrees in sociology, political science, philosophy, history, english, as well as other critical disciplines. I believe what is learned in these disciplines is more important than ever right now, as neoliberal views (such as her own) bombard the media and try to get us all to think like business majors bent on helping wealthy corporations profit at our own expense.

I also really don't care that a lot of the job opportunities available are funded by the government. It's as if she doesn't realize that the money spent on these jobs (or that used to be spent, might be more apt) is money that comes from all of us, not just herself and her wealthy friends.

She refers to me as the "virtueocracy"

The class of people who expect to find self-fulfillment (and a comfortable living) in non-profit or government work, by saving the planet, rescuing the poor and regulating the rest of us. They are what the social critic Christopher Lasch called the “new class” of “therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy.”

First of all, I resent being referred to as a cop in any form, but that is definitely not the biggest problem with this article. I am not sure why rescuing the poor has to come at the expense of regulating the rest of us. What about the ways that the rich are becoming richer at the expense of regulating the rest of us? Just look at the housing crisis in the US or the banking industry more generally.

Wente was right about one thing - she writes that "this social model no longer works". It doesn't- neither the neo-liberal model that she is advocating for, nor the "liberal democracy" in which we have been living. Both have failed. But without the theory and knowledge that comes from disciplines like sociology (or the social sciences and humanities more broadly), how will we ever be able to see the ways in which the poor are being regulated by the super-rich, and how would we conceive of a way out of this mess? Oh, wait... that's the point.

So, who is to blame for the economic crisis? Luckily for us, she answers this question;
It’s not the greedy Wall Street bankers who destroyed these people’s hopes. It’s the virtueocracy itself. It’s the people who constructed a benefit-heavy entitlement system whose costs can no longer be sustained. It’s the politicians and union leaders who made reckless pension promises that are now bankrupting cities and states. It’s the socially progressive policy-makers in the U.S. who declared that everyone, even those with no visible means of support, should be able to own a home with no money down, courtesy of their government. In Canada, it’s the social progressives who assure us we can keep on consuming all the health care we want, even as the costs squeeze out other public goods.
If my research on single mothers and social policy has taught me anything, it's that we no longer feel entitled to benefits - if we ever did. We feel shamed at every process of applying for benefits, and shamed for working at low-paid jobs, and shamed for not being able to fit into the ideal of the nuclear family through tactics such as Wente's article. But you know who does feel entitled to benefits- corporations through tax breaks and corporate tax cuts. They are not shamed into thinking they are leaching off "the system". And why can the costs of social benefits no longer be sustained? Might it have something to do with the redistribution of wealth?

And Wente, being Wente, has to throw in a dig to the unions, of course. It is always the fault of us high paid unionized employees. The cushy public sector jobs, right? Well, I'm the president of a union local in one of those cushy public sector locals, and about three-quarters of the membership is barely clearing minimum wage, we don't have benefits or pensions - and we all have university degrees! But you know who is making more - upper admin are making as much as 3 to 4 times the salary they did a decade ago. But they don't have a union, so they can't be to blame. It's my fault for bargaining that clause ensuring that we don't have to pay out of pocket for teaching material that is to blame.

We are also blaming the US housing crisis, but not because of "socially progressive policy-makers", but big banks who concocted a scheme that would allow them to make even more money off the poor which is widely believed to be a huge factor in causing this recession! Doesn't it take two people to go into a loan? The borrower only wants to live the "American dream" and provide a home for their family, believing that because they work hard, they will make it soon. The lender knows just how much the mortgage rate will go up, and must know that they won't be able to pay it. I don't know how she can even make this claim in a newspaper.

And, as for health care in Canada, if we were to put more money into the social determinants of health, such as poverty - nutrition, housing conditions, education, etc- we would save on health care in the long run. But putting that same money into wealthy corporations in the form of tax breaks only serves to pad the pockets of people who are already wealthy and has been shown not to create jobs.

Also, when she says that I didn't bring my children to the protest because I was worried about security... what I really said was that I was worried that the police would arrest all of the occupiers and that would traumatize my children. I had no fear AT ALL over their safety with respect to other occupiers. It was the first night of Occupy Toronto and we were not sure whether the police would let us stay in the park overnight. And for the commenters' that asked if my kids were in subsidized daycare when I was protesting... No, they were with family. Funny that their first assumption is that they were at daycare and not the kids' father or something.

The biggest problem that I see with this whole article is that she completely ignores the systemic and structural barriers surrounding the topic.... the entire post is classist and sexist, which is something I will get to in my next post (probably Wednesday).

I am Margaret Wente's new target!

Now I'm officially a leftist... personally attacked by Margaret Wente in the Globe!
Did it occur to her that it might be a good idea to figure out how to support her children before she had them?
Not that this necessarily matters, or any mother should be shamed for having children, regardless of the circumstances upon which they became a single mother, but I was married to a welder, who had a good job. I owned a house. We had two children. Then, he had an affair. So I left him and went back to school to better myself.

I started in social work, where there are a lot of good jobs, but found myself being taught how to fix people to conform to the system. I wanted to fix the system. That's how I fell in love with sociology, and why i decided to go for my master's degree.

But, like she said (about me)
If she’d only applied a bit more critical thinking to herself, she might be able to pay the rent.
Anyway, an awesome facebook group just popped up called "I blame Margaret Wente" with the caption

Margaret Wente believes that Occupiers are blaming the wrong people in identifying capitalism as a fundamental problem. She says "It’s not the greedy Wall Street bankers who destroyed these people’s hopes. It’s the virtueocracy itself. "

Well, if Wente can pick the "virtueocracy" to blame, I'm going blame her. And capitalism. But I'm especially going to blame her for her badly-argued, feebly-researched, mean, system-apologist excuses for "journalism." Because surely she is responsible for at least that.

Won't you join me? This week, whenever we identify some wrong in the world, some injustice, some oppression, some situation whereby some groups of people mysteriously end up immiserated in relation to others, let's blame Wente

Also, I will write more about the educational aspect of this either this evening or tomorrow!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A debate on communism

I had a debate with a friend on facebook last weekend that I thought was worth posting some reflections on, as a similar topic has come up in my blog comments section recently - at least in the context of openly calling oneself a communist. To me, this particular debate seems to be over what communism actually means, and on separating the history of what has been called communism from what communism actually is or can be. I have heard many of these argument many times, so I wanted to focus on these a little bit.

For obvious reasons, I cannot post all 39 comments, but I hope to get the point of the argument across as best I can.

The original status update was
Why is it that when I talk to a person who associates themselves with the right I get called a communist? And when I talk to a person who associates themselves with left I get called a libertarian? Come on now. I am better morally than either of the two possibilities that have been presented. Communism leads to totalitarianism. Libertarianism is absolutely oppressive. Fuck both of them, I want a new ideal to strive for.

My response;
communism does not necessarily lead to totalitarianism... that is just how it has played out on certain occasions.

So he said;
at risk of sounding like a neoliberal--which is not what I'm promoting at all--communism is absolute tyranny over individual. It requires that your needs be the same as everybody else, it requires a homogeneity of thought that impinges the creative process. There is nothing desirable about the equality that the communist promotes. I would prefer a principle which limits oppression over the individual, rather than increases it.

I have heard this argument many times. That communism cannot account for individual differences, which I think is absurd. How does capitalism account for individual differences? By upholding sexist, racist, heterosexism, ageist and ableist hierarchies?

And how would communism create any kind of homogeneity of thought impinging on the creative process when so many Marxist work is based on the creative capacities of the people or on reaching our full human potential? To me, capitalism (and any form of organizing with differential power relations) requires a homogeneity of thought... as Marx says "the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch ruling ideas". If workers didn't uphold the ideas of the ruling class, they would revolt.

I was on my cell phone at this time and had limited ability to respond, but I wrote;

it is a misconception that communism would require homogeneity. Look at the famous quote "from each according to ability to each according to need". Difference is accounted for. Your argument is like saying you don't like cats because they're yellow. It makes no sense! Don't confuse Stalinist Russia with communism.

So ,he was offended by the cat comment... which, in retrospect, was kind of rude, but I thought it made a certain point. In his next response, he argues that communism requires giving absolute power to a small group who are supposed to act in the best interest of the people, and then says

Dismantle the power of the few and you have yourself a properly functioning democracy. Which is way better than communism for sure.

ummm... that's what the communism I imagine would look like... a "properly functioning democracy," not hoping a few people will act in everyone's best interest. So I said

Its not communism if a small group has power. Communism only exists if wealth and power are held by everyone. As soon as the heirarchies between powerful and powerless (or less powerful) begin to develop, you have something else entirely being called communism.

Still not accepting the difference between communism and what has been passed off as communism on specific occasions, he used Russia as The Historical Example of why communism is inherently wrong using Nietzche's will-to-power to back up his point.

These "historical" arguments using one specific example of communism not working to show why communism will never work might be the thing that annoys me most about arguments on whether or not it is feasible. And I responded by saying

You are looking at history selectively. Some communist states did not turn totalitarian- some were overtaken by capitalism through war others fell apart for other reasons (our "civalization" being forced on to them for example), some near-communist societies do exist (zapatistas). I will accept that honest attempts at communism haven't worked out, and that some attempts were not actually attempting communism, but I don't think that (or nietzche) proves definitively that communism is impossible.

I could keep going and show the rest of the arguments here, which continued to bring up Nietzche, but I don't think it is relevant to my post (or in the interest of keeping people reading my blog when the posts are too long).

I think the main point of this post is that several of these arguments play out all the time and I am tired of them because they don't make sense.

1. Stalinist Russia was not a communist state. It's demise does not prove communism to be impossible.

2. Different ideas are not only possible, but encouraged, in a communist state. Communism does not require everyone to do the same thing, think the same thing, have the same needs, or go back to a technology free society where nobody gets anything that we might consider a luxury (another common assumption).

3. Communism does not give power to a few people to make decisions for everyone. Communism would require full democratic participation.

I could really dissect the debate and come up with dozens of misconceptions that tend to play out on a regular basis, but, I am going to stop with these three for now. Feel free to add your own in the comments section if there is a common argument that you find particularly annoying.

I think these misconceptions are part of why so many people who I might consider to be communists do not embrace the term "communism." And, if we don't start using the word more often, how are we going to change these misconceptions?

Edited to add: A friend pointed out that this is somewhat simplistic, and I thought I should acknowledge that they are correct... I could turn this into three (or more) separate posts and make it far more nuanced and whatnot, and I might someday do that, but for now, this piece that does oversimplify some things will have to do!

Skirts in women's boxing

I am opposed to the olympics for many reasons, and rarely write about sports (with this exception) but I just saw a BBC article that pissed me off... apparently, in order to distinguish female boxers from males at the olympics, the regulatory body is considering making them wear skirts! At this time, skirts are optional in most places.

Poland has already made it compulsory for female boxers to wear skirts, saying that it is more "elegant". Because it is essential that women be elegant all the time.

Here is a picture of one of the skirts, although there are also longer, less frilly ones available.

Is it really such a big deal if television viewers cannot tell men and women apart at first glance? And do women really look more "elegant" punching each other while wearing skirts? Can we also enforce pink gloves, headgear that allows us to see their perfectly made up faces (which they should not be able to punch because we wouldn't want anyone's lipstick to smear) and of course, stilettos! Have to get as many straight male viewers as possible!

To me, this is another example of male-as-normal and female-as-other. We can do the same stuff... no complaining, because look, we are in the olympics now, just like men. But, really, those governing bodies have to find a way to make what women do less serious than men, and objectify us whenever possible in that process.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Liberal feminist princess storybook not quite good enough

I bought my daughter a book from the Women's bookstore in Toronto called "Don't Kiss the Frog; Princess Stories with Attitude" figuring that it would be a feminist book about princesses (if one should ever exist). Overall, it is pretty good... the princess does not always end up with the prince, and takes a rather active role in most of the stories.

I feel like I'm being extremely picky here, all things considered, but one part of story entitled "The Princess and the P.E" really bothered me.

A frog, using a whistle, helped a princess who was worried about her athletic skills learn how to jump really high and run really fast (this appeared to all happen in the span of a few minutes, because we don't need to work hard to improve our athletic skills or anything, we just need someone to blow a whistle at just the right moment). Anyway, afterwards, he said

"I'll be your best friend... just kiss me"

and the story goes

So Wendy bent down and kissed the frog. She didn't really want to, but after all, he had been very kind to her -- and he didn't really have more warts on his face than princess Viola.

At which point the frog turned into a prince, offered to be her handsome prince, but he was wearing gym clothes and was all muddy, so when he went to hug her, she ran away.

I can't stand that this book had her kiss the frog when she didn't want to because he had been so nice to her. I am trying to read it in a more progressive way, like she realized that she shouldn't have kissed him and that's why she ran away or something or that this will teach girls not to kiss the boy if they don't want to, I don't know.

Still, boy is nice to girl, asks for a kiss, girl feels obligated to oblige even though she states that she doesn't want to. Not the message I want my child reading.

Also, would she have ran from the hug if he had been a handsome prince, instead of a smelly prince covered in mud and wearing gym clothes? Does that even matter?

Either way, it all reads so date-rape-y to me. As I was reading it, I was so disgusted by it that we paused twice to talk about enthusiastic consent and what the effects of having this storyline in a supposedly empowering book could be. I'm concerned that reading this uncritically will make it seem normal to my children... and I think that the media does a good enough job getting that message across.

Overall, the book is a very liberal feminist piece of work. The princesses do not need a prince to rescue them, because girls can defeat the dragon and win jousting competitions, and only sometimes end up falling in love with the prince. But, this happens just because they try hard enough - it seems like pure luck or something (or a frog blew a whistle).

Even the back cover of the book is very "modern liberated woman"
For the princesses in this book, the old rules no longer apply. They might still wear tiaras, but they do things their own way!
Take the role formerly had by the prince (wining sports trophies, saving people from dragons, etc), throw in a bit of you-are-still-not-as-good-as-men, (the previously described frog-kissing scene) and make sure to maintain the need to differentiate yourself from others by wearing your tiara, a symbol of femininity and class, and convince girls that everything is ok!

The message seems to be that girls can be independent and still attract a prince. And that as long as you continue to be strong and independent, you will have a happy ending... and maybe this is too much to ask for from a children's book, but at least some of the Disney-type princess stories seem to have evidence of structural barriers (Mulan, for example, cannot join the army because she is a girl). This book seems to send the message that everything is ok just the way things are. And if you don't get a happily ever after, maybe you just aren't independent enough.

Still, this is far better than most princess stories the kids have read, and this rather harsh critique feels like I'm being overly picky in a lot of ways, but these attitudes camouflaged as feminism scare me far more than overt sexism, as my 9 year old can describe the sexism or class issues in Disney, but the reviews for this book seem to suggest that pretty much everyone is reading it as empowering towards girls. I'm just not sure this liberal brand of empowerment is what we should be striving for.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Further reflections on the occupy movement

I have spent the better part of two days at Occupy Sudbury, and two days before that at Occupy Toronto… that hardly makes me an expert, but I have heard some reoccurring questions that I want to address here.

What is it I think this movement can do?

First and foremost, in my opinion, is that it opens up space for dialogue. I often talk about politics in my everyday interactions with people, but I often read that talking about controversial things like politics is not polite in certain situations. I have friends that never talk about politics, which saddens me… politics are so much fun to talk about!

In my last post about the occupy movement, I talked about Weber, and in this one, I will discuss another theorist that I almost never use in my own academic work; Habermas! Hopefully I don't simplify this so much that I am not doing his work justice, but basically, what he said was that within the public sphere, which is a public space not controlled by the state, people could engage in conversation and exchange views and knowledge and that this undistorted communication could lead to liberation. However, through the mass media and mass consumption (as well is bureaucracy and excessive rationality among other things) we lose our ability to think critically about the state.

The space that has been created by the occupy movement, and how it has been used for political discussions, has reminded me of my third year sociological theory prof's lecture on Habermas. There are a lot of problems with his work - for instance, whereas Habermas thinks that opening up this space for communication could allow people to speak freely about politics, I would argue that we really need to put more emphasis on the social and economic hierarchies that shape how we view the world and how we can talk about it… speech, in a racialized, patriarchal, capitalist society will likely never be free from distorting influences such as social power, and this is something I keep bringing back into our conversations at the occupy sites (such as in my critique that most of the leaders-who-are-not seem to be young, charismatic, white men). Anyway, it just amuses me when every day experiences bring to mind lectures or readings that I haven't really thought of in years.

So, back to the question of what I want this movement to do. What I hope it is currently starting to do is expose some of the social relations involved in aspects of our economic and political system that have been reified to the point where they seem like naturally existing structures without any alternatives. We created capitalism. It is not a thing that has always existed... it hasn't even been around very long. We made it. We can end it or we can change it.

In order to want to do so, we have to expose so many of the ideas that we have come to think are true, but are really just ideologies that serve to uphold capitalism. Ideas like poverty being caused by individual flaws, we need to get rid of the language associated with "helping the poor" and "handouts" (which were used last weekend by some very progressive people in the group).

These imply that certain people deserve everything they have gotten within capitalism, but should help others who are less fortunate. This is problematic because it upholds the capitalist system.

The other question I hear a lot of is with regards to solutions… let's just say that the education part works, then what?

Here is where I come into problems... I simply don't know what the answer would be. But I think that is a good thing because I don't think that any one person has that answer. Nick Dyer-Witheford writes about using people's creative capacities to come up with something better - a new way of organizing. I like this idea, we can learn from previous movements - what has worked and what hasn't - and build from there.

I do think it has to be everyone working together. The workers movement was quieted by dividing us up into trade unions without the capacity to organize together and support all workers. It is difficult to frame this movement in a way that all people are being included, that reparations are being made to certain groups, that decisions are being made while considering the specific needs of groups, the ways that the current political, economic and social relations are affecting the ways that we are able to participate in this movement.

As a sidenote, also relating to Nick Dyer-Witheford's work, I love how we are using tools of capitalism against itself within this organizing. Using facebook, twitter, youtube, blogs, etc. to get the messages out to so many people.

It is very early in the organizing process. There are so many possibilities. And I believe that the problems within the movement are easier to talk about now, while it is still new, as opposed to later, when things become more entrenched and the social relations become hidden in routine processes.

Still, at the same time I am having trouble working in a movement with so many people with such diverse opinions. I enjoy the dialogue, and I am usually good at respecting the fact that people have different beliefs and ideas and that everyone's are just as valid as my own… but sometimes I hear things that make me cringe at just how problematic I think they are (granted, I'm sure there are people there who do the same when I speak)... I should add, are not reflective of the movement as a whole, just a few opinions that keep popping up either here or in Toronto, or both.

1. The national anthem.

I was not there when they sang this in Toronto, but I was shocked when I heard about it. Indigenous communities were torn apart by European settlers and that these communities are still struggling in a variety of ways. The national anthem is a colonial song - it celebrates a colonial nation. There were indigenous peoples present objecting to it, but it was sung anyway.

Then, in the local occupy movement, it was played in a youtube video right before an indigenous drumming circle, which fostered more than a few discussions yesterday afternoon at the occupy site about whether this is a sign of "solidarity and friendship" or whether it is colonial and disrespectful. Neither side won, but the people advocating for fostering friendship and solidarity agreed to check with elders in the community.

And, on top of colonial implications, nationalism does nothing to help support what should be viewed as a global movement.

2. "The police are our friends."

The police are not our friends. Individual officers do make up the 99% in that they do not have huge sums of money that influence decision making on a legislative level, but, as a group, they do have a considerable amount of power. Yes, they smile and act friendly towards us, and I am not necessarily opposed to us doing the same, but remember, when they get their orders to arrest us, the power they have will become very evident. This also has other implications, where certain groups are more likely to have problems with the police than others (such as indigenous people).

Still, the local police have told us that they support us, and we don't exactly have large numbers of people at the occupy site at the moment, so I wouldn't advocate for anything that is is too anti-police. But don't think of them as friends or allies.

3. The word "violence" is thrown around.

"No using violence... like yelling at police officers or breaking things". Now, I agree that the protest is probably best off being peaceful, especially because we are trying to build public support, but I object to using the word "violence" when referring to damaging property or speaking loudly. For police actions to be considered violent, there has to be bodily harm inflicted... why do we not have the same standard. I'm not saying that we should damage property... I think that doing so would likely halt the movement through mass arrests and outrage against the 'violent' and 'threatening' protesters. I just think we should reframe how we are conceiving of violence and use different language when we are talking about these issues. Property damage is not violence (unless someone is likely to get hurt).

4. Lastly was the phrase "the most important thing is..." at facilitation/organizing meetings. To me, the most important thing for a facilitating meeting is to work out the logistics to create a space that will foster discussion and allow occupiers to have necessary amenities (bathrooms, food, shelter, warmth, etc.). If you are coming to the facilitation meetings to talk about how the most important thing is promoting electoral reform or climate change or whatever else you think it is, then I believe we are going about this the wrong way. What makes the occupy movement so amazing is that it can bring in so many people with diverse experiences. Your specific soap box argument is not the point of a facilitation meeting (and yes, I understand that using my soap box - this blog - as a means to convey this statement can be seen as ironic, or even somewhat hypocritical, but my point stands).

And now I will set aside some of this cynicism, make a few more kick ass signs (thus far, I have carried a sign with a Marx quote "What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers" and one I have carried before in Toronto "there's no war like class war"- which I would love to nuance, but a sign does not allow for that). I will be back at the occupy site this afternoon for the rush hour road-side demonstration I can't wait until we have enough people to have a march like in Toronto.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gender in Disney films

This topic has been covered a lot, by a lot of people, but I came across two good pieces this week that I wanted to post. First was this image (found here);

This image emphasizes the importance of women being pretty and reliance on men within Disney films, in some of the characters that little girls idolize most.

This film (found here) shows masculinity in disney films.

My favorite piece from it was this quote.
It's much more a question in creating a certain environment of images that we grow up in and become used to and after a while those images will begin to shape what we know and what we understand about the world... it's a slow accumulative affect and it's much more subtle.
I don't blame Disney for sexism by any means, but I think this quote is very true. These images become seen as normal and gendered practices that exist throughout the media become entrenched in our thinking as naturally gendered behaviours based on real biological differences, when in fact, many (if not all) of these differences are social constructs.

What concerns me most is when I watch television programming that is currently geared towards young children... the gender stereotyping on the Disney channel, which airs sitcom-like television programs for kids is way more blatant than in any of these movies, in my opinion.

No always means no.

I saw this image on graphjam a few minutes ago. In my opinion, it should never have been posted.

When she says no, she does not mean yes, EVER. When she says no, she means no, and that is the end of it. The entire circle should be green, not just that little green part at the top that looks like it occupies about 10%. The "something something something feelings" is irrelevant... it is just no.

I'm not even going to get into the implications of this kind of thinking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quick vent about kids and consumerism

My 8 year old daughter asked if she could purchase a book from the book fair, and I told her I would go with her after school to get it, but I have to get cash first. She was concerned it would be gone and asked if she could bring her own money. When I told her she didn't have enough money for it, she asked if she could bring her money to buy something else - like she might have enough money for a pen or some other gadget or trinket being sold.

I let her take it because it is her money and she saved it herself, but this bothers me. We are so into the idea of buying something that we will bring money to a store (or bookfair) without a concept of what we need or wish to purchase, just for the point of finding something that we might happen to want. In our house, this item will usually end up buried in a corner within 2 days and never seen again.

I think Hannah Montana and The Suite Life are beating me when it comes to consumer education.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Toronto; Why I could not participate in a movement to restore democracy

I am currently working on a more theoretical piece about the occupy everything movement, including issues around the ideas of whether this is a reform or revolutionary movement, that I hope to post in a day or two, but this one is about a few specific issues that I encountered while trying to participate in Toronto this past weekend.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend occupy Toronto. A group of students at the university I attend managed to get funding for a school bus and 18 of us set out to participate in this movement. I have been following Occupy Wall St for a while, and was thrilled to be participating in what I hoped would become a revolutionary movement. I had these romanticized notions of what it would look like and who would be involved. I do not have such notions anymore, and I will try and describe some of the reasons why, but I do still have hope that the occupy everything movement can work through these problems.

When we arrived in Toronto, we were among the first to set up the tent and we were full of anticipation about what exactly was happening and how it would work. The first problem I encountered was called the people's mic. Basically, how it works, is when someone wants to get a message out to the group, they yell "mic check" repeatedly, and the people around them echo the words in fragmented sentences to get the message to the entire group. This was incredibly difficult for me... the first time it happened, the chorus of voices coming from all sides (to announce a general assembly taking place in a few hours) was so loud and overwhelming that I actually found myself cowering... I was literally crouched on the ground in a ball with my hands over my ears and I was shaking.

I tried to find out more about the people's mic. Apparently, it is being used in New York because voice amplification is illegal. It is not necessary in Canada because there are no laws restricting the use of megaphones; at least not in Toronto (I'm not sure if other municipalities have such bylaws). It is also used because it does not require any power; amps require generators and megaphones have batteries. Still, I spent the next 18 hours trying to find someone who was part of an accessibility committee that may or may not have existed at the time, and in that process encountered 4 other people with the exact same issue as myself (3 of whom packed up their tent and left on the first day) as well as dozens of people who had trouble hearing and understanding what was being said.

I have no knowledge of what happened at Saturday's meetings because I was unable to participate... actually, I have very little recollection of the meeting at all, other than having met one of my favourite writers, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and my absolute favourite blogger, although the stress from the noise around me was such that I can't even remember what he looked like, nevermind what was said.

When I eventually did encounter someone who was part of the accessibility committee, they brought the issue to the beginning of the next General Assembly. A few people argued vehemently for abandoning the people's mic in order to make the meeting accessible to everyone, providing that everyone present could hear what was happening through the megaphone. Others argued that we continue to use the people's mic until we get to the part on the agenda (I don't know who came up with the agenda or how) where we discuss motions. This seemed contrary to they had just finished making about how any form of discrimination including racism, sexism, heterosexism and ABLEISM would not be tolerated. In the end, they decided that the people's mic would be used from now on and if anyone was not able to participate, they could self-identify and watch on a live feed from a tent on the other side of the park.

This felt like a form of segregation to me. I will not be returning to that park until/unless I can participate in the meetings... if people could not hear the megaphone, that would be understandable, but I cannot comprehend their reason for keeping it (partly because I couldn't participate in the discussion on whether or not to use it, as the discussion was done with the people's mic) other than it being some kind of tradition-based thing brought from New York. If someone has a good argument for keeping it, please let me know. Also, how was this decision made as a "consensus" when those it was affecting most were unable to participate in the discussion?

As for the issue of consensus more generally, I believe they really were trying. Still, it seemed as though those who were facilitating the assemblies were almost entirely white men. I do not blame this on the movement, but on the current climate where certain people are given more authority. Now, I'm not one to site Weber very often, but notions of his idea of charismatic authority kept coming to mind when these leaders-who-are-not-leaders spoke. It also brought to mind a quote from Marx's A Critique of the Gotha Program;
What we are dealing with here is a communist society [not really- at least not yet], not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges (1981).
I am not sure what the answer is to avoid the leaders-who-are-not problem, or to encourage people from marginalized positions into these facilitating roles. I know that the group encourages minorities to get involved as much as possible, but when the meeting was attended by a sea of young white university students, it might be hard to find people to fill those spaces. So, the question becomes, how do we reach out to them and include them, and how do we move past the notions of privilege and authority that are so entrenched in our minds that these movements often participate in them while actively trying to reject them?

Also, while I was walking around outside of the park in the evening, I noticed homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk near the park. I think we need to figure out why they weren't in the park itself, because this should be their movement. How do we get the people who are most in need to participate?

While on the topic of consensus, there were a lot of issues figuring out exactly what consensus meant. An example was with regards to Sunday's march. The action committee decided to propose that we march at 3:00. Someone proposed that we march on the sidewalk and obey traffic signals. Other people, myself included, were opposed to this idea; we are marching on public streets - OUR streets - we should not do so following their laws. Some debate ensued. It was suggested that we postpone the walk until this discussion had been figured out. Someone else suggested, in the name of consensus, that those who want to march did so, and those who did not want to march stayed behind. This is not consensus. I had to leave at this point because of the people's mic issues, but the discussion went on for several hours and a march did take place, I am assuming based on a decision that I am assuming was made on a consensus basis (by those who were able to participate). It is a minor issue, but these are the types of things that, if handled in an appropriate manner, would probably work themselves out over time as the group got accustomed to the idea of consensus organizing. Still, if we don't have full participation, than even a unanimous decision isn't really a consensus.

It is very early in the organizing process. There are so many possibilities. And I believe that the problems within the movement are easier to talk about now, while it is still new, as opposed to later, when things become more entrenched and the social relations become hidden in routine processes.

So, the question I continue to ask myself is whether this movement represents my own beliefs as an activist and as someone who engages in Marxist/anarchist social theorizing... and the answer I keep coming to is not quite... but it could be. I am supportive of it, and will continue trying to be involved in any way I can.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We are the 99 percent

I was talking to my 8 year old about Occupy Wall St. and the supporting occupations that have popped up around the world. Then, we looked at the website for We Are the 99%. She decided to make her own sign and she asked me to put it on my blog.

In case you can't see it, the top says "Riche" (french for rich) and has a picture of two nicely dressed people throwing money up in the air. The bottom half says "poor" and has what she described as "ninety-nine sad faces." She said that she is doing this because it isn't fair that the rich people have so much money when there are so many poor people.

Also, you can barely see her face (which I told her was a requirement for posting this, as I don't want her face online) she is trying to make a sad face in the picture, but kept laughing when she saw the camera.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My dentist is Katy Perry

I might not be posting for a few days, as I am not trusting my ability to write coherently on pain meds, and I just had major dental surgery. However, I feel it is imperative that I tell all of my loyal readers (yes, both of you) about the experience of waking up from anaesthetic!

Apparently, the first thing I did after waking up was look at my partner and say "my dentist is Katy Perry"

She responded by asking whether the dentist was playing Katy Perry music, and I shook my head and went back to sleep.

Just thought you should know that even when I am unconscious, I am thinking about pop culture! And I really really really don't like Katy Perry, and not just because I can now blame her for my swollen face, sore mouth, and inability to eat solid foods.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The ludicrously far-fetched task of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps!

I was sitting in a student workspace with a group of undergrads the other day talking about politics. The conversation got around to power and the notion of empowerment, in that the poor should be able to empower themselves to get out of their situation... although I don't think anyone was defending that position. Anyway, someone mentioned the phrase "to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps". We had all heard the phrase before, but none of us were aware of where it came from.

It is often used by politically conservative people to discuss the notion of helping oneself overcome a difficult situation... like, someone may be poor, but if they were to just try harder, work harder, and be persistent, they can get themselves out of the situation without needing any help from other people, charities, or government support.

First, we google imaged "bootstraps" to see what they were. This is what I found;

So, originally, bootstraps were meant to help you pull on your boots (there are also things called bootstraps that are more decorative straps around the ankle).

One of the people in the group started actually acting out a scene of trying to pull themselves up off of the ground from these bootstraps. Needless to say, it didn't work and we came to the conclusion that doing this would almost always result in the person falling on their ass.

I suggested we look at the etymology of the phrase. According to Wiktionary (I know, truly reliable source...), it originally implied that something somebody was attempting or has claimed was "ludicrously far-fetched or impossible."

So, I now agree with the premise that, for many people who live in poverty, getting out of it would be as simple as pulling oneself up by their bootstraps, as in, the claim that you just have to work hard enough and it will pay off (see Oprah or Sam Walton for examples) is ludicrously far-fetched.

Also, I haven't really looked any further into how the change happened (as in, no explanation showed up on the first few pages of a few google searches), but this is what I would like to think happened. I would like to think that some cool activist made up a satirical speech (A Modest Proposal style speech) and it used the phrase in the same capacity that it is used now as a way of talking to the poor... and the rich folks didn't get it... they still aren't in on the joke.

Apparently, acknowledging that gay and trans people exist "confuses" children!

This image ran as a full page ad in the National Post.

I am almost amused by some of their arguments... the right hand column has a few items that appear to be taken directly from the curriculum... here are the examples of "bad" things for kids to learn;

Discuss ways to challenge these notions so that people have more choice in who they are and what they want to do

Read some traditional folk tales and fairy tales with the class. Have students write/illustrate their own “gender-bending” versions

The class discusses the significance of Toronto’s annual Pride Week celebrations

Search imagines of Pride Week… make posters for the [school board] float and/or school bus that are in the Pride Parade. Additionally, students could have their own Pride Parade at their school

My only question is where do I sign my kids up for this kind of education, and can we have it in all grades and all schools? At first I thought it was a joke, like, using good arguments to make the opposite point of what it appeared to be making, but their website suggests these are their actual arguments.

Edited to add:

I just came across this response ad here... I can't figure out how to embed the picture, but check out the link!