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.