Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaching Assistants do not 'work'

Apparently, graduate teaching assistantships are not jobs. They are not "positions". They are developmental opportunities that have been created to benefit the learning experiences of graduate students in the university. So, I guess instead of trying to get a collective agreement, we should be bowing down and kissing their feet for giving us the opportunity to develop skills.

I'm trying to think about just what the implications would be of not being considered an employee... I'm pretty sure they aren't good... Any thoughts?

On another note, I really don't like being too busy to get into detailed posting... I can't wait until things slow down next week!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Facebook anti-bullying message

I've seen this facebook status come up a few times now;

A 15 year old girl holds her 1 year old son; people call her a slut. But no one knows she was raped at 13. People call a girl fat; no one knows she has a serious disease that causes her to be overweight. People call an old man ugly; no one knows he had a serious injury to his face while serving our country in Vietnam. Re-post this if your against bullying and stereotyping!!!! I bet none of you will post this!!!

So, this meme is meant to be supportive and have the best of intentions, but it seems off to me. It is as if it is saying that it is not ok to be a slut or to be fat or ugly, but not to make fun of people for it unless you know for sure that it isn't their fault.

When I first saw this post, I responded by saying that I was a teen mom from a consensual act... does that mean it is acceptable to call me a slut?

I get that the point of this status is that the stereotypes that you first jump to in order to explain why people look or act a certain way may not actually capture their lived experience, and I think that is an important point... for example, if one happens to come across someone who is overweight, the first assumptions are usually that the person eats too much unhealthy food and does not exercise. If this status can make a few people think about other possibilities before passing judgement, then that is great. But what it doesn't do is challenge the way we think about what is desirable and what is not.

What if there were no judgements allocated to being deemed promiscuous, unattractive or overweight by a specific set of standards? Instead of trying to justify why some people might exist in a way that we deem undesirable, what if we could come up with a post that would express an anti-bullying statement that was about actual acceptance?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Roller Derby: To play or not to play...

Sister Slag battles Ottawa-based Rideau Valley Girls at season opener. Photo by Carrissa Peach.
(photo found here)

On Saturday I went to the local roller derby team's first game. I really wasn't sure what to expect. On television, half the time the women look powerful and strong, the other half of the time they look highly sexualized and objectified. I have been looking for a sport to participate in for a while now, and since I used to be a competitive figure skater, roller derby seemed like an appropriate chance to draw on those skills and do a sport that could also be powerful. That being said, I will not allow myself to be objectified by spectators.

At first, I wasn't sure what to think about it. It is a contact sport and the first thing that comes to mind is that when men play contact sports, they wear a lot of padding (think of hockey and American football, for example), whereas women in roller derby have only a helmet, mouth guard and knee and elbow pads to protect them. I wonder if the level of protective equipment would be different if it were a "male" sport. Yes, men do play roller derby, and when they do they wear the same safety equipment (with t-shirts and longer, baggy shorts), but I wonder if that has to do with not wanting to seem weaker than the women... although I could be looking way too much into this aspect of the sport.

Either way, what this suggests to me is that patriarchy is involved in some very real ways. Women are being put on display while they are kicking ass. On one hand, this bothers me because I really want to make sure I don't play into that, on the other hand, opportunities for me to have fun, stay fit, and meet other women are somewhat constrained by the time and work involved in grad school and parenting.

Although dressed in relatively revealing clothing, the Rideau Valley Girls looked powerful, not sensual (as a sidenote, using the word girls for these women also annoys me). The team members looked fit and strong and usually wore really cool tights with shorts on top. The tights were a multitude of colours and patterns and just didn't fit into the box of what I would consider sexualized clothing. They also had several women with tattoos, piercings, and non-traditional types of make up that didn't play into dominant standards of attractiveness.

Approximately half of the women on the local team seemed to wear heteronormative and much more sexualized clothing - some were wearing things like micro-mini skirts, fishnet tights with shorts so short as to make the bottom half of their bum visible, and frilly panties with garter straps hanging down. Now, I am all for enjoying being a sexual being, and I have worn mini skirts on occasion (usually dancing at the local gay bar and always with leggings), but I am somewhat annoyed that about half of the clothing warn by these women played so nicely into hegemonic norms of attractiveness. It also didn't help that the women on this team appeared much smaller, younger, and less strong than the Ottawa team. Still, the atmosphere and the way that the women acted and moved was strong and fun, not playful or sensual.

I can't help but think that if roller derby was considered a 'real' sport, there would be more men playing it. The fact that it has become a women's sport (with 'cute' costumes) tells me that it might be more about the sex than the sport. And yet, there were so many children and women at the bout (and lots of queer people) and the comments that people were yelling were about the sport and not about sex or sexualization. Despite the uniforms, in many ways, sex seemed to be downplayed and when it was there, it was mostly made fun of. I'm sure this is not the case at all roller derby games, and is definitely not the case in some of the television depictions I have seen, but it is the impression that I got from being at this one particular game.

I am going to go to the next "fresh meat" section and try roller derby out for myself (and yes, I do get the implications of calling women meat, even if it is a joke, but I am looking past that for the moment). I would like to see if I feel objectified when I am on that side of it. But I refuse to skate in anything that remotely resembles a schoolgirl uniform, nor will I look "pretty" in the glamour shots that are on the website, but then, many of the other women also seem to refuse to conform to that standard. I will definitely be posting more about roller derby as I experience it.

Now I just need a kick ass name...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

May 17th is International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. There has been a facebook meme going around, apparently not very extensively because it has yet to show up on google, but I've seen it on 3 friends' walls saying

Today is International Day Against Homophobia. Donate your status for an hour to promote tolerance.

(note that transphobia is missing on this status, which says a lot)

So, what does tolerance mean? According to WordWeb (my usual choice of dictionary/thesaurus), the second definition is "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior" which is good, but the first definition is "The power or capacity of an organism to tolerate unfavourable environmental conditions." Because of this part of the definition, it concerns me that people are still using this language.

I don't want to be tolerated. That sounds to me like being accepted despite my sexuality. Still, I am hoping that this doesn't sound overly critical, or like a personal attack on those that posted that status update. I think that, for the most part, people who talk about tolerance have the best of intentions, I am just trying to point out some of the impacts that the words we use could have on how we think about specific issues. I updated my facebook status to;

Today is international day against homophobia and transphobia! I've read several posts about tolerance, and I would like to say that it is a start, but I don't think the goal should be to merely tolerate queer people, but to fully embrace and accept diverse sexualities and end dichotomous thinking about gender and sexuality.

I'm not going to belabour this part any further, as I think it is rather self-explanatory. I will, however, mention a few more things about language.

I am torn on using the words homophobia and transphobia. On one hand, I think that the words are useful because they are easily understood. On the other, using 'phobia' still leaves the impression that the problem is a few hateful acts by bad people. Most people that I encounter on a daily basis are not homophobic, and homophobic acts are important to point out when they occur, but if that is all we look at, then things look much better than they actually are for non-heterosexual people. Because of this, I personally prefer the term heterosexism when looking at the ways in which the lives of queer people are affected by a culture where monogomous heterosexual relationships are considered to be the norm.

Until the late 1970s, the term homophobia was used to describe "irrational, persistent fear and dread of homosexuals." Using the word irrational implies that there are rational reasons to fear or dread homosexual people... I wonder what these reasons could be. That definition has since expanded to include more subtle attitudes and behaviours such as contempt or aversion. This allows us to see things other than violence or angry epithets as homophobic, but it misses a lot of what is going on. The term heterosexism looks at how society is organized around the premise of heterosexuality as the natural sexuality. It looks at privilege more than hatred. And, it allows us to look at ways in which heteronormativity is built into ruling relations.

On that same note, monosexism implies that people are attracted exclusively to either men or women, which leads to many stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, two-spirited, or any other label or lack thereof that implies that one might be attracted to more than just one specific sex/gender, including assumptions that there are only two genders. There are many stereotypes about bisexual people; that they are sex-crazed, they cannot maintain monogamous relationships, that they are just going through a 'phase', that they are really gay but haven't fully come out yet. I have included this because I am really working to bring awareness to this issue, as a lot of people have never so much as heard the terms 'biphobia' or 'monosexism'.
I did not include transphobia in the above paragraphs on language because I think it could be wrong for me to say that most people are not transphobic... I think that many people are. Transphobic jokes are told on the radio and that is considered entirely appropriate even when I pointed it out to the station and wrote letters to Rogers Media about it. Television programs, even ones I usually like (Big Bang Theory, for instance) sometimes make use of transphobic humor, which makes me think about not watching them anymore. I think that we need to problematize the duality of gender, as it is typically conceived of right now throughout much of the west, I still think that the negative connotations to the word phobia gives it a lot of power that might be useful if we want to come to a place where making fun of trans people is considered to be inappropriate, just as blatantly racist and homophobic jokes are largely (although not yet entirely) considered to be unacceptable throughout mainstream media.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Short rant about social work

Do social work programs have a class on how to treat each person who walks through the door as though they are doing you a huge favour that you somehow are not deserving of? I didn't see it in the curriculum, but maybe I missed that day.

I came to expect it while at the welfare office unfortunately, but was not expecting that same attitude while trying to find out how to get my son tested for autism. The fact that I cannot come up with $2000 for private testing does not make me a bad parent. Nor does it make my son any less deserving of help than his middle-class peers.

I do know some amazing and caring social workers, so I am not meaning to insult anyone in the profession. The institutional processes that are in place within many of these programs create an atmosphere that makes the power dynamic between the social worker and the client readily visible to those of us who are attempting to access services.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Facebook comment....

New favorite ignorant facebook comment on my wall...

What does your profession contribute to society? That's rhetorical, the answer is nothing.
So, what is my profession exactly? TEACHING, which obviously contributes nothing. Neither does sociology, which is the discipline I wish to teach.

No, sociology just "tell[s] people what they can and cannot accept"

To which I responded;
I cannot accept homophobia, heterosexism, racism, sexism, or anti-poverty discrimination. I cannot tolerate policies that will hurt women, indiginous people, or other marginalized groups. I cannot accept policies that take from families to give tax breaks to giant corporations. And I cannot accept 39% of the vote allowing one person full control over parliament. Most people voted AGAINST Harper... not for him. That should not be a majority... this is not a democracy, which is another thing that I cannot accept.

Post-election thoughts...

WTF Canada? I have a lot of trouble understanding how some people think more generally, and this election result I just don't get at all! I can't wrap my head around the idea that anyone would vote for Harper, nevermind that he would be handed a majority government.

Seriously, the election was held because he was found to be in contempt of parliament, and this is the first time that has happened in ANY commonwealth country. They were hiding information about how much their policies would cost... and not just small bits of information but upwards of 630 million dollars worth of information on the crime bills. They underestimated the cost of the fighter jets... yes, the ones that are expected to cost each Canadian citizen (I hate that word) $1000. They even misinformed parliament to get the money for the G8/G20 in a process that has been found to be illegal.

And yet, we voted him back in...

This man, who has gone on record saying that our health care needs to end, who opposes gay marriage and abortion rights, who has cut funding for women by 43%, who has been found having lied to us on too many occasions to count, who shuts down parliament to run away from his problems, who fires people who disagree with him and kicks students out of his rallies because he doesn't like their facebook pages, who eliminated the long form census because he doesn't want us to know what is actually going on in our country if the knowledge won't serve his agenda... I could go on... This man is running the country! And we are letting him do just that.

So, if you are a "normal" person and break the law, you get put into one of his super prisons that we are wasting so much money on, even though crime rates are going down, but if you are powerful and break the law, you are given a country to run.

This might be me speaking out of anger and frustration, but I am seriously thinking that not voting is the way to go (see the "vote with your feet" section here). And I don't mean apathy, I mean refusing to accept an illegitimate system... how does 40% of the vote get almost 60% of the seats and full decision-making power? I also like the idea of refusing to choose my master... we should find a way to govern ourselves... not to let some privileged straight white man do that for us.

Naomi Klein had a great tweet last night- "Hair-raising shock doctrine coming our way folks. Better to have NDP in opposition than Libs but real power will be in the streets."

Edited to add:
I had an interesting conversation with my 8-year old today that got me thinking. We were talking about the election and the concept of a budget came up. I used our household budget as an example of what a budget is and then talked about the fighter jets as an example of Harper's lies about how much it was going to cost. She was quite upset about the fighter jets and said something along the lines of;
Why do we need stuff to go to war? Why can't we all just like each other and share our money and food with them?
Which got me thinking, why do we need to socialize children out of this way of thinking? Why do we dismiss it as "naive" or merely a reflection of "childhood innocence" (yet another term that I really don't like)? It seems to me that if children often think like this and need to be taught that they should instead value goals associated with rugged individualism, then something resembling a true democratic and socialist way of organizing might be even more attainable than I had imagined.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Inclusiveness sign at an elementary school

I was at a fun fair at my kids' school, and I saw this on the wall in a classroom.

In case it is hard to read, the caption at the bottom reads "Includes Everybody"

Upon further investigation, I realized that it was in every classroom, usually posted in an obvious place, like right next to the main doorway. In at least one classroom it was hidden near a corner at the top of a chalkboard, but that did not seem to be the norm.

The cell phone picture is so blurry that I can't make out a few of the symbols and don't remember what they were, but notice the one on the top left, which represents Pride. This never would have been allowed when I was in grade school. I like how this goes against the notion that children must be protected from knowledge that non-heterosexuality exists... what I would like even more is if all relationships were just seen as normal this type of sign wasn't necessary, but I'll take what I can get.

I'm not sure how well the school itself follows these ideas, or how well they actually teach inclusiveness, but I am told that the new VP is very concerned about such things, which I find fantastic.