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!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sometimes I love facebook

So, I "shared" this picture on facebook...

And ended up having this conversation with my sister in the comments section...

Sociology's invisibility cloak!

found here

Granted, I didn't feel invisible all the time back when I was homeless... I felt incredibly conspicuous at times... never felt invisible while trying to sleep at night without a bed or shelter or friend's couch, for example. But, yeah, I still agree with this comic because it seemed as though to most people, I did not exist. I'm not sure there is any other time that people avoided eye contact with me so consistently. And, on a policy level, most governments don't seem to be focused on the issue anymore.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Android app answers the age old question, "is your son gay?"

Ever wonder if your son is gay? Lucky for you, there is now an app for that!

It is only available in french, so here are the questions originally from this site, translated from google translate (I apologize if any of them aren't translated perfectly, my french is rusty!).

He likes to dress well, does it pay close attention to her outfits and brands?
He loves football?
Before birth, did you want a girl?
Has he been beaten or been involved in a brawl?
He reads the sports pages?
Does he have a best friend?
He loves team sports?
Is he discreet?
Is a fan of singers divas (Dalida, Mylène Farmer ...)?
Remain there long in the bathroom?
Does he have a piercing in the tongue, the arch, nose or ear?
Does it take him a long time to style his hair?
You ask yourself questions about the sexual orientation of your son?
Are you divorced?
He likes musicals?
Has he introduced you to a girlfriend?
The father is very authoritarian to his son?
In family relations, indicating there be a certain absence of the father?
In his childhood, he was rather shy and quiet?
Does he get along with his father?

Can't they be more original than using all of the parent-blaming stereotypes... like, if he's gay, it must be the absent father or the authoritarian father, or the mother who wanted a girl...

And of course, the gender inversion stereotypes... because all gay men (and no straight guys) take a long time to do their hair, are concerned about clothing, like musicals, and are obsessed with "diva" singers!

I have a novel concept... if you are wondering if your son is gay, think about whether it actually matters! Or ask him! Or make sure you provide a safe space so he can tell you when he's good and ready to!

Now, let's wait for the "Is your daughter a lesbian" list to come out... I wonder what that one will look like? Does she wear flannel and/or plaid button front shirts? Does she own at least one pair of doc martens? Does she make out with women for reasons other than to entertain hetero men?

Fuck these lists... being queer is not about clothing or hair, it is about attraction and sexuality. Enough with the stereotypes already.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why is it still considered ok to discriminate against trans people?

I posted a link of facebook that is worthy of a blog post in and of itself, and got a lot of comments on the link that I wanted to discuss here. First, the link is found here.

In London, Ontario, an employee at the downtown farmer's market were fired because she is trans. According to the story, "Market officials were concerned transgendered individuals compromised their family friendly atmosphere." My first thought is that the trans people are not guilty of this, it is the transphobic people making the market a hostile environment that is compromising the "family friendly atmosphere". (BTW, the correct language is trans or transgender, not transgendered- adding -ed implies a verb as opposed to a noun... I am not femaled).

Why is it still ok to discriminate against trans people? If the people running the market tried to fire someone for being female or racialized or gay, there would be public outrage (note, this kind of discrimination does still happen, but no boss would come out and say that they fired that person because they were racialized... it is hidden because it is not considered acceptable).

And yet, facebook comments show me that this type of discrimination is supposed to be ok! Here are a few highlights from my wall...

Well, obviously there were enough complaints to warrant the dismissal...there's discrimination everywhere you go..if you're old they won't hire you, if you don't have the education they won't hire if you are transgendered what do you expect...
"enough complaints to warrant the dismissal." Let's think about that. Let's say that a racialized person gets a job at the market, and a there are complaints from customers saying that they only want to work with white people... would that warrant a dismissal? And the "what do you expect" blames trans people for trying to find work...
Wait... Why can't the employee just wear men's clothing while at work and wear whatever else at home?
ummm... because they aren't men and shouldn't have to dress as though they are?

and my least favorite;
Personally I boycotted Dancing with the Stars this season because of Chaz bono..It used to be a show that both (child) and I would watch, but just b/c they put him on the show and made this whole big controversy out of it....out of all the stars they choose him? He's not even a star..he's only known because of Cher, I don't remember "Chastity" having any talents that would "qualify" you as a star...Anyhow, just my 2 cents.

Not everyone was insulting or rude... there were a few positive comments, including this one from my brother (who has been mentioned many times on this blog)
Ontario Human Rights Code. Section 1. transgender fits in to sex, as it is sex identification. lots of rulings on this already. though, not sure where education or social assistance status would fit in (but if it doesn't, I agree it should be in).
"Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability."
and this one from Mr. Awesome (responding to a commenter, who was discriminated against by a housing co-op for being on social assistance).
Being discriminated against happens naturally, but it's also wrong. You deserve a better chance at getting a job if you're on assistance, yet employers usually discriminate against poor individuals. If anything, it means we need to make resources more accessible for everyone.

The same logic applies to transgender folks. Nothing about them makes them less productive than a non-trans gender person. To discriminate against them is wrong, just as it's wrong to discriminate against the poor.

Anyway, I have a few points to make, and then I would like to open this up to ask readers for advice on how to respond to these comments.

I have been going back and forth in my mind about whether to delete all of the negative comments. I have trans friends who will likely read these posts on my facebook wall, and I feel as though they get so much hatred from the outside world that I would like my wall to be a safe space. Still, I would like to be able to respond to some of this and hopefully change a few peoples' minds about what it means to be trans (not that I am remotely qualified to do this...)

I really cannot understand the thought process of people who agree that it is ok to have fired the woman mentioned above. All I can think of is that she did not do anything wrong... she merely showed up to work in clothing that I could have worn without any incident, and was (is still being) discriminated against. This all makes me so sad and upset that I just want to go hide in my room without the internet and not come out until transphobia disappears, which is clearly the most logical and useful response...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bisexuality comics

I have been writing a paper on biphobia today, and when this came up on my facebook newsfeed I was rather pleased.

As someone who might be called bisexual by others (not really a word I use myself for a variety of reasons that I have written about before and probably will do again), I have experienced a lot of these first hand.

Bisexual people can be promiscuous and they can be faithful or abstinent... just like anyone else. It just means that you are attracted to people of more than one gender. Not that you are attracted to everybody all the time.

It is also not a phase - sometimes people identify as bisexual for a while, and often it is a permanent state where people are attracted to more than one gender for their entire lives. One doesn't necessarily stop being bisexual when they are in a hetero-looking relationship - actually, that is sometimes when people are most in need of being part of the LGBTQ community, otherwise it can feel like one is denying a huge part of who they are.

I also really appreciate that the last row addresses some of the exclusion and biphobia that takes place from within the queer community.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fat phobia in children's programming

My daughter loves watching Suite Life with Zack and Cody. It is a show about twin boys who go to school on a cruise ship. There are a lot of things about the show that annoy me to the point where I am ready to ban the show in our house.

What I like about the show is that the girls on it are not that concerned about boys. One of them is funny, smart, and concerned about things like schoolwork and her family back home on the farm. Another female character is only concerned about looks and her father's money, and her character London Tipton is based on real-life Paris Hilton... annoying in a lot of ways, but at least she doesn't change herself to get boys to like her (unlike Hannah Montana, for example).

The boys, however, are constantly objectifying their female peers. Todays episode got my attention because it was a somewhat humorous parody of Star Trek. The ending, however, left much to be desired.

One of the twin boys woke up on a beach and was overjoyed that he had finally made it to "bikini island." "Bring on the babes!" was one of his objectifying exclamations. However, the girl that appeared was not what he would describe as a "babe." It was an overweight older woman in a shiny gold bikini. At this point he screamed and tried to jump back into space to get away from her (the scene is on youtube here, 9 minutes in)

I don't know where to begin analyzing the message that this is telling children. It seems that my daughter cannot get a break from being told that her value as a human being is attached to how she looks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Don't tell me to smile

For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me to smile on a regular basis. Strangers walk up to me in the street and tell me that I look sad and should smile. Usually it is men telling me to smile, but not always (a really drunk woman stopped me and my partner at Pride right before the dyke march to tell me how sad I looked when I actually felt excited about the march). Casual acquaintances have often told me that I looked upset or have made comments about how good I look when I'm smiling, which I see as an attempt to make me smile more often (because, being female, of course I always want to look my best).

The thing is, I am rarely sad or upset. That is just my normal facial expression. I wonder if people would say the same thing if I were male - is it that being female, I am supposed to be pleasant? Although I think gender is a factor, I'm sure it happens to men as well, although probably not as often as comments from strangers.

And I am not talking about people who seem to be genuinely concerned and ask if I am ok - that doesn't bother me at all. I am talking about the guy that comes up to me in public and tells me to smile or the co-worker who tells me that I need to smile more often or the stranger who comes up to me on the street and asks why I am sad. The thing is, if I actually am sad for whatever reason, telling me to smile is not going to make me happy. It just makes me self-conscious about whether I look upset and annoyed that people feel they can comment on my appearance.

I have been reflecting on this today, and I'm really not sure why. It has been a few weeks since someone has told me to smile (possibly because I have barely left the house). But I made a connection today that I think should have been clear a long time ago. Maybe it is linked to having aspergers (I have a tentative diagnosis at this point). I have read that it is quite common for people with AS to look upset when they are contemplative, and I do tend to get lost in my own thoughts a lot. Smiling, even when I am happy, sometimes feels forced or strange. Sometimes I feel kind of like a robot (which is probably why I feel like I can relate to characters like Data or Seven of Nine from Star Trek or Sheldon from Big Bang Theory). When I am in a new environment and not in control of some of my self-calming behaviors (like rocking), even my partner can have trouble telling if I am coping, and that is understandable because I guess I can be hard to read... but she has never told me to smile or to cheer up.

If you are genuinely concerned about whether or not I am ok, or if I am crying or doing something that really suggests that I am actually distressed in some way, by all means, ask me if I am alright (like the person who, very respectfully, asked if he could get me some water or something when I was clearly freaking out about the noise and the number of people in the room at the biphobia survey launch party last weekend- thank you!). But if you do not know me or I am just staring off into space or something, it is probably best to leave me be... and DO NOT tell me to smile.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

victim blaming on a feminist blog; re. celebrity nude photos

I just saw this post come up on my facebook newsfeed from a feminist blog that I used to read on occasion that engaged in victim blaming.

Apparently, there were a bunch of celebrities who have had nude pictures stolen fairly recently, and Scarlett Johansen was one of the victims of this theft. The post, after explaining what had transpired came up with a really good point, and then a really poor one, in my opinion.

But in any case, we really need to take a look at this fucked up situation: Hackers are targeting women, making their personal business public. But also: These women are taking naked pictures of themselves in an era when no personal information is safe. WTF.

It is a huge problem that this targets women, and it says something about sexism and objectification when it is pictures of the bodies of women that are being taken and put on display as though they were public property.

However, I don't think the second sentence is appropriate for a feminist blog. Lots of people have taken nude photos of themselves, and doing so is not justification for what has happened here.

Is it just me, or is telling women that taking these pictures puts them at risk similar to saying that dressing a certain way puts you at risk of assault... granted, there is the key difference that if no such pictures exist, they cannot be stolen, but women have a right not to have their computers hacked into and their personal photos taken and made public. And if this does happen, it is not in any way their fault for having those pictures in the first place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I have not been blogging lately...

I have not been writing much at all lately in any capacity. I have gone through a phase where I have felt too jaded to write... too pissed off with leftist allies and a little bit in shock over realizing that those divisions that I have read about are true - the divisions between leftist activists whose approaches are so different that they are unable to find a way to work together.

I am going through a huge transition right now, as far as my own politics are concerned. I still have the same political beliefs as I have been writing about for the past two years, but whereas I used to take on every way that I could think of to try and put those beliefs to action and work towards some kind of meaningful change, I have become withdrawn. I don't want to be a stereotypical academic leftist that does nothing to contribute to change, but I need to negotiate how much of myself I can give before losing myself entirely... here's why.

I have been engaged in union work for a few years now in various capacities. Our local just had a CA ratification vote, and I was entirely against the proposed agreement. I feel as though tactics that were used to pass the agreement were very questionable, such as requests for a general membership meeting before the vote being denied and the vote itself being held only a few weeks before the membership returned from various activities making it impossible to reach many of them. The vote itself did not contravene the law or union constitution in any way, but in my opinion, the process was unethical. And the more I spoke out about it, the more I felt as though I were being pushed away, quieted, left out of further decision making processes... which only made things worse. So now I have to decide whether I want to continue to be involved in this type of work.

I have been putting off the decision this month. I have been on sick leave for medical issues that are not necessarily related to the past month's events but were likely exasperated by them. I have spent the month watching television, reading novels, napping... trying to take care of myself and get my health back together. I am still not allowed to drive or ride a bike, which makes it difficult to get anything done.

But now I am getting to a point where I am ready to start facing the question of how I wish to proceed with my activism in the immediate future. Sometimes I have felt as though I am one of the only people in a room being critical of certain things (such as by not fully endorsing the NDP at union conventions) and that feeling of fighting alone is exhausting. I do have allies, there are other activists in my area with similar beliefs, but mostly, any activities seem to fall back to NDP cheerleading or liberal rhetoric, such as notions of 'choice' or 'trust'. I don't have the energy to call these publicly every time they occur anymore, but I feel that these ideas do need to be challenged and built upon to create something bigger.

I was hoping to find this community when I move for my PhD, but it looks like I might be putting that off for a year. I could be here for as much as 2 more years, so I need to work some of these things out. I need to find ways to use my energy to do things that will be meaningful and won't feel like I am trying to fight a losing battle or compromising my own beliefs.