DIY Beauty

9 Aug

Women may make only a fraction of what men do even while working the same jobs, but that doesn’t stop us from spending several times more on personal care products. The products themselves cost more when they are branded for women, and we also buy more of them.

How can we expect to rise to the top professionally, when while men are prepping for meetings, building contacts, and planning business strategies, we are busy prepping our faces with cleansers/toners/primers, fixing our hair extensions, and worrying about uneven complexions?

The average woman spends over a year of her life in front of the mirror, which translates to over 3 hours a week. That is an enormous waste of time, indicative that we clearly need to get a life and a reality check. What would you do with those precious extra three hours? Would you put them towards your professional goals or your studies? A movie night with loved ones? A short weekly outing, or trip? Catching up on a book? As most of us feel strapped for time in our lives, I’m sure you can think of a million more creative ways to use those hours.

Women are taught from birth that what matters about us is how we look, so it is no surprise that we carry these attitudes with us throughout adolescence and into our professional lives. The diet and make-up industry wants us to maintain these concerns, and certainly, these concerns also ensure the patriarchy is kept in check.

We need to be careful as women to not buy into this idea, both literally and figuratively. We need to realize, not only intellectually but on a deeper level, that our most important asset is not our looks. The first way that we can go about this is to make sure that any body-related concerns we have are ultimately about our health, and not our looks. There is nothing wrong with exercising, eating a healthy diet, and looking after your skin, but we need to catch ourselves when these concerns become vanities eating up precious time better spent towards developing ourselves in more valuable ways.

From lead in lipsticks to parabens in cleansers, it seems like the best bet is to cut out or minimize your store-bought beauty routine as much as possible. Low-maintenance is always the best way to go.  For those who feel they need it, I’ve included some low-budget tips below, but remember, every second we spend fretting over our faces is a second lost living our lives.

Here are some healthy, environmentally friendly and cost-effective ways to maintain good skin:

Wash your face with milk
Milk is a natural cleanser. Simply dab on the milk with a piece of toilet paper, leave it on for five minutes, and rinse it off. Toners are unnecessary, but if you insist, rose water does the trick.

Cheap lotion
Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion is cheap and non-comodogenic, so it won’t clog pores. You can buy a huge container for your face and body, although in summer you may want to switch your lotion for a sunscreen. Vicco tumeric skin cream is another great daily moisturiser that won’t break your budget or compromise your health.

Repair summertime skin issues
Sunburn? Buy a large aloe vera leaf at your local ethnic grocer. Cut it into pieces, and store it in your freezer. Take a slice out, and rub it over wherever you feel the burn. (Also great for skin irritations).

Worried you permanently damaged your skin after too much fun in the sun? Thirty minutes of tomato juice on the face exfoliates damaged skin and also tightens the look of pores.

Bug bites? Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the bite for instant relief and diminished swelling and redness.

Skip the gloss
Lip glosses and lipsticks are full of toxins and carcinogens. Keep your beauty routine simple, and moisturise with good old-fashioned 100% petroleum jelly by Vaseline. Vaseline is too thick to clog pores, so it’s good on your face before bed (in lieu of night cream), sloughed on before a winter jog, or over small cuts or acne marks.

Quick zit fixes
Spot treat ’em with toothpaste. Or Zinc oxide cream.

Do you feel like kitchen beauty just doesn’t cut it for you? It doesn’t matter. You’ve saved valuable time and money — time and money better used in more fulfilling parts of your life. Time and money other ladies will never get back.

The Problem With Women’s Self “Help” Books

10 May

In recent years many so-called women’s “self-help” books have risen to popularity on the Amazon best-sellers list. Women will lay down their hard-earned dollars to learn “Why Men Love Bitches” and how to “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”

Within these “helpful” books, women will learn valuable life skills, namely how to ensure that they remain  faithful abiders of patriarchal social norms; ie. how to be chaste enough, how to be “feminine” and “delicate” enough, and, when required, how to be manipulative enough.

The women who buy these books may even subconsciously realize that they are being cheated. They don’t want to hear the truth — they don’t want to be told that the best way to get the right man for you, is to be yourself. Or that men and women are really not all that different, and want a lot of the same things. Instead, they would rather read about how “Men are from Mars” and how differently their brains are wired. To comprehend what a man really means when he says he’ll call you, you need to read a self-help book, because if he doesn’t call you, it’s your fault — and it’s your loss.

No need to spend your money, ladies. In a few short paragraphs, I will summarize the three biggest lies points of argument in all of these formulaic “help” guides:

1. You Need a Man to Protect You

If your man isn’t macho enough, you are clearly not going for the right kind of men! Real men are protective to the point of annoyance. Everyone knows that women are trophies, and if he doesn’t guard you like the prize that you are, he’s clearly “Just Not That Into You.” You obviously need to develop your confidence!

I’m sorry, random dude I don’t know who thinks he can psycho-analyse me, but perhaps the real issue that I have even more confidence — the confidence to think of myself as worth much more than a trophy, but a capable human being who knows how to stand up for herself.

In Steve Harvey’s “Act Like a Lady,” he recounts with childlike reverence  an utterly disturbing instance wherein his father physically harmed, and threatened to kill some debt collector or whatever because he had vaguely “insulted his wife.” He also recalls being asked from a young age to escort his mother as she ran various errands to “protect” her, when in reality all he was really doing was accompanying  her, more for his own protection than hers. He was spoon fed patriarchal norms from a young age, which influenced his warped view of reality.

In the real world, mothers protect children, and when necessary, wives protect husbands. Marriage should ideally be a partnership, where the views of both partners are equally respected. If I were Harvey’s mother, I would let the rude debt collector have it, using brains and not brawn, and I would be horrified, and frankly, pissed off, if any man tried to fight my battles for me. I expect my husband to be smarter than that.

I will not pretend to need him when I don’t, or expect him to pay for all my dinners, or ask him to help me to walk my dog because I’m scared to leave the house at night. I will not clap with glee when he fixes a broken shelf, or pretend that I don’t know how to change my own oil. This is the 21st century.

So no, Sherry Argov, I refuse to demean myself by “acting like a prize.”

2. “Good” Girls Need “Good” Men to Protect Them From the “Bad” Ones

This philosophy is based on the idea that there are two kinds of women: “good” girls and “bad” girls (note the infantilization of femininity here), otherwise known as the “Madonna/whole complex.”

“Good” girls are naive, stupid, innocent, and sexually inexperienced. They often get taken advantage of by “bad” men — hence why you need a self-help book! “Bad” girls are knowledgeable, intimidating, confident, and, well, slutty. The “good” men don’t want them.

Argov proposes that you can blend these two figures into the perfect woman who can keep her man on his toes, never knowing what to expect, by offering him the best of both worlds. What kind of man he is, be he good or bad, is of no consequence.

The underlying message in these self-help books is that women need men, but men don’t need women. Women are there for men’s sexual pleasure, and can never display sexual agency of their own. You can either be the Madonna, who finds the good man to protect her in exchange for exclusive rights to her body, or you can be the whore, who gets used time and time again. Therefore, it is important to find a man to whom you can give these exclusive rights. Your body will be his property. In both of these scenarios, it is clear that neither the Madonna nor the whore is in control. Women are helpless objects of desire. It is not the woman’s position to assert her own sexuality.

According to this way of thinking, a woman can be sexy, but never sexual.

3. You Must Never, Under Any Circumstances, Tell a Man What You Really Think

“Good girls” are mysterious, whereas “bad girls” are obvious. If you like him, keep him guessing! Men are hunters, and the fun is in the chase.

My main issue with this way of thinking is that there is a very fine line between manipulative mind games and emotional abuse. Honesty is always the best policy. Dishonesty will not make him want you more. There is nothing wrong with a confident woman telling a man what she wants from him. In fact, it’s sexy.

On the other hand, the implication given by these women’s “help” books is that if men are hunters, women are prey. I, as a woman, refuse to accept that. There’s nothing fun or sexy or desirable about being prey. I’m not prey. I’m a fully fledged human being, and if I want to be the chaser, not the chased, I will be. If I don’t want to be, I’ll tell the man in question exactly what I think. The Madonna/whore complex, is a myth. Women are more complex than that, and each and every one of us has a unique and individual attitude towards sex, love, and dating. We all have our own comfort levels, and we should express these feelings to the men in our lives. There is no need to try to find Argov’s ridiculous balance of “nice girl” with an inner “bitch” that will keep him crawling back for more, not knowing what to expect from you. There is no need to tease him, meanwhile keeping him waiting for sex, lest he think you actually like him. Harvey even advises some 90-day “probationary period” wherein a man should earn his “promotion” into your bedroom. Gross. I’m worth more than your Christmas bonus.

So ladies, if you want to hop into bed after the first date — power to you! If you’re waiting for a ring on your finger, go for it! Who cares what weirdos like Harvey, Argov, Pease, or Behrendt think about your life choices.

To summarize: I can protect, provide, and even profess for myself. I am not a bonus, a prize, or prey. I do not need a man in my life, but if I find one that I like, I’ll tell him. If I want to talk to him, I’ll call him. If he asks me where things are going, I will tell him exactly what I want out of the relationship. But hey! Maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Slut-Shaming: You’re Never Too Young

15 Jun

I was in a packed subway cart the other day, trying to mind my own business as three tween girls sat on the seats just in front of me. Against my better judgment, I eves-dropped:

“Carla’s slept with over nine men in the last year. She’s only fifteen,” declared a preppy-looking tween brunette, triumphantly.

The two girls sitting on either side of her gasped. Their mouths were wide open.

“She told me it was three,” said the blonde one to the right.

“Nope,” said the preppy-looking tween in the middle.

“She told me it was one,” said the other brunette, to the left.

“Nope,” she repeated once more, smugly. “Nine. And she just turned fifteen.”

She had a look of satisfaction on her face, happy to gain the upper-hand over another girl in their little friendship circle. She felt proud to have the other girls hanging on her every word as she ripped apart a friend of hers who was not even present to talk back, spilling a secret that was told to her in confidence — or maybe never told at all, and entirely fabricated by the preppy brunette, in an attempt to social climb by stomping over a former friend, once higher up on the ladder.

I moved to another part of the TTC and thought about what I had just witnessed. The infamous triple-threat: the words “slut,” “bitch,” and “whore,” were not used. Still, a young girl had just been slut-shamed. These girls must have only been ninth-graders, and already it was starting.

I wondered if this had ever happened to me in my youth, and if I was even aware if it had. Not necessarily with slut-shaming, but with any secret I may have told a high school or middle-school girlfriend of mine in confidence. Had they betrayed me behind my back? Worse, have I ever done it to someone else?

 

The answer to both questions is “yes.” When I think back to fifth grade, I remember being part of a group of five girls. One day we would all be friends, the next day, Sandra would be in the dog house. We’d hate her for a day or two, then we’d all be friends again. The day after that, it would be Lola. More often than not, it would be me.

But it was never Brittany — the unspoken, but unequivocal Queen Bee. I remember that nearing the end of the year, I tried to dethrone her — I had actually dared to plot an uprising — but it was unsuccessful, and I was permanently exiled from our little circle.

I went to the teacher about it, because I hadn’t fully understood what had happened. Why was I so hated all of a sudden?

“It’s normal,” said the teacher, brushing me off. “I remember being ten. One day we’d all hate this one girl named Taylor. The next day, we’re all best friends. It’s part of being a kid. Your emotions are intense at that age, but it isn’t actually a big deal.”

I learned later on that it was a big deal: it was bullying. And I had been a part of it. By associating with Brittany, I had actually taken part in the bullying of other girls, and I got my karma for it.

Yet I feel like I was the lucky one in the group. Though I can’t say if I completely made up for my behaviour, I apologized to a couple of other girls I’d been catty to in the past.  I made new friends. I moved on. I never needed to talk to Brittany again, unlike the other girls, who still spoke to her every day for the rest of the school year.

Ironically, today (over a decade later), each of us are still Facebook friends except Brittany. I totally tried to Facebook creep her, but couldn’t find her. I sometimes wonder what happened to her, but when it comes down to it I don’t really care.

I don’t mean to offend anyone with this statement, and you’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but I truly think that at the end of the day, women are the most oppressed group in the world. We are oppressed in a unique way, often more subtly than other disadvantaged groups, because those who hate us are still forced to interact with us on a daily basis — we are a highly visible minority, not really a minority at all.

Someone with an extreme hatred for blacks/gays/hispanics/people with disabilities may have never knowingly interacted with someone in that group in their lives. But misogynists still have mothers who are women. They may have sisters, aunts, and often even girlfriends or wives. They likely work with women. They pass women on the street every day. They see us on TV (although we’re usually not very well-portrayed) and they hear our songs on the radio.

 

So in North American culture, misogyny is rampant, but subtle, and this makes it very dangerous. A lot of the time, we don’t even know that we are being discriminated against. We are allowed to be visible in public space, yet we are still up for scrutiny, often at the hands of other women. We are not well-portrayed even in our own movies. Films aimed at women such as chick flicks and rom coms teach us that to get a man,we must be pretty, chaste, whimsical, and most importantly of all, stupid. Our identity is based on our appeal to men (i.e. how attractive we are, how thin, whether or not we’re “good girls”…) rather than on any aspect of our true character. We are discouraged to display our individuality, and this makes us feel very unimportant. We take this out on each other.

Patriarchy has flourished so astoundingly in our culture in many ways because we women ourselves have bought into it. Even in high school and middle school, we slut-shame each other, spreading rumours about each other’s sexual activity and making fun of each other for wearing “revealing” clothes. The most common insults among teenage female cyber bulliers are “ugly” and “slut.” The preoccupation of our society on female sexual behaviour is perverse. It is absolutely nobody’s business, and it speaks nothing of who we are as a human being. To insult a girl or woman based on something so shallow is an insult to her humanity. It is devaluing to imply that a woman,  even a girl, can amount to no more than a pretty face or a good lay.

Yet these activities are encouraged by the administration. I still remember being called into the principal’s office in grade twelve for wearing that short skirt, and being asked about my sexual history. I was eighteen years old, and I found it ludicrous that even as a young adult I was not allowed to make decisions for myself about how I should present myself. I was told I could be suspended for “distracting” other kids. At that point, it didn’t matter that I was an honours student with almost straight 90s, and that I had gotten accepted to university on scholarship. I was a “bad girl” because I was a “distraction,” and it didn’t matter that calling me into the office during class hours was actually more of a distraction for me. I remember being happy it was late June, and that I would be graduating and entering the adult world soon enough, where I could put this behind me.

 

But it wasn’t behind me. I’ve witnessed slut-shaming all my life. It’s everywhere I go, even on the TTC. What’s truly shocking is woman-on-woman bashing. It needs to stop.

When we are young, our teachers and school administrations may condone it, along with our movies, our songs, and even our books. When we enter the work force, our bosses and colleagues may encourage it. Woman-bashing and slut-shaming is completely institutionalized.

I’m tired of this ubiquitous insanity, and I’m done with waiting around. I would like to define myself before I let the patriarchy tell me how I should be. I implore all women to take a stand against slut-shaming, even if only an internal one, because the most powerful ammo that the patriarchy holds against us is internalized hatred. So next time you catch yourself judging another woman, call yourself out. I encourage you to question yourself.

The “F” Word: Why Misogynists Love Scrutinizing Our Weight

20 Apr

It is a word I’ve heard thrown at women over and over again: at celebrities, at friends, at acquaintances, and even at myself. It is a favourite among misogynists and slut-shamers and it is cherished by celebrity gossip websites — I’m talking about the “f” word. It is a word that most women will have directed at them at one time or another in their life, regardless of size.

This is something that used to confuse me. Why “fat”?

Why not call me stupid, evil, or cross-eyed? What makes this the insult of choice  among chauvinists? Why is commenting on a woman’s weight used as such a trite, automatic insult? What is it about this word that preoccupies us women so much?

And what is wrong with being fat? My being fat or thin states nothing about my character. It makes no comment about who I am as a person. It says nothing about my values, thoughts, opinions, or accomplishments. It does not even indicate my beauty. As the viral mermaid-or-whale Facebook beauty campaign proved a few months ago, many gorgeous women are fat. Meanwhile, many women with looks outside of traditional beauty conventions are thin. So why is “fat” used as synonymous with “ugly”?

Moreover, weight alone is also a poor indicator of health. It is unhealthy to be obese, yes, but it is also more unhealthy to be underweight than overweight. Another factor given little analysis is why the person weighs what they do. Is it an illness? Diet? Over/under-exercise? Bone density?

If we take away all the stigma around the word “fat,” we will see that fatness has little to do with the content of our character, our beauty, and even our health. Therefore, I believe that there is a deeper reason that chauvinistic men so frequently opt for this “insult” when they critique women; it’s about policing women’s bodies.

“Fat” is a word loosely thrown around at women of all shapes and sizes, from women with bare-bones frames to the very voluptuous, by notorious woman-haters such as Dick Masterson and Nik Richie. It was even used recently in a vicious media frenzy to attack the stunning, successful actress Ashley Judd (who was having none of it, by the way!). They use it because with this one word, they can police us. While we may go on to have more fun, fulfilling lives than these miserable misogynists, they can use this one-word weapon to show that they still have the superiority on the social scale. It is away of asserting their superiority and our inferiority. It is a playground-esque way of telling the girl you like who has just pushed you off the see-saw, “Well, at least I’m still better than you!”

When a man attempts to hurt a woman by calling her “fat,” he is devaluing women’s achievements by indirectly arguing that a woman is nothing without a body. In fact, she is her body. She is an object, whose value is determined by its appeal to a man. Such men believe that a woman can be admired by a man, but she can never be equal to him.

Fat-phobia and slut-shaming go hand-in-hand. Like I asked earlier, what is a man even trying to say when he uses a word like “fat”? Much less an even more subjective word like “slut”? What does that hateful, sexist word even mean? You can ask 10 men and get 10 different answers, but as with other slurs, the smart men won’t even reply because “slut” isn’t an insult that any intelligent person would ever use. I mean, these misogynistic men are easy enough to see through. Often, it is a case of unrequited love that has made them so bitter. Other times, they are just complete psychopaths, with their sexism on the same level as a neo-Nazi’s racism, or a gay-basher’s homophobia. Usually, it is a combination of both. In all cases, it manifests due to the dangerous combination of low self-esteem and a big ego.

Such men do not realize that we are not our bodies, therefore, they use slut-shaming to police women’s behaviour and our bodies.  As Kerry Howley articulates, this objectification of women is justified with the ideology that “women need be preserved in glass so as not to “ruin” themselves, lest they diminish their sexual value by “giving it away” […] None of the slut-shaming makes sense unless you assume women live to give themselves to men in their purest possible form.”

When a man calls a woman “fat,” he is demeaning her. He is suggesting that a woman can be admired, but never truly respected. Judged, evaluated, but never appreciated. The maid, never the mistress.* The [willing] victim and never the protector. These men love to scrutinize our bodies and our sexuality, believing that a woman’s sexual  appeal comprises her worth. If her body is “imperfect,” her worth is diminished. If she acknowledges female sexuality, her worth is diminished. Misogynists actually think that they have a right to scrutinize us — that this is what we’re there for; we exist solely for their praise, which is what gives us our value. On our own, we are nothing but an object. They make this assertion every time that they dare to call a woman “fat.”

This hurts women not only because we are bombarded and brainwashed with media images every day that constantly tell us that “thin is in,” but also because the contemporary woman often associates the word thin with success, and even with a certain level of glamour. The modern woman’s role is shifting. Many of us pursue a career, an education, volunteer opportunities, and more. We travel. We drive expensive cars and buy expensive clothing. To us, the thin woman seems more avant-garde, more stylish and chic. We’ve come a long way, and this image seems like a far step from the matronly Martha or Monroe.

Yet the cruel irony is that this word is used against us, to take us back to a time and place that I hope never existed. Misogynists logically realize that confident, successful, beautiful women like Tara Lynn and Katya Zharkova wouldn’t look twice at them in the real world, so they relish this fantasy wherein they have the power to put a woman “in her rightful place” by dropping the f-bomb.

Whether the woman in question is built like a figure-skater or a 17th century rubenesque model, a man who encourages a woman to alter her figure beyond its natural, healthy weight wants only to weaken her and nothing more. This is why, regardless of size, these chauvinists will invariably prefer an unhealthy and unconfident woman over a strong, independent one. Their idea of what it means to be “thin” is meant to infantilize, control, and condescend us, and is not even congruent with the equally problematic slim, high-powered businesswoman cut-out that the magazines are trying to sell us. A misogynist’s standard of “beauty” is rubbish. They are attempting to rob us of our agency. So don’t let them.

If you ever again here a misogynistic man calling you, your friend, or any woman around you fat, laugh in his face. Do not give him the dignity of a response. Do not tell him that you’re in the gym five days a week, that your BMI is actually lower than 18, or that the woman in question is clearly eight times hotter than him — none of it. We should never have to justify our bodies. Due to his own low self-esteem, this man wants to take your power away from you, and it isn’t his to take. Do not even try to enlighten him about how incredibly ignorant he is being, because there’s nothing a dumb jerk hates more than being told they’re a dumb jerk. Misogynists hate women, therefore they use this word primarily because they know it hurts us. Most of us like looking good and they just love reminding us that they still think they’re better. If we stop taking the insult, they’ll slowly catch on. In the meanwhile, it’ll have much less ammo.

_______

*It upsets me that there is no true female version of the word “master.”

Feminism and Chauvinism in The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness

8 Apr

You know a book is good when after you finish reading it, you just can’t stop thinking about it.

I just finished The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp, the memoirs of a woman who found herself homeless during the recession despite years in the workforce, a great resume, and a seemingly stable job. And yes, this post will contain spoilers.

I could not put the book down.

One thing I really admire about the author is her borderline self-deprecating honesty. A former Jehovah’s Witness, she openly admits that stigmas attached to homosexuals and racial minorities have been difficult for her to overcome, and in fact, she still struggles to un-learn them and think beyond instinctive gut-reactions.

Even sexism dies hard with her, and she explains why. When she talks about the things that she’s had to overcome with such brazen clarity, I feel almost voyeuristic for reading on, yet I couldn’t stop. I really wanted to see her triumph in the end. She knows that America is a patriarchy, and in certain circumstances (dealing with cops, etc.) she even finds ways to use her social disadvantage to her advantage, in a sense, which made me admire her. There is something about her–perhaps this reflective honesty she possesses–that makes you instantly like her. As a middle-class North American woman of about her age, I felt an instant bond with her. I felt that despite my liberal-minded parents and much easier upbringing, I could relate to her, and I rooted for her. Her sense of perseverance was inspiring, and made me want to root for her even more.

One thing I found unsettling was her love interest. She had met and fallen in love over the internet, which made me sceptical, but I supposed it could work in our tech-y age–the guy seemed all right from what she’d said about their e-mails and Gtalk sessions. But as soon as he got off the plane to meet her, something seemed off. He made snide comments about his ex-girlfriend, infantilizing her, which I found incredibly chauvinistic. All of his “you’re-so-much-more-intellectual-than-my-childish-ex” crap seemed shady. She adored him, of course, but he needed someone more cultured. Why were you with her, then? Why would you be with someone you have no regard for and use-and-abuse her just because you needed the place to stay and the emotional pick-me-up? Doesn’t that say more about you than it does about her?

His other favourite compliment, “you’re-so-unlike-how-I-imagined-you-shallow-American-girls-to-be” line, I found equally unimpressive. He even mocked her parochial upbringing and shamed her for the remnants she couldn’t shake loose. To be honest, it seemed a bit like Karp just lapped it up because she was in love with the idea of being in love, thrilled that someone she truly admired and e-loved (because there is no real “love” over the internet) had taken an interest in her. Her feelings were requited for the first time in her life, which was a self-esteem boost. Although he gave her backhanded compliments that might serve as red-flags for other women, she liked being different from stupider, shallower women. What she called “two crazy kids madly in love with each other” I called one young lady and one kinda-sleezy mid-thirties divorcé with a mid-life crisis that came early.

All right, so this guy’s lame, but I love this girl, so I’ll hope the best for them, I thought. But the chauvinism continued: despite his admission that a bout of depression lead him to indulge in promiscuous sex for a while, he was super judgmental when Karp confessed a racy tale of her own. To me it seemed like the kind of thing most men genuinely interested in a girl would brush off, or even find kind of impressive, especially for someone with a sexual history typical of a Jehovah’s Witness. His judg-y attitude showed me as a female reader that he thought that his emotional and sexual experiences were somehow more legitimate than hers, and that he had more  right to a sexuality. And he actually seemed a little jealous, which was creepy.

Then came the xenophobia (176): “I’ll never understand your American system. Do you realize that in the UK, everybody gets free health care–homeless people go on a short waiting list and get a free flat, and you can live there the rest of your life if you want to, never even have to get a job or anything if you don’t want to. That’s why I was only homeless for a short time. It’s all cradle to grave there. We care about our people there.”

Hmmm, that seemed like strange talk to me coming from a homeless activist. If homeless people have it so easy in the UK with their government handouts and free flats, what’s this dude advocating for? And if the UK is anything like Canada, that whole free health-care schpiel is a lie, too.

I was also really pissed off that he said “WE” care about “OUR” people…as opposed to you and “YOUR” crazy backwards American system.

If you try to feel superior to me because of the country you happened to be born in, I’ll leave you right there.

This man was totally disregarding her feelings when it came to seriously important topics, like having children. He insisted that her fears were irrational and that if it was so bad, women wouldn’t keep doing it. This type of devaluing of women’s experiences really unsettled me. Why is she irrational for voicing her deepest concerns? Because she is a woman? Because she doesn’t feel ready to have your children when you are both essentially homeless?

Ridiculous.

I was fuming at this privileged white British man, with all his sexism, xenophobia and smug superiority. Why had he escaped his great life and free flat in the UK for a fantasy getaway with an e-love? It didn’t make sense.

Then Karp went to meet the douche in his homeland, and suddenly it did.

She found him in his flat with his ex, and suddenly she was no longer the fiancé, but the other woman. She was not allowed in the house, and he was verbally abused by this woman who had been described to Karp as the sweet and loving, but simply not-up-to-my-level ex-gf who could not take a hint and move on. Suddenly it became clear: he was the abused, not the abusee. He could not get out. She owned him.

Much like petty officers who morph into petty tyrants upon promotion (ex. Henry Morton Stanley, General Dyer, most colonizers, really), Doucheface enjoyed being able to escape his shitty life and put himself in the position of power when he ran away to meet his e-fling, as he put on an uppity British air that was never his own. He delved into his would-be life with her, living in a Victorian mansion raising snottishly “cultured” children with shelves full of leather bound (EW!) antique classics. Worst of all, he let her buy into it, too. But he never had any intention of leaving this so-called “ex” of his. Still, he let Karp make sacrifices for him. 

As I finished the book, I still got the impression that Karp is unaware of the full extent of his douchebaggery. In lieu of her unusual ability for self-reflection, and even self-critique, when she reflects on her former romance with The Douche, she becomes all butterflies and irrationality.

I was almost relieved when he left her after abandoning her in the snowstorm (And you’re a homeless activist? Seriously?) because I knew that she wouldn’t do it herself. Which is sad because she can do a lot better than him, and she will.

 

Invisible Children and Visible Egos: White Masculinity on International Women’s Day

8 Mar

I woke up this morning and found that my Facebook feed buzzed with a greater number of doleful testaments (surprisingly from both apolitical high school associates and close friends alike) about how “Kony must be stopped,” than the short, upbeat, but nevertheless inspiring “happy women’s day!” status updates I was expecting to see.

So I clicked the link to what I was told would be a short, but life-changing video.

For the next 30 minutes of my life, I was bombarded with propaganda. My heart-strings were manipulatively tugged at by a cute, blonde five-year-old and some sensational neo-colonial rhetoric about how “we, the [Western] people” have the power to use social media for good. I love democracy as much as the next girl, but I don’t appreciate that our International Women’s Day has been hijacked by a handful of white, middle-class American males and a  moral crusade that reeks of White Man’s Burden.

Here are just a few of the things about the viral vid that I take issue with:

Firstly, the narrator keeps condescendingly claiming that “we” need to “save Africa.” Last time I checked, Africa was a big-ass continent, with countries and cultures so diverse that to lump them together as “them” who needs saving by “us” is way beyond offensive; it’s just inaccurate.

Ugandans and their children are not “invisible.” They are very much alive and existing, and they can not only speak for themselves, they can solve their own problems. Invisible Children would have us believe that all the progress in Uganda over the years has been due to charity efforts, meanwhile, the Ugandan military had already been pushing out Kony (pronounced “coin”) before the IC was even created. They even had American backing way before Obama, although this hard-lined stance against Kony resulted in a Phyrric victory, with many children as casualties.

This video conveniently ignores this fact, as well as the input of any Ugandan citizen, let alone politician. It focusses on informing Americans, celebrities, and Obama about an issue that has decades-old roots. Why are these children “invisible”? Because Kim Kardashian  hasn’t heard of them? I’d be surprised if some of the celebrities the IC is lobbying can even name the 50 states, let alone talk international politics.

Moreover, this video does not only patronize and invisibilize African agency, it also talks down to Americans, through the dumbing down of complex issues with sweeping blanket statements about “the good guys vs. the bad guys,” as explained to a five-year-old, and by using flashy words and imagery any serious documentary filmmaker would find most unprofessional. It manipulates facts and attempts to pass for current events a situation that is quite frankly no longer current.

Starkly one-sided, Invisible Children conspires to make us think that the answer to all of life’s problems is direct military intervention, because that has just worked so well in the past.

Those who have researched the issue, or even simply typed “Uganda” on a Google search engine, may find Ugandan journalist Angelo Opi-aiya Izama‘s input to be of interest to them:

“One salient issue the film totally misses is that the actual geography of today’s LRA operations is related to a potentially troubling “resource war”.

Since 2006, Uganda discovered world class oil fields along its border with DRC. The location of the oil fields has raised the stakes for the Ugandan military and its regional partners, including the US.

While LRA is seen as a mindless evil force, its deceased deputy leader, Vincent Otii, told me once that their fight with President Yoweri Museveni was about “money and oil”. This context is relevant because it allows for outsiders to view the LRA issue more objectively within the recent history of violence in the wider region that includes the great Central Africa wars of the 90s, in which groups like LRA were pawns for proxy wars between countries.”

It is clear that military intervention would do more harm to the very people that Invisible Children claims they want to help.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with how passive this video appears to viewers on the one hand, sold to us as a campaign that requires merely word of mouth to spread and flourish. But Invisible Children’s goals are not at all peaceful.

For those who genuinely want to improve the world beyond a superficial means, please note that Uganda is now facing problems that are much like those of most other countries (yes, including America): an interest in improving health care, education, human rights, etc. It’s great that millions of privileged people all over the world are suddenly taking an interest in the lives and history of another country, but it would be even better if their efforts were well-informed.

The world is not a great place right now, and there is a lot that can be done. As Uganda heals itself from a conflict that essentially ended several years ago, Tibet continues to suffer human rights abuses that are utterly totalitarian, and even extreme forms of protest, such as suicide, continue. Why don’t people cry for these Tibetan women? Whose country, wealthy in arts, culture, and literature, is being drained by an invasion that has been going on for about half a century.

Or better yet, this Women’s Day, why don’t we celebrate rather than cry, because just over a month ago in Ecuador, news landed that hundreds of lesbian torture clinics, opened with the machismo logic that you can “straighten out” a “bad girl,” are finally being closed down for good by the health ministry. This was done without the use of arms, but via a social media protest using the popular petition site Change.org.

Yet right now, on this International Women’s Day, people are not celebrating Ecuador’s victory over misogyny, nor mourning the loss of those two Tibetan female protesters.

Instead, while people cry for Uganda, the beautiful, resource-rich country Democratic Republic of the Congo — a country that should be filthy-rich with earnings from their valuable exports — continues to be looted, significantly (but not uniquely) by North American corporations, who are funding a devastating civil war that kills 40, 000 people a month. Did you know that The Congo has the highest rate of rape and sexual violence in the world? This is International Women’s Day, so let’s focus on tangible issues that affect us now. Every woman in the world can and should care about the Congo, and the reasons are feminist, sincere, and legitimate, without a trace of the egotistic white-male burden complex. To quote playwright Eve Ensler,

“Congo’s the heart of Africa, Africa is the heart of the world. Women are the heart of the heart. So if the heart isn’t functioning, the rest of the world’s not going to function.”

All of our electronics are made with minerals that come from the Congo, and internationally, us ladies (and gentlemen!) as  consumers are fuelling a civil war in which the casualties who will suffer the most, are women. To support the Congolese, the West actually does not need to help, but they also don’t need to hinder.

For those of you who have just watched “Kony 2012” and have been blasted with images of a malnourished and underdeveloped Africa, let me level with you. The Congo is a culturally advanced, resource-rich nation with a beautiful, modern, and infrastructurally developed capital city and financial district. Unfortunately, the eastern part of the nation is suffering from a complex civil war wherein I cannot point out the clear “good” and “bad” guys for you, but I can assure you that there will be no winners. What we, as global consumers, can do for the Congo, is not simply press our governments to call for military action; that would be capricious and ill-informed. What we must do is transform ourselves from global consumers, to informed global consumers. We must lobby our governments to regulate its corporations, not only the ones who deal within the country, but those that deal abroad as well. We should also press corporations to not deal in minerals from mines run by armed groups. Now that you have learned that Western powers are already funding neo-colonial ventures in Africa, let’s not donate to the IC and fund another.

Despite the claims of Invisible Children, at the end of the day, it will not be the West whose “civilizing mission” will empower a so-called voiceless and “invisible” Africa. It has and will continue to be done from within. Again, the West does not need to help, but they also don’t need to hinder. Africa does not need anyone to make its issues “famous.” Africa has always been a powerful continent, and whether this view has been legitimized by the West or not changes nothing.

So in honour of International Women’s Day, let me end with a quote from Yaa Asantewaa, a Ghanaian Queen Mother with the balls to take on her fellow-queen, Victoria of England, and all her colonizing efforts head-on. This is what she had to say to the Asante soldiers before the Uprising of 1900, the last major African anti-colonial rebellion led by a woman:

“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. […] Is it true that the bravery of the Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women.”

It’s a poignant quote that oozes female empowerment. And isn’t that what today should be about? So I have to side with the women’s website, Jezebel, on this one, that while it’s great that all my apolitical associates are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon of pseudo-social justice, the phony sense of empowerment that “Kony 2012” gives to tweeters and Facebookers misses the point that “charity isn’t really about feeling empowered.” International Women’s Day, on the other hand, is.

Colonialism is Racism

29 Nov

Canada’s educational system needs to get it together, especially when it comes to discussing colonialism.

Colonialism is an ideology of oppression that requires a hierarchical, dualistic view. When European explorers first “discovered” a world that other humans had long-since known to be there, these colonialists quickly divided humans into categories of “us” and “them,” making colonialism synonymous with racism, sexism, and homophobia.

European colonialism has always thought in binaries: god/devil, heaven/hell, man/woman, white/black, humans/nature…etc., with the former always “above” the latter. It is disappointing to me that from primary school up until post-secondary, us Canadian students are never taught to critique colonialism. Few history professors dare to expose this ideology for the white-heterosexual-male supremism that it represents. Perhaps they are scared. Or perhaps they just don’t know. Some friends of mine have said that our curriculum is Eurocentric; that it only represents the history of one group. I would go even farther and say that it is no one’s history–it is non-history.

My first experience learning non-history was back in seventh grade. Our history class consisted of memorizing a series of names: Samuel de Champlain, John A MacDonald, Christopher Columbus, and a bunch of other dead white dudes. We learned about the battles over Canada between the British and the French; the Native population was non-existent. Or maybe they just didn’t matter enough to be mentioned in our textbooks. When they were mentioned, it was in passing, such as when one of my teachers told us, “there were some Native Canadians around who allied themselves with various white male “discovers,” “explorers,” or “heroes,” if you will, but they died on contact because “they did not have the vaccinations to protect themselves against European illnesses.” Something about that phrase always made me wonder what more went on that remained unsaid in our textbooks. The vaccinations could easily have been shipped along with the thousands of Europeans coming in, but they weren’t. They weren’t because the genocide was intentional, although no teacher would ever say this aloud, in fear of being politically incorrect. Positive Aboriginal role models like Louis Reil are either ignored by the educational system or mentioned with slight contempt. And one of Canada’s cruelest politicians, Duncan Campbell Scott, is having his name purged from our history.

Canadian history is taught as revolving around the British and the French despite that the true founding fathers arrived tens of thousands of years earlier, and we are taught useless tidbits about these two colonial groups, such as who attacked who, what battle strategies they used, the various treaties that were signed and the dates they were signed on (but not what they entailed), and more political jargon. Author Adam Hochschild says “treaties are a euphemism.”

The truth about history is that it is not a dry, apolitical, and impersonal non-history. History shapes the lives of real people, especially those that remain unmentioned in our textbooks.