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Why I’ll Never Date an Anti-Feminist Again

11 Dec

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ― Maya Angelou

“What’s wrong?” he asked, my friend and confidant of almost a year. He could tell that something was bothering me, and I was doing a crappy job of hiding it.

“Just stuff. This messed up world we live in.”

“What about it?”

“Something I read.”

“What did you read? Something in the news?”

“Just stuff.”

I was being extremely stand-offish with him, the man I had once considered someone close to me. He was someone I could once easily spend hours chatting with. Someone with whom I had shared pictures of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. We had even discussed our bowel movements. Nothing seemed out of bounds before. I didn’t know why I was behaving this way with him, but I felt uncomfortable with what I was about to reveal to him.

“I hate Jian Ghomeshi,” I finally relented.

“Ah. I thought that was it.”

Dead silence.

What I just said went way beyond Jian Ghomeshi. I hated a justice system where three out of every thousand sexual assaults led to a conviction. I hated a culture where women were constantly silenced for speaking up and having their wrists slapped for taking up too much space. I hated a society where female presidential candidates were lambasted by the media over email scandals but male candidates accused of child rape were let off the hook.

And he loved it.

*

A year before the Ghomeshi trial permanently altered my perspective of the beautiful but troubled nation in which I lived, I met an introverted, video game-loving man who seemed quite compatible with me on paper. We were both vegetarians. We both liked to travel. We had the same eccentric taste in music. Best of all was the effortless way we bonded. I could easily talk on the phone with him until one in the morning, and never run out of things to say.

Except when it came to the topic of feminism.

He believed that feminism was about women denying their natural femininity. He believed that men’s rights activists had a point. That women were actually favoured by society, and that any trends of inequality in the workplace, politics, or media were coincidental. He was a gamer that harboured a weird, irrational hatred toward feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, even wishing her death.

At first I thought he just didn’t understand the concept of feminism and was trying to have a conversation with me. Then I realized he was sealioning, and I decided to drop it rather than get myself worked up over nothing. It was better to stick with safer topics.

“So what shows do you like?” he asked me one night.

I smiled with relief. That was good. That was safe.

I told him I liked watching Orange is the New Black and Girls, and he instantly cut me off and told me about how terrible Lena Dunham is.

“Did you know that she lied about getting raped? What kind of horrible person does that?”

“She did?”

I had read her memoir, but while she had confessed to a lot of other outrageous things, a rape lie wasn’t one of them.

“Yeah. She wrote about a rape that never happened in her book, and ruined some guy’s life. She belongs in jail.”

“With Clinton?”

“You bet.”

I smiled, rolled my eyes, and changed the topic again.

I thought I could handle his anti-feminist eccentricity, but there were also other issues that made us incompatible. No matter how much we seemed to click, I knew that I would never be able to fall in love and spend my life with this man. But, even though we had our differences, I genuinely liked him as a person and thought he genuinely cared for me too, so we maintained a good friendship.

*

I realize now why I never wanted to tell him about how deeply the Ghomeshi trial had affected me. It wasn’t just those awkward moments we’d had early on when we were still dating. It was something that had happened a few months afterward, something that made me certain I had made the right decision not to pursue a romantic relationship with him.

I don’t recall how our conversation had drifted into such dark parts of our past, but one evening when I was on the phone with him, I recounted an assault I’d experienced outside a campus club. He responded with, “but you shouldn’t have been drinking.” I rolled my eyes and told him I wasn’t, and without missing a beat, he replied, “but you shouldn’t have been there.”

I had no idea what to say. For the first time since I had ever spoken to him, I was at a loss for words. The assault was outside of the campus club. Should I have not been to university at all? Should I have stayed in the kitchen?

I felt like I was slapped in the face. After all, I had never told him that he “probably provoked her” when he revealed that his ex-girlfriend had been abusive. How could he tell me that this was my fault?

I changed the topic once more, relieved that this person was just a friend and was not going to end up my life partner.

But then some months later, when Ghomeshi was acquitted and this friend was silent, I knew on which side he stood, and it wasn’t Ghomeshi’s alleged victims. Something inside me finally clicked.

His stance went beyond a personal dislike for a handful of women—Sarkeesian, Clinton, Dunham—he stood against all women. Against me.  Even though we had once confided in each other, he wasn’t actually my friend at all. After the Ghomeshi trial, when he finally got me to spit out what was bothering me, we began speaking much less frequently.

Last night, after watching a sitcom, I recalled my old friend’s accusation of Dunham, and decided to do a little digging. It turned out that Lena had altered the man’s identifying characteristics so they happened to match another person’s. When Lena confessed that Barry wasn’t “Barry,” John Nolte of the right-wing publication Breitbart actually bothered to fly to Dunham’s alma mater and dig through library archives to verify the story. When he couldn’t verify that “Barry” existed, all hell broke loose on the internet, with each outlet conveniently overlooking Nolte’s postscript indicating that he had come across a different lead but dropped it because it was too much work. Even if he hadn’t, did that mean “Barry” really didn’t exist?

One thing was clear: Lena did not want her actual rapist to be found. Why did the media lampoon her for this? Because protecting his identity wasn’t enough? Because just mentioning that a rape happened to her at all was taboo?

I felt hurt by my former friend. While he was courting me, he had also been playing with words. He was using MRA rhetoric to try to indoctrinate me. He had never accepted me as I was.

That’s not to say that our entire encounter was useless. I had learned from this man. Our lives had briefly crossed paths and he had humanized the rape apologists I once abhorred. Anti-feminists can be charming and caring. They can have inexplicably long, meaningful conversations with you. But make no mistake—they will never see you as an equal.

They are simply too self-centred to build a healthy relationship with you.

Had we built a life together, this man would never really be on my side. If something tragic ever happened to me, I wouldn’t be able to count on his support. He would tell me that I shouldn’t have been there or shouldn’t have worn that. He would never root for me, vouch for me, believe in me, or want the best for me.

At the heart of his anti-feminism, it was his selfishness that prevented him from being a good husband, or even a good friend to me or any other individual.

To be honest, I don’t even think he had the best interest of all the other straight, white men of the world whose tragedies he bemoaned.

At the end of the day, he only stood for himself.

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.”

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.

Women, Food and Fame

24 Sep

Many of us women have a love/hate relationship with food.

Until a few years ago, I was actually one of them. But as a feminist, certain things about the philosophy of food-hating started to make me question my former beliefs.

Why is it that female celebs are expected to keep unreasonably svelte figures, while their male co-stars can often look however they want and not only get roles, but still be considered “a good catch” and a viable love interest for the female protagonist. (A classic case would be Katherine Heigl vs. Seth Rogen in Knocked Up. There have got to be about a trillion things wrong with that movie.  There’s also Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Zach and Miri Make a Porno…and just about every Seth Rogen movie.) While expectations for women’s looks increase tenfold, standards for men plummet.

Moreover, it is ironic that the rise in dieting fads and eating disorders correlates with the era of the women’s movement. As women in the media strived to make their bodies lank and unfeminine, asserting the place of the modern woman in the working world, we failed to realize that we were merely taking up the burden of woman-hating upon ourselves, through self-punishment.

Celebrities nowadays look more like starvation victims than our country’s top earners. It is ironic when the richest people in North America’s most prosperous cities live in far worse conditions than the rural poor of the “developing” nations. (If the actresses in some of these nations got to even close to the size of North American actresses, their careers would be over.) And what’s even more disturbing is that us, the regular girls, watch these celebrities’ movies and buy their albums and pretend that everything is normal. We sit behind HD TVs and critique these women when they gain a pound or show a wrinkle or two in their smiles, telling ourselves that we’d look better if we had what they had. We watch and judge their every break-up and break-down not just onscreen, but in real life, telling ourselves that if we were in their shoes, we’d still find a way to hold it together.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it; I cannot lie or pretend. No, it’s not normal to die of a heart-attack in your early thirties like Brittany Murphy. It’s not just another “normal, successful diet” when your shoulder bones and ribcage end up emaciated to the point of protrusion, like those of almost all reality stars. And no, Britney Spears was never fat in any way, shape, or form, especially not at the VMAs a few years ago.

Who needs good old-fashioned misogynists when women are torturing themselves with semi-starvation diets and unrealistic beauty standards? When we are critiquing each other harsher than any male chauvinist pig could ever hope for? When we work hard to obtain high salaries yet literally deny ourselves the fruits of our earnings by beating ourselves up for every morsel of dessert or delicacy we reluctantly allow ourselves to eat? They’ve sure trained us well, because now they’ve even taken our feminist movements from us.

Slutwalk transcends race, class, and gender barriers

21 Jun

I am in love with the idea of the Slutwalk.

Last January, a policeman in Toronto* angered university students after telling women not to dress like “sluts” during a campus information session on safety tips for women.

When I first heard this news, it made me want to cry.

Women had to make sure to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to get every little scrap that we have in Canada, and that an authority figure like a law-enforcement officer would come into an academic setting, an environment where women have already been oppressed for hundreds of years,** and make such a hateful comment was like spitting on all of the accomplishments of modern women — a reminder that we still have so much farther to go, and that the end is nowhere near as close as we’d like to think.

Then something awesome happened.

On April 3, One woman decided to organize a local protest, and invite all her Facebook associates. This elicited such a powerful public response that what was intended to be a one-time local gathering of mostly Torontonian university students became an international annual movement. This girl cleverly titled the march “Slutwalk,” which was a catchy, tongue-in-cheek response to the cop’s misogynistic comment.

Of course, as we live in a predominantly patriarchal world, the statement of that particular Torontonian cop was not a one-off remark caused by a temporary moment of insanity; therefore, despite that it roused tonnes of feminists to the point of protest, these protesters also received huge backlash.

One of the major issues that people had with the Slutwalk was the title itself. It’s been accused of being contradictory, misguided, counter-productive, offensive, degrading…and so much more. How can women march for equality while referring to themselves using the very title that men have used for so long to assert their superiority?

Although I can see where such arguments are coming from, I disagree. That women in Canada could overcome such hurdles only to be proverbially pushed back into place by the malicious interjection of one boor is testiment to the fact that we need to stop letting men hold the power. As long as they hold it, they can always use it against us. The word “slut” is like an invisible weapon that can be whipped out at any time, anywhere, against any woman. Although women do not hold the power in our society, and therefore cannot truly take back what they do not possess, it is essential that we try.*** I acknowledge that we may never be able to reclaim the word “slut,” but that does not mean I will not support the women brave enough to own it. Calling the protest the “don’t rape women” walk may still be semi-affective, but the “Slutwalk” is somehow more compelling, it makes us do a double-take because it’s so in-your-face — and frankly, this issue is too urgent for us to be worrying about political correctness. I realize that the title of the protest is controversial, but this incendiariness is also part of what makes it so fabulous.

Other people resent the Slutwalk because they feel it represents a very white, middle-class ideal of women’s liberation based on the Western conception of what it means to “dress like a slut,” while in other parts of the world, or within the sex-industry, the clothing of the survivor is not necessarily what is used as the primary scapegoat for sexual offenders. They say that the Slutwalk disregards women in sex trade by not considering their safety or ordeals as one of the key values to fight for in the Slutwalk. To this I would respond that although the seeds of the Slutwalk sprouted from a Western university campus, women from any profession, in any class-background, in any nation can find relevance in its ideals because despite that what it means to “be a slut,” “be promiscuous,” or “ask for it” varies between social environments, yet the underlying root of misogyny is what draws all of these sundry notions together.

Moreover, in the new age of social networking and globalization, the world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Sure, the first Slutwalk was a retort to Western conceptions of “slutiness,” but as one tweeter living under a dictatorship in Tunisia sparked an international uprising, why not follow suit, especially with a cause as important as women’s rights? On June 12, a Slutwalk was held in Mexico City, and this Saturday, New Delhi will become the first Asian city to hold one. I hope that all global cities will do the same. It is so amazing and inspiring to see the world-wide outrage that the Toronto cop has sparked.

* As a sidenote, this particular cop was from the 31 Division of Toronto — the division dealing specifically with the locally stigmatized so-called “ghetto” of the Jane and Finch area. Cops in this division are known for their police brutality, specifically towards black male youths. In fact, within the community they are even known to get away with murder.
** In fact, women were not even allowed into Canadian law schools until 1950.
*** I firmly believe that a day will come when the patriarchy is fully dismantled, but as Martin Luther King Jr. united a country by inviting all Americans to participate in the Civil Rights movement, similarly, men cannot be isolated from our freedom struggle. I am excited to see that although the Slutwalk was initially organized by a woman, many men have come out to join the protest.

XOX or WTF? Gossip Girl and misogyny

30 May

Gossip Girl is an insanely popular show with a huge fan base, so I really hope I am not the only person who finds it completely messed up that in the pilot episode of Gossip Girl, Chuck tried to rape Jenny, but then two seasons later (S3, E 22 – Last Tango, Then Paris) they have “consensual” sex?

GG used to be kind of a guilty pleasure for me. I wasn’t delusional; I was aware that my age-group wan’t exactly its target audience, but I was absolutely in love with the idea of New York: the lifestyle, the scenery, so I supposed the show had its redeeming qualities.

Yet if I had a little sister, I’m not sure that I’d have ever wanted her watching it.

This wasn’t even Chuck’s first case of sexual assault: earlier in the episode, he had also attacked Serena after confronting her for sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend. When Serena helped Jenny escape from Chuck before it was too late, his response was, “Your life is over, slut!”

The preachy, stifling attitude that most characters had towards Serena and her sexuality were annoying at best, and downright bigoted at worst. I disliked that the character who had once been described by her lover Dan as someone who “never apologizes for who she is” soon became reduced to a “reformed bad girl” by the writers. How boring! Her character became completely  irrelevant, as even Gossip Girl herself admitted during their graduation.

It still bothers me that Serena had to be re-written as a “good girl with a past” to be accepted. Meanwhile, Chuck suffered zero ramifications for his actions with Serena, sending the message to young viewers that while promiscuous sex is just about the worst thing a woman can do, there’s nothing wrong with a man assaulting a “slut” who probably “asked for it.”

And the misogyny only worsened from there:

Last Tango, Then Paris, is a deeply disturbing episode wherein an underage Jenny loses her virginity to a would-be rapist and a repeat offendor, Chuck. It certainly ended with that “OMG” bang that GG writers will strive for at any cost, but not in the way you’d hope to see.

I needed to know if others shared my views, so I went online to see what people had posted. I came across an interview with the writers, and I thought that this was a good way to see how they would justify their plot twist. The answer was horrifying:

“It’s a move that’s been in the DNA of the show since the first episode,” revealed co-writer Josh Schwartz.

O-M-G, I thought to myself. So Chuck trying to rape Jenny is a precursor to them having relations later on? What message does this send for young viewers? I wondered. I read on:

“That relationship is something that was in the pilot—it was Chuck being a predator. And here they meet in a place where they are almost equals, in terms of where they are emotionally. It was a way to track the evolution of the characters over three seasons,” Schwartz continued.

Co-writer Stephanie Savage added, “Jenny at her lowest is choosing to do the thing that she so resisted doing in the pilot, and Chuck at his lowest does the act that he’s been so remorseful for since the pilot.”

Obviously, he wasn’t all that remorseful.

Secondly, I would argue with the statement that Chuck and Jenny were even close to being equals in any way. The class, gender, and highschool-clique differences are astounding enough, but the reactions of the other characters revealed who was truly on top in our misogynistic society.

Rather than confronting Chuck, Blair instead turned her anger towards the under-aged Jenny, slut-shamed her, and “banished” her from NYC, thus branding her like a character in an 1850s Hawthorne novel, except this show lacked that isn’t-this-backwards double-meaning.

Jenny has since been removed from Gossip Girl, and is no longer allowed in the city without special permission from Blair. She was only seventeen years old and basically branded a dirty whore and ran out of town.

Rather than confronting Chuck, even Jenny’s father Rufus was upset with his daughter, quick to send her off to her mother’s for her own “good” and “a fresh start.”

Because men always know what’s best for women–which is clearly whatever ensures that she maintains her honour and chastity.

And although Rufus wasn’t exactly eager to forgive Jenny, her dad really jumped on board when it came to forgiving Chuck. In Season 4, episode 3, The Undergraduates, Rufus buried the hatched altogether, remarking that “Jenny keeps telling me it wasn’t [Chuck’s] fault. Maybe it’s time I believed her.”

Not his fault that he took advantage of an under-age girl at a time when she was vulnerable?

Am I the only person who finds this to be ludicrous parental behaviour?

And why are Chuck and Dan friends for a brief moment in Season 5? Why are they even talking?

Glorifying assault as some sort of sexy forshadowing for subsequent liasons is not only repulsive, but sends extremely oppressive messages for female sexuality at a time when girls are just starting puberty and coming to understand who they are sexually.

PS – Did Chuck seriously try to pawn Blair in a business deal in Season 4? Wtf?! Why isn’t he in jail yet??