30 March 2009

Look out for women!

I can't get enough of Sarah Haskins. Where's her awesome talk show?

28 March 2009

Tolerance on Parade

While I generally think that this show is sensationalist tripe, I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with the following video (via feministing.com):

I'm not going to unpack it right now, but feel free to open up in the comments. Of note: civil unions are legal in New Jersey.

17 March 2009

Sleep means no

This isn't so much about what I talked about in my post on Saturday. It's more about how the media portrays rape. And it doesn't come across much differently than how they portray domestic violence.

It's one thing to present "unbiased", objective information. It's another to make a crime seem much less worse than it is. Or to make it sound like it's not a crime at all. We use the word alleged in the media for murder, robbery and fraud. Why can't we use it for rape?

16 March 2009

The Rebuttal

I had a bit of interesting debate on my post about pornography, Responsible Consumer.

I felt like responding to some of the points made, and since it's my blog, decided to expand my thoughts into another post.

Commenter Todd said he didn't know how the lesson of the fox and the grapes applies, but in making his point he said, "It is a form of rationalization." The answer is right in his argument against tricky's point. It's just as possible to rationalize how pornography could be harmless so that one can consume it without guilt as it is to convince yourself that you don't want grapes because they're probably cringe-inducing. One is to rationalize a like, the other for a dislike. So what? I don't think rationalization only works one way.

A few points I'd like to make:

The biggest one is what Todd left out of his original comment. I talked about how dangerous depictions of women in pornography were to women. His comments focused on my self-identified hyperbole and pay equity issues, which were never meant to be the focus of my original post. And when I say dangerous to women, I don't just mean the actresses involved. Specifically, I'm concerned with the women (excuse the following heteronormative argument) who end up having sex with ignorant, undersexed men* who seem to think that the sexual behaviours they see in porn are normal and that they are entitled to the same. I'm especially concerned about the porn billed as "voyeur", which would lead some people to believe that it's just "regular" people having "regular" sex. I've seen that porn. Trust me, its fair share is staged. Or filmed and posted without the knowledge and/or consent of one of the partners, which is problematic for other reasons. I digress.

Considering the high numbers of young and adolescent males that are learning about sexuality from these movies, it's not a leap of logic to understand how this translates into some extraordinary requests and pressure when these guys start having sex. And it's not hard to understand why -- with all the pressure for women to by hypersexual, confident, and savvy -- women end up feeling obliged (or actually coerced) into doing things they find uncomfortable, degrading, or maybe just wrong. And just because you may be a decent guy who would never dream of thinking that way doesn't mean I'm wrong about it happening. In fact, I'd be happy to introduce you to some "delightful" men who fit the mold. Hmm. More digression.

Look: not all sexual acts in porn are bad, but the way a comparison to porn can erode a woman's ability to feel confident in expressing her discomfort with a particular act is troubling to me. It's hard enough for anyone to find confidence and balance in their sexuality, but when you're being compared to impossible beauty standards, yogic flexibility and a willingness to engage in everything, it's hard for a lot of women not to feel as if they have no choice but to make the best of it. And that's where the trust falls out of the bottom and sex becomes something mechanical, crude, and traumatic.

Moving on....

I think one major problem with a point Todd made about wages and porn is that we can't assume all porn is from "developed countries". Consider, for example, human trafficking. Lots of women are duped or forced into sex slavery all over the world. And the "civilized" West is not necessarily immune from the problem. Besides which, when you're watching a movie on the internet where two people just start having sex with no contrived storyline or plot, can you be sure that it was made in the relative safety of North America or the UK where maybe women are making a choice and that they may get paid decently? The answer is no. And it's pure ignorance if you think that's what's happening just because the cinematography is decent.

Also, no jurisdiction in the world offers adequate, fair health (and other) benefits for women, period. I can't even begin to conceive how anyone could argue that porn actresses are given adequate, safe access to what they need, or that their job benefits (medical, dental, etc.) would allow them to live healthy, secure lives. With the exception of some niche preggo porn, most women who get pregnant during their porn career get the boot. Not only are they about to get "fat", but their entire shape is about to change and it takes a while to get your body back to porn standards. Never mind the fact that those hips aren't going anywhere. Alternatively, there's the abortion route, but I won't spend time speculating on whether that entails coercion or worse.

Finally, Todd left out something glaring while refuting my and tricky's points about porn: I'm not wrong. A certain friend from back at Acadia (who never updates his blog) will remember how that is often the case, and I pride myself highly on that. People may not agree, but what I'm saying here isn't necessarily wrong or untrue. There is no good reason why we shouldn't expect porn to be fair to its workers and be responsible in its portrayal of women the same way we are starting to expect fair wages and decent working conditions for the farmers who grow our food or the labourers who make our shoes.

I'm not arguing against porn as medium. I'm just arguing that the industry need to clean itself up and consider the larger implications of its practices, just like everyone else in business is doing. If not voluntarily, then because the current world economy is going to demand higher standards from everyone as we become more cautious about how we spend our money. I don't think it's out of line to think that those principles will extend to porn as people cancel credit cards and decide whether they should feed their kids or watch Debbie do Dallas.

*In no way do I mean to imply that all men are ignorant or undersexed. I'm just talking about the ones who actually are.

15 March 2009

Watch what you say

In the same vein as yesterday's post, I wanted to further help spread the word about this article on abuse from Newsweek. Domestic Abuse Myths: Five Mistakes we Make When we Talk about Rihanna catalogues a number of popular fallacies about domestic abuse and how the media conflated and sensationalized Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna to turn it into some kind of game with players, rules, and colour commentary.

Assault is assault. The only "fault" is with the assaulter. Once you attack, the other person loses, and whatever they did to anger the perpetrator becomes moot. I don't care if Rihanna got up in Brown's face and screamed, "Hit me, you pussy!" He is responsible for his own actions.

I think the media circus and all the speculation about what she did wrong only serves as reinforcement to her decision to go back to him. All the talk of blame and what she did to "deserve" the beating would only support what most abused women already think: that she did something to deserve it and has to make up for what happened. The reports are so convincing that consumers are believing it too.

At least Coolio knows better. Ignore the irony. Coolio is just awesome and I love that the media is so desperate for commentary that they'll call anyone for input.

In addition to the Newsweek article, the Winnepeg Sun also published this piece on taking the event as an opportunity to set the record on abuse straight with your kids.

14 March 2009

It's not what it seems

It's an unnerving thought: being forced to do something you don't want to do. When it's sexual in nature, it adds an extra layer of apprehension. And trauma.

A couple of years ago, I had to come to grips with sexual abuse. Even though I knew I was experiencing something bad, I never identified it as any kind of assault. I just thought I was a little fucked up and didn't know enough about my own sexuality. I thought I was oversensitive to the criticism of asshole ex-boyfriends. I had no idea exactly what it meant because I was deluded by popular depictions of sexual assault in the media (news and entertainment), as most people are.

I'm not taking about planted memories, where I felt badly about something and someone made suggestions about what happened so I began to believe something that didn't actually exist. I'm talking about a situation where I didn't realize that what happened could be considered abuse. I described a situation and was given the label afterwards.

It was a huge blow to me. It crushed me for quite a while. It was hard to talk about with friends. I still haven't broached it with family. Even with the person who I thought would continue to love me and help me through it twisted into something it wasn't. I guess I can't fault anyone who couldn't deal with it, or didn't understand it when I opened up about it. I think I can fault people who made it worse, or blamed me. It took a long time to come to grips with the idea that what happened to me was not my fault; that it was not exaggeration or misconception; that I had as much right to my story as anyone has to stories that follow the more traditional interpretations of sexual abuse.

This post comes from reading someone else's story of non-traditional sexual abuse. In her case, outright rape. Because of the context of the relationship, it's kind of hard for outsiders to identify it as rape. But it makes sense. If lack of consent equals rape, then mounting someone while unconscious is rape. I certainly don't see a problem with initiating sex in the middle of the night and obtaining consent. It's the penetration before she's awake that makes it wrong and it scares the crap out of me.

But marital/partner rape is a generally new concept, in the same vein as spousal abuse. It used to be commonplace and acceptable for a husband to smack his wife around if she didn't do what he said. Likewise, it was considered his right to have sex. Let me stop there for a second and acknowledge the difference between sucking it up and letting him have his way and him forcing her to submit. These views are changing now, but it obviously takes time to permeate cultures so that individuals understand their rights in relation to other people. Backing up a bit to my story: according to my counsellor, the trauma associated with not being mentally engaged in sex (i.e., saying yes because you know it will shut him up or avoid a worse confrontation) is emotionally damaging. Moreover, each time it happens, it becomes increasing difficult to stop the pattern.

I'll be the first to admit that it's not as damaging as rape, but it can still have a long-term impact on the woman who feels that submission is both the lesser of two evils, and a way to avoid acknowledging the larger issues/problems in the relationship. And while I'm sure that there are exceptions to this rule, and that even that each instance is unique and includes distinct negotiations and interactions, the pattern of behaviour from either partner can be damaging to the trust in the relationship.

While women are most often the victims of sexual assault, a lot of men have told me that we have all the power when it comes to having sex. We get to say no or it's rape; we get to give permission like we're doing men a favour. Of course, very often, we also have to be the ones who take responsibility for preventative measures (birth control) and are at greater risk of contracting STIs. It's an ongoing power struggle. For all the work to improve women's rights and allow for sexual liberty and autonomy, there are still serious issues.

One of the biggest is that we don't even know when we're being hurt.

02 March 2009

A good what?

I have married friends. Many of these friends work, though not all do: some are stay-at-home moms, some are stay-at-home dads, some are not able to work for one reason or another.

What I commonly hear from the lot is a desire to be a "better wife". I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it generally means that they think that should cook more, clean more, do more of the laundry, contribute more, or be more organized.

In general, I think it's a fairly reasonable sentiment to want to do more to be a better partner. Specifically, the things my friends mention that makes them feel like "inadequate wives" makes me angry. So far, I've held my tongue. So far, I've been careful to listen patiently and be supportive of their desire to want to live in a cleaner home, eating food made from scratch. But when they seem to insist that it has to come from them in order to exist, I have a hard time not yelling, "WHAT YEAR DO YOU THINK IT IS?!"

Yes, I've read a book about it. The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston. I definitely don't agree with everything she says, but she makes some great arguments about the social constructions of the word. She points out that the word "wife" has no other meanings, and gender-specific synonyms are basically non-existent. I guess that's why it's so hard to break out of past presumptions that once you're a wife you become responsible for all the housework and child-rearing. Which would explain why some of my friends kind of crack under the notion that not doing so well makes them akin to failure as opposed to properly supported by their partners.

I think it's totally ridiculous that, as a woman, I should have to remind anyone that it's time to do anything that even mildly resembles cleaning. I find it preposterous that I should have to tell another adult not to leave a wet towel on the bed, to put their socks in the hamper, to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or to wipe the counter when they've spilt something. I also find it ridiculous that I should have to feel fully responsible for cooking something that doesn't come out of a box in the freezer.

So, why do so many women my age seem to feel inadequate for not automatically doing these things? Why does asking someone who should be able to feed, clothe, and bathe themselves to help out become "nagging"?

I understand that it will take a while for some of the increasing equality we teach our children to take root, but I don't think that anyone should be considered to be or should even entertain the notion that they are somehow inadequate as a partner because they're slack with the dishes, or they leave the floor un-vacuumed for a few weeks (or months, ahem). In the meantime, why do we have to feel like we're doing something wrong just for agreeing to take on the mantle of a word. If a word like "terrific" can have such vastly different definitions, then why is is so hard to break the shackles of a such a little word like "wife."

01 March 2009

Last night, I had a dream

Every so often, I dream about Paris in a way that makes me feel homesick.

This time it was early summer, like the first time I went. It was warm; just warm enough to not need a jacket. It was dusk, but the dark was frozen. It didn't get darker the entire dream. I think that's my favourite time of day in Paris. I guess it's the time when I feel like romance should happen, but it never did in real life.

Paris is something that I can barely believe exists. What happened there the first time was so incredible that I find it hard to accept that it might not always be that way. In reality, I want to go to Italy. I am going to Qatar. But every time I think of being somewhere, it's Paris.

In my dream, Daphné was there. We were standing on the Pont Alexandre III. The Eiffel Tower was behind us. We were looking toward Notre Dame. My heart was full, but I felt so peaceful.

Nothing else happened in my dream. I was just being there, and it reminded me of being in a place that felt so amazing that you couldn't help but feel amazing too. I keep going back for a reason: the remembrance of a person who is still so important to me, and a place that sparked a change in me in just three weeks. Whenever I dream about Paris, I feel like I'm dreaming about home. If it wasn't for where I work now, I would have been living there by now.

I don't regret a single moment of the last 6 months. But I think it's time to plan another trip home.