We need to do more about smoking

According to Business Insider, cigarette butts are the ocean’s single largest source of trash. Smokers seem to think they can flick their used butts pretty much anywhere – on sidewalks, in waterways, public parks. Out the car window, at times causing disastrous forest fires that claim lives and cause billions of dollars in property damage. While smoking rates seem to be declining overall, vaping rates are skyrocketing among Canadian teens. After everything we’ve learned about the impacts of cigarettes, I genuinely can’t understand why so many people still smoke.

Every day during my lunch break, I try to take a walk to get a bit of exercise and fresh air. I work in the financial district so the crowding and car fumes downtown are bad enough, but the amount of cigarette smoke I have to breathe in while walking down the street worries and enrages me beyond words. Everywhere, smokers line the sidewalks and blow their carcinogenic clouds right in people’s faces. They don’t seem to give a damn. It smells awful, especially in the summer heat.

The worst offenders are people who smoke while walking down the street, leaving a trail of poison behind them that can’t be avoided. Also, people who smoke while standing next to others as they wait for the bus, and smokers who feel entitled to stand right beside building entrances. I’ve had to move seats on the subway because I developed a headache within minutes of sitting beside a smoker. Movies and TV shows still seem to have a love affair with cigarettes, too. Peaky Blinders in particular is a big offender; the ubiquity of smoking on the show is positively stratospheric. I wanted to throw up just watching it.

The Ontario government has passed laws designed to protect the public but they’re never enforced. If you asked most people, they’d have a rudimentary familiarity with these laws, at best. Hardly anyone knows about this one, for example:

You cannot smoke or vape on the outdoor grounds of a community recreational facility and any public areas within 20 metres of its grounds.

And if they know about it, they don’t care. The City of Toronto has also passed bylaws including one that prohibits smoking within 9 metres of any building used by the public. Although this bylaw is well-known and signs are posted everywhere, rarely does anyone heed them. At my place of work, there’s a large outdoor space where smokers can congregate far away from the entrance, but almost every day as I enter the building, some oaf is standing right there, obnoxiously puffing away.

On a positive note, I’ve seen acknowledgements in the media lately about the fact that smokers tend to take more work breaks and there’s a growing appetite for redress. Global News reports:

A Japanese company is giving its non-smoking staff an additional six days of holiday a year to make up for the time smokers take for cigarette breaks.

This is only fair. It’s about time!

I understand that cigarettes are highly addictive. I have personal experience of a close family member who for many years smoked in my presence. Eventually they limited their smoking to the basement, and then later, outside. When they found out they had a brain aneurysm, they realized they had no choice but to quit. They did it cold turkey and though it was hard, they never looked back. My grandfather was a chain smoker and after he retired, he suffered a stroke. But that’s not what did him in; years later, he died of lung cancer. At a family reunion a couple of years ago, almost everyone was smoking right where we were all set up in the garage with games, drinks and food. They didn’t even have the decency to walk 3 metres away to smoke outside. Truly incomprehensible. The craziest part is my grandmother is 91, in fantastic health, and has no plans to quit smoking. She’s outlived my other grandmother, who passed away last year at 91 and never smoked a cigarette in her life.

As someone who’s been treated for cancer recently, I’m more sensitive about the issue now and I struggle to understand society’s apathy about this problem. No one ever says anything, and because no one ever says anything, no one ever says anything. I know that in this environment, if I were to speak up, people would either ignore me or respond as though I was the one being rude. From time to time when someone’s smoke is blowing in my face and I can’t get away, I’ll give them a dirty look and they usually get the hint and move away. But it shouldn’t come to that.

All of this would change if the public were better educated and everyone made an effort to speak up. There’s a limit to the extent to which sin taxes will deter smokers and governments have been utter cowards when it comes to holding tobacco companies accountable. As long as these corporations rake in massive profits and our political representatives bend to their will, the price we all pay for this heinous habit will continue to rise.

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Why men keep getting away with being pervs and pedos: a case study of Marc Emery

Men can do the most outrageous, disgusting things and loads of people – mostly men but also women – will inevitably come to their defense even when the facts are damning. This can only happen in a culture that supports and worships male power, and devalues females. These two biases are self-reinforcing and serve to ensure that whatever men do, they’ll escape punishment and whatever women do, we’ll continue to be exploited, disbelieved and harmed. Sure, men are being called out, but rarely do they actually get the justice they deserve. The actions of celebrity men are highly visible, but how many average men have done terrible things and gotten away with it? Just from my experiences alone, I can list dozens.

Journalist Deidre Olsen recently published a shocking (not so shocking) thread on Twitter about the creepy advances that ‘Prince of Pot’ Canadian activist Marc Emery allegedly made to her when she was just 17. Further along the thread, she provides details and shares the stories of other women.

 

Emery has admitted to being a pervert but insists no one has ever complained to the authorities about him. That’s a solid defense because we all know most sexual assaults are reported. Right?? Well, Marc, maybe no one spoke up before but they sure as hell are now. He went on to say:

I’ve never had sex with anyone under 19 ever, so this idea that I’m grooming young women is not true

Emery may be a greasy sleazebag, but I’m sure he’s smart enough to know this doesn’t wash. Do all instances of sexual abuse involve actual intercourse? Of course they don’t. It remains to be seen what will come of the recent allegations but things don’t look good. Despite this, many are rushing to his defense. Just check out the incomprehensibly asinine comments of support posted under Emery’s statement on his Facebook page. Apart from the current allegations and those that have apparently been floating around for a long time (Jian Ghomeshi comes to mind), there’s plenty of evidence that makes it clear what kind of man Emery is: an egotistical chauvinist who enjoys debasing women and encourages other men to dominate and abuse them too. Like Roosh V and James Sears, Emery likes to bond with other men by humiliating women. Shall we review the evidence?

Yeah, dude. We could have told you famous men have always preyed on vulnerable women and girls. That’s because we live in patriarchy, not because it’s okay.

 

…But he’s not a pedophile, you see, because they’re probably of legal age. Nothing wrong about a middle-aged man getting turned on by girls, taking their picture while their backs are turned, and posting it on social media so other pigs can objectify them too. Please proceed to the next exhibit with caution. Emery is one sick fuck…

 

So do I believe that this violent vacuum of humanity tried to groom a 17 year-old girl on the internet, and has probably done and said a lot of other disgusting things to women and girls over the years? Yeah, I do.

Why is cultural appropriation so hard for people to understand?

There’s always been a backlash to political correctness. Many behind the backlash say they’re sensitive to the legitimate concerns of disadvantaged groups but things have gone too far. More often than not, when you dig a bit deeper, their solution is usually something like: why can’t we all just relax and treat everybody the same way? Well yeah, that’s the point – but the question is, who isn’t being treated fairly and what’s being done – and by whom – to keep these people from achieving social equality?

There are some people who’ll never believe that by virtue of being members of certain groups based on shared ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc., individuals are vulnerable to mistreatment and often are mistreated on that basis. They might do a bit of research and number-crunching to support their views, but more often than not, they just don’t care. Even if it could be unequivocally shown that certain groups in society are disadvantaged, they wouldn’t change anything about their own behaviour. It rarely seems to be noted that for every offense taken by SJWs, there’s an equally-vocal group who instantly become offended that someone is offended. These types relish in the notoriety of holding controversial opinions whether they have a genuine belief or familiarity with the ideology that underpins them, or not.

It’s clear to any decent, honest person who isn’t a misogynist that Baby it’s Cold Outside is a manual for sexual harassment, its easy acceptance by most people a horrifying signifier of women’s oppression. It doesn’t take much effort to see the problem. The machinations of gender are clear: we see how femininity has conditioned not just the woman in the song but women as a class to be nice, to do everything possible to avoid hurting men’s feelings, to give in to their pressure; and how masculinity has given this man such a sense of entitlement to this woman’s attention and body that he feels totally comfortable taking advantage of his greater size and strength, and the woman’s desperate attempt to balance her internalized duty of politeness with her own instinct for self-preservation. Over and over again, she says no – but he has a smarmy rebuff each time. How, then, can there be a critical mass of people who feel no shame in whining so much that radio stations felt they had no choice but to put the rape apologist song back on the air? All this in the era of #MeToo when there are literally countless examples of male violence exposed for all to see. You can prove in the clearest terms that these problems exist, how they work, and how to eradicate them. But facts don’t matter when you don’t have power.

It’s within this context that I’d like to discuss recent news that Coop les Récoltes, a bar and co-operative at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, banned white comedian Zach Poitras from performing there because he has dreadlocks. Their public statement can be read here (in French). I think there’s a debate to be had about the current climate of safe spaces and censorship at universities in Western countries, but this is a legitimate issue that won’t go away for good reason.

I approach this case with two main questions in mind:

  1. Is it justifiable for private establishments to ban someone who engages in cultural appropriation?
  2. Is this an example of cultural appropriation?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that white people who wear dreads are engaging in cultural appropriation. What should we do about it as a society? We can’t force the offenders to stop, so some form of social censure is required if we agree that this practice is rude at best and harmful at worst. Is it fair to exclude cultural appropriators from certain events and spaces out of respect for black people who also wish – and deserve – to enjoy those same events and spaces? To me, it turns on one fundamental observation: there’s been ample debate for some time now that white people who wear dreads can’t possibly feign ignorance to the fact that many black people say it’s insulting. Why isn’t that enough to make them stop? Why is their personal aesthetic more important than the right of black people to be treated as equals? There are two rights here, and in my mind one is manifestly more important than the other. People shouldn’t engage in practices that are disrespectful to a disadvantaged group unless they have a very, very good (i.e. rights-based) reason for doing so. Individual style doesn’t make the cut. So consequences should be expected, and reasonable, which I would define as decisions that don’t violate fundamental human rights. I don’t think this is one such example, so Coop les Récoltes had a right to make the decision they did. That being said, I get why it’s controversial.

As to whether this case is indeed an example of cultural appropriation, I think an honest, robust analysis leads to a fairly easy conclusion that it is. I saw many comments on the Facebook post that are lazy and shallow. One person linked to a Wikipedia page which says:

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Amorites, Mitanni, Hattians, Hurrians, Arameans, Eblaites, Israelites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Medes, Parthians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Georgians, Azeris, Cilicians and Canaanites/Phoenicians/Carthaginians are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards.

This point is irrelevant. Braids and plaits aren’t the same as dreads and no skater dude, stoner, new ager or anarchist is trying to emulate an Indian sadhu or Aztec priest. Dreadlocks as a concept and style are known in the West primarily and specifically as a result of the growth of the Jamaican diaspora. Ask any random person what springs to mind when they think ‘dreadlocks’ and they picture a black person by default.

There are two main reasons why dreads are typically worn by members of the subcultures I’ve listed here: (1) they presumably give one an earthy, ‘ethnic’, ‘hippie’, ‘alternative’ kind of look; and (2) they’re a symbol of resistance popularized by Rastafari, most famously by Bob Marley. Another person who comes to mind is Zack de la Rocha, formerly of Rage Against the Machine. White people, and other non-black people, adopt the look because this connection conveys for them an ineffectual, cool, edgy image.

Dreads and cornrows are firmly located within black communities and are meaningful from a black liberation perspective because black people – and by extension, black hair – have been so heavily stigmatized. Just like the afro and the comb, dreads are an unmistakable symbol of black pride more broadly even if dreads are ultimately attributed to Jamaican culture specifically. How is a white person treated and regarded when wearing dreads, compared to a black person?

White people mimicking black people is nothing new, but the argument can’t rest on comparisons alone. Either a practice is right or wrong on its face. Otherwise, we’ll continue to go in circles forever, failing to recognize that these are not isolated, trite issues. You’d have to know all of this and not care about the message you’re sending as a white person wearing dreads, especially if you want to socialize with people of all backgrounds. I’m sure Poitras has met black people who’ve told him he’s alright and his hair doesn’t offend them. Several responses to the Coop les Récoltes’ announcement say as much. Then again, I’ve also met women who hate lesbians and think all women should have children, so…

Is a guaranteed basic income the solution to poverty?

I don’t think so. I’m a socialist and I still don’t think so. In fact, it’s because I’m a socialist that I think it’s a bad idea.

We all know that housing costs in Canada – Toronto and Vancouver in particular – are crazy. And when I say Toronto, I’m essentially referring to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) because as prices have risen exponentially in Toronto proper, many people have migrated further and further outside of the city, trying to snatch up homes that aren’t cheap but still somewhat affordable. This drives local prices up to such an extent that people who’ve lived in peripheral cities as far out as Guelph are saying that if they sell their houses, they won’t be able to buy a another one in the same community. Everyone is getting priced out everywhere. In Hamilton, for example, residential real estate is still significantly cheaper than in Toronto, but home prices have shot up 70% according to a recent report by the Canadian Real Estate Association.

Minimum wage won’t get you very far in these circumstances, and the fact that the Progressive Conservative government headed by Doug Ford cancelled an increase from $14 to $15 which was planned by the Liberals doesn’t help. But we knew they were going to do that before Ford was elected Premier. What we didn’t know – because they said they wouldn’t do it – was that they would cancel the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. I think it’s unethical and irresponsible to renege on a campaign promise, especially when people will reasonably make important life choices based on that promise. There was no warning, and as far as I’ve been able to determine, no alternative support system implemented to help people who are going to have serious problems as a result. What happens to a person who signed a new lease and now won’t be able to afford the rent? Whatever one’s assessment of the effectiveness of the pilot in alleviating poverty, the about-face was dirty.

I read a news story about a Hamilton couple who found out they were accepted for the basic income pilot in May 2018. At this point, Justine Taylor had already found out she was pregnant and the couple say they were having trouble finding work. They say they wanted to go back to school and start a business. I don’t know if this is the sort of thing people say to reporters to make it look like they’re trying to be gainful contributors to society, but owning a business isn’t a right. Most of us – me included – don’t work for ourselves, nor do we have the resources to do so.

Again, it was wrong for the government to cancel the pilot in July 2018 without warning, knowing that families would have put plans in place to move, have a child, etc. But I actually don’t think the Liberals should have started the pilot to begin with.

Let’s take a closer look at this couple from Hamilton. They failed to use birth control, both preventative and retroactive. This is Canada, where all the reproductive health care one could want is available. Birth control really isn’t that expensive between two people. Condoms exist – and the morning after pill is available over the counter in drug stores if something goes wrong. This couple already had a nine-year old child and were struggling financially. Their decision to have another child was a poor one, made well before the pilot was an option. Why should people like myself subsidize these choices? As it is, I’m not exactly thrilled that I have to contribute funds for education and medical services for children I’ll never have. As a child-free woman renting alone in the north end of Toronto, I have a hard enough time paying the rent, utilities, bills, and saving for a home and retirement all by myself.

Quality full-time work is hard to come by, but there’s always someone hiring. When I graduated from university, I couldn’t find work in my field and worked as a cashier to make rent. I didn’t want to do that. I was ridiculously overqualified, bored and disappointed. But the truth is that there are jobs out there, just maybe not the ones we want. Two people can find full-time jobs in Hamilton and find a decent apartment for a lot less than I’m paying on my own.

There’s so much emotional rhetoric around the issue. Taylor comments that the pilot is “making people realize that we are people, too.” Who’s saying they’re not people?

I started to question the value of this project while reading news articles that described the changes people were able to make in their lives as a result of the pilot. Some were on disability, barely scraping by, so the extra cash made a huge difference to them. But shouldn’t the government instead focus on fixing disability support programs so that people who truly can’t work are getting enough money to live dignified lives? This seems to me to be a classically liberal attempt to put a band-aid over systemic economic problems. I don’t support the PCs; I’m critical of their decision to scrape back welfare payments and freeze the minimum wage. I also think that the welfare system as it exists doesn’t provide enough incentive for people to find work, and there are all kinds of people collecting social assistance who shouldn’t qualify. Rather than patching up a broken system, we need to rebuild it so that it works for everyone.

Who pays the price for an inadequate social assistance regime and minimum wage? Workers. The basic income pilot was a gift to employers, especially large corporations. They don’t have to pay their workers a decent wage and invest in good benefits – taxpayers will do it for them. This shifts the onus of compensating for an exploitative financial system from the capitalist class – those who control and benefit from it – to those who are less so, but nevertheless, also exploited by this system. This isn’t progressive policy.

I actually agree with Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod that we shouldn’t be paying people for doing nothing, that it sends the wrong message that you can get free money and not be expected to work for it. There are many people who will put that money to good use. There are also a lot of lazy, careless people who will piss it away. Why should anyone bankroll that? One individual said she was using her installments from the pilot to pay off her credit card. Maybe she accrued that debt because she didn’t have any other way to pay legitimate bills. Or maybe not. I read another report (can’t find it now) in which someone said she used the extra income to lend money to a friend. Does this sound like a fair, responsible program?

The basic income pilot was a program that helped some deserving people, made some people feel virtuous, and encouraged waste and the perpetuation of a broken system. Making promises and then pulling the rug out from under people made things worse, but it didn’t get us to where we are now.

Open letter to the National Post: resistance to gender identity laws is about much more than political correctness

Recent articles (here and here) in the National Post have exposed a dispute surrounding gender identity taking place at U of T, one of many universities trying to navigate this polarizing issue. It’s critical that the public be informed that there’s more at stake than just transgender rights and freedom of expression.

Gender identity is indeed, as Jordan Peterson says, philosophically incoherent and scientifically unfounded. It’s also true that forcing others to participate in affirming one’s self-perception is a violation of individual autonomy. The more pressing concern, however, is not political correctness but rather that gender identity has created a dangerous landscape of competing rights that adversely impacts females. As such, dissension shouldn’t be monopolized by people who aren’t invested or interested in women’s rights.

According to NatPo writer Chris Selley, resistance to recognizing people’s chosen identity (the list is huge and continually expanding) comes down to a straightforward matter of being a jerk. But consider this: when gender identity replaces biological sex in law, distinct sex categories and therefore sex-based protections for females disappear because any male-bodied individual is considered a woman, or even female, strictly and solely on his verbal declaration. Many Canadians are supportive of transgender protections against discrimination in areas such as employment and housing (as am I) but aren’t aware of this implication. Toby’s Law, passed in Ontario, granted serial sex offender Christopher “Jessica” Hambrook entry into two women’s shelters on the basis of his transgender identity as a woman, where he assaulted at least four women. Despite the exploitation of these laws being well-documented, women and girls are left to question what rights they have (examples include the case of Student X in Minnesota and Colleen Francis in Washington), and we’re supposed to think this is a bad thing because some people don’t want to use preferred pronouns.

Imagine being a female forced to share public showers, change rooms, prisons, shelters, and other protected spaces with males because they claim to have an indescribable internal female feeling, that they can’t be questioned when they say they’re women because they identify with the stereotypes forced on females, or they don’t think they’re men because they don’t identify with masculine stereotypes. Imagine being told that you’re only a woman because you choose to identify as one, hence choosing to be a target of discrimination and violence, even though men who harm women and girls are unaware of and uninterested in how they see themselves and wish to be addressed. If you’re a sexual assault survivor, you’re expected to get over your trauma.

Postmodern queer theory and gender politics have arbitrarily decreed that a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman – end of discussion – and even thinking about asking a question is transphobic and bigoted. Now imagine that this circular logic forms the basis of gender identity laws in many countries, starting from the UN and trickling down, and you’ll be describing a reality few know exists. Women and girls are ordered to be silent, nurturing, and to surrender their boundaries. This is not acceptable. Not ever, not for any reason, even when it’s presented as a remedy for the problems faced by another group of people coping with their own unique challenges.

There are a number of common strawman arguments in circulation. I’ll address three to illustrate the lack of understanding around the issue:

  1. Opponents of gender identity laws are saying that transgender people are inherently predatory.
  2. Opponents think that women and girls will be safe if we don’t let transgender people use the facilities of their choice.
  3. Predators have always been able to get into female spaces, so what’s the difference?

The problem is that a law whose criterion for entry is self-declaration as opposed to biological sex effectively removes all barriers faced by predators who realize that all they have to do is say they identify as female/girl/woman. This loophole is publicized every time an incident is reported in the news. You’d have to be something of a recluse not to have heard about the controversy surrounding transgender bathroom laws.

Sex-segregated spaces were never understood as impenetrable bubbles that deliver absolute protection. They’ve always been intended to provide, as much as is practically possible, privacy and safety for females. It’s irrelevant whether particular individuals who don’t appear to be transgender can pose as transgender to make a political point; sincerity can’t be assessed if it’s unlawful to question one’s stated gender identity. In such a situation, literally any man can obtain unfettered access, whereas before he could be questioned and ejected if necessary. The fact that most perpetrators of male violence are known to their victims and there’s no way to guarantee safety in some circumstances are not valid reasons to expose women and girls to further risk. This should be obvious to anyone who values and respects females. Trying to convince them of what they should be comfortable with is a manifestation of rape culture. If you’re trying to negotiate someone’s boundaries, regardless of why they exist, you’ve already violated them.

There was no question about the need for sex segregation before gender identity was popularized. Until recently, no one was equating it with white supremacist laws in the American south. So why now? Sex segregation isn’t an expression of social hierarchy; it reflects a need and a right for females to participate fully in public life. Shaming people for not wanting to expose themselves or be exposed to the opposite sex against their will is an affront to human dignity, irrespective of whether some people think it’s bizarre or wrong, or feel comfortable doing so themselves.

There are many other ways in which gender identity negatively impacts women and girls. For the feminists critiquing this ideology, resistance isn’t a matter of poor judgement, character flaws or a desire to say offensive things without being accountable. These issues warrant rigorous analysis and discussion in the media and by the Canadian government as they consider the ramifications of Bill C-16.

Why men should stop calling themselves feminists

When Emma Watson posted a tribute to the late Alan Rickman by highlighting one of his quotes about feminism, she faced a swift backlash for what some people idiots claimed was a gratuitous promotion of feminism (because promoting feminism is a bad thing and famous people are never quoted in memoriam?).

It’s always good overall, I think, when men can say the word feminism without looking like they’ve just smelled something funky. Although it’s helpful that not all men (or women) think it’s a dirty word, not speaking derisively about the movement for women’s liberation is a basic minimum of decency. If the bar has been set so low that men are lavished with praise for verbally recognizing that women are human beings, this is a solid argument for sustaining the topic in public discourse, to be sure.

The question is: who should shape and own that discourse? Lately there have been numerous instances in which men – especially white men of means – take up the mantle of feminist and instruct other men to do the same. While some women don’t have a problem with this I think it’s worth exploring why some women do because talking about feminism, whether it’s being done by women or men, is not a gender-neutral practice.

The words, ideas, and actions of men carry more weight in society. Females and males aren’t just individuals but also members of social classes which are defined by specific criteria: who they’re perceived to be, how they’re expected to behave, and how they relate to each other. Men hold certain things in common, with some variation thrown in the mix such as nationality, ethnicity, economic class, and sexual orientation. The same goes for women. The result is a complex web of social groups, some of which are organized according to hierarchies i.e. structures of power. The internal commonalities that differentiate males and females from each other are one such example. Of all the topics imaginable, sexism is the subject for which sex-based inequality matters the most. When men and women talk about feminism they’re doing so from privileged and underprivileged positions respectively.

As well-meaning as all of this is, it presents some significant problems. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that men need to be a big part of the conversation, I cringe. Men should critique the system of gender (masculinity and femininity) and talk about what they can do to dismantle it. Most importantly, they should elevate the voices of women, especially marginalized women such as women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, poor and working class women, lesbians, disabled women, etc. – bearing in mind that many women belong to more than one of these groups. Organizations like A Call To Men UK do a great job of advocating for the well-being of women and the reason for this is that they take responsibility and they listen to us. Men acting as the face and voice of feminism and taking up space in the movement is actually the last thing that feminism needs. There are loads of intelligent, charismatic women who can (and do) discuss feminism more articulately, more accurately, and with more credibility than men ever can. Why should they have a platform to speak our truths?

mf1

I believe that men should never identify as feminists – and certainly not any time they feel like it as Trudeau suggests. A man, especially one who enjoys multiple levels of privilege, dictating who can or should adopt this title and when smacks of hubris and paternalism. The benefactors of an oppressive system have no business setting the language and parameters of the activism that seeks to destroy that system. The conflict of interest here is obvious to anyone willing to see it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend who, as soon as he found out I’m a feminist, was eager to tell me that he’s a feminist too. I thought, ‘Oh no. Here we go again’. I took a deep breath and told him that a lot of women aren’t comfortable with men adopting the label of feminist. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dismissed me. “That’s not my problem,” he said.

mftw

It’s always deeply disappointing when men who assume the good guy status ultimately prove themselves to be classic mansplainers. It’s become such a cliché.

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Ilana and Abbi in Broad City

Isn’t it convenient that there are two tranches of feminism that men can pick and choose from as though they’re deciding which ice cream tastes better and the one that’s most desirable to them happens to be the one that least challenges their privilege? This serves the purpose of creating a subclass of feminists who are deemed deserving of abuse and allows men to avoid questioning themselves while appearing virtuous. They can rest easy because they’ve been accepted by the good feminists. The real feminists.

jgl

There’s something mildly relieving about the few times guys manage to say something about sexism or feminism that isn’t misguided, stupid, or arrogant. (Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the Ryan Gosling memes because you’ve probably seen a lifetime’s worth and then some.)

It’s not wrong for public figures to say that it’s important to demand a shift in attitudes as Trudeau has said, but I have a feeling he means something different when he says this than when I do. I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’re far from done and radical change can’t come soon enough. We’re expected to be satisfied with minor advancements and I’m sorry (not sorry) but women have only ever made progress when we’ve fought for it. It doesn’t make sense to low-ball in what is essentially treated as a negotiation of human rights.

It’s not as though women have been sitting around at Stitch ‘n Bitch waiting for politicians to give them the green light. Women have been practicing feminism since well before male sympathizers were born. Women are the ones with the most at stake and we also happen to be the experts. So shouldn’t the experts be educating the public on how to move forward? If gender parity really is a priority in his administration, the best way for Trudeau to demonstrate that is to step aside and let women speak, and not just about feminism but every other issue too because we are people, after all, and we have a lot of smart things to say about every topic under the sun. The only way for us to change the fact that men’s words carry more weight is to take some of it and place it on the other side of the scale.

The truth is, very few men know what they’re talking about. Time and time again we see men insisting that they’re feminists and that they know what feminism is and how we should go about it, only to end up stepping in it. Then they track that garbage all over the place without even realizing it. When do we say, enough?

We can pluck examples from a wide variety of men with the same predictable outcome. The most ridiculous case that comes to mind is when porn actor and serial abuser James Deen was lauded as a feminist and “feminist” publications had to backtrack when his misogyny became too embarassingly obvious to rationalize.

A lot of people laughed when Pope Francis said, “forgive me if I’m a bit feminist” and then went on to say, in the way that condescending men are wont to, that women are just so fantastic because they do the care work while men do all the talking. But are other spiritual leaders much different? For instance, what about the Dalai Lama, who proudly wears the feminist label?

It didn’t take long for him to screw up. Just one year later self-identified Buddhist feminists went into damage control after the leader made an unequivocally sexist comment. Oops! When asked whether he supported the idea that the next Lama could be a woman, he enthusiastically said yes (watch at 4:52) but he followed this up with two assertions. The first was that women are biologically wired to be more affectionate and compassionate than men – that familiar stereotype that’s been used for centuries to force support roles on women and deny them other forms of employment. The second was that this woman would have to be very attractive or else she wouldn’t be of much use. Visibly shocked by this, the interviewer asked him if he was joking and he confirmed that he wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t. But even if he had been joking, which many Buddhists insisted was the case regardless of appearances, sexist jokes aren’t funny (how many times do we have to say this??) and they definitely aren’t feminist.

The term ‘male feminist’ exists because females are the default feminists. We’re the default feminists because feminism is a political movement that organizes for the liberation of females from male domination. If I’m being brutally honest? Very few men are interested in destroying this system and those who say they are almost always get in the way. The biggest hindrance to progress is the fact that any given man is far more likely to perpetuate sexism than to challenge it. Women participate in this system as well as a result of our own social conditioning, but with one key difference: relatively speaking, men have power and women do not. The potential for men to divide, derail, and sabotage feminism through their mere presence is enormous.

From this angle, members of the oppressor class referring to themselves as the liberators of the people they oppress is itself an act of domination, whether intentional or not. It’s not for men to decide what or who is feminist. It’s disrespectful to feminists who work hard, take risks and make sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to share the well-earned badge of feminist with people who not only hold power over them but will never understand what it means to be a woman in a culture that hates females. If a man insists on calling himself a feminist despite all of this, he is anything but; that it’s a matter of respecting women’s boundaries should be enough for him to back off. Feminism belongs to women, as do the words we use to signal our support for the struggle.

There are a lot of things men can do to help women, some more effective than others. As Helen Lewis explains, whereas men often want to be part of the feminist conversation – as many believe is their right – the most valuable contribution men can make to feminism is to take on the burdens that have for so long been the responsibility of women. It’s not glamorous or fun but that’s not the point anyway.

Apparently this needs to be said: men are not entitled to feminist spaces, nor do feminists have any obligation to listen to what men have to say about the women’s liberation movement. It’s great when they reject masculinity but if they’re just performing a different stereotype, or they think their gender divergence means they’re not really men, then gender roles are left intact. When it comes to men and gender, true nonconformity means abandoning one’s allegiance to masculinity along with any notion that one’s sex is correlated with one’s personality.

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Being an ally to social causes shouldn’t be about personal identity and it shouldn’t matter whether you’ve taken on a particular status because having a shiny happy image doesn’t help anyone but you.

An open letter to Fightback: how the left fails women

Yesterday I received my last copy of Fightback (Issue 91). Some of the leftist analysis in this journal is decent and I feel that the meager $20 I paid for a yearly subscription was well spent. I will not, however, be renewing my subscription, the reasons for which I’m providing in an open letter because they speak to the challenges that women often face when we try to organize for our rights within leftist circles.

In the first article in this issue, The niqab debate: A weapon of mass distraction, Joel Bergman correctly and articulately describes Stephen Harper’s hypocrisy in trying to present himself as a defender of women’s rights through his grandstanding around the niqab. Harper says that the practice of covering a woman so that only her eyes are visible is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”. If we’re being honest, it’s impossible to imagine how a culture that renders women essentially invisible while allowing men to dress as they wish can not be considered to be anti-women. An egalitarian culture would see this as unthinkable. We’ve heard the argument that veiled women, especially those who have immigrated to Canada, wear the niqab by choice. How many of these women’s families would be supportive if they decided they wanted to wear jeans a t-shirt with nothing on their heads? The niqab is not a female creation and it is worn within a social context that does not afford women autonomy or equal status.

Nevertheless, the government has deliberately created confusion about the personal identification process involved in citizenship. We know that the hegemonic “culture” that Harper refers to is a contrived notion that seeks to paint every brown-skinned Muslim with the same extremist brush. He wants us to think they’re all current or future terrorists and a horrifying percentage of Canadians agree with him. Part of what’s so sickening about the niqab debate is that conservatives have nothing to teach anyone about women’s rights.

But neither do leftists, it seems. Only in a patriarchal society could individuals outraged by the niqab attack the women wearing it and not the men who enforce this code of conduct. When we see New Democrat support in Quebec swinging toward the nationalist Bloc Quebecois as a result of this debate, we have to wonder about the class consciousness of people who only consider voting for the two parties in Quebec that can be described by some measure as progressive. White working class and middle class men have traditionally organized around economic class, but there are other forms of class oppression which Marxism still fails to address.

Simply put, why is a man writing an article about women’s rights? Couldn’t Fightback find a woman to write on this topic? Come to think of it, why are all four of the articles in this issue – and almost every article in every issue I’ve ever read – written by men? Let me explain why you picked the wrong person to cover the niqab debate and women’s rights. Bergman writes:

“In supposedly fighting for the emancipation of women, the Harper Conservatives, in alliance with Quebecois nationalists and liberal feminists alike end up using the state to once again take away women’s right to choose.”

I’m sorry? Choice is a keystone of liberal feminism that can apply to literally anything a woman might decide to do because making that decision in itself is considered to be empowering, including wearing a mini skirt or a hijab, being a submissive in a BDSM relationship, or stripping. To deny a woman her agency, as this theory goes, would be anti-feminist. Basically, the guy writing about women’s rights is trying to critique a branch of feminism, which he gets backwards but is actually a proponent of, without even knowing it.

But here’s what sent Fightback sailing into my blue box:

“The niqab cannot be legislated away. What is needed is to create the conditions in which women themselves choose to reject it. The only real way to do this is not through state imposition and policing, but through building a mass united movement of oppressed peoples against all forms of oppression and against the capitalist system itself which forms the cement foundation, perpetuating all of the rotten garbage that we see in our society today.”

None of the women who could honestly call themselves feminists are suggesting that state institutions be used to prevent women from wearing the niqab. More importantly, only a member of the dominant class can afford to believe that a mass movement of oppressed peoples will do anything other than prioritize the goals of the privileged class. How do men, who are members of the biggest oppressor class on the planet, imagine they’ll help to bring about women’s liberation when so many of them imagine themselves to be educated on women’s rights but have never bothered to learn feminist theory? I don’t want to organize alongside Marxist men who repeat all the mainstream feminist talking points only to go home and watch violent, misogynistic porn. I don’t want to surround myself with “comrades” who think that socialism is the answer to patriarchy because I’ve seen far too many lefty men use the same tactics as their conservative brethren to silence and bully women.

The next time Fightback runs an article on women’s issues, I hope you’ll demonstrate your commitment to women by elevating our voices and actively challenging the pervasive culture of male entitlement. You might also consider providing more feminist content. The class analysis of radical feminism is something that anti-capitalist movements could greatly benefit from. You see, capitalism grew out of a patriarchal, white supremacist ideology – not the other way around. After all, there would be no market in capitalism for women’s bodies in the first place if men didn’t think they existed for their own use and abuse. There are plenty of women who would have done a better job of analyzing this topic, among others, including those outside the realm of women’s issues. No one will believe that you believe that if you don’t hand over the microphone.