The Round-Up: Aug. 2, 2011

  • The Georgia Straight has a good backgrounder on two-spirit traditions in First Nations communities and a look at the upcoming International Two-Spirit gathering taking place in BC.
  • Beyond the Rainbow is a Montreal organization founded by a former refugee that works with gay and lesbian immigrants. It’s profiled in the Montreal Gazette.
  • In case you hadn’t heard about it yet, Ms. Magazine has a good recap of the story of a black single-mother high-school student who was elected valedictorian and then told she would have to share the title with a white student with lesser academic achievements.
  • More controversy on the Google+ naming policy, as LifeHacker points out the system doesn’t work with Australian Aboriginal names. On a related note, if you’re on Google+ despite all its problems, feel free to me (Jarrah Hodge). If you want an invite, let me know.
  • Renee at Womanist Musings asks: was She-Ra feminist?
  • Cute photos at Kitch-Slapped of 1920s women on motorcycles.
  • Women’s E News asks whether UN agencies are ducking taking a real policy stand on safe abortion.
-Jarrah
Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Round-Ups 1 Comment

Missing Women Inquiry’s Fatal Funding Flaw

From its inception, the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry had its problems. The first concern raised by Aboriginal women’s groups and groups working with sex workers was the choice of Wally Oppal, former Liberal Attorney General, as the inquiry’s commissioner, given his political ties to some of the key witnesses. There was also controversy about the limited terms of reference, which specified the inquiry was only to focus on events from 1997 to Pickton’s arrest in 2002.

But even if you thought Oppal could be impartial as a commissioner or you’ve been convinced since he took the job, it’s become clear that the inquiry has no chance at reaching any legitimate and useful conclusions until the government agrees to fund the 13 groups granted standing in the inquiry. The groups Oppal’s advocated for to receive funding includemany small, local groups who work with at-risk women and understand the problems with how the Pickton case and other investigations were handled.

Last month BC Liberal Attorney General Barry Penner decided Oppal had no authority to recommend funding for these groups, which has meant many have been forced to withdraw. Ian Mulgrew reported in the Vancouver Sun that it would take approximately $1.5 million to finance the groups, a relatively small amount compared to the overall cost of the case. The list of those who’ve withdrawn now includes WISH, a DTES drop-in centre for sex workers; the Union of BC Indian Chiefs; the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association; and most recently the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Other groups have also indicated they will be unable to participate in the inquiry in the longer term.

Penner is also refusing funding for counsel for Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver police officer whose warnings of a serial killer were ignored by the department. He may not appear.

The inquiry is becoming nothing more than the Liberal government’s latest dog and pony show, though whether Barry Penner is the dog or the pony is anyone’s guess.

Last week the BC NDP called on the government to fix the funding issues: “These workers are on the front lines and have first-hand knowledge of how things can be improved for aboriginal women at-risk; however, without counsel, they’re unable to provide a submission to the inquiry,” said NDP Attorney General Critic Leonard Krog.

But the Native Women’s Association of Canada is taking it a step further, arguing that real change will require a national inquiry: “NWAC was initially concerned about the limited scope of the BC Commission of Inquiry, but chose to participate to bring forward the knowledge and expertise developed through the Sisters In Spirit initiative. NWAC is now calling for a National Inquiry to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada,” read NWAC’s recent statement.

In the long run, I hope we do see a national inquiry, as proposed by NWAC. The issues leading to violence against Aboriginal women and to the lack of police interest in the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women go beyond the limits of the Downtown Eastside and beyond the years 1997-2002. They include systemic racism and sexism, cuts to Aboriginal services at the federal and provincial levels, federal prostitution law that puts sex workers at greater risk, and the complicated legacy of colonialism.

But at a bare minimum Christy Clark and Barry Penner need to restore legitimacy to the provincial inquiry by funding the 13 groups identified by Oppal. It’s unjust to the murdered and missing Aboriginal girls the inquiry’s supposed to represent to only fund lawyers for the victims’ families and government and police participants who will be defending their conduct during the Pickton investigation. If we want the most legitimate results for the inquiry, we need to have these experienced grassroots groups funded to provide their perspectives.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment

Pride and Displays of Sexuality

The Vancouver Pride parade is one of my favourite events of the year. But so far this year I’ve spent less time thinking about what colour nail polish I should wear and more time thinking about the recent kerfuffle over Shinder Purewal’s anti-Pride tweet.

As Hearts in the Margins points out, Twitter isn’t the best venue for detailed discussions on LGBT rights and sexual self-expression, so I’m taking this one to the blog.

You’ve probably heard the tweet by the Kwantlen professor and former Surrey North federal Liberal candidate: “Vancouver’s so-called ‘Pride Parade’ should be banned. It is vulgar … to say the least!” The tweet not only sparked a Twitter firestorm but was also covered in mainstream media, including a call-in segment on the Michael Smyth show on CKNW on Friday, and a story in the Vancouver Sun.

Most people I talked with disagreed with the initial comment, especially the call to ban Pride, but there was more of a debate around his clarification:

“If I can’t take my family to a place because of open sexuality, my opinion is that it’s simply vulgar.

That does not mean that I don’t support same-sex marriage, which I do and voted for, or that I don’t support people of different sexual orientation, but for it to be in public is vulgar.”

Mr. Purewal is fully entitled to his opinions, but his initial comment about banning and some follow-ups he made to the National Post led me to wonder if his problem is the display of gay sexuality, not sexuality in general.

“Sexuality is what you do within the four walls of your home and that’s your business. Openly in streets, we don’t normally do that. Heterosexuals, we don’t display that.”

He’s not alone in this opinion. One of the CKNW callers went on about how he’s not against gay people but he hates having this display shoved in his face.

And I remember a conversation with a friend who said, “It’s fine if they’re gay, but why can’t they just be more normal about it?”

This whole idea that people aren’t exposed to displays of open straight sexuality on a regular basis is horse-pucky, to use a Rachel Maddow-ism. For a more extreme example take frat parties, or Granville St. on a Friday night (though a friend pointed out kids aren’t usually around at this hour to watch).

Even movie ratings tend to say showing straight sexuality it more acceptable than LGBT sexuality (check out Kirby Dick’s This Film is Not Yet Rated for more on that).

And less exceptional still, consider the straight couples you might have seen making out in your high-school hallways at lunch. It might not have been appropriate behavior for high-schoolers, but the worst penalty you were likely to get was a talking-to from the Vice-Principal. At many schools like the one I attended to, exemplifying any sort of “gay” behavior was likely to get you beat up after school. There was no way same-sex couples could make out in the hallways without risk of assault.

Although, straight couples don’t usually worry about being attacked for walking in public holding hands, it’s unfortunately not rare to hear of gay-bashings of trans people and gay and lesbian adults in Vancouver.  That year-round violent policing of public same-sex sexuality is why I react so strongly to a comment like Mr. Purewal’s.

But let’s say for a moment that someone is equally opposed to displays of straight sexuality, especially exposing their kids to it. I’m not going to pretend there aren’t sexual displays at Pride. Even though my Denman Island hippie upbringing makes it hard for me to understand why people have an issue with it, I acknowledge there are some things in the parade that might make some people uncomfortable. As MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert said on CKNW, seeing guys dancing in short shorts is “not everyone’s cup of tea”.

But it’s a long parade that shows the huge diversity of the LGBT and allied community. It’s not all guys in short shorts or shirtless women on motorcycles. And no one is forced to go there, or take their kids.

Vancouver Board of Education in the 2009 Pride Parade

If parents want their kids to avoid seeing the displays of sexuality, that’s fine. But I don’t buy the argument that no one should be able to take their kids. Spending time as a kid on nude beaches and at parties hosted by lesbians or gay men, some of whom had naked pictures of themselves on the wall, didn’t traumatize me or make me anyone different than who I was.

By taking me to these things my parents showed me that was one ok way to be, but I also had numerous other models, including their own straight marriage. I didn’t become a lesbian just because I saw a couple making out at the nude beach on Hornby Island, and I didn’t find it confusing. That was just how some people were and I was taught some day I could take whatever path I wanted, as long as whatever I did was safe and consenting.

I’m not a parent, so I’m not trying to tell other people how to raise their kids. I’m just saying in my childhood, open discussion of healthy sexuality didn’t cause any long-term ill-effects. Lots of parents take their kids to Pride every year, and that’s as much of a legitimate choice as staying away if you’re uncomfortable.

Pride is about creating a safe space for everyone’s self-expression. Since the idea of what’s acceptable self-expression is subjective, there can’t be that kind of regulation. Instituting some kind of dress or behaviour code would be impractical and would attack the spirit of Pride.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT 2 Comments

Not Impressed: Pink Beer for Women

Are you a woman who doesn’t drink beer much?

Is this because beer wasn’t pink enough for you?

After decades of beer companies making incredibly sexist ads policing masculinity and depicting women as nothing more than sex objects, beer companies have started to realize that women aren’t buying their products as much as men. Their solution: creating new lines of beer targeted to the very consumers they’ve been insulting (this Coopers ad campaign implying less-alcoholized beer will help you avoid hooking up with ugly women gets pride of place in my walk of shame).

Unfortunately, their idea that women would drink more beer if it were pink is no less insulting.

Molson Coors’ Animee beer is the latest to take up this idea. As The Daily Femme points out, the beers Animee line are “fruit flavored and bloat-resistant” and the “rosé beer” is pink. Basically they’re saying what women want is something pretty, pink, fruity, and sweet, that won’t make them fat. It might appeal to some women but the idea that it appeals to all of them is ridiculous. As Christie at Ms. Magazine blog puts it: “In essence, Molson Coors has kept the doors locked on its “no-girls-allowed” beer clubhouse, but poked its head out to say, “Hey look! We set up a crappy flowered tent next door. You guys can hang out there.”

Pacific Western Brewery's pink beer "Wild Thing", photo by Lori & Todd

Pacific Western Brewery's pink beer "Wild Thing"

Molson Coors isn’t the first beer company to go this route. Carlsberg launched a line of lychee-flavoured beer last year called Eve.

And closer to home, Prince George’s Pacific Western Brewing created a not-so-classy bright pink beer/aphrodisiac/energy drink called “Wild Thing”.

The thing is, it shouldn’t take pink dye and lychee essence to make beer acceptable as a woman’s drink. It was actually a woman’s drink to begin with.

In ancient cultures almost worldwide, including Incan and Nordic cultures, women were the original beer-makers. Stuff Mom Never Told You has a great podcast on the history of women and brewing that says in these cultures, beer was almost always considered a gift from a goddess. Women were also responsible for most of the brewing in the 1700s in England, when they were developing ale. They pinpoint the Industrial Revolution as a key turning point in the masculinization of beer. Then, taverns became a male domain due to rules preventing women from coming in in order to discourage prostitution. Molly and Cristen at the podcast argue that it’s bar culture since the Industrial Revolution that’s led to the gender gap and sexist beer advertising we see today.

So in the scope of history, beer becoming a man’s drink is relatively recent. But trying to change what beer is isn’t the way to get women back into the beer-drinking culture. Maybe the best way Molson Coors and other companies could attract women consumers would be to show some respect for the history and craft of brewing, and just basically for women as people.

For more, Modern Lady’s Erin Gibson has a funny take on all the pre-pink beer sexist beer ads:

-Jarrah

“Wild Thing” photo credit: Dave & Lori – http://www.flickr.com/photos/loriandtodd/3236216527/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Reflecting on Women’s Worlds

Thanks to Sussanne Skidmore for writing this reflection on her week at the Women’s Worlds Conference earlier this month. Sussanne is a BC GEU activist, feminist, and lesbian from Prince George, BC. You can find her on Twitter at @SussanneS.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to attend this year’s Women’s Worlds Congress on behalf of  BC GEU component 12 Administrative Services Component. The  conference theme was Inclusions, Exclusions, Seclusions: Living in a Globalized World. Each day brought us a new sub-theme – Day 1: Breaking Cycles, Day 2: Breaking Ceilings, Day 3: Breaking Barriers and Day 4: Breaking Ground.

The Conference was attended by over 1800 women from all over the world. It was inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by women from all over the world, women from unions, universities, women’s organizations, business women, women of color, radical feminists, anarchists, lesbians, students and women with disabilities.

There were three priority areas of the conference: facilitating intergenerational discussions, honouring Aboriginal women’s knowledge and culture, and rendering the event accessible to women with disabilities. Through in-focus sessions and concurrent sessions these issues were critically looked at, discussed and debated by the congress delegates. As a feminist lesbian woman I tried to reach out and participate in a wide variety of sessions to expand my knowledge and understanding of women’s issues through out the world.

I participated in the following sessions: Transnational Lesbian Feminist Activism and Globalized LGBT Rights discourse, Profile This! Muslim Women and Trans People’s Resilience through Art, Smashing through the Old Boys Network: Effective Lobbying for Women’s Rights, Combining our Strengths: A Partnership between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women, Redefining Political Spaces: A Global Conversation on Women’s Rights, Political Participation and Representation, Bloggers without Borders, Ethics of Responsible Travel Blogging, The Loveliest Girl in the World, Social Media: Responsibilities and Opportunities for Women, and Connecting Indigenous Generations through Oral Stories and Performance. The long list of options of sessions that delegates was so full and diverse that it was very hard to pick which ones to go to and they all offered so much that it was hard to choose.

Women’s Worlds has left me with so many great experiences and so much knowledge but there were definitely a few things that stuck in my mind. One of those things was that it is so important that as feminists, as women to come together and recognize our differences and diversity. We need to celebrate those differences and use them to work together to reenergize the feminist movement so that we can move forward and build a world where women’s rights are taken seriously and women all over the world can know freedom. The other thing I really took from this was that we must build bridges, we must recognize our differences amongst women and find our commonalities so that we can  work together as a united force of women all working towards common goals.

-Sussanne

Note from Jarrah:

In case you missed it, you can catch E. Cain’s re-caps of Women’s Worlds here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

And for critical analysis of the conference’s problems, including it’s anti-sex work focus, I recommend the following articles posted at the Shameless Magazine blog:

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

FFFF: U by Kotex Critique


Questioning whether those “U by Kotex” ads are as empowering as they make themselves out to be?

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Books: The Revolution Starts at Home

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Vancouver launch of The Revolution Starts at Home, an anthology dealing with intimate partner violence within activist and radical communities. Co-editors Ching-In Chen and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha were present at the Rhizome Cafe to talk about their powerful collection of stories. The insights shared by participants and audience members at the launch was extremely moving.

The Revolution Starts at Home is different from many other works on intimate partner violence in that it tells stories from voices all too often marginalised. It broke away from mainstream discourse of intimate partner violence as a phenomenon perpetrated solely by men against women, and alongside such examples also included real-life stories of abuse in same-sex relationships, including by and against trans people.

It also highlighted the very real dangers that racialised people, non-status immigrants, people of minority sexual orientations or gender identities, and activists who organise against police brutality or the prison-industrial complex often face in taking intimate partner violence to the authorities.

In a particular powerful anecdote from the book, one author relates the time the police were called to her apartment after her neighbours heard her partner physically assaulting her, and immediately upon entering the apartment pulled her aside and demanded to see her immigration papers. The police did not make any effort to make her feel safe or reassure her that her rights were going to be protected, which informs why so many other contributions to the anthology deal with support and internal policing mechanisms that activist and radical communities can implement without having to rely on state apparatus.

I would strongly recommend picking up a copy of the anthology. However, part of the reason that the book launch was so powerful were the contributions of audience members. The issues that The Revolution Starts at Home deals with aren’t things that we talk about every day, and the opportunity that the book launch provided for people to get together, to talk, to discuss their own experiences, and to share ideas for strengthening their own activist and radical communities was incredibly valuable.

If you couldn’t make it to the book launch, I would strongly recommend having these conversations with your friends, your allies, and your fellow community members. What are their experiences? How are they similar or different to your own? And what do you feel needs to be done to make you, your friends, or your allies safe in this community, especially if you don’t feel like you can rely on the state?

-Kaitlin

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism Leave a comment