In honour of Women’s History Month and the start of hockey season, we’re kicking it old school with an excerpt from “Women’s Hockey: A Proud Past, A Bright Future” (if the IOC doesn’t screw around with it):
Until recently, many Canadians were not aware of Canada’s proud tradition in women’s hockey – a tradition that stretches back over 100 years. Many Canadians are surprised to learn that Lord Stanley’s daughter, Lady Isobel Stanley, was a pioneer in the women’s game. One of the first females to be photographed using puck and stick (around 1890) Lady Isobel wore a long white dress when she played “shinny” with other ladies on the natural ice rink beside Government House in Ottawa…
The long skirts worn by the women led to a clever defensive strategy. The ladies crouched in front of their goaltender, allowing the hem of their long skirts to spread out and thus foil any attempt by an opposing player to shoot the puck beyond them and into the net…
In 1916, Cornwall, Ontario, introduced local sensation Albertine Lapensee, who was billed as “the premier female player in the world.” Thousands of fans turned out to see Lapensee play. But not for long; Lapensee went to New York for a visit and returned several weeks later — as a man. Her new name was Albert Smith.
In 1927, Elizabeth Graham, a young woman from Queen’s University, contributed to hockey history by wearing the first goal mask in the game. Miss Graham wore a fencing mask during collegiate games…
Perhaps a young girl named Abby Hoffman was a catalyst for the revival of interest [in the 1960s]. Playing as “Ab” Hoffman in an all-boys league, she excelled in the sport and her gender was not discovered until she was forced to hand in a birth certificate. Soon, other young women began trying out for boy’s teams, only to be rebuffed.
By 1982, a national championship for women was re-introduced and a female hockey council was established. In 1987, the first Women’s World Hockey Tournament was held in North York, Ontario, a tournament that spawned other major championships in Europe and Asia.
I’ve heard of women running races, women wearing bikinis, and women racing horses. But I’d never heard of racing women in bikinis as horses until the recent announcement by the horse club the Gold Coast Turf Club in Queensland that they’d hold a “women’s horse race” this December, with over 150 women competing for a prize of $5000. The Gold Coast Turf Club got the idea from the Hollywood Park racecourse, which has been putting on similar events for years.
Believe it or not, in a poll conducted by a local tourism website, just 27% percent of voter said they find his kind of event degrading for women, while the other 73% were perfectly alright with it. Even the members of Women in Racing, a Gold-Coast group that promotes racing, said they can think of better ways of marketing races, but they’ll back anything that has something to do with racing.
IIf women want to race in bikinis, great, but they shouldn’t have to remove most of their clothing and put themselves in a position where they’re likened to animals in order to gain recognition. The club admits the bikini race has nothing really to do with recognizing athleticism, with chief executive Grant Sheather saying: “”When people say ‘Gold Coast’ you think of beach, you think of girls and you think of bikinis; it’s a marketing ploy to build racing.”
It’s a particularly egregious example of the more general trend towards sexualizing women athletes in a way that most male athletes aren’t. “All I’m asking for is equal treatment,” Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girl & Women in Sport, told the Newhouse News Service. “When Tiger Woods is on the cover of Sports Illustrated naked, holding a golf ball with the Nike swoosh in front of his genitals, I’ll be quiet.”
There are lots, lots more examples of how the media sexualizes female athletes in this YouTube video, starting at 2:26:
The Women’s Sports Foundation says that “the so-called ‘image problem’ [for female athletes] is really a code term for ‘homophobia’” and protests that “the function of the media is not to sell ‘heterosexism’ or ‘sexist images’ for that matter…The function of the media is to cover sports and athletes rather than assume their sexual preference.”
The homophobia and sexism underlying the bikini horse races is compounded by using the women racers as replacement horses, dehumanizing them by comparing them to animals.
Women shouldn’t have to be treated like animals or sex objects in order to compete as athletes. Here’s to the day where as many spectators will show up to a race where women run on a track built for humans, wearing clothes designed for the occasion.
Ever since the Ontario Superior Court struck down laws relating prostitution earlier this week and the federal government announced their plan to appeal, it threw open the debate about if and how we should regulate sex work in Canada. Like the general public, women’s and feminist organizations are divided. The Sex Professionals Association of Canada hailed the decision as a step towards recognition of sex work as a legitimate profession. On the other hand, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC) put out a release expressing their outrage at the decision for legitimating pimps, organized crime, and trafficking.
It’s taken me a few days to write something on this because it’s easy to forget in this situation that a good legal decision might look a bit different than a good policy decision. The judge, Justice Susan Himel, had one decision: are the laws justified to protect the public interest or are they violating sex workers’ right to security of person? She didn’t have the ability to make a better policy regime for sex workers. That responsibility belongs to the federal government, and it’s a responsibility they’ve been shirking for years. In 2006 a parliamentary committee reported that the status quo was untenable and made it “virtually impossible to engage in prostitution without committing a crime” though prostitution itself is legal. However, no action was taken by the government.
So Justice Himel made the right choice. She believed the 3 laws, particularly the law prohibiting communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, did make sex work a lot more dangerous than it has to be. It’s legal to sell sex and therefore sex workers have the right to the same security of person as any other Canadians. The judge made the right legal and ethical decision.
But it may be a mistake to think that this ruling deals with all the issues sex workers face or that it will suddenly solve problems of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Even the lawyer for the sex workers who filed the suit, Alan Young, admits the ruling is no panacea:
The case does not solve the problems related to prostitution, he said. “That’s for your government to take care. Courts just clean up bad laws.”
“So what’s happened is that there’s still going to be many people on the streets and many survival sex workers who are motivated by drugs and sometimes exploited by very bad men. That’s not going to change,” Young added. “Here’s what changed. Women who have the ability, the wherewithal and the resources and the good judgment to know that moving indoors will protect them now have that legal option. They do not have to weigh their safety versus compliance with the law.”
Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies told CTV news: ”We need to distinguish between what is consenting between two adults and what is exploitative, coercive and violent and focus the law-enforcement on those aspects.” She’s right, but the distinguishing is where it gets tricky. While there clearly are people who choose to be sex workers (for more on this, check out Jeffrey and MacDonald’s research with Maritimes sex workers), there are also those who are trafficked into prostitution or forced into it by economic circumstances, sometimes compounded by drug addiction, mental health issues, and/or racism. Poverty can be a form of coercion, and while that’s no reason for maintaining the harmful patchwork of anti-prostitution laws that we’ve had, it’s reason to see the legal fix as just one piece of the puzzle.
So where do we go from here? It looks like the court decision is going to finally result in some policy-making at the federal level. Unfortunately, with the Conservatives in power it looks like the government will be fighting this ruling tooth and nail in the name of prostitutes’ “safety”, essentially arguing that some form of criminalization is the best approach, while all the evidence shows that it doesn’t act as a deterrent and only serves to put prostitutes at unnecessary risk. If we want to empower women, criminalization is no way to go. Historian George Ryley Scott concludes his research on prostitution around the world by stating that “the most that can be expected from punitive and repressive measures…is the driving of prostitution into underground channels” (1996, p. 181). As Justice Himel pointed out, one only needs to look at missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside to realize that.
So we’re left with legalizing and regulating prostitution, as in the Netherlands or Nevada, where brothels are legalized. It sounds progressive on the surface – totally legitimating the profession – but some worry that depending on the way the regulations are crafted it could give more power to pimps. Some reports show it hasn’t totally curbed violence against sex workers. Farley’s research found that most women in legal brothels in Nevada had pimps outside, and that rights are severely restricted, with women often forced to live in the brothels and work 12- to 14-hour shifts. In the Netherlands, the average age of death of sex workers is 34.
More widely endorsed and the system I’d prefer is decriminalization, which is supported by the Canadian Medical Association, the WHO, and UNAIDS when exploitation is not involved. It’s believed that decriminalization will reduce stigma and enable sex workers to organize for security and labour rights.
But some women’s groups believe decriminalization gives tacit approval to the trafficking of women and exploitation of sex workers. A slight variation on full decriminalization is the Swedish solution to make it criminal to buy but not to sell sex, an approach championed by Benjamin Perrin in the Globe and Mail and organizations like Vancouver Rape Relief. It’s a somewhat conservative approach that assumes all sex workers are victimized, but it’s possibly more politically palatable than total decriminalization and statistics out of Sweden seem promising. That said, I do wonder whether it would just serve to continue to deny sex workers agency and drive prostitution into unsafe areas.
I’m glad Himel’s decision has forced us into having this needed national discussion. I definitely don’t agree with criminalizing sex work where there is consent and choice, and while I’m most supportive of decriminalization, I recognize underlying issues of poverty, racism, and sexism will continue to make any material changes difficult, even if Justice Himel’s decision results in national legal reform.
What I’d like to see is for policy-makers to work with both feminist and sex workers’ rights groups to create broad-based policy initiatives responsive to the needs and views of sex workers. While moves to decriminalize prostitution should be part of these initiatives, recognizing sex worker diversity means also recognizing the needs for services and programs to help those women who choose to leave the sex trade. Finally, dealing with the harms associated with prostitution will involve a concurrent movement towards gender equality, which will require social as well as legal change.
Here’s one of my favourite clever Improv Everywhere missions: shirtless guys invade Abercrombie & Fitch to highlight the ridiculous ways they objectify men’s bodies.
Have an awesome weekend!
The tone for the campaign was set, and pundits quickly fell into step. The Louisville Journal reported that when [Martin] Van Buren read this outrageous attack, “he actually burst his corset.” Davy Crockett penned an incendiary faux biography of Van Buren, Damning the President as traveling in “an English coach”…”He is laced up in corsets, such as women in town wear, and, if possible, tighter than the best of them,” wrote Crockett, so that “[i]t woudl be difficult to say from his personal appearance, whether he was man or woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers.”
The strategy paid off handsomely, sending an incumbent to defeat for only the third time in American history…and it set a dubious precedent: Since 1840 the president’s manhood has always been a question, his manly resolve, firmness, courage, and power equated with the capacity for violence, military virtues, and a plain-living style that avoided cultivated refinement and civility.
The campaign of 1840 had a sad, if well-known, coda. Harrison apparently believed his own hype. Taking the oath of office on one of the most bitterly cold days on record in Washington, Harrison refused to wear a topcoat lest he appear weak and unmanly. He caught pneumonia as a result, was immediately bedridden, and died one month later – the shortest term in office of any president in our history.
Yup, it’s that time of year again: Banned Books Week, which runs from September 25th to October 2nd. In Canada we’re supposed to celebrate Freedom to Read Week in February, but I say why limit ourselves to one week? In celebration of the freedom to read, here are some of my favourite books which have been subject to bans and challenges. You can find another good list at the Ms. Blog and see the top 10 challenged books of 2009 at The Guardian. Other great resources are the extremely thorough database at The Beacon for Freedom of Expression and the Banned Books blog.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In 2006 the novel was banned from the AP English curriculum in Maryland because a parent complained it was “sexually explicit and offensive to Christians”, although the ban was eventually overridden. In 2008 a parent in Toronto officially complained about the book, but the School Board recommended in 2009 keeping the book in the Grade 11 and 12 curriculum.
2. Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks. In 1993 a shipment of books was held up at Canada Customs as possible hate literature, but was released a day later.
3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Banned from a number of school districts in the 70s and 80s, Slaughterhouse-Five was also “burned on political, religious, and vulgarity grounds.”
4. The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry.These were some of my all-time favourite books as a child, but was one of the most challenged books in the States in the 1990s, apparently due to references to beer and Playboy.
5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. In 2000, Reform Party Executive Council member Terry Lewis tried to get the book removed from school reading lists and distributed 10,000 pamphlets against it, arguing the book’s frequent use of “God-damned”, “Jesus”, and “God” in prophane ways offended Christians. No action was taken by the district he targeted.
6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Couldn’t find examples, but it’s one of the top 100 banned books of the 20th century.
7. Plays by Shakespeare. In 1999 a teacher in Savannah, Georgia, required students to obtain permission slips before reading Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear, citing “adult language” and sexual and violent content. In 1996 a highschool in New Hampshire pulled Twelfth Night from the curriculum, after the school board passed a resolution prohibiting “prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction”, although that school board was voted out and the decision reversed in 1999.
8. Where’s Waldo? has apparently been challenged at several libraries for having an illustrated teeny tiny topless woman sunbather lying face down on the beach page of the original book. I guess I was so busy looking for Waldo I never noticed.
9. The Freedom Writers’ Diary. In 2008 a teacher in Indiana was suspended for a year and a half without pay for using this book in her class against the wishes of the school board. Note, the book is WAY, WAY better than the terrible movie with Hilary Swank.
10. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax was banned in the Laytonville, California School District for being allegorical and “criminaliz[ing] the forest industry”.