sarah jensen

Contributors Pick the Best of 2012

Person on podiumHappy New Year, everyone! As is our tradition, I asked the Gender Focus contributors about some of their highlights from how they spent the past year, and here’s what they came up with:

How to Survive a Plague PosterFavourite Movie:


Ashli Scale: Prometheus

Chanel: I have two: How to Survive a Plague is a documentary about the activism around the AIDS crisis. I went in expecting to spend two hours analyzing direct action tactics, and left feeling devastated, but weirdly hopeful.

From the Black, You Make Color is a documentary (yes, I only watch documentaries) about a beauty academy in Tel Aviv and its students and staff, all folks on the periphery of Israeli society. It’s an important, insightful piece about identity and class.

Jessica Mason McFadden: I’ll go with the one movie I saw: Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.

E. Cain: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I didn’t watch many movies this year, but this one is a super cute family film.

Favourite Book Read in 2012:


Sarah Jensen: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. A fascinating look into curb heights, street widths, and the importance of parallel parking. Really interesting to learn how crucial city planning is to building strong communities.

E. Cain: Prisoner of Tehran, A Memoir by Marina Nemat. My boss gave me this book for Christmas, a powerful memoir written by a strong woman - I highly recommend!

Chanel Dubofsky: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg. If Jami Attenberg writes it, I will read it. The Middlesteins is her latest book, about a Midwestern Jewish family trying to avoid, deal with and make sense of each other. It’s startling, meaty and gorgeous.

Jessica Critcher: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti. The title is all snark– it’s a rhetorical question. It’s a great read for someone happily living child-free (who occasionally finds herself defending that lifestyle choice). It’s also great for moms because it gets past all of the “mommy wars” crap that the media keeps creating and circulating. My mom loved it too– we recommend it to all of the moms we know.

Issue/Cause That Most Inspired You:



Chanel: Occupy, Occupy, Occupy.

Jarrah: #IdleNoMore. It’s been incredibly powerful to see a grassroots movements led by Indigenous people for Indigenous rights spring up and spread so quickly across Canada. It’s an almost unprecedented opportunity for non-Indigenous Canadians to put action behind our words by standing behind and supporting First Nations people in Canada.

Sarah: Food. In the last year I’ve learned so much about the impact that food has on my own health and the health of our environment.

Jessica Critcher: This is always hard! But since I have to pick, I would say the WAM! (Women, Action and the Media) campaign to build a grassroots direct action network for gender justice in the media. They had an Indie-Go-Go campaign over the summer and raised more than $10,000 to build a new state of the art website. Pretty legit.

Ashli: I’ve been most active in the Body Acceptance movement by doing body image presentations in schools.  I’ve been so inspired by Kate Harding’s blog “Shapely Prose”, which closed up shop in 2010 but you can still access the great resources on it like Kate’s visual BMI Project.        Read more

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

Gender Focus Panel: SCOC Ruling on Wearing Niqabs in Court


This past week the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling on whether Muslim women have a right to wear a niqab in court.

Via the CBC:

A Muslim woman who is the complainant in a sexual assault trial in Toronto has lost her bid before Canada’s top court to have an unimpeded right to wear her niqab while testifying.

In a split Supreme Court of Canada decision released Thursday, the seven judges largely upheld a lower court’s ruling that the woman, known only as N.S. to protect her identity under a court-ordered publication ban, may have to remove her niqab.

[...]The Court of Appeal had ruled the woman may have to remove her niqab if her credibility became an issue.

The court also set out criteria that a judge must consider in such cases, including whether the veil would interfere with cross-examination and whether the witness would be appearing before a judge only or before a jury.

Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic was one of three intervenors in the case, arguing that “removal of a complainant’s niqab would be a disincentive to the reporting of sexual assaults and impede access to justice for an already marginalized group.” The Clinic stated they felt the split decision recognized the complex rights’ issues, and they thanked Justice Abella for her dissenting opinion, which stated in part that: “the harmful effects of requiring a witness to remove her niqab, with the likely result that she will likely not testify, bring charges in the first place…is a significantly more harmful consequence than not being able to see a witness’ whole face.”

Here’s what three Gender Focus contributors had to say about the ruling.

Jessica Critcher

I’m an atheist– and a really militant one at that. I even won a scholarship and landed my first publication ever because of how unimpressed I am with god and by extension every religion ever (especially yours).

With this in mind, I would like to express my disapproval for the SCOC’s ruling with regards to NS wearing a niqab, because this has almost nothing to do with religion. Reading the news coverage, it’s obvious what the problem is:

Lawyers for the two men accused of sexually assaulting her when she was a child argued that a fair and open trial means the face of a witness must be seen because facial cues are important to establish credibility.

Bolded for emphasis. Rape survivors have to establish credibility. NS is on trial just as much as much as her rapists. And now, in addition to being assaulted, in addition to facing her rapists in court, she may have to be similarly violated and humiliated by the legal system.

I’m not a fan of gendered religious head coverings. But here’s the thing, my opinion as a white person and as someone who does not participate in that religion is irrelevant. Regardless of whether head coverings are oppressive or not, (which is complicated!) and whether NS wears her niqab as “a religious requirement, or as ‘a personal preference and a matter of comfort’” or not, the legal system is already failing her, and her case hasn’t even made it to trial yet. I’m not literally praying for her, but you get the idea.

Sarah Jensen:

This is a really tough one. I disagree with outright niqab bans, such as those enacted by France and Belgium. I can see the necessity of removal in certain circumstances, though, such as when getting a photo taken for identification. The line blurs for me when it comes to testifying in court. I think that the Supreme Court came to the right decision– that the niqab’s allowance is best decided on a case-by-case basis.

I see both sides of the argument, but in this particular case I would be more inclined to let N.S. keep her face covered. Testifying in court can be extremely traumatic for sexual assault victims, as they must face those who harmed them, while simultaneously recounting the painful details to strangers. Many victims already grapple with feelings of shame and exposure, and forcing N.S. to unveil may amplify these feelings. It may also discourage other veiled Muslim women from pressing charges.

Jasmine Peterson:

The Supreme Court’s ruling on requiring a woman to remove her niqab during her testimony is not only disappointing, but it’s paternalistic and, as far as I’m concerned, an impediment on an individuals’ rights. What is particularly disconcerting about this decision is the composition of the individuals who have passed this ruling – none of whom appear to be themselves Muslim women. I think this is a huge (and consistent) problem in Canada in making decisions regarding minority groups, that those making the decisions are not minorities themselves and therefore lack essential insights upon which to base their decisions in a more nuanced and informed manner.

What is perhaps particularly problematic from my perspective in this case is that the defense lawyers asserted that “facial cues ‘can be significant information that help the observer understand what a witness is attempting to communicate and get a sense of who the witness is and how he or she is reacting to questioning.’” Having studied forensic psychology, I worry that the premise behind this requirement is faulty, at best. It is certainly not supported by research. A witness is not on trial, and this seems to me to be a sort of revictimization. But even more than that, juries are not particularly good at judging a persons’ honesty by their demeanor or their facial expressions. In fact, people are not particularly good at detecting lying most of the time. So the facial cues alluded to by this defense lawyer are likely inconsequential to getting to the truth anyhow.

Finally, I think the idea that the niqab “undermines gender equality” is also based in misunderstanding and wilful ignorance. That is not to say that, for some, the niqab is not experienced as an oppressive garment. However, for many, the niqab is worn not out of some oppressive imposition but because of personal and religious beliefs. It is experienced as a positive thing, not a negative. I find it troublesome when I hear essentialist statements about the oppressiveness of the niqab when I have heard it spoken of very positively by some Muslim women who choose to don the garment for spiritual reasons. Unfortunately, I think this widely held misconception of the niqab as only being oppressive influences decisions like these being made by people who are on the outside looking in. Too often our Western views are imposed upon others; as a multicultural country I think it time we become more sensitive in addressing the diversity which comprises Canadian citizens, and their rights.

(photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 4 Comments

Gender Focus Panel: While the Men Watch

While the Men WatchThis past week the CBC ignited a teeny firestorm when it announced Hockey Night in Canada would be partnering with “While the Men Watch” – an audiocast and website hosted by two women friends and billed as “a first of its kind, live sports talk-show for women.”

According to the site:

“The female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more.  The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.”

Co-host and co-creator Lena Sutherland appeared on CBC’s The Current earlier this week to defend the show, stating: “Well we recognize that it’s not for everyone. We’re having fun with it. It’s meant to be entertainment. All in good fun.” She made it clear she and co-host Jules Mancuso are not trying to replace or emulate female sportscasters, but that this is “an alternative option”. Canadian women’s hockey legends Cassie Campbell-Pascal and Sami Jo Small also appeared on the show to say they didn’t see the harm, but hockey blogger Julie Veilleux and some hockey fans who were interviewed say “While the Men Watch” is far from harmless.

“While I agree that it is entertainment I think that the way it’s executed is a little bit problematic….some examples like ‘Things Not to Say to Your Man After His Team Loses in the Finals’…they’re saying you can’t really refuse sex to your partner, basically. You need to take one for the team,” said Veilleux. She continued:

“What I think is that a lot of female fans are kind of tired of being put in that same box all the time and it really does feel like CBC or Hockey Night in Canada is treating all the female fans differently…it’s really hard not to feel that way when it’s called While the Men Watch, while they say themselves, you know, it’s the female perspective.”

OpenFile blogger Saira Peesker calls it  “brutal”, “unwatchable” and “taxpayer-funded sexism”. But what do Gender Focus contributors think about this? Check in with the panel after the jump.

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Pop Culture 1 Comment

Panel: On Cynthia Nixon and Choosing to be Gay

Cynthia Nixon

The other week Cynthia Nixon caused quite a stir when she told the New York Times:

“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not. … Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive.”

Here’s what Gender Focus contributors had to say about the remarks and ensuing controversy:


I don’t think the idea of being gay as a choice hurts the gay rights movement. I find myself talking about gay rights pretty frequently, and even among people who are against homophobia and bigotry, I’ve heard people say things like “It’s not even like they have a choice about it!” I understand that is meant to be nice, but it could actually be understood as pretty condescending.

That line of thinking sounds to me like, if homosexuality were a choice, then it would be fine to discriminate against homosexuals, which is absurd. It also puts heterosexuality on a pedestal, with the idea that if they had a choice, obviously they would be straight, right? It’s not their fault they’re gay, they can’t help it! If they could, they’d be straight like us, poor things. Like it’s some sort of disability. I understand that not everyone feels this way, that many people never chose to be gay the same way I never chose to be straight. But if someone wants to choose to be gay, it shouldn’t matter. They are still be entitled to human rights. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture 2 Comments

Panel: Vancouver School Board Controversy

This is our second Gender Focus panel post, where we get responses from different contributors on pressing issues and news. The events we’re looking at in this post revolve around the Vancouver Board of Education’s homophobia policy, and specifically the appearance in controversial videos for anti-same-sex marriage groups of two Vancouver School Trustees, Ken Denike and Sophia Woo.

According to the Georgia Straight:

The Vancouver School Board passed a motion Monday (January 16) to re-affirm its support for the district’s anti-homophobia policy, as it voted to censure two NPA trustees for their comments that surfaced in controversial videos last month[...]

Bacchus said the censure motion arose from what she called the “mis-representation” of the board’s anti-homophobia policy through comments made by NPA trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo.

The first video that surfaced last month featured Denike and Woo speaking about their concerns with an anti-bullying booklet for teachers published in 2006. The second video was filmed at a Christian Social Concern Fellowship gathering, and featured Denike and Woo speaking about possible changes to the school curriculum involving LGBT issues, and implying that Vancouver only has a general anti-discrimination policy, and not a specific anti-homophobia policy.

The part of the issue that bothered me most is that the footage was filmed before last November’s election (when Denike and Woo were re-elected) but it didn’t surface until after. This had people like me questioning whether they still would have been elected if it had. In nearly Burnaby the homophobic Parents’ Voice party was routed at the polls in the same election.

But others accept at least Denike’s insistence that he is not homophobic or opposed to anti-bullying measures. Xtra reports Denike told them “his intention was to ensure that parents get a choice in what their children are exposed to in schools. He noted that parents can remove their children from personal health classes as long as the curriculum aims are fulfilled elsewhere.” But the GF contributors weren’t as forgiving. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT, Politics 1 Comment