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We’ve Moved December 15, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con.
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Gender Focus has moved over to a wordpress.org blog, so update your links and find the newest entries at http://gender-focus.com


How I Became a Feminist November 6, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in feminism, LGBT, Politics.
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Reading some personal accounts of how people became feminists, including  “The Fire Inside Me” by a grade 6 girl on the F-Bomb blog, which I linked to earlier this week, made me realize I’ve never written here about how I became a feminist.

I never would’ve called myself a feminist before Grade 12, but I know I was conscious of women’s inequality long before that. My parents were both progressive but non-partisan and at election time they used to get my advice on how to vote. At age eight in the 1993 federal election in North Vancouver I looked over the pamphlets at the kitchen table and demanded that my parents vote for the Liberal, Mobina Jaffer, because she was the only woman on the ballot (sorry NDP, but I was only 8).

When I was 10 we moved to Denman Island. My classmates’ families in North Vancouver seemed to come out of cookie-cutters. Now, on the island, there were parents in open marriages, gay and lesbian parents, single parents, and the occasional nudist wiccan parents, but nobody seemed to care.  In Grade 6 we had a sex-ed presentation from the public health nurse, which included discussion of same-sex sex and oral sex. I knew dental dams weren’t just for dentists before I hit Junior High.

But leaving the island for Junior High made something change in me. I had already had my period from the time I was 9 and now I was one of the tallest kids in the class, although I dressed like a little kid in leggings, a sweater with snowflakes on it, and a headband with a bow. That, plus the part of me that made me an overachiever at school also made me a target. The bus ride from the ferry was the worst. Every day for two years some boys from another island would pelt me with food and pennies, calling me  a penny whore who’d sleep with any guy for a cent. This wasn’t the first time I’d been singled out, but it was the first times it’d been done in a sexualized way.

Not having even come close to holding hands with a guy, I was not only hurt, but also kind of confused. But I followed the advice of parents and teachers not to stand up for myself, because a reaction would just “give the bullies what they wanted”. I thought the only thing to do was to try and make myself cooler. I didn’t want to be smart or political or unique or vegetarian; I wanted to be liked.

Even though I never did manage to turn off the school overachiever thing, I spent a good portion of Junior and Senior High feeling like a fat loser who was destined to be alone for life. In a school full of rednecks I”m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. A kid in my French class got beaten up for being Greek. One group of guys spent lunch hours in the cafeteria joking about starting a “Gay K.K.” to lynch LGBT students. For ages we couldn’t find a teacher willing to step out and sponsor a Gay-Straight Alliance Club, but we had an active Pro-Life Club.

Eventually I figured out that I was never going to be able to just be quiet and suck it up. I started speaking out in class. Then, in Grade 11 the BC Liberals swept to power and after they cut funding to women’s centres and made teachers an essential service, I decided to join the NDP.

Which brings us to Grade 12, when two things happened that really led to me calling myself a feminist. The first was that our school’s drama teacher decided to put on a community theatre production of The Laramie Project. I went to see it twice, both times crying through most of it but leaving with a renewed sense of purpose.  Seeing The Laramie Project made me realize how screwed up things were in the world at large, not just in my little world.

It also made me realize that it these conflicts weren’t just about actions – like closing women’s centres – they were also about ideology. I needed tools to fight back. That’s where an assignment by my amazing Grade 12 English teacher came in. Picking a philosopher to research I drew bell hooks out of a hat, so I went to the library and picked up a copy of Feminism is for Everybody.

bell hooks’ definition of feminism is: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” By “oppression” she’s talking about multiple types, including homophobia and racism. hooks was clear: feminism isn’t about hating men or playing the victim; it’s a foundation from which to fight for equality. I had decided it was going to be my foundation.

Now it’s seven years later and my feminism has gone through shifts. More and more I’ve thought it’s important to include men in the feminist movement. I’ve also grappled with my own privilege as a straight, white able-bodied cis woman and tried to make sure I’m speaking with,  not speaking for others. I hope my feminism now is more nuanced, and there will continue to be changes, but I still believe in bell hooks’ fundamental definition.

Basically, if it weren’t for my parents, Denman Island, the Laramie Project, and my Grade 12 English teacher I wouldn’t be writing this blog today.




FFFF: Lady Cops November 5, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in feminism, Pop Culture.
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Modern Lady Erin Gibson points out the traits it seems are necessary to be a lady cop character in primetime crime drama. Happy Friday!

The Round-Up: Nov. 4, 2010 November 4, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, feminism, LGBT.
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And just an update for those of you who wanted to know what happened with the Canadian Blog Awards. I’m pleased to announce that Gender Focus placed 5th in the category of Best Culture and Literature Blog, and 4th in the new category of Best Feminist Blog. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to those who voted!


Thursday Thought: Young Feminism November 4, 2010

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Here’s an excerpt from the most inspiring blog post I’ve read this week, “The Fire Inside Me” at F-Bomb:

Today, I am in sixth grade. The fire inside of me is burning more intensely than ever and it’s growing and changing everyday. I see things that make me mad and upset me. All the time fellow classmates wow me with their non-existentant opinions on things that I have been thinking strongly about for years. It scares me to think that these are the kind of views that have been constructed. I’m afraid to show people my true colors because of discrimination and stereotypes. I’ve only legitimately told one person about my being a feminist. I just don’t want to and can’t deal with being assumed a lesbian, man-hater, etc. because middle school is hell anyway…

…I don’t want to hear how wrong or weird they think I might be, and that’s why I feel obligated to keep my views to myself. I don’t want to have to be ashamed of being a feminist…I cry and mourn for the rape victims that are blamed and attacked only alone. I only scream at the world for the sexualization of females privately. And I only speak out anonymously. It pains me to see the world encased in the unrealistic belief that women and girls are limited. You can’t sit around and accept it. You’ve got to woman up and change the future by inspiring feminism in younger people. I can see the effects the rules and their exceptions for the men paving roads in the minds of children. Today I’ve decided to refuse to be judged by my body parts and show people who I really am and build the feminism fire. And that is exactly what I plan on doing.

The Oatmeal’s Hits and Misses November 1, 2010

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Even if you don’t check it regularly, you’ve probably seen one of the comics from Seattle-resident Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal. Covering a variety of odd topics like “The Crap We Put Up With Getting On and Off an Airplane” and “10 Reasons it Would Rule to Date a Unicorn”, The Oatmeal is occasionally hilarious, always wacky, and usually pretty smart. But going through the archives, I found a few examples of really sexist/homophobic comics, which surprised me because they didn’t seem to fit with the other clever and creative things Inman’s written. So without further ado, here is the best and worst of The Oatmeal.

Hit: “What it Means When You Say ‘Literally'”

In the vein of the now inactive blog, Literally, A Web Log, Inman takes on people who use the word “literally” when they mean “figuratively”. Nerdy humour? Check. Making fun of the ridiculousness of Jerry Falwell? Check.

Miss: “5 Super Neat Ways to Use a Hooker”

Ok, this comic strip might be totally over-the-top ridiculous but it doesn’t make it much less insulting. Suggestions for what you can do with a hooker instead of having sex with them include using them as bird feeders and jousting, with the prostitutes as the horses. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Hit: “17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat”

While all The Oatmeal’s cat comics are pretty awesome, this one is my favourite for the interesting cat factoids (did you know cats purr at the same frequency as an idling diesel engine?) and the interesting layout.

Miss: “4 Reasons to Carry a Shovel at All Times”

This is a really big miss, with yet more sex worker-bashing, this time suggesting a funny use for a shovel is digging a grave for a dead prostitute. I get that the other 3 reasons for using a shovel are really ridiculous and it’s clear he’s not actually suggesting going out and killing people, but given the rates of violence against sex workers, that example hits way too close to home.  

Hit: “8 Ways to Tell if Your Loved Ones Plan to Eat You”

This one’s silly, imaginative, and harmless. Just so you know, watch out if your family is sneaking vegetables into the bathtub, watch out!

Miss: “Women with Mustaches”

Inman gets called out on this comic and includes the complaint in his also offensive “Retarded Emails” section, seemingly shocked that anyone could find calling women with slight facial hair “what nightmares are made of” sexist. I think this is the worst of the bunch because it attacks pictures of real people instead of using cartoon representations, and because it manages to be sexist, homophobic, and transphobic by attacking women with masculine features and by criticizing Orlando Bloom for being effeminate. It’s also kind of racist, using racial modifiers in the captions, like “Dueling Asian Mustaches”. Overall, I don’t think publicly shaming real people who aren’t conforming to an ideal of femininity is that hilarious.

So come on, The Oatmeal. Look at all the clever, quirky, satirical, and even educational stuff you’ve come up with. You don’t need to use violence against sex workers as a joke. You don’t need to humiliate real women for looking natural. You’re better than that.





Fall 2010 Reads October 31, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in feminism, Politics, Pop Culture.
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1. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. I would’ve liked to see more race analysis but Grandin does a good job telling the story of Henry Ford’s failed attempt to create a model midwestern city in the Amazon. Ford wasn’t a big fan of experts, so ended up making a lot of mistakes like building houses unsuited to the jungle climate, planting rubber with no idea of its environmental needs, and hiring staff that used company money on drunken escapades. The anecdotes are entertaining and it gives insight into the history of Ford and the rubber industry internationally.

2. Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling. Fausto-Sterling wrote this book in 1985, although I read the second edition released in 1992. Even though it’s dated it provides a scientific basis to critique research on sex differences. Fausto-Sterling is a biologist who believes there are some innate biological differences between the sexes, but believes most of the scientific research on the subject to be flawed. In particular, she criticizes the belief that men are naturally smarter and better at math, the belief that men are naturally more aggressive due to hormones, and that menstruation and menopause are “diseases” that effect all women similarly. While researchers in many other disciplines have also tackled these issues it’s interesting to see someone fight science with science.

3. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up this book from a discount rack at Powell’s. Sarah Vowell’s history of the Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony manages to be quirky, moving, funny, and thorough. She critiques a view of colonization that ignores the violence done to Aboriginal peoples and uses historical writings and modern politics to give us a thoughtful exploration of what it means to see America as a Puritan nation.

4. Manhood in America: A Cultural History by Michael Kimmel. Some feminist scholars argue we don’t need any more men’s history since mainstream historical research has always revolved around men. While Sociologist Michael Kimmel somewhat agrees with that statement, he sees that what’s been lacking is a history of masculinity. I highly recommend Manhood in America, in which Kimmel posits there have been different types of ideal masculinity struggling for prescience in the US since the American Revolution. Using histories of literature, psychoanalysis, politics, and health, he argues the type of the “self-made man”, who brings himself up from nothing to accumulate wealth and prestige, is the type to which modern men are expected to aspire. In the end he argues for a more “democratic masculinity” that does not base its identity on exclusion via homophobia or sexism. If you’re going to read any book on this list, make it this one.

5. Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel. I was so excited to find another book by Kimmel after Manhood in America, but I was kind of let down by Guyland, which explores the lives of men aged 16 to 26 in America. Kimmel calls the territory these men inhabit “Guyland”: a social arena in which guys are forced to constantly prove themselves as men while being suspended between childish buddy culture and adult responsibilities. While I appreciated Kimmel’s arguments about the amount of gender policing, I’m not convinced that it’s unique to the age group he looked at. Further, a lot of the social pressures he discussed, such as guys feeling stuck and unable to forge a good career for themselves, I don’t believe are that gender-specific.

6. The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases by Henning Mankell. On to fiction. The Pyramid is the last book in the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, but takes the reader back to Wallander’s life before the first novels. I’ve now read the entire series and while I enjoyed The Pyramid, the fact that it was broken into short stories made it more obviously formulaic. It made me realize I’m not sure if there’s a Wallander story where the finding of the body isn’t followed by a comment on the weather, along the lines of: “Wallander got into his car. The fog rolled off the embankment. It was four-oh-two in the morning on September 16.” (not an actual quote).

7. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. My step-sisters got me into Gary Shteyngart when they gave me his first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, for Christmas a few years ago. Super Sad True Love Story has the same sense of wacky satire, this time looking at a world in which a technology-obsessed America is on the verge of economic collapse.  In the midst of the crisis is set the love story of anachronistic Lenny Abramov (he still reads paper books!) and the secretly vulnerable yet outwardly cruel Eunice Park. What I found interesting was how Shteyngart, consciously or not, visualized a hyper-objectification of (particularly) women as part of the increasing use of technology and obsession with youth and immortality.

That’s what I’ve been reading over the past few months. Next up is Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese. What are you reading?



Gains and Pains: Women’s Municipal Representation in Ontario October 30, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in feminism, Politics.
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Two Toronto elects:newcomer Mary Fragedakis and elected incumbent Paula Fletcher

Monday October 25, 2010 was Municipal Election Day in Ontario. While my Facebook news feed was full of people fearing the repercussions of a possible Rob Ford victory in Toronto, I was hoping for historic gains in women’s representation across the province.

Prior to E-Day, women’s representation in municipal politics stood at just 23% (Canada-wide). Women’s voices (in all their diversity) are simply not being heard in City Halls across the country.

I attended a mayoral debate in Ottawa where the only female candidate running, Jane Scharf, was denied an invitation. She took to the stage during the live TV taping, demanding that she had a right to speak alongside her four male competitors. While her tactics were questionable, her point was not.

I also came across a story written about a Waterloo ward meeting where one of the female candidates, Melissa Durrell, stated that she was at home with small children. The two other male candidates then stated that they were the best person to elect because they didn’t have to look after small children…. Seriously?

Back to E-Day, I was paying close attention to 3 cities: Ottawa, where I currently reside; Toronto, my hometown; and Waterloo, my home last year.

I’ll start with Waterloo. Going into the election the city had gender parity on its eight-person city council, including a female Mayor. Amazingly, with the election they were able to gain on this and the council now has a female majority! Women hold five of the eight seats, including the Mayor. Wow.

Toronto managed to elect a critical mass of 33% women. A gleeful reporter in The Star began her article declaring – “Women, we have arrived!” With 15 females elected out of 45, women have (finally) gained a strong voice at Toronto City Hall. 8 females were re-elected as incumbents, 4 beat ward incumbents, and 3 won in open races. Huzzah!

And then there is Ottawa. Of the 130 candidates who ran, only 21 were women (16%). Also in 12 of the 23 wards – there was not one woman running. How many women were elected you may wonder? Good question, I could not find one source that reported specifically on this. But from my own unofficial count, the answer is 4.

Well, there you have it. It was a certainly a historic night in Waterloo as well as Toronto for women in politics. As for Ottawa … next time!

-E. Cain

FFFF: Babe Bennett on Politics October 29, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in feminism, FFFF, Politics.
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This is an oldie, from 1994, but in 16 years we’ve only gone from 18% to 22.1% of the seats in the House of Commons filled by women.

Have a great weekend!

Can Fraternities Change? October 28, 2010

Posted by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, feminism, LGBT, racism.
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Fraternities have been in the news a lot recently, publicized for promoting sexist chants and racist parties. College and University campuses should be safe places for students, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, but some people feel frats inherently compromise campus safety. University of Victoria students recently upheld their campus ban on fraternities and sororities, with 63% of over 500 students voting against frats. Arguing against frats, organizer Jaraad Marani said they’re “counter productive to the university’s mandate and the University of Victoria Student Society’s mandate on creating inclusive and safe spaces.”

I went to school at UBC, which has fraternities and sororities. When a student club I belonged to wanted to hold an event in a frat house, I objected, arguing frat houses don’t constitute safe spaces for women. Historian Nicholas L. Syrett estimates that as many as 70 to 90 percent of reported campus rapes are committed by fraternity members. My argument didn’t get a lot of support in the club and I ended up sitting out the event, but the more I read the more I believe it’s no coincidence we’ve seen the following reports associated with frats (not even close to an exhaustive list):

1. In 1988 an 18-year-old freshman at Florida State University was gang-raped by three frat members who scrawled fraternity symbols on her thighs and left her unconscious in a hallway.

2. In 2001, an edition of Dartmouth’s Zeta Psi newsletter promised: “Next week: [Brother X’s] patented date raping techniques!”

3. In 2007 a Texas State University frat’s MLK party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day devolved into a celebration of racist stereotypes with “some fraternity members and others eating fried chicken, drinking malt liquor from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags and dressed in faux gang apparel.”

4. This September, two women reported being date raped in two weeks at a University of Minnesota frat house, with one 20-year-old woman being trapped in a bathroom by a male frat member. The following weekend a 19-year-old also reported being raped at a different U of M frat party.

5. Earlier this month Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon frat became infamous as videos went viral of frat members marching while chanting, “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!”

6. Two weeks ago a Harvard Sigma Chi “Conquistabros and Navajos” party drew criticism for romanticizing genocide of North American Aboriginal peoples, forcing an apology from the frat.

7. In March 2010 a 19-year-old University of Kentucky student was charged after wrapping a frat pledge in toilet paper and lighting him on fire.

8. The University of Alberta suspended one fraternity chapter this week after hazing allegations surfaced, with frat members accused of forcing pledges to eat their own vomit and confining them to plywood boxes.

9. This month the University of Kansas suspended a fraternity’s rights after allegations of hazing, including forcing pledges to wear women’s costumes such as “Fairy Godmother” in order to embarass them.

Fraternities have been plagued with these types of news stories because they tend to promote a vision of elitist hypermasculinity that has to be constantly proven through rituals that reinforce the exclusion of “others”, usually women, gay and trans men, and non-whites. Even though these are extreme cases, they’re just magnifications of the types of things that go on every day on North American campuses. I remember at UBC being told that one of the big Greek fundraisers for the year was a musical revue put on by the sororities and judged by the fraternities. “So we basically just fight to see who can come up with the sluttiest number,” a friend in one of the sororities told me.

At the University of Michigan, student groups complained about fraternity shirts picturing sperm racing toward an egg with the slogan “Only the Strong Survive” and banners with Playboy bunny logos on them. Syrett’s research also found homophobia ubiquitous in fraternity culture, despite a seemingly contradictory level of homoeroticism in many frat rituals.

But some people think fraternities can change to become safe and inclusive spaces. If society gains greater acceptance for racial, gender, and LGBT equality, will frats begin to mirror that acceptance? Amanda Hess has reported on frat boys at George Washington University taking steps to eliminate rituals associated with aggressive masculinity and eject members who spread homophobia and sexism.

I’m sure there are other fraternities attempting to take similar steps and I applaud them, but I’m skeptical about the possibility of meaningful change. Fraternities are, by nature, gender-segregated. To some extent, you can’t maintain that segregation without policing the masculinity of participants. Historically, fraternities have also been white organizations, and the continuing examples of racist frat parties shows fraternities are still having trouble shaking their legacy of racial exclusion. Why would they have any more luck with their gender issues?