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We’ve Moved December 15, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H 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



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

Posted by Jarrah H 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!


Can Fraternities Change? October 28, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H 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?


Final Voting Round: Canadian Blog Awards October 20, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Random.
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Thanks to your support we’ve made it into the final voting round for the Canadian Blog Awards! This time you really can vote once every 24 hours at:


Voting is on until Tuesday, Oct. 26. Gender Focus is nominated in the category of Best Culture and Literature Blog but make sure you check out the other excellent blogs nominated in a range of categories.

Vote early, vote often!

Note (October 21, 2010): The CBAs have belatedly decided to add a category for the Best Feminist Blogs and we’re also nominated there along with some really great other Canadian feminist blogs. You can vote in that category here.


Best Breakup Music October 19, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Pop Culture.
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After a breakup it can be really tempting to listen to sad love songs, and while that’s probably a stage you’ll have to go through, eventually you get to the point where you want to remind yourself of how important it is to look out for yourself. Haven’t been through a breakup like this in a couple years, but the songs are good for all times. What are your favourite songs for putting things in perspective? Add in the comments below!

Old School

1. I Will Survive – Aretha Franklin

No explanation necessary.

2. These Boots are Made for Walking – Nancy Sinatra

…although I can’t quite get over the awful lyric “You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin'”, this song is a classic.

3. Hit the Road Jack – Ray Charles

I guess this song could be interpreted as an anti-breakup song but I always choose to side with the women telling him to hit the road.


1. Movin’ On – Po’ Girl

“I think we’ve reached that old movin’ on.”

2. Fuzzy Slippers – Carolyn Mark

The repetition of the line “Somedays it pays to get out of bed” gives it a spot on the list.

3.The Cheapest Key – Kathleen Edwards

“But don’t get me wrong, here comes my softer side…and there it goes/’cause I’ve been on the road too long to sympathize with what you think you’re owed.” FYI the “explicit” in the video title refers to the fact that the word “bullshit” is in the lyrics.

4. All Your Fault – Broken Falls Community Hall Band

Ok, this is shameless self-promotion for my old band. I wrote All Your Fault to commemorate a relationship that had not one, but three breakups.

5. Willow – Sarah Slean

Gotta put yourself in the mindset of a tree for this one.

Country and Alt-Country

1. Everything is Free – Gillian Welch (or Chris Pureka)

 “I just stay home. And sing a little love song, my love, to myself. If there’s something you want to hear you can sing it yourself.”

2. The Long Way Around – Dixie Chicks

Journey not destination, etc.

3. Brand New Starts – Erica Wheeler

Erica Wheeler isn’t very well known but she has some lovely alt-country/folk songs, including this really pretty one about coming back from tough times.

Feminist Staples

1. Superhero – Ani DiFranco

I also really like her song “Shroud”, which is about questioning the things you think you need.

2. Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls

3. As Cool as I Am – Dar Williams

“I will not be afraid of women.”

Musical Theatre

1. Shine Like the Sun – from 9 to 5

“I will prove my own worth, heal the damage and hurt that’s been done. When the cryin’s all done, well I’m going to shine like the sun.”

2. Without You – from My Fair Lady (not the one from Rent)

“You, dear friend who talks so well. You can go to Hartford, Hereford, or Hampshire!”

3. It Sucks to be Me – from Avenue Q

“Why are you all so happy?”

“Because our lives suck!”


1. I’m Not Crying – Flight of the Conchords

Sometimes there’s nothing to do but laugh at the situation.

2. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python

It could be worse.


1. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon

You probably think this blog post is about you. Don’t you?

2. Ciao! – Lush

“I never thought that I could feel as great as I do today. ‘Cause you were nothing but a big mistake.”

3. Hate on Me – Jill Scott (or Glee cast)


Thursday Thought: Canadian Women’s Hockey History October 7, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Thursday Thoughts.
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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.


Prostitution Laws: Where do we go from here? October 4, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Politics.
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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 such a complicated issue. 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’s 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 clearly 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 makes me less willing to see this legal fix as more than 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. 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 fear that it can actually give more power to pimps and reports show it doesn’t stop the street trade and doesn’t curb violence against sex workers. Melissa 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 prostitutes is 34.

More widely endorsed 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. However, as we’ve seen in the response to this debate, some women’s groups believe decriminalization gives tacit approval to the trafficking 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 probably 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 drive prostitution into unsafe areas.

I’m glad Himel’s decision has forced us into having this needed national discussion. It’s a complicated issue and while 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 prostitutes’ 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 wishing to leave the sex trade. Finally, dealing with the harms associated with prostitution will involve a concurrent movement towards gender equality, in order to address some of the conditions which push women into prostitution and victimize them in this work.


Thursday Thought: Presidential Masculinity September 30, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Politics, Thursday Thoughts.
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From Manhood in America: A Cultural History by Michael Kimmel:

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. 

What’s Wrong with the Old People These Days? September 24, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, Random.
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You know, there are so many young people like myself out there trying to make the world a better place. But honestly, when I try to work with old people on these issues, I just can’t figure out where they’re coming from. No offense if you’re a person over 40, since I’m sure you’re one of the exceptions, but more and more I’m asking myself: what’s wrong with the old people these days? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. They can’t assemble Ikea furniture. Sure, neither can I, but nor am I going to get a professional service to help me. What’s the point of getting a $20 bookcase if you pay $30 to have someone put it together for you? I’d much rather have a screw or two sticking awkwardly out of one side. That’s the side that goes against the wall, old people.
  2. They always tell us how much bigger we’ve grown since we saw them last, which is pretty rude considering we never mention how much smaller they are since we saw them last.
  3. They spent decades guzzling gas, inventing and selling products full of things like BPA and phthalates and trans fats, and spraying their lawns with pesticides, and then think young people are the ones who don’t care about health or the environment.
  4. They kinda smell like oatmeal.
  5. They think the following things are the spawn of the devil, or at least evidence of a serious moral decline in our society: text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Wi-Fi, ebooks, Ipads, email, cell phones, pagers, walkie-talkies, laptops, desktops, cordless land-line phones, and reallyany electronic device that runs on less than 6 size-D batteries.
  6. Bill O’Reilly is an old person. I rest my case.

    The ones who don’t think Facebook is evil (2.8% of old people, by my calculation) spend their time Face-stalking you, posting embarrassing comments on your wall, thereby warding off any future love interests. Stop it, mom!

  7. They told us all that we all needed to go to university to get a degree, any degree, then wonder why we don’t have anywhere to hang our relatively-useless diploma but on the wall of our room in their basement while we pay off our massive student loan debts working at Subway because they couldn’t just freakin’ retire!
  8. They’re named things like Gord and Judy and Donna and Vern.
  9. They forget what they were like when they were our age.
  10. They elected Stephen Harper. Twice.
  11. They think any young person (they mean someone under 40) is representative of all young people, so they’re always making ridiculous generalizations about us.
  12. They’re always saying to us, “No offense, but what’s wrong with the young people these days?”


Pitt Meadows Rape Prompts Victim-Blaming September 21, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism.
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Last week’s alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at a rave in Pitt Meadows and the subsequent posting of the photos on Facebook is absolutely sickening.  Police say the girl was allegedly drugged and raped, potnetially by multiple attackers, sustaining significant injuries. They said being drugged means there was no way she could’ve consented.

The first question that leaps to mind is how so many young people could be seemingly okay with re-victimizing the girl by spreading the pictures around the internet. It challenges your faith in humanity when a group of people does something so fundamentally wrong.

But even though the primary reaction to the spread of the photos has been shock and outrage, there are still those who’d like to use the event to blame rape victims and conscribe women’s behaviour.

On the amateur side, some local girls started the group Reasonable Doubt in Pitt Meadows, which at last check has just over 100 members.

The group says it’s about “Advocat[ing] for the process and for critical thinking and for truth and justice”, saying the case has been sensationalized and the accused men not treated fairly. To be fair, they do seem to agree that sharing the photos is wrong, but instead of critical thinking what you’ll find instead is a group officer suggesting both the guy and girl should be charged in order to ensure the law is applied equally, and another administrator who just does a whole lot of random victim blaming (the “…”s are hers):

she was with him after this allged rape… and completly fine partying im sorry but if i was raped i dont think i would be hanging out with the guy after…. totally sobers you up… if it was something horendes like that and a lie detector test would prove what actually happened in a she said he said situation…. im not saying it wasnt wrong to be getting with a girl that was drunk or high on something but he was drunk to where are his rights huh … she was the one that took him to the field….

and if your drunk too its still rape… even if she says its not rape and it was consentual… figure that one out guys have the short end of the stick… the only way to know what the truth is is to do lie detector tests on both of them

Note: when I’m looking for legal experts, I’m probably going to be looking for people who can punctuate a sentence and spell “consensual” and “alleged” correctly.

Then there was Jon Ferry’s column in the Province, which while it strongly indicted the attackers and those who distributed the photos and did not directly suggest the victim was complicit, nevertheless used the whole situation to lament what he sees the declining morals in our society due to the demise of organized religion.

Ferry writes, “Teen girls should be better educated about the perils of excessive partying. If they’re going to a rave, they should take steps to ensure their own safety, perhaps by bringing along reliable male protection. In more chivalrous days, brothers used to perform that function.” A Criminology professor interviewed on BC Almanac last Thursday similarly suggested the best step to take would be to ensure more adult chaperones at such parties.

The problem is rape is about power. It’s only reinforced by the idea that women are essentially men’s property. Saying that women need men around for protection only serves to further those attitudes and to imply that women who want to go out drinking are just asking to be assaulted. There’s practically no onus placed on parents to teach their sons to respect women and their bodies, or on men to change their attitudes towards women. The prevailing belief seems to be that boys will be boys.

Luckily there are those who are standing up and saying that nothing makes drugging and gang rape okay, including a Facebook group created to give people a place to express support for the 16-year-old girl in Pitt Meadows. It’s not about prematurely convicting anyone, but about saying that no one asks to be drugged and raped. The group has signed up almost 10,000 members in just a few days, which should at least go a little way to restoring one’s faith in humanity.