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How I Became a Feminist November 6, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H 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 H 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 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!


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.





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)


Terrible Trends: Racing Women in Bikinis as Horses October 5, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture.
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Women "horse" racing at Hollywood Park

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.

This from OddityCentral.com:

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.


Dexter and Feminism September 29, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Pop Culture, racism.
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So my friend and I got together to watch the Dexter premiere on Sunday and we got talking about whether Dexter is a feminist show. Our consensus was that it’s definitely not all bad for women, but isn’t really feminist by any stretch of the imagination.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Don’t get me wrong, there are smart and tough women characters on Dexter, but the ones on the good side usually end up falling for Dexter’s deceptions, while the evil ones are punished. None of the women characters are especially original and some, like Season 2’s femme fatale Lila are downright archetypical. My friend pointed out what bothered him most was the storyline involving Lt. Esme Pasquale in Season 2, who goes pretty crazy about the possibility that her fiance is cheating on her, basically arguing we can’t trust women to keep personal and professional lives separate. As Valeri 365 points out, “It only took a handful of episodes before Pasquale’s paranoia over her fiance’s fidelity cost her a job and set women in the force back 20 years.”

So I was kind of surprised when I started doing research and found a ton of positive reviews on feminist and anti-racist blogs. Now none of them are actually arguing Dexter’s a beacon of feminist hope, but it seems like I’m not the only one with a bit of a love-hate relationship to the show.

Merq at Racialicious took issue with the first episode (“So, less than ten minutes in, we’ve already got a spicy Latina [LaGuerta] lusting after white-guy Dexter and an East-Asian geek lusting after white-girl Debra”) but noted that LaGuerta, Masuka, and the vast majority of the other characters of colour gain tons more depth as the series progresses, allowing them to surpass stereotypes. As stated earlier, the whole Lt. Pasquale thing was kind of a mess and I think her portrayal was both sexist and racist. And I’m not sure I’d agree about Masuka being a particularly non-stereotyped character, but overall I’d agree with Merq, especially when it comes to LaGuerta and Angel as positive, multi-faceted depictions of strong Latino cops.

Juliana at Bitch loves Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan, saying she’s tough without being asexual, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. All true, but I’d like it even more if character realized how tough she is, instead of always needing validation from men like Dexter, Lundy, and Quinn. She’s also constrained by the fact that, no matter what a crack detective she is, she’s always outsmarted by Dexter. I get that this is crucial to the plot, but it kinda sucks. Then there’s the way that practically every guy she dates ends up being killed or tortured. The whole thing with her and the ice truck killer? Yes, it was gripping, but it was also a pretty classic way to rein in the character. In Manhunting: The Female Detective in the Serial Killer Film, Philippa Gates argues “the most effective strategy to contain the agency of the female hero is to place her in the position of victim, or potential victim” so that she can be rescued by the hero, despite her strength (page 12). Debra is a cool character, so it’s disappointing when she ends up being little more than a typical damsel in distress.

Feminist bloggers seem pretty split on Rita’s character. Feminist Spectator thinks she’s great, while I’d tend to agree with Michelle at Bitch Magazine that her constant obliviousness is kinda irritating. By Season 2 I felt just like jtul at Pixie Lit who said, “I started getting uncomfortable here because I wanted Dexter to successfully deceive Rita so they could stay together…whilst also being disgusted that their whole relationship is based on a lie”. You could argue Rita became empowered by escaping her abusive ex-husband and that she got a lot better at voicing her own needs over four seasons, but in the end like everyone else she’s just another person who fell for Dexter’s lies and became (indirectly) one of his victims.

But now that Rita’s dead, it’ll be interesting to see if things change at all in that respect. Will Dexter’s lies start to unravel, and will it eventually be a woman (like Deb) who brings him down? Will they manage to make Julia Stiles’s character a more original female nemesis than Lila was? A recent NYT article indicates that’s likely how the show will end, even if it’s not going to be this season. No matter what, it’ll be exciting to watch and debate.


The Round-Up, Sept. 28, 2010 September 28, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Politics.
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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.


Pillars of the Earth: Surprisingly Feminist September 8, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Pop Culture.
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Don’t let the poster fool you: the recent Pillars of the Earth miniseries, based on the 1989 novel by Ken Follett, is surprisingly feminist.


Spoilers Ahead!

To start with, I should mention that I haven’t read the book, so I’m not commenting on Follett’s intent or the content of the book that may differ from the novel.

For those of you not familiar with Pillars of the Earth, it tells the story of the attempt to build a great cathedral in the priory of Kingsbridge in the mid-12th century. The story takes place over several years, and places two generations of characters in the middle of a feud between the illegitimate King Stephen and his sister Maud over the throne of England.

Ellen (Natalia Worner) and her son, Jack (Eddie Redmayne)

First we meet the older generation, consisting of Tom the Builder, Ellen the witch (Natalia Worner), and Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen), and the evil Bishop Waleran (Ian McShane) and his sometimes henchmen Lord and Lady Hamleigh. Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinsent also have relatively small parts.

In the younger generation we have the violent and disturbed William Hamleigh; the dispossessed Aliena (Hayley Atwell), determined to reclaim her father’s Earldom for her brother; Tom Builder’s son Alfred; and Ellen’s son Jack (Eddie Redmayne), a prodigious sculptor who is targeted by the King, the Bishop, and William Hamleigh at various points in the story.

Knowing the story is over 20 years old and set in the 12th century, and not ever having considered using the word “feminist” to describe Ken Follett, I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, Pillars of the Earth has some kick-ass female characters. There’s Ellen, who’s a witch who escapes the attempts of the church to persecute her and ends up causing the evil Bishop Waleran’s downfall. Her character is complicated and doesn’t reinforce stereotypes about witches.

Hayley Atwell as Aliena

Then there’s Aliena, whose father is arrested and hanged for treason, leaving her penniless. She’s then raped by William Hamleigh and his groom once they find out where she and her brother are hiding. But even though she struggles with the psychological aftermath, she never rests from pursuing her goal of restoring her brother to her father’s title. She uses her smarts to begin a fleece business. She ends up achieving her goal when she sees the potential in William Hamleigh’s abused teenage wife Elizabeth and the two of them hatch a successful scheme to peacefully take back William’s castle for Aliena’s brother. She ends up happily with Jack.

Even though it’s really Ellen and Aliena who steal the show, it’s not like the male characters are one-dimensional. The “bad guys”, Bishop Waleran and William Hamleigh, struggle with guilt and inner demons. The good Prior Philip wrestles with selfishness and occasionally lies, though just to keep the cathedral being built. And Jack, who finally completes the cathedral Tom couldn’t, gets into serious trouble for failing to control his anger. And did I mention there’s a gay monk? How cool is that? All the major characters in Pillars of the Earth are multi-faceted, which makes the series pretty addictive.

I recommend you check out Pillars if you’re looking for something to watch that combines great characters with unlikely feminist politics.