Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Student Body Drives Me Nuts

In an earlier post, I wrote about how much I loved my progressive school. I may have spoke to soon.

I forget how much the student body doesn't reflect the politics of my studies.

The YorkU livejournal community provides AMPLE evidence of this. In a post initially speaking about some recent racist graffiti, the thread suddenly became about the "wrongs" of affirmative action, and of course all the whining coming from people who feel cheated by it (ie white people who are automatically qualified for the job, whereas people who are systemically discriminated against are CLEARLY questionable).

There are usually few dissenting voices to the right-wing-ism displayed in this community, and so I get tired of arguing and feel like I just want this conversation to be OVER. So I sent a letter to Carmen at Racialicious, most of which I'll repost here.

I hope she can address it there on her blog, mostly because my blog here is so tiny, and I really want these issues brought up in that thread to be made visible. Also, I don't feel nearly as qualified or confident to address it with the vehemence it deserves. So here it is:
Hi Carmen

I've written to you before, and got lots of great feedback on a project I'm still working on. But I was wondering if maybe you could address this sometime on Racialicious:

I hope that link works.

York University is generally considered a very left and progressive liberal arts school in Toronto. You can see this reflected particularly in the Women's Studies program and various others. However, it is NOT always reflected in the student body itself nor in the addressing of certain issues that arise on campus. This particular linked post in the YorkU Livejournal community was in reference to grafitti that had been sprayed something along the lines of 'death to white supremecy' across the walls of a very public part of campus. I never got to see it myself, as it was removed before I got to campus quickly after the story broke out.

What irks me about this thread is how it was used as a jumping point to discredit affirmative actions programs, not for their effectiveness but rather for how "perfectly qualified white people" are left out of the jobs they are so CLEARLY entitled to. Then the justification becomes that people should just all be equally considered without issues of race, gender, or sexuality "getting in the way" as if those very things have never been used against people who fall under those categories in the first place. As if those things have been resolved in the slightest. ARGH!

I'm writing to you because I feel so frustrated, as these type of right-wing threads pop up often in the community and I'll start to argue, but then I end up backing down and feeling tired and hopeless against so many people who are so sure I'm just a radical left-wing nut. I feel like everything I have to say about this is better argued and with more strength and visibility on racialicious...and quite frankly, I really want the YorkU student body to publically called out on this shit. I'm so tired of it. It's so disappointing to attend a school that doesn't live up to its reputation. I want there to be a link that discusses things like affirmative action intelligently and not like some spoiled brat who didn't get what he wanted when he wanted it. ARGH! again!

with deep lamentations...

I wonder at times like this if I am even strong enough to fight.

Edit: I had heard conflicting reports about what was sprayed across the walls...I think the graffiti I had quoted to Carmen was a response to either racist graffiti sprayed across the walls of Black student organizations. Just wanted to clarify.

What the?!

This Just In over at Racialicious and Shakespeare's Sister:

"Canadian" As A Racial Slur

Is this for real? Not just some internet hoax of some disgusting proportion?

Well, I'll be damned...

and pretty pissed, too...I would prefer not to have my Canadian identity serve as a euphemism for a racial slur, its true form which shall NEVER see the light of day at this blog.

Now, my definition of a Canadian has always meant to encompass a wider variety of identificatons and histories. HOWEVER...hate-terms never really fell under my umbrella. As well, the implications for how it damages the diversity of who Canadians are and can be are disturbing...

The post at Shakes quotes a speculation that the use reflects a sense of "othering". I think too perhaps that the people who came up with it thought it'd make a good cover, thinking that no one would suspect the appropriated term of its new meaning. Good Old Canadians--you'd NEVER guess what I'm really talking about, eh *wink wink*!

I guess I'll just have to comfort myself with "maple syrup" and "Molson" while watching some "hockey". Who knows what I really meant in that last sentence.

I am offended on so many levels. Do NOT use my name to spew your hate.

Literary Release of BIG BIG SKY!

I am very excited to announce the release of my good friend Miss Kitty Galore, aka Kristyn Dunnion's latest novel. She has garnered rave reviews for her previous work in the Young Adult fiction category for 'Missing Matthew' and 'Mosh Pit', as well as various compilations she has contributed to. Hard-working, fun-loving, and my favourite, ass-kicking, Ms. Dunnion is offering the world her take on woman-identified apocalyptic science fiction. I love that shit!

From her own words:

Finally - you Canadians can get your hot little hands on a copy of BIG BIG SKY starting FEB 15th, 2008!

You non-Canadians can probably order it online starting then, too. Why wait for the big chain stores to suck it up?

If you like apocalyptic bedtime stories, anarchic fables, and futuristic, queer, female Assassin Warriors, then I'm pretty sure you'll like BIG BIG SKY. Give'r a read and tell me what you think. Seriously. I'm waiting .....


Order your copy now from any fine bookseller, especially maybe a local independent one, huh? Or a biggie, if that's all you got in your town. Or online ( if you're grounded. BIG BIG SKY is published by Red Deer Press and distributed by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Ask nicely and your local hot public librarian will order it in and you can read it for free.

I have cool friends :)

From the Inbox: Upcoming Rally

This is being circulated in my Gender and Development class:


3rd Annual Rally To Honour Our Missing Sisters Thursday, February 14, 2008, 12 noon, Outside Police Headquarters at Bay and College
Strawberry Ceremony in Honor of our Missing Sisters - Speakers and drumming Gathering with food immediately to follow at U of T's Centre for Women and Trans People (563 Spadina Ave).

Hundreds of Indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing over the last 30years.
Today we join women in Vancouver, Edmonton, Sudbury and Winnipeg coming together in defense of our lives and to demonstrate the complicity of the colonizer state and its institutions - police, RCMP,coroner's offices and the courts, in the on going genocide against First Nations people. Indigenous communities are over policed and Indigenous girls make up the fastest growing prison population yet their deaths go uninvestigated and their killers unpunished. We call on all people in this country to take a stand - NO MORE SILENCE!! Bring your drums!

No More Silence aims to develop a national network of local coalitions comprised of Indigenous women and allies working together to support the initiatives of independent Indigenous women working to stop the disappearances and end impunity.

Endorsed by: CUPE-SCFP; METRAC; Brampton Coalition for Peace and Justice;Parkdale Community Legal Services; The Humanist Centre of Cultures; Not In Our Name; Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP); The Centre for Women and Trans People at the University of Toronto; Canadian Chiapanecas Justice for Women; Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid; Canadian Arab Federation; No One Is Illegal Toronto; The Ontario Women's Health Network; CAW-Sam Gindin Chairin Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson; Toronto Haiti Action Committee,Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

Sounds like the way to be spending my Valentine's Day this year.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

From the Inbox: Upcoming Events

I've been crazy busy with school and work, which has caused me to be a lazy fuck with this blog, but the Women's Studies department is far more diligent about putting out content, events, and opportunities. And so I bring you, curtesy of the School of Women's Studies at York, this awesome list of upcoming events in Toronto:

Jan 28:
Film screening - Thirst for Profit: A Story of Privatization of Water

Jan 30:
Neoliberal Oligarchs: Central American Power Structures after the Wars

Jan 31:
Book Launch! Organizing the Transnational & Development’s Displacements

Feb 7:
How About a Little Bronze Virgin? Mestiza Nationalism in Cuba and Brazil

Colloquium on the Global South

Alternate Wednesdays:
Brazilian Studies Seminar Series

Alternate Wednesdays:
CERLAC Gender & Politics Study Group

Ta-da! My school is so involved...*proud grin*

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How Many Feminists Do You Know?

I am quite late posting into this new year, but alas it has already been a mighty busy one. So I thought I would post an old reflection I wrote a couple of years ago, born of the frustration that would come out of people who would either get defensive about my studies, as if I just said the most offensive thing on the planet, as well as people who would seek to undermine my education armed with only their random opinions, rather than experiences and facts. I can't tell you how many people, despite never reading any feminist work, never meeting any feminists, never discussing feminist ideas or intersectionalities will tell me they know the "truth" about feminists and what they are really about, they know more than I do, even though this is what I study (and *try* to practice). Lately too I am coming across questions like "if we're talking about racism, then why do you need feminism?" Entirely frustrating not only because my feminism doesn't just inform my feminism, but because to frame a question like that is to pose the world's various oppressions as "either/or" rather than as living side by side, interconnected, as well as denying the space for the various feminisms that (importantly) exist to grow. I am the first to admit that feminism is not perfect. But what I find important about it is its ability to change, to grow, to give space for everyone to talk about the various things that I or anyone else may miss. Feminism is not to be dismissed because a couple of uninformed (refuse to be informed) people think all we want is women to control men, or that it is completely irrelevant to people's lives.

I should warn you, this old prose probably needs some updating and editing. I think I've come a lot farther in my thinking since this was originally written. But alas, I've got lots of homework right now to get to.

This is perhaps a shared experience amongst students of women’s studies. You are at work, at home, at a bar having a casual drink, or even at school itself. Someone asks you what you are studying and you tell them “I’m getting a degree in Women’s Studies.” The reactions can be as wonderfully diverse as congratulations, genuine interests, to blank stares, patronizing smiles, utter dismay, and in the worst case, total ignorance and indignation. “So, what, you’re studying how to hate men?” usually comes from the least informative. “What an ego you have” I say, when it is a man who says that to me. “Now, why would I fork over that much dough, just to spend all my time talking about you?” All I can hear in my head is Carly Simon whispering “you’re so vaaaaiiinn….” It can be pretty frustrating at times, trying to explain to people what it is exactly that you are learning about and why. For the most part, when people say stupid things to me about feminism, I can roll it off my back with a witty reply and leave the conversation with not much damage done. It is when people make general statements that are often ill-informed, about feminists and the nature of feminism overall, and I can see that they believe what they are saying to their core, that my blood boils and I get frustrated and I wonder why I bother to get into these kinds of conversations at all. No one seems to get as pissed off at me when I tell them that I’m also studying Visual Arts. What seems to be at the heart of a lot of peoples’ perception of feminism is a lack of education about it, a lack of clarity about feminist thought or experiences from which they can draw at the very least better arguments about why they feel they way they do about it. All I want to do then is take the blinders off their eyes about feminism.
I had a manager once who when he first found out that I was studying for a degree in Women’s Studies, seem to take a mild offense to it. Things like “Be careful now, Mo’s a feminist, she’ll tear you a new one” in random conversatons would pop out his mouth as if my chosen field of study were a type of vicious heresy against the world, and something that was turning me into an unreasonable monster. Once you are a Feminist, you are a suddenly a Type of person, usually militant and aggressive, which are bad things only if you happen to be female. Hairy legs and anger are common characteristics of the Abominable Feminist. (And you know what? So fucking what if my legs are hairy and I'm angry!) I’ve even had an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years comment not too long ago, “Now I know why you are so bitter. You’re a feminist!” No, fool, I’m not bitter because I’m a feminist. I’m bitter because that’s what everyone keeps saying to me when I tell them about my studies! No one can come up with anything more creative to say to me! And now everything I have to say about the world is invalidated by my seeing it through feminist lenses, as if they are foggier than any other way in which to view the world. I have to ask myself, why shouldn’t I be angry or bitter about the world? It’s not always especially hospitable to the women that populate it. Why should I be complacent about injustice and oppression and all the other multi-faceted issues that we Feminists talk about? Why is it not okay to be an angry Feminist anyway?
I’ve gotten into arguments with a co-worker about how ‘feminism today’ is about putting women on a higher pedestal then men. I almost choked when he told me that. I asked him where he got that idea from, to which he answered vaguely “oh you know advertisements on T.V.” I pummeled him with question after question. I asked him which ads and why did he assume they were feminist? I told him about activist after activist and the work they were doing today in various fields all over the world. He retorted back that he was only talking about North American feminism and that I can’t talk about the rest of the world. Puzzled, I thought why can’t I talk about the rest of the world? I can’t speak for all women, certainly, but as a Feminist I am obligated and interested in listening to as many voices as I can. After all, women live all over this planet. There may be several countries, but there is only one world. How many feminists do you know, I wanted to ask him. How many feminists can you list off the top of your head, how many theorists have you read, how many magazines have you picked up, how many women have you talked to, how many activists have you seen work that that was the opinion you came up with? Seriously, how many feminists do you really know that make you think the way you do?
This same co-worker proceeded to tell me that what I am studying is not the ‘real world,’ that I am not studying what is actually going on around us. He said that to me, quite seriously, as if I am studying a fake world instead. No one would dare tell a doctor that he wasted his education studying fake human anatomy or fake science. I wonder then, where did all the theories I have studied emerge from if they did not come from the real world. And why are you assuming that I have not eyes and ears outside the classroom in which to take in the world? Why are you assuming I have no ability to question, analyze and decide for myself what I think about what I am learning? I am completely aware of the dangers of secluding myself in academic towers. I am not a drone of sorts that just recieves orders and cannot compute on her own. He is not the first to question the educational authenticity of my Women’s Studies. Another friend in another place asked me once if I really believed in feminism or if it is just something I picked up because of school. Does a doctor not just ‘pick up’ his medical degree from school? He’s not less a doctor because the poor fool needed to be taught how to perform surgery. Why is my feminism less authentic because my professors have inspired it? Am I not going to school to learn in the first place?
My friend who asked me about the authenticity of my feminism is someone who is so in control of her life, a motivated go-getter, intelligent, witty and with a no-shit attitude that I just love. I was quite surprised to learn her dismay about feminism. Actually, I am continually surprised when I come across women who live in ways that they consider free, who are educated and can pursue their dreams with vigour and determination, and they reveal that they don’t really think we need feminism anymore, and that they certainly are not feminists. Clearly, then, this is a privileged stance to take about feminism. Another set of blinders here need to be taken off. There is this Western assumption that women in our neck of the woods are completely free of oppression (at least genderwise anyway) and therefore choose to not see the problems that are right under our nose. Its also a dangerous position to take for feminists as well, as it can lead activists to thinking that they must save women in other parts of the world from their cultures, and themselves, as if privileged women/people have all the claim on agency in this world. A classmate once told me with disdain that she thought our professor in our art class might be a feminist. “We don’t really need feminism anymore,” she said. I thought, well, you like being able to breathe don’t you? You like your right to choose, don’t you? You like being able to express an opinion in an educational institution and have that opinion heard, don’t you? What about the rest of the us? What about all the women whose voices are still silent for various reasons? Is this really as far as you think we need to come? Is this all your willing to hear from women? Really? If I am asking the men how many feminists do they know, then I must also ask the women where have they all gone to? Where are they hiding, and can I join their club?
I will admit that sometimes, when I am tired, and just want to relax, I won’t admit the total truth of what I am studying. Sometimes, I am weak, and I just decide that today, this isn’t a battle I want to pick when someone asks me about my degree. But only sometimes. It is often hard work, with so many different voices that need to be heard but don’t always agree, though always compelling. I am not afraid to name myself Feminist, at the risk of hairy legs and angry messages (which isn’t really a risk if you ask me), and I am not afraid to be the Feminist that you do know. I’ll even tell you where I am should you find yourself in need of my feminist services. But I can’t be the only one.