Sunday, December 14, 2008

Masculism (or what the hell are men so scared of?)

Lately I've been noticing (more and more) sources of "Men's Right's" Groups. It's a really disturbing trend.

The first time I ever heard the term "masculist", it was through a friend, who said that it was being used to describe men who wanted gender equality - but didn't want to be called feminists because they weren't women. Even then, that entire argument has never been a very good one for me. First of all, it's feminism, because the movement is to equalise the rights of women and men. And women are the group that has been systematically disenfranchised for about as long as we've had recorded history; and probably since before. Secondly, the "dirtying" of the word feminism has been going on for far too long. Trying to use the word "masculist" for a so-called feminist man is simply avoiding a coherent connection with the movement one claims that they support. Thirdly, if all men have to be "masculists" and all women have to be "feminists"... well.. doesn't that just reinforce the "traditional" gender structures we've always had? Oh, yeah, it also disenfranchises everyone who isn't specifically male or female.
Not long after hearing the term for the first time, a friend and I were chatting to a few guys about philosophy, and it was mentioned that we were feminists. One of them immediately said something along the lines of "Oh, you're a feminist? Well I'm a masculist." When asked what that meant, he couldn't define it. But the use of that word as a antithesis to feminism simply made me angry. If he was pro-feminism, why couldn't he simply say so? If he was trying to make a joke, it was incredibly misplaced. If he was "masculist" as in "men's rights advocates" then I'm truly sorry I didn't tell him off in very strong words. One way or the other, his attitude towards feminism ended the conversation for me - how do you argue with a fool? You either drop down to their level and scream and shout and repeat and shout and scream and use profanities until someone's completely drowned out, or else you walk away because you're not going to change the attitude of someone who doesn't care what you think, but just wants to out-yell you.

Lately, however, the term masculist has had a much more chilling definition to me: the group of men who seem to think that the goals of all feminists are to disenfranchise the rights of men. According to some guy's (really really crappy geocities webpage): "Definition of Masculism: A men’s movement ideology that advocates for the abolition of political and cultural assumptions of equality between sexes. A realistic approach to sex differences that attempts to identify those differences and how they are best expressed in the social and political melieu. Supports the establishment of a modern partriarchy and assumes that we are now living in a matriarchy." (Spelling and grammatical mistakes copied-and-pasted direct). In the case of this website, I don't really want to take it too seriously, because, well... really it's an amazingly poorly done website - which means that a) due to spelling and grammar errors, I have to assume the author isn't really all that bright" and b) he doesn't have much of a support group. But then there's this, which tries to suggest that men must be relieved of parental duties if the pregnancy was undesired or accidental.

Now, the issue of paternal child support is really fucking big. Women are paid less. Any way you paint it, any country: women are paid less. In Canada, on average, including all salaried jobs, women generally get 70.5% of what men in the same positions make. Oh, yes, I'm sure there's a few power-suited women in corporations making bucket loads more than your average man. But on the whole women are paid less. Women also generally end up taking care of the children in a marital breakdown. (This is an issue that should be addressed separately, but I think that parents should be getting joint custody far more often, and I believe that the court systems have a bias towards giving women the children to care for that should be removed - whichever parent, mother or father, is best able to care for the children should be caring for them). Wait a second, 1+1 = Oh yeah, women, especially single mothers, tend to be under the poverty line more often than men. So, seriously, a man, living on his own, with no significant expenses (other than the children his estranged wife has been caring for) should fucking pay his child support. (And I added "fucking" there to emphasize, this is an issue very near and dear to me - as a child who's grown up with a single mother. No... my father wasn't deadbeat, but he came pretty close sometimes). It doesn't matter if a child was accidental or not. If you bring a child into this world, you'd better be helping to raise that child. If you don't want to do that... well, wear a condom (and know who you're sleeping with).

I titled this entry as I did because, a few weeks ago I followed the link to This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me through Feministing. I loved the campaign (wish it was happening here too), and then I read the discussion board. The numbers of guys who took major offense at the ad campaign was ridiculous.
First and foremost was the assumption that the ads somehow label all men as rapists. (Ok, but if that's how men react to those ads, good thing the poor muffins aren't treated the way women are treated in advertisement...). Nevertheless, maybe not all men are rapists, but most girls (including myself), have been told to watch out for men who are: strangers, relatives, boyfriends, husbands, acquaintances; the last four being the most likely men to rape you, according to statistics. No, I don't think every man in my life is a potential rapist, but the point here is rape is such a common crime that girls (especially) are always told (with a certain amount of good reason) to be really careful. No, I don't want to label all men as rapists, but maybe there's a little bit too much ...well... social support for a guy who's committed a rape.
And then there was the reaction of "Well, women yell 'rape' all the time, they must be lying!". So maybe that happens once in a while; it's a big world, I'm sure someone somewhere has done so. But what about how many women get raped (1/3 in most Western countries). "But men get raped too!" And if men get raped, they should come forward about it. Luckily for them, men don't get raped nearly as often (1/22). So yeah, although I'm sure there is the very odd woman who's willing to get herself subjected to all sorts of abuse through the police, through the court, through the lack of support of relatives and friends... etc, etc, more often than not, I'm pretty sure if a woman comes forward about a rape, she's not kidding around. She's going through about as much (or more) social exclusion as the rapist.

In the end, what masculism appears to be (to me) is a frightened yelp of an over-enfranchised group who must learn to share. It's like a child who's always had exactly what s/he wanted, and suddenly s/he must share with another child. Feminism has never been about disenfranchising men. It's never been about hating men either. Feminism has accomplished great things, and will continue to accomplish great things. Enfranchising women (just like enfranchising any other group) has done amazing things: most importantly, allowing large numbers of incredibly intelligent and amazing people to participate fully in society, free of numerous social inhibitions. Women are still on an unequal playing field with men. But women don't hate men for it (It's funny, but most of the "boys are dumb" or "guys smell" stuff [in my experience] comes from women who wouldn't call themselves feminists). As a feminist, what I want is neither a "patriarchal" or a "matriarchal" society - those are lofty and foolish goals. I want a society that will accept anyone regardless of gender, race, creed, nationality, etc, etc etc, on an equal level. I don't appreciate a bunch of frightened "masculist" men (that very group that has been in power for so many centuries) trying to overthrow or protest that ideal because they're scared of having a level playing field - and unhobbled competitors.

Guys, you've had millenia to control the world. Yes, losing small amounts of that control is a very big, frightening change for you. But it's time to simply MOVE OVER.

Post Scripted: And everything I wanted to say is summed up very quickly, astutely and beautifully right here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Naomi Klein Talks About Coalition

Naomi Klien: We Can't Lose

Some key points in this interview with Naomi Klein: understanding what "Liberal" actually means and what histories and legacies it points to, holding the Coalition accountable in this very exciting moment, challenging our political process and the borders around democracy. She's right, talks of this coalition being a political coupe is bad Tory PR spin on the situation. Let's talk about the ways this exciting moment potentially opens doors for a truly progressive change in politics and nation-states like Canada. I don't think Harper even represents most conservatives (much less anyone else) in Canada--he's just their only choice.

The Article Here:

Kim Elliott: As you outline so well in your book and in various interviews in the U.S. media, the current financial crisis holds the possibility of being one of those moments when the shock doctrine can best be applied. Can you comment on both the Harper government's economic and fiscal statement introduced last week, and on the Opposition's response to that - that is, the formation of a coalition - in the context of the shock doctrine?

Naomi Klein: Yes, absolutely. What I think we are seeing is a clear example of the shock doctrine in the way the Harper government has used the economic crisis to push through a much more radical agenda than they won a mandate to do.

At the same time we are seeing an example of what I call in the book a "shock resistance," where this tactic has been so overused around the world and also in Canada that we are becoming more resistant to the tactic - we are on to them - and Harper is not getting away with it.

What I think is really amazing about this moment is whatever happens next - whether we end up with this coalition or not, we will have an extremely chastened Harper. So the attempted shock doctrine has failed. I think we can say that decisively.

Just to be clear, what I mean by the shock doctrine, as you know, is the use of crisis to push through unpopular pro-corporate policies. This bundling of a whole package of policies: denying the right of public sector workers to strike, the attack on public financing of political parties, with the economic program - that is what failed, and people were offended by the opportunism of it.

This is what so many of us were worried about during the election - the context of a Tory victory in an economic crisis, because we know that there is this pattern of using an economic crisis to push through policies that were nowhere during the campaign.

KE: This coalition gives us lots of opportunities, but it also poses some risks if it is successful. I'd like to ask you about that. In an interview you had on Democracy Now!, you said that part of the reason that Obama was appointing a host of neo-liberal economists was because there was a lack of "intellectual honesty" among progressives about the real legacy of the Clinton years. Does the Canadian left, in a Liberal-led coalition, risk losing our understanding of the neo-liberal legacy of the Liberals, who during those same Clinton years were ripping up Canada's welfare state, cutting social spending etc?

NK: I think it is really important to remember, and I've written about this in the book, and Linda McQuaig has written about it extensively, that it is the Liberals who actually implemented what I'm describing in Canada.

They were elected on an economic stimulus platform in 1993, with a huge mandate. The Tories were wiped out in those historic elections. And then they caved to pressure from Bay Street, from the corporate media and from the right-wing think tanks in the face of the debt crisis. They turned around and broke their election promises when it came to NAFTA, when it came to job creation, and the famous 1995 Paul Martin budget came down which did so much damage to unemployment insurances (which makes it particularly interesting that a key piece of the agreement for the coalition is about strengthening unemployment insurance). So we need to have long memories about the Liberals, because they have done exactly what Harper has just done, in terms of using an economic crisis for a neo-liberal about turn.

That said, what I find most exciting about what is going on right now - beyond just getting rid of Harper, which is exciting in and of itself - is that we have this opportunity to show what proportional representation (PR) would look like, because all of this talk that this is a coup is a joke.

What is being proposed by this coalition is much closer to representative democracy than what we have right now, which is a government that has [slightly more than] 35 per cent of the popular vote in a turnout that was historically low, of 59 per cent of Canadian voters, which means that even though the Tories won more seats they had fewer actual votes than in the last election.

I think it is really important to talk about democracy, about what it actually means in this period. In some ways I think it is even more important than talking about the policies, because our electoral system is broken. Because of the Tories' extraordinary opportunism and terrible calculation we now have an opportunity to see a better version of democracy and see more people represented in government.

To me the best case scenario that could come out of this is, one, you get the coalition, and, two, the NDP uses this moment to really launch a national discussion about why we need PR and that that becomes one of the things that comes out of this crisis.

Now, they don't have the mandate for that right now, but we could come out of this with a national referendum on proportional representation. People might actually like it, which would be really, really exciting.

KE: That is a very exciting possibility, and I wanted to ask you, if this coalition is successful, what are the two or three key issues that the NDP should focus on, the kinds of issues that were not covered in the agreement?

NK: They've put in writing what they've agreed to. I think it is going to maybe be up to the NDP to make sure that the EI improvements are protected.

KE: I'm thinking of those issues that were not in the agreement like PR, or like withdrawal from Afghanistan - those issues that were not nailed down in the agreement.

NK: Those issues weren't nailed down because there isn't agreement on them, and that I think it is not really about whether the NDP holds the line on these issues, but about how the NDP uses this platform. It is a historic opportunity, I think, to be very bold, not just because of what is happening in this country, but because of what is happening globally.

Another important role for the NDP, beyond putting proportional representation on the agenda, withdrawal from Afghanistan, is also the terms of the bailout. The bailout for the auto industry is part of their agreement, but we don't know what the terms of that agreement are going to be, and that is going to be really important in terms of negotiating a progressive automobile industry bailout - a green auto industry bailout, if such a thing is possible. So that is a very important role that the NDP could play.

I think the best analogy, in terms of the kinds of concerns you are raising in regards to the Liberals and neo-liberalism, of being the party that continued and deepened Mulroney's neo-liberal economic program, is to look at Gordon Brown. He was finance minister for Tony Blair, really the face of neo-liberalism in Britain. He is now overseeing what many are calling the death of New Labour, and the return to Keynesian economics in Britain. That is because he is fighting for his political life. That is because he was going down, until he started talking this way. That is really what is at stake for the Liberals, I think.

This is also why I think the issue of political financing for political parties is so key. The reason there is a little more latitude in Canada on these issues is because our political process is not massively owned by corporations as it is in the United States.

The way in which public financing for political parties has been presented in the press is "oh the politicians, they just got mad when they went after their money," right? This is another key point that I think is somewhat related to the issue of proportional representation. We need to be talking about our political process here, and the issue of public financing for political parties in elections is key to protecting and deepening democracy in Canada, and for keeping it out of corporate control. It is not for nothing that the Tories are attacking that. They see attacking public financing of political parties as a way to entrench their power.

KE: Should this coalition become government, what should we as progressive movements be doing in terms of using this as an opportunity to promote these kinds of progressive agendas, to support the NDP in a predominantly Liberal caucus?

NK: I think it is PR, I really think that is the way in. By pushing PR then it is not just about this one crisis. It is about leveraging this situation to have a more democratic system. It means that if the NDP does deeply disappoint us in this moment we could still end up with a better political system.

KE: Should the coalition happen what do you see as the long-term fall-out in terms of western voters in Canada?

NK: I really think that we need to fight back this strategy. We know what the talking points are from the right and from the West, and it is about playing up this idea of making a coalition with the Bloc, "with the separatists."

What to me is so extraordinary is the temper tantrum being thrown in Alberta right now at the prospect of having to be ruled by a majority - by a coalition of parties representing the majority of the people in this country. I really do think it is worth asking who the real separatists are, because of course the undercurrent of everything they are saying is that they will take our oil. So who are the real separatists?

KE: Do you agree then that we should be out there supporting the coalition? Attending rallies, mobilizing letter-writing campaigns?

NK: Absolutely. Listen, we've been given a second chance, after these elections. What is exciting about it is that a lot of people did get involved in the election to try to beat the Tories. Maybe it started a little bit too late. We were surprised a bit by how quickly the election happened, but you saw a lot of people getting involved in things like and the Department of Culture.

That was very much the spirit of it, it was anything but the Tories and it was kind of building a PR system without the cooperation of the political parties that got a lot of people excited during this election. It was about just doing an end-run around the political parties who were not cooperating to try to keep out the Tories.

So, what is exciting about this political moment, and how people can get involved, is that this is building on that. The political parties caught up with the grassroots movement that was happening anyway with those initiatives like, Department of Culture, and people like Murray Dobbin who have been making these arguments pretty steadily outside of the political parties. Now it is happening, and it is happening thanks to Stephen Harper and his extraordinary arrogance and over-reaching. We can't lose this moment.

I just want to emphasize this point: If even through smart tactics, Harper pulls this off, if he prorogues Parliament; if the Governor General lets him get away with it; if the Liberals lose their nerve over Xmas, then the Harper we will have in January will be a deeply chastened Harper.

What everybody agrees with is that he made a massive error, that he massively overreached, and his own party, his own base agrees with that. Worst case scenario we dodged a bullet here. Best case scenario, we leverage his overreach, his attempt to use a crisis to push through his ideological pro-corporate agenda to have a deeper democracy in our country, and to prevent forevermore a situation where a party with 35 per cent of the vote is government.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Remembering Violence Against Women

I just wanted to take a moment out to add to Medea's post, especially since today also marks a national day of rememberance on violence against women.

Violence against women happens under various conditions but what we know of it and how we know of it gets mediated by the fact that we live in a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, able-ist society--so only certian kinds of violence against certain women gets acknowledged, and paints a particular, limited picture of the issues, when the reality is that there are an abundant. So many histories and conceptions of what we think is a 'liberal'* (read: our) society drastically change when we bother to look under the rug.

So while we remember importantly the Montreal Massacre, let's also remember to read Andrea Smith,Sherene Razack,Angela Davis,Melissa Wright. Let's remember to watch Finding Dawn and The Sterilization of Leilani Muir. Drop by The Centre for Women and Trans People (University of Toronto) and have an important conversation.

There's so much more out there.

Note how many of those few sources I listed point to a Canadian history--including the Massacre. Let's look under our own rug.

*a big problem is understanding just what exactly we mean and politically support when we say 'liberal' in the first place...

Montreal Massacre

I just wanted to make a point of noting that today (December 6th) is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, almost 20 years ago now, but still just as shocking.

If you haven't heard of this before, go to the CBC Archives. A lone gun man, Marc Lepine shot down 14 women, to get revenge on them because he was unable to get into engineering school. He blamed the women because he felt that they were taking up spaces he could have taken in school. He felt that women going into the workplace were taking all his opportunities away. Lepine deliberately separated men and women, and targeted only women.

It's just as heart wrenching, sexist and terrifying today as it was in the 1980s. This happened in a liberal country, at the end of the 1980s, at a time when people were already saying that feminism had run its course, and was "no longer necessary".

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stephen Harper

Harper got his prorogation. I'm not pleased about this. It just gives him a bigger chance to launch attack ads and be a jerk.

Hopefully, this won't stop the no-confidence vote from going through, and the much more respectable coalition government from coming into power in January, when parliament reconvenes.

(Feel free to use this image where ever you like!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

5 Reasons to love the coalition

5. Most of us didn't vote Conservative. Even if you ignore the popular vote, conservatives did not reach a majority. So, yeah, a coalition is not undemocratic. In fact, it's more democratic than a minority government, because it forces parties to work together and negotiate - giving the public more of what most of them actually voted for.

4. The bill that Harper was trying to put through included: 1. Removing public funding for all the parties - which would give the Conservative Party a huge and undemocratic advantage. 2. Removing the right of public service workers to strike. That's not exactly pro-democracy.

3. Harper really doesn't give a damn about advancing the equal rights of women, visible minorities, and LGTB people. Remember how Harper cut funding for shelters for battered women? I know most people cringe at the word "feminist*", but if I add that usually kids get battered when their mum gets battered, does that mean you'll actually give a damn?

2. Global warming is not a joke, nor is it something that should be kept on the back burner. The environment is life and death important. We need a government that actually gives a damn.

1. Stephen Harper is an immature lout. He accuses the proposed coalition government of being undemocratic - well, then the rule of the majority is undemocratic. He rails about the Bloc Quebecois as a "separatist" party - he is simply pushing Quebec further and further away. Oh, and, whoops, forgetting his attempts to work with them to pull down the Martin Liberals. Instead of speaking about budgets, about policies, he merely insults the proposed coalition. Instead of trying to compromise with the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc, he refuses to take responsibility for the house's loss of confidence in him. Harper governs like a schoolyard bully, with little understanding of what the majority of Canadians want. Get him out of power.

Bring on the Coalition!

* For the ten millionth time: Feminist does not mean man hater.

Cars, Subsidies and Canoe Races... (definitely not an essay)

I don't know who actually wrote this; it came to me in an email. Just kinda true...

A Japanese company ( Toyota ) and an American company (Ford Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River . Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people rowing.

Feeling a deeper study was in order; American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rowers. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses. The pension program was trimmed to 'equal the competition' and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid-off one rower, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses.

The next year, try as he might, the lone designated rower was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles,) so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India .

Sadly, the End.

Here's something else to think about: Ford has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the US , claiming they can't make money paying American wages.

TOYOTA has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the US The last quarter's results:

TOYOTA makes 4 billion in profits while Ford racked up 9 billion in losses.

Ford folks are still scratching their heads, and collecting bonuses...