About Me


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The HST and Me!

Well, folks, it is almost upon us. In just over a week, Ontario will be subjected to the horror demon spawn that is the HST.

(That was sarcastic, by the way. I feel like I need to clarify because some people are actually talking about it in those terms.)

First, an explanation. HST stands for Harmonized Sales Tax, which basically means that the current Ontario sales taxes, the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) at 8% and the GST (Goods & Services Tax, federally controlled) at 5% will be combined. So instead of having an 8% PST and a 5% GST, most items will be sold with a 13% HST.

The issue is that while you get charged GST on just about everything, PST is a little more selective. One of the original incentives of the PST system was to encourage healthy living and to make the necessities of life more affordable. So, for example, PST is charged for junk food but not produce, and for adult clothing but not children's clothing. With the HST, some things that were formerly only taxed 5% will now be taxed 13%. This is supposed to shift the tax burden off the shoulders of corporations and onto the consumer, allowing the corporations to lower their prices.

The Maritime provinces harmonized their sales taxes in 1996, and some reports state that the price of goods did go down. Currently both Ontario and British Columbia are preparing to harmonize their sales taxes, and the public is not very receptive. While Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty did consult with Ontarions before working towards harmonization, BC Premier Gordon Campbell apparently did not extend the same courtesy to his constituents.

In both provinces, the public and the media have come out strongly against HST. In BC, residents have been circulating a petition which could force the issue to referendum (it needs the signatures of at least 10% of the registered voters of every riding to do so), and a provincial cabinet minister resigned from his position and from the Liberal Party because his riding is so strongly opposed to the HST. In Ontario, Premier McGuinty "has taken to the airwaves in an 11th hour bid to sell the merits of the harmonized sales tax," as that byline goes. Basically he appeared in a 60-second spot talking about how awesome the HST would be for employers. This appeared, interestingly, on the 6 o'clock news yesterday throughout Ontario, except in Ottawa, the location of the federal government and McGuinty's own riding.

Now, I am generally not against taxation. I think of it as a good thing--it keeps our roads paved and our health care universal. However, the concept of moving the tax burden from the corporation to the consumer seems more than a little suspect to me, so I hunted up the Ontario Ministry of Revenue handy-dandy guide to tax change, which my right-wing grandfather forwarded to me almost two months ago along with an email petition to stop "the dreaded HST."

And so, without further ado, How the HST will affect Me:

Clothing and Footwear

No change except in dry cleaning service and children's footwear below size 6. Well, since I've never had anything dry-cleaned in my life and have no kids, looks good.

Food and Beverages

No change except to alcoholic beverages, which actually goes down. I considered this fortuitous until I checked out the footnote, which informs me that other taxes will be charged on alcohol to make up the discrepancy and "continue to support social responsibility." Tcha.

Home Services

Taxation goes from 5% to 13% on cleaning services, electricity and heating, internet access services, home service calls by tradespeople, and landscaping, lawn-care and private snow removal. Well, I don't use cleaning services, my heating is included in my rent, and the supers take care of repairs and snow removal. And I have a lease contract so they're not allowed to raise my rent.

So, for me, tax increase in: internet access service, electricity

Accommodation, Travel and Passenger Transportation Services

Taxation goes from 5% to 13% on hotel rooms, taxis, campsites, and domestic air, rail and bus travel originating in Ontario. Well, hotels and taxis are already ridiculously expensive so I try to avoid them as much as possible anyway. I don't camp much anymore, rarely bus, and only travel by air when absolutely necessary.

So… train travel.

Around the House

Taxation goes up on magazines purchased by subscription and home renovations. I can't renovate my apartment even if I wanted to, and my only magazine subscription is just about to expire, so I think I'm good.

Motorized Vehicles

Well, I don't have a car. But the only changes are to private resale of car and gasoline/diesel so I guess the cost of bus passes will go up.

Home Purchases

The tax is increasing on new homes over $400,000 (although if they are primary residences they are eligible for some kind of housing rebate, apparently, which covers most of the cost) and on real estate commissions.

Health Products and Services

Here we have the caveat that audiologist, chiropractor, and physiotherapist services will remain tax-free "if offered by a practitioner of the service." Honey, if you're getting chiropractic work done by someone who's not a chiropractor, you're going to have bigger issues than having to pay taxes.

Also, tax increases for massage therapy services and vitamins.

I do take vitamins.

Memberships, Entertainment and Sport Equipment

Here we have some interesting changes. The tax for admission to professional sporting events and for movie tickets is actually going down from 15% to 13%. Green fees for golf, gym membership fees, sports lessons, and tickets for live theatre (small venue) are going up (with some exceptions, such as sports lessons for kids with disabilities, and theatre for charity events). Alright. So I do attend professional sporting events (like maybe once a year) and movies. I also go to the theatre, and sometimes I pay for a gym membership.

So, theatre tickets and gym membership up, pro sporting events and movie tickets down.

Lessons and Rentals

Hockey rink and hall rental fees are going up.


No change.

Professional and Personal Services

Tax is increasing for the services of a fitness trainer or hair stylist/barber, aesthetician services, funeral services, and legal fees. Barring exceptional circumstance (aka as long as I don't get arrested or sued), the only one of these I use is the hair stylist.


Tax goes up. I don't smoke, so it's all good.

Bankins and Investments

No change.

Ontario Government Services

Tax is up on hunting and fishing licences. Yeah… no.


With HST, I am going to be paying more for:
internet, train travel, electricity, vitamins, theatre tickets, gym memberships, hair cuts

With HST, I am going to be paying less for:
pro sporting events, movie tickets

According to my estimates for how much I currently spend on those things, tax increases will cost me about $77 annually, and tax decreases will save me maybe $5 a year.

If prices remain the same, the HST will cost me personally (poor university student!) about $70 a year. Taking into account pension plan and employment insurance reductions, that's about one work day (7.5 hours) on Ontario minimum wage.

However, this entire system is predicated upon the assumption that shifting the tax burden will lower prices. If that's the case, since the average Ontario family is expected to pay an extra $450 a year in sales tax once the HST comes out, maybe I will get off easy?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On the "End of Men," or Why More People Should Study History

Recently, The Atlantic--which I admit I don't read, but it sounds kind of like a sensationalized, Boston version of Maclean's--published a piece titled
"The End of Men."

Ha! Oh, hahaha! Ha! Haha! Hahahahahahahahahaha! Haha! Ha!

Fortunately, the article itself isn't quite as laughably implausible as the title. But it is pretty close, as I will demonstrate as I rip it to itty bitty shreds.

For some reason I can't for the life of me fathom, Hanna Rosin introduces her topic by talking about scientific sex selection for babies. Apparently the guy who invented/discovered it is a Manly Man who thought that the fact that Y-chromosome sperm go faster than X-chromosome sperm was awesome. I really don't understand why this is here, and why the editor didn't ruthlessly fill it with red-ink question marks. Is she trying to say, "Ooh, maybe boys come from more athletic sperm, but girls are still more awesome!"

Let's please not attach too much importance to this fact of nature. Because that's what it is--a fact of nature. Even without Dr. Manly Man's sex selection, the agility of the Y-chromosome sperm means that more male than female fetuses are conceived naturally. HOWSOMEVER, male fetuses are ALSO more likely to be miscarried. This is Mother Nature's little way of keeping things balanced. Also, this way, if a group of people is suffering hardship and becoming malnourished, even MORE male fetuses are miscarried, so a disproportionately large number of girls are born. This makes an ideal situation for repopulating the society. Actually, demographers sometimes determine the relative quality of life of a society by tracking the birth rate of males.

(This also explains why in those historical drama movies, there's always that one really dramatic scene where the queen/lady/important person's wife miscarries late in her pregnancy and you find out it would have been a boy and her husband gets super-upset and everybody cries. It's historically accurate, yo!)

So, to recap: boy-making sperm are faster than girl-making sperm. This isn't about boys being stronger than girls. This is about not letting your society die out. It's about evolutionary biology. I don't understand why historians know this but scientists apparently don't, but whatever.

Anyway, in a society such as ours, when our quality of life is such that miscarriages don't happen very often (as late as a hundred years ago, every childbearing woman could expect to have at least three miscarriages), we have a higher birthrate of boy babies than girl babies. NO WONDER people want sex selection to have daughters. Supply and demand. Economics. Geeze Louise, Dr. Manly Man, don't you read???

Apparently Rosin doesn't read either, or at least she doesn't really think about what she's reading. She starts talking about how for centuries women who gave birth to daughters instead of sons could be scorned or even beaten by their husbands; but it doesn't seem to occur to her that maybe that was WHY women wanted sons so badly then. Men wanted sons, sons to carry on their bloodline and carry on the family name, often sons they could raise to be a chip off the old block, as they say. Women wanted to not get beaten by their husbands; ergo, women wanted sons.

Now that babies of any sex are all good, because babies are adorbs, and hey we're all equals here right?, I think it might be more that women want a chip off the old block also. Or maybe they want a baby girl to dress in cute clothes, a daughter they can go shopping with, a vibrant young woman who can hate on the patriarchy with them, what have you. The point is: I highly doubt that people now want daughters because they think their daughters will be better equipped to succeed at life than sons. This:

American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind's eye.

Bullshit! I think that generally, dads-to-be are kind of hoping for a boy, and moms-to-be are wishing for a girl. This probably stems from the way that parents tend to encourage their kids to fulfill dreams that the parents themselves didn't have a chance to fulfill. Doesn't that sound great? Having someone who is essentially a mini-you doing all the stuff you always wanted to but couldn't? Yeah. Thought so. I feel like the increased demand for female babies comes from women having more of a voice when it comes to their family planning.

Well, that was long-winded, but so were Rosin's opening remarks. Seriously. This literally has nothing to do with the rest of the article, which is more like this little gem:

For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history?

NO. You think? I have ALSO had this thought! More than that, I'm sure I've read it in several Psych and Soc textbooks! Also several women's studies writings! What a crazy random happenstance!

And then she kills it. "What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?"

BUT YOU JUST SAID THAT MEN AND WOMEN ARE NOT HARDWIRED TO BE DIFFERENT!! Make up your mind--are men and women hardwired to be different, and the new economy favours female characteristics? Or are men and women simply fulfilling social roles, meaning that ANYONE can be socialized into being nurturing and domestic, and ANYONE can be socialized into being ambitious and competitive?

Rosin never does make up her mind on this issue, which is probably one of my main problems about the article. She demonstrates handily that women are gaining economic power in the working class and political power in the middle class and who knows what the upper class are doing.

Basically, the recession mostly hit male-dominated industries like the auto industry, meaning that most of the people who were turned out of work are men (she's not the first person to write about this; I have heard the more or less ridiculous term "Mancession" bandied about a few times. Recessions ALWAYS hurt men more than women, because men are always a higher percentage of the labour force, at least at the beginning of the recession). So women are making most of the money in the working class, in retail and nannying and housekeeping and I dunno, whatever other lady-crap they do. Rosin describes the environment created by this phenomenon as a "matriarchy". And all the poor sad unemployed men who defaulted on their child support have to go to support groups where they talk about things like this:

'What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral emotional, social, and physical. But you ain't none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain't even that. And if you try to exercise your authority, she'll call 911. How does that make you feel? You're supposed to be the authority, and she says, 'Get out of the house, bitch.' She's calling you 'bitch'!' […] 'Who's doing what?' he asks them. 'What is our role? Everyone's telling us we're supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed. It's toxic, and poisonous, and it's setting us up for failure.' He write on the board: $85, 000. 'This is her salary.' Then: $12,000. 'This is your salary. Who's the damn man? Who's the man now?' A murmur rises. 'That's right. She's the man.'

Holy jumping' Jehosaphat! What is this, How to Be a Massive Asshole Patriarchal Misogynist to Your Wife and Kids 101? (Or a humorous Amanda Bynes movie? Anyone? Anyone?) If I may speak directly to the men in the support group for a moment: You're not a fucking paycheck, you are a FATHER. You know what your role is? You're supposed to love your kids and teach them all about values and hard work and how to make good choices, and you're supposed to set a good example and make sure your kids eat healthy and get enough exercise. So excuse me while I crash your little pity party for your defeated breadwinner masculinity, which, for your information, is a construct of masculinity that was only formed about a hundred years ago, when the LAST major crisis of masculinity happened. Oh, boo-hoo, you don't make as much money as your wife/partner. Guess what? As long as you have a penis and identify as male, YOU ARE STILL A MAN. Grow up and get over it already.

So, yeah. As you might be able to tell, I think this situation isn't leading to "Awesome, look how much economic power working-class women now have!" as much as to "Massive Crisis of Masculinity Ahead!" As I mentioned, there was another massive crisis of masculinity about a hundred years ago, in response to the rise of maternal feminism, men losing their livelihood due to increased industrialization, and a few minor recessions. You know what they did then? They took it out on the loose young women, and in some places (including Ontario) legislation was even passed to the effect that young women could be locked up in a "reformatory" (prison) just for being "promiscuous". Also, Boy Scouts were invented to make boys into Real Manly Men and Not Girly Boys. Does that remind you of anything? Countless editorials about young women and hookup culture, perhaps? A new academic discipline called "Male Studies"? (Seriously, check that website. It's worth a few laughs at least. That's it, white boy, cry your heart out.)

So, yeah. The whole more-women-than-men-employed thing? Not exactly an unalloyed blessing, here. (Also, what's going on now? Nothing new. Literally.)

According to Rosin, women are also doing really well in white-collar job areas. Well, yes and no. She is correct in saying that women hold more than half of all managerial and professional jobs in the US. But "managerial and professional" is an enormous category, one that includes nurses, teachers, and mid-level retail and fast food managers. And that's why women hold more than half the positions in that category. She glosses over mentioning the glass ceiling, only commenting that female CEOs are very rare. Yeah, funny that. She tries to salvage it by pointing out that female CEOs make on average more than male CEOs, but really--when so few women make it that high up the ladder, the ones who do have got to be fricking formidable.

Here is another gem, this time on the subject of male vs. female leadership styles (which, I would like to remind everyone, are socialized and not innate):

A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

Hmm. This sounds suspiciously like Columbia Business School is lacking in students who already have a feminine side, i.e. female students. Either that or they want their male students to become proficient with both management styles. Do they also offer courses in ambition and aggression, or do they expect their female students to learn as they go along? Oh, dear. Women may, as Rosin suggests, be the future, but apparently not the immediate future, at least so far as the Columbia MBA classes of 2010 through 2012.

This is where Rosin gets distracted and goes, "LOOK AT ALL THE EDDYCATION THE WYMMINZ IS GETTING!" Okay, not quite, but I was surprised that the pulled up the stat that BAs are granted to three women for every two men. Which, unpacking the awkward phrasing, means that women earn 60% of BAs. I entirely believe this is true--thank you for reminding me of my minimal dating prospects--but, as my dad says, the BA is the new high school diploma. Rosin has apparently not talked to many BA students, or she would know that the number one question people ask us is, "Oh, you're studying (blank)? But what are you going to do with that?" And the answer is usually: something completely different! There are very few jobs you can get with just a BA--you could work for the public service. I guess. Of that's really what you want to do with your life. Or you could do like everyone else and go back to school! Grad school, business school, law school, teacher's college, library school, culinary school, beauty school--anything! You just have to get in! If your school is like mine, most programs (outside of the BA, nursing school, teacher's college, the gender studies department, and maybe a few others) are more or less male-dominated. And for all the female students, women aren't exactly ruling academia. In fact, the old guard of the history department at my school has begun to make noises that 40% is close enough to 50%, so we can probably stop hiring women now. (Granted, this might be because they're historians, and thus not particularly mathematically inclined.) Not exactly the most female-friendly environment in the world.

I'm also going to take a moment here to point out that the male-dominated trades--plumbing, carpentry, etc.--pay a lot more than the public service, or anything else you can do with a BA, as well as most things you can do with a BA and another degree.

Another odd quote from Rosin:

One afternoon, in the basement cafeteria of a nearly windowless brick building, several women were trying to keep their eyes on their biology textbook and ignore the text messages from their babysitters. Another crew was outside the ladies' room, braiding each other's hair.

Excuse me? What is going on here? How come all the female students are either mothers or preteens at a slumber party? Also, why are the mothers ignoring the babysitters? It takes ten seconds to check a text message. What if the house just burnt down, or the kid fell down the stairs and got a concussion? Or maybe the kid's sick and the babysitter's texting to say, "Yeah, cleaning up puke? So not in my contract." Seriously. CHECK YOUR TEXT MESSAGES FOR GOD'S SAKE. YOU GAVE YOUR BABYSITTER THE CELL NUMBER FOR A REASON. As for the ones braiding each other's hair--why are they doing it outside of the ladies' room, when they could just as easily be inside the ladies' room where there are mirrors? Why are they braiding each other's hair on campus at all? This is just too confusing for me.

Anyway, the upshot of all this, according to Rosin, is that women are becoming more like the dominant sex, i.e. being more violent and dating younger men (think Jihad Jane and Demi Moore), while men are apparently all turning into Judd Apatow characters. Apparently this is a bad thing? I personally find that a lot of the men in Apatow's movies are more likeable and sympathetic than those in movies by a lot of other male directors. Think Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, or Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Totally adorkable, right?

Okay, so now that I've basically disagreed with Rosin on every point, and/or called her an idiot, I think it's time to return to her initial question. Are women more suited to the new postindustrial economy?

Maybe. Usually I stay away from generalizations based on sex, but this time I'll go with it. First of all, being on the wrong side of the hegemonic order kind of gives you a different perspective from "the man", with ideas that at least appear to be new and fresh. The different strategies women have developed to try to exert their agency lead to a different ways of organizing interpersonal relations, which could be especially useful in this information age. This has a lot to do with teamwork, cooperation, and communication. There is also the fact that women have been and continue to be very… versatile, for lack of a better word. I'm thinking here particularly of women like my mother, who has a degree in computer science as well as an MBA, but who can still make a bolt of fabric into a floor-length, bell-sleeved Mediaeval princess dress (don't ask), makes the best desserts in the world, and quite literally ALWAYS wins at Scrabble. I firmly believe that my mother could do literally anything; and if it didn't come easily, she would work at it tirelessly day and night until she achieved her goal. I think that this might be the legacy of that whole "second-shift" thing, that we have women like my mother, who can do everything. Still today, girls are more likely than boys to learn how to do complex, occasional household tasks like sewing. This collection of wide and varied abilities, combined with the "women must do twice as well to be thought half as good" mentality, just might make many women suited to the information economy.

That being said, I don't think it is "The End of Men," and I don't think men will "end" very soon. In fact, I don't want them to. I don't want women to become the dominant sex, I don't think anyone wants that. What I'm looking for is more like a decrease in the importance of gender roles, hopefully to the point that they no longer exist. I do think that the conditions described by Rosin might lead to a transition period to that kind of world. As more girls than ever grow up with mothers who are employed, and an increasing number have stay-at-home dads, hopefully careers will seem to them more like a certainty than a choice; and even though their mothers are more than likely working in the nurturing professions or other "female" fields, hopefully these girls will see possibilities that extend beyond that, into a future that is apparently really cheesy and sentimental.

Sorry about that. I started writing about my mom and it made me emotional, because my mom is awesome and I don't see her enough. I feel like a lot of this is about mothers and daughters, and so…


A Mommy Duckie and her baby duckies.

AWWWWWWW!!!!! Isn't that adorable?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

American Privilege, On and Off the Internet

I know, I know. What a ginormous topic to take on in my first ever post! I've been thinking about blogging for quite a few months now, and wondering what would make a good first post. But this particular issue has not only motivated me into action (through fury), but also nicely covers a lot of the topics I like to think, talk, and write about.

A couple days ago, s. e. smith, a guest blogger at Feministe, posted a wonderful piece on the topic of American exceptionalism in blogging. The gist of it is that American bloggers tend to assume that their readership is largely American also, and so they don't explain their references to American politics, legislation, obscure historical facts, etc. They will post videos from Hulu (as frustrated Rest of the World Internet Users know, an video hosting site only available in the US) and report on events in the Rest of the World only insofar as they might impact the US.

Now, Feministe is an American website. It has never pretended to be otherwise. It's got this nifty ".us" tag which I actually don't think I had ever seen before. Granted, no one actually SAYS anywhere that it's an American blog, and there are no American flags or pictures of Uncle Sam or anything like that on the home page (although I think the little girl with the gun may be a comment on the US?). But that nice little ".us" tag at least lets me know that the bloggers are going to be American feminists concerned primarily with American women's issues.

Not so Feministing. Feministing is, as far as I can tell, one of the most widely-known (and read) feminist blogs ever. It has a ".com" tag which often, but not exclusively, refers to American-based websites. Nowhere on the site's main page, iconography or "About" section is there any reference to Americans or the US. It took about two days after I started reading the blog to realize that, rather than the international blog I had originally thought it was, it's actually pretty US-centric. Like, really, really US-centric. Like arguably more US-centric than the "fyi we are Americans!" Feministe.

Anyway, the reason Feministing enters into this discussion is that today I found a post in Feministing Community by inallsincerity, a community member from Sweden. S/he makes the point that

Feministing is not in the U.S. It is on the internet. The internet is accessed and enjoyed by people living all over the world. Feministing.com has a global "fan base" if you will. It is an international community. 

I personally thought this was a very good point, and aimed more at commenters than the actual bloggers. More or less predictably, it sparked outrage in the comments. Rest of the World commenters generally agreed with inallsincerity that yes, Feministing and especially its commenters demonstrate a certain amount of American privilege.

The American commenters, however, immediately went on the defensive. There were a couple of different arguments:

1) Feministing is an American site for American feminists. Readers have to be prepared for American-only and US-centric content.

If this is true, then the fact that the US is never mentioned in Feministing's mission statements etc. is another example of American privilege, almost to the point of blindness. Since I don't think Feministing editors are that blind, I'm assuming they intended to reach a more or less international audience, even though they themselves seem to be all based in the US. American websites dedicated to American issues and intended for Americans should have to make that very openly clear. Feminist blogs and sites attached to other countries mention it in the site name or on the front page.

2) American privilege doesn't exist/is a fallacy/is a stereotype/is an unfair concept.

Okay... now why are Americans allowed to say that American privilege doesn't exist when men aren't allowed to say that male privilege doesn't exist and white people aren't allowed to say that white privilege doesn't exist?

OF COURSE AMERICAN PRIVILEGE EXISTS. This makes me so angry that I will go on about it at length later.

3) Yes, American privilege exists, but not here at Feministing. It just seems that way because of demographics. Most of our readers are American.

This may be true, I don't know. I don't know if Feministing keeps stats on that kind of thing. But that doesn't mean that American privilege doesn't exist. Maybe it was disgust/disinterest in a US-centric community that pushed the Rest of the World away.

So. I'm Canadian. As a Canadian, especially one who lives very close to the American border and works in the tourist industry, I confront American privilege just about every day. The very name "American" is an example of US privilege. As the Arrogant Worms sing in "I am Not American,"

How could two whole continents
Lose their name to one constituent?
Where were we when the US went
And took the word American away?

(fyi, the song is supposed to be funny, not serious. This is the same band whose song "Canada is Really Big" includes the line "It isn't what you do with it, it's the size that counts.")

As a student of Canadian history, I can tell you right now that Canadians have been aware of American privilege at least since that whole Manifest Destiny thing in the mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier. (The fact that they kept on saying it was their God-given right to own our land and add it to their Great Holy Awesome White Protestant American Empire might have been a tip-off.)

But American privilege isn't just confined to real life. It happens on the interwebs too, as the blog posts I mentioned earlier demonstrate. From spellcheckers that assume the "u" I wrote in "colour" was accidental, to websites like Hulu, the interwebs are not kind to English-speakers outside the US. Even take just web domains. ".gov" is the US government, as if there is no other government in the world. (The Canadian government's domain is ".gc.ca" for Government of Canada, Canada. The Canada is there TWICE.) ".edu" is an American educational institution. ".com" is usually an American business and ".org" an American organization. Elsewhere, all of these sites would have just the location code domain name (in Canada, ".ca").

Sometimes these things are just merely annoying, like not being able to watch a video accompanying a blog post because it's from Hulu, or having to Wikipedia Title IX, the Ninth Amendment, or "Roe v. Wade". At other times, it can be offensive. Recently, a Canadian feminist issue made it onto Jezebel. However, many of the commenters misunderstood the story (the issue was about providing access to family planning in third-world countries as part of the maternal health initiative, but the Jezebel article made it sound like the federal government was refusing to fund abortions for Canadian women). Half the comments were along the lines of "Hey guys, remember that song 'Blame Canada'?" or "Oh, Canadians." There was some definite condescension and patronizing going on, but I doubt the people who wrote those comments were aware that Canadians would read them (possibly they thought we're all anti-birth control right-wing nut bags? In case you were wondering, government-funded universal healthcare covers abortion in most, if not all, provinces).

The reason that the commenters said those things is that they were ignorant of the fact that Canadians would be reading their comments, and might be offended by them. They were also ignorant of the issue in general. Ignorance is the key theme here, and in the response to the Feministing Community post, if you couldn't tell by the way I keep italicizing it. Of course, most people are ignorant of their own privilege until it is pointed out to them--more than that, until they change their way of thinking.

What infuriated me most about that particular discussion was the fact that non-Americans were saying, "You are privileged and oppressing us," and Americans were saying, "We are not privileged and you are not oppressed for reasons X, Y, and Z." Considering that it is a feminist, anti-racist blog, I assume that all participants had at least some knowledge of how privilege and oppression work, and probably some experience of being privileged themselves. They must have had the experience of telling some Other that he was privileged, and heard his denial. How could they not realize that the same thing was happening there? The group that is accused of being privileged doesn't get to decide whether or not their actions are oppressing another group or groups. If they did, they would decide that they weren't, things were good, and we would be stuck with the status quo forever.

At the very least, this dialogue has now opened up, and I'm grateful to s.e. smith for the reasonable, well-thought out piece from an American perspective. Hopefully more people will start thinking and writing on the topic!


Here is a pirate duckie:

This pirate duckie is a member of Barrett's Privateers, cruising the seas for American gold and smashing American privilege! Yay Pirate Duckie! I hope you're the one who survives at the end!