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Thursday, June 16, 2011

I should really stop reading the Globe and Mail...

...It always manages to make me mad, almost without fail. Here is today's infuriating piece:

Chivalry isn’t dead, a study has found. But according to the researchers, gallantry has become a front for "benevolent sexism."

Everyday acts that imply that women should be cherished and protected are a form of patriarchal control, they argue.

See, this is something I agree with, although I really wish it wasn't said in such a condescending way.

And also, gallantry hasn't "become a front" for anything. Chivalry has ALWAYS been based in patriarchal power.

Based on the report, published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, enlightened men should avoid the following:
  1. Offering to help a woman carry shopping bags (implies she’s weak)

  2. Insisting on driving her home (implies she can’t look after her own safety)

  3. Assuming she wants help buying a laptop (implies she’s clueless with technology)

  4. Complimenting a woman on her cooking (reinforces the idea that cooking is a woman’s job)

Okay, so I disagree with the last one, because when somebody has perfected a skill, or when someone does something for you, that should always be appreciated. Assuming that all women are good cooks is sexist, not complimenting an individual woman on her talent.

Insidious deeds like these are being overlooked by women as well as men, psychologists Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim report in the study.

To correct matters, women need to "see the unseen," the researchers note, while men need to be aware of their sexist behaviour and also feel empathy for the women targeted.

"Insidious deeds"? Now you're just making fun of this, Globe and Mail. At any rate, the problem is not so much with the actions themselves as with the assumptions behind them. If a person drives another person home for whatever reason--it's raining out, they live far away, they've had too much to drink, there's rioting in the streets, etc.--that is good. The problem is the assumption that women can't take care of themselves. Same with the laptop buying. Helping someone choose a laptop if they ask for your help is a good deed! Helping someone when they don't want/need your help is rude! Assuming that women need your help because they're women is sexist!

The question is, should men be on the lookout for benevolent sexism too? Based on our observations, women may be guilty of the following:

  1. Expecting a man to take out the garbage (implies it’s a man’s job)

  2. Leaving car maintenance, such as oil changes, for a man to do (see above)

  3. Ridiculing how a man dresses a child (implies a woman’s colour coordination is superior)

  4. Judging a man for being "cheap" when he wants to share the dinner bill (reinforces the idea that men should be earners)
The lists of offences cancel each other out, don’t they?

See, this is the problem with the patriarchy. It makes unfair assumptions about people of ALL genders. And feminism is about getting rid of that. Nobody ever argued that women can't be female chauvinist pigs. In fact, the reason the patriarchy is still around is that so many people buy into it, including women! Because, feminists? Yeah, they don't do the things on that list--well, maybe sometimes, but they recognize that as sexist behaviour rooted in a patriarchal social dynamic and try to avoid it as much as possible. The women who wrote that report would agree with the Globe and Mail that the patriarchal assumptions about men as well as those about women need to end.


As for the crusade against sexism, Sunday Telegraph columnist Jenny McCartney argues that feminists have bigger fish to fry (at least, they would if a woman’s place was in the kitchen).

Examples include female circumcision, child marriage, human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war and the proliferation of extreme sexual violence in films and on the Internet, she writes.

"I am inclined to think that when one finds a man who believes that women should be cherished and protected, it would be a good idea to send him forth to encourage the others."

Ooh, nice back-handed sexist joke there, Globe and Mail. You're not bitter and defensive at all about this subject matter.

And seriously??? Who the frack is this woman???? Has she ever been "cherished and protected"? Because I have and it SUCKS. I am an adult, not a child, not a porcelain doll. Please don't put me on a shelf behind a glass case because I will suffocate and DIE. To quote from an angry letter sent to an ex-boyfriend who was stalking me a few years ago, "You treated me alternately as precious china and as a property of yours (both equally annoying, worse when combined)."

Because that's the other problem here, that the kind of guy who treats women like precious china is also probably the kind of guy who treats them like property--another patriarchal sentiment. And a guy who thinks of his girlfriend as his property is likely to have trouble letting her go if she dumps his sorry, misogynistic ass.

And, you know? Neither china nor personal property is usually sentient. As I wrote my ex in that same angry letter, "I got the impression that you only cared about my feelings inasmuch as they affected my opinion of you, my behaviour towards you, or my actions." And, "I've probably heard more about your feelings since we broke up than when we were together. Selfishly, you haven't listened to mine much at all."

So, yeah. Doing things with underlying patriarchal assumptions is a problem. But the actions themselves are not the problem. The underlying patriarchal assumptions are the problem. As feminists have been trying to tell people for decades, patriarchy hurts men too. Now if only the Globe and Mail would realize that feminism is trying to fix this.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Convocation Address was Given by a Misogynist

So my convocation was this week. It was all very good and I have letters after my name now and all that jazz, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.

My convocation address was given by a known misogynist.

And I'm torn.

Because as I sat there listening to him speak, laughing at his jokes, agreeing with his message (because it was a convocation of history and politics students he skipped the boring "Oh the places you'll go" crap and went directly to national unity and the dangers of centralizing too much power in one prime minister), I had to keep on reminding myself that he was sexist. I repeated the sexist comments he'd made about a strong female politician over and over in my head, and tried to make myself dislike him.

It was difficult.

I wondered if the other young women around me were similarly struggling, if they even knew or cared. Nothing he had ever said was extraordinarily offensive, and all his public misogynistic comments were made against the same woman (the strong politician). He made them years ago. Maybe nobody cares anymore. Maybe we're supposed to forgive him because he's 80. Or because he's flipping hilarious. Or because now we're his fellow alumni.

The school doesn't care. While I will always cherish an affection for my school--my alma mater now, I suppose--there has always been an undercurrent of bigotry here. In the years I have been here it has usually manifested itself in racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, but sexism ran rampant and unchecked here only twenty years ago and homophobia still rears its ugly head far too frequently for a supposedly "enlightened" campus.

And really, how much should I care? At the start of his speech, I cared very much. I could barely restrain myself from muttering "...and he's a misogynist" after every sentence when the principal introduced him. I clapped slowly, raising one eyebrow, prepared to be contemptuous.

By the end of his speech, I was clapping whole-heartedly. I was justifying. Well, I agreed with everything he'd said in the speech he'd just made, hadn't I? And anyway, his misogynistic comments were fuelled by his bitter enmity with the female politician in question...

And then I shook myself. It is NEVER okay to use sexism to tear down an opposing politician. Had I really just thought that?

I'm still confused. I think by now I have made my peace with the fact that I can agree with some things he says and disagree with others. But it makes me uncomfortable and unhappy to know I live in a world where compromising my own values is something that happens so regularly, even on a day meant to celebrate my achievement.

Working at an Information Desk

I spend my days sitting at a desk with "Information" emblazoned across it in bold-face lettering, with a sign on my left entreating passers-by to "Ask Here!" and a button on my shirt encouraging them to "Ask Me!"

And they do. Oh boy, do they ever ask.

When I was training for this job, my boss emphasized that it wasn't my responsibility to know everything. I was to answer the questions I could--there was a 50-page training manual teaching me how to do that--and refer the rest to the appropriate people, offices, or resources.

My brain is a catalogue of people, offices, and resources.

At any given moment, someone might come up and ask me any question their little heart desires. Seeing the word "information", they figure I must have the answer to just about anything. And, to be fair, I do.

I can give directions to anywhere on campus--and practically anywhere in the city--without a second thought. I know everything there is to know about finding materials in the library, from books to online resources to microfiche in compact shelving. I can load a roll of microfilm in about ten seconds and merge two PDF documents in five.

From the top of my head I can tell you how much it costs to print an 11x17 page in colour, where to find a fax machine on campus, the number of the computer store, approximately how long it takes for a book ordered from U of T library to arrive.

When people hear "Information Desk," I'm pretty sure their brains say, "Google." Because they will literally use you like a search engine. Someone might call and say, "If I tell you my neighbour's last name can you tell me what country it's from?" or "I need to talk to Jenna in Mechanical Engineering." You might get an email asking where a Geography student can book an academic counselling session, or if it's possible to have the correspondence of a nineteenth-century politician copied and faxed to Wales. Someone might come up and ask about an accessible entrance to the Film School building, or the fan mail address of a celebrity. And whenever there's any kind of special event on campus, you can be absolutely certain someone is going to ask me all about it. Especially if there is little to no information on the university website. In which case I have no answers.

Technically, this is a library information desk that is supposed to provide library information. But sometimes that seems difficult for people to understand.

Through it all, I am constantly helping people who can't find the books they're looking for--either because they have trouble understanding the call number system or because the book is misplaced. I help them fill out request forms if that's the case. I deal with computer problems, printing and scanning problems, photocopier troubleshooting, difficulty connecting to the wireless internet. When the database servers are down I teach students how to find the same resources through the journal publication's website. After ITS goes home for the day I comfort people freaking out because their laptops have crashed. After Learning Skills have gone home for the day I soothe frazzled nerves of students so stressed they're barely coherent. After the librarians go home for the day I give students research crash-courses and suggest alternatives when they discover all the books they need for their paper due tomorrow have been taken out already. And sometimes I even give library tours, teach workshops on how to make posters with PowerPoint or business spreadsheets with excel.

Honestly? By now, three years into this job, I think I actually do know just about everything.

Where to rent a projector on campus. How to connect to the proxy server from home. Printing three slides per page with notes from Word 2010. Sometimes the questions run through my dreams.

It's interesting. It's challenging. I enjoy it. I like the feeling that my brain is a giant database filled with facts and instructions and resources.

But here's the real question.

How the crap do I put this on my resume?

Friday, May 27, 2011

This has been a big week for legal consent

Let us do some comparing and contrasting, shall we?

This week in New York City:

A jury acquitted two New York police officers on Thursday of charges that they raped a drunken woman after helping her into her apartment while on patrol.

The woman had described snippets of a harrowing night in which the officers, called to help her because she was extremely intoxicated, instead abused her. They insisted no rape occurred, with one allowing only that he snuggled with her while she wore nothing but a bra.

Here is what happened (allegedly happened? supposedly happened?) that night:

After initially helping the woman into her apartment, the officers were captured by surveillance cameras as they re-entered the woman’s East Village building three times.

Officer Moreno, 43, testified that he was a recovering alcoholic and had developed a rapport with the woman that night, when she confided in him that her friends were angry at her because she drank too much. The two flirted, he sang Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to her and she actually came onto him, wearing nothing but a bra, he said. He testified that he kissed the woman on the forehead and snuggled with her in her bed, but insisted they did not have sex.

But the woman, now 29 and living in California, told a much different story of what happened on that night in December 2008.

The woman, who was drinking heavily at a Brooklyn bar to celebrate a job promotion, conceded that she had blacked out many details of the evening, although she insisted she did not have a drinking problem. Still, she testified to vivid memories of hearing police radios crackling and Velcro tearing open, of feeling her tights being rolled down, and then of being penetrated as she lay dazed, face down on her bed.

This no longer appears in the article, but is quoted here:

Although the defense never conceded that the two had sex, a central point of argument in the case was whether the woman was too drunk to consent to sex. Under the prosecutors’ theory of rape, they had to prove that the woman was physically unable to consent to sex, meaning that she was either unconscious or unable to speak when she was penetrated.

Defense lawyers pointed to surveillance footage of the woman walking on her own as she entered the building in front of the officers as evidence that she was conscious and able to communicate. They also contrasted what the woman told some friends shortly after the alleged rape — that she thought she was raped — with the certainty that she was expressing on the witness stand. Her spotty recollection of that night, the defense said, was enough to raise reasonable doubt over whether she was raped.

Icky stuff.

This week in Ottawa:

A woman cannot give advance consent to sexual activity while unconscious, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.

The decision restores the conviction of an Ottawa man who regularly practised consensual erotic asphyxiation with his longtime girlfriend.

The case goes back to a particular episode in 2007 when the woman, who cannot be named because of a publication ban, complained to police about what her partner did to her after she passed out. At trial, the man was found guilty of sexual assault but his conviction was overturned on appeal.

On Friday, in a 6-3 decision, the country's top court restored the conviction. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said consent ends once someone is unconscious or asleep.

"If the complainant is unconscious during the sexual activity, she has no real way of knowing what happened and whether her partner exceeded the bounds of her consent," the ruling said.

The definition of consent is an ongoing state of mind where individuals can ask their partner to stop, McLachlin wrote.

"Any sexual activity with an individual who is incapable of consciously evaluating whether she is consenting is therefore not consensual within the meaning of the Criminal Code," she wrote.

The description of the events in question have been removed from the CBC website, but essentially what happened is that this woman and her common-law husband often use erotic asphyxiation in their sexual endeavours, and one time when she was unconscious he penetrated her anally with a dildo. Originally she stated she had never consented to that, but she may have later said otherwise. At any rate, the gist of the verdict is that you can't say no, and you can't have a safe word, while you're unconscious, so consent you give before you lose consicousness isn't meaningful.

This might be bad news for practitioners of erotic asphyxiation, although I'm sure people won't press charges unless they feel their partner actually violated their laid-out boundaries while they were unconscious.

But altogether, a mixed-news week for survivors of "grey-area" rape. I would like to point out that though she may have been walking on her own when she entered the building, that doesn't mean the woman wasn't unconscious, asleep, or otherwise in an altered state later, when the sexual impropriety (because a police officer cuddling a nearly-naked drunk woman is still sexual impropriety in my books) occured.

And now it's law in Canada. Going home with someone doesn't mean automatic consent, and neither does agreeing to a sexual act if you are unconscious later when they try to take you up on it.

And that, is a much-needed step forward.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things that came up in my morning internetting

So.... This makes me ill:


So I googled female mathematicians, and the results made me happier. Also, Ada Lovelace:

Look at those wonderul 1830s sleeves!

And the oh-so-1840s hair!

Yeah, you can tell I'm a historian and not a mathematician...

And, on a completely different note, this makes me happy:

The most pernicious of all lies about men is that because of our makeup, lust and empathy can’t coexist within us. If you want kind and compassionate men who will respect women’s boundaries, the myth suggests, those women will have to conceal the parts of themselves that will turn men bestial and irresponsible.


Too many of us still believe that “self-respect” for a woman means chastity and modesty. If she’s wearing revealing clothing, enjoys attention, and maybe even likes sex outside of a committed monogamous relationship, we call her a “slut”—and accuse her of not respecting herself. Perhaps she does respect herself, perhaps she doesn’t. (Promiscuity is not perfectly correlated with low self-esteem, despite what a lot of pop psychologists tell you.) But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Women aren’t commodities whose value is based on their own fluctuating sense of self-worth.

And these are my thoughts this morning. It's rainy and gross outside.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On nostalgia, and not taking young people's problems seriously

Okay.  So I know I'm a little bit late with this.  The article I'm about to hate on was published almost three weeks ago.  I feel politically incompetent. 

BUT I am getting around to it now, so... yeah.  To be fair, the beginning of May was a whirlwind of helping people move, starting a new job, massive amounts of spring cleaning, etc.  And then I fell into "OMG I don't have to do anything now!!1!1!!!!" laziness. 

Anyway.  No more excuses.  Time to tear this article to shreds. 

So.  The article.  I came across it when I was trying to figure out whether "The McGill Four" was, like, a legit nickname or whether people were confusing young MPs with a Celtic music quartet. 

The title suggests that the McGill Four (I will call them that, for all that it makes me think of a band of really awkward superheroes) "may well turn out to be fine politicians."  And so I thought it would be a positive article. 

Yeah.  Wrong?  I was wrong. 

This article is incredibly patronizing and even insulting to young people, particularly young people with an interest in politics.  Also young people who work.  Aaaaand I think that has covered pretty much everyone under the age of 25. 

It begins thusly: 

I spent my sixteenth birthday schlepping dirty dishes in the greasy spoon around the corner from my house. That was my first job. Two things about it stand out in my mind: the oily basement floor that pulled me onto my back, and the giant sign by the busboy station that read “The Customer is Always Right.”

I don’t envy the McGill Four their first real work experience. Serving 100 regular customers was daunting. They each have almost 100,000, getting crankier by the minute.

Well, you know, they probably have had previous work experience.  Given they are all 19 and up.  And, you know, have to pay tuition which costs LOTS OF MOULAH as my own bank account can attest.  My first job, when I was 17, was going into corner stores and gas stations and asking for cigarettes, just to see whether or not they would check for ID.  But that is neither here nor there. 

Much has been said about them, mostly by old people. Cleary, not one of the barely-twentysomethings expected to win. All were assigned their far-flung ridings by the NDP machine. Clearly, none of them really wanted to win either — that would have required cellphones, knocking on doors, attending debates. They wanted to finish their degrees, spend their summer flirting as golf caddies, travel to Las Vegas . . . .

I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them burst into tears Monday night, and not from joy.

Umm.  First of all, the one who went to Las Vegas, Ruth Ellen Brosseau (about whom I have already posted) is not a member of the McGill Four.  She is a twenty-seven-year-old assistant manager and a single mother.  You think she doesn't know about hard work? 

Also.  What do you mean, none of them really wanted to win?  Again, Brosseau is the only one who actually didn't campaign.  And she isn't one of the McGill Four.  I mean, they are actively involved in their campus NDP organization!  Even if they didn't actually want to win, they wanted to experience campaigning so that they could run again and win at a later date when they were older.  And yes, they probably wanted to finish their degrees first. 

Also.  Nobody works as golf caddies.  What kind of dream world do you live in?  Summer jobs are things like data entry, and doing projects for profs, and giving tours at national historic sites.  University students actively seek summer jobs that are in their chosen field, or at least look good to future employers, because we are in a fucking terrible job market and everyone wants some competitive advantage and most places won't hire you full-time unless you already have two years' experience anyway. 

Okay.  /rant.  Continuing. 

Politics is the most grievous of sports. Talent, effort, passion be damned — the gold often goes to the least deserving contestant. If you think Michael Ignatieff’s ego is bruised, imagine Serge Cardin’s. The 13-year veteran Bloc MP of Sherbrooke lost his seat to 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who spent the first week of the campaign writing his first-year exams at the Université de Sherbrooke.

Okay, yes, that is hard.  Not like it hasn't happened before.  Remember 1993?  Moving on. 

What rankles most is not their lack of effort. We could all win the jackpot at some point, hypothetically. It’s their youth. They remind us of time’s unrepentant march forward and how wizened we’ve become.

Oh, quit your whining.  I feel that way every time I see a child prodigy and I'm the same age as the McGill Four.  These people are a thousand times more politically engaged than the average Canadian. 

I’m not that old yet. But I’ve already learned that some princes start as frogs. Their inauspicious beginnings don’t mean the McGill Four won’t make for brilliant politicians.

The way I see it, they have at least four things going for them.

First, they are young. Skin like sun-kissed peaches, corkboard joints, nothing but the horizon in view. Remember being young? I could stay up all night slamming beers and still make it to my 8:30 ancient English literature class. They appear to be blissfully free — no kids, no mortgages, no performance reviews. All their belongings could fit into a knapsack tomorrow, and off they’d go to Goose Bay or Prince Rupert to investigate whatever it is that needs doing up there. Some call this inexperience. At my work, they’re called interns, and they are the cheapest labour.

Ah, to be young!  Skin like an oil slick, pulling all-nighters to finish that final essay, cleaning up other people's vomit when they get too drunk!  Staying up all night slamming beers and then going to an 8:30 class sounds (a) stupid and (b) like something only an 18-year-old would ever try.  People do get pretty mature pretty fast when they have to live on their own and deal with all their own shitty mistakes, you know. 

Oh, the young.  They're so eternally blissfully free.  Look at them!  You know, no kids, no mortgage, no performance reviews since they probably don't have a job because of the terrible unemployment rate for youth, no extraneous money to worry about because everyone's mired in massive amounts of student debt and you have to pay your rent, your heat, your internet connection, and your monthly supply of ramen noodles no matter what. 

Yeah.  Fun times.  This past year I was audited, and I worked two part-time jobs while going to school full-time in order to pay my tuition and rent, I applied for grad school and for funding which is INCREDIBLY STRESSFUL, and I never fell behind in my school work.  Also, I DID, in fact, have performance reviews at one of my jobs.  That was the same job where one of my co-workers was being sexually harassed by our boss.  Oh, so blissfully free. 

I am also quite concerned that Catherine Porter thinks that all of my belongings could fit into a knapsack.  With all due respect, when you were a student, did you live in a box?  Because where I live, most students live in rented houses.  And they furnish those houses, with, you know, beds, desks, couches, kitchen tables, all that extraneous, non-knapsack stuff.  If you seriously think most students' shit could fit into a knapsack, I invite you to come watch a May 1st Moving Day in a student area of a university town.  Seriously.  EVERYONE HAS SO MUCH SHIT. 

And off I go to Goose Bay or Prince Rupert, except I don't, because um hello airfare, and also, if I don't work how the hell am I supposed to pay my rent and my tuition?  My tuition and my rent?  Whichever is more important, I don't know.  Probably tuition because when it really gets down to it the library is open 24 hours a day during some of the coldest parts of the year. 

And yes.  The cheapest labour.  Yes.  This is so. 

Second, they are young. They don’t know everything yet. They all seem to know that they don’t know everything yet — a big advantage over first-time middle age politicians, who feel they have to “hit the ground running,” which is code for faking it. They’re bound to ask questions and listen to answers. That is a trait we all miss in politicians. Experience brings wisdom, but it also often breeds contempt.

Umm... no one knows everything.  That is why we call it "life-long learning."  In fact, I think you know the most when you're a student/just graduated because you spend so many years INTENSIVELY LEARNING and then you later forget most of what you knew.  Also, they will ask questions and listen for answers partially because they are used to learning (as I just said) and also partially because they have to be honestly and legitimately interested in politics and governance to run for office at such a young age.  Think about it.  They're not old enough to run for office just because they feel like they ought to be in charge yet. 

Third, they are young. For many of them, this election was the first time they’d ever voted. There are a lot of young people in Canada. Let’s simply consider the 3 million 18- to 25-year-olds — they might like to be represented in Parliament, even modestly. As the new MP in Chambly-Borduas, Matthew Dubé, put it to The McGill Daily: “The whole point of democracy is to be representative. People don’t want to elect 308 lawyers.”

Yes.  As I mentioned in my post on Ruth Ellen Brosseau, I think that's why people voted for them in such large numbers. 

Maybe they’ll best Rick Mercer and inspire our youth to not only get off the couch to vote, but to run for office themselves. (Especially when it doesn’t require much more time off the couch.) My daughter learned that young princesses really have fairy tale weddings this past week. I’d like her to see young politicians slaying dragons.

Well, politicians don't actually slay dragons, they legislate that the dragons should be slayed, but ok.  And I do think that young people will feel better represented and potentially be more politically active because of that. 

Fourth, they are young, when the world still seems black and white and the noble causes are not dimmed by bills and midnight trips to the emergency ward, sick babe in panicked arms. Most of them were members of the McGill NDP club. They must be passionate about big causes like poverty and climate change. We’ll need their untarnished idealism to wrestle the heavy boom of a Conservative majority.

Again, slightly confused by this.  I get the "They are young, the world still seems black and white" bit, because I think sometimes young people do tend to see the world more monochromatically than older people.  SOMETIMES.  There are other people, like myself, who just finished getting a degree in not ever seeing anything in black and white.  It will take me a while to unthink that one.  Also I don't know why taking your children to the emergency room makes you less idealistic?  I mean, maybe if your idealism is threatening your child's life?  But if you're already in the NDP and so you already hold it as a very strong value that the government should be providing high-quality public healthcare, wouldn't taking your sick child to the emergency room reinforce that? Is this something that I won't understand unless I have children or is she making things up? 

I went to McGill University, too. After I graduated, I backpacked around South America of seven months, spending $5 a night to sleep in some unsavoury places and hiking up to the top of Machu Picchu.

These kids are in for an adventure of a whole different magnitude. Look at those faces. Not a wrinkle or grey hair in sight. At least, not yet.

Yeah, well I have just graduated from another major Canadian university!  And nobody I know is backpacking around South America!  Everybody is either going to grad school in the fall or frantically seeking work like maniacs while slowly sinking deeper and deeper into a depressive state!  It's not an adventure when you have to start worrying a year and a half before you're due to graduate about whether you'll be able to find a job after, considering the ickyness of the job market and the massive amount of your student debt.  It's not an adventure when the month directly preceding graduation is the single most stressful month in the history of our lives for the majority of university students. 

I'm sorry, but nostalgia PISSES ME OFF when people are getting all nostalgic about their supposed "golden youth" years.  (A) it wasn't actually as awesome as you seem to be remembering and (B) whether it was awesome or not conditions have changed now. 

When my parents went to university you could work over the summer and have enough for tuition, living expenses, and some extra money over the course of the school year.  Yeah, not so anymore.  Try working full-time throughout the summer--like, "you are not allowed vacation days EVER" full-time--and then two different part-time jobs through the school year.  SO MANY of my friends do that, or have done that.  There are the people whose parents pay for (at least part of) their education, and there are the people who have won massive scholarships, but for everyone else, I would say that the majority of people who work during the school year work at least two jobs. 

Anyway.  I'm sorry.  /rant for realz this time.  But baby boomers have to realize (and gen-Xers too to a certain extent) that life today for a young adult is not the same as it was 15, 20, 30 years ago.  Not only do we not have it as great as you seem to think we do, but we are also looking at this aging population, and we know that we are going to have to bear the tax burden, and we are going to have to deal with all of these social, political, and economic messes. 

It's a wonder more of us didn't run for office in the first place. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day

"It's there," he gasped. "Look—read—oh, do you—think it's—true? The—end of—the world—is coming to-morrow—at two—o'clock—in the afternoon!"

Crash! Felicity had dropped the cup of clouded blue, which had passed unscathed through so many changing years, and now at last lay shattered on the stone of the well curb. At any other time we should all have been aghast over such a catastrophe, but it passed unnoticed now. What mattered it that all the cups in the world be broken to-day if the crack o' doom must sound to-morrow?

"Oh, Sara Stanley, do you believe it? DO you?" gasped Felicity, clutching the Story Girl's hand. Cecily's prayer had been answered. Excitement had come with a vengeance, and under its stress Felicity had spoken first. But this, like the breaking of the cup, had no significance for us at the moment.

The Story Girl snatched the paper and read the announcement to a group on which sudden, tense silence had fallen. Under a sensational headline, "The Last Trump will sound at Two O'clock To-morrow," was a paragraph to the effect that the leader of a certain noted sect in the United States had predicted that August twelfth would be the Judgment Day, and that all his numerous followers were preparing for the dread event by prayer, fasting, and the making of appropriate white garments for ascension robes.

I laugh at the remembrance now—until I recall the real horror of fear that enwrapped us in that sunny orchard that August morning of long ago; and then I laugh no more. We were only children, be it remembered, with a very firm and simple faith that grown people knew much more than we did, and a rooted conviction that whatever you read in a newspaper must be true. If the Daily Enterprise said that August twelfth was to be the Judgment Day how were you going to get around it?

"Do you believe it, Sara Stanley?" persisted Felicity. "DO you?"

"No—no, I don't believe a word of it," said the Story Girl.

But for once her voice failed to carry conviction—or, rather, it carried conviction of the very opposite kind. It was borne in upon our miserable minds that if the Story Girl did not altogether believe it was true she believed it might be true; and the possibility was almost as dreadful as the certainty.

"It CAN'T be true," said Sara Ray, seeking refuge, as usual, in tears. "Why, everything looks just the same. Things COULDN'T look the same if the Judgment Day was going to be to-morrow."

"But that's just the way it's to come," I said uncomfortably. "It tells you in the Bible. It's to come just like a thief in the night."

"But it tells you another thing in the Bible, too," said Cecily eagerly. "It says nobody knows when the Judgment Day is to come—not even the angels in heaven. Now, if the angels in heaven don't know it, do you suppose the editor of the Enterprise can know it—and him a Grit, too?"

"I guess he knows as much about it as a Tory would," retorted the Story Girl. Uncle Roger was a Liberal and Uncle Alec a Conservative, and the girls held fast to the political traditions of their respective households. "But it isn't really the Enterprise editor at all who is saying it—it's a man in the States who claims to be a prophet. If he IS a prophet perhaps he has found out somehow."

"And it's in the paper, too, and that's printed as well as the
Bible," said Dan.

"Well, I'm going to depend on the Bible," said Cecily. "I don't believe it's the Judgment Day to-morrow—but I'm scared, for all that," she added piteously.

That was exactly the position of us all. As in the case of the bell-ringing ghost, we did not believe but we trembled.

"Nobody might have known when the Bible was written," said Dan, "but maybe somebody knows now. Why, the Bible was written thousands of years ago, and that paper was printed this very morning. There's been time to find out ever so much more."

"I want to do so many things," said the Story Girl, plucking off her crown of buttercup gold with a tragic gesture, "but if it's the Judgment Day to-morrow I won't have time to do any of them."

"It can't be much worse than dying, I s'pose," said Felix, grasping at any straw of comfort.

--Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Story Girl, Chapter 19: A Dread Prophecy

(Available at Project Gutenberg.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cut the motion on your backswing, listen up Tony, it's the right thing

So... Tony Clement says that he won't rule out axing programs in order to reduce public service spending, even though the Conservatives' previous line had been that the reductions would only come through attrition.

Is anybody really surprised? If nothing else, we should remember that the Tories are small-government people, as is most of the right these days. From the man himself:

“Some programs that may have been excellent 30 years ago and served a purpose 30 years ago may not be appropriate and may not be the best way to expend public resources in this day and age,” Clement said in an interview with the Citizen.

“Not every program needs to be protected,” he said.

“I don’t want to be on the record as saying absolutely everybody is guaranteed their job forever. That’s not likely, nor is it desirable.”

Well... except once you reach a certain level in the public service you are practically guaranteed to keep your job. That's one of the main reasons people work for the public service, job security.

And while it's true that programs that were excellent 30 years ago might be irrelevant today, what that means to me is that those resources (the money and the staff for those programs) should be redistributed to where they will be the most useful today. It's important to be flexible, but simply axing programs isn't flexibility.

Anyway. In light of these potential cuts, as well as the fact that Clement was a major supporter of Mike Harris's slash-and-burn policies, I thought we could use a little Moxy Fruvous:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ruth Ellen: All the Rage

And of the controversies of the late election, a single one stands out, shines brightest. And it has nothing to do with contempt of parliament, or hoax Elections Canada calls, or Stephen Harper breaking the law to campaign on election day itself, or how many ridings the Conservatives won by less than 50 votes.

No, the only controversy the Canadian electorate seems to care about at the moment is a young, blonde woman.

Yes, I’m talking Ruth Ellen Brosseau, and I’m not about to tear her down.

For those of you who somehow missed this, Ms. Brosseau is 27, a single mother, formerly manager of a pub on Carleton University campus, and newly elected NDP MP for the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé. Am I the only person to whom this all sounds quite impressive?

Okay, now for the roundup of the controversies: Ruth Ellen spent five days in Las Vegas during the election campaign. Ruth Ellen never set foot in her riding until two days ago. Ruth Ellen’s French is so terrible they couldn’t publish her interview in the newspaper. Ruth Ellen’s campaign picture is really unprofessional-looking. Ruth Ellen doesn’t have a college diploma even though her NDP profile says she does. Ruth Ellen admits she never expected to win. Ruth Ellen is so terrible they’re not letting her talk to the media. Ruth Ellen’s nomination papers may have forged signatures on them.

So… yeah. I will give you that her campaign picture was really unprofessional-looking (it kind of looked like it was taken with a webcam). Also the not setting foot in her riding thing. Even if she didn’t expect to win—and let’s face it, who had any idea that the NDP would sweep Quebec when candidates were being nominated?—I would think she could have at least gone up and met with the riding association, but I also think that the riding association should have insisted she come up to meet with them before they agreed to nominate her.

As for Vegas, Brosseau wasn’t the only candidate to vacation during the campaign, and as I mentioned before, she always knew her chances of winning were slim. Seriously. Why is everybody vilifying this woman for not expecting to win when nobody else saw the demise of the Bloc Québécois coming either? A month ago, if you had told me how many ridings the NDP were going to take in Quebec, especially rural Quebec, I would have laughed at you. And possibly raised an eyebrow superciliously.

As for the diploma incident: personally, I believe the NDP’s statement that it was their mistake, that Brosseau had told them she had studied at St. Lawrence and they extrapolated. According to the NDP, Brosseau was two credits away from getting her diploma when she was forced to quit school and move to Ottawa for family reasons. I mean, slow down and think for a second here. She’s 27, with a 10-year-old son. I’m sure there were a lot of family reasons to consider. Brosseau grew up and went to school near where I live, and the local papers have just been brimming full of interviews with friends, classmates, and teachers who knew her through both high school and college, and they all seem to think she’s competent and capable:

Known as Re when she lived in Kingston, Brosseau graduated from KC in 2002 and St. Law¬rence, with a diploma in Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications, in 2006.

"She was an excellent student," said Mike Hector, a St. Lawrence classmate who has known Brosseau since she was in high school and described her as "a good friend."
"We worked on a lot of projects together. She's a good strategic thinker."

Danielle van Dreunen, who taught three courses in which Brosseau was enrolled, has fond memories of her former student, who has since changed her hair colour from brunette to blond.

"She was a lovely, bright woman," said van Dreunen, who taught Brosseau Internet Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Entrepreneurship.

"She liked to be engaged in the class, asked questions, posed conundrums about the things we were working through," said van Dreunen, who retired from the college in December.

"One remembers students like that. She was engaged, not just sitting on the sidelines. She was quite focused on learning."

And will do a good job:

Despite Brosseau's lack of political experience, Hector and van Dreunen believe she will do just fine in her new role, which pays $157,731 a year.

"She's intelligent enough to do the job," said Hector. "Maybe (the NDP) put her there not expecting to win, but to gain some experience and cut her political teeth.

"This is not the first time there's been a surprise winner (in an election). She brings a fresh mind to the House of Commons."

Van Dreunen sent Brosseau a message on Facebook on Wednesday — "Congratulations, this seems a very exciting time for you" — but hadn't received a reply as of Thursday.

(Brosseau has yet to give an interview, and an NDP spokesperson told QMI Agency Thursday that she is receiving training on the ins and outs of her new job and taking a crash course in French.)

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," said van Dreunen. "She's a neophyte, she needs an opportunity to find her sea legs. That's not to say she couldn't be an absolutely wonderful (MP)."

Experience, said van Dreunen, can be overrated.

"There's an expression: The ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic was built by professionals."

Perhaps more to the point, the inhabitants of Berthier-Maskinongé like Brosseau. When she visited the riding for the first time this week, she was described as ”composed and confident”, and her French was perfectly understandable. The article at that last link doesn’t really say very much—watch the video if you understand French at all. I have listened, over the course of the years, to a LOT of anglophones struggling through French conversations, and Brosseau’s French is pretty good and on its way to improving. I doubt she’ll ever be fully bilingual, but I think, being thrust into this milieu and forced to speak it regularly, she will become functionally bilingual. But the most important thing in that video is the interviews with the Berthier-Maskinongé electors. They like Brosseau. They find her competent, relatable, and they really feel that she will do well at looking out for their interests. Maybe that’s just optimism; but you have to remember that even though no one ever expected Brosseau to win, the NDP didn’t just pick her randomly out of all of their card-carriers. Parties often pick young candidates to run in ridings they think are unwinnable, just to give them the experience. Stephen Harper started out that way himself, running for the Reform Party when he was still a young’un known as Steve.

But I think also—and this is throughout Canada, but maybe particularly in Quebec—the average Joe—the Mme Paillé, if you will—is getting tired of being represented by lawyers like Paul Martin, academics like Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. The NDP candidates, by and large, just seem more real, more like everyday folk. I think this explained, in part, the appeal of the Bloc Québécois. Former leader Gilles Duceppe studied at the Université de Montréal, but never graduated, and before he entered politics, he worked as a hospital orderly. Brosseau effectively has a college education in marketing communications, which is probably a more practical thing for a politician to have than a fancypants history PhD like Ignatieff’s (who can easily tell you what policies have and haven’t worked throughout history, but rather fails at understanding people and generally being effective).

Long story short, I think that more than cutting Brosseau slack, we should be proud of her. She’s a young woman, a single mother, a hard worker, and an intelligent person, and she has gained the respect and trust of tens of thousands of people, who believe in her ability to understand their interests and needs and defend them at the federal level. Maybe she’s made some poor decisions over the course of this campaign, but by and large, I think we need more MPs like Ruth Ellen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Re-posts from Election Blogging Below!

I thought I did pretty well for myself!

And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain

This post originally appeared here: http://voteagainstapathy.blogspot.com/2011/05/and-now-end-is-near-and-so-i-face-final.html

As you can see, since I am in fact posting this here now, I have decided to continue blogging about anything and everything that interests me! Yay for no longer being limited to election coverage.

So. It's been a good run. Over the course of the election, I wrote 100 posts (this is the 101st on this blog). And you know what? For all of our activism, the voter turnout only went up by 1%.

Where do we go from here? I could keep on blogging about Canadian politics but now that we're in a majority government situation, there's not likely to be a vote anytime soon so the title of this blog, at least might be a little irrelevant. Also I would have to start taking stances on policy issues not related to youth and student issues, something I've been trying to avoid doing this election because this blog was intended to appeal to youth voters of all political leanings (as long as they believe in the Westminster System...).

I haven't decided on my blogging future. I may just go back to my old blog on feminist issues. Or I may stop entirely.

As for the future of the country? Economists are pleased, claiming that the Harper majority will stabilize the economy. They talk a lot about how this majority means less uncertainty, but I'm not too sure.

Oh, I'm not all doom and gloom like the folks over at The Galloping Beaver.

There will be no sudden declaration of martial law or dramatic day when CPC stormtroopers surround Stornaway or round up dissidents in the night - there won't need to be. That nice, soft-spoken, Christian economist and hockey dad who just wants to protect us from the bad guys doesn't work that way. There will just be a steady drip of manufactured small crises that lead to privatization, deregulation, and "temporary" security measures, until we get back to the good old days of the robber barons.

I'm not that cynical. But I am nervous.

From my perspective, this majority means more uncertainty, not less. Is certainty measured in whether or not there is a clear leader in the House of Commons? One constant you will always see in a minority government is compromise. The parties compromise in order to run the country, which means things tend to run down the middle of the political spectrum, nothing much drastic happens to get either side too riled up. In other words, outside of Question Period, the country is calm. Change is slow and gentle. But majorities can do things--big things--drastic things. And often, in the past, they have surprised their electorate. I find much uncertainty in not knowing what the Conservatives will choose to do with their majority, and yet knowing that they CAN do whatever they choose.

And even if the economy initially stabilizes due to perceived lack of uncertainty--the economy is largely a psychological beast after all--with the strength of the NDP, union party par excellence, how can there not be striking?

A friend of mine, a recent graduate of business school, thinks the country is going to hell in a handbasket. She's appalled by the Conservative majority, hating their social conservatism, and possibly even more appalled by the strength of the NDP and their left-wing economics. Where is my centrist party? she asks.

Another friend sees the rise of the NDP as a positive development. The polarization of opinion in this country is a good thing, according to her, because the parties can differentiate themselves more. Centrist parties and special interest parties like the Bloc have no place in the current ideological landscape.

Can we reconcile all our opposing views? I don't know anymore. We're moving farther and farther away from the conciliatory style, all about compromise and attempted consensus, championed by early prime ministers like Laurier, and more and more towards the down-and-dirty uber-partisan uncompromising two-party republic along the lines of the US. Some people think this is a good thing, and others want to move to Australia.

But maybe my favourite prediction for the future is this. "Stephen Harper is going to pull a Brian Mulroney," said my Awesome Housemate last night. "He's going to do all this crap, and then everyone will hate him, and at the next election he'll lose everything and the NDP will win."

Oh, my inner instincts are warring between delight at the political games and sadness at what this will mean for the parliamentary system I love so dearly...

You may not have realized this, but I am actually not an ice cream cone

This post originally appeared here:


So there was this thing called "election-themed flavour of the week," and was like, "Oh, I wonder what that is? Perhaps a selection of the most popular stories of the week!" My Awesome Housemate was like, "The flavour of the week should be orange crush!" And then we clicked on it and it is neither of those things. Instead it's a collection of pictures of attractive female candidates. Can I be appalled? The "sexiest election candidate" was one thing, because it was equal-opportunity and also you knew what you were getting into when you clicked on the link. And this one also has little blurbs underneath the pictures that half the time sounds like a personals ad… you know, "enjoys mountain biking with that special someone!" SO disgusted right now. Women are not ice cream cones. "Flavour" of the week, pah.

Clearing the Air on Parliament and Government

This post originally appeared here:


Two things I want to draw your attention to. First, Peace, Order, and Good Government, Eh?'s five principles of parliamentary democracy:

1. Parliament is the core institution of Canadian democracy. The House of Commons, its elected chamber, is the one body elected by all Canadians.

2. When Canadians go to the polls they elect the House of Commons not a government. The right to govern goes to the members of the house who can secure its confidence.

3. The prime minister is the servant of the House of Commons and must be accountable to it all times.

4. When no party has a majority in the House of Commons, it is for the House to decide what kind of government it will support. In these situations, the House basically has three choices: 1) a coalition government of two or more parties who share cabinet posts; 2) a minority government in an alliance with two or more parties who agree to support it on the basis of agreed upon policies but who do not share cabinet posts; 3) a minority government that works out agreements with opposition parties issue by issue.

5. The Governor General's role is to exercise the crown's discretionary reserve powers only when necessary to permit the proper functioning of parliamentary democracy.

I think these are very important to remember, especially when we look at the next item, Dan Gardner's reasoned discussion of leadership and minority governments. On the desirability of minority governments:

Lots of people agree, at least about the desirability of majority government. Majority is normal, they feel. Majority is stable. After a string of minorities, each more rancorous and dysfunctional than the last, a majority is the only thing that can pull Parliament out of the quagmire and deliver effective government.

This is not an unreasonable view. But it's wrong. Starting with its basic premise.

Minority governments are not some strange and unfortunate aberration. One survey of democratic governments in western Europe and the British Commonwealth between 1945 and 1987 found that 87 per cent did not feature a single governing party in control of a majority of seats. They were minorities, in other words.

Within Canada, the first federal minority government was formed in 1921. Since then, there have been 27 governments, 13 of which were minorities.

Most of these minority governments were nowhere near as rancorous and dysfunctional as the last Parliament. Some functioned brilliantly. The minorities of Lester Pearson had partisan clashes and scandals — they all do — but they were among the most productive in history.

The story is the same internationally. Name a peaceful, prosperous, well-governed country and chances are you have named a country in which minority governments are the norm.

Agnes Macphail said something similar, in the speech I quoted earlier today: "I do not believe that when you have a stable government—one with a very comfortable majority, you get a good government [...] I do not see how we can expect a legislative program that will be pleasing to our constituencies."

But anyway, back to Dan Gardner. He makes the point that the Conservative minority government worked well its first year or so, until Stephane Dion became the leader of the Opposition and Harper sensed a chance for a majority:

Out went decorum, respect and negotiation. In came insults, stonewalling and brinksmanship.

The Opposition contributed to fractiousness — recall the new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff declaring the prime minister to be "on probation" — but historians will heap the lion's share of the blame on Stephen Harper. The petty and pointless provocations. The how-to manual on obstructing committees. The constant refusal to deliver documents demanded by the House of Commons. The historic speakers' rulings. The even more historic contempt verdict.

It's a dismal record. Perhaps worst of all were the attack ads: A prime minister who sincerely intends to work with an Opposition leader does not publicly and viciously insult the man he will shake hands with over the negotiating table.

That's the biggest problem with Harper saying he won't negotiate with other leaders if he gets another minority. Leaders of minority governments HAVE to negotiate with the other leaders or nothing will get passed. It's one of the most important checks and balances of a government. Refusing to negotiate will lead to the instability Harper predicts.

Why? It's not a defect inherent in minority government. Nor is it that the big three parties have irreconcilable visions and policies. In fact, the substantive disagreements between the parties are as small or smaller than they've ever been in modern times.

No, the problem is the leader. Stephen Harper gambled everything on winning a majority. Now, after swearing that anything less would cause earth to shudder and sky to weep, it would be personally calamitous if a Conservative minority government functioned smoothly.

Harper said there would be instability, damn it. And he will make sure of it.

It may not come to that, fortunately.

It's likely the Liberals will be under new management soon, which should help blow away some of the animosity hanging in the air over Parliament Hill.

But what would make all the difference is a new Conservative leader, which is possible. Having tried and failed four times to win a majority — including twice against the weakest Liberal leaders in modern history — Stephen Harper may decide it is time for a career change. Or Conservatives may decide it for him.