About Me


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?