Why does it matter?

Today on BC Almanac, Mark Forsyth was interviewing an historian. Being one myself my ears always perk up. This woman was talking about a female immigrant to Canada who walked great distances. I didn’t quite catch all of the information but it is not really germane to my issue. As this historian was describing her subject she stated that we have a picture of her so we know she was thin and attractive. I was shocked.

What does her physical appearance have to do with her accomplishments? This focus on appearance as a measure of a woman’s value is the root of all that is wrong with how women are treated in our society. Women are judged, even by other women, on how they look. It does not matter how accomplished we are or what we achieve it is only valid if we are thin and attractive.

This can be taken a step further without too much difficulty. If thin and attractive women are valued more than those women who are not what is the likely outcome? Women who do not meet expectations of thinness and attractiveness can have many problems in our society. These problems can stem from finding a mate, to employment even to credibility when reporting rapes. The focus on outward appearance and its presence in the popular discourse endorses the expectation that is ok to judge women this way.

As an historian, I bristle at the presentism in this historian’s work. It is a faux pas within the discipline of history to apply the values of today to the past. Certainly in the 1800s women were not judged on appearance to the same degree they are today. Women in rugged British Columbia needed to be strong and resourceful. They needed to be able to endure hard winters and work all summer to prepare. Women who were on their own for whatever reason had to look after themselves as there was no social safety net. In fact, the woman she was talking about had walked all the way from the lower mainland to Prince George. She was clearly a survivor and able to look after herself.

Personally, I am sick to death of this stuff. We need to start questioning this focus on the appearance of women as it is this that allows women to be commodities. As women, we must stop judging each other on appearance. We need to change the discourse. Talking about women in positive ways, focusing on accomplishments and personality rather than dress and bra size. Women together are a strong and powerful group. Let’s use our power and see if we can cause change.

Women as Commodities

In yet another day of stellar BC news we are informed that, yet again, the RCMP have fucked up. This on the heel of news yesterday that sexual assaults in Vancouver are up 21%. Yet again women are victims of crimes that completely and utterly change their lives by being exploited by men. I am completely and utterly disgusted. You will note, however, that I am not surprised.

Let’s take the first incident. Apparently some RCMP officers and some civilian employees decided to watch two women having sex in the drunk tank. Given the possibility that they may have a medical crisis requiring assistance they were being watched on CCTV (closed-circuit television). The last time I checked monitoring for ill heath effects did not include watching people have sex.

What kinds of beliefs about women would allow these men, in positions of authority, to watch two women having sex? Clearly they needed to objectify these women. Women are treated as commodities in our society. Often used in advertisements, women are the purveyors of sex used to sell so many products. We are also inundated with images of women in popular culture where women are portrayed in all sorts of roles: wife and mother, slut and whore.* Women are viewed as incompetent. If a woman is in a position of power she must be a bitch, emasculating or a shrew. Women cannot express any strong opinions without being suspected of having ulterior motives. Strong intelligent women are not allowed to simply exist and be successful. Instead women ‘go under the radar’ by being good wives and mothers and staying within proscribed roles.

Women who are not viewed as successful have a much worse experience. Likely women who end up in the drunk tank are not women from the upper classes who drank a little too much wine. These women enjoy privilege safely in their warm houses. If statistics hold, the women were likely Aboriginal and/or women of colour, came from abusive backgrounds and may have been survival sex trade workers. Of course I am generalizing here but traditionally these are the women who get picked up by police for being on the streets drunk and causing a disturbance. These are likely the same women that Robert Pickton targeted and we all know how important those women are to police and society in general.

So how does all this tie in with the 2 women having sex in the drunk tank? For many men, lesbians and lesbian sex is the ultimate threat. Lesbians don’t need men which some men find insulting and the flip side is that every frat boys’ dream is to watch 2 women having sex. So here we have 2, most likely disenfranchised, women having sex. I find it somewhat insulting that the RCMP are bringing up issues of consent given that both women have been released without charges. Is it not possible that these women might have been lesbian? Maybe they were seeking comfort with each other in a world that provides very little of it for them. Perhaps they felt valued with each other. They may have even known each other. I think the whole thing about consent is a bit of a ruse to deflect from the fact that seven men watched these women have sex for several minutes. In those moments what was going through their heads? One does not need to speculate too much. Clearly no one was thinking they needed to stop it.

It is no wonder that these kinds of things happen. After all the day before Jim Chu, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced a 21% increase in sexual assaults. Chu then goes on to ‘reassure’ people that the increase is not in violent  sexual assaults. Instead the increase is in ‘groping.’ Somehow ‘groping’ is less traumatic than straight on sexual assault. All I have to say is ask a woman how sexual assault has impacted her life. Chances are you won’t have to go too far out of your living room for an answer. Flash back to the incident in Kamloops and you have to wonder if the comments about consent were specious. Clearly, if something looks consensual it just might be. I am sure they are throwing the ‘consent’ issue up as a way to deflect from the fact that RCMP and city employees watched the video. Now, apparently, the tape will be “reviewed,” no doubt by more men, to determine how long each employee watched. At some point the women stopped it is unclear if the staff stopped them or they finished? At what point does the exploitation stop? Will the people tasked with reviewing this video do it from a respectful place or will it be just another round of free lesbian pornography.

I am angry about this situation. I have been angry for a very long time. I am sick and tired of the acceptance and the making excuses for men’s behaviour towards women. Almost all violence perpetrated against women is committed by men. I know that not all men are rapists. There are many good men in the world who are amazing fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. However there are still far too many men who rape and assault women. We must do better for the next generation.

*Interestingly, our discourse does not have similar words for men with the same connotations.

Unbelievably Ridiculous

So, let me see if I understand this properly: Jeffrey Paul Emery was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for lighting his common-law wife on fire. He sprayed her with hair spray and used a barbecue lighter to set on fire. In a report I heard on CBC  Radio One today, the first fire was put out so he did it again and a fireball was the result. Apparently, she lost all of her hair and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over her body. Oh, and to add insult to injury, he was released on bail to visit family over Christmas and he disappeared. He has been convicted in absentia.

Where to start? There are so many things wrong here. First of all, why was he only charged with aggravated assault? It seems to me that if you are going to light someone on fire you probably mean to kill them. I am sure that the woman involved felt like he was trying to kill her. If you light someone on fire, especially using a highly flammable accelerant like hairspray, I am fairly sure that you mean to kill someone. If reports on CBC Radio One are correct her lit her on fire twice. How can this be aggravated assault? There must have been some planning going on.

Why on earth any judge would think that this man deserved leniency is beyond comprehension. This is the problem with our judicial system which is mostly populated by straight, white men who do not understand the experience of minorities in the justice system. Here is a man who has shown, at the very least, that he has serious tendencies towards unthinkable violence, but we think he should spend time with his family. Perhaps if there had been an adequate charge laid, for example attempted murder, then maybe they would not have let him go.

He has been convicted in absentia but what does that really mean? He is living somewhere, free for the last 4 years while the woman he tried to kill is still trying to recover from her injuries. Her name has not been released. I wish her the best in her recover. I hope they catch the bastard who did this and lock him up for a very long time. However, I suspect it will not be nearly long enough given what he did. The even worse prospect is that he will do it to another woman.



Over

My mother is home. I am so tired. I slept until 1:30 pm today. Deb drove her to the airport. The drive turned out to be horrible as the Golden Ears bridge was closed due to a police incident. This made the normally 60-minute round trip into a 3 hour slog.

I cannot believe how tired I am. After working all week and then having my mother here has completely drained me. On a normal weekend I would sleep until at least noon on all three days and maybe longer. I would also have at least 1 day where I would not leave the house, relax and watching tv. I got none of this while my mother was here. I am sure it is going to be a very long week.

The other things that are exhausting when my mother is here are her political views. She is a misogynist. We were discussing the latest sexual allegations against Al Gore. She said that it was probably the woman’s fault. She then explained that ‘all those women’ hang around these men. I asked how that mattered. She believes that because ‘these women’ hang around men like Al Gore and Tiger Woods that they want to have sex.

I challenged her belief by pointing out that just because the women are in their presence  does not mean they give consent for sexual activity and if the women do not give consent then it is rape anyway you look at it. She really did not have an answer for this. She believes that women who hang around famous men want to be raped. This does not surprise me. My grandmother was also a misogynist. She believe that women were incapable of fixing things or making decisions. When my mother divorced my adoptive father, my grandmother took his side. I remember how much this upset my mother.

Then there was the whole discussion on the 2-page spread in the Province about gay-bashing. As far as my mother is concerned, gay men should just take self-defense courses and protect themselves! She then relayed a story about my step-sister, who is very small, and who felt afraid in a parking garage. Apparently she took a course so that she would not be afraid anymore. I challenged her on this, pointing out that it is wrong that men get gay-bashed and women feel the need to take self-defense courses. She further did not understand why the gay-bashings would be hate crimes. Needless to say it was a very frustrating day!

The Problem with Male Politicians

So now there are sexual misconduct allegations against Al Gore. Of all of the male politicians in the US Al Gore always seemed the most pure. After all he was the great green crusader who may now be facing his own ‘inconvenient truth.’

I am not going to bother going into the details of this case. What I am more interested in is the why. Why on earth would anyone in a position of power, especially one who served through the Clinton Administration become involved in the same kind of behaviour. There have been so many politicians who have gone down due to this kind of behaviour.

Perhaps it is the power. They must feel that they can do anything they want, whenever they want to whomever they want. Yet, realistically, they must know that there is a realistic expectation they will be caught. Certainly much of this is rooted in the patriarchy whereby young boys are brought up to believe that the world is their’s to do with what they want. Women and children are property and are at their disposal. In spite of more than ½ a century of a feminism straight, white men still rule the world.

How do we go about fostering the type of societal change necessary to stop men from thinking they dominion over others. Our entire culture and the discourse surrounding it from fairy tales we tell children to the television shows we all watch all put out the message that men are better, smarter and stronger than women. The problem is that it is so pervasive in our culture that we don’t even see it. Even those of us who have been trained in discourse theory and who knows how language plays a role in how we live our lives and how the thoughts we think inform our actions can’t help but be influenced. We all need to see the language around us and how it limits what we can or can’t do.

I believe the only solution is for all of us to understand our role in our own discourse. Do we work hard to challenge our own racist views or do we laugh at the racist joke our boss tells because we don’t know what to do? Do we stand up for young girls and tell them that they can be anything they want to be or do we encourage them to settle for something lesser? Do we support and encourage women to be in leadership positions or do we call them bitches when they make hard decisions? All of these actions or inactions are what support men, in positions of power, to do whatever they want to women. It is time for it to end.

What it is going to take?

I get so frustrated when I am confronted with blatant sexism. The cover of the Province Newspaper had the headline: “You GOLD Girl” in reference to Maelle Ricker’s gold medal at the Winter Olympics yesterday. She is 32 years old and she is far from being a girl. If they were talking about a man winning a gold they would definitely not refer to him as a ‘boy.’ To refer to Maelle as a girl is completely insulting to her and other women athletes. The women competing at the Olympic Games are every bit as athletic and hardworking as their male counterparts. To dismiss Maelle in this way is very upsetting as it diminishes her accomplishments.

Language is a very powerful tool. Through our choice of words we can convey messages that are not contained in the text. In this example, referring to Maelle as a girl minimizes her accomplishments and takes away her adult status. Much in the same way that slave owners in the American South used to call African-American men ‘boy.’ The use of that word conveyed a vast difference in station like some how the man being refered to as a ‘boy’ was infantile thus robbing him of personal power and agency. The same thing happens to women when someone calls them a girl. This reduction in status allows some men to see women as less than and not equal. It is then a slippery slope to the point where some men might think they can do what they want to a woman because after all she is ‘only a girl.’ Who listens to a ‘girl’ saying no. This is the very essence of that which allows some men to assault and rape women.

There is no doubt that Maelle Ricker is an accomplished woman. To think she is anything less is insulting and demeaning.

Unbelievable!

I have written before about Scott Young, now the former mayor of Port Coquitlam. He was convicted for assault after he attacked his former girlfriend and her new partner. Then he got off with a slap on the wrist.

Mr. Young seems to feel that the city of Port Coquitlam cannot survive without him and apparently 2178 people agree with him. He didn’t run for mayor this time but he did run for city council and he received over 2000 votes. What is that about?

The message this sends is horrible. Basically the 2178 people who voted for Scott Young are saying that it is ok that he assaulted his former girlfriend. Normalizing violence against women means that it will happen more often and be more severe. Those men in society who are pre-disposed to committing violent acts will look at this and come to the conclusion that there are no real consequences for violence against women – and they would be correct. How many times do perpetrators get off with a slap on the hand and a wink, wink, nudge, nudge from the ‘old boys’ club? It is disgusting and it needs to stop. Shame on those 2178 people in Port Coquitlam who have told Scott Young that assaulting his former girlfriend in an alcoholic rage was just fine.

Our Justice System – Redux

I have a lengthy comment from Mike which you can go and read in the original post. I was going to answer him in the comments section but I think it would be better served as a post of its own. So here goes.

Mike says:
“I don’t think justice was served here, but I disagree with feminists who use such allegorical “evidence” as proof that western political legal system treats women like chattel. Thats quite a stretch. By in large western legal systems take domestic violence seriously.”

It is in no way allegorical. Our laws our based on English commonlaw which viewed women and children as chattel.There is nothing allegorical about that. Altough laws may be updated, here and there, they are still largely written by men for men. The old boys network is alive and well and protects men like Scott Young.

Mike Says:
“People, especially people in power, get away with doing bad and illegal things all the time. Maybe Scott Young knew the right people, had a good lawyer, or just was lucky. By your line of reasoning I could look to OJ Simpson and argue that black people in the US can get away with murdering white people. I strongly disagree with feminists who use incidences like this to push their narrow self-serving agenda.”

Perhaps rich black men do. But this is not about race – this is about domestic violence. There is no ‘narrow self-serving agenda’ here. Unfortunately, the problem of violence against women, in all its forms, is so pervasive that dismantling it would shake our society to its very core. It is seen in the discourse of advertising, our jokes, our culture, our religions, the way we raise male and female children differently. We are not even aware at times when violence is being perpetuated against women. Open your eyes and look around. It is on tv, on the radio, in the locker room and in our homes.

Mike says:
“No society has ever tolerated violence against women. This is feminist historical revisionism. Rapists in medieval Europe were flayed alive (had their skin removed). The ‘rule of thumb’ myth was taken from a misquotation of statement made by a US judge in the 19th century who actually sentenced the male abuser to jail.”

This society sure as hell does!!! It goes on all the time. Many women don’t report rape as they will just be assaulted again when they come up against the male dominated justice system. Forget history, look at the situation today. Look at the murder suicides where men kill their entire families and then themselves. And before you trot Andrea Yates – she was mentally ill and had had so many children and sufferred such horrific untreated post partum depression that she went crazy. What is the excuse of the men?? Look at the honour killings in the South Asian community in BC. I could go on and on. These are not feminist revisionist events. These are real women dying every single day.

Mike says:
“Women are abusers in relationships as well as men. Domestic abuse has less to do with ‘Patriarchy’ and more to do with disfunctional partners and drug and alchohol abuse. Women stalk, kill their husbands and kill their children too. There are bad people of both sexes the same way there are bad people of all races. Just because in general men are capable of inflicting greater injury on women does not mean that men are the only sex capable of commiting evil, or even that society is run by men.”

Yes, some women might hit some men sometimes. Boo fucking hoo. Look at the stats – men kill and beat women at much higher rates then the reverse. Really, this is just a straw man argument to take us off course. Many men are conditioned to believe that they can treat women anyway they want. Furthermore, they have seen that the consequences are a slap on the wrist – conditional sentence with an 8 pm curfew? What the hell is that about? If this is what our justice system is doing to women when we are watching what is it doing when we are not?

Mike says:
“Society does not treat women worse than men. Men have always been the greatest victims of violence in war, genocide, and crime. The vast majority of victims of violent crime (murder and assault) are men.”

Sorry Mike another straw man argument. Who starts the wars? Who keeps them going? Certainly not women. Yes men die in war. But so do women, civilian women. Rape is an instrument of war and I am pretty damn sure that most of the people being raped are not men. Civilian women and children suffer the most in war. The soldiers have a choice. At least in the case of the US – they signed up for it this time. (This of course would be different if concription were in place as it was in other wars). However, the men are still paid to go to war. Even the women working for the international companies in Iraq are not safe from rape. So, tell me again how it is that men suffer? Oh ya, they get to carry big guns, shoot people, and get paid. Sounds like the wet dream of many a teenage boy.

Shame on our Justice System

So, Scott Young, Mayor of Port Coquitlam was convicted for harrasing and stalking his former girlfriend. He pled guilty to two charges of assault and one charge of breaching an undertaking. He was arrested after assaulting his former girlfriend and her new partner at her home over the Easter weekend in 2007. He also breached an undertaking he had signed to stay away from her. And what did he get for his crimes? A 12 month conditional sentence and an 8 pm curfew which he does not have to obey if he has a council meeting!

It is no wonder that we, as a society, cannot curtail violence against women. Here is a public figure, a mayor of a reasonably sized city in the Lower Mainland who is guilty of assault and all he gets is his hand slapped. There is no deterrent factor. He also has not really lost anything besides a bit of pride (and one could argue that this situation did not really seem to affect him at all) at having to spend the long weekend in jail. He has continued to preside over city council despite many, many attempts to get him to resign. He has refused. I get the sense that he does not think he has done anything wrong. He cops to having a drinking problem (boo hoo), has been in rehab and has stopped drinking. He doesn’t think his ‘personal problems’ should have anything to do with his day job. He is a narcissitic asshole who should be in jail not running a city.

There are much bigger implications here. What does this say to young men in BC who may follow in his footsteps? It says that women are less important and that you can do whatever you want and nothing bad will really happen to you. This kind of behaviour has its roots in misogyny and the out-dated belief that women are chattel. Unfortunately, our justice system has not caught up. There is still mostly a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge” attitude towards violence against women. Male privilege at its ‘finest.’

Until we get serious about punishing men who commit crimes against women the problem will only continue to escalate. There must be a zero tolerance policy with regard to this kind of violence. We need to communicate this expectation to our politicians. We need to have had enough of putting up with this kind of whitewashing violence against women.

Now I am really disturbed…

I have been having a ‘discussion’ with some women on the facebook group for “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” They have actually called me a ‘feminazi’ because I dared to bring up the fact that the Marias were being referred to as girls all the time. To quote Simon Lee, I am ‘gobsmacked.’ I expect to have these discussions with some men (there are men who are feminists and who get it) but I cannot believe what is coming from women. They clearly have no understanding of their own ignorance and privilege nor their own oppression. Not only do they not see, they don’t want to see. They do not see how their reluctance to address their own oppression contributes to the oppression of others.

You know, there are days when I wish I did not see these things. When I did not see the sytemic racism, sexism, classism, ableism, hetersexism etc that exists in our society. Life would be much easier if I did not see the intersections of poverty, addicition, mental health, gender and all of the isms mentioned above. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if I was not constantly engaged in working out my own racism, classism etc. But that is not my lot in life. I do see and I need to say something or I am complicit.