Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘I guess I am ready’ edition

  • I go back to work on Tuesday. I am feeling better. I am sleeping just 9 hours down from 14. My ulcerative colitis has calmed down and I feel like I have some strength. I had been feeling really stressed before we went to Radium, I now think that stress was related to the trip and not to my return was work. Figuring that out has really helped. I am going to do some things quite differently when I return. I have had a lot of time to reflect and contemplate. I must do this, as the past is not sustainable.
  • Holy freaking cold! Our house has cooled off rapidly from the summer. It seems like we are going to right into winter without having fall, much like we went from winter to summer. I really hope we get an autumn, as it is my favourite season.
  • Dogs are doing well. Zoe just got groomed so she looks like ‘thindy.’ She is so damn cute when she comes back from there. If you have never experienced shihtzuh cuteness you are really missing something!
  • I have some pictures from our trip, which I will try to get up tomorrow. Stay tuned!
  • One more entry into the ‘chick’ debate (here and here). The reason this word is so problematic is that it is gender specific. ‘Chick’ is used to denigrate the position of women in society. It is much like the word ‘boy’ which white people have used to degrade African-American men. Again, it is a word that is used on a specific group.

A little ruckus…

Well it looks like my post yesterday caused a little confusion yesterday. People spend years studying discourse theory[1] and it can be extremely complicated. The thing is that ‘discourse’ or the words we use shape who we are and how we react to people. I am going to try to clarify a few things:

  • Wandering Coyote says she uses the word ‘chick’ in sarcasm or when a woman ticks her off. This is precisely the use of the word that is problematic. ‘Chick’ is a demeaning, derisive and dismissive word. When the word is used it is meant to insult.[2] This is precisely why the word should not be in use. This goes further. When women use it to police other women it can truly take on an ugly form. Just think of how often the appearance of women is debated and discussed. We have all been involved in discussions where we might discuss a woman’s provocative clothing, her choice of shoes or her weight. This policing of women by women is also a by-product of the patriarchy.
  • Sometimes words like ‘chick’ get conflated with other words that have power. Some examples are words like queer and dyke. When these words are used against people they are powerful however when people reclaim they become equally powerful. These words are different from the word ‘chick’ in particular.
  • Christine wonders why I think the word ‘chick’ refers to baby chickens and not other baby birds. The thing is it doesn’t really matter what kind of baby bird women are being referred to when the word ‘chick’ is used a woman is being equated with an infantile bird. Personally, I find this insulting.

Just remember whenever women are devalued and demeaned by the word ‘chick’ it serves to lessen the power of women in our society. At first glance this word may seem innocuous; it is anything but. Use of the word reifies the patriarchy and puts women in a place below men. In the 21st century this is simply not acceptable.

[1] I did my MA thesis on discourse theory.

[2] I am really not meaning to pick on the Wandering Coyote here.

Violence and the ‘Message’

All weekend we have been hearing about David Wayne Bobbitt and the alleged assault he committed by tying a woman up for 12 hours, repeatedly beating and assaulting her while her 2-year old child looked on. He has been described as dangerous someone the public should not approach. With all of the descriptive words the CBC could have chosen to refer to him on the radio, today they chose “Penticton business owner.” When I heard this I was completely incensed that they would dignify him with a respectable title.

As a feminist, I should not be surprised that the patriarchy is alive and well and almost always willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Clearly the crimes he is alleged to have committed do not befit the description of ‘Penticton business owner.’ In fact, by referring to him in this manner, the media is minimizing his alleged crimes. He is not in anyway being shamed for what he may have done instead he is a business owner.

When society allows men a free pass to abuse women we all suffer. It also sends a message to other men that nothing really bad will happen to you if you assault your wife or rape a prostitute. This culture we live in is steeped in the idea that women and children are chattel. In fact, up until the last century women did not have rights or legal standing. Even today, although we have ‘equal’ rights in principle things are hardly ‘equal’ when men can choose to physically over power us and do whatever they want to our bodies. Consent? What is that?

It seems like there has been an inordinate amount of violence against women lately. UBC student and Fullbright Scholar Rumana Manzur, beaten by her husband in Bangladesh has now returned to Canada for medical treatment. He gouged her eyes and bit off part of her nose. She will never see again. Another South Asian woman was killed by her husband last week. The Crown had to have murderer Johnson Aziga declared a dangerous offender because he continued to have sex with women without telling them he was HIV-positive.

I wish I had answers and prescriptions for change. What I do know is that we must change the discourse that surrounds women and how some men perceive us. Men must educate their sons to treat women with respect. Men have to learn that women are not there to serve their needs. Women have free will and, like men, can do or wear what they want, go where they please and have the right of agency. Anything less than this is unacceptable.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘don’t ‘tarouf’ me’ edition

  • Our electronic garbage can is now working again. I think it is possessed. It was working fine and then the batteries died (we think). We put new ones in and it didn’t work again for a couple of weeks. All of a sudden it started to work again for no apparent reason. Never a dull moment at the Swamp!
  • The last couple of days we have been having a lot of fun at work with words. We have been turning a Persian word, into an English word and making it a verb and a noun. The word is ‘tarouf’[1] and it describes a type of Persian politeness. It is more than politeness though. It can range from letting someone else go first to giving guests your house the very best even though you have nothing and probably have to go into debt to provide the food. It all started because we have a new contractor who happens to be Persian and he is very polite. One of the other Persian staff keeps telling him to ‘stop taroufing’ her. It has really been a fascinating cultural education learning about how different people interpret and practice the art of ‘tarouf.’ Apparently ‘tarouf’ can be used for good or evil. When it is used for evil basically people stab you in the back while ‘taroufing’ you.
  • Sawyer is so unmotivated when it comes to food. Unless he is hand-fed he really doesn’t like to eat. He does however like to stare at Molly while she eats which really annoys the hell out of her and she barks incessantly. When I am involved in feeding them I have now just started to hand fed the little brat.
  • This time next week we will be in Calgary for Christmas. I am really dreading this trip however I am pretty sure we can survive 3 days. My goal is to make it the best Christmas I can for my mother.

[1] I have spelled it phonetically. The emphasis is on the last syllable.

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 would it take?

We watched Milk last night and I was struck by the power of political activism. The energy generated by injustices and a clear solution is amazing. But it left me wondering what would it take to have that kind of energy coalesce around an issue in our time. What would have to happen here to have 30,000 people march?

There are many issues right now that demand this kind of energy and activism. Here in Vancouver we have had 2 gay bashings in a short amount of time yet the community is unable to muster more than 2-300 people to come out and protest. We had over 60 women go missing from the Downtown Eastside over a period of years yet it took the better part of a decade to arrest someone and try him (I refuse to write his name). Even then, justice has been denied. He was only tried on 6 counts of murder. The other 20 women, whose DNA was found on his family’s farm, have not gone through the courts.  The community also believes that he did not act alone as there are questions about his mental capacity.Then there are the gangland shootings which have plagued Metro Vancouver this year. Twenty people have died and they deaths have not garnered any response from the community in spite of the fact that innocent people are being killed. The police response is pathetic – they want parents to turn in their children.

Even the world-wide economic crisis is not enough to push us out of our apathy. Our systems are broken, our governments corrupt and we sit by letting it all happen around us. In other countries like Pakistan, for example, many people, mostly lawyers, braved severe repercussions to protest the suspension of the Chief Justice. How can we forget the images that came out of Myanmar when monks protested against the ruling Junta. Why do some countries in other parts of the world seem to be able to create social change while we cannot.

I suspect the answer lies in the fact that for most people in North America our lives are pretty comfortable. Yes there is grinding poverty in many areas of Canada and the US but people are not so uncomfortable that they are able to rally and demand change. The other impediment, as I see it, is one of definition. The issues affecting us are extremely complicated and deeply rooted in discourse. We have been indoctrinated in so many ways that we are unaware of why react the way we do. I have discussed the response to the poor in North America before – one only needs to look at the Protestant roots of our society to see where a great deal of our prejudice comes from. The religious idea of predestination underpins our reactions and judgments against those who are less fortunate. Until we are able to dissect our core beliefs, questioning the status quo is impossible.

Even when we can examine our beliefs and define the issues how are we going to solve the problems. Personally, I am at a loss. I can identify an issue and examine the discourse surrounding it yet I am unable to see what change could look like – this is the power of discourse. I think until we are pushed out our comfort zones and forced to suffer a bit not much is going to change. This makes me very sad.