ed_rex: (1980)

Back in grades seven and eight, I was bullied in a pretty big way. Death threats (however rhetorical) were a more or less daily occurrence. Elbows in the hall happened regularly, and actual assaults on school property (inside the school itself, more than once) were, if not frequent, were not exactly rare.

And deciding which route to take home was a matter of balancing my desire to get home quickly vs the odds of being attacked by the thugs who had decided I was the one they would pick on.

Probably my biggest moment of shame and pride happened in (I think) grade eight, when the halls were full with students streaming from one class to another.

I was attacked by three or four guys, who took me to the floor and got in a few shots, then, laughing in triumph, took their leave. At which point I got to my feet and leapt upon the leader — Terry Scovron was his name, I'm pretty sure — and got in a few licks of my own.

Naturally, his thugs came to his aid and I was once again put down, but I felt a certain amount of satisfaction in having gotten in a few of my own.

What rankled, though, was hearing later, that word had gotten 'round that Scovron had beaten me up, no mention of his three or four henchmen.

Anyway, I digress.

I was actually friendly with one member of that gang. He was a nice enough kid, I guess. He hung with the bullies to protect himself, I think. They'd abuse him — mock him and hit him, but not too hard, and in exchange he had their protection and, presumably, some measure of prestige.

Anyway, one day after a test, when we had some free time in the same class-room, I asked him, "Why? Why don't they just leave me alone?"

"They're scared of you," he said. And when, baffled, I asked him how they could possibly be scared of me, he told me that it was because I didn't play their game. I just wanted to be left alone. He said (and I paraphrase; it's been a few years, and he didn't use the kind of vocabulary I'm gifting him with now) if I would just accept their dominance, they'd let me be. But because I kept fighting back, they had to keep putting me down. And because I didn't seem to care about their barnyard strutting, they had to keep putting me down. So that I would care about the grade seven, then eight, pecking order.

(This shit went on for two fucking years; and yes, the constant worry that I might be attacked for no good reason did do some long-term damage. Although, on the other hand, I think it's given me a little more empathy for how women feel when walking a dark street, or navigating a mostly-male workplace, than a lot of men have.)

Anyway, flash-forward to the present. The boss' mother (and titular owner) aside, my workplace is entirely male. Many of them immigrants, almost of us working class. Some, like me, with book-larnin, most without much of it.

I don't have a regular shift there, but get a new schedule every two weeks. And further, if I am going to be driving a crew out of town, I get an email with the specifics of time and (sometimes) of which vehicle I'll be driving.

A few days before Christmas I got one of those emails, with a note about the weather: you'd better come in at least 15 minutes early, so you can scrape the ice off the windows.

I texted back, "Thanks for the heads' up. And if [R] is fretting, tell him I'm already on the bus."

Fretting. I guess I should have known better.

R has made a point of using the word, fretting, every god damned time I've been in the office at the same time as him ever since.

Unlike grade school, it's okay. Instead of punches, my co-workers throw jokes. They tease, "the way men do".

One of the nice things about being a grown up, is that other people (usually) grow up too, at least to some extent. Where once my eccentricities elicited violence, now they are an identifying trait, not a threat. I'm weird, but I'm okay, I'm liked.

Which is a really nice change, even after all these years, let me tell you!

But even so, I think I'm going to get pretty damned sick of the word fretting before too long.

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The pocket is political

She's got hands in her pockets ...

Women’s pockets were private spaces they carried into the public with increasing freedom, and during a revolutionary time, this freedom was very, very frightening. The less women could carry, the less freedom they had. Take away pockets happily hidden under garments, and you limit women’s ability to navigate public spaces, to carry seditious (or merely amorous) writing, or to travel unaccompanied.

Normally this is the sort of thing I would just post a link to on the faceplace or the twit, but the person I am almost certain would find this interesting (if they haven't already seen it) has withdrawn from the hurly-gurly of Zuckerealm, if only temporarily.

And so, I commend to your attention the surprising history of pockets and why — if you're a woman — your clothes probably don't have any. None usuful, at least.

The Politics of Pockets.

ed_rex: (The Droz Report)

Some thoughts on the importance of historical context

Kathleen Wynne (left) with Sandra Pupatello.

And something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

— Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"

Early Sunday morning on Facebook, I posted a knee-jerk response to the selection of Kathleen Wynne as the Liberal Party of Ontario's new leader — and thus, the province's new Premier. Wynne won on the third ballot, edging out Sandra Pupatello. The women had been the front-runners right from the start. (Entirely coincidentally, but most serendipitously, Wynne's victory came only two days before the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision declaring that women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies.)

I wrote:

Those of you who think that nothing changes, please take note. In some very important ways, the world *is* getting better and it's important we remember that. A divorced, gay, woman is now Premier of Ontario.

Woman. Gay. Divorced. 30 years ago (or less!) any *one* of those facts would have automatically disqualified her.

That's a sea change, ladies and gentleman. A fucking sea change.

There is more to it than that, of course, and finding myself living in a country in which six of its 14 First Ministers are women does not mean we have reached Utopia.

But it is significant.

So significant that it deserves not just an emphasized paragraph all of its own, but consideration at some length. The perfumes of change.

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Girls gone funny

The older I get, the less patience I have for ideologues of any description, whether of the right or of the left.

No matter what their intentions — whether it is to combat racism or to combat other races — anyone who believes there is but One True Way to do things, or think about things, has the soul of a fascist.

And so, rather than just recommending you rent or otherwise get a-hold of the now-completed first season of Lena Dunham's Girls, I found myself struggling with people who seem to seriously believe that cliquish exclusion and nepotism is worse than the Holocaust.

My essay is a long one, so I'll put it plainly here. I enjoyed Girls an awful lot and eagerly await its second season. Dunham is an excellent young writer and her show is a bloody good professional debut — even if its principals are all privileged white people.

Am I blind to my own privilege as a white guy? As I said, my review is a long one, but I welcome your comments. Also, please note: it is not safe for work! You've been warned. Click here for Privilege and prejudice: The unbearable whiteness of being Lena Dunham.

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Five days in a row! Who'd-a thunk it?

Click to see all the questions )

30 days on writing, arthur wharton, feminism, fiction, politics, sexuality, writing, valley of shabathawan

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Ha! I've been looking forward to this question, and was all prepared to start talking about a short story called "One Long Night Along the 401", of which I was proud enough in 1983 that I submitted it to Harper's and then Redbook, if I remember a'right. It was a small, slice-of-life story in which very little happened: a teenage girl, then called "Julia" but later retconned to be the aforementioned Ashera, is hitchhiking from Toronto to Montreal. It's long past sundown and getting cold. A single, older man driving a run-down Lada stops for her, she gets in and they talk. He seems a little sketchy, she gets nervous, but nothing bad happens and they end the ride on friendly terms, promising to keep in touch (huh. Just checked. They exchange phone numbers). Years later, they spot each other walking along the street but neither says a word. The end.

But taking down the slightly battered duotang that holds (ahem) The Collected Works, 1981-1985, I found the above wasn't the first story contained within the covers.

The first is entitled "The Question" and (I now remember) was one of the few science fiction stories I've written. Not surprising, I guess, since I wrote it for my science fiction literature class (Hi there Arthur Wharton!).

That was a story in which quite a lot happened in its few pages. Again (or rather, first), the narrator and protagonist is a young woman, not much older than I when I wrote it.

As you might expect, the writing and especially the dialogue is pretty bad — I was just scanning through it now and found it almost painful in places; it's funny how something one wrote at the age of 15 or 16 can still have the power to embarass 30 years later.

But I'm far from entirely ashamed of it. For the first short story I ever wrote, it's pretty damned ambitious.

The situation is a crashed colony ship on an alien planet. En route, the narrator's father (as she learned later) had "gone berserk" and murdered many of the women on board. Meaning that the colony's survival was in serious doubt and that, the antagonist would argue, that babies and genetic diversity were its Priority #1.

Our intrepid narrator has no intention of spending her life "barefoot and pregnant" and proceeds from arguments in general meetings to taking matters (and a heavy, sharp stone) into her own hands by the story's climax. She kills Roger and later claims that he had attacked her.

Following the murder the final paragraph reads,

I return to the settlement and tell my story. They believe me and everyone is terribly sympathetic to me. They are very impressed with the speed with which I have recovered from my ordeal. They are proud of the way that I have been demonstrating my leadership qualities. They like the way that I have taken control.

Okay, I'm pretty sure I stole that final sentence from Joseph Heller's Something Happened (and possibly (the tone of?) the entire final paragraph; it's been many years since I lent out my copy of the novel and so don't remember for sure), but I'm still impressed by what I was trying to do, from the ambiguity in the ending to the wrestling with politics in general and with feminism in particular.

A couple or three years later, I expanded it into a novelette and later tried to turn it into a novel and I still sometimes ponder the possibility. I read so much SF it seems strange that I think I've only written three stories in the genre — and one of those only a 300 word bad-pun story which Asimov's quite properly rejected.

But that, as they say, is another story.

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... a meme. That's right, a god damned meme.

If you have some interest in which women science fiction writers I've read, click the cut. If you're sensible, carry on to the next entry. (Filched from more than one of you.

Here be the cut, writer babes below! )
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I hate it but I also (kinda/I think/maybe) love it. Writing to a deadline, that is. Anyway, this is the second week in a row I've found myself not only producing True North Perspective but also penning the Editor's Notes.

Finished the nearly 1,000 words around 11:55 and threw the switch (pulled off the password protection and queued the email announcement) at around 00:05. God only knows if either the argument or the grammar hold up but it will have to do.

Meanwhile, the drupal version of the site is in beta mode and (please god!) the new, 21st century version of the beast will be up and running end-of-the-month-ish and I will no longer be involved on the production side of things.

Meanwhile, here's a video. The Bronte Sisters battle evil sexism.

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By their words shall we know them

Harper and friends never cease playing the politics of division and fear

(The following is cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.)

Steven Harper, not exactly as shown. (Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.)
Steven Harper, not exactly as shown. (Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.)

I would like to apologize for inflicting a four-letter Anglo-Saxonism upon you, but I can't in good conscience do it. All too often the truth is offensive and sometimes, using crude words is the best way to get us to confront the ugly truth in question.

In this case, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth seems to have let slip an ugly truth about her party that she might not even fully understand — otherwise, if she is the pro-choice feminist she said to be, she would surely have to cross the floor — wouldn't she?

Senator Ruth made the statement this past Monday to a meeting of international equality rights groups. The subject was the Harper government's decision, as announced by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda back on April 26, that Canada will not fund abortions in developing countries.

The next day, in what was either a remarkable case of foot-in-mouth disease, or else a cynical calculation that there were more votes to be had in pandering to the Conservatives' right-wing, "socially conservative" base than there might be in acknowledging that women in the third world sometimes also have unwanted pregnancies and so, like those in the west, will seek out abortions whether or not they are legal or affordable or safe, Harper disengenuously claimed the decision was meant to be "unifying".

According to the Toronto Star, he said, "We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population."

As if he didn't know that implicitly declaring women in the third world should not have the rights Canadian women take for granted wouldn't be devisive.

In any event, Senator Ruth wasn't not telling people to "shut the fuck up" about the issue this week because she is anti-choice, but because she is pro-choice and scared. Scared of her own party's leader.

And that fear speaks volumes about the nature of Steven Harper's so-called "conservative" government.

As I have noted before (and almost certainly will again; in the face of lies, the truth must be repeated twice as often), I am not convinced that Canada's Prime Minister, Steven Harper, has mellowed during his years presiding over a minority Parliament. It is just that minority status that has kept a frustrated Firewall Steve from enacting either the economic or the social "conservative" — in fact, reactionary — policies he would have had he a fully-subserviant House of Commons at his beck and call.

According to CBC News Senator Ruth continued by saying, "If you push it, there'll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country." She went on to say, "Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don't make this an election issue."

You can argue that Senator Ruth was simply giving activists some pragmatic advice, offering the benefit of her experience and position in government, but the subjext sounds to me like it is coming from someone who knows her leader and her party and is all-too-well aware of what might come if he gets the majority government he so desparately desires.

This government, which fires civil servants for doing their jobs, which panders to fears of crime while crime is decreasing with expensive "reforms" that won't work (see Sentencing reform could cost $10B over 5 years), which prorogues Parliament whenever it pleases, hides evidence that Canada has been complicit in torture and — the list is nearly endless; no doubt most of you can make your own lists. This government's own members seem to believe it is a danger to the Canada we have known, a reactionary, dangerous leopard held in check only by the fragile leash of a Parliamentary minority.

Harper does his best to colour his spots, but they keep showing through the second-rate dye-jobs and Senator Nancy Ruth's fear suggests it's not only his enemies who worry about what might happen if he gets free reign over the nation, but his allies as well.

With the ongoing global economic crisis now nearing its third year, the neo-conservative "revolution" has been revealed as nothing but a sham and a fraud. To its credit, Canada avoided many of the excesses of the past 30 years. It would be a tragedy were we to let Harper institute his own scorch-and-burn revolution so long past its best-before date.

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A boy in The Women's Room

Living as we do mostly and more or less in the present, when female soldiers are coming home from Afghanistan in body bags, women are routinely running for public office and blasting off into space as astronauts, it is easy to lose sight of just how much and how quickly things have changed in North America over the past 40 or so years.

I'll likely never forget that day on a subway platform, when my friend Steve excitedly pointed to the oncoming train and shouted, "Look! A woman subway driver! A woman subway driver!"

It might be hard for most of you reading this to understand the excitement, but this was 1980 or 1981 and no one in that group of half a dozen teenagers had ever seen a woman driving a subway before. We were of a social class that saw that strange sight as a sign of good things to come, but in 1980 (or 1981) it was a strange sight nevertheless.

Budding feminists we may have been, but I don't think that we fully realized the importance of that pioneering woman subway driver. We definitely didn't think of the arbitrary hurdles she must almost certainly have had to leap in order to take her place in a "man's world".

At least, not until we went on to read The Women's Room.

Marilyn French in 1987
Marilyn French in 1987.
The truth is, I haven't read The Women's Room since the early to mid-1980s, when I was in my early to mid-teens. I don't remember the plot of the novel, or the names of any of the characters; nor have I yet looked at the synopsis I've linked to above. So it may seem strange that I feel compelled to mark the author's death this past Saturday.

That compulsion arises from the fact that, despite my fading memories, I can honestly and confidently say that Marilyn French's novel was one of the most influential books I had read to that point in my then brief life and one that remains for me — despite the loss of detailed memory over the years — a touchstone, a landmark in the development of my ability to "imagine the other", in this case the lives of North American women and the vital necessity of the feminist movements of which The Women's Room was a vital part. (Not many novels manage to sell 20 million copies.)

As best I can remember, The Women's Room followed the didactic path that began with (if not before) Uncle Tom's Cabin and now very familiar through books by the likes of Alice Walker's The Colour Purple (which I also haven't read for a very long time; forgive me if I get details wrong).

Call them social tragedies. Such novels follow a more or less inevitable destruction of the individual by society, by social expectations and by legal strictures.

Published in 1977, I suspect my poor memory of the novel itself — as opposed to my memory of its impact upon me — indicates The Women's Room was more a powerful artifact of its time rather than a work of immortal literature — but who knows? Maybe it's just one of those books I don't remember very well. There are a lot of those, after all.

In any case, in the early 1980s it was a novel that deeply moved me and even more deeply enraged me. French clearly illustrated the genuine evils that arise in societies that treat people as members of a group or class, rather than as individual human beings, societies in which only the most heroic women were able to take their place as subjects of their own lives, rather than objects of the men with whom they shared those lives.

The Women's Room was at once an articulate cry of rage and demand for justice, for fairness, for the fundamental right of all women — 'till then, eternally denied — to control the course of their own lives.

The Women's Room cover

For me, French's novel was a seminal (if you'll pardon that o! so archaic term; the battle is not over yet) work which showed the reality behind the theory of feminism, which made concrete for me just why so many women were so angry. I suspect that, for my generation, it had an effect similar to the one Martin Luther King's "I had a dream" speech had on the previous generation's understanding of the world and "the other".

According to the obituary published in the Charlotte Observer, "Her aim, she said, was 'to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world.'"

I doubt she died believing the job was done, but I hope she was able to appreciate the massive changes that have happened in the 30-some years since her book was published and that she knew her work had been a significant part of those changes.

Certainly, it had a lasting impact on me.

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Back in the '70s, when I was 10 or 11 years old, my mother bought into the then-fashionable belief that television was "the plug-in drug", a Destructive Influence that threatened the moral fibre of children exposed to the sex and (especially, to my mother's mind) the violence on offer via the glass teat.

And so it was that my brother and I found ourselves required to plan out our television-watching, limited (I think; and maybe she made an exception for Saturday night hockey) to an hour a day. (As an after-thought, she also made me pack away my comics in the basement, so that the inferior reading material would not be a constant temptation.) And in truth, when she decided to Make Changes, I recall that I was reading a lot less, and watching, a lot more. After we were required to consciously choose what we wanted to watch, rather than vacantly channel-surf through the hours, my reading time did go up.

But I don't recall any change in my propensity towards violence. And neither do I know of any serious studies that ever showed a direct correlation between exposure to violent television and actual violent behaviour, any more than I am aware of any correlation between the current bete noire, violent "first-person shooter"video-games and actual violence.

While it is conceivable that media might encourage anti-social behaviour, as any one who has read about life in, say, 19th century London (England) will know, violent crime goes back far beyond the introduction of mass media to human civilization.

Thebigthreekill's reply to my recent post, in which I berated one of you Gentle Readers for treating "men" as an abstraction rather than as individual human beings, provoked this entry. I thought her response was, if not wrong, at least over-simplistic. But when it came to answering her thoughts, I quickly realized the issue required more space than permitted by LJ's comment character-limit. And so, an entire new entry.

Thebigthreekill said,

The problem isn't men, the problem is mainstream hegemonic ideas and ideals of masculinity. Violent, dominant ideals. Its how being a real man is depicted and how power is achieved.

Its also about the degree to which men and women resist these ideals and come up with their own ideals and their own ways and things to admire in men.:)

I think your first paragraph is chasing a chimera, not too far off the one my mum was chasing 30 years ago.

What are these "hegemonic ideas and ideals of masculinity"? In a world in which the very concept that there is a "popular culture" is questionable, to simply assert that "violent, dominant ideals" are those that drive the behaviour of men seems to me simplistic in the extreme.

In point of fact, in the mainstream (western) world, real power is not achieved through the use of physical violence. It is not even achieved through the display of physical strength. Real power now comes through skills that have often been considered "feminine" traits - through networking and cooperation, not through beating the shit out of a rival.

In the year 2008, successful mainstream North American men are those who don't use their brawn to achieve power, but those who use their brains.

I'm old enough to remember when a female MP brought up the problem of violence against women (I think it was Floral MacDonald, and I think she was talking specifically about spousal rape, but I could be wrong on both counts), only to be loudly heckled by many other "honourable" members, as if the very idea of rape was essentially comical.

That was only 30-odd years ago. Canadian society has changed one hell of a lot since then. Rape is simply not acceptable in mainstream discourse anymore, and that marks a significant change. "If rape is inevitable," goes an old joke, "just lie back and enjoy it." I don't remember who said it, but it was once considered to be a rather witty line.

And yet, rape still occurs. As do milder forms of sexual harrassment, along with assault and murder.

Let's talk about murder. It's the most extreme form of violence, in that it ends with a person's death, and also the one that's least amenable to being played with statistically by changes in definition. After all, a dead body is a dead body.

And in truth, women in Canada are just about safer, statistically-speaking, than women ever have been in the known history of the human species. And so are men, though men are less safe than women.

Allow me to quote again from the Statscan document, Homicide In Canada, 2006: "Almost three-quarters (73%) of homicide victims in 2006 were male."

Granted, that same document shows that 87% of the killers were male, which suggests that inter-personal violence is largely (though far from exclusively!) a problem with (some) men.

Which I think begs the question: what are those factors that lead some people (mostly men) to behave violently, up to and including murder?

To say that it's "the media" or "mainstream hegemonic ideas and ideals" really just puts a label on the problem, but doesn't address it.

What are the real contributing factors towards violence? Which men (and some women) commit rape and murder? Under what circumstances do they do it? Why do some societies have much lower rates of violence than others?

Let me digress a moment.

Contrary to popular belief, 20th century western civilization has in fact been the safest civilization in the known history of the world. As an example, take a look at the following chart, taken from page 56 of Steven Pinker's, book, The Blank Slate.

Chart graphing male deaths caused my warfare, from Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, page 57.

Note that the final group - the US and Europe over the 20th century includes both world wars (though, admittedly, it doesn't seem to include those killed in the so-called third-world, which might make for a significantly different graph, though I think the rank ordering would remain the same).

So. If this society is safer than any other, what causes the violence that remains and, in particular, the violence that isn't mutual (two drunk guys agreeing to fight), but that that is clearly the violence of a physically stronger individual victimizing an individual who is physically weaker?

It seems to me there are two general classes of people in our society who do this. On the street, it tends to be men (and sometimes women) with very little power, except that which they can enforce through their fists; and at the opposite end of the scale it tends to be men (and sometimes women) who have at their disposal the apparatus of the state.

We're no longer talking (much) about sexism, but about class.

For the moment, I'd like to take the state out of the discussion and talk about men and women here in Canada.

In general, which individual men are most likely to commit assault or murder?

For murder, the answer is clear. Poor and (especially) socio-economically disenfranchised men. In Canada, those men tend to be native and black. I don't think there's any reason to doubt that racism is a factor, though I believe there are many other factors involved, cultural factors in particular.

Here in Toronto, my impression is that most gun crime involves "blacks". And I can certainly say that my ex-girl-friend (who was "black") reported to me that, if she was harrassed on the streetcar, the aggressor was (almost) invariably "black" himself.

You may have noticed the quotation marks around the word, black. There was a reason for it.

My further impression is that, when "blacks" and "gun crimes" are used in the same sentence, the truth is, more often than not, "blacks" means "Jamaican" (immigrants or first generation Canadians).

My ex was roughly as "black" as Barrack Obama. Her mum was an immigrant from Jamaica, her dad from somewhere in Europe. Neither chose to settle into a "ghetto", and they expected from their daughters that they would be fully Canadian.

Laura herself told me that the closest she came to experiencing racism was that she sometimes felt "a little" more watched when she and her friends would invade a store.

I know, it seems as if I digress, but I really am getting to a point.

Physical violence (mostly) comes from a place of psychological weakness and fear, and from a place of confusion, where one doesn't know what it is one's expected behaviour.

Every human being is capable of lashing out violently. There is a reason (hormones) that young men are those most likely to do so. There is a reason (social inequality - ie, perceived poverty) that is those from groups who feel socially disenfranchised are most likely to do so.

And there might be one more reason, which feminists ought to look into, another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s won some marvellous victories, which began to take effect in the 1980s. Society as a whole began to recognize that women and, especially, girls had been given a bum deal for decades - hell, for the entire history of the human race.

And society began to change. School curriculums were altered, girls were given extra attention, all with the admirable of levelling the playing field between the sexes. And to a large extent, it's worked. Women now make up half or more of the enrolment in most post-secondary fields of education, sometimes quite a bit beyond the percentage of women in the population.

Referring to my age once again, I was already pushing 20 when it was a rarity to see a female streetcar driver, let alone a female cop or doctor.

I doubt there has been such a vast social change in any society in history. It should come as no surprise that, in that massive shift, some people - some individuals - have been left behind, bobbing like so much flotsom and jetsom in the wake of the good ship Society.

Blaming "men" for society's ills never was intellectually tenable; blaming "men" now is just stupid.

The fact is, "society" is more complex than ever before, because it is still in flux.

None of knows what we are supposed to do in any given situation. Men and women alike, we're making it up as we go along, trying to create a new equilibrium out of chaos. And one of the factors in that chaos are those men whose parents somehow missed out on the change, who have been raised to believe they are still the centre of the universe, when in fact they have been - as men - flung to the periphery.

If the term, feminism, ever meant something more than, "I want my share of the pie", then serious feminists need to start thinking about their sons, as well as their daughters.

Why is there a subset of those sons who think it's a good idea that every woman at a science fiction convention label her breasts as "touch" or "touch not"? How is it they don't understand that women are actually people?

Why is there a sub-set of men who respond to the least slight by pulling out a handgun?

Why is there a sub-set of men who think it's okay to use their greater size and strength to harrass and intimidate women who happen to be passing them by?

Blaming "the patriarchy" or some abstraction we label "hegemonic ideals" might make us feel clever, but it doesn't do anything to deal with problems in life.

And hell, I feel like I've only opened the book of questions. All of what I've tried to say above really demands that we address the question of class, of a society that insists on a steep hierarchy of (mostly) winners and (a very few) winners.

If you live in a society in which a significant percentage of your population consider themselves to be losers, then they will perceive that they have nothing to lose by resorting to violence. They will mostly kill each other, but you (if you're lucky enough to be a winner) won't be safe strolling in the public sphere either.

I guess I'm asking all of us, but in particular those who think of themselves as feminists in particular and progressives in general, to park your easy answers at the door and really think about the big picture. With globalisation and global warming, the next hundred years is going to be a century of unparalleled conflict, a time when one real right will be struggling against the claims of three others. History suggests we're going to see a bloodbath that will make World Wars I and II look like playground brawls, but the trend in history makes it clear it doesn't have to be that way.

But only some very hard thinking is going to see us through this dark patch.
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Don't worry, folks, I'm not about to test your patience with another 3,000 worder.

As a mildly ironic counterpoint to the unexpected phone-call from Laura on Wednesday, I had a date scheduled for Thursday. A lunch date, but still ...

One of the more striking smokers in the building at which I work, is a petite and very pretty Muslim woman, who usually spends her smoke-breaks on her cell, obviously talking business while gesturing animatedly with her free hand. I knew - or rather, I presumed with a high degree of confidence - she is a Muslim because she wears a hijab, though otherwise usually dresses in a casual Western style, including, sometimes, blue-jeans.

A couple of weeks back, during the depths of that viscious cold-snap, we got to talking (starting with the weather and how stupid we were proving ourselves to be by being out in it, sucking poison into our lungs - but I digress) and, very quickly, found ourselves sharing quickl and easy laughter.

She is Canadian-born, daughter of immigrants from India. She speaks the way she moves, confidently and with purpose, and I found myself quickly becoming taken by her wit and incisive intelligence. (Though not particularly witty in itself, her description of being witness to Janet Jackson's presumably inadvertent nipple exposure at the Superbowl a few years back was priceless.)

We ran into each other again, and yet again. The third time, on our way back to our mutual offices, I stopped and said, "I never do this, but, er, would you like to have lunch together one of these days?"

And so it was that she dropped by my office on Thursday at around 1:30, from whence we departed for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant just up Spadina (but the name of which escapes me - Sidra? Maybe you know it? It's on the east side, between Queen and Richmond?).

I don't know many people for whom religious faith is of much - if any - importance, let alone Muslims, so the opportunity for some cross-cultural study was almost as exciting as the fact that I had mustered the courage to ask her out in the first place. Too, it was strange for me to socialize without benefit of alcohol as a lubricant.

As it turned out, Saara seemed to find the fact of my atheism - and especially that both sides of my family were the same, going back at least 2 and 3 generations - just as curious as I found her decision to wear a hijab despite not apparently fulfilling any other Muslim stereotypes.

Long story short, it was a very good meeting, one that well over our allotted our.

We exchanged the usual family and personal histories, but politics and religion - sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted - were the dominant themes.

Saara told me she started wearing the hijab as a direct result of 9/11. She saw - and sees - making herself visibly Muslim as a political act, as a principled refusal to give in to fear of Islam that crime brought to the forefront of our society. In other words, she is a Muslim and she is not kind to pretend to be something else, simply to make non-Muslims around her more comfortable.

(Including, she noted, a lot of feminists. She said she has "often" been lectured by (invariably white) feminists about how the hijab "proves" she is oppressed and clearly not a feminist. And indeed, she said she considers feminism a strictly white, bourgeois phenomenom which does not speak to ethnic women at all. I disagree, but certainly find her position interesting - and depressing.)

And that decision certainly hasn't made her life any easier, particularly when crossing into the United States. Once, when she was refused admission (she made the mistake of telling the truth: she was going to New York to take a course in "activism"), she said the customs officers were litterally screaming at her, "Are you a terrorist? Are you a terrorist?"

"No, I work with troubled youth," apparently was not a good enough answer.

Saara has an admirable sense of humour about her trials and tribulations. She told me of when trip, with two of her sisters (who don't wear a hijab), on a trip to her brother's for a baby-shower.

At the border their car was - as it always is, she said - was selected for a "random" search.

"'Random'?" she asked the guard, while outlining her head-scarf with a dramatic swirl of her hand. "'Random', eh?"

At the interview, when ask, "If you're going to a baby-shower, where are the presents?"

"We sent them ahead," she said simply. "I knew we'd be stopped at the border. I knew we might not be allowed through at all."

Surprisingly, that time, she was.

* * *

Anyway, it was a more than enjoyable lunch and I hope we both make the effort to see each other again (although, it turns out she has a partner - story of my life, lately).

Nevertheless, between reading Dawkins' book and meeting a very attractive Muslim woman, I have been pondering religion quite a bit lately.

One thing I have come to realize is that I don't think I could get seriously involved with a woman of faith - any faith (and yes, I know how much that drains my pool of potential partners. Thank god (as it were) I live in Canada and not the States; and a pity I don't live in Europe).

A decade or so ago, I was involved with a woman - Harriet - who was a Christian, United Church style. On Christmas Eve I attented midnight mass with her, an event of great and medieval-feeling pomp and circumstance; censers on chains spewed perfumed smoke into the air, the priests decked out in their white robes. For me it was at once fascinating and tedious, and I was glad indeed when it was finally over and Harriet and I could return to her apartment to crack open a beer and then tumble into bed for some fantastic sex.

"Well," she said after we'd settled down around her kitchen table, "What did you think?"

I was silent for a moment or two, then finally replied, "Harriet, you don't really want me to answer that."

For the truth was, I thought the whole ceremony profoundly silly. Leaving aside the value of community celebrations; leaving aside the unquestionable virtue of cultural historical continuity, I could not escape the fact I held the basic concept behind that ceremony in intellectual contempt. To me, the idea of worshipping a non-existent god is simply, well, silly. It truly baffles me that intelligent people can take it seriously.

What I've realized, is that my contempt for religious beliefs would be a pretty serious handicap to having a serious romantic relationship with a woman of faith. I suppose I could just "agree to disagree" with a partner, but what if children enter the picture? What if she wants to indoctrinate them into her faith?

Major conflict, people!

"I love you and I accept that you don't believe, but I want our children baptised, and raised Catholic."

"And I love you and accept that you do believe, but there's no fucking way my kids are going to be taught to believe a fantasy!"

Shit. Is even 10 percent of the population of this country atheist? Welcome to the wading pool, Young Geoffrey.
ed_rex: (Default)
The girl was no more than 8 or 9 years old. She wore bright, tight, red shorts and a an equally-tight, white t-shirt that both revealed and obscured the nipples budding from her narrow chest.

She looked me in the eye as I neared her, and held my gaze like some prepubescent Houdini.

Maybe 10 feet away, she broke into song and started to sashay, grinding her little-girl hips and waving her arms about her like a stripper.

And she sang,

Touch me, touch me,
I wanna feel your body!

Touch me, touch me,
Your heartbeat next to mine ...

It was summer in 1988, if memory serves. I was in my early 20s, and the song the little girl sang had been a recent hit on MuchMusic. The "artist" behind it was one Samantha Fox.

Cunt Rock
Cunt Rock

As I recall, Fox was one of the first female pop-stars to take full advantage of the new, video-based, era in popular culture. A pin-up girl who could more or less sing, she was a shooting star from Britain who made her name much less for her music than for her willingness to display her undeniably enormous breasts and to shake her ass to the delight of pubescent boys of all ages, clearing the trail first laid down by Madonna a couple of years before.

Did I mention the girl was no more than 8 or 9 or (maybe - just maybe) 10 years old?

I gave her a wide berth as we passed each other by. She watched me with the predatory look of a cougar on her eighth drink at a frat party. I knew it was silly to think so, but I felt this kid might - right there on the sunlit street - stop and grab me, hurl me onto the sidewalk and fuck me, whether I was willing or no.

And I wondered, as we passed without actual incident, What kind of kid does that kind of dance for a strange man on the street?

And that, despite the original's much-flaunted feminine pulcritude, is my strongest memory of Samantha Fox: a little television-watching girl, practicing lap-dance moves on 20-something men she passed by on the street.

* * *

I know, I've been neglecting livejournal, and those who inhabit my small corner of it. Truth is, I haven't even been much more than spot-reading my friends' list over the past few weeks.

What I have been doing includes work (a busy bitch, of late), writing yet another letter to the editor the Globe and Mail didn't see fit to print, continuing the (I hope) never-ending process of learning to live with the woman I love, not writing much, and wasting far too much time ogling profiles of pretty girls on myspace, which has nevertheless been an education, in spite of my voyeuristic inclinations.

It was on myspace that I was reminded of the existence of Samantha Fox. It seems that she is in Canada now, and trying for a come-back. Such is the way the world has changed, said come-back includes spamming people who have accounts on myspace. Even people whose accounts - such as mine - consist of little more than a photo and a username. "She" has twice sent me friend requests.

Myspace is a weird corner of the internet, a place where spam is okay and where young women - sometimes very young women - seem thrilled by the opportunity to show off their bodies in a state as close to complete déshabille as the sites owners will allow (actual nipples or pussy - and, straight men can only presume, cock - are apparently verbotten there, but sometimes slip through).

All of which pornography struck a chord, as Laura has such tendencies herself, as do a number of my lj friends.

I was reminded of a recent post here by touchmyskin, the woman who introduced me to lj and who - ironically - even more recently unfriended me, questioning feminist responses to pornography, a subject to which I have been giving some thought lately.

I have - at last - become more or less comfortable with the fact of my Desire. With the fact that I am attracted to women and, in particular, to the way women look. As my long-time readers may recall, I enjoy the sight of a well-turned ankle, a short skirt rippling in the summer air, pert breasts proudly carried like banners through the streets.

I say "comfortable" because I know that I am able to distinguish my appreciation of a woman's looks from her self. There are as many beautiful morons walking on their hind legs as their are buffed jocks striding about on theirs.

And yet ...

And yet, I am not comfortable with the emphasis our society places on the physical, on the visual. A firm ass or chiselled jaw no more means its owners are intelligent and moral than they are stupid or venal. Though I (do I flatter myself) maintain that I do not judge a person on her appearance, there is no denying I am in thrall enough to physical beauty that I am more likely to talk to a pretty woman than to a plain one.

It is not at all hard, from that acknowledgement, to imagine a slightly different "me" who would take the surface for the whole, dismissing the ugly as evil.

Celebrate the body, yes. Deify it, no.

* * *

Which makes my recent (and ongoing, thank you darlin') visits to one (or some) of Toronto's BDSM communities more than a little interesting. Here is a group of people, come together almost entirely due to their sexualities - sadists and masochists who not only beat and fuck each other, but who celebrate birthdays, play volleyball and generally act like the rest of us, only very often in weird clothes and to music I usually find much too loud.

Are they a part, or apart, of the mainstream sexualization of our culture? I don't know, but I note well that - their love of costumes notwithstanding - they come in all shapes and sizes, the fat apparently as comfortable in their skin as their slender counterparts.

These people, from what I can see, are living their own lives, not slavenly following the dictates of Fashion Television or Maxim.

* * *

I know, there isn't much focus to this. That's why it's a journal, I guess. Next time (maybe), I'll talk about the new novel, just out, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's a good one. For now, I'm off to a birthday party, for someone I don't even know.

July 2017

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