Sunday, May 25, 2014

MRAs and Violence: Elliot Rodger as a Cautionary Tale

Elliot Rodger hated women. He hated women so much that he wrote about how he wanted to put them all in concentration camps and watch them starve. He went on a premeditated shooting spree after writing a disturbing 140 page manifesto. All because he didn't feel he was getting enough attention from women.

This was a young man who had every advantage in the world. He was the son of a successful Hollywood director and lived a privileged life. He was mentally disturbed, but how much did our society encourage his behavior? We need to talk about MRAs and their connection with breeding violent men like this one. When MRAs complain about how they are "friend zoned" and describe themselves as victims of "involuntary celibacy" when they are not getting the piles of women they feel the deserve they encourage men like this guy. These are men who hate every advance that women have made in the progression toward equality since the 70s. And no, it's not all men, but it's enough men to create an online community that could help breed a monster like Elliot Rodger.

We live in a society that inundated with easy online pornography that is particularly violent and young men get the message from a very young age that they are entitled to sex. Entitled to female attention. Entitled to love. Women in television, movies, and video games often exist only as a vehicle for the male characters or a prize. Out of this entitlement grew a community of men who believe sincerely that women are too advantaged over men, in spite of every indicator that says otherwise.

These men call themselves Men's Rights Activists, and claim that they are looking out for the interests of men in areas that have previously been ignored, but in reality they just hate women, and they hate the idea of equality. These men see women as objects that exist as a reflection of and for the use of men. Not as human beings who have their own desires and their own agency. And when women show agency they believe it is part of some larger conspiracy to hold them down.

But before you scream "But not all men!" just think about what these ideas, even in small isolated communities online can do to mentally disturbed young men. I saw transcripts of some of Rodger's videos and I cannot even say how many times I have read similar things coming out of  MRA forums or in male dominated communities online. This should serve as a warning that we are breeding a very dangerous cohort of men. It only takes one disturbed man with violent and misogynist views to carry out such a horrific crime.

The most upsetting thing to me was that this kid was not stopped. Police were at his home and decided that he was perfectly polite and charming young man. How could they have let something so obvious go unseen? Is it because as a society we don't see young white passing men as a threat? Even when their parents call the cops on them and express their concerns? We need to face up to the fact that the majority of mass shooters are middle class white men, and need to confront the reasons for this violence.

I am still trying to wrap my brain around some of the things I read that this young man wrote. How do we deal with a person like this? How can we stop creating people like Elliot Rodger?  It's time to face up to the violent effects that our new society is having on our youth. It's time to recognize hate when we see it.

 Hug the women in your life today.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Girls Who Love Superhero Movies: Young Women are Taking Over Fan Culture

I saw the new X-men movie on Thursday and I enjoyed it, as I have always loved sitting down and sinking my teeth into a good superhero action movie and have seen all the other X-men movies. It is interesting that while women make up just over half of moviegoers that movies, particularly superhero movies, have been designed to appeal to young boys, with little thought given to young women. Or so one would think.

Women are more than ever a strong presence in fan culture, and are spending the money and building the interest in the vast number of comic book movies coming out these days. They are not only watching the movies, they are picking up the comic books too; an arena that for decades was dominated by men.

One might wonder why, with so few female characters being given significant roles in these movies (The X-men franchise for example generally ignoring the vast array of great female characters at their disposal) that teenage girls keep flocking to these movies. It's not because their boyfriends or their brothers want to see them. It seems that one piece of the puzzle has been left out. Young girls go to these movies because they like seeing hot guys, and have built up an entire fan culture around these hot guys and their imagined sexual exploits, usually with each other.

Because there are so few well developed female characters in these movies and in the comics, girls are placing themselves in the roles of male characters, writing fiction or drawing images that feminize one of the male characters in their imagined homosexual relationships with other characters. This aspect of fan culture has been around since the days of Star Trek, in which female fans kept the interest in the show alive and their love for Kirk and Spock's love for each other in a way managed to save an unpopular, cancelled show. But today girls are more easily able to find other girls in the fan community through social media, and have become an increasingly vocal part of the fan culture related to science fiction and comic books.

 Of course the creators are not totally oblivious to the existence of this fan culture. In some cases they encourage it in canon with at times blatant homoerotic undertones. But the most fascinating thing about how these girls relate to these movies is the way in which they subvert the misogyny inherent in the superhero world; one largely created by men for men. They take the hyper-masculine power fantasy of the superhero and feminize it to make it relatable to them. They use these homosexual relationships as a venue to counter the lack of well developed female characters.

Some may lament over this aspect of the fan culture as "ruining" the comic book and sci-fi community, but really it is a reflection of women carving out their own space in media that is largely unfriendly toward female characters and female fans. And they are also some of the most knowledgeable and passionate fans. It will be interesting to see the effects of fan culture becoming mainstream, and if this growing demographic may usher in a more female friendly generation of superheros.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working for free: Is Unpaid Work the New Norm?

In Canada, there are around 300,000 unpaid interns working for various companies. And unsurprisingly most of them are young women. The promise of "experience" is what brings young people toward this type of work, but it also in some cases is required by universities as part of a program. Some interns work almost full time for free, which means that those who can afford to work for free get a leg up on those who can't, reinforcing the class structure and hurting social mobility.

Increasingly in today's economy everything from small businesses to mega corporations are pleading poverty. They say that they simply cannot afford to pay to train people, so if workers want to get the "experience" that is required to get a paid job, they must work for free. It seems that the social contract upon which we once relied can no longer be counted on. The idea that a worker has value has disintegrated to the point where companies now expect workers to pay them to work for their company. It is capitalism gone amok, and the ones suffering most are young people, and most specifically young women.

At the same time the cost of living is soaring, and getting a job that will pay the rent is becoming increasingly difficult.  And the government is largely silent on the issue, except for giving some opportunities in fields dominated by men. Are young people now to expect not to have a job that pays until they are 30? What will this mean for the older generation who rely on their children for financial and emotional support when they now have to house their adult children as they work for free?

What is the value of our work? Are we to believe that jobs that once were paid are now not worth anything? Why are companies that make huge yearly profits pleading poverty when it comes to paying their workers? This is the fundamental problem. If we are to create a society that is innovative and at the top of the field in areas of science, technology, health, and research we have to encourage our youth. We have to give them the opportunities that previous generations once expected.

We have to insist that companies invest in their workers if they want skilled personnel. Why should the government, or the workers themselves have to pay for training in addition to the massive tax breaks that are already given to companies?

Internships used to be about gaining specific skills in anticipation of a position in that company or in the field, but now they have turned into a back door way for companies to exploit free labor. These young people are doing entry level jobs and not being paid. They are doing secretarial work and not being paid. Many of them are not even getting the "experience" they were promised. Instead they are shuffling papers for a paid worker while learning little.

Is this the future we want? Allowing business interest to take precedence over the well being of young people is unconscionable. We cannot turn our backs on our young people. It's high time we end this exploitation and now. Nobody's labor is worthless.

Monday, May 19, 2014

America Ferrera and the Cannes "Prankster" : Who Deserves Bodily Autonomy?

America Ferrera, of "Ugly Betty" Fame was the subject of harassment disguised as comedy when a man stuck his head under her skirt at the Cannes Film Festival. This isn't the first time this guy has harassed people, but it is one of the most extreme examples of personal space violations. Celebrities are all too often considered to be public domain, and their control over their own bodies seems to be somehow deemed less than that of the average citizen.  But this concept is not uncommon for women particularly to face.

The personal space of women especially is considered to be public space, and when men enter that space or violate it, it is usually not considered to be disrespectful, and is often brushed off as just a joke.Like celebrities with over zealous fans, Women are expected to be gracious in the face of male advances, or even harassment.

Another example of this sense of entitlement to female attentions was when last month a young man got in trouble for making a show of asking Miss America to Prom  Even when he was explicitly told not to cause a disturbance or put her in the awkward position of being forced to say yes for fear of  being deemed "rude". The public rushed to the defense of the young man, asking why this was a big deal, after all it was just a joke, right? But the problem was his blatant disrespect for the woman in question, seeing himself entitled to her attentions, along with his being told specifically not to do it.

Nobody seemed to wonder what effect having to deal with such an advance would have on that young woman. What if she did say yes and went to prom with him under the pressure of a crowd of people around her? Would that have been appropriate? Similarly, the man at Cannes has been called a "prankster". Is that really funny though? I don't think Miss Ferrera thought it was.

Another recent story was about the rapper Iggy Azalea who described her experience of being sexually assaulted while crowd surfing, and how she has now stopped as as a result. Predictably, she was blamed for the bad behavior of the people in the crowd, because her body is apparently seen as being public property and she was "asking for it" by getting in the crowd.

We should think about how personal space is valued in our society. Who is entitled to it and who is not? Is being a celebrity asking to have people follow you around, grab at you, or try to get pictures up your skirt? Should women be expected to act nicely to men who are harassing them? When is a person's body their own and when is it public property? This is not something as a society we often confront, but it certainly can cause a stir when you challenge people on it.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

India's New Government: Is The World Taking a Turn to the Right?

The world's largest democracy voted and declared Narendra Modi it's next leader. Modi is a known conservative Hindu Nationalist from the BJP, and this will likely color his leadership over the period of his term in office. He was implicated as being responsible for riots in Gujarat and for the killings of Muslims that resulted. He is hard liner on Kashmir and Pakistan, and we can likely expect more conflicts in the next few years.

But Modi's election is just part of a larger trend of hard line right wing policies gaining increasing support across the world. It seems that in many countries the public is divided and that the right is going even further to the right. In Europe there has been an increase in popularity of parties with extreme, and even Neo-Nazi views. These are parties that hate the EU, hate immigration, and even if they don't say it outright, want to maintain the racial purity of their countries.

 In the United States the Republican Party since the election of Barack Obama in 2008 has moved the spectrum of conservative politics even further to the right, and created a reality where in order to run as a Republican candidate you have to deny climate change, oppose same sex marriage, abortion, and welfare of any kind while supporting less gun control and the stripping of union power. It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

In African countries we are seeing a wave of extreme Islamic militarism as a reaction to the war on terror and the desire to cling to their traditional beliefs so as to defy the West, and what they see as a war on Islam. More and more incidents of extremism are popping up as young men and women are indoctrinated into believing that their traditional way of life is being threatened by a more progressive agenda which they see as being imposed from outside by the West.

Even in the East we see the very conservative, war crime denying members of Japan's Abe government wanting to loosen restrictions on its pacifist constitution and the voices of hard liners are becoming louder and more influential. So why are we seeing so many countries embrace conservative candidates with increasingly outlandish and troubling views?

In recent years we have seen a hollowing out of the middle class as the very rich reap the benefits of a bad economy by lowering wages and lobbying for "business friendly" practices that hurt the majority of the population. At the same time the increase of immigration in the West has struck fear into the white working and middle classes as they fear for their jobs, and use this to justify their racism.

Additionally, we have seen a push back against the gains made in human rights for the LGBT community and women, particularly in terms of abortion rights and marriage. The more gains that are made the more that the dominant classes will try to make a "correction" in their favor, hence the turn toward more militaristic, more conservative policies and politicians.

 People turn to Conservative governments as a reaction to poor economic conditions, dramatic natural disasters, increases in racial tensions, nationalism, or a combination of these. Extremism begins with the promise of change and a return to the status quo. A promise that the values that the dominant classes hold dear will be maintained.

But it's easy to blame the outsider. It's easy to say immigrants and greedy unions are the problem. It's harder to confront the truth, which is that the corporatism, colonialism (in corporate form), and oligarchy of the 19th Century has taken hold again.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How Short Is Too Short?: When Schools Police Female Bodies

A school in Nova Scotia disciplined some teenage girls for wearing "inappropriate" shorts that would cause a "distraction". Also, a girl was ejected from her prom for wearing a dress that was considered too "distracting" by the adults present. This sort of thing happens all too often in our schools. I remember when I was younger girls would be sent home for wearing shirts that did not cover their bra straps, or shorts that were deemed too short. Even on a hot summer day when you just want to be comfortable. And the rules are arbitrary, and usually not applied with any sort of consistency. It makes for a situation where it's hard to know what is acceptable and what is not. And of course what they mean by "distracting" is "distracting to the boys", because their needs are apparently the primary concern of the school.

Why is this onus put on young women in these situations and not the people who can't seem to handle seeing some teenage leg? Why are we putting girls into this situation where they have to choose between going to school and being comfortable in the classroom on a hot day? Why are the learning needs of male students put before the right for a girl to be in class? Is being reprimanded and pulled from class not more distracting than the shorts themselves? Why are underage girls being punished for going to prom in dresses that an adult is apparently incapable of not looking at inappropriately? How is the school allowed to be sexualizing girls as young as 12 or 13 in this way?

Nothing seems to be more frightening to our society than the teenage girl. What she wears and what she does or does not do with her body are an absolute fixation. For this reason we police the behaviors of young women for fear that they may step out of line and thus become undesirable to a man. In the end all of this policing isn't for the good of these girls, but for men. It's to ensure that women know that their worth is entirely dependent on how they are perceived by men. And the rules are so contradictory that it is difficult if not impossible to make sense of them all. No wonder young women today are so confused.

This is not a "dress code", this is a way of punishing girls bodies and making them ashamed. Why are we catering to views that encourage young men to believe that if a girl is dressed a certain way that she is "asking for it" or deserves punishment? Its high time that young men are taught that they are responsible for themselves, and that young women are not obliged to somehow regulate their sexual desires. How is this sort of thing any different than the Burqa or Niqab that people rail on about as being oppressive?

Either way it is the same message. Young women had better beware. If you do anything to "distract" the boys (because their needs are more important than yours) you will be publicly shamed and forced to accommodate them. Why are we telling boys that it's okay to treat young women this way? Instead of punishing girls we should be teaching all students to be respectful of their classmates regardless of what they are wearing.  A pair of shorts, or a prom dress is not an invitation.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Downfall of the Teen Superstar: The Justin Bieber Effect

Justin Bieber is under police investigation again for robbery, and you can't help but feel a bit concerned for him. Here is a kid who was given huge amount of fame and money at a very young age and apparently was unable to figure out how to deal with it. The media loves a good downfall story. Heck, they are still fixated on Lindsay Lohan's various shenanigans.

We as a society are somehow captivated by the story of the train wreck celebrity who lives fast and dies young. We are fascinated with seeing those on top take a tumble. We rubbed our hands together with glee as the squeaky clean Tiger Woods was revealed to be a nymphomaniac and serial cheater. We giggled at the jokes about Britney Spears' breakdown. We were engulfed by stories about Amy Winehouse's antics with her husband and troubles with alcohol and drugs before her tragic death. Where does this sort of masochistic sentiment originate? What does it say about us?

Certainly there has always been an interest in celebrity and with the invent of cheap high speed internet, reality TV, and social media we can watch them self destruct in real time for our entertainment. It is a difficult time to be in the public eye, where everything you write on twitter will be permanent and public, and any stupid remark you make in an interview will make the rounds on social media where the masses of the public will be the judge and jury on whether or not you will be forgiven. When individuals can respond so quickly to any development it is harder to cover up scandals and easier to spread rumors.

Someone like Justin Bieber seems to have some issues but how much of that is caused by the modern implications of fame? Is he a product of the self fulfilling prophecy? Does the public play a role in this sort of thing? What about the people who encouraged Amy Winehouse to drink while she performed? Do we knowingly enjoy watching self destruction to the point that we try to make it happen? Do we encourage bad behavior by publicizing it so much? Justin Bieber is an attention seeker, and perhaps he uses the knowledge that getting into trouble will get him on the front page to achieve personal satisfaction.

One has to wonder why while we aspire to be among the rich and famous we at the same time loath them and wish to watch their destruction. I suspect it has more to do with ourselves than the celebrities we watch.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Conchita Wurst: When We Get it Right

Conchita Wurst delivered a dynamic performance and came out victorious in the Eurovision Song Contest. Conchita has been the subject of some considerable curiosity throughout the contest, with her appearance being central to her appeal. She is an Austrian drag performer who wears a beard, and for that reason people were struggling with how to talk about her. Is she a woman? Is she a man? Is she an "it"? This certainly forces us as a society to confront our own ideas about what is feminine and what is masculine. The point that Conchita makes is that these things don't matter. There is no need to try and classify and "explain" people. Conchita is Conchita.

What has been fascinating about the discussions around her, and way in which people dealt with Conchita is the way in which we discuss the T in the LGBT community. It's hard for some people to get their minds around someone not being male or female entirely. There is a huge amount of confusion and fear present with any person who doesn't conform one way or the other.

What this discussion about her is helpful for is to confront our own confusion and perhaps demystify persons with non-binary gender identities. There is an expectation that a trans person is not really a "man" or "woman" until they commit to surgery, and even then people are skeptical of a trans man or woman's "credentials" to be "male" or "female".What does it mean to be a man or a woman? Is it possible not to really be either, but both or one or the other at a time one pleases? The answer is pretty simply, yes. Let's appreciate people for who are, not their gentiles.

Conchita is a great performer, and she won votes not necessarily because she is a fascination, but because she genuinely had the best contest entry. Europe saw Conchita as a performer, judged her merits against the other entries and they got it right. Hats off to her.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Friday, May 9, 2014

It's Time to Retire the Phrase "Politically Correct".

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a discussion with someone who insists on their right to use racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive language. These are the folks who believe that their rights are somehow being infringed upon if you point out to them that what they are saying is rude or offensive. They believe that being told not to be racist, sexist, or homophobic is somehow worse than actually being the subject of racism, sexism, or homophobia.

The problem with this whole line of thinking is the fallacy that free speech is a free card to say whatever you want and not face any consequences. There have been many high profile cases of celebrities losing endorsements or most recently with Donald Sterling, being stripped of his position in the NBA for racist comments. Free speech only protects you from the government telling you what you can and cannot say in public or print. It does not protect you from criticism. It does not protect you from professional consequences. It does not protect you from litigation.

Words have meanings and connotations. Words carry power. You cannot divorce a word from its meaning, and words have consequences. It is not acceptable to say offensive things because "it's a joke". A good joke punches up, not down. And if people are offended by your "joke" it doesn't mean they are too sensitive, it means your joke sucks.

You often hear people (usually white men) rail on about the good old days when they didn't have to worry about offending people. All that political correctness gone mad. I hate the term political correctness. Usually when someone uses that phrase they are about to make a fool of themselves. Instead of this idea of "political correctness" I like to think of it as simply being respectful of others.

Has Joe Redneck really lost anything in his life by having someone tell him not to use offensive words toward minorities or women? Is his right to be offensive really more important than the experiences of those who are subject to racism or sexism or homophobia? Why are his rights more important than theirs?

Words have power. Words can be used to reinforce stereotypes and promote hatred. The words we use create a cultural discourse that has more wide reaching effects than the few moments after they are said.  Words are a reflection of our society, and what we deem to be acceptable and not. We need to learn to be critical instead of simply accepting hateful language because it's more convenient or because "I'm not offended". Free speech should not trump common decency.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Little Mix, Avril Lavigne, and Cultural Appropriation: Why We Just Don't Get It.

Cultural appropriation is sometimes a tricky thing to talk about. Where do we draw the line between what is cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? Is every example of cultural exchange racist? Certainly not. The difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation are generally to do with the power balance between the exchange cultures, particularly within the target audience.

Colonialism has created a phenomenon in the West in which Western, White culture, because of the power imbalance they had with their colonies, was able to take what they thought were the most desirable elements of the cultures of their subjugated classes (for example, tea or curry in Britain or Soul Food, Rock, or Rap music in America) and then claim it as their own; changing the original significance of that cultural practice. There is nothing inherently wrong with this fusion. Japan for example is well known for taking elements of other cultures and "Japanizing" them. 

Where we start to fall into hazy territory is when the people from whom these cultural products originate are not exchanged with as equals, and the cultural elements taken serve to "other" those cultures (for example, the media fascination with Miley Cyrus and "twerking", which in a sense made it fashionable when it was not when black artists were doing it) or to reinforce negative stereotypes among the dominant group in society (White women "twerking" to mock the dance style of black women).

And then we come to the announcement from the British band Little Mix that they wanted the audience members for their latest tour to wear headdresses and war paint. They even provided examples that unsurprisingly mostly featured only white women. They don't want to pay respect to First Nations culture. They want their fans to dress up and wear this culture as a costume as if First Nations people were some mythical creatures that do not actually exist anymore. 

But the reality is that First Nations people were brutally subjugated for daring to speak their own language or wear their cultural clothing. Wearing these items for fashion without any benefit to First Nations communities and then discarding them is disrespectful to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer from these abuses. Additionally it reinforces the stereotypes of the First Nations people as savage warriors or somehow less than civilized. 

Then there was the matter of Avril Lavigne and her somewhat controversial video Hello Kitty. The video features her eating sushi and using Japanese women as stage props for her dance routine. There was considerable push back on the idea that the video was racist, but these criticisms missed the essential problem with the video. It reinforced the stereotype of the stoic and docile Asian woman in the same way Gwen Stefani used this trick 10 years ago. 

Although she made the video for her Japanese fans to air in Japan, as I explained before it takes on a different meaning outside of Japan because of the power balance in the West, where Asian women are a minority group and are still seen this way by the majority culture. 

It is important to make the distinction between cultural exchange in which both sides benefit and cultural appropriation where stereotypes are reinforced by the dominant culture. Cultural appropriation is something we should be conscious of and it is important to have these discussions in the media to bring to light the need for more respectful representation of minority groups in the dominant cultural discourse.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls: Why What's Happening in Africa Matters

The mainstream media talks a good talk about crises in different African countries, and yet it seems that the there was little help for those who are suffering until the sheer horror of this event was known to the West. The kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria is just the most sensational of these stories. Boko Haram's goal is to strike fear into the Nigerian people so they will keep their girls at home and to force them into following their strict view of Islam. They want to strike terror into the very heart of the communities effected by taking their children. This is just part of a growing problem of Islamic extremism and militarism in Africa, and is possibly the most serious crisis that we are facing today. Yet it took a huge event such as the kidnapping of 300 girls for the West to pay attention.

Meanwhile in the Central African Republic, there is a genocide brewing and yet few people know about it, and peace keepers are desperately trying to keep the country together with little effect. More than 2000 people have been killed in this conflict since December and the number is sure to rise. This has been a crisis growing since last year when there was a coup by Muslim lead rebels, and the Christians and Muslims have been fighting for control over the country since then.

There have  also been religious conflicts in South Sudan, and we rarely seem to pay attention. Perhaps we in the West we are desensitized  to hearing about seemingly unending conflicts in African nations, and don't think much of it. Never mind that just the other day a DRC court cleared 39 soldiers of the rape of 130 women. There is only so much horror that we have an appetite for in the news.

Yes we desperately need to see more good news stories about African countries and their innovations and the new high growth era, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the growing problem of extremism and military conflicts in certain regions. It should not take a mass kidnapping for the eyes of the world to turn to Africa. But now that our eyes are in Africa, they should stay there. Not only are African Countries going to see some incredible growth in the future, but we see the effects of the West's "War on Terror" most prominently there.

I sincerely wish that some resolution is found and that hopefully the Nigerian girls are returned to their families, but also that we won't forget about them again. And that maybe we will take the time to learn about the other conflicts happening in Africa right now that deserve our attention, and start to speak up and demand more action to  help those who are suffering.  This should be the beginning of change for the better, and not simply a news story.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Shailene Woodley Doesn't Realize that she is a Feminist and Why We Should be Worried.

Shailene Woodley is an up and coming starlet who is going to be prominently featured in the media because of her roles in the films Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, and she thinks she isn't a feminist. She seems to be under the impression that in order to be a feminist you have to hate men, and want to take something away from men in order to raise up women. Not only has she misunderstood what feminism is, but her attitude is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

This is a young woman with a significant platform. Teen girls are going to watch her movies and are going to want to emulate her, and yet she is telling them that feminism means hating men, and that women are largely responsible for misogyny. It also isn't the first time we have had young starlets talk about feminism without understanding what it means, and sending the wrong message to young girls. But why is this the case? Why is this generation of young women disconnected from feminism, so much so that they don't even know what it means?

Young women today have been brought up under the false pretext that equality has been achieved, and asking for anything more is somehow taking away from men. Today's young women even more than 25 or 30 years ago are subject to harassment and sexualization from an earlier age. Women are still making less than men, and women still struggle in male dominated industries. These are young women who are feminists but do not understand that what they are saying is feminist. 

How many times have you heard "Well I believe in equality but I'm not a feminist" or "I am not feminist because I like men". Well here is the good news, you don't have to hate men to be a feminist. You can love a man and be a feminist. You can love your brother and your father and be feminist. The problem is that feminism isn't "sexy" and women in the media especially fear that saying they are feminist will be a turn off to men. Which undoubtedly it will be to some men. But are those the men you really want?

Young women have been taught to coddle their views for men so that they will be taken seriously, and not brushed off. But the problem is that women are still brushed off when they bring up genuine concerns about things like workplace equity. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist and saying so proudly will not make a man respect you less, because the truth is if it would he probably didn't respect you to begin with.

We should be worried that young women today think that feminism is a bad thing, because we still need it. We still need feminism because there are still huge problems that woman face in everyday life that have not been addressed. We need feminism to evolve to be more inclusive to women of color. We need feminism because the alternative is nothing. The alternative is being satisfied with lower pay and less respect. The alternative is accepting rape culture. The alternative is accepting the increasingly segregated gender norms being pushed on our children for the sake of advertising. The alternative is a loss for all of us.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo and White Privilege: Disposable Mexican "Culture"

Yes once again it's the 5th of May, which means that a bunch of ill informed white college students will dress up in sombreros and mustaches to drink and "celebrate" Mexican "culture". Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of the Battle of Puebla in which Mexicans threw off the shackles of the colonial oppression of the French in an unexpected but great victory. Yet surprisingly (or not) it has become yet another festival to celebrate white cultural appropriation.

Every other day of the year Mexicans are treated with disdain where they live in the United States. They are called "illegals" and increasing numbers of states are tightening immigration laws, deporting Mexican immigrants and tearing apart their families. Mexican laborers work in all of those low paid sectors that white Americans shy away from; everything from nanny work to picking crops for multinational corporations who pay them a fraction of what their labor is worth. The reality of being Mexican in America is a lot more than sombreros and fake mustaches.

White people continue to defend their right to "celebrate" racial stereotypes and drink the night away, and then in the morning cast off the "Mexican" garb and enjoy their whiteness again. Actual Mexican people in America don't have that luxury. In some states they have to live in fear of their parents or other relatives being harassed or deported, and even when they are natural born citizens of the US people will tell them to "go home", ask if they speak English, be rude when they speak Spanish, or assume that when they got into college it was not because of their natural talents but because of "affirmative action".

And let's not forget that Mexicans themselves don't really place that much importance on cinco de mayo and put more emphasis on September Independence day celebrations. It is more of an American holiday, and it is best to keep that in mind when celebrating, if you choose to celebrate at all. And read THIS and THIS if you are curious about how Mexican Americans feel about the holiday.

Instead of just drinking and eating American style tacos maybe pop open a book and learn about what the holiday means, and take some time to reflect on the real cultural heritage of Mexican Americans. Support campaigns to help Mexican American families fight unjust laws, and remember that it is possible to be respectful and also have fun.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Women in Television and Film: Beyond the Bechdel Test.

It is a struggle to find quality female characters on television and in film today. With the massive trend of superhero movies over the past decade, we need to ask why there hasn't been a single film headed by a female superhero, and why there is nary a woman in sight in the plans for the new Star Wars film. Men outnumber women 3 to 1 in film (unchanged since the 60s), and women make up only 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors in major motion pictures.

On the television front, the extremely popular HBO franchise Game of Thrones prominently displays violence against women, even going so far as to change the source material to add more rape. It seems that the creators of these shows believe that more violence against women will bring more viewers. And unsurprisingly, they are right.

The new movies that try to focus on female characters seem not to know what to do with them. The Other Woman one would think might have some promise, and people flocked to the theaters to watch a movie about women (wow who would have thought!) bonding over getting revenge on a man who is using them, but it fails to deliver the charm of the First Wives Club, a similar but far better executed film made in the 90s. Even in a film with a main female cast, the writers seemed not to know how to fill the time when they weren't talking about the man they had in common. Can Hollywood move beyond cliches to try and appeal to women, or is Bridesmades the best it will get?

There is also the troubling issue of less representation, more sexual violence in media and video games, increasing sex segregation from childhood, and easy access to pornography breeding a generation of young men who do not see women as anything more than a tool for their personal fulfillment rather than a person with their own needs. This is the sort of thing we need to be tackling with more diverse representations of women in television and film. We need to teach our children that women are full human beings.

It is not enough just to have women in a movie. It is not enough just to have two women speak to each other about something other than a man, but when films are even failing this simple test it is a quite distressing phenomenon. We need more women directing films. We need more women producing television shows. We need more women of color in all areas of media. If this happened we might see more diverse representations of women in which the characters aren't killed off for character development for men, and where rape and violence aren't used as cheap plot devices or jokes. It's time to not only meet the test, but to go even further.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Outbreaks of Preventable Diseases: When Celebrity Endorsement Comes before Common Sense

We have to wonder why with all the scientific developments and the advanced medical technology we have in the 21st century that we are seeing a huge resurgence of preventable childhood illnesses that were largely irradiated with vaccination. It's not that the diseases are becoming immune (although there are some cases in which this is true) it's because more and more people are refusing to vaccinate their children. yet fail to see the correlation between this practice and the resurgence of childhood diseases.

"Science and common sense be damned, my child is not going to be vaccinated because they could get autism!", they say. Or "I want to raise my child "naturally"".

Well hold on a moment there. There is no credible scientific evidence that supports a correlation between autism and vaccines. And if you want to raise your child "naturally", then be prepared for your child to possibly die from something you as a parent could have easily prevented. There are numerous reasons why some children cannot be vaccinated, and to keep those children safe, all children who can be vaccinated should be. It's a matter of public health, not "feelings" or "opinions".

Also, consider that the source of these new views and concerns about vaccines are not doctors. They are celebrities with no medical training whatsoever. Jenny McCarthy and Alicia Silverstone are not doctors. Strangely this phenomenon shows how media obsessed Western culture has become that ordinary people are more willing to believe a celebrity's medical advice than a doctor's. And the results are that outbreaks are spreading all over the world  in places where occurrences of these diseases were once next to zero.

 We have come to a time where people are complacent about these sorts of diseases because of the effectiveness of vaccines, and a good media campaign by a few well placed celebrities is more than enough to convince people not to get their children vaccinated. How many children will have to die before we start using our common sense again?

This outbreak of anti vaccination rhetoric is symptomatic of a culture in which paranoia against "the establishment" is so rife that there are people who will put their children and other people's children as well as themselves at risk to prove a point. To show that they are the most "naturalistic" parent. In a way it gives these parents a sense of social status, in that they can gain approval from their peer group who are like minded by showing off their privilege in being able to go against the medical establishment. And it certainly helps if you can point out the latest fad book that approves of your course of action. Anti vaccination parents are following a fad, not science. It's time to wake up. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Fair Elections Act: An Exercise in False Advertising

The Fair Elections Act is a troubling piece of legislation that, as with much Conservative legislation, does not do what it was advertised, mainly making Canadian elections fair. It will place limitations on the ability of the chief electoral officer to investigate electoral fraud and to boost voter turnout. Along with these problems there are the issues related to vouching, party control over scrutineers, and the loosening of party financing. However this isn't the first bill that the Conservatives have put forward that has come up against so much criticism for being partisan and generally bad legislation.

The Conservative government has a tendency to push through ideologically driven bills and then attempt to rule by litigation instead of gaining consensus. This is costing Canadians millions of dollars in legal fees. When the government has to go to court to defend their legislation one has to wonder if this is an indication of the quality of the bill. The Conservatives are known for limiting debate in the House on legislation, (so much so that a motion was put forward to stop this tactic on the Fair Elections Act) and as a result they are forced to then deal with legal challenges afterward. Would it not be simpler to have a fair debate and pass legislation properly?

The Fair Elections Act is just another example of the same kind of ideologically blind sort of governing that the Conservatives have been practicing since they got their majority in 2011. It is indicative of a much deeper problem of a lack of respect for Parliament and the legislative process. The bill is designed to stack the deck in the favour of the governing party, and Canadians should be very troubled that debate will be limited before it is passed. Once again, there will likely be a legal challenge and the courts will once again have to decide if the bill is constitutional or not (hint: it isn't). All paid for by the Canadian taxpayer.

The Fair Elections Act is voter suppression, plain and simple. It is molded along the same lines as Republican legislation in the United States and Canadians should ask themselves if this is the sort of future we want when we go to the polls in 2015. The Conservative Party should also look at the way they govern and take a more cooperative approach instead of trying to bypass the House of Commons because they find the process of debate on legislation inconvenient to their PR campaign.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rob Ford and The Hypocrisy of Drug Enforcement: The poor go to Jail, the rich go to California.

Rob Ford is undoubtedly a very polarizing figure in Canadian politics. The drug addicted Mayor of Toronto has finally decided to take a break after yet another video surfaced of him smoking crack. The mayor has become something of a media darling in the US, where he has been the butt of many a joke in late night TV. But he is an example of a far more troubling phenomenon; the ways in which drug laws and attitudes toward drug users are arbitrarily applied on our society.

Ford falls under the category of the amusing yet somehow harmless drug user. He is white and rich, and not the type of person that is usually brought before a judge and put into jail on drug charges. In fact, Ford was critical of programs designed to help persons with addictions.

Yet as we see so often, poor, non-white people are receiving the harshest sentences on drug related crimes and innocent lives are lost as a result of the war on drugs. These are people in "bad" neighborhoods, with "bad attitudes"; certainly more of a danger to society than Mr. Ford.

How can we as a society take such a two-tiered approach toward drug use? Why are some drug users seen as dangerous and harmful people who need to be put in jail and not coddled with programs like INSITE, when others are seen as "misguided" or "troubled" souls who are worthy of help? Who makes this distinction, and on what basis?

The justice system largely reflects the views of those who hold power in society, and drug policy is no exception. So it is no surprise that those who benefit form privilege in other areas would not in the law. White men are much less likely to go to jail for drug possession, and our media glorifies white male drug use, while villainizing the "street thugs" who sell drugs, and stigmatizes those who suffer from addiction and mental health issues as well as the homeless.

Addiction is a serious health problem that makes no distinction between gender, race, or net income. The drug addict or alcoholic on the street is no different than Mr Ford, or Lindsay Lohan, or Zac Efron, and we need to stop pretending that only "bad" people are drug addicts. The problem this creates is that the most privileged in our society do not have the law applied equally to them and it creates two systems for drug users while not dealing with the much larger problem of inequality and addiction in general. You can't solve homelessness, and drug related crime without offering alternatives and giving opportunities. You also don't stop drug use by throwing black men in jail for minor possession. But you do reinforce systematic inequality.

 It's time to ask the hard questions about drug policy, and to start treating addiction as a health problem, and not a criminal one. It's time to take the racial and class coded blinders off our society.