Monthly Archives: February 2010

Breaking News: Canadians Enjoy Hockey, Beer

I don’t care too much about the Olympics, but I was pretty psyched when the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold the other day (and not just because I’ve had a huge crush on Hayley Wickenheiser since the 2002 Olympics, either). I thought the pictures that were later released of their on-ice celebration – in which the players drank beer, smoked cigars and at one point attempted to drive the zamboni – were, well, pretty awesome pictures of great athletes celebrating an important (and well-deserved victory). The fact that there has been any controversy at all is baffling.

Yes, Marie-Philip Poulin is only 18. Big deal – that’s the legal drinking age in her home province anyway, and besides, she scored the two goals that won the game, so she can do pretty much whatever she wants at this point. And bad sportsmanship? Really? Millions of people are publicly celebrating the team’s victory, so why shouldn’t they get to have some fun?

Thankfully the IOC changed their minds about investigating the party, and the public as a whole has been supportive of the players, but the fact that an investigation took place at all, and that Wickenheiser was asked to publicly apologize for the offense they had caused, is ridiculous. (One woman interviewed on CTV said that, in her experience, you only apologize when you’ve done something wrong. I have to agree.) Howard Bryant of rightly pointed out the sexism of the whole thing, saying, “I can’t imagine Sidney Crosby puffing on a cigar after winning a gold medal turning into an international incident.” Damn right.

Tracy Clark-Flores at Salon concurs. As does Brad Cran, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate:

(In case you don’t know, the picture on the left is Canadian skeleton racer Jon Montgomery, who celebrated his gold medal win by walking down the street with a pitcher of beer and drew no criticism whatsoever.)

Lastly, if women’s hockey is insufficiently competitive because Canada is too dominant, the solution is not to eliminate it to the Olympics, but to lend more support to women’s sports. Hayley Wickenheiser and her teammates let the young women of Canada know that they can be just as good as the guys, and can party just as hard, too. Let’s keep it that way.


Ottawa Columnist Argues for Forced Sterilization

From Dr. Gifford-Jones of the Ottawa Sun: Should women who deliver FAS children be sterilized?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No no no no NO what the fuck is wrong with people.

Seriously, Canada. First there was the story about medical students performing pelvic exams on unconscious women without consent – and weeks later, I’m still shocked and horrified at that – and now this? I used to think we had a pretty good track record when it came to women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. And granted, I’m not at all familiar with the Ottawa Sun, but judging by its name and the fact that it looks strikingly similar to the Toronto Sun (a newspaper whose front page headline a few days ago announced that Tiger Woods has “no balls” – stay classy, Toronto Sun) I’m guessing that it’s not the most respectable publication. Nevertheless, the fact that something like this could be published at all – and in the “health and fitness” section, no less – is sickening.

I’m not going to argue that alcohol consumption can’t cause complications in a pregnancy, although, as Lisa Wade of Sociological Images points out, the risk of Fetal Alcohol Symdrone is a lot lower than most of us are led to believe, and is influenced by a number of factors, including malnutrition, poverty and even genetics. Women who are most liklely to deliver FAS babies, therefore, are women who have a very poor quality of life, and whose alcohol addiction is so severe that they cannot stop drinking heavily for even nine months. These women need help; instead, Dr. Gifford-Jones of the Ottawa Sun believes they should be forcibly sterilized. Here I thought we needed to address the socioeconomic factors behind issues like poverty and addiction; apparently all we really have to do is blame (and punish) the women who are most affected!

I guess my feeble lady-brain has been so clouded with feminist ideology that I forgot that women’s bodies are public property, and that some of us don’t deserve reproductive choice. It’s no coincidence that those women, according to Gifford-Jones, are mostly poor First Nations and Inuit women (who have higher rates of alcoholism, and therefore of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Low-income women of colour are perceived as public property anyway. This is just the next step. At least Gifford-Jones is honest about misogyny, though. The last paragraph of the article pretty much says it all:

Many argue that individual rights prevent sterilization of these women. But surely there must be legislators who believe that an innocent fetus has more rights that an alcohol-sodden mother. For babies’ sake, legislation should end this tragedy.

Fetuses having more rights than women: totally okay, apparently. And here I was, thinking I was a human being or something. Ugh.

The Abuses of History

The story of racism and eugenics, in the United States and elsewhere, is a story that needs to be told. Moreover, it is a story that needs to be told by feminists, because it is a story that was and still is written on our bodies, and one which continues to have implications for the way we understand reproductive choice. It was through women’s bodies, and our sexuality, that race as we understand it was constructed. It was through repeated violations of our bodily integrity – whether forced sterilization and forced abortion or forced birth – that eugenicist experiments were carried out. It is a story with repercussions that continue into the present, with racist politicians attempting to coercively or forcibly sterilize low-income women, and it is a disturbing reminder of what can happen when women’s fertility is perceived as a political tool rather than something that we have a right to control.

Which is why I am so disturbed by the recent anti-choice campaign that has proclaimed black children an “endangered species” due to abortion. I won’t post a picture of the billboard here; honestly, I can’t stand to look at it any more. This campaign takes the story of racism and eugenics – a horrifying, yet crucially important story, for women in particular – and uses it to further an anti-woman agenda, and from what I’ve seen, their co-option of this narrative has been frighteningly effective.

It’s no coincidence that, in trying to market the anti-choice message to the Black community, these anti-choicers talk about “children” rather than women. It’s so easy to shift the abortion debate onto fetuses and forget about women entirely. Because the fact is that safe, legal abortion SAVES WOMEN’S LIVES. Margaret Sanger’s racist and eugenicist beliefs cannot and should not be erased from the history of Planned Parenthood, of the reproductive justice movement, or of the United States more broadly, but this does not change the fact that Planned Parenthood performs much-needed services, services that allow women not only to survive, but to choose the kinds of lives we want to live. Thanks to organizations like Planned Parenthood, women’s lives are no longer dictated by our uteri. Reproductive choice grants us control over our bodies and, to some extent, our lives – something that is crucial for all people, but particularly to people who are systemically marginalized, excluded and oppressed by capitalist and patriarchal society.

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Someecards: 1; John Mayer: 0

I don’t normally get the point of e-cards, but this one just made my day.

Renee at Womanist Musings and Jill at Feministe have more (much, much more) on Mayer’s gross Playboy interview and general douchiness.

The Crowd Goes Frakking Wild

(Disclaimer: This post contains a few minor spoilers for Caprica, but no major plot points unless you really have no idea what the show is about. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

If I had to name one thing that I loved about Battlestar Galactica (other than EPIC SPACE BATTLES) it would have to be the show’s presentation of gender equaity as something completely unremarkable. The show didn’t have a perfect feminist track record by any means (that abortion episode was absolutely horrendous), but it took the notion of a futuristic society in which patriarchy is all but extinct – an idea that has been prevalent in sci-fi since Lt. Uhura donned that ridiculously skimpy Starfleet uniform – and made it believable. Gender in Battlestar just wasn’t an issue. Women were represented everywhere – as fighter pilots, as engineers, as killer robots, as president of the goddamn colonies – as though they were, like, human beings or something. They had relationships with men, but those relationships didn’t define them. Some were great at their jobs; some weren’t; most were somewhere in between. Some were badasses. Some were irritating. Some were killer robots. It was awesome.

Caprica, while it does continue the tradition of ladies-as-killer-robots, just doesn’t have that same feminist edge to it. The creepy and fairly generic promo poster that came our a while ago seems like the antithesis of the Battlestar aesthetic. The women of Battlestar Galactica were, for the most part, insanely gorgeous, but they weren’t sexualized. Most of them wore the exact same jumpsuits and cargo pants as the men did, and often looked just as tired and rough as their male colleagues. As a woman who doesn’t look (or dress) like a supermodel, I found this refreshing. As a queer woman, I also found it incredibly hot, but that’s another story. Ronald D. Moore, the creator of both the rebooted Battlestar Galactica and the prequel, has stated outright that he designed Caprica to appeal to a female audience – in which case, advertising it with an image of a naked teenage girl seems like a bit of a weird choice.

Kara Thrace would not approve.

Maybe it’s part of the vaguely 1950s-ish aesthetic, or the fact that Caprican society isn’t supposed to be perceived as entirely progressive (this is six decades before the eventsof Battlestar, after all) but Caprica really does seem to be a man’s world. The women don’t lack agency, but so far they seem to be pawns in someone else’s game, while the men get to move the plot forward. Even Zoe, who is, after all, a killer robot, mostly stands around in a party dress, looking forlorn. (At least we know where Caprica Six got her fashion sense.) I’m optimistic that this will change – Zoe is the focal point of the show, after all, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for her to do nothing but get blown up – but so far, I’m not all that impressed.

Having said that, Caprica is a hell of a lot more progressive than most of the shows on TV, sci-fi or otherwise. The show clearly plans to address issues of race and class, though it remains to be seen how well this will be done. Every episode so far has passed the Bedchel test, even if one of the women in question is sometimes a robot. And the latest episode revealed that one of the main characters, a tough, macho gangster , is married to a man – and better yet, like the gender equality in Battlestar this is presented as a non-issue. Considering how often sci-fi has shied away from portraying futuristic societies as non-heteronormative, that aspect of the episode made me really happy. And overall, Caprica is a damn good show. It just has a lot to live up to.

Rosalind Franklin, Lady Scientist

As always, Kate Beaton hits the nail on the head:

If you don’t already read Hark! A Vagrant, I suggest you start immediately. (Seriously, right now.)

Men Still Studying Less, Earning More: Part II

In my last post on this topic, I examined how the gender gap in education (which appears for favour women) relates to the gender gap in wages (which continues to favour men). However, as most believers in the “boy crisis” in education would argue, men’s underachievement in education begins much earlier. They have a point: at all educational levels, from elementary school to university, girls perform better than boys. Young men are considerably less likely to graduate high school (the graduation rate for boys in Canada was 73% in 2000, compared to 83% for girls)1 and university (23% for men, 39% for women in 2009)2. Girls also achieve higher average GPAs and perform better on national and international assessments, though the margins vary regionally and between disciplines. At face value, it would indeed seem like the education system is favouring girls in some way, but, as I argued earlier, the reality is more complex.

First things first: an almost universal constant in education, in the classroom and in standardized assessments, is that girls perform significantly better than boys in reading, at all levels. This carries through into adulthood, as well – according to NPR, women read nearly twice as many books as men, and account for 80% of the fiction market. Conversely, in most assessments, boys perform slightly better than girls, though by nowhere near the same margin, and boys and girls (particularly in Canada) tend to achieve the same results in science.3 In spite of this, by high school, fewer girls enroll in advanced math and science classes, and fewer still in math-based university programs such as engineering.4

Boys’ underachievement in reading is frequently attributed to an education system that pays little attention to boys’ specific educational needs. Boys’ success in math, on the other hand, is frequently cited as evidence that men are somehow innately more skilled in mathematics – even though the difference varies a lot, between regions and between levels of education. If anything, the fact that boys’ and girls’ math scores are almost identical at lower levels suggests that the difference is entirely socially constructed, since it takes hold during adolescence, when socialization and gender roles become hugely important. Welcome to patriarchy, ladies. If you do badly, it’s because women are stupid. If you do well, it’s because of those evil feminists spreading their misandry to the education system, because apparently it’s just too hard to believe that women might actually be good at something.

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