Monthly Archives: October 2015

Gentler gendering

A few days ago a friend posted an article on Facebook which lamented the vanishing childhood tomboy. It got me thinking about my childhood and how I got to be the woman I am.

Anyone who has known me many years would know my life is an open book, so to speak. My childhood was spent reading, and my childhood books were littered with girls who were no more and no less than only exactly girls. I can’t say for sure that they were tomboys. They were gently gendered and not confined to any stereotype.

People who know me only recently may not realise I myself was a tomboy. I spent my childhood in t-shirts and cords. I was carefree. I had messy  hair and loved catching salamanders and digging snow tunnels. I didn’t have tea parties with friends, I built forts where I could hide and read. The girls in my books played On the Banks of Plum Creek and solved mysteries.

pippi 2Maybe I was a tomboy because it’s hard to build tree forts in a dress and pretty tights, and it’s hard to hide with bows in your hair. Maybe I was a tomboy because I was inspired by my books. I can’t say for sure. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t girlie.

nancy 6This didn’t change as I grew up either. I spent high school in jeans and a rolling stones t-shirt. I wasn’t building tree forts anymore, but I still liked the anonymity of  less feminine clothes.

I never chose to dress like a boy. I never chose to dress like a girl. I chose to dress like myself. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a girl. I never saw a contradiction between my clothes and being a girl, but there was definately a contradiction between dressing overtly girlie and my favourite passtimes.

judy blumeI wasn’t raised with a contradiction between being a girl and dressing in pants. In retrospect, I now realise it is because I have really good parents. There was no different set of rules for my brother. My parents never acted like puberty or sexuality were a big deal for my either brother, or myself and my sister. In fact as a testament to my mother’s determination to thwart any gender bias, she chose the name Darcy for me so that people wouldn’t know my gender when they saw my resume. She didn’t give me a boy’s name, she didn’t give me a girl’s name. My parents gave me a name, and a childhood, with no strings attached. I was allowed to reach young adulthood pretty oblivious to the fact that being a girl was ‘a thing’. I didn’t know that I was a tomboy. I just was.

After I left  university I started feeling a little pressure to be gendered, but I kept the tomboy uniform to keep my identity clear. I knew I was a girl, and I knew I was pretty. I didn’t like what that meant I had to deal with. I recall being told I should wear skirts all the time because my legs were nice. I had a boss who thought it was OK to pat me on the backside. A boyfriend’s creepy cousin actually put his hands on my hips to show me how to dance sexier. All three of those things were offensive to me for reasons I couldn’t, at the time, articulate. I wasn’t uncomfortable being a woman, but I really angry at being sexualized. I also remember being asked why I dressed like a lesbian. With this sort of talk directed at me, being a tomboy suddenly became a conscious choice.

I dressed to downplay my womanhood and play up my personhood. I went through university in jeans, Doc Martins and baggy sweaters. I didn’t like being pigeonholed as a ‘girl’. I’m not sure which came first, my attitude or my influences, but both changed as I completed my degree and started my adult life. The little girl who loved Pippy Longstockings became the woman who read Kate Chopin.

scarlet letterDifferent literary heroines filled my reading hours. I got married, I became a mother and I was faced with reconciling expectations and sexual stereotypes with my self image. The middle years were all about that conflict, and my books were filled with women who chafed at being caged.

anna kareninaI hated being told to be virtuous yet sexy, and to be content as a devoted wife and a matyr to motherbood…all of those things, by the way, were defined external to my sense of self.  I wanted to be independent, and I wanted to be let alone.

I am told 40 is a common turning point in women’s lives. It was in mine. At 40 I was done with marriage because it had tried to define me against my better judgement. I also rebelled against all the influences that had led me to get married in the first place. I wanted to be defined by my education, intelligence and humour and ability to stand alone. Thank goodness I made a better break than Anna Karenina or Edna Pontellier did. I abandoned the tomboy and became a strong woman on my own terms.

Scarlett_7_poor_dressI now wear dresses and high heels but I didn’t do that until after I turned 40, when I finally began writing my own story instead of living one written by someone else. I had learned enough from my heroines to know how to apply their lessons to my choices.

The childhood tomboy had been free to choose how she faced the world, and now the woman was free to do the same.

I don’t lament the lost tomboy, but I don’t hold the woman with 20-some pinterest boards dedicated to fashion as an evolution either. Both are me, both will always be me. That is the beauty of choice. The great thing is, where I am now I can actually choose every morning whether to be a tomboy or a fashionista. The great thing about my childhood is I was never forced to choose, because I was allowed to experience life on my own terms.

hermionie I don’t know where the tomboys have gone or if they are even really gone. Maybe they are still around, but they are just refusing the labels and changing things up a bit. Maybe they feel comfortable being girlie. Maybe they have merged both versions of womanhood. Maybe the ofDisney-Princess-Meridaprincesses today are not so unlike the tomboys of yesterday. Maybe growing up is inverted for girls now, and all the little princesses will one day grown up to be tomboys. Or maybe they won’t. They have their own heroines. Those heroines wear dresses and are princess, and maybe that’s OK.

My life’s arc has taught me that tomboy and princess can both be powerful and confident, so long as it’s who I am choosing to be.

I hope all the little girls in pretty pink dresses, all the young women in overalls, and all the over-40s in a chic blouse and pearls are dressed exactly the way they should be. I hope  it is their own choice as much as it was (and is) my own choice. I also we stop reading so much into their choices.  Frozen_Princess_Anna_and_Queen_Elsa_Poster

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#elxn42

canada_voting

This is the big day, Canada. The end of election fatigue. The end of attack ads. The end of being told what to think.

Today is the day you will stand alone and think for yourself. Just you, a pencil and an unmarked ballot.

This has been, for me, the most exciting and the most stressful election I can recall in my 29 years of voting. I can’t imagine what it has been like for the people actually doing the legwork – all those earnest candidates. Hats off to them.

Part of my exhaustion could be simply because I went through this provincially so recently. Democracy is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing.

Part of it definately is that I am so optimistic, and it scares me. Alberta’s election was so amazing. I am almost afraid that it was a one-off; a once in a lifetime chance for me to feel truly represented by a truly progressive government.

Part of it is my overall sense that we live in interesting times. Canada, the west, and the world are all on the verge of a huge culture shift. Voices formerly silent are being heard; women, aboriginal people, LGBT people. Power minorities are rising up and being heard and counted more than ever before in modern history. It makes me hopeful, it makes me anxious and it makes me hope as I have never hoped before.

Canada, this is not your average election. This one is a game changer, I can feel it. This past decade has to have been political bottom, and now we have to rise up.

We can get ourselves proportional representation and make sure that more voices are routinely heard and a plurality of views are always represented.

We can categorically and emphatically reject corruption, we can reject racism, we can reject lies, we can reject greed, we can reject ignorance.

We can embrace transparency and accountability, inclusiveness and tolerance, compassion and a sense of common purpose for a common good, we can choose to govern ourselves by knowledge and truth.

All very lofty. I know. But we can do it, Canada.

peace-tower-20141003

Planning for preferable politics, in baby steps

 

This federal election seems to me to be a culmination of  all the dissatisfaction felt by progressive Canadians with our electoral system. The system, after all, dictates how well we are able to exercise our democratic rights. It dictates how responsive our government must be to the will of the majority of the people they govern.

There is more to Canadian democracy than electing a member of parliament. In fact, I would argue that the health and efficacy of a democracy should be measured not by the simple freedom to cast a ballot, but by how well those ballots cast inform the government and the plurality of views that government must represent.

And I ask you, how can either of those two requirements be met when our range of choices is restricted to two? A or B. Good or bad. Black of white. For nearly a century and half. It’s been ‘my way’, or the ‘highway’.

The system is not serving our better interest, that’s true. However, right now the first past the post system is the symptom, and our voting behavior is the disease. Our voting behavior can change the system and get us more of what we need from our government.

best doc crop

I don’t understand why we don’t intuitively realise that our system does not offer actual choice when we only ever give two parties power to form government. We praise capitalism, choice and competition, and by in large we regard it as the superior economic model. We boo and hiss at the mention of monopolies, or oligopolies that collude to restrict our perfectly capitalist range of options as consumers.

Yet, we don’t follow the same logic in our politics. Ours is a political oligopoly in which two parties collude to only work hard enough to appear to offer an alternative product, while actually churning out the same sense of entitlement to govern.

ice cream choice crop

We need democracy and choice, and we need the political innovation that comes only from collaboration. We should balk at having one party in power too long, or two parties sharing access to power unchallenged because these arrangements restrict our range of political options as voters.

Canada has swung between the Liberal and Conservative parties since Canada was Canada. We swing between centre right and centre left and feel as if we are experiencing the full range of political options available.  The Liberals make us mad, so we turf them and elect the Conservatives. The Conservatives make us mad so we turf them and replace them with the people who made us mad last time. What we have is revolving door politics and short term change for long term pain.

revolving door politics

It’s like the freakin’ hokey pokey. That’s not what it’s all about, trust me. It’s supposed to be all about real options and real political progress.

What does progress look like to you? Like what we had yesterday? Like what we have today? Personally, when I think of progress I think of what we could have tomorrow.

You need to think for yourself when you cast your vote.

Don’t fall for the fear of the unknown. Penicillin was once unknown, polio vaccine was once unknown, the sequence of the human DNA was once unknown. The unknown is just unknown. A party that is an unknown might also have new ideas. They might have more incentive to cater to us than to just try and look better than their only opponent. Right now the parties aren’t fighting for us, they are fighting each other for power. Elect three; two to wrestle, one to referee.

It will be no shock to those who know me that I voted NDP at the advance polls. One of the primary reasons is that I believe the NDP will bring in proportional representation because as a current political outsider they have a vested interest in new ideas and in breaking down the status quo. The Liberal platform was similar and current polls tell me they have the best chance of defeating Harper – AND THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT – but as a current political insider party they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I am not confident that they will bring in proportional representation. The Green Party – god love ’em – simply don’t have a chance at enough power to create the momentum for change. I am hopeful that change will allow them to become the political force they deserve to be.

My ultimate goal is long term change. You may have very different reasons to vote, but do vote. Vote for what you hope to have and not just against what you’re afraid of getting. Vote to make your voice heard now and tomorrow.

murrow quote

 

Eine Klein-era not good example

Canadians are obsessed with budgets, deficits, surpluses and financially irresponsible quibbling over all things federally fiscal. Alberta, though, has a particularly fascinating idiosyncratic tic that comes out whenever fiscally responsible government is discussed. Talk about economics in Alberta and you will hear a wistful “Where’s Ralph Klein when you need him?”

It amazes me that anyone anywhere still holds Ralph Klein up as a model of political (insert anything positive here). It especially irks me when people wax poetic about his fiscal prowess. Some of us get it, but for those that don’t let me challenge you to think just a wee bit harder. klein ideas

Yes, Ralph Klein balanced the budget. But it is important to ask HOW he did that.

You know how? He taxed Albertans enough to cover his bills until 1999, and balanced the budget. Plain and simple. Then he brought in a regressive and costly flat tax, stopped maintaining Alberta’s infrastructure, and hastily left office in 2006 before the shit hit the fan.

Why then do so many of us get stuck in a fog of fiscal fisticuffs and fallacious financial fabrications when we talk about taxation and the ‘Alberta Advantage’?

Because Alberta you’re shamefully naive. Or lacking common sense. Or something. This glorifying a balanced budget, demonizing taxation and neglect of budgetary realities has to stop. We by some stroke of luck, timing and strategic voting have a provincial government that understands that you gotta make money to spend money, yet many of us are falling for the sucker ‘low taxes’ line in the federal election.

So folks, here’s a parable to explain how Ralph pulled off that balanced budget you so fondly remember, and the consequences it has had in the years since…

Ralph decided he was growed up enough to own his own house. So he got a job, and went to the bank to convince them to trust him with a mortgage. He went to the bank and demonstrated a certain income based on working a certain way. He worked regular hours at the regular rate when times were slow, and extra hours at a higher rate when times were busier. He had two rates of income coming in. That gave him enough income to buy that house.

And folks, we all know there’s more than mortgage payments to owning a house. There’s furnaces to repair, ducts that need cleaning, shingles that wear out with time and hot water heaters that burst and flood the basement. You have to bring enough income to cover that, over and above the mortgage payments.

Ralph worked hard and put all his income toward paying off that mortgage.

And he did it. He paid off the mortgage.

Then instead of instead of counting his blessings and looking around at what he had built, then planning in order to maintain the lifestyle he had achieved, he decided he was done the work.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein declares the Alberta debt paid off, in Calgary on July 12, 2004. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

 

 

Look Ma, I sold Alberta’s future for short term political gain!

 

 

He decided all that income that came from those extra hours, the pay at the higher rate when times were busy, was superfluous to his personal happiness. He cut back his hours and all his income was suddenly at the lower regular rate. He lost a lot of income.

Ralph coasted that way for a couple years. Eventually though, evenly the most willfully blind can see the corners of the shingles curling up, and Ralph realised his 20 year old roof would need replacing soon.

So, what did Ralph do? Did he prudently work more so he could do the necessary maintenance on his cherished home?

Not Ralph.  He sold that house, and walked away with the profits.

RALPH KLEIN AFTER WINNING ELECTION.*Calgary Herald Merlin Archive* SOLD! to the biggest sucker.

Did you buy that house from Ralph? Did you get in thinking you had enough money only to to discover that the shingles were so bad that the roof was leaking? Did the furnace die on a chilly Sunday evening in February? Did you argue with yourself, saying that the problem wasn’t that you didn’t have enough money, but that you’d been tricked into buying premium shingles and high end furnaces because your family had come to feel entitled to having a roof over their heads and heat in the winter?

I know you did at first. But eventually it was pretty obvious that the only way to survive was to find a way to make a little more money. Now maybe you can work 37 instead of 35 hours. Maybe you can invest in some education that diversifies your skill set to get you that higher paying gig. Either way, the problem won’t go away. You need to make money to spend money, and you need to spend money to live a decent life.

That’s how it really happened, folks.

The flat tax died and is buried in Alberta. We’re going to be okay once we catch up on fixing the issues that accumulated while we didn’t have the cash flow.

Right now Canada needs the same surge in pragmatic thinking in government. Refusing to admit that we must pay taxes to pay for the lifestyle we expect is willful ignorance. Don’t vote for the lowest taxes, vote for the best bang for your buck over the long term.

 

Does that make sense? I hope it does, folks.

 

 

Missing & murdered …

 

six of one, half dozen of another

I have been so proud to witness the (overdue) change in attitude toward aboriginal peoples in Canada in the last couple of years.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission‘s efforts were so well done and so positive. I am not aboriginal, but I felt like I was bettered and healed by it. Certainly my society was. It’s a first step, anyway. Truth is a lifelong goal, and at least we are pursuing it now.

That Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson was so solidly and unflinchingly in support of the pursuit made me proud to be an Edmontonian. That our new Premier Rachel Notley consistently references aboriginal people and the fact that we are on Treaty 6 land made me proud that Alberta had grown up, finally.  Top that with hearing my local federal NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie reference the inequality in resources provided to aboriginal children in their education and point out that we are all on Treaty 6 land, and the NDP party leader Thomas Mulcair  talk about taking aboriginal issues seriously makes me hope that our federal landscape is on the threshold of a constructive cultural shift.

Today was the REDdress campaign to lend visibility to the issue of a crisis of violence against aboriginal and indigenous women in our nation. On social media, women were encouraged to hang a red dress on their homes to show they understand the issue is real and protest our current Conservative government’s refusal to take real action.

This is one of the issues that will define us a nation as we go forward. There are too many truly terrifying issues being lobbed around in this election, that this one flies just under the radar is shameful.

Vote better. Act better. Be better, Canada.

mmiv do better

This is the way we all lose #elxn42

A friend just sent me this article in a direct message. Probably because they know I am all over politics. Openly. I am choosing to be open in my reply to this article because I think we all need to be more open and vocal about politics, and stop misinterpreting political discourse as impolite.

READ THIS

My sense is that Stephen Harper is, to some degree, xenophobic. I say this based on statements he has made in the past and the people he has chosen to align himself with. I can only imagine how much worse his inner monologue is, because I also think he is keenly intelligent and knows what not to say out loud.

HOWEVER, my strongest sense about Stephen Harper is that he is very much a man who want power for himself. He is less concerned with how he gets that power than with any ideology. Which is not to say that when he is successful in securing his power that he will not then act upon his ideology.

We should be asking ourselves whether he is the master of manipulation because that is what he excels at. He manipulates people who, for reasons I do not comprehend and have lost the willingness to accommodate, seek simple, superficial and easy answers to the complex questions in life.

Those people vote in knee-jerk reaction to Harper’s masterful dog-whistle politics. Those people hand him the power, which he then uses to undermine each and every one of us. He undermines our access to information (which I guess most people don’t mind because clearly very few of us bother to access information before forming opinions), he undermines our public goods, he undermines our social fabric, he undermines our institutions. He incrementally takes power away from the electorate and puts more power in the hands for the few. And his own hands as Prime Minister.

So, does he believe that it is un-Canadian to cover your face when you take participate in a non binding ceremony? No. But he does believe those women should be able to do and not do as they wish as his whim. And that is terrifying. He believes he should have the right to define what is Canadian. Does he believe that stripping citizenship will survive a Charter challenge, or go unchallenged under international law? No. But he does believe he should have the right to rank Canadians according to his personal whim. And that is terrifying. Does he think he has evidence that the Alberta NDP government is a disaster? No. But he does think he has the right to declare any organization that has ideas contrary to his own to be wrong, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The scandals that he is suppressing with his dog-whistle and showboating xenophobic assertions are beautiful. They tell me that somewhere in this wounded democratic machine someone is still working for the public good and bringing the corruption to light. For every corruption you see I have no doubt there are ten of which we are not yet aware.

Harper’s ideology is control. He sees that tolerance and sharing of wealth undermine the extent of his control.

He wants us to re-elect him so he can tell us what is good for us. He wants us to re-elect him so that he can continue to do things on our behalf without our knowledge or consent.

He knows that a huge proportion of the electorate that bother to vote then immediately disengage. (Never mind those who simply don’t even care enough to vote)

Canadians want a government they can trust to do what is right, and so they trust without remaining vigilant or questioning.

 

I want YOU to re-elect a government that allows facts and evidence, and yes public preferences that are based in evidence, to tell them what is good for us.

 

Is Harper a racist? Probably. A little. But it isn’t his worst flaw. And that isn’t the important question. The important question is are you? Because if you aren’t you need to wake up and pay attention to the shell game we are calling #elxn42.

 

 

PLEASE challenge me on this. I do change my opinions if I hear good reason. What I don’t change is my world view or my sense of what is, and what is not moral.