Category Archives: feminism

A daisy chain for Anna

annaMy grandmother passed away a few days ago, and I will be at her funeral tomorrow morning.

She’s been unwell for a while so her passing was not unexpected. In fact, I have been thinking about writing this blog about her for over a year without having found the strength to string any words together until now.

I’m not a sentimental person. I spend very little time thinking about what is done except when a memory can help me move forward. Even in mourning I find myself thinking about today.

The picture below is of four generations. The woman at the centre is my great grandmother, Ada. On the left is her daughter, my grandmother Anna. On the right is my mother and Anna’s daughter, Margaret. The babe in arms is me.

fourgenerations

In the past week I have thought fondly of moments, items and traditions that link me to these women, and my grandmother in particular.

I remember spraining an ankle because I jumped on Grandma’s couch even after she told me not to. I have a photo of me taking my first steps in an emerald green velvet dress she sewed for me, and I have the pattern she used to make it. I remember sitting at her old sewing machine while she helped my sew clothes for my baby on the way. I remember when she helped me give him his first bath. I use her pastry recipe when I make my Christmas butter tarts.

I cherish these little memories of her, but what I value most is the differences between our lives. The gulf of experience between the babe in arms and the woman who holds her is immense.

nowthatwearepersonsAda was born before women could vote. My grandmother Anna was born seven months before women were recognized as persons under Canadian law. My mother Margaret was born seven years before Canada passed The Female Employees Equal Pay Act. I was born the year after Prime Minister Lester Pearson established a Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

The world – my world – is a better place for each step forward taken by generations before me. My life is better for what each generation of women have passed on to me.

I recently read an article about the ‘mother wound’: the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures.

grandmahillI feel this wound as part of mourning. I feel not only the loss of my grandmother, but the final and irrevocable loss of what she wanted to be, could have been, and would have been had she been born when I was. I feel guilty that I have achieved that was out of her reach.

How do I reconcile that with my continuing pursuit of happiness? How do I avoid carrying the guilt of continuing my journey, knowing hers is at an end? I do that by keeping her in the present. Ada, Anna, Margaret and Darcy are tied together.

No matter how far I go in life, how many more choices I have available, how much more freedom I enjoy, and how much more dignity of person I win, my life is tied to her life, and my life will be tied going forward in an endless daisy chain of of women’s experiences and dreams.

Anything I have, it belongs to my Grandmother too. She earned it with me.

I don’t have to say goodbye to her because I’m not leaving her behind. I’m keeping her in my heart, tied to me with everything I do.

heart-daisies-meadow-40289068

 

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Bro busters

diversity treeThe push for diversity in media is picking up speed. It’s part of an overdue movement toward building a world in which more of us have more access to our share of the glory.

It’s important because what we see as children is what we are trained to accept in adulthood. After all, to become a doctor you must first be able to imagine yourself as a doctor, right?

There are lots of threads to this movement; caucasians being cast in asian roles, african american women being stereotyped, gay men being muted – but the one that is (after some hard work) hitting social media lately is the lack of screen time and quality of roles for women.

The push back against the call for more women in meaningful roles is frightening.

Imperator-Furiosa_612x380Take the Mad Max reboot for example. Now, Mad Max was never my thing, but I saw the original and I saw the new one. I can’t say I cared about either. I also can’t say that the addition of the Furiosa character made a difference to how I felt about the second. That’s the point. She’s just a character. The actor’s skills, the writing, the directing, the script – these all matter. Her gender didn’t.

ghostbustersnewI’ve just endured the same rage filled hue and cry about the ruining of the ‘classic’ Ghostbusters brought one by remaking the film with *gasp* women. And AGAIN; sure Ghostbusters amused me as a young teen, but watching it now I can’t say I would have used the word ‘classic’ to describe it. I caught the new Ghostbusters with a friend then I sat down and rewatched the original. My takeaway? 1. Could Bill Murray have been more flat in his Ghostbuster’s reboot cameo? Meh.

black bondSadly this ridiculous outrage is not limited to women black hermiomein film. The internet also lost it’s shit when there was a possibility of a black Bond and when London’s West End got a black Hermione.

There is no quantifiable, objective reason that white male is our default poster child for
everything done in the public sphere. It’s a social construct that we need to socially
destruct and rebuild.

janeway

That’s it. No amount of angry little boy outbursts are going to stop the world from changing.

Next up, my review of the outrage over Oceans Eight…

Oceans8

 

 

Hillary is to Darcy, as history is to …

Here’s a story I have been telling people for 30 years: my mother named me Darcy so that when I applied for jobs no one would know I was a girl and for that reason not interview me. It’s an important story.

suffragists

Darcy is a name without gender. It is the symbol of the world she handed me. She was confined by her gender. I was less so. I am my mother’s daughter, she is her mother’s daughter. That is how we move forward in time.

How far forward we have come is evident in what we are mourning at the same time as what we are celebrating things like gender parity in government, and a woman Premier in Alberta. Our society is only now mourning the last of a generation of women born before women were given the vote.

Before you freak out: not the generation, a generation.

We all know about intersectionality (now), but progress is is inherently imperfect. Imperfection does not invalidate the improvement, it simply makes the next necessary step all the more obvious. My mother was not perfect. I am not perfect. Being Darcy didn’t eradicate sexism, but the story of my name is a good story looking back at it.

 

This US election cycle is laying bare our mistaken tenancy to judge people’s pasts while looking forward. Improvements are very seldom self evident, frequently they are milestones only in context. And yes, I am talking about Hillary Clinton.

hillary smart girlHillary Clinton is my mother’s generation. I don’t get to vote for her, but I do have to respect the struggles she and my mother’s generation overcame for me. She is not the past, she cannot be compared to the future, but she is the foundation we are standing on today. Her nomination is absolutely and without question a milestone for women. You know, a feminist milestone. Not the last one I ever hope to see, but definitely a stop on the march to progress we should celebrate.

It is easy to see Hillary Clinton as a white, wealthy, christian member of the establishment and say that being a woman is not what has defined her journey. The ‘establishment’ Bernie rails against is male – very male and very white. It’s not every male, but it is male. hillary and billIt’s made up of the people who have been pulling the strings. Being married or born into the establishment as a woman is not the same as being the establishment. For women, it has historically meant a seat next to the a man who is establishment. Your daddy or husband.

Hillary’s full membership in the establishment is a result of hard work and perseverance. The group of people who have access to the strings has broadened, and she has been part of that broadening. But she had to work to gain entry, and she has worked to give others entry – in neither case by opening the door to let them in, but by standing outside the door refusing to go away until they let others in. Not to disparage Bernie Sanders’ excellent record on civil rights, but he was opening the door from inside.

Hillary’s accomplishments and ideas were FOR THEIR TIME very significant. Her journey has been to clear the path for the next generation of women. By today’s standards she possibly pales only if you choose to judge from the place you stand without admitting you stand in a place she helped build. Scan a history book. She has weathered more scathing criticism based on her gender than I would ever want to have to endure. Don’t reduce her to what was not done when she was working doubly hard for her place at the establishment table, credit her for what she got done by using what influence she did have.

Is she perfect right now exactly as is? No. Should you not challenge her to reevaluate, to grow, to move forward? No. Of course not. But if you think you’re ahead of her you are ignoring how much longer she has been in this race than you have.

HIllary speechAre women’s rights human rights? If you say yes it is because she said that loudly in 1995. Over 20 years ago she had to formally announce what we can now assume. That was her doing what was not popular, and that pushed progressive discourse forward.

I admire Bernie Sander’s advocacy and his support of civil rights, but I resent them being used against Hillary Clinton. I admire what he did that aligns with my world view, I like many of his current messages, but I resent that he uses Hillary’s ‘lapses’ against her but pretends his own away. She has been  walking a different path, a path assigned to her by her gender. He went to bat for a disadvantaged group he was not a member of, and therefore went to bat from a place of privilege. She went to bat for a disadvantaged group she was member of, and therefore went to bat from a position of disadvantage.

She is not going to be your saviour. She will lead a group effort. She won’t do it without you, your input is necessary. Which means you should be part of the progress she makes and can help her maintain the momentum. It isn’t a revolution. It is the continued march of progress.

She will be a female president who is the reason a female president is possible in exactly the same way that Obama was a black president who is the reason a black president was possible.

Hillary’s nomination is a milestone exactly because it does matter is how high a woman can rise within an oppressive power structure. It is insulting to diminish that achievement because she isn’t more oppressed.

first ladies

We must acknowledge that people are good in context, and allow them opportunity to improve in new context. Otherwise we can never admire anyone because, no one is ever intersectional enough. Effort matters, growth matters, ability to reevaluate matters. And they all matter more than getting it perfect the first time. She worked hard for what she accomplished, and she is still working and learning and growing.

hillary for barakHillary will be a good tool for further change. She has always had to be a tool for change: imperfect change, halting and meandering and sometime mistaken attempts at change, but change nonetheless.

I don’t support her because she is a woman. I would never have voted for Margaret Thatcher, I would never vote Sarah Palin, and I didn’t vote for Rona Ambrose in my riding. I support her because she a woman who has been working a long time on making the world a better place in support of a party whose ideology lines up with my world view.

Many of Bernie Sander’s ideas also align with my world view. Had Sanders been ahead I would not have proposed he didn’t deserve the nomination because he was not a woman. I would judge him in context. He wouldn’t get credit for taking as many punches for being a woman in a man’s world, but obviously that’s because he isn’t and has never been a woman in a man’s world.

woman cardBut the fact still remains that the fact that she is a woman means something to me, she gets credit for being a woman while in politics. She gets to play the woman card because it has been dealt to her over, and over, and over. And because of her some young woman somewhere is not being dealt the woman card. Some women still are, as I said, progress is imperfect.

Hillary deserves to be President. She deserves to be her imperfect, conflicted, battle scarred self. She is the woman card, and she is playing it yet again to spare you having to have it dealt to you.

Hillary is to Darcy, as history is to progress.

 

When one door closes: Ghomeshi

It’s been two weeks.

The trial and verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial has come and gone. I find the reaction more subdued than the internet predicted it would be, and I feel more subdued than I thought I would be. That being said, the trial has changed the way I see Canada’s justice system. And it changed the way I pay attention to how our society treats sex, sexuality and women.

Two weeks ago I was keeping an eye on twitter as the verdict was read. A co-worker was not and asked me to tell her as soon as the verdict was known. I sent her a quick email, and seconds later heard her holler “He said that?” So I walked around the corner to her office, feeling quite sad, looked at her equally sad face and she said “I have a daughter.”

scales

Given how the trial rolled out I did not expect a guilty verdict. Given the current state of our laws a guilty verdict was not possible. Not because Jian Ghomeshi isn’t guilty, not because the woman are liars, not because what happened didn’t deserve a different outcome – because our laws are not written to give us the better outcome.

Our culture builds a case against the women before they even have a chance to make their case. That was confirmed when, at the end of his verdict, the judge said: “…need to be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.” His equating trusting half of the human race to be experts on their own bodily integrity to the danger posed by rapists sent a chill down my spine.

innocent or guilty presumption of innocence until proven guilt as charged in a fair trial for crime suspect

We vociferously, adamantly and unwaveringly defend the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Rightly so.

And yet, in the case of this completely unique crime, we do not with equal conviction defend the idea that a woman is honest unless proven otherwise.

That alone proves the system is biased against female victims of sexual assault, because we start from the assumption that women could lie, that trusting the woman is a threat to all men, and so we interpret normal human behaviors as reasonable doubt.

I read a Facebook story by a male ally in which he likened this to a wallet being stolen. It was a good analogy but I amend that narrative this way:

…I have an invisible wallet. It holds something I value. You can’t see it, but you can touch it, and you can damage it, and you can take it from me. Because it is invisible I can’t prove when you have done any of these things. I will rarely have evidence to support my accusation. It will often be my word against another’s. The damage done to me will be invisible to most people…

Why do we need to start from the premise that we believe women? Because with sexual assault it is all about believing that a woman has the right, and ability, and credibility as a human being to her own sexuality. No one else owns it. It isn’t a matter of property. It is a matter of controlling what happens to her own body, and having redress under the law when that inalienable right is infringed upon. It isn’t about cuts or bruises. It is about one human being violently usurping another human being’s right to self. The nature of the harm done by crime may be invisible to the eye, but the human toll of the crime must never be.   

lady justice6We need to re-examine our laws, and make some sounder judgments about what we have put on the scales of justice. We need to make some sound judgments about the weight of things that are difficult to quantify.

One in four women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. One in four men will not commit that offense, and one in four men do not being accused of that offense. Crimes like this are perpetrated by a very, very small pool of men who re-offend as they get continue to away with their behavior. The risk to one in four women is significant. The risk to the many men is significant. For most men, the risk of being tarred with the same brush, being lumped in with those few men, is real.

By doing a better job of punishing the few criminals we are not only protecting women, we are protecting men from the criminals that hide among them and use them as a human shield for their behavior.

This is not making sex more complicated or risky, for the vast majority of men this will make sex easier and better. Same goes for women. Because when we stop confusing violence with healthy human sexuality, we all win.

This door has closed. But we must open a new door to discussion about how we can do better as a culture, and how our justice system can be made to better serve the best interests of all Canadians.

[read this, it’s interesting]

Waiting for #Ghomeshi

It has become clear to me that I am far more concerned about the Ghomeshi trial than most of the people I know. I can partly explain that by admitting my (thwarted) childhood ambition was to be a lawyer. I have always been fascinated by rules and by how people follow, or don’t follow, those rules.

I have also always been a woman. Which leads me to consider what being a woman means.

The difference between the way my grandmother had to live her life, the way my mother coped, the way I am living, and the way that young women today conduct themselves is striking. Some things have progressed, but some still lag. The reason for the lag is that so many of us are behaving the way we were raised to behave in the past, yet we’re all living together in this same moment in time. How  my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my niece would react to a scenario like what is alleged to have taken place between Jian Ghomeshi and his accusers could be very different.

We say women have all the right to say yes or no to sex, to make their own sexual choices. On paper they do. Off paper much of the current understanding and attitudes that come with those rights were not the understandings and attitudes in place when many of us were growing up. They’re not the rights and attitudes that inform our behavior subconsciously. How a woman copes and how she tries to make sense of being assaulted varies widely depending on her generation and her subconscious understanding of her rights.

As a culture as we’ve raised successive generations of women in progressive environments. These women will have less internal conflict when it comes to sexual assault. They’ll be confident that it was assault because they will have always been raised that they are their own master. They will be less likely to try and smooth things over afterwards and quicker to go to the police. They will have been raised to know since the man committed the crime, that they don’t have to fix anything and the law has an obligation to address the crime.

A huge part of our progress lies with men. The world is changing for them so rapidly.

Never before in human history have men been held so accountable for their behavior. Never before have men been expected to be as aware and as fair about sex as they are now. Sex is no longer only for and about men. The sexual ground has shifted beneath men’s feet in two generations.

For many, many men this shift makes little to no difference because they never felt like sex was something they were entitled to. For other men, there are some bad lessons to be unlearned.

Our culture needs several things.

We need women who feel completely comfortable with their sexuality, with having sex or not, with saying no and saying yes. We need men who step up their game and are completely comfortable with not putting their personal sexual urges on a pedestal, with owning their desire and being completely willing and respectful of the needs of their partners.

We need to stop seeing sex as a transaction between agressive male and passive female. We need to stop thinking women will lie because sexual arousal is not their natural state, and men will be tricked because men are in a constant state of sexual arousal. When women aren’t emberassed (read: shamed) by the details of their sexual behaviors, there will no longer be any reason for them to obscure what happend and not only will that make real life relationships happier, it will make these sort of trials much easier to sort out.

We need to see sex in the moment, and not as one domino in a long line of behaviors. Nothing leads up to sex for certain, and the outcome of sex is not predetermined. We have to take ownership and responsibility for what we are doing as we do it. Men must, and women must be allowed to do so.

No matter the outcome of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, there is no going back. A conversation has been started. Our culture is shifting. Our laws are adapting. As horrifying as this whole trial has been, I believe this is a very good time and place to be a woman because we are progressing.

ghomeshi

#Ghomeshi week 1

#Ghomeshi week 1

the accused jodi fosterWhat I’ve found interesting in this past week of testimony at the Ghomeshi trial is his lawyer’s use of the ‘classic defence strategy’; eroding witness credibility, poking holes in testimony and making a witness contradict herself.

When I read that definition I see two things that are part of our ‘justice’ system that are unacceptable. Gaslighting and the rampant use of logical fallacies – which law students are taught to recognize – as part of cross-examination.

For those of you not familiar with the term gaslighting, it is emotional and mental abuse in which information is turned back on a person by making careful omissions or by presenting false information in a way that favours the abuser and makes a victim doubt her own sanity.

If we believe (and I certainly do) that the purpose of going to court is to find out some truth, then gaslighting does not compatible supporting that goal. We actually end up farther from the truth by allowing the ‘classic defense’ to distract us from evidence and facts.

Putting a person in a court room under cross-examination under enough stress that her higher functions begin to shut down does not mean she cannot function reliably in normal conditions situations. Drawing the conclusion that testimony is unreliable when we have allowed gaslighting to alter the witness’s ability to represent herself legitimizes the use of acknowledged logical fallacies. For instance:

Logical-Fallacies-loaded-question-620x384Loaded question: a question with a presumption built into it that can’t be answered without the appearance of guilt. Like the question: “I think you would agree with me that you weren’t doing particularly well, you weren’t making a lot of money?” Saying yes to that is like saying ‘guilty as charged’. Saying no sounds like a lie because the disparity in income levels automatically creates a ‘good’ income and a ‘not good’ income. Good and bad get attached to their relative incomes and success in life, and stick to the individual people as well.

beggingthequestionBegging the question: a circular argument that contains the conclusion in the premise. Like the question: “Are you prepared to admit you have lied under oath?”. The phrase ‘prepared to admit’ makes the lie a foregone conclusion. There is no way to answer without guilt. ‘No I am not prepared to admit’ is just as damning as ‘yes I am prepared to admit’ because the lie has been established in the question.

the fallacyThe fallacy fallacy: because a claim has been poorly articulated or an error made, the claim itself must be wrong. Like saying that because one part of a story was left out that then the rest of the story cannot be trusted. Women are conditioned to be coy and even to outright cover up their sexual histories. If she told the story but left out the part that she found the most difficult to articulate that doesn’t mean what she did manage to say was false.

geneticGenetic: the source of information determines whether the information is good or bad. If by using gaslighting we create the perception that the witness is emotional as opposed to rational, that taints how the information is perceieved. It shouldn’t. Facts do not become less factual when they are presented by someone who struggles to articulate a proof. When I say climate change is real it isn’t less true because I’m not a climate scientist. We should judge facts and information on their inherent value and not dismiss them based on our judgement of the messenger. ‘Good’ woman or ‘bad’ woman does not correlate to the fact of consent.

burdenBurden of proof: requiring disproof verus proof. This case rests completely on consent. The only person who actually knows whether there was consent is the person who would be giving that consent. A woman shouldn’t have to prove she didn’t consent beyond stating that as fact. Ghomeshi admits hitting women and defends himself by claiming that is was consentual ‘kink’. We cannot allow his defense to outweigh their right to be the expert witness on their own mind.

Some other common ‘classic defence’ techniques that are logically fallacious are:

Ambiguity: using double meaning to misrepresent.
Personal incredulity: because something is hard to believe it must be untrue.
Tu quoque: answer criticism with criticism.
Composition/division: assume that one part of something has to be applied to all parts of something; that the whole must apply to its parts.
Ad hominem: attack opponent’s character or traits in order to undermine their authority.
Slippery slope: if we let ‘A’ happen then ‘Z’ will happen, therefore ‘A’ should not happen. This the premise of the hideous expression “it is better for 100 guilty men to go free than 1 innocent man to be punished” I don’t feel one bit comforted that 100 guilty rapists walk the streets to allow one innocent man walk free, and I cannot see the connection between not convicting the guilty and convicting innocent. That isn’t an appeal to reasonable doubt, that’s letting technicalities substitute for good reasoning.
False cause: a real or presumed relationship between two things means one caused other. Because these women at one moment maybe did want to have sex with a man, that this was the reason he at another moment had sex with her – without taking into account whether the wish to have sex was current to that moment.
Straw man: exaggerating, misrepresenting an argument so it’s easier to frame your argument as rational.

I think we should work toward a court system that functions on higher levels on the hierarchy of argument. The ‘classic defence’ relies on ad hominem and responding to tone, the absolute lowest forms of argument. We can create structure to make the ‘classic defense’ history.

And finally, how about reconizing gaslighting that occurs even before we hit the court room? We constantly second guess and scrutinize the victim, but why not stop and recognize that they are being subjected to gaslighting?

Why keep in contact? Why reconnect? We need to admit how women are socialized and how it leaves them suseptible to gaslighting. Women are taught to doubt their own instincts. Witness stand gaslighting is simply reinforcing existing destructive cultural conditioning. It reinforces the subtle narrative that the woman did something or should have done something, and that women should look to themselves to find answers to what happens to them. Furthermore, while this is particularly strong in socialization for women, it is by no means unique to women. Even pop culture shows us victims who go back time and time again to abusive situations. Maintaining or reconnecting is an attempt to go back to the point where power was lost to change the dynamic going forward, and people do it because they have been convinced that they have the responsibility to make it right.

The letter written  by Lucy De Couture that said ‘You kicked my ass….’ and similar communications with Ghomeshi by the other victims demonstrate a desire to return to the scene of a crime and find meaning or a create a new narrative. It says ‘you took away my power and I want a do over with a chance to control what happened’. It says they are second guessing their right to have exercised their own will, but it doesn’t give us the right to second guess that right.

If the justice system makes testifying against a man who assaults her this stressful and this undermining to a woman’s self-esteem and faith in herself as a human being, then it is clearly not a justice system for women. This tells the victim that they are ultimately responsible for making what went wrong right, and that is exactly why women reconnect with abusers, and exactly why the bullied try appease their bully, and exactly why there is no justice.

We should not be questioning the choices of these women. We should be questioning the choices Jian Ghomeshi made, and the system that portrays his choices as a legitimate challenge these women’s right to be the last and only word on their own consent.

We can fix this.

#Ghomeshi day 1

canadian-gavelWhen the Ghomeshi firing and accusations hit the fan a little over a year ago I said this trial would be interesting, and could spur some positive changes in our society and our justice system.

I am going to be blogging about what I see as the issues confronting women (and men) and the court system are when it comes to dealing with sexual assault, and highlighting what I think are some good quick fixes and what are some thorny problems we need to put real effort into mitigating. In these blog posts I will use ‘he’ for the accused and ‘she’ for the accuser because it is true for this case. It does not mean that I don’t understand that is not always the case.

THORNY PROBLEM #1:

First of all, there is no way I would remember details if I was one of these women. I can barely remember what year I got my dog, and I don’t remember my son’s first words and both of those ought to be happy memories. Some people just don’t recall details, they remember in emotion and emotion is fuzzy. But the fact that I don’t remember how old my son was when he first said mama doesn’t change the fact that he did, and the fact that I can’t remember what month I got my dog in doesn’t mean that I am not right in saying that I rescued her in 2005.

So this is a thorny problem. People’s memories are spotty at the best of times. At the worst of times people can block out trauma, making it harder to remember sharp details. That is different from being completely unreliable. We need to stop calling women’s memories of sexual assault into question because they cannot remember 100%. We need to find balance between acknowledging that trauma and fear affect our recall, and the need to find out the truth.

THORNY PROBLEM #2:

The woman was left on the stand while the judge left the room today; alone, facing Ghomeshi and the people in the court room. Frankly, if I were this woman I would be scared to the point of near hysteria. I don’t deal well with being cross-examined at the best of times. Who does? We don’t need to make it worse than it already is.

We can find a way to accommodate the defendant’s right to face his accuser and the accuser’s right to not feel the gaze of the person who hurt her. We do it with children, we shelter them from the people they accuse because we acknowledge their fear is real.

Discussing this tonight, my brilliant hubby suggested that the woman be in a separate room to testify via video so that the defendant can see her, but she does not have to see him. I countered that the defendant be removed from the room during testimony, and be allowed to watch on a monitor. Either way, women deserve to be shielded from the glare of the person who has already terrorized her.

QUICK FIX #1:

Apparently the defence lawyer referred to the woman on the stand today as  the ‘cater waiter’. Now, while that is not an overt slur, the act of not referring to someone by their name decreases their stature. It reminds me of a story about a trial in which the defence lawyer repeatedly called a female police officer ‘honey’ when she was testifying. She eventually refused to answer his questions. Either way, he won. One way he diminished her authority by calling her honey and not Constable, the other way he got be exasperated in his dealings with an angry woman.

This is a quick fix. There should be no referring to any person involved in a trial by anything other than their official name or title. Ms Smith… Dr  Smith… Constable Smith… but never honey. This kind of chicanery is the reason the world thinks defence lawyers have no moral compass.

Let’s close the subtle insult loophole. To make this stick there need to be real sanctions against lawyers who use this tactic because once it is done, particularly in front of a jury, there is no taking it back or undoing the damage.

QUICK FIX #2:

Apparently the defense lawyer brought up that the woman accusing Ghomeshi was not making a lot of money. This fact is completely unrelated to the accusation of sexual assault. Income and consent to sex/sexual violence are not even in the same universe. Not only should leading or suggestive questions be more rigorously challenged by the crown and judges, not only should there be more enforcement of the rules outlining the proper lines of questioning. There need to be serious and immediate repercussions for defence lawyers who use this tactic to shift focus.

We can, and should, keep defence lawyers who resort to tricks and misinformation out of our court rooms.

 

That’s it for today. I am hopeful that we as a society learn from this high-profile case. We certainly have the right political climate and the right leadership to do better going forward. Where there is a will, let there be a way.

 

Setting the Bar high

Last weekend, in the cold shadow of an anniversary of the dangers that exist because men scapegoat women, I did a quick google search for a story that hit the news in November. I was hoping for an update on what would become of Alberta provincial court judge Robin Camp, who asked a sexual assault victim why she didn’t keep her knees together.

Yes, even though it is 2015, some men still blame women for everything that happens to them.

Justice Robin Camp’s comments during the trial insinuated that proof of self-defense was necessary. His comments insinuated that proof of refusal (as opposed to consent) was the deciding factor. His comments make it clear that he doesn’t recognize neither the physical or psychological power imbalance between the victim and the assailant as factors. His comments make it clear he prefers to recognise a man’s right to claim he wasn’t adequately deterred, rather his responsibility to get consent. His comments perpetuate the outdated and dangerous narrative that it is a woman’s responsibility to justify her existence in a man’s world, and if things go wrong it is the woman’s fault. His comments reveal an attitude that is morally repugnant, and one that has been firmly disavowed by Canadian lawmakers.

Sexual assault hinges on one, and only one, thing. Consent. That’s it. Attempts to fight, actions taken to mitigate consequences, tactics used to deter potential assailants … all of these are utterly irrelevant and suggesting that they are is not only morally repugnant, they are legally inadmissible in a court of law. Why? Because the law recognises that the absence of any of those things is not a signal of consent, it is a signal of compliance. Compliance and consent are not synonyms, one does not infer the other. Consent must be given freely without fear, manipulation, coercion or threat.

Herein lies the problem with Justice Camp’s handling of a sexual assault trial. As a judge, he is the manifestation of Canadian law. It is his job to understand, interpret, and apply laws in keeping with the letter, the spirit and the intent of our social conscience. Judges must both demonstrate a thorough understanding of, and an unwavering willingness to correctly apply the law. A judge must embody justice.

Not only is it obvious that Justice Robin Camp’s world view is inconsistent with the Canadian social conscience, it is evident that in this case he erred in law. The defendant defends. The victim must only prove the crime happened, not that the crime could not have been prevented. Sex without consent is a crime. Sex without a struggle is not consent. These are not just vague ideas we bring up when bad things happen, they are concepts written into the law.

I understand this Justice Camp has been removed from all cases indefinitely and is expected to take gender sensitivity counselling. That sounds good.

But I think the ultimate outcome will have to be his permanent removal from the bench, because he has at best demonstrated an inability to understand the legal definition of consent, and at worst demonstrated a clear unwillingness to apply that legal definition. In Canada appeals are granted on errors of law. The fact that an appeal was granted indicates that the court of appeal also recognises that this judge erred in his interpretation and/or application of Canadian law. But that doesn’t go far enough. The system needs to recognise that he errs in attitude, and that his attitude makes him unable to embody the law. He can take remedial courses that could fill in knowledge gaps. At best it will teach him to avoid voicing his outdated and unacceptable views, but it won’t eliminate them.

I don’t know how the Canadian Judicial Council can overlook the magnitude of moral and legal error in this case when they are so directly conflict with proper application of Canadian law, and with the human dignity of half of Canada’s population.

Canada needs leaders to stand for the values we have written into our laws. We need leaders to spread and nurture the attitudes and ideas that underpin our laws or those attitudes have no hope of ever being universally adopted. We’ve made the legal progress, we lag behind in cultural progress. We need those at the forefront of our pursuit of justice and fairness to lead, not to lag. It is not enough for the court of appeal heard this case and do a better job of applying the law. We need to be sure we do right, right form the start. Removing Justice Camp from the bench is about setting the bar high for our justice and social leaders. If we can’t get justice in the courtroom, we will never get justice in the streets.

In light of the sheer magnitude of the progressive awakening in Canada this past year; the political tables upturned, the gender balance calibrated, the reconciliations untaken and the compassion renewed, what better way to keep the progress rolling than start the new year by making one more firm commitment to progressive Canadian values, and show Justice Camp and his outdated ideas to the door? If people ask us why we can say, because it’s 2016.

 

 

 

 

Meritocracy and hegemony

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie - RTX1URF7
Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie – RTX1URF7

HUZZAH! We have achieved gender parity in both our provincial cabinet in Alberta, and our federal cabinet in Canada, and in both cases it was done by purposeful design. This is worth celebrating.

I’ve had this conversation with my boys, and they don’t all completely get it. The 20 year old seems to understand in principle, but he has had the benefit of two girlfriends – one of which was a brilliant, feisty feminist. The 18 year old just shrugs it all off. The 16 year old seems to resent the mention that anything needs to be done when it come to gender  parity. I probably don’t articulate my arguments well as I am rarely really clear when I speak. Speaking is not my thing, writing is.

So, here goes and attempt to articulate my thoughts on why we need gender quotas in all fields to make the world a better place.

Creating hiring policies that enforce equality isn’t about refusing to hire men, it is about the centuries of human history in which we refused to hire women. We refused to allow women the opportunity to build up the street cred that gets them a front row seat in business, in the arts, in STEM subjects, in religion, in politics … in pretty well everything but gestating and lactating.

Highlighting and outlining hiring policies to create parity between old, straight, white men and all the other groups traditionally not given access to power is important. Specifically for my gender, it’s about giving women a chance; about looking at them with a fair admission of this historical handicap, and recognition of their untapped potential.

We’ve tapped, and tapped, and tapped the potential of men. Of white men. Of straight, white men. Of straight, european and neo-european, white men. Done, done, and done.

I think there is consensus that the status quo is not living up to our requirements. We have climate problems, pollution problems, financial crises, ideologically fueled wars and global populations that no longer can afford take the borders we drew on the map seriously. We need to change.

I know you know the falsely attributed Einstein quote, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” Isn’t that we are doing when we don’t purposely begin to bring new minds into our politics?

It is time to look over the shoulder of that straight, white man in the front row, directly at a woman, an aboriginal, and LGBT person or other power minority. It’s time to take what they have to offer seriously enough to call them up to the front row – not because they’ve been there before and we know they are up to the job, but because they haven’t been there before and the job we’re faced with today begs for an infusion of hands and minds who don’t default to the staus quo.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. Saturday. Left to right are: James Richardson, minister without portfolio, D.C. Jamieson, (partly hidden), minister without portfolio, Trudeau, Justice Minister John Turner, Jean Marchand, Forestry Minister, and Gerard Pelletier, State Secretary. Ten years after his death, and more than four decades after it was taken, the photo of Pierre Trudeau striding up the drive at Rideau Hall - flanked by his dark-suited cabinet-to-be - still packs a blast of movie-star, hipster cool. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ball
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. Saturday. Left to right are: James Richardson, minister without portfolio, D.C. Jamieson, (partly hidden), minister without portfolio, Trudeau, Justice Minister John Turner, Jean Marchand, Forestry Minister, and Gerard Pelletier, State Secretary. Ten years after his death, and more than four decades after it was taken, the photo of Pierre Trudeau striding up the drive at Rideau Hall – flanked by his dark-suited cabinet-to-be – still packs a blast of movie-star, hipster cool. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ball

White men holding onto the balance of power is not a meritocracy, it’s hegemony. The problem with this idea of meritocracy in our status quo is inherent to how we have traditionally qualified merit. When all we know is the way that old, straight, white men operate, we can’t even begin to measure the merits of any other way of thinking. How can we say we hire on merit when we don’t consider every possiblity? Isn’t that leaving variables out of the merit equation? That’s like saying the fastest animal in the world is a horse, because we’ve never bothered to clock the speed of a cheetah. Or saying the largest mammal is an elephant because we think whales are not like us, so while we know they’re technically mammals we don’t really consider them in the same category.

New could be better. New could be vastly better for all of us. It may be what takes us in new and improved directions, but we’ll never know that because until we change the ranking system.

If change pisses off some old, straight white guys, then so be it. They aren’t losing their relevence, they’re just losing their preferential status. If they cannot contribute in a world where they have to consider points of view other than their own and look across the table at faces they never had to sit face-to-face with before, then they are within their rights to move to the back row in protest.

May their self demotion and our adept promotions give us all a better world.

 

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