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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.

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#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.

Alberta will progress

I never fail to wonder why, but for whatever reason people seek out my opinion, particularly with regard to politics. Before elections I’ll never fail to get messages from friends asking me to help them decide how to vote (FYI give my take on issues, but never tell them what they should do). I also get the same sort of messages any time something political hits the fan.

Just the other day I got a message asking my take on Bill 6. In case you missed it, Alberta is in the throws of bill 6 hysteria. We messaged back and forth briefly and had a constructive, productive conversation, but this is my take on the situation in full now that the bill has passed.

O.M.G. won’t somebody think about the farmers?

Let me start by saying , I support the bill. I think it is shameful that by exempting agricultural sector employers we have deprived farm workers of the basic legal protections other workers have had for so long. It is not adequate or fair to leave safety and labour standards up an individual employers in any industry. These exemptions come at the expense of labour, and transferring any part of the cost from the business owner to labour is unacceptable.

I don’t buy into the ‘farming isn’t a business, it’s a way of life’ thing. If you run a family grocery store, a family bakery, or have family partners in a real estate firm, you have to follow OH&S laws and pay into workers compensation for employees. Maybe you chose farming, maybe you want to follow in family footsteps, maybe you even feel it is a calling, but that’s not special. Lots of people carefully choose their careers, lots of people follow in the footsteps of a parent, many people feel their careers are a calling. Take our Premier, for example. She’s not a labour lawyer by accident, her father definitely passed a passion for her current profession on to her. You farm because you can make a living at it. If you are still farming and are not making a living then that’s a whole other problem and it has nothing to do with anything that our provincial government can control, for good or bad.

What do I think happened to cause the bill 6 furor?

First of all, this new NDP government is not the 44 year old comfortable conservatives. They are keeners; keeners denied power for a long time that finally find themselves with the influence to make their vision of the world a reality. They have been storing up this strongly held belief that we can do better for a very long time. They believe in this bill. So much. To NDP supporters the bill is obviously needed, and obviously the right thing to do. After all, it’s safety and protection for working people, right? What can possible be objectionable about that? No doubt that passion and conviction at least partly blinded the new government to how much they should have communicated with people outside their NDP bubble. No doubt that they could very easily have underestimated the virulence of opposition they would encounter. To me, it feels like they messed up on the environmental scan. I understand that weakness. Personally I still find myself aghast when I come across people whose views are in direct conflict with mine, because I too live in a bubble of like minded people and that bubble lulls me into the comfortable illusion that my views because are the norm. I think this happened. I hope that they learn from it.

Secondly, you have to realize that this communicating with the whole province is new to the NDP – I don’t mean the desire to communicate with the whole province or the knowledge that communication to the whole province is a good thing is new. I mean the mechanics of actually communicating with so many different demographics effectively.  I mean the nuts and bolts of knowing where the stakeholders are, who they are, how they access information, how they prefer to be communicated with, who they prefer to talk to and what they want to know. These mechanics are the responsibility of the bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that is supposed to communicate the government’s decisions, and it’s the bureaucracy that is supposed to advise the government on who their target audience is and how to best reach that target audience. This is why the GoA has a public affairs bureau, and this is why every ministry has a communications department. Now, possibly the NDP didn’t go to the bureaucrats soon enough, maybe the communication broke down there. I honestly don’t know that. However, it is absolutely the bureaucracy’s job to ensure that the people of Alberta understand the rules that the government makes, how the rules apply to them. There may well be dropped threads in the NDP caucus communications department (which is really small by the way) but there are most definitely also a couple dropped threads in the public service. There’s a good chance that the real communication breakdown occurred way before anything went public when something went awry in the bureaucratic machinery that is supposed to keep government working for Albertans. See my earlier comment about the environmental scan.

Thirdly, there is some unacceptable hyperbole and histrionics going on about this bill. Mostly because the WRP needs to grow the hell up. I think probably there are some larger agribusinesses fanning the flames too, letting the smaller farmer be their foot soldiers. True, the communication ball was dropped, and farmers aren’t sure what the parameters of the bill are, but the hysteria is out of proportion. It’s a bald faced lie to blame this whole fiasco on lack of consultation. This is not the first time Alberta has tried to pull it’s agricultural sector into the modern world of labour rights and safety standards. Why did the farmers freak out last time? I am willing to bet it’s the same reason they are freaking out this time. They don’t want change, they don’t want to have to follow rules, and man, oh man, it sure is beginning to look to me like they just don’t care about anyone but themselves. It sounds like they want Alberta to leave every other business owner in Alberta to follow the rules and protect their workers, and let the farm workers remain at the mercy of luck. It comes across as pretty heartless. The farmers are losing my empathy.

Lastly, this bill needed to pass. This bill is necessary. This bill is the right thing to do. Part of living in an organized society means we all have to agree to follow the same rules because consistent treatment of all people throughout society is a necessary ingredient to peaceful society. Bill 6 brings in minimum standards for farm workers. The current minimum is zero, and that is not acceptable. The WRP is stirring up the pot of people who don’t support the NDP to begin with so they are predisposed to dislike everything the NDP does. It’s also a group that felt mistreated at the hands of the governments past and have, as a result, a general distrust of government. It’s easy politic points for them. Don’t forget, there was an uproar when Stelmach tried to bring in similar legislation. This isn’t anti-NDP, it’s anti-government. The fact that they are protesting the NDP is just a boon to the WRP and their right wing supporters.

Am I empathetic toward the farmers right now? No, I’m really not. I am totally on board that they should be communicated with and consulted. However, they need to pull back and look at the bigger picture. They are not being persecuted, they are being brought in line with the reality in every other province in Canada. Wailing and crying about the death of the family farm and holding placards that use the word genocide to reference this bill is offensive. Basically, when I see media covering the bill 6 protests in my minds eye it equates to a bunch of French peasants attacking a downed hot air balloon with pitch forks. Rabid anger fueled by irrational fear, and not much else.

That’s what I think.

To summarize: The do-gooders tried to do good, but forgot to include the dubious, and the shit disturbers stepped in and disturbed some dubious shit.

Common enemies beg common allies

The pace of change and confrontation in politics is ramping up exponentially since I began this blog.

Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change and missing and murdered aboriginal women fueled a lot of my writing, with the occasional lighter social comment mixed in. I actually had a blog that was a bit lighter written and scheduled, but after what happened in Paris I pulled it back.

We can now add terrorism and the issue of refugees to the list of required radical cultural shifts polarizing our societies and communities. I know that’s probably been a front burner issue for Europeans for some time, but it has been back burner here in Canada. I was aware, but it hadn’t yet disrupted my life so I kept on with my own causes.

I am so very glad that I am on firm political footing where I live. Alberta did well in our last election and our government is full steam ahead addressing many of the issues I mentioned in my second paragraph. Canada also turned away from the dark side in our last federal election, and so far the brand new government seems to be heading in the right, and righteous, direction on most of those issues as well. It looks like Canada is doing the right thing.

new appWhich is why maybe I am so heartily dismayed at some of the reaction I see on social media after Paris. I have seen extended family posting bigoted memes. Sadly I’ve have also heard that my husband and two of my son’s have this sort of hateful, ignorant rhetoric in their circles. I don’t and neither does the oldest boy, but I suppose that only attests to how narrowly we have selected for our social groups. I could continue to live in my comfy bubble of people that are rational and compassionate, but then who will work to oppose the hatred?

I can only think of one way to stem the tide of racism and hateful rhetoric. It is to look around you and really think. We are surrounded by reasons not to be so hate-filled. Just read the story below…

My husband stopped for a badly needed trim at a barber shop in Stony Plain (pretty sure it was there).

As my husband sat in the chair, the barber talked of nothing but Paris and how ISIS isn’t really Muslim and how he disagrees with them and how wrong violence is. The barber was Muslim.

Think about it.

Imagine being that barber right now. His ability to continue living in peace and harmony with his neighbours is being eroded by terrorists. Is he afraid his wife or children will be attacked – verbally or physically? Is he afraid he will be attacked? Is he afraid his business will suffer and he will lose his ability to support his family? Is he afraid that nothing he has done to this point matters, and all that counts now is what people who claim to be like him have done?

Does he lay awake at night wondering how he can protect himself from an enemy who claims to be his ally against an ally who claims he is the enemy?

Think of that. Then realise what you and this barber have in common is that both of you are victims of the extremist terrorists who are using Islam as a false shield for their evil.

Global game theory

It’s been an overwhelming few days. When I think I’ve finally got the pieces sorted out, I read the news and again find nothing makes sense. This has been hard to write. It has been hard to focus on one story line in light of the many irrational directions in which the game is playing out around me. Be sure, it is a game, and the way we play is being manipulated.

I don’t stand with Paris. I don’t stand with Beirut. I don’t stand with Bagdad. Asking me to state where I stand is a cruel game that I’ve no hope of winning. It’s a game that keeps us trapped in a cycle of destruction and keeps us prisioner to violent outcomes. How do I know? It’s the prisioner’s dilemma.

In 1950 Melvin Dresher and Merrill Flood conducted the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma experiment, a two person illustration of a game in which two seemingly rational people are unable/unwilling to cooperate for their own best interest – elaborated by A W Tucker. It is too complex to get into here, but an adequate summary is that player assumptions result in otherwise rational people not cooperating and losing the game for them both.

This game of choosing one side, taking a stand, leaves us prisoners to assumptions about the other player’s next move. Instead of acting we are always reacting, and never take advantage of the fullscope of possibilities.  We assume the other player will bargain in bad faith, so we bargain in bad faith. The other player assumes we will bargain in bad faith, so they bargain in bad faith. The first round of bad faith is not attributable to either player, it is attribuable to the universally adopted assumption of that our only option is to act to counter a move the other player has not yet made. Violence becomes the only game strategy we acknowledge. We don’t even consider acting for a result five moves from now, we are always trapped in our first move.

We will never win the game with violence. Think about it. We react to violence with violence because we assume the other player will react with violence. They react to our violence based on the assumption that we will act violently. It feeds on itself.

One of us has to change our actions before the assumptions we hold will be proven wrong.

We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and hold fast. We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and do what is right regardless of how we assume the other player will act. Then slowly, over time, the assumption will be that we are playing in good faith. Why do we want the other players to assume we will act towards them in good faith? Because terrorists recruit based on this cycle of violence. They recruit based on a safe assumption that since we will play in bad faith they can play in bad faith and call it justice. Which is exactly what we are doing. They count on that. They force our hand, and use it as a weapon against us.

We must play in good faith toward a strategic end game – peace.

We must not use one victim as an excuse to create victims on the other side. We must not stand with one victim against another victim. The only side that is in the right is the side that refuses to create more victims.

It is vital that Muslims align themselves as with peace, or violence will continue to hijack their religion. It is vital that the west align itself with peace, or violence will continue to hijack our international relationships.  All victims of violence must be stop being used as pawns to misguided ideologies.

And make no mistake, dangerous ideas exists within every ideology, dangerous people exist within every community. There is no validity to the claim that Islam is inherently violent. Our society’s ideology contains as much violence, and it is currently being twisted as much for violent ends. Playing in bad faith based on the claim that the other ideology leaves us no choice is simply fallacious. Our cultures have as much in common, and as many options avaiable to us that are constructive as there are destructive.

Most importantly, our common ground is that all of us suffer and none of us benefit from the violence that is hapening right now.

The only way to break out of this prisioner’s dilemma and reach the best outcome is to keep our  promises and commitments, and to (peacefully) hold other nations accountable for their commitments. If we do not condone violence we can not wage violence overtly, or passively, or by proxy. We need to non-violently remove all support for terroists. That means removing they support gain by using our actions as an excuse. That means removing the financial support they gain when we do business with those who do business with them. That means working to remove all camoflauge in our communities that shields their recruitment and misinformation from sight. We need to interupt their narrative.

This is all one game. We bargain in bad faith against ourselves. Revenge is never the answer, because it never leads to a cessation of the cycle of violence, which is the only answer. History, literature, and mythology are all full of tales that show us this.

No Muslim, no Christian, no athiest, no Jew, is responsible for the bad faith of yesterday, but we are all responsible for what we do today. Refusing help to refugees makes them twice victims, once victim of the terrorists, and second victim to us stupidly playing into the terrorist’s hands. We need to realise they suffer with us, and can be either brought in as allies or lost to the violence, potentially being recruited out of despair to act against us.

I understand the motivation to lower our flags, to light up the night sky with the French colours. But standing with France obscures the reality that there are victims everywhere we look, and we should stand with all of them. If we stand with all victims, the people who commit violence will be fractured and disenfranchised. If we all choose to bargain in good faith, bad faith will cease to be our primary motivation for continued violence.

This is what Gandhi and Martin Luther King got right.  We can never, never win by retaliation, we only become prisioners to our assumptions and a poorly played game. We don’t gain support that way. They understood the long game.

We won’t ever eliminate ISIS by bombing them, that will simply feed on that hatred and use it against us. But in ten years we could have starve ISIS by good diplomacy, and by cutting off the money and the narratives that sustains them.

We need to change the game.

Canadian crisis averted

I wrote a blog a few months ago about Trump running for leadership of the GOP. Near the end of my rant I wrote my take on what differentiates Canadians from Americans:

“On a local note, I personally think this is where Alberta and Canada was/is heading but for our inherent tendency to be skeptical of the kind of tomfoolery and corruption that gives fodder to extreme thinking or behavior. We are a nation of moderates that can be roused from our political apathy when our moderation is threatened.”

To be honest with you, for a little while during #elxn42 I was worried that I had suffered from a delusional assessment of Canadian personality for my whole life. I feared I would be proven wrong about my fellow Canadians, and end up being betrayed by the only culture I have ever known.

My fear was unfounded. Enough of us are of sound mind to have seen the path the Harper Conservatives were leading us down was a scary road with no reason, no compassion and no future. Now, I personally supported the NDP because they suited me, but the Liberal and NDP parties ran platforms that were insignificantly different. In fact, all the other parties clustered together on the political spectrum, only the Harper Cons were outside the Canadian comfort zone. I take that as fair reinforcement of my opinion that Canada under Harper was heading away from the true Canadian character.

I am pleased that Justin Trudeau is our new Prime Minister.

I see hope already in Trudeau’s decisions in his first few days in office:

  1. He did a bang up job naming a cabinet, with gender parity and cabinet ministers who are actually qualified to oversee the departments they will lead, and some changing ministry names to demonstrate a better understanding of reality.
  2. He restored the long-form census for 2016.
  3. He unmuzzled scientists and made it clear that he respected the public service.
  4. He brought compassion and decency back to the way we treat our fellow huamn beings in need.
  5. He made a commitment to return Canada’s foreign policy to that of internationally respected peace broker.

Each of these changes sends a message, and each of them brings reassurance and hope to progressive Canadians.

canadianparliamentParliament sits on December 3rd. I am eager to see what Trudeau’s new government will use this sitting to accomplish. There are tax changes to be discussed, but the one item I am most eager to see brought forward is electoral reform. I encourage Trudeau to, as soon as possible, begin to look the kind of electoral reform that will prevent future right wing outliers like the Harper Cons from stealing power and wielding it in a way that the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with.

The sooner that goes before parliament, the sooner all Canadians can feel that the Harper era is truly behind them.

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

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