Category Archives: Feminism

Masturgate: The Little Scandal That Couldn’t

It’s election time and everyone is abuzz with the ostensibly shocking allegation that Jack Layton might have, possibly, received a happy ending at a rub-and-tug 15 years ago.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment: The man might have, possibly, received a handy J from someone other than his wife a decade and a half ago.

That’s the best we can do for a scandal, Canada? My, my. We are a polite lot.

Let’s review the facts of the situation: Jack Layton was found at the Velvet Touch massage parlour with an attendant. The police questioned him and sent him on his way. That’s it. Those are all the facts we know.

Is it entirely credible to believe that Layton didn’t know a place named Velvet Touch was the sort of place a man could get his baser needs met? Probably not. Is it entirely reasonable to castigate him for being Big Bad “John” Layton? Not really. The police at the scene certainly didn’t think there was anything damning enough before them to warrant pressing charges. The police are, presumably, the experts at determining whether a crime has been committed. They didn’t seem to think one had.

So where does that leave Canada? It leaves Canada with one party leader who finds the notion of parliamentary contempt to be laughable, one who could really use a good eyebrow threading and a few charm school lessons, one who might have blown his load in a suspected bawdy house, one who has no relevance outside of Quebec and one who can’t even win a seat in her own riding.

Among such august company, the fledgling scandal of Masturgate doesn’t even stand out.

The Federal Election as a Block Party?

Fresh off my thrilling love for flexing the democracy muscle yesterday, I stumbled across a couple bits of internet wit that support my cause.

So, my plan is to OVER enjoy this election. Let’s have block parties. Go crazy. Make it our royal wedding. Just to make a point.

via Twitter / @Tabatha Southey

Tabatha Southey, a national treasure for insight, gets it. She gets democracy. She gets society. She embodies that Canadian kind of sense of je ne sais quoi humour. She knows crap when she sees it and she calls it crap. Then she makes you want to invite her to your Antigonish kitchen party because you just know that no one would ever leave.

She also reminds me of a 21st century version of Babe Bennet. It’s not unprincipled sass or snark, but wit.

Southey’s tweet above and Bennet’s rant about gender equality in politics reflect a key nexus in what will happen for the next 7 weeks or so: a new kind of democratic participation in Canada.

We already have 2011 as a year with domestic, continental and global democracy movements. Despite some evidence of rising political apathy in Canada in recent elections, we have recently seen a successful anti-HST initiative pass in BC and anti-prorogation movements throughout the country.

We have an opportunity over the next 7 weeks to make a bold statement that democracy matters, right in the face of Stephen Harper coming within a few House procedural motions of becoming the first prime minister in Canadian history to be found in contempt of parliament. Instead, he’ll suffer a non-confidence vote on Friday to crash parliament, unless he dissolves it himself today. Out of spite, of course.

And this is Southey’s point: that we own democracy and the elected stewards of it had better remember that “public servant” means we are the boss. And the majority of MPs in the House are less than 2 days away from firing this prime minister.

I want this to be an election campaign that would make the people on the streets in Cairo, Benghazi and Madison wake up in the morning and nod with the knowledge that we are no longer taking our democracy for granted.

And we need to listen to Babe Bennet as well. Let this be the federal election campaign with the highest ever number of female candidates and generally, non-white male candidates. The face of Canada is changing. Let’s make sure our political representation reflects that.

Shame on You, You Ugly, Narcissistic Consumer

"If you had a secret wish, would you make it beautiful?" - False Creek Plastic Surgery Centre

Some days it’s hard to make it through the day without something like the [theoretically] “public” transit system trying to shame us as ugly narcissistic consumers with their adcreep, just in time for Christmas!

Because we are not beautiful, we need plastic surgery. But we should not brag about it or openly discuss it with our peers: it needs to be a secret wish. Ads like this one from the for-profit False Creek Plastic Surgery Centre abuse us into thinking we’re ugly, then shame us into secretly wishing to be beautiful.

Priceless. We’re beautiful already, but the ad’s job is to convince us of the lie that we’re ugly.

"Our World Revolves Around You" - The Perfect New World of Technology: The HP Store in Vancouver

And then we have the new HP Store in Vancouver. Its goal is to let us know that the world revolves around me. I truly am that special. Except I’m a mark. HP is modelling its narcissism-inducing relationship with its customers after the Apple Store’s worship/exploitation of its cult members.

And perhaps the worst thing about this particular ad is that it appears to be on a bus shelter on Burrard near the SkyTrain station, but in fact it’s the same physical structure of a bus shelter ad, but it’s just sitting there on the street for people to walk into. It’s a TransLink billboard plunked right there on the sidewalk in our way when we’re walking, a billboard outside the transit system.

Adcreep takes a new angle.

So what is our job this Christmas?

  1. voluntary simplicity
  2. reject affluenza
  3. recognize we already have enough stuff
  4. remember that we’re all beautiful
  5. get over yourself if you think the HP world actually revolves around you, or that anything does
  6. know we are loved, honoured and cherished as human beings regardless of how much plastic surgery we’ve had or how big our hard drive is.

It’s hard to have a merry Christmas if you let the adcreep brainwash you into perceiving yourself as ugly, shameful and narcissistic…all at once. It takes decades of psychological work and training to get us to be all those things simultaneously.

Break out of that and suddenly you’ll notice the homeless teen 75 feet from the HP ad who also deserves the dignity that the adcreep is trying to rob from us all.

Now go give a hug to someone you love.

A Paradigm Shift is Happening!

A Paradigm Shift is Happening!

That was the assessment of Dr. Marti Glenn, one of the keynote speakers at the 2010 International Congress of The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health, which took place from November 11-14 at Asilomar, California.

Dr. Glenn, who is the Dean of the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, began by saying that, “Economists, writers, and researchers are beginning to discover…what we have known for decades: that the events and environment surrounding pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, and early infancy set the template out of which we live our lives.”

“The time is right,” she added, for a shift in the paradigm.”

Recent coverage such as on prenatal health in Time magazine, and epigenetics in Newsweek, symbolize this profound change in consciousness.

Some of the specific insights that Dr. Glenn mentioned included:

  • “Early experiences determine brain architecture.”
  • “By the sixth prenatal month, most of the 100 billion neurons found in the adult brain are already there.”

She also highlighted the most important point of all: preventing trauma in the first place.  For instance, she noted that a father’s involvement during pregnancy can reduce infant mortality.

Dr. Glenn also quoted Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, who points out that every dollar invested “in the very young” can not only save lives and prevent illness, but it would also save from $4-17 dollars in future costs.

Heckman’s work is vital and demands attention. For instance:

“Recent research demonstrates important differences in the family environments and investments of advantaged and disadvantaged children. Gaps in cognitive stimulation, affection, punishment, and other parental investments for children from families of different socioeconomic status open up early.”

My presentation overlapped with her focus.  The first part discussed the current state of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy, and how the emerging consensus supports his long-held contention that we have underestimated just how fragile we are while in the womb.

I pointed out how Janov believes that too many children have been emotionally damaged from an early age, and that one element of healing is to re-connect with the buried memories.

The second part of my talk discussed how to PREVENT hurting children in the first place, starting from the beginning of life.  In short, research has shown that providing optimal conditions for pregnant women, such as low stress, adequate nutrition, and quality pre-natal care could prevent children from suffering from a host of intellectual, emotional, and physical illnesses.

In addition, around 500,000 women die each year in childbirth.  Adam Jones (UBC Okanagan) has pointed out that most of those mothers could be saved for the cost of – six fighter jets.

The fact is that providing optimal conditions for these mothers and their children would cost only a tiny fraction of what the world spends on advertising, or the Olympics, or the military.

The Paradigm Shift can’t happen too soon.

Back to School Activism: Wake Up, Parents!

From BC's Kindergarten English-Language Arts Curriculum Guide

I’ve already begun with A Back-To-School Wishlist for Society and now that school is finally starting this morning it’s time to talk about parental advocacy and activism.

Parents: you are the most fundamental advocate for your students. The BC Minister of Education, for instance, is not.

Do not forget that this year, and not just because tomorrow is World Literacy Day.

Why? Her open letter to you [below] is perfectly reasonable, arguing about why we matter so critically to our children’s success. But when we compare its contents to some basic facts of how the BC Liberal government is undermining our social institutions and other trends in society, we really see what kind of manipulation is going on and why we need to be vigilant against the BC Liberals’ gruesome plans for education.

This is going to be a long 10 months. You need to stay frosty.

While the minister is correct in asserting the value of parents in a child’s education, the BC Liberals have done the following to support an anti-Robin Hood wealth transfer from the poor and middle class to tax cuts for the rich and large and mostly foreign corporations:

  1. closed over 200 schools
  2. laid off thousands of teachers and support staff
  3. refused to fund K-12 pay increases or carbon offsets they legislated themselves, meaning boards of education must make cuts to fund those costs
  4. attacked working people with a decade-long minimum wage stall, privatization, contracting out and legislated wage roll-backs, all of which impoverish workers, forcing them to take on extra work…all of which erodes parents’ and caregivers’ ability to spend precious moments with their students
  5. enhanced the high stakes testing regime and industrial warehousing of students which undermine individualized education
  6. forced budget cuts that erode supports for vulnerable students
  7. threatened the democratic legitimacy of boards of education who question the minister’s “wisdom”

Years ago I described the BC Liberal government’s political philosophy as sado-masochistic. They keep abusing us, we seem to keep electing them. I used to characterize it as forced sado-masochism, but since we have re-elected them twice, I’m not sure how forced it is. This is clearly an unhealthy relationship that feeds on feelings of apathy and powerlessness.

When you read the minister’s words below, you will surely see that time is of the essence. We must have free time to engage in all the positive support we can provide our children.

If the minister really wants to acknowledge the important role parents play in education and the solid research that supports that goal, the rest of her government wouldn’t be doing so much to undermine that relationship for the sake of tax cuts to the rich and global corporate shareholders.

The minister’s advice is still useful, though, assuming we can create the time to engage in political activism. In fact, the BC School Act’s fundamental purpose is to “enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

The BC Liberal party’s goal is the economic focus, since so far this decade we’ve seen a constant erosion in our healthy, democratic and pluralistic society. But let’s look at how we can re-frame the minister’s advice to restore our society:

  • join your schools PAC [parent advisory committee]…to stay informed of parent and community action to protect our students and education system from further government cuts
  • get to know the teachers…to keep up with what kind of decimation is occurring in classrooms this year so you can mobilize to fight the government
  • learning truly is an active social process…that is currently being undermined by the government, so parental involvement in community action to protect public education is an essential civics lesson

And we need to keep up with our neighbours to see signs of things to come.

  1. We must be vigilant to make sure the government doesn’t engage in creative initiatives like attaching RFID chips to students to cut down on the time and expense of tracking attendance, so we can lay off some more support staff and help teachers focus more on weightier tasks. California is experimenting with this. Just because technology lets us do something doesn’t mean it’s right.
  2. Let’s avoid the thrust of academic inflation, cramming more and more knowledge and homework into the system at earlier grades because of some insane notion that the more students memorize before graduation, the smarter they will be. This comes from a lack of understanding of lower and higher order thinking. Learning is about learning how to learn, finding information, and improving analytical skills more than memorizing the dysfunction of Charlemagne, his heirs and the Carolingian dynasty. In fact, wise teachers have realized those addicted to the policy of increased homework are off the mark: “Once it leaves this building, we’re not using it for report card marks,” he said. “Once it leaves here, we don’t know who’s been working on it.”
  3. And in the same category as treating our children like RFID carriers, we need to avoid early streaming and its clones. At one Calgary school, despite their ineffective anti-streaming spin, they are streaming 7-year-olds into visual and performing arts, humanitarian and environmental issues, scientific inquiry and innovation, or sports and athletics streams. Streaming is wrong. It is particularly wrong with 7 year-olds who are far from able to pick or be assessed in one area. And more fundamentally, it perverts notions like Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory [which argues for enhancing students experiences in ALL intelligences] by picking a subset and ignoring the rest. But it can be quite cost effective to inject some Brave New World class juice into our culture. We must resist this.

Honestly. Happy first day of school!

It will definitely be a long 10 months. The system is more handicapped than last year. Our resources and time are strained further. But the need for our vigilance, advocacy and activism has never been higher. And it doesn’t hurt to read BC’s curriculum guides to find out what should be going on…and if you don’t see how they translate into real things in the classroom, ask your children’s teachers, who would be thrilled to see parents that engaged in learning.

But we are not along. Even the minister thinks we should get involved with the PAC, for instance.

Let’s make sure that’s the worst advice for her political career she ever issued, and I’ll see you at the other end in June.

Words from the minister:

As your child heads back to school this year, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the important role you, as parents, play in the success of all the children and young people in our education system.

Research has shown that when parents are involved and engaged, it not only helps their own child, it helps other children in the school. The evidence is consistent and convincing: parent engagement is one of the key factors identified by researchers in high-performing schools, and families have a major influence on their child’s achievement in school and through life.

I really encourage parents, when thinking about back to school, to talk to their child’s teacher. Really get to know your child’s teacher. Offer to volunteer. Become part of the parent advisory committee. You need to know what’s happening in the classroom to support your child.

Keep in touch with your school and discuss your child’s education. The close co-operation between home and school contributes significantly to creating a positive learning environment for children.

Learning is an active social process. You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Your role in their education remains as important today as it was when they were saying their first words or learning to walk.

As your child heads back to school, please get engaged to ensure all our children have a successful education experience. We can’t do it without you.

Margaret MacDiarmid
Minister of Education
Government of British Columbia

Only 1.5 Tenured Women in SFU’s PoliSci Department


There are only 1.5 tenured women who work full-time in SFU’s Political Science Department out of 21 profs. Soon there will be 0.5. What century is this?

Behold the list of faculty in the department:

  1. Of the 21 people on that list, only 6 are women. Whoops, that’s pretty low to start with.
  2. Of the 6 women, 2 are actually retired or retiring very soon; they both had tenure. Whoops, time to update the faculty list webpage.
  3. Of the remaining 4, only one has tenure and she works in another department as well. The other 3 don’t have tenure and only 2 of them work fully in the political science department.
  4. This all means that of the 6 women in the department, the only 2 who work full-time in political science don’t have tenure.

That’s just embarrassing. After picking up a couple degrees there this decade, I’ve seen the tail end of a problem that has existed for many years to get to the point today where women are so ridiculously outnumbered.

Gender and cultural equity matter. Diverse voices matter. A reasonable number of non white men would be good, but now a large majority of the department’s professors are white men.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some extraordinary, intriguing professors in the department, as well as maybe a normal proportion of horrible/demeaning/arrogant teachers. This applies to tenured and non-tenured professors of whatever gender and cultural background.

But the bureaucratic and interpersonal dysfunctions in the department are my best explanations for why the department was put under administration by the dean’s office, why faculty are leaving, why grad students are dismissively neglected, why undergrads seek other majors and different schools for graduate studies, and why when I go to academic conferences people ask me if it’s really as bad at SFU as they’ve heard.

And the worst part is that the leadership of the university has known about these problems for years. I have no idea the extent they have gone to address the problems, but whatever they’ve tried, it’s failing.

Suddenly now we have the horrible statistic of almost no full-time tenured women in the department. And judging by the problems that led to this dire situation, I can’t see how the department is capable of or interested in fixing this situation.

Nous sommes prets. We are ready. That’s SFU’s motto.

A recent slogan is “Thinking of the World.”

It’s time to walk the talk.

On Carole James Being a Woman

On Monday and Tuesday I wrote about reasons I had been hearing from people about why they think we lost the election. It was a list of reasons I had heard, presented in no particular order.

The only order jigging I did was to put my belief at the end, the one about engaging with members and the progressive social movement in BC that I contributed to Think Forward BC NDP.

In describing the category of reasons why people think we lost that dealt with Carole James, among the 5 reasons I included that people were suggesting, one of them was that she is a woman.

Not explicitly writing that I don’t necessarily believe this list of explanations of the electoral loss meant I left some ambiguity about what I do believe.

I don’t believe we lost the election because of any of the first 8 categories of reasons, including that our leader is a woman. I believe we lost because we alienated our members who chose to not fund, volunteer for or vote for a party that no longer reflected what they felt the party should be.  I don’t think it was the gender of the leader.

I think people who don’t think women should be premier wouldn’t vote NDP anyway. I have also talked to party members who were concerned about having a female leader because they feared sexist voters wouldn’t vote for the party. But like I said, I don’t think they’d vote NDP anyway.

The sexist reality of this province is that one’s gender can be an element in their political success or failure. There are also racist elements in the political culture in BC. We don’t talk about either of them too much, though. They are very touchy subjects, understandably.

But we need to talk about race and gender and all sorts of demographic issues that unjustifiably bias the public’s political decision-making.

These are real issues to discuss, not in the context of deciding how to let racism and sexism sway our political existence, but to figure out how to build a progressive society in BC that is beyond this kind of bigotry.

Two days ago, Carole James discussed one example of this bigotry in politics:

“It’s difficult for women because you can be seen as shrill very easily,” Ms. James said. “You can be seen as haranguing in a way that men aren’t. When you take on tough issues I think there’s also a tougher standard for women to find that balance.”

What kind of civilized, enlightened society exists in which a provincial political party leader who happens to be a woman has to moderate her political existence to accommodate troubling perceptions in the population? It turns out, ours. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a few things to say about how we ought to judge people. Decades later, we still have a way to go.

And when we voted for an equity policy at the 2007 convention, there was much debate: uncomfortable and touchy, but necessary.

This weekend we’ll receive the Equity Mandate Report and decide what to do in the future to encourage more diversity in NDP candidacies.

Having had the pleasure of watching the equity policy contribute to a number of successes like Mable Elmore’s election in Vancouver-Kensington, I will encourage continued discussion about the various forms of bigotry that exist in our political culture, with a goal of moving past it.

I voted for the equity policy in 2007 and I will vote for the new Mandate recommendations this weekend.

Dialogue is important.

It isn’t always easy and it is often cumbersome to the point of wondering if it’s worth it. But in a progressive political party, earnest members of good intentions deserve the space and the freedom to discuss controversial subjects in a productive way.

While I don’t think we lost either of the last 2 elections because our leader is a woman, some people still do. And that is worth discussing because if we don’t, the elephant in the room will remain, which is what we’re trying to avoid when we examine equity issues in the first place.

The Sick Government BCers Just Re-Elected

$2m is less than 50 cents/resident of BC.

Matt Good’s profound review of contradictions in, around, during and after Woodlands will pummel your soul, but in a good way, unless you’re a heartless misanthropist. And this first bit is just emblematic of how this government views its social responsibilities:

In 2005, Stan Hagen, BC’s Children and Family Development Minister, claimed that the Provincial government did not subscribe to the view that systematic abuse took place at Woodlands despite the fact that in 2002 the Provincial government issued an official apology to some 1,500 survivors of Woodlands, Essondale, Valleyview, and Tranquille. Unfortunately, the $2 million dollars promised to provide counseling for them has never materialized.

Decades ago, as families picnicked across the highway in Queen’s Park, children were being tortured within view of it. The headstones of those unclaimed victims of Woodlands were, over the years, thrown in the nearby ravine, used to build a staff barbecue patio and stairs, and 1,800 of them were ripped out of the ground in late 70’s so that a park could be built. All that is left now is a small memorial that some believe to be enough to mark their passing, a small park in which local residents allow their dogs to defecate and urinate, were graffiti defames shattered headstones.

via » Archive » A Cannon In My Chest.