Washroom Wars: Yay for Gender Neutral Bathrooms; Nay for Ignorant Buffoons

by Ruwani Dadallage. Ruwani is a volunteer at Women Against Violence Against Women and an all-around kickass feminist. 

I never thought I would write about washrooms on a feminist blog. But an incident that happened at work made me realize how important feminist advocacy is no matter where we are.

My colleague, a smart, politically correct woman we shall call A, brought up the need for at least one gender neutral bathroom in the building we occupy. Since anyone outside the hetero-normative archetype has an increased risk of rejection, judgement, mistrust, bullying and assault, the idea was proposed in an effort to create a safe and comfortable environment in the building for anyone transgendered, gender non-conforming, gender queer, and anyone of all gender identities and expressions.

Seeing how we occupy a historic Vancouver building, and how we would probably need permission from the gods and a sacrifice to get approval to renovate, the easiest solution was to assign the existing men’s single stall restroom as our new gender neutral washroom. Open and shut case. So we only needed approval of our boss to take down the old sign and replace it with a cool gender neutral sign. We were so pleased with our resolution and pat ourselves on the back for being such great allies. However, in my feminist bliss I sometimes forget that not everyone thinks of inclusive solutions.

Enter colleague B. First he guffawed. Then added that this was one way we were attempting to increase the number of washrooms for women (okay, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, women always have to wait in line), and no way was he going to share a restroom with everyone. He didn’t want to go into a washroom after a girl has taken a stinky dump!

I wished he stopped rambling there. He also believed that transgendered persons would have to learn to face the harsh realities of the world, and get used to there not being spaces like this for them. He went so far as to say that even in the more progressive public spaces the gender binary is still clear, with respective washroom stalls for men and women. Then concluded by saying picking which washroom to go to would be the least of worries for a transgendered person.

I had steam coming out of my ears. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this rubbish. This is a professional, adult male, spewing forth blatantly myopic, male privilege beliefs. By not taking the time to understand these concerns it is easy to overlook how much violence and discrimination someone would face because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity. A transgendered person could be in danger of experiencing transphobic/homophobic slurs, harassment, violence in relationships, physical abuse, sexual assault or murder.

These experiences are particularly grave for trans women due to transmisogyny. Many cisgendered women have the misconception that they would be in danger if allowing transgendered women in a shared restroom. They are expected to prove that they are “real” women. The number of cases that are reported of a trans woman driven out or assaulted just for wanting to use a washroom are far too many, and these assaults are carried out by other women as well as men.

Colleague B apologized the next day for his behaviour and the way he held onto his beliefs. Nonetheless, he still stood by what he had said earlier and did not apologize for thinking that way.

In the midst of supportive colleagues it only takes one person like this to bring me back to reality to remind me of the palpable tyranny that exists, of the oppressive patriarchal dogmas and why feminist advocacy is so important. We may have won the battle this time with the newly installed washroom, but there is a long war ahead of us.

- Ruwani Dadallage xx 

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Stealthy Freedoms and the Colonial Gaze

by Zishad Lak.

Zishad is a PhD student in Canadian Literature in University of Ottawa. Her thesis examines the relation between names and migration in contemporary Canadian novels.

A few months ago a Facebook page created by a London-based Iranian journalist caught a lot of attentions and was shared mainly by my non-Iranian friends on Facebook: Stealthy Freedoms. Stealthy Freedoms is a Facebook page where Iranian women post their pictures with headscarves removed in public to protest the compulsory head cover. Their hair is often romantically disheveled by the wind; smiles are in order for the camera: pictures worthy of Facebook profiles. In fact, if one did go through the Facebook profile pictures of Iranian residents I suspect they will find a large number of women among them are not wearing a scarf in these pictures and a number of these unveiled clichés are taken outdoors in public spaces. This is not in any way to justify the compulsion of certain attire on women, that is absolutely not defendable, but rather to maintain that the mere uncovering of hair in public is no longer shocking in Iran, if it ever were, nor does it break a taboo. It is in no way comparable to Amina Tyler’s denudation that risked her life. The difference between the method used by FEMEN and the pictures posted on Stealthy Freedoms Facebook page is worth pondering.

In the past decade or so we have been seeing an emergence of queer and feminist movements of colour criticising the white supremacy inscribed in what they call white feminism. This has been a place of contention and has often created a gap between feminists of colour that found themselves silent victims in the discourse of white feminism and white feminists who refuse to see and accept their privileges. The latest Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen, attests to this divide; one that I believe invokes much needed debates and is an essential part of a dynamic feminism, or any decolonising movement for that matter. Those feminists who deny such divides choose to close their eyes on the omnipresence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy and reduce the movement to mere legal equalities in a justice system that is inherently sexist and racist.

Whoever claims to be a feminist is then a feminist, no question about it, far from me to police that. Feminism after all, is a political imperative, an affirmation that such a movement is required here and now. But this does not mean that every unthoughtful action in the name of resistance must be praised. Feminism comes with a commitment and a responsibility. It is costly; if it isn’t you are not doing it right. It is lonely; if you are praised by right and left you are not disturbing much. So sometimes lighthearted, non-radical actions don’t translate into small contributions or do not simply die in obscurity but impose set backs on the movement.

We saw that following her release from detention, Amina Tyler bared her body again, this time, inscribed on it were words that denounced FEMEN’s Islamophobia and in doing so she set an example of how a dynamic decolonisation must constantly interrogate itself and the repercussions of its actions. So it is not necessarily the group, FEMEN, whose leader in turn denounced Amina, that I evoke but rather the method of protest that is used by this group or similar manners of protest (such as this) The subject in these protests is not still, she interrupts a formed body and unsettles the naturalised norm before those most loyal to it.

In the opening picture of this article, for example, FEMEN protesters appear topless before the eyes of anti-abortion protesters and their children. The parents cover the eyes of their children to protect them from being exposed to desexualised breasts, breasts that unlike those of their mothers, are not maternal and do not serve any purpose in reproduction. What is more, the rage of heterosexual men in online forums and comment boards against these demonstrators illustrates the unsettling effect and affect of these bodies. I have read men use the most abominable terms to describe these women’s bodies, expressing their utter disgust over the exposed cellulites, criticising the women for being too thin, too fat, but most importantly and most often as sexually undesirable. These de-monstrating bodies are monstrous in that they deny these men the object of their desire. They move, are moving; for these women often march into an event to disrupt it. When captured in picture, the text inscribed on these bodies compels the eyes of the spectator to move, these bodies are not still, not even in the picture. I cannot however help but see in the picture of a woman, with wind in her hair and smile on her face the reproduction of the immobilised object before the gaze of the other. It is then not surprising that reaction to these pictures were often times positive. Many on social media hailed these women for exposing ‘the beauty of a woman’s hair’, the reason for which, expressed these users, it should not be covered. If breasts of topless FEMEN protesters are desexualised, hair in the case of these Facebook freedoms becomes the object of fetish, much like it originally was for those who imposed the compulsion in the first place.

 My second point, going back to my introduction about the feminist divide, is the gaze. Feminism has traditionally bemoaned, and continues to do so, rightfully might I add, the male gaze and its dictating dominance. Yes, that is still there. But – and this is why the uphill battle for racialised women is steep – what is often neglected in mainstream feminist discourse is the colonial gaze, including that of ‘white’ feminists. This gaze, much like the male gaze, objectifies the subject. The body becomes the picture, the picture represents the ‘affectable other’ aspiring to be human. As Andrea Smith justly points out, in her article, “Queer Theory and Native Studies”, ‘the very request for full subjecthood, implicit in the ethnographic project to tell our ‘truth’ is already premised on a logic that requires us to be objects to be discovered.’

There is of course a danger to criticisms like the one I presented in this post and it is a valid one at that: local resistance risks being thrust into obscurity to be protected from colonial interpretations. What we should be wary of is the audience or the interlocutor that is implicit in the message around which the actor organises her actions. I find it hard to believe that the Stealthy Freedoms’ page was set up merely as a local resistance, the fact that the organiser herself does not reside in Iran confirms to a great extent my suspicion. Iranian feminists inside of Iran, much like other feminists all around the world, are faced with and fight against the heteropatriarchal powers in micro and macro levels. As Western feminists we have a responsibility too: to be critical about the kind of struggle that is brought to our attention and reflect upon the reasons behind the publicity they receive. As coloured feminists, we should be alert about the colonial relations that appropriate our movements and not hesitate to denounce them, as Amina Taylor did so bravely and in doing so exposed the racism engraved in certain Occidental feminist movements. I strongly believe that despite all the good intentions behind it, Stealthy Freedom is deeply invested in a naïve heteropatriarchy that makes of immobilised women objects to be saved by the humanity of the universal subject. The struggle faced by women of colour cannot be assimilated into a universal and international feminism. For as long as the universal is defined by the Western subject, women of colour are, to use Andrea Smith’s words, a particular aspiring to humanity, to the universal humanity of the ‘self-determined’ Western subject.

(Image from a Toronto Sun report of the event (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency))

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An Open Letter to My Beloved College Freshman Brother Regarding Consent, Illustrated with Personal Examples

by Kyla Jamieson.

Kyla is a writer in her fourth year at UBC. She is working on a memoir about modeling and can be followed on Twitter @kyjamieson. Kyla originally presented this piece at the March to Reclaim Consent at UBC Campus, unceded Musqueam territory, on November 22, 2013. 

Bro,

I know how you’re going to react to this—you don’t want to hear about your sister’s sex life. You don’t even want to know I have sex, as you made clear that time you threatened to kick me out of your car for mentioning a sexual partner. But don’t worry, this isn’t just about my sex life, this is about yours too.

You practice safe sex—of this I’m fairly certain, given the condoms I found in the console when I searched your car for parking change. So, at the very least, I know you know about safe sex, which is great. Keep wrapping it up. But do you know about consent?

I’m not here to point fingers or assume. For all I know, you give, ask for, and receive, enthusiastic consent throughout every sexual encounter. But while mom’s “birds and the bees” talk taught me she’s boss at drawing ovaries, it skipped over consent. So a little review seems prudent, especially as recent events in my own bed have shown that there are still some people in the dark about this essential aspect of safe, happy sex.

For example: the basketball player you almost kicked me out of your car for mentioning. He’d unwrapped a condom and was putting it on when I asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me?” He looked up at me, dumbfounded. He thought it was obvious I wanted to have sex, and I thought it was obvious that it is never obvious. It seems problematic that the basics of consent have flown over a few heads, given how essential consent is to not committing sexual assault.

At the very least, failing to ask will reveal you to have poor manners. At the very worst, it will make you a rapist.

“If a girl doesn’t say ‘No,’ I don’t understand how it can be rape.” A kind, gentle, well-intentioned man spoke that sentence in my bed. I found myself at a loss for words. But eventually I was able to explain: not saying “No” is not the same thing as consent. Because as you might imagine, the shock of being sexually assaulted can render one quite speechless.

One more example: my new boyfriend, a geography student. The first time we had sex, we were both a bit tipsy. We both wanted to get into bed, and we both wanted to have sex—the first time. Then he put another condom on, and before I could tell him that I didn’t want to do it again, he was inside me.

If we weren’t already friends, I would have written him off. Instead, I later told him that I’d wanted to have sex—but not the second time, not like that. His face fell; he hadn’t realized. 

The first few times he asked me, “Do you want to have sex?” were a little awkward. You might experience the same feeling, but don’t let it get to you. Keep checking in for consent the same way you keep wrapping it up. If they’re like me, your partners will say, “Yes, oh, please fuck me,” or, “No. Want some ice cream?” and in every case you’ll have established your fine manners and respectful nature.

You might think this is too much information, but until kids learn to ask “Do you want to have sex?” before they practice putting condoms on bananas, it looks like I’ll be teaching Consent 101, one person at a time. And who better than your big sister to offer examples from her own life? Just some things I thought you should know. See you at Christmas.

Love always,
Your sis.

 

(image courtesy of www.michaelkaufman.com)

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Let Us Play Dumb

by Freddie Storm.

Freddie Storm is a Filmmaker currently based in the Vancouver Area. Born and raised in India, she has kept herself aware with the feminist issues in the South Asian part of the continent while understanding the challenges that women in the western society face.

I was out for a coffee with a female friend of mine. We were discussing regular topics such as latest Red Dragon Camera and how it shoots 6 K footage, converting a file into AAF, benefits of Seido Karate on physical and mental health, you know all that stuff women talk about. She went up to get the coffee when a very handsome man in his late 20’s walked into the coffee shop. He sat down close to us, my eyes met with his and we both exchanged a friendly smile.

Soon my friend was back with two Lattes, complaining how she had to pay 60 cents extra for Soy Milk which she thinks is discrimination towards Vegans in a blatant manner. I nodded. She sat down and of course had to notice this stupendously well-dressed man sitting so close to us, soon her demeanor changed, our conversations turned rather uninformative, she started asking me about the clothes I have bought recently and how she hated her curls although everybody who met with her loved it. Soon enough, I knew whatever my friend talked about was intended for this young man to overhear, in some weird way she was actually flirting with him. I later brought up the whole incident to her while we were walking down the Granville Street; I asked her why our conversation turned so shallow when she knew there was male scrutiny on us. She first denied it, and slowly admitted to acting dumb to gain the male attention. It was shocking to me, knowing how she was one of the very intelligent people I knew resorting to being dumb because that got her attention, it was almost an irony.

I being the feminist I am, would not let this pass, I asked her how she thinks men find dumb women attractive, she said to me more so confidentially, ‘I am sure men have told you how they love a smart woman, but honey that is a myth, they like it dumb, unintellectual,” and that is when I got assertive and asked her why she would even enjoy the company of men who do not see women for their minds but merely for their bodies. She chose not to reply.

I went back home, and got reminded of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication to the Rights to the women’, somewhere she had said that men like their wives to be innocent, almost as innocent as a child, and later in life when their beauty and youth starts to diminish, they lose interest in them complaining they have nothing to talk about given the difference in the level of intellect.

The term “blonde” does not describe a person or a type, “blonde” is now an idea in itself. It is synonymous to a woman who is stupid. When you type in “blonde” on Google, after the first three description links, you will be surprised (or not) most of the other links are sexual jokes on women with blonde hair and how stupid they are.

Society has been fed in with this idea for generations now. One of the jokes I read a couple of months back was that:

Don’t mistake me, I do find this joke hilarious, but, think about this way, not talking to other countries would be way logical and smarter than war, and the joke actually lies in the irony of it.

Also, let us not forget about the representation of women in Media. I truly believe society and media are mirror reflections of each other, almost catch 22 it is, society represents media and vice versa.

Let us talk about Mean Girls, the 2001 movie directed by Mark Waters. The movie starts with a popular group of girls in an American High School, the most popular girl in class in school is Regina George, who is blonde (hair wise), not so bright, sexually extroverted and cunning. All these qualities in her give her the title of the most popular girl. And then there is a new girl in class whose name is Cady, she is smart, culturally aware and very good in Math. Aaron Samuels is the popular guy in school, and both the girls in one way and the other want to win him, the instantaneous solution that Cady comes up with is to fail in her Math test, pretend to be stupid so Aaron would shift his attention to her, and, viola, it works! She asks him to tutor her and he does.

To compete with Regina George, she had to come down to the same level of stupidity, some people may call Cady smart because she understood being stupid was the clever thing to do, but hello, really? 

This movie was made for 17 million dollars and grossed more than 200 million on the box office; this confirms that the idea of female stupidity sells.

 

 

I am going to explore more on the history of western literature in propagating this idea. Starting with Jeffery Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, critics have often debated whether it is feminist or plain misogynist. The story deals with a woman during Middle Ages. She is very clever and flamboyant, her name is Alisoun. She has been married 7 times, and has managed to win the wealth and fortune of all her previous husbands. This story is a success story; the only problem is that she has used treachery to be able to convince her husbands into letting her have her way. She has pretended being stupid or weak in order to be attractive to the men. Alisoun is well aware that this kind of behavior is requisite in her marriages, and although very clever, she trains herself to behave vulnerably in front of the men, who enjoy this attribute of her.

Women have always been represented by men in western literature. We have learnt about women’s experiences and behavior for over hundreds of years mostly by reading books written by men. Great poets who wrote about their love interests such as Edmund Spenser or John Donne either sexualized them or criticized them. Women in literature have been mute until recently. The image created by the male writers becomes a margin for what women should behave and act like. The female characters in the books were mostly handsome, chaste and naïve. When women started writing, they had to unlearn everything about women they had read in the books to be able to pen down the genuine nature and experiences of women.

The women writers who started talking about their experiences, these smart women were/are often endorsed with a pinch of madness. For example Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickenson are always seen as these “crazy” distressed women who did not enjoy life. Who perpetuates these ideas about them? It is those who cannot come to terms with the fact that smart and beautiful women are not a myth.

A lot of young girls are being trained by society (media, literature, social ideologies, etc.) to accept the idea that being stupid is equivalent to being more attractive. It is not true, period. We do not have to either be stupid or pretend to be stupid in order to be popular, in fact it is men who need to be trained that to accept that intelligence is not something they can have monopoly over. Women need to have opinions, ideas and confidence against the popular demand. Women need to think for their own good, whether it is about the way we conduct or the way we are. Patriarchy is internalized not only by men but also by women, and it is a responsibility to fight any kind of suppression, although initially it is as hard as giving up cocaine or the thought of an ex-partner. I would like to conclude this article with a funny picture I found online with hopes that we will all fight the demons of internalized patriarchy in us.

 

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On Bullshit and the Possibility of Hope

by Litsa Chatzivasileiou

Dr. Litsa Chatzivasileiou is a sessional lecturer at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice where she teaches critical theory, cultural studies, literature, film and popular culture. The following is a transcript of her keynote speech delivered at the F Word Undergraduate Student Conference on April 27th, 2013. She dedicates her speech to “all my wonderful students out there who have taught me to never give up on hope!”

 “One of the most salient factors of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his [sic] share. But we tend to take the situation for granted… In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves…” – Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit

I’m not gonna bullshit you this morning. I swear; I won’t! But I’m going to talk to you about lots of it and how much of it surrounds us and what to do to put the skids to it. The idea for this talk on bullshit and the possibility of hope was inspired by a random graffiti message on one of the newly constructed buildings at UBC that simply declared: “New World.” Of course you might notice the mere irony of it. This very hopeful message was, indeed, inscribed on hard core bullshit, bullshit made out of brick and metal and lots and lots of money; the kind of bullshit that has every student on campus reeling with frustration and often rage: for how else than bullshit could one describe the insane amount of money thrown to the construction of phallic buildings erected all over UBC; courtesy of undergrad students and their fees who would rather have more teachers and classrooms and a future, and a New World, and hope, and jobs, and not the bullshit of fountains that makes the campus look like some corporate courtyard, or some plutocrat’s mansion? I would describe this as bullshit!

But just as you think that this is the only bullshit going on out there let me just burst your bubble and break some bad news for you. This bullshit is the other kind that also despairs my students, or anyone for that matter that has the slightest human decency and observes a worldwhere domination (white, supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal domination, to borrow bell hooks’ terms), is the primary mode of human beings dealing with each other. And I despair as much as you do. In the words of Walt Whitman (from “I Sit and Look Upon”):

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;/ …/ I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;/ I observe a famine…/I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor,…and the like;/ All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon, / See, hear, and am silent…

I hear the cries of children in the reserve, the aboriginal woman’s whimper under the weight of the white supremacist in Thunder Bay Ontario that assaulted her back in January and the cry of 600 other aboriginal girls and women across Canada that have gone missing and murdered.

I am haunted by the face of 17 yr old Rehtaeh Parsons who recently committed suicide after being raped and cyberbullied and her pleas being ignored by the RCMP allegedly lacking enough evidence to pursue the perpetrators of this crime. I am fed up with the lie of the Western world that we, in the West, are somehow liberated and not oppress women for “[s]omewhere along the way [in this so-called liberated West] it has become a game to grab photos of young women,…while they are being assaulted and trade them like baseball cards.” I am appalled by this Western lie and its rape culture that allows the sexual assault and filming of young girls by boys for Rehtaeh’s story is a replay of numerous others that have taken place in California, in Wisconsin, in Steubenville, Ohio, in Australia, in London, England. We must also not forget the less tragic but nonetheless serious case of our homegrown infamous Dimewatch played out by athletes here at UBC. This reflects nothing but a “profound problem about violence against women, and the extent to which our society is willing to humiliate and denigrate [us].”

I see the constant displacement of homeless people in Downtown East Side and Dave that soldiers on his hunger strike against gentrification; I hear the panic in the voice of the migrant workers as they are being raided last month by Canadian Border Services to entertain Canadians in their Reality TV show with live action human suffering. I taste the salt of tears shed by their loved ones as they depart deported by the CBS on a plane back to abject poverty. This is a society of human cruelty and a porn culture of Reality TV on suffering as the ultimate form of entertainment based on gazing upon, to quote Henry A. Giroux’s Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future, “the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless…[who are] no longer subject of compassion but one of ridicule and amusement.”

I hear the ground shake, the land struck, dug, lacerated, the forest sighing in pain, and trees being uprooted, the hooves of animals thundering in their fleeing, the fish dying in the streams and fowl slick in oil, I see the Enbridge pipeline wound the land, I smell the bitumen gushing out in the rivers. 

Anywhere I turn I see despair: in my country of origin, Greece, I observe the neo-colonial subjugation of its people through the financial crisis brought about by the banks and chaining the country to massive debt; I look upon the rampant theft of people by the IMF and the banks; I see children’s faces waiting in line for a bowl of soup; I see immigrants having escaped war and genocide and landing in Greece to experience it once more; I smell the fire that burns to the ground their little shop in a corner street in Athens; I hear the racial slurs thrown at their faces and the faces of their children at school; I hear the cries of the pregnant immigrant woman being beaten up by the fascist thugs of Golden Dawn, the neo-nazi, xenophobic party in Greece that patrols the streets of Athens to cleanse Greece from immigrants under the auspices of government authorities and police. I see the irony of it all for I, myself, am an immigrant.

I see the agony of poverty, war and massive displacement of people, destruction of the environment. I see walls and borders and checkpoints that separate communities and tear people apart, I see Palestine and Gaza choked by occupation and ripped apart by apartheid walls. I see the gated communities of the wealthy and rich keeping the riff raff outside, and at bay.

I taste the bitterness of unapologetic hate: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans populations are a target of incomprehensible hate, evident for example in the recent violent riots in France propagated by far right groups and Christian fundamentalists against the legalization of gay marriage.

To paraphrase Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s words in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt:

There comes a moment…when dead ideas and decayed systems are exposed and discredited by a population that once stood fearful and supine. So, ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THIS BULLSHIT! We must begin to think in terms of REVOLT and HOPE. We may feel powerless in the face of so much oppression and suffering. But we are not. As the Occupy movement, youth revolts across the world, the Arab spring revolutions and student revolts here in Canada, in Montreal and in London, England have shown any act of rebellion keeps alive the ambers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the system devours ­ itself, attract larger and larger numbers. Perhaps, the full time revolution will not happen in our lifetimes. But if we persist, we can keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die.

So now I will turn my attention to the possibility of hope. My Manifesto For Hope.

What is hope? Is there hope amidst so much destruction that often paralyzes us with feelings of political fatigue? The kind of hope that I profess is linked to a radical feminist politics and towhat I call a feminism from the gut geared toward social justice on all possible fronts, being tuned to the plight of multiple marginalized communities, and people, locally and globally. Feminism from the gut for me is the dream and the vision of a “New World” (as reclaimed by the graffiti on the wall at UBC), a hopeful message that I refuse to let it be muddled by bullshit.

But you might ask: how can we as feminists “keep alive the ambers of hope” while remaining unscathed by political fatigue and bring about this “New World” that demands urgent political action and change? This is a question that I have often being asked by my students but also by other young activists that thirst and strive for social change. I have a list, a radical feminist list of principles that I always keep in the pocket of my heart where no one can reach to appropriate it. Justice and a New World are possible because hope begins where, indeed, everything seems so bleak and hopeless. Paradoxically, hope begins in despair.

So here is my list of a feminism from the gut where I derive much of my hope. Yes, I know it sounds like a laundry list but please think of it as a useful set of principles for cleaning much dirty political laundry:

To begin with: I draw my inspiration from other rebels, visionaries and other movements of revolt. These words of Gloria Anzaldua, from her book Borderlands/La Frontera, resonate with me: “My Chicana identity is grounded in the Indian woman’s history of resistance.” “There is a rebel in me—the ShadowBeast. It is that part of me that refuses to take orders from outside authorities…It is that part of me that hates constraints of any kind, even those self-imposed. At the least hint of limitations,… it kicks out with both feet. Bolts.” So I harbor within me the spirit of resistance, the obstinate Beast of revolt against those that constrain me and seem to constraint or dominate all vulnerable others.

I draw my inspiration from rebels and those that do not conform, those that history declares them as idealists and the media repeatedly discredits them as crazy. I believe in the small, puny, grassroots movements of revolt that rise like unstoppable tidal waves and agitate the calm of our very privileged existences blind to the misery of others. I believe in these movements that provoke us, haunt us, torment our conscience when our conscience is at its most apathetic moments. Precisely at the moment when we sit at Starbucks sipping our wonderful lattes these movements raise the spectre of abject poverty, marginalization and colonial plundering of aboriginal people and their land. I’m inspired by Nina Weelson, Sheilah McLean, Sylvia MacAdam, and Jessica Gordon, and Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence and the countless, nameless others of the Idle No More Movement, who despite the Harper government and its cronies, the media, to dismantle it by slander that is by bullshit, they have prevailed and spread like fire across the continent and the world.

But most of all my hope comes from young people, their passion to bring about change and their political action to do so. A report in Rabble wrote that, on March 25, 17 year old Cree

from the isolated community Whapmagoostui on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, decided it would be a good idea to walk 1,600 kilometres to Ottawa in support of the Idle No More movement. Some of his friends joined him. So with temperatures apparently hovering at around -50C, he and six others left home on Jan. 16, trekking on snowshoes and pulling their supplies, stopping at communities along the way to tell people that they wanted changes to how Indigenous people are treated in Canada. Along the way hundreds of supporters indigenous and non-indigenous joined them. They want to change the contempt with which they are treated, they want to end the blockage placed in front of them designed to quash their aspirations and heritage, they want to end the mentality of relegation that sees so many First Nations forced into the lowest status imaginable by the political and cultural mainstream.

David: you have made history! David: you have challenged the Golliath of Harper and its colonial policies that attempt to bring to its knees aboriginal people. For Harper you are what Thomas King calls an “Inconvenient Indian,” the annoying nouissance standing in the way of their rampant pillaging of your land. Your journey in your snow shoes has left the indelible mark on the ground and in the heart of those your words touched along your journey to raise awareness. David: no snow, no media barefaced falsehood can ever erase, wipe out clean the truth that your protest happened precisely because your people have been systematically subjugated and denied a future. I am indebted to your journey of hope and your message of resistance and revolt.

I see hope rising out of garbage and solid waste dumped in a landfill in Paraguay, hope flying with its dazzling wings in the form of beautiful music made by slum children who have recycled trash and made musical instruments: a violin, a cello, a flute. This is the recycled orchestra made up by slum children in Paraguay. Their music, their resilience, their survivor spirit make me cry. I sit transfixed hearing the little girl that talks about how her life would be worthless without music; the sad, rich, deep notes that come out from a boy’s cello made out of a rusty oil can; my heart swells with hopefulness hearing the ecological music teacher who says: the “world sends us garbage, we send back music.” They all fill me with hope renascent from poverty, ecological destruction, and the excrement, the bullshit, indeed, of what is called Western capitalism and the social inequality and the waste it generates. I am inspired by small miracles that turn into movements of powerful solidarity among disparate groups against the Apartheid Walls in the occupied territories in the West Bank. In The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Slavoj Zizek writes that in 2012,

Palestinian women demonstrating against the wall were joined by a group of Jewish lesbian women from Israel. The initial mutual mistrust was dispelled in the first confrontation with the Israeli soldiers guarding the Wall, and a sublime solidarity developed, with a traditionally dressed Palestinian woman embracing a Jewish lesbian with spiky purple hair—a living symbol of what our struggle should be.

But make no mistake. My list of hope and what propels me to political action is not a political platform that is based on sets of happy ever after principles. I leave those to politicians, governments, authorities, and policy makers and their cronies that are experts of happy ever after promises—or, shall I say bullshit?

My list of hope seeks to stir some trouble: it cannot guarantee us happy endings and rather seeks to make us feel profoundly uneasy, uncertain and uncomfortable for if we believe in the paradox that hope arises out of absolute despair and ashes then hope is no bed of roses. I am a firm believer in these principles that guide my feminist politics: its non-innocence, its self doubt, its call for humility and its demand for responsibility with no grounds.

First and foremost I want to embrace the fact that I am a flawed and imperfect human being and that similarly my feminism is riddled with countless flaws and imperfections. In “The End of Innocence,” Jane Flax cautions us against what she calls feminist dreams of innocence that have been deeply rooted in white feminist politics in the West based on the idea that there is some common ground, and political platform to be had that will benefit everyone and in particular all women regardless of their struggles. This feminism has ignored its class and race privilege and has subsumed all struggles into a generic idea of women’s emancipation. There is no magic formula that will emancipate us all regardless of our race, class, ability, sexuality and so on and would help us solve all our social problems. Magic formulas are nothing but another kind of bullshit.

We should constantly undermine our Western context and our social position or privilege particularly when in the name of emancipating other women we become accomplices in their domination. Indeed, this is exactly what we did when we, Western feminists appeared to lend a hand to the US and Canadian invasion in Afganistan, (branded as a feminist war by Canadian propaganda). We patted ourselves on the shoulder, self-congratulating at how great feminists we were while we hid ourselves behind the excuse that we were helping our so-called Afgani sisters in struggle to unshackle themselves from the clutches of their men. I am enraged by how the Canadian government used me and abused my feminism to fight its own imperialist wars. In other words, as bell hooks urges us in “Feminism: A Transformational Politic,” we should kill the oppressor within. We should avoid the white, liberal, feminist dream of so-called innocent “sisterhood”. Let me say it out loud and clear: I am not the sister of any woman but I am a flawed and imperfect ally in the struggles of many women and many marginalized people. My political activism begins by killing the oppressor within.

Let me say this again: kill the oppressor within.

We should abandon the myth of neutrality. Let me also be clear on this: we can never be neutral political activists whose only goal is to help altruistically others for however we identify we can never shed our race and class privilege as if it were a second skin. As Jane Flax puts it:

In all relations of domination, no subject can simply or voluntarily switch sides. We receive certain privileges or suffer certain injuries depending on our social positions, no matter what our subjective intent or purposes may be. Men can no more easily resign from masculinity and its effects than I can from being white and my white privilege.

In other words, we should take responsibility about our actions by becoming honestly and with absolute humility self-critical of our own shortcomings as individuals and as activists. We must remain always uncomfortable within our own feminism and political action questioning our motives, and often our complicity with modes of domination. We must remain attuned to those marginalized regardless whether they are women, men, immigrants, animals, children, the LGBTQ community or any oppressed community, people, creature, culture or subject or the environment that has to put up with us and our follies.

My last principle borrows again from Jane Flax’s work in “The End of Innocence.” She writes: “Political action and change require and call upon many human capacities including empathy, anger, and disgust.” I would like to point out here that traditionally these have been seen as so-called feminine emotions. As such they have been vilified by a patriarchal culture and its political manifestations, “benevolent” male rulers and political authority with their absolute faith on reason and its alleged emancipatory effects. Harper, his bullshit social policies and his international politics perfectly exemplify the dead end of reason. So do the G-20 big economic powers. Reason alone is a defunct faculty and an impasse for effective political action toward democratic emancipation of people. Reason alone breeds monsters. As history has shown the effects of so-called benevolent rational powers on the world we live in can hardly classify as emancipatory as the catastrophic events of colonialism, slavery, war, violence, and genocide of entire populations amply testify. These are not effects of emancipation but deformities of reason.

My aim here is not to abandon reason entirely but to qualify it with other faculties of a visceral kind, what we call emotions from the gut such as love, compassion, frustration, anger, revulsion that can propel us into action, awaken us from apathy or political fatigue and make us refuse to be silent. For me it is this despair that fills me with the emotions of compassion and anger and awakens the “Beast” of resistance from within. The hope of a “New world” is linked to a feminism from the gut that rises in exasperation at the unbearable weight of bullshit that threatens to drown us with its political toxic: oppression of all kinds, social inequality, racism, sexual violence, imperialism and so on and so forth.

I can say with absolute clarity that my political activism is fuelled by love and anger, two seemingly paradoxical emotions. Love describes my unconditional loyalty to the vulnerable other, any marginalized subject. Love is proper of a feminism from the gut. I take here my cues from bell hooks who writes, in “Feminism: A Transformational Politic,” that feminism is linked primarily to love which “can be understood as a powerful force that challenges and resists domination. As we work to be loving, [that is] to create a culture that celebrates life, that makes love possible, we move against dehumanization, against domination.” Love creates a society of compassion in which we find impossible to bear the pain of others, we find impossible to see fellow human beings being abused, subjugated, dehumanized, and suffering. For hooks revolution begins in love. She writes citing Paulo Freire:

I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution, because of its creative and liberating nature as an act of love… When women and men [human beings] understand that working to eradicate patriarchal [and any other kind of] domination is a struggle rooted in the longing to make a world where everyone can live fully and freely, then we know our work to be a gesture of love. Let us draw upon that love to heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, intensify our courage, and strengthen our commitment. 

A feminism from the gut also requires anger; anger at the injustice that surrounds us and which propels us not to take it for granted or abide by it. This anger tells us that there is no moment to lose and that there is an urgency to bring about social change. In her own funny way Caitlin Moran calls this “angry feminism” “strident feminism. ” In her book How to Be a Woman, she says:

[W]e need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word feminism back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist…I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay?… Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY? These days, however, I am much calmer since I realized that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor—biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game—before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field… Personally, I don’t think the word ‘feminist’ on its own is enough. I want to go all the way. I want to bring it back in conjunction with the word ‘strident’. It looks hotter like that…I want to reclaim the phrase ‘strident feminist’… ‘Go my strident feminist! You work that male/female dialectic dichotomy,’…

I will end this talk by a poem, (paraphrased from a poem published in Adbusters), to those that love, and are angry, have compassion and are frustrated, to those who do not abide with bullshit, to those who believe in hope, in change, to those who resist, survive, rebel, to those that we call crazies but are, indeed, visionaries for they dare dream and act upon their vision of justice and of a “New World”. If you listen carefully, you might find yourselves in these words:

To the crazy ones

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The strident feminists.

The ones who see differently.

They are not fond of rules.

And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, feel contempt for them, glorify or vilify them.

About the one thing you cannot do is ignore them.

Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal. They rebel. The defy. They resist. They fight. They transgress. They survive. They create. They inspire. They rise up. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?

Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Or imagine a better world that includes them and their children?

Or see justice and change where before there was despair and heartbreak?

Or see future where before there was none?

Or see a heap of garbage and create music?

Or be the most despised and create a movement that rises them as people?

We make fools of these kind of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, I see them as visionaries.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

 

Rebel: A New World is Possible.

GO MY STRIDENT FEMINISTS!

 

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