Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Tomorrow - that is, December 6th, 2009 - marks the 20 year anniversary of the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre. On this day in 1989, a man named Marc L├ępine entered an engineering class, made all the men leave the room, declared his hatred of feminism, and used a semi-automatic rifle on all the women in the room. He then when on a shooting spree in the school before committing suicide. In total, he killed 14 women.

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in the most violent school shooting of Canadian history, I've compiled a list of resources with information about helping to end violence against women.

1. CBC has some archived footage of the Ecole Polytechnique events.
2. There will be a candlelight vigil in downtown Toronto tomorrow (and one in Montreal - Thanks, Vanessa).
3. Information about the White Ribbon campaign, with lots of excellent links at the source (including how to donate and get involved).
4. Facts about violence against women from the Canadian Women's Foundation.
5. Assaulted Women's Hotline.
6. This is what I was able to find on the Government of Canada's website.

Please leave your own links in the comments.

Anna Fitz

Friday, December 4, 2009

Feel Good Friday: Female Authors

Hey Athenites!

Although I will admit that I haven't been keeping upon my non-academic reading since school started (the much-loved but still mostly unread Rohinton Mistry book on my bedside table is testament to that), I still call myself "a reader."

Books are the best, y'all.

BUT, here's the catch. People of colour and female authors are still often pushed into obscurity, told that their writing is somehow "not universal" (?), are subjected to a hell of a lot of tokenism, or not represented on the"Top Ten" lists, which are hugely influential in kickstarting careers.

The Publisher's Weekly Top Ten of 2009 list, for example, featured absolutely no female authors. (They made some sort of vague pronouncement about this, saying that it "distrubed" them, as if the composition of the Top Ten list was preordained and not a totally subjective set of picks.) While I don't think that authors should be given the Top Ten distinction simply because they are female or a PoC, I do find it odd that the publishing world refuses to cast its net a little further out. Because I am sure that non-white-non-males have written some pretty damn good books too.

The New York Time's Top Ten of 2009, on the other hand, featured a number of female authors, including Kate Walbert's "A Short History of Women," which is all about feminism--just the way I like it. Just as with my badass female musicians post about a month ago, I am 100% sure that, if you enjoy reading, you know at least 2 or 3 excellent female authors. I will kick start the list with some picks of my own, but feel free to add your own in comments:

-Tamora Pierce. I know, I know, she's a fantasy writer whose target audience is the 12-15 range, but C'MON! No mockery. She writes strong, powerful female characters who are compassionate, ambitious, smart, just as capable as any boy, and always save the day!

-J.K. Rowling. Kind of obvious. But you can hardly write a list of female authors without her. I will not, however, be including Stephanie Meyer. Because everyone knows that Harry Potter is better (one of the many reasons why: Hermione is active, intelligent, brave, competent, and not a passive little lump on a log like Bella).

-Petina Gappah. This up and coming Zimbabwean writer has given a powerful and interesting interview in The Guardian about her work and about being labelled: "an African writer."

-Amulya Malladi. Writes fiction about India, America, family, and culture shock. Light reading, but very interesting, funny, and engaging.

-Toni Morrison. I haven't read anything by her, but have heard enough about her, from both family and friends, to convince me that she should be on this (not exhaustive) list.

-Jane Austen. I could not, in good conscience, exclude her from the list. I know that her Regency-era wordiness does not endear her to everyone, but dear god, I love her.

-Stephanie Bolster. Her book of poems, Two Bowls of Milk, is, in my opinion, utterly beautiful. She's also a Canadian who lives and teaches in Montreal.

-Margaret Atwood. I mean, really now. Can't forget Margaret, especially if you're Canadian. (Funny story: Yamina and I once thought that we saw her in the crowd at Ottawa's Tulip Festival and spent ten minutes mustering up the courage to go talk to her, and when we finally did, discovered that the woman we thought was Atwood was actually a tourist from California. I swear, she looked just like her!)

-Maya Angelou. Obvi.

Fill up this list with some great female authors of your own, because I know there are TONS of amazing authors that I've forgotten/don't know about. I would love to add a couple new authors to my holiday wish list this year!


Stephanie :)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mental Health Mondays: Ongoing Influence of Past Comments

At the end of this post I’ve included a list of quotes taken from Charles’ E. Bressler’s book “Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice.” They are a collection that he placed within the surrounding of feminist criticism. When I was reading through these quotes, most stated by well-known authors, it made me wonder how much the statements that individuals made in the past impact women in today’s present-tense.

Do you think that women, particularly women who are establishing a career or passion in writing (as that is who most of the quotes are directed at) continue to feel the affects of these negative words? Or do you think that “what’s past is past”
How much do the statements of the past, even if made hundreds of years ago, continue to affect the state of our mental health today?
What do you think? Take a look at the quotes I’ve listed…maybe focus on one or two. Do you think you are still influenced by these words, or are they a thing of the past that we simply shrug off?

Take a look at some of these....

"Do not let a woman with a sexy rump deceive you with wheedling and coaxing words; she is after your barn. The man who trusts a woman trusts a deceiver."
- Hesoid, poet 8th century BCE (...p.s. "sexy rump" and "8th century BCE" , yes you read correctly.)

"Plato thanks the gods for two blessings: that he had not been born a slave and that he had not been born a woman."
- Plato (c. 427-c.347 BCE)

"The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules and the other is ruled. Woman “is matter, waiting to be formed by the active male principle…Man consequently plays a major part in reproduction; the woman is merely the passive incubator of his seed.” (People actually BELIEVED this!!!!! It was thought to be scientific fact! Wtf?!??!!)
- Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

"Frailty, thy name is woman."
- Shakespeare (1564-6116)

"Mary Wollstonecraft is a hyena in petticoats”
- Horace Walpole, author of one of the earliest Gothic novels

"Nature intended women to be our slaves...They are our property…what a mad idea to demand equality for women!"
- Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

"Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even any…recreation"
- Robert Southey, poet laureate (1774-1843)

"Women writers are a “damned mob of scribbling women” who only write anything worth reading if the devil is in them."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

"The woman author does not exist. She is a contradiction in terms. The role of the woman in letters is the same as in manufacturing; she is of use when genius is no longer required."
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865)

"Jane Austen is entirely impossible to read. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death."
- Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"Feminism is a political mistake. Feminism is a mistake made by women’s intellect, a mistake which her instinct will recognize."
- Valentine de Saint-Point (1875-1953)

"Educating a woman is like pouring honey over a fine Swiss watch. It stops working."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922- )

With love and hopes of forward-motion,


Sexual Health Sundays: What Does Feminist Sex Look Like?

In her introduction for the book Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, Merri Lisa Johnson writes, “we live inside the contradiction of a political movement that affirms and encourages expressions of female and/or alternative sexualities, and the “real world” of workplaces, families, and communities that continue to judge women harshly for speaking of sex, much less expressing one’s “deviant” acts and complex erotic imagination.” Even within the feminist movement, the topic of sex is pretty contentious. The Feminist Sex Wars of the ‘70s-80s may be ancient history for us younger feminists, but I for one still struggle to reconcile my personal sexual desires with my political beliefs. What does feminist sex look like? How can we avoid reproducing stifling gender roles in our personal relationships?  And what do we do when what really gets us off in the dark of our bedrooms would make our outward feminist personas cringe?

From Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, ed. Merri Lisa Johnson (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002) : 

“I wanted feminism to be bad like me. A young feminism, a sexy feminism. I found myself saying things like, “I’m not that kind of feminist,” all sly innuendo and bedroom eyes. Early in my research, however, I discovered that that kind of feminist is mostly a media construct – oversimplification spiced with staged cat fights.” (2)

“Whatever conflicts exist within feminism, the first lesson for each generation must be about the politics of representation (which histories are handed over, which are not, and why); for it is frequently against “representations” of feminism as puritanical or anti-male or just plain crazy—not against feminism itself—that many young women posit our sexy “new” brand of bravado.” (3-4)

“Young women define our politics in part by the second wave feminist legacy of sexual freedom—disrupting norms surrounding the body, unsettling rigid gender roles, and observing few, if any, boundaries on our speech as erotic creatures . . . [y]et sex-positive spokeswomen, often anti-intellectual in tone, fail to give women new ways of thinking about fucking, new ways of understanding what’s happening in our beds and to our bodies.” (5)

“Sometimes the best thing feminism can say to a woman is, “Go easier on yourself, girlie. You don’t have to make sense at every moment. You don’t have to measure up to some abstract structure called the right thing to do.”(8)

“. . . feminists who want to be fucked hard, held down, thrown against walls and pressed into them cannot be explained away by the simple charge of false consciousness (the idea that we eroticize the conditions of our own oppression) . . . [a]s feminists, we’ve learned to critique this gender role, we know there’s something wrong with it, it has been removed to the space of transgression, that which we are not supposed to want.” (43)

From Patrick Califia, Updated Introduction to Macho Sluts (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009) : 

“Self-understanding and self-expression are much harder to accomplish when so many supposedly progressive people are saying hateful things about each other and demanding that everybody take sides.” (22)

“I’m not sure we are well-served by essentialist notions of sexual orientation, anyway. This idea that you go through a one-time process of figuring out who you truly are, then you come out, and then you don’t need to do that anymore, sure hasn’t worked for me. . . I have come to believe that most of us are born with a wider range of sexual potential than we’ll ever exercise in the course of one lifetime. . . if we fall in love with the “wrong” person, read something that unexpectedly excites us, see a piece of porn that has a surprising impact, or listen to the far-out suggestion of a more experienced lover, we may find that we can’t take our core assumptions about ourselves for granted. When these changes take place, as long as they are truthful ones, we aren’t selling out or betraying our ideals. We’re just keeping pace with what life has shown us, how we’ve changed or grown.” (27)

I’ll be blunt: in my mind, there is nothing contradictory about being a feminist and getting turned on by dominance, submission, power, force, or authority, or whatever other type of sexual kink that may be labelled “unacceptable.” I don’t really care whether or not these things are “tools of the patriarchy” because the worst thing feminism can do is take away a person’s power to fully embody and enjoy their own sexual potential. The worst thing feminism can do is instill more guilt. We’re already told that we should be ashamed for our appetites, our desires, how huge they are, how much we want and can encompass. My feminism is liberating, not repressive, and tells me that, as long as there is full and enthusiastic consent and communication involved, there is no "right way" or "wrong way" to experience my sexuality.

What do you think?