Feminism and “The F-Word”

My response to CBC’s documentary “The F-Word:  Who Wants to Be a Feminist?” is up at rabble.ca.  Here’s a bit:

One of the framing questions asked by the film is “where did feminism go wrong?” In getting to the answer the film outlined some of the goals and objectives of “second wave” feminism. But if this means the status quo is represented as the answer to the question of where feminism went wrong, the answer will focus only on the shortcomings of the second wave.

There would be something to be grateful for here, too, if the documentary makers had focussed on those “failures” in their socio-economic and political context. The pressures of neoliberalism over the last two decades have led to the marginalization of many liberation movements, feminism is just one of them. The critical issue for contemporary movements is to understand how that happened and, of course, that means critical analysis of the goals and strategies of the movements themselves.

But the exclusion of this type of context in the documentary rendered it inaccurate, unhelpful and defeatist.

Did the doc at least get its history of the Canadian second wave right? Absolutely not.

Check it out here.

And Judy Rebick!

In 1911, the first International Women’s Day marches were held across Europe. A few days later on March 25, 146 immigrant women were killed in the Triangle Factory firebecause the bosses locked the doors from the outside. Russian socialist Alexander Kollentai proposed that the next year IWD would honour these women and the theme of IWD became bread and roses and the date March 8.

At the time, most women workers in Canada were domestic or textile workers. As soon as they got married or pregnant they were fired. They made up to 80% less than men for the same job. So the demand for bread was obvious.

As the song Bread and Roses, which has become an anthem of the women’s movement says, “Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread but give us roses.” The rose is a powerful symbol of the female and of love. That symbol comes not only from its beauty but also from its tenacity. The rose bushes in my garden still have leaves on them in early winter and they bloom almost until the frost.

The rest is here.

What of our Stolen Sisters? A Post Mortem

I know everybody’s tired of it and of him.  But questions linger and the post mortems are just as, or more important than, the explosion of media reporting that accompanies the events.  We all know how bad that was.  Except for this, and I’m not sure if it counts since it’s on the blogs and not in print – John Cruikshank prolly doesn’t even know it’s there.

The post mortems are threatening to be equally bad, even when of the more, er, “thoughtful” kind.  Take this from The Globe and Mail:            

In 1941, American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley published a seminal book about psychopaths called The Mask of Sanity, in which he described an intelligent and cunning person skilled at manipulating others and indifferent to their pain. A man like this, Dr. Cleckley explained, finds no real meaning in love or horror or humour, as if “colour blind” to human feeling.

[...]

Dr. Cleckley used interviews, observation and medical records to learn about his patients, but today, brain imaging offers scientists a new way to peer behind the mask. A growing number of them now see psychopathy as a neurodevelopmental disorder, one in which a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as neglect or poor bonding with parents, lead to deficits in the brain. And if biology is to blame, can society hold the psychopath responsible?

The brain deficits that neuroscientists have documented affect the ability of psychopaths to feel emotions and learn from their mistakes – as if they have a learning disability that impairs their emotional development, says Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico. The differences have been seen in the brain images of children as young as 5.

There is much that I find interesting and important in these theories and findings.  Including that it might be quite beside the point to “blame” and punish psychopaths – though it’s still important to find humane ways to protect ourselves from them.  But what they almost always leave out, as in this case, are questions about gender and race.  Perhaps that comes later for scientists and most media types but I think the issues need to be addressed now.

Why are criminal “psychopaths” most often male?  Why are their victims most often female (and children)?  If we remain obsessed by the neurobiological, importantand intriguing as it is, we fail to properly address the fact that psychopathology results from a complex process involving not just the biological but also the social and environmental.

Cops miss this too, even when they acknowledge the interconnections.  For instance, The FBI produced a monograph on serial murder after a “multi-disciplinary” symposium on the topic held in San Antonio in 2005.  Here’s something the monograph says about causality and serial killing:

Serial murderers, like all human beings, are the product of their heredity, their upbringing, and the choices they make throughout development.

Though the monograph does discuss this in somewhat more complex terms like “environment” it never really gets beyond the issue of “upbringing” within the family.  It never gets to the “social” at all, beyond pointing out that serial murders are present across racial and socioeconomic divides.  When it addresses the myth that serial killers are (mostly) white males, it explains how that is not so in terms of race but never deals with the issue of gender.

I’m thinking there weren’t any feminists at the symposium.  A feminist might ask why male psychopathy more often leads to serial death than female psychopathy.  Might also ask why the victims are more often women, especially when murder is combined with sexual assault.  A feminist might think certain social divisions need to be investigated.  Like women’s inequality.  Like the objectification and sexification of women.  Like the violent images of women’s victimhood so beloved in the Western world that they comprise a multi-billion dollar industry – and not just in porn.  Like the vulnerability often imposed on women by race and poverty.  Like the masculinization of power.

But while we’re on race and poverty.  One thing that I do like about the FBI monograph is that it points out how rare serial murdering is. 

Serial murder is a relatively rare event, estimated to comprise less than one percent of all murders committed in any given year. However, there is a macabre interest in the topic that far exceeds its scope and has generated countless articles, books, and movies.

We’ve certainly experienced that in Canada this past week.  There isn’t a way to diminish the suffering of the Lloyd and Comeau families or the tragedy of the deaths of these sisters and daughters.  But their deaths and the prurient and sensational interest in Colonel Williams and others like him does diminish our aptitude for further examination of the lives and suffering of others.  For instance, apart from a few brief mentions, does anyone seem to care much for the women who survived attacks by Williams?  That is, apart from Antonia Zerbisias.  And why isn’t the media all over the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.  If Williams had chosen from among them, would anybody have noticed?  From Amnesty International Canada:

According to a Canadian government statistic, young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.

Indigenous women have long struggled to draw attention to violence within their own families and communities. Canadian police and public officials have also long been aware of a pattern of racist violence against Indigenous women in Canadian cities – but have done little to prevent it.

The pattern looks like this:

  • Racist and sexist stereotypes deny the dignity and worth of Indigenous women, encouraging some men to feel they can get away with acts of hatred against them.
  • Decades of government policy have impoverished and broken apart Indigenous families and communities, leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to exploitation and attack.
  • Many police forces have failed to institute necessary measures – such as training, protocols and accountability mechanisms – to ensure that officers understand and respect the Indigenous communities they serve. Without such measures, police too often fail to do all they can to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls whose lives are in danger.

What about our stolen sisters?  A new report has added 62 more names to a growing list of missing or slain aboriginal women and girls across Canada.

The report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada pegs the total as at least 582.  The data is drawn from the last three decades, with 153 of the cases occurring between 2000 and 2008.  Most of the women in the database were killed, while 115 are still missing.

I challenge the mainstream media to make a big event of these numbers and the lost lives of these women.

Stephen Harper certainly won’t.

Heart Like a Wheel

It was with shock and great sadness that I read of Kate McGarrigle’s death this morning.  Hers was the music of my life.  From Things That Go Pop at CBC:

The descriptors “Canadian icon” and “national treasure” are often used as lazy shorthand to refer to those artists who’ve made some sort of impact on our country’s music scene. But Kate McGarrigle was one of the awe-inspiring few who truly deserved those epithets — and then some. McGarrigle, who passed away Monday after a drawn-out battle with clear cell sarcoma (she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in 2006), was one of Canada’s legendary voices, a woman who celebrated and elevated the rich history of our country’s musical traditions throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.

Though Kate and sister Anna McGarrigle may have viewed themselves as “accidental” recording artists, it was clear from the outset that the pair were unique talents. Raised in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, the McGarrigles were originally introduced to French cabaret chansons, French-Canadian folk music and jazzy standards as children — their family was given to cozy group singalongs around the piano. Kate and Anna honed their own piano skills at the elbows of nuns; later, they would make a career out of performing a fresh variation on the homey, honest music of their youth in folk clubs and on recordings.

Shortly after she gave birth to son Rufus Wainwright (one of two children she had with singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III), Kate and her sister were recruited to contribute backing vocals to a version of Anna McGarrigle’s Cool River that was being covered by another folk artist (Maria Muldaur). By some twist of fate, the right set of ears heard magic in those McGarrigle harmonies and offered the pair a record deal. And in 1976, Kate and Anna McGarrigle released their self-titled debut album, an enchanting collection of old-fashioned folk songs. It was immediately lauded by fans and critics. The New York Times and the music magazine Melody Maker named Kate and Anna McGarrigle one of the year’s best albums.

The album even included one tune, the arch Complainte pour Ste. Catherine, in which the two neatly encapsulated the sighs of a ’70s-era Montrealer in wry Québecois French:

“Moi, j’me promene sur Ste Catherine / J’profite d’la chaleur du métro / J’ne regarde pas dans les vitrines / Quand il fait trente en d’ssous d’zero.” (“Me, I walk along St. Catherine [street] / Getting the warmth from the Metro / I don’t look in shop windows / When it’s 30 below zero.”)

That these two unassuming sisters from Quebec could bring such an idiosyncratic tune to the largely Anglophone masses (the late English singer Kirsty MacColl even covered Complainte in 1989) is a testament to the great gifts of Kate (and Anna) McGarrigle.

Kate used her music to share her appreciation for Acadian culture and the understated beauty of folk songs, but she also instilled those same values in her children. Both Rufus and Martha Wainwright have paid tribute to their mother in their own songs. It’s not uncommon for listeners to be privy to the intimate family portraits that appear in the work of sharp songwriters who draw inspiration from their own lives, but it’s rare that we are familiar with the parties depicted in song.  [more]

“Shall I nevermore behold you?/ Never hear thy laughing voice again.”

A bit more:

From Anna McGarrigle:

Sadly our sweet Kate had to leave us last night. She departed in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. She is irreplaceable and we are broken-hearted. Til we meet again dear sister. ♡

Update:  From Rufus -

When inevitably I read today in the papers that my mother lost her battle with cancer last night, I am filled with an immense desire to add that this battle, though lost, was tremendously fruitful during these last three and a half years of her life. She witnessed her daughter’s marriage, the creation of my first opera, the birth of her first grandchild Arcangelo, and gave the greatest performance of her life to a packed crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Not to mention traveling to some of the world’s most incredible places with both my sister, her husband Brad, my boyfriend Jorn and myself. Yes, it was all too brief, but as I was saying to her sister Anna last night while sitting by her body after the struggle had ceased, there is never enough time and she, my amazing mother with whom everyone fell in love, went out there and bloody did it.  I will miss you mother, my sweet and valiant explorer, lebwohl and addio. X

Canadian F-Word Blog Awards

This just received from A Creative Revolution:

Just in case you didn’t know, you’ve been nominated for Best Feminist Blog – Oh! Canada! English in the 2009 Canadian F-word Awards! First round voting is April 11 – 14 (extended!).  One vote per IP addy, please.   

What does being nominated for an F-word Award mean, besides glamour, prestige, and a pretty badge to display on your blog?  In the big scheme of things, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! More acutely though, it means that someone who is aware of the awards likes your blog enough to nominate it in our anti-sexist snark festival.  It means someone thinks you kick ass! AND YOU DO! W00t! 

Come on over and celebrate blogging women – we’re having a party and you’re the guest of honour!

Good luck, and thanks for participating.

- Dr. Prole and Pale @ A Creative Revolution

My friend mattt @bastardlogic nominated me for this – thanks mattt.  I’m not voting for myself but if you want to, go on over to Creative Revolution by April 14th and do it.  Or vote for someone else.  Just vote.

Braidwood

Kelly McParland does an admirable job of summing up the testimony of RCMP officers at the Braidwood Inquiry:

Whatever conclusion is ultimately reached at the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, one conclusion now seems inevitable: the original tale peddled by the RCMP about that day at Vancouver airport was overwhelmingly bogus.

The 40-year-old Mr. Dziekanski did not grab a killer stapler and wave it threateningly over his head, as the police claimed. He did not advance on four officers with threatening gestures. He did not stay on his feet after the first jolt of the Taser they fired at him. He did not have to be wrestled to the ground. He did not, it appears from the testimony of the officers who were there that day, represent any kind of threat at all. Continue reading

Poetry for Dziekansky

The Dziekansky Inquiry

If you’re a skier in distress,

We’ll overlook your SOS,

For Mounties just don’t want to know

When dying words are left in snow.

But when a man steps off a plane

And cries for help, our Mountie brain

Knows right away the proper course

Is swift and painful use of force.

Get lost in our arrival hall?

We’ll be there in no time at all

To help you see, when you’re upset,

That you’ve become a deadly threat.

Pick up a stapler in your hands,

Refuse to meet our firm demands,

Act strange in ways that raise our fear,

And Mounties answer loud and clear.

Sometimes we fail to get our man,

And things don’t work out quite to plan,

But next time, when you need our aid,

Stand still and show us you’re afraid.

Please understand, the Mounties strive

To help our suspects stay alive,

But if you won’t or can’t comply,

Don’t blame our tasers when you die.

John Allemang