Prostitution and Some Left-Wing Men

… like John Baglow.

I think it’s fair comment to point out that the photo chosen by blogger John Baglow to accompany his piece on prostitution posted at rabble is from a campaign organized and funded by the brutal Irish pimp Peter McCormick. I’m sure it was accidental so I will go no farther with that line of inquiry. There are too many other accidents in Mr. Baglow’s piece that require response.

I have no problem when a blogger or any writer of an opinion piece declares their bias – “opinion” – I get it. But Mr. Baglow also points out that he “is a former VP of PSAC, currently a writer and researcher, public policy consultant, occasional academic and poet”. In that case I expect a cogent presentation of the issues involved in debating the merits or lack thereof of proposed legislation to protect communities and exploited persons put forward recently by the federal government. But all I got was a sermon and some insults. Given the ongoing crumbling of mediated public and political debate that we see nowadays with resulting rampant disaffection, cynicism and ignorance, this is disappointing. To see such a blog posted in alternative media is also disappointing. An attempt should be made, at the very least, to take a stab at contributing to the enlightenment of readers rather than making repetitive attempts to mischaracterize important issues involving women, race and class.

It is not only unfair of Baglow to characterize abolitionist feminists as “priggish moralizers” – it’s blatantly inaccurate and manipulative. The abolitionist position is a good deal more nuanced than that and either Baglow knows it and chooses to ignore it in his attempt to polarize the debate, or he is intolerably ignorant.

The abolitionist position is based on an understanding of prostitution as the exploitation of women and particularly of poor women, racialised women and Indigneous women. Note that the coalition of women from the independent women’s movement that participated in the Bedford case was comprised of Asian women, overrepresented and hidden in indoor work which apparently they do not find “safe”; women’s shelter workers; advocates from Canada’s sexual assault care centres; the Elizabeth Fry Society – working with imprisoned women; the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network; and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Surely all these women and their hard work and careful argument cannot be characterized, should not be characterized anywhere, as mere priggish moralism. In my view that conclusion is both sexist and racist on its face. The differences among feminists with respect to issues such as pornography and prostitution are long-standing; arguments are fairly well-developed on both sides. None of us deserves to be dismissed as an “angry radical” and surely not Meghan Murphy who writes for rabble and is a respected voice in the Canadian feminist community. The link to her work strikes me as purely gratuitous and downright mean. Though I must admit I’m happy to be an angry radical if my argument is actually being accurately described. What the hell is wrong with angry radicals?

Now to Baglow’s argument. He lectures us that we mustn’t see prostituted women as victims and tells us that they have agency and that we must accept that proposition at the outset. He doesn’t define or describe agency or tell us in what circumstances we are allowed to see agency as being so circumscribed as to be almost non-existent. Of course we all have agency. Of course women struggle in resistance to their circumstances. That is both the genius and strength of oppressed people. That agency doesn’t erase exploitation and certainly doesn’t erase our social and political responsibility for it. That’s just a non-starter but it does play nicely into libertarian notions so popular today that exhort us to believe that individual freedom is best achieved when society leaves people alone to negotiate their own way through the difficulties foisted upon them by their sex, race and class. It implies that it is those of us who fight for recognition that people in certain circumstances are victimized who are somehow responsible for that victimization and stigmatization. Nice work lefty guy – let prostituted women choose their work and blame women if it’s stigmatized according to some crazy old Madonna/Whore dichotomy. Many of the advocates amongst abolitionists are survivors of prostitution. What they did to escape stigma, in part, was to join themselves in solidarity with feminist analyses and principles. Because those are the analyses and principles that they believe will lead to the liberation of their sisters. That is, ALL their sisters and not just those who claim to choose and be happy in the sex trade.

Those who are oppressed are not often in a position to end their exploitation without advocacy on the part those of us who are not quite so oppressed. Yes, they can fight for themselves. But Baglow fails to recognize that the women of the coalition are doing just that: fighting for themselves. He says we should not see prostituted women as “hapless victims upon whom unspeakable violence and degradation are perpetrated.” Well, certainly not hapless but yes, often victims upon whom unspeakable violence and degradation are perpetrated. Is that really even arguable?

For instance, let’s take Terri-Jean Bedford, one of the litigants in the now famous Bedford case. Some aspects of Bedford’s life are now a matter of public record. Here’s a description from the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada:

“Terri Jean Bedford was born in Collingwood, Ontario, in 1959, and as of 2010 had 14 years of experience working as a prostitute in various Canadian cities. She worked as a street prostitute, a massage parlour attendant, an escort, an owner and manager of an escort agency, and a dominatrix. Ms. Bedford had a difficult childhood and adolescence during which she was subjected to various types of abuse. She also encountered brutal violence throughout her career … ” see R v. Bedford

There is no doubt in my mind that Bedford has agency. There is also no doubt that she was victimized throughout her life, from childhood on into adulthood, and that her exploitation had a good deal to do with the fact that she was a girl and a woman with limited opportunities and vulnerable to male exploitation. This is not a description of a woman about whom we should be unconcerned. The social harms inflicted upon her are not harms that we should ignore as a matter of law and policy. In some sense she represents what is often referred to as a stereotype of a prostituted woman, abused in childhood, the victim of “brutal violence” and no doubt the victim of the trauma attendant upon such experiences. To say so is not to stigmatize her; the stigma experienced by a prostituted woman doesn’t come because other women care about her experiences or from our advocating for a set of social policies and laws that might reduce the possibility that any woman must suffer what she has suffered.

Mr. Baglow then exhorts his readers to see prostitution as mere labour, lest “bare principle” blind us to the “complex issues of everyday life”. I think Mr. Baglow means we must put aside ethical and normative considerations in order to deal with the ugly reality of prostitution, that age-old and unshakeable institution. But many things are laborious, many things are work, that we choose to put outside the law and outside social approval. In arguing that men ought not to be able to purchase women’s sexual services and remain within the law and social norms, abolitionists are not arguing that women in the sex trade do not do work. We are arguing that men ought not to be allowed allowed to exploit women’s bodies without penalty. We must think about what particular kinds of work exploit human beings, i.e. women, to such a high degree that we cannot condone it. There are many examples of different kinds of work that we find beyond the pale. In citing examples I do not mean to compare them to prostitution but merely to note that human labour is not always legal work: for instance, overtime work that is not compensated appropriately; slavery; wage slavery; child labour. The illegality does not pertain to the worker but to the capitalist and the consumer. As it should with respect to prostitution.

Baglow’s “Mrs. Grundy” comment is, frankly, diminishing and dismissive of women and thus sexist and beneath contempt. I am in solidarity with women who work in the sex trade. I seek a form of solidarity that envisions a society in which women, racialised women, poor women and Indigenous women do not have to sell sexual services to men in order to survive, either psychically or physically or whatever other way. When we take steps toward that vision, we enable and support women in making real choices – still circumscribed by the human necessity to work, but not forced or coerced into a form of work which only very few would truly and freely choose. Mr. Baglow is free to disagree with respect to how we achieve that end. In my view he ought not to be free to misrepresent and insult the efforts of those women with whom he claims to be in solidarity.

As Andrea Dworkin said, “The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.” Amen sister. Amen.

Julia Gillard & Feminist Freedom Fighters

  • Monday, October 29, 2012

    Socialist Alliance activist and feminist Liah Lazarou gave the speech below to Adelaide’s Reclaim the Night rally on October 26.

    * * *

    I’d like to say a big thank you to the Reclaim the Night Collective for organising this important event and everybody who is here tonight to reclaim the streets and to fight against the violence and sexism women face on a daily basis. Tonight is our night, to unite as women and to bring attention to the struggles of our sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, grandmothers and the structural oppression that is so embedded in our everyday lives.

    Tonight has come in a really interesting time. It has come when the recent political landscape has been suddenly concerned with the language of feminism, no more evident than when Julia Gillard proclaimed Tony Abbott a misogynist, something I’m sure many of us were delighted to finally see and hear and a message that spoke to many of us – Tony Abbott the misogynist called out in parliament for what he really is.

    But what was hardly reported was that on the same day the Senate passed through a new law cutting single parent payments by between $56 and $150 a week, which will mostly affect women, women from the already marginalised sections of our society and putting them more at risk of violence. As a single mother myself, I was outraged at this blatant contradiction because further entrenching poverty is violence against women.

    So when we rejoice at Julia Gillard’s speech against sexism, let us take it for what is really is. Fighting against sexism is not about making one speech in parliament and in the same day attacking some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

    The reason Julia Gillard was able to make that speech was because of the feminist movements of the past. It was because of the feminist freedom fighters who came before us and who struggled and fought for women’s liberation.

    Women have been saying for a long, long time that discrimination against women and sexism does not just exist in a bubble: we are subject to oppressive gender norms at all levels of society and it is completely institutionalised in the home, the workforce, the media, the judiciary, religious and educational institutions and of course in parliament.

    Today women still only earn 82% of a males wage, the majority of unpaid work is done by women,
    most sexual violence is perpetrated by men against women, 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence in her life time, violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness of women aged 15 to 44 years in Victoria, the police don’t take women’s claims of violence and harassment seriously and that most rape cases that go to court don’t end up with a conviction.

    On the back of the horrific Jill Meagher crime and the recent murder of a young South Australian woman by her partner, we have seen rising concerns around rape and male violence reigniting public concern around women’s safety.

    But more CCTV cameras will not stop violence against women. Male violence begins in the home, in the institution of the family. The cornerstone of class society which treats women like property, allowing them to be owned, used and exploited. This is where our first conceptions of sexism are learned and this is reinforced by the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls and by our sexist corporate media.

    For decades we have been sold the myth that feminism is no longer relevant. That we have gained equality. We know this to be false. We know that this is false and that it works to stifle our voices and our ability to be organised and fight back.

    A new study on violence against women, conducted over four decades in 70 countries, reveals the mobilisation of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. So the onus is on us. It is up to us to keep coming out on the streets and to create a strong feminist movement.

    Feminism is not just about calling out sexism. We need a feminism which makes real demands. We need to create a feminist movement that aspires for real change, which challenges the exploitation and oppression of women and of all people by the wealthy minority and the system which profits from our suffering. Solutions will come from women coming together, educating and organising towards this end for there is nothing more empowering than the act of solidarity and women involved in collective action together. Unity is strength. Until we have created a world where we are not attacked, abused and discriminated against because of our gender, where gender is irrelevant and we are recognised with respect as human beings, our struggle continues.

    Until there is no wage gap, until we have complete control over our bodies, until the police and the judicial system takes domestic violence and sexual assault seriously, until there are adequate facilities for all women in need, until there are compulsory education programs against violence, until we create a culture where men are taught to respect women, until we do not invade other countries and kill our sisters, until no refugee is locked in detention centres, until our indigenous sisters have their culture respected and true land rights, until we have a safe climate future and our global sisters are no longer the victims of the big polluters who are destroying the earth and its ecosystems and until there is no more violence in the street and in the home…

    Until then our struggle continues. But I believe that if we fight, we can win!

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.

Coverage of the “Colonel” Case Puts Us In a Coma

Read this and substitute the words “Paul Bernardo” for “Russell Williams”:

The [Paul]  Bernardo case, like every similar investigation, had its share of human error. But this is not a story of human error or lack of dedication or investigative skill. It is a story of systemic failure.Virtually every interjurisdictional serial killer case including Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper) and Black (the cross-border child killer) in England, Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer in the United States and Clifford Olsen in Canada, demonstrate the same problems and raise the same questions. And always the answer turns out to be the same – systemic failure. Always the problems turn out to be the same, the mistakes the same, and the systemic failures the same. 

That was Mr. Justice Archie Campbell in 1996 in his Report on the investigation into the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo. If we need a detailed examination of the similarities between the case of Colonel Russell Williams (and no, I won’t stop calling him “Colonel”) and those of Bernardo, it wasn’t the one that Christie Blatchford provided on Wednesday (Go there if you really want to read about how these two serial rapist/murderers are the same and how they’re different – and which one is best – but this just is not what matters).
Why do we need to think about the Bernardo and Williams crimes together?  Not  because of the details of the crimes themselves but because of the law enforcement (and media) response.  The ineffective (and misleading) response.

Perhaps the most important thing that Campbell pointed out in his report was this: 

What is needed is a system of case management for major and interjurisdictional serial predator investigations, a system that corrects the defects demonstrated by this and so many similar cases. A case management system is needed that is based on cooperation, rather than rivalry, among law enforcement agencies. A case management system is needed that depends on specialized training, early recognition of linked offences, co-ordination of interdisciplinary and forensic resources, and some simple mechanisms to ensure unified management, accountability and co-ordination when serial predators cross police borders.

As Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in a column at The Star as long ago as February, various detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police along with Belleville police did no such communicating and coordinated case response.  Why not? 

At the time that Paul Bernardo was operating, there was no ViCLAS automated crime linkage system in place.  As Campbell pointed out in his report, such a system would likely have alerted police to the fact that rapes being committed in Scarborough, Ontario were related to rapes in St. Catharines.  There was no system that would recognize the wider public interest in catching a serial rapist, interest that went beyond that of one particular community. 

It’s my understanding that there are such systems in place now.  But the police have to use them.  Did anyone in Tweed or Belleville or Brighton enter information into the system that should have linked the sexual assaults of Laurie Massicotte and “Jane Doe” with the rape and murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau?  What about the series of break and enters in these communities that involved the theft of “lingerie” and other personal items of the women who lived there?  Given that police take such crimes to be so unimportant and trivial, that has to be unlikely.

I want to know.  Given the slow speed at which the police and our justice system incorporate the knowledge that could lead to saving the lives and bodily and personal integrity of women, we can’t get the answers to these questions soon enough.  Four days of courtroom time this week did not give these answers, or even ask the questions.  Much as it troubles and tires me to say this, we need a public inquiry conducted by someone with the integrity of an Archie Campbell.  Are we going to get one?  Or have we been so mesmerized by visions of the Colonel wearing stolen underwear  that we have lapsed into our own private comas?  As Campbell said, so many years ago:

 
There must be a public recognition that these problems are not just problems for the police and law enforcement communities. They are problems for the community as a whole. A commitment to correct them is necessary in order to guard against another case like this.

 

 Is anybody listening?  These cases make for a whole lot of noise and no action.  That’s femicide for ya.
 
h/t to Anna Willats for reminding me of the Campbell Report
 
UPDATE:  For the sake of all that’s sacred, read this blog post by Antonia Zerbisias, the only member of the journalistic tribe that knows how to report this case. If that sounds biased, you’re damned right!
 
UPDATE II:  From Laurie Massicotte, one of the women who survived an assault by Russell Williams, via Antonia:
I feel liked chopped liver & I can’t even comprehend how the little one is feeling. Now if I could get a message out to the masses it would be-if you survive a violent act of sex don’t report it, just run for cover & find your own protection minus the police & the system they represent.

I’m afraid I have to second that emotion.  After the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Seaboyer, which I heard argued at the Court, I told a few of my feminist friends that I thought the only way women who had been sexually assaulted were ever going to get justice would be to organize a boycott of the system.  Set up feminist centres for women survivors and never take another cent of government money.  Focus on empowering survivors and healing and on activism.  I thought that judges and lawyers and cops and politicians other powerful people might well start getting interested if their mothers and wives and sisters and daughters had no place to go if they are assaulted.  Because that’s the reality right now.  I’ve been through an experience similar to that of Laurie Massicotte.  Women have to make their own choices.  But I could never advise a woman to choose our justice system.

 

Girls, Guergis, Guns & Armageddon

UPDATED BELOW

Marci McDonald’s 2006 article in The Walrus, Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons, gave us the first systematic analysis of the hidden Christian fundamentalist agenda of Stephen Harper’s goals for Canada – the establishment of the conditions necessary for the Second Coming of you-know-who.  Who knows if Harper is such a fantastical fool that he really believes in all that anti-evolutionary, anti-woman, anti-gay, pro-Israel STFUness.  What matters is that a bunch of nutbars has such power in the corridors of Canadian political power.

Harper has cemented a partnership with people who have become astonishingly powerful in the US and whose religious ideology nicely parallels social conservatism.  Harper is known to be a fiscal conservative, but has needed the support of old-style Progressive Conservatives who haven’t necessarily had the ability to attract the support of the far right wing – if they had, they wouldn’t have lost their Party.  Each time Harper throws an anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-Israel, law and order dog biscuit to this crowd he wins votes that would not necessarily fall into his lap via fiscal conservatism alone.

Is all this becoming more clear to Canadians?

Antonia Zerbisias’ interview with McDonald, now the author of a book on these issues - The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada  – provides us with a startling (to some people) collection of issues that have come to the fore of late that certainly substantiate the writer’s painstaking research, from the cancellation of Paul Martin’s national daycare programme to the introduction of  private members’ bills that would limit women’s free reproductive choice to Harper and company’s otherwise inexplicably over-the-top support of Israeli policy towards Palestine and general opposition to same-sex marriage.

That’s a cartload of issues and each one deserves it’s own discussion.  I’m going to have a brief look at how acceptance of the Fundy Formula effects women or, for the sake of the almost alliteration – teh girls – and how “liberals” have failed to appreciate the significance of CON policy and legislation.

From the outset women and women’s advocacy groups have had no difficulty apprehending HarperCON’s anti-woman agenda.  As McDonald points out, he began with the cancellation of a national daycare programme, moved on to a systematic assault on women’s equality-seeking groups and from there to defunding NGOs with specific focusses on providing reproductive services to women in developing countries and anti-violence initiatives.  He has also engaged in a vicious public assault on his former Minister for the Status of Women, Helena Guergis, whose portfolio had been all but disabled anyway.

These issues share many common characteristics and some that are not so obvious.  For instance, though most of us here understand quite well that the lack of a national daycare programme hurts not only the children of Canada but also women who are still their primary caretakers, we were probably less aware that, as McDonald points out, Harper “was also pandering to social conservatives who don’t believe that the government should have any role in child-rearing, who believe that mothers should be at home bringing up their children or who send their children to religious daycares and schools.”

Speaking for myself, I got the “women at home” aspect but missed the part about the children of working mothers placed in religious daycares and schools and the concomitant threat to public education.  As McDonald concludes:

 It was one of those policies that cut across both of his constituencies, economic and social. That would characterize most of his policies.

But McDonald misses something – that the struggle for a national daycare programme is something that not even Liberals will take to the wall – making it much too easy for Harper to hand out gifts to his social conservative base.  Maybe libs and lefties will take daycare if they can get it but it’s certainly nothing to bring down a minority government over.  Few issues that are perceived to be or actually are those that effect primarily teh girls are that important.  Or none.  In fact, when these issues are raised what I hear most often from the libs and even the left, such as it is, is that these issues are “distractions”, diversions from primary purposes, that they might be worth a few jabs in question period and an opportunistic media punchline here or there, but they are really window-dressing issues, dog bones thrown out or removed with little political, social or economic meaning beyond the moment.

For instance.  When the cabal reconvened after prorogation, Harper threw one of his bright shiny things into the Throne Speech, promising to make our national anthem “gender neutral”.  Quite apart from the discussions about what that would take and the general hue and cry about history and national treasures, what interested me was the response from the centre and the left along the lines that language doesn’t matter, sons are “generic” and Harper is just trying to trick you stupid broads into accepting this bright shiny thing as if it’s something real.  Down the toilet went the respectable and now historical feminist argument that yes, language does matter and under the bus, ground into the ruts, went teh girls.  Of course Harper had no trouble dumping the proposal and looked like he was responding to the outrage from social conservatives and liberals all in one fell swoop.  How nice for him.

I’m beginning to see a similar modus in operation with respect to Helena Guergis.  She’s a young, childless woman married to a brown man in political difficulty (even though he’s no longer in office) who “managed” a portfolio that men, conservative and otherwise, don’t care much about.  She wasn’t and isn’t worth much to anybody it seems.  Any attempt to point out the rampant sexism of the attack on Guergis result in shouts from the left that Guergis is a loose cannon, mythically and powerfully destructive and possibly a blondly stupid disaster with whom we should not concern ourselves one teensy bit.  STFU girls.

I was never a Guergis supporter.  But did she ever have any supporters?  And is there a liberal or left dude that gives an elderberry fart about what happens to women in politics?

It’s also been clear in the past that the abolition of Canada’s long-gun registry is an issue used as a political football by left, right and centre in attempts to prevent the alienation of “rural voters”, all of whom are assumed to be men.  Both Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton failed to whip their parties before the vote on the abolition bill in the last session of Parliament, resulting in an easy “yea” result for the legislation.  It remains mighty unclear that anything has changed this time ’round, despite Ignatieff’s attempts to revise the legislation.  Will Jack Layton whip?  Who the hell knows.  So it’s not only girls under the bus on this one, it’s dead girls under the bus.

As for the progressive defunding of women’s equality-seeking groups and NGOs, Ignatieff is perfectly content to use this issue as a political chip – but where the f**k has he been for the last four years while it was happening?  Where was he in December 2009 and early 2010 when a Liberal/NDP coalition would have brought down this anti-democratic, anti-woman, homophobic, pro-Israel and the Rapture government and, for instance, its attempted assault on pay equity?  As for the Libs failed attempt to underscore the reproductive rights of women with their Parliamentary motion?  I actually will stfu on that one.

Women have allowed themselves to be used thus for too long, hoping to get bigger prizes in the end.  Or perhaps any prize at all.  I’m beginning to hear heartening rumbles from girlfriend-land that none of these hopeless pols ought to rest comfortably in the beds their wives and girlfriends have made for so long, and so patiently.

The Theocons so well described by Marci McDonald are the focus of renewed realizations, discussions and organizing among awakening and already fully conscious women – and a few pro-feminist men.  Take care liberal and left doodz.  Move out of the crosshairs of that metaphorical but very well-aimed long-gun.

 

UPDATE:

HarperCON whines

“Last night’s dominant CBC story … featured an attack on the religious affiliation of some government members and supporters,” the Tory missive says. “Apparently, the CBC thinks it newsworthy that some Conservative Ministers and MPs practice their faith. Even more scandalous, some members of the Prime Minister’s Office go to church!”

Pale is peeved.

And on the Helena Guergis story, there’s this from the PI who started it all:

“I have nothing — I have no evidence, or no information, with respect to the conduct of Ms. Guergis in my possession or knowledge,” he stated.

Instead, he said the mere threat of bad optics, coming after a string of embarrassing gaffes by Guergis, may have been enough to force Harper’s hand.

“This is an issue of optics,” Snowdy said.

Women Unite, Defeat the Right!

In his 2008 article “Facism Anyone?”, Laurence W. Britt enumerated the key elements of facism under well-known historical regimes such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia.  Number 5 on Britt’s list: 

Rampant sexism.  Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses. 

Stephen Harper began his CON regime by cutting funding to the Ministry of the Status of Women and to countless women’s groups across the country, including the highly successful Court Challenges Programme which LEAF had used effectively to challenge government actions and legislation that it believed breached the Charter rights of women.  Of course, Harper also gave us the charming Helena Guergis to perform as his talking doll in the Ministry, though she has proven less than charming

But let’s have a look at more recent HarperCON activities that fit into the “blatant sexism” category. 

Let’s begin with the federal budget for 2010.  Most commentators said it was the “do nothing” budget but of course, all budgets do something, even if by neglect.  Professor Kathleen Lahey from Queen’s University Law School did the math.  Here’s her over-all assessment: 

The big picture: Women are half the population in Canada and nearly half the official labour force – but still do 62% of all unpaid work, and receive only 40% of after-tax incomes. 

This Budget: The government claims that it is providing one last $19 billion ‘stimulus’ package this year, shorn of new tax cuts or spending items. This is highly misleading. New corporate tax cuts and continued huge PIT and GST cuts bring the total to $41.9 billion for 2010/11. 

Gender gaps: This $41.9 billion is being delivered in forms that will benefit far more in Budget 2010: men than women, widen gender gaps even further, and continue to drive up poverty rates among women and single parents. 

Of course, women were unattended to in the “Stimulus Budget” as well: 

 Budget 2009 not only fails to target the most vulnerable, but it seems to have been carefully crafted to exclude women from as much of the $64 billion in new deficit-financed spending and tax cuts as possible … [see how

Then there’s the issue of child care.  HarperCON carefully eliminated the 5 billion dollar daycare agreement that the Paul Martin government had reached with the provinces before it lost the 2006  election and replaced it with a $100 per month per child benefit that Jim Flaherty said was meant to emphasize “choice” for families with daycare aged children – in terms of social policy conservatives have always insisted that individuals be responsible for the full costs of reproduction and the tiny benefit they extended did little to ameliorate those costs for working families or single parent families, most of which are headed by women.  In his most recent budget Flaherty added $100 per month per child under the age of six.  I don’t think there’s anybody who believes that will be truly helpful. 

In addition, the money Flaherty is extending is counted as taxable income in the hands of lower income parents so its true value is actually less than its face value: 

Because the child care allowance will increase their income, families will pay more federal and provincial/territorial income taxes, while at the same time receiving less from geared-to-income benefits such as the federal Canada Child Tax Benefit and GST credit as well as provincial/territorial child benefits and tax credits. Thus the true value of the child care scheme will be considerably less than its $1,200 a year face value – significantly less in the case of many working poor and modest-income families, who will get a smaller after-tax benefit than middle- and upper-income families. One-earner families with a parent who stays home will do better than lone-parent and two-earner families. But even for one-earner couples with children, those who earn the most would get to keep more of the proposed benefit.  [here]   

The women of Canada thank you for that cool “choice” Jim.  Helena Guergis seems to have another solution, though she won’t give details: 

Then why did status of women minister Helena Guergis tell Canadian delegates at the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women this month that Israel has such “strong family values there that they don’t need a national daycare plan! Wouldn’t it be great to figure out how they’re doing that?” 

On Monday, at the most heavily covered Status of Women Committee meeting ever, Liberal status of women critic Anita Neville tried to pin the beleaguered Guergis down on what she meant by “family values.”  [more

Onward then.  Over the course of the prorogation HarperCON’s mouthpiece, Bev Oda (he sure knows how to get women to work for him) announced that her government would work to promote maternal health by targetting foreign aid for this purpose.  What could be wrong with that?  Well, in the first place, Flaherty’s budget will freeze foreign aid next year and that just can’t help.  On top of that, both Oda and Lawrence Cannon have now made it clear that “maternal health care” does NOT include contraception and access to safe abortionCannon says the government’s initiative on maternal health care is mean to save lives, not provide birth control. 

These are actually contradictory policies.  The best way to reduce the abortion rate is to provide sex education and contraception.  That much seems obvious.  Perhaps less obvious (to men) is the fact that when women get pregnant and don’t want to continue their pregnancies, they have always and always will find ways to terminate them.  Unfortunately, in countries where abortion isn’t legal or accessible, this leads to unsafe abortions and the deaths of approximately 68,000 women worldwide, per year.  When mothers die their children have an increased risk of dying within a few years.  The government has also failed to extend funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation through CIDA.  So the question for HarperCON is, do pregnant women have a right to live?  Just to cite an obvious recent example, what about the women of Haiti

A lack of education, limited access to reproductive health care, and the rape and violence that Haitian women face have led to a country with a staggeringly poor set of vital statistics. These include a high maternal and infant mortality rate and a high illiteracy rate, with only half the population able to read and write. Because of the high birth rate and abject poverty, hundreds of thousands of children are given up to over-burdened orphanages. Before the quake, an estimated 380,000 children had been placed in just 167 orphanages and care centers; that number of orphans, observers say, may have doubled as a result of the quake and could now be as many as one million! 

HarperCON isn’t offering real help to boost maternal health in its foreign aid policy.  What about the health of Canadian women and infants?  Well, unsurprisingly, the money isn’t forthcoming here either.  The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Programme, for instance, has been effective in helping women who suffer from extremes of poverty, isolation, abuse  and addiction to improve outcomes for their newborns.  But the Programme hasn’t had a funding boost since 1999.  As Dean Beeby reports, 

After a decade of inflation, that represents an effective cut of $4 million, without accounting for population growth. And spending in 2008-09 was down by $200,000 from the previous year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which runs the program. 

Add to that the fact that neither the government nor the media has had anything to say about a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that fetal and infant mortality rates are 2.7% higher among Inuit women than elsewhere in the country and you should get some sense of the depth of HarperCON’s commitment to the health of mothers and their infants in this country. 

Another way of helping women in developing countries to stay alive would be an effective strategy for combatting violence against women.  HarperCON seems aware that they should have such a commitment, they just don’t take it seriously.  Through CIDA, Canada has invested $15 million dollars into a campaign against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: 

An internal Canadian government report obtained by The Globe and Mail concluded that Canada was spending too much money on T-shirts, vests, caps, cardboard folders and gaudy posters while failing to make progress on the bigger issues of prevention and justice. Ms. Bihamba chuckled grimly as she described the foreign- aid projects. The simple problem with the campaign, she said, is that most perpetrators of sexual violence are illiterate – they can’t read the printed messages. 

This despite the fact that gender violence blocks progress in every major development target. 

… violence–from rape during armed conflicts to domestic violence–is a leading cause of death and disability among women of all ages, and costs nations billions of dollars as it drains public resources and lowers economic productivity. 

In his own country, PM Harper indicated in the Speech from the Throne that his government intends to support a Private Member’s Bill to abolish the long-gun registry – one small measure that has actually had some impact in preventing and intervening in domestic violence against women.  And there’s little doubt that he will re-introduce the crime legislation that includes increased and extended mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain crimes including small-time drug offences.  That will mean more Aboriginal and African Canadian women in jail for longer periods of time (men too) and discrimination against other vulnerable groups as well.  [link to Facebook Note] 

The women of Canada have no reason to be grateful to HarperCON and every reason to protest its actions while it remains the government of this country.  Even more reason to be active and stay active in every movement they can find that wants to oust the creep and his coterie in the next election – according to some pundits, not far off. 

Women Unite, Defeat the Right

Hillary & The Rights of Women, Then & Now

Women are the majority of the world’s farmers, but are often forbidden from owning the land they tend to every day, or accessing the credit they need to invest in those farms and make them productive. Women care for the world’s sick, but women and girls are less likely to get treatment when they are sick. Women raise …the world’s children, but too often receive inadequate care when they give birth. And as a result, childbirth remains a leading cause of death and injury to women worldwide. Women rarely cause armed conflicts, but they always suffer their consequences. And when warring sides sit at one table to negotiate peace, women are often excluded, even though it is their future and their children’s future that is being decided.

from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

From Ms Rodham Clinton’s speech at the UN 4th Conference on Women in Beijing (1995):

… for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.

It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.

It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.

It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.

It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.

[text and audio]

 

Women in Pants Riding Bicycles

The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896
It’s been 100 years since the idea of setting aside a day for the celebration of the world’s women and demanding their equality was first proposed.

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

The very first International Women’s Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.  [here]

So even then it was about promises broken and the work of (mostly) women to force equitable, if not revolutionary, change.  If women today wonder why Susan B. Anthony would point to the bicycle as a liberator of women, we need only think back to the extreme limitations on women’s mobility that she had seen go by the wayside in her lifetime.  The bicycle and its female riders once evoked extreme anxiety in folk worried about women’s sexual innocence and purity.  Seems like the sight of women astride a bike with those saddles between their legs could only mean one thing to some peope – women feelin’ happy,  Oh my pearls!

The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.  [here]

Even so, women achieved their right to ride bikes partly as a result of their willingness to ride sitting bolt upright.

The growing numbers of middle class women riding bikes in awkward, long flowing skirts eventually resulted in a revolution in clothing.  In Britain, dress reform was advocated and, to some extent, won – by the mid 1890s women were wearing bicycle trousers and culottes.  When your clothes get out of the way, many things are possible beyond bike riding.

Riding a bike and wearing pants can make a difference.  I wonder what difference changing the words of Canada’s national anthem might have made.  It was a strange, HarperCON kind of offer from Canada’s government and not one they took seriously themselves – apparently Harper cabinet ministers had not been consulted and they made short work of clearing up any possible confusion: no way were they supporting it.  Peter MacKay and Tony Clement said so publicly and Jim Flaherty, asked about the change in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on the budget, could not possibly have been less enthused.  When you make a proposal like this you have to explain, justify and sell it.  Instead, the CONs sold it out. 

Did the howls of outrage from “redneck” members of the CON base scuttle the deal?

“My guess is that while Stephen was out swanning around Vancouver for the Olympics and a lot of women were doing great there and winning a lot of medals and probably some feminist got to him and said, ‘We ought to revise the national anthem,”‘ Flanagan said in an interview.

“He’s always looking for things that can reach out to other constituencies without alienating the Conservative base. So I’m not surprised that he might have seen it in that light, say(ing), ‘Well, here’s something we can do to show that we’re open toward women, particularly women who vote.’

“And maybe he didn’t think through or forsee the reaction that would draw from rednecks like me.” 

Flanagan applauded the about-face. He said national symbols, like the anthem and flag, should “arouse a sense of awe and mystery” and that stems from the fact that they are enduring symbols for the ages.  [here]

Of course it would be “sons” and other “enduring” things that arouse that “awe and mystery” – daughters apparently don’t have the same symbolic power.  It can’t be the issue of change itself that provoked the outcry because the words to the anthem have changed several times and can hardly be called lasting – it’s only a 30 year-long tradition in its present form.  I think the CONs are averse to anything that even sounds politically correct and I think they’re averse to women in pants on bicycles too.

The CONs weren’t the ones who concerned me this time ’round.  I heard more than enough howls of protest in a place that’s been a bit of a safe haunt for me since late December – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).  There were regular knee-jerk comments about the change being merely symbolic (merely?) and a trivial issue and an attempt to win women’s votes by fooling us into thinking the CON’s care.  Women, of course, could not be relied upon to notice that HarperCON really doesn’t give a crappie about women’s equality – even though many of the women CAPPers are also members of an anti-Harper group called “Proud to Be a Member of That Left-Wing Fringe Group Women” and have been working equally hard and for longer than members of CAPP to point out the effects of Harper’s fiscal and social conservatism on women, minority groups, Aboriginal people, children, the disAbled, members of LGBTTQI communities, poor people and just generally groups whose rights are guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We were not about to be bought off by an offer of a bright and shiny thing but it appeared to me that teh menz – and too many womenz – thought our heads could be turned by the promise of  a pretty geegaw.  How’s that for respect? 

There isn’t a woman/feminist I know who had it in her mind that the next issue we would tackle ought to be making our national anthem “gender neutral”.  It’s not that some of us haven’t thought about it from time to time and certainly after having our ears assaulted by the tune for two weeks while the Olympics ran on.  But as others have pointed out (repeatedly and ad nauseum) I don’t think it occurred to any of us that it was either that important an issue or a winnable proposition.  Still, when something is offered that is only right and good, why should we not have accepted?

Symbols are important.  The national anthem is supposed to include all Canadians and it specifically excludes women by mentioning “sons”.  Language is important and gender inclusive language is important.  Solidarity is important too and after being called a feminazi by a man of supposed liberal leanings, I’ve lost a bit of my new-found trust in the importance of “women’s issues” for some of my bro-friends.

But hey, it’s true.  I’d rather have a bicycle and a pair of pants than one of Stephen Harpers flying sparkle ponies.  So shut up!