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.

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

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!

A Christmas Gift for America’s Women

From Senator Ben Nelson:

NOW‘s Terry O’Neill on the latest manifestation of the desire to control women’s bodies, particularly their sexuality and reproductivity, in the United States:

The so-called health care reform bill now before the Senate, with the addition of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Manager’s Amendment, amounts to a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us. And by the way, it’s the rest of us who voted the current leadership into both houses of Congress.

Yes.  By the way …

UPPITY-DATE:  From Women’s Rights at change.org –

Take a look at Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s new manager’s amendment’s proposal to keep innocent federal dollars from being tainted by helping to cover abortion through a separation of private and public funds. (I’d much prefer to see a little separation of church and state.) Of course, insurance companies aren’t known for enjoying added hassle or a positive approach to women’s health, so faced with the administrative nightmare of setting up two bank accounts to deposit two checks from each woman electing abortion coverage — one payment for the abortion pot and one for everything else –  insurance companies likely to chuck that option altogether. Hey, that’s just what anti-choicers wanted in the first place!

More on women’s bodies as bargaining chips – everyone under the bus!

License to Blog?

I’ve been running in to blogs written by men from the “Men’s Rights Movement”.  I don’t know how it happened, where the first link came from.  But once one popped up others followed.  Too many others.

Some people say “Ignore this nonsense.”  Wish I could.  I notice that many if not most of these blogs have lots more people commenting than I do.  That is if they’re not generating comments themselves.  The point is, some of the attitudes displayed on these blogs are more common than I’d wish.  Some of these attitudes find their way into public policy and even legislation.  For instance, child custody and divorce legislation.  [for instance, this pdf]

So, we’d better pay attention.  For instance, here’s “MarkyMark” on domestic violence or “DV” as he calls it:

DV basically is anything Wifey doesn’t like, guys! Did you deny her money for that fancy, new SUV she wants, even though you can’t afford it? Guess what, you’re guilty of withholding funds! Did you prevent her from leaving with the car keys while under the influence? Guess what, you’re guilty of DV! Being a man and putting your foot down = DV these days guys. IOW, putting a stop to Wifey’s excessive spending can land you in jail.

Needless to say this is a stunning display of ignorance.  And misogyny.  Feminists have put “economic abuse” on a continuum of spousal control that often leads to or is part of actual violence.  No one that I know has ever said that it is violence in itself and it sure isn’t a criminal offense.  Scoffing a woman’s car keys isn’t an offense either though I’m sure we can all imagine circumstances in which it would be controlling and abusive.   

What’s interesting about all this?  Men constructing themselves as victims of powerful women who have usurped male privilege and legislators and the law itself.  Haha.  Ha.  Choke.  Matriarchy has broken out!  What planet am I on then?

Notice though that the all-powerful woman is referred to in a way that diminishes her.  Wifey.  Wow.  Sounds like a ballbuster.  It doesn’t seem to take much to intimidate poor Marky.

BTW his blog is called MarkyMark’s Thoughts on Various Things.  I think it’s going to be a long time before Marky has any actual thoughts.  Contradict yourself much?

How Long Does Change Take?

[This post will be updated with links]

Six months ago I explained the dearth of posts at my blog by posting this from Chris Hedges:

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will either wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice but an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us, or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy.

I agreed with Chris then and couldn’t agree more after a week of hearing, seeing and trying not to listen very much to stories about Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs and minor car accident.  Six months ago, I couldn’t think what part, even what very small part, I could play waking people up.  So much wrong, so much to do, so many people really wanting “something” different but not knowing what or how to get it anyway, so many victories for darkness, so much fragmentation, so little time, too much space.  I believe many more people want “justice” than are able to figure out how to articulate their desire in the first place; and certainly not how to make it so in the second.

Recently, two US Senators and the American Conference of Bishops prompted some questions and I began to formulate something like a coherent response, if not exactly an answer. 

In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Roe v. Wade.  In a nutshell, necessarily simple, they decided that a woman may abort a pregnancy for any reason up to the point of fetal viability.  No doubt Roe v. Wade was a victory for women but it was far from a straightforward one, in part due to America’s constitutional system and in part because of the wording of the decision itself.  The definition of “viability” has continued to be a contentious issue for one thing; for another, ensuing state restrictions on abortion, when litigated, made important incursions on the territory staked out in the case.  One thing is clear, however: the decision was never accepted by rightwing, Conservative Christians and the people who represent them.  The onslaught has been continuous, successful enough and often devious – as in the very recent activity of the US Conference of Bishops in negotiation with House representatives trying to get a healthcare reform deal.  Voila Stupak/Pitts.  What women were thought to have won they have had to win (and lose) over and over again since 1973.  Perhaps that victory has never been as threatened as it is right now.  It’s important to see that the threat comes not just from the “wingnut” right but also from among anti-choice Democrats – once touted as the natural allies of feminist objectives.

The history of reproductive rights in Canada is more than a little different.  In 1988, in R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the entire section of the Criminal Code that criminalized abortion and there has been no replacement of that law.  Incursions on women’s reproductive rights have occurred less visibly via hospital boards that refuse to permit abortions at Catholic hospitals or hospitals controlled by other religious denominations; via supply and demand problems respecting the availability of abortions in the healthcare system – some doctors refuse to perform abortions; because some doctors or hospital boards have imposed their own limits on when, in a term of pregnancy,  they will perform abortions; and because of the unaddressed accessibility problems of rural and First nations women.

In some ways, the difficulties that American women experience in trying to access full reproductive rights are more visible.  But in many ways they parallel the problems experienced by Canadian women.  The Stupak/Pitts amendment seemed to come out of nowhere.  There have been several points in the process of trying to achieve healthcare reform when the abortion issue has been raised but it doesn’t seem that anyone expected it to come out of negotiations with Nancy Pelosi, a couple of cultish Christian congressmen and the Conference of Bishops.  But there it is, the congressmen were ready and willing, the bishops pounced and the Democrats caved.  Some of those same Democrats who supported the amendment then went ahead and voted against the reform bill!  And what did the Dems gain by supporting the amendment?  The vote of one Republican (reprobate).  That’s right folk.  One.

We haven’t seen anything quite so dramatic in Canada – a few slippery Conservatives have tried to pass disguised private members bills by us but always unsuccessfully.  The point is though, the rightwing is there, more than ready and more than willing if not quite so able, thus far, to pounce in just the way that Stupak and Pitts, a whole bunch of Reprobates and more than a few Democrats just did.  Witness the comments of Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott just a few weeks ago:

“a growing body of research reveals significant health problems caused by abortion,” including breast cancer, cervical injury, uterine perforations, hemorrhaging and infections.

He said further that pro-life women view abortion as “part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available”.

Following on Mr. Vellacott’s comment, this exchange took place in the House of Commons:

Mme Lise Zarac (LaSalle-Émard, Lib.): Monsieur le Président, le député de Saskatoon-Wanuskewin a récemment émis des commentaires sur l’avortement qui insultent et dénigrent les femmes. Le député fait des affirmations qui sont médicalement inexactes pour hausser son programme idéologique moral.
   La ministre de la Santé dénoncera-t-elle les croyances de son collègue au sujet du droit des femmes de choisir?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC)
   Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I note for the member that all members of Parliament in the House are required to have their opinion. It does not mean it is the opinion of the cabinet.
   Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it looks like the muzzles are off. The Conservatives are sounding like Reform Party extremists.
   The member for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin’s comments are completely degrading to women. He claims that abortion causes ‘a greater risk of breast cancer’ and he asserts that ‘abortion is part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available.’ His comments show an odious attitude toward women.
   Will the Minister of Justice stand up for women and denounce these vile comments?

Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I again will note for the member that each member of the House is able to have their own opinion. It does not mean it represents the government.
   What I will highlight is that this government under the leadership of this Prime Minister has made significant investments in Status of Women Canada. We have three pillars of focus: economic security, violence against women and women in leadership roles.
   We also have the highest percentage of women in cabinet in Canada’s history and the highest level of funding at Status of Women Canada, the highest level in Canada’s history with an increase in the number of grass root organizations that are now able to receive funding to support the most vulnerable women in Canadian society.

Guergis would not renounce Vellacott’s statement even though they were incorrect and even though they were degrading to women.  Apparently she believes that the presence in this government of a larger number of women will suffice to shut women’s mouths even if those representatives are not advocating for them.  And she is not averse to lying.  This government has stolen funds from Status of Women and has done absolutely nothing to guarantee women’s economic security – remember the governments attempts to make inroads on pay equity in the public service last year?

But we cannot blame all these betrayals on the CONS alone.  Liberal and NDP members have also been willing to turn their backs on the women who elect them.

For instance.  The much discussed private members bill to do away with Canada’s long gun registry.  It’s a classic rightwing hot button issue and in case not many people have noticed, it’s contradictory as hell alongside the usual “law and order” kvelling done by the nuts.  Crazy like foxes they are though.  As someone who’s noticed has pointed out, though the “right to bear arms” is a classic American cris de coeur of the Christian right, it’s been adopted by the Canadian right too.  Why?  It provides a brilliant wedge between rural and urban constituencies and helps to frame other, conservative v. “liberal” debates.  It’s also a divisive issue between men and women – even rural women are overwhelmingly pro-registry.  It’s been estimated that, in tight races, the gun registry is “vote-determinating for about 5% of the voting public”.  It’s not stupid, crazy people who use this issue to their advantage.  But it just might be stupid people who ignore it.

I’ve also watched how the issue divides “progressive” men and women.  If you can achieve this political result simply by introducing a system to register (not “control” mind you, just register) you’ve gained a lot of ground on the cheap.  Similarly, watch progressive Americans, men and women, try to rationalize the passage of Stupak-Pitts.  “We don’t like it but it was a ‘compromise’ we had to make for the greater good”.  Over and over again.  As if you can trade off the rights of one group of people (a mere 52% of the population no less) for the rights and needs of another.  But over and over “progressives” are willing to do it while women scream “betrayal” and bear accusations, not only of hysteria, but even of selfishness.  This must make conservatives just bliss out.

Then there are the more quiet betrayals.  I’m not sure how they end up being quiet but it’s been done by the HarpyCons with the passage of criminal legislation that provide for mandatory minimum sentences for a load of offences, and with the agreement of both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada no less.  Thanks guys.  Love women of Canada.

Here’s why the mandatory minimums are a women’s issue.  The m.m.s have a disproportionate effect on groups who have experienced historic and current political, social and economic disadvantage.  One of those groups would be women, in this case, particularly First Nations and African American women.  First Nations women are the most rapidly growing group in the prison system.  They are vulnerable to arrest because of police targetting and the poverty,  and social and political injustices that have led to increased drug useage.  First Nations women suffer disproportionate effects once they’re imprisoned.  Often primary caregivers, they’re separated from children for long periods of time and often lose them to foster care forever.  Programmes for women in general receive fewer monetary and staffing resources than those for men.  Women in general are subject to strip searches and body searches in prison that put them at great risk.

African Canadians, also over-represented in our prison population, are similarly at risk for similar reasons.  But women, and particularly African Canadian women, are especially at risk, as pointed out by Professor Elizabeth Sheehy in her recent evidence to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs:

Women are often caught up in the prosecution of drug offences through their relationship with male partners, often while having minimal actual involvement in drug transactions.  Acting as drug mules is a crime committed often out of economic desperation.  African Canadian women will be the subgroup of women most dramatically affected by mandatory prison sentences.  They are already over-incarcerated at seven times the rate of white women.  Some commentators and judges have observed a growing presence of African Canadian women accused as drug couriers.  It seems evident that the new mandatory sentences will augment the number of women currently imprisoned, with African Canadian women and their children feeling the worst effects.

Professor Sheehy ended her comments with these words:  “I believe Bill C-15 is an affront to our commitment to equality and non-discrimination.”

An affront?  Yes, I agree.  But it’s an affront that very few people know about and that therefore even fewer are concerned about and that the opposition parties of Canada have chosen to ignore so absolutely that Bill-C15 has been passed through the House and now awaits only Senate approval.  There are all sorts of reasons that women’s groups haven’t picked up on this issue in an effective way but I’m not going to blame the women.  I’m looking at the people who women, feminists especially, voted for to represent their interests.  I’m looking at Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada who have seen fit to add their votes to the Conservative votes needed to pass this legislation.

The legislation effects vulnerable groups most but those vulnerable groups are less able to shake the sturdy trunks of the political trees/parties that represent them.  The always waiting, not stupid rightwing is there to pounce.  The mandatory minimum sentencing issue fits squarely with the conservative “law and order” agenda which would be an absolutely irrational policy if it were actually meant to affect law and order.  But it isn’t.  Surely the rightwing is not quite so stupid as to believe that longer prison sentences for drug users and dealers does anything at all to prevent crime – there’s just too much empirical evidence showing that it doesn’t.  No, once again this is a divisive issue being used to achieve political ends, not the least of which is the building of a prison industrial complex to rival that of the United States of America.  It might not “work” but it sure does make a lot of money, create lots of jobs and make constituents in ridings that host prisons pretty happy.

The “liberal” parties supposedly elected at least in part to represent the interests of women and minorities are quite willing to sell out these constituencies out because it just doesn’t do them much harm.  So far.

I, for one, want to make it hurt.  I want to keep sorting out the links between these rightwing policies and liberal betrayals and putting them out there.  I want to defeat the HarpyCons but I also want to make it dead clear that, as a woman, I can’t find a blessed party that truly represents me and my sisters and others for whom I care.  I reject a “headlong retreat into fantasy”.  I’ll not sit around waiting for this culture to die.  That might all sound a little melodramatic but there it is and it suits me just fine.

On this day, December 6th, 2009, when I want to reflect and grieve the women’s lives lost in Montreal in 1989 and all the women of this country who died before or since as a result of intimate partner violence and public violence against women – all those whose names we don’t know – I’ve actually had to time defending my right to define, with my sisters, the meaning of the event and the meaning of those lives and deaths.  When women are murdered because they are women, we still have to fight to say so.  We are so far away, still, twenty years later, from doing those things that must be done to begin the end of male violence against women that we still struggle for the definition itself.

I wish no person physical harm.  But I do want to make that hurt by defeating this government and any other government that thinks it can lead a country while ignoring the needs of half its population.