Thursday, November 13, 2008

My hate is better than your hate!

I haven't blogged in awhile now, as I haven't had anything really strike me lately and inspire me to take up the pen (keyboard?) again. There was, of course, the recent US Presidential Election that blew my mind and broke records across the board for voter turn out, youth voters, first time voters, etc., not to mention how it made history in general, but as much as I was touched by that election and personally inspired by Barack Obama, I couldn't bring myself to blog about it. I mean, what was there to say? It was all a great whirlwind of excitement, hope and even frustration at times, but there was nothing special for me to point out that people weren't already thinking and feeling, or that hadn't already been beaten to death by other bloggers or media outlets. And that's cool.

But now that the dust has settled, the other issues that were voted on that night, specifically the issue of banning gay marriage in California, have been raising my eyebrows. The vote turned out unfavourably for anyone who happens to be a homosexual (or anyone who happens to have a soul for that matter) - 52% voted for the ban, 48% against. Pretty close, but still, no cigar. And in that light, while surfing the luscious, salty waves of the internet today, I came across something that struck me to my very [feminist] core.

It's the issue of black voters being homophobic. Now, of course not ALL voters who HAPPEN to be black are homophobic, but according to a few credible sources, one of those being The Guardian news, the stats show that "black voters went 2 to 1 against gay marriage". Interesting. This resonated with me particularly, because I derive my understanding and support of feminism from the works of bell hooks, a black American feminist writer. hooks essentially argues that feminism is not about banging loudly on the table just for women's rights and equality and ignoring other issues, but about the conviction to end all forms of oppression and discrimination, no matter whom they are directed at. hooks emphasizes that one can not call herself/himself a feminist and yet still be racist, homophobic, or prejudice in general. I have to agree with her. You can't actively support one form of discrimination and condemn another, right? It just doesn't make any sense, as a matter of principle... right? Wrong.

Obama himself has been quoted on this issue: "If we are honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community. We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them."

Giles Fraser of The Guardian sums up Obama's stance nicely: "Taking his scriptural text from Joshua, Chapter 6, the story of the walls of Jericho, the now president elect emphasised that although the walls were too strong to be breached by sheer force, God's plan was that if his people would stand together and march together and, at the sound of the ram's horn, speak with one voice, then the walls would fall. In other words, there needs to be greater solidarity amongst people that have experienced discrimination."


So what boggles my mind are guys like this one:

Reverend Gregory Daniels. "A key player in the religiously based black anti-gay movement". Daniels has traveled around America to states where same-sex marriage is legal, and has confronted and lobbied lawmakers on issues related to homosexuality. In this reprint of an interview with Daniels, found at the link above, the Reverend has said that he "chose" not to become gay, even though there were times growing up where he may have become susceptible to the influence of homosexual tendencies, such as being a broke teenager and seriously considering the offer when an older man repeatedly propositioned him with money for sex, which he managed to get out of by, you guessed it, getting a job. Or how about the fact that Daniels found himself wanting to play with his sisters and their paper dolls more than he wanted to horse around with his brothers. Apparently "cooking and cleaning house for his mother" also made him apprehensive that people were going to think he was a "sissy", which is what finally prompted him to "decide" not to be a homosexual. Riiiiiight.

This is what just kills me about this shit. The social conditioning of children, of everyone for that matter, to believe that if they are to align themselves with the acceptable gender based on their biological sex, then there is a list of activities that are okay for them to participate in, and another list of activites that they should not participate in, if they want to be fully accepted into the "boy camp" or the "girl camp". It's really absurd to me, and entirely unfair. I have to say that I firmly believe one of the biggest challenges we face as the human race is getting over these completely arbitrary metaphorical "lists" of acceptable appearance and behaviour for each gender and just allowing people to be individuals without punishing them, without judging them and hurting them. Maybe the guy just wanted to play with paper dolls and interact with some girls, instead of being punched in the arm by his brothers or wrestling on the lawn (I believe those activities are on the "acceptable" list for boy behaviour.) Or maybe he's actually gay and recognized that people would likely judge him and punish him if he admitted to it, so he consciously chose to hide from his own truth. Either way, it is deeply sad to me that he felt he had to change who he naturally was in order to just survive.

Then again, in this particular case, the good Reverend might have a few other mental issues we need to take into consideration. *ahem* The main reason that Daniels was getting so much attention about this issue is that he was quoted in the New York Times February 2004 issue as saying: “If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them.”

Really? Really?? Alright, come on, now. Re-think that statement. This guy is aligning himself with the friggin' Ku Klux Klan, for christ's sake. And HE'S BLACK!!! What the hell is going on here?!!?!

According to Daniels, it is not division, or discrimination, or drugs, or vicious cyclical poverty, or the sex trade that has crippled the black community. No, no, not at all. It is, in fact, homosexuality, that has "destroyed the black community.” Dun dun dunnnnn.. Big ol' evil gay folk, ravaging the ties that bind! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Bottom line: You can not perpetrate and support hatred and discrimination against one group of individuals, and denounce it for another. I'm sorry, but it just doesn't fly. If you choose to do this, then you are no better than a rascist or a white supremacist or any other kind of bigot out there, Reverend. It's really just as simple as that.

The funniest part about all this (yes, there's a funny part) was a letter that Rev. Daniels received from a black woman after this statement about the KKK became public. “What do you think they gonna do to you,” she asked, “after the ride?”

I rest my case.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The right to die.

Do we have a right to choose our own death? How we die and when we die?

It's a question that always seems to rouse heated debate between everyone in the room. Well, assuming you go to dinner parties where the topic of assisted suicide is a choice subject of discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday on the front page of The Vancouver Sun was an article about a sociology professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, by the name of Russell Ogden. Ogden has been researching underground assisted suicide, often referred to as "Nu Tech deathing", for over 14 years. He is now trying to expand on his research by being witness to an assisted suicide. However, the Kwantlen administration has told him that he cannot "engage in any illegal activity, including attending at an assisted death". Interestingly, it's not illegal in Canada to commit suicide nor is it against the law to witness an illegal event. Ogden and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) are fighting this decision and could possibly overturn it - it's happened before in Ogden's career.

So do people who are suffering from terminal illnesses (the majority of people engaging in assisted suicide) have a right to end their lives? How about other people who don't have life-threatening diseases? Do they have a right to die at any given point in time?

I think they do. I don't particularly like the idea of suicide, but I believe that if we have the right to live our lives as we please, to make choices about our lives every day that will profoundly affect our future and our state of happiness, then we have the right to make the ultimate choice about our lives: the decision to die. Of course I would hope those who were coming from a place of sadness and depression that might make attempts at suicide would reach out for help, or have people around them that cared enough to try and support them and love them, to help them address their issues and move forward with their lives in a positive way. But that is not always the case. And in general, I think that our lives belong to us, at least on a physical level, and we have the right to end them if that's what we choose to do. I mean, is it really fair for someone to be physically forced to stay alive, against their own will? That doesn't seem right to me.

I think that really, it's all about context. I mean, I don't think it should be legal for people to just commit suicide at any old place they choose (a gelato shop, for example, would be a bad idea), but if you're suffering through life mostly bedridden, barely able to function on a basic level as a terminal illness ravages your body, then by all means, take that leap into the last great adventure and bring an end to your pain. I think assisting someone with their death in that context is probably one of the most courageous and compassionate things someone could do for another person.

However, the Canadian Medical Association begs to differ. According to their website, "The CMA does not support euthanasia and assisted suicide. It urges its members to uphold the principles of palliative care."

The website goes on to state:

"Euthanasia means knowingly and intentionally performing an act that is explicitly intended to end another person's life and that includes the following elements: the subject is a competent, informed person with an incurable illness who has voluntarily asked for his or her life to be ended; the agent knows about the person's condition and desire to die, and commits the act with the primary intention of ending the life of that person; and the act is undertaken with empathy and compassion and without personal gain."

Why all the fuss over this? I mean, even the way they describe it sounds like something that isn't so bad, given the somewhat sad situation. Compassion and empathy? Everyone involved is fully aware of the intent of the actions taken and is a consenting adult? Consider what the CMA's stake in this might be and draw your own conclusions.

All legal schmegal aside, I find this to be a larger reflection of the way our society views the idea of death and dying. What are we so afraid of? I mean, the religious factor weighs in heavily on this issue, as many religions forbid suicide, since it is seen as God's right, and only God's right, to end a human being's life, and to take one's own life without the hand of God is considered a sin. But apart from the religious issues, what else seems to be the problem? I mean, the average person spends a lot of their time trying to avoid death and dying - we wear seatbelts in our cars, we generally try to avoid obviously dangerous and/or life-threatening situations (like dipping ourselves in gravy and locking ourselves in a room with a rabid wolverine that's high on angel dust - George Carlin, R.I.P.). We generally don't care much for the idea of death, especially our own death. And why is that? I mean, no one's ever really reported back from there, so why do we automatically assume that the life we're in right now is somehow better than that great mystery of whatever happens after death?

The great unknown. That is what we fear. There really is no way to tell what comes after death, and that scares the hell out of us. So we try to smother that fear with rules and regulations and safety precautions that might prevent it from happening as much as possible, given the inevitable reality that we're all going to die at some point anyway. But does that get us anywhere? Not really.

To be honest, I think we'd get a lot further in our understanding and appreciation of life AND death if we stopped looking at death as this horrific mortal sin or tragedy, and start to open our minds a bit, to see it as not something we necessarily should actively pursue, but something that is inevitable and can provide amazing insight into the lives that we choose to live now, and really, the nature of the universe as a whole.

Thank you, class. I'll see you next week.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The other side of war

So my friend from work and I were discussing some humanitarian issues at the studio, and she came across this website, Women for Women International. There is a very touching video called "The Other Side of War", that you can watch here:

Brings things into perspective, and the poetic prose is amazing. I feel that women in North America don't realize or understand how profoundly powerful we are when we combine our energy and our intentions to help out fellow women around the world.

And on that note...

To keep an eye on how countries around the world are doing with their UN Millenium Development Goals, check out this link:

It tracks how each country has achieved or is working to achieve the 8 MDG's. You can locate the exact country you're interested in, and then click on the specific goal you're interested in. You also have the option of looking at a world map that highlights that specific goal and its progress on a global scale.

Check it out:

Hopefully this brings you some awareness to issues you wondered about, or maybe never considered before...

Friday, June 13, 2008

We can only move forward

Whether you think he really felt that apology or was mostly pressured into it, it still marks a dramatic point in Canadian history to have Prime Minister Stephen Harper issue a formal public apology to the students/survivors of the Indian Residential School system. To hear someone in a position of power actually, finally, speak those words out loud, was the beginning of something deeply positive. I felt the apology resonate within me, because personally, I truly feel remorseful and sympathetic towards the children that had to endure the horrors of those schools without any defense, being torn from their families and made to feel ashamed of their heritage, and ashamed of themselves as people. As a human being, I feel my own heart ache when I think of the pain and the suffering those children went through, and the suffering their parents and families went through when their children were taken from their homes and forced into a life that never really wanted them, a life that abused them and stole from them their beautiful and profound culture and heritage.

The government of Canada stripped the soul of the aboriginal people with systems like the Indian Residential Schools, and the lasting effects of those emotionally and physically violent actions continue to reverberate in our society today, on so many painful levels. When I think of that part of our history it makes me feel ashamed of my country, and if nothing else, Harper's apology was for me a spiritual cleansing of sorts. I felt as if my own expressions of healing energy were being sent out to those who had suffered, and just the energy of that alone made me feel more connected to this earth and to the Canada that I love.

The reality now is that we can only move forward, and that is the most encouraging part of it all. How could we have ever gotten anywhere with that huge elephant in the room? How could we, as a nation, have really ever moved forward with a complete lack of acknowledgment and responsibility for what happened all those years ago, and what is continuing to go awry in the aboriginal community as a result of that treatment? We can not go back in time and fix the mistakes our ancestors. We can not undo what has been done, and we can not ever apologize enough to right the wrongs of the past. But we can move forward in a new and positive direction that begins with humility and understanding, with our mistakes acknowledged and out in the open, and that is what this apology signified to me.

Whether or not you believe Harper apologized because of public pressure, the only thing that matters is that other people felt it, other Canadians felt that apology and meant it, and aboriginal peoples received that apology, in the essence of its energy and the true meaning behind it. And once you change that energy, the world opens up to you, and you can change anything. But without exception, is absolutely has to begin with the heart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The "s" word... and the "f" word.

The race for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency was heated from the get go, and for obvious reasons. We're dealing with an historic election here - Bush is getting booted out of office (thank Goddess!) and the 2 main Democratic candidates are a black man and a white woman, so both of the major and sensitive issues of sexism and racism within the historic context of the United States are out on the table for everyone to pick at.

Now I don't want to get into all the nuts and bolts of it, because the purpose of this post is not to argue about who won or lost and for what reasons, but rather to draw attention to a much bigger issue that has been given an international platform on which to be exposed for all the world to see.

The issue? Sexism. (Yes, the "s" word.)

Now don't run away, kids. I'm not going to rant and rave about how sexism is *the* reason Hillary Clinton lost the race to Obama. I don't care to debate that, and in fact, that is entirely NOT the point of any of this. The point is that during this race, the kind of overt sexism that many people seem to blindly think is largely in the past for the Western world, well, it reared its ugly head dramatically, and there is really no way you can deny it. Whether or not it sunk the Good Ship Hillary is arguable, but the sheer fact that it exists and was put on display in such a disturbing and garish manner is what really got me thinking.

I was reading an article about this issue the other day in the Globe & Mail. According to the article, which was lengthy, the Women's Media Center in New York produced a short video called "Sexism Sells - But We're Not Buying It", to promote awareness about the sexist bullshit Hillary had to endure throughout her entire run.

You can watch the video here:

With this video, the Women's Media Center wanted to "alert the population to the sexist treatment faced by female candidates, who are often discussed in the context of their looks, their emotions or their husbands". I have to say the video was quite disturbing for me personally, and it also outraged me at many points. The categories they were pigeon-holing Hillary Clinton into, and the very language they used, was purposely intended to severely divide her from the male candidates and to personally demean her as well, based on the fact that she has a vagina. Really, when you break it down, that's what it comes to. Sad, isn't it?

And the bullshit about the cleavage?? Are you kidding me? One minute they're ragging on her for being "like a nagging wife" and the next they're accusing her of using CLEAVAGE to her advantage. Come on, people. Really? Seriously? That's embarrassing. You look like assholes for even suggesting it. I'm sorry, but do we now have to start *apologizing* for having breasts? Breasts that just might possibly be visible if you're STARING AT THEM? When I looked at the clips they used as so-called "examples" of Hillary "baring her cleavage", I laughed out loud. Really, I mean, I just... I can't even continue with this paragraph, it's so fucking absurd.

But truly, what a terrible and demeaning way to cut someone down and to undermine her intelligence and her intent as a person, as a human being, by suggesting that she would even consider using her god damn chest as a tool to help her get votes, as if she had to, because she isn't smart enough or good enough to win votes on her own, votes based on her politics and not her "cleavage". It's like those strange, ancient, misogynistic myths about vaginas with large, sharp teeth that will thrash away at any man's penis that draws near - Hillary Clinton is now using her "cleavage" to seduce men into voting for her - she's dangerous!! Run for your lives!! That's like accusing John Kerry of wearing tight-fitting pants just to show off his bulging junk in order to gain the female vote when he was running. And then to declare that she's looking so haggard in some photos she might "scare off" some voters? What are the odds that you would you *ever* hear someone say anything like that about John McCain, who's about 700 years old? Slim to none. And that makes me feel sick.

Now, the question is not whether the fact that she's a woman had anything to do with her losing the race to Obama - it's the fact that the overt sexism seen here even exists in the first place, in the god damn 21st century, that members of the media can and do actually still make these kinds of comments to and about women, *just because they are women*. This is not an issue that only women should be concerned about, EVERYONE should be concerned about this, because sexism is the same as any other form of prejudice and hate-mongering, and yet it is so often never given the same attention or action against it. If people were making racist comments or comments that were a reflection of some more "subtle" form of racism about Obama or anyone in general, there would be total outrage from many voices, as there has been before. And instead, we have this under-the-radar yet HUGE issue of sexism going on right in front of our faces, and hardly anyone is paying any mind, at least not to the degree that racist comments would draw.

This is where Bell Hooks comes in, one of my favourite authors. Now I'm going to use the "f" word, so don't freak out, ok? Bell Hooks is a 'feminist' author and she wrote one of my all-time favourite books, Feminism Is For Everybody. It's a tiny little book, kind of like a handbook for anyone who wants to know what feminism really is.

To start, let's clear out this old, junky, social closet that's full of misconceptions and silly stereotypes about feminism.

Feminism is NOT:

- about hate or anger against men
- about segregating the sexes
- about alienating men
- about women becoming "like men" or men becoming "like women"

In Bell Hooks' view, feminism is about the eradication of ALL forms of oppression and discrimination. In other words, if you're racist or prejudiced in any way, you can not rightly call yourself a feminist. Quoting directly from her book Feminism is for Everybody, Bell Hooks states, "simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression". Hooks writes, "I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. Practially, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, adult or child".

Here is a short passage from the introduction to that book to help clarify what it's all about, in Hooks' words:

"As all advocates of feminist politics know, most people do not understand sexism, or if they do, they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media. [...] There was indeed a great deal of anti-male sentiment among early feminist activists who were responding to male domination with anger. It was that anger at injustice that was the impetus for creating a women's liberation movement. Early on most feminist activits (the majority of whom were white) had their consciousness raised about the nature of male domination when they were working in anti-classist and anti-racist settings, with men who were telling the wolrd about the importance of freedom while subordinating the women in their ranks."

If you like, you can read more of the intro here:

So why are so many people (men and women) still apprehensive about the idea of, or even just the word, feminism? It seems only sensible that it's a good thing to be passionate about, just like anti-racism movements, or anti-homophobia movements. According to Hooks, this is all part and parcel of the entire package of sexism, and is a result of "systemic institutionalized sexism", i.e. social conditioning on all levels - in the home, the work place, and in every day interaction with other members of society. It is simply built right in to our lives. This can be fairly easily observed in the world around us on a day to day basis, so for the rest of your day today, or tomorrow, just bring your attention to the concept of sexism in your daily interactions and see what pops up. I guarantee you, it will be interesting.

Ultimately, feminism is really just about getting rid of the bullshit social conditioning we are all subjected to from the moment we are born, both men and women, and really getting to the guts of the issue, taking it apart and seeing it for what it really is. We should be honouring the differences between men and women, appreciating them and acknowledging that neither sex is inferior, just different. Women of all ages are absolutely just as powerful and meaningful, in every sense of the word, as their male counterparts, and need to be respected and honoured as such, instead of being pigeon-holed into these narrow-minded and demeaning "nagging wife" or "ball buster" categories, particularly by some ignorant members of society. Sexism is still a very prevalent problem in our society, in so, so many ways, but in some cases it has become much more subtle in its form and communication, so it passes under the radar all too often. I have experienced sexism first hand more times than I can count, in both my personal and work life, and it is a terrible feeling to have to put up with.

The fact remains, sexism exists and it is damaging to everyone, as it makes us resent one another and continue to demean each other as retaliation, among many other negative consequences. All you have to do is read up on Hillary Clinton's campaign and her experiences to see a major example of this in broad daylight.

And if you still really think it's not an issue, have a look at this:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Paying homage to Pablo Neruda


And it was at that age ...
Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

~ Pablo Neruda

One of my all-time favourite poets, mover of souls and breaker of hearts, I wish there were more Pablo Nerudas in this life...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

To whom it may concern

I am an amazing woman of profound proportions. I hold the sun in my left hand and the moon in my right, and with each being an equal and opposite part of my being, I contain within me the infinite power and overwhelming love of the entire universe as we know it. I give of myself knowing no limits, and back unto myself I breathe in the great reciprocal love of the beings around me, and become fortified by this enormous energy.

Mother Earth has whispered in my ear during the long hours of twilight, and I have listened to her intently. She speaks of great mysteries yet to unfold, and I can not help but feel my heart sing at such intimate revelations, at the possibility they bring, that all is not yet lost to the cruel hand of the human race. The greenest of grasses have caressed my feet and brought back to me the pure innocence I knew as a child, fresh and clean and naive to the world and so full of hope, and this has brought me to a new point of understanding.

Moving forward, I can think only of this great love and the promise that swells within my chest, every moment I breathe and move and taste and feel and experience this world. We can not let this pass; the moment is here and there is only this moment. Nothing else is guaranteed to us. Seize this and know that we will succeed if we move with love in our hearts and act now.