A Toronto Transformation

Feminism

Why “letting it go” is not the solution to sexism

U of T Feminist button

On Saturday, I had a chat with a pal about his use of the term “too girly” as an explanation for why he didn’t enjoy a particular TV show. He seemed exasperated that I wouldn’t just give him a break and let it roll off my back, as I know him well enough to know he’s not some raging misogynist. Which is true.

And yet.

On Sunday, I walked past The College Street Bar, where their sandwich board caught my attention. It read something along the lines of: Scooters are for men who want to ride motorcycles but like to feel the wind on their vaginas.*

Yesterday, I bundled up and went for a lunchtime stroll. I was enjoying the sunshine and chuckling at the Patton Oswald standup I was listening to when a man I had just passed suddenly reversed direction and appeared at my side.

Startled, I popped my earbuds out and hoped he was looking for directions, or even just asking for spare change.

“So you’re very attractive,” he started.

Crap.

“Uh huh,” I said curtly, quickening my pace and casting a longing glance at the sun-drenched bench I’d been heading for.

“You probably get that a lot,” he continued.

“Yep.”

Undeterred he informed me, “So I’ve been approaching women in Toronto to try and figure something out – what’s your name?”

“No. You don’t need to know my name. Sorry, what is it you want?” I asked, now well on my way to  qualifying for Olympic speed walking.

Mistake.

He told me his name was “Sorcery” then launched into an almost-amusing tirade about how he used to have a girlfriend named Storm who was too lazy to make it work with him and how for years he’s been able to “get” tons of women in Toronto.

“Not just one women, many women,” he clarified.

“Got it. You collect women.”

“Yeah, like a harem,” he said. “You won’t believe me, but it’s true.”

At this point I tuned him out as I was strategically planning my escape from this MRA PUA reddit thread come to life. I walked onto the U of T campus and set my sights a building where I knew there was a staffed front desk near the doors in case I needed assistance.

….and I haven’t changed, so it must be that women in Toronto have changed. What do you think?”

“About why you can’t get dates?”

“Yeah,”

Just shrug and say you have to go, whispered self-preservation.

But for some reason in that moment, my annoyance, or maybe just plain old exhaustion was stronger than my fear. I was tired from having to ask well-intentioned loved ones not to use “girly” as a criticism and from having to read gross sexist sandwich boards and from a man who thinks it’s his right to “grab women by the pussy” being elected POTUS and from the time when I was 20 and a man in a bar tried to exercise that same right on me.

So I shrugged and said “I don’t know. Maybe too many women have read the Game and are aware of the tactics that guys who consider themselves “pick-up-artists” try to use to manipulate vulnerable women into dating them. Because you come across as one of those guys.”

I didn’t even get into the fact that maybe women don’t like being “collected” like goddamn pogs** before he pronounced my theory “Bullshit!” Asserted that he wasn’t like “those guys” told me he was “the best guy in Toronto” and demanded I give him a real reason.

“You asked my opinion, I gave it to you. Now I’m going to go my way, and you need to go yours,” I said, as he got louder, shout-whining at me to give him a different answer. “I don’t owe you an explanation! I said, (and then, forgotten words drilled into my head by my parents as a little girl in case of attempted kidnapping) I DON’T KNOW YOU!” raising my own voice and looking around for people who might help me get away as I beelined for the doors of the building.

He thankfully didn’t follow me in but continued to shout at me through the doors as I ducked out of sight. “BUT WHY?! WHY ARE YOU BEING LIKE THIS?!”

A young woman and a young man approached and asked if I was ok. The man said “I thought you were maybe just a couple having an argument until I heard you say ‘I don’t know you’.” (nice work, mom and dad!)

The guy stayed with me and checked outside to see if Sorcery was still lurking around.  When I explained I wasn’t actually even going to the library, I had just come in to try and get away from this dude and keep him from following me back to work, he said the kindest thing: “I don’t actually like this library anyway.” He said he’d actually rather go to one closer to my office and offered to walk with me.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that, as I had just been debating calling work and asking a large male colleague to come meet me (but feeling guilty at the thought of asking someone to make that track). So while I did have a fleeting thought of “what if this guy is ANOTHER creep taking advantage of the situation,” I very gratefully accepted his offer and the chocolate he gave me while we walked and chatted and I tried to stop shaking.

Back at my office I called the U of T campus police to let them know this guy might be lurking around campus.

Which brings us to today, December 6th, Canada’s National day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and the anniversary of the date in 1989 when a man claiming he was “fighting feminism” separated women engineering students from men and murdered 14 of them at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

So.

While I might have had some trouble on Saturday articulating why I get hung up on the occasional use of a word like “girly” to describe something negative from a friend I know does not hate women, today the reason feels clearer.

It starts with words, with “jokes” that make women out to be less than men. Less valuable, less deserving of respect. And that turns into too many men, who don’t understand that “it’s just a joke,” thinking they are more than women, that they deserve respect and attention and  power and sex and whatever else they might crave from women. And they are baffled and angry and dangerous when they do not get what they think they deserve.

That’s why it matters.

*they weren’t even clever enough to rhyme scooters with cooters. I mean, come on!

**I’m old, what do people collect now?

Inspiring Women: Grace Lee Boggs & Naomi Klein

Well happy new year, pals! I hope you all had wonderful holidays with plenty of R&R. As you may recall, it always takes me a few days of getting a feel for the new year to decide what my new year’s resolutions will be, and 2015 has been no different.

Last year’s resolution to not become betrothed was such a smashing success that this year, I thought I’d try my hand at being resolute again!

As I’ve said before, I think it’s so important for people to be engaged in what’s going on in the world outside our own front doors, and if I want to be able to discuss current events and important issues, I should do a little civic homework beyond skimming the paper or tuning in to the CBC over breakfast.

To that end, I’m diving into Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. I’ve just read the first few pages, and I can tell already that this book is going to scare me, and maybe break my heart a little, but as far as I’m concerned, more of us should be frightened and heartbroken over the state of the planet and how little we’re willing to give up to save it and ourselves. But I’m hoping I’ll also find some inspiration for potential solutions. All is not lost, but we can’t be voices for change if our heads are buried in the (tar)sand(s).

Sand is very muffling.

And speaking of voices for change, last week the Moth podcast introduced me to the incredible Grace Lee Boggs. I dare you to listen to this hilarious, sharp 97-year-old (at the time of the recording) talk about her life as an unstoppable activist and her relationship with her “physically and politically attractive” husband without falling totally in love with her.  She talks about him being a “solutionary,” a visionary organizer who “proposed things people didn’t know they could do until someone told them they could do it” and about how that’s the sort of thing we need in the world today.

Immediately after l finished listening to it, I went online to order a copy of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, because I just had to know more about this fantastic philosopher and her contributions to every major social movement in the United States for the past 70 years, and in my Googling, I was sad to learn that the 99-year-old has been in hospice since September. There is a campaign to support her in her final transition as she lives out her last days. If you have a couple extra bucks to throw her way, funds are being collected here. And, if you’re in Toronto and would be interested in watching the documentary about her, let me know as I’m toying with the idea of setting up a screening of it and sending the funds her way if there’s some interest!

So I guess that’s my real New Year’s resolution: to be more like Naomi Klein and Grace Lee Boggs, to do my homework and be more of a “solutionary.”

(Also to go to bed earlier, bulk up my savings and keep my apartment tidier, you know, if there’s time)

What are your resolutions for 2015?

Blanc can Stay Home , Toronto has Enough Sex Offenders

slutwalk toronto protest sign "because we've had enough"Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault and violence against women

For just over a week, Toronto has been abuzz over allegations that Jian Ghomeshi, a much beloved CBC radio host who claimed to espouse feminist values, was fired by the station over allegations he had abused and sexually assaulted a number of women, which rose from 3 to 10 as the week went on.

The women’s accounts of the non-consensual and violent acts committed against them make for stomach-churning reading. And my stomach rolled all over again when I read and heard the reactions to the story. When they got wind that the allegations against him were about to be made public, Ghomeshi and the PR team he hired to help him weather the inevitable media firestorm posted his version of events on his Facebook page. He claimed to be the victim of a smear campaign by a “jilted ex-girlfriend” and that the CBC had objected to his private, consensual BDSM predilictions.

I was amazed to see how many people, many of them lovely and intelligent, took his statement at face value before the Star shared their information about the first three women to come forward. My Facebook news feed was sprinkled liberally with messages of support for the former Moxy Fruvous member.

I guess for some it must have been in part because people felt like they knew him after hearing his voice on the radio day after day. Many were all too happy to believe the “jilted ex” narrative, because I guess Jian has money and status and power and because as we all know, “bitches be crazy”?

But most disturbingly, I think a lot of people believed him simply because we do not believe rape victims. And even if we can be convinced that rape occurred, we still ask them what they could have done to stop someone from raping them.

Some people were genuinely baffled as to why this was the first time we were hearing about these incidents. They couldn’t fathom why a woman who had been assaulted would not immediately report it. If you are one of those people, tweets under the hashtag #beenrapedneverreported are required reading, as far as I’m concerned. There are unfortunately a million valid reasons not to report sexual assault, (in fact, when I think about it, I don’t think any of the people I know who have told me about being raped actually reported it) and you’ll find a heartbreaking number of them on twitter.

I think a lot of people believed/believe Ghomeshi without question even now, when ten women have come forward, and countless others have relayed their stories about his inappropriate and disturbing behaviour, because of all of these reasons. I think they believe him because of rape culture.  A culture where someone like Ghomeshi could convince himself that hitting and choking women who had never agreed to be hit or choked was well within his rights.

Which is why I was incensed to learn that the reptilian Julien Blanc, a “pick up artist” who gives online courses and workshops teaching men how to manipulate women  into having sex with them and posts pictures of himself #chokingwomenaroundtheworld to social media is planning to bring his disgusting misogynistic bullshit to Toronto in January and March of 2015.

Sadly, the choking photos are just the tip of the iceberg for this creep, who advocates approaching women on the street in Japan by grabbing the back of their heads and pushing their faces into your crotch. There are videos of him doing this and encouraging men in a seminar to do the same, because according to Blanc, “if you’re a white male, you can do what you want. I’m just romping through the streets, just grabbing girls’ heads, just like, head, pfft on the dick.”

He’s vile.

He and his company, Real Social Dynamics, are currently facing backlash in Australia, where venues have cancelled his seminars after widespread protests, petitions from the public and tweets sent under #takedownjulienblanc.

His company’s site lists two sets of seminar dates in Toronto in January and March, and while the venues have not yet been listed, I for one will be keeping an eye out, ready to petition whoever is hosting this creep to cancel any of his events.

Because if there’s one thing Toronto doesn’t need, it’s a man who teaches other men that choking women is a good way to get to know them.

Click here to sign a petition to shut down Blanc’s social media pages.

10 hours of Street Harrassment is Sadly, Not Surprising

This condensed video of a woman walking around a city for ten hours in jeans and a t-shirt was originally posted on Hollaback’s website under the headline “You won’t believe how many times this woman gets harassed in 10 hours.”

I beg to differ. As a woman who does a lot of solo walking around the city, there is nothing shocking about this to me. I absolutely do believe it.

I love this video though, because I know a lot of people do not view street harassment as a serious issue. Even those of us who experience it on a regular basis become so conditioned to unwanted commentary on our bodies that it starts to seem like it hardly matters.

It matters.

Because even the strongest among us can have our confidence eroded over time, chipped away every time someone asserts his perceived right to tell us what he thinks of our bodies, what we should do with our bodies, and what he’d like to do to our bodies.

Facing this kind of objectification again and again is so discouraging and demoralizing, not to mention terrifying, depending on the context.

I know that I’m more than my body. I am a bright, compassionate, funny and strange whole entire complex human being. But it can be hard to keep that in perspective when strangers insist on reducing me to it.

Here’s hoping this video reaches some of the men who perpetuate this boorish behaviour and that they start to understand that, as I’ve said before, catcalls are not compliments.

Did you guys find this video surprising? How do you deal with street harrassment? I’d love to chat about it in the comments!

What Women Really Want

What is not being reduced to boring, outdated, gender-based stereotypes, Alex?

Last week, an episode of Jeopardy featured a category entitled “What Women Want.” Suddenly the quiz show looked suspiciously like a 1950s episode of The Newlywed Game as one misguided attempt to pin down half the world’s population’s priorities after another was revealed on the show’s iconic blue screens.

Apparently what women want is Sleepytime tea, more time to do our precious pilates , jeans that fit well, and of course, for our domestically useless “partners” to unchain us from our vacuums.

Whew. Good thing we’re not a diverse group of people with a myriad different wants and needs or that would have been a really tough category to put together!

I know many people will (and have) argued that there are bigger fish to fry in the struggle for equality, but, as I’ve said before, I think it’s perfectly reasonable, and in fact necessary to sweat the “small stuff” when it comes to sexism. The ways that men and women are portrayed in popular media really do matter. The more we let slip by, the more these harmful stereotypes become the accepted norm, until we find ourselves losing the gains we’ve made towards living in a society where men and women are valued equally and where people are not bound by rigidly constructed roles assigned based on genitalia.

For the record, I’d also find it offensive and detrimental to society if the category had been called “What Men Want” and featured a list that painted a limiting stereotype of men. Maybe they’ll do that one next!

The sooner we stop making judgements about one another based on gender, the better.

Meanwhile, I’ve come up with a list of a few of the things I would like for myself and my fellow women just off the top of my head, jeopardy style:

What is:
Access to education around the world.
Not having our private photos stolen and posted on the internet.
Being taken seriously in the world of technology/programming
Equal sports funding and media coverage.
To be valued for the quality of my character, not my appearance.
Not to be told a “thigh gap” is desirable & that we can all have one if we really try.
Not being harassed by men in the street.
For strange men to quit demanding that we smile for them.
To feel safe walking home at night.
For missing aboriginal girls/women in Canada to be a priority for our government.
Not to be blamed or slut-shamed when we are sexually assaulted.
And, oh hey, maybe just to be treated with respect, compassion and dignity.

Anything you guys would add? Let me know in the comments, or add it to the Huffington Post conversation on Twitter #WhatWomenReallyWant.

Golden Girls and Baba Yagas

GETTY,ARTHUR,MCCLANAHAN, WHITE GOLDEN GIRLS 01/05/1985 CTC4309 Group Shot Image via EW

Every time I watch a rerun of Golden Girls, I think about what a fantastic setup those fictional, feisty aging single biddies had.

By pooling their resources they were able to afford to live in a beautiful (ok, hideous, but to be fair it was 1980s Florida) spacious home, where they were able to maintain their independence without becoming isolated as they grew older. They kept each other from being lonely and they looked after each other when they were sick or troubled.

While the premise was ripe for comedy, I actually think it might be an ideal way to approach old age, (and, as my mom has often pointed out, that kind of communal supportive living could be a really great way for women to approach single motherhood too).

Apparently, so did a group of women in France. Not inspired so much by a sitcom as by a desire to approach old age with a sense of dignity and purpose, free of the confines and limitations of more traditional retirement homes, these aging activist/feminists, lobbied for funding to create a home where elderly women would live together, look after one-another and continue to be active, contributing members of their community.

They have successfully created Baba Yaga House, a home with 24 apartments and space for university of sorts on the main floor, where they will co-ordinate educational courses and workshops to benefit their community.

I heard about the Baba Yagas on the CBC and was totally charmed by their concept. Sometimes the idea of aging is totally overwhelming and scary, but it doesn’t sound half as bad if you get to do it with your best Golden Girls or some badass Baba Yagas, don’t you think?

LXL 4: Extraordinary Women

This week on the League of Extraordinary Ladies, we’re chatting about some of the exceptional women we admire, which is extra fitting as today happens to be my very favourite extraordinary woman’s birthday!

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Who are the women you admire most? Tell me all about them in the comments!

Today’s Unsolicited Beauty tip: Short Hair Isn’t Sexy

fishtail braid

“I mean, figure skating isn’t a real sport. It’s athletic and beautiful, but it’s not a sport”

The words sliced through the lunchtime din from across the restaurant and made me look up from my own conversation as they emanated loudly from  the lanky fiftyish grey-bearded, gentleman leaning back against the wall at a table ten feet away.

“Great to hear your thoughts on the matter,” I muttered inwardly, rolling my eyes outwardly.

I tried to concentrate on my meal and my own conversation, but couldn’t help but hear where this guy’s broadcast went next: from skating to skaters.

“…I mean, from the neck down, she’s great. She’s got the whole package. But I’m sorry, you’re never going to attract me with a boy’s haircut. Short hair on a woman just isn’t sexy.”

His friend nodded in agreement.

Never have I had a stronger urge to walk over to someone, chop off my long locks and sprinkle them all over their lunch. My dining companion felt the same.

Yes, these were just two arrogant, misogynistic jackasses, maybe not even worth writing about.

But

The fact that the loud jackass felt secure and comfortable spouting off in public about what he thinks women should look like was just a reminder to me of some things I sadly know all too well already, because these ideas are reinforced in more or less subtle ways every day in our culture, ensuring that this breed of jackass never need feel alone in his misogyny.

The idea that a woman could have the whole package WITHOUT HAVING A HEAD was a pretty clear indication of what this guy thinks a woman is for. Who needs a brain or even a face really, as long as you’ve got a tight bod for the hetero men-folk to ogle, right, ladies?

The “boy’s haircut” comment was typical of someone living in a society still far too caught up in restrictive and damaging gender roles and stereotypes.

And finally, the man assuming that women cut and style their hair with the primary objective of attracting men, never considering that long flowing locks might not actually be the most practical thing to cultivate as a professional athlete, or that hey, some of us don’t have the time, energy or inclination to take care of a long mane BECAUSE WE HAVE OTHER STUFF GOING ON, JUST LIKE MEN DO made me want to take an angry nap, because that kind of arrogant ignorance just exhausts me.

And so, I resisted the urge to start an all out brawl in the restaurant, because this guy clearly wasn’t about to transform into an enlightened being in the ten minutes I had left to finish my food, and frankly, I just didn’t have the energy to try discuss why his loud comments were offensive and harmful calmly and rationally with him.

So I just glared at him really hard.

Though, now that I think about it, he probably thought I was flirting.

Oh, and the kicker? This expert on how women should wear their hair didn’t even have any.

Do they give out Olympic medals for balding jerks?

Because I think I’ve found a contender.

Women’s Rights vs Religion at York University

“All through life there were distinctions - toilets for men, toilets for women; clothes for men, clothes for women - then, at the end, the graves are identical.”  ― Leila Aboulela, Minaret

Recently local media has been abuzz with York University’s decision to allow a student to be exempted from group work in a course due to his claim that his religion does not permit him to interact with women.

As would be evident to anyone witnessing me growling at my radio listening to CBC’s coverage of the whole debacle, I have some opinions on the matter.

First of all, a religion that expects you to ask someone whether they identify as a man or woman (because, guess what guys, gender is a construct! So you can’t just do a simple friendly genital check!) before you know if it’s OK to share an educational experience with them? Sign me up! (not).

And why is it that when you take out the word “women” and replace it with another religion or a race or a sexual orientation, suddenly (in Canada at least) most of us find the idea of granting an accommodation on such grounds completely repellant. Why is it ok when the group being discriminated against is women?

Presumably no one forced this man to attend a secular institution or to take a course where some in-person interaction with classmates is required. And while the school has taken the stance that their decision was made based on the fact that most of the course was done online, claiming that gender equality doesn’t enter into the issue, it should be noted that the student did not ask to be exempted from the group work because he expected all work to be done online and lived too far or the campus was otherwise difficult for him to access in person; he asked to be exempted specifically to avoid interacting with women.

This particular instance might not directly affect the experience of the women taking the course. They might not feel their rights have been infringed upon because they might have to miss out on interacting with a man who subscribes to a belief that men and women should not freely interact with one another as equals. In fact, odds are they might be glad not to have to interact with such a man.

But.

The decision of the School to retroactively state that this student should not have been expected to interact with the women in his class, and that accommodations should have been made so that he could avoid women sets a dangerous precedent and it sends the message that when the rights of gender equality and religion clash at York University, religion will win.

It lends legitimacy to gender-based discrimination.

York should have said that they have a strict zero-tolerence policy towards any kind of gender-based discrimination and that refusing to work with women for any reason, religious or otherwise, falls squarely under that category.

This is a big, diverse country with a lot of religions and it is vital that we have rules and rights that are considered above and beyond any religion so that we can all live as harmoniously as possible regardless of our individual spiritual belief systems.

What do you guys think? Where do you draw the line when religion and gender equality clash?

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My Wish for my Street Harasser

He grabbed my arm, leaned in, and quietly told me, "I want to fuck you."

Last Thursday, on my way from work to my workout, I was standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change, when a young man sidled up to me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him inch his way into my personal space. I could feel him staring at me as I resolutely directed my gaze straight ahead.

I sensed him trying to catch my eye and set my face to “don’t talk to me” while I willed the traffic light to change quickly so I could book it out of this guy’s reach.

Too late.

He grabbed my arm and as I whipped my head around towards him in alarm, leaned in and quietly told me, “I want to fuck you.”

He looked nervously triumphant as he searched my face for a reaction, an asshole grin on his asshole face.

My face was frozen, a mask of shock, while my brain took a moment to absorb the vile words he’d foisted upon it.

As a woman, of course, I’m used to a certain amount of inappropriate commentary on my body and what strangers might like to do to it being hurled at me on the street, but this, coupled with the fact that he actually touched me, was extreme.

And then came the fury. He had the good sense to begin to back away as my face unfroze. He actually began to jog away, all the while looking back at me when I (bizarrely, as I am quite tiny and nonviolent as a rule) took an aggressive step towards him and hollered “That’s fucking sexual harassment, you disgusting creep!!”

As I turned back to cross the street, I apologized to an older woman standing next to me, who looked shocked by my outburst, since of course, the man had made sure that I was the only one who could hear his vulgar little announcement.

“I normally don’t swear,” I said.

I was still shaking with rage and adrenaline when I arrived at the studio, and it took the entirety of the hour-long class to get my breathing back to normal.

I wish I could think of the perfect thing to say to men who do things like this. The perfect thing that would not only convey what it’s like but make them actually feel all of the horrible feelings that a violation like that brings up.

I wish I had the power to know what reaction men who harass me are trying to get, so that I could be sure to do the exact opposite.

I want the man who said that to me to have to linger in the doorway of the studio after his workout, wondering if he should spend the money on a cab, peering out into the night to make sure no one is lurking outside, waiting to make good on the desire they somehow felt entitled to express to him earlier, waiting to fuck (Sir, I believe you mean rape, since I have given not a hint of consent, you’d like to rape me, let’s not mince words shall we?) him while he tries to walk home.

How do you guys handle situations like this?

Also, have you ever heard of Hollaback? It’s an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to and ending the all-too-common problem of street harassment as well as a place for people to share their stories of harassment and get some support. I dig it.

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