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Category Archives: A world of women

What’s YOUR favourite decade?

I think the 70s is my favourite decade. Feminism was HOT then–the 70s was when women started rape crisis centres and transition houses–and they were meant to be hubs of feminist political activity. Some became that, too. Take Back the Night, for example, was invented by anti-male-violence feminists. Radical feminists. That didn’t last long, unfortunately, by the 80s, battered and raped women were labeled  “sick”, and rape crisis workers were (big “P”) Professionals. the gap between them and us widened, even though there is no gap. The Man imposed it. Saw that we were serious, and gaining strength–and took measures, both subtle and drastic, to slow the movement of women.

“oh, those plucky girls, look how hard they’re working! How serious and earnest they are!”  The Man didn’t realize what a threat we were at first, and for a while there was a little room for women to move. Move into a bit of power. And those that did, made room for other women. And found money for each other. Soon the centres, the resource centres,  transition houses and rape crisis lines were funded. Under funded, mind you, but still. A wedge. But that wedge, that little bit of money that kept the lines and doors open, it came at a cost. The State began to ask for statistics, credentials, proof that this was necessary, and proof that ordinary women were the women to do this work.

“Aren’t you girls over-reacting just a bit?”

No. We are not. 40 years ago we were not overreacting, either.

Some women’s groups capitulated. slowly, slowly, though. It became important to hire women with University degrees. It became important to talk to women about “the cycle of violence” and the variety of syndromes and disorders that they might have: Post-traumatic stress disorder; battered wife syndrome; false memory syndrome; borderline personality disorder; pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder; Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy; obsessive compulsive disorder; etcetera etcetera, ad nauseum, syndrome disorder ad infinitum. At first women just told The Man what he wanted to hear, so he would keep tossing us crumbs of cash.

But some of us started to believe it. And some women started making money. Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend. Money does talk. And it drowns out women’s voices, even when women are the only ones speaking. We started placating the man, trying to get around him, but still keep the money flowing to the women who needed it, but gradually we had to work harder and harder to get the money, and it started to eat into the time we had to connect with other ordinary women–the women in trouble;  the women The Man had an even greater stranglehold on.

Take Back the Night prevailed, though, in some places. It was an exciting, vibrant, strident gathering of angry loving hopeful enraged impatient women. No men. Not at the back of the march, not in it–women only. Do you remember? Maybe we were mad at each other, maybe we had disagreements about how things should be done, and maybe we were making mistakes all over the place, but those nights, those raucous gatherings mended us together. We raised our voices together into the night, and we took it together. Protecting each other, standing shoulder to shoulder marching through the city streets, we said with one voice, “Enough!”

Though there were often many, there were never enough of us, not really. But wow, they were grand events. We would sing and chant and shout and clap our hands and raise a right ruckus–the sounds of women’s rage was amplified by the tall buildings. We’d spray paint on porn shops and sidewalks,  while other women in the march covered us. Women at work would stand at the doors of their shops and restaurants and wave their fists in solidarity, jump for joy. Some would join us.

but now it’s become a frail and fussy distant relative, whimpering about ‘violence’ as if it’s a mysterious virus that can be inoculated against. there are men in the marches now, a lot of them. They are no longer part of the women’s liberation movement.

sigh.

But they were the tactic of another time.  And maybe they will be of a future time. Maybe we will revive Take Back the Night. We will be Women Occupying. Not Women Occupied.  been there, done that.

ah. Today I worked at the transition house in the morning. Women talked about the violence men have done to them. the controlling, the manipulations, the withholding of money and kindness. Women said, “I am glad there’s a place like this. I’m glad to be here.”

In the 1970s, my mom applied for a credit card. There was a section where her husband was to sign.  She said, “He’s not applying for a credit card, I am.” the person taking her application told her that she had to get him to sign it. She said, “why?”

There was, of course, no answer that satisfied her. She walked away. She decided she didn’t need a credit card after all.

Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend.  Credit cards are evil anyway. But women need access to our own money, for sure we do, ’cause we live in capitalism. and patriarchy.

is having a credit card like telling ‘the man’ what he wants to hear? “sure honey, i’ll pay you back…”

so many contradictions….

anyhow. i’m running outta steam here. The 70s, though. Favourite decade. the rising of the second wave. Thrilling.

I was a child then, though, I didn’t pay the enormous price those early feminists did.  They opened a path.

You know who you are.

Thank you.

A girl that whistles and a hen that crows, makes her way wherever she goes….

My grandma used to say that sometimes, when i would whistle. Sometimes, instead, when my whistling annoyed her, she’d say, “A whistling girl and a crowing hen, will always come to a bad end.” But we both liked the other version better.

*****

When I was a child, I was DETERMINED to become a boy. I knew with absolute certainty that I had been a boy in some past life, and that I would grow up to become a boy in this one.

I kind of did, in a way. I make fart jokes; lift weights, (heavy fuckin’ weights, too, none of this 2lb pink vinyl crap for me);  drive stick shift– and  i’m letting my moustache grow for ‘mo-vember’ (even if i think it’s kinda stupid–mo-vember, not my moustache).

I also go out for walks, alone,  late at night; get into elevators even when the only other occupant is an adult male; list my full name in the phone book; and make eye contact with strangers.

When I was 11, I read in the paper about this guy who got an operation so he could become a woman and play tennis in the women’s league. I thought then that if he could do that, I could get an operation to become a male when i grew up. I told my mom. She didn’t like the idea so much, “oh, don’t do that, you won’t want that when you’re an adult”. I was determined, though, as i said before. I kept at it, insisting that I was going to save up my allowance and become a man.

Well, I’m not sure i said “man” or even thought it, I think i might have said ‘boy’.  Because I also did not really want to grow up.

Anyway, i was so insistent that she started to cry. She was washing my hair at the time. My mom washed my hair for me until i was quite old. It was a trial, my hair. that was another reason to be a boy. Boys took showers and had short hair that didn’t require hot oil treatments and curling irons and barrettes and braids.  My hair was curly and plentiful, but dry and fine.  From the time i was about 10, we tried all kinds of things to get it to lie flat (ish). I don’t know why I couldn’t have it short like my brother’s hair.

But anyway. My grandma always said to me, “Erin, you should have been a boy.” and I believed her.  For a long time, i believed that I should have been a boy.

When my period came, I was mortified. My mom was all excited. Tears in her eyes again as she gave me the belt and the pad (this was a loooooong time ago). she smiled and cupped my cheek in her hand. When i got the contraption on and called her into my room again, she checked to see if the placement was okay, and said, “Honey, you can tell your dad that you’re a woman now.” and she asked if she could tell her best friend, who lived in the United States now, and was (is) one of my very very favourite grown-ups.

There was NO WAY i was ever going to tell my dad that I was a woman now. It was okay with me if she told Mrs. Lenz. I just wanted the whole thing to go away. It was a disaster every month. all those bulky pads, the cramps, the mess the embarrassment. Everyone would know what those toilet paper-wrapped lumps in the garbage were. I flushed them.

Our septic system backed up.

Mom asked me, in a private moment, to please not flush my pads anymore because they had to call in a  plumber to clear out the pipes. I’m sure it was no picnic for him to fish used pads out of the basement.  I said i wouldn’t. but then I did. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to use a tampon, but I finally did when i was about 14 or 15, and then the perpetual plumbing problems (alliteration!) cleared up.

And there was the bra thing. Godhelpme, i did NOT want to wear a bra. I didn’t want to wear a shirt, let alone anything under a shirt. You remember how it felt, when your breasts were starting to grow? How tender they were? Oh dear me. And those “training bras”? what the hell were our breasts supposed to learn wrapped in them?  the boys would always go around snapping our bra straps. It hurt, front and back. I was one of the first girls in my class to wear a bra, much as I hated the idea, and I didn’t have any idea of how to resist. I was always trying to keep my back to a wall.

One Friday afternoon, when i was in grade five, i think, our teacher  held a dance for the grade five and six kids. I remember those things as fun. We turned the lights off and put records on and danced together, girls and boys and girls and girls and maybe the boys didn’t really dance much. I don’t know that I danced much, either, I was kind of clumsy and goofy. I was walking over to the front of the room, and my friend Karen noticed my bra strap hanging down, and took hold of it. I didn’t notice and kept walking, and then she let go of it when i was half-way across the room. snap! some of the other kids laughed, mocking me. I was embarrassed.  I left in tears.  why did i have to be a girl? Boys did not suffer such humiliations.

But by that time, I knew that i would be a girl, and not for much longer, either. I was becoming a woman, just as Mom said.

******

High school was pretty fun. But also a torment. It was a big school, and in the centre hallway, near the gymnasium, where everyone had to pass by at some time during the day, there were rows of benches. On the benches, at any time. but especially over lunch, there were sprawled an array of boys, the jocks. The benches in fact, were called “the jock benches”. the boys stomped their feet in the rhythm of the Queen song, “We are the Champions” and threw coins at the pretty girls. Sometimes they threw pennies at the ugly ones, and threw them to hurt. In my first year of high school , they would yell after me, “is that a boy or a girl?”

I used to wear Wrangler boot-cut jeans, a wide belt with what i thought was a beautiful buckle, kind of like stained glass, in all colours, and polyester shirts with pictures of English hunting scenes on them.  Also, often, wide suspenders, mismatched socks and a blue and white striped train engineers cap. Quite the sight.  Grade ten, the first year of high school, was also my first year of having contact lenses. I wore them all day, for far too long. So, you know, I looked like I was high, my eyes all red and teary.

Mom was still doing my hair in the mornings. i don’t know why. Neither of us enjoyed the process. Goddamn curling iron. One day in grade eleven, I think, I decided i wasn’t gonna do anything with it. Just wash it, shake it, and hope for the best. That was a kind of liberation. We didn’t have hair gel or mousse in those days. just hair spray. no way i was gonna use that stuff, either. My hair looked just fine, if a bit wild–fine, soft curls whirling around my head. Nobody cared…

I had a boyfriend in Grade 10, he had been my best friends boyfriend and he only went with me ’cause she broke up with him. i didn’t like him very much, but we were both in love with her, so that kinda bonded us. didn’t last.

I learned how to shave my legs and armpits, and i sometimes plucked my eyebrows.  then i would look surprised.

by the time i was in grade 11, I was wearing women’s clothing sometimes, and my jeans were tight (remember? in the late 70s you had to lie down to be able to zip up your jeans? remember that?). I often wore my dad’s shirts tucked into my too-tight jeans. I didn’t wear underwear, ’cause i didn’t want panty-lines, but my waist was all bunchy anyway, because my dad’s shirt was tucked into my jeans. And then there were the suspenders.  and makeup–oh deargod. I rarely wore makeup, but one day, I tried to hide a zit with a bit of foundation. But then that spot on my face was kinda orange, so I figured i’d better spread it out a bit.  consequently, the orange spot broadened. So I added a bit more foundation., thinking that if I could just blend the edges, it wouldn’t show.

I went to school that day with a distinctly orange face, chin and neck. “hey, Erin, are you wearing makeup?”

“no”.

It was a terrible day.

I could never get the hang of that femininity thing. And i was (am) asthmatic. I always wanted to run and run and leap over tall buildings and do parkour before there was such a thing, and swing from the light posts–but i couldn’t. I tried out for every team, from basketball to volleyball to badminton, and didn’t make a one. When we’d go cross-country running in school, I’d struggle along and come in dead last, hair full of sticks, wheezing and huffing–i got a reputation for being plucky, anyway.

But whatever, i rode my bike or walked the two miles to school every day, most days, and i became all excited about drama. I didn’t have to be a girl in drama class, i could be a mythical creature, a buffoon, an animal or an idea–and i was good at it, the acting stuff. I wasn’t all that comfortable in my body, womanly and wheezy as it was, but i learned how to use it to create art, and I  found a gang to hang with. we were into plays and singing in the hallways, and improvising skits behind the auto shop at lunch time. we did plays together with the drama teacher, Steve, and we sometimes partied with him too. That was kind of a no-no. Cool for us, not so cool of him. But he wasn’t much older than we were. He taught us about dada and noh and commedia d’el arte. we did mask work and improv and entered provincial one-act play contests. We traveled to Lacombe and Innisfail and Calgary, even.

By and by, I started to fit in at school. I wasn’t one of the Beautiful People, I wasn’t a jock or a stoner or a party girl or a nerd–i was one of those drama kids.  my nickname was “maniac” or “spin”, but it was fine with me, i got attention, and i was left alone at the same time.  People liked me, I liked them, and it didn’t matter as much that i was a girl. I didn’t hang with the boys much, except for the two guys who were in my tight little gang. I have a picture of us from that time, we are in a park, the sun lit up our hair, we posed for the camera, Brent dark and brooding, Mark open and friendly, Cathy relaxed and shining, Bonny looks like she’s about to leap into a cartwheel, and i’m in front, on the ground, head thrown back, wearing goofy sunglasses and laughing. I don’t know where any of them are anymore. our paths used to cross from time to time, but not for years now.

They were my friends. we saved each other in a way. I fell in love with Bonny, but i didn’t know it and couldn’t understand it. Intense. Heartbreaking. I only wanted to be with her, even when we both had boyfriends. Then when i broke up with my boyfriend, she started going out with him. I wasn’t upset about that so much, except it meant that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with Bonny so much, and that was one of the reasons I broke up with him in the first place, i think. But I didn’t know what was going on. I only ached, and I didn’t know why until many years later.

*******

My body, the womanly, asthmatic body that i grew into, was not my friend. I was often hospitalized, and more often after i finished high school, and started smoking cigarettes. It’s common, apparently, for asthmatics to become smokers. Kind of like a pre-emptive thing. I want to be able to have SOME control, if i’m not gonna be able to breathe, it might as well because of something i’m doing deliberately.

I know it doesn’t make sense.

When i was 18, I started lifting weights. I loved it. It was perfect for me, I could sit and wheeze until I recovered and pick up the weight again. I didn’t have to chase across a muddy field or a gymnasium floor after a ball a puck or whatever, tripping and sliding and running the wrong way and letting the team down over and over again.

A few months after that, i got pneumonia. I was smoking and drinking too much at the time, which likely contributed to my respiratory distress. My fiance at the time (a man! Shocking, i know. He played bagpipes, how could i resist?) didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe, I was in big big trouble. My mom came. she took me home. Then to the hospital. I was gravely ill.

I wanted to be a boy. Boys were strong, boys became garbagemen and firemen and acrobats and cowboys they got to be outside, riding horses, driving trucks, pulling, pushing and lifting things. girls became mothers and nurses and teachers. They had to stay inside.

When i got out of the hospital, i was all detoxed and very weak. Beginning again. I went to the gym. I went to the gym A LOT.  My grandparents were worried i would hurt myself, or that i would not be a real woman, maybe i’d become a lesbian or something awful like that. they never said that, but my grandpa especially implied that such pursuits were not alright for girls. that was mans work, that was.

I competed in powerlifting in the 1980s and 90s. I joined the women’s liberation movement in the 1980s, and lifting weights became a way to train for the revolution. There were years in there that i privileged late shifts on the crisis line and demos and dancing after demos over pumping iron, and other years when drinking took precedence, as well. but those are big stories, best left for posts of their own.

I did, in fact, become a lesbian, I’m sure my grandma knew, though i never told her. If I had, I would have said, “you know, Grandma, when you would say I should have been a boy?”–And she would nod or say, “it’s your deal,” (we played a lot of cribbage together), ” yes?” Then i would say, “I did better than that, I became a lesbian, how do ya like them apples?” (cause she always used to say that kind of stuff–including that little saying that makes the title of this post).  She would chuckle, I can hear her now; my grandma laughed with her whole body.

She used to say to me, too, “Erin, don’t ever marry an old country man”. She had married my Welsh  grandfather when she was a young widow in the first years of the Great Depression. My beloved grandpa  was a difficult man. Jealous and stubborn. A much better grandfather than he had been a husband, I’m sure. He was not violent, but neither was he loving.  Anyway, she always warned me not to marry a man from the old country (which old country, she never said), so I think the news that I would surely be spared that would have made her happy.

*******

I think this is the end of this post, but i’ll fill in the blanks by and by. There’s stories of a liberation movement here in this story of a girl who whistles in the darkness. Stories of many women who made space and made noise. I’ll get to them by and by, i promise.

It was powerlifting that reconciled me and my wheezy, clumsy body, and it was the women’s movement, it was radical feminism, in fact, that taught me how to be a woman. These two pursuits weave together a way into a movement of women building a world of women, for women.  this movement gave me many examples of womanhood that are not feminine or masculine–and women who were outside,  strong,  loud and taking up space.  Girls that whistle, hens that crow, making our way, wherever we go.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am that there was a still vibrant women’s liberation movement for me to join when i was a young woman.  And I’m really grateful there are women who are carrying on the work of this movements’ continued revival because we are nowhere near free, and we can’t let up until we are.

I didn’t become a boy, after all. I learned to whistle.

Housing March–

This past weekend i went on the third annual Women’s Housing March in the Downtown Eastside. It’s organized by the Power of Women Group in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and it’s always a mish-mash of messages and contradictions and rage and sorrow and hilarity and love. whew. exhausting.

The Power of Women Group invited me to MC the march with Priscillia and Harsha. The idea was to do a guided “gentriFUCKation” tour of the neighbourhood. We would stop at a few sites, notable condo developments and new restaurants, and say a few words about the middle-class coming into this impoverished neighbourhood, pushing the poor out. I went to a planning meeting at the womens’ centre a week before the event, and one of the women insisted we try to close down the restaurants, at least one of them. Others were varying degrees of adamant about that, and another woman took an opposite position..”I was raised in a restaurant family, those people work hard, they don’t make that much money…”

We are set up to be in opposition to one another. The women of the centre, the non-profits and the for-profits; the professionals and the politicals. Meanwhile, the invisible wealthy at the top of the pyramid, they get to keep going, keep going, keep amassing wealth and no one questions them because the oppressed are too busy being at each others throats. So it was in Marx’s time, so it is now.complex systems of inequality and oppression and the system just incorporates reforms to benefit the powerful once again.

What to do? There were a few hundred of us, mostly women, a few men.  two wonderful puppets, ten feet high. A jazz band. a choir. salsa dancers! we stopped in the street, where the Downtown Eastside meets Gastown, and the salsa dancers danced, and so did a whole bunch of the women in the march. The music kept cutting out, something about the laptop they were using to play it, and connections and i don’t know what. But the dancers just continued until the music started again. And the choir! Earl Peach conducts several choirs around town–this one is Solidarity Notes–they learn protest songs and labour union songs–and sing for each other and sing for free and you don’t even have to really know anything about music to join, but Earl is a fine teacher too and that choir sings like rebel angels.

The jazz band’s singer was a dark haired woman with a smokey voice and a history of homelessness herself, I can’t recall her name. And one of the guys played a slide trombone–those are even MORE fun than accordions, if you can imagine. And Delannah Bowen sang, too, and her voice could make a statue cry.

Verna Simmard had just been murdered the night before. She was pushed or thrown out of a sixth floor window of a crappy hotel. Just steps from where we listened to the music of Delannah’s sorrowful joyful song. Verna screamed on the way down. That street, Hastings Street, is lined on both sides with tall narrow Single Room Occupancy Hotels, most operated by a non-profit society, some operated still by private land owners. Slum lords. Her voice would have carried–bounced off the neighbouring buildings and swept along the wind tunnel of Hastings Street.  In life, her voice did not carry. No one knows why Verna died.  but you can bet your bottom dollar that it was a man who killed her.

And yet, to hear the marchers and the speakers, you wouldn’t think that. No one mentioned male violence against women. There was some mention of men, mind you. But only in the way of “here are the men walking with us. They are good men, thank you, men for supporting us.” Fawning.  I don’t know if those men are good, really. Probably most of ’em are. They can be, because there are a few goons who will beat and rape and kill some women to make us all toe the line. Who among us, which woman here, has no been afraid of or insulted or threatened or attacked by a man? Who among us has not had to protect and defend herself, and sometimes capitulate in order to survive? who? not one. Not even women who say, “nothing like that ever happened to me. I made my own way.”

We have to say that kinda stuff to survive. Maybe that’s why there was no mention of men’s violence against women. Maybe that’s why the only mention of men was how nice they are, the ones with us.  I met a man from Lebanon the other day. He said he used to feel bad about men in his country, about himself as a man from Lebanon, because when he came to Canada, people would say to him, “Oh, Lebanon, women are very oppressed there. Men are very sexist there.”

“Then i learned that one man here, Robert Pickton, killed 60 sex workers [sic]–that has never happened in my country.”  In Canada, we think we don’t have sexism (well, not me, I don’t think that–I only wish it), we think that we are equal.

We passed by the beautiful old buildings of the oldest part of Vancouver. Beautiful and derelict, some of them. Others spruced up and open for business. A high-end clothing store; a place that is always empty but sells hair extensions (random); restaurants, not divey ones, either. One of these restaurants advertised for people to come for breakfast and “the free show in the alley”.

“Shame on you” we hollered on our way by.

Vancouver is the third most liveable city in the world.

Not for you, though. Not for you if you’re poor, or woman, or driven mad by suffering, or addicted. All conditions that are imposed, and usually as a direct result of male violence. I cannot tell you the number of women who were at that march who have been or are in an intimate relationship with a man who beats them; is or was prostituted; is or was under the ‘care’ of a psychiatrist; is or was separated from her children; is or was sexually abused by her father/uncle/brother…

and yet they still marched. Men have damaged and stunted them. But they still love, and they mourned and raged for Verna, and they insisted that the people in the restaurants listen to them, “see the show”–

See the show. Then let’s all rewrite the script.

we are visible only to each other.

This morning I woke up to the radio, as I always do. A woman was reading the news. When i finally rolled out of bed, I called a friend who had called me the day before. We talked as I made fruit salad for a breakfast I was preparing for another woman who was coming over. I took out the garbage and called another friend about a couple of work shifts. C_ arrived for breakfast just as I put some music on my cd player.

and I realized that my morning had almost NO men in it. The host of the morning radio show was a guy, but other than him, there were no men. all of the music I played today was by women, all of the people i talked to were women, and if you look around my walls, almost all of the art is by women, the books are mostly by and about women (not all, but a big proportion)–my work is about women and our shared resistance against male domination, and our shared celebrations of each other. I sent a text to my friend, H_ to say “I had to tell someone, and you were the first i thought of to tell, I fuckin’ LOVE women. I woke up this morning, anxious, like always, but full of love and admiration for us nonetheless”.

Everywhere else, you would think there are no women. I went to a music festival this weekend, and most of the musicians were men. The headliner of the festival was a woman, kd Lang, oh and what a golden glorious voice she has, but all of the musicians in her band are (and always have been) men; another woman, whom i’ve never seen before, an Irish blues singer, Imelda May, all of her band are men as well. She was fantastic, too, though. One man, Luke Doucet, had women in his band, and he promoted them too. But two of them sang a duet, “Joelene (please don’t take my man)” — sigh. It seems that, in order to become famous, women have to be the  only woman. There is no room for more than one woman in a successful music career. there was a duet, The Secret Sisters, and I think it was only the two of them singing sweet bluegrass and country together. In general, though, if you want to be famous, you have to go it alone without your sisters. From that festival, and most of the others i’ve ever been to, the headlining women were backed by a band of boys. And male producers and male technicians and and and…

Movies? All men.

Radio?  Mostly men.

News papers, magazines, books?  by men about men. sometimes by women about men. it is still more difficult for a woman to be published as a woman.

I am sitting in the library right now. to my left are three men, to my right are three men.

I was visiting my friend H_ last night and she said that one of the men working on repairing the chimney in the building where she works (a transition house) came to the door. She said, “are you one of the workmen?” and he looked shocked. “I come here every day, you say hello to me every day”.  She said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t pay that much attention.”

he was not used to being invisible. This was not his experience at all.

It is ours. Men do not see women. They see breasts, perhaps, or glossy, shiny hair, or hips. They do not see us. In fact, we don’t see us. We are not visible in the world of business or politics or art or theatre or music. We have to look to find each other.

Do not tell me, though, that we are as invisible as this Man’s World made us. or that we are as ineffective as our invisibility would imply. We are actively in revolt and the rock will wear away. The women I know and the women i see, ALL of my friends are part of the revolution in some way or another. All of us capitulate in some way, of course. We have to in order to survive. Many of my friends are married, many have children, most work for some man or other, directly (he owns the store) or indirectly (he funds the drop-in centre). All of us have male relatives who profit in so many ways from the patriarchy and from our shared oppression. Most of us have men in our lives whom we love dearly. That doesn’t matter, though they love us, too, we are, to them, still women, and still invisible. As well as indispensable, of course. To men, and to each other.

If all the women and girls really did vanish, the whole house of  cards would collapse. I’d like to see that. No more porn theatres, no more burlesque, no prostitution, no shirts and chinos, no food picked fresh from the farm, no curried lentils, no hot milk with honey, no librarians or primary school teachers, no dresses, no traffic control women, with the stop signs at the road construction, no one in the grocery stores–

the men would probably go on as before for a while, because they don’t see us anyways, but they wouldn’t be able to manage too well for too long without us. They’d run out of clean underwear within a few days.  I’d like to be there when they finally notice; when things grind to a halt around them. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

If we do go on strike, or take off together someplace, all of us, can we have a big gym with lots of barbells and squat racks and lifting platforms and stuff? That’s all I ask. oh. and a washer, dryer and ironing board. That’s heaven, that is. A world of women, a gym and laundry facilities. with a kick-ass iron and an ironing board. and way in the distance, we could hear the murmur of confused men…then we’d just play our accordions louder.

heh.

Aboriginal Women’s Action Network Declaration of Indigenous Women to Abolish Prostitution

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The following declaration was developed by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network during the Women’s Worlds Conference in Ottawa in 2011. All Indigenous women and organizations are welcome to sign on. Contact information for AWAN is at the bottom of this document. There’s also a document of support  in the works for non-Indigenous women to sign. They will let us know when it’s ready. For more information, go to  AWAN’s Facebook page at

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aboriginal-Womens-Action-Network

Here’s the declaration

As Indigenous women living on occupied territories now known as Canada, who have survived over 500 years of attempted genocide, we declare:

1. We, Indigenous women, will not allow anyone or anything to break the ties that bind us. Despite the impacts of colonialism – the racism, sexism, poverty and violence that pervade our lives and communities, working to divide us both inside and out – we are profoundly aware of our connected ness to each other as women, to our ancestors, and to our lands. No man, men, or external force will ever ultimately sever these ties.

2. Our analysis of prostitution as a form of violence against women and as a system of colonialism is the result of over five centuries of resistance stories, stories told to us by our Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers. This analysis is based on our own life experiences, on the life experiences of our mothers, our sisters, and all our relations. It is based on theory and knowledge constructed collectively by Indigenous women.

3. Purposeful legal tolerance of prostitution and pornography, as with the Indian Act and the residential school system, was and is an external colonial system imposed on Indigenous women and girls in continued attempts to harm and destroy us.

4. We, Indigenous women, reject the racist assumption that prostitution was ever part of our traditional practices. We denounce the idea that we are objects to be bought and sold.

5. We, Indigenous women, reject the capitalism that has resulted in the theft and destruction of our homelands and our environment. We reject the International capitalism and greed that also drives the “sex industry”, an industry that regards Indigenous women and girls as objects to be sold at the highest price, should we survive the transaction. We reject the colonial terminology of “sex work”, as it hides the racist, sexist, and classist realities of prostitution. “Sex work” masks the violence that our sisters struggle against on a daily basis and repackages that violence as a form of freely chosen labour.

6. We, Indigenous women, reject the imposition of patriarchy, which has had devastating and deadly effects for Indigenous women and girls. We face male violence within our own families and communities, and often we are pushed out of these very communities seeking safety. We are forced to migrate into cities where we continue to face physical, emotional, and sexual violence at the hands of men, including at the hands of johns, pimps, brothel owners, and traffickers. We demand a return to our traditional values that place women and girls in high esteem.

7. The Nordic model of state policy will give Indigenous women and girls the best chance of not only survival, but life. This model includes law reform that criminalizes the male demand for paid sex and decriminalizes prostituted women, offers comprehensive social programs to all women and girls, and educates the public about prostitution as a form of male violence against women and girls. We, Indigenous women, believe this model encourages true social change that works in our interest.

8. We, Indigenous women, reject the total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution as an acceptable solution to sexual violence. The total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution only encourages the racist and deadly male demand for access to the bodies of women and girls, with Indigenous women and girls being disproportionately targeted.

9. We, Indigenous women, reject the patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist male perception that our sole worth is as sexual objects. We recognize that prostitution and pornography, incest, physical and sexual assault, and murder exist on a continuum of male violence and hatred toward Indigenous women and girls. The tragic outcome of that hatred is the over 580 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

10. We, Indigenous women and girls, have survived over 500 years of attacks on our cultures, our bodies, our lands, and our lives. We refuse to abandon our future generations to the colonial sexist violence that is prostitution and we demand an immediate end to the male demand for paid sex.

*All Indigenous Women – First Nations, Inuit, Metis – who are in agreement with this Declaration are invited to sign on as individual endorsers or organizations. You can contact us at awan.bc@gmail.com to do so.*

**Update: Due to demand we are compiling a solidarity list for non native women and orgs to sign in support of the declaration**

So many feminists–

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And we made the most of our limited time. Last week, I was  in Ottawa, the capitol city of Canada. It was  an exhausting and exhilarating week, to be sure. So many workshops and panels and singers and dancers and conversations to have that one week was not enough:  not enough but a beginning.

Not a vision of freedom, but glimpses for sure.

I  met some women who read this here blog! there were women from Italy and Nigeria, from Central America and India and Bangladesh and South Korea and Okinawa and Denmark and Norway and the Yukon and there are Indigenous women from Mexico,  Samiland and the Interior of BC and the Six Nations and –there were many many more women i’d have like d to meet, talk with, plot with, and grow to understand. But this was a beginning.

i was in a short conversation one night with a woman from south africa, a friend on facebook, who said she honours the women in prostitution in her country, because there are so few choices for women for work, and the women who engage in prostitution become rich and don’t have to do soul-destroying menial jobs for their whole lives. We honour them too, i said, but we have no respect for the fellas buying them, we want them to take responsibility and stop demanding access to women’s bodies. And we want all women to have enough.  to have much better choices between a grinding boring ill-paid menial job and prostitution. in fact, it would be good if those two ‘choices’ weren’t on the palate at all. How ’bout that?

it’s the trap that I dare say we all fall into, all the time–we talk about the women’s choices, we talk about how to help the women–we talk endlessly about hauling the babies out of the river or teaching them how to swim, and we don’t pay any attention to the guys throwing them in there. That’s an old story, the story of the babies in the river. One that Cherry Smiley of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network  told in the panel we were on together–you know,  a woman sees a baby floating in the river. She rushes in to save it. Then another baby appears, and another and pretty soon the river is filled with babies, and women scooping them out. Cherry added a few women teaching the babies how to swim. Then one woman boots it up=stream. Someone calls out to her, “where are you going? can’t you see we need your help here?” and she replies,  “I’m going to see who’s throwing them into the  river!”

I’ve heard that story many times before and mostly in the context of the anti-male violence work, though I know now that Pete Seeger tells it, too. I had not heard the part about some of the rescuers teaching the babies to swim.  I don’t know if that’s Cherry’s addition, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for harm reduction.

anyhow. It was a transformative week–so many feminists in one place. And the Abolitionists owned the conference. There were panels about feminist legal interventions–the Norwegian women told us how they managed to get their government to implement the Swedish model of prostitution law–they targeted Johns, they used a big bold sense of humour, righteous rage, and courage.

We were courageous last week, holding each other up, giving each other the best of our thinking, and the most we could of all we had learned in our daily work and lives. Lee Lakeman and Diane Matte were gracious and disciplined chairs, animators of a daily conversation called Flesh Mapping: prostitution in a globalized world. They have both been fierce feminist warriors spreading the joy of struggle for decades now. Their organizations, La Cles in Montreal and Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter are influential world-wide now.It was wonderful and encouraging to meet the La Cles women and to learn more about their activism–they’re an admirable bunch, to be sure.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard women express admiration for Vancouver Rape Relief and Vancouver feminists.  Made me all proud and humble at the same time. I have had a small small part in the successes of this powerful group, and learned an enormous amount from my association and collaborations with them. I think, after last week, that I can finally move into a more useful place, finally having confidence that my voice is important, and the work I am doing is necessary for the movement. I must put together the stories and experiences of all the women i’ve worked with, beside and for over the last quarter century–it’s urgent. I’m a theorist now, an activist academic and i can figure out a way to make the contradictions fuel our shared movement toward freedom. It’s okay to be afraid. The women before me were afraid. They have paid a great price to clear a path for me. It’s my responsibility to carry on the fight and pass what I know to those who are beside me and coming after. Finally, and beginning now–

and still play my accordion and do stand-up comedy. Cause there is joy in the struggle. and everything is political. damn. there are so many stories to tell but i gotta go now, i’ll get to it all later…another time another post, i have articles to write now…

screaming demons

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Two more sleeps till i go off to Ottawa for the Women’s Worlds–1800 women in Ottawa–organizing activating speaking singing dancing arguing motivating obfuscating interfering intervening — maybe the earth will shift a little bit on its axis, maybe the movement toward the liberation of women will be revitalized maybe some of us will meet as adversaries and part as allies.

I don’t know. I am trying to not have expectations. I am asking for guidance, what is the next right thing? I’m pretty sure the next right thing is to finish the paper i’m going to present, but then again, we didn’t promote our panel as a series of papers so much as a conversation. It will be a difficult conversation, though, i want to have something to which i might refer–paper to look at if it gets too hot to look at the other women in the room.

We’re talking about harm reduction and prostitution. We are all activists in our way, one an Aboriginal woman finding her voice and vision as an artist, another a formerly prostituted woman, a third is a feminist law professor at a conservative wealthy school, and me, finding my voice as an academic, an activist and a former front-line service provider. I’m a bit long in the tooth to be just finding my voice, and i am impatient and self-deprecating (sometimes crossing the line to self-trashing) about how long it takes me to write, to speak , to plan and implement–but there’s a time for things, and this is my time, now.  Well, our time.

Oh dammit. it’s ten-thirty at night and i have spent the day being so sleepy, i couldn’t focus. all i could think of was how much i have to do–i went to school i met with my advisor i got a flat tire i put my bike on the bus and took it to a shop, i asked the young man to fix it and please can i have a tune-up and as these things go, there were a million little things that were wearing out or broken or in some kind of shambles or other, so $350 and four hours later, no, more like five, i had a new bike. And i walked to a restaurant and read about pornography and took some notes for the class i’m teaching in the fall and I wrote a few lines for the panel  next week and i tried to do the next right thing, one thing after another, the next right thing, but i was lonely and  wanted a coffee and i wanted something–

i have yearnings, see, i don’t know what i want, but here , right here is this hole–it’s a hole, mind you, not an opening–not yet.  I used to fill that hole with alcohol, I used to quell the screaming that came from there with wine and beer and vodka and sometimes, good single malt scotch. Other times, mouthwash.  And i’d rock back and forth and hum or sing and I’d write about things I couldn’t decipher the next day. Now i have other things, the hole isn’t so big or deep or frightening anymore. Because i have found some things to line it with–good friends and allies, work that gives meaning and nourishes me, meetings a few times a week, some tools for living–lots of exercise and reading and thinking. I have to be consistent though and vigilant, because if I let my guard down, that screaming demon at the bottom of the hole, well, it’s still there, isn’t it?  It will always be there, but it’s not mean or bad, it’s really sad and lonesome and frightened;  it’s become bitter and mean with the sadness of all of it. That screaming demon is  me.  Just as much as the woman who pulls a 250 lb deadlift is me, just as much the woman who taught 31 people a bunch of difficult theory is me, just as much as the woman preparing a panel about harm reductions’ failed promises is me, just as much as the woman who calls her mom every week is me.  Sometimes that screaming demon still overwhelms and paralyzes. But not for as long, ’cause i don’t give it liquor now. whew. I drag it off to meetings or the gym and give it a good talking to and try to give it some loving and shine some light deep down to where it lives.

But right now, two nights before i head off to this conference, that demon is fuckin’ antsy, lemme tell ya. I hate crowds. and there will be 1800 women. I’ve looked at the conference program. It’s 101 pages long.  panic. I can’t pick what to go to, where to place my energy and attention, who to find and talk to, 1800 women, hundreds of papers, performances, conversations and actions to attend to–all of it urgent, absolutely urgent. We are in mortal danger, women are. Everywhere on earth we are in danger. Just this week I read an article that was posted on a list-serve i’m on about little girls in India being turned into little boys–because boys are more valuable.  And we know, we’ve known for a long time about selective abortions and female infanticide and ‘corrective rapes’ and ‘comfort women’ and about all the women who are peddled through the mail-order bride industry, and those girls along Franklin Street here in East Vancouver, and the women going to the ships and the women trapped in mansions by their wealth and their miserable husbands–‘keeping up appearances’–

and we are pitted against each other — “we have to listen to the experiential women” — say the liberals, though they don’t call themselves liberal, they might call themselves progressive or even radical. they talk all about ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ and “listening to the experiential women”–as if we are not ALL of us experiential. They mean, by that fancy word, women who are engaged in systems of prostitution and pronography. But which of us has NOT, at one time in her life or other, been approached by a man for sex, “wanna sit on my face?”, “How much?”, “hey baby, whatchoo doin’ tonight?”– which of us has not been faced, at one time in her life, with the ‘choice’ of whether to have sex with a man in exchange for a meal or a bed or money or drugs or alcohol or protection or belonging or…? Which of us is NOT experiential? I don’t know one. myself included.

We have all of us experienced growing up female in a world that hates  females.  We all know what it is like to be sexualized as our breasts and hips grew, we all remember our first menses. Some of us did not want the attention of men as we matured and tried to disappear, some of us sought it out and tried to draw their attention. All of us were aware of it, though. All of us knew both the thrills and the dangers that men held for us. At an event last year, part of the urban women’s anti-violence strategy, we talked about how old we were before we knew about rape.  None of us made it to the age of ten before we learned about it, as if it were a virus that struck women and girls at random. We knew about it and we knew that there were things we had to do to keep it from happening to us.

That, of course, was a big lie. That there was or is anything we can do to keep it from happening to us. That there is anything we can do or take or say to ‘reduce the harm’ that men will do to us in order to protect their power. There is nothing. Short of gathering and speaking loud and holding each other up and saying to those men, “no”. But it is the men who have to decide to stop demanding sex, to stop harassing us, to stop letting each other get away with using porn or buying women or raping their lovers. Men. The source of the harm. We have to organize and listen to each other (ALL the experiential women, every one) and we have to be tender and disciplined with each other — and men have to stop. making. us. do. their. fucking. work. Their fucking and their work.

1800 women. a good start. maybe we can together find a way to harness all our screaming demons and make them work FOR us instead of against us. my heaven’s i’m nervous…

Quixotic

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Today i made an appointment to see a doctor who specializes in adult ADD. i’ve been meaning to for a long time, but I keep getting distracted. you know how it is. Now, you know what, i don’t think that Attention Deficit Disorder is either a Deficit or a Disorder. it’s torture, i’ll tell you what, but it’s a surfeit, rather than a deficit. And it’s a set of coping mechanisms, it IS. Also, it’s imposed as a pathology by the Medical Industrial Complex, eh–if we each think that it’s something wrong with us, we don’t get together to make the necessary social/political changes–we make appointments with ADD doctors, and modify our behaviours and take the pills according to his instructions and assimilate. “Resistance is futile”.

But it’s not something in me. Look around! well, okay, don’t. All that information (not knowledge, mind you, nope); all that music and colour and big noise and shiny stuff and all those caffeinated beverages and all those pills and powders and supplements and books and videos and articles and microfibre and training tips and look at that cute puppy! and why don’t you have any children and will you sign our petition for equal marriage? 

It’s endless, I tell you. And there are so many causes and injustices and inequities and battles to fight and there’s a war on women–how do I pick?

help.

The other day, I went into this store near where i’m staying. It’s a fancy soap store, with all kindsa smelly exfoliant and moisturizing crap everywhere. I love that stuff, eh. Did you know that about me? Big ol’ dyke, with a thing for soap. well. I’ve had ‘a thing’ for way more destructive stuff, lemme tell ya.

Anyhow, so there i was and i got sweet-talked into a couple of these bodybutter bars. One with black current and another with almonds in it. yummy. And cocoa butter and shea butter and stuff. I made a joke to the young woman selling ’em to me, I said, “jeez, i might want to shave these into a salad or spread it on toast, too”. She looked at me blankly. “Why would you want to do that? Oh, no, you don’t want to eat it”.

Anyhow, I’m staying in a neighbourhood where everyone spends money they ain’t got on shit they don’t need. And I’m totally like that, myself. It’s been worse since I stopped drinking, I think. But it’s the same compulsion, ya? I have a need, something inside that’s not there, some kind of yearning for…i don’t know what. And I also have credit cards. And there are those beautiful things on display and maybe if i just exfoliate and moisturize, i’ll feel complete. or, um, ‘complete-er’. Or something.

It’s embarassing.

But it beats drinkin’. and i have some insight, anyhow.

Anyhow, so as i was paying for my new soul mortar (i’ll call it that for now–I’m saving it, maybe i’ll give it away as a gift to someone I love, then i won’t feel so self-indulgent), the young woman at the till asked if I wanted to sign their petition for ‘equal marriage’ rights in the U.S.

Why do I do this?

I said, “Well, you know what, i’m not really down with marriage at all”. and both these women looked at me with the same kind of uncomprehending, yet disapproving stare. Same look that younger sister gave me when i made that joke about shaving the body bar into my salad.

But I carried on, especially as one of  ’em said, “oh? why not?”

“Well, you know, it’s a heterosexist patriarchal institution that isn’t founded on mutual respect and equality–”

and she said “but people can’t get benefits or their partner’s pension plans, or…”

“I know, but economic reasons are the only reasons to get married, really, why can’t everyone get taken care of like that, rather than sign ownership papers for each other–we’re fighting for the wrong thing”

She kind of muttered, “okay, suit yourself” and busied herself with some kind of smelly soapy thing under the counter.

the other one, the one who didn’t get my joke about eating the bodybutterbar, she said, in that kind of polite way you talk to the earnest young people with Greenpeace folders, or the religious who come to your door sometimes, or slightly daft conspiracy theorists who button-hole you at parties–she said, “i never thought of it like that”

“it’s good for men.” I said, “not so good for women”. I tried to…I don’t know, look like a nice person, though, and said, “I don’t think anyone should be, um, punished for getting married, i just think it’s not a solution to…” oh, Erin. just stop, already. solution to WHAT? yea. that’s a bad path you’re heading up on, no one has this kinda time…

She nodded, her smile fixed on her face–I could practically hear her sigh with relief when I said, “well, uh, good luck with that” and headed for the door.

my belly churned all the way to D and A’s place. That was a good hour bike ride away. I was invited to a little celebration for their youngest daughter who had just turned 10. her older sister had just turned 12. their mothers are not married. they have been together for 19 years, and I have known them for longer than that, especially D. We have been organizers and front-line workers and activists and actors together. We have fought and fallen out with each other and stumbled and told each other our deepest secrets and sorrows. We are family, and we never signed any papers that gave us state approval for our love for each other. We’re not in each others wills, we don’t share a pension plan, we don’t even see each other much-but those little girls, they have known me since they were embryos, since they were unknowable. And those grown women, they have known me in my very worst moments, and some of my best as well–as I have known them–and somehow we recognize, and will always recognize, that the kind of friendship we have forged here is the kind that we all deserve.

I talked to D a week or so ago, and we had an intimate moment together, and offered appreciations to each other for the times when we stepped up for each other.  Like when i first sobered up in 2001, and D called me EVERY DAY for three weeks to say congratulations, and keep it up. And she doesn’t much like telephones. things like that. And when we were going through a rough patch, and D wasn’t up to calling or getting out much, and I called every so often, and said, “I love you” in one way or another into the answering machine. And Christmases together and bringing my mom over to meet the girls, and trying to be a good bad influence (“you’re a GREAT bad influence!” the younger one said to me last time we had an evening together). small things. small things. twenty years of small things one by one build into the other night, when we were having sushi and celebrating the births of two little girls growing big and smart and happy–protected and cherished–and we made plans to picnic at the beach, and we talked about the organizing meeting i was going to, and what we had done twenty years ago that could inform the actions we are taking now. Personal and political.

See what happened there? i started off talking about going to some ADD doctor and got all side-tracked. But not, kind of…

 

 

Zombies. riots. women.

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I rode my bike to my friends place the other night, as the Stanley Cup Final was underway. I’m looking after her big bright sunny apartment and her fecund balcony. Is  that the right use of the word ‘fecund’? She’s got flowers galore out there, and bits of shrubbery and ivy and stuff all over the place. needs frequent watering, and nearly as frequently, I have to ‘dead-head’ the marigolds. Which is a task I quite enjoy. there’s something meditative about those kinds of picayune tasks. ‘Picayune’ is another fun word, like ‘fecund’, which i think i used in sort of the right context, but not quite.

Vancouver was kind of like a ghost town that evening. There was the odd whooping noise emitting from an open balcony window, but overall, really quiet. Nearly peaceful–but not quite. More “eye-in-the-storm-ish” really. No traffic, not many pedestrians. some groaning coming from open windows–as if the zombie invasion had indeed happened. It was all those people in blue and green hockey jerseys, they were really zombies,not hockey fans at all and they’d eaten the brains of everyone who drove cars or walked on sidewalks. and then they’d gone inside and had eaten the brains of all the people watching TV and that was the groaning noise–

I rode my bike along the quiet bikeways and thought about what to have for dinner.

Not brains.

By the time I got home, the Canucks had lost. The game wasn’t over, but there was no hope for the home team. And the zombies poured out into the streets.

as you may know by now, the Vancouver team, the Canucks, lost the game to the Boston Bruins. and then a big-ass riot broke out. and right away, the media blamed “anarchists and criminals”. christ. Anarchists are NOT hooligans–and certainly NOT Zombies. And the media, they spent MONTHS whipping the fans (short for “fanatics” you knew that, right?) into a nationalistic froth (see this lovely bit of analysis here: http://toddsieling.com/slowblog/?p=88). and then turned around and said “tsk tsk”. As if those rioters could not have been any one of us, all of us–and as if the people who showed up by the thousands the next morning were any more representative of the average Vancouverite than the rioters. maybe, who knows, but maybe, some of the very same people who smashed windows, burned cars and looted stores turned up the next morning with rubber gloves, garbage bags and dust pans to clean up the wreckage. Because you know what, we are all that extreme and complicated, i’m pretty sure. In fact, one boy, an upper-class kid with a promising athletic career ahead of him, did turn himself in to the cops (he was photographed trying to set fire to a police car, it was only a matter of time before he’d have been caught anyhow, but he was only 17, and he did make sure to come out in public as one of the ‘bad guys’–)–and people who know him said that his behaviour was not characteristic.

except for when it is. I don’t know that I would be able to withstand the kind of social pressure to go wild in the streets like that. Even for such a trivial reason. I bet the real reason isn’t trivial at all, really. We’re so…lonesome. And frightened, and disengaged. i think most of us are walking around with a bunch of rage bottled up, (I didn’t call myself ‘easilyriled’ for nothing, you know), and nowhere to funnel it. I’m way WAY less volatile than I used to be, but that’s because i’ve got lots of things that plug me into engagement with the world and with people in the world and even though i’m nothing special, there’s a place for me, and people around me who value my contribution and for whom I also have great regard.

so many people are flailing. and when there’s a reason to gather and a shared disappointment, and the relentless pressure to take it personal, we will go all mobbish. is that how you spell ‘mobbish’? spell check doesn’t think so….anyhow. We drift. to the lowest common denominator. we drift. but we could just as easily rise, couldn’t we? maybe not as easily–moral gravity is as powerful, i think, as physical, geological gravity. sigh.

Anyhow, so a couple days after the game and the riots, i walked to work at the women’s centre. and I walked past The Bay, which had all these boards over the windows. On the boards were drawings and pictures and posters. the message of all of them was, “the good people are Vancouver, the rioters are not Vancouver and they are bad”. Outside the Bay, on the sidewalk some of the Good Corporate Citizens of Vancouver™ had set up tables and were serving juice and water and coffee and pancakes! it was a ‘thank you Vancouver’ pancake breakfast. I teared up. Really, i had nothing whatsoever to do with the riot, or the clean up–and even during the whole lead up to the game, i would try to buffer myself from “canuck fever” by hollering out
“Rider Nation!” at random moments (that phrase refers to both the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team and their legions of loyal fans scattered throughout Canada. I am a card-carrying member of Rider Nation–well, T-shirt wearing anyhow. When my dad died, Mom gave me his new Saskatchewan Roughriders t-shirt. even though i watch probably less football than hockey, and there aren’t very many (if any) Canadians on the team anyhow)–but I was moved — or maybe manipulated– to tears.

But anyhow, i queued up and had a breakfast and thanked the volunteers and read some of the things on the walls and got all choked up at the earnestness of it all, the desperate feeling in the air of “we didn’t do that, we’re not that brutish, it’s not US–we’re good people, you’re good people…” defensiveness. and pride and shame held together–they had music playing out of kind of tinny-sounding speakers. The Village People song fromthe 70s, YMCA, came on and all the blue-smocked volunteers started clapping and dancing as they handed out plates of pancakes and paper cups of coffee. Were they Zombies? When would they turn?

i better get going, i thought. i turned and walked the rest of the way to work, sniffling a little.

And it was quiet at work. One woman, in the afternoon, she was struggling to get out of her pullover sweater, and she was bent over, pulling all of her clothes over her head, with her t-shirts coming up and exposing her breasts and ribs and skinny back. Without thinking, I reached over to her and tried to tug one of her t-shirts down, to help her keep clothed while she peeled off her heavy layer.

She started screaming. She was muffled by layers of fleece, but her rage and fear gave her impetus to tear her shirts off, clutch them to her breast and start swearing at me, “you don’t ever touch someone when they can’t fucking see you, fucking bitch–” she yelled, and ran out of the centre, half naked, yelling, “get away from me you fucking dyke”.

I followed, trying to ask her to stay, get her clothes back on, don’t go…

but it was too late, she was out the door. Someone else followed her out, keeping her distance, and then returned a few minutes later, “she’s okay, she’s got her clothes back on.” One of my co-workers said, “you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t take it personal”.

I won’t take it personal, but I did make a mistake. I didn’t consider where I was, and where she was. She was high for one thing, and all those women are hyper-vigilant–that she was undressing in the middle of the women’s centre should have tipped me off (and would have, had i taken a moment to consider) that she was not safe anywhere else to do that. and she was right when she said, “don’t touch someone when they can’t see”. Especially when they’re high on crystal meth or crack or something. that shit really ramps up the paranoia.

Another woman passed out in the bathroom, in the middle of taking a shit. Her pants around her ankles, she slipped of the toilet seat. the doors to the toilets have a lot of space beneath them, because that discourages drug use, theoretically. So, women could see her feet sticking out. We were freaked out. No one has ever died IN the centre before, (though some have come close–that’s another story i oughta write about sometime, but not now), and I sure as hell didn’t want it to happen on my watch. I crawled under the door. On my belly, I reached over and tugged on one of her feet. She’s a tiny woman and she’s all bent over, she was in a really bad accident a long time ago, and it left her in pain and built like a question mark. She wears wigs and is alternately sweet as pie and mad as a nest of wet hornets. I tugged on her foot and yelled her name, and she woke up and her head shot up and I’ve never seen her eyes so wide and she yelled, “AAAAHHHHH!” and I yelled back, (cause i was afraid she was dead, or not breathing and I’d have to pull her out of there, through her own shit–poor darlin’– and give her mouth-to-mouth, which I was not anxious to do), I yelled at the same time, “AAAAHHHHH!” and then she said, “what are you doing?” and I said at the same time, “you freaked us all out, honey, we thought you were dead!”

“no, no, i’m okay, i’m okay, thanks honey,” she said, “get out of here, i’m trying to go to the toilet”.

“Okay, okay, we were just worried about you, careful not to step in that there now” I said as I scooted backwards under the door.”

“thanks Darlin'” she said, “i won’t, I’m okay, just gimme some privacy”.

whew. that was a bit nerve-wracking. She cleaned up the floor, sat back down on the toilet and nodded off again. oh well.

as we do, my co-workers and I got into a discussion about politics. Feminism. One of my colleagues said, “I don’t know, i like cooking for my man, and doing his laundry, and taking care of him…does that mean i’m not a feminist?”

Uh, well…

How can she work at a place where so many women are living out the legacy of patriarchy in such flagrant suffering and say something so–superficial? Does she really think that’s all feminism is? A bunch of angry women saying, “we’re not gonna cook for him no more!”? really. what’s the answer to that?

She’s trying to work it out. We all are. She has felt the back of his hand, the hammer of a teacher’s low expectations, tasted the bitterness of poverty–she wants to think there is something about her that can correct it, wash the taste out of her mouth, some salve for her wounds.

The salve is feminism. the women’s liberation movement. But that movement has shimmered out of sight for now. That movement has been scattered by the strategic placement of posts–post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-feminism–

We can’t afford to theorize in terms of ‘posts’. There is nothing ‘post’ about the traumas and terrors the women of the women’s centre endure, nothing ‘post’ about the motivations and actions of the mob unleashed after the game, nothing ‘post’ about colonialism–we’re still here, squatting in someone else’s living room, using up all their stuff and not replacing it.

But nevertheless, the posts have been planted and in trying to accomodate, consider, take into account, include, we have skittered over to that side and the other, and we’ve lost the connection to each other, and the posts obscure our vision of freedom and we have been deconstructed into splinters and factions and the strongest remaining thing is patriarchy. How bad can it be to show my love to my man by cooking for him, by taking care of him, by…?

jesus wept. where do I start?

But we all talked about it, feminism and women’s place in our cultures and the difference between culture and politics, and the difference between appreciation for beauty and sexual harassment and about what we do to protect ourselves and how we’ve been set up to compete and…

in between we handed out cups of yogurt and swept the floor and sang some songs and tried to hold back the flood waters. you know. that front-line stuff. like digging through cinder-block walls with a teaspoon.

but more.

 

Generations.

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Last week, I went to this fundraising event. Every year, at the end of May, the radical feminist gang i work with sometimes, they have this big ol’ fundraiser that raises about 35K for the transition house. 35k isn’t much these days, but it’s also a very fine picnic. there’s a gang of men who work together to raise money for the organization. they answer to the collective that runs the rape crisis line and transition house. They incorporate public education about male violence against women into every fundraising event they do. They work to address their own sexism, racism, classism and that of other men. and they decorate, cook and clean up for the walk. it’s not really an action, ’cause it’s more about allies gathering together and celebrating another year of work, and catching up with each other.

this year was my 22nd at that walk. I’ve missed a few–when I was mad at them, and wanted to nurse my resentments more than I wanted to address them; or the year my lover and I broke up and she was with the collective still, so she was there and i was with someone else and all twitchy and guilt-ridden. there was the year my dad died, and he got really sick just before that weekend. A couple of times i worked at the transition house instead of going, or did something else but still collected pledges and stuff. Of the 22 years i’ve been associated with that gang, i’ve been to perhaps 17 or 18 of the walks. Probably actually walked the whole way around 4 or 5 times, truth be told.

Oh it was so fun this year. One of my ex-lovers, her daughter was there. with her childhood friend–I’ve known both of them since they were 5 or 6. they’re grown women now, in their late twenties. One is in the training group, the daughter of my ex. She was raised in that collective, and now she’s working there. That’s kind of cool. And it’s kind of not.

Because, you know what, the goal is that we work our way out of a job. That we end male violence against women. We haven’t done that yet. But we will. Then we can have collectives of artists and gardeners and engineers and cooks and builders and storytellers and flute makers and potters and …but whatever it ends up becoming, once we have stopped men from beating the crap out of us and holding all the power and wrecking everything (god bless them), whatever happens, it will remain true that we will need each other; there will still be suffering; we will still have to attend to the well-being of others. We have to be patient, though. How many centuries of male supremacy do we have to overcome? Generations. It will take us generations.

It will take us generations and yet it is absolutely urgent.

what’s the coolest thing about my young friend working there is that it’s proof that we offered her something tangible. Even if we were tired and resentful and angry and sorrowful from hearing all the horror stories and trying all the time to patch women up and hold each other up and make some room for ourselves and our sisters–even with all that, there must have been some hope and light and beauty in there. I remember when she was a child, of course I do. And as much as her mother and I sacrificed and worked “for the glorious revolution”, this girl paid, too. We made a lot of mistakes. We fought a lot. Especially near the end of our love affair. It must have been really hard for her. But we always loved her. And we always loved the women’s liberation movement. I think she knows that.  it’s hard being human.

unofficial tradition of the walkathon is that I suck the helium out of one of the balloons and sing “I’m Just a Gigolo.” This year there was enough helium for that and a couple of John Prine songs.

heh.