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Category Archives: A world of women
That’s what cancer is. it just gets in, and starts marauding all over the place. Giving cellular reproduction and fission a bad bad name. It’s like when the cops send moles into peaceful demonstrations, or when undisciplined politicos go to organizing meetings. They start yelling and fomenting revolution and calling for direct action and mass organizing and “subvert the dominant paradigm!” and all this with Molotov cocktails and chairs smashing windows and it looks like a revolution, but it’s more of the same corruption of power and plays into the hands of the neo liberals. Cancer has no vision. It just lands somewhere and starts tearing shit down and putting up crappy slum housing. Cancer doesn’t care. it reproduces and becomes a mass here and a mass there, and starts taking yacht cruises through the blood stream and just ends up colonizing everything in the body. Cancer is the European of the disease world. Walking right over all the cells that were already there, just going about their business.
Way, WAY more bad-ass than a virus or bacteria. It’s like rabbits in New Zealand. Except not nearly as cute.
Jackie died May 30th. she was a big woman, a humble genius– kinda misanthropic–with an eye for beauty, a soft spot for troublemakers and a devilish sense of humour. She left a box of play scripts and stories, some paintings and collages, art cards, puppets, watercolour series’ of boiled eggs and strawberries; collages with lilies and sparkles; photographs from her life–
and she left a lot of love too. Nora and Polly, the love of her life and her oldest dearest friend — the beautiful people who were lifted by her talent and her eye for beauty. There’s no need to settle for less than bread and roses. She met death the way she lived her life — with curiosity, grace and humour. Surrounded by the people who loved her.
Her memorial is Sunday. She’s gone from us. But she’s still here in her art and her words.
Well, Monday March 26, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled on the appeal of the Bedford case, which challenges the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. you can find it here.
Apparently, Canada’s prostitution laws violate the charter rights of
prostituted women sex workers. Specifically, the right to freedom of association (sec. 2d), and the right to Life, Liberty and Security of Person (sec. 7) . The appeal judges decided that the Communicating law did not violate the Charter rights of prostituted people sex workers, and represented a reasonable limit on rights to expression. Because as we know, it is difficult to tell–no matter how much time you have to “screen” some guy– when he’s going to go off on you. Women in prostitution have told us many stories about going with men they knew, regular ‘clients’, men the met and talked with for an hour or so in the bar, men referred to them by trusted friends– who, when alone with them, became violent. And, you know, women often MARRY men who turn out to be abusive– five minutes on a street corner isn’t going to make a difference–he always decides how to behave, she will never have that control. In theory, then, the communicating law can be used against the men who buy sex.
You know, of course, that even though it is always men who initiate communication for the purposes of prostitution (“hey, baby, how much?”) –it is almost always women who are charged under this law*.
On the other hand, running or being found in a common bawdy house and living on the avails of prostitution will no longer be illegal. the Government of Canada has one year to rewrite the law to decriminalize pimping, except in cases of trafficking, child prostitution or other exploitative circumstances. Because, you know, women who are sucking cock indoors are not exploited. That’s “consensual commercial sex” or something. those women are CHOOSING this ‘work’.Also they are much less of a nuisance than women who are sold on the street corners. Who, by the way, may ALSO be there by choice.
But now they can CHOOSE to work inside–now they can CHOOSE to set up shop together, now, they have CHOICES of how to do their work–
“An underlying premise of this project is that difficult choices made under constrained conditions are still choices and, indeed, many of the sex workers that worked on this project felt insulted by the repeated accusation that they are not capable of making “real” choices” (2004, Pivot Legal Society: Voices for Dignity, p. 6)
That there quote is from a report by Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver. they are also launching a Charter Challenge against Canada’s solicitation laws. As evidence, they gathered 90 affidavits from women in prostitution in the Downtown Eastside from the women who ‘felt insulted’.
Let me take a moment to pick that quote apart a bit. First of all, “choice” is a noun, right? it is a thing. Something one can have or make. When women’ make difficult choices’, they are making them out of some material, let’s call this material “options”, or “conditions”. these are, in concrete terms, the option to sleep; to eat; to rest; to clean herself; to read; to care for her children; to nurture friendships; to feel comfort. She can pick any or all of these options, she can do any of these things with her pocket full o’ choice. But she needs something else in order to do any of these things, because we live in a free market capitalist society. She needs money. She has to buy all of these options. For all of them, she needs money. Money to afford the rent to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat. Money to pay for clean clothes, soap and a towel; money to pay for all the things her children need to thrive under her care. And if she can’t get enough money for any of that, she’s gonna be in pain. So she needs money to pay for the drugs she will take in order to numb the pain — of exhaustion, hunger, humiliation, and the deep sorrow of being without her children. and drugs are cheaper than rent. What does that even mean in the context of prostitution? The women who make these choices are resourceful and brave and annoying and funny and tough and obnoxious. The women who are in the most danger, those women who populate the dark corners of the inner city; the women who find themselves alone and impoverished in mid-life; the women who can’t both pay the rent and feed the kids; the women who can’t bear the pain of living without drugs that numb the pain of memories– these women ‘choose’ prostitution because there are no other choices.
Pivot never revealed who made the “repeated accusations” about these womens’ capability. I suspect, however, that they mean abolitionists. They mean me. And they mean many of the women who work with women in the Downtown Eastside, and in the rest of the city, and all over the world. They mean those of us who are not content with merely ‘meeting women where they are’. We want to meet her, and get her out. I can’t be free until no woman has to fuck a man in order to have a meal or pay the rent or get her kid a birthday present. The INSULT, dear Pivot Lawyer people, is that they have to live in this beautiful city, surrounded by all this abundance, and ‘choose’ to suck cock for money in order to afford anything remotely resembling a choice. This post by Janine Benedet says it better than I can.
What does that even mean, “real choices”? of course they are capable of making real choices. But they don’t have the raw material necessary in order to *make* choices. they are capable. they don’t have the resources. They are “public women” hidden from the public. They do not have influence, tools, language, money, power, or the means to use them. They are in deep trouble. They are victimized daily–by the men who buy them, by the state that keeps them impoverished, by the weight of patriarchy and capitalism and racism all together hobbling them together as an abject mass.
And who wants to be known as a victim? nobody. But if we don’t know the victims, we let the perpetrator get away, too.
Here’s what one woman had to say about her life as a “sex worker”, and how empowering it is:
I feel more empowered in a lot of ways than many women. Women who are accustomed to living a normal 9-5 existence and are married and perhaps have kids would find it extremely difficult were they to find themselves in circumstances like those I have to live with. If an ordinary middle-class woman were to find herself in a hotel room in the DTES with no money, no food, the rent due, their belongings stolen and the landlord banging on the door, they would likely slash their wrists, or at the very least need psychiatric help, since that’s the only kind of help they could get. If I were to find myself in their position on the other hand, I could easily adapt to their circumstances. However, I’ve only lived in the Downtown Eastside for seven years. If I’d lived here much longer, I don’t know that I’d be alive (From an affidavit used as evidence in the Charter Challenge by Pivot Legal Society).
Empowered indeed. the Pivot Legal Society used as evidence for their Charter Challenge case (similar to the Bedford case) anonymous affidavits from 90 prostituted people (almost all women) in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Bedford relied upon arguments based on three women in prostitution, two of whom now pimp other women, rather than do it themselves, and the other who primarily is prostituted indoors. Judge Himel’s decision makes for interesting (if depressing) reading, you can find it here.
Himel acknowledged in her ruling that women in prostitution faced many dangers. But agreed with the applicants that repealing the laws would reduce these dangers.
Well. it will certainly reduce inconveniences to men who are seeking to buy sex. Every one of the affidavits from the Bedford case, and from the Pivot case too, describe coercion, violence and harassment by MEN. Women said they were afraid of being criminalized, and annoyed that the laws were unevenly applied, and that they suffered from shame and stigma, to be sure. But they also related harrowing stories of beatings, rape, theft and other degradations meted upon them by the men who cruised the streets and the internet looking to buy a hand or a hole into which to thrust their penis. Clearly, every one of the women who testified about their experiences in prostitution, on both sides of the argument, have been victims. They were victimized by the men who bought and used them; victimized by police, courts, social services…
and they are victimized by the folks who call for harm reduction and for decriminalization and regulation and for more respect for
sex workers’ choices (how can ya have respect for something that isn’t there?), and more dignity for their work without questioning the men who victimize these women in the first place. If you don’t acknowledge there are victims, you will never see the perpetrators. And so it goes.
Here’s the F-word blog post by Laura Johnston, which describes the implications of the appeal decision.
so much heat and no light. all this talk about ‘respect’ ‘dignity’ ‘choice’ ‘agency’
fuck that. Hah! that’s a pun, considering the topic of this post. That’s it, eh? that’s what decriminalizing prostitution amounts to, really. ‘fuck yer agency, baby. here’s twenty bucks to get on yer knees.’
I’ve said it before, i’ll say it again, repealing these laws will not make these women safer. And even if it would, “safer” is still not safe. Safe is not the same as free. Women might be absolutely safe from further assault inside brothels. But they’re a long long way from freedom. Therefore, we are ALL a long long way from freedom.
Carry on, then. we’ve more work to do here.
* mind you, for at least the last 5 years, the local police have not arrested anyone under the prostitution laws. Not the women, which is fine; but not the men, either, which is not fine. And anyway, there is nothing else for the women–not housing not training or education not decent jobs even if you get some education, and not childcare if you get a job or place in school–it’s a rat maze, eh. And so far the only path to the tube that dispenses the yummy pellets is prostitution or drug dealing…or participating in research projects…
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.