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Category Archives: male violence against women

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.

The Body I Want.

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A little while ago, a young friend of mine said on facebook that she was going to start taking testosterone. She had decided she was no longer a woman, and was going to take ‘T–  “But only until I have the body I want”, she said.

I’ve been puzzling over this since. What does being a woman have to do with having the body one wants? The gender training i received hasn’t entirely taken, eh. Like pretty much ALL the women I know, we have rejected a lot of what patriarchy trains us to do in order to be a woman. All of us. Even some of my friends, well, acquaintances, really, who say “oh, i like being that woman who takes care of her man”. Grim. But even at that, these women have also rejected some of their gender training. No one of us can manage to be the “Ideal Woman” under patriarchy. none of us.

as for the body–well, patriarchy trains us to strive for slender and kind of weak looking. the Ideal Woman (far as I can tell) has no body hair and not much muscle and big breasts.  If a woman, like my young friend, is stocky and short, she’s going to have a hard time getting that kind of body. And I don’t imagine it feels good to be skinny and without much muscle tone. And on top of that, being a lesbian, well, we used to be a different kind of woman, I think. Now, though, now we’re supposed to look like “L Word” lesbians (that’d be,  like men’s pornified fantasies of ‘girl-on-girl action’). So, ya. I don’t want that, either.

So. What’s a girl to do? become trans! then you don’t have to worry about getting a straightening iron and dieting and all that. you can just take a shot every week (or whatever, i don’t know how it works…) and then you will have the body you want. no diets, no fussing endlessly with your hair, and no worrying about how to be the “right” kind of woman/lesbian.Pass as a man. whew.

but what happens to women, then? This is an individual answer to one woman’s isolation, confusion, resistance. it’s a patriarchal answer, too-i don’t think men got together and conspired to get women to do this–either starve ourselves or poison ourselves (i do think testosterone, steroids, growth hormone, all that stuff is toxic. we don’t know the long-term effects)–but patriarchy is a strong structure, and we are trapped in it. Men benefit from the disintegration of the women’s movement, and from some women ‘jumping ship” as it were, but they don’t have to DO anything–other than the usual — you know, sexual harassment, assault, incest, all that stuff–a few guys do that, keeps us all in line.  there’s a  whole big analysis of  the ways that male violence keeps us isolated from each other, including transitioning–and i’ll maybe get to that some other time, but for now, this is just a quick thread tying men’s violence against women to our own self-loathing and fervent wish to change the bodies we have to achieve peace.

unless we organize.  We need to find ways to come back to each other, to be women together in solidarity with each other. To reject patriarchal norms–to SEE them in fact. We need a women’s liberation movement. I wanted to be a boy when i grew up- i desperately wanted to have a different body–broad shoulders, narrow hips, flat muscular chest, I wanted that.  My own body didn’t always work so well, though being a girl had little to do with that. But I also  wanted the stuff that went with being a boy–the entitlement, the open doors everywhere, the acceptance,  the benefit of the doubt that men just get.

But when i grew up, I found women, and i decided to be a lesbian, and i found feminism, a MOVEMENT–so much to do, so sparky and big and meaningful–and urgent. and then it didn’t matter so much what m body was like– though i train really hard because i can breathe better and think clearer and i feel happier–and i now have a body that won’t let me down, and looks just fine in a suit, too.

Testosterone will not give that young woman the connection to other women that saved my life. That gave my daily activities a focus and meaning. We are all trying to figure out what it is to be a woman in the world, really and truly. I don’t  know what it is, exactly, but it has something to do with our shared experiences of social expectations to become “the Ideal Woman” and the ways in which we must reject it. And it has something to do with what we make room for when we don’t fuss about our “inner self” versus our “outer self” or our body. Together we can find integrity and drive–something a needle or a treatment cannot  (or a bottle or pills, for that matter).  I think we’re supposed to now want a ‘quick fix’ for our alienation–if we change ourselves, we will be happy.

No. we won’t. because The Man is always fuckin’ moving the goal posts.

My young friend will take testosterone, and notice more muscle density and her voice will change and maybe she’ll start losing hair on her head and gaining it everywhere else–but–she can run on the treadmill of trans forever and never get away from her womanly hips.

She could perhaps join a women’s organization, or start a group,talk with other women about body image, what’s the body you have, what’s the body you want, why do you want it? who’s doing the choosing here? really really…

and do some sit-ups.  Core training for the revolution.

i’m sad for her, and for us. i hope she comes back.

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…

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.

 

random

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I  start teaching this week. the course is for secondary school teachers and it’s called “social foundations of education”.  I was surprised that i got to pretty much design the syllabus myself. I was trying to get everything in there, you know, the history of education in BC, the social construction of childhood, the increasingly virulent reproduction of patriarchal socialization as evidenced by hyper-sexualization of girls (and boys, actually, all that camouflage and so on–though my friend L, who is a righteous Aboriginal warrior in her own right, advocates dressing all Indigenous children in camo stuff, because, well”we’re at war with you all, don’t you know, gotta look the part”) ahem.  right. Never just a fashion statement. Clothing choices are a political statement.  Either a capitulation to the status quo (like pink for girls and blue for boys) or resistance against it  (camo for all the Aboriginal kids).

I had this great conversation this morning with a friend of mine. She and I used to sing in the same choir, we were in the tenor section–“the terrible tenors”–which did not refer to our singing but to our behaviour. Sometimes the choir director brought her “bad kitty” spray bottle to practice. heh. We realized we were from the same province, though not the same town, pretty close to each other. and we liked each other right away.

She’s a yoga teacher. Now, I like yoga, but sometimes yoga teachers and yoga practitioners can be a bit whifty, you know what i mean? They go rabbiting on about chakras and chanting and energies and that’s all fine, I guess, but sometimes it makes me a bit uncomfortable. For instance, there was this one yoga instructor at my gym for a while, and she would have us do this big long chant before and after practice. That made me all twitchy, on account of I didn’t know what the words were, or what they meant. For all I knew, we coulda been calling the wrath of whomever, the ancestors or the rivers that used to flow through this city, or the ocean gods, down upon our heads. One wrong syllable, and WHAM! curtains fer you, sister. So enough of us asked her for the words and the translation that she finally supplied them. She was a bit…oh, righteous about it, though. When she brought the photocopied sheets for us to refer to, she said, “Sometimes the Western Mind needs the words” or something like that. In that tone some people have of “i’m so much more enlightened than you are” kinda thing. pah.

She was young and white, too, by the way. pretty much as Western Mind as I am. probably she’d been to India, though, so she got all tuned in there.

Anyhow, back to my buddy today, she said, and this was really great to hear, “Some of the harm that’s being done in the name of yoga here is just….maddening. it’s really dangerous how some people practice”. I’d never thought of that before. How can yoga be bad?

“Well, take Kundalini, for example”, she said, “it’s a practice where breath is really emphasized and fast poses and it stirs up lots of energy, and when people do that they’re practically floating–” so in an altered state, that is, they are practically floating and all energetic and happy. But they are also really vulnerable and exposed. And in this city, people don’t have a guru, a teacher who keeps track of how you’re doing and what you’re learning and how the practice is affecting you, and we pick and chose too, oh, today i feel like Bikram’s, and the next day it’s this studio that does Hatha, or Iyengar or whatever, and we never settle and if someone is vulnerable or in trouble or even just ignorant, they can get in a lot of trouble.

huh.

You know, it’s another sign of our liberal, or neo-liberal times, eh. We’re supposed to just do what feels good, and take on whatever identity that “resonates” in the moment, and float around from one thing to another without attending to the contexts within which our choices are made, and our identities formed. it made sense what she was saying, that so much harm is done by this proliferation of teachers and yoga studios and this and that…people are desperate for connection and meaning, but also we don’t really want to work hard at it, cause we’re afraid. and we’re in pain. J. said that she was so filled with self-loathing and she was so anxious about drawing attention to herself and so fearful and confused when she finally found yoga that she too latched on to the New Age goop that said, “you can create your own reality” and all that. It was just as she feared, she had created her own reality and it SUCKED. But she hadn’t, not really. She had taken on the messages that said that we are responsible for how we feel and we do have an array of choices and this is the new world and we are creating the context as we are living it….but what about where we come from? and what about our ancestors and the land upon which we walk and the powerful who maintain the structures within which we have to make these so-called “choices”? As she practiced yoga, and started to be able to breathe and open up to the big world around her, and make some connections and stop being so self-involved and at the same time becoming aware of the world beyond, she could see–

anyhow. what she was describing as the harms of yoga practiced willy-nilly without context sounded to me like harm reduction. you know what, it began as palliative care for drug addicts. It emerged from medicine and it has always been only to reduce disorder, crime and overdose death. It has NEVER been to end addiction or make any systemic changes. no. so now, now that harm reduction has spread like a viral you tube clip over the land of social services there is this confusion about what it is meant to do, and how it is meant to be implemented, and it’s attended to at the expense of ANY other approach to ALL social problems. and like yoga, it is the individual practitioner who is meant to be responsible for how it all goes. The addict has to use the safe injection site and clean needles, the woman in prostitution has to negotiate condom use and refer to the ‘bad date’ sheet to keep herself safe–it is up to those who are harmed to reduce the harms done to them, and the inconveniences that others endure because of their ‘choices’– to use in public, to dispose of condoms in gutters, to die in dumpsters…you know. Same like the yogi who goes mad because all this energy has been stirred up and awareness opened and then they go out and experience the world in that new way and lose their connection to reality–

“There is so much harm being done” said J. “And don’t get me started on kharma,” she said, and I wanted to ask more about that, too, but it’ll have to wait, ’cause i have this course starting tomorrow and i’m just frantic with nervousness.

But anyhow, I know it’s all tied up with this neo-liberalism. And as we were talking, i realized we’re in the same soup together. We are looking for improvement, relief, connection, meaning. The liberal way is to look for a negative conception of freedom–the ‘you do your thing and i do my thing, we are not in this world to live up to each other’s expectations’ kinds of freedom. That’s harm reduction. That’s North American yoga. ” this will make you safer, this will keep you from dying, this will open up your energies”

But THEN what? Then you’ve got a lot of still addicted, but now dependent on all the systems that simultaneously preserve life and enthrall life, still prostituted, but now dependent on the services that open the doors to the punters and offer you condoms and referrals to services that amount to band-aids, not engagement with solutions–still lonesome and self-trashing, but now euphoric and rootless in the same world there was before the yogic practice–

maybe i need to add more sentences to that last paragraph–I think I understand the connections–it’s the same de-contextualized answer in different guises–it’s not a solution. The radical solution has not yet been found, but there are women working on it. We know, Simone De Beauvoir figured it out, we have to be responsible for the well-being of others–a positive conception of freedom (thanks Darlene R. for that insight, all your work on that has left a lasting impression on me)–we need each other. we are all of us implicated in these structures of class/race/gender and unless we are looking at the big picture, unless we are always connecting the dots, we are always going to be settling for this lonesome fruitless ‘feel-good’ emptiness.

And Hannah Arendt, you know what, she was no friend of Simone but they came to roughly the same conclusions–these difficult brilliant women, they both realized that we need each other. and no one can be free until all of us are free, and we can’t achieve freedom by just doing what we want and having what we desire. We have to DO freedom by taking care of each other and by sometimes throwing ourselves in front of the tank, and by really attending to examining our responsibilities and who is with us and how we can end the suffering of others. end it. not reduce it.

And Pierre Bourdieu, he’s the dude i’ll be teaching about mostly for the next six weeks, i’ve mostly been reading him lately, and i need to know more so i’m gonna teach about him. he was a working-class guy who became one of the most influential thinkers of all time, and he kept saying, especially in his last years, that those of us who have a little influence, a little more room to move, we HAVE to look at the structural causes of suffering and inequality. it’s our responsibility–as academics, as journalists, as teachers–we have to push and pull and make room and interfere with the downward spiral of expectations and chances–(that’s from Pascalian Meditations, 2000, p. 216 or so–“we adjust our expectations to meet our objective chances”–that is, if we’ve been poor all our lives, we are going to expect to deserve more of the same–basically). it’s more complicated than that–and really dense and difficult and French, but worth wrestling with.

and my friend, J. It was refreshing for both of us to meet and talk and realize that we are on the same kind of path, we are not content and we are not willing to settle. She uses yoga (among many other things) to help people ground and to keep connected to alleviating suffering and tapping into the connections, I use, I dunno…blogging, maybe teaching, (we’ll see i hope that works out), telling stories, making jokes, lovin’ my friends…

Context is very important. a “post-structural” analysis of anything is premature. oh dear. look, that’s the first time i’ve said ‘post-structural’ in this whole post and now i’m gonna hit ‘publish’. talk about out of context! sorry. I’ll get to it. now i’m gonna go to choir practice, though. And of course that’s political too….