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A tale of now many meetings (and some other musings).

Hello, Beautiful People–

I started this post in mid-August. Since then, since this meeting about which you will read, I’ve had two more meetings. Four more students have complained about me (you’ll see why, below), and many more have, in class, in emails and in person said “thank you”. But still. Big Brother is watching and everyone’s turning into a Rhinoceros–

August 9th I met with the head of our department and the associate dean of the faculty in which I teach. Two students had gone to them with concerns about my teaching. In 2012, I went to a similar meeting, with similar boss people, for very similar reasons.

Other than that, these two meetings were worlds apart.

In 2012, three men in my class went to the teacher education office and complained that I was “sexist against men” — they were angry with my approach, and they found my feminism distasteful. They didn’t say that last bit, but that was the essence of their complaint. I usually spend some time talking about sexism in my classes, and male violence against women, and structural inequalities based on the political categories to which we are born — namely, sex, race and class. We get into it. We read and talk about the dehumanizing effects on all of us of the reproduction of inequity that the institutions of education, law, medicine perpetuate (especially education, on account of they’re all becoming teachers). It’s difficult. Sometimes I am a bit heavy-handed, and was even more so then, when I was less experienced. I could’ve done things different. I have done since then. Different every time, every year, every class. Often my students disagree with me, and sometimes they won’t say what they think, but more often they will, and more often we can explore these contradictory and difficult ideologies, ideas, approaches, and questions as well as together feel nervous, relieved, angry or curious or any combination of those (and more) emotions.

I don’t remember now what the exact incident was, but I do remember a particularly uncomfortable day, wherein several men became accusatory — one said he didn’t like that I said “all men benefit materially from some men’s violence against women”, another told me he was my ally, and several women said, “i don’t think so…” (but only one said that in class–others came to me after). One man left the classroom and never returned, not for the rest of the semester (I don’t remember if it was that was the same day or later on). I was a teaching assistant then, and my faculty mentor received and graded his final project.

Anyway, at that 2012 meeting, with the head of the department, and representatives from the teacher ed office and one of the main creators of the course and my faculty mentor, they started with reassurance. “We have to discuss these concerns with you, but we know you are a good teacher, and we support your work here” they said. “In fact, that some students are rattled enough to come to us indicates that you’re doing some interesting work, that you’re on the right track.” They met me with generosity and respect. They worked to help me check my defensiveness and to help me plan how to return to my classroom and try to deal with the hurt feelings and conflict between me and some of my students, and between the men who complained about me and some of their colleagues. They protected, supported and educated me, helped me find my part. In so doing, they reinforced me and helped me become a better teacher.

Fast forward five years,

When the bosses emailed to ask me to meet them, they did not tell me what it was about, nor did they invite me to bring someone with me. I know that these people don’t bother with lowly sessionals unless we’re a real problem to them, so I was pretty worried.

I revealed my anxiety at the beginning of the meeting, and they responded with some ‘lighthearted’ joking.  “I’m a little paranoid,” I said, “I’m pretty sure you don’t ask sessionals in for meetings to tell us what a great job we’re doing”.

“Sometimes we do” replied the Associate Dean, “But we have some concerns”.  I know, and they also told me at the beginning of the meeting that they have to bring problems to my attention if students go to them.  That’s fine with me, though I would hope students will come to me first (one did. Another did not).

Once they got that out of the way, they proceeded with the accusations. Students won’t “feel safe”, they said. “You’re on record as saying you won’t use people’s preferred pronouns”, they said. And “You’re breaking the law”.

Of course I was delighted to finally have an opportunity to speak, with people in positions of authority in my workplace, about the contradictions between gender-identity and trans-inclusion and sex-based protections  in the provincial human rights code (sadly, I’m joking. I had no such expectations). I said that there is almost nothing in the curriculum about sexism and male violence against women and girls in schools. I said we discuss many controversial and difficult topics in class, and people are often uncomfortable. Including me. But no one is “unsafe”.  I want them to be uncomfortable, for all of us to agree to “stay in the discomfort” and to meet our feelings with curiosity, and each other with integrity and respect. We are looking at some powerful things here — policies designed to maintain the structures of domination and subordination — institutions that shaped us, and in which we have invested a lot. Criticizing those institutions and analyzing those policies is kind of risky. We have to, though. It’s part of our job as educators.

They said, “you have a lot of power over your students, you could fail them”. I said, “That’s true. I could. But I won’t fail them merely because we disagree. YOU have a lot of power over me, too. You could fire me.”

“That’s not exactly true” said one, “there are procedures…” which statement I found not at all comforting, for some reason.  Neither of them said, for instance, “we wouldn’t fire you because we disagree with you, we want to learn how to continue to speak to each other even though we disagree, and reach some understanding”. That would’ve been nice.

They offered no reassurances. Once, one of them said, “I am beginning to understand what you mean”, and I’m sorry now that I didn’t ask her to describe to me what that was.  At the end of the meeting I said, “I know we all want the students in our courses to have a rich educational experience, and we have their well-being foremost in our practice”, and they agreed. As I opened the door to leave, they thanked me for meeting with them. I said “you’re welcome. I know you’re watching me now”.

It was a terrible meeting, and shook my confidence. Sessional, (or Adjunct in the US), professors are not secure. We are not well-paid (especially, strangely, in Education. We are the lowest paid instructors on campus).  A full-time course load is considered 15 credits a semester which is 5 courses. It’s a LOT of work.

And I love it.  Love it. There’s something new every day, and each person is SO interesting–they come from everywhere and have with them so many stories and experiences…each class is a village. We hear each other’s stories. You can’t know someone’s story and not love them. So there’s lots of falling in love going on. Not like  necessarily, or agreement — but love. And the possibility of conversation and connection across difference and conflict. It’s wonderful and prickly and energizing. I learn way more teaching, too, than I ever did studenting. I hope I get to keep doing it.

One month later, now. A new semester. After the first day, another student complained about me, and then dropped the course. During that first two hours together, we reviewed the syllabus, read and analysed our first article, and did a quick introductory exercise. Then, I guess, she went and looked me up on the internet, found this blog, wrote a letter of complaint to the above mentioned boss people and dropped the course. So, here we go again.

This time, because I had, this time, a representative from the Faculty Association, and also sent them notes from our first meeting, wherein I described our conversation and behaviour, they did begin with perfunctory reassurances. I think the head of our department said that they would still offer contracts, that I am likeable and smart.  blah blah. So that was better. But the other one, the Associate Dean of the faculty, she was possibly even less hospitable than before. This time, they gave me a printed copy of some of the quotes from my blog the student had cherry-picked. This time, they invited me to bring a representative with me.

The woman from the Faculty Association read my notes after that first meeting, and looked up this blog and did some research. She`s lovely. Sensible, intelligent, kind and good-natured. I don`t know whether or not she agrees with my analysis of this whole mess, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is she’s in my corner. She is thoughtful about the points I bring up, and she applies some of the analysis we talk about to examples in her own life. She is not an academic, so she can still think, and ask questions, and take some time to consider things.

unlike, apparently, the associate dean of education or the head of the department for which I teach. We talked for an hour at our second meeting, and we again came to no resolution. They (the boss people) stepped outside for a bit and when they returned, they said that they would come up with some `guidelines for instructors`. And the head of the department said he would like to meet with me on my own (with my Faculty Association rep as well) to discuss some possible ways forward.

This is all so tiresome, I tell you what.  the week after, I had another meeting this time with the department head and the FA rep. He does not get it. Of course. We talked for an hour, which was about an hour longer than any of us has, and we came to no agreements.  At one point I said, “What about the majority of students who said, ‘thank you for letting us talk about this, we don’t know what to think, and we don’t feel there is anywhere we can discuss it.’ What about the students making room for their ideas and feelings?” His reply was, to the best of my recollection something like,  “That’s a good point. I didn’t think about that”. Which of course I knew. In the end he said, `perhaps you can address these topics in such a way as to not hurt anyone’s feelings`. To which I responded, “not likely”.

in late September, after that meeting,  I received from him a letter describing the department’s expectations of instructors (well, just me, really, but never mind that). It indicated, as I had already surmised, that those previous meetings were a giant waste of time. We are not closer to understanding than we ever were.  Here`s the second page:

Equal access to education includes access to the Department’s individual courses and classes. To be clear: it is not acceptable or available to suggest that particular students should choose, or would be better served by choosing, different or specific courses or teachers because they possess a protected characteristic. All students are entitled to access all courses, without discrimination.

A person does not have equal access to a course if one reasonably perceives oneself to be unwelcome to attend at, or access, the class or education because of a protected characteristic. This constitutes discrimination. As we discussed, reasonably and objectively feeling unwelcome is something different from subjectively feeling “offended” by academic dialogue. Reasoned, respectful discourse about social or political life does not create a climate of discrimination, but statements and behaviours which exclude, or create a climate of exclusion, do. Some examples of statements or behaviours which reasonably and objectively exclude are:

  1. Stating or suggesting that a protected characteristic is not real;
  2. Stating or suggesting that a protected characteristic is or should be socially unacceptable;
  3. Stating or suggesting that a protected characteristic is a product of disease or illness;
  4. Stating or suggesting that accepting a protected characteristic is a form of abuse;
  5. Stating or suggesting that a protected characteristic will not be recognized when providing the service; and
  6. Stating or suggesting that views or opinions supporting or acknowledging the characteristic are unwelcome

These statements and behaviours create a climate of exclusion which is contrary to the Department’s expectation that learning environments will respect the inherent dignity and self-worth of all. Not only do these types of statements attack the inherent self-worth and human dignity of anyone possessing a characteristic, they suggest that any person possessing the characteristic is not welcome or is less able to access the education, class or service. It is also the Department’s expectation that teachers, being leaders and directors of the classroom, foster this inclusive environment.  They are certainly not permitted to compromise it. The Department views a breach of this expectation as a serious offence

So. That’s how a feminist critique is understood. They decided from an out of context selection of quotes from my blog, and misunderstood paraphrasing of a few students’ memories of some comments from class that I am withholding a service and trodding upon someone’s human rights. And here we are.  They decide whether to offer me teaching contracts, and they decide how many. They can’t see that gender-identity protection contradicts protections based on sex, but in any case they have decided that gender identity is more important than anything else. Of course it`s more important to them, because addressing inclusion doesn’t challenge the sex-caste system that reinforces male dominion over women. Indeed, it reinforces patriarchy. Men are much better at being women than we are, because they know what men want in a woman. And when women reject their womanhood to `transition`, they are no longer a threat to male domination.

So I sent that letter to the Faculty Association representative, and I asked a friend and ally who is a lawyer to look at it too. Both of them agreed that it was threatening and heavy handed. My lawyer friend helped me find some compassion.

“There is no case law about this, no one wants to be the first” she said, “they’re frightened”. And they’ll throw me under the bus, sure as shootin’, if I step over the line to ask questions or offer a critique.

it’s not true that there is, (as he said in his letter), no hierarchy of rights or value. Gender identity is like religious or political belief — they are subjective. It’s fine for example, to critique Catholicism, or Marxism, or even post-modernism. But heaven forbid anyone should even question gender ideology. Which is a big shift from even five years ago.

Anyway, with the help of my lawyer friend and my Faculty Association friend, I wrote the head of the department a letter in reply to his letter. Here’s an excerpt:

I am writing in response to your letter of September 27th, which aimed to clarify your interpretation of the department’s expectations of instructors with respect to teaching and sections of BC Human Rights Code.

I would like to assure you that I understand there is so far almost no case law by which we can understand and interpret the new protected grounds of ‘gender identity’, and everyone (no matter where you stand in regard to your analysis of the merits or otherwise of this characteristic as protected) is kind of on tenterhooks about how to behave. As I have told you each time we have met, the students in my classes bring up the topic of gender identity every year. I do not bring it up, but once it’s in the room, I must, because of my political beliefs and pedagogical commitments, offer a feminist analysis of this form of identity politics.

This characteristic, “gender identity” is pretty subjective, as is political belief and religion. Unlike other protected grounds such as sex, race, ethnicity, these more subjectively defined protected grounds may be interpreted as in contradiction with each other. It seems that [our university] does interpret the relative importance of these protected grounds, as even asking questions about gender identity, or criticizing the ideology that informs this identity is subject to censure. Religion is also a protected characteristic. Yet there are many examples when it is entirely appropriate to invite students in the teacher education program to engage in critical analysis and expect challenging questions of some of the teachings of various religious traditions and organizations. […] I’m sure you would not prohibit, or warn an instructor away from offering students a criticism of ideologies or thought of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Marxism. Indeed, [our university] has been quite public about its criticism of the religious instruction offered to students of the law program at [___], a private Christian university [we’ll call it PCU from now on].

So, in this sense, your statement in the fourth paragraph, “…there exists no hierarchy of importance or value” is not the way I see [our university] interpret the relative standing of prohibited grounds, in light of its position on [PCU] Law School graduates.

Also, and with due respect, I would like to draw your attention to Section 13 of the BC Human Rights Code which states:

(1) A person must not

(a) refuse to employ or refuse to continue to employ a person, or

(b) discriminate against a person regarding employment or any term or condition of employment

because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or because that person has been convicted of a criminal or summary conviction offence that is unrelated to the employment or to the intended employment of that person. (http://www.bclaws.ca/Recon/document/ID/freeside/00_96210_01#section13–emphasis added).

I don’t think it is unreasonable of me to interpret your letter as a form of censure of my expression of political belief, and therefore could be considered a contravention of Section 13 of the BC Human Rights code. Certainly, case law on competing rights is constantly evolving and we cannot predict outcomes with certainty. […]

I have never denied a student entry into my class for any reason, nor discriminated against them. I am not contravening the new law when I suggest that perhaps a student who is firmly invested in their beliefs (about gender-identity, Christianity, or any political or religious belief that may be scrutinized in the classroom) may be more comfortable with an instructor who will not question or criticize these beliefs. Indeed, when I was a student, I would sometimes not enroll in courses because I knew I would find the professor’s politics distasteful or offensive. In the case you spoke to me about, the class in which the student was enrolled is over-subscribed, and there are many sections of the same course available at the same time. In other words, I did not deny her access to the class, (in fact I told the associate dean that I would certainly teach students who identify as transgender, you may remember that exchange), and she had many other options from which to choose when she decided to change classes.

I will not teach something that I find abhorrent. If you decide that I am not to offer a feminist critique of transgender ideology, or a feminist analysis of the social construction of gender, then I will advise my students that we will not be discussing that topic in any of my classes. It pains me to do that, but I won’t agree to offer only one view of this issue, and I think that I would not be acting with integrity were I to act as if the ideology promoted in the university is beyond criticism.

In conclusion, please be assured that I have the utmost respect for the people in my classes, and I am committed to providing my best to them in terms of instruction, investigation, opportunity to explore difficult and challenging material, and expectations for their success. We do not have to agree about anything, but I hope everyone has the opportunity to express their thought and emotion and to stay together through discomfort as we develop new understanding together.

The response the head of the department sent was merely, “thank you for sharing your response”. I don’t know if he even read it.  So now, we’ll see if they will offer me any more work in the spring or next fall. I love teaching. I love teaching in this program, but I don’t like the constant and increasing scrutiny and thought-policing to which we’re subjected.

Fortunately, I am now a certified personal trainer, so if this whole under-paid, insecure sessional gig does dry up, I have a plan B — under-paid, insecure personal trainer. At least barbells and kettlebells don’t have a gender identity. yet, anyway.

sigh.

 

Statement about “gender identity”

I-dentity (aka trans) politics is fundamentally LIBERTARIAN and individualistic. It is ahistorical and acontextual. It essentializes sex stereotypes by renaming them consensual “gender identities.” It legitimizes and makes invisible  power structures that give rise to female oppression. It is anti-feminist.

[via UP; also posted by Cathy Brennan, Gallus Mag, NoAnodyne, Sargasso Sea, Smash, LuckyNkl, satisaudaci, gorilerof4b, saltnpepa10, iameatingblueberries, Allecto]

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.

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

Posted on

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**

Talking to Zero

I was on Davie street last night, and i started to stick a “buying sex is not a sport” sticker onto the sandwich board outside one of those sextoy and peep show shops. I just get angry when i see the silhouette of a woman advertising these sex shop places– long fluffy hair, big sticky-outty boobs, teeny waist, ass stuck out at kind of an odd angle, and stiletto heels–c’mon. like, really? how do we KNOW that’s a representation of a woman, really? ’cause no  woman I know looks like that, even back-lit.

anyhow. so i stuck a sticker on her head. and this big scary lookin’ guy comes outta the shop. he’s got this little red beard, and round-ish glasses, and a kind of faux-hawk and black shorts and a black long-sleeved t-shirt on. i remember a wallet chain coming out of his pocket and piercings here and there. He’s only  a little taller than me, but he’s pretty broad. Big forearms. and he’s MAD. he starts peeling the sticker off, so i smooth it down, and then he smacks my hand away. Like i’m a little kid with her hand in the cookie dough, not hard, just a smack, you know. And i say, “hey, man, be gentle.” He starts yelling, he’s really mad at me for putting this sticker on his sign.He says, “What do you think you’re doing??”

I say, “you’re making money off the degradation of women”

“How do you figure that?” (he’s still shouting) “Degradation of women, we sell dildoes, too, is that degrading to men?”

“well, yes, as a matter of fact–this whole industry–it’s degrading to women, it dehumanizes men–you know, it makes men lousy lovers, porn does”.  That’s a line I heard once from a lover of mine. She often came out with these pithy, smart statements.

He looks disgusted, he calls me narrow-minded, he says, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, all you’re doing is spewing this stuff, you don’t have any evidence–come inside, come talk to me about this–”

“Ah, I got my bike…” I don’t really want to talk to him. I’m kind of afraid, and I want to make a good argument, I don’t feel confident, though I know what i’m talking about sometimes it’s difficult to be articulate.

“bring it in” he says. So. I do.

The shop is bright, the dominant colour is pink. the walls lined with female mannequin torsos dressed in bikinis and boas, i see a maid’s uniform (but not a sensible one) and leopard print lingerie. there’s a rack of jars with various coloured gels and pink penises in shrink-wrap hanging on the wall. There are pictures of women, white women mostly, “provocatively” posed, advertising lubes and gels and toys of various sorts. A jar of condoms on the front counter.

He yells at me that i am trying to restrict people’s choices, “you people” he calls me. “you gotta give me proof–I am doing people some good, here.” He tells me that women come in and ask for things that will  help them with their sex life, with their husbands and then a few weeks later, they’ll return and thank him for saving their marriage. He doesn’t say anything about men coming in asking about how to please their wives, how to save their marriages…funny. I don’t think to point this out to him.

I say, “you know, it’s not just about “choice”–how do we know what of the things we do are free choices, and what come from reacting to constraint? Look at the increasing sexualization of children, of EVERYONE–we are being reduced to our orifices–in the case of women–and you’re right, it’s degrading to men too–you are nothing but a cock, and I’m a cunt. I’m not willing to put up with it.”

He is not satisfied, of course. He asks if I knew anyone in the sex industry.

I think of the women I know from the drop-in. The young ones who are addicted now, who sway on the street corners near the port–the brassy middle-aged woman who teases me about lingerie–the Aboriginal women who take handfuls of condoms and stuff them into their purses before heading out at closing time. I think of the women who have told me stories about their childhoods–being beaten with jumper cables, being passed around from father to uncle to cousin; I think of the women who worked dancing in bars who tell me about men following them to their hotel rooms, and the names the men call them and their strategies to protect themselves–

And I say to the man, I say, “Yes, I do as a matter of fact. Many women, and of those women, there is not one who would be there if she had other choices–and they say that  it is really difficult for them to make healthy sexual intimate partnerships outside of the industry.

Of course, he knows a girl (that’s what he called her, a girl) who is a sex worker (that’s what he called her, too–a sex worker), and she’s never been raped or assaulted, and she loves her job and she makes lots of money, she has a very healthy sex life with her boyfriend. I said, sure, you can find women who say they choose it, and they like it, and it’s all working for them. But ask again after they have been out for a few years.

He said that not everyone who’s been raped has a bad sex life, he said he himself had been raped as a child, sexually abused, and he had a healthy sex life with his wife. I said that’s good, and i’m sorry that some man had hurt him and i kept repeating, if we were equal, we wouldn’t even think of using this stuff, we would have talk instead of toys, we could imagine exciting fulfilling sex that didn’t depend upon silicone and botox and pictures of unreal women–

“It’s not just women,” he shouted, “men too, there are lots of women who come in here for toys to enjoy with their husbands”

Sometimes i’m inarticulate in the face of defensiveness like his. he tells me that he’s worked his whole adult life in the sex industry, and he tells me that I am unrealistic, “do you know how much money the sex industry makes?” Yes, i know. I know it’s huge. I know all that. but I also know that we must push back, we have to interfere with the demand, we have to not put up with it…

I said ‘interfere with demand’ and he heard, ‘ deny people choices’. I said, “equality” and he said, “there’s no such thing, you think there is, but there isn’t, and there can’t be”. I said, “i don’t agree. Why settle for this?”

He said, “it’s not just women who are objectified, and it’s not just men who are my customers” . I said, “Oh yea? look at your own store–in the window, women’s bodies, on your sign outside, a woman’s body, along the walls, womens’ bodies, pictures of women on your walls, on the packaging, and sexualized representations of women–

“look” he finally said, “I agree with you, and I would never sell anything I thought was degrading, I help people, I help people make choices…You people want to take peoples choices away”

“Lookit” I say to him, “I am not blocking the door, I am not saying people can’t come in here, I don’t have the power to do that, and I don’t even want to. I want people to make different choices, that’s all. I want people to think about what they are doing, think about where their choices come from, think about the consequences of their actions–” I didn’t say, but I thought of it after, “and I want you and other men to know that there are other ways to be masculine, to be a man”

Sometime in there, he says, “I got offered a job running an escort agency last year, and I said, ‘okay, if you can guarantee that the girls are there by choice, and they’re fine with it, and happy and have their shit together…”

I guess he didn’t get that guarantee.

another time he says, “i’ve never paid for sex, I think it should be something between two people, who have a relationship, and know each other”

But he still sells porn, he sells women through the peep shows at the back. Two bits for the peep show.

He says to me, “look, I get guys coming in here for GHB, lots of guys, mostly Asian, to be honest, and they’re not from here. I explain to them that we don’t do that here, that’s not how we treat people, it’s wrong and against the law. I won’t sell that stuff. But I know they’ll get it somewhere else, I know that.” I can tell. He thinks I’m idealistic and naive.

Maybe. But I am not despairing.

I’m trying to recreate our conversation. But I can’t remember now, not exactly. I finally left because I had to go, and I could tell we were not going to agree. But I gave him a sticker, I said, “look it up”

buyingsexisnotasport.com

And I thanked him for asking me to come in to talk.

I liked him.

He shook my hand at the end and said, “My name’s Zero”

I said, “my name’s Erin. Thanks for inviting me in. Be well, Zero”

Really? his name is Zero? as in “nothing” or as in, “infinite”?