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Because we are girls — the movie (and other women)

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It was a sunny afternoon in late April. I was out walking with one of the men I work with. Near the treatment centre, near the hospital. As we passed the pharmacy, I saw a young woman sitting beneath a tree. She looked at me and recognition came across her face, and she gave me a big open grin. She looked familiar and I smiled back and nodded. Then she got up and followed.

She said, “I think you taught a class I was in”. Then I recognized her. She was in a class I taught during my last semester with the teacher education program in UBC. The semester that was especially busy, and especially difficult. We exchanged names, she said she had run into a rough patch and was going to finish her course work this summer, but she was teaching. She wasn’t happy, she said, and she didn’t like the education system. I empathised — “that’s for sure. I’m glad you’re teaching, though” — She shrugged as we went our separate ways, raised a fist half-heartedly and said she would sooner be taking the system down.

I know some of her story. She’s very smart, and has had a number of challenges — because she was a smart girl, and she was, it seemed, alone for a lot of her life. She faced significant losses without enough loving around her. She had some, though — a woman who befriended her and saw her potential. And a teacher who encouraged her. She looked like she remembered me as a support, an ally. She didn’t immediately remember that she had supported other students’ complaints against me, (probably lodged one herself, I don’t know). Maybe she remembers now; but when we met, she registered me as a friend. That’s good. I am.

On Friday night, we went to see Because We Are Girls, a feature documentary of the Vancouver DOXA festival. It was SO GOOD. It’s about three sisters from a South Asian family in a small resource-based town in BC. All of them were sexually abused by an older family member. They didn’t tell until they were young adults. Their parents didn’t know what to do, and because they were girls, the parents warned them to stay away from their abuser — they didn’t sanction him. But they love their girls, and they raised them to be powerful, even though… Now these powerful women are together and loving and angry and wounded and fighting back. Together. The sisters, their parents, and a good deal of their family were in the audience. The sisters and the director had a discussion on the stage after the movie. They were every bit as strong, smart and lovely in real life as they were in the documentary. I was hopeful as we left to go home. Inspired.

As we walked through downtown, we saw a woman in her 30s crossing the street. She had short sticky-uppy hair and a thousand-mile stare. With an iron grip, she held a liquor bottle with a couple of shots sloshing about inside. We turned to watch her walk down the street — both weaving and tense at the same time. As we turned to watch her, we saw another friend of ours coming from the movie. We walked together to her bus. We talked about the movie again and the challenges women face. We all know, first-hand from our experiences as women, and as women working within “institutions of power” that women’s lives and stories are rarely attended to, or taken seriously.

Our friend is a lawyer, my partner is a nurse, I was a professor. Law, Medicine, Education. All of them designed to protect the interests of the powerful and reproduce inequality. But at the same time, all of them can be utilized (in some ways) by and for the subordinated classes to gain power and freedom. That’s great and that’s part of the trouble. Our lawyer friend pointed out that students these days are encouraged to do what they are told is “speaking truth to power” — but it isn’t. They are set up to undermine teachers, parents, other students, in the name of “inclusivity and diversity”. And that kind of manipulation sets them against their natural allies — isolates them. Renders them harmless to the REALLY powerful. Like my former student — she’s not doing well, and she was set up for failure by my supervisors. We were not allowed to figure out how to understand each other. We were both forced into our respective corners. Natural allies separated from each other.

When we parted, my girlfriend and I walked along Granville Street on our way home. It’s been a LONG time since I walked along Granville Street on a weekend night. It was PACKED. we passed a disheveled young woman screaming at no one and everyone, whirling about waving her arms in the air. A man lurched into an intersection against the light and got as far as the centre line. He stopped, teetering on his feet and a very expensive car roared in front of him, horn blaring. He kept his head down, stuck his arm up and turned almost graceful to give the speeding car the finger. Young people in fancy stupid shoes and shiny suits tight dresses perfect hair thronged around nightclub entrances. One of the entrances featured the picture of a handsome South Asian man — He’d been killed in a fight in front of that club last year. He tried to break it up. Now there’s a picture “In Memoriam” and that’s it that’s all. At a corner in all this mayhem stood a young Black woman with a microphone and an amp. She sang a song of hope and redemption — something about light. Her soaring contralto cut through the screaming the roaring the hubbub and dirt. The dark night sky was lit by her voice.

We walked home over the bridge. We passed more young women in low cut dresses and high high shoes; young men with gleaming hair and designer biceps; clumps of grubby kids clustered together feigning bravado; shiny fast 2-million-dollar cars slicing through the teeming streets; the very rich and the very poor living in alternate universes right next to each other.

it was late when we got home, but we had a cup of tea anyway.

it’s been so long. everything has changed, and not much has changed.

Hello, Gentle Readers,

here in this small, secret space that is my blog, we’re crammed together reading and writing away. If you’re reading this, you are among a small number of people who found me and asked to come in to read. Prior to the fall of 2017, anyone who stumbled across this could just come over and have a chat. Figuratively speaking.

Then things got a bit chilly over here, (due to the actions of my previous employer), and I had to close the doors. You can read about it, it’s not far back in the history of this blog, and I’ve barely added anything over the past year. I’ll tell you what’s happened since, though.

From May 2011 to December 2017, I taught, first as a teaching assistant, then as a sessional lecturer, in UBC’s teacher education program. In the spring of 2017, some colleagues nominated me for a prestigious teaching prize. I didn’t win, but one the adjutants wrote to tell me that I had a strong nomination and it was obvious that I was an effective educator. A credit to the school.

hahahahaha.

That didn’t last, as you know. From the summer to the end of the 2017-2018 winter term, I was relentlessly surveilled by a few of my students, arguably at the behest (or at least with tacit encouragement from) the dean of education, his minions — including the previously mentioned adjutant — an assistant dean, and other faculty (one in particular who was responsible for promoting trans ideology to public schools). That last guy encouraged students to come to him with complaints about me that he offered to then forward, anonymously, to the teacher education office.

The gist of the complaints was that my opinion that humans are a sexually dimorphic species was transphobic and potentially harmful to students; also unscientific. I said in class that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not the same. I said it was appropriate to refer to people by the pronouns that indicate their sex. I said that children are naturally curious about themselves and each other, and certainly may display tastes and behaviours usually ascribed to the opposite sex. This does not mean they are ‘born in the wrong body’. My students learned in other classes that the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed until we reach our mid-twenties, so decisions that we make before that age, or beliefs that we hold, may change drastically in a short period of time. Nevertheless, they were also taught that children somehow know that they are ‘trans’ inside from a very young age. So it was jarring to these students who believed they heard bigotry when I and some of their classmates suggested that perhaps young people need a lot of space and guidance to explore who they may become. To say “No one is born in the wrong body” was considered particularly egregious by some people in the university. People with power included.

I knew they would not hear ideas like this anywhere else in the program. My students, most of them, were relieved to have a space to speak of their reservations and confusion about this new trend to ‘transgender’ children. A few, however, appeared to think that even questioning the ideology (as promoted in the school board’s ‘sexual orientation and gender identity — SOGI–policy) was bigoted and harmful. In these times, disagreement is seen as disrespect.  Now, when students are uncomfortable about confronting ideas that are unfamiliar or unpleasant to them, they are encouraged to express outrage, not argument. Those who found an invitation to consider critiques and alternatives to transgender ideology unsettling went to the dean’s office and said they found me hateful.

I remember when i was a young woman, just discovering political activism. Glenn Babb, then the South African Ambassador to Canada, came to speak at my university. There were a few of us then who were budding “social justice warriors”. We would take up causes, without necessarily knowing anything much about them. We knew more about apartheid than we did about the residential schools. But we did know that Apartheid was modeled on Canada’s Indian Reservation system and the Indian Act. We went everywhere he was to speak and shouted so loud and long that he could not be heard at all. There were some African students, I remember, who wanted to hear what he had to say, but we didn’t listen to them. We shouted him down. I heard him speak about that time a few months ago on the radio. He seemed to me to be not much regretful about the system of which he was a part.

About ten years later, I was part of a (not very– but certainly more than the present) feminist collective at the Vancouver Status of Women. We were organizing a 20th anniversary celebration and had invited some of the founding members to speak. During our planning meetings, one of the women in our group told us that one of those women we had invited — a founder — had said something racist at a public event she had attended. I don’t know what she said, but, even though I knew little about the woman who leveled the accusation, I decided she must be right. We all did. So we un-invited the founder. I was chosen to deliver the news. I was a ‘good ally’, I supposed. When a woman of colour says something is racist, she’s right. Even though I didn’t have all the information, i did as i was asked. I was uncomfortable about it then, and I’m regretful still. I didn’t have the guts to ask for more details; or tell any of the other women about my discomfort and concern. I’m still embarrassed about that.

So, you know, I have some sympathy for the young people, the students who are swept up in the current ideological tsunami calling for ‘trans inclusion’ at the expense of women-only spaces. I remember that I had misgivings both of those times, and I was afraid to speak up. There was no room, in either of those situations, to say, “wait a minute, can we talk about this a bit more?” . There is no such room anywhere; not in the university, or at city hall, or ‘institutions of power’ in general, to stand your ground, or even ask questions. A number of students contacted me throughout the year to say they appreciated that I made space in my class (just once or twice, really, I had very little room to move) to discuss this. “We’re confused about it,” said one young woman, “I took a degree in sociology here, and we were not allowed to talk about it at all — it was ‘transwomen are women’ and no questions asked.” She didn’t know what to think about it, really, but she was glad to have had at least a moment when there was some light on the subject. Some open space into which they could discuss their concerns and ask questions.

I’ve got a new job now. UBC paid me a settlement and I resigned. I don’t really belong in an institution (I said that to my cousin in Saskatchewan last summer and she didn’t miss a beat, “oh yes you do”). Now I work at an addictions treatment centre. People come to get free of their addictions to drugs and alcohol. It’s much, MUCH different than teaching. More about relationships and discovering our shared humanity. It’s very hard work. And exhilarating. I’m going back to school, too. I have this PhD and all, but I need something different. A praxis of counselling.

Story of my life, eh. I spent nearly 20 years mocking academics before I became one — and it’s been at least that long also taking the piss out of therapy and so forth — and look at me go. Never too old for lessons in humility, I guess, eh?

Just yesterday I remembered a conversation I had with one of my students late in the semester my last year at UBC. He told me that my class was his favourite class; he really enjoyed the content and my teaching. “This is not the case for some of my classmates” he said. As I knew. He said that people talked about me in other classes, and not kindly. He related it to his relationship with his dad. They had some fundamental political disagreements. He was Jewish, and he and his dad were at odds over Israel and Palestine. They hadn’t talked in a long time. I expressed sorrow for him about this rift. I couldn’t imagine being estranged from my parents — that was a fear for me when I became a lesbian. He said it was sad, yes, but it got him out of the house, in the end, and propelled him to adulthood. So in a way, he was grateful.

I thought of that conversation on my way to work the other day. Leaving teaching–leaving UBC — was like leaving family. I belonged for most of the 15 years I spent there. I thought I did, anyway. I was wrong, obviously. It was great. I enjoyed grad school, and PhD school, I really did. I’m not great at research, but I loved the thinking and discussing and the presentations — giving and hearing them. Also, i’m a pretty good teacher, and I kept on because I thought, you know, I could teach a few courses a year, write a bit, work out every other day, do some shifts at my favourite feminist rape crisis centre, and have this life I had. A little teaching a little activism, a little rabble rousing here and there — until retirement or what have you…

But there is a cost to activism. Not that I really did any. After all, you can’t be part of the system you know you must subvert. What was I thinking? That I could continue to teach with integrity in an institution that exists to reproduce structures of domination and subordination? Every year, that’s what I told my students: “you are part of a system that functions to reinforce and reproduce the dominion of the powerful. You may make a difference in the lives of individual people, but you’re not going to address oppression in any meaningful way”. I said that. And I carried on as if I was throwing a spanner into the works, as if I was part of changing the system. Bullshit. I had no allies among the faculty — how could I have had, without working to organize? Of course I failed. I didn’t even begin. That was short-sighted of me.

By the time they were on to me, summer of 2017, it was too late. My academic career was already over (as if I’d ever started). The dean of the faculty, the associate dean, the head of the department — they harassed and surveiled me for the rest of the year. They encouraged another faculty member to gather ‘evidence’ from students about me. He was happy to do so. I was backed into a corner, and I was defensive. Two of my colleagues advised me to keep my mouth shut, that there were things they did not say, either. That I was too good at teaching for the school to lose me, and I would not be able to stay if I kept this up.

I was not politic about it at all. In the end, I have landed in a better place. And I am, like the young man who spoke to me at the end of the last term, grateful. I was anxious all year, and not so happy as i tried to appear. I wish I had the courage to try to organize with my colleagues — or at least to walk away earlier — when I still had a voice and a good reputation. I wish it had been my decision. I stayed too long. I was pretty shaken up, too. It was a very difficult year, that last one.

I tell you what. This is the end of this blog post. I started it last year sometime, and I haven’t posted it because I was in the middle of it all until recently — and my new job has been completely consuming. Plus, I’ve been coaching at a little barbell gym — when I lost my teaching work, the man who coaches me gave me some work. He’s been utterly loyal and generous — even when there was some threat that my political stance might have an adverse affect on his business. Anyway, so i’ve had two jobs since last summer, both of them a bit insecure for different reasons, and no time for writing. I hope to post more now, especially as I’m going to stop working at the gym. I am yearning to write, and to become more creative again. Between (anti) social media and the thumping the university gave me, i’m not as confident as I was. Downright scared, really.

who isn’t? So here. the first post of 2019, four-and-a-half months in. Here we go…

Menstruator, and other words that rhyme with ‘hate her’ – ~Irischild

Irischild has a gift for rhyming and truth, eh?

Dead Wild Roses

Menstruator, and other words that rhyme with ‘hate her’

if you wish to be inclusive
please amend your language usage
‘woman’ has now been disabled
this is how you shall be labelled:

ovulator, menstruator, gestator, incubator
procreator, lactator, child-curator, care-taker
homemaker, meal-maker, vacuum-cleaner-operator
titillator, conciliator, erotic-roleplay-stimulator

if a woman should resist
any title from this list
please ensure her full compliance
here is how to squash defiance:

moderate, invalidate, ensure that you re-educate her
irritate her, frustrate her, make sure you exasperate her
do berate her, denigrate her, obviously you castigate her
deprecate her, do deflate her, tell her you depreciate her

dominate, humiliate, and certainly manipulate her
subjugate, domesticate, and if you can, you abnegate her
penetrate her, impregnate her, all her life administrate her
regulate, incarcerate, and you shall incapacitate her

violate her, desecrate her, let your actions devastate her
decorate her, mutilate her, crush her and debilitate…

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A Radical Feminist Manifesto – And We Are Not Ashamed.

Listening2Lesbians mourns loss of Lisa Mallett

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A great loss. An inspiring example. Goodbye, Lisa Mallett.

Listening to Lesbians

Lisa&Chillibean

We are devastated at listening2lesbians to announce the death of Lisa Mallett, passionate advocate for lesbians around the world and co-runner of L2L. Lisa was the beloved partner of Liz Waterhouse, Listening2Lesbians founder and co-runner with Ari Miller.

Lisa worked to improve lesbian visibility and had long term plans to increasingly serve the worldwide community of lesbians.

Lisa’s death is a terrible personal blow and a loss to the community she will no longer be able to support as she so passionately intended.

We will continue Lisa’s legacy through our work and hope you continue to support us through this.

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Let’s Play – Identity Politics…

I’m not brave enough (no pun intended!!) to post this to crackbook….

Dead Wild Roses

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Okay! the wait is over.

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Oh, of course the Christmas Ceasefire wasn’t a ceasefire at all.  did I post about that? In November, when the dean of education summoned me, then decided he didn’t want to meet me after all, but just left me hanging? I don’t think I got around to posting that. Anyway,  it was only a moment of silence. I went to the office of the head of the department on March 1st to ask which courses I would be teaching in the summer.

The answer is:

0

“until further notice” the head of the department said. Under direction from the dean of the faculty of education. There were no disciplinary actions, no investigation as far as I’m aware – beyond some flunky, (I think) searching around the internet a little bit and finding evidence of my evil harmfulness. The dean is punishing me by not offering me any courses to teach until further notice.

I was not surprised. But I was mad as a wet cat. Livid.

Also, to be honest, tiny bit relieved. At least I know now, that they’ve made a move. And I can make a move. I went to the faculty association. I REALLY wanted to go to the Dean’s office, and give him a piece of my mind. He’s always rabbiting on about social justice and equity and fucking diversity and shit. Then he pulls the rug out from under the working-class, middle-aged lesbian sessional instructor. That’s all social justicey, isn’t it?

Ya. I thought so, too. So I’m going to make a complaint through BC Human Rights on the basis of political beliefs, which is a protected grounds of discrimination, as is sex as is gender identity. And some other things. But these three, these are the ones we’re going to have to wrestle over.

I went to talk to the woman at the Faculty Association, like I said, and she said that in her conversations with colleagues, that they’ve offered her criticisms about some of the items in the letter I sent to the head of the department in the fall. He’d sent me a heavy-handed, bullying kind of letter in the fall and I responded. In his letter, he said that I was not allowed to suggest that if a student didn’t like the instructor, they could choose another section. My reply went something like, “well, the course was over-subscribed, there were a million sections offered at the same time, actually, sure they could find another section. If they didn’t want their political beliefs or opinions or ideas challenged, go find someone else.”

One of my advocate’s colleagues said, “well, that’s like telling Rosa Parks she should’ve sat on a different seat”. Which I thought was ridiculous, simplistic and completely inaccurate at the time. But I couldn’t quite articulate it as well then as later. so, once i thought about it a bit, I wrote her this:

“I’ve been thinking (Okay, obsessing a little bit) about that comparison your colleague made between saying a student could pick a different section and saying Rosa Parks could’ve picked another seat on the bus — and the more I think about it, the more offensive it is.

“1) Rosa Parks was jailed for sitting down on the bus. I never once  suggested anyone in my classes (that student or anyone else) would be punished for taking a view that was different from mine, and i never asked the student to leave the class, or go sit somewhere else, or suggest I would take action against her for taking my class.

“2). Rosa Parks was part of an organization, and a political liberation movement. Her action was carefully planned and part of a larger vision and set of strategies to achieve freedom. She knew she was likely to get arrested, and she and her group decided that she would be the one to take the risk to sit down on the bus. The student who complained about me, misquoted me and switched sections is mad  because I think something different than she thinks. She is claiming an “Identity”, she is not acting on behalf of an organized social movement committed to liberation — rather she is acting to bring sanction against anyone who would question the veracity of her ideas about sex and gender. it’s completely different.

“and finally,

“3). this is an egregious insult to Rosa Parks and to the civil rights movement organizers of the 60s. People were murdered for their political views. I have never once threatened or insulted anyone who is trans or believes that gender is innate, or who disagrees with me. On the other hand, I am facing the loss of my livelihood, damage to my reputation, and potential barriers to future employment as an educator.”

dammit.

I don’t know what to do now. But I’m going to finish the semester, file the human rights complaint. Meet with the dean if he decides to do that, and open a discussion with other sessional faculty in the department. And then I’ll find some work where I can stretch out a bit – teach, collaborate, organize, write, — I don’t know where, yet, I don’t know what. But I don’t belong in a university, that’s pretty clear. They need more like me, but they sure don’t want more like me.

Ah well. There are lots of places I can work. You know how it is, though, right? when you’ve been at a place so long, you can’t imagine where else to go, what else to do? Even if that place kicked the shit out of your creativity, and you were lonely there most of the time, and you didn’t really ever get a sense of completion? Do you know how that is?

I do. Time for a new thing. Even if I’m frightened.