Posts Tagged ‘misogyny’

What does it mean to walk the walk? Were you there for SlutWalk 2012?

July 26, 2012

Over the last few months various “SlutWalks” have taken place across Canada, with some still on the agenda for the immediate future. These events have gained popularity since last year when they began over a flippant sexist comment made by an ignorant police officer, and organizers hope to make the marches annual events. The disgusting and offensive comment was made in Toronto by Constable Jackass Michael Sanguinetti who stated the following:
“women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Shockingly, this did not go over well with the public the good Constable was assigned to serve and protect. Many were outraged at the blatant attitude of victim blaming within police services this statement represented. Two Toronto women, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis organized an event that brought thousands of women and men to protest in the streets of Toronto and in front of police headquarters to demand accountability for their attitudes towards women and victims of sexual assault. They called it SlutWalk. Since then, SlutWalks have been organized in many other cities in Canada, the US and around the world. Some cities, such as the one I live in (Vancouver), have already had the pleasure experiencing round 2, SlutWalk 2012. These events are carefully planned, with organizers regularly updating websites, twitter feeds, facebook sites etc. Some websites even allow supporters to donate money through the site to cover organizational costs. Many of the websites outline their own mission statements, values and goals which are generally congruent with each other and adapted from the “original” SlutWalk Toronto website.

The SlutWalk Toronto website, (www.slutwalktoronto.com), lists among their main goals advocacy against “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming”. From the website: “Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation……so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated…….We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault…..We want to feel that we will be respected and protected should we ever need them, but more importantly be certain that those charged with our safety have a true understanding of what it is to be a survivor of sexual assault — slut or otherwise…….Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don’t have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come……Join us in our mission to spread the word that those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, without exception.”

On May 25 in Toronto about 1000 people took to the streets for SlutWalk 2012. The theme was “My Body is not an Insult”, however without any background information, a casual observer would be hard pressed to decipher a clear message from the diverse group of protesters who participated in the event/spectacle. Both women and men attended and were dressed in attire that ranged from the conservative (think business attire and even nuns habits) to lingerie. Some left most of their clothing at home choosing instead to go topless. Protesters displayed slogans everywhere from man made signs to t-shirts to bare flesh. Some phrases were clever and original while remaining moderate, relevantly bringing attention to the need for all of society to realize that the sexually victimized are never to blame under any circumstances.
“A dress is not a yes!”

“My dress doesn’t have a mouth but I do and I said  NO!”

“There is no Y-E-S in NO!”

Other statements were just crude with some making one wonder which side of the debate these people were really on.

“Sluts say yes” (Yes, this is for real. No, I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.)

“There’s no shaming this slut!”

“We’re taking slut back!” (Did we ever have it?)

“I’ll f**k just about anything, but only with consent.”

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Listen, I get the spirit of these protests. I was angry too when I heard Constable Sanguinetti’s statements. I agree that society has a way to go in the way that we view the victims of sexual assault. Sadly, opinions such as Sanguinetti’s are all too common. Women are often thought to have “asked for it” based on their style of dress, current or prior sexual escapades, line of work or attitude. Women get the message they should watch what they wear for fear of inciting rape when we should really be sending the message to men instead that raping a woman is never OK. It is especially unfortunate that those perfectly positioned to enable them to provide protection to those who have been victimized or who are most vulnerable would hold such misogynistic ideas. And it’s not just the police. In 2011 Manitoba Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar gave Kenneth Rhodes a conditional sentence instead of any jail time for a 2006 rape because he felt the victim sent signals that “sex was in the air” since she wore a tube top with no bra, high heels and lots of makeup, and flirted with Mr. Dewar before he forced himself on her on a dark highway. Justice Dewar said “This is a case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behavior.” From his ridiculous sentencing it is unclear whether he meant he felt Mr. Rhodes (whom he referred to as a “clumsy Don Juan”) was inconsiderate for raping the victim or the victim was inconsiderate for being such a cock tease. But don’t worry, the judge redeemed himself by adding “I’m sure whatever signals were sent that sex was in the air were unintentional,” Well at least he realizes the woman   didn’t MEAN to ask to get raped. The mentality behind this type of injustice is infuriating. But I still can’t bring myself to back the SlutWalk movement.

I support the SlutWalk mission to bring attention to the mentality of victim blaming wholeheartedly and to try to change this. But ending slut shaming? Taking the word slut back? Calling myself a slut? You see, this is where the whole movement loses momentum with me. I don’t want to be called a slut, or any other derogatory term used to degrade and belittle women. The participants in SlutWalk seem to believe that by reclaiming the word ‘slut’ for themselves they are embracing and owning their sexual independence. I call bullshit. Regardless of whether you call yourself a slut or a prude or any other term used to sexually oppress women, you are really just giving more power and validity to these misogynistic words which have been used for decades or centuries in some cases to attack, shame, and demoralize women. It is not feminism to conform exactly to the chauvinist idea of “sluttish” and to do it of your own accord in an effort to show the world that you are in control of your body and your sexuality.  Why would a woman want to proudly march in her skivvies with the word SLUT emblazened across her chest and be proud to bear this title which for so long has been used as a weapon thrown at women to punish them for their sexuality? Is this not the exact opposite of what the SlutWalk is trying to accomplish?

I’m going to be staying at home for SlutWalk 2013 in Vancouver. This will be my own silent protest. You should think about joining me.

And it’s a healthy baby……(How much does it matter?)

May 1, 2012

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I have often pondered whether I would rather be a parent to a male or female child. I weigh the types of activities I feel I could perform with these two imaginary children, what kinds of adorable outfits I could dress them up in, the type of bond I would forge with them, the life lessons I would be able to teach them. In gender-equal societies, when a parent has a preference for a particular sex of child, it is usually due to issues such as their perceived ability to socialize and raise boys vs. girls, gender identity issues, ideas about relationships, perceived characteristics of gender, a wish to keep the family name going etc. For me, I ultimately I think about which gender would be most resilient to the mistakes I am bound to make as a mother. Am I more likely to screw up a boy or a girl? I have no reason to think I will be any worse at motherhood than the next gal (other than the fact I forgot to feed my dog twice last week), it is
simply fear of the unknown that drives my insecurity. But in reality if whether fate or chance (whatever you believe) brings me boy or girl, I would be equally elated. Furthermore, I am more than happy to wait until I am in the delivery room to find out if chromosomal mixing means I will be painting the nursery pink or blue. Many choose to find out earlier, to plan accordingly or simply because the suspense is just too much, and technology has made this possible with fetal ultrasound. It is even possible to know the sex of your baby before it is implanted in the case of in vitro fertilization. And with the work that has been done and continues to be done on the human genome project, there is growing potential for testing for various diseases while babies are still in the womb. While technology can be a wonderful thing, it can also have sinister implications. And in the above cases, there is concern that technology has and possibly will be used as a tool to continue misogynistic practices that have been going on for thousands of years. I am referring to the practice of purposely selecting for male offspring.

In Ancient Greece and Rome infanticide was routine and even encouraged. Often babies were simply abandoned, and died of exposure rather than outright murdered, which was considered barbaric. Infants were killed if they had birth defects or medical problems, if the parents could not afford to raise them, or if they were born out of a wedded union or out of incest. Another common reason for infanticide was simply that the baby was female. In 200 BC in Delphi only 1% of the 6 000 families living there had more than one daughter. This practice has occurred in a number of societies throughout history. Theories for why female infanticide may have occurred more often than male infanticide include the fact that males were valued more in society, that the father may want to avoid eventually paying a dowry,  or that if there were too many women in the society their daughter may not marry thus shaming the family and being an economic burden. Most cultures have long since abandoned the practice of female infanticide, but it is still an issue in certain countries, the most notorious being India and China. In rural India census statistics for 1994 indicated there were 929 females to 1000 males which had actually decreased from 1901 data of 972 females to 1000 males. In 1993, 196 girls died of suspicious circumstances. John-Thor Dahlburg, author of the article “Where killing baby girls ‘is not big sin’” in the Los Angeles Times says “Some were fed dry, unhulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death.” What occurs more often today is that female infants are killed before birth by sex-selective abortion. Women can learn the sex of their child through ultrasound or amniocentesis and choose to abort if carrying a daughter rather than a son. Male heirs are greatly preferred. They are considered higher up in the caste system than females. They contribute more to household income through work, and many families in India are very poor. The average civil servant earns $3 500 a year. Furthermore, although outlawed, the payment of a dowry to the groom’s family from the bride’s family is still often practiced in India. This, combined with the cost of the wedding which is also the responsibility of the bride’s family, can be extremely expensive. (Up to $30 000 or more). And if the dowry is deemed insufficient, the woman can then be killed by the groom’s family. In China, female infanticide was rampant before formation of the People’s Republic in 1949 but almost disappeared afterwards until the 1980’s after the “one-child” policy was instituted in 1979 to control the rapidly growing population. By 1997 the WHO issued a report claiming that “more than 50 million women were estimated to be ‘missing’ in China because of the institutionalized killing and neglect of girls due to Beijing’s population control program that limits parents to one child.” The imbalance in the female to ratio also increased drastically, so much so that one study reported by Jonathan Manthorpe estimated 111 million Chinese men would not find a wife. The number of women kidnapped and forced into sex slavery and forced marriages increased. But this hasn’t stopped the rampant female infanticide. China has the highest sex disparity among infants:120 boys for every 100 girls. No one likes to talk about it, but everyone knows it is going on. In China, families can only have one child, with the exception being families in rural communities whose first child is a girl. Chinese culture holds men in higher regard than women. Women have always been victimized, starting with the ancient tradition of foot binding which went on for over 1000 years. Historically, when a woman marries, she is no longer financially responsible for her own parents, only her in-laws, so parents know they will be better cared for if they have a son. Sons will pass on the family lineage, can better provide for the family, are heads of households etc. There are many reasons Chinese parents want their one child to be a boy.

When we hear about these practices that take place in other areas of the world often we turn the other cheek. It doesn’t affect us. This doesn’t happen in industrialized nations like ours. But it does. Currently in Canada it is illegal to use reproductive medicine to select the gender of a child. This is not the case in the US. Recently here in British Columbia a local Indo-Canadian newspaper came under fire when it published an ad for the Washington Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Bellevue which promises to “Create the Family you Want: Boy or Girl” The clinic will tell the parents whether the embryo they have fertilized is a boy or a girl before it is implanted into the mother’s uterus, thus allowing them to decide whether they want to go ahead with implantation. In this way the parents can effectively select the gender of their baby, or at least select against the sex they do not wish to have. The president of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society feels the ad was inappropriate and that they targeted this newspaper because “they know the Indo-Canadian community wants more boys.” On April 16 2012 The Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study confirming previous research showing that the male-to-female ratio for third-born children to women born in India and living in Ontario was higher than the natural rate (136 boys to 100 girls for Indian women vs 105 boys to 100 girls for Canadian-born mothers, close to worldwide average). The lead researcher Dr. Joel Ray states that “these findings are highly unlikely to be due to chance”. The study raises the issue sex-selective abortion which has played a part in other studied high male-female sex ratios in other ethnic groups in Canada.  The results are also similar to other studies performed in the US. Although it is illegal to use reproductive medicine for gender selection, however families can still use sex-selective abortion to ensure they do not have female children. Many hospitals are refusing to reveal fetal sex during ultrasound, or at least withholding the information until the 30th week of gestation when abortion is illegal. However even when this is the case, many private clinics are popping up where parents can learn the sex of their unborn child for a fee.

The real solution is not necessarily preventing women from using the technology available. It is changing their attitudes about the information the technology affords them. We need to work on changing these cultural biases towards males and teach these families the value of women. We need to help these mothers to love, respect and believe in themselves so that they can see that their daughters can be of as much worth to them as their sons. Hopefully one day in all societies the only worry parents will have is whether their children will be happy and healthy.