It’s just common sense: trans* women must be welcome in women’s bathrooms

Republican lawmakers south of the border (at both the federal and state levels) have been unduly concerned about the safety of cis women like me lately. Are they worried that health outcomes for women will be negatively impacted by conservatives’ proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood? Distressed about the ways in which myriad anti-abortion laws across the nation infringe upon women’s rights and may force women into seeking out unsafe, illegal abortions? Are they worried about the gun violence that turns women with abusive partners into prisoners in their own homes, or about the sexual assaults committed on college campuses nation-wide?

Nope. Dear hearts, those sweet old goats in Republican Party have decided that the biggest threat to the safety of women and girls in their great nation is to be found in public restrooms. Public restrooms that, unless these righteous men legislate a means to stop them, will soon be absolutely RIDDLED with pervy dudes dressing up as ladies so they can spy on women using the toilet and listen to them pee. Pervy dudes, who, if they are allowed to use the same washroom as cis women and girls, will almost CERTAINLY assault them. (Note: if a man dressed in men’s clothing sexually assaults a woman in any other location, Republicans are not interested because she probably just has “buyer’s remorse” or shouldn’t have had so much to drink, but don’t worry, the moment that rapist dons a frilly blouse and tries to use the ladies’ room at the food court, the good men of the GOP will HAVE WOMEN’S BACKS).

Of course, in reality, Republicans aren’t legislating against male rapists donning skirts and sneaking into bathrooms. They’re legislating against trans* women, who ARE women (even if their birth certificates might not say so). Never mind that there is virtually ZERO evidence of any sexual assault ever being committed by a trans* person in a U.S. bathroom, or that trans* people are statistically much more likely to need protection from cis people than we are from them. Republicans aren’t trying to protect women. They are trying to keep a small group of women isolated from other women, and isolated from society at large (because if you can’t use a public restroom, activities like going to school, going shopping, attending a theatre or sporting event, or using a gym or swimming pool become just about impossible). It’s not about keeping women safe, it’s about forcing an already severely marginalized group of people back into hiding (many of these laws would also force trans* men to use women’s washrooms, a completely absurd outcome if your stated desire is to keep men OUT of there).

Infographic by Hannah Johnson.

Let’s be blunt: if a man wanted to attack a woman (or girl) in a public restroom, a new law about who can use which bathroom wouldn’t stop him. The little lady silhouette on the door wouldn’t stop him. He certainly wouldn’t bother dressing in women’s clothes to do it because it wouldn’t make his criminal actions any easier for him–sexual assault is already illegal no matter what you’re wearing. So no, this is not about safety. At all.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve EVER noticed when I’m sharing a public restroom with a trans* woman (unless I happen to run into someone I know personally who I know is trans* while I’m washing my hands or whatever). A major reason for this is probably the fact that even in Canada, where laws don’t specifically target trans* people (to the best of my knowledge), many trans* individuals are still not comfortable in and are not made to feel welcome in multi-stall public restrooms, so I probably haven’t had much opportunity. That said, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t notice/haven’t noticed because, like most women, I’m not really in the bathroom to check out other people. When I’m peeing or blowing my nose or having a quick cry on a bad day, what do I care what the lady two stalls down from me has between her legs? How could I possibly know she was trans*, and even if I did, how could that possibly affect me in any way? What does her birth certificate have to do with whatever she’s doing in the bathroom (most likely using the toilet or getting something out of her teeth or just taking a quiet moment for herself like the rest of us)?

How does a trans* woman being allowed to use the women’s restroom impact me whatsoever? The answer is that it doesn’t. And so I feel foolish for even saying, “trans women are welcome to use the same restroom as me” because I shouldn’t even have the power to give that permission in the first place. But since it seems so many socially conservative politicians are concerned about my wellbeing, I want to assure the world: this is okay and nothing bad is going to happen. Women’s restrooms are for women, and since trans* women are women, it’s their restroom too.

 

P.S. I wrote this post specifically about women and women’s bathrooms, since that seems to be the focus of most of the conservative pearl-clutching about toilets and trans* people. However, I am aware that some people are non-binary, meaning they do not identify as either male or female. For this reason, I’m happy to see that many public spaces in my community are renovating/have renovated to provide private, gender-neutral (and accessible) restrooms in addition to multi-stalled gendered facilities. That said, if a public location did not have one of these gender-neutral restrooms and a non-binary individual felt more comfortable in the ladies’ room than the mens’, I’d still like to think that would be fine with me, since, as I said, most people are in the bathroom to do bathroom stuff and I can’t see how this could possibly hurt me.

Fellow White Feminists: Don’t Get Defensive, Get Motivated!

Women’s March on Washington demonstrations were held worldwide on January 21, and in some ways they were very successful (there were more people in DC for the March than for Donald Trump’s inauguration as President the day before, for starters). The event was a rallying cry, a way of saying NO, we are not okay with a pussy-grabbing, reproductive rights-denying, healthcare-repealing, walking ad for rape culture running the show, we do NOT support him, and we will fight him and everything his administration stands for. It was, I believe, only the beginning of a series of demonstrations against the threats to democracy, human rights, and the planet that Trump’s administration represents, demonstrations that I hope will translate into the kinds of concrete actions that right-wing conservative grassroots movements have already shown to be effective: attending “town hall” meetings on important issues. Telephoning (not e-mailing) representatives and lawmakers frequently and continuously and making sure they know what we want. Voting in congressional, provincial, state, and municipal elections. Organizing. Getting shit done and making life difficult for those who do not protect the rights and interests of the people they represent/work for. Onward!

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As we do move forward, however, we, as feminists (and now I’m specifically talking to white, cis feminists) need to take into account the criticisms made by multiple groups of marginalized** women (including women of colour, Indigenous women, trans* women, women with disabilities, homeless women, and sex workers) who, in large or small ways, experienced exclusion and oppression at the Marches. Examples of this kind of exclusion/oppression include white women telling women of colour that they were being too “divisive” when they pointed out that 53% of white women in America voted for Donald Trump, or when white women did not recognize that Indigenous women drumming, dancing, or wearing traditional dress at the Marches were enacting important and sacred parts of a living culture, not a quaint museum piece, or when the organizers of the Vancouver March excluded representatives from Black Lives Matter Vancouver from participating on the organizing committee or speaking at the event (and then removing a thread discussing this exclusion from their Facebook page), or when a white woman on the way to the march in DC tried to block a black woman from entering a crowded train by physically putting her hands on her (and then loudly complaining about the black woman, who needed to go to work and managed to squeeze into the train that obviously DID have room for her after all, throughout the whole ride and making her cry [I read about this incident in a social media thread but am unable to locate the original thread so cannot give the woman credit for her story]).

My point is that white, cis-hetero feminists don’t have a great track record when it comes to the marginalized women whose support we have historically depended on. Though the feminist movements of yore have improved the lives of women in North America through the years, it has often made these gains at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, non-white women (for example, the suffragettes did not demand the vote for ALL women, just WHITE women). Conditions improved for white women long before they began to improve for our marginalized sisters, and the gaps that still exist between my privileges and their positions in society are actually downright embarrassing in a political culture that prides itself on equality.

It’s not really surprising to me that many women from traditionally marginalized communities have decided that enough is enough. They have declared their intent to participate only in feminist movements that are truly intersectional, that recognize the complex webs of privileges and oppressions that are experienced by different women in DIFFERENT ways, rather than support a white feminism that continues to pretend that the interests and experiences of white, cis-hetero women are the norm from which all other needs and experiences deviate. These women are angry, and rightfully so, and it seems we white women can’t take it.

I’ve heard it said that women of colour, for example, are being “divisive” by demanding their rights be addressed, when what we need right now is “unity”. Bullshit. If women of colour have to ignore their legitimate grievances, but white women don’t have to change anything about OUR behaviour or goals, that’s not “unity”, that’s erasure and oppression.

I’ve heard it said that we are facing an unprecedented evil, and that the movement to defeat sexist, fascist Trump-ism in the U.S. and abroad is too important to be derailed by infighting. Damn rights. That’s why white women need to suck it up, confront our issues, and stand in solidarity with our sisters. WE’RE the ones being the problem, not them. Our cause is vital. We cannot allow it to fail because our feelings were hurt when it was pointed out to us that we are not the perfect saviors we thought we were.

I’ve heard it said that the anger being expressed by some marginalized women will “scare away” people getting involved in activism for the first time. I don’t necessarily agree with first-timers being chastised for “not being there before”, because everyone has to start somewhere, but generally speaking, white women are just going to have to grow a thicker skin. Bottom line: if you can’t handle righteous anger, you are not ready for the revolution. Besides, if inequality doesn’t make YOU angry too, what the hell are you marching for?

I get it. The Women’s March on Washington felt good (I wasn’t able to go, but still, it felt good). It felt hopeful. It felt like we were on the right side of history. No one likes to feel uncomfortable or, *gasp!*, guilty about something that may not have been their actual, personal, individual fault (after all, YOU didn’t vote for Trump or harass an African American woman the train, right?). Why did these Other women need to come along and kill your buzz? It’s not fair!

Now, before you cry “Not all white women!”, remember that it doesn’t f*cking matter if not ALL white women. Any feminist movement that allows ANY white woman to treat a woman of colour as less-than, any movement that excludes non-white, non-cis women from its organizing committees and speakers lists, is not part of the solution, it’s just another part of the problem (a more subtle, insidious part).

If you don’t want to feel guilty about something YOU personally didn’t do, don’t. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel the need to be defensive. I do feel a bit sheepish about my ignorance, and I do feel a new sense of responsibility to see and listen to and, if necessary, speak up for my sisters. I do feel unsure about how to do this, and I’m worried that I will make mistakes, and I know for a fact there are going to be times when I will fail. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying, and I’m not going to let that stop me from being hopeful that I have the capacity to make a difference. I want equality. I am being shown the way by women who have never had the privileges I enjoy. If anything, I feel humbled and motivated.

Equality begins at home. Equality begins inside the movement. Let’s do better.

Let’s do this.

 

** I use the term “marginalized” as a shorthand blanket term to refer to various groups of women because these women have traditionally been silenced and pushed to the margins of both feminist movements and society at large. I do NOT mean to infer that any of these women represent a “niche” issue or “special interest” (or that their concerns are in any way less “legitimate”), only that they have not enjoyed the visibility and amplification of white feminists.

Womens’ Problems (can’t be fixed by a party)

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If you’ve been a  social-media-using lady on the internet during the past month or so, you’ve probably come across Kristi Coulter’s provocative opinion piece, Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink. In a nutshell, Coulter believes that systemic factors like good-old-fashioned sexism (e.g. mansplaining at work), combined with societal expectations and a culture that claims that “women can have it all” (i.e. the career and the kids, the house and the travel, the husband and the party friends) set women up to fail, creating a perpetual sense of disappointment, frustration, and anger that women both choose to, and are encouraged to, numb with alcohol.

Of course, not everyone is on board with Coulter’s version of events. Some women will argue that they just like to party. Some men still don’t believe the patriarchy is real (or that it’s harmful). And others rightly point out that North American men, in general, also consume large quantities of alcohol, and wonder if perhaps it’s not sexism per se, but the pressures and stress of living in a neo-liberal capitalist society (in which the rich get richer and the rest of us have to work ever harder only to end up worse off than our parents were) that has us reaching for the bottle. Valid points (except that one about the patriarchy–systemic and cultural patriarchy is real and it hurts both women and men; that’s just a fact).

Still, something about Coulter’s article rang true. Alcohol has always been a part of many (if not most) of my evening and weekend social activities as an adult, but it wasn’t until recently that my Facebook and Twitter feeds started filling up with memes celebrating day-drinking, drinking alone, drinking to excess, and drinking to escape the frustrations of parenting. All jokes, right? Because we women deserve a laugh, right? Because it’s wine o’clock, ammirite??? Around the same time that I first encountered Coulter’s article, there were so many pro-wine memes in my feed, I started to wonder if I’d missed something–Really? Is EVERYONE getting day-drunk secretly at work? Did all my friends become alcoholics and I didn’t notice? Is this REALLY the only way we know how to achieve a sense of equilibrium in our lives?

It’s kind of, well..it’s sad. Not sad that women like to party, or that they like to drink with their friends or even pour themselves a glass of wine and watch Netflix alone in their PJs once in a while. There really isn’t anything wrong with this. But sad, because underneath the glee of cavalierly celebrating constant intoxication and irresponsibility, a lot of the women in my life must be pretty stressed. They must be pretty frustrated. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t smiling–Look! Wine! Fun! Party party party!

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Obviously, it’s unhealthy to normalize getting wasted as a solution for life’s problems. But what I find even more problematic about these memes is the normalization of misery. LOL, say the memes, kids are assholes, ammirite? And your husband’s USELESS around the house; just a glorified babysitter, ammirite? And your job is not rewarding, never will be, you slave all day and no one appreciates you and you’re STILL poor! You’ll NEVER measure up! Ha ha ha! WINE!

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Recent films like Bad Moms and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck have been celebrated as “feminist” by some for demonstrating that women can indeed get smashed and misbehave (just like the boys!). They even spend a little time paying lip service to the idea that modern women’s lives aren’t all they’re cracked up to be (the same “women can have it all” lie that Coulter takes issue with). But as Broadly’s Liza Batkin points out, the message (assuming there is one, somewhere) is lost in the mayhem:

Bad Moms, like Sisters, exaggerates a common fantasy: Just one wild night, with the right people, music, and substances, can help us not only forget, but actually resolve, all of our biggest problems. On the other end of the hangover lies romance for the lonely, money for the financially unstable, and empowerment for women the world over. While this is a small improvement on the makeover regime on offer in many chick flicks, Sisters and Bad Moms suggest that their characters’ problems—poverty, unemployment, and a sexist distribution of domestic responsibility—will disappear practically overnight, just as soon as the afflicted women adjust their attitudes by way of vodka and junk food.

Women aren’t idiots. We know, deep down, when our lives are not satisfying. But dealing with the root causes of our anger or frustration requires self-awareness, honesty, and potentially, confrontation. In short, hard work. It’s so much easier to make jokes about how your home life is driving you up the wall than it is to have a frank discussion with your partner about whether or not the distribution of home and childcare duties is really fair, or to talk about whether or not you can afford to bring in some outside help. It’s so much easier to have a drink and complain to your girlfriends about how that (male) professor shot down your point in class, but when a male classmate made the same point ten minutes later, it was not only accepted as valid, but as a totally new idea. Should you talk to the professor, mention that this kind of action belittled you? Maybe. But you have to see him every week all term, and that would be awkward.

And it’s SO much easier, much much easier, when you have been hurt, harassed, insulted, ignored for that promotion, disbelieved when you try to advocate for yourself, or picked apart by the other women at work or the PAC or your kids’ dance class, or when you hate the way you look and think and are and everything you do feels like failure…to just suck it up, have a drink, and laugh it off.

Because, hey, everyone’s miserable, ammirite? Bottom’s up!

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P.S. Another common feature of the “women-drinking” meme culture that I find disturbing is one that often appears with food as well–the notion that when we drink/eat, we “deserve” it for good behaviour, or that we are “indulging” or “treating” ourselves, or “cheating”, giving in to a “guilty pleasure”. As if we don’t naturally, by virtue of being human beings, have the right to put whatever the hell we want into our bodies without needing the permission of society at large. But maybe that’s a post for another time.

Don’t Be A Rapist: A Common-Sense Introduction to Sex & Consent on Campus

Dear post-secondary students: welcome back! It’s time for a new fall term, a fresh academic start, and a fresh chance to indulge in time-honoured campus traditions: all-nighters, shitty food, beer pong, capers and hijinks, dorm sex, too much booze (SO MUCH BOOZE), parties, clubbing, money troubles, and occasionally (if not frequently) questioning your life choices, identity, and place in this mad, mad world.

While my list of college-level fun is by no means exhaustive, there is one alarmingly common campus activity that I have firmly, and intentionally, omitted: raping people. Do not rape people. Not genitally, not digitally, not with foreign objects. Do not rape people.

It may be surprising that I need to spell it out like this, but unfortunately there still seems to be quite a lot of confusion on post-secondary campuses about what constitutes rape, and the people experiencing the most confusion seem disproportionately to be young, college-aged males, university administrators, and trial judges. Generally speaking, everyone seems to agree that sexual assault is bad, but many people seem very reluctant to identify and acknowledge it when it has occurred.

According to UBC’s AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre,*

Sexual Assault is any unwanted contact of a sexual nature, including unwanted kissing, touching, or sexual intercourse. Anyone can be a perpetrator. People from all walks of life, all ages, and genders can experience sexual assault.

This concept seems very simple but somehow, many college and university students have failed to grasp it. There is often hue and cry about “grey areas”, “blurred lines”, “the dangers of drugs and alcohol” (as if being drunk gives you an excuse to rape someone), and attempts made to characterize sexually assaulting another person as some kind of booby trap in a byzantine labyrinth set up to trick you, regrettable perhaps, but impossible for the rapist to have avoided. So how can you make sure that YOU don’t become a sexual assailant, i.e. a rapist? The key, of course, is consent.

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Consent is mandatory for sex to occur.

If you don’t have the other person’s consent, you are not having sex, you are raping them.

Consent is enthusiastic and freely given.

If you have pressured, coerced, physically dominated, or made use of a position of authority in order to have sex (or participate in any other kind of sexual activity) with the other person, you do not have consent. Therefore, you are not having sex. You are raping someone.

Consent is ongoing.

If you are engaging in sexual activity with someone, and they tell you either verbally or with their body (i.e. pushing you away, pulling their body away from you, or even falling asleep) that they are no longer interested, you must stop. Even if they said they wanted to before, even if they did it with you last time, once they want to stop, everything stops.

If you continue the sexual contact after the other person has withdrawn their consent, you are no longer having sex. You are raping someone.

Consent is a YES–it is not merely an absence of “no”.

If you are having sex with someone who is unconscious or too drunk/high to actually make a decision about and communicate whether or not they want to have sex with you, you are not having sex. You are raping someone.

Human beings are not like $5 bills left on the sidewalk. Just because you “find” someone lying around, doesn’t mean you are allowed to do whatever you want with their bodies. If you do come across a person who is unconscious or otherwise seriously out of it, maybe ask them if they’re okay, or call them a cab (or, if necessary, an ambulance).

It’s also important to remember that cuddling, kissing, and other kinds of physical intimacy are not necessarily invitations for sexual activity. Within friend groups and in college dorms, it’s not uncommon for people to be “cuddle buddies” or the like–leaning on each other while watching movies, spooning, giving back rubs, or even sleeping next to each other–without actually sharing the kind of chemistry that would prompt the participating cuddlers to pursue romance. Sometimes people miss their high school boyfriends/girlfriends. Sometimes people just want a cuddle, or some (safe) physical touch that stays well within everyone’s boundaries. Sometimes friends pass out together after a night of partying or even share the odd sloppy kiss. It’s all good.

What’s not good is assuming that the person lying in your bed has given you carte blanche to touch or use their body sexually. You need consent buddy. Be a friend, not a rapist.

Some folks have complained that non-verbal consent (or the lack thereof) can be hard to read, and if you aren’t adept at social cues and body language my advice to you is simple: take the mystery out of the equation and ask. To those that complain that stopping mid-action to give and receive verbal consent kills the mood, I say this: if you believe the other person’s desire to have sex with you is so tenuous, so fragile, that they would say “No” if you actually asked them, you DEFINITELY need to ask. Because if that’s the vibe you’re getting from your potential partner, they probably don’t want to have sex with you and you need to stop now.

To sum up: obtain enthusiastic and freely-given consent before making sexual contact. And when in doubt, just STOP. There will be other opportunities for awkward university sex. In ten years, you won’t regret not hooking up with that random girl or guy at that party that time. But you might really regret violating another person’s humanity and dignity, and burdening them with a trauma they may carry the rest of their lives.

*Note: I chose to quote the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (which is run by student union groups) because the University of British Columbia is the largest and most well-known post-secondary institution in my province. I have neither attended nor ever been employed at UBC. Additionally, while the AMS SASC website looks great, it’s worth noting that, as a larger institution, the UBC administration has had plenty of bad press in recent years for turning a rather tolerant eye to sexual assault on campus. UBC has recently announced that they are extending campus-community consultations as they craft their new (provincially-mandated) sexual assault policy.

**Second note: sex is a two-way street. YOUR consent is also required. Your consent must be freely-given and ongoing, and can be withdrawn at any time.

Women in France should wear what they want (and that includes “burkinis”)

Women in France, listen up: if you plan to visit the beach in the country of “liberté” and “egalité,” you must be prepared to show some skin.

That’s right–although France’s very secular laws do permit the wearing of headscarves in public, if Muslim women choose to visit the beach in a headscarf while also covering their arms and legs, in many districts they will be issued a fine and ordered to leave the beach, and possibly even be forced to strip off (technically, the bans are specifically directed at the “burkini”–a swimsuit with sleeves and pants with a built-in head covering–but law enforcement officials seem happy to interpret that as applying to any modestly-dressed Muslim woman on the beach).

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I have written about the issue of policing Muslim women’s clothing before (in a post entitled Women in Canada can wear what they want [and that includes niqabs]), but I have to say I find this ban on modest dress at the beach even more racist, and even more alarmingly sexist. We’re not talking about forcing a woman to show her face in a public place (which is already law in France and which I personally do not agree with), we are talking about forcing women to show their BODIES. Essentially, if you’re a Muslim woman who doesn’t wish to make her body (or hair) available to the public gaze, you can f*ck right off the beach.

Ostensibly, these new laws see clothing like the burkini as a religious display and a direct provocation of French citizens and their values of secularization (never mind that many of the Muslim women being harassed under these rules ARE French citizens, or that nuns in habits or other Catholic women dressed modestly or wearing crucifixes are not being punished for their displays of Christian faith). I cannot imagine how frightened and angry the people of France must be after recent terror attacks in the country (including in Nice, where a man driving a truck intentionally plowed into a crowd of festival goers and killed 86 people). I can only assume that they see signifiers of the Muslim faith (like headscarves and full-coverage swimming attire) as an affront to the painful losses they have experienced and the threat of terrorism they continue to face.

But there is simply no logical basis for a ban on the burkini: firstly, Muslims (including Muslim women in traditional dress) were also among the victims in Nice. Secondly, the “religious symbols” deemed most offensive to the French public seem to be disproportionately those which are worn by Muslim women, specifically (it’s still totally okay for men to wear full-body wetsuits in the water). Thirdly, to the best of my knowledge, a burkini has NEVER yet been implicated in any terror attack in France or any other country. This is not about safety. This is not about secularism. This is about white people who are afraid and angry being given permission by their local governments to humiliate and ostracize their fellow citizens. And the targets of this hatred are the people who are the easiest to spot and the easiest to scapegoat–Muslim women.

So much for “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. I know that the people of France are hurting, but a democracy that abandons its principles in the face of adversity and new challenges is no democracy at all.

Today I Want to Talk About Intimate-Partner Violence

I hate to be a downer so close to one of my favourite times of year, but today I want to talk about intimate-partner violence, and specifically (since women make up the majority of victims of intimate-partner violence), about violence against women. I have not been a victim of intimate-partner violence, however, I have been thinking a lot about it in the past few days.

You see, on Friday I had minor dental surgery. Over the next few days, as the swelling in my right cheek went down, I noticed bruising begin to darken under my eye and on my cheek. I’m not really sure how I managed to get a black eye from a gum graft (maybe my dentist was resting his hand on my cheekbone just under my eye and I didn’t notice because my face was frozen?), but at any rate, I looked a little rough.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting back into the swing of things after my dentist-mandated two days of rest: going Christmas shopping with TC, attending a Christmas party, going to work. If I noticed people noticing the bruises on my face I’d explain that I’d just had dental surgery and we’d all laugh.

We’d laugh because the idea of me being in a fist fight with someone, or the idea of my loving and even-tempered husband ever behaving violently towards me, is laughable. That kind of violence is totally alien to me and is so far outside the sphere of my life right now that the idea of anyone ever intentionally giving me a bruised cheek and a black eye is actually funny.

Except…it’s not. As I walked around in the mall on Monday, or sat with my husband in the food court, or caught questioning eyes on my face at work, I realized that the idea of a woman you know being punched in the face by her partner is not so preposterous. It’s very likely that many people who saw my bruises this week thought this is what had happened (as I signed for a package yesterday the DHL delivery man even said carefully, “I have to ask you what happened to your eye” and was very relieved when I told him about my dental work). It’s the same conclusion I would likely jump to if I saw a woman with bruises on her face–it’s almost cliche, the face of the battered woman. Because it happens far too often.

What do you tell a woman who has two black eyes?

Nothing. She’s already been told twice.

I can’t remember who first told me that “joke”, or how old I was the first time I heard it. I do know I’ve heard it more than once. I’ve also heard more than one girlfriend jokingly proclaim “I fell down the stairs!” when asked about a bruise, which was only a “joke” because most of us knew that the phrase “I fell down the stairs” (or “I walked into a door”) was a code–one of a variety of common lies used by women to cover for an abusive partner. This is a “joke” I’ve made with friends too. Why was it funny? Was it funny because we felt safe from violence? Or was it funny because we aren’t, and laughter covers up our feelings of powerlessness?

Need_infographicsENG_cropped_0I have never been struck by a partner and I have never been afraid that any romantic partner would physically harm me. I don’t want to say this makes me lucky, because lucky is when you find a $5 bill on the ground, not when you are treated at the base level of how every human being should be treated. And yet, to say that women who experience violence at the hands of someone they love are not unlucky seems to suggest that there is some way they can, or could have, controlled the actions of their partner (or made better choices). And that’s not fair, and it’s not true.

After the third or fourth mention of my black eye, I tried to imagine for a moment what it would be like if TC actually HAD punched me in the face. It’s not a thought-exercise I care to repeat, and it made me feel sick; I really can’t picture the man I love doing such a horrible thing. But then I realized–not many of us can. Most of us don’t fall in love expecting to be physically assaulted by our partner. The idea is so at odds with the idea of the person we love, if it happened, we almost wouldn’t believe it, would we? If you think of someone you really REALLY love, someone sweet and gentle, hurting you–you’d literally think they weren’t themselves in that moment, you’d think some kind of extreme provocation must have occurred to push them to do what they did. It wasn’t them, you’d tell yourself, it was stress/anxiety/alcohol/mental health issues, etc. And then you’d start thinking, “If I don’t nag them/argue with them/make them jealous, they won’t do it again,” which unfortunately is simply never true.

Like many people, I’ve asked myself “Why can’t women who are being abused just LEAVE?”, as if leaving were so simple and so easy and so safe. I could try to list some of the commonly-cited reasons women stay with an abusive partner, but instead I will defer to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (to see their statistical sources please visit their Facts About Violence page):

IF A WOMAN IS BEING ABUSED, WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST LEAVE THE RELATIONSHIP?

  • Women often stay because the abuser has threatened to kill them if they leave, or to kill himself, or to kill the children.
  • Women believe these threats, for good reason – the most dangerous time for an abused women is when she attempts to leave her abuser. About 25% of all women who are murdered by their spouse had left the relationship. In one study, half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.
  • Some women stay because the abuser has threatened to harm or kill a household pet. In one study, over 60% of women living in an emergency shelter had their pet or their children’s pet harmed and/or killed by an abusive partner.
  • Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the woman has broken off the relationship.
  • Women sometimes stay because they are financially dependent on their partner. Over 1.22 million Canadian women live in poverty, along with their children. Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are more than five times likely to be poor than if they had stayed.
  • Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping family together. Sometimes, relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.
  • Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time. Since abusers often express deep remorse and promise to change, it can take years for women to admit that the violence will never stop and the relationship is unsalvageable. In the meantime, the long-term experience of being abused can destroy women’s self-confidence, making it more difficult to believe they deserve better treatment, that she can find the courage to leave, or can manage on their own.

Whether or not a Canadian woman will be a victim of intimate-partner violence almost seems like a crap shoot–either you wind up dating a guy who hurts you, or you don’t. And while abuse doesn’t discriminate, your odds of being that woman who ends up with an abuser are increased if you are First Nations, or a woman of colour, or a woman living in poverty, or a woman with a disability, or a trans* woman–basically, your vulnerability to domestic violence is increased or decreased by factors that have nothing to do with how strong you are or how virtuous you are or how smart you are or whether or not you’re a “good” wife/girlfriend. Various factors can affect your likelihood of experiencing intimate-partner violence, but none of these factors are your fault, and none of these factors make any woman deserving of violent treatment.

And yet….and yet. There are still far too many abused woman in this country, and far too few ways to protect them. Generally speaking, the onus is on women to take the first step to protect themselves and their children (very difficult to do if you are being made powerless and afraid). Nevertheless, the Government of Canada has some information about resources for those experiencing domestic violence, and if your partner is hurting you or making you feel afraid (even if you have not been hurt physically), or you suspect a friend or loved one is being abused, please click the link above.

Note: For your safety, if you are being abused or are afraid your partner will harm you, it is advised that you do NOT access domestic abuse resources on a computer or electronic device your abuser has access to–instead use a computer at work or the Library, a trusted friend’s smartphone, etc.

Second Note: Though the majority of victims of domestic abuse are women and I have focused on female victims of intimate-partner violence in this post, I recognize that all genders can be victims of abuse, and all genders can be perpetrators. I believe the following excerpt from the Options for LGBTQTS Women webpage on the Battered Women’s Support Services website (a Vancouver-based organization), explains this reality thoroughly:

Abuse occurs within lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, queer, trans and straight relationships. It happens in all communities regardless of race, social status or education. Size, strength, mental health, use of substances, gender presentation or politics does not determine whether she or he has been abused or is abusive.

For more information or for support call 604-687-1867 or email intake@bwss.org.

Last Note: A quick Google search can help you find information on women’s shelters and other resources in your area, or can help you find ways to help support vulnerable women in your community. And please, if someone tells you they have been abused, believe them.

A Gender-Balanced Federal Cabinet is Neither Unusual nor Unfair

women-in-cabinet

On Wednesday, our 23rd Prime Minister of Canada,  Justin Trudeau, unveiled his new cabinet. Of the 30 Liberal MPs sworn in as ministers this week (not including Prime Minister Trudeau, who is the 31st member of his cabinet), 15 are women. Which means that if you take the PM out of the equation, our new cabinet is the first in Canadian history to have equal numbers of men and women.

When asked by a reporter why gender parity in the cabinet was important to him, Prime Minister Trudeau simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

This is a short remark, somewhat flippant but certainly final (what the kids these days refer to as “dropping the mic”), but it is very important. By refusing to discuss his decision, the Prime Minister of Canada has told us, essentially, that the necessity of a balance of representation that reflects the true gender demographics of the Canadian people is not up for discussion (note: I am aware than no transgender individuals were named to the cabinet, but I am not sure if there are actually any Liberal MPs who are trans* at this time). I agree wholeheartedly–my right as a female Canadian to be just as represented in the federal cabinet as my male counterparts is non-negotiable–however, there are two things I want to say about this historic decision.

THING ONE: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unusual. It happens all the time, for a variety of reasons, including:

Regional balance: any smart prime minister, especially one that has just made gains in regions that are not usually considered their party’s base, would do well to make sure these new regions feel that they have a voice at the table, and that their support is not taken for granted (prime ministers who have just planted their flag in Alberta, for example, need to make damn sure at least one of their cabinet ministers is from Alberta). Canada is a BIG country, and one that, historically, has centered power in Ontario and Quebec. Recent re-distributions of federal ridings have, at long last, shifted some of this political power into different parts of the country, for example, to the Prairies and the West Coast. Only a PM who was arrogant or stupid (or both) would continue to ignore provinces and territories outside of central Canada and leave themselves vulnerable to the charge that “Ottawa doesn’t care about the rest of us.”

Trudeau, contrary to popular belief, has been neither arrogant nor stupid in his cabinet decisions–in addition to achieving gender parity, he has also selected for regional representation. Yes, most of the ministers are still from Quebec and Ontario (these two provinces are still home to the majority of Canadians), but his cabinet includes MPs from every Canadian province and one from the territories. It isn’t about choosing the “best” thirty MPs necessarily, it’s about choosing the best complement of thirty MPs to best represent the people who just voted for you. Selecting for region is no more arbitrary than selecting for gender.

Fresh faces: while of course it’s important to have a healthy supply of experienced veterans (like Ralph Goodale, our new minister of public safety) in cabinet positions, people do get tired of seeing the same old seasoned politicians running the show. Appointing newer MPs to cabinet positions sends the message that the government is interested in more than “business as usual”, that they are open to fresh perspectives and new ideas. For a new prime minister like Trudeau, who ran on a platform of “Real Change”, putting new MPs in cabinet is an absolute necessity. Experienced MPs provide a sense of competence and stability (which is why there are some party veterans in the mix), but Trudeau wasn’t running on the Liberal Party’s past record–in many ways, he was running from it. His entire election campaign strategy revolved around showing Canadians that his Liberal Party was not the Liberal Party of his father, was not the Liberal Party of the sponsorship scandal, and was not the boat-adrift-at-sea mess we saw under Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. In order to prove you are the party of “Real Change” you have to make some real, well, changes. Which means some star MPs have found themselves outside of cabinet, despite their experience and merits. Which is, again, not unusual. [Side note: Despite his bumbling in 2008, I personally would not guffaw at Dion’s appointment to minister of foreign affairs–you do want someone with experience in that position and though he was a bit of a dud as a party leader Dion has been a cabinet minister twice before and has been a good MP for his riding for almost 20 years.]

What I’m saying is this: with so many MPs, both experienced and brand new, to choose from, cabinet decisions made within any kind of gender-based, regional, multi-cultural, or symbolic parameters are going to appear either arbitrary, or calculated for specific effect (which they are). But this is nothing new–this is politics.

THING TWO: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unfair.

Of course, as soon as there is so much as a whiff of “affirmative action” on the breeze, folks who have never cared about federal cabinet a day in their lives suddenly come out of the woodwork to denounce selecting MPs based on “what’s between their legs” rather than “merit” as unfair.

Firstly, these charges are deeply offensive–there is so much more to being a woman than “what’s between our legs” (and remember that not all women have vaginas, and not all men have penises). The act of being a woman or being a man involves some physiological/biological aspects, yes, but is also a complex kaleidoscope of structures, pressures, and experiences–social, economic, structural, political, sexual, historical, etc. Why is it that the male MPs appointed to cabinet are considered to have experience and education and “merit”, but the female MPs just have vaginas?

These denunciations also demonstrate a misunderstanding of how Canadian politics works (see Thing One). Every single candidate who runs in Canada (with the exception of the leader of a party) is running to be a Member of Parliament–nothing more. Becoming an MP does not mean you will be part of the government, and becoming a government MP does not mean you will be in cabinet. ‘Member of Parliament’ is the ONLY job candidates are being elected for–there is no guarantee of a cabinet position, because MPs are not elected to cabinet, they are appointed. No MP, no matter their experience or gender or other background, has any constitutional reason to expect to become a cabinet minister. It just doesn’t work that way.

“But,” some say, “gender-based appointments are unfair to all those male MPs who got passed up for cabinet posts because they were men. Even though they had more merit.”

The claim of having “more merit” is a dubious one, generally, and hard to defend. “Merit” is not quantifiable in government, nor is it objective. MPs do not have “merit points” assigned based on some kind of impartial rubric that can be totted up to determine who is the more meritorious. Our ideas of merit are based on certain qualities we find important, and they are completely subjective–a quality you might find indicative of merit may not be at all important to me.

You might say that there are some qualities which we can surely all agree are indicative of an MP’s merit–experience, for example, intellect, or education. These qualities are generally wonderful, and I bet they sure do help an MP do a good job, but if the last election has taught us anything, it’s that we actually don’t care about them as much as we do about personality, trust, and charisma. If we did, Justin Trudeau, who has no political experience prior to 2008, and holds no university degree above the undergraduate level, would not be prime minister. If we really cared about “merit”, our prime minister would probably be Elizabeth May, who has a degree in law, has written seven books, was voted Maclean’s Magazine‘s “Parliamentarian of the Year” in 2012 and “Best Orator” in 2014, has never really pissed anyone off, and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. She is one of the hardest-working MPs on Parliament Hill and yet she remains the leader of a one-person party, with only a tiny fraction of the political power of the House. Fair? Maybe not, but I haven’t heard these same “fairness and merit” people cry too much about it.

Besides, we cannot assume that the women on Trudeau’s cabinet are not the best for the job. Yes, they are women, and yes, including  a certain number of women was intentional, but with no quantifiable way to compare “merit” we cannot say that any of these women displaced a more deserving man–in fact, since 50% of the cabinet appointments are intentionally male, we could make the claim that one or more of these men displaced a more deserving woman. “Maleness” is not a default quality of being a cabinet minister, nor it is an indicator of being deserving.

Either way, it’s really a moot point, because cabinet appointments are not about who “deserves” it more–it’s about who will do a good job on their file, who will be an asset rather than a liability in Question Period and media scrums, and who will truly be able to speak for Canadians, rather than speaking to them. Cabinet appointments are not rewards for being a great dude.

Some have suggested that because women make up only 27% of the Liberal caucus (and 26% of total MPs in the House of Commons), it is unfair for them to make up more than 27% of the Liberal cabinet. But this suggestion ignores the distinction between the elected House (or caucus) and the appointed cabinet. The Members of Parliament who sit in the House of Commons are responsible for representing the people who voted for them, i.e., their constituents. No male MP’s power to do this has been curtailed by gender parity in cabinet in any way. Before being enacted, all bills and budgets will be put to a vote in the House of Commons, as usual, and if women make up 26% of the House those female MPs will make up 26% of the vote (we cannot assume, of course, that all of the women in the House will vote the same way simply by virtue of their being women, which would be a frankly ridiculous assumption). The House of Commons (as much as it can in a first-past-the-post system) represents the electoral will of Canadians. This is unchanged.

But the Government of Canada, including its ministries as represented by the cabinet appointees, is not the same as the House. The capital-G Government is responsible for representing ALL Canadians, not just the Canadians who voted for them, not just the Canadians who vote, and not just the Canadians who are eligible to vote. According to Stats Canada, women make up 50.4% of the Canadian population. Why shouldn’t that be reflected in the Canadian cabinet? This still leaves the 49.6% of male Canadians fully represented (actually, more than fully represented since the prime minister makes 16 male members to his cabinet’s 15 female members). So when people say a 50-50 gender split in cabinet is unfair, I wonder, unfair to whom?

I’m tired of a definition of “fair” that says that 50% of the population should get 75% of the Cabinet Pie, and the other 50% should only get 25%, and that it’s fair that which piece of pie you get depends entirely on what’s between your legs. I’m tired of hearing that it’s only “fair” when men have more than women. I’m tired of the assumption that if all rewards were linked only to merit, women wouldn’t have as much or more than men. These definitions and assumptions are offensive, divorced from reality, and seriously outdated.

As the prime minister says, “It’s 2015.”

Please Stop Fighting Straw Feminists (they’re not real)

As a feminist who is interested in one day having a family, I tend to spend a decent amount of time thinking about the values my husband and I will teach our future children, and the ways in which our ingrained ideas about gender will or won’t affect the natural expressions of our kids’ personalities.

So I was naturally curious about a blog post I came across recently, called,  “I’m a Mother of 2 Boys, and I Can’t (and Won’t) Support Feminism” by Tara Kennedy-Kline. Of course, my heart sank the minute I read the title of the post, but I have recently been having an interior conversation with myself about NOT disengaging from those who disagree with me, so I clicked on the link and read through to the end.

Not being a parent myself, and not knowing Ms. Kennedy-Kline and her children personally, it is fair to critique ONLY her views on feminism and otherwise assume that Ms. Kennedy-Kline’s two children are well-cared-for and loved. I have no reason to believe this is not the case. The author’s parenting abilities are not what I am taking issue with here.

What discourages, and frustrates, and occasionally enrages me, is the number of otherwise educated and well-meaning people out there who argue against and thereby continue to perpetuate the view the of sinister, man-hating feminism that doesn’t exist. As TC commented to me after reading Kennedy-Kline’s post, “Good thing no one has a lighted match because there are a LOT of straw men in there.” [Of course, perhaps as a spooky angry  feminist I should take offense to this and call them “straw persons“. But I digress.]

Throughout her post, Kennedy-Kline insists that she is raising her sons to be “gentlemen”, to be “dedicated providers”, and to tell the women in their lives that they are beautiful. She also insists that feminism would punish, label as predatory, and otherwise be offended by her boys for doing these things. These fears are overblown and misguided. Alyssa Rose, writing at the Good Men Project, has a thoughtful and logically laid-out response detailing exactly why Kennedy-Kline’s arguments are irrational. I’m not going to repeat her work here, but I am going to point out two things:

  1. Ms. Kennedy-Kline’s fears that feminism will punish her sons for being stereotypically manly assumes her sons want to grow up to be stereotypically manly. How does she know? What does “stereotypically manly” even mean in this day and age, where households containing two working adults are the norm? How does she even know her sons will want to date the “princesses” she encourages her sons to provide for?
  2. When Kennedy-Kline posits that it is not only her sons’ right, but that it is normal and good for them to grab a woman’s hand or tell a woman she’s beautiful because they’re gentlemen, she completely ignores context (how would she feel if, say, a strange man grabbed her hand in a shopping mall or on a dark street?). Some women might not WANT to be touched, or might not appreciate being told they’re beautiful if they aren’t interested in talking to her sons (see my post on how to meet women without being a creep). True gentlemen care not about their gestures, but about the intended recipient of those gestures. If there is any indication that their mother’s so-called chivalrous act will make a woman uncomfortable or even afraid, they shouldn’t do it (alternatively, if it seems that the woman in question would appreciate the gesture, go for it). This is a principle we all learn as kids–it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and if your playmate says they don’t like what you’re doing, even if you’re having fun, you stop doing it. It’s not feminist ideology. It’s just being a decent human being and respecting other peoples’ boundaries.

The post is not the worst take-down of feminism I’ve ever read, or even the worst written by a woman (MRA sites enjoy waving around posts by women who, it seems, hate other women, or at the very least hate feminist women). So why did it bother me?

It bothered me because Ms. Kennedy-Kline is obviously not some wingnut, and it’s distressing that a rational, loving parent can believe such silly things about a movement that, as Alyssa Rose points out, can only benefit boys and men as it improves the lives of girls and women. Her argument is not only misguided (because she’s arguing against something that doesn’t really exist)–it’s harmful. The more feminism is painted as something a “normal” parent, or a woman who loves her sons or husband, could not, in good conscience, ascribe to, the more these completely false myths equating feminism with hating, harming, or revoking the rights of men are perpetuated. And when people believe these myths they stop believing in the things feminism really stands for, like equal pay, and the rights of people to have their physical boundaries respected, and the rights of both women and men to be whoever they want to be, regardless of whether their identity is traditionally considered the purview of one gender or the other.

I hate repeating this, but I feel I have to: FEMINISM IS NOT MISANDRY. Just like being Christian doesn’t automatically mean you’re a member of the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church, being a feminist does NOT mean you ascribe to the views of those extreme but rare persons who DO hate men and use the feminist label as their justification (my dear friend, performance artist Frankie Vandellous, has written a beautiful post about some of the various, and even the harmful, interpretations of feminism that are out there). Just as the Westboro Baptist Church does not speak for Christians (and cant’ really, considering they seem to have completely missed that “love thy neighbour” bit), misandrists do not speak for feminists.

Contrary to the belief of many, feminism doesn’t mean you have to “tow the line” either. I don’t expect Ms. Kennedy-Kline to be a feminist just because she’s a woman. I don’t expect people who believe in equal pay and equal rights to control over one’s own body to call themselves feminists if they don’t want to. And I don’t expect every woman to want what I want. But that doesn’t make smearing feminism appropriate, and it doesn’t mean that women who don’t want certain rights for themselves have the right to prevent me, or any other woman, from accessing these rights, nor do these women have the right to tell their sons, or anyone else, that certain behaviours are appropriate only for certain genders.

As feminists (and other like-minded people) work hard to change perceptions about gender and about what is and isn’t appropriate for human beings living together in a society, there will be, as Kennedy-Kline’s post makes clear, some discomfort. It’s awkward to have to change the way you’ve always treated or spoken to/about certain people. It’s uncomfortable when familiar tropes are demonstrated to be false or hurtful (I’m sure many folks in past generations were a little confused when racial slurs became not okay anymore). You know you’re not trying to be hurtful with your choice of words/actions/opinions, and you’re not out there assaulting anyone, so what’s the big damn deal? Isn’t everything fine the way it is?

Well, it may be fine for you, but when 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it’s obvious that things are NOT fine for a LOT of people. Just because I personally haven’t been raped (and hopefully never will be), that doesn’t mean I should prevent rape victims from seeking justice, or should willfully perpetuate rape culture.

When you say, “I think things are fine the way they are,” what you’re really saying is, “It’s never happened to me, so I’ve chosen not to care about it.”

When you say, “Why should I have to experience change just because SOME people don’t like the way things are working?” you’re really saying, “Being comfortable is more important to me than the physical and emotional pain experienced by a very large number of people.”

And when you go out of your way to say, “I can’t (and won’t) support feminism,” you are saying, “It’s okay with me that half of the population have less rights than the other half.”

If you don’t want to be a feminist that is 100% your choice. But please, PLEASE, don’t actively work against feminism by spreading false perceptions about it. Humanity has nothing, absolutely NOTHING to lose by the success of feminism. The only “rights” which could be lost by men would be the ones they never actually legally had in the first place (like the right to touch another person without their permission, or the right to make more money than someone else doing the same job). Feminism is inclusive, egalitarian, and ultimately freeing. Isn’t that the kind of environment a parent would want for their children?

How to meet women without being a creep

Um...no thank you.

Um…I like that you’re a reader, but no thank you.

Hi there (heterosexual) fellas!

I don’t usually dispense dating advice, but I can only imagine that the dating world is a minefield for you right now. With the #YesAllWomen hashtag taking off and so much push-back against rape culture and the sexual entitlement implied by terms like “friend zone“, you’ve probably been made to feel like an asshole for, or at least have been prompted to question, the ways in which you’ve commonly interacted with women in the past. It may seem like your go-to conversation starters are annoying, insulting, and perhaps even scaring, some of the women you’d like to get to know better.

This sucks. It sucks for those women because they very likely ARE annoyed, insulted, or possibly even frightened by your overtures. And it sucks for you because, to give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you are not a rapist, you’re making yourself look like a creep, which was probably not your goal.

Though it’s true that a lot of the single male behaviours I’ve observed in my young life are certifiably creepy, it’s hard to lay the blame with you. The same patriarchal, macho culture that has been hurting women all these years has also been hurting you, by telling you that your worth as a man is directly related to the number of women you can sleep with, by telling you that your emotions and vulnerabilities are shameful, and by denying you the right to appreciate all of the different relationships you have with women in your life, even if these relationships are not sexual. The culture that raised women to think they must be thin and have large breasts to be attractive also raised men to think they need to be tall and muscly. For both men and women, these expectations are unrealistic, as is the expectation that you’re supposed to be attracting lots of women, all the time. That the culture that raised you makes you feel like you’re missing out on some amazing elite party whenever you’re not having sex is unfair and totally false. And it’s understandably frustrating for you.

But that frustration is scary for women (if you want to know why, simply look at some of the extreme violence catalyzed by frustrated and misguided feelings of sexual entitlement, like the Isla Vista murders, for example). If you want to talk to a woman without being a creep you need to understand that while you might feel embarrassed or rejected if your interaction with her does not go well, she has very real reason to fear that she might be assaulted or even killed. If you’re talking to a woman who’s never met you, she’s not just assessing whether or not she wants to have sex, date, or continue talking to you. She’s also assessing whether or not you might be a threat to her physical safety, either now or down the road. Not behaving like an entitled creep goes a long way if you’re trying to establish even just that physical trust.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going out for a night on the town and trying to “get lucky”.  People of all ages and genders are indeed looking for romance, and as long as you’re courteous and respectful about it, no one can fault you for approaching people you’re attracted to. Both love and sexual intimacy are wonderful things and it’s completely valid to want to find willing partners to share either or both of these adventures with you.

In terms of actually finding these partners (either for just tonight or for years to come), I unfortunately can’t help you. I don’t know any superficial “trick” for attracting women (unless that trick is hygiene, in which case, yes, hygiene is a great start). In terms of keeping your approach courteous and respectful, however, I do have some tips I’d like to share with you:

  1. Remember that no one owes anyone else sex, ever. You don’t owe anyone sex, and neither does she. Even if you’ve bought her a drink. Even if you’ve talked all night. Even if she flirts with you, or makes out with you. Even if she goes home with you–if, at any time, the woman you are talking to makes it clear that she does NOT want to have sex with you, that is the end of the discussion. Thank her for the conversation, call her a cab, or put her up on the couch. Then do something else (if you’re still interested in being around each other even if sex isn’t going to happen) or just walk away. No insults. No calling her a bitch or a slut or a tease. And absolutely NO trying to persuade her to change her mind once she has said no. It might not be the outcome you wanted, but a true gentleman seeks freely given and enthusiastic consent, and NEVER makes someone feel guilty for not wanting to provide it. This foundational principle is absolutely essential if you want to be respectful and polite in your interactions with women. Without fully understanding this the rest of my suggestions will be empty gestures, just tricks to make women think you’re a “nice guy”.
  2. Try to make sure you’re not interrupting something. A person who’s been interrupted by a stranger is likely in no mood to give that stranger much of a chance, romantic or otherwise. I’ve been interrupted by men I didn’t know while I was mid-conversation with my friends, and the other day a man on the bus got the woman sitting in front of me to take out her ear buds and listen to him just so he could tell her she had a “beautiful profile” and “nice features”. Not impressive. I’m sure you don’t like it when people interrupt you, and most women don’t either. Even if you’re interrupting or intruding to give us what you think is a compliment, what we really take away from the interaction is that you don’t believe that whatever we were doing (talking to friends, listening to music, or even just enjoying a quiet moment with our thoughts) is as important as your right to approach us as a stranger and say whatever it is that is on your mind. So how to know if you’re interrupting something? Well, if the woman you’d like to speak to is talking to someone else, listening to music on headphones, reading a book, or writing something, this is a pretty good indication that she’s busy. Why not try making eye contact with her before you approach her? If she avoids contact she is probably not interested, however, if she reciprocates she might be open to a conversation. When in doubt, simply ask, “Am I interrupting you?”. If she says yes, apologize and move on.
  3. Ask her to dance. Almost every girl I know has been the victim of some random stranger grinding them in a club without so much as a hello. Ew. Grabbing and frotteurizing someone on the dance floor is invasive and incredibly creepy. Asking someone to dance is not only respectful, it is charming and old-school and provides a gateway not just to dancing but also to introductions and conversation. Which I assume you would at some point want if you were truly interested in meeting someone.
  4. Talk about something besides her appearance, at least to start with. One of my friends recently mentioned to me that she doesn’t actually feel flattered when strange men begin conversations by complimenting her on her appearance. Though obviously a compliment is preferable to an insult, the implication is that physical appearance is the A+, gold standard by which women prefer to be measured. It actually sucks to be measured by your physical appearance, and beginning your interaction with a woman by talking about her appearance just plays into her insecurities. Instead of talking about physical appearance, which people have very little control over, why not talk about her/your job, her/your studies, how her/your night is going so far, etc.? Your continued interest is signal enough that you find the woman you’re talking to attractive. You don’t need to put her on the spot about it (besides, I’ve always much preferred to receive those kinds of compliments from those who’ve also seen me without make up, not just people seeing me dolled up in a club).
  5. On that note, never never NEVER “neg” a woman. Of all the creepy tactics endorsed by creepy players, negging is one of the most sinister and insidious. Insulting an attractive girl so that she’ll feel insecure and sleep with you in order to “regain” your favour and her lost confidence is dishonest, misogynistic, and cruel. If you think it’s okay to say mean things to another human being to trick them into having sex with you, you don’t deserve to be with anybody. Period.
  6. Honesty is the best policy. Lying to get someone to sleep with you is a totally creep move. If you think you need to lie to impress women, maybe you need to do a little more work on liking yourself (or being the kind of person you can like) before you go searching for a partner. Looking for a fun night but not looking for a girlfriend? Just say so before anyone goes home with anyone else and before any feelings get hurt. Believe it or not, women do enjoy sex and not all of us are looking for a “til death do us part” scenario. Being up front about who you are and what your intentions are just saves you from awkward and uncomfortable misunderstandings down the line. Remember, in small cities like Vancouver, it’s not uncommon to see the same single people in the same clubs/bars on any given weekend. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a cool fling instead of some lying creep?
  7. Don’t take it personally. Unless you’ve specifically done something to upset the person you’re talking to, there’s no reason to take a lack of interest on a woman’s part as a judgement of your worth. She might not be looking for a male partner right now (either because she’s already seeing someone, isn’t into men, or maybe just wants to be single). She might be out for a night with her friends and doesn’t want to add a strange person to the mix. She might be very shy. Or she might just not be into you, and that’s okay. Think about the women you see everyday that you’re not into–should they take it personally? Of course not. No one’s attracted to everyone and it’s nobody’s fault.
  8. Women are people, which means they’re not all the same. My suggestions come from my own experience, and while I think they are worthwhile as broad strokes, every person is different and will react differently to different approaches.  As with any social interaction, intuition and social acuity are good traits to have. When in doubt, remember that politeness and courtesy are almost always appreciated (even if the lady in question is not interested in pursuing a relationship), and that name-calling and aggressive behaviour are almost always creepy (unless you’re with a lady who’s specifically in to that sort of thing, but that’s a whole other scenario….).

In addition to the above suggestions, I recommend being open to the idea that women might approach you (and remember, if they do, you are entitled to the exact same courtesies that are expected of you). In  my current (and most of my past) relationships, I took some of the initiative when it came to meeting and finding out more about the guys I was interested in and I think it worked out well for the both of us. Society still seems to think that men are always supposed to pursue women but women are capable of breaking the ice too. Relax. Enjoy your night out for what it is. Maybe a woman will approach you. Maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll want to approach someone and maybe it’ll work out. Maybe it won’t. Either way, remember that your frustrations, disappointments and moments of confusion are shared by most single people, both men and women. There’s no great sex party going on without you–just a few people having sex and a bunch of people pretending.

[Note: My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive so female readers, if you have anything to add or if you disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment below. Gentlemen, I recognize that creepiness can be a two-way street. Is there anything women have done that creeped you out? Let me know!]

 

 

 

 

Bill C-36 imposes moral judgement on consensual sex

Picasso

Picasso – “Nu couche et Picasso assis”, 1902, http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net

Though I have neither bought nor sold sexual services (nor know anyone who has done so, or at least who has told me about it), I find myself incredibly concerned about the Canadian government’s proposed bill C-36, which responds to the Supreme Court’s striking down of certain parts of Canada’s prostitution law by creating a new piece of legislation that is just as restrictive, ignorant, and unsafe (if not more so) for sex workers and their customers.

In my understanding, the bill restricts sex workers to working either in their homes or on the streets (since anyone renting space to them elsewhere would be “benefiting from the avails” of sex work, which means security guards, drivers, etc. would also be breaking the law if hired by a sex worker), prohibits them from advertising their services anywhere people under 18 may reasonably be expected to see this advertising (which includes, apparently, the internet so I’m not sure how that’s going to work), and criminalizes the act of purchasing sex. To reiterate: selling sex would be perfectly legal (with the above restrictions) but buying it would not.

Which of course means that the selling of sexual services wouldn’t REALLY be a legal transaction, because all of the sex workers’ customers would become criminals.

I know there are people who are passionately for the abolition of prostitution in Canada, and I know they mean well. I know the overwhelming majority of sex workers are women, and I know poverty is a factor in many women’s decision to become sex workers. I know there are women, men, and children currently performing sex work against their will. I know there are some sex trade workers who are being exploited, trafficked, assaulted, and plied with drugs by the people who are supposed to “protect” them. And this should and must stop.

But human trafficking, selling drugs, attacking a sex worker, and purchasing sex from minors (or exploiting a minor) are already illegal. What we need are better tools to enable police and courts to enforce existing laws, and trusting relationships between the justice system and sex workers that will both keep sex workers safe and help police to root out human traffickers, drug dealers, child molesters, and johns who hurt or kill sex workers. Effectively driving the profession farther underground and into the most dangerous parts of town (as bill C-36 would do by forcing sex workers away from any area children “might” be present, and customers of sexual services to hide for fear of arrest), does nothing to create trust between the justice system and the people this legislation is supposed to protect.

As for poverty, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in such a desperate situation that sex work became my only way to support myself and/or my family. No woman or man should be driven into sex work because of poverty. Instead of criminalizing johns, however, I would rather see our federal and provincial governments enact legislation that strengthens our social safety net and ensures vulnerable families never dip below the poverty line in the first place. It’s all well and good that the government wants to earmark $20 million for “exit services” (i.e. services that help sex workers leave the profession, though I am a little worried that most of these services may not be provided by impartial government agencies but by church groups eager to impart their brand of morality). Wouldn’t it be great if they earmarked those millions to fight poverty in Canada, so those who didn’t want to be sex workers never even had to start?

I am the first to admit that I am not the the most knowledgeable when it comes to sex work or to poverty. I also admit I personally would not like to be a sex worker. Which is why I have to trust the sex workers whose opposition to this bill I have read on Twitter and in news articles (like this one). Instead of rushing out to speak for people I do not know and whose lives I know nothing about, I have to trust what they’re saying. Yes, unsafe conditions, trafficking, drugs, and poverty are all problems in the sex trade. Problems that can be dealt with in other ways that don’t criminalize the exchange of money for sex itself. Yes, many sex trade workers are or do become victims of violent or exploitative situations, but their exploitation, abuse, and murder is already illegal, and bill C-36 won’t make those things any more illegal than they already are. I am not trying to downplay the dangers or the indignities that might befall a person working in the sex trade. BUT…

  • To claim ALL women who work in the sex trade are victims while ALL of their customers are aggressive, misogynistic criminals both patronizes women (ignoring the fact that some people do truly choose sex work), and demonizes men (and the occasional women) who turn to professionals when having sexual relationships (or indulging a specific odd kink) in their personal life isn’t possible. And there are lots of non-misogynistic reasons a person may pay for sexual services (from what I have read/heard, sometimes johns want human touch and someone to talk to, sometimes they have disabilities that make sex difficult, or their partner has a disability or illness and has given their healthy partner permission to seek sexual gratification from a professional, etc.). There are, of course, less saintly reasons a person may seek out sexual services as well, but if the sex trade worker is 100% consenting to the arrangement then that is none of our business.
  • The government’s talking points on bill C-36 have consistently referred to sex workers as being “women and children”, completely ignoring the men who also work in the sex trade. Are they too victims? Are they too being exploited by misogynists? Or can these men be trusted to DECIDE whether or not they want to receive money in return for sexual services because they’re men?
  • Bill C-36 and its advocates are being incredibly disingenuous. For example, Julia Beazley, policy analyst of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, claims that the use of sex workers is all about power, and that the government, through this bill, has “courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women’s bodies.” (You can read more from Ms. Beazley on CBC.ca) I completely agree that no one is entitled to paid sexual access to anyone’s body unless the person whose body it is WANTS to grant paid sexual access.

This last point is something neither the government, nor Christian advocacy groups, (nor, it must be admitted, some feminist organizations) seem to be getting. It is possible to WANT to sell sexual services. It is possible to take pride in sex work (and lots of vocal sex workers and kink artists do). It is possible to make yourself a sexual object (on YOUR terms) when you want to and still believe in dignity and equality for all genders. And it is possible to purchase the services of a sex worker without being a pervert.

What the government is effectively doing with this bill is saying that not all sexual relationships between consenting adults are okay (notice I am talking about adults, not children, and situations that involve full and freely given consent, not coercion or exploitation). Consenting adults can have sex and that’s just fine with the government, but as soon as one of them pays for it, that person is a criminal and a pervert and an aggressor and a deviant. The seller of said services suddenly becomes not an equal partner in a mutually agreed upon sexual act, but a victim who lacks the agency to decide for themselves what they want to do with their bodies. Essentially, there are certain kinds of sex the Conservative government simply “doesn’t like”, or perhaps doesn’t understand, and is hiding behind the guise of protecting women to impose their tastes (while creating situations that would actually make sex work for women more dangerous and allow Robert Pickton types to murder women with a lot more impunity).

I thought we established long ago that when it comes to fully consenting adults, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I know Pierre Trudeau wasn’t talking about sex work then, but perhaps we should be now.