A Tale of Two Sex Crimes: Douglas, Ghomeshi, and Process in Sexual Assault

By Esther MendelsohnPrison Massacre

T’was the best of times for sexual predators, t’was the worst of times for the women upon which they prey.

A female judge faces removal from the bench for an incident involving nude photos which were shown and distributed online without her knowledge or consent. She has been the subject of a pernicious and protracted inquiry for over two and a half years. Meanwhile, in the Twitterverse, Jian Ghomeshi’s fans and supporters are decrying the supposed lack of due process in his termination from the CBC.

Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas has been at the centre of a nude photo scandal that has rocked the Manitoba judiciary for over four years. Her trespass? Allowing her husband to take nude photos of her. Her husband, Jack King, who was also a lawyer and has since passed away, then showed the photos, without her knowledge or consent, to a male client in a bid to entice him into having sex with his wife—again, unbeknownst to her. After Justice Douglas was appointed to the Manitoba bench, the client claimed Mr. King’s actions constituted sexual harassment and filed a $67 million law suit and a formal complaint with Canadian Judicial Council, but settled for $25, 000 with a promise to destroy and never distribute the photos. He then proceeded to distribute the photos.

Before the scandal broke, and leading up to her appointment, Justice Douglas duly disclosed the existence of the photos to the appointment committee. In fact, it was a well-known secret. She is now being accused of not disclosing this fact and of altering her personal diary when she learned of the inquiry.

The inquiry, set up by the CJC, has been plagued with accusations of bias and mass resignations. The new panel consists of three senior judges—all male. Delays and debates about costs have characterized the inquiry, and there seems to be no end in sight. Even though the panel has admitted that the allegations are weak, they insist on marching on.

Now the panel wants to see the photos. To show them again, even to the panel members alone, would be a gross infringement on her privacy, a fresh violation of her sexual integrity, and utterly irrelevant to the matter at hand. The main problem with her conduct, ostensibly at least, is that she allegedly tried to cover up the existence of the photos. (Even if she did, she did so in the context of a society which devalues women’s work, misunderstands and misrepresents women’s sexuality, and simultaneously sexualizes and objectifies women while demanding they remain chaste.) Seeing the pictures will not elucidate any proof of whether or not Justice Douglas disclosed their existence.

d94c413b2ec88423f558371620452b62   The chill effect is glaringly obvious. How are we supposed to have a representative bench (and bar) if a female judge is being lambasted for things she chooses to do in her private life which harm no one and have absolutely no bearing on her ability to adjudicate cases? 

Can we not trust a woman who takes nude photos? Why not? If the issue is framed as being whether the public believes this judge can decide a case impartially, we are essentially harnessing women’s success to their sexuality and our perception of their abilities to their personal choices. We are once again putting women’s lives and careers at the mercy of society which still has an overwhelmingly distorted view on women, their sexuality, their abilities, and their collective character (as though such a thing exists). 

Every day, brutal sexual assaults go unreported or under-punished, perpetrators often acquitted on technicalities or because of society’s distorted view of women. But when a female judge is linked to nude photos (leaving aside the troubling fact that she is the victim of cyber sexual harassment/assault), the system will leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of “justice”.

To be sure, the standards to which judges are held are higher than those to which media personalities are held, and that is just as it should be. It is also true that the type inquiry of which the still Honourable Justice Douglas has been the subject and the criminal proceedings which could face Ghomeshi are quite different. The point of comparison, however, is the extent to which processes are used and abused when the subject of the process is a sexual offence.

While the inquiry into Justice Douglas’s personal life has been marred by prejudice and driven by discriminatory beliefs, Ghomeshi has set the agenda even before any charges have been laid. Ghomeshi, in a show of keen media acumen, got everyone talking about BDSM. Only those  familiar with BDSM and those familiar with the issues surrounding sexual assault were able to see the Facebook diatribe for what it as—a distraction. He has also been using litigation to silence his victims and confuse and pressure the CBC into ignoring allegations against him.

Windsor Law’s Professor David Tanovich suggests in a piece published by The Globe and Mail that if lawyers suspect a lawsuit is frivolous or an abuse of process, they are precluded from taking it on, as per the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Ghomeshi is represented by a union and any disputes with his employer must therefore go to arbitration, so money, restoring his good name, or being reinstated cannot possibly be his end game in filing suit. Rather, by suing the CBC, he is attempting to silence victims and any manager who dares to intervene in workplace sexual harassment. 

Much of the discussion surrounding the Ghomeshi scandal and the still-unfolding sexual harassment scandal emanating from the Hill, has coalesced around the question why don’t victims come forward

The question is predicated on the assumption that there is a process for redress and that this process is just. But the process can be manipulated. Despite decades of reform, the old tropes can still be found in judgments and in the media’s dissection of a case. Everything from the point of reporting communicates to victims that they should never have reported in the first place. The knowledge that the police will likely not believe you, the embarrassing examination in chief, the excruciating cross examination, the abysmal conviction rate, the farcical sentences, the demonization for being the person who ruined his career—there are plenty of reasons not to report. And if those reasons are not enough to dissuade victims from reporting, the fact that the process itself can be abused to suit the ends of the perpetrator probably will.

Society’s distorted view of women and sexuality allows people to use the system for ends utterly counter to our notions for justice. Ghomeshi using a lawsuit to silence victims and prevent intervention by managers, a blackmailer suing the victim of cyber sexual assault, a judicial inquiry conducting a witch-hunt against a victim and attempting to dictate the acceptable gamut for women’s private lives are just a few recent examples. There is certainly a process in sexual assault cases, but it seems to serve the perpetrators, not justice.

(Since this article was originally published, ACJ Douglas agreed to retire early in exchange for the CJC staying the inquiry. An open letter was written by the author of this article and was signed by hundreds of law students, professors, and lawyers across Canada and the US:

 https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1k4iXC46yKCK0ZeLord7pvWFCNsuT1wAIiZ-S8TgDg54/viewform?edit_requested=true

The CJC issued a response which can be found here:

https://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/Douglas_Docs/CJC%20letter%20to%20Ms%20Mendelsohn%202014-12-10.pdf

This article was originally published in The Orbiter Dicta . Esther Mendelsohn is a second-year student at Osgoode Hall Law School.)



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(Dis)Ambiguation

by Mirra Kardonne

elephant inside a snake

If I could remove femininity from my gender performance, I would.

And come to think of it, I could.

While we’re on the topic, I’d like not to perform.

Finally, gender isn’t real.

I recently came across this quote by J.G.Ballard, English science-fiction (apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic) novelist: “But it held a deeper meaning for me, the sense that reality itself was a stage that could be dismantled at any moment, and that no matter how magnificent anything appeared, it could be swept aside into the debris of the past.”

We really are magnificent. Only something as tremendous and incalculable as the human brain could harness something as transient and enigmatic as the individual personality. That immaterial, ectoplasmic goo (as it were), that makes every person essentially different from the other.

What a privilege, to have a healthy body and mind, to be a feminist, and to thus be afforded the space and the inclination to chisel away at my ‘personality’. Disentangling myself from the parasitic ideas of gender imparted on me, breaking down those parts of my personality I didn’t agree to, while building up the parts I do. Whether it’s obvious to the world or not, I do this constantly.

And yet, here I am, having already done considerable work on stripping away old facades, painfully attempting to undo the familiar behaviours that create ‘woman’–not only because the burden of performativity is oppressive to females, but because it felt oppressive even as I unknowingly performed them– and I realize I’m nowhere near done. The victory of climbing up so many ladders only to fall down a snake’s throat and land halfway down the board. Sometimes, at this point I’d like to quit the game entirely. What do I really get, if I win?

Even with a raised consciousness, how much of my personality is truly mine?  What did I come with, what then was I conditioned to think? Is my body mine, or it a vehicle for performance? If it isn’t, how do I live with it?

Every time I speak, I think about my voice. Am I speaking from by belly, or my throat? Notice the difference in pitch, and what that difference communicates. Does the sound ring in my skull, or vibrate in my nose? one is shriller, the other more resonant. Is one coming more easily, one more laboured? When I think this hard about anything, the next move is always an unnatural one.

What about the words I’m saying? How saturated are my S’s and T’s, how round are my O’s? If there’s even a hint of twang on my vowels, that will make my manner sound affected. How utterly feminine.

Or, trying to decrypt the message of my walk. I’m trying to stand straight and tall, a powerful stance– except this means I lead with my breasts. Is it better to shrug? My hips swagger when I walk…is it natural? Should I move fast or slow? I hardly know. Now THAT is what I call performance! Scrutinizing the minutiae of simply speaking a phrase, or walking to work. I resent this labour. But then again, I already did this work once before (or maybe many times, unknowingly).

Society entrusted to my parents the endeavour of raising a newborn female. I learned to inhabit the identity of ‘girl’,  of ‘tween’, of ‘teenage girl’, of  ‘college girl’, to whomever I was before I became positively sick from the poison of performance, of patriarchal condescension and my subsequent relationship to and expectations from that system. Sick of participating with my peers in the contrivances of a society that renders a female into a contestant in a perpetual dog-and-pony show — unwittingly entered, vying for a prize that may never be truly enjoyed by the contestants (namely, safety and personhood), but by our countless handlers– in this case, the unchallenged perpetrators of patriarchy.


nail-polish-girlPlaying Soldier

Of course, it’s not ‘men’ that ‘women’ are expected to perform for, but for Society. The larger surveillance that everyone, males included, feel. And the goalposts are always moving: hit this target to be considered a real “Insert Gender Title”. Oops. It’s moved to the left. Try again. And whomever this is harder for– ‘men’ or ‘women’– it is the females who chiefly suffer. In this moment of popularized feminism, the subsequent backlash takes the form of patriarchy-sanctioned sexual violence made trendy by social media, the disturbing trend of females renouncing feminism as an unsexy, obsolete or (ironically) oppressive system; and each of these violent gestures could rightly be perceived as a warning to males to remember that they are Men and to Act Like It Or Else, and as a warning to females that with resistance comes devastating collateral damage that will not only endanger our bodies and minds, but will pit us against each other.

Poor us, we live in confusing times for those trying to construct a ungendered personality. Care about your weight! Don’t care about your weight! Care about your clothes! Don’t care about your clothes! Care about Global Warming! Don’t care about Veganism! Care about the Middle East! Don’t care about Feminism! Each will, overtly or subtly, determine where you land on that mythical ‘gender spectrum’, which is a spectrum between two extremes. In order to be deemed worthy of attention, or at least, not worthy of scorn, you must stay close enough to the fringe of your assigned side as to be identifiable; but far enough so that you can be empathetic to your Other, who should be equally as close/far to their side as you are to yours. The gap between you is the non-understanding that you each possess of your Other.  And the gap must remain, because crossing it would diminish those crucial boundaries that separate ‘men’ from ‘women’. In which case, our only essential difference would be our not-all-that-different different bodies. And where’s the dominance there?

Again, (and again), I embark on the confusing, disheartening work of undoing yet another layer of my own conditioning. I don’t know where to start. I think that underneath (and in even writing so, I acknowledge my hunch that there is an ‘underneath’ to my ‘surface’) I am– we all are — fundamentally magnificent. Under the burden of constant performance, of dancing to the music of a vicious system that seeks to control what we eat, how much we weigh, how much we spend, how we communicate, even the substance of your voices, our values;  Ballards quote is, to me, best expressed not as poetry, but as prayer:

“…reality itself was a stage that could be dismantled at any moment, and that no matter how magnificent anything appeared, it could be swept aside into the debris of the past.”

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Why I Just Unsubscribed From Jezebel


by Amorina Kingdon

jezebel-touch-icon-200x200

When someone you love keeps doing stupid shit, how long do you hold on before you cut them loose? I fear I’ve come to that point in my long relationship with the website Jezebel.

I met Jezebel five or six years ago. I clicked on an article about good to-do-list apps. I quickly found Jezebel had a whole series of articles about unsolicited products that were actually good. Then I clicked on some other articles on feminism, and realized they were giving voice to an unspoken rage that had been twisting inside me, that I had long ago learned to squish down. No, Jezebel cried! You are neither wrong nor alone!

 

Alas, it’s been a long, long time since Jezebel gave me any similarly useful information.

So today, I’m going to my Facebook feed right now and will give you the last six Jezebel headlines that have come in. I have not looked at Facebook yet today, yet I feel confident they will prove my point. Then I’m going to unsubscribe. It will be sad. BRB.

1. Woman Who Put Pop Rocks On Genitals Featured on Sex Sent Me to the ER

2. Unsurprisingly, Bullying of LGBT+ Students is Rife in Japan, Too

3. California Mom Spends Mother’s Day Chasing Down Robber

4. Read the First Excerpt From Hillary Clinton’s Book Hard Choices

5. Sandy Hook Truther Steals Memorial Sign, Taunts Victim’s Mother

6. McDonald’s is Catering Nutritionist Conferences Now

 

There. I did it. It’s over.

1. Fucking seriously?

2. Leaving aside the question of feminism appropriating the struggles of other marginalized groups, this is another manufactured-rage story. Do we learn why? No. Do we learn how to stop it? No. Again, without these key points, all you’re doing is reiterating what we already know. You’re getting us dialled up to ten and then…nothing. One article like this is enraging. Ten, twenty in a row? I start to feel like I’m being provoked, like the site is treating my rage as a product.

3. Clickbait fluff (great Bond villain name!)

4. This may actually add some value to your day. Except the exclusive excerpt is over at Vogue.com. Two days ago.

5. This is FOX-News-esque gossip mongering, taking one weird example and extrapolating to significance. This is not important. Jezebel, what are you doing?

6. This is shady, true. But…is it related to feminism? Is it furthering discussion of women? No. When all your good articles need to reach outside feminism to be…well, good, doesn’t that say something?

LGiNJ

I want to be better. I want to make it better, or learn why it was not getting better before. Jezebel no longer does this for me. Instead, all I know when I open the page is that I’m going to hear yet another horror story that neither casts light on the why of misogyny, nor offers solutions. I will just get a snappy closing sentence that amounts to ‘guys! stop being assholes!’

And I have no time, energy, or strength for these sorts of circlejerks. There, I said it. It’s not me. It’s you. I can no longer afford to be made angry for no purpose. If I wanted that, I’d just go to a Red Pill forum.

But the thing that makes me angry, and not just sad? It had the potential. It had the audience. And it had the talent. Lindy West fired me up something fierce, back in the day. It’s a Gawker-affiliated site, so there was even the chance an occasional dude might see an interesting article. And now it’s a punchline. Granted, I could write a whole other article on how unfairly quickly it became a punchline, but still.

I can sum it up in one sentence: none of its content, as written, helps.

And hey! I get it. You’re sick, Jezebel. You have a condition. It’s called ‘being on the Internet’ and the problem you have is far from unique to feminist outlets. You are pressured to produce digestible, entertaining clickbait on ever-shorter deadlines. In many ways, it’s not your fault. Your friend io9 suffers from the same disease. I would have hoped you could escape it, find a way to push past it. But what is annoying on BuzzFeed is painful from you, and I can’t afford to wait around for you to grow up any longer.

So, goodbye, Jezebel. I wish the writers my sincere best in their next gigs – which they will have, I’m sure. Very, very soon.

In the meantime, this is (in my opinion) the last thing of real quality that Jezebel wrote. To close: a rather fascinating portrait of the woman behind Lisa Frank.

 

Sexual Assault and the Law in Canada

by Esther Mendelsohn 

College-Rape-Petition-Image_-via-genderuniversity

One in every four women in North America will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime. Only six percent of assaults are reported to police, less than half of those result in criminal charges being laid, and only one quarter of those end in a conviction.[1] And yet, the myths surrounding rape persist, and it is all too easy to forget that behind every statistic is a victim whose world has been shattered.

The Conundrum

In Canada, the laws pertaining to rape have evolved over the years, becoming among the most progressive in the developed world. Canada is the only country to have a rape shield law which includes the complainant’s sexual history with the defendant (in other words, a victim’s sexual history with the accused does not exempt the latter from prosecution). In 1983, The Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) was amended to include marital rape. By that time, there were already limits vis-à-vis the cross examination of rape victims, particularly as it pertains to sexual history, and requirements for informal corroboration and recency were also abolished. In the 1991 Seaboyer case, then Supreme Court Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé noted in her reasons that evidence that a complainant was a prostitute is irrelevant and prejudicial. In 1992, Parliament clarified the definitions of “consent” and “mistake of fact”, and expanded the list of circumstances when consent does not exist as well as defences which do not apply, such as extreme intoxication.[2]

To be sure, there have been criticisms of the new laws, especially against the renaming of “rape” as “sexual assault”.[3] Some say that the new nomenclature is watered down, and therefore makes it easier to dole out lighter sentences, even though the purpose of the new terminology was to emphasize the violent nature of the crime.[4] These criticisms, however, are misdirected. It’s not just about what we call it, it’s about how we’re dealing with it—or more to the point, not dealing with it. For some looking on from the sidelines, it would seem that our criminal justice system takes drug offences more seriously than it does sexual assault, despite what the law says.[5]

The Root of the Problem

Defence Attorneys

A successful Ottawa lawyer, speaking at a seminar said that “if you destroy the complainant in a prosecution…you destroy the head. You cut off the head of the Crown’s case and the case is dead. My own experience is the preliminary inquiry is the ideal place in a sexual assault trial to try and win it all… you’ve got to attack the complainant with all you’ve got so that he or she will say I’m not coming back in front of 12 good citizens to repeat this bullshit story that I’ve just told the judge.”[6] It’s no coincidence that the violent imagery in his words mirrors the violent nature of sexual assault, and the scenario he describes traumatizes many survivors and deters other victims from seeking justice. When a complainant is questioned by police and cross-examined on the stand, he or she is forced to relive the trauma of the assault and the feelings of shame and guilt are compounded.  It would seem that while we have enshrined the principle of an accused being innocent until proven guilty, we have also enshrined the opposite principle with regards to victims of sexual assault.

Judges

            When Alberta Court of Appeal Judge John McClung acquitted Steve Ewanchuk of raping a 17 year-old girl, he noted that the defendant’s actions were “far less criminal than hormonal”, adding that the victim “did not present herself [to her attacker] in a bonnet and crinolines”. Ever the crusader for justice and equality for women, Justice L’Heureux-Dubé, found hers being the lone voice decrying McClung’s comments in her reasons for overturning the acquittal. She correctly noted that, by McClung’s logic, men would never be held responsible for sexual assault so long as they could prove they were under the influence of their hormones.[7]

            But Justice McClung did not accept the ruling or the Justice’s comments. In an unprecedented move, McClung wrote an open letter published in the National Post, where he accused Justice L’Heureux-Dubé of a “graceless slide into personal invective”—comments obviously predicated on the notion that women are overly emotional and unable to separate the personal from the professional. It seemed as though McClung himself was sliding gracelessly into personal invective, but he did not stop there. In what can only be called a cruel ad hominem attack, McClung said that the rise in male suicides in Quebec (the province from which Justice L’Heureux-Dubé hails) could be attributed to feminism and opinions such as those held by the former Justice. He claimed not to know that her husband had taken his own life only a few years prior.[8] Our judicial system demands, and indeed, has institutionalized civility amongst lawyers and judges—opposing counsel even refer to one another as “my friend”; Justice McClung’s letter not only exposed his own misogyny and hostility towards women, it also fell short of the standard of civility to which lawyers and judges are held. (This is the same Justice McClung who analogized homosexuality and sexual assault in the Vriend case, and yes, he is related to the Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung, who is, no doubt, turning in her grave.)

            These are sad examples of the problem in our country. The laws are clear, and they are progressive; the problem lies primarily with the bar and the bench. Women are discouraged from reporting sexual assault because they know they may not be believed or that their experience may be trivialized. They know they may be viciously cross-examined—and who could blame them given the fact that defence attorneys feel empowered to metaphorically send the victim to the guillotine on cross examination. They know that convictions are rare, which will only exacerbate the feelings of shame and guilt so common among victims of sexual assault. Female lawyers and judges brave enough to speak out against the underlying sexism amongst some of their colleagues know they will likely be labelled irrational or radical, and the outcry from male barristers and judges is simply not loud enough.

 

Preliminary General Solutions

Having more women on the bar and bench is an important step in creating just laws and just decisions. It is important to recognize, however, that this must happen in tandem with male lawyers and judges standing up and challenging the way in which sexual assault is trivialized in our judicial system.

Educating the Lawyers & Judges

Lawyers are required to complete a certain number of Continuing Professional Development hours each year. Programs which deal with ethics are eligible, but not mandatory. It is my humble submission that courses on ethical lawyering in sexual assault cases should be mandatory for the entire criminal bar. Defence attorneys must understand the legal and ethical limits of mounting a defence in a sexual assault case, and must be held accountable when they cross the line in court. Prosecutors must be able to recognize and effectively deal with inappropriate questioning by defence counsel. Judges must understand the unique nature of sexual assault and its effect on the victim, and the pain of reliving the assault on the witness stand. We must obliterate every rape myth from our judicial system, and work to apply our laws and procedural rules more effectively. Educating lawyers and judges is crucial, and cannot be left up to the goodwill of individual practitioners.

Giving Victims a Voice

Many think that the prosecutor, or the Crown, is the voice of the victim in a sexual assault trial. The Crown must prove the elements of the crime, while the defence, though not legally obligated, usually chooses to raise reasonable doubt as to the Crown’s position. The Crown is not the victim’s lawyer, and is not even officially tasked with securing a conviction, but must rather seek justice and represent the entire public. So who, then, gives the victim a voice in court? Professor Larry Wilson of Windsor Law has suggested that retaining independent legal counsel may encourage more sexual assault survivors to come forward and may mitigate or prevent some of the issues victims face when encountering the system. Legal Aid should be expanded to provide services to victims of sexual assault.[9] Unfortunately, LAO’s (Legal Aid Ontario) coffers are already strapped, but the general notion of giving victims a voice in the proceedings should guide our approach to sexual assault prosecution.

Wilson also notes that victims have come to be seen as mere witnesses, and nothing more; they are no longer parties to the proceedings.[10] Witnesses, although usually integral to each side’s case, simply provide pieces of the puzzle—they tell the police and the court what they saw or know. Parties to proceedings, on the other hand, play active roles and carry the case. While the rationale behind removing the victim as a party to the proceedings (namely that the complainant no longer has to bear the financial burden of prosecuting their attacker nor the burden of proving the elements of the crime, etc.) is understandable, the victim should not be allowed to languish in ignorance as the case proceeds, but rather be kept informed by the police and Crown every step of the way as a matter of policy and not discretion (as would be perfectly legal for police to do, as long as victims of sexual assault are not considered parties to the proceedings). Currently, because victims are not parties to the proceedings, there is no law or rule on informing the victim about developments in the case.[11] Given the nature of sexual assault and that it is essentially an attempt by the attacker to take power away from the victim, victims should be empowered in court and given standing during the proceedings, beyond the passive role of simply testifying and giving a victim impact statement.

A Separate Court Circuit

Christine McGoey, one of the most accomplished and impressive women on the bar, and Toronto’s first female head Crown Attorney, pioneered the domestic violence courts—a court circuit dedicated to domestic violence, where a special team of experienced crown attorneys are assigned to only those cases. A similar model—sexual assault court, may also offer another possible solution. Seasoned and specially trained crowns would handle sexual assault cases and would appear before specially trained judges. Since the evidentiary rules in sexual assault cases are already quite progressive, the specially trained judges would know to apply them without fumbling and would be empowered to balance the rights of the accused with those of claimant. By focusing on the Crown and judges, this approach does not interfere with the ability of the defence to provide answer to the charges against the accused.

Public Legal Education & Access to Lawyers in Times of Crisis

The legal profession is slowly waking up to the fact that maintaining the knowledge and information in the hands of lawyers alone is an untenable situation. To that extent, public legal education initiatives in different areas have emerged, usually in partnership with community organizations, and are, generally, succeeding in democratizing the access to legal information and empowering people to know their rights. Having lawyers on staff at rape crisis centres and women’s shelters would go a long way in empowering survivors to come forward or at least in helping them to make informed decisions. Lawyers doing education programs in high schools might be a good way to nip rape myths in the bud and teach young people about consent and the consequences of sexually assaulting another person. I have outlined several different suggestions which together may provide a solution, because a problem so serious and so complex necessitates a multi-tiered approach.

Concluding Thoughts & Points for Further Reflection

            The justice system should be thoughtful and analytical in its approach to remedying this problem, but thoughtfulness and analysis should not lull us into forgetting the urgency of this problem. It is indeed one of the most pressing issues in our judicial system today. That our society does not prioritize the bodily integrity of women has ramifications for both women and men. For women: we will not be able to fully realize our autonomy as individuals if we continue to live in a society which persists in its adherence to rape myths. We will never be respected as individuals until we are respected as a collective. We will never be able to feel completely safe until our safety and bodily integrity are as important to society as that of men or as that of victims of other crimes. So long as sexual assault victims are suspected of lying, and so long as those suspected liars are primarily women, both the men and women of our society will retain the notion that women have a lesser authenticity and that questioning their honesty is both natural and a prudent course of action. For men, the ramifications may not be as obvious, but they are certainly just as serious. Men cannot hope to be complete, compassionate, and rational individuals unless and until they accept the humanity in the other, in this case, women, and critically examine the fallacies that are rape myths as well as their implications. And neither women nor men can fully trust or respect a society and a judicial system which do not prioritize the bodily integrity of members of a certainsub[u1] group.

I encourage you all to find ways to break the myths surrounding sexual assault and to find the tools and perspectives unique to your profession or academic background which can bring us all towards a more just society. As a law student, I see things through the unique lens of the law, and both my perspective and approach to finding solutions are necessarily informed by legal reasoning. Lawyers enjoy a privileged position in society and have the power to effect change. We have helped create and perpetuate some of these problems, so it is only fitting that we do what we can to fix them. Indeed, lawyers can play a role in all of these solutions, and I call upon my classmates and future colleagues to do just that.

 

 

Special thanks to Professor David Tanovich and to Professor Donna Eansor. Prof. Tanovich inspired me to explore this topic, and taught me much of what I know about the law and perhaps even feminism. Professor Eansor lives feminism every day and leads by example.    


[3] While I have no issue with either term, for the sake of consistency, I will use “sexual assault” almost exclusively from this point on, because it is the current legal term. 

[5] An example of this is the fact that the new mandatory minimums apply mostly to drug-related offences, as well as sexual offences involving victims under the age of 16, but do not apply to the sexual assault of those over 16 years of age. Recently, a disgraced anesthesiologist was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting 21 female patients who were sedated at the time; that is less than 6 months per assault. http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2014/02/25/dr_george_doodnaught_gets_10_years_in_jail_for_sex_assault.html The new mandatory minimum sentences bill imposes a sentence of at least six months imprisonment for growing a certain number of marijuana plants.http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c10-04&Parl=41&Ses=1#a16

[6] “Victims of Sexual Assault: Who Represents Them In Criminal Proceedings?”. Wilson, Larry.http://www.lsuc.on.ca/media/eleventh_colloquium_wilson.pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] Legal Aid does not currently provide services to victims of sexual assault, nor are victims required to retain the services of an attorney. In Ontario and Manitoba, legal assistance is provided for victims making a publication ban (medical and psychological records) application to the court.

[10] Wilson, Larry. “Victims of Sexual Assault; Who Represents Them In Criminal Proceedings?”http://www.lsuc.on.ca/media/eleventh_colloquium_wilson.pdf

[11] Ibid. As Wilson points out, there is a “Victim’s Bill of Rights”, but the “rights” are not enforceable and this is not an actual law, but rather a set of guiding principles. It falls on the individual officer or Crown to keep the victim informed, and unfortunately, these guidelines are not always adhered to, often as a result of heavy caseloads. There is a need for consistency.

The Bizarre Loneliness of Being Called a Cat

By Amy Medvick

catsI can remember that when I was younger I used to be sore about the fact that I was almost never cat-called, and I was jealous of the girls who regularly were. Getting that much attention from men was foreign to me. I assumed it must be because these girls were so much more beautiful than I was. I would think to myself, “If only I had that kind of effect on men, it would be simple enough to find one I like and date him. It would be so easy!” I was a lonely girl in those days.

Of course, occasionally I would receive one—the “nice legs!” or “nice ass!” variety—though this was quite rare. Always crude, and usually aimed at whatever region of my body was the most noticeable at the moment. I would try to understand them as compliments, hoping to bolster up my self-esteem, which worked a little, though at a price. I was always left feeling vaguely dirty and I assumed this was my own neurosis, some kind of complex female self-esteem thing that I needed to sort out before I could be truly beautiful—whether you go for the inner or the outer variety.

The first time I went to Brazil, I found the men to be so sweet. It seemed they only delivered genuine compliments to strange women on the street. I remember walking down Rua São Clemente in Rio, taking in the sights and sounds. “Linda,” said a nice-looking man as he walked past me: beautiful. How nice!

On later trips, made with a better understanding of the language, I came to realize that in Brazil, just as here, there are shady characters on street corners opining vulgarities at the female passers-by, along side the milder variety of cat-call. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to understand them.

I suspect, in fact, that for most of my life I had been experiencing a sort of language barrier with Canadian cat-calls too. But the barrier wasn’t Portuguese to English, the barrier was that I assumed I couldn’t possibly be the object of such attention. However, as my growing feminist awareness caused me to take more notice of my daily interactions with men, I began to perceive the constant commentary that follows me around as I’m trying to do my groceries or go to the bank or any of the many unremarkable tasks that fill my days. There was an irony to the process, since the more I took notice, the less I was able to even try construing what I was hearing as complimentary.

Now, you might be thinking, What’s so awful about receiving compliments as you go about your day?

But this is the tricky thing: cat-calls are rarely compliments, even though they often masquerade as such.

I never come out feeling more beautiful or desirable, nor do I feel that shy tickliness that comes from a really genuine compliment made in a more appropriate setting. I usually feel less beautiful and less desirable. Nope, cat-calls make me feel singled out, shamed for being noticed, and wondering if there’s something inappropriate about the way I’m dressed. In the worst cases, cat-calling can make me feel nervous or even afraid. In the best cases, I’m only bewildered, not sure if I’m the intended recipient. So often, the things said to me are simply bizarre.

m221184882But maybe I need to define what I mean by “cat-call”. I have a rather broad definition: I mean almost anything a male stranger says to me on the street that isn’t “Ma’am, you dropped your gloves” or “Where’s the nearest subway station?” or other similar practical interactions. Cat-calls are intended to get attention, provoke reactions, and put me in my place. These cat-calls often seem to have a sexual motivation, even if the statement isn’t clearly sexual, though there are other varieties as well.

However they manifest, they are a gendered phenomenon—I have never been spoken to by a female stranger in ways that fit into any of the above, or following, categories of cat-calling. Much of this commentary might not strike you as really being a cat-call. But ah, this is why I am redefining the term! There are multiple, public, gendered commentaries flying at women on the street every day, not only the overtly sexual but many others that share a similar intent with the cat-call as it is traditionally understood.

But perhaps some examples will illustrate better what it is like for me to walk down the street.

I might grow out my bangs. Maybe that will help.

I might grow out my bangs. Maybe that will help.

So, for example, one cat-call I frequently hear is an identification of my hairstyle. Some guy will mutter a phrase with the word “bangs” in it, or simply exclaim, “Bangs!” Something in the tone makes it clear that this has become my name. “Bangs!” he calls plaintively as I pass by without reacting. He sounds sad! I have broken his heart, he says in that one word. Why aren’t I wooed by his ability to describe me?

Clearly, I am cold-hearted. Also ungrateful.

Then, there are the instructional variety. One Saturday, I was walking down Bloor Street, eating chocolate covered almonds from the bulk-food store as I enjoyed the spring sunshine. I noticed this giant man eyeing a tiny woman up as she walked by. The ogling disturbed me. He noticed me noticing his ogling, and then it started. “You shouldn’t eat chocolate. I had to have two fillings because my teeth rotted out from eating chocolate my whole life.”

Oh, OK Sir. I won’t eat chocolate. Because you say so. My appetite is so unbecoming.

i-dare-youThere are regulars whom I have come to recognize, always making the same requests. “Smile, be happy!” he tells me every time I pass him. Clearly the Zen wisdom of this man trumps whatever may be happening in my life that day. Whatever my heartbreak, be it of the love, career, or dying-pet variety— it does not justify forcing him to endure my dour countenance. God forbid!

Some cat-calls are truly bizarre. “Do you like fireworks? Fireworks! Yes, you do!” This isn’t a sales pitch since fireworks aren’t for sale. Or maybe it is a metaphorical sales pitch with metaphorical fireworks. I don’t even flinch though, because at this point I’ve heard it all.

On second thought, this explains everything. Mistress of Murder indeed!

On second thought, this explains everything. Mistress of Murder indeed.

“Green!” cries the fireworks vendor. The colour of my dress.  Oh look, they’re describing me again. How come I don’t swoon? Well, I don’t really have time to swoon because I’m on my way to a Blasfemmers meeting. By the way, did you know I’m a feminist? Do you still find me so alluringly green now that you know that? Or does that make it more fun? Are you a hipster and is this ironic cat-calling, so tasteless and rAnDoM that it’s cool again? I don’t understand what you expect to accomplish! Please clarify!

No wait, please don’t!

But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I pull and tug at my sweater, trying to hide my shameful greenness.

“You look like Michael Jackson!”… great.

No comment.

But the worst cat-calls are the ones that don’t at all try to pretend they aren’t really insults.

One night, last summer:

I was waiting to cross the street, heard my phone receive a text. Took it out. Someone was confirming a rehearsal time. The lights changed; I started to cross. I put my phone back in my purse and took out my day-planner to write down the time. Not your typical street-crossing activity, I admit, but not really anyone’s business either. As I passed in front of the waiting car, I hear their voices: “Oooh, what are you writing in your diary? I hope it’s about me! Dear Diary, my vagina stinks.”

For a moment it was like trying to swim upstream as I struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Then it clicked, just in time to shout and gesture expletives as they sped away.

Later that night, walking home:

“Hey, what’s up? What? You won’t talk to us because we’re black?”

Yes. That’s the reason. I’m not talking to you, strange men in the dark of night, because I am a racist. If you were white, I’d be all like, “Heey booyss, hoowss it goin’?” That’s exactly how I interact with strange white men on the street. Because that is a safe thing for a woman to do at midnight.

NOT.

Two nights after that:

I was downtown hanging out with my Mom. I had been telling her about those two events earlier that week. Also talking to her about some guy who got all up in the grill of my feelings without really knowing what he was stirring up, and how I was trying to figure out what to do with all the disappointment, yet again.  Somehow these two topics were combining to make me feel incredibly hopeless about love, and awfully lonely.  I left for home feeling dejected, too exhausted to cry as I slowly descended on the escalator to the subway. A middle-aged man was on his way up.

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“Hellooo,” he cooed, eyebrows raised. Not particularly creative, but I didn’t have the energy to ignore him. Instead I watched him as he glided towards me, the tired weight of my eyes resting heavy upon him.

“What, so sad?” he said.

I wish we lived in a world where I could say, “Yes, so sad, and here’s why: because despite all this attention I get for doing absolutely nothing, I’m still lonely. It seems like it’s love and admiration that’s being heaped on me by strangers every day when I leave the house, but its not. It’s insult and aggression. If in some strange other universe you appealed to me, and I offered myself, I know you wouldn’t have me. Your anger is palpable. I think you might hate me. At the least, you have taught me that my place is to feel isolated, ashamed of being remarkable, and no matter how I try, your words still echo in my ears every time I talk to a man I genuinely care for. Those echoes make it a struggle to believe I can be taken seriously.”

Yet—yet—once in awhile:

A crisp, sunny February day. I’m out in my new neighbourhood, wrapped up in my vintage velvet coat. A man hovering outside the Roti Shop on my block calls out to me in his lilting Caribbean accent.

“Beautiful. Lady. Good Mornin’!”

And it was. And I felt, indeed, like a Beautiful Lady.

I can’t fully explain why this one felt so different from the rest, except maybe that it was genuine and benevolent. It brightened my day, and I think that was his intention. He wanted nothing from me, and wasn’t angry at me for reacting, not reacting, enjoying or feeling angry or shamed. Amid the din of the cat-calling, when the weight of all the bizarre loneliness inflicted by the flood of commentary threatens to pull me down, I think of this one. The compliment was nice, but that’s not really the important part. It’s just a relief to remember that being a Beautiful Lady should be nothing but a good thing.

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And now, to make us all feel better, here are a bunch of cute pictures of cats with phones:

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images

catcall

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Cat Calling Mum

Picture by Mark Richards-Bruce the Cat dials 999 and gets the cops calling!

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Keep it to yourself, bozo.

Keep it to yourself, bozo.

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Editors New Years’ Resolutions!!!

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~~~~HAPPY 2014 EVERYONE!!~~~~ 

To kick off 2014, we the Blasfemmer Editors offer 10 of our resolutions for this brand new,  shiny year! Here’s to courage, and to what comes next.

1. I resolve to try to judge a person’s feminism by their actions, not their words.

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2. I resolve to be more sensitive to the experiences of individuals in other marginalized groups, helping to remind others that my feminism cares for the wellbeing of everyone.

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3. I resolve to bypass the patriarchal imperative for female perfection by both accepting my flaws and idiosyncrasies, and working through any obstacles in a positive and constructive manner.

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4. I resolve to have the courage to continue to talk about feminist issues with anyone who is receptive and interested- no matter how bizarrely they ask.

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5. I resolve to decimate sexists with intense excellence, that not only renders the culprit speechless and aware of wrongness, but also leaves a gleaming trail of inclusivity and empowerment behind.

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6. I resolve to not let the pitch sail by—  but to speak up in the moment, not in anger, but in open-hearted responsiveness and love of the future equality-to-be.

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7. I resolve to conserve my energy and respect my limits when dealing with the intractably sexist—  finding ways to protect myself in the midst of attack, and cutting ties with those who claim that my experience doesn’t exist.

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8. I resolve to support and encourage those whose activism takes alternate routes to my own.

Ukrainian activist Inna Shevchenko, from the topless women's rights group Femen, poses in Paris

9.  I resolve to keep the faith that change is possible.

BRITAIN LONDON PUSSY RIOT PROTEST

10. I resolve to remember the reality that there are lots of us; that part of the myth is that we’re each all alone in the big bad patriarchy, and that no one stands with us. We are many, and we are growing.

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-Love,
Mirra, Tova, Amy, Amorina

Michael and Amanda

by Amorina Kingdon

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For the first time in a decade, as I jogged along the seawall in Victoria this morning, I thought about my ex-boyfriend Michael and my then-friend Amanda. Specifically, I found myself thinking about their interactions, their intense dislike of each other, and how a few conversations with them left unexpected, deep imprints on me.

Michael was my first serious boyfriend in university. He was an engineering student from moneyed West Vancouver stock. He prized rationality, action, and logic. He was an impressive person, and everyone thought so. He knew his single malt scotch, introduced us all to sushi, built a bar in his dorm room, was not afraid to confront anyone, and once, he yelled at a cabbie for leaving the meter running while he ran to a bank machine.

Amanda was my dorm-mate during first year, and then roommate in a shared house. She prized loyalty, creativity and music knowledge. An overweight girl in pyjama pants, she walked imperiously, was an only child, and tried to solve conflict by starting small, (a tactic us girls are all taught is polite, and later grow up to find the rest of the world derides as ‘passive aggression’). She could, however, be remarkably direct if need be. A dedicated film student, she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of filmography, and called herself the ‘floor mother’ in res even though no one else did. She also complained… a lot – about her weight, her house, or why she was still single.

On the surface, the reasons for their animosity were that Amanda’s complaints made her a negative person, Michael didn’t like her, and since she found him cold and unsympathetic, it drove their mutual dislike even further. She had few traits that made her ‘likeable’ — he possessed many traits that commanded respect.

“Why do you hate her so much?” I asked Michael, one day.

“She’s completely negative, she’s always complaining but expects everyone else to bend over backwards to make her feel better.” Michael said. He moved sharply, economically, wrapping a scarf and getting his keys.

“She doesn’t,” I say. “She just feels like you don’t like her.”

“I don’t,” he said.

“You don’t try,” I say, frustrated. Even though I am nominally on his side, I still feel the need to try and explain, defend my friend, because deep down inside, I know I am more like her than I am like him. If he can think this way about someone not too dissimilar to myself, what must he think about me? I think back to every offhand complaint about my weight, and imagine this same ire rising in him, this same contempt. Yet he is not someone who feels the need to expand his circle of understanding or empathy, and I start to get this twisted, tearful feeling of needing to explain something important to someone who doesn’t care.

“Why should I try?” he said. And then, “When something is wrong, I do something about it. She’s always bitching about how she’s fat, but she eats like shit. She complains she doesn’t have a boyfriend but she doesn’t try meeting people. She never actually helps herself.”

“Why do you hate him so much?” I asked her one day.

“He’s arrogant,” she said in a clipped voice. “He’s disrespectful to me in my own house.”

Like a Pavlovian trigger, the automatic, don’t-even-think-about-it phrase from my ascribed script drifted through my head, learned from millions of female pep talks and only six pre-described emotions that women were supposed to feel: you’re just jealous.

“Why don’t you guys just talk?” I said. “He’s very rational. If you explain…”

“Yeah,” she snorted, interrupting me. “Right. All he does is tell me what I’ve done wrong, what I should do better, and then shuts down the conversation unless I do those things. He doesn’t like me and he’s really, really disrespectful. In my own house.”

“He…likes you fine…” I said.

Ten years later, running along the seawall, I think about this conversation.

I do this because for the last two kilometers, I’ve been running entirely on focus; a flimsy bag of mental carrots and sticks.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Run, bitch.

You’ll feel so good once you finish this.

Sweat is just fat crying because you’re punching it in the face.

When these give out, my body will win, and I will stop.

Jesus fuck, I hate running.

Why are you doing it then?

Because when I’m not running, I love running.

You know you COULD push yourself further. You use your brain to drive your legs. When you don’t make 5k, it’s because you quite literally don’t want it enough. Yet you want to HAVE DONE 5K. Where does the want or the need go?

I just want to be thinner.

I know. You’re always complaining about it.

Oh, fuck you. I just want to be okay as I am.

I realized a few things about Michael and Amanda, all in a rush:

Amanda’s complaints were born of an inward dialogue that society had taught her to have with herself, which didn’t reflect her true thoughts. Her complaints didn’t reflect a desire for change. They were something else.

Michael, the sort of person for whom the world could sport a sticker saying “For us, by us”, took her at her word, because for him, action was always possible and never restricted. He presumed Amanda had the agency to solve her own problems, and his ire was a product of according her the rights and freedoms of his world.

But Michael could never know what it was like to be Amanda: working under a different set of expectations, and far from the ideal.

Amanda could never know what it was like to be Michael: someone for whom aggression can usually net results and admiration; someone for whom ‘likeability’, that nebulous nothing-quality, was not necessarily a factor in his friendships, his jobs, or his happiness. He wasn’t expected to be likeable, only to engender respect. A man of action in every sense of the word, surrounded by frustrating, inexplicably hamstrung girls.arguing[1]

The expectations stemming from their gender caused these two people to find themselves in a power struggle – a struggle for likeability on her part and respect on his – which ended in dismissal and contempt on his part, and hatred and impotent rage on hers.

What does any of this have to do with feminism?

Amanda was a perfectly average person for whom, due to her age and gender, likeability trumped any other form of social necessity, and self-deprecation was the only acceptable way to discuss herself. I have observed that quiet self-esteem is a fleetingly rare thing for most girls or young women. Consciously or unconsciously, women are typically considered public objects, and opinions on their every physical and character trait, on their likeability, are publicly traded commodities.

Amanda knew that everyone noticed her weight, her singledom, the state of her house: those were the only things that they needed to know to assess whether they liked her. When she happened to come up on the wrong side on all counts…she was, quite literally, not good enough.

But the truth was…. she liked being single. She didn’t want to spend 6 shitty months losing 40 pounds. And deep down, she didn’t really care if the domicile was less than spotless. That was the truth of her, and she didn’t hate herself as much as she led us to assume. But because she was female, she had to either meet these expectations, or explain why she wasn’t.

And for most people, the quickest way to a) acknowledge a failure to meet an expectation and b) express your desire to rectify it, is with a complaint. In fact, for most women, that’s what a complaint is. It’s not, as is commonly misunderstood, simply ‘being negative’, nor is it asking others to do something about it for you. It’s a direct reflection of the expectations you feel guilty for failing to meet.

Michael, on the other hand, had already met his set of expectations. He was six feet tall, lean and tight-tendoned, his weight never fluctuated. He was attending a prestigious program, he had money and a near-guarantee of continuing to make more. He didn’t need to be single or attached, he didn’t need to be anything physically other than ‘not too fat’, and the state of his house was assumed to be something far beneath what he needed to worry about. He didn’t need to do anything to achieve social acceptance other than to be smart enough, be aggressive, and finish his degree. (All things, note, that Amanda was doing too. But none of which weighed in any balance for her – not while weight, status and cleanliness were on the scale).

Michael was okay in society’s eyes when he rolled out of bed. He had nothing to apologize for; and therefore, nothing to complain about. He assumed the same was true of everyone; therefore Amanda, who wouldn’t ‘help herself’, engendered his contempt.  He felt no need to be nice to Amanda for courtesy’s sake, because he did not need her– her presence, approval, or lack thereof had no effect on his ability to exercise his will.

Amanda felt a need to be nice to Michael as a default, because to do otherwise would be unlikeable. His disdain would mean cruel verbal sallies that rendered her weakened and emotionally vulnerable, while the same conflict did not take anything from him. And she had been raised to believe she must be the social lubricant, the default positive, in all social interactions.

Michael would come to our house without feeling the need to talk to Amanda, or ask if it was too late or too early, or if he could use the kitchen. Because to him, she was an unlikable girl, she didn’t merit social status, or respect. Therefore, Michael gave nary a thought to niceties that would have kept their animosity to a low simmer.

Every woman knows a Michael. I imagine that many, if not most, women catch themselves, from time to time, complaining without fully understanding, or believing, their own words. Usually, it’s about something they feel guilty over failing to do – often, failing to even want to do. Many women then hear a rebuking voice in their head, and pinpoint the exact person who would say some version of “Stop complaining. Just do something about it.”

And when logic fails to give a reason to ignore the voice, perhaps the following might: you are operating under a different set of expectations.

I ran until I cycled through every motivational thought I had and I couldn’t summon the energy to give a shit anymore. I ran five kilometers today, which is about 400 calories, or about a tenth of a pound. Do you like me better for knowing that? Maybe to you, it’s a benchmark that helps count towards my likeability.

But for me, that’s a direct measure of how much appropriation of society’s standards I can sustain. It was a beautiful, blue, oceanic day. I should have walked.

It’s A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow! Just Not Today. Never Today.

by Kat Letwin

I know you get asked this a lot, but: I’d like you to picture a timeline that encompasses the entirety of human existence.

Geological_time_spiral

Kinda like this.

On the left-hand side  of the timeline is the appearance of Homo habilis (2.3 million years ago), the “yesterday’s classics” to “today’s hits” in the KISS 92 FM world of human evolution. I once saw a silverback gorilla that looked hauntingly like my paternal grandfather, so I’m picturing that as Homo habilis, even though it’s not scientifically accurate to do so. On the right-hand side of the timeline is us, today, right this very second. I’m picturing us, today, right this very second, and it’s scientifically accurate to do so.

It was only 200,000 years ago that archaic Homo sapiens, inventors of fire and more fire, gave way to anatomically modern humans, inventors of Motown and physics. In the context of the timeline, that’s so close to the present moment, it’s like we became people just about a decade ago. Which means women were legally recognized as people (in Canada) about a second ago. Which means we, as collective ten-year-olds, are flailing like ragecrying idiots while trying to adjust.

Let’s delve deeper into the timeline; let’s get waist deep in 12th century England. Now, I’m no historian, but here’s how I’m pretty sure it would go down if you were a woman:

One night, your dad and some guy named Snug the Joiner, who he met at the local tavern last week, run into each other at the local tavern after a hard day of being a dad and a Joiner, respectively. They get drunk together. Your dad starts gambling, which he knows he shouldn’t do because the drought’s been wreaking havoc on the crops. Your dad quickly starts to lose, because he never learned how to play dice, and he never wants anyone to find out. He gets further and further in debt to Snug. Your dad offers the farm. Snug is not interested in the farm, because it’s the worst farm in town. Your dad gets an idea and blacks out for a couple hours. The next morning, your dad and Snug barge into the room you share with your brothers and sisters, whom you’ve taken care of since your mother died last spring in a birthing accident. Just before your father pukes all over little Seamus slumbering away by the cookpot, your dad tells you,

“Myne dotter! myne Progenie! Thou shalt be joiynt to this -”

And he points to Snug the Joiner, but starts laughing pretty hard when he remembers Snug is a Joiner and he just said joined, and then the vomit comes with a bracing force. You don’t say anything, but it’s not just because Snug is the worst Joiner in town, it’s because someone has to get all that vomit off Seamus before the stench of pure alcohol seeps into his pores. You worry about who will be there to do that once you’re given away. Snug smiles at you, but smiling can wait – after all, you have your whole life ahead of you to figure out how to smile at your new husband.

That doesn’t happen so much when you go back to the future, or “Back…to the FUTURE!” as Christopher Lloyd once said during his guest appearance on Spin City. Upon returning to 21st century (in Canada), things are markedly better for women as a whole: we vote, we have access to birth control, we can keep our money, and we’re far less likely to die of anything plague-related. Yet, despite such progress into the furthest reaches of the right-hand side of the timeline, the idea of women being in control of their own bodies is still, to us, today, right this very second, kind of mind-blowing.

For fourteen years, I went to Catholic school in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and Catholicism – as we all know – is firmly rooted in humanity’s past. It’s not uncommon to hear the Bible referred to as an historical text, and in a sense, I do believe they’re right. I think the Bible captures the time period in which it was written in a stunning fashion. In any other book, I would simply find this fascinating and leave it at that; but when we’re dealing with a text that purports to be the perfect word of God, then the social norms of millenia ago– especially those regarding gender– take on a real world, present day immediacy.

Every year’s curriculum, junior kindergarten to the very last year of high school, included mandatory religion classes. From Gr. 1 until Gr. 8, Family Life classes introduced us to the idea of sex and marriage. The two classes were inextricably intertwined. I was taught that marriage was a sacrament, a holy bond between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation. I was taught that fallopian tubes were called fallopian tubes, the vagina was called a birth canal, and the clitoris was called absolutely nothing at all. I was taught that I was expected to marry a man. I was taught I was expected to bear children. I was taught that God wanted me to make this prospective man and these prospective children the centre of my life. Above all, I was taught that I could never fulfill God’s plan for me if I didn’t save my virginity for my husband like it was the last shrimp on the cocktail glass.

“What if I don’t get married?” I asked my Gr. 7 teacher.

“Then I guess you’re never having sex.”

“But why?”

“It’s in the Bible.”

It was a tiresome answer to a pressing question. Since I considered myself to be a full human being with a fundamental right to the truth about my body and sexuality, I ignored what I was taught and decided to learn on my own. My school’s library in both elementary and high school had very little in the way of non-religious resource material, which wasn’t a huge surprise, so my parents helped me purchase what amounted to a personal library over the course of several years. I had books about puberty, sex, feminism, queer positivity, and erotica; this was balanced by books about the history of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and atheism. I discovered that what I was being taught in my Catholic school was rooted in a dense, tangled history of misogyny and oppression, and that the Word of God could change drastically depending on the kind of Bible one read (for reference, my school always used the popular and problematic King James Bible, which was first published in 1769). If there was no definitive Bible, and if we were all talking about the same God when he was called Yahweh or Allah, then how could I silently accept “It’s in the Bible” as an answer? I said as much in class. I also said that what we were being taught about our lives and our bodies was wrong. I was told, more than once, I was going to hell.

I suppose I wasn’t too surprised when questions from my classmates – shy questions, curious and scared questions – started popping up like so many newly discovered boners that tented the pants of their religious upbringing. Here are some of the answers I remember giving:

1. No, your vag won’t stretch and sag if a dick’s been in it. No, not even if it was big.
2. No, not every girl is born with a hymen, and some girls naturally break their hymens doing crazy things like gymnastics. Or horseback riding. Or standing there and watching your friend’s brother try and fail to do an ollie for like twenty goddamn minutes.
3. No, you can’t get pregnant from a dildo, unless it is leaking with viable semen, which I’m genuinely hoping isn’t the case.
4. No, girls don’t orgasm from putting in a tampon. Girls tend to orgasm if you rub her clit the way she likes it.
5. No, you didn’t “ask for it” if you didn’t ask for it. Oh my God, that’s never the case.
6. No, abortions aren’t more likely to kill you than heroin. But giving birth is more likely to kill you than an abortion.
7. No, your vag isn’t disgusting. Your vag isn’t a flower. Your vag is a vag, and it’s awesome thpompiere way it is, and whatever has (or hasn’t) happened in there doesn’t affect your worth as a human being.
8. No, I’m not promoting sin.
9. No, you’re not a slut.
10. Yes, you’re a good person.

And these, but for the grace of small rebellions, were not a part of our education.Because human progress is slow. Maddeningly slow. It can feel like a sluggish, inexorable slog towards the future of spaceships and holodecks and complete and total egalitarianism we’ve all been writing fanfiction about, but let’s put it this way: in the context of the timeline you imagined at the beginning of this whole thing, women have only been people for a second, and already we’ve done some incredible things to push ourselves away from the bulk of history that precedes us. For example, I wasn’t stoned to death in the hallways of my high school, nor did my dad sell me into sexual slavery for a minor profit before I caused too much trouble. Which is great! It’s nice to not be killed or enslaved, I think most people can agree on that.

But does that make us equal? Does that mean we did it, we finally did it, and we’re totally all on the same playing field?

Hell no. The thing about experiencing the timeline as we humans do – day to day, month to month – is that we’re still enduring the residual effects of hundreds of thousands of years of both externalized and internalized oppression. It’s an almost incomprehensible amount of time and discrimination to digest and shit out of our collective butts, because human society is constipated with kyriarchy. Things are better now than they were, but how long can we be content with finding true equality tomorrow? Tomorrow isn’t today. Tomorrow is never today. It’s not too much to ask. The fight for freedom from stigma and oppression continues – and must continue – until our timeline finally breaks even.

Kat Letwin sometimes writes and mostly performs theatre and comedy in Toronto, ON. Follow her on Twitter (@letwinka) if you’d like to know when her friends are doing cool stuff.

That Time An Episode Of ‘Weird Science’ Ruined My Life, and Subsequent Childhood Musings on Yes and No

by Mirra Kardonne

Sometimes I think back to that stretch of time as a young’un, when I thought everyone was a robot. More specifically, a computer-persona named Hank.

Let me explain.

I was around 8 or 9, watching TV. Rapid-fire flipping through channels, only a nano-second’s worth of televised image flashing through my brain before I knew I didn’t want to watch it.  I landed on a particular program, I can’t remember what it was called. Maybe you remember it… two dorky teenage boys have a genie. Not in a lamp, but in their computer. And not an amorphous Robin-Williams’ voiced blue mass with head on top—but a sexy, buxom female-humanoid, software programmed to perfection (by the two geek-pro boys). She would always get the boys out of a tough scrape with her magical/techno powers and kibosh their hair-brained schemes with a scolding. Oblivious to the admiration of the slack-jawed virgin males, she would aid in and clean up after the boys’ adventures every week before the boys finished for the day and ‘turn her off’ (or something like that). She would then retreat back into her technological den of chastity.

I thought the show was scary, but not in a Goosebumps way…in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. The genie character was treated like a human, which didn’t make any sense, because she wasn’t. That was the whole point: they made her because no real girls would deign to talk to two such geekazoids. She wears makeup, has perfect hair, wears sexy outfits, yet she herself is asexual, because she’s a freaking computer. The boys keep her a secret—no friends, parents or teachers know about her.  She lives in their computer, and is summoned every week from behind the screen into their bedroom, ready to knock their socks off (with her… personality).

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One evening, I’m flipping through channels, and come across this very show (a quick Google search tells me the show was called Weird Science). It had just started, a few minutes past the hour. So far in the plot, genie is suspicious of a new computer the boys have in their possession. The computer is comprised of machine stacked on top of machine, adorned with dials, levers and multicoloured lights. On top of the mechanical mass, a single monitor, displaying the head of a man. The man’s mischievously-handsome face smiles a charismatic smile, and in a voice easy to listen to, seduces the boys away from their beloved genie, who scowls from the corner and warns against this newfangled mechanical character. The Computer Man-Face calls itself Hank.

There’s something unsettling about that disembodied Man-Face. His body is made up of metal boxes… he shouldn’t be so smug. I wish he would stop joking around. What does he know about life–he was just turned on 5 minutes ago! I mean it was turned on 5 minutes ago. What business does a computer have being charismatic, or mischievously handsome? Why on earth are the genie and Hank at odds, like brother and sister fighting for parents’ attention? They’re both tools! Why is the genie looking at him with resentment? Why is Hank winking at her, even though she clearly detests him?

Clicking the channel button with my thumb at a steady pace, I put my eyeballs in far distance from the program (the distance of many channels). It’s the TV-watchers equivalent of light-jogging away from something ugly they saw on the sidewalk, like roadkill, while taking a morning run.

I keep flipping through the channels until they turn over, and I’m back to the beginning, Channel 2– TVO.  Channel 3– Global.   All the way back to where I had thumb-click fled. Hank was now talking to the genie, a head confined in a box, and she—a full bodied female computer projection. Obviously agitated, she begins to leave Hank’s presence, but he quickly manages to change her mind. She stops, half turns to look at Hank, and stays to listen a little while longer.

Commercial. My dad comes into the room because he wants to watch the McLaughlin Hour. Lollololololloolol Dad—No. I don’t think so. A struggle ensues, where he goes for the remote and I hide it, he turns the channel manually and I yell very loud. I think he manages to watch his show for about 15 minutes before I get to turn back. I don’t know why I want to go back and look again. I am very uncomfortable with where this is heading.

I flip back to the channel. Confusion, lights, and the music is blaring minor chords—it can only mean TROUBLE. Everyone’s yelling and running around. Where’s the genie?! What’s wrong with her, what’s happened? Cut to: her head, a 2-dimensional image on a screen of her furiously making out with Hank, two profiles eating face with a vengeance. Evidently, she has been lured into his head-only universe and is now trapped inside his computer fortress home, where no one can come in: Like a doorless room with a glass wall, we can all see the thing happening inside but no one can do anything but watch.

The boys are sprinting this way and that! It seems that the only way to free the genie in time before her identity is completely deleted by Hank is to turn two keys in the Hank computer-body at the exact same time which will shut the whole operating system down. I don’t know if they succeeded because I RAN AWAY WITH THE SPEED OF MY THUMB ON THE CHANNEL CHANGER into the upper channels.

I. Am. Scarred.

The whole episode had set up an entrapment, from which the genie needed to be rescued. She has been seduced by the computer Hank, who is on the evil sex warpath, who has hypnotized the pouty-lipped micro-miniskirted puppet of a character into submission. She is consumed by his will to seize, and she must eat his stupid face, and even worse, she must be tricked into thinking that she likes it.

I’m not sure if the TV exec Powers That Be were trying to scare the living daylights out of me and other young girl Weird Science viewers, or what. That whole ‘boys only want one thing’ hooey… turns out to be true!! Boys, men and male-performing robots want to trap you in a small space and/or trick you into fucking them. Girls are either meant to be a piece of furniture in boys’ lives (as the genie was to the boys; a smattering of girl-prudence and boobs in the boobless wasteland that is male dweebhood), or prey, as she was to Hank. Females are NOT allowed to want, let alone long for, seek or enjoy anything sexual. The music cues! Minor chords!!  Girls must identify lust as E-V-I-L, and dangerous. If I, as a girl, ‘submit’, I am rendered a shadow of my former self, a slave to some man’s will. I must rely on my male friends who want to fuck me (but don’t have a shot) to save me from the man who will manipulate me into doing  ‘the sex’, which categorically disgusts me, chaste virgin princess that I am (in my natural, unmarred state).

And the problem that caused the child-me so many sleepless nights, was that I did, in fact, feel an inkling of the drive. That primal will that Hank embodied, that same thing the genie demonstrated after her ensnarement.  To feel and do things… I didn’t have anything in mind at the time… but dammit, one day I’ll learn! I sort of got it, even though I also knew that for me to feel the drive was wrong, yes it definitely was. It’s wrong for me to feel it because Hank is a predator who preys on girls like me. I can’t feel it, or else I must be a predator like Hank. No, I need to be a hyper-feminine, overtly sexual exterior, with an asexual interior– always on display but never available. Like the genie.

My 8 year old self ponders…

What if I do want it? Will anyone believe me? What would that mean about me? What if I don’t? Will it happen anyway, like it did on the show? Will I be hypnotized? Will I be rescued? Will I be able to stop it, even if no one is around?

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And what happened in the middle of the show? Was she really hypnotized? Or did she… change her mind? Did she… ask for it? That’s what Hank The Robo-Predator said. And there are only two options: predator and prey. Male, and Female.

Down, down the rabbit hole. I dreamt of Hank, of eating breakfast with my family and they’re all Hank, and I’m trapped inside the house. I dreamt that my sister is the genie and she’s trapped inside Hank’s domain and can’t escape, and doesn’t want to. Even saying the name, H-A-N-K, left a bad taste in my mouth. I was on constant alert for months, I tell you.

The name Hank is a running joke in my family. They mention the ‘Hank’ incident as a twisting tornado of shrill hysteria, confusing to all who encountered me on my ceaseless, vigilant shakedown of ill-intentioned wrongdoers.

At the time, as a child, I had this awful fear that everyone was Hank. It brought me to my wit’s end, not being able to account for anyone’s thoughts, intentions, or even authentic humanness. I couldn’t get behind their eyeballs and know for sure that they were who they claimed to be. At 8, what I knew for sure was that Hank was a threat to my physical and mental safety, and that I was at risk of losing my mind and becoming a slave at the merest wink, or mischievous smile.

CUT TO: present day.

Now, in writing this article, I am finding it is difficult to start, or rather stop, raising the questions of what the real problems were. At the time, I didn’t know how to (although I doubt I would have wanted to) penetrate the surface of my initial fears and keep asking why I was rocked so hard by what I had seen. At the end of the episode, had the genie been ‘trapped’ and ‘tricked’ into eating a delicious souffle, or riding a particularly hideous tricycle to the badminton field, I doubt I would have had such an epic freak-out. Hank wanted to have sex with the genie and removed her free will to say yes or no in order to do so. The programme’s real betrayal of their young audience was in teaching their viewers that saying ‘Yes’ indicates that the woman has been tricked, while saying ‘No’ indicates authentic femaleness. The false dichotomy that males are predators and females are prey- one is intelligent enough to scheme and plot, the other must only be intelligent enough to avoid or escape those who would ensnare them.

For me, that primal drive is what it’s all about. Doing the thing that drives you in all honesty, moving forward, bearing witness to yourself. When every layer of pretense is circumvented and every inhibition forgotten in the throws of instinct and reflex. When solipsism consumes, and there is no before or after, only right now. You know when it’s primal, there’s no mistaking it. You also know when it’s missing, even if everything is great… but it’s not… something.

Can there be too much drive, too much primal intention? Too much from me or from another? How does one know for sure? What does Yes mean, and for how long? Can I take back my No?  And woven through even the mere act of showing up are threads of yes and no, the primal wills and the drives of other people prompting our Yes and No, while many are unable to listen to their own drives and instincts. No longer young television viewers learning from TV characters on when to survey and when to act, now we are actors ourselves, moving forward in the world with no clear idea of what we want, how to get it, how to ask, how to accept, how to refuse, and how to be refused. It’s those occasions when I become nostalgic for the times that safety meant only sitting in one place, changing the channel.

It Doesn’t Care

By Amorina Kingdon

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I’m a Blasfemmer in absentia this month. I’m seeing Canada in a Corolla, I’m bouncing from B and B to B, I’m schlepping my stuff up and downslope. It’s backpack living, baby.

A bit of background: I quit my job, left my Toronto apartment, and am on the road from now till sometime this fall. I’m writing this from a Charlottetown cafe after a 5k run along a red sand beach.

I don’t feel the way I thought I would, cutting ties, reducing to essentials. I thought I’d feel powerful, free, and unstoppable. Instead I feel unreal, small, barely there. I feel like this is happening in a dream to someone else. But I’ve also received an unexpected validation of my feminist beliefs.

I trekked to a backcountry campsite, three days ago. If you’re in Toronto, look out at that CN Tower. See the distance from the ground to the pod? That’s how high I climbed down, then back up, half my possessions on my back, sweating, gasping, pushing. We descended from taiga plateau in the Cape Breton Highlands, down through stunted, twisted trees in high moose-y meadows, through evergreen bowers and dales, skirting the flank of these old mountains along a river valley until it reached the sea. They’re very old, these hills – the blunted stubs of what was once gargantuan. The rocks beneath my synthetic sneakers are ancient, crunching away and mile after mile.

It’s very beautiful.

Up. Hamstring pulling against thigh, glutes tensing, untensing.

Pause to breathe salt air, gusting from across the Atlantic.

Pitch a tent on a small platform in the rippling grass near the sea, watch the sun fall into the ocean like a drop of cherry syrup. Watch the wind rise, feel spots of rain start to whip against the tent. The rain fly must be secured, flashlight in teeth, rain jacket thrown on hastily, out into the maelstrom. No matter how tightly tied, the tent is a foot larger than the platform, which means that even secure as it can be, it luffs and snaps. I lie awake.

In the middle of the night, unable to sleep for the noise, I realize it’s high tide. I take my little light and pick my way in the mad, mad wind down to the rocky beach. The waves, slow and placid at sunset, have become huge, have become vicious lines of white foam looming out of the blackness to shatter on the beach. I am miles from the car with no home to back it up, and suddenly it becomes very clear to me. Things are only what they are. And nature truly doesn’t care if I am male or female.

That mountain behind me doesn’t discriminate. Can your legs take you up or down it? That is all that it asks. Nothing else. The ocean before me is only what it is, endless waves pulsing, crashing and falling. If you want to swim in it, stand before it, cross it, all it asks is that you can tread water, can brace against the wind, or hold a sail taut. The wind keeps men and women alike awake all night, or not. This place is here for me regardless of gender, was here before we were and will be here long after.

If I ever had any doubts about the extraneousness, the manufactured-ness of gender, they were starkly erased, that night on the beach, and the next day, as my legs propelled me up rock and dirt and meadow, to emerge beside my little silver car, panting and alive and worthy as anyone else who only had to do it.

The world is physics, nature is force and matter, and what is done is only what can be done, or not.  

I imagine the mountain climbable only by one gender, or an ocean that only one sex can swim in, and I can only imagine a human construction, a layer shrink-wrapped on top of reality. Something we made, that can as easily be remade.

I think of Toronto, structures as tall and forces in some ways as strong (as any cyclist swooping to avoid a car can attest). Yet it’s a society removed from the simple yes/no physics of nature. We’ve invented these shoulds/should nots. I imagine being catcalled by a tree, I imagine getting groped by a rock. It is so absurd as to evoke no reaction in me. It simply would not happen, any more than rain would fall up out of the ground.

There is nothing fundamental, nothing natural, nothing biological about the sexism and discrimination we have inflicted on ourselves. Trust me. I went deep into nature to check it out for myself, and reports of a natural origin for the shoulds of gender are false. I’m here on the mountainside, and there’s no pink and blue signs. Only earth and wind and water, and whatever we can do with them.

The only thing that gender means, here, is that we need each other. I look up and down the coast at water, wind, tree and rock, and I imagine living here, the first feet to put down on this place, and I can only imagine that we must pull together, all of us, that it takes two to continue the species, and that both can climb the mountains and swim in the sea together. The rest is just noise.