Category Archives: Uncategorized

(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.”

Tagged

Why I Just Unsubscribed From Jezebel


by Amorina Kingdon

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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.

 

Editors New Years’ Resolutions!!!

o-NEW-YEARS-facebook

~~~~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.

paradigm
-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 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.  

Love Is The Root of All Evil

By Tova Kardonne


Oh, what a feeling. It’s the ultimate excuse, the unverifiable cause, the one self-interested pursuit that no one can critique. Heinous crimes are explained with love. Massive power imbalances rendered ostensibly harmless by authority’s love. An inner state, known only to its subject, it has no predictable appearance to its object. It’s also capricious and ineffable, transforming or disappearing for no apparent reason. And because it cannot be described, it’s not reliably distinguishable from other states; like say, for instance, hatred.

“One day you’ll understand that I do these things out of love.”

Punishment woman

No?

Yes!

At least half-yes. None of that is untrue. But there’s another side to this-here grammatical clause. “To love” is a transitive verb. Some of its meaning is defined by the lover; but some of the meaning is known only to the beloved.

To receive love; what is that? The love one receives can be seen and heard. It can be recognized and anticipated. A beloved one seems to fear less, to seek their best self, to be powerful in the face of that challenge, and to know that mistakes will be corrected and forgiven. Being loved is obvious; well-loved people are easy to get along with. They need little and can concede much, because, being full of love, they feel generous.    Friends, lovers, grammarians, we find ourselves in a well-frayed knot.

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“Are you my one true love?”

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  Love as feeling; love as action. Love as mystery; love as     practical.   Love as responsible to itself alone; love as responsible to the entire world.

In walks Feminism. (“Long time no see!”) Feminism, here’s your old dance partner, Gender Roles. (“Oh- you again.”)

Gender Roles likes to assign these pairs of opposites to the sexes. Feeling, mystery, subjectivity; these are Feminine attributes, so they say. Action, responsibility, objectivity; these are the domain of Man. And yet… doesn’t it seem, in our world of domestic violence and tribal loyalty, that it’s the patriarchy that has relied most heavily on the “feminine” side of love?  Isn’t it the abuser’s best defense that feelings cannot be measured by mere actions, nor undermined by them? All lovers, says Shakespeare, are mad. Lovers make no sense because of love’s magnitude, not despite. To demand that love act, and act well, in the eyes of more than just the beloved, these are the ‘masculine’ values of action, responsibility, and objectivity that refute the more sinister claims of love. Yet the confused love-cravings that the human race supposedly has no deliverance
from—these are the favourite talking points of leaders, worldly and spiritual, for whom Feminism is an unwelcome shaking-up of the established order—and for whom Gender Roles provide the normalcy upon which abusive love relies.

Want me to prove it? Do ya? Do ya?

fight for king

“For love of King and Country.”

But we’re all adults here, right? If Beloved over here and Lover over there disagree so completely as to what love means, they are free to part and never again to meet. They are each free, as we are each free, to be alone. But anyone who cannot choose to be alone has a greater stake in reconciling the two sides of love. Children, those beings so crucially dependent on love, constitute one of a handful of groups who can’t walk away from
such a difference of opinions. The elderly are another, as are those with mental illness that require relationship for survival. Can more be demanded of one who loves them?

Or less? The law endows some love-relationships with extra obligations—but curiously, exempts them from others. Spouses are exempt from the obligation to testify against each other. Lovers are, at the very least, less obligated to govern their urges. But while love can stand as a defense for a crime of passion, in the case of neglect, it’s only the assumed relationship of love that renders the act a crime.

“Love thy neighbour as thyself.”
mandelbrot heart

Without a coherent understanding of love, without being able to say, this is love, and that is not, we are adrift in a sea of usages, fictions, conventions and scripts. Maybe it’s not the root of all evil, but you don’t know what love is. None of us do.

A Tortured Metaphor About Love in the Age of Feminism

by Amorina Kingdon

There are scripts for love.

Why scripts? Because every role requires a script – that’s what defines it. And gender roles are…roles.

I was reading the script late last night, wandering about my city. I went to a cafe, after the storm ended, and sat at a small rain-spattered table beneath the leaves. You see, I was thinking about trying out for the role of Woman. It was going to be big, running on FX – or maybe HBO – starting next spring, the rumours went. Big money. A career-maker.

The cafe served me little cups of hot bitter espresso as I read the first act. I was nonplussed, but I thought I’d push on. I needed a stronger potion to fortify me. The woman behind the bar pours my wine, wordlessly raises an eyebrow at what I’m reading. I want to ask her… Do you know this play? Have you seen it? Will it be a good career move? Her dark eyes are set in lines a mile deep. Why is she the only one open late?

And it really is getting late, isn’t it? The city is starting to close, turn its lights off and turn in. The old sleep easy: the young sleep poorly with each other, above the fire escapes.

It’s getting cool outside. I take my sweating Chardonnay to a seat by the window. I read the next act in the worn, ancient script.

It’s an odd role, this Woman character. Have you ever read it? It requires a very skilled actress. I don’t know if I can do it.

Like in Act 2, for example. The woman has to pretend she doesn’t want sex: but she has to try and have sex with the young college Man. It’s a strange scene. You feel almost like she doesn’t really know what she wants.

Or here, where she pretends she wants a job with something called ‘work-life balance’ because the man in her life, despite being a good man, is on a good ten-year plan and will not be able to do anything fundamental to care for the children they’re supposed to have. Even if he says he will, it would murder the relationship – and her career – to expect him to. Imagine emoting in a few lines all the hundred thousand reasons behind a chirpy request for ‘work-life balance’!

Or what about here, where the princess myths, pop songs and romantic treacle she was weaned on founders on the rocks of a real human relationship. She realizes that Man is no more a Prince Charming that she is a Princess, and she faces the juddering mindfuck that all those fantasies, that felt better and meant more than anything she’s ever known, are lies that seem to exist solely to get her this far, slavering after a bargain that may not be that wonderful…

A nuanced and complicated part, indeed.

I should be in bed. The audition is in just five hours. But I still don’t know if I’ll be there.

Finally, even this cafe, the last outpost in a dark city, begins to close. I drop some coins on the table. As I wander home, I finger the dog-eared photocopy and wonder why the role exists at all.

Because I don’t really like this Woman character. I doubt you do, either, if you’re honest. No actress can play her well, the way she’s written. Sure you can see the type of person she’s supposed to be. You can even understand, in principle, her stagnations, her negative space and inevitable anger. But you just don’t like the role. She’s not written as a real person: she only serves a purpose, a one-dimensional plot device. Is that because she’s really like that, and the mad genius of the playwright has reproduced her on spec? Or is that because she’s never been written properly? How can you tell?

You like Man much better. He’s why you tune in. The more I read this script, the less I want this Woman part. She’s a stilted half-character.

A tired trope.

How was it I heard this part was so desirable, again? It’s hard to remember. It’s just the scuttlebutt. Everyone I know is trying out.

Maybe I won’t try out. In fact, I think I am going to sit in the producer’s chair. Yes, I am going to produce my own show. I’m going to rewrite my own Man, my own Woman. I’m going to do it better.

**********

Whatever did we do before TV, before the omnipresent lens? A producer isn’t really all that different from an actress, wrapped in constricted narratives like so much unspooled 8mm, with deadlines to hit, roles to cast, scenes to shoot and record, lines to nail.

Drinking too much, blind under hot lights, running across cable-strewn floors between prima donnas and assholes with their makeup caking, sets built and torn down, way over budget, way behind schedule.

What started as a fresh, riveting, brainstorming magnum opus has turned slowly into a story so derivative you want to scream because you can write whatever you want but you still have a finite budget and a three-camera setup and the actors who audition only really know one or two ways of doing things, but your story cannot be told properly if you don’t produce it.

Knowing the other networks will carry this same story – they all will – and if you don’t, your viewers will tune out because you’re not giving them what they want.

Trying to produce the content for the people in the boardrooms, who wouldn’t know art if it shit in a jar for them, but who sign your paychecks.

Running up and down corridors late at night, knowing your reputation is only as good as your last episode, knowing your numbers are slipping, you can see it in the Neilsen ratings, you can see their eyeballs shift in real time, you’re sneaking drugs and puking in shame, thinning hair and sweat stains, neglected stand-ins with wide betrayed eyes on the other end of calls you don’t take because your star – your One – is suddenly entertaining offers from other studios.

Press an oily forehead into clenched fists onto bare thighs as you crouch in a stall in a halogen-haloed bathroom down in the basement where no one will hear, as you realize the production is complete shit, it’s saccharine and trite and one-dimensional. You must fight for your main character. This Woman character that no one wants to be.

So you stumble up stairs to the upstairs people and you bust in and you start to talk, you start to babble that it might be better if…could be better if…. maybe what if instead of boy-meets girl it’s girl meets girl or boy and girl have already met and they do business together or are actually good friends, equals, or they fuck once and move on as better people for not dragging each other down in the muck?

And the upstairs people laugh slow and they kick up their feet, and ask, how long have you been here, kid? and they gesture casually to a wall of Emmys and Peabodies and they turn their head sideways, and bob a finger at you and smile with one half of their mouth and say, I used to think like you. and we have a lot of money riding on this and her tits will sell and people don’t want to be sad and there’s ten younger, more energetic kids waiting to take your place if you’re tired.

And you go down and you sit in the folding chair and you slip headphones with worn pads that smell of thirty years of dandruff over your head and you focus your bleary eyes on the LED screen before you where hot young things that you hired to play Woman are gyrating and mewling, or at least they’re supposed to be hot young things, they certainly fit the casting notes, but you look at their marbleglass eyes and their candyfloss hair and their porcelain tits and their teeth behind their lips like glass chips pinched in fingertips and you feel nothing, and nothing, and nothing again.

When you watch them prance and shriek on the white backdrop it looks stupid but lower your eyes to the screen and it looks… familiar.

Yes, a little green screening and it’s Paris, a little effects and it’s every romantic fantasy and more. Where’s that pop song soundtrack? It costs more for post-production but it’s worth it, on that day you finally show them the tape and they laugh from their guts and pound your back and pour a scotch and take you to the shore club for lunch where they order you oysters and as they pass your lips one by one you know you’re recognizable and acceptable and isn’t that worth everything, look back at those latenight clusterfuck sessions about rewriting the world and understand just how…how…how harmful that is when there’s a charcuterie board at the end of the maze, and you spread it on hot white bread and sink your teeth in and they say, you’ll do fine kid, you’ll do fine.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

Suzy Lake

image by Suzy Lake

Be sure to watch out for our COMING ATTRACTIONS:

1. July theme revelation (wait for it…. wait for it… keep waiting…)
2. Call for article submissions
3. The big answer to the big question: Why a parachute?

All this week!
xoxo
Blasfemmer Editors

Thank You For Your Patronage

by Mirra Kardonne

waitress

I’m walking down my street in the last week of living at my old place near Dundonald and Church. Some friends and I are going for a drink–both to say ‘Goodbye Gaybourhood’ and to catch up—they’ve been in Thailand shooting a documentary, I’ve been tying up loose ends and hustling like a mad hustling machine. The past six years of my world is packed up in boxes in my apartment, while my last week at my old job looms ever closer. We go to a neighbourhood bar, and after the wine is drunk and the charcuterie is nibbled, one of the three of us steps out onto the street to smoke. When she comes back in, she announces: “I’ve just been offered a job!”

“What?” I blurt. That’s not fair. “Who? What job?”

“Yeah, this guy I know from wherever-the-fuck said he’s managing a new bar, asked me if I need a job and if I have any cute friends who are looking.”

Silence.

“Can I be your cute friend?”

And so it goes. Do you remember the scene in the movie adaptation of Oliver, when the newly enfranchised young orphan steps out onto his personal balcony and sees all those young, buxom peasant girls singing in harmonies to the fancy-folk? Who will buy her sweet red roses? Her milk? Her fresh strawberries?

Well, let me tell you—Strawberries was asked if she had any cute friends to bring to the new singing-to-young-men strip o’sidewalk, Roses had a ‘better attitude’ and got top bill, and the others were a dime a dozen—let’em all sing about milk! And that tenor pushing the knife grinder? Better let him do it, those cuties might not know which end of the knife needs grinding. Let those extremely slim and fair-skinned sirens tempt you with breakfast and flowers— two blooms for only a penny!

I make money many ways, but damn, it’s a slog. Art and teaching don’t always cut it. At 17, I no longer lived with my parents, I had yet to acquire a post-secondary education, I had no resume to speak of…what to do?

At 19, I moved into the apartment where I would live for the next six years. I walked into a hair salon, armed with a resume filled with fake references. The proprietor doesn’t glance at it, he just looks me up and down and says, “I like that you’re not scared of low-cut tops”.

“… Oh. Well…no, I guess I’m not.”

“It’s 7:30 am to 2:30 pm.”

“Do you want to look at my resume?”

“I don’t care what you did before. You could be a prostitute and I don’t care. You know I hire prostitutes sometimes? You could be one, it doesn’t bother me.”

“I’m not a prostitute.”

“Well, even if you were…”

Hot dog! I’m a working gal! Start from the bottom…

…And go sideways from there. To date, I’ve had approximately one million jobs (closer to 25, maybe). I just keep quitting them, you see.

women-work-moneyI don’t quit them because I don’t need the money, nor do I quit because I’m such a staunch feminist that I am fed and housed by naught but my convictions.  I would quit because I couldn’t stand to be there, even if I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why not. It’s all so normal- so banal.  As a young pup in the job market, when asked why I had had so many jobs, I would explain with a laugh (to hide my embarrassment) that I’m categorically BAD at EVERYTHING I deem to be unimportant. That must be it! I’m a snob, and that is a character flaw! This idea had little traction among those who know a little something about me, though it remained the most plausible explanation for my track record as job after job repulsed my best efforts to conform with shocking hiring practices and even more shocking behaviour towards low-level staff.  Later, I would rant that service jobs rely on the young/desperate beggars-can’t-be-choosers demographic to leap at work which pays an amount of money that can barely sustain even the most frugal. But that’s normal. It’s all par for the course. No one’s asking me to quit, I can very well stay. In fact, it is expected that I, and other young women, will definitely stay. Because this is a Great Way  to make money while the real plan, the plan A warms up and gets cooking. Everyone with a Bachelors degree knows that your education is by no means a guarantee of loftier future employment. But what does it mean when something like waitressing is the best you can get?  Well, that depends on who you are. Son–it’s good in the meantime, if you have some time off and need some cash. Ladies: Good for you. You have a career.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the few available and unblocked passages towards power for women living in a patriarchy is to  adhere to conventional beauty norms. (Although the ‘power’ is not all that powerful). Nonetheless, it is ‘better’ to be an attractive woman when applying for service jobs, because the likelihood of being hired is higher. That much is not a secret. What is a secret is the systemic non-hiring of ‘unattractive’ women. If you are say, looking for a job as a waitress, (because hey—tips) there is literally no hiring manager who will not hire a sexy girl over an ‘average’ one. That’s my unofficial take on it, concluded only from the dozens of interviews I have had with restauranteurs or managers, and the predictable outcome of those interviews based on MY type of outfit, voice-perkiness, hair up or down, makeup or no makeup. Look for yourself. The Yukon chain Earls has received the kind of PR venom you can only get from being exposed in biased and gendered hiring practices. There is nary an employee who can remember an unattractive or even overweight person ever having worked at Earls… as their hiring motto states: “If you’d fuck them, hire them.”   Although you’re likely to get fired if fucking actually occurs. Too bad that magic ‘spark’ is a salient factor in hiring women.

Article after article describes the phenomenon of ‘attractive’ women trapped under a glass ceiling, hired as sexy ornaments in eateries and retail but barred from high earning jobs. More frustrating still, woebegone economists and statisticians posit that the obsession with attractiveness and sex appeal that women have had to suffer for decades has leaked into the man-realm, and now men trying to secure positions as attorneys, professors and politicians have to contend with the same discrimination that women who are trying to secure a mate feel every day.  Oh yes. That, at least, is the position of Daniel S. Mamerstash, who goes on to write a tearful article about how attractiveness is just such a crapshoot, men taste it when they dive into professional endeavours, women—when they want babies.

Gavin McGarrigle points out in his article that among a female staff hired explicitly to be sexual, there is no union to protect against sexual harassment. Comila Shahani-Denning, an associate professor in the psychology department at Hofstra University speaks to that lack of recourse:

“Research examining attractiveness bias in hiring decisions is important because of the extensive use of subjective appraisals in employment decision making. Given the legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on non-job-related factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, disability and age, it is interesting that there is no legislation regarding physical attractiveness (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).”

But whatever their reasoning, one idea reiterated from Mamerstash to McGarrigle to Shahani-Denning is that there should be legal recourse for appearance-based discrimination, both for the ‘unattractive’ and the ‘attractive’.  

Sigh. There are so many factors to consider. One is so tempted to conclude that there’s no possible pattern among all the hiring and firing practices: sometimes, people just don’t get hired. Or they do. One is, of course, so very enticed by this idea because THAT WOULD BE GREAT, and it would be better if things were better instead of the far worse reality. Mamerstash, in his horribly misguided op-ed, declares it irredeemably unfair of the world to limit the opportunities of qualified men who were not blessed with good looks. After all, they can’t even get a girl (*ahem* I call bullshit), why you make them broke, too? McGarrigle asks why gender or attractiveness must play into your skill set when looking for employment. “Let’s say you’re simply ugly due to your luck of the gene pool, is that a medical condition? That could be argued. That’s your genetic composition,” Says Stacey Ball, an employment-lawyer in Toronto. And here we go again, right back to Power, my favourite topic. Is there objective beauty which can be rewarded or punished monetarily, and in the job market? Is beauty power? Because this would suggest beauty actually causes a dis-empowerment of its bearers.

And separate from the question of if you can or cannot get hired as an attractive or unattractive woman in a service position, and whether or not either camp can sue for discrimination, I’m still left wondering, where are the men for these same jobs? I know legions of unemployed young men who would love to work as a waiter, or as a receptionist. But they can’t. Those young men don’t seem to be sexy girls…where’s their  “nice ass/decent rack”? And those times when they can, it’s only for now, until they make their next big move into professionalism. Right? We’ve been here before.

Have you ever been to a frat party? That’s what working in a lot of restaurants is like. Dim the lights , turn up the music and fill the place with hot women who want to ask you questions, you’ve stumbled into the party you’re too cool to even know is happening. Girls and women will get paid to be the object of fleeting and untenable desire. Certainly that’s where the guaranteed tip-money is, at places like Jack Astors or Milestones. For instance, on the Jack Astors application:

“We have specific requirements for personal appearance, as described in our Welcome brochure. Are you willing to meet our requirements? Yes/No.”

What are these requirements?

983417_10152475756487195_1196656614_nForm fitting clothes that ‘skim’ the body, low necklines (up to two buttons done-up) and short skirts (down to the Jack Astors preferred brand). My sneaky informant tells me, when trying to adhere to the Welcome brochure uniform code (otherwise known as the Look Book), she was told she looked “boring” which was only remedied by donning a very short skirt (her [female] manager looked pleased with her, smiled and said “Wow! I can see your legs! That’s more like it, lady!”) She reports that when hired, most other new female employees were 19-21. Thinking that she already looked good for a hostess, during training the manager informs her that the skirt she chose was “too long” ( just above her knee) and that her face and hair were “boring” and to “put on more makeup”.

Walk into an office/bar/club/, pretty girl smiles at you and makes you feel welcome. It’s a fantasy too commonplace to be any real danger, yes? One might ask, what kind of danger are we talking about? At first we talk about economic danger, women on all points of a completely subjective attractiveness spectrum are compensated or not for something over which they have no control. Attractiveness or the opposite will both reward and punish depending on a number of factors, but by and large, women are pan-societally punished for being pretty, being ugly, being too smart or too dumb, being too single or too pregnant. And what choices are left to women who simply cannot pay the bills?

The idea of decorating of a space with women in order to lend an immediate perception of luxury and safety is one that was first introduced to me in an Ancient Civilizations course at the University of Toronto.  How interesting, thought I. What a slippery kind of power women do have. The effect of simply being inspires the feeling of wealth and of decadence. Whether or not they are objects of sexual desire, women are always desired to facilitate specific ends: to raise the status, to inspire the illusion of… safety.

How curious. Hey! Women! You inspire feelings of safety! So tell me… Do you feel safe?

No? Late at night? In revealing dress? Mandated in the handbook? Wages and tips hanging in the balance?

Is that, perhaps, what you’re being paid to part with?

Giving it Away

by Amorina Kingdon

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published ‘Open Letter to all the Colleges that Rejected me.” by highschooler Suzy Lee Weiss. The synopsis: her peers padded their resumes with gratuitous, useless charity work, and the colleges fell for it.

The comments that follow are in two camps: one being, well, duh, Gen Y brat whines that after doing nothing distinguishing, she is un-shockingly not recognized for it.

But she was also lauded. Because there is a stereotypical image of the people she skewers – female, wealthy – declaring their caring for disease x or survivors of y. And you already know how you secretly feel about them: their work is noble – ‘public-minded’ – but, ultimately, inconsequential.

The volunteer and not-for-profit (NFP) sectors are gendered. This is important for women, because they are 48 per cent of Toronto’s labour force, but 84 per cent of its not-for-profit labour force. Canadian volunteers are most likely married, educated females, with an above-average income. Since women have entered the workforce comparatively recently, these statistics carry implications about how women have integrated into the working world, especially the demographic tendency toward educated, wealthy women who would perhaps be in the best position to take the business world by storm.

Work is important. It’s is the primary way we interact with society as individuals, by trading time and labour in return for sustenance. Work is independence.

But volunteer work can’t directly support someone. So whatever pride you may feel at the end of the day, you also feel a bit like….a beggar. And what weighs in the balance? Oh, right – the rewards of selfless giving.

But these are the same values that kept women in the private sphere as unpaid housewives, labouring for this same reward of selflessness instead of money. Can that not, perhaps, be one reason why they feel at home in the sector?

I’d like to quickly acknowledge the generalizations I’m making by lumping volunteers and NFPs together when they have many differences, salary and benefits being the biggest. (This essay deals principally with volunteers and part-time employees, not those drawing a full-time salary.) But they do share some key similarities.

1. Donors: Funding requests often go to the same donor pool, requiring a certain public image to match those donors’ ideas of acceptability. This often bends towards the traditional and conservative.

2. Career prospects: It’s hard to build a career in the for-profit sector if your resume is largely volunteer or not-for-profit.

3. Job security: Many of these organizations live paycheck to donor paycheck. It’s very hard to plan your work when it could shut down at any time.

So why are women taking this deal? Many reasons: some simple, some not-so-simple.

1. Their work is often traditionally female (e.g. health, awareness, fundraising.) Notice a pattern? Talking and nurturing figure highly.

2. They are more flexible, because many women have childcare duties.

3. They are un-threatening to the proverbial male ego.

4. With more women in the sector, it’s likely they’ll hire more.

5. Because much of the work in this sector resembles the unpaid work that women have traditionally done at home for support from a husband or family, women are more intellectually comfortable taking work that’s un- or under-paid.

This one key assumption – that public-minded, selfless enterprises should not be monetized – keeps women’s work and labour acceptably out of the free market, and women relatively uncompensated. While organizational structures have been built around it, much of the work feels a lot like home.  
This is because today’s volunteer sector has its roots in the idea of private property, and a private sphere. The idea that some work should not be ‘for profit’ stems from our understanding of the archetypal household. (Of course, private can also mean a for-profit business, but for the purposes of this article, ‘private’ refers to the home.) This is neither a public democracy, or a for-profit hierarchy, but a sort of benign tyranny. One person rules uncontested, and the rest fulfill their various functions in exchange for protection, name, honour and resources, but no direct compensation, and little control over said resources. This arrangement—the traditional wife in the traditional household— has a sort of arbitrary sanctity that’s simply another word for being owned. This the realm of childcare, education and healthcare; of helping and cooking and making. Traditionally, it’s the realm of women’s work, and within this sort of work, our cultural narrative says that the labour is free, done by people who are already bought and paid for in full. To profit from this work is to sully it.

 

Imagine a bachelor who paid a housekeeper to take care of all these sorts of things, putting money in her hand for her labour, which she was then free to do what she liked with. That’s an employer/employee relationship. But the role of the traditional married woman is exactly that, employee of the husband. But she’s not paid in money – that would shine the cold hard light of economics on an economically unfair relationship. Instead, she gets the ‘honour’ of being a respectable married woman, with a shiny new last name, gets to keep a small slice of her labour to feed and clothe herself (no, that’s not the same as a salary), and most importantly she is the heart of the home, loved for her selflessness; she is a volunteer.

This is a narrative that women must reject. Work is work. Women are not selfless by nature, any more so than men. That is simply the coin they have been paid with in lieu of actual coin for most of history. Rejecting that label and considering their labour worthy of recompense in the currency that allows them to participate in the public sphere – money – is not desecrating anything: it’s tearing down an illusion.

But then again, how can we privatize those things without opening the door for corruption? There’s a reason we hate corporations!

But examine some of the assumptions behind that indignation. The assumption that private industry can only be evil, aggressive, untrustworthy. That it can only do harm, can only work on a growth model where people are taken advantage of.

These are patriarchal values, and they fuck over everyone involved; the men who feel they need to be ruthless buggers to succeed, and the women who feel they can neither embrace nor re-negotiate the terms of patriarchal success, and therefore stay home or organize bake-sales.

What if – and I’m really blue-sky-thinking here – the women already working in these ‘selfless’ sectors led the way in figuring out how to make a living from their work – but left the ruthless patriarchal values behind? What if we challenged the notion that you can’t make a living from giving? What if we – oh my god, someone slap me, I’m clearly hysterical – instead of flat out rejecting capitalism and privatization, found grassroots ways to change how it’s done?

Perhaps I’m not crazy. I am encouraged by this recent NYT article. I’m also encouraged by endeavours like Etsy, although it’s only baby steps.

Whether or not these can become scalable outside large cities and widely affordable, it’s still a start at chipping away old models of ‘public-mindedness’.

Women bring a different philosophy to corporations. Of course you can find stats to say whatever you like, but companies with more women at the top tend to do better, and some data even suggests that women’s portfolios do better long-term because they take fewer reckless risks. It’s not that they biologically must bring these values; it’s that we know the story from the outside of the club.

There are many challenges, too many to list here, but I want to mention the most important: divorcing effectiveness from straight-up profit in the eye of the user and the initial funders. This is key, because much of the response to the Wall St Journal article centres around the implicit assumption that volunteers and NFPs are just not that important (read: effective). Not to mention that we publish big lists on the mismanagement and frivolousness of the bigger charities. (If only we brought the same scrutiny to bear on all organizations. How much do you think it cost to make that $200 coat you’re wearing?)

Unfortunately, import and effectiveness are often symbolized by the bottom line. So if an organization isn’t turning a huge profit, it must not be effective. Kind of a stacked deck for something termed a ‘not-for-profit.’

A good example of this is the safe-injection site Insite in Vancouver, BC. In 2011, they had to produce evidence that they had a health benefit in order to justify their exemption from federal drug laws, by guesstimating how many people would have maybe probably died if they hadn’t shot up at Insite instead of rainwater puddles in Downtown Eastside back alleys. The answer is both ‘we don’t know’ and ‘some’. If success in these kinds of fields is measured by profit alone, we are ascribing monetary value to human life.

So what is more important, profit or effectiveness? Capitalist thinking would have it that they are the same thing; the more effective an organization is, the more profit it generates. But this is based on industries that have thrived on the masters-of-the-universe growth model. Haven’t we learned that besides ripping society apart, such models simply don’t last? Things other than just the bottom line must become measures of an organization’s success.

We have a funny ideal that ‘public mindedness’ is noble and ‘getting paid’ is selfish, and they are mutually exclusive. This is a false dichotomy based on the economic exclusion of people lulled into working for free with platitudes and labels of ‘selflessness and goodness.’ We need to learn that the work that mostly-women volunteers do should be taken seriously and compensated fairly. To do otherwise is frankly discriminatory, and misses out on the insights and approaches they bring to the table. If you are going to work – if you are going to put in time, energy, and thought into a task that produces a benefit for others – then you don’t need a reason to get paid. You need to justify NOT getting paid.