“Birth control? Just keep your legs closed, you sluts!”

Yeah… I am pretty much FULL of rage right now:

Appearing of MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell today, Foster Friess, the main donor to the Super PAC backing Rick Santorum’s presidential bid, dismissed the controversy surrounding President Obama’s new birth control rule by suggesting that women should just keep their legs shut. Asked if he worried that Santorum’s Puritanical views on sex and social issues could hurt the candidate in the general election, Friess offered a more home-spun family planning scheme:

FRIESS: On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.

I need people to say soothing things to me today. Video below the fold.

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Are we ‘getting it’?

So this morning I lamented openly about the seeming inability of my fellow Canadians to notice the extremism and hypocritical, bullying nature of our current government. I may have oversold the argument a bit – it may not be that people don’t notice; it may simply be that they don’t care. Whatever the reason for the lack of national outcry over a series of should-be-scandals that are much larger than the one that played a role in unseating the previous government, we do not seem particularly concerned with the incompetence and malice that characterizes much (but certainly not all) of the current regime.

There is another potential explanation: the data may just take time to hit home. I will confess that I probably pay more attention to politics than the ‘average’ person. I find the discussion of competing alternative explanations for the same issue fascinating, and I find the foibles of humanity displayed proudly in the halls of power to be endlessly diverting. I also care passionately about the direction of my country (and the world in general), so I am always hungry for new information about the political system. There are, believe it or not, people who are even more passionate and motivated than I am, and it is to them I go when I need the cracks in my understanding filled in a bit.

So I suppose it is likely that what I might see as apathy or purposeful indifference may simply be an entirely-understandable ‘lag time’ between when I get fired up, and when the rest of the country comes around: [Read more...]

When censorship goes weird

Long-time Cromrades will know, given my unabashed free speech stance, that I am decidedly not a fan of censorship. While I recognize that individuals have a right to privacy, I also know that large institutions (be they private or, especially, public) must be held accountable. This means that more transparency is good, and that censorship is bad.

Censorship is especially bad when it is done by large institutions against individual people. Provided that communication does not immediate place lives in danger, or that the speech in question is not slanderous or fraudulent, there is no justifiable reason to censor unpopular speech. In fact, if recent events have shown us anything, it’s that the more attention you draw to something you do not wish seen, the more people look at it out of sheer morbid curiosity.

Often, censorship is disturbing. Occasionally, it is overblown and counterproductive. But sometimes… well sometimes it’s just weird:

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Wives, be subject(ed) to your husbands

I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:

Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.

The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.

Yikes.

Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). [Read more...]

Greta says it so I don’t have to

One of the frustrating things about this blog is that I have a lot of stuff I like to talk about, but limited time/energy/motivation to cover it all. I also worry about losing focus and having this Manifesto turn into a diffuse leftist whine-zine. The thing that is particularly frustrating is when I get e-mails from readers suggesting I talk about this article or that issue, and I have to tell them that I will try but can’t guarantee anything. For one reader, I had to give a definite ‘no’. The reader in question is someone who has worked with sex workers before and thought that since I was pro-fem and anti-racist, that the topic would be well-suited to my attention.

I had to confess to this person that while ze made a very valid point, I am not informed enough about the topic to do it justice, and it was a bit outside my wheelhouse. This exchange happened a few months ago and I have been quietly working behind the scenes to see if I can’t get some traction to open this issue up to the skeptic community here in Vancouver, since the city has many of its own demons to deal with when it comes to the sex trade.

The awesome thing about this blog is, now that I am an FTBling, I am surrounded by people who can do a much better job than I can of discussing these important issues:

The myth: Prostitutes and other sex workers can’t choose their customers. They have to have sex with anyone who offers to pay.

When you think about this for ten seconds, you should realize that it makes no sense. People in any other service profession can, and do, turn down customers they don’t want to work with. Therapists, car mechanics, gardeners, hair stylists, nannies… you name it. There are a few exceptions — emergency room doctors leap to mind — but for the most part, it’s understood that, as long as they’re obeying non-discrimination laws, service professionals reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. (My hair stylist has told me long, entertaining stories about clients she’s fired.) So it’s kind of weird to assume that sex workers would be the exception.

Greta Christina, one of my favourite writers (the first version of this post contained a 2-paragraph gushing elaboration of this fact – I decided to turn down the squee a bit) and fellow FTBorg hits 9/10 of my high points of the issue – sex workers as workers, sex workers as autonomous people, female sex workers as the victims of a cruel sexual double-standard – with her usual flair and sharp, critical eye. The one thing that didn’t make it into the piece was the way in which violence against sex-workers is disproportionately weighed against people of colour (PoCs) working as prostitutes, which tesselates nicely into her overall argument.

Anyway, I feel slightly less guilty about not spending more time on this topic, since I have a much more capable colleague to do it for me. Go read her stuff.

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¿Ustedes tambien, Mexico?

In 18 months of blogging, I’ve only brought up abortion a handful of times (usually in service of a larger point). Today, for some reason, I’ve got two posts about it. Let’s hope there’s nothing Freudian about that…

I agree with Kavita Ramdas that empowering women is the key to making progress in society. I am sure this will garner me my fair share of dirty looks from a crowd of people who will see this as sexist against men – I am as immune to your looks as you are to rational argument. I join Christopher Hitchens in recognizing the cure for poverty as being “the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.” A key component of such emancipation is the presence and defense of rights to abortion. However uncomfortable one might be with the idea, terminating unwanted pregnancy is part and parcel with recognizing a woman’s right to be reproductively autonomous. When women have the power to do with their bodies as they choose, the world becomes a better place for all of us.

Mexico doesn’t seem to recognize this: [Read more...]

Anti-abortion or anti-contraception: pick one

One of my favourite bits of trivia about Christianity specifically is that the teachings attributed to Jesus say far more against hypocrisy than they do about sex. This, of course, does not seem to faze his ‘followers’ whose anti-sex crusade seems to be taking notes directly from Orwell (who are we kidding? They’ve never read Orwell). While the weird pre-occupation of the religious with sex is well-understood, this does not seem to dissuade the throngs of pious outrage from trying to interfere every time someone drops trou.

While we here in the north agonize with our southern cousins over the disgraceful erosion of that most sacred American ideal – the separation of church from state – a little known fact is that Canada has its own religious right that is intentionally mimicking the tactics of the “Moral Majority”. A bit of background before I launch into this news tidbit. More than a decade following the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that found anti-abortion laws unconstitutional in the USA, Canada’s Supreme Court made its own finding that no laws could be passed against abortion in Canada the current abortion laws were similarly illegal (thanks to ibis3 for the correction). While Roe v. Wade was couched in the right of privacy enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, Canada’s court was a bit more explicit. It was ruled that anti-abortion laws violated the security of the person, as laid out in our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of this legalese is unimportant, particularly to those that don’t live in the USA or Canada, but bear with me.

Abortion has been, since then, a relative non-issue in Canada. Nobody has really brought a substantive case against abortion rights, and we don’t have nutjobs running doctors out of town (at least not any that make the news – if I’m wrong someone please tell me). However, the religious right – emboldened by a recently-elected majority government – have decided that if it’s fixed, break it: [Read more...]

News blast: women’s headlines from around the world

As I mentioned this morning, there’s been a lot of stuff going on that I haven’t been able to get to, but that I would like to. I’ve only done this a couple of times before, but instead of a full-fledged Crommunist Manifesto treatment, I’m going to have to provide mini-commentary on these. Please do not interpret this as an indication of anything other than the fact that there are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week. This post is for the ladies.

Saudi women may vote: King Abdullah

Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has announced. He said they would also have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council. The move was welcomed by activists who have called for greater rights for women in the kingdom, which enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law. The changes will occur after municipal polls on Thursday, the king said.

This move is so obvious and risibly behind the times that it’s almost hard to praise it. However, this small concession could potentially have profound meaning for the women of Saudi Arabia. That’s the problem, I suppose, with trying to impress liberals like me: you do something we ask you to do, and then we ask you why you didn’t get it done faster. There seems to be a lot of popular support for this move, and the least cynical side of me is inclined to say that this is indicative of a desire for true reform from the Saudi royal family. Within the structure of Shariah law there will never be legal equality for women in Saudi Arabia; however, it’s still a positive step that women will be allowed to make some decisions for themselves. Now maybe the car keys too?

Social media protest nets rape arrest in Nigeria

The Nigerian police have arrested two people in connection with the gang-rape of a woman posted on the internet. Bala Hassan, the commissioner for police in Abia State, said the two men were detained after cyber activists posted pictures and names online. The video has shocked Nigeria both for the brutal nature of the rape and the initial failure to investigate.

Once again, I have no words to describe the contempt I have for the vile slime that would participate in a gang-rape, let alone videotape it. They are perhaps one level below the police who, given evidence that can clearly identify the victim and perpetrators, decide to drop the case. While we (rightly or wrongly) often deride internet activism under the increasingly-inaccurate label of ‘slacktivism’, it’s great to see it being used as a tool for greater justice. While it is a double-edged sword that can be used to shame victims, this is a case where the reverse is true and those who failed to uphold their duty to justice were shamed into doing their jobs.

Wangari Maathai dies at age 71 

Kenya’s Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai has died in Nairobi while undergoing cancer treatment. She was 71. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for promoting conservation, women’s rights and transparent government – the first African woman to get the award. She was elected as an MP in 2002 and served as a minister in the Kenyan government for a time. Ms Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted 20-30 million trees in Africa.

It’s a shame, and a testament to my shitty scholarship, that I only learned about Wangari Maathai – a black African woman with a Nobel prize. Talk about your stereotype smashers. Reading her obituary, Ms. Maathai was a consummate warrior against the sexist status quo, and refused to let the patriarchy back her down. Kenya is one of the more stable and progressive countries in Africa (man… that makes me sad – Kenya is no Norway), and it owes quite a bit of that to the work of Ms. Maathai and those she inspired.

Report on sex trade needs to focus on roots of issue

Angela Marie MacDougall was exploited as a young girl, trafficked to grown men for sex. From ages 15-21, she continued working in the sex trade, mostly in Vancouver. It’s the usual story of how girls are inducted into sex work, she told a public hearing Thursday at Vancouver city hall on a city staff report about how to deal with sexual exploitation and Vancouver’s sex trade. “We hear in the report that we’re talking about women,” MacDougall said. “But guess what? Many of us aged into adulthood in terms of [selling sex]. We did not start as adults. We can’t pretend we’re not talking about girls here. By ignoring that in the report, we are failing.” MacDougall, who now works for Battered Women’s Support Services, told council the report needs to focus more on how and why young girls are being pulled into the sex trade in the first place, to get to the root of the problem.

I had a blog reader e-mail me (I love it when y’all do that, by the way) to encourage me to speak more about issues of the sex trade. For the record, I am pro-sex, provided that both parties consent and there is no coercion or exploitation involved. If that means money changes hands, then by all means throw those bucks down. Criminalizing prostitution only makes it more dangerous for all parties involved, particularly those who work as prostitutes. Vancouver has a thriving sex trade, but the structure of Canada’s laws and our puritanical views of sex make it a dangerous occupation. While some of the opinions expressed in the article are mind-numbingly stupid, it is a good sign that this kind of conversation is happening in the open.

My apologies for not giving these stories the individual attention they deserve. I invite your chastisement and further exploration of the issues behind the stories in the comments section.

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Movie Friday: How to hit on an Asian girl

I live in Vancouver, which is a city that has a very large population of east and south Asian people. Having spent a number of years in Brampton, Ontario, and having done a degree at the University of Waterloo, I am more or less used to being in an environment with a large minority population. Some people, however, seem to have a difficult time dealing with the diversity, and retreat immediately into crude stereotypes when interacting with non-white people. If you think you might be one of those (and you are attracted to women), here’s a few handy tips:

Many people (mostly white people) express a great deal of incredulity when people of colour (PoCs) share stories like this. “How could anyone be so stupid?” they ask. Or, more commonly, “you’re exaggerating”. Life as a PoC in most cities in North America is emphatically not a non-stop barrage of racial insensitivity and adversity. However, it doesn’t take a lot of these kinds of comments to make you feel as though two things are overwhelmingly true:

  1. Your race/ethnic identity is the most important thing people see when they look at you
  2. You are the ‘other’ – a person who is tolerated but not part of the group

Now I don’t get hit on a lot (and when I am, most of the time I can’t hear the comments over the sound of me saying ‘yes’ and high-fiving myself), but it’s a pretty safe bet that when I’m flirting with someone who seems interested, at some point I will hear either “I just love black guys”, or “I’ve never been with a black guy before”. I’ve yet to hear “I’ve never been with a viola player before” or “health economists are so sexy” (and we really are – we’ve done extensive studies proving it through the use of computer simulation). It’s not a huge problem, but it’s just one of those things.

While it’s tough enough for women to walk down the street without being openly and unapologetically objectified by strangers, when you add race to that equation, life becomes even more difficult.

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Movie Friday: Jamie Kilstein

Those of you who are regular readers may have noticed that my use of language fluctuates from post to post. Sometimes I am crude and direct, other times I am flowery and expressive. Some of this is organic – I am actively trying to improve my writing and I think that repeated daily practice is accomplishing that. Other times it is intentional – trying to match the tone of my words to the topic at hand to elicit emotional impact. Sometimes, I will confess, it is simple laziness on my part.

I love words. I can’t really draw or paint, and while I am a musician my creativity in that department is not exactly exceptional. Where I think my real strength lies in in my use of language. Words on a page, properly arranged, can change the world. While my own personal aspirations are somewhat more modest than global metamorphosis, I do put more than a little bit of conscious effort into these sentences you read here.

Sometimes I run into someone who can knock me on my ass with their use of language. Jamie Kilstein is one such person:

Audio is definitely NSFW, but you shouldn’t watch Youtube videos at work anyway.

Yes, I recognize it’s crude, but I challenge you to find fault in the phrase “fist you into a meth coma”.

I’ve run into these kinds of arguments against gay marriage and gay parenting before. They are, quite frankly, ridiculous. There are heterosexual parents who do a far worse job of raising kids than a gay couple could ever hope to. There are single parents who do do an outstanding job without another person around (I’d offer my own upbringing as evidence of that possibility). Suggesting that a mix-gendered environment is a necessary component of a healthy childhood is easily put to the lie by even the most casual of scrutiny. Suggesting further that every gay couple will do a worse job than every straight couple is an even greater height of absurdity.

Jamie Kilstein does a great job of skewering these arguments with a fast-paced, profanity-strewn and impeccably-delivered 3 minute monologue. Of course, being in front of a sympathetic audience certainly helps the delivery, but even without the accompanying laughter it’s quite something to see.

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