Why #notall_____ is a Derailing Tactic

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Attribution is unclear, let me know if you know!

When marginalized people say [insert privileged group] do/don’t do x, they aren’t saying “every single member of that privileged group.” They are saying, as a political bloc, that (for example) straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights or people of colour, etc.. Not that you, [specific person], don’t. And we know that, again as a bloc, straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights, etc. because we know how straight white men en masse vote. And how much power they wield. And how they wield it. Continue reading “Why #notall_____ is a Derailing Tactic”

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There is no such thing as fit-shaming (see also: reverse racism, misandry)

There are few things on the internet that I find more tiresome than privileged people “taking down” a movement for marginalized people because they haven’t been given enough deference.

We see it all the time. Black Lives Matter is bad because it doesn’t cater to white people’s fragility. Feminism is bad because it doesn’t centre men and give them cookies for being non-awful human beings. Queer liberation movements are mean because they don’t praise straight people for not being homophobes. And on and on ad infinitum. If these movements would just be nicer they would have allies galore!

Because, of course, your commitment to justice is predicated on how nicely you’re asked and whether your bullshit is called out or not.  Continue reading “There is no such thing as fit-shaming (see also: reverse racism, misandry)”

Selling Wellness

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Photo by Crew on Unsplash

If you’ve spent any time on the internet you’ve encountered “wellness.” You can probably list off the things that “wellness” is a euphemism for: whiteness, thinness, able-bodiedness, middle/upper classness, performative consumption.

Wellness, rather than the state of being well, is an ongoing project by which certain (mostly? exclusively?) women either signal their inclusion in an exclusive strata or strive to gain entry.

As the president of Saks Fifth Avenue said,

“The wellness thing is big”…”We’re calling it ‘the new luxury.’ It used to be about fur and leather. But people just want to feel better.”

Wellness, if you were to only examine it through the lens of Instagram and lifestyle bloggers, is about $12 cold-pressed juices, yoga poses that photograph well, $50 water bottles (no, I will never get over how expensive those god damn water bottles are), and something else. What is that other thing? Oh, yes, being young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive.  Continue reading “Selling Wellness”

“He’s crazy”–Mental Illness, Power, and Transgressions

[CN: Discussion of violence against women, racism]

There are a few courses I took in undergrad and grad school that have especially stuck with me through the years. One that I think about often was an upper-level Women’s Studies course called Monstrous Women which looked at the ways we frame women who transgress the bounds that society places before them. And how women who fail to perform “womanhood” adequately (whether through eschewing motherhood, being overtly aggressive, responding to male violence with violence) are transformed into “monsters”–both as a control mechanism and because we don’t know how to reconcile women who don’t perform mainstream womanhood in our brains.

Continue reading ““He’s crazy”–Mental Illness, Power, and Transgressions”

There Is Hope In Resistance: Concrete Actions in the Face of Fascism

recite-10dunvuMy preliminary thought as a monster is made leader of one of the most influential countries in the world is that there is work to be done. Some of that work, yes, is grieving, and being afraid, and being angry, and letting yourself feel whatever you need to feel. But once you’ve felt (or while you feel), there are many concrete steps to be taken now, tomorrow, and over the next four years. Below you’ll find concrete actions of resistance we can all take. Many are collected from other writers and organizers and thinkers on the internet, some are my own thoughts. Not all of these will be appropriate, safe, or doable for everybody, but I’m offering as wide a diversity of tactics as I can pull together because it is a diversity of tactics that makes for effective resistance.  Continue reading “There Is Hope In Resistance: Concrete Actions in the Face of Fascism”

A Primer on Neoliberalism

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Source

I’m obsessed with neoliberalism. I’m fascinated by it as an ideology, and I’m fascinated by how successful it’s been in such a short time. Mostly, I’m fascinated by how pervasive it is–infecting every corner of life in the Western world–and yet how successfully it has remained invisible.

Like it’s brother capitalism, it’s become an ideology that just is. Ask most people what neoliberalism is and they’ll shrug. But ask them their views on government’s role in society, on privatization, on healthcare or welfare or trade and they’ll be either espousing or critiquing neoliberalism.

Because it’s become the toxic water we swim in–that is, invisible yet fundamental to shaping how we live–I thought it might be useful to offer a little primer on neoliberalism as well as some of the ways we see its impacts. Especially because a lot of writing on neoliberalism is far from accessible, and that is one of the ways we remain unable to fight it. When we don’t have language for what we’re fighting, nor the full scope of the problem, it’s hard–if not impossible–to mount an effective and broad opposition.

So first, what is neoliberalism? It’s a political ideology (that is, a way of understanding, organizing, and governing the world) that emphasizes and prizes individualism over collectivism and encourages consumption as a source of identity and the primary way that we engage with society. Continue reading “A Primer on Neoliberalism”

Women and the Tragedy of Aging

I’ve recently seen two things around aging that made me sigh.

The first is this graphic.

agingThe second was on a Jezebel article where it was revealed that Olivia Wilde, then 28, was “too old” to play 38 year old Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street.” While that was irritating, that wasn’t it. It was a comment thread that somehow devolved into when women are peak attractive (arguments ranged from 18 to 31. But definitely no older than 31. Because science).

Continue reading “Women and the Tragedy of Aging”

Why I Don’t Believe in “Safe Spaces” Or: We Need to Do Better

The topic of safe spaces has been coming up a lot in my life over the past couple of weeks and I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to say about them. The short version is that I don’t believe in them, but not for the reason all of these bleating think pieces decrying “PC culture” and “Millennial sensitivity” don’t believe in them (as I’d hope you’d know if you’ve taken even a cursory look at my blog before. See, especially, this piece on trigger warnings). Rather, I think that power is complex and tricky and continually reasserts itself in unexpected ways.

Which is probably why I’ve only ever heard people with power/privilege in a given room declare it a safe space. Continue reading “Why I Don’t Believe in “Safe Spaces” Or: We Need to Do Better”

Getting Back to Our Animal Selves

panthere noire zoo de jurques 1012 1024x749I’ve had this pet theory, for a while, that capitalism only works if we silence and eschew the animal parts of us. Think about it, sitting at a desk for 8 or 10 hours a day is completely counter to our animal instincts to be in motion. Doing menial tasks (making widgets, if we want to get all Karl Marx up in here) that don’t directly relate to the care and feeding of ourselves or our loved ones makes no sense until we introduce the fear of poverty (and thus hunger, lack of shelter, etc) if we don’t comply.

But instincts are hard to suppress. They’re literally the most base reaction we have. In fact, they’re there whether we heed them or not. That’s how powerful they are. So how does a system that relies on quashing our animal selves counter something so powerful? With shame, perhaps the most powerful motivator there is.

I was recently interviewed by a university student writing a paper on a particular issue in my field and the topic of shame came up. This student asked if shame can ever be a force for good. Absolutely, I said. Shame is one of the ways that we moderate unacceptable and dangerous behaviour. Shame is based on losing in-group status. Humans are immensely social creatures who need acceptance and community to survive. So the threat of losing your connections and community due to hurting another, for example, is a very positive use of shame, teaching people not to hurt others until they can internalize that lesson.

But the power of shame is rarely used for the benefit of the collective in our neoliberal, late capitalistic clusterfuck. Rather, it is used to shut down all of the signals that tell us that what is going on is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that most of us do work that is not only spiritually unfulfilling but is actively harmful for the earth and for humanity. It is unacceptable that most of us live in some form of economic insecurity. It is unacceptable that many of us don’t have access to fresh, nourishing food and instead rely on hyper-palatable, low-nutrient play food for the majority of our nutrition. It is unacceptable that one in three women* and one in two trans people will experience sexualized violence in our life times.

But you can’t start with the big violations and hope they’ll stick. You have to start with the small pieces of animalia that you can tame. We wear clothes because we are shamed for our nudity (I mean, there are practical reasons for clothes as well, but if I strolled down the street naked tomorrow no one would be objecting on the grounds that I wasn’t protected from the elements). We wear deodorant and perfume because it is unacceptable to smell like the animals that we are (this, by the way, is very culturally specific). We hide our emotions at work because we aren’t supposed to “make a scene” by reacting honestly to rude customers or over-bearing bosses like the animals we are.

And when we routinely over-ride our instincts we stop trusting them. Introducing the element of doubt is an incredible tool for controlling someone. This is an issue that impacts everyone, certainly, but it is also exceptionally gendered. Think of all the ways women (and other people socialized female) are taught to ignore our instincts: we are taught to distrust our hunger, routinely. Whether that’s through extreme calorie restriction, or the mind-games so many of us play as we try to negotiate down our hunger (“Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry? Maybe I can just have some celery and hope my stomach will stop growling. Maybe I could have some gum instead. Maybe I’m just thirsty!”).How many times have you been told that “we often mistake hunger for thirst”? Ten? A hundred? Coming up on a million? Have you ever stopped to consider how ridiculous of a statement that is? If you took it out of the context of women’s continued disavowal of hunger it makes literally no sense. You’d never tell someone that has to poop that they actually need to pee and have just mistaken the two. Or that someone who is complaining of being cold is actually dehydrated. If someone is hungry they’re hungry.

We are taught to ignore our gut in favour of politeness. I tell my clients constantly, “your gut is smart. Trust it.” How often do we override that niggling feeling because we want to be “nice” (one of the most toxic words in the English language if you ask me)? On the bus, with that creepy guy who won’t get out of our space. Walking home with that dude who’s been behind us for too many blocks and turns. On a date with a cute guy or girl who keeps pushing minor boundaries? With the roommate situation we knew immediately wouldn’t work out?**

We are also taught to ignore our basic comfort, from the clothes that we wear (ever notice how many women change into sweats or pjs the second they walk in the door while their male partners are perfectly comfortable in their un-restrictive pants and shirts?), to the shoes we teeter in, to the absurd and painful lengths we go to remove the body hair that is our god-damn birthright as animals.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately, including going back to therapy after almost a year break. And what I realized today is that almost all of the work I’ve been doing is allowing myself to get back to my animal self. It has been about trusting my gut, honouring my instincts, trusting my body, and seeking embodiment.

I recently had a dating situation where someone did a couple things that threw up yellow flags. Not red flags. They weren’t “DANGER WILL ROBINSON” infractions. They were “psst, hey, Will Robinson, maybe make a note of this, it’s a little hinky.” One yellow flag is something to mind but not a deal-breaker. But in quick succession there were three or four yellow flags on the field and I was suddenly flooded with anxiety. Not because I felt unsafe, but because I was at war with my gut. My gut was telling me “you know about boundaries. You literally teach workshops on boundaries. You tell your clients every day to trust their gut. You can’t talk the talk if you won’t walk the walk.”

I had a really clear signal from my gut that there were too many yellow flags on the pitch but I was fighting it because I didn’t want to “overreact” or “be rude.” Despite being in possession of the world’s best early alert system I was fighting something I champion because I’ve spent my life being subtly and overtly trained to ignore it for fear of shame–god forbid a woman “overreact” be “hysterical” or “a bitch” to a man who is over-reaching his bounds.

This personal work has also included embracing my hunger without questioning it or trying to barter it down, and listening to my body’s signals that it needs movement or rest.

Recognizing when we are safe or not, when we are hungry or not, and whether we are tired or not are literally our birthright as animals (ever seen a cat that’s feeling any of those? They don’t fuck around. They get their needs met whatever it takes), and yet we are taught from a very young age that all of those instincts are wrong (let Creepy Uncle Jerry kiss you, you don’t need seconds, go to bed even though you’re not tired). And so our work as adult humans is, in many ways, to get back to our animal selves.

*This is a contentious statistic for a whole lot of reasons I’m not going to go into here, related to disclosure, shame, measurement, etc. This statistic comes from Stats Can in 1993, the last time they did a Violence Against Women survey. The commonly cited American statistic comes from RAINN and is one in five. My instinct is that that is a low estimate.

**Oh do I have stories. And for every bad roommate story I have a matching story of ignoring my gut instinct.

The Truth(s) of Social Change

[CN: non-graphic talk of sexualized violence, talk of racism and the murders of unarmed black men]

Reality has a wellknown liberal bias.–Stephen Colbert

I don’t know how to write this piece. It’s intellectually hard and it’s spiritually hard.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about activist tactics, about narrative, about facts.

You see, for the longest time, I thought it was a case of misinformation and missing information. That if I could just tell so-and-so enough stories, enough statistics, it would work. They’d see the error of their ways. They’d drop the casual racism and misogyny. That they just didn’t have the facts. That the truth will win out. That the truth must win out.

But what I’ve realized lately is that there isn’t just one truth. And that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, there is an objective reality. One in which gendered violence and racism and transphobia are real and deadly.

But there are also huge, oppressive systems that are strongly invested in hiding that objective reality. Systems like patriarchy and white supremacy and late-stage capitalism that benefit from the ongoing oppression of Othered bodies. Systems that can only exist through the ongoing disavowal of empathy.

Because, really, isn’t that the path to justice? Not sympathy, not compassion. Empathy. The ability to recognize what another is feeling and feel it yourself. Indeed, the inability to not feel the pain of others. Which is not to say that I can understand what it is to, say, grow up as a racialized person in a racist society. But I can recognize the pain and yearning and I can feel it myself in some small measure. And, more than that, because I recognize that your liberation, my liberation, all of our liberation is tied up in each other’s. To quote Lilla Watson,

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

But there are these systems that only work so long as we don’t see that our liberations are intimately bound. Indeed, they hide, to the best of their ability, that liberation is even possible. That liberation is even necessary.

The baseline state of capitalism, if you ask Marx, is one of alienation. We are alienated from ourselves, from our work, from each other. And it is this alienation that allows not just our own subjugation, but our complicity in the subjugation of others. Because it takes a certain amount of dissociation and disembodiment to sit in a cubicle all day, ignoring our needs for movement and meaning and stimulation. And it takes that same dissociation and disembodiment to see the suffering of another and shrug, or, worse, join in the oppression of others.

We lose our own humanity through alienation, and we deny the humanity of others. Worse, we selectively grant humanity. That person who looks like me gets it, that other person doesn’t. And thus we wash our hands of the problem of empathy. Of solidarity.

So let’s go back to that idea of multiple truths. Not just the idea, but the problem of multiple truths. You see, my truth is one that recognizes the epidemic of sexualized violence, racist state violence, transphobic violence. So when I hear about a campus rape I don’t wonder what she was wearing, if it was just “sex she regretted the next day” (UGH), if she is making it up for….reasons that have never really been clear to me but reside in the fever dreams of misogynistic assholes. When I hear about a white police officer killing an unarmed black man I don’t twist myself in contortions to legitimate it, I don’t look to the domestic violence history of a dead 12 year old boys’s father to validate the murder of a child. Because these facts (and they are facts) fit into the world as I understand it.

But for those who are heavily invested in upholding the patriarchy and white supremacy, these events are aberrations if they are accepted as facts at all. You see, if you are invested in the idea that rape doesn’t happen that often and that when it does the woman was asking for it, that 1 in 3 or 6* statistic doesn’t square with your reality. And because our brains are funny things, most people will decide that the statistic must be wrong rather than that their worldview is. And if you’re a white person who has only ever experienced police officers as friendly and safe, then thousands of (mostly) people of colour rising up and protesting the ongoing racist targeting and murder of black bodies flies in the face of what you know to be the truth. And it’s a lot easier to disavow the actions of people who don’t look like you than it is to completely re-evaluate everything you know to be true about the world.

So I don’t think that we can rely on the use of statistics and facts to change the world. Because they are discounted by people whose truths don’t allow for them.

On the small scale** I think we need to focus on empathy. We need to not just insist on our own and each other’s humanity, we need to find that point in others where they can experience empathy. I can remember a conversation with my brother several years ago, where he was talking about a negative and scary experience where a large man was hitting on him, touching him, and making very graphic sexual comments to him in a situation he couldn’t easily leave. I told him that I had experienced that more times than I could count. And that working in any kind of food-service job as a woman meant multiple versions of that every week. He was visibly shaken and said something to the effect that he never realized it was that bad. He’d heard stories but didn’t know it was that bad.

When we live in a culture that so thoroughly dissuades empathy we need to seek it out and set the stage for it.

*A word on that statistic. We don’t actually know how prevalent violence is for reasons that make a lot of sense (low reporting rates, a culture which downplays violence and can cause people to spend years explaining abuse away as “a weird thing that happened”). RAINN says 1 in 6 American women will experience sexualized violence in her lifetime. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates 1 in 4 Canadian women will experience sexualized violence or domestic violence in her lifetime. The Violence Against Women Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 1993 found that 1 in 3 women respondents reported experiencing sexualized violence at some point in their lives and 1 in 2 women had experienced sexualized or domestic violence. While we know that violence rates have decreased in Canada since then, that survey has never been repeated so we don’t actually have a reliable number. But if we go with 1 in 4 women will experience some form of sexual/intimate violence, that is still outrageously high.

**Large scale I think we need civil disobedience and to remember that no holders of power have ever granted rights out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they were mildly inconvenienced.