Weekend Reads

It’s a Sunday evening in October, hopefully most of you are able to curl up somewhere cozy and ring in the appropriately lazy last day of the week. I’ve been crazy busy as of late and decided to take this weekend off to eat and drink well, run some errands, get ready for Halloween, and well…RELAX. I had to get my weekend post in there somewhere however!

How Womanhood is Shaped by Food & Sex

The Toronto Standard’s Tiffy Thompson (one of my favourite contributors) covered an interesting new read slated to drop October 22, a compilation of women and their experiences with food as cultivating their identities as women. I’m always on the lookout for cool new reads and this book looks like it will find residence on my bookshelf at home. It’s a series of true stories/short essays women sent in to two editors looking to informally explore the ways in which women attach themselves to guilty compulsions like sex and food, and I love how this theme comes to dispel the expectations we place on women and the need to exercise self-discipline.

Eight Halloween Costumes for the Discerning Torontonian

And this is the exact reason I love Toronto Life. While being an entertaining article within itself, this post perfectly encapsulates the last year in life as a Toronto citizen: the Ikea Monkey, Drake, Roger’s customer and more all pretty much sum up the city’s culture while shedding new light on the issues we face. Walmart in Kensington and Rob Ford crack-starter edition were probably my favourite costume ideas. Way to get people laughing about this year’s news in the big city.

Cancel Rob Ford’s Radio Show

Counsellor Paul Ainslie has a problem with the mayor having his own radio show, arguing that he uses it to bully other people into believing his own B.S. while breaching broadcasting ethics. I haven’t listened to the Ford radio show but I can tell you it’s problematic when someone who is supposed to be representing a large population of people in a democratic way is out there broadcasting certain messages over public radio. At least try to be covert in keeping your opinions out of your politics. Oh Mr. Ford… SMH

The Abortion That Could Cost a Woman her Kids

Apparently a judge in New York thinks it’s acceptable to hear about a to-be-divorced single mom’s sex/dating life and consequent abortion in court, while her ex-husband’s paying for sex at massage parlours habits don’t seem to matter much. The whole argument surrounding the abortion is that is obviously scarred this mother, and if it didn’t then something is equally disturbing about her lack of morality. I’m very surprised that we are still concerned about “morality” these days because I really don’t think there is such a thing when it comes to sexuality. But then again that’s just me.



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Should Fast Food Workers be Paid More?

Is it feasible? McDonald’s recently raised its CEOs’ salaries despite complaints from front line workers, and as a result of multiple injustices many employees went on strike in the summer. CEO Don Thompson’s financial package jumped from $4.1M to $13.8M last April after McDonald’s fired its other CEO Jim Skinner for not coming out with better advertising when Taco Bell and Wendy’s revamped their menus. His retirement package included not only more money, but use of a company plane and a secretary for two years after his “retirement”.

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, image from The Nation

Yes that’s correct: two individual people were given MILLIONS more than the MILLIONS they were already receiving while the company claims it would bankrupt them to give $7 more an hour to the other staff that make running their company possible.

We have a whole thing in North America where CEO salary is competitive. If you want the best for your company, you offer somebody with an MBA and some business sense a ludicrous amount of money that they themselves, and their families even, will never fully spend. I believe that some people should be paid higher for their investment in education, hard work, etc but there is definitely something to be said for those making millions and those making pennies in the same company, especially when the company can more than afford to comfortably compensate its workers.

Front line workers at fast food restaurants are very unappreciated. Stigma in minimum wage jobs results from such low wages. Sometimes it’s a temporary thing: students and people who are laid off work these jobs because other options are bleak.

Image from Vision to America

And that’s the thing. There are sometimes no other options, and in the fast paced world we live in you always need some money coming in. The White House responded to the fast food worker strike by proposing to raise the minimum wage, and McDonald’s responded to the controversy by asserting that higher pay for its employees would signify higher food prices for customers. They also complained that they are already facing tighter restrictions on the quality of food they can serve, which has raised their operating costs.

Poor McDonald’s, they have to serve real beef and so they can’t afford to pay their workers a reasonable amount.

Image from Apples & Nerds

I think that people also forget that many fast food workers receive nowhere near the hours of work needed to make a living. Indeed, all of my own personal experiences working minimum wage jobs only allowed the top employees a maximum of 25-30 hours a week, if that. These companies were always short staffed as a result and made it unnecessarily difficult for those who had to work.

It’s also very manipulative of McDonald’s to release statements concerning the cost to constumers. By asserting that food items will become more expensive if workers are paid higher, the corporation is attempting to get consumers on their side and not sympathize with those behind the counter; it is consequently harder for fast food workers to mobilize and make a change in their working conditions. What most people don’t realize, however, is that our tax money is going to fast food workers anyway.

A recent study Gawker posted showed that many low-wage workers in the fast food sector make use of some sort of public assistance program because the money they make is simply not enough to live on. Even in Canada, many fast food workers qualify for unemployment benefits because the hours and money they make is not considered enough of an income. The corporations should be paying for people to live comfortably, not the government. Especially when these people are in fact employed.

One woman who disrupted a meeting with the McDonald’s president recently was arresting for claiming that she didn’t make enough money to buy shoes with. Of course she was arrested under the guise of “disturbing the peace”, but this just goes to show that corporations like McDonald’s not only don’t care about their employees’ well-being, they want to try to conceal the resentment their employees have so that a real movement isn’t started. Not only is this silencing, it also attempts to cultivate an image of employees as unruly, disruptive and not deserving of higher wages because their problems are unfounded, and moreover that they are ungrateful. In McDonald’s eyes, during these difficult economic times, people should feel lucky to have any sort of job.

Another problem McDonald’s has with the whole higher wages thing is “loss of job creation”, or in other words, the fact that they won’t be able to rely on excuses like high turnover or low skill anymore in justifying their poor treatment of their employees.Companies like it when their employees are essentially replaceable because it allows them to manipulate staff. Come in early or stay late, go above and beyond or your hours will be cut.

I think these companies have it all wrong: if they pay higher, competitive wages, they will be able to be more selective in who they hire, and perhaps get somebody that will care and work hard for their company.

Government intervention is needed to get these companies to take more responsibility for the ways in which profits are distributed. Raising the minimum wage is possibly a good start, but I think the consequence of higher inflation would outweigh the good it would do giving people a couple more dollars an hour.

Instead, I think governments should start looking at their public assistance programs in a different way. Start measuring the amount of people who work minimum wage jobs and still need assistance. Get those companies to start giving out reasonable hours and being accountable for their employees’ wellbeing.

Image from Radio Canada

At the end of the day: if you can afford to give one person millions of dollars, you can afford to step up the amount you give to those low-skill workers who probably have as much shit to deal with as the CEOs. Only difference is that they don’t get to go home to a mansion and private plane.

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Weekend Linkage

This week’s news was full of Canadian pride for Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize but some less than proud moments  for Canada and the US were also captured and written about: read about how fake reality TV is and how unpaid interns are under-appreciated and unacknowledged as actual workers. I’m also not sick of the whole Sinead and Miley thing so I had to throw in a little article on feminism as well.

On Being a Little Person

One of Miley Cyrus’s back-up dancers at the VMAs is speaking out against the disrespect of “little people” in mainstream media and show business, and how her experience in the background spotlight made her feel belittled–no pun intended (and yes, I can say things like that because I’m kind of a little person myself!)

Inspired Reflection on Second and Third Wave Feminism via Sinead, Amanda and Miley

One of my favourite blogs talks about the differences in generational feminism and why we need to look at Sinead and Miley as separate encounters with the movement. This post talks about Sinead’s comments as being construed as slut-shaming and Miley’s freedom to express herself in whatever way she chooses without necessarily taking a stance on either’s expression of feminism.

The Real World: How Toronto is Cashing in on the Reality TV Boom

Toronto Life talks about the smoke and mirrors involved in reality TV and how many shows are actually produced and shot right here in the city. The article is a longer read focusing on the appeal of fake “reality” and why we tune in every week to some overdramatized and sometimes stereotypical representations of “normal”, everyday people.

McDonald’s Worker Arrested After Telling Company President She Couldn’t Afford Shoes

This really made me mad. A 26 year old woman interrupted a conference with the president of Mcdonald’s to demand higher wages, and was consequently arrested for disturbing the peace. It is absolutely insane to me that you can be arrested plainly for speaking your mind and protesting against an unfair reality. Companies like McDonald’s have more than enough money to be paying their employees DOUBLE what they already make, their CEOS would just have to deal with a couple mill less a year. And what difference does that make when you are already making tens of millions? I think a blog post on this is in order next week.

An Open Letter to George Stroumboulopoulos Regarding Interns

This also riled me up something fierce. I remember this guy when he was still somewhat on the come up on Much Music, I remember being a child watching him on TV. And now–joking or not–he’s dissing interns as useless and replaceable. It’s problem enough that most interns aren’t guaranteed equal treatment in the workplace, but university students are now having to fight to work for free. I’m so enraged that I can’t quite gather my words enough for this injustice, but I think this blog post has managed to sum up, quite wittily, what many interns’ responses would be to this asshole.

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Why Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize is Important

Alice Munro is easily one of my favourite authors and I think it’s safe to say that she’s a legend in her own time. I’ve had the pleasure of writing a few essays on her work, as well as being able to take an actual course dedicated solely to deconstructing the themes within her short stories at U of T. I’m glad that she’s finally received the recognition she deserves because her work is important for women writers on the come-up.



Image courtesy of Irene Ogrizek

I think one of my favourite novels by her was The Lives of Girls and Women, which detailed a young girl’s struggles with identity growing up in a small southern Ontario town: Munro detailed the psychological depths of adolescent confusion and what it means to deal with newfound feminine sexuality. Her main character Del has boyfriends that fail to understand her and try to change aspects of who she is, and she is almost an outcast in her interests. She is fascinated with gruesome things and enjoys writing, and we later find out near the end of the book that she is going to pursue a career in journalism. Maybe this is why I relate to the book so much…

In many of Munro’s short stories she explores themes of omniscience and the darker side of humanity and it is always these kinds of stories that intrigue me. The relationships she explores between her characters typically tend to reveal inherently hidden social truths, especially considering the time frames she was writing in (think feminism in the 1970s and 80s).

Too often there were stories containing an uneasiness within a male-female romantic relationship which detailed a woman’s anxiety about her partner and why they were not a proper fit, which to me contextualized and illuminated sentiments that went unheard at the times she was writing. Munro seemed obsessed with characters that were out of place and social misfits, which further illustrates the disconnect many of her female protagonists felt within their romantic lives.

I think Munro’s portrayals of disturbing behavior and settings also get us as readers thinking and re-evaluating our own worlds outside the book. She gives us an inside perspective into realities that we often overlook or want to forget. Her latest–and from what I’ve heard, her last–short story collection “Dear Life” contains stories of older/elderly adults and their experiences. One such story, In Sight of the Lake, the main character Nancy is an older woman who initially goes to see a “mind specialist” but arrives on the wrong day. She gets lost in the town and the story details her thought process as she navigates her way around. At the end of the story we find out that this was a dream and she is in a nursing home, so we are left to question whether or not older people’s mental capacities are as slow and delusional as society makes them out to be.



Image courtesy of Time Out Chicago

At the end of the day I love Alice Munro because she teaches us things about ourselves. She forces us to reflexively look inwards and re-evaluate our own prejudices and biases, and overall just question reality. Things aren’t always as they seem.

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Why do we Enjoy Mocking Others?

In the aftermath of the whole Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor social media exchange, I was reminded of an embarrassing moment of my own earlier in the week. I’ve been volunteering for school newspapers on campus, but because I am the definition of an introvert, I find it extremely challenging to initiate conversations with people I don’t know. Hence, my anxiety for interviewing people.

I attended a forum held by the Political Science Department at U of T last week. It was my job to take notes and talk to a few students about it, then write an article. I had no problems with the note-taking, but talking to other students was a daunting task. I began stammering through my introductions, and could feel my face getting red as I was struggling to properly articulate myself. Needless to say, it was embarrassing. Afterwards when I was home writing the article I continued to beat myself up for being too jumpy and socially awkward to get some of the proper information to be able to use my quotes–like students’ last names and course programs–and wondered what people must have thought of me, being too scared to start a simple conversation. Even though I gave myself a break and realized that I will do better next time considering that I’ve now had some experience, I was still frustrated by my own mental block, and momentarily with the type of person I was. My nervousness couldn’t be helped, and as a result I briefly felt powerless and not in control of my mind and body.

It’s human to lack control at times. I think we all go through these struggles and mainly because of the embarrassment that goes along with it. I think mental illness is also apart of that, only people view it as a more permanent aspect of a person’s life and personality. The funny thing with mental illness is that we are so accustomed to demonizing people who have legitimate problems with facets of their brains, and most people don’t even realize that it’s a physical problem, much less a temporary one in some cases. Not to compare my social awkwardness to mental illness, but I think it’s comparable in the sense that both can be temporary and pass with time and effort to heal/fix the problem. People will eventually forget how awkward I was; larger displays of social problems and mental illness, however, carry a more permanent stigma despite not being a permanent problem in most cases.

Last year I read about a process called “sanism” in describing the oppressive frameworks sometimes found in social work and the world of psychiatry. I believe it relates to the overall ways in which we view people who suffer from mental illness: an unresolvable craziness that is solely the fault of the person who is not in the right state of mind, ignorant of all other events that have led to it, and moreover an unshakeable reflection of who that person is and always will be. Particularly, “Tranquil Prisons” discusses madness as an alternative way of knowing, proposing this view replace such harmful language as “delusional” and “crazy”, and even that we begin to deviate from our conceptions of mental illness as neatly packaged and categorical diseases. Indeed, the professor in my mental health course last year even noted the inherent problems in categorizing and diagnosing mental illness, solely for the fact that people are complex and problems vary. We cannot concretely decipher and determine which problems are “normal” and which are not.

I think we saw this play out perfectly with Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes. We need to keep in mind that we view these dichotomies of “normal” and “crazy” are heavily laced in social terms. For instance, the “descents into madness” for both of these young women were not only associated with their sexual maturation into adult women, but also their failure to remain sexy. Both shave their hair off so it is implied that they are crazy for wanting to shed part of their femininity, and they both distance themselves from their once-innocent and wholesome good girl images to dressing provocatively and making people uncomfortable with their transformations. The fact that they are crossing social lines makes them crazy, and thus a spectacle, entertainment.

britney-spearsImage from NY Daily Newsarticle-2330382-19FB4273000005DC-699_634x805Image from Daily Mail

This whole Miley Cyrus thing is striking the same chord for me. I’m not saying I think she’s crazy, but I believe that to some extent she is uncomfortable with the criticism that is coming from her attempt to re-brand as a sexually mature adult. To some extent she is embarrassed by people’s inferences about her mental state and internalization of her own image. While some parts of Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley were overdramatic and accusatory, I feel like it’s important for people to speak out and voice a concern when they see one. What is not acceptable is to reference another person’s unfortunate public meltdown and compare it to another person in an attempt to discredit them. Unfortunately what Miley did, comparing Sinead to Amanda Bynes and using her Twitter meltdown to mock her, was not really out of the ordinary. I think that in order to make ourselves feel normal, we use others’ temporary lack of control as a way of normalizing our own poor behavior and deflecting from looking inside ourselves.

Image from Celebuzz

October is mental health awareness month and I feel like it’s important that we begin to re-assess what we define as normal, and begin to realize that mental health is a spectrum that is comparable to our physical health. Just as we take care of our bodies and may have some problem areas, we can learn to nurture our health needs. The same goes for our minds, and one of the first steps to doing this is to redefine mental illness and become aware of the fact that anyone is susceptible to a breakdown of sorts, and it is not okay to mock somebody at their most vulnerable. Just like some physical ailments can be healed with time and care, so can mental issues.

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This Week on the Internets…

I’ve had quite the case of writer’s block this week so I’ve shied away from posting purely because I don’t want to put out horrible material. I do, however, have the energy for a weekly round-up type of post since I have been reading like crazy–as per the usual. This week was exciting because my roommate and I FINALLY started our joint blogging project together called “The Girls on Bloor” so I have been able to include a post from her, as well as some other reads on child development, mental health, Miley Cyrus and more. Check out this week

Pedestrian Sundays at Kensington Market

Our first post on our food/review/nightlife blog written by my roommate Nathalie Sehgal: we took pictures of the street festival that is Pedestrian Sunday at Toronto’s Kensington market. Roads were shut down and we had fabulous Mexican food enjoying the very last of patio season last week. Read all about it and see the pictures (and some history of the neighbourhood!) by clicking the link above. Click ittt….

Do Kids Care if Their Robot Friend Gets Stuffed Into a Closet?

I had a very inappropriate laugh attack in class after my psychology professor showed this clip of a robot telling a researcher that his feelings would be hurt by being forced to be shut off and put in a closet after playing a game of eye-spy with groups of children. We were shown the video because it was a humorous way of illustrating how kids develop moral compassion and extend that sympathetic nature early on in life not just to other living beings, but objects that aren’t alive as well.

There are Smarter ways to use Social Media

This 16 year old’s intelligence outruns many other 20-somethings that I see on Facebook posting about all kinds of drama and partying. He tells the Globe and Mail how he interacts with people from all over through social media to talk about causes he cares about, and how social media can be used to develop meaningful conversations as opposed to egocentrically showing off what we’re up to. Maybe I should take a note from this guy…

Sinead O’Connor Furious at Miley Cyrus’ response to her Open Letter

I will be writing a post on this later this week considering how October plays a big part in mental health awareness and let’s just say I am not on Miley Cyrus’s side (big surprise). Sinead O’Connor has accused her of being anti-feminist and unconcerned for the well-being of people with mental health issues and I whole-heartedly agree. To be short, Miley is an embarrassment in more than one way. Anyway, read on about this mess, it intrigues me.

Woman Shot & Killed by Capitol Police After Chaotic Chase from White House

This is another example of the police acting too quickly, especially when government is involved. This woman obviously had a mental health problem and was supposedly suffering from post-partum depression, and everyone’s first concern is: THE WHITE HOUSE?! ZOMG TERRORISM?! *unimpressed face* This definitely brings up concerns over the ethics of whose lives are worth saving. Will be incorporating this into the Miley Cyrus and Sinead post as well.

And that’s it for this week, the most important news that affected me this week. Stick around for a mental health post in the coming days.

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Toxic Masculinity and the Struggles of Generation Y

A new documentary brought by the MissRepresentation movement is aiming to explore “toxic masculinity”, disguising certain soft emotions and as a result internalizing toughness as an inherently male identity. While I think the lady making the films tries a bit too hard (“join us in this movement!!”), there is definitely something to be said for the ways in which boys grow up in Western cultures feeling as though they often have to hide their emotions, and it perpetuates the stigma of expressing oneself as weak and by association, feminine.

The snippet of the documentary illustrates that boys grow up alienated from their feelings and are taught to think of traits like compassion and sensitivity as undesirable. The video touches on a very central point: the way in which male insecurity plays out in society is very concealed. We constantly hear about the young women that fall victim to social pressures about their appearances and attractiveness, but we don’t very often hear about the ways in which young men are pressured to cultivate an ideal masculinity that centres on directly opposing femininity.

I’m going to make it very clear that this post is a short opinion piece, no real research or cultural investigation at all on my part today. However I think that I make a valid point when I say that Generation Y is possibly the most conflicted generation of all: gender roles are changing at a light-speed pace. I think quite a bit about my parents marriage in comparison to my own current relationship. At the age my boyfriend and I are now exactly–22 and 25–my parents had just gotten engaged. This was 28 years ago. At this point in my life as important as my relationship is to me, I am by no means even close to that sort of commitment. I am only just completing my undergraduate degree this year, and figuring out my career goals. My boyfriend is in the opposite boat: he’s doing well on the job front, while slightly unsure of his educational aspirations.

30 years ago, he wouldn’t have to be thinking about his education, and I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a job; we would probably be close to getting married and purchasing a home. I think the main reason why young men are growing up unhappy, feeling isolated and concealing their emotions is because gender and career roles have changed, and men in their twenties are now conflicted about their place in the world.

Think about it: at one point in time gender relations were fairly simple and clear cut. Man was the provider, woman was the housekeeper. It was certainly this way in my household for a while. Although the modern day change of double income is a positive one, it complicates the relationships young men and women have with each other. The man who is interested in equality is supposed to simultaneously be the income provider AND the housekeeper/child-rearer, splitting these responsibilities equally with his female partner. He is supposed to be sensitive and compassionate, yet simultaneously manly and tough.

Young men also have to navigate many relatively new contradictions: they have to be there to care for a child when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, but they also have to be supportive of a young woman who chooses abortion because even though they both created the child, it is the woman’s body. Young men are pressured to be gentlemen and open doors, buy flowers and extravagant dinners without receiving anything in return but also have to engage in what was previously allotted to women as their domain: cooking and cleaning.

I’m not saying that I don’t believe men shouldn’t be taking equal responsibility for these things but what I am saying is that young men grow up confused about where they now stand in society. They still aren’t allowed the female emotions and courtesies but are expected to now carry out traditionally feminine duties.

It’s hard to overcome a historical dichotomy of masculinity vs femininity when the culture we live in still demands outdated and unrealistic expectations of young men while also denying young women the chance to realize their own emotions as mechanisms of strength. As our society places more and more emphasis on professionalism and the separation of work and home, we will continue to see a trend of any kind of emotional display as negative and feminine in the same vein, which ultimately hurts both men and women.

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Weekend Reads

Some serious articles, with a little bit of Kanye and Jimmy Kimmel thrown in there (my guilty pop culture pleasure from this week!) Enjoy these weekend reads!

Why I’m Racist and I Think Equality is Stupid

A Facebook friend of mine posted this, and I think it touches briefly on the ways in which our society is structurally set up to benefit white, middle class people and the neighbourhoods in which they are situated. I agree with some of the main points, especially that we don’t talk about racism anymore and get defensive, insisting that we have achieved ultimate equality, but I am taking this article with a grain of salt because there are changes being made to the inequality and marginalization of some poor, inner-city communities (think Regent Park in Toronto).

Regent Park’s Forward-thinking Food Movement

Speaking to the above article, a good example of the community resources coming into play in a neighbourhood that has a high new-immigrant population. A new farmer’s market has cropped up (no pun intended!), aiming to be a marketplace in which local entrepreneurs and backyard garden growers have an affordable selling experience which underpins the larger major markets and is fuelled mainly by Regent Park citizens themselves.

As a Student of David Gilmour’s and a Feminist I say put Away the Rope

Another fellow feminist agrees with me when I say that the Internet is taking things too far. U of T students this past Friday rallied to get Gilmour kicked out of the school, while others crashed comment boards outraged at the fact that he said jokingly in an interview earlier in the week that he did not enjoy teaching women writers. Interesting article from a student in his class, and I can say I definitely agree with her perspective on his right to choose course works based on his opinion and emotion, “two things that can’t be wrong”.

Exxon to Extend Health Care to Married Same Sex Couples

The problem with this is that because of marriage laws in the States most same sex couples are not legally recognized as being married, common-law or otherwise so benefits will obviously be very limited. Not to mention that large companies like Exxon don’t do the right thing because they want to, most of them do it because they are forced by law or social pressure. Good read.

Jimmy Kimmel: I’m Finally in a Rap Feud

And finally, to end off the serious news for this week, here’s a little funny display of narcissism from Kanye West, or what could turn out to be a practical joke cooked up by Jimmy Kimmel. I think the title speaks for itself, click the link to watch the video posted on Gawker.

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The Problem with Feminism These Days…

I’m a feminist. I used to fall for the whole “feminism isn’t cool so I’m not going to call myself a feminist” charade but I am now proud to call myself one. I’m big into social justice issues, but something I see a lot of feminists have trouble with is placing blame instead of raising awareness.

Just what am I referring to exactly? The University of Toronto professor and novelist David Gilmour, and his supposedly sexist remarks in an interview with Hazlitt (a website run by Random House Canada), as also chronicled by Salon.

A little background on this. Basically Mr. Gilmour had a little tongue-in-cheek interview with female writer Emily M. Keeler, saying, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women…what I teach is guys, real guy-guys”. *cue the wrath of The Internets*

If you take the time to actually read the interview, Gilmour attests more to what he’s interested in reading than actually bashing women writers for not being good enough, but most of the reporting websites like Salon, have focused on why it is wrong for Gilmour to have a preference for certain kinds of authors.

Salon was quick to point out Gilmour’s quotes concerning his disinterest in Chinese and women writers, and how he preferred to read the works of “heterosexual men”. In his official apology via the National Post, however, Gilmour states that he was joking and being sarcastic in parts of the interview. He also went on to mention that he was not bashing women or minority writers, he was simply stating that he did not have the relevant experience or passion to be able to teach them effectively.

It may surprise you that as a feminist, my issue is not that Gilmour made any of these remarks. My issue is that these websites, and the people reposting the articles claiming he is a sexist/racist asshole, are effectively demonizing Mr. Gilmour’s right to expression, and this demonization is made possible because of his privileged place in society as a heterosexual white man.

Note that there is a difference between victimization and demonization. I don’t believe that David Gilmour is a victim of the media or feminist movement, and considering that he was quite careless in his choice of words he does deserve some backlash. At the same time I feel like people in general are quick to twist the words of white men while ignoring the ways in which other people behave and speak in discriminatory ways. White women can be racist just as black men can be sexist, etc. Any sort of oppressive framework of thinking is possible with all kinds of intersecting identities, but I feel like people are still quick to talk about white men as the ultimate evil because of their historical privilege.

I wanted my white male friends’ opinions on this. Carl* was quick to answer: “I do think the words were taken out of context but in today’s day and age you have to be very careful about what you do or say…”

My other friend Jake* agreed, but was more critical of Gilmour, saying, ” I feel that [his] words may have been taken out of context. However, his role as an impressionable role model for the students he teaches should be a more important factor to him. For this reason he should think more about what he says before he says it…by taking such a narrow view on the subject he teaches he could be negatively influencing his students without realizing it.”

*Names have been changed*

It’s very problematic when we begin to automatically place blame on someone without thinking of the context in which they are speaking. I think feminism has fallen into a state of reversed discrimination in some cases, prematurely judging those who fall within a certain hierarchy of privilege as those who will remain forever ignorant. Part of being a critical thinker is listening to, and understanding what a person actually intends to say. In Gilmour’s case, people only care that his words have the potential to be taken as offensive.

Modern feminism is too serious. While the movement is still very much relevant and useful, I also think it power-trips sometimes and this is why we see so many young women who are now unwilling to identify themselves as feminists. I personally hate that we can’t even joke about anything anymore because it isn’t politically correct, although obviously there’s a fine line between funny and harm.

When I ask Jake and Carl about feminism they are both careful with their words. “Like any ‘movement’, there can be some extreme things done by people under that umbrella but ultimately I am all for equal rights,” says Carl. Jake chimes in, “I’m all for women’s rights and equality for all but there has definitely been a loss of focus on what the real issues [are]…Like two parts of a puzzle [men and women] are meant to be different, and embracing this ideal will ultimately be the answer to the issues raised by sexism. Not to say that any puzzle piece should be inherently male or female.”

I think this speaks directly to Gilmour’s right to teach whatever he wants considering that men and women both have different and useful experiences to share, but Jake somewhat disagrees with me: “He says more than once that he sends students down the hall if they want to learn what he doesn’t teach. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I feel that he may be sending them off with  negative connotations that may affect the way these students view any perspective other than his own…Perhaps being taught himself would humble him and allow him to see things from another point of view.”

We do however agree on one thing:  “I do feel that because of the fanatical zeal that is often taken by most feminists, his reputation will almost certainly suffer,” concludes Jake.

At the end of the day, I don’t think David Gilmour should be labelled a sexist. Just like we don’t have a problem with women writers courses, we shouldn’t have a problem with a course that centres mainly on male experience. The writers he teaches like F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote brilliant critiques of socioeconomic status (Great Gatsby anybody?!), Truman Capote was gay, and Philip Roth wrote about life as a Jewish man in America. Just because he isn’t teaching women writers doesn’t mean he isn’t teaching many other valuable life experiences. I have read all of the above authors and have to say that they are among my own personal favorites white, male or otherwise.

I think it’s a perfectly justifiable explanation: Gilmour doesn’t relate to feminine experience, and I’m glad that he isn’t going to do it an injustice. I once had a professor that claimed he was a feminist simply because his daughters were in Gender studies, meanwhile he butchered every female author on the syllabus before I finally dropped the class.

To conclude this post, I want to say that I’m not giving Gilmour a get-out-jail-free card. Some of what he said was problematic, but his words were also twisted. I think my friend Carl articulates this issue well: “Throughout life we all encounter situations in which we feel like we have been treated differently because of a number of things about us…The key is to really understand what’s going on and THINK!!!” Sometimes a little thought and processing is all we need.

And that’s my feminism for today everybody!

Posted in Critical Perspective, News, Writer Spotlight | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Precarious Labour: Traffic Control

Unappealing student work seems a necessary component of higher education for millenials, forcing young adults to move further away from home to seek better opportunities for personal and professional growth. Those who seek seasonal work and do not fall into the student category, however, often face the same unfair, precarious work experiences that are justified as unskilled labour.

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As it becomes harder to find work in Ontario, many of the province’s residents are migrating seasonally to work in Western provinces that are host to a wealth of different construction companies. The Globe & Mail recently looked at Stats Canada and declared that employment in construction is at a record high, while it is also a fairly well-known fact that employers in Fort McMurray, Alberta can never hire enough people to work in the oil sands industry.

My personal experience as a flag person–aka traffic control–over the summer managed to live up to my expectations yet simultaneously shock me. I knew going in that I was going to be roughing it: living in dingy hotels, surviving on fast food and frequently having to go to the washroom outside. But I certainly didn’t expect that I would have to wait 8 hours for a pee break, or 3 and a half weeks to go to a grocery store so that I could have proper lunches for my long 13-16 hour days.

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I worked mainly in Manitoba over the summer for a company that was based out of Alberta. Unfortunately most of the contracts were pretty far north in the province, and the whole crew had a rough time with the living conditions through no particular fault of the company. My experience started off fairly well: we had two days worth of safety training and a brief orientation, and then it was off to work.

A normal day of flagging consists of stopping traffic and waiting for a pilot vehicle to come lead cars through the work zone. When there is a competent supervisor/foreman team, the flagger isn’t left standing for more than a couple of hours at a time before there is a half hour break to drive the pilot vehicle.

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Although with a more experienced foreman there were more breaks, there were several injustices that occurred over the span of the 4 months that I worked out there, most of which occurred within a gendered context. Most of the flaggers that worked with this company were young women, and I would say about half of them were also students needing a summer job. The most obvious way in which sexism plays out is in the actual work itself: flagging is taken to be an inherently feminine job because it doesn’t require much skill or strength. In fact, male flaggers are often seen as less masculine and unable to pull their weight in any labouring behind the truck.

During one job, a flagger had to walk behind the production truck and the labourers, holding the slow sign towards oncoming traffic. Whenever there was a pause in production, I would get the labourers to hold my sign so that I could try doing some of their work: shoveling concrete, mopping the wet pavement. Although it required slightly more strength than flagging (keeping in mind that flaggers also have to lift heavy signs and gas cans), the guys rotated tasks enough that no single person was left with a strenuous activity for too long. I could imagine myself doing it.

Ask any other worker about getting the chance to labour at this company as a female–at a $6/hour pay increase–and they’ll laugh in your face. I was frequently told that the company did not hire female labourers for a reason, that most of them simply weren’t strong enough to perform the tasks. I wasn’t the only one who felt that this was a lame excuse.

“If given the opportunity, I feel like girls would try harder, they would care more.” I’m sitting having a coffee with my former co-worker, Veronica*, asking her how she felt about her flagging experience. “As a flagger you’re not expected to live up to much, but it’s both mentally and physically tiring. You have to be able to diffuse situations, you have to be able to keep yourself awake…the stress gets to everyone.”

I think for myself, one of the biggest physical challenges of flagging was the difficulty in staying mentally stimulated. People don’t realize that flagging requires a certain amount of creativity and discipline, as well as unappreciated kinds of intelligence like spatial sense and ideas about the ways in which motorists think and act.

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Another girl I worked with, Lisa*, also had trouble with the physical and mental demands of the job: “We would normally work 13-15 hour days, flagging the entire time, which I had somewhat expected…but normally we would not get any breaks. We didn’t have time to eat our lunch and usually didn’t even get five minutes to use the washroom. It was extremely frustrating and tiring.”

*Names have been changed*

Lisa brings up a valid point when it comes to human rights violations. Occasionally drivers would talk to me on the road while I had them stopped and the first things they asked me were always, “Are you bored?” or “How do you guys go to the washroom?” I grew used to going in between the doors of the pilot truck, but closer to the end of the season when we had an inexperienced foreman, there were times when the pilot truck was not in use and we would be standing on the road with no washroom breaks for hours. On one occasion, one of the production truck drivers relieved me from my post out of sympathy and we were both in trouble.

During some digging I discovered other flaggers’ distaste in the lack of washroom break allowances. On the Facebook group “FLAGGERS AGAINST SPEEDING”, one member stated that she had “trained [her] body not to pee” but notes the damage that repressing one’s natural bodily impulses does. “My best friend almost died of kidney failure due to not peeing and working for 16/hrs per shift…. she made multiple comments to her dispatch and nothing happened….. she found herself in the hospital with renal (Kidney) Failure….. And her boss still didn’t stand behind her.” I can certainly vouch that this is a common occurrence, and I have also witnessed supervisors and other workers laughing about it like it’s some sort of joke. It’s not uncommon to hear phrases like, “Screw them, they can stand there.”

Veronica thinks this stems from the overall attitude that comes with flagging. “It’s a job nobody else wants so they just stick you there…we’re supposed to just do our job and not say anything.” This goes hand in hand with flagging as a feminine occupation.  It is expected that flaggers will not go against authority, and there is the implicit expectation to stay quietly subordinate in order to let the big boys do the important stuff. Flagging is an afterthought: a necessary component of construction, yet a job where one is easily replaced.

It’s this idea of replacement that keeps employers and the public alike from caring too much about flagger safety and almost forgetting about basic human rights. Reading online, I found many instances of flaggers injured and killed on the job, and in most cases the flagger is blamed for being distracted or turning their backs to traffic, and the motorists who hit them get off nearly scot free. Fines for speeding through construction zones are not high enough: $150 tickets with no deducted demerit points will certainly not deter people. Lisa agrees: “I do not think enough is being done to ensure drivers slow down when approaching or driving through a work zone. When I was flagging, I ran into a handful of situations with people who claimed that they did not see any of our construction signs.”

So is it up to the government or the employer to ensure worker safety? Both of my co-workers think that it is a mix of responsibility between the two, a joint initiative. “When it comes down to it, the employer needs to be absolutely sure that their workers are safe. I think they need to constantly keep an eye on them and stay in contact,” says Lisa. Veronica is more concerned about the enforcement of major safety laws, like ensuring that flaggers don’t have to work after dark without sufficient lighting, a law I saw broken more than once.

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At the end of the day it is up to everyone–including workers–to ensure workplace safety, but this can only be achieved when there is a true awareness of what traffic control as a job actually entails. Flaggers need to start receiving and expecting proper washroom and mental breaks on the job, as well as public justice for negligence on behalf of the public, the government, and the companies that employ them.

Because construction is a growing field in Canada’s employment sector, it is crucial that some awareness is raised about the demands within these jobs, and hopefully then there will be less fatalities and workers will feel more comfortable speaking out against these injustices.

Posted in Did You Know?, Life Stories, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments