Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Misogynists Love Coors Light!

Have you seen this ad?

[I can't find this ad on the internet. I will photograph it next time I see it.]

(For those of you with poor French and no English equivalents nearby, it reads, Colder than the 24-year-old girl whom you thought was 32!!)

Wow. I guess the Coors marketing department thought that "Coors: No Ugly Chicks!" lacked a certain subtlety. Now I'm not one to cry misogyny. I thought last summer's beer ad, "For the equality of the sexes: once at your place, once at hers" was amusing, unconsciously doing its little part to chip away at the sexual double standard (I am not sure what it said in English; as with this summer, I passed the fairweather months of 2008 in La Belle Province). Hey, even the old "scantily-clad women" fallback is okay. I mean, men like beautiful, scantily-clad women. This is a fact of life. (Women, on the other hand, like scantily-clad people in general, but ads still prefer to play instead to our often-crippling insecurities about how attractive we are.) But Coors really lost it on this one. This ad is being displayed to the general public, not exclusively in men's toilets and locker rooms. Therefore the ad gives off two distinct messages:
"Hey guys, if a girl rebuffs your come-ons, she must be frigid, ha ha ha!"
"Hey ladies, you have until 31 to land a man before you become unattractive. Quick, get married for your lives!"
And Coors is wondering why women don't buy their beer?!
Well, Coors, I hate to make generalizations, but I'm guessing that when your marketing department sits down to profile their target audience, "concerned about gender parity" doesn't quite make the list. So, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that you hire new marketing people, and maybe this time throw in a woman or two. Here, I'll even make you an ad to get started.

But you might want to photoshop it better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sarkozy and the Burqa

French president Nicolas Sarkozy's recent controversial statements about the status of the burqa or niqab have divided the French blogosphere (according to a news article I read somewhere). No big surprise there. The complete veiling of Muslim women has always been something of a controversial issue in the West, so it's no surprise that such a strong stance against it, in a country with the largest Muslim population in western Europe, would draw considerable comment. Especially since the small number of veiled Muslim women in France is growing.

In a statement from Verseilles on Monday, M. Sarkozy said that to veil or not to veil was not a religious issue, but one that dealt with the subjugation of Muslim women, and finally that "la burqa n'est pas la bienvenue sur le territoire de la République française," (the burqa is not welcome in the French Republic).
"In our country, we cannot accept women imprisoned behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all
identity. That is not our idea of dignity for a woman."

- Nicolas Sarkozy, translation by me from this article

It isn't, or often isn't, a strictly religious issue -- I'll give M. Sarkozy that. But his comments betray an enormous ethnocentrism on his part. Westerners tend to view the niqab, the burqa, and even the hijab as a restraint forcably imposed on Muslim women by their misogynist or mistrustful male relatives, garments that keep women in their subjugated place. However, Muslim women tend to have a very different view of the role of veils. Ladies, how many of you have noticed a marked increase in wolf-whistles, creepy compliments, and other generally pervy behaviour on the parts of strange men (frequently on public transit or at stoplights for some reason) during shorts-and-t-shirt weather? Muslim women have figured this out, and they've realized that shapeless clothing makes you invisible to creepy pervs. For them, being veiled is not about being subjugated or objectified -- rather the opposite. And they have different standards of what is considered appropriate. In the same way that you wouldn't wear short-shorts or a tube top to your job at the bank, Muslim women don't want to go around with their necks and hair hanging out there for just anyone to see.

That being said, M. Sarkozy has a badly-phrased point. The burqa "issue" is one that goes back -- last summer, a veiled Muslim woman was denied French citizenship. Although the report made little mention of her niqab, the media made much mention of it, suggesting that the xenophobic immigration officials just wanted to keep Muslims out of the country. However, the real reasons for citizenship denial were rather more alarming.
A report from a French government commissioner submitted to the council said the woman told officials she was unaware of her right to vote, and would only remove her veil after men left the room. "She lives in total submission to the men in her family ... and the idea of contesting this submission doesn't even occur to her," the government report said.

There is nothing wrong with denying citizenship to someone who is unaware of their right to vote. Citizenship is far more involved than merely living in a country. Citizenship requires civic, social, and cultural education. To become a citizen of a new country implies a willingness to learn about and fit into it. Not being aware of your right to vote could not be phoning it in more. If this woman wanted to be a French citizen, she could have at least glanced at the workbook.

Bearing in mind that citizenship means accepting and integrating into a new culture (not necessarily abandoning your old culture, but not just taking advantage of the economy and living standards of a new country), a case can be made for abandoning veils. Eye contact is extremely important in Western culture, and we become unnerved and a bit weirded out when we are speaking face-to-face with someone we can't identify visually. And yes, women who choose to wear the veil must understand that it is perceived very differently in the West and that there are some who are going to feel pity and assume that it is a sign of subjugation, no matter the actual reasoning behind it. Perhaps those who criticize M. Sarkozy for stigmatizing and marginalizing Muslims in France should consider that, by choosing to dress differently from the traditional garb of the country in which they have chosen to live, these women are marginalizing themselves.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bilingual sign analysis time

One of the things I love most about living in the Ottawa/Montréal area has to be examining the translation idiosyncrasies in bilingual signage. Nothing ever quite reaches Engrish levels, but there are sure some interesting translations nonetheless. Today's bilingual sign comes from the window of a Montréal city bus.

Indeed, 'twas but a partially-opening window.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The ignored abortion debate

Garson Romalis: Why I am an abortion doctor

The "abortion debate" between the left and the (frequently religious) right that centers on whether or not abortions should be legal is irrelevant when dealing with situations such as those described by Dr. Romalis. The pro-choicers versus the pro-lifers caught up in the issues of the right to life versus the right to choose what you do with your body (and any other smaller bodies which may be contained therein) is, philosophically, about as useful as whether or not war is a good idea. Very few people are pro-abortion. And of course, the legalities of the issue are not unimportant. But wars and abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not. Theoretically, a woman does have the option to procure abortificants, or at least throw herself down the stairs or get a friend to punch her in the abdomen. No amount of legislation or pro-life ad space is going to change that. Sure, making safe abortions illegal might result in a few more unwanted, unhappy, impoverished babies being toted around by their unhappy, impoverished baby-mamas and -daddies, but it will definitely result in a lot more gruesome failed backalley or DIY abortions and dumpster babies.

The real issue is not abortion versus no abortion. It's safe, legal abortion versus horrifying deaths and illnesses resulting from illegal abortions. This is not about women being able to choose when to reproduce -- it's about women having access to proper physical and psychological care. Attacking abortion doctors because some women choose -- or are cornered into -- abortions is like attacking police officers because crimes have occurred.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pro-life murderers: a further exploration of mental deficits among select members of the Religious Right

There's been another abortionist shooting -- the first since 1998, but alarming nonetheless. The man was shot on a Sunday morning, while in church. I am sure that the pro-life groups, not to mention Jesus, are very proud of you, Mr. Roeder.

Probably the vast majority of people (most of those involved in pro-life groups included) can condemn this as anything from a really bad course of action to a crime against humanity. But, like many fundies in the near-theocratical USA, certain people have slightly disturbing views on the matter. From the New York Times article:
'Of Dr. Tiller’s death, Mr. Leach said, “To call this a crime is too simplistic,” adding, “There is Christian scripture that would support this."'

Oh. My. Fuck. For the benefit of Mr. Leach (and perhaps, unfortunately, others, who do not understand that disestablishmentarianism was one of the founding principles of America), let's review what "crime" really means.

Crime (noun):

1. An act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction.
2. Unlawful activity: statistics relating to violent crime.
3. A serious offense, especially one in violation of morality.
4. An unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition: It's a crime to squander our country's natural resources.

Apparently, Mr. Leach missed the part where it did not say, "An act not supported by Christian scripture. KJV only. Acts condemned by other religions still fair play." Because the act perpatrated by Mr. Roeder quite clearly fits definitions one through four (minus the stats bit).

Perhaps yet more disturbing were assassin Scott Roeder's apparent motive. You have to give credit, however begrudgingly, to someone who stands up for the defenseless and all that s/he believes to be good and right.
Someone named Scott Roeder posted a message on the Operation Rescue blog about Dr. Tiller that read, in part: “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”

However, someone who's just trying to chuck a scapegoat on the flames in order to save his own ass from "judgement"? You know, Mr. Roeder, I am not sure that offing a guy in church is the best way to avoid God's wrath. Jokes aside, statements like the above are apalling all on their own, even without the accompanying murder.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The National Post has a sense of humour

After Michaëlle Jean's controversial seal heart eating shennanigans (which, in my opinion, was awesome on several levels) and Europe's heart-stopping horror, and all this being in the wake of the EU's seal product ban, the National Post has demonstrated an understanding of satire. NP blogger Matt Gurney today wrote part one of a (implicitly) series on the horrors committed by Europeans for the sake of cuisine. The first harmless, helpless creature? The snail.
    These helpless creatures' defences have proven no match for the cruelty of man. For thousands of years, they have been hunted and subjected to bizarre tortures before being consumed as a delicacy by heartless and out-of-touch Europeans.

I was as surprised as you and my officemates were to find this delightful bit right of the National Post's yellow banner, but there you have it. If we can expect more of the same from Mr. Gurney, I'll finally have more reason to read the Post than idle wondering about what the right-wingers are saying about things.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stop Banning Baby Seals!

So the EU wants Canadians to stop cruelty to animals -- well, the cute ones, anyway.

The EU has banned seal products, in a sense. They can still be imported and even sold, just not promoted or advertised. Basically, Europeans who want some sweet sealskin or delicious healthy seal oil now need to whisper discreetly to the shopkeeper and take their purchase home in a brown paper bag. The reasons for condemning the seal hunt are about as obvious as it gets: baby seals are freaking adorable.

Condemning the death of adorable animals is about as uncontroversial a statement as you can make (usually), roughly on par with declaring that you are in favour of world peace or fewer reality TV shows. This is probably why so many celebrities oppose the "seal slaughter".

However, the reasons for supporting the Atlantic seal hunt are rather more complex. Canada's 2007 export of seal products was worth about $13M, a small but nevertheless significant amount. An estimated five to six thousand people are to some degree employed in sealing during the season. Some say that the bans are really unnecessary and that a free market should decide the seal hunt's fate. But with its bad press, well, the fate of this industry does not look good. Imagine this:
JANE: Hey, I love your jacket.
SUE: Thanks, it is made from dead baby seals!
Sue may as well hang a dead puppy around her neck. (Also, Jane and Sue are speaking Norwegian since 80% of sealskin goes to Norway.)

Opponents of the seal hunt need to ask themselves exactly what makes the seals so special, other than the fact that they are cute. A (slew of studies) found clubbing to be the most effective way of rendering seals dead, or at least brain dead. The seal population is anything but endangered, with caps being set on how many seals can be caught each year (actual numbers often fall quite short of these caps). No one is issuing a ban on the live boiling of lobsters, a more ugly and delicious source of meat. Most non-Muslims couldn't care less about the cause of death of their hamburger, at least when there are no mad cow scares going around. And if people had decided that the fact that chickens running around after their heads are cut off was indicative of severe pain and cruelty, there would be quite a hole in the fast food industry. Hell, it looks like all these celebrities and Europeans care more about baby seals than, say, waterborded US war prisoners or Tamils caught between terrorists and government armies.

The biggest proponents of the seal hunt ban are, of course, the folks at PETA. For those of you who are unaware, PETA is the organization that tries to convince people that cruelty to animals is wrong because hot naked girls think it is wrong, and also think that using human breast milk as an alternative to cow's milk is more humane. The sophists over at PETA have invested significantly less energy in saving lobsters and political prisoners.

The people in parliament want the Canadian Olympic Team to incorporate sealskin into their uniforms to help the cause. Opponents say that this will unnecessarily politicize the games. Superficially, sure, it is a political statement. But really, while it might be controversial to those who can't see past a whitecoat's big dark eyes, is it really any more "political" than any athlete wearing or using his or her country's trademark products? To anyone who thinks logically, it's about as inhumane as serving maple syrup.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four-Twenty on the Hill

One of the many things that makes me feel proud to be a Canadian is the fact that I can sit in front of my nation's legislative building (as well as one of its prominent landmarks) and peacefully smoke marijuana without anyone bothering me.

Marijuana enjoys a degree of bad PR, being associated with stoners and potheads who spend so much time getting and being high that they are incapable of basic responsibilities like paying rent, or more benignly, hippies who enjoy their pot with dreadlocks, organic food, hackey-sack and clothing of questionable cleanliness. However, a surprisingly large number of "normal people" enjoy smoking the wacky tabacky as well, as the Reefer Madness stigma gradually wears off. Marijuana is smoked by students, young professionals, and celebrated Canadian author and journalist, the late Pierre Berton.

Every year on 4/20, Parliament Hill is crowded with a greater-than-usual RCMP presence, to bust up those who get out of line. The thing is, I have never seen anyone making trouble at 4/20. Sure, they do produce a lot of litter (mostly food wrappers and discarded Green Party literature), but the stoners aren't there to cause ruckus. They blow bubbles, play guitar and hackey-sack, throw frisbees, and sunbathe. They crowd (patronize) all food-serving establishments within about 1.5km of Parliament Hill. They are too mellow to get into fights or deface public property. And the RCMP, apparently, understands this, and leaves them alone, providing they are not openly consuming alcohol.

(Another possible explanation is that it's really not plausible to arrest a thousand 15-to-35-year-olds, no matter how obvious it is that they are all smoking dope.)

The cheer that goes up from the crowd on Parliament Hill when the Peace Tower clock strikes 4:20, followed by profuse coughing, is more than a demonstration to legalize marijuana. It's symbolic of what a great country we live in -- a country that is reasonable, a country that does not let baseless morality prevent its citizens from engaging in harmless recreation.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

1) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

2) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

4) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Brittany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

This appeared on a friend's Facebook notes (seeing the title and knowing the friend in question to be a liberal, albeit one of the southern-US variety, I was overwhelmed with curiosity). He didn't take credit for creating it, but was also unable to remember the source; in any case, I thought it cute and funny. Of course, my thinking it "cute" is probably a big reflection on the fact that I live in a jurisdiction where gay marriage is legal; I might feel rather more strongly about it should I live in, say, California or New York.

(Side note: Interestingly enough, there is some evidence to suggest that homosexuality is not merely just another orientation that doesn't, or shouldn't, affect straight people -- it may be one of nature's ways of dealing with overpopulation. I couldn't find any direct research or scholarly articles dealing with this study, so it should be treated carefully, but found several references, including in the Hypography science forums, to a study done with mice [and possibly again with monkeys] that, given sufficient food and water but finite amounts of space, populations would exhibit higher rates of homosexual sex as space ran out. So maybe Russel Peters was dead-on when he observed that "we could use a couple of homos in India right now.")

I found myself reading the Fundies Say The Darndest Things website last night (which is about hilarious/disturbing things said by ultra-conservative Christians and Christian Fundamentalists, not maritimers dealing with especially high tides). The Fundies in question take swipes primarily at homosexuals and atheists/evolutionists, although they don't leave out Muslims, Jews, pagans, liberals, or women (at least the ones who vote, work outside the home, or get raped). The idea that homosexuality is a choice or a lifestyle to which one can be "recruited" or "converted" rather than a genetic predisposition is kind of taken for granted:

"The only solution we have to stop gays from recruiting other people is to cut off the source."

[On what to do about their son, who recently came out]
"I talked it over with his therapist, who had the ludicrous idea that homosexuality was unchangable and that trying to repress could lead to lots of psychological damage (I've dropped him and will try to be finding another therapist with more moral beliefs). I wouldnt be surprised if he's the one who's feeding my son all the homosexual propaganda about how its 'ok' to be gay. That, or how homosexuality has engulfed the media, making it seem 'cool' and 'hip' and how they were just another oppressed minority. You didnt have to worry about seeing two men making out on tv at my age! I dont want to sound like a fanatic, but Im worried what other effects will come out of this increasingly secular, immoral society obsessed with filth." [sic]

And finally, a guy who has never heard of gay people practising safe sex, or straight people contracting/dying of STIs, or what exactly causes cancer:
"*If* it's right, why do most, if not all, homosexuals die young of diseases
like AIDS, Hepatitis and Cancer?"

Now that we know that homosexuality is genetic, this raises the question of what is considered "natural" -- most people would say that "natural" implies that something appears in or is caused by nature, as homosexuality clearly is, evidenced by the fact that it happens not infrequently in the animal world, too. The only way that one could argue that homosexuality is unnatural would be to say that it is uncommon, by which token albinos, those with birth defects, and those with "outie" belly-buttons are all unnatural. (One Fundie suggests that "most afflictions like this are caused by sins committed while still inside the womb." So if killing gays is desirable, and I can find out that my baby is gay while the bun's still in the oven, would that justify an abortion, Fundies?)

The problem with the Fundies is that you can't argue with them on fair terms; they pick and choose which facts they accept or reject. They will swear up and down that "nothing good has ever come from 'science'", but the day an archeological excavation unearths the stable in which baby Jesus was born, they will jump for joy and point fingers, saying that this is just more "proof" that Luke's (highly historically inaccurate) birth narrative is true, word for word, as found in the KJV.

(The KJV, by the way, is frequently held up by Fundamentalists and the uneducated alike as being the only reliable translation, sometimes going as far as to say that the KJV was in heaven, with God, in English, since the beginning of time. All "real" biblical scholars consider the KJV to be laughably inaccurate and highly theologized. The KJV is to the original Hebrew and Greek what the hilariously mistranslated subtitles are to the Chinese kung-fu movie.)

I did some further reading on one of the websites from which a Fundie quotation was lifted. It made a pretty serious case about "modest dress", and how wearing a bathing suit or looking at people wearing bathing suits is basically putting yourself on the path to hell. And I realized something: I could probably build a comparably strong case for running around naked. After all, isn't clothing just superfluous ornamentation designed to hide God's glorious creation that is the human body? It would be pretty presumptuous of a good Christian to assert that man-made clothes are better than God-given skin, right?

So here is what I propose: next time you find yourself conversing with a Fundie, take the moral high road. Inform them that crying at the funeral of a Christian is a shameful display of weak faith, that you are only having so much sex because the Holy Spirit wants you to, and that God created gay people for a reason (just like all the natural disasters, wars, famines, etc) and that questioning God's will in doing so is not very Christian.

Although, if you meet this guy:
"There are a lot of things I have concluded to be wrong, without studying them in-depth. Evolution is one of them. The fact that I don't know that much about it does not bother me in the least,"
You might have just as much fun replying, "Oh, I know! That is how I feel about church," just to watch his head explode.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The 7 Most Sexist Disnney Characters

We've all seen and laughed over The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters. But stereotyping characters based on racial traits is not the only outdated idea to which Disney has contributed. Think about your favourite Disney films as a child. Those produced before about 1996 had a fairly basic model (stolen largely from European fairy tales): The pretty pretty princess, the evil stepmother or other ugly matron, and the prince. Occasionally there's a dad or some sort of talking animal companion, but this is more or less how the Disney movie runs, unless the plot is left mostly up to the men, thereby largely excluding female presence. (We could also do an article on homophobic characters, but Disney mostly stays away from this -- it would probably be movie characters in general).

Sure, Disney has smartened up lately. You've got Mulan, who joins the army to protect her father -- not her boyfriend -- and to prove that girls are good for more than marrying off. You've got Pocahontas, who is the voice of reason and understanding between warring races. You even have Hercules' Megara a supporting character with, oh my, depth! But for every Mulan, Pocahontas, Megara, and Belle (who at least teaches girls that it's totally cool to be smart and bookish, even if she is kind of helpless), there's a Maid Marian or a Cinderella who can't get a damned thing done for themselves, or a Madame Mim or an Yzma, who demonstrate that you can tell how good or evil a woman is by how pretty she is. Men, of course, are a different story:

If you make the same chart with female Disney characters, please, send it my way.

With this in mind, I give you The Seven Most Sexist Disney Characters.

#7. Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins
Release: 1964

How she destroys the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: "Surely, not Mrs. Banks!" you're thinking. "She was a suffragette. She belongs on the list of The 7 Least Sexist Disney Characters!" And you'd be right about the suffragette bit. In Britain, women with a hankering to vote went to lengths just short of terrorism for that right. Mrs. Banks come home filled with joy and excitement about women chaining themselves to the Prime Minister's carriage, and then leads the household staff in a chorus of Sister Suffragettes, including the unforgettable line, "Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid."

Unfortunately, as soon as the song ends, her husband comes home, and all that "no longer meek and mild subservients" stuff goes right out the window. She shoves away all the sashes (because she knows "how the cause infuriates Mr. Banks") before the husband waltzes in the door, oblivious to everything except the way she looks.
MRS. BANKS: Dear, it's about the children -!
MR. BANKS: Yes, yes, yes. [Turns around and walks away]
MRS. BANKS: They're missing, George!
MR. BANKS: Splendid, splendid.
He goes on to sing that he treats his "subjects ... servants ... children, wife, with a firm but gentle hand. Noblesse oblige." Meanwhile, his wife looks like she is about to cry. Maybe Mrs. Banks isn't the sexist character here. Maybe it's Mr. Banks. At least she attempts to make him acknowledge the sentience of his children. But she's still way too complicit in this thing. Mr. Banks lays heaps of blame on her, and she accepts that everything is her fault and all but apologizes for being a terrible, incompetent person. If her husband straight-up slapped her, she'd probably thank him for teaching her a lesson.

Unfortunate moral: Everything that goes wrong in your marriage is the woman's fault.

What would have made it better: If Winifred Banks stopped being a simpering ninny and told her husband to suck her left one once in a while.
MRS. BANKS: It's about the children, George - !
MR. BANKS: Yes, yes, yes.

#6. Princess Aurora/Briar Rose, from Sleeping Beauty
Release: 1959

How she destroys the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Princess Aurora, aka Briar Rose, aka Sleeping Beauty, is loved by all. What did she do to deserve such affection? Not a damned thing. All she had to do was show up and look pretty. Okay, so her parents and her parents' friends love her, that's reasonable. Prince Phillip, however, just sees her and decides that politics be screwed, he's going to marry the hot peasant chick. I guess that what would have happened in the real world -- him either jumping out and raping her or just watching her from behind a tree while jerking off -- got vetoed by the Brothers Grimm as not moving the plot forward very well.

Well, you know the basic plot. Female Villain 1B shows up and curses the pretty pretty princess, the fairies whisk her away into the forest where she grows up singing to surprisingly docile forest creatures (if you ever wonder why princesses seem to attract forest creatures so much, the reasons are always either beauty or singing voice, or virginity if unicorns are involved). She meets the Prince, they decide to get hitched, but before they can, Briar Rose gets hauled back to her family's castle where she pricks her finger on the spindle which is supposed to make her die (of what? Blood loss? Gangrene? Did this happen a lot back then?) but thanks to Merryweather's blessing only puts her into a coma. Then she just lies around for a while, letting the prince do all the damned work until he shows up and wakes her up. Am I stretching it, this counter-feminism thing? Well, the Disney Sleeping Beauty story is still better than its precursor, which involves such delights as rape, cannibalism, and attempted murder. The prince gets away fine with the rape, it's his wife who is considered the evil one for trying to murder his mistress and children.

Unfortunate moral: The best way to get a man is to hang around and be as beautiful yet passive as possible. Nobody likes a woman who gets assertive when she's been offended.

What would have made it better: Briar Rose is taught kung fu while living in the forest with the fairies. When Maleficent tries to get her to prick her finger, she snaps out of it and kicks the wicked witch in the box, vanquishing her. When she turns around she sees prince Phillip watching, who says, "Shit! I liked you when you were just beautiful and useless, but now that I've seen what you can do, now I love you."

#5. Cruella DeVille et al. from 101 Dalmations
Release: 1961

How they destroy the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Even if she had been named "Happy McFlowers", you'd know the lady on the right was the villain because she is an ugly woman. Compare with non-evil Anita:

"I'm too pretty to be cruel to animals!

Cruella Deville has to overcompensate for being so ugly by wearing too much lipstick, dying her hair weird colours, and making gigantic fur coats, sometimes out of the fur of stolen puppies. She first tries to peer-pressure Roger and Anita into selling their newborn puppies, and Roger is the one who has to tell her to suck it. So Cruella hires some guys to commit a B&E in order to get her hands on fifteen dalmation puppies. They quickly overpower the lovable old matron working for Roger and Anita and make off with the loot. Luckily, there are plenty of talking dogs and other animals (exclusively male) to help Pongo and Perdita get their puppies safely home.

The best moment in the film, however, occurs during the chase scene in which Cruella is so enraged about the setback in her fur coat plan that she goes on some kind of meth freak-out, chasing the van in which the dogs are hidden.

The driver of the van is nearly run of the road, plunging off the snowy bank into what in real life might well kill him, and what does he do? Mutters "Crazy woman driver!"

Unfortunate moral: Women are crazy when it comes to clothing. Also, they can't drive.

What would have made it better: When Horace and Jasper arrive to commit their B&E, Nanny pulls a revolver out of her garter, shoots them both, and then calmly calls 911 instead of hysterically running through the streets sobbing "Police! Police!"

#4. Snow White's Evil Stepmother, the Queen, from Snow White
Release: 1937

How she destroys the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Okay, so this female villain is not exactly ugly, but seriously, if she's the fairest of them all, there's a big shortage of women 'round those parts. Or maybe the mirror is just into crazy-looking eyebrows. Who knows? But while Cruella up there was just into murdering puppies in the name of vanity, the Queen is taking it to a whole new level. Little girls everywhere, take note: if you are not the prettiest one in your class, the easiest solution is to kill everyone prettier than you. Other solutions include reordering your priorities, but that takes time and self-respect and does not result in marriage to a prince who looks like Ken.

Of course, we know that what the Queen is doing here is wrong. But why? Is it because it's not worth killing someone just to be at the top of the looks pyramid? Or because killing beautiful people is wrong? (Disney certainly doesn't seem to have qualms with killing ugly women.)

Snow White, luckily, survives thanks to her womanly instinct to clean whatever dirty house she happens upon, and the fact that she can cook (this is why the dwarfs allow her to stick around). And thanks to some necessary intervention from a prince. Apparently, in order to get married in fairytale land, princes need to find and save a woman in some sort of stepmother-induced distress, preferably one involving unconsciousness mistaken for death.

Unfortunate moral: Cooking, cleaning, being pretty, and singing well: everything a girl will ever need or the fairest woman is synonymous with the best.

What would have made it better: Snow White intentionally disfigures herself to avert the Queen's wrath, and ends up marrying a prince anyway. Everyone finds out what a huge bitch the Queen is, and stops going to her parties, leaving her alive and alone to talk to the mirror, reflecting on how screwed up she is.

#3. Duchess from The Aristocats
Released: 1970

How she destroys the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Disney, was there some sort of law or marketing research or something that mandated pretty females in unfortunate situations getting rescued by males? Duchess is an aristoc(r)at living in Paris in 1910, and she and her three kittens (father unknown) belong to a wealthy retired opera singer who, apparently, has "crazy cat lady" written all over her, as she decides to leave her vast fortune to her cats. Understandably irritated but not-to-bright butler Edgar decides to get rid of the cats so that he might inherit the fortune himself. His incredibly complex plan involves simply dumping them somewhere in the countryside, where there does not even appear to be anything that might fight or prey upon the cats, yet Duchess is at a complete loss as to what to do until a guy-cat with an impossibly long name shows up to help her out.

"Excuse me, sir, do you suppose you could help me out? I am too pretty to be outdoors."

Props, however, to her daughter Marie, for telling her brothers that "Ladies do not start fights, but they can finish them." Her children (specifically the boys) are the only ones who seem to have any interest in doing normal cat stuff or acquiring real-world skills, while Duchess is more concerned with looking and acting like old money.

Unfortunate moral: If you are in a compromising or dangerous situation, you cannot hope to get out of it yourself. The best thing to do is to flirt with the nearest man, who will take care of everything for you.

What would have made it better: Duchess tells the strange alley cat to stay the fuck away from her children, and keeps herself and her kittens alive by learning to hunt and forage, like cats are supposed to.

#2. Bo Peep from Toy Story
Released: 1995

How she destroyed the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Okay, we get it; Andy is a boy and he has boy toys. But seriously? Not even a G. I. Jane? Not even a female Lego-person or a purple Hotwheels car? Not even some cheap-ass McDonald's toy? All we get here is Bo Peep, who, as far as the plot is concerned, amounts to little more than Woody's hoe. She's there to suggestively imply that she might "get someone else to watch the sheep tonight", but doesn't really participate in any of the action.

"This plot is no place for a woman!"

Clearly the script was written by men. Although we guessed that around the same time we found out that the main characters were named "Buzz" and "Woody". Sure, Toy Story 2 redeems itself with the addition of female characters Jesse and Mrs. Potato Head. Mrs. Potato Head who, by simple virtue of her name, is automatically married to Mr. Potato Head.

"I have a meaningful existence putting eyeballs in my husband's plastic butt."

Although I guess if you want to talk about two people who were made for each other . . .

Unfortunate moral: Your sole reason for existing is to please men.

What would have made it better: If Andy had gotten a G. I. Jane for his birthday. And then G. I. Jane had stolen Bo Peep away from Woody.

#1. Ariel from The Little Mermaid
Release: 1989

How she destroyed the self-esteem of little girls everywhere: Ariel falls madly in love with a man she's never talked to, and sells her soul to the devil and abandons her friends, family, and everything she's ever known on the off chance that he might fall in love with her in return. A role model for my future daughter? I'll say!

Okay, well, let's say that in her ruthless looting of sunken ships, she finds some sort of art depicting human sex. And even though all the mermen in this movie look like the homoerotic dreams of every Greek artist of the classical era, mer-sex sucks, and Ariel wants a vagina to go with her legs. She's still in love with Prince Eric, a guy she knows only by sight, which has to be the most conditional form of love ever.

"Oh, Eric, I'll love you 'til the day you're ugly!"

Ariel decides to go visit the sea witch in order to procure legs through unholy means. Ursula, said sea which, is apparently the only humanoid creature under the sea who is fat and not Caucasian. This is in no way related to her having pets instead of a boyfriend, I'm sure. Ursula has Ariel trade her most valuable asset, her beautiful singing voice (once again, necessary to be a half-decent pretty princess), feeling pretty sure that she can get Eric to kiss her within 72 hours. Since this is a Disney movie, she can at least be sure that he isn't gay.

At the end of the movie, things work out for Ariel and Eric, who are in Disney-love and haven't known each other long enough to know about each other's irritating habits, so Ariel gets what she wants: she abandons her friends, family, and home, all for some dude. It's not even like she can go home if he turns out to be abusive. At least not until SCUBA is invented.

At the very least, we'll give her props for actually taking her fate into her own hands and doing something to achieve her goals, even if they are terrible ones.

Unfortunate moral: Your man is more important than your friends and family.

What would have made it better: Ariel finds out that Eric is actually a stuck-up jerk before he kisses her; she goes back into the ocean and becomes a sea-witch herself, except that she doesn't require people to give her their most valuable assets in exchange for help.

Honourable Mentions go to Cinderella, Tinkerbell, Wendy, and all those girls from the beginning of the article who misrepresent vaginas everywhere.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Budget Time

It's really too bad that the budget, unlike the Throne Speech, is no good to drink to. Because after hearing about the latest budget, some of us might want a stiff one. In case you haven't heard, here are the highlights:
  • $85B deficit over five years
  • $20B personal tax cuts and $2B business tax cuts over six years
  • $12B for infrastructure, including $1B for "green" infrastructure and $1B for clean energy
  • Extended EI
  • $8.3B for skills and training
  • $2.7B loans to the auto industry

At first glance, it doesn't look so bad, if not surprisingly un-conservative. Jim Flaherty, luckily, was ready to ease the minds of those who might be confused.
JOURNALIST: It doesn't look like a very conservative budget, does it?
JIM FLAHERTY: Heh heh ... well ... you know ...

I'm not sure if that sounds like incompetence, or if that's really all there is to say at this point.

So what can we really expect from this budget? Well, it's a recession budget, that's inevitable, what with us all shitting our pants like it's 1929. The Minister of Finance was clearly keeping this in mind, as you can see that the first point is the -- wait, I'm going to put in the zeroes this time, just so you can see how many there are -- $85 000 000 000 deficit, because if there is one thing that this recession has taught us, it's that you can't go wrong spending money that you do not have.

Okay, okay, let's give the Tories the benefit of the doubt. You've got to spend money to create money, right? The $20B in personal tax cuts are targeted at the lower tax brackets, which is good, because it means that those of us who exist on a grand total of $10,000 per year (plus tuition fees) will still be able to afford no-name peanut butter for our sandwiches, despite possible economic hardships.
(Okay, I'm exaggerating. Kind of.)

$12B for infrastructure sounds pretty good too. Since basically the agricultural revolution, good infrastructure has been loosely connected to a good economy. You create jobs for people to design, build, run, and maintain said infrastructure itself, and the people who make stuff can take it to places where other people are waiting to buy it. In a more modern sense, you can take yourself from wherever you live to wherever you are employed on a daily basis. Sounds simple enough. Money for infrastructure = good! Oh, but federal funds are rarely anything resembling simple. Toronto mayor David Miller may be biased, sure, but he may also be kind of an expert on the subject. And his most recent press conference suggests that he is concerned that cities will have to jump through hoops of red tape in order to see any of that $12B -- if they do.

Extended EI and skills and training also sound good for a recession. After all, when the auto plant tells you not to bother coming in on Monday, you're going to need to learn to do something slightly more recession-proof, and you're still going to need to feed your self/family in the meantime. If you really want to, you could even go back and be a student, which is to some extent recession-proof. Remember, if you default on your student loan, the bank can't foreclose on your brain.

And medicine is a recession-proof field!

Finally, the auto industry money. At first, I was in favour of the whole auto bailout thing. My shameful secret is that my family is from the Niagara region, where the auto industry is kind of a big deal. The shame I feel at being so connected to St. Catharines is an indirect result of the GM plant there laying off basically everyone, thereby killing the economy, and everything good and beautiful in the city, and if there is one thing that terrifies me, it is the idea of living in a city like St. Catharines. So do I want auto plants across Canada to shut their doors, putting countless cities at risk of turning into St. Catharines?
We've got to fight economic collapse at every turn! Economic prosperity or death, my friends!

Then, I saw this photograph.

What are all those tiny white dots on that massive asphalt strip? Those, my friends, are unsold cars being stored until such time as the dealer requests them. This is not standard procedure. The auto companies have simply manufactured far more cars than they can sell. And the best part is, they are still making more. Therefore, I would like to propose that, in line with the principles of common sense, we stop making shit that no one can buy. Let's turn the auto assembly plants into auto disassembly plants, and salvage what we can from these beasts to make something useful. Now there's a long-term economic strategy.

To wrap up this budget-related rant, so what if it isn't a very conservative budget. It's not perfect, but it's the first indication we've had that the Tories might be willing to stop being jerks and play nice in the House. Layton may be shouting "Shame!" but that's just what he does. For heaven's sake, a 143-seat minority who is willing to co-operate is far, far preferable to an expensive and unwanted snap election, or even an unsteady, divisive coalition (although admittedly less thrilling). Would I personally prefer a conservative government? No. Do I think that it's the best thing for Canada right now? Heh heh ... well ... you know.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nationalism: Another provocative blog brought to you by Bitey the Wonderfrog

"Anglophones who insist on speaking English in Québec willingly refuse to integrate themselves. They don't have a place in Québec. They're taking advantage of the benefits of living in Québec while still insisting to bring their English Canada with them."

Remember the francophone from the Two Solitudes post? The one who thinks that anglophones are too dumb to learn French (and apparently has never heard of Pauline Marois)? When he talks to me, I am never sure whether to laugh or cry.

Recently, I joined the Facebook group Une province bilingue l’ONTARIO a bilingual province. I'm not usually mad about Facebook groups, but this is an important topic selon moi, as you might know from my ambiguous feelings about the way that the B&B Commission's recommendations were implemented. Ontario made some token gestures, but ultimately left its francophones hanging. Way to be a dick, Ontario. What, are the francophones outside of Québec not important?

(If you listen very closely, you can hear the small voice of bilingual New Brunswick saying, "Hey! Guys! Over here! We've got Acadians!" Poor New Brunswick.)

Bitey the Wonderfrog, in true internet-dick style, joined the group as well for the sole purpose of flaming it.

J------- N------, October 1:
I am not a Franco-Ontarian myself, but given the number of francophones in Ontario and their historical importance to this province, I fully support this proposal. I don't think that the economic argument holds much water because so many services are provided in French anyway. I also think that this will help national unity by cutting at Quebec's claim to be the sole voice of French-Canadians.

Bitey the Wonderfrog, January 20:
"I also think that this will help national unity by cutting at Quebec's claim to be the sole voice of French-Canadians."
I'm a franco-ontarian, but honestly... fuck off. Quebec sovereignty is more than about language, and Quebecers don't seek to harm other Canadians, while your goal is clearly just to fuck with Quebecers.

To clarify, he decided to send me a private message entitled "That's my beef with anglo-ontarians".
It's that kind of paternalistic conservative punishment bullshit with no regards for advancement that makes me really dislike "you people". (and take this quoted expression as an insult if you wish)

For once, I'm confused. Usually Bitey's ideas are pretty simple, but I'm not quite following him on this one. Why does he think that making Ontario officially bilingual would hurt the separatist/sovereigntist movement in Québec? Does he think that if people find out that francophones exist in other provinces, they won't want to separate anymore? Does he think that Ontario would recognize its francophone population solely as a cruel joke intended to mock Québec? (I honestly don't see how that would work as even the most obscure, colourless joke.) Does he think that Ontario would do it just to weaken Québec's imaginary monopoly on francophone culture?

The problem with this imaginary monopoly is that a lot of people imagine it, and quite vividly. If Canadians like the "Canada is not a bilingual country!" guy from the CBC B&B Commission footage decide to ignore that irritating thing called "reality", they'll continue to otherize one another and imagine that "French Canada" is a geographic place with clearly defined boarders, and not an idea that stretches from Whistler to L'anse aux Meadows. Of course the Québec sovereignty movement is about more than language. That would be like Toronto demanding special status because it contains immigrants.

Ideology aside. While I may ardently be what in Québec they call a federalist, I respect the sovereigntist movement. Many of points and concerns raised by sovereignty are valid, even if I am fiercely proud of living in a bilingual & bicultural Canada, warts and all. My concern is this: is Bitey the Wonderfrog expressing widely-held sentiments?

Ideological arguments are inevitable, and it's kind of okay, or at least understandable, to think someone is a complete douchebag for having one or another, because ideologies are something you pick and choose. (If someone has been indoctrinated with an ideology from a young age, please be nice and reserve the douchebag judgment until they've learned about the alternatives.) Some things you can't pick and choose, like where you were born and raised and what your first language is. And those are the things Bitey likes to attack. He doesn't insult people on the basis of their ideas, he insults them because they happen to be anglophones. And while it's easy to laugh him off, it raises the question of whether he was telling the truth when he said that a lot of francophones think this way. I personally have never noticed any anti-francophone sentiments among my peers, but just because I am unaware of them doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Are we a nation based on latent linguistic racism? I'm genuinely curious. Tell me your thoughts. Do you and/or your peers/friends/family discriminate based on where someone was born or which language(s) they spoke growing up? What about stereotypes? Are they positive ("I'm going to Alberta this summer to score some of that hot prairie tail"; "Of course he's smart, he's bilingual!") or negative ("Well of course you'd get angry about that, you're a francophone!"; "Doesn't everyone go to bed at 8:30 in Ontario?")? Do you think they are harmful or playful?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Reading

We had a little reading hiatus in December (most of us were probably too busy watching The Muppets' Christmas Carol and How The Grinch Stole Christmas to get any serious reading done, anyway -- maybe Christmas reading should have been The Polar Express!) but now that it's January and we're back in action, we need to get back to reading. January is kind of a depressing month, what with Christmas being over and us having to shovel and/or wade through snow that holds promise of slush and dirt rather than a white Christmas, so I figured that instead of a book that exposes humanity's horrific shortcomings or how enamoured we are with fart jokes, I'd pick something light and funny with a can-do attitude and a happy ending. Therefore, January's book is:
The Widows by Suzette Mayr.

I first encountered this gem in my second-year survey of Canadian literature course, and though it's not exactly a Canadian classic (too new, perhaps?), it certainly provided interesting fodder for class discussions. The plot centers around Hannelore, a German woman who lost her husband to the second world war and her son to an "ethnicky" new wife -- an artist who is into bare feet and healthy eating. Hannelore hauls herself and her older sister Clothilde from Germany to Edmonton to be close to her son and his family, but her rigid, traditional German style is at odds with her daughter-in-law's multicultural free-spiritedness. Thus, she spends her time trying to find a place where a 70-something widow fits in, along with her 80-something spinster sister and her sister's equally elderly divorcée "friend", Frau Schnadelhuber.

The trio find and lose jobs and lovers, things that do not commonly happen to women over 45 in the mainstream narrative. Throughout the novel, the plot trajectory of Hannelore loosely follows that of the life of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive a tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel. One look at the cover of the book, and you can see where this is going.

Hint: the climax occurs somewhere in Southern Ontario.

A personal favourite part occurs somewhere near the beginning of the book, but towards the end of the fragmented narrative: Hannelore realizes that her 80-something-year-old spinster sister might not be going through a phase -- she probably actually prefers women. Hey, phases can last upwards of sixty years, right?

If you've ever wondered what two old ladies fucking is like, this is the book for you. If you could live a happy and productive life without ever knowing what two old ladies fucking is like, thankyouverymuch, I promise it isn't that bad. Mayr, without glamourizing anyone or anything (she certainly doesn't shy away from describing old women in highly realistic terms), somehow manages to sublimate what would otherwise be graphic into hilarious, using pervasive and gentle satire to tackle touchy topics (for example, Hannelore's accidental pejorative terming of her daughter-in-law's naked paintings as "Jew art", or her in-denial defense when her granddaughter accuses her of having been part of the Hitlerjügen).

Should you read this book? Well, if you like third-wave feminism, books set in Canada, books about old ladies, ironic, slightly absurd situational humour, or if you think that Slaughterhouse-Five would be awesome if it made a little more sense and wasn't such a huge downer, then The Widows is for you.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Language Wars

Dating someone who is smarter than you are can be an emotionally exhausting kind of experience, especially if you consider yourself to be pretty smart. Feeling good about your moderately high IQ and your typicaly good intellectual performance, especially when compared with your social peers, is deadly if you happen to start dating someone with an IQ higher than your monthly grocery budget. Of course, you can always try to console yourself with the fact that your apartment is way sweeter than his, but eventually you realize that he's way too smart to even care that his apartment is shitty, and that the best route to take is to graciously accept defeat and simply brag about him to your friends.

Of course, you still try to console yourself. There has to be something that you do better than him. No one is perfect, right? He certainly doesn't have a sweet rack like yours. But, like the apartment, his lack of nice tits does not seem to bother him. "Okay," you say to yourself. "Sure he is only twenty-four and already he speaks three languages, dances, cooks, is doing a PhD in applied physics, and sorts his recycling properly, but how is his grasp on the intracacies of English grammer? Ha! English is not even his first language. Surely I must have the market cornered on English grammer in this relationship."

Then, the bitch goes and says something about a verb tense you weren't even sure really existed, or differentiated itself from other verb tenses, in English.

Quick! What verb tense is this?

The problem, we agreed after some debate, was that hard-and-fast rules for the English language don't exist. Well, they do, but no one pays attention to them. French has the Academie Française, which currently protects the purity of the French language by freaking out over texting shorthand. What does English have? Oxford? Do you actually listen to Oxford? Does Oxford even bother?

Unfortunately, the English, the "inventors" of the English language, sprinkled a whole bunch of bastard colonies all over the world, one of which got uppity and usurped them as top dog, especially in cultural terms. Very few people want to sound like an English professor these days. They want to say "errrbody", "shotty", "oh noes!" and "lawl". My own sister speaks in acronyms ("No BD!"). I confess that I myself have said "Imma luuuvs you," more than once (but I did it ironically, which makes it okay). Can you imagine if Quebec suddenly became cooler than France, and everyone wanted to speak joual and say "Enteka, m'a aller faire un tit tour du béckosse"? The entire Academie Française would choke on their triple-crème brie.

Another problem with English might be that it wasn't so much invented as it was collected. As James Nicoll once observed, "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." Modern English almost isn't even a language, when you think about it. It's just its own little patois of conglomerated borrowed words that developed its own grammatical structure (and then colonized the fuck out of every country that wasn't populated by white people).

Usually, when someone says "I be", I assume that they are hilariously cultural-appropriating ebonics.

In a language where a made-up word distinguishing between something real and something imaginary goes in the dictionary and people actually argue in favour of their right to correctly use the non-word "irregardless", have we just given up completely and decided to go with the flow? Furthermore, is this a bad thing?

As for dating people far smarter than anyone else you know will ever be, I am still kind of ambiguous on whether or not I recommend it. All I can say is that a manageable IQ allows me to enjoy certain simple pleasures more than he does. Like being able to drunk-text someone and not run through every possibility re: what they'll say in the morning.