Tuesday, 27 November 2012

So who's gonna vote me in as the next mayor of Toronto?

I'm not gonna lie, yesterday I was downright giddy with the news that mayor Rob Ford had a judgment against him that would remove him from office. And in my household we popped a bottle of bubbly and made a toast to the fact that, "Sometimes the system does work."

Now this morning I'm catching up on the news and reading a lot of handwringing in articles and comments about how this isn't the way it should have gone down. By golly, people are so concerned about democracy and how, if and when Rob Ford was removed from office, it should have been by the will of the people alone.

Where do we draw the line? This guy has flouted the rules at every corner, turned his nose up at a half-dozen opportunities to do the right thing specifically in regards to the conflict-of-interest case that got him booted (nevermind all the other laws he's broken), and he's decided that the laws just don't apply to him. What threshold do we really, honestly need to set in order to decide that someone poses more harm in office than good? And if the people willfully voted for someone they knew were going to break every law in the book, does that mean that they're still immune from any legal penalties?

Now, I'm aware that there are other scandals that have been unable to remove other politicians from office. That really, honestly doesn't matter. If Hazel had killed an albatross with her bare teeth in the middle of a city council meeting and pummelled a GirlScout with its carcass, all without facing any penalties, does that mean we would have to let McGuinty off the hook if he robbed a liquor store while stark naked and armed with a tank?

Say what you will about whether you think that others have done worse, or that even Rob Ford himself has done worse and should have been turfed for another reason, he absolutely broke the conflict-of-interest rules and has shown not a glimmer of self-awareness or remorse. He is so full to the brim with a sense of entitlement that he honestly does not think that he should be punished, even despite flagrantly breaking the rules.

If he had, at any opportunity in the past couple years that this conflict-of-interest case has been stretched out over, taken personal responsibility and acknowledged that he was in the wrong and now he's gonna fix it, I believe 100% that he would not have been removed from office. As it stands, I do not think the judge had a choice.

My only regret in this whole situation is that I've just moved to Mississauga and therefore can't run against him in the by-election. Well, guess I'll have to save up my political favours until 2014 and hope the world doesn't end next month. Fingers crossed!

Friday, 23 November 2012

I'm not wrong. It's just an opinion!

I don't know how this argument started or how anyone could entertain it as a serious justification, but quite often I've heard some form of the following:
I'm saying that if women wouldn't dress so slutty, they wouldn't get raped. I mean, that's just my personal opinion.
Here's the thing about opinions - sometimes they are extremely subjective to the point where there really is no right or wrong. For example:
I think blue is the best colour. I'm of the opinion that it's a much nicer colour than green or red or any other colour. Yuppers. Blue is the best.
I'm of the opinion that women who wear short skirts aren't attractive. I'm not attracted to them and hold no personal affection for them because I find their choices in clothing distasteful.
Those are personal opinions. They reflect only on the beliefs and values of the person espousing said opinions. We may disagree with the opinion, but there is no objective right or wrong in those types of examples.

Now, some opinions can 100% absolutely be wrong, and no couching it as an opinion rather than stating it as fact will compensate for how ridiculous and wrong it is. Opinions simply cannot be used as a valid substitute for facts. For example:
I'm of the opinion that the moon is a hologram projected by a secret society of super-intelligent cats who are using it to brainwash people into giving them belly rubs and post their pictures all over the internet in order to lure more people into worshipping them.
The original quote is just as inaccurate and incorrect. It does not matter if your opinion is that short skirts cause rape, because this is not supported by any factual evidence. Not least of all because clothing is not consent, because clothes cannot prevent rape, and because rapists are 100% responsible for their actions.

On a more productive note, here are some tangible things that you can do, right now today, to actually help stop sexual violence.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Damsel in de Tech is a year old!

It's my bloggiversary!

It's been one year since I decided I'd had enough of retyping and rehashing my arguments to people who think slut-shaming and victim-blaming are nifty things to do! And golly am I ever glad for that decision. Not only do I have some of my favourite lolcats bookmarked in this blog for easy future reference, but I've also got my major arguments all orderly and labelled and ready to go. I love being organized.

Since there is still so much more to talk about, this shall be just one of many milestones to be celebrated. I've got 3 other posts in the works at the moment that I hope to be able to complete this week, but since this is a project primarily for me and not another reason to stress myself out, they'll get posted when they're posted.

To my faithful followers (I love and adore all 9 of you), and occasional lurkers, I'm going to let you in on some of the behind-the-scenes stuff going on with this blog.

For starters, here are my top 5 posts that have gotten the most hits:

5. Victim-blaming under the guise of "personal responsibility" aka, That's not how cause and effect works
  • 513 page views 
4. But, seriously, why can't we just shoot all the rapists?
  • 651 page views
3. Rapex and the enduring myth of the rape-prevention tool
  • 983 page views
2. "10 Ugly Mistakes Women Make that Ruin Any Chance For a Relationship"
  •  1237 page views
1. What can I do, right now today, to help stop sexual violence
  •  1394 page views

I reguarly check my stats, and so I knew that the second-highest post was going to be pretty high up on this list. When I first posted it, I didn't expect to get so many hits, but it's the number one article that gets viewed from Google searches. It's disheartening that so many people Google "10 Ugly Mistakes Women Make" and other similar wordings, but it's comforting that sometimes they're treated to my snark instead of some PUA bullshit.

In regards to other issues going on behind the curtain, I'd like to touch briefly on the often-fraught issue of... dun Dun DUN.... comments. My comment moderation policy is very strict. I consider this blog my living room, and will not let just any old asshole come in here and use my platform as their soapbox to make rape jokes or misogynistic remarks or bullhockey anti-feminist meanderings. There are many many many places on the internet where they can do that. I'm not gonna publish them here.

But, I will share with you some of the comments I've left waiting in the queue so we may delight in them together and on my terms, not theirs:

Ye-ah... I'm pretty comfortable with my policy as is. As much as "Dude, whatever" would have added to the conversation about whether Dave Chapelle makes a compelling argument in favour of slut-shaming and victim-blaming, I'm ok with leaving those posters to vent their frustrations elsewhere.

Since I love lists, I'm going to share a couple more. First, here's my list of Top 5 blog posts I hope people will continue to share:

1. What can I do, right now today, to help stop sexual violence
2. What do we lose when we always support survivors who disclose?
3. Victim-blaming under the guise of "personal responsibility" aka, That's not how cause and effect works
4. An All Too Common Case - What We Can Do
5. Just because they're awesome, doesn't mean they can't be awful

And, because this is my party and I'll repost whatever I want to, these are just my general top 5 favourites:

1. But I'm just trying to be helpful!
2. With a little help from my friends
3. Lions, Tigers, and Rapists. Oh, my!
4. Was that a duck?
5. All apologies

Thanks for helping make this first year and awesome one. Let's go forward and onward and have some more fun, shall we? And if there are any issues you'd like to see addressed, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Now, some more MST3K because I love you all and want you to laugh and have a happy Monday.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The science of YouTubes

Have you ever been discussing super important, serious, and totally no-nonsense issues and been blown away by your opponent's deft grasp of the power of YouTube videos? Have you then sworn that you would never again be caught unarmed and that you would find just the right responses to all those AVFM and GWW videos so that you can repost them at just the right time?

Well, rest easy, dedicated internet warriors. I have done the hard work for you and have here, for your convenience, delight, and edification, a series of versatile videos that are backed up by sciencefacts.

Let's see these bad mamma jammas in action.

What's that? Did someone just say that white men are the most oppressed group in North America?

Ok, how about another easy one? How about if someone asks a question like, "What? Just because I'm white/ male/ cisgender/ straight/ able-bodied/ middle to upper class/ educated, etc, I have privilege?"

Make no mistake, though, these can be useful for so much more!

Did someone just profess their love of bacon under your recipe for vegan tacos?

Hark! Has someone just told you you're a stupid caca doodie head because you vow an undying allegiance to Captain Jean Luc Picard, and extend no such love to Captain Kirk?

You see what just happened there? I single-handedly won the internet for you.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

What do we lose when we always support survivors who disclose?

Short answer: Nothing.

Every so often when discussing rape, someone will bring up the myth that zillions of women falsely report rapes and ruin the lives of trillions of amazing men who have never even so much as hurt a fly. Involved in this myth, they will accuse the persons who are contradicting those myths of convicting all persons accused of sexual assault of being guilty before any evidence is weighed.

That's largely not what supporting survivors is about, not least of all because we know most survivors do not report the crimes committed against them to the police and that these cases will never be tested through the courts.

What is meant by believing and supporting survivors always, is that it takes nothing away from us to listen to people's disclosures and sit with them in that moment and support them. Maybe you don't believe everything they're telling you. Maybe what they're saying sounds too far-fetched that you don't understand how it could happen. That's really immaterial, because their disclosure isn't about you.

Going through crisis line training taught me a lot about feminism, and the legal system, and about abuse and it's forms and tolls it takes. The most important thing that I feel I took away from all of it, though, is how to be a better friend. To be a good crisis line volunteer and a good friend, we need to stop talking and start listening. It's ok to not have all (or any) of the answers. In many cases, just having someone to listen and bear witness to their disclosure is what survivors are looking for. Someone to believe them, not interrupt them or interrogate them, just to listen to them.

I know that it's hard for many of us to turn off that part of our brains that wants to fix things and make everything all better. But, just because we mean well, it doesn't mean we have all the answers or that we can reasonably kludge together a workable solution.

One line that gets repeated over and over to crisis line volunteers to help us turn that off is: people are the experts in their own lives. Seriously. We may be able to come up with potential solutions, and we can certainly recommend them, but in the end the person we are giving the advice to knows a heck of a lot better whether or not that will work. Or if they're willing to try to make it work. Or if trying that will put them in further danger. Or if you are completely off base and have no idea what you're talking about.

Let's try to put this theory into an example:
  • Person 1: Last night at the party our friend did stuff to me I'm not cool with.
  • Person 2: I'm sorry to hear that. Are you ok?
  • Person 1: I'm not sure. I'm really hung over and feel like shit. I don't know entirely what happened, but I just feel really weird and have been getting these flashes from last night of them doing things that I know I wasn't ok with.
  • Person 2: Do you want me to come over and bring you hangover foods or take you someplace? Do you want to go to the hospital or the police? What can I do to be helpful right now?
  • Person 1: No, I don't want to go to the police or the hospital. If something happened it's my word against theirs. Did you see anything happen to me last night? I don't remember if you were there.
  • Person 2: No, I'm sorry, I didn't. I was there until the end, but I was drinking, too, and don't remember much of the night.
  • Person 1: Ok. I don't know, maybe I'm crazy.
  • Person 2: I don't know what happened, but I can come over and sit with you and try to help you figure it out if you like.
  • Person: Yeah, I would like that. Thanks.
After a conversation like that, Person 1 is quite possibly having a bit of a meltdown and freaking out. Hearing these kinds of disclosures from strangers is difficult, and from friends and loved ones it can be absolutely heart-breaking. The urge to fix and to come up with the solution that makes everything better may feel neigh on irresistable, but this isn't something that can be fixed. Any solutions are up to the person making the disclosure.

Alternatively, maybe you're not heartbroken. Maybe you don't believe the person, maybe you think they're blowing things out of proportion. Maybe you're worried about them falsely accusing someone of something. This still isn't about you. Consider what your priorities are. If your priority is supporting your friend, just be there. Just listen. If your priority is to go over there and gaslight this person and bully them into making sure they don't tell anyone about what happened to them, it's ok to sit this one out. If you cannot possibly manage to just sit on your hands and listen, you don't have to get involved, and it's probably better if you don't pretend you're emotionally mature enough to try.

If you are prepared to support your friend, confidentiality is super important. This person chose you to disclose to. Not the whole world. If you want to talk to someone else about it (which is entirely reasonable, because handling disclosures is hard and it hurts like hell), then I recommend calling your local rape crisis line or speaking to a counsellor. It's ok if you're not the one who was victimized. They can provide you with resources to pass along, they can support you in your feelings, and they can listen this time as it's your turn to vent.

The reason I don't recommend talking to other friends or family members about the friend's disclosure, is that unless you know that the second person won't gossip, you could be doing far more harm than good. Your friend that disclosed has no reason to be ashamed of suspecting someone assaulted them, but that doesn't mean there aren't people who will use that against them. We don't always know who those people are, either, until they've proven themselves to be untrustworthy.

If you are lucky enough to not be familiar with some of the not-ok and really selfish and fucked up ways people react when they're informed of abuse, here are some articles from Captain Awkward that will be eluciding (and quite possibly unspeakably infuriating):

#209: My mom is pressuring me to invite my molester to my wedding, and it sucks BIG TIME.

Reader question #87: How do I talk about a molesting grandparent?

#393: My friends keep inviting my abusive ex and me to the same parties, despite being asked directly not to.

I think that the last post is especially relevant to this issue of supporting survivors regardless of how they've personally decided to deal with the person who victimized them. It's so frustrating that sometimes people aren't willing to even go the tiny step of not insisting someone is forced to be around the person who has assaulted them.

Whatever could be lost by respecting the survivor's requests and boundaries is surely far less substantial than what is lost by feigning ignorance. When so much more should be expected, the least (seriously, the very least) we can do is listen to people and not put them in harm's way.

Thanks for hanging in there with me through this heavy topic. Here's some MST3K and lolcats.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pot of Cold comfort

So, NaNoWriMo is a no-go for this year. I couldn't get started this weekend, so I'm throwing in the towel for this year. That's not to say I won't be writing, just not along that kind of schedule.

Now, let's turn our attention to another source of disappointment: Pot of Gold chocolates.

For the past few years I've been driving myself batty trying to get the "right" box of Pot of Gold chocolates. You know, the ones with the orange and strawberry-flavoured fillings of creamy goodness? Or the maraschino cherries? And the general not crap that we're stuck with now?

Why have you forsaken me?

Yeah, they changed the line-up. I'm not the only one commiserating about it on the internet, either. But, at least I'm not just buying the wrong box. So that's something, I guess.

Still not sure what to replace it with, though...

Friday, 9 November 2012

NaNoWriMo - I pines at it. I pines.

After the letdown of not successfully completing the 3 Day Novel Contest, I had my heart set upon participating in NaNoWriMo this month. I still might, but I have not gotten a single word down to prove it.

Life just happened, you know? For November 1st we moved for the second time in 5 months (long story involving a divorce - not mine), and I'm recovering from a bacterial throat infection that had me off work for a week, and I'm just so drained. This has been a ridiculously bad year for me getting sick, and it's taken a toll in a lot of areas. But, I think I might have figured it out.

The gym.

Yes, it's great that I've been getting into better physical shape, but I realize that I started getting sick so frequently and so severely after sessions at the gym. And, realistically, gyms are getting big, sticky, oozing cesspools of germs. Ewwwwww.

This doesn't mean I'm not going to work out anymore. This means that I'm going to be more cautious of germs when I do, because I really don't like being an ebola monkey. It's not terribly fun, lemme tell ya.

I wish I were one of those people who could be really productive even when laid up in bed, sick. But, unfortunately, when I'm sickly, I can barely rub two brain cells together to get anything done, let alone freelance work, blogging, or writing.

Guess I'll just have to stay healthy from here on in.

Now, what on earth should I write about for NaNoWriMo...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

An open letter to Evelynn Hanon, re: "Travel tips for women: Staying safe on the road"

Dear Ms. Hannon,

If my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, you may be receiving some blowback from your recent article, "Travel tips for women: Staying safe on the road."

You may well be frustrated by these negative reactions and be thinking, as at least one poster has commented, something to the effect of, "This article is not what you guys want to hear, but it is an article about doing what is smart, not necessarily about what is right."

Here's the thing, we do want safety advice. We are desperate for it. Women are literally dying for that one-size-fits-all safety advice that will finally accomplish what we have been trying to do our entire lives and for generations before us - to keep us safe from sexual violence.

Because of this sincere want, and because so many people who are our allies want this for us, we are bombarded with various bits of safety advice our entire lives. From the time the doctor tells our parents, "It's a girl," we are treated as a separate class from men and boys and given a different set of rules on how we can stay safe from the threatening and mysterious "them".

Make no mistake, the threat is real. And the people who commit this violence against us are real. And, more often than not, this violence is committed against us by those we know and trust. But somehow, much of the safety advice that is given can't manage to put a face to this. Or, it borrows from myths and Hollywood tropes that describe this perpetrator as a "bad guy" that everyone can immediately recognize when they see him, because of the rise in dramatic music, fog machines, and tell-tale physical deformities. It tells us that these perpetrators are strangers, are foreigners, are hiding in alleys and far-away, exotic countries where "they" are different from us and go by a different set of rules.

We get lots of advice. Advice that is well-meaning. Unfortunately, most of this advice cannot keep us safe, because it relies on rape myths and on women being in control over whether or not they'll be targetted, just by virtue of their clothing or choice of beverage.

This advice does not match our realities.

The reason you are not getting perhaps the positive feedback you were looking for, is that we have heard your advice before and it did not protect us and we won't be fooled again.

Are some of the tips you provided useful? Well, sure. We don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Women are quite capable of reading what you've written and deciding what advice applies to them and what isn't relevant to their lives.

That's not the problem. The issue is not that there isn't anything useful in your article. I'm aware that you borrowed the content from the Canadian government's official travel guide. They're not off the hook with me, either.

The issue is that your carelessly worded phrasings are all-too-often victim-blaming, and at the same time not useful.

To clarify the problems I, and other people I've talked to, have had with your article are as follows

1. Don’t stand out — The next time you’re walking in your city centre, do this short mental exercise. Look around and notice which women stand out. Who looks timid? Whose purse has an unzipped pocket? Is anybody checking a map or guidebook?

Simultaneously, you are telling women not to stand out, and not to be timid. Be aware of your surroundings, definitely. That makes for good safety advice. That one can do to the best of their ability. But don't be timid or attract attention? I'm not sure what that would even look like.
2. Insist on safe accommodation — Don’t accept ground-floor rooms with easy access from outside via a balcony or fire escape. Make sure the doors can be locked from the inside and can’t be opened with a key from the outside. Pack a rubber door stop that can be wedged under any inward-opening door making entry extremely challenging.

Yeah, in the beginning this makes sense. I mean, this is safety advice that I definitely keep in mind when I'm travelling. The bit about not being able to open a door with a key from the outside doesn't make as much sense. Do you mean when I'm in the room, or also when I'm out of the room? How would I get in in the first place if I can't get in from the outside? The rubber door stop's pretty good, to. That could fit in carry-on luggage.
3. Carry a local shopping bag — At your destination, make a small purchase in order to have a shopping bag with the store’s logo on it. Now carry your camera and maps in this bag. Thieves are far less prone to steal a local’s shopping bag than to grab a tourist’s backpack.
Ok, you've lost me again. You want me to put all my valuables in a flimsy bag that only goes on my wrist, as opposed to one fastened to my back, because tourists don't carry shopping bags? I'm sorry if I'm starting to get a little sarcastic but... 
4. Watch what you wearTight fitting clothes are always an invitation—any woman in form fitting clothes will attract attention both good and bad. Especially if you are traveling solo it is the negative that you should be guarding against. It’s not worth gambling with your safety for the sake of a wolf-whistle.
Read the parts I have bolded and put in italics, and you tell me with a straight face that isn't misogynistic victim-blaming. If you are able to say that with a straight face, then we will have a conversation about internalized misogyny, because that's not cool.
5. Choose early morning exploring — In some cultures, a woman alone after dark is considered fair game by the local men. Often it’s best to have your big meal at lunchtime and to picnic in your room in the evening. There’s no harm in going to bed at a decent hour so you can be up bright and early ready for sightseeing in broad daylight.
I'm not sure what areas of the world you're referring to (because you never say it explicitly), but this can be impractical to the point of absurdity. In the winter here, in the Northern hemisphere, it can get dark as early as around 4pm. Are you honestly, with a straight face, telling women to "picnic" in their rooms from 4pm to 8am when they're on vacation? Honestly? Seriously? "Hey, what did you do on your vacation?" "Well, I ran out quickly for a couple hours a day, and then hid under the covers in my hotel room, shrieking in terror any time housekeeping or room service knocked on my door. Totally worth it."
6. Leave your expensive jewelry at home —Unless you are attending a fabulous wedding or Society Fashion Ball, leave all your jewels at home. They will always be a hindrance to your safety.
And here we have something practical again. I have no qualms with tips that actually make sense and can do things that are practical and tangible in terms of safety.
7. Watch for pickpockets — These people generally work in pairs. As you sit waiting to board your bus or train, one engages you in conversation while the other lifts your backpack. Foil them by bringing a Chinese newspaper from home. Pretend to be reading it. Unless would-be pickpockets speak Chinese, they’ll avoid you completely.
Yes, the advice about looking out for pickpockets is sound. I'm a little perplexed by the newspaper advice. It's not usually too difficult to spot tourists, and I don't see how this would help in that regard. But, sure, if people have reported that this works, then I guess there's no real harm in trying it. 
8. Don’t drink irresponsibly — It’s best to enjoy your alcohol in a pub or well-reputed hotel. To combat date rape drugs added to your cocktail there is now a product to test your own drink and foil any one who’s targeting you. www.drinksafetech.com
You may have predicted that this advice doesn't sit well with me. Not because I think everyone going to unfamiliar places should go ahead and drink to excess until they're unconscious. In general, I think that we need to have better alcohol-abuse education to help people learn how to enjoy intoxicants responsibly. I consider that more of a safety measure to keep someone from giving themselves alcohol-poisoning, than of preventing rape, however.

For starters, there's no guarantee you won't be targetted in a "well-reputed" pub or hotel. So, that's a false sense of security. Same with with date rape straws. The most common date rape drug is, actually, alcohol. So if you're being served doubles or triples when you're expecting singles, it really doesn't matter if your straw doesn't change colour.
9. Make lots of noise —Point your finger and shout, “Go away” at any male who is touching you or invading your personal space. The language you speak is not important. What affects these men is the negative attention being drawn to them. You also should consider carrying a personal security alarm or whistle that emits a piercing sound.
I have no issues with people loudly calling out harassers or attackers. If they feel safe doing so, by all means yell, whistle, blow your fog horn, etc.
10. Don’t divulge personal information — When other travellers ask you what you do for a living and you’re not sure if they can be trusted, tell them you’re a policewoman on holiday. Wrong doers won’t stick around very long.
For me, this doesn't just relate to going away to far-off places. You don't owe anyone your personal information, even if you're just on the subway on the way to work.
11. Keep emergency money well hidden — Save your empty vitamin pill bottles. Roll up five 20 dollar bills, put them into the bottle and add some loose pills. Shake this container and it still sounds authentic. Nobody will consider looking inside; your money remains safe for when you might need it.
Now this sounds practical, too. There's no problem with having a Plan B, or even a Plan C and D, etc. Emergency funds and ways to hide them make a lot of sense when travelling.
12. Check Global Travel Alerts — Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada posts information regarding safety and security, local laws and customs as well as health issues in foreign destinations. A savvy woman traveller will take advantage of this service by doing her pre-trip research at www.voyage.gc.ca.
Researching where you're going before a trip absolutely makes sense. I have nothing negative to say about taking the time to learn about where you're going and what health and safety issues you need to mitigate or be aware of before leaving.

I know that people are so earnest in their caring about women's safety, that they can often take extreme offense that people would dare to not take their safety advice as being well-meaning. I am absolutely giving you the benefit of the doubt, and believe (until such time as I am proven wrong) that you mean well.

Your good intentions will not protect women from your rape myths.

Please take some time to learn more about these myths so that you don't inadvertently keep passing them along, and about the totally tangible, practical, and immediately implementable things that we really can start doing right now, today, to help stop sexual violence. Your readers deserve better from you, and you deserve to know the difference, too.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Is the scary part over, yet?

If you know me at all, you know I love politics and elections. But, blogdamn, I'm nervous about tonight!!!! And I'm not even an American!

Good luck my Yankee darlings. I'll be watching the election tonight (and likely making a drinking game of it), and I have you all in my thoughts and best wishes.