Violence Implied- March For (Whose?) Life

Yesterday sucked.

The March for Lies marched right on into O-town and the participants…well, they did what they do. I’m warning you now that this may not be the most coherent and cohesive blog-post. I’m in recovery.

Every year the March comes and makes me irate. It makes me sad. It also scares the crap out of me. Having thousands of people all around me who are so diametrically opposed to an issue that defines my very autonomy- people who would deny me that autonomy based on a faith-based set of principles- I get more than a little bit freaked.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the numbers are swelled by the hundreds of busloads of youth brought in from Catholic schools (your tax-dollars hard at work, folks!) across Ontario. But that makes it even more depressing, knowing that so many of those youth have been subject to indoctrination to such an extent. Sure lots of them couldn’t care less and just want a field-trip. Fair enough. But some of them, perhaps many of them, will leave having experienced a feeling a belonging for the first time in their lives. That euphoric feeling will carry them through all the evidence-based arguments, Charter challenge discussions and anti-paternalism tirades that you or I will launch at them. Scary shit, I say again.

This palpable threat I feel during Starch for Lime is due in no small part to the violence implied just below the surface of the event. The low-level stuff that, as an advocate against choice, you think so little of me as a woman you believe me incapable of making my own decisions, that I don’t know what’s best for me and my possible future children. Indeed, seen through anti-choice eyes, I am less-than. I am dehumanized. Enter the overt violence right about here.

Let’s not even get started on the actual call to arms that we naively believe is more or less contained to the US. They shoot and blow up people like me down there. Yay, pro-life!

I was telling a co-worker of mine about these feelings. She’s this beautiful, witty, intelligent woman and she’s First Nations. As I started to tell her about the fear I felt at the living, breathing oppression seething just below our office windows, my voice petered out. I can’t speak for her, but I imagined that oppression, palpable and dangerous, stares her in the face every day- mostly masked, but no less ugly.

There was no solace, no consolation in that. Yesterday sucked.

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Privilege Safely Stowed. Now Can We Talk About Abortion?

Guilt goes a long way to getting results. Any Catholic priest can tell you that. To say nothing of those of us who grew up under the yoke of Catholic guilt.

I cast off that yoke years ago and I’m better for it, but guilt, insidious as it is still has power over me. And I resent that in a big way. I think that’s why I cringe at the insistence of some within the feminist and prochoice movement to constantly hammer away at the idea of privilege and its inherent dangers.

March For Life flyer from St Paul Catholic High School and voting station

I received a Facebook reminder yesterday for the pro-choice presence on Parliament Hill in response to the annual bullshit March for Life. I read the list of issues contained in the message (colonialism, ageism, dis/ability rights, education) each stated as being a “reproductive justice issue”.

*heavy sigh*

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular.

*sharp intake of breath*

Sometimes I feel that the need to appear progressive, cloaked in a show of inclusiveness, overshadows and ultimately endangers what we’re really trying to accomplish.

There. I said it.

*release of breath*

The issue is abortion access. If you say you understand abortion access and lack thereof, you must, or at least you should, understand that it is those who lack privilege (in all its variations, orientations, identities and degrees therein) in our society who have the most to lose when abortion access is limited/eliminated. That says it all.

But that’s not what I’m witnessing of late.

Instead we see the real issue: abortion/choice/reproductive and bodily autonomy piled on and confused with other, no less important, issues.

As a movement, we cannot do it all. Indeed, we do an injustice to all concerned if we even try. We also alienate people who would like to join the cause but don’t dare because they are being lead to believe they take on the weight of the world if they do.

What we get- indeed what we have- is a fractious group who are incapable of the focus required to move the issue of abortion forward. The resulting vacuum of coherence and over-arching vision in turn gets filled by right-wing zealots who do have the focus, and who organize effectively enough to rally a vote for a Conservative majority. They have a coherent vision, and it’s now frighteningly within their reach.

There is no doubt that the feminist movement of the past got many things wrong, not the least of which was a lack of inclusiveness and more than a smidge of elitism. This is indisputable. But have we so little faith in ourselves as progressive people and in the evolution of our movement that we need to constantly make a show of listing the marginalized?

Frankly, I find it beyond tacky.

We can be allies (a word I avoid because we are NOT at war and we minimize those affected by war when we use it), we can represent a myriad of voices, and we can welcome all into the fold and- here’s a novel idea- have them speak for themselves.

What we cannot do is misrepresent what we’re actually about. We have done exactly this and to the detriment of women’s lives. Guilt is a powerful thing, but it rarely brings about real change.

Only hard work can do that.

Stephen Harper Will Not Re-Open the Abortion Debate and Why That Scares the Crap Out of Me

A few years ago I was watching a biography of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. They interviewed political friends and foes alike on the Little Guy’s political acumen. One of those interviewees was Stephen Harper. While no fan of Chrétien, Harper did talk about how impressed he was with how wily Chrétien had been on his election promise and subsequent flip-flop on axing the much-hated GST.

He made much ado about how Chrétien, while giving the impression while in opposition and on the campaign trail that he would cut the GST once elected, never actually said the words, in sequence, “Once elected Prime Minister I will abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST)”. Harper pointed out how Chrétien has uttered many variations on the theme “We hate it and we’ll cut it” while never specifying what ‘it’ was.

As all Canadians know, Chrétien did become Prime Minister and he did NOT, in fact, abolish the GST. He had never really said he would, Harper said. Not really.

I never forgot this grudging praise for such a slimy move from a political opponent. Oh, yes- the tactic made a big impression on our current Prime Minister back in the day. Harper is many things but he’s no dummy. He recognized the bait and switch as a stroke of political (deceptive) genius.

And he took notes.

Fast-forward to today. Federal election number 41 has delivered a majority Conservative government in Canada. The people have spoken. While it’s the outcome I predicted, it is most definitely not the outcome I had hoped for or that is good for Canada.

I want to find a silver lining (possibilities of electoral reform, of grassroots uprising, the death of apathy and uniting of the left) in all of this, because there is hope. Always. But right now, I need to feel out the dark spaces into which this election has forced me. I’m scared senseless and deeply, deeply sad. The Canadian electoral system, such as it is, has permitted the political party loaded (not entirely but disproportionately) with sexist, racist, misogynist, bigoted, contemptible, paternalistic, cynical and well, just plain mean MPs to win fair and square.

Good grief, MomForChoice! That’s awful.

I know!

As feminists and pro-choice advocates, what can we expect from this government in the next five years?

I’m glad you asked.

Back to Stephen Harper and his parliamentary education. We have heard him repeat time and time again, especially on the campaign trail, “As long as I am Prime Minister, we will not re-open the abortion debate.” Now think on what he learned from Chrétien’s GST deceit. What conclusion can we draw?

No, he or his whipped party member won’t re-open the abortion debate. In their minds, there is no debate! They oppose abortion. Period. Full stop. End of discussion that will never be had.

There will be no debate, but there will be legislated changes to abortion laws and laws governing access to reproductive services. They have a majority, now. They can do this.

Harper will not re-open the abortion debate. He said so himself.

I want to know what you think. Am I over-reacting? Am I fear-mongering? Will you join me in this fight to preserve women’s reproductive rights in this kick-ass country of ours?

Voter Apathy? No Frickin’ Wonder.

I am an Acadian woman. Acadienne and damn proud of it. I eat fricot and chiard and I talk trash and I cry every time I listen to Zachary Richard. That means I am a francophone living outside of Québec. While I am loathe to describe myself via a negative, here goes nothing: I am NOT Québecoise. Are we all perfectly clear on that point?

Good.

Our country is in the midst of an election campaign and this past week saw the leaders of the four federal parties duke it out in televised national debates. True to Canada’s linguistic make-up (as dictated by our Constitution but not reflective of languages that were here prior to European colonization) there was a debate in English and a debate in French. They dubbed the latter “the French-language debate”.

Oh, really?

The questions brought forth in each debate came from Canadian citizens. I don’t know how they were vetted by the journalists in charge of the debate. I do know, however, that the English-language debate fielded questions from across the country. I also know that the French-language debate featured questions from residents of – wait for it- Québec only. Nothing from Acadie, Franco-Ontario, Métis, Franco-Manitoba…I could go on but you get the idea:  NOTHING.

*screams primally*

How the hell is that acceptable in a French-language debate? How do you justify excluding an entire swath of the country’s population in favour of the province whose residents repeatedly and in great numbers tell us that they want no part of that very country?! Just sayin’.

*bangs head against wall*

But we do know why, don’t we? All the francophone communities outside Québec put together cannot possibly affect the results of the election one way or another. The same as tuition fee hikes don’t matter because students don’t tend to vote in great numbers. The same as there aren’t enough informed and engaged women to rally against the Harper government’s assault on women’s equality programming. The same as how Métis, First Nations and Inuit continue to struggle with poverty, inadequate housing, food insecurity and unsafe drinking water: there aren’t enough of them to make or break anyone’s political aspirations and the rest of Canadians are too bigoted to care, anyway.

It’s a game of numbers. I understand that. And I hate everything about it.

No wonder people are apathetic. Every time we turn around we’re being told by our so-called leaders and our complicit media that we simply do not matter.

So, here’s an idea oh-holy-media-consortium-that-sets-the-rules-for-these-debates: how’s ‘bout next time you call the French-language debate what it really is? The Québec debate.

If I don’t matter to you or to this ever-decaying democratic process, just tell me. At least then I could respect you for being honest and I could tune out for once and for all.

*slams door*

(Well, it’s a virtual slam of a virtual door, but you know what I’m getting at)

Vote, Woman, Vote or Don’t Make Me Come Over There!

Until May 2nd, I’m going to harass the hell out of my two lovely nieces who live in Ottawa and I want you to do the same. OK, so not exactly the same. Get your own nieces.

I want you to identify two young women in your life; two young women who are of voting age and I want you to do everything in your power to get them to vote.

I don’t even care who they vote for.

OK, so we all know that’s a lie.

But what matters is that they vote, that they pay attention, that they participate.

Some of you may accuse me of being one of those ageing feminists who constantly bemoan the lack of engagement and commitment and awareness of young women today. Something like…oh, I don’t know… (fade out on wavy screen)

In my day we didn’t have voting booths. We gave one shoe to the candidate we wanted and we liked it! All walkin’ around with one shoe for the next year, one foot always cold and dirty, wearing out our socks and developing a limp ‘cause we believed in democracy. That’s how it was and we liked it!

That Dana Carvy…so funny. I also miss Church Lady. She would’ve voted Conservative, for sure.

But where was I? Oh yeah, I was in feminist curmudgeon mode…

So be it. Think that if you like. The fact remains that fewer and fewer people- fewer and fewer women- are exercising their right to vote in this country and that leads to bad government, no matter what political stripe you wear.

Imagine if a full 51% of eligible voters cast their ballot on the basis of what mattered to them: childcare, pay equity, affordable housing, education, hunger, violence, same-sex marriage, indigenous rights and yes, abortion, to name but a smattering (and not to say that all women place equal weight on all of these issues). Imagine the message we would send to our leaders.

We would tell them that they ignore women at their political peril.

Whose voice will you encourage this election?

Lived Experience of Gendered Poverty

I hear a lot of talk in Canada that women have achieved equality. Heck, even our Supreme Anointed Leader Prime Minister says so. Oh, really?

Let’s talk about starting points and about getting ahead in life. Let’s talk about whether or not being born a girl in Canada impacts how far you can get from that starting point. I can’t speak for all women in this country and all the communities they represent, so let me talk about me and mine.

I grew up as a member of one of the three marginalized groups in the province of Nova Scotia. Linguistically, culturally and geographically we were set apart. Think of it this way: if life is a road race and communities are the runners, I and other members of my community would be starting near the very back of the pack. As a female member of that community, I was at the back of the back of the pack.

I may not have had money or a penis, but I did have brains. I went away to university and became a teacher (no time/money to linger and explore what may have actually interested me) and accumulated huge debt. But hey, university education gives you a huge edge, right? In theory.

In practice, repaying huge accumulated debt claws back at said advantage pretty significantly. Not to mention winding up in the wrong career because you had to complete your studies in as timely and cheaply a manner as possible. Repaying that debt impacted my timing in career shift, in starting a family, in buying a first home.

Eventually I did start that family, once the debt was paid off. Smart, eh? Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

Meh.

Staying at/returning to my home community was not a viable option. Employment opportunities are slim to nil, and most often seasonal. So my husband and I live far from home and from family supports.

One career change later, I’m well behind the pack. Earning power is compromised. My industry counterparts have five years on me and likely had less debt to begin with.

I fall behind.

Baby number one = one-year *maternity leave. One year of earning power gone. One year of work experience gone.

I fall behind.

Another kid and another maternity leave. Career and earning power are further compromised.

I fall behind.

Two wonderful kiddies. Kiddies get sick (some kiddies get really sick, but that’s another blog post). There are no grand-parents or aunties and uncles nearby to look after the kids when they can’t go to school or daycare.

Because I live far from home and family. Because I had to leave. Because I started from behind.

I miss work. My dependability as an employee is questioned. My career suffers.

I fall behind.

Meanwhile, father unit has not taken parental leave and his career has flourished. I earn about 60 cents for every dollar he earns despite having a higher level of education than he has. Given his salary, his job is more or less accepted as being more important than mine and sacrifices are made in keeping with that. All else being equal, I will be the one to take time off for kiddies’ medical appointments, parent-teacher interviews and other progeny-related obligations.

I fall behind.

So much for equality.

*I can hear the howls of protests now- “there’s legislated full-year parental leave AND fathers (in the case of heterosexual partnerships) have the option of taking leave now, too. The women’s movement fought for those things and won.” Indeed, it did. But those gains merely begin to level the playing field. And don’t even get me started about what parents are paid while on leave depending on whether they’re “topped up” or not