Archive for November, 2010

Big sigh of relief! My group was the final group to present our policy report. Our topic was reproductive justice, a topic which is very important to me, so I was glad to be able to present the issues around reproductive justice to my peers. However, for this learning journal, I am going to look at the presentation given on the rape shield law.

The rape shield law exists today so that: 1) a woman’s sexual history cannot be used in court against her and 2) so that her identity is protected (publication ban). This law came into effect in Canada in 1991 (revised in 1992).

Just this week, as part of my placement, I had the opportunity to attend a human rights mediation with a client. I met the client, Jane (pseudonym) at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) on Bay Street, where we spent some time chatting and getting grounded before the mediation started. Jane was filing two claims: one against an employee and her employer in the vein of sexual harassment and breach of human rights; and the other a criminal case of sexual assault. The reason I am referring to Jane’s case in regard to the rape shield law, is because there are a few connections to be drawn here.

For the mediation, Jane chose to sit separate from the defense, so the room consisted of Jane, her paralegal, the judge and myself. Jane was told by her paralegal that this was her opportunity to have her story be heard, to say anything and everything she wanted to say to the judge, and that this mediation was for her. When the mediation started, I was quite surprized at how open Jane was in disclosing facts about her sexual history. Had we been in the mediation with the defense, I feel this would not have happened. Jane was also prepared to appeal the case if it did not go in her favour, and pursue a course of action that would make the case go public (going public would not be favourable for the company Jane was an employee at). For Jane, both of her actions (opening up about her sexual past and potentially going public with her case) are beneficial to her case, but also directly contradict the proponents of the rape shield law. Now, it could be that the rape shield law is not applied equally in both human rights and criminal cases.

It seems that for some women, it is in fact more beneficial to include this information in their cases rather than shield it. Of course, not all women can access the system so that it works to their advantage, like Jane seems to have done.

This is an important point: accessibility to citizen rights is variable depending on WHO YOU ARE. I think this was a point that was made across all of the policy reports given in our class. Who has access to the food policy allowance, and even if you have access, what are you really getting out of it? Battered women’s syndrome is a legal defense that can be beneficial to women who have killed their partners, but what are the implications of this defense for the woman (mental, health, legal…)? Even though the Indian Act has been revised to give First Nations peoples governance over themselves, the effects of colonization and Canadian law still keep First Nations people oppressed (particularly First Nations women, many of whom live in a state of poverty, violence, and lack of adequate support).

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a birthday note to mum

happy 33rd birthday mama lav!
(hey, if dad gets to be 34, then you most certainly can pull off 33!)

well it snowed this morning. and it was the perfect kind of snow. not too much, not too little. but enough so that looking outside the window of your toasty warm home, as you sit knitting your squares, you feel the christmas glow start tingling in your heart. and no, you’re not allowed to play christmas music until december 1st. that’s the rule.

for your birthday we went out to dinner to royal jasmine (mmm). you bought yourself a tassimo-machine-thingy to make your chai lattes. and later tonight i’ll be making dinner for you, dad, grammy and i.

but its not enough. for all that you do for us, whatever we do to celebrate your birthday never seems to be enough. i mean, where would we be without you? a bunch of smelly, hungry folks who wouldn’t be able to manage ourselves, that’s where.

you bring so much joy and light into my life. you support me through everything i face. you are the best mum a daughter could ask for.

so enjoy your special day! you really deserve it.

love rae

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Joss Whedon’s series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life. It was hands down one of the most influential series for adolescent females in search of independent role models. I credit this show (alongside my super amazing mum, and my intro class to WGS) with my coming to love feminism.

I’m sure you all remember the 1992 Buffy movie, written by Joss Whedon. Not the greatest movie. But it planted the seeds for the television series, and we must give it credit for that.

Now, there has been talk lately of revisiting the iconic female teenage vampire slayer on the Hollywood big screen. Here’s what Joss had to say about it…

“This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths—just because they can’t think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.

Obviously I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this. My first reaction upon hearing who was writing it was, “Whit Stillman AND Wes Anderson? This is gonna be the most sardonically adorable movie EVER.” Apparently I was misinformed. Then I thought, “I’ll make a mint! This is worth more than all my Toy Story residuals combined!” Apparently I am seldom informed of anything. And possibly a little slow. But seriously, are vampires even popular any more?

I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don’t love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I’m also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly. I can’t wish people who are passionate about my little myth ill. I can, however, take this time to announce that I’m making a Batman movie. Because there’s a franchise that truly needs updating. So look for The Dark Knight Rises Way Earlier Than That Other One And Also More Cheaply And In Toronto, rebooting into a theater near you.

Leave me to my pain! Sincerely, Joss Whedon.”

First: this man is brilliant.

Second: I concur with Joss entirely. Vampires have been SO overplayed. Hollywood writers need to move on already. They need to put their brains together and come up with a new, strong, adolescent female heroine, who isn’t an over-sexualized teeny-bopper.

One of the reasons that the Buffy series was so popular was because it was a fresh concept. It twisted the typical highschool teen experience. Everyone remembers highschool as a time full of fear, stress and numerous failed attempts at fitting in. All in all, most people reflect on their highschool experience as somewhat of a nightmare. Joss Whedon made Sunnydale High literally a highschool of horrors. ‘Highschool as a horror movie’ became the central concept for Buffy, where all things supernatural and demonic became metaphors for adolescent anxiety, fear, and experiences.

“In the world of Buffy the problems that teenagers face become literal monsters. A mother can take over her daughter’s life (Witch); a strict stepfather-to-be really is a heartless machine (Ted); a young lesbian fears that her nature is demonic (Goodbye Iowa and Family); a girl who has sex with even the nicest-seeming guy may discover that he afterwards becomes a monster (Innocence).”

BtVS Original Cast


There is no need to revisit Buffy, especially if it is going to Twilight-ify the crap outta it by adding big messy hair and overly-pasty, emotionless,  helpless young women.

And finally: Leave Buffy where it ended… at the edge of the Hellmouth.

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Where is the discussion around the environment and sustainability?

The Globe and Mail is challenging Canadians to start some critical dialogue, in the hopes that these discussions will provide a better sense of how to define ourselves as a nation. Here is a blurb from John Stackhouse, the Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail:

About Canada: Our Time To Lead

On Oct. 1, The Globe and Mail revealed a new look. This change coincides with the launch of a discussion that begins in our pages, but ultimately lives beyond them.

We hope, and intend, for this discussion to strike at the heart of how Canadians define ourselves, and our nation. It is meant to go beyond words. We hope it will become a turning point.

We need to re-examine Canadian institutions, and conceits, that we hold dear. Instead of locking ourselves in celebrations of the past, we want to explore our future — and all we can do to make it brilliant.

But what really can eight discussions over two months achieve? We hope they ignite a million great Canadian debates, at breakfast tables and board tables.

Start with The Globe and Mail. From there, it’s up to you.

Canada, it’s our time to lead.

Specifically, The Globe and Mail selected 8 topics for discussion that they feel are of prime importance to Canadians. These topics include: Multiculturalism, Women in Power, Failing Boys, Military, Work-Life, Health Care, Internet, and Food.

What I Like About This:

  1. Sparking debate and discussion – For the people who actually do read The Globe and Mail, I feel that these are topics that will spark a lot of discussion among Canadians. The 8 topics have many sub-issues that are important to critically analyse: ‘are we medicating a disorder, or treating boyhood as a disease?’ (the medication of children for ADHD); integrating multiculturalism into practice; whether to send Canadian military troops to the Congo; the effects of work stress on our lives, and consequently on the health care system; and the safety and traceability of our food.

What I Don’t Like About This:

  1. Ignores other important issues – One thing that really irked me about this is the assumption that the only concern addressing Canadian women, is that there are still relatively few female CEO’s. The Women in Power section begins with a piece entitled “Why the Executive Suite is the Final Frontier for Women”. Really? So women have equal rights and equal access to services and resources across Canada to men, EXCEPT in the business world? This section should have addressed the myriad of concerns that Canadian women face: poverty, access to health services, sexual violence, childcare, young girls and body image…
  2. Ask Canadians – Get out on the streets and ask Canadians what’s up! Granted, there will be many people who do not know about all the issues, so maybe hold free public speaks where people can become informed of the issues. Go to schools and present these issues to youths, and explain how they can get involved.
  3. Put it into action – Nowhere does it state that The Globe and Mail will be transforming these ever-so-important discussions into action. Why not write a policy paper and address these concerns to the Canadian government? If these issues are so important, why not do more about them than simply writing articles?

Do any of these issues stand out for you? Applause? Criticism?

What issue do you believe that Canadians need to discuss?

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Unfortunately I was not able to attend this class (November 9th). I am not sure what policy presentations happened in the class, so I will focus this journal entry on another topic. In Working With Women Surviving Sexual Violence I, we watched a film that looked at the war in Bosnia (1992 – 1995), focussing specifically on the issue of using rape as a weapon of war.

rape as a weapon of war

When people talk about war, they invoke images of men, of guns and explosives, or tanks and armour, and of following a military combat code of honour. And why not? It is portrayed in all the Hollywood war movies. Opposing forces cease fire to allow for a moment of silence over the dead, or to celebrate a holiday, or carry back to base a fallen soldier. What we don’t talk about are the many other people who are affected by war: the women who are sexually assaulted and raped as tactics of war.

A few facts (taken from Rape: Weapon of War):

“In the resolution, passed 19 June, the Security Council noted that ‘women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group’.”

“In Liberia, which is slowly recovering after a 13-year civil war, a government survey in 10 counties in 2005-2006 showed that 92 per cent of the 1,600 women interviewed had experienced sexual violence, including rape.”

So why is rape used as a weapon of war? Because of the power inherent in the act. Rape is a weapon that carries the power to dehumanize, destroy, humiliate and punish. Women who are raped may experience psychological and physical harm/trauma, torture and dehumanization (among other things). The men who are made to watch as their kins-women are raped, experience punishment, a sense of failure, trauma, and a loss of power. So for groups at war with one another, the tactic of raping women in front of men, serves to destroy the community: the raped women may be ostracized and abandoned for the humiliation they have brought upon their family/community and there is a strong sense of shame and dehumanization within the community, which serves to weaken the community.

Rape is also used as a means of forced pregnancy. In some instances, rape may be used as a means to blur ethnic boundaries, or to engage in ethnic cleansing. It is clear in this case that patriarchy and racism are intersecting in a way that places women in an extremely traumatic and difficult situation. In the film, there was a young woman who was raped by a soldier and became pregnant with his child. This woman’s mother told filmmakers that she was living with her daughter because of her fear that her daughter would kill the newborn out of hatred and fear.

Tomorrow I will be doing my policy presentation on reproductive justice. I will spend a few minutes talking about the issue of choice for women to make decisions about their bodies. In Canada, we have seen how only certain women have been, and still are, afforded certain rights over their reproductive bodies. Canada, like many countries, has a history of denying rights and services to women from marginalized groups, even to the point of coerced sterilizations in an attempt to cleanse the Canadian population (First Nations women). The links between rape as a weapon of war and the lack of choice for women to make decisions about their bodies, their reproductive health, and their sexuality, are clear: we see the intersecting of sexism, racism and classism working to deny women choices, thus denying them power.

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The policy presentations continue! This week I heard my peers discuss sexsomnia, family mediation, and battered women’s syndrome. For this post I am going to focus on battered women’s syndrome.

I understand battered women’s syndrome, or BWS, as a condition that it is most commonly used as a defense for women, but which describes any person who enters a psychological state of mind which is characterized by depression and an inability to take any sort of independent action in order to escape from an abusive situation. Individuals are driven to this condition typically due to constant and severe intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, mental, economic, and spiritual abuse are all possible types of violence the individual could be experiencing).

As for the term ‘battered women’s syndrome’, I find myself wanting to use other terminology to describe the condition. Some people understand BWS as a subgroup of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I find myself drawn towards this terminology more than BWS, because I feel that BWS carries certain connotations with it: firstly it implies this condition only happens to women; secondly I feel that it carries a history of pathologization and medicalization of women for ‘womanly (read: crazy) conditions’; and finally the term ‘battered’, and more broadly the crime of ‘battery’, implies physical harm, when in fact a large part of BWS does not involve the physical, but is emotional, verbal, mental, spiritual, etc…

Last semester, in Working With Abused Women I, we looked at BWS and intimate partner violence. We looked at a question: If a woman kills her abusive partner, what type of sentence is she likely to receive compared to a man who commits femicide (woman-killing)? Tell us why you think this is so. I thought I might revisit my answer to this question, and add a few comments, some of which are more relevant to counselling

When looking at intimate partner violence and how it is handled by the legal system, there is a distinction in the way the law works for men and for women. Sheehy states that “in spite of our many legal advances, violence against women has not subsided in Canada because women’s vulnerability to male violence and our ability to harness law are inextricably linked to women’s social, economic, and political position in Canada, in relation to those who hold power” (473). Right off the bat we see that women’s and men’s access to legal rights are differentiated by our position in society (which can be further implicated by issues of race, class, citizenship status, ability…). We also need to seriously consider the historical context of the ways in which the judicial system has dictated women’s lives. The law was not created by women, for women, or in the interests of women, and in fact it was created without even considering women as persons. Specificially in Canada, we must acknowledge a history of colonization that led to the invisible and forced sterilization of Aboriginal women, whereby the Canadian government stood by and watched it happen.

When a woman kills her abusive partner, we find that women typically have two options: 1) state that she is suffering from Battered Women’s Syndrome, or 2) utilize the self-defense plea. From our course readings we learned that by using the Battered Women’s Syndrome, the woman has to prove she was “psychologically vulnerable”, and if she uses the self-defense plea, she has to have proof that she feared for her life, and tried other options to leave the abuser before she killed him. Why is this the case that women have to ‘pick their battles’ in explaining why they killed their intimate partners?

Trying to think about how I would provide support and counsel to a woman who is being charged with the murder of her male partner is a tough scenario. I am no lawyer, and could not counsel the woman in terms of what her plea should be, so I suppose my approach would be to provide psycho-educational support. First, I would check-in to see where the woman is at: is she is crisis mode? Does she have a support network? Does she feel counselling would benefit her in this situation? I would then provide her with a lot of validation and support. I would discuss the multiple ways that women cope with intimate partner violence, and that sometimes it seems the only way out is in fact to murder ones’ partner. I might provide the woman some history into the experiences of women who have gone through the court process with the BWS plea so that the woman has some idea of what to expect in her trial (should this be the plea she chooses to use).

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its coming!

Check out the trailer. And then buy your advance tickets to the midnight show.
I already did.


Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good! Just a fantastic movie. Excellent translation from book to movie, incorporating just the right amount of information. The ending was a little abrupt but I liked that they chose to end this film with Dobby’s death, and leading into Voldemort finding the wand from the Deathly Hallows. And yes, I was in tears when Dobby was dying in Harry’s arms. And yes, I will be devasted in the next film — you know what I am talking about. It’s going to be a sob-fest.

PS – If you plan on hitting up the midnight show for the last intallment, I’d suggest arriving at 7 or 8pm. We arrived at 9pm for this flick, and barely got seats in the good section of the theatre (you know how the front section sucks… well we were real close to having to sit there). And come on guys, this is THE LAST HP MOVIE! Bring snacks, playing cards, and HP trivia to keep you busy. You are gonna want a good seat for this epic film.

PPS – Please check out this video if you haven’t already seen it.

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The first of the policy presentations was today, and the topic was on the Special Food Allowance policy. My peers did an excellent job presenting the information using a feminist analysis of poverty as the framework for the policy. They brought up a number of points to think about: 1) that something as seemingly simple as nutrition is actually a class issue that needs to be addressed; 2) we can look at malnourishment as a type of violence; 3) the feminization of poverty is a big issue for feminists and for workers in the VAW field.

A definition of the feminization of poverty:

“The term “feminization of poverty,” coined in the 1970s by Diana Pearce, refers to the concentration of poverty among women, particularly female-headed households. However, the feminization of poverty, as a lived reality, represents something larger than simply a lack of income or a state of financial need for women. While the very definition of poverty implies the inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter, being poor also implies the absence of choice, the denial of opportunity, the inability to achieve life goals, and ultimately the loss of hope. Thus, the phenomenon of a feminized poverty extends beyond the economic domains of income and material needs to the core of individual and family life.” Source: YWCA Dallas, Megan Thibos, Danielle Lavin-Loucks, Marcus Martin, http://www.ywcadallas.org/documents/advocacy/FeminizationofPoverty.pdf.

This is a very thorough definition which very much goes beyond the basic understanding that women disproportionately live in poverty compared to men, to show that living in poverty, and being a woman, also adversely affects other areas of women’s lives (choice, rights, goals, security…). I was curious to inquire further into the causes of the feminization of poverty. According to Wikipedia, there are several contributing factors to the feminization of poverty:
a) the changing composition/structure of families, with many single-mother households
b) family organization (gender roles regulating the control over household resources)
c) inequality in access to public services (eg: health care)
d) labor market inequalities
e) constraints in public life (eg: discrimination in the judiciary system, in political sphere, etc).

These factors get further complicated for racialized and immigrant women who may be facing: racial discrimination and citizenship status issues (limited number of jobs that will employ non-citizens, and therefore these jobs tend to lack security, adequate pay, physical safety, and benefits).

Of course this is an issue for feminists and for counsellors in the VAW field. As a counsellor, working with a woman who is living with an abusive partner, I need to be aware of the fact that many women living in abusive situations can often have very little financial resources of their own. Abusive partners can oftentimes (though not in all cases) dominate their partners not only physically, but also financially (among many other ways). Even if a woman earns wages through a job of her own, her partner might demand she give up her earnings. Therefore, if my client chooses to leave the abusive situation, as a counsellor I need to be aware that she might be leaving with nothing, and I need to be prepared to have resources for her that will help her secure funds or a job, keeping in mind that the feminization of poverty greater restricts the ability for women to escape the state of poverty.

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