Archive for the ‘its a feminist issue’ Category

I attended a conference the other day: “Widening the Lens: Combining Science and Compassion in Treating Addiction and Mental Illness” presented by Gabor Mate, sponsored by William Osler Health Centre.

In order to understand an illness, we must understand the whole person. This theme was central to Gabor’s presentation, known as the biopsychosocial perspective, which acknowledges and explores the connections between the mind, body and environment in influencing and affecting an individual. (Although I completely agree with this idea, there is a lot of merit for the short-term approach of providing immediate assistance and support to clients who are not in the right space to delve into trauma counselling. For some clients, all they need are practical tips and suggestions for how to get more sleep, how to stop sleep walking, etc., which does not require counsellors to obtain a full understanding of the person to provide compassionate support). Without compassion in counselling and medical treatment, we are not considering the individual as existing outside of their symptoms/illness.

Addiction is the continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it, where pleasure or enjoyment are also gained. We view addiction in 2 ways: as a choice, and as a disease. Regardless of whether addiction is the result of choice or disease, we have a tendency to focus on what the addiction is doing TO the person, and not FOR the person. Oftentimes people develop addictive habits out of necessity, as a coping mechanism when stress levels are high or where trauma has occurred. We expect people to stop their negative addictive behaviours, but what are we really asking of them? We’re asking them to stop something that makes them feel good, loved and connected (if only momentarily). Who would want to give up feeling this way?

An example: During the Vietnam war, 1 in 5 American soldiers were using regularly using (or were addicted to) heroin. When the war was over, 1 in 20 remained addicted. What does this mean? It means that the drug itself is not independently addictive, but that soldiers were temporarily susceptible to drugs because of the situation of war. Gabor argued then, that the soldiers who remained addicted to heroin had childhood issues of trauma.

Gabor did not deny that genes set the potential for addiction to develop, but insisted that our genetic makeup does not define us, but that if addiction develops, it is in conjunction with social and environmental factors.

Another example: Gabor was born in Hungary during the outbreak of World War II to Jewish parents. As an infant, Gabor was very upset and was crying all the time. When his mother called a doctor to inquire the causes, the doctor replied that all the Jewish babies were crying. Gabor concluded this was a result of the stress of his parents were feeling from the fear and threat of death and war. Children are attached and attune to their parents’ emotions and state of being much more than we might know.

At this point Gabor paused for a music break, playing the songs ‘Mother’ and ‘I Call Your Name’, both written by John Lennon, which portrayed John’s struggle with addiction and the rejection he faced in childhood.

However, in recent years, we have seen a shift of the attachment of children and youth from their parents to their peers. Peer-attachment is much more common today, and is facilitated by the developments in technology, where youth can communicate and bond with one another through text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. Peer-attachment is also more prevalent due to the hectic lives and stresses of parents, who do not see their children all day, and then at night are irritated or working second jobs. It is no wonder then, that children and youth seek attachments to their peers when they cannot get what they need from their parents. Gabor warns however, that so-called ‘normal’ development requires a hierarchy of attachment, where children attach to and learn from adults, and that peer-to-peer attachment will result in greater risk of youth for addiction. Looking at the situation of First Nations peoples in Canada, where addiction is highly prevalent, we have to go only as far as the violently imposed residential school system to see Gabor’s point.

The approach Gabor takes, centers on harm reduction and practices that bridge the mind-body-community gaps, such as spirituality, yoga, meditation, and non-Westernized practices, particularly those practiced by First Nations cultures, such as sweat-lodges and consciousness-raising experiences.

While I think the arguments presented here by Gabor Mate raised some very important concerns and issues, it needs further exploration. Also, the practicality of how to work with individuals in a way that addresses the biopsychosocial model is something I would question.

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This past week, Bitch Magazine, in conjunction with Feminist Coming Out Day, led a campaign known as the “click moment” — or when you first realized you were a feminist. It allowed self-identified feminists to showcase their faces/voices/words/thoughts on the internets, and to tell their “coming out” stories. The faces and voices of feminism, I just love it!

So what was my “click moment”?

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about when the click happened, and I couldn’t really pin it down. It’s like trying to figure out when you really bonded with your best friend, or when you started liking chocolate (duh, since always!). I do know that I was actually a little hesitant to define myself as a feminist, even though it was clear that I was. During my formative years my favourite television shows were BUFFY and XENA. In Grade 12, we had to do a book report assignment for English class with Mr Beckett, and I chose Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte…

“It is a novel often considered ahead of its time due to its portrayal of the development of a thinking and passionate young woman who is both individualistic, desiring for a full life, while also highly moral. Jane evolves from her beginnings as a poor and plain woman without captivating charm to her mature stage as a compassionate and confident whole woman. As she matures, she comments much on the complexities of the human condition. Jane also has a deeply pious personal trust in God, but is also highly self-reliant. Although Jane suffers much, she is never portrayed as a damsel in distress who needs rescuing. For this reason, it is sometimes regarded as an important early feminist (or proto-feminist) novel.”

Ummm, closeted-feminist much?

Going into my 2nd year at UTM, my mum convinced me to take Intro to Women and Gender Studies, despite my hesitation and uncertainty, and wouldn’t ya know it, I kinda fell in love. There wasn’t a moment when I said “Well damn, this is for me” — but I guess it was just falling into the community, reading the texts, listening to my profs, and chatting with classmates.

So thank you, feminism, for introducing me to a community of lovely people and activists, teaching me, and providing me the tools and the language that I had unknowingly been searching for.

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The University of Toronto Students’ Union is hosting their 2011 eXpression Against Oppression (XAO) week, and last night they featured keynote presentations from writer and activist Ward Churchill, and Professor Angela Davis. The topic focussed on academic freedom, public education, and student autonomy.

The night began with Professor Roland Sintos Coloma (OISE/UT) who gave a short lecture on the politics of apologies. “What does it mean to say ‘I’m sorry’?” Apologies are both necessary and dangerous. Professor Coloma listed three of the most notable public apologies in Canadian history: 1) 1988, Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to Japanese Canadians for the internment during WWII, 2) 2006, Prime Minister Harper apologized to Chinese Canadians for the head tax laws, and finally 3) 2008, again PM Harper apologized to Canadian Aboriginal peoples for the residential school system. Professor Coloma co-wrote an open letter to Maclean’s magazine, calling for the elimination of anti-Asian racism.

Next up, was Ward Churchill, American scholar, author and political activist. Churchill’s lecture was absolutely enthralling (albeit a little over my head at times!). He spoke about the obligation we as social advocates feel for speaking truth, but the problem lies in the fact that POWER does not listen to TRUTH. “You don’t speak truth to power, you speak truth to people”. And it is the power of speech, of communication, and of galvanization that makes individuals a threat to the systems of oppression, that makes individuals targets. Churchill went on to look at specific examples of individuals who became such targets: Fred Hampton, John Trudell, Kate Richards O’Hare, and Norman Finkelstein. Linking these cases to the idea that university students are removed from their communities, planted into universities, and begin working within and for the institution. Students are there to serve the goals of the university. And when they resist, they are expunged from the institution.

Lastly we arrive at Angela Davis, political activist, scholar, author and feminist. And Oh the topics she touched on! Davis talked about the need for a collective quest for social justice. A collective that will spread globally: a need to produce global solidarities that can challenge imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and ALL the other ‘isms’ and oppressions out there. Davis also referred to the prison-industrial complex, and insisted that “we can never say we’ve made significant progress as long as we have this prison-industrial complex in place, as long as the numbers of people incarcerated continue to rise, as long as the number of women, of Aboriginal women, incarcerated continues to rise”. And in what direction is Canada heading? Following in the footsteps of the US of course, and investing over $2 billion dollars to expand prisons. Why is it that the imprisonment of human beings has become so profitable? Why would we be heading this way, when studies have shown that increases in prison complexes leads to the decline of public education, the decline of addressing health care needs, and in fact increases racial disparities within those prisons. And the racial disparities are huge: Aboriginal women make up less than 2% of Canada’s population, yet they account for approximately 27% of the women in penitentiaries. Davis says that we have learned a few things about racism: We are able to recognize and reprimand someone who uses racist language. We are able to reprimand someone who egnages in racist activities. But what remains invisible is recognizing the structural consequences of racism. February, is Black History Month, and in closing Davis reminded us of what Martin Luther King Jr said in one of his speeches: “Justice is indivisible”. Justice links us across the globe, and it will not come for one struggle until it comes for all.

What a night with the academic activists!

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The Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton launched a new campaign in November 2010. Me, being crazy-busy with school and placement and life, kept forgetting to spread the word on its brilliance. So here it is…

The typical sexual assault awareness campaigns we see specifically target potential victims: women. These campaigns focus on preventative measures women should use for their own safety. Women are told to restrict and modify their behaviour: always stay with a friend, never put your drink down, stay in safe spaces, etc. But what message is still being implied in these campaigns? The message is: “If you neglect one of these ‘rules’, and happen to be sexually assaulted or raped, of course it is not your fault, BUT . . . Maybe if you had just stayed with your friend, this wouldn’t have happened”. And there it is. BLAME. Victim-blaming and shaming.

So why do I love this new campaign so much? It shifts responsibility onto potential offenders. Because, aren’t the offenders the ones who make the choice to violate someone? The length of a woman’s skirt, in fact, has no actual effect on the decision of a man to rape a woman.

I therefore tip my hat to you Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton!

Check out their posters:

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December 6, 1989. It has been 21 years since the Montreal Massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. I was four years old when Marc Lepine shot and killed 14 women, injuring another 10 women and 4 men.

remember me, december 6 2010

We remember those soldiers who fought for our safety and freedom every November 11th. And they deserve to be remembered, I am not taking anything away from that. But we also need to remember the women who lost their lives due to violence. Furthermore, we must recognize that this act of violence was targeted specifically at women, and was one incident of a wider societal problem of systemic violence designed to oppress women.

The Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Centre of Peel held a fundraising gala on December 5, 2010, to raise awareness of the issue of sexual violence against women. “And Still We Rise” was the theme of the gala, focussing on three words: “Revive! Resist! Rebel!” The gala was dedicated in honour to the 14 women killed on December 6, as well as the 582 First Nations sisters who have been disappeared (murdered/missing) throughout Canada.

Today I choose to remember these women:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student

Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student

Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student

Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department

Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student

Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student

Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student

Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student


Canada’s Stolen Sisters

Take a moment today to remember these women. Say their names out loud. Say the names of the women in your life who have experienced violence. Say your own name.

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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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1. Someone’s blog entry today read:
“It’s GREAT to be alive!” When is the last time you woke up in the morning and felt like saying that expression? When is it that you woke up with a smile on your face? What would it take for that to happen to you again? Do it!
What I love about this is how simple and instructional it is. Think hard. When were you last real happy? Like REAL happy! Not just pleased, or content. When did you last smile without realizing you were smiling? When did you last laugh so hard your stomach hurt? Who do you feel most happy around? Why were you so happy? What will it take to feel like that again? Got it? Now go do it.

2. In response to the multiple youth suicides over the last month and a half, I came across this article which looks at the tolerance of hate in Western (specifically American) culture.

3. This pizza looks absolutely mouth-watering!

4. On Thanksgiving Monday I went to visit my grandpa, who I had not seen since the end of May. My grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, and this past June he moved out of the home he shared with my grandma and into a government-run facility for long-term care of seniors. The facility is called LeisureWorld. Sure, this name is suitable for the half of the facility which houses seniors who are still mobile, still active and essentially still ‘with it’. But for the other half of the facility, it really doesn’t work.

To be honest, I had not gone to visit my grandpa because I was scared. When my mum had moved her dad into the facility, I remember the look on her face when she was describing the facility, his room, his surroundings, the other people there. It freaked me out. And the thought of going there to see my grandpa in a place where he didn’t really belong, where he was separated from his loved ones, where he would eventually die, was effing scary. So yeah, I put off going to see him, I made plans and excuses and didn’t find the courage to go until this weekend. Thanksgiving dinner just wasn’t the same without him there — we didn’t hear the usual “as long as it’s free” jokes, or hear his booming laugh, or feel our hearts give a little sigh when he would call Grammy “little girl” after so many years together. So I felt it was time to go.

You know what? It was just as scary as I thought it would be. It was extremely intimidating walking into the facility, where hallways are clogged with seniors in wheelchairs, most of them staring blankly, some asking you to help them, others asking you to take them with you, and still others just happy to see people. As we entered my grandpa’s room, we found him asleep on the bed, and I immediately noticed how skinny he was. He hasn’t been eating much over the last few months. My grandma gently woke him, and we all hugged and kissed him our hello’s, to which I got a smile, and silently hoped real hard that he remembered me as we embraced.

Anyway, overall the visit went well. My grandpa made very little eye contact, and most of what is said to him does not always register. He’s trying though, I can tell. My mum and grandma decorated his room with pictures of his family, of his life as a pilot, of his favourite dog, and other pictures. I snapped a few quick shots of these. I’m in the process of a poem, but it’s not ready yet.

5. I’ve fallen behind on posting about my yoga challenge. I’ll get back on that soon.

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