In the Toronto Standard, the five awesomest patios with the crappiest menus.
Somehow, whenever Irina was at a loss for words, she blurted her most private reflections because she couldn’t locate the public ones in time. Owing to this exasperating reflex, she was prone to share her inmost thoughts with total strangers, awkward misfits, and people she disliked.
– Lionel Shriver, “The Post-Birthday World”
(excellent read. Shriver is smart, unflinching, unashamed, witty, caustic and refreshingly grown-up. Thanks to Ruth Seeley for recommendation)
Recently, the ever-clever Lisan Jutras asked me how it feels to be brown in a Toronto yoga class. She gets 10 points for asking me this, ’cause no one ever has before.
I have my regular stretching haunts, but thanks to the Passport to Prana (which is a sweet little deal, by the way), I have also been class-hopping around the city. So yesterday I found myself in an excellent, fast-paced class. The theme was shoulder openers, which was very welcome. Hips are the trendy tight spot of late, but as someone who types to excess, my shoulders, arms and hands can always use some attention.
The class made me think of my convo with Lisan, because the (white) teacher was very, very, very into pronouncing the full, 18-syllable Sanskrit name of every pose, every time. And then at the end of the class, along with chanting “Om,” there was another long repetitive Sanskrit chant that most of the other students knew by heart. This being downtown Toronto, I think you already know that 90% of the students were white women.
And so the question is: how do I feel? The answer is: complicated. The ruminative women’s studies bovine inside my mind goes on a long journey through Marlene Nourbese-Philip’s “She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks,” thinking about the irony of a brown chick who’s never been to India being led in Sanskrit chants by the great-grand-offspring of someone whose relatives very possibly actively forced her own great-grand-relatives to lose their native languages. The relentless urban cynic wonders if any of the other students bother to look up what their chants mean, or why they’re so eager to sing-song “Shanti, Shanti” but probably won’t accompany their moms to church this Christmas (though they will open the presents).
But, like, yoga is about positivity and accepting the world as it is right now, instead of travelling through the space-time continuum to colonial India 300 years ago. So then I get to the part where I think about all of the ass-kicking, mind-blowing white yoga teachers who have helped me physically, mentally and yes, spiritually, get closer to the person I’d like to be.
I’m me, so a super-sappy, super-snappy, or relentlessly New Agey teacher will get on my nerves, for always (also: please do not mention vaginas in class. Especially if there are male students there). But if yoga is genuinely a person’s way of positively relating to the world, well hey, that’s me too, so I try to tamper down the judgment. “Shanti” means peace, didja know that?
Young South African runner Caster Semenya is being treated with revolting indecency. It was revolting for Australia’s Daily Telegraph to get excited about its “scoop” without thinking about the human being whose most private self is being paraded for public comment. It’s revolting that people seem to think that “hermaphrodites” (a term that should be erased, forever) purposely disguise themselves to take medals away from the “real women” that deserve them. Everyone who has neglected to consider the person at the heart of this story needs to feel ashamed of themselves and then read Jeffrey Eugenides’ brilliant Middlesex, immediately. The fictional tale of a young intersex person in late ’70s Detroit, it’s an epic family saga, a rollicking ride through a juicy bit of American history—and a touching personal story that illuminates the emotional wreckage of being “different” in such an intimate way.
Sport officials have known that there are more than two sexes since as far back as 1932, when Poland’s Stella Walsh won the Olympic gold in sprinting before being “revealed” as having both male and female sex characteristics. More recently, Indian runner Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her medal for “failing” her gender test after the 2006 Asian games—she’s come out in support of Semenya, saying that the humiliation she faced led to such severe depression that she attempted suicide. This isn’t a new situation, so I’m not sure why there aren’t rules about privacy and protocol, to stop young people’s hearts from being ripped out publicly, again and again.
I’m not a huge sports fan, but my youngest brother is, and he sent me a really smart email arguing against sex categories in sport. Here are some excerpts. Read and enjoy—and if anyone is aggregating pro-Semenya posts to encourage her in this very dark time: Caster, you were born to run. Do so with pride.
Guest post, by Mystery Brother
The whole point of sports (especially individual sports, and perhaps especially track and field) is to award people for having superior bodies. We all know that biology plays the largest role—comparing two athletes’ blood cell and fast-twitch muscle counts allows for a pretty accurate prediction of who’s going to win the race. For some reason, we celebrate their victories as if everyone was on an even playing field and there’s something special about their character that allowed them to win. We’re celebrating their superior bodies. but then we impose a random, arbitrary separation, where if your body is too good for the particular task you have to compete in a separate category.
The reason I think female only races/leagues, etc. make sense right now is because our socialization does not encourage girls’ participation in athletics to the extent that it encourages males. We’re not even rewarding the best bodies. Many people have noted that the female body is actually better suited for both long distance running, and kicking in football. Catharine Mackinnon has said she expects women to outrun men in marathons within a couple generations.
If we’re trying to reward the best bodies, the argument that “the average” man has more muscle than “the average” woman doesn’t make any sense—both men and women (and all people not so easily classified) are on a spectrum of athleticism, including things like testosterone levels, white/red blood cell counts, etc. It doesn’t make sense that men at the bottom of their bell curve are forced to compete against men at the top of the curve, but women at the top of their curve (who are superior to many men), can’t. (DB’s note: golfer Michelle Wie has chosen to play in men’s leagues—she hasn’t won yet, but she’s still trying) If we justify it based on differences in biology, we’re missing the point and ignoring the fact that sports are *trying* to reward superior biology.
There’s an amazing list of sports that used to be mixed sex (such as archery), until women began legitimately competing with men (and beating them, like Rusty Kanokogi, the Mother of Judo), at which point the sexes were separated. Often, the rules for the women league are altered ever so slightly, arguably just so comparisons couldn’t easily be made (think: WNBA playing with a different ball and shorter quarters; marathons being different lengths for men and women, etc.)
In a world with no sex classifications in sports, women will be properly recognized and rewarded for their achievements. More importantly, no one would be put throught the shit Caster Semenya is going through, ever again.
FYI, cyclists: a friend of a friend was biking his usual route yesterday morning, west along Danforth towards the core. He was stopped by a bunch of bike cops at Broadview and Danforth and given a handout about the cycling rules of the road. The police officer who handed it to him said “next week, it’s zero tolerance.”
I’ve commuted by bicycle for nine years now, and as anyone who’s ridden with me or read this blog knows, I’m very safety conscious and I think cyclists could tighten up their act. Put a helmet on, and get those damn headphones out of your ears. That said, I’m really disappointed and angry that in the aftermath of the tragic Darcy Sheppard/Michael Bryant incident, the official response is apparently to pin the blame for bike-car incidents on cyclists. Any traffic crackdown on cyclists that isn’t matched by similar “educational” efforts towards drivers is only going to escalate the situation between cars and bikes in Toronto. Has anyone ever heard of a motorist getting a ticket for cutting off a bike? Or for dooring someone, a deadly, daily threat? Cycling aside, if the police have the time and resources to crack down on hitherto ignored traffic violations, what I’d like to see are tickets slapped onto idling cars. It’s wasteful and gross, and it’s my air they’re polluting.
A person lost his life in a horrifying, unnecessary way this week. The lesson we should all be learning is that travelling in a busy city, whether by car, bike, foot or transit, is serious business. I was reading about Critical Manners today (thanks @helenspitzer), a ride that’s happened in San Francisco and Vancouver, whereby cyclists take to the street en masse – and follow the rules of the road. The comments were pretty interesting – a lot of people think that Critical Mass riders are road hogs that do the cycling advocacy movement no good. I was struck by one pro-Mass comment though: that part of the point is to imagine a world without car supremacy. I haven’t ridden in Critical Mass for years – it was fun and totally thrilling to own the streets, but I didn’t like taunting police horses. At heart, I’m a Critical Manners kind of girl. I really hope that police resources in my city aren’t being used to reinforce that cars – despite the pollution factor, the peak oil factor, the accidents causing death factor – are “real” vehicles, and bicycles merely interlopers. I might just have to ride around wearing a shiny wig, honking a big horn, reminding Toronto that streets are for people.
Anti-sexist and anti-racist human rights movements have regularly been pitted against each other—even in early 20th century America, suffragettes and black men were convinced that only one of them could get the vote. Both groups chose to make a case for why the other faction was less entitled, rather than calling out this divide-and-conquer tactic for what it was.
This train of thought obviously came to a head during the last U.S. election, when everyone and their mom had an opinion on whether America was more “ready” for a black male or white female president, and which was worse, racism or sexism. Since I’ve been lucky enough to experience both, I’m here to set clear up the confusion. The answer is, it depends.
For example, identity-based cuss words. My opinion: women lose. Casual use of misogynist language is far more acceptable than everyday racist slang. There’s one particular person on my Twitter feed that says “bitch” almost every single day, getting his knickers in a knot about free speech and oversensitivity whenever he’s called on it. But when his followers complained about his recent use of “Paki,” within minutes he retracted the term. I’m glad that Asian American protestors were successful in their protest of racist language in a recent movie trailer, but meanwhile, you’re allowed to say “bitch” on MuchMusic.
Excuse my language, but let’s get into it: almost every single guy I know uses the word “bitch” and probably uses the word “pussy.” Just about no one I know would ever insult someone with the words “chink,” or “Paki,” or God forbid, “nigger.” In fact, I would like to extend an honest congratulations to black people for having “nigger” largely eliminated as a casual term for non-blacks—it seems all that hip hop reclaiming worked (although, of course, some would like to see the word abandoned by blacks themselves, as well).
Challenge a man (or a woman, actually) on using the term “bitch,” and the response will be that you’re overreacting, and that the term isn’t “meant” to be sexist. But if sparkly unicorns have magically separated “bitch” from a connection to women, why are “chink” and “nigger” still associated with their identities of origin?
I’m not against swearing. I fucking love swearing. If a person is a jerk and you want to call them a jerk but with authority, go ahead and call them an asshole. But to insult them with an identity-based term is to specifically say, “you are an asshole because you have this identity.” For some reason, it’s wrong to say “chink,” i.e. “you suck because you’re east Asian” but permissible to say “bitch”, i.e. “you suck because you are a woman.” Or “pussy,”—“you’re a coward, so you’re not a man, you’re a woman.” I haven’t thought enough about where homophobic slang fits into the Hierarchy of Hate Terminology. I’d say “fag” is related to “pussy” (demeaning straight men based on gender) and I never hear “dyke,” really—comments welcome, I’m all ears here.
It’s really fucking irritating when men of colour exercise male privilege by throwing around the words “bitch” and “pussy,” yet expect me to sympathize and get all mad about their racist experiences. I’m fed up with seeing women of colour labelled as “traitors” for calling men of colour on their sexism. You gotta give respect to get respect, bro.
But, like I said, in the racism vs. sexism game, it all depends. You know where it’s easier to be a white woman than a person of colour? Publishing. Oh, snap.
I’m researching Oprah for a short bit I’m writing for Report on Business, which is quite an experience. I mean, Oprah: the most successful black woman in the world, a political powerhorse and a really annoying advocate of Hallmark-y affirmations. It’s both thought-provoking and unbearably saccharine to immerse myself in her world.
So I read last May’s interview with Elizabeth Edwards, and it’s been lodged in my craw every since. The setup is that Oprah visits the Edwards and their children in their home, to get the real story on how Mrs. Edwards is coping with terminal cancer and the news of her husband’s infidelity. Now, I thought it was pretty tacky of John Edwards to run for president while his wife was dying, and when news of the affair broke, I really felt awful for her.
But now, I’m thinking she’s complicit in this whole slimy mess. Because there were a few things that Mrs. Edwards said that just made me want to puke. She refers to her husband’s possible illegitimate child as “it,” and says that even if the DNA test is positive, her family won’t change. (I assume this means that John isn’t allowed to interact with his illegitimate offspring—the baby deserves a fatherless life for being a bastard in the first place.) She makes a few disparaging comments about John, but really focuses the blame on the Other Woman. She coyly refuses to say Rielle Hunter’s name, stating that Hunter’s motivation was always public attention. The bit that bothered me the most was this: Liz recounting the phrase with which Hunter reeled in her poor husband. “She was standing in front of the hotel and said ‘you are so hot’—I can’t deliver it, I don’t know how to deliver a line such as that,” she says to the Mighty Opes.
“I don’t know how to deliver a line such as that”—this bloody phrase has been stuck in my head for almost a week. First of all, spare me the virgin/whore dichotomy. Second of all, and this is so obvious I don’t even want to say it, but maybe if you told your man he was hot once in a while…well, you know. But more than that, quit it with the lies. You lied to the public by pretending to be happy candidate’s wife when you knew about the affair, and you lied to yourself by pretending to believe it was a one night stand. Now it’s time to stop telling yourself that the affair was all about sex, and that Rielle Hunter was a starfucking skank that tripped up your innocent spouse. This level of denial is shocking: Elizabeth Edwards would rather erase her own sexuality than accept that her husband had a long-term relationship with someone else. She can’t bear to speak Rielle Hunter’s name, but she sure can spin a fairytale about her nymphomania.
I’m sorry for your troubles, Elizabeth, but I can’t stand a woman who vilifies other women and lets men off the hook. And a woman who invites TV cameras into her home when her school-aged children are dealing with both their mother’s illness and their parents’ public marital troubles? Golly, I might call her a famewhore, even if she can’t tell her man that he’s hot.
Today I ran across some videos by Teen Voices, a print and online mag by high school girls from Boston. Their latest project is reworking popular rap songs, replacing violent and sexist lyrics with a little female positivity. Watching these vids was bittersweet. It’s awesome: these girls are having so much fun. It’s nostalgic: back in the day, my girls and I did much the same thing. But therein lies the rub: the more things change, the more they just don’t.
Picture this, Ottawa, 1996. I lived in the world’s most female-positive, assumption-challenging household. Let’s call the decor 1990s Shabby Feminist Chic. The couch had springs sticking out the back, every dish was always dirty and every wall was plastered with images of strong women (aside from a prominently displayed world map, which was upside-down. By the end of the year, new visitors who queried the map’s positioning were met with a weary “It’s less eurocentric,” by regulars to our house.) Reclaiming sexist words, images and scenes was our definition of fun. After the revolting sex-for-points Spur Posse made headlines, we dubbed ourselves the Spur Pussy and…none of your business. We spent our days talking politics (and periods) while digging up tunes by chicks that kicked ass (like Kathleen Hanna, above, who I miss very much).
Now the 90s, of course, was when hip hop fell over the cutting edge into the mainstream. Everyone, including me and my girlfriends, wanted to be down. As feminists, we also wanted to be on the up and up. We fought back against insulting lyrics by purchasing every female rap CD there was to own and spent a lot of time yelling ladies’ lyrics over misogynist spewing. One favourite comeback was the very classy Lil Kim line, “I don’t want dick tonight! Eat my pussy right!” Believe me, we were very loud.
It’s 2009, and what’s changed? Female MCs are still heartbreakingly scarce, and for every Kid Sister, there are 2,000 nameless, half-naked young women accessorizing music videos, participating in their own objectification, then being derided as the “same ho.” There’s so much to unpack here, all the heartbreak of women/queers/people of colour who love art that hates us (rap is in no way the only offender—how messed is my affection for the very racist children’s novel The Secret Garden?). On a bad day, it’s enough to make a music-loving woman go instrumental, forever.
On a good day, I’m thrilled there are girls who are still keeping on. Much respect to the young ladies of Teen Voices for joyfully asserting their self-esteem. And boys, no matter what your age is, think before you speak. Because we will remember your words and actions, for always.
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece about the Bike Snob, who has gained notoriety and made celebrity friends thanks to his funny rants about NYC cyclists. I thought I’d take this opportunity to first link you to his very clever blog, and then tell you my own personal pet peeves about the Toronto cyclists that I curse every day.
1. People that are too cool to stop at stop lights but too lame to go fast. These losers pass me at every red, but ride soooo sloooowly I’m forced to constantly jump the streetcar tracks (which I hate) to pass them. Cue new red light. Repeat. Grrr.
2. People that listen to music while riding. Um hi, you need your inner ear for balance. You need your whole ear to hear whether one of the four million other people that live in this city are going to get in your way. Riding with headphones is dumb and seeing your brains on the pavement would really kill my buzz, so quit it.
3. People that ride really fast on the sidewalk. I’ll admit it, I shortcut over the sidewalk at times too. It’s wrong. But it’s more wrong to do it really fast, endangering children, old people, and all the pedestrians who have the right to assume that they won’t be plowed down when they’re on the sidewalk. Related: cyclists that don’t even pretend to stop for streetcar passengers.
4. Low riders. I just think they look dumb, and bad for your hips. The exception to this rule is the tall black hairstylist from Coupe Bizzarre with the crazy outfits and crazy gold low rider. She makes the city cooler and can do whatever she wants.
5. People that ride next to each other and chitchat on busy streets. Riding with friends is fun. Blocking the lane to attempt a meaningful conversation during rush hour is wrong.
Dear graphic designers of the world,
Now that kittens, monkeys, old-timey dudes, monsters and even women can be DJs, let’s all agree that turntable images are tired. As are boomboxes/ghetto blasters, headphones, microphones and equalizers. It’s time to find some new signifiers for “authentic,” “urban,” “music aficionado” and “party.”