Fallen Angels

Standard

New revelations have proven what many of us had already concluded: that Bill Cosby is a serial sexual abuser. The revelations do not come from more victims coming forward but from Cosby himself – contained within a sworn deposition from a civil suit settled nearly a decade ago. In it Cosby admits to obtaining Quaaludes – a potent tranquilizer – in order to drug young women and have sex with them. Many people are calling for criminal prosecutions and jail time – though that seems unlikely. Most of the cases are too old – past the statute of limitations – to be prosecuted. And for a criminal charge to stick, a general statement has to be shown to be a specific act, that is, in this particular case, it has to be proven that he used drugs to overcome a specific woman and have non-consensual sex. Not impossible but not certain either.

Certainly, there will be consequences for Mr. Cosby. His income will drop as people stop going to his shows or as promoters stop booking him. He may also wind up in more civil suits that will eat into his considerable fortune. Certainly his position as a moral leader in America will be radically reduced or eliminated.

That elevated position was the reason the judge unlocked the sealed files in this case. You can’t go around preaching to others how to live their lives – especially when it comes to sexual or family morality – and expect your own indiscretions to remain private. Think of the cases of Jim Bakker and other failed evangelicals or of homophobic politicians caught picking up men in bathrooms. They were outed and many of us took delight in their downfall. Everyone likes a fallen angel.

However painful the revelations are for Cosby’s family and his many fans, there may be some positive outcomes for society if not for his individual victims. Perhaps the next time a celebrity or the guy down the block is accused of sexual crimes, the public and the media will be less likely to shame the victim and more likely to look closely at the behavior of the accused.

Not every accusation is true but no crime is treated as ‘untrue’ as often as that of rape or sexual assault. People accused of break and enter are seriously investigated – no one suggests the homeowner deserved what happened or encouraged it. There is no guarantee that things will improve – similar high profile incidents haven’t destroyed rape culture and I expect we will continue to hear stories of men in positions of authority using their power to abuse women (or men) they come in contact with and control.

And that is what it is in so many cases: the desire to control. After all, a man with Cosby’s wealth, profile and sense of humour probably could have found many willing partners. Yet, it seems, he preferred his women unconscious and unable to express any part of their own personality. If that’s not a symptom of something darker I can’t think what is.

And that’s ten minutes.

Gender Parity

Standard

The quest for gender parity – in government, business and the arts – has long been a goal of the feminist movement. With 50% of the population, why shouldn’t women have 50% of the leadership positions in society? Why indeed? It seems like an obvious goal for those who are interested in a just and equal society but, as we know, there are a fair number of people who don’t believe in either justice or equality – though they often go to great lengths to couch their agenda in less ugly terms.

Gender parity also addresses another big social justice issue – income inequality. If women have more and better jobs, their incomes that generally trail those of men will improve leading to less inequality especially for single-parent families which are mostly women-headed. And less inequality is not only good for individuals it is good for society.

But the goal of 50/50 whether in 2020 or sooner (better than later) is not simply a matter of social justice, it makes perfect sense from a whole lot of perspectives. Numerous studies have shown that organizations that have achieved gender parity in leadership roles not only make different decisions but better ones. And they make them with less conflict and fewer ‘status’ wars. Corporations that increase the number of women in the board room have statistically significant better profit margins. That’s why some governments – with an eye on national GDPs – have mandated increases to women in the boardroom.

Quite apart from the internal values of increased opportunities for women in the corporate world, it is clear that leadership in government is also changing the focus of numerous policies. It is not that  ‘women’s’ issues have come to the forefront but there has been a realization that every activity of government – from supporting business to the military to health care – impacts and involves women.

There is still a long way to go. While the federal bureaucracy has largely achieved gender parity in most leadership roles, the failure of our system to support women in politics has meant that the one area where women still lag is in Parliament and legislatures. Many other countries – including Saudi Arabia of all places – have placed more women into elected offices (though to be fair they are given little power when they get there). Kim Campbell has proposed an interesting solution for Canada: two member constituencies where one seat is reserved for men and the other for women. While two member constituencies used to be the norm in PEI (for religious reasons initially), Campbell’s idea is a radical departure.

But why not? Those who oppose radical solutions are usually those who don’t see or want to recognize the problem in the first place.

Progress is never as quick as we might like but it can occur if we constantly keep our eye on the prize. While most of us have little control over corporate boardrooms or government bureaucracies, we can do our bit by voting or working for women candidates, patronizing women run businesses and going to art galleries or theatres showing the work of women.

You can almost certainly be sure of a good experience – because given the struggles that women have had to get into those positions, you can bet their work is exceptional. See, even inequality has an upside. Not.

But that’s ten minutes. Thanks to Caroline Russell-King for the suggestion.

Mad Maxwell

Standard

Another day, another apocalypse. I can see why Buffy eventually grew blasé. And then she grew tired of the whole thing, closed the hell mouth and left the future to other people. There’s a concept — leaving the future to other people.

Spoiler Alert!

I saw the new Mad Max movie the other day. I can see why people liked it. Great scenery, endless action (to the point it became a curious kind of inaction — people were moving but nobody was going anywhere). There were strong women characters with real agency; more importantly, there were a variety of women characters. And, without much dialogue, people could bring their own interpretation to the film without fear of contradiction.

To me, it seemed like a typical bureaucracy — an idiot abuser at the top and everyone else — men and women together — doing their best to effect change while keeping their mouths shut.

But really, what more do apocalypse movies or books have to tell us? We’ve done a lousy job running the planet? I can read the newspaper for that. That people do cruel, violent and senseless things? Again newspaper or 24-hour TV News.

Here are a few spoilers: You do not fix the world by blowing more things up or by giving the people what they want when they want it. That’s kind of how we got in a mess in the first place. And just so I can get it off of my chest: Mad Max was insanely illogical. Distribution of water via waterfall is just plain stupid. Especially in a desert. Most of it would be lost to evaporation and runoff over parched earth. But it looks cool.

Also when you drive a motorcycle all day for 160 days in a straight line — you would go around the world. Twice. Maybe three times if you put in long days.

And where does the food come from other than the occasional spider? Never mind. It’s not really my point to trash Mad Max. It was better than the average action movie. And it was spectacular if you like deserts. I prefer the lush living land of The Lord of the Rings myself but, hey, different strokes.

But just because there were strong women doesn’t mean this was a purely feminist film. Equal opportunity killing is not feminism. And then there is the mansplaining. When the women have made their decision to ride off, Max, who spent the first half of the film grunting and who has just abandoned them for the second time, rides up and says, your plan won’t work, trust me, I know there is no point in going that way. No evidence is provided for this assertion and instead they just ride back to where they came from.

What I want are stories about real futures — they don’t have to be bright and shiny, but they have to be a future. I’m tired of the world ending. Zombies bore me. Exploding cars are just an extension of demolition derbies. Fights over water and oil will happen but I’m more interested in solutions than conflicts.

And less interested in which general — male or female — gets to rule a diminished world than what we can collectively do to make a better one. Now that would be a feminist film.

But that’s ten minutes. And if you wondering about the title, Maxwell is my middle name.

Consequences 2

Standard

Everything has consequences. I was both gratified and surprised that my post yesterday stuck such a resonant chord for so many people. It turned out to be my second most read post in the nearly ten month history of the blog. Most people seemed to react positively — but not everyone. One respondent suggested I was going too far in extrapolating the behavior of a person at a sports event where they had been drinking to what they would likely do at work. The suggestion was that alcohol loosened his tongue and he said things drunk he wouldn’t say sober.

It’s a reasonable idea — though the individual didn’t seem that inebriated to me. My own experience is that alcohol doesn’t change people; it makes them more of what they essentially are. While the individual might not act like a boor at work, he must certainly want to — and desires almost always find a way of expressing themselves. Still, the evidence is unclear.

One fellow suggested I went too far in suggesting that our culture devalues crimes against women and that this would turn off part of my potential audience — that it, men. The assumption is that it would turn away all men but clearly he only meant those men who disagree that this might be true, not those men (and there are many of them) who deplore sexism and its consequences and are working hard to make sure it is no longer true.

It is likely correct that some men would object to my statements and would stop reading me. So what? Most people in the world don’t read me anyway. Having people who are blind to sexism not reading me is okay with me. The job of a writer is not to say things that anyone or everyone might find acceptable. If it was all we would ever read is pap. The job of a writer is to speak truth as they see it — which will gratify those who agree, make those who are open to new thoughts, think, and turn off the rest. Or, as it turns out, leave them indifferent. A friend of mine — far more successful than me — says it is better to be loved by 50,000 readers than liked by a million — you sell more books that way.

Finally, one woman — it was a woman’s name but on the Internet who knows — suggested that my facts were completely wrong and that I was only taking the position I was because I was a false feminist, a weakling who wanted to feel manly by portraying women as victims and then coming to their rescue on-line.

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I guess. Certainly there are women who seem to feel that men are more the victim here than anyone else. White men perhaps (she did take a backhand swipe at Islam in her opening remarks). Personally, I don’t see this as solely a feminist issue — it is a human rights issue, as well, which includes the right to have a safe and respectful workplace. Something for which I’ve always fought for everyone. But in any case, I approved her comments for all to see. You, dear reader, whoever you are, can be the judge.

But that’s ten minutes.

Mansplaining

Standard

My wife reported to me yesterday that a colleague at work, when he discovered she had a problem with her printer that she was in the midst of (competently) fixing took the opportunity to explain what had gone wrong. He clearly didn’t have a clue but spoke authoritatively despite it being pointed out to him that he was wrong. She said this was mansplaining; I just thought he was being a jerk. It’s possible we were both right.

This is a classic case of men telling women how to do something even when they know that the woman is more qualified in the subject than they are. Rand Paul recently lectured a reporter on how to conduct an interview — which mostly consisted in saying don’t ask me questions I don’t want to answer.

Of course, this phenomenon is not restricted to men talking to women. Older men will do the same to younger ones — unless of course the subject is technology. Then the roles are reversed. Go to any locker room and you will see men explain to people who are clearly more fit than them the proper way to exercise or hold their golf club or whatever.

I’m a pretty fair cook, not only capable of following a recipe but equally able to improvise based on whatever I happen to have available. My wife knows this as she has benefitted from my skills for over 15 years, frequently exclaiming over this dish or that. Nonetheless whenever she comes in the kitchen when I’m cooking she can’t help but explain to me how I might do it better. I generally respond by telling she’s welcome to cook dinner instead.

In part, she may be a victim of the fixed gender roles that she grew up with. When I visit her family and decide to cook I actually have to chase her female relatives out of the kitchen just so I have room to operate. To some extent men are also the victims of a culture that demands they be competent even when they aren’t.

And the way we as men and women tend to use language (and this is nothing but a generality) may be a factor. Men use words in an instrumental way — to accomplish a task. For some men, speaking is a bit like reading the instructions to assemble a table. Women on the other hand use language in a relational way, that is, to build linkages between things and people to construct an environment where things get done but not at the cost of how people feel about it.

Still, my first assessment might be right. Some guys are just jerks. Some men think that every man knows more about every subject than any women knows about anything. They even know what women are thinking and are more than prepared to tell them. If men really knew what women were thinking at those moments they might run screaming from the room with their hands clutched protectively over their balls.

But that’s ten minutes.

Casual Sexism

Standard

I saw an image on Facebook today where a doctor is advising a patient who doesn’t feel well and doesn’t know why. The doctor recommends meditation, exercise, a balanced diet, getting back to nature and to stop worrying about things you can’t control. Seems like good advice yet it struck me as fundamentally wrong.

The doctor was an older white male; the patient was a young woman. One wonders if a young female doctor would give the same advice to an older man. Would he listen even if she did? Why didn’t the doctor say at the end of his advice — and we’ll do some blood work and an ultrasound to make sure everything is okay?

Essentially the doctor has told the women that her symptoms are an illusion and her problems are all in her head. He is also saying that her health is unimportant to him. This casual sexism is found throughout daily life. It is so pervasive that we often don’t even notice it. Yet, studies have shown that these biases are probably killing women.

Overt sexism is obvious and is hardly worth discussing or arguing about. Men’s Rights Movements are usually puerile. Those that are violently misogynist are a fringe group — a dangerous one, it is true and possibly more of an immediate threat than terrorists in faraway lands. But their arguments are fairly transparent and easily disproven.

Overt sexism has been a target for progressive people for over a hundred years. It started with the suffragettes who faced the same (only much more extreme) abuse that feminists have always faced — death and rape threats were only implied because it was a more ‘civil’ time but they were there nonetheless. Imprisonment and police action against protests were not uncommon.

Still, women got the vote and have gradually taken their place beside men in all aspects of western society. There is a way to go in legislative bodies and corporate boardrooms but progress is being made and in some countries it is hardly an issue anymore.

Yet, implicit sexism still underlies much of our society. The continual denigration of women’s stories about rape culture is one example. Sexism in the professions that discount women’s experiences as being as valid as those of men is another. It has real consequences in the daily lives of both women and men. Sexism still governs our views of what issues are really important versus those that are only peripheral.

We see this even in as simple a thing as the debate over the wearing of religious symbols. It is always assumed that women are forced to wear the Niqab because they don’t have the strength to choose for themselves. When have you ever heard someone say that Orthodox men are forced to have untrimmed beards or wear their hair in pe’ots? You don’t hear it and you never will. Because men are always assumed to have agency. The fight never ends and none of us should stay silent in the face of casual sexism, racism, homophobia and the denial of equal human rights.

But that’s ten minutes.

The Niqab

Standard

Stephen Harper is often cited as a brilliant strategist. I disagree; most of his long-term plans get scuppered on the shoals of the Constitution, the common law and the common sense of Canadians. I expect (or at least hope) ten years from now it may seem like he never existed. However, in the short game, one should never count Mr. Harper out. His tactics are often painfully effective. Take the Niqab.

The federal Conservatives have suddenly taken a deep interest in anti-women cultures. Never mind that murdered and missing Aboriginal women are ‘not on the radar,’ and ‘rape culture’ is overblown. It is the covered face that represents the greatest threat to Canadian liberty. Especially when it is worn at the most solemn of occasions — the Citizenship ceremony.

The debate now raging — almost exclusively among progressives — is miraculously divisive for everyone except the Conservative base. They all know what they think — Jason Kenney has expressed it well. But for progressives it is a very tough issue to come down on one side or the other.

Some see it as standing up to symbols of female oppression. None of these women choose to wear the niqab; they are being forced by a patriarchal culture to do so. It is not about religion they say but tribalism. Others argue vehemently that it is a matter of choice and that people’s religious and cultural values should be respected. So which is it?

We saw what happened to the PQ when they tried to make this the centre point of the Quebec election. They were defeated. But I doubt if it was religious symbols in public that was the turning point — it was concerns about the economy and worries about another referendum.

Which is ultimately why this debate will do short term damage to progressives while doing long-term damage to social discourse and whoever has to run a divided and fractious country. Including Stephen Harper.

I actually understand both sides of the debate. I’m no big fan of the niqab or the burka. But then I find people who wear giant crosses on their chests kind of creepy, too.

Rules requiring women to bare their face in court (though not their hair) are a much greater issue and go to the heart of the right of an accused to face their accuser. I have no problem banning the face scarf there.

But to get in a turmoil about the citizenship ceremony? Give me a break. It’s not as if those people haven’t already done everything necessary to earn their citizenship — including passing exams that most natural born and raised Canadians would struggle with. The final oath is a formality and a symbol of what it means to be a Canadian. It is a time to wear your finest. And in multi-cultural Canada that might include African robes or tuxedoes or niqabs. It’s no different than wearing a veil to a wedding.

And that’s ten minutes.