Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Word to The Other

Apologies to Etarran for mercilessly appropriating his joke for a title

Yesterday, a pair of posts over on EK's blog caught my eye. The first of which was entitled And People Think We Don't Need Feminists Anymore, the second: Citizenship and Immigration.

Lately I have been reading Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and a few chapters into the first book I noticed something (yes, I'm going somewhere pertinent with this). Something about the characters. What could it....ah, yes none of these people are women!. And then, by and by, it struck me. Foundation is about history, and this is what the orthodoxy must have looked like before the 1960s or thereabouts: pompous men fighting it out in legislatures with almost nary a mention of women. They weren't hysteric mothers, they weren't sex objects...it was as though not a woman existed within Foundation space! I began to wonder if the Imperium had not managed in its 12 000 years to perfect parthenogenesis.

Foundation and Empire actually does very quickly introduce an educated female protagonist, who manages to articulate a well-founded and ultimately correct position within the first couple of pages. Foundation and Foundation and Empire were published in 1951 and 1952 respectively, so it was likely not a cultural shift which produced the character of Bayta Darell. It is an interesting change between books, because as I recall the last mention of women in Foundation was when they (presumably) formed a social movement suing for peace with the Foundation because it had stopped supplying their planet with atom-powered domestic goods.

So what of this? I think for me it highlighted progress that the feminist movement has made.

EK's outrage at the slaughter of Aqsa Parvez is really the only legitimate response there is. I need that thought to stand on its own because I am going to say "but" soon, and I don't want any of that language to spill over. This is not about the criminals - I have no buts or howevers for them. BUT I think that the immigration and values debate that often proceeds from these events is a way of trading one kind of prejudice (namely, sexual) for another (cultural). I don't really believe in tolerance for sexism, but I think we have to do some serious introspection before we start pointing fingers. If one looks at North American culture from the outside, what does one see? This will sound tired, but are short shorts a mark of female emancipation, or do they represent an implicit relegation of women to the role of eye candy? Oh very well, "here you can choose what to wear" is a fine counter-argument, but those choices don't exist in a vacuum. A not insignificant portion of our present economy is predicated on manufactured dissatisfaction. With how we act, how we eat, how we look, how we water our plants...doesn't matter. If we didn't think something was missing we would not be compelled to buy and buy and buy and buy. We are presented with what some people like to call "unrealistic standards of beauty", and I prefer to call "arbitrary and often unhealthy aesthetics" because 1) beauty is objective and 2) because calling it that tells people that they must be satisfied with the lesser beauty they already possess, which in light of point the first is frankly moronic. Don't take my word for it; look at the goddamn Birth of Venus. There is a woman with curves and by Kim Kardashian* standards a rather modest set of breasts. But homeboy was emphatically not painting a modestly attractive woman! This was the goddess of sexy! So yeah.

Ok, digression over. As a counterpoint on the short-shorts issue we have Boobquake, which for all the jerks derailing it was an essentially perfect example of a not (originally) coercive event in which short-shorts and low-cut tops were presented as a vehicle for women to make an unequivocal political statement. We've still got some problems, though. Consider:

xkcd 'pix plz'


xkcd 'how it works'

Ah, good old XKCD for illustrating a problem faster than I could write a paragraph about it. Science, Math, and Engineering are still male-dominated, even if overall undergraduate enrollment favours women. And let's not forget the Canada Excllence Research Chairs fiasco where not one woman seems to have "made the cut". Our Parliament is pretty atrocious for the representation of women MPs...I could go on. Theoretically we're doing good - better than good, but this immigration debate has the unsavoury subtext of "we are civilized, and you are not", and I think there's plenty of evidence that we should not be priding ourselves as paragons juuuuuust yet. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't expect people to obey Canadian law when they immigrate. But I think the legal argument holds a lot more water than the idea that we need to imprint "Canadian Values", especially because even we Canucks are often none-too-sure about what that even means. Not too long ago I was talking to my far-away girlfriend (I'll ask her if she'd like to choose a pseudonym next time I get the chance), and she told me - distressingly - that in her experience there are some serious problems with sexism and racism in rural Canada. But she did not say that they aren't evident everywhere...only that they are worse in some places than others. So whose "Canadian Values" are we thinking of promoting here? Are supposedly-enlightened urban Canadians somehow more Canadian than rural Canadians? This seems problematic, to say the least!

I suppose what I'm saying is that we don't have to look far past our own noses to see why we (and the world at large) still need feminists.


PS: Why do we see this choice between ghettoised tapestry and homogenized melting pot? I think it's funny that we don't really think about what it would be like to have a Canada-wide culture that drew from that of immigrants as well as that of natives. I think it's because we're afraid of losing our culture - sound familiar?. Some people don't come here for maple syrup and ice hockey. Some people are fleeing war and persecution and death elsewhere. I imagine a particular fear is "well, we couldn't adopt their views on women", which I think is odd. If we're right about women, should our view not be somehow more compelling? Surely we have nothing to fear. No, I get this feeling that we're afraid because we see The Other, and we're disturbed by it. And when you think about it, maybe that's how some immigrants feel about us. Just throwing that out there.

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