Tag Archive | feminism

This is what white privilege looks like.

So…this happened. The following video shows an altercation on a TTC subway train in which a middle aged white woman sits on the feet of a young black man. The man is listening to earphones and looking at his phone. At first it’s hard to see but it becomes apparent that he had been sitting with the balls of his feet braced against the seat in front of him when she sat on top of his forefeet, physically preventing him from moving them.

This video made me feel physically ill. You can hear his anger turn to fear when he finally pushes her off and realizes how this is going to play out, a black man versus a white woman. “I shouldn’t be having to touch a lady.” And her smugness in her privilege is utterly revolting. She SAT ON A STRANGER. She PUT her body ON TOP of his body and refused to move it. Justifying her actions as a lesson in manners. WHO DOES THAT?? WHO FUCKING DOES THAT?? The answer, of course is: Someone with the confidence borne of a lifetime of privilege and the sense of entitlement that goes along with does.

The feet on the seat isn’t the issue here. The issue is that the woman appointed herself the manners police and instigated a physical altercation, something she was confident she could do without suffering any consequences because her white privilege meant she had never experienced systemic racism – the kind of racism that sees black boys shot to death for walking at night in a hoodie while white boys can commit mass murder and be arrested unharmed. The black man on the other hand endured this humiliation for almost a minute before finally resorting to physical aggression – knowing, because the knowledge is drilled into black boys starting in early childhood, that if things got out of hand, HE would at best be the one held responsible; at worst, arrested or attacked. We have no way of knowing if she chose him for her “lesson” because of his race, but we do know from experience that because of his race the situation was far more dangerous for him than for her.

Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words "This is what White Privilege looks like" overlaid.

(Image description: Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words “This is what White Privilege looks like” overlaid by PicklesINK.)

Then there’s the reporting. Every news report about this incident has focused on the feet on the seat and his language. Apparently there’s a bylaw; This young man could have been fined $235 for putting his feet on an empty seat. Perhaps he would have preferred that to being physically and verbally scolded by some stranger on the subway. According to the headlines like those in The Toronto Star, GlobalTV, and CityNews, this was an “etiquette lesson gone awry,” although I probably would have gone with, “physical assault on a stranger.” And every article quotes the part where he finally pours out his righteous anger as expletives; not the first half where he calmly and repeatedly asks her to “get off me, please,” and she smugly replies, “No.”

According to TTC officials, the woman was correct to hit the emergency stop after he pushed her off, because *that’s* when it turned into a physical altercation. Newsflash, friends: It became a physical altercation when she EFFING SAT ON HIM. TTC spokesperson also said passengers should use the alarm when they feel their safety is at risk, which was clearly not the case here, as the women who instigated the assault followed her victim in an attempt to continue her harassment as he left. And yes, I said assault, referring to HERS on HIM. Of course, if it had even occurred to him to hit the panic strip initially, I sincerely doubt officials or popular opinion would have been quite so understanding of his reasons. As activist and blogger Tasheka Lavann asks, “Are we saying that if I decide to put my feet on a seat…another passenger has the right to enter my personal space, sit on my feet and refuse to move…that’s the justification I am seeing across social media for this latest RACIST act right here in Canada — the notion that, somehow, this young man deserved to be harassed and assaulted.”

Jay Shylo, who recorded the assault, said that most of the passengers on the train agreed the woman seemed to have instigated the situation, targeting this man when there were many empty seats as well as another passenger with his feet up (no report on his race or ethnicity, but I’d be willing to hazard a guess). Shylo said, “I think what ignited her was that (the male passenger) was answering back.” How dare he! A black man getting lippy with her when all she did was deliberately cross a half-empty subway car to SIT ON HIM. “Both were verbally abusing each other. It got petty.” Oh. *THAT’S* when it got petty. At least Shylo recorded the disturbing incident and posted it online so everyone could see what really happened; with the caption “Ride the Rocket it’s entertaining *shrugging and smiling emojis* I’m not surprised at all that this happened on public transit.” Because LOLZ!!

Whoops. Slipped into angry sarcasm mode for a minute. I’m back now.

Make no mistake: Everything about this encounter was influenced by race. And the other passengers just passively sat and watched. I’m hearing from a lot of my (white) friends that they didn’t see race in this encounter, and that’s understandable. We don’t have to pay attention to race because our white privilege affords us the comfort of being colourblind. Read Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh for a really excellent primer on how white privilege affects you every day. But I assure you that for any person of colour, and especially for the young man in the video, it is at the top of their minds, especially when the woman pushed the panic strip, because for a young black man any interaction with the authorities can potentially be life or death.

So here’s my call to action: White folks, we’ve got a shit ton of privilege, and with that privilege comes awesome responsibility. When you see something like this happening, for gods’ sake, call it out. Press the effing emergency stop YOURSELF and then stick around to tell the truth. Don’t just sit there. Act. Tell the world this is NOT OKAY. Because that is what white privilege should look like.

~ karyn

This post has been edited on February 25, 2017 to add further discussion of the ways that systemic racism and white privilege contributed to the situation. No text was deleted.

Talking to Kids About Sex – Part 1: Babies and Toddlers

Private Parts are Private, not Secret.

1. Use proper anatomical terminology for body parts: Penis, testes, vulva, vagina (Quick anatomy lesson: “Vulva” refers to whole area commonly referred to as a girl’s “private parts.” “Vagina” refers to the specific opening within the vulva. Of the two, “vulva” is generally the more useful and appropriate, unless you’re talking about where babies come from.) Using the proper words from the very beginning will allow you to become comfortable using them and hearing them.

Talking to babies and toddlers about sex: Private Parts are Private, not Secret, and My body, My choice starts in infancy. from www.picklesINK.com

Talking to Kids about Sex part 1: babies and toddlers

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Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist parent?

I’ve been seeing this post about a daughter’s questions about her mom’s makeup in my news feed recently, and it’s made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter’s simple question made her see herself through a 7 year-old’s eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing, and otherwise enhancing her looks.

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist - karyn in prom makeup www.picklesink.com

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist?

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Who’s really sexualizing our daughters, anyway?

The fabulous Stephanie Giese of Binkies and Briefcases wrote a viral post about her disbelief at the sizing and coverage in Target’s clothing options for young girls. She had been noticing what seemed to be a distinct reluctance to include…y’know…fabric…in items like shorts for girls as young as 5. Her post received a mostly positive response, but also a fair bit of backlash (One standout was a commenter who posited that she should put her “fat-ass kid” on a diet if she wanted clothes to fit her better. Way to keep it classy, interweb.).

Quite impressively, Target reacted almost immediately, reaching out to her, doing their own research, and promising an overhaul of their sizing practices including feedback from “real” moms like her, which is awesome – we should be able to find clothing for our children that fit with our own tastes and values without having to pull out our sewing machines and make or modify them ourselves.

But…(you know me…there’s got to be a but)…I don’t agree with the reasoning that we need more modest clothing options to avoid sexualizing our young daughters. Children are not sexual. Exposed skin is not sexual. Children with exposed skin are not sexual.

Children are children. Continue reading

Why a newspaper “Ethics” columnist thinks 7 year-olds in competitive dance are akin to sex workers.

Good news, everyone! I’ve decided to feature an occasional anonymous feminist advice column. Please feel free to send along your submissions and tell your friends!

Dear Sylvia,

I just read this article in an online newspaper, and it left me deeply troubled. It called itself an “ethics column” but really seemed much more like a “patriarchy judge-o-matic.”

A concerned party wrote in with a question about a 7 year-old girl involved in competitive dance; apparently this person’s colleague showed him/her a photo of the colleague’s daughter in dance competition costume. Rather than respond with a socially acceptable, “That’s nice,” the letter-writer, judging that in his/her opinion, the girl in the photo was made up to look like a sex-worker, said something along the lines of, “Hey, I don’t know much about you or your family, but based on this single picture of your daughter about which you were obviously excited enough to show me, a work colleague whom you clearly don’t know all that well or you might have expected such a tirade, but I feel that your parenting skills are inadequate, your judgement is lacking, and if left unchecked, your daughter will probably grow up to be a whore. You should be ashamed.” Continue reading

Yes, Virginia, feminists do wear miniskirts.

When I was in high school, I was the goodiest of all two-shoes. My marks were in the high 80-90s across the board. I sang in 3 choirs, if you count the children’s church choir I assistant-directed. I played 2 instruments in 3 orchestras, including my school’s professional double quartet. And by professional I mean we played actual paid gigs; the school hired us out to play functions on our own time, earning $500 a pop which went straight into the school’s bank account. But, y’know…happy to oblige, right?

I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t even know what a mary-ju-wanny cigarette looked like, and I didn’t even round first base until I was in university.

When you consider the external pressure of a high-achieving family and an expensive private school education, combined with the internal pressure of a type A perfectionist personality, something’s bound to give, right? On top of that, there were a lot of shitty things going on at my school, some that I was just witness to and others that impacted me personally, and there comes a point when you have to do something to push back.

I directed the majority of my aggression internally, as many of your teenage girls do, but I had one small form of outward rebellion – just one. Every morning I woke up and put on a dark-coloured brassiere before I buttoned up my white oxford shirt. It was my way of subtly flipping off the entire institution. I was well aware that my snazzy undergarments were visible through my uniform shirt, and I loved it.

I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of us with our little micro-rebellions – rolled up kilts and rolled down socks; hiding friendship bracelets under our shirtsleeves and concealing polished fingernails in our fists. One student wore a band-aid over a nose piercing for months, ripping it off every day at 3:45 and letting her silver ring breath free. We weren’t trying to impress any boys. There weren’t any boys to impress, unless you count the maintenance guys we used to bum cigarettes from or that computer tech who offered to split a joint with me at a club.

It seemed fitting – the ways that they were screwing me over were well within their framework of rules and policies, and so was this. Trust me. I checked.

By all accounts though, my choice of attire was “unprofessional.” Shouldn’t the school have put a stop to this? Isn’t it their job to teach me to maintain proper decorum? How would I one day find gainful employment if I didn’t even understand how to dress the part?

The thing is – I did understand. Completely. I understood that school was not, in fact, a job. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to study and learn so I could get good marks and go to a good university. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to treat my teachers and fellow students with respect. School may have been a lot of things, but a job it was not; a job, you see, pays you money.

Of course, it being a private school, I also understood that I was required to follow certain standards of dress and accessorizing (uh…none), so I wore all of the uniform pieces that were required of me. I carefully noted, however, the lack of supportive undergarment-related parameters in my school’s Code of Conduct – Uniform Policy, and smiled to myself as I hooked together my navy and white gingham bra.

I also understood jobs. My job at the time was babysitting, of which I did rather a lot, and for that endeavor, I dressed differently – appropriately, one might say, if by appropriately one meant, “Wearing stuff that wouldn’t be damaged while playing with children and was easily laundered.” Obviously, this ruled out my uniform since that blinking kilt had to be ironed within an inch of its life. Word to the wise – if you’re choosing a private school for your daughter, the wider the pleats, the easier the care.

And interestingly enough, I figured all this out by myself. My school didn’t educate me in how to dress appropriately for babysitting. Or for being an auto mechanic. Or a flight attendant. Or a swimming instructor. Or a lawyer. Or a professional beach volleyball player. When I hear people say that students need to dress appropriately at school to prepare them for the standards of dress they will encounter in their workplace, I always wonder, “What kind of workplace?”

At school we sit at a desk and write stuff and sometimes we use computers, so I guess we equate it with an office job and impose or encourage standards similar to what you would find in that environment. But if school is supposed to prepare students for entry into the workforce, why can’t we think outside the cubicle?

Or is it less about clothes and more about teaching students that in the workplace they will be expected to follow instructions, including but not limited to standards of dress. I guess that makes a little more sense, but aren’t there enough rules for them to follow already before clothing even enters into it?

All right – let’s accept for the moment that it *is* the education system’s job to prepare students for the workforce, and that setting and enforcing clear dress codes are one way to do that.  The next issue that we arrive at is the fact that school dress codes are inherently discriminatory, disproportionately singling out women and girls.

With the help of my friend Google, I’ve had a look at some school dress codes in Ontario – elementary and secondary schools in both the public and Catholic boards, and here is what I’ve come up with:

We are fortunate that school dress codes contain helpful, concrete descriptions that can in no way be misconstrued, like “modest,” “respectful,” “respectable,” “inoffensive,” “non-distracting,” “neat,” “appropriate,” “proper,” and “decorous.” Clothing should not, on the other hand, be “distasteful,” “revealing,” “distracting,” “offensive,” or “sexually provocative.”

Well, that should be easy to figure out and to follow, right? No margin for error there! On the off chance that you do have difficulty interpreting the guidelines (or *cough cough* happened to stumble upon a loophole), they often include helpful summary sentences like these:

“All clothes are to be appropriate for the learning environment as deemed so by the staff at the school.”

The Administration reserves the right to decide on appropriate attire.”

Perfect! No matter how iron-clad the rules are, there’s a leetle space for wiggle room in the form of arbitrary judgement.

This one actually acknowledges that different attire is suited to different settings:

“Clothing that may be appropriate at home, at the beach, or at a nightclub may not be appropriate at school.”

Unfortunately, that sentence is preceded by this one:

“All members of the school community must dress in a way consistent with a scholarly tone: dress that reflects personal pride and respect for others.”

A scholarly tone? I’m not sure what that means. Can you elaborate? “Members of the school community are required to be adequately covered to be consistent with a scholarly school tone.”

Scholarly tone = adequately covered = reflecting personal pride and respect for others.

Gotcha. I do apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.

Not wanting to leave anything up to chance, it gets even more specific: No clothing or accessories which “are unduly distracting, including but not limited to, dress which is sexually provocative, torn or ragged.”

Ah, there’s the rub, right there in black and white:

Sexually provocative = unduly distracting.

This one includes a rationale . Apparently, the dress code contributes

  • to a safer and more secure school policy;
  • to the development of an educational learning environment;

I had no idea that modest dress was safer and more educational. You learn something new every day. Oh, but wait…Something’s coming back to me…Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing something about that back in “How Not To Get Raped 101,” otherwise known as a day in the life of a girl in rape culture.

That very same school concludes with a catchy little slogan just to drive the point home: “Remember: If we can see up it, down it, or through it, then it shouldn’t be worn at school!”

But I’m sure that’s directed at both genders equally…

I’m happy to report that my school took my rebellion in stride. While I happen to know that there were several changes made to the uniform policy after I left, it was never addressed with me, aside from the one teacher who, her clipped English accent dripping with sarcasm, “That’s a very nice checked brarr, Kahryn.”

The lack of reaction was a surprisingly feminist response. They had certainly come a long way from the lines of girls kneeling in the hallways to face the yardstick kilt-measure of my middle school years, and even farther from the “line up and bend over,” bloomer-checks that were rumoured to have been conducted not long before my time.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’m telling you this because it is important to understand that there is a person in those short-shorts or wearing those visible bra-straps, and she doesn’t necessarily lack self-respect or an understanding of appropriate attire.

She may have a stable father figure, or she may not. Her parents probably raised her just fine, or maybe they didn’t, but her clothes don’t tell you anything about that.

She’s not “asking for it.”

She’s not necessarily wearing the only thing she can afford, or she might be, and she might have chosen to wear it anyway, or maybe she wishes she had something different.

She’s not doing it because she enjoys the attention from most of the boys and some of the girls. Or she might be, and that’s her business too. Me, I enjoy attention, so I dye my hair purple, because sadly, the attention I get for showing parts of my body is not what it used to be – “Mommy!! Your breastses are HANGING DOWN!!”

She’s not showing disrespect to her teachers or to her classroom, because how is showing her own skin, or a half-inch wide strip of elasticized fabric, being disrespectful, unless of course we are operating on the premise that a woman’s body or undergarments are somehow offensive?

She’s Just. Wearing. Clothes.

And maybe if we stopped getting our granny panties in a knot about it we could get on with dealing with the far more serious things that teenagers today are dealing with.

Like Bullying.

Mental illness.

Substance use.

Rape and sexual assault.

Academic disengagement.

Unemployment and underemployment.

Perhaps our outrage and our measuring tapes could be put to better use.

 ~ karyn

Maybe it's time to reconsider school dress codes - or at least consider why we have them.

I apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.