Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lady Gaga Quote of the Day

I reject wholeheartedly the way we are taught to perceive women. The beauty of women, how a woman should act or behave. Women are strong and fragile. Women are beautiful and ugly. We are soft spoken and loud, all at once. There is something mind-controlling about the way we’re taught to view women.
— SHOWstudio interview with Lady Gaga, 5.30.2010

Yay, rejecting binaries!
Boo, universalizing women!
Overall: Yay, Lady Gaga!

Actual new post coming some time next week!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Who Counts? Not Visible Minorities...

You can't argue that the federal government's employment equity laws are a necessary ameliorative program, if you don't have the statistics to compare the employment levels of whites and visible minorities of the same level of education.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who Counts?

The Harper-cons have decided to cut down the long census form from 63 to 8 questions, and are instead sending out the cut questions in a voluntary survey.

Such is Harper's level of infatuation with US conservativism. If they had an uproar over the census, then darn it, Canada should have one too - even if it means Harper has to fabricate one himself.

But really, I think Harper had other very good reasons to shorten the census. Reasons that are good for him and his plan to shift the Canadian political spectrum to the right, not good for Canadians.

This isn't about privacy. It's about information. It's about the anti-intellectualism of neo-conservativism. It's about crippling the opposition to Harper's policies by making it more difficult to confront his ideology with facts.

The questions that have been cut have to do with disability, language, race, ethnicity, mobility, level of education, unpaid household labour and care-work, employment status, income, and home ownership.

Eliminating these questions harms equality-seeking groups, by lowering the quality of the data they need for advocacy, for determining where services are needed, and for tracking what kind of progress is being made. Harper has made no secret of the fact that he has a hate-on for such groups; one of his earliest actions in office was to scrap the Court Challenges Fund, which partially covered the costs of equality-based Charter challenges.

Those who complain about these questions claim that they are not relevant. And they aren't, to privileged people who don't have to deal with systemic inequality. Getting rid of the long census form will make it easier for privileged folks to ignore everyone who is not them. I've been doing surveys over the phone for several years now, and the only people I've heard complain about the "ethnic origin" demographic questions are Anglo-Saxon or mixed European people whose families have lived in Canada for many generations. Typically they've been older, and more often than not they've been from the prairie provinces.

This isn't about privacy. It's about wedge-politics. It's about exploiting the urban-rural divide.

Tony Clement claims that in 2006 there were about 160 000 complaints about the long census form, out of the 2.5 million homes it was sent to. Honestly, I've given up hope that the cons will listen to anyone who doesn't already agree with them. But we can try to flood Clement's in-box with emails supporting the long census form.

Industry Canada 
Office of the Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H5
Tel : 613-995-9001
Fax: 613-992-0302

He has more contact info for local offices here.

And don't forget to contact your MP.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Justifying Canada's new F35s: A Simile

So the Harper government is claiming that their $16 billion expenditure on shiny new jets is justified by the fact that the Liberal government of 2000 already sunk $100 million+ into developing the planes. If they don't spend $16 000 000 000, then that $100 000 000 will have gone to waste!

It's kinda like saying that because you poisoned one asshole dude, you're obliged to follow up by killing everyone in the diner and then throwing an Americana-themed dance party amid the carnage.


Actually, based on their Republican-worshiping ways, I could totally see Harper and McKay dressing up in stars and stripes, and dancing around like this.

By spending so much to buy first-run jets from Lockheed-Martin, instead of waiting for the fourth run by which time the jets would cost half as much, the Canadian government is also off-setting what the US government has spent on the project.

Harper dials the phone. "Hello, Peter? We successfully made an unnecessary contribution to upholding the military-industrial complex. Celebration in my office! Bring your star-spangled panties."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On The Phones: Language and Racism

I work part-time at a call centre, doing surveys. One survey we do is for measuring customer satisfaction with the customer service call centre of one of our clients.

The other day I had this exchange with a respondent:

"How would you rate the service provided by the customer support representative: Excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?"


"Why did you rate the service provided by the representative as excellent? I'll write down your answer here."

"Well, he was white, and he was very adept with the computer -"

"I'm sorry, what was the first thing you said?"

"He was white."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: The Monster Ball

Warning: This is a post about Lady Gaga. If you are sick of hearing about her, as I am told some people are, you are under no obligation to read this post. If you are a hater, please do not comment. Otherwise, enjoy!

Lady Gaga stands onstage, surrounded by her backup dancers, holding a rainbow Canadian flag.
The finale of the Monster Ball
I spent Sunday and Monday evening at the Monster Ball, Lady Gaga's live show. It was spectacular, inspiring, problematic, and thought provoking.  

The Spectacular

The production itself is amazing.  As good as, if not better than, any Broadway show. 

The concert starts with a screen lowered in front of the stage. The audience can't see Lady Gaga, but we can hear her singing "Dance In The Dark", and the screen is backlit so the we can see her motionless silhouette. When she gets to the chorus, she suddenly shifts her pose, so the audience knows that, yes, it really is her! The teasing of the audience continues until the last chorus, when the screen goes up to reveal the first of several sets: a back alley with a broken down car, and neon signs advertising gold teeth, BBQ, plastic surgery, and one that reads, "WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE". Lady Gaga is perched on a fire escape. 

After the first song, the storyline around which the concert is organized is introduced. Some friends (Posh, Bang-Bang, and Champagne) are trying to get to the Monster Ball. But they're late! They'll never get there! 

"Yes you will," Gaga's voice floats reassuringly down from the fire escape. "I'll take you there."

The journey begins! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Introduction to Muslim Feminist Law Reform Efforts, Part 3 of 3: Coda

Part One 
Part Two 

Part Three: Coda

When examining the relationship between equality rights and freedom of religion, one theme constantly reappears in a variety of manifestations: the public-private divide.

It is the public/private divide that associates women with the home, giving them symbolic cultural value while denying their individual worth and silencing their public voice.

When law in the public sphere was secularized, religion was relegated to the private sphere. This is reflected today in the fact that in several countries, though the laws in general are secular, religious law continues to govern the family.

By being associated with the public sphere, law became associated with rationality and politics, while in the private sphere, religion was associated with irrationality and immutable truth. To international law, religion is the “other” (Sunder 1402). Since religion is irrational, it cannot be reasoned, or logically critiqued. As a result, religious claims can be an effective shield against the applicability of international human rights law.

That claims of cultural relativism are easily accepted by many in the West can be attributed to the tendency of Westerners to feminize those from non-white majority countries. “Feminization,” naturally, involves attributing characteristics associated with women – and the private sphere – to entire groups of people – irrationality, and a committment to culture and tradition. This allows people in the West to readily believing that feminized “others” are governed by an unquestioning adherence to tradition; that their actions are determined by culture rather than by individual choice, while logic, and reasoned law, are claimed as Western.

The public/private divide is played out on every possible level – individual, national, international, and conceptual – and it is instrumental to sustaining the tension between human rights and religion. By being half of one of the binaries which supports the distinction between public and private spheres, human rights law is problematic in its own right – not the solution to the problem.

As Sunder notes, the Enlightenment did not reject religion, but relegated it to the private sphere, so that “freedom in public was freedom itself” (Sunder 1418). Since the public sphere is the realm of the masculine, and the private sphere that of the feminine, true gender equality will be elusive so long as guarantees of freedom are only available with respect to public life. The recognition of this fact is the major innovation of critical engagement (Sunder 1423). (While this insight has been recognized by Western feminists with the phrase, “the personal is the political,” Western feminists have typically not followed it to its conclusion with respect to the religious rights of non-Western women and international human rights). The questions that remain are how will international human rights law respond to this challenge? And, as a country that values both gender equality and religious freedom, and which adds to its Muslim population every year – how will Canada respond? Can this innovative new perspective on rights be incorporated into Canadian Charter and human rights law?

It would be difficult for Canadian law to adapt to the critical engagement approach's interpretation of rights. The grounds on which either the Charter or human rights legislation apply would be difficult to establish. The courts would also have to rethink the basic precept that they are not competent to adjudicate religious matters. Whether these hurdles can be overcome would very much depend on the facts a given case.

If so, then Canadian courts would have to reinterpret the right to religious freedom to include an individual right to participate in shaping their religion. This would require, in essence, courts to recognize a constitutionally protected right to be an accepted member of a religious community – the limits of which might be difficult to define. However, it would be essential that they do so. “Without a theory that recognizes contest within cultural communities, and the possibility of progressive change in the context of culture or religion, cultural dissent is either ignored or affirmatively shut down” (Sunder 1432).

At the same time, however, the logic of the critical engagement approach is not difficult to grasp, and the opportunity to resolve the apparent conflict between equality and freedom of religion may be appealing to judges. Any effort to transform legal thinking about religion and equality will be long and arduous. However, the current legal understanding can overlook the interests and perspectives of the very women who are most effected by the conflict between these rights – and that is no guarantee of equality at all.

Note: I own the copyright to this! I worked hard on it! If you want to quote it, limit the quote to a couple of sentences and link back to me!

Sources that are available online are linked. Articles that are only available from paid sites are labled with [H] for Hein Online and [L] for Lexis Nexus.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Winning Bet

When I realized that Stephen Harper would have the chance to appoint a Governor General, I jokingly said, "What d'ya bet that he'll appoint an old white guy?"

Well, he did.

An Introduction to Muslim Feminist Law Reform Efforts, Part 2 of 3: Strategies of Muslim Women

Note: I own the copyright to this! I worked hard on it! If you want to quote it, limit the quote to a couple of sentences and link back to me!

Sources that are available online are linked. Articles that are only available from paid sites are labled with [H] for Hein Online and [L] for Lexis Nexus

Part One

Part Two:  The Strategies of Muslim Women

I have identified five ways in which women in Muslim countries have dealt with conflicts between religion and rights. These are outlined below, along with the ways that they have been successful; and what can be learned from them.

A. Liberal Feminism

Feminists in Muslim countries have created a movement that is far more than the Western Liberal feminism fan club that some make it out to be. However, liberal feminism did play an important role, and still does in many feminist communities in the Muslim world  (Abu-Odeh, “Egyptian Feminism.” Abu-Odeh identifies Egyptian feminists' focus on “legal concepts like equality, autonomy and consent” as indicators of the influence of liberal feminism). An example of its influence is that in some countries the mainstream feminist movement deliberately rejects associations with religious or traditional identity.

For example,Iranian woman's current demand, ... 'to change her lifestyle,' is in complete contradiction with her historical 'self' and the traditional society expectations from her. The Iranian women's movement has emerged precisely out of this contradiction” (Sadr). Or, as Abu-Odeh describes Egyptian feminism,
Secular feminists firmly believe in grounding their discourse outside the realm of any religion, whether Muslim or Christian, and placing it, instead, within the international human rights discourse. They do not 'waste their time' attempting to harmonize religious discourses with the concept and declarations pertinent to human rights. To them, religion is respected as a private matter for each individual, but it is totally rejected as a basis from which to formulate any agenda on women's emancipation (Abu-Odeh, “Egyptian Feminism.”).
Following the example of Western feminism, liberal feminists in Egypt see a clear distinction between religion, as part of the private realm, and international human rights.

Hence, liberal feminists often align themselves with other groups of secular reformers. This pattern plays out in many contexts: women who oppose the entrenched patriarchy become allies with other opposition groups – for example, nationalists or communists – hoping to amplify their voice and gain broader legitimacy (Duong [L]). There are examples from around the world of women's movements supporting reformers and opposition groups who treat their aspirations as secondary, expendable, something that can be bargained away for a chance at success.

Abu-Odeh discusses how this pattern has appeared in Egypt. Time and again, liberal feminists have been co-opted for the sake of secularization in all  areas of law except for the law governing the family. Even if some progress is made in family law, it is always in half-measures, as judges and reformers attempt to pacify traditionalists.
... mainstream Egyptian feminists' attempts to reform family law... were to a large degree undercut by the constraints created by the debate on the identity of the Egyptian legal system. Liberal feminism was consistently compromised so that the relative autonomy of religious law manifest in family law could be maintained, allowing the secular nature of the rest of the legal system to be preserved (Abu-Odeh, “Egyptian Feminism.”).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Feminist Celebrity Watching?

About a month ago, I posted on the community side of Feministing about my annoyance with Jezebel hating on celebrity women. That was about a couple of instances when Jez writers and commenters all but asserted that certain famous women do not have the same rights to autonomy and personal boundaries as everyone else. To which I say, such rights are fundamental, and no amount of moving conspicuously through public space can forfeit those rights. Basically, Jezebel sucks at applying a feminist perspective to celebrity watching.

Which brings me to the latest example of Jezebel sucking. When I checked the site today, the item at the top of the page was, "Watch Lindsay Lohan Break Down During Her Sentencing."

Um, no. And also, why? I feel like the "Leave Britney Alone" guy here, but he actually had a good point. Celebrities are human beings. In many ways they are very lucky and highly privileged human beings. But it's the "human" part I want to focus on.

To me, one of the core principles of being a feminist is that everybody is equal in terms of a basic level of dignity. That means that every woman, from sex workers to presidential candidates to bloggers to starlets is assumed to be a thinking, feeling person with an inner life and aspirations, a unique perspective informed by life experiences, and reasons for behaving the way that she does. In light of this, there is a minimal level of respect with which everyone should be treated.

The morbid fascination with celebrity downfalls, to the point that one would watch a video of an individual's emotional breakdown, seems to me to be fundamentally at odds with that principle.

I get celebrity watching, and keeping up with celebrity gossip, I do. But an individual's life is not a spectator sport. There's a line. And that video crossed it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


There's already a feminist blog called "Hysteria!" on wordpress!


At least I noticed earlyish...

Now I have to come up with another name.

An Introduction to Muslim Feminist Law Reform Efforts, Part 1 of 3: Universalism vs. Cultural Relativism

This past fall I had a disagreement with a classmate, in which she maintained that universal human rights (in their current form) are distinctively Western. I felt it was arrogant to imagine that only Western culture could give rise to values like equality. (I guess our two positions weren’t necessarily exclusive. It felt like a disagreement!) I decided to use my essay for that class as an opportunity to research and support my position., and write about how women in non-Western cultures reconcile seeming conflicts between their religious and cultural identities, and their rights as women. I ended up focusing on Muslim women. The essay really is just a jumping off point towards gaining a better understanding of  Muslim women’s relationship with feminism. There are, of course, websites that are by actual Muslim Women (not me), such as Muslimah Media Watch

In light of recent events such as "Boobquake" and the governments of France, Belgium and Quebec banning the niqab in public, during which many non-Muslims made assumptions about Muslim women, I felt that it might be useful to share my essay.  I offer it to others who are in the same position I was, to third-wavers who want to be culturally sensitive but don’t know how to reconcile that position with their feminism, and to those who think that certain cultures or religions are inherently irreconcilable with feminism.

Note: I own the copyright to this! I worked hard on it! If you want to quote it, limit the quote to a couple of sentences and link back to me!

Sources that are available online are linked. Articles that are only available from paid sites are labled with [H] for Hein Online and [L] for Lexis Nexus


The family is often seen as the fundamental building block of society. Hence, the character of “the family” makes up a significant part of a group's identity. Part of the character of the family is determined  by the place of women in the home and in the society as a whole. In this way, the status of women's rights also contributes to group identity.

This can be observed in societies around the world. In Canada, it was observable in the 2004 debate in Ontario about the use of Sharia law for family arbitration. The very public debate was framed as a conflict between the universal rights of women, and the rights of a minority community to practice its religion – a conflict between universalism and cultural relativism. When framed this way, the voices of the women whose rights are at stake – in this case, religious Muslim women – are often ignored.

Such clashes between the principles of universalism and cultural relativism can also be understood as conflicts over asserting and maintaining Western superiority in a post-colonial world, and local patriarchs attempting to sustain the conditions under which they were powerful, resisting the economic and technological change brought on by globalization. Women, as the embodiment of culture, tradition and the family – in all societies – are the battleground in this conflict.

While equality ought not be denied on any ground, and certainly not on cultural grounds, neither is it possible for equality to be imposed. Equality can only be claimed. In fact, Muslim women are claiming equality, and in doing so they are challenging the framework through which human rights, the law, culture and religion, and family are currently understood. This essay examines the ways in which they do so, and the implications of those strategies.

This essay focuses on women's rights in countries where Muslim law is applied to at least specific segments of legal disputes; this group of countries includes those which are theocratic, and those with mostly secular laws. In discussing the intersection between law, culture, and religion, this essay may refer to culture and religion interchangeably, since concepts about identity often apply to both; and cultural practices are often subsumed by religion, while religion is often considered to be at least partially determinative of a group's culture.

In the process of claiming their rights, many Muslim feminists have re-theorized human rights, equality, and freedom of religion. Canada, as a country whose Muslim population is growing, may well have to deal with legal questions about the supposed conflict between gender equality and religious freedom, as Ontario had to do. When the time comes, Canadian lawmakers would do well to consider the unique perspective of Muslim feminists, not least because it is their rights that are at stake, but also because their perspective has much to contribute to equality law and family law, in terms of nuance and complexity.

This essay will proceed in three parts. Part One will establish the relationship between cultural identity, the symbolic family, and women's rights, and discuss why the traditional rights paradigm provided by universalism and cultural relativism is inadequate. Part Two discusses five different approaches that Muslim women's rights activists have taken, the benefits and shortcomings of each, and their implications for the future. Part Three concludes with a brief discussion of what it would mean for lawmakers to take the perspectives of Muslim women into account.

Part One: The Human Rights Debate: Universalism vs. Cultural Relativism

The family plays an important role in the construction of  group identity. It is seen as the building  block of the nation; the site where culture and tradition are preserved and passed on to the next generation; and the embodiment and expression of a society's values (Kuo). Because of their association with the private sphere, women are often equated with their roles as mothers – those who sustain the family, and nurture the future of the community – and are given similar social significance as the family itself (Fishbayn, para 3 [H]).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gay Pride Parade =/= Santa Claus Parade

Yesterday, at the call centre where I work, some people in my aisle were talking about the Toronto Pride Parade (which, because of the G20 conference, was postponed to this weekend). One (straight) woman was saying that the Pride Parade has been ruined by all the people walking around naked/in fetish wear, that she would have taken her (straight) son to the parade, but can't because of all the child-inappropriate behaviour.

It was an epic lets-make-this-all-about-me moment. It's called the Gay Pride Parade. Not the Entertain Straight Children Parade. The purpose is for the participants of the parade to be proud of who they are, not to tailor their presentation to the delicate sensibilities of spectators. Furthermore, the idea that the parade is "ruined" by nudity/fetish wear/"child-inappropriate" behaviour is just bizarre, seeing as that's kind of the very essence of the event.

Once I realized what my co-workers were saying, I kind of awkwardly waited for an opportunity to interrupt, but then then we had to go back to work. Ally intervention fail on my part. So I wrote a blog post about it instead.

This IS my first post

Greetings to the Interwebs!

My name is Marissa. I have been keeping up with the feminist/progressive blogosphere for a while now (commenting as MissaA, MarissaAO, and occassionally just Marissa) and felt that it's about time I join the conversation with a blog of my own.

I decided on the name "Hysteria" as a reference to the common method of shutting down women who are upset or worked up about things, since I am a woman and will be writing about things that I get worked up about.

I am a white, able-bodied, straight, cis-gender, monogamous,  conventionally attractive female in her mid-twenties, with ADD and depression, who has money issues but will hopefully be a lawyer soon (I'm only a bar exam and licensing process away!), living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

I will be writing about pop culture, politics, society, law, feminist issues, and my life. And Lady Gaga (all Lady Gaga posts will be clearly labeled, if you don't want to read about her, you can skip them).

Welcome to my blog!