Archive for August, 2005

Why Anonymity Should be Protected in Cyberspace

An individual’s ability to operate anonymously in cyberspace must be protected. Anonymity is fundamentally linked to free speech, privacy and personal security. Instances where an individual might seek anonymity include communication, political action, research, and shopping. Anonymity/pseudonymity provides protection from persecution and creates a measure of physical safety. This paper explores why anonymity is necessary, how it can be compromised, the debate surrounding anonymity and cybercrime, and whether anonymity on the Internet is really possible. Read more »

Non-sexist Language: The American Philosophical Association and Jennifer Mather Saul

Feminist discussions of gender neutrality in language have achieved some reform in spoken and written English language. Organizations like the American Philosophical Association (APA) provide guidelines to their members in the use of non-sexist language. Saul suggests similar strategies for creating gender-neutral language. This paper will discuss how the “Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language” (Warren) call for concrete gender-neutral word choice and will identify where Saul’s discussion of gender-biased language differs in guidelines and in justifications.

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Rating Internet Content

The American Civil Liberties Union article “Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?”[1] illustrates how mandatory rating of Internet content will lead to blocking of information, create barriers between information sharing, and will result in an Internet dominated by big business. I agree with the ACLU’s position that rating Internet content compromises the free speech of individuals.

Libertarianism holds that individuals should be allowed complete freedom of action as long as they do not infringe on the freedom of others.[2] Libertarianism advocates that individuals’ negative right to freedom from interference includes freedom from government interference. When making the choice whether and how to rate Internet content the ACLU takes the moral position, as do Contractarians,[3] that considers whether individual rights may be at stake. The Libertarian position is that mandatory ratings coerce individuals to apply pejorative labels to information they wish to publish. This infringes on individual freedom to be left alone. Read more »

Guilty of Appropriation

Every summer I take my children camping with a group of homeschooler families. This year’s trip is to a 17th century reconstruction of an Iroquoian village. The trip includes observing a ‘day-in-the-life’, performances of traditional Native dance and storytelling, canoeing down the river and sleeping in a longhouse. The goal of the village is to preserve and educate people about Native culture. I have never been there but have compiled information based on the promotional materials provided by our group organizer, the village website and discussions with people who have visited the village in the past. A year ago I never would have questioned going along with the group and would have seen the opportunity as fun and exciting. Now I wonder if this would be cultural appropriation and if going on this trip perpetuates stereotypes of Canada’s indigenous peoples. Starhawk, in “Cultural Appropriation” writes, “we can experience and learn from a multiplicity of cultures and spiritual traditions” but that “issues of entitlement and authenticity need to be addressed” (201).

It would be simple to say that camping at a historic site is an educational opportunity. Read more »

Blogher Canada

Since the Blogher conference on 30 July 2005 the blogosphere has been filled with posts galore about the experience, the knowledge sharing, the future of blogging, and the building of a blogging community with personal friendships at its core.

For all those people who cannot make it to California, I’m suggesting we put together a Canadian version of the Blogher Conference, here in the great North.

  • Who would like to attend?
  • Who would like to help plan?
  • Who wants to sponsor?

Ballet tutus

I struggle with the symbolism of the ballet tutu every day. I’m a ballet teacher: it’s a skill I have that allows me to buy groceries for my kids. Most of my students are girls under the age of 10. Many sign up because they’ve seen movies of beautiful Barbie princesses dancing beautifully about and they want to be just like her. The reality of classical ballet training is very different from the movies: it’s very disciplined, technical, hard work and lots of sweat.

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Midwifery in Ontario

When my grandmothers were having babies (in Canada before WWII) going to the hospital was for middle class women, poor and isolated women had their babies at home. By the time my mother was having babies almost no one was having babies at home anymore. (And almost no one was breastfeeding). Science, medicine, and technology were the heroes of the 70s.

When I had my first baby in the 90s there was a growing midwifery movement in Canada but midwifery was not yet covered by Ontario’s health insurance. Only those who could afford a midwife could have one. Even with a sliding scale it was a challenge to pay, but it was the only way to have an attended home birth. Most of the clients of the practice were highly educated and all the ones during the time I was there were white.

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Constructing an Identity

In “The Power of Self-Definition” Patricia Hill Collins describes identity self-construction in terms of race and gender. Bell and Valentine’s article, ““The Sexed Self: Strategies of Performance, Sites of Resistance” concentrates on how sexual identity impacts life. Both show how the multiple dimensions of identity impact an individual.

According to Hill Collins, Black women’s standpoint provides them with an “alternative worldview to that embedded in institutional locations of domination” (1990, p. 103). Alexis DeVeaux says that in order to understand the larger groups around us it is important to first understand the “space between” (qtd in Hill Collins, 1990, p. 104). Black women seek to do this by exploring their relationships with each other and between themselves and dominant culture. Other methods which contribute to self-definition include music, specifically blues, and scholarship and literature (Hill Collins, 1990).

Self-defining in these ways allows Black women to move from victim to freedom to action. Blues music empowers women to act by using their individual voices to sing about issues experienced collectively (Hill Collins, 1990, p.100). Through music, Black women give voice to the relationship between respect and power (Hill Collins, 1990, p. 108). Self-definition through music, literature, and community provides Black women with “the spirit of independence”, skills to become “self-reliant”, and the support and encouragement required to challenge traditional stereotypes about Black women. (Hill Collins, 1990, p.109). By creating their own definitions, Black women place “the power to save the self within the self” rather than looking outside for rescue (Hill Collins, 1990, p. 112). The process of self-definition is also one of consciousness raising. This creates the locus for social change, that is, to be valued as Black women by their own definition, rather than to live the struggle “of two lives, one for them [the concept of the Black woman as defined by the dominant culture] and one for ourselves” (Gwaltney qtd in Hill Collins, 1990, p. 94).

Bell and Valentine’s article “The Sexed Self” focuses on people with marginalized sexual identities. As an invisible group, lesbians do not have the ease in forming community (Bell and Valentine, 1995, 145) afforded the Black women described in Hill Collins (1990). Bell and Valentine also describe the multiple identities that gays and lesbians often carry in order to “pass” (Bell and Valentine, 1995, 145). This is similar to Hill Collins saying Black women need to understand the dominant culture while at the same time creating their own identities (Hill Collins p. 91). Like Black women, lesbians must also “manage their identities in order to ‘fit’ within the boundaries of the hegemonic heterosexual discourse” (Bell and Valentine p.146).

Lesbian women have not had the same history of music and literary expression that has been so helpful to Black women in self-definition. Coming-out is inherent with risks (Bell and Valentine, 1995, pp.117-118). But Black women do not share lesbian potential for invisibility. Because the “notion of ‘what a lesbian looks like’” (Bell and Valentine, 1995, p.149) lacks a concrete answer, defining and identifying a “lesbian” is much more difficult than defining or identifying a “Black woman”. Lesbians may decide to define themselves as ‘bisexual ‘or as ‘heterosexual but having relationships with other women’ (Bell and Valentine, 1995, p.146). The label “lesbian” is fraught with complications and loss of power. Both groups are constantly aware of their audience (Hill Collins, 1990, p. 94, Bell and Valentine, 1995, p. 156) and must choose how to perform. The fluid definition of lesbian suggests that heterosexual remains the only socially acceptable orientation or else self-identity is also a fluid construct.

Bell and Valentine describe body modification as a way to identify one’s self as “other”. These choices remove invisibility and then like a different skin colour they serve as markers of difference (1995 p.150).

Bell and Valentine’s description of anger in AIDS activism shows a community that can mobilize. Like a pride parade, a Black women’s music festival provides an opportunity to engage with others, celebrate positive action and continue the struggle of the subordinated. Exposing queer practices (Bell and Valentine, 1995, p.153) forces the dominant culture to take notice of the marginalization of gays and lesbians, much like the music and literature of Black women calls attention to their concerns.

In Bell and Valentine’s conclusion they suggest, “the very notion of stable identities becomes destabilised, opening up new radical spaces for subjectivities freed from rigid binarisms and cultural matrices” (1995, p.157). Deconstructing identities does not provide the same political impetus created by constructing an identity. (1995, p. 157). Perhaps this is why Black women have had more success in organizing for social recognition and change. Bell and Valentine conclude that “rethinking our (sexed) selves” may provide help in defining spaces for marginalized bodies (1995, p.157). Looking to the womanist movement may provide some ideas on how this could be done.

Works Cited

Hill Collins, P. (1990). The Power of Self-Definition. In Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. (Pp. 91-114). New York: Routledge.

Bell, D. and G. Valentine. (1995). The Sexed Self: Strategies of Performance, Sites of Resistance in Mapping the Subject: Geographies of Cultural Transformation. (Pp. 143-157). London: Routledge.

Guaranteed Living Income

“The Feminist Statement on Guaranteed Living Income” (FSGLI, 2004) written by Lakeman, Miles and Christiansen-Ruffman and Gwendolyn Mink’s “The Lady and the Tramp (II)” both protest the economic insecurity experienced by women and particularly by single mothers. Both articles recognize the social value of caretaking and both articles demand Guaranteed Living Income (welfare) as a means to value and protect the poor woman’s right to mother.

The Canadian FSLGI describes how measurements of market worth render women’s contribution in the home invisible (FSGLI, 2004). Because the wealth and survival of society has been deeply tied to women’s unpaid labour and the “gifts of nature” (FSGLI, 2004, p. 205), Mink explores the same issue through a criticism of American policy by describing the link between full citizenship and paid work (1998, p. 7).

Mink reminds us that feminist actions such as letter writing and media efforts have affected government policy in the past (1998, p. 3). The Journal of Canadian Women Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme stands out as a publication where such efforts would be and are reflected. This is not enough for Mink. She feels that the loss of autonomy faced by poor mothers makes this issue a war against poor women (1998 p. 3). Being forced to disclose intimate details, loss of choice regarding relationships with their children’s biological fathers, and the obligation to work outside the home all put poor single women under attack with no support from middle class feminists who according to Mink do not always provide the action required to support statements like the FSGLI (1998, p. 3).

Economic dependence is linked with power in both the home and the public sphere and because women have traditionally been denied a role in economics they have been without the power to be heard and therefore affect policy decisions. Mink and the FSGLI both discuss the connection between power and economics (FSGLI, 2004, p. 205, Mink, 1998, p. 9). This financial dependence can lead to women staying in violent situations (Mink, 1998, p. 9). According to the preamble to the FSGLI, issues of entitlement, security, and autonomy are not central issues to government and policy makers (2004, p. 204). Both the FSGLI and Mink show the frustration faced by women because of the “lack of gender equality concerns in the welfare debate” (1998, p. 3).

Mink points out the dangers of statements like the FSGLI. Autonomy is linked to making one’s own choices. The feminist goal of access to paid employment must be tempered with each woman’s personal choice to work inside or outside the home. By imposing this goal on all women there is a lack of support, both social and economic for women who want to provide full-time care for their own children (Mink, 1998 p. 5). There is a difference between the right to work and the obligation to work; the latter being imposed on poor mothers (Mink, 1998, p. 8 ). The right to work outside the home has received greater attention than the political and economic rights of poor women (Mink, 1998, p. 7). The FSGLI steps precariously toward the danger Mink discusses: the line between self-proclaimed ‘experts’ and the actual experiencers. Mink assures her awareness of this issue by speaking with not for poor mothers (1998, p. 3). There is no reassurance of this type from the FSGLI.

The FSGLI briefly mentions the particular implications specific to indigenous and immigrant women. Given her greater available space, Mink is able to discuss this in greater detail (FSGLI, 2004, p. 235, Mink, 1998, p. 6). The “poor single mother” is a charged issue that is also impacted by an individual’s standpoint. The “racial mythology” that Mink discusses (1998, p. 6) places Black women as workers for other people not as the mothers of their own families (1998, p. 6). While middle class white women are fighting for their right to opportunities outside the home, Black women are fighting for the right to care for their own children. For them, paid work has not resulted in social equality (Mink, 1998, p. 7).

Mink says there is a need to value the caregiving performed by women and men (Mink, 1998, p. 9). This could be measured by considering the cost of employing someone to do the work of the caregiver (Mink, 1998, p. 9). The FSGLI concludes with an echo to Mink, calling on men to share in the “work of sustaining life” further than “monetary measures” (2004, p. 205).
Both articles state a need for public policy to protect individual rights to economic and physical security, autonomy, and a share in the common wealth of society (FSGLI, 2004, p. 204, 205). In this way the two articles work together to further the cause of all women’s right to equality and independence.

Works Cited

Lakeman, L., Miles, A., & Christiansen-Ruffman, L. (2004). “Feminist Statement on Guaranteed Living Income.” Canadian Woman’s Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, Vol. 23, No. 3/4. pp. 204-206.

Mink, G. (1998). “The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Policies, Poor Single Mothers, and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”. Feminist Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1. pp. 55-61.

Defining Sexism

Defining sexism is difficult because whether feminists view sexism in terms of women’s oppression or male privilege they face serious difficulties, such that neither definition is preferable to the other. Each of these methods neglects important issues and combining the two definitions leaves further issues unaddressed. This paper will outline the difficulties associated with defining sexism in terms of women’s oppression, the difficulties with defining sexism in terms of male privilege, and explores issues that must be considered when creating a constructive definition of sexism.

Defining sexism in terms of female oppression victimizes women. Regardless of the reality of the barriers women face, Marilyn Frye’s analogy of the birdcage labels women victims of systemic pressures (Frye 4). Rather than seeking solutions and trying to improve women’s position, society, primarily men, is blamed for the way women are treated. Women view themselves and are viewed by society as helpless. Their potential to create change is not recognized nor is their agency encouraged. Sexism becomes women’s problem and there is no motivation for members of society at large to make changes in their attitudes or behaviour.

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