After taking a week off from the site to prepare for the upcoming September onslaught at work, I'm back at the ol' keyboard and man do I have a lot of catching up to do. Most weeks there are maybe one or two stories that catch my eye, that I'll comment on. This past week and a half, it seemed like more things were happening than I could really do proper justice to (and be timely) with full examinations. So, without further ado, I am going to attempt to get caught up on the stories I didn't have a chance to cover over the past week.
It began with a text from my mom last Monday. I had just gotten in from seeing Guardians of the Galaxy (for the 2nd time) when she dropped the bombshell. While she didn't spell out what had happened to him, I guessed based on the tenor of the text that it was bad. And indeed it was even worse than I had thought. A man who had made so many of us happy for the past 30+ years lost a battle with mental illness and took his own life.
My intent with this piece is not to eulogize Robin Williams the entertainer. So many have talked about how Robin Williams brought them so much joy and all of the wonderful characters he brought to life. and frankly, many have done so much better than I can. Today I want to talk about Robin Williams the person. We so often forget that behind the curtain of celebrity is a husband, father and friend.
There's a cynical part of me that always wants to shout down my emotions whenever I get choked up about the death of a celebrity. A little voice inside that snarkishly chides me with "You didn't know them. Thousands of people die every day, that you don't care about." That voice can kind of be an asshole sometimes, but it is not entirely wrong. The horrible truth about Robin Williams suicide is there are countless others out there suffering from depression, many of whom do so in silence.
Countless others who have to listen to Grade A Douchecanoes like Gene Simmons telling people who have suicidal thoughts that they should just kill themselves. (Warning: Clicking on that link may cause retching.) Countless others who have to listen to their mental illness be belittled or minimized. If there is one shred of hope that comes from this very dark corner, it's that maybe we'll all start taking mental health issues a little more seriously?
I once heard a description given of depression that I feel most accurately illustrates the struggle that so many go through on a daily basis. Imagine that cynical voice that I described above. Now imagine that the voice actively hates you. It spends all day every day telling you what an awful person you are and how the world would be better without you in it. The voice knows all of your insecurities and it is merciless in using them against you. You can't turn it off and you can't turn the volume down. No matter how many people who surround you with messages of love, that voice can shout louder than any of them. It never tires, it never sleeps. One opening is all it needs, one moment of exhaustion, one lapse in your defenses. NOT a moment of weakness mind you just a moment of living not in a perpetual state of battle with your own brain. If you give in to the battle and agree with the voice for one moment, the voice wins, extinguishing itself and you in the process.
Throughout all of the talk about chemical imbalances and whether or not things like mental illness or addictions such as alcoholism should be called diseases, we sometimes lose sight of the humanity in the equation. This is the story of a man beloved by so many, and yet who ultimately felt he could not go on in this world.
I'm not a mental health professional. There is a lot I don't know about this illness. I do know that stigmatizing mental illness only makes things worse. I do know that you cannot cure it with money. I do know that there are no magic pills or quick fixes. My hope is that this unfortunate loss spurs us all to stop turning a deaf ear to this issue.
Rest In Peace Robin
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Canadian Mental Health Association: Depression
Stephen Fry's Documentary "The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive"
I used to be a huge Mel Gibson fan.
My grandparents had a copy of "Maverick" on VHS that I damn near wore out from watching so often. By the way, since I'll never be able to do a full review of the movie (for reasons I'll get into in a bit) I'll say I still remember it very fondly. It was a lot of fun and the cast was top notch. (Author's Note: It occurs to me I allowed James Garner's passing to go by without properly paying my respects...I'll have to rectify that.)
I loved the Lethal Weapon movies and even latter day movies like Payback were among my favourites. Overall, if you would have asked me 10 years ago (well 11 considering the Passion came out on 2004) to list my favourite actors, Mel would have certainly been named among them.
I am no longer a fan of Mel Gibson. I don't feel I need to go too much into detail to explain why. His track record of being an abusive, misogynistic, racist, religious fundamentalist, alcoholic, rageaholic, batshit crazy asshole have been well covered elsewhere.
It's not so much a case of not being a fan anymore as it is I actively work to avoid putting money in his pockets (yes I realize the irony of giving Maverick a recommendation). That gets more to the heart of what I want to talk about today, which is how we treat the line between the performer and the art.
I'll be the first to say, my Gibson prohibition is not unanimously viewed as the "correct" way to go about things. For many people I have talked to about such things, the art and the performer are always separate. So my refusal to watch ANYTHING Mel Gibson is in (Note to filmmakers I like: quit putting Mel in movies I might legitimately want to see) is in no way to be considered what I believe to be the right thing to do. It's purely on a personal level. Everybody's list is different and not having a list is perfectly acceptable.
What interests me, however, is how hypocritical it makes me to have this prohibition. I'm gonna be honest here and just say that there are a lot of artists I continue to show patronage to, who have some combination of the qualities that led Mel Gibson to land on my shit list.
Sean Connery, Josh Brolin, Steve Austin, Dennis Hopper and John Lennon all had problems with domestic violence.
Malcolm Young, Jake Roberts, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Steve McQueen and Jack Lemmon all battled substance abuse (Fact: The first time Jack Lemmon publicly acknowledged his battle with alcoholism was during his interview on "Inside the Actors Studio". You could hear a pin drop during the silence that followed.)
Matthew Broderick killed a woman with his car, John Landis and Steven Spielberg were involved in the on set death of Vic Morrow (and two underaged actors who were not supposed to be working at the time) on the set of the Twilight Zone movie.
Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Joan Crawford and Steve Jobs were all well known for their reputations as emotionally abusive basket cases.
That's all off the dome by the way, I could keep going for a long time here but I feel I've illustrated my point. What is it that will change my perspective on an artist so much that I will refuse to ever patronize anything they do? I've always believed in the statement "you vote with your wallet". In Mel Gibson's case, I think it's because the image of the man has become synonymous with any character he tries to play. It's like trying to go back and watch those old Naked Gun movies that had OJ Simpson clowning it up with Leslie Neilson. I have trouble seeing anything but OJ Simpson.
Charlie Sheen found himself on the list for similar reasons, although there was an added dimension to his particular decent into madness. Not only did he hit most of the Mel Gibson meltdown checklist, but added a layer of overt egomania to it.
I think a big part of a reason I won't pay money to watch these guys is I feel like I would be contributing further to their decline. One of the things that fascinates me about the cult of personality in our modern age is the absolute relish with which the public loves to watch an icon fall.
South Park did a brilliant episode called "Britney's New Look" which painted a chilling picture of the dark side of popular culture. In the episode, Britney has had her well publicized meltdown after being hounded by the paparazzi and the public. The boys sneak into her hotel room posing as her children in an attempt to get a picture of her. Upon seeing that she had been tricked, Britney grabs a shotgun and blows the top half of her head off.
Britney survives the ordeal (while still missing the top of her head) and the boys, feeling guilty for having pushed her over the edge, find themselves the only ones defending her when the world seems intent on continuing to push her out into public. At one point she is sent out to perform her new song at an awards show and all everybody talks about is how she has put on weight and can't sing. The don't care that she's missing half of her head.
I won't spoil the rest of the episode, but it is definitely worth a look. A single half hour of television made me look at celebrity obsession a whole new way.
I think a part of why these two men in particular have managed to raise enough bile within me to avoid them completely, is because I don't wish to follow them off the cliff. I'm Stan and Kyle in the South Park story trying to undo the damage when it's already too late.
Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show, had a similar epiphany regarding the cult of personality, in one of his best serious monologues. Especially coming from a late night talk show host, whose job involves regular mockery of celebrities, it was a real eye opener.
Man, it's getting heavy in here.
I need some more Crazy Mel pictures.
I'm not in any way excusing the behavior of Mel and Charlie. I'm merely trying to figure out why they in particular hit that "Nope!" button so very hard.
I think it comes down to a combination of fan guilt (ie - we created the monsters so now we have to stop them), and a sense of betrayal that comes from someone you once liked crossing that line of no return. (Also see the sad case of Chris Benoit for another example of someone whose work I will never be able to enjoy again for a different reason. That's far too lengthy a topic to go into here.)
I don't know where the line is on this. This is a topic I just end up with more questions than answers. Is it wrong to allow personal stuff to impact art? Am I unfairly singling out Mel and Charlie while giving others a pass for the same behavior? Maybe we're all hypocrites? Are Mel and Charlie simply easy targets, playing the whipping boys while others skate on by?
Do you have a prohibition list? What do you think about the separation of person from art? Let me know in the comments.
Today on The Colbert Report, Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada revealed that Marvel is not finished with the shake up of their superhero lineup. A few days ago, the news broke that the mantle of Thor is going to be taken up by a woman going forward.
Well now, it has been announced, that (at least for the foreseeable future) Captain America is going to be black. The character formerly known as the Falcon will be donning the stars and stripes jumpsuit with the original, Steve Rogers, losing his powers and retiring.
This also follows on the heels of DC Comics "New 52" company wide reboot of all major superhero stories, where they revealed that going forward Alan Scott (The Green Lantern) would be portrayed as an openly gay man.
Now, predictably comic book fans are a bit mixed in their reactions. While a lot of geeks want to pretend to be progressive, that usually only applies until it's a property they like that is effected. It's certainly been an interesting conversation to sit in on, some in support and some in opposition. I'm gonna just go ahead and say that what I'm about to write, will likely be taken as a shot across the bespectacled noses of narrow minded comic book geeks everywhere. And I make no apologies for that. Many take the stories and presentation of these characters they love as sacrosanct and I'm just not like that. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, they will at least understand why I feel the way I do, even if they don't agree with it.
Now, I should mention that changing the cultural and gender backgrounds of characters is not a new thing. Similar conversations were going on when Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin was played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan in Daredevil. Earlier this year it was announced that Michael B. Jordan would be taking over the role of The Human Torch in an upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Man of Steel recast Jimmy Olsen as Jane Olsen. So playing around with gender, racial and sexual orientations of certain characters is not unheard of. The main difference we are now seeing is that it's not just supporting side characters or villains who are being re imagined. DC and Marvel comics are walking the walk by changing these iconic, central characters.
Not only are these companies making these monumental changes, but they are also doing so right at the source material. Marvel has made clear, there is no "alternate universe" tom-f**kery going on here. Thor will be a woman from this point on. Captain America will be black going forward. Over at DC, Green Lantern came out as the first openly gay A-list superhero (I say openly gay because come on Batman, you're not fooling anybody).
Now, there are a couple of common refrains you'll hear in opposition to changing these characters.
"Why don't they just create new female or black characters?" is the most common one. I'm really resisting the urge to reduce this down to "Please don't take away our white men." This isn't about the characters, this is about positive empowerment and what those characters represent.
The whole conceit of Thor is "only one who is worthy of the mantle of Thor will be able to lift the hammer". It's symbolic of not just physical strength but strength of character. Young boys have a lot of heroes to choose from, but passing the character of Thor to a woman is a huge statement. Marvel could have easily created a "Thorina" Minnie Mouse variation and kept the original, but the power of that move would have been lost.
I want young girls to have a wider selection of female role models than Disney Princesses or heroes in skintight fetish wear (with all due respect to Wonder Woman and Catwoman). I want my nieces to know that someday they can be worthy to pick up that hammer, that they can be the hero of their own story, not serving to tell the story of the men around them.
In a similar case, we live in a time where the President of the United States is black, so a respected and beloved black hero stepping into the Captain America character is similarly huge on a symbolic level. Now, I can understand that with the changing racial and cultural mix that is becoming the modern America, it may be a little difficult for some of the Caucasian persuasion to face that there is now a wider cultural palette to draw from.
Why does it matter? The most common cause of death among young black men is homicide. That is why this change matters. Role models are extremely important. While young black kids might not be able to actually grow up to be Captain America, they now know that in a fictional sense it is possible. The same way that until 2008, young black men could not conceive of becoming President. I can imagine it would be hard for white comic book readers to fully grasp the implications of that, because it likely never occurred to them, that it wouldn't be a possibility. I never grew up thinking that being Prime Minister would not be an option for me some day. Captain America no longer being a blond haired, blue eyed, white dude (even if it's only temporary) is important on a symbolic level.
When DC announced that their company wide reboot would re-imagine the Green Lantern as a gay man it caused the usual conservative backlash. To their credit, DC stuck to their guns and created a character who is more than the usual swishy stereotype than we're used to. The Alan Scott Green Lantern is gay, but not defined by his gayness. Artist Nicola Scott (who was tasked with designing the look of him for the reboot) said of him: "Alan strikes me as an incredibly open, honest and warm man, a natural leader and absolutely the right choice to be Guardian of the Earth. His sexuality is incidental. Every time I draw him I love him even more."
This is important for two reasons. One being that this is not a case of a character taking over a previously established persona as in the two examples above. From this moment on the Green Lantern is gay...considering his power comes from jewelry it's not completely surprising. (Ok, I allowed myself one joke.) The second reason is that the sexuality of the character, while great for discussions like this, plays no role in his effectiveness as a hero.
I feel that this change in iconic comic book characters should just be the beginning of a paradigm shift in regards to how we treat our modern day mythology. Whether or not it will be is totally up for debate. (Comic book fans are notoriously conservative in their resistance to change. How long the new characters will last is hard to say.)
If these pop cultural characters are truly iconic, they will survive whatever you want to do with them. There's a reason that you can take pretty much any Shakespeare play and transpose it to any time and groups of people and it will work with minimal change needed. Kenneth Branagh was famously colourblind when it came to casting his films, putting Denzel Washington in Much Ado About Nothing and Idris Elba in Thor. I would to see more of that mixing going on.
I want to live in a world where we have a black James Bond, a hispanic lesbian Sherlock Holmes and a gay British Batman with an American butler. We've become so accustomed to only painting in one colour, that we've forgotten how much a new perspective can bring to make the characters even richer.
The greatest thing to happen to Sherlock Holmes was public domain. That allowed anyone who wanted to tell a Holmes story to put their own spin on it. Before the BBC's take on Sherlock, I didn't think Holmes would work in the modern day. Now I'm certain, if you do it right, you can make Sherlock a Martian on another planet and it would still work.
When I heard that Idris Elba was being considered to succeed Daniel Craig as Bond, I was over the moon. I'm a big time proponent of the "Codename" theory anyway, so it would make sense. (The "Codename" Theory postulates that James Bond does not actually exist and is a codename passed down from agent to agent in order to build up James Bonds reputation as an invincible, unstoppable force against evil.) It's exactly the shakeup that character needs to add more depth.
And what about the biggest American icon, Superman? (Although, given the make-up of his creators, he is half Canadian.) Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young Jewish lads who created Superman as an outcast from another planet who assimilates into American culture. This symbol that was created as a response against Nazi-ism also became the ultimate immigrant story.
In one week's time, Hercules will be played by "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson and it'll work just fine. If we're willing to buy a man who is half black and half samoan playing a Greek hero, we can certainly have a female Thor, a black Captain America, and a gay Green Lantern. If it pisses off small minded and insecure people, that's just icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.
Now, I'm not expecting all of these character shifts to actually happen, nor for them to be permanent. Comics are ever changing and often comic writers have a way of ending up right back where they started. Many of them are just musings from an overactive imagination.
What I'm getting at is that these characters grow beyond the frame of reference the creators used to create them. They become successful because they tap into universal stories we respond to. New perspectives give the stories new dimensions, which in turn become part of the foundation (ie - Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" or wore the deerstalker cap in the stories, those were added later). The stories and characters are timeless, but they are also infinitely adaptable. They can be used to address modern issues and that is their ultimate power.
The day will come when our modern heroes will join the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Odysseus, Edmond Dantes, the Three Musketeers, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Hercules, Perseus, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster in perpetual reinvention.
Until then, I salute the current stewards of these properties for committing to progress and diversity. We all need heroes.
What do you think about the changes being made by Marvel and DC? What do you think about changing other iconic characters? Would you like to see a Hispanic lesbian Sherlock Holmes? I'll start on the script right now.
Let me know in the comments.
WARNING: The following is not intended as a work of satire, humour or fiction. It is as serious as it gets. This piece will contain subject matter which may be uncomfortable, however I believe it is important to discuss.
Author's Note: A very special thank you to Jennilee McLean for her feedback and contributions to this article. Her guidance and insight made this piece much better than it would have been otherwise.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I was checking through my facebook feed, catching up on what has been going on while I've been whacked on NyQuil and Neo-Citran over the past week and I came across this post from my friend Jennilee. Reposted here with her permission. After reading, hopefully you might understand why it didn't feel right to just go on writing about whatever silly thing I had planned. Sure, I'll get back to that but for now it's time to get real.
Here's her message:
"Some people are horrible: I got felt up by a complete stranger last night.
I also experienced lots of dudes saying gross things to me and making gross gestures, just because I happened to be near them. All that stuff I post about how misogyny is ingrained in our culture is real, and this is just one tiny example of it. A man thought it was perfectly acceptable to not only touch me, but aggressively grab my body. The real sickening thing is all I can think is that I'm just glad it wasn't worse. Because it is worse for women everywhere, every day.
Any time you hear me complaining about the stampede, understand that it isn't the event that I hate. It's the terrible behaviour that comes with it. It's a week long nightmare of shitty people being extra horrible, in my neighborhood."
I wanted to include the quote as it was because I believe in giving credit where it is due when something I have to say is inspired by someone else. The other reason is a little more complicated. I always find, when discussing complex issues it helps me focus to put a human face to it. We live in a world where we have more capacity to put up walls, electronic and otherwise, than we've ever had before. That tends to wring the humanity out of these stories. We sometimes forget that behind every statistic, there's a story just like Jenni's or worse.
The sad thing is, Jenni's experience is not unusual for these types of events. As she mentioned, something worse happens to women every day. In fact, statistically speaking, someone else was sexually assaulted that day and likely in a much more severe way (also, statistically speaking it went unreported-another sad truth).
I attended Calgary's Comics and Entertainment Expo earlier this year and they ran a campaign called "Cosplay is not consent". The campaign was designed to shed light on the problem of people mistaking revealing costumes for invitations for unwanted contact or harassment. This is at least encouraging insofar that the pervasive (and previously unacknowledged) elements of rape culture these events tolerated in the past, are at least being addressed. And there we have the point of this piece. I've said the two magic trigger words that make a lot of men tune out to this issue: "rape culture". That is what I want to talk about today (although "want to" would indicate joy in the act which would be incorrect).
I should preface by saying, normally I avoid using the term "rape culture" in these types of discussions. The reason being, it's a loaded and somewhat ambiguous phrase that carries a lot of baggage with it and it tends to hang up the conversation. Frankly, it causes some of us with Y chromosomes to tune out. Kind of like how some white people tend to tune out whenever a black person talks about "the man". In both cases, the phrases function as intellectual off switches. The content of the argument gets brushed aside because in the use of both "rape culture" and "the man"...we know they're talking about us (white males) and that gets all kind of uncomfortable. Denial is a powerful thing.
I'll admit, I was once that way too. I ignored issues of institutionalized misogyny because I could always justify it with "I'm not like that so they're not talking about me". I batted it away as someone else's problem to deal with. Over the past several years, however something began to gnaw at me. I couldn't describe exactly what it was at first or when it really kicked in. It just started as a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It first came into my purview with the reporting of the widespread misogyny and rape threats aimed at female gamers online. Then came the rash of teen suicides predicated on slut shaming and harassment of sexual assault victims. Then came the Steubenville Ohio rape case, where townspeople, school officials and the American news media found more sympathy for the young football players convicted of rape than the victim of the the rape. Then came comedian Daniel Tosh's whole "Can you make jokes about rape" controversy that might have been a thought provoking bit of social commentary had it not come from Daniel Tosh. Then came Amanda Todd and Rehteah Parsons, bullied into suicide after being sexually extorted and assaulted respectively. It all started to add up so fast. The picture it was creating was ugly and something I, as a self described enlightened modern man didn't want to face.
The "rape culture" I had been ignoring because it had nothing to do with me, was in fact happening all around me. It wasn't that this stuff was now happening more often, it was that I was finally able to see it and people (much braver and more perceptive than I am) were speaking out against it.
What it all comes down to is, as a culture, we have a serious problem with the way we treat women. I don't mean that in the chivalry sense of holding open doors and standing when they enter the room. I mean on a deeper, psychological, sociological and systemic level how do does our culture treat women?
Part of my growth as a writer (especially in regards to social matters) has been a greater emphasis on recognizing patterns beyond what is simply seen and heard out in the open. It was in looking at the issue through that lens I finally saw what "rape culture" actually meant. It's not the actual stories that comprise a rape culture, it's the unseen connective pieces between the stories.
I'll use the analogy of news coverage to illustrate better. In news coverage, there are always two elements at play when you look at a news item. There is the "story" and there is the "narrative". The story is the one off. It's the isolated incident. As Joe Friday would call it, it's "just the facts". The narrative is more fluid in nature. It's not always easy to spot. It requires stepping back from the story itself to see where it fits into the scheme of things. For example, a story about three men breaking into a room in the Watergate Hotel is a story. It has a clear who, when, what, why and where? The narrative in this case is that of abuse of power by a sitting United States President and what happens when people lose faith in their government. The narrative took years to fully emerge in this case, but it had far broader implications than the act of breaking into a hotel room.
Looking at cultural misogyny through the same lens, I had finally tapped into the right frame of mind to see the pattern that had been there all along. Like Neo learning to read the lines of code in the Matrix or that moment when the magic eye picture finally takes shape. Once you know the pattern, you can't unsee the picture.
What makes a pair of Ohio football players think they have a right to force themselves on a girl who is passed out? What made the loser in Jenni's story think he had a right to violate her in that way? What made her less of a person and what made him think that it was ok? This points to a much deeper mass psychology issue than just one gross asshole being a little gropey. The CCEE wouldn't have to run a campaign telling patrons to keep their hands to themselves if there wasn't a bigger problem. The man in Jenni's story didn't seem to know or care that what he was doing was sexual assault and he was committing a crime. Somewhere a reeducation is needed. It not cute, it's not funny and saying "boys will be boys" just doesn't cut it any more.
The narrative when it comes to rape culture is that young boys have been conditioned to see women as objects from a very young age. I never fully grasped the full implications of the phrase "objectifying women" until this all clicked into place for me. I thought it was simply focusing on their physical traits (see my review of Sleepy Hollow for my awkward and failed attempts to avoid that pitfall). The truth is far worse. By objectifying women (ie - treating someone like an object), we remove their humanity. They become less real and therefore, less worthy of consideration and respect. They become prizes to be won, status symbols to show off, notches on bedposts and stories to tell the next day. In all of these mindsets, the women involved have no agency over their own bodies or destinies. Once they become dehumanized, and that's where the danger comes from. When you start seeing a particular group as less than human, it becomes easier to justify committing atrocities against them. Just look at slavery or to holocaust to see what happens when we fail to recognize the humanity of others.
This brings me to the second story I wanted to tell which further illustrates my point. A little over a year ago, an event was held in Calgary called the "Skirt Chaser 5K". It was a singles run where the women or "skirts" would get a head start and the men would have to chase them.
Joanna Pesta, a friend and coworker, made a comment on twitter about how sexist the whole thing was. It got retweeted a bunch and blew into a media dust-up for a few weeks. The response was the fairly typical backlash faced by any woman who questions the status quo. To Jo's credit, she (and Stephanie Symington, another friend and coworker who also got involved and is deserving of a shout out) handled it well considering the amount of vitriol that came back. The justifications from men ranged from "they've done this for a long time and nobody has ever complained before" (fun fact - dwarf tossing and public lynchings also used to happen pretty regularly), to "you're making a big deal out of nothing" (aka - gaslighting) to variations on "Calm down, it's all in good fun" (aka "Sit down, shut up and take it" with a mix of "Lalalalala I can't hear you!"). And those were just the ones that were actual responses and not the misspelled rantings of sexually frustrated man children.
Here's again where the difference between the story and the narrative comes into play. Is one misogynistic fun run that bad? Not at face value. When you look at the bigger pattern though, the picture becomes more sinister. In this case the women were prizes to be pursued and caught (the predator/prey implications more than overt). They were also given the head start for the explicit purpose of giving the men something to chase after. Once again, reducing women to prizes (in this case, prey to be caught) and not human beings of equal value to the men. Not surprisingly, the men on the opposing side didn't see the big deal, because men don't often have to worry about being chased and sexually assaulted when walking alone. The same way non dwarf sized people didn't have a problem with dwarf tossing until the little people spoke up and said "Hey, knock it off assholes! That really hurts." Those in a position of power have the luxury of not thinking it's a big deal.
To contrast, I routinely go on late night walks, without once experiencing the fear of being harassed, chased or assaulted based on my gender. How many women would be able to say the same? Jennilee put it in perspective: "All women risk danger - simply by going out into the world - at the hands of dangerous men. And dangerous men look just like other men."
The statistics bear that out. In the United States (where we take many of our cultural cues from) a woman is assaulted approximately every 2 minutes. In Canada the figures are every 17 minutes. A majority of assaults are by person(s) known to the victim. What kind of society have we created where one gender has to go through life in a constant state of hyper-awareness and fear? To dismiss that fear as not important, or overblown is to be willfully ignorant of white male privilege.
You see the elements of the misogyny culture everywhere once you crack the pattern. In the movies, the hero saves the day and gets the girl, as if sex is the expected reward for doing good things. In the Axe Body Spray commercials young men are made to believe if they spray what I believe is DDT mixed with vomit onto themselves a bevy of beautiful women will instantly swoon over them, the women apparently having no agency in this decision. Every case of female body shaming reinforces the idea that women exist merely as objects to be enjoyed aesthetically. Any time someone complains about being in the "friend zone" they are perpetuating the idea that women are obligated to give them sex in exchange for being "nice" (Hint: If the only reason you do nice things if to receive sex in return, you're not really nice.) Also, let's not forget generations of women whose reproductive rights have historically been controlled and legislated by men. There are a lot of people out there who would happily force women to bear children against their will, once again taking agency over their bodies away from them. What kind of message does that send? "We'll decide what you can do with your body." These are just examples off the top of my head. The sad truth is that I have barely scratched the surface. Even with that in mind, it's enough to paint a pretty disturbing picture.
Now, I don't have all the answers here. I'm just one guy. When you're dealing with mass psychological and cultural issues there are no easy answers or quick fixes. There is no magic formula and you can't really "solve for X" on this one. I'm not an expert. There's a lot I still have to learn, and a lot of things I don't have any real answers for.
I do know that, while protection under the law is extremely important, it's not the solution. Cultural attitudes cannot be legislated and in a lot of cases we tend to take legal protection as a sign that everything is alright and we rest on our laurels. Legal protection is only the first step to changing the cultural mindset. In that area, there is still a long way to go.
I do know that talking about issues is an important step to solving them. Even if the conversation is uncomfortable to have, even if recognition of responsibility is required. It's not about assigning blame, it's about identifying problems in order to correct them.
I do know it's important for men to speak out against this kind of stuff. Young boys learn from their role models. Teach these boys right and we can leave the future a little better than we found the past. Here's what I do know. I know that what we can teach them is as simple as it gets.
"Women are not objects, they are human beings. They are deserving of respect. Their bodies are their own. Nobody is entitled to any part of them."
And it's important to support brave women who speak out on these issues like Jenni, Joanna and Stephanie. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself, while constantly being told to sit down and be quiet.
Since I am in the position to appeal to those who need to hear this message most, if I could have men do one thing, it would be to listen when women say they feel threatened or offended. Don't brush off their concerns as overreactions or exaggerations, actually listen to them. Don't reflexively retreat into "Not all men are like that", actually listen to them. Of course not all men are like that, but all men currently live in a culture that thinks like that, and that's the problem. As a self described enlightened modern man (it sounds dumber each time I type it), I sometimes catch myself falling into anti-woman rhetoric or excusing this kind of behavior either out of habit or ignorance (as happened in the first draft of this piece, check out the links below for more on that).
Earlier this year, I was party to a discussion regarding whether or not the 1989 Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique was still relevant to the generation of young people coming up today. The shootings earlier this year in California remain a startling reminder that this issue can have deadly consequences. In both cases, disturbed young men lashed out because of a deep hatred of women and because women in general had something the shooters felt they were entitled to (career/educational opportunities and their bodies, respectively).
Silence isn't an option anymore.
It's time to speak up, gentlemen.
Before I wrap this up, I want to leave you with Jennilee's final words on this.
Recognizing and owning one's privilege is really fucking hard, but it is vital. Some men lash out and feel personally attacked when women share their stories of injustice at the hands of other men, because they can't conceive of a conversation that is not in some way about them. That is privilege. Instead, understand that it is not about you. Listen to the women in your lives, and practice empathy. You can't know what it's like to be a woman, but you can believe them when they tell you. By declaring 'not all men', you dismiss her experience, and you remind her that her experiences don't count (and you're telling her something she already knows). We know that not all men are the problem, but all men must work to end systemic misogyny.
www.rainn.org - The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network does great work for survivors of sexual violence.
assaultcare.ca - A Canadian based support network for sexual assault victims
Jackson Katz - "Violence against women, it's a men's issue"
-An interesting presentation calling men to the cause of opposing gender violence. I stole the Martin Luther King Jr. quote from him.
"Feminspire: Debunking the "Caveman" excuse. Why rape is not natural"
-During the course of writing this piece, I consulted with Jennilee initially to gain permission to use her quote. Thanks to her feedback, I gained some valuable insight into a trap I had fallen into, by bringing up the biological argument that rape is an evolutionary holdover. After more research on the matter (beginning with this article) I realized I was wrong. Not just from a moral perspective (trying to explain rape using flawed biological reasoning can be used as an excuse) but from a logical standpoint as well (coming from social primates, it makes no sense for rape to be a part of the natural order). Even though I removed the content in question, I left in this explanation and the link above to illustrate that even those of us who are well meaning are capable of being misinformed.
Slate: "Not all men: How discussing women's issues gets derailed"
-An interesting article that goes over some of the territory I covered here. Particularly in regards to the "Not all men" response. Definitely worth a read.
CBC Article on "Skirt Chaser 5K"
-Featuring quotes from Joanna and Stephanie Symington.
www.sexassault.ca - Contains a helpful summary of stats as well as information and resources
*If there are any links you feel I missed, please let me know in the comments.*
"Your Princess is in Another Castle" - Suggested by Shereen Samuels, a well written piece about misogyny and entitlement in geek culture. The author touches on a few issues I have mentioned, but goes more in depth into geek culture than I have here. Very interesting read.
Hello all! I thought I would update you on some odds and ends and other site related stuff.
I've just gradually gotten back into the swing of things after an exhausting couple of weeks. On July 4th, my brother Rob married his wonderful lady Dallas. It was a great week full of highlights.
I also managed to pick up a cold as a parting gift. I've spent the better part of the week drowning in phlegm and NyQuil and almost have it licked, minus the clogged ears of course.
So, now that I'm on the mend, I'm back at the keyboard. This message is basically just to keep you updated on changes and updates to the site.
You'll now notice I have a new home page where all new updates will be indexed.
I've also streamlined some of the site features. Headlines will no longer have it's own section. It'll be included here in Brain Matters.
While I generally like to keep things goofy and fun here, I occasionally dip into serious topics. The first edition of "Serious Matters" will be coming along in the next day or so. Since much of what I do here is fairly satire focused, I will mark serious topics as such.
I still have a West Wing retrospective on my to do list, however, being that it's my favourite show I want to do it justice so it'll take a bit more time.
If you all have any feedback or suggestions, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Greetings and salutations fellow Brain Benders!
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Brain Matters! The one stop shop for all things me. Over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing you all to more of our guest contributors once I have sent out the incriminating blackmail photos to ensure their cooperation. In the meantime, you'll have to put up with little old me. I'd like to take a moment to explain what you can expect to find in the various sections of the site. Some categories have already been created, some are still in the production stage. Basically, this site is like when a store is being renovated. Some of it works, but don't blame me if you fall off a few scaffolds.
Brain Matters: This one is pretty self evident. After all, you are reading it right now (or at least skimming it to see if there are any fun new curse words...dickwhistle!) It is my own personal blog, which will be used to keep you all updated on site business, as well as personal stuff that doesn't fit in the other categories.
Twisted Fiction: This section will be dedicated to creative writing. Can't wait to bust out my Spongebob Squarepants erotic fanfiction.
Rotting My Brain: The part of the site dedicated to all things pop culture. Anything to do with film, television, books, video games or world wide web will go here. This may include anything from news, reviews, commentaries or frankly, anything else I want to put in there.
Synapse Media (Coming Soon): This will be the place for any kind of multimedia projects we may create here. This may include podcasts and/or video content.
Headlines: A place for discussion of current events. Due to the nature of the beast, this section will likely include discussion of news, science and politics as well as other subjects that might make for awkward silence around a dinner table. You have been warned.
The Mystery Button: I suppose you could also pop over to The Mystery Button and see what Mystery Marv has queued up today. A little bit of friendly advice though, don't let him talk you into hanging out with him. If talking for hours about bean dip recipes sounds awful to you, congratulations on being sane. If talking for hours about bean dip sounds fun to you, quit reading this and get back to work Marv! Still, you may as well check out his page. The more time you spend there, the less I have to hear about his cats. I apologize in advance. He came with the site.
Anyway, when I was commissioned (ie - forced under penalty of excruciating death) by Head Office to become the Managing Editor of this site, I didn't really know what they wanted me to do with it. I had woken up in a dark room in the presence of a being which does not have a name humans are capable of pronouncing with our primitive human tongues. It seemed to be fading in and out of our reality making sounds like light sabre swooshes as it did. I decided to call the supreme being, which I guess is technically the owner of the site (kind of like Rupert Murdoch, but less evil) "Head Office" because I'm running a little crazy with head related puns and I just had a run in with an inter dimensional monstrosity so cut me a little slack will ya? It hissed a simple directive: "Entertain me, human! Prove that your kind are worth saving, lest we suck your brain out your nasal cavity and feast on your soul!"
As you can see, I was given a great deal of creative freedom when it comes to site content. Still, I didn't have any real ideas for what Headplaces would be about. It was just a name and an empty page after all and it appears that the fate of the human race rests on me being chosen as an emissary of humanity. So I figured, we're all pretty much f***ed and I might as well have a little fun with it before we get snuffed out of existence or however this thing is gonna work. Then it hit me!
I woke up several hours after it hit me. I didn't see which of Head Office's numerous gangly limbs swung the instrument which rendered me unconscious by clocking me in the temple. Kind of disappointing that a supreme being can't come up with a better way to get me back to our reality than pummeling me with a heavy object. Whatever dimension it comes from seems to have the same laws of physics as the Looney Toons. I bolted upright in my bed, heart racing and covered in what I hoped was sweat. This was curious because I could have sworn that I initially fell asleep on my couch while watching a West Wing marathon on Netflix. Had I dreamed the whole thing? Was I going mad.
I stumbled out into the living room and the screen had dimmed and showed that "Are you still watching The West Wing" message that always interrupts the flow of a good marathon. "Hell yes, I'm still watching the West Wing!", I said out loud before realizing that I was answering a question asked by an inanimate thing. "It's my favourite show!" I blurted out still not cluing in that there was no other half to this conversation taking place.
And that was when I decided on what my first subject would be. Starting next week, over at Rotting My Brain, I will begin a multi part retrospective on my favourite television show: The West Wing. What better way to show Head Office that humanity is worth saving than to present the most idealized, well written and earnest depiction of government and humanity in action. Plus walk and talks...lots of walk and talks.
So, hang on to your lids, kids! It's gonna get all Sorkin-y around here.
Until next time...don't go mindf***ing without protection.
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.