Tag Archives: freedom

Please don’t call me “man”.

“I can deal with conservative ignorance and the dismissal of feminism by most conservatives…What I don’t understand is why sexism is allowed to thrive in the liberal community, which is supposedly so intolerant of sexism, and why it is that liberals are so determined to ignore very real criticisms of their sexism, ableism, classism, and racism.”

The above is an excerpt from a post on Liberal Sexism from the blog This ain’t livin’. I read it earlier this morning and it got me a’ thinking.

I live in a fairly conservative town – so conservative we recently elected a non-existent candidate to uphold our conservative values. I came to this city to attend the university, a Liberal Arts university, that I often saw as a sanctuary for progressive, liberal minded people such as myself. I was correct in many ways, but was continually astounded at the staunchly offensive and “ism’ed” behaviors I saw displayed on a regular basis. Racism to sexism to ageism seemed to bounce around those concrete walls, smacking down an innocent bystander when they would least expect it.

In most cases it is understated – an off-handed comment, or a quietly existing practice of exclusion. It can be elitist in its elitism. But, because those who practice it reside in the hallowed ivory walls of a university, many kept quiet when they felt uncomfortable or dismissed.

More often than not, it is the langauge of exclusion practised by many, perhaps unintentionally, that I find the most concerning. There are two examples I would like to use to illustrate this issue – an issue I still find prevalent amongst even my most progressive and liberal-minded peers.

The first is the use of “man” or “dude”. A term of endearment, or friendship in most cases falls on my ear as a challenge – that in order to be respected as an equal I must exhibit behaviours or patterns of thought that are classically found in males. While I do understand that those who use these terms of friendship are unlikely to consider me a “man” or a “bro” – it is the common lexicon of friendship I find difficult to accept.

If I were call to my male friends “lady” or “girlfriend”, they would find it offensive or off-putting. These gendered terms perpetuate the idea that men are constantly above women, and to be considered equal I must be considered manly, or at the very least man-like.

The second example is an incident (making it sound so much more dramatic than it is) that occurred a couple of years ago. Dr. Barry Cooper, a faculty member of the University of Calgary came to speak at the U of L on the invitation of a colleague. I did an extensive interview with Dr. Cooper and in the article I made a reference to the professor sponsoring the talk:

“Dr. Cooper was Dr. von Heyking’s Graduate program supervisor, thus there was only slight surprise on behalf of myself at the boys club familiarity Dr. von Heyking bared in his introduction.”

In response to this, I received a rather pointed e-mail taking exception of the term “boys club”. Interestingly, in the same article Dr. Cooper had said this:

“The Vice President and a lawyer, the general council for the University – she was a very pretty woman – they were extremely upset about this…”

which received no notice in by the offended professor.

An academic who credentials are impressive, and his study of classical literature extensive slipped up in his protest of language. Once again, it was the negative “male” language that was noticed, by the clear objectification of a woman in a position of authority is hardly noticeable.

We, or at least I, often expect those hallowed walls of a postsecondary institution to be free of such errors. To be able to critically examine their own use of langauge as throughly as they examine students’ citations styles in papers. I realized in a short time that is not always the case, but I do not think that is cause for anyone to stop noticing it.

Those who are willing and wanting to critically think about the world around them should also take pause to examine their own reflections of their world through langauge. A common lexicon can be incredibly powerful. It can create inclusion as easily as exclusion and permit positive behaviour as well as negative. It is able to reinforce behaviors more effectively that most physical reinforcements.

While many will complain the “language” police have gotten out of hand, or everything is un-PC “these days” – there is a reason. If the choice for a person is to use gendered terms of endearment than they need to accept how it informs the relationships they are building.

Language is a tool, a tool that should be respected and understood. It is able to affect so very much, and all too often individuals forget the power their words have.

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A Rose, Is A Rose, Is A Rose. Or Is It?

My Summer Vacation, An Essay.

By Jennifer Prosser, Features Editor, The Meliorist

Thursday September 10th, 2009. Volume 43, Issue 1

A burning and reoccurring memory plagues those of us subjected to the curriculum shortcut known as the “what I did on my summer vacation” essay. The road to hell is paved with best intentions, and this particular exercise of creative writing is the mortar.  Children glorify summer vacation the same way comic book fans glorify Joe Shuster, (unintentionally the crossover there may be greater than anyone can correlate). For two months, a ‘good childhood’ becomes a mere afterthought to actual living. Endless days stretched out with sunsets and sunrises being the only controls. Unprovoked and unrequested, creativity is valued and rewarded by both peers and adults. Intrinsically, an overwhelming sense of pride is felt after a particularly good fort is built, or a hard novel is finished or a rousing game of Red Rover ends in a hospital trip, as these things often do. It is the rush of freedom that is remembered fondly in our later years, as we wistfully and longingly look at swing sets and hula-hoops. Regardless of one’s summer responsibility level, nothing holds a candle to the never-ending freedom that is summer vacation.

As we as individuals grow and as our community grows with us, freedom begins to take on new meanings. Freedom becomes an entrenched right for many of us. It also becomes something bigger, much bigger than we often realize. So big, sometimes we cannot see it from end to end. My summer vacation was dominated by encroaching threats to this freedom. Threats to the very thing held so dearly by so many of us. Threats to an ideal many live by and die for.

This summer instead of a celebration of freedom, the chance to realize long lost days of youth, I watched as our freedoms became slowly but surely constricted within our province and our country. Ideals of universal freedom become muddied with the lines of right and wrong, and beliefs in universal truths became shaken with exposure to radically different perspectives. Everyone lives in a construction of his or her own ideals and experiences. We all draw different lines in the sand, all believing them to be in the right place and in the right sand.

The 27th sitting of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta saw major change and a forced compromise of previously made choices. Constricted by the market, Alberta could no longer carry out the multi billion dollar spending plans and instead had to content itself with a new $25 Million logo and a $2 Billion commitment to green washing, known in Alberta as Carbon Capture and Storage. It also was expecting to satisfy itself with a quiet summer and the recognition of a fundamental human right, enjoyed by every Canadian citizen. The right to have your sexual freedom both protected and recognized.

Introduced into the Legislature as Bill 44 in April of 2009 and passing third reading at approximately three am on June 2nd, 2009, this Bill included sexual orientation as a human right under the Human Rights Commission of Alberta as per the Supreme Court decision made eleven years ago, which currently overrules provincial judicial decisions in this matter. The specific amendment reads  “striking out “or family status” and substituting “, family status or sexual orientation”.

However, this inclusion came with a caveat, the enshrined right for parents to pick and chose the education their child receives through Alberta schools. Section 11 of the Humans Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act has been amended to read: A board as defined in the School Act shall provide notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.” This notable phrasing allows parents to pull their children out of any education program which threatens/contradicts their religious beliefs, including discussion on sexual orientation and/or sexual education. In this writers opinion, it is a clear statement of the lack of belief that Alberta Government has in protecting and accepting the right of Albertan’s to exercise the sexual orientation of their choice.

The issue many Albertans have taken with section 11 of Bill 44 is not that it enshrines the right of parents to limit and control their children education, it is that by including this section within the Human Rights Commission we are subjecting our educators to the potential of lawsuits and charges under the Human Rights Act and not under the School Board Act where they can be dealt with internally, within the K – 12 sector. While this bill only reflects the current rights of parents as enshrined within the School Act, it does perpetuate the negative stereotype of Albertan narrow-minded culture. Section Three of the Alberta School Act reads:  “All education programs offered and instructional materials used in schools must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans. For greater certainty, education programs and instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) must not promote or foster doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action or disobedience of laws.”

Understanding that in Alberta, many of our members of the Legislative Assembly have “family values” high on their endangered species list, section 11 shifts freedom both away from the educator, but also from the parent. Parents, while they may have more legitimacy to limit their child’s education, they also have less control in ensuring their children are being given a worldly education, one that includes discussion and education on sexual health, sexual orientation and religious content.

Freedom is to be extended to all equally; this includes the freedom of speech. The freedom to express your opinions and the freedom to use mediums such as editorials, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a soapbox if you have one to expound on your own personal thoughts and concepts. However, the interpretation of this freedom is as controversial as you can make it and in the case of an elected official member this summer, this freedom was called into question with his misogynistic comments as published in his blog.

Voltaire infamously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. With public officials saying nothing less in public than they would in their homes, they are doing nothing less than exercising their right to speak in public. The same right this paper presently employs; the same right many enjoy through Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the same right we are enjoy by conversing with others in public spaces. The elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in question here had previously been an active individual using social media tools to engage people far and wide. While he may tweet comments I personally find offensive, he is thinking them regardless and he was elected; mind, body and soul, to represent the people of Calder and Alberta.

The greater issue at hand is that his comments speak to a culture of narrow mindedness and ignorance. The same culture that is perpetuated within Alberta with such pieces of legislation as Bill 44. Accommodation is not equality and believing that to be true is simply laziness and unwillingness to create positive change around you. While I find this members comments offensive and sadly all too representative of the lax mindset many people have to what the true meaning of equality is, I also firmly believe he was well within his right to say it and well within his freedom to continue to blog, tweet and speak without the supervision and control of the Progressive Conservative party. A few days after this particular story leaked, a CTV poll had asked if readers/viewers believe that this member should resign. Where Alberta once had a Premier, with a rather high approval rating, who drunkenly threw loose change at residents of the Calgary Drop-In Center and now we are calling for resignation of an MLA who exercised his right in this country to voice his opinions? How fickle we have become.

Freedom is a contestable word. When does one persons freedom impact another negatively, and if so, who is in the right? These lines in the sand all nothing more than that and even as children we understood that while we may have the freedom to run amok for twelve glorious hours every day, that did not give us the freedom to destroy the community we called home.

[The full text of Bill 44 can be found on http://www.assembly.ab.ca/. Currently, this bill is slated to be given royal assent once the house rejoins session on October 24th, 2009 however many Progressive Conservative Associations have raised vocal opposition and on Edmonton, one association has been successful thus far in bringing MLA’s onside to opposing the amendments as they are currently written. ]

[Doug Elniski, the MLA in question who made the above comments on his blog post is a mere backbencher and despite the “McCain/Palin poster in his office and his Smart car, he will likely remain as such for a majority of his hopefully short political career.]

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Still that old Groucho Marx joke…

I tend to let myself live in a isolated community where Question Period is a common topic of conversation and policy amendments are debated on the level of “sexiness” the issue has potential to become. In that world, it is an easy belief that everyone is interested in political games, in outcomes, in process.

Although I can see through the crack in the door to where the outside world begins, I often chose to believe that their light is as bright as mine and that we cannot be alone in outrage and interest. Sometimes I am grossly disappointed, but sometimes I am blinded with surprise.

Bill 44. Many people *much brighter and more insightful then myself have written thoughts and potential consequences on the recently proposed amendment to the Human Rights Commission by the Alberta Government.

While I do strongly believe (and have been vocal about in other venues) that there is much to be concerned about with this amendment; such as the confusion within PC’s own caucus on how the amendment can be interpreted within the current Alberta curriculum, questions on individual school boards autonomy within notification of parents, the lack of support from the ATA and lastly, the underlying motivation for this less then popular amendment.

There are many people entering the discussion of this particular amendment. Not just people in the proverbial ‘circle’, but people who have little or nothing to gain themselves. People who don’t use, need, or care about political capitol, people who are for the most part left out of the decision making process.

Twitterverse has been active on this issue, with private citizens engaging MLA’s       (noticeably Lindsay Blackett and Dave Hancock themselves engaging back), bloggers being incredibly active in updating the public sphere on new ideas  (ie. daveberta) and discussion points and Facebook notes and groups springing up on a daily basis.

In all the blogs, in all the tweets, in all the bar room discussions I have had regarding political events I have been struck suddenly, taken aback and set to pause, truly appreciating what public engagement really is.

A anti Bill 44 Facebook group stopped me dead in my tracks. Using the same arguments that many others have, there is no radical reform ideas which caused me to pay attention. What caused me to pause and too appreciate is that this group was created by a student, a high school student, a high school student from my High School Alma Mater in fact. Declaring their indignation at a very certain and very distinct piece of legislation. With a mere 205 members (at this evenings count) this group is small in the social networking scheme but the discussion wall is active and there is real discourse there. Void of the usual political rhetoric and with no QP style name calling, this is what public engagement aspires to be.

Social media, with its networking sites and lists of interests you fill out to attract like minded people, can be good. Facebook reinvented the way marketers look at advertising, it stimulated the growth of the worst industry known to man, “cool hunters” and it suddenly did what forums and chat sites have been desiring to do for oh-so long. It created acceptable and use able web space. Regardless of the social site used, each and every one exists as firmly as any idea or thought or spoken sentence can.

This is the conversation needed to be brought in to truly understand where any community is on issues. Lets stop relaying on the tried and true methods, because they have been tried but are no longer true.

When Blackett tweeted “LindsayBlackett wants Albertans to know that their arte 30,000 inquiriese to the Human Right Commission each year and 900 are deemed to have merit.” this evening at app. 10:20 this evening, he was speaking to the people and likely he was responding to a the earlier tweets today about Bill 44. He was using twitter as a legitimate form of political discussion and policy process.

Despite the ban on twitter use in the house during QP by our long standing Speaker, this medium is being used to influence decisions, or at the very least openly question them.

Not to endorse cyber communication as the be all and end all of our public debate, but let us not close the door to it. All too many of the influential decision makers still scoff at these communication methods, and in their caged thinking they lose what they have been looking for.

Want youth to participate? Well, they are. Demanding that anyone participate on your playing Field only is not representation in any sense, it is arrogance and it is a sure sign of blind folded defeat.

*There are many who have provided me with much to think on in regards to this bill, notably Ken Chapman and Paula Simons.

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