Category Archives: Things That Make Me Go Argh

Reverse the oldest cliché

[H]idden in an article on how “Salt” is oh-so-empowering for female action heroes is this tidbit. The filmmakers believe that it was perfectly OK for the spouse to be rescued from mortal danger if said love interest was a girl, but not if the romantic partner was a man. Apparently, it’s great if the action hero is a girl, as long as she doesn’t have the opportunity to one-up any male counterparts or reverse the oldest cliché in the action-film handbook. Saying that girls can be portrayed as helpless damsels in distress but boys can’t or shouldn’t be is the very opposite of the sort of “progress” that Noyce and Jolie claim to be making.

Scott Mendelson

This is so, so tiresome. The most insidious part, I think, is that it’s not just supposedly “weak” female characters that need rescuing. Rather, it seems like a rule in film & television that any female character who is depicted as strong or tough (police, military, action hero! etc.) must at some point be saved! by a man! I guess this serves to placate the male viewing audience, allowing them to think: “yeah, she’s tough—for a chick—but I could take her on (or save her!)” Barf.

See also: Woman must die! to give Man motivation to save the world. Hey! Here’s an idea! Why not kill off the man for a change? That would be a twist no one would be expecting. It’d be like that old surgeon joke. Except in this version, the audience would be looking at Woman kneeling sadly over Man’s body and be all like, “So when’s he going to wake up from his dream?”



Further to my IWD post, I ran across this article at Salon last night (“What’s in a woman’s last name?“). Based on the article/abstract, the study seems kind of flawed (I’m with the commenter who asked “How [in a job interview] can people tell [what name you are using]?“), but some of the comments were really great:

It’s not your father’s name, it’s YOURS

Men see the name they’re born with as their own, something they’ll have for life. Women are encouraged to see the name acquire in exactly the same circumstances as belonging to someone else and “not important”.

If you choose your sexist choice, forgive me for not applauding

I’m still waiting for an argument for taking your husband’s name that actually makes one damned bit of sense.


I have been married over 25 years (so far) to my first/only husband & I kept my name. The principal at our high school is on her 3rd last name in the 5 years I have had a child in attendance. So I don’t see much empirical evidence that a willingness to change a name equals commitment.

If it were no big deal

Then men would be willing to take their wife’s last name. Were it nothing, it’d be easy – sometimes the wife would change, sometimes the husband would change, and sometimes they’d hyphen or keep their own. But nope – the wife almost always changes, the husband pretty well never does.

And this nice reminder that there are other naming conventions out there and somehow the world hasn’t come to an end yet:

Last Names Don’t Define A Family Unit…

My family of origin is Icelandic. So despite a happy marriage with no divorces, my father grew up with a different last name than his sisters who had different last names from their mother who had a different last name from their father who had a different last name than their grand father.


What I find bizarre about the pinkification of girlstuff is that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. I don’t think I had any pink clothes when I was kid. In the harvest gold and avocado years, it was just not an “in” color. My Barbie camper van was yellow and orange.

The first time I remember pink becoming popular was in high school when pink was the coolest color for prepster boys to wear. Perhaps the PinkShirtDay folks might want to organize an ’80s movie marathon to educate kids-of-today on this point 😉

But two of the places I lived in Victoria had the same pink appliances. And by appliances I mean fridge and stove (these are pretty close). This is not to mention the many pink bathrooms (toilets, tubs & sinks). So apparently pink enjoyed ungendered popularity at some point in the not-so-distant past.

Which is to say, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with pink. If pink is presented as one of a bunch of ungendered color options, then it’s completely fine. But that’s not how it is these days. Pink has become not only a girls-only color, but the only color for girlstuff. It’s a double move that’s an overt attempt to put women back in their “place” by marking girlstuff as lesser than boystuff.

Recently, I was a the drugstore picking up a few things. Razor blades were on my list. I went to grab a refill pack and… gasp! Nooooo! They were gone. After standing there gaping at the blithering array of pink alternatives, I left without purchasing anything, and went home to furiously google. It seems the product has been discontinued (sob), although it is still possible to find the refills (if I find some, it will be like Elaine and the sponge): “Just give me the whole case and I’ll be on my way.”

Worst decision ever, Schick.

I’ve only ever had one razor (just think of all the good I’ve done for the environment!). I bought it way back in high school, I guess, when I decided it was a better option than disposables. It is not pink. It is tortoiseshell. Yes, brown. Brown!

But it seems brown is not an option these days. These days you can have pink or… hot pink! Because you’re a girl, you know, and girls use pink things!

Fuck that shit. I stop shaving my legs before I buy a fucking pink razor.

That is all.

Extratextual Knowledge

That naming of a real intersection is a daring act and one that is controversial in Canadian publishing. Here is the issue: When situating fiction in your hometown, you risk relying on street names as a kind of shorthand, a code for those in the know who will immediately situate the characters and action in terms of social class and ambience. But that relies on what’s called extratextual knowledge on the part of the reader. I know Queen and Broadview as rather seedy, for example. I have done this rather lazily in my own fiction: I have mentioned Yorkville, a shopping district in Toronto, as shorthand for rich, which is a message lost to anyone who doesn’t know Toronto. I have had editors suggest I take out street names to make the city a less specific one: If you replace College Street with “a street of cafés near the large university” you sum up the atmosphere of the place in a way that’s accessible for a foreigner.

But then you also lose a certain amount of pride. Let’s be honest: We all know the primary reason for such erasures. It’s to make the book more saleable to Americans. We all want our books and films and TV shows to be published in the United States, and we know a large proportion of their entertainment-consuming population is not interested in looking beyond their borders.

Russell Smith

Ok, here’s the thing, Russell. “Queen and Broadview,” “Yorkville,” and “College Street” don’t mean anything to me, either. So, you know, when you do that sort of thing, you’re not just alienating Americans who are “not interested in looking beyond their borders,” you’re alienating everyone who lives outside the COTU*, including about 85% of Canadians. It’s pretty obnoxious to be aware that it’s a  “message lost to anyone who doesn’t know Toronto” but to then to label all people-who-don’t-know-Toronto as foreigners (and subsequently all foreigners as Americans).

Unless you’re writing for a TO-centric publication, don’t do this. Especially don’t do this in fiction. Go ahead, name the street. But don’t rely on the name. Give it context.

(This is a good illustration of why BC and Ontario often feel like two different countries!)

*Center of the Universe

Way Too Scary

Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomfits men). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism. In fact, because this equality might lead to “sameness”–way too scary–girls and women need to be reminded that they are still fundamentally female, and so must be emphatically feminine.

Thus, enlightened sexism takes the gains of the women’s movement as a given, and then uses them as permission to resurrect retrograde images of girls and women as sex objects, still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny.

Susan J. Douglas

See, for example, commentary here, here, and here on the ridiculous tabloid stories about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s clothing choices. She’s a three years old, people. Also, for everyone whose memory and judgment has been clouded by the past decade’s onslaught of pinnnnkkkk, that’s how all little kids used to dress in the seventies and eighties. In other words, there are most likely pictures of you dressed just like Shiloh in your family photo albums.

Be a Rebel

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

The 2010 IWD theme is: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.

This year’s Canadian theme is: Strong Women. Strong Canada. Strong World.

“For Canadians, equality means women and men sharing in the responsibilities and obligations, as well as in the opportunities and rewards, of life and work.”

I wrote a draft of this post several months ago. Seems appropriate to post it today, particularly considering this year’s IWD theme.


Grrr. I am so tired of hearing people say that feminism is “about choice.” Feminism is not “about choice.” Feminism is about equality. The choices you have today are a consequence of equality. They follow from it.

This is not semantics; it’s huge.

Why does it matter?

When feminism is presented as “about choice” it becomes me-centered. It means a woman can “choose” stereotypically female things without any thought for how her “choice” is affecting women as a group. Why should she? According to the “about choice” school of feminism, she is being a feminist simply by making a choice. Even if that choice is ridiculous. (Flashing one’s boobs in a Girls Gone Wild video so Joe Francis can get rich? Not a feminist act.)

When we remember that feminism is about equality, it changes how we act (or, at least, it should). Equality means thinking about how our actions—our choices—affect others, as well as ourselves.

Let’s say there are two choices: A and B. If women always choose A and no one ever chooses B, then is B a real choice? Maybe some women really want to choose B, but at the same time, no one wants to be the Weirdo Who Chose B, so in the end, succumbing to peer/societal pressure, most, if not all, end up choosing A (albeit reluctantly).

This goes on for a time until the next generation doesn’t know anyone who ever chose B. Until B is taken off the market, so to speak, as a choice for women. As an A-chooser, would this upset you? After all, you chose A—so why would you care that there’s no B any more? You—and your sisters and daughters and nieces and granddaughters—can still “choose” A.

But, but, but…

Yes. But. The point is, for B to stick around as a real (and not just theoretical) choice, someone has to choose it some of the time. And that “some of the time” has to be non-trivial. If 99/100 “choose” option A, that is not a real, legitimate choice.  It discounts societal pressures to conform.

Example! Statistics I see quoted on the rate of women “taking their husband’s surname” after marriage range from 80-90% or higher! In 2010.  Articles abound on the topic (just google; here’s one from last month). And every time I see one, I am gobsmacked. I cannot believe this is still a topic for discussion in the 21st century.

Go back to the example above and insert “take husband’s surname” for A and “keep own name” for B. Now think about how you would feel if A (take husband’s surname) was automatic upon marriage and B (keep own name) was not an option. As in not allowed. Illegal. As in that’s how it used to be. Before feminism. Before equal rights.

I like to use this as an example because so many unconventional choices are hard. They require financial sacrifice or the ability to withstand harassment, and it’s simply not possible for everyone to make them. But keeping one’s surname is effortless. It is, in fact, the easier (and cheaper!) choice. It’s likely the only time you can be a rebel simply by doing nothing!

I’m not saying that women should always choose the unconventional over the traditional. My point is that we mustn’t forget the choices we have today are a consequence of the equal rights that women fought for in the past. But for there to be true equality between men and women, there needs to be more than just formal equality (i.e. under the law, everyone, male or female, has the option to choose A or B), there needs to be substantive equality. And you don’t have substantive equality if all women “choose” A and all men “choose” B.

This is what I thought I heard…

…on the news (Global) last night, but I thought maybe I’d missed something. Apparently not.

The CBC headline and first paragraph (emphasis mine):

Gifted doctor, fiancée killed in weekend hit-and-run in Vancouver

An 18-year-old man is facing numerous impaired-driving charges after a weekend hit-and-run in Vancouver that killed a gifted cardiologist and his new fiancée as they were crossing a street.

Now, this is a terrible story and I’m not in any way making light of it, but… why is the man “a gifted cardiologist” and the woman just “his fiancee”? He was also her fiance and she was… well, I assume she was something besides his fiancee. It’s 2009, not 1909.

Now, I’m aware that pointing out this kind of stuff is why people hate feminists. They call it nitpicking. I say language matters. Framing matters. The fact is, at least two separate news sources reported the story the same way and apparently no one at either network thought there was anything wrong with identifying the couple this way (and the CBC is supposed to be progressive).  I find that problematic.

What It Was

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

When I was growing up, I took feminism for granted. Of course I was a feminist. Why wouldn’t I be? I don’t remember ever even consciously thinking about it. It just was.

Of course, I did go to UVic. At UVic, you could be a feminist liberal environmentalist and still only be slightly to the left of center. Perhaps this is why I never felt particularly radical. But that was later. Before that I grew up in a series of very small towns, surrounded by very average people. I didn’t know any “intellectuals.” For a good part of the time we only had access to two channels of TV. And of course, there was no internet. There were books, of course, and I read a lot. But it was mostly mysteries and horror and those 800-page historical romances, not Gloria Steinem.

And I still felt that way.

But now it seems that feminism has become a bad word. The same way liberal has.

What the fuck is up with that?

In one of my tutorials this week, we somehow got into a discussion of feminism. One student said that perhaps the current backlash has to do with the natural tendency for kids to rebel against whatever their parents did. Maybe. Another said that her problem is that she doesn’t really know what feminism is. And that turned into a discussion of Women’s Studies and why it’s called women’s studies. Someone said, “Yeah, why no men’s studies?” and a bunch of them jumped into say that it’s because everything else is men’s studies (so all is not lost). A number of them (male & female) said they were interested in taking a Women’s Studies course, but felt intimidated. Some said that Gender Studies would be a better name (I agree with this, but mainly because “gender studies” reflects a continuum rather than a polarity, not simply because it would be more inviting). A few said they had been warned not to take WS courses by friends/siblings who had taken one. But the one student who had actually taken a WS course declared that it was to his (yes, his) surprise “normal.”

Yay. And whew. I guess all has not gone to hell in a handbasket. Yet.

So for my student who wasn’t sure about it, and for anyone else who has ever said “I’m not a feminist, but [insert right you believe women should have here]”, here’s the definition of feminism:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

You believe that women have equal rights? Then you are a feminist. No buts. You are.

It makes me sad that so many people seem to think feminism is something scary or shameful when it should be just what it is. (I mean, seriously. You don’t believe in equality? You’re not just an anti-feminist, you’re an ass.)

Sit On Your Fingers

As my co-editors will attest, I am unfailingly polite in my responses to all the questions that we receive at TC, even the silly ones (there are no dumb questions! 😉 ). I know this is the Right Thing To Do, the choice I will not Live To Regret. But of course, there’s always a part of me that’s dying to write what I really think. I don’t, of course. Because I’m mature and all. Unlike, say, our “honorable” (ex-)Minister of State for Mining, Bill Bennett, who wrote this charming response to a constituent (scroll down).

Bwahahahaha. And also, yikes. And that kids, is why you sit on your fingers instead of hitting send. Thanks for the reminder, ex-Minister Bill!