Avast! Feminist Conspiracy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pointing towards an empty space

Tonight, I snuggled with my four year-old in bed to read his good-night story. His choice was one of the many books based on the movie Cars*. As we listed and described the various characters, I was struck once again by how few female characters are in that movie. Few as in one. Sally, the sports car who “turns heads”. Sigh, Pixar**. Cars wasn’t sexist enough? You had to make the spin-offs worse? Ok. It was time to living up to my values and start discussing these things with my kid.

Me: Hey, that’s not right! (flipping through the pages)
Kid: What’s not right?
Me: Out of all these cars, Sally’s the only girl!
Kid: Yeah, that’s right. Sally’s the girl.
Me: But… at your school, there are lots of boys and girls. And your teachers are both boys and girls. So where are the rest of the girls in Radiator Springs?
Kid: There ARE more girls there. They should have made the movie longer.

It would be easier to address sexism in children’s stories if the characters actually said “girls don’t like to race” or “boys don’t like to cook”. Kids get the concept of what’s fair or not and don’t like to be told that a toy or activity is off-limits. Oh yes, they can empathize with that! Instead, they’re shown only a few female characters, who just happen to fill the stereotyped roles of mother, love interest or helper/moral compass. I’ve seen the quick leap to Pixar’s defense, demanding to know if want all movies to have an equal number of male and female characters, who must have an equal number of lines. Of course not (and I hate that straw man too - he’s such a jerk!). The problem is the population, the entire set of movies that has such narrow and stereotyped roles. When each new movie comes out, though, I can’t point to the population, just to one more example. It’s also not good enough to deflect criticism by saying “But it’s a great movie! Toy Story is a classic!” Dude. Would I be concerned if only bad art was sexist?

*Pixar, I love most of your movies, but you are sorely testing my patience with the vast quantities of shitty kids’ merchandise from that Cars movie.

** Ok, Pixar, serious points off for that one.

Duraebang - Anti-Trafficking Group in Korea



Check out the FB event page at: http://www.facebook.com/#/event.php?eid=209298802385&index=1

This December, as we count down to the winter solstice, holidays of hope and a bright new year, Lila Yoga has partnered up with the House of Sharing International Outreach Team to raise funds for Duraebang, “My Sister’s Place,” an NGO that supports women trafficked into prostitution around US military bases in South Korea. Please make a donation on behalf of yourself, or as a gift for a loved one, that will go directly towards helping women victims of trafficking start their lives anew.

We are specifically raising funds to support their newest shelter, opened in July of 2009, that provides a safe haven, legal and logistical assistance to Filipino women trafficked into Korea.

For more information on the shelter and trafficking in Korea, visit: http://www.lilayoga.com/duraebang

The shelter is in need of financial assistance, as are the individual women who are staying there. All funds raised by January 1st will be passed directly to Duraebang—50% will go to running the shelter, and the remaining 50% will be given directly to the women residing in the shelter.

Please give what you can, and please invite your friends and family to do the same. This holiday season we can make a real difference for gender equality by supporting women victims of trafficking.

**If you wish to make a donation on behalf of someone else as a holiday gift, you can request a commemorative electronic certificate in her/his name marking your donation. If you wish to pursue this option, please include the information in an email after you make your donation and I will email it to you directly!**

If you are in Korea, you can donate by direct bank transfer to the following account:

Bank: KB Bank (Kookmin Unhaeng)
Account #: 368102-01-146063

If you are international or prefer to use Paypal, you will find a live link to donate through paypal on our website at: http://www.lilayoga.com/donate

Please email us at parvati@lilayoga.com when you make your donation, with your name and donation amount, and let me know if you’d like a commemorative certificate (electronic through email) if you are donating on behalf of someone else. I will be handling all donations directly, with the clearance of Duraebang, and giving them the total at the end of the donation period. Information about all monies raised and given to Duraebang will be made available on January 1st, 2010 on our website at www.lilayoga.com/duraebang

For more information on Duraebang, see their website at: (http://www.durebang.org/htm/esub1-2.htm)

Better a filler post than NO post, which is what I contributed on Saturday. Since the previous Saturday's post was me whining about mastitis, I guess I have officially been suffering from Boob Issues for a week. It seems to be getting better now.

But nobody cares about my boobs (except the baby). So to switch to another topic entirely - check out this crazy ass interview. My head is still reeling. As someone says in the comments, let's hope that some of our homegrown fundies watch this and realize what jackasses they sound like to the rest of the world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feminist Trappings

Yes, yes. It's a filler post. This is what adorns my walls - a couple of cards I picked up at the Toronto Women's Bookstore and things I've ripped out of magazines - mostly Bitch and Bust, but all kinds of random things I've bought over the past couple of years. What isn't pictured here is the Hot Priests of Rome calender, but it didn't seem to fit quite as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Coming of Age

""Any fable I've told about who I was then dissolves when I read that loose-jointed script I wrote. We tend to overlay grown-up wisdoms across the blanker selves that the young actually proffer." Mary Karr, Cherry

While I was home, I picked up a book called Dork Whore by Iris Bahr. A combination of the title and the blurb on the back, which explained that the book was about a twenty-year old just out of the Israeli army travelling around Asia trying to lose her virginity, along with the fact that it was discounted, convinced me to pick it up. I assumed that the author would learn something from her trip, and certainly the blurb implies that she learns to trust others and herself, but in all actuality there was little to learn from Bahr's account and not much to enjoy. She wandered around Asia getting hurt and hurting others, with little real awareness of either. The only enjoyable parts were about her travels.

On the same day, I also picked up My Side of the Story by Will Davis, this time because of a quote from Elle on the cover: "Combines the coolness of Queer as Folk with the tenderness of Adrian Mole." The story of a gay sixteen-year-old boy trying to navigate his way through high school and family and relationshops was really good - possibly the best coming of age story I've read in some time. The main character's, Jaz's, search for connection through sex reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye, though having taught that recently, I have to say that as characters go, I far prefer Jaz to Holden.

Not too long ago, I read Cherry by Mary Karr. A coming-of-age that involves Karr examining her outsider-status and her exploration of her sexuality, it's perhaps notable that having sex seems a common thread in female coming-of-age stories, whereas it's the lack of it that tends more often to be outlined in male ones though I've read few on this list, so perhaps I just need to branch out more.

It is interesting, though, how many male coming of age stories I've read in an educational setting. Not one of the books that I'd say were the female equivalent were things assigned to me to read.

"You and Meredith forge a friendship based almost entirely on indolence, a monastic passion for doing virtually nothing. A camera trailing you would fid niether plot nor action - two girls laze around on sofas in various stages of torpor reading or talking about what they will read or have read or plan to write or make or do in some vaporous future... Meredith will pat you on the head a few times before she actually undertakes explaining whatever book has stumped you. The charade somehow dilutes the fact that the most meritory opinions invariably stem from Meredith. Without this oblique shoring up, the friendship would consist of her lecturing while you take notes." Mary Karr, Cherry

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm thankful...

...that my son "merely" has croup instead of the swine flu
...that the emergency room was exceptionally quiet and we could be seen right away
...that the staff was friendly and helpful
...and that my son is now soundly asleep and breathing freely

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rashida Majoo's Comments on Violence Against Women

GENEVA, 25 November 2009 -- The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, seizes the opportunity of the International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November) to present her approach to the mandate, both in terms of thematic priorities and cooperation with other mechanisms, with a view to enhance efforts to eliminate violence against women.

“Significant progress achieved in recent years in the international legal response to violence against women has resulted in the explicit recognition of violence against women as a human rights concern. However, the reality on the ground shows that many forms and manifestations of violence against women remain endemic around the world, cutting across national boundaries, race, class, culture, tradition and religion. The consequences include the violation of dignity and also of the right to equality, non-discrimination, physical integrity and freedom from violence.”

“The protection, promotion and fulfillment of all rights require a holistic and intersectional approach. States have a responsibility to eliminate violence against women through numerous measures, including through legal and policy frameworks, through a responsive criminal justice system, through the provision of social services and also through economic empowerment policies. The due diligence standard requires States to promote the right to be free from all forms of violence, both private and public; and also to develop and implement legislation, policies and programmes that specifically address prevention, protection, prosecution and compensation.”

“Over the last fifteen years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has evolved at both a conceptual and a practical level. At the conceptual level, the mandate has evolved to capture a wider spectrum of acts as they manifest from the home to the transnational arena, i.e. ranging from domestic violence or global trafficking to the impact of globalisation on women. At the practical level, the mandate involves regional networking, implementation of international laws, technical assistance and monitoring of international laws. The current approach emphasises the universality of violence against women, the multiplicity of its forms, the intersectionality of diverse kinds of discrimination against women, and its linkage to other systems of domination based on inequality and subordination.”

“It is with this approach that I intend to further strengthen the mandate by addressing a number of thematic concerns which in my view require timely and focused attention. These include the issues of reparations to women for wrongs committed in contexts of peace, conflict, post-conflict and transitional justice settings; prevention strategies including those which promote women’s empowerment and engagement in challenging patriarchal interpretations of norms, values and rights; and multiple, intersecting and aggravated forms of discrimination affecting women and leading to increased levels of violence and limitation or denial of their human rights.”

"The work and the challenges ahead require increased joint efforts with other international human rights mechanisms. In this regard, I am committed to strengthen synergies with the system of special procedures, the treaty bodies - and CEDAW in particular -, the Universal Period Review of the Human Rights Council, as well as with other entities as the Commission on the Status of Women and the new UN gender equality structure. I am also committed to promoting and strengthening the engagement of the mandate with regional mechanisms and civil society actors. The upcoming Beijing +15 and the review of the implementation of the Platform for Action; the 30th anniversary celebrations and reflections on the achievements of the CEDAW; and the recent Security Council Resolution 1888 strengthening the response to the issue of sexual violence in conflict situations, all provide us with the opportunity to intensify our efforts towards protection, prosecution, prevention and provision of effective redress to women who have been subjected to violence.”

“The Secretary-General’s campaign titled 'UNiTE to end violence against women' identifies five key outcomes in its Framework of Action. These include: the adoption and enforcement of national laws; the adoption and implementation of multi-sectoral national plans of action that emphasise prevention and are adequately resourced ; the establishment of data collection and analysis systems on the prevalence of various forms of violence against women and girls ; the establishment of national and/or local campaigns and the engagement of civil society in preventing violence and in supporting women and girls who have been abused ; and the adoption of systematic efforts to address sexual violence in conflict situations and to protect women and girls from rape as a tactic of war, and the full implementation of related laws and policies.”

“The above outcomes and also the due diligence standard provide us with an opportunity to address impunity and to demand accountability. Holding both state and non-state actors accountable for acts of violence against women is an imperative that cannot be ignored. The advocacy campaigns over the next 16 days once again challenge us to focus on ways, measures and means to eliminate all forms of violence against women. It is only by placing women’s human rights, including the right to be free from violence, at the center of such efforts that we will be able to build a more secure world, based on the common goal and the shared obligation of ensuring that human rights are universally and equally enjoyed.”

UN Press release

I was supposed to post my second post today. Instead, I am home with a sick 4 yr old who won't let me out of his sight for more than five minutes and doesn't want to nap.

(posted for Yael-Einshem)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

In 1999, the UN General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime - with the abuser usually someone known to her.

Women's activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. The date commemorates the brutal assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, in 1960 on orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Governments, international organizations, NGOs and individuals are invited to organize activities on the day to raise public awareness of the problem.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women also launches the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, which runs through 10 December, Human Rights Day.

If you are in Korea, come to support the Halmoni at the Weekly Wednesday Protest on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We will gather in front of the Japanese embassy in Jongno, near Anguk Station, from noon to 1 pm. When the weather is cold, it is very hard for the Halmoni to be there due to their age and infirmity, so please do your best to come out and help them feel the warmth of our support!

To find the embassy, use the "Insa-dong" exit from Anguk, go straight, cross the street and turn left when you see the Somerset Palace residence. The embassy is right across the way.

If you can't make it tomorrow, please mark Dec 9th on your calendar and plan to be there---we hope to gather as many supporters as possible at the Dec 9 Wed protest, which falls on the day before Human Rights Day (Dec 10). Please stay tuned for information on our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (Nov 25-Dec 10) campaign to support the Halmoni.

Blast From the... Present

"In our country the constitutional separation of church and state has obscured the nonetheless real connection between the two as fellow enforcers of conformity, mystification, and hierarchy. Prayer in the schools will mkae it plain to see. It's never too early for the young to take the measure of the forces arrayed against those who would think for themselves. Right now religion has the romantic aura of the forbidden-Christ is cool. We need to bring it into the schools, which kids already hate, and associate it firmly with boredom, regulation, condescension, makework and de facto segregation, with business math and Cliffs Notes and metal detectors."

I found a used copy of Katha Pollitt's "Subject to Debate" in What the Book? and it's interesting how much a series of The Nation columns that ran from April 4, 1994 to October 23, 2000 remind me of, well, today. Reading a Katha Pollitt column generally feels to me like someone opened my brain, took the ideas, and then married them to superior reasoning and incredibly more extensive reading in order to say what I think but in a much more impressive way.

"Tacitus famously wrote that the Roman army made a wasteland and called it peace. America, it might be said, creates its wastelands by proxy. It romanticizes as noble freedom fighters thugs and fanatics who throw acid on unveiled women's faces and have no interest in anything but their own power, and then looks at the result with puzzlement, as if Afghanistan were as distant and strange as the surface of the moon."

As then; now. In Pollitt's book, there are columns about Iraqi civilians dying in bombings - then by Clinton, now by Al Qaeda (and other terrorist groups) brought into Iraq by George W. Bush's war. Back in the 90's American terrorists murdered Dr. Bernared Slepian and three Canadian abortion providers; this year, an American terrorist killed Dr. George Tiller. People decried the Miracle Mom, a 64-year-old woman, for having a baby; more recently, the focus was on the Octomom. Rwanda then; Darfur now. Afghanistan still.

"Apologies about past misdoings are all the rage. The Southern Baptists apologized for slavery, and so has President Clinton, who also apologized for Monica Lewinsky, for the Tuskegee experiments and for permitting genocide in Rwanda. Australia has National Sorry Day, to send its regrets to the aborigines. Bus what does it mean to regret a hundred-year-old crime, or a five-hundred-year-old crime, or even the murder of millions after it is too late to help them? Apologies of this sort usually mean the person who make them is tryiing to close the books, not open them. Thus, President Clinton could simultaneously regret inaction in Rwanda and stay aloof as Central Africa goes up in flames."

"Not so long ago, Americans did the same things for which we now place the SErbs in Kosovo beyond the pale of humanity. Like Serbs with their 'war psychosis,' their 'victimization mentality.' millions of Americans believed we were endagned by people who posed no threat at all. Like the Belgraders quoted in news reports, lots of Americans denied the massacres or justified them by appealing to the confusion of war, the stress of combas or the lone crazed soldeier. Except for the case of Lt. Willliam Calley, who served only four years under house arrest for My Lai - there were no war-crimes trials of U.S. soldiers, much less of the men who set the policies and gave the orders. "We weren't the murders," said one Viet vet after the film. "The people at the top were the murderers. We were just their tools." O.K., but whould you accept that from a Yugoslave draftee? ... You would think our history in Vietnam would give us special insignt into Serbia-another country whose young men do terrible things tha tdon't register strongly enough back home; where many people have trouble withholding loyalty from their government; where people think nore about what's done to them, in fantasty or reality, than about what's being done in their name; where resisting war makes you an outcast, not a hero."

"The truth is, medical ethics, like the media, and like medicine itself, treats indiviidual cases as if they were about personal choices when they really represent masked soical decisions... The Miracle Mom brouhaha obscures another reality too. Like the ongoing sensation of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, it allows an outlet for self-congratulatory indignation on behalf of cihldren while haivng almost nothing to do with the conditions in which children actually live. It feels good to fire off a letter about how foolish a late-middle-aged woman is to imagine she can keep up with an active toddler, , and how said ti will be for her child to spend her yougth caring for aged parents or mourning their deaths. And yet we live placidly in a nation in which thouseands upeon thousands of poor children are being raised by their grandmothers, under truely grim conditions, and in which, indeed, those grandmothers may be all that stands between those children and the new for-profit foster care businesses permtted under the welfare reform... in the time the nateion's spent obsessing over Miracle Mom, how many babies have been born to girls in foster care? To women living in homeless hselters? on the streets? These questions, unlike those of Miracle Mom's longevity and Miracle Baby's future happiness, have answers. Maybe that's why we prefer not to ask them."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Corporate Diversity Training

My company has sent out a mandatory diversity training notice recently. It’s a web-based course with both narration and text, with a few quizzes thrown in to keep you awake. It probably wasn’t bad, as these things go. Despite the stilted dialog and acting, the scenarios were not wildly unrealistic, including situations like dating one’s supervisor (and then breaking up), or unwelcome jokes about one’s age or accent.

People have tended to joke and roll there eyes a little about this. It’s always annoying to have the mandatory training sessions imposed by HR, particularly when we’re busy and understaffed. It takes a conscious effort not to fall into the same habit myself, and I think this stuff is important! What’s a trifle odd about the experience was the clear cover-your-ass legal framework. For instance, the words discrimination, sexism and racism were never mentioned. Instead, the talk was about protected categories – gender, age, race, national origin, etc. Now, I understand why the company is doing this – they don’t want to be sued. I don’t really have a problem with that; after all, that’s what laws are for – a good strong reason to make companies do the right thing when they probably wouldn’t be bothered on their own.

Still, to discuss these issues without talking about the underlying issues is terribly superficial. For instance, one scenario had a boss commenting approvingly on a employee’s clothes. They did try to make the point about how of tone of voice and potential sexual suggestiveness can change a simple compliment (That’s a nice shirt) to something more problematic (Your shoulders look so broad in that suit). However, there was no mention of any reasons WHY many people don’t want their boss to focus on their appearance, merely a statement that many people don’t like it.

A further odd feature was the tendency to treat workplace discrimination as if it happens to everyone equally. And it just doesn’t. The above scenario took place between a female boss and a male subordinate. Now, it is a problem for a woman to focus on a man’s appearance at work, particularly when in a supervisory role. But let’s not kid ourselves – it happens far less often than the reverse. Let’s also remember that since our society sends so many messages in so many ways to women that they are valued mostly for their appearance, it’s frankly more damaging when this happens to women.

Both of these shortcomings will reduce the odds of someone who’s not already familiar with issues of bias and discrimination learning much from this training session. Now, my company probably doesn’t care – they just want to employees to know what not to do, so that we don’t get sued. Still, it seems like such an opportunity wasted.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jennifer's Feminism?

In honour of Friday the Thirteenth, I watched Jennifer's Body. After all, it isn't every day that a movie written, directed and starred in by women comes along, much less a horror movie.

It wasn't very scary and I'm a huge wimp. I was hoping for lots of moments where I jumped in fright or hid under my covers, but this one I could watch alone at midnight with all the lights out and no problems at all. I can't say I could see where the movie was meant to be feminist either. Jennifer takes out her rage on men, sure, but not the men who attempted to kill her. The make-out session between Jennifer and Needy was problematic as well - I'm not sure it entirely made sense, though I have to admit that it was enjoyable.

I wouldn't advise against watching it, or anything, but once you do, drop by and let me know what exactly the feminist angle is.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Have Mastitis

Sorry, Internets. I'm too sick to be witty today.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Bane of Korean Women's Existence?

Recently the article making the rounds of the expat community here in Korea is this one. In the last year or so several blogs have popped up translating Korean articles about foreigners and I have to say that I, for one, rather wish they hadn't - I enjoyed not having to face that these attitudes existed in Korea. I liked my little Zen bubble. The group in question pops up all the time and claims to be defending the honour of Korean women.

“When I travel with my husband, we avoid buses and subways,” said Jung Hye-sil, 42, who married a Pakistani man in 1994. “They glance at me as if I have done something incredible. There is a tendency here to control women and who they can date or marry, in the name of the nation.”New York Times

Other articles have also been addressing issues of racism in Korea and you'll notice that the focus is on Korean women with foreigners and not vice versa. Granted, it's a lot less common to see Korean men with foreign women in the cities (as the articles state though, farmers are increasingly marrying SE Asian women.)

There are lots of things that Korean women could use some help with. I don't see the group looking at anything but foreigners, however.

Over the past few years, a group calling itself Anti-English Spectrum has stirred up expats living in Korea, leading many to label the group as perpetrators of hate speech and racist activities due to their Naver cafe content and offline stalking activities. Anti-English Spectrum is the product of a backlash in 2005 in response to a "sexy costume party" put on by a few native English teachers. On a site with the heading "English Spectrum," parties were advertised and pictures were posted. The male founder of Anti-English Spectrum felt that Korean women at the party were being degraded and decided to take action. Part of their statement of purpose reads:

"Until the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum stirred an uproar, we were just common citizens of the Republic of Korea. ... One day, we witnessed the English Spectrum's arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women and we felt something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation. And so, because of our burning consciences, our 'active consciences,' that we just could not ignore, we are gathered here together."

It continues saying that they are, "[w]aging a wearisome and very difficult fight against English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country's national brand, and also against illegal, low-quality English instructors who prevent proper English education from happening in this land!" The statement concludes with, "This is the Citizens' Movement for the Expulsion of Illegal Foreign Language Teachers."

Since its inception, the group has increasingly pursued the deportation of "illegal and problem teachers." As for who should be deported exactly, it looks for fake degree holders, drug users and HIV/AIDS-infected individuals. If those don't work, expats could be accused of "violating the Korean moral code."

Through its website, the group seems to be saying that crimes committed by native English teachers have reached socially dangerous levels.

But is native teacher crime in Korea even a problem?

National Assembly Representative Lee Gun-hyeon reported in September this year that there were 114 crimes committed by foreign English teachers in 2007 and 99 in 2008, translating into a foreign teacher crime rate of 0.64 and 0.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, according to the Korean Institute of Criminology, the Korean crime rate in 2007 was 3.5 percent. In other words, the native English teacher crime rate was more than five times lower than the Korean crime rate.

An issue many have with Anti-English Spectrum is its past use of racist language, such as referring to foreigners as "Black pigs," saying that foreigners engage in "sexual molestation," and that they "target children."

Another AES action that has gone further than your friendly neighborhood watch involves them engaging in types of vigilantism. The group's administrator admits to stalking foreigners. "Whenever I have to prepare a policy report or embark on the pursuit of an illegal foreign lecturer, then I end up working until dawn because I throw myself into it, braving fire and water. Then because I have to be at work in the morning, I don't get any sleep, and therefore am physically very tired." They have also stored information and photographs on their website of non-Koreans they have followed.

As for charges of racism, Anti-English Spectrum's host Naver.com, said they have received no complaints. The PR department for Korea's biggest portal stated that even though the cafe is rather large -- having 17,000 members -- prior to being contacted by The Korea Herald a representative said she was unaware of the group. When asked about the "black pig" comment, the representative stated that "in this case 'black pig' is definitely a racist comment."

"It is hard to detect all offensive comments. What's more important here is the measure we take against such actions ... If anyone reports to us about wrongdoings that are going on in this cafe, we will take measures and give sanctions to them."

Dubious statistics

Anti-English Spectrum also delved into the nation's AIDS discussion by disseminating rumors on its website that "infected (HIV) foreigners are indiscriminately spreading the virus." The manager of AES then implied that the spread of the virus in Korea could be the result of a foreign organization operating here. "It is not yet known whether a foreign AIDS-infected peoples' organization is responsible for inciting these people, or whether it is the infected foreigners within Korea just working amongst themselves. The only truth known from the rumor is that these people are spreading AIDS in order to make their existence known."

A foreigner in Korea has never been brought up on such charges. A Korean taxi driver was, however, accused by the police on March 13 for knowingly spreading HIV/AIDS to dozens of women in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province.

Further involvement in the AIDS public opinion field was the group's successful influencing of foreign visa regulations using false statistics. Bill (3356), which is now at the National Assembly, is designed to allow AIDS testing for any foreigners coming into Korea on working visas. The bill contains a statistic which originates from Anti-English Spectrum, and has been quoted by the group's administrator in the media on numerous occasions. It states that in 2007 the Itaewon AIDS clinic performed 80 percent of its tests on foreign teachers and foreign white collar workers.

Korea AIDS/HIV Prevention & Support Center statistics for that year show that the 80 percent statistic is false. Furthermore, KHAP director Yu Sung-chal told Expat Living that the clinic "moved to Seongbuk-gu in 2006, so it makes no sense to say that the Itaewon clinic sent out these statistics."

When Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, who is behind Bill (3356) was asked by the Herald about the false statistic, he stated that he got the stats from the Ministry of Justice, and that he does not remember who in the ministry he got them from. "I do go over statistics at times. But in this case, since they are not the vital issue here, but rather a reference, I didn't check the facts."

The same dubious statistic can be traced back even further. A petition from AES sent to the Ministry of Justice in 2006 bears the same 80 percent figure. Around this time, Anti-English Spectrum assisted in an online article that alleged the percentage was English teachers, leaving out the mention of white collar workers. The picture included with the article is of a white man giving a blood sample to a nurse -- presumably an English teacher, since the article is about EFL teachers -- with the caption once again mentioning the Itaewon AIDS tests.

As it turns out, the photo was a fake. The picture is of President George W. Bush's former U.S. Global AIDS coordinator being publicly tested for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia in an effort to fight AIDS stigma. The same picture is on Wikipedia.

When reached for comment, the director of the AIDS Prevention Center in Daegu did not have nice things to say about Anti-English Spectrum. "I think they are highly nationalistic and they treat foreigners as our enemies ... I do believe in freedom of speech, however, what they are sending out is highly controversial and might send out the wrong perception," said Kim Ji-young.

Aside from propagating the use of false statistics and admitting to stalking foreigners, AES has made a name for itself with dozens of propagandistic posters. The main themes: Illegal teachers are drug takers, sex fiends, gamblers and are unqualified; some are pedophiles; they are the source of Korea's HIV/AIDS problem.

The main issues for most expats: This kind of propaganda incites hatred for all foreigners, since it's impossible to tell an illegal from a legal one.

Teachers speak up

On Nov. 13, the Association for Teachers of English in Korea issued a press release supporting the efforts of Andrea Vandom, a Ph.D. student in International Relations at the University of California, who has taken action against Anti-English Spectrum. In a letter dated Nov. 6, which was sent to Naver's parent company NHN Corporation, Vandom outlines that AES violates both Korean law and also Naver Cafe's operating principles.

"This group's highly defamatory statements violate Article Ga-4 (Defamatory Posts) of Naver Cafe's terms of service agreement and rise to the level of violation of the Korean Criminal Code."

She goes on to state, "Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination ... which the Republic of Korea has declared 'has the same authority of domestic law.' Says that '(promoting) racial hatred and discrimination in any form,' such as with the use of 'promotional posters,' is a prohibited act."

Referring to her letter, ATEK president Greg Dolezal stated, "The Anti-English Spectrum is attempting to sabotage multiculturalism in Korea with their xenophobic accusations that are aimed at foreign teachers who are innocent of the crimes the group describes.

"ATEK cannot accept such harmful material relating to foreign teachers ... Therefore we whole heartedly support these letters and urge the NHN Corporation to honor Naver's content policies and remove the offensive material from the group's page."

Towards the end of her letter, Vandom says that. "I have emphasized that Naver should protect its users' rights to speak freely in a robust and open environment where controversial ideas are expressed and even offensive language is used, but even free speech has its limits." She ends the letter with six example points "strongly suggesting" that Naver remove any material on AES' site that promotes "racism, xenophobia and the proliferation of hate speech."

Kyung Hee University international law professor Benjamin Wagner takes issue with the way AES has handled the sensitive issue of HIV/AIDS. "It is not free speech to try to stir a social panic by falsely claiming foreigners have AIDS and are conspiring to infect the Korean population. This is a criminal matter," said Wagner.

"Firstly, I'm appalled at their degradation of Korean women. Secondly, their willful refusal to abide by Korea's laws and moral principles is shameful and has marked the group as the true outsiders. Their tactics and ideology are completely alien to Korean democratic society. To give just two examples: their attempt to create rumors of foreigners plotting to infect Koreans with AIDS is a propaganda ploy right out of the Pyongyang playbook; and their spying -- tracking peoples movements, following them home, secretly photographing them -- is reminiscent of past military dictatorships' human rights violations, which this country successfully fought to eradicate."

AES' cafe manager initially agreed to an interview but subsequently disallowed the use of his answers in print. Anti-English Spectrum, to its credit, has removed some of the most offensive content. There are still ongoing discussions on their cafe on the subject of stalking foreigners.

By Adam Walsh

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A note and a promise

Deadlines are looming.
Long hours barely sufficient
To manage my tasks.

Avast needs tending.
So many topics calling,
Yet posting must wait.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh No You Don't

On the weekend I attended a book club meeting run by a friend - as per usual we only discussed the book briefly and ended up talking about completely different things. Somehow the talk turned to health care and my friend tried to tell me that not only will Obama never pass the reforms, but that America doesn't need to change its health care policies and that it's a better system than Canada's.

But, no, I don't think that a middle class woman in her twenties gets to tell me that American health care doesn't change (especially when she suggests that if the working poor just stopped paying for cable they could easily afford insurance.)

When women are more likely to be uninsured, to e underinsured, to have difficulty accessing and paying for needed medical care and to forego needed medical care due to cost, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

When women tend to pay more for individual health-insurance policies, even if they don't include maternity care and the US is the only industrialized nation that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

When some insurers charge women as much as 50% more and employers pay more for their group health plans if their workforce is predominately women - which is called gender rating, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

When flexible hours are a barrier to qualifying for group insurance and when women's lesser salaries result in them being more likely to take flexible hours or part time work so that their partners can work full time to cover the family, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

When being a victim of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

When half of women workers in the private sector don't have a single paid sick day and swine flu hits the US, you don't get to tell me that the American system is working.

Having lived in countries with more universal health care, I can tell you that while the Korean, Canadian and British systems aren't perfect, they do work. There is plenty of room for improvement in all of them, but they are cheaper than the American system and keep more people covered.

Let's hope Obama does manage to fix that system that is not working.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feminism in Israel

When the idea for reviving Avast for NaBloPoMo came up, I thought it would be a great chance to write a post or two on feminism in Israel. My country tends to come up in conversations over lots of issues; feminism is not the first one to come to mind. I have spent the last few days trying to figure out what to write about.

In many ways women here are considered equal. From day one of the establishment of the state in 1948, women have been able to vote, we had a female prime minister in the 70’s, girls do a mandated military service same as boys, and we get the same education and health care. Still, there are so many ways that women here are not equal.

I could write about how the military has very few women in the upper ranks and serves as a network that women can’t get into.
I could write about how more girls that boys graduate high school and more women than men receive undergraduate and graduate degrees, yet the number of women who get tenured university positions is much lower and women make up only about a quarter of the faculty of universities and colleges.
I could write about how in 2008 women earned approximately 40% less then men.
I could write about the number of women who were murdered by their male partners or ex-partners.
I could write about the sex workers who are being brought here from other countries and held illegally, who can’t speak the language and can’t get help and when they are caught are sent back to where they come from with no help.
I could write about the former president who is now under trial for rape and sexual harassment.
I could tell you that it took six years to pass a law against sexual harassment.

Instead I am going to tell you about my colleague S.
S. has a master’s degree from a top university; she is bright and well read. She also thinks it ok that men make more than women; after all, they have a family to support. She thinks it’s ok that when she gets home from work, she looks after their child, cleans the apartment, cooks and does laundry. Her husband goes to the gym. If their child is sick, she will stay home even though she has used up her paid sick days at work.
She makes me sad and, unfortunately, I think she is a typical Israeli woman.

Most of the women I come in contact with, whether at work, at the gym, or through our kids, work outside their home, have careers, and are educated. Most of them would not call themselves feminists. I don’t know why they don’t identify with feminism. Maybe many of them do not realize that they lead the lives that they do because of feminists in the past. Maybe, because even though they have careers and are successful strong women, they are still usually the ones who do the majority of the housework and childcare and can’t fathom a world where that doesn’t happen?

*I have sources for my numbers but they are all in Hebrew.

by Yael - Ein Shem

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All boy?

Before I became a parent, I thought few people in my educational and social cohort would have firm ideas about the inherent nature of boys and girls. After all, we’re generally progressive and at least moderately worldly. We’ve heard of the role of society upon our choices and lives, haven’t we? We know that cultures differ around the world and have changed over time, haven’t we? Sadly, I can add this to my list of illusions that have been shattered by the arrival of a child*.

It amazes me how many people I know confidently attribute any number of behaviours to a child’s gender. I’ve been told many times by friends, family and strangers that my son is “all boy”. Presumably this is because he’s a high energy kid who’s very active and loves trucks and cars. Classic boy, right? But…he’s also fascinated by babies and tries to comfort his preschool friends when they’re upset. Wait a minute…that doesn’t reduce his boy rating to 85%, does it? I trust our readers can guess which toys his relatives buy him.

I think there are two key components to this. The first is people’s tendency to see what they expect. Facts that contradict what they “know” to be true are frequently ignored or rationalized away. There is a classic experiment when a video of a crying infant (in gender-neutral clothing) was shown to volunteers. When identified as female, people described the infant as upset or scared. When the same infant was identified as male, people described its behaviour as angry. This feeds into the second component – people also behave differently towards boys and girls, right from day one.

Think about it. Even when you think that you’re treating baby boys and girls equally, the odds that you aren’t. People praise girls and boys for different types of behaviour from birth. You may argue that you’d give your daughter a truck or your son a doll … if that’s what they REALLY wanted. Sure, maybe you would. But did you set the bar that high before buying your child a gender-typical toy? Or did you buy it without being asked and encourage them to play with it.

Now, I have to do the typical bending over backwards to say that of course I’m not saying that boys and girls (or men and women) are exactly the same. My point is, in our culture, how would you possibly know?
*Illusion #37


Let's wait for tomorrow, shall we?

Geeks and Nerds

"Whatever you say about sci-fi fans, they have an acute sense of the monumental. A pretty good definition of sci-fi, in fact, is fiction that focuses exclusively on monumental events: plagues, comets, interspecies wars, the return of the dinosaurs." Nugent, American Nerd

In Benjamin Nugent's American Nerd, the subtitle reads "The Story of My People". Certainly it isn't the story of my people. Apparently, American nerds are pretty much all men. Nugent does touch lightly on the presence of racial and sexist stereotypes at work in the construction of the nerd. There is even a chapter examining Asperger's Syndrome (which affects males more regularly than females - to the tune of 90% according to the book) and arguing that the syndrome became a problem at the same time that being a nerd became a major obstacle to social acceptance. It was interesting to read about the historical, literary, and cinematic development of the nerd stereotype and a few things resonated with me, particularly the idea of adult-onset coolness and the idea of dignity through candor (as opposed to WASPy concealing of emotions and impolite activities) because I certainly do that.

While American Nerd was interesting, but not inspiring, an article in the Spring 2007 issue of Shameless by Erin Hoffman was much more resonant.

"Yet my mother's geekiness is not merely a lust for high-tech toys. It lies in a tireless pursuit for a better way to do things, a sense of eternally young idealism. Her love of gadgetry is a love for efficiency, of building tools that allow us to do more, experience more, and accomplish more in the brief time we each have on earth...

Thus, geekhood is not about technology alone. I like to think it has its roots in something truer, deeper, and more complex: the vision that we can make the world a better place, and the passion to pursue that vision with vigour and clarity of purpose...

In the great social taxonomy, geeks and hippies are common descendants, for they share a philosophical vision. And vision is what geekdom is all about."

If Erin Hoffman writes a book about Girl Geeks, it would certainly make it onto my to-buy list.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shake It Down Low

So, the kids are involved in this homeschool theater troupe, and the ladies running it are very interested in fostering a "family-friendly atmosphere" - by which they apparently mean no mention of human reproduction, since the play they picked would get a thumbs-up from Glen Beck and Lou Dobbs for its anti-government, anti-Mexican overtones.

All right then, we're encouraging chastity. No problem. I applaud chastity. If your T-shirt proclaims you to be "bound for Glory" and this theater troupe is one of your rest stops on the journey, that works for me.

But I just. don't. get. the Miley Cyrus thing in the cultural context of preserving youthful virtue. Our teenage choreographer is adapting a "Hannah Montana" routine called The Ice Cream Freeze to serve as the show's main dance number. The tweens and teens in the troupe, clearly familar with the entirety of Miley's ouevre, enthusiastically requested the chance to perform this dance in front of their evangelical families and friends.

Am I crazy? When Miley shakes her milkshake and shakes it down low, is it not her ass that is actually doing the shaking? When she exhorts the boys to follow her lead and party all night, is she leading them to a tent revival? Why is this acceptable media consumption in a culture that claims to enforce a draconian version of sexual modesty?

If my children were 10 and 14 instead of 3 and 5, I'd have to pull them out of the fundie theater troupe because I'd be embarrassed to have them do those moves, to those lyrics, in front of a crowd. Never in my life did I think I'd be the most sexually uptight mom in the room, most certainly not in a room full of Southern Baptists. It's really weird.

YouTube is full of tweens who love to do the Ice Cream Freeze. I don't want to inadvertently publicize any minors gyrating, but search for "ice cream freeze dance" or "let's chill" if you want to see a medley of stuff that would be no big deal at a slumber party, but probably doesn't belong ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED INTERNET FOR THE PERVS OF THE WORLD TO JACK OFF TO.

I know it's wikipedia, but

First, please pretend this is November 13, ok? Then I won't get in trouble for being behind schedule (as usual.)

I can't remember how, but somehow I stumbled across the men's rights section of Wikipedia. Now, you may be thinking that a smart person would have slowly backed away from the monitor and turned away to do something more productive and cheering such as clean the dog poop out of the backyard. If that's the case, you do not understand the morbid fascination of a train wreck or a really bad Wikipedia post.

If your health care provider has cleared you of heart conditions and blood pressure issues, here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men%27s_rights

Honestly, until now I have found very little in there to object to. I found some really minor errors once in a geology article, which were corrected before I could object, and the occasional geographic detail about some part of my hometown area that no one ever went to anyhow. But for the most part, even the controversial topics I read up on--with my pessimist's eye--have been reasonably even-handed.

However, the men's rights article reads as propaganda. Completely and without exception. I was surprised to discover, for instance, that "very little has been done to formalize what men's rights are or to protect these rights. With the increased focus on the rights of women and children, some of the rights of men have been devalued and overturned." Thankfully, a broad coalition of men AND women, from LOTS of countries, practicing LOTS of relgions, with ALL KINDS of political views exists to solve some of today's thorniest human rights issues, such as the damaging repercussions of sexual harassment laws, "Violence Against Women Act-type laws," and of course the epidemic of false rape accusations.

Another cause of concern is feminist control of the media. Apparently, the media is heavily biased against men, reports false statistics on the wage gap, and portrays men in so negative a light that there is a even a word for it: "the term "Lace Curtain" to describe feminist control over publishing and media representation of gender issues."

No diatribe against the awesome power of women would be complete without opinions on the lack of men's "choices" in fatherhood, the unfairness of divorce, alimony, and child support, and the unfairness of domestic violence laws. For instance, this shocking revelation: "Many women's shelters will assist male victims of domestic abuse but do not house men, instead offering hotel vouchers, counseling, case management, legal services and other support services." Were you aware that some shelters that exist to protect abused women would keep males from sharing living quarters with them?

I an perfectly happy to concede that there are many topics, including the above, on which a healthy debate could be had regarding the relative advantages given by society and law to men and women. However, there is no debate in the Wikipedia article, and I would argue that it is not even the place for debate. It is the place for information as close to neutral as possible. In fact, however, there is not even a feint at neutrality. The article reads as pure propaganda. Citations are virtually absent, and sources are almost exclusively agenda groups.

The only faint glimmer of hope I can derive is that clearly, no one else cares enough to bother writing about the so-called movement for men's rights. Perhaps this means no one cares enough to bother reading about it, either. One can only hope.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More than a poppy

In Canada, the poppy is the official symbol of Remembrance Day. The Canadian Legion sells felt poppies as a fundraiser for disabled veterans. People wear the poppies in their lapels and coats for several days around Remembrance Day. It’s not a common practice in the US, so I was surprised and pleased to get one from a Canadian co-worker today. It made me think about what it means to support the troops.

I don’t have many direct connections to the military. I have an uncle and a couple of cousins in the Canadian armed forces, but I’m not very close to them and don’t see them often. My grandfather fought in world war II, but he rarely spoke of it, certainly not to children. He died of Alzheimer’s disease when I was a teenager, so I was never had the chance as an adult to talk with him about his life. He immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands when he was 18, and so volunteered for the Dutch Free Army – mostly likely the Princess Irene Brigade. I do know that he was stationed in the Netherlands and got in trouble for “losing” his supplies. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he had gone to visit his family and given them all he had – so many people were starving during the war.

What does it mean to support the troops? It’s easy to wear a poppy. It’s easy for public figures to praise and thank members of the armed forces at memorial services. These symbols do matter to people, but if that’s as far as it goes, it’s not enough. What else do the troops need? Enough money to pay soldiers a decent salary and to equip and train them properly. In the US, I’d never argue for more spending on the military – this country spends a staggering amount on defense. In Canada, it’s a different story and our military has been seriously underfunded. We’re in a world where militaries are necessary and, if we’re sending people into situations where they are likely to be injured or killed, we are obligated to equip them properly. War damages people, both physically and psychologically. As a society, we have a responsibility to provide pensions and health care to soldiers. These are the easy points – they take money and organization, but aren’t particularly contentious.

As a society, we also have a responsibility to take the decision to use our militaries seriously. We owe to our militaries. We particularly owe it to the civilians, who did not volunteer for danger. We cannot take this lightly. Now, I’m sure that the generals and the government always think they’re taking these decisions seriously. My point is that that’s not enough. As a society, we need to question those in power about why we’re going to war and challenge them to find another way. As private citizens, protests and writing are often our only tools. This may not feel like support sometimes; being questioned can be very difficult. However, I firmly believe that preventing unnecessary harm is at least as important as wearing a poppy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

I was going to write a big post about women and the Korean War, in honour of Remembrance Day (in spite of the fact that in Korea today, we celebrate Pepero - a chocolate-covered biscuit stick). However, in spite of borrowing a book from the school and printing out some Internet articles to do this at home, what I ended up doing was going to a pub quiz, winning and staying out until 6 a.m. (don't try this at home!)

However, if you go over here you can read my post about Korean Comfort Women and their weekly demonstrations for reparations and an apology from the Japanese government.

And here is the only poem I have committed to heart:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

While I was home, I bought a ton of books (between my father giving me gift certificates at the Bolton bookstore and Indigo and all those coupons designed to get people shopping at Canadian stores like Roots and Indigo, I had fun). In addition to lugging all of those back to Korea to read (minus the perhaps six or so I read while at home), I also grabbed Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch from my shelves and threw them in my suitcase.

Reading books on (not) getting by in America and the (futile) pursuit of the American dream seemed to be a logical choice, given the current state of the American economy. Interestingly, I didn't find Canada to be in a particularly difficult economic situation and read all about why Canada wasn't hit in the same way as the States in various magazines. However, Time Magazine's articles on Vegas prompted me to finally get around to reading Ehrenreich's books.
"When someone works for less pay than she can live on - when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently - then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor', as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else."
I really enjoyed reading Nickel and Dimed. After getting past my own recollections of my days working minimum wage jobs (and the summer that I worked two, back to back during the week, one of the two on weekends as well), I found it an insightful look at low-wage America and the impossibility that the working poor could ever live in decent conditions on minimum wage. It also touched on the intrusion of the workplace into the personal lives and minds of their workers: psychological tests for hiring, the make-work tasks that come when workers have a free moment, rather than allowing them time to use the bathroom or rest, drug tests, shifts that aren't regular enough to allow for scheduling of other commitments, and complete lack of not just benefits but even unpaid sick days. It is then that you see how the state of the working poor connect to the state of the middle class.

Because in Bait and Switch, when Ehrenreich enters the world of the white-collar unemployed, she finds that the corporations require from their employees the same personality assessments, aimed at producing people with likeability, under a certain age, who maintain a positive attitude and passion and dedication for a workplace that makes no promises in return: no job security and hence no security of their benefits, including health and pensions. The promise that hard work will equal success when in fact often success and high salaries lead workers to be identified as prime cost-cutting targets.

Both of the books end calling for workers to unite, to work together to confront the corporations that make all the rules and yet offer so little to the people who work for them. As Ehrenreich points out, corporations get lots of advantages from governments largely in return for jobs - jobs that they often don't provide or if they do are not at wages that allow a decent life. She calls for the power of numbers of the unemployed, or underemployed, or working poor to be directed at looking at the systemic problems that exist in the way we have chosen to set up our society as it relates to work.

If you've read the books, what do you think of Ehrenreich's analysis?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Gravity Well

The theory of general relativity describes gravity as a bending of spacetime. Massive objects like the sun bend spacetime, forming a “well” that makes it difficult for smaller objects to escape it’s vicinity.

When I was pregnant, we knew that I would return to work (after 9 weeks leave) and that my husband would stay at home with the baby. At that time my work visa changed and my husband no longer had work authorization, so being a SAHD was the only option that didn’t require quiting my job and moving back to Canada. We had always intended to share parenting equally (doesn’t everyone in our generation intend to?), but knowing that he would be responsible for many hours of daily baby care was an extra incentive to take the baby classes and be involved in our plans. Then the baby arrived…

Breast-feeding was tricky at first, but after a couple of weeks we were pretty good at it. However, it certainly took a lot of time. I spent a couple of days tracking how much time I spent child-to-breast, because I am exactly that geeky. One day’s total was about 5 hours. Add in diaper changes, burping and a bath, and there wasn’t much day left. My maternity leave was short, so I also felt that I had to make the most of those weeks. Before we knew it, I was doing the vast majority of the baby care.
Despite our best intentions, traditional gender roles form a gravity well that it takes a determined effort to not fall into. After my return to work, full-time baby care was a real shock to my husband. He learned and we got through it, but things were tough for a while.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Queer Canada Bloggers

Last year about this time I discovered two fantastic bloggers, as a result of NaBloPoMo, Feral Geographer and Mae Callan and then they, being the awesome bloggers that they are, set up Queer Canada Blogs. Go have a read.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

It's not about fairness. It's about doing what's right.

Do you feel a headache coming on? A massive blinding frustration-induced migraine?

In a lot of ways, the recent defeat of gay marriage rights in Maine is just plain boring. Same shit, different state. Mainers were snowed by the same "protect the children!" rhetoric that worked so well in California. That bewildering "it's not about fairness" tagline is an ACTUAL SLOGAN used by the irony-impaired PR department of the Christian-backed Maine Marriage Initiative.

The National Organization for Marriage apparently had $1.6 million left over from the Prop 8 campaign, and they kicked it Maine's way. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland collected an additional half million dollars from church coffers across the country. All of this money went to Stand For Marriage Maine, which produced a series of ads where adorable blonde children sit in class looking horrified, nonwhite heterosexual families stand in front of trees looking wholesome, and various sad couples from Massachusetts imply that their kids are coming home from kindergarten with "I Love Gay Marriage" craft projects and instruction booklets on anal sex.

In an excruciatingly polite debate at the University of Maine, marriage rights activist and Stereotypical Nonthreatening Partnered Lesbian Mary Bonauto valiantly pointed out that Maine schools don't teach about marriage of any kind and that Proposition One law wouldn't alter that fact. (The Maine Attorney General has publicly seconded this.) Her opponent beat the drum for biological parenthood as the chief justification for the existence of marriage, the sanctity of Maine's civil marriage paperwork (Party A and Party B? Oh noes!) and the tragic example of Catholic Charities of Boston, which closed down its publicly-funded adoption program rather than adopt any of their hard-to-place special needs clients out to those evil queers.

Maine is 82% Christian, 37% Catholic. In a sad and twisted way, the fact that Proposition One was accepted by only a 53% margin is GOOD news. In the next go-round, gay marriage might pass - a lot of Mainers hate ideological carpetbaggers nearly as much as they hate homosexuality. If the pro-marriage contingent can do a better job next time of getting out the message that the ad campaign is being paid for by people "from away," it might tip the balance. Mainers like to be left alone.

But as long as we outsiders are weighing in on the moral implications of Maine affairs, perhaps we'd better boycott Maine lobster out of respect for the same Old Testament scruples that carried the day in the Proposition One campaign.

They say it's not about religion. I don't understand how they can justify the lie. Even within Christianity, you'd think that adhering to the Ten Commandments in your personal conduct would be more important than making sure that a random passage from Leviticus is enshrined into the laws of your allegedly secular state. Pass the Advil, please...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

"When you're shameless, you do what you want, how you want, and don't worry about what the neighbours think."
While I was home, I must have bought about thirty magazines. I love magazines about as much as I love chocolate and cheese, and the opportunity to buy so many things that aren't stocked here in Korea or even just the opportunity to not spend $10-15 on them as I usually do, was too hard to pass up. To say my suitcases were not light on the return trip, what with the cans of pumpkin and the books and the magazines and the boxes of chocolates, is putting it mildly.

Two years ago, while searching through the racks at Indigo for Bitch and Bust and Ms (oddly, easier for me to find in Korea because apparently the ESL expats here in Seoul are a fairly lefty-liberal-crunchy crowd), I came across a magazine called Shameless. I read the whole thing and liked it so much that I thought I'd bring it along to Korea and blog about it. If you've guessed that what ended up happening is that I stuck it in a pile of magazines and never touched it again until packing it when I moved, you'd be right.

However, once again I've scored a copy of Shameless. It's sort of like a Canadian Bitch aimed at a high school / university level audience. In this past issue, I learned all about why institutions attempt to ban hoodies (I love my hoodies!), that in Israel women are being edited out of photos in media including election posters, that the Canadian Federal Student association is working on procedures to ban anti-choice groups on campus, all about campus radio and that my alma mater, Queen's University, has a farmer's market now. I've been inspired to look up the music of Big Mama Thorton and the performances of Jess Dobkin and her vagina dentata project. There were articles on being a Pride organizer, DIY, and volunteering abroad.

My two year old copy is just as good. I learned that should I ever end up in Toronto with time on my hands, I should drop by the Clara Thomas Archives at York University to see the collection of 1950s lesbian pulp novels donated by Ruth Sworin. I read about Insight Theater, which performs pieces to teach sex-ed, and a profile on Jenna MacLellan, a student from Sioux Lookout who addresses racism through art. There are always awesome and inspiring job profiles and an advice page and I was introduced to Think Before You Pink - the first time I had really ever put any thought into what it meant to "shop for the cause' and the concept of 100-mile diets. There was an article about rethinking sexual violence from the perspective of resistance, why you shouldn't wear camo and a rant against padded bras. And I have to admit, I was taken in by reading references to the Toronto Public Libraries or Pape Subway Station in the articles - how cool that it's Canadian.

Who wouldn't love a magazine with quotes like these?: "I am not sure how they bottle the smell of summer rain, but your vagina certainly should not smell of summer rain, winter storms, daisies or any other perfumed scent."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Election day, away from home

Tuesday was election day. Did you vote? Did you notice? It was one of the small, quiet election days after all, with no presidents and only a few governors. Some cities voted for mayors and a couple of states voted on same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships.

I moved to the United States on January 1, 2001. A few weeks later, George W. Bush took office. I’ve been here through 9/11, the War on Terror, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush’s reelection and Hurricane Katrina. I held my breath and hoped during the 2008 campaign and was amazed and relieved when Obama was elected.

It’s been fascinating and frustrating time to live in this country. At the same time, my interested in Canadian politics has dwindled, stretched out to a thin elastic band connecting me to my home. Even the scandals seem quaint from a distance, when a federal politician is under investigation for getting a deck built for free at his cabin. Compared, oh, say, misleading the UN about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it seems like small potatoes, no? Still, I did send in my absentee ballot for the 2004 election. By the time the 2006 and 2008 elections took place, I couldn’t be bothered. Frankly, it seemed inappropriate to vote when I didn’t know what the parties had done in years, never mind the local candidates. In the end, these weren’t the elections that I really wanted to vote in.

At the same time, I’ve been reluctant to get involved in American politics and I’ve wondered what’s appropriate. If I volunteered for a campaign, would the fact that I’m not a citizen be a problem? Can I donate money? I don’t even know if there are laws about this, never mind the potential scandal of “X’s campaign being bankrolled by foreigners” (after all, my $20 can buy a lot of influence, can’t it?). Attending demonstrations is a risky activity when in the midst of a green card application – how do you explain that arrest? This is only a little paranoid. Friends in Denver attended peace rallies in the months leading up to the Iraq war. A few months later, the Denver police were found to have been surveiling and keeping files on many of the activists. A hasty apology was issued. Still, I may be kidding myself here – it’s not like I was particularly active in Canadian politics.

There’s been a weird comfort, though, in this lack of responsibility. There have been many times over the years when I’ve thought to myself that “they’re your crazy politicians, not mine”. I will likely apply for American citizenship at some time, but there are years of different visa statuses between here and there. I hope I can shake this habit of inaction before then.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I Didn't Buy a Souvenir

When I was in Vancouver, lots of people were talking about the Olympics. Aside from liking the new Canada Line of the Skytrain, Vancouverites didn't seem particularly happy about the preparations for 2010. Between the complaining about budgets, people forced to sell buildings to the planners, or businesses that have been around for decades being threatened with lawsuits because they named their Greek Restaurant Olympia, there didn't seem to be a lot of love for the coming games.

I'm a big fan of the Olympics and I'd love to attend them one day. I happily purchase Olympic gear, no matter how silly the damn hats look. I love watching just about any of the events and have fond memories of the teasing that came when I lived in Scotland after their women's team beat ours at curling (who knew other nations curled?) or watching the Opening Ceremonies in between songs at norae bang, drinking soju with the owner. This one is even better than the last because the Winter Olympics not only tend to be better medal-wise for Canada but they also have Snowboard Cross, which has become my favourite of all the events. I can't be the only person out there who loves a good slippery sport where people fall over, right?

I can't say that I'm as proud as I could be to watch my nation host the Olympics yet again, which makes me sad. My problem with the Olympics? The damn ski jumping. Apparently it's a sport that requires a penis to participate.
Women Lose Bid To Ski Jump At Olympics
by Howard Berkes, July 10, 2009
Women won't ski jump in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next year. A justice at the British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled that failing to hold a ski jumping competition for women constitutes discrimination — but there's nothing Canadian courts can do about it.

Fifteen women sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics because the Vancouver games are men-only when it comes to ski jumping. The women argued that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms bars gender discrimination by government agencies and groups performing government functions.

Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon ruled that the committee is governed by the anti-discrimination language in the Canadian Charter, but that it is not responsible for the exclusion of women from the ski jumping competition and is powerless to change that decision.

"The IOC [International Olympic Committee] made a decision that discriminates against the plaintiffs," Fenlon wrote. "Only the IOC can alleviate that discrimination by including an Olympic ski jumping event for women in the 2010 Games."

Fenlon added that the Canadian charter does not apply to a non-Canadian entity such as the IOC.

"I'm shocked and disappointed," says Deedee Corradini of Women Ski Jumping USA. But "there is a moral victory here," she adds, given the court's clear finding that the IOC discriminates. "That's what we've been contending all along. So our hope is that the IOC will admit that this is discrimination and end it. The time has come."

IOC Stance Appears Firm

Based on a statement issued after the ruling, the IOC isn't inclined to change its position.

"While we are pleased that the Games can now proceed as planned," the statement reads, "we strongly disagree with the court's analysis that the IOC acted in a discriminatory manner."

It repeats the IOC's explanation for the decision not to include women's ski jumping in the 2010 Winter Games: "Our decision was based on technical issues, without regard to gender."

Those technical issues include the number of women ski jumping at an elite level and the number of countries competing in the sport. IOC officials have argued that too few women and countries compete to justify Olympic competition.

Fenlon addressed that directly in her ruling: "If the IOC had applied the criteria for admission of new events to both men's and women's ski jumping events," she wrote, "neither group would be competing in the 2010 Games."

Men's ski jumping has always been part of the Winter Olympics and remains by virtue of tradition. That "grandfathering" of the men's event, while excluding a women's event, "discriminates against the plaintiffs in a substantive sense," Fenlon concludes.

Games On Soft Moral Ground?

Ski jumping is the last Winter Olympics sport closed to women.
"I just don't know why this is the last step, why it's so hard to take," says Anita DeFrantz, a former Olympic rower and a veteran IOC member from the United States. "There are women athletes there who deserve to show their skills and accomplishment, as the men do, on the Olympic platform."

The ruling means that the ski jumper who holds the distance record on the K95 "normal hill" in Vancouver won't get to compete at the games. Lindsey Van, 24, of Park City, Utah, has jumped farther than any man on the Olympic hill.

Van will watch on television as men try to beat her record at February's games. She's looking ahead to 2014, but she's not sure she can last that long in the sport given the lack of financial support for non-Olympic athletes.

"When you get into a sport of this caliber at a high level, people are making money through sponsors," Van says. "But it's hard to get a sponsor if you're not in the Olympics."

In Canada, there's concern that the ruling leaves the Olympics there on soft moral ground.

"If these were black Canadians and Jewish Canadians being excluded from the event, it would be intolerable," says Margot Young, who teaches constitutional and equality law at the University of British Columbia. "We should raise questions about what is going on at the Olympics."

The Vancouver Organizing Committee had supported the inclusion of a women's event in the 2010 ski jumping competition. In a statement, committee CEO John Furlong said, "We will continue to do everything we can to help these athletes achieve inclusion in future Games."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hashing in the ROK

Since January, I've been waking up earlier on the weekends than during the weekdays. You might wonder what could make me get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning; certainly it was something I wouldn't have predicted a year ago. However, last January I became a Hasher. I don't mean that I started smoking anything: on a cold, wintery day, I went out running with a bunch of women dressed in normal, cold-weather running gear and men in dresses. The Hash House Harriers aren't your average running group; with a tag line about being a drinking club with a running problem, that is probably to be expected.

Hashing is a worldwide phenomenon, though I personally have only hashed in two countries. It is quite popular amongst the expats here in Seoul - there are five groups in the city alone and several more throughout the Korean peninsula. Hashing is not smoking, but it is also not exactly running. It's sort of fox hunting, with humans.

Each hash starts off with a circle, when the signs particular to that hash are explained to the new runners. Virgin hashers also introduce themselves to the pack. Since most of the trails run by the Seoul packs are live-hared (more on that later), there is usually a song or a story told by the GM (leader) in order to give the hares time to lay the trail.

A hash trail is not just run, it has to be found. The hares (there are usually two, perhaps three) lay a trail using a series of chalk marks, or if the trail goes through what we call shiggy (off-road trail like forest or rice paddies), flour or bits of shredded paper. Three hash marks or a true trail mark mean you are heading the right way and a checkpoint indicates that the trail goes in a new direction. In Korea we say that at a checkpoint, the trail can go in one of 369 degrees, though not back the way it came - Korean roads tend not to have orderly four-way intersections. While most trails are scouted in advance and perhaps some marks are even pre-laid, most of the runs here in Korea are live-hared: the hares are making the trail as the pack runs behind, theoretically trying to catch them. Checkpoints, false trails, whistle checks and other stops along the way are to give the hares a chance to stay ahead. When I hashed with TWAT (Toronto Women's Alternate Thursdays) during my vacation, I learned that they pre-lay their trails, which is called a dead trail.

Once all the hashers have made it to the end point (which can be where the trail started, called an A to A trail, or somewhere else, called an A to B), the down down starts. Named after the downing of our beverage of choice (beer), the down down is the social aspect of the hash. In addition to once again getting the virgins to introduce themselves, down downs involve recognising the hares, any hashers who have hit a certain number of runs, birthdays, leavers and returners, that sort of thing. Each round of people called up on the line by the GM is accompanied by a song and a drink (though not everyone drinks alcohol necessarily). On a hasher's sixth run they lose ther no-name status and become a named hasher. Namings are run different ways by different packs, but generally involve the sharing of stories or asking questions of a rather naughty nature.

I have really enjoyed hashing. After three and a half years of living in Seoul, I had started to get a bit bored with my usual scene when a coworker introduced me to hashing. I'm not much of a runner - I usually walk the trails, though I do occasionally run them very, very s l o w l y. The social aspect of the hash and the friendships that have developed are the reason I keep going back. In Seoul, each group has a slightly different feel to it. The Saturday morning group, Yongsan Kimchi, has a lot of military members and more hardcore runners. Southside, which is the best hash running at 11 AM on Sundays south of the Han River, is quite chill and has a long On After (drinks/dinner in Itaewon usually). Saturday afternoons the Seoul Hash runs, men only, and once a month Seoul PMS is held, women only. An hour's bus ride south of Seoul in Songtan, the Osan Bulgogi pack runs Saturday as well - it's got a lot of air force members and is what I tend to refer to as Seoul's frat hash.

There are definitely some barriers to hashing happily. The hash was started by three British military men back in the day and it is certainly not free of sexism, homophobia, or racism. The songs that are traditionally sung are often fairly offensive. Many pack members will say that the hash is an equal opportunity offender - everyone gets to be insulted. When I go to the PMS hash, our toast goes, "Here's to the men we love and the men who love us, but the men we love aren't the ones who love us, so fuck them and here's to us!" Our song is to the tune of Three Blind Mice and is entitled I Love Cock. As a bisexual woman who was recently dating a woman, it's a bit odd. Other out hashers (and there aren't many of us) have felt tensions. There are times that I wonder about my participation in hashing. Times that I'm uncomfortable with some of the attitudes, rituals, or certain members. It's not always comfortable to participate in a group in which heteronormality is so in your face. It can be uncomfortable to call people on their attitudes and uncomfortable not to.

Last weekend one of my friends celebrated her 300th run. When such numbers roll around, usually the hasher throws some sort of a special run and she chose to have a Rainbow Run. Straight herself, it was in honour of a relative who had recently come out and of all the other important gay people in her life. To my knowledge, there were only five LGBT members in the pack, but there were a lot more people wearing rainbows, playing the games, and just generally being good allies.

And that is worth some uncomfortable moments.

Crossposted at my blog Life in a Suitcase

Monday, November 02, 2009

Still Getting the Hang of this…

Hmm, looks like I’m still figuring out how to use Blogger. I thought I was posting late enough yesterday evening that it would be published on Nov. 2. Well, in the daily posting spirit of NaBloPoMo, I’ll write an extra post for today.

Yesterday morning, my husband and I took Kidlet (almost 4) to a local playground. On the way home, we were admiring the different Halloween decorations on the yards and houses. The next house that we passed had a two-foot statue of Jesus in the flower bed.

Kidlet asked “What’s that, Mommy? Is it to scare us?”
Me (smothering a laugh) “I don’t know kidlet. What does it look like he’s doing?”
Kidlet replied “His eyes are closed. Maybe he’s sleeping.”

Sunday, November 01, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

A few weeks ago, my friend Amanda said “Hey! Let’s resurrect our old blog for National Blog Posting Month!” I thought that I’d like to write more outside of work, so I said “Sure! That sounds like fun! I’ll do Mondays and Thursdays.” Yesterday, I realized that it was November 1 and thought “Crap! What did I just do?” Kidding aside, I’m excited to begin our month (and maybe more).

To follow Amanda’s example, I’ll introduce myself. I’m a biochemist, which has led me and my family across the Canadian prairies, south into the US, back and forth across North America, to finally wind up at a biotech company on the west coast. I’m the mother of a four year old boy, who manages to delight, exasperate, and exhaust me, frequently on a 15 minute cycle. I’m enthusiastic, sarcastic, a fan of science fiction (more books than movies or tv) and of recreational arguing. My parents raised me with feminist principles, which I tended to take for granted before running full tilt into the reality of studying and working in a male-dominated environment. The last couple of years of graduate studies was a true consciousness-raising experience. I’m mostly a self- and internet-taught feminist and my reading has taken an excentric course. My only plan for this blog is to write about topics that have captured my interest, whether directly related to feminism or not. So, please, join us!

And So It Begins...

It occurs to me that I never introduced myself when I started posting to Avast and in the interest of having something to say for the entire month of November, I thought I'd be kind to myself and start off easily.

I've reached the grand old age of 31 and find myself far from home. After leaving home back in '97, I went to Queen's University, but more importantly ended up an exchange student at the University of Edinburgh for a year, which kick started my nomadic life. Since then I've lived in four cities on three continents, studying in Kingston, boring myself as a bank employee in Edinburgh, temping in Vancouver, and finally teaching English in Seoul, Korea. Right now, I answer both to Teacher and Encyclodyke (my hashing name - more on that in a later post.)

I'm far from a perfect feminist - to start with, I'm ridiculously badly read. However, it's been a big part of my life since a friend took me to a lecture by Germaine Greer in Edinburgh and then I discovered feminists online, originally on the MS. boards. I have little idea what I'm going to be posting on this month, but then, I suppose that is half the fun.