Sunday, December 18, 2011

Plan B and Canadian Pharmacies

Recently, in the US, there were plans to remove the age limit for Plan B without a prescription. The FDA advised that it was safe to sell over the counter but then the plans were overturned.

In Canada, however, Plan B is legally available over the counter, except for in Saskatchewan and Quebec. This means that in Ontario you should be able to pick up Plan B from the shelf in the "Family Planning" or birth control section of a pharmacy. This means that you no longer are required to speak to a pharmacist and be asked questions relating to your sexual activities. This means that, ideally, you should be able to grab Plan B from the shelf and pay for it without judgement or question.

I was surprised and pissed when I saw this the other day at a Shoppers Drugmart in Toronto. (I apologize for the poor picture quality - my phone does not have the best camera).

It seems that Shoppers has found a way around this requirement to have Plan B sold over the counter. By placing an empty box on the counter it appears that the pill is available without consulting a pharmacist but the label still directs consumers towards the pharmacist. There is so much wrong with this. For having the pharmacist ask a few questions about sexual activity, the price of Plan B increase by $15 (may be more or less depending on pharmacy) for the cost of "consulting." It also completely goes against making Plan B easily available.

I don't know if this is the practice of the entire company or this specific pharmacist. Anyone else in the Toronto area, there are some places like the Bay Centre for Birth Control that provide Plan B at a much lower cost.

Plan B is not an abortion pill. According to the Plan B website this pill works if taken within 72 hours of having sex and prevents fertilization by temporarily stopping the release of an egg.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

So It's That Time Of Year Again...

I received this today:


Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
not Happy Holiday !
Please, all Christians join together and
wish everyone you meet
Christ is The Reason' for the Christ-mas Season!
If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.

While I will certainly delete this email, it is not like me to simply drop it and leave it at that. Maybe I should, and maybe blogging is not the most constructive response but it may be the more mature and healthy reaction rather than replying harshly to someone who "meant well."

Anyone who knows me knows that I find many reasons to oppose organized religion and do not personally believe in any sort of god, Christian or otherwise. That being said, over the years I have tried to become more open-minded - not in the sense that I will ever follow religious doctrine but in the sense that if someone wants to believe in something, as long as it does not harm the well-being of another or impact any of my rights, then fine. I can also recognize that *some* religious organizations genuinely attempt to help society without indoctrination and are also a great space for providing a sense of community to some. While I do not believe this springs from religion itself, there are kind individuals within these communities and I recognize this.

Taking this into consideration it is rather confusing that I also love Christmas and the holidays. I am not a fan of the commercialism around it but I also do enjoy walking by store window displays and looking at the decorations. I enjoy the music, the decorations, egg nog, parades, movies, and many of the aspects associated with this. This makes absolutely no sense, but I do. I also can make many arguments about the patriarchal religious background of Christmas such as having to worship a "Virgin" mother because of the belief that a woman who has had sex is somehow unclean or unworthy.

Again, all that being said, I still celebrate Christmas with my family because that is what they celebrate. I don't celebrate it as a religious holiday as they might but I still celebrate it as a time of year when my family gets together and has a day without work (except for last year when I was still marking exams and writing term papers) and to express gratitude for what I have - not to an invisible god but to those who love me and care for me.

With that rather long preface out of the way I can now get to my main point of contention with this email. I would never, never get angry at anyone wishing me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, whatever. I do get angry whenever religious organizations and individuals feel the need to complain about how their rights are being eradicated through an attempt to be more inclusive in public. I shouted quite a few WTFs reading through the above poem.

Why is this issue addressed as a war against Christians? No one is outlawing "Merry Christmas." Stores are saying "Happy Holidays" to include a larger public and consumers, not to take away Christmas but to include it amongst other winter holidays because the same right to believe in a Christian god extends to everyone else to believe in whatever other god or goddess they want.

The poems bemoans the celebration of "cash, checks, and credit" but then looks to the stores as evidence that the "PC Police" are outlawing Christmas. WTF?!! If Christmas is not meant to be about consumerism why does it matter what the stores say? As for the PC Police, complaints about "political correctness" are often poorly masked complaints against it no longer being acceptable to be racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or just hateful in general.

In the past, working in retail around the holidays, I have made an effort to be inclusive. If someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I wish them one back. If someone wishes a Happy Holiday, I do likewise. Christianity is not the only religion in Canada and the States. Please, please get over this. The Christians that recognize this do not forward emails like this. They recognize that they have a right to celebrate their religious holidays just as everyone else can celebrate their own religion. I will never tell someone to not wish me a Merry Christmas but emails like this make me very angry and frustrated.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

SlutWalks and Discussion

One thing that can be said about the Toronto and London “Slutwalks,” whether you agree with the name or not, is that they have (for the most part) encouraged constructive and critical dialogue about victim-blaming and rape culture. The term “slut” in these important activist marches, however, has also divided the feminist organizations that seek to do essentially the same thing – end patriarchy and, with this, women abuse. While I intend to address this division and the importance of alliances in a future post, for the moment I wish to address this word.

I also wish to begin by stating I support the goals to end rape culture and victim-blaming/shaming. I support my friends who are participating in these walks but I also support my friends who have concerns with this.

Taken from the Toronto Slutwalk website:

"Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated."

The use of this term was also taken from the Toronto police officer telling women to not “dress like sluts” if they wish to avoid being raped. One of the many slogans being thrown around with these marches is the idea of changing the culture from one that teaches women “how not to get raped,” to one that tells men “not to rape.” By telling women not to act or dress like sluts, the police officer and even those people with the best intentions who care for their female friends are buying into this idea that the victim somehow asks to be raped. It places the responsibility in the woman’s hands rather than the person who actually rapes her – as if he could not control himself because of how she was dressed. Inquiring into a woman’s sexual history in a court case also perpetuates this idea. I have been part of and also witnessed some great discussions about this issue in response to these walks.

What about the word though? Can the word “slut” actually be re-appropriated? Does a word currently exist that is sex-positive for women who actually enjoy sex? Part of the issue is gendered assumptions about sex. It is assumed by many (and replayed throughout popular television series) that women do not enjoy sex, whereas men always want sex. This is why women are told not to dress like “sluts” because it is assumed that men already want sex, so that very little – such as a short skirt – is enough to encourage rape. To be a “man” carries the assumption that you enjoy sex and always want it. To be a “woman,” however, means to hate sex or not care much for it. This is why there are terms like “slut” or “whore” used to describe women who do have sex. Women have even been pathologized for enjoying sex, and were (and sometimes still are) labeled nymphomanias. These assumptions are harmful to both men and women. This is clearly harmful to women, and to men this is insulting. To assume that a man cannot stop himself from raping a woman dressed "like a slut" is more than slightly problematic.

I am not sure the word “slut” can actually be re-appropriated but I do understand why this is the word that has been currently taken up by activists. As I mentioned, there has been some important discussions that have sprung out of these walks and I hope that this is seen as participating in the discussion, rather than an attempt to find a final conclusion. I also recognize that words such as “manwhore” and even “slut” are applied to men at times, but I have a tough time seeing them as carrying the same negative connotations as when they are applied to women. Does anyone else have anything to add to this conversation? Is there a sex-positive word for women who enjoy sex? Would there be a way to re-appropriate the term “woman” in a sense that recognizes that women can also enjoy sex?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where to begin...

I've decided to write my Independent Research Project(IRP)/thesis on the advertising and policies around the HPV vaccine. Tonight I've been looking at some advertising and it's frustrating. Not one mention of what the hell HPV is. In the American "One Less" campaigns there's no mention of sex at all.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Glee, Dawson's Creek, and Representing Queer Teens

Before I begin this post, so I don't backtrack every single sentence I write, I need to begin with a disclaimer. I understand the issues of me writing about representing gay male teens and do not want to depend on stereotypes myself. What I take issue with here is how certain shows, while perhaps making important advances in bringing queer issues to mainstream television, often depend on one specific stereotype for all gay male characters. When I comment on Dawson's Creek, the problem I have is not that the gay male characters do not follow stereotypical gay male characteristics (in fact I think it's awesome the show does not depict all gay men as being shoe and attention obsessed)but rather, refusing to depict queer men as anything other than stereotypical heternormative football-playing men while blatantly despising those who break from heteronormativity makes the show appear homophobic. I remember reading somewhere that DC was the first show to air two men kissing on mainstream television so I do recognize that the writers may have felt a need to almost "ease" the audience into a gay relationship. Once again, I do not feel that all gay men need to be represented as "different" but there are many reasons I feel that DC is actually homophobic that I will explain. At the same time, however, I have a problem when Glee takes the completely opposite direction. Other than Rachel's dads who barely make an appearance in the show, Kurt is the show's only gay male character (its only queer character, male or female, as a fact). The writers of this show have decided to represent him only as an attention-starved, fashion-obsessed, "honorary girl." I am not trying to claim that I can speak for all gay men, but only pointing out the problems with shows relying on single stereotypes.

Ok, so first of all there is Jack. Jack is introduced in Season 2 of DC as a somewhat clumsy and introverted character who develops an interest in Joey. They begin dating and there is an episode that centers on Joey needing to draw a nude male for art class. In class there is a model and afterwards, when Joey is working on the shading, Jack spills coffee on her sketch and then offers to pose for her so she can redraw the sketch. While he is posing for her, he gets "excited," and while they never explicitly say he gets hard/erect/a boner that is essentially what happens. Later on, he is forced to read a poem in class which he has written about another guy and begins crying because he is embarrassed. At first when he is asked by his close friends if he is gay, he argues that he is not and he does not know why he wrote a poem about a guy. Soon after, he comes out, despite Joey's attempts to "prove" him straight by kissing him in public. There are some interesting discussions that follow, including his father's initial homophobia. This plot development also allows for Jenn's grandmother's character to become more understanding when a Christian friend says that Jack is hated by god for being gay, and she comes to his defense and says that nobody has any right to judge Jack and that, instead, he needs friends more than ever for support as the homophobic community reacts negatively to him coming out. In an episode that soon follows, Joey comes to terms with her ex being gay and meets another gay guy and immediately tries to set them up. Jack gets angry that she assumes that just because he is gay he has to like the first gay guy she meets after they break up. This is something shows such as Grey's Anatomy refuses to acknowledge. The three open lesbian characters in the show have all dated one another with the assumption that all lesbians must be attracted to one another. In Grey's Anatomy, lesbians cannot be friends with one another, they can only have sex and date simply due to being in the same location.

BUT BACK TO DAWSON'S CREEK. Jack eventually discovers that he is good at football and joins the high school football team. He is then interviewed by a local news show and from this follows discussions about him not "seeming gay." The episode that this was first brought up in I was actually impressed with initially. Even a show like Will & Grace depicts most gay men as narcissistic with a love for shoe shopping and tight shirts. Sex and the City is even more guilty of this, with gay men being nothing more than secondary characters and fashion accessories. Jack makes it onto the football team without dancing to a Beyonce song, and if my memory serves me well, there is not a single moment that he goes shopping with a girl to tell her how to dress. Somehow though, when Pacey borrows Jack's clothes he is labeled as gay and his boss tells him to stop dressing like a gay man.

AND THEN THERE'S TOBY. When Jenn is forced to do community service, she meets Toby, a queer activist who volunteers in his spare time. He tells her when the next meeting for his organization/club is, Jenn shows up and brings Jack with her. Jack expresses his disgust for gay men who meet up for such groups and says they are "too gay" for him. It is only when Toby is beaten up for being gay that Jack realizes that just maybe there is a need for such activist groups. I'm not entirely sure what Jack means by "too gay," because Toby still embodies pretty much all heteronormative male stereotypes other than openly fighting for tolerance and acceptance (and you don't even see much of that other than a couple of meetings in a coffee shop). Prior to Toby there was Ethan whom Jack kind of dated on a camping trip. While I really do think it's great that the gay males in this show are not reduced to stereotypes, I also feel that the show did this because it was too scared to show anyone who breaks from heteronormativity. Even though DC may have been the first to show two men kissing on mainstream television, it still could only hint at Jack having sex. Guys were seen leaving his room at times, but never was there a scene with Jack and another guy in bed. With the other characters, the writers had no problem showing a man and a woman taking off each others' clothes and making out, but with Jack, they refused to go beyond a kiss.

AND THEN THERE'S DOUG. Doug is Pacey's older brother who is a police officer with a taste for broadway music. Pacey constantly makes fun of with references to the Village People and calls him gay as an insult. Doug always gets angry and at one point when Pacey convinces a woman his brother is gay, Doug holds a gun to Pacey's head until Pacey tells her that Doug is straight. SPOILER ALERT (to those who care): One of the revelations of the final episode is that Jack and Doug are in a relationship. It's one of those moments that fans are supposed to laugh at initially and then take seriously after the first moment this is revealed. Throughout the series there is an effort of all the characters to distance themselves from anything that does not resemble heteronormativity. When Jack's boyfriend, Toby, stops acting like a "dude" his frat brothers convince him to dump Toby. When Toby begins expressing anything like romantic emotions and asking how Jack feels, Jack and his brothers become disgusted and Jack removes himself from the relationship. To be gay is an insult to Doug only because he likes broadway music. The only acceptable gay male in this series is one who takes every effort to conceal his sexuality or anything that makes him different from his straight friends. Anyone who breaks from gender norms is immediately dropped from the show or made fun of. From this perspective, it seems that the writers use only heteronormative masculine stereotypes for the gay men, not out of a desire to fight gay male stereotypes, but rather out of homophobia. Yes, this show broke important grounds but it still limited gay men to one specific model. With a show that had more than one gay character, there was a great opportunity to depict gay men as more than a group of men that are all exactly the same. To tell the truth, this problem was not limited to gay men with the show, girls too were rather limited in character.

And now Glee. This show works has some really good conversations about discrimination and social issues. It also has a lot of other problems that undermine these conversations. Let me make myself clear: I do not believe that queer or straight men (or women) must stick to and follow heteronormative standards. I think Glee is great for promoting tolerance and acceptance for anyone who does not fit these expectations. This is not what I am critiquing. What I do have a problem with, however, is how Glee's writers believe ones sexuality directly alters ones gender and criminal behaviour. In the Madonna episode for which gender discrimination and expectations are addressed, Kurt, the openly gay Glee member, is labeled an "honorary girl." In the Lady Gaga episode, Kurt performs with the girls, while "the guys" do their own performance without him. The episode Kurt comes out to his dad opens with him dancing to and lip synching Beyonce's "Single Ladies/ Put A Ring On It." I think playing around with the gender binary and trying to blur the lines is awesome but I don't think it's so great that it sends the message that because men are attracted to men they cannot be a guy anymore. Similar to Dawson's Creek, this wouldn't be so bad if there were a few different representations of queer men. I know there are a limited number of characters and gender stereotypes are found with all the characters but take a look at the other queer characters of Glee.

Although he has not officially come out, teacher (and former Glee coach) Sandy Ryerson is assumed to be gay or bisexual by the other characters and the majority of Glee fans. And why is this? He stalks Josh Groban, he has a love for theatre and the dramatics, and follows almost every other gay male stereotype. Not only does he stalk Josh Groban, but he also was shown touching a male student inappropriately and then selling pot to high school students after receiving a restraining order. For a show that had a really good scene about why the word "fag" is unacceptable and cruel, I fail to understand why it must fall back on such horrible stereotypes. As I already said, this teacher has not officially come out but when you look to fanpages and character descriptions for the show he is always described as either gay or bisexual.

Once again, I really do think it's great that Glee has a character like Kurt who openly questions gender and heteronormative stereotypes, but gay men in this case are limited to "honorary girls" or pedophiles. It's a tough post to write because I understand I sound like I am contradicting myself. I critique Dawson's Creek for relying too heavily on heteronormative expectations of masculinity for it's male characters and then critique Glee for relying entirely on queer stereotypes for its male characters. Both shows have some great moments and discussions of cultural assumptions about gay men and maybe it's too much to expect any show to depict diverse representations. Female stereotypes (and even straight male stereotypes) still continue to exist in shows, this isn't a problem limited to queer male representations. Even acknowledging this as a universal problem, however, does not make it acceptable. For a show like Glee that openly seeks to address social issues, it must also be critical of itself for continuing these problems. I've heard that in the next season there will be a boyfriend for Kurt and I am interested in seeing how this character is constructed and portrayed. There's also Rachel's dads who we were shown a brief picture of in the pilot episode and who are referred to occasionally. Many of the other characters' parents have minor speaking roles but they have yet to make another appearance. They are discussed as loving parents and their sexuality does not undermine this. They even do not follow the stereotype of being fashion or diva obsessed as demonstrated when Rachel needs a Lady Gaga costume and they put together an outfit with stuffed animals attached to it. This episode would have been a perfect opportunity to actually introduce at least one of them as Rachel searches for her mother and obviously needs someone to talk to about this. I believe that at one point she says she does not bring it up with her dads because she does not want to hurt their feelings, and the show does do a good job demonstrating that they truly love her and are great parents. I hope that they are given some airtime next season and I am interested in seeing if Kurt does get a boyfriend. Once again, I think both Glee and Dawson's Creek created some really good discussions about queer discrimination and stereotypes, but both unfortunately rely on single, universalizing stereotypes that need to be addressed.

And one last thing. What about queer females? Where are the lesbians in either of these shows?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beatles and Violence?

As I am currently unemployed I have lots of time to watch meaningless shows, read, and go through my entire music collection and make playlists for every occasion. I love the Beatles and I often go through days of listening to nothing else. Yesterday was one of those days and then this song started to play:

The music is catchy and upbeat but when I actually started listening to the lyrics I was shocked (of course, the title should have given it away):

Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end little girl

Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end little girl

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end little girl

I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end little girl


Not really sure where to start with this song. I don't believe that everyone who listens to this song or the Beatles supports jealous boyfriends killing their girlfriends for talking to another guy. I'm sure lots of people listen to this song without really hearing or thinking about the lyrics. I don't believe that a guy will listen to this song and then believe he can go out and kill his girlfriend. It's a problem though that a song like this can be accepted by society. It's not the only one of its kind and this isn't a trend of a few decades ago that has gone away. There's still plenty of music that justifies hitting or abusing a girl. Not everyone who listens to such music believes that violence is justified but very few people question why this music continues. It's one of those things that people believe if they don't do it, it's fine. This violence and the idea that a girlfriend is property to control continues to exist.

Trying to see the good in the Beatles, I can come up with one explanation. And I do not mean this to justify songs promoting violence, but rather an attempt to make sense of why the Beatles would perform such a song and to hope that this was meant to interrupt such beliefs. Bertolt Brecht believed that theatre and the arts should make the audience begin to think critically rather than letting it listen or watch complacently. One of his most famous techniques was to create a sense of distance, making it obvious that there is a performance going on, and making it difficult to complacently identify with the drama occurring on stage. These techniques included harsh lighting, interrupting dialogue, and shouting cues loud enough for the audience to hear. In music this technique is used when the music and words do not match up. For instance, the lyrics could be about a murderer and death but the music would be upbeat and happy. One of the best examples of this is the song, "Mack the Knife."

Another example would be the Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"

So MAYBE, just maybe, this is what the Beatles are going for with "Run for your Life," hoping that the listener is paying attention and notices the difference between the lyrics and the music. I'm not sure though how many people are "woken" up by this song and begin thinking about the reality of domestic violence. So then does it matter what the artist's intent is? Or does it really only depend on how the audience reacts? I don't ever think violence is justified, and even if the Beatles' intent was to create a discussion about domestic violence I don't believe their technique was the best one.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


No longer a fan of this store...

Urban Outfitters has begun selling two t-shirts, that I don't understand why they'd feel either is a good idea. The first tells girls to eat less and the second belongs on the same level of creepiness of purity balls.