Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Beef? Fucking Television!

I really detest television...I mean, sure, there are a (very rare) few sitcoms that are aired that I get a chuckle out of, but I find no real value in them.  I can appreciate that some series are smart and compelling (I love Dexter, for instance)...I'm just not willing to pay $75/month to watch them (that's how much my partner spends on Satellite every month). I choose, instead, to rent specific series so that I'm not confined to a specific day and time, there's no commercials involved and I see all the episodes in chronological order. Mostly I don't venture anywhere near our television, which I keep hidden in the depths of our basement. I don't even watch the news (shocker!), but have many other avenues for accessing it , of course, if I were compelled to.

I think T.V.overall is a highly passive activity with almost zero engagement or thought required. I think I'm fed a whole lot of bullshit via television through limited programming and corporate and commercial sponsorship. There are certainly better ways I can find to spend my leisure time. I'm hoping that perhaps I can persuade you to give up remote control and instead truly take charge of your leisure time, too.

On June 3rd we watched chapter 5 of a video called "The Story of Stuff" (though I invite you to watch the entire 20 minute video, found in the column to the right of this video on YouTube) and discussed it's underlying theme of consumer-driven culture being continuously driven and perpetuated by television. Work, Watch, Spend. The system's simplicity is mind-blowing, really. But today I'm here to debunk that system and help you kick your television watching habit in the ass!

I want you to really think about what you get out of television beyond the so-called entertainment factor. What do programs and commercials tell you about your life? When I watch television I see that I'm told what fashion is and that if I'm not in fashion then I'm nobody. I'm told what cleaning products to use without questioning their effects on my health and the health of my family and pets or the environment. I see that the dominant culture is white, that women who are young and thin are most desirable, and that most thin, white women are either unbelievably stupid, or that they're unbelievably powerful and their power stems from their physical looks, not from their intelligence. If women in television are valued for their intelligence, I'm told they had to fight tooth and nail to get there no matter what colour their skin is. I'm shown that men who are powerful are desirable no matter what they look like or what age they are and that, again, the white man dominates in this category. I'm told that without certain technology I am uncool, behind the times, and out of touch.

Out of touch with what? Myself? My partner? My family? My friends? My community? The environment? The planet? The things that really matter to me?  Just how are television programs and all the things that commercials tell me I should have going to bring me closer to the things that really matter to me? Rather, I think it's the other way around. Without television in my life, I'm very in touch! I'm tuned into my own program and I am it's writer, creator and producer. I decide what my values, beliefs and priorities are (and it's not a new toy or a new pair of shoes, friends).

My husband, on the other hand, values TV very much, if for one thing only. Hockey (sigh). You heard it hear, people: we pay $75 per month for Brian to watch hockey.

So we sat down one night and we talked about the pros and cons of cancelling our satellite service and here's what we came up with. To my delight, it was Brian that conjured up point #1 on the PROS list.

PROS of Getting Rid of the Satellite
  1. No more commercials! (Yeah, Brian!) Which also means not being bombarded by consumerism and a healthier sense of being because we're not constantly being bombarded by what we should look like, wear, do with our hair or skin, listen to, believe or value. A definite psychological PLUS!
  2. Less electricity usage.
  3. Spending leisure time engaged in more (mentally and /or physically) active  pursuits (reading, playing games, exercising)
  4. Save $75/monthly or $900 per year!
  5. Potentially sign up for those lessons that we've been humming and hawing over taking (ie. guitar, digital photography, tai chi)
  6. Less eye strain
  7. More quality time TOGETHER rather than me upstairs reading a book and him downstairs plopped in front of the tube.
  8. No more buying into the corporate agenda and their censored programming and schedules. At least with the Internet I have access to educational programs when I want to view them.
  9. One less sheet of paper in the form of an unwanted bill being sent to our house wrapped in another piece of paper (envelope) every month.
  10. A quieting of the mind that you can't know until you've given up television (and I lived without one for seven years before meeting Brian, so I know).
CONS of Getting Rid of the Satellite
  1. No more hockey.

There you have it. That's what we came up with. Soooo, needless to say, Brian has been wrestling with this for some time now. He told me that he'd cancel after the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then deal with the upcoming season when it comes, but he still hasn't made the call. He has, however, sort of been weening himself off the TV. He reads more in the evening. He initiates the game of Yahtzee or Battleship, or suggests we go for a walk. It's nice...it's a start. I won't push too much because I know for a lot of people it would be a VERY big deal to give up the tube. I can't tell you how often I heard "I couldn't live without my TV!"  My thoughts are, give up TV and, in return, begin to really live.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Am Positive Space

Introduction

I recently volunteered at a professional conference for a couple of days with high anticipation for this years closing keynote speaker, Deirdre Pike, Senior Social Planner for the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton. Her presentation was called 'Creating Positive Spaces for the LGBTQ Community', and I was not disappointed. Rather, this womans strength moved me. She comes to the front of the room and the first thing I notice about her is this huge white button on the front of her shirt with the word COURAGE scrolled across it in big, black letters. Oh, I think to myself, I like this warrioress already.


And she is fearless, working to stomp out homophobia in her community every day. I'm on board with that..after all this is a very personal issue for me in a couple of ways.

First, I'm bisexual. It's kind of a no brainer, if you know me. I love PEOPLE. I'm attracted to humourous, authentic, honest, interesting PEOPLE. And if you are HUMAN, and there exists sexual vibes between us, well, once upon time I may have had a crush on you, had sex with you, had a relationship with you, or fell in love with you. Then Brian happened and we fell into a complex teacher/student relationship...reciprocal learning and growing that changed both of us and after seven years we came to realize that we deserved to honour what we had built together,...a community of family and friends who love us, a home with an outdoor space that we could turn into a private oasis, a depth of respect for each others journey I cannot explain...and, quite simply, a love for who the other is at their core. And so I am married to a man. But I know what it is to LOVE ANOTHER and EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE WITH THE PERSON THEY LOVE and to be able to celebrate that openly and honestly.

Second, I have family and friends who are LGBTQ identified and their well-being and happiness is important to me. I want them to be able to be fully who they are with me, even if they feel they can't be genuine in society. I want to advocate on their behalf and help to create change in society. I want to be positive space.


So, here we are...moving along the continuum from White Privilege, to Male Privilege, to Heterosexual Privilege. Let's go!

Heterosexual Privilege

Heterosexism is the institutionalized assumption that everyone is, or should be heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and preferable to homosexuality or bisexuality. Heterosexism forces LGBTQ individuals to struggle constantly against their own invisibility and creates challenges for them in creating a positive identity.

 Members of the LGBTQ crowd are denied subtle privileges that heterosexual folks often take for granted. To be able to kiss, hug, or be affectionate with one's partner without fear of threat or punishment, for example. To be able to live with one's partner openly or to be able to express pain if that relationship ends and have others notice that pain and attend to you, to support you through that transition is another. To receive validation from your religious or political or medical community are further examples. And there are, of course, many more. Look around for it. Be very aware.

Homophobia influences everyone's behaviours and lives. It locks people into rigid gender-based roles and compromises human integrity by encouraging people to treat others badly. It creates situations where heterosexual individuals feel they can't form close, intimate relationships with members of their own sex for fear of being perceived as LGB. It makes it unsafe for everyone who exhibits unique traits not considered mainstream. Challenging homophobia is the process of striving for a society that accepts and celebrates the differences of all of us.

Being Positive Space

There are three places in which positive space can be created, according to Deirdre. Personally, organizationally, and politically/globally. For this post, because I'm able to reach others on a very personal level through this medium, I want to explore in depth how you and I can create positive space together at this level.

1. We can be allies with people who are LGBTQ.

In order to do that we must understand homophobia and know that it exists on both a personal and institutional level. We are asked to be alert for subtle forms of homophobia and negative expressions about being LGBTQ (ie. "That's so gay" is an expression used to describe or label something someone does not like or thinks is lame.) We are asked to discuss homophobia with others and respond to homophobia that we see in movies or one TV. Certainly we must report any and all incidents of violence witnessed.

Perhaps you and I could check out PRIDE this year in Toronto?

2. Language is a very basic tool for inclusion and knowledge is power; so let's be clear on some terminology:
  • L=lesbian (a homosexual woman)
  • G=gay (a homosexual male, though some lesbians call themselves gay)
  • B= bisexual (not just hetero- or homo-sexual privilege)
  • T=transgender (crossing over socially constructed gender ideals)
  • T=transsexual (crossing sex, using reassignment surgery/hormones)
  • T=two-spirited (used in the Aboriginal community)
  • I= intersex (ambiguous genitalia, being raised opposite)
  • Q=queer (a label once used against the LGBT community, now reclaimed to disempower the term as being derogatory)
  • Q=questioning (as 'Who can I tell? Will I be safe? Will I be ostracized? The BIG questions. People who identify as LGBT KNOW IT, y'all)
3. Visualize a non-homophobic society and help to bring it into being

Have the guts to interrupt homophobia. Make your home, workplace, community, world, a place where HUMAN RIGHTS are respected.

Thanks for making a difference by striving to be positive space.


References

The Well-Hamilton's LGBTQ Community Wellness Centre (www.thewellhamilton.ca)

Hamilton Positive Space Collaborative c/o Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (www.sprc.hamilton.on.ca)

The Antigonish Women's Association, LGBT Safely Initiative www.antigonishwomenscentre.com

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival: In the Park Series


Introduction

On Sunday, June 6th fellow student, K, and I decided to attend the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival 'In the Park' series. We managed to catch 3 of the 5 performances, and we were certainly glad that we did so! We had the option of seeing performances either on the Street at St. George's Square or at Exhibition Park. We choose to go to the park strictly for the setting. I think you'll agree that  dance in a natural setting is pretty spectacular. Please read on for a full account of all three dances. The photos that follow were taken by me.

Chrysalis

An amazing duo from Montreal called 'Floating Seed' was the first performance we saw. This dance also spoke the most to me. As I've recently written about eco-feminism, I feel that this dance performance was a terrific example of eco-feminism through non-verbal, creative expression and a natural extension of my last post. Chrysalis brought nature and powerful femininity together in an expression of newness, wonder, growth, grace and freedom.


First, check out the backdrop! Talk about the perfect setting for this piece! With the amazing sounds of a steady heartbeat and string instruments blending into the natural setting, one truly felt as though they were witnessing the birth of feminine tree nymphs within a magical woods.
 Second, these women are physically powerful! Unlike most aerial fabric dancers, none of their movements was sudden or derived from momentum. Rather each and every move they made was slow and deliberate. The sheer strength these women possess is incredible. Every muscle in their bodies was defined and flexed for maximum impact; they changed poses and moved with absolute intricacy. I truly felt that the trees and the women mirrored one another in strength, structure, innocence and mystery.







The entire audience was completely enthralled. I even thought of taking a picture of the bystanders for a brief moment, eyes not wavering from the spirits/women dangling in the tree before them, then realized that I would be doing them a great disservice by potentially breaking the spell of their rapture with the flash of my camera.




Courtyard for a Bird

Then followed Suddenly Dance Theatre, from Victoria B.C. According to the pamphlet this duet was to depict the alchemist nature of humans and birds in 'Courtyard of a Bird' but I didn't get it. The score, though, composed of the sounds of birds, bone flute whistle, stone percussion and electronics, was riveting. I sort of wished I'd just closed my eyes and let the music take me where it would have.



Ah! Mes Sychronettes!
Lady Janitor performed last and they were a hoot! Playful and fun 'Ah! Mes Synchronettes!' was a comic spectacle! Totally absurd, with infectious playful energy, this performance made me smile!


Embedded in all the fun and glamour of this dance was an understated resistance to the social stratification of gender and sexual orientation as primarily heterosexual. As you can see, this delightful troupe is made up of more than one gender and EVERYONE was equally enthusiastic in their role!


According to Shaw (2001) leisure is seen as" a fertile ground for the cultural contestation between dominant and subordinate groups" (p 188).In other words, leisure is an important site for either the reproduction of unequal access to power an resources in society, or as resistance to such.

Lady Janitor, to me, are initiating social change by working together to change power relations while gaining collective empowerment through this performance. And they do it through an expression of play and sheer joy that everyone can relate to. Bravo! Encore!
Ultimately their bio says it best, "Ah! Mes Synchronettes! leaves crowds awash in a wave of warm summer wonderfulness". Totally agreed!




Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Nature of Dehumanization

Introduction

We've been talking about the validity of our personal experience in academia in class this week and I'm so thankful for the advice our professors have given us about embracing our subjective opinion, the first person 'I' in our writing, and how to balance that with theory and literature in order to further our knowledge about a topic that is of importance/interest to us. The key is to be upfront with it, let others know where you're coming from, and to bring the reader into that experience. After all, my experience is a valuable as the scholar who's work I'm reading, right?

I'm the type of person than has to process big moral issues over a span of time. I need to digest all that I'm taking in, analyze it, mull it over, compare it to my personal experience, then put it all together into something that I'm confident about calling my own. Creating my posts with integrity is important to me. Media images are coming  fast and furious in this class, many good questions have been broached, and an ample supply of fodder for creative expression has been generated! The question is always: which topics ignite me most and  what do I have to say about them?

So, I want to talk with you about Eco-Feminism and Deep Ecology; to go beyond feminism/humanism (as was started last post) and to include our natural environment in a discussion about women's bodies.

Ecofeminism: emphasizes the similar ways nature and women have been conceptualized, devalued, and oppressed. It also asserts the close interrelationship between environmental and social issues.  (Barnhill, 2008).

Deep ecology:  focuses on the intrinsic value of nature and takes a holistic approach that emphasizes ecosystems, species, and the planet as a whole. It claims that the primary cause of the problem is anthropocentrism (the treatment of human beings as the most important entity in the universe), which it opposes by asserting that humans are fully a part of the natural world and of equal value with all other species. The personal ideal is Self-realization, in which one realizes one’s identification with all of nature. Wilderness untrammeled by humans has special value, as do hunter-gatherer societies living in harmony with nature(Barnhill, 2008).

The Nature of Dehumanization

This week, I invite you to watch a disturbing video that was presented in our class on Tuesday, May 25th called  Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women. That's sad stuff. And I would argue that our disconnect from Nature perpetuates and sustains it, as all forms of oppression are interdependent in some way, in my opinion.

I truly feel that my interconnectedness with Nature, animals, gardening, the elements, etc...keeps me from slipping into a place of self comparison with the media's portrayal of the feminine and brutal self judgement. I adore Clarissa Pinkola Estes' 'Women Who Run With the Wolves' (1995) and her reflection upon the female body in it:

"To take much pleasure in a world filled with many kinds of beauty is a joy in life to which all women are entitled. To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature. There cannot be only one kind of songbird, only one kind of pine tree, only one kind of wolf. There cannot be one kind of baby, one kind of man, or one kind of woman. There cannot be one kind of breast, one kind of waist, one kind of skin." (p 200).
 And I think that her point is imperative. We ARE unobservant of nature! There are many of us now who are completely disconnected from our Mother Earth and it's not only damaging/killing our environment but ourselves, as well. ('Cause we're all One...just in case you didn't know). I honour and love my body just the way it is...It's unique in the ocean of bodies all around me. I have a really beautiful smile and strong, strong limbs that were built for endurance, for instance. But where did this honouring of self stem from?

Well, first, I'm not bombarded daily by the dominant images of women found in most (not all, but most)television programs, magazines, video games, movies, etc...because I'm very critical of what the entertainment I consume and therefore avoid self abuse in the form of most popular entertainment.

Second, I seek out sanctuary in nature every single day. This is a real advantage of loving a dog. My canine companion lives for our walks in the woods down by the river. Her joy is my joy and I delight in her total abandon during off leash time. But while we're down there I am observing everything. I am completely aware of my surroundings and the messages and wisdom innate in the natural environment. The mergansers have arrived; the goslings have been born; the river is high; the river is low; the storm brought down the big willow; the porcupine is napping in the spruce; the beaver has travelled to a part of the river I've never seen it in before; the chipmunk lost it's tail, must've been a close call! The stories the forest and river and the animals who inhabit them tell are astounding.

Third, I seek out other beings who love me for me. I am part of a spiritual circle of women, men, ancestors, animals and sacred space...that which is sometimes referred to as The Council of All Beings. And coming from this mind frame is truly liberating. It puts me on equal ground with everyone and everything. It is humbling and nurturing and means that there is support for me absolutely everywhere. It also means that I do not depend on the opinions of others to validate my body, my choices, or who I am. I am loved by this planet unconditionally and in return I get to experience a profound sense of belonging, love and gratitude. Those who judge me can't hurt me from this place. Rather, I mourn their disconnect and am encouraged by their judgement to continue living the lifestyle I do, because my being authentic is a mirror for others and may give them permission to break from the pressures of conformity and begin living authentically by their own right.

 In order to discontinue the perpetuation of the destruction of women's psyche's and the health of the planet I was inspired by Jean Kilbourne's statement:
 "The first step is to become aware, to pay attention and to recognize that this affects all of us. These are public health problems that I'm talking about. The obsession with thinness, the tyranny of the ideal image of beauty, and violence against women are public health issues that affect us all and public health issues can only be solved by changing the environment."
Therefore it is important that we all ask ourselves, how am I helping to perpetuate obsession with thinness? What magazines do I choose to read? What television programs and movies do I choose to watch? Which video games do I choose to play? How are women portrayed in these images I surround myself with? How does it make me feel to look at these women? Why do I feel this way? How would I define my relationship with nature and the planet? What is my relationship with my pet like? What do I know about the animals who cross my path and what can they teach me? How do I demonstrate respect for the environment and the animals who depend on it? Am I living authentically? In what ways do I love myself?


References and/or related and recommended readings:
      Barnhill, D. L. (2008). Glossary of terms in nature writing and ecocriticism.  University of  Wisconsin Oshkosh.             
         Retrieved May 30, 2010 from http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/barnhill/ES_243/glossary_anw.html


     Gebara, Y. (2000). Eco-feminism: An ethics of life. In M. Mihivec (Ed.), Sacred earth, sacred Community: 
         Jubilee, ecology and aboriginal peoples (pp 29-46). Toronto: Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative. 


     Pinkola Estes, C. (1995). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman 
              archetype. Toronto: Random House.