I thought I hated improv, but…

YUNoListenAs you know (right???), I recently became a faculty member at Academy of the Impossible, a collaborative adult learning facility. Last week, this new role took me outside my comfort zone when I facilitated an improv-based session on the “performance” of online identity with the inimitable Dan Speerin. It was actually awesome and liberating and inclusive and super-fun. And we’re doing it again!

This Saturday February 2nd, Dan and I are working with Academy co-founder Jesse Hirsh to facilitate an improv-based session on media relations for activists and other muckrakers. Dan and I planned the session via Skype last night and we have a bunch of fun improv exercises in store that will liven up more traditional discussion about how to best present you and your cause to the media (print, broadcast, web, whatev).

If you’re involved with any organization or issue that you’d like to shine some light on by sharing your perspective with journalists, this session is for you. Hope to see you there!

Kathleen Wynne was the right choice for Ontario

Yesterday evening I wrote a short essay for Canada.com on why I believe Kathleen Wynne is well positioned to lead her party’s minority government in Ontario.
I did found an organization called “Women in Toronto Politics” so you probably could’ve guessed I’d be thrilled about Ontario’s first woman Premier (and a queer woman at that!). But Wynne stands to offer a lot more than her mere gender identity and sexual orientation. Check out the essay to learn more about why I’m stoked re: this new development!

I hope revenge porn survivors get their revenge

A group of at least 23 women in the United States has filed a class-action lawsuit for invasion of privacy and causing mental anguish against revenge porn site Texxxan and its hosting service, GoDaddy (like you needed another reason to hate GoDaddy).

Revenge porn is a vile category of online content wherein a person posts nude photos or videos of another person without their consent (usually a woman, often an ex-lover). A cursory Google search will yield pages of sites hosting such content. Many of these sites include the women’s names, contact information and links to their social media profiles. Some of them include maps to the women’s homes.

As we all know, there is no shortage on the Internet of sexually explicit photos or video of consenting women. Porn (with consenting parties) is probably the Internet’s most popular application. The knowledge that women on revenge porn sites have not consented to the photo or video’s distribution is precisely what makes these sites titillating for their fans. One advocacy group, End Revenge Porn, likens it to “cyber-rape”.

Revenge porn perpetuates a culture that sees women’s bodies as public property, regardless of whether or not they have consented. Revenge porn ruins lives. Revenge porn, and a culture that sees it as invariably the woman’s fault, might have been what killed British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd.

Courts in Quebec and Australia have ruled in favour of the survivor in revenge porn lawsuits, awarding damages of $40,000 to the survivor in both cases. Unfortunately one US statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, appears to leave American survivors of revenge porn without much recourse. This section protects websites from legal responsibility for any content submitted by users.

John S. Morgan, the lawyer representing the Texxxan lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Hollie Toups, plans to argue that sites which advertise an illegal purpose for collecting user-generated content are not protected under Section 230. He may have precedent. In 2003, California district court ruled that website Roommates.com was not protected under Section 230 for their publication of a discriminatory roommate-finding questionnaire. Their reason? The questionnaire specifically induced site users to express roommate preferences that were illegal.

Revenge porn is yet another example of the legal system struggling to adapt to how much of our communication, transactions, and lives play out on the Internet. I’ll be following this case, and I hope you do too.

Impossible pedagogies

Are you a Torontonian who hasn’t yet visited the Academy of the Impossible? If so, you must go. It is a magical place where people learn as they teach others, which IMHO is exactly what pedagogy should be.

Unfortunately, too often learning takes place in broadcast format: I teach, you learn. The reality is that there are no “experts” – we can all learn more, even in the fields in which we’re most well-versed. In fact, the people in the best position to teach you about your field of specialization are often people who have no specialization in that area at all (unless you want to preach to the choir forever).

I facilitated two events at the Academy in fall 2012: a city-building workshop with Women in Toronto Politics, and a discussion about online identity and accountability. Thanks to the brilliant and diverse people who shared their thoughts, I learned just as much as attendees at both events. This lines up beautifully with the Academy’s philosophy of fostering the potential for collaborative meaning-making inherent in the Internet and the knowledge economy.

I’m very excited to announce that I am now a faculty member at the Academy, so I’ll be learning a lot more in the months and years to come! I hope it works out to be something like this.

My next events on the Academy docket:

  • January 24: hybrid discussion/improv session co-facilitated by newly-minted faculty member Dan Speerin, where we’ll explore how we “perform” identity on the Internet, and
  • February 2: applying the same format to an interactive training session on effective media relations for activists, politicos, and other agitators.

If you can’t come to either of these, I encourage you to check out their event calendar for other sessions that may be of interest. Courses I highly recommend include Getting Paid in the Knowledge Economy and Impossible Law School. See you there!

Street harassment and fat-shaming

Recently my friend Lindsay poignantly articulated on Facebook her experiences on the receiving end of vicious fat-shaming. Lindsay is smart and hilarious and makes beautiful costumes for the Canadian stage. She is a talented and unique and inspiring person. It makes me angry that what follows is a reality, and one that governs Lindsay’s engagement with the world no less. You probably know and love at least one person who can relate to this, and we all need to demand better of our fellow humans when we see it.

I realized something awful today. I am now afraid to walk down the street without headphones in. Why? Because at any moment, someone might yell something incredibly horrible at me, in regards to the way I look. A car slowed down by me this morning with their window open and I held my breath, my muscles clenched. Luckily, this person was only asking directions. Unfortunately for me, up to four or more times a month, it is nothing so innocuous. On a regular basis “FATTY!” or “Jenny Craig!” or “WHALE!” might be yelled at me as a cowardly car speeds past. It’s rarely very creative. This past summer a group of club-bound girls in a taxi decided to tell my boyfriend he could do better than “Princess Fiona the Ogre” as we stood waiting for a streetcar on the way to a party, me in my new green top that had previously made me feel great, but has not been worn since. These episodes leave me feeling all kinds of hurt, angry, embarrassed… not to mention ashamed.

There are many facets to me as a person and in regards to my appearance. However, I understand that much like a quick look at someone who is 6’5″ reads as “Tall”, a quick glance at me reads as “Fat”. If anyone who is naturally slim to average doesn’t know any better, let me tell you right now: every person who falls into the category of overweight/obese KNOWS this about themselves, maybe thinks about it more than anything else in their life. How could they not? It’s in our public perception from a very young age that anything other than slim is bad. Let me get this straight – I agree that too much excess fatty tissue is very unhealthy, as is an unbalanced diet and a sedentary lifestyle. However every person is different, and just like every person who ever did life-ruining drugs has a story, so do those with addictions to food. Don’t forget people with different problems: those on certain medications or who’ve been injured or have no access to good quality food.

The thing is, I don’t need to explain myself or the reasons for who I am to a stranger walking or driving past me. No one deserves to have derogatory things yelled at them at ANY time. We teach children not to bully, but I see bullying from adults of all ages all the time. Can you imagine how you would feel if you were verbally attacked, not once, but repeatedly as you went about living your daily life? I don’t get it – would anyone expect that to motivate someone to change? Most of all, is it any of their business what I look like, what I do, or who I am with? I think the most laughable thing about it is that I am *walking* when this happens. You know, a form of exercise?

Obesity might be an epidemic, but so is bullying. Maybe there would be less people self-medicating with food if there were less awful people attacking their self esteem. I know I am not the only one experiencing this. I have held off on talking about this because it is embarrassing and because I do feel ashamed for being too heavy. Thank-you for reading this, and if you could, please SHARE.

Women’s Organizations: We Get Emails!

TRIGGER WARNING: discussions of physical and sexual violence; racism; threatening, profane and obscene statements about women’s bodies, character and sexuality.

Anyone who works in the areas of women’s rights and empowerment can probably share at least a few stories of the threats, obscenities, and general vitriol hurled their way via email, social media, and telephone – hell, probably even fax machines though I don’t have confirmation on that. If I were to speculate on the reasons why men (and it is mostly men) wage such campaigns of abuse against women’s organizations and publications, I’d say their intent is to intimidate, humiliate, and generally cause emotional distress. Whether they’re doing this to attempt to compromise the organization’s work, to vent what they believe to be righteous anger, or to take the evil feminists down a peg is really beside the point.

This means that most women who want to work in this area must have an extraordinarily thick skin. Not only do you need to cope with work that in my experience is intensely emotionally draining (and sometimes triggering), you need to be prepared to face an inordinate number of abusive, hateful remarks and threats against your safety. While I do think the interconnectivity, instantaneity and social insulation of the internet facilitate more torrential harassment, I expect this phenomenon (and perhaps much worse) would probably be familiar to the feminists of eras past.

I think it’s important that people who care about gender equity but are not engaged with the work day in and day out understand the severity of what feminist workers and volunteers have to face. In that spirit, here’s a small sampling of comments that have been received on a variety of platforms by either myself or women I know who work in women’s rights and empowerment.

[REPEATING THE TRIGGER WARNING HERE, THIS STUFF IS PRETTY NASTY]

“bitches who made this [project] deserve to be raped for thinking all men are rapists.”

“I don’t understand the practicality of a rape whistle. Isn’t it kind of hard to blow a whistle when the woman’s mouth is already full blowing a dude’s dick? :)”

“I think the proper present for International Men’s Day is a blowjob. Feel free to start sucking anytime, honey.”

“somebody should drag u in a back alley and rape u”

“As a guy, every time I see something like this [project], I proceed to get a shiver, grab my ballsack, and gentle hold it, reassuring it that it shall not be such a violent or horrible creature that causes pain and misery to others, but will remain as a peaceful, benevolent dick that will be solely used for going pee pee standing up. OH THE SHAME”

“all women should be raped and killed. all they are good for is making sammiches and their fuckhole they are useless evil cunts.”

“i’d eat u out then blow ur brains out i’m hardcore like that”

“I guess you’ve been asking for a good beating and raping all along.”

“*hoooot* Time to rape!”

“some day you’re going to ROFL at the wrong badass motherfucker and he’s going to teach you a lesson you won’t forget very soon ok? you might think it’s funny to laugh at other people but some of us have feelings too and you need to take into account because if you hurt other people they’re gonna hurt you back, probably with shotguns and rocket launchers. what goes around comes around motherfucker.”

“Every person involved in this [project] is a dumb fucking cat piss stench cunt. You deserve to be launched into outer space to die.”

“She’s only a Muslim anyways. So if she is raped, what does it matter?”

“keeping man-hating cunts in check: MANHOOD101. COM”
Sorry to be the harbinger of doom and gloom, but this is reality for many of us. I might make this into a monthly or bi-monthly series of sobering reminders.