What Sam James and I have in common

Emotions ran high in Toronto last night when news broke that police had charged popular coffee shop proprietor Sam James with mischief and assault following a confrontation with anti-choice protesters outside a high school near his shop. Sam, who has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights in the past, allegedly threw coffee on the group’s signs, spat at one protester, and assaulted another when he realized he was being videotaped.

The nature and severity of the assault has not yet been disclosed. The Canadian Criminal Code’s definition of assault is fairly broad, and while it covers the application of force, it also covers instances when a person “attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person.” This type of assault could manifest in raising one’s fist or perhaps in what is commonly referred to as “getting in someone’s face.” One can’t really speculate on the nature of the alleged assault, but as there is video evidence of the confrontation, I expect the truth will come out eventually.

It’d be tough for me to abide Sam James punching someone (if that turns out to be what happened), as I’m not a fan of violence. But regardless of the nature of the alleged assault, I unapologetically appreciate the sentiment behind it: visceral anger about a social movement attempting to enact systemic violence upon women’s bodies. Last night I expressed this appreciation on Twitter, much to the chagrin of some of my (almost entirely male) friends. These friends suggested that appreciation of the sentiment was logically inseparable from support for the allegedly violent action. I vehemently disagree on this point. The feeling and the action are two different things, and I’m allowed to feel differently about each.

Here’s the thing: abortion is an issue about which many women feel strongly on not just a moral but a visceral level. The anti-choice movement is a literal attempt to violate and control women’s bodies. Look south of the border at mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds, at laws that limit a woman’s personhood in favour of that of a potential child who hasn’t even been conceived yet. Or just look to Prince Edward Island where the province’s practitioners are not permitted to perform surgical abortions, forcing women who seek them to travel out-of-province. Such policies disproportionately infringe on the bodily autonomy of certain groups of women, including undocumented women and low-income women.

And while many of my (again, almost entirely male) friends are fond of condescendingly proclaiming that women have no reason to worry about it, backbencher after backbencher in our majority Conservative federal government keeps raising the foetal personhood issue. No matter that a full third of the House of Commons voted in favour of M-312. No matter that a terrifying wave of anti-choice policies have been written into law in the United States, a nation our current government seems determined to emulate.

It is in this political climate that the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform has been mounting protests with gruesome imagery outside Canadian high schools and offering “pro-life” lesson plans to high school teachers. Talk about low-hanging fruit. Make no mistake: this is systemic violence, and it is to this systemic violence that Sam James may have responded with an individual act of violence, the severity of which we don’t yet know.

Few cis men seem to understand and feel the abortion issue in a visceral way, even if they are pro-choice. As a pro-choice woman, I feel a physical twinge that’s probably like a much morally weightier version of what a cis dude might feel when he hears about another dude getting kicked in the balls. What I appreciate about Sam’s sentiment is that it was visceral. It burst out of him. It’s an anger with which I’m familiar through my own encounters with anti-choice groups (and I’ve never encountered one outside a high school).

It’s an anger I must constantly regulate, not only for moral reasons, but because I am in very real physical danger. Those who identify as women, or have done so in the past, typically have to regulate the viscerality of their anger in ways most men don’t. We may have laws against physical violence, but our culture sure does have an intricately woven patchwork of cultural cues that encourage men (and not women) to express their anger through physical violence.

I may not support an act of violence itself, but I am deeply comforted by the fact that a cis guy whose own bodily autonomy is not directly impacted by the anti-choice movement feels the same instinctive anger that I feel when I see such a group preying on high school students. A lot of women tweeted or DM’d me last night to say that, at some point in their lives, they had fantasized about doing exactly what Sam did. That doesn’t mean these women or I condone the action (after all, we haven’t followed through on those fantasies), but it does suggest a parallel to our feelings about the issue. For me, that parallel is heartening.

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.

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.