Why the cyber-bullying bill is a lie

I’ve been slacking off on the blog this year, gang. Ever since December of last year, I’ve been meaning to blog my thoughts about Bill C-13, which the Canadian government has dubbed the “Cyber-bullying Bill”.

Chances are if you follow this blog, you know that I care a lot about the issue of revenge porn (i.e. sharing intimate images of somebody without their consent). Late last year, after an opposition MP introduced a private members bill to prohibit revenge porn, our Conservative government introduced their own. It is very likely this legislation will pass.

Since I’ve been arguing for a year that we need criminal legislation to address this issue, you’d think I would be happy about this development. I am not. Find out why by watching this episode of CANADALAND with Jesse Brown, in which I lay out the issues with the so-called “Cyber-bullying Bill,” Bill C-13. SPOILER ALERT: they should really be calling it the Surveillance Bill.

Bystander intervention and myth-making in “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”

This morning I learned that Brad Pitt’s film production company purchased the rights to “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”, a Rolling Stone article about online citizens’ investigation and exposure of a cabal of teenage rapists in middle America and their enablers, which included both teens and adults, institutions and individuals. An advocate for Jane Doe, the unidentified survivor of the Steubenville rape, claims she is seeking input on the film. This whole thing could go very well, or very poorly.

So far, discussion around the new film has centred on the story frame created by the Rolling Stone article, which largely erases Jane Doe, and entirely erases the female blogger, Alexandria Goddard, who exposed the story and shone a beacon on it for Anonymous to discover. Instead, the Rolling Stone story focuses on Deric Lostutter, the Anon who became known as KYAnonymous and famously faces more jail time than the Steubenville rapists for his role in bringing them to justice.

Some folks think this framing is a bad thing, because the last thing we need is another story about sexual assault that erases the survivor in favour of crowing about the heroic man who intervened. Others disagree, arguing that we need to be telling more stories about men challenging rape culture and sexual assault.

I’m inclined to agree with both viewpoints. The truth is, men have an important role to play in solving the problems of rape culture and sexual assault, and it couldn’t hurt to give them more role models for bystander intervention. I think, for me, the problem lies in making the men who do intervene into heroes, and their interventions into acts of heroism and bravery, rather than imperfect acts of support and respect. This mythologization can actually make the act seem more intimidating to perform, and gives people license to stand down if that’s easiest for them, because they’re not a HERO or anything.

I understand that it can be intimidating to stand up to your colleagues if they are making rape jokes, or to tell your friends how fucking predatory it is that they’re scanning the party like Terminators to find the drunkest girl to bring home. Toxic masculinity means that some will interpret these acts as betrayals of your bros. And because of the aggressive ways in which men are socialized to respond to challenge, I understand it also opens up the possibility of physical violence in some cases, and we all need to be careful about that.

So okay, I get it, it can take guts to intervene as a bystander. But make no mistake, these are not True American Hero guts – they are Regular Decent Person guts, and we can all find them in ourselves if we do a little digging. In the case of sexual violence and rape culture, indeed, we all must find these Regular Decent Person guts in ourselves, because it will take that many acts of intervention, that many confrontations, that many snubbings at the bar or in class or at work, that many destroyed “personal brands”, that many damaged or ended friendships (among many, many other things), to solve the problem.

When I was in university, I found myself in a very Jane Doe-like situation: I was black-out drunk and, when my friends turned away for a mere minute, a man I didn’t know (who was sober) whisked me into his car, drove me to my house and raped me. It took a few weeks to begin to understand what happened to me as rape, because of the many messages our culture sends to the contrary (through vessels ranging from the film The 40 Year Old Virgin to my own roommates). One reason I did come to understand it as rape was through the counsel and support of a few close friends, including a couple I knew named Chris and Candace.

A couple of months after my rape, Chris and Candace and I went out to the same bar where my rapist had found me. As the night wound down, we were smoking out front when a good friend of Chris’s approached us to say hello. The friend said, “I want to introduce you to a buddy of mine,” and who should that buddy be but my rapist. I flushed and turned away. After exchanging a few words with Candace (i.e. “That’s him.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “Nope.”), Candace whispered the guy’s identity to Chris. My rapist held out his hand, to be shaken by Chris. Chris looked at my rapist’s hand like it was covered with snakes.

After what seemed like hours, Chris said slowly and clearly, “I can’t shake this fucking guy’s hand.” His friend looked confused. My rapist looked like he was trying to appear confused, which infuriated me so deeply that my anger exploded in a shove (sorry, I am not an advocate of physical violence, but please, this guy raped me), pitting him against a nearby garage door. In front of a crowd of people smoking nearby, I screamed that he might want to wipe that confused look off his face, since a couple of months prior he raped me without a condom while he was sober and gave me a curable STI. I wasn’t embarrassed, I just wanted everyone witnessing the confrontation to know exactly what he had done. Then I ran away crying, because yeah. When Candace caught up to me a few moments later, she told me that Chris had punched my rapist (again, sorry, see above) and was now having a conversation with their mutual friend about why he should not befriend my rapist.

Chris’s response in this situation was not perfect, and is not intended as a script for how one should always deal with these situations. But he intervened in a way that demonstrated clear support for me, first and foremost, as well as challenging rape culture. Chris wasn’t a hero, he was just my friend. He knew that, if he cared about me and my right to exist in safety without feeling like I can never again return to this bar or be in the presence of his friend again, it was incumbent upon him to act. So he found his Regular Decent Person guts, and he acted in the ways that made the most sense for him in that moment.

I almost wonder if understanding bystander intervention as a challenging act, rather than a supporting one, is part of why men’s intervention in cases of violence against women is so likely to be deemed heroism rather than care and responsibility. Perhaps it’d be helpful if we understood bystander intervention as support and care for the survivor first and foremost, which is in and of itself a challenge to rape culture and gender violence. Maybe then, stories about bystander intervention in cases of violence against women wouldn’t be reduced to, as my friend Heather Cromarty so succinctly put it, “Good Men vs. Bad Men, and damn the ladies in between.”

Rob Ford and Toxic Masculinity

I initially published the following post on the Women in Toronto Politics blog. It was subsequently re-printed at Rabble.ca, the Huffington Post and iVillage Canada.

Violent temper. Refusal to admit wrongdoing. Penchant for expressing every feeling as anger. Penchant for expressing anger through physical intimidation. Homophobia and transphobia. Impulsive, risky behaviour with no consideration of potential consequences. Obsession with the competitive parts of politics (campaigning) and disdain for the collaborative parts. ”Boys will be boys” brand excuses for egregious behaviour. Yup. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford sure is winning at Toxic Masculinity Bingo.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Rob Ford’s embodiment of the socially-constructed norms that shape and constrain our culture’s understanding of what it means to Be A Man. I thought about it a lot after the Mayor violently confronted journalist Daniel Dale on the property adjacent to his home, fist cocked and charging at full speed.

I thought about it after reports quoted him calling Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau a homophobic slur. And when he asked if a transgender person was “a guy dressed up like a girl or a girl dressed up like a guy.” And when he made homophobic comments about who really contracts HIV/AIDS and whose life is really worth something at the end of the day.

I thought about it when he voted (on every occasion possible) to cut all kinds of community programs that help all kinds of children and youth, believing instead that personal support of a football program exclusively for boys was sufficient to help at-risk youth in Toronto. Boy-only football programs are great for boys who like football, but not all boys do – and there’s a whole lot of other kids out there who aren’t boys, besides.

I thought about it a lot when I launched my personal blog with a post about my suspicion that Rob Ford is a woman abuser – based on the consistent history of domestic calls to his home (including one charge that was later dropped) – which I later deleted because a handful of male non-libel lawyers said it left me vulnerable to libel suits.

But it was hard not to think about it extra-hard when a video surfaced of an inebriated Rob Ford ranting in disturbingly graphic terms about his desire to “first-degree murder” someone. He was blind with anger and the evidence poured out of his erratic movements and rhetorical violence. His explosive anger appeared to be a result of things a third party had said about him; in other words, he craved physical violence as a response to some ostensible verbal wrongdoing.

The nail in the coffin came later on when his mother sneered at a television reporter that she wouldn’t want her son, who clearly has a debilitating issue with substance abuse, “off in some rehab” – she’d prefer to focus on the size and shape of his body as the real problem. It hurt to watch. It was a painful reminder of how men are socialized to never show weakness or softness; how often a man caring for himself is perceived as unmanly, how men must be strong at all times. It said a lot about why he may have ended up in the sorry state he has.

There has been a lot of talk in Toronto this last week about enabling in the context of Rob Ford’s substance abuse, which is good, but the public writ large seems to enable his toxic masculinity. People who called Daniel Dale a wuss on Twitter for being afraid of a much-larger man approaching him violently? Enablers. People who said Ford’s “murder rant” was just the kind of murderously violent speech we all engage in when we’re a little angry? Enablers.

But then, when it comes to the replication of gender norms, most of us are enablers. Toxic masculinity is not “men being awful”; rather, it is people of all genders holding, performing and perpetuating rigid ideas of who we are allowed to be. Rob Ford, in particular, has spent a lifetime striving to perform what a Rich, Powerful White Man should be (a whole other level of toxicity beyond the merely masculine). His pursuit of idealized masculinity seems unmistakably modelled after that of his simultaneous bully and protector brother, who has often been framed by the media as “the smart one” and seems to have always been perceived as more competent, more likeable, more of A Man.

Articles imploring Rob Ford to step up to some ill-defined code of manhood do not help matters. It is not useful or accurate to frame honesty, accountability and “honour” as masculine traits, nor is it ever helpful to implore someone to “be a man.” Why not just “be a decent, trustworthy human being”? Why gender that? This kind of macho posturing only serves to validate idealized masculinity and reductive, binary understandings of how gender can and should influence identity.

Consider for a moment if a woman sharing Ford’s documented track record of physical aggression would ever have been elected Mayor of a major city. More likely she would have long ago been perceived as “unhinged” and cast out of the leadership pool in her chosen field. Yet we laud – or at least will grudgingly accept – this behaviour from a man, so much so that we elect him to a prime position of public trust. His impulsive expressions of anger are part of what endears him to so many as a ‘regular guy,’ one they could ‘have a few pops with.’ Boys will be boys, right?

If we want more gender diversity in politics, we need to understand that a) a good politician can come equipped with a wide variety of character traits, not all of them about cutthroat aggression and cold calculation, and b) there is immense diversity within genders and no trait is “naturally” masculine or feminine – we choose to understand and value traits in these binary ways, and if we want to, we can choose to change that.

Things women musicians say to me

A few weeks ago I asked women musicians on Twitter and Facebook for all the silly things folks have said to them, and/or any silly things they’ve observed folks saying to women musicians. It sparked a lot of maddening responses, which I rounded up in a blog post that got cross-posted at HuffPo entitled “Infuriating Things People Say to Women Musicians”.

Initially, they asked if I’d like to re-title my post “Infuriating Things Men Say to Women Musicians”, assuming most of the quotes came from men. But I know all too well (and too personally) how easy it is to internalize misogyny as a woman-identified person growing up in The Patriarchy. Well, now I know, but for a long time I didn’t. It was during that time that I would say things like “I don’t ‘get’ girls, I just get along better with guys”. Sometimes internalized misogyny works like that – turning you against other women. Other times, it turns you against yourself. So I knew it was highly likely that at least a handful of the silly things said to women musicians were uttered by other women.

Today, I met a warm and funny woman who had read the piece. She plays a few different instruments and writes about music, but hadn’t worked on a musical project in a long time. She partially blamed this on a self-defeating, all-or-nothing “if you can’t play like Zeppelin, what’s the fucking point” attitude. As you might imagine, this made jamming with others extremely intimidating for her, and discouraged her from improvising for fear of screwing up. Guys sometimes have these thoughts and insecurities too, for sure, but as you can see from my post, many women musicians face a kind of wall of dismissal and condescension from all corners of their industry.

When she read my piece and saw how many other women were being dismissed and condescended to, she realized that maybe this had something to do with the feelings that had prevented her from diving into a jam. At the same time, she remembered a story her female friend had shared awhile back about putting up posters seeking new bandmates, and getting a bunch of calls from clueless and/or intrusive dudes looking for dates. At the time, she had laughed off her friend’s frustration in a “what a problem: too many dates, not enough time” kind of way. Reading my laundry list of similar micro-aggressions shifted this old anecdote into a new light for her. Commiserating about it with her friend, the two of them felt emboldened and kindled a new musical project together. This story thrilled me to the core.

It was interesting that she used Zeppelin as her example of a sound to aspire to, because one of the comments on my HuffPo piece reads as follows:

This might've made me shed a tear or two.This guy’s remorse for dismissing Nancy and Ann’s own soul-shattering music in favour of covers (though Heart’s Zeppelin covers do rule), and his retrospective appreciation of their own unique sound, really touched me. I couldn’t resist recounting the comment to the awesome woman I met today. She, like me, was visibly moved by it. Before our goodbye high-five, I told her “Girl, you can play like Zeppelin, or you can play like you”.

Things people say to women musicians

My band, Patti Cake, is making a zine for our show this Thursday at the Silver Dollar in Toronto. Since our lead singer Kritty Uranowski is a counsellor at Girls Rock Camp and I am mostly always thinking about feminism (ALL THE DAMNED TIME), I decided to submit a collection of crowdsourced “things people say to women musicians” for the zine. I tweeted this:

Here’s a sampling of the responses I got. Note the frequency with which the word “girls/girl” appears. Also, music store employees? DO BETTER.

“Girls can’t play bass because they’re not technical.”

“You girls must be singers.” – music store employee to women customers looking at mixers

“Do your parents know you’re out with old guys?”

“Let me explain to you how soundchecks work.” – sound tech, who went on to patronizingly explain Soundchecks 101 to a musician with years of experience

“WOW, a girl drummer!”

“So you’re a solo acoustic act, right?”

“Are you the singer?” “No.” “…Are you the keyboard player?” “No.”

“Girl bassists are hot.”

“……..” – the sound of a woman musician being ignored a million times by music store employees

“They make you carry that?!?!” – onlooker to woman musician lugging gear

“You know about amps?! Whoa, you just blew my mind. I love a chick that knows about gear.”

“Oh, you’re IN the band!”

“There’s a girl’s voice on this recording but no girl in the band.” – reviewer about a band in which there is, in fact, a “girl”

“I almost had a show for you with [female artist], but decided against a woman opening.” – booker

“I bet you’re buying the blue tambourine because blue is your favourite colour.” – music store employee

“This headshot won’t work for your poster… You need a body shot!” – agent

“It’s pretty hard to know what this stuff does unless you really study it.” – male music store employee to a trained audio engineer who is also a woman

“I didn’t know girls liked Iron Maiden.”

“Oh, so you’re in the jazz program. Singer, right?”

“You were actually good; I was surprised!”

“You play this?!” – male music repair shop employee re: a woman musician’s guitar

“You must’ve dated at least half your band.”

“We always thought you were waiting for your boyfriend.” – male music store employee when a woman musician asked why she never got any service from them

“Ha! Like YOU could ever sing Zeppelin.”

“Want a Betty Boop strap to go with that new guitar?”

“I didn’t know girls played saxophone.”

“There are no female music producers because women can’t understand the technicalities involved.” “[Names a female music producer]” “She must have had a guy helping her out.”

“I can no longer book you because you want to tour with your baby.”

“Girls don’t play jazz.” – man, to a woman who auditioned and beat a tonne of guys for a spot in the ensemble

“Just shut up, smile and sing, honey.”

“You should specialize. People don’t like girls who do too much.” – man, to a woman who sings and plays a variety of instruments

“I hope you girls know what you’re doing with those covers, the bass parts are hard! I know because I have the tabs book.”

“Are you shopping for your boyfriend?” – male music store employee

If you groaned at least once while reading these, please consider making a donation or spreading the word about Girls Rock Camp or the Resampled music production workshops for women and trans folks (there’s one at the Tranzac this Sunday).

Technology, consent and privacy

Nobody (even at their age!) should struggle this much to read a situation.Tonight my fellow faculty member at Academy of the Impossible, Ramona Pringle, hosts an awesome-sounding event (which I sadly cannot attend) called The Connection Paradox: Creating a Social Blueprint. The event’s purpose is to flesh out an idea of how we want to live with technology and with each other. Since I can’t be there, she asked me to send her a few thoughts about the issue, and because of the things I often blog about, my thoughts automatically drifted to gender, privacy and consent as they relate to technology. Here are some of my jottings on the subject.

The dominant fear-mongering rhetoric around privacy and technology has given people an excuse to violate others’ digital privacy in ways they likely know (at least in the back of their minds) are immoral. Because the prevailing wisdom is “nothing is private in digital space”, our culture’s collective response to things like the sharing of intimate images is “well, she shouldn’t have sent him the photo in the first place”. This collective response flies in the face of the distinction between one-to-one and one-to-many communication. If a person chooses to send something via a one-to-one channel (or one-to-a-select-few, such as a group chat with 2 others), the tacit message is that the communication is for this person (or these people) alone. If a communicator wants a thought or image to be widely shared via one-to-many, they will do so themselves. I believe when people distribute intimate images that were texted or emailed to them alone, they know in their hearts that they are hurting and violating the other person, but our collective wisdom justifies their decision to share. That collective wisdom is what needs to change.

I feel this is a manifestation of some people’s belief that technology is an “objective” entity that functions and self-moderates automatically as its own animal, independently of human beliefs, values and behaviour. It strikes me that this is not unlike how people tend to think about the “free market”. I so disgree with this characterization. We are technology – we are the ones who make it, who use it, who decide how it can and should be used (though of course, we aren’t able to predict and control that use absolutely). We can set new and different standards of behaviour and use. IMHO, one of those “new” standards should be what is really a pretty basic/ancient moral code: if someone tells you something privately (especially if aspects of it are sensitive and/or could be harmful to anyone, whether they are involved or not), unless the communicator asks you to share or it’s in the public interest to share, keep it to yourself.

How to implement this standard? I dunno (sorry). It’s a complex cultural issue. In the case of revenge porn I believe the problem is also shrouded in misogynistic ideology that privileges public access to bodies (especially women’s bodies). I do think it would help to start teaching kids about consent as an important subset of how we educate them about privacy in a technology context. This teaching doesn’t have to apply solely to digital violations of a sexual nature (like revenge porn). For example, consider a situation in which a teenager confides to a friend about their crush via one-to-one chat, and the friend posts a Facebook status about it.

Consent should be an integral part of how we educate about privacy, but I think many parents and educators (not to mention the media) would be hesitant to do so. Why? Because it might in some ways qualify or mitigate (and perhaps in some folks’ eyes, undermine) the dominant, hand-wringy messages about BEING CAREFUL WHAT YOU POST because NOTHING IS PRIVATE ANYMORE. But I think it’s necessary. Educating about privacy shouldn’t just be about protecting our own privacy, but also about not violating the privacy of others. And this learning should start early.

Taking the Rape out of Culture

On Thursday, May 23 2013, I hosted an event at Academy of the Impossible called “Taking the Rape out of Culture”. It was an open group brainstorm (with some breakout discussions as well) to map the component parts of rape culture – what does it look like in practice? What are the sub-concepts (or as I dubbed them, “subgenres”) under the big umbrella of rape culture?

I was thrilled at the quality of discussion and the diverse range of participants we had. Participants included: people who work in violence prevention, anti-racism organizers, parents, journalists, new Canadians, trans* participants, volunteers at crisis centres. We came at the topic from a variety of perspectives and we really dove into the subject matter.

One of these days I’m going to have to get a WordPress plugin that allows me to embed a Storify, but today is not that day. I do urge you to read my Storify of tweets from the evening, which captures some of the ground we covered and provides detail on many of the “subgenres” of rape culture we discussed. We’ll likely be holding another session in the future to discuss methods of intervening and challenging the many component parts of rape culture, so stay tuned.