Building ourselves a future in digital media

As a news junkie whose smartphone sometimes requires surgical removal from her hand, I have a vested interest in a thriving environment for the creation and dissemination of digital media. That includes the journalists and editors who produce news, the designers and coders who develop apps, the people who engineer hardware, the community managers who spread the word, and much more.

For our Canadian content and technologies to thrive, we need an industry that attracts and keeps not only “the best” people, but an incredible variety of people. Diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones, so we all benefit from ensuring the diversity of communities that produce and distribute digital media. I’m talking diversity in the broadest sense, here, including things like gender, race and socioeconomic class.

The casualization of working conditions (i.e. an increasing reliance on contractors and particularly interns) threatens the potential for a diverse industry. Many careers in digital media require a high-risk “investment” on the front-end for workers – slugging it out in a no-pay or low-pay job whose opportunities for advancement are rapidly dwindling. Only a small slice of the population can afford that risk.

As the handful of major media companies in Canada lay off hundreds of workers, how many of those full-time internal roles will be partially replaced by a combination of contract work and unpaid interns? How many will not be replaced at all, shrinking the number of decent-paying and often unionized jobs in the sector? And what kind of leverage do independent contractors and interns have to respond to this shifting climate in any way other than to look out for Number One?

When the Canadian Media Guild approached me about creating a walled online community for digital media workers, it was an easy sell. This kind of platform can serve as a useful complement to more formal efforts to organize Canadian digital media workers. It can connect us with people, organizations and initiatives that share our goals and value our skills and knowledge. Just as importantly, it is a place to share experiences with others in our field without fear of being watched by our bosses, as on a Twitter account or Facebook post.

The MediaTech Commons is designed to help us share information and build the connections and confidence to demand better, both in negotiations with our bosses and in our careers writ large.

You can join me at the MediaTech Commons by signing up here, and you can learn more about it here. In French it’s called l’Espace MédiaTech and there’s more info for francophones here.

What should we call… Men’s Rights Advocates?

The term “Men’s Rights Advocate” and its shorthand, MRA, loom large in many feminist circles. The term is far less familiar to the general population and on its face, the connotations of “Men’s Rights Advocate” seem positive and wholly defensible. After all, patriarchy may bestow privilege upon men and boys (duh) but it also foists on them a variety of problems and sexist expectations worthy of an advocate’s attention. Unfortunately, the term does not honestly represent the modern project of men’s rights advocacy. While today’s MRAs (not necessarily cut from the same cloth as earlier iterations) rail against the sexism men and boys face, their chosen culprit is not patriarchy but feminism.

Men are not denied custody of their children because a sexist society and family law system deem child-rearing a woman’s domain. It’s feminists trying to make sure women take all the kids!!! Women don’t have an easier time getting laid [sometimes against their will, it bears noting] because men and boys are socially instructed by a patriarchal, heterosexist, cissexist culture to view them first and foremost as sexual objects. It’s those pesky feminists encouraging women to lord their sexual dominance over lonely men, muhahahahaha [evil feminist laugh]!!! Girls don’t perform better in the school system because social cues encourage them to be obedient and polite, while boys are encouraged to roughhouse and interrupt. It’s a teaching system brainwashed by feminists to ensure women’s supremacy!!!!

Okay that’s enough, but it should give you some idea of what most MRAs are really about, which is anti-feminism. Some sites and organizations make this agenda more obvious (see: A Voice for Men), while others (see: Canadian Association for Equality) push their agenda more insidiously by, say, hosting a speaker who has a history of calling date rape “exciting” and pontificating about the positive impacts of incest. In fact, A Voice for Men used facial recognition software to doxx and actively encourage the harassment of teenage women who protested this speaker’s appearance on the University of Toronto campus in late 2012. What ties the extreme and less-extreme groups together is their belief that feminism is a barrier to men and boys overcoming gender-based challenges and realizing their potential.

The truth is that men do face challenges in a world that, ironically, has largely been governed by men. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy for MRAs to make feminism the scapegoat – it seems illogical to presume that men are holding themselves back. But patriarchy isn’t one big, discrete, conscious decision. It’s the composite of zillions of decisions: conscious and unconscious, big and tiny, made by humans of all stripes including men, women and trans* people. Collectively these decisions hold back all genders in different ways, but men by far the least so. Their challenges are also counterbalanced by myriad privileges they accrue (often without noticing, because privilege is like that) for simply being guys. On the whole, men (in particular cis, white, straight, able-bodied men) occupy the position of greatest privilege on the gender spectrum.

Recently I got together with some feminists and feminist allies to discuss how to address a recent spread and intensification of anti-feminist activity in Canada, especially on post-secondary campuses. These men and organizations are not so much concerned with reclaiming men’s rights as they are with preserving men’s power and privilege. So we thought let’s call a spade a spade, scrap the “Men’s Rights Advocate” handle and call them Men’s Power Advocates. MPAs: they’re a thing.

Epilogue: Shout-out to the men’s organizations doing great work to challenge sexism and foster positive masculinity, including the White Ribbon Campaign.

Not all Twitter fights are trivial

This morning I woke up to find a popular and respected Globe & Mail international affairs columnist making a light joke about a Scottish chef murdering his girlfriend. When people said “hmmmm not okay” he made more jokes in response. Albeit these jokes did not suggest he actively felt like “hahaha domestic violence”, but can we not make light of these scenarios please? It is extremely irresponsible use of an influential voice (a major privilege).

So I confronted him and, to his credit, he ultimately deleted the tweet and acknowledged the joke’s inappropriateness. In the process, a feminist I like and respect suggested this kind of transgression is not significant enough to warrant a Twitter fight, which she considers a “small” act of feminism. While I don’t think each of these conversations changes the world, I don’t think they should be dismissed either. I wrote about how it all went down for Canada.com – read the rest here.

I’m not done thinking or feeling or writing about this, so expect more here in the next day or two.

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!

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!

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.