“I know what all the ladies in the room are thinking…”

I listened to a keynote address this morning. The presenter made a few jokes about the ways that partners manage decisions about family finances. On the way to his punchlines, he’d say things like, “Now, I know what all the ladies in the room are thinking…” I don’t remember how the jokes end. All I remember is thinking to myself, Sexism must be, among other things, presuming to know what another human is thinking based on the gender role you’ve assigned to them.

What is the Future of Gender in Canadian Society?

What is on the horizon for feminism? How has a heightened awareness of LGBT2Q+ experiences shifted our understanding about the nature of gender? Does the men’s rights movement reflect coherent concerns about masculine identity? What have been the ongoing consequences of movements like #metoo? This is a conversation about the future of gender in Canada. (Recorded live at Curious Public at Central Library on Monday, April 9, 2018.)

The Panelists

Greta Bauer is Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Western University and an Affiliate Member of Women’s Studies & Feminist Research.

Michael Kehler is Research Professor in Masculinities’ Studies in Education at the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education.

Nicole Nussbaum is a lawyer based in London, Ontario. She has a particular focus on, and extensive experience with, law and policy issues related to gender identity and gender expression.

AnnaLise Trudell is Manager of Education, Training & Research at Anova (formerly Women’s Community House & Sexual Assault Centre London).

Questioning the Patriarchy from Within

Until relatively recently, the history of writing has been overwhelmingly a history of men’s ideas. (One need only compare the number of known ancient women writers to the number of known writers in the ancient world to get a sense of the gender disparity.) Ancient literature represents plenty of misogynist attitudes (looking at you, Hesiod, Euripides, et al), but I’m intrigued by the fragments of ideas left by other male authors — writing in hyper-patriarchal societies — who ventured to second-guess the inequality or assigned roles of the sexes.

An interesting theme in the so-called tradition of ‘Western literature’ is reconsidering the role and place of women through the observing women’s roles and places in other cultures.

For example, Herodotus, the fifth century BCE historian, informs his Greek audience about a Libyan tribe that turns the masculine narrative of sexual conquest and the stigma of promiscuity on their head:

Next come the Gindanes. The women of this tribe wear leather bands round their ankles, which are supposed to indicate the number of their lovers: each woman puts on one band for every man she has gone to bed with, so that whoever has the greatest number enjoys the greatest reputation because she has been loved by the greatest number of men. (Herodotus 4.176, trans. Selincourt 2003[1954]:301)

The 1st-century reconstruction of letters by Crates of Thebes to Hipparchia of Maroneia (third century BCE) build on the Cynics practice of emphasizing nature above social convention:

Women are not naturally the weaker sex. Look at the Amazons; they were as physically tough as any man. (Letters 28) … You are no weaker by nature, any more than bitches are weaker than male dogs. Female liberation will then be justified on the grounds of nature, since it is acknowledged that slavery in general, not based on proven inferiority, exists by mere convention. (Letter 29) [trans. Dobbin 2012:70)

Passages like these raise an interesting question: what are the earliest texts you have encountered in the timeline of history that critique the de facto supremacy of the patriarchy?

The ‘Hollow Patriarchy’ Hypothesis

The idea of the ‘hollow patriarchy’ comes from The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century by Stephen Marche and Sarah Fulford.

The hollow patriarchy is the idea that if you look at the economic data and the sociological data, women are rising in the middle class very rapidly. They are 40 per cent of breadwinners in America. They have more university degrees than men. More female lawyers graduate than male lawyers. Men are losing this position of breadwinner in the middle-American society. But women are still being denied these positions of power. Women are 16 per cent of equity partners in law firms, which is really absurd. Only about three per cent of Hollywood directors in the major seven studios are women. This actually translates into virtually every industry. So the hollow patriarchy is that you have this masculinity as an icon of power, but it’s rotten at the centre. In the middle of it, men are becoming less and less the providers they once were and this tension creates all this kind of cultural and domestic turbulence. (Stephen Marche and Sarah Fulford dissect 21st-century gender politics, CBC Radio, April 24, 2017)

If the ‘hollow patriarchy’ hypothesis holds true, we have a cultural conundrum indeed. It is as if we still line up the causal gender dominoes in the same way: manhood equates to masculinity, masculinity equates to power, and power equates to sustaining the patriarchal order. To be a ‘man’ continues to mean to ‘being in charge,’ even in a world where the normativity of this assumption is obvious nonsense.

Gender and Leadership: redefining and reconceptualizing power

When you think of the word ‘leadership,’ what comes to mind? What are your top three word associations? Got your list? Now, how many of the words that you just imagined reflect traditionally masculine characteristics?

In this episode, Shawna Lewkowitz (@ShawnaLewk) and Anne-Marie Sanchez (@anma_sa) discuss some big questions about gender and leadership: How has our contemporary concept of leadership evolved over time? Is our current idea leadership sufficient to encompass the many skill sets and ways of being in the world that have been traditionally considered as ‘feminine’? Would a society of gender parity have a different definition of leadership than we do?

I Believe Her

Innocent until proven guilty. This is the foundational presumption of our justice system. This is the normative, intentional bias we have structurally embedded in our conception of justice to protect the wrongly accused. It is central to our legal definition of human rights itself.

But presumed innocence has a inherent side effect. It structurally imposes a bias of its own. It presumes the accuser must be lying. For as long as we presume the innocence of the accused, we are predisposed to suspect the integrity and honesty of the plaintiff. In a sense, to presume the innocence of a perpetrator means concurrently assuming the victim bears ‘inverse guilt’ for making a (presumed) falsified accusation.

Applying a gender lens to this inverse guilt is critical. For example, when a woman accuses a man of sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault, she steps forward not only as the victim of an act of violence against her body but as one who must now internalize this inverse guilt. As far as the legal system and public opinion is concerned, speaking up equates to everyone assuming she has fabricated her story — at least until her charge is proven. But how does one prove all sexual misdemeanors “beyond a reasonable doubt?” Who can trust a legal system biased explicitly on the defendant’s innocence to rule in your favor regarding an incident that occurred in private or behind closed doors?

Presumed innocence favours the denial of wrongdoing above the declaration of wrongdoing. And so it should. No one wants to live in legal system that allows a single, flippant accusation to destroy their life and family overnight. Such a system clearly provides no legal protection for anyone at all. But the problem is that the protection we all supposedly enjoy under the presumption of innocence also produces a legal climate and culture of law enforcement systemically incentivized to manifest at least some degree of victim blaming — the disproportionate burden of which is borne by women.

The question, I think, is whether or not we can simultaneously assume the innocence of the accused and the honesty of the accuser? Are we capable of such nuance? It seems to me that until the claimant’s character are assumed as innocent as the defendant’s actions, we will continue to replicate a system that serves men above than women. We need to figure out a way to normalize the paradox of saying “I believe her” while simultaneously protecting all of us from a nightmarish dystopia where all it takes is an accusation to prove your guilt once and for all. I’m not sure how we get there from where we are today, but trusting and believing victims must be a first step to bringing some equilibrium to a very unbalanced arrangement at present.

Nose hair

“Women needlessly subject themselves to a ridiculous number of subjective cultural beauty norms,” he said to himself, as he trimmed his unseemly nostril hair.

Who benefits the most by the way society is organized?

On Monday, September 18, I hosted a panel discussion with Helene Berman, Melanie Katsivo , and Warren Steele (see bios) on the topic of structural violence. The event was titled, Race, Gender, Class? Who is society designed to serve? This framing question morphed into, Who benefits the most by the way society is organized?

If you skim over to the Wikipedia entry on ‘structural violence’ you’ll read that the term refers to “a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized adultism, ageism, classism, elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, speciesism, racism, and sexism are some examples of structural violence…”

In this podcast episode we attempt to drag the concept of ‘structural violence’ out of the academic world and apply it to our community. Who is served by the institutions of our society… and who is harmed in the process?

Power, Whiteness, Patriarchy, and Police Culture

Lesley Bikos (@lbikos) takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of law enforcement culture and introduces us to a world where you have to either fit in, turn a blind eye, or risk it all by speaking up.

A former police officer, Lesley Bikos is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Western University. Her research interests are primarily in the intersection of gender and workplace culture with a current focus on policing and police reform. Lesley is currently working on a nation-wide study of about 85 Canadian police officers and learning more about the impact that police culture has on their on and off-duty lives. She hopes to interview 100 officers by the end of her study.

Notes

Human Trafficking: Definitions, Interventions, and Politics

In this podcast episode, Mia Biondi, Caroline Pugh-Roberts, and AnnaLise Trudell discuss the different ways that we as a community are trying to define and respond to human trafficking in our region. We explore some of the debates surrounding the definition of sex trafficking (should all sex work and prostitution be defined as trafficking?) and the resulting differences in approaches to intervention and political advocacy (should sex work be decriminalized and regulated or rather policed more heavily?). Despite the differences to approaching the issue, what do all ‘sides’ of the discussion agree on?

Mia Biondi is a Registered Nurse with a special interest in increasing healthcare provider awareness and knowledge on human trafficking issues in Canada, as well as organizational readiness to identify, and provide aftercare for trafficked persons. Before beginning a career in nursing she completed a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology studying HIV drug resistance, and post-doctoral fellowships in viral hepatitis and emerging viruses. Following her BScN, Mia worked as the Clinical Coordinator at All Saints Church-Community Centre in Toronto providing comprehensive trauma-informed care for trafficked youth, and drop-in health services for street-involved persons. During this time she led training for city staff, police services, and specialized health teams. She also has clinical experience in public and sexual health, severe and persistent mental health, and pediatrics. In 2015, in collaboration with the Middlesex-London Chapter, Mia submitted a Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario resolution to advocate for increased prevention, identification, and aftercare of trafficked persons. Mia is now completing the Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate at Western University, and is an active member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.

Caroline Pugh-Roberts is a survivor of eight years of sex trafficking through strip clubs in Ontario and along the 401 corridor. As an executive member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, she focuses on advocacy and educating others. She has spoken publicly to thousands of people Canada-wide, including advocacy groups and front-line providers. She speaks at John School, a court-mandated program for men who are arrested for buying sex services; and at the other end of the spectrum, runs a sex-worker drop-in at safe space for women in London, ON. She has also been an advisor on training packages for front-line providers for the provinces of both Ontario and British Columbia. She is the recipient of a Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work in this area, and currently a social work student at Fanshawe College. Caroline was recently invited to partake in The First Canadian Experiential Women’s Summit, in Toronto, for survivors of human trafficking who have shared their story with the public. She aspires to pursue a career providing care for women in the sex trade and trafficked persons.

AnnaLise Trudell (@annatrudell) is Manager of Education, Training & Research at Anova (formerly Women’s Community House & Sexual Assault Centre London). She brings extensive analysis of sexual violence and gender dynamics through her research at Western University, and is a seasoned public educator and facilitator with over 500 presentations engaging youth, professionals & post-secondary students through public education. She supports a staff team of 8 individuals who run dozens of youth violence prevention discussion-based groups every year. In her role as Postdoctoral Fellow at Western University, she seeks to amplify the voices of sex workers, offering a harm reduction sex positive approach to looking at the ways in which digital literacy can foster social inclusion and health for sex workers.

Episode notes:

Intersectionality 101

As Neo learned, it’s all too easy to take reality for granted. Makes for good Hollywood, sure, but what if all around us — embedded in way we use language, traditions, and organizations — is a world that is more than it might first appear on the surface? Rowa joins us to tell the story of what motivated her to take on the status quo in our current version reality. It is a story about discovering how racism is manifested in society and structured in the institutions all around us.

As she puts, “It’s like waking up from the Matrix.”

Rowa Mohamed recently graduated with a degree in health sciences from Western University. She is highly invested in many social justice and anti-racism efforts in the city — a community provocateur with a passion for equality.

Notes and links