Thursday, September 13, 2018

The High Cost of Women's Anger in the Personal and the Professional

Women learn from a young age that they will need to be shape-shifters. According to different expectations, norms and values they will have to identify and learn over the course of a lifetime, young girls understand they will need to be contortionists: molding themselves into the proper cookie-cutter shapes lest they face severe repercussions. Beyond the demands placed on girls to shape their physical selves, it is their emotions that are the most policed: the basic expression of their selves.

While girls are taught many things about emotions, the feeling and expression of anger is not one of them. Yet we propel girls into a world where, as a women, there is so much to be angry about: from unequal pay to men raping women and girls at catastrophic rates, from our reproductive rights still being debated in courts of law to the unequal access of women to positions of power, decision-making and control of powerful resources: media, finance, executive power. The daily gendered injustices, in many ways crosscut by race, add to the levels of sustained anxiety and anger that women have. From interpersonal relationships, to the professional and political playing fields, women’s anger is seen as ugly and unacceptable. Societal norms and expectations intersect these fields and inform how we respond to expressions of anger – and these responses are especially gendered.

Men, on the other hand, remain unaware.* Indeed, men exist in a society (here, I speak mainly of Western worlds) where their anger is seen as powerful, and where they feel and benefit from that power. It is in this same world in which the same expressions of anger in women are punished. This is recipe for men to feign ignorance and express shock when women step outside of bounds and display anger in non-conforming ways. Men’s shock and repulsion contributes to women being taught to retain, contain and solve their ‘anger issues’ on their own. While this is evident in all interactions that I have noted, it is within the professional sphere where they have been most researched.

Within professional spheres where anger is, by definition, part of the equation, men benefit and women suffer. In the courtroom, when men and women lawyers expressed assertiveness to defend their clients, it benefits the clients of the male lawyers and punishes the clients of the female lawyers. When political men express anger to support their points of view, it makes voters more likely believe their reasoning, the same does not hold true for women politicians (Think of both Trump and Sanders). In the workplace, men’s anger is seen as justified and powerful with co-workers responding positively, while the same expressions in women are seen as unjustified, with co-workers punishing ‘angry’ women and branding them unlikable (more on likeability further down). This turns into a vicious cycle: men are rewarded with more power by demonstrating anger that is associated with them seeming powerful, while women who seek to obtain power and do so by exhibiting the same assertive behaviours are punished for it, further cementing power imbalances throughout professional landscapes. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

There are No Women in Pakistan: Reporting on the Election

Pakistan recently held an election. Out of a population of more than 207 million people, there are 106 million registered voters, and about 44.1% of those are women.

Unfortunately, you'd never know that women participated in Pakistan's civil society, never mind in the democratic process. Taking a look at the sprawling coverage on global media giants such as Al Jazeerah, BBC, The New York Times, or The Guardian, and apart from the stray image of fully veiled women lining a sandy street, presumably on the way to the ballot box, women's voices and their participation in what is heralded as only the second democratic transition of power in 70 years - is largely absent. And that's an abhorrent mess. 

 In 2018, global media firms have an obligation to two unbelievably simple, yet consistently missed objectives: targeted reporting on issues of women's empowerment and gender equality, and mainstreaming gender throughout all aspects of their business and journalism at large: from workplace policies to visual representation of women in media coverage. It's not difficult. It's adhering to principles of basic human rights and equality. And yet, out of 207 million people in Pakistan, the global coverage reinforced the traditional stereotype of women absent from political life or influence in the country.

This matters more than you think. Sure, there are more women newscasters and writers, but coverage of national and global events remains, predominantly all male. Media giants can do a few key things to right these wrongs - and, yes,  there are even some who have.

1. Stop making it a women's issue.  

Yes, there are key issues that are predominantly women and girl's issues (sexual and gender-based violence, both in the developed and developing worlds - lest we forget, we've not solved that one, women's absence from spheres of decision-making and power, that seemingly unshatterable glass ceiling, sparse access to sexual and reproductive health and rights - including abortion and issues of access to abortion, the cost of sexual and gender-based violence on women's economic empowerment, unequal access to opportunities and resources, the undervaluing of women's work in the home and the burden of care, persisting lax laws on rape and sexual violence, structural discrimination and sexism, the gendered aspect of women in conflict zones ... you get it?). And by the way, the word issues is not the problem here - its the dominant violence, value systems and patriarchal structures that are of concern. But media giants can choose two approaches to reporting: they can conduct reporting as if women are a subset of humanity, second-class citizens, or they can report with the understanding that women have equal value, are holders of human rights and have particular needs and, thus, particular rights because of their sex. 

Continuously minimizing and degrading this type of reporting reinforces the idea that women's issues are unimportant, and that men have no role to play nor do they benefit from women realizing their rights or having their needs addressed. This is lazy reporting. Global data sets reveal that the more equal societies are, the less likely conflict is to erupt. The more women participate in peacebuilding, the more sustainable peace will be. Countries with the most gender equal and empowering policies on rights, family leave and child care are also the ones with the highest levels of happiness and social cohesion. Media must begin reporting with the understanding that women's issues are issues that affect communities, economies, development, global systems.

2. If its broken, stop whining and fix it. 

Yes, any change is difficult. But structural change from within should not only break down the old ways of doing, but build up the new. So it takes a little longer to find the women's organizations in Pakistan who can provide you with data on registered voters - find them. Establish relationships. So you're not acquainted with the Women's Commissions that can point out the key women's issues at stake in the elections or why registering women in particular regions has been difficult, or which feminist grassroots movements have had the most success - so what? Do the work. Factor in a few more days. Women are equal beings of value that participate in the political process, and this is especially true to represent in countries that devalue women. The democratic arena is not just reserved for men, no matter how conservative some parts of Pakistan and other countries might be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Mainstream Misogyny is a Death Sentence : What cultural anxiety and Alek Minassian have in common

A few days ago the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a national study on  the 2016 presidential election. In it, the authors sought to understand the reasons behind the decisions of a prominent group of mostly white Christian male voters that had voted Democratic in 2012, but then switched to Republican in 2016. The mainstream media narrative has largely been that this group was motivated by economic anxiety, anger at the past, and felt that Hillary Clinton did not address their economic woes and needs. The study debunks that narrative. Using several national survey data sets, the authors showed the following:

"[The study found that] losing a job or income between 2012 and 2016 did not make a person any more likely to support Mr. Trump... neither did the mere perception that one's financial situation had worsened. A person's opinion on how trade affected personal finances had little bearing on political preferences. Neither did unemployment or the density of manufacturing jobs in one's area.... [further data study] showed that anxieties about retirement, education and medical bills also had little impact on whether a person supported Mr. Trump."

"White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk. It's not a threat to their own economic well-being; it's a threat to their group's dominance in our country over all." This is the second national study of its kind, the first found the top reasons for support for Mr. Trump were adherence to the Republican party, fear of cultural displacement and supporting deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally. 

And a few days later, Alek Minassian drove a van onto a sidewalk in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring around 14 more - the Toronto Police has confirmed that those killed and injured were predominantly women. Minutes before the deadly attack, Mr. Minassian posted on Facebook about his hatred of women and praised Elliot Rodger, who, in 2014, declared he wanted to 'punish women for rejecting him' and did so by going on a murderous rampage, killing 3 women and 3 men and wounding 13 more. Mr. Minassian seemingly identifies as an involuntary celibate, or 'incel' - groups of young men who rail against feminism and promote hate towards women (especially the ones who refuse them sexually) and see themselves as victims of a society moving toward equality. Since the attack in Toronto, online communities of young men have praised Mr. Minassian, calling him a hero, a saint, and celebrated with beers every woman he murdered. 

If only women had paid him attention, dated him, had sex with him, given him what he was owed, none of this might have happened. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Representation Matters - And there's Data to Prove it.

It must have been groundbreaking when little girls in Saudi Arabia saw themselves represented for the first time in the realm of international sports competition at the 2016 Olympic Games. Imagine seeing someone that looks just like you at the highest echelon of sport, with crowds cheering for you, and your lookalike is smiling wildly, bearing all your country's colours. Imagine all that excitement in the growing mind and heart of an 11-year old Saudi girl, watching this unfold for the very first time.

A few years later, this happened. 

For a long time, representation was a squishy notion, lauded by social-justice advocates and decried by economists in favour of 'hard data'. Scores of new studies are demonstrating its importance and how effective a tool it can be in combatting sexism and racism and empowering young people to push past traditional and stereotypical boxes and into new roles. Although representation is slowly getting the recognition it deserves, it remains only barely included in broad social policy outside of gender quotas on boards or within political representation and in some areas of the military, depending on the country. 

Representation is the simple idea that when little boys and girls see themselves at different levels of society, in different roles and with different skillsets, it raises their awareness that they too can become President, a scientist, a lawyer, a software developer. This is especially true of youth, women and people from minority groups, who have historically been disadvantaged and blocked from entering into more prestigious fields.

The idea that we are influenced by what we see, even at a superfluous level, is no longer a mystery: we see around 4 000 ads per day, and these distort how we think of ourselves, affect our beauty standards, our sexual preferences, and shape our views on race, ethnicity and sex. Socially, we remain deeply influenced by signs and symbols, where our flags, national anthems, style of dress, our cars, our addresses and our credit cards are symbols of class and denote and promote adherence to different social groups with changing levels of power and prestige. Facebook and Instagram are perfecting the algorithms that have us acting against our best interests, all because of what we see and how this activates the varying impulses in our brains - something the sugar industry has been doing for decades.

That representation matters and can motivate behaviour, therefore, should not be a shock. A recent 2018 groundbreaking study by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the US Census Bureau on class, race and mobility in the United States has shown that despite the finding that "black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighbourhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds," the few neighbourhoods (tragically, only about 1%) where lower-income black boys did do well, also held a high presence of black fathers in the community. This buoys parts of a 2015 study from Harvard that found that the 1990's Clinton initiative "Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing", which gave low-income families living in public housing vouchers to move to middle-income neighborhoods, resulted in children from those families growing up to earn higher incomes and attend college at higher rates than their peers in public housing. Twenty years later, it mattered that low-income children were given the opportunity to see that life could be better, their aims could be higher - and the younger these children were moved, the higher they achieved. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Little Girls Don't Stay Little Forever: The Complicity of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University in the Sexual Abuse of More Than 160 Girls

Over 150 women gymnasts and athletes say that Larry Nassar sexually assaulted them over a 20 year period. That is to say, they are women now. The sexual assaults took place when these women were girls, some as young as 6. The staggering scale of the sexual abuse in both numbers and time  should nauseate you. The sentencing hearing of Nassar is currently ongoing, one where young women have come forward to speak their truths, their experiences, and show their determination in the face of a system that collectively sought to disempower and silence them. They have found an advocate in Judge Aquilina who has opened the court to all the young women, should they so choose.  Olympic medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas are among those who have accused Nassar of sexual abuse. 

"It's your turn to listen to me," said Aly Raisman,"I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see I've regained my strength, that I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia where you first began grooming and manipulating."

It is through their testimony that we are uncovering the complex web of complicity in which medals, sponsorships dollars and name recognition hold higher value than the young girls who collect them. It is becoming brutally clear that there has been an array of actors, from universities to coaches, training camps to Olympic associations who chose the bottom dollar and the preservation of a system inherently abusive and exploitative of female bodies and labour, and that this is the truly shocking, yet undeniably normalized, truth of our time. 

It is not simply USA Gymnastics or Michigan State University that are grossly negligent and complicit players, but all systems of power that seek to protect themselves while ignoring the lowest common denominator, often women, and often the most vulnerable among them: the young, the disabled, minorities, the poor. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How to Deal with Aziz Ansari and all His Friends

This is not really about Aziz Ansari - its about him and all his friends, even the nice ones. You can read the original account here. Then, lets talk about a few key questions that arise out of that account of a date night and:

1. Why many men (and some women) think this is a normal date;
2. Why 'no means no' is of no help in these situations (and by extension, why we seem to disregard non-verbal cues when it comes to sex, but we see and notice and give them importance in every other part of our lives);
3. What can we do better so that these accounts are fewer and fewer. 

Aziz Ansari didn't rape anyone. But this one statement misses the bigger picture. We are a generation of women who no longer want to be faced with this  kind of situation. And we want men never to want that kind of sex. The kind of sex that is taken by a man. The kind of sex that allows for Ms. Deneuve's 'persistent bothering.' The kind of sex that women don't want, but after enough unrelenting and coercive behaviour, we 'consent' to, just to get it all done and over with. Maybe that's not rape, but is that the goal of sex? Is that the environment we want to say is acceptable for ourselves and our future generations?

1. Imagine a world where sex is not something women hold and men take. That's the world I try to live in, but do you? Do any women? A world where sex is a not violent pursuit with notches on a belt to be had, sex to be 'given up', and men to be taking it where they can get it. And yet, here we are. What men find normal about the Ansari situation is that men are taught to pursue sex unrelentingly, persuaded that women should be reluctant, or at least not overly willing to engage in sexual activity, and that its going to take some time, effort and insistence to get her into bed. Given this 'understanding', men play the role of the taker, the aggressor, the closer. Women play the role of the gatekeeper, with innumerable analogies to closed/open legs as measures of her willingness. We see this played out for us all across the media spectrum: from romantic movies to thrillers, porn (oh, and especially porn) to daily show banter. When Donald Trump says you can grab women by the pussy, he's simply making it known that this is what men do: men grab women whether they like it or not. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Takedown of Catherine Deneuve's Assault on #MeToo in Four Parts

It's not every day that I feel moved to respond to the last cries of a dying generation of women who belong ardently to first and second waves of feminism, but then Catherine Deneuve had to go and raise a cry from the dead, so here we are. 

The backlash against the global #MeToo movement was imminent. Every single woman who participated, recognized it, understood it, or know even the tiniest thing about feminism knew it was coming. Every single time there has been a movement for a cultural shift toward equality, the backlash can be written into the footnotes. That this backlash is spearheaded in part by women is testament to the ferocity and treacherous nature of the patriarchy, and of some women as its blind defenders.

Catherine Deneuve and her friends say a whole slew of ridiculous statements in their open letter, including that women who speak out against sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape in the work place are puritanical and that we shouldn't admonish men for a few stolen glances, stolen kisses and persistent touching/flirtation/etc. Once I managed to un-roll my eyes and swallow the disgust, this is what I thought.

1. Ms. Deneuve and her fellow french women are part of an elite group of mainly white, upper class women who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. They benefit tremendously from embodying the trope of a sexually free woman who holds and wields power in the work place while simultaneously being the sexual object of the men she works with (that is an actual quote, if you can believe it). This is how Ms. Deneuve and her friends may have acceded to their powerful positions, and this is the 'normal behaviour' of the powerful men with whom they interact. In their view, the #MeToo women should just accept this 'fraternization' as the normalized consequence of being a woman. Men will be men, after all, and any disruption of this state, or pushback against this behaviour will jeopardize their positions, the circles and benefits Ms. Deneuve and her friends have accessed. Ms. Deneuve has no wish for equality for all women, just the women who can play the game of patriarchy properly. What Ms. Deneuve fails to understand is that there is a new generation of women who no longer want any of this crap, and who do not want to go through it in order to access power, or access resources, or to simply do their jobs. And these women will never tell other women to suffer in silence, will never accuse women who speak up of being 'perpetual victims' (again, repurposing feminist terminology for upholding the status quo is such a brilliant move if it weren't so transparent), and will recognize the strength it takes to speak truth to power when the repercussions are so dire. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Trump Signs, Women Die, and Nations Struggles. How the Mexico City Protocol Perpetrates Global Class Warfare

In spite of 3.2 million protestors (1% of the total US population) taking to the streets on January 21st in support of women's rights, and on the 44th anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling on abortion in Roe v Wade, President Trump reinstated a particularly restrictive version of the Mexico City Protocol. Otherwise known as the global gag rule, the Regan-era policy ends funding toward organizations in developing nations offering abortion counselling or advocating for abortion rights within the country.

International condemnation that followed noted that restricting funding for family planning that counsels on abortion does nothing to eradicate abortion. Instead, it has the opposite effect: it ensures women will access unsafe abortion and, as is often the case with these types of policies, the entirety of family planning services will be affected. Importantly, The Helms Amendment already prevents American taxpayer dollars from funding abortion procedures outright. The Mexican City Protocol compounds this by additionally preventing family planning services from using their own money to advocate, counsel or speak about abortion. If American dollars were funding any other family-planning health services in that organization, those funds immediately dry up.

Mr. Trump has gone beyond this. He has increased the amount and types of funding that would be cut. No longer will this gag rule only apply to family-planning funding, but also to funding on HIV/AIDs testing and treatment, maternal health care, the prevention of malaria, zika, and more. In total, the Trump-expanded gag rule will affect $9.5 billion dollars in global health funding, compared to $575 million dollars in family planning funding under past Republican Presidents. The gag order will not only affect giant international women's health services such as Marie Stopes* and International Planned Parenthood*, but also UN agencies such as the UNFPA* which saw its global funding terminated on April 4th. *clicking the links will lead you to their donation page. 

The less women are able to access family planning services, the more unintended pregnancies will occur, and more women will choose unsafe abortions. Every time the global gag rule is enacted, more women in developing nations die or become disabled from unsafe abortions. It's not just abortions: women in developing nations have many more pregnancies over the course of their lives and each one increases their risk of disability or death as a result of complications from birth. On a global scale, the Mexico City Protocol and the Helms Amendment condemn the poorest nations to cycles of poverty, cutting funds from family planning delivered by NGOs or aid agencies, who are often the only providers of reproductive planning services, especially for the most disenfranchised in rural areas. It takes away contraception and abortion from those who need it the most, in countries that are facing the multiplying effects of overpopulation: no jobs, weak public services, no housing, water and food shortages, lack of education, violence, refugee crisis, severe effects of climate change... putting mile high obstacles to viable futures.

As one doctor puts it: "Abortion is a class battle." But when it affects women on and nations worldwide, it becomes global class warfare.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Women, Water and Pakistan: A Climate Change

After a short while in Pakistan, a few things are clear: in bustling Lahore, don't look out the front window and trust your driver, Islamabad is beautiful, calm and a delight, save for the traffic (again), and the brinksmanship between India and Pakistan is alive and well, although nowhere near the horrors of a few years ago. 

Those shows of force and the talks that ensue are increasingly about a resource that has both inundated and ignored Pakistan since before its inception. Indeed, water has either decimated lands and cities or fuelled their existence, dating back nearly 4000 years. The 2010 floods, the result of heavy monsoon rains, killed over 2000 people and affected the lives of 20 million more through their chaos and destruction. The combined waters from the rains and the Indus basin covered more than one fifth of Pakistan's total land, and it was estimated that the economic cost of the destruction was around US $43 billion. Unfortunately, little has been done since to shore up the collection of water through dams, or the reinforcement of a fragile water delivery system.

If the 2010 (and smaller 2011) floods are an indicator for times to come, Pakistan is undoubtedly a country suffering the most severe effects of climate change.  It depends almost entirely on the Indus river for water - a river seeing its source dry up from the rapidly melting Tibetan glaciers - and so the country has both a water shortage problem and a barely existing infrastructure to contain or exploit the power of severe floods. Earthquakes also form part of daily life: Pakistan sits over both the Indian and Eurasion tectonic plates, and as such lives with a regular stream of tremors (the country has had 10 earthquakes in the past 30 days). Certain ones, however, cause already stressed infrastructure to collapse entirely, as in 2005 where 80 000 people died and over a million lost their homes after a magnitude 7.6 hit the northern region of Kashmir. 

And so it is: with a population nearing a staggering two hundred million (the current census, last taken in 1998, will surely add to this estimate), only 39% arable land, much of it overused and damaged, and with a heavy reliance on the Indus river for irrigation and a diminishing water supply, Pakistan is taxed by the effects of climate change and hampered by a stagnant political state that has so far failed to fix its systems of harnessing, processing and delivering water.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban: What is the Global Refugee Crisis?

Amidst the chaos surrounding the recent executive order on a 90-day ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries and an indefinite ban on those fleeing the Syrian conflict, a factual understanding of the global refugee crisis has been lost. Courts have begun placing stays on the ban, including a nation-wide temporary restraining order that has had the justice department scrambling for alternatives. Nevertheless, while many media stories have reported on the unjustified choice of countries, on the disorganized implementation process, on the tens of thousands of visa-holders affected, and on the unconstitutionality of the proposed ban, somewhere the stark face of a crisis affecting most of the world has been forgotten.

Let the controversy not overshadow this simple fact: the world is facing a refugee crisis unparalleled since the end of World War II. More than 65 million refugees (or 1 in every 113 people) are displaced around the world. While the trend has been growing since the Cold War, it has accelerated sharply in the past two decades, as new internal conflicts explode and past ones, such as the war in Somalia and Afghanistan, enter into third and fourth decades. Alongside Syria (in its sixth year of conflict), these countries produce the largest number of refugees fleeing persecution, the brutality of war or decimated cities with little to no remaining infrastructure, where tribal warfare and insecurity reign unbridled.

Refugees, defined as those who flee their homes because of persecution, war or violence, constitute about 21 million of the 65.3 million people displaced. The 40 million remaining are internally displaced persons, or IDPs, persons who remain in their country but have fled their homes for another location due to violence or persecution. Importantly, migrants are a completely different group, leaving for reasons such as financial hardship, and are mostly considered as 'able' to return - and therefore not as vulnerable. Because peace building efforts and conflict resolution processes have either stalled or failed increasingly since the Cold War, refugees have little to no chance of ever returning to their homes.