legislating what women can wear

Submitted by: Ayan Nur

editors note: The following post is a written portion of a speech given by Social Work/Women’s Studies student Ayan Nur. Ayan gave her speech at a Distinguished Visitor panel discussion on the ongoing N.S. v. Her Majesty the Queen et al case that has many layers, most notably the debate surrounding N.S.’s right to wear a niqaab in the Supreme Court while testifying. 

Legislating What Women Can Wear

I am honored and excited to be here today to address the experiences of Muslim women in Canada. As honored as I am today I would like to clarify that the opinions and views expressed by me, although shared by many Muslims do not in any way represent the thoughts and beliefs of all Muslim women. These views I share with you today are my own individual views. They are a culmination of my religious beliefs, my gender, my race, my personal experiences and me identifying as a proud feminist. Although I am a Muslim woman and wear the hijab, I cannot compare the experience of wearing a hijab with the experience of wearing the niqaab. Different women experience oppression differently.

Having said that. I would like to start off by thanking Dr. Forrest and the women studies department for valuing my views to have me speak at such an event. Thank you to my family and friends who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to show their support.

Before I begin, I would like to clarify some terms I will be using in my speech. The first word being, niqaab. The niqaab is a face covering or veil worn by Muslim women in public and in front of men who are not apart of their immediate family. The niqaab has been a hot topic not only in the western media but also amongst Muslim scholars and Muslim women.

A woman wearing a burqa.

Unlike the hijab, many Muslims are split when it comes to the niqaab being a mandatory dress code for Muslim women. Some scholars believe that there is not enough evidence stating the niqaab to be mandatory, while others point out there is clear proof of the niqaab being mandatory. Many people confuse the niqaab and the burqa as being the same thing when in fact they are not. The niqaab is a face covering, while the burqa not only covers the face but the entire body from head to toe.

Women wearing a niqab.

The case of N.S is not only a case that holds great interest only for Muslim women but for every women in this room today, for every women in this country, and for every women across the world.  This is a case not about a Muslim women’s right to wear her niqaab, but of victim shaming. Shaming or blaming the victim has been a technique used for many years by the criminal justice system.  I learned this through watching many episodes of law and order (hehe) and my second year Women and the Law class, which opened my eyes to the injustices and cruelty rape victims go through.  Society places women in a binary of the angel in the house and the temptress. Women are to neatly fall into either of these categories, and when they don’t, society makes sure they are put back in their place.

There is the initial shock and trauma of being raped then there is something called the second rape or second assault. The second rape is a process victims experience by the police force, the hospital personnel, the court system and society as a whole.  When these authoritative figures are insensitive to the needs of the victims, it places the victims in a vulnerable position and can trigger the rape all over again. Having to go through rape, sexual harassment or any kind of physical attack can be scaring, and to add to that nightmare the legal system uses victim blaming to fluster and to place these victims in a vulnerable position. Many times instead of placing the rapist on trail the victim is attacked with questions of their sexuality, the number of sexual partners they have had, what type of clothes the victim had on and so forth. These questions are specifically made to attack, undermine and degrade the dignity of the rape victim. These questions imply that the victim is some how to blame. In the case of N.S, she is not being asked to remove her niqaab because the prosecution wants the truth: she is being asked to remove her niqaab to use this ‘unveiling’ as a form of victim shaming. Since N.S would fit into the binary of “the angel in the house”, the prosecution is forced to resort to underhanded tactics to make N.S feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to attack.

I’ve heard many people wonder aloud why doesn’t N.S remove her niqaab in order to receive justice against her assault, while others have said it’s permitted in Islam that she abide by the law of the country she lives in. First I would like to speak to the reason why N.S chose to keep her niqaab on. Muslim women wear the hijab and the niqaab as an expression of their spirituality and devotion to their Lord.

To illustrate the discomfort N.S has experienced, I would like to give an example everyone can relate to.

Imagine yourself on trail, imagine the courage and conviction you had to acquire in order to face your assailants, then imagine being attacked and told to take your top off or to stand in front of the court room with no pants.  Seems a bit extreme right? Actually it’s not. I cannot imagine the embarrassment and the shame I would feel if someone asked me to remove my hijab. I would feel naked, uncomfortable: I would fidget and become flustered, stutter, not keep eye contact. All these acts are ways to detect if someone is lying. If someone does exhibit these acts, they are assumed not to be telling the truth or hiding something. 

I’ve been wearing the hijab since I was eight years old. In those, many years that I have worn the hijab I have never felt ashamed or oppressed. The hijab has been my source of

A woman wearing a hijab.

comfort and confidence; it has contributed to my path as a feminist and made me who I am today. What many people don’t know is that Muslim women wear the hijab not because they are victims of oppression and a patriarchal society, but simply as an expression of their faith, much like what a cross symbolizes to Christians. The hijab is not something that is between men and women, but rather it is about the spiritual connection with God and the personal connection a woman has with her body. So, when the prosecutors asked N.S to remove her niqaab, she was stripped of her comfort, her anchor and of her identity.

One thing I learned from Women Studies was to respect every woman’s choice. You don’t have to agree or support something you don’t believe in but you do have to respect their personal choice. To take away someone’s choice is to take away their rights.

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halloween hot topics

I hope everyone enjoys the podcast below in which Ella is interviewed by a London radio show about some hot Halloween topics.

Ella Halloween.wav

Written Post: Karly Van Puymbroeck
To continue with Ella’s podcast, I am not adamantly against celebrating Halloween. I do, however, have two “bones” to pick with the costume aspect of Halloween.

Firstly, I do see Halloween costuming as a conducive example of the performative aspect of our intersectional identities, specifically the gendered and racial aspects of our identities. While much costuming is done for a dose of fair fun, there are some costumes that I think speak to underlying heternormative values and beliefs. Cross-dressing (dressing as both the opposite sex OR a different race than your own) is perhaps one of the most common motifs in the Halloween costuming world, and tends to come off as

Some costumes border racial profiling…

parody of the sexes and racialized persons. However, through this act of parody, cross-dressing indeed becomes a larger representation of a heterosexist and cisexual society that sees crossing gender — as well as sexual and racial — boundaries as taboo. The fact that these costumes are comical I think speaks for itself – it shows that we live in a white heternormative society that is still heavily invested in maintaining a dualist gender and racial code. Also, I’ll take this point one step further and connect it with the fact that our gender and even our race is performed, in specific, predetermined ways on a daily basis. Halloween, thus, acts as a

Cross-dressing can be humourous, but what’s underneath it all?

night where we not only dress up for fun — we dress up as something not ourselves, and it is this difference that is highlighted, albeit in subtle ways. We are, perhaps, having an inward chuckle at the identities that are being portrayed because they are inherently different from any other ‘normal’ day. The sad part is, is that people who are, for example, cross-dressers, or for marginalized racial groups, any other ‘normal’ day doesn’t quite include them – no, for those whose identities are portrayed on Halloween for ‘fun’ and good humour, a normal day does not include them on the regular, heternormative agenda.

The second bone of contention I have to pick is inherent slut shaming that happens on Halloween. The phrase such as “Halloween is the only time girls can dress like sluts and get away with it” can be commonly heard in the context of Halloween. I do not come from a moralistic stance in terms of females dressing up in highly sexualized outfits, however, I do come from a feminist stance that has been trained to spot victim blaming and slut shaming underneath harmless conversation. Within this idea — that women can dress like sluts and get away with it— points to a highly problematic framework of

It’s okay to be a ‘slut’ – but only for a day.

women’s sexuality that has worked, for many centuries, to firstly spot improper sexual behaviour of women (aka “acting like a slut”), and secondly to punish them for it. Women’s sexuality has consistently been monitored by some abstract white, patriarchal police for so long that we have become completely unaware of how cultural events such as Halloween are saturated in a suffocatingly narrow understanding of women AND men. To believe such a phrase as mentioned above is to indeed suggest that women’s improper sexual behaviour, such as donning a sexualized nurse’s outfit or cop uniform, is not acceptable on any regular day, as well as suggesting that outside society (men) should be punishing these women if they step out of line. Furthermore, this idea also points to a subtle form of victim blaming in that the phrase itself clearly outlines that, if women were to act like this on any other occassion, they would be asking to be punished: therefore it would be the woman’s fault for any physical, verbal or sexual assault that may come her way.

– Karly

editor’s note: Ella Bradley is a fourth year Social Work/Women’s Studies double major at the University of Windsor. She is actively involved in the WSSA and adds liveliness and energy to any conversation. She has enjoyed being able to discover and come into her own feminist identity that is unique to her personal lived experience. She is an animal lover, an open-minded individual and a supportive, reliable friend.

editor’s note about the editor: Karly is in her final year of an English Literature and Women’s Studies undergrad. She is a feminist by day and a booklover by night. She is enjoying a practicum in which she is working to publish a book by a local author. She hopes to continue her studies in a Masters degree next year.

standing-upright woman

Submitted by: Candy Spencer

I was about eight years old the first time I saw the grave.  My friends and I had biked out to a farmer’s field, climbed over a cedar rail fence, tip-toed passed grazing cows, to this spot on the side of a gentle hill.  There were the remains of a rusted iron fence partially guarding the worn, moss covered headstone.  We whispered to each other, wondering: who is this forgotten woman? Why was she alone in this open field? Catherine Sutton, who were you? And yet, as so often happens, children go on with their lives, forgetting a long ago outing until the name comes up again.

NAHNEBAHWEQUAY (Nahneebahweequa, meaning ‘upright woman’; known as Catherine Sutton, née Catherine Bunch Sonego), Ojibwa spokeswoman; b. 1824 on the Credit River flats (Port Credit, Ont.); m. William Sutton, and they had seven children; d. 26 Sept. 1865 in Sarawak Township, Canada West.”

A simple entry in an article by Donald Smith found on a Grey County Museum website.  The memories flood back: memories of rumours about an Indian woman who went to see Queen Victoria.

Her story is more than a headstone. Catherine Sutton was an aboriginal woman who belonged to the Mississaugas, a group of converted natives who lived on ceded land by the side of the Credit River in Southwestern Ontario.  In 1837 Catherine accompanied her aunt, the English wife of Peter Jones, on a year-long trip to England. In 1839, a year after her return, she married William Sutton who had emigrated from England nine years before. They resided with the band at Credit River until 1846 when they and two other families moved north to the Newash reserve in Sarawak Township near Owen Sound.  Catherine taught and William ministered to the native children.  Catherine’s family was given 200 acres of poor farm land upon which they built a large house and barn, and they cultivated about 50 acres.  William and Catherine left their home and moved to Michigan in 1852 where they were missionaries to the Methodist Natives on reserves.  In 1857 they returned to their home, only to find that in their absence the land had been taken by the government, surveyed, and divided into lots to be sold.

       The Suttons protested and the Indian Agent responsible declared, “The chiefs having no power to dispose to private parties of land belonging to the tribe, could not give a title, and [the Suttons’] written grant was therefore valueless.” He also turned down Mrs. Sutton’s request for her share of the Newash band’s annuities, “on the ground of her having married a white man, and having been absent from the country during the time for which she claimed payment.”#   The Suttons were also denied the right to buy back the land because, “Indians could not purchase their ceded land.”#  Not satisfied with these rulings, the Suttons decided to take their case to a higher authority and Catherine, with the financial help of some New York Quakers, travelled to England where she was given an audience with Queen Victoria and she presented her case.  The result: the British government overturned the previous rulings and the Suttons were allowed to buy back their property.

       Catherine Sutton successfully continued to work for Aboriginal rights until her death in 1865.  One of the things she worked on was the attempt by the Canadian Government in 1861 to purchase Manitoulin Island, a land “– promised forever to the Indians in 1836.”#  One of our Distinguish Visitors, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell is from the Wikwemikong Band, Manitoulin Island and she has had to fight for her aboriginal status rights.

       The last time I visited the gravesite I climbed over that same cedar rail fence, crossed the quiet pasture with its’ grazing cattle, and walked to the sloping hill overlooking Owen Sound Bay.  The fence had been restored and paint white; the headstone had been restored, and there was a plaque with Nahnebahwequay’s story on it.  Little else has changed except she has a place in a museum and the children of Grey County are told of the woman who dared to claim her rights. I picture her gravestone proudly standing on the land that is rightfully hers. While there are still issues surrounding Aboriginal rights in Canada, her grave site represents a small form of justice. Someone placed you here overlooking Owen’s Sound.  Here, where you can watch over the land and the clear waters of the bay.

Georgian Bay, where Catherine Sutton’s grave looks out on. Photo credit: http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca

References:

Donald B. Smith

Grey County and Owen Sound Museum (Owen Sound, Ont.), Journal of William Sutton. PAC, RG 10, vol. 2877, file 177181; RG 31, 1861 census, Sarawak Township; Keppel Township. PRO, CO 42/624, pp.355, 409, 428–29. UCA, Mission register for the Credit River Mission. Christian Guardian, 12 Jan. 1848; 2 April, 28 May 1862; 8 Nov. 1865. Enemikeese [Conrad Vandusen], The Indian chief: an account of the labours, losses, sufferings, and oppression of Ke-zig-ko-e-ne-ne (David Sawyer), a chief of the Ojibbeway Indians in Canada West (London, 1867), 119–37. Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby), History of the Ojebway Indians; with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity . . . (London, 1861); Life and journals of Kah-ke-wa-quo-na-by (Rev. Peter Jones), Wesleyan missionary (Toronto, 1860). Wesleyan Methodist Church in Can., Missionary Soc., Annual report (Toronto), 1845–46. Illustrated atlas of the county of Grey (Toronto, 1880; repr. Port Elgin, Ont., 1971), 17. Daily Sun Times (Owen Sound, Ont.), 30 Aug. 1960.

editor’s note: Candace (Candy) Spencer is a third year student, majoring in Political Science and Women’s Studies.  Her interest in higher education was instilled in her by a mother who had only attended school until the eigth grade. In 2010 she came to the campus and asked Student Advisory what programs were available for older people.  To her amazement there was something called Women’s Studies; to a long time activist, a proud 2nd Waver, this was  an opportunity to learn how a new generation of women were going to continue the struggle for women’s rights and equality.  50 years is a long time between high school and university but Candy would encourage anyone of any age to continue learning.

walmart woes

About once a month, I usually find my cupboards empty, the cat food on it’s last cup and the toilet paper on its last roll.  When the shampoo is all gone and every sock is missing its pair, I start preparing for WW3 – War on Walmart in less than 30 minutes.

I head out, armed with a shopping list and a determined attitude to get in and get out of the  zoo as quick as humanly possible (a lofty goal, I might add). While the shopping experience at Wal-Mart leaves much to be desired (especially at the cheaply renovated Superstore Wal-Mart’s like the one on Dougall Ave), I’ll be the first to say it: I am a feminist, and I shop at Wal-Mart.

The contemporary fight against Wal-Mart is a rightful and necessary form of resistance. The concerns and issues surrounding Wal-Mart’s practices are long and dreary, ranging from discriminatory labour practices, exploitation of child labour, nasty globalization consequences (maquiladoras) and negative impacts on local economies (along with many others). Even Wikipedia had to create a new page on the problems of Wal-Mart. It’s safe to say, Wal-Mart is possibly our contemporary world’s most evil corporate enterprise. That’s all well and good – but I get a little tired of hearing feminists say they “don’t shop at Wal-Mart” and look to me for approval.

OK – I care about the issues listed above.  I know that as a consumer, I do have the choice to not shop at Wal-Mart.  I can boycott it until my face goes blue, but in the end, my financial situation dictates where I shop and what I buy.  Being a poor student narrows my shopping choices dramatically.  Even though I consider myself to be a more privileged student based on my upper-middle class upbringing, I still have to navigate a less-than substantial loan each new school year and have to figure out how to make ends meet for ten months.  I’m not exactly poor, but I don’t have money to throw around, buying all organic products or fair trade items every time I need a roll of paper towels.

Feminists shouldn’t look down on every person who shops at Wal-Mart or participates in such cultural practices that seem to perpetuate larger gender, race or class inequalities, especially when it is those very systems of oppression that force many people to shop at low-price stores like Wal-Mart.  It is a privilege for those who can afford to shop at stores that practice a more humane version of capitalism, but even then, can we ever be absolutely sure that a store does what it promises to do (fair trade, equal pay, green initiatives)?

Yes, it’s important to be critical of such stores and consumer practices, but I also think we tend to dismiss the larger external social/economic system that corporations like Wal-Mart participate in. We are in an era where we expect to pay the lowest possible prices with complete disregard for where our products came from and how they got there. But this is only half the problem. We exist in a cyclical pattern of consumerism, where we believe our  life experiences can be translated through the act of buying. Places like Wal-Mart thrive off their ability to provide items to the masses without incurring penalties for their inhumane means of production. So to me, it seems as if the choice to shop or not shop at Wal-Mart is only one side of the coin.  When we are critical about Wal-Mart, we have to also turn a critical eye on the larger social system that allows such a corporation to thrive off the exploitation of certain persons.

So, part of me wants to say to the non-Wal-Mart shoppers: back off. For people of low-income, it’s a matter of constrained choice, not ignorance. What happens when you want to resist, but you can’t? How can we activate for change when we ourselves are party to the deal, as de Beauvoir would say?

what’s the deal with gender reveal?

by: karly van puymbroeck, editor

Apparently, gender reveal parties are quickly overtaking the baby shower market as the parties to throw by parents-to-be.  At these parties, the gender of a baby is revealed to the parents and the guests.  This is usually done by way of giving a sealed envelope with a sonogram inside to a bakery, which then bakes cupcakes or a cake filled with either blue or pink icing inside.  After the parents and guests at the party have voted or bet on the possible gender of the baby, the parents slice open the cake in front of everyone, and –voila — gender revealed.

Photo taken from feministing.com

Gender reveal parties struck me as an odd way to announce the sex of a baby.  When I look at the parties from an academic feminist stance, I am struck (yet again) with our culture’s common mistake of seeing the biological sex of a person as their inherent gender.  Indeed, our culture has long since adopted the phrase “It’s a boy/girl” to describe the sex of a baby – but to go as far as actually appropriating gender as an interchangeable biological sex term is, well, wrong.  The sex of a baby is not the gender of the baby: so why the explicit push for assuming that gender pronouns can take the place of sex pronouns?

Our culture’s seemingly indifference between sex and gender has long been a focus of feminist advocates.  Gender itself is born out of the false biological essentialist view that the biological sex of a person (male or female) inherently creates one of two distinct genders: man or woman.  The dichotomous categories of “boy/girl” or “man/woman” dictate what feminists see as “gender roles”, where each gender assumes certain characteristics (usually what we see as “masculine” or “feminine”).  The problem with a biological essentialist point of view is that it ties culturally driven gender characteristics to biological sex, thus attempting to disguise any socialization process (or social construction, as feminists see it) that has worked for centuries to create a distinct power imbalance between males and females.  Thus, gender itself becomes misconceived as biological sex – a problem that is at the root of sex inequality.

I see gender reveal parties as a product of a patriarchal culture that is obsessed with eliciting and maintaining sex inequality.  Assigning a socially constructed category to a nonexistent human being (in Canadian law) seems to me to be a way of reproducing a cultural script that dictates how males and females will live their lives before their lives have even come into existence.  As Judith Butler argues, this script is historical: men and women have been performing a gender script for centuries. If parents-to-be are assigning a culturally produced script to their babies (which is a faulty script to begin with), they are buying into a problematic sex-gender system that is in place in order to uphold patriarchal power structures. By attaching a traditional gender to their unborn baby, parents-to-be are  helping perpetuate a social system that historically and presently places men above women.

Why this cultural push to reveal “gender” before the child is born? The only reason I can think of is the dominant class’ need to establish traditional power structures, to stabilize our long-standing sex-gender system.  The news is littered now with stories of parents opting for gender neutrality for their children, stories of transgender beauty queens, and with issues surrounding LGBTIQ rights.  Challenging the sex-gender system is all around us: indeed, it is becoming a part of pop culture.  As always, the fear of resistance and fear of change spurs long-standing power structures to assert their power.  However, as a feminist in a developed, Western country, I know that asserting power doesn’t necessarily come in the form of violence or direct intervention. It comes in a subversive form, a more subconscious littering of images and messages supporting traditional gender roles. And as Butler says, gender always conceals its roots;  well, gender reveal parties have yet to fool me.

editor’s note: karly is a fourth year women’s studies and english double major.  she is a teaching assistant who is an hbo fanatic. 

like disney for grown ups

submitted by: sol skyers

It’s that time of the year everyone!! “Out with the old and in with the new“, and what better way to start off 2012 than with a brand new season of “The Bachelor”, where 25 beautiful women come from all across the country just to meet this single hunk.

While introducing the Bachelor to the women who are competing for his affection, they have these brief introductory scenes, where they say a little something about who they are, what they do and what they hope to find on the show. There were a few things that immediately caught my attention and struck me as odd.

Once upon a time shows such as this one, made most if its viewers feel a little green with envy that only the most beautiful women stood a shot at winning the love of their real life prince charming. However nowadays if you look closely and pay any attention at all to the stories of some of these women, you’ll quickly learn that a lot of these women may look the perfect part yet seem to have the same misfortune and bad luck that many of us women have on the other side of the HD television screen.

So far within the first thirty minutes of the show I have heard the story of a woman who had been broken up with via text message, another woman who is a relationship expert blogger, yet cannot seem to find her own true love, who, while telling her story, looked as though she was about to break out into tears. Oh, and of course, the single mother who claims her son is what makes her world go round. I don’t know if it’s just me, but who is watching the little boy who makes your world go round while you are galavanting off trying to find true love?

Now anyone who knows me knows that I myself am a hopeless romantic, but I cannot say that I would abandon my everyday responsibilities just to find ‘true love’. I think it is extremely absurd to showcase these women as desperate enough to come from all of these unique walks of life in hopes of finding Mr. Right. To me it almost appears as though all of these women represent rejection at its finest and here is where they have all been sent to rally and riot for love.

The Bachelor chosen for this season is no virgin to the whole television experience, he was previously on the Bachelorette where he himself was rejected, so all-in-all this season reeks of second chances. A woman just showed up and claims that she knows everything there is to know about wine, (catering obviously to the fact that the bachelor owns a vineyard), so he proceeds to ask her a question regarding a specific type of wine.  She then confesses that she knows nothing about wine at all except that she loves to drink it.

The lengths that people in general will go to make put themselves in the running, to win a spot in someone’s heart is rather ridiculous. This could be why two people get together then divorce or break-up later down the road. That’s the thing with being fake: anyone can do it and many people are fantastic at it. But most can’t do it for the entire ‘happily ever after’.

So the bachelor fast forwards a bit and reveals upcoming scenes, some which include women who clearly have emotional and psychological issues, which I mean many people suffer from mental illness and or some sort of emotional instability, but to have it showcased in front of millions of people just screams desperation for tv ratings. (we love to be validated in our belief that all women are neurotic and unstable).  It definitely adds drama to any reality based television show, and gives most people at home what they want to see.  And what they want to see is what they expect to see.  The socially constructed categories we have all been raised in come to full light on television – there is something audience’s love about being able to believe in the mythical Cinderella and her Prince Charming.  This show is like Disney for grown-ups.

I have carefully inspected the 25 women and I have noticed that not anyone of these women are of color, have any noticeable physical disabilities. There are no women who are plus size, nor are there any women who seem to be over the age of 30. Now I can safely assume that Mr. Ben submitted his special list of what it is he is looking for, but this perpetuates that nasty little cycle that I as a feminist does not like. So what Ben, only Caucasian females under the age of 30 who have silicone breasts are up your alley? Here I thought that true love was about the connection that was made between two people, not just on the superficial exterior. Whatever would Cinderella have done if Prince Charming had a beer belly or a receding hair line? I especially love how all the women are dolled up, looking their absolute best. All of the stops have been pulled out to make this show (or rather, showcase of white, upper class women) a success. Makeup, hair extensions, false lashes, designer dresses, perfect bodies…what happens if it rains, or when he wakes up next to you in the morning and – omigoodness – sees the real you?

So, I lastly see a woman who seemed the most ‘normal’ on the show who quit her job of five years to come onto the show…I don’t know what to say about this.  Television portrays women as so desperate and pathetic that we are willing to do anything at all just for someone else. And that their careers and old lifestyles are disposable. Which sort of makes them … a little disposable.  

I am sorry, but what are we teaching our daughters and our sons? That it’s okay not to pursue professional careers because the man of their dreams will foot the bill and sweep them off of their feet? Are we teaching our sons that it’s okay to be sought out by gold digging women as long as she has a great set of breasts?  That only skinny, white women are sexually attractive? That women and or men who may be in a wheelchair or may have a prostetic limb are undeserving of love? We unfortunately live in a world where we have to set positive and realistic examples for our upcoming generations, but it is something that must be done!

It is a new year and we are only two months in, and I’ll be damned if I am going to buy into this whole sexist, and racist, and patriarchal show. It’s getting a little old.  Wake me when Hollywood decides to let a gay or lesbian search for true love, and among those 25 suitors let there be people of all shapeus, sizes and colors.

Peace, Love & Unity

~Sol Skyers~

may all your christmases be white

the cult of christianity and consumerism

by: karly van puymbroeck

please note: all manner of religious discussion is a form of this author’s individual opinion

With Christmas just a few short days away, I feel pressed to write a piece about the overall growing discontentment I have towards the holiday season.  I feel really disconnected to the all the Christmas songs promising love, happiness and peace and disheartened at all the racist issues that seem to prop up on local, provincial and federal news at this time of year.   Having just finished exams two days ago, I’ve had the first 48-stress free hours since the beginning of September, and am finding all this time on my hands to be spent trying really hard to find that warm fuzzy place inside me that all the Christmas well-wishers seem to have in overwhelming abundance.

As a feminist, I cannot help but question the motives of a holiday that is so centered on dominant Christian ideology and false conscious consumerism.  Although I am not against Christians, I am suspicious of most organized religions, typically those who have a long history of violence, misogyny and oppression.  It is not about my personal disdain for the Christian faith – it’s really about how our culture has chosen to favour one religion above all others and turn it into an all or nothing holiday.  That is, through direct-to-consumer advertising and pop culture’s representation of Christmas itself, the holiday is so blatantly exclusive to the dominant class (white/heteronormative/middle-upper class).  I have compiled a massive list of points as to why Christmas is, in reality, a sham, but narrowed it down to three main points that may speak to why myself and others may be feeling slightly…left out this holiday season.

You are not a Christian.  I have chosen in the past year to stop identifying with the Christian faith, (a choice that I respectfully choose not to elaborate on at the present moment) but I am so conditioned by our culture’s Christian sympathies to still believe that Christmas is a time for me to rejoice in the … blah blah blah.  In short, as an ex-Christian, it is really difficult to pry myself away from the sticky confines of Christianity, particularly Catholicism and it’s guilt-tripping tendencies.  However, what is even more difficult to do is to negotiate finding this “warm fuzzy feeling of peace and happiness” by shopping endlessly for friends and family and feeling immense pressure from television ads that equate the meaning of Christmas with spending money.

Also, if you are not Christian, then this particular holiday may not have any real meaning to you.  This should be a given fact considering the diverse population this country is made up of.  However, our yearly schedules in employment and school are made up solely around Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.  At many places of work, it is often difficult for people to negotiate time off for any other religious occasion that exists outside the dominant faith.  Christmas and Christianity works to alienate all other religions and spiritualities by creating the inherent assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas.

– You are not white – Christmas in 2011 is a time for advertising that over-indulges itself with the white, heteronormative ideal.  It doesn’t take a genius to point out the absence of any racialized persons in television commercials or Christmas specials, but it does take some critical thinking to determine why this is so.  Christianity is so closely knitted with white supremacy, which has a long history of racialization, colonialism and patronizing attitudes towards marginalized groups like the poor and the Indigenous.  At Christmas, we hear John Lennon crying out for people to take notice of the oppressed people in the world, but Christianity has high jacked the Beatles’ song and used it in their commercial to raise money for the poor, starving black babies in Africa (the only racialized people I see in ads for Christmas). There is nothing wrong with supporting an organization such as this, but you need to ask yourself why this commercial only plays at Christmas time.  The commercial pulls on our heartstrings by playing on a dominant Christian notion of helping the “deserving” poor – all of whom are African-American in this case.  I challenge you now to find a Christmas movie at Wal-Mart that has a black male or female lead or to find commercials or any Christmas narrative that is represented by any racialized person(s).  (You don’t actually have to look – I already did, and there isn’t anything).

Christianity is closely tied to whiteness, and whiteness is closely tied to the oppression of racialized people.  Commercials such as these play on the idea that only whiteness (and everything it entails) is deserving of Christmas!  The absence of racialized people in dominant modes of media, particularly advertising, demonstrates how Christmas is exclusively for white people, completely negating all other communities of racialized people who follow the Christian faith around the world.

– You are not part of a nuclear family or a heterosexual relationship  — Christmas is only made to seem accessible to those in a nuclear family (father, mother, brother, sister) and to those who are heterosexual.  This is seen in nearly every advertisement.  We usually see the mom shopping for the entire family, the dad in his patriarchal position carving the turkey and cutting down the Christmas tree.  There are millions of examples of the nuclear family at Christmas, but the point I’m trying to make is that our culture is filled with families who are made up of all different types of people now, and also many families who operate with one sole parent, making the consumerist Christmas we see on television nearly impossible to recreate for their families (a single income doesn’t get people far in 2011). What I find most repelling is that many sects of Christianity still do not recognize certain persons in our modern day world.  Many churches and sects deny GLBTQ persons, who many of us have in our intimate families and social circles.  It’s obvious to me that the Christmas spirit comes with fine print.

Given the three points above, it’s no wonder I feel disconnected to the holiday season, like so many other people do.  We have been conditioned into accepting Christian propaganda, even if we don’t believe in the faith itself, while all other religions are told by many to “suck it up” and “if you don’t like it, go back to your own country”.  Christmas may seem like a time to relax and see friends and family, but all the other stuff that comes along with Christmas can be disheartening, and well, isolating to those who do not fit the norms of our culture. Furthermore, I am embarrassed how our culture has adopted a religion’s principle core values and beliefs and made them into something that can be bought and soldThis is a paradox: at it’s most basic principle, religion and spirituality is supposed to be an individual’s inward journey towards discovering the meaning of life by different religious and spiritual practices of the person’s chosen faith.  It is not an Ipad or Xbox; it is not a debt-induced free-for-all at the local WalMart.  But our culture has made these spiritual values into an economic exchange that has huge impacts on people who cannot keep up with exaggerated consumerism, resulting in immense pressure on everyone during the holidays to not only spend exuberant amounts of money, but to also try and squish themselves into a tight, rigid mould of the Christian doctrine.

editor’s note: karly is a fourth year english literature and women’s studies double major.  she enjoys teaching and mentoring young girls through feminist principles and has a particular interest in hip-hop and indigenous feminisms.