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Friday, 14 December 2012

Remembering Those Who Matter

After today's horrific shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School CT, people sure have a lot of boisterious opinions about the cause of such a tragedy. Finger-pointing and calls for action are rampant online, thanks to social media outlets and CNN's constant loop of horribe news mixed in with opinionated talking heads.

In spite of the crazy media circus, let's remember what happened today. I'm not talking the number of casualties or the profile of the mass murderer, I'm talking about what really happened. The fact that some little child had to look up and see a man with a mask and a rifle in her last moments. The fact that a little boy watched his best friend die, unable to help, and tugged away too soon in a scurry for safety. I'm talking about the parents whose children's Christmas presents are never to be taken out of the attic and ripped open with joy. Please, let us not use this as a soap box for our personal beliefs about what should be done about guns and policies, and stop before we analyze the whys, to remember that this tragedy is ongoing for its survivors and their loved ones.

As with many mass, seemingly random acts of violence, people are already asking about the killer. It hasn't even been 24 hours, and people want a description of the person behind the gun and possible "triggers" that lead to this shooting. Why does it matter? The man is dead. And the more time we spend digging up his past and relation to Sandy Hook, the less time we focus on supporting the victims in any way possible. Forming links as to his circumstance, mental health and relation to the school is the job of FBI agents and policemen, and shouldn't be used by the public to feed their fascination or bemusement.

So next time your brain wandering toward the shooter's motives, switch gears and think of the victims and their families. They are much more deserving of your thoughts, anyhow.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Womb, Women's Rights, and a Dash of Christianity

Happy Sunday people! Hope you’re all comfy, cozy and ready to say goodbye to bone-chilling fall and hello to blustery winter with a big old mug of hot chocolate and whip cream in your hand.
Recently, I received a nice little facebook prompt that has inspired this post. This prompter, we’ll call him Thom just for shits and giggles, is very politically inclined and in favour of independent government in the American election. Thom Just For Shits and Giggles’ post informed me that yet another wonderful Republican Candidate has opened a can of worms with their opinions on abortion.
Before we get into the slimy grit and guts of it all, please know that unlike my friend Thom, I am not politically current on any given day. I normally find politics in general to be a headache, with many voters pushing for the lesser of two evils to finish ahead. Yes, I am one of those.

Now That That’s Over With

The reason for my present interest is the seemingly constant overflow of anti-women douchebaggery taking place in this year’s election. As with many issues that get drudged kicking and screaming under the microscope of political debate, the issue of women’s right to abortion is being stripped bare for everyone to see. Not one aspect of abortion has been overlooked in the political realm. In fact, at this very moment, I’m waiting for some politician to come out with just how many cells he deems necessary for a baby to be considered more than a clump. You know, just to cover every base that anyone could think of, ever.


As it stands, we have the pro-lifers siding with Republicans and those who identify as committed Christians. I like to call them Team Traditional. Juxtaposing that, is the pro-choicers, siding with the Democrats and those who identify as maybe-not-so religious, not-religious or those-who-feel-religion-sucks. These may seem like sweeping generalizations, and, well, they are. But these categorizations are how political parties target the public. It’s what gives them an estimate of which votes to expect from where. New York: Democratic Tennessee: Republican.

A Day in the Life:

Let’s say, that you’re a die-hard feminist (whaddup, add me to facebook!) who also dislikes abortion. Mind boggling I know. But it happens. And no one talks about it. Because lately it seems like, if you’re a fan of women you’re a fan of abortion and if you’re a fan of abortion than you’re not a fan of women. But, take a breath, because the two are not, by themselves mutually exclusive.
So, on a personal level, you can support feminism and not killing what you see as unborn babies. The issue occurs when things go from personal to political, which, in politics, they inevitably will(who knew??). Then you have a picture of a person who values women’s rights but is being asked by numerous politicians to stand up for their belief in “speaking for those without a voice” and vote against abortion. And all the confusion comes flooding back. You flick on the tube only to catch some bold-faced woman telling you that voting for illegal abortion is against women. Oh no. It seems amuck again, but here’s what I see as the silver lining: If you vote for women’s choice, you’re voting for a woman to decide, without the help of the government, whether or not she wants to abort. You are not voting for abortion. You are voting for the legalization of what would happen anyways, whether it was legal or not. To me, that’s win-win. As a point of comparison, a lot of hard-core Republicans feel the need (still) to oppose gay marriage. Why? You’re not stopping love, or gay sex, but simply marriage. And that, any way you slice it, is an infringement of rights.
So that’s it, that’s my argument: rest assured you can easily be a Christian and a feminist and a pro-lifer...knowing that laws against abortion do not stop abortions, while they do stomp on women’s right to chose what they do with their bodies.

The Latest Clown in the Political Realm:

Though it might seem like I wrote this was to be a leftist, know-it-all douchebag, I promise you that isn’t true. Thom Just For Shits and Giggles informed me that Republican person Richard Mourdock said pregnancy from “rape is something God intended.” This is what I really came to write about. The belief that God intended for babies to come out of the horrible atrocity of rape is not only old-school, it is presumptuous. It presumes that God oversaw what happened to said woman, and on some level, approved of it, knowing that a child would come out of it. It assumes a Christian God. It assumes Providence. It assumes that all bad turns to good, when sometimes, bad is simply bad and the good is separate.
I come from a Christian home. I used to read my Bible as a secret, shamed hobby and try to make sense of its seemingly wise words out of pure curiosity. And nowhere, does God state that a baby is to be considered “the good, purposeful intention” to come from rape. Yes, it is stated that “He” will not have us endure anything we can’t handle, and yes, it is written that good things can come from bad, but nowhere, does it say that a baby is on equal-grounds to overturning the horrific circumstances of rape. Nowhere does it say that a baby is God’s gift to those who have been deeply, and irreversibly violated. In fact, if you’re going to take this whole fate-goes-before-you-route, you might as while acknowledge that maybe, just maybe your God put the baby in the woman’s womb to give her the option to choose the path her life will take. Or! Gasp! Maybe the two had nothing to do with one-another. Now There’s a thought.
Until next time, I await the next ridiculous attempt to undermine women.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Why Writing Matters

It is incredibly hard to go back to a specific moment of time, and find yourself, just as you were at that moment. Try it. The feelings that you have now, your perspective on life, will stain the lens of your memory, and you will view things as you are now, rather than remember the frame of mind you held then. That’s why, in my mind, it is important to write right now. As you are. As unaltered as you can get in this moment. In my opinion, writing right now is the closest thing humans will ever have to a personal, defined, history of themselves.

The thing about it is, you’ll only be where you are now --in terms of maturity, understanding (or lack there of) belief system and even circumstance-- once. Never again will you think the thoughts you’re thinking right now, in the succession that they’re in, with the exact mix of chemicals and hormones that are being fired through your brain right this second. Now is it. This concept is kind of like a writer’s spin off of the good old Carpe Diem (Sieze the Day!) phrase that people still continue to use, even though Latin has been dead for decades. The Writer’s Version goes something like “Write now, for you’ll never be of this mind again” (Or something less douchtastic sounding).

Writing For Memory's Sake

I recently read an article on relatively new research regarding the human memory, and its implications on helping those with PTSD. Just as many of us regular people have already suspected, the research suggests that “...the very act of remembering can change our memories” Bare in mind that the dude’s research is mostly on rats, but species' differences aside, the research is rather relevant to the importance of writing now. The article makes an unconscious comparison of human memory to that the “telephone” game most of us played in 3rd grade, summarizing that with each retelling, the memory is slightly reshaped simply by being retrieved. It discusses the inaccuracy found when asking people to “remember” what they did on September 11, 2001. Most claim to recall seeing footage of the first plane hitting the tower, when in reality, such footage wasn’t aired until the next day. I myself even have trouble with this one. I find error in the question because, I did in fact see footage of the plane hitting the tower, though it might have been the second plane, without my realizing it--so does that invalidate the question as a possible tool to provide evidence of lapses in human memory? Or am I just part of the 73% of research participants who also gripped with this fact?

I digress. With our memories on the brink of shift at any second, doesn’t it make you want to write down your thoughts, your diet, your last bathroom break, right now? Maybe not to that extent. But in my ever-moving mind, writing provides a sense of self-preservation against the threat of future selves. It provides definition in the wake of constant changing, re-shaping and tweaking that our brain does--mostly--without our consent. Maybe if I had written down a couple of lines at lunch on September 11, 2001, I would remember (or shape mind my toward accuracy) that footage of the first plane hitting the tower had not yet been aired. Hard to say. But definitely worth a try in every-day life.

Writing Your Version of Your Truth

A little while ago, I watched a movie where Morgan Freeman played a forensic psychologist. In one of the opening scenes, he was coaxing a woman out of shooting herself, after her husband who had been physically abusing her for a while, was killed. The woman moved the gun from inside her mouth to the side of her temple and Freeman’s character moved closer to her slowly, while rhyming off reasons for her to go on living. He closed his list with the simple but impacting phrase, “Because if you don’t, people will never know the truth.” Needless to say, the woman gave up the gun.

Freeman’s character’s attitude of “Speak now so others will know your truth” can also be applied to writing. No matter how much keeping journals can be deemed as “girly” by boys and tease-worthy by little brothers, they give you the chance to convey the raw truth of you in that very moment. So that, in a year, or 10, you can return to that one day in your life, and know how you felt, putting together the pieces of your own mentality. Writing the truth of the present can also serve as a marker to look back and see your progression, your maturity, and the parts of you that remain the same. Some parts of my diary from my teenage years (so long ago...) fill me with shame and embarrassment, but they serve a purpose in helping me understand who I was, and by proxy, who I am now.

Writing as Your Witness

The more off-beat reason to write is, of course, because you might develop amnesia and need to rely on records of your past self to recognize your current circumstance. Or a personality disorder. More likely though, you might simply be going through a tough time and need something to ground you--even if it means talking through a blank page. If you’re anything like me, you find it really difficult to write anything in times of distress of anger. It’s like Writer’s Block to the enth degree, and the only thing your pen will write is a big, bulky, square-like “Fuck.” But don’t give up. Force your pen to elaborate, on an image, a feeling, the colour of the lighting and how it affected the scene that unraveled so quickly and now has you boiling.

The reason I suggest forcing yourself to write through the fog is because, while it can be therapeutic, it will also help you later recognize patterns and make clearer decisions. As the world knows by now, I went through a shitty Life Period a couple years ago, as my taste in men is impeccable. I was with someone I was convinced I loved. He made big promises of change and would ask my all the big questions that every girl wants to hear--right before or after ignoring me for however long he felt like--sometimes only days, 2 days or 5, sometimes weeks. I was incredibly naive and this confused and hurt me immensely. In a hopeless effort to try and work out some answers, I would write bitter and curt messages to my computer or in my diary, often coming out more angry then when I started writing. My writing was choppy and confused, bold in some spots and weak and confused in others. Looking back on it now, I have a journal full of complaints of feeling trapped, of feeling helpless, useless, worthless, and all its marriable synonyms. I was writing a pattern I was not yet aware of. And when I finally broke that pattern, my own writing and the solidification of the bad things that had happened in that relationship, played a big part in keeping me out, and keeping me sane.

So if you’re in a bad spot, and you feel some pattern recognition could be useful, write. Even if you’re life is sunshine and lollipops, write, if only to savour what you’re doing right.

Overall, it’s a pretty well-accepted factthat people have a innate need to define what has happened them, to remember, even if that memory is faulty, as current research suggests. Generally, we like to make sense of our lives and our individual pasts, as a method of self-actualization. And I think writing plays an important role in helping us define ourselves, however inaccurate that definition may be. It’s good to write right now. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Reasons Not to See The Dark Knight Rises

I have a secret: I think I'm the only person on the planet who has no interest in seeing The Dark Knight Rises. After the Aurora shooting, I foolishly thought that maybe a few others would join me in general apathy toward seeing the film, but my Facebook continuously proves me wrong. As I scroll down my news-feed, status updates consistently report of an awesome movie, and Christopher Nolan's awesome awesomeness.
In an effort to console myself and perhaps provide support for other strays who also fail to see the glory in seeing the latest Batman movie, I have made a list of reason's not to see the newest Nolan film. Due to the fact that I refuse to see the latest movie, the list is based only on the prequelling (it is a verb, damnit.) two movies:

Reason #1: Bruce Wayne Talks, but Batman Whispers:

This is something I just don't see the point of. Is Batman's choice to whisper supposed to be the equivalent of Superman and his glasses, hiding the vigilante's true identity? If so, I think getting Microsoft Sam to speak for him would've been a lot sexier. That whispery grunting that he does just sounds like he's having persistent trouble relieving his bowels. We all know Bruce Wayne can talk, in fact, some might say he has a nack for monologues, with all those one-sided, I-never-know-what-to-do-even-though-ive-faced-very-similar-moral-dilammas-in-all-the-batman-movies-conversations he has with Albert. So why not have him put a little more effort into it, and disguise his voice just a pitch or two in either direction. It'd be a lot less distracting than having to strain to hear his words over the crunching of your popcorn.

Reason #2: The Joker

Let's leave the late Heath Ledger out of this. Actually no, let's not, because I think it was his larger-than-life acting which made me hate the joker that much more. I know, the joker is supposed to be hated, but he differs from other superhero villains. He is three dimensional, he is complex. He is a psychopath, with onion-layers of psychosis. He is all too real. No one believed in Dr. Octapus the way they believe in The Joker. I don't know about you, but The Doctor's robot octa-legs didn't phase me. I doubt I'll ever meet anyone with with creepy-crawly limbs, so I have nothing to fear. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Joker. He could probably be compared with some of the intelligent psychopaths that should be on high security in prison. I find this disturbing.
It seems the only place to go from here is to reference a report on the Aurora shooting, which claimed the suspected shooter told authorities he was the joker. Apparently, authorities were somewhat confused by this, as the suspect's hair was dyed bright orange instead of the bright green hue Ledger sports in the first of the newer batman films. It never dawned on them that maybe the nearest Rexall was just out of green hair-dye.
Perhaps it is too extreme to point to behavioral theory and decide that the suspect was only acting on what he saw on the big screen. Obviously you have to have the right disposition, DNA, and general environment to commit such a horribly wrong act Let's just hope the realistic villain portrayed in Joker fails to be an influence to psychopaths everywhere.

Reason #3: The Climbing

This is not an idea I can be credited with. A brilliant mind by the name of Laura Hudson posted on social media, purporting that the physical climbing of Batman is not only unrealistic (as expected), but illogical, at some points bordering on nonsensical. As an experience rock-climber, she discusses the details of climbing on a top rope, and what that does and doesn't entail. Here's the link:


There it is, the 3 reasons why I won't see The Dark Knight Rises, unless of course I am very handsomely bribed. Then of course, it's a whole new ballgame.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Capitalizing on Hockey: The Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League

Below is a little blurb I wrote for the Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League. The team is currently prepping for the North American Power Wheelchair Hockey Cup, set for August 3rd, and could use all the support they could get. Please go to www.opwhl.webs.com. if you are interested in helping out or donating, or just to find out more about what they do. Thanks!

Deep in the heart of Ottawa’s capital lays Canada’s best-kept secret sport: power wheelchair hockey. Participants in the sport, also sometimes called Electric Wheelchair Hockey, are of many different ability levels, but all share an interest in playing hockey. The game itself is played indoors, and resembles floor-hockey, differing only because the players use power wheelchairs. To accommodate for varying types of ability, player’s hockey sticks are either held by the player, or strapped to their chair, with a “tee bar” attached adjacently to the base of the stick, that makes carrying the ball possible.

The Ottawa Capitals, as our city’s power wheelchair hockey team is appropriately named, now have roughly 25 players, 10 of whom play competitively. They are the newest addition to The Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association (CEWHA), which consists of 7 leagues: 2 leagues in Toronto, 1 in London, Manitoba, Calgary, and Vancouver. Each league has 4 teams on average, with the Ottawa Capitals in their infancy and looking to grow.

The Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League (OPWHL) began just over 2 and a half years ago. A group of Ottawa friends met recreationally to play power wheelchair hockey on the weekends, when they realized they wanted to expand their interest. Shortly after, in 2009, founders Hollis Peirce and Kyle Vezzaro registered the group of players as a non-profit organization under Revenue Canada, and the team became an official division of the Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association.

According to the Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey website, the Canadian tournament is held every 2 years, in Toronto, London Manitoba, Calgary or Vancouver. During alternate years, there is a North American tournament, making competitive players part of either tournament annually. In August of 2010, the North American Power Hockey Cup was hosted by the Toronto Power Wheelchair Hockey League at Ryerson University. It was the first tournament attended by the Ottawa Capitals. This year the North American Power Hockey cup will be held here in the nation’s capital, at the Ottawa University campus.

The goal of the CEWHA, the umbrella association of the OPWHL, is to “provide a quality hockey program for all persons with disabilities who have limited upper body strength and/or mobility, who could significantly benefit from the use of an electric wheelchair in competitive sport and daily living.” (www.cewha.ca). Canada is not the only country with this mandate in mind for power wheelchair hockey players. The sport is also popular internationally, with power wheelchair hockey leagues all over Europe, and some of the top ranking teams in The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Germany and Italy.

For more information about the Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League, or to donate, please visit, www.opwhl.webs.com.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

An Unconscious Backlash: The "Blanketing" of Disability

An Unconscious Backlash: The “Blanketing” of Disability

There is a subject I have avoided for a long time in my life, partly as a method of self-denial. It is the idea of disability discourse. Disability discourse is the way we, as a culture of Canadians, discuss and relate to disability. More than how we talk about disabled people, discourse is about our attitudes toward disability, and how those attitude both infringe upon and reinforce basic human freedoms.
Most recently, I have been looking into different writings on disability, trying to scrounge up anything that might give me some insight into how disabilities are internalized and portrayed by the public. I want literature as a starting point for helping me understand what I think I already know, and what confuses me about disabilities. I want some scholarly input on my personal experience: a concrete definition of what disabilities add to the dynamic society, so that I can evaluate where disability attitudes and discourse needs work in our society. In an effort to find this information, I loaned two books from the library, one which claims to discuss disability issues in our North American Culture and the other, which works through some of the struggles that siblings of a disabled person might face.
Instead of finding the clarity I had hoped for, I stumbled on further confusion. The books I had loaned had chapters and chapters of relevant topics--from disability and culture to the different roles thought to be played by disabled people--but upon closer reading I found something that made these sources somewhat unuseful to me: they were on developmental disabilities. Now, maybe you’re thinking that I just had a brain lapse, and magically missed the word “developmental” in front of the word “disability” before signing out both books. But I swear on my mother’s middle name I didn’t; it simply isn’t mentioned in any of the titles of either the books or their chaptered sections.
This sort of omission, while it may seem small to everyone else, makes my stomach turn. Don’t get me wrong, developmentally challenged individuals deserve all the same rights as everyone, I would never ever dispute that, and that is not my issue. My issue is that difference, when it comes in the form of disability, is often lumped together as one, which is in my opinion, perfect breeding grounds for misconception and further marginalization. The result is a “blanketing effect,” in which people with a variety of differing “impairments”, are bunched together under a cover of “disability.”

The Problem of Blanketing Disability

With groups that are marginalized fro reasons outside of disability, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, blanketing can be a good thing. Look at the Gay Pride Parades-- there are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered and two-spirited people celebrating their commonality of diverging from mainstream norms when it comes to sexual orientation. It is hard to see such unity as anything but positive, when the goal is to gain acceptance of what are still sometimes deemed “alternative” ways of living. Gender politics and women’s fight for equality also frequently works best when women from all over take a stance against ill treatment, and headway towards a less patriarchal culture is made, at least for a second. There’s no doubt about it, there’s power in numbers when people on the outskirts of society fight for the same cause. But what happens when fighting for that general cause means ignoring or minimizing individual differences? What happens when the individuality and the vividness of a few people’s disability is lost in the mass of the fight, therefore belittling the speciality of their case? This “blanketing” effect is a problem that I believe has held movement towards disabled rights back for many years. Of course, it is not the only issue, but I think it is a major one. When disability is “blanketed,” everyone under the title of disabled becomes what society portrays as the most acceptable and least uncomfortable form of disability--in a sense, disabled people are expected to fit a poster-child version of what society deems ‘disabled’ and grounds for internal and external discrimination are conceived. If disabled people do not fit into the norm of disability--if they need too much, for example-- then they are frowned upon or considered “sick” by society and maybe even alienated by other disabled people.
When society does not see disabilities in their individual light, for all that one person’s disability means and all that it doesn’t, mistakes happen, and arbitrary assumptions fly. It is a minefield for misconception, generalization, and unproductivity. We, as a society, need to stop seeing difference as division and start seeing it as a fact that needs to be understood in moving forward for the betterment of people with disabilities, and a society that is more aware.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How To Make a Guy Love You Forever-And-A-Day!

So earlier tonight, I was doing whatever it is that I do when I'm on the internet for hours and lose myself in a maze of clicking. I clicked and clicked until I came across this shameful site by the name of "www.lovepanky.com". For those who have never been on it, go ahead, click. For those who have, you know that it's a bright pink, heart-filled website with a lot of content that is reliant on gender distinctions and female insecurities as the basis for its substance. Now, even though I'm a teensy-bit of a feminist and a tiny-bit annoyed by this type of literature (if you can even call it that) which promotes and therefore supports belief in, gender dichotomies, I still have insecurities (sometimes). As is such, I skimmed a few of the articles, leafing through, "How men love differently than women," "Why he takes forever to fall in love with you" and (wince) some annoying article telling me to flit my hair more if I want to capture a guy's heart (Somehow, I don't think it'll be his heart I'll be capturing, but I just don't have the heart to e-mail the author).To summarize tonight's learnings from Lovepanky in one sentence, I would say: Just act extra stupid, smile a lot and pretend you need his expertise at least once a day.
This finding caused a bit of an internal crisis for me...And here's why: I, Kristen, have a horrible habit of flitting my hair and laughing at men's jokes even when they aren't funny. I love flirting. In fact, everytime I sign-up to a new website and it asks what my hobbies and interests are, I'm tempting to write, "flirting for the hell of it," but subtlety and social norms keep me at bay. Just the other day, I met a man who seemed interested, and just for the hell of it, I found myself asking him some silly question that I already knew the answer to. Dumb charm, unfortunately, can be quite a hook for most guys. It's a terrible habit that sometimes rubs right in the face of some of my core beliefs about gender equality.
What I'm getting at is one main question for which I lack the answer: Can a flirty personality make someone a bad feminist? I'm sure there are other ways to flirt besides laughing and dumbing yourself down, but (sadly) I have yet to find anything quite as effective.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Back-logged: Canada's View on Disability

CANADA IS KNOWN for its amazing acceptance of everyone, from every walk of life. We are, by defualt, a very understanding and accommodating nation, and that notion is-- if nothing else-- part of our national image. And that’s swell, but I’d argue there’s trouble in paradise, specifically when it comes to the Canadian public’s views on disability. I’m not one two point fingers, but I think the confused impression the public has of people with disabilities is due to the contradicting mindsets of Canadian policy makers and those in the news media industry. In my fancy-shmancy my-parents-forced-me-to-get-a-degree lingo, I would say that:Canada’s legislation promotes acceptance and integration in the form of accessibility, but the ideologies inferred by media, specifically news broadcasts, send conflicting messages which favour ignorance. The mixed messages purported from the two influential sources create a back-log effect for the Canadian public’s views and understanding of disability.The cyclical relationship between the news, media and the general public is why we can’t progress, and become the all-accepting mosaic of a country we so long to be. In Laymen’s terms, the reason people speak to me like I’m hearing impaired (instead of in a wheelchair) is because they have received multiple contrasting signals from the government legislation and everyday news media, telling them what to do when it comes to disability. They’re probably really confused.

Gumdrops and Lollipops: Disability Policy in Canada

Canadian mandates on accessibility and equality sound so forward-thinking, they almost ring utopic. Around this time last year, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario released a new standard for accessibility around Ottawa stating that its goal was, “improving accessibility through identifying, removing and preventing barriers in key areas of customer service, employment, communications and information, and the built environment.”(see: www.ontla.on.ca/lao-organization/.../accessibility-2010-2011_en.pdf). The legislation touches on a number of things that effect many people with disabilities on a regular basis, such as improving building accessibility, adding accessible washrooms, and training those in customer service on what I call “disability etiquette”. It all sounds great, and in many ways it is. On the flip side of the coin however, is the glaring fact that people have to be “trained, retrained, or refreshed” on how to “communicate with people with disabilities” This strikes me as both horribly sad and hysterical, as it makes people with disabilities sound like a new species or something. Not to mention it makes all those in the service industry look like fools, for not having the sense to know how to interact with another human being. As ridiculous as it is though, I commend the legislative assembly for admitting that people do need to be trained on how to treat those with disabilities, since more often than not in my experience, prejudice gets in the way of common sense.

The Media, The Problem

While policy-makers are on the right track with implementing laws that enforce equality for people with disabilities, the news media is sending quite a different message. This is problematic, given that both policies and news media are major influences of public consciousness. I recently read that, “a “recent survey released by NADbank shows that [the] total weekly newspaper penetration levels [is] between 75% to 80% of the [Canadian] adult population.”This means that a huge chunk of citizens read the news on a regular basis. I’d venture to say that if you’re reading this, you likely fit somewhere in that 75-80%. Bottom line is, the news, in its many forms and outlets is wide-spread throughout Canada, and therefore influences, to varying extents, the people who consume it.

In the spirit of media influence, I think it was Spiderman’s Uncle Ben who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Since news providers have roughly 80% of Canada’s grown-up population watching them, their content--everything from portrays of wars, to depictions of human interest stories involving low income citizens--matters. Unfortunately, news reporters work on a tight, day-to-day/ breaking news timeline which doesn’t allow for much elaboration or explanation of the topics and situations which they so readily convey. This means that we, the public, are left to fill in the blanks in telegram-type titles and 5-7 word bi-lines, which, leaves a lot of room for interpretive error. The curt, brief style of news media essentializes people and stories at best, and discriminates groups and issues at worst.
Though the aftertaste of being stripped to the bare minimum in news stories is likely felt by nearly everyone at some point, I would argue the news’ portrayal of people with disabilities is especially careless. This week, I read an article dealing with the government’s pulling of $300 000 from a program which provided care and recreation for adults with physical and mental disabilities (see: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/02/08/ottawa-cut-program-disabled-adults.html).
The article is most troublesome in its choice of wording when describing the people with disabilities, both on the broadcast, and in the written piece. In the broadcast, the anchorman calls the subjects “severely disabled adults,” failing to specify that all member of the discussed program are physically AND mentally disabled. We, as audiences, are left to infer the occurrence or a developmental delay, on top of a physical disability, simply from the word “severe”. This language is not only problematic in that it is vague, it is also inaccurate. I have a disability that is termed “severe” by professionals, although my cognitive abilities remain untouched. According to what the news would have us believe however, “severe” encompasses only people who face physical and mental disabilities. Rather than using common sense and placing the words, “mentally and physically” in front of “disabled” before the description of the upcoming newsstory, viewers are left with a vague and incorrect impression of disability, likely assuming that “severe” indicates both a developmental and physical disability.
Aside from this issue of incorrectly labeling the people with disabilities it is identifying, neither the article nor the accompanying broadcast mentions whether the program takes on members with strictly physical or strictly mental disabilities. Does each individual who has access to the program have physical and mental limitations, or do some only have one or the other? We are, once again, left to assume these important details, under the blanket the media so easily labels as “The disabled”.

I find it quite annoying that we have policy makers peeing their pants with excitement when it comes to implementing barrier free environments for people with disabilities, while simultaneously some politically incorrect, lazy news transcriber can’t take the time to at least attempt depicting people with disabilities properly. Instead public is left to make their own impressions and, in my opinion, its likely that lack of knowledge, will lead to most people filling in the blanks with some sort of stereotype. This process flies in the face of disability awareness, and hence we have the vicious circle, the is policy, media, public.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Sit Down, Artie.

ON DAYS WHEN I am extremely bored and the usual fixes like reading post secret, stalking facebook, or watching horrible clips of covers to songs I don't even know aren't doing it, I sit down and watch Glee. Go ahead, judge away, it's probably better than some of the crapshoot music videos you pretend not to watch anyway. Also, what I am about to say really has nothing to do with whether or not Glee is a good show. It's not. Pretty undoubtedly, the plot is non existent, the actors are way too into their cheesy characters and the accapella-subbing for real instruments got old half way through the first season. It sucks, hands down.
Despite the show's poor quality, it has a fairly loyal viewership, and an even more loyal cast. Apparently Leah Michelle (Rachel Berry) got two tattoos in honor of the show and what it stands for. Which, brings me to my real topic: What the fuck does Glee represent?
When the show first came out, the majority was excited because it combined musical numbers (everyone's secret favourite thing) with diversity and acceptance, while challenging ideas of political correctness and categorization. The main characters included: Two white people, two Jews, two Asians one black person, one wheelie, and one homosexual. That's right, I said main. All of these characters were supposed to dance and jive until we forgot their differences, or at least until we no longer cared. It was a quirky fun show with just enough of the tragic element to add depth.
As the season unfolded, each character developed and, in their own ways, embraced their so-called differences. They even did a whole episode on difference, where The Female Jew (Rachel Berry) comes to love her big nose, on the grounds that it is resembling of Barbra Streisand's, and, well, she's famous. In other episodes, we see Tina and Mike referring to themselves as 'Asian' and 'Other Asian' to make light of their race. The character Kurt is openly gay and, after quite a struggle, becomes accepted by those whom he encounters on a daily basis.This is all warm-fuzzies, flowers, rainbows and honeybees, until it's Artie's turn to be empowered by his circumstance.
Artie is a rather two dimensional character: nerdy, with annoyingly straight teeth and glasses squarer than my nun aunt. If it wasn't for his paraplegia, caused (yes, you guessed it!) by an accident at age 7, he would not even be worth air time. But, for the sake of diversity, Artie is paralyzed, serving the wheelie quota for the shows' modern, liberal look at 'all walks of life'. This seems totally okay for a while, as Artie floats through each epi doing a series of hand-motions and cat-walks where appropriate, but trouble soon rolls in, as Artie starts to truly realize, at the age of 17, that his disability is part of him.
The problem here is not that Artie must come to terms with being in a wheelchair, but more with the fact that such acceptance isn't happening. This is particularly obvious in the latest episode, where he claims, he "doesn't want to hear that it gets better. He wants to hurt them...he wants them to feel his pain, because lately, that's all he has to give." That's not even the kicker. As if it's not enough that Artie is having a seemingly unprovoked emotional breakdown, the show deals with it by having him break out of his chair and do a whole dance and vocal duet to an MJ track. As is keeping in line with the shows sweep-it-under-the rug approach to Artie's disability, his breakdown/daydream is never brought up or mentioned again, and viewers are left to think that it is 'normal' to wish Artie could walk, because his dance moves are sooo much better when he can add footwork.
In my opinion, this sends a mix message of acceptance of limits and denial of circumstance. Wile Kurt is off applying to Performing Arts school and being the best version of his gay-self he can be, and Tina and Mike are proud of the "honor" associated with their Asain roots, Artie can't decide whether he is frustrated with or advocating for disability. Subliminally, these conflicting messages might lead watchers to think all wheelies are uncomfortable with their disabilities, that they daydream of getting up just to pull off the moonwalk, which is something that I would readily dispute.
If Glee isn't going off the air anytime soon, I at least hope that Artie will do the rest of his musical numbers as a true wheelie. The writers would never ask their black character to paint her face white for a scene, or tell Kurt to explore the possibility of dating Britney. So why doesn't Artie just stay sitting?

Monday, 30 January 2012

Pinky and Brain Are So Unhappy Though

When you are like me, you like to control things. This feels nice and self-protective, like a hug and a shove of independence, all at once. The assurance is there that things and people are exactly as you perceive them, and if anything decides to go wrong, you have that knowledge to fall back on. A blanket of security when not knowing is not enough.
The problem with being this way is that a) you start to see things as hum-drum and horrible, exactly as you’ve predicted them to be in your head and b) eventually people start to notice that you’re a bit of a douchebag, thinking that you know who they are and what they like before you’ve even waited for their answer.
There is no making light of this either, although it feels easier to swallow that way. Here’s a few things a controlling vag-bag like myself would say:
“You were taking a while so I got you a cappuccino”
“Oh, but I was thinkin I wanted a hot chocolate though”
“Well, here’s your capp.”
“You’re mad because I’m being slow”
“I’m not mad though.”
“Come on, you don’t act like this when you're happy.”
Even as I write this, I wish i could just scroll the words, “I’m an asshole, fuck it.” across the page, but I can’t because that would be alleviating responsibility and/or guilt and would imply that people are just born controlling assholes. And in my opinion, nurture wins over nature in this one. This type of assholiness is an entirely learned behaviour.
I have one friend who has a catch phrase that describes perfectly the mistreatment of people. With a smirk on her face and a far-off, I-don’t-want-to-discuss-this-depressing-topic-anymore look on her face she says, “It happens everyday.” To which, I am usually struck with silence and a persistent need to sip my coffee. She’s right, and that fact never fails to make me terribly uncomfortable. Everyday someone is defining what someone else should feel, think, want, hate, love or desire. Everyday someone on the receiving end of being controlled croons because the person telling them what to feel, think, want, hate, love or desire, knows them so Goddamn well. And so the cycle of perpetual control and permanent mind-fucking begins.
Why do we do this? Animal instinct? Childhood trauma? Hitler’s rippling influence? If you recall, Hitler shot himself in the head. Most people think it’s because he lost the war. I like to think its because he realized that every life has value and couldn’t handle the blooming guilt, thus putting a bullet in his brain. Either way, he was clearly unhappy. And it couldn’t have hurt if he had chose to be a little less controlling.
I’ve spent a lot of awesome time reading about the after-effects of being controlled or abused, and the results are awful. What’s odd about the control dynamic though, is its inherent contradiction: people are controlling to feel better about themselves, but evidence and life-experience show that they mostly just end of feeling bored, apathetic, and lame. It’s lonely at the top, especially when you’ve ruined everyone else on the way up. That’s the major paradox, we do it feel better, but just end up worse.
So if all this is true, what do we do to stop this dynamic? I am not the first to pose this question, and the hierarchy of human nature suggests that we’ll struggle with this issue for the rest of time, facing wars and killing each other as a means to the end of ultimate power. But, in the meantime, we can start at home, with our families and friends. One of the smallest but most impacting steps one can make towards becoming less controlling is to stop using definitive statements. As you may know, definitive statements are those which tell others what to do think feel want love hate or desire. They most commonly function in a few different ways, which include:
- Ignoring ehat the person actually claimed they wanted, claiming the either you know best or that the deed is already done (as is seen in the Cappuccino example)
- Stating that your current knowledge of them is based on what you know them to be like, and understanding how they should behave (as is with the ‘You’re mad because’ example)
- General or extreme lies which are meant to provoke emotion, cause confusion, or both.
Definitive statements, to someone who has never had control issues (if there be such a person) may seem like a bunch of hooglygook. But to ignore relevance the issue of control that has plagued us since the start of time and will continue to do so until the Second Coming (ha...haha), is to deny that the sky is blue. Even if you arn’t like me and you manage to keep all your friends and your social life intact, at some point or another you will be effected by this problem. It is like the cancer of the social world.
Finally, it is my opinion that, if this issues are not nipped in the dirty little bud early-on in life, well, you have prime breeding grounds for more relationship violence, domestic abuse, and in extreme cases, murder. (It is important to get the controlling under control before spawn of Mein Kampf begin popping up everywhere!) On a smaller scale though, it ruins many friendships before they even begin. I lost one of my best friends this year, not from some normal cause like my boyfriend hates you or the cumulative sexual tension between us has totally mucked up everything, but because I was controlling the entire time. Without even fully recognizing it for what it was. Imagine that.
Needless to say, he’s gone, For good, not that he’s leaving much because I never knew the real him anyways. Just the person I had decided he was and the role he had, in turn, decided to put up with. I guess that’s why I’ve rambled on for so damn long now-- simply because I wanted to point out, on a broad spectrum, the severe dangers of controlling behavior. To give a refresher, the three options are: 1. End up like Hitler 2. End up abusive 3. Lose all your friends (or at least your best ones), due to the fact that you never truly got to know them in the first place. The pickin’s are pretty slim, if you ask me.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Other Side of the Story

Nearly anyone who knows me knows that recently, I have become very interested in acts of violence and abuse against women. It’s been an ongoing obsession of mine for about a year now, as I've tried to understand characteristics of abusers and “abuse dynamic,” as well as what can be done to prevent it. In a way it has sort of become an all-consuming hobby, which has jaded my perspective and caused me to see almost every relationship, no matter how insignificant, under the microscope of power-and-control dynamics.
For a while, I thought that seeing the world in this shit-stained way was OK, telling myself that it was justified and helping me “get through” one day at a time. And anyone who didn’t understand it, well... too bad.
But last week I was at a friend's house visiting their adorable service-dog who, much to the owner’s dismay, was inching towards me for attention. Instead of laughing or ravishing the dog with secret-affections, I heard myself saying, “Well, aren’t you manipulative.”
I had just accused a beautiful, innocent, square-headed black lab of a characteristic associated with sociopathic men (and women).
It was then that I realized I had a problem. Claiming the dog tried to fool me is where I draw the line.
In light of the fact that I had taken the whole control thing too far, I agreed to go to a lecture on wrongful conviction yesterday, with the same friend whose dog i had bitched out. I figured learning about two men that had been wronged by the system could help me remember my empathy for humanity, not just women (Girl power!) We sat in the back and I skimmed over the event speakers, Jamie Nielson and Robert Baltovich, a knot forming in my stomach as a read about each of their awful situations. Jamie Neilson was accused of rape in 1996 by a friend of an ex girlfriend, Cathy Fordham, and soon after the judge convicted him of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement and uttering death threats. Despite his steadfast denial of all accounts and the courts complete reliance on one eye-witness account (the victim’s), Neilson lived the next 3 and a half years in prison. He was finally released when some brainy lawyers put their heads together and realized Ms. Fordham was also accusing over 30 other man of eerily similar crimes and situations. The nut-job ( and I do not use that word lightly)had fabricated the entire story, and well, she only served 6 months in prison and is now raising a family (Lord help us).
Robert Baltovich was 24 years old when he was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Elizabeth Bain, after she disappeared from her Toronto home in June 1990. Though their was insufficient evidence, and a belief that the Scarborough Rapist (Paul Bernardo) might have escalated to murder and taken another victim, the Crown believed Baltovich to be a “spurned lover” who killed Miss Bain, and he spent the next 8 years in jail.
Reading about these men and hearing their testimonies shook my belief system just as I had expected. Both of these men were wrongfully convicted due to tunnel-vision (which usually occurs because its easiest to blame those whom were intimately involved with the victim and therefore is less work for the Crown, or because the cop on the case has emotional investment in what they believe to be the truth) This means that in both cases, the victims were categorized as abused and, in the case of Baltovich, killed. Had it not been for our CJS’ tendency to prioritize acts of violence against women and believe those who claimed to be victims, these men could have lived their whole lives in the free world, instead of in incarceration.
So, maybe our institutional dependence on women’s rights is very much to blame for the years these men spent behind bars. The problem with this viewpoint is that our society’s support for abused women and their delegations of the men accused of abuse is often very beneficial to women. Some women do not even realize they're being abused until they’re hit 3, 4, 5, times. Others realize the minute they are belittled, smothered, or mocked. But either way, the minute a woman dials 9-1-1 after an instance of physical violence with their partner, the man is arrested and escorted to the cop shop on the spot, no matter how many times he claims she started it, or that she fell. Immediate action like this is necessary is for a number of reasons:
1) The women’s safety is at stake without law enforcement intervention
2) The abuser might have succeeded in convincing the victim that the abuse is ‘not that bad,’ that ‘she deserved it’ or that she is not being abused at all.
3) 9 out of 10 times, this type of intervention circumstance is necessary for a woman to find the courage to leave an abusive relationship.
4) If ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was considered in the arrest of violent men, the men would be found innocent more often then not, not because they are innocent, but because a general characteristic of abusers is that they are amazingly persuasive liars, and often believe their own lies.
It is for these reasons that accusations of abuse are taken so very seriously by the authorities. Women in abusive situations frequently need all the help in the world to process what has happened to them, often dealing with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, such as nightmares, depression, bouts of anxiety, loss of concentration, low-self esteem, suicidal tendencies and alcoholism or addiction problems, just to name a few. Picture falling asleep for a while, a light,restless slumber, and waking up a few years later having no idea who the fuck you are or what you stand for. That’s what it’s like, seriously. So clearly, rights for women who have been violated or abused need protection, and it is the system's belief that immediate arrest after an act of physical abuse is the first step in offering support for women.

And I must say, they couldn’t be more right. One of the functions of law is to be a voice for those who are voiceless, fight back for those who can’t fight, and if anyone’s in the position, it is more often than not, the battered woman. So what do we do when our laws assertive, face-forward approach to abused woman put innocent men in jail because of the odd personality-afflicted, psychopathic women uses those rights to her sick advantage, as in Jamie Nielson’s case? What do we do when a innocent man spends 8 years locked up because the easy battered-women conclusion closes the case?

I’m writing this because I have no answers. The lecture left a bad taste in my mouth, as I wondered what can be done about such injustices. I’m still at a loss. Regardless, I think that pointing fingers to one cause is ineffective, because I think a number of factors make up a wrongful conviction. And though I’ll likely be a raving feminist until the day I die, I hope to slowly regain enough faith in women AND men and fight for humanity’s injustices, not just those with flowers below their waist.