Archive for June, 2007

SMCR – The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

I’m attending a three-day scientific conference on Menstrual Cycle Research out at the University of British Columbia. I’m volunteering, of course, because then I can get in for free. The big topic, of course, is menstrual suppression, but there’s papers and studies being presented on all sorts of related topics, including fertility awareness, menopause, and so on. Lots of interesting stuff. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been surrounded by a bunch of PhDs who are all experts on a topic I actually know a heck of a lot about, and it’s quite exciting to get to hear a lot of high-level discussion of the issues.

I’ll be writing a couple of posts on my palm as I go along and posting them here when I’m done. Today was the opening day of the conference, and I recognize the structure, so familiar to me now from Kim Stanley Robinson’s descriptions in the Red Mars series (he has a love affair with scientific conferences and writes about them in most of his books). There was an opening plenary and a welcome from a local Musqueam elder, and then some breakout sessions. I chose the menstrual cycle topics one, and of the papers presented today, a couple had some interesting insights. One rather large and over-reported study (two groups gave talks on the same set of research data), was, unfortunately, very poorly designed, so they didn’t really get any useful data. What a waste!

They questioned women on their contraceptive usage and their menstrual product usage, and interestingly they included as the only fertility awareness-type option, the rhythm method! Unbelievable, and many in the audience were quick to point out that “the rhythm method” is an outdated term for a very poor form of natural birth control based on the calendar, quite unrelated to the modern practice of sympto-thermal charting which has an incredible success rate.
Anyway, I’ll post more about the conference soon.

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My Journey to Feminism, part 1

When I was young I was brought up with the general idea that that whole sexism thing was over and done with and we didn’t need to worry about it anymore. This left me pretty unprepared for and ill-equipped to deal with the misogyny inherent in North American popular culture. Every time I ran up against sexism I just chalked it up to some kind of bizarre holdover from a previous era, and thought that likely the person just didn’t realize what they were saying or hadn’t meant it or that they were isolated in their sexist beliefs.

Like many young women of my generation I was indoctrinated by my peers and by the social atmosphere of schooling into believing that “feminist” was practically a dirty word and an insult. This wasn’t entirely conscious, but I do remember being tauntingly asked if I was one of those feminists and defensively declaiming the possibility; “Me? No! Of course not… I just believe that… *insert blatantly feminist belief here*.”

I was raised by two parents who took a mostly egalitarian (and in fact feminist, though they wouldn’t have called it that) view of gender relationships.

In our household and on the farm we lived on, my mother did the things she was good at and enjoyed, like gardening, cooking, mowing, irrigation, fruit picking, canning, preserving, childrearing, sewing, and knitting (she’s an incredibly talented knitter and sewer).

My father did the things he was good at and enjoyed, like chopping firewood, fruit picking, cooking, car repair, vacuuming, dusting, childrearing, pruning, and plumbing.

The necessary tasks that nobody enjoyed, like dishes, were split relatively evenly (though perhaps a little heavily on my mother’s side, because hey I’m not trying to pretend I lived in a feminist utopia). The most important thing in all of this is that I never got the idea from them that things were divided up the way they were because that was the way it had to be. While it’s true that many of my parents tasks were divided along traditionally gendered lines, they never communicated to me that this was why they were divided that way.

Then I went out into the so-called “real” world.

And you know, it wasn’t quite the egalitarian utopia I’d been brought up to expect. I met people with such complicated ideas of gender relations that I felt completely out of place and confused. Why on earth should this or that be true of me just because I am biologically female? It made no sense. But because I wasn’t brought up with the language of feminism I didn’t even have the tools to express what I was experiencing.

For example, when I was in a relationship with a man who insisted that having sex at a certain frequency (defined by him) was pretty much his right and my responsibility, I couldn’t figure out how to express what was so wrong about that. The thing is, when he wasn’t bullying me about his sexual needs and actually acted in ways more in keeping with his ideals (which were definitely proto-feminist, though he preferred the term “egalitarian”), neither could he. Yet, at some level, we both knew that it there was something wrong with that dynamic, even if we couldn’t express it or figure it out.

No amount of discomfort stopped the bullying from going on, of course, though only for a couple of months because I broke up with him soon after that began. It occurs to me now that the hardest bits of privilege for men to let go of sometimes seem to be the ones related to being able to treat sex with women as an inherent manly right. Frankly, coerced sex with a less-than-willing partner certainly seems pretty unattractive to me. Perhaps it is only in comparison to the perceived possibility of no sex at all that this sounds good.

I’ll leave the journey here at the point of confused non-comprehension, because after all, it’s late, and I do have work tomorrow. But I promise promise promise (mainly to myself) to continue this very soon indeed.

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It happened then, why is it still happening now?

So I was catching up on my blog reading after a couple of busy weeks when I ran across this post: Lord of the flies, over at I blame the patriarchy. Yeah, too true.

I remember all too well the near constant sexual harrassment that I and others endured at high school. In the course of my grade 8 and grade 9 years (I was aged 12-14 at this time) I endured the following:

  • being touched and grabbed on the bum and the breast by boys I hadn’t invited to touch me there, who were touching me only to humiliate me and make me feel bad and to assert their own power;
  • having signs posted on my back in classes and in the hallways, the most memorable of which read, “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”;
  • general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that by god I had *breasts* (A-cup, fer gawd’s sakes) and my breasts *moved* when I walked or ran (like any other normal part of my body), also, if I wore a bra, that I was wearing a *bra* and this meant that I was all ready for sex (hmm, might this have something to do with my dislike of bras? other than the uncomfortableness, of course);
  • general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that I was wearing a menstrual pad and they could see that through my clothing and did I like having something touching me “down there”;
  • general rude unsolicited suggestions that what I really needed was a good fuck, or to suck them, and that would make me happy; and so on.

At the time I walked around in a state of near-constant baffled suppressed rage, ignoring everybody and jumping down everybody’s throat (whether they were nice or not) if they tried to talk to me, because they might just be pretending to be nice so they could get close enough to harrass me some more, as happened when I started receiving “love notes” from a boy, and then a phone call at home which quickly turned to “You have great tits.” and similar not particularly complimentary comments. However true that might have been (and fer gawd’s sakes, I was 13 and had not much in the way of breasts one way or another), it was still unwelcome, and the choice of language used didn’t portend respect or hope for a relationship. I just hung up, and then endured being teased about how so-and-so “liked” me and I was mean not to go out with him for the next two weeks.

I didn’t tell my parents about much of this because I knew that even though they loved me fiercely they were ineffectual on the topic of bullying, having both been bullied as kids themselves, and knowing about my bullying just brought that back for them. Their saddened advice was always just to ignore them and not give them the satisfaction and eventually they’d go away. But this didn’t address the fact that a) it was impossible to really ignore them when they were touching me without somehow giving them tacit permission to do so, b) I didn’t really know and neither, I think, did they what ignoring them really meant (not reacting outwardly? not hearing them at all? walking right past them when they’re taunting you? avoiding the places where they would be and where the harrassment would occur?) and c) ignoring them didn’t work and they didn’t go away. They just tried harder and harder to get a reaction to know that they’d won.

In fact, in putting the pieces together now from a more educated feminist perspective, my weirdness and antisociality in high school is pretty understandable. And you know? I wasn’t over-reacting, or making much of something that didn’t matter. It mattered. It matters now and it’s still happening. The more I learn the more I get actually seriously angry. But it’s a very freeing anger. The anger of my teenage years was often anger at myself for doing something wrong that made the harrassment happen, or for not being able to make it stop, which is a very hard anger to live with.

I just want to add to all of this, perhaps defensively (I acknowledge), please don’t comment with some dismissive comment about how you would have done this or that or the other and the situation would have disappeared *poof* and that’s what I should have done. You know, when I was a shy, lonely, harassed 12-14-year-old. I get that there are reasons I was harrassed more than some people and was more sensitive to it (or perhaps the word is “conscious”) but that doesn’t make it my fault, or okay. The idea that every young woman has to have superior harrassment-evasion techniques mastered by the age of 12 or she deserves what she gets is ridiculous and only comes out of the fact that we take it for granted that young men will sexually harrass them, as unpredictably but inevitably as the rain. This attitude releases them from all responsibility.

*deep breath*

Also, boys, I would just like to give you this gift when wading into feminist arenas/debates/spaces. It will serve you well. Just remember the following: If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.

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