t March 2007 | sh C. K. Kelly Martin o

I recently read a young adult author's blog where the author mentioned receiving an irate letter from a mother. The mother explained that her daughter had been reading and enjoying said author's books until she encountered the F-word in one and offended, stopped reading. The mother said that in their household they never use the F-word and that in doing so the author chose incorrectly. Further, she notes that the author's books may have some redeeming value - "but at what cost?"

This raises so many issues that I don't know where to start…perhaps by pondering why the F-word is objectionable when society appears to overlook so much other offensive material. Not long ago I linked to an article where Lily Allen criticized MTV for banning one of her videos for containing the very word that so upset the mother mentioned above. Allen said: "They (MTV) said, 'We don't want kids to grow up too quickly,' but then you have Paris Hilton and the Pussycat Dolls taking their clothes off and gyrating up against womanizing men, and that's acceptable."

But perhaps this particular mother isn't just targeting the F-word and is equally upset about the hyper-sexual portrayal of girls and women in music videos and other media, of videogame violence and unsavoury internet activities. Who knows? Either way, to sum up that the author chose wrongly because of one word is simplistic. As a writer, to back away from that word (or any other) when a situation calls for it is dishonest. When reading and writing realistic fiction we're all going to encounter situations and language we don't like. It doesn't necessarily mean the author approves of a given character's language or actions but there's not much point writing realistic fiction if you're not aiming to capture some truth.

However we may try to shield them from it, children are being exposed to ever more sex and violence in the media, at younger and younger ages. Girls are even going through puberty younger (an average of one to two years earlier than they did 30 years ago). Young people need writing that addresses their social situations (for better or for worse), to help them critically reflect on their own lives and choices. Can this be accomplished without the F-word? Sure…sometimes. But if a tough as nails angry young woman character stubs her toe after experiencing the worst Monday morning of her life the first word out of her mouth may not be "fudge" or "sugar." May not be. Maybe she prides herself on holding her tongue or…well, the rationales are endless but they're not going to work for every character, in every situation.

Writing realistic teen fiction means that some characters will swear, have one night stands, help build houses for Habitat For Humanity, deal drugs, score a scholarship to Oxford. In some cases this could even be the same person but the minute a character who would, in reality, swear doesn't the reader has cause to question the veracity of the world the author has created. Hold back on too many fronts (repeatedly avoiding undesirable language and situations) and the entire novel may crumble under the weight of its apprehensions, at which point the work is of no use to anyone.

As you can imagine, the author remarked that it was unfortunate a reader felt this way but that it wouldn't change the way he/she wrote. Perhaps the disapproving mother will find other F-word free material for her daughter but in excluding this particular writer's books from her reading list she will be missing out on many ultimately positive novels which have tackled weighty issues like sexual assault, teen pregnancy and domestic abuse with great sensitivity and insight. Apparently that's the price of indiscriminately avoiding a certain four letter word.
The recent Conservative government disbanding of an expert group on climate change plays like a déjà vu. The Climate Change Policy Directorate, once in charge of overseeing all new climate-change policy and co-ordinating climate-change efforts among different government departments, has gone up in a cloud of smoke, much like equality's disappearance from the Status of Women Canada mandate. At that time the Tories reminded us that “the problems of women are well known through myriad reports and research projects.” Of course, this is undoubtedly true of environmental issues too - and whatever research continues to be done is being handled by “a very small handful of people under the direct supervision of (the Privy Council Office) and PMO.”

Stephen Harper does like to keep his eyes on things, doesn't he. Funny that many of his new green measures were “already in place under the previous Liberal government” and were designed in large part by the defunct Climate Change Policy Directorate. Stéphane Dion said “even Wednesday's announcement was a rehash of a plan to create a $200 million Pierre Elliott Trudeau Nature Conservation Foundation when he was environment minister.”

Apparently some Environment Canada bureaucrats have complained that they no longer know who's responsible for climate change policy. But isn't the Harper government's recycling of old Liberal policies the ultimate in green? Maybe that secret ops group of researchers operating under Harper's keen gaze isn't even necessary.

I hope the Tories are at least planning to send the Liberal's a thank you card for all their legwork. In the meantime, Status of Women Minister Bev Oda will be leading an effort to bake the boys cookies and iron shirts. So ladies, don't go thinking the Conservatives don't appreciate your contribution to society.
Blog Against Sexism!“You throw like a girl.”

“You're acting like a pussy.”

These are never compliments, are they? Comments like the above are seemingly the most innocuous forms of sexism but they illustrate and perpetuate the sexism rampant in our society - in fact, worldwide. Here in Canada 189 people recently purchased a men's T-shirt that proclaimed "No means have aNOther drink" before complaints to retailer Bluenotes led the company to pull it from the shelves. That's 189 people who consider the anti-sexual assault slogan "No Means No" something to joke about. It's just a T-shirt, some people have said. T-shirts don't hurt people. Words don't hurt people. But of course they do.

Domestic and sexual violence, street harassment, genital mutilation, the wage gap between genders, the lack of women in political power in most countries, the objectification of women and girls in the media - none of these occur in a vacuum. They're the result of a society that devalues women. In one of its most extreme forms, sexism robs women's lives before they've even begun. According to Amnesty International over 60 million women "are 'missing' from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide." 70% of the world's 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty are women and girls. At the same time 66% of the world's working hours are worked by women and only 16% of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women. (figures from Unesco).

Even in an industrialized and developed country like Canada, women only earn an average of 77% of what men do. Recent research on Canadian university and college campuses found between 16 - 35% of women surveyed had experienced at least one physical or sexual assault by a boyfriend in the past year. Approximately 45% had been sexually abused since leaving high school. Government statistics indicate that 50% of Canadian women surveyed have survived at least one incident of sexual or physical violence in their lives. Violence against women is a global crisis.

Meanwhile media images that sexualize girls and women have a negative impact on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image and lead to eating disorders and mental health problems including depression. (American Psychological Association report on the sexualization of girls, 2007) These same images also damage boys and young men by teaching them to be violent and preventing them from forming genuine friendships with girls and women. The intense pressure to conform to media messages in music, video games, magazines and internet pornography doesn't allow children of either gender to be themselves, instead offering a script of dominance and submission through strictly defined gender roles. With these hyper-sexualized images creeping into more aspects of life than ever before it's impossible to say that children are not being affected.

We need to make a concentrated effort to fight sexism in all its forms by raising awareness and standing up against sexism wherever we encounter it, including calling people on their disparaging comments and sexist jokes. Women's rights are human rights. No means no. And women and girls are entirely capable of having a terrific pitching arm.


Gender Equality Resources

Human Rights Organizations

Stop The Traffik

Amnesty International

Unifem

Human Rights Watch

Equality Now

Feminist Majority Foundation

Domestic & Sexual Violence

Break The Cycle

Teens Against Abuse

See It And Stop It

RAINN: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

Rape Crisis U.K.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

One in Four (Ireland)

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres

SAFER - students active for ending rape

 Children's Help Organizations

 Childline U.K.

Childline Ireland

Kids Help Phone Canada

Kids Help Australia

Kids Help U.S.

Media Representation

See Jane

Object

Media Awareness Network

MediaWise

Women In Media & News

Media Education Foundation

Female Activism

Girls Speak Out

All Girl Army

Girls For Gender Equality, Inc

Shameless Magazine

National Organization For Women

Canadian Women's Foundation

Ms. Magazine

Women Against Violence Against Women

TeenVoices Online

Men Against Violence & Sexism

Men Stopping Violence

XY: Men, Masculinities, and Gender Politics

National Organization For Men Against Sexism

White Ribbon Canada

White Ribbon U.K.

Men Can Stop Rape

One in Four USA

Dads and Daughters

Sexuality 

Sex etc.

Spiderbytes

Scarleteen

Sexuality and U

Feminist Women's Health Centre
It's British Isles show time, which means today we loaded our shopping bags down with scones, Tayto crisps (wuster is my new favourite flavour), McVities Penguins, fern tarts, Polo mints etc. Fiz from Coronation Street signed autographs, kilted men wandered freely, heirlooms and antiques were appraised, Irish, Welsh and Scottish dancers took to the stage and one of the singers serenaded a Prince William look-a-like with a rendition of Candle in the Wind. Yes, at times it was bizarre and much of the appeal was calorie laden but I swear I'm done eating for the day.

Are you being served?

Fish & Chips

British eats & treats

'Fiz' gives autographs

Triumph

BBC



Union Jacks