Friday, April 27, 2007

Feminism 2.0


There have been a good few articles or TV programmes lately that highlight the stigma the the word "feminism" has among a surprisingly large number of girls and women. The tired old "I'm not a feminist, but" prefix that so many girls use without thinking pretty much sums it up. I certainly used it a good deal when I was a teenager, as did most of my female friends. It roughly translated as, "I'm not a whingeing do-gooder who wears an iron chastity belt and never has any fun, but..." Feminism was in need of a makeover for my generation, and I wonder if it has finally arrived.

Last week, Jessica Valenti of feministing.com wrote a piece for The Guardian - in manifesto format, no less - where she laid out some basic, immediate, obvious reasons why being a feminist is not only smart, but cool. She's even written a book about this, couching it in terms that teenage girls can relate to, which has got to be the most important age at which to educate about feminist values. With all the "hairy man-hater" (as Valenti puts it) stereotypes that abound about feminists, only the most mature, confident and self-possessed teenage girl is going to be able to stand up and call herself one. Once you're into your 20s and you've "found yourself" it's much easier to take a feminist stand on political and social issue just because it makes so much sense and has such a huge impact on your personal freedoms. But as a 16-year-old? Most girls at that age are too preoccupied with losing their virginity or getting their crush to notice them to question their self-respect.

Valenti says that she has "wanted to write the book I wish I'd read as a teenager" on why feminism matters to everyday life. I haven't read the book yet, but I intend to, and will post a review here when I do. I've got high hopes, but at the same time I'm ALL too aware of how difficult it is to get the average teen to take this kind of thing seriously and without labelling it as (a) boring, (b) stuffy,(c) irrelevant and, worst of all, (d) uncool. It's got to be presented so, so carefully, because even if a girl reads it and secretly agrees with what's written, if she thinks she'll get laughed at by showing it to her friends, she never ever will. And then the message will be lost. That's how fragile teen girl confidence is.

It may sound silly, but another reason that I think feminism may be getting slowly easier to sell to the younger generation is down to the likes of Beth Ditto. I have no idea how cool The Gossip are among high school kids in Britain, even less so among their North American counterparts, but the last time I glanced through a copy of NME in Borders, they were plastered all over it, so I imagine they must be somewhat popular among people under the age of 21.

During the reign of the Spice Girls and their so-called Girl Power, how likely were we to see someone like Ditto - an overweight lesbian from a poor single-parent upbringing - actually managing to make it in mainstream pop? That's right, n.e.v.e.r. Don't ask me what has changed since, but the fact that Ditto (or the Scissor Sisters' lovely matriarch Ana Matronic, for that matter) is right there in the face of every kid who watches Popworld or CD:UK sends out a huge, screaming message to girls that it's okay to be different - people will still like and respect you in a way that a well-meaning school counsellor wouldn't have a prayer of achieving*. And speaking of counselling, Ditto has just launched her own fortnightly advice column in G2. A pity it's not in CosmoGirl or Heat or any other of those poisonous beauty/celeb rags aimed at teen girls, but it's a start nonetheless.

* It might not sound like feminism in itself, but it's an important step towards girls being able to stand up for who they are and question unthinking conformity. Once you have that, it's a lot easier to be confident enough to start standing up for other girls who are also struggling with questions of personal identity and freedoms. And then, hey presto, you can call yourself a feminist. With bells on.

Oh for god's sake

This is ridiculous, I haven't posted here for ages. And the sad thing is, it's not because I'm especially busy. It's because I've finally given up and joined Facebook. And let me tell you, it's more addictive than crack. I've always had a bit of a voyeur streak in me, and if there's anything more voyeuristic than reading someone's (semi) private thoughts on a blog, it's discovering people you haven't seen in nearly 20 years and seeing what they look like now, where they live, and just about everything else you could imagine. The really sad thing is that I haven't actually contacted any of them, nor do I remotely intend to. Because, hey, if I had wanted to keep in touch, I already would have, right? Even worse are the jocks from high school who never gave me the time of day 10 years ago and who now suddenly want to "add me to their friend list", presumably to make it seem like they have more friends than anyone else. Plus ├ža change! It's all very teen-tastic and I feel way too old for it, but.....but........ I CAN'T LOOK AWAY. People I had forgot even existed are on there, and I truly don't know why I care, but it's just fascinating.

Anyway. Will try to talk about something adult for a change. Feminism anyone? New post coming right up.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Quebec

First up, Quebec's recent elections. Held on Monday March 26, the provincial elections were viewed with a fair amount of dread by Quebec's ever-shrinking Anglo population, and with good reason.

The Liberals, who have only held office in Quebec since April 2003 after nearly a decade of the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois (PQ), are at an all-time low in terms of popularity in Quebec for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is, of course, the fallout from the federal sponsorship scandal, but voters were also disenchanted with the Liberals' seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward Quebec politics - after a brief period of being vocal about local issues like One Island One City, once they had been voted in, the Quebec Liberals seemed to all but disappear behind their desks. Oh, and let's not forget the small fact that their leader, Jean Charest, is actually a Tory in disguise.

Add all this to the fact that the federal-level Liberal Party lost to the Conservatives in Canada's general elections in Janaury 2006, and things were looking pretty dire for the Libs in La Belle Province. Except, of course, that a Liberal loss in Quebec would have one serious side-effect that a federal-level loss would not: a win for the PQ.

With the tide of public opinion moving against the Liberals, and the advent of a charismatic young (and it has to be said, hot) new leader for the PQ in the shape of Andre Boisclair, things were looking better for the PQ than they had in years. This newfound confidence had allowed Boisclair to abandon his predecessor's policy of building up the economy and "listening to Quebecers' needs" before aiming for independence at a later date; the new PQ leadership said that as soon as the party was in power, they would immediately hold a new referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Given that they lost the last one by just over a percentage point, it wasn't unthinkable that they could actually win this time around.

Except they didn't. March 26 came and went, and while everbody expected the winner to only have a minority government, nobody predicted the surprise success of the ADQ. The Liberals remain in power with 48 elected National Assembly members, but the ADQ - Quebec's "third party", only in existence since the mid 90s - managed to trump the PQ by winning 41 seats in the National Assembly to become the official opposition. Meanwhile, the PQ limped home with just 36 seats. How the hell did that happen?

Simple, really. It seems that for all the media hysterics (anglo media, no doubt) saying that everything was going to come crashing down and that the sovereignty movement was going to bring about yet more economic uncertainty, most Quebecers still realise that the best deal they are going to get is through a stable, united Canada. Particularly one that now officially recognises Quebec nationhood. Do Quebecers still hate the Liberals? Of course they do, which is why they decided to give them a fright through an ADQ protest vote. The ADQ, by the way, is a sort of right-wing PQ-lite; a nationalist party that originally campaigned on a sovereignty platform but is now content to put that goal on the back-burner indefinitely while it pushes conservative economic policies.

A vote for the Quebec Libs in their present form is often done out of necessity (even my own mother, stalwart anti-pequiste that she is, says she would gladly vote for the PQ were it not for the whole sovereignty issue, as they are the closest thing to a democratic socialist party there is in Quebec). Still, enough people have voted them in to ensure another few years of relative stability stability in Quebec, or as much stability as there can be with such a weak minority government. Come the next provincial election, however, the whole sorry affair will start up again. One thing that could, I think, help to reduce such uncertainty is for the Liberals to get a new leader. Charest has been leader of the Quebec Liberals since 1998, but before that, he headed up the then Progressive Conservatives at the federal level in Ottawa. He was drafted in to lead the Liberals in Quebec simply because there was a dearth of other candidates. Nearly ten years on, it seems that this is still the case. Can there really be no one in the province who is impassioned and experienced enough to take on the job?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Catching Up

Goodness but it's been a busy few weeks. It seems there's a ton to catch up on, so please be patient while I work my way through a few essential posting topics... I promise you won't regret it!