The Problem With “I Don’t Want to Get Political”

“I don’t want to get political.”

I hear this statement every now and again, and under varying types of contexts. Sometimes it’s an attempt to distance oneself from what they’re about to say: “I don’t like to get political, but this really bothers me.” In other words, they’re saying: I’m not a political person. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not some angry, man-hating SJW or anything like that – it’s just this one particular subject that bothers me enough to make me say something.

Sometimes it’s an attempt to silence people: “I’m tired of hearing about politics all the time”, as though we aren’t all tired of talking about politics all the time. Trust me, if we could stop, if we could feel sufficiently like we’d been heard and the battle was over and things were fine, then you would stop hearing about it. But until then, the conversation continues.

And I get where the “I don’t want to get political” opinion comes from, I do: it’s a desire to not want to get involved, because getting involved is heavy and difficult and undesirable. It’s undesirable for everyone, trust me, I know. I am involved, so I know firsthand how tiring the whole thing can be. And you’d think that my knowing that would make me more forgiving toward people who “don’t want to get political”, and yet every time that I see this statement, it irritates me. It makes me want to say something.

There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1 – saying “I don’t want to get political” comes from a huge place of privilege.

And, I know, I know: a good chunk of my readership just tuned out at the word “privilege”, but please, hear me out.

For many of us, getting political isn’t really something that we can choose. It’s something that follows us around, whether we want it to or not.

A woman is forced to “get political” every time that she speaks out against her sexual assault or harassment.

A person of colour is forced to “get political” every time they get profiled at the mall, or some random person on the bus starts throwing racial slurs at them.

A queer person is forced to “get political” every time they get dressed in the morning, or check out someone cute.

If you don’t quite understand what I mean by this, I think a good example would be the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which stars a cast of drag queens and has discussed many political issues, including homophobia, H.I.V., and hate crime violence. When asked if the show was intentionally given overt political messaging, show host RuPaul Charles responded by saying, “It’s inherent in our experience. We don’t have to do much to infuse a consciousness into the show. It is such a part of our story, and we walk with it.”

For many of us, we don’t even have to try to become political. We just… walk with it.

If someone gets to choose whether or not to “get political”, then the only reason they have that choice is because the experience that they live with is so normalized and accepted by society that it isn’t even considered political anymore. It just… is. They aren’t considered a sexual orientation – they’re just the norm. They aren’t considered a race – they’re just the norm. They don’t have to fight for their rights or equality – they’re just accepted and free as they are. They don’t have to worry about “getting political”, because nothing “political” affects them.

Except, everything is political, which brings me to reason 2 for why this statement bothers me.

When a person says, “I don’t want to get political”, they are still making a political statement. They have not excused themselves from the conversation altogether. But rather than taking the opportunity to side with either the bully or the victim, they have decided to take the safer route – they have become the bystander.

“Political” issues continue to happen. They just happen without any involvement from those who “don’t want to get political”. And if the bystanders are doing nothing, just standing back and watching, then the bullies continue to feel validated in what they are doing. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Nobody’s trying to stop them.

And when nobody tries to stop them, then that sends a political message, even if the message was unintentional.

And I’m pretty sure that, the majority of the time, the message is unintentional. I don’t think that the majority of people who “don’t want to get political” are trying to be dismissive of other experiences, I think they just don’t understand. They don’t realize that they are speaking from a place of privilege, that even if something doesn’t directly affect them, it still affects other people in a huge way. But I think that this is a conversation that we need to have. Just because someone “doesn’t want to get political”, that doesn’t mean that they are exempt from the conversation.

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The Complicated Reason Why I Am Pro-Choice

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has recently become the subject of controversy when it comes to some of his comments on abortion.

At a town hall event in Hamilton, Ontario, Trudeau was asked about the issue, and how it connected to free speech. In response, Trudeau said, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

This statement has even been subject to criticism from the United States, where the issue of abortion is even more controversial than it is in Canada. Trudeau has received such responses as, “this man is reprehensible” from former White House staffer Sebastian Gorka.

But the thing is, I sort of agree with Trudeau. In fact, as a Canadian myself, and as a feminist, I’m actually proud of my prime minister for this.

I am pro-choice. This does not necessarily mean that I am pro-abortion. This does not mean that I hate babies, or that I want all babies to die. What it does mean is that I recognize that abortion is not a simple, good-or-evil issue. I recognize that there are many, many reasons for why a woman might want to have an abortion, and that I do not have the right to make that decision for her.

One issue that we have in our society is that we don’t seem to understand who is actually having abortions. The image that we hold onto is of a frightened teenage girl, making rash decisions that she might later regret, or women like Pennsatucky from the show “Orange is the New Black” who use abortion as a form of birth control. This, however, does not at all reflect the reality of what is going on.

Only 12 percent of abortion patients in the United States are teenagers. The majority of women who are getting abortions (60 percent) are actually in their 20s, and 59 percent already have at least one child. And as much as we commonly accept this myth that women will regret their abortions, this is just a myth – 95 percent of women do not regret their decision to terminate their pregnancies.

So why do women choose to get an abortion, if it isn’t because they’re scared teenagers or because they don’t want to be mothers? Well, the most common reason that women give for wanting an abortion is related to finances. Almost half of abortion patients live under the poverty line, and more than a quarter are within 200 percent of the poverty line. Quite frankly, these are often women who cannot afford to have another child.

And for those of you asking why they don’t just give the baby up for adoption: merely carrying a baby to term and giving birth to it is expensive, especially in the United States, where abortion continues to be a hot-button issue. For a natural birth, an American woman is billed around $30,000 on average, while a Caesarean section can cost around $50,000. An abortion, on the other hand, can cost anywhere between $0 to $3,275 (a medical abortion also tends to be safer than childbirth). It isn’t difficult to see why a woman living under or close to the poverty line would choose an abortion.

Take note, pro-lifers: if you really want to deter women from getting abortions, you first need to deal with your healthcare system.

Because merely restricting a woman’s access to an abortion is forcing a woman to make one of two choices: she can give birth to and even raise a child that she does not have the means to take proper care of, or she can resort to an unsafe abortion. Because, here’s the thing: if a woman has decided, with absolute certainty, that she needs an abortion, then she will get an abortion. Whether or not that abortion is done in safe conditions is up to the legal system.

There are approximately 25 million unsafe abortions performed annually, the vast majority of which are performed in countries where women’s access to safe abortions is restricted. Each year, between 4.7 percent to 13.2 percent of maternal deaths are attributed to unsafe abortion. Medical abortions, on the other hand, kill 1 in every 15,000 women.

And I do not at all mean to imply that, if a woman chooses to have an abortion for any reason besides a financial reason, then it is invalid. In my opinion, there are many valid reasons to want an abortion, including mental health, physical health, the pregnancy being the result of a rape, or quite simply not being prepared for the responsibility of carrying a human being to term and/or raising it afterwards.

All that I am trying to say here is that abortion is a complicated issue. And I cannot be the one to make a blanketed decision for every woman in my country regarding what she can do with her body and her life. And if I tried to make that decision, it could come with massive costs towards women’s health and quality of life.

Being pro-choice involves trusting that women are capable of making difficult decisions for themselves. It involves thinking of women as rational, intelligent beings with autonomy. And I like to think that we are getting to a place in society where we are doing this. As Trudeau said, “women have fought for generations for the right to control their own bodies, to be able to choose for themselves what to do with their bodies.” Being pro-choice is not about hating babies, or condoning murder (something which is an interesting discussion in and of itself, although I might point out that most scientists do not believe that a fertilized egg necessarily constitutes human life). Being pro-choice is about just that: choice. For every single woman out there.

If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one. Just don’t endanger other lives by telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. And don’t judge a woman who’s life you do not understand.

Why White Pride Does Not Exist

I am white. I am a white person, with white parents, and I spent my teenage years in a town that was predominately white.

And as a white person, I am here to tell something to my fellow white people: white pride does not exist.

But let’s backtrack a little bit here: why am I saying this? Well, there’s this idea that I have seen tossed around from time to time, on social media sites and the like, that states that white people should be allowed to go out and express their pride for being white.

When this opinion is raised, I often see it equated to other varieties of racial pride, most predominately, black pride. Black people in America are, to a certain degree, allowed to express their pride in their own race, through such methods as art, fashion, and music. And, in response, some white people have gone out and said, “well, why can’t I do that too?”

And in answer to these question, there have been some who say, “because that isn’t simple pride in being white. That is white supremacy.”

And yet, from what I’ve seen on certain social media sites, I’m pretty sure that there are many white people who still do not understand why they cannot be proud of being white, or why being proud automatically equates to white supremacy.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being white, right? Your race isn’t really one of those things that you can control, and nobody should ever feel self-conscious about the way that they were born, regardless of who they are. So if that’s the case, then what’s wrong with being proud of who you are? What’s wrong with learning about and cultivating your cultural background?

Well, there are a few points that I can talk about here, and most of them involve comparing what black pride is as opposed to white pride.

First of all, what is black pride? Why did it start? Well, to put it quite simply, black pride began in the United States as “a direct response to white racism especially during the Civil Rights Movement”. In other words, black pride was born out of a society that told people that it wasn’t okay to be black. Its intention is to regain power that was taken away, to empower people who were made to feel like they weren’t cared for or wanted. In that way, the black pride movement is similar to such things as the gay pride parade (something which has similarly made straight people wonder where their pride parade is).

So one of the many, many problems with white pride is the same problem that arises with this idea of the ‘straight pride parade’: white people are not being told that they are wrong or lesser than because of their race. In fact, ‘whiteness’ is simply considered the default in North America: the majority of our most successful celebrities and politicians are white, black people face a certain level of hiring bias, and even despite that, black people tend to be paid less than their white counterparts. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way that white privilege affects us all.

So, essentially, what I’m getting at here is, black pride is a reaction against racism toward black people. White pride is a reaction against nothing, except for black pride. This might be part of the reason why so many people point at white pride as being, in and of itself, racist. The way that this idea of white pride has come about is not, quite simply, pride in being white; it is pride in being not black, or not Asian, or, quite simply, not a person of colour.

But, again, we are returning to this question of, what is wrong with being proud of who you are? I mean, so long as you aren’t being a jerk about it, why can’t you be proud of your cultural heritage?

Well, the thing is – you can.

Black pride is, by nature, a very different creature from white pride, because the history of black people in America is very, very different from the history of white people in America.

I’m going to assume that the majority of readers here have at least a passing knowledge of the history of slavery in America. This history is extensive and it continues to affect us, even to this day, but what I specifically want to focus on right now is that this history means that many black people were, quite literally, kidnapped from their country of origin and forced to come to America. Because of this, there are many black people living today who have no idea where their ancestors originated from. They might have a general idea of somewhere in Africa, but which part of Africa? What is their cultural heritage? What practices did their ancestors engage in? It’s really difficult to know for sure, when white slave owners quite literally forced their ancestors to forget these practices.

As a result, many African American people do not have a cultural history outside of America. They have the black culture that has been created in America since the end of slavery. That is all.

Not that I, the white woman, can speak for every African American person, but from what I have observed, I gather that black pride is mostly about two things: it is about reclaiming pride in a skin colour that their society tells them that they are lesser for, but it is also about a pride in their culture. For most white people, on the other hand, white pride is about nothing more than pride in their skin colour – a skin colour that they are, in fact, privileged for.

Because, the thing is, most white people know where their ancestors come from. They know the culture that their ancestors practiced, and because they have that knowledge, they can continue learning about it and practicing it and being proud of it.

White pride might not exist, but national pride does.

You can be proud of being British, or French, or Italian, or whatever the case may be. That is allowed, and I sincerely hope that pride in that culture is what many people who are seeking white pride are actually looking for. But pride in whiteness, in and of itself, is an entirely different matter. That is not a pride of culture or heritage; that is a pride of not being a person of colour. And nobody should ever be proud to not be someone else, because that sends the message that there is something wrong with the other person in question.

And there is nothing wrong with us, no matter the colour of our skin.

Me Too: Our Own Role in Upholding Rape Culture

We should live in a world where survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment feel comfortable coming forward, whether they are male or female.

We should live in a world where women (and, in some cases, men) can write “me too” on social media, and everyone behind their computers reads that and doesn’t judge them for that, but rather realizes that this is a huge societal issue that needs to stop.

And we should also live in a world where this doesn’t stop there.

I do believe that the “me too” campaign was, in fact, a good idea, because I think that there are many people out there (and men in particular) who don’t seem to fully grasp just how much of an issue this is for women or femme people.

In the past, I have told men about my experiences being catcalled, to which they responded by saying, “what! Why didn’t you call the police?” Because, what am I going to do? Call the police every time that happens? And, besides, it’s not like the police are going to be able to do anything; there are no laws against harassing a woman on the street.

In the past, I have had female friends cancel plans because they happened to take place in a sketchy area, where rapes were often reported, and my male friends responded by saying, “I don’t know what they’re so upset about! It would have been a good time, if they weren’t so sensitive.”

And I think we have all heard about that guy, the one who gets mad at a girl who won’t go home with him even though they just met, and rationalizes his anger by saying, “what? Does she think all men are rapists?”

No. Nobody thinks all men are rapists. But the thing is, women are taught to fear all men as potential rapists, at least until they get to know them well enough to let that fear subside. And I don’t really think that’s something that the average man tends to understand. In fact, almost worse, when certain men do start to see this in women, they don’t see it as a societal problem, but as a problem with the woman herself. She‘s too sensitive, she’s being judgemental.

He forgets that, if she were raped, then people would ask her why she didn’t take measures to prevent it; clearly, she must have secretly wanted it if she was in that place, with that man, wearing that outfit.

The thing about the “me too” campaign is that it’s all well and good to be aware that there’s a problem, but most women are aware, because we live it everyday. We know what it’s like to leave the house and need to walk with headphones in so that nobody mistakes us for wanting to chat, adopting our resting bitch face and staring straight ahead so that we get left alone. Women know what it’s like to tense up when a man walks too close behind us, to have a plan for what we’ll do if he tries to grope us.

For the most part, women know that there is a problem. And while there are some men out there who are also aware, who will be there for their female friends if another man crosses the line, there do need to be more men out there doing something about it.

And I don’t just mean being there for your female friend who got a little too drunk and is now being eyed by several creeps in the bar – although, don’t get me wrong, you should definitely do that too.

I’m talking about thinking back to every time that we might have been told “I don’t know” and interpreted that to mean, “yes”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when we touched or kissed someone that didn’t want to be touched or kissed, all in the name of “going for it”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when the one we were pursuing said, in no uncertain terms, “no”, and we figured that all we had to do was keep trying, keep making gestures, keep making them feel guilty and uncertain, because sooner or later, we’d win them over.

And I’m not necessarily trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they have engaged in this behaviour; all that I am trying to say is that rape culture is part of our culture, and there are many who aren’t even aware of it. Maybe we thought that we were being romantic at the time, because society has given us this narrative that this behaviour is romantic. But it is behaviour that we need to question. Because if the “me too” campaign has taught us anything, it is that this behaviour is common and it is harmful.

And if this behaviour is going to stop, then we all need to question it. Every single one of us.

Women cannot end the issue of sexual assault and harassment alone.

So let’s not allow the “me too” campaign to end with survivors sharing their stories and that’s it. Let’s actually open up this discussion. Let’s take a close look at what rape culture is, because the amount of people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment proves that this is not only being done by a few outlier creeps who nobody knows or speaks to by choice; this is a massive, societal problem. This is the result of a society that excuses and normalizes rape. That says that it’s perfectly romantic if we never give up on the person who has turned us down already, because they have to say yes eventually. That says that women who are flirtatious, or wearing a certain outfit, or going to a certain place, have already given their consent to whatever the other party wants. That says that men cannot be sexually assaulted, because they clearly want sex all the time.

And as uncomfortable as it might be to look at ourselves and our own behaviour, it is something that we need to do right now. Because we cannot control whether other people change or not, but we do have control over our own change. And if the “me too” campaign succeeds in little more than making a few people critically question their own role in upholding rape culture, then it will be worth it.

The Objectification of Men

Recently, Suistudio launched the campaign #NOTDRESSINGMEN in order to advertise their line of business suits created for women. The images that have been released for this campaign are, in some ways, fairly standard for this sort of product: two people, one dressed head-to-toe in a suit and standing in a position of power and domination, the other posed provocatively, their identity meaningless, their body completely on display. Now, this is an image that we have seen before – many, many times, in fact. Yet, there is one thing about this campaign that not only makes it different, but has caused plenty of controversy, and that is the fact that a woman is placed in a position of power, while a male model is the one being sexualized and objectified.

There are many who have taken to social media to show their disagreement with this campaign, despite the fact that these images are not entirely new. In fact, it is nearly common for us to see the genders reversed. In many advertisements, women are depicted as sexual objects, to the point where we barely even think about it anymore. We’re used to the images of big-breasted women with their heads tipped back and their lips parted. All the time, we see men standing squarely facing the camera, their stances strong, their jaws locked, their power confirmed. This is the language of our media, and we speak it fluently.

But at the same time, the majority of comments that I have seen disagreeing with the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign have not been upset with it because it dares to reverse the gender roles; rather, they disagree with it because they know that this is an injustice that society already does to women all the time, and they don’t think that it’s right to spread this injustice to men as well.

As one Instagram commenter said, “If it was the other way around with the woman on the couch and man above her, feminist groups would jump and criticise. This double standard needs to end.”

Some people have accused this campaign of “making feminism look bad”, turning it into a movement of women who merely want to dominate and control men, rather than being about equal rights. And is this what the campaign is doing? Are these images trying to destroy the patriarchy and replace it with a matriarchy?

Well, the way I see it, my opinion on this campaign rests heavily on the campaign’s intent.

On the one hand, it is very possible that the commenters are correct, and the purpose of this campaign is not necessarily to challenge anything, but rather, to use the accepted language of our media to convey the age-old message, but with the genders swapped. And, in fact, many of the images do seem to be indicating that.

The reason why we often see men standing firm and square-jawed, staring directly at the camera, is because the image is very clearly trying to convey a message, and that message is very connected with gender: he is strong. He is capable. He can do whatever he needs to do, and he can do it without wrinkling his suit or breaking an expression. It just so happens, all of these tend to be masculine traits, and I don’t think that’s incidental. Similarly, when we see women lounging out over objects without much of anything on, that too is meant to convey a message: she is passive, but sexually available. When we see women compared to or used in place of objects, then that is the ultimate passivity: she isn’t even a person, she’s just a thing, waiting around to be used by whoever shows up and wants her.

So when we see the same poses used but the genders reversed, the messages don’t really change, although the gender roles might be challenged. But, still, the photographer is relying on a specific language, one that the viewer will undeniably be familiar with, to convey a message. And the message really isn’t okay. End of day, whether it’s a man or a woman being objectified, the message is that they aren’t really a person. They’re a sexy object, a thing that can be used and disposed of. And not only that, but in both cases, a specific language is being used to convey the message of ‘sexy’ as well; only one body type is displayed, because the viewer will automatically connect that body type to sex appeal. And when that happens, then that dismisses all other body types as being even potentially accepted by society.

So, essentially, if the intent behind this campaign was to rely upon a harmful language that feminism is, in fact, trying to combat, all so that they could convey to their presumably female audience that this company’s suits will make them powerful and alluring to men, then that is not okay.

But there is one other possible intent that this campaign might have, one that I am more comfortable with accepting: the intent to challenge the majority of media.

As I have mentioned, advertisers have made use of sexualizing and objectifying women for decades in order to make their product look somehow superior, and one thing that I think many commenters are forgetting when they show their distaste for the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is that it is only one campaign. It is not an entire industry, meaning that women are not quite at the precipice of taking over the world quite yet. And, more than that, campaigns that rely on switching societal roles are released all the time with the intent of showing just how unfair our society really is.

For example, in 2004, the Disability Rights Commission released a short film called “Talk”, which follows an able-bodied man who suddenly wakes up in a world designed for the new majority, people with disabilities. Another short film, entitled “Love Is All You Need”, takes place in a world where homosexuality is the norm, and heterosexuality is looked down upon as “weird” and “unnatural”.

There are many issues in our society that are sometimes difficult for us to wrap our heads around – not because we never experience them, but because we experience them everyday. They are normal to us, so we don’t even second-guess them. And the purpose of media like “Talk” and “Love Is All You Need” is to try to point out just how wrong our society is. It forces able-bodied people to imagine, not what it would be like to be disabled, but what it would be like to live with the stigma of disability. It forces heterosexual people to imagine what it would be like if they couldn’t safely take their partners home to meet their parents, or hold hands with them in public.

And, maybe, the intent behind the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is not to create a new norm, but rather, to force us to question the old one, to make us realize that the over-sexualizing and objectification of women is wrong by forcing us to see it from a new perspective. And, I mean, while I said that there was plenty of evidence in the photographs to suggest the other intention, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest this as well. The photographs, after all, are overly sexual, and overly objectifying, even going so far as to intentionally remove the man’s face from the images, as though to completely remove his identity and force the viewer to look at him only as an object – a body without a soul.

Now, what the company’s actual intent was is difficult to decipher. They have not made any attempt to comment either way, although Suistudio has confessed to intending controversy. Besides that, I suppose that the viewer can merely take what they want from the campaign: are they a frightening image of a new sort of objectification, or an isolated incident intending only to make us question our past and present?