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Why Saying “I’m Not a Feminist” is NEVER an Okay Thing To Do

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism in the world.

There are many different reasons for this, of course.  Feminism is a complicated topic.  It’s hard to look at approximately 50% of the world’s population — women of all races, all nationalities, all ages, all sexual orientations, all income brackets, all political affiliations, all education levels, etc — and define a simple, clear message that everyone can agree upon.  Especially since the advent of 3rd wave feminism, there are countless splinter and “niche” groups working under the greater feminist umbrella, and often working directly at cross-purposes to one another, or talking about completely different topics.  In an age where information is readily accessed with the click of a mouse, we’re faced with an overwhelming glut of information regarding feminism, and very little of it is concise or clear or speaks with a single voice representing all of us.

But when it’s stripped back to the bare essentials, feminism *does* have one simple, easily expressed goal:  gender equality, and the elimination of sexism.  We disagree (sometimes vehemently) on how best to *achieve* that goal, of course, but the goal remains the same for all.  And when you strip it back to that — when you say, “gender equality” instead of “feminism” — there are very few people who’ll argue against it.

And this is why the way we express ourselves about feminism, and the way we self-identify, needs to see some serious change.

If you believe that sexism is a bad thing, and that a person’s gender does not determine their worth, then you’re a feminist.  You may not agree with *every* feminist group (no one does — there are simply too many of them out there) — but you’re a feminist, of some description.  That’s all there is to it.  Saying “I’m not a feminist”, then, is a lie — and worse, it’s hurting feminists (and people) everywhere.

When most people say “I’m not a feminist”, it’s because they’re misguided about what feminism means.  They’ve bought in to a harmful stereotype — the man-hating, (often) lesbian, radical feminist who burns bras, thinks men should be slaves, and considers all penetrative sex to be rape.  This is a stereotype that was created by (and has been largely perpetuated by) the oppressing class, as a way of discrediting the perfectly logical claim that women are people and should be treated as such.  It’s a caricature, designed to make feminists look laughable and ridiculous and unfeminine, and unsexy, and unlovable, and criminal.  So when you characterize all feminists this way, it’s no different than characterizing all Scots as “cheap”, or all Irishmen as “drunks”.  You’re buying in to a bigoted stereotype, rather than learning about the individual people.

And when you buy in to that bigoted stereotype, and say “I’m not a feminist”, you’re also lumping yourself in with the people who actually ARE bigots.  You’re aligning yourself with the people who believe that women’s rights should be taken away so we can go back to the “good old days”.  You’re aligning yourself with sexual predators and rapists who don’t want their victims to have rights or be treated as people.  You’re aligning yourself with the Taliban who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for wanting an education.

Do you really want to be on the same side as those people?

I’m not saying that you should blindly help any cause that identifies itself as “feminist”.  There’s no “supreme guiding council of feminist elders”, and no peer-review process, to determine the validity of any particular group’s claim to feminism.  There are plenty of self-identified “feminist” groups out there who have views that may not, in fact, be particularly helpful ones.  There are radfem groups who call themselves feminist but believe in the subjugation of men (I happen to strongly dispute their use of the term “feminist”, since by definition any group that advocates sexism is not, in fact, feminist — but that’s an issue that’s still considered up for debate in the broader feminist community).  There are feminist groups who are anti-choice, or who align themselves with religious organizations, or who are sex-worker exclusionary, or trans-exclusionary, or classist/racist/etc in their aims, and I disagree vehemently with all of those things.  And there are many feminist groups advocating for very specific, niche causes that may or may not be relevant to a particular person’s life — for example, a group dedicated to eliminating sexism in the medical profession might have a very good point, but not be relevant to me personally, as I’m an arts worker, not a doctor (dammit, Jim!).  So just calling yourself “feminist” doesn’t make you right, and it’s still important to research the motivations and background of any group you’re looking to join up with or support.

One of the biggest groups who commonly say “I’m not a feminist” are, unfortunately, men.  They’ll say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I can’t be a feminist ’cause I’m a guy”.  And that’s just ridiculously misguided.  Not only is it perfectly possible for a guy to believe in gender equality (thus making him a feminist), it’s supremely important for people who are NOT women, who are NOT a part of the oppressed class, to take up the banner of feminism and make a conscious choice to support feminist aims.  Because it’s the oppressing class (in this case, males) who has the majority of the power — and thus, it’s males who have the most power to change things.  It’s been proven time and again that it’s easier for men (and especially white men) to get top positions at most jobs — they’re the bosses, the ones in charge of salaries, the ones in charge of hiring, and the ones in charge of policy.  They’re the majority of the politicians.  They’re the educators at universities.  They’re the police and the lawyers and the judges who enforce and influence the laws.  So if they’re working with feminist aims in mind (ie, a CEO who implements fair hiring policies, or a politician who fights for women’s reproductive rights), they’re in a position to do much more to help the cause than almost anyone else would be capable of.  They’re the ones who, by and large, have the ability to tip the scales and start the workings of a fair society.

Another group that commonly denies feminism is people of colour.  This is a more problematic issue — people of colour are already a part of an oppressed class, whether they are female or male or anything in-between.  They’re already fighting for fair wages, fair representation, and fair application of the law.  And many feminist groups are, unfortunately, very whitewashed.  Because it’s white people who have traditionally had more education & wealth, it’s white women who largely spearheaded the early feminist movements, and it’s white women who have remained at the forefront.  Many feminist groups are blatantly racist (or at least racially insensitive), and when you bring religion into the equation (people of colour are traditionally more attached to their faith, for a variety of reasons not worth going into here), it gets even more difficult — many feminist groups actively attack religious organizations, without regard to the people who worship that particular god, and this can be a massive turn-off for otherwise pro-gender-equality types.  And because feminism has historically been white, it’s difficult for people of colour to break that barrier — too many, already exhausted from spending a lifetime being oppressed for the colour of their skin, walk into a feminist meeting only to see a sea of white faces and no one who looks remotely like themselves, and they feel automatically excluded.  It’s hard to blame people for feeling that way.  In the end, though, we’ll never be able to make feminism more POC-friendly without having some people of colour standing in those rooms.  Some are going to have to break down those barriers, and walk into those rooms full of white faces, and decide they’re going to stay.  And those of us who *are* white need to recognize this difficulty, and welcome such people with open arms, so that more of them will feel comfortable saying “I’m a feminist”.

What I find, personally, the most painful, are those women who believe that identifying as feminist will make them seem unattractive.  They’re victims of fear — fear of being hated, fear of being spurned, fear of being alone.  These are the people who media depictions of feminists are directly attacking, and directly oppressing.  I just want to take those women and say, “It’s okay! What they said on TV was a lie — you can be a feminist and still be beautiful, and feminine, and a stay-at-home-mom, and people will still love you”.  And they tell me that they’re “not as strong” as I am, or that they “don’t belong”.  And that’s so wrong, because you don’t have to be an exception — or an exceptional person — to be a feminist.  You just have to believe in equality.

In most media depictions, it’s the loudest and most strident voices who get the most airtime.  These are the people who are easy to pick out of a crowd, and they give entertainment and good sound bites.  They’re also the people who are easiest to ridicule and discredit.  So we need more of the “normal” people, the ones with perfectly rational and moderate views (the ones that the majority of us espouse) to stand up and say clearly, “I’m a feminist”.  We need to drown out those radical voices, and get voices of reason to be standing at the forefront.  Because until we can “normalize” feminism, it’s never going to be fully successful.

And it really should be perfectly “normal” to believe that all people should have equal rights, right?

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Rape Fantasies: Why Consent Isn’t Sexy, and Why You’re Not a Bad Feminist for Enjoying It

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

TRIGGER WARNING – obviously.  Don’t read this post if you’re upset by analytical discussions of rape.

 

I’ll admit it:  I’m a fan of smutty literature.  Romance novels, Internet slash-fiction, even just regular old books with well-written sex scenes thrown in there.  I started swiping my mom’s Harlequin romances in my early teens, keeping favourite ones hidden in between the mattress and the bedframe for late-night reading.  Female friends and I would find books at the library with good sex scenes and share them, often reading the steamiest passages aloud and giggling at our own fascination with sex.  As I got older and became sexually active, those books served as guides — how to touch, how to talk, what to expect.  They taught me the words for what I wanted, how to ask my partners for things, and how to enjoy myself doing it.  In many ways, romance novels were what taught me to be a feminist, because it was from them that I learned the sex-positive and body-positive attitudes that my adolescence would not otherwise have provided.

 

But there was always one thing that puzzled me.  Why did so many of these books contain — and even romanticize — rape?

 

 

It’s a question that’s come up a lot in recent years, especially with the popularization of Twilight, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades.  These are things marketed to women, popular among women, and yet they show women accepting, and even sometimes enjoying, being raped and abused.  It’s not a new phenomenon — I can remember Game of Thrones being among those books my friends and I found at the library, and heck, even 3onguochildhood fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty contain questionable ideas about consent — but it leaves a lot of us conflicted.  At least 50% of women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.  I’m certainly not the only one of my friends who has experienced sexual assault and rape.  And yet many of us still find something attractive, something undeniably sexy, about scenes like the ones between Danerys and Drogo in GoT.  While the reality of rape is abhorrent and terrifying, there is still something about the fantasy that has the power to turn us on.

 

What really got me thinking about it, though, was when one of my friends called herself a “bad feminist” for enjoying that fantasy.  And I immediately felt like she was wrong.  But it took me some time to define exactly why I feel that rape fantasies are not, inherently, an “unfeminist” thing to have.

 

Why We Enjoy the Fantasy

The first thing that I had to question, of course, was where this fantasy comes from, and why we have it.  In the end, I decided that there are a multitude of factors in play, here — and that’s really not surprising.  Culturally, we are pretty obsessed with sex, and both sex and gender play a huge role in almost every aspect of our society.  These are deeply ingrained things that we’re dealing with, here.  And there are likely more reasons than just the ones that I’m listing (feel free to bring up others in the comments, if you like).

  1. Puritanical attitudes towards sex.  If we believe that sex is bad or “dirty”, as many of us have been raised to think, then saying “yes” is an impure act.  This is especially true when you’re talking about premarital sex, casual sex, or pretty much any sex that is not purely for the purposes of procreation.  Women, especially, are often told that good girls don’t have (or at least, don’t enjoy) sex, and that we must always be careful to not act “slutty”.  Women who do openly enjoy sex are often punished by society for doing so.  As a result, saying “no” seems like a virtuous, positive thing to do.  The rape fantasy then becomes, somewhat perversely, a way of indulging in a sexual fantasy wherein you don’t have to say “yes” (thus becoming a “slut” and damning yourself).  In such a fantasy, you can maintain your “purity” while still engaging in the act.  Of course, such a fantasy is problematic — and it doesn’t line up with reality.  Victim-blaming and the idea that rape victims somehow “asked for it” means that in reality, a woman who has gone through rape is usually stigmatized as a “slut” anyhow.  But a fantasy world where you can escape from such stigmatization and abuse, and enjoy sex without feeling guilt about it, is actually a pretty sex-positive thing, when you get right down to it.  Especially for younger women or those from particularly sheltered, puritanical upbringings, the rape fantasy may actually be an avenue towards more sex-positive attitudes in their lives in general.
  2. Conventional ideals of “manliness”.   The knight in shining armor.  The dashing pirate/outlaw.  The lone wolf, or the rebel who plays by his own rules.  The millionaire playboy.  The mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a vest.  What do all of these “romantic ideals” have in common?  Power.  Whether it be money, fame, good looks, the power of the unknown, or just raw muscle and steel, men are expected by society to wield power if they want to be attractive.  And that, of course, is what rape is all about:  it’s about power.  This is why rape occurs across all demographics, and doesn’t depend on a victim’s attractiveness or age or place within society.  And so for women, having been raised being told that the best man to have is the most powerful one — well, what’s more powerful than a rapist?
  3. The other side of power and control.  Jumping off from #2, we come to the other side of power:  being powerless.  A lack of control.  It’s something that many of us seek out quite actively, as a form of escape from our daily lives and the demands of mature adulthood.  We enjoy getting “swept up in the moment” and being able to just go along with things, no decision-making required.  We escape into books and media, into drunken nights with friends, into cruise vacations where the biggest choice you have to make is “chicken or fish?”.  Sex can be a terrifying thing to be in control of, especially if you’re inexperienced or not confident in your abilities.  The rape fantasy takes away the need to be “good” at what you’re doing.  It takes away the responsibility of pleasing your partner.  It allows you to simply receive, without having to give anything back.  For the neophyte, this sort of fantasy can take away some of the anxieties surrounding sex, actually encouraging more sex-positive attitudes because it frees them up to simply enjoy, without worrying about their skill level.
  4. A female sort of power.  There is another way to interpret the power relationship in rape fantasies:  in the concept of the male as a stupid, insatiable animal, unable to resist a woman’s sexy wiles.  This particular fantasy stems from right-wing, conservative attitudes towards rape, which are unfortunately quite pervasive in our society.  When victims are blamed for being raped because they were “acting slutty” or “dressed inappropriately”, and when rapists are excused because “boys will be boys”, it’s an incredibly sexist and sex-negative thing.  But if you take that particular fantasy, and examine it purely as fantasy, it becomes the victim who holds the power.  For women, raised in a society where power tends to be tied to male privilege, the idea of being able to drive a man to unspeakable acts just by looking really, really good?  That’s a pretty cool power fantasy right there.  And it’s also a body-positive sort of fantasy, too, because it requires that the victim be not just desirable, but VERY desirable.  It lets you feel wanted, and in a world where the media regularly tells us that our body is not good enough just as it is?  That can be a very positive feeling.
  5. Exposure.  Like me, many women had some of their first encounters with the concept of enjoyable sex through romance novels.  And a lot of romance novels contain depictions of rape — maybe as many as half of them.  Most such depictions aren’t terribly realistic (usually the men involved are ridiculously good looking and are experienced sexual gods capable of giving multiple, mind-blowing orgasms, and the sex itself isn’t in any way violent or taboo — just non-consensual, because the woman is protesting even as she enjoys it).  We also see depictions of rape in plenty of other media — mainstream TV, movies, books, and porn all contain it with some frequency.  With such fuel for our imaginations, it’s not surprising that our fantasy lives also contain depictions of rape.
  6. Fear.  There’s a fine line between fear and excitement.  It’s why we enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, and skydiving.  Fear gets your heart pumping and your adrenaline rushing.  It does, in some sense, turn you on.  The fear associated with the idea of rape can do exactly the same thing — especially when, just like with a roller coaster or a horror movie, we know we’re in no real danger.  When it’s all a fantasy, you can experience that fear in a controlled and safe fashion.  This is also a common theory as to why some victims of actual rape may afterwards enjoy rape fantasies, while still hating and fearing what truly happened to them:  it’s a way of controlling and “taking back” the power of the experience.
  7. Exploring the taboo.  This one links back to #1 in many ways, because we live in a society with a lot of taboos — especially when it comes to sex and sexuality.  A part of figuring out your own sexuality is in exploring those various taboos, and finding out which ones are fun and which are scary.  Rape is a taboo that most people would never want to explore outside of the realm of pure fantasy, but considering it as fantasy can definitely be a part of healthy sexual exploration, because doing so can help you to define your limits and your desires.

 

Why it’s Not “Unfeminist” to Like It

I touched on a few of the reasons in my list up there — depending on the context of your particular fantasy, rape fantasies may include aspects that are decidedly sex-positive and body-positive, and they can certainly be a part of  a healthy fantasy life.

 

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More important, though, is the fact that rape fantasies are just that:  fantasies.  And fantasies, by their very nature, really can’t be non-consensual.  The one doing the fantasizing is always in control, and can stop things whenever they want to.  This is why in BDSM, “rape play” or “consensual non-consent” can be enjoyed:  because the “victim” in this case has a safe-word and can stop things at any time if it becomes too frightening or painful.  They are completely in control, even if it seems to be otherwise.  And of course, taking back control of traumatizing, terrifying things like rape is a part of what feminism is all about.  It’s about taking and enjoying your individual power as a human being.

 

Of course, finding an actual partner to engage in such fantasies with is a problematic thing in and of itself.  Fantasizing about being raped is a very different thing from fantasizing about being a rapist.  So taking this kind of a fantasy from your mind into the bedroom is something to be done with a lot of caution, and only with a partner who you very deeply trust.  Someone who’s immediately eager to try it probably isn’t the safest person to play with (better to choose someone who’s uncomfortable, but willing to do it because it’s something you want), and while it may be a very private and intimate fantasy, it’s something perhaps better kept to a public dungeon or play space, where there will be others around to ensure that your safe words are heeded if they must be used.  It wouldn’t be fun for “play rape” to turn into the actual thing.

Online Identities: Navigating the Minefields of Trolls, Bullying, Privacy, and the Lack Thereof

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Internet is aflame this week (even more so than usual) in the aftermath of two very high-profile incidents which have once again thrown the spotlight on issues of online privacy.  I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about:  Amanda Todd’s suicide and its aftermath, and the “outing” of Michael Brutsch (a.k.a. Violentacrez).  Even Mittens’ latest social blunders haven’t distracted us entirely from the discussion and debate that has ensued.

The real question, the one that has kept people talking (and it’s something that’s come up before, and will certainly come up again), is this:  what expectation should we have of online privacy, and how does one preserve one’s anonymity in the face of a world where all of our online doings can be traced and collected?

The short answer, of course, is that no one gets to be anonymous.  Every action, every word: whether online or in “real life”, we must own our own behaviour and be answerable for our own actions.  What we do and say can always come back to haunt us, and on the Internet everything is recorded — it’s like living your life in front of a video camera.

Of course, on the Internet we do have the privilege of anonymity, to some degree, simply because so much of the time?  Absolutely no one is watching what’s being recorded.  What websites we visit, what we search on Google, what porn we download — most of the time, nobody really cares.  The information is recorded, there to be found by anyone who searches, but searching takes an effort, and for most of us?  The fact that looking us up takes work is enough to maintain our fragile anonymity.  The same is true in real life — while someone easily could be following our every movement, watching our every action, does anybody really want to go to so much trouble?  Unless you’re some sort of mega-celebrity with the paparazzi hounding your steps, the answer is very likely “no”.

There are ways to increase the difficulty factor involved in that search, of course.  Using pseudonyms, shielding your IP address, protecting your passwords and Internet behaviours from people you know in real life, taking care that the online identities you use from one website to the next are not immediately traceable to each other.  You can be discriminatory in what information you talk about or share at all online (for example, by never posting photos that show your face) — these are all legitimate strategies.  They take additional effort on your own part, and are not insurmountable obstacles (nothing can completely shield you all the time), but increasing how hard it is to trace you can be enough to deter a casual searcher with not much to prove or to gain by figuring out just who you are and what you do on the Internet.

There are those, of course, who believe that nothing should be hidden.  On this point I have to disagree:  while I am an advocate of honesty in most every sphere of life, I also understand that concealment and deceit are not necessarily an indication that you are doing something wrong, and there are things that we all keep private (most of us probably don’t detail our sex lives to all and sundry, for example, or tell all our friends about the intimate details of the bout of diarrhea we suffered through, or tell the people at work what we really think of them and their stupid and annoying little habits).  We all have personal lives and private feelings.

But we’re not entitled to them.

Privacy is not an unalienable right.  It’s a privilege, one maintained mostly through a general sense of social propriety and politeness.  And it’s something that we can lose at any time, often through no fault of our own (try having a serious medical issue some time: an extended hospital stay will let you know just how much of your life is *really* private).  We have no legal protections from those who might choose to seek us out and invade our most intimate secrets, because knowledge cannot be copyrighted or owned.

Unfortunately, knowledge can also be used to harm.  While I have no sympathy whatsoever for someone like Michael Brutsch, who has reportedly lost his job (among other things) in the wake of his being “outed” as the man behind such Internet horrors as the “creepshots” and “jailbait” subreddits, I can still feel disgusted at humanity when the man is facing threats of death and violence.  He deserves to be ostracized, judged harshly, and treated accordingly, but violence is never a justifiable response to anything, and the people who would make such threats are truly no better than he is.  But at the same time, he at least can be said to deserve the negative reactions to his actions — he has admitted to deliberately “trolling” for negative reactions, and shouldn’t be surprised that those reactions have been extreme, because extremity is exactly what he aimed to provoke.

Where I feel a lot more sympathy is with people who need Internet anonymity in order to be able to speak safely about the topics they tackle.  People like Orac, Bug Girl, and other pseudonymous bloggers:  they are required by their jobs to maintain separation between their Internet personas and their professional ones, and a pseudonym allows this (even while it does not provide 100% protection for their identity, and determined searchers are still able to — and sometimes do — find them out).  Others use pseudonyms for more concrete forms of safety:  those who criticize certain political or religious groups, for example, may be putting their lives at risk by doing so, and an extra level of difficulty in finding out one’s identity may be a very prudent step to take in that sort of scenario.

The other facet to the current discussion is, of course, just how easy it has become for a bully or a troll to ruin someone’s life by spreading false information through the medium of the Internet.  Something as simple to create as a phony Facebook account can cause a person untold amounts of social strife, and how do we protect against this?

Well, the same way we always have.  There are already laws against character defamation, libel, and slander.  There are laws against harassment, and against uttering threats.  We don’t need new laws to police the Internet — we just need to educate people on their rights and on how to deal with such attacks.  If a troll or a bully is harassing you, you can report them to the police.  If someone is saying false things about you, you can sue them.  Even if someone is using true information (as in the Amanda Todd case), but they’re doing it in such a way as to harm you, you can take legal action against them and stop them being able to attack and hurt you.

Don’t know who the person is?  That doesn’t matter.  Because as we’ve already established, everything on the Internet is traceable.  Even if you’re not computer-savvy enough to hunt down a troll, other people are.  The authorities have resources in this regard, and they can find out a person fairly easily.  Lack of anonymity is a double-edged sword, and when you’re the victim?  You can use it in your defense, as well.

In the end, the best thing a person can do to protect themselves from losing their online anonymity is just to simply be blameless.  Don’t do things online that you wouldn’t do in real life, or draw attention to yourself through bad behaviour.  Don’t use anonymity as a shield, because it’s a very flimsy shield — like Wiley Coyote hiding under a tiny umbrella to ward off a falling boulder.  If you’ve got serious concerns about hiding yourself (if you’re using the Internet as a medium to distribute a message that might get you shot in the head by the Taliban, for example), seek real-life ways of protecting your person and your safety, as well as using the tactics I outlined above (pseudonyms, hiding your IP, no photos, etc), because to rely solely on Internet anonymity is foolhardy.

My Personal Artistic Manifesto – Updated June 2012

Posted in Ramblings, Theatricality with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

When I first started univeristy, I was introduced to the concept of the “artistic manifesto”.  It was something that struck me as immediately useful, whether for a company of artists or for a single person: a document to which you could return, time after time, to review the reasons why you started out on a particular path, and to examine whether those goals are still valid, whether you’ve remained true to them, and whether some of your practices need to change.

I sat down to writing almost immediately, and after several drafts I had a starting place.  An artistic manifesto that I was proud to put my name to — something to build the beginnings of my career from.

Every so often since then, I’ve sat down and re-read the document I wrote.  I’ve updated it a few times — even re-wrote it entirely, at one point — but certain things have carried through.  Even as the world changes, and my life changes, and my knowledge grows, I like having something that I can go back to.  Something that says, “this is what I want from my life”, so that when I’m facing a choice, or an obstacle, or just feeling unmotivated, I can read my own words and feel inspired.

I spent part of my day, today, updating and re-writing portions of my manifesto.  Not because it had become less valid, but because it’s been about two years since I’d last done so, and some things in my life have changed since I last took a serious look at this.  And when I was finished, I thought:  I want to share this.  So here it is, in its entirety.  My personal artistic manifesto, in its current iteration.

—-

1.

I believe in art.

I believe that art is not merely a pastime, or a hobby.  Art is a necessity for human life, as important as food, and safety, and shelter.  A life devoid of art is not worth living — indeed, cannot even be called “life”.  To live without art is merely to exist, in a sort of existential limbo, awaiting illumination and enlightenment.

I believe that art is the purest of human endeavors, beginning as it does with the most basic of human qualities, the thing that separates intelligent beings from mere animals:  the need to communicate.  When early man painted on cave walls, told stories around the fire, and learned to create music, the purpose was to communicate.  To share, with other intelligent beings, a bit of their knowledge and experience.  And this was not mere entertainment, a simple way to pass the time:  important knowledge was passed on, bonds forged between individuals, and the advancement of the human species was fostered by this great variety of communication.

I believe that art has more power than science, or religion, or politics, because none of these things would prosper without art to support them.  No idea, however grand, can be realized without communication.  If it is not shared, and spread, and accepted into a culture, an idea dies.  Kings and empires have been brought down by the stroke of a pen; revolutions sparked by the notes of a song.  It is our responsibility, as artists, to use and shape this power wisely.

2.

There is no art that is not political.  Art is an expression of the culture from which it comes, whether in support of or against the status quo.  To dismiss art as merely entertainment is to ignore its true nature and power, and the artist does this at their peril.  It is when we engage the power of our chosen medium that we can truly shape the message we convey, and create the most powerful end product.

There is no art that is not collaborative.  Every artist is shaped by the people and the culture and the world that surrounds them, so that even if they create in absolute isolation, they are still bringing the world in with them.  And when the art is shared with an audience, then there is collaboration as well:  the audience’s thoughts and feelings and reactions will shape the art in different ways, so that one piece may touch every single person in a slightly different place.  Thus, art is never static, never “finished”:  it is always living, changing, existing in the present tense for all who encounter it.

There is no art which is “good” or “bad”, for these absolutes cannot apply to the basic need to communicate.  There are, however, different levels of skill with which a piece may be executed, and some art is therefore more effective.  Then, too, there is art that effectively serves its purpose, but lacks any relevance:  this art does not speak to an audience, or does not share anything worth saying.  It is the artist’s responsibility to use the power of their art to its fullest — to always execute a piece to the best of their ability, and to make sure that their message is a thing worth saying.

3.

I believe that artists should always aim to communicate something meaningful.  Without passion, art rings hollow, and quickly becomes irrelevant.  What is meaningful to each particular artist may be different, but what is most important is that passion be the thing at the beginning.

Art is a great motivator for change, and should always be used for promoting action.  Art which supports the status quo is ineffective, as it only promotes inaction.  It is the responsibility of the artist to create that which communicates a need for something to be done.  A participant in art — whether they are the creator or an audience member — should be left changed by their encounter with art, and motivated to go out and do something about it.

4.

I believe that theatre is one of the most effective forms of artistic expression.  Theatre is highly collaborative, to a degree not seen in many other mediums, requiring many different people with a great variety of skill sets to realize a production.  The involvement of the audience is live and immediate, with their presence and feedback providing the opportunity for the same production to be different on every single night.  This immersion and involvement of the viewer places them into a state where they are ready to be impacted and changed by the message being communicated through the art.

5.

It is my aim to create art which is effective and relevant, and to shun that which supports the status quo and inaction.  I will create art that effects the changes I wish to see within the world.

Theatre is my chosen medium, although I am not exclusively a theatrical artist.  I will work to promote the creation of theatre and to advance the craft of the stage.

I believe that art is more effective when it is created with the audience in mind.  Thus I will focus my creative energies on art that is specifically relevant to the people who surround me and who will be my audience.

Art is meant to be shared with others.  I will share my knowledge of my craft and work to create opportunities for other artists, as well as for myself.

I will keep learning, and seeking to learn.  I will never consider myself “finished”, because a piece of art is never finished as long as there are people to interact with it.

I will not give up, no matter what obstacles stand in my way, because to live without art is not living.

I will change the world.

Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage, My Political Cynicism, and the Global Context

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Interwebs and news outlets are aflame:  the U.S. president has publicly expressed his personal support for gay marriage rights.  In an election year.  It’s undeniably a historic move, and certainly a very positive thing for human rights in the U.S. and around the world.

 

“For me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married”.  It seems like such a simple little sentence, doesn’t it?  He speaks only for himself, personally, not for his administration as a whole — and it’s taken years for this sentence to be expressed, despite increasing public sentiment in favour of same-sex marriage and various moves by his administration that have indicated a pro-gay-rights stance.

The timing of this announcement is, undeniably, a carefully planned political move.  With his country gearing up for what is sure to be a hard-fought election, in the wake of 4 years of a seriously struggling economy, there are a lot of issues to be hotly debated in the coming months.  By finally, after years of avoiding the issue and claims that his views are “evolving” when pressed, coming down firmly on one side of this debate?  He’s choosing his battleground, and simultaneously locking down a large portion of the queer vote (a vote he was likely to get anyways, because honestly, even without voicing his opinion like this?  He was clearly the more queer-friendly candidate).

In fact, the real reasons behind this announcement likely have little to do with gay rights at all.  A common criticism of Obama, throughout his term as president, has been that he is too indecisive, too willing to compromise and seek a mythical centrist “common ground”, rather than sticking to his guns and defending issues with passion (something that, for all I cannot stand Republican politics?  They’ve got that whole “passion” thing locked down).  This announcement takes some of the wind out of Republican sails — no longer can they accuse him of dithering and avoiding the issue — while not really giving them anything new to complain about.  Obama’s administration has been taking queer-positive steps all along, from the striking down of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, to Hilary Clinton’s historic “gay rights are human rights” speech.  Those who oppose those rights?  Have plenty to complain about already, and have been doing so all along.  Obama’s announcement gives them very little in the way of new material — especially as it was phrased as a personal statement, and not one of policy.  In addition, this move draws greater attention to the important but ultimately sideline issue of gay rights, pulling criticism away from more difficult topics such as the economy and the Iraq war.

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ platform, when it is released, will contain any references to gay rights or gay marriage, although I’m honestly pretty hopeful that it will.

Cynicism about politics aside, the amount of attention that this announcement is drawing?  Is such a good thing.  In many parts of the world, we’re approaching a sort of “tipping point” when it comes to gay rights.  Because for all the hard fighting that’s been done, for all the fights won and rights achieved, we’re still at a place where it’s socially acceptable, in many circles, to be against gay rights — or even against the very concept of being gay.  People will speak openly, publicly, about their hatred and bigotry, and not be ostracized by society for doing so.  So while killing someone for their gender orientation or beating a person half to death for their sexual orientation is now considered a hate crime and rightly deplored, expressing hatred through words or less brutally violent actions is still (somehow) okay.

Obviously this is a situation that isn’t going to last.  A generation from now, we’ll look back on the hateful things that were said and done, and wonder how we ever tolerated such awfulness.  But we haven’t quite tipped that balance, yet.  The more virulently angry the bigots become, though?  The more people are going to lose their taste for such dialogue, and the more people are going to start saying “shut up, that’s not acceptable”.  By giving more prominence to gay marriage rights as an election issue, Obama is — intentionally or not — going to inflame the hate-spewers to a point that just might be far enough to tip things over and lead us into a future where saying “I’m against being gay” is no longer an acceptable statement to make.

I do fear the backlash from this, however.  In stirring the pot, Obama is making life more dangerous and difficult for queer people everywhere, for a little while at least.  It’s inevitable — it’s a step we must go through to get to where we need to go — but it’s still scary.  I know I’ll be walking a little more carefully while the ensuing shitstorm blows up, and encouraging my queer friends to do the same:  we haven’t seen the last of the hatred, and as the homophobes see their comfortable world disappearing, violence is likely to ensue.

On the upside, though, I can hope that this may be one of the final nails in the coffin of Canadian conservatives’ attempts to re-visit the gay marriage issue — Canadians have already fought this fight, and seeing it brought up again in this past year has been an emotional struggle for all of us.

The Shifting Landscape of Canadian Politics

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

So as most of you are probably aware, there was a national election here in Canada yesterday.  The votes have been tallied, and the results are in — and in many ways, they’re surprising, but not as much as it might seem on the surface.

The Conservative majority is, sadly, not one of those surprises.  Despite the fact that Stephen Harper’s minority government over the past few years has been by turns ineffectual and out of touch with reality, the official opposition (the Liberal party) have been even more so.  While in 2008 the rallying cry in many areas was “anything but Conservative”, it seems that in 2011 most people have completely lost faith in Ignatieff’s Liberals, and would prefer to go with “anything but Liberal”.  And from my perspective, it seems a logical conclusion:  just what, exactly, have the Liberals done in the last few years?  They couldn’t even manage to successfully arrange for an election to be called — it took months, and a proroguing of parliament (one conveniently arranged to put things off to a more convenient time for the Tories, by the way), before they could finally get Harper to go to the Governor General and get the ball rolling.

Taken in that context, the biggest surprise of the day — the unprecedented number of seats gained by the NDP and the mantle of Official Opposition falling to Layton’s party — is less of a surprise.  For many years in this country, politics has been a 2-party game.  Vote for the puppet on the left, or the puppet on the right, or throw your vote away on one of those pathetic little smiley-faces-drawn-on-fingers in the back.  It has only been very recently that this familiar game has started to change, as the NDP under Layton’s leadership has gained strength and, slowly but surely, become a serious force to be reckoned with.  Long-time Grits who no longer wanted to vote red were faced with the choice of going Tory or going elsewhere, and a lot of them went orange instead.

Another factor here has been, undeniably, the backbiting nature of Tory and Grit campaigning in the post-Chretien years.  With Jean Chretien’s departure, the last vestiges of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau mystique were pretty much stripped away from a party that had gone largely unchallenged for a good solid decade, and thus had little practice in the art of serious campaigning.  Followed up by Martin, Dion, and Ignatieff, the party has struggled to find a new identity in the changing social climate of the 21st century.  In the absence of a solid party line, most Grits have gone to simply attacking the Tories, relying on the illusion of a two-party system and assuming that if people can be convinced not to vote Conservative, they’ll by extension have to vote Liberal.  The Tories have, of course, been more than happy to respond in kind, launching concerted smear campaigns against each of the Liberal leaders in turn and, one by one, forcing their resignation (and thus assuring that the party’s confused, directionless state is continued for as long as possible).  Liberal support has slipped, their party coffers have emptied, and by the time this election was finally called, they lacked the drive or the money to put up a decent fight.  Meanwhile, of course, the Conservative juggernaut was able to grab a larger slice of the media-control pie, spreading anti-Liberal (and, specifically, anti-Ignatieff) sentiment rampantly across the country.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Quebec politics has had a huge part to play this year, as well.  Almost 16 years after the second Quebec referendum ended in a nail-bitingly close 50.56% “no”, the world has changed drastically.  Post 9/11, with ongoing conflict in the middle east and a major economic collapse that we are still recovering from, Quebec is much less eager to declare itself separate from the rest of Canada.  Striking out on your own is, after all, a lot harder when you’ve got no money and there are scary people with guns and bombs out there.  The tendency, in unsure times, is to hunker down and protect what you’ve got.  This added up to major losses for the Bloc, and in most cases those seats were grabbed up by the up-and-coming NDP.

The economic crisis has, of course, been one of the major factors in determining where people’s shifting alignments have landed.  Traditionally, the Tories have been seen as the party of the rich — the upper classes, as well as private industry and business, tend to be well-served by Tory policy.  The Liberals, on the other hand, have traditionally been the party of the middle class, pushing for family-friendly policies, health care, education and the like.  To continue this, the NDP could be argued to be the party of the working class, and especially of the working poor, as their policies tend to fall further to the left on the political spectrum, favoring social assistance programs, workers’ rights, equity for women and minorities, and advocating higher taxes for the rich and for corporations in order to pay for increased social programs.  The economic crisis of the past few years has served to severely sharpen the rich/poor divide in this country (and around the world), and so it’s not surprising that the party of the middle class has lost some support:  the middle class itself is shrinking as more and more people fall below that invisible “poverty line”, while corporations and the rich are raking in cash from tax breaks and ill-advised “economic stimulus” programs.

Overall, I’d have to say I’m saddened by the results (I was sincerely hoping that the Tories wouldn’t gain a majority), but still somewhat hopeful (the NDP got my vote this year, and has been my personal party of choice since I became old enough to vote, so I’m glad to see them gaining so much ground across the nation).  While the prospect of Stephen Harper’s policies going unchecked is quite scary to me (as a non-heterosexual, twenty-something female working in an arts field and living below the povery line, there’s nothing about the Conservative party that supports my life or interests), I’m hoping that Layton’s NDP will manage to be a strong, balancing voice, keeping the most vehemently right-wing of Harper’s policies from gaining enough support to make it into law and reality.  While I would have been happier to see more red instead of blue on that political map, I can’t help but acknowledge the fact that the Liberals have been no help whatsoever in their role as Official Opposition during the last parliament, and I couldn’t have hoped for them to be any more effective during this one.  Until their internal struggles get sorted out, the Grits are pretty much impotent, and the need for a strong Opposition party has been a factor in many of the Tory follies of the past couple of years.  And, of course, I’m even more hopeful that four years from now (or sooner, should Harper truly fuck up and cause a non-confidence vote to occur) the NDP will gain even more strength, now that they’ve proven themselves to be a viable alternative to voting red or blue.

Expect to see some “stupid Harper!” rants in the coming months, though — I fully anticipate that this majority government will be a major barrier to finding stable, paid work in the arts, and will probably result in some steps backwards for womans equality, gay rights, and environmental policy in this country.  Sigh.  Guess I’ll be doing shitty contract work for a while longer, now.

Eye for an Eye

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

I know, I know, I’ve been horribly lax in my posting habits these last few months.  I have a dozen half-finished drafts waiting to be finished and posted, and I just haven’t found the motivation to do so.  I’m sorry about that.  I will try my best to be more diligent.

But in the wake of the day’s big news, I felt the need to post, well, something.  Because amid all the exultant expressions of Western victory, I’ve found that I truly am a pacifist to the core.  I cannot find joy in the death of another, or even a sense of justice served.  I am saddened — even hurt — that this, this eye-for-an-eye justice, is the recourse of a supposedly enlightened, humanist society.

Fundamentalism, in all its shapes and forms, terrifies me.  The extremes of hatred, cruelty, ignorance, and violence that are possible only when backed by the single-mindedness of the starry-eyed idealist … this is, unquestionably, humanity at its worst.

Bin Laden, Al-Quaeda, all of the various terrorist leaders and organizations the world over:  they are examples of the evils of fundamentalism.  And I desire very much to see those ideals wiped, permanently, from this earth.  For all that I try, constantly, to see the best in every person and to never condemn or feel hate, I too am human, and I sometimes fail to see how some of these twisted, depraved individuals could ever be made to see reason and kindness.

But by the same token, when I see the exultation in people’s eyes, see them smiling, waving flags, hear them singing, cheering, laughing — because of a violent death?  This doesn’t solve anything.  If anything, this only teaches that it’s okay to hate.  It reinforces the idea that there are no peaceful solutions, that there is no common ground.  What have we accomplished, that we should be celebrating?  A human life, snuffed out — no matter that this particular human was, without doubt, a depraved psychopath.  While life remains, there is hope of change.  Of teaching, and learning, and talking, and maybe coming to understand things about the world that we had never encountered before.  Killing Bin Laden doesn’t teach him — or anyone else — a thing.  If anything, it only creates more hatred.  Violent death creates martyrs, gives people a rallying point around which to consolidate and strengthen the very fundamentalism that I would see wiped out.  And, on the other side of things, it reinforces the “us vs. them” dichotomy that much Western fundamentalist thought is based upon.  We must see this man as unequivocally evil and irredeemable, or else we must feel guilt at his death.  Too many will convince themselves that this was right, and just, and even necessary.  And they’ll demand more blood, to further justify their rightness.  To bury their guilt under a building mountain of bodies, until even utter genocide will not seem enough.

The death of another should never bring us joy, because it is the value we place on life that makes us human, and kind.  To take joy in the death of another requires hate … and today, I simply see too much hate in the world.  It saddens me.