Monday, May 20, 2013

Rape isn't a Joke: How Comedy Reinforces Rape Culture

Comedy is an arena largely dominated by white men, who have developed a stranglehold on what our culture perceives as being "funny". Since they make up the large majority of successful comedians, they have the power to define what is funny and to tell others that if they do not agree that they need to "loosen up" or that "it's just a joke".

There has been a disturbing trend of white male comedians dictating to women and people of colour what they should find funny, and it is largely accepted as being appropriate to excuse racism and sexism as long as it is within the context of "humour". Now this brings us to the subject of rape in comedy.

Rape is a serious criminal offence which leaves victims traumatized and shaken. Rape is not a crime about sex. It is about power and taking bodily autonomy from its victim. Rape is not a joke, and never should be. Yet increasingly young men are being told that rape is not only something trivial, but that it is humorous. Violence against women and the "right" for a man to make jokes about it has taken precedence over common decency and sympathy for rape victims, who are framed as having deserved their assault.

Young men who were raised in the Family Guy generation; where misogynistic and violent contempt for women is veiled under the cloak of humour or entertainment are now fighting for their right to laugh at the brutalization of rape victims. We have to ask ourselves about how this sort of humour manifests itself in our daily lives. Steubenville is a good place to start. 

Events like Steubenville are the result of young men having so little respect for the dignity of a young woman that they thought posting video and pictures of her rape was funny. They thought it was funny because they didn't think it was rape, and they didn't think they'd be punished. She was drunk after all, and if she cannot say no, that means yes. And afterwards it would be her fault.

We cannot divorce the messages children and teens receive from the world around them with the violence they commit later in life. A society that teaches young men that they are entitled to the attention and affection of all the women around them, and that makes light of violence ultimately breeds criminals. Girls are constantly bombarded with mixed messages that inevitably allow men to frame the cultural discourse about rape to one where the victim is at fault and not the perpetrator. Is this what we want to teach our children? That rape is just a fact of life for women that can be made light of?

Rape jokes, although problematic in their own right are a mere symptom of a much more troubling societal problem. A world where it is okay to be dismissive of horrific sexual violence against women. That talks a good talk but ultimately shrugs its shoulders and moves on when we see cases like that of Rehtaeh Parsons or Steubenville.

We have to be weary of a culture of increased glorification of sexual violence, and a world where teen boys often have access to violent pornography that distorts their perceptions of what healthy sex looks like. Parents need to have truthful and open conversations with their sons and daughters about what consent is, and take a stand against rape apology in our criminal justice system and media. 

When rape stops being a joke, then we can tackle the serious issues of sexual violence and the media. But little is likely to change until public perceptions are altered and young men are brought up to recognize that women are human beings that exist outside of their personal sexual wish fulfillment. When young women are violated not only by their rapist, but also by their peers and the authorities we know that we have a serious problem with how our young people perceive rape, and that has to change.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thatcher, Reagan, and the Origins of Today's Economic Crisis

Margaret Thatcher has died. Though much will be said about her legacy in the coming days, it is worthy to note the historical moment in which she emerged. The 70s was a time of expanded rights, increased union power and growth of the welfare state. It was also a time of poor economic conditions, in which the price of oil skyrocketed and unemployment was high, so it is obvious why a figures like Reagan and Thatcher would have appeal. They cut spending and made promises of leaner, more effective government. The reality was quite different.

The economic policies of these two figures set the stage for the current crisis. By introducing "supply side" economics, the rich became vastly wealthy over the past 30 years, and the gap between the haves and have-nots has turned into a chasm. Privatization of state assets was the game back then, and as a result more corporate influence has permeated into every aspect of governance; putting the interests of business ahead of those of the individual.

The rhetoric of the 80s was one of "self-reliance" and "small government", which really meant that the social safety net people relied on would be attacked and destroyed, and they were successful. Banks were deregulated, corporate taxes cut, and workers trampled. Thatcher's world did not include any sympathy for the poor.

In the following decades, the short term economic benefits to corporations would reach their zenith, until the eventual collapse of 2008, in which the banking sector and the housing market were brought back to Earth. But nothing was learned. In spite of such a disastrous outcome for the policies of  Thatcher and Reagan; the EU, IMF, and other Neo-Liberal organizations continue to push the failed concept that drastic cuts and corporate welfare are the only solutions to avoid economic catastrophe.

But austerity simply does not work, and never has. It didn't work in the 80s when there was a massive recession, nor will it work now in Spain or Greece, where saving the banks is seen as the top priority over providing health care or employment assistance. Now is not the time for Thatcher's milk snatching.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Conservative Party Conundrum

The Canadian political scene has traditionally benefited from having two dominant centrist parties. The Progressive Conservative party was a centre-right "government in waiting" to the often in charge Liberal Party, which was squarely in the centre; veering left or right depending on the issue at hand. This made the Liberal party a very attractive political force in Canada, and once again it seems Canadians crave a move towed the centre.

When the PC party collapsed in the early 90s, the Reform Party movement came to prominence under the guidance of Preston Manning, and the merger between the two parties under Stephen Harper a decade later left a strong rift between the social conservative Reform/Alliance members and the more progressive wing of the new party. The answer to bridging this gap was undoubtedly Harper himself. His popularity as leader of the Reform/Alliance party was high,  and his first move as leader of the newly founded Conservative Party of Canada was to conduct a campaign in which he assured Canadians, particularly soft Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, that the Alliance wing of the party was not in control.The new Conservative Party was not a US Republican style social conservative party, and with this move Harper brought the party toward the centre of Canadian politics, in spite of concerns from his social conservative base.

To achieve his goal of attaining a government, Harper was forced to, and was successful in muzzling his more outlandish members. Very few Conservative MPs took part in debates in their own constituencies during elections, and rarely spoke outside the party line. Harper effectively made himself alone the Conservative brand, and he won government as a one man show.

Recent events have called into question Harper's control over his own caucus, particularly since the Conservative Party gained a majority mandate in 2011. The old rifts in the Conservative Party appear to have reopened. Social conservative MPs have publicly bemoaned being stifled from introducing abortion legislation; a debate that the vast majority of Canadians do not want reopened. And neither does Stephen Harper.

Harper is now in a precarious position. If he allows the conservative base of his party to do as they wish and introduce more social conservative bills to parliament, he will lose the next election almost certainly, as Canadians have never been particularly fond of fringe beliefs, be they on the right or left, and much of the soft Conservative vote east of Manitoba would be lost. Alternatively, if Mr. Harper continues to stifle his members, the knives may soon come out, and he could find himself being replaced by a more conservative leader for the party; effectively making the Conservatives unelectable in many parts of the country. This may suggest that the marriage of these two very different parties could prove to be a grievous error.

What does the future hold for the Conservative party without Stephen Harper at the helm to stifle members who want to push for a more social conservative agenda? Harper has left few possible successors, and the stitches that held together two old parties may soon start to rip if the Conservatives continue to slide in the polls. Whoever replaces Harper will need to be as shrewd and forceful in party discipline as he is if they want to win in a Canada that is veering toward the left as they try desperately to push to the right. Is there a Conservative Party without Stephen Harper? Only time will tell.