Friday, June 27, 2014

The Race to Triple Zero: The Polarization of Hyper Thin Culture

I remember when I was growing up in the 90s there was a plethora of girl bands around, the foremost of which were the Spice Girls. Now, the Spice Girls were an interesting group of young women, and all 5 of them had a different body types. Today, the Spice Girls would be considered fat (except maybe Victoria Beckham). In fact, most of the female pop stars of the 90s would be considered fat today. Even the models of the 90s would be too fat for the runway in 2014. This is interesting considering that since the 90s the world has gotten fatter. Much fatter.

The way we live our lives and the food that we eat is making us unhealthy and making us gain weight. The antibiotics in meat. The High Fructose Corn Syrup in everything. The heavily subsidized junk food industry. All of this cheap, low quality  food is being combined with a lifestyle that actively discourages activity. Cities in North America especially are built for driving, and not for walking or biking. Children are kept inside to play with their video games and computers and phones because of parental fears and lack of time and energy.

As a result thin has become even more a symbol of exclusivity and is shown as the (now nearly impossible) ideal for women to achieve. Not only that, but weight has now become a moral issue. Those extra pounds are a sign that you aren't really trying, and that you must be somehow a lazy or otherwise undesirable person. Somehow being fat is considered to be an individual moral wrongdoing and not a symptom of the collective lifestyle encouraged by our society. It's unhealthy they say. And yet when a celebrity or anyone else goes too far trying to achieve the ideal, the media and society acts shocked that a woman accomplished what they were told they were supposed to do since they were children. Be underweight to the point of starvation.

Triple zero sizing is now a thing in stores. Why this size is necessary I am not sure, but the idea that the ideal size for a woman is zero, as in non existent, is disturbing. The ideal is for a woman to take up zero space. To be nothing. To deny herself food and to harm her body and health until she can look at a label that says she is zero.

It's all part of the larger corporate marketing strategy to profit off of the insecurity of women. And they start from when we are children. And when they can't profit off of our insecurities, they will try to sell us self esteem, and shame us for being insecure. "Stop saying sorry!" the shampoo commercial proclaims, while at the same time telling us to buy their shampoo because our hair will be ugly without it. Eat our food, but make sure to feel guilty about it afterward.

The contradictory list of things women are supposed to be is confusing at the best of times and infuriating at the worst. I propose we throw out the list. Be thin. Be fat.  Be 0 or 20. But be happy. Eat without guilt. Be healthy. Not "healthy", but actually healthy, inside and out.  Love yourself.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Girls don't Like Sports: Female Viewers and the World Cup

I was watching the BBC coverage of the World Cup last night and there was an interesting segment in which the announcer talked about how young women made up the largest proportion of people talking about the World Cup on social media. I think this is an interesting phenomenon to discuss because here we have a sport that women seem to be taking enthusiastically about, and probably have a good amount of interest in, and yet there wasn't a single female commentator on the BBC coverage of the matches.

The argument I suppose for lack of representation has usually been that women aren't really interested in sports, or that they just don't know as much as men and watch only because the men in their lives watch. Women are considered to be "fake fans" who don't really know anything about football but watch to see hot guys, as if you can't both watch to see hot guys and understand or appreciate the sport. The fact that women are clearly interested in talking about sporting events like the World Cup shows that they do in fact, know something and are fans. So why is this being ignored by commentators and sports organizations?

Women are expected to "prove" themselves when they watch sports in order to be considered an acceptable fan by men. Most of the time female fans are entirely ignored by sports clubs and when they are acknowledged it's usually with "sexy" or "pink" versions of fan merchandise. It makes for a sort of tiered fan status in which women are at the bottom of the totem pole. It's not to say that there shouldn't be merchandise that appeals to and fits women, but it is entirely possible to do that without making the merchandise painfully and obviously gendered in a way that paints women as accessories and not fans.

It was interesting that when I was looking through social media posts about the World Cup that I had to scroll through countless pictures of women in flag decorated bikinis or pictures of attractive female audience members instead of seeing information about the matches or pictures from the matches. So I do wonder how much straight men are actually interested in the sport if most of what they are posting is pictures of scantily clad women? But that might bring into question the fan cred of straight men, for the very reasons they question female fan cred.

Female fans are portrayed as a kind of mascot rather than people who actually are interested in the sport and watching the game, and until this sort of thing ends we probably won't see as many women calling the games or offering commentary during high profile sporting events. We need to start questioning our assumptions about what makes a sports fan, and who has the cred to talk about sports, because women are a huge demographic of viewers of these events and are just as entitled to representation in broadcasting and other areas of sport as men. There is no such thing as a fake fan.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Politics of Pipelines: Northern Gateway and Keystone XL

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline which will ship oil from Alberta to the West Coast of British Colombia through some of the most pristine wilderness in Canada and through First Nations communities. This pipeline along with Keystone XL have been hot topics for years now, with the Canadian government firmly on the side of drill baby drill.

Gutting environmental assessments ensured that the pipeline would be approved without much trouble, and Harper continues to push President Obama to approve Keystone in spite of the fact that it won't create many jobs and could potentially cause massive amounts of environmental damage. It is pretty clear that Obama will reject Keystone after the congressional elections in November, but the reasons for doing so are obvious and sensible. Yet the Harper government fails to see this.

Being ideologically blind  has many consequences and this is clearly one of them. The science is telling us that these pipelines are not a good idea but all the Harper government sees is dollars and cents for their friends in the oil industry, who no doubt were the ones to conduct the environmental assessments. Common sense tells us that if a project is going to cause more harm than good we should probably abandon it and look for alternatives. But common sense seems to be lacking in the Harper camp.

Like in the United States, pipelines and drilling and fracking have become political issues, and anyone who objects to further development is an environmental terrorist trying to ensure that we all pay more for gas and heating and oil. Similarly those on the left are expected to oppose development in all cases otherwise they are no better than the crazy Republicans or Conservatives. Showing your disdain or reverence for development is a badge of honor and a sign of your allegiance on the left or right.

The problem with this approach is that it muddles up the real issue, which is the science and fact based analysis that should determine the effectiveness of pipelines or other sorts of development. Unfortunately big oil and politics have gotten in the way of unbiased and scientific assessment, and the true damage of these sorts of projects is never revealed until after there are horrific accidents like what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The true effects of fracking are still unclear but are starting to emerge.

This isn't about left and right. This is about the facts of what these projects do to the environment. It is hard to make an argument that more pipelines and more fracking will be good for the environment. They might be good for business, but in the end the average person won't see their bills go down, and the communities effected by the disasters that will inevitably accompany these projects will have to live with the consequences. This is why the First Nations of British Colombia are opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline, and will likely continue to push to stop it. They don't want disaster in their backyards. Who would?

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Iraqi Collapse and American Responsibility: The Effects of Dennis the Menace Foreign Policy

The Iraqi government is falling to pieces not long after the American government declared their involvement in the country to be over. Iraqis of all backgrounds are taking back parts of the country they believe to be their homeland, and those being pushed back are vowing to defend themselves. Civil war seems unavoidable at this point, but we have to remember where this all started.

Many people seem to have short memories and have decided to place the blame for this eruption of violence on some inherent flaw in the Iraqi people and Islam. But Iraq was stable (although under despotic rule) before the American invasion in 2003. Destroying the physical and social infrastructure of the country has created a void that no new government could fill. The deprivation in Iraq since the invasion has only bred more anger and fed more militant groups.

The situation in Iraq is not all the different from that of Afghanistan, where the government is barely being held together and civil war will eventually tear the country apart long enough for the most hard line of the hard line to come out on top. It is a predictable outcome for what America has been doing in the region for the last 15 years. Change cannot be forced from the outside, and any government put in from the outside will not be considered legitimate.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the hard line groups are now making a comeback because the inserted governments are not equipped to defend their territory and they are seen as stooges of the Americans. When you have a situation like this and a lack of understanding about the shaky balance of power between religious and ethnic groups in a place like Iraq the end result will never be pretty. One group will always feel disenfranchised.

American intervention without proper planning or understanding is a fools errand and American presence in these places has only caused a feeling among the people that it is a new crusade; a war against Islam and its followers. It is easy to brush off religious extremists as insane and blood thirsty but they are a product of the extremism of the war on terror. The war on terror is creating more terrorists.

What the war has done essentially is to remove "bad guys" without a plan and in the end they will be replaced with even worse guys. You cannot conduct Dennis the Menace style foreign policy and not expect it to have long term consequences. You cannot turn your back on the people suffering because it's no longer politically expedient to be involved anymore.

The American public is shrugging their shoulders now saying that the Iraqis have to get their own house in order but American foreign policy has created this quagmire, and eventually there will be wider consequences outside of the Middle East.

This should be a harsh lesson, however it is not much different than the disastrous Vietnam War. The Americans lost that war and they have lost this one. Now it's time to pack up and leave after the damage has been done, and let the victims be the ones to sort out the mess left behind. Perhaps it is impossible to learn lessons from history.

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