M 20 y on ea tre rs al aft M er as th sa e cr e
Is Barbie A Role Model? Torontoâ€™s Derby Girls Whip It Real Good Easy Breast Self-Exam
CHARGED WITH GENDER Taking a closer look at intersexuality
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Now You Know
A spoken word prose By NereĂŠ Smith
Photos by Elizabeth Chiang
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It only took a week for you to have me this way
K nees up Back arched
Legs wrapped around your waist And I can’t complain, cuz it’s good to me And I can’t wait to taste whatever poison you’re gonna give to me Cuz I wanna be able to handle the hardness of you To sip sweet sugars off your heavenly fruit, no chasers Straight liquor And I love how our connection goes way beyond the physical, even though I love your physique, And how you get a lineup like every other week I can’t lie, I got a thing for cornrows
And who knows?
Maybe I just love the idea of you That I get to challenge all the myths around you Cuz all men are dogs And apparently I’m never supposed to see you cry And supposedly every sentence, word and letter that you speak is a lie And if things go accordingly, you should have a baby ma ma besides me, But statistically, it was never supposed to be me I vowed all my life that a man could never put his hands on me But suddenly I find myself losing track of how many times you had to clap me Cuz the Ja maican bod gyal in me tends to get a little bit lippy Oh how quickly you change from Mr. Luva-Luva, My very own Mandingo, Into some strange creature I did not know, a beast of love I did not recognize And the saddest thing I have to do is have your hand around my neck And have to then look into your eyes and still say I love you That is strength I did not know and it only took two years, four months and three days for you to Have me this way before I finally let you go And for those of you who feel like you’re not as lucky as me, now you know Now you know that as quickly as he ca me, he can change Now you know that even assholes bear nine inches Now you know that everything you thought was something turned out to be nothing at all, But I guess it’s what we make it and we can’t change, So might as well take it for all it’s worth, and call that motherfucker a lesson learned
Cuz now you know
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n o C ts ten
27 Charged with Gender
An in-depth look at society’s views on intersexuality
9-11 Marie Baphaloukos’ fuckerware parties • Riot grrrl Yanyan Pang • Feminista Blanca Dole
14 20 Years Later
22 The Female Condition
16 Wheelin’ Dames
18 Still Life
She Said/She Said
Timeline: downfalls and triumphs after the Montreal Massacre Rolling with Toronto’s derby girls Vietnam War victim Kim Phuc learns to forgive and move on
32 Crank up the Volume
Canadian female music journalists fight sexism on the job
Pop the Question
12 Carlos Andrés Gómez Mans Up A Q&A about patriarchy and masculinity
6-8 Biting Back • Future Rock Femme Fatales Changing Gears • Wanted: Gamer Girls
Cover Photo by Andrea Mihai
31 An illustrated guide for giving yourself a breast exam 34 Debate: Is Barbie a good role model?
36 Francesca Wahking on being a mother figure 38 Kelly Linehan on having polycystic ovarian syndrome
40 Book reviews 42 Comic: How I quit makeup
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Editors-in-Chief: Managing Editors: Assistant Editor: Head of Copy: Head of Research: Handling Editors:
Online Editors: Art Director: Assistant Art Director: Illustrators:
Photo Director: Assistant Photo Director: Photographers:
Advertising Directors: Promotions Director: Circulation Director: Radio Coordinators:
Ronak Ghorbani Mai Nguyen Marlee Kostiner Adriana Rolston Daniela Germano Benjamin Glatt Hilary Hagerman Seema Persaud Erin Valois Melissa Wilson Emily Gagne Dominique Lamberton Ashley Stanhope Erin Valois Samantha Anderson Jelena Djurkic Michael Huynh Angie Torres Arti Patel Takara Small Lorraine Wright Ruth Claire Cagara Kristina Gutauskas Clara Bee Lavery Shannon Litt Irada Selimkhanova Andrea Mihai Julie Pasila Naomi Beemsigne Elizabeth Chiang Chris Dale Marta Iwanek Romaine Fraser Lisa Gushue Jessica Syslo Priya Jain Ronak Ghorbani Ashley Stanhope
Writers: Carmen Chai, Portia Favro, Emily Gagne, Luis Granados Ceja, Ronak Ghorbani, Tanja Grinberg, Kristina Gutauskas, Claire Lee, Jessica Lewis, Kelly Linehan, Harriet Luke, Rebecca Lee Martyn, Michelle Medford, Chelsea Miya, Lakshine Sathiyanathan, Nereé Smith, Adriana Rolston, Jessica Rose, Whitney Wager, Francesca Wahking Special Thanks To: Our model Ruth Claire Cagara, Oakham House, Tara Fillion, Racquelle Nembhard, Angus Leung, Nick Ut, Cassandra Zeppieri, PointOne Graphics
Letter From The Editors We were barely toddlers when Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and shot and killed 14 female engineering students. Now that we’ve become university students ourselves, the Montreal Massacre has become more real, resonating as one of Canada’s most haunting acts of violence against women. The day it happened, December 6, is now known as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women—2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the massacre. We’ve always believed that to make positive change, you must learn from the past, which is why we made a timeline (pg. 14-15) documenting other acts of violence against women and the strides North Americans are taking to end this cycle. Too often, women’s stories are silenced and ignored—we want to tell their tales. For us, McClung’s has become a safe haven to grow and experiment as writers, artists and editors. With this issue, we are continuing the 18-year tradition of introducing readers to new, fearless, feminist stories. In “Still Life,” (pg. 18-21) we learn how to forgive by exploring Kim Phuc’s extraordinary life. She’s known to the world as the little naked Vietnamese girl captured in a Pulitzer Prizewinning photo after being hit by a napalm bomb during the Vietnam War. A few pages later, our cover story, “Charged with Gender,” (pg. 27-30) explores views on intersexuality and how activists are challenging society’s gender norms. Speeding things up, we tag along with some of Toronto’s roller derby teams in “Wheelin’ Dames” (pg. 16-17) and learn how being tough and sexy is empowering. If you’re not a Twilight fan but still a secret vampire junkie, check out “Biting Back” (pg. 6) to get your fix of fanged-feminist lit. And feeling nostalgic, we have a cheeky debate about whether or not Barbie (pg. 34-35) is a positive role model for young girls. Besides putting together this jam-packed issue, we’ve spread women’s voices onto the airwaves by launching McClung’s Radio: Rebel Grrrl’s Music streaming live every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST on spiritlive.net. Also, be sure to check out our revamped website mcclungs.ca where we regularly update our blog, archive our radio show and have back issues ready for reading. Everyone at McClung’s has spent the past four months working tirelessly to make a magazine that comes straight from the heart. From our hands to yours, we hope you enjoy this issue. With love,
Editors-in-Chief Ronak Ghorbani and Mai Nguyen MCCLUNGS.CA
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Illustration by Kristina Gutauskas
By Kristina Gutauskas
veryone has gone vampire crazy. From Twilight to The Vampire Diaries, we are in no shortage of handsome corpses blessed with supernatural power, able to induce feelings of desire on their fragile female victims with a single brooding glance. The question is: why do we still love these cliché storylines?
Jane Toswell, a University of Western Ontario professor who teaches speculative fiction, says people want to escape 21st century life or avoid taking responsibility for their decisions. “There does seem to be an undercurrent that disturbs me, which considers it more and more dangerous for women to be independent, so they need to be forced back into a paradigm in which men protect them from monsters.” Still, not all is lost. There are vampire stories out there that turn the tables by creating strong, independent female characters. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula starred one of the most infamous vampire seducers of all time. However, one of the works that inspired his novel was Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla featuring a female vampire, comparatively rare for the time. Vampire expert Anne Rice created a similar blood-lusting antagonist, Akasha, in Queen of the Damned. While the character’s plans of ridding the world of almost all men to create her own utopia re-enforces the man-hating feminist stereotype, there is more to Rice’s mother
of all vampires. “[Akasha] is still the only character in the novel that has political and moral concerns about the restricted situation and marginalization of women,” writes researcher Rita Antoni. The list of novels goes on, from contemporary heroines in Tanya Huff’s Blood Bank series and Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, to more subversive examples in Pam Keesey’s anthology, Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales. Selene, of the Underworld movie trilogy, is an intelligent, sexy vampire and an assassin skilled in martial arts and weaponry. Still, any list of fictitious female powerhouses would not be complete without Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cultclassic TV series of the late 1990s that was conceived as a feminist repackaging of the patriarchal genre. Sure, Twilight’s Edward Cullen is fast, but would that be enough to stop Selene from pumping a few rounds through his pristine peacoat, or Buffy from driving a stake through his sparkly chest? Makes you wonder. m
Future ROCK Femme Fatales By Lakshine Sathiyanathan
ackstage at the legendary Vancouver theatre, The Cultch, Ndaya is all jitters. The pre-teen is about to take the stage and belt out the original tune she co-wrote at her summer camp, Girls Rock Camp. “She was really nervous,” says Ndaya’s 12-year-old bandmate Allegra Wright. “So I just said ‘Okay, do some of the warm-ups, you know, just breathe and just relax, you can do this.’” This is the kind of support the Vancouver camp and its Canadian sister camps in Peterborough, Ont. and Montreal strive to build. Throughout the week, campers group themselves into bands, design logos, compose an original song and perform at a culminating live concert for friends and family. Through a supportive community of mentors and peers, the camp for girls aged eight to 18 offers a safe environment
for building self-esteem, forming healthy relationships and developing selfexpression. The three Canadian camps loosely base their programs on the original, Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls founded in Portland, Ore. in 2001. Since then, there are now camps scattered across Canada, the United States and Europe. On their applications, many girls choose the drums. “We had to sort of talk up how cool the bass was and get a few girls to play bass,” says Eli Leary, executive director of the Vancouver camp. The coordinators hold workshops and lead discussions that range from selfdefence to publishing a music zine. Leary, who held a body image and identity workshop, says their discussion about relational aggression, high school cliques and teasing hit close to home for many of the girls.
“We kind of practiced how you’d stick up for people in situations like that,” she says. “Just making eye contact, having really solid body language and just saying ‘No, that’s not okay.’” As the week progresses and the girls gear up for their live performance, their confidence rises—confidence that they can use both in a band and in life. m
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Photos by Andrea Mihai
Ms. Lube owner Jessica Gilbank
By Adriana Rolston
Women are the driving force behind Ms. Lube
athilda’s sitting on the hoist and she needs fixing. One of her headlights burned out, her washer fluid won’t spray and her driver’s side window doesn’t close all the way. “Okay, so she’s a nightmare,” announces Maud Sailland, a licensed auto mechanic from France, as she walks into the office of auto shop Ms. Lube in downtown Toronto. “Yeah, it sounds like it,” says Jessica Gilbank, the shop’s owner, sitting in stained jeans and a black T-shirt. Both women erupt into laughter. Mathilda, a grey van, will be alright. She’s waiting on a part and once it arrives, she’ll drive off the lot. Gilbank has 13 years of experience as an auto mechanic and has put in time at car manufacturers Volvo and Mercedes-Benz. She was frustrated by the lack of women working in the auto shops she frequented and by the condescending attitude she sometimes got from male mechanics. “Like I’m a complete moron because I’m a girl and they’re just going to tell me whatever they feel like and I’m going to buy it,” she says. So she opened Ms. Lube, which is staffed solely by female mechanics—the first in North America—and hopes to open a second location one day. Ms. Lube upholds a user-friendly environment by having clients deal directly with one of the five mechanics, not a secretary. Both women and men enjoy dealing with a female technician, says Gilbank, because they feel women will be more honest, communicative and careful in following instructions. She knows her staff won’t charge customers for unnecessary repairs and will only take care of what’s needed. Safety is the top priority at Ms. Lube. “We look at it and say, ‘Okay, if this person is driving down the street
and a little kid’s ball goes out in front of the car, are they going to be able to stop?’” says Gilbank. When you walk into Ms. Lube, you’ll meet the cars since some clients name their rides. When Gilbank opened at College and Bathurst streets in March 2009, she knew that vehicles are often an extension of a customer’s personality. The shop’s persona is reflected in the 1950s-era motif, with teal and orange stripes running around the walls and a cheeky pin-up style mechanic as the logo. But Ms. Lube hopes to offer more than auto service with a smile to customers. The second floor is being renovated into a lounge to display local art. It’ll have wireless internet along with yoga, self-defence and automaintenance classes. Erica Reed, an apprentice from Centennial College, enjoys working in the mellow atmosphere at Ms. Lube, knowing that in a typical shop, men far outnumber women. In her high school shop class, she got razzed for being the only girl but she knew her ambitions to become a certified auto mechanic were more important than jabs about her gender. Although entering a male-dominated profession can be intimidating, Gilbank sees that this is starting to change as more single women own cars and want to know how they work. Wrench Wenches is a group she recently started with female clients to show off their rides at car shows. They plan on getting matching jackets. Gilbank believes society perpetuates the idea that fixing cars is “a guy thing” and many women think, “‘I’m a girl. I don’t really need to know anything about a car.’ I think that’s stopping.” m MCCLUNGS.CA
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Illustration by Lorraine Wright
W Wanted: Gamer Girls By Michelle Medford
Melissa Yank Berta’s quest to find fellow female players
hen Melissa Yank Berta posted an ad on Craigslist, a classifieds website, she wasn’t selling anything, nor was she looking for a job or a rental. She was looking for a friend, a fellow gamer-girl. “I just need to know that there are other girls out there in the city like me and that I’m not some weird hybrid species of girl,” she wrote in her ad. Though the number of female gamers appears to be rising, the community remains heavily male-dominated, so it’s easy for women like Yank Berta to feel singled out and disconnected. However, females are investing more time in gaming. According to the annual State of the Video Gamer report by Nielsen Games, females spend more time on computer games than males. The difference is the types of games women play. Female gamers outnumber males in single-player card games like Solitaire and FreeCell. Males dominate first-person shooters like Half-Life 2. “It really comes down to individual taste and preference, like any other form of media,” says Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. “Although I think that females do tend to prefer games with a well-developed storyline, as opposed to just random gun fights or something similar.” Brad Raczka, director of marketing for Nielsen Games, believes the influx of female gamers is due to the recent releases of the Nintendo Wii and DS. It’s as simple as creating a pink Nintendo DS, specifically marketed for females, Parr says. While Yank Berta feels it’s easy to find a woman who plays novelty games like Wii Sports and Brain Age, she struggles to find women who play multiplayer online role-playing games like World
of Warcraft and Final Fantasy. Yank Berta remembers sharing game consoles and trading games with friends in high school. “We’d spend hours on weekends just hanging out and playing video games,” she says, admitting most of her gamer friends were guys. When Yank Berta moved to Toronto, she left her gamer friends in Delhi, Ont. Last year, she posted a similar ad looking for gamers in general. While she has had a lot of male friends in the past, she says it rarely comes without sexual tension. “When [male gamers] find out that a girl likes playing videos games, they’re attracted to them,” she says. “It can be really awkward if you’re not interested or if you have a significant other.” Yank Berta, though, did meet her boyfriend online while playing World of Warcraft. But he lives in Florida. Yank Berta also finds males reluctant to admit a fair loss to her, denouncing it to luck. Angela Kolb, another female gamer, says it’s never really a competition with women. She agrees that some males can be hesitant to admit a fair fight, and she feels this is more common with younger males. With others, “It’s a rite of passage of respect,” says Kolb. But Yank Berta has received few responses to her recent ad. “I’ve gotten maybe two that have been promising, people that I could probably hang out with and have a good time with,” she says. One response was from out of town, and Yank Berta hopes to meet up with her soon. “I miss having female companions,” she says. “I want to be able to do that with a girl that I can also have in-jokes with.” m
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Fuckerware Marie Baphaloukos puts a sexy spin on the traditional Tupperware party
Photo by Chris Dale
By Whitney Wager
arie Baphaloukos’ life can be summed up in her favourite phrase: lalala—are you feelin’ it? It means to masturbate, to have sex or to simply enjoy. For Baphaloukos, the phrase is part of her livelihood, her sexuality, her self-esteem and her personal relationships. For her, it’s a mantra of female empowerment. By day, Baphaloukos, 32, works as a real estate broker alongside her father. By night, she conducts home parties, selling sex toys, tasty massage oils and various women-centric products. In 1999, Baphaloukos worked at Fantasia, a multilevel adult novelty marketing company, selling sex products in women’s homes before breaking off on her own to create Heavenly Pleasures. She has done over 850 parties and is booked solid Thursdays through Sundays. At each party, Baphaloukos sells around $1,500 worth of products. The average partygoer spends about $80 a night. “The product sells itself,” she says. Former Fantasia co-worker, Beth Weisman-Lovatt, also broke off and created B.A.R.E. Restraints. The two recognized a distinct hole in the market—a way for women to learn about sex products with comic relief in a familiar setting. Home parties allow women to bond, share experiences, learn about each other and explore sex together from the comfort of their homes. Replacing the old Tupperware, candle and Avon cosmetics parties of the past, “fuckerware” parties are a new way for women to gain individual and group empowerment. As Weisman-Lovatt says, “Sex is fun, and you can only own so many candles.” Baphaloukos drives a small, silver two-door that barely holds her giant bins of products. The bins are utterly disorganized, but she knows exactly where everything is. She’s on her way to a party and as usual, she’s late. But it’s okay. She does it on purpose to give everyone time to have drinks and eat hors d’oeuvres. As Baphaloukos walks through the door, heaving one of her bins, there is an uproar and applause. Her tight curls spew out wildly around her face. She places all of her items meticulously on a table at the front of the room and it’s time to start. More than 30 women squish into the family room, all eyes peering anxiously at Baphaloukos. She uses a blue dildo as a microphone and introduces herself. She passes it around and insists everyone say something good about themselves.
“I’m Sue and I have great tits in the right bra,” one woman says. “I’m Debbie and I am at my sexual peak.” “I’m Lisa and I thought this was a Tupperware party,” says a mild woman squashed in the corner. Before she starts, Baphaloukos put a tube of “O’ My” aphrodisiac cream in the bathroom for the women to try. Soon enough, all the cheeks in the room are flushing pink. The cream increases blood flow to the clitoris increasing sensitivity and opportunity to orgasm. The cream is one of her bestsellers. “The products are only as sexual as you make them,” she says to her clients, referring to a peppermint lotion that can be used as body wash, shaving gel, toothpaste and bubble bath. Baphaloukos then gets to the “synthetic apparatuses” from vibrating penis rings to the famous Rabbit vibrator, which she claims could blend a milkshake. When she gets to the anal toys, tension fills the room, but she happily gets down on all fours and demonstrates (clothes on) how to manoeuvre the misunderstood playthings. By the end of the night, every single woman has made a purchase after a series of individual consultations. “It’s like having a stand-up comedian in your house,” says Liz Hillhouse, the party host. The reason these parties are so successful, Weisman-Lovatt explains, is because the babyboomers experienced the 1960s and 1970s feminist movement. Buying products, even nonsexual ones, allow these women to take back control of their bodies after having kids and abandoning their physical needs for so long. The women attending the home parties aren’t perverted or desperate. They are like any mother and her friends. They bond as they talk about the most intimate details of their lives. There are pangs of sadness and then tidal waves of glee as each woman realizes she is not alone. By the wee hours of the morning, Baphaloukos hauls the bins back to her car. They are considerably lighter than when she arrived. It’s only Friday and she’s worried there won’t be enough products to last her the weekend. As she drives away from the Brampton, Ont. home, she talks affectionately about each woman’s purchases, laughing at how they always surprise her. She’s just glad each one of them experienced some lalala, even if only for those moments. m MCCLUNGS.CA
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Yanyan Pang and her riot grrrl band, Hard Candy, smashes Hong Kong’s status quo By Rebecca Lee Martyn
well-primed and manicured, Pang and her music elicit a few side-glances from the city’s record executives. “We don’t need to live under the rules,” she says. “We can enjoy life as much as men do. I would love to use myself as an example to tell all the women to be proud of themselves and do whatever they have in their mind. I never consider myself as a good singer or skillful musician. But once you start, everything can be fun.” Pang’s music is honest and it tells girly stories with a dagger. It’s raw like a dry throat with salt on it. It’s grammatically incorrect, it’s off-pitch, it’s discordant, it’s defiant. In a city with a population density of 6,460 people per square kilometre, where consumerism is the mainstream culture and Cantopop smothers you like the city’s smog, carving your place as an independent woman with a fully free mind of her own is difficult. “Cantopop is our culture. It draws a heavy influence to us in daily life, especially with all those heartbreaking lyrics about breaking up,” she says. “I don’t look as good as the Cantopop stars, and we don’t try to follow their trend,” she says. “We just play it out as we want to. For the Cantopop industry, they would not be able to be as playful as we are but fairly, we also cannot earn as much as they do!” On stage, Pang is in a world of her own. This isn’t a Cantopop Hong Kong coliseum performance. No elaborate stacked cake costumes, no backup dancers, no light boards greeting her. Only the chance to present herself and her music as it is, with truth, with honesty, and with dignity. It’s a chance to say “fuck you” to the transformation that Hong Kong and Cantopop culture would have forced upon her, and a chance to say “thank you” for spitting her out the way she is. m
Pictured in the middle is Yanyan Pang with her Hard Candy bandmates
Photos by Angus Leung
n a cutesy but frantic concoction of noise, punk and ska, Hard Candy breaks out into its first song of the night “Call me crazy.” The band’s brash but girly frontwoman Yanyan Pang swings her fist to the song’s intro and then begins to strum her guitar. The band continues, foot-tapping and head-bobbing, and Pang, completely confident in her stance, raises her head up to the mic and lets her voice go. The five-piece band is slightly crammed on the stage at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong’s Central District. This low-key performance is attended by friends and members of Hong Kong’s underground music scene and is radically different from the typical Cantopop concert— Hong Kong’s answer to North America’s sugar pop— usually taking place in coliseums attended by thousands of people. Cantopop concerts are decked with light shows, set and costume changes and backup dancers—the extravagant works. The Cantopop industry is backed by the city’s large business groups and media outlets. It’s what drives television station ratings. Since 2002, Hard Candy has been challenging several of the city’s expectations of how a woman should act, how music should sound and what she should do with her time. “Chinese culture says that girls should be very disciplined about their private life,” Pang says. “But modern women could choose to have whatever private lives they want.” This expression of feminine individuality is revealed in the song “11 Happy Tricks.” Pang sings, “I walk across the highway without fear/ I eat the thing which I never eat/ I smoke a lot and walk all alone.” Like her band’s name, Pang is sweet, but hard. She’s feminine, and she’s able to kick your ass. In comparison to Hong Kong’s culturally-correct Cantopop stars that are
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Rebel Yell Feminista Blanca Dole fights the Honduran coup By Luis Granados Ceja
Photo of Blanca courtesy of Blanca Dole. Protest picture by Luis Granados Ceja
lanca Dole isn’t camera shy. Setting up some film equipment, I turn to Dole and ask her if I can hook up a microphone under her shirt. Without a second thought, the 52-year-old lifts up her shirt and with a smirk, tells me that people are often surprised by her immodest behaviour. She’s comfortable with her body and doesn’t care who knows it. I was in Honduras to film a documentary for the Latin American Solidarity Network and interviewed Dole about her work with the Colectivo Feminista: Mujeres Universitarias (Feminist Collective: University Women), where she serves as executive director and works with youth to develop feminist consciousness. Dole is comfortable doing interviews. The feminist activist has been doing social justice work for decades and has become a progressive voice for Honduran women. When she goes on TV talk shows in Honduras, Dole prefers to wear clothes that some would consider provocative in an effort to shock men—quite fitting considering she has a love for rebellious women. As Dole gives me a tour of her office, she makes sure to point out her collection of statues and dolls of witches. “Throughout my life I was uncomfortable with the status quo,” she says in Spanish. Since the June 2009 coup in Honduras, when democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and sent into exile in Costa Rica, Dole has spent her time working with La Resistencia, known as the National Front of Resistance against the coup d’état. La Resistencia is a coalition of dozens of social organizations that have come together to oppose the illegal regime of Roberto Micheletti. Zelaya, the ousted president, had aligned himself with progressive social forces in Honduras and Latin America, which did not sit well with the political and economic elites who had become accustomed to running the country as they saw fit at the expense of the poor majority. “I am living in a country that is completely unequal,” Dole says. “A country where wealth is concentrated in 20 per cent of the population. When we speak of the concentration of wealth, we’re talking about a domination of political power as well. We’re talking about a situation of complete and total control that these men have as a result of a coup. This we cannot allow.” Dole first started community work in the 1970s through Honduran grassroots groups affiliated with the liberation theology movement, “when the Catholic Church advocated
for a revolution,” as she puts it. Those experiences taught her about the need to bring about social change, something she still carries with her today. After graduating from university with a degree in gender studies, she started identifying as a feminist and decided to focus on implementing changes that would create equality between the sexes. “All human beings who have knowledge, have power. The power to speak, to decide our own lives, I believe that is the key, and feminism taught me that.” Women have been a very visible component in La Resistencia, participating in marches and encouraging debate about women’s issues within the resistance movement. Dole is no exception. She has committed the feminist collective’s resources to the struggle. Perhaps most importantly, Dole says that they have been successful in creating new links between social movements and feminist movements. “That struggle against the religious fundamentalists will no longer just belong to the feminists. Instead we are sure our male comrades will accompany us.” One of the major demands of La Resistencia is to rewrite the constitution, one that would respect the needs of the people. Dole insists that women must be part of the process that rewrites the constitution, and for the articles within it to promote human rights for all Hondurans. La Resistencia has counted on the support of the international community since the outbreak of the coup. Blanca calls on all progressive-minded individuals to become better informed about the present situation in Honduras and to stand up and defend democracy. She suggests that in order to build a stronger transnational feminist movement, what is necessary, first and foremost, is to engage in the realities of women in different parts of the world. Canadian feminists must know about Honduras. “We are here in struggle,” she says. “All your help is welcome.” m MCCLUNGS.CA 11
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pop thE QUEStIoN
Carlos Andrés Gómez Mans Up By Ronak Ghorbani
poken word artist Carlos Andrés Gómez has a remarkable intensity in his prose delivery. The 28-year-old grew up in New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood and writes about class, racism, homophobia and sexism in a way that’s both chilling and accessible to audiences. He’s won an Emmy, an L.A. music award and co-starred in Spike Lee’s 2006 film, Inside Man. In his latest play, Man Up, Gómez discusses how masculinity is damaging to men. McClung’s spoke with Gómez to find out how patriarchy has affected his life.
lt seems like you use your words for social justice activism. Why do you use that outlet specifically?
I actually don’t think I ever really set out to be an activist. I’m not liberal, I’m not radical, I’m not whatever. People put all these different tags on me. I’m just a guy. I’m just this dude that was born one day, lived his life, formed a few opinions and now he’s sharing them. If I think women should be treated like human beings, I don’t think that’s a radical thought.
When I was growing up, I was very frustrated because I didn’t have the models of a man that I hoped for. I’d look up to somebody and they’d be homophobic. I’d look up to somebody and they’d be machista (macho) and chauvinistic. I’d look up to somebody and they’d have to be demeaning to women. And don’t get mistaken, I have tons of issues and tons of fucked up politics and I don’t think I’m better than the guys who are misogynistic
Illustration by Shannon Litt
ln your play Man Up, you focus on masculinity and how it affects men. Where did you get your inspiration?
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or heterosexist or homophobic. I’m a product of my environment like other people are. I’m just fighting to not embody those things. In the play, I wanted to engage in a real courageous discussion about what it means to be a man and what it can mean to be a man. I think in the end, I try to strip away all of it and say, “Listen, I’m a human being, we’re all human beings, and if we peel away all this bullshit, we’re just a leaf shaking in the wind.”
You talked about this a little bit but l want to know specifically, how has patriarchy affected you in your life? Affected me? Shoot. It’s paved the way for me having an easier ride. Having people listen to me and having people bow their heads a bit more. That’s not just patriarchy but that’s white privilege too. I may be Latino but I benefit from white privilege. Look at me, I have green eyes and a nice Republican could-be face. The influence from my mom and sister especially has forced me to be aware and call a lot of people out on their shit when patriarchy rears its ugly monster head.
You taught in a middle school/high school setting in New York City. How did you see gender roles play out in the classroom?
It’s interesting because in both of my class situations, my classes were overwhelmingly female. Something I talk about a lot, too, is an exercise I used to do with my students, the “distinctly beautiful” exercise. Real simple, you write “I am distinctly beautiful because” and you write it 24 times down a sheet of paper and you fill it in. I noticed that as my students grew closer to graduation, the list got smaller and smaller. I could literally see the progression of them losing self-worth, losing their identity and their place in the world.
Talking about the impact on girls, there’s this one line in your monologue What’s Genocide? where you say you saw fourth grade girls giving blow jobs in the schoolyard. Did you see that? There was a shelter I used to do weekly workshops at where there were adolescent girls who were trying to transition out of prostitution or were infected with HIV/AIDS from birth. I knew where all the shoot-up galleries were, which is basically where people shoot up drugs. A lot of times it’ll be in abandoned buildings. They ended up tearing down one of the buildings, not because it’d been used by people using drugs. They caught a group of fourth-grade girls
giving fourth-grade boys blow jobs during recess because the girls wanted to make sure they knew how to give one.
Why was it important for you to add that line in What’s Genocide?
A lot of things that happened while I was a social worker, I haven’t been overwhelmingly vocal or open about because there was a lot of difficult, inexplicable things that I saw and confronted while I was a social worker. But the incident that reciprocated me writing What’s Genocide? was I had a friend come and she was talking about all this powerful black history and she said “shit” and “F-U” once and the principal said, “The performance needs to stop. I said no cursing.” I lost my mind. I went insane. I just walked in front of the class and said, “I have a bet I’m settling. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Holocaust.” And of course they don’t know anything, but they know they’ve heard of the Holocaust. Then I said, “Okay cool. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide.” And not one hand went up and I just remember my eyes welling up just thinking I’m living in [George Orwell’s] 1984. Literally 800,000 people in East Africa got pushed off a desk. They don’t exist anymore and they never existed. Then one hand goes up and I was like, “You know about the Rwandan genocide?” She shakes her head and says, “What’s genocide?” And I just went crazy. This world that sexualizes you from the time of your birth where 85 per cent of the movies you watch on a nationally broadcasted channel can’t show somebody’s head being cut off, they can’t show a nipple but they can show a woman being raped. They make it romantic and sexy and beautiful as if it’s hip, as if men are made to rape women and women are made to be raped. This fucking world is genocide. It is an extermination of us. m
They caught a group of fourth-grade girls giving fourth-grade boys blow jobs during recess because the girls wanted to make sure they knew how to give one.
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Dec. 6 1989
May 26, 1994
Marc Lépine, 25, storms into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and opens fire on a classroom after he separates the men from the women. He shoots 14 female engineering students to death declaring, “I hate feminists.”
A group of Canadian men create the White Ribbon Campaign, an organization urging men to end violence against women. The campaign is the largest effort of its kind and has participants in over 55 countries. The focus is on educating men and boys about ending violence against women.
The Violence Against Women Act, a declaration offering women a federal civil rights provision to combat gender-based violent crimes, passes in the United States. About $1.6 billion in expenditures over a six-year period is authorized to combat violence against women.
Saskatchewan is the first province to implement legislation that protects women from domestic violence. The Victims of Domestic Violence Act is used as a prime example for other provinces that follow suit.
Katie Koestner leads a mission to establish an international headquarters for Take Back The Night, an organization dedicated to working with women’s groups to help achieve safety and empowerment. When she was 18 years old, Koestner was raped in her freshman year of postsecondary studies.
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Oct. 12, 2007 The RCMP announces an expanded Highway of Tears investigation in northern B.C. At least 32 women, mostly Aboriginal, have disappeared or were killed along the isolated 724-kilometre strip of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. However, the RCMP has been highly criticized for its lack of progress.
Dec. 11, 2007
Aug. 4, 2009
B.C. pig farmer Robert Pickton receives six life sentences with no eligibility for parole for the brutal slayings of six women. He’s also charged in the deaths of another 20 women, most of whom were prostitutes and drug addicts from Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
Pennsylvania resident George Sodini interrupts a women’s dance class at LA Fitness and kills three women, injuring nine more before taking his own life. His online blogs and notes show his anger and frustration towards women.
It has been 20 years since the Montreal Massacre when 14 female engineering students were killed. A 2006 Statistics Canada report revealed that, on average, there were 182 female victims of homicide every year in Canada between 1994 and 2003. Here is a list chronicling acts of violence against women and the steps North Americans have made in dissolving the issue. By Carmen Chai
Nov. 4, 2009
Aug. 26, 2009 Winnipeg police, the Manitoba government and the RCMP create an official task force to further investigate ongoing missing and murdered women cases in the province. In the last 20 years, 75 Aboriginal women have gone missing in Manitoba. That summer, the bodies of Cherisse Houle, 17, and Hillary Angel Wilson, 18, are discovered.
The House of Commons passes a second reading of Bill C-391 on the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to repeal the registry of long-guns. It is now undergoing further review. If the registry is destroyed, so will the records of about seven million registered rifles and shotguns in Canada.
Images compiled by Julie Pasila
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Wheelin’ Dames T Rolling with Toronto’s derby girls By Emily Gagne
he air is so cold you can see your breath, but at this recreation centre in Toronto’s Downsview Park, hardly anyone’s wearing a jacket. Standing on a roller derby track donning fishnets, coloured tights, short skirts and booty shorts are Chicks Ahoy! and the Death Track Dolls. Music blasts from the speakers above and the players glide into position. The girls stare straight ahead, listening for their cue. A scantily clad ref blows a whistle and within a millisecond, the wheels start turning. Lock ‘n’ Roll and Seka Destroy (their roller derby stage names) from the Dolls push toward a corner at full speed alongside the Chicks’ Nasher the Smasher. But as they slow at a curve, the trio collides, creating an all-girl pileup. Without a word, they get up and push off the pavement, back into the bout. But when the whistle blows again to
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Photo by Julie Pasila
signal the end of the jam, Nasher screams. She motions for the paramedics. Two of them run onto the track and walk her to the sidelines. As Nasher sits on a bench, the crowd showers her with applause, the loudest cheers come from her opponents. Despite allegiances to sassy-titled teams, these girls can empathize. They all have an undying love for derby and know how much it hurts to take off their skates. At first glance, roller derby seems like nothing more than fights and fishnets. But the truth is, derby girls are this decade’s Spice Girls. They’re all about girl power. And thanks to Drew Barrymore’s derby-centric flick, Whip It, they appear to be skating into the spotlight. Leo Seltzer created the idea of roller derby in 1933 and held the first roller derby marathon in Chicago two years later. Unlike today’s sport, which includes rules, penalties and a points system, the early days of derby saw co-ed teams compete to see who could skate the longest. With their male counterparts overseas, during the Second World War, derby girls took over the track. The game remained popular until the 1980s when Rollerblades, the brand name inline skate, glided onto the scene. The quad skate phenomenon did not truly resurface until 2000 when a group of derby-lovin’ Texan gals formed an all-girl league called Bad Girl Good Woman Productions. The league split, but its members reunited to create two other leagues. In 2003, Arizona women also laced up and started competing. Six years later, there are 455 amateur leagues of derby dames competing worldwide. Each team has a pivot, a jammer and three blockers. The pivot wears a line on her helmet and skates at the front of the pack, setting the pace for her teammates. Jammers have a star on their helmet and start behind the pack. They gain points for each blocker they pass after passing trough the pack the first time. The team with the most points at the end of the bout, three 20-minute periods or two 30-minute halves, wins. Blockers are the derby’s defence. They try to keep the opposing team’s jammer from getting ahead while helping their own move forward. They can only use their shoulders and the top half of their arms, above the elbow, to block rivals and can be penalized for hitting players above the shoulders, below the hip or on the back. Cynthia Brooks, known as Splat Benatar in the derby world, spent a year skating with the Smoke City Betties, an independent team that joined the city’s first league, Toronto Roller Derby. In 2007, Brooks started the GTA Rollergirls league alongside her husband and fellow derby enthusiast, Kirk Narayansingh, and plays for the Derby Debutantes in that league. Brooks initially started skating to get some exercise but now knows derby is much more than a workout. The sport lets women get active in a positive and accepting environment. “You don’t need to have any experience to play with us,” says the 37-year-old. “After you’ve been with us for a while, you have to do some tests to make sure you’re up to standards. But we’ll work with you if you need help.” New skaters only need one prerequisite to join Brooks’ team: they must be 18 years or older. The Toronto Roller
There seems to be female unity, empowerment and strength connected to roller derby. lt’s all about sisterhood.
Derby league requires their players to be 19. Justin Romard, a.k.a. Lee Way Wreck’em, has been skating with the Debutantes since last August, and has always felt welcomed. “I used to be a drag king,” says 32-year-old Romard. “I went into it looking for a sense of community. But I never found it. Then I found derby. The girls made me feel like part of the team the day I showed up.” Fellow Debutante, May “Maykilla the Hun” Biley, 33, says the inclusiveness is what makes derby so unique. “The thing is we actually respect each other. The new girls can sense that.” She also adds that some girls they play with have been bullied all their lives, but they’re accepted in derby. “There seems to be a female unity, empowerment and strength connected to roller derby,” Brooks adds. “It’s all about sisterhood.” And the support doesn’t stop when they leave the track. Brooks’ team will often go straight from knocking into opponents to knocking back beers at a nearby pub. Romard recalls one time when she told a few girls about her upcoming drag gig. “I didn’t think anyone would really come,” she says. “Then half the team showed up. I was floored.” At her next practice, as Romard’s teammates lace up their skates, she sits on the sidelines in a sweatshirt and jeans. She’s giving her derby persona a break for the week because she twisted her ankle during their final regular season game. She injured the same area last spring at roller derby boot camp, and is letting it heal fully before getting back in the bout. Decked in hot pink T-shirts, fishnets and some serious tattoos, the girls speed past Romard. One girl loses her balance and falls hard on the off-white floor. Romard smiles. “That girl was really struggling when she first joined,” she says. “But now she’s one of our best hitters.” Romard may not be hitting the track today but she’s here to support her teammates, and for a derby girl, that is the next best thing. m
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Still Life By Claire Lee
More than 30 years ago, an iconic photo was captured of Kim Phuc that would forever change her life. Despite the years of suffering she endured, Phuc found her ability to forgive
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n June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old girl was hit by a napalm bomb in Trang Bang, Vietnam. Kim Phuc tore off her burning clothes and ran. There was fire, terrible heat, dark smoke and loud screams. It was the Vietnam War. The U.S. Air Force and South Vietnamese planes had mistakenly dropped the napalm on fleeing villagers. As Phuc was running, the bone of her left arm started to show through her melted skin. She cried in Vietnamese, “Too hot, too hot.” Among the many people who heard her cries was 21-year-old Nick Ut. His next action ignited shock around the world. He pressed the shutter release on his camera. After that, the Associated Press photographer’s horrific photo appeared widely in the media. In the following weeks, Independent Television Network and NBC aired video footage of Phuc’s recovery process. The photograph received a Pulitzer Prize and was named the World Press Photo of the Year. Phuc and her pain became one of the most iconic images of the era. For the next 14 months, the little girl went through 17 surgical procedures at a western-sponsored burn clinic in Saigon, Vietnam. The napalm caused third-degree burns on 65 per cent of her body. The pain continued when she underwent daily sessions of medicated baths and scraping of the dead skin. Phuc’s nights have hardly been painless ever since. She constantly suffered from the aftereffects of the war and the photograph. Yet Phuc never stopped fighting back. Her weapon was rare but strong. It was her capacity to forgive, time and again that would allow her to overcome this trauma in the years to come.
t’s a rainy Wednesday in Ajax, Ont. and I am sitting beside Phuc, now 46, in her black Toyota Camry. We’re heading to a hospital. One of her close friends had a stroke earlier this morning and fell unconscious. “She’s so young,” says a concerned Phuc. Phuc moved to Ajax with her husband Bui Huy Toan 17 years ago after receiving political asylum in Canada. She has two sons: Thomas, 15 and Stephen, 12. But as a Canadian United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for a Culture of Peace, she’s hardly ever home. For over 12 years, she’s given speeches on her life
and forgiveness in Belgium, Sweden and New York., to name a few. Phuc visits countless universities, small villages and burn clinics—places where she feels her story is needed. In 1997, she established the Kim Phuc Foundation to assist victimized children of war. Phuc has a soft voice, but it doesn’t make her sound shy or timid. She’s wearing a khaki field jacket and a red scarf. Her makeup looks like it was diligently put on in the morning. I notice her jade bracelet, but my eye darts up her arm. I can see her burn scars. Many years ago, she thought no one would ever marry her because of it. Phuc rolls up her sleeves and lets me touch her scarred arm. It feels like warm, dried paint. “It was so ugly,” she says. “I thought I would never have a boyfriend.” But she did. Phuc met her husband Toan while she was studying pharmacology at the University of Havana. During an electricity blackout at her dormitory, Phuc hurt herself carrying heavy water buckets up the stairs. Her friends called an ambulance and asked Toan for help, who was studying English and Spanish and was head of the Vietnamese contingent at the university. That was the beginning of their relationship. On Sept. 11, 1992, the couple got married. It was the first wedding in Havana’s Vietnamese community. “I was 29 years old,” says Phuc. “We were happy although we had nothing.” There were thunderclouds at the wedding, but rain on a bride and groom means good luck in Vietnamese culture. Phuc and Toan went on their honeymoon in Moscow. On their way back to Cuba, the plane stopped to refuel in Gander, Nfld. The newlyweds decided to get off the aircraft and stay in the country. Soon, they were granted refugee status, and in 1997, the couple became Canadian citizens. Not many people are aware that the little girl in the iconic photo now lives in Ontario, because for a long time, she wanted to keep it that way. “I wanted to live in peace without people bothering me, without people like you,” she says to me jokingly, then laughs. “I’m kidding, of course,” she says, adding that she’s okay Denise Chong’s The Girl in the Picture features the with it now. But I feel she Pulitzer Prize-winning photo on the cover.
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isn’t entirely joking. Among the countless people who caused her suffering, the ones who never stopped were journalists.
udy Knighton, a clinical nurse specialist at Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, saw Phuc as an inspiration for burn patients. “Many of them would lie there and play the tape over and over in their heads, thinking, ‘I am a good person. Why did
Photos courtesy of Nick Ut
lmost every evening in Saigon, 19-year-old Phuc would ride her bike past the University of Saigon where she used to be a medical student. Standing at the school’s gate, she cried watching the students walk out in groups. Why me? she thought. Why didn’t I just die when the bomb hit me? Beginning in the early 1980s, more and more western reporters wanted to find out what happened to the girl in the picture. When the North Vietnamese government took over the south in 1975, they thought Phuc would be useful for their anti-American propaganda. She was forced to miss classes at the University of Saigon to give interviews. Countless journalists and filmmakers wanted to interview her in the Tai Ninh province where she was hit by the bomb. So, the government finally ordered Phuc to be removed from the university and sent her back to her hometown to promote its political agenda. There, she was put under severe supervision by the Vietnamese government. Being restricted from attending school was worse than being severely burned by the napalm attack, she says. “I suffered so much already,” says Phuc. “When I thought it was finally over, I couldn’t go to school. I lost my dream. I lost my future. I wanted to be a doctor. And it was all over.” But Phuc managed to escape her hometown and went back to Saigon. There, she spent most of her time at the local library and read countless books on religion. She wanted to know why she had to suffer. “I hated everyone, even the ones who didn’t do anything to me,” says Phuc. Her eyes water up. “They were normal. I wasn’t.” In 1986, the Vietnamese government finally allowed her to study abroad.
But she still just wanted to live like any other village girl without the attention. After a while, she started to hate the photo. No girl would want for the world to see her naked, she says. Phuc could not help but hold a grudge against everyone who caused her suffering. “I cursed them to death,” says Phuc. She describes her past hatred and grudge as a full cup of black coffee—dark and bitter. She often wished the napalm killed her, and death seemed to be a lot easier than a life of chronic suffering, she confesses. But eventually, she wanted to pour out the bitter coffee. One day in the library, Phuc found a sentence from the New Testament that inspired her to forgive: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Not even knowing their names, she would write down a list of people who made her suffer. The list would have many lines like these: The pilot who dropped the bomb. The man who ordered to cut my studies. Then holding on to the list, she’d pray to God, asking for strength to forgive them. Forgiving made Phuc stop asking, “Why me?” Instead, she slowly began to count her blessings. “I survived to forgive and make people forgive,” says Phuc. “I can’t change what happened already, but I can change its meaning [to something positive].” In 1996, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Phuc met Rev. John Plummer, an American veteran who identified himself as the man who ordered the napalm bomb attack. He said in tears, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Phuc turned to him. “It’s alright,” she said, without any hesitation. “I forgive, I forgive.”
Left: Kim Phuc visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Right: Inside Washington’s Newseum, Phuc observes Nick Ut’s Leica camera on display
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Why me? Why didn’t l just die when the bomb hit me?
Photographer Nick Ut joins Kim Phuc at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
this happen to me?’” says Knighton. “Bad things happen to good people. They’re carrying burdens with them forever, which doesn’t allow them to live a full life. Forgiving is not easy to do.” Phuc’s story exemplifies what burn patients go through, from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to body image insecurities. One day while at a subway station, Phuc saw a young man in an army uniform. Her mind flooded with flashbacks of the war and she couldn’t move for five minutes. For many feminists, forgiveness is one kind of moral repair that allows women to hope and not remain silent. Kathryn Norlock, associate professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says public forgiveness can be one of the most powerful means of resistance against injustice. “When public forgiveness draws our attention to victims’ voices, it resists the public preference for either silence or vengeance,” says Norlock. The people who caused Phuc’s suffering have not been prosecuted by law and she has yet to be given an institutional apology. According to Norlock, officials and countries should provide forms of support and affirmation beyond just monetary compensation.
esiding south of the border in Los Angeles is 58-yearold Nick Ut, the man who started it all. It’s been more than 35 years and he vividly remembers the day he took the photo. After taking the snapshot, Ut poured water from his canteen on Phuc’s burns and drove her to a local hospital. “I thought she’d die any minute,” he recalls. “In my car, she cried, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die.’ I cried with her.” Today, Ut is still a photographer for the Associated Press and he makes sure to keep in touch with Phuc. “I still run into people who would thank me for the photo,” he says. “Many would say they wouldn’t have known about the war if they didn’t get to see [the picture].” “Are you happy that you took the photo after all?” I ask, reminding him of what she had to suffer.
“Yes,” he says. “It saved her life.” Another person close to Phuc is Denise Chong who spent almost two years with Phuc writing The Girl in the Picture: the Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph and the Vietnam War, published in 1999. When Phuc first arrived in Canada, she realized avoiding media exposure was nearly impossible, so with a lawyer, she agreed to do three things: the book with Chong, one photo shoot for Life magazine and one documentary with Canadian filmmaker Shelley Saywell. “She just wanted to finish them, then move on and have a quiet life,” Chong says. In her book, Chong describes Phuc as a “bird in a cage,” a bird that has nowhere to hide because its cage is the whole world. But now, Phuc has learned to share her story with the public. “She’s realized, if reluctantly at first, that the picture is an iconic image of war,” says Chong. The photo does not only speak about the Vietnam War, Chong writes in her book. The pain captured in the image relates to the moral ambiguity of any war. “Phuc’s photo is going to have enduring power,” she says, “because the undeniable cycle of war goes on.”
he rain gets heavier outside the car as we drive. Phuc is determined to see her friend is safe and healthy. Phuc asks me to hand over her water bottle. She drinks a sip, saying she often wishes she can be in less pain. The burns had damaged too many of her nerves. “It still hurts whenever the weather changes,” says Phuc. “That’s why I drink water.” Although it’s rare now, Phuc experiences PTSD symptoms as well as war nightmares. Sometimes there are bombs, sometimes there are soldiers dying. Sometimes in these dreams, she is still the nine-year-old girl running away from the bomb fire, not knowing where to go or where to stop. “I still suffer,” Phuc admits. “The scars are still there but inside I’m healed. I forgive. I’m free from hatred.” She smiles then drives on. A faint sunlight falls on her wrist. Her scar shines. m
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The Female Condition By Tara Fillion Females have been defined continually throughout history. During the 1800s, hysteria was a medical diagnosis specific to females. Up until modern times, there was a haunting notion among male scientists that females were a mysterious creature, nonhuman even. They were hooked up to wires, tested for hysteria and underwent forceful treatment. These are the unknown stories of oppressed females. It is through these obscure accounts nestled in the archaic studies of the female that my images come to surface: the restrained, the hysteric, the carrier of children and the martyr.
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Photo by Andrea Mihai
Charged with Gender
After the world witnessed the forced gender testing of South African runner, Caster Semenya, Chelsea Miya sheds light on the way society views intersexuality MCCLUNGS.CA 27 2010 magazine.indd 27
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Fourteen-year-old Sarah Cosby at a dance.
“If I had known what it would be like afterwards, I would have never had the surgery,” says Cosby. “I’d always been a fighter but after that, I lost my confidence. It was like my body was half-dead. They didn’t treat me like a person. I was just a thing.”
orty years later, not much has changed. Some think that social and medical stigma continue to force intersexuality into the closet. The true rate of DSDs is impossible to calculate, with estimates ranging up to 1.7 per cent of the population. In fact, few people are even aware intersexuality exists. That was until the recent controversy around South African runner Caster Semenya thrust the “third sex” into the public spotlight. The 18-year-old’s career started out like a fairy tale. From growing up in a small village and training in fields, Semenya won gold at the 2009 Track and Field World Championships in Berlin. But then the backlash began. Competitors cried foul, filing complaints with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). “Just look at her,” fifth-place Mariya Savinova of Russia said after Semenya’s win. “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man,” said Italian Elisa Cusma Piccione who came in sixth. The IAAF ordered gender tests, and humiliating headlines questioning Semenya’s “true” sex splashed around the world. With her muscular build, bushy eyebrows and faint outline of a moustache, Semenya is not a stereotypical cover girl model. But the question is, what do looks really have to do with gender? Gender is far more complicated than physical appearance. Hormones, DNA, what type of gonads a person has and how they’re functioning all affect a person’s sex. There is no clear relationship between intersexuality and athletic performance, but year after year, gender controversy continues to hound athletes. It started with Olympic gold medalist Eva Klobukowska in 1967. She was banned from competing after failing a sex chromosome test. Despite being judged not female enough to run, a few years later, Klobukowska gave birth to a boy. It happened again at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Eight athletes failed gender tests but were cleared by subsequent examinations and competed in the Games. And again in 2006, after failing a gender test at the Asian Games, Indian track and field champ Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her silver medal. The International Olympic Committee officially eliminated the practice of gender screening in 1999. The IAAF was supposed to do so in 1992, but still retains the option for testing if suspicions arise. The controversy
Photo courtesy of Sarah Cosby.
arah Cosby’s life changed forever when she walked through the front doors of the University of Alabama Medical Center. Just 23 years old, the small-town girl was young, beautiful and about to get married. The building was brand new. The floors sparkled. The doctors were welcoming and trustworthy. They told her she had cancer and needed surgery. Cosby couldn’t afford it but they offered to pay for everything if she agreed to participate in a series of research tests. After undergoing months of numerous pelvic exams, nude photographs and surgery, she became suspicious. But the doctors refused to explain, even after the operation caused a massive infection. “They said not to worry my pretty little head about it,” says Cosby. “That I wouldn’t understand.” Years later when she found a picture of herself naked in a University of Toronto medical textbook under the heading “male pseudo-hermaphrodite,” she realized it was all a lie. Cosby never had cancer. She was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), a type of intersexuality, also known as disorders of sexual development (DSD). Instead of two XX chromosomes, she has XY chromosomes. During the initial surgery, the doctors had accidentally closed up several cotton sutures inside Cosby. When she finally got corrective surgery six months later, they had to remove so much infected tissue her abdomen was left permanently scarred and deformed.
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over Semenya ignited outrage. South African leaders and activists decried the IAAF’s actions as racist and a human rights violation. After undergoing a feminized makeover, Semenya appeared on the cover of South Africa’s YOU magazine. She told the publication, “God made me the way I am and I accept myself.”
arah Cosby, now 69, still feels sorry for Semenya every time a new story about her goes to press. The photos of the teenage athlete remind Cosby of her own textbook photograph. She still remembers turning the page to see herself standing there, naked with a black bar across her eyes. She wrote about the experience in a letter to a British AIS support group in 1996 saying: “Even now, I cry over the injustice—not of having AIS, but of being lied to, cut open, torn apart, with no answers except for the dark ones I found in the medical libraries.” Advocates have compared the practice of putting intersexed patients on display to a public stripping. Doctors split patients open, physically and mentally, pinning them to pages with no more compassion than a specimen in a biology class. Some bioethicists call it “monster ethics.” It’s when doctors feel less guilty about performing morally questionable procedures on people they deem to be less than human. According to the Intersex Society of North America, approximately one in every 100 births has some type of sexual ambiguity. In the Encyclopedia of Gender and Society it is stated that historically, the gender of intersexed infants was decided solely by the size of their genitals. Doctors would measure the phallus at birth using an instrument called a phallometer. According to medical standards, for a boy to have a penis, it had to be over 2.5 cm. To be a girl, the clitoris had to be between 0 and 0.9 cm. Males who did not pass the criteria of having a 2.5-cm penis were most likely constructed into a female. The parents were often advised to never tell them what had happened and children would grow up feeling like strangers in their own bodies, not knowing why. Even today, some doctors still try to make intersexuality disappear. Pregnant women suspected of carrying an intersexed baby are injected with drugs like dexamethasone. Despite the dangerous side effects, physicians use steroids in an attempt to shrink the unborn child’s clitoris. Some doctors even recommend abortion. These routine methods are supposed to save the child from unnecessary trauma. These crude practices only started to be seriously questioned in 1997, thanks to the famous case of Winnipeg’s David Reimer. Reimer was raised as a girl
Even today, some doctors still try to make intersexuality disappear. Pregnant women suspected of carrying an intersexed baby are injected with drugs. Some even recommend abortion. after a botched circumcision. Through plastic surgery, hormone pills and rigorous psychotherapy, doctors tried to force Reimer to be female. His parents believed it was the only way he would fit in. Psychologist John Money was in charge of the case. As an adolescent, no amount of hormones or frilly dresses could change the way Reimer felt inside. He never identified as being female, and was bullied and ostracized by his peers. Finally in his mid-teens, depressed and suicidal, a psychologist convinced his mother and father to tell him the truth. Reimer immediately opted for reversal treatment, including a double mastectomy and multiple phalloplasty operations. He later married a woman and became a stepfather to her three children. But Money never stopped touting Reimer’s case as a “success,” and continuously published papers citing Reimer as proof that gender identity was learned. It wasn’t until years later when sexuality expert Milton Diamond tracked down Reimer as an adult that Money’s research was exposed as a fraud. After hearing Reimer’s story, Diamond convinced him to go public and Reimer later published his life in the book As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. But in 2004, he tragically committed suicide at age 38. “This was just one case,” says Diamond. “We’re talking about hundreds and thousands that are out there. I’d like to think things have changed, but lots of doctors don’t want to admit that what they’ve been doing for 40 years is wrong.” But doctors aren’t the only ones to blame. Medical abuses are only a symptom of a wider social phenomenon rooted in sexism and homophobia. By the late 19th century, doctors were well aware of intersexuality. Some medical professionals reported dozens of cases every year of so-called “hermaphroditism” and “pseudohermaphroditism.” At the time, gender lines were set in stone. Intersexuality was seen as a threat to social norms. “Gender blending” was
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impossible for doctors to wrap their minds around. Many years later, it was also impossible for some feminists.
Illustration by Ruth Claire Cagara
he controversy first started at the 1991 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival when organizers removed a transsexual woman from the festival, proclaiming it was only for “womyn born womyn.” In response to the criticism from transsexual and intersex rights advocates, festival organizers released a statement saying, “People with male genitals who enter the festival risk offending and oppressing other attendees.” Also, there were “legitimate concerns for the integrity and safety of women’s culture and safe women’s space.” Emi Koyama, feminist blogger and the founder of the Intersex Initiative in Portland, Ore., has written extensively about this issue. In the article “Whose Feminism is it Anyway?” she talked about the intimidation and hostility transsexual and intersexed women felt at feminist gatherings in the 1990s: “The presentation was all about how great the women’s community was back in the ’70s when it was free from all those pesky transsexuals, S/M [sadomasochism] practitioners and sex radicals (or so they think)…I had never felt so isolated or powerless in a feminist or lesbian gathering before.” There was no place for intersex rights advocates, even among other activists. They were the ultimate outsiders, but still more determined than ever to find their own way. In 1993, Cheryl Chase did just that by starting the Intersex Society of North America, an advocacy group that fights against unwanted genital surgeries and raises awareness about intersexuality. Chase lashed out at feminists, criticizing them for advocating against genital mutilation, but ignoring surgery performed on DSD infants. In 1996, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in Boston set the stage for the firstever protest by intersex rights activists. Chase led the picket, carrying signs proclaiming “Hermaphrodites with Attitude” (HWA). At the time she told media outlets, “The AAP will be teaching conference attendees how to ‘manage’ intersexed and queer genitals with surgery, secrecy and outright lying. No other patient group is cut up as we are without even a hint of consent. HWA is committed to stopping the barbaric practice of IGM [intersex genital mutilation] so no more infants suffer through the mutilation we have endured.” In 1999, the Constitutional Court of Colombia decided that sex assignment surgery on intersexed infants was a human rights violation. Other countries like Canada have yet to follow. But in 2009, for the first time, the New Democratic Party joined organizations around the world to celebrate the sixth annual Intersex Awareness Day. It doesn’t stop there. The Accord Alliance launched
in 2008 and the organization’s goal is to educate doctors and parents about the proper medical approach to intersexuality. With a team of medical experts on its board, intersex advocates have gone from picketing health organizations to working with them side-by-side for change. There is even legal help for intersexed children and their parents. Advocates for Informed Choice is the first organization in the world that protects the civil rights of people with DSDs. They deal with everything from medical privacy to school bullying to retrieving medical records.
itting in her apartment in downtown Toronto, the now retired Cosby flips through a photo album, pulling out a picture of a young girl. A 26-yearold Cosby gazes out from the snapshot, freckle-faced and bright eyed, holding a box turtle in the palm of her hands. “I was quite the beauty,” she chuckles, gazing down at the photo in wonder, her eyes crinkling up behind her glasses. With her fuzzy wool sweater and paisley patterned apartment, Cosby easily could be your grandmother. You would never guess she’s been through so much. Years after her disastrous surgery, Cosby tracked down the doctor in charge of her case and finally got an apology. She later joined a Canadian AIS support group and every year, she tells her story to a classroom of medical ethics students at the University of Toronto in the hopes of saving other individuals with AIS from the same fate. Cosby insists she has forgiven everyone who wronged her. But as she flips through the pages of old memories, now yellowed and frayed, you can’t help but wonder if she could go back in time to that wide-eyed young girl she once was, what would she say? The answer, Cosby says, is simple. “The world can stop you from running races, like it did with the South African woman. But it can’t stop you from living your life and staying positive.” m
SE R E T N I
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Do It yoUrSELF
By Tanja Grinberg
How to give the girls a checkup
magine going for a regular doctor’s checkup and being told that you have breast cancer and it has progressed too far. Imagine knowing this could’ve been prevented. In Canada, 20,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Young women often think they’re invincible and although they shouldn’t constantly worry, it’s better to be cautious. Early detection is key to catching breast cancer before it’s too late and the breast selfexam is the perfect tool. Women should perform this exam once a month from the age of 20. Assignment deadlines and exams are no excuse for procrastination; it’s your life we’re talking about here! Step Two:
Keep an eye out for changes in colour, size and the shape of your breasts. Look out for lumps, dripping from the nipples, unusually thick spots on the skin (think of an orange peel), dimpling, rashes and changes in direction of the nipples (pointing inside).
Illustration by Irada Selimkhanova
1 Step Four:
Now comes the hands-on part. Lie down and examine your breasts gently with the pads of your three middle fingers. You should keep your fingers straight and together.
Don’t be shy. Take a good look at your breasts in the mirror.
Lift your right hand over your head and use your left hand to examine your right breast. Repeat on your left breast using your right hand and feel for any bumps or pain.
3 Step Five:
Change the pressure from light, to medium, to firm and compare what you feel in both breasts and don’t forget to include the chest and armpits. Make sure you talk to your doctor if you discover any changes or abnormalities.
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Music journalist Laina Dawes at Toronto record shop Hits and Misses
Crank up the Volume By Jessica Lewis
Canadian female music journalists take on sexism in the industry
manda Ash sat on a couch in a Vancouver bar with her friend one night when a tall, unrecognizable white man came up to them and said he was a local rapper. They had never heard of him. He asked what they did for a living, and Ash responded, “Well, what do you think we do?” They were dressed up and wearing high heels, so he said, “Obviously you guys must work in retail or you’re receptionists.” A dismayed Ash confessed she was a music journalist. The man suggested she check out his album. She walked away. “People assume you have to look like a man and wear vinyl and jeans if you’re going to be a music journalist,” she says. “You can’t wear high heels and look pretty and still go to a concert.” Occasionally, she gets similar responses from male interviewees. “Sometimes I felt like they wouldn’t take me seriously as a music journalist. They kind of thought of me as something they could get a free date out of and I was like, ‘Well no, this is my job.’” Experiences like this may happen to female music journalists, but Ash feels it’s improving in her niche of indie rock and pop. “It’s seen as a boys’ club, but things are changing and women are kind of doing what they want,” she says.
But for Eye Weekly arts reporter Chandler Levack, the only problem she encounters is the style of writing between women and men. “There’s always been this heavily male sexualized point of view and it’s very aggressive,” she says. “A lot of male music journalists are so nerdy and geeky. The way they know about music is through which pressing they have, if they have it on vinyl, if they saw this gig better than that one two years ago and only five people were there. And I don’t respond to that. When I listen to a record, I think I approach it from a more emotional standpoint. And maybe that’s feminized, but I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that.” But music journalism isn’t moving forward in male-dominated genres like metal and hip-hop. While women who write about indie rock in Canada are beginning to feel accepted in the last few years the women who write about hip-hop and metal aren’t. Even though they may feel discriminated by musicians or fans, they still love the music. In the summer of 2008, Laina Dawes covered Heavy MTL, a metal festival near Montreal, for Metal Edge magazine (she also freelances for Exclaim! and Hellbound). Being a black woman in
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Photos by Marta Iwanek
her late thirties at a metal festival with an audience made up of mostly white men, she felt terrified. Wandering around with her press pass and notebook, she could sense people looking and talking about her. “They were just outraged,” she says. “This was their space and I had invaded it. It was a really bad scene.” Dawes needed a few hours to acclimatize after hearing the terrible things said behind her back. As a child, Dawes was adopted by a family of white classical musicians and experienced a great deal of racism in her social community. She turned to metal music for its angry outlook so she could feel like she was fighting back. When she came home from the festival, she took some time to re-evaluate her job as a music journalist. “Ultimately, I just said, I’m not going to let anyone get in my way.” Andrea Woo, a Vancouver freelancer who covers hip-hop for Exclaim!, Georgia Straight and Pound magazine, wrote under a pen name when she was younger so readers wouldn’t know she was Asian. Once she started doing interviews, Woo revealed her name and people were caught off guard. Now, she occasionally faces sexism
at events. “The fact is, if you’re a female in hip-hop journalism, rappers will make sexual advances towards you,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, or how you act. It will happen at some point.” Woo admits she used to ignore it “like a chump” and stew on it for a while. “Now that I’m older,” she says, “I definitely have no problem saying something to someone who’s being out of line.” Fortunately, these instances have not made these women leave their career paths. In fact, it has drawn them closer to it. Such is the case for Ash and Dawes. Dawes wrote a feature about black women in rock music that was picked up by CBC Radio and reworked for a presentation at the 2005 Pop Music Experience conference in Seattle. It was there that she met several acclaimed American female music journalists who introduced her to Girl Group, an online list-serv for women in the field to gather for support. She has also been working on a book about black women in metal music for almost two years. Last year, Ash followed suit with a radio
documentary about women in indie music, which sparked her passion to continue the search for women who rock, and also inspired the creation of ladysound.org, a website devoted to female musical talent. Sofi Papamarko, a music freelance writer and relationship columnists for Metro, says boundaries in music journalism have been pushed. “Lately there’s been this new crop of young ladies coming in and writing really great reviews and getting respect.” At Exclaim!, a monthly national genremixing magazine established in 1991, a third of the contributing writers are women. In its pop/rock section, 15 of the 26 writers are women. Hip-hop has three out of 12 and metal has three out of nine. “That’s not bad, although obviously it could be better,” says editor-in-chief James Keast. Female music journalism is becoming a lot more powerful. These women are important examples in the Canadian music community. They aren’t afraid to sway their hips, mosh or headbang at concerts one night and then write about it the next day. It is the music that keeps them going. m
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SHE SAID/SHE SAID
a n l bie ar
I’m a Barbie girl
f you look into my closet, you will find jeans and tank tops for everyday life in addition to crinoline skirts and sweats, under which are dozens of high heels. I blame this addiction on Barbie, whose feet can only fit into stilettos, and who inspired me to scavenge through my mother’s closet and wear her shoes around the house. Barbie turned 50 last year and is still looking fabulous without a wrinkle on her face. As part of the celebration, one of the world’s most famous supermodels and beauty icons, Heidi Klum, was transformed into a collectible Barbie doll this year. Her Barbie persona is described as an “entrepreneur, blonde stunner, fun and approachable,” which sounds just like Klum. Who wouldn’t want to have any one of those qualities? Barbie has had over 80 different careers, including presidential candidate. She has the freedom and mindset to choose to be whomever she wants, whether that is a doctor, hairdresser or a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, all while wearing matching coloured pumps. One of my first Barbie memories was when I went to San Francisco to visit the famous toy store FAO Schwartz when I was eight. It was the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of stores, with life-size stuffed animals and a modified childsize door. But the only thing that mattered was the staircase that led upstairs to the mecca of my childhood, the Barbie section. After walking up the staircase, I stopped at the top of the banister where there was a glass case of plastic shoes floating in water. Catching the light, the shoes glittered, and I was awestruck. Barbie shoes are my guilty pleasure. I stored them meticulously in a plastic divided case that is used for pills. If I could, I would have taken the tank home, which is the strong-minded approach I praise Barbie for. Since her debut in 1959, there has been controversy about Barbie’s body size. Some argue that she promotes anorexia and plastic
surgery but it’s important to remember that she is, after all, just a toy. Why aren’t there similar discussions about Madame Alexander dolls, which look like children dressed up in adult clothes? And if we’re critiquing body size, some Hollywood celebrities look frail and emaciated, not to mention that many of them stumble out of bars in minimal clothing. Barbie has a career and goals, and would never be seen like that. “The Barbie Case,” by Liesbeth De Smedt of the University of Southern California won the 2006 Arthur W. Page competition for an original case study in public relations. The case reports that in 1997, Mattel changed the proportions of the doll with the “intention for her to have more of a teenage physique.” Barbie’s body transformation maintains a connection with present fashions and appearance. Isn’t it interesting that Barbie’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1960s, just when women were beginning to take control of their lives? The sexual revolution redefined parental roles and women fought for the option to enter the workplace in a career of their choice. Barbie lived through globalization, and brought people together from around the world to celebrate different cultures, with dolls of every ethnicity. This past March, I attended Barbie’s 50th birthday event at the Bay, and the life-size dollhouse furniture and clothing made me swoon. I don’t believe that Barbie is necessarily a role model for how young women should look but she should be recognized for her deeper impact. She does everything she puts her mind to and is not afraid to try new things, which should be the mantra of women everywhere. I slip on my heels for confidence (and much needed height) and to be more like Barbie at every chance I get, but I know that is not the only thing she is about. So go on, put on your highest stilettos. Or not. Barbie’s got what it takes to accomplish her dreams, and she’s not even a foot tall. m
Photos by Naomi Beemsigne. Makeup by Racquelle Nembhard
By Portia Favro
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Life in plastic, not fantastic By Harriet Luke
t’s been 50 years since the birth of the Antichrist of feminism and Barbie is still going strong. If scaled to life size, Barbie’s head and waist would be the same width, her legs double the length of her torso and her remarkably large breasts would pretty much guarantee her an inability to stand, let alone permit her to walk without toppling over her impossibly small feet. According to the Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, if Barbie were a real person, she would lack the 17 to 22 per cent body fat required to menstruate. These absurd and unrealistic physical features play a part in Barbie’s role as a poor idol for young girls. As you can probably tell, I was never one of those kids who sat at home and played with my Barbies, creating incestuous relationships among them or dressing them up in different outfits. No, I was the girl who picked up a pair of scissors and cut off all their hair—Chia Pet-style—before desecrating their stiff bodies with permanent marker. My older cousins literally donated buckets of Barbies to me. Yet if you had asked me which kinds I had owned, I couldn’t begin to tell you. They spent the majority of their lifespan naked and bald in a Rubbermaid box under my bed. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a big tomboy as a child either, but there was something about Barbie’s overly made-up face and false white smile that never appealed to me. I mean, come on, what kind of doll can’t bend her arms or legs? Ruth Handler created Barbie in response to a void of mature dolls in the market during the late 1950s. Ironically, in steering young girls away from the message that they should grow up just to procreate, Handler successfully created a young woman who represents a very specific physical feminine ideal of what girls should aspire to be— an unattainable monster of an ideal that could tear a girl’s self-esteem apart. Now, sure, you can argue that children will grow up to realize that Barbie is just a character
and not a real woman, just like kids learn that Santa and the Easter Bunny don’t actually exist. But this isn’t quite the same. Being introduced to a doll like Barbie at such a young age forces girls to conform to the ideal version of the woman produced by the mass markets to maintain and boost the economy. Barbie inevitably acts as a physical manifestation of what mass culture transmits as the ideal woman through advertisements and magazines. While Barbie has held many different careers and represented multiple ethnicities, she somehow doesn’t manage to successfully portray these diversities. A new African-American Barbie was just released by Mattel featuring long straight hair, which many have pointed out is a big issue within the black community. Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, worries that this will simply reinforce the notion to young black women that there is something wrong with their natural hair. Yes, it’s true Barbie was a doctor and she did run for president. Unfortunately though, the beauty myth shows how the focus on Barbie’s physical beauty would likely cause her to be stigmatized as too pretty and therefore, a threat. At the end of the day, Barbie is taken at face value: a big-breasted, skinny, blonde woman—an idealized “perfect” beauty.
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Mother, Sister, Daughter
After the death of her mom, Francesca Wahking struggles to fill in her shoes
Pictured left to right: Francesca Wahking and her sisters Daniella and Christina
Photos courtesy of Francesca Wahking
y mom died on February 2, 2009 from uterine cancer. She was a feminist, a strong woman and full of life. When I was younger, I wanted to be her. She was the perfect woman—successful, married and happy. She didn’t take crap from men in her workplace. She was the head of the household. She even kept her last name. I used to sneak into her room and slip on her shoes and put on her makeup. At one point, there was a pair of red velvet pants that I regularly wore because my mom once owned it. If she wore it, it must be cool, I thought. Despite my silly efforts to become her, my mom taught me how to be myself, to be the woman I am today. She couldn’t have been a better role model. The one thing I loved about my mom was her ability to have the answer to all my problems. Most of my issues in high school and university were solved by talking to her every single day, it was that simple. But when she passed away, I realized there was one thing she never prepared me for: how to be the mother figure in my sisters’ lives. I wasn’t forced to be like my mom once she passed away, but I thought I was supposed to. I have two sisters: Christina, 18 and Daniella, 14. With my mom no longer there, I thought it was my responsibility to make sure they grew up the way my mother wanted them to. To start off, I filled the void my mom left by baking as often as I could. That’s what she used to do. The aroma in the house was always of chocolate chip cookies and brownies. My mom insisted on baking every week, even when she was sick. To recreate that for my sisters, I bake
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more and more now, even letting Daniella lick the batter. It doesn’t stop at baking. When I turned 18, my mom bought me my first shot, a mix of Kahlua and amaretto. So, in keeping with tradition, I bought Christina her first drink, a fuzzy navel, when we visited Montreal in the fall. My mom allowed us to drink before turning 19 as long as it was in her presence. Oddly, I think my mother would have been proud. But it’s not easy sometimes. I love bonding with my sisters, but being with them more and more only scratched the surface of my real worry. Am I the right person for them to look up to? After my mom died, there were so many times when I wanted to cry but I couldn’t break down in front of them for fear they would think I was weak, that I wasn’t my mom. During a family trip to Florida several months ago, I snapped. In the car, my dad accused me of forgetting everything my mom had taught me. I yelled at him while tears streamed down my face. “I’m going to move out!” I yelled. He and Christina left the car and I was alone with Daniella. I turned around and looked at her. She had tears dribbling down her cheeks. “I don’t want you to leave. You’re the only one who understands me,” she said. That’s when it hit me. At that moment, I knew I had to stay for her, for my sisters. My mom was there to support me when I was her age. Now my job was to do the same for them. I’m not my mom. I can try to be, but I’m a sister. I’m not perfect. I have faults, bad habits and personal problems that are hard to hide around my sisters, but it’s
even harder to keep everything in. The truth is, I’m still an emotional wreck. Losing a loved one is something that is extremely hard to get over. Trying to get your family back in one piece is a more difficult struggle. I had to grow up a lot faster than I ever thought I would. My mom told me that any woman could have it all. I try so hard to strive for that, but if it weren’t for the support my sisters and I give one another, it would be a lot harder to get through each day. We fight and argue like all siblings but at the end of the day, it’s my family who will be there for me when I need it the most. That’s one more thing my mom taught me. m
Clockwise: Francesca Wahking’s father, mother, herself and sister Christina
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y eyes filled with tears. I didn’t understand. The news hit me like a slow-moving train, taking its time to crush me. My doctor suspected I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I was sitting alone on the papered bed in my doctor’s office after my blood tests came back abnormal. “So, you’re not pregnant,” my doctor said ironically. After nearly nine months without a period (or a baby bump), I was pretty much in agreement. Nervously giggling, waiting to see what she had to say next, she threw out those two dreaded words: disease and infertility. Ten minutes later, I was rushed out of the room and sat dumbly at a coffee shop to think. I had never felt so alone and yet, I’m not. Five to 10 per cent of women have PCOS. That means roughly 1.4 million Canadian women are as befuddled as I am.
office at a doctor’s Kelly Linehan
Kelly Linehan explores life after the unexpected diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that throws off a number of things in a woman’s body. The most obvious symptom is an irregular or absent period. Other telltale signs include ovarian cysts, acne, weight gain and hair loss. While PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance, the root of the problem is insulin resistance, causing the body to produce more insulin. Extra insulin combined with hormonal imbalance creates more male hormones that can deepen a woman’s voice, build more muscle and cause those pesky hair problems. “Basically, I’m turning into a boy,” I sobbed to my mom. Other symptoms are sporadic and random, making the disease a nightmare to diagnose. “I think the major factor is that a lot of doctors don’t recognize or understand it very well,” says Dr. Clifford Librach, associate professor at the University of Toronto in the department of obstetrics and gynecology. “It’s a very confusing condition for a lot of doctors.” While a healthy ovary normally releases an egg during ovulation, in a polycystic ovary, the egg is released very infrequently, or sometimes never and instead turns into a liquid-filled cyst, gradually enlarging the ovaries and making it a challenge to get pregnant. Statistics show that 75 per cent of women with PCOS will have difficulty conceiving. After the blood tests came back, I went to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormones, for a proper diagnosis. He confirmed my worst fear. I did have PCOS. “I don’t know what your life plan is,” he said referring to having children. “But your 10-year plan will probably have to become a five-year plan.” With my rudimentary math skills, I quickly counted: 19 + 5 = 24. I felt pressure to accomplish all I wanted in half the
Photo by Andrea Mihai. Illustration by Ruth Claire Cagara
The Sneaky Syndrome
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time. Facing possible infertility was shocking. I had ages set out in my mind for when I wanted to achieve certain things. I planned to have a great career and figured babies would follow—all before I turned 30. I never realized how much I wanted to have children until I was told it wasn’t a sure thing. Miriam Boon, a Ryerson University journalism graduate student who also suffers from PCOS, had the same experience. “I loved kids but I always thought ‘I’m not sure if I want to have kids, I don’t know.’” She says it wasn’t until she found out that she had PCOS that she realized she might want to have children. “Realizing that I might not have the option made me more inclined to wanting to have kids,” she said. This all started when I moved to Toronto to go to Ryerson. My boyfriend didn’t come along for the ride, so I took a break from my birth control pills. The school year ticked by without my monthly visitor, but I chalked it up to stress. I went to see my doctor in the summer and she ordered blood tests. As it turned out, two of my hormones were completely askew. I would never have known if I hadn’t gone off the pill. “Because so many women are on birth control pills, they don’t realize that they would have irregular periods if they weren’t on it,” says Pamela Frank, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. Librach agrees. “Some [doctors] will just say, ‘Oh you have irregular periods? Here, take a birth control pill. That will make them come regularly.’ But they don’t really tell them why their periods are irregular.” Other women don’t find out they have PCOS until they try getting pregnant. PCOS is a leading cause of
female infertility, and too few women know about it. It is a condition that can be debilitating for a woman who is battling obesity or diabetes. It can be devastating to a woman who is given a sentence of infertility. PCOS is an affront to femininity and the diagnosis can be very hard to listen to. The best way to detect this sneaky syndrome is awareness. Not enough women with PCOS are speaking out about it. “I think because of the way medicine is, things have gotten so compartmentalized,” says Frank. “You go to the dermatologist for acne, the gynecologist for irregular periods. Nobody puts the whole picture together to say this is PCOS.” Boon’s doctor dismissed her symptoms until Boon requested a battery of blood tests. “Her attitude was very much one of ‘It’s fine, it’s a waste of time, you’re not going to come up with any of these,’” says Boon. “She basically had the attitude that it’s all in my mind.” The causes of PCOS are unknown but the predominant theory blames genetics. Generally, diet and exercise are the best ways to minimize the symptoms. There are some drugs that can help with fertility, but there is no cure. When I went in that doctor’s office, I wasn’t overweight, I wasn’t growing too much hair, and I didn’t have acne—perhaps that’s why it came as such a shock. I have consulted a slew of doctors and I’m on supplements and a diet plan. I’m taking steps to be healthier. My only hope is that maybe after reading this, one less woman will feel as confused and scared as I was that day in the doctor’s office. But, I am no longer the girl who cried by herself in that office, feeling crushed. That train has been derailed. m
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Reviews Illustration by Irada Selimkhanova
Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism Two years ago, best friends and daughters of second-wave feminism, Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein climbed into the front seat of a Chevy Cavalier and criss-crossed the United States, talking to more than a hundred young women along the way. The end result of their inspirational journey is Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redeﬁning Feminism, a non-fiction book that looks and reads like a magazine, coupling Aronowitz’s critical prose with Bernstein’s vibrant photography. Aronowitz and Bernstein embarked on their journey with an equally intriguing third character—the road. Like Jack Kerouac and Thelma and Louise, Aronowitz and Bernstein took the ultimate road trip, meeting interesting characters along the way. Readers meet policy-makers, activists and artists, all eager to share their stories. Similar to Thelma and Louise’s ill-fated road trip, Aronowitz and Bernstein’s journey is sandwiched between tragedies. The project began over brunch and bloody marys just a couple of weeks after Aronowitz’s mother, feminist writer and activist Ellen Willis, died of lung cancer. Shortly after their journey ended, Bernstein, who suffered from depression, “feeling everything like a stab in the heart,” committed suicide. But what happened between these two tragedies is a truly awe-inspiring tale of friendship and feminism. Conversational, witty, and often thought-provoking, Girldrive gives readers a glimpse into the lives of 127 savvy women, including wellknown feminist icons Kathleen Hanna and Andi Zeisler. However, not all the women in Girldrive define themselves as feminist, which was part of Aronowitz and Bernstein’s goal of profiling subjects with diverse backgrounds of varying gender, race, class and religion. More than anything, Girldrive inspires readers to define feminism and womanhood for themselves, inevitably making them feel the urge to make a mixed CD of their favourite tracks and get behind the wheel, ready to change the world. m
Jessica Rose 40 MCCLUNG’S // WINTER 2010 2010 magazine.indd 40
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She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back These are stories for every woman, young or old, who has ever felt like a misfit, or who don’t fit the mould of the “good girl.” Women who saw rules about how to look, think and act scrawled on the chalkboard and sought to furiously erase them. She’s Shameless is an anthology of 25 women’s reflections on their experiences as girls and teens. But Shameless magazine editor Megan Griffith-Greene and publisher Stacey May Fowles make it clear in the introduction that these are not cautionary tales. There is no list of dos and don’ts. What you’ll find instead are raw, defiant and honest journal-style narratives from women of different races and sexualities, women who are artists, activists or feminists, who often weren’t accepted by their peers and survived to tell the tale. The short stories deal with guilt and rebellion about dating boys, loving girls, having small breasts, being too skinny, vaginas, having sex, self-inflicting pain, making zines, reading erotica, getting pregnant, having a baby or having an abortion, striving to be normal and learning that normal never existed in the first place. It’s evident that for every way to conform, there is a way to break free. These tales of girlhood and womanhood are powerful and relatable. When you read them, you will feel as though you know these shameless women, these strong sisters, these kindred spirits, even if you’ve never met them. This is the place to embrace their stories. m
Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women Maria Raha’s Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women is a call to action against society’s obsession with clone-like female celebrities enshrined in gossip magazines. Written like a pop culture textbook but riddled with witty commentary, Raha unpacks a century’s worth of rebel women’s history. Hellions is an unabashed telling of how pop culture’s portrayal of rebels is always a male figure and how women’s rebellious efforts are disregarded and ignored. Raha starts the book telling the tale of her teenage love affair with classic male rebel icons, like 1950s actor James Dean. Raha questions why she identified strongly with male rebels growing up when in many of their fictional portrayals, they treated women badly. The book is divided into chapters featuring rebel women in literature, music, politics, activism, TV and movies. Delving into the history of the women’s movement, Raha argues that women have always been rebels, whether they were fighting for the right to vote and for birth control in the late 1800s, that’s right, the 1800s, or marching down the streets demanding an end to violence against women in the 1990s. Focusing on authors like Virginia Woolf, activists like Angela Davis and musicians like Janis Joplin, Raha shows that rebellious women can be found in every spectrum of life. It’s noted that women like political hip-hop artist M.I.A. and queer, tongue-in-cheek author Michelle Tea are alternatives to hyper-sexualized celebrities like Britney Spears. Hellions is a plea for a much-needed new rebellion and as Raha says, “A rebel girl today is someone who can remain down to earth in the midst of a culture that is injected with monumental doses of narcissism.” m
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Illustration by Clara Bee Lavery
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