Monday, 31 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [Still working on that unexplained stigma]

(Emphasis mine.)

Chairman of the AIDS Foundation, Colin Brewer, said while the foundation was making progress in the fight, there was still much to do.


He added that although the foundation provided assistance to those living alternative lifestyles, it did not condone the behaviour.

He also urged those present to "rededicate" themselves to the challenge of eradicating any stigma associated with HIV.

Well. Wonder where that stigma comes from.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [I got your issues right here]

[Via Showbiz Spy via Jezebel]-"We all have the same issues. Every woman. It's thighs, butt, arms, muffintops. All those fun things, we all have the same issues." — Heidi Klum.

Except, not every woman counts those as 'issues'. Feeding ourselves and our dependents; physical security; finding and keeping a job; getting equal pay for equal work on that job; not being sexually harassed on that job; reproductive rights and autonomy; affordable, accessible health care provided by professionals who see us, hear us, value our input and well-being. I could go on and on about the things that concern millions of women everywhere, and readers can add several more. Thighs, butts and arms - those are body parts*. Not issues.

*ETA: And for some of us, the above issues are influenced by the disabilities with which we live, yunno, speaking of body 'issues'.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

We here in the region have been closely watching the events occurring in a few of our territories in recent days and weeks. The conflict in Jamaica is infuriating, saddening, compelling. I want to write something, but it's hard to know where to start. Harder still to know where to end.

While I try to figure that out, I want to acknowledge the recently held elections in Trinidad and Tobago, in which Kamla Persad-Bissessar, previously the first woman to ever hold the position of Opposition Leader in that country, became the first woman to win the office of Prime Minister. She will be sworn into office this afternoon.

My Google-inspired imaginarium

Google Reader, whenever it suddenly goes offline, generates the error message: Sorry an unexpected condition has occurred (which is preventing Google Reader from fulfilling the request). The font of the message is larger than the text on the rest of the page, and is sometimes against a pink background. And each time I see the message, I get startled and take it personally. It's such a severe message: "an unexpected condition", and so non-specific. How did it just occur, the condition? Was there no pathway to this destruction? I start to think ohmygod did I just spontaneously fall pregnant while I was sitting here dreaming up names I would give my pet elephant? Did something fall out? Or off? What fell off?! Was it something I need? And then the second part - the part in brackets that I don't really pay attention to at first - further anthropomorphises the whole scenario. It's as if they're saying 'god, woman, get your nose. We don't mind continuing but we'd rather not do it with your nose all rolling around on the floor and sh!t.'

Or I think maybe it's environmental: some hi-tech tsunami warning that Google and its futuristic, marginally scary braininess have managed to generate via Google Maps or Google Earth or Google We Might As Well Stop Branding And Go By A Symbol Like Prince.

Or supernatural. Like The Rapture is occurring and all ambient energy is required to suck the chosen up into the stratosphere.

But mostly, it's just a lost internet connection. Obviously.

Life is so much better in my head.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Today, in made-up crimes...

I don't know what the hell wandering is, but apparently it's a crime mostly committed by girls, and can end in STDs and pregnancy. Consider yourselves warned.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Who writes these things: the girlie secrets edition

Dear Jane Hoskyn,

Please stop talking.

Because even if you are using 'girl' correctly to mean "a female child between zero and eighteen years of age", and not adult women (for which there is a whole other word who knew?), this list is still a ridiculous mishmash of juvenile, misogynist bullshit. To wit:

1. When we get whistled at in the street, we feel uncomfortable and we’ll always tut and roll our eyes. But we’re awesomely flattered and we’d be gutted if it stopped.


2. We will never grow out of our fascination with pop stars. A guy can be completely ordinary-looking, but we will fancy him if he’s in a band.

No. Not that musicians aren't particularly attractive often for reasons beyond their physical appearance, but so are plenty other people. And yes, since we aren't perpetually 12 with boy band posters next to the Pollock in the living room, we do outgrow our fascination with pop stars. We may move on to fascination with 'serious musicians', but that's something else entirely.

And let me state now that even though I've duplicated it in the interest of continuity, the 'we' here is problematic. Because she's talking about a certain type of woman, from a certain cultural background, with privilege of a certain nature and amount, so as with most of these things, 'we' really means 'my friends and I'. It's fine if that's what you mean, but if that is what you mean, you should make that clear. We've spent too long trying to highlight women's heterogeneity to have to stand for articles like this one confirming that the whole diversity thing is nonsense and we're all really just the same person.

3. We are more likely to fancy a guy if his ex-girlfriends are really pretty.

4. We can be put off a guy by finding out that his ex-girlfriends are a bit ugly.

5. When we look through your Facebook photos, we’re looking to see how pretty or ugly your ex-girlfriends are.

6. We look through your Facebook photos a lot, and we really hope that you haven’t downloaded anything that reveals who looks at them the most.

Really? Does this woman live on a Lisa Frank sticker? Of course, history of partners is important, but for reasons that go slightly deeper than just "oh em gee ur totes prettier than her!!1!1"

7. Here’s how to make us fall for you. One day, come on to us so strong that we’re a bit weirded out by it. Then totally fail to ring us. We’ll wonder what we did wrong, and we won’t be able to stop thinking about you.

This is just disturbing, especially since I'm not sure of the gamut of reactions the author intends to cover with the words 'so strong' and 'a bit weirded out'. These to my mind could include anything from a meet-the-parents too early on and a quizzical look to stalking and seeking a protective order. But the real damage here is suggesting that women secretly love abusive, manipulative behaviour.

8. The above strategy isn’t foolproof. We may just lose interest. It depends on how much we liked you in the first place.

9. We often don’t know how much we liked you in the first place. We may have to wait until you don’t phone us. If we’re disappointed, it proves that we fancy you. If we’re not, it proves that we don’t. It’s like when you toss a coin to help you make a decision.

Decisions. They hurt our brainz.

10. Stop trying to understand how our minds work. Even we don’t understand how our minds work.

In fact, we have no minds. No thoughts, no intellect. Our heads are just filled with pink cotton wool and Justin Bieber songs.

And that's in the first 10 alone, consecutively. No breaks.


42. During breakouts we get up at 6am and cover our spots with concealer while you’re sleeping.

Who does this? No, really. Who?

But the gem is saved for the end, I think (emphasis mine):

53. We’re all little girls inside. You make us cry far more easily than you realise.

And here, gentlefolk, is the finale. The overt statement at the end of an entire article spent infantilizing and homogenizing all women. Of course we cry, but it's not because we're little girls. Hurt feelings, grief or whatever might cause tears are completely valid among adults. When we're hurt and cry, it's because we're hurt, not because we're children. Still, thanks for confirming the notion that women are just big crybabies who will throw a fit when you take our lollipops away. Well done, you.

[Via Liss and Emily at Shakesville]

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The IT crowd

I get computers. In fact, I love them. I'm one of those people Obama was, curiously, just warning students not to become - one who is fascinated by and completely engaged with technology. Not in a rabid way; I'm a researcher of products. I will research anything to find the most recommended one by different groups of people of different heights, weights, ethnicities and toe shapes. So when I find a product that is everything I'd dreamed, I tend to stick with it and keep exploring the uses for it as they're developed. Besides, I don't have the budget for Droids and iPads and bears. Well, I could maybe swing a bear.

All that rambling to say that I love computers and everything they can do, and I want to know it all. When I first started blogging, I got so caught up in HTML and CSS editing I felt like it was my day job; I started learning tricks and sharing code with people who did not care. Friends come to me when their machines are 'acting funny'. I'm bemused by that, but still, I'm no tech slouch.

So I really hate it when I have to call IT. The thing is, you always have to call IT. Because office networks are set up to make you stupid and impotent. That's how they maintain control. Fair enough. But if you want me to be stupid about your systems, to call you whenever I need to install a plug-in or retrieve a file that has disappeared into The Mysterious Server, when I do, don't look at me like I'm your dear 126-yr old aunt who all this time must still have been riding her donkey into the nearest town to send a telegraph.

At one place I worked, the tech guy was just like Roy, only much better groomed. He really really really did not want to be bothered by your infernal tech issues. So if you managed to get him on the phone or Oprah forbid, to come to your desk, he was damn sure going to inform you of the depths of your idiocy. Once I tried to log in, but my log-in didn't work. You have no idea how long I sat there trying to access the system with all kinds of tricks and dubious shortcuts, just to avoid Tech Guy at all costs. Finally I had to call him, but apparently I was too stupid to speak directly to him, so he sighed four thousand times, then made me pretend I had said nothing, hang up, and go through Operations, who was presumably not as stupid. Because as someone from Operations, she spoke his language. Not like the people in Projects. We were idiots. So Operations (yes I called her Operations, like the guy from La Femme Nikita), as confused as I, called him and recited the same information. He asked her to put me on the phone. No way. Way.

So we're going through the problem, and he asks me the most inane questions, which I of course pretend are completely reasonable, so as not to anger him. Did you turn the system on? Did you check whether the Caps Lock key is on? Have you changed your password recently? Did you drown the machine in molasses and then smash it into the ground? Because, you know, that would stop it from working.

Finally, he says something that sounds like:

"Ok. Try this: restart in safe mode.
When it prompts you to log in, use the drop down box in the lower right hand corner and select 'Log in As Unicorn'.
Enter your regular username, then as your password enter WhatisLoveBabyDontHurtMeDontHurtMe(underscore)NoMore
Then once you're in, restart in regular mode while solving a Rubix cube.
Now log in as your regular username, password is the name of that in-between member of Destiny's Child that no one remembers.
Now stand up.
Now sit again. Really sit. Don't hover.
Ok. That should work."

Of course, delighted, I let him know when it works. And he responds with something like "No kidding. It's only in the Operations manual" before he rolls his eyes and walks off.

I really don't miss that guy.

So recently, I met a couple new IT people. They're great so far: they smile, engage, speak in full sentences instead of just saying 'server problem' and 'try restarting' at regular 30-second intervals on a loop. But even they have the thing. The thing is that look when they first walk into your office. It's a look that says "I expect you to say the stupidest thing imaginable." I fight it. I relax into it and try to casually appear to know stuff. But the look persists. I suspect I'm fighting a losing battle here.

The version of your body currently running is not bedroom compatible

My gym is running some kind of 6-week body makeover butt blast boot camp bangarang. That's not what it's really called but you get the idea. It's especially for women. It says so on the flier. Also on the flier, central to the message and in large red type, are words to the effect of:


Now, the gym runs these kinds of things all the time, in which they propose to bulk you up or whittle you down or generally bring you up to code in a specified time period. This is the first one I've seen geared specifically to women. And it's also the first one I've seen that seeks to gently encourage participation by reminding people women that they will have to get naked for someone's enjoyment, and for the sake of that other party, they'd better get their asses in gear. Or no man one will want to sleep with them. And then what would their lives become? Why else would you want to get in shape anyway, womanperson? For sport? For functional strength? For your own damn self? Stop speaking nonsenses!

Presumably, men don't need bedroom bodies*. Their fitness activities are in pursuit of more lofty ends. Hunting! Fighting! Watching cricket with their shirts off! And since women have to sleep with them anyway (everyone in this hetero-normative dreamscape is 'straight', ok? Just play along), there is no minimum aesthetic requirement involved for men.

Also what we've learnt so far is that a "bedroom body" is of a particular type produced in a gym or other exercise situation. Somebody should tell that to the bodies everywhere that are at this moment getting into some pretty enjoyable situations in their bedrooms, garages and crawlspaces right now, and have no intention of changing their bodies in order to continue doing so. If this describes you, you are hereby advised to cease and desist, until such time as we have certified that you possess the appropriate, bedroom-approved body.

It's true, I suppose, that "a bedroom body" could mean something more all-encompassing: it could simply mean a fit body of any size and shape that allows you to - as a friend of mine likes to put it - spin on your headtop during sex. But then, nobody's asking a man to spin on his headtop. I guess he and his non-bedroom body can just lay there.

And what annoys me most about this stupid poster - when I have to see it every single morning because it is affixed to the changing room door at my eye level - is that it does not reflect what I always thought were the philosophy and behaviours of the staff at this gym. They've always seemed very inclusive about women in sport, women gaining strength just because they feel like it. They've always seemed to have a pretty open "we can all do anything we want" mentality, inclusive of men, women, the elderly, people with disabilities, everyone. But now, because they are letting this stupid poster speak for them, I have to acknowledge that somewhere, someone in this establishment either does not get it, does not think, or does not care. And since I spend some time there, time that I otherwise enjoy, that's a bit of a downer. Still, always one who's eager (w00t!) to embrace the all too familiar "humourless" tag, here I go tomorrow morning. To ask what that mess there on the changing room door is all about.

*I asked if there was a similar poster on the inside of the men's changing room, and was told 'no' by a jolly fellow who is also a member, and who added, "darling, any man that got a body, it ready for the bedroom."

Monday, 10 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [I regret to inform you that you are against the law]

See? It says right here (emphasis mine):

The advice came from Magistrate Pamela Beckles as she dealt with a matter involving 18-year-old dancer Mary Elizabeth Williams and singer complainant Kareen Clarke in the District "A" Magistrates' Court.

Williams, an illegal Guyanese [...]

The curious case of Not Meaning Anything By It

I live in a land where people think it's perfectly acceptable to say whatever they want. If you gain weight, or lose weight, or cut your hair, or let it grow, or grow paler, or grow darker, all these things are worthy of comment. And along with the comment comes a healthy serving of judgment. The judgment says a lot about who we are. When I was growing up, and even now, sometimes, getting darker was not cool: " get dark! You been in the sun? [contemptuous snarl]" Well yes, I've been in the sun. We only get about 702 days of sunshine a year and I'm 8 years old. My life is in fact dedicated to being in the sun. But of course, voluntarily getting darker was not something that people understood, because for a lot of them, dark was less attractive. The same was true of short or natural hair, and an aunt once remarked with disapproval when my sister grew her natural hair out: "oh...('oh' in this context is usually a sign of impending disapproval) leaving the hair hard!" I am at once totally baffled by and in complete understanding of this kind of sentiment. I get that she meant "oh you have ceased to chemically process your hair", but implicit in that statement is the notion that processed - rather than natural - hair is the default (which by definition cannot be true), that unprocessed hair is 'hard' and therefore bad, and that 'hard' hair is to be avoided at all costs.

In our nicknaming, we go a step further. We not only comment on some aspect of a person's physical appearance, but we brand them accordingly: we make it the sum of who they are. So a person will be Fat Man, Short Woman, Tallies, Hopalong (yes, I'm referring to a person with one leg; yes, I'm horrified that some people seem not to see the problem there), Slims or Bones or Matchstick.

And on we go: commenting on people's appearance and habits, expressing unsolicited desires and attraction, bullying people as a pastime, and generally blabbing here there and yonder about things on which we have no business remarking. It gets tiresome, but what's more tiresome to me is the defense or dismissal of this habit with the words: "Well I/he/she/they didn't mean anything by it." This expression is a mystery: it's that all-encompassing defense which it seems is supposed to allow you to let any mess fall out of your mouth without taking responsibility for it. It's akin to "it's just my opinion" and a close neighbour of "I'm just saying". There's this notion that because an idea was spawned somewhere in the recesses of your brain, albeit by a process that remains unclear, it is worthy of utterance. And not only do you have the right to share it (which you probably do, which doesn't mean you should), but we have the obligation to 'respect your opinion' merely by virtue of the fact that it's your opinion. This is false. If your opinion is ill-conceived or bigoted or just plain nonsense, I don't have to respect it. And further, if you share it with me, and I think it nonsense, be prepared to hear about it, if I'm in the mood to let you know. You don't get to hide behind "it's just my opinion" as a license to talk out the side of your neck and not have to defend it.

Not meaning anything by it is a similar animal. What am I supposed to do with this information? That you didn't mean anything by it? You formed a sentence, so you meant something. You used words, which carry meaning, and so there was something that you hoped to convey. Perhaps you're saying that you didn't mean to upset me, or to start a fight. This might be true. But what you're really saying there is "I wanted to say whatever I pleased and leave you with the responsibility of not getting upset or challenging me." Or maybe you're so used to certain patterns of conversation that you just automatically discharged some nonsense without thinking about what it might mean for the other person. And if that's the case: stop it. Or finally, maybe you had a genuine foot-in-mouth moment. I've had those. They're hideous things. But "I didn't mean anything by it" is not of any comfort in those situations either. Because it's so overused, it's a bit of a non-statement now. If the person registers offense (or even if they didn't, depending on how brave you're feeling), just say sorry, you used the wrong words, and say what you really meant. Because you did mean something. Otherwise, why was your mouth open?

Now, there's been a lot of talk recently about what it means to be offended, and whether it is even desirable to avoid offending people, and it's a worthwhile discussion, because people do claim offense at everything. It's now a strategy; it's about manipulation. In the theater of the absurd that is the US Tea Party movement, for example, becoming offended is the new method by which to deflect responsibility: "How dare you call me a racist? I'm offended by the implication!" The ensuing backlash means that no one cares any more. Forget about not meaning anything by it, people are now starting to feel that if they can cause you personal injury on a lark, that means they're edgy and interesting, possess biting wit and are not afraid of being 'real'. That is all an illusion. The fact is, you're just an a$*hole. For me, the point of demarcation lies in the following: you don't have a right to not be offended, especially if you're the type to be offended by the skirt length of a stranger on the bus. But you do have a right to be free from discrimination and dehumanization by word and action. I tend to feel that words are action. They can call all kinds of things into being. They should be operated with care.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Damned homeless people and their hunger

**Trigger warning for reference to violence and half-hearted warning for a bit of profanity that is censored anyway**

How does one write an entire article about the homeless and manage to completely avoid even the vaguest reference to their vulnerability and lack of well-being? This is how.

There are too many gems to quote them all, and by "gems" I mean "instances of blatant disregard for the humanity of these people who dare to be hungry enough or desperate enough in their particular dependencies to beg for money". So just read the entire thing. It focuses on how bothersome the homeless are to businesses and tourists. Here are some quotes from the business owners consulted for their wise perspectives:

"As a tourist-oriented place we need to have the issue addressed as it may have adverse effects."

And another store owner:

"It is not right for people to come here and have this type of harassment. We cannot be spending this type of money to advertise Barbados and having a few people ruining the experience for them."

"It is a big problem and nobody seems to be dealing with it," he continued.

I have two things to say to this. First, tourists: "here is my country Barbados. It is lovely, the food is outstanding, the music is entrancing, the weather, the beaches, the people, all great. Some of these people, though, just like some of the people in your countries, have mental health challenges, substance dependencies and other circumstances which contribute to them living on the streets and sometimes not being able to feed themselves. Do help them if you'd like. Welcome to Barbados."

And second, yes, the 'issue' has to be addressed because there are 'adverse effects'. You know who is most adversely affected? The f**king homeless. I swore there, see. And I hardly swear in print. Such is the absurdity of the notions expressed here.

The idea that we have some kind of obligation to the people who visit this country to shield them from some of the manifestations of poverty - poverty that is in some instances maintained because of the unbalanced economic and political power relations between their countries of origin and ours (I know I should qualify this since it begs discussion, but that is a whole other post, so do ask "What?!" if you want to hear more) - is problematic. There are issues of safety, of course. And we should strive to maintain peace and security for all people, native or other, who happen to be resident here at any given moment for any length of time. But to frame this 'vagrancy problem' as 'a few people ruining the experience' of tourists, which is what I'm sure they set out to do when they left their pavements this morning - and to suggest that solely for this reason should we try to get human beings off the streets and into homes with food to eat and livelihoods to maintain themselves is getting things a bit ass backwards.

Our primary obligation is to secure the well-being of the citizens of this nation and region. That's what our development agenda, of which tourism is only a part, is all about. Economic arguments are sexy. I know. I make them every day. I'm often asked to make various cases for things "in economic terms", because that's what those with influence understand. And this is true. It's useful sometimes to show people the costs of certain policies or behaviours. When a woman is abused, when she is burnt with acid or stabbed or punched in the face, there are real costs to the State, to the economy, to the society. But you know what else? When a woman is punched in the face, a woman has just been punched in the face. So inherently, you see, this is a very bad thing. And while one gets that macro considerations are important and one does not want to lose one's job making these linkages clear, one gets jaded making economic arguments for things that should just be about common f**king decency and basic human rights.

Similarly, homelessness is bad for tourism, I suppose. So is littering and other forms of environmental degradation. Perhaps, so is getting annoyed with your friend in public and yelling YEAH? WELL F**K YOU TOO within earshot of a nervous tourist, since one gets the idea that we're all supposed to do the friendly native dance and not sully the tourist landscape with our actual character or personality or challenges. But poverty, homelessness, environmental decline, these are all problems that compromise the well-being of real people. And tourism is an important income earner for many, yes, but I am frankly afraid of the notion that all that is important is the tourist dollar and not spooking the flighty tourists dem, even if that means cleaning up the streets by stuffing the homeless into the nearest manhole out of sight of the money-spenders.

Quite a few of us realize the value of helping displaced people off the streets. There is a pretty impressive young man who started a local charity, the Barbados Vagrants & Homeless Society, with this as its mandate. And while the name is a little unfortunate, the work of the organisation and the support it has received from government are encouraging. Still, articles like this one contribute to the popular intolerance of the homeless. There's nothing wrong with considering some of the spinoff effects of homelessness, but showcasing the homeless as a nuisance and nothing more removes their humanity, and tells people it's alright to do the same.
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