Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who's your daddy?

This week’s Globe & Mail offerings: coverage of a 32-year-old mother who died after liposuction, revelation that it’s predicted that women will eventually fill the wage gap (and subsequent comment that women shouldn’t be expected to make as much as men, since they choose to have children and shoulder the burden of child-care), and an opinion piece on why a woman should keep her own name (and subsequent comment by man with very Anglo-Saxon name that all of this whining and navel-gazing about “identity” is ridiculous).

And so I maintain that my statement made earlier this week, in discussion with the Ecclesiax Board on another issue, is true: the patriarchy is alive and well. I think that it is appropriate to use that term when referring to any traditionally male-dominated status quo that controls people’s lives, whether they are male or female – but I don’t even need to get into that definition, because all of these examples pertain to the narrower concept of patriarchy as oppressor of women.

Story #1 – obviously there is a whole issue of the safety of cosmetic surgery in this tragic story, which is beside what has struck me about it. From all accounts, this woman (who had opted for liposuction over a tummy tuck because she thought it was safer and less invasive) was not a big risk-taker in the name of beauty. However, she still felt strongly enough about the belly fat that had become a regular part of her post-pregnancy body that she was willing to undergo an invasive procedure. She was not overweight, from the look of her picture, but she apparently looked like she’d had a baby, and she felt that was bad – that she shouldn’t carry the marks of motherhood on her body. The fat that covered her previously rock-hard abs was sufficiently offensive and ugly to her that she was willing to undergo surgery to make it go away. And, of course, the choice is not an isolated one, only the tragic consequences are. I only hope that out of these consequences will come a dialogue that doesn’t just examine the safety of the procedure, but examines why women go through the procedure at all.

Story #2 – as is often the case, it’s the comments, more than the article, that I have found revealing. The article is about a study that predicts the gender gap will finally close on wages in the next decade or so. The responses were rife with comments about how women choose to have children and can’t expect companies to compensate them for taking off time when their kids are sick. A few lone voices suggested that maybe we should view child-rearing and pregnancy as valuable contributions to society, but were quickly blocked out by a man saying that, all things being equal, he would always pick a man over a woman in hiring, because the man was going to be more productive. There was very little discussion about the role that fathers could (and, increasingly, want to) play in parenting. And there was, also, the usual snide remark about how it was unfair that there would be no affirmative action for men when women passed them in earning power – no historical context considered.

Story #3 – basically, the author was advocating that the only reasonable choice for a woman to make when getting married was to keep her own name – largely because it makes things easier when the divorce rolls around. The comments were, I thought, largely pretty reasonable. I liked that someone pointed out that the author argued that keeping one’s name was about identity, without any acknowledgement that with personal identity comes personal choice (I know very intelligent women who chose to take their husband’s names, while fully aware of the historical significance – it just worked best for them). The other good comment was on the fact that the author felt the need to make it clear “I’m not a feminist,” while feminists had made such choice possible in the first place. However, the comment that best illustrates my thesis of today – that the patriarchy is alive and well – was by a man (with, as I mentioned in my intro, a very Anglo-Saxon sounding name) saying that all of this thought and discussion about personal identity is self-serving and ridiculous. I can’t believe that anyone who has ever experienced being a minority would dismiss the importance of identity so quickly. Some men seem to want their wives to take on their names, and take it as a personal affront if a wife objects, who would never consider changing their own name. Why should they? It’s their NAME, after all . . . passed on from father to son. A woman, though . . . well, it’s only the natural progression.

And so, in two days of flipping through the paper online, I see women who are willing to undergo the knife to erase any evidence of pregnancy from their bodies, and who carefully separate themselves from feminists, while claiming a choice that feminists fought for us to have. And I see men who don’t understand that a woman might want to have a job and a family, like men have had for centuries, but that her biological role in the whole family-production process makes it a bit harder, and who can’t even fathom why one would feel the need to assert one’s identity. And I have to conclude that the patriarchy is alive and well, and coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book Learnin'

Here in Ontario, the provincial elections are swiftly approaching, and the talk has been pretty much high-jacked by one issue – the funding of faith-based schools. Launched onto the agenda as a Conservative draw for their constituency, the issue is close to all I’ve heard in my limited exposure to the election build-up (based largely on listening to Ottawa morning on CBC while getting ready for work). A few weeks ago, Wheat Sheaf asked me what I thought of the issue, and I wasn’t quite sure. So, I’ve been thinking and discussing with people since then, and this is what I’ve come up with.

For starters – I was raised in the public school system, and I believe in the public school system. I believe in the democratic process of kids from all walks of life interacting with each other at school (I guess that my small town experience reflects that more than it would be in cities, where neighbourhood divisions lead to school divisions along economic lines). So, I would love to see our education money going to fund one strong education system. A system in which all kids have the opportunity to take arts and sports, and also have the opportunity to learn about all different religions in a respectful manner.

I guess the point of faith-based education is that a given community’s faith framework has led to a set of values that they would like to impart to their children. On the CBC, they were interviewing people involved in a small Christian school somewhere south of Ottawa. Some of the differences in curriculum were to be expected – evolution taught with the caveat that it is a theory that is wrong, no sex education. Some were interesting – cursive hand-writing starting in grade 1, no computers. Some were, in my opinion, unfortunate – teaching Biblical history instead of modern Canadian history. It isn’t that Christian children shouldn’t know Biblical history, but modern Canadian history is important – these kids live in Canadian society, and we can only understand the nuances of where we are if we understand the nuances of where we came from. I mention all of this by way of illustration, and to get to the point that maybe parents need to take the responsibility for their children’s supplemental and value education. There are things that every Canadian should know about to function in our society, and there are things that are going to be specific to faith. Maybe school should only be in charge of the things every Canadian should know about, and should give kids the tools to explore the issues specific to faith and value systems.

So, my general feeling is that we would be in a better position if our education money went to building us one quality education system. However, we already have two education systems, one of which is faith-based. This, of course, is one of those times when understanding our history can explain our present. The Catholic school system is a remnant of a historical point in time when almost all Canadians were Protestant or Catholic, and the Catholic Church had a huge hold in the lives of its adherents. Today, Catholic school seems to be only nominally faith-based. I have several non-Catholic friends who went to Catholic school because it was the better school, or the only school with French. In Ottawa, the French Catholic school system is so under-utilized that they advertise on public transit to attract new students.

As is probably obvious from the tone of the paragraph above, I think that the 2 existing school systems in Ontario should be integrated. However, I am a pragmatist, and I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. SO, in the meantime, despite all of the above ranting and raving, I have to say that if we are going to fund Catholic schools due to a historical deal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our demographics today, other faith-based schools should be funded too. I make this statement with the proviso that they should have to follow a standard curriculum to a certain point, but if we are going to fund Catholic schools, there is really no reason why Protestants, Jews, or Muslims who want to have their children educated within the faith shouldn’t also have the same opportunity to have public funding to do so.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Celebration Thursday

I haven't had much time to think this week, but one thing I have been thinking about is what there is to celebrate in my life. In 2 weeks, I am in charge of the service at Ecclesiax, and we're doing "celebration Sunday." The idea is that, instead of being the angst-ridden post-modern specimens that we usually are, we are going to celebrate the things in our lives that bring us joy, and thank God for our blessings. My vision is that people will share little things - a picture of a favourite place or person, a favourite poem, a song that makes them dance, etc. Afterwards, we are going to have a potluck, because every party needs food.

Since this was my idea, I've been feeling the pressure of trying to find the perfect thing to share. I can think of exceptional instances of overwhelming joy - climbing over a hill on the Isle of Skye and suddenly being faced with the sun setting on the sea and countless tiny islands; catching fjordmania with Simone, and getting sillier and sillier as the wind buffeted us on the deck of the boat; the first time Paul and I kissed, almost 10 years ago . . .

But, I think that I want to celebrate the normal things that bring me joy. These are the ways that I sense divinity in my normal life. And so, tonight, in the midst of the busy-ness, and despite my sore back, I sit in a candlelit room with soft music playing, and I celebrate:

Biking in big groups in the dark
Making a good meal with Paul
Sharing a bottle of wine with the girls
Homemade mittens
Red Sweaters and striped socks
Wildflowers in the city
The Rideau River, when it's calm as glass
Being stormstayed when I have nowhere to go
Red leaves
Soft music, candlelight, and a roof over my head.

It's bedtime,
el Maggie out

Thursday, September 6, 2007

rest in peace

Last week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail on the increased popularity of public acts of mourning. Setting the stage with the mounds of flowers placed at Buckingham Palace after Princess Di died, the article talked about the proliferation of roadside monuments and internet memorial sites. Then, in the latest Macleans (or one of the latest – as usual, I am a few weeks behind . . . . ), there was an opinion piece on the opulence of mourning. The author lamented the loss of reserve in obituaries, and the change in emphasis from “funeral” to “celebration of life.”

I found the first article interesting – the idea of grief for a stranger who has passed away and of the desire for a person who has lost a loved one to grieve in a public way are both fascinating. I’ve been a reading a book about Generation X and faith (“Virtual Faith”by Tom Beaudoin). Generally, it’s full of the kind of questionable textual over-analysis that made me decide not to continue studying English literature, but last night I hit upon something that rang true – he mentioned that because our generation is so saturated with media, we see our own experiences play out like a movie or TV show before our lives, rather than really living them. I have noticed this in life in general, and it makes sense that it would spill over into our grief. If we are taught to mourn through the media, it is not surprising that mourning has become more public – that there has been an increase in candlelight vigils, with press releases sent out ahead of time, and other mourning “events”.

In the second article, the author bemoaned the fact that funerals are too sugar-coated, and avoid the possibility of death. The author talked glowingly about funerals from days gone by, in which the homily was a reminder that all life is transient, and we’re all going on to something bigger. I thought the author missed a pretty major fact here – not everyone believes that we are going to something bigger. I have mourned with an agnostic family during the tragic and sudden death of their son/brother. This family didn’t know where they thought he had gone, and were working through those issues, while trying to figure out how to memorialize him. It was important for them to be surrounded in objects and photos that spoke of his short life. Playing a hymn wouldn’t have meant anything to them, or reflected their relationship to him, but some country music from the CD that was in his truck did. Serving “tradition” would have done nothing to help this family grieve.

While the author of the Macleans piece had some good insight into the lack of focus that some funerals seem to have, epitomized in eulogies that are really more about the speaker than the deceased, I think that he misses the point that mourning is a very personal thing. Every person’s mourning experience is going to be coloured by her relationship to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and her spiritual beliefs. It seems to me that a celebration of life can be a very positive focus for a funeral. When we lose someone we love, we are going to be sad, so why shouldn’t we dress in bright colours and surround ourselves with people who care about us, and remember the good things about the person we’ve lost?