Can Christ be cool with abortion?

The “prayers of the people” is a routine component of most protestant church services. Each week, a volunteer delivers these prayers to the congregation, adapting to incorporate pertinent current affairs and names of downtrodden individuals upon request.

These were delivered as usual at my downtown Ottawa church on Sunday – and I was entirely comfortable participating. That is until a special prayer was added to acknowledge the forthcoming March for Life on Parliament Hill: a deeply controversial annual event where draconian faith-based activists from across the country pour into the capital to spread ‘the word’ that abortion is a sin.

Given my impoverished and staunchly religious upbringing in the Anglican Church, I was raised to be fearful and skeptical of ‘the Other’: racial minorities, queer communities, or any marginal identity outside the white, Anglo-Saxon ‘norm’.

Through the subversive behavioural lens of my sheltered family, women were the second sex, there are merely two genders (trans* identity was beyond our realm of comprehension), and to be queer was utterly out of the question. My struggles with mental illness were to be kept quiet, also. It was of the utmost importance for us to be perceived as “normal.” Never did the topic come up, but it was inferred that abortion fell into this avoided “abnormal” category also.

I credit feminist theory for rescuing me from the confines of an otherwise regrettably bigoted, close-minded life. Fortunately for me, I registered for a gender studies course during my undergrad and fell in love immediately; eventually switching programs. Therein, I was exposed to the realities of social hierarchies, systems of power and privilege, what it means to be oppressed, and met a great deal of people (women, mostly) from diverse backgrounds who taught me more about the world than I’d ever come close to understanding. Furthermore, my activism in the Ottawa community has only deepened this appetite and become an intrinsic part of my identity.

I did not attend church for most of my life with the exception of childhood, and only until a major death in my family did I really start praying again. Only in my late twenties have did I catch myself semi-regularly and half-heartedly attending a service most weeks in my neighbourhood. This has gradually evolved into a weekly necessity.

Upon attempting to re-open the abortion debate in the House of Commons last year, former MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 was struck down almost unanimously, even by our right-wing Prime Minister at the time. Clearly, there is little to no desire on the federal level to open this exceptionally divisive issue said to have been put to rest under Trudeau Senior’s reign in the late 1960s.

Still, Woodworth is not alone. This Thursday, thousands of evangelists from all walks of life will inundate the Parliamentary lawn and fill our streets (including many members and the full clergy of my church). They will be carrying posters and placards of terminated fetuses, praying together, and hoping to stoke the fires of public policy to re-open this dialogue. I was invited by my church to be one of them, and respectfully declined.

Instead, as I did last year, I will carry a sign that reads “Christian and Pro-Choice” to underscore the fact that negotiating these ordinarily polarizing identities is entirely feasible. My pastor himself once told me that if I didn’t feel comfortable praying to the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” during service, I was welcome to say “Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit” and address “Her” and “She” rather than “Him” or “He.”

When a friend approached me to talk her through her abortion several years ago, it was feminist discourse that empowered me to reassure her that this is her right, both legally and personally, as someone with reproductive organs. Thanks to the work of activists such as the Radical Handmaids, Abortion Access Now PEI (who succeeded this year in finally bringing abortion access to PEI) and second-wavers such as Gloria Steinem, we are entitled to free reign over our bodies.

While patriarchy is deeply entrenched in biblical teachings and much of Christianity globally, language is merely semantic and entirely malleable. I would argue that it is perfectly acceptable to dismantle these archaic customs in the interest of aligning one’s faith to one’s identity and personal politics.

From residential schools to the demonization of the queer community, the church has done so much to misinterpret Christ’s intentions in Canada. Not least of which, shaming those born with reproductive organs that choose to exercise their legal right to agency and autonomy over their bodies.

It is so easy to see that Jesus was a feminist. What a shame so few Christians can see this.

Suicide and other difficult subjects

When I was sixteen, I woke up from a week-long psychotic episode in a stale white hospital room. Family members stood at a cautious distance from the end of my bed, handing me stuffed-toy animals and cards from the gift shop downstairs, all clumsily imparting whatever supportive words they could summon.

The resident psychiatrist misdiagnosed me – prescribing a strong anti-psychotic that made me feel lethargic and heavy like I’d been drinking for a week. The terror and homesickness I felt was numbed by the drug. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I showed the doctors my wrists that I’d cut here and there over the years while flirting with the notion of ending my life, and attempted to muster some articulate description of the incredible sorrow I’d been harboring since childhood. I was not allowed to bring a razor in the shower with me, nor was I allowed to wear any tethered sweatshirts that I could choke myself to death in – standard psych ward protocol.

. . .

My entire life I have battled depression and generalized anxiety, which my psychologist told my university professors “fluctuates”, depending on the circumstances, from “acute to severe”. Whether out of shame, or fear, or ignorant denial – it seemed my family never wanted to acknowledge the depth of despair I was lost within. They could not understand it – which is understandable given that no one revels in watching their relative swimming in a state of inexplicable, perpetual misery. More importantly, no one really wants to spend time with someone who is constantly, perpetually miserable and negative with no obvious explanation.

My heart and mind were black. Navigating my way through regular life experiences like school work, or part-time jobs was an exhausting chore. Socializing was often dreaded unless I’d been drinking, while getting out of bed many days was simply impossible.  Art and writing were typically my only solace. As you can imagine, I was a very difficult person to be around.
. . .

When I read Graeme Bayliss’ electric piece recounting his own dance with suicide-contemplation, the same veins on my body that once felt the tempting embrace of a cool razor’s edge coursed with defensive frustration.

Who cares what another privileged white man feels, I thought. How in God’s name can such a high profile publication publish something that could, quite conceivably, push many souls drowning in doldrums over the edge?

As real as depression is for those of us experiencing it, and as desperately we as a culture need to shed more light on this sickness that affects literally everyone at least once in their lifetime, here’s where Bayliss missed the mark – and frankly, where I miss the mark in sharing my own story here and now.

At present, there is a suicide epidemic impacting Indigenous peoples (particularly youth) in Canada. Thousands are occupying Indigenous and Northern Affairs offices across the country to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of abhorrently deprived and discriminated reserves who have been crying out for our support for decades.

While our Prime Minister wines and dines in the Byward Market during the emergency debate in the House of Commons on the subject, Neskantaga First Nation is in its third consecutive year in a state of emergency over suicides. In Attawapiskat one week ago, eleven youth attempted suicide in one night.

Police arrived just in time to thwart a suicide pact of thirteen youth (including a 9-year-old) in Attawapiskat – who were brought to an overwhelmed hospital that is already bursting at the seams by other hopeless Indigenous youth strategizing to end their lives. As I write this, many more are sitting alone and contemplating killing themselves. Not because of a chemical imbalance or the inability to get into law school, or because someone dumped them – because they have nothing.

In his reactionary column to the newly minted assisted-dying bill, Bayliss poses the question: “Why should [the Government of Canada] stop the chronically depressed because they have ‘good days and bad days’?”

Suicide is a means to an end – there is hope. There is always hope. Unfortunately, hope is hard to spot when you are born onto colonial reserve territory where there is no running water to drink, no affordable food to buy, no adequate education system and a stressed and inadequate healthcare system. Even if they’re poor like my family was growing up, white kids like Bayliss still generally get to grow up with jungle gyms and sing alongs and some form of healthcare at their disposal. Indigenous kids growing up in remote reserve communities grow up with their beautiful culture and traditions, and not much else to live off of.

If we were to expand avail of this controversial legislation to everyone and anyone as Bayliss suggests, even youth who are contemplating suicide, imagine the horrific repercussions in a community like Attawapiskat – where furious impoverished youth are sick over our government’s blatant racist discrimination and colonial practise, and thirsting for an easy method to end the pain.

What a deplorably irresponsible means to an end this could manifest.

 

Sorry to disappoint you, Gibbons, but those of us in dresses will not ‘lighten up’

john-gibbons-mlb-toronto-blue-jays-tampa-bay-rays-850x560

When White Ribbon Canada (a non-profit men’s organization working to end violence against women) held their annual ‘What Makes a Man?’ Conference in downtown Toronto earlier this year, some really stirring dialogue took place.

One panel specifically caught my attention – Men and Masculinity On and Off the Field. Moderated by Stacey May Fowles, this panel explored how the ideas and ideals of manhood and masculinity impact men in the world of sports culture. A timely subject, given that women’s and gender studies programs across the country are increasingly adding courses on toxic masculinity for young feminist theorists to sink their teeth into.

This panel featured Shireen Ahmed, a writer, public speaker and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports; renowned mental health activist and former goaltender for Team Canada, Kendra Fisher; and the Toronto Argonauts’ Matt Black. All three speakers echoed similar sentiments around the extremely violent rape culture, sexism, misogyny and blatant exclusion of women and girls from sport in Canada.

I don’t think I need to point out to anyone that there is little to no corporate appetite to sponsor a woman’s sports team in Canada. All professional sports glorify hyper-masculinity and manhood, to the detriment and deliberate exclusion of women and girls. These exclusions extend to trans* communities, Indigenous communities, disabled communities and racialized communities also, making it extremely difficult for anyone outside the white male demographic to participate in sports.

That’s why when a girlfriend and I decided to catch the Jays’ game this week against Tampa Bay while shooting some pool; it came as no surprise to either of us that there were very few women or girls in this sports bar with us.

We’re both used to men taking up more space than us in sports bars – actually, everywhere. Any fourth-wave, intersectional feminist is used to this. There was a big group of middle-aged white guys playing a game beside us who seemed to have difficulty getting out of our way every time we planned to line up our cues, which is annoying, but typical. When I kindly asked one of the servers to put on the Wisconsin primaries on one of their dozens of televisions so I could watch these simultaneously, they said no. Understandable, it’s a sports bar.

But something really disappointed me last night that today I’m feeling compelled to write about. No – it isn’t the fact that the Jays lost, which was certainly a bummer. It’s the fact that after this world class team lost this game, while hundreds of thousands of women, men and trans* folks were watching, their extremely well-paid manager decided to spout a deeply sexist comment which he refuses to apologize for.

Hi Gibbons! I wear dresses sometimes, and I like baseball! Guess what I don’t like? When men in extremely powerful, well-paid roles like yourself who manage and represent my favourite team feel the need to crack disgusting ‘jokes’ that put down my entire sex.

The consequences of making said comments and refusing to apologize for them? Losing out on 51% of the population’s business, continuing to alienate and disempower women and girls from sport and other public discourse, and the perpetuation of our long-standing patriarchal rape culture that sees 1 out of every 3 women raped a year.

Alas, the political world let women down yesterday also, due to the idiotic commentary of yet another old white rich guy in a position of power (coincidence? I think not). As Tonda MacCharles reported for the Toronto Star, Jack MacLaren, PC MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Ontario, decided to make some wildly inappropriate comments about MP Karen McCrimmon’s sex life before an audience of 350 at a “men’s night” cancer fundraiser. How cute.

Fortunately, MacLaren’s comments were met with shock and disgust as they should have been. Unfortunately, the comments still happened, and still continue to happen every day – which is a clear testament to a deeper cultural and sociological phenomenon within our public discourse that too many people are still choosing to ignore.

As the great Gloria Steinem outlined during her keynote at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit in Ottawa recently, sexism persists across every one of our social institutions in the West – from elected public office, to the military, to government, to sport. As this culture is structural and systemic, there is no one obvious solution.

However, the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women (who convened just last month for their sixtieth session to discuss the state of the world’s women) indicates that economic and social policies can contribute to fairer and more gender-equal societies, as well as stronger and more prosperous economies, if they are designed and implemented with women’s rights at the centre.

So here’s what I’m proposing – let’s force these guys to take a page from the feminist playbook and attend a workshop from a great grassroots feminist organization. Learn how and why these comments hurt our public discourse and continually disengage, disempower and marginalize women.

This might come as a surprise to people like Gibbons and MacLaren, but some of us wearing dresses are actually brilliant, well-educated, hardworking problem-solvers working extremely hard to make the world a better place. We’re more than happy to explain why comments like these are unacceptable, but for the record, no – we most definitely will not ‘lighten up’.

 

 

BIO:
Jenn Jefferys is an Ottawa-based strategic communications consultant and political columnist with The Hill Times. She has managed communications and media relations for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, for Equal Voice National, and is a former staffer on Parliament Hill. Follow her @jennjefferys or reach her at jenn.jefferys@gmail.com

Jefferys: Leaders ought to discuss women’s economic plight

Ottawa Citizen

Thursday night will mark the second leaders’ debate of the federal election campaign and will focus exclusively on the future of the Canadian economy.

During this debate, you’ll likely be exposed to an assortment of common words tied to the economy — “housing,” “taxation,” “jobs,” and perhaps even the ever-elusive notion of “infrastructure.” While all of these words are flung at you from three directions, I challenge you to make one simple observation: Notice how many times the word woman is used.

Remember the previous leaders’ debate way back in early August? You know – the one where we saw just one woman present (after having begged and lobbied profusely to join). Through the full duration of that debate, the word “woman” was actually only used four times, and three out of the four mentions were “women and men in uniform.” To put this in perspective: a young woman in her first year as an…

View original post 499 more words

Heartfield: How to talk to girls in the daytime

Perfect.

Ottawa Citizen

Poor Luke Howard. The fellow who secretly recorded his encounters with random women on Ottawa streets and posted them to YouTube was only trying, by his own admission, to help men do something that is apparently very difficult. It’s right there on the banner on his website: he offers “Freedom to Talk to Girls in the Daytime.”

Howard is a “daygamer”, a particular subset of pickup-artist (they have subsets, and codes, and rating scales for women, and much else besides) who specializes in exchanging words with female humans during the hours when the great ball of flame illuminates the sky. I know, right? What kind of sorcerer is this guy?

As it happens, I have experienced conversation with men during daylight hours and am able to give some advice on this subject, which has so occupied somanymenonsomanyforums.

It didn’t come easily, of course. Here…

View original post 717 more words

On Sarah Hoffman and Deborah Drever

Naomi Wolf may have said it best when she said “women who love themselves are threatening.”

Even more threatening? A woman who loves herself, and who is brave enough and confident enough to run for public office – regardless her skin colour, her weight, her age, or her professional background.

11100713

Sarah Hoffman, the Alberta New Democratic Party’s newly-sworn-in Health and Seniors Minister is one of these women.

A woman who inspires others to step into the spotlight, despite an insidious culture of misogyny and immaturity determined to tear her down – even within government.

When a high-ranking Progressive Conservative party executive publically attacked Hoffman last week, reportedly calling her “morbidly obese,” the internet fought back.

Though I shudder reproducing these, here were his exact words:

Our morbidly obese Health Minister Sarah Hoffman is going to ban the sale of menthol tobacco produces in Alberta as of September,” Lien wrote. “I would assume then that if health is the chief concern that all sodas, candy, processed sugar products … and fast foods … should then follow?

Women in politics and public life are no stranger to personal attacks on their physical appearance, despite how unrelated these comments often are to their capacity to do their job effectively.

With the advent of body positivity activists like Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham or Trisha Paytas (all of whom embrace individuality very publically through their respective artistic outlets, encouraging women take the lead no matter what her dress size) one might hope that this culture will someday soon, subside.

Deborah Drever is another young woman in Alberta politics who has faced even more severe personal attacks – from threats, to fake Twitter accounts exclusively dedicated to abusing her online, to perpetual offensive language and shaming. Like her colleague, Drever’s skin has undoubtedly been forced to thicken over the course of the past month.

Miraculously, women like Drever and Hoffman still dare to tread within this heinous culture. The depth of hatred for young women who dare to challenge a world where so many people still refuse to accept their presence is, a difficult reality to accept – to say the least.

Let’s just hope this perpetual culture doesn’t scare off the few women seeking office right now – because we desperately need more of them.

Stephen Harper, fear and Canadian legislation

In 2002, Marilyn Manson was blamed by media and right-wing religious activists for the Columbine shootings because the perpetrators reportedly listened to his music.

During an interview around this time with Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine, Manson said that he sees most Americans as duped by a symbiotic media culture of “fear and consumption.”

Way back in December Stephen Harper sat down for his annual “fireside interview” with Peter Mansbridge on CBC.

What struck me as I watched the most powerful man in my country speak on these radical jihad ‘others’ that his administration seeks to demonize on a daily basis (see: John Baird’s daily fear-mongering Facebook updates), that we are existing within this same vacuous campaign Manson alludes to: this culture of fear and consumption.

calandra1

Or in this case – fear (even paranoia) resulting in ideology and legislation. Has fear led to Harper’s diplomacy?

Is this where C-51 came from? You be the judge of that.

Brief interview with OICH on how poverty impacts a woman menstruating

Text from a brief interview I had with Ottawa Inner City Health for an article I wrote on homeless women in Ottawa. I was unable to include the full text in the article, and didn’t want this important info to go to waste:
_____________________________________________________________

A sampling of feminine hygiene products collected at a recent benefit concert at House of Targ in Ottawa for Ottawa Inner City Health
Feminine hygiene products donated at a benefit concert at House of Targ in Ottawa for Ottawa Inner City Health

What is the ratio of homeless women to men in Ottawa? In Canada?

The ratio is approx. 80/20. I do not have a reference for that off-hand, but it is likely in the Alliance Data. Our program numbers do mimic this trend.

Since our inception we have, at OICH have treated and or admitted approx. 6900 unique adults (Homeless youth are referred to the Youth Services Bureau). Our mission is to contribute to ending homelessness in the community by providing health care and improving the quality of life for people who are chronically homeless. Our population is very specific to chronically homeless individuals suffering from severe mental health and/or addictions, with chronic health issues. These numbers reflect only a portion of the overall community accessing services.  Of the 6900 admissions, approx. 1200 are identified women in our EMR.

How badly do you need feminine hygiene products on a regular basis within the program?

In theory, there could be as many as 40 women menstruating on any given day in our programs alone (which is just a subset of the women served by our partner organizations overall). Multiply that by the average number of products required on an ‘average flow’ day (let’s say 4-5). That could be about 200 feminine items a day in just a couple of programs. You could infer what that would look like on an annual basis.

How many times a day are you asked for feminine hygiene products?

There is a constant need. We tend not to be able to keep a large supply as they are also quite bulky and therefore hard to store, as space can be limited.

What do homeless women typically do when they’re on their period and they don’t have any feminine hygiene products?

Before we started to purchase feminine products, the toilets in the programs were constantly clogged with wads of toilet paper, paper towels and socks. This affects everyone right down to those who use the facilities as well as those who clean and care for the restrooms and laundry.

Is it common knowledge that feminine hygiene products are in demand in shelters and food banks in Ottawa?

I am not sure how aware people are about the need. It is a basic sanitation need so we did not hesitate to provide, but they are very costly to us. As a funded medical program, donations of product or monies goes directly to our client population’s basic needs, 100% of the time

NDP lead in recruiting women to office

Few voters probably realize the extent to which New Democrats go to ensure fair and equal representation in their recruitment process.

The party’s National Campaign Director and former candidate three times over, Anne McGrath, will be the first to tell you that reaching out to women in the recruitment process is obligatory.

I know from first-hand experience that the party actually distributes a package to all women considering running, called the NDP Guide for Women Candidates.

The orange 8-pager provides backgrounds on their women incumbents, and a step-by-step guide to approaching your local riding association, the vetting process, fundraising, and the importance of overcoming the tell-tale “but I’m not qualified enough” apprehension that most women seem to face long before running.

There’s plenty of articles and evidence showcasing this effort toward gender balance from the NDP. If a woman is showing interest in putting her name forward and submitting a candidate package, the party will often delegate an incumbent female MP to take that candidate for coffee and share her experience. Recruiting is tough. Retention can be even tougher.

***

At Equal Voice, we’ve noticed that the three provinces leading the way on recruiting female candidates happen to be the three provinces with female Premiers (Ontario at 35 percent, British Columbia at 36% and now, Alberta at 33%). The stats tell us this is no coincidence. Women tend to run where there is a female incumbent resulting in a snowball effect, and female political leaders tend to consider gender balance ahead of their male counterparts.

In the last Federal election, a total of 77 women were elected. That’s 25 percent of the House of Commons.

In my opinion, that’s pretty depressing, considering this actually accounts for the most women ever elected in Canadian Federal history. One quarter of the House. That’s it. And we celebrated this when it happened, like we’d finally reached some level of triumph, which was hardly the case.

Sadly, according to Equal Voice internal research thus far, we’re only seeing more of the same as we approach the 42nd Canadian Federal election on October 19, 2015. As of January 2015, the NDP were leading in their nomination of women by a significant margin (as seen below).

WomeninElection2015_EqualVoiceFindings

Many more nominations have come in since January, but the stats remain relatively the same. All three leading parties are nominating the same number of women as the previous election. Little to no progress.

What are we going to do about it?