Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada, and it is a sad day for gender equality. Some may argue that Justice Nadon was simply the most qualified applicant for the job, but the discussion about today’s appointment is not that simple. Canada’s top judges are all extremely intelligent and accomplished people. It is difficult to rank them according to a hierarchy of talent. Justice Nadon was a Quebec appointee, and there are currently two very knowledgeable and practiced women judges from this province that were expected to receive this appointment (one of them being Justice Marie-France Bich). And yet, somehow the very privileged white man is deemed the top candidate by another very privileged white man. This isn’t an issue of picking the absolute best candidate, but of gender inequality.
Content Note: Discussion of sexual assault statistics and an empirical analysis of false rape allegations.
This week an article popped up on CBC about MRA activists in Edmonton putting posters up encouraging women not to lie about sexual assault just because they regret having sex with someone. I posted it on my Facebook feed with a bunch of comments about my rage, and a few of my fellow feminist friends responded. We ended up discussing false rape allegation statistics and their lack of empirical accuracy when a male friend of mine decided to ask me the deceptively difficult question of what should a proper estimation of the rate of false accusations be? I gave a really long answer (for a Facebook post that is), and was asked to make it rebloggable. So here is my extended response (now complete with 50% more grammar!).
My short answer is that there is no answer. Simply put, there is not enough data for relevant statistical analysis that would give us any sort of accurate picture of false rape accusations. While there have been many studies conducted on this issue, they are essentially based on meaningless numbers. Many of them focus on data obtained from police stations and thus rely on unfounding rates. Unfounding means that the police have decided not to pursue a case, and they may have chosen this option for a variety of reasons other than just the belief that a false allegation has been made. In many situations, unfounding occurs because there was not enough evidence to support a court case. It is also not uncommon for sexist attitudes to influence unfounding rates. In one of my classes in law school, we compared unfounding statistics from across the province of Ontario, and it was quite shocking to see how the rates differed between jurisdictions. Unfounding rates in jurisdictions where police officers have special training in regards to sexual assault were significantly lower than in jurisdictions that do not have that sort of training (for example, Toronto versus most of the other Ontario areas), or jurisdictions that still use training that emphasises the false idea that most complainants lie (see everything written by Baeza and Turvey in the preceding link).
I have been a fan of the DC characters since I was a kid. Before Christopher Nolan got his hands on Batman, I watched the animated series and pretended to be a super hero myself. I started reading comics in high school, and I’ve followed some of the characters in all of their media incarnations for years. However, DC comics has a long history of problematic story-telling choices, and their comics often perpetuate all sorts of oppression. And, unfortunately, ever since the new 52 reboot, I find myself uninterested in buying basically any of the new DC series because of the constant marginalisation of minority characters (see the attempted killing off of the Green Lantern, John Stewart, one of the most recognisable Black super heroes in the DC line-up. And the retconning/rewriting of Oracle, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl’s super hero identity she took on after she became disabled. And the murder of Alan Scott’s boyfriend. And the redesign of Harley Quinn. And the list continues).
How do you update one of the most recognisable DC villains of all time? You change everything about her and subtract a good portion of her clothing. Skin tight body suits aren’t sexy enough, you see?
However, despite my continued disappointment, I keep tabs on the comics because I do truly love many of the characters, and if the books get better, I am ready to jump back on board. Editorial might be bad now, but there is hope, right? Regrettably, DC keeps stomping on my dreams of something better, and today’s rant involves some major changes to the book, Birds of Prey.
So here I am, back after a two year hiatus with a blog post on Disney Princesses. This is perhaps a strange topic to re-engage a political scientist/lawyer, but there’s been a lot of brouhaha over the recent inclusion of Merida (from the movie Brave) into the princess line that has made me feel rather uncomfortable and disappointed.
To start, Disney has made heaps of money on films featuring princesses, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the company decided to create a merchandising campaign that featured all of these characters together. However, rather than focus on the traits that made these characters popular (such as Belle’s love of reading or Ariel’s curiosity), the line was centered on the idea of being a princess and achieving a happily ever after. The women of the line wear big, sparkling princess dresses and stand around passively smiling. They are not frequently shown as active individuals, but simply as examples of pretty women who have found their Prince Charmings. Obviously, such a construction of female role models can be subject to an absolute mountain of feminist critique.
Today a great Canadian man was lost when Jack Layton passed away in the early hours of the morning. While not perfect, he dedicated his life to bringing justice and equality to Parliament Hill and to shaping Canada into a better nation. He died after leading the NDP to their largest Canadian victory, seeing them become the official opposition of our federal government and giving millions of Canadians hope for a more just Canada. He was a man who loved his country and loved people.
I send my heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends and wish them peace in the difficult days to come. I sincerely hope that Jack’s party will honour him by rising up and continuing their work to make Canada into a better, fairer, kinder nation.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, Jack signed all of his emails with a Tommy Douglas quote and I think we could all learn from the words that inspired him so: “Courage my friends, it’s never too late to build a better world.” To both Jack and Tommy, we hear you and we promise to pick up the torch. Rest in soft peace.
Update: Jack gave a letter to his wife, Olivia Chow, before passing. I have included some of his inspiring words below and you can find the entire letter here.
“And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
Thank you Jack, for everything.
One of my least favourite anti-choice tactics is the claim that a newly born baby is only one day safe from being murdered by abortion. You see this idea pop up on bill boards and pamphlets all the time, particularly in Canada as we have no federal law regulating abortion. However, all this claim really shows is how misinformed and cruel the anti-choice side can be.
This past week I attended Women’s World 2011, an international conference on women’s issues held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. In the weeks leading up to the event, I was really excited about the fact that I was going to join together with a large group of fellow feminists to talk about an assortment of important and often neglected issues. As the conference drew to a close, however, my thoughts did not settle on the benefits of sisterly bonding, but on how Women’s World needs to engage in some serious discussions on inclusion and oppression.