Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Deconstructing Gender, Teaching Consent, and Using a Current and Relevant Sex Ed Curriculum in Ontario

These are curious times, my friends. An old and outdated sex ed curriculum from 1998 will instruct the young minds of the future in Ontario starting next week. This is unreal. I am particularly concerned about how the dangers of cyber bullying and respecting people regardless of their sexuality or gender identity won't be taught especially after I read an article this morning about how poor nine-year-old Jamel Myles of Denver committed suicide after coming out to his classmates and being bullied. His mother Leia Pierce found Jamel dead in the home and insists that bullying was the cause. “Four days is all it took at school. I could just imagine what they said to him,” Pierce told KDVR-TV. “My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself. I’m just sad he didn’t come to me" (https://ca.style.yahoo.com/9-year-old-commits-suicide-coming-gay-classmates-201811792.html). This breaks my heart as this senseless tragedy could have been avoided. Children must learn that whether someone is straight, homosexual, bisexual (attracted to both men and women), pansexual (attracted to men, women, androgynous or agender individuals, or trans people; https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-pansexuality) or transgender, it doesn't mean that he or she is subhuman, mentally ill, or less deserving of respect and dignity. We are all special and unique and valid. This must be taught in schools and the home. As a critical thinker, university graduate, and feminist, I know that gender is a social construct. Pointe finale! According to Medical News Today, "biological sex" is the difference between the sexes in terms of women having vaginas and higher levels of estrogen and progesterone while men have penises and higher levels of testerone. While both women and men have 46 chromosomes, women have two X chromosomes and men both a X and Y chromosome (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232363.php). The trouble is when a baby is born with a mixture of genitalia (he/she would be referred to as "intersex"), the parents then decide which sex their child will be. Intersex births also occur in Mother Nature. The Urban Dictionary defines "gender binary" as "the social construction of gender in most societies in the world where gender is a dichotomy between male and female" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). It states that female and male gender expectations, roles, and functions are generally "very rigid," which means "the presence of alternate gender constructions are usually denigrated, ignored, or made oblivious" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). Some of these expectations are that women are more emotional, passive, and weak while men are more rational, aggressive, strong, and should therefore be treated differently, i.e. raised differently. This construct doesn't take into consideration how a lot of this is due that patriarchy, socialization, and nurturance within the home is to blame. Many cultures still discourage boys from expressing their emotions or crying and encourage them to "be a man," while girls are encouraged to be gentle (not rough), quiet, passive, and act "like a lady." Sure, many men are more aggressive than women, but there are some women who are less "lady like" and considered "tom boys"; men who cry and are too sensitive and are seen as "nancy boys." One writer/activist known as thewongmann feels very strongly about this issue and states: "The gender binary is crap and doesn't allow for individual gender expression like being genderqueer or two spirit" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). According to the World Health Organization (WHO): "Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed" (http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/understanding/gender-definition/en/). Planned Parenthood goes further: "It’s easy to confuse sex and gender. Just remember that biological or assigned sex is about biology, anatomy, and chromosomes. Gender is society’s set of expectations, standards, and characteristics about how men and women are supposed to act" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). Then there is the issue of gender identity: "(It) is how you feel inside and how you express those feelings. Clothing, appearance, and behaviors can all be ways to express your gender identity" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). According to Planned Parenthood, while most people feel that they are either female or male, some feel like a feminine male or masculine female. Some people feel neither male nor female and may choose labels such as "genderqueer" or "gender fluid" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). Then of course there are transgender or trans folk who "feel that their assigned (or biological) sex is that of the other gender from their gender identity, i.e., assigned sex is female, but gender identity is male" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). They vehemently reject the gender binary. Moreover, children should be aware that are many kinds of families in today's society other than the traditional opposite sex couple/nuclear family and taught that consent is an important issue especially in today's rape culture. Of course safe sex is just as important as is knowledge about the reality of sexting and being aware of the option of abortion. These are some of the many issues that the old sex ed curriculum in Ontario will not teach students this fall, which has left many parents, teachers, and citizens in general concerned. On the other hand, I am concerned and disturbed by the fact that the sex ed curriculum, which former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne introduced in 2015, was designed by disgraced bureaucrat Benjamin Levin (he was the former deputy education minister) who pleaded guilty to and was jailed on child-related porn charges in May 2015. In particular, he was jailed for having created and possessed child porn and counselled others to commit sexual assault (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). Judge Heather McArthur wrote that Levin had a “hidden, dark side” hidden from his family and political friends. This included visiting chat rooms “devoted to topics of incest and the sexual exploitation of children,” something he’d done for years (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). Levin was ultimately brought to justice after being caught communicating with police officers posing as single mothers and encouraging them to sexually abuse their children. In some cases, he shared photos (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). This is downright appalling and disgusting. How and why the hell was such a depraved and dangerous predator allowed to design the sex ed curriculum that would teach the very population he enjoyed seeing sexually abused and scarred for life? It is beyond me! In one case, Levin sent photographs to a New Zealand police officer, one showing a “close-up of the face of a crying child, her face smeared with black makeup.” He suggested to her that the image was “hot,” according to parole board documents. Another photo he sent showed a young female bound and leashed, with a gag in her mouth and Levin commented, “Mmm, so hot to imagine a mother doing that to her girl to please her lover” (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). My God! What was Wynne thinking? I believe that a new sex ed curriculum (1998 belongs in 1998!) should be drafted and include input from experts, educators, and parents. Regardless of what your personal or religious beliefs are, sexual education does save lives and empowers people for the future. It is necessary and must be taught. It ensures that people are treated with dignity and respect. It dispels fear while promoting love, self-awareness, and acceptance. Knowledge is power. Let's leave the Stone Ages behind us once and for all.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

HOPE Volleyball: 36 Years of Helping Charities and Providing Summer Fun in Ottawa

HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) Volleyball SummerFest turned 36 this year and brought together over 25,000 volleyball and music enthusiasts to Mooney's Bay Beach on Saturday, July 14 to help raise money for 6 local charities including the Dementia Society of Ottawa, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and the Children's Aid Foundation of Ottawa. Cassie Stringer, 26, has been playing at HOPE with her team Sets on the Beach for seven or eight years now. "I started (playing) because it's a fun way to bring friends together to have some fun and compete all for a good cause," she said. "The neat vendors and drinks especially those cool fruit ones are what made this year different," she added. She was referring to my chilled drink in a cored pineapple complete with a fancy straw and little umbrella. HOPE has grown into the World's Largest One Day Volleyball Tournament. It was the brainchild of Fred Logan and his friends (Terry Fox was their inspiration) as part of a group of events solely focused on giving back to the Ottawa community. Since its inception, it has donated more than $3.5 million to over 110 charities. This year Big Rig Brewery was HOPE's main sponsor and debuted its new cider. Radio stations Hot 89.9 FM and Live 88.5 FM were the media sponsors with Live 88.5's DJ Noah and Re-Generation X host Chelsea Miller got the crowd riled up before the headliners Cold War Kids took the stage. The concerts followed the last volleyball game (each team played 5 games over the course of the day) finishing at 3:45 p.m. with acts such as Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs and BC's Yukon Blonde playing before California's Cold War Kids with their energetic (and sexy!) front man Nathan Willett rocked the revellers with old hits like "First" and new ones like "Love is Mystical." It was my first HOPE (as a spectator), and it won't be my last. Maybe I'll be a participant next year!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jenn Hayward: A "Flawed" But Proud Feminist

Everyone has flaws, but comedian and author Jenn Hayward celebrated hers in her new 60-minute one-woman Fringe Fest comedy show called "Flawed." The potty-mouthed 43-year-old wife, mother of 3 adopted children, and feminist attended the first annual Flawed awards and won in categories for flawed mother, wife, and feminist to name a few. The feisty Metis/Ukranian woman from Saskatoon strolled down memory lane when she spoke about losing weight (she used to be 400 pounds and lost 210!) and overeating, pride, her children, gambling, and being turned on by Anne Murray music among other things. Hayward told the audience that she couldn't sing, act, or dance and aimed to make hers "the worst Fringe show ever." One of her flawed moments was when she danced for 3 minutes and 51 seconds despite not having "any formal training" and invited the audience to join her. They did so at the end of her show. She was bold and raw as she talked about having had a gambling problem, cheating on her husband Josh during their 20-year marriage (they're still married), and having had borderline personality disorder in the past. She said that she was now a capitalist and wanted to be rich, so she could afford shopping at Whole Foods and buying lattes at Starbucks. A nice surpise was her 14-year-old daughter being behind the scenes and helping choose her mom's sexy outfit for her dominatrix scene. Author of Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist, Hayward has now appeared at Fringe 3 times with her "Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist, "Can't Argue With Pussy," and "Flawed" shows. A talented comedian, she also has developed motivational workshops suitable for groups and corporations where she talks about using humour in the workplace, leadership and mental health issues, and work/life balance. I have seen Jenn live twice now and was fortunate enough to speak with her after her excellent performance and told her that she was an inspiration to me in my personal weight loss journey. She acknowledged it is "a hard process" and that she couldn't have done it or had the gastric bypass surgery without weight loss counselling. "What's my end goal? Not to die," she said. Having done comedy on-and-off for 15 to 20 years, she said she keeps her comedy fresh because she has adapted. "I've lost weight and had to change my act. My kids got older... I write as things happen."

Friday, June 15, 2018

Binge on Fringe - Ottawa's Fringe Fest Is 22 and Feisty As Ever

Ottawa's 22nd annual Fringe Festival kicked off in full force on Thursday, June 14th with this year's motto being "Binge on Fringe." With 56 shows playing at 10 different venues (e.g. Arts Courts, the University of Ottawa, and Live on Elgin) and featuring both emerging and established artists, it offers a smorgasbord of performances sure to appeal to patrons of the arts of all walks of life and backgrounds. So far, I have seen two performances: The Drunk Text last night (June 14th) and Clit Wit! A Feminist Rude Awakening tonight (June 15th). Both were fantastic and performed with gusto and passion. The Drunk Text was a new work labelled a musical, comedy, drama, and romantic comedy and ran 60 minutes at Academic Hall (133 Seraphin-Marion) at the University of Ottawa. Mathieu Charlebois, Nichole Perera, and Samantha Clarke created the show with Charlebois starring as Dylan. Dylan is a creative chap who is tired of the path set before him and abruptly leaves his family, life, job, and fiancee Melissa (Sarah Cousineau) in Ottawa to pursue his passions and artistic ambitions in the Big Apple. There he meets Nicole (Emily Asmar) who is a fellow artist and left Georgia to pursue her own artistic dream. But one drunk text brings Dylan's past back to him and thwarts his newly attained freedom. Enter Dylan's ex-fiancee Melissa (Cousineau had to learn the part in 4 days!) and her feisty Lush-employed friend Chaz (Morgan Coughlan). The singing was fabulous, and the acting was superb. After applying to the Fringe Festival lottery for a couple of years, Charlebois is ecstatic to be able to share his show with audiences. He has a BA in Music from Carleton University and has appeared in Ottawa shows, which include Amos in Chicago and Harry in Company. He released his Desert Song album in the fall, which is available on iTunes and Spotify. Tonight's performance (located at La Nouvelle Scene at 333 King Edward Avenue) was also a new work: a 60-minute one-woman show called Clit Wit! A Feminist Rude Awakening by Colette Kendall who made her stand up comedy debut just a few years ago. The 54-year-old housewife and mother of 3 who hails from Hamilton is a proud and "shoddy at best feminist" who combines comedy and storytelling (mature content) to talk about middle age, love at first sight, CCM bikes, kids, novelty t-shirts, and more. The Edmonton Sun calls the 3-time Canadian Comedy Award Nominated creator of The Cockwhisper... A Love Story "a masterful storyteller." Clad in a grey t-shirt that said, "The Future is Female," Kendall shared about how she had sometimes worried that a real feminist would come knocking at her door and say that she didn't deserve her vagina. She talks about living in crazy times and the absurdity of how Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed pussy grabber, was voted into office and has hijacked women's reproductive rights and threatened women's health and jobs and comedian Bill Cosby fell from grace as well as about how there are still not enough women in leadership roles, playing with Barbies can produce body image issues, and women should reject the lie that wearing certain clothing means they want sex and are asking for it. She spoke candidly about leaving an abusive relationship, having strong female role models in her family, and how before his death, her father apologized for treating her differently than her brother and said she had to be careful because "not all men like women." She didn't have a hate on for men but rather reminded her audience that more needs to be done in attaining true equality between the sexes. You can read more about Kendall and her comedy at www.colettekendall.com. If you love the arts and want to be entertained, check out the Ottawa Fringe Festival that runs from June 14 to 24. Help support local artists and put money back into the community. Fringe is a non-profit organization and an open-access festival that gives 100% of ticket sales back to the artists. It has returned over $2 million to independent artists since 1997. For more info, go to www.ottawafringe.com. I decided to support the Fringe both financially (I've paid for 2 shows so far) and time-wise this year by volunteering at Fringe and am excited to promote the arts, meet new people, and enjoy some free shows as well. It's a win-win situation. As a published writer and poet, I wholeheartedly believe that "an artist is never poor" (Babette's Feast). st