Notes on #MeToo (Facebook)

I’ve been watching the “Me Too” (#metoo) phenomenon unfold over the past day or so with interest, awe, and horror. I confess I have barely responded, as it seems that clicking “Like” or “angry face” just seems too easy and a bit trite. Some people have called for men to step up and make some declaration of what they will do to help end sexual harassment and rape culture. I’m at a loss as to what to say or do, at least in terms of posting Facebook comments.

And of course there is the inevitable backlash, and its milder form, the push-back. Most of which I ignore for the sake of my own sanity.

There have even been a few men who shared their “me too” stories, and that’s OK. But what’s not OK is for men to insist that their stories should have an equal voice in this particular rising-up. Those tone-deaf men need to understand that the “me too” thing is not just about declaring that a bad thing happened to you. This phenomenon, which boiled out of the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, is specifically about the systematic harassment and belittlement of women by men, and in particular, by men with power.

While any kind of harassment or assault can be hurtful, the kind of harassment and assault we’re talking about today carries a special kind of hurt for women. When it happens to a male it is usually an isolated event, and the fallout remains confined to that context. But when it happens to a woman it comes with baggage. Specifically, a long history of similar events that are shared by virtually all women to one extent or another, and which points to a future where it will likely occur again and again, with consequences that go beyond the isolated event. In other words, the victim can’t contain it. She can’t just say “well, that was only one boss,” or “I didn’t need that job anyway.”

No, the victim sees it is part of a system that has always been stacked against them. Every incident of harassment and assault carries that baggage, that resonance that says “it’s bigger than this.” The weight of that baggage can be crippling.

I can only hope that I’ve never done anything hurtful in this way, or if I have, that it has done no lasting damage. It might sound odd to put it that way, as if I suffer from amnesia. (I don’t.) But I do know that a combination of youth, uncertainty of where one fits into the world, and booze, can make people do things that they don’t even realize are hurtful. I cannot recall any such event in my past, but considering how distant my youth is, and how un-woke pretty much everyone was then and there, I can’t say for certain.

So what can I do now? All I know is that I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is to eschew “bro” culture, call out misogyny when I see it, and never, ever, enable the kind of disrespectful and predatory male behaviour I see around me every day.

And know that even if I haven’t been responding to your “me too” stories, I am reading, and listening.

(Originally posted on Facebook. Re-posted here for posterity.)

Missing the Point(s)

Yesterday, millions of women and men in the United States and around the world came out to march against the Trump presidency. The reaction among the Trumpists was predictable. I am shocked, however, to see the extent to which otherwise reasonable people — mostly not even Trump supporters — have piled onto the bandwagon of “where were these people on voting day?”

That bandwagon and the thinking behind is so wrong, so unbelievably wrong, that I am almost rendered speechless. Fortunately I can still type, so here is why that sentiment is wrong and completely misses the various points behind yesterday’s Women’s March.

(1) Your math is wrong

You seem to think that if all those protesters had simply voted against Trump on election day, that Trump wouldn’t have won and they’d have nothing to complain about. First off, who says that the people in the marches are the ones who didn’t vote?

The low voter turnout is irrelevant. The people who marched are most likely the people who did vote. After all, if you’re too lazy to vote you’re probably too lazy to go to a march. While we will never be sure about the actual percentage of marchers who did or didn’t vote, assuming that even half of them were vote-skippers is naïve in the extreme (see above point about laziness).

Even with the most pessimistic of voter turnout numbers, that still leaves tens of millions of U.S. citizens that voted against Trump, many of whom we saw yesterday.

(2) Your assumption about sour grapes is wrong

Your gripe implies you think the point of the march was to complain about the outcome of the vote. No, that’s over and done with. Although many questions remain unanswered about the role of Russia, and the “popular vote vs. electoral college” question remains forever in purgatory, the objective of the Women’s March was not to complain about losing.

The objective was to state loudly and clearly that although the election is a fait accompli, there is much about Trump, the Trump cabinet nominees, and other aspects of the Trump Machine that is already worthy of protest. The lies are as thick as ever, the inauguration speech was downright frightening, the ethical problems with Trump, his family, and his nominees are eye-popping, and his presidency is only a day old.

People against Trump could see this coming. It is absolutely known among clear- and objective-thinking people (both democrats and republicans, as well as people from around the world) that the Trump presidency is a disaster in the making on multiple levels. The Women’s March was protesting the on-coming train wreck, not the vote count.

(3) You don’t understand democracy

You seem to think that democracy involves going out to vote every four years and then just rolling over and letting your elected dictator do whatever he or she wants. No. This is not the Soviet Union. This isn’t the Vatican. Democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box; that’s where it begins.

In a properly functioning democracy, those who are elected are not granted short-term dictatorships. They are accountable to the people from the day they enter office until the day they leave. The people speak through the media, through the various committees and organizations that actually run the country, and through direct action (read: protests).

That’s how it works. It doesn’t stop. Yesterday we saw millions of people come out and say “No.” These people are holding Trump accountable for what he says and what he does, and yesterday’s march sets the tone for the next four years.

If you are against Trump and against the Women’s March, then I don’t know how you can even see straight given the cognitive dissonance that must be ravaging your brain right now. Unless, that is, there is something in your view of democracy that makes you think it’s just a once-every-four-years inconvenience and in the interim you’re happy to be lorded over and dictated.

In Trump’s inauguration speech he said “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Boom. That, right there, is the reason for the Women’s March on Washington (and its avatars around the world). The people standing up to the government, demanding to be heard.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

For and Against the Quebec Student “Strike”

When the Quebec student protest (it’s not actually a “strike”) started heating up a few weeks ago I found myself falling into the standard trap of people like me — people who have been out of school for some time and who, rightfully or not, tend to see the current crop of young people as perhaps a bit too entitled and completely unaware of how good they have it. After all, tuition in Quebec is lower than anywhere else in Canada, and has been since as long as I can remember.

And indeed that is a trap. I like to call it the “geezer trap,” as it is the most likely hole for people of a certain age to fall into. That’s not to say there aren’t younger people who feel the same way, but for them I blame ignorance.

To cut a long blog post short, I’ll just say that I know the burden of student debt, so I can relate to their concern. It took me almost 10 years to pay off my student loans, and during my first four years post-university, I didn’t know how I would be able do it.

The amount I had to pay seems rather small in retrospect; $16,000 in official student loans plus another $3000 in short-term loans and credit card debt that I acquired while trying to launch myself into a post-university, so-called “real life.” (I knew people who were paying that muct just to get a car.) But you have to consider that I was not graduating with a degree in video game design or object-oriented programming. There were virtually no jobs available to me with my lowly bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. It took three years before I found a job that had the slightest hint of a career path, and that job paid only $6.50 an hour. (I quit a $7.00 an hour dead-end job to take it.)

Kids these days (ha! I just had to say that) seem to think that everything was all rosy and filled with unicorns in times past and now is the only era of bleakness. Not so. When I started university in 1983 the national unemployment rate was 12%. By the time I graduated it was down to 9% but it went north of 10% by 1991. Those are national averages; for people in my geographic and demographic groups the rates were consistently higher by three or four percentage points. Today’s national unemployment rate of 7.2% seems rather glorious by comparison.

But I’m not going to dig deeper into the geezer trap by yammering on about how tough I had it. But I will say this: from the point-of-view of freshly-graduated me looking forward from 1987, things looked very bleak indeed. Big debt, high unemployment, and few personal prospects. Adding weight to that burden was the fact that I was coming from a bleak place with a long history of unemployment and minimal prospects, so I started off having very little hope. I went off to university not because it was expected, but because I forced myself out of a quagmire of defeat and dispair and got myself some education with the hope of smartening myself up and improving my prospects a little.

In 1987, 88, and 89, those prospects seemed worse than ever. Now, in 2012, 20-plus years into a fairly interesting and reasonably lucrative career, it’s easy to dismiss my youthful worries. That too is part of the geezer trap, although there is potentially a positive “it gets better” type of message in there, if anyone’s looking.

While I probably won’t remember your name two minutes after we meet, I do remember how defeated I felt in those few years after university, and how empty the future looked. I remember how that debt felt like a ball and chain, keeping me from having the kind of life that people in their 20s are supposed to have. I also remember that despite all that, I was always very grateful for the student loans I was able to procure, and how the annual increase in tuition fees at my university always felt like a stab in the gut. (For perspective, the tuition for two semesters in my final year was about $1600. That was 1986-87.)

I maintain that one should pay for the things one receives, but I also think that we all, as a society, benefit from an educated population. (Please re-read that last line and ponder it. Save us both the bother of me writing 1000 words on how important it is to have an educated population, as that should go without saying.)

Surely there’s a balance point that places less burdent on the students, particularly when you remember that not all of those students are there to “train” for high paying jobs. They all bring something valuable to our society, and not all of them will be engineers and doctors.

I agree with many who acknowledge that the price of tuition should go up somewhat, but I also agree with many who feel that the currently proposed increases are way too much, way too fast.

What I cannot agree with are the tactics the student protesters are using. Boycotting classes hurts themselves and their fellow students who may not want to boycott classes. Their practice of disrupting public transit and bridge traffic only turns public opinon against them. Then there are the recent acts of vandalism, including failed Molotov cocktails and throwing bricks on the Metro tracks, that may or may not be associated with the student protest. That’s where they are really shooting themselves in their collective foot, because the only way the student protests will have any effect is if they can create and then ride a wave of positive public opinion.

Pissing the public off only plays into the government’s hand. It’s bad enough that there is a general perception that today’s youth are spoiled with self-entitlements and their discontent is just them crying like children under threat of having their candy taken away (I tend to believe that does define a minority of todays’ youth — as it always has). But when you pile that perception on top of public disruptions, all wrapped in a fog of conflicting information on how much money we’re really talking about, then you have a very strong formula for protest failure.

I doubt the tactics will change, so I doubt the tuition increases will be stopped. That is unfortunate, as it will cause some students to drop out of their studies, and it will place a large burden of debt on those who do manage to finish.

As for those of you who are stuck in the geezer trap and can’t take your eyes off that “lowest tuition in Canada” factoid, it’s a false argument to compare the fees of Quebec students with those from other provinces and other countries, because the question is not “why shouldn’t Quebec students pay as much as others?” The question is the simpler and un-relative “how much should Quebec students pay?”