A thank you letter to Dr. Henry Morgentaler

On May 29th, 2013, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a Canadian icon, passed away at the age of 90. I knew a lot about him as a young woman growing up during his years of activism. When I moved away from home at age 18, his biography was the first book I read in my new surroundings. I have many wonderful memories of those early days in my college apartment, reading his biography with the window open to Fall breezes and the voices of campus, wondering where my life would take me. I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing and it took me some time to digest those feelings. I wanted to honor is memory in both a personal and public forum, so this is a thank you letter from me and my uterus.

Dr. Morgentaler,

How do I adequately express the gratitude I feel when I think about you or hear about you in the news? To say that you changed my life – and the lives of countless other Canadian women – seems obvious  and trite. When I was born in 1983 it was still illegal for women – for my mother, my aunts, my grandmother – to terminate an unwanted pregnancy; however, you were knee-deep (waist-deep, armpits-deep even!) in legal proceedings seeking to overturn the institutional misogyny represented by these laws. And fortunately for us all, you succeeded. 

When I was still a child, long before I was sexually active, Canadian society ingrained in law that I was my own person, with control over my own body, and the right to determine my own future. While 25 years later, all of this may seem obvious, it took 21 years – and lots of determination – to legally codify these rights. But what you gave to us was sovereignty and choice. Thank you for not giving up.

While you were known for your tireless activism for reproductive justice, you were also a complex man.  A Holocaust victim, an immigrant, a self-proclaimed womanizer, and a business-oriented physician earning profit through private abortion clinics. Because of this complexity you captured the imagination of our nation. And honestly I am thankful that you were not perfect – a white knight saving fair maidens would be an uncomfortable and unbearable paradox.

It is with much love and gratitude, from both my heart and my uterus, I share this New York Times Op-Ed piece by Thomas L. Friedman in your memory: Why I am Pro-Life. Your work ushered in an era of change, but I think you would agree that we have much farther to go.

Thank you. RIP.


Posted in Feminism | Leave a comment

Rehtaeh & Me

Since the story of Rehtaeh Parsons went public in early April, I have been mentally stewing. Simmering… slowing working things around as I piece together my thoughts.

In many ways I can relate to Rehtaeh’s story. When I was fifteen I was stalked and sexually assaulted by an older classmate that I was casually dating. My memory of that time remains fairly hazy; granted, it’s hard to go back fifteen years and put myself back into my teenage mind and body. I was young. I was naive. I had the desire to be sexual, but lacked the knowledge of what that could entail. I wanted to be grown up.

This was the late 90s. The internet was a thing, but it was new for all of us. Cellphones in school were virtually unheard of – we still took our film in to be developed. Having your own car was the pinnacle of our high school existence. And yet, stories of me and this assault wound up online. Even then, other kids used the internet as a tool to damage reputations and spread gossip. Even without photographic weapons in this attack, my teenage self was devastated – seemingly beyond repair. I was embarrassed that this happened to me. I was mortified that everyone knew. And I was heartbroken that I was the so-called “slut” according to my classmates. I can only imagine how Rehtaeh felt.

It took some time for me to come forward, but one day something sparked anger, maybe even rage, and it all came tumbling out. I told my principal, who then had me tell our school resource officer, who then had me tell my parents. There might be something to be said about re-victimization in all of this telling and re-telling, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as the silence I received on the other end. Silence from the school. Silence from the police. Silence from my family. Without physical “proof” of any assault there was no requirement to believe. Never mind that these people knew me. Never mind that I was a teenage girl who was clearly in pain. Never mind that I told them that he carried a knife – and they found it! According to the authority figures in my life, I was just feeling regret for a poor choice that I had made.

And it took many years to undo that tape playing in my head…. “This wasn’t assault. You asked for it. You participated in it. Now you just regret it.”

It took making it through high school and getting the hell out of Dodge. It took living alone. It took confiding in others. It took a support group. It took having successful sexual relationships. It took resolving things with my family. And it took and amazing period of self-exploration during my graduate degree to bring me to understand that the world is complex and messy, but I am okay.

But Rehtaeh never got that chance. And it breaks my heart.

How do we move forward with stories like Rehtaeh’s?

This has been reported as a story about the extreme consequences of bullying, but it is truly a story about the very real consequences of entrenched misogyny that persists in our culture. How can we change the conversation to be an authentic one so that there is hope for a cultural shift?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers. Do you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coming into focus in my thirtieth year…

I know I sound like a blogging cliche, but I have been consumed these last few days with thoughts of what I want this year to be. Normally I am full of reflection and not many resolutions, but this year feels different. Somehow. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Maybe I am different. Or maybe I am too much the same and that is the problem.

Maybe this is my quarter-life crisis (perhaps I’m optimistic about my lifespan… third-life crisis?) because this is the year I turn 30.

Whatever the reason is, I know I need to make some changes. In an attempt to finish my Master’s degree and the beast of a thesis (which you can read here should you feel so inclined: http://hdl.handle.net/10402/era.29028), I feel like I have lost some things that I liked about me and gained some things that I’d rather weren’t there. So to start the new year right, here are some public declarations (the internet equivalent of shouting it from the rooftops? maybe that is overly optimistic about my readership…) of what I want my coming year to be.

Get back to old hobbies that make me feel good. I used to read every night before bed and do the crossword puzzle from the newspaper and exercise regularly. Somewhere along the line I stopped and I started staying up later and watching too many shows and choosing to do everything except to exercise. I want to go back to those things that made me feel engaged in the world and helped me to fine-tune my greatest asset – my brain (and it wouldn’t hurt to fine-tune by butt and triceps a bit too). So as a show of commitment to this new mind set, I have signed up for two exercise classes and I am in the process of making a pile (right beside my bed) of all of the books that have been given to me these past few years that that have sat there… unread…

Hone the skills I am passionate about. God I love research. And writing. And public speaking. I need to do these things. And I need to do them more often. Through practice I can improve and maybe even carve out a perfect little career niche for myself doing the things that I love (and maybe even have a modicum of talent for). So I have made an agreement with myself this year. An agreement to say YES to every opportunity to practice. Yes to blogging more! Yes to Story Slam (that is with you Wade)! Yes to presenting my work (one presentation set, one submitted, and one in the works already)! And yes to publishing my work! (any and all connections are welcome and would be of great inspiration…)

Make future plans. I want to see the world. I want to take up photography. I want to have children. I want to write a book. I want to grow and cook delicious foods. I want to make a documentary. I want to do my PhD. I want a successful and fulfilling career. And I think it is time to start making some (or all) of these things happen. Or at least make a plan to get the ball rolling.

Stop doing things that make me feel bad. I want to bicker less with the hubby, eat less garbage food, drink less alcohol, and generally stop doing things that are at odds with who I am and the person I want to become. I want to focus less on the negative (although my house is really clean when I am working through something) and pour my energies into the goals and ambitions described here. And I think that in order to do these things, I need to reflect, understand myself, and be confident in expressing who I am and what I can offer.

Is that enough? …I jest.

But I feel a lot better just getting these things out of my head and into the world. I know that the world doesn’t work like The Secret (just in case you were worried), but now that I have claimed my goals and ambitions for the year, hopefully some of you (dear readers) can help me to be accountable, be challenged, be engaged, and be present in this life (in my life) just by reading here.

Happy New Year!

There’s lots more to come…

Aside | Posted on by | 1 Comment

That little voice inside my head

You would think that I was done with writing, but I guess I’m not.

It has been a while though.

I have just submitted the second draft of my thesis and I am celebrating on this Friday afternoon with a glass of wine and a documentary. Perhaps it was serendipidous, but I just watched Shut Up, Little Man! (check it out on Netflix) which delved into all sorts of ethical issues around art and ‘research.’ Having just laid myself bare in my thesis, I am feeling all sorts of anxiety about how I represented others. Did I say enough? Did I say too much? Could I have said it better? Who would have known that this little voice of doubt and constant questionning was actually good for research…?

In this film, two guys in their mid-twenties. taped their neighbours surreptitiously. They lived in a run-down, impoverished area of San Francisco, in a place they refer to as ‘The Pepto Bismol Palace.’ These neighbours were poor, they were alcoholics, and they fought. And it was caught on tape. The film was a great exploration of ‘found art’ that turned into something more – a ‘zine, a cassette tape network, a comic book, a play, a movie development deal. But in the end, what was their responsibility to these neighbours, to these men whose intimate lives were laid bare?

Thinking and reflecting on this film and on my work, I think about amazing it was to have nine women share their stories with me and in turn, how liberating it was to share mine too. Yet there is a piece of me that worries. Information can be decontextualized and it can move so fast; consider Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and all the other hip sites that this twenty-nine year old woman hasn’t even heard of yet. How do I make sure that what I put out in the world is meaningful and beautiful and thought-provoking and honest, without being exploitative and sensational and obvious and mean?

Sigh. I just want the world to be simple and yet I know that it’s not. I am happy with the choices I have made in my work. With the full consideration of how others will see it and feel it. I think that it is insightful and balanced and grounded and reflective.

And I hope that it doesn’t sit on a shelf collecting dust.

I want it to live in the world, as I live and as the nine women live – open and frank and thoughtful and real.

Only time will tell.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

thank you India

Another one of those writing days. Sitting at my computer in the family room, I can see fluffy white flakes gently wafting to the ground. Yes, I know it should be Spring, but with this falling snow comes lovely silence and so much typing. During my afternoon break, I decided to crack open some boxes of mementos in the storage room. Hoping to dig up memories and inspiration. I found so many wonderful half-forgotten things and I drifted back in time to the summers I spent as a teacher in India.

Back in the summer of 2004 and again in the summer of 2007, I travelled to Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu to work in a lovely school – Brindavan Vidyalaya. At the time, I was still working on my Bachelor of Education degree, so it was a wonderful experience for me to be in the classroom honing my skills and learning from the other teachers. I lived with the School Principals (a wonderful married couple) and another international Teacher (Ms. Ingreed from France) just down the street from the school. I experienced the language, the culture, and the monsoons… and I came back changed.

After I had completed my teaching,  I travelled across this fantastic country with a couple of friends. Being of Indian descent, they opened secret and unknowable doors for me. They guided me through parts of this land that I never would have ventured to without them. Sadly, time passed (as it does) and we are no longer friends, but I have such vivid memories of our travels that time stands still for us in India.

It is so lovely to sit here in these thoughts. I forgot how passionately I loved that school. I forgot how seminal this grand adventure was.  So in honor of memories and inspiration on this snowy afternoon, I share it with you…

Below is a short piece I wrote as my time at the school was coming to an end.

thank  you india

My favorite time is dusk. I emerge from the shade of the neem tree and the school balcony to feel the dust baked into my virgin white skin. My face shiny from sweat, but no one even bats an eye – that is life here. When the school day is done and the teachers are nattering in the library – slipping effortlessly between Tamil and English – I can breathe in the life of this place. The colors brighter, the smells stronger, everything so foreign and fascinating. From the moment I landed, it felt like home. The people here… their eyes and teeth are yellowed with sun and hardship, such a contrast to their black hands and faces. Kids sing and shout in the garbage strewn streets. Practicing carom and cricket. I lay under a fan, red ants biting my arms and back – planning their attack as a I plan tomorrow’s lessons. No one quite knows how to look at me here – should they address me as they would a man (to practice their English of course)? Or should they look away in deference and respect… maybe call to me – the snow white lady in the kurti – from safely across the road… Any way. I don’t mind. Teach me your words, teach me your ways. I cannot soak it in fast enough. It was love at first sight on the noisy, crowded, dirty, welcoming, ancient streets of Ambikapuram and the school that stole my heart.

Below is a zine I made for an undergraduate art class the Fall after I returned from India.

   cliffs of Varkala, Kerala

 school children at Brindavan Vidyalaya

 McDonald’s in Mumbai, Maharashtra

 Cauvery River, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu

 The house of Jayasri Miss

 Village temple, Karikuri, Tamil Nadu

 Chandini Chowk, New Dehli, India

Posted in Around the World | 1 Comment

My dentist called me ‘hon’

So. After a couple of days of solid reading and writing for my thesis, I decided to take a break and get the old pearly whites cleaned. After moving away from the city centre about 20 month ago, I hadn’t yet located a new dentist. But I decided to take the plunge and call up a nice looking place within walking distance from my house. They were friendly and they had room for me this week, so off I went after lunch. It was a pleasant enough place (slippers waiting by the door!) with new and very clean stations. The teeth cleaning was thorough and there seemed to be no problems until the dentists whisked in and started calling me ‘hon.’ As in ‘move your head this way hon’ and ‘you take very good care of your teeth hon.’ Now, I wish I could say that I asked him to remove the implements from my mouth and then spoke to him about the offensive nature of calling a twenty eight year old woman, who is his patient, who he had just met, ‘hon’ – but alas, I did not. I felt uncomfortable. I froze up and I stayed quiet. And then I left. Mad. And I walked all the way home and became a little more angry with each step. And I started thinking why… Why did this dentist try to create this false sense of intimacy with me by giving me a nickname? And why did he have to choose such a patronizing one (especially since we seemed to be about the same age, give or take a few years)? And why didn’t I speak up? How can I be so mad now, but seemingly brush it off in the moment?

I also wish that I could say this was the first time something like this has happend. But alas, it is not. About a year ago, I was going for my annual physical – not particularly pleasant, but necessary. My family doctor for the past 20 years has been preparing for retirement, so my appointment was with the new doctor who was to be taking over her practice. She was a nice enough woman, about the same age as me, and we got along fine as she examined my lady parts thoroughly. That is until we started talking about the pill. I had been on hormonal birth control for a dozen years or so – constantly – and I was interested in stopping. I wanted to know about my body – my cycle, the feeling of my body and my emotions – without the pill. However, when I initiated this conversation, it went sideways. She wanted to know if I was married, she wanted to know if and when I planned to have kids, she wanted a description of the alternative birth control methods I planned on using if it wasn’t hormonal birth control. I remember stammering, clamming up, and getting a bit snarky with her, but I didn’t tell her what was on my mind. I didn’t say that marriage has very little to do with birth control. I didn’t say that the more appropriate line of questionning would be: Are you sexually active? Are you concerned about pregnancy or STIs? If so, do you need information about alternative (non-hormonal) methods of birth control? I wanted to say IT’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS – ANSWER MY DAMN QUESTION LADY! But I did not. Instead I stewed over it for a while and even requested my original physician back. I talked to my husband, my Mom, my sister about it, but I didn’t tell the doctor! Why?

After all the reading and writing I have done about feminist theory, feminist research, and women’s issues, I honestly feel like a bit of a fraud for not being able to speak out about these day-to-day occurences of sexism and patriarchy in my own life. As as educator, I could – and I should – use these instances as ‘teachable moments’ and perhaps create a new understanding or even a small change. I wrote this blog post to get out my frustration – but hopefully I can also use it to hold myself to a new standard – to speak up instead of clam up and address the issue instead of stew.

And if the dentist insists on calling me ‘hon,’ I guess I will have to just call him ‘sweetie’ and call it a day.


Posted in Feminism | 2 Comments

Why ‘hysterical’ should be a 4-letter word…

Sigh. It’s been a while.

With hubby back at work, the house is silent. I have returned to reading and writing all day in my pyjamas with an endless supply of lattes. With reading comes excitement and with excitement comes great additions to and quotable quotes for my thesis, but there is also a darker side… there is so much to get passionately angry about – angry enough to blog about it!

In this newfound silence, I have returned to reading and writing about the history of the vibrator. It is such a fascinating topic – fascinating enough that I have been reading about it and writing about it for nearly three years. Throughout this time, I have been obsessed with an excellent book by Rachel Maines, “The technology of orgasm: ‘hysteria,’ the vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction” (and I think that I am not the only one – it is soon to be released as a major motion picture starring none other than Maggie Gyllenhaal). I have read this book and re-read it and today I re-read it once again for probably the fifth time and every time I find an extra layer that I hadn’t previously digested.

Today’s epiphany was about the disease paradigm hysteria. I have been absolutely fascinated with this condition – as it dates back to Hippocratic times and existed medically right up until it was removed from the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic manual in 1952. The symptoms of hysteria were numerous, yet vague – and have seemingly disappeared from modern culture (until the advent of female sexual dysfunction – but that is another passionate and heated topic for another day). However, it is my exploration of the treatment of hysteria – medical massage to orgasm – that keeps bringing me back to this book.

Today as I read, I finally understood how vibrators and hysteria are so intricately and inseparably connected. Hysteria, as I have come to understand it, was seen as a challenge to the male-centrered, pro-natal paradigm of sexuality because the simple existence of the sensations (which then became symptoms) pointed to a gaping hole in this paradigm (pun not intended). Why would women experience these symptoms and require a diagnosis with particular (and sometimes horrific) treatments if this paradigm of sexuality encompassed their needs – the truth of their bodies? This gap had the potential to change the very core of how sexuality (and morality) was understood, so the medical establishment was brought in to redress it as an illness, cured by clinical conditions. This medicalization also reinforced the notion that the lack of female sexual satisfaction (and orgasm) within this paradigm related to women being flawed and frigid (as opposed to the paradigm being problematic). In essence through hysteria, “women’s desire and sexual satisfaction are erased” (Starr & Aron, 2011, p. 377).

This new understanding of course got me thinking about how the word ‘hysterical’ functions in today’s day and age. According to Maines (under the chapter title Female Sexuality as Hysterical Pathology) regarding the term hysterical  – “applied to a person, it means ‘upset to the point of irrationality;’ applied to a situaiton, it means ‘very funny.’ The usage has shifted from the technical designation of a disease paradigm to much more general references to uncrontrolled, usually frivolous, emotions. This development, occuring primarily since World War II, is only the latest in two and a half millennia of kaleidoscopic refocusing on feelings and behavior usually constructed as quintessentially feminine” (1999, p. 21).

As read these words and type my response, I can feel my blood start to boil and that familiar feeling of rage rise up from within my belly… and I wonder if this reaction would have been enough to be considered symptoms of hysteria… They most certainly could be spun to be hysterical. Even here, alone in my quiet house, I can vividly recall the times I was called hysterical and it was inevitably by someone (only men from my recollection) who wanted nothing more to shut me up. And it worked. Upon being called hysterical, I can remember turning red and sputtering and struggling to get out a coherant word in rebuttal, but feeling so stupid and humilitated and devalued that I could muster nothing other than nonsensical mutterings. And to this day, I can’t think of what I could have said that would have created the same reaction… except to somehow have said it to them (him) first.

This war we wage as women – to be equals of men, to be heard, to have our words and feelings valued – has to be fought on every front. Which is why something as seemingly innocuous as being called hysterical is as serious (or even more serious) as being called any four letter word (yes, even the c-word).  The origin of words like hysterical are so important even though usage can change over time because it reveals their underlying philosophy – and in this case it is a philosophy of inferiority, silence, and absence.

So please don’t call me hysterical.

Or cunt for that matter.


Maines, R. (1999). The technology of orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkin’s University Press.

Starr, K.E. & Aron, L. (2011). Women on the couch: genital stimulation and the birth of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Dialogues: The International Journal of Relational Perspectives, 21(4), 373-392. doi: 10.1080/10481885.2011.595316

Posted in Academic Reading, Feminism | 6 Comments