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I am still trying to get around to posting about the rest of my last trip to Germany... before my next trip to Germany in 5 weeks... but I dug down to the surface of the desk in my room and found a sheet of paper that reminded me I had wanted to post some definitions and a (very) short essay I had to write out for an exam in a first year feminist studies class I took a couple of summers ago (I only have one more core course, that I'm taking next term, and then a handful of electives and I will have completed the requirements for a degree in the subject... this class was also a required class for the degree program). I just tallied my marks from the latest course I took (WGST4804: Digital Lives in Global Spaces), and it looks like my final mark is going to be an A. Now if only I could pull a few of those with my physics degree ;). With any further adieu, here are some definitions and a short essay.

Define each of the following terms in paragraph-length answers: 1) Reproductive Justice, 2) Rape Culture, 3) Compulsory Able-Bodiedness, 4) Queer, 5) Fatphobia.

Reproductive Justice: Definition is under the cut... )

Rape Culture: Definition is under the cut... )

Compulsory Able-Bodiedness: Definition is under the cut... )

queer Definition is under the cut... )

Fatphobia: Definition is under the cut... )

In a 2 page handwritten essay, reflect on how the terms you’ve just defined can help you develop a set of ideas that draw links between society, power relations, and one’s physical body. What are the themes that link these terms to each other? How can these themes be used to build a set of ideas about gender that are informed by feminist thinking? How can these terms be used to challenge normative ways of thinking? In your answer, you must make reference to the terms but do not need to define them. No outside sources are needed.

The short essay answer is here... )

And the citations are here... )
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Fines, as a tool of law enforcement and ensuring justice, are currently pointless. Consider, for instance, receiving a fine for driving while distracted by an electronic screen (which, somehow, doesn't include GPS units, but that's another argument altogether... especially considering smartphones are much more likely to be used as GPS units these days). The fine in Ontario is going up to $280. The potential consequences of driving under the influence of distraction ranges from property damage through death (particularly horrifying when it is a pedestrian or an actually responsible citizen in their own vehicle). I will not currently argue against the appropriateness of a $280 fine given the risks (I think the fine amount is low), but lets just work with that as a number.

Suppose you are in a single income household and earn minimum wage in Ontario (just increased to $11/hr) and are lucky enough to have a full time job (or jobs, amounting to 40 hours per week). Your monthly income (before tax) will be $1760 (and you'll be scraping to make ends meet, at best...). A $280 fine is 16% of your monthly income (I'll write it as 0.16 for later reference) or about 1.3% of your annual income (0.013). A huge financial hit by any measure. Definitely a tangible punishment to such a person (fyi, 8.1% of Ontarians in the workforce were working for minimum wage as of 2009 [about double what it was in 2001]... the federal government hasn't published numbers since then, fyi, they used to be published annually... but, that too, is another story). Let's turn now to a household at the median income in Ontario: in 2011, it was $73,290/year, which is about $6100/month. Considering that most of these households would likely also have access to credit, a $280 fine is already likely an "expense" that could easily be absorbed into their budget... it is 4.6% of their monthly (pre tax) income (0.046... still noticeable, but it definitely would fall within most such people's "discretionary" spending limits) or 0.4% of their annual (pre tax) income (0.004). In 2011, there were roughly 576,000 households earning $200,000 or more in Canada... let's call it half a million (that's a sufficiently large number, in my opinion, to constitute a "segment of Canadian society"). To these people, a $280 fine (let's say they have an average income of $300,000 ... which is probably a decent guess for now given that over 300,000 of that half a million have incomes greater than $250,000), would be a petty annoyance at best (I would use the slightly more emotionally charged word "laughable"). With monthly incomes of $25,000 (do the math), such a fine would be about 1% of their monthly pre-tax income (0.01) or 0.09% of their annual pre-tax income(0.0009). I would argue that a $280 fine would provide no tangible punishment whatsoever to anyone in that income bracket.

Thus, my subject of "the sliding scale of punishment"... those with lower incomes are disproportionately burdened with needing to adhere to the laws of the land, while those who have higher incomes are insulated from the impacts of transgression because of their wealth.

But my momma told me not to bitch about something unless I had something positive to suggest as well. The solution to the above situation seems self-evident to me (has for a while, but I'm just writing about it now). The key to the solution is the word in the last paragraph: disproportionate. Or more appropriately, to make the system proportionate to ensure that the burden of abiding by the laws is shared equally amongst all citizens no matter what their income (with one caveat, for the very poor, because I'm not that much of a bleeding heart, which I will discuss shortly). Rather than set a fixed amount for such fines, a percentage of household income would be used. Using household income rather than personal income is a tricky decision already, but I'm thinking of individuals who live in wealthy households as often benefiting from the family's overall income without necessarily needing their own income (children and non-working life partners, for instance). It's really trying to tie financial burden to ability to pay. On that note, I would also see it instituted that any money transferred to someone (or the value of any resources contributed) from some other part of their family network to defend themselves against or to pay for such fines would have to declared as taxable income in the year it was received... again, ability to pay. Details aside, I hope you at least accept the principle of "financial ability", however it is accounted for, as that is the core of the argument.

So, numbers time again, and let's stay with the "$280" fine amount... obviously, it won't be a $280 to everyone anymore. It's also going to be a little more thought-provoking having to set the "base amount" that the proportional "actual amount" would be calculated from. Let us, for a moment, assume that $280 is the base amount we start with. The only readily available statistic we have access to that can also be considered a baseline with regard to financial ability of the overall population is the median household income. As stated, in Ontario, this was $73,290/year and we calculated $280 as being 0.4% of their annual pre-tax income. That single income household earning minimum wage discussed earlier makes about 29% of the median household income. Applying that proportion directly to our $280 base amount, we get about $81. Going the other direction, a household earning $300,000 per year is making 409% (about 4 times) the median household income. Applying that proportion, we get a fine of about $1146. Fyi, this is the first time I've actually calculated the numbers and my first blush is that they look like they could accomplish what I was hoping for. A quick glimpse into the stratosphere: about 2500 households in Canada earned more than $2.57 million per year, and had an average income of $5.1 million per year, so let's use that number. $5.1 million is 6958% above the median income, and that that income level, the $280 fine would scale to a whopping $19484 (and before you go *whoa!*, do remember that a $20,000 fine to such a household would have the same financial impact as an $81 fine on someone in Ontario working full time for minimum wage... I would argue it would have less of an impact because the sheer quantity of wealth provides so many other buffers that would not be available to someone with a low income... they'll be fine, and maybe they will be a little more careful next time). And while I'm here... contemplate the notion of environmental fines to corporations and how they work the same way (compare this to this, for instance)... but that too is another story.

I said I would have one caveat, and here it is. It should not be possible to reduce a fine to zero by having no income. This obviously would still impact the extremely poor in some disproportionate way, but there does have to be limits. I do always like the "least among us" approach, and in Ontario, that "least" would be a single person (no dependents) on social assistance with an annual income of only $7512 [holy heck, current information was hard to find on that number... and holy heck, that is a ridiculously low number]. At that income level, our $280 fine would scale to a little under $29, and that seems pretty reasonable as a minimum fine amount regardless of income (at this point, the "driving" metaphor kind of breaks down as there is no way they could afford a car, but presume it's some other offense with the same base fine amount). And before I go completely, I did want to make one little examination of the base amount of $280... Using the minimum wage example, and $81, someone would have to work for about 7.5 hours (pre-tax) to pay off that fine. That "price" would be the same for anyone (that actually worked a salaried or hourly job) because of the scaling. When setting the "base amount", the question should be "how hard will it be to pay off this fine... will it be a significant detriment when weighed against the severity of the infraction?". I still can't help but feel that $280 is a low base amount even for "distracted driving". I would be more inclined for it to cost someone earning minimum wage $280 in fines (thus making the base amount $970 or so using the proportionality I have proposed)... but that's just me, your opinion of the severity of this particular social ill is likely different from mine.

One last comment on proportionality, because this is something I have contemplated for a while as well: speeding tickets. In Ontario, it sort of works with a sliding scale, but only based on the absolute number of km/h over the limit you were going. So... the fine is the same whether you are going 120km/h in a 100km/h zone, or if you are going 60km/h in a 40km/h zone (presumably residential). Fyi, it would be a $95.00 fine. Arguably, these are different offenses. Going 50km/h or more over the speed limit puts you into the "racing" category and it actually gets serious ("immediate 7-day license suspension and 7-day vehicle impoundment; upon conviction - $2,000 to $10,000 fine, 6 demerit points, up to 6 months jail, up to 2 years license suspension for a first conviction"). I have long thought that applying proportionality to, let's now call it, the base amount of speeding tickets makes much more sense than using an absolute speed. Back to the previous two examples, 120km/h in a 100km/h zone is going 20% over the speed limit whereas 60km/h in a 40km/h zone is going 50% over the speed limit. Again, I would argue these are two qualitatively different events. In the former, it is speeding a bit; but in the latter, it is speeding a lot. In Ontario, 0-19km/h over is $2.50 per km/h over (plus fixed fees), 20-39km/h over is $3.75 per km/h over (plus fees), 30-49km/h over is $6.00 per km/h over (plus fees), and 50km/h+ over is a different class of offense. To convert to the proportional determination using the same incremental fee schedule, you would pretty much only have to replace the "km/h over" with "% over", and you're good. In the case of our highway commuter with a heavy foot, they would be in the 20% over category and would be handed a fine of $95.00 ($20 of that is the fixed fees, the rest is the $3.75 times the number of percent over). Our suburban leadfoot, on the other hand, is 50% over the posted limit and would find their car impounded and their lives in turmoil for going 60km/h past their neighbours' driveways. And just to be clear, to get that $95.00 ticket, a speed of 48km/h would be sufficient in that 40km/h zone (20% above). Obviously, I believe that these would then also be the baseline numbers for the fines based on median income (presuming you think those are reasonable amounts... the more I think about it, the more I'm guessing the fine amounts are skewed downward to encompass the income distribution in our society and would generally go up when set against the median family income level). Thus, if your rich neighbour up the street ($300K annual household income) zipped past your house in their Kia at 55km/h in the 40km/h zone you lived in (about 38% over), the base amount of the fine would be $283, so their fine would be about $1160. If they tore past your place in their Tercel at 70km/h in a 40km/h zone and got caught, they would lose their car, be in court, and be facing fines from $8,000 to $40,000 and possible jail time. In contrast, if they did it today and were convicted (there are lawyers that make their living getting people who can afford it off the hook for these sorts of things... although that wouldn't change with the sliding scales I'm proposing I guess), they would receive a fine of $220 and some demerit points.
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I am a show host on CKCU (93.1FM in Ottawa and its surrounding area, streaming live at, 24/7, 365.25 days per year... one of the few radio stations in North America that has humans in chairs around the clock anymore, which is one of the other things so special about it). I have a music show called "The Dollar Bin" that has been running since late 2010 (bi-weekly to start and weekly since May 2011). You can hear about a year's worth of shows "on demand" at this address: I am also an elected member of the Board of Directors for the station ("Student Representative"). There are 3 or 4 paid staff that provide the glue for its day-to-day operations, and the remainder of the work at the station is done by over 200 volunteers that produce and air over 100 radio programs in 7 languages. Everything I do at and for the station (including sitting as a director) is entirely voluntary, so it's definitely a labour of love.

Anyway, the thing that I wanted to mention here is a little slice of some of the broader work that the station does. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth ten thousands, so I will let it speak for itself (p.s. AMI is not affiliated with CKCU, they just did a story on these particular show hosts):

Even if you don't listen to it much (or ever), it is a local community radio station that has a global reach through its innovative, fearless, and non-mainstream programming (everything from news and opinion to music... lots of fantastic music), and is a little corner of precious humanity in an ocean of soulless corporate mediocre conformity. If you can, find a program that appeals to you and have a listen (most everything is available "on demand" if you can't tune in live:, there is truly something for everyone no matter your tastes and no matter where in the world you are from!
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I recently uncovered an old report that I had written in the summer of 2010 about the musical project I composed for the Feminist Disability Studies class I took that year (more info here). That course remains probably one of the most influential things I've experienced in a long time and has changed the path of my university education (well, expanded it at least, my general path is still somewhat where I aimed to walk). I remain fascinated by this subject and hope to continue to learn more about it and to ultimately contribute to the field more than a couple of undergraduate essays and a song or two. Please keep in mind while reading this, that I was still in my first year of university and this was probably about the third real essay I'd ever written and didn't know how to do citations properly (does anyone, really?) or structure things well or avoid hyperbole, etc...

It's been a crazy couple of months and this is really the first time I've come up for air. So much to talk about, so much accomplished, so much failed, so much excitement past, present, and future (they all blur together for me these days... although one could argue it's been like that my entire life). Sadly, it's time for bed (I've spent the last couple of hours catching up on reading my friends' blogs and a few other blogs I follow... e.g. Ellen Reid's delightful and über entertaining "My Complete Lack of Boundaries" blog), and I will have to provide a real update at some point in the future. Hopefully a not quite so distant future at that.

Exploring Feminist Disability Themes Through Music

One of the cornerstones of modern feminist studies is the notion that personal narratives of women or other marginalized groups provide a standpoint from which their sociocultural experiences can be analyzed, especially in contrast to the dominant experience. When standpoint theory is particularized to those who have “a body that materializes at the ends of the curve of human variation”, an epistemology of the lived experience of disability emerges – called sitpoint theory or sitpoint epistemology – as a means of universalizing feminist standpoint epistemology away from its prejudicially ableist roots (Garland-Thomson, “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”). Since art often presages the emergence or some new aspect of a culture, and a healthy culture will produce a vibrant and multitudinous artistic expression of its identity through narratives both personal and constructed, art comprises a primary expression of cultural epistemology. Within the world of art itself, music can be a valuable tool for embodying that which is often inexpressible in words or images, and therefore struck me as being a potentially powerful method of conveying the academic themes we have explored in this introduction to feminist disability studies, as well as giving new voice to the nature of the personal stories we have heard. Such an effort can also be seen as part of the emergence of a broader artistic expression and a tool for the popularization of the formative culture based on the integrative work of feminist disability studies itself.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Whether or not there is any particular merit to “Sitpoint Epistemology” as a piece of music independent of context, it does represent possibly one of the first attempts, if not the first attempt, to explore key themes from the field of feminist disability studies exclusively through music composed for that deliberate purpose. Based on feedback from its inaugural performance within the classroom environment, subsequent feedback from friends and acquaintances on their impressions and feelings about the piece, my own repeated listenings and self-criticism, and judged against the context of the amateur nature of my musical abilities, in integrating the specific commentary received, I have come to the personal conclusion that I was ultimately successful in my attempt. Of particular note is several of those who listened to it without context picked up on the rhythmic and emotional themes I deliberately attempted to use to capture the narrative of disability. Through this, and I’m sure, subsequent explorations by those more competent than I at achieving complex expression through music, the culture of feminist disability studies will become part of a growing dialogue in popular culture and academia.

And the bibliography is here... )
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I got my annotated bibliography assignment back tonight (once I was done writing my final exam earlier this evening) from my prof for the first year class I took for the full summer ("Introduction to Women and Gender Studies"). This was the class I was told I had to take to get a degree in Women and Gender Studies and I was initially trepidacious about it because I'd done a bunch of 2nd and 3rd year courses (including two on theory), but once I realized there was no escaping it (and way before the class actually started), I adjusted my attitude and chose to approach it with an open mind and the desire to learn as much as I could. Even if it did go over material I had covered before, and at a more introductory level at that, some of this stuff is so abstract and confusing that hearing it from a different perspective could be nothing but beneficial. I got a teacher that matched my learning needs very well and I ended up enjoying the class from start to finish. She was also very supportive to me in the face of the struggles I was undergoing at the start of the summer from being in the middle of dealing with a family illness (I was, frankly, utterly burned out by June). By about the middle of the summer I was mostly back on my feet, but her understanding had a huge positive impact on me turning things around relatively quickly.

As an amusing aside, there were several males in the class at the start of the class in May, but by the time we got to the second half of the course (it's a full year's worth of material in less than 4 months), we were down to just myself and one other student sporting Y chromosomes. The other male in the class was in a somewhat similar situation to me, but this summer course was actually the literal last class he had to take to graduate (he'd already completed his honours project, etc. and just needed one more full-year or two half-year courses to fulfil the credit requirements of the program he was in). He was also mildly grumbled by ending up in a first year course (he took it because it fit with his schedule and was the most interesting of the courses he could take over the summer), but by the end of it, he said he really enjoyed it too. He went further and said that he truly wishes he'd taken the course earlier in his schooling because he learned so much and so many useful tools in that class that would have made his later years both easier and more interesting. I have the same general opinion myself and if you are coming to university or just contemplating taking a course or two, I can't think of a more interesting, challenging, and engaging class than this one (it's WGST1808 at Carleton, other universities will, of course, have different course codes). Hats off to the prof as well... very few hands went up at the start of the class when she asked how many students considered themselves "feminists" and many of the questions and challenges voiced during the class were, in my opinion anyway, extremely difficult to address in a diplomatic and reasoned manner, but she handled it amazingly well (despite the occasional look of shock or mild panic at trying to figure out what to say, heh).

Anyway, I got an A+ on this assignment (woot! I worked really hard on it). We were allowed to choose any topic we had covered in the course (which was a lot of topics!), which was the one redeeming feature of this task... it was quite the slog otherwise. I chose to re-look at the topic that kicked me on my way to getting a simultaneous undergraduate degree in women and gender studies (or feminist studies as I like to say because the "f" word gets more of a confused reaction than the formal name, heh): feminist disability studies. I consider the topic to be at the forefront of social and political theory today as it has to come to grips with the outer edges of our society and even has to challenge our understandings of what it means to be human (pretty heady stuff, to say the least). If you are interested in this subject, this is a fairly good "leaping off" point as I have summarized the key readings required. Here is the prompt we used:

Students must pick one topic from the list of topics covered in the second term and create an annotated bibliography of 10 academic sources related to it. Standard citation format should be used for all sources. At least 4 of the ten sources must be from peer-reviewed journals. The goal is to survey the topic generally, and compile the ten most significant sources relating to the students’ interest in the field. Your job is to defend your choice of sources, and justify why you picked them.

The sources chosen must reflect disciplined research in the field as opposed to the first ten sources on a given topic that were found. Sources must be critically summarized in a 100-150 word annotation that demonstrates where the source fits in the broader intellectual context relating to the chosen topic. Students are asked to organize their sources thematically, in order to demonstrate patterns and debates in the field they have engaged with in their reading.
Students must highlight their findings and offer a critical analysis of the sources in a 3 page statement that situates the bibliography. No class readings are permitted on the bibliography.

A couple of us in class definitely agreed that it would have been much less work just to write an essay, but this is some research that I can come back to in the future and might (some day maybe) be of use to somebody else... Here it is:

Annotated Bibliography: Feminist Disability Studies

My introduction to the formal study of feminism came through a 2nd year Feminist Disability Studies course I took in the summer of 2010. The subject of disability and ways of conceptualizing disability had been an interest of mine long before the course, having circulated in communities for much of my life that are considered disabled (including, one could broadly argue, science fiction fandom and those involved in the punk and industrial music scenes), and eventually through raising two children with disabilities as a single parent. The most fascinating thing about this hybrid subject is how profoundly feminism clashes with the theorization of disability. When the modern feminist slogan “We Can Do It!” (Kimble and Olson 2006) just isn’t true, and someone cannot do it, then the feminist empowerment discourse becomes yet another intersecting oppression in the lives of many. New conceptual tools are being, and need to continue to be, developed to come to grips with what appear on the surface to be insurmountable incompatibilities. These disparate epistomologies challenge feminists to deconstruct their existing and any new discourses in search of hegemonic assumptions of ableism and, by extension, to more deeply examine positions that are implicitly (or explicitly) racist, sexist, heteronormative, classist, or otherwise discriminatory. It also provides a framework that teaches further lessons of how to celebrate and value difference rather than engaging in practices that require conforming identities to achieve social inclusion or political progress.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Feminist disability studies is a fledgling area of research, and we are still waiting on an effective praxis based on this challenging new field, but work done in integrating third-wave feminist theory with disability studies shows great promise. Where race and sexuality drove the discourse that eventually spawned the third wave of feminism through a critique of what feminists meant by woman, feminist disability studies challenges the very assumptions of what it means to be human. As such, it seems poised as a potential catalyst for next phase of critical discourse about the current state and future course of feminist thought and activist projects.

The annotated bibliography is here... )

And the list of references is here... )


I had a great deal of difficulty finding peer reviewed journal sources for this bibliography as much of the important work in this field seems to have been originally published in scholarly anthologies, referenced in journal and other anthologies, and then reprinted in yet more anthologies. I found a good many journal articles on the various subjects examined, but even these pointed back to several key works that have only ever appeared in anthologies. A good example of this is Nancy Harsock’s foundational essay on feminist standpoint theory, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Historical Feminist Materialism”, originally published in an anthology Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science (Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka, eds., Amsterdam: D. Reidel, Inc., 1983). In the end, and because of the numerous subjects that must be understood to appreciate the complexity and deeply nuanced field of feminist disability studies, I chose to mostly select anthologies that would provide both foundational and detailed explorations of some of the key required concepts. Again, an example is the Harsock essay which is reprinted in the Harding anthology which I have included in the annotated bibliography. One notable exception to this was Rosemary Garland-Thomson’s article “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” published in NWSA Journal, but which I could not use in this bibliography as it was a course reading (although it is reprinted in the anthology “Gendering Disability” which is included in the bibliography).


As part of the feminist disability studies course I did in 2010, I composed and presented what seems to have been the first – and is what I believe remains the only – piece of music that has explicitly attempted to capture some of the key notions of that field. It is entitled Sitpoint Epistemology and can be heard here (it is best with headphones, but anything will of course do):

MP3 of Sitpoint Epistemology

A short description that was read in class as an introduction to the composition can be found on my public blog here:
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Here's a name I never expected to hear again in any way other than in retrospect: Maestro Fresh Wes. But after 13 years without a major full length album of his own material (and 25 years since he broke onto the hip hop scene with his still relevant and enjoyable "Let Your Backbone Slide" off the album "Symphony In Effect"), he's back and he's breaking more ground and doing some truly amazing stuff! Teaming up with the likes of Measha Brueggergosman, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Classified, k-os, Lights, Brand Nubian's Sadat X, Kardinal Offishall, The Trews, Kool G Rap, Divine Brown, Saukrates, Sam Roberts, and Rich Kidd he's put together another album that will be remembered for a long time to come.

In case you don't remember it (almost impossible, imho, if you've ever heard it) or weren't around at the time (or listening to anywhere that might play something like this)... shot, of course, in Toronto.. a fine bit of intelligent rap and those infamous (and much loved by my women friends) fringe dresses:

... and, if I'm not mistaken, the background art was done by none other than Kurt Swinghammer who also did the artwork and costumes for The Shuffle Demons amongst other Toronto-based groups (and who also did one of my favourite albums as well: Vostok 6 (he's put the album up on bandcamp, so you can listen if you would like!)... a stalkeresque Burt Bacharach influenced tribute to the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (a link to a documentary I didn't know existed until now... p.s. the engineering fault was the actual reason for the problem she had with the capsule, it was finally admitted on the death of the engineer responsible... and holy crap, she's volunteering for the one-way trip to Mars as well) ... oh, and I just saw that Swinghammer has released another concept album: this time on Canadian painter Tom Thomson ... but this is all another story in and of itself, heh).

Back to the Maestro... I heard just a small clip of his stuff on a CBC interview and it was unlike anything I'd heard before. The full video is below. Listening to it in full, it does try a bit hard and is somewhat repetitive (mostly because the underlying riffs are so strong), but there is enough going on that I still think the innovation it represents makes up for its shortcomings!

But it's the rest of the album that really surprised me. A few even took my breath away, which is pretty rare for hip hop (but not unheard of). You can listen to the tracks off the album here: Maestro Fresh Wes on CBC Music. In particular, the track "Black Trudeau (Rap Prime Minister)" (yes, wtf, but...) blew my mind! A direct play link provided in the track title. Damn... seriously epic!!! Wow :). This is going to be the first hip hop album I've ever gone out to buy when it's released. Strange days we live in...

p.s. Here's an insightful little bonus clip... Maestro Ft. Kardinal Offishall – “Dearly Departed” (Behind the Scenes)

Still in the hip hop/rap genre... but not about the music, but rather the lyrics... or rather the interpretation of those lyrics... in real time at concerts... for the deaf. An article (and very short video clip) worth having a look at:

How Do You Say Motherfucker in Sign Language? The unique profession of Holly Maniatty...

And on a somewhat less enlightened note... apparently the Science Fiction Writer's Association (SFWA) is being called out (and losing members) for a string of highly sexist and escalating articles in their official newsletter (although it is apparently part of a larger problem based on many of the commentaries I've read by women members and former members of SFWA). An open letter of goodbye by e. catherine tobler captures the situation very well:'


Here is also a great article on the notion of "gaslighting" that was pointed to in a comment... I have seen this done so many times and it's insidious and almost always cripping to those affected. After reading it, you need to ask: has it been done to you? Have you seen it done to others? Do you do it yourself? (I don't need to know your answers if you don't feel like sharing, I just need to ask the questions).

A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy”

Edit: What? Dwarf Fortress? Why have I not heard of this thing before? I was searching for an amusing and sarcastic link to send a friend about her poor beleaguered toe when one of the links in the search was "40d:Wrestling - Dwarf Fortress Wiki". As is often the case, I can't help clicking such links (and yes, I've ended up in many WTF parts of the Internet that way), and I found myself at a reasonably sizeable wiki about this game "Dwarf Fortress" which is available cross-platform on Windoze, GNU/Linux, and the Mac (and downloadable from the wiki's main page). I headed over to the article on Wikipedia and: In March 2013 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City began exhibiting Dwarf Fortress. It is one of around 40 games selected from the history of video gaming as "outstanding examples of interaction design". Whut? I must know more, and can't wait to try it out! P.S. I sent her a link to The Book of Five Rings and suggested she read it to learn how to do battle with her toe. Heh, I crack myself up (and if you can't laugh at your own twisted humour, you're doing it wrong).
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A very interesting idea, but I don't think it's one of my better essays. I went to the library because I couldn't really find anything on this specific topic anywhere else, so I really think I'm breaking a bit of ground with the concept at least. The research specialist at the library suggested that it was more of a Ph.D. topic than one appropriate for a 2nd year essay ;). I got good feedback last year from my 3rd year Feminist Political Theory prof on my essay that used the post-modern theory I learned in feminist disability theory to examine the issue of performing analysis on multicultural issues without falling into cultural appropriation or imperialism. Funny enough, I turn to feminist disability theory again in this essay... I'm noticing a trend (well, and the fact that it seriously excites me as a framework in which to examine just about any social or political issue... it has been suggested to me by more than one member of the faculty there that I do post-graduate work on it... sigh). Anyway, the course this essay is for is titled "Critical Intersections of Gender, Race, and Class", and the prompt for the essay (one of 9 I could choose from) was: "Disability, accessibility and space (you need to figure out which space you want to focus on for this topic)".

Parenthood as Impairment
in a Neo-Liberal Capitalist Society

Impairment in our society can lead to disability — in the workplace, in congregations of people, in taking care of every day needs, in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships — that can grow to dominate or even define one’s value or place within the world. While the impact of this socially constructed identity is utterly pervasive and intrusive into the life of the so disabled, it is amplified by all the same intersecting factors that lead to disadvantage in the neo-liberal capitalist society that is being actualized by the Global North: gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, nationality, immigrant status, and heritage with respect to colonization (e.g. aboriginal peoples all over the world) to name some key factors. While the impacts of physical and overt mental impairments on the accessibility to infrastructure and the means of participating in this capitalist society has been well documented, there are many other conditions whose symptoms and intersectional profile mirror that faced by those with visible impairments. One of these is the systematic disability imposed on individuals with the impairment of parenthood.

The rest of the essay is here... )

But it is not a foregone conclusion that the world will allow the Global North's notions of neo-liberal global capitalism to succeed in the long term. While those controlling this movement are filling their pockets with unimaginable wealth, they are also undermining the strengths and cohesion of the societies that provided them with the imperialist power to enact their agendas. Against the backdrop of globalization, there continues to be a counter-movement to prevent the dystopian future just presented. If a disability is only relevant in context of particular environments or spaces, whether an impairment becomes a disability in those environments is a function of the level of its accessibility. An accessible society is one in which people with impairments can readily participate, and respects the basic dignity and civil rights of all individuals within a given society “to participate in all of that society’s activities: education, work, commerce, civic life, and government programs and services”. (Dell Orto) The classic example of accessibility is that of a person in a wheelchair attempting to access a government office or place of business: if the architecture does not provide them with a means of entering and navigating the space, then it is inaccessible to that person and their impairment manifests as a physical disability. The question with respect to parenthood becomes one of how to move past the thinking of the industrial revolution and neo-colonial imperialist world of global corporations and into a society where the private domain of child rearing and the public domain of the workplace are merged. This concept goes far beyond the notion of “reasonable accommodation” or access — which only addresses the symptoms of the underlying issues — and requires a deep analysis of the role of reproduction in our society. The theoretical framework for such an exploration is largely in place or being constructed under the guise of “feminist disability studies,” and can be applied to analysis of parenthood as a potentially disabling impairment in a hypercapitalist environment, and subsequently theorize solutions that might be employed to leverage this notion to illustrate the damaging effects of neo-liberal policies as part of a strategy of resistance to it. Abstract concepts arrived at through post-modernist deconstruction of the means by which neo-liberalism is manifesting itself in our society has failed to grab the hearts and minds of the public, but a tangible argument showing the threat to parenthood and the notion of “family” might.

And the bibliography is here... )
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In honour of Women's Day, here is my final short essay for the 3rd year Feminist Political Theory course I took last term. We were given four possible topics and had to pick one. While there were easier ones to tackle than the one I chose, I thought this was an important one for me to answer because it in some ways deals with the fact that I am male and am coming to the feminist project as an honourary "outsider". Regardless of my thinking on and participation in the subject, I have not lived the life and therefore cannot speak to it from the inside (nor would I try to). Therefore, the question of how to have a meaningful dialogue as an outsider (in the case of the essay question, as an outsider to a culture), is a very important one for me to come to grips with. The actual question was:
In her essay, “Multicultural Education and Feminist Ethics,” Marilyn Friedman identifies a dilemma involved in undertaking multicultural projects. She writes that “There is a kind of emancipationist imperialism involved in freeing someone from conditions which she herself does not regard as seriously oppressive and would not, on her own, challenge.” (p. 64). Should feminist writers take account of this in their writings? If so, how? If not, why not?
The writing of the essay was particularly challenging in that it posed an unanswerable question (well, presuming one answered "yes" to "should"... the "how" has no direct answer). It also needed to be between 6 and 8 pages double spaced, and it was challenging to tackle such a broad topic in a relatively short space. To that end, and for what it's worth, here is my essay:

Towards A Feminist Framework Of Interpretation:
The Quandary Of Analysis In A Multicultural Context

In her essay, “Multicultural Education and Feminist Ethics”, Marilyn Freeman writes “There is a kind of emancipationist imperialism involved in freeing someone from conditions which she herself does not regard as seriously oppressive and would not, on her own, challenge” (Friedman 1995). As history has shown, for example in the deeply controversial matter of cliterectomies, no matter how unambiguous the situation may seem from an external perspective – for example, that of a white, middle-class, heterosexual US woman (Friedman 1995) – the situation is considerably more complex and profoundly personal and ambiguous for those living the supposed issue. If feminist writers wish to avoid imposing their particular flavour of oppression on those they are purportedly trying to liberate, it is imperative that they take this into account in their writings – otherwise they are just trading one tyranny for another that may have unexpected and insidious, if less overt, consequences of its own. The problem occurs that in attempting to avoid any possible generalizations or universalizations, a writer of even the slightest conscience would be irrevocably paralysed for fear of transgressing their desire to “do no harm”. When it is acknowledged that no two individuals have ever shared the same epistemology, it becomes obvious that the solution is more subtle, requiring effort on the part of both the writer and the reader to understand the context of any such dialogue. While there is no “how” to this – to attempt to find a universalization for avoiding universalizations is an fool’s quest – there are disclosure guidelines that can be instituted by those who are concerned about the interpretation of their ideas in a diverse multicultural environment, and a discipline required by those analyzing the works of others to ensure that the writer’s intellectual and ideological location is well understood. Sadly, mainstream feminist scholars and activist writers have not done a stellar job of making their standpoints clear – often deliberately as part of an effort to promote a particular strategic or tactical agenda – so, ironically, it may be the wisest course to turn to feminist critics of feminist ideology to find a viable framework to apply to the problem. One such promising framework with applicability to this challenge is the emerging interdisciplinary field of “feminist disability studies”.

The rest of the essay is here... )

What is problematic for those with a Western attitude is there is no answer to this Gordian Knot of a problem. By its nature, there is no way for it to be a destination, but rather it is a process in a journey that will never end. This sort of open-ended dilemma tends to be profoundly disturbing or even disheartening to members our Western culture that teaches that any problem can be solved if sufficient resources are thrown at it, and that the challenge is simply to get those resources to throw. But this is a drama that isn’t going to be resolved at the end of the one-hour episode as we have been pop-culture imbued to believe. To apply the tools offered by the emerging field of feminist disability studies requires an unprecedented level of diligence and effort on the part of both those speaking and those listening. While there is much to recommend it, this path does not come without risk. Of particular concern is the danger of placing such excessive burden on any attempt at communication, that it will render it impossible for all but the most elite and accomplished of feminist scholars to have a conversation that meets the standards of avoiding any form of imperialism or false universalization. It is also the case that a profoundly post-modernist ideological construct is not going to find traction with a general public where an understanding of the issues is, to put it politely, far from ubiquitous. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the 17th century, “ L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs”, or the more modern aphorism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. In trying to avoid “emancipationist imperialism” and the misinterpretation of the nature of cultural oppression in cultures that are not one’s own – for instance, not everyone with a “disability” considers their impairment as something they would ever want to be freed from – feminist disability studies provides valuable analysis tools and standards of terminological rigour that can be applied in a broad range of situations, and particularly to that of creating feminist works in the profoundly multicultural environment we exist in.

And the bibliography is here... )
pheloniusfriar: (Default)
I have been digging through piles of paper looking for scraps that will allow me to piece my crumbled existence back together (okay... at very least do my back taxes... I'm owed money... the rest might take a little longer and involve more than sorting through paper). One thing I found was the proposal for the final project in the feminist disability studies course I took over the summer. I really thought it would be easier to execute than it turned out to be… If you care to listen, I still have the piece up at (you'll need good bass, or to listen to it on headphones, fyi). You can read what I said about the finished piece in this post.

Project Proposal: Exploring Feminist Disability Themes Through Music
WGST 3804A, 25 May 2010

While a robust academic discourse is at the core of advancing Feminist Disability Studies as a relatively new field of integrated study, communication of its findings and particular approach to analysis needs an activist constituency for promulgation into popular culture. While some work has been done on exploring the connection between disability and music, it is usually from the perspective of analyzing the impact of disability on musicians themselves — whether the interplay of public reaction to their disability (for instance, in “Re-narrating Disability” through Musical Performance) (Honisch) or the impact that a sudden or progressive disability had on a musician during their career (for instance, in Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, First Movement, and the Normal Body: The Idea of Formal Prosthesis) (Quaglia) — or through the exploration of disability as expressed in popular music (for instance, in Transformer Man: An Exploration of Disability in Neil Young's Life and Music) (Stein). However, little work seems to have been done on creating music that expresses, through the artform of music itself, the critical analyses advanced by Feminist Disability Studies.

Outside of popular music's portrayal of disability through lyrics, whether positive or negative, two broad forms of music have managed to consistently capture the “otherness” theme that is widely explored in gender, race, and disability studies: so called “industrial” and “goth” music. These two musical genres can be considered to be “two sides to the same coin — the yin and yang, the male and female” (Smith). Both forms of art express the disability imposed upon the individuals who, for whatever reason — be it physical, mental, emotional, or social impairment — find themselves outside of the normalized expressions imposed by society. Many of these individuals transcend their disabilities through a post-modernist understanding of society and outward expression conveyed through the music and fashion (Woods), and thus choose to live on the fringes on society in a culture created by and for themselves. I hope to use some of the sensibilities, if not the actual forms, of goth and industrial music to attempt to integrate a musical narrative that will explore the themes of disability, and specifically, of gendered disability within the larger context of these experiences as expressed in the academic literature of Feminist Disability Studies.

Works Cited

Honisch, Stefan Sunandan. “"Re-narrating Disability" through Musical Performance.” Music Theory Online 15.3 and .4 (2009): n. pag. Web. 25 May 2010.

Quaglia, Bruce. “Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata, First Movement, and the Normal Body:
The Idea of Formal Prosthesis.” Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Musicological Society. 30 Mar. 2007. Tempe, Arizona.: n. pag. Web. 25 May 2010.

Smith, Alicia Porter. “A Study of Gothic Subculture: an Inside Look for Outsiders.” Web. 25 May 2010.

Stein, Isaac. “Transformer Man: An Exploration of Disability in Neil Young’s Life and Music.” The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal 4.2 (2008): 3-10. Print.

Woods, Bret D. “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of An Underground Genre.” Master of Music Thesis, Florida State University, College of Music, Summer 2007. Web. 25 May 2010.
pheloniusfriar: (attitude)
This profoundly affected me when I first saw it in my feminist disability studies class early last summer and I finally went looking for a link to it last night. It continues to affect me profoundly in that it confirms what I have intuitively thought myself from the outside looking in (particularly since I had to raise an autistic child on my own):

Her blog is at:, and there is a good (multi-page) article on the video at Wired magazine: "The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know". I have an opinion/hypothesis about several "mental illnesses" such as autism... that they are an evolutionary work in progress and are not an illness at all per se. That, of course, implies that "curing" autism or eugenically weeding it out of the genome would be a fatal mistake for our species as a whole. Not to mention the ongoing ethical questions of what constitutes "an acceptable existence"... if autistic individuals are not acceptable because of assumed "quality of life" issues, what about poor people? Should they be sterilized so no new poor people will be created? Or people in developing nations? Maybe they should all be killed off and replaced with rich white Western men? Obviously, these are ridiculous propositions, but they are of the qualitatively same attitude and arise from the same ignorance and fear as leads our society to genetically pre-select for a particular "perfection" that we have been convinced we should want, despite the long-term implications of such decisions.
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I have finished my first new piece of music in three years (I think). 60 hours of academic research, sound palette development, sleepless nights, and composition later, I unveil to the world, what is likely the first piece of feminist disabilities studies music ever, in a piece that I have entitled "Sitpoint Epistemology". As always, my new original stuff can be found on my Myspace "band" page:

If you listen to it, please let me know your impressions (I have a thick skin, fyi, and really am trying to grow and learn musically and feedback is so important).

This piece of music was my term project for a 2nd year Feminist Disabilities Studies course at Carleton University this summer. We were given the choice between doing a research paper or a creative project (with a shorter paper describing the work). The project had to integrate the themes covered in the course or explore one or more deeply. I chose to explore interdependency and the standpoint epistemological nature of disability (that knowledge is personal and is shaped by one's place/role in society, and which has been given the neologism "sitpoint epistemology" in recognition that non-able-bodied individuals also have their own valid and unique experiences/frames of reference). As I told the class, I deliberately avoided the "social model" of disability (that disability is simply imposed by society on individuals with impairments) and focused on the personal as a way of also critiquing the dominant value judgements imposed on us all by our dysfunctional society.

This course is probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to wrap my head around in my life. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to an answer to "define the universe, give three examples". There was so much covered and pretty much all of what we call culture or society came under various microscopes and then was torn apart using the tools of post-modernist thought. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this course has probably changed the rest of my life (and is likely going to be remembered as having had the greatest impact on me of any of the courses I take in my undergrad studies).
When I embarked upon this project, I wanted to delve into an area that I had heard very little about: the idea of music as a means of exploring the experience of disability, and of the specific themes of feminist disability study that we covered in the course. From my own experiences, music is a unique means to bring manifest the embodiment of disability in a way that no conversation or text is able. Conduct even the most cursory examination of classical, film, or popular music and as Lerner and Straus state in their groundbreaking collection of essays, "once one starts to think about music through the lens of disability, disability suddenly appears everywhere". The field is too broad to explore as introduction here, but consider Björk's score for the film "Dancer in the Dark", a film that, on the surface, reflects the sociohistorical formula that the physically disabled and emotionally disfigured must be removed from able-bodied society. As Iverson wrote in her essay "Dancing out of the Dark": "As the film places Selma at the center of the narrative, the soundtrack asks us to identify with her. The aural realm is the space where we fully experience the world from Selma's perspective. Though we cannot see through her eyes, we nevertheless hear through her ears. The soundtrack defines, as it were, how Selma's blindness sounds [...] Through the soundtrack, the audience learns how Selma copes as a blind woman in a society that is unwilling to accommodate her". Consider the pianist Glenn Gould himself, the physical degeneration of Beethoven and Bach, the deliberate exploration of disability by Shostakovich and Shoenberg, or look to Kate Bush's masterpiece of psychotic dysfunction "Get Out of My House" or her whimsical exploration of ADHD in "Sat In Your Lap", and I challenge anyone not to be moved by Sinéad O'Connor's rendition of Phil Coulter's "Scorn Not His Simplicity" that he wrote about his son born with Down's Syndrome.

When I began this project, it was with an intuitive belief, from my own experiences, that since there was so much music informed by disability, that there would be a large body of academic work that I would be able to draw upon and integrate to realize my particular composition goals. Instead, what I learned is that purportedly the first paper on the subject was presented at a conference in 2004 and the first academic collection of essays, "Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music", was published in 2006, and beyond that there are only a few isolated works that have tried to tackle this difficult subject. This situation continually brought to mind the old saying "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"... Well writing about disability in music with academic rigour compounds the seeming intractibility of the task. As Rosemarie Garland-Thomson wrote in her foreword to that essay collection: "I have always secretly doubted that disability could be represented in musical form"; however, she does retract her doubts shortly thereafter, and a good thing too for me.

In composing this piece, I turned to two forms that have been called the yin and yang, the male and female of each other: industrial and goth music. Both are what I have increasingly come to believe are inherently music of disability, a post-modernist voice for that which cannot be spoken. Both express the disability imposed upon the individual who, for whatever reason — be it physical, mental, emotional, or social impairment — find themselves outside the normalized expressions imposed by society. My composition is deliberately narrative for clarity and explores the comforting dissonance of hope and birth and then builds the trope of the able-bodied family. This construct quickly falls apart with onset of sudden and catastrophic disability, specifically, as I have envisioned it for comparative purposes: the disability of fraternal twins, one male and one female. The musical theme of gender plays itself out over and over as the melodic elements draw the strands together... the mother, the able-bodied sister, even the disabled twin out of necessity when things don't work out. The trope of employment is also explored, but is ultimately shown to be futile and meaningless. A means to justify a means. In the end, the lives of my subjects go nowhere and end with a whimper, leaving little trace of their passage; however, this is not simply a commentary about the disabled in our society, it is a statement on the overall failure of our disassociated and dysfunctional culture where this is the fate of almost all who pass through it, but is a phenomenon amplified by the disabled. I deliberately avoid the use of the "social model" to explore the unfolding nature of the events and instead try to convey the interdependent personal experiences of the siblings, and so I called this piece "Sitpoint Epistemology".


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