Archive for October, 2012

Some excellent articles were published this weekend, dealing with the death of Amanda Todd, the ways sexism and misogyny tragically affected her, and how the media coverage of her suicide and school bullying campaigns are doing nothing to ameliorate the situation for other youth.
“Why isn’t anyone talking about the sexism and misogyny involved in Amanda Todd’s life and death? ‘Bullying’ is important, yes, but it is a vague term that glosses over the structural reasons for why it happens, like race/gender/class/ability. If we don’t start talking about the specifics of power structures in high schools, every ‘bullying’ campaign will be a waste of time.”
Check out the following articles for more on this topic:

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According to the above article, self-harm of aboriginal women prisoners is on the rise in federal prisons on Canada’s prairies. I won’t get into numbers here, you can read those in the article, but the numbers are alarming.  One woman, an ex-inmate, who was interviewed for the above article had this to say:  “I believe that I never wanted to die, but I just wanted somebody to hear me and listen to me.”

Kim Pate, national director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, “said the biggest problem is a lack of in-prison programs aimed at addressing the issues that result in women getting behind bars in the first place.”

Any thoughts FLF readers? Would this be a topic you’d be interested in having a roundtable discussion on?

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This Video was posted on the FLF Facebook page a few days ago. The video is about 15 minutes long, but it is worth the watch as Australia’s female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, addresses some of the misogynistic comments and views of the opposition leader, Tony Abbott. A few days after this was posted on our Facebook page I found a follow-up article: http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/10/17/australian-pms-rant-changes-dictionary-definition-of-misogyny/

This article says that due in part to the exchange between Gillard and Abbott, Australia’s national online dictionary intends to change the definition of misogyny from: “a pathological hatred of women” to “entrenched prejudice against women.”

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Has Alex Chapman been a victim of victim blaming? The author of this comment in the University of Winnipeg’s Uniter seems to think so.

While her view that female victim blaming is “beginning to become taboo”, and that it is always met with “backlash”, may be a tad optimistic for my taste, I think her overall argument is sound and definitely worth considering.

“Allowing such details [victim’s sexual history] to come forward in court and in the media perpetuates the incredibly harmful practice of victim-blaming that has seen such effective social back-lash in recent months.
A failure to hold those same standards for male victims reveals a fundamental flaw in the movement – a hypocrisy that seriously damages the legitimacy of the campaign to stop victim-blaming.”
             (Sandy Klowak, “Men can be victims, too: Victim-blaming discussion shows gender double-standard” in The Uniter (11 October 2012)), online: http://uniter.ca/view/8153)

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We encourage everyone to check out this amazing event! Always really fun, interesting and inspiring. FLF members should check their email for a very generous and exciting opportunity to attend for free, courtesy of RH’s own Dean Turnbull.

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This just in! The Manitoban will indeed publish Eli’s letter responding to “For those who are concerned” in their next issue.

Apparently the squeaky wheel does get the grease…

So keep your eyes peeled (the Manitoban publishes Thursday every week), and we’d still really encourage everyone to consider writing in, too!

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Last week, the Manitoban published an editorial by Joshua Van Benthem entitled “For those who are concerned” (read the full article by clicking on the title). In it, Van Benthem argues for the criminalization of late term abortion, saying that once a fetus is “viable” for life outside of the womb, it should be deemed a full legal person, even if it has not yet been born. A woman terminating a pregnancy beyond this point could then be subject to criminal sanction. He goes on to discuss the defeated Bill 312, attempting to establish that the would-have-been committee’s consideration of  “merely the medical facts” and “not legal precedent” would have somehow justified the infringement of women’s human rights he advocates.

Feeling rather concerned myself, I wrote to the Manitoban to express my disagreement with Mr Van Benthem’s views. I was disappointed not only to see that my letter was not featured in this week’s issue, but even more so to see no responses from anyone on the topic. With an issue as controversial as abortion and legal personhood for the unborn, I think it behooves the Manitoban to provide viewpoints on both sides of the issue.

I suppose it’s possible that a response to “For those who are concerned”, either mine or someone else’s, may be published in the future. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I reproduce here the letter I wrote, as I sent it to the Manitoban last Friday. I think it would be great to have others respond to Van Benthem, as well. Have a look at what I wrote and think about what you might add or change, and then send it in! Their email address is : comment@themanitoban.com.


5 October 2012

Re: “For those who are concerned,” by Joshua Van Benthem

Dear Manitoban,

I wish to respond to Joshua Van Benthem’s editorial in your most recent issue. I found the title “For those who are concerned” to be particularly apt, though likely not in the way that the author intended. I’m concerned, alright. I’m concerned about the human rights of women, and those who seek to limit them.

The author argues that, because some fetuses might be capable of surviving independently outside of the womb prior to the moment of complete birth, that “there should be a line” at some undetermined point in fetal development at which the fetus would be deemed a person, and thus, that aborting it would become a criminal offence. The Parliamentary Committee that would have been created by Motion 312, had it passed, would supposedly have looked at where this “line” ought to be drawn.

I noted that conspicuously absent from the items that would have been addressed by the Committee (as listed by the author) was, “What are the legal impacts and consequences of altering Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of the mother?” Clearly, the reason this query was omitted is that the answer to it will, in all cases, be that the impact on her rights would be unconscionable, and would render the committee’s other queries moot. While the “viability” of a fetus outside of the womb at any given point of its prenatal development will inevitably vary from case to case, the rights of each individual pregnant woman are necessarily invariable at all times during her pregnancy.

Turning our minds for a moment to the practical implications of what the author proposes, the notion that pre-natal “viability” can somehow be definitively determined and codified in law borders on absurdity. For example, is this “viability” with or without medical intervention? A baby can be born several months premature and survive with the help of incubators, intravenous nourishment, and other intensive therapies; would this be sufficient to be considered viable? What about the fact that a fetus with a chromosomal or other abnormality would very likely achieve “viability” much later in its development than would a “normal” fetus; were the author’s proposal to take effect, would this not create an untenable difference in legal treatment based on disability? Further, making this determination would necessarily be based on speculation; presumably the fetus would not be excised from the mother and left lying out in the open to see if it lived without her. Any information as to the physical state of the fetus to bolster the speculation would, of course, have to be gained via an invasion of the mother’s physical person. This only serves to highlight, yet again, the inseparability of a woman and her fetus at all moments until complete birth takes place, regardless of its stage of development.

Any attempt to ascribe independent personhood to the contents of a woman’s womb is a clear abuse of that woman’s physical autonomy and human rights. Canada’s highest court decided this in 1988, and no “medical evidence” can justifiably vary it.


Elizabeth Mitchell

Co-Chair, Feminist Legal Forum

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