Category Archives: Education

To Gamers, and Those Who Love Them: Be Better.

Trigger warning, in advance, for discussions of and links to documentation of rape culture, threats of sexual violence, death threats

There has been a fairly intense – debate? Argument? – happening on Twitter and across blogs for the last few days regarding sexism, misogyny, violence against women, online conduct, and gaming culture. Maybe you’ve seen it; Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture media critic, launched a Kickstarter to fund a series examining the depictions of women in games. Tropes v. Women in Video Games has already been fully funded, with nearly $159,000 donated by nearly 7,000 backers. This is my first exposure to Feminist Frequency and Sarkeesian’s work, but I’m looking forward to what’s shaping up to be an insightful project.

Anyway, instead of supporting this project across the board, cisgendered male gamers came out in force to do what cisgendered male gamers seem to do best these days: stand up in support of rape culture.

In short, Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia page was vandalized, she received thousands of comments on her YouTube channel, received harassing images depicting her being sexually assaulted. Tweets, messages, etc. They all contained a common thread: boys disagree with her project, and are attacking her very specifically as a woman about it. Sarkeesian’s opponents tapped into an upsetting set of norms – rape culture, and the allowance of violence against women – to threaten and silence her.

I thought this would get to its most disgusting with the development and release online of a game called Beat Up Anna Sarkeesian, which is exactly what it sounds likes. Players could click a photograph of Sarkeesian, and damage would appear – split lips, black eyes, bloodied nose.

A Toronto-based blogger, Steph Guthrie, took the game’s creator to task on the internet. She publicly called out Ben Spurr for his misogyny and for promoting violence and threats against Sarkeesian. The internet turned on him, tracked down his Steam profile, and generally rallied to the cause – but, almost immediately, things went south. Guthrie was attacked on Twitter with escalating vigour, culminating in a death threat.

Here’s where I find it difficult to discuss. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? The deniers of any kind of rape/misogyny culture in gaming still have their heads in the sand, even while they’re proving that there is a problem. The fact that there is a need for this conversation shows that there is something seriously wrong with gaming culture – which is an ugly, introverted, adolescent mirror for broader cultural issues. So how do we solve this problem?

Parents.

Teachers.

Parents: you need to play games with your kids. You need to be able to understand what they are consuming, and you need to be able to monitor, to an extent, their interactions and what they’re being exposed to while gaming. And more than that, you need to be able to discuss it intelligently with them. Whether it’s sexist depictions, gender-motivated violence, or coupling sex with violence.

What’s needed more is that you game with them while they’re playing online. Even if you’re being attentive to ESRB ratings (which are frequently inaccurate anyway) to ensure age-appropriate content, there’s a frequent disclaimer: online experience not rated. That’s because the moment you log into XBox Live (which deserves note for its rampant harassment), or any online game, you’re at the mercy of other players.

Online gaming is an echo chamber. Any relatively small community is. And the sexism and homophobia in online communities gets amplified to the point that threats of murder, rape and other sexual violence are not only accepted but encouraged. So, again, parents: game with your kids. Be present in the room, have the console in a central location, and insist on speakers instead of a headset. And be bold enough to address what you see and hear with your kids.

And, teachers: don’t be afraid to look at this stuff. Sexism and racism and homophobia don’t just exist in novels that have gone mouldy from being stuffed in a book closet all summer. They exist in today’s most popular form of entertainment media, too. Draw your parallels, talk about it in class, and don’t let it drop.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

-Trevor

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Cheesy Shells

I think that chain supermarkets rank high on my figurative list of “places I don’t expect to be surprised.” They’re up there with “Apple stores” and “in a room with a hardcore Trekkie.” I know exactly what I’m going to get, whether it’s slightly wilty produce, a feeling of displacement, or a fleeting moment of common ground before losing the thread. And yet, occasionally the most slavering fanboy shows critical detachment, occasionally Geniuses (TM) live up to their name, and occasionally I’m struck with a rare moment of reflection in aisle six at the local edibles warehouse.

Earlier, I was at the local store for a smash-and-grab stop for salad dressing. This is always a longer buy than I want it to be, because, in my compulsive world, anything processed and in a bottle needs to be compared to three other processed-and-bottled things so that I’m getting the one that’s best—sorry, least bad—for me.

With my thoughts on something else entirely, I wove through aisles looking for the dressing and several times crossed paths with a family of four. And each time, the snippets of conversation I overheard were strikingly similar.

While near bread: “… Hamburger Helper…”

While pausing at a boxed meat display: “… with the Hamburger Helper…”

Grabbing fish fingers: “…Hamburger Helper tonight…”

At pop and chips: “…next it’s Hamburger Helper…”

These weren’t just fixated younguns, either. This was the entire family, and the kids were grade school seniors or in grade seven.

I found my aisle and ducked down. I grabbed a PC Blue Menu yogurt dressing, an Irresistables, and a fat-free generic one. A couple of minutes with the labels and a handful of comparisons (the yogurt one actually had significantly more carbs than the others, and the fat-free one more sodium) made the choice for me. I grabbed some pasta, too (as it was on firesale), and headed out.

On the way, I passed the family again. They were doing their own comparison.

“We’ll get these, then, and leave the cheesy shells for next time.”

The cheesy shells were abandoned and the family headed out.

Notice a difference?

Maybe it’s my compulsion. Maybe it’s because I have a wonderful mother who has for some time worked at Health Canada, and who drove home the importance of eating balanced meals early. Maybe it’s a combination of the two, resulting in mental math every time I prepare a meal to see how well I’m providing servings of the food groups. But irrespective of my compulsiveness, the fact that they spent as long selecting the night’s flavour of Hamburger Helper as I did comparing nutrition labels says something.

Taken by itself, that night’s helping of Helper isn’t significant. But when your cart is full of cheapo red meat, pop and chips, juices, processed chicken patties and fishsticks, a couple of tins of vegetables, bottled sauce and a half-dozen assorted types of Hamburger Helper and you start to develop a clear picture.

I try not to be someone who judges peoples’ health based on size. I creeped on their cart at the checkout because I didn’t want to make assumptions. This was a big family. Pale, too, and the kids walked with splayed feet, both of them. This isn’t a case of assuming these folks weren’t too healthy based on a smattering of conversation and their size. Their colouring, stride, grocery loadout (checked off a list), and size all contributed to a clear snapshot.

What I’m getting to is this. It’s unfortunate that the adults in this situation have poor nutritional sense. Neither of them were in great shape, obviously. But the fact is, once you have kids, your bad nutritional habits aren’t just your own. They become your kids’ bad habits too. And whatever good sense your parents have that set you up with a nutritional baseline you could fall from, you’re condemning your kids right from the start.

The parents were in bad shape, but they were models of athletic health compared to their children.

I wish Health wasn’t limited to a part-time course in high school, and that nutrition didn’t have to fight with sex and drugs for time at the podium. I wish Home Ec was compulsory and in every grade. I wish the importance of activity, any activity, was stressed more by teachers, that balance was paramount, that we valued health care instead of sick care, that prevention was more important than treatment. I wish that parents like that saw what they were doing to their childrens’ health and that the difference between poor and proper nutrition can be the difference between anxiety disorders and not, back issues and not, compromised cardiac and pulmonary function and not, arch issues and not, stroke and not. That’s not just weight-related stuff, that’s cholesterol, sodium, sugars, chemicals, and the rest. Things that can be controlled by being aware of what you’re putting into your body.

Learn about nutrition. Start with Canada’s Food Guide and the Percent Daily Value on nutrition labels. Know what exactly a portion size is (a 40g portion of those cheesy shells is barely half the size of a hockey puck). Then move on from there and tailor your nutrition and activity to yourself–Health Canada’s web tool will do it for you. Figure out how you should be eating and do it. Figure out what level of activity you should have and do it. Don’t think of it as health for health’s sake. Think of it as health for a better quality of life.

It’s its own reward.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

-Trevor

Postscript: Taking another look around the Food Guide website has made me really appreciate the work that HC does. Mom, and all your coworkers, thanks for looking out for us, in spite of our best efforts to wreck ourselves and blame others. And on an only slightly related note, Mom, I love you. And thanks for helping me develop those helpful supermarket-aisle compulsions.


An Open Letter to the ICV

There’s been something going around the internet over the last few days that alarms me. A lot.

It’s this. Click to embiggen.

It ran in the National Post a few days back, posted by the Institute for Canadian Values (apparently, Canadian values are homophobic, transphobic, pro-Israeli, and anti-prostitution) and it’s been bouncing around the internet since. I get why. From my perspective, it’s pretty heinous. Misinformation. Bigotry. Etc. So I’ve done something I haven’t done often. That is: write back directly. I think it’s opened a can of worms. It took more time out of my afternoon than I wanted, but I feel better, personally, and I hope my approach is received by the ICV folks who have run this ad.

So here is my open letter to the “ICV.” I encourage everyone who reads it to also write to the ICV (full contact info at the bottom of the post). Call them. Email them. Send physical letters. But rise above whatever gut reaction you’re having and for the love of God be civil.


Ekron Malcom
Executive Director
ekron@canadianvalues.ca
Tel: 416.391.5000 EXT 344

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Re: “Please! Don’t Confuse Me!” ad, National Post.

Mr. Malcom,

I must preface this letter, in fairness and full disclosure, that this will also be published as an open letter to the Institute of Canadian Values at spillway(brain). The full posting can be found at https://spillwaybrain.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/an-open-letter-to-the-icv/.

As a recent graduate from a teacher education program and a volunteer with high-risk youth, I am deeply offended by your “Please! Don’t Confuse Me!” advertisement.

In my work, I frequently encounter youth and young adults who have not had sufficient education to understand their own sexualities, gender identities, or spirituality. When special-interest groups push for the reduction of what children are exposed to in controlled, responsible educational environments, we are effectively reducing their ability to understand and cope with their peers and themselves. Education on a topic is not the same as enforcing an agenda. Teaching a child about Communism and Stalin is patently different from indoctrinating them with a manifesto or justifying genocide. Similarly, educating children about alternative sexualities, family structures, and gender identities has not been proven to encourage their adoption nor has there been significant evidence that education on these topics confuses or distresses children more than learning about normative or normalized behaviours. By actively normalizing these sexualities and identities, it actually reduces the potential for confusion, hostility, and distress later on when confronted with them later in life.

I would like to point out as well that discrimination based on sexuality is expressly forbidden under Canadian law, and an attempt to make invisible these demographics is akin to silencing the voice of any other demographic.

Given my earlier point regarding the pedagogical and psychological nature of this kind of educational practise and the further point about discrimination by exclusion, I have to conclude that the effort on the part of the ICV is not based on genuine concern for student welfare, nor is it grounded in Canadian values. It must, then, be motivated by sheer bigotry.

Mr. Malcom, I find your use of the modifier “Canadian” to be an egregious liberty taken on the part of you and your organization. Bigotry and prejudice is simply not a Canadian value by any passable definition. You have appropriated an entire nationality for your means, and I as a Canadian citizen object. Your Institute is not reflective of Canadian values, but the values of a subset of the radicalized political right. I suggest modifying your organization’s name or posting a disclaimer in the banner at the top of your site.

Further, you claim to operate your Institution under Judeo-Christian values. If, sir, you read your Bible, there is a simple message preached by the Son of your God Jesus Christ. That message is love, Mr. Malcom. Love, charity, community, understanding, and the spreading thereof. Don’t forget that. And don’t forget, too, Mr. Malcom, that Christ also preached redemption. It’s not too late for you to be redeemed for the blatant appropriation, ignorance-mongering, and hate-speech you have indulged in.

I encourage you to retract your ads, cancel any upcoming placements of said advertisements, and discontinue the stopcorruptingchildren.ca campaign. Further, in the interest of fairness, I applaud your efforts in some camps–fighting human trafficking and ending the spread of child pornography are laudable objectives. Please do not sully these legitimate efforts with the hateful, underinformed rhetoric found in the aforementioned campaign.

If you would like to discuss this letter further, I encourage you to write to me at the email provided. I will be encouraging as many as will listen to contact you as well and to approach you in a measured, articulate fashion. After all, everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, gender identity, or family structure, deserves respect, Mr. Malcom.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to any response you have.

Yours,

Trevor LaForce
[personal email redacted]


ICV Contact info
Ekron Malcom
Executive Director
ekron@canadianvalues.ca
Tel: 416.391.5000 EXT 344
Fax: 416-391-3969

Charles@word.ca
Canada Christian College
50 Gervais Drive
Toronto, ON M3C 1Z3


Goop and Podcasts

I’m not sure what’s happened over the course of this last round of practicum.

For those not in the know (and I’ve been talking about it nonstop, so people not in the know are probably, like, someone in Cote d’Ivoire that has bigger things to worry about right now), I’ve been working for the last couple of weeks at Operation Come Home (http://www.operationcomehome.ca/frame.html) as my alternative practicum. They’re an organization that works with homeless kids, and one of the programs they offer is an education program. I’ve been working as a tutor, programs advisor, and general kind of educational dude for the last two weeks.

It feels like it’s been years.

Not because I don’t like it or anything like that. I love it, more than I think I’ve ever loved work before. The staff is incredible. The kids are so raw and real and open that I feel like I’m really affecting them and interacting with their souls, or soul equivalents, or fundamental truths of self, or true selves, or whatever. They’re some of the most human human beings I’ve ever worked with, and their stories are going to inform how I live my life from now on.

My politics. My ambitions. Probably my career path. Where I volunteer. How I see my peers. How I see people as I walk down the street. Who I choose to judge (or not judge) and associate with (or avoid).

I don’t know how, but this placement, these kids, have reduced me to a gloopy pile of introspective mess recently. I tend not to dwell on how fortunate I am to have the family, friends, and general sense of security that I have. I take for granted the fact that I made it through high school with nothing more dramatic than some bullying to impede me (although it seemed, and was, legitimately dramatic at the time).  I take for granted mental health, creativity, and ambition that is bolstered by a sense of self-confidence, of self-worth, and the feeling–even better, the profound, unshakeable knowledge–that I have something to offer. I take being a natural with computers, even high-end hardware and software, as part and parcel of being part of the original internet generation (Facebook O.G., I called it once). I have writing as my outlet, and creative projects in film and video and art as my hobby, and I have the resources and support and education to continue to learn and develop and push those things. Even this keyboard, these screens that I’m typing on, are blessings. The roof over my head. The ability to make money. The chances I’ve had. The second and third chances that I’ve managed to use to my betterment.

These are realizations, thoughts, that are long overdue. I feel more self-aware, less selfish, more relativist.

I don’t know if I like feeling this way.

I said this on the last episode of the podcast. With everything happening in the world and in my day-to-day workings on prac, between Libya and Japan and Gloucester Street where I spend my days, I’m finding it hard to get fired up about things that I would have been gushing over three weeks ago. Take, for example, the Green Lantern footage that came out at WonderCon:

Okay, I’m not that far gone. That’s freaking AWESOME and I’m going to write an article on Bent later about exactly why.

But you know what I’m getting at. It’s harder to find Charlie Sheen at all relevant… well, ever, but I should be dropping a podcast about his show tanking, or about anything else happening in entertainment right now, and I just do not give a shit.

I wonder often if I’m changing a little more each day, or if I’m just growing into myself. And as much as I love the work I’m doing now–as much as I kind of hope I get to do this kind of work for years–I kind of want a break to recalibrate and enjoy things that are totally irrelevant for a while.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.