Category Archives: Politics

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: 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.


Anecdotal Evidence

We’re having a bit of a heat wave in the nation’s capital right now.

I haven’t been able to remember a spring that got this hot this early. Usually, there are warm sunny days and cold cold nights–perfect weather around March Break for sap to flow quickly, perfect weather for making maple syrup at the farm. It’s so consistently warm now that CBC ran a feature yesterday evening about syrup producers’ concerns that the industry will take a hit from the bizarre weather.

Just out of curiosity, I looked at the historical temperature data from my weather app:

On average, it’s going to be 29 degrees Celcius warmer today than it’s ever been in Ottawa.

This is so surface-level it’s almost laughable, but if anyone doubts that climate is changing, this should make them think twice.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,


Check Your Job Description

Pop quiz. What does your MP do for you?

People all over Canada, depending on their MP’s portfolio, their community ties, and their record, will give you different answers. But I’ll bet you that not one of those people would say that their MP’s job is to play detective.

Enter Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative MP (Peterborough) Dean Del Mastro. It’s no secret that their party is in the weeds right now. The CPC is under fire from the Opposition (official and otherwise) regarding Bill C30 and MP (Provencher) Vic Toews, the F-35 purchase, the Parliamentry Budget Officer’s scathing indictment of their fiscal practises, and, of course, the robocall scandal. The PM and Dean Del Mastro have been extremely clear: We’re not going to do anything about the issue. If you’ve got a problem, then you should find evidence to support your claims. We dare you to catch us.

The problem with this is that the CPC is the ones who would have the evidence, and, besides, Liberal and New Democrat MPs aren’t detectives. They’re not Elections Canada officials, either. They’re not the RCMP.

We need to get past this, and MPs need to emphasize their role in this. Keep hammering the CPC in the House, for sure. But we can’t worry about bantering over evidence, especially when the RCMP are still digging in Guelph and Elections Canada is fielding more complaints and going over records.

What we need is MPs who will slam the CPC for obfuscating. They’re already trying to slop blame around (ludicrously, I might add) before anything has stuck. And we need to demand that there’s an official public inquiry.

Further, while we’re clearing up MPs’ job descriptions, let’s clear up some other vocabulary. What’s being alleged in the robocall case isn’t “dirty tricks”–it’s voter tampering, or voter suppression. What the CPC refer to as a “clean” campaign involved pleading guilty to electoral fraud (the in-and-out scandal) and an attempt to steal students’ ballots from an advance poll.

There’s going to be a lot of mud flying between now and whenever this gets resolved. I’m asking people to keep their eyes open in spite of it. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with Elections Canada and any MPs that you can and request that the pressure be kept on, that investigations continue, and that the Conservatives are forced to play ball.

Don’t let the rhetoric put you off. We’re facing a death-spiral in terms of voter engagement. This is the kind of criminal gutter politics that cannot be left unaddressed. Remind our elected officials that they’re not CSI: HoC, but need to represent their constituents.. and that those constituents want investigation.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,


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
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

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 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.


Trevor LaForce
[personal email redacted]

ICV Contact info
Ekron Malcom
Executive Director
Tel: 416.391.5000 EXT 344
Fax: 416-391-3969
Canada Christian College
50 Gervais Drive
Toronto, ON M3C 1Z3