Category Archives: Feminism

When the Media Takes it Too Far

Trigger Warning: The following article discusses suicide and self-injury.

We’ve all heard by now: Paris Jackson was hospitalized yesterday for an apparent suicide attempt.

I say ‘apparent’ because we just don’t know the specifics of what happened. Perhaps we will never quite know the details surrounding Paris’ medical emergency.

Not that the media hasn’t tried to put the pieces together:

There you have it: the play-by-play of Paris’ ‘apparent’ mental breakdown.

Except there is a problem with this story. There is an obvious detail that the media forgot to include. A fact of the story that we already know to be true:

  • Paris is a 15 year old girl.

Erase the close resemblance to her late father. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about Paris over the past 4 years. What’s left?

She’s a teenage girl who’s struggling, and a teenage girl who needs support.

Let’s say, for a second, that all of the ‘apparent’ events of yesterday are in fact true. Let’s assume, for a minute, that Paris was thinking about suicide, that she did hurt herself, and that she is in hospital getting psychiatric attention.

If all of this is in fact true than Paris did exactly what she was supposed to do. When she felt like she was at risk of hurting herself, Paris called a suicide hotline. She reached out for support.

That’s what hotlines, regardless of what type they are, were made for. They are available for us when we are at our most vulnerable, when we are in crisis, and when we need someone to talk to. And if she did in fact call the helpline, and the crisis interventionist did in fact call the police out of worry for her, than it may have saved Paris’ life.

All because Paris did the right thing.

And now? The media is punishing Paris because she reached out for help  and because she was taking care of herself. She is the butt of jokes, the source of gossip, the new ‘wild girl’ with the likes of  Britney SpearsLindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes -all female celebrities who have endured personal attacks because they were forced to battle a mental health concern in the public eye. All relatively young women who were not granted privacy in their time of need. I have to wonder – would the media be focusing so much on their downfall if they were men or is this yet another attempt to further perpetuate the ‘irrationality’ of women?

More than likely Paris, like any of us, didn’t call the helpline with the forethought that others, anyone besides those helping her, would find out. And why should she? The helpline is meant to be confidential. Regardless of whom your father is.

Someone obviously breached her privacy. Multiple people, who are employed to help her, broke her trust for the sake of a news story. In their eyes, she didn’t have the right to keep this story to herself.

What is the likelihood that Paris will ever call a helpline again, knowing that it was non-confidential? In reality, how many other young teenage girls, after hearing Paris’ story, will be deterred from calling under similar pretenses? Or seeking help in general, knowing they will be characterized just as these other young women have been.

And that’s the danger of exploiting a celebrity with a mental health concern. You send a message to the rest of society that mental health doesn’t really matter. That mental health is something undeserving of respect. That those who struggle with mental health are weak, damaged, crazy. It all makes it seem as though such individuals are not worthy of our support.

It is this very mentality that has caused the stigmatization of mental health that is so prevalent in our society. It is this line of thinking that keeps far too many in pain and isolation.

This time, the media took it too far. What happened to Paris isn’t funny, and it’s not newsworthy. It’s her life. And it’s the life of millions of others who are struggling with mental health and remain in harm’s way.

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The ‘Elephant in the Room’

On May 9th, thousands of  Canadians traveled to the nation’s capital and took part in the ‘Campaign for Life’ – an annual gathering of the anti-choice community to protest Canada’s pro-choice stance. In ‘solidarity’, regional chapters of the Campaign for Life coalition organized similar small-scale protests that will occur throughout the month of May.

Today was New Brunswick’s turn.

A few hundred anti-choice protesters met at our provincial legislature in Fredericton and engaged in a walk throughout the downtown corridor ending at the ‘Women’s Care Clinic’,  the aggressive New Brunswick anti-choice headquarters that is disguised as a women’s center. As New Brunswick lacks a law protecting women from anti-choice harassment, this ‘center’ is  conveniently located next to the Morgentaler clinic, the province’s only public abortion provider.

Yet I hesitate to even use the term ‘protesters’. The group, although dominated by adults, contained many children who were forced to walk alongside their parents. Forced to take a day off of school to protest a social issue for which they lack understanding. Forced to hold signs projecting hate – with faces of children, outlines of fetuses, and frightening words.

Forced to convict the 50 or so of us pro-choice activists who formed a human chain of protection around the clinic as ‘murderers’.

But for many children who group up in anti-choice households, associating abortion with murder is the only reality they know. In their eyes, there are only two options that are morally just: motherhood or adoption.

In their eyes, it’s really that simple. Isn’t this, after all, what women were ‘made’ to do?

But for those faced with an unwanted pregnancy, and for those stemming from the result of one, their reality is anything but.

I have accepted that I am the product of an unwanted pregnancy.

I was not wanted. Was unintended. Unexpected.

I won’t lie: to write that, say it, even think it, hurts. And it would for anyone. Most of us fear rejection from our family, friends, and partners. But for adopted children, like me, we were just that: rejected. And right from the get go. Some refer to this as the ‘ultimate rejection’ or the ‘first trauma’. But, over time, I’ve come to accept my reality, just as my birth mother had to accept her reality that the child she was bearing was completely and utterly unwanted.

In 1984, when I was born, my birth mother didn’t have a lot of reproductive options. It wasn’t until 1988 that Canada saw the introduction of a law that supported a woman’s right to an unrestricted abortion. While I don’t know the specifics of her situation, I assume my birth mother saw three options available to her at the time – an illegal and potentially life-threatening abortion, raising a child she did not want to raise, and adoption.

And so she ‘chose’ (if we can call such limited options a choice) the latter, and here I am. In my eyes, her decision to pursue an adoption was brave, selfless  and loving. I imagine the social stigmatization she faced. The discrimination she feared. The isolation she more than likely encountered. And following months of such unjust treatment, not to mention the pure physical torment of pregnancy, she then had to give me away and say goodbye for good.

Maybe leaving the hospital without me was easy, and perhaps it wasn’t. But the process she was forced to endure resulting from a lack of reproductive choice was definitely anything but easy. Anything but ‘simple’.

Neither is the reality of adoption. Living life, as a twitter friend of mine so brilliantly coined, as the ‘Elephant in the Room’.

It’s the issue that no one wants to talk about, and no one really understands. As a result, there is a lack of discussion about adoptive issues: rejection, isolation, a general lack of knowing about oneself. Adoption seems to make people uncomfortable, as if an adoptee has an illness that lacks societal compassion. People view us as shunned, unlucky, and ‘injured’, as if we all inherently have someone wrong with us.

They see us, as many adoptees continue to see themselves, as unwanted.

So no, adoption is not ‘simple’. Not for the mother, or the child.

Adoption is a wonderful choice, and a choice that I am beyond proud that my birth mother ‘chose’ for both of us. But adoption is not the right choice for everyone. Not all women are wanting or able to proceed with the challenges associated with adoption.

And even if they all wanted to, or if all were forced to, the harsh reality remains: there are not enough loving families in the world to adopt all the children that result from unwanted pregnancies. MILLIONS OF CHILDREN would grow up without families, would remain unloved and, just as they were born, would continue to live their lives unwanted.

A world without abortion hurts women and children. It’s as simple as that.

This is why abortion is such an important reproductive option. This is what the anti-choice community needs to understand. But perhaps more importantly, this is what the children of anti-choice families, like the ones I witnessed today, need to learn. A world without access to abortion is a world where ‘choice’ does not exist.

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Only Zombies Don’t Have to Support Mental Health

Today marks the end of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s Mental Health week. I am beyond grateful for the hard work of all the CMHA branches and the dedication of mental health advocates nationwide who worked tirelessly through social media to bring attention to this vastly important issue.

From the bottom of my feminist heart, thank you! All of your works, this week and every other week throughout the year, means the world to me.

Yet amazingly, not everyone sees mental health advocacy in the same light as we do. Even after all of this work. Some, incredibly enough, just don’t seem to see the point. At all.

Throughout this past week I have, like many of you, focused my twitter posts on mental health and, in particular, on the importance of mental health awareness.

Not all my posts, however, have received positive feedback. As a rather out-spoken feminist, I’m used to the occasional ‘falling out’; the anti-choice trolls live for a good twitter battle. But a ranting about the limited importance of mental health advocacy? That’s a new one to me.

The private message that I received went something like this:

“Only people with mental health problems should care about mental health. There’s no point going on about it”

Upon reading this response, I initially got angry. Well, if I’m being truthful, I became blood boiling, fits of rage, ‘imaginary fire coming out of my ears’ kind of angry.

And how could I not? 1 in 5 Canadians struggle with some form mental health concern. That’s 20%  of the population. Statistically speaking, we are all affected my mental illness, whether directly or indirectly. And for those of us who don’t have a mental health concern, we may not even be aware those around us are struggling. So yes, it is a big problem, And yes, advocacy is important.

It’s insensitive and misinformed remarks such as this that deepen the very stigmatization that plagues mental health. It is this lack of mental health literacy that causes far too many to remain concealed about their mental health concerns, choosing instead to forgo health seeking.

Put simply, misunderstandings = stigma = harm. Enough said. This is what advocacy attempts to change.

But perhaps there are those among us, regardless of the copious mental health awareness campaigns and the countless efforts of brave mental health advocates, that still don’t understand why we should care about mental health. How is absolutely beyond me. But, the good feminist in me says, “Kathleen, don’t judge and don’t respond with anger. Educate!” So that’s what I’ll do (I’ll go back to punching pillows later).

After much consideration, I decided to create a rubric, of sorts, to help those who are unsure whether they should care about mental health make an informed decision. Here it goes:

How do you know you should care about mental health

1) Do you have a brain?

  • If you answered yes:  HOORAY! You aren’t a zombie. That’s fantastic, because if you’re like me and are readily addicted to ‘The Walking Dead’ you know how miserable the life of a zombie truly is. You can continue to question 2.
  • If you answered no: Since you have no cognitive abilities (from, you know, the zombie brain) don’t move on to question 2. You do not possess a brain, have no mental health, and therefore do not have to care about it. I have heard, however, that ‘The Walking Dead’ is always looking for extras. This might be a perfect role for you!

2) You have a brain. With this brain, have you ever felt a thought, feeling, or emotion at any point within the entirety of your life? 

  • If you answered yes: YOU POSSESS MENTAL HEALTH AND THEREFORE HAVE TO CARE ABOUT IT.
  • If you answered no: You are either lying or are a zombie and, because you lack any a brain, do not realize you should not have moved on past question 1. Go back to question 1 and really consider the new career venture I suggested. If you lied, that shows thought and therefore your answer should have been yes.

There you have it. It’s really as simple as that. If you think, feel, ponder, question, day dream, or anything else that is at all cognitively related: YOU HAVE MENTAL HEALTH. Because you have it, you are obligated to care about it. And because you live in Canada, and 20% of the population struggles with a mental health concern, that means that likely you or someone you know is struggling as you read this. As a result, your obligation to care is heightened and you must support the advocacy work of others.

So, to all the non-zombies out there: PLEASE start taking mental health seriously. As we have physical health, we too have health of the mental variety. Would you ignore a zombie bite? No – you would attempt to treat it (if treatment is possible). And so you should for mental health – you must (and deserve to) take the necessary steps to maintain a healthy mental self.

And by being attentive to your own mental health that means you also must ensure not to perpetuate the stigma that mental health isn’t important or not worthy of public attention.

Because one day, if you struggle with a mental health concern, you are going to hope all the non-zombies out there are supporting you through your process.

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When it all becomes too much: Reaching Feminist Exhaustion

Yesterday I reached the point of feminist exhaustion.

Jessica Valenti has referred to this as ‘feminist burnout’. And thanks to her and a fairly recently blog she wrote about the subject for The Nation I know that I’m not alone. Sadly, knowing that I’m one of many feminist advocates who feel overwhelmed, deflated, and at a loss with the world doesn’t really make me feel that much better.

In my academic day job I spend most of my time writing, reading, talking, and counselling about eating disorders and concurrent mental health issues including body issues, self-esteem, self-injury, and suicide. My research involves an exploration of the secrecy and stigma that surrounds eating disorders; a primary symptomology of these syndromes that causes far too many to remain isolated, refrain from seeking help, and more often than not, become sicker. It’s a terrifying but very true reality and it’s one that often hits me like a tonne of bricks.

Many with eating disorders struggle, suffer, and do so in silence and completely alone. In my, albeit very biased opinion, little has been done by way of research to assist those with concealed eating disorders. Why? Perhaps the research is too difficult, too complex, but more than likely under-funded and under-appreciated. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorder based research receives $0.93 funding dollars for each individual affected, in comparison to the staggering $88 funding dollars granted for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet eating disorders affects an approximate 30 million Americans, while Alzheimer’s reaches 5.1 million. The numbers just don’t make sense, but it explains why my area of research is so lacking.

So I continue to work in an area that is not really respected but still sees millions suffer. At times it becomes too sad to think about.

Outside of academia, I volunteer and advocate for reproductive justice and an end to violence against women. Currently, I volunteer as a client escort for the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick – the only public abortion clinic in the Maritime Provinces. I often write about my disgust with the lack of care for women’s reproductive health out East, and the limted attention that neglect of New Brunswick women receives nationally. I also recently started training for a new volunteer position as a crisis interventionist with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (FSACC). As a city with the third highest rates of sexual assault in the country, FSACC is a vital, crucial, all-too important resource. I have always wanted to get involved with this fantastic organization and, when I heard that they were in need of more volunteers, I figured it was a great time to give it a shot.

But blocking the way of angry anti-choice protestors so a woman can receive an abortion (A CHOICE THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT HAS DEEMED ALL WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE) and constantly devling into the harsh reality of rape culture – the lack of sexual assault prosecution, the limited resources for survivors, the shame, blame, and stigmatization that surrounds the victim rather than the rapist – it becomes all too unbearable.

At the end of the day, the world is still a very patriarchal place and women are still forced to make the best of it in the hopes of coming out for the better on the other side.

It’s unfair. It’s unjustice. But it’s reality. So as I’m sure all good feminists do from time to time, I became overwhelmed by it all and wanted to shut down. Tune out the world. Pretend things aren’t as bad as they seem.

But jessica Valenti, in her wise feminist ways, has advice for us exhausted fem2 advocates: embrace it, connect with like-others, use energy where it’s most needed, and remember how important the work is. Because it is important. We have a long way to go, but look at how far we’ve come. It’s the hard work of strong and more than likely exhausted past and present fem2 advocate that got us here.

Prehaps most significantly, Jessica tells us to get creative with our exhaustion.Do something that helps the cause but HELPS YOU at the same time. Activism and self love all at the same time-  that’s something I can get on board with.

Hence why I’m writing about how I feel. I’m not overly creative in the t-shirt making, song writing, ‘paint out your frustration’ kind of way. But I love to write, and I love complaining and forcing others to take part in my frustration (that’s a joke…sort of). Writing is how I express myself, reach a larger audience, and give important topics a stage.

So I use my favorite of forums now to reach out to others in the hopes of connecting in our mutual exhaustion and beginning a dialogue to empower, enlight, and recharge us through the rough feminist waters.

The world will get better if we can make it through the undercurrent of androcentric mentalities and continue doing what we do best – fighting the good feminist fight. But we need each other, creative sounding boards, and lots of complaining to get us through a little less burnt out and a little more hopeful for the women of the world.

 

 

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Because all children deserve ‘Forever Families’: On the Importance of Same-Sex Adoption

I have a ‘forever family’. It consists of a mom, and dad, and me – their adopted daughter. I grew up in a permanent ‘forever home’ with a loving, supportive family in much the same way other children do with their biological parents.

And with all this love and support I was able to grow into a healthy child who played basketball, roller-bladed, and begged to quit ballet shortly after my very first lesson (you just can’t do a lay-up in a tutu). With the backing of a dedicated support system I was granted every opportunity to flourish into what I consider to be a (relatively) successful adult.

My parents and I don’t share blood, medical histories, or DNA but instead share a bond much deeper than any non-adopted family could possibly begin to understand.  And for that, the privilege that was granted, I’m incredibly lucky, as are many of the 1.5 million Americans who have been adopted into what I hope are similarly loving ‘forever homes’.

But often times I sit back and think about what my life would have been like if my ‘forever family’ hadn’t found me. Who would I have become? Would I have had the chance to go to university? Would I have had the security of knowing that, just a phone call away, I would have a family member who would be willing to help me fight any battle?  Would I even get a birthday card? Or would I have been just another child caught without a sense of permanency, caught within a flawed social system?

Thankfully I wasn’t. And while I’m grateful to all those who had a part in granting me my present-day reality it is tragically not the norm.

Worldwide, adoption is still very rare; the United Nations estimates that 260,000 adoptions occur each year, which equates to fewer than 12 adoptions out of every 100,000 children under the age of 18.What this results in is 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean who lack ‘forever families’.

13 million.

Let me put this into perspective. In Africa alone, it is estimated that the current rate of domestic adoption would need to be multiplied 2000 times in order to guarantee the approximate 8 million African orphans are adopted into permanent homes. Globally, the number of adoptions of AIDS-related orphans would need to be increased by a factor of 60.

Another 119 million children are single orphans (children who have lost one parent) and may also require adoption into permanent homes.

Within the United States, more than 250,000 children are forced into the foster system each and every year. Approximately half of these children will return to family members, leaving approximately 105,000 children stuck in limbo: with luck finding their ‘forever families’, or, like the nearly 20,000 children in the US, aging out of the foster system, without one. In Canada the situation is not much better: over 78,000 children are still waiting for permanent homes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about my adoption, the need for increased awareness about adoption, or the importance of viewing adoption as pro-choice. But over the past two months we have been witness to a new intensification of the adoption debate. Or at least, in my opinion it has. It’s time to talk about it.

We have a new Pope. For us non-Catholics this doesn’t exactly change anything ; I doubt any of us, particularly in the feminist world, anticipated a newfound acceptance of our ‘liberal values’ – a modernization of old conservative, misogynist worldviews. But what Pope Francis brings is a particular dislike for same-sex marriage, which he declared a “destructive attack on God’s plan” although coming from a country which has openly accepted same-sex marriage since 2010 (a year, in fact, before New York did). But perhaps even more appalling, Pope Francis has a particular hatred for same-sex adoption.

Not that the Vatican has even really been a fan of same-sex adoption either. In fact, just weeks before the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican once again voiced its distaste for same-sex adoption, believing that children should grow up in “the ordinary way…with a father and mother”.

According to Pope Francis, same-sex adoption is not wrong simply because it’s not ‘ordinary’; to him, the adoption of children by same-sex couples is a “form of discrimination against children”.

But what’s obvious to me is the Pope’s misunderstanding of the term discrimination. Perhaps if he had a more formal understanding what it means to be discriminated against he would view this situation a little different, a little less harshly…or simply with a little more compassion.

So let me provide a definition:

Discrimination, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”

So, the academic in me could say that we could perhaps validate the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ view of same-sex adopted children if there was evidence to suggest that children adopted by same-sex couples were at risk. Lacking. Limited. Affected negatively in any way by the sexual orientation of their parents.

But here’s the problem: there is none. Empirical evidence supporting the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ standpoint just doesn’t exist. Thirty years of extensive research finds nothing to suggest that children of same-sex parents are any less likely to thrive. Excel. Be loved in the exact say same that I did with heterosexual parents.

So, who is really being ‘discriminated’ by discouraging adoptions by same-sex couples? The LGBT couples who wish to offer ‘forever homes’ to deserving children, and the deserving children wanting to find ‘forever families’.

Because what those against same-sex adoption and, by virtue same-sex marriage, are essentially suggesting is that children like me – children who have, by no fault of their own, and for reasons mostly unknown to them, been placed for adoption are not deserving of a loving family.

It is better, says those who believe in the abomination of same-sex adoption, that millions of children around the world grow up without ‘forever families’ than to live with a loving couple, who by no fault of their own, just happen to be of the same sex.

People who don’t support same-sex marriage, or the adoption of children by same-sex couples, are in essence denying both deserving children and deserving couples the right to a ‘forever family’. I can find nothing Christian about that, nothing moral about it, and nothing just. This, in my albeit very biased opinion, is the very essence of discrimination.

In the words of Ezra Klein, “adoption by gay couples is one of the best arguments for gay marriage”. Well said, because as far as I’m concerned I would much rather grow up with a ‘forever family’ that happens to have two moms, or two dads, than to live without one.

Cross-posted with permission on Fem2pt0

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