Tuesday, June 29, 2010

violent thugs dressed in black: anarchists or cops? policing protesters clothing at the G20 protests

disclaimer: i wanted to publish this ASAP as i wrote it on my flight from toronto to mexico city, where i will be staying for the month of july. i am not planning to be online very often this month but feel that there are some very current critical issues that need to be addressed immediately. for these reasons i tried to keep this as brief and to the point as possible in order to publish it while my ideas are fresh.
  1. firstly, much of the clothing i focus on (bandanas, hankerchiefs, hoodies) and the colours (black and red) have very long and elaborate histories as well as numerous symbolic meanings in and outside of activist circles which i do not talk about here.
  2. secondly, i want to acknowledge that we could also address serious questions of how police officers not only target people based on what they are wearing, but also based on the colour of their skin. there are many reports that police explicitly targeted native women, young black men, and poc community organizers in their arrests and illegal detainments this weekend.
  3. finally, i want to acknowledge that many people directly affected by the issues G20 protesters were out in the streets to call attention to who decided against being out in the streets for their own physical and emotional well-being: immigrants, people on student visas, people of colour, trans people, people with disabilities, to name a few. these people are often disproportionately on the receiving end of police harassment, intimidation and violence in addition to being subjected to greater potential consequences (namely deportation, sexual violence, serious physical harm). i think it is important to note that while i do not go into detail about these issues in this article, we must acknowledge the important role these people play in our movement(s) and act in solidarity with them. thank you.

this past weekend, i was in toronto for the G20 Summit. i boarded a bus organized by the wonderful anarchist bookstore La Page Noire in québec city with fifty or so other people for the day long trip. i had amazing conversations with some really great people i hadn't had much of a chance to talk to before... our discussions ranged about everything from peaceful protests, why we opposed the G20, our civil rights, to drag kings.

upon signing up for the bus, i had not explicitly planned on attending protests or actions (for many reasons which have, unfortunately, been reinforced after the absolute travesties of justice that have occurred in the last week), and decided to see how i felt once i was in toronto. after the bus ride, a lot of thinking, and many conversations, though, i felt like i needed to be in the streets. in the end, i participated in relatively minor ways over the course of the weekend. this involved things such as yelling out a few chants on saturday around 5 pm near queen's park in response to the obscene police presence, asking questions to fellow protesters, attending the bike bloc on sunday, staying up to date with the alternative media coverage and sharing as much information as possible online. the highlight of my weekend was saturday night, when my friend morgan and i went to colour me dragg: silence this!, originally organized to celebrate resistance to censorship at pride this year. the events that took place on saturday changed that. it showcased incredible talent, and was an amazing, creative, positive night in solidarity with all the members of the queer community who were attacked by police and who were being detained in the makeshift detention centre (more about that awesome event in another post for another day).

but...this is a fashion blog, you are thinking. why is julia talking about the G20 protests? what could this possibly have to do with clothing? because, like i always say, fashion is political. some other readers might be thinking that it is incredibly frivolous and altogether irrelevant to talk about things like "fashion" when over 900 people were arrested for voicing their opposition to the G8/G20 and all that it represents. these events, and the questions about what people were wearing on the streets of toronto this weekend, are intrisically connected. what i really want to talk about here is the emphasis on the sartorial choices made by protesters, "average citizens," members of the press and police officers during this weekend's rampant opposition to the G20 summit in toronto and how it actively held a part in leading to such massive violations of human rights.

surprisingly, there is much to be said here. let's begin with some of the more obvious questions:
  • how does a protester dress? what does a protester "look like" and who decides what that is?
  • practicalities: what a protester should wear when participating in peaceful protests and rallies to protect themselves from targeting, harassment, tear gas, pepper spray, etc.
  • on the eve of the G20/G8 summits, with a $1.3 billion dollar security pricetag, what are police told to look for and who are they told to target to "ensure security" and "maintain the peace?"
  • policing and legislation around what people are allowed to wear on the streets of toronto as the G20 approached
  • massive confiscation of black clothing items: what are the assumptions being made about what black clothing means and represents?
  • how do police present themselves? their very own "costumes" and performances.
  • how to the police present themselves when acting as agent provocateurs and undercover/"plainclothes" officers?
those are just a few of the ways in which fashion constitutes a very political and important dynamic of what went on in the streets during the G20 protests and continuing resistance in the days following. the physical appearance of protesters and what they chose to wear was highly emphasized and was used as a way to target public hatred and to strike fear in the hearts of the consumers of the media. however, no one seems to be talking about these dynamics. the only things i have found about fashion and the G20 have been incredibly fluffy, insubstantial, and problematic articles published by the mainstream media.

"This easy-to-wash cotton/polyester ensemble will definitely be noticed by police. An optional bandana is made with polyester to protect from noxious fumes, but it also pampers the protestor with the luxury of satin." - from the Toronto Star

actually, they have been more than problematic, they are straight up nauseating. if you google "g20 fashion" - surprise surprise - we are once again exposed the sexism inherent in the institutions the G20 system upholds and represents. there are dozens of stories about what the G20 leader's WIVES wore on the "red carpet." was this a fucking hollywood premiere or was it a gathering of world leaders meeting to make important decisions that have a global impact?! you can even vote "hit" or "miss." yeah, judge the first ladies of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world based solely on what they wear. sounds right to me. at the very least at least they objectify female leaders like the President of Argentina and the Chancellor of Germany in addition to first ladies. and of course it gets worse.

how lawyers should dress in order to avoid being attacked by protesters for wearing suits. because we all know that was the main goal of protesters this weekend; to arbitrarily attack anyone wearing a suit.

sifting through all of this garbage, which is very clearly designed to distract people from the reasons WHY THE G20 IS HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE and why 25,000 PEOPLE WERE OUT IN THE STREETS VOICING THEIR OPPOSITION, all i could do was laugh (well, that's a lie. all i could do was yell and gesticulate angrily and then put my head on morgan's shoulder and watch videos of maru) but then i started thinking about the ways in which "fashion" at the G20 was occurring in a very legislated and calculated way at the hands of police and the law.

in the article in which the photos of lawyers "in disguise" is taken from, many of the quotes illustrate just how pervasive the emphasis on how dangerous clothing can be.
...Mr. Wearing, who is counsel to the law firm Ormston List Frawley, will be dutifully adhering to the “Summit Planning Guide,” a one-page safety tip sheet being circulated by landlords in downtown Toronto.

“If you unexpectedly encounter demonstrators, you will be better treated if you are in jeans and a casual shirt than if you are in a business ‘power suit,” the guide advises.

“You’d be a fool if you were marching around looking like a suit,” Mr. Wearing said on Sunday, speaking through a BlackBerry he says he bought for safety ahead of the summit. “According to everything we read, those who are look like they are engaged in business are somehow the enemy.”

...“Now that we look like demonstrators, how do we convince the police not to pepper spray or tear-gas us?”

these statements perfectly illustrates the ideas propagated by the mainstream media that:
  1. "protester" might as well equal "violent terrorist"
  2. no protesters are lawyers, or any kind of respectable, powerful, suit-wearing folk
  3. aaaand last but definitely not least fucked up: that if you look like a protester, it's your own fault for getting tear-gassed or pepper sprayed. as mr. wearing ponders, how could you convince police not to pepper spray you simply based on your appearance? there is an inherent assumption that if one looks like a protester, one deserves violence and repression at the hands of the state. this statement inadvertently admits that there is explicit profiling going on on the part of police. this in and of itself is not enough: the police have aditionally been manipulating the media, the citizens of toronto, and protesters to try and excuse their rampant targetting, attempts at repression and brutality.
to prove just how truly backwards these notions are, the article concludes with this wonderful nugget of propaganda:
“You don’t challenge that type of event,” he said. “You use common sense and stay out of the way.”
unsurprisingly, the article does not discuss any of the hundreds of reasons why people are "challenging this type of event" and why people are refusing to "stay out of the way." it is serving to explicitly propagate stereotypes not only of what a protester looks like, but that if you "look like that" it is your own fault for being targeted, potentially arrested, and brutalized by police. we see this sort of logic at work in rape culture as well, demanding to know what women were wearing when they were raped and engaging in victim-blaming.

what is important for us to address here is the policing of our bodies based on what clothing we choose to wear when out on the streets during a protest. for me, these negotiations are particularly complicated in addition to being, in my opinion, totally fucked up. i don't change how i dress when deciding to attend a protest from my regular dressing habits. this basically means that i take to the streets in dresses. while i never run the risk of, say, being mistaken for an undercover cop, i do run other risks. i am often forced to negotiate spaces based on my presentation and appearance. i know some other protesters might read me as a bystander if i am not actively engaged, such as leading a chant (which i often do since my voice is very loudy and because i find it really fucking empowering), holding a placard, or being part of the organizations who organize the rallies/protests. from a logistic perspective, it is often harder for me to approach other more "obvious" looking protesters to ask for information, such as where events are happening if they have changed at the last minute, information about arrests, organizations, etc. at times, i have to prove myself as "one of them."

rally against the non-academic misconduct policy february 2008. photo by desiree kretschmar

student solidarity rally - in solidarity with trent's unions, oct 2007
photo by desiree krestchmar

student solidarity rally - in solidarity with trent's unions, oct 2007
photo by desiree krestchmar

national rally for choice, september 2008. photo by julia horel-o'brien

however, it is important to note that this appearance also affords me many privileges. i can often interact with police officers and get important information because i choose not to cover my face with a bandana, because i do not have a hairstyle which marks me as "alternative," because i don't have any facial piercings, and because i am a young "white"* woman. as long as i don't pump my fist in resistance, flaunt my black boots and show my hairy armpits (or otherwise mark myself as subversive) i can generally get away with a lot.

youth being held by police on yonge street on sunday, june 27th at around 3:30 pm. i tried to ask if they were okay, the man in this photo said no, police proceeded to yell at me, shove their hands in my face, obstruct my view of the dozen or so people being arrested, and refused to acknowledge any of my questions.

unfortunately, for the first time for me, this was not the case this weekend. sunday, i attended the bike bloc around the downtown in the early afternoon. afterwards, i visiting an alternative media coop. on my way back to my friend's place, i started asking questions/speaking to reporters wondering why a dozen or so activist-looking types were being cuffed and searched near yonge and gerrard. i was followed (for who knows how long, they refused to tell me) by three police officers in an unmarked civilian minivan while riding my bike down a quiet street. they yelled out their window at me, i stopped and was told i had broken several laws, they refused to clarify which laws other than not making a full stop at a stop sign on an empty street (except for me and said unmarked minivan which was following me), threatened with a $220 ticket, told repeatedly to shut up, that i was being aggressive, that i had no right to ask police officers questions, asked if i was a member of the black bloc or if i knew any, where i was from, what my job was, how long i was in toronto for, where i was staying, and so on and so forth.

i was generally made to feel incredibly intimidated, unsafe, and harassed for a good twenty minutes. as i walked away and they were no longer in sight, i burst into tears.

afterwards, i could not help but think that i had been "lucky." that i would have been treated differently if i had been wearing all black. if i had been wearing political buttons or badges on my clothing. if i had a bandanna around my neck. if they realized i was wearing red and black and that i do hold certain anarchist beliefs. if i were a person of colour. if i weren't informed about my rights. if one of those three cops did not sympathize with me. i could not help but think that i was lucky that i was not arbitrarily detained like many of the 900 other protesters over the weekend. lucky for not being detained or arrested for riding my bike down the street. how fucked up is that. i raise these questions because part of me wonders how much of what a protester looks like plays a part in them being harrassed by police, and how much of it is what actions they take?

every (seasoned) protestor has probably asked themselves these questions at one point or another. what should i be wearing so that i will not be a target for police questioning and other forms of aggression? why was i targeted? what should i be wearing so i can get away as easily as possible from the cops if they charge me, tear gas me, use their batons, shoot at me?
what allows me to walk the streets free of harassment and fear?
what makes me a target?

the most ironic thing about this is that the cops actively use these assumptions and stereotypes about what protesters look like when they act as agent provocateurs and undercover cops.

watch and enjoy:

so moving on to UNDERCOVER COPS. undercover cops actively reinforce these assumptions about what a "protester" looks like. wears black, bandanas, che guevara patches. is a man. this video actively shows that these reductive and simplified pre-conceived notions about what a protester looks like. they use these tactics to discredit protesters. as this video clearly illustrates, protesters are keen to these tactics and often spot these undercover cops and insist they leave. it is also interesting to note that many community activists, protesters and allies do similar things; wearing camouflage clothing or t-shirts emblazoned with the words "security" are a common sight in politicized community and is an interesting way of subverting and appropriating police clothing.

photo of a person smashing a store window who is suspected of being an agent provocateur

even two days after the g20 protests, there are serious questions being raised and reports about the number of undercover cops, agents provocateurs, and other manipulation tactics (why, with the exaggerated police presence on the streets, were two cop cars left unsupervised for such a long period of time?) used over the course of the preparations for the G20 Summit in toronto.

the criminalization and (literal!) policing of our appearances was completely overwhelming this weekend. i know i got away with a lot more this weekend (and by "got away with" i mean "escaped further harassment and intimidation for having participated in peaceful demonstrations because i am a pretty, dress-wearing, young, able bodied woman who doesn't fit their profile of what an activist looks like, save perhaps my black boots") because of my appearance. i wonder if any of the people who are still in the detention centre right now are wondering if they would still be in that detention centre if they had been wearing something else. i wouldn't be surprised.

photos by karol/decipherimages.com

to continue conversations about interactions with police, i briefly want to address my experiences with police officers in riot gear this weekend. as i mentioned earlier, on saturday afternoon at around 5 pm, after hearing about the police cars set on fire, my friend morgan and i hopped on our bikes to go see what was happening for ourselves. as we approached queen's park, the scene was terrifying; not because of smashed windows (i saw absolutely none) or flaming cars (there were none) but because of the sheer number of police officers. and not just police officers. riot cops. faceless, terrifying, robotic riot cops. i have been to more protests and rallies than i can count and i have never seen riot cops.

they absolutely terrified me.

i talked my feelings out to morgan to avoid panic; "they want us to be scared. i'm not doing anything wrong. they are supposed to intimidate me. i'm not scared. they are so fucking scared of us if they put this many cops on the street.

they know we have a reason to be angry. they know we have a reason, AND THE RIGHT, to be out in the streets, OUR streets. they know we are out here because we live in a world filled with injustice and that they play an enormous role in upholding the violent systems of oppression we are out here trying to challenge in any way we can."

photo by karol/decipherimages.com

these costumes and disguises worn by police are used to manipulate anyone who disagrees with the status quo into feeling unsafe if we are out in the streets, and helps those on the "good" side of police (in this case the G20 leaders, government officials, and citizens who have been sucked into the fear machine) to feel protected. in riot gear, police officers are completely stripped of any semblance of humanity. you cannot speak to them. you cannot look at them. you cannot interact with them. you cannot ask questions. all you are supposed to do is be afraid of them. the number of times we were in this crowd and thought we might be tear gassed (for standing there, peacefully protesting, and chanting a few slogans) was absurd and terrifying. after seeing some familiar faces, having some conversations, and calming down a bit, morgan and i decided to leave because the presence of police was simply too overwhelming.

so when the mainstream media is constantly misinforming people about these "thugs in black clothing reeking havoc on the city of toronto," i can't help but think about how much violence i saw go on entirely at the hands of thugs dressed in black clothing... emblazoned with the words "POLICE."

clearly, there is so much to be said about these questions and i could go on forever, but i think i will conclude with this: it is ESSENTIAL not to lose sight of what triggered these questions in the first place: why were people out in the streets of toronto this weekend in the first place? what were the images the mainstream media showed us of what a protester looks like and wears? how do police use our physical appearances in an attempt to repress our voices and to manipulate fear in the public eye? and more generally, what does our clothing say about our beliefs? what clothing marks us as politicized, subversive, as challenging authority?

i felt safe and proud in the crowd of people on bicycles, reclaiming our streets. i felt inspired when hearing speeches by community leaders. i felt empowered reading the wonderful materials the alternative media has been putting out around. i felt safest in the crowds surrounded by people who the mainstream media is presenting as "violent thugs" and "rioters." there is something powerful about looking around in a crowd and seeing thousands of people who were all told to be afraid, to not be out in the streets, but were still there. 25,000 strong. we were still there and we are still here and we will keep fighting as long as we have to.

photos by ben powless

for more political updates and links, please see the past few posts i've been sharing on tumblr. i suggest reading why people are out in the streets (and why you should be too) as well as my link sharing alternative media coverage of the g20 resistance.

*i say "white" because i still have many questions about my racial identity as a french canadian/acadian/abénaki person. i am often read as white, but i know the longer my hair is and the darker my skin is in the summer months i am often mistaken for latino, native or mixed.

Lawyers trade suits for hiking boots during G20 by Drew Halfnight
G20 fashions for the militant and fabulous by Katie Daubs
Toronto Star offers G20 fashion guide, demonstrates its discomfort with irony The Informer
Toronto G20 Fashions by torontostreetfashion.com
G20 fashions in Toronto, wrap-up of summit by Newsbird's Views
Power Dressing at the G20 - the Globe & Mail

Knowledge is Power Comic - Peterborough Community Mobilization Network
Toronto Community Mobilization Network
- G20 Police Given Extra Powers
G20 Alt Media Centre
Toronto Media Coop
Movement Defence Committee
- What big media ignored: 25,000 peacefully demonstrate against G20 policies in Toronto
May Toronto's G20 be the last - The Guardian
Photos of the G20 protests by Holly Norris
Videos of the G20 protests and police brutality at yg20.info
Policing the National Body: sex, race and criminalization edited by Jael Silliman and Anannya Bhattacharjee

search "undercover cops g20 toronto" on youtube or vimeo
The Toronto G20 Riot Fraud: Undercover Police engaged in Purposeful Provocation
G20 Toronto Protest plainclothes cops arresting a dude / scary cop lady
G20 Toronto Black Bloc FAIL: (are they cops, paid by cops, aka provocateurs)
G20 Police used imaginary law to jail harrass demonstrators and jailed protestors in dangerous and abusive "detention centre" - Boing Boing.net
Why didn't the police stop the Black Bloc?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

inspiration: body, identity, disguise and performance

unity ball, montreal, 1996 by pierre dalpé

gender, drag and identity as performance/costume have been weighing heavily on my mind lately. i mentioned in a few earlier posts how the longer my hair gets the more uncomfortable i am with how my gender performance is read. sometimes i really love the subversion of high-femme dress juxtaposed with no makeup, hair fussing, or shaving, but sometimes i think i'd like to be a bit more "in your face" with genderfucking. shave my head. wear more menswear. it might have something to do with my loves, in real life, in film, photography, and of course in fashion.

just this past week i watched an old favourite, hedwig and the angry inch, with a friend, and nearly rounded off my consumption of everything almodovar when i finally got around to seeing la mala educacion. i think i prefer almodovar's films focused on women, but i really enjoyed the film overall.

gael garcia bernal in la mala educacion (almodovar, 2004)

on top of those films, i was recently introduced to montreal-based photographer Pierre Dalpé's work. this past year he has been working in mexico, taking portraits of actors, friends, children, and parades. but for our purposes, let us focus in on his prior work: projects like Personae, Backstage, and Clothes-Minded.
My work deals with the interconnected relationships between the body, identity, disguise, and performance.
his beautiful black and white series really strike me with their beauty and the personalities of his subjects contained within the frame. aside from the fact that they raise questions about gender, performativity, drag, and trans identities, they are simply amazingly beautiful.

here are a few more images from his website, as well as some quotes about gender.

from clothes-minded:

peter, 1990

alex, 1990

there is a real respect and appreciation for his subjects that i think really comes across strongly in these pieces. one wonders, does dalpé also do drag himself? who are peter, alex, manny, julie and colleen? are these his friends, lovers, brothers in arms? are these portraits necessarily deep deconstructions of what "gender" is, or are they just a simple homage to the beauty of these people and how they choose to present themselves? so many potential questions, all triggered by beautiful photographs.

from personae:

saul, sarah and joanne, 1998

jeffrey and ultra, 1998

the forrest twins, 2008

his series personae, on the other hand, clearly makes references to diane arbus and plays more with performance and costuming than his other portraits. the theatrical staged aspect of these portraits really make you wonder about how much our every day gender presentation is... well, staged. interesting food for thought.

There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original. - Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" in Inside/Out (1991) edited by Diana Fuss

Masculinity and femininity are like two dialects of the same language. Though we all understand both, most of us "speak" only one. - Esther Newton

Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act… a “doing” rather than a “being.” - Judith Butler

to end things off, recently i have been poring over the pages of gender relations in global perspective, edited by nancy cook. one of my favourite readings so far has been leslie feinberg's "the giveaway," which focuses on how trans people have been treated by various native communities across north america, and the impact of colonization on those people (who are referred to as Two-Spirited). it is a really powerful text, i highly recommend reading it.

i think it is incredibly important for us to understand who benefits from imposing a rigid gender binary on bodies of all various presentations, especially in lieu of the news of recent medical interventions on young girls with "clitoris deemed too big" by doctors. once again we have to ask ourselves questions about why we are so obsessed with the idea that there are only two sexes, and in order to be socially accepted, we must fit into the very narrow definition of what is an acceptable woman or man.

but! that is another rant for another day, only slightly related to these wonderful images, films, and people. in the meantime, here are some of my favourite parts from leslie feinberg's piece, the giveaway. seeing as today is national aboriginal day, it's quite appropriate to talk about how much colonization sucks and how native people kick ass. reading the whole text really makes a powerful point about resistance and resilience.

The language used by the colonizers [steeped in hatred] to describe the acceptance of sex/gender diversity, and of same-sex love most accurately described the viewer, not the viewed. And these sensational reports about Two-Spirit people were used to further "justify" genocide, the theft of Native land and resources, and destruction of their cultures and religions.

What stunned me (about discovering the Two-Spirit tradition) was that such ancient and diverse cultues allowed people to choose more sex/gender paths, and this diversity of human expression was honored as sacred. I had to chart the complex geography of sex and gender with a compass needle that only pointed to north or south.

.... What was responsible for the imposition of the present-day rigid sex/gender system in North America? It is not correct to simply blame patriarchy, Chrystos stressed to me. "The real word is 'colonization' and what it has done to the world. Patriarchy is a tool of colonization and exploitation of people and their lands."

and of course, i wouldn't let you run away without more potential brain candy!

recommended readings:
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
Gender Through the Prism of Difference, edited by Maxine Baca Zinn, Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael A. Messner
Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the Body (Thinking Gender) by Jana Sawacki
Gender Relations in Global Perspective, edited by Nancy Cook

Genderbent #2, by Cherry Poppins (available for download at the link, thanks to the Queer Zine Archive Project)
Gender Trouble available in zine form (downloadable pdf)

gender and sexuality resource list

Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
...And the rest is drag (King Crip Productions, 2009)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

as always, i highly encourage people to support your local independent book dealers! and check with your library; if the books you are looking for aren't available, ask them to order them for you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

links: fashion maketh woman, burlesque, and queerness

my writing was really on quite a roll last week, but of course, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. sadly, when most of my little projects were almost ready to share, post here and on other blogs, i was struck down with a particularly nasty head cold. trying to write/edit when my head it such a congested mess is out of the question... so to tide my wonderful readers over until i can show you some of my own writing and ideas, here are some links worth checking out!

first off, a very interesting event entitled "Fashion Maketh Woman" is happening tomorrow as part of the Intelligence Squared Spring 2010 debate series. for any of my readers on the other side of the pond (aka Westminster), i highly recommend trying to make it out! for the rest of us, there's always the internet!
Featuring an acclaimed panel including Stephen Bayley, Susie Orbach, Grayson Perry and Grazia's Style Director Paula Reed amongst others, the speakers will debate the motion: “Fashion Maketh Woman.”

"Woman is born free, but everywhere is fashion’s slave. Her choices are an illusion: the fashion companies and magazines dictate her purchases to her. She feels compelled to own the latest must-have handbag, believes the key to happiness is the new bondage boot; they’ve told her she’s worth it and without her fashion fix she feels worthless. This, at least, is the story told by those who scoff at fashion. But isn’t that just sour drapes? Isn’t it rather the case that the world of fashion defines the spirit and mood of the age? That the brilliant designers in the fashion houses bring vim and vigour to an otherwise pedestrian world? And that those who somehow think they¹re above it all just end up looking drab and dull?

The debate is being held on Thursday, 17th June from 18:45 - 20:30 at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, and doors to the event open at 18:00. To find out more, please go to http://events.intelligencesquared.com/current-events.php?event=EVT0213 where tickets are available for £25.00. Half price student tickets are available...

We are streaming it live and on-demand at http://www.intelligencesquared.com/live...

i will be watching the live stream of the event, and i'm really excited! it's free, so if you can't make it to the event, i highly recommend checking it out. i posted about this on monday on my tumblr and a lot of people expressed interest in it, as well. i'm very interested in seeing how class dynamics are addressed. i also adore grayson perry (well, what i know about him, and his deconstruction of conventional ideas of masculinity and transvestism) and i feel like a lot of very interesting and important questions about women's relationship to fashion could begin to be unpacked here. we'll see!

secondly, the debate about cultural appropriation, specifically in relation to native stereotypes, rages on. thankfully, this debate is spreading like wildfire across the internet, and discussions are starting to arise about what actions need to be taken.
  • my culture is not a trend is really on fire, and a great resource for anyone interested in the topic. i really have to resist the urge to reblog every single one of their posts on tumblr! so good, so honest.
  • published in january of 2009 (so way before this firestorm of online discussion really took off, which i would say was the spring of this year), see light outlines how to define and identity cultural appropriation. it's been making the rounds on tumblr and i thought some of you might be interested in checking it out.
  • the comments on threadbared in response to the above pixie market advertisment are also amazing, as we have come to expect, appreciate and adore. all of these spaces we've carved out in the internet give me hope that we can bridge the gap between discussing the theoretical problems around cultural appropriation and the actions we can take to voice our opposition and encourage critical thinking around issues of "post"-colonialism in the fashion industry.
moving on!

along the same questions of "appropriation," we have this really well written and thought-provoking piece about the politics of the term genderqueer: questioning transphobia: appropriation of genderqueer identities. it is a very informative piece, definitely worth a read.

to end off our link sharing, here are two that the wonderful iris shared with me this week + an email tip-off:
last but not least, today is my little sister jasmine's birthday. so i thought i would take this opportunity to share the amazingness that is my relationship with my sisters with the internet, with the help of a few absurd photos:

jasmine being a supermodel for my etsy store

and of course, the trio:

justyne (the eldest), yours truly (middle child syndrome right here) and jasmine (the baby)
photo by simon dumas

christmas 2008 (yes those dresses were a joke)

now, to go rest my throbbing, aching head. hopefully this post was coherent!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love Letters and Cultural Appropriation: Gala Darling

i'm very excited to present my first guest contributor, and long-time super awesome friend, iris . she's currently completing her masters in philosophy. her research focusses on connecting disability theory to feminist philosophical frameworks. in her free time, she volunteers at Out on the Shelf, OOTS, a queer bookstore in Guelph, Ontario, drinks lots of tea, and longs for folks to have dance parties with.
Fashion blogger extraordinaire Gala Darling knows a thing about creating a signature style: in some parts of the Internet, her cotton-candy hairstyle, positivity-inducing attitude, and recovering-Goth-meets-Sex-and-the-City outfit posts make her an icon. And Darling makes her money precisely because she is so fabulous: readers of her blog shell out extra cash for installments of her e-book, which promises to teach her acolytes the secrets to attaining her magical, glitter-infused lifestyle for themselves.
Gala Darling is so into personal branding that she has a signature signature: she signs off her posts, “Love Letters and Feather Headdresses, Gala xx”.

Yep, feather headdresses. Gala has been a fan of this hipster-hyped accessory for the latest year or so. Every post, she wishes her reader “feather headdresses” as her parting words. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but after months of this, when it finally sunk in that, indeed, she was doing it on purpose, and she wasn’t going to realize that this was Classic Cultural Appropriation Fail, I left a comment on her blog asking what was up with the phrase.

Gala’s response was even more cringe-inducing:
So many things I love are from cultures foreign to my own (hip hop, Indian music, Buddhist concepts, etc.), should I ignore those things because I’m a white girl from New Zealand? My life would be much less fabulous if I did! I absolutely believe that culture is something to be shared, delighted in, learned about & cherished…
Rather than engage with the many reasons that Indigenous peoples might not want to have affluent white women wearing their traditional regalia, Darling speaks to the reasons that her own, very privileged lifestyle would lose some of its lustre if she felt she needed to limit her style choices to things that come solely from her own culture.

In doing so, she basically justifies her use of the headdress as part of her own personal branding by saying that it benefits her to do so. And since Darling bases her income on selling the desirability of her own fabulous lifestyle, and in influencing other young women to find that lifestyle desirable, she is literally appropriating Indigenous culture to benefit her own bottom line.

Last week, in a post promoting the latest instalment of her book, Darling describes the transmission of the electronic copies as “whizzing around our heads right now, landing with a splash in the inboxes of international playgirls, glamorous savages & doll-faced geniuses all over the world!” (emphasis mine).

We know that Darling thinks that (at least some) “savages” are glamorous, as we can see from the style inspiration on her blog. But now, she has portrayed herself as selling her own fashion-forward, magical lifestyle back to the folks she stole it from in the first place. I left an admittedly-frustrated comment on her post calling her out on her language, and so did a few other folks I know, but they have all been deleted.

Back on that original post in February, I responded that the problem with cultural appropriation, as I saw it, is that Indigenous folks face discrimination and in some cases have a history of being legally barred from wearing things like headdresses. The hipster headdress is perceived by others as being “fierce” or “exotic” or “creative” or “bohemian” at the same time that Indigenous people who might want to dress similarly would be perceived negatively for doing so. I said that when you are a person who has not invested any time in understanding the widespread racism that Indigenous people and communities face, or the continuing effects of colonialism on those communities, it is especially insensitive and can be straight-up racist to align yourself with those communities by taking something you think is fashionable and using it to make yourself look cool. I asked Gala to think about how “you are taking from that culture and giving nothing back, not even your constructive support.”

But this most recent comment about “savages” shows that, obviously, she hasn’t thought about it. And the fact that Darling is deleting comments that call her out means that she isn’t willing to publicly discuss it, either.

And that’s bullshit. It is time for Darling to have to publicly discuss her Cultural Appropriation beyond a pithy comment about her fabulous lifestyle. And it is time for her to be asked to answer to similar criticisms being made by other bloggers. Why does her blog depict mainly white women? Why, when she talks so much about self-love and body acceptance, does she post photos of thin women almost exclusively?

I love a good fashion blog. I love talking about outfits. But we have no business allowing the representatives of the fashion blog community to be oppressive. Gala Darling needs to be called out. And we need to step up and do it.

There are lots of resources out there already that talk about cultural appropriation and the hipster headdress. Namely, this post at the Cultural Appropriations blog called “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

There are lotsa reasons why, of course, including this one:
By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you're standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came to the US could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you. Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US by donning your headdress, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today.

Two years ago now, Jessica Yee wrote a post about Juliette Lewis’s hipster-headdress appropriation:
But it’s not like this all isn’t a usual occurrence. We in the Native community have to witness this with every kid who dresses up like Pocahontas on Halloween, or every time we turn on the TV to watch the Redskins, Braves, or Indians play. In fact it’s been going on for so damn long that we’re kinda the only race who it’s still happening to on this extreme, public level, to the point where the fight has basically died down. Or has it?
What I find most interesting though about all this imagery, and in particular Lewis’s choice of dress with her band, is actually coming from my raging feminist point of view. In an attempt to appear strong, raw, and unapologetic, people, and in this case, a woman, feels like she has to appropriate Native culture to a pretty extreme extent in order to do a good job of it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

fuck fashion: taking action against oppression

this past week, two t-shirts were brought to my attention. the first was this lovely "eat less" number, pictured above, was available for purchase in urban outfitters stores and online. the second was brought to my attention by my friend karina with the subject like wtf??. (un)surprisingly, it is also sold by urban outfitters, and featured an uncle sam type figure holding an unconcious (or dead?) half-naked woman draped in an american flag and demanding that fathers protect their daughter's virginity. unbelievable? believe it:

so here we have two offensive garments, both making comments and in some sense claiming ownership over women's bodies and sexualities (which are so intrisically connected - think about which women are permitted which kinds of sexualities - which bodies do we sexualize, etc): the "women's" t-shirt, clearly tied up in body politics and explicitly pro-ana, and the "men's" t-shirt proclaiming that it is a father's responsibility to "preserve" their daughter's virginity. on top of that, in the second t-shirt, the image of uncle sam as the father is rendered even more offensive and frightening, as though he represents the big bad government lording over young women's sexualities.

the "eat less" one conjurs up debates about who has the right to tell who to eat what and how much. there are so many other aspects of our society that judge us for our eating habits and/or size, why do we need a t-shirt to bark commands at us? aside from enraging me about the fact that this is specifically targetted towards young women, this t-shirt raises some of my serious complaints and concerns about how eating disorders and general harmful "body snark" (as i like to call it) constantly finds its way into (retail and high) fashion, as much as i try to pretend otherwise... as much as we are seeing an increase in "body acceptance" discussions in mainstream magazines and ad campaigns (think the dove "real beauty" campaign), at the end of the day the fashion industry still constantly tries to sell us insecurity and body hate. but that might be something to take up at another juncture.

these products raise some serious questions, mainly... why. why do these t-shirts exist? why are these t-shirts for sale, and who would buy them? are they simply jokes in bad taste that many don't think they should have to stomach? a lapse in judgement on the part of the designer, the company, and its staff? a simple oversight? we can debate the reasons why this specific company thought that selling these items was not only acceptable, but a wise business decision, but that is not why i am calling them to your attention. i am interested in what steps we take, as critical fashion lovers, when we see offensive items like the aforementioned. what questions do we ask, and what actions should we be taking?

in the case of these t-shirts, people took action. understandably, many people were pretty pissed off about these two t-shirts, and not soon after they were noticed, some young women decided to organize a "girlcott" of urban outfitters until the t-shirts was removed from stores. from their facebook page:
Let Urban Outfitters know you won't be buying from them until they pull the sexist clothing items from their store and issue a statement committed to creating and selling anti-sexist items:

Tweet this: TO @UrbanOutfitters - sexism may sell, but we're not buying. Throw out the sexist shirts, make clothes for all! http://ht.ly/1Tz02 #girlcott

Call 1.800.282.2200 and issue a customer service complaint. Tell the representative that you will not buy their clothing until they pull sexist items from the store and site and issue a statement committed to anti-sexist items in the future.
as of June 6th, urban outfitters claims the t-shirt has been pulled. well, not quite. you can't buy it online anymore, but if you go to their stores you can still have your dose of fucked up body image, since it is in such short supply elsewhere. sidenote: for those claiming not to understand why a t-shirt that says "eat less" could be construed as offensive or pro-ana, i suggest reading the comments on the posts linked at the end. i think it's quite clear why it's offensive. what i am really interested in understanding are the specific dynamics at work here in the capitalist/consumerist fashion industry.

in this specific case, let us look at the t-shirt that demands girls "eat less." eating is talked about in these spheres as directly related to body size. the implicit message is that the person reading (and/or wearing?) should eat less, most likely because this t-shirt (without eyes or any sort of vision) has deemed the person reading the statement as being too large or as consuming too much food. how does this make any sense? it doesn't, really. but, a t-shirt like this one feeds into all kinds of other industries, namely the diet industry, which is closely connected to the beauty industry. so we have these three (capitalist) systems, fashion, beauty, and diet, working together to give young women around the world complexes about their bodies and the way they choose to adorn and modify them. ever since i have been interested in fashion, i have been concerned about the links between these systems, and i don't think they are more clearly explicit than in situations like these t-shirts.

but my main concern here is that getting rid of this t-shirt doesn't necessarily change the fact that these systems work together to oppress, humiliate, and objectify women in every level of production. taking the "eat less" t-shirts off store shelves is, yes, a victory of sorts, but it only makes me wonder more about the way the company that thought selling this was a good idea operates. who is behind the scenes? who is profitting? and most of all, is this t-shirt the only place in the levels of urban outfitters where women are subjected to body hate and discrimination?

frankly, i wasn't surprised to see that these t-shirts were being sold by urban outfitters, given their track record (it ain't a whole lot better than american apparel). in my opinion, jezebel commentor everyonesfree couldn't have put it better:
I don't expect Urban Outfitters to be a responsible company, given the racist and discriminatory products I've seen in the past, as well as it's documented stealing of trademarked ideas from indie crafters and designers, but this is truly a sorry excuse for 'fashion'. It is not edgy, it is not harmless, and I would hope that my email and the hopefully thousands more that you get will make the company see how offensive this shirt is.
and this is where i think the problem is. the thing is, me not spending money at urban outfitters isn't really a change of habit for me. my girlcotting of this store won't change a thing about my issues with the way they run their business or what they sell, and my complaints with many other retail giants like them. my questions are more about the effectiveness of calling attention to specific examples of sexism like the aforementioned ones.

are these the things we, as young feminists, choose to be outraged about?
one specific t-shirt, or the problematic ideologies that the t-shirt represents?
are they part of larger struggles?
where does that struggle begin, and how will it end?

so let's say the offensive t-shirt in question is pulled from stores. does that mean the store is now less sexist and fatphobic? what about when the same store refuses to hire a woman, because they don't sell clothing in her size? or because she doesn't fit the "image" that urban outfitters wants to project to its customers? what sizes does that store cater to, and are there problems with that?

what about who makes the clothing in question: are we as outraged when we read the label of the clothing and have no way of knowing what the work conditions were like, and if we did know, would our consumption habits change in any way? how many women were oppressed or exploited in physical and emotional ways, in labour, production, presentation, all of the work that went into selling this t-shirt?

this is not meant to victimize the workers in question, but rather to address some concerns. i am simply asking questions about how and when we express our outrage, and what about. why is it pretty clearly universally offensive to point out a t-shirt that reads "eat this," and unsurprising to have it garner so much attention, while other situations that are explicitly oppressive and, pardon my french, fucked up, seem to receive little to no attention? in the same week, for example, i only heard one brief radio segment about the young men and women committing suicide while working in a factory making computers. were the working conditions in the factories that makes t-shirts for companies like urban outfitters any better, or worse?

photo from marxist-feminism

in honesty, yeah, i do think there are other things to be outraged about, especially this week. i can't seem to escape it. first, the foxconn suicides (as a former factory worker i feel a certain amount of solidarity and sadness) and of course with the oil spill in the gulf destroying ecosystems, killing animals, and ending people's livelihoods... not to mention the israeli attacks of the free gaza flotilla in international waters.

but! if we are going to express our outrage as consumers in the fashion industry, my question remains: what steps should we take, as critical fashion lovers, when we see oppressive systems at work?. what questions do we ask, and what actions should we be taking?

it is great to see people being mobilized and it would be great if these t-shirts were no longer being sold. however, i am wondering what happens when we look at the reasons why this t-shirt existed and was being sold in the first place, and what we can do to actively challenge those reasons and hopefully change them.

i think we, as critical fashion lovers, need to think about and share more productive ways we can challenge oppressive systems when we see them at work, wherever we see them happening. if you have any suggestions, now is the time to share them.


feministing: really, urban outfitters? (the comments are worth reading)
the tummy project: keep tummy shaking on
jezebel: urban outfitters pushes pro-ana movement
the frisky article: urban outfitters wants dads to protect sacred virginity
tips for an effective boycott
facebook girlcott group
if it was my home: visualizing the bp oil spill

Thursday, June 3, 2010

end of may getaway: what i wore


to take a break from the city and the seemingly endless job hunt, i decided to head to la pocatière to visit a good friend of mine, and boy am i glad i did.

this was the house i stayed at. my friend ashlee told me it is the oldest house in the town. all of the other houses that were built around the time the city was founded in the 1670s were destroyed when the english attacked in 1759. this house survived, and dates from around that time. ashlee lives there with four lovely people, a one month old baby, a cat and her four kittens, and a ferret. we listened to lots of 90s nostalgia inducing music while cooking, and watched episodes of malcom in the middle while we weren't enjoying the beautiful weather.

on the last day of my visit, the morning seemed calm and beautiful, another sunny day ahead. but a storm arrived in a flash, the temperature dropped, and then all was wonderful and beautiful again. none of my attempts at capturing the beauty of the storm succeeded, so here are a dozen photos of me enjoying the sun in my new favourite dress.


i think it's supposed to be a slip; i bought it at my favourite thrift store in ste. foy, where they sell things for pennies. literally. this dress was 99 cents.


i know.

and the flowers in the backyard matched the colour perfectly! don't take my word for it, here's proof:




this was right before the storm struck

during the storm, i took a few in the greenhouse space of the house. the lighting was really eerie and beautiful, and i found wonderful old wallpaper (my favourite).

trip,road trip,wilderness,farm,summer,fun,friends

trip,road trip,wilderness,farm,summer,fun,friends

trip,road trip,wilderness,farm,summer,fun,friends



and of course, after the storm, we enjoyed a magnificent sunset.


trip,road trip,wilderness,farm,summer,fun,friends




do yourself a favour and watch the sunset tonight.
find a rooftop, a window, a front yard, a park bench.
it'll do you some good, i promise.