Saturday, 9 February 2019

People Codes

I'm old enough to remember that my first grade school had a dress code.  Girls wore a white shirt and blue overtunic or skirt with white tights.  Boys wore white shirts and blue pants.  Many schools now, both public and private, still have dress codes.

What is happening today in many places is what I call People Code.

Various governments in Quebec over the years have tried to mould the citizens into people who fit their ideal, with nigh disastrous results.  In 1977 the Charter of the French Language was introduced by the governing Parti Quebecois.  French was declared to be the official language of Quebec and commercial signs had to be in French.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of non-French-speaking people and businesses packed up and left, and Montreal's economy suffered.  The repercussions are still being felt today.

Just when a peaceful medium was thought to have been reached, in 2013 the once-again elected PQ government went a step further by proposing a Charter of Values.  This was an attempt to "affirm the values of State secularism" by, among other things, limiting the conspicuous display of religious symbols by state personnel: police officers, teachers, etc.  Curiously, elected politicians would be exempt, as well as the large crucifix on display in the National Assembly (it was deemed to be a "symbol of cultural heritage").

The backlash was immediate.  Regardless of the language used, this charter was a clear attack on people whose religious beliefs required them to wear certain articles of clothing - such as the hijab.  The leaders of most federal political parties condemned it, and there were protests in the streets of Montreal.  Incidents of harassment against women wearing the hijab increased.  The fallout cost the PQ dearly and they were soundly defeated in the next election.

Now we're seeing a similar attempt by the governing party Coalition Avenir Quebec (loosely translated as Coalition for the Future of Quebec).  Their election promises included a decrease in immigration levels, implementation of a values and French-language test for new immigrants, and a "secularism charter" that would ban state employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols while at work.  Despite the threat of a constitutional challenge, the premier has vowed to use what is known as the Notwithstanding Clause in the Charter of Rights to get it done.

Does this sound familiar?

The United States is headed in a similar direction, with travel bans on people from certain Islamic countries and the frenzy over building a wall to keep the Hispanics out.  Several European countries have erected barriers at their borders to deter migrants from Asia.  Editorial writers are likening such moves to the rejection of Jewish immigrants in the 1930s.

A Muslim friend of mine is one of the kindest and most soft-spoken people I know.  She told me a while back that she had been subjected to harassment at her job because she wore a hijab.  As a result she had to make a difficult personal decision to not wear it in public in order to avoid more persecution.  What kind of message was that sending to her young sons, she wondered, that people had to deny a fundamental part of themselves in order to keep the peace?

This is not democracy.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

It's Only Skin

Let's talk about body perception.

I just watched a documentary called Nurture - Cosmetic Kids, in which four young people got cosmetic surgery in order to change their appearance.  An 11 year old was being bullied because of her protruding ears, so she wanted her ears pinned.  An 18-year-old longed for a breast enlargement, while another wanted a breast reduction.  A fourth girl underwent liposuction to remove 20 pounds of fat.  Of these, only the breast reduction was truly necessary, in my opinion, because the girl's breasts were so large that they were starting to cause her back problems.

Girls as young as six are wishing they were slimmer.  A lot has to do with what they see in the media.  Disney princesses are drawn in unrealistic proportions.  Many poseable dolls such as those from Monster High and Ever After High are practically alien.  And don't forget anime.

They hear it from their families too.  For example, there was a period during my teenage years where my mother practically starved herself to stay slim because she didn't want my father to be "distracted by some chicky-baby".  I had my own body issues, even though I knew that my thick abdomen and thighs were most likely a genetic inheritance and there was little I could do about it no matter how much I went out on my bike or how many sit-ups I did.

I was a healthy 125 pounds when I was 25.  However a sedentary job and other demands on my time prevented me from keeping myself that way and I found myself at 130 not long after I married my first husband.  He, none too healthy himself, took his insecurities out on me by assigning me the derogatory name "Big Butt".  I strenuously objected and shot back sarcastically, "How would you like me to call you 'Fatso'?"  He didn't seem to care.

So I modified my diet and took up jogging.  In four months I dropped 14 pounds and was becoming dangerously underweight.  But instead of complimenting my figure, he began to call me "Skinny Minnie".  It seemed impossible to impress him.  Yet at the same time, he sat all day in front of his computer and never touched his bicycle which sat rusting on the balcony.

I'm certain I'm among many women who have been through this sort of thing.  And the pressure to be thin is showing no signs of stopping any time soon.  What does it take for a person to be comfortable in their own skin and not have to worry about bullying or peer pressure?

Cosmetic surgery, apparently.

One of the girls in the aforementioned documentary said that she had tried diet and exercise, and nothing seemed to work to her satisfaction; only liposuction would give her the figure she wanted.  This as she was sitting at a table with her family, eating pizza.  Hypocrisy.

I do my best to not mention my hangups in front of our daughter. But at 12, she is already complaining that she feels too fat.  How, as a parent, can one deal with that?

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Communication

I know that I haven't written anything on the blog for a long time.  A busy life coupled with a computer failure hasn't helped my inspiration at all.  However I now have a new computer, and a new year will hopefully be the jump-start that I need.

Each time I visit my parents' house I try to watch one of the many movies that they collected over the years.  On my most recent visit I watched The Graduate, a 1967 film featuring a young Dustin Hoffman and several tunes by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

I had trouble sympathizing with the main character at first.  Ben is a young man who has returned home after graduating from university (with an unspecified degree).  Despite having won a prestigious award, leading several school clubs, and being on the track team, he has no plan for the future.  Plus he is unable to muster the courage to stand up to his boisterous family or to resist seduction by Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's business partner.  Most of the time he speaks in monosyllables.  In modern terms he might be called a wimp.

However when he reconnects with his high school sweetheart Elaine (who happens to be Mrs. Robinson's daughter) he discovers that she's the one person whom he can truly open up to.  Smitten with Elaine, he ends the affair with Mrs. Robinson.  Furious, Mrs. Robinson does everything she can imagine to keep Ben and Elaine apart, including lying to her own family and arranging a shotgun wedding for Elaine and another young man.  Luckily, Ben tracks them down and arrives at the church just in time to interrupt the wedding and escape with Elaine.

A theme throughout the film, punctuated by the song "The Sound of Silence", appears to be communication, or the lack thereof.  Ben can't express his fears or his difficulties to his family, and perhaps not even to himself at first.  His parents can't or won't acknowledge Ben's feelings either; instead they continue to laud him for his accomplishments, unaware of how distressed he is.

Mrs. Robinson takes advantage of Ben's awkwardness to effectively bully him into being her lover, and most of their meetings take place in silence.  When he does try to hold a conversation with her, she shuts him out.  She can't properly communicate with her own husband either; she reveals to Ben at one point that she never really loved her husband: they only were married because she had become pregnant.  Even Elaine, who seems to be able to express herself most easily, confuses Ben with "might" and "maybe" when he asks her to marry him.

Then at the end, when Ben and Elaine are sitting in the back of a bus together, neither speaks.  From their facial expressions it's clear that they are happy to have each other, but they're both uncertain as to what the future holds and they can't voice it.

Any relationship requires communication.  Humans haven't the ability to read minds, so we're constrained by our words and actions to form the necessary connection with a person or a group of people.  Also, we have to be careful with both as they can hurt just as easily as they can help.  All the characters in the movie have this problem to some degree.

The protagonist of the song "The Sound of Silence" describes seeing a crowd of people who were "talking without speaking", "hearing without listening", and who wouldn't stop to acknowledge the wisdom right in front of them.  More and more we are seeing this sort of thing in families, communities, and politics.  So many voices are yelling to be heard that nobody can hear (or perhaps are unwilling to hear) the ones who need to be heard most.  Words are misheard, misinterpreted, or lost, and consequences are inevitable.