Category: Culture

How to Set Up a Shared Pantry in Your Apartment Building

I live well below the poverty line, so I live in a cheap, slummy apartment building where everybody else is poor, too. For the most part, I like this setup. I grew up in poverty, and I’m not comfortable around moneyed people. (It’s a topic for another day but people with money are really weird about, well, money. You can’t even talk about it around them.) But being poor definitely has its drawbacks. My neighbours and I are always running out of food and meds.

37789525_2096288720405281_8613985824742047744_o.jpgOne of the many things I like about poor people’s cultures, though, is that we tend to be really good at sharing resources. It makes sense: when you’re short on money, you need to have strong relationships to get by. Of course I’m going to give you what you need if I have it–I’m definitely going to need something you have in the very near future. Besides, when we’re all in the same boat, none of us is likely to believe that the reason I can eat today, and you can’t, is that I deserve it more than you, but next week when you can eat, and I can’t, it’s because you worked harder than me. Most of us are well aware that we’re going to stay poor, no matter how hard we work.

The benefits of setting up a shared pantry are that it makes sure nobody goes without at least one of their basic needs, it builds community in the place where you live, and it politicizes your poverty. There is strength in numbers, and this strength can help you if you have to fight your slumlord, or advocate for community resources to your city council, or need a dog-sitter while you’re in the hospital. It also relieves some of the shame that poor people are socialized to feel about the poverty that’s been imposed on us by capitalism.  Continue reading

Creeping Managerial Culture in Academe Spells Trouble for Critical Researchers

I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.

The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.

I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.


I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.

But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.

Bad Ideas and Worse Realities: A Primer on Sex Work Stereotypes and Stigma

The purpose of this post is to begin to articulate the conceptual and material differences between a stereotype and a stigma, as each relates to sex work. My hope is that it will be useful to students in the “Sex Work and Sex Workers” class that I TA (which is why it reads as a primer on these concepts—because it is), as well as to sex work activists who are looking for rhetorical and theoretical tools to better explain how social beliefs and attitudes about sex work affect their lives. Continue reading

Steve Paikin’s Got 99 Problems…

…But he just can’t figure out why a bitch ain’t one.

Spoiler alert: It’s not women’s DNA, it’s systemic gender inequality.

Back when I was still married, my spouse and I used to watch TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin together. Having a bit more patience for talking heads than I, she also rage-watched The Michael Coren Show and Fox News. But I’m not really into pundits—I was just in it for a short pseudo-Left debate every now and then and maybe something to think about as the night wore on.

But after a year or so of watching, I started to think to myself damn, that’s a lot of dudes. And once I noticed, I couldn’t un-notice, and as the show went on, dude after dude after dude, I gave up on it.

Earlier tonight, Paikin himself decided to address the dudely problem with The Agenda. That, in itself, is a fine enough thing to do, but he went about it… well, to put it mildly, he went about it all wrong:

No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.” The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show.  Women use that excuse on us all the time.

No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.” I’m serious. We get that as an excuse for not coming on. But only from women.

No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.” They’ll get up to speed on the issue and come on. Women beg off. And worse, they often recommend a male colleague in their place.

Continue reading

Trucks and Mud

(This post details a souped-up truck competition from a couple of years ago at the “Maynooth Days” fair, which takes place annually over the Labour Day long weekend in Maynooth, ON.)

The mud bog was great: women and men raced their dune buggies and monster trucks through a lot of mud. And Mum ran through, too! (Yes, blind, with her glasses off, flailing her arms in the air and squealing the whole way. The other entrants were all 20-something men, and they beat her by a good minute, but a nice older fellow ran beside her, so they tied for last. I cheered from dry land.)



The mud bog is serious business, and folks are out to win and to entertain. One of the more interesting entrants was this truck: flying a “Redneck” Confederate battle flag, and painted with the Tonka logo. It was indeed fast, the fellow driving it looked like he was having a good time, and it was a favourite with the crowd, most of whom definitely qualified as rednecks. But it left me wondering about the strange mashup of cultural icons from the American south (and the flag’s resurgence as statement of racism thinly veiled as conservatism), television, and childhood that make up this slice of self-representation in the Canadian north.



Problematic imagery aside, the weekend wasn’t without its traces of labour celebration. The logging and agricultural events were obviously tied to the participants’ jobs, but the mud bog, too, is a celebration of working life in the north. If you want to get through the bush to get to the logging camp, you need a vehicle that will get you through the muck. It was neat to see some extreme adaptations of technology to the climate and terrain. If your adaptation fails, you get stuck…



And have to be pulled out by the giant skidder, a much larger version of the tractor for pulling logs that the loggers had raced the day before. From what was swinging and flopping around under this truck as they pulled it out, it looked like it had either hit a rock or just gotten so swamped in muck that the drive shaft snapped.

Adapt right, and you get freaky technological beasts, like “The Sasquatch”: a 4 wheel drive tractor, once, now with an engine pulled from an old truck, and the body of a 30s Ford coupe thrown on top.  Another, less troubling, mashup from the “Redneck” team.



So that, I suppose, is what you do when you’re way up north and there’s no labour march for labour day. That, and look at the 1st place winning load of logs in the parade, of course.



Best logs ever.


This is a reproduction of a post from September 5th 2011 on my blog at

Why Does Representative Poetry Online Bring Up Children in Response to DH Lawrence’s “Snake”?

The lie that postmodernism believes it has uncovered is that there was never anything to lose in the first place. (Armstrong 31)

I’ve been meaning to write about DH Lawrence’s “Snake” for awhile because I really liked the poem. But I didn’t think I had much to say about it because I mostly just like it because the snake sounds like a good, handsome snake, who if I met him I would say something silly like “Hello snake! What a good snake you are! Yes, you are a handsome snake!” I just like animals, and I like stories that recognize their dignity. But Lawrence’s narrator doesn’t quite get along with the snake, so, while liking the poem, I found the narrator’s revulsion and anger about the snake’s retreat into the hole upsetting and kind of frightening to a degree that I can’t really make sense of or explain.

But it strikes me that there is something very odd in the commentary accompanying the poem in Representative Poetry Online. At the end of an interesting commentary expanding on Lawrence’s poetic allusions, the editor adds:

No doubt this poem can also be read erotically, as Lawrence’s vision of a phallic serpent, the demonic seducer of Eve in the garden of Eden, hanging out of and re-entering the body of a firy procreative Earth. Given Lawrence’s extraordinary visions of sex and death, such a reading can no doubt be sustained, although children of all ages, in and out of school, might be forgiven for missing the point, believing that he really did meet a snake one day at the water-trough and wrote about it in the same wide-eyed spirit as he did other living things in his Birds, Beasts and Flowers: Poems (1923).

Erm, why are we talking about children?

Of course I would expect children to fuck up most, if not all, literary readings. If practical criticism, the establishment of English as an academic discipline and criticism as a profession, was intended to produce “mature” readings, then children, by definition, can be forgiven for missing the point. And since children are traditionally barred knowledge of the erotic and the sexual, then naturally they would miss the poem’s erotic potential—at least consciously. I could argue that children still have sexualities and still would be affected on the level of sexuality.

But what’s this “children of all ages, in and out of school” business? Are there non-child-aged children who, reading for innocent pleasure instead of dirty, dirty study, should also be forgiven for ignorance of this huge piece of human experience? What’s so much more innocent about aggressively constructed and imposed ignorance of sexuality, than a simple erotic response? Not to mention: DH Lawrence was a giant kinky perverted violent queer, who struggled continuously with his homosexual desires and often gloried in his misogyny and penis-worship. “Extraordinary visions of sex and death” weren’t just an idle passtime, they were expressions of a lifelong struggle with identity and sexual and romantic practice. So that’s an odd turn in the criticism.

Jolene Armstrong writes about the poem in the course guide (this was my favourite chapter in the course guide, btw, because I felt like it made a lot of my own responses to modern and postmodern literature and criticism a lot clearer). She identifies the moments I found so upsetting as the moment of the narrator’s crisis of faith in the institutions of masculinity and Enlightenment education. Postmodernism, she says, is that jerk standing at the sidelines heckling: What? Don’t tell me you believed that? Loser. Which is still kind of the problem I have with postmodernism. It’s not that I disagree, it’s just that these crises, and the reactions of ‘believers’ to crisis, are really fucking things up. Like Lawrence’s narrator, for example, a lot of men have reacted violently to their crises of masculinity. So it seems like the myth of an ideal, better world, even when I know it’s a myth, could be a really useful thing.

Cited, but not linked

Armstrong, Jolene. “Modernism/Postmodernism: The Dialogues of the Modern Age.” LTST605 Study GuideAthabasca U, 2010. 26-32


This is a reproduction of a post from September 9th 2012 on my blog at

Why “Negotiate, Don’t Legislate”?

“Negotiate, don’t legislate” has been the steady chant on CUPW picket lines, where they have been joined by public and private sector trade unions in solidarity over the lockout by Canada Post. But why?

For all Canada Post’s claims that it’s not making enough money, and postal workers need to tighten their belts (postal workers in Toronto, btw, make exactly the median wage in the city — if greedy unions are what’s keeping some small parts of the working class out of the poverty of the minimum wage, I’ll take ’em, thanks), a lot of people have been seriously inconvenienced by having limited, and then no, postal service, businesses big and small are losing money, and everyone seems to agree that a universal postal service is essential to the Canadian economy. So of course we all want the postal workers working, and why not just legislate them back, force an end to the labour dispute, and carry on as normal?

Because the Canadian economy is not carrying on as normal — at least not for workers. And every single one of us has a stake in that.

As Judy Haiven and Larry Haiven from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, in BC and Newfoundland workers have been forced to end strikes, and to accept deals that included a wage freeze for one group and a 15% wage rollback, longer work week, and agreement to out-source public-sector jobs to private contractors for the other:

Both governments threatened massive punishments for those who defied the edicts, including dismissals and huge fines for the unions and their members.

The governments have sent a powerful message to trade unions, one which will have ominous future repercussions: You can negotiate all you want, but when push comes to shove, unless you agree to what employers want, we will bring the full force of the state against you and impose what employers want. […]

What makes recent cases so different and so dangerous is that governments are bypassing the arbitration route and writing the terms of settlement into the legislation. When it happens again and again, collective Canadian governments are, for all intents and purposes, rendering collective bargaining dead.

Back-to-work legislation has been used in the past, and will, eventually, be used against Canadian postal workers, but its unquestioned use, and the attitude among Canadians that workers should be legislated back to work immediately, whatever their situation, is a worrying one. As Haiven and Haiven point out,collective bargaining was institutionalized to stabilize the process of negotiating labour disputes. When joining a union and striking was illegal and answered when violent force, when workers were told management could make unilateral decisions about their working conditions and there was nothing they could do about it—workers joined unions and went on strike anyway. Personally, I like the idea of illegal strikes. I like the idea of a general illegal strike. Actually, I’d really like to have a revolution. But political will isn’t there (yet) in Canada, and collective bargaining — the often-fraught process of coming to a compromise between workers and employers over employment and labour conditions — is designed to keep our jobs and businesses stable until we get there (or forever, I guess, if you don’t want to have a revolution).

Undermining the collective bargaining process is designed to destabilize the carryings-on Canadians have considered normal for the last couple of generations.

Welcome to the “new reality”

Did you know we have a new reality? It’s one where your job is on contract and temporary, where you work ‘for yourself’ without owning a business or seeing any profit, where your wage (if it’s guaranteed) is at or near minimum and just barely approaches the poverty line, where you don’t know what hours (if any) you’ll work next week or if you’ll have a job next March, you can’t have benefits because you’re not a permanent employee (but you can buy private insurance, right?), and there’s no such thing as seniority or promotions. This is precarious work.

Precarious work reduces workers — entire human beings with families, communities, needs, and futures to worry about — to the essential traits that make them assets to corporations: low cost, short-term and long-term “flexibility,” and the hardcore willingness to do the job and do it well that can only come with desperation. Culturally, many of us are led to support this, thinking of ourselves as branded individuals, who will succeed if we sell ourselves hard enough, and who can benefit from flexibility, if we’re lucky and resourceful (and aren’t we, though?). In practical and cultural terms, business has worked very hard to keep us from thinking of ourselves as a working class.

And that keeps us from realizing that we have a stake in the postal workers’ struggle, beyond whether or not the thingum we just bought on eBay gets delivered, and in migrant workers’, restaurant workers’, sex workers’, domestic workers’, cab drivers’, retail workers’, even academic workers’ struggles. Because while some of us can find some ways to benefit from flexibility, most of the working class just suffers as the bar for decent work is set lower, and lower, and lower, and the government and corporations undermine what few institutionalized processes we have to get together and do something about it.

Trade unions in Canada right now, who are demonized in the media for exactly these class-oriented politics of raising the standard for decent work (you may have heard it as: “being lazy, greedy mo’fuckers who don’t understand that corporations need to make money and go on strike every five minutes because they want the whole year off on vacation”), are fighting their own battles for their own workers as well as a struggle against systemic neoliberalization for the entire working class.

As blogger, Kev, reminds us:

Unions constantly advocate for non union workers, lobbying for improvements in EI so that everyone is treated equally, such as part time seasonal and contract workers. They also led the charge for the fair treatment of workers forced to use temp agencies none of whom are likely to be unionized.

Unions are at the forefront of the battle to protect our pensions and most importantly our precious health care system. Do you honestly think that the corporations and the neoliberals who govern us are going to step up and fight to protect these important institutions. Of course not, in fact they wish to see their destruction,hence the demonetization of Unions, one of the few organizations capable of  standing in their way.

There is perhaps one other area where we will need the Unions and it is a very important one. As our governments continue to sell out our interests to the corporations, ratchet up the security state and institute their austerity agenda (that is austerity for me and you, not them), there will come a time when we will have no choice but to fight back. This is when we will require their experience and ability to organize.

CUPW has been very clear about what’s at stake for them as workers: sick days, pensions, benefits, and a wage reduction that would affect new and younger workers, making the “new reality” the standard for my generation (while we pay out our parents’ pensions). But they’ve also been clear about their support for CAW at Air Canada, and their solidarity with Toronto public employees, OPSEU workers in Toronto, and Toronto teachers, whose contracts are coming up soon, as well as with the majority of the working class who struggle in deplorable working conditions, for poverty wages, and with no hope for change under the new reality. Fighting against CUPW, or any union these days, is fighting against workers in general.

Why on earth would it be in any of our best interests (unless we own huge corporations, I guess. Or really, really want to) to support our government in undermining postal workers’ bargaining power and decent work conditions? Yeah, they get a lot more than some of us do… but shouldn’t we get that, too? We are, after all, the resourceful, flexible, willing, and hardworking people of the neoliberal reality — who says we haven’t earned it?

But I really, really, really want my thingum from eBay!

After the revolution, I’m stealing your house.


This is a reproduction of a post from June 23rd 2011 on my blog at