Affirmative Consent

There has been a lot in the news recently around the issue of consent. Affirmative consent is the, sadly revolutionary, idea that only a verbalized yes in a situation where the woman is not afraid to so no means yes. It is a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision to engage in sex. This should be self-evident but sadly is not.

Modern society is flooded with images and stories that glorify and normalize non-consent. I bet anyone who has read a romance novel has read a scene like this. The heroine and hero are fighting. The heroine is pulling away from the hero and may even be breaking up with him. The hero decides to stop the fight by grabbing the heroine and kissing her. At first, she resists but then she melts into his arms and releases that she does love him after all. This is a clear case of non-consent and sexual assault yet it is romanticized in our society to the point where it is written about in literature written by and for women. Next time you read a scene like this try this exercise. Ignore the thoughts the author has inserted and just focus on the actions. Imagine a fight in your own past. Is this how you would have wanted your significant other to treat you?

This came up in the recent trail involving York university graduate students. The victim, Mandhi Gray, was casual dating her attacker Mustafa Ururyar at the time of the assault. She had invited him out that night and agreed to walk home with him. Mandhi didn’t think it was romantic at all when Mustafa decide to handle their break-up by grabbing her and forcing her to have sex with him. Yet that’s how Rhett cements his relationship with Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.

Justice Marvin Zuker made a statement concerning consent as part of his ruling. This is a landmark case, yet as Mandhi said to reporters getting justice shouldn’t be frontline news. She still has to wait for the results of her civil suit with York University to see if Mustafa will be allowed to continue his degree. If he is she can’t because there would be no way to avoid him. The department just isn’t that big. Getting justice is a slow and uphill battle for victims of sexual assault.

This was seen in the Ghomeshi travesty earlier in the year where his lawyers were allowed to attack the reputations and actions of his victims. The Ghomeshi trial became a travesty of justice where the victims were put on trial and as a result, their attacker was allowed to walk away. Apparently, celebrities are allowed to attack people because the women in question are asking for it.

News flash: no woman is ever asking for it. It shouldn’t matter what we wear, where we go, or who we talk to. Where a top where go can seeing are breasts doesn’t mean we want to sleep with you. Going to a nightclub doesn’t mean we’re easy. Walking at night doesn’t mean we deserved it. The idea that there is a “real” way of being a rape victim: saying no out loud, fighting physically with your assailant, and reporting immediately and that other victims aren’t legitimate is crap.

A Reflection on the Fall of Man

As I re-read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy I find myself thinking about the story of Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve is the Biblical story of Mankind’s creation and their fall from Eden or Paradise.

Adam or man has a single origin. He was created by God’s word and in God’s image on the fifth day. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen 1.27) The first woman was also created this way. She is often referred to as Lilith because unlike Eve she is created equal to Adam. Lilith left Adam when he refused to accept her equality. This makes her either unfallen or the first to fall.

Eve has a longer creation myth of her own that appears later in Genesis. Adam names the animals and finds no help mate:

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him.

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Gen 20-4)

God puts Adam to sleep and creates Eve out of Adam’s rib. This makes Eve a literal part of Adam. She is created subservient because she is only part of man. She is also created with an innate wish to join with man and become whole through that joining. Eve, unlike Lilith, is not whole by herself, but exists only as a support for Adam.

This puts a different light on the idea of the fall as Eve’s fault. Original sin is woman’s because she ate the apple first and because she seduced her man into eating it. Yet, since Eve was created as part of Adam she is perhaps incapable of independent action. She seems to represent not a woman, but an extension of Adam that he can have sex with.

Lilith is the woman, created by God as man’s equal and opposite. As already mentioned, Lilith left Eden before the fall. This should make woman unfallen. Instead, Lilith is portrayed as the mother of demons. Lilith is seen as the betrayer who left Adam to the seducer, Eve, who destroyed Paradise. Yet, is Adam not able to think for himself? When Eve ate the first apple from the Tree of Knowledge there was nothing to force Adam to eat the second. Woman could have fallen alone.paradise-lost-john-milton-paperback-cover-art

In Paradise Lost, Milton makes the argument that Adam fell for love. Adam knew what he would lose if he ate the apple, but was unwilling to stay in the Garden alone. Forced to choose between innocence alone or knowledge with Eve, Adam chose to stand by his love. This is a lovely way to view the fall but doesn’t explain how it is then woman’s fault. Adam makes a conscience decision to fall. Eve has discovered something new and wants to share it with the man she loves. In spite of eating from the Tree of Knowledge Eve does not understand the consequences of her actions. She is betrayed by the snake. That said, is knowledge really the beginning of all evil?

Atwood’s MaddAddam series would say yes. In our world today, science is the new God. The world Atwood envisions, where the corporations have taken over and science and money sit on twin altars is all too easy to see as our future. Knowledge does not equal wisdom. Especially when much of that knowledge is in the hands of people whose only goal is making money. We could easily destroy our planet and ourselves in pursuit of the all mighty dollar. Hopefully, we are not at the point where the only solution is a Biblical flood. Yet, starting over without a clean slate is very hard. If capitalism is destroying the world what can we replace it with? How can we replace it?MaddAddam

Modernizations of Cupid and Psyche

The myth of Cupid and Psyche is not one that is retold a lot anymore. Usually, when romance writers reach to the classics for inspiration they turn to the story of Hades and Persephone. Which is interesting because Psyche is a strong female character. You would think in an era where we claim to have equality between the sexes more authors would be reaching for stronger female archetypes instead of romanticizing what is basically Stockholm syndrome.

Psyche was a princess whose beauty was without equal. Men came to her kingdom just to look at her and eventually they began to turn away from the worship of Venus to worship her instead. Venus was angered at a mere mortal usurping her power and sent her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with the worst person and or thing her could find. Some versions of the story say he tripped and fell on one of his own arrows others say he simply looked at her and fell in love. Her family was told to prepare Psyche for marriage and then she was to jump off a cliff. Cupid had the west wind spirit her away to a palace where her every wish was granted. He came to her every night and made love to her. Psyche was happy but missed her family and was afraid they mourned her death. Cupid brought her sisters to visit and Psyche was thrilled to see them. Her sisters, on the other hand, were jealous of her good fortune and filled her head with suspicions about her husband. After they left Psyche put their plan into action. She waited until her lover was asleep and lit a candle. She was so astounded by Cupid’s beauty that she spilled hot wax on one of his wings. He awoke and fled to his mother leaving Psyche to face Venus’ wrath for harming her son. Psyche followed Cupid’s flight and challenged Venus for Cupid. Venus told Psyche that she might have Cupid if Psyche would perform a few small tasks for Venus. After managing to survive and perform the near impossible feats asked of her by her mother-in-law Psyche was granted immortality by Zeus and her marriage to Cupid was recognized by the gods. Cupid and Psyche is a myth in which a woman performs tasks of bravery to win her man. The problem many readers have with the story is that Cupid comes across as pathetic. His is deathly wounded by a bit of candle wax and is unable to protect the woman he loves from his mother.

Two recent modern retellings are The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt and A Faerie Tale: The Beloved by Genevra Thorne. In The Raven Prince, the Earl is terribly scarred by smallpox and doesn’t believe anyone can see past the scars. When he hires a female secretary he falls in love but wanting to spare her a lust he is sure she finds distasteful he goes to a London brothel. His widowed secretary takes the place of a whore at Aphrodite’s Grotto as she figures one night in the arms of the man she loves is worth possible infamy. In A Faerie Tale: The Beloved the woman actually is a whore. She is so depressed by the life she is forced to live to survive and the men who only take her to bed for the novelty of bedding a freak, she was scarred in a fire as a child, that she begins the novel by throwing herself off a cliff. She lands in Ashton’s arms and before his Allure overtakes her he sees a woman who might love him. He pays to visit her every night so he can court her without he seeing his face.

Both modern authors use scars to alienate instead of unearthly beauty though Thorne makes use of that with her idea of Allure. Hoyt says it is not beauty but ugliness that stops us from seeing the person. I’m not sure that that is true. I think extremes of either alienate people and make them judge by appearance. Thorne would appear to agree as she makes the male protagonist isolated because of his unearthly beauty.

Yet both authors are writing historical fiction and choose to make their female leads whores. Whores are social outcasts. The stories are set in Regency and Medieval times respectively. These are both times when a woman was either chaste or reviled by society. Anna risks her good name to be with the man she loves. Eden has become a whore because it was better than starving to death. It is also a useful narrative convention because it allows Ash to visit her each night whereas he couldn’t visit a respectable woman at night. Still making the women whores takes away their feminine power. In the original story, Cupid was able to visit each night because he married Psyche. There is no real reason The Earl and Ash could not have married and then wooed their women. There is no hint of the second part of the fairy tale in The Raven Prince and very little of it in A Faerie Tale: The Beloved. In Thorne’s tale Eden does challenge Ash’s grandfather after he is punished for placing a memory spell on her. Yet the punishment is not revoked even though she is allowed to share it with him. It seems even when we have strong archetypes to draw from we insist on creating women who bow to men, who are won by them.

Some Common Comma Dos and Don’ts and Maybes

Do

  • First, you should use a comma to separate an introductory word or phrase from the rest of the sentence. For example, this sentence and the previous one.
  • Second, commas are used to separate items in lists. For example, if going on a picnic remember to take ketchup, hamburgers, ice cream, watermelon, and a blanket.

Don’t

  • Use a comma to separate two complete sentences, this is a comma splice error. To correct this error, replace the comma with a period, semi-colon, or conjunction such as “and.”

Maybe

  • Place a comma in front of the word “and.” For example, I want honey, and mustard on my sandwich. This is called the Oxford comma and is correct in British and Canadian grammar, but not in American grammar. In general, as long as you pick one method and stick with it consistently either is fine.
  • Placing a comma in front of the conjunction “but.” For example, I am not going out today, but I might go tomorrow. This is more commonly seen in British and Canadian grammar than American. Again pick one method and stick with it. Consistency is most important with questionable grammar points.

For Further Reading

www.grammarbook.com

www.thepunctuationguide.com

A Response to Miriam Toews All My Puny Sorrows

I having been reading a lot about assisted suicide recently as I completed a study guide on All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews for work. The novel is about a young pianist, Elfrieda von Reison, who is suicidal. According to the author, she is overwhelmed by sorrow. The book starts with her second failed suicide attempt. Throughout most of the novel Elf is in the hospital, though she is released twice. The first time, she starts taking her medication and is allowed to go home. She slits her wrists the moment she is left alone and drinks bleach. She is rushed back to the hospital and remains there until she is allowed a pass for her birthday. Released from the hospital a second time, she slips away from her husband Nic and throws herself in front of a train. The novel uses Elf’s repeated attempts to and eventual success at killing herself as a backdrop for a discussion about the morality of euthanasia.

When is it morally right to help another person kill themselves? Toews makes the argument that the mentally ill should have access to euthanasia as a “treatment” for their problems. She asks how we can differentiate between physical and mental suffering. What is the difference between someone overwhelmed by sorrow and someone dying of breast cancer? Do we not have a moral obligation to relieve suffering? Toews presents no real answer to these questions. Her suicidal character is not euthanized but, instead, kills herself. Yet Yoli, Elf’s sister whom Elf had begged to take her to Switzerland for euthanasia, feels overwhelming guilt that she did not help Elf die. The novel ends with Yoli’s dream of taking Elf to Switzerland and providing her a peaceful death surrounded by her family.

If someone is dying, do they not deserve to die with dignity at a time and place of their choosing? When one of my mother’s friends was diagnosed with cancer and told it was incurable he gathered his family together and said goodbye. He told them all he loved them and would miss them when he was gone. He then went out to his hunting cabin and shot himself. We all admire his bravery and ability to make a tough decision when faced with a slow and agonizing death. Once someone has made that decision what if they are not that brave?

Right now, suicidal tendencies automatically equal insanity. Social norms tell us that those who are suicidal need our help and support to find meaning in life once more. In general, that is not a wrong approach. Overwrought teens who down pills because of bullies need help to see that life goes on after high school. That the pain they are feeling is not all there is to life and that one day, if they hang in, things will get better.

On the other hand, are those living in situations where it will not get better, and they have no quality of life. If they want a way out should we not give it to they. No one can really know what is in another’s head. If someone is living with chronic pain and wants to fight like hell they should be given every resource to do so. Yet, if they don’t want to fight anymore those voices should be listened to as well. The tricky part is that it has to come from the individual.

There is a fear that if euthanasia is an option it will become a prescription for those living with chronic pain conditions or the mentally ill to ease the burden on society.  I’m not sure how much this is a flawed slippery slope argument, rampant paranoia or a legitimate concern. Euthanasia, as practiced today, places the decision in the hands of the patient. Doctors and family are consulted, but the ultimate decision is the patient’s. In fact, Switzerland’s current law says that no one who gains by the person’s death can assist in that death. Rarely is it the worries that we most talk about that come to pass since once discussed a solution can usually be found. Problems that are left in the dark are much more worrisome than those problems that see the light of day. Euthanasia, at this point, is too closely supervised to be abused. It makes sense to offer it as a personal choice for those in need. Like death itself, euthanasia is a question each person must ultimately face alone.

Please feel free to add your own comments, stories, or concerns. As a personal choice, I don’t know what I would choose. I don’t think many of us do until confronted with our own mortality, but I think as a free society each of us should have as many options open to us as possible.

A Feminist Improvement of Hamlet

How to improve Hamlet…

Bianca from Taming of the Shrew should befriend Ophelia. She is exactly the sort of woman Ophelia needs. She is a strong self-reliant type who can explain to Ophelia that the world does not revolve around men. They could meet at the market, their respective fathers having sent them out for supplies. Ophelia would be sent because she is the only woman in the house and therefore the only choice to go to market and Bianca because the stall-owners refuse to deal with her sister. This would be before Kate’s marriage in Taming of the Shrew and after the nunnery scene, but before the Mousetrap play in Hamlet.

Bianca and Ophelia would first talk of ordinary things and slowly become more intimate. Bianca would mention her many suitors and her inability to choose one because of her sister. After hearing Bianca’s problems, Ophelia would then trust her enough to open up about her own. By this time, they would have moved out of the market square and to somewhere more private, perhaps the local fountain or well, somewhere where women gather. Ophelia would talk about how Hamlet had ordered her to a nunnery of all places and how devastated that had made her feel. Yet she also would talk about her hopes that he did not mean it and had somehow found out that her father and his uncle were listening to them. Bianca would express her horror both that a lover would treat Ophelia in such a manner and that her father and his uncle would spy on them in such a way. She would also suggest that perhaps Ophelia look for a man who would treat her right. Anyone that would yell at her surely is not worth the time of day. For in Bianca’s world lovers are people who whisper sweet nothings in your ear, bring you gifts, and not only promise you the world, but do their best to give it to you. Bianca would also explain how a woman can do as she wishes without interference if she makes a pretence of obedience or finds a man she can control.

Ophelia has never been fortunate enough to have a devoted sort of lover. She is, instead, stuck with Hamlet, who while he has in the past written her love letters, mainly either yells at her or ignores her. She would be fascinated to hear of how Bianca’s suitors treat Bianca and how Bianca controls them. Ophelia, of course, is very much in love with Hamlet and would never take Bianca’s advice to throw him over for someone who treats her better but hearing of the treatment Bianca receives at the hands of her suitors would get her thinking once she calmed down. The conversation would end here as Ophelia would storm off since Bianca had dared to speak ill of her dear Hamlet.

Yet later she might think back to that day at the market. First, at the Mousetrap play when she thought Hamlet had come round and was acting as he should. His actions were inappropriate to be sure but he was kind and flirtatious and she likely had great hopes for the future at that moment. Then that night he killed her father. After that ultimate betrayal, she is never again seen sane onstage and soon after kills herself. Would this change if one day at the market she met Bianca and was told what a caring lover should be like and the power a woman could wield? For yes Hamlet has loved her, but he has chosen the pursuit of revenge over her and she is left to deal with that.  Even worse, this pursuit has blinded him to the point where he has killed her father. That day at the market would give her something to hold on to. When grief overwhelms one a person needs something to hold on to or their mind snaps and they go mad. Without Bianca Ophelia has nothing to hold on to and when her grief over her father and the manner of his death comes it overwhelms her and her minds snaps. Yet with it, she would be able to see her way out of the darkness. She could understand that Hamlet does not need to be her world and neither does her father. A woman can stand on her own if she has to.

So inserting Bianca into Hamlet would stop the suicide of Ophelia as she would be better able to cope with her grief. Meeting an independent woman with many suitors who treat her right would allow Ophelia to see that men do not need to be the center of her world and that she can survive without them. It would also allow her to see that Hamlet does not treat her the way he should and that perhaps because of this he is not worth so much of her life.

What Shakespeare character do you think should be added to a different play and why?

An analysis of Special Characters by Yemi Adesanya

Special Characters

By Yemi Adesanya

Awaken from a Comma,

As someone shouted: “His Colon is on fire!”

Saved by a timely Exclamation!

Now he’s gotta live with a Semicolon;

 

Punched by Punctuation Mark

Who thought he could win an Apostrophe for the move

‘Twas pretty stupid, Period.

 

The hypocrisy of a Hyphen

Joining two unmarried words

In pseudo-matrimony; don’t Quote me

But I’d say, “There’s a big Question Mark there.” Wouldn’t you?

What a bunch of Special Characters!

Analysis

The author uses capitalization to emphasize certain words. Each of her “Special Characters” or punctuation marks is capitalized as well as the words “Quote” (10) and “Special Characters” (12). This shows the importance of these words. Since Quote could simply be a short form of quotation mark this would mean the only non-punctuation words the poet has chosen to highlight are the words “Special Characters” (12). This suggests that punctuation is special and not to be taken lightly or dismissed as unimportant.

The poet also uses alliteration “hypocrisy of Hyphen” (8) and “Punched by Punctuation Mark” (5). With hs in the first instance, the poet uses euphonic language ironically as she is suggesting the hyphen is an unpleasant creator of discord. The euphony is an illusion to lull the listener/reader into believing there is good is something bad. The second instance ps are used. The three capital letters make this read like a title. Again violence is masked with euphony. The poet appears to be suggesting that bad things can come in good packages.

In the first stanza, two puns appear. “Awaken from a Comma, / As someone shouted: “His Colon is on fire!” (1-2). A Comma is linked to a coma and colon the punctuation mark is likened to the organ. The use of the word “Awaken” (1) to start the poem suggests a prior time of sleep. A life without punctuation is one-half live perhaps. Here there are overt images of violence. We are awakened from sleep only to find a loss. A life lived fully cannot be without pain.

There are repeated exclamation marks and personal pronouns throughout the poem. Exclamation marks suggest shouting. Shifts from he earlier in the poem to I and you in the last stanza suggest that the poet wishes to address the reader directly. This is a call to arms. Action is needed, no longer can people lie silent and still. The center of the poem is comprised of two longer sentences and places that lack punctuation at line breaks. The suggests a fast pace as less punctuation means less to slow the reader down. Attention having been grabbed we are now racing to the finish line or the end of the poem.

There are two instances of slang in the poem “gotta” (4) and “‘Twas,” (7). Dialect words serve to slow the pace since they are unfamiliar to the reader’s eye. They also grab attention and direct it to the words directly around themselves. “Now he’s gotta live with a Semicolon;” (1) and  “’Twas pretty stupid, Period.” (7). Both of these are examples of foolishness and loss.

Overall, the poem uses punctuation as first a playful exercise in examining the use of punctuation. The poet though is able to go deeper and use her examination of how punctuation works to look at the human condition. She uses its use as a metaphor for life and says that like life it is necessary and sometimes painful.