November 20, 2018, can be seen as a sad day in the US and for women around the world in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A US federal judge Bernard Friedman ruled against banning a practice that harms millions of young women globally.

His ruling found a 1996 US federal law banning FGM unconstitutional, allowing the two doctors charged under it to go free. This can only be seen as a great defeat for the millions of young girls and women who have suffered due to this harmful act.

Female Genital Mutilation is the act of changing or altering the female genitals for non-medical reasons but rather cultural ones. However, it is seen across the globe as a violation of human rights against girls and young women alike .

FGM, or Female Circumcision as it is also called, is a practice that goes back thousands of years in many countries, communities and in many cultures around the world. When it started is unknown, but the root of it is to control female sexuality, conception and to continue to build a strong inequality between both sexes.

FGM/C may differ depending on the countries and regions but the results are still the same. Women are subjected to a lifetime of problems regarding their physical and mental health. Many lose their desire for sexual pleasure, have complex deliveries often resulting in Cesarean section; along with a number of different medical problems, that may arise from the use of unsterilized equipment. This practice can have serious complications leading to the death of some young girls and women as a result.

There are many types of FGM/C; but there are three forms most often practiced:

The first consist of the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the prepuce. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb to remove it.

The second form is complete or partial removal of the inner labia and clitoris. The clitoris is the organ that allows the female to enjoy pleasure during sexual activities.

The final form, which is considered to be the most severe of the three, is the removal of the total female genitalia. Once done, the vagina is then sewed closed with the exception of a hole often the size of a pencil tip for the passage of menstruation and urination.

Not only is the act rather harsh, but girls and young women are more likely to get infections and countless other problems because of unsterilized equipment. They are often faced with diseases such as fistula and numerous other disorders and infections.

It is estimated that between 125-150 million young women have been subjected to this practice. It happens all over the world, though predominately in African countries.

Although, FGM/C can be harmful to a women’s health not all women would like for this practice to end. Some people in many countries and regions where this act is practiced consider it a rite of passage or a celebration of coming of age for young women.

FGM/C is sometimes compared to male circumcision. Male Circumcision is the act in which the male foreskin that is covering the head of the penis is removed from the male penis.

Both of these customs can cause physical and mental pain and a lifetime of complications. However the female version of this custom is deemed, by many, to be much more severe because, unlike their male counterparts, many females who have this procedure done never experience sexual pleasure or any sensation other than pain in their vaginal area.

The males that are circumcised can experience sexual sensation and any pain they feel usually dissolves after a while. Whereas many females who have experienced the procedure have a lifetime of pain and complications. Some women who experience this procedure feel as though they are missing part of their body.

In many countries and regions where the act of FGM/C has become illegal, there are classes and lectures on the consequence of FGM/C. When young women attend these classes, they are becoming educated on the severity of this practice.

Unfortunately, not all young women have a choice in this matter. This is why the recent US ruling on FGM/C can be seen as a sad one and as a step backwards especially since organizations such as UNICEF, Plan Canada and numerous others are working tirelessly to educate communities where FGM/C is still practiced about the effects on young girls and women around the world.

* Featured image by World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr Creative Commons

It must be said that there is no issue more personal than that regarding our health care and family planning choices. It must also be said that in a country that constitutionally recognizes the equality of men and women, the choice of family planning method – which could include abstinence, the pill, condoms, IUDs, or abortion – is NOBODY’s business but the person directly affected by them.

Our government is responsible for upholding the constitution, which includes making sure that groups that do not recognize people’s constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare will not get public funds. The Canadian federal government has made this clear via their recent announcement regarding the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ).

The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an initiative by the federal government to encourage employers to take on summer students at the secondary and post-secondary levels by offering to subsidize the students’ wages for them.

The subsidy works for public and private employers as well as non-profit organizations and small businesses and has several priorities including the supporting employers who hire students from underrepresented groups such indigenous Canadians, the disabled, and visible minorities, and those that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for women. Applications for the subsidies must be made by potential employers, though recently the Trudeau government added an additional catch to the program’s requirements.

Those who apply to the CSJ program now have to attest that:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The federal government’s website adds the recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that their rights include “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

This announcement was never meant to turn Canada into the next front in the battle between those that believe people have a right to their choices and those who do not. That issue was already settled in the early 90s when, following the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s abortion laws in 1988, the Senate voted against a new abortion law put before Parliament by the Mulroney government. Public opinion confirms this, for according to a 2017 Ipsos poll, 77 percent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted.

The announcement was simply meant to be a way to fix a subsidy issue after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published a report indicating that federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups in the summer of 2016. Federal Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s office then put out a statement apologizing for the oversight and stating that “no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

All the Trudeau government is doing is obeying the law by enforcing the gender equality statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights by making anyone who does not conform to them ineligible for Federal funding.

It is Conservatives who have turned this minor subsidy issue into a religious crusade about abortion. The fiasco that followed is not an ideological debate about religious freedom but rather the result of some groups’ anger at losing government money they feel they are entitled to.

Organizations like The Southern Alberta Bible Camp who have publicly said “we don’t believe abortion is right” stand to lose about $40 000 in subsidy money if they refuse to sign the aforementioned attestation.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has accused the Prime Minister – a self-proclaimed “proud feminist”- of imposing his views on faith groups. This is the same Andrew Scheer one of his supporters assured me would not take on abortion rights in Canada following his election to leadership of the party.

“I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go,” Scheer has said.

The government has not said that groups that openly condemn abortion and LGBTQ2 groups cannot operate in Canada. As per our religious freedoms and right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution, they can do as they please within reasonable limits prescribed by law. All the federal government has done is said that they cannot get government money to hire young people to help them do it.

Since the Conservatives have turned this into an abortion issue, let’s look at those that claim to believe in women’s equality and still be pro-life.

Despite the claim of many conservatives, one cannot recognize the constitutional right of women’s equality to men and be pro-life at the same time. It is not feminism these self-proclaimed “pro-life feminists” are embracing, but rather benevolent sexism.

The reason is this: the most secular anti-abortion arguments rest on the unspoken notion that women are not strong enough, mature enough, or intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. They are welcome to every freedom men have, except with regards to their deeply personal reproductive choices. ]

They will use arguments about sex selective abortions to make this point, while completely ignoring the numbers and whether or not the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life. It is the same kind of benevolently sexist argument the most vicious secularists make in Quebec when trying to force Muslim women to stop wearing the hijab or niqab: the infantilizing argument that presumes that no woman is capable of making such a decision of her own free will but rather makes difficult decisions out of selfishness, impulsivity, or external pressure.

It is a notion that must be recognized for what it is: a contradiction of the notion of gender equality entrenched in Canadian law.

Those who stand to lose funds as a result of this will be doing so because their mandate does not fit with that of the Canadian government. We also need to ask how much the federal government will be checking up on those who do sign the attestation.

Is this an administrative rubber stamp where people can attest to one thing and do another? Or will the federal government take steps to make sure that those who do get the funds stay true to their attestation?

Without any sort of checks, the attestation is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then groups who really want to the money to hire a student to distribute photos of fetuses outside clinics should have no trouble signing it.

On January 31, 2017 US President Cheeto-Head named Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The nomination fulfills Cheeto-Head’s promise to name a conservative justice “in the mold of Scalia” if elected president (legally or illegally). Since so much of what the Orange Racist Misogynist Tax Evader has done is questionable at best, it is time to take a serious look at the man he has appointed to the highest court in the United States.

Neil Gorsuch is in many ways the embodiment of what conservative Christian Republicans think a judge or politician should be. He is a white middle aged male who Is devoutly Christian, but not Catholic (his family are Episcopalian). He is well spoken, looks good in a suit and tie, and while he and his college sweetheart wife and two kids raise horses, chickens, and goats at their home in Colorado, they are no rednecks.

His family has a history of serving Republican presidents. Gorsuch’s mother, politician and lawyer Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by former president Ronald Reagan to run the Environmental Protection Agency. For Republican climate-change deniers, Gorsuch Burford was ideal for she slashed the EPA’s budget, cut most clean water regulations from the books, and filled vital positions within the Agency with people from the very industries it was supposed to be checking. The scandals resulting from her actions led to her resignation in 1983.

Gorsuch’s resume is impressive. He is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. After a couple of clerkships with conservative judges, he worked in private practice at a prestigious law firm in Washington DC for ten years and eventually ended up as a Federal Appelate Judge based in Colorado. At the same time Gorsuch has served as an occasional adjunct law professor at the University of Colorado.

There are also a lot of concerns about Judge Gorsuch.

People are worried that he is anti woman and would choose religious freedoms over people’s right to self determination.

There is a lot of evidence to support this worry.

While at Oxford, Gorsuch studied under Professor John Finnis, an Australian legal scholar who is considered an expert on natural law. After his studies, the Gorsuch and Finnis remained close. This seems harmless, but it’s not when you consider that Gorsuch’s mentor wrote about “the evil of homosexual conduct” in 1994 and has been branded a hatemonger by many.

As a judge, Gorsuch has a history of favoring religious freedoms over people’s right to health care and self determination. In the famous Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases involving for-profit corporations demanding religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act requiring corporate health plans to cover contraceptives for female employees on penalty of fines for refusal, Gorsuch sided with the corporations. In the Little Sisters of the Poor decision, he wrote that it was:

“An issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty … When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

Though Gorsuch has never decided an abortion case, he did publish a book called The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in 2009 and many argue that the views expressed in it could easily transfer to abortion. In his book he says that human life is “fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Whether this view actually extends to abortion remains to be seen, but it has caused enough concern that the National Institute for Reproductive Health has called his appointment “an extension of the Trump administration’s attack on women’s rights,” and Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on January 31, 2017 that:

Despite his worrisome track record on certain issues, Gorsuch does show promise for two fundamental reasons.

First, he is outspokenly against excessive criminalization. That means that he thinks there are too many criminal laws punishing ordinary behavior on the books.

In 2013 he gave the 13th Annual Barbara K. Olsen Memorial Lecture in which he points out that too many laws violate people’s rights to fair notice to the point that “criminal law comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity.”

Neil Gorsuch’s legal decisions reflect this belief as he often sides with defendants in criminal cases. This bodes well when it comes to issues of race for African Americans and Hispanics are excessively targeted and prosecuted in the United States.

Another reason to hope is because of Gorsuch’s belief in the judiciary’s role in containing the excesses of Executive Power. He is in favor of term limits for elected officials because “men are not angels.”

Though, like Scalia, he believes in interpreting the constitution from the perspective of its authors. This comes with an understanding of the need to enforce the checks and balances on the legislative and executive branches to save the country from abuse by those who govern it.

Though thus far only lower courts have halted the enforcement of abusive and illegal Executive Orders from the Oval Office, Gorsuch’s reputation as a principled jurist against executive excess suggests that he would not hesitate to rule against the White House if he ascended to the Supreme Court.

Though there is hope for the United States, there is also the danger of a deadlock. Democrats are still bitter about the Senate’s refusal to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, who was named to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama. Like Garland, Gorsuch is mostly respected across party lines, so the question remains whether the Senate will do its job this time, or give the Cheeto Administration the silent treatment.

A sea of pink flooded the National Mall in Washington D.C. on January 21st, 2017. Overwhelming chants of, “Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!” and more humorous, “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” were audible from the White House and around the world.

Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington anticipated 200 000 participants; they got half a million – as many as Woodstock. Too many for the planned march to actually take place.

Globally, as many as 5 million people marched in solidarity with the women of America against the proposed policies of the nascent Trump administration. By some accounts, it was the biggest protest in US history.

Donald Trump has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and other organizations, both foreign and domestic, that fund and promote women’s reproductive health. He has promised to roll back sex education and promote abstinence; he has normalized sexual violence, demonized members of the LGBTQ community and has thumbed his nose at the gender pay gap. Not to mention all the nasty things he has said about women. What’s next buddy, our right to vote?

However, “Women’s Issues” do not exist in a vacuum, and most issues are women’s. To quote a speaker at the Women’s March, “You want to discuss woman’s issues? So, you want to talk about the economy?”

Our concerns transcend our gender identities. Women’s issues are intersectional, nobody is just a woman and nothing else. Because many of us are immigrants and fear deportation and loss of family, we marched for that, because we are queer, of colour and differently abled, working class and social services users, air breathers, water drinkers and environmental lovers. Because we are mothers, trans, Muslim and atheist, we marched against Trump’s far-reaching promises to harm us all.

It was a beautiful sight to behold. I cried more than twice. A love army composed of privates from all walks of life, shades, creeds and beliefs marching together in solidarity for a brighter and more inclusive future.

This all sounds good, right? Who among the left wouldn’t want a safer and fairer America. Isn’t that what we have all been fighting for after all? Who wouldn’t support a cause dedicated to protecting our fellow sisters and brothers?

There are many valid critiques of the contemporary feminist movement, such as those of the lack of intersectionality i.e. white and ablest feminism, trans-exclusionary feminism, and sex-worker exclusionary feminism, among others. These discussions are welcomed, constructive and necessary for our collective growth. So is the lack of indigenous representation at the march.

However, it seems as if progressive (North) America is still deeply divided along lines that are not so productive and ultimately cannibalizing. A sour flavour of activist shaming is rearing its ugly head from within.

I was disturbed by some comments I saw on my Facebook feed the day of the March. Comments such as: “Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if people protested in the same numbers for clean water on First Nation reserves as when they protest a foreign leader?” and “You can march, you can wear that pink pussy hat you knitted…but here’s the thing: Donald Trump will still be the President of the USA. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. So until people start examining the root causes of the problems that led U.S. citizens to this choice, nothing is going to be effective.” Really?

I admit that I am a white woman and carry that privilege. The people I just quoted, though, carry the same white privilege.

Their comments and others like them are nothing other than left on left activist shaming. Bullying. These internal critics seem to believe that there is one right way to be a progressive political activist, their way. Shaming people for actively participating in democracy, for pulling themselves away from Netflix and paying their way to fight for a cause that is important to them, should not be tolerated. These attitudes are counter-productive. They feed division and hurt people who should be your allies.

Nobody can do it all. All we can do as activists is fight as hard as we can. Many of us would like to do it all, (I know I would) but inevitably we are doomed to fall short.

As members of the human species, we suffer from the unconquerable afflictions of limited energy, time and means, so we must prioritize what lights the fire in our bellies. We must decide which causes are important to us.

Whether an injustice affects you personally or indirectly, if you care about it, you go! You do you, as long are you are doing good and not harm, don’t let anyone ever tell you are doing good wrong.

Hilary Clinton was right about one thing; we are stronger together. Unthoughtful and petty shaming of our fellow activists for volunteering their energies to one cause over another only leads to further divisions in an already balkanized left.

I am not proposing that everyone always agree with the nuances or particulars of the tactics used toward a given cause. I am only asking that people stand back and take a good look at the bigger picture and get over their egos. I implore my fellow lefties to ask, what is the end goal, and do I support it? In the case of the Women’s March, the goal is equality for all. Now what kind of progressive cannot get behind that?

* Photos by Amy Santos

This Saturday, our day started at the New Carrollton Metro stop just outside Washington DC. We knew the rally was going to be massive when we saw that the line for metro tickets stretched back several blocks to the ramp off the highway. Luckily we already had purchased our tickets in advance.

When boarding, the train filled well over capacity. New Carrollton being the last stop, we had to pass all the other closer stops with out picking up additional passengers. It reminded me of being home on the NYC L train subway line.

In DC there were people in all directions. It is impossible to explain how full the city felt. The main event with the stage and speakers was actually only a part of the overall event since far less than half of the marchers could actually fit in the space set up for that part of the rally. The crowd stretched back shoulder to shoulder for several blocks behind the main stage despite there not being a speaker system or televisions facing that way to see and hear what was happening.

You may be wondering what it is like to be in the middle of a crowd of 750 000 to a million protestors. The roar of the crowd was deafening at times, a wash of white noise like a furious ocean.

We managed to get to a place with a side view of the stage. Again, everyone was shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot, but even closer now somehow. Any kind of mobility more than a torso turn to the left or right was left to the collective will. Still, no one seemed to panic.

The message was simple and displayed not only in words but action and tone. Being in the middle of that crowd I finally fully realized that this was not a rally of hate or fear of an opposing side. It was the peaceful expression of a growing movement for equality, compassion and understanding. It was a comforting community.

To that point, one of the greatest successes of this Saturday seems to be the unification of so many civil rights factions. In the past six months Donald Trump has become a global symbol for racism, sexism and classism. Though given ample opportunity to, he has done nothing significant to defend himself against any such charges.

Groups like Planned Parenthood, Gathering for Justice, Moms Demand Action, Arab American Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pro-Choice America, ACLU, American Federation of Teachers and too many more to list, now have in Trump one common and paramount threat to rally against. Hearing a near million chant things like “We will not go away, welcome to your first day,” it has become clear that this movement is in for the long haul.

It is important to note that considering the race, economic and gender diversity I witnessed in DC on Saturday, I find it best to think of the Woman’s March not as a woman only movement but more as a movement of full inclusion.

I think California Senator Kamala Harris expressed it perfectly yesterday when she spoke at the rally saying:

“I was elected as the first woman or the first woman of color and folks would come up to me and they would say, Kamala, talk to us about women’s issues and I would look at them and I would say I am so glad you want to talk about the economy. I would say, great, let’s talk about the economy because that is a woman’s issue. I’d say you want to talk about women’s issues, let’s talk about national security. You want to talk about women’s issues, that’s fantastic, let’s talk about health care, education, let’s talk about criminal justice reform, let’s talk about climate change.

We all know the truth. If you are a woman trying to raise a family, you know that a good paying job is a women’s issue. If you are a woman who is an immigrant who does not want her family torn apart, you know that immigration reform is a women’s issue. If you are a woman working off student loans, you know the crushing burden of student debt is a woman’s issue. If you are a black mother trying to raise a son, you know black lives is a woman’s issue. If you are a woman period, you know we deserve a country with equal pay and access to health care, including a safe and legal abortion protected as a fundamental and constitutional right.”

The most important message that I take from this historical event is that even though you may personally believe the issues Senator Kamala Harris mentioned to be self-evident, we no longer live in a world where you can blindly count on them to be preserved. No longer is it enough to casually read blogs and make comments on Facebook, Twitter, Periscope or the like. We need to go out and engage the world.

I urge you to voice your opinion as loud as you can. If you do this you will be heard. Each person came who came to DC this Saturday made sacrifices to be there. They did this out of a great feeling of urgency. Through their individual effort they proved that a million voices speaking a simple and reasonable truth at once can be heard around the world.

I’ll leave you with some inspiring words said at this Saturday’s rally by the great activist and author Angela Davis:

“Over the next months and years we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out….The next 1459 days of the Trump administration will be 1459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music….This is just the beginning and in the words of the inimitable Ella Baker, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’”

* Post was edited at 12:54 pm Jan 23. Line removed in section on diversity of the march

In New York, the United Nations declared July 12 Malala Day in commemoration of Malala Yousafzai, the young teenage activist from Pakistan who turns 16 today. She survived a bullet to the head last October from Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban for inciting girls in Pakistan to pursue higher education.

Prominent diplomats and UN bureaucrats present included former British PM and now UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Yousafzai presented a riveting 17 minute speech of her triumphant, indomitable spirit and unshaken defiance against her country’s Islamic fundamentalist clerics and Taliban militants.

Although it was Malala’s day, she instead became the voice for the “voiceless boys and girls” and for a right many Canadians have taken for granted: education for women.

Although Pakistan’s president stood beside Yousafzai, in northern and rural Pakistan, girls are prohibited from having an education apart from teachings of the Koran. Pakistan’s official estimates peg the overall literacy rate at 46% but only 26% for girls. Independent organizations, however, contend the overall female literacy rate is closer to 12% when excluding those only knowing how to write their names.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them… One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Perhaps the most riveting moment of her speech (see video below) was a cri de coeur in defiance against “the terrorists [who] thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”

Yousafzai even offered forgiveness for her would-be assassin citing her road was in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She invoked the philosophy of non-violence of Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.

“And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”

Although Yousafzai’s lofty mission is indeed worthy of a girl whose bravery and fortitude is equal to that of her cause, Yousafzai herself would be best to lay the foundation for grassroots organizers and institutions to take up her cause. Not only because of immense pressure on one individual but because of the dangers of placing an entire world’s aspiration on one young girl as the symbol of all good changes in Pakistan.

This way, she may have to become Pakistan’s littlest martyr before a paradigm shift occurs in that country. Millennia of persecution of women, including the assassination of Pakistan’s most powerful woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, would have to be overcome. It would take more than vacuous UN sentiments to make Malala’s dream a reality.

Yousafazi is flesh and bones, she has already bled for Pakistan and will continue to be a priority target on the Taliban’s kill list. Even an international body like the UN, with its record to protect and defend, cannot guarantee to do so for her and her family.

Malala could soon join ranks with the heroes she has invoked without clear and concrete changes left behind her. Like them, Yousafazi may have to continue making great sacrifices.

Education as Yousafazi insisted is indeed the seed to building a better Pakistan but only vis-à-vis efforts to end violence and corruption in and outside of Pakistan. Pakistan is a pawn in a game between China, Russia and the US. These actors would need to curb their interests which undermine Pakistan’s efforts of development. This means drawing back these nations’ Gulf interests in the region that sponsors perpetual state terror.

The enormity of Yousafazi’s task requires a multilateral solution. One that it is built on peace and compromise, but not without solid bricks and mortar to cement it. A symbol is only effective and indestructible when backed by the pillars of civil society, a defined roadmap strategy with real-time action and the full weight of the international community behind it. This approach proved effective in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Only then will a just and fair society emerge in Pakistan. Should that day come, then Malala Day will serve a dual purpose. But only after the world comes together to end Pakistan’s brutal apartheid against women.

Sign Malala’s petition ending prohibition against girls’ access to education in Pakistan at

I was wasting time on facebook the other day when I came across a post one of my friends had commented on. It was a picture of three women of different proportions, all attractive, all Caucasian, each with a number Photoshopped onto her body. The question the poster, Atomik Nutrition St-Eustache, asked was which body type people preferred.

This shit makes me angry. I mean really, can we not get past the idea that there is somehow one kind of body type that is superior to others? Do most of the other grown ups out there not know that THERE ARE SO MANY MORE THAN JUST THREE BODY TYPES? Like, as many as there are people. Or how about the fact that a person’s beauty is a result of their whole self, not just their outsides? That love and attraction are much more complicated than the shape of your partner’s meat shell?


In their last edition, Men’s Health published an atrocious article titled 11 Qualities of the Perfect Woman. Apparently she’s white, has brown hair, tiny feet, huge tits and laughs at all your jokes. Big fucking surprise. The article was widely, and rightfully, criticized by anyone with an ounce of sense because it was stupid and everyone knows there’s no perfect formula for attraction.

The thing that really fucks me up though, is that people seem to find it completely acceptable to continue to publish this shit. That article, and the fb post I came across, are just tiny drops in an ocean of media that is constantly trying to make women feel like less and that assumes that men are less as well. What do I mean by less? Less beautiful, less worthy, less complex, less valuable, less intelligent. Number one is too skinny, number three is too fat, brown is better than blonde, white is better than brown, dainty is better than strong, strong is better than dainty, be this way, no wait, be that way. I mean seriously, fuck off already!

You know what’s important? Generosity, passion, compassion and love. Those are the things that will make you happy, and therefore beautiful. End of story.

And you know what else? It doesn’t matter if you’re a one or a five or an 8.12. It doesn’t matter if you have tits and a dick or skinny thighs or broad shoulders or purple hair or whatever. You, just as you are right this very moment, are somebody’s idea of perfect.

Now get out there and strut your stuff you sexy fuckers!

Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey.

The attack reads like a cross between a depraved nightmare and a bathsalts bad trip: Jyoti, a 23 year old physiotherapy student and her male companion  are trapped on a moving bus, repeatedly and violently violated, beaten and discarded, naked and bleeding. Then the assailants try to run Jyoti over with the bus.

Emerging details suggest premeditation and the specifics are inhumanely gruesome, my chest caving in as I read them, so I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to decide if you want to know, but I warn that they are jarring, heartbreaking and cannot be unknown.

She died in a Singapore hospital 13 days later, while the world was still catching its breath and the country was still reeling.

An Indian media ban on the publication of her name was upheld despite her family’s pleas. They want her to be remembered as a whole person and we are under no such ban.

She was real; she was concsious and fighting while she endured what is, when we are honest with ourselves, everyone’s worst nightmare. I can’t correlate that despite the touch screen trappings of our purported civility, we are still brutalizing women. In a world where feminism is considered so last century, maybe the repeated and appalling tragedies on women these past few months will bring about the show of force that collective ovaries and healthy thinking men need to bring.

Because this isn’t just about Jyoti.

not asking for itPerhaps the long list of bad news as of late has us only half listening. Jyoti’s attack came as Malala, the 15 year old girl shot by the Taliban at point blank range for advocating girls’ rights, was released from hospital in London.

Meanwhile in Ohio, an unconscious 16 year old girl was carried around to a series of parties, raped multiple times while people watched and snapped pictures. High school football players are accused, and as the conversation grew, a video went viral, landing on CNN, of teen boys discussing it, one saying that if it was his daughter, he would just let her die.

Now the Sheriff in that case is receiving emails threatening the rape and murder of his daughters. Because people there like football more than women? I don’t know what their fuckin’ excuse is. It’s beyond rationale.

Then a 19 year old in Montreal was sexually assaulted by a man who had just been released from similar charges with police being on record as saying he was likely to reoffend and then he’d be in real trouble.

But wait, as I was putting this together, a seven year old girl was raped and murdered in India. Then I woke up Sunday morning to another gang rape in India, again on a bus, again over hours, of a 29 year old woman, who thankfully survived.

I swear to all the gods and goddesses I can name that my soul is breaking. My womb is screaming. I want to know where all the brothers I’ve always believed in are. I want to know how humanity became so inherently broken that we’ve arrived here, because it catches in my throat, it blinds me with rage, I am about to drown in a sea of my own tears and I know there are more of us that feel this way than there are sick fuck perpetrators.

Despite discussion of India’s pervasive rape culture and how we’re better of here, even here we have built and continue to consent to a society which teaches rape prevention to the potential victims like telling people to avoid being the victim of a hit and run. All too many believe feminism is either a stance that rendered itself obsolete sometime after we breached the glass ceiling but decided we still liked the men folk picking up the cheque, or an extremist view opted into by angry ugly chicks, but we never embrace feminism as a humanitarian issue. We preach feminism to women and think somehow it has nothing to do with men.

Admittedly, men and boys are victims of sexual assault too, but I don’t know how many men look over their shoulders at night for fear of rape. Gender equality goes far beyond pay parity: no one tells dudes with baggy pants to pull them up because it looks like they’re asking for it and that illustrates a dangerous imbalance.

Dear Men,

10-top-tips-to-end-rapeReject the dogma that you are nothing more than instinctive beasts unable to control your urges; it demeans us both. Openly argue the implication that rape is about sex and discuss it openly as the vile, brutal assault that it is. Be the voice of civilized reason who will never hear someone say that a woman is “asking for it” without speaking up that unless you heard her specifically ask for something, she hasn’t.

Look at your tribe. They are giving you a bad name. We need hoards of brave, unapologetic women crowding the streets and the media working to bring issues to the surface to protect themselves, their daughters, your daughters, but we need the men, the right thinking, sound minded, civilized men who know rape is sick and unacceptable to stand up, embrace feminism, shout loud and proud that you will never stand idly by, because in a city as crowded as New Dehli, not one person stopped to help Jyoti.

There’s an oft cited stat about the number of college aged men who admitted that they would rape someone if they were certain that there would be no ramifications. If you are one of the men who wouldn’t, disassociate yourself from the cretins of your brthren. Be the voice for the women who have been silenced by fear, by death, by humiliation. Because the freedom to not be raped is the most basic civil right and as MLK said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

So I am lighting candles, figurative and literal, for Jyoti Singh Pandey, for the murdered child, for the Ohio girl, for the Montreal girl, for the Indian woman and praying hard that finally, collectively, we will ignite a blaze of change.

female gaze

Before we discuss why the lady gaze is not only important, but fundamental in retaliating against the patriarchy, I’d like to introduce you to Globe and Mail columnist Ian Brown, the 58-year old self-proclaimed “girl-watcher” with a penchant for young cyclists in nude hose. Sure, society makes him feel like he should be ashamed for staring at a woman young enough to be his daughter, but he rationalizes it because he just can’t help himself. And why should he? The heterosexual male gaze is magnetically drawn to beautiful young women like bees to honey.

At one point in his article, Brown recalls a conversation with a male friend who is similarly drawn to scoping out the stunners he spots on the street.

“We could stop looking,” Brown points out.

“Would that help anything?” his friend replies.

“That’s not an answer. Could you stop looking?”

“You’d have to pretty much turn out the lights.”

So if we recipients of the stares and leers are to believe what Brown says is true, that men not only can’t but shouldn’t stop looking at women, then why not turn the tables around?

Ok, maybe not him.


Details that catch my attention: curly-haired bed head, worn-in band t-shirts, fitted dark denim that shows just a hint of bulge, sneakers with neon laces, bad boy grins, bubble butts, slightly tattered second-hand jackets, guyliner. I’ve always wanted to go up to a fresh faced lad sporting oversized earphones on the metro, grab his cord and swap personal soundtracks with my own for a stop or two. The romantic in me hopes that we’d be grooving to the same Andrew Bird violin loop which would make us, like, soul mates or something.

But then I look down and notice his shoes don’t match. He’s got on one plain black canvas sneaker and one dark brown leather loafer. Does this mean he’s got his mind on more important things, or that he’s simply too stoned to have more than 5 seconds of short-term memory? I bet he’s the kind of partner who would be too lazy to take the dog for a walk but complain later when scrubbing piss out of the carpet, or the kind who would forget the baby at the park, running off to catch the ice cream truck.

At least there’s another piece of man candy around here somewhere. Aha, that stylish looking ginger with put-together vintage prep look and the perfect accessories is probably gay, but there’s no stealing an envious glance at his outfit, right?

Every man I consult on the subject of the lady gaze says the exact same thing: I’d love it if more women openly checked me out, especially if they’re hot.

That’s right, you think you know what you want until you get it.


It goes without saying that our society is a superficial one preoccupied with physical beauty. This type of environment breeds two different sorts of people: those who are flattered by being scoped out by strangers, and those who are creeped out or even downright disgusted by it. Often, the circumstances of the ogling affect the reaction: how am I feeling about myself today? Am I attracted to the person behind the smoldering gaze? Is the length of look lingering past complimentary and into obsessive territory?

Traditionally, men do more of the looking and women do more of the looking away, though women are catching up. A 2009 survey reported in the Guardian found that men spend almost twice as much time checking out strangers, at 45 minute a day, compared with 20 minutes on average for women. While I can think of countless times I made eye flirtations with a striking stranger, I can also recall as many if not more occasions where the man was pervy and I felt a bit violated. And those were only the ones I caught in the act!

It seems there may even be some scientific basis for this unbalance. Men have about six times as much testosterone coursing their veins as women do, the hormone that is linked to the libido. It may also have an effect on the impulse-control region of the brain, leading to the so-called feeling of not being able to stop yourself from stealing that second glance. I sure hate seeing him go but I do like watching him leave.

In the end, this whole argument leaves me conflicted: I would never want to live in a world where it was considered politically incorrect to look at someone cute for a few seconds longer than the average person, but where do you draw the line? I’d like to think that if men like Ian Brown really knew what it was like to put yourself out there and be evaluated and scrutinized to the extent women are, then they would definitely consider an attitude adjustment in that department. What do you think? Are you a looker?

Picture credits: The Telegraph, The Globe & Mail

Conservatives in the United States have a habit of declaring war on anything, so long as the object of their aggression is in contrast with their moral or religious values. The social warfare they declare often goes against public opinion and in every instance the victory itself is unattainable.

Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, George Bush Jr. declared war on terrorism (and the English language!) and if Rick Santorum somehow gets elected, we’ll have a new war on pornography.

Oddly enough, conservatives only declare war on social causes, rarely is it used when referring to places or people. There was no formal declaration of war on Afghanistan or Iraq, and of course they dare not declare war on women, but that is exactly what has been taking place the past couple of years.

In the first few months of 2011 alone, legislators in 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues. This took place three months after the midterm elections where Republicans were elected on the promise of turning the economy around. Instead, more than thirty States enacted 67 anti-abortion measures.

In this election year we continue to see much of the same, but with a new twist. Republicans have been setting their sights on birth control, the single most effective way to avoid abortion in the first place.

Sandra Fluke

After Barack Obama tried to pass a bill requiring all insurance companies to cover contraception, conservatives claimed they had a problem with insurance companies of religious institutions being forced to cover birth control. Obama caved and revised the bill to exclude these institutions, but Republicans did not stop there.

They introduced bills that would allow insurance companies to reject any claims that go against their religious or moral values, in other words; anything, despite the fact that it’s much cheaper for insurance companies to provide birth control rather than covering the cost of a pregnancy.

Some women are speaking out like Sandra Fluke, some are fighting back such as ordinary Virginia citizens who were able to remove an intrusive vaginal probe from an abortion bill. But then some are taking it to extremes; an ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ bill was introduced in Oklahoma to keep men from masturbating and a law was introduced in Georgia that would outlaw vasectomies. Both these laws were introduced by female democrats, hopefully just to send a message.

Conservatives are hell bent on turning back the clock on the rights of women, or Feminazis as Limbaugh likes to call them. It has taken centuries for women to gain the semblance of equality, but even in the 21st century there are those who believe a woman’s place is still in the kitchen or that they should still take a back seat to the man.

I look at a woman from Iran that is stoned to death for cheating on her husband, a girl from Morocco who commits suicide to avoid being forced to marry her rapist, a place like Saudi Arabia where women aren’t even allowed to drive a car. It’s hard to believe that this is where we used to be.

I’m proud of the advances the West has made in the last hundred years in regards to women’s rights. Women of the 20th century fought hard to acquire the rights they have, but are now being forced to fight again just to keep them. Why would anyone living in a free country want to go back to the way things were? Leave them alone!

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Legend speaks of a magical spot buried deep within the mystical loins of the ladies, a pot of gold at the end of an orgasmic rainbow. According to some, it tantalizes with the promise of untold sexual fulfillment, like a current of electricity coursing from the tips of the toe to the darkest corners of the brain. Yet to others, it’s as futile as hunting unicorn.

30 years after its naming, the ever-elusive G-spot continues to generate controversy. A recent documentary on CBC’s Doc Zone explored the history of the erogenous zone, and recent scientific efforts to determine if in fact it does exist.

Named for German gynecologist Ernst Grafenberg, the first to officially discover it in the 1940 the G-spot is “a patch of erectile tissue in the front wall of the vagina, directly behind the pubic bone, that acts something like a second clitoris”. This breakthrough went largely unnoticed until the liberated 1970s when nurse Beverly Whipple performed what she thought would be a simple study on female incontinence during sex. It turned out the fluid these women were secreting wasn’t urine at all, which got Whipple and her team exploring.

Their landmark 1982 book “The G Spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality” faced criticism from scientists, gynecologists and feminists. Some protested that this would raise the bar on people’s sexual expectations, giving some the impression that they’re deficient for being unable to locate the fabled spot.

After   gaining acceptance in popular culture and mass media, the G-spot faded in popularity, becoming relegated to the occasional headline in Cosmo magazine. That is, until a 2009 study by a team of British researchers led by Andrea Burri determined there is no genetic basis for the so-called pleasure center.

They posited that if the G-spot truly were a bodily feature, it would have to be related to our genes. To determine the genetic influence on the spot, Burri and her team developed and posed a questionnaire to sets of identical and fraternal twins. Just over half the women reported having a G-spot, but since the numbers were no higher in the identical twins, the team concluded that genetics have nothing to do with it.

“The G-spot doesn’t seem to be an anatomical entity or a physiological phenomenon, but rather women thinking they do have a G-spot might be women who are generally more arousable. So it’s more of a subjective perception than an objective phenomenon,” Burri said in the documentary ‘In Search of the G-Spot’.

Not wanting to let the English believe they were the authorities in the boudoir, the French counteracted with their own study affirming the spot’s existence in most women. They also denounced what they deemed a lack of respect for what women were reporting happening in their own bodies.   Sexuality cannot always be boiled down to absolutes with a clear cause and effect. Maybe there are aspects of human behavior that cannot be reduced to the genetic level.

And of course, the Americans found a way to make money off the G-spot. Los Angeles plastic surgeon Dr. David Matlock developed the G-shot which increases the spot’s size from that of a kidney bean to that of a quarter, which in turn, increases arousal and pleasure during sex. It’ll set you back nearly $2000, which a seemingly small price to pay, he points out, for such a large bundle of joy.

A true highlight of the documentary was watching a Real Housewives of LA type, casually pondering whether the G-shot her and her gaggle of gals often receive isn’t a little addictive, comparing it to getting her nails done while cruising past the Hustler office.

The most illuminating fact for me in the film was the actual size of the clitoris and its relationship with the G-spot. The part that protrudes at the top of the vagina is but the tip of a much larger iceberg, a complex organ that occupies the whole of the female perineum. Some speculate that the reason the G-spot holds such orgasmic power is that it is the best way to stimulate the entire organ at once, sending those blissful shockwaves of pleasure throughout the whole body.

There are a few different ways to go about doing this. The best is with the woman on her stomach, and her partner entering her from behind. There are a bevy of fun and interesting toys designed for this very purpose. Relax, have some fun, and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!

To learn more, you can stream the documentary at:




American Apparel is finally going to be making clothes in more American sizes as they expand into the ever-growing plus size clothing market. And since their brand is associated and almost dependent on a particular type of visual image, they took the opportunity to find a fresh face for this new advertising campaign. Their casting call for curvy ladies “who need a little extra wiggle room where it counts” offered the winner the chance to be flown to LA for a bootylicious photoshoot.

The patronizing tone of the casting call really struck a nerve with Nancy Upton, a 24-year old blogger from Austin, Texas.

“As corny as it sounds, it just occurred to me that based on their “Hey, come on, fatties, we want you to play, too” tone, wouldn’t it be kind of brilliant to respond in a, “Thanks for letting me play, just let me try to put down the pizza, first” similar mocking tone,” she said.

And put down the pizza she did, and picked up pie, ice cream, and fried chicken instead. Her irreverent photos are nothing short of brilliant, ranging from her in front of the fridge post ice-cream binge to elegantly-dressed, gloves and all, in a swimming pool about to feast on a chicken drumstick to lounging in a bathtub full of ranch dressing. Her images were accompanied by the biographic text, “I’m a size 12, I just can’t stop eating.” While she never considered herself to be a serious competitor in the contest, she was ranked first overall when online voting ended, beating out countless boring shots.

However, the company declined to offer her the prize, giving it instead to “other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out.” This coming from a company who once decreed that plus size clothing was not their demographic. Also, from the company whose CEO has been accused of masturbating in front of a reporter and several former employees, and who wore nothing but a “cock sock” to meetings. You’d think they would support the ridiculousness of Upton’s aesthetic, which generally involves vacant, doe-eyed barely legal ladies in sexually charged, slutty situations.

This is why I generally can’t support American Apparel. Sure, they do have some nice styles, but their prices are inflated for the basics.   When I get to write about them at work, my daytime copywriting gig peddling a variety of so-called designer fashions at discount prices, I usually bust out the rhyming dictionary, “Whether in London, Paris or Bangkok, you’ll stand out in this fabulous frock.”

But wearing their clothes ultimately makes me a feel a little dirty, like I’m buying into this aesthetic where women objectify themselves in the name of peddling panties.

In the end, Upton was offered a chance to tour the American Apparel office and factory in downtown LA, and she accepted on the condition that she is able to write about her experience, one piece that I am very much looking forward to reading.

I’m just gonna come out and say it: thank goodness for television. When you examine the television landscape, you easily notice that it’s populated with an array of smart, talented women. Mary Louise Parker, Laura Linney, Tina Fey and others before them like Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore have all proven that women can carry comedy on television. And yet for some reason, there is still nowhere near the same level of   respect and work for actresses in big screen comedies. Why is that?

While she may have become the Queen of bad romantic comedies, I respect Katherine Heighl for always speaking her mind, notably in her infamous 2007 Vanity Fair interview. In the interview, Heighl talks about how in her  comedy Knocked Up, the men got all the funny parts while the women did little more than nag and roll their eyes. People gave Heighl a lot of slack for that interview, but what I want to know is what’s so wrong about Heighl wanting to  have good material for herself?

Can it be possible that in this day and age, people still think that women working in films’ only worthy quality is their sex appeal? Is it possible to detect intense sarcasm when it’s written down?

The really sad part of all this is that some  people have the balls to argue that women aren’t funny, period. The same year that Heighl gave her interview, Christopher Hitchens wrote one of the most blatant pieces of misogynic trash I’ve ever read, entitled “Why women aren’t Funny” in which he argues:

“Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny?… The Chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we so laughingly call her) is not so kind to men… Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift…my argument doesn’t say that there are no decent women comedians. Most of them, though, when you review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish…”

Where do I begin? In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, Hitchens can eat my poo. Not an insightful and intellectual response to the article, you say? Perhaps. But as Hitchens seems to argue, I am incapable of creating funny thoughts because I don’t have a penis and my goal in life isn’t to bang a bunch of chicks. Maybe if I was “hefty, dykey or Jewish” I’d have more of a chance at a witty comeback. Jesus.

After reading articles like that one, I am even more pleased at the success of this year’s completely female driven big screen comedy Bridesmaids (produced by Knocked  Up director Judd Apatow, maybe it’s time for Heighl to make amends). It’s a shame that it was marketed as The Hangover for women because while the films both revolve around a wedding, they couldn’t be more different.

Bridesmaids‘ real focus is on the complexities of female relationships and the film doesn’t have a melodramatic or overly sappy bone in its body. Co-written by star Kirsten Wigg, the film has a fun, honest edge to it while getting just as ridiculous as any Seth Rogen comedy.

It may be shocking for the male population of the world to know, but women do poop and fart as well; and we can make pretty damn funy jokes about it. Hopefully the success of this film will encourage the studios to show how funny women of all shapes, sexual orientation and religion can be on the big screen.

Bacall in To Have or Have Not (1944)

Recently I mused on how hard it is for women to work in films after they reach forty years old. But even before reaching forty let’s be honest;  in 2011 it’s still hard  for  actresses to find quality roles  compared to their male counterparts. That’s not to say of course that throughout the history of film there hasn’t been some extraordinary female characters. When researching the column this week, it wasn’t surprising to see that the characters to make my top ten  list of all time greatest female  film characters  are all independent, smart and strong ladies who more than hold their own against any male character.

1. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Girl Friday  (1940) Without a doubt my favourite screwball comedy. I know a large part of that has to do with the fact that at the heart of this film is a strong career woman. Hildy is a generous, loving woman but there’s no way that she belongs at home in the kitchen; she’s meant to be hitting the streets and matching wits with her partner in crime Cary Grant.

2. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast at Tiffanys (1961) The epitome of   New York chic, Holly is a survivor and the life of any party. While she’s willing to let people  into her life on a superficial level you have to work damn hard to earn the love of Miss Golightly, and after all her fabulous suitors  struggling writer Paul is the only man who seems right for the job.   While the film is damn near perfection, I also encourage you to read the original novella by Truman Capote. It’s in fact enormously different but incredibly sastisfying.

3.  Clementine Kruczynki (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) While Winslet is known for her period films, my all time favourite performance of hers is as the wild and unpredictable Clementine.  Clementine loves with her whole heart and doesn’t put up with bullshit from any man. But most of all I love Clementine because she’s fearless and  willing to take risks, especially with love.

4.  Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) in Blue Angel  (1930) When I went to film school I watched countless amounts of pretentious garbage. But then one day a professor put this film on and introduced me to an actress called Dietrich, and the love affair continues to this day. The film that launched  Dietrich’s career, Lola is a cabaret singer who is in complete control  of her sexuality and knows how to use it to her advantage.

Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)

5.  Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) in Vicky Christina Barcelona  (2008) The last great film Woody Allen has directed, is all about the ladies. All while Johansson and Hall are excellent in it no one in this films compares to brilliance of Penelope Cruz as unstable artist Maria Elena. I knew Cruz was a good actress  after seeing her in Almodovar films, but until this I’d never seen an English language film with her that I’d enjoyed.  Maria Elena is like an explosion that’s ready to go off at any minute; while she’s wild to the point  of just plain crazy she’s so fascinating, so full of life and sexual energy, that you can’t help  but want to be around for every moment.

6.  Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) in The Hours (2002) It was a pretty tough call between the Streep and Moore character in this film, but when pressed to make the call, Clarissa wins out. I mean really, she is portrayed by the greatest living actress after all. Clarissa is so fasinating to me because she’s hardworking, fiercely loyal and ultimately compassionate even under the hardest of circumtances. Streep’s scenes with Ed Harris are some of the best two character moments ever put onscreen in my opinion and if you haven’t seen this movie yet I suggest you get to it!

7.  Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) When you think of Martin Scorsese, women’s director is most definitely not a term that springs to mind. And while I am a huge fan of his gangster movies I was extremely surprised a few years ago to see something completely different from him, the story of a single mother who hits the road  with the dream  of making it as a singer. Burstyn is perfect as the sassy waitress/aspiring singer and  her scenes with Kris Kristofferson have some of my all time favorite onscreen chemistry.

8. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in Lost in Translation (2003) Before she became a sex symbol, Scarlett Johansson gave a strong and wonderful performance as Charlotte, a headstrong young newlywed who is more than able to keep up with Bill Murray. Charlotte may have a bit of a wise-ass side to her but she’s so genuine that it’s hard not to want to have your own adventure with her in a far off land.

9.  Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) in To Have and Have Not (1944) The movie where Boogie met Bacall. Like Dietrich, Marie, aka “Slim,” is a woman completely comfortable in her sexuality and knows exactly how to use it. In the forties you couldn’t just have two characters go at it so it was all about the double entrendre wordplay, and Boogie and Bacall where some of the all time best at delivering seemily innocent lines that where just dripping with sex. I love this character because she chases Boogie just as much as he chases her, and the film doesn’t force her to die some horrible death because she’s a woman who realishes in her sexuality.

10.  Amelie Poulin (Audrey Tatou) in Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulin (2001) I will always love any Tatou film but to date nothing has compared with the magical Amelie. This character is the perfect guide to the film’s romanticized view of Paris; as such a sweet and naive girl who is always willing to fight for the injustices in the world, it’s absolutely impossible not to fall in love with her.


Cate Blanchett is one of those rare actresses who manages to have a thriving career in Hollywood despite having turned the big 4-0

In an industry that revels in youth and sex, getting older is an issue that affects any actor working in Hollywood.  Movie stars have to work extremely hard to stay on top because there are countless people below them vying for their own glimpse at the spotlight.

As a woman, it seems you have to work even harder to get roles once you hit your forties – and many just don’t make it! So what is it? What is that elusive quality needed to keep a woman working in Hollywood after 40?

Sex appeal is without a doubt one of the most important factors that keeps an actor working. While completely deplorable, we all know that in our culture women are viewed as less sexually attractive as they age.   On the other hand, even when looks fade, men can still get leading roles well into their fifties and beyond: Mickey Rourke, Nick Nolte and their horribly misshapen middle aged faces immediately come to mind.

Women of the same age, meanwhile, find themselves mostly relegated to playing the mother or wisecracking cleaning lady of the young starlet cast as the romantic lead in the film (As Good as it Gets from 1997 or 1954’s Rear Window).

What a lot of young actresses do not realize is that while sex appeal is important, it is not the sole quality needed to ensure your enduring power as a star. Think about Hollywood’s most famous sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe. Monroe died when she was thirty six. What kind of roles do you think she possibly could have gotten when lines appeared on her face and those fabulous breasts of hers started to sink?

Monroe had undeniable charisma on the screen, but honestly, just like Megan Fox today, she didn’t have the talent required to continue on in roles that weren’t about showcasing her sexuality. While it might be fun to play a MILF in American Pie 12, once you pass a certain age, how much can you really connect with an audience in those kinds of roles?

Think about the trajectory of the career of actresses that have passed the 40 plus curse. Beyond needing the raw talent to portray roles that aren’t all about your tits and ass, the crucial element in a long career is making sure you never get typecast. Meryl Streep is the perfect example of a beautiful and talented actress who has aged gracefully from playing a Holocaust survivor (Sophie’s Choice, 1982) to a Danish plantation owner (Out of Africa 1985) to the bitch queen of New York fashion (The Devil wears Prada, 2006);   she has shown she can play a variety of different roles.

At 42, Cate Blanchett is another actress who, like Streep, has the talent and versatility to continue on for many years to come. Like Katherine Hepburn, whom Blanchett won an Oscar for playing in The Aviator (2004),   she is a woman who while absolutely beautiful, backs up her talent by radiating confidence instead of sexuality. There’s just something about these women that tells you they don’t take any shit from men and you love them for it.

It would be wonderful to expect one day Hollywood will start producing an equal amount of quality roles for actresses of all shapes, sizes and ages, as they do for men, but this author won’t hold her breath for it! That’s not to say there aren’t positive signs out there these days about the future of women in the movies. One of the biggest hits so far in summer 2011 is Bridesmaids, a female-driven raunchy comedy starring 38 year old Kirsten Wiig. As with most things she’s done, Wiig   is absolutely hilarious in it and after years of being a supporting character in boys’ comedies deserves to become a full fledged movie star in her own right. Let’s hope she does, and does it for a lot longer than two years!

Five years ago, a woman was gang raped in a remote village in Pakistan. Unlike many women before her, Mukhtar Mai decided to confront her assailants. She defied the conventional thinking and fought back. She took her battle to the highest courts in Pakistan. Mai became an international figure and now runs schools for children in her native village.

Dishonour Defied is the story of how Mai made a life with courage after the tragedy that befell her. It’s also the story of other women and girls struggling for their rights in Pakistan in the wake of the Mai case. This extremely timely film, directed by emerging filmmaker Azra Rashid, deals with the courageous rape survivor Mukhtar Mai and women’s rights in Pakistan.

The documentary won an award at the WorldFest in Houston and has been screened nationally and internationally at various film festivals and schools and colleges.

Update: In April 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan released five of the six men accused of raping Ms. Mai. Mukhtar Mai fears the worst as the men return to the village.