Dress Coded (Or Holy Shit, It’s Been A Quarter Century Since the Supreme Court Ruled that Breasts Are Not Sexual Objects So Why Are We Still Doing This Shit?)

As the kids toddled, schlepped and harrumphed their way back to school this week, it didn’t take long before I saw my first Facebook post about someone’s kid – daughter, of course – being Dress Coded. I’d never heard that term before but of course I knew immediately what it meant.

The outfit in question seemed pretty reasonable for a day that was near record highs. It was a tank top and jeans. The tank had regular straps, not the spaghetti variety, though I am still confused why that makes a difference. Not surprisingly, her fiery redheaded mother did not take this lying down.

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My eyes are on my face, mister.

The Facebook post that followed produced all manner of righteous indignation but really got ramped up when a retired science teacher from our old high school weighed in on the importance of clothing standards for female students and why they must be maintained. It did not go well for him. He doubled down. It was a mistake. I think a lot of students who had previously held him in high esteem do not feel the same way today.

After some thought, I contributed my own comment, italicised below. I have edited the original comment for flow, context and to correct a few grammatical transitions I noticed after the fact but the heart of it remains a true accounting.

ME:  I missed most of this thread last night, only reading it this morning. I have been reticent to weigh in, with the sense that the world does not lack for opinions from middle-aged, pudgy, white males. [Mother of Dress Coded girl] has instead encouraged me to share.

[Retired High School Science Teacher], perhaps this should be viewed as a science experiment. Do your views hold up to scrutiny? Is what was believed by some to be true five, 10, 15 years ago true today? Was it ever true or just accepted wisdom that has since been disproved? Science and our understanding of it evolves so shouldn’t the views of those who observe these changes? Aren’t noting these changes and modifying one’s conclusions not the definition of a good scientific methodology? While I never had you as a science teacher, I had friends who did and thought you were very good. I think your instinct to re-examine some of your beliefs is generally a good one, as it is for each of us from time to time.

I don’t want to pile on to [Retired High School Science Teacher]. Others have taken him to task with much more authority than I ever could. But he did raise the concept of standards on a number of occasions throughout the thread. I have spent most of the last decade and a half working for a standards development organization and I can tell you that standards, as the product of human imaginations, are at times flawed, only reflect a segment of society at a specific time and understanding, that they evolve and they are discarded when they are deemed no longer useful or appropriate.

It used to be the standard that women had long hair and men had short hair. This is no longer the case. It used to be the standard that only sailors, bikers and ex-cons had tattoos. This is no longer the case. It used to be the standard that members of the LGBTQ et al. communities were deemed a threat to public morals and should stay firmly in their respective closets, leading lives of quiet desperation. There is still quite some work to do here but at least for some, this is no longer the case.

There was a time when teachers had to be unmarried, teetotallers who regularly attended the “right” church (not synagogue, not mosque) services. This is no longer the case. There was a time when the legs of tables were considered so risqué that people fashioned coverings so as not to arouse . . . who exactly? Not to be crass but even the most-shapely of table legs has never caused any stirrings for me beyond an appreciation of a craft at which I have never excelled.

Yet these and many others were considered the societal standards at some point in our shared history. And we discarded them because they were silly, destructive and simply poor public policy.

A couple years ago, my oldest daughter was wearing shorts that my wife believed were too short and too revealing. She commented to our daughter that people would be looking at her crotch. Our daughter’s response was, “What do I care what some creepy pervert looks at? That says more about him than it does about me or my shorts.” My wife, a feminist with a capital F, with degrees after her name that look like someone spilled a bowl of Alphaghettis on the ground, was thoroughly owned by a 10-year-old. And she couldn’t have been prouder of our daughter.

This can’t be completely about the exposure of skin, either. From 1984 to 1988-ish, I was on the high school swim team. Our bathing suits were Speedos, yes, the dreaded manties. We wore them proudly and our school lavished praise on us as we challenged for the Ontario provincial championships in each of the years I was there. The school even put our pictures in the yearbook, all of us, female and male, wearing our not-much-left-to-the-imagination bathing suits. Fun fact: chlorinated water degrades a Lycra bathing suit, leaching the colours out, after a few months. Those bathing suits were more or less see-thru. I kid you not.

Both of my daughters have played in the local girls’ softball association for the past few years. They both have raised the same questions and made the same complaints: “Why do the boys get to wear long baseball-style  pants but the girls have to wear shorts?” I have no answers and cannot come up with any compelling reason why this should be so.

Given genetics and general feistiness, I can well see that we might one day be on the receiving end of one of these phone calls. I hope it never happens but my wife was suggested that if it should come to pass, I should stop to pick up bail money on the way.

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Meeting the Neighbours . . . the Hard Way

Sometimes random click-bait videos are just so relatable. Largely because we’ve either been in a similar situation or could imagine that scenario.

Like this guy:

I have been this guy. True story: seven or eight years ago I noticed that the rollers under the frame of the screen on our sliding glass door had broken and I attempted to replace it with a universal screen door with adjustable rollers. Evidently this is what makes it “universal”. And by universal, I presume we must be referring to a neighbouring universe.

After days of struggling to adjust the rollers just so, they would invariably work for two or three slides and then the door would fall off. Finally, on a warm afternoon marked by a rise in blood pressure, it happened one last time. It. Fell. Off.

In a moment of frustration, I picked up the screen and heaved it just to show it who was boss. It would seem it was the screen who was boss because it decided to do a tour of our neighbours’ backyards, landing two houses south of our home, across the backyard fence.

Thus began the walk of shame whereby I introduced myself to our neighbours, explained the situation, had some laughs, retrieved the screen door and never spoke to them again. That’s life in the ‘burbs, friends.

I will acknowledge that throwing inanimate objects with which we are frustrated is not exactly a hallmark of advanced intelligence but you will have to acknowledge that sometimes our lizard brains take over and it just feels so damn good. Even if you have to debase yourself in front of your neighbours.

When I was a kid, maybe 8, my father chucked his shoe in a moments of frustration. It banged into a cabinet door in the kitchen, promptly knocking it off its hinges and giving him an unscheduled project for the afternoon. At the time I was amazed at my father’s remarkable strength in being able to knock a door clean off with just a shoe — that he wasn’t even wearing.

But then a few decades later, this guy showed us all who was boss:

He managed to get the President of the United States to duck his shoes. Twice.

If You Don’t Want a Fight, Best Not to Pick One

Oh but aren’t these folks too precious for words. As former FBI Director James Comey might say, “Lordy!”

A few days ago a group of vegan activists set up shop in front of the Antler Kitchen & Bar in Toronto, protesting fact that the establishment serves game meats, sourced in a method they deem ethical. Protest

Evidently the protesters, led by one particularly special snowflake, were aghast to learn that meat was being butchered, prepared and consumed at the restaurant they have been protesting in front of for at least three consecutive Fridays.

I am not sure why this should have been such a shock to them as they showed up with signs decrying the consumption of meat with signs reading “Murderer” and “Animals are not ours (sic) to use.”

The leader of this delightfully merry band of half wits, Marni Ugar, feels sad when animals are consumed. No one tell her there are a lot of other shitty things going on in the world right now.

So Marni and her cohorts were protesting the resto last Friday, which is their right, when the owner and chef decided he was going to troll them right back by bringing a deer leg to the front window, butchering it in front of them, cooking it, Michael Hunterthen proceeding to eat it right in front of them. I would suggest the protesters might have been clutching at their pearls though I am fairly certain none of them would deign to touch such oyster effluent.

“It was obviously stressful for us since we’re there taking a stand for the animals — we love animals — and we’re seeing the leg of a dead animal in his window.”

Now, I love, love, LOVE a good, smart trolling, particularly when it takes an unexpected turn. Of course, without pearls to be clutched, our protests did what they do best — self-righteous indignation. 

“We were in shock,” [Ugar] recalled. “It’s just an animal and we felt sad. For me, I felt sad for a few days after seeing that.

Ugar said she thinks the group’s weekly protests were getting to Hunter and that he carved up the meat in front of them in retaliation.

“He wanted to get us back, which I guess is easy to do. We’re only there because we love animals,” she said.

In a shocking and surprising turn of events, someone called the police. Twice. To their credit, the Toronto Police Service treated this like the idiotic thing it is.

And then we got to the crux of the matter — Ugar wants Antler to change in ways that she deems satisfactory. She wants them to go  . . . wait for it . . . the suspense is killing you, isn’t it . . . oh, maybe ‘killing’ was a poor choice of words here . . . VEGAN! I know, I didn’t see it coming either.

Okay, to be fair, to this point she and her companions did not specify that restaurant had to go entirely vegan but they do want more vegan options on the menu. Like vegan steak. It does strike me as odd that one who is so stridently against the consumption of meats would want to enter a place cMeatalled Antler, but that’s just me.

I actually have a lot of time for people who choose not to eat animal meats or by-products. There are myriad reasons why one would choose not to do so. Those who know me will recognize that I do enjoy my meats, perhaps too much.

But here is where Ugar’s argument falls apart: as she and her group attempted to interfere with Hunter’s livelihood, she didn’t count on him upping the steaks stakes.

“I prefer dialogue over fighting,” was her ever-so-weak rejoinder. No ma’am, you prefer to play the victim.

 

 

 

On Freedom 40-something . . .

Remember those London Life commercials promising Freedom 55? Remember when you thought retirement was even an option? Yeah, me too…

It’s been a little more than a year since I left my job of 11 years. I say left my job but that isn’t exactly accurate, however a legal agreement exists whereby that is all I will say. I knew job hunting was not going to be fun or easy but I was focused on my goals and felt certain that I would have a new job, one of my choosing, by the fall. And I was close! So close! But then it didn’t happen. More interviews followed but I have not been able to stick the landing.

So, now it’s March and the job hunt continues unabated. I sometimes joke that I am semi-retired but it’s not that’s not really funny anymore and with two kids and a mortgage, the family finances certainly don’t allow for that to become a reality.

I try not to get too high or too low but as time grinds on, it really does become an unrelenting grind. When I have an interview and my wife asks how it went, I try not to get too excited at the possibility of success, a mistake I have made too often in the past. The let down is too much. Equally, I have had times when I came out of an interview not feeling like I connected with the panel at all only to find they want to speak with me again. I’ve learned not to trust my gut.

Lest this turn into a long list of complaints, which is not my intent, let me preface the remainder by saying there are many organizations and many human resource professionals who are very forthright in delivering bad news and doing so kindly, in a timely manner. Bad news though it may be, it is appreciated.

The ones that kill me are those who can not be bothered to respond at all. I had a rueful laugh last week when I received an e-mail for a position I applied for ten months ago, telling me that the employer decided not to fill the position. Thanks but after six months or so, I got the feeling I wasn’t the candidate. When I posted about it on Facebook, a friend told me she got a call out of the blue about a position she’d interviewed for two years prior. The funny thing is, they were offering her the job. She didn’t take it, having secured something better soon after.

Anyhow, a minor venting. That’s it. Moving on. Besides, I flagged a few positions to apply to this weekend. Wish me luck!

When You Hit Rock Bottom, Please Stop Digging

Eight years ago I wrote the following in response to Pat Robertson’s stunning claim that the people of Haiti suffered as a result of a pact with the devil. Given the recent comments attributed to the current occupant of the White House, my response seems as salient today as it did then.

Dear Revs. Robertson, Haggard, Swaggart, Bakker, et al.,

I am a doubter. An agnostic. An atheist. I understand that in your eyes that casts me outside the circle of saved souls who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal saviour and therefore, I am somewhat a lesser human being, one doomed to an eternity of sorrow. I am okay with that as I did not arrive at my non-belief rashly or in a thoughtless manner. In fact, like many non-believers, I was brought up in a nominally Christian household where church attendance was expected if somewhat irregular.

As a non-believer, I endeavour to accept that the world is full of pious, righteous people of faith who, while our disagreements might be myriad, are acting in full accordance with the tenets of their faith. I can respect that. What I cannot respect is the hatred, vitriol and bile you offer those same people in the name of your religion, in the name of your God.

I claim no expertise on scripture, Christian or otherwise, but my recollection of the central messages of the 10 Commandments God entrusted to Moses and of Jesus’ ministry was to love thy neighbour, protect the meek, stand up to tyranny, not to bear false witness, not to steal, not to practise infidelity, not to create false idols and not to murder. That is the basis of your religious belief, correct?

I do not know who amongst you has attended divinity school. I could look it up but I honestly don’t care. I suspect that even the most conservative of mainstream divinity schools would find your collective assertions and behaviours appalling.

To whit: blaming the citizens of the western hemisphere’s poorest nation for their lot in life on a “pact with the devil” supposedly made two centuries prior? Are you really castigating an enslaved people for wanting to be free from the yoke of oppression? Did it escape your attention that the majority of Haitians are practising Christians? Is yours’ not the God of love, compassion and forgiveness?

Or how about blaming the feminists, liberals, gays, lesbians and abortionists for the failing of New Orleans levees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Please show me the thru-line of your logic. By my take, many of the failures were caused by a theologically-predisposed federal administration which – and I truly mean no pun here – hung its own citizens out to dry. Again, I suspect if you were to poll those self-same citizens as to their religious affiliations, most would identify as Christians.

Perhaps the more than 3,000 souls who perished on September 11 were worthy of God’s wrath. After all, most were American and, as above, I suspect many, if not most, would have identified as Christians. And yet many of you zealously damned those who perished, saying that this was God’s punishment upon the nation. Yes, God damn the police officers who put their lives at risk so that the vast majority of the 25,000 people who were actually in the World Trade Center that day were able to escape. God damn the firefighters who ran up the endless flights of stairs while others ran out. God damn the EMTs who triaged the wounded and scared as bodies dropped from the sky. God damn the Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen, as well as the civilians who pulled their dead and injured colleagues from the rubble of the Pentagon. And certainly God would damn the passengers of United 93 who tried to wrest control of their doomed plane from the hijackers on that terrible day.

This world is full of grief and danger. You men live in the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever known. And yet you continue to debase yourselves, your nation, your citizens and the God you so profess to love and obey. Can you see why people like me have no time or patience for people like you?

And that may be the saddest thing of all. I recently met a very nice, intelligent, funny and compassionate Christian minister. There was everything to like about her and very little to question. And yet, based on the behaviour of so-called Christian leaders, I found myself wary to believe much of what she said. I found myself questioning what should have been unquestionable actions. Your bile has so poisoned the atmosphere that even the most earnest of your peers is now suspect. Of course, she is also a lesbian, so I doubt you would have liked her very much anyway.

In closing, when my life ceases and I proceed to the next step, whatever that is, if I am wrong and God truly does exist, I hope that I will “be judged on the content of my character,” to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I hope that it will be judged that I was worthy of the privilege of life. I hope that God will love the doubter as much as the Bible says that he loves a sinner.

If there is a God, if there is a Heaven and if there is a Hell, then I am certain of this: you and your brethren will be reunited with Revs. Falwell, Roberts et al., in the place reserved for those who bring misery into this world in the name of their God.

 

The F Word and Why I Love It (alternative title — Swearing: A Love Story)

Those who know me well — and those who don’t know me at all but do something to incur my wrath — know my fondness for the F-word. It is, to me, the universal word to spice up a sentence, punctuating it with fulsome meaning, both negative and positive, often simultaneously.

Back in waning days of the 20th century, I was a university student who found himself in a second-year Human Linguistics class. Not surprisingly, the class was largely populated by smarmy journalism students. Even less surprisingly, we considered ourselves to be cunning linguists. I think you see where this essay is going . . . The faint-hearted amongst you should proceed with caution.

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One of my favourite essays from that time, one I wrote, was a treatise on swearing in the English language. My thesis posited that all English swear words found their origins in acts of elimination or sex, the organs and orifices involved in those acts, or religion. I managed to stretch out 20 pages with a paucity of curse words on every page. I had no idea whether my prof would like it or hate it but I decided to go all in.

If memory serves, I got one of the few A’s I managed throughout a middling academic career. The only negative comments from my professor? “What about the word ‘Tits’?” Later, over drinks with the same professor, I suggested ‘tits’ was not a swear word but an abbreviated version of the word ‘titillate’ and that breasts are secondary sex characteristics. He considered it, ordered the next round, and said, “You might be right.” Again, words I did not hear often.

It was a few years later that I read Paperweight, an anthology of essays by the English satirist Stephen Fry. This particular essay was entitled, Saying Fuck. It. Was. Brilliant. I highly recommend it.

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Another book, which I have not read but full intend to, is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. Here is a short excerpt Manson has provided to encourage you to buy his book. Do It!

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I have to admit — I find it funny when little kids swear. I find it even funnier when the colour drains from the face of a mortified parent, usually the mother, upon hearing expressed profane invective shooting from the mouths of their darling angels. While the parents might well be thinking, “Where have I failed you, child?”, I often find myself thinking, “I want to drink with that kid some day.”

Truthfully, I don’t get super worked up when my kids swear so long as they realize there is an appropriate time and place to do so. Last summer, when my then-10-year-old banged her head on a metal balustrade, we gave her permission to swear. She reeled off a string of invective that started with the letter F and ended with uck. Cool by me.

Here’s the thing: science backs me up on this. Swearing is a proven pain reliever.

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When I get together with friends, cuss words fly left and right because, even though we are reasonably well-educated, reasonably well-accomplished, middle-age adults, in some ways it is our lingua franca. We don’t do it to offend, we do it because it is a bit like cilantro — a little is good, a lot is too fucking much.

 

It’s A Small World, After All

I will forever been amazed at just how small the world is.

Case-in-point: a few weeks ago I was innocently folding laundry when my wife, in the way that left-handed redheads are wont to do, confronted me, asking if I had anything to tell her about a certain conference I attended in 2003 in Mt. Tremblant, Quebec?

Panic set in . . . my heart plunged into my stomach . . . my hands got sweaty . . . my head spun like Buddy when he learned that Papa Elf was not his father . . .

. . . and then I remembered, I had done nothing wrong. I had a brutal cold for the first half of the conference and only participated on the last night’s festivities. I had behaved! Yeah me!

Of course, none of this served as an answer as to why my wife was angry. But not really angry. Fake, playful angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

So I finished the laundry and checked my Facebook account, where the offending message was posted. I was tagged in a photo on the night in question at the Canadian Council for Advancement in Education Writers and Editors conference in 2003. Behind me, on the couch, much to my surprise, was Lea Storry who was then an employee at Mount Allison University. I worked at the University of Toronto at the time.

 

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Lea and I have been Facebook friends for a few years now though we’ve only actually met a few times. The reason for our meeting was that she married Jason van Rassel, my classmate from Ryerson University’s School of Journalism from 1990 to 1993. Jason and Lea met when they were both staff reporters at the Calgary Herald. So . . . I met Jason’s wife long before he did.

But wait, there’s more . . . Lea also received a degree in journalism at Ryerson, though a few years after Jason and I graduated.

As I looked at the photo, I recalled that one of the attendees was a woman named Shannon from York University. Shannon is now married to Jeff, with whom I worked at U of T. She has since left York and is working at  . . . Ryerson.

I shared a cab with Shannon to the airport in Montreal. As we were saying our good-byes, a blonde woman approached me, saying “Jamie?” It was Jen, an old friend from high school whom I had not seen in more than a decade. She was living in Ottawa but was passing through Montreal on her way home.

Here’s the funny thing — I very nearly skipped this conference as the thought of flying, a two-hour bus ride and being “on” seemed a tall task when it felt as though my head might explode. Nevertheless, I am glad I went. If only because I can now hold it over Jason that I knew his wife before he did.

Addendum: Jason was recently back in Ottawa for the 105th edition of the Grey Cup. On the bus, riding to the stadium, was Rod, another of our Ryerson classmates. The world just gets smaller.