In the Beginning: Forget the SpinMay 23, 2008
The seeds of Forget the Spin were born years ago on a breezy day in the beautiful city of Vancouver. There I was, innocently minding my own beeswax (as a good woman should) while I perused the Vancouver Sun. Then I read IT. "IT" being the first of several articles by Daphne Bramham on Bountiful, a polygamous religious community that was flourishing unchecked in my very own province, British Columbia. I nearly choked on my cup of Earl Grey.
The community had existed for over 50 years, girls as young as 13 had been married off to men over fifty, and the leader of the community and principal of the school, Winston Blackmore, had 26 wives and too many children to count. Girls in the school were taught their only chance to get to heaven is through the invitation of their husband. Boys were taught they have to marry at least three wives to enter heaven themselves. And then I learned the school was funded, like other religious schools in B.C., at the rate of 50% of what public schools receive. Why were any of these schools getting a dime?
Could this be real? Had I sniffed too many smelling salts? Or not enough? I loosened the stays of my corset and drummed up the courage to read on. The institutions with the legal powers to do something about it were fully aware and fully content to ignore the situation. Successive attorney generals of B.C. during the last fifty years had justified their lack of action by vague mutterings about religion freedoms and opening up a "can of worms." I read editorials arguing anti-polygamy laws might not be constitutional.
I had to wonder: if the genders were reversed, and fifty year old women were marrying as many young boys as they could get their hands on, claiming the sanctity of religion, would any of the attorney generals have been so wishy-washy? I think not.
Until this point I'd been content to let my feminist rage seethe silently beneath my multi-colored crinolines. But I began to have nightmares that I was being suffocated by gingham frocks while being forced to pray to the baby Jesus.
The news of Bountiful, combined with the revelation that an arbitration law had been passed in Ontario in l991 to allow religious institutions to try civil cases, including family law, left me utterly aghast. What was happening in my own country? A nation that supposedly held equality rights near and dear to its shivering northern heart? I read editorial after editorial and column after column that professed that cultural and religious rights trumped women's rights. I read attack after attack on feminists who were now called "rascist" and "xenophobic" for believing equality rights should trump religious rights. The spin was falling so thick and fast I felt covered in slime.
Fast forward to 2008 and the community of Bountiful continues to multiply as freely as rabbits in springtime, unopposed and still defended by journalists and editors who believe it is more politically correct to defend the freedom of religion than the rights of women.
The spin delivered by those who rule, whether they be religious leaders or politicians or intellectuals (pseudo included), whether it be about women's rights, gay rights, native rights, or corporate greed, poverty, and charging off to war, is so tremendously effective we are now in the midst of an epidemic of muddy thinking.
The information age is a little frightening - it's just easier to believe whatever spin suits your fancy, less distressing in a stressful world. New and improved belief systems offer emotional bandaids, but do much to dampen enthusiasm for the critical mind. Sadly, lazy thinking affects everyone, it creates secondhand lazy thinking, and soon everyone is choking from the effects of irrational beliefs, whether ancient or brand spanking new.
If the sexism within religion and culture is not addressed, if the spin is not addressed, we will all eventually be convinced that yes indeed, we do have equality, even if some of us in the global village have a different sort of equality, even if nearly every world leader is a man, even if women face atrocities too horrific to discuss. Perhaps the greatest change necessary is to consider women's rights as human rights.
Suffragist Emily Ferguson Murphy once said: "No woman can become or remain degraded without all women suffering." While the spin masters may fervently wish that women simply "shut up already," to do so would open up the doors to losing what we have achieved, and close the doors to progress.