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The government of Quebec has recently tabled a bill that would bar women wearing a niquab from accessing public services like hospitals and daycare. Personally, I find it not only insane and draconian, but I wonder how this bill will look in winter months when many of us wear huge billowy garments that cover the face, head, neck and of course our bodies.

I disagree with the bill on the grounds that it specifically restricts women, and it is far beyond the purview of the provincial government to dictate to anyone how they can dress.

Below is a statement from the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University.

Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s Statement in Response to Bill 94

On March 25, the government of Jean Charest announced Bill 94, an act that would prevent women wearing the niqab from accessing hospitals, daycares, schools, universities, and other public services, and would bar women in niqab from working in the public sector. In a press conference, premier Charest described the legislation as defending two principles: gender equality and secular public institutions.

We oppose this legislation and strongly believe that it will restrict rather than enhance the rights of women. As we stated in November 2007 in our public response to the Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles, while we agree that the government should be doing more to ensure gender equality, we argue that this is not achieved by creating a false opposition between secular values and religion, but rather by attending to gender-based violence, poverty, women’s health, and women’s access to education and work. In fact, Charest’s use of the terms “secular” and “gender equality” is misleading. It is obvious that the government’s concern is not with all religious practices, but very particularly with Muslim practices. Furthermore, regulating women’s public religious expression and denying them access to government services and public life is not a step in the direction of gender equality. Bill 94 chauvinistically casts Québec as having achieved gender equality while implying a view of Muslim communities as inherently oppressive to women.

As feminists, we are committed to supporting bodily and personal autonomy for all women, as well as all women’s capacity to understand and articulate their experiences of oppression on their own terms. And it is as feminists that we oppose state interventions that promise gender equality at the expense of women’s autonomy.

Signed: The Faculty and Students of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, with the support of The School of Community and Public Affairs, Concordia University, April 7, 2010
For more information, please see the Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s November 2007 feminist
response to the Bouchard-Taylor commission:
Please circulate.

To endorse this statement, please e-mail:

Media Contact: Gada Mahrouse, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, 514-848-2424 x 2378,

Déclaration de l’Institut Simone de Beauvoir à propos du projet de loi 94

Le 25 mars dernier, le gouvernement de Jean Charest a présenté le projet de loi 94, lequel empêcherait les femmes portant le niqab d’avoir accès aux services publics offerts par de multiples institutions et établissements tels que les hôpitaux, les centres de la petite enfance, les écoles et les universités, et qui leur interdirait de travailler dans la fonction publique. Lors d’une conférence de presse, le premier ministre Charest a décrit ce projet de loi comme un exemple de défense des principes d’égalité entre les sexes et de laïcité au sein des institutions publiques.

Nous nous opposons à cette loi et nous croyons fermement qu’elle aura pour effet de limiter plutôt que de favoriser les droits des femmes. Comme nous l’avons exprimé en novembre 2007 dans notre réponse publique à la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles, nous sommes d’avis que le gouvernement devrait intervenir davantage pour assurer l’égalité entre les sexes, mais nous suggérons que cela
devrait se faire non pas en se centrant sur les valeurs laïques et la religion, mais en agissant sur les questions de violence, de pauvreté, de santé et d’accès à l’éducation et au travail pour les femmes. En fait, l’utilisation par le premier ministre Charest des termes « laïque » et « égalité entre les sexes » est source de confusion. Il est évident que la  préoccupation du gouvernement n’est pas d’encadrer l’ensemble des pratiques religieuses, mais bien les pratiques musulmanes. La régulation de l’expression religieuse des femmes en public et l’interdiction d’accès aux services gouvernementaux et à la vie publique ne peuvent être vus comme un pas vers l’égalité entre les sexes. Le projet de loi 94 est chauviniste et présente l’image trompeuse d’un Québec ayant atteint l’égalité entre les sexes tout en sous-entendant que les communautés musulmanes sont intrinsèquement oppressives pour les femmes.

En tant que féministes, nous sommes engagées à promouvoir et soutenir l’autonomie des femmes ainsi que leur capacité de comprendre et d’articuler leurs expériences d’oppression dans des termes qui leur sont propres. Et c’est en tant que féministes que nous disons NON aux interventions de l’État qui promettent l’égalité entre les sexes aux dépens de l’autonomie des femmes.

Signé: Les membres du personnel enseignant ainsi que les étudiantes et étudiants de l’Institut Simone de Beauvoir, avec le soutien de l’École des affaires publiques et communautaires, Université Concordia, le 7 avril 2010
Prière de faire circuler.

Pour appuyer la déclaration, merci d’envoyer un courriel à:
Relations publiques: Viviane Namaste, Institut Simone de Beauvoir 514 848-2424 poste 2371,

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Everyone knows it, right? We’re taught how to write properly in elementary school, we’re expected to develop skills in essay writing during high-school and if/when we hit university, there are whole seminars, library programs, tutorials and websites made available to ensure that we know how to communicate via the written word.

So if good writing matters so much, what does it mean when spelling and grammar errors show up on major blogs and websites? It’s rare that I come across them on writer’s websites, but the times I find errors on sites written by editors, publishers, journalists and indeed marketing professionals takes my breath away. Everyone has different skill levels, of course, but if the co-author the CMA guide to email marketing ( who also works for a major publisher) writes the phrase “more stronger” on the blog of the Canadian Marketing Association, I have to wonder whether he takes me seriously as a customer.

Given this very disappointing reality, I’d like to offer these few tips on reaching your blog/forum/social media audience in a way that is concise, believable and most importantly, a way that does not insult anyone’s intelligence.

1. Write a draft.

A draft for a blog post? These things are supposed to be informal.

They certainly are, but not to the point of being incoherent. If your blog is private and only for certain eyes, do what you wish to reach that audience. But if you’re trying to convince others to agree with you, write out a brief outline and short draft of what you want to say before you say it.

This is particularly important for beliefs about which you are passionate. It’s so easy to get up on the soapbox about your cause, your news item, your brand, whatever. But having strong feelings on a subject doesn’t mean you get to leave coherence at the door. Plus, no-one will agree with an hysteric. Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s true.

I’m a stream-of-consciousness-writer.

No, you’re not.

2. Decide on a format

It’s perfectly normal to identify phrases and spellings differently depending on whether you’re used to Canadian, American, British, Australian or any other myriad dialects of proper English. Just don’t throw them all in a pot and expect your phrases and words to make sense. If you want to plough a field, you can’t also pick a favorite; for that you need to plow a field. Make your matches and keep it consistent, otherwise you’ll end up with an audience looking up what a gaol is when they could instead be swayed by your savvy arguments about prisons.

3. Use an electronic tool.

We’re talking about electronic media here, so even if you prefer a pen or stylus, transfer your thoughts to a word processing program before you release it into the big, wide world. Blogging, emailing and even some social media platforms support spelling and grammar checking as you write. Because of this, there is simply no excuse for poor grammar and spelling errors to appear online. Many mistakes can be found instantaneously.

These programs don’t understand what I’m writing

Fair enough. Many of them are imperfect and will find fault with something that’s actually correct. You can make use of the integrated dictionaries, grammar and dictionary websites and even online writing labs to be sure of yourself. If you write for an audience that uses lots of jargon for example, you can assume that your readers understand acronyms and short-hand. Getting used to looking for errors and checking twice to see if your sentence makes sense is an invaluable skill in the altogether literate world of online publishing.

4. Read it out loud

You might feel silly doing this, but reading aloud is one of the easiest ways to find common errors. The eye deliberately “corrects” errors when you read silently so that you can make sense of the whole phrase. Reading aloud forces your brain to convert text to speech, which even the most sophisticated computers still can’t do regularly or with inflection. Make your mind pick up on everything. You might feel self-concious, but your writing will be taken far more seriously than the next blog over (so to speak) that contains mistakes.

I assume if you’ve read this far that you realize why grammar matters. There are nitpickers and bored/ocd editors out there who go nuts for grammar on an almost unhealthy scale. These people are not my audience. You guys know that when you send out a message, you want the response and comments and share messages to be about how much you’ve opened their eyes about your cause/brand/product/event/neat thing you care about. If the comments and messages are about how ridiculous your wording is, or how you can’t use a spell-checker, your point is totally lost even if it’s a world-changing idea.

Language is a tool with which to remake reality. So make your reality about your passion, not your poor communication skills.

This weekend, I’m ill-advisedly opening my home to five other writers to fill each room with a laptop and get a short novel on paper in just 72 hours.  We face isolation, hunger, confinement, writer’s block, insomnia and worst of all, sobriety, to get our stories down and polished.

At midnight this Friday the fiendish tap tap of fingers on keyboards marks the start of the marathon that is the 3-day Novel. Will my neighbours keep the noise down?  Will I care if anyone complains about accidentally being locked in the basement?  Will my giant reptile take kindly to strangers invading her home and if not…what will she do?

There will be twitter updates, photos posted on the facebook event and the occasional short comment from the Urban Ichthyosapien, who observes all literary attempts on my part.

Come one come all and see the least spectacular, least visually appealing, most devastatingly invigorating competition of the fall season!

Novel HO!

A recent review of one of the performances at this year’s Jazzfest gave me pause to think about what I love about music.  Too often, artists are judged by the wrong standards, standards to which artistic merit and accomplishment simply cannot be measured.  Where so many decide to talk about melodies, chord progressions, complex and innovative composing and technique, we could be focusing on what is important in the world of aural excellence.  Naturally, I’m talking about the body of a musician.  In fact, one body-part in particular, the arms.

I was all but lost in a sea of blogs and reviews of jazzfest performances going on and on about repertoire, tone, invention, and of course, the choices made for who will play with whom and to what end.  Thankfully, one lone sheep in the herd made a point of discussing the very talented and deeply inspiring arms of Maria Schneider.  At length.

(update: the review has been taken down, but a cached version lives on here:

It was such a relief to see this review.  I must admit, I love Maria Schneider’s arms and I wanted to discuss their musical acumen in depth in my arts magazine, but fear of my staunchly feminist editor who might misinterpret the discussion of an accomplished composer’s body as “misogynistic” and “irrelevant” kept me silent.  Not so at the only English newspaper in Montreal!  They were unafraid of discussing Ms. Schneider’s arms through most of the piece and even in the title.  Thank goodness someone out there finally knows how to write about the finer points of music.

I said it already; I love Maria Schneider’s arms.  Have you seen her conducting?  Her music reaches heights only dreamed of by other composers and she firmly and powerfully directs the flow of a mighty river of sound being created by some of the best performers around with those strong jazz biceps of hers.  Watching her conduct her own music and then introduce soloists is as close as anyone can get to actually hearing jazz with their eyes.  It’s no surprise Donny McCaslin was first nominated for a Grammy as a soloist with her orchestra.  Maria Schneider’s arms are jazz and worth every cent it costs to see her.

This type of deep, penetrative musical analysis tends to happen upon other female musicians, and often, I’ve been concerned about appearing too “focused on the body” and “totally missing the point of music reviews” to bother to talk about the physical appearance of the women I respect in jazz.  So now that the floodgates are open, let me impress upon you how much I appreciate the musical arms of many other noteworthy women composers.

Amanda Tosoff, a pianist from B.C. has won many accolades and awards at a very young age and continues to impress with her new album, Still Life.  Her arms are magnificent as they carry her dexterous fingers across her piano’s keys to produce whimsical and innovative music.  Vanessa Rodrigues is a Hammond B3 organ diva who creates modern sounds without losing the soul of her venerable instrument.  The triceps on this lady bring new meaning to “accomplished musician”.

I have to stop here and talk about Esperanza Spalding.  Her arms running up and down that doublebass while she sings is nothing short of exceptional.  Marie-Fatima Rudolf’s arms are thin and belie the power that she evokes when her fingers touch the keyboard.  If you listen to jazz with your eyes open, you’ll be impressed by the sheer complexity of sound that Rudolf produces with such supple limbs.  When Anna Webber plays her flute, her arms almost float towards the keys, making room to watch her hips twist along with her unlikely and fascinating melodies.  Her tenor playing lets her get down and flex for the audience, a treat for any jazz aficionado.  I could go on about Laila Biali, Ingrid Jensen, Mistress Barbara, Killa Jewel, Kaki King, Anat Cohen and more.  As it is, I just finally feel like we’ve gotten to the heart of inspiring, accomplished women jazz musicians.  May their timeless limbs, like their tunes, carry our emotions and artistic appreciation to new heights.

This blog is mine. Don’t blame. Don’t copy.

All opinions and posts on this blog are my own and not those of my employer, friends, family or people I might just have met who seem really cool; or even my pets, who have no choice but to agree with me anyway. You can tell these opinions are mine because this is my blog.
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