The Mercer Reformatory for Females is gone now, torn down in the late 1960s and replaced with Lamport Stadium near the intersection of King West and Dufferin in Toronto. I live nearby and walk past the place a few times every week. Since reading Incorrigible by Velma Demerson, I am haunted by what transpired at the Mercer.
Demerson was arrested in 1939, at age 18, for living with her Chinese boyfriend, which was against the law at the time. Her family reported her and she was at first taken to Belmont Home, a residence for “incorrigibles”. When the home closed down, the residents were all taken to the Mercer, even though they weren’t technically criminals.
When the Mercer closed in the 60s, the living conditions were considered to be utterly unacceptable — many cells didn’t have windows or toilets. But it was the treatment of the women there that was the most horrifying. At the same time the Nazis were doing medical tests on women at Ravensbruck, the Mercer was injecting inmates with sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis, and testing treatments on them. The women were not told about these tests, and were told little about their treatments. Demerson recounts being in constant pain caused by the tests done on her and it was only decades late that she was able to settle with the government for the abuses she suffered.
Incorrigible tells Demerson’s story in her own voice. It’s a rough style, told in the first person with no dialogue, and reads in places like a journal. There are details that are brushed over or left out, particularly about her later life and her relationship with the son she gave birth to while at the Mercer.
We like to think of Canada as socially aware, forward-thinking place, but it wasn’t always so. The treatments done on young women without their consent or understanding rank up there with the travesties of residential schools and the export and abuse of home children.
Demerson has written a satirical novel called Nazis in Canada, based on her experiences at the Mercer.
Aw dudes, I suck so much at keeping my 2018 reading list up to date, mostly because it’s all food books and cookbooks (not all of them good, either!), but I want to mention this book somewhere that people see it (because while I seldom update here, this blog still gets a pile o’ hits every day… who are you people?!).
Anyway, Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti is a delightful collection of thoughtful, provocative essays on feminism that addresses real issues without wandering into the realm of self-pity or “social justice warrior” territory. “You’ll Pay For Those Breasts, or The Cost of Being a Lady” lays out the financial burden women face trying to meet the expectations of what society deems “attractive” and how it fucks with our heads. In an essay in the form of a letter to her daughter, Renzetti casts (warranted) aspersions on weddings and the whole wedding industry, and “Four Lions” recounts interviews Renzetti did with Germaine Greer, P. D. James, Hilary Mantel, and Setsuko Thurlow.
This is a great collection that speaks to women’s fear, frustration and anxiety. Recommended.
When you choose your outfit in the morning, do you ever think about the statement you’re making? Sure, what we wears tells the world about who we are, but what about consciously choosing to make a political statement to the world? The latest exhibit at the Design Exchange is all about people who do just that – and the clothes they’ve worn.
Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics, guest curated by Jeanne Beker, is really a two-part exhibit. In the first section, political statements through fashion are laid out semi-chronologically, starting with the 60s youth-quake in Britain and the raising of hemlines as a means of self-expression and creativity.
Issues such as the Vietnam war, sexual freedom (the topless swimsuit by Rudi Gernreich), homosexuality (Bowie’s boots, Klaus Nomi’s tuxedo, RuPaul’s corset for the MAC VivaGlam campaign), and racism (a selection of pieces by African-American designer Patrick Kelly, who intentionally incorporated imagery of racial stereotypes into his designs, as well as pieces from the 1998 collection of varying length chadors by Hussein Chalayan) are all represented.
Various western sub-cultures and their “uniforms” are also prevalent, with a vast selection of Vivienne Westwood pieces from the 70s punk era, as well as pieces demonstrating the mod and skinhead styles that were worn at the time.
Continue reading “Exhibit – Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics”
“She’s not much into dolls yet, but she’s been asking for a tool set.”
My brother and I are discussing what to buy my 2-year-old niece for Christmas. Up until this point, we’ve showered her with pink clothes and toys; and made her quite a stylish little thing in the process (it’s no secret that I live vicariously through her awesome wardrobe, sending her care packages of clothes each month, mostly selected because I want an adult version of the thing). But as she approaches her 3rd birthday, she’s developing a personality with likes and dislikes of her own. And I’m happy, nay, overjoyed to buy her a tool set.
The item in question is super-cool, made from recycled plastic with each tool labelled with what it is (pliers, wrench) right down to the screwdrivers which specify a Phillips and flat head. The box is pink, with the tools in shades of pink, mauve and green. But as I peruse the Amazon website, I discover the “blue” version of the same set. Same contents, same price, but the colours are darker (blue, red, bright green).
Continue reading “How Justin Trudeau Inadvertently Convinced Me to Not Buy a Pink Tool Set”
Like so many people who watched and took part in the proceedings at Toronto City Hall yesterday, I was enthralled by the sense of coming together to support the city. People from disparate groups and organizations all took the time, despite Mayor Ford and the committee making it more and more difficult for them to do so, to stand up and tell the committee, and the people of the city, what they believe in. As a city, as a community, I think this will make us stronger. I think that it will provoke more and more people to become engaged in municipal politics, which is a very good thing – that lack of involvement is what got us into this mess in the first place.
But I’m not sure I believe it’s going to do much good.
The hand-picked executive committee went into these sessions having clearly stated that they were not going to be swayed by the deputations. Councillor Mammoliti made it clear that he was there because it was his job but that he wasn’t interested in opposing points of view, something that he continually made clear through the 22 hours of deputations with his attitude and condescending questions. In the end, the committee voted unanimously to take the advice of the KPMG report and look at making cuts, essentially telling every deputant that their time and effort didn’t matter.
The hope now is that the deputations DID sway all of those other, middle of the road councillors so that when it comes time for the full council to vote on the recommendations, decisions will be made with consideration for issues other than budget line items.
Continue reading “First and Foremost – For the Greater Good”
This is the letter I just sent to the Minister of State for Agriculture regarding the announcement that the Conservatives are considering loosening the restrictions on functional foods. If you care about the fact that food companies are allowed claim their foods are healthy because they’ve added extra vitamins, or “healthy bacteria”, please contact the Agriculture Minister and the Minister of State, as well as the shadow cabinet ministers from the opposition parties and your own member of parliament and let them know that you want these restrictions tightened, not loosened.
The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of State (Agriculture)
cc: Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture,
Wayne Easter, Liberal Agriculture Critic,
Alex Atamanenko, NDP Agriculture Critic,
Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament, Trinity-Spadina
Dear Mr. Blackburn,
I am writing to you regarding the announcement that the government is considering easing federal restrictions on “functional foods”, as detailed in today’s Toronto Sun: <http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/01/24/17017606.html>.
Given the overwhelming research indicating that function foods are merely advertising ploys; that the addition of vitamins and minerals serve only to help sell products; and that front of package nutritional claims are intentionally misleading, why would our government be so foolish and naive as to consider loosening these restrictions instead of tightening them?
Continue reading “Well, Now We’re Screwed”
I would be surprised if anyone, let alone anyone in the “foodie bubble” hasn’t heard the news of Wal-Mart‘s new commitment to selling healthy food. I’ve got a list of links below, but some points to remember on the new program:
- it will be officially rolled out in the US only – Wal-Mart Canada will be affected only in terms of house-brand products, and any influence to other corporately-produced foods
- the goal is to reduce added sugars, salt and industrial trans fats in Wal-Mart’s own branded products and to pressure corporate food processors to do the same – this is really just making unhealthy processed foods *slightly* less bad, it is NOT a concerted effort to add healthy foods, or brands with health as part of their MO to the shelves
- junk food, particularly soda, will remain unaffected, leaving the “choice” up to consumers
However, we cannot overlook Wal-Mart’s huge buying power – it is the only corporation in the world that can get away with dictating to producers how their product must be made, right down to the packaging. (Wal-Mart is in the process of implementing sustainability ratings for all products it sells, which will include disposal of said product and its packaging.)
The new program also vows to bring food to food deserts, support smaller farms, bring back staple crops to areas that have been hard hit by competition from California and Florida, and shorten travel distances for the food it sells.
Continue reading “Backs Against the Wal”