28 July 2009

Rideau Canal, Kingston: Four members of the Shafia family found dead

In the Globe and Mail recently, an article by Christie Blatchford appeared about Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammed Yahya, and their 18-year-old son, Hamed, who have been arrested for the murder of three of the couple's children as well as Shafia's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammed. The four women were discovered on June 30, 2009, in the family car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal at Kingston, Ontario. The title of Blatchford's column was 'It's no accident that victims were all female,' a reminder to me of the knee-jerk reactions by feminists to the killings committed by Marc Lepine back in 1989 - feminists who could never let anyone forget that it was women he killed, and only women. The public was never given a chance to get rid of these first impressions, which tended to gather more support as time went on, particularly as opposing voices never had much of a chance to get heard. It's always a rousing opportunity, when something can be explained simply, such as in terms of an 'honour killing,' to gain support for a social cause. But even if the death of the eldest teenage victim could be included under this label, 'honour killing,' it is more likely that the circumstances were far more complex than that, and attempting to explain it away by the claim that they were all female is a bit farfetched.

As ordinary members of the public we don't have access to all the details, but fragments that have emerged in the media indicate that this is a genuine piece of multiculturalism at work - two cultures, at least. If the first wife of Mohammad Shafia had wanted a divorce, as reported by Paul Schliesmann (July 24), that could create a dilemma, and not only because the marriage between them had not been acknowledged legally in this country. When she died last month, at midlife, Rona Amir Mohammed might have been looking forward to a new life apart from her family. Rona had served her purpose, for more than 20 years raising the 7 children that Shafia's second wife, Tooba Mohammed Yahya, had given birth to, and might have thought it was time for a change. But how does one accomplish that, when honour, a clash of cultures, and legal problems lead to further difficulties - seemingly impossible difficulties to reconcile in this new country?

Referring to this as an 'honour killing' surely misses out on the complexity of the circumstances, including the part each of the accused had in the planning and carrying out of the deed. I wonder, aside from that, about the role that Sharia's second wife played in the marriage, especially as it turned out the children she and her husband had together were being cared for by his first wife, who lived with them but who in public was known as their cousin. How shocked would we be if it came out that the girls' biological mother knew beforehand that they were to have their lives ended while on their family holiday? Should we be looking at this as a gender issue, as male against female, to the extent that, if any woman got caught up in the middle of it that there was necessarily a good reason, such as her husband sneaking off to have sex with wife number one, as Blatchford suggests might be a plausible reason for discontent? The family was Muslim, as was Marc Lepine, as it happens, although how much traditional Muslim norms influenced this set of circumstances is questionable. Blatchford writes, "what seems to underlie these murders, what appears to be the real bottom-line context, is the belief that men are superior to women," but I don't believe men see themselves as superior in general, any more than women do when they are trying to maintain control of the little worlds they create. Men may see themselves as having the right to take appropriate steps to resolve difficulties within the family, and their rights are often upheld by female members of the family. This tragedy is an indication of the compexity of gendered relations, of the never-to-be-equal aspects of marriage and parenthood, and the generations of family that follow. Besides that, the differences in cultures may unwittingly have contributed towards the family's having arrived at a point of non-resolution, requiring a solution not able to be accounted for in Canadian multicultural values, norms, or through our laws, leaving us no choice but to acknowledge that our world is not as rational as we like to think it is. Once a mistake has been made, or a straying from accepted norms, perhaps it can simply be too difficult to bring things back to normal.

At the close of Christie Blatchford's column, a note was added: "Comments have been disabled. Editor's Note: We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. We appreciate your understanding." Another piece in the G&M, by Jill Colvin, was open for comments, but why Christie Blatchford was allowed to write from her own narrow-minded perspective and not be open for comments from readers is unexplainable. She added this, about men's superiority: "Canadians don't believe that, do not accept the core belief of many ethnic groups that women aren't equal to men and are less valuable a creature." But Christie, don't you see that people in Canada often show no respect for women unless they're 'like' men - working alongside them, doing things men do, doing it their way, making money, and being as ruthless. They are not above treating with disrespect women who don't fit in with these feminist norms.

It's no accident that victims were all female
Christie Blatchford
Opinions, Globe and Mail
Friday, Jul. 24, 2009
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/columnists/christie-blatchford/its-no-accident-that-victims-were-all-female/article1229548/   or http://SAMcPherson.homestead.com/files/Miscellaneous/2009_Christie_Blatchford_Its_no_accident.doc

Family held in canal deaths
Andrew Chung Toronto Star
Thursday, Jul 23, 2009

Parents charged with murder
By Jill Colvin
Globe and MailFriday, Jul. 24, 2009
Direct link to article no longer available

Were deaths of 4 women a matter of 'honour'?
Andrew Chung In Kingston, Ont.
Daniel Dale In Toronto
Toronto Star
Jul 24, 2009 04:30 AM

Parents, son charged in canal deaths
By Paul Schliesmann, Sun Media
Canoe News
July 24, 2009
or http://habsrus.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=NonHockey&action=print&thread=14328

Links updated Apr 12, 2012

12 July 2009

Resentment towards the privileged: inability to take responsibility

In the New York times article, 'Dangerous Resentment,' Judith Warner takes up the battle of fellow elitist Bridget Kevane, a mother who perceived herself as being unjustly victimized by her local shopping mall, the police, the prosecutor, and women not so privileged as herself. In her own explanation of the events, in Guilty as Charged (Brain, Child 2009), Bridget Kevane closes with these words:

"For feeling constantly torn between so many daily demands, trying to make it all work, but knowing that I sometimes fall short, I am guilty. But of knowingly putting my children in harm’s way by letting them go to the mall alone? Not guilty."

Perhaps this is the crux of the matter, for she didn't simply allow her kids and friends to go to the mall. She drove them there - in her words, to "a safe place". In this magazine for 'thinking mothers', she emphasizes the closeness of her community, how the children "wander to each other’s homes," going "from one house to the other, to the park, or walking around the nearby university." She also mentions her own childhood, telling how she developed her independence in a family of eight siblings altogether. She says, "In many ways, I raised my youngest sister, walking her around the neighborhood, taking her to the local neighborhood store, and more."

Her mother, she says, "believed in the power of allowing her children to gain independence by depending on themselves." But Bridget driving her children to the mall for the afternoon had nothing to do with the manner in which Bridget gained independence as a child, getting familiar with her neighbourhood, making decisions about where to go and when to leave for home.

The mall Bridget drove her children to was not within her local community, and it was not mentioned how far away it was if the children had decided to walk home. It might have been better, if she had wanted to lie down for an hour or two, to let the children go for a walk to the park, or to the corner store for an ice cream, than to drive them outside their local area to a mall so she could take a nap. That way, at least, if the children had had a disagreement, or one felt tired or unwell, they wouldn't have had to disturb her at home to come back to the mall to pick them up.

It's also not rational to assume that because an 11-year-old is capable of babysitting within the confines of their home that they can safely assume responsibility in a public area such as a mall, with a Macys and other stores, a movie theatre, and dining areas. The children were placed in a situation of not being able to make certain decisions, but were entirely dependent on the shopping mall being a 'safe place' for kids.

I know that educated women can sometimes be treated unfairly. But I think that women's upbringing can be what counts against some of them, if they fail to comprehend the lives of other women and the subject matter they have been given the privilege of researching and writing about. Unfortunately, too many women who do so don't know what they're talking about.

Judith Warner, the author of Dangerous Resentment, the NY Times article about mother and professor Bridget Kevane, argues that the incident in no way could be called 'child endangerment,' the charge brought against the mother. I wonder if Judith has a better suggestion, perhaps 'abandonment,' or should the wayward mother simply have been let off if there was no appropriate name for this error in judgement. What is clear, however, is that Judith Warner is out of her depth.

Some of the 259 comments on this article, Dangerous Resentment, have dealt with these issues, and are well worth the read, including how a poor mother in shabby clothes would have been dealt with by the police, and some of the mindless assumptions made by Bridget Kevane, privileged due to her elitist position as a professor to believe that it is her right to let children in her care spend the day alone at the mall. The resentment some of us feel, about women like Kevane, and about Judith Warner, is that they use their position to take advantage of others while avoiding responsibility. In other words, they don't have a clue what this world is all about.

Guilty as Charged
By Bridget Kevane
Brain, Child magazine
July 1, 2009

Dangerous Resentment
By Judith Warner
NY Times
July 9, 2009

links updated May, 2012

7 July 2009

Refusing to Multiply: motherhood or career

The comment below was my response to the article by Leonard Stern, editorial pages editor, Ottawa Citizen, July 3, 20, 2009. He was questioning how to get Canada's citizens to choose parenthood. He says, "The brutal truth is this: The only sure-fire way to ensure women have lots of children is to deny them sexual equality. (Needless to say, this is an approach I’d oppose.)"

My online comment, July 6, 2009:
You mean other than surrogate motherhood? If it's not for money - for profit - what would be the motivation for today's generation of women? I hope that doesn't sound too cynical. But why would women want to give up the respect, the financial gain, the independence, and legitimate additions to their resume rather than provide the service of childbearing within marriage? Bearing and raising children as part of marriage is not enough in today's world to enable women to have their caring, problem-solving, planning, analytical, social, and community involvement skills recognized. Take a look at my website: http://samcpherson.homestead.com/StoryofMyLife.html . So, either start paying what it's worth [for women to give birth], or give mothers the respect they deserve.

Added May 2, 2012

Lately there has been controversy about birth control, and who is responsible for paying for it – the women using it, or their employers and colleges, through their medical insurance plans. Some see the obstinance of some colleges and insurance companies a strategy to get women back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

But is it simply that working women are expected to be responsible for paying for their own oral contraceptive, seeing as they have the money to do so; and college girls, well, it isn’t a necessity for them, is it? Yes, of course, the girls and women can come up with all sorts of reasons why it shouldn’t be their responsibility, for instance, they argue that sometimes, the pill is used for non-reproductive purposes, which they then expand into a general reason why all girls having sex and not wanting to get pregnant should have it paid for too.

But is the difficult of having contraception covered a ploy to have more women pregnant, doing their duty, so to speak, to reproduce another generation. That’s what the article “Refusing to multiply’ is suggesting, that women are reluctant to give up their power and their freedom at work to have children. Yet no one is stopping women from obtaining the pill for purposes of contraception. It isn’t a 50s style argument. It’s just that the women are expected to pay for it themselves out of their pay.

This seems as much to do with sex itself as the issue of contraception. Sandra Fluke received an apology (see Rush Limbaugh apologizes, Mar 3, 2012) after being called a slut, but the fact that this idea was expressed at all is an indication of how the use of contraception can be viewed - not in terms of preventing pregnancy but in terms of having sex not for the purpose of procreation.

A rather odd article in Macleans, ‘You can’t mandate marriage,’ discusses the idea of promoting marriage, but concludes that ‘love’ cannot be mandated, a rather old-fashioned idea by today’s standards, whereby women still appear to want the best mate possible to ensure their own success, if not a good provider for their family.

In ‘Why was I shamed over contraception?’ not all the issues come through, though I suspect that young women, who today often have a great deal of belief in their rights, might feel they don’t need to hear the negative side of taking the morning-after pill, not even the first time they use it.

Finally, to end where I started, I would say that the problem of women not wanting to become mothers, or not even wanting to be married, can’t be resolved if these ways of life aren’t attractive to them, and aren’t rewarding, either financially or for their own self-fulfillment. The state – and society - can try to make it so that women need marriage, and need to have children, but haven’t we already tried that?

If the decision-makers of the families or the workplace – or of feminism or men’s rights groups - lean towards becoming dictators in order to get their own way, not recognizing that not all women are the same, then discord will continue. Until these groups recognize that getting one’s rights usually means that someone else’s are being trampled on, women will continue to demand theirs and make all other women submit to their decision-making, at the expense of society and the future of society.

Birth-Control Pill Helped Boost Women's Wages, New Study Shows
By Stephanie Pappas
Huffington Post
Mar 29, 2012

Refusing to multiply
By Leonard Stern
Ottawa Citizen
July 3, 2009
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/Refusing+multiply/1757284/story.html link not available

Rush Limbaugh apologizes to law student over contraception
Philip Elliott Associated Press
Star online
Mar 3, 2012

You can’t mandate marriage, even if it’s good for society
By the editors
Macleans magazine
Oct 11, 2011

Why was I shamed over contraception?
By Lisa Priest
Globe and Mail
Mar 18, 2012

Links updated May 3, 2012