Women worst hit by Katrina

“As the media coverage of the disaster in New Orleans swung into high gear, reporters started to notice the racial dynamics of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath,” wrote Joni Seager, dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in an op-ed piece Sept. 14 in the Chicago-Tribune. “And yet there is another equally important and starkly apparent social dimension to the hurricane disaster that media coverage has put in front of our eyes but that has yet to be ‘noticed’: This disaster fell hard on one side of the gender line too. Most of the survivors are women. Women with children, women on their own, elderly women in wheelchairs, women everywhere – by a proportion of what looks to be somewhere around 75 or 80 per cent,” pointed out Seager. 

“The gender gap is no surprise, or shouldn’t be. Disaster is seldom gender neutral. In the 1995 Kobe, Japan, earthquake, 1.5 times more women died than men; in the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, death rates for women across the region averaged three to four times that of men,” Seager noted.

“This knowledge appears to have entirely bypassed American commentators, planners and media. The ‘not noticing’ of the gendered dimensions of this disaster by the American media and by the experts who interpreted the disaster to the public through the media is alarming and warrants attention. Feminist theorists have long pointed to the public invisibility of women, especially women of racial minorities, and the New Orleans case study provides a dramatic example of the ‘unremarkability’ of racialized minority women in the gaze of a predominantly male and white media. In the real world of an unfolding disaster, this comes at a price,” suggested Seager.

“Media commentators and politicians insist on referring to this as a natural disaster. There’s a certain comfort and perhaps political cover in that designation, but experts eschew this term. The hurricane came ashore, but from then on it has been a human disaster. The gendered character of this disaster, and the silence about it, also is more artifice than nature,” wrote Seager.

Applause for policy to cancel classes

The Toronto Star published two letters Sept. 15 responding to York history Prof. David Noble’s proposal to ban non-statutory religious holidays at the University:

  • York undergraduate student Paul Hertz wrote that Noble “obviously has no respect for the fellow members of his religion, for his students or for himself. York University is located in Toronto, a city with one of the highest populations of Jews outside the state of Israel. York has gone out of its way to accommodate the approximately 5,000 students and faculty who wish to observe the holiest days of the Jewish year. For this, York should not be condemned but commended for its openness to religious observance. Jews and other religious groups are ‘forced’ to observe the Christian holidays of Christmas and Good Friday simply because they are statutory holidays. Where are the complaints about cancelling classes on Dec. 25? Why not hold classes on the Friday before Easter? These suggestions are considered ludicrous, but how are they different from Noble’s ideas?”
  • Thornhill resident Sidney Cohen wrote: “I have been working for more than 40 years and most of those years I have been docked pay for taking those Jewish holidays off.” He continued: “Unlike those of us in the private sector, I am sure the professor was paid by the University for those days off he objects to. He and the students of York are fortunate to be in an enlightened atmosphere that recognized that with so many students away on those days, it simply wasn’t worth having classes. If the professor is sincere in his convictions about it being ‘illegal to impose religious observances on students and professors who otherwise would not honour them,’ he should protest with equal vigour having Christian holidays like Christmas and Good Friday as legal statutory holidays.”

Violent incidents rare on York campus

In a Sept. 15 letter to the Toronto Star, Rob Tiffin, York vice-president students, responded to three female students who expressed fears of escalating gun-related homicides in the University’s neighbourhood in a Sept. 14 letter to the Star. “The concerns of these women are understandable and the harassment they describe is unacceptable. However, their characterization of York University is misleading,” he wrote. “The neighbourhood located outside York’s [Keele] campus is only one of many different communities throughout the GTA that has reported gun violence. In reality, violent incidents on York’s campus are extremely rare. No one has ever been wounded by gun violence on campus. According to current statistics, serious security infractions are three to five times less likely to happen at York than elsewhere in Toronto, making York one of the safest places to be.

“York’s security budget has increased by approximately $1 million since 2002, with campus security staff on duty 24/7. Our student escort service is one of the most extensive and well-funded in the province, staffed by trained personnel, operating until as late as 3am. York also has one of the largest and most extensive security video installations in the GTA, which can be linked to emergency phones across campus,” he wrote.York University is a community of 60,000 people living on campus and in neighbourhoods throughout the GTA. In this new urban reality, we must all be aware and strive to address the root causes of violence in our society.”

Judge is GTA’a newest literary icon

Had Justice Denise Bellamy’s report on the city computer leasing scandal carried a dedication this week, it might have read something like this: “To the drivers of the TTC – my inspiration,” speculated Toronto Star writer Linda Diebel in a Sept. 15 front page story about how the 1978 graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School wrote her MFP inquiry report. From the moment Bellamy began to write earlier this year at her farm in Bruce County, she knew she wanted to write something people would actually read. “I wanted it to be accessible to the average person in the street and, to me, that person was the TTC driver,” she said Wednesday in the office at the University Avenue courthouse she left three and a half years ago when she was sucked into the vortex of the inquiry. Drivers often used to come to her courtroom. “You would just see these guys in uniform in between their shifts, and I liked it because it seemed to me that a lot of interesting things are going on in the courts.” There was no difference with this report. “It was really about democracy. It was about what people do spending our – the taxpayers’ – money,” she said. “It was important enough to me that I would try to tell the story in an interesting way. I felt that people should want to read this because it affects their city and their tax dollars.”

Fragmented social justice movement is a problem, says prof

Anti-poverty activists at the Make Poverty History rally on Saturday found an unlikely advocate in a short, bespectacled man with a booming voice and a hate on for big business, reported See Magazine Sept. 15. Author of Wealth by Stealth and a professor emeritus at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Harry Glasbeek has a long history of advocating for civil rights and labour concerns. In an interview following his speech Saturday, he said the fragmentation of the social justice movement is a serious problem. “I think it’s much harder to get together than it is to unite around a common enemy. Many people feel angry about the same things, but not for the same reasons. So people who feel strongly about the environment may not be progressive on any other issue. So when they have to associate with people who have to redistribute wealth, they find themselves in discord. People who are in power on the other side of the fence exploit those differences very well.”

Shaving stakes raised to five blades

Gillette’s announcement to market the first five-blade razor drew gasps of disbelief in some quarters, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 15. “They’re not serious! Five?” said marketing guru Alan Middleton, who still shaves with a Trac II, the two-blade model Gillette first introduced 34 years ago. Gillette is looking for a way to convince men to spend more on what is a basic product, said Middleton, who runs York’s Schulich Executive Education Centre. It may not matter if three, four or even five blades is better than one, as long as Gillette successfully plays on men’s fears and anxieties about shaving, Middleton observed. He doubts the company’s ability to deliver on its latest promise. The problem is that Gillette’s legendary ability to deliver meaningful improvements to the shaving experience has been wilting lately, Middleton said. “Gillette had enormous success with these innovations in the past. But their recent innovations have not convinced large numbers of males to upgrade their razors,” he added.

On air

  • James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Atkinson School of Social Sciences, discussed his article, The Rising Fall of the American Empire, published in The Walrus magazine’s September issue, on CFRB’s “John Moore Show” Sept. 14.