Tag Archives: inequality

Out Of The Heat

I am rarely one to complain about the heat, because I absolutely HATE being cold. I mean come winter I am layered in at least three things at all times trying to get hot. That being said, I have found this summer to be particularly HOT and to be honest… long. Maybe that’s because I currently don’t have a/c in my car, my office gets really stuffy and our bedroom has the full brunt of the sun bearing down on it all day making it difficult to cool down at night, even with central air.

Listen to me complaining.

Do you ever wonder what those with nowhere to go do on an insanely hot day? I know a lot of us worry and strive to take care of those in need during the long winter months, but what about those days where the temperatures are sky high, heat alerts are in effect and we are all drooping even in our air conditioned offices, cars and homes?

What happens when you don’t have shelter to hide away from the baking sun and excessive heat?

When you are shooed away from a shaded spot because businesses often want people to move along?

When you are made to feel uncomfortable, unwanted and a burden for asking for a cup of water at the Tim Hortons?

When you don’t own a hat to cover your head, sunscreen to cover your skin.

When you see a blessed water park, but don’t dare go near it for fear someone will call the police on you.

What happens then? Where do you go?

This summer Niagara has seen six excessive heat alerts (though keep in mind most of those alerts last several days or longer). This alert is sent out by the region when the humidex is forecast to rise to 40 or higher, when the humidex is forecast to rise to 38 or higher with a smog alert, and when Environment Canada has issued a humidex warning.

The region recommends that during an excessive heat alert residents should:

  • Plan outdoor activities during cooler parts of the day
  • Rest frequently in shaded areas
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless fluid is restricted by your physician)
  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car
  • Dress in cool, loose clothing and shade your head with a hat or umbrella
  • Take cool showers or baths until you feel refreshed

This is all well and good for those who have access to those options.

When these alerts are sent out, the YWCA and other shelters such as Southridge and The Salvation Army are mandated to accept anyone seeking shelter. While the YWCA can only accept women and children, we would refer men to our Men’s shelter or those shelters who accept men.

But the sad part is, that they aren’t always accessed.

Often, most of us don’t realize how the effect of a hot day can sneak up on us, never mind those suffering from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues. Research has shown that addictions can cause our bodies to react differently, causing an increase in dependency and cravings. Add to the fact that on a normal day you are turned away from shelter for a variety of reasons, your gut reaction becomes to stay away instead of being chased away.

This is why you often see those in need around the bus station, malls, Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. They are some of the few places where they aren’t asked to leave as long as they are keeping to themselves. That sentence was really hard to type.

We all complain about the heat. About our a/c not working properly. About being sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable. We prepare in advance for the summer… stocking up on water and ice cream. Getting the water slides and pools ready. Thinking of the best way to keep the house cool. But so many of us don’t stop to consider how the other half are faring. We walk past the outstretched arm because we are so used to seeing it. We turn our heads to the side and maybe say thanks that we aren’t in the same position.

But maybe next year, while we are stocking up on water, we buy some extra to keep cold and hand out on those super awful days. Or offer some sunscreen or a hat. Check up on someone and say hello if you are concerned. Donate items such as water bottles, sunscreen, hats, bug spray etc. to the shelters to hand out.

We all deserve to be comfortable and safe. We all deserve to be thought of.

Time To Holler Back

It’s a warm day and I’m walking down the street for an appointment with my trainer. I’ve got my sweats on and my iPod playing music with a motivational beat. Just walking down the street minding my own business.

And then it happens.

The guy in front of me stops, and after I pass him he mutters: “Nice —–.”

What the? I’m taken aback. Did he just say…yes, yes he did. It’s not my first encounter with my neighbourhood street harasser. It’s not even my first instance of street harassment, but as I’m getting “long in the tooth”, I had somehow mistakenly assumed vile comments and veiled threats from people on the street would not follow me into my dotage. It was an odious reminder that street harassment has no boundaries. It is sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, sizeist, ableist, and classist. It is unwanted and unwarranted.

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My neighbourhood street harasser has managed to creepily insert himself and his inappropriate comments into my walk before. But this time, he’d uttered a vulgar word that entered my ears and immediately brought me to a place I did not want to be. I was shocked, yet not shocked. I was both angry and fearful. Three steps later I stopped in my tracks and the words “oh God” tumbled from my mouth. That’s it. That’s all I could muster. I don’t even know if it was an invective or a plea. I walk on and immediately pondered…was it my faded, sweaty, Wonder Woman t-shirt? My baggy, paint-stained, androgynous, knee length sweats? Now, I know his behaviour had nothing to do with what I was wearing, what I was doing, my location on the street, in the city, or time of day. I know that. But I went there anyway. I went to “what did I do” and to “what didn’t I do”. I went there even though I knew the problem wasn’t with me. The problem was with him.

My shock, discomfort, and fear made him feel powerful.

But not for long. No more, buddy. I won’t change my neighbourhood walking routes (though I may cross the street), what I wear, or how I act. I will not smile for you because you tell me to. You have no right to ask me. I will not say hello because you insist that I do. And the next time you do it—the next time you feel a misogynist compulsion to put me in my place and intimidate me with your words or actions, I will (from a safe distance), in clear and simple terms, tell you to stop harassing me.

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I can also now report my street harassment on a number of websites dedicated to street harassment. One of my favourites is Hollaback www.ihollaback.org an online movement and social activism organization that allows women to document their experiences, access resources, and educate their community. Hollaback is a world-wide movement, with a Niagara page at niagara.ihollaback.org

A Hollaback poster makes it clear how insidious street harassment is.

I had no clue that March 30-April 5 was International Anti Street Harassment Week until I started writing this post and checked out: www.streetharassment.org

That organization also offers tools and resources to people who want to launch safe public spaces campaigns in their community, or to people who witness street harassment and are at a loss on how to act against it. The site also makes it clear what street harassment is, including “unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons which are motivated by gender in public spaces that invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.” I would add that street harassment also transects class, race, age, ability, and sexual orientation. It is about asserting power and as such is as academic Hawley Fogg-Davis says, “a terrorism of the mind”. Fogg-Davis notes that women, and those who identify as gay and transgendered, know street harassment will happen in their lives, but they don’t know for certain when or how it will happen.

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The Everyday Sexism Project offers another harassment reporting site. It allows contributors to document instances of harassment and sexism on the street as well as in private spaces, at work, and at school, through its website at canada.everydaysexism.com or via Twitter @everydaysexism

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There are many more street harassment sites that provide resources and reassurance. The stories posted on these sites are both disturbing, and affirming. They are disturbing because they are real and current. The harassment is perpetrated by people who know better but gain power from acts that are menacing and threatening. The stories are affirming because the people who post them can feel free to express their pain, fear, anger, and frustration without recrimination.

This iconic photograph, American Girl in Italy, 1951 by Ruth Orkin, has always seemed a bit menacing to me, though I believe the photographer and human subject saw it as an expression of freedom. I've always wondered: whose freedom does it most express? I think I first saw it as an "art poster" and something people put on their walls as an expression of their artistic taste. It is both compelling and repulsive because it shows a woman essentially running the gauntlet. The whistling man, with his hand on his crotch can hardly be described as "non threatening".