Former running mates Vickita Bhatt and Henry Ssali returned as rivals this year, competing for the presidency of the UTM Students’ Union. The election wraps up today, with their slates Students United and UTM Renew battling for executive portfolios. Last year’s elections, which featured a single ticket, saw low turnout. Organizers are expecting a different result this year.Bhatt and Students United have put forward what they call a “contract,” outlining their priorities and pledging to pay back 100 per cent of their salaries in the form of grants and bursaries if they do not fulfill any of these promises.Included in the document are promises to split tuition payments on a per semester basis, extend OHIP coverage to international students, and negotiate with the university to contribute 50 cents for every dollar going towards the expansion of UTM’s Student Centre. Bhatt also said she would discontinue the Drop Fees rally in order to focus on what she called local action, saying this year’s event was less successful.Ssali, running on UTM Renew, emphasized grassroots consultations to promote transparency and accountability. His slate’s VP external candidate, Stefanie Marotta, said she would hold open town halls before meetings with the Canadian Federation of Students or any other institution. Ssali said he would advocate to remove the late withdrawal from transcripts and lobby for a Go Bus route to UTM.He criticized the process for selecting a president, which he said was run by a small group of ex-presidents. “It’s like a dynasty. Certain people choose candidates who cannot question authority,” he said. Asked why he decided to run, Ssali said, “I’ve been having debates year after year, because I question everything which other executives haven’t been able to […] on certain issues that are important to students.”Marotta was a little more willing to talk about her differences with her opponents. Marotta took exception to the idea that OHIP could be extended to international students, since it would entail additional entanglements with provincial authorities. She said it would be more practical to push for extended University Health Insurance Plan coverage, while putting more money into the International Student Identity Card.Marotta also said she would consider looking at incorporating Chartwells, the UTM food provider, into the student union, a condition previously set by the administration in exchange for matching half for every dollar put toward the Student Centre expansion. “Any time that we have talks with the admin, the union immediately goes on offence and the admin goes on defence. That’s not a conducive ground to negotiate with them,” she said. “For the last couple of years, the union has been working towards the same goals, and I think it’s proven that their methods have not been working.”
Bhatt vs. Ssali
FNUC denied funding, despite restructuring
The federal government is withholding $7.3 million in annual funding to the First Nations University of Canada despite recent restructuring. Ottawa first withdrew the funding on Feb. 8, days after Saskatchewan pulled its $5.2 million.Originally run by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, FNUC has faced issues of financial accountability and governance since 2005. The university has suffered internal turmoil, with the dismissal of several senior officials and a number of incidences of financial irregularities and accusations that academic freedom is under attack. After several reviews and delayed reforms, the federal and provincial governments pulled their funding.“This is a regrettable but necessary decision,” Rob Norris, the Saskatchewan minister for advanced education, said in a statement. “It is time for politicians to step back and the academic leadership to step forward. I encourage the University of Regina to work with relevant parties in identifying future directions for these student and their programs.”Since the announcement, the FNUC has entered into a new arrangement. The board of governors has been dissolved and a new board has been organized to adhere to a shared-management arrangement with the University of Regina, next door to the campus. The University of Regina will control the FNUC’s finances, while it will remain separate as an academic institution.Despite this restructuring, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl refused to reverse the cuts, citing the years of mismanagement and failed reforms.In interview with the CBC, FNUC faculty association spokesperson Randy Lundy said that it’s impossible to run a university without the $12.5 million that make up half of the university’s annual budget, regardless of new a administration.“The future of Aboriginal higher education in Canada is put in jeopardy if the FNU is forced to close its doors, because there are Aboriginal students, who, for various reasons, do not choose to attend a mainstream university,” Rauna Kuokkanen, a U of T political science and Aboriginal Studies professor, told The Varsity. Kuokkanen said that FNUC provides a different perspective on Aboriginal studies, structured specifically to reach out to Aboriginal students. She said the budget cuts undermine the federal budget’s pledge to allocate $30 million to improve education for First Nations peoples.
Site worker dies on Scarborough campus
A construction worker named Hilit Mutlu died last week when he fell through a hole on the second floor of U of T Scarborough’s new $70 million Instructional Centre, plummeting 10 metres to the basement. The accident occurred on Friday, March 12.Mutlu, a recent immigrant from Turkey, died later that day when he was rushed to Sunnybrook.“This is actually the second fatality with this group of companies and the second fatality as a result of a fall,” said a spokesperson for the Ontario Federation of Labour. In June 2008, Petro, a co-worker of Mutlu, fell three metres from a cantilevered portion of a support beam at a condo site.OFL president Sid Ryan called for a police investigation of the accident to see if criminal charges should be laid against Mutlu’s employer, Red 2000 Structures Inc., for failing to keep the workplace safe..Ryan described the incident as “another preventable death.”“All we’re saying is that we want a criminal investigation and only if evidence warrants should there be charges. What we’re looking specifically is for an investigation through the Bill C-35 amendment, which places a legal obligation under the criminal code around employer negligence,” said the OFL spokesperson.Last December 24, another four Toronto construction workers fell to their deaths when scaffolding collapsed. The OFL called for a criminal investigation under Bill C-45.The Bill amended the Criminal Code of Canada to allow for the prosecution of corporate executives, directors, and managers who neglect to uphold their responsibilities to make and keep workplaces healthy and safe.The death of Mutlu coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Hogg’s Hollow disaster, commemorating the death of five Italian immigrant workers who died while constructing a tunnel in 1960. The death caused public outrage and mobilized the Italian community to change health and safety laws.Ontario tallied 10 fall-related construction worker deaths in 2009, according to the Labour Ministry.Tim Legault contributed reporting for this article.A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the name of the worker who died as Ali. In fact, his name is Hilit Mutlu. The Varsity regrets the error.
Don’t dismiss emotions: panel
A panel of three speakers offered psychological, philosophical, and practical perspectives on the role of emotions in public policy on Tuesday. The panelists were McGill political philosopher Christina Tarnopolsky, David Ptzarro, a political psychologist form Cornell University, and Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic. They spoke as part of the Walter Gordon Massey Symposium organized by Massey College and U of T’s School of Public Policy and Governance.Panellists agreed that though emotions may disrupt reason and cloud judgments in shaping public political discourse, they cannot be removed entirely. Leaders who attempt to be too dispassionate, they said, run the risk of seeming less than human.“Emotions are such a deep part of our psychology and physiology that when our emotional systems sustain damage, our ability to engage in rational thought suffers as well,” said Ptzarro, opening the discussion. “And without the motivation that our emotions provide, we would care little about doing anything at all.”Tarnopolsky also stressed the importance of emotions in politics. She spoke about a collective sense of anxiety and fear after 9/11 and took issue with the argument that it was wrong for to act out of fear. “[The argument is that] it was irrational because we were acting out of fear, we should have been reacting out of reason,” she said. “The problem with this is that terrorism is a legitimate thing to be afraid of. There is nothing irrational about fearing terrorism. What was lacking was not reason, it was debates about this fear.”Rae concluded by saying that emotion inevitably affects public policy. “Emotion is unavoidable. “Playing on fear is part of the bread and butter of politics,” he said. “We simply have to become more aware and more self-aware on how it is being done and the impact it has on all of us.”Asked by The Varsity if he had tips for student politicians on how to respond to personal attacks, Rae said, “You cannot ignore emotions and if the debate becomes purely personal you will lose out on the opportunity to make better choices. The thing that we need to realize is that emotions are not permanent.”He said candidates should respond with reason. “A dear friend of mine once said that it is very difficult to be smart and angry at the same time. I believe these words are true but it is also difficult to be smart and a whole lot of different things at the same time.”
News in brief
Male med student flamed for his take on Pap smears
Controversy in the Canadian medical community erupted after 24-year-old medical student Brent Thoma published an article that takes a humorous approach to performing Pap smears. Doctors and professors at the University of Saskatchewan, which Thoma attends, have taken offense to his article, calling it inappropriate and “the most insensitive article ever.”In the article, printed in Canadian Family Physician, Thoma offered such advice as: “give out instructions in the Philadelphia-cream-cheese lady voice” and “pretend you see vaginas every day.” He has received a flurry of angry letters, to which he has attempted to reply in defence. The dean of the university thinks Thoma has been negatively cast throughout this ordeal and admonishes the journal for not taking “a reflective responsibility” for publishing the article.The piece expresses Thoma’s discomfort with performing the procedure. After this backlash, he said, “I’m now contemplating a career in ophthalmology.”—Zoë SedlakSource: National Post
Concordia student sues over expulsion
Charles Rossdeutcher, an engineering student at Concordia University, is trying to appeal an expulsion he was issued after he was charged with allegedly forging a professor’s signature in order to sign out a piece of equipment for his class project.With only four courses needed to graduate, Rossdeutcher is attempting to convince the Quebec Superior Court to issue a safeguard order that would put a temporary halt to his expulsion, allowing him to finish his courses. Moreover, he is arguing that he was not given a fair trial, and as a result, is seeking the right to sue Concordia University for $100,000.Charged in February 2009, Rossdeutcher was cleared of charges by the Student Rights Panel in June. Nonetheless, he was charged again under the Concordia Academic Code of Conduct. He claims the panel ignored evidence from a handwriting expert which stated that the signature was not forged by him.—Tahsin NajamSource: Montreal Gazette
At Acadia U, extra-curriculars go on transcript
Acadia University now offers students a co-curricular transcript, which can include involvement in clubs, sports, volunteer, or part-time work, as well as other experiences outside the classroom. Before these transcripts are issued, students are asked to provide staff with a list of contacts to confirm their participation in these activities. The transcript is to be included with their grades upon graduation.The university has a student body of 3,030 undergrads and 455 grad students. Ray Ivany, the president of Acadia, says that both the classroom and the community are valuable learning opportunities for students. He hopes that these experiences will also help students to make more meaningful contributions to society in the future.Other schools that issue co-curricular transcripts include the University of Calgary and Seneca College.—Kimberly ShekSource: Times & Transcript, University of Calgary news release, Seneca College website
Fraud and plagiarism spark concern at University of Calgary
Former U of T graduate student Dr. Daniel Kwok won’t be receiving any more federal research funding after allegedly spending more than $150,000 of grant money on personal items. According to documents released to Canwest, Kwok “spent research funds for personal benefit” and “had altered supporting receipts in an attempt to conceal the nature of the purchases.”The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada’s largest research grant provider, has taken the unusual step of banning Kwok indefinitely from receiving funding after a four-year investigation into charges of plagiarism and misuse of funds. Only three other scientists have been banned by NSERC.While a professor at the University of Alberta, Kwok allegedly spent grant money on such items as an iPod, computers, chrome exhaust pipes for his car, and a home theatre system worth $17,000. In 2005, Kwok went to work at the University of Calgary.Kwok denies the allegations. He says, “I have replied to NSERC. The whole thing was unfair. I can’t say more.” Kwok, an expert in interfacial phenomena, has a Master’s and PhD in engineering from the University of Toronto. He has received almost $2 million in funding and fellowships throughout his career.No charges have been laid against Kwok. The RCMP and the universities of Alberta and Calgary refused to discuss the issue due to provincial privacy issues.—Annie Claire Bergeron-OliverSource: Montreal Gazette
Cooking up a monsoon
Don McKellar’s status as one of Canada’s most ubiquitous media presences—TV and radio personality, film director, actor-for-hire with David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, Tony-winning playwright, and Odd Job Jack voice—somehow eluded first-time feature director Dilip Mehta until shortly before filming their movie, Cooking with Stella.Claiming ignorance of McKellar’s career until the casting process, Mehta says, “I never met him until I got to India. In the initial casting of the film, we shortlisted Don, but he was unavailable at the time. And we had our days of principal photography allotted, and we went with another actor, and we soon, about two weeks prior to principal photography, chose to part ways…” Mehta says this last comment in a tone of voice that sounds simultaneously diplomatic and exasperated.“So we got back to Don about his availability and he was on a number of projects—one amongst them was an opera—” McKellar smiles and cuts in, “That’s what I was doing at the time…” He seems to suggest that the opera was just another pleasant lark.“And it turned out to be un-play acting,” Mehta continues, “because his role calls for someone who has just arrived in India for the first time, which is exactly what happened to Don. Don enjoys cooking, and is adventurous—not someone who is outwardly adventurous, but enough to say, ‘Why am I on this compound? I would rather be out in the mountains.’”In Cooking with Stella, a jaunty comedy of manners about a Canadian-Indian culture clash, McKellar plays Michael, a chef who has been relocated to India through his Canadian diplomat wife (Lisa Ray). Frustrated by being housebound, Michael asks his servant Stella (Seema Biswas) to give him lessons in Indian cooking. He is not quick to notice that Stella is also an amateur con artist. For McKellar, who specializes in weak or nebbish characters, the self-aware and bemused Michael is an intriguing departure.
Mehta referred to McKellar being a last-minute replacement. Was there a disagreement with the previous actor over his interpretation of the character?“Not so much as he started making suggestions on changing the lines of the other actors, and I thought that was the director’s prerogative…and if you ask me his name, I’ve forgotten it!”“Forgotten…” says McKellar.Doesn’t being thrown into a character just two weeks before shooting present a major challenge? “Totally,” says McKellar, “but I think I respond to that kind of fear and challenge, and I think I know enough about myself that I like being forced to sink or swim. I wouldn’t necessarily do it for every part, but in this case I did feel it would help feed the part because it was being thrown into a new culture. And I knew Lisa a little so I thought, ‘Well, she can be my wife. I’ll allow that.’”“Do you remember when she asked me, ‘How come we don’t kiss?’” asks Mehta.“Yes, yes, she kept wanting to put kissing in. I was not objecting, I want to point out…”“I put my foot down on that. ‘You do not need to kiss each other!’ If you’re comfortable with each other, it shouldn’t necessarily have to be kissing. I mean you do not have to get into [frenching] each other, it’s alright…”Mehta co-wrote the screenplay with his sister, the esteemed Deepa Mehta (director of Water). What was the creative dynamic of this collaboration?“A lot of screaming,” says Mehta cheerfully.“He’s not joking. They’re brother and sister,” says McKellar.“We would fight. There is disparity. She has worked on my projects, I’ve worked on her projects, we love each other, and we are comfortable with each other’s contributions.”“They weren’t fighting on the set, I’d like to add,” says McKellar.“Oh, never. Never on the set, because we had actually finished the script before we started filming, which is sometimes not the case…it was truly a collaborative thing. I have lived more in India than Deepa has, so I think as far as what is happening with Stella’s character was perhaps more of my contribution, and Deepa’s contribution was more in terms of Maya and Michael, the Canadians, and their interactions with her. So those were definitely some clearly defined areas where her experience is far greater.”“Of course, I would be a fool not to draw from Deepa’s experience,” Mehta continues. “At one point, I was also mooting the idea of the two of us co-directing the film and she said, ‘Why would do you want to do that?’“I said, ‘We can be Canada and India’s answer to the Coen Brothers.’ She said, ‘You’re insane!’”Cooking With Stella opens in theatres March 19.
Eye on the election
Harassment, intimidation, and race-baiting are among the complaints brought to the chief returning officer in the UTSU elections, Dave Blocker. Exec candidates are nearly tied for demerit points, with 56 for Change U of T and 55 for Stronger Together, as of Wednesday, March 17. Two board of directors candidates for Change, Jasmine Attfield and Michael Luczak, each have 15 demerit points.Stronger Together was assigned demerit points for intimidation and aggressive questioning by Anisha Thomas, an ESSU exec, and other supporters; supporters campaigning in unauthorized areas; and improper posting of campaign materials.The Change slate was given demerits for two candidates intentionally misrepresenting facts. They were also penalized for showing up to a meeting on Friday, March 12 that the CRO deemed to be a Stronger Together campaign strategizing meeting; for registering a complaint about contents of the email invitation that was forwarded to them; and for a video of the meeting taken by Antonin Mongeau, a vocal UTSU critic and EFUT (the French club) alumni chair.Blocker wrote in two rulings that he was holding the Change slate responsible for Mongeau’s actions, deeming Mongeau a Change supporter. Steve Masse, the presidential candidate for Change, was docked 25 points for going to the meeting Friday. He has a total of 28 demerit points; candidates with 35 points are disqualified.As of press time, members of the Stronger Together slate and campaign have not responded to phone calls and emails from The Varsity.
Non-U of T campaigners
Toby Whitfield, Ryerson Students’ Union VP finance and services and president-elect, is campaigning for Stronger Together for the second year in a row. In March 2009, Whitfield told the Eyeopener, a Ryerson student newspaper, that he was campaigning because he was friends with the incumbent slate. Darshika Selvasivam, VP campaigns and advocacy at the York Federation of Students, has also been spotted campaigning for Stronger Together. Change campaigners are all U of T students, according to Masse.Student union leaders from campuses that belong to the Canadian Federation of Students, an umbrella lobby group, have campaigned at each other’s campus elections. In 2008, Maclean’s reported that YFS president Hamid Osman had left Toronto during the York University strike to participate in a CFS-Ontario campaign to have U of O students join the federation. Also in 2008, York University student newspaper The Excalibur reported that Osman and two other YFS execs were seen campaigning in RSU elections for the Renew slate. In 2009, the CFS-Québec deputy chair-elect, Noah Stewart-Ornstein, was shown in a video tearing down seven campaign posters during elections at Concordia University.Mongeau has accused Whitfield of tearing down EFUT posters. Mongeau has posted a video that shows EFUT posters in the trash and Whitfield walking away from the bulletin board outside Sidney Smith with a poster in his hand, but the grainy video does not clearly show Whitfield tearing down posters. Whitfield has not responded to queries from The Varsity.Mongeau has a rocky relationship with UTSU. He was voted off the UTSU Clubs Committee in January 2009. Two months later, Mongeau was reprimanded by the CRO at the time, Lydia Treadwell, for hosting a debate while campaigning for the Change slate, though Mongeau disputed the ruling. Mongeau has graduated from U of T.
Toby Whitfield, the VP finance for the Ryerson Students’ Union, campaigns for the Stronger Together slate at Sidney Smith.
The March 12 meeting
On Friday, March 12, Isabel Lay, president of the Equity Studies Students’ Union, sent out a mass email invitation for an emergency meeting to be held later that day. The email begins, “This is an urgent appeal for you to attend an emergency organizing meeting to protect the University of Toronto Students’ Union […] It has become very clear to me after the UTSU electoral debates that our students’ union is in trouble.”ESSU has officially endorsed Stronger Together.Lay wrote that Change supporters have been the loudest voices against universal access to education this year, that Change supporters were in favour of Towards 2030, and that one of the Change candidates was “responsible for creating a space for hateful and threatening comments to be directed to the president of the Black Students’ Association.” A spokesperson for ESSU declined to comment further on the email.The email was forwarded to Change slate members and The Varsity. Masse and Attfield attended, as did Varsity reporters Alex Ross, Andrew Rusk, and Liz Kagedan.Mongeau filmed the encounter and put the video on YouTube. It shows some Stronger Together supporters asking not to be filmed and others talking to Masse and Attfield, who left after they were told that it was a private meeting. Mongeau refused to stop filming. When Stronger Together supporters decided to call campus police, he provided the phone number.Both slates filed complaints. Change accused the email as “false, baseless and slanderous allegations against members of the Change team.” Blocker, the CRO, wrote in his ruling that Lay’s email was “a call-out to Stronger Together supporters for a campaign strategy meeting and therefore it is not considered campaign material.” Blocker called the complaint frivolous and handed out a demerit point to each Change candidate.Blocker gave 25 demerit points to Masse and 15 to Attfield for “violations of harassment, general sabotage of the campaigns of other candidates and failure to comply with the spirit and purpose of the elections.” He ruled that Mongeau fell under non-arms length third party campaigning and that Masse “clearly aided and abetted” in Mongeau’s activities. “It is particularly disconcerting that, after the Change team campaign manager had confirmation from the CRO to not post photos of Stronger Together campaigners that Mr. Mongeau subsequently began releasing youtube videos of a similar vein,” Blocker wrote. “Additionally, the Change U of T team has made no efforts to publicly disassociate themselves from Mr. Mongeau.”Blocker also instructed the Change team “to have the videos posted immediately removed and for Mr. Mongeau and any other Change supporters to immediately cease interfering in the campaigning of other candidates by videotaping or other forms of intimidation.”Mongeau is the subject of two other complaints by a Stronger Together supporter who is unnamed. She said she and others felt intimidated and threatened when followed and filmed by Mongeau, whom she said also emailed her and questioned her role in the campaign. Blocker ruled that “if Change candidates do not immediately remove Mr. Mongeau’s videos from the Internet and publicly disassociate with Mr. Mongeau’s tactics of intimidation and harassment, severe penalties will be issued.”In an email to Blocker and Jim Delaney, director of the office of the vice-provost of student, Mongeau said he was an independent journalist and not affiliated with the Change campaign. He said he refused a request from Simon Miles, a Change campaigner, asking him to remove the videos. “I have never campaigned for the Change slate. I have never been to any meetings of the Change slate. The Change slate is not in any position to ask me anything, let alone infringe on my livelihood,” Mongeau wrote. He requested a meeting with Blocker, which “will be videotaped and may be distributed on the Internet.”
ESSU and Alyssa James
Stronger Together candidate Danielle Sandhu was given five demerit points for the actions of Anisha Thomas, an ESSU exec, and other campaigners. Blocker wrote that “the confrontation between Ms. Thomas, other supporters of Stronger Together, and Ms. James violated generally accepted community standards through intimidating and aggressive questioning of Ms. James.”Blocker dismissed other complaints of libel and slander against James, and wrote that it was not possible to determine whether harassment through body language occurred.
Change slate candidates Jimmy Lu and James Finlay were each given demerit points for misrepresentation. Lu was docked for saying UTSU execs make $45,000 per year, Finlay for saying Stronger Together’s presidential candidate wanted to take money owed to UTM and spend on the downtown campus. Both were initially given 10 demerit points and appealed. Lu’s demerits were reassessed and lowered to six points, while Finlay’s were upheld.
The Facebook appeal to Desis
Blocker turned down a complaint by the Change slate, alleging that the Stronger Together campaign has turning the election into a “polarizing race-based issue.”The Varsity has been forwarded Facebook messages from two Stronger Together supporters who urged support based on race. On March 13, Shozab Raza wrote a general message on Facebook appealing to “desi people of colour.”“I feel it is contradictory for us, as desis, to support CHANGE,” he wrote, and said Change slate members and supporters “condemned us for taking a stance on such issues as Palestinian Human Rights.” Raza told The Varsity that he was volunteering for the Stronger Together campaign and that it was a private message. “I’m involved in OPIRG Toronto and I’m an ally campaigning for [Stronger Together],” he said. OPIRG has endorsed Stronger Together.In an email to The Varsity, Raza said he and two others saw UC Lit president Daniel Tsekhman tearing down Israeli Apartheid Week posters in 2009. Tskehman told The Varsity that he did not tear down posters. “When the posters were put up, they were covering UC Lit event posters, so I simply moved them on the board to not cover our events,” he wrote in an email. Raza also cited a letter to The Varsity by Gabe De Roche that condemned Israeli Apartheid Week on behalf of the U of T Liberals, noting that Change candidate Mike Maher and Change supporter Alex Heuton are execs of the group. “I argue that these attacks against IAW by certain individuals constitutes as a condemnation of Palestinian human rights,” wrote Raza.Another Stronger Together supporter, Sumaya Ahmed, wrote in a Facebook message, “i think its kinda weird how all but one member is either white, or half whie […] they’re all very privlidged kids, who have probably never wondered if they could be able to pay school or books or foods.”Blocker ruled that the messages were not intimidating or harassing, and that “the allegation that this private facebook message constitutes unsolicited campaigning is dismissed as no votes were solicited.” Raza’s message solicited volunteering for the Stronger Together slate but simply asked, “PLEASE VOTE.” Ahmed wrote, “dont for change [sic] let me tell you why over coffee.”Shonith Rajendran and Alex Ross contributed reporting and research to this article.A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Antonin Mongeau requested a meeting with Dave Blocker and Jim Delaney. In fact, Mongeau requested a meeting with Blocker and cc’d Delaney on the email. The Varsity regrets the error.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Gabe De Roche’s letter condemning Israeli Apartheid Week was not written on behalf of the U of T Liberals. The Varsity regrets the error.This article has been updated to reflect Shozab Raza’s affiliation with OPIRG Toronto and Daniel Tsekhman’s response.
Why your mother may have been wrong about men with tattoos
Women are accused of preferring men with Harleys, cigars, and a bad attitude, a.k.a. bad boys, often branded with tattoos and piercings. Maybe it’s true that nice guys finish last, at least when it comes to attracting women. What is it that is so attractive about rebellious men? The danger? Their blatant disregard for rules? Or perhaps it is their risk-taking behaviour? It appears that female preference for tattooed and pierced men (hereon referred to simply as “rebels”) is actually a preference for men with good genes.Current research at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Anthropology in Wroclaw, Poland, suggests that tattoos and piercings may communicate to potential mates that the bearer possesses good genes. The idea is that only individuals with strong immune systems can afford to put themselves at risk of contracting the infections and diseases associated with tattoos and piercings. Much of an animal’s immunocompetence (the body’s ability to produce an immune response) is genetically determined. Therefore, finding a partner with a strong immune system is valuable, since offspring will inherit your partner’s superior immune response genes.One possible explanation of the seemingly innate attraction to rebellious humans (especially among females) is the handicap hypothesis. The handicap hypothesis proposed by biologist Amotz Zahavi in 1975 suggests that genetically superior or “high quality” individuals can afford to invest in costly mating signals, while this cost would be too great for an individual of inferior quality to incur. If the handicap hypothesis explains female attraction to rebels, we would expect tattoos and piercings to be more common in high-quality individuals.Symmetry is thought to be an indicator of healthy development in animals, and previous studies have found that when asked to rate the attractiveness of individuals, people with more symmetrical bodies consistently ranked highest. When the level of body symmetry was measured in 200 rebels and non-rebels, investigators found a significantly higher symmetry amongst rebellious men than in non-rebellious men. Professor Darryl Gwynne, sexual selection and mating systems specialist from the University of Toronto Mississauga, warns that symmetry as a quality proxy is still debatable, and finding that rebellious individuals tend to be more symmetrical suggests that the handicap hypothesis is functioning in human mating practices.
Scientists studying mating systems and sexual selection have long emphasized the importance of signalling in animal mating behaviour. The belief that symmetry is a good indicator of an individual’s quality is rooted in the assumption that “if you come through all of [your] development without losing symmetry, you’re of higher quality […] though the evidence supporting symmetry in non-human animals is sparse and there is much criticism of the research done to date,” says Gwynne. Honest signals are traits that are costly to produce and are thus correlated with an individual’s quality; they are therefore the best traits to use when evaluating members of the opposite sex. This is in contrast to “dishonest signals,” which are susceptible to exploitation. Examples of dishonest signals used in human mating systems are abundant and include high heels, perfume, makeup, hair pieces, and so on.Whether the investigators in this study have truly identified a human case of the handicap hypothesis is debatable. In order for tattoos and piercings to serve as a signal of a strong immune system, there would need to be a real threat of infection and disease resulting from these body modifications. Though this danger may have been true in the not-so-distant past, it is definitely not the case in modern society, where health regulations remove the threat of virtually all risks associated with tattoos and piercings. One interesting observation the investigators made was that symmetry was only higher in male rebels and not in females. That is, only male rebels appear to be signalling good genes through their rebellious behaviour. This finding is not entirely surprising since females are rarely the sex that is being evaluated in mating systems and therefore they are usually not required to produce elaborate signals to attract males.However, it does raise the question, why are females partaking in this mate-signalling behaviour of tattoos and piercings? With the dawn of health regulations and increased sanitation, it is possible that women have decided to adopt this mating signal, thus stripping it of its original meaning. Perhaps men will now have to engage in increasingly risky practices in order to honestly signal their quality.