The feminist touch

We’ve all been there: You’re sitting at your computer, bottle of lube beside you, pants hung up on the towel rack, hand poised at the go, when suddenly you click onto a pornographic website and realize, “Wait a minute, this pornography isn’t female friendly! Isn’t there some way that I could find feminist porn without having to put my pants back on?”

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to be clothed for this, but if you are looking for a more public way to express your desire for a feminist outlet for your masturbatory needs, then you should check out the 2010 Feminist Porn Awards, created by the Toronto sex store Good for Her.

Chanelle Gallant, manager of Good for Her, created the awards in 2006 as a response to the growing voice of female-created and -produced pornography, a section of the industry that some felt was more attuned to the sexual desires of the women watching.

“Previously women were always involved, but no one was recognizing them,” says Alison Lee, the current manager at Good for Her and organizer of the Feminist Porn Awards. With some of the more notable issues present in traditional porn, it was a challenge to find more female-friendly fare. As Lee explains, “Some of the things in the mainstream media made it hard to carry DVDs [in the store], such as the racism and the exploitation, and the less positive aspects [of the industry].”
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Nominated films need to meet at least one of the listed criteria: a women must be part of the production, writing, etc., of the film; real female pleasure is depicted; and, according to the website, “it expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.”

Awards range from Hottest Straight Movie to The Golden Beaver Award for Canadian Content, along with the standard categories like Movie of the Year. Previous Movie of the Year winners include Champion by Shine Louise Huston (2009)—to quote from the movie description, “Does the combination of tough butches, ne’er do well bois and femmes in heat sound like a match made in heaven?” (Why, yes it does, thank you!) Winners get a large glass buttplug award, and everyone else gets to bask in a very public display of pornography. It’s win-win, really.

One of the inherent issues with labelling an event “feminist” is the automatic assumption among some that the awards are for women only. Not true, according to Lee: “We don’t have any rules that say that you can’t be a male director to enter movies. Male directors have won awards in the past, but not a lot of men enter, usually because they assume it’s only for women. We have a few male nominees this year, and we’ve nominated male performers in the past.” For those involved, the event is meant not to just highlight women’s achievements, but to focus on women’s pleasure as well.
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The debate over whether porn can be feminist or not is a touchy one—from the anti-porn views of Andrea Dworkin to the sex-positive writings of Susie Bright, there’s no real agreement in the current overarching feminist narrative on the potential for pornography to empower women. But when it comes to the FPAs and the works nominated there, the answer is a resounding yes, yes, yesssssssssss, oh GOD, yessssssssssssssss.

According to Lee, “I think that what we’re saying is that porn can be feminist, and that showing sexuality isn’t inherently sexist. There’s a lot of joyful opportunity to be had just by enjoying it. The turn-on factor is not sexist—what is, is the unfair labour practices and the way performers are treated, and how women are depicted as objects, as being stupid, or as being useless except for their sexual capacity.”

Guests this year include award-winning author, writer, and adult filmmaker Tristan Taormino, director Shine Louise Huston, burlesque performer CoCo La Crème, and adult performers Nica Noelle and April Flores. The awards themselves will be presented on April 9 at Berkeley Church (315 Queen St. E.). Tickets are $20 at the door. For more information, visit

York investigates student elections

York University admin are investigating the recent student elections. University president Mamdouh Shoukri has formally requested that ombudsman John McCamus look into results from the York Federation of Students elections. In a March 19 statement, Shoukri said that admin will review possible infractions after receiving “a significant number of complaints” from students.

Shoukri’s statement comes after 16 of 21 candidates on the “New York” slate were disqualified for alleged misconduct, which according to the CRO’s report included distributing copies of the Excalibur student newspaper without prior permission. Since then, members of the slate have been quoted as saying the CRO’s action was unfairly harsh. The elections committee, acknowledging that disqualifications are to be a last-resort action, eventually overturned the decision.

“We are aware that unapproved campaign material is a violation of the elections procedure code,” New York presidential candidate Fraser Stevens said in a video posted on the Excalibur website. “However, a free newspaper is a free newspaper. Everyone has access.”

“I feel it’s a very telling sign,” Stevens told The Varsity. “If students and administration are questioning the integrity of this election then obviously an investigation is appropriate.”

Shoukri said in the statement, “Transparency, fairness and integrity in the election process, as well as the possibility of orderly and democratic change, must be ensured for the benefit of all of our students.”

The disqualifications fueled already lingering discussion about the details of CRO Casey Chu Cheong’s appointment, which many students said was ill-advised. Cheong, like UTSU CRO Dave Blocker, was selected in a closed interview session by the incumbents, who ended up winning a resounding victory. This is his second year as CRO. In the statement, Shoukri mentioned that the ombudsman will look into claims that the CRO was neither impartial nor independent.

Shoukri, who came under a lot of fire last year for not adequately responding to student demands during the strike, issued the statement a little over a week after disqualifications, The ombudsman is to submit his report no later than June 30.

With files from Shonith Rajendran

Campus Stage: Release and the Festival of Dance

Silhouettes dance show provides release from the ordinary

Release, the year-end performance by U of T’s Silhouettes Dance Company, opened at the Betty Oliphant Theatre on Thursday night. The show included various types of dance over two acts, from contemporary to tap to hip hop to jazz.

It was obvious right from the beginning that the dancers were having a great time. The Soweto Gospel Choir sang the opening number “Hlohonolofatsa,” which mixed African and modern dance to showcase the evening’s theme of “release.” A celebratory mood emerged through the dancers’ fast-paced movements that set the tone for the rest of the show, though their coordination did falter at times.

Other notable performances in the first act included “Delirious,” performed with risky yet upbeat moves to the 2 Many DJs song “Mix for Colette” and David Guetta’s eponymous track. The flawless choreography grabbed the audience’s attention, as the dancers’ stripped their costumes throughout the number. (After the dancers threw their vests into the audience, left onstage in their bras, we simultaneously cheered and wondered whether the dancers’ mothers were alright with this piece.) Other stand-outs were the very funny tap number “Manteca” performed by Claire Young and Lauren Bajin and “On to the Next One,” which featured great coordination to popular hip-hop basslines. The act closed with the jazzy “Fosse.”

Act two opened up with “Battlestar Sonatica,” a modern dance with a hint of Indian inspiration that had eight dancers revolving around the graceful Olga Kciuk. Midway through “Illumination,” lasers lit dancers’ wrists, and they performed in perfect time with the lights. “Red Football” was gut-wrenching and emotional, while “Personal Jesus” entered sexier, more rock-inspired territory. Choreographer Krystal Boyea’s work stood out on hip-hop number “Girls Will be Boyz.” The Soweto Gospel Choir returned along with the whole cast for finale “Thina Simnqobile.”

Although there did seem to be some opening night nerves and one minor technical error, Release proved to be a fun, liberating, well-performed show. Here’s to hoping that Silhouettes keeps up the great work next year!—Tanya Debi

U of T’s Festival of Dance provides one of the best glimpses of this university’s diversity

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Hart House Theatre closed its 90th anniversary season this past weekend with the 15th annual U of T Festival of Dance. Featuring everything from ballet to reggaeton, this two-night event brought together some of the university’s best dance companies to celebrate this medium in all its forms. Well-established groups like Vic Dance and the University of Toronto Dance Club performed alongside independent artists in a two-and-a-half hour show that provided for everyone.

Last Friday evening’s show began with a modern ballet/jazz piece performed by Vic Dance, who also provided various ensemble and solo pieces throughout the evening. They stood out for their solid technique as well as their ability to evoke deep emotion through movement. Another strong component of the program was ChitraLekha Odissi Dance Creations, who performed three classical Indian Odissi pieces. A quick change of pace came about with Freedance, whose act featured an a capella beat box performance accompanied by two hip-hop dancers. Finally, the cast of SMC Theatre’s production of West Side Story combined technique with comedy in their interpretations of “America” and the mambo/salsa “Dance at the Gym.”

While all the groups demonstrated great skill, a few acts went above and beyond the audience’s expectations. Some of these included Rince na Eire, whose Irish step dancing provoked plenty of cheers, and Fo’ Real Hip Hop, whose impeccable coordination and rhythm made us want to dance along. Mirage, a five-woman belly dance ensemble, amazed the audience with their grace and sensual style. And Skule Nite, the Faculty of Engineering’s sketch comedy troupe, made everyone laugh with their hilarious Backstreet Boys parody, “Skule Nite’s Back.”

The night also included some interesting surprises, including two fusion acts combining belly dance and Latin dance. While I was initially skeptical at seeing Celeste Alarcon and Danielle Lottridge dance tango in bellydance attire, their incredibly sensual act proved irresistible. Another surprise came with “Photograph,” a fusion piece performed by Ismailova Theatre of Dance and the RSA Dance Ensemble. What began as a poignant pas de deux to the “Vals de Amelie” (a dramatic piece that illustrated a woman facing her lover’s desertion) finished as an Eastern European folk dance. This unique transition provoked a mixed response from the audience, perhaps only because it was so unexpected, but the group’s talent could not be questioned.

One way to improve future festivals might be to include more information about each dance company in the program. Most of these groups are influenced by a specific cultural tradition, and it would be good to know more about the history and culture underlying their work. But in all, the evening proved a great closing for the 2009-2010 Hart House Theatre Season and a celebration of the immense talent which we have in the U of T community.—Jeannine M. Pitas

Particles of Potter

Over 30 Muggles gathered at the McLennan Physical Laboratories on Friday hoping to find out if it was possible to make an invisibility cloak, or if they could ever actually go through a wall to King’s Cross Platform 9¾. Grad students Michael Zedler and Yaser Khan spoke on “The Physics of Harry Potter” as part of the Magic Wand Ownership lectures, organized by the physics department.

Zedler first gave a short history of invisibility within mythology and literature. His examples included the myth of Perseus and the Song of the Nibelungs, which features heroes who use a cap of invisibility to aid them in their quests.

“The difference between Harry Potter and the other figures of mythology is that Harry Potter is purely good while the others used it solely for temptation,” Zedler said, drawing laughter from the audience.

He then moved the discussion onto the scientific aspect of invisibility. While it is not possible to achieve complete physical invisibility, it is possible to appear invisible on tracking devices like radar.

Zedler specializes in “metamaterials,” which are engineered to have properties not readily available in nature. Zedler demonstrated that such material would be able to absorb electromagnetic energy, thus enabling a kind of “cloaking technology.”
Khan’s presentation focused on bending light as a way of passing through objects. He spoke about “tunneling,” in which light passes through a barrier to reach the other side.

“This is analogous in some sense to Harry Potter walking through a wall,” said Khan. To demonstrate tunneling, Khan had each of the audience members take a plastic cup of water from the front of the room and press their fingers against it. Each person could see their fingerprint through the glass. But if they dipped fingers in the cup of water and then pressed it against the cup, the fingerprints would be scattered by water.

Khan said that while it was possible for particles at the atomic and subatomic level to pass through barriers such as brick and wood, audience members should refrain from trying to run through walls at home.

In the question period that followed, one audience member asked Zedler, “So, how much is it going to cost to build my starship?”

“I’m happy if it works for something the size of a banana,” Zedler replied, emphasizing the expense of producing of metamaterials and how difficult it would be to cloak something on the scale of a “starship.”

VUSAC throws out election results

Victoria College students are to cast votes for student council execs a second time, although post-campaigning in the first round of elections did not conclusively change the outcome. An unnamed candidate, who did not win, was found to have campaigned during the voting period by carrying around a laptop and having students cast votes online. Two students are criticizing that decision in a report, saying that the Victoria University Student Administrative Council ignored and wrongly interpreted its constitution, and that council members voted on issues that were a conflict of interest.

The elections for president of VUSAC saw current VP external Akash Goel edge out clubs commissioner Evan Wallis. Voting took place March 18 and 19.

Chief returning officer Catherine Brown presented evidence of vote tampering at a March 24 VUSAC meeting. Brown is the current VUSAC president. Goel and Wallis have no conclusive connection to the tampering.

Brown said that up to 40 votes may have been “strongly influenced,” although only 17 were conclusively linked to the candidate in question. The ballots were cast online and tampering was determined through investigating IP addresses.

“Even if you nullified those 17 votes, there still would have been a big enough margin,” Goel told Victoria College paper The Strand. Goel was ahead of Wallis by 28 votes.

Brown recommended that the council ratify the election results. Following a secret ballot, the motion failed to receive a simple majority. Council members who won the first round of elections were not allowed to cast votes for the ratification motion, though Wallis, the unsuccessful presidential candidate, was allowed to vote. “I think a lot of people are questioning why a recasting of ballots is being done. I think that’s because there were enough members on council who wanted to make sure that students felt that the process was as transparent as it could have been,” Brown told The Strand.

In the report “VUSAC: A Crisis of Legitimacy,” Dev Shanani and Nicholas Erwin-Longstaff said that VUSAC overstepped its constitutional authority in challenging election results. They wrote, “Given the expected thoroughness of this investigation, and the fact that the candidate involved In this ‘tampering’ lost, it is surprising to see the results on an unrelated position that won by a margin greater than 17 votes being recalled.”

Voting will take place March 31 and April 1, through the voting system.

Freshly Pressed: Birds of Wales

Birds of Wales—Belgravia Hotel

Although Toronto-based group Birds of Wales has been likened to Coldplay, I’d go further and say that they’re more akin to The Band. They’ve found success not only in Canada, but also in the UK, so you can imagine the pressure they were under to produce something up to their own foot-tapping musical standard on their latest album. Luckily, Belgravia Hotel is truly lovely and fits well with this time of year.

The album opens with an air of nostalgia by starting with old Birds of Wales favourite “My Lady in July.” It then unfolds to sunny melodies, velvety vocals, and intelligent lyrics. A soon-to-be favourite for many Bird of Wales fans is “Just Right,” with the reassuring line, “I don’t know where / I’m gonna be / It’s alright.”

There are a few radio-friendly tracks such as “Tin Soldier” that will likely appeal most to our little sisters. But we don’t judge. The album is nowhere near a let down—I would take their music along on my road trip jams, and you should too.

Year in review

A year in review at The Varsity

JADE COLBERT explains our restructuring and our switch to a weekly

Reviewing the reviews

Quotes from our most glowing—and scathing—critiques

A CFS retrospective

Another year with the Canadian Federation of Students

U of T gets a “B”

MAY JEONG grades our school’s environmental progress in the year that was

Making the grade

The best and the worst of the Varsity Blues

The year in quotes

Did they just actually say that? And on the record, no less

Most popular stories

JOE HOWELL counts down the ten most-read stories on

They’re hot and they’re cold

The stories we’re so into and the stories we’re so over

Science Top 10

JASMIN BHAWRA presents our Top 10 notable science breakthroughs and prizes at U of T from the past year

The year in quotes

“I understand the president is being paid [for no work] but there’s also a potential lawsuit.”—Imrah Khan, responding to SCSU president Zuhair Syed’s lawsuit threat after UTSC students voted to impeach Syed.

“The issue is not one where we have a conspicuous failure, but rather one where, frankly, the returns are not at the level of our peers […] The lesson seems as clear to me as snow on the ground: we need to follow a more conventional strategy.”—U of T president David Naylor announces that U of T is giving up the aggressive U.S.-style investment strategy. The pension and endowment fund lost $1.5 billion in 2008, and endowment payouts were suspended this school year.

“It’s even more shocking when you learn that some of the ‘students’ running our student union are in their seventh year of study. But please, have some sympathy, it’s not their fault—the rules of the game, which they control, make it nearly impossible for them to lose elections.”—Gabe de Roche on the UTSU incumbency rate

When asked what the audience has to look forward to at Fucked Up’s annual Halloween show: “Unity of imagery, bit of a mess, airborne, war zone hat, slam skank, omega excessive enforcers, burning spirits, and a happy Halloween. When the unveiling happens, I’m sure you’ll be slapping your knees and falling over.”—Jonah Falco of Fucked Up

“Did Picasso care about what anyone else was doing? No. Did Rembrandt wake up every morning and go look at other paintings in an art gallery before starting his own work? No. I am inspired by no one.”—Composer Krzysztof Penderecki

The Varsity: Who was your mentor growing up?

Jack Uetrecht: I didn’t really have one. I grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio and I just sort of played around and discovered early on that I was not going to be a farmer.

Jack Uetrecht, professor of pharmacy and medicine at U of T

“Essentially my work has no basic application.”—Associate Professor Maydianne Andrade, Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology

“Anything could happen.”—Blues quarterback Andrew Gillis in September on the rest of the season

Did you know you can’t say douchebag on TV? I didn’t realize you couldn’t say douchebag on TV.”—TSN anchor Jay Onrait