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 goodforher.com.

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 thevarsity.ca

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

They’re hot and they’re cold

WE’RE INTO IT

• Quidditch

• Perogies

• Double Double Land

• Museum Studies

• Haiti relief

• Online dating

• Bees

• U of T Men’s Swimming

• Fucked Up

• Copyright reform

• E-readers

• CFS defederation

• Vampires

• Ninja training

• Douglas Coupland

WE’RE OVER IT

• Toby Whitfield

• Proroguing

• Obama’s Nobel

• Swine flu

• TTC

• Michael Bryant

• Fight Fees

• Copenhagen

• UTSU election shenanigans

• Blackface

• Zuhair Syed

• Mayoral Election

• Giambrone sex scandal

• The “I Believe” song

• The Blind Side

Pan-scammed?

Two leaders of the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students say that students were misinformed when they voted to help pay for construction of the 2015 Pan American Games sports complex at UTSC.

Students were told during the campaign period that they would not get the complex if they voted “No.” UTSC principal Franco Vaccarino said in a March 3 town hall forum that the construction could not proceed without the students’ support though the levy.

John Aruldason, SCSU’s VP campus life and the next SCSU president, confirmed that the university’s stance was that a “No” vote would lead to no sports facility. “[It was] not possible to build the complex without the levy,” he said. “This was [the message] on the posters.”

According to APUS executive director Oriel Varga, “The major issue is that they misled students to believe that they would lose it all. Students could have gotten this for free.”

A series of messages between officials and APUS, as well as UTSC student and “No” campaigner Brish Azimi, state that the complex would have gone up despite a “No” vote.

“If students vote ‘No,’ the building would not stop due to how many different financial partners are involved and how much planning is already underway,” said Peter Vanderyagt of Ward 44, the ward where UTSC is located.

Colin Service, manager of policies and planning for the Town of Markham, said that Markham would not be a secondary plan if a “No” vote went through. Markham was considered a runner-up against UTSC for the location of the complex.

Varga said that Michael Booth, spokesperson for mayor David Miller, told her that the U of T administration would have had to pay its share toward the sports facility if students voted against the levy. Booth could not be reached for comment.

Joeita Gupta, APUS VP external and a member of Governing Council, said that “Vote No” posters were torn down hours after they were put up, so that students were overwhelmingly exposed to “Yes” posters.

Responding to what APUS called an “overabundance” of Yes campaigning, Aruldason said that APUS members were not as visible on campus as the SCSU and “Vote Yes” campaigners. “[The] SCSU is the largest governing body,” he said. “We’re there every day.”

Varga said that “Yes” campaigners were sending a message that no student should be critical of the levy. “[Those who] were being critical were [portrayed as] outsiders,” she said.

During a “Vote No” forum held on March 15, members of the Yes campaign told APUS members that they did not represent a large enough portion of the student population. “Why should I listen to you when you represent only, let’s see, [about] 1,000 students?” asked Milad Moshfeghian, a fourth-year student and member of the “Yes” campaign.

“This is a scam,” said Gupta. “The constant bombardment of ‘Yes’ propaganda as well as numerous attempts to derail the ‘No’ side created a climate of intimidation on campus in order to ensure a ‘Yes’ vote.” Gupta spoke of difficulties booking the venue for the “No” forum, as well as the heckling and jeering from the ‘Yes’ side during the forum.

The levy passed with 62.2 per cent of voters casting “Yes” ballots. It awaits ratification by the board of directors and will be implemented either during the summer or fall semester. Construction of the athletics complex will begin late 2011 or 2012.

Merde!

UTSC lecturers are rallying against the cancellation of most foreign language courses starting next semester. A UTSC spokesperson said the final decision has not been made. Instructors, meanwhile, are recruiting student support through a Facebook group. Supporters are circulating a petition on campus. Dean and VP academic Rick Halpern has invited students to a discussion on Monday, March 29, from 12 to 1 p.m. at AA 160.

Lecturers say their department heads told them that all Arabic, Tamil, Japanese, Sanskrit, and Latin courses will be cancelled. Beginner and intermediate French courses will be suspended in 2011-2012, as will Spanish courses.

“[Administrators are] assessing how well the language courses match the overall academic programs,” said UTSC spokesperson Laura Matthews. She said no final decisions have been made to cancel courses.

Eric Spigel, who teaches Japanese, said that humanities department chair Bill Bowen called professors individually into his office to give them the “shocking news” on Monday, March 15. “He said, ‘There is no easy way to say this, [most] language courses will be terminated immediately,’” said Spigel.

“The timing is suspicious,” Spigel added, noting that the news comes near the end of the winter semester, a busy time for both students and professors. He also said there were no previous warnings and that it is now too late for sessional lecturers to find new summer jobs.

Hindi and Mandarin are the only foreign language courses on the summer 2010 course timetable. For Mandarin, the courses taught by sessional instructors have been cancelled for the summer. Timetables for 2010-2011 fall and winter courses have not yet been released.

A Facebook group called “Save Language Courses @ UTSC,” created by Spanish professor Isolde Dyson, has 802 members as of press time. Students and professors have started circulating a petition on campus to keep offering language courses.

Aisha Khaja, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s VP academics, said she didn’t know courses would be cancelled. “I have been aware that the department of humanities has been doing an external review,” said Khaja in an email to The Varsity. “However, at the Programs and Curriculum Committee, in which I serve as a member, this item of discussion never came up.”

‘Not a priority’

In an email response to a student, UTSC dean and VP academic Rick Halpern said recent external reviews showed that most language courses are not closely related to any academic program and that most students only take one or two introductory language courses.

“Since language teaching is not currently on the list of academic priorities of UTSC, we have decided to review our language offerings to find a way that these can be closely tied to one or more academic programs,” wrote Halpern. The email also said language expansion at UTSC was a pilot project and that language teaching costs must be assessed against “other pressing academic needs.”

“The letter is utter bullshit,” said Tamara Al-Kasey, a Spanish professor who has resigned her post as former languages coordinator. “There have been absolutely no external reviews on the language courses,” she said, adding that sparing only Hindi and Mandarin because of their affiliation with Global Asian Studies does not make sense because Tamil, Japanese, Sanskrit are Asian languages as well.

Al-Kasey said she never knew foreign languages at UTSC were pilot projects. She wrote on Facebook that she resigned as languages coordinator after she was not consulted about the language restructuring.

Neither Halpern nor John Scherk, the vice-dean academic, could be reached for comment.

‘So much for world-class’

Students told The Varsity they were disappointed. Shobiya Sivanathan, a third-year biology and psychology major, is taking a Tamil course and planned on taking more. “This is the first time that I am actually learning the language,” she said, after previous efforts failed. “There are so many Tamil students in UTSC and [taking Tamil courses] is a way of getting into our culture.”

“So much for world-class,” said fourth-year student Anne Hardy-Henry, referring to the campaign for the recently passed Pan Am sports facility levy, which boasted, “You deserve world class.” Lecturers received notification of language courses cancelations on March 15, in the midst of campaigning for the Pan Am athletic facility levy. “What happened to world-class education?” asked Hardy-Henry.

A year in review at The Varsity

It’s news to no one, but newspapers continue to suffer changes both cyclical (the recession, which continues for industries that are reliant on ads for revenue) and structural (the increasing importance of online media, though no one has figured out how to make more than a buck from online advertising). The Varsity is only partly sheltered from this storm.

Just over a month ago, The Varsity Board of Directors launched into the unenviable task of restructuring the corporation in response to the recession—two years too late. “Why such a delayed response?” you may very reasonably ask.

In part, it has to do with The Varsity’s position as a student organization. Like any student group, we have institutionalized high turnover: the vast majority of jobs at the paper are one-year contracts and the expectation is that each role will be filled by someone new every year. Add to this that, as student jobs, most Varsity editors do not make much money, meaning that any cut in salaries is substantial, and may significantly change how an editor expects to shelter and feed herself. These features make it very difficult to negotiate a salary cut mid-year without disrupting the quantity and quality of content.

Printing, our other large expense, is equally difficult to slash mid-year because we set our publishing schedule in March. That schedule, as well as our distribution numbers, become a promise to advertisers. Advertising, for those who do not know, remains our greatest source of revenue. Last year, The Varsity tried to solve this problem by reducing page counts. An eight-page issue, for example, was fairly common.

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In my opinion, The Varsity has a duty to print as much content as it possibly can. To paraphrase The Varsity’s statement of policies, our mandate is to offer comprehensive, fair, and accurate coverage; promote the study of journalism; offer all U of T students the opportunity to participate in the paper’s production; provide a forum for members of the community to exchange information and opinion; and protect the paper’s editorial autonomy from undue external influence. For a university of U of T’s size, fulfilling at least three of these objectives requires that we print more than eight pages twice a week.

Printing and salaries are our two greatest expenses; all others are really drops in the bucket. As no restructuring in regards to printing or human resources happened last year, The Varsity was essentially set on a debt course. Yet despite an even worse ad-selling environment and increased printing costs this year, we’ve managed to lose only so much as we did last year.

The cause for the delayed response was the following. The Varsity’s Board of Directors fell by the wayside several years ago, and it has been a long struggle to bring the board back to compliance. The Board of Directors is absolutely essential for oversight of the corporation and for providing the proper reporting measures for the paper to keep track of its own financial health. Many of us at The Varsity have worked extremely hard this year to bring together a fully constituted, active board composed of student representatives. In the midst of end-of-term assignments and essays, this board has launched into a comprehensive restructuring and budgeting process where-
in we consulted with the current masthead; our primary creditor; the company that sells our ad space nationally; and the office of the vice-provost, students. In this process, we have tried to balance three priorities.

One: Maintaining weekly page counts at a level comparable to what they have been this year, in order to fulfill the mandate noted above.

Two: To pay off our debt within a reasonable timeframe based on sensible projections and expectations.

Three: To continue providing good student jobs to the editors without whom the paper’s quality would suffer.

Our budget for next year is based on a very conservative projection that, ad sales will not improve, despite the uptick in the economy. We have cut costs across the board, though we have tried to minimize the cuts to student jobs. Based on our projections and conversations with business partners, if the paper follows the regimen set out in this budget, The Varsity will be out of debt in two to three years.

As part of this restructuring plan, The Varsity is becoming a weekly. By printing once a week, we can maintain comparable page counts to this year while also cutting printing costs. We are also devoting more editorial resources to online content, which is the best way to break news. As a weekly, our strategy going forward is to develop thevarsity.ca as its own publication, and to emphasize what online does best, and vice versa for print.

• • •

Nobody likes a recession, and nobody likes restructuring a company. The sombre tone of this letter distracts from the fact that it has been a great year for The Varsity editorially. There will always be haters and political hacks, but that aside, the healthy back-and-forth of opinion in these pages this year is evidence enough that The Varsity is doing well. Comparing this year to the one before, traffic for thevarsity.ca is up by 40 per cent. None of this would have been possible without the extremely dedicated group of editors and staff who put together the paper and the website, and the over 275 people who contributed. On a personal note, recession be damned, this past year has been the best of my life. Thank you all for the amazing ride.

Sincerely,

Jade Colbert

Editor-in-Chief,

The Varsity, 2009-2010