The Statement of Principles examined

Heteronormativity, misrepresentation, and morals

I spent part of my last column talking smack about sex writing in The Daily, but in the same February 8 issue “The cybersexual revolution” (Features) was also published, which kind of nailed it.

“One of the perceived dangers of the Internet is that we cannot classify and stereotype the ‘dangerous’ and marked bodies of those who are raced, classed, or gendered as deviant or criminals,” writes Julie Alsop. The article specifically addresses sex work on the Internet. A promising commercial domain, potentially much safer than street-walking, the web nonetheless facilitates sexual harassment and child pornography, among other things, and so presents a slew of new problems to vulnerable communities.

These crimes could be legitimately called “deviant,” since for you, me, and most everyone we know, they are morally unacceptable – completely contrary to “normative” behaviour. Because of the possibility of these abhorrent (though, the author notes, age-old) crimes, the net demands regulation of some sort. In establishing these governing rules, however, the authorities effect the simultaneous imposition – the “remapping” – of “hegemonic structures” onto the new realm. Prostitution and queer sexuality – in “virtual space” as well as in real life – thus represent areas of struggle for Daily authors, against patriarchal control of the body on the one hand and heteronormativity on the other.

The Daily sees these struggles as products of an uneven distribution of power, and, affirming the “inherently political” character of all events in its Statement of Principles (SoP), resolves to “depict and analyze power relations accurately in it coverage.” Thus the Statement guides Daily authors with regard to what they choose to write about, but it does not advise authors on how they should represent a perceived conflict or oppressor. Since a topic’s “marginality” is the only criterion for judging an article according to the SoP, an article’s adherence to the SoP does not guarantee its accurate, constructive representation of a given conflict, which to me is a more significant indicator of an article’s “success.”

We don’t always have to be nice. The type of writing mandated by the SoP is not strictly neutral, and so authors are right to quickly implicate parties responsible for what they (the authors) see as abuses of social and economic power. We should, however, be aware of the weight of the language with which we frame our arguments. Misrepresentation of the “other side” of a debate spells the end of anything like a diplomatic solution to practical problems, as evidenced, I’d say, everywhere from the Copenhagen climate summit of last December, where people argued themselves into dangerous inaction, to the current health care reform stalemate in the U.S., and even to SSMU’s Choose Life debate.

“We need to stop militarizing our minds and words,” writes “Louis” in the comment section of “It isn’t apartheid” (Editorial, March 3), quoting Daily columnist Sana Saeed. Again, we don’t have to pull punches (or nut-kicks, I guess), but we should hesitate to use the paper to declare ideological war on anything – even obvious “evils” like patriarchy or heteronormativity.

In a world-class twist of Daily theatrics this week, conservative scapegoat Ricky Kreitner appealed to The Daily’s need for a “consistent moral compass” in a web comment posted to “The Daily’s silence on Iran” (Commentary, February 18).

While this will probably just give most Daily readers another reason to suspect him one of those conservative conspiracies (he’s already been called an “Israelophile”), it raises the important question of why morality is stereotypically conservative in the first place, and if morality itself is perhaps not such a bad thing. The Daily’s preferential coverage of Gaza over Iran inspired Kreitner’s article in protest, but since the ongoing human suffering at the hands of the Israeli authorities is a longstanding moral concern of the paper, it seems The Daily’s choice was not really inconsistent.

Kreitner is right though that coverage of Gaza would be enhanced by better coverage of Iran and the rest of the Middle East, an arguably more “mainstream” topic. Richer, larger, or more notorious countries – China and Japan, Pakistan and India, Iraq and Afghanistan, Germany and France, the U.S. and the U.K. – are more common sights in the Globe and Mail, but this should not be taken to mean that these places are not also home to “communities marginalized on the basis of the criteria mentioned in section 2.2.”