On Ferguson – The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way

25 Nov

I have an uncle who was a cop.

His kids, my cousins, were around my age and when we visited our family in Québec every summer I practically lived at their house. As soon as we got to my grandmother’s house, all rumpled and grumpy from our eight hour drive, I would start dialling my cousins’ number on her beige rotary phone. I spent the whole damn school year waiting for summer, and my time with my cousins, to come; we wrote each other letters all through the dreary winter, hatching plans for new summer exploits. Life with my cousins – swimming in their pool, family barbecues, playing hide-and-seek in my grandmother’s mammoth hedge at twilight – was lightyears better than my boring life in Ontario.

Pretty much every summer my uncle would, at some point, take us to visit the police station. He would pretend that we were criminals and take our fingerprints, maybe a pretend mugshot. He would let us explore the holding cells they had at the station; I remember being utterly fascinated by them – bare blank rooms in miniature, each with its own personal toilet and sink. One time I lingered so long that he threatened to lock me in if I didn’t come out soon. I said that was fine, and asked what the prisoners were going to have for dinner. I wasn’t afraid. I had no reason to be afraid.

Like most white people, I grew up with the idea that the cops are on my side. Over and over again, I was told that the police were here to protect me. As a little kid, I was told that if I was ever lost or in danger, the first person I should try to find was a police officer. I was taught that this is the system; I was taught that the system was here to take care of me.

What I was never taught was that the system takes care of white people like me first, and everyone else second. If at all.

I’ve been trying to figure out over the past few months how white people can be so blindly outraged over the events that have unfolded in Ferguson. It’s honestly baffling that they can argue that it’s fine for a police officer to fire six shots at an unarmed man because he maybe stole some cigars and also wasn’t walking on the sidewalk. I’m in awe at the vast mental gymnastics required to believe that there’s nothing wrong with a cop shooting an unarmed man six times in “self-defence.” The same goes for white reactions to the cases of Trayvon Martin, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, and countless other young Black men who have been murdered for no reason. I’ve lived a privileged enough life that the white responses to these crimes still shock me; I know that for Black folks, these responses are just par for the course. I can’t even wrap my head around what it would feel like for this spew of racist hate to just be part of another average day – and that’s my privilege showing right there.

White people have been taught for their entire lives to believe in the system. The system is civilization; the system is democracy, the courts of law, the way the state cares for and supports us. We’ve been told over and over that the system is what allows us to live safely, free from fear. But every time something like Ferguson happens, we white folks see glimpses of how completely fucked the system is. And those glimpses terrify the shit out of us, because they shake the foundation of every bit of patriotic jingoism that’s been crammed down our throats since day one.

A popular belief among progressive white people is that the system is broken, but it’s absolutely not. It was built this way; it was built to prioritize the safety and security of white people over everyone else. The way the system works is by oppressing Black people and other people of colour. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said at a recent talk that I attended, “the machine is running as intended.” The very foundations of the American economy are based on the enslavement of Black people. Throughout American (and Canadian) history, there are so many examples of state-sponsored marginalization and oppression of people of colour. These examples continue today – just look at the overrepresentation of Black men in prisons. This is the fucking system – this is how it is meant to run. We don’t need to “fix” the system, because it’s operating exactly the way it should be. What we need is to completely overthrow it and start again from scratch.

I have friends who have Black sons, and today, as they struggle through grief and pain and fear, they are trying to figure out how to make sure that their son isn’t the next Mike Brown or Trayon Martin. They want to know what they have to tell their kids in order to keep them safe. I wish I had some kind of answer for them, but of course I don’t – both because I’m white and this is so far outside of my realm of personal experience that I am absolutely not in a place to give advice, and also because there are no answers. The only way to ensure these boys’ safety would be for them to be white – and that’s both an impossible and terrible response. There is nothing about this situation that doesn’t feel impossible and terrible – and, again, that’s me as a white person saying that, and I can’t even imagine the depth of horror Black communities are experiencing right now.

We – and by “we”, I mean white people who want to be allies – need to take action. We need to de-centre ourselves, and start promoting Black voices. We need to, in the parlance of social justice circles, take a fucking seat. We need to take a whole goddamn chair factory’s worth of seats. We need to listen, and then we need to turn around and share what we’ve learned with other white people. We need to let Black people lead, and we need to learn to be good followers. We created this broken  system, and now we need to humbly help build a better, fairer system.

Because maybe even right now my friend is sitting her three year old son down and telling him that he can’t always trust the police. Meanwhile, some white kid with a cop for an uncle is being taught that a police station is a neat place to visit and a fun place to play. The only difference between those two kids is the colour of their skin. And that is both incredibly fucked up and also exactly how this machine was designed to run.

Below are some excellent pieces by Black writers. If you are white, please take some time to go through it and educate yourself. That is our job right now. If you have any other articles (or blog posts, or videos, or whatever) by Black writers or activists, please share the links in the comments and I will include them in this list.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

About Ferguson, White Allies and Speaking Up When It Matters by Awesomely Luvvie 

America’s Not Here For Us by A’Driane Nieves

A Letter to My Unborn Black Son by George Johnson

Youth Are on the Frontlines in Ferguson, and They Refuse to Back Down by Muna Mire

If There Are Good Cops Out There, Prove It by Albert L. Butler

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

Guest Post – On Orientalism

20 Nov

By Israa Nasir

It was around 10pm on a summer night, a few years ago. I was waiting on Queen West for a friend. We were going to head out to a party like any other twenty-something on a weekend. A man approached me and asked if I worked in the ‘entertainment industry’. When I said no, he told me that I had a “really good look for this stuff”. He introduced himself as a film-producer and continued to tell me that his next project was looking for exotic, middle-eastern-looking women and that the pay would be really good (side note: I’m not middle-eastern). As I began to walk away while refusing his offer, he shoved a card into my hand and told me to think about it. I turned the card in my hands and saw that he was indeed a film-producer; he produced pornography, specializing in ‘oriental and exotic girls’. Feeling confused, my thoughts ran something like this: Am I really ‘exotic’? What does that even mean? I’d never thought of myself that way before so should I accept his comment as a compliment? Wait, or does he mean that I’m different; like a zoo animal, an ostrich amongst the crowds of pale-skinned blondes?

The idea of ‘exotic other-ness’, especially for women, exists in all areas of society where sex and sexuality are concerned. In the world of pornography, it is most visible, most at display, most lucrative. If you walk into any adult entertainment store, videos are often categorized by race and then broken down by category. A quick search online will give you the same results. Women of colour or racialized backgrounds are shown as hyper-sexualized and promiscuous. There is a sense of stereotyped fantasy based on old ideas about what a woman of that ethnicity should be like: a black woman is ghetto and must have a “big booty”, a Latina is feisty, a South Asian must have memorized The Kama Sutra, and an East Asian is submissive yet kinky simultaneously. The plot lines, if present at all, revolve around racist imagery and situations. These fantasy generalizations also show women of colour as lusty and not having control over their desires. These are women who have to be liberated sexually and are willing to do anything. These are women who are different from the status quo, the majority of white women.

Many argue that this is just a venue for people to experience or live out their fantasies. The problem with that idea is that this is not the sexual reality of black, East Asian, South Asian, Latina or other women of colour. People who watch porn regularly argue that they recognize it is not reality, they recognize that real sex with real women is different, and that they can draw the line between sex and porn. As a woman of colour, I disagree with them. These ideas about racialized sexuality and the fantasy find their way into real-life conversations about sexuality and discussions with friends, causal hook-ups and even people you regularly have sex with. These race-specific genres of porn muddle expectations, the ones men hold of potential sexual partners as well as ethnic women themselves. It adds another layer of questioning to already present complexities women experience in asserting their sexualities. Besides thinking about what society will say about our sex lives and how our bodies look from various angles, now women of colour have to think about if they are ‘mysterious and different’ enough, if they are meeting the expectations set by porn. With so much going on, focusing on pleasure and what they want can potentially become secondary.

For the remainder of that night, I couldn’t help but wonder if every guy there saw me as ‘exotic’; that man’s thought had found its way into mine. In the years that followed, I came up against this perception more times than I appreciate. I find this frustrating because it is a fabricated element in my reality; it changes the way people experience me. Simply put, it creates an aura of objectification in every aspect of daily life. However, It’s hard to say which influences the other. Is it the seeping of porn-ideals into mainstream culture, or is it mainstream ideas finding their way into porn? I think they are two sides of the same coin. Mainstream media saturates us with objectified ideals and stereotypes of women of colour; but these ideas are limited to interpersonal, ‘regular’, or daily situations. Characters like Gloria from ‘Modern Family’, or Latika in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ speak to what life is supposed to look like for women of colour, but doesn’t really explore their sexualities. This gap is filled by the porn-industry, which provides a glimpse into what the sexual lives of these women of colour is supposed to be like. Combined, both these powerful mediums present a completely fantasized version of a woman of colour. The danger lies in the fact that when a fantasy is presented to you, already complete, it is hard to imagine it as existing otherwise.

Israa Nasir

Israa Nasir

For Alicia

16 Nov

We put so much faith in our bodies, which is actually kind of funny, because they’re such sorrowfully flimsy things. A bundle of sinews and bones, a fluttering pulse, a damp, rolling eye – we’re really not made of much. We might be built from star-stuff, but we lack the sturdiness of stars, the predictability. It takes a huge gravitational collapse to kill a star; it takes tens of thousands of years for a star to die. But a human body breaks so swiftly and unexpectedly, and there are so many ways for a body to break.

A body can be broken with a spiny virus to small to be seen by the naked eye. A body can be broken by a handful of cells gone rogue, or a heartsick sadness, or a screeching collision between flesh and something hard and intractable, like concrete or metal or time. All bodies break eventually – they shatter or snap or quietly crumple. You can’t trust a body to be an adequate vessel for the complex network of thoughts and feelings and beliefs and memories that make up who you are, but on the other hand you don’t have much choice. A body is all you’ve got.

I went to my friend’s funeral today. I know it’s weird to drop that in here just casually, but I don’t know how else to do it right now. My friend died on Thursday. She had been sick for a long time, but even when you know it’s coming, a death like this still guts you. She was really young – or, rather, she was my age, which I still somehow consider really young, at least where death is concerned. Today was her funeral. I went to my friend’s funeral today.

There was a graveside service, and I shivered through the whole thing because the coat I wore was too thin – impractical, my mother would say. But the coat looked good, you know? I don’t mean that in a vain way; I just mean that my big, puffy down coat seemed wrong for a funeral. Not formal enough. I take a certain delight in the fact that there are still a few occasions in life solemn enough to warrant fancy dress. Marking the completion of someone’s life seems like an appropriate time to break out the finery – sombre finery, of course, but no less fine for that. Black silk skirts, high-heeled boots, neatly-pressed black trousers. Black leather gloves. A black cashmere scarf wrapped around the head, babushka-style. Black pantyhose so sheer you might as well not be wearing anything at all. And, of course, row after row of black wool coats.

So it was cold there, out by the graveside. I kept crossing and uncrossing my legs, pressing my thighs together, trying to keep my thin blood flowing. I had a hand-warmer in my glove because the friend who had driven me there had thought ahead and brought enough hand-warmers for everyone. The burial was in a meadow, and we had to tramp through tall, brittle grass to get to the grave site. It was an overcast day, but then midway through the sun broke through, that hard, molten-gold late-autumn sun. The light and the wind cut straight through us.

The coffin was unfinished pine, and there were sharpies passed around so that we could write love notes on it. I guess that sounds sort of grim, but it wasn’t at all – it was lovely. Later, after they’d lowered the coffin into the ground, we threw flowers on top of it. Mine was a pale pink Gerbera daisy; I looked down as I dropped it in, and I could see all these bright flowers in the darkness below, like a field of stars reflected in a lake. I made a note to write that down later. She would have liked that, my friend. She loved words – scratch that, she lived for words. She wielded them with an economy and precision that made me deeply envious.

Maybe she wouldn’t have liked that comment about the stars. Maybe it was too ham-fisted, too obvious, but I can’t even check with her to see what she thinks. It’s the little things like this that sometimes make death seem the most brutal – that you can’t just casually tell someone something. You can’t even write them a letter. You have to store all the things you want to say to them up inside you, and then what do you do with them? You just have to live with them, I guess.

I thought about how we must have all looked, standing out there in that meadow. I imagined us from an overhead shot, like we were in a movie – I pictured the camera arcing over us, its blind eye recoding this clutch of dark-clothed figures weeping and shivering. I thought: I bet we would look like kids from above. I felt like a kid – a little kid playing dress up in someone else’s fancy clothes and stiff dress shoes. I felt like a kid trying to process a feeling too huge and overwhelming to name – the kind of feeling that makes toddlers have howling meltdowns because some enormous wave of emotion has just washed over them leaving them screaming, flailing, trying desperately not to drown.

I felt like a kid this afternoon, but I also felt like a grownup. Or, at least, the situation felt grownup. I thought, this is what adults do. They watch their friends die. They go to their funerals. They stand in cold fields as their friends are lowered into the ground. This is what the rest of my life will be like.

Because bodies break, and they’ll break harder and faster the older I get. This is where I live now.

I miss my friend.

04-tyrrel

Stop Calling It My Maiden Name

11 Nov

In my former life, back before I had a kid and became a yoga teacher and started a cuss-filled feminist blog, I worked in the financing department of a large international bank. A few months after I started working there (and, coincidentally, a few months after I got married), one of the higher-ups was chatting me and my coworkers up when, out of nowhere, he said:

“Anne, is Thériault your married name or your maiden name?”

Flustered, I replied, “It’s just my regular name.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, totally nonplussed.

“I mean… it’s the name I was born with? I didn’t change my name when I got married, if that’s what you want to know.”

“So it’s your maiden name,” he said, his tone landing somewhere between condescending and wink-wink-I-get-it-you’re-making-a-joke.

But I wasn’t making a joke – I actually do really hate the term “maiden name” and will use all kinds of verbal gymnastics in order to avoid using it. Not only do I think it’s a gross term to use (more on that later), but it’s also wildly inaccurate. The term “maiden” is an archaic term meaning an unmarried girl or young woman, and is synonymous with “female virgin.” I know that this may come as a surprise, but – I am literally none of those things. I’m actually a mean old hag who gets laid on the regular, so referring to my last name as my “maiden name” does not make any sense. I am not a maiden in any sense of the word; you may as well call it my slutty old crone name*.

From the Oxford English Dictionary

From the Oxford English Dictionary

So why is the term maiden name not just incorrect but also totally problematic? Well, because it’s based on several outdated assumptions. First of all, there’s the idea that a woman is not an autonomous person but rather a thing belongs to a man, and her last name signifies which man she belongs to; until she marries, she belongs to her father, and then after she marries, she belongs to her husband. Referring to a last name as a “maiden name” reinforces the idea that it’s a transitory type of name – not a woman’s real last name, but rather just the name she keeps until she finally fulfills her lady-destiny and lands a man. Second of all, there’s all kinds of weird purity bullshit happening here. We’re basically referring to the last name a woman is given at birth as her virgin name, the implication being that she won’t have sex until she’s married, at which point she will take her husband’s name.

I mean, I haven’t done any studies and I don’t have a lot of firm data to back this up, but I’m going to guess that only 0.1% of the women over the age of 20 who still go by their maiden names are people who have never been sexually active. Like, don’t quote me on that or anything, but seriously. Come on. Other than the unmarried adult faction of the Duggar clan, how many grownups out there have never had sex? While there are for sure lots of people out there who aren’t regularly engaging in sexual activity, most of them have tried it at least once. Even the majority of the asexual people I know wouldn’t describe themselves as “virgins,” and most of them have experimented with sex at some point or another (which is often how they know it’s not for them).

It’s pretty telling that there’s no male equivalent to the term maiden name. This is because men have always been considered people, and therefore have always been entitled to their last names – unlike women, who traditionally only ever get to borrow a last name from whichever man she has the closest relationship to. People often don’t want to admit that last names are a form of showing ownership, and while I get that we don’t legally use them in this way anymore, there are still a lot of weird vestiges from the time when women were considered to be less than human. Like, if everyone’s so equal and not-patriarchal now, how come dudes almost never want to take their wives’ names when they get married? Whenever I have the should-women-change-their-name-when-they-get-married debate, one reason I often hear is that a married couple with the same last name somehow represents a stronger, more unified front than a couple with different last names. Both women and men tell me that it feels more like a family when a husband and wife both have the same last name – it makes them feel like they’re both on the same team. If this is true, then why is still almost always only women who are expected to change their names in order to show what team they’re on? If all these dudes are so fucking into showing unity, how come they’re never willing to give up their last names?

Let’s stop using the term maiden name; It’s outdated, it’s sexist, it’s weird and it’s gross. Let’s start referring to women’s last names the same way we refer to men’s last names – as their names, full stop, no qualifiers needed. And for heaven’s sake let’s stop asking women what kind of last name they have. Why is it anybody’s business whether a woman changed her name when she married or not? Why do people care? And if we really need a term to refer to the last name a woman had before she was married, why not “birth name”? It’s a well-known term, and it’s widely understood to describe exactly the thing we’re trying to describe: a name that a person was assigned at birth which they no longer use. If we can use the term “birth name” to describe, say, the former name of a performer who who took a stage name, or the former name of an author who took a non-de-plume, or really just about any other adult who for whatever reason decided to change their name, then surely we can also apply it to the instances when women take their husbands’ names when they get married. That doesn’t seem like it would be terribly complicated.

*Sluttiness is a social construct! So is virginity, for that matter.

MISANDRIST GHOST STORIES

1 Nov

Children! Gather round ye olde campfire or whatever, and let me tell you a story from long ago, back in the days when people listened to Nickelback unironically.

When I was 20 (approximately a billion years ago, back before Myspace even existed, let alone Facebook), my two best friends and I moved in together into the top floor of a converted two storey house on Pepperell Street. The three of us were students at Dalhousie – Kat was doing a double major in political science and theatre, Iain was in the acting program, and I was a pretentious Classics brat – and we chose the apartment based on its proximity to the university, its relatively low rent, and the fact that it had “character.” It would take us a few months to realize just how much character this apartment had.

The building we lived in was old, dark and draughty, but in a way that appealed to us. The stairwell leading up to our floor was dim and scuffed, and the carpets were that sort of indeterminate brown that carpets turn after years and years of having dirt ground into them. The walls were white plaster stained brown in spots from decades of nicotine, and they always felt faintly damp to the touch – this was Halifax, after all, and pretty much everything was sort of dank and mildewed. Some of the rooms didn’t have lighting fixtures, so we had to get lamps, and at night we drifted between the little pools of yellow light. The apartment smelled of dust and old, decaying wood. You could climb out the living room window and sit out on the roof of the front porch with a cigarette and a beer. There was a claw foot tub. We felt like real grownups.

Our new house had a strange chill to it, though. Even on baking hot days, it was cold inside – the kind of cold that makes you shiver and glance over your shoulder. The kind of cold that grips your bones and doesn’t let go. There was a presence, though none of us could articulate exactly what kind of presence it was. My friend Jess, the first and only time she came over, titled her head and wrinkled her nose as if she could smell something and said, “it feels spooky in here.” She was right – it did feel spooky. And the music didn’t help.

The music started not long after we moved in, and we heard it nearly every day. Imagine the sound of a piano, the notes watery and vague, as if heard from several away. It was drawing room music; it had the air of hours and hours spent cooped up in a stuffy parlour, playing for nobody but yourself. It was old music, and even to the ear of three twenty year olds who knew nothing about classical music, the playing sounded strangely old-fashioned. We figured that our downstairs neighbours must have had a piano – that is, until one of the neighbours asked which one of us was playing the music.

I had dreams about a girl in a white dress, coughing and coughing until blood came out of her mouth.

Sometimes we would feel something brush past us in the hallway.

Sometimes visitors would hear a creak on the stair behind them as they climbed up to the second floor, and then feel a cold breath of air on their necks.

But we wrote all of this off as weird old house stuff and my overactive imagination. At least, we did right up until the ghost started harassing men who stayed in our apartment.

Boys who crashed on our couch talked about weird things that woke them up in the middle of the night. They said they felt someone touch their feet, or sometimes their face. One guy kept waking up to find that the blanket had fallen on the floor. And then there was Iain.

Iain often went out at night, and when he did he would stay out until two or three in the morning. Every time that Iain went out, Kat and I would make sure to only lock the deadbolt and not the chain lock. And every time Iain went out, Kat and I would wake up to him pounding on the door because the chain lock was on and he couldn’t get in.

The first few times it happened, he was furious. He thought we were doing it intentionally, as some sort of prank. After a while, he realized that maybe it wasn’t so funny for us to be dragged out of bed four nights a week? And then Kat saw the ghost.

It happened on a night when Iain was out. We’d both gone to bed early, and we had both fallen asleep pretty quickly. Kat woke up to the sound of her door creaking open, and, bleary-eyed, she watched as someone’s head poked through the open door. Thinking it was me, she called out my name, but as the head turned towards her she realized that it wasn’t me. I had shoulder-length brown hair at the time, and this girl had long white hair. I usually wore flannel pyjamas; she was wearing a long, floaty white nightgown. And when she looked at Kat, instead of eyes she had black holes in her head.

She stared hard at Kat for a minute (or at least seemed to – I don’t know if it’s possible to stare without eyes), and then pulled back. Kat screamed and I woke up and ran into her room. We shared a bed for the rest of that week – neither of us could sleep comfortably on our own after Kat had seen that apparition.

A few weeks after that, one of us went down into the basement to get something, but for some reason the lights wouldn’t turn on. Freaked out, we got our neighbour Brian (a biology major, and the most level-headed and unfreakoutable person we knew) to come check it out. It turned out that every single bulb in the basement had been unscrewed just enough so that it still hung in the socket but wouldn’t turn on.

I don’t really have a great ending to this story, except that I think Kat and I eventually came to tolerate our ghost. Sure, she was a scary weirdo, but she was our scary weirdo. And after all, wasn’t it likely that she was harassing men in order to protect us? That’s what we told ourselves, anyway. Iain and I moved out at the end of that school year, and Kat stayed for another year after that, but none of us ever saw the ghost again. It’s one of our favourite stories, though, and it’s worth telling any time we see Brian, because his face will go red and he’ll yell “THERE WAS NO FUCKING GHOST IN THE BASEMENT. THERE’S NO SUCH THINGS AS GHOSTS.”

Oh but there was a ghost in the basement, Brian. Fucking or otherwise.

And that ghost in the basement is why I now 100% believe in ghosts.

littleGirl

FCKH8 Exploits Little Girls In Order To Sell T-Shirts

22 Oct

Trigger warning for rape

Yesterday, FCKH8 released a video called F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Words for Good Cause that quickly went viral, and has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook alone. This isn’t surprising – it’s a video designed to hit that marketing sweet spot where people are equal parts outraged, delighted and just plain not sure what to think. I’d be willing to bet that this video has had nearly as many hate-shares and “is this offensive?” shares as it has people posting it because they think it’s great.

FCKH8’s video is carefully calculated to appeal to a certain type of young, hip feminist (as well as being designed to cause offence and outrage among right-wing conservatives). It starts out with a bunch of sweet little girls wearing princess costumes striking stereotypically cute poses and simpering “pretty” at the camera. Then there’s a record scratch, and suddenly the girls are throwing out cuss words left, right and centre: “What the fuck? I’m not some pretty fuckin’ helpless princess in distress. I’m pretty fuckin’ powerful and ready for success. So what is more offensive? A little girl saying ‘fuck,’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?”

The video then has the sweet, princessified little girls tackle a bunch of feminist issues, namely the pay gap, violence against women, and sexual assault – all while swearing up a storm, of course. What FCKH8 wants you to take away from this is that society feels more uncomfortable about cute little girls saying the word fuck than it does about the very real issues faced by women on a daily basis. Instead, what I see is a video that relies on the shock value of girls in princess costumes cussing and talking about rape in order to increase its shareability.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: this video is not some kind of PSA, it’s an advertisement. FCKH8 is a for-profit t-shirt company – emphasis on the profit – that has put together an exploitative and manipulative two minute and thirty five second commercial for t-shirts. And while FCKH8 asserts that all of this is “for a good cause” (they’ve promised to donate $5 from each t-shirt sale to as-yet-undisclosed organizations) the only cause that’s being promoted by this video is their bank account.

There is nothing feminist about using little girls as props in order to sell t-shirts – in fact, I would argue that this is the opposite of feminism. There is nothing feminist about exploiting a bunch of little girls by having them swear and talk about rape statistics just so that FCKH8 can make a quick buck. There is nothing feminist about creating an association between potty-mouthed little kids and social justice – and that’s not a slight against potty-mouths, because I fucking love swearing, but rather a statement on the fact that this video plays into a lot of the negative stereotypes that people already have about feminism.

On top of all that, there is for sure nothing feminist about having girls as young as six years old discussing rape and sexual assault; I would hope that at that age, most kids have never even heard the word rape, let alone had to recite facts about it for an audience of thousands, maybe even millions. I feel sick that these children are being taught about subjects like rape just so that a t-shirt company can make a provocative advertisement. The point that especially crosses the line between “this is problematic” and “I want to flip a table” is the moment where the five little girls spout off the statistic that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime, and then ask which of them it will be. Having a little girl demand to know if she’ll be raped just so that you can sell a few shirts is so far beyond the realm of what should be acceptable that I have no words for it.

This is not how we protect our children. This is not how we empower girls. Forcing a child to ask an audience of adults if she’ll someday become a rape statistic so that your company can line its pockets with cash is definitely not the way to practice social justice.

This isn’t the first time that FCKH8 has done this kind of thing either – they recently came under fire after they exploited the events in Ferguson in order to sell “anti-racism gear.” As with the F-Bomb Princess video, the Ferguson video featured a bunch of children rattling off facts about racism before promising to donate a portion of each t-shirt sale to some unspecified charity. This is their business model, apparently: take something that people care deeply about, commodify it, and then make money. As a strategy, it’s slick and smart as hell. It’s also pretty unethical.

Feminism isn’t a commodity that can be bought and sold. Rape statistics should not be used as a sales tactic. Children do not exist to be used as provocateurs in manipulative advertisement campaigns for clothing.

It would be really great if FCKH8 would realize that using little girls as shock-value props in their t-shirt commercial is not feminist in any sense of the word. No little kid should have to wonder aloud whether or not they’ll be raped one day, and especially not just so some grownup can make money.

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Reign’s Rape Problem

20 Oct

TW for rape

When I first heard about the CW show Reign, I knew that it was going to be my next guilty pleasure. A young Mary Stuart and her ladies-in-waiting living with Catherine de’Medici in Renaissance France? Yes please. Court intrigue and awkward teenage romance? Yes please. Weird pagans in the woods and flower crowns and a murderous queen and a (very anachronistically hot and young) Nostradamus? DOUBLE YES PLEASE. PASS THE FLOWER CROWNS, SON, I’M IN.

I talked my friend into watching it with me, and by the end of the first episode we were both hooked. We would make a ritual out of it – order a pizza, get a bottle of wine, and then sit down to make fun of plot holes and not-very-historically-accurate clothing and overblown teenage FEELINGS for an hour. But as much as we giggled over the poor life choices of the characters, and as often as I yelled “NOBODY WORE TUTUS IN THE 16TH CENTURY,” we developed a real fondness for the show.

And why not? There’s honestly a lot to like. Reign is all about the various ways that women wield power, both in gross and subtle ways. It’s about the relationships between women, and the electrical charges of jealousy and sneaky competitiveness that often sour them. It’s about female sexuality – in fact, the pilot featured a pretty hot-n-heavy female masturbation scene. To top it all off, every single episode of the series so far passes the Bechdel test, meaning that there is always at least one scene involving two women who talk to each other about something other than a man – which I know doesn’t sound like very discriminating criteria, but you would be surprised how many pieces of media fail to meet even this grimly minimal standard. But not Reign! Reign has, for all of its quirks, been generally pretty pro kick-ass women, a fact which I’ve really appreciated.

Plus I’m also here for the elaborate hair styles an the dark, secret poisons and the dudes in tight leggings. But I digress.

This week, a spoiler for an upcoming episode of Reign was leaked. This spoiler revealed that in an upcoming episode of the show, Mary will be violently raped. This rape, by the way, will not be a portrayal of a historical fact. Instead, it will be used as a plot device, a ratings grab and a cheap facsimile for character development.

Rape as a plot device is a lazy way to show a strong woman’s “vulnerability,” all the while demeaning and exploiting the experiences of real-life rape survivors. Rape as a plot device is also often used to take female characters down a peg, to put them in their place, to force them to rely on men for protection. Rape as character development is most often used as what Chris Osterndorf refers to as “an explain-all for complicated female characters” – in fact, we’ve already seen Reign pull that old trope with Queen Catherine, when it tossed in a quick rape story to justify her actions and make her more sympathetic to viewers.

None of these are good reasons to include a rape scene in a film or book or television show; I am disgusted that the writers and producers of Reign would use sexual assault to somehow drive the arc of the show forward or reshape Mary’s character. There is absolutely no reason to show Mary being violently raped, and doing so will only have harmful results.

People who defend this scene will say that it’s accurate, perhaps not in a way that’s specific to Mary Stuart, but in a broader, historical context. They’ll argue that Reign is fairly portraying how prevalent violence against women was in 16th century Europe. They’ll smugly explain that these types of scenes create awareness about rape.

First of all, let me assure you that everyone is aware of rape. Women, especially, are painfully aware of the threat of sexual assault. We live with that threat every damn day, and we don’t need a television show to educate us on how frightening and dangerous life as a girl can be.

Second of all, these scenes nearly always sensationalize rape, using the act of sexual assault to shock or create intrigue in audiences. They are not thoughtful portrayals of a difficult and incredibly sensitive subject; they play into the pervasive media narrative that centres violence itself instead of the experiences of women. These scenes also desensitize audiences to the issue of violence against women, especially when a rape is used to drive the plot forward – when rape is just a mechanism to make a character behave a certain way or do a certain thing, the very real emotional fallout that rape survivors experience is often only briefly touched on, and certainly almost never given the gravity and attention it deserves.

Rape is not a plot device. It is not character development. It is not a great way for television shows to get higher ratings. Rape is something that one in four women will experience in their lifetime. It is not something that should ever be used for shock or entertainment value.

Please, writers and producers of Reign, re-write this scene. You are better than this. You show is better than this. You’ve got something really wonderful and unique going on – please don’t foul it up now. And to everyone else reading, please go sign this petition. Even if you don’t watch the show. Do it for the women you know who are rape survivors. Do it for all the teenage girls watching the show who don’t need to see one of their heroines subjected to sexual assault just to close up some screenwriter’s plot hole. Or just do it because it’ll take five seconds and it’s the right thing to do.

Flower Crowns R Us

Flower Crowns R Us

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