Tag Archives: feminism!

The Feminist Killjoy Gift Guide

8 Dec

Shopping for that special feminist someone in your life? Or maybe just looking to gift something to yourself because no one else is going to get you what you really want? Or maybe you’re just looking to support some awesome indie artists this holiday season. Whatever it is you’re here for, we’ve got you covered!

1. “This Princess Saves Herself” Necklace

Perfect for the man-hating video game aficionado in your life! Fuck waiting around for Mario, slay Bowser yourself like the bad-ass bitch you are.

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2. “I Woke Up Like This” Tank Top

Channel your inner Beyoncé with this Instagram-worthy shirt. Because you are flawless, like a diamond! Although let’s be real no one else is quite as flawless as Queen Bey.

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3. Pronoun Patches

Do some of the people in your life need a reminder of what your pronouns are? Would you prefer tapping a patch on your jacket to actually explaining again to some jerk-face stranger which pronouns you use? Or maybe these appeal to you Just Because. Whatever reason you might have for wanting them, these patches are pretty adorable.

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4. “Misandry” Hand-Stamped Bracelet

Because sometimes you want to dress up your man-hating ways. Perfect for a gallery opening, a fancy dinner party, or an awkward work function!

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5. “Go Away” Toque*

Perfect for the days when you want to leave the house and not come off as “an approachable girl who wants to hear about a man’s feelings.” Or when you want to read a damn book in public without having a bunch of dudes sally up to you and tell you how literary you are. Or just whenever, because being alone is awesome.

*Toque is Canadian-speak for knit cap, or winter hat, or whatever the rest of you weirdos call it

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6. Ada Lovelace T-Shirt

Celebrate the first programmer, Ada Lovelace, and show those brogrammers what’s what.

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7. “Riot Grrrl” Sweater Brooch Set

For your extensive collection of cardigans, and because you firmly believe in riots not diets.

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7. “Fuck The Patriarchy” Banner

Because your Great-Aunt Doris is coming to visit, and you need to spruce up the place a bit. This store also has banners that say “Merry Fucking Christmas” and “Get Shit Done.” I approve of their cussiness!

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8. “A is for Audre Lorde” Tote Bag

Use this sunny yellow tote to remind everyone that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. You can also use it to remind yourself that you cannot be free while any other woman is unfree, even if her shackles are different from your own. Or just use it for your grocery shopping. Whatever.

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9. “Intersectional Liberation” Necklace

Because if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s nothing but bullshit.

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10. “Don’t Tell Me To Smile” T-Shirt

No one is going to tell THIS bear she’d look prettier if she smiled. At least, not if they value their lives.

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11. “Male Tears” Teapot

Concoct your favourite brew of male tears in this adorable pot. Or just use it to steep your Earl Grey (hot), whatever floats your boat.

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12. “Transphobia Isn’t Cute” Embroidery

A gentle reminder to your guests that you’re not going to tolerate transphobic bullshit. Because feminism isn’t feminism if it’s only for cis folk.

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13. “Girls Don’t Like Boys, Girls Like Aliens And Dana Scully” Sweatshirt

BECAUSE MULDER IS THE LITERAL WORST AND SCULLY IS OUR PATRON SAINT OF PUTTING UP WITH SELF-INVOLVED DUDES

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14. “Fat Babe” Necklace

Fuck yeah you are a babe and you are fat and now you can let everyone know BOTH of those things with this sparkly necklace.

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15. #Snacklife Uterus Poster

I don’t even know what is happening here, but I keep bursting into giggles every time I look at this picture so obviously I need to include it here.

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16. Ruth Bader Ginsburg Mug

Perfect for sipping male tears/coffee/whatever elixir Ginsburg drinks every morning to help her kick ass all day long.

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17. “Cats Against Cat Calls” Tote Bag

Thank god the cats are on our side because honestly I don’t know what we’d do without them.

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18. “Books Against Body-Shaming” Sweatshirt

Because reading is AWESOME and body-shaming SUCKS so why are we even having this conversation?

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19. “Ew No” Necklace

I am a sucker for anything with a deer on it and that goes double for a pretty necklace telling people to respect your boundaries

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20. “Colouring Outside The Kitchen” Colouring Book

Get your Crayola on with the likes of Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly, Rachel Carson, Soong Ching-Ling, Hillary Clinton, Claudette Colvin, Marie Curie, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Indira Gandhi, Emma Goldman, Sheikh Hasina, Billie Holiday, Mae Jemison, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Frida Kahlo, Billie Jean King, Tina Modotti, Annie Oakley, Michelle Obama, Georgia O’Keeffe, Yoko Ono, Betty Shabazz, and Madame C. J. Walker.

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22. Hypatia of Alexandra Necklace

Celebrate the original woman in STEM with this gorgeous handmade necklace. It gives you the chance to take a deep breath and say “WELL!” whenever someone asks you who that lady hanging between your boobs is.

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23. Pink Middle Fingers T-Shirt

Re-defining the term “lady fingers” – they’re not just a fancy British cookie anymore.

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24. “Literally Anything Before Bros” Necklace

This pretty much says it all. Cats before bros. Wizards before bros. Old rubber boots before bros. Literally anything.

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25. “Valar Morghulis” Phone Case

Because when you’re busy texting in order to ignore a dude, you really want him to remember that YES ALL MEN.

Hopefully he’s a Game of Thrones fan.

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Buy it on Look Human

26. “Be The Leslie Knope Of Whatever You Do”

Be committed, be kind, be funny and suspend your disbelief enough to put a positive spin on whatever situation you find yourself stuck in.

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27. Wonder Woman Evening Bag

For those nights where you want to be fancy, but you still want to stay true to your comic book nerd roots.

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28. “Seahorses Against Gender Roles” Shirt

Because the male seahorse is the one to go through pregnancy and childbirth. Seahorses: fucking up gender roles since whenever it was they evolved?

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29. Vintage Feminist Button Print Infinity Scarf

Feeling a little too grownup to plaster yourself with buttons, but still want a way to broadcast your ideologies? Off to a black-tie event and need something to spruce up that little black dress? Whatever the need, this colourful scarf is perfect for pretty much any occasion and is as adorable as it is aggressively political.

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30. Feminist Harry Potter Shirts

For the feminist Potter-head in your life. This one is a twofer: the Marauder’s Map-inspired “I Solemnly Swear That I Will Smash The Patriarchy” I and the heck-yeah-I-need-this “The Fucks I Give Are Like Horcruxes – Very Few And Hard To Find.”

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Buy it on Look Human

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Buy it on Look Human

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Guest Post: On Attention Deficit Disorder, Video Games and Community

30 Nov

This is a guest post written by my amazing little sister, Catherine Thériault. She is a complete treasure.

I was seven when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, although my parents had suspected since I was three or four that I might have it. I had all of the classic symptoms – difficulty focussing, poor impulse control, and a mind that was easily distracted by, well, anything. I had some of the lesser-known symptoms, too. For example, high-pitched noises really bothered me. Another behaviour that I exhibited, which my mother would often use to prove to ADD-non-believers (you know, the ones who say that it doesn’t exist, that it’s just kids being kids or else kids who have watched too much TV) that I did in fact have ADD was my ability to hyper-focus. I was especially good at hyper-focusing on video games.

School was tough. I couldn’t sit still. I constantly spoke to the people around me until I was moved to the very back or front of the room, where I couldn’t bother others. I struggled all day long trying to understand, trying to “get it”. My mom usually wasn’t there yet when I got home; our neighbour babysat me for a while, and then when my sister watched me when she was old enough. I loved the hours before my mom came home from work, because that was leisure time; after she got home was homework time, and I would have to spend hours on the “homework couch” trying to focus enough to get my assignments done. During leisure time, I would sit and play Mario, Tetris, or Looney Tunes on my NES. I could happily play those games for hours and hours and hours.

People don’t get it – they didn’t understand why I could focus on this one thing, but not other things. They would say stuff like, “How come you can’t even pay attention long enough to listen to the answer to a question you just asked me, but you can play video games without interruption for hours?”

The answer is simple: video games are my anchor. They are the one thing in my life that can make my brain settle down. The rest of the time, my brain is distracted by everything the world around me. Any sound or image that comes along, no matter how minor, sidetracks my attention. It’s a constant flood of things gaining my attention for seconds, then comes something else, and then something else, and something else. Think of it like this: my brain doesn’t have a secretary, but yours does. Your brain can decide that a conversation is more important than the bird that just flew by the window. Your brain will let you do a page of math problems without suddenly noticing that your pencil case needs to be rearranged RIGHT NOW. But when I play video games, it’s like I have blinders on. There’s so much going on in the game, and it’s all happening at once, and I get to pay attention to a lot of things at one time. So when I’m in my video game world, I am so deeply focussed on everything that’s happening in it that I can’t be distracted by the outside world. To be totally honest, it’s a complete relief. It feels like my brain finally gets to take a break.

I started an online game 6 years ago called World of Warcraft. You may have heard of it. The company that makes it, Blizzard, gets a lot of heat in the news, because some of their players take things too far, sometimes starving themselves or even killing themselves over the game. Sometimes people who play WoW get violent in real life. Some of the men who play treat female players badly. And this is the kind of stuff that makes the new – all of the awful stuff. So people who don’t play video games sometimes get the impression that games make you violent or make you hate women.

What you don’t hear about on the new are the average people who play video games. They have families, jobs, and lives outside of the game. I have a job. I go to college. I have a successful relationship. I also have a level 100 warlock that I use to kill in-game monsters and sometimes other players who have signed up for a fight against me. But what I really love is the player-versus-player aspect of the game. That part is all about teamwork, communication, and outsmarting other players. These are skills that help me in real life. That’s the part of the game that the media never really mentions.

When people speak badly about gaming, and the gaming community, I have a tendency to get defensive and take it personally. Because to me, it is personal. There’s a person I have played with in WoW almost daily for the last 4 or 5 years. His character’s name is Wilsons and he is a deathknight. He has helped me level all my characters to max level, helped me get items in the game. There are others who have helped me along the way too. Hawtsoss, a druid, helped me get better at player-vs-environment stuff (like killing the game-generated monsters). Evarella, a paladin, helped me get better at the player-vs-player stuff. These people are my friends. When you say bad things about the gaming community, you are speaking badly about these people who help me, and that I enjoy playing and speaking with. You are speaking badly about my friends.

You’re not usually speaking about me though, because I’m probably not what you would think of as an average player. I’m not some dude living in his mom’s basement; I’m a woman. Which is where the greatest failing in my community is. Women. People treat me differently because I am a woman. I have been kicked from groups requiring voice chat when they hear me and realize they’ve been playing with a woman. I have been told to get back to the kitchen. I’ve had people ask me for nudes. The list goes on I’m sure. But I just ignore those players. Literally, there’s an ignore button, and I use it. It’s not a perfect fix, and I know that there’s a lot to be done to improve how women are viewed in the gaming world, but it’s how I get by. I ignore the woman-haters, and then I prove them wrong by being really awesome at what I do.

At the end of the day, I love video games, especially World of Watrcraft. I have over 100 days of time spent playing the game. There are more good players then bad, and the good ones make it worth it every time. The ones who explain stuff, who help you out. They are the ones I consider a part of the gaming community. Communities help people. Communities are accepting and inclusive.

The problem isn’t video games; it’s the vocal minority of people who use death threats and bomb threats to scare off women in video games. These are the guys who tell you that you can’t be a nerd of a gamer because you’re a girl. These are the guys who tell you that you must be bad at gaming just because you’re a girl. These are the guys who think girls are only useful if they’re sending them nudes. But these people are not a part of my community. They are a cancer, making things bad for all of us who aren’t like them. Please fight this cancer and not my community. They may be sexist, racist, cruel. Fight the sexism, fight the racism, fight the cruelty and the bullying. But don’t say that “all gamers are ___”. They aren’t. Yes, some of them are terrible. But they’re people like me, who turned to gaming as an escape from the exhausting cycle of ADD thoughts and through that found a place where I felt like I belonged. They’re people like my boyfriend, who shares my passion for WoW and will spend hours talking about stupid little details in the games with me. They’re people like my friends, who have helped me and been there for me and who feel like part of my family. That’s who gamers are, too.

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

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

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.

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.

feminism102114-600x337

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

Sheriff’s Office Re-Victimizes Rape Survivors

6 Oct

Trigger warning for rape

When Lori O’Brannon found a card in the mail from Clark County Sheriff’s office addressed to her 18 year old daughter Josie, she didn’t give it much thought. The card, a blue, standard post-card sized piece of cardboard, said that the evidence department had something to release to Josie. Lori figured that it was probably something innocent enough, left over from Josie’s wilder days when, as Lori put it, Josie had “been in trouble” a few times. So Lori called the number on the card, made an appointment, and drove Josie to pick up the “evidence.”

Neither of them could have predicted what was actually in the brown paper bag that the Sheriff’s office handed to her: a soiled grey shorts and a pair of women’s underwear. Both Josie and Lori recognized the articles immediately – they were what Josie had been wearing just over three years earlier, when she’d been raped the day before her 15th birthday. The clothing had been collected by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Centre (the same hospital, in fact, where Josie had been born) as part of the rape kit done shortly after her assault.

She was being given back the evidence of her rape.

Josie, who her mother describes as a “tough little fighter,” started to shake at the sight of the bag, with its huge red BIOHAZARD sticker and neatly typed label showing Josie’s name, age, date of birth. Lori, a rape survivor herself, knew that her first priority was to get her daughter out of there before she collapsed. She stuffed the evidence bag in her trunk, managed to get Josie into the passenger side, and headed for home. Lori remembers thinking during the drive home that she might throw up; Josie said she felt like she’d been hit by a truck.

A few days later, when she felt a bit calmer, Lori called the Clark County Sheriff’s office to find out why, exactly, this had happened. She was hoping that it was all some kind of accident. Maybe there had been a miscommunication. Maybe the person who sent out the little blue cards hadn’t realized exactly what the “evidence” in question was in this particular case. Surely this couldn’t have been done on purpose? Surely someone would apologize and promise that it would never happen again. But no, Lori was told, this was standard procedure. The clothing was Josie’s property, and the sheriff’s office was simply returning it. There was nothing more to it than that.

Like most rape survivors, Josie knows exactly who her rapist was. And like most rapists, he was never convicted. The evidence bag from the sheriff’s office was a harsh reminder of these facts; ever since receiving it, Josie has been struggling to function. She has daily, debilitating headaches, sometimes so bad that she throws up. When she sleeps, there are always nightmares. When she’s awake, even the most innocuous things can trigger vivid flashbacks. Lori is struggling to get Josie some kind of help, but she hasn’t had much luck. The local YWCA mentioned getting both Josie and her mother into a rape survivor support group, but Lori doesn’t know what to do until then.

Josie

Josie

What she does know is that she never wants another rape survivor to have to go through what Josie has gone through.

“We are not ashamed,” says Lori. “We are angry.”

Both Lori and Josie want this story to be told. They hope that by sharing what has happened to Josie they might prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else. No one should have to be re-victimized in this way. No rape survivor should ever have to experience the trauma of being given back the clothing they were wearing when they were raped. This specific type of suffering one hundred percent preventable, and the onus is on law enforcement to make sure that rape survivors do not have to experience this.

I often hear people complain that they don’t think that rape culture exists, or else that it’s just a clever term with no real meaning. Well, if you need evidence of rape culture, here it is, contained perfectly in a single picture:

evidence bag

Rape culture is the fact that no one thought twice about having a teenager come pick up the outfit she was raped in. Rape culture is the fact this teenager was summoned to come pick up her “evidence” with a little blue postcard that gave absolutely no indication of what was waiting for her at the sheriff’s office. Rape culture is the fact that the manager of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office had no response for Lori other than “it’s procedure” when Lori called to ask why this had happened. Rape culture is the fact that the manager sounded bored when Lori told her that their standard procedure was “horrible and wrong.” Rape culture is the fact that Josie’s rapist is still out there somewhere, free and easy, while Josie can barely get out of bed.

That’s rape culture.