The Role of Teenage Girls

When I was born, the doctor took one quick look at me and announced to everyone in the room, “it’s a girl!” and my mother was overjoyed. Because now, she had someone to dress up and make pretty.

For the first twelve years of my life, I was a doll. A little porcelain doll, really, with blonde ringlets and pink bows and dresses made of velvet and lace. I wore white stockings and hair ties and braids. I smiled big, and I batted my long lashes, and I knew I was pretty. I got told that I was pretty from everyone I passed, from strangers, old men in the hallways of my apartment, women who threatened to take me home with them or gobble me up.

Around the age of twelve, however, my prettiness began to fade. I was too tall and too skinny now, built out of awkward proportions and acne. My teeth were full of gaps that made me smile less, or at least smile smaller. I no longer got compared to princesses and fairies, but to hockey players who had taken a hit to the face one too many times.

It was around this time that I became more aware of the comments that were made about that initial announcement, as well; insinuations about all those people who got told “it’s a girl” from the delivery room.

Girls were stupid, I heard. Girls were weak. Girls were vapid and frivolous and vain, and they couldn’t be taken seriously for the life of them.

Well, if that’s the case, I thought, then why would I want to be a girl?

I went up to my bedroom, opened my closet, and ripped out all the dresses of velvet and lace, all the pink bows and white stockings, and I threw it all away. All that I left at that point was black.

And thus began my descent into one of the most universally mocked groups of people in North America: I became a teenage girl.

Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a lot of my time was spent trying to prove that I was different from them. Because whatever they did, there always seemed to be something wrong with it.

They listened to vapid pop songs made by people without talent who used Auto-Tune for everything. I sort of thought that these songs were fun. Without substance, sure, but they were sort of fun to dance to anyway. Not that I’d let these thoughts occur to me at the time, though, because if they liked that music, then I liked retro music that was totally different from anything they were listening to (retro synth-pop music, but whatever, it’s totally different, man).

They read and watched Twilight, so, of course, I abhorred Twilight, along with everyone else. I didn’t connect the fact that, while the girls my age were ridiculed for liking Twilight, the boys my age were praised for liking Michael Bay’s Transformers movies or the Fast and the Furious franchise. I didn’t notice that they were all equally as stupid and misogynistic, or that Megan Fox was sexualized for a straight male audience just as much as Taylor Lautner was sexualized for a straight female audience. I didn’t question any of this; I just accepted that Twilight was bad because it had poor writing (not because it was linked with teenage girls), while Fast and the Furious was good because it had car chases (not because it was linked with teenage boys).

They took selfies, which made them open-season for widespread mocking, because it obviously meant that they were stupid and vain and self-indulgent, so, of course, I was too good for that.

They drank pumpkin spice lattes, so, of course, I drank green tea.

They caused drama and liked to talk about their feelings. I remained silent.

I wore “I’m not like other girls” proudly across my lips, not because there was anything wrong with the other girls, because I didn’t want to be treated like the other girls.

But I was still treated like them. If I posted one picture of myself on social media, the immediate assumption was that I thought I was so good, and I was so vain, and did I really think that everyone wanted to see that? I still had simple things explained to me like I didn’t understand them. I was still condescended to and shut out of certain male-oriented spaces and sexualized, even when I didn’t dress or act like them. Because the truth is, anyone who demands that you not act like a woman in order to earn respect is not the sort of person who respects any woman.

And, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, I began to realize that there was nothing wrong with being them, not really.

Taking selfies does not make you any less of a person.

Pumpkin spice lattes do not make you any less of a person.

Listening to boy bands and popular music does not make you any less of a person.

We as a society simply like to judge and criticize anything that is connected to a primarily female audience. And maybe nowadays it isn’t Twilight that gets all of the hate, now it’s movies like the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot or Oceans 8. If young women have the opportunity to enjoy something or see themselves in it, then the knee-jerk reaction that society seems to have is to belittle it or call it stupid, or at the very least, to hold it to a much, much higher standard that anything connected to a primarily male audience.

And especially when you’re growing up and still trying to find your identity, like teenage girls are, what this creates is a need to distance yourself from… yourself. You try to change to please people. You refuse to enjoy things because you don’t want to be mocked and belittled. You watch your every movement, try to make sure that you can be considered respectable and good. And despite all of this, you still fail.

So when you reach adulthood, you have two choices: you can continue to enforce this idea that the things teenage girls do are stupid. You can keep chasing this mythical idea of becoming a woman worthy of a misogynist’s respect, except that will never happen. All you will accomplish is denying parts of yourself, and making other women feel bad about themselves.

Or, on the other hand, you can just say fuck it and be yourself.

I chose the latter.

I wear make-up and dance to pop music and dye my hair pink, all while sipping on my Starbucks brand frappuccino, thank you very much. I don’t go out of my way to do these things or anything; I just do them without guilt now.

And we should be allowed to do these sorts of things without guilt. We should be allowed to try new things without fear of being judged. We should be allowed to zone out to a mindless, stupid movie that appeals to us without being told that we’re wrong. We should be allowed to enjoy things, actually, truly enjoy them, so long as they don’t hurt anyone.

And nothing that I have listed in this article hurts anyone. What hurts people is a misogynistic society that immediately assumes that, just because someone was born to the words, “it’s a girl”, then that automatically means that they are vapid and stupid. That is what I truly think is wrong.

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Is the #MeToo Movement Leading to Vigilante Justice?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, best known for her novel the Handmaid’s Tale, has recently gotten herself in trouble for comments that she made opposing the #metoo movement.

Primarily, Atwood’s concerns focused on where the #metoo movement is going, and how the accused will be treated by the general public. She cites a recent incident, involving professor and fellow author Steve Galloway, as a reason for her concern.

In 2015, Galloway was accused bullying and sexual harassment. This prompted members of the Canadian literary community, including Margaret Atwood, to stand behind him in support. Many then retracted this support, however, when further allegations came out – including bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Galloway was dismissed from the University of British Columbia, where he taught, but is facing no criminal charges.

Margaret Atwood claims that Galloway’s dismissal was unfair, and she fears that the #metoo movement will lead to vigilante justice.

Galloway, however, is not the only man to be dismissed from his job due to claims of sexual assault. In the media, we have seen this happen time and time again. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company following allegations of sexual assault. Kevin Spacey was fired from television series House of Cards following similar allegations, and Louis C.K. was fired from Secret Life of Pets 2. So is this also unfair? Is this also an example of vigilante justice?

There have been some who would say so; who would say that, yes, these are bad men, but they are good at their job. They are talented artists (or, in Galloway’s case, professors), and they should be allowed to continue doing their jobs.

I disagree.

In Weinstein’s case, I feel the reason why he should be let go is fairly obvious; Weinstein’s job put him in a position of power, and a sexual predator can and will abuse that power – as Weinstein did again and again. His job is directly connected to his being a sexual predator – he wasn’t the right one for the role. He wasn’t the sort of person who would do that job without abusing it. He was, quite frankly, bad at his job.

And in the case of Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, who were similarly put in a place of power and adoration and then abused that power, they are both part of industries that have no shortage of competition. There are hundreds of talented comedians and actors in this world who deserve their shot at the job – comedians and actors who don’t happen to be sexual predators.

But let’s talk about Galloway for a moment, because the thing that I find interesting about this particular story is that this is a profession that isn’t part of the media. This is a more everyday profession, and while Galloway most certainly does have a system of support and adoring fans, this is to a lesser extent than what a Hollywood celebrity has. This is moving more into the mundane.

And was Galloway’s dismissal from his job unfair? Was this an instance of vigilante justice?

Well, quite frankly, no. I don’t think it is. I think that, if a person is poorly qualified for their job, then they should not have their job. And a bullying sexual predator is not the right candidate for a professor.

There is another story that came out of Canada recently, this one focusing on George Brown college in Toronto, where several former students of the acting program have come forward to discuss suffering abuse, humiliation, and harassment from the faculty of the school. These are people who wanted nothing more than to pursue their dreams, to become qualified in the job that they so desperately wanted, and instead, they were belittled, picked apart, and abused to such an extent that it affected both their mental and physical health – and all of this was caused by the very people who were supposed to help them. This was caused by their professors.

Professors have a huge task to fulfill – as all teachers do. Professors are there to teach people. They are in control of their students’ grades and education and, yes, even their lives, to a certain extent. A bad professor can very easily hurt a person’s chance at getting the job that they are working so hard to get, or they can kill a person’s self-esteem and motivation.

And, yes, Galloway’s first victim to break her silence was, in fact, a former student.

But what about the fact that Galloway faced no criminal charges? Is he being punished for a crime that the law hasn’t recognized that he committed? Well, this is where the argument gets complicated.

Just because Galloway hasn’t been charged with anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t guilty. Out of every 1000 rape cases, after all, only 7 will lead to a felony conviction, and this is not because the majority of allegations are false. It is estimated that somewhere between 2% and 6% of allegations are false. So, yes, that does mean that the majority of sexual predators will go without any legal punishment for their crime.

Does that mean that we should turn to vigilante justice to fix this problem? No, that isn’t what I am trying to say here (although we do desperately need to fix a legal system that allows the vast majority of sexual predators to walk free and go unpunished). What I am trying to say is that the University of British Columbia is under no obligation to keep a man under their employ when all evidence points to the fact that he is not good at his job and should not be allowed to keep it – especially not when allowing him to keep his job would send a message to his victims that what he did to them was okay. And sexual assault is already a rampant problem in colleges and universities.

So, no, from what I have observed thus far, the #metoo movement is not leading toward vigilante justice. What the #metoo movement is creating is a society where sexual assault and sexual harassment is taken more seriously and discussed more prominently. There was once a time when a man like Galloway might have been allowed to keep his job, and continue to harass, assault, and bully students that are simply seeking an education. But times are changing, and we are no longer willing to accept these things. We are creating a world where a woman might be allowed to seek an education without fear of being treated differently or unfairly by her teacher.

And, hopefully, this influence can continue to spread to all industries.

Queer Representation in Children’s Media

When I was a little girl, one of my absolute favourite things in the whole wide world was Harry Potter. (Oh, who am I kidding? That’s still true today.) The books. The movies. Everything. I loved it. I ate it up like a proverbial fat kid eats cake.

Now, I don’t know how familiar you, the reader, are with Harry Potter. Maybe you’ve never seen the movies or read the books, and you just have a basic understanding of it being about wizards or some shit like that. Maybe you’re more like me, and have the entire text of the books tattooed onto your soul. But I’m just going to assume that you’re a little closer to the former, just for safety’s sake, because I want to draw your attention toward a brief, seemingly unimportant scene in the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which was released when I was nine years old. Trust me; that bit will become important later).

Near the end of this movie, two male characters are revealed to have a close friendship (if I’m spoiling anything for you here, too bad, the movie’s been out nearly fourteen years now). These characters in question are Remus Lupin, a werewolf, and Sirius Black, not a werewolf. At one point, shortly after a reunion scene between the two of them that involved close hugging, the moon comes out from behind a cloud, and Lupin begins to turn into a werewolf. At this point, Sirius grabs hold of Lupin and tries to get through to him, saying things like, “this heart is where you belong, this heart!” indicating Lupin’s own chest.

Now, what about any of this matters, you might be asking? This is just a meaningless, nothing little scene that establishes nothing besides the fact that Lupin is turning into a werewolf, right? Well… yes. Yes it is. But at the age of nine years old, when I first saw this scene, something got confused along the way in my head. I think it might have been something about Sirius screaming about hearts as he held Lupin close. What I’m trying to say is, when I was nine years old, I seriously, genuinely thought that Sirius and Lupin were a couple in the context of the movies. And I’m not talking about “shipping” them (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the lingo, that’s geek-talk for thinking that two characters would make an amazing couple, even if they are not actually romantically or sexually involved in the actual text). I mean that I actually believed that they were “together”.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. In the Disney movie “Mulan” (which came out when I was three years old; I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, but it was probably around then), there is a character simply called “the Matchmaker”, and I was completely convinced that that character was a drag queen. Maybe it was the heavy make-up combined with the fact that she accidentally draws a goatee on herself later on in the movie. Maybe I just didn’t catch onto the fact that it was a goatee made of ink, not hair. I don’t know, for some reason, when I was a kid, I was simply convinced that children’s movies were much more progressive than they actually were.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens did I discover that Lupin and Sirius are not actually a couple in the context of the story, they’re just good friends, or that the Matchmaker was actually intended to be interpreted as a cis-gendered woman.

Now, the reason why I interpreted these characters this way could be manifold. It could simply because my parents did not try to hide the existence of other sexualities and genders from me as a kid, and so it simply made sense to me that, if these people existed, they would exist in my media as well. Or maybe it all has something to do with the fact that I personally grew up to be bisexual; maybe whatever it is that has hardwired me to be queer automatically made me search for role models in my media as early as three years old. I don’t know what the reason is, all I know is that I can now make people laugh with the funny “I genuinely thought Lupin and Sirius were a couple” story now.

But, personally, I think that the fact that I thought this way as young as I did is important to a discussion that we have been having in our media lately: namely, is it okay for children to be exposed to queer characters in media?

Actual queer characters (not just the ones I’ve made up in my head) have been confirmed in some children’s media lately, possibly the most famous example being LeFou in Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Yet, LeFou sort of ended up being a disappointment to both sides of the argument. Parents who disagreed with queer representation in children’s media refused to take their children to this movie because they didn’t want them exposed to a message that they thought could potentially be harmful. Meanwhile, audience members who wanted to see explicit queer representation got little more than a split-second dance scene between two men, hardly confirming or denying anything (after all, even as a nine-year-old, I would have known that two men can dance together without being in love with each other).

Since then, we’ve had character after character in children’s media (including Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok and Yellow Ranger Trini from the Power Rangers movie) either hint at potential queerness, or be marketed to the audience as a queer character, while never actually coming right out and saying, “hello, yes, I am actual queer character, pleased to meet you!”

In other words, this media can bring in an audience that desperately wants to see actual, confirmed queer representation in mainstream, children’s media, while simultaneously appeasing the parents who don’t want their children exposed to that gross, gay stuff.

But, end of day, really, what’s wrong with exposing children to the existence of queer individuals?

I know that I’m probably not a convincing example of someone who grew up exposed to this in my media and turned out fine, considering the fact that one of the major fears of including these characters in these movies is that it will somehow turn their kids gay. But at the same time, to that, I say two things: 1) I don’t think that I “became bisexual” the moment that I heard Gary Oldman screaming “this heart is where you belong” to David Thewlis. I sort of think that being bisexual was somewhere in my genetic code long before that. And, 2) at the time, when I was a young, pre-pubescent nerd wearing a lightning bolt scar drawn onto my forehead with eyeliner, I actually didn’t think anything of this quote-unquote ‘relationship’. I didn’t think that it was weird that Sirius and Lupin “were a couple”. I mean, yeah, at the time I decided that they were my favourite couple in the series, but that was mostly because this was movie three and the only other couples that I had to choose from were all parents (which, to a nine year old girl, was gross).

You know those stories that you hear of a little kid asking, “what are gay people?” and the parents explains it calmly, to which the kid goes, “oh. Can I go play now?” Yeah, that was pretty much just my reaction to these movies. I didn’t linger on it. I didn’t hate it or think it was gross, or even really decide that I was going to grow up to be in a same-sex relationship, just like Lupin and Sirius. I just saw it, thought it was kind of romantic, the way that Sirius tried to pull Lupin back from being a monster just like some sort of Beauty and the Beast, and then I moved onto the awesome werewolf fight scene and the flying broomsticks and the supposed devil worship. Truth be told, if this wasn’t an argument that we were having now, and if I hadn’t been wrong in my interpretation of the film, I might never have thought about any of it ever again.

So when people nowadays discuss the potential “dangers” of including queer characters in children’s media, I always go back to that nine year old girl who thought nothing of the possibility that two wizards were also a couple, or that the Matchmaker was openly a drag queen in ancient China. None of this bothered me as a kid, none of it even phased me. Perhaps it would have if I had told the adults in my life how I had interpreted these characters and they had laughed at me or told me that I was wrong, but no one ever did that to me. No one ever told me that queer characters didn’t belong in my media, and so I simply assumed that queer people belonged everywhere. Being informed on these matters, being allowed to think about them and interpret them freely, made me more open-minded and accepting, not only of queer characters, but of queer people in real life, and eventually, of my own queerness as well.

It wasn’t until I grew up did I discover that others disagreed with me. And, to this day, I still don’t think I understand why.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Save-My-Life School by Natalie Harris

Hello to all my amazing readers! I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that a friend of mine recently published a book, Save-My-Life School: A first responder’s mental health journey by Natalie Harris. I would really recommend checking it out, especially if you have any interest in issues of mental health. I found it especially haunting in the way that it makes you question our society’s perception on people dealing with mental illness. We are too quick to dismiss them as ‘crazy’ or ‘lesser than’, and this book really challenges that! You can find it on Amazon, or you can order it off of Indigo.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Review

Neil Gaiman has been a writer that I’ve had my eye on for a long time now. I’ve read a few of his works – American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, some of his more well-known novels. But an extensive reading list given to me over the past four years at university has kept me from scouring through his entire book list, the way I’ve been wanting to. Well, for better or worse, I’m free to read what I want now, and one of the first things on my reading list was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I went into the novel fairly blind as to what I was getting into, and I came out of it with a very slight obsession. The story follows Richard Mayhew, a fairly average Londoner whose whole life changes when he stumbles upon an injured woman on the street. Soon, he finds that he is unable (literally) to return to his normal life, and he is thrust into the magical world known as London Below, where the forgotten find their place.

My first impression of the novel when I was reading through it was that it felt very much like a movie. People would make comments like “well, at least we got out of that okay” just before they found out the opposite. The characters felt very much like tropes, rather than real people (Richard is the trope of the everyman, the Marquis de Carabas is the trope of the helper with questionable intentions, Door is the trope of the innocent but quirky girl just outside of society so she doesn’t understand it all that well). And there was a short period of time where that sort of took me out of the story, until a cursory Google search of the novel informed me that… well, the novel was released alongside a BBC-released television movie, which explained a lot of the pacing. Once I realized that, I was able to forgive it a little bit, and once I was able to forgive it, I quickly found myself falling in love with it.

The story feels very familiar. I was going to say predictable, but no, that isn’t quite the word – the word is very much ‘familiar’, because I feel like this is a story I not only heard before, but one that I grew up with, one that I loved. I haven’t felt that way about a story in a long time. The characters may be very simple, but they are very likeable in their simplicity. The Marquis de Carabas’ intelligent wit may just be a part of his trope, for example, but it is a wonderful part, and Neil Gaiman does write it so well. And if we’re talking about characters that I thoroughly enjoyed, Croup and Vandemar, the novel’s villains, are evil to an enjoyable extent, and gory and gruesome to the point of thrilling. I loved every moment that the novel turned to them. Furthermore, the magical world that Gaiman creates of London Below is a fascinating one, fleshed out just enough that you feel like this is a world that could (unbelievably) exist, while leaving just enough unexplained that I frequently found my imagination taking hold and creating explanations of its own.

I loved this novel. I loved this novel like I’ve loved a select few novels. I’m sorry to finish it, but I excitedly await Neil Gaiman’s promised sequel The Seven Sisters.