The Failure to Listen: Conservatives vs. Liberals

I don’t know how the world got to be so divided. I don’t know how attempts to destroy binaries like ‘white vs. black’ or ‘men vs. women’ has instead resulted in creating an entirely new binary: ‘conservatives vs. liberals’.

And I won’t lie; like most people, I take a side in this binary. I am not an American, but I am very liberal. I believe that all people, regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, whatever it might be, deserves the opportunity to live their fullest life and receive every right that they are entitled to as human beings. This is something that I believe in with all my heart. This is something that I am more than willing to fight or die for if need be. But at the same time, I also believe that every perspective needs to be listened to and understood. I believe that sweeping another person’s perspective under the rug as simply wrong is reductive and unfair, and this is something that both sides of the binary are guilty of right now, and it is creating so many problems.

From the liberal perspective, conservatives are uneducated, stupid, and hateful. From the conservative perspective, liberals are attacking their rights and threatening their freedom to support an agenda that they don’t agree with. From either perspective, the other side of the binary is dangerous.

I have spoken to liberal-minded people who have said that they like talking to conservatives because they’re curious to know what it’s like to be “so wrong.” The problem with thinking like this though is that it’s instantly reductive: you aren’t listening to them because you want to have an actual conversation and make progress between the two of you. You are listening to them to mock their beliefs, leaving you both in the exact same position that you were when you started talking. You haven’t grown. You haven’t learned anything. You just leave them thinking they were an idiot, and they leave you thinking you were a jerk.

And I’ll admit, I have been at fault for thinking this way in the past as well. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, it is really hard for me to see someone verbally abusing a woman who wants an abortion, or telling transgender people that they can’t exist in certain spaces because it makes them uncomfortable. When I see that, it’s very difficult for me to see anything other than blatant ignorance and hate. In order for me to see beyond that, I need to really think about things from their perspective. I need to take the time to remember that this is a person who honestly believes that abortion is murder and transgender people are mentally ill or transgressive from nature. Whether I think they’re wrong or not really doesn’t matter; they think they’re right, and that is important for me to remember if I’m actually going to have a conversation with them.

And the same thing can be said from the opposite perspective as well: it is just as important for conservatives to remember that liberals might have a reason for believing the things that they do, because it is really frustrating for me to have a conversation with someone where I am trying to explain my beliefs and yet I am constantly being told that I’m wrong and that my beliefs are dangerous to your way of life. Maybe I’m not wrong. Maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe the path toward progress can be found somewhere between the two of us, and maybe the only way to find this path is to listen to the other.

The problem nowadays is not liberals, and nor is it conservatives: the problem is that we don’t listen to each other. We are so quick to dismiss the other as wrong that we don’t even stop to consider the possibility that maybe there is no right or wrong here. Maybe there are just people who need to be taken seriously and have their perspectives heard. Or maybe I’m wrong. Who the fuck knows at this point, really? All that I’m trying to say is that we aren’t understanding one another, and when we don’t try to understand, then we turn instead to hate, and there is far too much of that in the world already – we don’t need more. I think that’s something both sides can agree on.

Bi Erasure in Disney’s Live Action Mulan

Growing up, I watched the 1998 Disney classic Mulan a lot. Mostly because it was my sister’s favourite Disney movie, but over time, I began to gain appreciation for it as well. The animation is truly stunning, the songs are incredibly fun, the subject matter is impressively brave, and come on guys, for a cartoon character, Li Shang is pretty hot.

So when I heard that Disney was going to make a live action adaption of Mulan, I was really excited. I felt that the Chinese setting would lend itself to some truly stunning visuals and Disney always takes advantage of that, and the story is a very important one that should be told again. Along the way, a few things sprung up to try and deter my excitement: there was speculation that the film would be whitewashed, but I had faith in Disney to prove that speculation wrong, and fortunately enough, they did. There was the announcement that the amazing songs, the songs that I grew up with and loved, would not be in the film, but you know what, I understood that choice. It was a different adaption, and it does need to be taken in a different direction to be a successful film.

But the third time’s the charm, because it only just now came to my attention that Li Shang will not be included in the live action adaption. Instead, he will be replaced by another character named Chen Honghui.

Now why would this bother me so much? After all, from everything we can tell so far, Chen Honghui will play a very similar role to Shang, being Mulan’s love interest, and it’s not really like Shang was all that integral to the plot of the original that he absolutely needs to be repeated. And, yes, I have fond memories of singing along to I’ll Make a Man Out of You and realizing that Shang is actually kind of hot, but since there’s not going to be any songs in the film, I already know that that experience won’t be repeated anyway. So why get upset? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters because of the speculated reason that Disney has for replacing Shang.

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Disney has not officially released an explanation for replacing Shang, but there has been speculation, and from where I am, it does look bad. Because, you see, since the original movie’s release in 1998, Shang has somewhat gained a reputation (especially amongst the LGBT+ crowd) for being Disney’s first bisexual character, mostly because he may or may not have started developing feelings for Mulan when he thought she was a man. Whether or not Shang is intended to be interpreted as bisexual by the writers is difficult to say, as no actual statement has been made by Disney at any point, but does that really matter? So long as the audience keeps believing that it’s true, and there is evidence in the film to support it, then for all intents and purposes, Shang is Disney’s first bisexual character. Which is awesome.

And I know what you’re thinking: that’s an awfully big leap to make, implying that Shang is being replaced because he was interpreted as bisexual. There could have been a million reasons for the choice, because his character was much more than just a speculated sexual orientation. Except Disney has said very little about this Chen Honghui fellow besides the fact that he will serve as Mulan’s adversary up until the point where he realizes that she’s a woman.

Okay, first off, correct me if I’m wrong (I don’t understand you weird people attracted to a single gender), but isn’t disliking someone up until you realize you can fuck them kind of skeezy? And secondly, that makes the replacement of Shang look really bad. Because as far as we know at this point, Chen Honghui will be the exact same character as Shang, with two alterations: his name (unimportant) and the question of whether or not he developed feelings for Mulan when he thought that she was a man (hugely important). It takes away the possible interpretation that Shang could be bisexual. It reassures the biphobic audience that, don’t worry, there’s no gay stuff going on here. Just heterosexual dude-bros doing their heterosexual dude-bro thing right up until, oh look, a woman! Better drop all that aggressive testosterone and turn it into lady-pleasing testosterone.

And as I have implied earlier in this article, I want to have the most faith in Disney possible. Their most recent film, the live action adaption of Beauty and the Beast, featured their first openly gay character, and I was all gung-ho about supporting them for it. But Shang is a bigger and more important character than Lefou. It is more significant for little boys growing up bisexual to watch a film where there is a man who is represented as masculine and desirable, and yet he is still bisexual, and that doesn’t take away from his ability to find love and help save China. Lefou was a tiny step forward for Disney, but replacing Shang with a character who we are assured is 100%, totally heterosexual is a giant leap back.

And maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. At this point, production for the live action adaption of Mulan is still in its early stages, and most of what I’m going off of here is speculation. But let’s just hope that Disney proves me wrong and gives me a film with both a badass female warrior and her openly bisexual boyfriend.

Why Emma Watson’s ‘Provocative’ Photo is Still a Feminist Act

When I first heard about the controversy regarding Emma Watson and her ‘provocative’ photo, bearing her stomach and parts of her breasts, I decided to stay out of it. My initial reaction was a very general ‘that’s a silly thing to get offended about’, and I had faith in humanity that this would just blow over and it wouldn’t be a deal in a couple of days.

Except the controversy is still here. People are still talking about it. And I have to say, I don’t understand why.

The argument that I’ve heard people offer is that Emma Watson is very outspoken about being a feminist, and that posing with parts of her torso exposed contradicts this statement. You can’t be a feminist and have boobs. Everybody knows that. Feminists are all conventionally unattractive women who dress head-to-toe in men’s business suits, and the moment she puts on a skirt or some lipstick, she immediately loses her status as a feminist.

Except that that very clearly isn’t true. And the manner in which people have responded to Emma Watson’s photograph just proves to me how much we need feminism.

Because, first of all, there is nothing inherently sexual about Emma Watson’s photograph. You can see parts of her breasts and her stomach, but besides that, she is standing tall with her arms crossed delicately before herself. The only reason why the photograph has been deemed sexual at all is because parts of a woman’s body are exposed – and that is a problem.

Because, honestly, what about a woman’s stomach and breasts is sexual, besides the fact that society has deemed them so? Why can’t Emma Watson be taken seriously as a feminist while simultaneously having breasts attached to her body?

And even if the photographs were completely sexual, even if she was lounging on a bed with a come-hither look in her eye and a pout on her lip, could she not still believe in equality? Want to be taken seriously as an individual? How is it that one photograph can so completely define who a woman is one hundred percent of the time?

This is our society’s problem – more than the fact that Emma Watson happens to have tits. We fail to see women as complex individuals. We have been taught to see them in the terms of stereotypes – a woman is either an unliberated whore or an ugly and completely asexual feminist. Any crossover between the two stereotypes completely baffles our mind and we don’t know how to understand it.

Because here’s the thing – women have sexuality. Even feminist women feel desire, have wants and needs of their own (unless they’re asexual), and that is perfectly fine. That’s more than fine – that’s human. And women should be allowed to express their sexuality in any way that they feel comfortable with, whether that mean that they take topless photographs and release them publicly or dress head-to-toe in a man’s business suit. As long as she is doing it because she wants to do it and it makes her feel comfortable and liberated, then that’s alright. That’s a completely feminist act and she should feel no shame for it.

Being a feminist does not mean that you have to limit yourself to being one thing. Being a feminist means that you can be free, that you can do what you want and what makes you happy, that you don’t have to bend exclusively to a man’s whim. That’s what being a feminist means.

Or, if nothing else, being a feminist at least means that you shouldn’t be publicly shamed for having tits.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.

“If You Come Here, You Better Act Like Us” and Why That Would Be Boring

I want you to try to imagine something with me for a moment.

Imagine that, one day, you need to leave your country.

It could be that something has happened, some sort of political or environmental tragedy, and you have no choice.

It could be that you got a job offer and you just can’t turn it down.

It could be that your entire family is moving because they think they’ll find a better life there, and you’re going along because they’re your family and you don’t want to be separated from them to that extent.

Whatever the reason, you’re going. You’re hopping on that plane and you’re crossing land and ocean both to find yourself suddenly in an entirely new place. An entirely new world, really. The language they speak isn’t the same. You can’t navigate the street signs without help, and most of the strangers you try to speak to can’t help you. Your culture and your traditions aren’t recognized by your new country, and people look at you funny when you try to celebrate them. After a while, you probably start to feel pretty alone, being one of the few people you know who shares your way of life.

And it’s not that you actively don’t want to fit in, or that you think your entire country should change to cater to your way of life or anything like that. It’s just that this is your way of life. This is the way you’ve always done things, and you don’t necessarily want to stop that just because you’ve come to a new country. In fact, in many ways, you couldn’t. You can’t change the way you think – not entirely. You can’t change the things you believe in, if your beliefs are true and strong enough.

And yet, even despite all of that, the people of your new country still look at you with disdain and tell you that you’re wrong for it.

“If you don’t like this country and its ways, then maybe you should go back,” they say.

or

“If you come to this country, then you better speak our language and conform to our customs.”

And as far as the language goes, you’re trying, you’re really trying, but it’s difficult to learn an entirely new language, and as much as you respect the customs and don’t want to change them, they just aren’t your customs. So how can it be fair that you have to change overnight, to become an entirely new person, just because you crossed this country’s border?

End scene.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never lived through this. I was born and raised in Canada, which is the country that I currently reside in. But there are many people who have experienced this, and that is why I don’t understand this mentality that many of my fellow North Americans have – this idea that “if you come here, then you better act like us”. It’s an unsympathetic idea, one that doesn’t take into account what the immigrant is actually going through.

But even more than that, even if you take the human aspect out of it entirely, I don’t understand why we even want everyone who comes to this country to act like us. Because: a) we are already an incredibly varied culture. We are made up entirely of immigrants already, borrowing from their cultures and traditions, while simultaneously creating our own and building off of each other. Canada describes itself as being a ‘melting pot’, meaning that multiple different cultures – all kind of cultures – come together to create the culture of Canada. The United States, on the other hand, describes itself as being a ‘salad bowl’, meaning that, again, multiple different cultures have come together to exist alongside one another. Whether or not these ideas hold true in practice, they are the ideas that our countries claim that they want to uphold. So to say that someone who comes to our country and adopt our culture, in theory, shouldn’t really mean anything, because which of our many cultures and customs do they need to adopt?

And more than that, b) why would we want everyone to be the same? Let’s imagine that everyone who came to our countries somehow could adopt our culture and customs – we all practice the same religion, all speak the same language, all celebrate the same holidays. Where would be our room for growth? How could we ever change, adapt, learn, if everything was constantly the exact same? And, most importantly, what reason would we have to learn tolerance for others if they were all the exact same as us?

And that’s what a lot of this comes down to, at the end of the day: tolerance. We need to be more tolerant toward change and difference. Now, I’m not saying that if a truly harmful ideology comes into our country, we should just tolerate it, but how often does that happen, really? Most of the differences that immigrants bring are differences of language, of customs, of culture, and they’re all opportunities for learning on the behalf of the North American who comes across them. We shouldn’t shun or belittle difference, we should embrace it, because that is the only chance we have to become stronger and more intelligent, tolerant people.