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.

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The Trouble With Being A Perfectionist

I don’t believe that grades are all that important.

I believe that the North American education system is incredibly flawed in the way that they measure intelligence, and some people just don’t test well. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent – simply that their intelligence lies in something else.

I don’t know if I believe that anyone is unintelligent, really. I believe that we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and nobody should be able to judge your worth based on those.

 

And yet, just the same, every time that my professors hand out the instructions to a new assignment, or when I look at the projects that I have ahead of me throughout the upcoming semester, I panic. I stress myself out about until it makes me miserable, until I don’t even want to do anything.

Sometimes, I bring myself to a point where I tell myself that I don’t care anymore, that I’m not even here for the grades. I’m here to learn, and if the best way that I can do that is just by skating by so I can focus on my actual retention, then so be it. But somehow, even despite those moments, I still manage to work myself up to an intense, all-encompassing, miserable sort of stress.

And I really don’t know why.

As I said before, it’s not like I really believe in grades. I think they’re stupid – an intensely flawed method that tests your ability to memorize facts and definitions rather than your ability to actually learn anything.

And yet, here I am again, right back where I started.

My best guess for why I do this to myself is one simple character trait that I am both proud of and plagued by: I’m a perfectionist. I hold myself to an impossibly high standard, and when I am unable to reach that, it makes me upset. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it pushes me to become better. Sometimes it cripples me and causes me more grief than the thing was originally worth anyway. I feel like both of these are true when it comes to my grades.

That, mixed with the fact that, as much as I don’t believe that grades are important, society has sort of insisted that they are. I’ve been in school roughly sixteen years now, and ever since, I’ve heard the same thing over and over again.

“School work comes first.”

“You need to get a good grade on this if you hope to get into university – and you need to get into university if you want a good life.”

“You can tell that teachers really favour the students who get good grades, can’t you?”

Everywhere I’ve looked, for the past sixteen years, there’s been nothing but people telling me how important grades are, so it doesn’t really matter if I believe in them or not. I’ve still internalized this acceptance that they are. And then that, combined with my being a perfectionist, results in this intense, harmful stress that I can’t really explain because I don’t really think I should have it.

So I’m identifying it now – one great flaw in my life that I need to work on. I need to stop stressing myself out over things that only matter to other people. I need to learn to relax, to reorganize my priorities, and most importantly, to find a way to be a student without making myself miserable.

Why I Became an English Major

Listening to my contemporary literature professor talk, I’m reminded of that one professor from Harry Potter.

You remember, the one that died and didn’t realize that he had, so he just kept going about his life like nothing had changed?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that happened to my professor.

I didn’t even realize that a voice could be that low or that monotone! All around me, eyes are growing glassy and pens are finding their way to paper, scribbling cute little flowers or skulls in place of notes.

Nevertheless, through the fog that has started to rise in my brain, some of his words do get through to me.

“What is the importance of contemporary literature?” he asks. “Honestly, is it even important at this point? I’m not convinced that anyone can even get through a book anymore, and it certainly doesn’t hold the same value to people as it did a hundred years ago. Why are you guys even studying English, really? I’d truly like to know.”

There we go. At least that captures my attention.

Why am I studying English? This isn’t a question I haven’t heard before – it’s bordering on trendy at this point.

“You’re an English major? What can you do with that?”

“Oh, so you want to be a teacher, right?”

“Isn’t that just something you do after you tuck the kids into bed at night?”

When people ask me this question, my simple answer is always: “I want to be a writer – I never really considered any other option”, which is true. When high school graduation approached, I applied to be an English major because that had always been the plan. I was going to grow up, be an English major, and then write until I died.

But that isn’t enough, is it? I mean, this is a pretty big honking deal here – I’m majoring in something that won’t make me buckets of money, like something in the sciences or even a trade would. So why am I doing it? What worth can English have if it isn’t going to make me rich?

Well, here’s my question: “What else would I major in?” I know, I know, something that makes me money, but why would I do that? I’m not passionate about any of those things. I didn’t grow up looking at astronauts and thinking, “Gee whiz, I hope that’s me someday”. No, I grew up saying that about J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Now, I know that everyone thinks their passion is the most important thing in the world, but I honestly do believe that stories are the most important thing in the world. Everything is built on them. Our history, as we know it now, is one great, big story. Stories inform who we are. My family on my dad’s side are particularly guilty of this. “We’re Halls,” they say proudly, with a self-satisfied grin on their face. “We come from a long line of hard-working farmers, people who made something of their lives.” That, right there, is a story.

And, not to mention, there’s also the way that stories tell us how to act, how to go through life, what values to hold. The stories told in the Bible have influenced human behaviour for centuries, and even if you aren’t a religious person, I’m certain that there’s some story out there that told you who to be. The story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me to always remain strong, even when it’s hardest, while the story of Walt Disney’s life taught me that I should never give up on my dreams. Those stories have become integral to who I am as a person, and that fascinates me. Stories fascinate me, like nothing else in this world ever has.

So why would I waste four years of my life studying something I don’t care about?

“Because of the money”, you say, horrified that I would even suggest that there might be something more important. “You can’t pay your bills with stories. You can’t raise two-point-five children and keep a husband happy with stories.”

No, I can’t. But I can keep me happy.

Call me naive, but my experience with depression has taught me that there is nothing in this world more important than happiness. Everything else will fall in place. Bills, a house, a spouse and children should I decide to have them – all of that will come along in one way or another. If that means that I have to spend my life working a second job, then so be it. As long as I have my stories.

So there’s your answer, Professor-Binns-from-Harry-Potter.  That is why I decided to become an English major: because it makes me happy. And so long as that’s true, what else matters?

The Fatal Four Things That Can Happen On Your First Day of Classes

Tomorrow is my first official day of classes and, surprisingly enough, I’m not all that nervous. I mean, I’m good at classes. It might seem kind of obvious to say, but they’re what I’m here for. Generally speaking, I enjoy them and I understand them – but that isn’t to say that they’re all peachy keen 100% of the time. No, classes (and professors in particular) can have their frustrating moments, and many of those come up on the very first day. And so, in preparation for tomorrow, I’m going to count down the fatal four things that can happen on your first day of classes.

1. “How about we go around the room and tell everyone a fun fact about ourselves?”

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a room full of strangers who you know nothing about besides that you all looked at the course description and thought, for one reason or another, “that looks interesting”. But then the professor (or, in some cases, the TA) decides to remedy that problem, and all of a sudden, everything you knew about yourself goes rushing from your head.

Who am I?

What do I like?

What do I do?

It occurs to you in that moment that you must be the single most boring person on the planet. You try to get inspiration from the students that offer a fun fact before you, but all of them have lived much more interesting lives than you.

“I lived in Spain for three years.”

“Over the summer, I played the lead in a gum commercial.”

“I once wrestled a mad shark off a baby.”

It’s getting close to your turn, and your mind runs desperately through all the things that you do, searching for something you can say that will make you look interesting, but what is there? You can’t say that you live most of your life on the internet or playing video games. You can’t say that you once ate an entire large pizza by yourself. But what else have you done? What!?

It’s your turn. You sit up straight, sweep your gaze over the room, and you say it: “My favourite colour is purple.”

Nailed it.

2. “Now, you should have had this reading done for today, but as you had no way of knowing that, you can just do double reading for next week.”

Now this one is just rude.

It’s the first day back at classes, you’re still getting adjusted after all that time off, and what does the professor do? Give you two weeks worth of reading to do in one week, while simultaneously making you feel like a jackass for not knowing something that you couldn’t possibly have known!

Whoopdie-doo, can’t wait to be taught by you!

3. “I hope you didn’t take this class because you thought it’d be fun.”

Hey, man. Let me tell you a thing or two about life.

Life is a journey. We’re here for a good time, not a long time. And, yes, I will accept that this class will be hard. I can accept that I will have a lot of work to do, and I am prepared to buckle down and plough through. But at the same time, man, actively trying to strip all the fun out of it is doing no one any good.

Because, really, what did we all think when we walked through that doorway, our bags already hanging heavy from our shoulders with the weight of the unknown semester before us?

“Oh boy, I really hope that this class stresses me out to the point that it becomes a black spot on my otherwise decent life”?

No, we all came in here hoping that we might enjoy this class, maybe make a few friends, and along the way, learn a thing or two. Life isn’t about dwelling on the difficulties – it’s about learning to have fun and be happy despite the hardships.

So let this class be fun. Let your students be happy. You don’t need to bleed joy out of their lives in order for them to take you seriously.

4. “Just so you know, I have a reputation for being strict/difficult/mean/whatever-unpleasant-synonyms-you-want-to-place-here” 

If you’ve heard number three, then you’ve probably heard number four too. This is often said by the same professor, that sour-faced old grouch who thinks the only way you’ll take them seriously is if they make you fear them. And I take issue with this for many of the same reasons that I take issue with number three: you don’t need to cause your students stress  right out of the gate to make them respect you.

But there they are, those professors who wave their alleged unpleasantness proudly, like it’s their house’s banner or something. “You’re going to have issues with me!” they shout to the classroom, and the majority of the students shift nervously in their chairs, wondering to what extent this is true and hoping that they’re exaggerating a bit.

Great way to start a new semester.

 

I want to make it clear that, at the end of the day, most of the professors I’ve met are amazing, passionate people who only want to help their students become better and more enlightened. I am not trying to belittle them, and I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t take your classes seriously. Just have fun with them! There’s no reason at all why learning can’t be an enjoyable experience from time to time, even if your professors don’t see that. So keep your head high, power through that reading, and try to think of an interesting fun fact to share with the class beforehand.