Why Do We Bother Fighting?

Quite often, I write and I talk about issues surrounding social justice. And, as you might have guessed, that’s because I care about these issues. I care to see women receive the same rights that men take for granted. I care to see people of colour enjoy the privileges that many white people aren’t even aware that they have. I care that anyone at all, be they gay or bisexual, transgender, disabled, neurodivergent, or whatever the case may be, is able to exist within this society feeling safe and loved and accepted. All of this matters to me.

But because I talk about these issues often enough, I’ve come across a person or two who offers me this question: Why? Do I really think that I’m going to make a difference? Is pointing out that a specific train of thought is sexist really going to stop people from thinking that way? All of these issues that I fight to bring light to – racism, sexism, homophobia, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. – are all so deeply ingrained in our culture that I can’t even really expect it to change. So why bother, right?

Shouldn’t we just give up? Shouldn’t we just accept that the world is flawed and move on with our lives? Wouldn’t that make things easier for everybody?

Well, speaking from personal experience, I have to say – no, it wouldn’t make things any easier. In fact, it only makes things worse.

My problem is that I can’t not be aware of these things. I can’t help but notice that they are not only present but prevalent, in everything that we think, do, watch, say. It exists in the politicians that we choose to elect, in the celebrities that we choose to look up to, in the fictional characters that we choose to relate to. It exists in our personal relationships, in the ways that we talk to different people, in the things that we expect from them. I have seen sexism destroy families, and I have seen homophobia kill children. Some people can go their whole lives without noticing any of this, but I can’t – partly because I live it, as a bisexual woman, but also because I’ve gone out of my way to try and educate myself on these matters.

As I said, these issues are important to me. I need to talk about them. And I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.

But even ignoring all of that for a moment – let’s say we as a society could stop talking about these issues. Let’s say that we just dropped every social justice movement tomorrow, because from the logic of those who ask the question to begin with, you’d think that what would happen would be – nothing. The world just wouldn’t change – it would remain the way that it is right now, forever.

And maybe it would.

Maybe women would continue to be told that it was their fault, that they should have dressed or acted differently to avoid being raped.

Maybe black people in America would continue to get shot in the streets by white cops who get off punishment-free.

Maybe gay, bisexual, or transgender children would continue to kill themselves before they even reach adulthood, because they don’t see any possibility that they will ever get to be themselves.

Or maybe all of this would get worse over time, because no one is talking about these issues. No one is making sure that these people know that they aren’t alone, that someone cares and is truly trying to make a difference for them.

And if that’s all you do by talking about these issues – just let someone know that they aren’t alone, and that if they just keep fighting, things might just get better – then isn’t that a worthwhile fight in its own right? Isn’t hope, at least, worthwhile?

Maybe things won’t get any better, I don’t know. Maybe this truly is as good as it’s going to get. But maybe it’s not. Maybe things will get better. They already have, after all. We reach new and exciting milestones all the time – in 2015, the United States legalized same-sex marriage because people cared enough to talk about it. In 2014, Laverne Cox became the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, accompanying the claim that we as a society were at “the tipping point” for discussing transgender issues. And, no, things aren’t perfect; we still have a long way to go, but little by little, we are winning battles. And we are doing this because we refuse to give up. Because we know that these issues are worth talking about, and so we talk about them.

We fight, not because there is any guarantee that we’ll win, but because we know that it’s a worthy fight nonetheless.

So if you can say that you feel that same way – maybe not specifically about a social justice movement, but about anything at all – if you feel that it is worth defending, and worth believing in, and worth fighting for if you have to, then by all means, fight. Maybe you won’t win, but at least there will be someone fighting. At least people will see that this is something that people care about, something that matters. And maybe not everyone will agree with you. Maybe not enough people will, anyway. But that isn’t the important part. What’s important is that, end of day, you can rest easy with yourself knowing that you did everything you could in your attempts to make the world a better place.

And that, after all, is what we all want to accomplish in our time here on earth, isn’t it?

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Is It Okay To Like A Narrative That Is Problematic?

Let’s talk about something that I know everyone enjoys: the media and politics.

More specifically, let’s talk about narratives – whether that be movies, television, or written stories – and their connection to social justice, representation, and politics.

It’s become more and more common lately for people to point it out if something in a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or whatever. And whenever something like this because common, we’re always going to see a counter-reaction. For example, you might see an exchange similar to this one somewhere on the internet:

Person One: I found this recently released movie to be very sexist/racist/homophobic.

Person Two: Oh my god, how dare you, I can’t like anything anymore!

Now, the reason that I bring this up is not because I want to make fun of either side of the argument. Rather, I’m sort of interested in this idea that a piece of media is inherently unlikeable because it includes questionable politics. I mean, if this was true, then what media could we consume? Is there any media? Would we have no other choice than to reject media altogether – stop buying books, stop going out to movies, all to avoid media that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever the case may be?

Because, after all, all narratives are written by human beings, and they are not written in a vacuum. We exist in a society where ideas that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc., are sometimes considered the norm. Sometimes writers internalize these ideas. Sometimes, by the time that a writer sits down to write a particular story, they haven’t yet thought critically about every last social justice movement that exists out there. And, not only that, but there are many common, historical tropes in writing that rely upon certain sexist ideals – like the trope of the persecuted heroine, or the hero (who is usually characterized not only as male, but as hyper-masculine as well). So chances are, nearly every narrative, even the ones that go out of their way to be inclusive, fail to live up to one standard or another of being inclusive. Maybe they’re very feminist, but they’re also kind of racist. Maybe they’re very pro-gay, but they’re simultaneously kind of classist.

So what does this mean? Can we not enjoy any story because of this?

Well, while different people might have different opinions on this, I’m personally a huge fan of stories. And I don’t think that someone pointing out that a narrative isn’t inclusive enough means that you can’t enjoy it.

For example, I kind of like the 2006 action movie 300. It isn’t my favourite movie or anything, but I like it. I’ll watch it whenever someone says, “hey, let’s go watch us some 300.” And I am also very aware that it isn’t inclusive toward… anybody. At all. 300 is a very sexist movie that doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test (which, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the absolute lowest standard to prove that a movie includes women as active agents in the text). 300 is also a very racist movie, portraying all of the villains as dark skinned while all of the heroes are light skinned, playing on America’s post-9/11 Islamophobia. And, as the cherry on top of this sundae, 300 is also very, very, very homophobic. “Boy-lover” is used repeatedly throughout the film as an insult toward men (something which is not at all historically accurate for the Spartans, I might add). The villains are all designed to look rather feminine while the heroes are designed to look very, very masculine. And, perhaps worst of all, director Zack Snyder also admitted to playing with homophobia as a tool to make the lead villain seem more foreign and more intimidating to the presumed audience, claiming that he intentionally coded the villain as gay because “what’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?”

So, yeah, this movie is a political nightmare, but I still kind of like it. And why? Because I also think of it as sort of the definitive action movie. It won’t make you think (and if you do, you won’t like what you think), but it does have some good fight scenes, some super macho tough dudes, and visually speaking, the movie is stunning. There’s enough in the movie that, as much as I’m aware of its political faults and I’m not going to forget them, I still manage to leave the movie feeling like I got what I wanted out of it.

And, end of day, I think that’s what we should mostly be striving for when we say that a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.: awareness. You can still like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even if you know it’s sexist. You can look fondly on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, even knowing that it’s kind of racist. But end of day, it’s important that you are aware that it is, because if you aren’t, then the entire context of the narrative changes. Instead of accepting that this is wrong, that this is just for the purposes of a narrative and the narrative is entirely fantasy, you run the risk of taking that into the real world, of believing that this is actually how people are. If I didn’t know that 300 was sexist, then I might just assume that women were all passive agents who didn’t really contribute all that much to anything… unless they happened to be Lena Headey. If I didn’t know that 300 was homophobic, I might assume that all gay men were inherently threats to straight men. These are the lessons that the narrative is teaching me, so if I’m not questioning them, then I run the risk of accepting them instead.

And more than that, we seem to be at a big of a turning point for a lot of media. The most recent movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture was about a gay black man (Moonlight). One of 2017’s highest grossing movies was about a female superhero (Wonder Woman), but it wasn’t very long ago that movie studios were refusing to put female superheroes in their own solo movies because they tended to flop when compared to their male counterparts. People are getting more and more interested in seeing diversity in our media, and this is awesome. This gives so many more people the opportunity to see themselves represented, rather than just the same straight, middle-to-upper-class, young-to-middle-age white dude that keeps getting catered to over and over again. And as people get more and more interested in diversity, it becomes more important for us to talk about what kind of diversity. We might see a movie about women and say, “that’s great, but the writing was kind of sexist. Can you give us more of this instead?” and if there are enough people demanding, the media will eventually supply.

We point out that there wasn’t enough racial diversity in something because we want to see more racial diversity in something else; not necessarily because we think that you shouldn’t like the original narrative. You can like the original narrative all you want; just be aware that it can be improved in the future. And hopefully, if enough people can keep talking about it, it will be improved in the future.

What It Means to Have Privilege

Privilege comes in a wide variety of forms.

People can experience privilege in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation. People can experience privilege if they are able-bodied, neurotypical, or cis-gendered. Chances are, every single person in our society experiences some form of privilege, for one reason or another. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of, and it is not something that makes you an inherently worse person. Privilege is only something to keep in mind.

And why am I bringing this up? Why am I saying all of this? Because privilege is something that people have begun talking about more and more often lately, and in my opinion, that should be encouraged, because it is something that we should talk about. However, there are many people who take offence to the idea of privilege, and who may even deny that it exists.

 

To illustrate this, let’s create a very common, more specific scenario: a group of people are talking about race. Ted, a white person, keeps asserting that black people are treated in this way, and that the only appropriate reaction to it is that. Sue hears this and disagrees, and so she says, “you’re speaking from a place of privilege”.

Now, there are two ways that Ted can interpret this comment. On the one hand, he can assume that Sue meant it maliciously, that she is intentionally trying to belittle his perspective and tell him that it doesn’t matter as much as a person of colour’s perspective would. On the other hand, he can see it for the comment’s most common meaning: that Ted is white. He is not black. He has never been black. He does not know what it is like to live as a black person, and therefore he has no idea what they experience and how they should feel – at least not from a first-hand experience.

This is not a moral judgement against Ted. He cannot help being born the way that he was, and even if he could, there is nothing wrong with being any race, gender, sexual orientation, level of ability, or anything to that effect. However, that being said, it is important for Ted to keep in mind that his experience is not universal.

In our society, whether we like it or not, people are treated differently from one another based on superfluous things like skin colour and genitals. These sort of things do effect our lives and our experiences. For example, a white person will not be turned away from a job based solely on judgements made about their race. A man does not have to worry about his rights to reproductive health being taken away or made more difficult to access. A straight person does not have to worry about whether or not their families will still have contact with them when they finally admit who they love, and so on and so forth. None of these are that specific person’s fault – it is all based on the society in question and what rights and abilities that society has decided a person should have access to.

However, when someone lives their life taking these sort of things for granted, it becomes too easy for them to just assume that these are things that everyone has access to, and too easy for them to forget that they don’t. And that is why it is so important that we talk about our privilege – because if we don’t talk about it, then we forget that we even have it.

But saying that you have privilege is not a moral judgement, and it does not mean that your life was constantly easy. Nobody’s life is easy, no matter how much privilege you have, and nobody is forgetting that or taking away from your hardships by reminding you of your privilege. All that they are saying is that you lack the lived experience of someone in that scenario, and in that one part of your life, things might have been a little easier for you than for another person.

So please, don’t be afraid to awknowledge your privilege. Don’t be afraid to admit that you might have it a little easier in one regard of your life than another person. Because once you can admit that, once you can accept that your experience is not universal and that other people deal with different hardships, then you can open your mind to other perspectives and learn about them, maybe even help them a little bit.

There’s nothing wrong with having privilege. We all do. The only place you can really go wrong is denying someone else their right to speak out about their own unique perspective.

Why We Still Need Labels

I have a lot of labels to go by.

I am a woman. I’m bisexual, I’m white, I’m cis gendered. I’m able-bodied, but I am not completely neurotypical, as I have dealt with anxiety and depression.

And, admittedly, some of these labels get exhausting to live with sometimes. Just today, I thought about sitting down and writing something feminist, to which some part of my brain responded with an endless groan and the question, “do I have to be a woman today? Can’t I just be a person, without any concern about rape culture or objectification or whatever the topic of the day is?”

And I don’t think I’m the only person who has felt this way either. You see this opinion pop up constantly on the internet, though perhaps not always from the specific group of people being referred to.

For example, whenever a movie studio makes a big deal about outing a character as gay, you tend to see a plethora of reactions, and one that always makes its appearance is the question, “why does this matter? As long as the character is good, who cares who he sleeps with?” And although I am not trying to condemn the people who say this, I do want to point out that the majority of people who hold this opinion are straight people who have not experienced what it is like to be LGBT+.

Another example of this that I’ve seen is the internet’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people (and primarily not black people) saw this movement and felt offended by the name, offering up the question, “don’t all lives matter?”

When questions like this are asked, I feel that it comes from a very similar place as my own internal grumbling about writing something feminist: they’re tired of dealing with it. They’re tired of people segregating themselves under different labels, of feeling as though one person is different from the other because of their race or their sexual orientation or whatever the case might be. They just want all that to end and for people to just be people already, not a label.

And trust me, I get it. I do. The fact that all these different labels exist in our world is exhausting. But there is one glaring problem that arises when you suggest that we should just label everyone as people and move on with our lives: society doesn’t work that way. We are still living with huge imbalances between people that will not get fixed if we don’t address them.

Yes, all lives matter, but Black Lives Matter was created for a very specific purpose – to address the fact that black people in America are killed by the police at an alarmingly high rate, and that needs to stop. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to bring attention to something that specifically affects black people, and if we are ever going to find equality, we need to talk about that. If we continue to ignore that issue, then cops are going to continue to brutalize and kill black people because no one is telling them that it’s wrong.

Yes, at the end of the day, who cares who that character in the movie wants to sleep with – he’s a fictional character and none of us are sleeping with him anyway. But at the same time, it matters that he’s gay – especially if it’s in a genre that doesn’t typically feature LGBT+ characters or if he’s the lead in a mainstream movie. It matters because gay characters are too rarely seen in mainstream films, or if they are seen, they’re sometimes delegated to minor characters or stereotypes. It matters because the invisibility of LGBT+ characters in mainstream media leads to a generation of LGBT+ people who have internalized that there is something wrong with them, that they shouldn’t be seen, or even in some cases, that they don’t exist. And if we don’t make a big deal out of the fact that this character is gay, if we don’t celebrate and encourage it, then Hollywood is not going to get the message that we want to see more LGBT+ people represented in our media, and thus, nothing is going to change for LGBT+ youth who need to have their existence validated.

And as much as it might get exhausting from time to time for me to talk about feminism, it’s still something that I need to do, because if I don’t, then I’m part of the problem. I’m sitting back and allowing these injustices to my gender to continue on.

Don’t get me wrong – I am in full support of getting rid of labels someday and forming a society that does not even notice our differences, but the key word there is someday. We just aren’t there yet. Systemic sexism still exists, systemic racism still exists, systemic homophobia still exists, etc., etc., and if we are ever going to actually end it and form a society where we can all just be people, we need to address that. Because until we end these issues, we are not treated as just people – our lives and experiences are still determined by the labels that we have no choice but to live under.

Why We Need to Remember Native People This Canada Day

This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary. Sort of. It depends on what you define to be ‘Canada’. I mean, Canada was initially declared a country of its own 150 years ago, but even before that, it was a settlement for European people, and even further back than that, it was the native land of many indigenous tribes. Canada as a recognized country is only 150 years old, and already it has a long and bloody history of colonialism, cultural genocide, and systemic racism.

And that’s not to say that I’m not proud to be a Canadian. I am – especially lately. In a world where Donald Trump can be president of the United States and people continue to lose basic human rights every day, I’m so relieved to be living in a country that actually seems to be taking steps in the right direction. Our current prime minister has the most diverse cabinet that I have ever seen, including disabled people, native people, the first ever Muslim minister in Canadian history, and fifteen women, meaning that women represent exactly half of the cabinet. That’s something that really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it really is, considering in the United States, it’s a group of majority white men who are signing away women’s rights to reproductive health. In Canada, our prime minister has marched in the Toronto pride parade, and he has opened our doors to refugees in need of our country’s help. I’m very proud to be in a country where all of this is true, but at the same time, I am not going to deny that my country has its faults as well.

In Canada, 49% of Aboriginal peoples live on remote reservations (according to a 2015 report from Maclean’s), leaving them out of sight and out of mind for many Canadians. And on these reservations, many natives experience a quality of living comparable to third world countries, with limited access to health care and education – but we are not a third world country. That is completely unacceptable. Issues such as alcoholism and abuse are also common among natives in Canada – and not because it is inherent amongst native people, but because between the years of 1876 and 1996 (so within that period of 150 years that we are celebrating today), native children were taken away from their families and forced to attend residential schools in an attempt to teach them to forget the language and culture of their ancestors, to assimilate them into ‘Canadian society’, and while they were there, they faced mental, physical, and sexual abuse so severe that many of the survivors and their children are still dealing with the mental effects of it. And not to mention, as reported by Terry Glavin in 2014, native Canadians are incarcerated ten times more often than the national rate, despite making up 4.3% of Canada’s population, they face an unemployment rate of 14%, and if they go missing or are murdered, there is a chance that the police will not even bother to investigate. And what I have listed here is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the race problem that Canada has.

But why am I saying all of this now? What does all of this have to do with Canada’s 150th anniversary? Well, this year, Canada Day is a celebration of Canada’s history, but all of this is an important part of Canada’s history that needs to be remembered just as much as our strengths need to be celebrated. And not only is it important, it is a part of Canada’s history that frequently goes ignored. Although this is more a part of American history than Canadian history, I think it is important to state that I had only ever heard Christopher Columbus hailed as a hero until I was in my second year of university, when I discovered that he was actually guilty of enslaving natives, part of which involved torturing, raping, beating, and/or kidnapping men, women, and children. It wasn’t until university that my teachers assigned reading from the perspective of native authors either. And as I pointed out when I said that most native reservations are out of sight and out of mind, it is too easy for the majority of Canadians to just ignore what is actually going on in our country.

And we can’t.

If our country is going to have a stronger future than our past, we need to fix it.

And maybe I’m not the best person to say how exactly we fix this, because I lack the lived experience of being a native person in Canada. But I do know that one of the first big steps in moving forward is spreading awareness. It’s taking a moment away from our celebrations this year and remembering every aspect of Canada, the good and the bad.