Monday, 26 January 2015

Stories Down There

Here are some of my feelings about vaginas, women, and my own vagina. This video was made for Project VM Hong Kong, an initiative that is putting on The Vagina Monologues this March in Hong Kong! I am honoured to be a member of the cast - so stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Yellow Ribbon

An old man with a bilingual sign,
A young couple, their arms intertwined.
12 year old Nandan,
As he hands out yellow ribbons,

And yellow stenciled birds,
Flying on the side of a highway
That has become home to thousands.

Questions, concerns, hesitations,
My head is abuzz and
Second-guessing my heart.

But then a young woman,
Who I may otherwise have walked past
On a crowded street,
Our eyes never to meet,
Offers me a granola bar- and a smile.
And a bespectacled student walks by,
Sharing his portable fan with the crowd,
Breaks through this collection of
Empassioned youth across four districts
Of love and peace.

So I hold my head up,
Wearing my own yellow ribbon,
With pride.

Tonight, on the streets of Central, one of the Occupy organizers I was camped out across from made a call for people to add poetry to the messages they were writing on cardboard with their words of support and love for the movement. I had written this earlier in the day, and decided to write it out and dedicate it to her. Her name was Kylie, and she adored the gesture, almost as much as I adored her and her enthusiasm. I feel pretty excited to have my work out in the world, especially in support of something like this. Here are some articles about what's going on in Hong Kong right now that I think are interesting and informative to read. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Why Slut-Shaming out of a "Regard for Safety" Doesn't Work

I think the world is going through a shift in paradigms. With pop-feminism on the rise, terms like 'rape culture' and 'slut-shaming', which used to be restricted to exclusively feminist spaces are making their way into our mainstream media and everyday conversations. In many places, we are learning not to shame survivors of sexual violence, and most gratifyingly, these progressive steps are being taken in communities and amongst individuals who may not even necessarily align themselves with the feminist movement. In fact, in some ways, one could argue we are on the verge of a cultural shift in terms of how instances of sexual violence are treated; in a way that honours survivors instead of shaming them.

As much as I recognize that we do have a long way to go, I can't begin to describe how happy the direction we seem to be moving in makes me. 

However, I have been noticing a trend that worries me. Among the huge community of well-meaning people who aim to be part of ending sexual violence, many are going about it in a way that continues to place responsibility in the hands of those who experience it. I myself have recently heard a number of versions of this sentiment: "Of course I don't think anybody deserves to be assaulted, but women should know that there are bad people out there- shouldn't they dress more modestly to protect themselves from them? I mean why do they even want to dress that way anyway if they know how people will react?" Although this sentiment doesn't explicitly blame victims, it continues to place responsibility for sexual violence on their shoulders- and it does so by policing their choice of dress. The reason I choose to address it in this post is because I believe that a lot of the people who hold this view or views similar to it mean to empower- and not to shame- and I think if I could perhaps demonstrate the ways in which this attitude is one of slut-shaming, some may reconsider their stance. Because slut-shaming is not only ineffective in an effort to reduce/end sexual violence, it is actively harmful. 

To slut-shame is to misunderstand the nature of sexual violence. Sexual violence, whether it expresses itself in the form of harassment, assault, rape, or anything else, is not about attraction. It is about power, control, and domination. The myth that certain forms of dress or behaviour can instigate sexual violence is perpetuated despite repeated examples against the claim. 

Here's why it's harmful: much of it comes down to space, and how it is occupied. The narrative that is built by asking women to dress conservatively for safety is one that dictates that public spaces are owned by men, and that women are trespassers in them. Because if we believed that women had as much of a claim to public spaces as men do, we would not exclusively tell women* to compromise their freedom (read: the freedom to dress how they want to) in them. Not only does this reinforce the sexist and untrue dichotomy of men as predatory and women as weak, it turns women into second-class citizens in relation to men by placing limits on just the one gender. 

We need to recognize that restricting an individual's freedom does not keep them safe- in fact, it hurts far more than it could ever help. Furthermore, as people concerned with ending sexual violence, our focus should be on those who choose to be violent towards others- because they never share the blame or responsibility for that violence with those they take it out on. To end on a constructive note, here is a great article by Lauren Taylor on effective, supportive ways to participate in actually ending sexual violence!

*Another problem with exclusively giving women (and usually only cis-gender women) "advice" on how to avoid/prevent sexual violence is that it ignores that fact that the group is not the only one that experiences it. But the sexism underlying that is something to be discussed another time. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Duke University Pornstar Wrote An Amazing Open Letter

Earlier this year, news emerged about a freshman at Duke University who has a career as a porn star in order to be able to afford her tuition and other educational costs. In February, she published this open letter in response to all the attention her story was getting. Personally, I am decidedly anti-pornography, because of the socio-cultural repercussions it has in terms of views on sexuality, women, and sex in general. However, the writer makes an extremely valid point about recognizing and respecting diversity; even in the porn industry. 

I maintain: I do not think porn is healthy for our society- and in many ways, I know it is an industry filled with exploitation and unfair double standards. It overwhelmingly portrays an unrealistic, male-centric representation of sex, and many facets of porn propagate the fetishization of various races, homosexual women, and even sexual violence. 

But here are some things I'm being forced to now consider: for this woman, and arguably many other people, acting in pornography can be (and has been) an empowering experience. What *Belle Knox's experience and letter tells me is that nothing is black and white- there is always something and someone who won't fit into the boxes we create to try and make sense of our lives. And these outliers, their experiences, and the challenges they present to our ways of thinking are both necessary and valid. 

One of the most important things that Knox brings up in this letter is the question of the stigmatization- not only of sex workers, but of female sexuality in general. She writes, "We must question in this equation why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized. Why do we exclude them for jobs, education, and from mainstream society? Why do we scorn, threaten and harass them? Why do we deny them of their personhood? Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us so much? The answer is simple. Patriarchy fears female sexuality... I reject this. Instead, what I ask for is simple. I, like all other sex workers, want to be treated with dignity and respect. I want equal representation under the law and within societal institutions. I want people to acknowledge our humanity. I want people to listen to our unique narratives and dialogues." 

With this post, I wanted- mainly- to spread this letter through my networks, and I wanted us to all consider why we shame and stigmatize sex workers and sexual women, instead of challenging, instead, the social practices that oppress and marginalize them. I don't have very much else to add, because I think Knox has put forward a very succinct and meaningful argument, and I have nothing but respect for her. 

I'm not asking you, if you're reading this, to agree completely with everything she writes. I know I don't. I'm simply asking you (and me) to consider the experience of a fellow human being, and question why her means of making an income made headlines, and why we were so offended to hear that a student at a prestigious university could also be a sex worker on the side. What does that say about the stereotypes we hold about sex workers? About students? About women in general? The virgin/whore dichotomy is a myth, and the sexuality of women is not something to be hidden away or demonized. More importantly, the personal choices made by an educated, intelligent, independent woman are not ours to criticise- advice and abusive criticism about her as a person, and about her work are unsolicited and unnecessary. If you're really so concerned about morality within the porn industry, maybe start with doing something about the many trafficked workers in pronography; you'd do a lot more good to the world than you would sending emails to somebody about what a "whore" you think they are. 

As much as it may wound the notions and ideas we've been socialized to believe, I think we should swallow our pride and take some inspiration from a porn star who has, I think, a lot to teach us. 

*Belle Knox is the student's screen name, I refer to it because she prefers to keep her off-screen, personal life private. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Feminist Media Criticism- Why We Need It

Trigger Warning: rape jokes, rape culture

Cartoon by Kara Passey

I want to talk about this because I spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, listening to music, watching movies; essentially, consuming media. I am also a feminist and spend a lot of time on feminist websites, blogs, and magazines reading feminist media criticism and participating in conversations about it.

I’ve had conversations with people who don’t necessarily identify as feminists and feel like this criticism is far fetched and/or unnecessary because after all we’re usually talking about fiction, and it’s “just entertainment”, and other arguments that basically say we’re overreacting or reading too deeply into something when we participate in feminist media criticism. I also have a lot of feminist friends, like me, whom I’ve talked to about sometimes feeling overwhelmed because no matter where we look we find something problematic- it’s sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, or some other discriminatory point of view, if not a combination of them. There was an article on The Onion  that I read recently about a woman who “took a break from being a feminist” in order to be able to just enjoy a TV show- I think a TLC one, about a bride to be finding her dress *cue eye-rolling*. I’ll be honest; that article stung, and my initial reaction was “PFFSSHHTT THIS IS DUMB AND RUDE AND TYPICAL, THEY DON’T EVEN GET WHY WE DO THIS***”. So with that in mind, I thought I’d discuss why we do do it (ha ha- I said doodoo). I'll add that I don’t even think you have to “take a break from feminism” to be able to watch or enjoy a show like that.

I think feminist media criticism is actually really important and really necessary. I can’t speak for all feminists, but I do think that generally, as a movement, we are not about stifling voices or taking away people’s rights to believe what they want to, or their freedom to express those beliefs and views. So, I personally don’t think feminist media criticism is ever calling for people to stop making art or stop putting their voices out there, I think it is simply calling for people to recognize what might be problematic in some of the views that are put out there, so that we aren’t just internalizing them without giving them a second, deeper thought.  

For example, let’s talk about the show How I Met Your Mother, which is an example of a TV show I absolutely cannot stand anymore, now that I can see all these (in my opinion) shitty messages that are wrapped up in it. However, when I – and other feminists- criticize the characters and themes in this show, we’re not calling for the show to stop existing, or for people to stop viewing and enjoying it. We’re simply- or at least I am- calling for people to recognize that if we blindly accept a lot of the messages that come through this show, we’re going to end up normalizing certain sexist and misogynistic ideas. To me, the issue is not the existence of the awful character of Barney Stinson; the issue is that our culture glorifies him and his objectifying, rape-ey views. Feminist media criticism comes into play here because it makes us aware that these themes exist in the show, and it tells us why they are harmful to us as a society. And as long as we know and recognize that, (and we’re not making excuses for it), then we can continue to watch and enjoy the show for its other, comedic aspects. I mean, if we have to *more eye rolling*.

Personally, my guilty pleasure show is 2 Broke Girls, which receives- and rightfully so- a lot of heat for making jokes about violence and rape and that is really just never okay, because it trivializes pain that is very real for a lot of people. So when I do watch 2 Broke Girls, I’m aware of these jokes being made, and because I’m actively reading the show as a text, I’m able to stop myself from internalizing its harmful messages, and normalizing something unacceptable. Without condoning the humour employed in it which can be tasteless, I will admit I do enjoy a lot of aspects of this show- I mean, it is one of the few that passes the Bechdel test!

So, in a nutshell, my argument is that we need feminist media criticism because it makes us better educated consumers of media, so we are aware of discriminatory views expressed in media, and we have more control over how much we let media influence us. And that’s great because it gives us more agency and more power in how we perceive and eventually accept or reject ideas. I mean, it’s always going to be better for you to know more than less, right? 

*** Having said that, I have to admit, I get it. Ever since I got more interested and involved in feminism, there are admittedly fewer and fewer movies, TV shows, songs, books, etc. that I can enjoy with a clear conscience- whenever Blurred Lines plays when I’m out with friends, I literally sit down until the song is over, knowing this doesn’t actually change anything for anyone else. I guess it’s just so I know I’m not participating in ‘okay-ing’ the awful example of rape culture that is that song.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's five syllables

We repeat it over and over as a class
It's a tough word to get right.

You see how it rolls off your tongue?

Maybe I'll get it tattooed on my lower back
Or horizontally along my waist
Ha! Wouldn't that just take all the Individuellement out of it?

At this point I've forgotten what it means

Maybe I should spend more time on French
Maybe I should spend more time on me


Class goes on
"Les verbes pronominaux are verbs you do to yourself by yourself"
No, that's not quite what I meant.

You see how it rolls off your tongue?

Monday, 10 June 2013


If I told you a story about a young child,
In your mind's eye would you picture a young girl or a boy?

"He who is wise does blah blah blah"
"Patient is he who blah blah blah"
"A good man is he who blah blah blah"

Should I ignore my inner protests,
Should I focus on just the message?
Do they expect me to truly relate?

What would they think if I were to say she? Her? Woman?

Would we tell young boys proverbs in the form of she?
And if they said they couldn't relate, would we think it silly?

Why should I accept he, when he won't accept she, and by extension- me!
Why should I be flexible when he remains rigid?

I am not a fanatic,
I am not an extremist
I am not a "feminazi"

I am a woman.
And I haven't been blinded.
And I refuse to be silenced, subdued.

She who can see refuses to be subdued.