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Slut-Shaming: You’re Never Too Young

15 Jun

I was in a packed subway cart the other day, trying to mind my own business as three tween girls sat on the seats just in front of me. Against my better judgment, I eves-dropped:

“Carla’s slept with over nine men in the last year. She’s only fifteen,” declared a preppy-looking tween brunette, triumphantly.

The two girls sitting on either side of her gasped. Their mouths were wide open.

“She told me it was three,” said the blonde one to the right.

“Nope,” said the preppy-looking tween in the middle.

“She told me it was one,” said the other brunette, to the left.

“Nope,” she repeated once more, smugly. “Nine. And she just turned fifteen.”

She had a look of satisfaction on her face, happy to gain the upper-hand over another girl in their little friendship circle. She felt proud to have the other girls hanging on her every word as she ripped apart a friend of hers who was not even present to talk back, spilling a secret that was told to her in confidence — or maybe never told at all, and entirely fabricated by the preppy brunette, in an attempt to social climb by stomping over a former friend, once higher up on the ladder.

I moved to another part of the TTC and thought about what I had just witnessed. The infamous triple-threat: the words “slut,” “bitch,” and “whore,” were not used. Still, a young girl had just been slut-shamed. These girls must have only been ninth-graders, and already it was starting.

I wondered if this had ever happened to me in my youth, and if I was even aware if it had. Not necessarily with slut-shaming, but with any secret I may have told a high school or middle-school girlfriend of mine in confidence. Had they betrayed me behind my back? Worse, have I ever done it to someone else?

 

The answer to both questions is “yes.” When I think back to fifth grade, I remember being part of a group of five girls. One day we would all be friends, the next day, Sandra would be in the dog house. We’d hate her for a day or two, then we’d all be friends again. The day after that, it would be Lola. More often than not, it would be me.

But it was never Brittany — the unspoken, but unequivocal Queen Bee. I remember that nearing the end of the year, I tried to dethrone her — I had actually dared to plot an uprising — but it was unsuccessful, and I was permanently exiled from our little circle.

I went to the teacher about it, because I hadn’t fully understood what had happened. Why was I so hated all of a sudden?

“It’s normal,” said the teacher, brushing me off. “I remember being ten. One day we’d all hate this one girl named Taylor. The next day, we’re all best friends. It’s part of being a kid. Your emotions are intense at that age, but it isn’t actually a big deal.”

I learned later on that it was a big deal: it was bullying. And I had been a part of it. By associating with Brittany, I had actually taken part in the bullying of other girls, and I got my karma for it.

Yet I feel like I was the lucky one in the group. Though I can’t say if I completely made up for my behaviour, I apologized to a couple of other girls I’d been catty to in the past.  I made new friends. I moved on. I never needed to talk to Brittany again, unlike the other girls, who still spoke to her every day for the rest of the school year.

Ironically, today (over a decade later), each of us are still Facebook friends except Brittany. I totally tried to Facebook creep her, but couldn’t find her. I sometimes wonder what happened to her, but when it comes down to it I don’t really care.

I don’t mean to offend anyone with this statement, and you’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but I truly think that at the end of the day, women are the most oppressed group in the world. We are oppressed in a unique way, often more subtly than other disadvantaged groups, because those who hate us are still forced to interact with us on a daily basis — we are a highly visible minority, not really a minority at all.

Someone with an extreme hatred for blacks/gays/hispanics/people with disabilities may have never knowingly interacted with someone in that group in their lives. But misogynists still have mothers who are women. They may have sisters, aunts, and often even girlfriends or wives. They likely work with women. They pass women on the street every day. They see us on TV (although we’re usually not very well-portrayed) and they hear our songs on the radio.

 

So in North American culture, misogyny is rampant, but subtle, and this makes it very dangerous. A lot of the time, we don’t even know that we are being discriminated against. We are allowed to be visible in public space, yet we are still up for scrutiny, often at the hands of other women. We are not well-portrayed even in our own movies. Films aimed at women such as chick flicks and rom coms teach us that to get a man,we must be pretty, chaste, whimsical, and most importantly of all, stupid. Our identity is based on our appeal to men (i.e. how attractive we are, how thin, whether or not we’re “good girls”…) rather than on any aspect of our true character. We are discouraged to display our individuality, and this makes us feel very unimportant. We take this out on each other.

Patriarchy has flourished so astoundingly in our culture in many ways because we women ourselves have bought into it. Even in high school and middle school, we slut-shame each other, spreading rumours about each other’s sexual activity and making fun of each other for wearing “revealing” clothes. The most common insults among teenage female cyber bulliers are “ugly” and “slut.” The preoccupation of our society on female sexual behaviour is perverse. It is absolutely nobody’s business, and it speaks nothing of who we are as a human being. To insult a girl or woman based on something so shallow is an insult to her humanity. It is devaluing to imply that a woman,  even a girl, can amount to no more than a pretty face or a good lay.

Yet these activities are encouraged by the administration. I still remember being called into the principal’s office in grade twelve for wearing that short skirt, and being asked about my sexual history. I was eighteen years old, and I found it ludicrous that even as a young adult I was not allowed to make decisions for myself about how I should present myself. I was told I could be suspended for “distracting” other kids. At that point, it didn’t matter that I was an honours student with almost straight 90s, and that I had gotten accepted to university on scholarship. I was a “bad girl” because I was a “distraction,” and it didn’t matter that calling me into the office during class hours was actually more of a distraction for me. I remember being happy it was late June, and that I would be graduating and entering the adult world soon enough, where I could put this behind me.

 

But it wasn’t behind me. I’ve witnessed slut-shaming all my life. It’s everywhere I go, even on the TTC. What’s truly shocking is woman-on-woman bashing. It needs to stop.

When we are young, our teachers and school administrations may condone it, along with our movies, our songs, and even our books. When we enter the work force, our bosses and colleagues may encourage it. Woman-bashing and slut-shaming is completely institutionalized.

I’m tired of this ubiquitous insanity, and I’m done with waiting around. I would like to define myself before I let the patriarchy tell me how I should be. I implore all women to take a stand against slut-shaming, even if only an internal one, because the most powerful ammo that the patriarchy holds against us is internalized hatred. So next time you catch yourself judging another woman, call yourself out. I encourage you to question yourself.

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Colonialism is Racism

29 Nov

Canada’s educational system needs to get it together, especially when it comes to discussing colonialism.

Colonialism is an ideology of oppression that requires a hierarchical, dualistic view. When European explorers first “discovered” a world that other humans had long-since known to be there, these colonialists quickly divided humans into categories of “us” and “them,” making colonialism synonymous with racism, sexism, and homophobia.

European colonialism has always thought in binaries: god/devil, heaven/hell, man/woman, white/black, humans/nature…etc., with the former always “above” the latter. It is disappointing to me that from primary school up until post-secondary, us Canadian students are never taught to critique colonialism. Few history professors dare to expose this ideology for the white-heterosexual-male supremism that it represents. Perhaps they are scared. Or perhaps they just don’t know. Some friends of mine have said that our curriculum is Eurocentric; that it only represents the history of one group. I would go even farther and say that it is no one’s history–it is non-history.

My first experience learning non-history was back in seventh grade. Our history class consisted of memorizing a series of names: Samuel de Champlain, John A MacDonald, Christopher Columbus, and a bunch of other dead white dudes. We learned about the battles over Canada between the British and the French; the Native population was non-existent. Or maybe they just didn’t matter enough to be mentioned in our textbooks. When they were mentioned, it was in passing, such as when one of my teachers told us, “there were some Native Canadians around who allied themselves with various white male “discovers,” “explorers,” or “heroes,” if you will, but they died on contact because “they did not have the vaccinations to protect themselves against European illnesses.” Something about that phrase always made me wonder what more went on that remained unsaid in our textbooks. The vaccinations could easily have been shipped along with the thousands of Europeans coming in, but they weren’t. They weren’t because the genocide was intentional, although no teacher would ever say this aloud, in fear of being politically incorrect. Positive Aboriginal role models like Louis Reil are either ignored by the educational system or mentioned with slight contempt. And one of Canada’s cruelest politicians, Duncan Campbell Scott, is having his name purged from our history.

Canadian history is taught as revolving around the British and the French despite that the true founding fathers arrived tens of thousands of years earlier, and we are taught useless tidbits about these two colonial groups, such as who attacked who, what battle strategies they used, the various treaties that were signed and the dates they were signed on (but not what they entailed), and more political jargon. Author Adam Hochschild says “treaties are a euphemism.”

The truth about history is that it is not a dry, apolitical, and impersonal non-history. History shapes the lives of real people, especially those that remain unmentioned in our textbooks.

XOX or WTF? Gossip Girl and misogyny

30 May

Gossip Girl is an insanely popular show with a huge fan base, so I really hope I am not the only person who finds it completely messed up that in the pilot episode of Gossip Girl, Chuck tried to rape Jenny, but then two seasons later (S3, E 22 – Last Tango, Then Paris) they have “consensual” sex?

GG used to be kind of a guilty pleasure for me. I wasn’t delusional; I was aware that my age-group wan’t exactly its target audience, but I was absolutely in love with the idea of New York: the lifestyle, the scenery, so I supposed the show had its redeeming qualities.

Yet if I had a little sister, I’m not sure that I’d have ever wanted her watching it.

This wasn’t even Chuck’s first case of sexual assault: earlier in the episode, he had also attacked Serena after confronting her for sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend. When Serena helped Jenny escape from Chuck before it was too late, his response was, “Your life is over, slut!”

The preachy, stifling attitude that most characters had towards Serena and her sexuality were annoying at best, and downright bigoted at worst. I disliked that the character who had once been described by her lover Dan as someone who “never apologizes for who she is” soon became reduced to a “reformed bad girl” by the writers. How boring! Her character became completely  irrelevant, as even Gossip Girl herself admitted during their graduation.

It still bothers me that Serena had to be re-written as a “good girl with a past” to be accepted. Meanwhile, Chuck suffered zero ramifications for his actions with Serena, sending the message to young viewers that while promiscuous sex is just about the worst thing a woman can do, there’s nothing wrong with a man assaulting a “slut” who probably “asked for it.”

And the misogyny only worsened from there:

Last Tango, Then Paris, is a deeply disturbing episode wherein an underage Jenny loses her virginity to a would-be rapist and a repeat offendor, Chuck. It certainly ended with that “OMG” bang that GG writers will strive for at any cost, but not in the way you’d hope to see.

I needed to know if others shared my views, so I went online to see what people had posted. I came across an interview with the writers, and I thought that this was a good way to see how they would justify their plot twist. The answer was horrifying:

“It’s a move that’s been in the DNA of the show since the first episode,” revealed co-writer Josh Schwartz.

O-M-G, I thought to myself. So Chuck trying to rape Jenny is a precursor to them having relations later on? What message does this send for young viewers? I wondered. I read on:

“That relationship is something that was in the pilot—it was Chuck being a predator. And here they meet in a place where they are almost equals, in terms of where they are emotionally. It was a way to track the evolution of the characters over three seasons,” Schwartz continued.

Co-writer Stephanie Savage added, “Jenny at her lowest is choosing to do the thing that she so resisted doing in the pilot, and Chuck at his lowest does the act that he’s been so remorseful for since the pilot.”

Obviously, he wasn’t all that remorseful.

Secondly, I would argue with the statement that Chuck and Jenny were even close to being equals in any way. The class, gender, and highschool-clique differences are astounding enough, but the reactions of the other characters revealed who was truly on top in our misogynistic society.

Rather than confronting Chuck, Blair instead turned her anger towards the under-aged Jenny, slut-shamed her, and “banished” her from NYC, thus branding her like a character in an 1850s Hawthorne novel, except this show lacked that isn’t-this-backwards double-meaning.

Jenny has since been removed from Gossip Girl, and is no longer allowed in the city without special permission from Blair. She was only seventeen years old and basically branded a dirty whore and ran out of town.

Rather than confronting Chuck, even Jenny’s father Rufus was upset with his daughter, quick to send her off to her mother’s for her own “good” and “a fresh start.”

Because men always know what’s best for women–which is clearly whatever ensures that she maintains her honour and chastity.

And although Rufus wasn’t exactly eager to forgive Jenny, her dad really jumped on board when it came to forgiving Chuck. In Season 4, episode 3, The Undergraduates, Rufus buried the hatched altogether, remarking that “Jenny keeps telling me it wasn’t [Chuck’s] fault. Maybe it’s time I believed her.”

Not his fault that he took advantage of an under-age girl at a time when she was vulnerable?

Am I the only person who finds this to be ludicrous parental behaviour?

And why are Chuck and Dan friends for a brief moment in Season 5? Why are they even talking?

Glorifying assault as some sort of sexy forshadowing for subsequent liasons is not only repulsive, but sends extremely oppressive messages for female sexuality at a time when girls are just starting puberty and coming to understand who they are sexually.

PS – Did Chuck seriously try to pawn Blair in a business deal in Season 4? Wtf?! Why isn’t he in jail yet??

reverse racism = non-existent

26 Apr

The recent number of blog posts and comments on news articles or YouTube pages I’ve read about the horrors of “reverse racism” and the “perks” of being a minority are deeply disturbing.* “Racialized” peoples are the ones who get the breaks and should stop whining about the myth of the unequal playing field and accept the fact that affirmative action is, in fact, just another one of our government’s confounded ways to cater to new immigrants and screw over “real Canadians.”

The truth is, that Canada is a white supremacist country. I am not trying to be incendiary. I am not trying to exaggerate; it’s a fact. You do not have to be a minority to know this, but you do have to consider your surroundings critically.

Yes, not all Canadians are racists, and yes, things are slowly but surely improving. But frankly, Canada’s hegemonic ideology towards race can best be described as backwards. This is reflected through immigration policies, hiring practices, and our struggle against police brutality. Racism is about power, and in Canada, the minorities simply do not have it. Therefore, reverse racism cannot exist–especially on an institutional level.

When humans speak out against racism, they are often branded as “reverse racists,” or “suck ups,” or derisively chirped for being too “politically correct.” I am so, so sick of hearing, and reading, and seeing this attitude everywhere I go. Even in academia.

I attend one of the largest, most urbanized, and diverse campuses in all of North America, but the battle is not even close to being won when it comes to racism.

With election time fast approaching, on one recent occasion, I made the mistake of getting into a discussion with one of my faculty admins about politics. (Ironically, the Eurocentrism in my program is so intense that is a wonder people can describe my field as “liberal arts”).** This person favoured a candidate who would close the doors on immigration. I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows, which apparently sent the admin into some sort of frenzy:

“These immigrants! They come here, to my country, and the government gives them everything. Free houses, benefits…what of Canadian culture? It was one thing when the settlers came here—yes, they were from all over—but they all identified as Canadians.*** These immigrants, they come here, they speak their Hindu—”

“—Hindi,” I interjected on impulse. Mistake number two.

“I don’t care! I shouldn’t have to know that! I am not ignorant! These people are in my country; they should be learning about my culture.”

The admin apparently noticed the now-palpable look of horror on my face, for the admin proceeded to smile and say, “I’m just joking.” And that was it. The admin was done talking  to at me, and back to normal again. The episode was over.

Racism is ubiquitous in Canada, but it’s just below the surface. All you need to do is scratch a little to reveal the cracks. And this admin was certainly cracked.

______

* This problematic way of thinking is akin to the equally upsetting “of course no one chooses to be gay because no would wish to go hell!” theorization on which I will probably blog another day.

** Eurocentrism in academia: another subject for another day.

*** No, they do not get free houses. And these “benefits” are given much more generously to European immigrants. In fact, one in three homeless people in Toronto are recent immigrants. Moreover, the “settlers from all over [West Europe] were in it for the land grab, not for the “unifying Canadian identity.” I’d like to hear what an Aboriginal Canadian would have to say to this admin person!