Archive for January, 2017

I recently read Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. I liked it, for the most part. I agreed with a lot of what she was saying about mainstream feminism and the tendency to ignore marginalized populations in conversations about feminism. I certainly identified with her “bad feminist” label because I too like music that a feminist shouldn’t and have other similar faults. But I found some of her essays somewhat contradictory and problematic as I went on. I didn’t really have a name for what I was feeling about her writing until a conversation I had with my sister about the book. She used the term “call-out activism” and I knew immediately that that’s what I felt about some of Gay’s writing.

To me, call-out activism is the tendency in activism to point out every tiny problem with anything they are currently attacking. There is no forgiveness for human error or acknowledgement of small steps being taken. If it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. Where I found this to be most problematic in Bad Feminist was in the essays on the film industry. I will admit that, as an actor, I’m naturally protective of the industry but I think that I also hold it to a fairly high degree of scrutiny. Many of the essays in this portion of the book are about a specific movie or TV show. Many of them called these specific shows out for not being 100% accurate to what is statistically likely and not showing the lives of average people. Absolutely. She is completely justified in making these claims but she ignores that there is a reason for this and that reason is not that filmmakers are deliberately setting out to marginalize or misrepresent people. I work with a dramaturg who has a saying that sums this up very succinctly: “Worst days and best days, not Tuesdays.” And she’s right. No one wants to watch a show or a movie about the girl who gets up, goes to work, goes to the gym, goes home, cooks dinner and goes to bed day in and day out. That’s BORING and there’s absolutely no fodder for drama, or comedy for that matter, in that. Is there too much stereotyping in Hollywood? Absolutely. Is there too much male-dominated media in Hollywood? Of course there is. Is there enough diversity in leading and other roles in Hollywood? Not even close. But you can’t expect people to tell 100% accurate-to-life stories all the time. First of all because sometimes they just want to tell fairy-tale stories and second of all because no one wants to see realistic stories all the time. Real life is depressing and people generally consume popular media as a means to escape that, not to be slapped in the face with it. I absolutely agree that Hollywood, and even the indie film scene, have a lot of work to do to be better representative of their audiences I just don’t think that everyone needs to do it all the time.

Which brings me back to call-out activism. I spent a lot of my younger days distancing myself from any kind of activism. In high school I had friends who were protesting at city hall and circulating petitions about X, Y, or Z on a weekly basis. I didn’t disagree with them and I admired their commitment to their causes but I was always hesitant to jump in head first as they did. I saw the problems they were trying to tackle but I also saw a lot of unrealistic expectations for how and when these problems would be solved. Similarly, I never realized that I was a feminist until late in university because I’m not one of those 1970s angry ones (although I definitely have my fair share of feminist anger) and I like shaving my legs (when I remember). I just didn’t realize that you could embrace that label without being loud and hating everyone and everything for not being good enough. I prefer a more personal form of activism in which I can make commitments to changing my own views and calling out counter-productive discourse in my own circles. I believe we have a lot of work to do in the world but I don’t believe that this call-out style of activism is a productive way to get us there. As my sister said, “this is why no one takes that style of activism seriously, we need strategy”. We need to look at what goals we can achieve right away, on a small scale, before we tackle The Man and all of those other deeply-rooted, massive-scale problems.


Thoughts on Going Too Far

Every joke has a point where it goes too far. But what is that point and how do we react to it? (I’m speaking specifically of the differences between men and women here, of course.) Well, let me tell you a story.

There was a boy. There was a girl. They decided to make a go of a relationship. At first, things were as they always are, tentative, nervous, careful. As time went on they began to feel more comfortable with each other. For the girl this meant falling asleep more easily, picking girlier movies, getting a little bit tipsy. For the boy it meant holding the girl’s wrists even though he knew it made her nauseous, tickling her until she cried, making fun of her profession. The girl hated these things, she really did, and she did not attempt to hide this from the boy. A little joking never hurt anyone but he always went too far. And when he did the girl would say so and the boy would laugh because he did not understand and the girl would remain silent. She would “let it go” immediately because this is what had to be done to maintain harmony in their relationship. One day, the girl went too far, not consciously, it was just an instinctive reaction, but it happened. And the boy? He did not let it go as the girl had always done. He reacted exactly as she always wanted to react but never could. He gave her the cold shoulder and the silent treatment and she could feel the hatred and anger emanating from his body.

This story is fictional but it is based on truth. It is based on a truth that I have known my whole life but have only recently become consciously aware of. As women we are socially conditioned to take whatever is thrown at us. We are not allowed to stand up for ourselves; we are not allowed to assert our boundaries. Any boundaries we set are set to be broken. Our feelings are negotiable. Men, on the other hand, can do as they please. They can cross boundaries without a second thought but they can exact harsh punishment when someone serves them the same dish. This is not the fault of any individual man with whom I, or any other woman, have encountered this problem but of the same society that conditions women to be complacent and forgiving. This same society gives men an inherent advantage because that is just the way it has always been. That is patriarchy.

I get angry when someone tries to tell me that the patriarchy is dead, that we’ve solved the problem, because things are “getting better.” If by getting better you mean that women in the Western world have mostly gained the same rights as men then sure, I guess you’re right. If you ignore women in developing countries who are still fighting for the right to education and independence then sure, I guess you’re right. If you ignore the ongoing attempts in North America to legislate the female body in ways that would never even be considered for the male body then sure, I guess you’re right. And if you ignore all of these simple, small differences in the ways that it is socially acceptable for men and women to behave then sure, I guess you’re right. But if by getting better you mean that men and women are becoming equal in rights, in what is socially acceptable for them, in workplace compensation then you are very, very wrong. We still have a long way to go and from my humble view down here in the middle class, it starts with individual interactions. The whole top down thing is not working so we need to start going bottom up. As women, we need to start asserting our rights and boundaries with the men in our lives before we can start trying to change the Donald Trumps and Stephen Harpers of the world. As men we need to start respecting, and I mean actually respecting with actions, the women in our lives before we can recognize the larger issues of which we are, deliberately or not, a part. We’re not going to change society in a day but we can start dismantling it piece by piece until we’re ready to put it back together.

Thoughts on Settling

I have a problem, an internal conflict that has been raging for months, possibly even years.

I believe whole heartedly in being where you are and accepting your situation. It’s important, I think, to make the most of what you have. This is where you are right now so why spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, doing something else, being someone else? It’s a waste of energy and you are never going to be happy if that’s all you do. Right?

I believe whole heartedly in not settling. It’s important, I think, to go after what you want. To not settle for your temporary job because it’s safe and you can pay the bills. To not settle for your city because it’s convenient and familiar. Everyone has dreams and I believe fully in following those dreams. If you want to climb mountains, you’ll never be happy sitting at a desk. If you want to make art, you’re never going to be happy pushing paper. So don’t settle, pursue your dreams even though they’re hard and seem unattainable. You’ll never know until you try and if you still don’t get there, at least you gave it your all.

So, you see, I have a problem. I believe, with all my being, in two very opposite ways of living your life. On any given day I am fully committed to one or the other. I can’t decide which one I believe in more because I don’t want them to be mutually exclusive. I want there to be a way to find balance. You have to pay the bills but you have to keep your soul alive too. But how? How do you have a full time job when following your dreams can be a full time job all on its own? I’ve been wrestling with this for what seems like forever and I still don’t have an answer.

 I spent months being miserable at a job I loved. Oxymoronic? Maybe, but I was growing restless and the politics of it all were getting in the way of enjoying the work I loved. So I quit. I just up and quit one day and moved on to something else. And now I’ve been in this new position a mere three weeks and I’m ready to move on again. I don’t love this work, I’m hardly making more money than I was before and I miss the work family I had built at my old job. But am I just experiencing growing pains? Should I push through the misery and accept where I am? Should I embrace the time I have to read and write and think? Or should I kick this place to the curb and spend some time actively pursuing my long-term goals? I meditate on this question for hours every day and I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe the answer is, I’ll never figure out the answer. And either way, I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. Every situation, every dream, every person are different and that’s what makes it so hard. I can’t just hit up Dr. Google for the cure. My parents are pretty smart folks but they can’t tell me what’s right and wrong anymore. My boyfriend is supportive and caring but he can’t fix this one for me no matter how much he wants to. Maybe the answer is that I’ll never figure out the answer and I just have to plug along as best I can. I know I can’t get too comfortable in a place I know I don’t want to stay but the tricky part is knowing how long to accept where I am before going after what I want again. For now, I’ll just sit here with my tea and my long, boring days and bide my time.