Category: Uncategorized


I’ve been trying, desperately to do two things this year. One, develop a regular habit of going to the gym. Yeah, yeah I know. Typical New Year’s Resolution thing but the difference for me is that I’m actually training for something. I have an end goal and I’m serious about reaching it. And two, stop casually buying so much food. Bagel here, cinnamon bun there, dinner because I didn’t feel like packing it, breakfast sandwich because I felt like it, that kind of thing. So far, I have to say, I’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve only bought dinner once because I didn’t pack it and lunch once because I literally dropped the one I’d packed on the floor. I’ve only had one week where I didn’t make my goal of three times per week (2/3 isn’t the end of the world, right?). This may not sound impressive but to have kept up these habits for two whole months while working two jobs and rehearsing a show (and trying to keep my relationship afloat) is honestly a huge accomplishment for me. I am the QUEEN of giving up. One bad day, one bad week and I am the first person to throw in the towel and decide it’s all for naught. This is an impulse I have been battling my whole life and, so far, I’m losing the war. Sticking to it is hard. I don’t understand those people who work a lot but also eat healthy and have crazy muscles and also pursue dreams and volunteer and have hobbies and maintain successful relationships and… Sorry, I’m getting off-track. But, for real, it blows my mind. I admire those people and their self-discipline and self-control. Maybe they work just as hard at it as I do but they make it seem so effortless and sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair.

All of this is a long winded way to admit that the other day, I had a bad day. I felt really sick all day, I was exhausted from a long week (like almost-falling-asleep-at-my-desk exhausted) and I was absolutely dreading my post-work workout and then post-workout rehearsal. I wanted so badly to skip the workout to go home and take a nap and then to call in sick to rehearsal and go to bed. Like so bad. But. I didn’t do it. I dragged my feet into my car and used all my willpower for my arms to guide my car to my gym and not to my house. I dragged my feet and forced myself through my planned workout. Yes, I went a little easier than I might normally but I didn’t skimp on my cardio time and I only allowed myself to go five pounds lighter on the weights. Did I feel energized and chipper afterwards? Honestly? No. I still felt like total shit. I was still nauseous, I still had a headache and now I was even more tired than before and also sore. And, I still kind of wished I’d gone home for the nap but still, I’d done it. I’ve probably never walked so slowly and pathetically in my life but I dragged my butt into the car and away from home, towards rehearsal. Which led to my second predicament. All I wanted was a bagel. A double toasted bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese and a peppermint tea instead of the shepherd’s pie and slightly limp peppers waiting in my trunk; just some comfort food for a long and terrible day. Also, I was early and I have a bad habit of going to get food to kill time when I’m exorbitantly early, as I often am. I allowed myself the tea but skipped the bagel. I ate the shepherd’s pie. (I skipped the peppers.)

So what did I do yesterday? I went to the gym and I ate the dinner I’d packed for myself (sort of). It doesn’t seem like much but the point is that it’s important to acknowledge the little victories, whatever they may be. For someone else, this may be nothing. But for me, queen of giving up when I just don’t feel like trying anymore, this is a small victory of a day that will help me when I come up against bigger, more difficult challenges in my journey to be a better version of myself.  I’m going to win this war, one little victory at a time.

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Thoughts on Taking a Step Back

I read something recently about “earnest prayer.” I’m not, nor have I ever been, religious but I will admit that sometimes I long for the solace of prayer and believing that there is someone there listening. Sometimes I find life so overwhelmingly complicated that I yearn to be able to put it in the hands of someone else. Unfortunately for me, I just can’t bring myself to really believe in a higher power nor do I even believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that you make what happens and that sometimes pure chance either helps you out or knocks you down. Nonetheless, this earnest prayer that I was reading about was from a lifelong actor who prayed that her call to the theatre would be taken away from her until she was ready to go back to it and this struck a chord with me.

I’ve been out of theatre school for the better part of two years and have done exactly one project that I cared about. One single project that filled my artistic cup and made me remember all the reasons I got into this messy life in the first place. Sure, I’ve worked on half a dozen shows in this time period but most of them were the bottom of the barrel. Take-what-you-can-get kind of stuff and I can’t seem to “get” anything worth doing. I feel out of my element and lost. I feel like I’m drowning in the overwhelming task of making a life in the theatre. I love it. I do. There is nothing in life that gets me more passionate and feeling more alive than working on something that I love but all of these projects I’ve been doing just to do something have left me feeling drained, frustrated and hopeless. Which is why, lately, I’ve been wondering if this is the right path for me and why reading about that prayer nearly brought me to tears.

I’ve been considering the idea of just giving up. Of packing up my vocal warmups and my transitive verbs and my clown nose and putting them in a box in the darkest corner of my proverbial closet but every time I get close to a decision I get scared. I’ve done basically nothing with my life in the last 16 years that didn’t revolve around theatre. I don’t have any other passions in life. There are other things I like, other things I enjoy but there is nothing else that I have ever encountered that makes me feel the way theatre does. So if I give that up, what do I have? And if I give that up, how do I hold on to my pride and my identity? What will my theatre school friends think? How many I-told-you-so’s will I have to listen to from my friends and family who have always thought I was out to lunch to even go to theatre school in the first place?

I know I could never give it up forever. That is not an option but I am exhausted from failure. I have completely and totally failed in pursuing my dreams and while that is not necessarily a bad thing (all good theatre emerges from failure, after all) it is demoralizing and I can feel my spirit breaking. I just need a break. I need some time to figure out what I really want in life and to revitalize my will to get there. Writing this down is the closest I have ever come to speaking these words out loud. And, of course, we all know that saying it out loud makes it real. I’m still not ready to do it for real, I don’t think, but I’m getting closer. So, I guess in a way, this is my version of an earnest prayer and boy is it ever scary.

I wish that somehow this could be easier or that someone could just hand me a neat and tidy solution but life’s not like that. There are no pamphlets or neon signs or perfect little ribbon-y bows, there is just a mess of desire, emotion and fact that never seem to get along. But If I can’t find revitalization from what I love then maybe the only answer is to leave it be. I’ll come back to it, I know I will, but maybe, just maybe, now is not the right time to be in it.

Thoughts on Traveling

I have never traveled much. I wasn’t one of those kids that got to go on big, cool trips all the time. We mostly spend time going to visit family or doing smaller scale trips around North America and that was great. But I’ve always had a strong urge to go farther afield. In short, I want to see the world but there have always been things standing in my way. I was in school. I needed to work summers to afford school. I couldn’t study abroad because I’d miss out on important opportunities at home. I had just graduated so I needed to save up first. I didn’t have anyone to travel with. I started a new job and I can’t just quit in under a year.

I’ve started to realize though that I might be exaggerating these excuses just a bit. None of them are completely made up but none of them are necessarily good enough reasons to stay at home and work a boring job and live a boring life. I think what I’ve realized is that I’m actually just scared. I’m afraid to take a big trip because I don’t know how to get around in non-English speaking countries. I’m afraid of not knowing what I’ll do for work when I get back. I’m afraid of traveling on my own because what if I get lost or lonely? And what I realized just yesterday is that I’m afraid to leave the country because my family members have this annoying habit of dying. I’ve lost a lot of people in the last few years, most of them too young and a lot of them unexpectedly. What I hadn’t realized until now is that I’m so afraid of being away when the next one goes that I’ve been making excuses for years to stay close to home, just in case. I’m a dreamer at heart but my brain has turned me unexpectedly into a homebody.

The fear of being lost or finding a new job will, I think, be easily conquered. The fear of being on another continent when I lose someone I love though, probably not so much. But isn’t the whole lesson that life is too short? I know that better than a lot of people so why am I letting it keep me in a place that I’m not happy? Knowledge is power and I’m trying to use this new knowledge to give me the power to make a promise to myself that once my year at this new job is up, I’ll be ready to conquer (or at least mitigate) my fear and get on a plane.

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.

Thoughts on Next Steps

Whenever a chapter of your life is coming to an end the people in your life seem to become obsessed with what you’re planning to do next. What are you doing? When are you doing it? Where are you going? What’s your five year plan?? When are you getting a boyfriend and getting married and having kids??? Where are you going to retire???? When I graduated last year this was all I heard. Okay, to be fair, no one actually asked me where I was going to retire but my whole summer was spent awkwardly side-stepping questions about my future that I wasn’t ready to answer yet. Friends, family, co-workers, professors, literally everyone I knew needed to know right-this-very-second what I was going to do next. I mean seriously people, hold the phone. I just graduated ten seconds ago can we take some time to let that sink in before planning my retirement party?

Honestly, I hated talking to people after I graduated. It was exhausting. I spent so much time and energy making vague statements about possible opportunities that I was basically making up just to get them to shut up and laughing off my unemployment/not-in-my-field employment to people I shouldn’t have had to justify my life to. Because I shouldn’t have had to justify my life to anyone. Everyone’s post-grad journey is different and there’s no one right way to do it but everyone around me was making me feel like I was doing it wrong.

Everyone was so concerned with what I was doing, or not doing, but no one, not one single person, asked me how I felt. No one cared that an incredibly important and formative part of my life was suddenly over. No one cared that I was riddled with anxiety about the future and that their barrage of questions was leaving me in tears on a daily basis. No one gave a damn that I had landed a sweet gig as a baker (pun completely intended) at an awesome, local, female-driven company because it wasn’t a “theatre job.” I couldn’t even be excited about the things I was doing because I spent so much time worrying about the things I wasn’t doing. And while it wouldn’t have changed my employment status or my theatrical prospects, if even one person had asked me how I felt, I might have felt a little less alone and a little less pressured to be everything everyone was expecting me to be. If one person had taken “I don’t know” as the cry for comfort that it was instead of being derisive about my arts degree, maybe I could have saved a few tears and avoided a few late-night anxiety attacks.

In a world that values material success over emotional success, graduating, or moving on from any chapter of life, is a quiet, very lonely hell. People are so caught up in the how, when and what of things that they forget there is a person behind the graduate; a person with feelings and hopes and dreams and doubts and a right to just do what they’re doing now and to not have to answer to the rest of the world for it. It’s hard to remember when you’re in the thick of it but you are allowed to do your own thing and you don’t have to justify your choices to anyone. Go forth and conquer, recent-graduate, even if conquering just means that you got out of bed and got dressed this morning.

 

It’s been one year since I moved home after graduating university. One year of not being a student. One year of living with my parents. One year of being in the same city I grew up in. One year of being apart from a lot of the most important people in my life. And I’m still not okay with it. I’ve been struggling with what to say for a couple of weeks and I’ve still come up short. I want to be able to write about how this past year has enlightened me and I’ve grown into a happy, go-getting graduate but in reality, when I looked back at what I wrote six months ago, it still felt pretty accurate. On paper, my life still sounds great. Actually, even better than it did six months ago but I’m still not satisfied and I’ve spent a lot of time being very frustrated by this and trying, desperately, to figure out why. And then when all of this year’s grads were posting their pictures I saw one with a quote that really resonated with me. It said:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

And then I understood, at least in part, why I’ve been longing so desperately to go back to the school days since the second I left. There are many reasons but that quote explains something I was never able to put my finger on until I read it. While the student version of myself was deeply flawed and probably not the “best” one, there are many things I liked about that person that stayed there and didn’t come home with me. Student-me was carefree (my friends would scoff at this but I’m talking in relative terms here!), adventurous, an occasional party animal completely ready to let loose and willing to bend the rules sometimes. She always had time for friends and never turned down a beer and a chat at the local bar. She occasionally turned down work in favour of sleep or a fun time with fun people but still worked when it was necessary and remained a reliable, go-to employee. Student-me was passionate and driven and creating constantly. She was fit. She had goals and aspirations and real plans to get there.

Post-grad me isn’t any of those things and when I take the time to look at myself instead of at my circumstance I’m even more unhappy with who I’ve become. I never see my friends because I’m always working. I miss things that are important to me because I put work above all else. I’m not creating, I’m not excited about my current or upcoming projects because I don’t have any. I never turn down work so I’m always short on sleep and lacking fun. I’ve completely thrown health and fitness out the window and try as I might to get back on track, I never try hard enough. My goals and post-grad plans have fallen by the wayside in favour of “surviving” right now. I’m always stressed; about work, about money; about completely fictional scenarios I create in my head and believe to be real. This is not the person I want to be but I feel stuck in this panicky rut of having to work all the time because I don’t make enough to work normal hours and still get by. (Completely and utterly false because living with one’s parents is very cheap.) I don’t know how to get out of this rut but at least now, I know that I’m in it.

Don’t get me wrong, the year hasn’t been all bad. Despite the overwhelming feelings of being trapped and standing still I have enjoyed parts of it and I have certainly learned some things. Here are a couple of them, lest it seem as though I’ve been completely useless for an entire 12 months:

  • Sometimes you have to put yourself in highly uncomfortable situations for a short time to reap the rewards in the long term. I was really good at this in the first couple of months and it led to some wonderful experiences and opportunities but in recent months I’ve fallen back into complacency and become the excuse maker I once was but it remains a very true lesson.
  • Work is not everything. Saying no is okay. No matter how much you love your job it is not worth sacrificing other things that are important to you or that excite you. Don’t take on so many shifts don’t stay late out of obligation, stand up for your time because it is just as valuable as anyone else’s. That’s not to say never take on extra work or never stay late when they need it but just remember that doing those things is a choice not a job requirement and you are allowed to say no. (A lesson I am aware of but do not heed often and must continue to remind myself of in Year 2.

I’m trying very hard to be positive because that is something that My First Year lacked a great deal. I’ve spent a lot of time living in the past, wishing things were the way they were before and being overwhelmed by my nostalgic emotions. I hope that I can find it in myself to take back the parts of the person I was at school that I liked and discover parts of this self that I like as well. I hope that I can work less and play more and I hope that I can start to strengthen the friendships I have here in town rather than longing for the ones that are out of reach for now. I hope I can spend time learning new things and going after the things I want out of life rather than sitting complacently by. Here’s to creating, here’s to growing and here’s to the start of Year 2!

Thoughts on Collaboration

Collaboration. This has been the theme of the week for me. On Monday, I had a lovely and insightful conversation with a co-worker about collaboration. Today, I was asked by a director in an audition if I liked to collaborate or work alone. In general I think collaboration is a wonderful thing. I’m sure there are situations where it isn’t relevant or feasible but this discussion focuses primarily on artistic collaboration.

Both when my co-worker asked me how I feel about artistic collaboration and when that director asked me if I preferred solo or collaborative work I was, honestly, taken aback. My first and foremost thought on the matter is: If you prefer solo work, what on earth are you doing in the theatre? And I don’t mean that in a mean way but seriously. In what universe can a single person pull together a performance of any kind? Even a one person show has to have a crew of some kind. And it occurred to me that this mentality is exactly why you run into people in this business who are difficult to work with. People who think they can do it all on their own are the divas and the primadonnas that nobody wants to work with because they think they’d be better off on their own. Well, let me tell you, I’d love to see someone try to write, design, tech, run and perform a show all on their own. And by love, I mean I’d love to see it as an example of exactly why you cannot have a solo mentality in this business.

Back to my conversation with my co-worker. She’s a writer and visual artist and she told me she has difficulty collaborating because she likes to say what she wants to say and asked me if I run into this in theatre. While I understand where she’s coming from, I think that collaboration is an extremely exciting way to say those things rather than a hinderance. The very nature of theatre begs you to seek out others who have the same thing to say as you do. Out of necessity, you must find like-minded people and learn to adapt so that all of you, ultimately, get to share your voice. Theatre is such a collective medium in that it is designed to be shared with a group of people all at once. Unlike writing that is really meant to be one author sharing their thoughts with a single reader at a time. There is nothing wrong with writing, I enjoy hearing a single person’s thoughts or stories but, to me, collaborative work is so much more exciting. You get to hear a host of different perspectives on the same issue and even if you don’t agree, you get to understand why and sometimes even change your own perspectives and opinions on things. If you run into a problem or a roadblock, you have multiple minds trying to figure out how to get around it instead of being stuck in your own head.

And in the end, having a shared experience is such a special and precious thing, why wouldn’t you seek that out?

Most businesses and institutions have some form of sexual harassment policy and most of them proclaim “zero tolerance.” But my two cents? I call foul.

Why? Because just because the policy exists doesn’t for a second mean that it’s worth the paper it’s written on. In order for any policy to be valid it has to be enforced and if it’s not then it might as well not exist. In my experience “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment usually means no tolerance only if someone actually comes forward and says something and only if there was actually groping involved. But what about that 23 year-old guy who thinks he’s being funny or cute by telling his 16 year-old co-worker to smile more or the supervisor who makes lewd comments because he’s trying to be cool? What about when an employee is asked out repeatedly by a co-worker even when they have clearly stated their disinterest time and time again? What about that student who’s been sexually assaulted by a classmate but is still forced to endure the unwanted attention in class because there isn’t any “evidence” of the assault or it happened off-campus? When any of these, or any number of other similar situations, are ignored it completely negates the policy. When the people with the power choose to ignore what happens in their workplace it opens the door for violators of sexual harassment policies to get away with far more than they ever should. And while no one can know everything that goes on I think that everyone has a responsibility to be aware of what is taking place around them. If you see that 16 year-old co-worker quietly slink away from the older man or if you know your friend has been harassed you have an obligation to say something. And furthermore, if you are in a position of power you have an obligation to take all allegations seriously.

The tendency to minimize sexual harassment and assault by tidying it away under the rug in order to maintain a pristine reputation is causing a systemic problem in our society. And “zero tolerance” policies that are not honoured are perpetuating it. The illusion of consequence isn’t enough. The illusion of consequence makes it possible for predators to get away with anything and it makes victims afraid to come forward. Knowing that you’ll be told to keep quiet makes it feel hopeless to even bother trying to seek justice for an attack. And victims not coming forward right away seems to cause a lot of resistance to believing their stories. You see the nasty cycle we’ve created here? There are a lot of things that need to happen in the world to get the epidemic of sexual assault under control but, I think, actually honouring the “zero tolerance” policies we claim to follow will go a long way to helping break the cycle.