Category Archives: Fall 2018

Fall 2018 Magazine articles

Where do we go from here?

“Ugh.

That is the sound that emerges from my mouth, my bones, and my brain every time I turn on my radio to hear the news in the morning. Kavanaugh. Separation of refugee families at the US-Mexico border. A Trump tax bill transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. Hate crimes. Climate change. Racial inequality. Income inequality. Missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Where does it end? The world is so unfair, and now I need to take my privileged white ass to class.

To top it all off, just when we were feeling all high-and-mighty up here in Canada after the election of Donald Trump — ‘That could never happen here!’ — Ontario went and elected a right-wing populist. The state of our world can be completely and totally paralyzing. In fact, I think most of us choose not to mobilize on election day for this reason. What is my one vote going to do to change any of these far-reaching, deep, systemic problems? And, if the same powerful rich people continue to be the only ones with access to public office, what will change by voting?

In June, 40 per cent of Ontarians who voted elected a Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford. But don’t let the word ‘progressive’ fool you: this party is the leftovers of a past conservative party, an artifact of Ontario politics that laughs in our faces each and every time someone is forced to put ‘progressive’ and ‘Doug Ford’ in the same sentence.

Let me be crystal clear: there is nothing progressive about Ford.

Who is he, anyway? Most of us just know him as some round, sweaty man who entered Ontario politics relatively recently and started shouting about hydro prices and balancing the budget. Through all the garbage of Ontario politics, you may have heard his campaign rallying cry: “For the people.” I feel very strongly that this phrase should be changed to ‘for my people’ as a result of the Ford government’s record since being elected.

Why? Well, let’s check his catalogue of offerings. A pledge to do away with the labour reform bill, which, among many other things, was going to raise the minimum wage to $15 in January. Pausing the creation of new overdose prevention sites, an initiative that’s proven to help reduce the tragic effects of the opioid crisis. Cancelling the basic income pilot, which helped thousands of low-income Ontarian families make ends meet. And, as the last of only a handful of examples, cancelling Ontario’s world-renowned cap-and-trade system, which brought in millions in annual government revenue and effectively reduced the province’s carbon emissions. Many of these policies, like the labour reform bill cancellation, will mean less money “for the people” and more money for the CEOs of large corporations. Did I mention that Ford owns a multimillion-dollar business, Deco Labels & Tags?

Despite that long list of negativity, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: millennials will become the largest voting bloc in North America. We have the power to affect change. And, despite all the bad in the world, there is good happening, too.

In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of democratic socialism gained more popular support in the last federal UK election than anyone thought possible. Corbyn has advocated and continues to advocate for the nationalization of public utilities and railways, as well as the expansion of welfare and public services to support the most vulnerable of the British population.

In the US, the momentum that Bernie Sanders created in the 2016 election is continued by candidates seeking Senate and Congress seats. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old American woman of Puerto Rican descent and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won the primary this summer against an incumbent Democrat who has held office for 19 years and is twice her age. As we speak, she is campaigning across the country for other candidates who, like her, were told that the odds were not in their favour. Something big is happening.

In Canada, 2015 federal election data tells us that young people handed Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party a majority by turning out in larger numbers. As Ocasio-Cortez said a couple of weeks ago, “Our swing voter is not red-to-blue. Our swing voter is the voter to the non-voter, the non-voter to the voter.” It is our responsibility to ourselves and to our children to engage in our democracy.

Progressivism is the rallying cry of young people in 2018. Young people overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump in the United States. They favour a path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, gender equality, gun control, action on climate change, racial justice, and income equality. Therefore, larger voter turnout and millennial values should equal more progressive governments. Math!

In October 2019, young Canadians will have the opportunity to make a difference — they will have a say in whom they want to lead the country. Show your city, your province, and your country that you are not an apathetic millennial. Let the Doug Fords and the Donald Trumps of the world light a fire under your butt. Take that same butt, and perhaps the butt of a friend, to the polls. Even if you are doing the simple work of engaging your friends in a conversation about politics, you are contributing to the engagement of other young people in this process.

Have courage — it’s not too late to build a better world.

The dark web: drugs, hitmen, and the future of online privacy

In the same way that a shower curtain protects you from a killer with a kitchen knife, the internet protects you and your personal data from the prying eyes of surveillance. 

Government agencies, tech giants, advertisers, and others want to use your data to further their interests. These interests range from the annoying, like targeting you with personalized ads, to the dangerous, like monitoring your communications and interactions. As data-driven computing continues to grow and reshape how we use digital technology, data is slowly becoming the most valuable commodity in the world. 

Throughout its short and extremely active life, the internet has grown from a rudimentary communication space to the foundation of the contemporary world. Due to this ubiquity, it has become nearly impossible to protect or anonymize yourself online. At any moment, you can safely assume that your location, communications, and interactions are being used by companies however they choose. 

A desire for online privacy spurred the creation of the first dark web browser, known as Tor. Developed by the US Navy starting in 2001 and spun off in 2006, Tor uses sophisticated encryption and multiple intermediate relays to make user data impossible to trace and collect. In a world where data is power, protecting user identities was a huge leap forward. Finally, those who feared persecution, monitoring, or government surveillance had an outlet to express their ideas and communicate with others. 

Duality in the dark web 

With the power of anonymity on a worldwide scale, Tor quickly became the host of the world’s largest markets for illegal narcotics, illegal pornography (often including child pornography), firearm sales, hitmen, hacking for hire services, and much worse. This was enabled by the advent of Bitcoin in 2009, the world’s first cryptocurrency — decentralized and anonymous. 

Prior to the advent of cryptocurrency, the dark web primarily served as a way to share illegal files without being caught. But following the first wave of Bitcoin-enabled markets, business took off. Some estimate that cybercrime generates 1.5 trillion USD annually in illicit sales. The magnitude of this problem shouldn’t be overlooked; Tor has given refuge to those wanting to abuse children, distribute laced drugs, and extort money or information from innocent people. Anonymity allows this to happen.

On the other hand, anonymity also provides safety. In some capacity, the dark web is like an online escape hatch — journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and oppressed citizens often turn to it to avoid censorship. In the wake of mass human rights violations following the re-election of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in 2018, Venezuelan Tor usage exploded. Jumping from less than 5,000 users in January to over 40,000 by June 25, it was such a powerful circumvention of government censorship that Maduro’s government blocked access nationwide. 

For applications like these, anonymity provides a safeguard against broken systems.

In countries under strict government control, people can be freed from censorship and fear of arrest for online dissent. Anonymous tip websites for news publications, forums for civil discussion, and protection for citizens of oppressive states are all enabled by online privacy.

The dark web also breeds creative technological innovation which may shape the future of mainstream internet use. Despite operating in the shadows, ducking law enforcement and lacking resources, the next generation of cryptographers still manage to stay one step ahead of most governments. Many of their innovations are related to abstract methods of encryption and could have significant applications if adapted into mainstream technology.

Trust

The illegal marketplaces on the dark web have ingenious ways of ensuring that anonymity doesn’t get in the way of business. Vendors, which have no inherent reliability, rely on positive feedback from buyers to maintain sales. This review system encourages competition and user-friendly practices. Prices and quality expectations rise and fall with supply and demand; sellers offer coupons and return policies. This leads to a surprisingly consumer-friendly experience. While making a Schedule I narcotic easy to buy is absolutely detrimental to society, these markets, which conduct billions in online sales, demonstrate the capabilities of anonymous purchasing. Competitive, consumer safe, anonymous economies are viable online — and that’s very powerful. 

When a user buys a product, the payment is held by the marketplace until the sender can provide proof that the product has been sent, and the buyer can confirm they received the product. Then at least two of the parties involved — buyer, seller, and site administrator — must sign off on the sale using an encrypted digital signature to release the payment. This, of course, requires trust in the marketplace itself from both seller and buyer; other than getting shut down by law enforcement, exit scams by marketplaces stopping orders and vanishing have occurred. Nevertheless, in the face of possible fraud at every turn, illegal markets maintain viability through a series of checks and balances, just like our current systems.

Privacy

The quest to evade law enforcement and regulation is an arms race. Bitcoin, despite having anonymous user credentials, stores all transactions made on a public ledger, which records who sent and who received the money. Law enforcement are able to identify users by the volume of network communications, ultimately matching payment history with other personal details to make arrests.

But newer methods of strengthening user privacy are continually being developed. One example of this is zk-SNARK (zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge), which allows cryptocurrency transactions to be verified without revealing or knowing either the sender or the reciever. These cryptographic breakthroughs, advanced forms of user-side encryption, and more have enabled the growth of untraceable interaction across the world. While these developments currently prop up the highest concentration of illegal trade ever, they are the only existing structures in place that can genuinely protect users’ privacy. The creativity of those seeking to protect Tor’s sanctity is one of the foremost drivers of cryptographic innovation.

There is no doubt that the dark web has failed in its goal of enabling mainstream privacy. Despite Tor’s sheltering of whistleblowers and those seeking to do good, it is also responsible for spawning an unprecedented distribution network of illegal goods and services. Thanks in part to the cryptocurrency revolution over the last decade, the dark web shows no signs of slowing down.

That said, everyday internet users will never switch to Tor. The danger that lies behind every link is too ominous for mainstream adoption. But its scale, innovation, and longevity proves one thing: online privacy is possible. 

As the internet reaches further into our lives, there is a growing discomfort with the idea that large corporations and agencies will always have access to us. For people who want to go about their online lives without being spied on, the framework is here. The dark web, despite its ugliness, offers an alternative. Tor will be the backbone of the fight against destructive legislation, corrupt governments, and systemic oppression.

The real test will come at the adaptation of these technologies into the mainstream. Over the last decade, blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency, has seen widespread implementation across every corner of the tech industry to decentralize data. The encryption techniques and protection practices of dark web users could be retrofitted to existing technologies to give users more control over what they want to share. 

In the end, is anonymity worth it? The internet without legal ramifications has spawned the most sophisticated, deadly, and disgusting markets in the modern world. It also created an environment for Edward Snowden to alert the world of gross mass surveillance from his government. One could not have happened without the other.

Maybe one day, we can reconcile the victories and failures of both faces of the internet to develop a platform that could be anonymous and free, while retaining the data-driven, highly intelligent developments of the surface web. I hope that one day, we realize the serious consequences behind digital interaction and start treating users as humans, not just as ones and zeros.

Accessing the erotic

History is no stranger to pleasure with a price tag. And neither is Harbord Street. In the thick of cafés and street art lining Harbord’s sidewalks stands one of Toronto’s oldest independent sex shops. Housed in a tame Victorian row house marked with a small orange sign, the store has an otherwise naked facade. By looks alone, the absence of cherry symbolism and black lettering cues visitors in to the fact that Good for Her is a break from tradition in the business of eroticism. It’s a 21-year-old storefront that offers a new meaning to selling sex — one that forefronts women and queer individuals. 

Besides dealing in the twenty-first century circuitry of wearable vibrators and kink, they dispense sexual and relationship education. Workshops focusing on topics such as “finding your fluids,” somatic sex, and dating with mental illness run on a regular basis. They have traded out shelves of smutty magazines for accessible exploration and a redeeming sense of freedom. Good for Her is about fuelling self-discovery and uncovering intimacy — with an extensive stock of leather and rubber on the side. 

The store’s relaxed yellow hardwood and white walls are an uncomplicated introduction to the rows of blush- and lilac-coloured toys on the back wall. Familiar phallus shapes sit alongside more inventive ones, cleanly laid out with white labels. 

More often than not, though, much more information is required — how toys work and why, for example. At Good for Her, they give you answers and, more importantly, make you feel comfortable while asking your questions, regardless of who you are. Regardless of your sexual or gender identity, the store has provided a space for visitors to exercise their sexual curiosity beyond a Google search bar since 1997.

“I really started the store with an idea in mind that women, in particular, who didn’t feel comfortable walking into a regular sex shop would feel comfortable walking into my space,” owner Carlyle Jansen says. But outside of the hours exclusively dedicated to women and trans customers each Sunday from 12:00–2:00 pm, everyone is welcome. 

“It’s for people who maybe feel a little bit more comfortable in a space where there aren’t cis-gendered men,” she adds about that two-hour window on Sundays. “Not that men are bad or misbehave in the store — I’ve actually met lots of fabulous men through the store, and I think it takes a really confident man to really understand women and make that journey into the store,” she explains. 

“It’s just that for some people who’ve been through sexual assault, sometimes they’re just worried that a guy is going to look at them while they’re talking about something intimate. So those women and trans-only hours are for people who wouldn’t be as comfortable in our store at other times.” 

Hours aside, Jansen has cultivated a store where the cookiecutter is more likely to furrow brows than a vibrator-themed greeting card. Everything is on the table, conversationally and, in the case of most toys, tangibly. 

The taboos of female and queer pleasure have no place in between artsy copies of the Kama Sutra and indie porn, just as Jansen intends.

“I think that women being empowered in their sexuality is [considered] very threatening. The whole idea that if we don’t need men to satisfy ourselves — people interpret that as man-hating or that we don’t like men or that men are dispensable. That’s not what I’m saying,” she clarifies. 

Despite being the youngest child of an accomplished and conventional family, Jansen’s empowered and assured explanations dispel any boilerplate ideas of love, gender, and, most of all, intimacy. “What it is, partially, is that when… you talk about the word ‘sex,’ what comes to most people’s mind is a penis inside a vagina, and then when you start to say you don’t need a penis inside a vagina, [that] you can have a mouth on a vagina, you can have two vulvas rubbing together, you can have a penis up another part of a guy with a penis — it’s when you start to change the permutations that they go, ‘Oh no, that’s not the real way of having sex, the mature way, the procreative way.’ That is also threatening the establishment that feels like, ‘Wait a second, this is what we’ve been told, this is what we interpret from the Bible or other kinds of religious texts.’”

However they may clash, it is the collision of sex and religion that delivered Jansen to Good for Her. When her sister, the Reverend MaryAnn Jansen, held her bridal shower, Carlyle Jansen gifted erotic toys and settled in to explain the potential that they carry for uncharted pleasure.  Her straightforward authority and delivery still punctuates her programs and talks today.

“Information is key. I had a group of women who all knew each other; they were all really progressive and there were about 15 of them. We went around the room and 10 of them said they couldn’t orgasm during intercourse. And I said to them, ‘Does that mean you’re not normal?’ We need to change what our expectations are, what we think sex is supposed to look like, and channel it toward what is realistic instead of what society thinks it’s supposed to look like. I think a lot of women contort themselves toward an imaginary mold. There’s all this pressure that we have to look sexy and enjoy all kinds of sex and orgasm during intercourse at the same time as our partner. It’s a performance and it’s not what is realistic and pleasurable for most women.”

While Good for Her is not alone in its ideology, it has lost contemporaries to the rising costs of business downtown. Jack Lamon of Come As You Are (CAYA), a worker-owned cooperative, was a part of its transition into an online only sex shop after the dispensary craze drove up rents and dried up retail space in 2016. A self-described partner in the “new wave of feminist sex shops,” CAYA lives up to the Nirvana-esque reference, sexy pun, and open invitation to an accepting space that its name contains.

“We worked really hard to keep it as a safe space for folks who were marginalized because of their sexuality, gender orientation, disability, and people marginalized because of race,” Lamon, a trans man, says. “We worked to make sure that people consented to the way that they entered and interacted with the store. We always kept things that were less exclusive at the front. So you could check out the massage oils or some books and magazines and, as you [get] more comfortable and as you go more into the store, you get into vibrators or strap-ons or DVDs,” Lamon continued. “We’re a worker-owned cooperative so we’ve always been democratic — we all have an equal say on the products that are selected and what the store looks like. We’ve all selected a very diverse set of experiences rather than just one person’s idea of sexuality.”

Staunchly anti-capitalist and feminist, Lamon is unabashedly vocal about CAYA’s values-first approach and advocacy. “Politically and socially, sex is something that’s really governed by patriarchy and, like it or not, that’s the world we live in,” Lamon says. “As long as we’re in a society that is overly influenced by religious conservatism, we will never really shed those taboos.”

So how do we make sex what we really want it to be?

“It all starts with yourself. The best way to have an easygoing, satisfying sexual relationship with another person is to explore your own body on your own terms,” he says. “Get private with yourself. We do this all the time with other things but we don’t think about it. You try a food on your own or a special coffee or to have a little adventure. But with sexuality and your body, we’re all so different that nobody else is going to know how to navigate your body unless you teach them how to do so, and the only way you can teach them how to pleasure you is to know yourself.”

Ultimately, sexual pleasure is in our hands, regardless of who we share it with. Stores like these remind us of that.

“Are you, like, for Brexit?”

On the first day of orientation, I was chatting to a new friend in line for the barbeque on the St. Mike’s quad. After the short introductions, our conversation gently turned to the question: “So are you, like, for Brexit?” This is a question I had heard countless times since my arrival in Canada from the United Kingdom. Before answering, the first thought that ran through my head was: what will my answer reveal about me as a person?

I remember the day of the vote quite clearly. I was 16 years old and it was the day of my last General Certificate of Secondary Education exam. Quite frankly, nothing was more important to me than the Further Maths paper I was due to sit in less than two hours — not even the future of a country I’ve called home for as long as I can remember. I was in the car when the final votes had been counted and Prime Minister David Cameron was due to make his speech regarding the results. This is the one thing I remembered before walking into the exam hall that day: “The British people have made a choice. That not only needs to be respected — but those on the losing side of the argument, myself included, should help to make it work.”

Fast forward two years later. This October, over 700,000 people had taken to the streets of Central London to call for a second referendum with a “people’s vote.” To give context to this figure, this was the biggest peaceful demonstration regarding government policy since the protests against the Iraq War in 2003. In response, Nigel Farage held a pro-Brexit counterprotest in Harrogate, attended by about 1,200 people. 

With consistent unrest, a hung parliament, and a great deal of indecisiveness, life in Brexit Britain for my generation is stormy. In the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, a study by PathMotion, a recruitment platform, found that 49 per cent of employers indicated that they would  likely to lower their graduate intake should Britain leave the European Union. Furthermore, justified by the depreciation of the pound after the vote, the British economy stands on stilts waiting to collapse. The pound’s fall in 2016 following the referendum apparently became comparable to its fall in the global financial crisis of 2008. In the face of all this, it is safe to say that I did not feel equipped to handle the political climate, let alone ‘make it work’ for the other side.

Although I understand the attention Brexit has gained globally, it was still surprising to me that my views on the matter had enough merit to be discussed in conversation with my peers here. My accent has suddenly become my ‘I just left England because of Brexit!’ sticker. But here is what stands out about my generation: there is a growing passion among us all to participate, at the very least, in what’s going on. 

A shadow of uncertainty has been cast globally by Brexit, but it also provoked a new wave of political enthusiasts eager to have a say in their future. For me, this political uncertainty reflects in my personal life as well, ingrained in my search for an identity and concern for the shape of my future. 

I find that it influences me in even the smallest decisions, such as the friends I choose or the classes I pick. I strongly feel the presence of Brexit branded on my sleeve as I walk through campus ­— an identity I never created for myself, but one that everyone seems to know me by. This is similar to the way that the political party one supports expresses more about one’s personality than you might expect.

Living through Brexit Britain has cultivated an increasingly anti-apathetic strain in me. I’m  determined to have a say and, even after having taken a step away from it all, this burning desire has only grown stronger. Through this, the intersection of activism and identity is much more important to me than it otherwise would have been.

With the pending Brexit deal looming ahead of us in the coming year, I yearn for a continued fight against apathy. In the words of Charles Dickens, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times; we have nothing before us and we have everything before us.

Kanye’s problem politics

If there’s one person who’s consistently dominated headlines, it’s Kanye West. Few artists of his generation have been able to draw as much ire and controversy from such a wide variety of demographics as Kanye. Recently, he’s gained attention for his political stances, including his outspoken support of Donald Trump, his claim that slavery “sounds like a choice,” his apparent support for accused rapists and domestic abusers such as A$AP Bari and XXXTENTACION, and his associations with reactionary, conservative pundits such as Candace Owens. 

The hip hop community, where Kanye was almost universally respected, has also begun to lose patience. He lied about the release of his forthcoming album Yandi, released a single with completely nonsensical lyrics, and potentially revealed the identity of Drake’s child to rapper Pusha T, who then made it public. 

I grew up listening to Kanye’s music, as did many of my friends and peers. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was one of the first albums I’d ever owned, and it still stands as one of the best albums of the decade. Earlier hits like “Stronger” and “Gold Digger” were anthems of my elementary school years. Yeezus
helped me get through my angsty teenage years. The Life of Pablo contained some of the most beautiful production I’d ever heard on a hip hop record in my 18 years of life. Even his newest albums, his solo record Ye and his collaboration with Kid Cudi, Kids
See Ghosts
, explored mental health issues in a way that I’ve never heard in hip hop, all accompanied by the quality production that fans have come to expect from Kanye. 

Despite Kanye’s reputation as a controversial figure throughout his career, his reactionary political positions are relatively new developments. In 2005, he spoke out against LGBTQ+ discrimination and toxic masculinity in the hip hop community. “Looking at my rappers out there, hip hop is discriminating against gay people,” he said in an interview on MTV. “I wanted to just come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, ‘Yo, stop it fam.’ Like, really, that’s just discrimination. To me that’s exactly what they used to do to Black people. I’m trying to tell people, just stop all that.” 

This may seem like a bland statement now, but remember, this was 2005. The social environment was very different. Canada had only just legalized same-sex marriage, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s official stances were that marriage should be between a man and a woman. That same year, Kanye also spoke out against the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina in his now famous “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” speech. 

“I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a Black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re looking for food,” Kanye said during a nationally televised telethon benefit. This sentiment translated into his music as well. “Crack Music” spoke about the crack epidemic in the US, and as recently as 2013, “New Slaves” touched on topics such as anti-Black racism and consumerism. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly has happened since then. There are a seemingly infinite number of theories out there to explain away his new behaviour — his bipolar disorder, marrying into the Kardashians, or growing tired of the empty rhetoric of establishment Democrats are just a few. One thing that we know for sure, however, is that this isn’t the same Kanye. While I’d like to think that I can simply enjoy the music without worrying about the artist’s personal life, it isn’t that simple.

TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

His first three albums were so positive and they made me feel good — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy introduced me to the scrutiny and myopia of celebrity life, for instance. But how can I sympathize with someone who simply doesn’t share my basic values? Even when Kanye talks about his mental health struggles — which are a very real and personal issue — it’s hard to personally connect with someone who appears to be so disconnected from reality.  

Clearly, mainstream listeners have less of an issue with this than I do — and not just about Kanye. The late XXXTENTACION allegedly abused his pregnant girlfriend. His song “SAD!” reached number one on the Billboard charts. Tekashi69, who pled guilty to one count of use of a child in sexual performance, saw his song “FEFE” peak at number three. When a video was released of A$AP Bari attempting to sexually assault a nude woman, fellow A$AP Mob member A$AP Rocky jokingly dismissed it in his song “TonyTone,” suggesting that he “would say ‘suck my dick’ — but that’s sexual harassment.”  

Despite how unsettling this may be, I understand why people don’t change their listening habits based on which artists they think are good people, which itself can be subjective. I imagine most people don’t want to come home after a long day, only to be told that one of their forms of escape is problematic. 

At the same time though, it’s disappointing to realize that artists who have affected me on a personal level have ended up completely different from how I’d hoped. As a society, we shouldn’t expect all of our artists to be amazing people. 

But it’s difficult to listen to someone who raps that he sees “women as something to nurture, not 

something to conquer” while supporting a president who has routinely treated women as objects.

Frankly, I almost envy people who can fully separate the art from the artist. It certainly makes music more enjoyable.  

If it ever releases, I’ll probably still listen to Yandi, and it’ll probably still sound amazing. But it won’t ever be the same, even if Kanye renounces his past statements. 

CBC didn’t make a mistake

On October 28, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Bolsonaro’s flamboyant fascism has compelled most global media outlets to denounce him. After all, he uses brutal language toward the country’s vulnerable populations, promises to license the murder of criminals and people who are poor, and wants to resuscitate the country’s previous military dictatorship. Uniquely, immediately after Bolsonaro won the election, a CBC article by Chris Arsenault was not concerned with denouncing him. Instead, Arsenault explicitly accounted the opportunities that Bolsonaro’s presidency will afford Canadian businesses.

Three of CBC’s tweets that night pushed Arsenault’s article. 

The first: “Brazil’s new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is a right-winger who leans towards more open markets. This could mean fresh opportunities for Canadian companies looking to invest in the resource-rich country.” 

The second: “Critics have lambasted the former paratrooper for his homophobic, racist and misogynist statements, but his government could open new investment opportunities.” 

The third: “Updated: Brazil’s new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is set to put his country on a new course. The right winger promised big changes, including curtailing crime and getting tough on leftists. So where does that leave Canadian investments in Brazil?” 

All three tweets drew outrage.

On Twitter, Arsenault lamented that his article was misunderstood, claiming that his intention was to implicate the amoral motivations of businesses as their gains will deny others of their human rights. It is not difficult to see why his article was misunderstood, since his few criticisms of Bolsonaro are attributed neutrally to “critics.” His apparent optimism for Canadian businesses is the real substance of the article. Judging from Arsenault’s other articles, his professed motivations are probably genuine. What’s interesting is how this article reads after it has been filtered through CBC. 

It is unclear whether or not CBC explicitly told Arsenault to strip his article of any substantial criticism in order to not offend Canadian businesses. Regardless, an article of any other nature probably would not have been published. It is CBC’s financial imperative — though CBC is far from unique — to appeal to powerful business leaders and government officials while presenting palatable narratives to the public. Sometimes, the attempt at doublespeak fails, as it did in CBC’s tweets immediately following Bolsonaro’s election. Usually, it is inoffensive and banal. 

The day after Bolsonaro’s election, John Paul Tasker wrote a CBC article titled, “Canada issues terse statement after far-right candidate elected president of Brazil,” with the subheading, “Trump, meanwhile, welcomes Bolsonaro with enthusiastic tweet.” The article implies that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was moved by moral imperatives to extend an unfriendly, though professional, hand to Bolsonaro. Of course, Tasker may not really believe that Freeland’s policies are motivated by a concern for human rights in Brazil. In fact, Tasker might believe that Freeland’s policies have not been motivated by a concern for human rights under the regimes of Israel, Saudi Arabia, or under the United States and NATO’s involvement in the Middle East. But after CBC’s minor public relations foibles the previous night, CBC needed to return the focus to its narratives of  Canadians with real power, in a moral language that its average reader would readily receive. 

Canada’s exploitative mining projects in Brazil have been horrendous, but not nearly as costly as its projects in other parts of the world. This is due in part to Canadian mining company Belo Sun’s inability to pursue its project after the Brazilian federal court moved to protect Brazil’s Indigenous people — which, Arsenault noted in his article, will probably change under Bolsonaro’s presidency. 

To predict how the Brazilian case may play out in Canadian media, we should look to the projects of  U of T alum, the late Peter Munk. In his article in Jacobin two years ago, titled “Canada’s Dirty Secret,” Gerard Di Trolio described the human rights abuses committed by Canada’s mining and oil companies worldwide. At the time of Trolio’s article, Munk’s Barrick Gold was globally the largest gold mining company. Barrick Gold’s abuses traversed the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Guatemala. Trolio referenced Munk’s response to gang rape committed by Barrick Gold’s security in Papua New Guinea: “Gang rape is a cultural habit. Of course, you can’t say that because it’s politically incorrect. It’s outrageous. We have to pretend that everyone’s the same and cultures don’t matter. Unfortunately, it’s not that way.”

In 2014, Tracy McVeigh published an article in The Guardian International on deaths at the hands of Barrick Gold’s security and funded police. In 2015, Renee Lewis of Al Jazeera published an article on activism in the Dominican Republic against Barrick Gold’s water pollution, environmental destruction, and disregard for local opposition. In 2016, Telesur published an article on Barrick Gold’s chemical spills in five rivers in Argentina. The list of reported abuses is long, but the coverage by large Canadian news organizations is frequently nonexistent. CBC has not published critical articles on Munk’s company’s human rights abuses nor his subsequent contempt for the people affected by his colonial project. Following its own internal logic, it only makes sense that CBC’s video shortly after Munk’s death earlier this year presents a truly cartoonish hagiography praising his “philanthropy,” while ignoring the unflattering details that are the substance, not the footnotes, of his career.

The point of this is not to discredit CBC. What I am trying to present, though, is the amount of outrage that is produced when mainstream media institutions fail to speak convincingly in high and low moral registers at the same time. The average reader is not only morally outraged, but they are also  deeply offended that the presentation of Canada does not mesh with their conception of Canada. To be angry at CBC, to demand that CBC polish its public relations capacities, is to miss the fact that if institutions like CBC were to comment exclusively on the most powerful business leaders and political officials of the country, our picture of Canada would be very different. 

To paraphrase a witticism of Oscar Wilde, our rage at institutions that project the voices of the powerful is comparable to “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.”

Fossil fuel divestment: a story of inaction

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a special report titled “Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius.” It spells out apocalyptic consequences for humanity unless we radically change our behaviour on a systemic and individual level within the next dozen years. 

On average, the world’s surface temperature is one degree warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution. This is because of human activities. The report emphasizes the need to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming in order to prevent the worst environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change. Should we surpass that level of warming, the sea level will rise more rapidly, more species will become endangered and extinct, and food and water insecurity will increase further. 

In order to remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions would need to decline by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. If we want to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius, emissions must decline by 20 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero around 2075. Alarmingly, at our current rate, the report states that we are on track to hit 1.5 degrees of warming sometime between 2030 and 2052. 

Without political will from international leaders and corporate regulations, it is unlikely that we will meet the emissions reduction levels necessary to prevent some of the most catastrophic repercussions of climate change. Even so, we should remain optimistic and idealistic. Throughout history, political and social revolutions have seemed impossible at worst or pessimistic at best. Not very long ago, it seemed incredibly difficult to tackle the issue of acid rain or to achieve an international ban on ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. When you think of the year 2050, it may seem too soon for the massive systemic shifts needed to effectively decelerate global warming, but not when you consider how quickly technology has advanced.

Simply put, politicians will not make climate action a part of their platform unless they see their constituents demanding it. Climate change consistently ranks low on the list of concerns put forth by potential voters, with issues such as job creation, the economy, and health care beating it out. Collectively, we need to understand that climate action is inherently connected to these other pressing social issues. Climate action will create millions of jobs in the renewable energy and related sectors. Energy efficiency will save people more money. Less pollution in the atmosphere will save lives by preventing diseases.
It’s going to take innovation and ingenuity to develop a sustainable domestic and global economy. The capitalist system runs on edacity and efficiency, and climate change presents a massively untapped source of economic, industrial and infrastructural development. We need to capitalize on climate change. The opportunity cost is simply too high if we don’t.

The role of universities

Discussion about climate change and the lack of reaction to warnings often centre around governments and Big Oil: how reticent they are to act and how it’s never enough when they do. Universities are often left out of this debate. A surprise, considering how much money from university investment funds helps prop up the fossil fuel industry. 

In 2017, the total value of divestments from the industry by universities around the world exceeded $136 billion, and that’s ignoring the many institutions that have refused or ignored calls for divestment. All the criticisms that are levelled at philanthropic institutes, governments, and the fossil fuel industry apply equally to universities. 

As students, we are uniquely poised to create change here, to pressure administrations to act. It matters. It will soon be too late. 

Figures from around the world

Let’s break down the numbers. Of that $136 billion, only 0.1 per cent is from Canadian universities. If that wasn’t shameful enough, it becomes even worse when you look closer. 

Concordia University is one of the brave few who have pledged to divest in the country — kind of. In 2014, they established a $5 million fund for sustainable investments, which some hoped might prompt the university to divest from its $12 million or so in the fossil fuel industry. Four years later, little else has changed. It’s good public relations, but it’s not good environmentalism.

For a better example of what real divestment looks like, we can turn to Université Laval. Last year, it became the first Canadian school to commit to full, actionable, and effective divestment across all their financial assets. They aren’t alone. 

Across the Atlantic, Scottish students have a lot to be proud of, as the University of Glasgow’s full divestment pledge wiped roughly $31 million from Big Oil companies. Close by, the University of Edinburgh has also cleaned up its act this year, after a partial divestment in 2015. In fact, UK universities and colleges account for almost half of the divestment pledges. 

So what are they doing that we aren’t? Climate change is an issue that affects everyone regardless of where you live — that’s what makes it a crisis for the future of humanity — but not everyone seems to want to do anything about it.

Squarely in that camp are some of the biggest names with the biggest account balances, the ones who are needed to really start a powerful domino-effect of divestment. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology refuses to budge. Harvard University nervously pauses investments but won’t scale back. Scientists at the University of British Columbia work to educate the public on the real dangers that climate change proposes, all the while university bureaucrats place financial returns over the planet’s wellbeing. And of course, there’s U of T.

Divestment at U of T

The divestment campaign at U of T began to gain momentum in 2014, when UofT350, our chapter of the international divestment organization 350.org, presented the university with a detailed petition asking it to take a hard look at what it was investing in. Following this, President Meric Gertler established an Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels, which later produced its own report suggesting that the university take a balanced approach to divestment. 

UofT350 argued that U of T should break away from firms who blatantly disregard the environment in their activities, a strategy that an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson called the “Toronto Principle,” one that other institutions such as Harvard ought to adapt. High praise, but today it rings hollow.

In 2016, Gertler declined the Committee’s suggestions, opting instead for a “firm-by-firm” approach to assessing whether an investment might be environmentally unsound. This practical-sounding, fiscally responsible strategy has given the university the leeway to act without acting.

There isn’t room for greed, for pussyfooting in the face of an existential threat so large that our short-term-risk-assessing brains cannot process it properly. Moving away from fossil fuels is critical, investing in sustainable industries so they can grow is necessary, and universities are uniquely poised to do both. Why the apathy?

The late William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, said of divestment campaigns: “To abstain is both a legitimate and appropriate action when the issue is not central to an institution’s educational mission.” 

There is a school of thought that says that an education is not merely for oneself, but for the society one lives in. Instruction of a student, then, ought to look beyond the campus walls as well. How can any university, not just U of T, justify its reputation and academic standing if it does not take an issue like climate change at face value? There is simply no way the two can coexist. Our duty as students, scholars, teachers, and just plain human beings is clear: we must halt fossil fuel emissions before it’s too late.

Who really pays for cheap clothes?

Welcome to 2018, when shopping is so cheap and convenient that it’s literally entertainment for the privileged. The fast fashion industry produces a staggering 150 billion items annually and leading brands in the industry, such as Topshop, spit out over 400 new styles per week. Online-exclusive brands like Asos are the new behemoths of apparel, skyrocketing in popularity and sales. While customers might enjoy having access to runway looks for low prices, the shorter turnaround times for manufacturers come at incredible costs. 

As the apparel industry outsources much of its labour to developing countries and is the second highest polluter of clean water, the impact of constant consumption cannot be overstated. We’re sacrificing more than just quality to satisfy ever-evolving and ever-increasing demands. 

Fashion itself has undergone a makeover in the past few decades. What was once a game of forecasting trends is now a race to replicate styles the quickest. Fast fashion brands are less interested in investing in design, and are instead inspired by popular fads. Not only has this shortened design and consumption times, but it has shortened the lifespan of each piece. On average, items are worn for around a month before being forgotten or tossed for the next round of styles. Fast fashion legitimizes and reproduces the mainstream attitude toward clothing as disposable. This leads to novelty items that wear out quickly — nothing is made to last — and consumers are hooked on retailers, increasing profits. 

What was once the fulcrum of fashion — originality, artistic value, and luxury — has been replaced by a culture of obsolescence. But most critically, we’re allowing bargains to supersede morality. This newfound world of ‘disposable’ clothing turns a blind eye to exploitation. 

 Where do our clothes come from?  

In 1990, most clothing for sale in the United States was locally made, but in 2015, 97.5 per cent of the United States’ apparel was imported.

While the garment industry has been the site of significant labour abuses since the Industrial Revolution, outsourcing labour to developing countries has allowed corporations to regularly escape from regulatory frameworks that were established to protect workers and the environment. The pressures of this accelerated pace to get clothing from design to shelf trickle down to labourers, resulting in poor working conditions, abuse, and child labour. 

Sexual and physical abuse in factories are often the norm, and victims have little to no safe avenues to report abusive incidents. The International Labour Organization estimates that roughly 170 million children are engaged in child labour, with many working in the nooks and crannies of the fashion supply chain. From cottonseed production in Benin to the long, intensive hours spent harvesting the plant in Uzbekistan, there is no limit to the dangers that these minors are subjected to. Employers are rarely held to account for these abuses — and when they are, consumers don’t always pay attention. 

Factory workers put their health at risk every day, but the industry equates absence of injury with health, failing to examine how workers’ physical, social, and mental well-being is held hostage by their dehumanizing employment. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, labour standards are so skewed that wages only amount to less than three per cent of the cost of most clothing items.

Even when labour stays local, manufacturers absorb immigrant and refugee populations who have no choice but to accept pay below minimum wage. In a report on Los Angeles garment factories, 42 per cent of surveyors revealed that exits and doors were regularly blocked, 49 per cent noted that there were no first aid kits on site, and a shocking 82 per cent of workers said that they had never been provided with any health or safety training. Evidently, the fashion industry isn’t good for anyone other than those who profit directly from it. 

 Morality in the closet      

While the Global North revels in the postmodern phenomenon of trying on temporary identities with endless supplies of garments, the Global South pays the price in suffering. A perpetual sense of urgency and drive for increasing profit forces employees to work at ridiculous speeds, leaving little time, space, and energy for them to assert their legal rights or to address violations of their rights.  

How can we change our consumption patterns? 

Ethical, sustainable brands have difficulty gaining traction, in large part because the sticker price is often significantly higher. Why bother shelling out more when something similar can be found at your local Gap? Ironically, it is the same capitalist system that pushes consumers to scrape for the ‘best deal’ that also oppresses the workers producing the goods. These workers, strangled by low wages and poor conditions, don’t have the resources to support ethical brands themselves. 

But for the privileged, each purchase becomes a vote. Opting for vegan shoes over leather boots is a vote for animal rights. Buying less and investing in responsible retailers is a vote for ethical values. While we may not always have the funds to throw our support behind every conscious brand, we need to recognize that what we dress ourselves in is a message to the retail industry. 

It’s easy to be swayed by the Amazon package of 25 per cent off items, or a $20 H&M dress that looks just like your favourite Instagram model’s, but saving a couple of bucks doesn’t mean that a price was not paid — we’re just not the ones paying it. 

The clothes that made me

A long chiffon dupatta that can’t quite decide whether it is red or dark pink. It is simultaneously a comforting talisman, a fun, shapeshifting toy, and a way for my three-year-old self to imitate the women around me. I drape it on my head to mime a dulhan, drape it across my chest to mimic an aunty, tuck it closely around my neck and become a larki, and then reverse the larki-tuck to become a dulha or a dancer. If I feel particularly fancy, then I wrap it around my torso as a makeshift sari. 

My dress-up is punctuated by coos, cheek pinches, and exclamations of “cute!” I revel in both the possibilities it holds, the protection it offers, and the positive attention it brings.

I want to hold that dupatta and absorb the warmth it offers one more time.

A white cotton shalwar that Mama gives to me to wear with my white uniform frock the first day of third grade. In a sea of bare legs, both male and female, my shalwar-enclosed legs reflect the strong, sweltering Pakistani morning sunlight rather than absorbing it. 

“Why are you wearing a shalwar?” boo the boys and girls. “It’s not part of our uniform!”

I shrug, stammer, “My mom made me,” and suffer the distaste and disgust that third graders heap on someone who dares to go against the status — or uniform — quo. The white shalwar is a white flag for my legs. They, cursed with coarse black hair and even coarser thighs, have surrendered to the demand that they never be seen in public again. 

All the dupattas that I use to play an odd game of push-and-pull with my brother. The game comprises of us holding either end of the dupatta and pulling the other where we want to go, be it up the stairs, out to the garden, or to our Baba’s study. 

Suddenly, I can’t play games of push-and-pull with those dupattas anymore, because I have to wear them, Mama tells me. Properly, she emphasizes. And my chest is like dough in an oven — rising and expanding. Any time an older male, related to me or otherwise, comes over, I have to drape the slippery-slidey nuisances across my chest, lest it burn their eyes when they look at me. I don’t think to ask Mama why older men would be looking at the chest of a nine-year-old. 

A cotton shalwar kameez suit tinged with hues of orange, yellow, and green that my nano — Mama’s mom — sews for me. Mama forgets half the clothes I am supposed to change into for my uncle’s Eid party at home. I alternate between sulking and shouting and silence.

Then Mama presents me with the labour of love that is the shalwar kameez that Nano made for me. I forget the shape and shade of the clothes I am supposed to wear. I flow into the shalwar kameez, float out of the room, and flout rules by asking everyone for Eidi first. Nano doesn’t need spells; she has a SINGER machine. I wish I learned to sew. 

A baby-pink, half-sleeve Gap t-shirt with a small rhinestone on its top-left corner that my tayi — Baba’s older brother’s wife — buys me a week into our family vacation to Canada. My family and I come back home after having spent the day at a family friend’s house when my tayi shows me the t-shirt. “It’s a little big for a nine-year-old,” Tayi says, “but why don’t you try it on?”

I am in the midst of modeling the shirt for my tayi and Mama, when my brother stumbles into the room. “Dado died.” Disbelief tinges his voice. My paternal grandmother back in Pakistan is no more. Tears wet my cheeks, slide down my neck, and seep into the pink t-shirt as I struggle to take it off in the bathroom. The t-shirt accompanies me to Pakistan for her funeral ceremony, and it returns with me to Canada when my family immigrates. I keep the t-shirt long after I stop wearing it. 

A pair of flared Gap jeans that I bring back to Pakistan as a souvenir of my vacation to Canada, a sign of my modernity, a symbol of my coolness. I never wear them.

But then, there is a party at school and everyone is wearing jeans and if I don’t I’ll be uncool, so I tell Mama that, but Mama tells me to wear a shalwar kameez suit. I can’t say no to her, so I stuff the jeans inside my bag and change when I’m at school, but change back before I come home. “You took the jeans anyway, didn’t you?” Mama asks.

I brush past her. I wish I hadn’t lied.

A cotton black shalwar kameez suit with grey flowers printed on it that my 11-year-old self wears during the 14-hour flight to Toronto, my new home.

The thin shalwar kameez is no match for the cold tone that the airport immigration officers speak to my mother in, the dismissive stares that punctuate my journey through Pearson International Airport, or the icy wind that greets me outside it. 

The shalwar kameez is a symbol of everything my family and I bring from Pakistan: experience, education, and culture. I must distance myself from it to succeed in the Caucasian, colonial country of Canada. I bury the shalwar kameez deep in my closet in our two-bedroom apartment that houses four. I bury with it my penchant for desi music and movies, my propensity to mix Urdu with my English, and my preference for biryani over burgers. I water these buried seeds of shame with self-hatred until they bloom into a plant of whitewashing. It is only seven years after the bleach has burned Urdu off my tongue, the sounds of desi music from my ears, and the smell of masala from my nose that I realize that I will never be white. 

I wish I was brave enough to wear a shalwar kameez in public.

A ready-made white hijab adorned with sequined black diamonds that Mama forces me to wear when I start school in Canada. The white emphasizes my brownness, the black brings out the dusting of dark hair above my upper lip, and the combination of the two underlines the fact that I am foreign and fresh off the boat; it undermines my every effort to fit in.

“People need to be able to tell that you’re Muslim,” Mama reminds me when I ask her why I must wear a hijab. People need to be able to see that they should avoid you is what I interpret when I observe the wide berth people give me.

Mama doesn’t yet understand that Muslims inspire mistrust, microaggressions, and misgivings. I don’t have the Urdu words to explain this to her, so I lie instead. I lie about wearing the hijab at school when I take it off once I get there, and I lie awake at night worrying about her finding out. I wish I was brave enough to tell my mother how I really felt.

A ready-made black hijab that Mama buys me when I decide, two years after my deception dilemma, to wear a hijab for good. I suddenly represent an entire group of people. I must answer every day whether it is really hair I’m hiding under there. I automatically stand out in a room and I can never feel safe in public again. Sometimes, I think I made the wrong decision.

A pile of pastel Forever 21 dresses that don’t fit me no matter how hard I tug. “Do you need a size?” The floor assistant’s helium-infused voice mocks me from outside the changing room. “No,” my lie is muffled by layers of lace and tulle wrapped around my face while I struggle to shoulder one of the dresses off. “I’m okay.” I shove the dress off, take in the angry red marks that it and its predecessors cursed me with, and alternate between cursing the fashion industry and my fitness levels on my way home. 

“You wouldn’t be sad if you were just a little bit skinnier,” I berate myself. “I wouldn’t feel the need to be skinnier if society didn’t value and make clothes for thin bodies only,” I return. 

I wish I was happy with myself.

A quilted black winter jacket that I wear one winter day as I walk to my bus stop. The cold Canadian winter wind stopped bothering me a long time ago, except on this day. On this day, it carries to me catcalls from a troupe of teenage boys as they drive past. 

Shame and shock paint my cheeks a damning hot red, infuse an itchiness at the back of my neck, and shrink the previously comfortable jacket so it scratches and scrapes me.

“What were you wearing?” I imagine people asking me, if I relayed this instance of harassment to them, just like they do if anyone reports a similar incident. 

I wonder if my answer of being covered hair to toe would shut them up. 

A cotton grey pashmina hijab with fringes on each end that I wear so often, it might as well be the only one I own. I don’t remember when the day was, why I wore that particular hijab, or where I went wearing it. I only remember boarding my bus home and feeling fingers fondling my neck. I glance behind me to find a man touching the fringe at the end of my hijab without invitation. He stops. I lean away. He starts again. 

I tug the yellow rope above my head requesting the bus to stop, jerk up and away from the man who invited himself to my body, and find a seat beside a girl near the front of the bus. 

I wish I had done something more.

Count me out

I grew up on Annie Lennox, Aretha Franklin, and Cyndi Lauper. My mum had short hair, baggy jeans, and a ‘fuck you’ attitude for anyone who dared to question her brilliance. From Robert Munsch’s children’s book, The Paper Bag Princess, to Gloria Gaynor’s iconic anthem, “I Will Survive,” she built me a whole universe — one that engendered my interest in the human condition.

By five, I knew that girls were just as special as boys.

By 10, I knew that I had to speak twice as loudly if I wanted to be heard.

By 15, I knew that women had to work harder to break any sort of glass ceiling. 

I wrote about ‘equal pay for equal work,’ sexual assault, and justice for minority groups. I went on marches. I joined societies. I talked a lot about things I didn’t really understand, consumed in a rhetoric that I am only beginning to unlearn.

Now at 21, I’m stuck. There seems to be gaps in my mum’s universe. I am finding it difficult to associate myself with a movement that seems intent on merging the personal with the political. 

With its disregard for feeling and emotion, when did society stop being kind?

Feminism

Feminism is a social and political movement that aims to encourage and create equality between all genders. Recently, a subset of feminism has emerged: intersectional feminism. The New York Times wrote that “this brand of feminism — frequently referred to as ‘intersectionality’ — asks white women to acknowledge that they have had it easier.” This subculture tries to move away from the ‘white middle class’ era of feminism, and instead aims to draw attention to the inequalities faced by people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community and individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is distinct from white feminism, also referred to as liberal feminism, which brands itself as the ‘women’s movement.’ Before them, third-wave feminists declared that a fixed female identity does not exist. Second-wave feminists believe that all individuals are of equal moral worth, and therefore should all have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential. However, this promotion of ‘human rights’ often only extends to white, educated, middle-class women.

Intersectional feminism acknowledges that liberal feminism champions legal and political equality for both men and women. Yet it criticizes the reductionist white feminist belief that many women are not only marginalized because of their gender, but also because of their race and sexuality.

The white feminism of the 1970s, propounded by the baby boomer generation, is embodied in the works of women like Gloria Steinem, Susie Orbach, Annie Lennox, and Margaret Atwood. When Atwood was writing The Handmaid’s Tale, the second-wave feminism of the late twentieth century had reached its height. She questioned in an interview, “If a woman’s place is in the home, then what? If you actually decide to enforce that, what follows?” Her commentary drew attention to the gendered division of public and private spheres — with the public sphere dominated by men, and the private sphere of domestic life left to women. The feminists of the ’70s and ’80s rejected the private-public divide. They argued that traditional political and power relationships did not just occur within the public sphere; they also existed within the private sphere.

Annie Lennox described Beyoncé as “feminist lite” after her 2014 Video Music Awards performance. Lennox said that her music and branding did not “necessarily represent wholeheartedly the depths of feminism.” By reducing Beyoncé to her on-stage persona and dismissing her many other notable attributes — artist, business woman, activist — Lennox drew attention to outdated dialogues surrounding empowerment and feminism.

In a later interview with National Public Radio,  she clarified that “twerking is not feminism… it’s not liberating, it’s not empowering. It’s a sexual thing you’re doing on a stage; it doesn’t empower you.” By dismissing Beyoncé’s version of feminism, Lennox, like Atwood, not only reduces the movement to one of white women against white men, but also suggests that the only societal issues surrounding female empowerment are how women present themselves to men.

Once again, they ignore the nuances that arise when talking — or in this case, not talking — about race and sexuality.  American author and feminist activist bell hooks argues that if white women become the authoritarian voice of the feminist movement, the patriarchal system would just be replaced by one of white women, who would in turn repress the voices of other marginalized groups.

It is this version of feminism that has dominated the #MeToo movement and, perhaps, made it so difficult for survivors to speak out about their trauma.

#MeToo

In a world of #MeToo, where sexual assault has become something of a dinner party topic, there is an increasing tendency to overpoliticize and oversimplify the complexities of consent.

The discourse surrounding feminism about a supposed ‘right way’ to follow the movement has allowed media outlets to reduce sexual misconduct to ‘no means no’ and ‘yes means yes,’ when in reality, it is rarely that clear cut.

When looking at the intersections of popular culture and assault, there is usually an imbalance of power between the accuser and the accused. The #MeToo movement also privileges the voices of survivors who already have huge followings, leaving working-class women — who arguably bear the heaviest load — behind them. This means that their voices are often not heard, overpowered as they are by the rhetoric of their abusers as well as that of rich, often white, actresses. 

Last November, I wrote an article for The Varsity that reflected on the legacies of some of Hollywood’s newest notorious men — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and the like — and their abuse scandals. A year on, the conversations surrounding #MeToo have not really changed. Most recently, on October 6, the US Senate voted 50–48 in favour of appointing Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice to the Supreme Court.  In doing so, the US Supreme Court decided that Kavanaugh is eligible to sit on America’s highest bench, despite sexual assault allegations from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh is yet another example of a man who was never truly on trial for his sexual misdemeanours. Rather, his only risk was not getting a job. Just like the countless perpetrators of the many assaults that happen on college campuses, workplaces, and transport systems every day, Kavanaugh could not lose in his narrative — because it is a narrative that he, and other powerful figures, wrote and still dominate.

The slogan of the #MeToo movement is “we believe survivors” — but do we? I worry that sexual assault has become just a conversation, a political movement in which everyone is trying to shout the loudest. It is not enough that media platforms, governmental bodies, and the general public choose to entertain the voices of survivors if they refuse to propel any actual shift in societal values. Furthermore, let’s not forget that these very platforms — news outlets and social media sites alike, including Facebook and Twitter — actively profit from victims sharing their stories through monetizing views and clicks.

It takes social and legal change for patterns of social behaviour to shift and, on a surface level, sexual assault is being taken more seriously. However, despite finally talking about it, the statistics do not reflect the current political climate of ‘caring’: 43 per cent of victims do not report because they think that nothing can be done, 27 per cent think it is a private matter, 12 per cent are afraid of the police response, and 12 per cent feel that it is not important enough to report.

Over the course of a lifetime, one in six women and one in 33 men will experience sexual assault or rape, and eight of 10 of these assaults will be perpetrated by an individual that the survivor knows. Rape is not about sex. Rather, it is about power and control. And, in between discussions of how this power is distributed, who is accountable when power is abused, and why powerful media outlets, institutions, and Hollywood allow morality to be undermined — we demand unrealistic responses from survivors. The slogan “the personal is political” is a rallying cry for feminists, but it can be damaging discourse for survivors. We’ve maintained a system by which survivors are required to relive their trauma in constricted narratives in order to be believed. Who does that really serve? 

Too often, we forget that the personal is also the personal, and that our main priority should be facilitating healing for survivors. It’s time to leave the debates for the lecture theatre and to start genuinely focusing on the people who are hurting.

We can do better.