We laid side by side under the covers, close enough so that I could feel her trembling.
Sleepovers were a common attribute to our friendship, and continued even through our transition through adolescence. They usually took place at her house. This time it was at mine.
There was a year and a half gap between the two of us, and the older we got, the smaller the bed seemed to get and the bigger that gap seemed to become. Sometimes it felt like I was slowing down my pace so she could keep up. Not with walking, but with everything else.
She was scared, like she always was after scary movies. And I felt guilty. I was used the terror they induced, but was able to convince myself there wasn’t a monster under the bed, no matter how much it felt like there was.
Her mom was ever-present. Her mom redecorated the house every few months, and she stopped to talk to people at grocery stores; she had time and spent most of it on her kids.
Her mom preserved my best friend’s innocence with a fervor, skipping over sex scenes in the movies we watched, swatting our heads when we said bad words, and bundling us up like the Michelin Man the moment the thermometer read negative.
It was an alien concept, attention. It was not something I’d commonly receive, at least to that degree. When I played with my best friend, I was also under the temporary care of a woman with lots of time. I’d drop off my stuff after school and immediately make my way over to their house. I wouldn’t ask for food, but I’d make rather obvious hints that I was hungry. But, it wasn’t just the food that I was there for, it was the conversation. Sitting on their kitchen island, grabbing handfuls of Goldfish crackers, sipping apple juice from straws, her mom would lean over on the other side and let us in on the neighbourhood gossip.
The bubble-wrapped kid and the latchkey kid. A 21st century friendship.
It sometimes felt as though my best friend’s mom knew me more than my own, but as I grew older I knew this wasn’t the case. My Mom went to work at a stressful job and came home to do her stressful paperwork. Time was a luxury my she did not have even for herself, and even if she wanted to give me more.
I looked over at my best friend who’s fear made her cry. Sometimes it felt like the responsibility of retaining her innocence was in my hands too. I would get glances from her mother that could only suggest that she was aware I knew more than I was letting on. Thinking of the look I got when I’d let it slip I didn’t believe in Old Man in Red when I was eight years old made avoid a similar conversation three years later when I stopped believing in the Old Man in the Sky.
I didn’t have hard life, not at all, but when I came home from school, I didn’t have anyone tall enough to close the blinds; I learned how to get a chair and grab the box of cereal on the top shelf; I watched the war torn news because it was my thumbs pressing the buttons on the remote.
Some part of me wondered if my best friend knew how lucky she was, but as I watched her trembling, I didn’t know if lucky was the right word.
I reached out grasped her trembling hand in my steady one, and stayed awake until she fell asleep.
Margaret Atwood wrote an article for The Globe and Mail titled“Am I a bad feminist?”responding to the #MeToo movement and calling for greater transparency in investigating the claims of sexual misconduct, referring to the case of Steven Galloway, a former creative writing university professor from UBC. Accused of sexual misconduct, he was subsequently fired for the accusations. It was later revealed that there was no evidence for such accusations and Atwood believed the man was treated unfairly.
She asks, “If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers?” In her article, she affirms that #MeToo is the product of a broken legal system as victims and allies of sexual abuse use the internet to take down abusive stars.
Victims have been empowered to tell their owns stories and with successful results. But Atwood remarks that the #MeToo movement brought upon an attitude of “guilty because accused” where “the usual rules of evidence are bypassed”.
Her article sparked debate and criticism on Twitter.Alicia Elliottsaid the letter “wasn’t calling for systematic change; it was upholding the status quo”. The status quo being, in this case, focusing on the perceived innocence of the accused over the needs of the victim. And she makes a good point.
In Canada, between 2009 and 2014, one in five sexual assaults reported by police led to a completed court case, about 1 in 10 of those court cases led to a criminal conviction. #MeToo wants to change the results of accusation, and to create a space for women to come forth with their stories in a world that silences and blames the victim.
The #MeToo movement is historical and absolutely necessary. Tarana Burke founded the movement in 2006 to spread awareness about sexual assault in underprivileged communities of colour.
The hashtag was adopted by celebrities in 2017 and took off after the accusations towards Harvey Weinstein were made public through online discourse. A multitude of stories came to light of his repetitive occurrences of sexual assault and harassment towards women, and men, within the industry. In Hollywood, it was also a well-known fact that he was a predator; it was commonly joked about at award shows and received snickers from the crowd. The accounts written about him are terrifying, disgusting, and quite frankly it’s shame it took so long for him to be “caught” so to speak.
Ultimately, Weinstein’s downfall, like the movement itself, was absolutely necessary. His life was rightfully ruined without a conviction as industry professionals and people around the world were served a wakeup call.
The waves and influence of this movement are unavoidable. It wasn’t too long afterward that Kevin Spacey’s downfall came with Anthony Rapp’s allegations of attempted rape when he was only fourteen years old. His career, his fame, his reputation – all swiped from under his feet, almost like he never even existed.
Women and victims have an enormous amount of power right now unlike we’ve ever seen before. No one knows how long it will last so it’s been used extensively and rapidly, taking down people left and right.
My Initial Response
It got to this point where I was reading different articles with different names with different and equally disturbing stories.
I quickly discovered my responses to these articles remained the same each time:
Disappointment and disbelief
Reading the account and feeling deeply disturbed
Empathizing with the victim
I’ve discussed this issue with a wide range of people. Most women identified with one or a few of the women who came forward, and they gained support by posting #MeToo on Twitter or Facebook during its prime.
Some men also identified and empathized with the victims. Others were perhaps a bit more apprehensive, but overall saw the necessity in the movement.
I’ve noticed that many people, including sometimes myself, have a hard time separating the man from his work. Casey Affleck, luckily enough for him, experienced similar waves of accusations a year before the “Weinstein effect”, and just last year won an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Since this wasn’t a pressing issue in 2016, as it is now, his career was still intact and he was even celebrated for his work.
I saw the movie, it was good. His performance was great. It’s hard to separate Affleck from what he did to several women throughout his career, whose accounts of their experience with him, are just as terrifying as the accounts made towards Weinstein. Aggressive, entitled, powerful, and abusive.
When I asked the person, who didn’t see a problem with Affleck winning an Oscar, why he supported him, he said that he simply had the best performance that year.
My response: “If he was sent to a fair trial and declared guilty of his crimes he wouldn’t have been able to act in that movie.”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t,” this person said, and then added: “I separate the man from his work – you can be an asshole but still be great at what you do.”
I was troubled by these remarks because this is exactly the kind of behaviour that allowed Weinstein to prevail for so long. Opinions like this are, as Alicia Elliott said, “upholding the status quo”. And I’m quite certain that this person never took the time read the accounts written by Affleck’s victims, because I hope that if he had it wouldn’t have been so easy to say those those exact words. After taking the time to listen to the victims, I was then able to look at Casey Affleck differently because I placed what he did over his performances.
I know why it is so hard to look at these accusations and not want to believe the victims. Some of these people being accused are people that others have looked up to. When Johnny Depp was accused of domestic abuse, I shamefully admit that I didn’t believe Amber Hard, his wife and accuser during that time. I thought, what would motivate her to accuse of him of this? Money? Attention? A few months later, a video was released displaying his aggressive behaviour; screaming and throwing dishes around Hard, along with pictures of her bruises, and later, an article that stated she donated all of the money she received from her settlement with Depp, to an organization that helps women in domestic abuse. I couldn’t not believe her allegations and I was embarrassed that I didn’t before.
The most difficult part about peeking behind the curtain is that it forces us to examine our own behaviour, and some of us see are afraid of what we will see.
The main reason I’m discussing this, and my experience with the #MeToo movement is to demonstrate that I am simultaneously in support of the victims, that I want to believe the victims, but that I am also conflicted.
The Allegations against Aziz Ansari
I have three stages when it comes to seeing an article with allegations towards someone. Three steps, and these steps were carried through when I read a anonymous piece about a date-gone-wrong between a woman and Aziz Ansari.
Once I was finished this article, I was incredibly uncomfortable. The sexual encounter between Ansari and the women reminded me of the aggression and entitlement I’ve encountered throughout my University career. This was the first time I had read something where I could say “Me too”.
I believe the allegations and understand why this woman felt the way that she did. But this account lies under a mysterious grey area in which the notions of sexual assault, misconduct and a bad sexual experience become hazy.
Was this woman rightfully uncomfortable? Yes.
Can Aziz Ansari read minds? No.
I don’t have any license to say whether this was sexual assault, the only people who will know exactly what occurred were the people in the room, Ansari and the woman.
If Aziz Ansari’s allegations can speak to anything, it’s that it’s a symptoms of a much larger, systemic problem. Our parents’ generation call it “boys will be boys”, some girls in my classes call it “rape culture”.
I was floored to see men online commenting that if what Ansari did was sexual assault, then every girl they’ve been with was sexually assaulted. Because along with them were responses amongst female readers who noted their similar experiences. Both are indicative of the fact that we live in a world consumed with an incredibly unhealthy sexual culture. That some men must coerce, manipulate and press to get what they want, and that women must appease.
This unhealthy sexual culture obliges women to go along with uncomfortable sexual experiences when all they want to do is stop. It’s expected of men to decipher mixed signals and body language that belong to the grey areas of consent. To blame the women and say she could’ve gone home at any time isn’t fair, and to expect Aziz Ansari to read the mind of a woman who seemingly gave him consent, also isn’t fair. It’s so much more complicated than that.
Am I a bad feminist?
I want to avoid declarative statements, especially today. Declarative sentences are dangerous phrases that can’t be taken back. But, if I were to answer the question Margaret Atwood posed in her Op-ed, who answered yes, then I think I would also have to say yes, I am a bad feminist.
Right now, with the #MeToo movement, to be a feminist is to read an account of sexual abuse and to denounce the abuser. Women, and men, have taken this issue into their own hands due to an ineffective legal system that lets powerful peoplelike Casey Affleckfall through the cracks. To be a feminist means to dawn a robe and type on Twitter, to denounce and defame, and in a sense, become an online vigilante. If the system doesn’t work for us, we must do it ourselves.
Right now, feminists have a bomb in their hands and a crowd full of the accused where there’s a 99% chance they’re guilty. Let’s say there’s a 100 people there. All of them are exposed to the shrapnel.
Let’s say one one person was innocent.
This isn’t based on any data, this might be an impractical analogy for what I’m trying to say which is this: While I have grown to be empowered and in support of the #MeToo movement it has also given me an increasing sense of anxiety.
I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has been adopted by rich female celebrities at the “Times Up” Golden Globes, who have used activists of colour as their new fancy accessories on red carpets, and bullied women who didn’t dress in all black.
I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has led celebrities to publicize their support, more as a public relations move than an act of integrity.
I’m apprehensive right now because I live in a new culture where being accused makes you guilty, negating all previous notions that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
People view this issue in black and white. You’re on one side or you’re on the other. Because I am empowered and I support #MeToo movement, I have one foot alongside line and because I am anxious, ask questions and have my doubts, I’m also alongside another.
Fairness hasn’t existed for victims of sexual abuse throughout history, that is why the movement started. Yet, the notion that we must believe all women that come forth, without question, is based on the logic that all women are incapable of lies and deceit. Anyone can capitalize on an issue that is trending during a specific period of time for an ulterior motive. And to treat all cases with the same weight and pressure, for example Weinstein and Ansari, is not fair. If feminism is about fairness, then what has feminism become in the post-Weinstein era?
I want to support and believe but I also want to be fair, and right now that makes me a bad feminist.
I wholeheartedly think that more focus should be placed on the people that come forward on their stories than the perceived innocence of those who are accused; placing more importance on the victims doesn’t mean we should completely ignore the latter. But I also assume that most people read the headlines in the morning and don’t take the time read the entire story. It’s difficult to peer behind the curtain and see what nightmare is on the other side, it’s difficult to see all sides of the story. But, what’s harder? I think it’s telling the story.
I’ve been fancying myself with writers and narratives that capture the facets of female complexity. Fittingly, while sitting in the quant Ottawa Bytowne Theatre awaiting the start of “Lady Bird”, I read the first pages of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion, a prominent thinker and writer of the late twentieth century, who also happened to be a woman. A few moments later, a 1979 epigraph by Didion would fade onto the screen in black and white:
“Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent Christmas in Sacramento.”
Director Greta Gerwig and Joan Didion, I would later find out are both from Sacramento. As with Christine McPherson, but as she so often corrects people, is Lady Bird – a name “given to me by me”, she explains. And that sets the premise for the story: a girl who demands a different flavour of life from the one the one that was given to her.
Before her directorial debut with Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig had a pretty successful acting career. She spent her times on set as an opportunity to learn, observing and asking the directors question like a makeshift film school. A coming-of-age story is what Gerwig set out to create, deviating from the male-oriented algorithm that they usually follow. And in the simplest of conclusions, it was a masterful success.
“Lady Bird” tells the title character’s coming-of-age story in Sacramento in between the years of 2002 and 2003. In the final year of her Catholic high school, Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan) desperately wants to leave the suburban wasteland of Sacramento and go to New York City for college, where the culture is. As protagonists go, she’s driven by a bravado and naivety that only young protagonists can encapsulate, fittingly juxtaposing the weary, disciplinary Mother who can, at times, be perceived as the antagonist.
Gerwig successfully examines the world that Lady Bird lives in, not with a critical lens, but with an observant one. So many little specificities of the film stick out to me, from the kilted Catholic uniforms, to the strategically placed early-2000s pop tracks, to the subtle backdrop of post-9/11 tensions and war overseas.
It is through Gerwig’s observant and specific lens that we get a zeroed-in narrative, lacking any political agenda, simply telling a story of a girl wanting more in a specific place, in a specific time. And she does this while simultaneously making it touch just about anyone who sees it.
Out of every shining detail, the most engaging part has to the be the central focus of the film; the relationship between Lady Bird and her Mother (played by Laurie Metcalfe). Because, while I had mentioned that she can, at times, be the antagonist, she is also the other half of Lady Bird’s tumultuous love story.
While this film could’ve fallen under the wide umbrella of female coming-of-age tales that are always aligned with the girl’s love for a boy, this film deviated from this in the best way possible way. It is in their mother-daughter relationship – the screaming-in-your-face, pushing-every-button, so-different-but-the-same relationship – that is so reflective of that contemporary dynamic that I was brought back to own life just a few years ago. It is so reflective of my own life, that I think that’s why my brother, a domestic observer of my relationship with our Mother, was the one who recommended I see “Lady Bird”. And why, just a week after seeing it the first time, saw it again but this time with her at my side.
“Lady Bird” is a breath of fresh air, and probably my favourite film of the year. Much like the confidence and authenticity found in pen of Saramento’s Joan Didion, Greta Gerwig created a vivacious girl whose story captures the some of the facets of female complexity and authenticity. It taught me that love and attention are usually one in the same, and that one’s coming of age is another person’s letting go. It is a love story to hometowns, high schools, douchebags, best friends, and Mothers alike, and I cherished every moment of it.
I often envision myself in the middle of a history textbook, taught forty or fifty years from now to disbelieving high school students. I imagine that future youth reading the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes catastrophic histories with a better understanding of the events than I do now.
An infamous real-estate mogul and reality television star elected as President of United States of America; an ever-changing climate growing increasingly chaotic with each change of the seasons; racial disparities sprouting riots on the streets of cities; two imbeciles across oceans with hands over a red nuclear button. Wars leading millions of people to different parts of the world in the hope they can find a new home. The list goes on, and on, and on.
The future youth will have the luxury of looking back at a distance. Right now, it’s almost though I wake up each morning to an alarm on my phone, along a notification from the world’s most recent tragedy.
I am also studying it, analyzing the world and these intricacies in real time.
Professors who are there to prepare us for the real world, to make us productive citizens and fine attributes to the workplace, are simultaneously making us question every layer of society and the systems the expect us to work for.
All the while, our lives keep going. Classes still need to be attended, work still has us on the schedule. Friends are there, and then they are not. Family gets older.
Cynicism, despite my lack of trying, has seeped into my daily life. It’s hard to find motivation to keep going in a world that insistently tries to tell us not to.
And honestly, it’s difficult to envision a future. The one thing I know about the future is that it’s shrouded in uncertainty.
So, in the least preachy way possible, I’ve compiled a small list of things to do when that uncertainty seems to overpower everything else you’re doing in life. These things aren’t the typical “stay positive” or “eat healthy” advice on most “How-To-Be-Resilient” think pieces all over the internet. And, I say “least preachy” because my sermon would be like the sick healing the sick – I’m also doing this as a reminder to myself.
Look for someone wise words.
There might be someone in your life – an eccentric aunt, the old man next door, your old piano teacher, or a professor who moved you with her words – someone who seems to know a bit more about life than you do.
Reach out one of them.
At this age, we know so much about the things we are studying and using concepts that our parents haven’t ever heard of. But we might be coming home to dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed; you might have not called your parents in a while, or are in a fight with the person you’re dating; or you might’ve not been able to eat a home cooked meal since Thanksgiving.
Whatever it is, your twenties can give you a whole lot of life, but no credentials to know how to deal with it.
That person doesn’t have to have white hair and nearly a hundred years under their belt. it could even be your Mom – while she doesn’t understand some of the things you’re passionate about, I’m sure she could give you a hefty list of relationship advice, as well as an easy recipe to make from her Pinterest account.
Consider un-burning those bridges.
Perhaps it’s that little bit of Catholicism left in me from a lifetime ago, but I have found one of the keys to my inner peace has been forgiveness.
It could be a person, event or thing; some girls who bullied you in elementary school, a friend that turned sour and never figured out why, a neglectful parent…It’s amazing how good it feels to let go of the resentment. Hatred, regret, betrayal, all of these things that can sit in you like toxic lead.
There’s already enough happening in the world that can poison us, it’s unhealthy to harbour such feelings from our own lives. If you can let go, do just that.
And I know, somethings can’t be forgiven. You can forgive someone or something for the sake of shoving the weight off your shoulders, with no intention of letting them re-enter your life. Sometimes forgiveness isn’t a selfless act, it’s a selfish act.
Out of sight out of mind?
My parents may have read too many articles tying a connection to phones and the increase of anxiety and depression in college students.
They might be right, I’m often distracted by my cellphone, and find myself worrying too much about the content I chose to share and what people might think of it.
I’m consistently disappointed by the news I read and misinterpreting the things my friends text on a daily basis.
Realistically, turning off your phone just isn’t likely. It’s our main form of communication, professionally and personally. Getting a notification has the same psychological response as someone calling your name. You have to look.
Your phone is a window to the world, and even though it’s an amazing tool that to have access to, it doesn’t mean it needs to be used every waking moment. I’m not saying you should feign ignorance and look the other way at what’s happening in the world, because to me, ignorance isn’t bliss. I’m simply saying that, for a few moments of the day, it’s okay if you don’t look at your phone.
Problems have solutions, look for one.
I know people who face troubles and their main solution is to not deal with it, to run away and never look back. I often wonder if that works out for t
hem in the end, because I question its long term effectiveness.
I mean, we could all pretend a problem doesn’t exist. But each problem can become a wound that festers.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve faced most conflicts with the desire to settle it. Not going to bed angry, as my Mother would say. Sometimes you have to
re-break bones in order for them to heal properly.
But what if that problem is something that’s bigger than a falling out with a friend, or a class that you’re bound to fail? Something that seems so far out of your reach, that the only thing that can settle in
the pit of your stomach is hopelessness?
Something like one of those things your professor mentioned that kept you up at night.
Every problem has some sort of solution, but not all solutions fix the problem. They heal it.
Finally, just take a deep breathe.
Our generation hasn’t been dealt a fair hand, but we’re often blamed for some of society’s downfalls. Our mid-life-crisis have become quarter-life-crisis, and then we are accused of not being resilient.
I think we are quite the opposite. Considering the hand we have been dealt, we are the first generation to finally address things past generations have been sweeping under the carpet. That should be proof of our resilience in itself.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from something that hurt. I think I am resilient despite the fact that stress sometimes overpowers my life. I have to let everything that happens sink in, I need to feel it, so that I can move on and deal with the rest of the world.
Putting one step in front of the other, you focus on one thing at a time until you’re ready to move on to the next one, and know that not all things can’t be solved at once.
To be quite honest, I was at loss for words when everything went down in Charlottesville this week. But one thing I wasn’t, was surprised.
Racism is as American as apple pie. The country was built by the sweat of slaves and the genocide of indigenous peoples.
Somehow, the moment Obama was elected in 2008 we suddenly existed in a post racial world. Racism ended. No one saw colour.
But, of course, we know that was far from the truth.
In Trump’s America, racism can be uncloaked and confident. It can spill into the streets carrying torches, bearing flags with mythical histories, and recycled symbols whose messages have murdered millions.
I’ve allowed myself to mull over everything the last few days; I’ve straightened out the facts as well as my anger over the entire debacle. I’m still angry, but now I can actually form some coherent thoughts.
1.Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Charlottesville was a domestic terrorist attack, by definition. A car sped into a throng of counter protesters, killing one and injuring nineteen others during a scheduled gathering called “Unite the Rally” by a group of white nationalists, supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK members.
2. President Trumps rhetoric during the election empowered white nationalists and his ambiguous morality after the attack has empowered them even more. Neutrality helps the oppressor, and instead of calling terrorists for what they are, he claimed there was fault “on both sides”.
3. White supremacy is not native to America, it does not exist in a vacuum. It has existed since European powers started colonizing the world, and has left its prints everywhere they went. Charlottesville was not a solo act. It would not be surprising if we witness a rally on Canadian soil as our history is not as nearly as untarnished as most people would like to think.
My initial reaction to the news was a sense of hopelessness much like I had felt when Trump was elected eight months ago. It feels like we’ve been peeling back layers of the world and finally seeing its true colours. But I realize that I’ve been able to silently neglect this reality because of who I am, how I look, and where I grew up that has allowed me to live in a comfortable little bubble.
People of colour have been living this reality each and everyday, they have lived with constant disappointment, that the colossal disappointment that occurred in January wasn’t a surprise.
So I refused to let this surprise me and let the disappointment hit me full force. I spent hours the past few days, watching footage, reading articles, and personal accounts of what happened on that day. I’ve been flooded motivation to do something though I’m not sure what.
While we could all focus on pointing fingers, calling out the racists and problematic behaviours, we should have been doing this before.
I think what all of us, but especially us white folks, need to do more self reflection. Ask ourselves, why does talking about race feel political? Why is it so hard to say white supremacy? Why can’t I call white terrorists for what they are? Why is your response to “black lives matter”, “all lives matter”? Why do I let my friends and family continue to say and do problematic things?
And mostly, ask ourselves what more we could be doing.
It’s so easy for those with privilege to not look at the headlines, go for a walk and live your life just as you had been living it before.
There’s not more time for inaction. It’s time for us to see the broad spectrum of colour and do something about it.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something you could do, here’s a very helpful resource that can help you catch up on some very necessary reading: