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In Light of International Women’s Day

As posted in the Charlatan Politics Blog:

In light of International Women’s Day last week, I have a few thoughts:

I think too often I’m afraid to call myself a feminist, not because I’m fearful of the reputation I might get when I defend the rights of women and encourage feminine liberation, but because the word is now being associated with something that I do not consider feminism.

Think of Lena Dunham, and her show Girls: four white women living in New York City off of the privilege and wealth their parents earned, and walking through life with the word “victim” written on their foreheads.

Think of Taylor Swift, who’s built her career off of being “America’s Sweetheart,” a victim of bullying by an “angry black man,” and someone who’s built a strange inner circle of thin, white, supermodels in a celebrity feud veiled by the name of girl power.

Think of Emma Watson, who has every right to defend her choice in sparing a bit of cleavage in a Vogue photoshoot, however failed to come to the defense of her female colleagues and women of colour, namely Beyoncé, when they have made that choice in the past.

But also think that because these women have put themselves on a pedestal, and allowed their names to be followed by the word “feminism,” they now experience incessant criticism that their male counterparts will never experience. And I am guilty of this criticism.

I am a white woman who has come from an upper-middle class family in Southern Ontario. Going to university was not something I necessarily I had to work for—it was expected of me. I fully understand that my fair complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes are seen as the epitome of Western beauty. I compare how people treat me to how they treat my friends of colour, and there is no denying that there is an exponential difference.

I believe I experience sexism, from boys not understanding what the word “no” means, to being cat-called as I walk down a main street in Ottawa, to having someone mansplain something to me at a dinner table. While some will stick with me for the rest of my life, most of them are just small annoyances. Annoyances I hope one day our future daughters won’t have to experience.

I do not believe I am oppressed, at least not to the extent of many women I know—women from other cultures and backgrounds and skin colours, to women who were assigned a different gender at birth, to even the boys who grew up desperately wanting to be feminine—and I refuse to walk with the likes of Dunham and Swift with the belief that I am constantly a victim of insistent oppression, when more often than not, my privilege makes my life a lot easier than most.

So, when it looks as though I am not coming to the defense of feminism, it is because the movement has changed in the blight of becoming mainstream, and it is something I find hard to associate myself with. I don’t think the movement should be funnelled down to putting aesthetically pleasing Redbubble stickers on the back of your Macbook Pro, or posting a poem from Milk and Honey on your Instagram. While the intention is great, feminism and International Women’s Day, are about so much more than that.

However, with the new president and the events that have taken place in south of the border, I think now more than ever it is important to defend feminism—even if you see flaws in the movement, and even if your voice shakes.

– Photo by Taylor Barrett 

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Puberty & the High School Playwright 

For the most part, I am pretty privileged to say that my life, with a gradual incline upwards, has been going at a slow and steady pace. What I really mean by that is, I definitely didn’t peak in high school.

My first day of high school kind of set the stage for how my next four years would play out. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, the uniform at my Catholic high school was something that really did not come natural to me.

My old friend from grade eight came to my door on the first day of grade nine, and somehow managed to perfectly avoid the regular awkwardness that came from adorning a never-worn forest green kilt and matching sweater vest.

I, however, wore the exact same pieces, including two butterfly clips pinning back my overgrown bangs, pink and blue patterned elastics on my braces, and a pair of white knee high socks to go with my two inch heeled ballerina flats. I watched as she gave me a once over, with a look that foreshadowed her embarrassment as we walked several blocks to the bus stop.

High school was a strange time. The years that followed weren’t far from the standard I set on the first day. The braces came with the whole package: off-coloured foundation that barely hid my acne, dark eyeliner on my waterline, and outdated lenses. But as I said, with emphasis on slow, my experience steadily went upward. Overtime, I gained more friends, got rid of my acne, and then my braces – shedding a little layer of myself that was no longer needed.

Besides my apparent awkwardness, what I also brought with me from elementary school was writing. I jumped from interest to interest, from visual arts, drama, and even singing in musical; I became a jack of all trades in the world of amateur art. But writing remained a constant. Writing was something I developed a passion for in grade three, and storytelling was was something I could remember doing with my stuffed animals before I was able hold a pencil in my hand.

There were few times in my adolescence I was able to share that passion. I entered a few poetry competitions in elementary school and completed some short stories the years after. After years of sheer naivety, my dream of being novelist became something that seemed out of reach. I thought maybe I needed to choose something a little more practical.

I set aside my ambitions and made writing something that I did on the side. That was until my final year of high school.

plays the thing actual newspaper
SEARS DRAMA FESTIVAL: St. John’s College production advances to regional competition in Hamilton (Article by Michele Ruby, The Brantford Expositor)

 

April 2017 is the third anniversary of a play I wrote and directed in grade twelve. It was called The Fitzgerald’s; a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family at funeral. It was a two act play featuring a drunken grandmother, a gay uncle, a trophy wife, all members fighting and obsessed with their reputations. It was a script that was chosen and supervised by my eccentric drama teacher. My best friend was the stage manager, and the tight knit group of incredibly talented friends I made in grade eleven, starred as the main characters.

For nine months I did rehearsals twice a week and tweaked the script to its best and final product. It went through a regional competition called the Sears Drama Festival. The first official performance was in this small town in a place called the Lighthouse Theatre. That night, with nails digging into my seat, I had never been more nervous is my life.

And it was amazing.

The theatre was packed with students and the parents of students and theatre-goers. When the actors came out in tableau a hush went over the crowd. They acted on their marks and added their own touches to characters that finally meant something to them.

The audience was alive; they laughed in all of the right places – laughed more than I would’ve ever expected. I even saw a few people cry.

When it was over, I embraced everyone that was involved, including my drama teacher who was responsible for giving me that opportunity. I went out to the lobby and heard someone yell out, “Who wrote that?” and everyone pointed in my direction. The girl actually ran up to me, and amongst the absurdity of that night, asked for my autograph on the playbill. My family was beaming at me with pride.

It was a first for many things; my first play, my first real leadership role, my first piece of writing that was made into something and received awards for. The first time I ever really felt like I was taken seriously.

When we went back to school the next day, back in the uniforms and into our daily routines, I was still living on high that no one but myself, the actors and the crew knew about. Yet this time, my path was carved out, which meant I could walk a little more boldly.

To be honest, I hadn’t let myself think about that memory or that play for a while. Much like high school, I’ve entered a lull in my university career, letting the tedious stream of formal essays take out every ounce of fun I originally found in writing.  

However, this year in Ottawa, a young man was standing at the bus stop in my front of my school, staring at me like he wanted to say something. Eventually, he did and asked me if my name was Alannah Link, to which I replied with a confused yes.

He told me that he saw my play a few years back, and that him and his classmates all I loved it.

He didn’t know it, but he gave me a dose of nostalgia that reminded of me of that night, those people and that play. A story I wrote in the last year of high school and performed in front of just a few hundred people, found itself just 600 kilometres away from the town I first performed it in. Right then, the the world felt incredibly small. It made me want to search for that feeling again.

I recognize that I didn’t peak in high school, but I definitely made the happiest memory there.