I’m setting my bar lower… and that’s okay

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There is this saying I once overheard – no recollection of where, or when, or from whom – that has somehow haunted me more, and more deeply, than any profound segment of prose or stanza of poetry or line of literature that I’ve come across in my many years as a student and a reader: “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” Simple, succinct, unpoetic, and yet a low and searing blow that still makes my soul ache tenfold each time I reflect on how unfulfilled I feel in my life (which is essentially every few minutes, every day.)

Beyoncé, a damn idol, talent, luminary, ostensibly inhuman queen, manages to do all that she does in the same timespan that I manage to do essentially nothing. She probably gets in a killer workout, low-cal healthy smoothie, makeup, hair, interviews, rehearsals, fittings, flights to wherever the hell, performances, second workout, meetings, appointments, and even some mothering/wifing and more in the time it takes me to roll out of bed, haphazardly turn myself into a somewhat presentable-looking human, walk to work (late), and sit at a desk for 8 hours browsing “ways to grow your butt if you’re a white girl” and window shopping on Amazon while writing the odd 300-word newspiece here and there. Hell, even on my days out of the office, doing a load of laundry and tidying the house are real achievements for me. Leaving the house? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And when my daily tidal wave of self-loathing and confusion about WHY THE HELL I AM THE UNPRODUCTIVE HUMAN I AM comes, it’s not just Beyoncé I have to compare myself to, but the millions of celebs and pseudocelebs who tout their glorious lives on social (and in traditional) media, pretending to be normal people.

The thing about it is, just like the models in the magazines we grew up with before the advent of the internet, these people we worship aren’t normal people. Anyone who has the time and resources to devote their entire life to appearances and exceptional – read: unrealistic – accomplishments (platinum albums and the like), whether it be a full-blown celebrity or an “influencer” who was able to quit her job when she hit 80,000 Instagram followers, does not have the same obligations and goals that a “normal” person does or should have. Beyoncé manages to be Beyoncé because she has a team of hundreds behind her every move. Jen Selter’s butt looks like Jen Selter’s butt because she has an entire day to devote to working out her butt. A fitness model has the body of a fitness model – and the beautiful tan and hair and makeup to boot – because that is their fucking job. (I’m sorry to make things so physically focused here, but it’s in my nature as a woman and as someone in ED recovery, because these are the standards I hold myself to the most and feel the guiltiest about not achieving.)

I have felt ashamed of myself and my lack of tangible accomplishment nearly every day of my life in recent memory. My parents taught me that there was no other option than an 85%+ average and a university scholarship and a decent paying high-status job, and so, in my little three-car garage inground pool faction of Canadian white suburbia, that was the life I held myself to, thinking it was the norm (still working on that last bit though…). As is potentially expected given my circumstances, I became somewhat of a perfectionist, which I believe many women can relate to – and though I easily measured up in some ways, I fell short in others.

It is only now, approaching 27, that I’ve realized this is called “the natural damn balance of things” and not “I am a fucking failure.” People have strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, admirable qualities and shortcomings, good luck and bad luck, regardless of whether it seems that way or not. I am learning to trust that the universe, and so people and their lives, have to balance out somewhere.

My prior mode of thinking was obviously the springboard for my more than decade-long issues with eating, as diet and exercise are two things very easily quantified and controlled; even more easily sorted into “success” and “failure” with only myself to congratulate or blame. And though I’m still struggling against the quicksand that is this mindset, I find as of late that I’m more forgiving with myself. Though only a microscopic shift, it’s made all the difference, and I wish that I could impart the same tiny revelatory kernel to others.

I’ve stopped setting myself up for failure by making and reiterating mental lists of things I insist on getting done each day for that day to be a “good” one. Sure, I’ll set my alarm for 6:45 each morning in the hopes that I’ll be inspired to go for a run, but I no longer beat myself up and write the day off as failed from the start if I’m too exhausted to get up and exert myself that early. If I manage to do it once a week, I appreciate myself for that. The same has gone for eating, which is something that seems to have just happened on its own and is so goddamn scary that I’m hesitant to even talk about it… but for the past few weeks, I haven’t really given a shit if I go over 1,000 calories a day, or eat “bad” foods. In the past, these would be classified as “binge” or “no care” days, few and far between, to be separated with “repent” days of guilty abstinence from food and overdoing it on workouts or then continuing to eat, but purging up to ten times a day. Eating healthy is good for health’s sake, but sometimes restrictions and rules aren’t good for an already weakened mental state. Especially for someone who too often falls down the slippery slope from “healthy, positive, yay!” to “restriction, binge/purge, depressed!” If I’m functioning with what I’m doing, I’m going to just keep it up and be fine where I’m at until I feel okay enough to make a change and have it be a positive thing for the right reasons (i.e., not trying to drop 10 pounds in a week because I feel like I can’t live in my body today).

And as far as accomplishments go, I’ve stopped holding myself to everything I think I should be doing, or the things the person I theoretically want to be would do. Yes, there are normal, non-celebrity people who go to the gym for 5am, run errands, go to work and kick ass, meet some friends for dinner and drinks, go home and work on creative projects, and carry on relationships and maintain entire lives on top of that. Statistically, I have no idea how much of the population these types of go-getters make up. And though it’s definitely important to have goals and to aspire to things, after knowing myself for almost three decades, I’ve come to realize I’m just not that kind of person, and wanting to be/hating myself when I can’t be doesn’t get me any closer to it. I won’t accept a day of laying around in bed (come on self, you’re better than that), but I’m more realistic when trying to carve out my day or my week or my life. If I don’t feel up to that social event this evening and my absence isn’t harming anyone, I make the decision to stay home and refuse to guilt myself for what I’m missing out on. If I planned to get to a coffee shop and write for a few hours on the one day I have to myself each week, but didn’t get around to it between working out and errands, I pat myself on the back for getting something done. These things may sound sad and babying of me, but self-care and self-love is so, so fucking important and it’s something most of us have neglected for most of our lives. On the contrary, I know for myself personally, self-hatred and self-punishment have been my norms. I may want to live life at the highest level and the fastest speed, but maybe I’m just not a damn Beyoncé; we can’t all be, right? Or maybe just not right now. I’ll continue to shine in the ways I’ve overlooked my whole life, and will maybe learn some new ones along the way.


#BellLetsTalk: A Facebook re-post of an Instagram of a photo of an artifice

index.jpgToday is #BellLetsTalk day, a time once annually where a huge media conglomerate encourages social media users to employ its hashtag in online discussions about mental health, in some attempt to end the stigma surrounding psychological issues or illness (and to perpetuate their brand, and to associate it with feel-good do-good stuff…). Aside from the 5 cents to “mental health initiatives” Bell donates per time the hashtag is used, there isn’t much tangible benefit from the project, though I can’t really hate on anything that raises awareness for a good cause; I would argue, though, that there isn’t all that much stigma surrounding mental health issues in this day and age. If anything, people tend to reduce serious, debilitating conditions like depression and anxiety to mere mood swings; terms they drop daily to dramatize things a little. To make them seem a little more damaged and interesting. Still, it’s not something that is as openly, seriously talked about as it could be, so I understand the need to assuage people’s initial apprehension when very real, very scary topics like suicidal thoughts, depression, etc. are breached in casual conversation.

What I find most interesting about this campaign is how counter-intuitive (and thus perfect?) the platform is, given that the undertone inherent in social media compels us to publicize how spectacular and fun and full of success our lives are, often to a level of exaggeration that is discernible to all but the poster. Whether we’re fooling anyone or not with the highlight reel we proffer as our full and real lives, and regardless of the extent to which we partake, the proclivity to feign and embellish is strong and ubiquitous, and yielding is somehow simultaneously overlooked and implicitly acknowledged without event. So I think it’s good to shake up some feeds with some damn dark real talk, so to speak. But I’d also like to real talk about the way everyone is on social media the other 364 days of the year.

Outside today, I find it impossible to be this savvy social media person I encounter on my feeds, and yet feel anxiety about not letting myself be. (Thus my decision to delete my Facebook and Snapchat ages ago, which has been both to my benefit and detriment.) The complex I’ve developed in recent years about my use of these platforms can perhaps be attributed to the overwhelming self-consciousness that dominates my character, or my heightened sensitivity to how others perceive me, or the fact that I have been in ways privileged enough not to have to adopt pretenses, or even my candor and affinity for non-bullshit. I’ve always humbly played myself and my achievements down as I observed those around me strain to play themselves up; to stretch their lives into an unrecognizable, but undoubtedly enviable version of its real form, and then shove it in the faces of often-uninterested parties. A monstrosity of a life’s narrative that compounds itself exponentially as it continues on. This phenomenon started, as I personally recall it, well before the social media age: high school friends loudly issuing torturous explanations of their $400 cheerleading uniform or $500 brand-name shopping spree while I knew their parents’ sole vehicle had been “stolen” (repossessed) just days earlier, their eyes darting around to see what strangers were in attention; university peers inquiring about my grade on a big essay – a number I always felt too awkward to reveal – so they could brag about theirs (which was always much lower than mine, never to their knowledge); the sadly gendered “diet” fads of grade 8 to present, during which those close to me boasted about their unhealthily restrictive eating habits and drastic weight loss under the guise of pitiable struggle and solidarity. Though I never had much to offer in response but a smile and a nod, I was the one to ironically land in an eating disorder program years later.

The advent of social media has, obviously, fostered and fermented this mode of being and method of presenting oneself; it’s become the soapbox everyone seems to think they deserve, and are not at all shy in using, but somehow only for the most inconsequential things. It not only encourages the perpetuation of false representations, but also representations on a superfluously magnified scale. Do I need to watch 24 short video clips of an acquaintance’s awesome Friday night out or read five paragraphs about a hometown friend’s beautiful pregnancy journey at 38 weeks? What comment can I offer about that swanky $30 cocktail they just posted from that swanky bar they’re visiting? Why are they using the flying money symbol in place of words? No, please God, no. Why do we want this for ourselves? I would somehow much rather watch someone dictate their suicide letter, or something else that speaks to the very palpable underbelly lurking beneath this veneer of “my life is so fucking cool, please look”.

I feel afflicted. Crazy, even. Isn’t the one thing that binds us the misery of the human condition? The existential dread we stave off momentarily with distraction and drink and deferral? Where are the people posting about their struggles with depression any other time but #BellLetsTalk day? Their body negativity, the concealed drive behind one’s attempts at body positivity? Why do they oscillate to the opposite extreme the very next day? Where is the solace, the relatability, the you-are-not-alone-in-your-daily-struggle-because-life-is-hard-for-us-all? The truth? Or, better yet, the absence, as it seems many are unaware that not every single thing you do in your life is worth documenting and elucidating.

Life is weird and absurd. The universe can be uncanny with the things it chooses to conjure and highlight to us, the associations that seem virtually inescapable. Socialization is anxiety-inducing at best, filling some of us with unease and self-doubt until we overflow into pint and shot glasses that we pound right back in until we can sigh with relief and welcome a much blurrier vision of a pained reality. Work is mundane and the hours that follow it are spent binge-watching mindless entertainment, but no amount of want can drive us to change into those better people we want to be with jobs and hobbies and lives we want to have. Nights are spent staring at the ceiling and ruminating on the experiences we mentally kick ourselves for missing out on thus far, but also the experiences we’ve had and just plain miss, beleaguered with a growing nostalgia as the hours – and years – progress. Those memories stuck to the walls of our skulls, sad and seemingly forever. Where is the space for this reflection on my Instagram feed? Twitter has it, almost, with a segment of its community seemingly open to self-deprecation and existential contemplation. And I must give Facebook credit for its news-sharing capabilities. And yes, kudos to #BellLetsTalk once a year. But in the majority of my online experience, at least when it comes to people sharing their own stories, I’m inundated with their designer whatevers and party pictures and vaunting posts in such high volume about all the great things, void of balance or context or a break. Life can be good, yes. We can be happy with our successes, yes. But at what point does it become a hyperbole of a one-sided story? And why do we try to obscure and censor the gritty parts of our collective experience? Maybe it’s my depression speaking, but I want to see more of the misery. More realness. And in that, maybe the general expectations to compulsively share some flashy, beautiful lifestyle will be lessened.

I will never post a self-aggrandizing paragraph about the new direction my career is heading when I secretly feel stagnant and inadequate, or a motivational gym selfie as I struggle with late-night binge eating and seeing myself as aesthetically acceptable enough to even live, or a photo album of my super fun birthday celebration that a sad seven acquaintances attended for all of two hours in reality (the latter actually happened to me at my last birthday, and no I did not post one single picture because it was fucking depressing). Even when everyone around me is doing these things and even when that in itself gives me anxiety about whether I should be doing them, too. I hardly ever post at all, because that’s just my nature, and I suppose I’m just fine relegating myself to the role of “satisfactory under-posting average-achiever” on everyone’s timeline. The #BellLetsTalk or the “let’s never talk” 365 days a year. I’m just not comprehending the benefit others garner by pretending otherwise.


The weight of my own decisions

7bba1b3e1b7aa094fc5d4d2f7fdf91afThe impact our daily, sometimes seemingly inconsequential, choices have on our lives long-term is absolutely oppressive to consider. If the “butterfly effect” is a concept any of us can find a even a grain of truth in, it’s paralyzing to think of the consequences of which subway car you choose on your route home tonight or which convenience store you stop into for gum and at what time or essentially where you are at any given moment and what you’re doing. The people you make fleeting eye contact with – or, even worse, talk to – the minor catastrophes you fall into or avoid completely, the scenes and images that serve to inspire or depress you in an instant. As an indecisive person whose panic swells and stiffens at the prospect of options and making a selection between them, decision-making to me is so overbearing that it almost invites a kind of recklessness; to relinquish control to fate or “what’s meant to be” for fear of forcing things unnaturally. For fear of later remorse and self-loathing. For fear of picking the wrong alternative when my natural inclination is to regret, regret, regret.

The people with whom I’ve once been intimate, or even shared a life, who are now strangers? The friends inexorably tied to my strongest memories- be them good experiences or bad – with whom I no longer speak? All of the what ifs, could have beens, why nots? My thoughts often gravitate to these circumstances, and how things would be now had a different decision at some point been made. My entire path in life thus far, and also into the future, digresses at various points to open possibilities that lay empty and unfulfilled. If only it were that a door could open without closing another. If only it were that I could try out my options and retrace my steps back if I change my mind. Or, if that’s rendered impossible, forget that I had any options in the first place once I’ve committed.

Being a very dysfunctional person for myriad reasons, I often marvel at how people can live with the burden this presents: that their life can be altered irrevocably by every tiny choice they make. I’ve found myself in both the luckiest and the least desirable circumstances imaginable, only to wonder what would have happened had I not walked down that street that day, or gone to that gathering, or went for a run or to grab a coffee at that location at that specific time. We stumble into and out of these nexuses of opportunity, often unknowingly, and end up where we are; some ever-changing, ever-fleeting place in time and space and relationships and life.

I had to review a book for work this month that invested a lot of time on this concept thematically, with the narrator finding himself in an absurd point in space-time that permitted him to relive and ruminate on his entire life, endlessly (the author was deft enough to aptly suspend disbelief). The details and nuance the protagonist failed to register the first time around, the types of microscopic, fleeting truths that can and would have changed the track of a life, become jarringly apparent upon his second and third visits to any given situation. And with limitless time on his hands and no other means with which to occupy it, he draws connections between the pinpoints of light that map his life, creating constellations and elucidating far more meaning than his real-time, 20-something self could discern. The regret I felt by the end of the narrative, for Daniel Solomon and for myself, was crushing… yet not substantially more than the amount I feel every day (for some reason or another, or for all of the reasons at once). My daily stream-of-consciousness feels like not the former iteration of Daniel, or like most people I suppose should and do carry on, but like the suspended-in-animation Daniel, more absent from the current moment and present in my thoughts than anything else. But where does it get me?

In some part, years of insecurity and self-conscious mannerisms – which I find to be more profound and affecting in women, who are taught to be so aware of themselves and their bodies and how they are perceived – have manifested in a lifetime of regret for almost everything I do. Even if there is no blatantly negative outcome, the fact that another choice may have been preferable and that I did not make that choice eats at me every day. Just not knowing for certain what reality another option would have yielded is all-consuming. And when things don’t go so well, oh boy… unfortunately there is no way to mitigate these feelings or even punish oneself appropriately. There is just sitting there, with an immense weight of regret and a nostalgia for a past or future I will now never have, and a whole slew of other less-great feelings. I admit that I spend too much time in the past/future/my head, but there’s no exact way to force yourself to exist solely in the moment; there’s just too much of life to contemplate and, really, complicate. But I’ll take my ruminations over some thoughtless, carefree existence nonetheless, because they give things – everything -texture and a greater significance, even if they are only varying shades of dark; my grand, dark, meaningful, rich (albeit myopic) internal world. Blaming myself for everything bad – or even just the absence of the spectacular – may be stupid (more painful than anything else), but so is remaining ignorant and inculpable and trusting that some force is making everything happen just as it “should.” As tempting as it is to be at either end of the spectrum, I’d like to think in time that I can drift somewhere further towards middleground. Where the burden of choice and accountability is there, but I’m okay with it. Functional. Here. And the only assuaging force that comes to mind is to take every opportunity that presents itself and just try.

 


Dealing with depression, being a miserable loser, etc.

Bq6DhZ2CYAAiDS_.jpgI’ve been in a slump for a few weeks – though I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been an enthusiastic, outgoing person and my life has never been that damn exciting – which has drawn me even tighter into my depressive little shell, reaching one hesitant fingertip out and into the waters of socialization and real life every once in a while, but of course always finding them unbearable. I’ve been drinking. I’ve been over-eating. I’ve been under-interacting (with people and with life). I’ve been spending money I don’t have on stupid things when I shouldn’t, thinking they’ll offer me a single moment of consumeristic joy, but they don’t. I’ve been neglecting the things that make me feel okay about myself and like a human progressing, such as working out and writing. I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing, seemingly just to make myself feel like an unproductive asshole for not using my free time more to my advantage. I’ve been beating myself up a lot, then continuing to engage with bad habits that I know will lead to results I’ll later beat myself up over. This is what depression does. And it seems like almost all of us have it.

All textbook definitions comprising “feelings of helplessness,” “suicidal thoughts,” “loss of interest in activities you’d previously enjoyed,” etc. aside, depression is often misunderstood in its magnitude and effect, truly. If you’re upset or down one day, especially if it’s over a concrete argument/dynamic/some other event, then I assure you that your assertions of “I’m depressed” are unfounded. Yes, you may feel depressed, but depression is not a fucking mood that you wear for a few hours or something simply caused by an outside factor. It is an all-encompassing, stifling cloud that masks itself simply as the air you breathe and your way of viewing and experiencing the world. It makes you question every single minute of every single day if and why you want to bother living, and makes that question into a very real decision that you have to grapple with moment-to-moment. There is always the out, and your life ain’t worth shit. It’s been hard for me, despite [now long-gone] years of diagnoses and medication and treatment of various kinds, to bear witness to my depression as a separate sickness rather than just my mode of being or my personality. I always did, and still often do, perceive it as just me as a person and how this world has shaped me, not a thing to rid myself of. And that goes for the things it’s inextricably married to, be they anxiety or eating disordered in nature.

So anyways, I’ve recently slid into one of my depressive lows (though really, it’s the “happy” periods that are rarer, so this is just my normal), and haven’t been blogging or writing whatsoever, or seeing friends or even interacting by any other means of communication, or leaving my house other than to go to work. (And for that irritating distraction of a 9-5 I am so incredibly thankful, because without structure, I think I would rot and disintegrate into a heapy hole of misery and nothing.) I also deleted my Facebook months ago, which I guess could be seen as either “oh no, she’s preparing to disappear and kill herself” or “her life sucks and she has nothing to post” or “she’s pretentious and thinks she’s above this social media life” or “who?” Social media just fosters in me this fire of equal parts anxiety and annoyance, and I feel lost and awkward and pissed off trying to use it most of the time. Instagram especially was a toxic outlet for some bad body image and life-shaming shit, so I deleted it for more than a week, but felt too obsolete and off-the-grid without it. Like a dead person. A dead non-person person. If I at least had real-life interactions and a social life to solace me, I think deleting my online presence could have been both helpful and successful, but meh. I’m beyond trying to salvage lost connections at this point or bother with people who can’t be bothered with me, be that good or bad – some people are just hopeless, and the ones who matter will be there when I am able to be present, too.

When I think about the way people scramble to shove as many posts as they can about how awesome their lives are in other people’s faces, I get sad. Sad for myself, for leading such a lame, uninspired life, but also sad for the poster and everyone else who engages in this way, for this culture that compels people to pretend. You’re not fooling anyone with your spates of content: photos of you standing places, so obviously and awkwardly posed that it’s painful to see you guise them as a candid expression of you having a good time; paragraphs of you talking up your recent moves and achievements when you’re not actually as important as you’d like us to think, or doing as much as you yourself would like to believe; your forced group pictures of times that you should just be living instead of trying to feign some party person lifestyle you wish you had. It’s as if people are partaking in things just to turn an experience into a picture or video other people can consume and bear witness to YOUR SUPER COOL LIFE, and it’s so fucking lame. I have no problem tweeting jarringly dark and emo stuff, or not posting anywhere at all, which would *gasp* maybe indicate that things aren’t that fun for me lately. I don’t fear other people judging me or my life as pathetic, for whatever reason. I may be evidently sad and pathetic, but because I can look past your bullshit, I know you are too. And your inability to acknowledge that, and attempts to make things seem otherwise an unnatural 100 per cent of the time, just speaks to your lack of depth and authenticity. I’m so frustrated with everyone’s “highlight reel as real life” mentality of social media, the compulsion to one-up everyone else experientially and fear to seem vulnerable or sub-par. Life isn’t always great, things aren’t always fun, people get bummed, nights out end up lame, sometimes we just aren’t doing anything worth noting. And sometimes we’re just fucking depressed. These things happen, but no one ever wants to admit to the darker side of anything, which I think is the space that is most conducive to actually bonding over the disorienting,  disillusioning, dejected experience that is being human.


Travelogue: places

In the past two years, I’ve traveled more than I have in my life hitherto. Any family vacations I was forced to undergo in my youth can be described as dramatic failures at best – most taking place prior to the age of 10 – and I’ve lacked that quintessential hot girl gang with which to travel in my late teens and early twenties. Moreover, the anecdotal travel experiences of my friends are bleakly symptomatic of North American complacency, as it seems the most those around me can muster is a week at some nondescript all-inclusive beach resort that could be on any coast anywhere, a whirlwind weekend in an American city with some reputation or another, or maybe a foray to our homegrown mountains out West (admittedly, something I hope to do in the near future) once before the age of 35.

That’s not to say that these experiences aren’t great or are in any way less than others, but it just seems that young people elsewhere, mainly in Europe and Australia, experience some general cultural undertone that we are found wanting of – a social push – to see the world. In some aspects, I feel like North America is stuck in a ‘50s mentality, when the dream of acquiring a full-time job, settling into some real estate, and establishing a family as young as possible was the ultimate goal of adulthood.

I’m no rookie to ongoing existential anxiety, and I sure as hell wouldn’t consider myself traveled or experienced in the ways of life by any means, but I’m glad I’ve at least taken the first baby steps away from the boring, philistine 20s that would be very normal for me to have subscribed to.

For now, here are some places I’ve been in the past little while and the things I miss most about them (as I’m currently sitting at my desk in my office very much missing them).

Paris, France; Helsinki, Finland; and London, England – architecture/history

IMG_4684.JPGAnyone who’s been essentially anywhere in Europe can attest to the fact that the architecture, very much taken for granted by anyone residing there, is breath-taking in both the figurative and literal sense of the word. I imagine a capital city to be a metropolis populated with glass-and-concrete high-rises and inundated with suits, and yet Paris, Helsinki, and London were possessed of this slow, Romantic (the capital R kind) quality that is so rich in a history we never get a taste of in a country as new as Canada. Physical buildings aside, getting to walk the same cobblestone streets that inspired Dickens or Wilde was enough to make my heart explode – and getting to visit the only remaining home of the former on Doughty Street and grave of the latter in Père Lachaise Cemetery were definite bucket-list moments and pluses of each trip.

 

Beijing, China – cultural difference

IMG_4680.JPGI’m fortunate to have a friend who was adventurous enough to leave her entire life in Canada to teach in Beijing, and more than four years later, she’s still there and loving it. When I visited her last summer, what struck me most about the city was the fact that I could feel so comfortable, safe, and at home somewhere so distant from what I’ve ever known not only physically, but socio-culturally. Every single object, person, and experience I encountered in China was weird and backwards and new and completely exciting to me, and yet I could still sit on the patio of a tiny brewery decorated to emit a hipster vibe I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Toronto, tasting a smattering of local ales and laughing along with newfound friends (all members of the city’s strong expat community) amid the winding, high walls of an authentic Chinese hutong. The whole experience was full-on sensory overload in the most familiar and unfamiliar ways possible.

L.A. and New York City, U.S.A. – the potential for anything

IMG_2865.JPGAs much as I’m against the concept, being in New York City really does feel like you’re at the centre of the universe. In both cities, I felt like anything was possible, and daydreamed about my high-profile publishing position or inadvertently catching the attention of some big-time model scout (or famous millionaire actor) in the street or a non-stop social life featuring a new, ultra-cool bar each night or my cutesy Brooklyn apartment with exposed brick and airy ceilings or the awesome, fill-you-with-feels-and-realness novel I’d write based on the cast of crazy characters that made my daily life riveting – all things that would obviously happen to me if I lived there. The vastness of both locales made me feel like even if I were to call either place home for a decade, I would never satiate myself or experience all it had to offer.

Melbourne, Australia – home, but as far away from home as possible

IMG_3326A flight to Aus is one of the three longest flights you can take from Toronto. And though I counterintuitively have felt more at home in somewhere like Beijing over somewhere like London, Australia has the perfect balance of familiar customs/amenities and exotic appeal. It’s almost as if the fact that Australian culture is so similar to ours makes the differences really stand out, as opposed to the general confusion of being dropped in medias res into a completely foreign context. I felt altogether at ease but like I was still seeing and experiencing a completely new world. Though the geography has its obvious differences (um, desert and beaches), driving through Melbourne was reminiscent of driving through any large North American city and the surrounding suburbs evoked memories of farms and forests on the periphery of my GTA hometown. Of everywhere I’ve been so far, Melbourne is the place I could most see myself living. But then again, considering the city sent me the love of my life, I may have a substantive bias.

 

 

 

 


I never want to hear how a rapist’s life is ruined by a sexual assault trial EVER AGAIN

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It’s sad that it takes yet another rape case treated with malapropos for me to find the inspiration to post, but alas, anger fuels my being in so many ways (those ways of mine that aren’t fueled by laziness). (Sidenote: is “fueled by laziness” an oxymoron?)

News media’s general modus operandi for the treatment and portrayal of criminals is to present them in the guise of the “big, bad, scary” trope to pique the very divided attention of – and instill fear in – its viewers. The average consumer has wet dreams over a crime narrative (real or fictitious) where the perpetrator is not only caught and rightfully punished in the end, but more importantly, neatly fits their perception of “bad guy”. I could elucidate decades of theory about the cultural “other”, one of the many concepts upon which scapegoats, stereotypes, and colonialism/racism/all kinds of isms are predicated. Comic-book villains come to mind. As do newscasts boasting the sketchiest, blurriest mugshot of a non-white suspect, preferably in an orange jumpsuit and visibly coming off a high. Unless you’re Brock Turner, the Stanford student [/white, well-to-do athlete] who received an inarguably lenient sentence for rape the week before last.

Turner’s well-circulated mugshot may as well be a press photo, depicting him smiling and in a suit. And reading about his trial made me quite literally scream out loud to my empty apartment’s lofty ceilings, asking “When are we going to stop talking about the effects a rape conviction will have on a fucking rapist’s life?!Turner’s dad’s thoroughly inappropriate plea to the judge focused on how the “events” and subsequent verdict have left the teen’s life “deeply altered forever” – “shattered,” even – and how him having to register as a sex offender will “forever alter where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.” His father goes on to wax Romantically about how the poor boy has lost his appetite and, most notoriously, states that the sentence is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” (Yeah, I’m just not going to even touch that. At all.) Wow. Maybe he shouldn’t have, I don’t know, sexually assaulted someone? I’m so terribly sorry that his own actions are having such a negative effect on his life. But in all earnestness, as with any crime, they 100% should. I hope his life, his reputation, and his future are forever tarnished and yes, potentially ruined by this. That’s simply the price one pays for committing an atrocity (though based on his father’s letter, you’d think Turner’s crime was just excessive drinking and the regrettable decisions that ensue… which in this case, happen to be sexual assault.) If this was any other criminal act, no one would be mentioning how depressed the trial has made the perpetrator, or what his damn swimming stats were. His dad’s terribly misguided plea would have been somehow easier to digest if it was some sort of audacious diatribe, rather than the dominant ethos of the most largely influential cultural group (middle-aged white men), calmly and simply put as if fact. This is in the same rape culture vein that fed the discourse and coverage surrounding the infamous Steubenville rape cases – which in reporting, CNN stated how “incredibly difficult” it was to watch “these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their lives fell apart”. A vein I wish would just open its wound-like mouth and spurt all over, screaming for a brief minute or two until its source is drained.

Adding to the disgust level here is that Turner isn’t “consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression” because of the heinous, pervasive crime he inflicted upon another, but because he was caught. Because of the repercussions. And his accolades, or number of friends, or lack of criminal history shouldn’t trivialize what he’s done. Considering the reaction of the male figure who raised him, I’m frankly not surprised by Turner’s behaviour both in committing the crime and in its aftermath.

Sarah Lunnie wrote a beautiful piece for Slate that discusses how those close to a criminal may not be able to reconcile the person they know first-hand with a person who would commit a crime. She uses the example of impulsively pushing a stranger onto the subway tracks, where the individual who does the pushing neither loses their identity nor stays the same person. “[They] will always be the person who did that—but that doesn’t mean [they’ll] stop being the person [they were] before. To shove the stranger is to become both.”

Outside of those we are personally acquainted with, we do hold a similar notion, but reversed in a way, for people affiliated with crimes generally. We want criminals to neatly fit into the conceptual box we’ve built for “bad guy.” We want rapists to be balaclava-clad strangers lurking in the dark, with a history of crime and a dingy apartment in a rough neighbourhood. The archetype just fits. An Aryan-looking, well-respected athlete enrolled at an expensive Ivy League university does not. This same line of thinking is what leads cross-examiners to push how slutty, how promiscuously dressed, how outgoing and sexual and heedless a sex assault victim is. Because those things can’t possibly fit into our idea of a rape victim.

The problem? Your archetype, if we mean a textbook example of something, is wrong. A rapist is often a “normal” guy. A guy you, as an outsider, can’t pick out of a lineup and say, “Hey, that looks like a criminal.” Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.  People don’t want to imagine that someone who is seemingly average and even well-respected in society can also be a rapist. That their friend, their brother, their coworker could be a rapist. It’s so much easier to pin it on some scary OTHER and then either deny or justify it when some “normal” guy who is good at sports and goes to a reputable school rapes somebody (or dismiss it as 20 minutes of action that deserves a slap on the wrist). Sexism, sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny/patriarchy as a whole are so inextricably ingrained and normalized in our society that yes, of course it’s that normal guy who works a floor below you or sits in class next to you or who you had a beer with last Friday. Not all men, but of course it could be you.

* I suggest any readers of this post also read the victim’s moving statement that she read to Turner in court. *


It’s not (just) about Ghomeshi

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I’ve been in a “car wreck full of mangled bodies I can’t look away from” relationship with social media for the majority of today after the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi – former host of CBC Radio’s Q – of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

I’m quite surprised and hopeful that so many people (that I’ve seen in my SECONDS of Facebook browsing) have reacted negatively, in varying degrees, to the news. It seems though, that in response TO this response, those who are satisfied with the trial’s results and think Ghomeshi innocent are fighting even harder in all their rape apologist glory.

Now, to be fair, I do fully acknowledge and respect the legal methodology necessitated by the “innocent until proven guilty” ethos of our justice system, and that because there unfortunately just isn’t the hard evidence in sex assault cases that there is in other cases, more scrupulous questioning of complainants may be considered warranted.

And, to be fair, my issue with today’s verdict doesn’t have all that much to do with Jian Ghomeshi: sex offender in particular. It’s more with the broader issue of how sexual assault complainants and sexual assault as a topic is treated, and what this case represents in that capacity. And yeah, I’m a little pissed off at some of the judge’s comments, like: “We must fight against the stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful” and telling the victims they were “playing chicken with the justice system.”

The stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful? Is that a joke? It must be, since THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Statistically, and anecdotally, hardly anyone reports sexual assault – less than 4% in Canada, of those who even speak up about having been assaulted. I’m not even going to get into the breakdown of what percentage of cases end up in a conviction, because that in itself is why victims don’t report. Along with a slew of other reasons, like, you know, cases that end up the way Ghomeshi’s has. Victims know that socially, and judicially, we are facing a system already posited to disbelieve and/or blame us. Ask the 14 women assaulted by Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw who kept their rapes secret for years for fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or the 11-year-old girl gang raped by 18 men, whose story, when the New York Times told it, was preoccupied with the shattered lives of the men accused and how the girl “dressed older than her age”.

Ghomeshi’s case perpetuated some other rape culture myths, like that there is a certain way a victim does or should act. A large part of what discredited the witnesses here was the fact that the judge found their post-assault behaviour – continued amicable contact with Ghomeshi, further dates with Ghomeshi, sending bikini-clad pictures to Ghomeshi, etc. – incongruent with someone who has been assaulted. “Odd,” he said. People have a multitude of ways of dealing with trauma, and no one person’s way is right or wrong or the same as another’s. Just because you would kick and scream, storm out the door, and call the police does not mean that someone else would, or is even capable to. Some try to pretend it never happened, ignore it, and maintain a relationship with their attacker for fear of repercussions, future attack, or of being viewed as a frigid bitch or a weak bitch or worse: a victim of sexual assault. When women are socialized in so many situations – meetings, classes, arguments, conversations – to back down, to be quiet, to be fragile and small, to appease everyone and not start confrontation like a hysterical bitch, what do you expect? That suddenly, when faced with sexual assault, which has become sadly normalized and expected, they’re going to awkwardly confront the guy? Or tell somebody? There are also the issues of intense shame coupled with physical and emotional trauma that underscore why a lot of us keep quiet, and that separates this crime from all others. Sexual assault is the only crime where victim-blaming and shame very much come in to play. These women remaining in contact with Ghomeshi, even if at times flirty, does not prove they’re lying. And their inability to tell stories with consistent details and meticulous chronology, especially traumatic situations and especially while facing their assaulter and especially when they’ve had to relive their trauma a zillion times at this point and especially when it happened years ago, doesn’t either.

In the end, this case is saying “it’s okay for men to do with women’s bodies as they please” and “women lie about sexual assault,”as if these erroneous notions weren’t so devastatingly ingrained in our dominant culture already. And it’s not just concerning choking and hitting, and not just Ghomeshi. This one specific case speaks to a broader culture of male entitlement and the treatment of women in every public space all of the time, from a random guy I walk past on the street yelling what he wants to do to me to a guy legitimately doing it to me as I say “no” and struggle to push him off, and everything in between. This case is one part of an in between that sadly sets precedent for, and suggests our society’s and legal system’s reactions towards, the rest.

This is also a matter of a situation where the trial wasn’t meant to prove whether or not the assaults happened, but whether or not there is enough evidence to convict Ghomeshi. And if that is what our population is happy to consider justice, the “not guilty” flag held high and the day called, then I’m at a loss.

 


Friendzone vs. fuckzone, and why I really wish guys would stop fuckzoning me

wpid-friend-zone-32.jpgI’m sure everyone between the ages of 16 and 106 is familiar with the term “friendzone”, which has become so hackneyed that it’s virtually outdated as far as colloquial millennial-ims go.

The concept of “friendzone” in the way men employ it in earnest (but really, who the hell even does that in 2016) makes me simultaneously giggle and scream, because guess what, guys? As frustrated as you are of being constantly “friendzoned”, I’m infinitely more tired of being fuckzoned. (I still maintain faith in the fact that I invented this term, because I’ve only ever heard it after I came up with it. This is OBVIOUSLY and inarguably the case, so sh sh shhhhh.)

Yes, fuckzoned. When someone takes what should be the default relationship between themselves and another person with whom they are just becoming acquainted – a casual, respectable friendship – and expects a more sexual relationship. Immediately or eventually. And then gets angry and most often abandons said interaction after an indefinite time period during which they’ve finally realized that the “fucking” part just isn’t going to happen. Unsurprisingly, this dynamic seems to happen one way between genders in the vast majority of cases.

I have a sizeable number of guy friends I’ve lost because I turned down their [most often subtle or half-joking, testing-the-water type of, yet still relentless] advances over time. Not even blatantly or rudely, either, because in that case, I may understand a rift. I just plain platonic-ed the hell out of every near-flirty conversation and tried to act more bro-like to preserve their delicate little ego, but still make it clear that I just wanted to stay friends. (Note: How sad is it that a legitimate defense against unwanted advances from someone I care about, and way of keeping a friendship I value, is acting more like a guy to make myself less sexualized/attractive. Sigh.) I’ve had male “best friends” completely stop talking to me with no explanation sheerly BECAUSE I got a boyfriend. Thanks for respecting our friendship, fellow human! What a waste of my damn time.

And yet, I’m sure they think all those months of friendship were a waste of their time because they didn’t achieve their ultimate goal. (Of fucking me.) I understand that if you are a straight male, your hopes for the relationship you’ll have with an attractive female you recently met may end up being different than your hopes for the relationship you’ll have with an attractive male you recently met, and you can’t help that. Feelings are feelings. But there is such a thing as, you know, respecting a woman’s desires (or lack thereof) as you would any person’s, and just accepting the fact that you guys will only ever be friends, especially if it’s after you’ve both invested a significant chunk of time BEING friends already. Because as I stated, CASUAL FRIENDSHIP IS THE DEFAULT FOR ANY NEW INTERACTION, whether or not you are attracted to the individual and regardless of their gender. Your hopes for the situation are just that: hopes, not givens. Unless, of course, you’ve pre-agreed that this is just a “fucking” situation, in which case, knock yourselves out, Tinder lovers.

I guess this is especially frustrating on a personal level because if I, in the past, made a new male friend that I thought I’d like to sleep with or date or whatever-the-hell is more than friendship, I didn’t treat him any differently if he made it clear that wasn’t what he was interested in. Or if he had a girlfriend. I mean, if you’ve spent the time becoming someone’s friend and making memories with them, and like them enough to have sex with or date them, why are you now going to ditch them? Because you can’t stick your dick in them? Is that all they’re worth to you? Wet hole or bust? Or is it because you’re a baby who just can’t deal with not getting what you want? I’ve preserved simple friendships with hot males for years. Even males I actually really liked. And I didn’t push or pressure them into awkward interactions, or make them feel like shit for not wanting to sleep with me, or reduce their entire being to a penis, or stop talking to them because I couldn’t handle “just friends” like a mature sentient adult.

This all stems from a culture of male entitlement, and of “no can be turned into yes with enough persistence”, and of reducing women’s worth as humans to just sexual. Even if a part of me is sadly flattered that you think I’m pretty or want to sleep with me (OMG ULTIMATE GOALS OF PERSONHOOD AND MY PRIMARY REASON FOR LIVING), if it’s not the relationship I want with you, then why am I not permitted to have any relationship at all after all these months or years of what I thought was good friendship? Why is it called me “friendzoning” you? Are our only options strangers or sexual partners because I’m a woman? Do you get “friendzoned” by your male friends, is that possible? I don’t get it. If someone could answer the above questions and explain the population of males who’ve ever uttered the word “friendzone” seriously, I would greatly appreciate it.


How to go out when you feel like ugly crap 101

My early university social life was characterized – really, terrorized – by this toxic habit of skipping out on things I wanted to participate in because of how I looked (A la Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, which in one of its commercials mentions some super high statistic of girls who opt out of activities they’re interested in because they feel like shit about their appearance, which I’m frankly too lazy to look up and include but I assure you it was high.) I actually hesitate to refer to it as a habit, but more like a spectre, as it was a mode of thinking and being that completely haunted and controlled my life.

It started out as just plain “finding clothing to fit this atrocious body is too hard/time-consuming/emotionally draining and I just can’t deal right now”, but quickly turned into some weird sort of self-punishment for being fat. Even if I wasn’t in a hysterical, teary panic, and was actually able to actually compose myself enough to assemble some sort of presentable exterior, I just forbade myself from going out. I didn’t deserve to be seen or have fun given the way I looked, in my mind. And the longer I was MIA, the harder it became to make an appearance somewhere, which I guess was the point: “I’ll show my face when I lose some weight.” Unfortunately, though this mantra was designed to serve as some sort of motivation to in fact lose weight, that of course never happened, as I quite predictably ended up spending my nights alone working out like a fiend and alternately eating mass amounts of shitty food and throwing it up. Repeat nine times in the span of a few hours and you’ve got a recipe for feeling like absolute shit, physically and mentally.

As a self-declared feminist, I’m putting it lightly when I say I’m conflicted in instances like these that concern body image and how I “should” look as a female. I’m quite a bad feminist, to employ Roxane Gay’s term, because I vocally battle against the physical and behavioural ideals society holds women to, and yet battle with myself every second of every day for not adhering to them. I still want to adhere to them, in the end, and I guess that’s the reason I’m so against them in the first place… the fact that I’ve been socialized to want myself to be something unattainable and realistically, unimportant to my existence as a person. And yet for most of my life, it’s been THE most important thing to me. Being intelligent, well-read, well-informed, and well-spoken have been givens that I’ve never credited myself for because they weren’t what mattered about me and they came naturally. How I looked was that all-important part of myself that was so changeable and yet so impossibly so; somehow what was the only determination of my worth as a person. And yet I fought, and still fight, against this concept because I know men are taught their ideas and what they have to say and otherwise offer as people are what’s valuable about them, not just their weight/face/hair/sex appeal/whatever.

I can blame my parents for constantly telling me how “pretty” I was, and how great it was that I was, or for teaching me girls are quiet and polite and don’t act out and aren’t loud. But it’s not all their fault. And I can blame the gendered toy industry for making goal-oriented action games for boys while producing Dream Phone, Barbies with untenable body types and 10,000 items of clothing, and play makeup for girls. But again, it’s not all their fault. I can blame media – along with all of the males in my life – for constantly assessing me and every female in the world solely on their looks and rating as a sexual object. But it’s not all their fault either. Instead of complaining how I was a victim of all of these things, which I’m not going to deny that I am, I just focused on the one thing I could change: lame but true, myself and my paradigm.

Maybe unhealthy, but I permitted myself only seconds of mirror time before leaving the house. Maybe embarrassingly stupid, but I created a list in my head of “fallback outfits” that I knew I looked okay in and felt somewhat comfortable in, so I couldn’t spend hours picking myself apart and feeling like I wanted to don a snowsuit. I guess the most realistic change of all was just distracting myself from the looming cloud of body-focused thoughts that normally completely imposed on my consciousness. Instead of indulging in them, which I apparently loved to do (and which I really think the media, etc. wants me to do), I mustered my most strong-willed effort to think of literally anything else and just make myself get the fuck out of the house before I gave myself any other option. Feel like my face looks like garbage? Who cares. Feel like I’m 300 pounds? Too bad. I didn’t know any other thought process and yet here I was, whisking myself out of my own mind and into the real world. It sounds like I’m naturally inclined to be a narcissist obsessed with my own appearance, and I know a lot of people will read this and think it’s goddamn dumb, but this is the sad reality for a lot of women, and it’s a horrible mental prison of a place to be. It’s too easy to box yourself in a whiny, tragic mess of thoughts about how unfair everything is and how ugly you are and how you’ll never be hot or worth anything and how frustrating it is that you are made to feel this way. But it’s also pretty easy, in time, to give yourself a moment to acknowledge these thoughts and just move on with your evening. Screw your body ideals or whatever and just make yourself get out and live your life. Keep in mind the rest of us are out and about and probably feeling just as self-loathing and uncomfortable as you. But a good time, though seemingly just an unreachable mirage on the horizon of someone else’s life, can still happen and is arguably the best remedy to trump those negative feelings.


Why subtly sexist media is the most problematic

the-gift_new.jpgI know I wrote a post about blatantly (and excessively) sexist social media accounts pretty recently, but I’m back to bitch about more sexism and gender issues that men don’t want to hear about. Ones that, in my mind, can be a lot more dangerous.

Generally, I find that sexism comes one of two ways in movies, TV shows, books, and other media:

  1. Overtly, often comically so, to a point that it serves as a) satire of sexism itself or b) character development for the stereotypical “douchebag” role
  2. In a much deeper, more subtle way that viewers rarely even pick up on, rendering it not a behavioural habit of certain characters, but something more normalized and ingrained (and therefore accepted/acceptable) in the everyday life of average people

Wolf of Wall Street, for example – one of my most-hated movies of all time – somewhat teeters on the edge of this division, but the majority of viewers can hopefully watch the movie and easily pick out its moments of obvious sexism (which may or may not revolve around doing lines of coke off of girls’ asses). This approach presents the opportunity to analyze and rebuke these rather superficial moments contingent on one’s personal values. A lot of the sexism in the movie is part and parcel of DiCaprio’s character and associated lifestyle, and though it’s disgusting and honestly hard to watch as a female, it exists to shape the character (and the time, and the lifestyle) and begs not only to be noticed, but viewed with a critical eye.

Gone Girl, another movie I loathe, is closer to the latter, as its story basically just implies “women are hysterical psychos who lie about rape”. Viewers may be surprised to learn that 68% of sexual assaults aren’t even reported, 98% of attackers will never be persecuted, and 293,066 women are assaulted each year in the U.S. alone. False allegations are understandably impossible to quantify, but are purported to fall between 2 and 10%. In any case, the norm is that an accuser is telling the truth. This movie focuses on the exception. As if it isn’t hard enough for victims and their cases to be taken seriously.

Then there are movies like The Gift.

I watched the movie  – starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed the film) – upon the recommendation of a few coworkers and friends, and I really took little issue with it until its finale. I mean, sure, it portrays the female lead as an over-emotional, over-thinking, formerly drug-addicted (is this why she previously had a miscarriage? Of course the suggested link had to somehow subtly blame her) woman. Fortunately, this is somewhat counteracted by her husband’s increasingly asshole-ish behaviour, and the revelation that her seeming paranoia was justified by a very real threat that very much existed entire time.

By the end, it’s evident that Hall’s character Robyn, though one of the three protagonists, essentially serves as only an object with which the two males taunt and exact revenge on one another based on their troubled history (which she has absolutely nothing to do with). Bateman, playing her husband Simon, repeatedly suggests Gordo (Edgerton)’s attraction to Robyn and his desire to take Simon’s place, at times even rubbing his marriage in the other man’s face. His bullying behaviour towards Gordo, which we learn is an echo of a past dynamic, leads to the man’s final retribution – the never-completely-confirmed rape and impregnation of Robyn, which is suggested just as she gives birth to what Simon thought was his child. The moment is complete with a self-made video of Gordo approaching and undressing the unconscious woman after a fall shown earlier in the narrative and never explained until this point (hint: he drugged her in her own home).

Though I can understand the motivation of this *exciting and unpredicted* plot twist, it really harkens back to some articles I read in university about rape and war. Historically, invading forces pillage communities and rape all of the women they can find. Not because the women have anything whatsoever to do with ANYTHING going on politically, but because they’re just pawns in a man’s war, physically overtaken (and as a result, sometimes impregnated) to prove a point to the opposition. To have the penetration of borders and political ideals felt on a new, personal level. Used simply as grounds for violence between males, this casts women as non-persons, as objects, not in the “sexual objectification” way that we’ve come to be familiar with in media, but on a far deeper, more troubling level. This is exactly what The Gift enacts. And what’s most frustrating is that 99% of people will watch the movie and say, “Whoa, what a twist!”, deeming it a good story. Then there’s me, immediately bothered by it.

I suppose the fact that the first movie review I found after Googling “feminist criticism of The Gift” was met with comments like: “There’s no excuse for ever bringing up sexism in a movie review. Feminism has been dead for at least a generation. Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie?” only slightly attests to what I’m saying. (Imagine if a man disliked and felt personally disturbed by a movie, by the way? The stance would be inarguable, except maybe by other men.) I guess I’ll just remember to casually forget my brain next time I encounter my 10x a day fix of problematic propaganda from the patriarchy (too severe, yes but I really can’t help myself from employing such laughable alliteration when it presents itself). Here’s to hoping I’m not the only one approaching the media around me with at least an iota of critical analysis, whether or not it impedes the enjoyment of said media.