Gender? I hardly know ‘er!
By: Fran O’Donnell, Contributor
A few months ago I came out as nonbinary, changed my name and started using they/them pronouns. Let’s talk about it. This piece is fragmented and confusing and deliberately so, because boy, oh boy, gender is confusing.
I came out as bisexual many, many years ago and I (mostly, kind of) have my sexuality figured out. It never occurred to me to question my gender. I’ve always been most comfortable when I looked gender-nonconforming, but I just didn’t think about it too much. My discomfort with my body was probably just unrelated, right?
It’s completely normal to want to hide your body away under a mountain of oversized sweaters. It’s absolutely normal to feel uncomfortable seeing your body. It’s perfectly normal to feel like the person you see in the mirror isn’t really you. To feel like your body isn’t yours.
Image description of a meme I used to have saved on my phone that I can’t find anywhere: A brave warrior has just defeated their foe. The warrior is labelled “Me” and their vanquished foe is “Finally figuring out my sexuality.” But then, behind the warrior, there is an ominous, looming figure labelled “My gender identity”.
Coming out as nonbinary, for me, was a bit like wearing really tight, uncomfortable clothes. You don’t really notice how uncomfortable you were until you take them off. Like “wow, I can breathe again! I didn’t realize I’d stopped breathing”. And once you’ve taken them off, you realize that these clothes haven’t fit you for a long time or maybe they never fit you at all.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s talk a bit about what nonbinary means. A binary is made up of two parts. In this case, male and female. We live in a very binary society, with everything divided up into two. You’re a man or you’re a woman.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’ll know that you have to address everyone as ma’am, miss or sir, depending on your judgment of how they look. But what happens when someone doesn’t quite fit into one of these categories?
Nonbinary is an umbrella term that covers a variety of identities and experiences. Some folks switch between masculine and feminine depending on the day, some are both and others prefer to be funky little cryptids that mere mortals cannot identify.
Gender is an intensely personal experience and it varies from person to person. We’re all having gender trouble. For me, I’m most at home outside of the gender binary and I don’t want to be perceived as male or female. So I’m not binary.
When I first came out as nonbinary, I wanted to dress as androgynously as possible. I wanted everyone that saw me to immediately know that I was nonbinary. I had a vague vision of “nonbinary” in my head and I wanted to match it. Should I cut my hair? Should I throw out all the skirts I love so much?
I didn’t do that. First, I really like skirts. They’re so comfortable and they make me feel like a forest fairy. Second, this was just another box that I was needlessly forcing myself into. Kind of the opposite of what I wanted, you know? There’s no one “right” way to be nonbinary. Gender is a spectrum, not a paint-by-numbers.
Why am I writing this now? Because I wish I'd read something like this when I was younger. Seeing myself represented and being understood is the most important thing in the world to me. So if like me, you’re questioning your gender, I just want to let you know that it’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s rad as heck and I’m super happy for you!
As Abigail Thorn said, “I look inside myself and ask: “Do I feel like a man, or a woman?” And the answer is . . . I feel happy.”
Here are just a few of the resources that helped me out, and I hope they’ll help you out too:
By Christina Reed, Contributor
Every winter, many women in Hamilton find themselves without a safe, warm place to sleep.
Without protection from the elements, these women struggle to survive. As affordable housing in Hamilton becomes increasingly inaccessible, the number of homeless women in Hamilton in need of emergency shelters rises each year. According to a 2018 community profile from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 65 per cent of the 386 individuals identified as experiencing homelessness in Hamilton spent the night at a shelter.
In Hamilton, a number of non-profit organizations collectively work to address the needs of women vulnerable to homelessness. Mission Services of Hamilton, a Christian charity centred around eradicating poverty, runs Willow’s Place, a year-round drop-in hub that provides safety and amenities during daytime hours. This includes access to showers, harm reduction services, a secure place to rest and opportunities to engage in creative and social activities. In the winter, Willow's Place provides extended hours, given that they secure sufficient donor support.
Carole Anne’s Place is an overflow women’s shelter run during the winter months by the Young Women’s Christian Association of Hamilton, a women-led service organization that focuses on health and wellness programs. Women coming to Carole Anne’s place are greeted with a hot meal, a safe bed to sleep in and hot coffee the following morning. Bus tickets are provided so that women can travel between Willow’s Place and Carole Anne’s Place.
Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Program Analyst at the YWCA Hamilton and co-founder of the Women and Gender Equity Network at McMaster, said that working around the clock was key to working together and providing essential services.
“Our relationship was built on the collaboration of women's services — no one organization can do this alone,” she added.
“Our relationship was built on the collaboration of women's services — no one organization can do this alone,” said Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Program Analyst at the YWCA Hamilton and co-founder of the Women and Gender Equity Network at McMaster
This is the fourth winter that Carole Anne’s Place has supported homeless women in Hamilton. The program originated from another Hamilton non-profit, Out of the Cold, which offers hot meals to those in need over the winter months.
Previously, Carol Anne’s Place had been funded by Out of the Cold and Hamilton-Niagara’s Local Health Integration Network, one of the 14 provincial authorities that governed public healthcare administration in 2019. Ontario’s 14 LHINs were replaced by a 12-member Ontario health agency board; as a result, the YWCA has lost access to previous funding.
There would be no provincial support for Carole Anne’s Place to open on Dec. 1. Without funding, Carole Anne’s Place would be unable to open this winter, leaving many homeless women with nowhere to go during dangerously cold nights. Willow’s Place, which relies on donations, would also be unable to expand their winter hours without further funding this year.
On Nov. 6, in a last-minute push, City Hall approved $128,000 in emergency funding to keep Carole Anne’s Place and Willow’s Place available this winter.
This is not a sustainable solution. Sam Merulla, the Ward 4 councillor who moved to provide the donation, sided with this point.
"It's not good management to have someone all the sudden come in at the eleventh hour and say 'we need a quarter of a million dollars?' It's not good governance," said Merulla to CBC.
"It's not good management to have someone all the sudden come in at the eleventh hour and say 'we need a quarter of a million dollars?' It's not good governance," said Merulla.
According to Nikolskaya, it is not uncommon for initiatives such as Carole Anne’s Place and Willow’s Place to struggle with sustainable core funding. The need to maintain emergency shelters in Hamilton is becoming more urgent with the rising number of homeless women in the city. Nikolskaya reports that emergency women’s shelters have been over capacity for the last several years, and she has witnessed the amount of women seeking refuge at Carole Anne’s Place increasing with every year.
In the winter of 2014-2015, Nikolskaya reports that only about five women would access Carole Anne’s programming per night. In the winter of 2018-2019, this number jumped to an average of 14 women per night, with some nights seeing as many as 20.
Often reaching maximum capacity, Hamilton's shelters have been turning away women in recent years. This is likely linked to the rising prevalence of homelessness in Hamilton and a lack of affordable housing.
While monetary donations play a huge role in supporting the YWCA and Mission Services, there are other ways to contribute. For example, donations of socks and underwear are also valuable. According to Nikolskaya, any contribution can be an impactful one in ensuring that no woman is left in the cold this winter.
By: Anastasia Richards
Our lifestyles tend to be disposable. Many of us are prone to throwing things away and replacing them without thinking twice about it. We reach for simplicity and convenience, regardless of the consequences.
The Repair Café, a grassroots organization based in Toronto, will be hosting their first event in Hamilton at the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre as part of the ongoing Division of Labour exhibit. Set to take place on March 30 from 1 to 4 p.m., the workshop will gather community members to learn how to fix things together and address sustainability.
The Repair Café launched in Amsterdam in May 2009. The philosophies of the event are all linked to promoting sustainability, helping out your neighbours and getting to know others in the community. In 2013, there was a small group of citizens in Toronto that heard of the event in Amsterdam and wanted to bring it to the greater Toronto area.
“Whether it be… electronics, sewing and mending, small motor repair, carpentry. Individuals that have the skill set come to the café, usually held in public spaces such as libraries or community centres and they teach people how to repair on their own,” explained Suzanne Carte, curator of the Division of Labour Exhibit at the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre.
Not only does the Repair Café provide you with the opportunity to learn to be handy, it provides an opportunity to meet people in your community. While you wait on your repair or even if you just want to stop by and see what it’s all about, you can get to know your fellow neighbours.
“With that, there may be some intergenerational conversation…talking about an object will lead to one’s life, uses for said object, storytelling and all of that. It's about building community and skill sharing too,” said Carte.
We live in an age where disposal and replacement are all too easy. Many of us are far too keen on replacing things once they’re slightly damaged. The Repair Café workshops aim to challenge this notion by facilitating an opportunity for people to learn how to be handy, as part of a community and on their own.
The workshops also aim to challenge gender roles that are present within the context of the work associated with repairs. The Repair Café creates an environment where preconceived notions about gender, such as who can sew and knit or do small-motor repairs, can be addressed and broken down.
The Repair Café wishes to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere so that even those who do not want to come and get something fixed can still feel compelled to attend and be a part of the community. As an example, Carte will be bringing her iron.
“I could probably go and find out how to do it via a digital platform, but I really want to be able to sit down with a person who can take me through the steps, answer any questions that I have in how to better care and serve this object that then services me,” said Carte.
Attending the Repair Café will provide her with an opportunity to collaborate with others in her community, share stories with them, exchange knowledge and extend the lifetime of her appliance.
The Repair Café hopes to change people’s mindset. Every contribution helps to improve our sustainability practices and it can all begin by learning how to fix the little things.
By: Jackie McNeill
Tottering Biped Theatre, a Hamilton-based theatre company founded by Trevor Copp, has reached over 600,000 views on a TED Talk about ‘liquid lead dancing,’ a gender neutral form of partner dancing.
Several McMaster alumni are involved in the theatre company, particularly with their summer Shakespeare work held at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The theatre is social justice-focused, devising works that have addressed issues like poverty, same sex marriage and mental health and different interpretations of Shakespeare.
However, as prominent as the theatre’s work is, it is not what Copp is arguably best known for.
In 2015, he and his colleague Jeff Fox delivered a TED Talk in Montreal on a dance concept they developed called ‘liquid lead dancing.’
Liquid lead dancing, a form of gender neutral partner dance, was born out of Copp’s discomfort with the systems and rules he was perpetuating as a ballroom dance teacher.
As explained in their TED Talk, the strictly gendered partner dancing promotes a relationship shaped by dictation, where the man leads and the woman follows.
He and Fox developed liquid lead dancing to turn this dictation into a negotiation.
“It proposes a system where lead and follow are exchanged throughout the course of the dance regardless of gender,” Copp explained.
This change of form will hopefully become normalized as a dance and help to normalize healthy relationships outside of partner dance as well.
The liquid lead dance between Copp and Fox morphed into a play about creating the first dance for a same sex wedding.
After a successful run of the play, a former student contacted Copp about presenting their dance form as a TED talk.
Copp and Fox’s TED talk was picked up by TED.com, and has over 600,00 views to date.
Despite the success of the TED talk, Copp admits that it has not been all smooth sailing promoting liquid lead dancing.
“Most people are comfortable with their given role, and, even though they aren't particularly traditional in their thinking, allow it to decide their roles as dancers. There's comfort in the familiar. I don't begrudge it at all. I just think that if you're going to recreate a culturally outdated form you should be conscious of it by making a choice to do so as opposed to sleepwalking your way through the dance form.”
Acknowledging that the work he had done with liquid lead dance is not that well-known in Hamilton, Copp is aiming to work harder at spreading the dance form in the future.
As explained in the TED Talk, liquid lead dancing is not about dance alone.
By addressing the strict roles perpetuated in partner dancing, Copp and Fox have begun to address the erasure of non-binary people and same-sex couples in dance, in addition to the exclusion of Black, Asian and other non-white bodies.
By bringing these issues that are prevalent within ballroom and partner dance to a wider audience with the TED Talk and Copp’s theatre company, the same issues that are prevalent in everyday life stand a better chance at being addressed.
Copp has performed liquid lead dance at conferences throughout Ontario, New York and Ireland and is looking forward to next presenting at a conference on consent and sexuality with Planned Parenthood in Virginia.
I fell in love with hip hop around 2013 when I listened to my first rap album, Drake’s Nothing Was the Same. To me, hip hop is an art of storytelling, rooted in struggle and triumph. It has its haters and it is not perfect, but it has also saved and changed countless lives.
In the tradition of the 1970s New York City DJs and MCs that founded the genre, the guardians of modern hip hop are innovative, creative and heartfelt. Anyone can pick up the mic and tell their stories. As fans, we just need to turn up the volume on game-changing artists.
Buddah Abusah is a Hamilton-born and raised creator spreading a message of peace and love. He began writing at the age of 11 and rapping seriously at the age of 16. Haviah Mighty is a Toronto-born, Brampton-raised musician who is also a member of the rap group The Sorority. She began rapping at the age of 12, combining her seven years of singing lessons with her newfound interest in hip hop.
I spoke separately to these two local rappers about their thoughts on hip hop. Both artists spoke about the importance of the genre not only because of the music, but because of the culture.
Buddah Abusah: My inner city message is letting all artists know that no matter where you're from, [as] long as you put your mind to it, you can be successful in your way. [I want to] show people [that if you] put your mind to it and indulge yourself properly, you can get yourself to that gold, platinum status [that] Canadians are doing more often now. Also… the message I want to give out is that all my music is to peace, love and equality. No matter what goes down, just treat it with peace and love because at the end of the day that's what everybody needs.
Haviah Mighty: I definitely like to pull from the rawest, truest points of my life to try to create the most effective message possible, which is usually the things that are most important to me. The narrative will always change based on the shifting of the energies around us and things that are happening. But I would definitely say… just being a Black female, I am political in nature. The hair that I have, the skin tone that I have, the gender that I am and what I chose to do for a career are to some people very oxymoronic. I think naturally just my look and my delivery and my vibe is a little bit of an empowering, stepping out of your element, believing in your true self kind of message before even opening my mouth. I don't think that's something I can really escape or run from and I'm actually very happy to naturally represents that. I feel that people around me resonate with that.
BA: Best part is the growth. For me I love seeing individuals or an individual put their mind to something and watch it come into fruition. Right now I'm doing that with a couple people/groups. I've worked with some of them in the past and just watching them help the culture of [Hamilton] is the best part because I know this city will get there. Like everybody knows the city is growing. And it'll be interesting seeing Hamilton have their own culture and their own sound like how Toronto has their own sound. Hamilton is far enough where we see Toronto and we want to be like the [greater Toronto area] and be included like the GTA, but we still want our own.
HM: The best part of the hip hop community is the community. I think hip hop is very cultural and the community is very culture-based… [W]ithin hip hop in my experience, you can go to different venues and it's like these are people that you've grown up with because at the cultural level, you guys are so connected. It might be the same for punk music and rock and stuff [but] I'm not as embedded in those communities to know. I think for me it's the beautiful marriage between the sonic vibe of hip hop and then just like the community of hip hop and how different yet similar those two things are.
BA: I'm going to be releasing new material spring, summer time. I've just been working with other artists, doing some production, audio engineering. And other than that, I'm just taking my sweet, sweet time. I'm not trying to [give] you the exact same trap sound that you're always hearing on the radio or that your friends play. I'm here giving you something completely different. I'm giving you good vibes, I'm giving you vibes for strictly hippies… My goal with this is creating an entirety of a sound for the city.
HM: I have an album coming out. I'm hoping that this can really open up some interesting conversations. I'm really hoping that we can see some shifts in female hip hop and what we expect from being a female in hip hop and what we expect from I guess just the gender expectations. I would love to see some of those surpassed with some of the stuff I'm coming out with. But definitely just trying to contribute positively to the hip hop community and that hip hop culture and to tell good, impactful stories that can make some good change.
By: Andrew Mrozowski
Concluding McMaster’s Pride Week, the Pride Community Centre in conjunction with Queer Outta Hamilton, put on one of Hamilton’s only open stage drag show at downtown’s Sous Bas. With the turnout being so large that a line extended down the block, this was truly a night that people were going to be talking about for a while.
As I went down the stairs into the club, I was immediately met with the loud chatter of hundreds of people in a dimly lit room. The music played so loud that I could feel it vibrating up from the floor into my bones. Host Troy Boy Parks, a Guelph-based drag queen who knows how to control a crowd, stood on a single runway connected off the main stage.
Drag herstory begins in the mid 1900s during a time when homosexuality was prosecuted. Drag was used to escape the harsh realities of being an outcast of society. Only being practiced at clubs within the back corners of cities, queens would perform allowing the LGBTQ+ community to play with the concept of gender and sexuality in a time when they were not allowed to do so.
[spacer height="20px"]Drag was also the community’s reaction to freedom of speech during a time when it was hard to come by. Instead of picketing, they chose to stand up in an elegant way, a way that people would talk about for years to come.
As the LGBTQ+ community became more socially accepted within the world, so did the concept of drag. Present day drag has evolved much more than its predecessor. Modern drag is very much an entertainment-driven performance in which a person dresses extravagantly to amplify overexaggerated male or female characteristics. This along with the rise of drag in popular culture, through the reality TV show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, made drag culture mainstream.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”, hosted by world-renowned queen RuPaul Charles, enables drag queens from around the United States to compete in various challenges to prove they have what it takes to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Concluding it’s tenth season in 2018, along with four seasons of an all-star spin-off series, RuPaul has given queens, both amateur and professional, a platform to notoriety within not only the queer community, but society as well.
[spacer height="20px"]As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know that it can be hard to find your own identity, especially in a society that is not always accepting of others. Some queens do drag because it is their way to express their feminine side in a society that prohibits showing that.
Queens also gain a lot of confidence being on stage performing in front of a crowd with a group of people appreciating them and what they do. This is in part thanks to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race creating a positive look at drag culture. Confidence on stage can add to the person’s own confidence as they feel validated that others appreciate their craft.
Other queens look at it as creative medium. As a man who has only dressed up as a grandmother once for Halloween, I will be the first to tell you that make up is hard to do! Makeup takes a lot of artistic skill to achieve the look you have in your mind, and some queens find this self-expression to be a form of art in itself.
[spacer height="20px"]Every queen has a different take on how they want to deliver their drag extravaganza and what it should contribute to the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it be comedic relief to take the edge off or a rally to vote against a pumpkin president, drag will always be the first voice heard from the community and will always be ever-present.
Standing amongst hundreds of chattering people in a dimly lit room, my eyes flutter back and forth from the stage to the people surrounding me. Watching queen after queen putting the bass in their walk down the runway, I ponder on how we got to where we are today. If you asked me a year ago what I thought about drag, I would have said I don’t care for it.
Enter all my friends, both gay and straight, who didn’t stop raving about drag, I decided to give it a chance. What I ended up seeing was members of a shared community who didn’t care how others looked at them.
I saw members of a shared community who have so much love for one another. RuPaul ends each of her shows by asking contestants: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” These are words that constantly flow through the LGBTQ+ community.
Drag creates a sense of belonging and safety because you are in an environment amongst people who feel the same way as you. At a drag show, I feel safe because I know that the people around me will always care and support me, as I would them.
Although Pride Week at McMaster must ‘sashay away’ for another year, the progress the community makes will stay and continue to be built upon.
To the future generations of queer youth coming to McMaster, I say this: do not be afraid to be who you are and share it with the rest of the world. Sometimes it seems unfair but be proud. Stand up and fight for what you believe in, but also remember to have fun too.
Be it through drag or another medium that may rise in the years to come, there will always be an audience there for you. To close with the immortal words of Mama Ru, ‘Good luck and don’t fuck it up!’
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By: Jordan Graber
At an institution such as McMaster University, the subject of free speech is not an easy discussion. After Jordan Peterson, a controversial psychology professor from the University of Toronto came to visit McMaster, this has sparked immense discussion amongst students, faculty and other sources in Hamilton.
It has been argued whether in this circumstance free speech had been impaired when Jordan Peterson was not able to deliver his lecture or was practiced freely by the students who felt his words were offensive and oppressive to certain communities.
Despite his outlook that this might do good for McMaster students, faculty and guests, much like creating a smoke-free campus, this is in no way a good idea. The effects this policy, which was created by a specific demographic group, will merely take away the ability to fight from marginalized groups and sway even more power from the right side of the political spectrum to the left.
Issues involving language towards the LGBTQ+ community is no light subject, considerably in modern society where the inclusion of these bodies is stamped in the media. Mr. Peterson’s refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns towards his co workers and students has placed him at the centre of debate over gender and free speech.
Protesting gives students power. It gives them the ability to participate in movements that are bigger than one person
With the implementation of this policy, the social inequalities and issues that so many different groups fight for will be protected. If there were to be future speeches or guest lecturers who were to speak against these groups and their beliefs, there would be no ability to fight back and defend their beliefs, which is a basic human right that should be fought for itself.
In addition to the exclusion of marginalized groups and lack of community discussion, the application of the anti-discrimination policy will promote those who sit at the right end of the political spectrum disempower those who sit at the left. This leaves the protestors. Citizens who often lean to the left end of the spectrum will be left with little advocacy when it comes time to implement this policy.
Without advocacy for social democracy and change, we are left with a significant barrier and inequality among political groups and followers. This could create a social divide amongst McMaster students and allow for events and speeches that discriminate against or offend different communities. Once again there are implications that this policy will divide the McMaster community, leaving many without a true voice.
Protesting gives students power. It gives them the ability to participate in movements that are bigger than one person. With the placement of a policy which restricts the boundaries of a true protest, the ability to spark change at McMaster may diminish. It would reduce advocacy for minority groups and the left hand political spectrum, as well as leaving students without a voice.
It is difficult to speak up and to fight, however when it is done it starts a trend that can create real change in a society or community. It gives people purpose and meaning in their lives which is important for the future leaders of this city and this world. People like Jordan Peterson have their rights to free speech but taking away those rights from a spectator creates contradiction.
McMaster is a place where change for the better should be encouraged, not lessened. Anti-disruption is, in theory, a good plan. It does not, however, teach the students of McMaster that their voices are heard and are important, which should be the sole purpose of an institution like this.
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By: Crystal Lobo
During the week of March 7, the MSU’s Women and Gender Equity Network hosted International Women’s Week on campus. The week consisted of panels, workshops and showcases among other activities. Topics discussed included feminism, intersectionality, trans and gender politics, and the harsh truths about sexual violence and physical assault.
WGEN wanted to account for different sentiments and accurately represent feminism in planning the week. “We worked with our passions to get people to plan things we felt would be useful, and then plan them in a way that was useful, allowing for the flexibility of different styles in facilitation,” said Hayley Regis, WGEN Coordinator.
WGEN used the week to reach out to largely unheard voices on campus. “One of my goals was to reach out to populations that are hardly accessed by the MSU. We had people come out that I never met or my executive team never met. I think we’ve been having that in our space, as well as having the space being something people are comfortable accessing whether they are heavily involved in services or looking for a place to be and to exist,” said Regis.
International Women’s Week ran as a pilot project last year. This year marked a special milestone for the event since it was the first time that the newly formed WGEN hosted it. Though a new addition to the MSU, WGEN still received support from community partners, professors, speakers and other allies in order to deliver the week’s events to the McMaster audience. The WGEN team faced hurdles in achieving their objectives but their efforts resulted in success.
“I think that the community has been really receptive to having this, which I think has been really awesome,” said Regis.
Noteworthy events of the week included an event for transfolk and non-binary folk to connect over discussion of art, Women in Academia Panel, Club Night, and Yoga conducted by the Brown Girl’s Yoga Collective. Moreover, workshops such as Faith in Feminism, Feminism 1A03 and Feminism 4QQ3 proved to be important platforms in the discussion of the complexities and nuances behind feminism.
“I wouldn’t say there was one event I would rank over the other ones,” said Regis.
“I think that the community has been really receptive to having this, which I think has been really awesome.”
Regis and WGEN are open to feedback from the McMaster student body regarding the event, as well as the service at large. Regis said, “If there’s criticism, I welcome it because I think it will make the service better and stronger in future years. Talk to me about anything. Support the service, because I think even if it’s not a service that caters to you, people need to recognize it as one that’s necessary.”
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In the year 2016, companies continue to put new products onto shelves that are distinctly marketed for specific genders. Obviously, this is problematic for many reasons.
For one, unnecessarily gendered products avouch the gender binary. Today, men and women live very similar lives. We grow up together, attend the same universities and work in the same offices. There are few distinctions that require us to constantly think about how our gender dictates our role in society.
But when products that we use in our daily lives fall into two distinct categories, we are reminded that society really does see important differences between male and female. Affirming this gender binary becomes very problematic for those who don’t fit into it. With the silent assimilation of these products onto the shelves of our local stores, we render those who reside outside the typical gender binary invisible.
Obviously, these types of products are most impactful on those whose assigned gender at birth do not conform to their identity. However, it’s a problem for everyone else as well. From what we wear to how we move and talk, we make efforts to act in gendered ways in order to conform to what is expected of us, forcing ourselves to fit into the binary and reinforcing needless stereotypes that further make it difficult for those who do not identify with a certain gender. Often, gendered products not only reinforce the binary, but also suggest that women and men are expected to play unequal roles in society. Consider toys for children: girls are dentists’ assistants and boys are dentists; girls are princesses and men are kings.
In addition, there is a financial disparity that results due to gendered products. While it could be (wrongfully) argued that these products are only things for “emotionally sensitive” people to fuss over, there are real-world consequences as well. It has often been shown that the masculine and feminine version of a product are not priced the same. Typically, the one marketed towards women is more expensive. Due to the distinctions between even the most benign products (e.g. razors), it slowly becomes engrained within shoppers that there is a “right” product for them, that it makes sense to shell out more money to buy a product that most suits their needs as either male or female. However, this is but a marketing ploy; realistically, there are no differences between the two products. Women are therefore paying more for products that aren’t much different besides being the colour pink.
In truth, unnecessarily gendered products are as problematic as they are dumb. Companies often employ the excuse that gendered products are beneficial to shoppers because men and women are fundamentally different. For instance, many of these products advertise that the version for women is smaller than the one for men in order to fit women better. Gendered ear plugs are a prime example of this.
Again, this is an issue for many people who do not fall into the two distinct categorizations. Moreover, to argue against the reasoning behind these products, it would make more sense to create earbuds of various sizes and let the buyer decide what is the best for them instead of making assumptions on their behalf. Gendering ear plugs and having the distinction be “smaller for women, larger for men” is a vast generalization. These types of products make larger women or smaller men feel invisible. In a society that already pushes for women to be small and dainty, we don’t need earbuds to reinforce this outdated notion. The same goes for the stereotypes we perpetuate against men. Companies need to start catching up with the times and realize that what they may think as harmless marketing tactics do cause very real and upsetting ripples in the world they create their products for.
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I breathed a sigh of relief Sunday night. Leonardo DiCaprio has officially received his Oscar. You may have seen the deluge of memes, gifs, and video compilations all protesting his lack of Academy recognition. I have never seen the Internet collectively want something so badly. “Please God,” I said, eyes skyward, “let this be the last I hear about how mean the Academy has been to little Leo.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think DiCaprio is a brilliant actor, but in a year that the Oscars have been boycotted for being unapologetically and overwhelmingly white, all the fanfare surrounding one white dude left a bad taste in my mouth. Now that we can all sleep soundly knowing Leo has finally made his parents proud, the time has come to stop praising white guys for things that the rest of us do without fanfare. Here to help is my list of five places to start:
1) Winning awards
Yeah, we get it. White guys are good at being awarded stuff. When almost everyone winning an award looks pretty much the same, why are we still excited over a predictable result? Things may be looking up; I take solace in the fact that the proposed scholarship intended for white heterosexual people at the University of Western and the University of Windsor was struck down by the Ontario Superior Court last week. Progress.
2) Stay at home dads
Or for that matter, Dads who help with parenting at all. You do not get brownie points for doing things that women have been obliged to do for centuries. Frankly, I don’t care if you are overcoming gender stigma to be an effective parent, because you are not the only one doing so (see also: single mothers). Dads who change diapers are not heroes for dealing with the same crap we do.
3) Embracing their dad bods
Look, I am all for body positivity. Regardless of who you are, you deserve to feel happy in your skin. However, I am pissed that when people of color and women accept (or even dare to celebrate) their appearances it is considered egotistical and vain, while when white dads do it, it is amusing and charming. Congratulations on inviting yourselves to the feminist body positivity party, just don’t expect me to be ecstatic when you are praised for arriving late and partying harder than we do.
4) Not being sexist/racist/etc.
I’m looking at you Matt McGorry. If this list were in any meaningful order, this would be number one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen men praised for simply not being the-biggest-douche-to-ever-douche. I absolutely refuse to praise you for not using that racist word, I won’t give you kudos for not committing sexual assault, you are not my personal Jesus for using someone’s correct pronouns. Recognizing your privilege and working to overcome it makes you a half-decent human being. Welcome to the club.
5) Teaching us stuff
I’m really happy that you read that article or saw that documentary, but please stop trying to teach people how they are oppressed. As someone who has had firsthand experience with sexism, I’m not going to be impressed when you try and tell me about the intricacies of the wage gap. This by the way is not a dude-exclusive problem; white feminists have a long history of lecturing down to, or “teaching” people of color about racism. Rule of thumb: teach those who need to hear it most, i.e. other people with your privileges who refuse to recognize there is a problem. I promise you will get significantly less praise than you do preaching to the choir, but instead you will potentially make a difference.
In the end, making that difference is exactly what this comes down to. Would you rather enact change by addressing your own privilege? Or be angry at this article for stereotyping all white men? It is difficult to reject what you have been told your entire life — that you have earned every one of your victories without an unearned advantage. If you do manage to do the right thing, just know I’m not lining up to thank you for your decency.