CBC’s Anne: A Fantastic Portrayal of 21st Century Young Women in the late 19th Century.

So many “strong female protagonists” are written, created, and adapted by men. While of course it is possible and certainly fantastic for men to work towards writing a strong female lead, the female leads written by and about women are truly special. Sometimes it just takes a woman to write a woman’s story. Hermione Granger is a good example of a heroine who has so many, if not all the faculties of a clever, strong female lead. Created by JK Rowling, we have someone who is lauded and celebrated for her intelligence and as the story of Harry Potter progresses, Hermione develops and hones skills of strength, deception, and fist-wielding of her male peers.

Anne of Green Gables was originally published in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery. While I don’t know much about Montgomery, I know her upbringing was lonely and she relied on her imagination during times of solitude; I know that she was attractive and had many suitors in the Cavendish area and led a very romantic life, much like the beautiful and clever female characters in her books; I know that she suffered through bouts of depression which, like many people who live with depression, used her imagination and gift to make millions of people happy and wistful, and write about colourful, happy-go-lucky images, places, and people. What I don’t know about Lucy was what she believed to be important about women’s agency, whether she believed in women’s suffrage, whether she cared (or believed) her version of Anne was a “strong female lead.”

CBC has re-adapted Anne of Green Gables, entitled “Anne” in Canada and “Anne with an E” on American Netflix. The series is wonderful. Amybeth McNulty is a wonderful actress who brings agency, depth, pathos and vibrancy to an already classic and well-drawn character. The stories are adapted from the novel but bring a certain modern edge to the character; we get a glimpse of how/why she relies so fervently on her imagination and we get a glimpse of where she obtained her strong mindedness, temper and maturity.

What is very noticeable about the show though is how amazing it is at representing strong females.

There is a scene in Anne when the girls at the school are privately discussing their ‘womanly flowering time’ and Diana tells Anne that women should never talk about it because it’s a “shameful thing”. Anne, who was not brought up in so-called ‘propiety’ doesn’t understand why this is an issue.

Furthermore, there is a scene where Marilla insists the male hired hand, Jerry, accompany her on a journey into town and Anne insists going alone because she believes it to be a “heroic journey” that she must complete by herself. We the viewers know that Anne can, and will, accomplish this journey on her own; however, it is society that disallows this. Later, it is Jerry that becomes the ‘victim’ in the town adventure. And Anne must be the ‘rescuer’ of sorts.

In one episode, Anne refers to Diana’s spinster aunt as someone she looks up to; an idol or hero of sorts. While she debates leaving school due to bullying and her own personal troubles, she realizes after speaking with a priest that she wants to follow her own path; and sees herself in the future as so much more than someone who will be a wife and a homemaker.

In this new version of the story, Anne feels like the modern heroine and the rest of Avonlea society comes across as the ones who are backwards, hold onto old ideas, and place women in boxes. It is them who must adapt to Anne.

In addition to the beautiful and heroic qualities Anne possesses as a character, the show does a beautiful job at representing all women of all sizes and ages, each one with an important role to play in a society within the school and the community, which makes the fictional 1890s Avonlea very real and believable.

When one reads the credits, you will see mostly women’s names – everyone from the directors, to producers, to the writer/creator Moira Walley-Beckett, has contributed to creating a female-centric story not just about the friendships, struggles, yearnings and world of women,  but for women as well. This is no surprise. A show like this is something of a treasure for progressive women. It is a show that adults and young women can watch and feel inspired to embrace female strength as they may have before they were aware of the ways society crushes such spirit in young women.

Does Anne have romance and romantic wishes in her life? Is she vain? Yes, she is. Much like the Anne from the original novel. However, these are qualities that well-rounded women are entitled to have as well. There is a myth that strong female leads cannot have romance. To me, the difference is that strong female leads want but don’t need romance to look or feel whole and complete; but, weak traditional female leads solely exist for the purpose of male desire.

This a fantastic series. And all young women should watch it.

Why is Pride Important?

In light of the #heterosexualpride hashtag trending on Twitter, in light of the Orlando, FL massacre, in light of countless instances of institutionalized and individualized homophobia, is this question even worth asking?

Recently, a friend of mine who is marrying his boyfriend in a year from now was booking wedding photographers. Once the photographer found out it was a ‘gay wedding’ she declined the offer because as this photographer said so pointedly, they only do ‘legitimate weddings.’

Another friend of mine was once kicked out of a youth group because it was discovered that she was gay.

While I don’t have any close trans gendered friends, it comes to mind that I have students in my classes sometimes poking fun at Caitlyn Jenner.

Do I really want to press on bruises of the LGBTQ community by bringing up all the instances of prejudice and discrimination that are thrown in that community’s face every single day? Can you really ask someone who would spew this kind of hatred why pride is important? Is it true what Brian Kinney said on Queer as Folk, that “there are two kinds of straight people in this world — the ones who hate you to your face, and the ones who hate you behind your back”? I don’t believe that last statement for a moment. But, if you are a member of this beautiful, diverse, amazingly familial community that faces this kind of disgusting and somehow socially acceptable discrimination, can you blame someone for believing this?

Pride is important because every life deserves equality. Pride is important because of the alarmingly high suicide rate among LGBTQ teenagers. Pride is important because to this day, it is still considered somewhat acceptable to call someone a ‘sissy’, to hashtag ‘#nohomo’, to proclaim to men that being gay is the worst thing they can possibly be. Because people are afraid to come out to their friends and family because of how they might be perceived differently by those who love and care for them. Because trans-gendered people are arguably THE most discriminated group of individuals on this planet.

Pride is more than just a celebration of homosexuality; it is a celebration of diversity and of its importance. Pride is about being proud to be different and sticking it to the bullies, and the bigots. I’ve participated in pride celebrations not as a gay woman but as an ally, and despite being an outsider in that community, I felt completely at home because despite that the LGBTQ community is one that often experiences hate, never responds with anything except love.

Pride is important because it gives voice to the voiceless, no matter who they are and how they identify.

What I Would Want My Children to Know About Consent.

If I have children (God forbid I do, as I fear for my abilities and capabilities as a parent every time I stop to entertain the thought) I would want them to know that I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and sexual assault – the latter, twice – once at the hand of a close friend and ex-boyfriend.

I would want them to know that I at first, felt like in some uncertain terms these things were my fault. That I was confused about them, that I was unsure of how it was ‘supposed to feel’ to be “raped” — that I always told myself this narrative that being “raped” happens in back alleys at the hands of total strangers grabbing you on a sidewalk somewhere, or that afterwards you feel completely ripped to shreds from the inside out and you go to the hospital and do the whole rape kit thing and so on. And I would want them to know that for these reasons, all of the assault I’ve been privy to didn’t “feel” the way I thought assault would feel. I was mostly numb to it after it happened. I carried on with my day, or days, as though my life was totally normal and I was the same as everyone else who this hadn’t happened to, and that for these reasons I thought to myself, “well.. I couldn’t have been raped or abused; or if I was, it wasn’t as bad as other people’s experiences so I don’t have a right to say anything about them.”

I would want them to know this simple thing about sexual assault and sexual molestation, at any age, by someone of any gender: if you believe it to be rape, it is rape. If you did not consent to what happened to you, and/or you were too young to consent, then you didn’t consent. And that your own personal feelings and way of dealing with that are yours and yours alone and nobody is allowed to tell you things like “you should have told on them” or “you should have been more devastated” or worse, “you didn’t say no so it wasn’t rape” or “you can’t really be raped by someone you know or invited over to your house.”

I would want my children to know that sadly, assault and abuse are more common than we’d like to think; that I know several people in my life who have dealt with the repercussions and pain and numbness and self-hatred that they’ve brought on, internalized, thought about as as a result of their own experiences with rape. Those “1 in 5” or whatever numbered statistics are true — it is true that this is a very common thing. It goes unreported because as we know now, the law does not protect or often believe survivors of assault; it goes un-talked about because for many, these conversations are still taboo and they’re still difficult to swallow and they force people to re-live their traumas over again. But is it true? Absolutely. Once you speak about your assault, others will too; countless others. Go on Twitter after a highly publicized unfair case where a rapist got off scot-free. And you will see thousands of men and women voicing not just support and solidarity, but voicing “this happened to me too”… many, for the first time. I want my children to know that those stories are painful and brutal and speak to injustice in our society, but they are true and should and deserve to be believed, and supported.

I want my children to know that if anything happens to them they should tell someone but if they don’t they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it because I never told. I never told on anyone who has abused me. One of them is dead. He went to his grave with a daughter that still looks to him as the greatest father and best friend a little girl ever had. And I could have changed an entire family and the course of an old man’s life by ‘telling’. And I wish I had. But at the same time, if I had I would then make victims of a widow and a daughter and a son who had no part in, or control over, what their father did, not just to me, but other little local girls too. Is that fair? No, it’s not. And so I am now more at ease with the decision I made than I ever have been and I’m not angry about it anymore. But as victims, do we have a duty to tell? No. We’re victims and we only know how we feel and what we feel we need to protect ourselves and protect our own reputations, lives, families, and emotional well-being. I want my children to know I’m here for them but at the same time, if they don’t want me to be they should come to their own decisions about the right time to tell me something in time.

And finally, on sexual assault and abuse I would want my children to know that at any point, the best thing to do is say no. Children say no all the time: to their teachers, their parents, to their friends. And if there was ever the best time to say no, it would be when someone is doing something that you don’t like or want in or on or around your body. Saying no to someone who cares for you will not make them hate you; and saying no to someone who you don’t know doesn’t matter because who gives a shit what they think, you don’t owe them a thing. But saying no once and feeling weird about in the moment could save your life and in some strange way, theirs too.

Consent is not an easy thing to talk about; if you don’t say no but believe you were raped anyways, will anyone believe you were ‘raped’? And if you didn’t say no does that make the assault your fault? What kind of people do you trust with your body? What kind of people can rape you? I would want my children to know that this is complicated and there are no simple answers but in time, if this happens to you or a friend, it is important to note that how you feel is the subjective but ultimate truth.

We’re having the “rape culture” converstion. Again.

This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.

The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).

Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.

Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.

“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:

Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims. 

Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.

If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.

 

The Most Inspiring Thing I Heard This Week.

Lately I’ve felt overweight. I am technically “overweight”, I guess. I look at myself in the mirror versus myself about a year ago and I can really see how much I’ve let myself go. I know for a fact that there are people out there who love the fact that I’ve let myself go. And to those people I say this: there are lots of reasons – good reasons and ‘bad’ reasons – why people gain or lose weight, and before you go judging how someone looks on the outside maybe how you feel about someone’s weight gain says more about you than it does about them. ANYWAYS, moving on…

I met this truly lovely and wonderful girl the other night at a party. She was awesome and full-figured and vivacious and fun and beautiful and stylish and a staunch feminist and she was one of the most empowering positive people I’ve met in a long time.

She and I had somehow gotten on the topic of weight loss accounts on social media, and questioning why people couldn’t just be private in their exercise regimes, and what kind of validation are they seeking by posting about their shrinking hard bodies every day. And she had this to say:

You know what a bikini body is? It’s a body. That fits into a bikini. I have one right now, and so do you.

I think the capabilities of your body, and your inner happiness are what I took away from this conversation. And the fact that beauty doesn’t come in just one size. It was an amazing thing to hear from a rather amazing person, and I wanted to share it as a reminder to all of us that we can only be who we are and if we’re happy and alive, being who we are is enough.

“Good Enough”.

In this day and age we look at celebrities, people we know, models in advertisements, strangers on the street, people who are out there doing amazing things for themselves and for others (though for the purposes of this piece, we are mostly talking about people who ‘help themselves’ and even ‘help’ a loose term) and we compare. We look at the world and the people within it and wonder why we can’t practice what we preach on all those Pinterest quotes and Facebook memes and thoughts in our heads that we remember from cat posters on our classroom walls. Because the grass is greener elsewhere and we’re constantly searching for the greenest grass; for most of us, it’s rarely on our own lawn. And so we feel lost and we feel inadequate because we are exposed constantly to the wealths, successes and enjoyments of others. We wonder why we can’t be as thin, as rich, as ‘good’ as another person. We feel inadequate, undeserving of love or goodness or promotions. Because we’re not as good as someone else.

But we are.

We are good enough. We are good enough for our jobs, our loved ones, our bodies. We shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are and we should embrace that we are able to get up every morning, leave the house, dress ourselves, and be on our own. We should understand every single moment that we’re alive is an opportunity to celebrate what we are and what we’re made of. What we’re made of is this: we’re made of air and water and blood, sweat, tears, soft skin, and we’re designed to enjoy life in all its forms, from eating pizza to staring into the darkest depths of a Francisco Goya painting. We were born of someone who maybe thought we were the greatest miracle ever created, or else we chose a family member who thought this of us. We were born to make others happy and we were born to learn how to be adults and find our own families and our own places in the world, and regardless of what we think, we all have a place. Each and every one of us has a place. Maybe it’s covert and will take searching and digging and maybe it’s right there in front of us when we wake up in the morning and stare over to the right side of the bed. But we all do. All of us.

So many people, myself included, feel like we’re not pretty enough, strong enough, adult enough, woman enough, fit enough, athletic enough, brave enough, hardworking enough. And we must remind ourselves however we can, that we are. We are good enough. I am good enough. As I am. I don’t need to break my back and kill myself and dress a certain way or spend money on certain things or keep up appearances or feel that how I spend my day isn’t worthwhile. I am worthwhile. My loved ones think I’m worthwhile. My friends think I’m worthwhile. I just have to believe it. Today, I believe it.

Some Women I am Grateful For.

I know that International Women’s Day was on the weekend and I am belatedly ‘celebrating’ by outlining a few of my female role models – some I know, and some I don’t, in conjunction with the belief that praise and advocacy for women should be every day, not just on March 8!

My Mom

Yeah, as cliche as it is, of course my mom made this list. I was having a conversation with my boyfriend on the weekend about parenthood and he was of the belief that parenthood gives life meaning in a way you couldn’t imagine before. I feel good parents hold true to this. It’s not that they give up who they are and how to care for themselves in lieu of their children; rather, they foster their children’s success and happiness even if it sometimes comes a little before their own. And my mom always puts our happiness first. I would hope to be that kind of parent if I was to ever be one. On top of that though, my mom is funny and smart and doles out really good advice to me and more or less understands most aspects of who I am. She knows when I’m bullshitting and she knows when I am being authentic. In the same way I know these things about her. I am very, very grateful to not just have a parent in my mom, but a very close friend. Whatever I learned about being a woman, adult, girlfriend, sister and friend, I learned from her and I’m lucky she was never self-serving or advantage-seeking.

My Best Friend

I have had a best friend since 2004 and we tell each other everything. We have gone through periods where we drifted apart, found other friend groups, lived in different cities and had different views on how to live our lives but ultimately, we have since come together again and I couldn’t be happier to have her in my life as a confidante. I think in real friendships there is no competition, gossip or judgment. Open and honest discussions, involvement in one another’s lives, and being genuinely happy and encouraging for one another makes a friendship thrive, even after treading some rough waters. My best friend is successful but her success has been hard-won. I admire her commitment to all avenues of success she has tried, and her self-restraint and discipline in achieving her goals.

Carol Shields

I think people have a vision of what ‘Canadian literature’ looks like and I think Carol Shields, while she writes in, and often about Canada and the Canadian experience, she doesn’t do so in the stereotypical way of describing hardships of the north, government satire, or that archaic ‘Lost in the Barrens’ ideals that are often affiliated with Canadian literature. What I admire about Shields’ writing is her uncanny ability to make the ordinary – ordinary occurrences, ordinary people, ordinary romances – magical and extraordinary. I also love the way she encapsulates, with both beauty and humour, the experience of being a woman in contemporary Canadian society and what it means to live, love, work and foster friendships under this umbrella. I strive to be this kind of writer and even reaching toward what Shields can accomplish even in a few short pages, makes me better and makes me more inspired and challenged and nourished.

Meg White

The former White Stripes drummer was always kind of in the background until her haunting, untrained vocals rang through on later White Stripes albums (“In the Cold Cold Night” is a sparse stunner). Meg is out of the limelight when she easily could be in the limelight; she is a relatively simplistic musician whose technique is as untrained as her flat and wavering voice. And yet, there is a childlike exuberance in what she could achieve as the Stripes’ drummer. Her showwomanship and her weak fills were raw and punk and garage as anything from a bunch of dudes playing in someone’s suburban garage in the late 80s. Meg has more or less stepped away from what made her famous, but I hope we see her again someday.