To the St. Mary’s University frosh leaders, from a former frosh volunteer and an assault survivor.

Dear SMU frosh leaders,

It goes without saying that many in the world are watching you with gritted teeth and clenched fists. Congratulations — it’s rare that Canadian news reaches outside of Canada.

Let me preface this by saying that when I say “frosh volunteer” I don’t mean to say I was a frosh leader — “Ice Breakers” as we called them at my alma matter, Wilfrid Laurier University. I spent my latter years as a service volunteer. I represented, promoted and worked as a member of Foot Patrol, for which I was a year-round volunteer. We specialized in walking (and driving) people home after dark in well-equipped teams of two. Along with the other services represented at O-Week — BACCHUS, our safe-sex and alcohol awareness group; Peer Help Line, whose purpose is hopefully self-explanatory; EcoHawks, who promoted recycling and environmental friendliness; the Emergency Response Team; and the Student Food Bank — we helped to introduce incoming students to many of the programs and services that were there to help them through their time at Laurier. To me, that was the true spirit of O-Week, though I’m sure Ice Breakers would respectfully disagree.

Many consider the true spirit of O-Week, Frosh Week, whatever you want to call it, to be school spirit — discovering the clubs there are to join, meeting new people and, of course, cheering your hearts out. Cheers can be pretty darn silly, I’ll admit, and sometimes the content is downright nonsensical. But despite all of the nonsense I’ve witnessed, I’m confounded not only at how you were able to get away with your pro-rape cheer for several years, but why you conceived the idea in the first place.

I’m aware that as a assault survivor much of my opposition to this will be chalked up to “emotional response” and “biased.” At this point, though, I couldn’t care less.

For those of you who aren’t filled with remorse and regret over the cheer, you probably are resorting to the J-word. “Joke.” And “just.” “It’s just a joke.”

I’ve known many people who fight for the rights of the jokester. The right to categorize jokes as sacred. The idea that when we are on an elevated pedestal when we say something that makes others laugh — whether it’s in a circle of our peers or standing on a stage several feet above a crowd, microphone in hand.

But ask yourself — why do we laugh in the first place?

One has to grasp at straws to find an answer other than “rape is funny.” But we all know that it isn’t, don’t we? “Of course,” you say. “But it’s a joke?”

So again full circle — why is it a joke?

You probably can’t pinpoint the moment when you were taught that something like rape was funny. And I can’t blame you. It’s come at you from all angles. And yes, there are some areas of society in which that attitude is more saturated. But instead of pointing fingers at your parents, your sports coaches, your fraternities, I’m going to tell you who I blame:

I blame a culture that teaches young men that they’re entitled to the bodies of young women. I blame a culture that commoditizes sex. I blame a culture that makes one-liner jokes about pedophilia and child molestation such as “if there’s grass on the field, play ball” and I blame the culture that doesn’t even find that to be outrageous. I blame the culture that compares me to a Nazi because I refuse to see something like this as a joke. I blame our culture that doesn’t see a problem with Robin Thicke’s music video in which he uses nude women as props but sees a problem with a cheeky, student-made parody video in which the genders our switched. I blame people who purposely seek out drunk women because they are easier to have sex with. I blame comedians who say “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped right now?” and the people who laugh at them and the people who defend them. I blame a culture that allows “#itaintrapeif” to trend on Twitter. I blame schools that tell girls to consider breast reduction surgery if they’re sick of being made fun of for the size of their breasts. I blame the people who managed to convince everyone else that false rape accusations happen at the same frequency as actual rapes. I blame everyone and everything that dehumanizes women, treats them as objects, and makes them out to be prizes.

I blame the culture that told me it wasn’t rape because the person I was dating did it.

This isn’t to say you as individuals should walk away from this unscathed. But I hope that while you’re sitting through your mandatory sensitivity training — which I’m sure seems like a much worse punishment to you than it actually is — you start to think about the people and places and experiences from which you’ve learned all those little things, the little things that add up to the belief that that cheer was okay.

Then I want you to go about unlearning it. I’m not going to tell you how. You’re grown adults. Learn yourself.

Being proud of where you came from? It’s optional.

You don’t have to know me well to know that one of my personal idols is Joni Mitchell. It’s not just that I’m a sucker for all things Canadian — her songs have brought me joy and comfort since I was a kid, and since getting older I’ve also loved her matter-of-fact, shooting-from-the-hip manner of speaking. She’s grown older, but is not a quiet mouse or gentle, grandmotherly type. Want proof? Her recent interview on Q with Jian Ghomeshi should tell you everything you need to know.

Here’s one thing I’m beginning to learn I have in common with Joni — we don’t look upon our hometowns with great pride. In fact, Joni Mitchell recently went on record denouncing any plans to be a part of any tributes to her in her hometown of Saskatoon — calling the city “extremely bigoted” and “unworldly.”

Saskatoon has decided to go ahead with tributes to Joni anyway, of course respectfully disagreeing with her assessment of their city.

Now, it’s hard for me to identify in direct parallels to this event because I’ve never been fully sure where my hometown is. I was born in 1989 in London, ON and by 1990 was a full-time resident of Kapuskasing, ON, where I lived for ten underwhelming years. At age ten I moved to what appeared to be a booming metropolis next to Kap — Timmins, ON. My formative years were spent getting buzzed with other angry adolescents at hardcore shows in Timmins’s shittiest dive bars and clomping around the cigarette butt-littered streets in my ski jacket for six months of the year. I was lucky enough to move to North Bay at age sixteen, and four hours South seemed to make all the difference. My parents moved once again in late 2008, this time to a suburb of Oshawa, but I was just about to spend four years in Kitchener-Waterloo attending university anyway (this was when my personal dilemma of answering the “where are you from?” question first arose).

I’m now a full-time resident of Toronto along with many of my other Timmins friends. It seems we can’t have one get-together in which we don’t dissolve into a conversation about how messed up the town can be at times, often masking our disdain with incredulity and laughter.

In late 2012, Timmins unveiled a not-yet controversial rebranding strategy. The reason the strategy was not so controversial was because no one really knew about its details. When two of my friends were bored waiting for a flight, they took a look at the details of the branding strategy and found themselves scratching their heads at both the juvenile branding techniques (seriously, even a word cloud would have been better) and the content itself — “Tim Hortons, not Starbucks”? “Steak, not sushi”? “Hockey, not ribbon dancing”? It was that kind of underlying discomfort — we could all sense that the true message of this rebranding was a very stick-in-the-mud, white-is-right, Western-centric, we-ain’t-no-girly-men-here kind of view of the town. Feeling disappointed, I vented my frustrations the only way I knew how — through writing. To my surprise, my letter was published. The outrage was unsurprising at first — but it built into an issue that continued to be discussed and rehashed in council meetings and local news (only stretching on even longer when my awesome drunken friends decided to write a song about it — oh, and they managed to get CBC coverage while your’s truly sat in her Toronto-based castle made of golden newspapers drawing designs for her CBC tattoo).

For awhile I cushioned my statements when discussing the issue, eager to prove that I was proud of where I came from — very proud, in fact! I loved living a simple life of sledding down tiny hills in the winter and springing into murky lakes in the summer, watching kids zoom into the school parking lots on their snowmobiles every morning, the stench of gas soaked into their coats. I told myself that I loved being a small-town, Northern girl.

But every time I visit back there’s this lingering feeling of subtle hostility — was Timmins proud of me? What had they done to encourage and foster my own skills? There had always been an underlying elitism for pickup trucks, four-wheelers and Molson Canadian, one that I even took part in as a team. There was even, in my eyes, somewhat of a disdain for higher education throughout much of the town. It was optional. Take a fifth year of high school, work for awhile. With Timmins’ booming economy, you could easily get a job in the mines — or even the local inbound call centre — and buy your first house in no time. Settle down with your sweetheart. Add a dog and a yard, boom, you have your permanent life.

It’s a place where people I know have had rocks kicked at them because they were gay.

I’ve resigned to the fact that I’m not Timmins’ prodigal daughter. Maybe North Bay and Kapuskasing want me, but Timmins does not. For awhile I felt lost, like I didn’t really hae a hometown. I’d always identified Timmins as the fill for that blank because, well, 10-16 are important years. All my friends were from Timmins. I had my first kiss in Timmins, got my first job there and had my first taste of alcohol. Now essentially a pariah, I really felt I had no place there.

Recently, following some extended family drama, someone I know made the decision to distance himself from his own family for much of the same reasons I’d condemned Timmins in my letter. Though I worried at first that he would find himself a man without a family, he has seemed happier than ever. Perhaps that’s because he has his own family now, one that he’s made for himself. He may not be proud of where he comes from, but where he comes from is not proud of him — why do them that favour?

I’ve told myself the same thing. Instead of worrying about having a fill for the blank next to the “hometown” question, worry about where I am now. Instead of struggling to find something good to say about the place that didn’t support my dreams and my uniqueness, focus on finding good things to say about myself.

You don’t have to be proud or pay lip service to your hometown. Especially if they weren’t proud of you.

Elysium: A brilliantly constructed universe with simplistic, amateur character writing

Warning: This review contains spoilers

I usually don’t go into action movies with high expectations — they’re an escape for me, a time to grab the popcorn, begrudgingly don a pair of 3D glasses and grin for 90 minutes. And yes, I’ll even go see them alone.

Elysium, however, is an action movie for which I had a myriad of high hopes. How could I not? I had been a huge fan of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are both actors I hold in high esteem and, most confounding, between Star Trek, World War Z and Pacific Rim, I had been spoiled with surprisingly impressive action movies this summer.

It was like someone baked a cake with the best batter, high-quality frosting, chocolate chips on top and even wax paper-wrapped coins inside.

Except someone messed up and mistook “tsp” for “tbsp” and the whole thing ended up simultaneously too heavy and with not enough flavour.

The difference between films like Pacific Rim and Elysium was that Guillermo Del Toro created a film that never felt pretentious or preachy, and though he packed in solid thematic elements and great performances from his actors, he never once forgot that he was making a film about robots fighting giant monsters. It was a popcorn flick, but a really, really good one.

Elysium is a popcorn flick that doesn’t think it is one. Set a couple centuries in the future, the decrepit, dystopian Earth is now overcrowded and the one-percenters have fled for an artificial habitat in space, Elysium. Picturesque and privileged, Elysium’s big draw us its special healing beds, which cure the illness of any citizen who lies in it.

Max (Damon), an assembly line worker with a checkered past, has grown up dreaming of living on Elysium. After a work accident leaves Max suffering from radiation poison with five days to live, he turns to his old life of crime in order to scheme his way onto Elysium with a fake ID. The road bumps on Max’s journey include Elysium’s cold, anti-immigration defence secretary Jessica Delacourt (Foster), a maniacal wild-card assassin (Sharito Copley) and his beautiful childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) who has a complicated life and a daughter with leukaemia.

I should start by saying that I don’t really take issue with how transparent Blomkamp’s allegory for how Americans treat refugees and immigrants is. Obvious metaphor isn’t a bad thing. From a story perspective, Elysium was well-written. It is the shallow, one-dimensional and uninteresting characters which make Elysium completely unremarkable, even eye-roll inducing at times.

Damon’s character, Max, has only one clear goal in life — to go to Elysium and to live. But as a poisoned Max writhes in pain and insists to his fellow criminals that he wants — needs — to live, all I can think is, “Why?” Blomkamp doesn’t provide enough information about Max or his fixation on Elysium. He’s just selfish. While a selfish lead character isn’t a death sentence for a movie, the obviousness of his character arc is. The moment when I first rolled my eyes was when Frey’s precocious, sick daughter (one of the worst-written child characters in recent memory) tells Max a story about a hippo who gives a mouse a boost to get some food. “What’s in it for the hippo?” asks the hardened Max. “The hippo gets a friend,” peeps the little girl.

There’s heavy-handed, and then there’s painfully obvious. If it wasn’t clear to every viewer from that moment on that Max was going to end up sacrificing his life for the other sick Earthlings and learn a valuable lesson in death, then I have greatly overestimated the intelligence of the moviegoing public.

Foster’s character is no better. She’ll stop at nothing to rid Elysium of illegals and asks the president how he’ll feel when “they” are moving in next door and stealing his precious public space. Delacourt is little more than a cartoon character, though Foster still manages to have deliver the arrogance and commanding presence required of her stone-faced character.

Assassin Kruger (Copley) has already drawn comparisons to Heath Ledger’s 2008 interpretation of the Joker, and I can only ask why. it is possible to create a character who is an agent of chaos who is still interesting. But as remorseless and unrelenting as Kruger is, it all feels so predictable.

It’s a shame this summer ended on a low-note for movies — I’ll remain thankful for the surprisingly enjoyable popcorn action flicks and the delightful indie surprises. Elysium is a mere drop in the ocean as far as summer movies are concerned. Perhaps this just felt so disappointing because it was so over-hyped.

(P.S. — if you’re wondering, I rolled my eyes once again when, at the moment of his death, Max croaked to Frey to tell her daughter that he really liked her story, and he knows now why the hippo did it).

Women Don’t Have To Call Themselves Feminists

Another beautiful gem from Chelsea Fagan. Though I my own qualms with the feminist label don’t stop me from adopting it myself, this is still one of the most valid criticisms of feminism I have read as of late.

Thought Catalog

“Don’t be afraid to call yourself a feminist,” we say, “It’s not a dirty word.”

Like little Johnny Feminismseeds, we are supposed to be frolicking through life, liberally sprinkling our fellow women with the Good Word about how feminism is not what we were taught it was. It wasn’t scary, it didn’t mean you have to hate men, and it wasn’t something to be embarrassed of. Every time we reblog or share a post praising a celebrity who identifies as feminist and says decidedly pro-women things, or bash a woman in the public eye who rejects the term for whatever reason, we are confirming it. The idea is to proudly self-identify as something that we believe all people should be — to take the word and make it into something that it would be embarrassing not to be.

We even praise women whose feminism is so far to the forefront…

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Casting the final “stone.”

Two months ago I was off to go do some on-scene reporting and I decided to take our intern with me for the experience. When he got into my car he pointed at a small silver cilinder and became very excited, asking if it was what he thought it was.

It wasn’t. I could tell he thought it was a grinder — it was actually a tin of Green Beaver hand balm (side note: it is the most amazing product for dry/chapped/chafed skin).

That lead to the always-uncomfortable conversation about why I don’t — or rather, no longer — smoke pot.

Yes, I was once a stoner. Like more than one-quarter of Canadian teenagers, I had tried pot several times in high school. By the time I went to university I had given it up, although I was never that committed to in the first place.

That all changed when I met the guy I dated for the latter half of university. I had just come out of a relationship in which I had turned every situation into an argument, so my knee-jerk reaction was to laud and endorse every decision this guy made. He happened to be quite the “stoner,” and he was, without question, pretty into it — if the “weedsmoking” and “Free Marc [Emery]” posters on his walls weren’t an indication, the fact that he wouldn’t stop talking about pot certainly was.

So I took up the activity again, and suddenly my life was saturated in it. My favourite activities became doing other activities, but high. Making a blanket fort while high. Playing video games while high. It became a thing to bond over, and I made friends simply through our one shared interest. I found myself attending lacklustre political demonstrations on the steps of our Conservative MP’s office and, of course, celebrating 4/20. I was proud of who I was and of what I did, even if my friends didn’t agree with it.

It wasn’t until my boyfriend verbalized something that I realized perhaps I was being a little foolish. He admitted with conviction that once he knew someone smoked pot, he immediately liked them more. “How silly and shallow,” I thought — even though I realized that I had held the same philosophy.

It was also difficult for me to keep from rolling my eyes when he would use words like “oppression” to describe the state of people who were not allowed to smoke pot, yet proceed to not really care all that much about the rights of trans* people, abortion rights or the struggles of Aboriginal Canadians.

Eighteen months after we started dating, he moved away and I limited my smoking to weekends when he was there, though truthfully I didn’t really feel like doing it all that much.

A catalyst came around New Years, when I had been very sick and sore. I had just gone off the pill, which was causing depression, but without it my cramps were enough to keep me curled up in a ball for days. My boyfriend offered to make me pot-infused hot chocolate. It was a nice deed, but inside I wanted to cry — “No, I don’t want pot hot chocolate, I just want you to massage my back and lie here with me!”

The pot chocolate hit me like a ton of bricks and for the rest of the afternoon I was exhausted yet unable to sleep, distracted by the most insignificant things. My boyfriend’s solution? “Let’s go bowling.” On the way to the bowling alley, my boyfriend, who denied being too high, missed our turn and pulled a sharp, fast U-turn that briefly caused me to fear for my life. I felt angry at him, though I couldn’t really verbalize why — even if I wanted to, I was far from articulate.

After that I started to realize two things: one, that pot was not really right for me, and two, that one can’t build an identity around being a “stoner.”

I never consciously “quit” smoking pot, but I started turning it down until it became known that “Bree didn’t smoke.” It took awhile before I started saying it myself, but now I readily identify as someone who does not smoke pot.

It’s difficult to express where I stand on pot at this point. On one hand I absolutely do believe it should be legalized, but in terms of priorities for our government I don’t think it’s a tragedy if they take their time getting to it. I’m not any less likely to be friends with someone who smokes — being in a creative field, naturally I’m going to come across plenty of people who do — but I probably won’t want to be around when they start to go off on their rants about how pot just makes people more laid back and how such-and-such a movie is so much better once you’ve seen it high.

Would I say I’ve “out-grown” pot? No, I think there are plenty of mature, functional adults who enjoy a good bowl. But I’ve moved past that stage of my life, and as much as I told myself I would still care, it’s undeniably difficult to.

Red flags when looking for a writing job or internship.

I saw a surprising spike in followers following my entry about unpaid internships, which I appreciated very much. However, because I wrote the entry at work (naughty me!) I wasn’t able to go as in-depth as I would have liked. I also remembered a few things on the drive home that I should have mentioned, thus I figured I would post a follow-up.

Here are some red flags to look for when applying for an internship or your first writing job:

  1. The ad states, “We can’t afford to pay you right now.” If you’re searching for an internship, this is not the definition of an internship. A publication which takes on a writer or editor whom they do not intend to pay because they cannot afford it is not looking to provide scholarship and value experience; they are looking for free labour. Spend your dirt-broke intern days in a position where you can learn something.
  2. The job ad is looking to pay bloggers to do remote blogging about “any subject you want!” I have worked this kind of job before. These kinds of employers are almost always looking for general-knowledge bloggers to contribute to pages with entries containing certain keywords so that they can make an easy buck on advertising. The work you end up doing will be far too time-consuming for your compensation — which for me was somewhere around 1.25 cents a word. You usually also won’t be able to get to attach your name to the work and you will rarely be writing anything that you can put in a portfolio.
  3. A posting advertising an internship states that having your own equipment (i.e. camera, recorder) is an asset. Again, this is an indication of a company who cannot afford to provide you with the tools you need. While it’s fine to ask for experience with these things, internships are about learning. This is a sign that the company is trying to benefit from you, while an ideal internship benefits the intern more than it benefits the company.
  4. A paid writing job which charges per word/article charges less than $0.06 per word. $0.10 is standard for professionals.
  5. The job posting is for a brand new publications (raise a second red flag if they won’t even say the name of the publication). They’ll say things like “join our growing family!” With this kind of job you will find the same problems indicated in 1) and 3). Unfortunately in major cities full of general and specialty publications, these publications are not likely to last. Don’t take a chance on these things while you’re still young and starting out — you don’t want to risk going through the process of finding a new job only a few more months down the road. Save these risks for when you’re further established in your career. Get your first job with a more established publication if you can, where you can learn the ropes from people who learned years ago, not people who are learning as they go along.

7 Things Women Will Always Have To Explain To Men

Despite disagreeing with some of her viewpoints all those years ago, Chelsea Fagan has become one of my favourite writers and I follow her work with great intrigue and joy at every new release. This recent piece is a must-read!

Thought Catalog

1. No, cat calling is not flattering.

I feel like every man who has ever tried to convince me to take some rando shouting “Hey girl, nice ass” at me as a compliment sees it this way: You’re sitting outside some Italian café in a Betty Draper dress sipping a prosecco when all of a sudden your dainty neck scarf flies off in the light breeze. Joseph Gordon Levitt, wearing a linen suit with a pocket square and no socks with his penny loafers, steps off his Vespa and hands it to you while saying something witty about how it’s almost as beautiful as you are. You then both ride off into the sunset, laughing as Dean Martin plays in the background and the director yells cut on the espresso commercial that is your life.

In reality, it’s you getting yelled at by a bunch of sweaty men standing outside…

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