Sunday, 29 September 2013

OkCupid, Stupid!: Misadventures In Online Dating

I joined OKCupid at the beginning of September; a little out of boredom, a little out of curiosity, and a little out of desperation, and it's been... an interesting experience so far.

It's surprisingly hard to meet new people at this age. All of your old friends have either moved away or grown apart, and without the guarantee you had in college of constantly being around compatriots all day, it's really easy to find yourself spending a lot of time alone.

If you know me, then you know that I don't do well alone. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine being on my own, and being an ambivert means that as much as I love being around people, social interactions wear on me quickly, and I need to crawl back into my hole fairly often to recharge. The problem arises when there's no one around when I'm ready to crawl out again.

So I took the plunge. I signed up, added a picture, filled out my profile, and answered some questions. And then I waited. And then I got a few replies. And then I cringed!

Let's just say that the pickings are... pretty slim in Trinidad and Tobago. My theory is that all the decent guys are either taken, or not socially proficient enough to meet new people in real life. But it's probably just that online dating isn't really a thing down here just yet. T&T is so small already; why would it need to be? There are never more than about 3 degrees between any two people. But for socially awkward weirdos like me, it might be a saving grace.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Things I Love: Gender Neutral Disney Princesses

There's almost nothing I like more than a good Disney remix, so naturally I swooned when I saw these. This time around, the lovely princess swap digs with their man friends, making for some really cute menswear approximate looks. My favourite ones so far are Tiana as Naveen (above), Belle as the Beast, Jane as Tarzaan, and Megara as Hercules. They're really great illustrations and a lot of fun. Artist Haruki Godo does a really great job of bringing a more original concept to the Disney fan art genre. Check out the rest of the series on his Deviant Art page.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Glambition: Introductions, Shit Talk and First Impressions

Well, I had so much fun reviewing #CNTM that I'm back for more, this time with the new docu-drama Glambition, filmed in Trinidad, and airing Tuesday nights on Synergy TV. I didn't initially know a lot about the series, so I missed the initial pilot broadcast, but caught up later online. The 20 minute episode was.... interesting to say the least.

If I'm being honest? I wasn't impressed. The entire thing feels like a contrived, rehashed, bootleg version of The Hills, and that show got cancelled. The show is poorly edited, voice overs are stiltingly delivered, cuts are jumpy and obvious, transitions are jarring, there's a lot of repeated information.... production wise, it's a mess. And that's just the beginning. There is that strange stilted feeling throughout; cast members on budding realities shows tend to be hyper-aware of the camera's presence. The few actual conversations were constructed in such a way as to feel almost scripted. We've always known that reality television wasn't "real" but there's something here that feels disingenuous and overtly performed.

This episode largely focused on introducing the audience to the five cast members. We heard them describe themselves and their goals. And then we heard them talk shit about each other. The cast is an eclectic bunch though, and their casting might be the real genius of the series.

Monday, 23 September 2013

[Movie Review] TTFF2013 Premiere: Half Of A Yellow Sun

Sometimes a human story is all it takes.

Not having read the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I went into the screening of TTFF2013's opening night film, Half Of A Yellow Sun on Tuesday last, completely blind in terms of characterization and plot. The film, starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, was making it's Trinidadian debut after premiering in the Toronto International Film Festival the week before. 

The story is set in Nigeria during the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, and focuses largely on the personal relationship between Olanna and Odenigbo, (Newton and Ejiofor respectively) and their struggle to survive during the a bloody civil war.

The couple go through familiar relationship rigors; testy in-laws, infidelity, hints at infertility; but they decide to commit to each other fully in a world that is crumbling around them, where the people they love are here one day and gone the next in frequently increasing air strikes that result from the war.

I'm not extensively familiar with Ejiofor's work, but after this performance, I want to see more. His turn as the philandering, drunkard Odenigbo is composed of just enough conviction mixed with lingering doubt to bring the character to life. He allows us to both dismiss Odenigbo when he tries to justify his infidelity to Olanna by saying he was raped, but also to empathize with his inner struggle as he realizes that he cannot provide the life he wants to for his family in the middle of  bloody civil war. 

Newton too, is brilliant. Her performance is reminiscent of the one she gave as Tangie Adrose in For Coloured Girls, not in characterization, but in thrust. Newton as Olanna is conflicted and hurt, but also self-assured. She makes you believe in her choices, (for example, to take Odenigbo back) even when you don't agree. Her grief though, hooks you. When she confronts Odenigbo about his betrayal, and again later, when a central character is presumed dead, her performance is raw and wounded. It feels intrusive to witness that much of someone else's pain.

Fleshing out the list of memorable performances was Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, twin sister to Olanna. I have seen little of Rose's work onscreen but here she shines; bringing a regality to Kainene's haughty dismissal of her sister's "revolutionary" lover. Her scenes against Newton are where she really steals the spotlight. Dry and disdainful, Kainene's conversations with Olanna highlight Rose's ability to play more than just the diminished black woman, a la For Coloured Girls or Dreamgirls. Here, she takes control, and moves the pieces on her chess board according to her often apathetic whims.

John Boyega holds his own against this stellar line up, as Odenigbo's houseboy Ugwu. Unitentionally funny in many scenes, his silent loyalty to Olanna and Odenigbo is endearing, and his educational ambitions pay off well later down the line. Boyega does well to make Ugwu a character we love but do not feel sorry for with his wide-eyed and open hearted portrayal. 

It is a unique experience to watch a film in a Trinidadian audience. The effect is pronounced if the film is an action movie or a comedy, but it happens in dramas too. In Trinidad, compelling characters and stories on film can unite an audience, and it happened that night as the crowd dissolved into the stories of these Nigerian protagonists. To me, that is a sign that the film excels; it made watching the film a communal experience among hundreds of people who had never met. 

Half Of A Yellow Sun is a compelling drama that I would definitely recommend, and rewatch. Great performances, a human struggle and suspenseful storyline collide here to form a timeless tribute to the resistance of the human spirit in the face of war times struggle. I enjoyed myself immensely, and the film has prompted me to seek out more of Adiche's work. 

In short? It excels.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Only Thing I Will Say About Miss Trinidad & Tobago Universe 2013

To be clear, none of this is a comment on Ms. Miller's individual suitability for the position, but rather a comment on the way in which any and all attempts to call attention to racialized oppression are immediately delegitimized and ignored in Trinidad. It's not about her personally and it never will be. I have nothing bad to say about her because I don't know her. Honestly, I'm inclined to like her despite not knowing her because I so rarely meet another "Catherine." The following tweets are about the way in which people with power respond when the legitimacy that power is questioned.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hermione Granger Was Not Intersectional OR What S.P.E.W. Teaches Us About Feminism

I'm currently rewatching the Harry Potter movies, and because yesterday's discussion was still on my mind, I realized that Hermione Granger and S.P.E.W. are a great illustrative example of SIFWW! (Or I guess, solidarity is for magical beings...?) I'm not too mad about it because Hermione is amazing and I love her, and also she is fictional, but there are some really good parallels for how poorly we treat minority women and cultures in trying to "save them".
In the novels, after seeing some of the abusive treatment of house elves in the magical world, specifically Winky, house elf to Barty Crouch, Hermione starts the Society For The Protection of Elvish Welfare, aimed at helping house elves gain a living wage, among other things. If you've read the books then you know that house elves are essentially magical slaves who do housework, cleaning and cooking. Scratch that. They are slaves. They just don't seem to mind that much. 
Now, slavery is widely considered to be a bad thing without exception (because DUH) so I can't really be that mad that it never even occurs to Hermione that freedom might not be something that house elves want. But for house elves their "culture" for want of a better word, is that they remain tied to a specific family for their entire lives. The responsibility for that family passes down from elf to elf, and it's something they take great pride in. To be set free means not only disgracing themselves, but all of their elvish ancestors who came before them.
When Hermione sees Winky defending Barty Crouch even though he has made her confront her fear of heights at the Quidditch World Cup, all Hermione takes from the situation is that "Winky has been brainwashed" to defend him. And her limited experience with Dobby, who was ecstatic to have been set free, fuels her conviction that elves should all be freed, even though Dobby is the exception and not the rule, due to the fact that his former masters, the Malfoys, treated him like shit.
I think that's a pretty solid parallel for the way that western women assume that all veiled Muslim women are "being oppressed by the man!" or that they only adhere to their religion because they "don't know any better" even though for many Muslim women, veiling is a choice. Muslim women are not a monolith, and their choices do not exist in a vacuum.
The fact is that Hermione never once considers what house elves actually want. Other than Dobby, she has limited contact with house elves, and has no real understanding of why they are generally satisfied with their lives they way they are, and their place in the magical hierarchy. For example, while Dobby thrives in freedom, Winky falls into a tailspin, getting drunk on butterbeer in the Hogwarts kitchens. 
Ron, the only one of the main trio who grew up in the wizarding world, continues to tell Hermione that the elves are happy the way they are, and that SPEW will only antagonize them, but Hermione dismisses him as a bigot who is simply satisfied with a status quo that benefits him. Though that is probably partly right, it doesn't change the fact that Ron is more likely to understand the working relationship between wizard kind and elves, and has a more informed perspective. 
Ron's objections prove to be right however, when after discovering that Hermione has taken to hiding hand-made items of clothing in the Gryffindor common room to trick the Hogwarts house elves into being set free, they boycott Gryffindor entirely and refuse to clean it anymore, leaving the task to Dobby alone.
The only upshot of her campaign was that she alienated and infuriated the elves themselves. While she was busy knitting clothes to give them in order to set them free, the majority of house-elves are accustomed to their work, and seem to enjoy it. They regarded Hermione's actions as insults to their race. Thus, they refused to clean the Gryffindor common room any more, meaning that Dobby was the only one prepared to carry out this task. Already being free himself, he took all the clothes himself, wore most of them (making a tower of hats on top of his head), and passed some of the others on to Winky in the false hopes of cheering her up[1]. Hermione was not informed of this development, as no one had the heart to tell her. [Harry Potter Wikia]
Hermione takes it upon herself to "free" the house elves without considering whether or not it was in their best interest, or something that they even wanted. The house elves reaction is similar to the push back that Muslim women give when told by western women that "they need to be saved from oppression". It's insulting to imply that they do not have the capacity to identify or deal with the problems of their culture on their own terms. Barging in and "fixing things" without any input from the culture you are affecting is harmful, unproductive, and ultimately alienating to that culture.
As we learn later in the novels, most house house elves just want to be treated with dignity. Kreacher, beholden to the noble house of Black, betrays Sirius in book five, because Sirius had always treated him abusively. That action led almost directly to Sirius' death. By book 7, after Harry inherit's Kreacher's services, he has learned to treat Kreacher with the dignity that he deserves as a magical being, and their relationship improves dramatically almost overnight. 
The problem isn't that Hermione wants to help. She has an amazing heart, and she is only trying to correct what she sees as a terrible injustice. But being Muggle born, there is an enormous cultural chasm that she hadn't yet figured out how to navigate. By trying to apply Muggle values of right and wrong to a magical perspective, she misses the nuances that makes certain values different or irrelevant in a magical context. Never once does she extend her knowledge of house elf's desires beyond the elves she interacts with directly, and she makes the fatal mistake of extrapolating their individual desires as the desires of the entire group. (Sound familiar...?)
So what can we learn from Hermione's mistake? Listen first. As an outsider, there is simply no way to fully understand the cultural practices of another group. And while certain things are objectively bad, dealing with those particular issues may not actually be at the top of that group's priority list. 
Let's be better allies to house elves and minority cultures. Listen first. Act second. And don't presume that as an outsider, you can ever know what is best for the people of a different culture. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

DVF Does It Right: Diversity In Fashion Is Really Not That Hard

The Fashion Week poledance is almost over, and the final tallies are in. Unfortunately, when it comes to racial diversity, the numbers are (as usual) not very good. Despite campaigning from models like Naomi Campbell and Iman for more racial diversity in fashion, most of New York's runways remained as white as ever. But one collection stood apart from the crowd. Diane von Furstenberg, queen of the wrap dress, and President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, managed to present her Spring 2014 RTW Collection using a very diverse range of models.

DVF's Diverse Runway (Spring 2014 RTW Collection)


I kid, of course, but the fact remains that her decision to use models from many different ethnic groups, and not just choose a token Black or Asian model, is revolutionary in this day and age. The idea that the runway reflecting the demographics of real life could be a positive for the fashion industry is a concept that is unfortunately still quite foreign. And aside from someone obviously identifiable as Latina, she hit almost every skin tone; from white and blonde, to Asian, to light and dark skinned black women. It's sad that in 2013, acknowledging the spectrum of beauty is considered a revolutionary act, but there you have it. Post-racial America. Because Obama.

What I find most amusing is the fact that DVF showcased a range of ethnicities on her runway, and the world did not crumble around her. Life as we know it didn't end. There were black and Asian women on her runway, and it didn't affect the quality of her collection. Imagine that! It also shows that using models of colour, is really not that hard. I can only hope that DVF will use her influence as President of the CFDA to encourage other designers to follow her lead. 

Thankfully, models of colour don't seem to be backing down. Younger models like Jourdan Dunn are taking up the cause for racial diversity, and confronting the racism of the fashion industry head-on. Hopefully things will change for the better in time for her to enjoy the fruits of her labour.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Burlesque vs. Stripping: The Feminist Wars

I just finished reading this article over on XOJane (filed under "Unpopular Opinions") about burlesque being boring and sexist. As a dancer and sex-positive feminist, the idea of burlesque has always appealed to me, but as I read the article, I realized that I kind of agreed with the author, and it got me thinking:

Why is burlesque considered "more feminist" than plain old stripping? It's essentially exactly the same thing, with nicer costumes and maybe a wider, more mainstream appeal and longer documented historical tradition.

Now don't get me wrong, I'd choose burlesque over stripping any day, mostly for the costumes and routines (hey Xtina!) but I don't know that I think it's any more empowering or feminist.

It's getting (nearly) naked. Onstage. For people to look at you.

And while it can definitely be fun as a woman to take control of your own sexuality in a society that does everything it can to repress expressions of female sexuality, doesn't putting that very sexuality on display (usually for the largely anonymous male gaze) kind of cancel out the feminist intentions?

So I thought about why I preferred burlesque. Costumes and routines, sure! But I realized that the societal implications of burlesque are often positive, while the implications of stripping are not. Think about it. How do people react when someone tells them they're a burlesque performer versus if they told them they're a plain old stripper?

So then I started thinking about the racial demographics of burlesque performers and strippers, and the larger implications that stem from that reality, and the way in which those racial disparities affect the way we perceive female sexuality onstage. Because I think it's safe to say that most burlesque performers are fairly well-off white women, while most strippers are less well-off minority women. And I don't need to remind you of the ways in which the sexuality of minority women is often inherently demonized or fetishized. This quote in particular stood out to me:

Lady after lady after lady walking on to a stage, dancing around for two minutes before stripping down to her thong and shaking her ass (albeit with different props than the lady who proceeded her) is not creative, interesting, or revolutionary. The only difference between strippers and burlesque dancers is that burlesque dancers are well-off enough to call their strip shows a "hobby."

And there you have it. Not only is the difference in demographics usually rooted in race, but often, (because, intersectionality) it's also rooted in class. For white women, burlesque can be an escape: an opportunity to objectify their bodies on their own terms, as they see fit. They way it should be. But for them, that is a privilege. For many minority women who turn to stripping, it isn't a choice made in search of womanist empowerment. It's an economic necessity. For those women, stripping is a way to leverage the only commodifiable asset they have, in order to make money: their bodies. They do not always have the luxury of "their own terms" because their financial needs sometimes require them to sidestep their dignity.

And that is not to say that strippers are all poor, broken birds, reduced to taking their clothes off for money. That isn't true. There are women who genuinely enjoy stripping, and have parlayed the fame they gained into larger business ventures. But that doesn't change the fact that most women don't dream of becoming strippers, largely because of the negative connotations attached to the profession.

So what do you think? Burlesque: Feminist or not?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Music: 3 Great Albums To Listen To Immediately // Here's To The End Of The Summer Music Drought

When Blurred Lines has been declared the Song of the Summer, and We Can't Stop is breaking records, you know it's been a hard few months in popular music. But never fear! The last few weeks have given us reprieve, and all is right in the world again. Here are three great albums to listen to immediately if you need a palate cleanse from the summer that failed music. They've been on repeat on my iTunes for days now and I'm obsessed.

Love In The Future: John Legend

Love In The Future is John Legend's fourth studio album, and in my personal opinion, a major improvement on his 2010 offering Evolver. On Love In The Future, John Legend goes back to his R&B/Gospel roots and brings back that deep heartfelt voice and simply sweet piano ballads that made me fall in love with him back in 2004.

There's an emotional heaviness to the album. This is the lyrical output of a man in love, heavily contrasted with the soulful moaning musicality on tracks like Made To Love and Save The Night. But he also draws on his ability to add weight with just his piano. All of Me and Hold On Longer are slow mournful track full of emotion laid bare.

The entire album has an eerie tone of foreboding largely created with minor chords and deep baritone notes. These are songs about love and relationships and their hardships and successes. It's a beautiful body of work that deftly harkens back to Legend's debut Get Lifted in all the best ways, while moving forward musically and emotionally. You'll love it.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Shameless Plug Time: Interview with Sammy Lyon of Feminist Magazine

About two days after the article went viral, I did a great interview with Sammy Lyon of Feminist Magazine about the original article. It finally went live last Tuesday (yeah, I know, I'm slacking...) and you can listen to it here, and follow along with the transcript after the jump (provided by an awesome member of GT) because the audio is a little spotty. Or you could just read it I guess... Whatever works for you.

I almost didn't do the interview because the trolling got be a little overwhelming, and as someone who detests being the centre of attention, I really really wanted to pretend that it never happened, and just go hide under the covers for a bit. But my mum convinced me that I if I believed what I had written, (I did) I had a duty to defend it. After all, I had to take my own advice: if your argument can't withstand a few dings, it wasn't a very strong argument to begin with was it? So check it out after the jump!

Reflections On Going Viral // Miley-Gate Post-Mortem

It's been two weeks now since I wrote that article, and I couldn't be more glad that it's over. Going viral isn't fun. Even when you have the most innocuous  content people will find a reason to be negative and hateful online. But throw race into it? Nope.

Do. Not. Want.

So I tried to keep this blog largely quiet in that time. But in the last two weeks I've done a lot of reading. I've done a lot of listening and a lot of paying attention, and I think that this experience was for the better. I definitely learned a lot about my own personal resilience, and about how little the world cares about you when they don't like what you have to say.

But that's okay. Because in the last two weeks I've learned more about feminism and intersectionality that I ever thought I could know, and I'm grateful. So many discussions were borne out of this article (that I never thought would be seen outside the virtual gates of GT) and many of them taught me things. Most of them taught me things. So for that alone, I'm glad this happened. For the education I received by way of internet, I'm grateful.

And as for the people who objected with cries of "but what about when black men do?!" I don't care. I don't care because I'm not talking about the oppression that black women face at the hands of black men right now. That is a different conversation that has been addressed before and frequently. Don't presume to tell me which of my own problems I should be focusing on.

For the white women who responded with "not all white women do that!", I still  don't care. Because I am not going to make your personal feelings a priority in this discussion. The "some" is implied in "white women", and if you can't see past that one omitted word, you're not quite the ally you think you are.

But when it comes down to it, processing this event isn't that hard. Many people objected to my "hands off" comment at the end of the article, and I wasn't as clear as I should have been, so I understand why. I didn't mean that no one is allowed to enjoy or participate in any aspect of black culture ever, be it jazz or twerking. I meant, that until those things can be accepted as innovative and masterful on their own steam, it will never be okay for a white person to co-opt them or exploit them for money. (I'm looking at you Mackelmore)

As The Coquette, masterfully says:

Is there a difference between Miley twerking and Eric Clapton playing delta blues music?
Yes. Even within the context of cultural appropriation, there is a difference between crass exploitation and masterful homage.

Being in a position of privilege means that "appreciating" art or music or dance from a community culture involves elevating the originators of those art forms, not creating a badly synthesized version and marketing it to the masses. At the VERY least, it involves doing the work to immerse oneself in the communities that created those cultures, and learn about them first hand. It's why Eminem and Teena Marie "get a pass" but Miley does not.

You want to call out homophobia in hip-hop? Maybe help promote some of the queer men and women who've been doing that for ages. You really think twerking is cool? Perhaps you should showcase some of the people who've made a career out of popularizing bounce music, rather than making yourself the face of the "Twerk Team."

What it comes down to is this: "Nothing about us without us" You really want to explore a minority culture? Try to find information someone on the inside with first hand experience who can clarify what is or isn't okay for you to have access to. Don't just inauthentically pick and choose the parts you like, and discard the ones you don't, as though someone's culture is a costume for you to discard when you tire of it.

So the lesson is this: DO THE WORK. Whether it's as an access point to a minority culture you admire, or an effort to increase your allyship, DO THE WORK. Don't ask to be spoonfed. No one handed me reading materials for feminism or intersectionality. I sought that information out because I decided that doing so was a priority for me. Make intersectional thinking a priority for yourself.

Here are a few great links to start you off:

When Your Brown Body Is A White Wonderland
Your Guide To Defensive Feminism
After Solidarity Is For White Women: So You Want To Be An Ally. Now What?
How To Deal With Being Called Out
Black Women And Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will
Why Whites Call People of Colour "Racist"
How To Appropriately Engage With Blogs That Have Anti-Oppression Related Content
Allies Are Still Privileged. Don't Forget It

These are great sources that can help jumpstart a intersectional self-education. Do the work. And if you prefer to learn by osmosis, you can follow this twitter list I made of insightful men and woman of colour who deal with intersectional issues.