Formation

Dear Sherina,

You know as well as I do that I’m not really a sports person. I did, however, tune into the Superbowl halftime show last week. I thought that Beyonce’s performance was pretty standard for what you can usually expect from her. It seems some people thought otherwise. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as being anti-law enforcement. While I did notice the definite black empowerment theme of her performance, I certainly didn’t find it to be anti-police.

I was intrigued by his comments and by the comments of others who thought Beyonce took things too far, so I decided to watch the music video for the song behind the controversy, ‘Formation’. As a Beyonce fan I may be a little biased, but I thought the video was phenomenal. At first glance, the viewer definitely takes note of the subtle themes being explored while she sings “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. After watching it several times, I had a page full of notes on what I took from the video. She managed to get several themes across; let me explore a few.

The video opens with her standing atop a New Orleans police cruiser sinking in a flood of water, while a voice says “what happened after New Orleans?” The video further explores treatment of African-Americans, black culture and police brutality. Beyonce’s own southern ancestry is explored through an African-American lens – something we don’t often see. Afros are celebrated as well; the vast majority of the women shown have one.

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At the end of the video we see a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of police officers. This could be interpreted as a reference to the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. If there were any doubts about one of the themes of the video, a shot of a graffitied wall which reads “STOP SHOOTING US” pretty much clears them up. The video ends with a shot of Beyonce drowning on top of the same New Orleans police cruiser shown at the beginning.

A lot of folks were upset that Beyonce chose the Superbowl, which is a “family show” to share her message. Many are upset that she even released the video at all. “Why does everything have to be so political?” They ask. I urge those people to keep this in mind; according to The Guardian, unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement as unarmed white people in the U.S.

No one is saying that all law enforcement officials are bad, because they aren’t. They are the ones who put their lives on the line to keep us safe and we are eternally grateful for it. However, the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality still needs to be addressed and an event that was watched by an average of 111.9 million people seems to be a good place to start.

There were many who felt uncomfortable after hearing this song and watching the video. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Change is never comfortable.

What were your thoughts after watching ‘Formation’?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

I am also not a sports person. In fact, a day after the Superbowl, one of my friends mentioned the Denver Broncos and I said that they weren’t in the superbowl at all (when they actually won it). I digress… I did not watch the Superbowl, nor the halftime performances. I did, however, hear quite a bit about the show – specifically, Beyonce’s performance.

Many people praised her performance, pulling out the crown emoji because she is #QueenBey; but many others, as you said, thought she took things too far. People who believed her performance was racist protested outside the NFL headquarters, and took to social media to share their disdain for Beyonce. Was their disdain justified? I, like you, don’t believe it was.

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I watched Beyonce’s performance on YouTube and read through the lyrics of Formation, and I couldn’t see what came across as “racist” or “anti-police”. The song is about a serious issue, and that many people choose to remain ignorant of that issue is frightening. There are, as you mention, a disproportionate number of black people killed by police officers. I don’t know how anyone could look at the statistics and evidence and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too often people equate fighting for black rights to being against white people. Some people try to change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that’s not the point of the hashtag. The point is that black people have been seriously oppressed throughout history and still face inequities today.

I completely agree with you: change is not comfortable. People are entitled to their opinions – and when the topic is Beyonce, there are lots. However, I believe it is important to look not at what is a comfortable, convenient opinion but what is actually a truthful reflection of the dire needs of a marginalized group in society.

I applaud Beyonce for using the platform of the Superbowl (and her signature dance moves) to speak out about police brutality and black culture. On behalf of Beyonce fans everywhere, let’s get in formation and take a stand.

Sherina

#ToTheGirls2016

Dear Ceanray,

I’m sure you know as well as I do that sometimes girl world isn’t a fun place to be. There are rumors, fights, drama, and just general negativity. This morning, I saw a really cool hashtag campaign which worked to change these things by spreading positive messages to girls and creating a safe online space for girls to share encouraging messages.

The campaign, #ToTheGirls2016, was created by Courtney Summers, a bestselling author who wanted to “let girls know they matter” and spread “messages of support, advice, positivity, and empowerment to girls across social media.” The hashtag trended on Twitter today, with girls sharing positive messages about being unique, standing up for yourself, and the power every girl holds to make a difference.

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As I scrolled through the Tweets, my heart swelled at the wisdom of the advice I was reading. It’s such a great feeling to read uplifting messages and feel inspired by them – especially from your fellow girls. #ToTheGirls2016 created an online community of girls reminding each other of how amazing we are and the potential we have.

Like I mentioned earlier: girl world isn’t always a fun place. Not only is there drama, but there are a lot of unrealistic expectations placed on girls by the media; not to mention the double standards, sexism, and unequal opportunities (and pay) that face girls. The messages I read on Twitter today were a shining reminder that despite the struggles girls and women face, we are fighting back in the best way: with kindness.

Courtney Summers, who started #ToTheGirls2016, Tweeted that a message saying that if the campaign inspired just one girl, it had done it’s job; and I think it inspired not just one girl, but thousands.

If you’re in need of a reminder of how amazing you are (you’re amazing, by the way!) read through some of the #ToTheGirls2016 Tweets. I can guarantee you’ll feel happy after reading them!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I’ve just spent the past few minutes scrolling through the #tothegirls2016 tag and I agree, it’s fantastic. I love to see girls and women join together to combat negativity and the unrealistic expectations that are constantly placed on us by society and our peers. We are taught that there is a certain mould that a girl must fit into in order to be worthwhile. If you’re someone who does not fit into this ideal of perfection, you have to look within yourself and create your own.

With the advent of social media and the rise of well-rounded female characters on television, it’s easy to think that we’ve progressed to a point where we can sit back down again and get comfortable. This is certainly not the case, as we must continue to demand space for minority, disabled and transgender women. These women have strong voices and through social media are given the power to amplify those voices.

Another trending topic on social media today has been Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s decision to boycott this year’s Academy Awards. This is now the second consecutive year that actors of colour have not been nominated. As I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the African-American, Latina and Asian girls who would be sitting down to watch the Oscars and not see themselves represented whatsoever. Will this lead them to believe that their stories are not worth being told? I sure hope not, because they most certainly are.

It’s vital that messages of support and encouragement continue to be shared and shouted. Let us lend our voices to the chorus that strives to lift girls up instead of tearing them down.

Ceanray

Why We Need to Shatter the Glass Ceiling

Dear Ceanray,

There’s an old proverb that says ‘those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. I would like to amend this expression to say ‘those who look up at glass ceilings should throw all the stones they can find’. The glass ceiling, in case you don’t know, is “an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.” (thanks, Google!)

A few months ago, the New York Times wrote about a startling statistic: there are more men named John who run companies than women who run companies altogether. This statement tells us that less parents should name their kids John. More importantly, though, it tells us that the lack of women in leadership positions in the corporate world is a serious issue.

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In my opinion there are several factors which contribute to these numbers: the most obvious of which is that some people still believe men are superior to women, and therefore prefer to hire and promote men into high-ranking positions. There’s also the stigma around women in leadership (with powerful women being called “bossy” among other things).

Empowering women would make a difference; movements like #likeagirl are helping to do this, and in my mind there’s been a lot of great focus on female empowerment in recent years. Still though, even when women want to be in a high-ranking position, there seem to be barriers that stand in their way.

Feminism, as we’ve discussed previously, means political, social, and economic equality for both sexes. So, by advocating for women in leadership I’m not dissing all of the men who lead companies. John’s and David’s, keep doing you. But prepare for women to join you at the top of the proverbial career ladder – and prepare for women to shatter the glass ceiling.

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

It’s alarming that in 2015 women are still so grossly underrepresented in the corporate world. Some might say that the reason this arena continues to be dominated by men is simply because there are more men qualified to fill high-ranking positions. While as many as 60% of university students in North America are female, “women account only for 2.7 percent of the chief executives in the financial industry”. Being a woman in the corporate world is a lonely pursuit these days.

On a personal note, I am seriously considering pursuing a university degree in political science once I graduate from high school. I am fascinated by government and how (in an idyllic sense, it would seem these days) ordinary people are given the power to change their circumstance in a democratic society.

However, I am not entirely sure that being a politician appeals to me. The level of media scrutiny female politicians are regularly faced with in comparison to their male counterparts is, quite frankly, appalling. During Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, far more attention was given to her physical appearance rather than her political capabilities. A segment on MSNBC had this written on the screen crawl while her campaign was discussed;

“CLEAVAGE CONTROVERSY: HILLARY CLINTON’S CAMP ASKING FOR MONEY AMID LOW-CUT BLOUSE BROUHAHA”

A so-called ‘newscaster’ on Fox News commented “You all saw that photo on the weekend of Hillary looking so haggard and like, what, 92 years old!”

Ms. Clinton is but one example of the oft-prevailing misogynistic attitudes towards women in politics and in influential leadership positions. As someone who will be directly affected in her life by this glass ceiling, I would like to call upon fellow human beings to collectively resolve, as you said, to make the glass ceiling a thing of the past and a nonexistent hindrance to the futures of girls and women all over the planet.

Ceanray

On What it Means to be a Feminist

Dear Sherina,

This past year has been full of new experiences and self-discoveries. One of the most important realizations I have made this past year is that I identify as a feminist. Feminism is more than a recent ‘trend’, it is the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

Feminism often means different things for different people. For me, being a feminist means believing that women have the right to choose what they do with their lives.

Meaning that if you feel more comfortable if your body is fully covered, that’s great! Good for you for knowing what makes you feel comfortable. And if you chose to wear clothing that could be considered ‘revealing’ because you want to, that’s also great! Remember, self respect means respecting yourself and has nothing to do with how others may perceive you based on your clothing choices.

It should also be noted that women who choose to stay at home and raise their children deserve an equal level respect to women who choose to have a career outside of the home – this I cannot stress enough. The sky’s the limit in terms of what women can do with their lives and it’s crucial for everyone to understand that we can do as we please.

There are many aspects to consider when speaking of feminism. It does not cater only to the needs of cisgendered, caucasian women. The needs and realities of women of colour, transgendered women, women with disabilities and so forth should all be included on the spectrum.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

I too discovered this year that I identify as a feminist. For a long time, I had no clue what the word meant; I thought it meant you hated men and wanted an all female world. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that that is what feminism is; when really, it is, as you described it, simply equality for both sexes.

I completely agree with all of your points, especially that we should leave no woman behind with regards to feminism and equality. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent Twitter drama between celebrities – namely, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. To sum it up, Nicki was upset that her videos didn’t get nominated for some awards and tweeted her anger.

Taylor thought that this anger was directed at her and told Nicki it was unlike her to “pit women against each other”. Nicki wasn’t dissing Taylor at all – she was actually speaking out about the racism and sizeism in the music industry.

Let me say that I absolutely adore Taylor Swift. She inspires me in so many different ways; as of late, she has inspired me to have strong female friendships. I loved that she brought in tons of her friends into her Bad Blood Video. I think the song is catchy and fun. What I don’t completely love is that it almost seems like in the video, Taylor is doing what she criticized Nicki for doing: pitting women against women (as the song is allegedly about a feud between Taylor and Katy Perry).

It’s hard to support everyone – obviously, there are people we aren’t friends with and people who we disagree with. I think the idea of not pitting women against women doesn’t mean suppressing feelings when you feel betrayed or angry: rather, it means dealing with those feelings in a way that doesn’t create a huge spectacle, and doesn’t make the argument even worse. Having a disagreement with another woman doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist; but the way in which you deal with that argument says a lot about your true roots to the cause, in my opinion.

This past year, I feel as though the feminist movement has grown and gained a lot of support (you and I are two examples of teens who embraced feminism this year). It is my hope that not pitting ourselves against other women, we won’t leave anyone behind.

Sherina

On sexual assault: stop blaming the victim

Dear Sherina,

As a student, I’m sure you’re familiar with the need to back up what you’re saying with evidence every time you write a paper. Fact check and then check again! While doing research on domestic violence last year, I came across a statistic I couldn’t ignore. 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.

As if that wasn’t horrifying enough, over 80% of sex crime victims are women. And of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, 6 are reported to the police. After reading a 10 page report on such crimes, I felt utterly and completely defeated. How could this be happening in Canada – in my own backyard – and I had absolutely no idea.

I hoped that at the very least, the legal system would assist these victims in getting their perpetrators locked up. Perhaps this was a naive assumption, for less than half of complaints made to police result in criminal charges and, of those charges, only about one in four leads to a guilty verdict.

Furthermore, the blame for the rape is often placed on the victim, rather than the rapist. “Her skirt was too short” or “she shouldn’t have drank so much” are some of the most commonly heard accusations.

Let me be clear; telling the victim it was somehow their fault due to her level of intoxication or the length of her skirt is never okay. You cannot justify such a heinous crime against another human being. Period.

Let the phrase “she was asking for it” never be spoken again.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

First of all: wow. Those are some horrifying statistics. I can’t get over the first one you mentioned; that one in four North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I was once told that one in four people will be diagnosed with cancer. If this is true, then the assumption could be made that one is as likely to be sexually assaulted as have cancer.

I can’t wrap my head around this, because cancer is not something that can be prevented in the same way sexual assault can be. The problem is, as you mention, that the way some people are trying to prevent sexual assault is by placing blame on the victim. Instead of telling people not to dress provocatively, we should tell people not to sexually assault others.

Notice that in the last sentence, I didn’t say “instead of telling women not to dress provocatively, we should tell men not to sexually assault women.” Men can be victims of sexual assault too – and in order to put an end to all forms of sexual assault, this fact must be acknowledged.

You are completely correct in saying that it is never the victims fault. No one “asks” to be sexually assaulted, just like no one “asks” to be diagnosed with cancer. Part of not placing blame on the victim includes accepting their version of what happened to them; no matter what gender they are, and no matter what gender they say the person who assaulted them was.

This isn’t really about gender. At the end of the day, we’re all human; and, as you said, “You cannot justify such a heinous crime against another human being.”

Sherina

Fabletters on Beauty

Dear Ceanray,

We live in a society where our own personal definitions of beauty are constantly challenged. Sadly, they are also constantly changed. Commercials tell us that we need certain products to be beautiful, and we see recurring images in media that show us “ideals” of beauty. This is damaging for so many reasons.

We are all born with our individual thoughts, opinions, and reasons that we are beautiful. As we grow older and are exposed to more forms of media, our definitions of beauty slowly start to change. If we don’t see ourselves represented, be it on advertisements or on our favourite TV show, then we are sent the message that we are not important. And, because we see other people represented, we start to value their traits more than our own.

Norman Cousins once said, “the true tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live.” I really like the way this quote is worded, because it says “what we let die.” It can be really difficult to not let the media influence our definitions of beauty, but if we can accomplish it it is ultimately worth it.

What did the word ‘beautiful’ mean to you – before anyone tried to change your definition?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

I thought I would begin my response to your letter with one of my favourite Audrey Hepburn quotes; “the beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”

Before anyone tried to change my definition of beauty, I had an abstract concept of what the word meant. It meant very little to me until society began to shape my definition of the word “beauty” not as a word in itself, but as a set of ideals as to how we must look in order to be pleasing to the eye.

It is my firm belief that beauty is how you feel about yourself on the inside, which is subsequently reflected on the outside – not vice versa. We must teach ourselves that our uniqueness and what we have to offer is what makes us beautiful, not our ability or inability to fit into the mold that society has created.

Ceanray

Fabletters on Body Image: Part One

Dear Sherina,

As young women, you and I are both well aware of the pressure that is placed on us to look a certain way. Body image is an integral part of our lives and how we view ourselves. We live in a consumer culture that wants us to be insecure about our looks, so we’re enticed to purchase products that will supposedly help us feel better about ourselves.

This is a topic that hits close to home for me, as I have struggled with body image and disordered eating since I was ten years old. Growing up, I was similar in size and shape compared to most of my friends. However around the age of thirteen,  I grew five inches in the span of six months and began to notice changes in my body that were scary albeit completely natural for someone my age. I became extraordinarily self conscious when I had to start wearing women’s sizes because kid’s clothes no longer fit me.

The girls I watched religiously on television all seemed to look the same way – petite and slender, and I thought there was something wrong with me because my body looked nothing like theirs. A toxic cycle of not eating enough/ eating far too much consumed my preteen and early teenage years.

It took me awhile to realize I was not the only one who felt this way about my body. One of my close friends revealed to me that she was also suffering from an eating disorder. I was shocked — how could this skinny fit friend of mine possibly hate how she looked?

“My hips are too wide”, she told me “I can pinch the fat on my arms and stomach”.

Although we bared little physical resemblance, we had both been trapped in a seemingly endless web of self-hatred and guilt.

The first time I began to form a positive image of myself was about a year ago — and it didn’t come from losing weight. I joined a gym and started exercising regularly, it wasn’t until I started conquering my fitness goals that I realised my body had a purpose that wasn’t purely superficial.

I soon realized that everyone looks different and is built in different ways. If we all looked the same, that would be dreadfully boring and ultimately unfulfilling. Once I stopped comparing myself to others, I became my own biggest competitor in a positive and life changing way.

The scary part is that my story is not unique. A recent study conducted by Dove noted that 40% of girls between first and third grade wish to be thinner. I fear that I may one day have a daughter who feels the way I once did (and still sometimes do). Young girls should be worried about who they’re going to play with after school – not how much they weigh.

What do you think?

Ceanray