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

Why stereotypes about the younger generation are wrong

Dear Ceanray,

Did you know that teenagers are lazy? All we care about is our phones and social media accounts. We have no respect for people older than us, the environment, or the world around us. At least, this is what we are made out to be. You know as well as I do that none of those things are true. Yet some people believe they are.

Teenagers are not lazy – we’re incredibly hardworking. Our hands are full with school work and preparing for postsecondary education, and most of us take part in co-curriculars like clubs or sports (and sometimes multiple co-curriculars). That’s not to mention the fact that many teenagers have part-time jobs, some work more than one job, and some are involved in competitive level-sports.

Sure, we might lie in bed on our phones occasionally; but with so much going on in our lives, who can blame us?

That brings me to another stereotype about teenagers: that we are addicted to using our phones and technology. We do use our technology a lot, but in my opinion this isn’t a bad thing. We connect with our friends and people we care about through texting and social media, and talking to people we care about just shows that, well, we do care!

In addition, by using our technology we are able to connect with the world outside of our own world. Yes, we know this world exists; and yes, we care about it. Keeping up to date with current affairs and breaking news gives us a deeper understanding of the world we live in – and what we can do to make it a better place.

I like to think of this blog as one way that you and I try to make the world a better place. It was partly because of our connection to the world through the internet and social media that we were inspired to write about issues that matter to us.

That’s the other thing – issues do matter to us. If this blog isn’t proof enough of this, look to 17 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head but continued to fight for girls’ rights to education. She is the perfect example that there are many issues in the world that affect teenagers, and that teenagers can make an incredible difference fighting for those causes.

The truth is that we teenagers have an incredible amount of respect for the world around us. It might give us a lot of doubt and stereotypes, but above that it has given us a chance to prove those stereotypes wrong. And I know that’s exactly what our generation will continue to do.

Here’s to teenagers!

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

You make excellents points in regards to how older generations sometimes view our generation. In my opinion, I would not be as engaged and as well informed as I am without social media. Newspapers and newscasts can sometimes present a one-sided perspective on global events – while the internet can help us paint a bigger picture. This appreciation for the ways that technology helps us become informed citizens is shared by many of my peers.

As you mentioned, teens often juggle schoolwork with multiple co-curriculars in addition to the constant pressure to get into a respected post-secondary institution. Although I am a few years away from graduation, I am already feeling the aforementioned pressure. Therefore, I do not find statistics that show 25% of North American teens suffer from an anxiety disorder surprising.

There are also intergenerational shifts in social attitudes that affect how we view issues such as gay marriage, trans+ people and so on. While at a family dinner a few days ago, the topic of gay marriage was brought forward. It was fascinating to see the difference in approach to this topic in relation to the ages of my family members. My grandparents grew up in an era where homosexuality was a taboo that was not discussed; I have grown up in an era where (for the most part) acceptance of other human beings regardless of sexual orientation was taught within the school curriculum.

When I was around ten years old, my parents made it clear to me that whether I was attracted to men or women made no difference to them. I was their child, and they would love me for who I was. As I look back on these conversations, I realize that my ten year old self found this incredibly reassuring.

I am incredibly proud of how far our generation has come not only in relation to our contribution to technological advancements, but how we view others.

Ceanray

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 Canada’s Racism Problem

Dear Ceanray,

In our previous letters, and conversations outside of this blog we frequently discuss issues of inequality in terms of gender inequality and feminism. There is an inequality that we have not discussed in depth, yet one which is making international headlines: racism. Specifically, racism in Winnipeg, Canada. Have you read the article from Maclean’s concerning this?

The article states “The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It manifestly does not provide equal opportunity for Aboriginals. And it is quickly becoming known for the subhuman treatment of its First Nations citizens, who suffer daily indignities and appalling violence. Winnipeg is arguably becoming Canada’s most racist city.”

I am curious as to the benefit of the headline “Winnipeg is Canada’s Most Racist City.” The mayor of Winnipeg has vowed to take action, though one would think that he should be taking action on race issues regardless of whether they were national headlines or not.

The facts and statistics presented in that article are hard to argue with, as are the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. One in three people in the prairies believe that “many racial stereotypes are accurate”? It is shocking and scary, but you have to wonder what that statistic would be worldwide.

It is indisputable that Winnipeg has a race problem, but what about the rest of the world? Focusing on the race problem in Winnipeg is good because it means action will be taken there; but when people living in other parts of the world read about Winnipeg being the most racist city, they might dispel the thought that their city may be very racist too.

Not being the most racist city doesn’t mean your city doesn’t have some sort of racial problems. Any case of racism, anywhere in the world, is more than what should be occurring. Seeing as you live in Winnipeg, what are your thoughts on this?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

The article recently published by Maclean’s magazine you previously mentioned has had Winnipeggers’ tongues wagging. The story of Tina Fontaine mentioned in the article is one that caught my eye long before it made its way into national headlines. She was fifteen when she died – the age I am now. Concerns that should have been dealt with long before her death were simply ignored, and the discovery of her body tossed in the Red River was an accident. She was Aboriginal.

The statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada are horrifying – according to the NWAC database only 53% of of murder cases involving aboriginal women and girls have led to charges of homicide. Aboriginal women are also three times as likely to be killed by a stranger as non-Aboriginal women are.

Racism is an issue that affects Canada far beyond Winnipeg’s borders. It would be foolish to ignore evidence that the way Winnipeg treats Aboriginal people who call this city home is appalling. The article was titled “Welcome to Winnipeg, where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst.”

While I agree that the racism problem in Winnipeg needs to be dealt with, I think those who read the article and subsequently thought to themselves “hey, my city might be a little racist – but at least we’re not that bad’ need a wake-up call. Racism is an issue that extends far beyond my city’s borders. The fact that racism continues to exist in Canada and the rest of the world in 2015 is something we should all be actively trying to fix.

Ceanray

Fabletters on Strong Female Role Models in the Media (Or Lack of)

Dear Sherina,

The media is part of our everyday lives, whether it be on television or social media. We are constantly being fed this idea of what a woman should look like and how she should act, which leaves me wondering where I’m expected to find myself among all the confusion. Finding strong female role models in the women in my family has never been challenging. My mom, my aunts and my grandmothers inspire me constantly to push myself and the limits of what I can accomplish. Finding strong female role models in the media is a completely different matter.

The media tells us to be fit – not too skinny, but not too heavy either. We should have shiny, bouncy hair as seen in shampoo commercials, flawless skin and our face should be blemish-free at all times. We must dress to impress men (and occasionally our female friends, but never ourselves). Our clothing must flatter our “womanly” bodies, but cannot be too revealing (or else you’re labeled a slut), but not too modest either (because we might get mistaken for our grandmothers).

All of these messages that we’re faced with on a daily basis leave me with questions that I fear may remain unanswered. How are young women like us supposed to form an idea as to what it means to be a woman, when the media presents womanhood as a mainly superficial quest?

These questions brought back the memory of a conversation I had with some friends in middle school. At the time we were discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of my friends had ambitions to become teachers, nurses, famous singers and so on. One friend spoke up and said “my mom told me to take care of my looks, because if I marry a rich man he can take care of me and I won’t have to work”. This statement shocked and saddened me on so many levels, 12 year old girls should know that the sky’s the limit in terms of what they can achieve. Men are nice but not necessary in the pursuit of a happy and fulfilled life.

A few days ago, I watched Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations on achieving equal rights for girls and women all over the planet. I was inspired by her determination to help spread the message of equality while admitting that she was incredibly nervous to deliver her speech. Her ability to say, “hey! I’m a celebrity but that doesn’t mean that giving this speech doesn’t make me incredibly nervous!” stands out to me as someone who not only acknowledges her strength, but can recognize her weaknesses. This makes her someone who I would consider a strong female role model, among others.

What do you think?

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

I completely agree. I love your question “How are young women like us supposed to form an idea as to what it means to be a woman, when the media presents womanhood as a mainly superficial quest?”

As you know, I am a huge Taylor Swift fan (as evidenced by the fact that I am currently writing this while curled up in my Taylor Swift blanket, listening to her latest album 1989).

In an interview with Ellen a few years ago, Ellen was just dying to figure out who Taylor had dated. So, she put up a slideshow of men she had been linked to, gave her a bell, and told her to ring it whenever she saw someone she had dated. She was visibly uncomfortable with this, and it’s easy to see why. Plenty of other artists – for example, Tay’s friend Ed Sheeran – write and sing about romance; yet, Taylor Swift seems to be the only one ridiculed for it.

In October, Taylor made some headlines when she opened up about not wanting – or needing – a boyfriend. She said, “I just stopped dating people, because it meant a lot to me to set the record straight – that I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. I wanted to show my fans the same thing.”

Taylor Swift is a fantastic role model for young girls, and yet I feel like the media is trying to stop her from being this. It seems crazy, that they would discourage a strong female role model, but in a twisted way it kind of makes sense; their money comes from the superficial things they sell to us, the new mascara and the new shampoo that we need to purchase to make ourselves fit their idea of a women. Having a strong female role model means that girls feel more secure in who they are; and this means that they will not give in to what the media so desperately wants.

I believe there are two sides to every issue, and I think the problem here is that as teenage girls, we are only being shown one side of a role model. So, going back to your question: what can we do?

I think we have to create our own role models: you mentioned your mom, aunts, and grandmothers and they are great role models because they are not constructed by the media. They are real. I think it is incredibly important to value our own role models, and view the ones society presents to us with a critical eye (as we are doing now).

The Taylor Swift song I am currently listening to (New Romantics) has a lyric “life is just a classroom”. Life essentially is a classroom – we can learn so much. It just depends who we decide to learn from.

Let’s make the sky the limit,

Sherina

Fabletters on Feminism: An Introduction

Dear Ceanray,

I feel like in these past few months, I have become increasingly aware of the inequalities that exist in our society. My newfound awareness of these issues began in English class, where we often have discussions and debates about inequalities, particularly gender inequality.

I have always known that such issues existed, but I never thought much of them. “Feminist” was a word with as little meaning to me as “tax receipt”. The notation that I myself was affected by what was happening was also virtually meaningless to me. But this all changed.

Little by little, my definition of feminism began to colour itself in. It was not at all accurate, though. I used to think that being a feminist was a bad thing – bad in what sense, I do not know.

Discussing issues of gender inequality in my English class made me realize that it was all wrong in my head. Feminism was not a bad thing. It was not hating all men, or denying that you were a women, or any of the other crazy images of it that I had in my head. It is standing up for women’s rights; rights which should be equal to those of men, but are not.

My initial views on feminism were quickly changed, by figures such as Emma Watson and Taylor Swift. My opinion was so easily swayed because I realized that gender inequality did affect me (but not as much as it affected other girls and women). Despite the surge in positive feminist influences, many people still retain a stubborn view on the subject, one which coincides with my original views: that feminism is a bad thing.

I can’t helped but wonder what shaped my initial views on feminism. If we could pinpoint what was spewing out these misguided reasonings for feminism, perhaps we could work to change it, and therefore give the correct impression of the word right from the get-go.

Most likely, it was thanks to media and advertising that I thought feminism was a bad thing. But I think it goes further than that: because there’s no advertisements that directly say the words “feminism is a bad thing”. I think it is more the way media portrays women; and the fact that because the feminist movement wants to change this, it is a bad thing.

Anyone who disagrees with the media is automatically labelled “bad”, and also “different”. The media shows us look we “should” be, and if we do not fit into it then we are different. Bad different. And because more and more, women are realizing that we do not have to fit into the moulds that media has created for us, more and more women are defying stereotypes. It’s hard to defy “bad different”, though. I know that as a young child, I wouldn’t want that phrase to define me. But then again, I wouldn’t want the media’s image of a women to define me, either.

What do you think?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

Up until recently, I too had a very ill-informed idea of what feminism is and how it is relevant to my life. Like you, I pictured feminists as angry women who hated men, didn’t wear bras and chose not to shave — images that I simply couldn’t relate to.

It was around that time that I was leaving English class when I noticed a small poster in my classroom, with a woman holding up a sign that read “I need feminism because society tells women “don’t get raped”, instead of telling men “don’t rape”.

That statement piqued my interest as to what a broader definition of feminism might include. I read articles online describing “SlutWalks” being organised in cities across Canada. The movement was created after a Toronto police officer suggested to a group of female university students “not to dress like sluts” to avoid being raped. This angered me to the very core of my being. A woman should be able to walk around in a short skirt with her friends without fear of being raped. I would hope that the very suggestion that a woman’s clothing choices might affect her chances of being raped sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me, Sherina. Tell that to the victims of child rapists, no child “asks” to be raped.

You may be wondering what relevance this has to me. Well, as I got older I began to develop a more “womanly” figure that can sometimes draw unwanted attention. For example, this September as I was walking to a high school football game a group of men rolled down their car window and yelled “NICE TITS” at me before speedily driving away. It was broad daylight, but I was alone and this scared me. My first instinct was to look down and see if I what I was wearing might have somehow provoked such a crude incident. I was wearing a baggy blue hoodie and leggings. The fact that I thought it was somehow my fault that these guys felt it was okay to yell that at me is why I need feminism.

What are your thoughts?

Ceanray