Concordia to host monthly no-charge pap clinics

Students will be able to receive STI testing, the Gardasil vaccine and renew contraception prescriptions

Graphic by Marie-Pier LaRose

On Aug. 31, Concordia Health Services hosted a no-charge pap clinic at their SGW campus location.

For those of you with a cervix, a pap test is an important part of regular self-care which helps detect HPV and other changes in your cervical cells that could lead to cervical cancer.

It’s a routine, relatively painless test which only takes a few minutes and could help save your life. So why do so few cervix-owners go for regular checks?

Gabriella Szabo, Health Promotion Specialist at Concordia, is passionate about making sure all women who want to have a pap test done have access to it—that’s where the clinic comes in.

“Quebec has the lowest rate of pap tests in Canada,” Szabo said. For her, that’s why it’s so important to promote cervical health and give access to women who want this care through the clinic.

“We started the initiative last year, and it was very well-received by students and the doctors at Concordia,” she said.

This year, the clinics will take place on a monthly basis. In addition to pap tests, students can receive STI testing, request the Gardasil vaccine, and renew their contraception prescriptions all at the same time.

“Students can make an appointment for a pap test or STI testing anytime, but the clinic guarantees a female physician who is specialized in this field,” said Szabo. “While all our doctors can do these exams at any time, many women just feel more comfortable seeing a female physician.”

Before booking your appointment—whether during the clinic hours or during regular times— Szabo says to keep in mind that the test must be done 10 to 20 days after the first day of your menstrual cycle.

There are some camps that caution against pap smears for young women, citing that they pose more trauma to the cervix than is necessary in a demographic that is traditionally low-risk. Szabo and the team at Concordia Health Services, however, base their practices on the large base of evidence that finds pap tests to be a premier tool in screening for early cancerous cells.

“Santé Québec and Canadian health standards recommend that women 21 years and older get yearly pap tests, but of course it is every woman’s personal choice,” said Szabo.

After several consecutive tests where no changes to cervical cells have been detected, Szabo says that you can then wait two to three years between tests if you so wish.

If the results do show changes in your cervical cells, Szabo councils not to assume the worst right away.

“Changes do not necessarily mean she has cancer,” said Szabo. “Often in young, healthy people, the immune system will fight off the precancerous cells on its own.” Of course, if you do test positive, it is important to consult a physician, she said.

For those under 21 who are sexually active and concerned about their cervical health, it is equally advisable to speak to a health professional to see if a pap test is recommended.

Szabo says vaccines like Gardasil have made a huge difference in lowering young people’s risks for cervical cancer. “However even if you have the HPV vaccine, it is possible to develop changes against those strains not protected by Gardasil,” she said.

The pap clinic is located at the GM building, 1500 de Maisonneuve W., in room 200. Appointments must be booked ahead of time as space is limited. For more information or to book an appointment, visit Concordia’s website.

Edit: A previous version of the article misstated a quote by Szabo saying, “many women just feel more comfortable seeing a female gynecologist”; this has since been changed to say a “female physician.” The previous article also stated that Szabo said women can “wait three to four years between tests” which has now been changed to “two to three years.” We regret the error.


Student Life

Let’s talk about sex

Feet and furries and handcuffs, oh my!

Student Life

Let’s talk about sex

You can now one-up Kim K on her selfie-game

Student Life

Meet up-and-coming designer Emma Litvack

Montrealer wins prestigious TELIO competition

Litvack’s winning dress for the TELIO design competition, featuring motors to make the organza puffs move. Photo c/o Emma Litvack.

Five years ago, if you asked up-and-coming designer Emma Litvack what she wanted to do with her life, she would have said she wanted a career in international relations.

Litvack has always shot for the stars and singlemindedly gone after what she wanted, and at one time, what she wanted was to work at the United Nations. Studying public affairs and policy management at Carleton University after doing a year of CEGEP at Marianopolis, Litvack was, to put it simply, miserable.

“About four years ago I found myself dreading what I was studying in university and confused about what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I decided to explore my creative side—something I always had a passion for but never thought was feasible—and just kind of dove into the unknown world of design. I haven’t looked back since.”

Now, with a win at a national design competition, $20,000 in scholarships, and $33,000 in a training package from Lectra, she can say she’s made it in the design world. Last week, Litvack, who will be graduating from LaSalle College’s design program this year, took home the first place prize at the TELIO fashion design competition. Her dress, which focuses on the competition’s theme of “luxe,” playing with light and movement, features organza puff appliqués that move and sway with the aid of five motors.

To see her concept realized, Litvack worked with mechanical engineer Christian Pelletier. Roughly 200 hours of painstaking work and several bouts of technical difficulty later, a genuinely shocked Litvack collected her prize and strolled down the catwalk at the TELIO fashion show at Ogilvy’s, arm-in-arm with the model wearing her winning design.

“I decided to explore what is hidden, what we don’t normally see and what deserves attention,” she said. “I wanted to create something that was both beautiful on the outside, and containing something that we didn’t necessarily realize or feel we needed, but which was still crucial to the design. My main piece was blatantly ethereal, and the mechanical contrasting side of it was what was below the surface.”
Litvack’s garments are more than just garments—each design or collection has a carefully plotted meaning or story behind it. Her background in politics and propensity for extrospection are part of what makes her designs so fresh and creative.

“I like to think of myself a conceptual designer, meaning that I like to communicate opinions and emotions through my work, not just a general physical appeal,” she said. “In order to create depth in my work I’m usually inspired by things seemingly unrelated to fashion (political struggles, culture, sociological or mega trends, etc). I love pulling inspiration from different areas, making a statement, and showing the statement through clothing. I don’t think people realize how much the state of the world and our environment impacts the way we dress.”

With big ideas, bigger ambition, and the unyielding support of her family—not to mention her TELIO prize package ($5,000 scholarship and $33,000 worth of training from Lectra) and a $15,000 scholarship from Fondation de la Mode—Litvack hopes to pursue her education at a top design school like Parsons in New York or Saint Martin’s in London.

“I’m looking to see how far my creativity can go,” she said. If this is just the start for Litvack, I’d be willing to bet she will go very, very far indeed.

Student Life

Let’s talk about sex

Come and go as you please—it’s your right

Student Life

Feminism is in the eyes of the beholder

It’s Beyoncé’s world and we’re all just fighting for equality in it

What is feminism?

The answer to this loaded question has been the subject of much debate and controversy as of late. Last Saturday, March 7, Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association hosted an interactive workshop and conference to discuss what feminism means for millennials, in the age of Beyoncé.

Stripped of all but its core, feminism is about equality—equality for women, men, and non-binary gendered people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, cultures, and races. The conference carried a strong emphasis on dismantling the idea of a white heteronormative feminism and creating conversations around this idea.

Guest speakers at the “Modern Feminism in a Beyoncé World” conference. Photo by Michelle Gamage..

The day was divided into seven workshops, mediated by seven speakers: Junior West, doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto in cellular biology; Amy Kishek, law student at the University of Ottawa; Sara Bourquin, Master’s of Public Affairs from the University of Victoria; Yuriko Cowper­ Smith, Doctorate in Political Science, Guelph University; Katlyn Harrison, a lobbyist with Summa Strategies; Dorothy Attakora, Doctorate in Women’s Studies from the University of Ottawa; and Catherine Lovatt­ Smith, Deputy Leader of Parti Vert, from Concordia University.

The speakers, most of whom were admittedly good friends of the event’s organizers, were all educated, young feminists who approached issues pertaining to their respective fields of study in an academic and professional context. Put together, these niche conversations created a patchwork of what millennial feminism and feminists look like in the world of higher education.

In addition to the speakers and discussions, three group activities engaged the audience to challenge their own identities as feminists, and what feminism means to them.

“If you ever hear that there is one common agenda for feminism, run,” said Attakora in response to a question posed on whether there could ever be a global sisterhood and universal definition of feminism.

This was a question that popped up throughout the conference, which came back each time—after much vocal debate—to the conclusion that feminism must be approached from each person’s own unique angle.

“When we say universal I just want us to stop and think about who and what that means. How do we have one definition of feminism when there is so much diversity and so many layers?” asked Attakora. “Inevitably somebody is always going to be left out.”

Everybody approaches these issues with tinted glasses based on their own life experiences and sensitivities. While many felt that aspects of Bourquin’s talk on starting feminist discussions from the vantage point of a white volunteer in Botswana to be triggering and steeped in privilege, others digested the information as coming from personal experience, and therefore valid.

Speakers were continuously reminded by the audience to check their privilege, so as not to sully the safe space created at the conference with generalizations. Likewise, many times audience members had to be quieted down when, impassioned, their tone became accusatory towards the speakers for poor use of language or not explicitly mentioning a certain minority group.

So what is feminism in the age of Queen Bey, of pop culture icons, and of mass media consumption?

Feminism’s third wave, which we are currently surfing, is steeped in the endorsements of pop culture heroes.

“Last year Emma Watson gave a speech on gender equality at the UN, Beyoncé proclaimed her feminist position,” said Cowper Smith. “On the other hand, Mindy Kaling does not consider The Mindy Project as feminist on a conscious level. Yet Lena Dunham and Girls are.”

What all this means is that feminism is in the eye of the beholder.

The full conference is available for streaming by going here:

Student Life

Meet me in St. Louis — the train ride that changed the face of Canadian journalism

French translation of Women’s Press Club biography released last week

“Sitting in George Ham’s office in June of 1904, Margaret Graham tried to convince the railway man that women merited equal treatment. She told Ham that, contrary to what he might think, women journalists did attract a large readership and that the CPR would benefit from taking press women to the World’s Fair.”

In The Sweet Sixteen: The Journey That Inspired the Canadian Women’s Press Club, author and Concordia journalism professor Linda Kay delves into the pivotal moment just over 110 years ago when, on this train ride to the St. Louis World Fair, 16 female journalists banded together to form the Canadian Women’s Press Club.

Last Tuesday, Kay celebrated the newly released French translation of her oeuvre, Elles étaient seize, with an intimate launch party at Concordia and a talk mediated by Francine Pelletier, prominent journalist and co-founder of the feminist newspaper La Vie en Rose.

The biography centres on the lives and careers of the 16 women—eight anglophones and eight francophones—who blazed a trail for female journalists and writers in this country.

“They completely defied the stereotype of the Victorian woman,” Kay said. According to her, six of the women were unmarried, some divorced, and some had illegitimate children and conducted torrid love affairs, all while embodying the modern prototype of ambitious, career-driven women.

In 1980, Kay was the first female sportswriter at The Chicago Tribune. “I thought I’d reinvented the wheel,” she said. “But then [after coming to Montreal], I found out that the first woman to work full time in Canada for a newspaper was in 1886. We had no idea, we really thought we were in the vanguard, we were the pioneers.”

Kay’s research into the Women’s Press Club began when she attended the 100th anniversary celebration of the club. That night, the members—who were in their 80s and 90s—announced that, with no influx of younger journalists, they would no longer be able to continue the club.

Today, the legacy of the Women’s Press Club has all but disappeared from history—that is, until Kay’s book hit the shelves.

“In their day, many of them were stars because literacy at that time in Canada was becoming almost universal, so they had readership,” said Kay.

They were prolific figures, paramount in promoting higher education standards for women and captivating female audiences with their works, yet they were limited.

“Women were not allowed to have the big assignments of the day, they covered the women’s events, the women’s page, they wrote the women’s page on Saturdays in the paper,” said Kay. “They were very talented writers but they didn’t cover the events that the men were covering.”

That is, until the World’s Fair: “One of the women said she’s going to try to get the railroad, which always took the men to these events free of charge, to try to get take the women,” said Kay.“The gentleman who was in charge of publicity at the time at first was like ‘well where are you going to find enough women to make it worth my while to do this’ and she said ‘there’s a woman working for every newspaper in Canada and we’ll find enough’.”

He challenged her to find 12 such women journalists and, if she did, he would take them all there himself on the premier-class train.

As history goes, she found 16.

Elles étaient seize hit shelves on March 3. The book is now available in both languages wherever books are sold.


“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is all bite

Sink your teeth into this feminist, nostalgia-ridden film.

Right away, the title of this film conjures up a vaguely ominous, if not romantic picture, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night delivers just that, but not in the way you would expect.

From breakout director Ana Lily Amirpour comes this poignant if not slightly confounding film, presented like a lovechild of Giant and Nosferatu, with a strong albeit murderous female lead.

The Girl (Sheila Vand) enforces feminist justice in the dark streets of fictional bad city. Press Photo.

The story—if there is really a story at all—takes place in the fictional, eerily desolate oil-town of Bad City, meant to be Iran but filmed in Texas. The narrative opens with a wide shot as we follow Arash, a Persian James Dean type played by Arash Marandi, driving through town in his Thunderbird, cooly shaking off a request for money from a young raggedy boy on the street. He has no money, he says, and soon we find out why: his father, an aging junkie with a penchant for gambling and the company of a certain prostitute, is indebted to a leering pimp.

Before the appearance of the gangster-prototype pimp, the black and white throwback aesthetic, vaguely American backdrop and classic car could all fool audiences into placing the setting as a 1950s suburban dystopia.

When we meet The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, she is lurking in the shadows, watching from under her black cloak as the pimp threatens the prostitute, throwing her out of the Thunderbird he has reclaimed as collateral from Arash. Several minutes later, The Girl, all eyes and red lips under her hijab and cloak, suggestively sucks on the pimp’s index finger before biting it off with her fangs and zeroing in on his neck. The Robin Hood of Bad City, she takes his jewels (most of which we can assume were stolen themselves), and leaves him to bleed to his death on the floor.

Thus begins The Girl’s walk through the night, as a purveyor of feminism, protector of wronged women, and slaughterer of the men who have done these wrongs. When she comes across the young beggar boy, her fangs come out as she makes him promise that he will be good, implying that even this young innocent would likely succumb to the seedy male stereotype of the men in Bad City. She looks about to go in for the kill, but instead locks her eyes on his and swears that she will be watching him until the day he dies.

With her pixie cut and striped shirt, The Girl skulks in the Hitchcockian shadows like a vampire vigilante version of Jean Seberg. She’s the truest kind of femme fatale, all bite and no beating around the bush.

When finally our two heroes meet it’s all poignant silences and wide-eyed staring, a budding romance that wants you to believe that these two kids from the darkest of circumstances might actually have a fighting chance.

The score was perfectly minimalistic, creating suspense with complete silence, broken only by the sound of footsteps approaching and the occasional branch rustling in the wind as The Girl meets each of her supporting characters. The musical tracks, used sparingly, were excellently campy with bursts of rock-n-roll, contrasting against the eery silence of the Bad City streets.

The low-budget nature, naturalistic soundscape, slightly disorienting jump cuts between scenes, relatively actionless plot, and allusions to 1950s aesthetic in the costumes and props conjures up reminiscences of a darker, seedier side of the French New Wave.

The film is at once highly nostalgic and entirely fresh.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Official Selection for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently playing at Cinema du Parc until March 12.

Student Life

Let’s talk about sex

I’m picking up good vibrations. Good good good good vibrations.

At a (very civilized) dinner gathering last week, as my friends and I depleted the last drops of our fourth bottle of wine and geared up for a viewing of Hysteria, conversation naturally turned towards the many splendors of the vibrator. One friend cringed as she recalled a painful moment of her not-so-faraway youth when her mother gifted her with a shiny silver bullet-like vibrator (the gift that keeps on giving, amirite ladies?), which led to an evaluation of the personal massagers we’d known and loved.

The two men at the table were both slightly confused and one asked, “I don’t get it, why do you need more than one type?”

Sweet, innocent boys. That’s like asking if you have whiskey in the house, why do you also need to be stocked with gin, rum, vodka, and several kinds of wine? Or why would you ever need more than one flavour of ice cream? More than one kind of sweater? Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Just as every snowflake is special, so is every sweet pattern of vibration on your special snowflake.
So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, the tools to lend yourself a different kind of lovin’ every other day of the week:

1. The bullet
Small, compact, and easily disguisable as a lipstick (or other vague cosmetic), these ’lil buggers are a nice starter vibe. They’re usually between two and three inches tall, so unless your vaginal canal is microscopic, these guys are really best for external stimulation. Most have only two or three speeds, but more sophisticated varieties have more.

2. The rabbit (or off-brand rabbit cuz those babies are not cheap)
Charlotte in Sex and the City loved hers so much that she shut herself off from the outside world in favour of a weekend-long love-in with her new, erm, pet. The good ones have a rotating dildo-esque piece as well as the little bunny (or dolphin, puppy, cat, ladybug, etc.) branch piece for clitoral stimulation, so you can double-whammy yourself till the cows come home. Most have several speeds, with various rhythms that pulsate both internally and externally. There exists a variety of sizes, as well as options for all the cutest animals that Noah let onto his ark. Now let them sail your lovely lady waters.

3. The his and hers
Giving into some good vibrations doesn’t necessarily have to equate to being a lonely celibate spinster, sitting alone in an unmade bed pouring Half Baked and cheap Chianti into your mouth. Quite the opposite, in fact, as certain toys like the We-Vibe and the Lelo Tiani, amongst others, are specially designed for simultaneous his-and-hers pleasure enhancement. The basic concept is a U-shaped little trinket that allows for clitoral and G-spot stimulation while also keeping room for a peen. The vibrations apparently are guaranteed to tickle both your fancies, hitting all her important bits and giving a little bit of buzz to his shaft as well. As you rock and thrust and shift and shake, the vibrator rocks and thrusts and shifts and shakes with you, giving that little extra pep to your coital step. Can’t possibly be bad, right?

4. The novelty
There as as many different vibrators as there are stars in the sky (and in your eyes after you use one of these bad boys). After you tackle the basics, get something to satisfy your niche needs. There are vibrators, like the one designed by OhMiBod, that hook up to your ipod or iphone and pulsate along with the rhythm of your favourite music. Talk about rocking your body. If you’re a fan of cunnilingus (and who isn’t?) there’s a toy for that too. The Lelo Ora, and its wallet-friendly knock-offs, swirls and throbs and essentially licks you, emulating the most sophisticated of tongue-work. Then there are endless varieties of remote-controlled vibrators, which come quite in handy for long-distance sext sessions (the other person can control your vibrations from afar—but more on that another day). Really, the possibilities are endless.

So arm yourselves with a bulk pack of batteries and give something new a spin. There’s a whole world out there to discover. One last word to the wise: you’re better off splurging a little more, as the $30 variety from that sketchy sex shop on the corner are either nothing you want near your sensitive bits, or else will be pitifully anticlimactic. Trust me, this is one area where you don’t want to skimp—it’s worth doling out some extra dough for something that will bring you so much happiness, again and again and again.


Fifty Shades of Grey was a painful experience, and not in a good way

Maybe my tastes are too singular, but this fifty shades of sucked

Full of self-loathing and holding our heads low, my date and I sauntered into the AMC on Valentine’s night to join the throngs of bored vanilla couples and gaggles of barely-legal girls going to see Fifty Shades of Grey.

We were off to a bad start before the preview reels even began: the theatre, packed to the brim, had seats left in only the three front rows—not the ideal viewing spot for anybody, as you’re forced to crane your neck and stare into the distorted giant faces of the cast, but even less so for a farsighted individual like myself. I never thought I’d feel so intimately connected with every little bump on Dakota Johnson’s nipples.

Then the film started, with a long establishing shot showing Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, putzing around his millionaire’s walk-in-closet, going for a jog, and generally setting him up as a filthy-rich, put-together, virile-type person.

Then we see Johnson as Anastasia Steele, looking doe-eyed and waif-like as we would expect, in an ill-fitting cardigan and wispy bangs. Because, as everybody knows, all virgins must wear glorified sacks and gratuitous floral prints (and white underwear as we will soon see). Luckily, once she’s deflowered her wardrobe is no longer highly dependant on florals.

I came into the theatre with very low expectations. I’d read excerpts of the novel and enough reviews of both the books and the movie to know to keep an eye out for the psychological manipulation and emotionally abusive tendencies of Grey, the misrepresentation of BDSM practices, and the overall lack of chemistry between the two leads who have more than once openly admitted to despising each other.

I expected, however, despite my own reservations about the plotline and relationship between the characters, to be at least slightly tantalized if not semi-aroused throughout most of the film. This was being billed as softcore erotica, after all, and if nothing else I expected delivery on that front.

Sadly, even my most meagre of expectations were not met. Of the four or five sex scenes in the film, two were decently hot, and really only because it’s pretty hard not to get at least a quarter-arousal going when there’s an attractive woman writhing around, bound-up and suspended from ropes while the now-infamous slower, deeper, headier version of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” swells in the background. Unfortunately, that was about one minute of pleasure out of 122 minutes of cringeworthy pain.

Now, let’s just skip past the whole psychological abuse thing, Grey’s unhealthy tendency to stalk Steele like she’s his prey, and his obsession with owning her and controlling her (see her confession of being a virgin, to which he responds “Where have you been?” as if this is the greatest gift he’s ever been given; also buying her a new wardrobe, computer, and car; and setting up quarters in his home for her. Strangely though, he does not replace her ‘90s throwback flip phone).

We can also look past the fact that Steele never did sign that contract agreeing to be his submissive, despite them engaging in a dominant/submissive relationship throughout the film—a relationship that she was skeptical of, if not outright terrified to partake in (and was quite vocal about these reservations throughout the film). And hey, I guess it also isn’t a big deal that there were no instances of aftercare, even after Grey goes too far and leaves Steele crying on the floor as he whips her and, when she confronts him about it, responds that he’s “fifty shades of fucked up” so, I guess it’s not his fault. Nobody understands him, poor baby.

All these things are fine though, because he’s like so intense and like so hot and she just loooves him so much. And how can he be blamed when she has the audacity to bite her lip like that in front of him because she knows what that does to him.

Yes, perhaps all these slight details could be ignored if the actors had even an ounce of chemistry between them, or said their lines with any sort of inflection or feeling. The script, which was no winner to begin with, completely flatlined under the monotone delivery of both Dornan and Johnson. It was like they were speaking at each other the whole time, and were bored doing it. The hatred between them was palpable, and not in a hot, tense, Ryan Gosling-and-Rachel McAdams-hatred-for-each-other-circa-The Notebook-type-way, but rather in an “I’m completely bored and disgusted to have to be in the same room as you let alone have to simulate sex with you”-type way.

Moments that were presumably meant to be fraught with tension were so cringeworthy that the entire theatre alternately laughed and groaned out loud pretty much every time Grey revealed a new kink or made a new request, and likewise every time Johnson seemed to be climaxing before Grey even began to touch her.

The entire film came off like a bad spoof. It was so incredibly awful that I have to wonder if director Sam Taylor-Johnson perhaps intended it to be that way. Maybe the film is actually meant to be a meta-experience of sadistic pain, masquerading as pleasure, for the audience itself. Maybe we’re all Steele, wanting so hard to feel something that we’ll accept any kind of horseshit that hits us first.

In the end, I cannot possibly do justice to this spectacle in words, and I urge you all to arm yourselves with a bottle or two your poison of choice, and illegally download (for the love of God don’t make the same mistake I did and actually pay for it) this shipwreck to see for yourselves.

And hey, maybe I do have more masochistic tendencies than I gave myself credit for, because a deep, dark part of me can’t wait for the sequel.

How to get fifty shades of fucked up for Fifty Shades of Grey (which is really the only way to experience it):


You will need:


  • an alcoholic beverage of your choice, perhaps Fifty Shades of Grey wine?

  • a receptacle for said beverage

  • a liver of Steele (see what I did there?)




  • Take a sip when…

    • there is a gratuitous shot of Dakota Johnson’s boobs

    • she bites her lip

    • Christian Grey appears topless

    • Anastasia is naked while Christian is clothed

    • There’s a shot of a full bush

    • There is phallic imagery (skyscrapers, pencils being sucked etc.)

    • He buys her something

    • They stare into each other’s eyes

    • She rolls her eyes

    • He threatens to punish her

    • She appears innocent and virginal

    • She tries to assert herself by sassing him

    • he plays piano

    • she cooks

    • he alludes to being psychologically damaged

    • he recoils at her touch

    • she whines about their sleeping arrangements

    • someone makes an astute observation (ex.: is that a car? do you play piano?)


  • Chug throughout any sex scenes (these are fewer and farther between than you’d think)


Good luck. You’ll need it.


Student Life

Playing dress up: gender and performance

Dr. Emer O’Toole and Panti Bliss discuss subverting gender norms

“I love being the least-interesting or least out-there person in the room,” said Emer O’Toole, an assistant professor at Concordia’s School of Canadian Irish Studies, referring to the full-to-the-brim auditorium packed with people emblematic of Montreal’s liberal, artsy, vegan-granola-queer-fringey sensibilities.


O’Toole, who holds a PhD from Royal Holloway University of London, sat down with Ireland’s Person of the Year, gay rights activist and drag queen performer, Panti Bliss, to strip down the notions of performance and gender as part of The Globe and Mail “Thinking out Loud” series Feb. 16.

Photo by Sara Baron-Goodman.


Last year, O’Toole invited Bliss to Concordia to speak about the now-infamous “Pantigate” scenario, wherein Bliss became an “accidental activist” by publicly calling out Irish journalists for being homophobic, and spurring an international conversation about gay rights in Ireland. This year, their dialogue turned towards what it means to be a gender nonconformist in today’s Western society.


“There are repercussions to acting outside the role of our assigned gender,” said O’Toole, stretching out one of her 100 per cent naturally hairy legs.


O’Toole has been playing with traditional gender norms for years, and earned a moment in the International spotlight for masquerading her unshaven armpits on T.V. Tonight, she is “pioneering stilettos and hairy legs.”


For O’Toole, rejecting the traditional female archetype was about making a firm choice to subvert expected gender norms. That choice isn’t about rejecting femininity, but rather creating her own definition of what it is to be a woman. “I’m not saying that free choice isn’t a possibility [for girls and women who do employ traditional gender norms], but in a coercive capitalist society, it’s not a given.”


“It’s almost impossible to divorce yourself from the society around you,” said Bliss, asserting that more than just being “intellectual masturbation,” these sorts of discussions about the perception of gender nonconformity are inherent to one’s safety in society.


For Bliss, the label of drag queen and a caricaturesque costume have been a security blanket against harassment. The persona of Panti Bliss, bouffant blonde hair, false eyelashes, stilettos et al., is a performance, and is read by society as such. It is much easier, much safer for him to walk around like a giant cartoon woman, than it is for somebody who is for example, transgender to walk around in gender-bending garb. The difference being that one is read as performative, comical, or theatrical, while the other is seen as nonconforming and “otherized.”


Yet, for Rory O’Neill, dressing up as Panti isn’t “playing a character. This is who I am, I’m just expressing it slightly differently. Certain aspects of me are magnified by the makeup but it’s the same person, the same essence, but the power of that presentation is so much that people accuse you of being two different people.”


“People feel much more comfortable when they can pigeonhole you,” said O’Toole, citing examples of labels like “butch lesbian” or “drag queen.”


“If, though, you dress femme and have one or two masculine aspects, then people are nervous.” This rings true for her, as it does for anybody who chooses to step outside their prescribed gender norm, she explains. In general, society doesn’t know where to put you and they assign you the freak label.


“You don’t have to fit into the patriarchal norm of beauty to be beautiful,” said O’Toole.


According to both O’Toole and Bliss, everybody should make conscious efforts to challenge traditional gender norms.


“There are many more than just two or even three genders,” said Bliss, saying that while it’s great for you if you do fit into one of these traditional archetypes, its “so much more fun and interesting” to fall somewhere else on that rainbow spectrum.


So how can straight-edge men tap into their feminine sides? “All the men should go home and bottom really hard,” Bliss recommends. Or, at minimum, everybody should crossdress—no holds barred—at least once in their lives, just to see how the other side feels. It’s a slightly more ambitious take on the old “walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes” adage.


O’Toole’s recommendation requires a slightly less invasive approach. For her, stepping outside your preconceived notions of gender could be as simple as “wearing your towel differently.”


She councils everyone to go home and after their shower, to wrap their towel the way they wouldn’t normally; for women, wrap it around your waist and set the ta-tas free to air dry, and for men, try making that towel dress. She says you’d be surprised at how even such a small adjustment can make you evaluate your gendered habits a little differently.


For more insights into gender-bending and performance, be sure to check out Rory O’Neill’s best-selling book on how he became Panti Bliss, Woman in the Making, and keep an eye out for Emer O’Toole’s book, Girls Will be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently which will be released at the end of this month.


“I love being the least interesting or least out-there person in the room” – Emer on Mtl

“From the second that youre beorn and the doctor shouts ‘its a girl’”… that starts to define you and limit you – OToole


“when it comes to gender everybody thinks they know women, and they think they understand the fundamental natural elements o fwhat it is to be a woman. Everybody has a gender so everybody thinks theyre an expert on gender”- OToole


“Nobody in their right mind is going to confuse me for a natural born woman, I’m not impersonating women, I am trying to parody the tools that society has attributed to femininity” Bliss


*quotes at roughly 9mins on gender peacocking


*Emer 13:30 roughly

“see that girl over there, shes very attractive but i fear she’d cut my balls off” “thats my sister” OToole


“When we act outside the boundaries set for us by our bio sex people think theres something wrong with us” OToole


“Ive modified this cartoon to appear more serious to you” Bliss


“Tonight ive chosen to pioneer stilettos and hairy legs” OToole

“Im not saying that free choice is not a possibility, but in a coercive capitalist society, its not a given” on “choosing” to apply normative gender norms as a young girl


It’s almost impossible to divorce yourself from the society around you”

more than “intellectual masturbation” these ideas and inherent to your safety in society as a gender bender or non conformist – Bliss


Emer OToole quote 29 mins


people are more comfortable when they can pigeonhole you.. “if you dress femme and have one or two masculine aspects people are nervous” OToole, they don’t know where to put you and they assign you the freak label.


Judith Butler theories on performance


Quebec law proposal 33:30mins


“there are repurcussions to acting outside the role of our assigned gender” OToole


“you dont hve to fit into the patricarchal norm of beauty to be beautiful” OToole


“im actually quite a dull person as a boy” Bliss


A lot o fpeople in this room can relat eto that experience of feeling nervous walking past a car or something because you fear the people inside might harass you, because youve been harassed in that situation before


“Im not playing a character, this is who I am, I’m just expressing it slightly differently. Certain aspects f me are magnified by the makeup but it’s the asme person, the same essense, but the power of that presentation is so much that people accuse you of being two different people”


46:30 feminist and raising little girls


:im so glamorous im constantly in pain” Bliss


on how evrybody should challenge gender norms “the men should go home and bottom really hard” Bliss



55 mins “wear your towel differently” OToole

Student Life

Panti Bliss strips down homophobia, performance, and gender identity

Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss to host talk at Concordia

“Your name is knickers?!”

This is the reaction “accidental activist” Rory O’Neill usually receives from people when introduced to his notorious drag queen alter ego, Miss Panti Bliss.

Though, there aren’t many people left in Ireland who aren’t already familiar with O’Neill and Panti. He skyrocketed to fame last year after he appeared on Ireland’s Saturday Night Show and publicly called out certain right-wing Irish newspaper columnists for being homophobic. The ensuing fallout prompted one of the largest national public debates about homophobia and a call for action within the gay community, which led directly into the upcoming marriage equality referendum taking place in May.

Yet, according to O’Neill, the whole hullabaloo, now cheekily referred to as Pantigate, was just a case of putting his foot in his mouth.

“I say I’m an ‘accidental activist’ because I seem to get myself into a lot of trouble, and in order to get myself out of trouble I have to defend myself,” he said. “[Pantigate] became a big story, with the columnists suing me and the broadcaster, until eventually the lawyers for the broadcaster decided to cut their losses and pay out, and that turned what had been a relatively small story into a whole discussion that involved everything from homophobia and how Ireland treats gay people, to censorship, to freedom of speech issues.”

Canadian supporters flocked to Concordia University last year to hear O’Neill, as Panti, in discussion with Concordia Canadian-Irish Studies professor Dr. Emer O’Toole, who specializes in culture and performance arts with an interest in gender issues.

“We were really bouncing off of the Pantigate scenario, and how troubling it is how straight people could sue gay people for using the word homophobic,” said O’Toole. “I know that Panti/Rory was overwhelmed with the Canadian interest in Irish queer stuff.”

On Feb. 16, Panti will be back at Concordia to once again sit down with O’Toole as part of The Globe and Mail “Thinking Out Loud” series across Canada.

“We’ll be discussing gender identity, how it’s constructed, how we experience it, whether or not there’s something essential about gender identity,” said O’Toole about what’s on tap for this year’s discussion.

For O’Neill, gender and performance are inextricably linked. As Panti, O’Neill operates under many labels: spectacle, nonconformist, activist, performer, other. This makes him privy to all sorts of judgments and confidences, for better or for worse.

“When I’m dressed as a giant cartoon woman in public, people feel very free to say things to me that they would never say to me dressed as a guy,” he said.

This includes having total strangers coming up to Panti at a bar, and spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. Secrets like admitting to having had sex with their cousins.

O’Neill says that strangers’ openness with him is all to do with the deep roots of misogyny in our society. People see a man dressed as a woman and think that the man is demeaning himself in some way. In the case of dressing in exaggerated drag gear, this seems to invite people to see O’Neill and other drag queens as less-than-real caricatures or spectacles of people.

“They feel I’m someone they can just tell this secret to and it’s safe. I’ve demeaned myself so I can’t be judgmental or horrified,” he said. “That also plays into how people allow drag queens to say things to them that they would never allow a guy in a suit to say. The way they let puppets or cartoons say things that people can’t get away with.”

The same theory is more controversial on the flip side of the coin, when women dress as men, or adopt non-conforming gender traits.

“When a woman dresses masculinely, people give her a bit more respect, in an odd way because it makes them uncomfortable, but they see it as her elevating herself somehow,” mused O’Neill.

O’Toole, however, had a personal experience in this realm when she decided to forgo removing body hair to challenge society’s notions of femininity, and wound up enjoying her 15 minutes of fame because of it.

“All you’re really doing is saying ‘this convention is arbitrary and it doesn’t have to be this way’ but the amount of shock and irrational anger that people display to your transgression can be really quite overwhelming,” she said. “When this constructed social norm becomes such a part of what we understand as feminine that we actually see women as disgusting and abhorrent if we don’t conform to it.”

In any case, the upcoming discussion between Bliss and O’Toole is sure to tackle the broad implications and tiniest nuances of all that makes up gender identity and performance.

So, the final question remains, why did O’Neill name himself after an undergarment? Again, it was all a bit of an accident.

“When I was in Japan I was in a double act with an American drag queen named Lurlene, and I was using the name Leticia. Japanese people have great difficulty with the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds, so being called Lurlene and Leticia was just really awful, nobody could ever remember our names, nobody could ever pronounce them,” he said. “So we decided we would pick a group name, and we wanted to use English words because that was sort of our schtick in Japan, but they should be words that people could remember. So the name we chose was ‘Candy Panty’ because candy and panty are both words that had been adopted into the Japanese language. But what happened was that people just started calling her Candy and me Panty. I used to wear very short skirts at the time, I was very young. So eventually we were called Candy and Panty, and the name stuck. I guess it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s hard to forget!”

Unforgettable—that is one thing that O’Neill, as Panti or as himself, certainly is.

Join Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss on Feb.16 at 7 p.m in the D.B Clarke Theatre (Hall Building). A signing of O’Neill’s bestselling autobiographical book, Woman in the Making will take place after the talk.

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