Arts and Culture

Venus, Vixens, Virtues : Looking at Women in the Pop Art Movement

The MMFA’s new exhibition attempts to address the objectification of women in Pop art—how did they do?

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently opened their new exhibition The Pop of Life! Pop Art in the Collection of the MMFA. The exhibition features a selection of around 70 artworks from the museum’s collection that belong to the Pop art movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The thematic display takes the audience on a tour of the numerous concerns the artists associated with the movement: commodity culture, political events and the sexual objectification of women. 

Upon entering the exhibit to the left, the audience encounters one of the first themes showcased, Venus, Vixens, Virtue, which includes works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Montreal natives Gilles Boisvert and Pierre Ayot. This theme transparently exhibits examples of the ways the movement’s male artists used feminine archetypes in their work.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), Vogue Gorilla with Miss Harper, from the album “Bunk,” 1972, after a collage of about 1947-1952. MMFA, gift of the artist. © Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

The representation of women in visual art has a long and troublesome history. Across cultures, male artists and patrons have exercised their presumed entitlement to appropriate women’s bodies in art for their own aesthetic and erotic pleasure. Pop art certainly inherits this legacy, and it is interesting to consider the manifestations of this continuity in a movement concerned with challenging the traditions of fine art. This begs the question: how much do these images really serve as a critical commentary of the fetishization of women?

Pierre Ayot (1943-1995), Ma mère revenant de son shopping, 1967. MMFA, gift of Madeleine Forcier. © Estate of Pierre Ayot / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

The brief accompanying description vaguely and obligingly disclaims that these images are largely a reflection of the sexual revolution. It also maintains that “sensibilities have evolved” and that the male gaze is “now being confronted and questioned.” However, any viewer who skips the didactic is simply presented with a lifeless white wall of vibrantly coloured prints of objectified women.

Gilles Boisvert (born in 1940), Woman, from the album “Les oiseaux,” 1972. MMFA, purchase, Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Gilles Boivert’s 1972 Les Oiseaux is a collection of graphic, brightly coloured screen prints of nude women in a variety of sexually explicit positions.  In Woman, a black and white woman reclines on an abstract background of bright, warm colour. Her position and expression suggests a moment of sexual ecstasy. 

This print is certainly a product of its time and has the potential to contribute to the celebration of women’s nascent sexual freedom. However, to what degree is this really a celebration of a woman’s agency and pleasure rather than an overt display of her body for the pleasure of the viewer? The woman in the print is denied an individual identity, reducing her to an archetype. Explicit sexuality in a red, purple and blue vacuum hardly demonstrates women’s empowerment; it is a one-dimensional approach that robs women of nuance. This tension seems to be left unaddressed. 

I am certainly not arguing in favour of the censorship or burial of these images. Still, it is increasingly apparent that they must be displayed carefully, and perhaps in a context that makes more of a thorough examination of their function. Ultimately, there is very little effort on the part of the museum to truly confront the pernicious aspects of this selection of artworks. 


Are Yerba Mate energy drinks racist?

The rise of a new kind of energy drink raises serious issues

We’ve all seen them around. Whether in the hands of hipsters, on the shelves of your local store or thrown away carelessly on the street, Yerba Mate energy drinks (pronounced yer-ba ma-té) have become a classic drink for those looking for a healthier alternative to traditional energy drinks. Students love to drink them as a quick pick-me-up to meet the busy demands of university life. 

But where do these drinks come from? It might seem trivial to talk about a canned energy drink, but behind the fancy label listing health benefits and glitzy marketing on Instagram lies a story of racial appropriation, and greed.

Made from the leaves of ilex paraguariensis, a tree native to the subtropical forests of South America, Yerba Mate is a drink enjoyed by millions of people across Latin America. In some countries, such as Argentina and Paraguay, it is a common part of daily life and is deeply rooted in the local culture and identity.

The drink also holds a central place in the culture of the Guaraní, an Indigenous population located in the previously mentioned countries. Since long before the arrival of Spanish colonization, Yerba Mate has been central to their worldview, where it plays a core role in religious practices and creation stories.

Unlike the canned versions sold in Canada and the US, in South America, Yerba Mate is always drunk as an infusion, with hot water poured into a cup containing loose mate leaves. The resulting mixture is sipped through a straw with a special strainer called a “bombilla.”

Unfortunately, the arrival of this intrinsically South American product in Canadian stores has not promoted better understanding and knowledge of this continent and its people. Instead, it is yet another example of its exploitation by foreigners. 

Long the victim of domination and colonization by outside powers, today Latin America continues to suffer from high rates of inequality, poverty, and corruption, all while huge sections of the economy remain in the hands of Western companies, including many based in Canada. Many of these businesses have enriched themselves by exploiting weak states and cheap labour to extract ever more resources, material, and profit from the continent while giving very little back.

While perhaps a less extreme example of this issue, the US and Canadian companies creating Yerba Mate energy drinks for the North American market are still a part of this trend.

The cultivation of Yerba Mate, which takes place largely in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, is mostly carried out by poorer Indigenous people and is notorious for its abuses. In response, some North American brands are keen to highlight their sustainable practices and fair treatment of workers. Guayakí, a California-based brand of Yerba Mate energy drink, proudly claims on their website to support smallholders and Indigenous producers. They also state that “every purchase of Guayakí makes a positive global impact,” which they even trademarked as “Market Driven Regeneration™.”

However, as pointed out by researcher Ana Fochesatto in her thesis “Yerba Mate: National Project to Emerging Superfood“, all this does is recreate the Spanish colonial system of encomiendas where in return for protection, Indigenous peoples were forced to cultivate the plant as tribute to European masters. Only this time, the tribute is to a North American corporation that, according to their latest filings, raised $75 million from investors.

Furthermore, the marketing behind many of the major brands promotes a fetishised view of South America as a land of faraway jungles and primitive natives. Mate libre, a Yerba Mate energy drink from Quebec, describes mate as “the super-natural energy of South American rainforests.” Mateína, another Québec-based brand, states on its website that the local Indigenous population considered mate a “gift from the gods” that “gave them strength and courage.” 

While advertised as the sustainable, healthy and ethical choice for conscious consumers, in reality Yerba Mate energy drinks are the result of Western companies profiting off the appropriation of an intrinsically Latin American product, marketing that reduces the continent to an exoticised object and dubious promises of market-driven solutions to societal inequalities. There is nothing wrong with enjoying these products, but as consumers, we ought to stop buying into their shallow marketing.


What’s wrong with TikTok’s stay-at-home girlfriend?

The trend might unveil more about women inequalities than we think

Forget the independent girlboss. Now, working outside the home is out of style. Make room for the “stay-at-home girlfriend”: she cleans, she bakes, she takes care of herself, but most importantly, she’s young, skinny and white.

It started out innocently when influencer Kendel Kay posted a “day in my life” video on TikTok, highlighting what she does as a “stay-at-home girlfriend.” The trend quickly grew and, just like any other viral TikTok trend, within 24 hours it had flooded everyone’s For You page.

It is frustrating to see comments claiming that this is “going back in time,” because ultimately, telling a woman what to do is going back in time. However, I also can’t help but see a problem with the trend.

First, let’s be real: the concept of a woman staying at home is nothing new. However, the stay-at-home girlfriend is exactly that: a girlfriend, not a mom.

Now, let’s remember what a time it was in the 2010s for stay-at-home moms. In a time where the working mom and small business owner was thriving, saying you were just staying home to look after your kids was not the most “girlboss feminist” thing to do. (However, we should be clear here that taking care of a house and kids is a full-time job in itself, but was just never recognized as so).

Ultimately, I can’t help but wonder if the stay-at-home girlfriend is making a mockery of stay-at-home moms. Regardless, it’s safe to say that stay-at-home moms did not get the same amount of compassion from the internet back when staying at home was not it.

Although the stay-at-home girlfriend does get backlash — like some saying she is “lazy,” or “taking advantage of her boyfriend’s income” — she is not exactly being criticized for the bigger societal phenomenon that she represents.

As mentioned above, the stay-at-home girlfriend is young, childless, attractive, skinny, white, and practices self-care. Her level of education remains a secret and she is ultimately valued for the amount of household or self-care tasks she can accomplish in a day.

With the recent spike in misogynistic, alpha-male content à la Andrew Tate on social media lately, I can’t help but think that the characteristics associated with the stay-at-home girlfriend are similar to what these incels describe as the “high value” woman.

There is nothing wrong with being childless, attractive, having a boyfriend and wanting to stay at home, but the trend is just making racist and classist inequalities between women resurface. There is a long history of white, upper-to-middle-class women romanticizing the ability to opt out of labour.

Indeed, after slavery was abolished in the US, many upper-class families would employ Black workers to take care of their homes and families, on top of having to take care of their own. Racist policies in the US like the Mothers’ Pensions and Social Security Act of 1935 helped further depict the image of the Black woman as worker instead of mother. This allowed white low-income single mothers to stay home and care for their children, while Black women were excluded from welfare assistance programs up until the 1960s.

While the trend might seem innocent at first, it actually perfectly demonstrates how the systems of power we are still fighting operate in our society. Romanticizing a stay-at-home life negates the reality of women at intersections of race, gender and class, for which it becomes impossible to be the stay-at-home girlfriend on TikTok, at least without getting more criticism than their white, middle-class counterparts.


An ode to all Sagittarius babies out there

I won’t forget about you this crazy holiday season

My birthday is 10 days before Christmas, and like all of my fellow Sagittarians, I get to celebrate my birthday at the most inconvenient time of the year.

Even though I might’ve been a Christmas miracle to my parents, the birthdays that have followed since 1996 would never get as much hype as the Christian holiday.

It sucks that the festivities tend to overshadow our special day. As everyone around us also has a reason to celebrate, my turning of age seems like “just another party” for them.

Sagittarians might be prone to selfishness, but it’s because we’re misunderstood. We never get to be selfish on our birthday because sometimes we don’t even get to celebrate it.

At every point in my life, there will always be some inconvenience around my birthday. When I was a kid, all of my friends were out of school, either on vacation or just spending time with their families. When I got to higher education, it’s exam season. And when I finally reach my adult life, office christmas parties are in the way.

And don’t even get me started on the weather. As a Sagittarius baby, especially in Montreal, you have to pray that a snow storm won’t ruin your plans because it’s not like you can reschedule anyway.

The planning of my birthday is now a month-long process that needs to start around Halloween, in order to make sure I get the proper reservations. And with most businesses being at their busiest around this time of year, if I want to order a cake, decorations, or a special birthday outfit, this also needs to be done right after Halloween to make sure I get everything on time.

With that kind of preparation process, it’s easy to understand why I’m always the one in charge of organizing my own birthday parties and ordering my own cake.

With everyone’s busy schedule around this time, I know I’ll never get a surprise birthday party. But it’s okay, I’ve come to terms with it.

December babies just want you to understand that we want to be a bit selfish for that one day. We just want you to show up and not mention the C-word. After all, it’s not like we can forget about what time of year it is anyway; the music and decorations will always be there to remind us. Not to mention every other table in the restaurant is usually celebrating the holiday too.

After 25 birthdays, I’ve tried it all — from celebrating at home (but the damn decorated tree is constantly just there) to celebrating my half-birthday in June, but then it just doesn’t feel right.

I might not have the ultimate solution for the sagittarius to have their time to shine, but I know we need the other signs to understand the need to make it a little bit more about us on our birthday.

Hear me out Opinions

Hear Me Out: With the rise of fake news, has the public lost faith in journalism?

With more people getting their news from social media, journalists are at risk of losing credibility

In 2020, former US President Donald Trump was accused of influencing an insurrection at Capitol Hill by allegedly spreading false information that the presidential election was stolen.

Thousands of people showed up to riot and hundreds stormed the building. Although Trump was acquitted of all charges of inciting the insurrection, journalists were left to clean up the mess by having to prove the reality of what took place that day. 

Being a journalist during the modern era of social media comes with many challenges, but the main issue is the growing concern of fake news. With more and more people getting their news from social media, the credibility of journalists is at stake. 

According to a survey conducted by polling group Maru Public Opinion, 26 per cent of Canadians aged 18-54 get their daily news from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, while 23 per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 get their news from Twitter, and 20 per cent consume news through TikTok.

Additionally, with the rapid rise of TikTok, this has led to more users getting their news from other social media platforms rather than through traditional mediums such as television, print or radio.

Journalists have more work to do now because after having done the research, interviews, and gathering facts, there are still people who won’t believe them because of their personal or political biases.

Pew Research Center concluded that 65 per cent of Republicans trust Fox News as a legitimate source, while 39 per cent of them distrust CNN. Meanwhile, 67 per cent of Democratic-leaning people polled trust CNN as a news source.

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 59 per cent of people believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” Additionally, 59 per cent of people also believe “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position rather than informing the public.” 

With so much mistrust between the public and journalists, it’s easier to spread fake news and conspiracies because the regulations on social media to fight against propaganda and misinformation aren’t strong enough to stop it all.

Leaked documents cited by the New York Times showed that on Facebook, views of posts stating that the 2020 US presidential election was fraudulent made up 10 per cent of the views of all political content on the site. However, Facebook didn’t take steps to reduce the spread of this misinformation, fearing backlash. 

This means that Facebook was aware of fake news being spread at an alarming rate, but did nothing to stop it and two months later, an insurrection occurred.

Throughout Trump’s presidential campaigns and time in office, he targeted anyone who disagreed with him, including journalists, and he did this at campaign rallies, on TV, at White House conferences, and most importantly on Twitter. 

Trump was officially banned on Twitter in 2021 because he violated the site’s policy against the glorification of violence, but the damage had already been done. 

With the ownership of Twitter recently falling into Elon Musk’s hands, the site now allows anyone willing to pay a monthly fee to be verified with the famous blue checkmark. Musk tweeted that “widespread verification will democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people.” This isn’t true. In fact, he has given power to the people who want to spread propaganda, fake news, and conspiracy theories because he allows anyone to have a blue checkmark as long as they pay a monthly fee of $7.99. 

Musk responded to all the controversy of the new policy saying that Twitter will suspend any accounts attempting impersonations. However, with the massive layoffs that took place recently, I’m doubtful that Twitter will be able to monitor every fake account that pops up. 

Over the course of the pandemic, it was difficult to decipher fact from fiction about COVID-19, especially on social media. According to Pew Research Center, 48 per cent of American adults were exposed to false information about COVID-19, which could’ve delayed people from taking the virus seriously. 

If you watch the news, there aren’t many stories or segments where journalists, anchors or reporters debunk lies and misinformation. If journalists and news networks were more direct when reporting on fake news, perhaps it would change a viewer’s perspective because they are considering new information that they hadn’t heard before. 

I think that fake news can be reduced if journalists use social media to their advantage and report on misinformation on a weekly basis. If journalists want to earn the trust of the public, they have to be willing to call out people in high positions of power and public figures who feed into the conspiracies, lies and propaganda.


The Arepa ‘Unstuffed’

Can the arepa do for Venezuela what the taco did for Mexico?

It was quite the moment, seeing an arepa on the big screen as depicted in Disney’s Encanto. It made my eyes water. It was such an important moment for me, especially as a Venezuelan woman with Colombian ancestry. Seeing an arepa with queso in a character’s hand validated my experience and belief that all Latin American cuisines deserve to be in the spotlight, explored and tasted by all.  

It’s quite interesting that food references have had to widen their perspectives from a French and European focus, but the arepa’s popularity has been blooming in the North American media. We see this with Encanto, where Colombian arepas and characters are at the centre of the story.

As an introduction to solid foods, Venezuelan babies are fed the inner fluffy dough of the arepa, making it an essential part of growing up Venezuelan. My parents weren’t any exception in raising me with an intense love for arepas.  

It’s quite common to see children bring arepas wrapped in napkins or aluminum foil in their lunchboxes. I often brought an arepa for lunch in my elementary school days, which continued into high school and even CEGEP and university. Other kids were shocked at what I was holding in my hands. Since the gesture of holding it reminded them of a sandwich, the interest would soon fade. “It’s just a sandwich,” they’d all say.

It’s much more than Venezuela’s bread; it’s such an important part of the collective Venezuelan gastronomic conscience. The arepa represents venezolanidad — it’s at the core of a Venezuelan’s DNA and identity. It’s a food that creates an identity and immediate connection. Even when outside of their motherland, Venezuelans are drawn to the arepa. I am, personally! My family buys corn flour weekly and enjoys arepas often. 

The arepa is a round, mostly flat, corn maize split in the middle and eaten like a sandwich, with any topping you like. It’s a staple meal for Venezuelans, as it has been eaten for centuries. The arepa is vegan and gluten-free. In Quebec, 13 per cent of the population is Latin American, but despite that, there aren’t many places where the arepa is celebrated.

Why is the arepa, despite being such a versatile and healthy meal, so underrated? It doesn’t make any sense at all! The arepa has been loved and eaten by millions of Venezuelans for centuries, including me. It deserves to have its own spotlight and be appreciated for its own history and flexibility. 

While Mexican cuisine remains popular in North America, I’m hopeful and optimistic that this will change in the years to come. I’m sick of people only associating Latin America with Mexican cuisine. Ignoring the fact that Latin America is filled with vibrant, colourful dishes that deserve every ounce of appreciation is wrong. It’s time to celebrate all of Latin America, not just a select few countries! 

Let’s make the arepa global, especially since it can accommodate most diets.

It’s hard not to fall in love with what the arepa represents. It’s a small portion of pre-colonization that has outlived Venezuela’s ever-changing society. Of course, the arepa has been modernized with the invention of the tostiarepa, an arepa maker, and the corn flour that has aided in making the preparation process much easier than with maize grains. Its core ingredient, maize, has not changed in the slightest.

The name arepa comes from “erepa,” which originates from the Indigenous tongue of Cumanagoto. Erepa simply means corn, showing just the humility and simplicity of what the arepa has always been. The arepa is also one of the manifestations of the importance of corn in many Latin American gastronomies.

It’s much more than what may seem a one-dimensional, one-time item. In fact, any ingredient can be used as filling, from chicken, avocado to braised beef and cheese. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to arepa — the sky’s the limit!

Although it may look simplistic in its preparation and presentation, reminding many of another iteration of a sandwich, the arepa has filled dining tables at sunrise, midday and after sunset. 

As a Venezuelan woman who has lived in Montreal since she was seven, I’m pretty sure that at least one of my DNA strands is made out of fluffy, inner-arepa dough. The arepa has such a big significance for Venezuela, showing its multicultural idiosyncrasies. 

It highlights the impact of not only the Spaniard Conquistadors or the African Slaves who left their mark on Venezuelan cuisine, but also the country’s first inhabitants. It’s also a representation of the inclusion of the many immigrants that Venezuela welcomed during its days of glory.  

What’s intriguing about arepas in other countries is how they put their own twists on the ingredients. It becomes much more than a food item; it turns into an experience. It’s interesting to note that areperas (arepa-only restaurants) weren’t being gatekept by Venezuelans and were enjoyed by many, as they welcomed migrants from all over the world. 

An important facet of globalizing the arepa is through areperas that have popped up all around the world. The importance of Venezuelan restaurants and areperas outside of Venezuela can be the key to a smooth transition in immigrating from one side of the world to another. In Montreal, we have such places where we can sense a beautiful blend of Spanish and French in the air, being reminded of the beauty and importance of embracing Montreal as a home to multiculturalism. 

I firmly believe that the arepa will help Venezuela be even more known and beloved by the masses. The future is as bright as the inner, white fluffy dough of the arepa and can take any shape like its endless list of fillings.


A holiday dinner table divided

Do religion and politics have a place at the holiday dinner table?

Growing up, I was always told there are two things you never discuss with family or friends: religion and politics. I took that as, for lack of a better word, gospel, and I never engaged in those types of conversations. I was always told that these were bad conversations and that in order to keep the peace, these topics were off-limits.

Now, when I was younger that all made sense. Why wouldn’t I want to keep the peace? After all, family is the cornerstone of who we are, so why go out of my way to upset them? 

Fast forward to now, many years later, I started to think about this adage again. Has our stance toward this taboo topic changed?

Generally, from my experience, this is still one of the number one rules set up for holiday gatherings. Especially given how religiously and politically divided our society seems to be in our current reality. 

I asked myself last week, should politics and religion be off the table this year for the holidays? And for the first time in a while, I thought, no, these two topics should be welcomed at the table with family.

Last Christmas Eve the topic of the political motivation for mask mandates and vaccines came up. Typically, I would avoid the subject altogether, and I think that some of my family was trying to change the subject. I decided to take the conversation head-on. 

I firmly believe that in order to be a well-rounded person you need to engage in conversations that might make you uncomfortable. I think that sometimes our relationships with family members are treated as these precious pieces of glass that we just can’t shatter. However, I think to have a healthy family group, controversial topics must be brought up. 

Talking for the millionth time about how much the Christmas decorations cost gets boring, and there is some fun to be had with tough conversations. Also, why not know where the people closest to you stand on political issues and religious ideas? The foundation of boundaries and understanding where you stand within the family is incredibly important and religion and politics is where someone, myself included, can really find their voice. 

Now, I understand the fear behind it, because I have been scared for a long time. I know that some might feel it is not worth risking whatever arguments or tensions may arise. I can see the argument that the holidays are supposed to be a peaceful time, and a time to enjoy being with family. I can see the fear of being shunned from the family, or feeling attacked if your views differ from those around you. However, when we hide behind difficult conversations we are not doing anyone any favours. 

When I chose to not hide behind a difficult conversation, it ultimately ended in an argument. Other people around us perhaps felt uncomfortable, but it still felt really good to not shy away from such a topic. 

Now, would I recommend going about the conversation in the way I did? No. However, I still stand by the idea that politics and religion absolutely have a place at the holiday table.


What Nikita Dragun’s placement in a male jail unit can teach us about Canada’s trans inmates’ safety

Our institutions need to do better

Influencer Nikita Dragun was arrested at the beginning of the month at the Goodtime Hotel in Miami, Florida for felony battery on a police officer, and disorderly conduct.

According to hotel security guards, Dragun had allegedly been “causing a disturbance” and “walking around the pool area unclothed.” Afterwards, “Dragun flung an open water bottle toward the officers and the hotel staff, wetting one of the officers.”

When she appeared in a bond court video the following day, it was revealed that she had been kept in a men’s unit. In the video, Dragun asks judge Mindy Glazer, “Do I have to stay here in the men’s unit, still?”

It has obviously sparked a number of negative reactions on social media. However, what follows is even more shocking.

In the court video the judge seems to be writing something down, hearing but not really listening to Dragun’s request — or at least showing very little interest. Glazer then proceeds to say, “Yeah, I don’t make the rules up there but, they should make a proper accommodation for you.”

What does that mean? There shouldn’t be any accommodations, just put her in a women’s unit. The way it’s phrased also makes me furious. Is Dragun’s right to be in a jail that houses inmates of the same gender as her really an “accommodation?” Because we all know it would not be an accommodation if the inmate was cisgender. It would simply be their right.

According to Florida law, transgender inmates’ housing situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A “transgender committee” made of medical and mental health professionals meet with the inmate to evaluate and make recommendations to the state as to where the person should be housed. These are however only recommendations, and it shows that transgender people’s rights are not fully protected in those cases.

Transgender inmates are over-represented as victims of many forms of abuse in prison. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, they are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison.

If this is what happens to a popular figure in the US, imagine what can happen to any other trans person in our own country.

In January 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised trans inmates that they would be housed based on their gender identity, stating that “trans rights are human rights.”

Up until then, Correctional Service Canada (CSC), which governs the federal penitentiary system, had a clear policy regarding the placement of inmates according to their gender assigned at birth.

According to a report on trans prisoners’ safety, “the CSC policy dictated that trans prisoners be assigned to either men’s or women’s penitentiaries based on their pre-operative sex. Consequently, trans women who had not undergone gender affirmation surgery were forced to live in men’s prisons instead of with the gender they identify with. This CSC policy has led to extreme difficulties for these women, who are often subjected to sexual harassment and assault.”

The day following Trudeau’s speech, the CSC stated that they would “consider” inmate placement based around gender identity and expression rather than gender assigned at birth.

Adopted in June of that same year, Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, protects transgender individuals against gender discrimination. The Bill amended section 3(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act and added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Bill also amended the Criminal Code “to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression.” The amendment prevents the federal government from discriminating on the basis of gender, including in its prisons.

Then, in December 2017, the CSC adopted an interim policy to “accommodate based on gender identity or expression, regardless of the person’s anatomy (i.e. sex) or the gender marker on identification documents.” Included in the policy is the right of the inmate to be addressed by staff with the correct pronouns and, if a strip search were to be performed on them, the right to choose whether it be conducted by a male or female staff member.

This sounds really good and progressive in theory. But I have a hard time imagining an institution like the prison — that is founded on militarism, punishment, humiliation, racism and discrimination — to completely change its course of operating because they truly believe that trans lives matter.

My research proved me right on that point. In the 2019 case of Boulachanis v. Canada (Attorney General), the applicant had requested to be transferred from a male institution to a female institution after identifying as a woman. The CSC refused her request on the basis that the inmate would “pose too great a risk, in particular a risk of escape, to be placed in a women’s institution.” Although Justice Grammond of the Federal Court granted her the transfer and recognized that “keeping her in a men’s institution is discriminatory,” violating the interim policy, it is important to highlight how he got to that conclusion.

After clearly stating that Boulachanis is legally a woman, Justice Grammond then questioned whether she should be treated as one: “Stripped to its essentials, the issue is to determine whether Ms. Boulachanis should be treated as a man or as a woman.”

Blatant heteronormativity aside — if Boulachanis is a woman, why are we questioning her right to not only be seen as one, but also be treated as one by the law?

Probably for the same reason that Nikita Dragun was put in a male unit in Florida. It doesn’t matter what Bills, promises or policies they establish on paper, our institutions, governments and society still fail to protect transgender people.


You’re Not Alone If You Pick A Cone

Why a cone is the proper vessel for ice cream eating

It’s time to tackle the world’s most heated and legendairy debate: cup or cone. 

So here’s the scoop. I am a firm believer that cones are superior when it comes to ice cream. And if you’re not already, in a few short minutes, you will be.

The most obvious point is that you tend to get more ice cream if you get a cone. Because of the cone shape, part of the scoop trickles down toward the bottom, causing the server to add some more sweet goodness on the top to get that nice circular shape. With a cup, you don’t get that extra bit, and as an advocate for eating the most amount of ice cream possible, I find that pretty criminal.

If you’re one of those people who just doesn’t like the taste of cones, I counter with this: how does it feel to have a personal vendetta against the environment? Sucking it up and eating a cone seems like a small price to pay for being more eco-friendly. In fact, when there’s no paper protection on the cone, they’re zero-waste (and even if there is, the paper is easily recyclable).

Cups, on the other hand, are generally not recyclable or compostable. And don’t even get me started on the plastic spoons they require. 

What’s more, cones are just infinitely more fun than cups. If the thrill of the melty drip doesn’t bring out your silly side, perhaps the golden bite of cone and ice cream will result in an ear-to-ear smile. 

If you’re still not convinced, I’ll offer this anecdote that, quite honestly, changed my perception of this debate once and for all.

It’s a perfect July day and I had just acquired a heaping cone of dark chocolate ice cream. I’m walking down the street with my friend, enjoying the weather and the cold treat.

Suddenly, a wave of inexplicable clumsiness comes over me. In slow motion, I watch my cone topple out of my hands and onto my beige pants. My friend screams. Pedestrians gasp. But I remain calm. 

I sprint into the nearest pharmacy and purchase some soap. I then make my way across the street to a shawarma place, dodging the customers who can’t look away from the massacre that is my pants. I slip into the bathroom, take them off, and begin working on the stains, fervently treating them with soap and cold water.

Ten minutes in, they’re good as new. The only problem? They’re soaked. Luckily, I have a men’s shirt in my tote bag, in case I get cold. Avant-garde fashion designer that I am, I manage to wear it as a skirt, ensuring that I can continue on with my day while I wait for my pants to dry. It’s most certainly a look. 

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself why I would tell you the magnum opus of cone horror stories to convince you of their superiority. My response is as such: while the great cone-gate of 2022 was less than ideal, everything worked out in the end. My pants are still in commission and I got another ice cream cone to replace my fallen snack. 

You see, I’ve wasted valuable years of my life saying no to cones in fear of making a mess. And when I finally started saying yes, of course there were bound to be some (major) slip-ups.

But, at the ripe age of 21, I’ve learned that worry shouldn’t stop you from going for the things you want, ice cream cones included.

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Hear Me Out: There’s No Need To Flip The Table

How toxic masculinity plays on men’s emotions when watching sports

My friend came up to me the other day and started talking to me about her boyfriend’s sports-watching habits. She said that he becomes so violent when his team loses, that he has to take a 30-minute break before being able to have a conversation with her where he will not be verbally aggressive or loud.

How do I respond?

The short answer would be: send him to therapy. The long one is what I’m trying to unpack in this article.

This got me thinking about the culture of sports and how it ties into men and their emotions.

I love the idea of a community coming together to show support for a sports team, which is an important part of our culture and identity as a population.

In a digital age where we tend to not know our neighbour, literally and figuratively, sports can be a way for people to find communities, as they’re linked with territorial identification. Go Habs go, am I right?

But, was I the only one growing up scared of walking in front of a screen hypnotizing a group of men, or worse, to stereotypically ask them if they wanted another beer or more chicken wings in the fear of getting yelled at?

In a study on football hooliganism, six features are identified in the culture of sports and violence: “excitement and pleasurable emotional arousal, hard masculinity, territorial identifications, individual and collective management of reputation, a sense of solidarity and belonging, and representations of sovereignty and autonomy.”

As a sports fan myself, I understand the feeling of your favourite team winning. But I still cringe at the over-the-top reactions from men watching sports — whether it’s getting up from the couch to scream at the screen or making comments out loud on certain athletes’ performances as if they could hear them. Sometimes they even hug, but only because they’ve been made to believe that this is an acceptable time to show physical affection to another man.

If you’re having a hard time picturing what I’m describing, I’ll refer you to this Pepsi and Lay’s 2003 commercial where four men are watching a football game, taking touching each other in the slightest way too much to heart; but after a touchdown, they break into an orgy of hugs, butt slaps and grabs on the couch.

I won’t get into too much of a rant on homoeroticism and men’s sports, but in what other circumstances have you seen heterosexual men grab each other’s butts than in a football league?

In an even surprising yet probable instance, they also cry.

This cleverly goes against the way patriarchy brainwashes boys from a young age to think that their emotions are not valid or, at least, shouldn’t be shown in public.

Even male athletes crying or showing emotions that are deemed too “feminine” is accepted by society as the context of sports somehow gives it a stamp of masculine approval.

I’m not just saying that from personal experience.

In their study, Heather J. MacArthur from the department of psychology at Hamilton College presented participants with different scenarios of men and women crying in different contexts that were stereotypically masculine, such as firefighting and weightlifting, or stereotypically feminine like nursing and figure skating.

The results showed that men who cried during sports or professions that were deemed masculine were perceived as more emotionally appropriate and emotionally strong than the ones who cried in more stereotypically feminine settings.

Now I’m all for men showing their emotions. It’s just sad that they need an entire sports league in order to do so.

It somehow makes sense why men would cry watching sports because it’s something they are taught to care about.

After all, according to Michael Messner’s Televised Sports Manhood Formula, “boys are taught that paying the price, be it one’s bodily health or one’s money, gives one access to the privileges that have been historically linked to hegemonic masculinity — money, power, glory, and women.”

In their study, Messner also identified a link between violence and sports as he states that the stereotype of aggressive players getting the prize, and nice guys finishing last is impacting young boys’ views.

This is what concerns me the most about men watching sports.

Although Professor Daniel Wann attributes sports fan aggression mainly to alcohol consumption, he also points out that a personal identification to the team is an extension of the fan himself.

With that narrative, a sports fan watching their favourite team lose can be seen as a personal failure, or even worse, a personal attack from the winning team.

That is where the violence comes in.

Although I don’t personally feel the need to identify with a team so much that it would define who I am, I understand if that’s what someone else is into (though I might cringe a little).

It’s just frustrating as a woman to always be told that our emotions are uncontrollable, when men will flip a table or be verbally aggressive out of the blue because some other men in uniforms’ bodies did not perform well enough.

So now, what do I tell my friend? That her boyfriend is just another victim of patriarchy and that his handling of his emotions is just a result of that? No, that’s much too academic and pointless to be honest.

However, it’s the real answer that I found in my research. Even though it’s no small task, we need to address the general attitudes on gender dynamics and sports before ever getting to the case of my friend’s boyfriend.


How About We Stop Making True Crime Content Our Whole Personality?

Let’s take a step back and think about the harmful narratives it can perpetuate.

With the amount of controversy and hype — if we can even call it that — around the Jeffrey Dahmer series on Netflix, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ethics of true crime content as a form of entertainment.

It’s nothing new that true crime content is enjoyable to watch for many. It has everything a compelling story needs: good and evil characters, a mystery that needs to be solved and a denouement that can either be frustrating or satisfying.

After all, crime has always been a subject of interest even before Netflix made documentaries or YouTubers recorded podcasts about it.

Although it may seem like a new thing because of social media, vigilantism has always been around. Public executions and the role of the church in presenting criminals as evil made the public invested in crimes in their area.

Today, it has become a genre on TV, a topic of debate, a hobby, a whole culture. With content on YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok, true crime has also created spaces for community discussions on Reddit, Facebook, and blogs.

The casualness with which true crime “fans” consume this content and discuss their obsessions with specific cases is weird when we put it in perspective.

Although being obsessed with serial killers has been discussed before and has been deemed “not okay” in the true crime community, they’re still exploiting someone else’s story.

When I see discussions around whether true crime content production/consumption is ethical or not, the conclusion I sometimes see is that it’s okay as long as we don’t romanticize the attacker and that we give the victim the main voice by focusing our re-telling of the events from their perspective.

But how is that any better for the victims’ friends and family? And who are we to say that we have the right to tell that person’s story?

As someone who lost a friend to murder, I would not like to see a YouTuber trying to make a name for themselves by exploiting her story and plastering her face in their thumbnail.

The topic has been so desensitized that you can now watch a Gen Z college student talk you through someone’s horrible death right before plugging in an ad for a Ring doorbell to keep you safe from being the topic of their next video.

This type of content also tends to over-simplify judicial procedures and due processes in our legal system. It’s easy to make a video detailing all the horrible things a criminal has done to their victims to appeal to the humanity of the viewer and skip over all the steps of our criminal justice system before sentencing.

From having explored it first-hand myself by shadowing a criminal court judge for a year, I can say that the criminal justice system is much more gray and complex than simply identifying guilt and locking criminals away for life if they seem to deserve it. 

It’s also important to make a distinction between real-life criminality and true crime content. True crime content focuses on a very small percentage of the most brutal and sensational crimes because those make the most interesting stories.

The police-reported crime statistics of 2021 released by Statistics Canada shows that violent crimes only accounted for 890 individuals per 100,000 while property and other crimes accounted for 2,219 and 2,266 respectively.

This trend is also presented in a graph as being steady since 1962.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Uniform Crime Reporting Survey

True crime content tends to perpetuate myths about violent crimes that can be harmful to viewers, like the stranger-danger myth that can be responsible for a lot of profiling and false accusations.

This type of content does not explore these nuances, as it is produced as a form of entertainment.

Since it sensationalizes criminality as extremely gruesome and relies on dramatizing truly depraved and violent acts for viewers’ entertainment, it’s impossible for true crime content to deliver an accurate portrayal of these real-life tragedies without throwing audiences off.

It is much simpler to present it as a black-and-white issue and ignore the legal process altogether, than to simplify it in a way that fits the producers’ narrative.

Although true crime content is filled with problematic portrayals of criminality and makes people profit off other people’s stories, watching it does not inherently make you a bad person.

However, I can’t help but think that there is something inherently wrong with the community of “fans” when I stumble upon a TikTok that desensitizes the content. It’s always a young adult white woman reminding everyone of how comfortable she is watching true crime content from her bed, and how that makes her “special.”

What is so wrong with fictional crime series after all?

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Hear Me Out: Thrifting

Thrifting was once like a safari mission constantly searching for the best grail, now it has unfortunately morphed into trophy hunting.

Back in 2013 I was 15 years old, a young lad still in high school trying to find my identity. Now, I’m not going to dive into the trials and tribulations of a high schooler since we’ve all been there, but to take my mind off things I vividly remember going thrifting after school at places like Village des Valeurs and Renaissance, hoping to discover hidden gems waiting to be found.

Draped in between multiple random jerseys and sweaters from someone’s past, I knew that if I pursued the chase and looked deep enough through every aisle I’d be on the prowl, eventually gaining my stride, and scour every inch of the store in hopes to find clothing items that I not only desired, but that I knew in my heart would hold their value.

Walking out of these places my eyes would pierce down into my cheaply priced bag of goodies and as I looked at my freshly acquired loot, with a grin on my face I’d say to myself “what a successful hunt,” discovering a plethora of sports memorabilia, baseball caps, and t-shirts all for the love of the game. A broke high school kid just trying to find nice clothing at a reasonable price.

Now in 2022 I’m 24 years old, an older lad still in university trying to find my identity. That last part of the previous sentence I only mentioned for anaphoric purposes. Yes, I found my identity, and yes, I know who I am, though one hobby of mine I once greatly appreciated has vastly changed in the nine years since I first discovered it.

Thrifting was once formed out of a passion for many to go out on a weekend with friends, look through piles of clothing to stumble on, and find one or maybe two pieces of clothing you can call your own. It has now morphed into some sort of commercialized mainstream cash cow, where curators discover pieces on their own time, sell them or have them set up in a storefront somewhere, and price them for a ridiculous markup. 

Thrifting has unfortunately lost the prowl, seek, and scour mindset, and has now evolved into trophy hunting of sorts. All the desired items are sold under one roof at ridiculously high prices.

Maybe I’m just not in the same mindset as the new generation. Maybe they’d rather have everything under one roof because they don’t want to bother looking through multiple places. Personally, it saddens me when I’m walking in the Plateau and notice long lines at multiple curated thrift stores because I know that these kids now don’t understand what it is to actually go out and discover what you can find on your own. The smell of mothballs and old clothing has been lost in obscurity.

But eh! I get that we all got to get our bag one way or another. We live in a capitalist society so why not take a trend, burn it to the ground, make your cash, and then hop onto the next. I know at this point I’m bickering but damn what happened? All I know is that I won’t be enclosed in one place, I’ll be on the prowl looking for my next “successful hunt.”

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