Struggle of the Sexes: Learning and Unlearning about Gender

This article was originally posted in the April 2018 Features Issue of The Underground.

Growing up, I used to hear things like “boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider, girls go to college to get more knowledge” around the school yard and in the classroom. I saw it as a teasing/flirty nursery rhyme thing; I never put too much stock into it. But now I’m starting to think there’s some truth to the saying.

I’m not suggesting that all men are secretly extraterrestrials, just that we are very different than women. Now, I know that some of these differences are a matter of biology and physiology: bodily structure (like number of ribs and hip shape), genitalia, the presence of certain hormones and chromosomes and things of that nature. But the differences I’m interested in discussing are differences that are the result of how men and women are taught. Specifically, how men and women are taught to behave as men and women and what it means to be a man or a woman.

Think of it like this, biology and physiology dictate that if you are a woman that means you have breasts. Learned behaviour would dictate that if you are a woman that means you have to keep your breasts concealed. (Otherwise you’re a slut). I’m interested in the latter.

You’ll notice that in my descriptions I haven’t mentioned transgendered people or people who are intersex, and there’s a reason for that. Not to be purposely discriminatory but because of what we’re taught and the way we’re taught, being transgender or being intersex are completely foreign concepts.

Being intersex means being born with both male and female sex organs or other sex-specific characteristics. Being transgender means that you identify with a gender other than the one you were born with (I.e you were born a male/man but you feel as if/you identify with being a woman). In both cases, people don’t entirely identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth. A majority of people don’t fit into that category, you may have heard this being referred to as being cis-gendered. The reason being intersex or being transgender doesn’t make sense or doesn’t fit with most people’s understanding of gender is because most of us were taught to think of gender as a binary. Binary means two. Two options: a or b, it is or it isn’t, you are or you’re not. There is no sometimes a, sometimes b, no middle ground, no alternative option.

Binaries are nice because it makes it easy to separate things into two neat categories. Nothing falls outside of the two categories and people are not encouraged to consider anything outside of those two possibilities. But for transgender and intersex folks, these categories are insufficient because they fall outside/in the middle. Just because they fall in the middle doesn’t mean their feelings or experiences are wrong or don’t matter. Or worse yet, that they don’t exist. The fact that the organizing system doesn’t properly apply to them doesn’t mean that they’re flawed, only that the system is.

Imagine this, growing up you were taught there is red and there is blue and only these two colours and all objects are either red or blue. If this is what someone was taught and all they ever knew was red or blue, the second something purple comes along it would throw them right off. As far as this person is concerned, purple shouldn’t exist and isn’t something they comprehend. But this purple thing does indeed exist, by all accounts has always existed and is a thing in-and-of-itself, distinct from red or blue. Because of the gender binary we’re taught, we’re not even given the proper language to talk about or understand what it means to be transgender or intersex.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to understanding gender as a  binary is that it doesn’t put everybody into a category. The other problem with gender binaries is the fact that it does. Binaries are a simple way to organize something but it’s also quite limiting. A binary determines what the categories are—male or female, red or blue, solid or liquid—and what factors or characteristics qualify (or have to be present) something for one category or another. Binaries and binary categories can be damaging because they dictate what things that fall into the categories “should” be like. These are known as normative claims or norms. Based on these gender norms that have been put in place, if you don’t follow the norms or agree with the normative claims than you must not be normal.

The gender binaries and the norms developed from them determine what the categories are—man and woman—as well as what classifies someone as one or the other. Because we’re taught about gender this way, this is how we understand ourselves and each other and in turn how we act and treat others. Basically, all you need to be a man or a woman (or at least to be classified as such) is meet certain criteria. These criteria are based off of norms and stereotypes. For example, as a woman you’re supposed to like pink; blue is for boys. As a man you’re supposed to dig sports, ladies are into fashion. Women are supposed to want to settle down and be prude, men are supposed to be wild and unfaithful.

These attitudes aren’t ones we’re born with, they’re learned. Your biological sex—what reproductive genitalia you’re born with—is something you’re born with, your gender—your interests, your attitudes, how you’re expected to act—is learned. It’s the nature vs nurture argument, basically.. Which leads me to the point I wanted to raise: because we’re force-fed gender norms and develop different understandings about ourselves and the opposite gender, we have a weird way of treating and understanding one another. Some of these differences are small and hard to notice, sometimes it’s not until someone says something or points it out that we realize the discrepancy. For me, one of those moments came while I was writing an article about rape culture.

Back in high school, there was an incident during the last semester of my grade 12 year that rocked half of our grade and completely changed the landscape at school. One weekend at a party, a friend of mine, Elaine, drunkenly agreed to having a picture of her taken while she was topless by one of my other friends. That same weekend, another friend of mine, Amanda, took a couple nude pictures of herself using her phone to send to her boyfriend at the time. The following week, all the pictures were shared amongst a group of boys via a BBM group chat. I was part of this group chat. Things took a turn for the worse when the pictures were circulated outside of our BBM group.

The hallways were ablaze with gossip. “Slut.” “Whore.” Soon enough, the whole school had heard about the photos if they hadn’t seen them already. “I wanted to hide my face wherever I went because most people had seen my naked body,” Amanda told me. Eventually, the photos ended up online and the police had to get involved. Amanda and her family were threatening to lay charges against some of the guys in our group, who were judged to be more guilty than others. This incident took place between the “cool kids” in our grade and needless to say caused a lot of division and animosity amongst us; most of the people involved in the incident don’t speak to each other to this day. Amanda and Elaine felt betrayed. “I lost a lot of friends because of this,” Amanda explained. She felt betrayed, like people she knew and once considered friends “exploited me like they didn’t know or care who I was.”

During the interviews, and while writing and researching for the article I felt an incredible amount of guilt. Although I was judged as being one of the ones who was less responsible for the fiasco than others, I felt awful. Not only because these women were my friends and I did nothing to stop the situation from escalating but because of the damage we caused them. Both Amanda and Elaine ended up dropping out of high school. Elaine was so distressed from the ordeal she lost more than 20 pounds and spent most of her time in her room, surrounded by darkness with little contact with her friends and family. That broke my heart.

I felt like by writing the piece and trying to educate people on rape culture and why it and the situation was so problematic, was my way making amends for my role in the incident. I learned a lot from the experience and was glad to earn the forgiveness of Amanda and Elaine. Unfortunately, not everyone felt this way.

One day I was having lunch with a friend from high school, who was also a part of the BBM group, and I told him about the interviews with Amanda and Elaine and the article I was working on. He responded “Serves the bitch right,” and laughed. I couldn’t believe it. How could he think any of what happened was their fault? The answer was right in front of me all along; rape culture.

Rape culture, a term first coined in 1974, refers to attitudes towards non-consensual sex, patriarchy and gender inequality inherited from one generation to the next. According to feminists and some sociologists, staples of rape culture include name calling, sexual objectification and victim-blaming.

Rape culture also plays a part in other gender-based issues our society is currently dealing with. The #metoo and #timesup movements aim to address and combat rape culture directly by publicly addressing it and holding those responsible accountable. The responses to these stories alone have highlighted further discrepancies between the way men think and the way women think.

First of all, there is the issue that so many women have come forward with harrowing stories of sexual assault but seemingly no man knows a sexual assaulter. Or at least no one is willing to admit it.

The first step towards  changing and dismantling rape culture is by making dialogue about sexual violence towards women supportive and survivor-centric, according to Shannon Giannitsopoulou, 27, co-founder of feminfesto. femifesto is a “grassroots, feminist collective based in Toronto” as Giannitsopoulou describes it.  Giannitsopoulou is critical of mainstream media and the legal system, finding both to be guilty of “questioning and blaming [survivors] for their actions instead of asking why would someone enact that violence?” she said.  For femifesto, the most problematic aspect of rape culture is the attitude people have towards survivors of sexual violence, in particular, the attitudes of the media and people in law enforcement. In December 2013, femifesto released a Media Toolkit designed to help media outlets on how to be respectful and supportive or survivors in the way they report issues of sexual violence. Femifesto’s main objective is to shift rape culture into “consent culture” by changing the way people think and speak about issues of sexual violence.

A Toronto Police survey from 2007 revealed that 44 per cent of survivors of sexual violence are concerned about the court’s and the police’s attitudes towards sexual assault. And 50 per cent of survivors don’t believe the police can do anything about it. When Emily brought the matter to the police, she said they hurt her more than they helped her.

“The police did nothing. They basically blamed me when they came to my house. I didn’t feel any better once the police got involved, I actually was appalled at the way these officers talked to me and my parents,” she explained.

Statistics have shown that survivors can’t rely on the legal system for justice as only 3 of 1,000 reported cases of sexual assault end in conviction and only six per cent of all cases are reported. If survivors don’t feel as if they can be helped by law enforcement, who do survivors have to turn to?

Earlier this year Toronto got it’s own all-female ride sharing service, DriveHer. founder Aisha Addo is excited to finally get the project off the ground nearly two years after she conceived the idea

Touting itself as an alternative for women who may otherwise feel uncomfortable or unsafe to ride in male-driven vehicles, DriveHer has secured a licence from the city to operate as a private transportation company. Its insurance coverage is provided by Northbridge Insurance, and all the drivers underwent a rigorous background check, according to Addo.

Users of DriveHer will have a range of access to services through the app, including pre-scheduling options, safety tips and built-in emergency buttons in case they need immediate assistance while in the car.

While the company will initially operate in Toronto and the GTA, the plan is to gradually expand throughout the country.

Addo, who is also the founder of Power to Girls Foundation, said DriveHer is both about safety and empowerment of women. In a male-dominated industry like taxi driving, incidents of sexual harassment, prying personal questions or lewd comments have been reported in Toronto and across the country.

Last year a Halifax cab driver was acquitted of a sexual assault charge involving an intoxicated female passenger. The judge outraged many in the community when he notoriously declared that “a drunk can consent.” The decision has since been overturned and a new trial is pending.

Another Halifax cab driver is on trial this week facing sexual assault allegations.

By putting more women behind the wheel, Addo believes female passengers will have an option to choose instead of feeling threatened or trapped.

“We do hope that every woman will use our platform, but it’s okay if some of them want to use other services,” she said of potential backlash from other industry operators. “There’s no segregation. I just want women to feel safe when they are on a ride.”

Now it’s easy to see this and think that this is discriminatory and an example of the Left’s reverse-ism but take a moment to reframe your thinking. Instead of asking why someone would invent something like this ask yourself why would someone think that this is the best or only solution?

When I was talking to a friend about it at UTSC he commented “whoever has a problem with this idea clearly has never felt unsafe in a car with a stranger.” It’s hard to blame someone for doing something in order to feel safe. What we need to look at is the actions and attitudes that make women feel unsafe, especially men. Whether it’s nonconsensual contact or staring a little too long, it’s important as men that we identify the things that make women feel uncomfortable and work to keep them from happening in the future. Listening, self-reflection, open and honest dialogue and genuine efforts to improve will be necessary to see the changes so many are demanding come to fruition.  

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“That campus out in Scarborough”

Written in collaboration with Emily Zheng. Originally published in the March 2018 Issue of The Underground.

As UTSC students, we all share the same campus, but our feelings towards our campus vary greatly. We asked UTSC students to share their thoughts on the best and worst aspects of UofT’s second-oldest campus.

If you’ve been a part of SCSU’s Orientation in the last two years, the headline of this article might look familiar. It’s part of a cheer UTSC adopted a couple of years ago; one that I came up with. When I made it, I was only trying to come up with a catchy call-and-response cheer; I wasn’t considering the implications of what it meant to be a UTSC student, or exactly how I would respond to someone if they asked me what school I go to. It wasn’t until I was asked that exact question a couple of weeks ago that I started to think about it critically.

I told the woman that I graduated from UTSC the year prior, then began telling her a bit about the campus and my experience as a student there. She seemed surprised by a lot of what I had to say and had a very different idea of what UTSC was like. I found this weird. I decided I wanted to hear from other members of the UTSC community regarding what they liked, what they didn’t like, what things they thought could be improved on, and their overall impression of the school. First-year management student and frequent contributor, Emily Zheng, was also interested in hearing the opinions of UTSC students. “Is this a home away from home or do we dread the very thought of having to be anywhere near this place?” she inquires. Emily was the first to share her thoughts.  

“Personally, it’s both my home and home away from home, mainly because I live on res. UTSC was my first choice, and I have never regretted that decision. I love the quietness and feeling of tranquility from this little community, even if it is kind of in the middle of nowhere. My university experience has been surprisingly wonderful so far, despite the ups and downs. What I like most about this campus is the vibe. It’s nice, it’s peaceful, and you can always count on running into familiar faces. I took a class at St.George this semester, and I immediately felt the difference and an overwhelmingly noticeable isolation. Being at UTSC gives me a unique sense of comfort, something I need in order to call a place a ‘home’.

The small campus size and the feeling of community is something many UTSC students cite as a positive. The sense of community is particularly strong among students who live on res. According to first-year computer science student and fellow res-dweller Adham Farag. Jz Dong, a first-year social science student comments, “The school is nice, small, and cozy. [It’s got] more of a community feel to it than downtown. UTSC is a big community where lots of people get together, and they’re all different, but somehow it works. It’s magical.”

To get more insight on the differences between UTSC and St. George, we found someone who studied at both campuses. Fourth-year poli-sci and international development studies major, Abu Bakr Baig, spent a year studying downtown before transferring to UTSC: “Transferring to UTSC is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’ll forever be grateful I did it,” Baig admits. When comparing students at UTSC vs those at St. George, Baig explains, “The people [here] are generally more socially aware, down-to-earth, and chill.”

UTSC’s small size, emphasis on community, and the friendly demeanour of the students and faculty help to create a welcoming environment. A couple of students mentioned that they were thankful they didn’t have to do much travelling between classes which can save a lot of time. These factors can help students feel relaxed, valued, and safe on campus. One student who feels this way is third-year human biology student, Andrew Vyravipillai: “I’ve never taken courses at St. George but I feel like it is more intense there. There are more students, so a heightened feeling of competition to perform well. One may feel like a number in a pool of students, like they don’t belong,” he explains. Vyravipillai says that a welcoming atmosphere can help make students feel comfortable enough to express themselves. For Baig, being able to express himself and have conversations with his profs and TA’s was one of the best aspects of his time at UTSC: “Some of my most memorable moments during my undergrad include the conversations we would have in these classes, and the interesting class content we would go through.”

But don’t get it twisted; this is still U of T we’re talking about, so expect a couple all-nighters here and there. First-year computer science student and avid gamer, Hoang Nguyen, knows that being a UTSC student is difficult, but isn’t too worried about it. When asked about the workload and whether UTSC lives up to the #UofTears reputation, Nguyen cooly responds, “University is challenging, like it’s supposed to be, and I signed up for that, so I can’t complain.”

That’s all fine and dandy but we all know that things can be improved upon. “The only complaint I really have about the campus is the lack of food options. That can be improved upon, and, hopefully, it will be as the campus expands and new buildings are added,” Baig says. Unlike St. George and Ryerson which are situated downtown, UTSC students don’t have the luxury of stepping off campus to grab a drink or a bite to eat. So, we have to make due with what we’re given. This is an issue almost all UTSC students but it’s especially troubling for students who live on campus: “Our food options aren’t the best though, which makes it a bit difficult for people who don’t cook,” Farag explains. This leaves UTSC students in a predicament where they either spend ridiculous amounts of money on sub-par food, take time to travel off-location, prepare meals and snacks at home, or simply go hungry. There are limited options available on, or close to campus, and the nearest mall, Scarborough Town Centre, isn’t all that close–not to mention the students history and contentious relationship with UTSC’s food service provider, Aramark.

Although food is important—and I’ll be the first to say so—there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to issues that need to be addressed on campus. Alexson Philipiah is a fourth-year anthropology student who’s been at UTSC for six years. Philipiah, like many, enjoys the fact that UTSC is a small, tight-knit community, where it’s easy to run into familiar faces. He also likes UTSC’s unique combination of “flavours”: “I don’t mean flavours to represent just the racial demographic but to represent the varying ideologies that exist and permeate at all corners of this campus,” Philipia explains. While he says that diversity is a good thing, Philipia thinks that there are race issues that need to be tackled: “People here seem to casually speak in generalizations and place a heavy emphasis on culture and race,” he comments, adding, “I never used to care about race much until I came to this campus and learned about all sorts of things people apparently thought of towards Tamils and darker skinned people.”

The phenomenon Philipia is referring to is known as shadeism or colourism. Shadeism is similar to racism, because it’s a form of discrimination based on skin colour; however, shadeism is typically regarded as an intraracial issue (between members of the same race), as opposed to an interracial issue (between two or more races) because it’s based on one’s skin tone rather than their skin colour, i.e white or black. “ I believe UTSC needs to create a more balanced political sphere and create more intercultural dialogues that aren’t just about critiquing powerful systems of oppression like white supremacy or U.S imperialism…but culture clashes between ethnic groups within just this campus,” Philipia concludes.

Ali Javeed is a psychology student coming to the end of his first year at UTSC. After two gruelling semesters, Javeed is left with mixed feelings about the campus overall. I ask Ali how he describes UTSC to people, he replies, “I tell them that, objectively speaking, UTSC is the best option with its comparably smaller class sizes, accessible profs, and services. The campus offers high-class education with connections to UofT resources from the comfort of a small community. I make sure to warn them though that it won’t be at all like the university experience they might have expectations of. It’s definitely a sacrifice or trade-off; one that I think about very often.” He goes into more detail about what he means:

“School spirit? It’s hard to gather a collective identity when people aren’t necessarily attached to the campus. This stems from a number of factors, beginning with our lack of distinction between study and community spaces. There are tons of places for students to just sit and hang-out, but when it comes time to study (and you KNOW that UofT students study hard), there is a lack of dedicated and quiet study spaces on campus (like Robarts). Sure, we have a library, but from the white noise of the sputtering vents, to the constant chatter, or even occasional emergency alarm, it becomes extremely challenging to focus directly on your work. Headphones don’t necessarily help. All of this applies only if you manage to find a seat – all of which are usually saved with jackets or binders, but I don’t blame them; if you leave a seat after 10am in the library for a quick bite, guaranteed you will not get it back. People end up staying, talking, eating, (and sometimes studying) because they have no other chance at a semi-quiet place with outlets, chairs, and a desk. What’s the other option? Students trying to study in spaces that are public which will rightfully be loud and distracting as well. Who knows if there will be outlets (surprise: there won’t be), space to spread out papers, or to comfortably type on a laptop.  – The final option? Go home. This lack of space effectively drives people off campus, thus removing the need or even possibility of a vital collective identity that this campus NEEDS. Although our student body may be comprised primarily of commuters (myself included), this does not mean that we can’t develop an attachment and love for our campus. This lack of space infuriates me since the CORE reason we are at the University of Toronto Scarborough is to study and earn our degrees (you and I know that no one comes to party). We have a library that is continually turning students away who just want to sit and learn, and in my eyes, this is a great disservice to its – dare I say – customers.

Food. Asian Gourmet? Why is that place still running? After a history of food poisoning, and finding bugs in meals, people STILL line up. The existing food places have a monopoly on our tired, hungry asses, so even though we are quite literally being robbed from Treats for a “Shawarma box” that isn’t full, or having the extra protein of a moth at Asian Gourmet we still come crawling back because we have no other option. As a result, these food places are not required to hold up any sort of standard – even if they slapped customers across the face as we made our menu choice – we would keep coming back (or maybe not – Classical Conditioning). Why? If you are sleep deprived, stressed, monstrously hungry, and want a quick and economic choice, walking 30 minutes, wasting bus fare, or even blowing money on UberEats just isn’t sustainable. (I will say though – shout out to Nasr’s Hotdogs, an ICON of the UTSC food community). Marketplace has some variety, but it should be open much longer – if only they had an accessible body of eager, jobless, young adults who are in desperate need for any sort of cash flow…oh wait. HIRE STUDENTS. Afraid of their quality? With a job pool so large, the best will rise to the top, and if not, they can be easily replaced. Food is essential to developing a connection to a space – eating is a traditionally a social activity. Campus food has the potential to be more than just a transaction, but a connection. A great example is the Food trucks lined down St.George at UTSG with their quality, consistency, value, and taste. I implore you to try them.

Sports. We have a beautiful facility down the road, but I wish I knew when the games were. There’s a certain identity that builds when you’re screaming from a stand for “your team”.”

One of the most interesting points from Javeed’s rant are his comments about the size of the campus. Most students are happy with the size of the campus, but Javeed isn’t always too thrilled with the space he is given: “When I want to be alone, I hate the fact that I can walk from one edge of campus to the other in 10 minutes; we all need some privacy sometimes, you know?” I thought this point was interesting because he’s not the first person to bring it up to me. Friends of mine have mentioned this to me before; because the campus is so small, and you’re bound to run into someone you know, this might mean having to put on a brave face when you’re holding back tears or getting caught up in longer-than-expected conversations when all you really want to do is study.

To conclude, Javeed summarizes, “We lack the buildings, spirit, sports, foods, clubs, location, campus life, study spaces, adequate lighting, and collective identity of other institutions of the same par as us, but what makes this campus what it is are the people. It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t have met the brilliant, diverse, and unique people that we did if we chose another university – we wouldn’t be who we are without them. I may seem cynical in my analysis, but I point these things out because I can see what our campus community could flourish into. Once we make some calculated changes, we can vastly improve the student experience at UTSC.”

For me, UTSC was more than I ever could’ve imagined; when I started applying to universities, UTSC wasn’t even an option I considered, but now that I’ve graduated from here, I’m eternally grateful did. I got to be a part of Frosh, ARTSIDEOUT, TEDxUTSC, the soccer team, The Underground, and have met dozens of incredible people I wouldn’t have if not for UTSC.

Baig says it best: “I have loved UTSC ever since I completed my first year here, and now that I’m graduating, my appreciation for it is growing even deeper.  I’m convinced my undergrad experience would not have been as fulfilling and memorable had I gone anywhere else.”
UTSC is home to bare Scarborough manz and sweeter tingz, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

Represent, represent: The importance of diversity at UofT and beyond

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 Social Issues edition of The Underground.

U of T is often touted as a beacon of light when it comes to diversity, but that diversity is not reflected in the teaching staff.

When I’m not writing and editing articles for The Underground, I work as a hospitality worker for UTSG’s catering company, St. George Catering. In addition to setting up the event spaces and serving food, I spend a fair amount of time at work observing the people attending these events. People-watching is particularly interesting around the end of the Fall and Spring semesters, as many of the events I work for are celebratory outings for faculties and staff. Being that they’re professors employed by the University of Toronto, they are supposedly among the world’s brightest minds in their respective fields, so it’s interesting observing them congregate away from their usual habitat of offices or lecterns. One thing I’ve noticed is that, despite their prestige, they’re no different than the rest of us. They make messes, they get tipsy and cause a ruckus, they take bigger portions than they’re supposed to﹘ the usual. Another thing I’ve noticed is how few of them are black. There’s usually one or none; and if I’m lucky, there’ll be a couple racially-ambiguous people who might be black.

A 2012 study by the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association revealed that visible minorities are underrepresented in the teaching staff at 14 of 17 major universities, despite the fact that 24 percent of visible minorities have a PhD. Huda Hassan, a PhD student in women and gender studies at UofT, began offering help to black women completing their grad school applications free-of-charge to pay forward those who had helped her when she was first applying for her graduate degrees. Another motivation for Hassan was seeing more black faces in the realm of academia.

“There’s an issue of diversity in academia and there’s definitely an issue of seeing black folk in academia,” Hassan tells Metro News Toronto. “I don’t think that’s a commentary on black folks. That’s a commentary on the academy.”  

The lack of diversity among U of T’s teaching staff is not reflective of its student population. According to a 2014 survey, nearly 60 percent of all U of T students identify as “non-white”. Both staff and students are aware of the lack of diversity among the university’s faculty members according to one professor. “I’ve had numerous students tell me I’m the first female faculty member of colour they’ve had here from students who’ve been here for 3-4 years,” Rachel La Touche explains. La Touche is a sociology professor at UTSG and believes that diversity is hugely important when it comes to university for a variety of reasons.

Having faces that look like yours isn’t the most important issue regarding diversity, however La Touche believes that it does matter: “For students who are interested in pursuing higher education but perhaps note that it doesn’t seem like a place for them because they don’t see anyone who looks like them in those institutions,” she says. Diversity also means representing a variety of ideas and perspectives, which is particularly important in academia. Recall the story of U of T English professor David Gilmour who said he was “not interested in teaching books by women” or “Chinese authors” because they don’t resonate with him on a personal level. Gilmour has the right to instruct his class as he sees fit and, while he may not identify with the works of female or Chinese authors, students in his class might, but these students won’t have their experiences reflected in the curriculum because they are not reflected in the staff.

A strong sense of community is especially important to Indigenous students, according to Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, director of the First Nations House at U of T. Hamilton-Diabo likens the FNH to a community centre where Indigenous students can receive academic support and advice, financial support, library access, connect with elders and other drop-in services: “Whatever the issue is, we want them to open up and get to know us too. And that’s a very important part of our process; building that relationship, making sure they’re understood and that helps us respond to them,” Hamilton-Diabo explains. A community of support is important because “students are in programs and sometimes they’re the only ones representing the Indigenous community so they feel alone. It can be difficult for them to connect with other students, the faculty or what they’re studying, but just finding students with similar experiences can actually help” he adds.  

As the city — and the world — grows increasingly diverse, so does the importance of having equal representation in different areas of life. The Honorable Jean Augustine is Canada’s first black female Member of Parliament and one of the people responsible for getting February recognized as Black History Month in Canada. Augustine believes that more representation and inclusion can lead to progress on issues facing marginalized peoples, particularly when it comes to people in decision-making positions. Seeing people who are similar to you in these positions can also be a source of inspiration too: “If you can’t see yourself there, it becomes harder to get there,” Augustine states.

There have been times at work where I’ve thought that becoming a prof is an unreachable goal. There have been times at work where I’ve thought that I need to become a prof just so that some black student 10-15 years from now doesn’t have to feel the same way that I did. Inclusion and representation give children someone to look up to, someone like them, someone to give them permission to have and pursue their dreams. Role models give us goals to reach and paths to follow, but if there isn’t a path already outlined for you, don’t be afraid to blaze a trail of your own.

Why Winter is the Worst

This article was originally published in the January issue of The Underground

Even though winter will mercifully be over in a few weeks, right now the weather isn’t showing any signs of letting up. Make no mistake, we’re firmly in winter’s grasp, far removed from that first snowfall that tried to fool us into thinking that snow is “cute” and that winter ain’t so bad. That’s nonsense. Winter is always bad. No time of the year when small creatures die and it literally hurts just to breathe should be celebrated. And to those of you who actually enjoy winter…what in the world is wrong with you?! I’m asking out of concern. Winter sucks and I’m willing to fight and end friendships over it.

“But Marcus, my birthday is in winter.”

via GIPHY

I don’t care. That’s selfish as hell. So, you mean to tell me that everyone deserves to suffer the pains of winter–shovelling, salt-stained shoes, frostbite, black ice, fogged glasses, soggy socks–and be expected to like it simply because you decided to pop out of the va-jay-jay during the wrong time of the year?! And somehow that one day is going to make the three months of winter worth it?! I don’t think so.

“But Marcus, Christmas is in winter.”

First of all, not everybody celebrates Christmas, chill. Secondly, if you knew that the origins of Christmas traditions were adapted from the pagan festival Saturnalia, you would know that the date December 25th was chosen arbitrarily. Neither the date nor the season of Jesus’ birth was stated in the Bible and based on the details of the Nativity, Jesus was probably born in the Spring. Besides, Christmas is poor justification for the harshness of winter, you can get together with your loved ones to exchange gifts, eat food and be merry at any time of the year. Some people act like Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow, which is absurd. While it is true that it feels less “Christmas-y” without a layer of snow covering everything in sight on December 24th and 25th, would it not be sufficient to have a non-bone-chilling substitute?

But Marcus, there’s so many fun winter activities to do.”

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If you have money that is. Hockey, Canada’s most beloved sport, costs $$1,666 a year on average to play while softball costs about $300 a year. A trip to Blue Mountain would cost you $70—plus whatever you have to spend to get there—a ferry to the Toronto Islands is $7.50. Besides, how many times do you

But who’s really trying to do anything in the winter? Do you know what dies in the winter aside from plants: your motivation. Think about it, how many times you’ve not bothered to go to class or some social event because it was nasty outside? ​Thanks to evolution, winter triggers your body to go into hibernation mode, meaning all your body wants to do is stay warm, store as much food/energy as possible and sleep. The cold weather makes people feel lazy and want to stay in bed, sabotaging the good habits and summer bods they’ve developed. Winter also robs people of their tans–which have been scientifically proven to make you more attractive–as your melanocytes produce less melanin due to a lack of UV light. For some people, not wanting to leave the house during winter is a matter of sacrificing looking cute and having fun for warmth. For others, not wanting to leave the house is a symptom of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is type of depression that affects people at the same times every year and is related to the changing of seasons. Similarly to regular depression, symptoms of SAD include: trouble sleeping, loss of interest in activities, difficulty focusing, feeling sluggish or agitated, change in weight or appetite, low energy and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Sound familiar? That’s what students go through around exam time. April’s exam period is slightly better because of the weather and because it marks the beginning of a four-month summer for most students.

“But Marcus, the heat is unbearable. It’s easier to heat up than cool yourself down.”

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I hear where you’re coming from. You’re sweaty, you’re sticky, it’s exhausting just to be outside.

But you’re missing the bigger picture; IT’S SUMMER! You can do anything; the possibilities are endless. If you’re too hot, jump in a pool, find an ice cream truck, have a bloody water balloon fight for chrissake. If you need a vacation from the heat you probably can take a trip somewhere cool in the summer for less than what you’d pay to go somewhere warm in the winter. Even buying winter clothes is more expensive than buying summer attire. And realistically, these days of “unbearable heat” account for about two weeks of the year. Whereas the brutal temperatures of winter can last a whole month, for example Toronto in February 2015. The Los Angeles Times reported that between 1985 and 2012 there were 74 million deaths that occurred in 13 countries, researchers examined the data and calculated that cold weather accounted for 7.3% of those deaths while 0.4% were attributed to hot weather.

But if you don’t believe me or science, take it from your fellow UTSC students. ​Recent HBSc graduate Brandon Bharat says: “Being the holidays there’s going to be more outings, more dinners, more driving, more everything. So at this point you’re poor. Maybe it’s just me but you can’t be saying “yes” to many things if you want to save for the select few things.” Fifth-year student Rebecca Ramotar has her own winter-related-car problems. “The walk from class to your car is the coldest I’ve ever been. It’s like walking in a wind tunnel, the wind is so cold you think you’ll get frostbite by the time you reach your car. Literally can’t feel your face for a good ten minutes after that. It’s life at UTSC in the winter,” she explained.

Excuse me while I sip my tea.

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The Gift of Music, Part 3: Jasper Sloan Yip

This article originally featured on The Underground online

All throughout high school, Jasper Sloan Yip crafted and wrote songs. He was inspired to learn how to play an instrument by the kids at his summer camp. Music was all Yip wanted to do for years, but aside from a few friends and a handful of family members, it was a private affair. One night in Amsterdam, following two years of college and a year abroad, Yip decided he wanted to record more music, play more shows, and take music more seriously: we’re grateful that he did.

Jasper Sloan Yip is the award-winning songwriter at the head of the eponymous folk-rock group from Vancouver. A self-taught-musician and one of the West Coast’s fastest-rising independent stars, Yip released his third album “Post Meridiem” this past October. Much like the season the album was released in, Post Meridiem is cool, calming, and beautiful. Consisting of introspective lyrics, melodic, cinematic compositions as well as Yip’s signature fusion of rock, pop, and folk elements, the album was entirely written and composed by Yip.

When Yip began writing songs for his new album, he knew he wanted to create something with a cohesive theme, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted it to be. After putting a couple of songs together, he noticed that there was a distinctly “domestic” feel to the songs, and described them as “an intimate series of vignettes.” The songs on Post Meridiem follow the passage of the sun as day becomes night. According to Yip, “It was really unconscious to me until it made itself clear to me then I started searching for it.” The consistency of the theme makes the album easy to listen to, as the songs flow seamlessly into one another. This is especially true for the first six tracks on the album. The opening track “(…)” is a soothing instrumental number that brings to mind images of nature as well as images of the beginning or ending of the day. It sets the tone for the album with gentle vibes, multiple instruments, and gradually intensifying sound.

Although most of the songs are mellow and downtempo, they don’t come off as somber by any stretch. Yip admitted that he was “(not in) a happy time in [his] life” when he put the album together, having just come out of a period of musical stagnation while simultaneously preparing to be married, which he described as exciting and scary. The ups and downs of Yip’s life at the time are reflected on the tracks, which makes them relatable. Yip believes that connecting with people over similar feelings and experiences is what music is all about: “My hope is that people listen to the music and think about it, and for one reason or another, feel more connected to other people. That’s what’s so powerful about art; someone you never met, or never will meet, can make something that feels familiar to you and makes processing the world easier.”

Standout tracks: “Strangers”, “Put Up Your Hair”

The Gift of Music, Part 2: Living Hour

This article originally featured on The Underground online

It feels good to give gifts, and this Christmas, I’d like to give as many as my budget will allow–especially to you, the lovely readers of The Underground. ‘But Marcus, how can you get a gift for hundreds of people, one which they will all enjoy and that won’t put you even further in debt?’ The answer is ‘with music.’ This year, I’ll be celebrating the holidays by sharing my new music recommendations so that you’ll have something to listen to when you can’t bear to hear “Jingle Bells” one more time.

Have you ever gotten a gift and enjoyed it so much that you felt you had been missing out before it came into your life? That’s how I feel about Living Hour’s self-titled debut album. The Winnipeg-based five-piece released their debut in February 2016, but I didn’t learn of them until this past fall when they played an enchanting set at The Drake Underground.

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The music of Living Hour isn’t the kind of music you dance and party to; rather, the members of the audience opted to sway side to side in a trance-like rhythm while the band played. You couldn’t hear a single side conversation, and even the members of the band themselves hardly spoke to each other, only exchanging directions and a handful of smiles.  My favorite parts of the night were the three-part harmonies on songs that rang through the air like a beautiful, haunting wail and the intermittent trombone notes. The vibe at the show was so low key that one of the few times lead singer, Samantha Sarty, spoke into her mic it was to request the lights be dimmed to be “less like a spotlight and more…moody.”

That quote is a fair reflection of Living Hour’s musical style. The band describes their sound as “psychedelic chill dreaminess,” and they are often labelled as a shoegaze or psychedelic dream-pop group. In the early days of Living Hour, the band spent time in various basements throughout southern Winnipeg, writing dreamy love songs inspired by the cinematic sky of their hometown. The pleasantly unreal feel of their music has persisted and continues to be a defining feature of their songs. The album combines fuzzy, melodic, psych-rock inspired riffs with washed-out textures and powerful, stirring vocals to create a sound that pours over the space and engulfs its audience. This quality makes for the perfect soundtrack for your summer chill sessions, day or night.

Moody is certainly a good word to describe Living Hour’s music but defining what kind of mood and which emotions it elicits is up for interpretation. None of the songs are innately “sad” or “happy,” with lyrics that can switch from joyful to crushing in the span of one song–listen to “Seagull”. While there are certainly elements of dream-pop on the record, the drums and the guitars that are prevalent throughout give it a little more edge, making it less sleepy than other similar artists and songs.  Guitarist Gil Carroll explains, “We were out to create our own little world. I definitely wanted to tap into a unique kind of headspace. I’m super into the Winnipeg local scene, and I love tons of the bands that come out of here, but I really wanted to create something that people might think was weird.”

Standout tracks: “Seagull”, “Steady Glazed Eyes”

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The Gift of Music: Toronto Edition

This article was published in the 2017 December Issue of UTSC’s The Underground

It feels good to give gifts, and this Christmas I’d like to give as many as my budget will allow, including to you, the lovely readers of The Underground. But Marcus, how can you get a gift for hundreds of people, one they will all enjoy, that won’t put you even further  in debt? Easily, with music. This year I’ll be celebrating the holidays by sharing my new music recommendations so that you’ll have something to listen to when you can’t bear to hear “Jingle Bells” one more time. And because I’m a “Toronto manz” at heart, I had to keep it local, szeen?
Disclosure: I know both these artists on a personal level and consider them both friends.

Much Love by Eyeda Sophia:

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Eyeda Sophia, who also goes by the name 9 Eyez, is the rap component of the brother- sister duo Max & Eyeda. She’s 23 years old, bad as hell, reps North York, and is an absolute lyrical monster. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Eyeda perform on several occasions, but her debut solo project ‘Much Love’ is unlike anything I’ve heard from her.

Eyeda is an incredibly gifted freestyle-rapper, but she’s really able to show
off her rapping skills when given time to write, which is evident with this project.
Eyeda describes the 6-track EP as a reflection of her beginnings: she sees it as an open-letter to her younger self. Many of the tracks on Much Love deal with the subjects of growth and femininity; there’s a strong sense of self that resonates throughout the whole record. The themes of the EP are reflected in the beats selected for the tracks, with many having a softer, low-key vibe.

Before Eyeda fell in love with hip-hop, she was strongly influenced by poetry and spoken word, having written both earlier in her writing career. Eyeda’s roots in poetry and spoken word are evident throughout Much Love, with tracks full of repetition, alliteration, tightly-woven internal rhyme schemes, and clever word play. A great example of this is the track ‘Meet Me,’ a welcome deviation from the many mumble-rap songs and half-baked sing-rappers that inexplicably dominate music charts.

Eyeda is a hip-hop purist but Much Love lacks some of the bravado and braggadocio flare that was once synonymous with hip-hop music, but that’s not at all a bad thing. The EP gives a personal and intimate look into the mind and life of Eyeda, and after listening to it a couple times, I felt as if I knew her better than I did prior to the project. Much Love is brimming with honesty, as it follows the precedent popularized by Kanye West and Drake that allows rappers to have and display genuine emotion. Although the record has a somewhat serious tone to it, Eyeda still makes room for humour, especially on the track ‘Time Piece.’
Standout tracks: ‘Meet Me’, ‘Open’

 

The Ball Park Tape by Stretch:

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Stretch may be a man from Toronto, but he’s a far cry from a “Toronto manz.” In many ways, the 23-year-old is the opposite of your typical Toronto rapper; instead of begging you to check out his “fire mixtape”, fans of Stretch are often asking him where they can find his music. Despite being a high-profile figure involved in Toronto’s hip-hop/spoken word scene through RISE Poetry for several years, Stretch has kept his music relatively low-key. After releasing a track this past summer and another late last year, Stretch dropped his highly-anticipated debut ‘The Ball Park Tape’ at the end of October after working on it for 4 years.

As Stretch puts it, The Ball Park Tape is “Scarborough manz meets soul music,” and the description fits the mixtape like a glove. The 9-track record is full of live instrumentation and samples, giving it a unique and soulful sound. Stretch’s love and appreciation for music are partially results of his choir-school upbringing, a love which was nurtured by his parents who constantly have music playing throughout their home. The Ball Park Tape stands out from much of today’s hip-hop, and sounds like it could’ve come out in the early 2000s.

Given all of that and the fact that Stretch is also known as “The Fresh Prince of St. Clair”, it should come as no surprise that his debut is oozing with old school vibes. Toronto-native abstractabel made his production debut on The Ball Park Tape and produced the opening track ‘Abel’s Intro.’ The song sounds like it could be the theme song to a ’90s sitcom! It sets the tone for the rest of the record both in terms of music and lyrics. Everything about the project screams ‘throwback,’ from mentions of boxing icon
Muhammad Ali, to references to Disney’s ‘The Proud Family,’ and a sample from the Janet Jackson classic “I Get Lonely”– that’s only scratching the surface.

Stretch’s greatest strength is his storytelling ability and the way he strings together a clear and coherent narrative. Every track on the album has a distinct story that plays out from beginning to end, notably ‘Could Be You’ and ‘Embascado.’ The Ball Park Tape perfectly captures what makes Stretch the artist he is, as it highlights his many talents. The project also features the versatile production skills of Nate Smith and the vocals of up-and-coming Toronto songstress M.I. Blue.                                                                    Standout tracks: ‘jctb’, ‘Could Be You’

Much Love and The Ball Park Tape can be found on SoundCloud and Spotify, with The Ball Park Tape also available on Apple Music and Much Love appearing on Bandcamp.

Remember to Remember

This article originally appeared on The Underground online

Six years ago, Kent Monkman saw a historical Spanish painting at The Louvre that changed the way he saw art.  Monkman, a  famous Canadian artist of Cree ancestry, admired the painter’s ability to convey emotion through the human figure with his almost-life-sized portraits. As he stood in front of the painting, Monkman was taken aback by the painting’s ability to “jump forward  150 years, grab me by the throat, and make me feel like I was part of the scene.” That feeling stayed with Monkman, and he knew he wanted to recreate that sensation in his audiences through his own art. When he was asked to work on a project for the #Canada150 celebrations, Kent saw a perfect opportunity to realize that goal.

July 1, 2017 marked the 150-year anniversary of Canada’s confederation–when the former British colonies became an independent nation. While some celebrated the milestone year–coined #Canada150–with concerts, fireworks, and reflections on significant moments and figures, others decided to scrutinize Canada’s history and address uncomfortable truths. Discussions about colonialism, oppression, and the erasure of Indigenous history and culture were brought up through a movement called #Colonialism150.

Monkman is renowned for his provocative style and for his reimagining of North American history and landscapes. Monkman uses painting, film, performance art, and installations to explore themes of loss, sexuality, colonization, and the experiences of Native American People. The exhibition Monkman created in response to the #Canada150 celebrations was titled ‘Shame & Prejudice’. Monkman explains that he wanted the exhibit to focus on the realities and consequences of colonization in Canada. One of the key pieces in the exhibit is ‘The Scream’.

The harrowing, but stirring, painting depicts children being torn away from their families to be sent to residential schools. Residential schools were established by the Canadian government in the 19th century to “take the Indian out of the child.” Children were separated by gender and forced to learn English or French.  Disconnected from their families and severed from their culture, children were kept in unsanitary, often crowded, schools where many suffered physical and sexual abuse. As many as 6,000 Aboriginal children died attending these schools.

Monkman gave a talk for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) lecture series ‘Rom Speaks’, titled  ‘Art & Identity’ in late October. The lecture was  part of the Anishinaabeg Art & Power lecture series, whose goal is to  explore the influences of indigenous arts and culture in the Canadian identity. According to Monkman, “Art is a way to transcend darkness and to speak to people emotionally, spiritually, and with humour.” Art is also a method of presenting unheard narratives, challenging popular ones, and putting a mirror to history,” Monkman explains.  “You would not find a picture of  children being taken away to residential schools in history museums because it doesn’t fit the narrative of this country.”

Wanda Nanibush, the inaugural assistant curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, was at Monkman’s Art & Identitylecture to lead a conversation. Nanibush asked Monkman if he considered himself a historian as well as an artist. Monkman doesn’t wholly agree with the description of himself as a historian but he admits  “the idea behind the exhibit is to provide a walk through time.” Monkman bases some of his artwork on official government artwork and historical pieces so that they seem familiar and real to audiences, but the pieces have a different, often critical, perspective.

One of the ways Monkman highlights an Indigenous Peoples perspective in his pieces is through the appearance of his alter-ego, drag persona, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Miss Chief is seen by many as a disruptive, but humorous, force and since her inception, Miss Chief has been rebellious in nature: she forces people into something of an intervention, as Monkman elucidates in his words. By having Miss Chief feature in some of the pieces and having Canadian history told through her eyes and words, Monkman intends to show a reversal of the role of the observed and the observer when it came to European settlers and Indigenous People.

Shame & Prejudice is supposed to articulate the effects of colonialism to its audience. Monkman compares the relationship between European settlers and Indigenous Peoples to the relationship between predator and prey: “European modernity is about a collective amnesia of the past,” particularly when it comes to the realities of the physical spaces.  In a series of paintings Monkman started a few years earlier, he set out to replace romantic backgrounds with contemporary Indigenous experiences  because he wanted “to remind everybody that every city North America was a place where Indigenous People lived, gathered, met, or traded, and cities have grown up out of these places.” Monkman gave Winnipeg as an example, whose name means “muddy water” in a western Cree language.

From Halifax’s Dalhousie University where the vice president of its Student Union put forward a motion asking the Union to refrain from supporting any celebrations of #Canada150 to UTSC’s own Doris McCarthy Gallery, where the exhibit Unsettled acknowledged Scarborough as the site of millennia of Indigenous history, Canadians, Indigenous and otherwise, are having conversations about Canada’s less-than-friendly and often-overlooked history. The exhibit,  like the actions of Dalhousie’s student union and the artwork of Kent Monkman, aim to unsettle the dominant narrative in Canada. This is particularly important given the self-congratulatory celebrations surrounding #Canada150. Indigenous history, culture and people live on unabated by Canada’s violence; if our country is as good as we believe it to be, their experiences need to be shared and considered.

Mark Felt review: fear, scandal and corruption

This article was published in the October 2017 issue of UTSC’s The Underground.

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House” is a new spy thriller
movie that looks back at the true story of one of the biggest political scandals in
American history: Watergate. Given the current political climate, it’s implications are
hard to ignore.

A great American president once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear
itself,” but in truth, there are tons of things to be fearful of. The looming threat of nuclear
war, powerful hurricanes like Harvey and Irma happening more frequently than ever
before, acts of terrorism being committed everywhere from pedestrian-filled streets to
entertainment venues, and Donald Trump being the president of the United States.

Since the election last Fall, Trump has dominated headlines. If it’s not collusion,
it’s racism; if it’s not diplomatic-beef, it’s a high-profile firing; if it’s not an inaccurate
statement, 588, it’s something else, and it’s never good. Between Stephen Colbert’s
satire, Anderson Cooper’s analysis, and Trump’s own Twitter account, politics has never
been so close to people’s consciousness. All of this focus on politics has hurt the ratings
of shows like “Scandal”, “The Americans”, and “House of Cards.” People are suffering
from political fatigue, and they don’t want reality to encroach on their entertainment. I
don’t blame them, but I disagree.

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”, which debuted at
TIFF this year, is a biographical spy-thriller film starring Liam Neeson, directed and
written by Peter Landesman. The film tells the story of Deputy Associate Director of the
FBI, Mark Felt, who became the legendary whistleblower “Deep Throat” in virtue of his
role in the investigation which led reporters to the Watergate scandal. Watergate was a
major political scandal in the ’70s in which people associated with president Richard
Nixon’s administration tried to cover up their involvement in a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The scandal revealed abuse of power from the Nixon administration including obstruction of justice, funding criminals, and illegal recording. Watergate resulted in 69 indictments, 48 guilty pleas, an impeachment process against Nixon, and his eventual resignation.

The movie is two hours long, displays politics and bureaucracy, and is dialogue-
centric, yet intense and incredibly gripping. Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Mark Felt is masterful: he has a real presence, as if he could jump out of the screen and talk you
down right there. Right from the opening scene, you get a sense of what Felt is like:
uncompromising, intelligent, well-respected, and dedicated to his job; however, Felt was
not perfect. He, like his late boss, J. Edgar Hoover, occasionally broke the rules in order
to do what he thought was right–namely, protect the FBI, even if that meant clashing
with powerful people.

There’s an underlying tension that runs throughout the movie–a constant sense
of danger despite there being no violence. One of the directorial choices I really liked is
that of Nixon only appearing via audio and TV broadcasts and not actually being a
character in the movie. I found it a little eerie at first and it reminded me of “Jaws”–
referring to the way in which you didn’t have to see the threat in order to know what it
was and feel worried. In “Mark Felt”, the shark is secrecy and corruption and it’s always
lurking. The fact that Nixon isn’t a character and he’s referred to more often as “the
president” than by name, it made me think this could be anywhere in the world, which I
found very eerie.

Secrets, morality, power, and corruption are central in “Mark Felt”, and the
audience gets to see how they interact and how they influenced the Watergate scandal.
Through conversations and information gathering, we see how Watergate developed
and came to light despite the efforts of the Nixon administration to gag the investigation
and control the narrative in the media. There have already been comparisons made
between Nixon with Watergate and Trump with the Russia scandal, and this movie
surely won’t cool talk of that.

I left the theatre informed and scared, but I think that’s an appropriate response. Unlike spy movies with hidden passageways, special gadgets, and secret identities,
“Mark Felt” is rooted in reality, since government corruption is all too real. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of “Scandal”, said in an interview with The New York Times that her
show “is basically a horror story. We say the people in Washington are monsters and if
anybody ever knew what was really going on under the covers they would freak out.” It
might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that the people involved in Watergate are
monsters, but they certainly are criminals. “Mark Felt” shines light on the monsters that
were under the covers in the ’70s and provides reasonable justification for people to
freak out given the current condition of the globe.

We’re living in a crazy time where what we see on TV is easier to believe than
reality. Rhimes says, “You can always tell a horror story when the light is on. But now
the lights are off, and now I think people don’t want to watch horror stories,” but that’s
the best time to do it. It’s okay to be afraid: you should be. Besides, it’s better to be
afraid–and know why you’re afraid–than to be oblivious to the monsters in the dark.

The Art of Unfriending

This article was published in the September 2017 issue of UTSC’s The Underground.

 

For most people, making friends is a relatively easy task: you meet someone, get to know them, bond over commonalities and experiences, stay in contact, and keep their well-being in consideration. High school is a prime-time for making friends, as you see the same people day after day, and your friendships become a part of your daily routine. Sounds simple, but how can one reverse the process? How do we unfriend?

First, I must make a distinction between an instance of unfriending, and a case in which two people stop being friends. People stop being friends with each other because bonds weaken over time if they’re not maintained. For example, if a person moves to another city or country, it is likely that their current friendships will suffer because of the literal and metaphorical distance. In this case, and others like it, people stop being friends not by choice, but because of circumstance. People stop being friends when the things that define a friendship—bonding, talking, hanging out—no longer happen or don’t happen as often.

Unfriending is a deliberate act: it’s when a person consciously chooses noto be friends with an individual for a specific reason. Usually the reason for unfriending is clear and explicitly stated, much like the declaration that the people are no longer friends is. When you unfriend someone, you no longer consider that person your friend and you don’t treat them as you used to. But when you stop being friends with someone, you no longer maintain the same kind of relationship with that person. You don’t treat them the same way as you had before, even though your relationship may still be amicable.

Imagine that friendship is like following someone on Instagram: when things start out or are going well, you actively like and comment on each other’s posts and you genuinely enjoy seeing them. As you stop being friends, the likes and comments dwindle–you may even see less posts from them altogether, despite the fact that you are still following them: it just happens. Unfriending, or according to this Instagram analogy, ‘unfollowing’, doesn’t just happen: it takes one or both people involved making a clear statement that they don’t want to be a part of each other’s lives anymore. When the situation is more severe, unfollowing becomes blocking, which is akin to cutting someone off and out of your life completely.

The main methods used for unfriending are ghosting, fights/disagreements, and drifting. Drifting is when people grow further and further apart to the point where they are only friends in reference. Going to different schools, developing different interests, a heavy workload/schedule and making new friends are some of the common causes for drifting. Although it can be sad to realize you’re not as close to someone as you once were, drifting is the least painful way to lose a friend.

Ghosting is similar to drifting except it tends to be more one-sided. When someone ghosts somebody else, they typically ignore their messages, posts, invitations, and ultimately their feelings. Ghosting is like telling somebody you don’t want to be their friend anymore without actually saying anything. It may seem cold-hearted, but according to a friend from UTSC, Quinn Cascuccio, “I think it depends on how close you were,” she explains. ” If you weren’t close to begin with and you ghost them, it doesn’t matter as much, but (personally, I’d desire that) if we were close, I’d want to let them know and tell them why we’re no longer friends.”

Fights and disagreements are the break-ups of friendship. People have fights that end friendships over everything from politics to gas money. Fights and disagreements usually involve heated conversations in which people assert that what the other person has done isn’t okay. These fights are usually about a single issue or incident, but often involve grievances that have been bubbling beneath the surface long before they have manifested.

Recent McMaster graduate, Victorino Noldalo, experienced a situation in which he had to unfriend not just any friend but his best friend: “I went through a dark period, and I realized I had to put myself first. I had to cut the friendship off because it was a source of negativity,” he says.  “I think about it sometimes even a year later. I wonder: did I make the right decision? We were best friends for a long time, but do I regret it? No.” he adds.

For UTSC student and SCSU VP of Operations Deena Hassan, being a friend means more than having a good time with someone: “What I look for in a friend is loyalty and support,” she states. “A friend is someone who supports you no matter what you do and drives you towards your goals and to do your best.”

Friendship is not the same as proximity. Just because you’ve known someone for a long time, see them often, or hang out in similar friend-groups it doesn’t make you friends. That is a valuable pearl of wisdom that I learned from my best friend and former UTSC student who passed away, Nebyu Tadesse. Like the courses you take in your upper years of university, the friendships you make and keep should reflect your personality, goals and interests. Pick the ones you enjoy the most and the ones that are most beneficial to your happiness in the long run.