What’s Behind the Masc?

What’s the difference between girls and boys? Looking at a thesaurus will give you a good idea. Under feminine you will find words like: girlish, softdelicategentle, and graceful. Under masculine you will find words like: virile, manly, muscular, strong, strapping, well built, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous, rugged, and unwomanly. On paper it would seem that girls and boys are very different, but in reality they are both humans capable of the same emotions and capacities. Yet as a society we do not let that be the prevailing idea, we choose to box each other up and apply these antiquated, sexist, and patriarchal values that are extremely destructive. We are slowly killing our boys with these unattainable and wrong constructs of what it is to be a man and the fear of being thought of as a woman or of having feminine characteristics. We are slowly but systematically turning our boys into angry, abusive, sexist, depressed, violent, and emotionally depleted rapists, murderers, and fathers. We are dehumanizing them without even realizing what we’ve done.

Recently, the Faculty of Communication and Design created the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change. The centre’s pilot project is Refashioning Masculinity which aims to create a society where we’re all free to be ourselves and can equally value each other in all our diversity. They are using the power of fashion to re-imagine men’s gender identities and foster their diversity. As part of this project the centre held a screening of the film The Mask You Live In. The film follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film illustrates how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Gender norms are a part of our society, whether we like it or not we are constantly applying them and labeling each other and our actions as either male or female. This creates the idea that girls and boys are different and therefore should act unlike one another. This also seems to build on the idea that there is something wrong with you if you don’t stay true to these gender norms, if you don’t wear and exemplify your label. But what is wrong with a boy who cries or a boy who shows his emotions and knows how to live with them? In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with how society and individuals respond to that boy. Bullying and abuse is generally what follows when a boy shows emotion. Interestingly, if a young boy cries there doesn’t seem to be an issue, it is only as that boy ages and grows that he is expected to shut off his emotions with the exception of anger. We teach boys that they are not allowed to have emotion and this only leads to the death of self.

How is it that boys are taught not to feel? Our society holds ideals of what a man is and these ideals slip into parenting style and peer relationships via mass media. We teach our boys through example, we show them exactly what a man is and how to act like one. Unfortunately, we show them that a man is someone who cannot love and is entitled to respect. Someone of power who dominates over others and uses violence to win, never falling prey to feminine or weak character.

Looking first at parenting style, boys are expected to grow into men and mothers and fathers are the ones who will take them there. This results in a twisted parental fear that if they allow their sons to show emotion they will not become men, but will instead turn into sissies that will not survive adulthood. This may result in emotional neglect and shaming of sons from their parents, a form of abuse that leads to depression and poor self-worth and -esteem. This may also lead to physical abuse as a way of “training”, to dehumanize boys so that they can become “tough” and exude masculinity. Abuse may also been seen as a way to stamp out “wrong” behaviour. Parents often only have their own upbringing to use as a source of reference when raising their children and external influences such as internalized homophobia and sexism alter parenting style. This means that boys who become men who become fathers may treat their sons the way they were treated by their fathers, to pressure them into the way of masculinity. If a man was raised in a culture of abuse and has lived a life where he has not been able to express emotion and has developed mental illness he may abuse his own children as a result, teaching them his ways. Thankfully, this is not the way all boys are raised, parenting operates on a spectrum. However, even those boys who are raised with love are exposed to society and media which alter their view on the world and on themselves.

When boys enter the school system they become a part of their own micro-culture and peer groups which reinforce male and female gender norms that they learn either at home or from media. Boys pressure each other to be more masculine, to not act like a girl. Boys are pressured to fit the social constructs of masculinity out of fear of social isolation and alienation, but even when they accept these constructs they become isolated in their own minds with the inability to reach out. This further removes the emotional language from boys and harms their mental health. With this we see higher rates of depression and suicide among young boys. As boys age and force their emotions inward they become more likely to commit suicide than girls. Additionally, this inward channeling of emotion and snubbing of expression build up to the point where boys act out in violent ways. In media, including video games, music, film, TV, and pornography boys are shown that violence is a successfully and accepted way to handle anger. With this learned idea in mind combined with built up aggression and distorted emotional and mental health boys reach for violence rather than help.

This article may seem an extremist point of view, but it is not untrue. Why is there on average one school shooting a week in the United States? Why are 90% of the shooters male? These men are othered into “mental health” and the gender link is ignored. Perhaps the reason these boys have mental illness and explode in violent ways is because that is what they are trained to do, that is what they are taught is acceptable. If you feel any negative emotion channel it into anger until you can no longer withstand it, then express your anger with violence on others. Rather than, if you feel a negative emotion show it, ask for help and take off your mask.

Boys are human just like girls. They have emotion, they feel and they should be allowed to show those feelings. Masculinity has become warped to the point where it no longer even stands for strength and power, it means anger and violence. A man is no more a man when he cannot feel, he is no longer human. We need to teach our boys that to be a man is to have caring and compassion. We need to remove the masc from masculinity. We can be happy, sad, angry, confused, anxious, remorseful, fearful, guilty, grieving, bored, and loving.

What a slut…

The internet and by extension cell phones have changed the way we communicate and with that, have changed the way we express ourselves. We can share anything we want with whoever we want, there are seemingly no limits. However, what happens when we share something that doesn’t belong to us? When we break a trust and destroy privacy, exposing someone to the world in their most vulnerable form. Revenge porn, or non-consensual porn, is when images or videos that are of an explicit nature are given to a trusted person and then shared with someone else, someone who was never intended to see them. This type of porn grows from sexting and ends with an assault on dignity and sometimes death.

The Centre for Free Expression held a panel to discuss what can be done about sexting and revenge porn in Canada. The panelists were Wanye MacKay, Lara Karaian, and Peter Jacobsen. MacKay is a professor of law at Dalhousie University, chair of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying, and former director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Karaian is an associate professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University and expert consultant to the Australian International Consultation on Sexting. Jacobsen is one of Canada’s most distinguished media and defamation lawyers.

In the United States 60% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 and 50% of adults between the ages of 18 and 54 have sexted or shared intimate pictures or videos. These statistics may come off as alarmingly high but what is more alarming is that 1 in 10 of these people have been threatened with exposure, and that’s not taking into account that these threats are underreported. Majority of these threats come from men and are aimed at women. This makes revenge porn a predominantly women’s issue and I will go as far to say that it is violence against women. This is not to say that men cannot be victims, however for some reason when a woman is exposed to society in this way we seem to take a harsher tone, it is somehow more controversial. Women are often shamed for revenge porn and attacked by both the perpetrators and society. The victims of revenge porn are often blamed, wrongfully, for sharing intimate photos. This means that not only are they humiliated and degraded by the perpetrator, but by society and their peers as well and this is where the real issue of revenge porn lies; the victim isn’t to blame, the perpetrator is.

Creating and sharing an intimate picture or video of oneself is not illegal. For adults to share intimate pictures and videos with consent is not illegal. Sharing intimate pictures and videos without consent is illegal. So then why do we as a society come together to shame the creator of the picture and not the one who shared it without consent? Why is the victim at fault? It could be said that if the picture had never been created then the crime would not have happened, but the crime would also not have happened had the picture not been made public, had that person respected basic privacy and kept their trust. The creation of an intimate photo is an expression of sexuality and adults are free to share their expression in this way. However, when the non-consensual sharing occurs we jump on the creator for being stupid or foolish, we blame them and say they had it coming, as though they deserved it. We turn the creator of the picture into a slut and tell them that they are to blame, that this is their fault. However, we don’t turn the perpetrator into an assailant, we don’t tell them they assaulted someone and they were wrong to do it. If someone is a slut do they deserve to be humiliated and punished for their immoral ways? That’s the way society thinks and acts, but that is not true. Being a slut isn’t wrong and it doesn’t mean you should be ruined and chastened; it doesn’t mean you should be ostracized and it doesn’t mean you should be killed. The social death that comes with this level of humiliation and shaming is a real death for the victim, and it can and has led to suicide.

When someone is the victim of revenge porn they suffer emotional distress due to the shame of the incident and the alienation and bullying they receive. This attack on the mental health of a victim is very dangerous and Canada has seen too many cases where this occurs. When someone is constantly harassed and shamed it can destroy their self-confidence and it can destroy them. We as a society know the harm that can come from bullying and yet we still do it, we still allow for bullying to occur in these cases because for some reason it’s ok to bully a slut; it’s ok to hurt someone because they were dumb enough to bring it on themselves. Why don’t we bully the perpetrator? Why are they not shamed and demeaned by the public? They committed a heinous crime against someone’s dignity, they virtually assaulted someone, and we let them go on, we continue the violence.

As a society we need to start putting the blame on the perpetrators of revenge porn and not the victims. Intimate photos are a form of self expression and should not be thought of as wrong or immoral. We are taking away a form of free expression and reinventing it as filth that is to be wiped clean. We seem to be afraid of this kind of self expression, that it’s dirty and somehow of a lesser value. But how can we praise Manet’s Olympia and burn a Hustler magazine, at the core they are providing imagey of the same thing. Does society shame Olympia? Or even Manet? Blaming the victim only makes the situation worse and when it concerns the mental health of a child we as a society are taking large risks in attacking them, not the other way around. Sharing these photos is thought of as a risky behaviour and that only perpetuates the idea that intimate photos are going to get you in trouble. It should be that the non-consensual sharing of intimate photos is a risk, it’s wrong and will get you in trouble not the consensual sharing. When we share something of an intimate nature we have a certain level of trust that it won’t go any farther than that person. When it makes its way to the world that trust has been broken and that person degraded. That’s the crime here and the fault sits with the Judas that broke that trust not the victim.

But what is the truth?

Lying is a part of being a human. We lie all the time for different reasons. We lie to each other and to ourselves. Does that mean it’s ok to lie? In certain situations lying can be beneficial and in others it can lead to destruction. Knowing that humans have the ability and motive to lie, does that mean we shouldn’t trust each other?

Recently, Jian Ghomeshi, former radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was put on trial for four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking for which he was acquitted because it was found that the accusers were lying. The judge believed that the complainants were being “deceptive and manipulative” with their evidence and therefore could no longer be a trusted source of the truth. The court no longer had sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of the complainants and thus was left with a reasonable doubt. That closed the trial on Jian Ghomeshi and at the same time transformed these women from victims into perpetrators, and into liars. However, what if these women really did feel that they were victims of sexual assault? Will this trial change the way we see sexual assault victims?

The Centre for Women and Trans People at Ryerson hosted a crafternoon in support of survivors of sexual assault on the same day that the Ghomeshi trial ended. This event was to show that regardless of this trial we should believe survivors of sexual assault. This is also why the Centre has a survivor support line (416-260-0100) and offers services and supplies for safe sex and a safe space for women and trans people.

Sexual Assault can be a difficult issue in court because it can sometimes rely on “he said, she said” evidence, this is why victims often feel they will not be believed, they feel like they don’t have proof. This is also why there are few sexual assault convictions, without witnesses or physical evidence a court can have difficulty convicting. This is also why it is important to tell survivors you believe them and to support them because if no one says anything nothing can be done to stop it and more people will be victimized. The Department of Justice notes that sexual assault is among the crimes that are the least likely to be reported and in 1999 found that 78% of sexual assault cases were not reported to police in Canada. Additionally, sexual assault incidents are generally reported well after the fact and this can be due to various reasons. The 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization found that incidents were not reported by victims because: they were dealt with in another way, deemed not important enough, or that they did not want to involve the police. Some victims believe that the police cannot or will not help them when they have been sexually assaulted and others fear revenge from their assailant.

Another serious issue that comes out of sexual assault is that victims often do not seek out help or support. Fear and shame are built into sexual assault and the victims want privacy as a result. This is detrimental to their health and to the health of society because again if the police or anyone doesn’t know, then we can’t do anything about it. This is another reason to give support and to believe someone when they confide in you. It is very difficult to relive the memories and to share them and to have someone brush them off or not believe you is devastating. There is another part to this however, the victim usually knows their offender. In 2000, 80% of sexual assault cases were committed by someone who was known to the victim. Almost 30% of the offenders were family members of their victims and 10% were friends. This makes the situation even worse for the victim because the relationship they hold with the accused may hold them back from reporting the crime. It also puts them at risk for a repeat assault and damages their mental health as they must to continue to live their life with the offender and in silence.

I have written a lot about supporting survivors in this column and so I would like to give some ways to do that. If someone tells you that they have experienced sexual violence the best thing to do is listen, hear what they are saying and give them the space to say it. You want them to feel that they are not alone and that you believe them, we all have the right to be and feel safe. Do not push for information because it is their story to tell and they will give what they want to and they may not even remember all of it. Shock and fear can cause our memories to be repressed and for them to lose order making it difficult for someone to recall. Also, offer support services. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres has a list of different kinds of support services in Ontario that are available to everyone. Additionally, it is important to understand that we all have common beliefs about sexual violence some of which are myths. Doing research on sexual violence can be useful regardless of whether you know someone who was assaulted or not. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a useful resource for this kind of research and has a list of common sexual violence myths.

Sexual violence is horrific. It has been a part of human culture for some time and unfortunately will probably continue to be, just like lying. However, when it comes to lying and sexual violence do we really know what the truth is? If there are no witnesses and no physical evidence how do we know who is telling the truth and what it really is? Someone can say something happened but what if they lied? Lying about sexual assault is not common in Canada, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. These kinds of questions and statements are why victims of sexual assault do not speak out, they fear that they will not be believed. Our justice system works by keeping people innocent until proven guilty, but when you are the victim of sexual assault you are also treated like the guilty party and can unjustly be turned from victim into liar.

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

I don’t know if Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew how accurate his verse from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was when he wrote it. The World Health Organization estimates that everyday billions of people around the world drink water that will kill them because they have no other source. These people are forced to drink contaminated water because there is no safe water. Drinking contaminated water leads to infection and ultimately death from things that we don’t even consider diseases in the minority world, conditions like Diarrhea kill people everyday. The World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million children die from Diarrhea every year. This is why March 22 is World Water Day, to raise awareness about the global issues of unsafe water and lack of access to water. Ryerson Urban Water hosted Walk4Water on Tuesday to raise awareness about the lack of quality water sources and the lack of access to water around the world. The 6Km walk on Tuesday represented the length that women and children in the majority world must walk to reach a water source multiple times a day.

Ryerson Urban Water is a multidisciplinary group from natural and social sciences, engineering, and education that want to advance the understanding and provide solutions for urban water issues using a holistic approach. They work to educate the public, industry, and government on urban water issues through educational programs, community outreach, and training. Additionally, they provide a platform/forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on urban water issues for the general public, scientists, engineers, industry, policy makers, and the different levels of government.

Living in Toronto for my whole life it is hard to imagine having to walk father than my tap for clean, drinkable water. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are people in Canada who don’t have access to clean water. Even though Canada has probably some of the cleanest water in the world and has access to a vast amount of fresh water there are still people living without equal access. Our provinces and territories have a responsibility to provide us with clean water and our cities have the responsibility of treating that water to ensure that it is safe for use. But what happens when you don’t live in a traditional city or town? What happens when you’re isolated on a manmade island and ignored by people around you? Your life slowly deteriorates into the poisonous water that surrounds you.

This is the reality for the Indigenous people of Shoal Lake. On the border of Ontario and Manitoba there is Shoal Lake, this is home to two First Nations communities, Shoal Lake 39 and 40. Almost 100 years ago the City of Winnipeg wanted a clean water source and they came to an agreement with the Province of Ontario to use the water of Shoal Lake. To access this water they built a 135Km aquaduct along with canals to divert muddy water and in doing so turned the land of Shoal Lake 40 into an island. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living in isolation on this island ever since, using a barge to access the mainland in summer and walking across the ice in winter. During the spring thaw and the fall freeze the mainland is entirely inaccessible.

The people of Shoal Lake 40 do not have access to clean water. Their island is surrounded by the muddy water that is diverted away from the water that Winnipeg uses. The only way the people of Shoal Lake get clean water is by having community members truck in bottled water from Kenora. This is not only expensive but it is harming the micro and macro-environment. Due to the isolation of Shoal Lake 40 they cannot remove anything from the island, this means that garbage piles up contaminating the land and water. The obvious solution here is to make a water treatment plant that serves Shoal Lake and if this was not an Indigenous community this would have been done decades ago. However, the community of Shoal Lake 40 has been told repeatedly that their population is too small to justify the cost of a water treatment plant. Too small to justify access to clean water, too small to justify access to a healthy life, too small justify life.

In 2000 the community of Shoal Lake 40 was put on a boil water advisory which means that their water was contaminated to the point that it would only be safe to consume if it was boiled first, to kill the bacteria that infests it. Why was it allowed to get to that point and how long were these people drinking contaminated water for? I can’t answer these questions but I presume an uncaring government played a role. A government that prides itself on the work we do around the world, keeping peace and aiding those in need when our own people are dying in isolation. Our people are dying because they don’t have access to medical professionals, they are dying because we are stealing their clean drinking water, they are dying because they fall through the ice trying to access the outside world, and they are dying because we are turning a blind eye. How much longer must the people of Shoal Lake 40 wait for access to clean water?

There is one spot of hope in this whole tale and this is the new Liberal Government. In December of 2015 Justin Trudeau came to an agreement with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba to build Freedom Road. This is a connecting bridge between Shoal Lake 40 and the rest of the country. No longer will the people of Shoal Lake live in isolation. However, they will continue to live with contaminated water. After almost 100 years of isolation the Indigenous community of Shoal Lake 40 will have unobstructed access to the mainland, but how many more centuries have to pass before they can drink water from their taps as easily as I can, as easily as we all can?

The Secret Life of Milk Bags

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Have you ever wondered what you could do with a milk bag? You know, those multicoloured bags that hold our milk. Well they can also hold a person, that is if you weave above 500 of them together. The School of Early Childhood Studies held an event this past week where I was able to do just that. I came together with other nutrition students and faculty, early childhood education students, and parents and children from the Early Learning Centre to turn old milk bags into mats and mattresses of a different kind.

MILKBAGSunlimited is an organization that works with schools and other institutions and individuals to create bedding and other valuable items out of old milk bags and donates them to people all over the world who need them. Working with donated milk bags that are durable, washable, don’t retain moisture, and will last for up to 25 years is not only economical but it is also environmentally conscious. These milk bags would have regularly ended up in landfills poisoning our earth and now they are providing comfort to someone who may have only a piece of cardboard to sleep on. MILKBAGSunlimited estimates that they have saved 5.7 million milk bags from landfills and created 7200 mats out of them.

MILKBAGSunlimited not only provides mats but they also collect supplies such as wheelchairs, crutches, school materials, toys, and tools and send them all over the world. What I found to be very interesting is that the mats are used as packing material, they serve a dual purpose, to protect and insulate the packing crates and to be used as a mattress at their destination. On top of all this MILKBAGSunlimited provides an opportunity for micro-entrepreneurship. They provide the supplies so that individuals in communities around the world can make their own products and sell them within their countries. This provides an opportunity for people who might otherwise not have the resources or occasion to earn an income. This allows these communities to prosper and the individuals who live there to buy food, clothing, and other necessities.

I was delighted when I heard that there was an opportunity to take some time out of my study schedule to weave together some old milk bags. It sounds strange but it’s actually quite fun and a bit of a workout. What was even more beneficial for me was getting a chance to work with the kids from the Early Learning Centre. I believe that children need a chance to learn new skills and be exposed to different kinds of work. Even though they probably had no idea why we were tying a bunch of milk bags together they got the opportunity to do something new with their hands which is very important. Kids need to see that there are different ways to learn even if they don’t see it that way, these kinds of experiences can be very formative for their brains. Additionally, being able to socialize with people who they don’t know will help them to grow.

After all the mats were finished being woven together I was given one to give away to someone who is experiencing homelessness. I regularly walk home from school and so I was sure I would find someone to give my mat to, but because of the extreme cold I had trouble. However, a few days later I was walking down Yonge Street and saw a man with his dog sitting on the street. Thankfully I had decided to try again to give the mat away that day. When I went up to him, a little nervousness in my step because I know if I were him it would be strange to have some random person come up to me and ask if I wanted some mat they made out of milk bags. After I explained what it was, he decided to keep the mat and he unrolled it and gave it to his dog to sleep on instead of using it for himself.

This whole experience made my heart feel a little lighter, but while I was walking I noticed more and more people experiencing homelessness that could have used my mat which made me sad. I found myself saying “damn I could’ve given it to that person too or that person”. It made me realize just how fortunate I am and it instilled some fear into my heart and mind. I don’t know how people who live on the street handle the stress, I can barely deal with assignments let alone not having a room of my own. I sometimes hear people comment about how disgusting homeless people are and how they are a waste and this rips my heart up because what if that were them? What if they had nowhere to go, would they want to be called disgusting? There are so many factors that lead into homelessness and so many things that come out of it that make it extremely difficult to remove oneself from it. People experiencing homelessness do not deserve to be treated as someone lesser, they are just as important to our world as we are. I feel that sometimes people create a “them and us” attitude when it comes to homelessness when it should really just be us. We are all responsible for homelessness and we can all do something about it. We should not “other” homeless people, they are a part of our society, and they are a part of us.

What it Feels Like for Global Youth

Recently the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Ryerson and Ryerson University International Support hosted a panel discussion on global youth employment. The discussion centred on the difficulties that students and youth from the Global South have when migrating to the Global North. The panel consisted of Dr. Henry Parada, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Ryerson University,
Ana Leticia Ibarra, Research Coordinator, Children and Youth Human Rights Empowerment Project, Christian Bambe, WUSC Scholar, and Thuch James, Founder, ROSS DAILYINC Online Magazine. Dr. Winnie Ng, CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University gave the key note speech in which she discussed the intersectionality of love and power and the systemic racism and colonialism that bars newcomers from the same opportunities as other Canadians, both of which were further developed by the panel.

The panel began by speaking to the difference between the Global North and South and the challenges newcomers face. In the first place access to education is different in other parts of the world. In Canada we all receive and have access to basic education, there are places that don’t allow for that or have the system in place to. It is difficult to become educated in the Global South and therefore difficult to become employed. However, even if you do get an education it may still be difficult to get a job if you migrate to the Global North. This is because education is not transferable in Canada, if you are trained to be a doctor in South Africa you cannot work as a doctor in Canada until you have gone through our education system. These migrant workers are told their education is invalid here and are forced to start over from scratch. Not only is this harmful emotionally but it also sets migrants back and if they do not have a support system in place in Canada it makes it difficult for them to ever realize their professional and personal goals. Additionally, without an economic support system migrants may not be able to get the needed Canadian work or volunteer experience that employers require, let alone pay for their education twice. This is detrimental to migrants and to Canadians as they both lose out on valuable opportunities, Canadians lose the experience and opinions that come from people who learn and live in other countries. However, it is possible to overcome these barriers, past generations of immigrants made lives for themselves here in Canada and new generations will as well, it will be difficult because the system makes it difficult but there is hope.

The difficulties with credential recognition not only have economic impacts on individual but also psychological. Denouncing someone’s credentials sets them behind in their life progression and they may also internalize this, they may begin to feel that they are inadequate or that something is wrong with them when it is the system holding them back not themselves. Individuals may give up due to the distress and the knowledge that so much time will be wasted out of their life and this benefits no one. Additionally, there is a strange anomaly here. In Canada we accept the education of people coming from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom but nowhere else. Why is this? The panel believed it was due to systemic racism. Which seems to make sense because why those four countries and no one else?

The panel then moved on to how employers can aid youth. Simply put employers can help by giving youth the opportunities to develop the practical skills needed. Currently there seems to be a shift towards an individualistic system where potential applicants have to develop practical skills on their own before even applying for a job. Employers no longer want to provide this kind of skill training, youth need to seek it out on their own. Adding on to that if migrant present these but not in a Canadian context they don’t count, they must develop them within Canada. This seems counterintuitive since Canadians who go abroad and learn new skills are welcomed back with job prospects because of this worldly experience but it doesn’t seem to go the other way.

Lastly, the ideas of the “brain drain” and associated “brain waste” that occur in Canada were reflected upon. These were two new concepts to me and two ideas that I found quite saddening. The Global North countries are attractive to youth and workers in other countries and they know this. Global North countries bring in the best students from the Global South and educate them and force them to stay here for a set period of time. This is the “brain drain”. We are taking the educated youth away from their communities where they could be making a large impact and benefiting the lives of the people around them. They could be setting up a system within their own countries to make them better but we keep them here. Along with this, the bright and educated migrants who come to Canada of their own volition are not allowed to work, this is the “brain waste”. We have skilled people coming into our country but they are only allowed to work in the service industry because their experiences are invalid. In all the panel agreed that Canada should look into the idea of return migration. Bringing bright youth to Canada and giving them the opportunity to get an education and then allowing them to return to their country or stay here and develop support systems for future generations to become educated and improve the lives of all.

My Way of Seeing

One of my favourite places on campus is the Image Centre (RIC). Without fail there is always a new exhibit I want to see and since it’s right on campus and free I have no reason not to. There are currently five exhibitions at the RIC all of different sizes and all providing a unique story and experience. Among them is the current rotation of From the Collection which is a rotating display highlighting works from the RIC’s permanent collection. The current display is photographs by Elaine Ling from her latest book Talking Stones: A Photographic Sojourn. Ling is a Toronto-based photographer who on her many far and wide travels has documented ancient stone formations, fragmented statuary figures, giant historic trees, abandoned architectural structures, and indigenous families and groups.

Half Man Stone #56 by Elaine Ling

Ling aims to capture the persistent dialogue between the past and present through her camera lens. Traveling through the deserts of Asia and Africa Ling encounters the remnants of forgotten cultures and the flourishing new beginnings of others. This display was of extreme interest to me as it shows the lives that came before us. My love of history takes over sometimes and distracts me from my studies for hours. Ling’s photographs show what ancient cultures built out of their environment; how they marked their existence and preserved their history which to us is a mystery. We can study ancient cultures and read what they left behind but we will never really understand or know them. I think that is what I find so fascinating about history. When do people change, how do we “forget” where we came from? History is like a giant puzzle that keeps getting new pieces added to it and one that we will never finish putting together. Ling’s photographs give us a look into the lives of ancient people, a couple of puzzle pieces we can admire and wonder about and allow ourselves to be mesmerized by. I believe that history talks to us, it unravels its yarn for those who give it a pull. The subjects of Ling’s photographs are telling us a story, their story, if only we could hear it. That’s the fun part of history, wondering what all those stories are, sweeping the sand away from a buried life to reveal its mystery.

Angkor Stones #8 by Elaine Ling

Another mystery that is perhaps even less tangible than history but just as distracting to humans is the sky. What lurks in the dark corners of our universe and beyond? The New Media Wall at the RIC explores our skies with a newly commissioned video by Canadian filmmaker Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof. The Relics of Lumen is a collection of images taken of our night skies by NASA and from Ryerson’s Black Star Collection weaved together with images of people in transit. Pruska-Oldenhof creates an immersive environment of mosaics and composite collages that explore the displacement of people to celestial passages through space. It is interesting to think about how something that surrounds us, that provides us with life, and controls everything in our environment is so far away and enigmatic. I wonder how our lives would be different if we had a total understanding of what’s beyond the clouds. Would it change us as humans to understand one of the biggest mysteries in our world?

Untitled by Unknown photographer, NASA Agency

Continuing with this exploration into the unknown is Canadian artist Spring Hurlbut’s Airborne. This is a video that examines mortality and the physical presence of death. This silent film captures the slow motion release of cremated remains entrusted to Hurlbut by the relatives of six deceased individuals, including Hurlbut’s father. This was an experience I have never had before and one that touched me in such a way that I had to return to the exhibit on a different day to watch it again. Sitting in a dark room watching the remains of different people who I have never met swirl and snake around the black backdrop as they disperse and diffuse into the air, returning to the dust we all come from, was very powerful. The hypnotic dance that each case of ashes presents allows you to reflect on what is left of us after death, what our existence consists of when our physical presence is just a pile of ashes. This piece explores the ideas of mourning, loss, the essence of being, and the relationship between the animate and inanimate. Airborne also offers a space for us to contemplate ourselves, the soft smoky loops and coils of the ashes mimic the twists and turns we take throughout life. We do not know where our dust will fall as we float through the air, immersing and dispersing into others and ourselves, being carried off by the wind. Each unique path the remains take as they drift into the atmosphere mirrors the inimitable paths our own lives take. We do not know where our paths will lead us or where we go once our physical existence is merely ashes in the wind but that’s the best part of life, the unknown.

Marie Baratte by Wendy Snyder Macneil

Moving to the largest exhibit currently at the RIC, The Light Inside, showcases the work of Wendy Snyder Macneil whose archive from as early as the 1970s is housed at the RIC. Macneil’s photographs and films spanning throughout her career from her beginnings with the Boston Haymarket to her transition from photography to film is the subject of this exhibit. Of particular interest is Macneil’s Hands series. Macneil captures the hands of individuals as portraits. Shifting away from conventional portraiture Macneil uses hands to reveal the lives, identities, and “face” of her subjects. Our hands are very intriguing, they reveal a lot about us and even show familial similarities. We can trace our life on our hands and watch growth and deterioration. Take a look at your hands, what do you see?

Andrew Ruvido and Robyn Wessner by Wendy Snyder Macneil

The final exhibit currently at the RIC is Ways of Seeing: Building the RIC Collection which chronicles the evolution of the RIC from its beginnings as a slide library to an internationally respected exhibition and research facility. Curated by second year masters students in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Program at Ryerson this exhibit showcases objects in their acquisition order to exemplify how the RIC photography collection has grown and by extension how photography has evolved over the last 50 years. This exhibit digs into the past of photography and the vast array of subjects and styles that are exploited by one form of art. Though this is a small exhibit it can take quite long to walk through as there several striking images that grab you and don’t want to let go. This exhibit also provides a bit of a treat as the RIC’s collection of slides are available for taking. The massive slide collection has become obsolete so the RIC is giving them away, I scooped up a Cézanne and Monet and now I just need to find a slide projector.

Untitled by Stephen Livick

Leopard, Usti, Czechoslovakia by Volker Seding

Ways of Seeing: Building the RIC Collection

Untitled by Frantisek Drtikol

After spending two afternoons exploring the RIC and contemplating all the different art and life I was being exposed to I came to a conclusion I don’t think I have ever really considered before. It’s terrifying to be in the dark, not understanding or knowing your surroundings and having to guess your every move with a bit of fear in your step. However, if you give your eyes time to adjust your vision will return and you can make your way. Life really depends on our way of seeing. How we see ourselves, others, or the world. Our way of seeing influences what we see. How do you see?

The Terrorist Among Us

It seems Canadians have something to fear- terror. More specifically we need to fear the terrorists who live among us. This is what the previous Conservative Federal Government believed and acted to change. This is why Bill C-51 was created and acted into law as the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015. However, as skeptical and intelligent Canadians we need to ask why and read carefully into what this Act really means for our “protection”. This is exactly what I did at the most recent discussion hosted by Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression. James Turk, the director of the centre, invited John Ralston Saul and Monia Mazigh to discuss what Bill C-51 means for our freedom of expression and civilities. John Ralston Saul is an award winning essayist and novelist and the President Emeritus of PEN International, which is a non-political organization that promotes literature and freedom of expression. Monia Mazigh is a novelist and activist who campaigned for her husband’s, Maher Arar, release from unlawful captivity and torture in Syria. Mazigh is the National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), which is a national coalition of Canadian civil society organizations that was established in the aftermath of the September, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. ICLMG works to defend the civil liberties and human rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, federal and provincial laws, and international human rights instruments.

Bill C-51 is a complex and long bill to digest. It is a worrisome Act and based on the discussion I heard will affect how we act within Canadian society. There have been many problems cited about this Act, mostly the lack of clarity in its definitions of what terrorism is and its vague wording in general. This may lead to wrongful interpretations of the law and dangerous and unlawful measures. Beyond that there are specific problems that have been brought up about the Act and its implications on Canadians’ freedoms.

John Ralston Saul spoke on the idea that this Act will affect our freedom of expression. The Act states that promoting or encouraging others to carry out terrorist acts is a criminal offense. Even if the terrorist act never happens the person who is thought to be promoting it will be arrested and charged as a terrorist. The definition of what a terrorist act is is not given, it is simply stated as “terrorism offences in general” which is far from clear and will lead to differing and wrongful interpretations of the law. This affects our freedom of speech because the way we share our opinion is now regulated. I can no longer go on my Facebook account and say that “I think the Indigenous people of Canada should set up a highway blockade to stop logging companies from destroying their land” because what if that is a terrorist act, am I encouraging violence? Ralston Saul felt that one of the main purposes of this part of the Act was to get Canadians to self-censor. To make us reconsider what we say and how we say it because we do not know what an act of terrorism is and considering the punishment is 5 years in jail it probably isn’t worth pushing the envelope.

Continuing with the idea of censorship, the Act now allows for the destruction of terrorist propaganda and the arrest of the producer. Again the definition of terrorist propaganda is vague and unclear, “the writing, sign, visible representation or audio recording that advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general”. This is censorship and an attack on freedom of speech for the same reason given above. We do not really know what qualifies as a terrorist act and therefore terrorist propaganda.

Mazigh spoke about the three major problems she has found within the Act. Firstly, like Ralston Saul, Mazigh believes that this Act is altering our freedom of expression and that the wording is unclear and broad on purpose. Mazigh thinks that the Act is going after more than just terrorism because we already have laws that make terrorism illegal, so why do we need a new act? Mazigh feels that this Act will stop people from becoming activists and advocates because everything is very fuzzy, we could be branded a terrorist so we shouldn’t speak out against social and political issues.

Secondly, under this new Act the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is granted new powers. CSIS was created to collect information and monitor the population for suspected criminal activity. CSIS is not a police force, they are not allowed to arrest or lay charges, they merely investigate and collect information. Now CSIS is allowed to disrupt terrorist activity, which means they can interfere with travel plans, bank transactions, and go into your home among other things on the suspicion of terrorism. They are also allowed to take measures that breach your rights and freedoms if given permission by a judge. These powers could easily be abused given the lack of sufficient oversight of CSIS. CSIS is being allowed to step into the boots of the police force when their original intention was never such. CSIS also has the ability to disrupt websites and social media accounts that they suspect to be promoting terrorism, again touching on our freedom of expression.

Lastly, Mazigh commented on the changes to the no-fly list in Canada. The Act reinforces and strengthens the Passenger Protection Program by updating the no-fly list. This is a list of people who are not allowed to board planes within Canada. Being on the list means that not only can you not fly but also you are arrested at the airport, you are not informed as to why or when you are put on the list and you are never removed from it nor can you fight it. A reason for the no-fly list has yet to be stated by the government and the new Act makes it easier for people to be put on to it. This idea was originally taken from the United States, however in the United States you can be removed from the no-fly list. The level of secrecy regarding this list is worrisome, why are we not allowed to know the reason we were put on the list and why are we not allowed to defend ourselves and be removed? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 also has some other little bits of terror built into it that were not discussed fully. One being that now our information will be shared among government departments if we are deemed to be a threat to national security. This means that Health Canada will share our personal health information with Canada Revenue and Border Services if we are deemed a threat, why is this necessary? There are 17 government departments that will now share our personal information among each other, not to mention CSIS and the police. These agencies do not all have watchdogs to make sure their powers are not being abused and on top of that the examples that are given for “threat to national security” are vague. This means that this law can target a broad selection of people, not just the terrorists who walk among us.

Another part of the Act is that police have the power to preventatively arrest more people without a warrant. Police are now allowed to arrest people without a warrant on the suspicion that they may commit a terrorist act, before the wording of the criminal code was that the person will commit an act of terrorism. Additionally, the police can arrest someone without a warrant if it is likely to prevent a terrorist act instead of necessary to prevent a terrorist act. These simple word changes make a big difference regarding police power and the interpretation of the law.

Terrorism is a scary thing. I think that we are all afraid of the idea of terrorists here in our own city, in the place we call home. However, we cannot brand everyone a terrorist. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 is written as though we are all criminals that need to be controlled, instead of everyone is generally a law-abiding citizen and about 5% of them are criminals. This Act is about fear and control. Do we all really need this level of control and suspicion? Additionally, this Act may hurt Canada’s activists and advocates in its pursuit of terror. There are issues that still need to be protested and advocated for, are all those people terrorists now? Am I a terrorist because I do not agree with everything that is written in this Act and I suggest people go to the street to protest it? Maybe I am.

Want to Come Up to My Room?

Style & Profile by Chinedu Ukabam

Style & Profile by Chinedu Ukabam

Since 2004 the rooms at the Gladstone Hotel have played host to some of Canada’s leading artists in alternative design. Every year for a few days three floors of the Gladstone give up their space and are transformed into a place that engages our sense, our memories, and our perceptions of reality. Each room is given to an artist and they create a site-specific, immersive installation that stimulates the imagination and encourages discussion. For the 13th edition of Come Up to My Room (CUTMR) Ryerson’s School of Image Arts and the School of Interior Design both had installations that captured and filled the room.

ripple teardrop

Ripple by Ryerson School of Image Arts

Ryerson Artspace is a student and faculty run gallery within the Gladstone Hotel that is curated and programmed by the School of Image Arts. Artspace has been a venue for contemporary Canadian film, photography, and digital arts for the last 24 years and this year the students created a ripple. As part of CUTMR the students at Artspace created an installation that looked at the notion of how we can achieve more together than alone, that we all create a ripple effect with our actions. The installation itself is a giant collective instrument that participants control with the tug of a light bulb, or raindrop, hanging from the ceiling. The darkened gallery was filled with light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling each one tied to its own individual sound, like the keys of a piano. Except this piano had many players who could work together to create a melody or let unique sounds morph into their own chaotic composition. What began as a prototype for the Digital Tools class as part of the Architectural Science program, Ripple, has become a real installation that encourages movement of the whole body and creates a collective harmony out of different lights, sounds, and movements.

RippleI came across Ripple late in the evening, it was actually as I was leaving the Love Design Party. I knew that it was showing but I couldn’t seem to find it and with all the other rooms to see I had a lot to go through (getting trapped in a line up for the Ferris Bueller room didn’t help). However, once I did find Ripple I realized how happy I was not to miss it. It was a very strange experience, flowing through the teardrops as brand new melodies and sounds constantly reverberate throughout the gallery and your body. With only the light from the teardrops I managed to make my way through the gallery, to pull on each one and listen for my own sound in the sea of music. I understood what the artists were portraying, how each of us has an effect, we can each add to the ripple by throwing our rock in the pond. However, what I also found was that sometimes our effect gets lost; the constant flow might wash out our ripple. We sometimes have to stop and listen, make sure that what we are doing is actually having the effect we want it to. If we can’t hear ourselves maybe we need to change our tune, take a different approach to have the effect we are after.

The School of Interior Design also had an installation, which was one of the first rooms I stumbled upon. Partnered with UUfie, an architecture and design practice based in Toronto, Catherine Farrell and Nisha Sewell of Ryerson created Breath, along with Katherine Porter from the Rhode Island School of Design. This installation explored the ideas of deception and limitlessness in its arrangement of tactile space. This installation was supposed to create a dialogue about making and designing, like time flowing in space, an instance of a breath. I think this project was a little over-my-head but the implementation worked which can be hard to manage in instances like these. Often artistic endeavors sound and look great on paper or in your mind, but creation is a difficult feat.

Untitled (Idolization Space) by Sara Nickelson and Studio WOOLF

Untitled (Idolization Space) by Sara Nickelson and Studio WOOLF

With over 20 artists showing and creating for CUTMR this year there is a lot to discuss, with that being said here are a few more rooms that caught my eye. Untitled (Idolization Space) looked at our obsession with visuals, which has been exacerbated by the Internet, allowing for little consideration for meaning over the immediacy of aesthetics. We crave stimulation and turn to social media for inspiration that provides an unending stream of imagery that has been removed from the text needed to interpret its meaning. The artist feels that since we are in a constant state of rapid input we reach an over-stimulation point that results in distraction and hyperactivity.

Life Moves Fast by The Racket Club

Life Moves Fast by The Racket Club

Life Moves Fast is a replication of Ferris Bueller’s bedroom from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The artists worked to replicate every detail from the film, the posters on the wall, the records on the bookshelf, and even the data on his computer screen, which was programmed to change the same way it did in the film. The artists loaned materials from museums and private individuals who still had some of the articles that appeared in this young man’s bedroom thirty years ago. This room immersed you into a familiar space that was at the same time foreign, it was distant in time and space but you could touch, feel, and hear the room and its fictional inhabitant. I think everyone relates to the title, life does move fast. The possessions in that room are relics of a time gone by just as this MacBook and I will be soon enough.

Equivalents by Susan Dobson and Simone Ferkul

Equivalents by Susan Dobson and Simone Ferkul

While I was walking between these rooms I got the sense that art and its meaning go unnoticed. Certainly not everyone was there to view these rooms for what they were, to understand what the artist wanted to say. It disappoints me because art can have so much power if you let it, to initiate change and shock your core values. But if you just walk by you are not allowing that art to inhabit your mind for a small period of time, to push you into a new room in your brain. Whatever the medium, art is something we cannot do without. Imagine not having any music, or not being able to tap your heels around your little apartment, or not being able to move and shape colour into new forms. Art is so immersed in our lives we don’t notice it; the clothes we wear, the buildings we live in, the music that constantly fills our background, and so many more ways. Take a minute to notice the art around you; even something with function is art. Don’t just walk on by.

Overworld by Taxa Work

Overworld by Taxa Work

I’m still in the dark but I’ve left the theatre…

I must start out by saying that I am neither a film student nor a film critic, I do enjoy films though (that counts, right?). I recently attended the premier of the film When the Ice Goes Out at Ryerson’s School of Image Arts. This is a film by Jeremy Leach and Wendy Snyder MacNeil, both accomplished artists in their fields in the United States. Leach is a freelance filmmaker and a directory of photography and has worked on several award winning television programs and documentaries. Leach is also the founder of the production company Lost City Pictures which produced this film and several other independent films and educational media. MacNeil began her career as a photographer before switching to film-making for which she has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. MacNeil’s photos and films are also currently showing until April 10 as The Light Inside exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre in association with When the Ice Goes Out. The film stars Gore Abrams as the main character Jakob and Jazimina MacNeil as his childhood friend Cedar. Now to the film itself.

The premise of the film is of a young man’s journey alone back to his childhood imaginary sanctuary. His life has fallen away, he has no apparent relationships or interests, and all that remains is a desire for what he had as a child. We know nothing of Jeremy’s world, we know that he and Cedar live in the same rooming house and that she refuses to see him so he must watch her from a far and live with the pain of a life in alienation. The film documents Jakob’s trip back to where he came from and his search for a world that never existed. Jeremy must travel through harsh nature and face his ghosts to make it back to where he, at one time, was happy. There is no dialogue so the film relies on natural sounds and imagery to tell the story and move the plot, this is also where the name comes from. The thawing of ice makes a deep rumbling and crackling sound which permeates the film. Now what did I think?

I am not a lover of independent films or much of a viewer I must admit. However, as part of an initiative to include more arts and culture into my diet I chose to go to this film screening. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this film piqued my interest in independent films, in fact it may have killed it. I enjoy the use of symbolism and imagery to tell parts of a story but it is very difficult to sit through 80 minutes of dry and slow filming with no dialogue and no idea of any story. I felt the viewer was kept out of the story, kept out of Jakob’s life. We are not allowed to enter Jakob’s journey, we are only allowed to view it from a far. We have no idea where he is going, what he is thinking, what he is doing, or why he is doing it. This leaves us not knowing what to feel because we don’t know Jakob or understand his actions, he is not relatable; I felt nothing but pity for Jakob, perhaps that’s all I was supposed to feel. The film was stripped bare so we are left with sound and imagery and no real story, merely a peak into something that cannot be made sense of until the artist explains it. Leach stated that originally there was a lot of dialogue and a story was developed but it was taken out on purpose. Leach did not give much of an explanation as to why but I feel that perhaps this was done to reinforce the loneliness and isolation of Jakob, he’s even alienated by us. This is an issue I have with the film, why I am left to explain and create the story? This film was a collection of symbols that were strung together with no connectors but a vague framework that was so flimsy it could be knocked over with a feather. This film could have been about anything, we only know it was about a journey to return to childhood because we are told so by the director. The film cannot stand on its own, it needs the support of its creators to give it life and a reason for existence, to make sense of it.

I cannot say for sure why this film was created or what it was intended to do, it is also not my place to answer those questions. Perhaps there is no reason for the film. Art doesn’t need a reason to exist. I can say that it left me confused, disappointed, and wanting. I can also say the only entertainment I derived from watching this film was trying to figure out what was happening and why, which can be pretty fun when you are trapped in the dark both actually and figuratively. If I was forced to watch this film again I would probably fall asleep like the man down the aisle did and jump out of my seat and out the door during the credits as another viewer did. However, I won’t let this film stop me from seeing the Light Inside exhibit as MacNeil’s photographic talents and prowess are put to fantastic use in this film.