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.

#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month


In honour of February being Black History Month – a time where we celebrate Black culture, shed light on and stand in solidarity with the Black community on Black issues, and recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community and its history – I thought it would be prudent to talk about a recent issue on hand that is affecting the Black community.


For those of you out of the loop with Hollywood-related issues, or simply for those of you who don’t know, there has been significant controversy surrounding the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The Academy Awards (“Oscars”) has been a night of celebration and recognition of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and motion pictures. It has been an opportunity to acknowledge the success of such people and such projects and has been a way to encourage the film industry to continue producing quality creative content for its viewers.

I would like to say that this issue is recent but if we’re being quite honest, this has been an issue for several years. That issue being: There is a significant lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially, the Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite is a campaign initiated to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be more inclusive in their acknowledgements and recognitions. It is a movement for diversification and equity – it is a movement to urge a very influential platform to facilitate an industry that accurately represents its target audience. This year – quite similar to last year – all 20 actors who have been nominated for lead and supporting acting categories are white. Significantly “Black” films are only recognized for a white actor within that film.

For example: Creed, whereby Michael B. Jordan (a black actor) was the lead role throughout the whole movie as he played Apollo Creed’s son, is only being recognized for Sylvestor Stallone (a white actor) and its screenwriters who also happen to be white, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. It seems quite ludicrous that a movie where a black actor is the clear lead throughout the entire movie is not being acknowledged, but his white co-star is being recognized, as well as the movie’s white screenwriters.

To give you even more context, in the last 88 years that the Academy Awards have been an established industry, only 14 black actors have actually won an Oscar, one of them being Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Only 5 Latina actors have one in the last 88 years as well and quite disappointingly, only one Indigenous acting winner (Ben Johnson for his role in The Last Picture Show in 1972). Furthermore, the Academu Awards Industry is made up of 94% white voters and 77% males.

It has always been clear that movies have misrepresented minorities for so many years. You have white actors playing black/Asian/Latino/Indigenous people. You have a predominantly white industry who is seemingly in charge of whether or not you get recognized for the hard work that you do, and will no doubt have a bias for their own kind. You have a completely un-diverse industry who is only willing to shed light on “white excellence” while Black excellence takes a back seat. It’s backwards, it’s completely un-progressive, and it’s disheartening to be misrepresented and unrecognized on such a public and popular platform.

Change has to start. This is such an influential platform and the more we emphasize visibility and diversification, the more society will mimic such ways and adopt such ideologies. We have to challenge white dominance and privilege, which seems such a strange thing to say in 2016, but don’t think for a second that we’ve overcome racism just because it’s not as apparent and “in your face” as it was in the 50s. We have come a long way but there is so much more work to do. I encourage you to look into the #OscarsSoWhite issue; get educated and be aware. Stand in solidarity with one another and fight for what’s right. This is so much more than movies at this point; this is about equity and unification as a global society.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars this year? #OscarsSoWhite

Resource: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2016/02/02/oscars-academy-award-nominations-diversity/79645542/

I Have Nothing to Wear

In my closet there are easily over 30 sweaters, 15 collared shirts, 20 pairs of pants, 40 t-shirts, 10 jackets, countless socks, every accessory I never needed, and we can’t forget about shoes (I have too many of those too). That’s just what I can remember; only the armoire knows what I forgot (hats!). Suffice it to say, I have too much clothing; something I never thought possible because I wear all my clothes and the holes in my shoes are the evidence to prove it. What can I say? I’m a consumer and I consume and collect clothing just like everyone else. Also, just like everyone else I don’t always think about what goes into my clothing, specifically who is making them and how they are made. I know who designed them and had them made, but where did they really come from?


Fashion is a notorious industry. It has come under fire for promoting unattainable beauty standards causing mental and physical health concerns in youth, allowing and profiting from animal cruelty, and for enslaving and endangering the lives of millions of labourers around the world; those countless socks are made from more than just cotton. Untangling the web of malice in the fashion industry is well beyond the scope of this blog but it is necessary to note that it still exists, there are still people dying to make our clothing. Companies still employ the use of sweatshops, or harsh and unsafe working conditions that provide no support to workers for little pay.


The idea of sweatshops, or “sweated labour”, came about in the 1800s when urbanization and the Industrial Revolution were taking shape in the Western world. New products and variety for things such as clothing were increasing in demand and so companies created factories to supply consumers with what they wanted. This drew people from the countryside to cities where they could get a job in a factory and earn a wage. However, this was also at a time when labour laws were almost nonexistent and so there was no protection for factory workers. Employers took advantage of the lack of regulations and created working conditions that lead to the death of many labourers. In addition, these labourers were paid by the piece, i.e. piecework, this means that the more items they produced in a day the more they earned that day and vice versa regardless of time spent. This was thought to promote employees to work harder, longer, and faster for little money and allow corporations to make a higher profit. As sweatshops evolved and labour laws stood stagnant the tension between labourers and employers began to spark.

One of the most horrendous revelations about sweatshops came to the surface in 1911 when a fire broke out in one of the Triangle Shirtwaist garment factories in New York City. The factory was located on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floor of the now Brown Building in Greenwich Village. When the fire began employees tried to flee the building but were stopped by a locked door, the only exit had been locked and was kept locked. This was a common practice in garment factories at the time to reduce unauthorized breaks and employee theft. 146 people, mostly young women, either burned to death behind a locked door or jumped out of the windows falling 8 stories until they met the stone road that lay beneath them. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire is cited as one of the worst industrial disasters in the United States and it ultimately lead to the villanization and progress to eliminating sweatshops in the West.

After the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, labour unions and work safety regulations began to take prominence. However, while labour laws came about to provide safety for workers and a fair wage, companies began looking elsewhere for cheap labour ultimately moving to Asia and South America. This globalization of the garment industry lead to a black market within the industry in the West with illegal sweatshops employing new immigrants and continuing the deplorable traditions of the past. This came about because contractors who hired garment workers would threaten to export their business unless they worked for less than the minimum wage and by the piece. In the end, the garment companies moved to Asia for cheap labour and the garment-production labour force in the West was depleted.

While sweatshops are thought to have died off in the West during the 1990s, they are still very much alive in countries such as India, China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. These countries and their people are enslaved by the garment industry to provide the cheap labour to make our cute shoes and little black dresses. Garment factory workers in Asia face the same if not worse working conditions than the sweatshop workers of the past. This is evidenced by the string of fires and building collapses that plague garment factories, such as the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse near Dhaka, Bangladesh which killed over 1000 people. These people are being forced to work in appalling conditions for very little pay and for what? So that we can have another sweater to toss on the floor and a large corporation can add another 0 to the end of their balance sheet. Why is this happening? How did it ever get this far? The simple answer – because it was allowed to.

Fashion is a very tricky business. Consumers want clothing at an affordable price, companies want to make a profit, and garment workers want to earn a living. Unfortunately, all these variables don’t add up to a positive, someone will lose. To keep the price of clothing low for consumers companies hire foreign contractors to produce their clothing. These contractors pay their employees as little as possible so that the cost of the product stays low and profits stay high. Additionally, to keep production costs low contractors only go as far as meeting minimum standards, if that, for building standards and employee safety and training. Obviously these building and safety standards are too low if the factories are falling down. So why not just raise the minimum standards? If a contractor has to pay more to construct a building they will take the cost out of employee wages. Labourers in the majority world cannot afford to live at their current wages if they were reduced they would be even worse off. Additionally, there will always be another country that won’t require a factory to meet safety standards or they will be so low that it’s economical for the garment contractors to move their businesses as they did 40 years ago in the West. In addition, corruption within the garment industry and the governments who police them allow for contractors to get away with not meeting minimum standards. Garment workers are trapped because factories provide the highest wages for them and if the factories leave the workers’ livelihoods are at stake, not to mention the economic situation of the country. Countries like Bangladesh rely on the garment-production industry to keep their economy moving. So what can be done to save the lives of garment workers without sacrificing profits and consumer demand? I don’t have the answer and I doubt that there is a simple one. As I said fashion is a very tricky business. It’s too late to go backwards and it’s very difficult to start over, but something needs to change.


I must say that at the onset of this I did not intend to write about sweatshops. In fact I was going to promote the fashion program here at Ryerson, specifically the men’s show Fixate that ran on Friday November 27. However, I found myself in a strange position because I began to wonder about who makes our clothing. I am familiar with sweatshop work but only in theory. I have never had to sew a piece of clothing in a cramped room, with no natural light, no air-conditioning, no air, and behind a locked door so that I can feed my family. I truly hope I never have to and I truly hope that sweatshops one day become only a theory and not a reality.