BLOG: JHR Carleton’s Student Chapter second annual Rhymes for Rights event

By Emily Fearon

Photo by Charissa Feres.
Photo by Charissa Feres.

Until last week, I was a spoken word poetry virgin. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Spoken word and I had hung out a bit before last Wednesday, and it was fun, but nothing serious. However, on October 15 the beginning of a beautiful and hopefully long term relationship blossomed between us.

Journalists for Human Rights Carleton Student Chapter put on their second annual Rhymes for Rights spoken word event. The spoken word night is a fundraiser for JHR’s international projects happening worldwide. On Wednesday the poems ranged in topic, but the proceeds were all going to fund training for journalists in South Sudan. The goal is to strengthen the media, in terms of the journalist, in South Sudan so they can report on local and national news. This is just one of many projects JHR (as a media development organization) runs, and student chapters, like the one at Carleton, support.

Photo by Charissa Feres.
Photo by Charissa Feres.

The talent on display last Wednesday came from Carleton students and local poets, each exhibiting an awe-inspiring presentation. Many of the poems were centered on love. There were franc conversations about sex, marriage, broken relationships, unrequited love, and even a love poem written about winter. These balanced nicely with the equally passionate poems about human rights issues. Some of the presenters decried racism, poverty, and apathy, and others called for social justice, a renewed interest in women’s rights, and self-confidence. You were hard pressed to find someone in attendance
that night who wasn’t moved by at least one poet’s words.

The overarching message of the night came from both Kathryn Sheppard and Brandon Wint, the featured speakers. Kathryn had worked at the JHR Head Office in Toronto and on JHR projects overseas. Though she no longer works for JHR, she still spoke proudly of the journalists she met and worked with during her time with the organization. Kathryn believes vehemently in responsible journalism, which entails journalists reporting responsibly, but also extends to journalists holding those in power accountable. The story Kathryn shared was of a foreign government who declared that the
stories written by JHR-trained journalists made them work harder. The journalists put pressure on the government and saw their work make a difference in their country. Seeing results like this encourage us and remind us why we do what we do.

Photo of Brandon Wint, by Charissa Feres.
Photo of Brandon Wint, by Charissa Feres.

Brandon Wint is an acclaimed Ottawa poet who has traveled across the country with his spoken word, teaches poetry writing, and loves cookies. He shared some of his work at Rhymes for Rights, and the audience loved it. Though not a journalist like Kathryn, Brandon declared that the best journalism is motivated by love. Indeed, he shared his life perspective that everything is for and about love. And there’s something to that.

We need to keep storytelling alive, be it through poetry or through journalism or through our love stories.

F Safe Space Shirts Embarrassing for Individuals, Not Carleton

By: Moojan Haidari

Frosh doesn’t have a stamp of 100 per cent customer satisfaction guarantee on it.

It can be a great experience for some who are ready to rock it out with their peers and get pumped up by their overly excited frosh facilitators, and for others it can be a very average experience.

But this year it was an unfortunate welcome for many new Carleton students. A university that upholds a safe campus space, where posters of ‘dignity’, ‘equality’ and ‘respect’ are plastered around the popular areas of the school, the campus was in a precarious situation after a few students decided to contradict those values.

I can’t seem to fathom why people would wear shirts suggesting that sexual harassment is acceptable. We live in a society that vilifies and stigmatizes those who condone or commit sexual harassment.

So the question is, why would the individuals (both male and female) wear shirts that give such a connotation?

Some have argued the inappropriate wording is in protest of a university rule prohibiting swearing during frosh, and others argue it’s directed towards rape culture and homophobia. I think it’s common knowledge that students swear. But putting inappropriate wording on a shirt that could suggest many things is not the smartest move. Regardless of whether there was malicious intent or if it was just something snazzy to put on a shirt, the social media world has spoken.

Now this got me thinking about the pre-production phase of the shirt. Did no one consider that this could be taken the wrong way? Did no one stop to think that anyone could snap a picture of them wearing an inappropriate shirt and post it in the fast-paced social media world where it could be scrutinized inside and out?

It’s upsetting to see people attacking Carleton as a whole for this action. After several sexual harassment cases at Carleton, the campus evidently condones these actions. This is clear through all the ‘consent is sexy’ pins that seem to be everywhere and many other pins and posters that condemn rape culture.

I keep hearing about how this is freedom of expression, which I am all for, but frosh leaders are representing Carleton. The campus upholds certain values that are for the benefit of all people in order to create inclusivity. The ambiguity of the meaning of the shirt should not have gone unchecked by upper-year university students.

All in all, it’s quite unfortunate that the people who chose to make this bad decision attend Carleton. Serious issues such as rape culture need to be addressed, but hopefully things don’t blow out of proportion. It’s when it has reached an unbearable point that some people find ways to make it into a cheeky joke.

I’m sure if those individuals who wore the shirts could go back in time they would think before they wore it out in public. But there’s nothing more embarrassing than the image of the two boys looking happy-go-lucky with that shirt on. After so much backlash, it’s their safety I fear for the most.

Americanah: The Complexity of Identity

Photo provided by Deqa Ahmed.
Photo provided by Deqa Ahmed.

By Deqa Ahmed

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an author and a self-proclaimed feminist. You may know her from Beyoncé’s ***Flawless, where her 2012 “we should all be feminists” speech was sampled.

Adichie’s third novel Americanah is weaved with discussions of race, class, immigration and identity. Americanah is told primarily from the perspective of Ifemelu, in a flashback format from a hair salon in the present, to significant points in her past. While this novel does provide an endearing love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, love is not the central focus of the story.

Ifemelu and Obinze meet in high school in Nigeria, falling in love almost immediately. Around this time Nigeria is under military rule and their future prospects are bleak. Obinze is enamoured by all facets of American culture, particularly literature. Due to the military rule, Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to pursue an education in the states, leaving Obinze behind. Obinze, unable to be granted a visa to study in the States eventually ends up in London, struggling to get a fake social security number so he can find work. Ifemelu is facing a similar struggle, unable to find a job to sustain herself in America. At this point, the novel begins to delve into the meaty discussions described above.

As soon as Ifemelu arrives in America, she is confronted with the reality of being a new immigrant to a foreign country. Although she comes from a middle class family, her peers suddenly perceive her as being unintelligent and incapable of speaking English. A poignant example presents itself when Ifemelu goes to school on the first day to register. Cristina Tomas at the registration desk speaks to her extremely slowly. Unknowingly, Ifemelu assumed Cristina was suffering from an illness, causing her to speak so slowly. She soon realizes Cristina was simply attempting to accommodate her speech.

“…Cristina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy limbed and drooling…. Ifemelu shrank. In that strained, still second where her eyes met Cristina Tomas’ before she took the forms, she shrank. She shrank like a dried leaf. She had spoken English all her life, led the debating society in secondary school, and always thought the American twang inchoate; she should not have cowered and shrunk, but she did. And in the following weeks, as autumn’s coolness descended, she began to practice an American accent.”

 Ifemelu is subsequently introduced to the labels deeply entrenched within America’s historical makeup. She is introduced to the intricacies present within these labels, such as the differences between ‘African-Americans’ (those descended from slaves) and ‘American-Africans’ who have recently immigrated to America.

As Ifemelu settles into herself in America, she becomes unapologetic and refuses to dilute her identity. She is introspective and her self-reflections provide a necessary representation of what it truly means to be black in America.

She starts a blog titled ‘Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non—American Black”. Her blog details her experiences as a ‘Non-American Black’, among these being the politicized issue of black hair. Ifemelu discusses the expectations faced by black women to straighten or chemically relax their hair, in order to make others feel more comfortable. Experiencing this pressure, Ifemelu chemically relaxed her hair in order to secure a job.

Near the end of the book, the past fades into the present and Ifemelu makes the decision to return to Nigeria. She is reunited with Obinze, who now has a wife and a child.

Through Ifemelu, Adichie was able to disentangle the complicated history of race in America. Adichie provides a translation comprehensible to the general population, whose own identities may have prevented them from comprehending the experiences of non-whites.

Ottawa festival highlights films on human rights’ issues

By: Patrick Butler

Kym Vercoe in For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, a film from Bosnia-Herzegovina that screened Oct. 4 at the festiva
Kym Vercoe in For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, a film from Bosnia and Herzegovina that screened Oct. 4 at the festival

Human rights cinema from around the world was front and centre at the University of Ottawa Human Rights Film Festival.

The festival, which was held Oct. 2 to 5 at the University of Ottawa, was a collaboration between the Canadian Film Institute and the university’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. It featured six films profiling human rights issues on six continents.

“We’re trying to explore cinema that either exposes human rights abuses or that can be an agent of change in some way, to spur action among people who watch the films, no matter what they’re about,” said Tom McSorley, executive director of the film institute.

According to McSorley, this year’s festival profiled experiences of people affected by Williams Syndrome, depression, trauma, violence and political conflict. It also featured a seminar on using digital media as a tool for human rights advocacy and research.

Jerrett Zaroski, a programmer at the film institute, said it can be difficult to get people interested in human rights cinema.

“Some of these films are demanding and not everyone wants to go into that space. But we’re hoping, you know, it’s only the festival’s second year and we’ve already seen an increase in people coming to see the films,” Zaroski said.

“It’s hard to get people out to films that are not escapist fare, that are not these kind of fantastical big blockbusters, but part of the reason behind the festival is being here on campus where we can reach people who are very politically engaged and very engaged with these topics already.”

McSorley said the film institute hopes to show films screened at the festival at local high schools over the next few months.

“These are films that kind of disappear. I mean we’re aware of them and we screen them here at the festival, but then they’re gone,” McSorley said. “The idea is to get younger people aware and exposed to these kinds of issues and in fact speak directly to them at their age.”

Sonya Nigam, the director of the University of Ottawa Human Rights Office, said the main goal of the festival is to get people talking about human rights issues.

“We do it to help people consider these issues and try and raise awareness about particular issues, but we also do it to help people process them,” said Nigam.

“I think we all see a lot of things on the news and in our newspapers and things that even happen to our friends and family and within the community. Having a film festival like this allows us … to take the time to talk about it afterwards.”

Miss Representation: The Portrayal of Women in the Media

By Amna Pervaiz 

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gettyimages.ca

Emma Watson, a powerful and prominent celebrity, garnered a lot of media attention after her UN speech about feminism. As the ambassador to UN women, Watson spoke about women’s rights, equality and the need for action.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the creator of the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, makes a similar plea. However, her focus is on the under-representation of women in the media. Her documentary depicts Hollywood, advertising, politics and news as degrading the perceptions towards women.

For instance, Newsom uses a clip of a woman in a music video gyrating in a cage while men threw money at her. Another example was in a newscast in which Sarah Palin was discussed as looking “attractive” in her hat instead of discussing the content of her words. Both these examples illustrate women being treated like objects in the media.

Also, Newsom interviewed a host of successful, powerful, and accomplished women for her film. These women speak about issues and problems they’ve had while being in the public sphere. For example, Katie Couric discussed how people focused more on her physical appearance, like if “she [was] showing too much leg,” rather than her the quality of her reporting.

Most of the film’s rhetoric revolves around the influential power of men in the media. This leaves little room for powerful women, which leads to a demeaning portrayal of women. In the film, there’s a scene that shows women in politics being described as ‘whiny’ in news articles. Erike Falik, one of the interviewees, said that women are twice more likely to be described as emotional compared to men.

Overall, the film shows that women are often mistreated and under-represented in the media. However, there are flaws to the documentary. All the women interviewed in the film either have PhDs, lots of credentials, or are accomplished actresses like Jane Fonda. This is great, but it doesn’t give a proper representation of all women. For example, ordinary women, women with disabilities, and women of colour were not a part of this project. Yes, it does have Margret Cho and a few others, but they come in for bits and don’t take up as much screen time as the others.

The film’s premise is to address the issue of stereotyping women, by taking them out of the box that the media constantly put them in. But in addressing the issue, Newsom makes it a ‘them’ vs. ‘us’, intelligent vs. unintelligent, respectable vs. slutty, educated vs. uneducated battle between women. She doesn’t lend a voice to the other side of the issue. The film almost suggests that you can only be powerful or successful if you’re not the other type of women. What about those women who might be portrayed as archetypical characters in movies but are making a difference in the real world? For example, empowering women like Emma Watson, or those that don’t have the ability to get a PhD beside their name. It would be essential to talk to them and get their insight and experiences.

Miss Representation is an inspiring film. While you watch you pump your fists in the air and cheer — but it doesn’t offer a solution. It just states a reality most of us are already aware of.

Here’s to You: An Ode to the People Who Made Me a Feminist

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By Emily Fearon 

Here’s to you, Dad,

You who loved your girls

Taking on fatherhood

With an air undaunted

And raised us with the knowledge

That we were wanted.

 

Here’s to you, Mum,

Who wouldn’t buy me Barbies

Even though I was upset

You didn’t sit idle

You bought me books because you knew

that Barbie shouldn’t be my idol.

 

Here’s to you, gym teachers,

Who made us play with the boys

It wasn’t always fun

We would trip and we would fall

But you know girls run just as fast

And you were right, I beat them all.

 

Here’s to you, my best friend,

You were always the wise one

In seventh grade girlishness,

I thought he was hot

You pointed out my objectification

And that is a moment never forgot.

 

Here’s to you, my guy friends,

Thank you for not thinking twice

About hanging out with us girls

You are the brothers I never had

We could talk, cry, laugh together

We were different, but that wasn’t bad.

 

And here’s to you, cat callers,

Who remind me of the cause

I can’t be angry, you’re a product of this world

You’ve believed the lies at a cost

No woman will ever appreciate your jeers

In the end, it’s you who’ve lost.

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.

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