Category Archives: TV shows

On glamor & geekdom

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GLAMOR

noun
noun: glamor
  1. an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing

GEEK

noun
noun: geek; plural noun: geeks
  1. an unfashionable or socially inept person
  2. a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast

At first glance, I typically do not appear  geeky (no obvious air of nerdiness, no glasses in sight, no disheveled clothing etc) but inside, I’m a geek girl through and through! And proud of it, thank you very much.

I find it satisfying to ‘out’ myself as a geek when I meet new people and I like observing their reactions when my eyes start to sparkle and dance as I talk non-stop about Star Trek, X-MEN, anything to do with the question ‘What superpower would you have and why?’ , anything to do with lightsabers/ the words ‘I love you. I know.’ (which is inscribed in some very precious jewelry btw) . I am literally trying to stop myself from listing all the various TV shows, movies and pop culture things I consume.

On another note, I can also geek out quite easily when it comes to any topics that involve the media, anti-racism, colonialism and decolonization processes, Indigenous resistance and theories of skin-whitening. WHICH…brings me to even more topics I can geek out on such as fashion, beauty, lifestyle….

Yea. Versatile geek. How that’s for a definition of geek, Google?!

Anyway, considering that so many topics can make me geek out and start waving my arms around excitedly and just want to brain vomit on people all day along – I found this quote by J.K. Rowling particularly touching.

jk rowling

I was watching an interview with her and Daniel Radcliffe (this is what I do in my free time, people) and when she said that, I was like ‘ OH. MY.GOD. That is me!!!’

Because yes. At one point, I was pretty much a frog. Don’t believe me? Check out this picture below:

16863_248205167532_3041415_n

Yup that’s me. I was probably around 9 – 12 years old. By the way, this picture is a favorite for my partner, C, who finds it so hilarious that I looked like this at one point in my life.

‘Frog Face’ time was the time I started to realize that even if I was a little weird looking (ok, a lot weird looking no thanks to Harry Potter glasses and a bad haircut)… I was super duper awesome in my own way! I channeled all my energy into getting good grades in school and basically, overperforming as much as I could. This was also the time I discovered my love for Star Wars, writing and philosophizing and asking annoying questions about life the adults around me couldn’t answer.

So really….I have a lot to be thankful for when I think about Frog Face. Frog Face made me value my intelligence, nurture my creativity and to unapologetically be myself.

In my twenties, I decided – ‘FROG FACE’ no more! So I decided to experiment with makeup, clothes that weren’t just jeans and a tee. Mostly, this meant picking the right glasses for my face and going to a good hairdresser. Kind of like a makeover in a movie but instead of several minutes of fun montage with girls giggling, it was several years of me researching and trying to figure out how to dress myself to feel and look confident, what hair length I like best and what kind of makeup I am comfortable wearing (pretty much anything except foundation which I loathe.)

Last year, I met someone I haven’t seen since I was 14 and she exclaimed ‘Wow! You’re so pretty now!’ I’m not sure what I said but in my head I was going ‘Thanks??? I think???’ Frog Face couldn’t have been THAT bad…sheesh! Sometimes, people are so unkind but I’m glad that she came out and said it because I decided then and there that the people I am friends with are people who don’t judge me based on how I look – be it 10 years ago or 10 years from now. I still have a couple of good friends from Grade 6 and Grade 8 who just like hearing my stories and what I have to say.

It took me a while to figure out that I could be both glamorous and geeky. These days, I’m pretty happy with myself. I wear my black combat boots with a skirt, I watch lots of TV and then I debate about character development and plot lines, I still overperform and I still geek out over Star Wars (am wearing a Star Wars tank right now). The only difference is…I look a bit better. Ok, sometimes A LOT better *cough cough* My hair might be cut a bit nicer, I might wear contacts and lipstick now but I will always be Frog Face at heart.

#glamorousgeek

I’m a skin-whitening, body-griping, anti-racist feminist. Yup.

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I might as well come right out and say it.

I have and continue to engage in skin-whitening practices.

Things I do include staying indoors when it’s too sunny out, worrying about my skin when I forget to put on sunscreen, carrying an umbrella or a hat around with me and yes, using skin-whitening facial products.

I have had to sort through many feelings of guilt and shame for engaging in these practices so I recognize that for me to ‘admit’ this in a public forum – on my blog, today- is an act of personal resistance.

I refuse to accept the shaming that happens to me and so many other women of color who most will label ‘race traitors’, women who hate our brown skin, women with low-self-esteem or women who have been victimized by the ‘system’. I reject the narrow interpretations and judgments of my actions. I reject the shaming of black and brown women who engage in skin-whitening practices.

What exactly is the point of shaming women for pursuing beauty when it is one of the few sites of power available to us while ignoring the sexist and racist systems that set up this situation in the first place???  It is unproductive. It robs us of our voices. It denies us the luxury of being contradictory and imperfect – like everybody else.

Skin-whitening has been a long running interest for me, both personally and professionally. Intellectually, I started engaging with this material in 2011 as a capstone paper for my Women Studies undergrad degree. Since then, I have presented my thoughts at several conferences including the F-Word conference at UBC on April 28, 2011 and the 12th International Conference on Diversity in June 2012. Un-intellectually speaking, I started skin-whitening much, much earlier.

As I did more academic research into this issue, I became increasingly upset. I would read tons and tons of articles written by self-identified feminists who would judge, shame, poke fun and generally caution women against skin-whitening. After talking it over with a good friend (shoutout to Jennifer!), I realized I was actually reacting to the massive shaming that was directed at women who chose to engage in skin-whitening practices. This type of ‘holier-than-thou’ critique typically comes from white women or lighter skinned brown women towards their darker-skinned counterparts. Some examples are Jezebel’s Lindy West who did this with her piece on groin-whitening feminine wash in India and Tyra Banks’ 2008 episode on skin-whitening among Black women from the Tyra Banks show. Just type ‘skin whitening feminist’ into Google and you’ll find more articles that tell you how bad it is to whiten your skin, how you are such a sellout/victim if you do it etc etc. Enough guilt and shame all around, really. Fun.

So I did what I usually do when I get angry – I wrote. And as I wrote, I came to realize my own stand on this issue. It is important I write this and put this out there for people to read. I want people to know that the issue of beauty, health and women’s self-esteem deserves more complex treatment than we have been giving it so far.

I feel it is important to shift the discussions around skin-whitening AWAY from the shaming and veiled policing of brown and black women and TOWARDS acknowledging that the issue is much more complex.

Skin-whitening practices are embedded in systems of capitalism, colonialism and male dominance. We need to acknowledge that women of color have to navigate through this ‘triple threat’ daily. We receive contradictory messages about how we should look and how we should be every fucking day of our lives and we are the ones who have to live with the imperfect choices we make. If we start to try to complicate this matter, we can start to do some justice to this issue.

First, we need to understand that the skin whitening phenomenon has a long history spanning Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the African continent. White women were actually the target of skin whitening from the Greco-Roman period up into the mid-20th century. Marketing for skin-whitening products towards women of color only started in the 1950s when the press began to notice use of skin whiteners among African-Americans.  Today, the skin-whitening market is estimated to be worth $5.6 billion in Asia alone.

It’s no secret that historical and ongoing colonization sustains the ‘white is right’ ideals of beauty. One of the most obvious ways that this ideal of whiteness has stubbornly persisted throughout the centuries are the systems of pigmentocracy that developed globally across many communities of color. A pigmentocracy is ‘a social hierarchical structure based on favoritism of white skin and European-looking features’ (thanks to Hernandez-Ramdwar at Ryerson University for this).  Basically, the less white and European looking you were, the lower you are on the social ladder.  Different pigmentocracies developed across the world – specific to the histories of colonialism, capitalism and male dominance of each location – although the underlying idea of ‘white is right’ is the same. The pigmentocracy in Brazil is different from India, which is different from Jamaica, which is different from the Philippines which is different from Singapore. You get my drift.

It is also important that we understand the pursuit of skin-whitening is not an aspiration to become white or ‘look like a white girl’. It is a quest to separate yourself from the Indigenous Black and Brown ‘look’. In insular South East Asia for example, rising through the pigmentocracy means separating yourself from the working-class, dark-skinned, Indigenous Malay look to an upper-class, lighter-skinned, Eurasian beauty. This is fundamental to understand because it adds more complexity to the issue versus simply thinking that all black and brown women want to become white. In a sense, we do want to ‘become white’ but it’s not the blonde hair, blue eyes or pale skin we covet…rather the gifts that come with whiteness. Its multiple and unyielding privileges.

Skin-whitening practices should be considered an “active strategy used by some groups to claim power over others in the same society’ (Lipsitz, 1998).  People who can ‘compete’ for the privileges of whiteness are those who can afford to participate. High-end skin-whitening products can cost anywhere between $20 – $500 a bottle and the ‘full range’ of products (facial wash, toner, moisturizer, day essence, night serum and spot-on correctors) can easily go up to $1000. Ironically, those who can afford expensive skin-whitening products are constantly reminded that we have to ‘keep this up’ because skin-whitening is rarely permanent. It takes money, time, dedication and constant vigilance to achieve and maintain fair skin and its privileges. A harsh reminder to folks of color that whiteness is not something that is earned, it is a privilege some are born with and others aspire and work towards.

If we start to look at skin-whitening as an ACTIVE strategy employed by black and brown women, we can start to move away from thinking that these women are PASSIVE victims of the systems who need ‘help’ and ‘advice’ from those of us who ‘know better’. Let’s be honest here – giving unsolicited advice, however well-intentioned and shaming women who choose to engage in skin-whitening is patronizing. I know, deep down, that I am fine the way I am. I know I shouldn’t fret over my freckles. I know I shouldn’t fret over my double A cup size. I know I shouldn’t think about the acne scars on my back. I KNOW all this. You don’t have to keep telling me.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the choices we make with our beauty routine have everything to do with the pressures we receive about it. For me, this angst comes from my mother who still frets over her freckles. To me, she will always be my beautiful mother but now I know that telling her to stop fretting or that she is ‘pretty no matter what’ denies her own experiences of living in this shitty world which insisted on telling her otherwise. Telling her to stop fretting would also mean that I am myself, in denial about my own gripes with my body.  I grew up not only watching my mother fret but my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins and my friends fretting. If it was not their dark skin, it would be something else about their bodies.

Does this mean that I blame the people around me for ‘making me’ think this way? NO. By choosing to go through with my weekly ritual of skin-whitening, does it mean that I don’t love my Brownness, or that I’m not thinking of the examples I am setting for the young girls watching me? NO. Does it mean I wholly blame colonialism and capitalism for making this world the way it is and abdicating my personal responsibility for continuing to practice skin-whitening? NO.

Women make hundreds of choices everyday, and unless we are walking around in their heads, we have no idea what led them to the decisions they make. (many grateful thanks to Renee from Womanist Musings for this nugget of wisdom).

So yes, I am a skin-whitening feminist. And I am also an anti-racist activist.  My world is not a binary. I do not have to choose one or the other or be put into categories. This is how I choose to see the world. Because of this, I can embrace the complex, the complicated, the messy, things that don’t make any fucking ‘sense’ and things that don’t fit into the colonial viewpoint of right and wrong, black and white, skin-whitening sellout or staunch anti-racist feminist. I can be both because I choose to be both.I can learn to live with my contradictions.

One day, I want to be able to stop griping about the freckles on my face, my flat chest, and my acne scarred back (among other things). Until then, spare me the guilt and shaming. PLEASE.

As long as we live in a society that experiences ongoing colonization, capitalism and male dominance, the skin-whitening industry will always exist. We need to start complicating the notion of choice while also recognizing the need to access it. When we can begin and continue to complicate, decolonize our concept of beauty and disrupt its connection to the value of a person, we will allow ourselves to imagine a world that is far different than the one we inhabit today.

Indigenous women and women of color RESIST

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I am featured in a blog post as part of blog series titled ‘ How Does She Resist?’ – Resisting Media Representations to End Violence Against Girls and Women’ hosted by the Battered Women’s Support System . The blog series commemorates Prevention of Violence Against Women Week (April 15 -April 21) and aims to engage the online community to resist media representations as a way to prevent violence against girls and women.

The author of the blog post is the co-founder of WAM! Vancouver, Joanna Chiu. She interviewed me for the piece entitled  ‘Indigenous women and Women of Color Media Makers Resist: How to Create the Media you Want to See in the World’. I talk about media representations of women of color and queer and/or trans women.

Here is an excerpt:

Today, as I was walking down the street to write at my favorite coffee shop, I received the usual afternoon greetings from my neighbours: “Hey baby!” “Konichiwa!” “Ni hao! “Look at that ass!!”

As all Indigenous women and women of colour know, if sexism wasn’t bad enough, we encounter racism on a daily basis as well—on the street, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the media. (See the theory of intersectionality on how oppressions like racism, ageism and classism intersect.)

In media, women of colour are often hyper-sexualized, and depicted in racial caricatures: Kung Fu ladies, geishas, sexy Latina sirens, Pocahontas types, etc. That is, if we see ourselves represented in the media at all. According to Journalism.com’s State of the Media report, race and gender issues only accounted for 1% of overall news coverage. And how many women of colour lead actresses can you name in Hollywood, or who have graced the covers of glossy magazines?

Continue reading here!

Happy Feminist Friday

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Because young people make me happy. Also, it’s science fiction. And I haven’t seen any funny animal videos lately.

Since we’re talking about science fiction and youth, Disney’s John Carter comes out today – which I am putting down as another story about Pocahontas and her great white, male saviour. A review on IGN says that it’s great but let’s just say I am skeptical. It might be pretty to look at but it’s probably still going to be a racist and sexist piece of shit. C and I are going to check it out sometime this weekend so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Related pieces:

Why I’m addicted to anti-racist feminist critcism

The Smurfette Principle

Macho, macho men: Masculinities in TV and Film

why im addicted to anti-racist feminist media criticism

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Sometimes, there is no reason for me to re-write what someone else has written so beautifully. This is one of those times. I’ve combined the image above with an excerpt from a post via Fangs of Fantasy below to encapsulate the reason behind my personal passion and the passion of many, many others who insist on calling out the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic bullshit we see on TV, on the big screen and in books we read everyday. (bolded text my own emphasis)

“You cannot truly change culture without addressing the media. Ultimately, we can pass 100 laws saying that misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, ableism et al are not okay. We can we fight, we can vanquish a thousand bigots, and make a thousand impassioned speeches, but if everyone goes back home to books and TV full of hate speech, stereotypes,  tropes, and marginalised servants/villains or – and most commonly – to fictional worlds where we don’t even exist – then how much can you change? “Hearts and Minds” are the key here – and it’s in the pages of books and the light of the TV screen where we will reach them.

The paucity of portrayal is further exacerbated by the limited roles that marginalised people are allowed to play, and this is particularly seen in the tropes we see reflected over and over again. When I consider straight, cis, able bodied white people in fiction, I can’t think of one single role they play, because they get to play every role. They’re the hero, they’re the villain. They’re good, they’re bad, they’re honest, they’re liars, they’re brave, they’re cowards. They’re smart, they’re foolish, they’re funny, they’re boring. They’re saints and they are sinners. They’re sexy and dull, they’re promiscuous and they’re chaste, they’re noble and they’re repellent. They’re soldiers and priests and wizards and bankers and lawyers and strippers, they’re singers and traders. They drive space ships and ride horses, they play games and fight wars, they colonise and are enslaved, they rule and they rebel, they lead and they follow.

They’re everywhere and they do everything. Their story is not only told a thousand times, but it’s told in a thousand different ways. When someone adds another story about them, it just adds to a huge diversity that is already out there – every characterisation is just one of a huge body of characterisations.

Now compare that to marginalised people. Not only do we not get even a tenth as many representations as privileged people, but the representations we do get are usually so very similar. And this is what makes them so dangerous and so damaging – this is why tropes hurt us. Is your portrayal of another gay couple who die young and tragically harmful? Probably not inherently – but when it piles up with all of the gazillion other dead gays, then it’s problematic. Are there no Middle Eastern terrorists? Yes, of course – but that story has already been told to the point of nausea. Are there no women who need rescuing? Of course there are – but there’s more to women than helpless damsels in distress, but their story is eclipsed by an endless stream of needy, desperate women rescued by men. These tropes hurt us in ways they can’t hurt privileged people, because privileged people have a gazillion other portrayals to insulate them. Privileged people can be anything, can be everything, while marginalised people walk the same tropes over and over again.

We also cannot deny the effects that such erasure – or such poor portrayals – have on marginalised people on an individual level, and especially on marginalised youth. Repeatedly we see book after book, and TV show after TV show where we don’t exist at all, or have only the most minor or reduced roles. The message is clear, over and over again that our stories aren’t worth being told. We don’t get to be the heroes, the saviours, the important people. We’re never centre-stage. If we’re lucky, we get to be important tools in someone else’s life. Adjutants to some privileged person’s important story – someone we can help, serve, support, be rescued by or, in some cases, die horribly so they can grieve and grow as people. We are secondary, passing references or mere extensions of a privileged person’s life. We don’t get to come out of the wings except for those few occasions when we get to stand behind a privileged person on the stage. We’re never centre-stage ourselves.

What does that do to people? What does it do to kids?

But beyond all these weighty reasons why what we do is important, and beyond the effect on  culture, on society, on our youth, on how we’re treated and on our own sense of self, there’s also a basic wish that we could enjoy fiction as well. Why can’t we pick up a book and escape to a brilliant world without having to leave ourselves behind as well? Why can’t we have a character we can identify with? Why don’t we deserve to be able to kick back, relax and read something or watch something that actually includes us in a way that doesn’t make us cringe?

We’re not asking for a lot. And this is why we do what we do – because we deserve to be included, because tropes need to be challenged, because we deserve to be presented as equal and valuable and, ultimately, we are part of this world. That needs to be acknowledged – we exist and we matter.The media seems to have no problem accepting our money but somehow respecting our person is unfathomable and they have structured these stories in such as way as to appear innocuous, even as we are suffering.  We deserve to see ourselves – and see ourselves presented well – in the media that we love.”

Related pieces I’ve written:  

The Smurfette Principle

Macho, macho men: Masculinities in TV and Film

Being a cultural maid

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For those of you who know me  and know me well enough, you probably know that my primary interests in feminism and social issues revolve around representations of women, men, women of color, men of color in the media.  I write about skin-whitening ads, I think about the movies I see, the television shows I watch, the music I listen to. The ‘recent’ issue (which is in fact not at all recent but an ongoing one) with George Lucas’s movie ‘Red Tails’ and the Internet hullabaloo about the difficulty with getting movies with all-Black casts done has shined a torch in an area of Hollywood that is consistently ignored, explained away or dismissed. RACISM not only on the screen but off the screen as well.

I’ve written a bit about this topic in this article for Morning Quickie where I talk about the ‘re-imaginings of Snow White’. The piece I wrote is nowhere near James McBride’s piece entitled ‘Being A Maid’ where he talks about racism in Hollywood and what it means to be a black/brown/Asian/Muslim/Native American/Latino/Gay/Lesbian/Disabled storyteller in the context of Hollywood. What does it take to get these stories heard? Do they ever get heard?

Below are some of my favorite parts:

America is a super power not because we make the biggest guns. We’re a superpower because our culture has saturated the planet: Levis, Apple, Nike, Disney, Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Jazz, Rhythm n Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, and Hip Hop. Our culture dominates the world far more than any nuclear bomb can. When you can make a person think a certain way, you don’t have to bomb them. Just give them some credit cards, a wide screen 3D TV, some potato chips, and watch what happens. This kind of cultural war, a war of propaganda and words, elements that both Hollywood and Washington know a lot about, makes America powerful beyond measure.

….

But there’s a deeper, even more critical element here , because it’s the same old story: Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens. And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller– writer, musician, filmmaker. Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in “Driving Miss Daisy,” except it’s a kind of TV series lasts the rest of your life: You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind of cultural maid. You serve up the music, the life, the pain, the spirituality. You clean house. Take the kids to school. You serve the eggs and pour the coffee. And for your efforts the white folks thank you. They pay you a little. They ask about your kids. Then they jump into the swimming pool and you go home to your life on the outside, whatever it is.  And if lucky you get to be the wise old black sage that drops pearls of wisdom, the wise old poet or bluesman who says ‘I been buked and scorned,’ and you heal the white folks, when in fact you can’t heal anybody. In fact, you’re actually as dumb as they are, dumber maybe, because you played into the whole business. Robbing a character of their full dimension, be it in fiction or non fiction, hurts everyone the world over. Need proof? Ask any Native American, Asian, Latino, Gay American, or so called white “hillbilly.” As if hillbillies don’t read books, and Asians don’t rap, and Muslims don’t argue about the cost of a brake job.

….

I used to think that if only there were a peaceful way, we could make Hollywood listen to the sound of America’s true drumbeat: the voices of working class poor, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, and the so-called rednecks of this country; the people that walk the land, work in the K-Marts, run the fast food joints, drive the trucks, stand in line at 4 a.m. for the i-phones, go to church for redemption, and sell the knockoff s on ebay. But the new breed of Republicans have taken that high ground. They’ve gotten rich off it. That leaves me with nothing but the notion that Washington and Hollywood may be just alike. They’re engaged in a cultural war. They take your gun and use it on you, and it makes you sorry you drew your gun in the first place. It makes you wish you were a maid.

Friends, if you have 5 minutes today, I highly recommend that you read the whole piece here. It’s worthwhile and it’s powerful.

If this piece doesn’t make you think, you must be a zombie.

Happy National Writing Day!

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It’s National Writing Day in the US of A today and although I am not an American citizen or am physically living in America, I will not deny the influence of American culture in my life and on my writing. I won’t detail it here (there’s too much to say) but I’m still celebrating ‘Why I write’ day today with this lovely quote.

It takes a lot of courage to look into yourself and even more courage to write it down for others to see.

- Benjamin Sisko, Captain of Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)

Reasons why I love science fiction:

1. The creative capacity to imagine a different and often, better world.

2. The drive to strive for a better, more equal and just world.

3. The ability to tackle problems of the current time within a different imagination of how the world could be

4. There’s often a lot of action scences and more importantly, minimal mushy love stories where you just KNOW that the guy will end up with the girl or vice versa.

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Reasons why I like writing:

1. I can work through my feelings and thoughts.

2. It helps me understand myself and the world a bit better.

3. It makes me feel better.

4. I express myself more honestly and clearly.

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