Thinking about Women in the Public Eye and Saying the word “Feminism”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we expect of the people who we’ve chosen as role models.

When Shailene Woodley recently said she was not a feminist, many in the feminist blogosphere were upset. Was I saddened? Yes. But I wasn’t exactly surprised. Shay is after all, a 23 year-old actress. Her focus is her craft. She hasn’t had the benefit of a university education that critically discusses gender and feminism. So I’m not surprised it’s not an identity that she claims for herself.

I am 27 years old. And I’ve been proud to call myself a feminist for about 6 years? 7 years? It definitely wasn’t until after a couple years of university. I don’t remember if there was a moment where I suddenly thought about feminism, I do remember being confused about the concept in first year university and now here I am, considering myself a feminist scholar. So somewhere in the middle of my undergraduate degree, sometime after I’d taken a couple of courses that discussed gender and feminism in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, I considered myself a feminist. And through this type of education, and the women I talked to who spoke their minds and spoke about feminism, I came to realize that feminism spoke to me as well.

It’s not just Shailene, there are other examples of women and girls, actresses, singers, people in the public eye that get this question and panic. What comes to mind for them is the pervasive post- or anti-feminist narratives that have been so successful at undermining and discrediting feminism while at the same time declaring it’s mission accomplished and using elements that align with neoliberalism (choice in purchasing, choice amongst a series of preset options that primarily benefit neoliberal economic imperatives). What must come to mind for them is the breadth and depth of criticism women in the public eye face for their feminist views. So they say that they are not feminists, and we react and speak out online about how upset we are or how sad we are that these women have said such things and have damaged the cause of feminism yet again.

This doesn’t sit well for me. Maybe it’s my dislike of confrontation, but more likely I think, it is my own history with feminism and my found role as an educator.

When our young girls and women are shown how society works throughout their lives, from pop culture and the media, the failing public education system, and an increasingly sexualized society, that is postfeminist in its narratives and everyday workings, when they routinely hear stories about man-hating and bra-burning from those who fear feminist voices, when they routinely see trending topics like #feministsareugly or men saying they won’t date feminists. What conclusion can they be left with other than that this popular narrative is correct (or at least the default) if they’ve never been taught a different story or seen a different take on the matter.

We need to teach feminism in elementary school. Beforehand. We need to stop putting little girls in a prefabricated social box where everything is pink and if you aren’t a perfect woman no one will like you and you will never find love.

I know so many women who work hard to educate girls and women about important social issues. Women who raise their daughters and sons to be feminists. Girl Guide Leaders who try to give girl the tools they need to navigate today’s society with fearlessness and an assured sense of self.

I know women whose mothers taught them about feminism (whether explicitly or through their actions), I know women who educated themselves in high school about feminism and social issues. And I know women like me, who didn’t realize what this movement was about until university. Or even afterwards.

We should always be striving to do better, to be more intersectional, to listen to more voices. But that doesn’t mean we can’t tell someone “good start” every once in a while.

Look at Emma Watson’s recent speech at the UN. On the one hand I am so happy to see someone who young women look up to call herself a feminist. I am unconditionally and unapologetically happy about this.

There are problems with the #HeForShe campaign for some. But I don’t think we should be focussing on this as a problem with Emma’s speech, or Emma’s feminism. For me they are the same problems that a body like the UN faces in coming up with an initiative that fits all parts of the UN and is therefore somewhat sanitized in what it can ask for and what it can accomplish. These are the same problems that so many other UN campaigns had as well.

And I do see the need for some sort of campaign aimed at men. If you think of the fight for gender equality as some sort of world wide fight I see a need for a campaign aimed at men who wouldn’t necessarily listen to the more radical aspects of feminism right off the bat. Lure them in with the least scary stuff and then mould them into intersectional male feminist allies.

Everything starts somewhere, even the most radical or revolutionary social change. And if you’re willing to listen and willing to try, you’re allowed to start somewhere small. Learning can follow.

I’m still learning. And I’m still willing to try because of the generosity and time that my mentors and my books have afforded me time and time again.

The skyrocketing amount of hate that women in the public eye receive on a daily basis – they should not be on the receiving end of similar from feminists and feminist organizations online as well. We should encourage them to do better, but also afford them the chance and the space in which to learn from all of us who have been on this journey longer.

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Why I’ll Fight the Haters Over Ms. Marvel

ImageI’m waiting to meet up with my friends at the end of the work day today to head to our Local Comic Store (LCS) to pick up (among all the other comics I need to pick up from the last two weeks), the first issue of the new Ms. Marvel written by G. Willow Wilson. 

Without even having read any of this book, I’m already fiercely protective of this character. Ms. Marvel is breaking barriers and it’s about time that Marvel did something like this.

You see, Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, Pakistani-American Muslim teenager superhero from New Jersey. She’s going to kick so much ass and take so many names, and be everything comics fans will love to read about.

Unfortunately a lot of old school comics fans seem to be all up in a knot about this new character – her costume, the original Ms. Marvel (nevermind that Carol Danvers is a Captain now). She doesn’t belong, she shouldn’t be allowed to have that name, her hair should be different, her costume should be different, her name should be different, she shouldn’t exist at all.


A quick glance through the comments on Marvel’s Instagram Post prompted me to write this post.


The people who make disparaging comments about Kamala are people I assume would talk to actual 16-year-old girls like this. Because that’s what they’re doing – they’re telling all of the teenage girls, the girls who don’t see enough of themselves in popular culture, let alone in comics, that they don’t belong. They’re telling that to my younger sisters, to my daughters, to the girls I volunteer with, and the girls I want to grow up to write their own stories, to be the heroes of their own lives.

So that, my friends, is why I will fight for this book. For this character. For this ideal in popular culture. That is why I will stand up for Ms. Marvel.

Of course, Kamala doesn’t really need my help. She’s a superhero after all.

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To the Dudebros of Hall H

This year was my third San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and it held with the tradition of being an amazing weekend filled with fun and friends and sunshine that once again left me with a feeling that I was almost there, almost at the point where I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

And one of these moments was a heated conversation between myself and two of my friends and the dudes sitting in front of us in Hall H on Saturday.

We spent over 13 hours either in line for Hall H (the biggest panel room at SDCC), or sitting in Hall H on Saturday this year – one of the big movie days in this room, and one of the hardest times to get into the room for the panels. I really enjoyed most of the panels this year – from The Hunger Games to X-Men Days of Future Past, to Godzilla and of course Marvel’s presentation on Captain America 2 and Thor 2 (Plus a huge Avengers 2 announcement!).

But maybe my favourite panel other than the intense feelings of the Marvel panel was a panel put on by Entertainment Weekly about Kick Ass Women in Film. (I later found out that this was the first female-moderated movie panel in Hall H in SDCC’s history).

Katee Sackoff, Maggie Q, Danai Gurira, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tatiana Maslany spoke eloquently and passionately about their experiences in the business, their favourite characters, the sexism they’ve experienced, problems with the representation of women in Hollywood films, and what stories they would like to see told. They were amazing, offering personal stories of the problems in the industry and solutions. (You can look at these links for more info on the panel itself)

Why I’m addressing this post to the Dudes of Hall H is for many reasons.

I found this panel to be revolutionary, and a real step forward for a cause I’m so passionate about. Because this panel was in the middle of the afternoon meant that many people who wouldn’t have sought out a panel like this had to listen to it anyway. The way Hall H works is that you line up the night before or early the morning of to sit in the room all day to see the panels you really want to see, at 5 or 6 in the evening. So this 6500 person room was filled with all sorts of fans of different properties, and not just women (or men) who already agreed with what the panelists were saying. People could of course choose not to pay attention, but they couldn’t leave if they still wanted to see panels later in the day – and they did.

The dudes in front of us spent some time during the panel sighing, making a few jokes or disparaging comments about the stories the panelists were telling, and we passively aggressively cheered over top of them, and make some comments to their backs after the panel was over (I admit, this was not the most mature course of action). Katee Sackoff and Danai Gurira had just told stories about the women who raised them in a way that made me really emotional and so my friends and I weren’t about to let these people cheapen the content of the panel. So one of the guys turns around and leans back, asking us to say what we were saying to his face. What followed was a really interesting conversation that went from him asking us if we though Shakespeare couldn’t write women characters, to the three of us solidifying our arguments in a way that I have never experienced before.

One of the points that the women on the panel made was that we have to speak up and speak out when we see something that is wrong or that we disagree with. And I find this really easy in my day to day life, when I am surrounded in both my physical environment and my online environment with people that respect me, and for the most part who agree with me when it comes to women’s representation in media. So to suddenly find myself thinking on my feet, defending my views, and trying to speak in a way that both clarified my argument and didn’t devolve into rage-quitting the conversation (you can’t “not read the comments” when you’re sitting behind the comments).

And I think we actually managed to turn a hostile beginning, where no one knew how the other party would react into a fairly productive conversation.

I like to think too, that in this room of 6500 people there were other women who spoke up and against the comments that were spoken by hostile nerd dudebros throughout the room. And that the 25 or so people within hearing learned something as well. No one that we didn’t know came to our defence (or his) during this conversation, but I’m sure they were listening.

The world of nerds is still filled with accusations of fake nerd girls, that we can’t be gamers, we can’t be Sci Fi fans, that our opinions don’t count and that no one would ever go see a Wonder Woman film.

But by having this panel in Hall H. In telling these stories. In having these conversations. I believe that things can change and that we are on the brink of something. 

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On My Memories of Teenage Phone Calls

I was shocked today to see a news story about a mom who gave her son a new phone for Christmas but did so along with an 18-point “contract” about how he’ll be allowed to use it.

Much of the commentary on the Internet and the radio ranged from “what a fabulous idea” to “that’s a little extreme” and I was perplexed. It makes complete and utter sense to me that parents should give their children rules about how they are allowed to use their technology.

I didn’t have a cell phone until grade 12, and even then it was really my mum’s cell phone. When I went out with friends she had me take it – mainly so that if I got stuck somewhere, needed a ride home, or my friends & I got into any sort of trouble, I could call her. About 5 of my friends had their own cell phones, but I was perfectly happy sharing one with family. And it wasn’t until November of my first year of university (across an ocean from my mum and my home town) that I purchased my own phone. I was always responsible for the bill myself.

These phones didn’t have any of the capabilities of the phones kids use today. I remember the flip phone with the antenna that my mum and I shared in my grade 12 year, purchased for a road trip we took the summer after I finished grade 9. Before making a call I would pull the antenna up, and type in the numbers on the two-tone greenish screen. I honestly don’t remember if it had the ability to text. It certainly didn’t take pictures.

Similarly I remember the first time I went “online” and vividly remember setting up our family’s first computer. I find it fascinating that my (future) children won’t have these memories for themselves. But I’m adamant that they will have similar memories of endless conversations and negotiations about setting up their first email address, about being allowed to use an instant messaging service. (I missed the ICQ phase, but successfully negotiated signing up for and intalling MSN).

The private communication devices that are so ubiquitous amongst teenagers and even children are something that I can’t quite wrap my head around yet. For me the experience of using the phone to talk to my friends as a teenager is wrapped up in sitting under the phone counter in the kitchen. The Christmas I got a GameBoy Colour and Pokémon Blue, I spent most of the morning in this position on the phone to my best friend who’d received the same gaming system (and Pokémon Red), while my family started the preparation for that evening’s dinner.

I remember when we got a longer phone cord and I could glean a bit more privacy by sitting around the corner from the kitchen on the steps to the computer room, my knees still easily seen by mum if she was at the stove in the kitchen, my side of the conversation even more easily overheard, my friendships quite open and known to my mother.

I still remember many of my elementary and high school friends’ home phone numbers. I remember dialing and having to ask to speak to them. Are they home? Can they come to the phone right now? This is all part of the memory and ritual of high school phone conversations for me. Or maybe its just nostalgia.

While the conversations and friendships of kids and teens haven’t changed much from when I grew up, the way they communicate within their friendships and relationships have changed quite a bit, and I’m sure they will change even more by the time I’m a parent myself. But I think it is something that we should think on a bit further. By no means is this a post saying children shouldn’t be allowed access to communications technology, the world is rapidly changing and denying them access to the skills they can gain is not the right way to deal with this change. But the age at which children should be allowed independence and privacy with their tech is something that should be negotiated within the family. The news story that prompted this is one that should not be a news story, it should be standard procedure.

Thoughts? When did you get your first cell phone? How did phone calls go in your household?

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TV Tuesday – Doctor Who

I have some exciting news about a new endeavour I’m taking on. A few weeks ago on Twitter I responded to a post inquiring about interest in a feminist blog about Doctor Who, intrigued I volunteered to be one of the writers for this new feminist space.

Today I have posted my first blog on the new Doctor Her and I invite you to check it out. There is an incredible depth and breadth of writers for this blog and I encourage you to check out what they have to say and to join in the conversation. You can find my first post, about the framing and writing of The Doctor’s companions in New Who over here. 

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Friday Reads: Mastiff

Book: Mastiff
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: 2011
Pages: 581
Category: fiction: Young Adult

I was really looking forward to the final book in Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy, but Mastiff did not end up being exactly what I was hoping for in wrapping up the series. Instead of taking place in familiar locations or familiar characters, we were introduced to a wide ranging hunt across the realm with only a few familiar faces.

Beka Cooper Book Three: Mastiff

The story itself was interesting and really enjoyable, and some of the new characters introduced were wonderful, I just felt I did not get enough closure on some of the plotlines that I was interested in from the previous books. It also felt like some of the characters we did know ended up acting in ways that were out of character for them.

While the first novel was set in the capital city of Corus, and the second set in Port Caynn, a city familiar to Pierce’s readers, the wide-ranging scope of this case set across the realm required a lot of exposition and narrative positioning for the reader to understand what was going on. I felt like this meant that many things I would like to have known were left out, such as the lives of characters who had been in previous books, and other plotlines were dropped completely from the story, even ones which had been built up for the previous two books.

Though it was a conclusion of sorts for the character of Beka Cooper, it tried to do too much at the last minute, and my favourites for this series will remain as the first two books, Terrier and Bloodhound.

Overall I thought this series was a great addition to Pierce’s Tortall novels, and a great look at the past of the realm that she created. The nods to the rest of the novels were well done and bits of information I was interested in learning, and I look forward to the other Tortall novels that Pierce has planned. You can check out her website here at

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Friday Reads: Matched and Crossed

Book Titles: Matched & Crossed
Author: Ally Condie
Published: 2010 & 2011
Pages:  366 & 367
Category: fiction: young adult

Matched (2010)

Ally Condie’s books, Matched and Crossed explore a dystopian world where citizen movement is tracked, culture is regulated, and your partners are decided for you. Citizens wear a uniform except on three special occasions where they can pick from a few pre-determined options. Your job is decided for you based on aptitude and even your dreams are monitored by the government.

Falling into a tradition of dystopian novels reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the main character, Cassia starts to realise that her world is not as perfect as it appears when the government makes a mistake with her match and she briefly sees two faces on her match screen instead of just one.

The world Ally Condie has created is a really interesting one, while it is similar to many other fictional dystopias popularized by novels like The Hunger Games, The Giver, and many more, the element I found most interesting and unique is the curtailing of culture. When The Society was created, a panel of citizens chose 100 films, 100 poems, 100 paintings to represent the culture of the past. New art is prohibited and citizens do not learn how to write or create.

The first novel, Matched explores the awakening of understanding of the flaws of the world, and has our protagonist realizing that this way of living is not the way that she wants to be. By the end of the novel, she has experienced horror and heartbreak at the hands of the ‘officials’ and decides to attempt to find what has been taken from her.

Crossed (2011)

Crossed finds Cassia exiled to the outer provinces trying to find a way to live outside of the government structure, and looking for evidence and artifacts of the past.

I thought these books were good overall, though at first they seemed like just another exploration of the same dystopian genre, Condie did manage to find unique elements of authoritarian government and society to explore. I particularly liked the inclusion of technology and the curtailing of culture as hegemonic tools towards the suppression of society. I also enjoyed the positioning of Museum attendants and historians being the driving force of resistance as well as the importance poetry to the main characters, it was very well done.

Condie has a third novel in the works for this series, and it looks to explore another element of society in terms of an organized resistance movement. These books did not captivate me as much as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy or Lois Lowry’s The Giver, but they were well written and interesting to read and I will be checking it out when it is released some time in 2013.

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Why I Never Know What To Say To Authors

Last night was the last stop on John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars book tourand also the first stop in Canada! It was great to have both John and his brother Hank in Vancouver, as the Green brothers said,  it was like the internet, but in real life!

John Green reads from The Fault in Our Stars

John read from TFIOS (as I tried not to cry), Hank sang some of his songs, there were jokes, questions and answers, and it was an excellent evening. I particularly enjoyed the moments when John just paused, looked out at the audience and tried to explain to any non-nerdfighters in the audience what was going on. (Although there were a couple points when he said “I’m sorry, if you don’t get that one I can’t explain, it involves about ten internet jokes.”)

I was surprised at how few people I recognized from other Vancouver nerd events. Much of my nerd community is located closer to Seattle, and there weren’t many Nerdfighters I recognized from Can’t Stop The Serenity or Wizard Rock shows, but then I guess I’m getting older than the target teen market for these books, and maybe this community. It doesn’t devalue the experience for me at all, just gave me a bit of pause. Perhaps mostly because many of my friends who would have attended did not get tickets in time.

John Green and Hank Green

It did get me thinking about how I never know what question to ask or what comment to make in the 15 second window of the signing line at these events. There are authors that I would like to say so much to, but that I don’t know how to describe what I want them to know. 

I’ve often thought that in my lifetime I would like to be able to say two words to JK Rowling: “Thank You”. It’s the only words I can think of but they mean so much more than what they seem.I would thank her for my friends, for my childhood, for the adventures of my late teens and early twenties.

The Sold-Out Theatre in Vancouver

I would like to say similar things to John Green, to Tamora Pierce, and many more authors from throughout my life. But the three times I have met John Green, and the two times I have met Tamora Pierce, I haven’t been able to say much. There are so many things, but not a single thing I can think to say.

What I would really like to do is to crystallize the feelings inside my heart that are connected to their books, and somehow just hand them a ball of my emotions. And have them know exactly what I mean to say and why I want to say it. 

There are books that are so much a part of who I am, where I’m from and where I’m going that I wish I could accurately impart upon their authors what

The Signing Line

they have done for me. I have had the luxury of spending so much time with their books, both reading them and thinking about them, letting them impact my life, but that same luxury does not extend to talking with many of these authors to the extent that I would have to in order to get across what I would like to.

Do you have any authors that you would like to talk to? What would you say, or what have you said? Was it enough?

– – –

Other Places I’m online this week: Check out the Bookslingers Podcast that I was a guest contributor for this week and while you’re there, take some time to look around their website, it’s a great resource for all of your book-related needs! Thanks Miss Corene and Miss Maiar for inviting me on the Podcast!

Tour Van for the TFIOS Tour

ps. Check out the awesome tour van that was provided by Penguin for the tour! How awesome is this? And way more fancy than the tour for John Green’s previous book, Paper Towns.




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Friday Reads: The Name of The Star

Title: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Published: 2011
Pages: 372
Category: Fiction: Young Adult

The Name of the Star is a bit of a departure for Maureen Johnson. While Maureen consistently writes about awesome, independent, intelligent teens, they usually don’t have to solve a murder. And there usually aren’t paranormal elements involved.

The Name of The Star

I really liked The Name of the Star. Rory is an intriguing protagonist, and maybe I’m a little biased, but I loved that she was a North American going to school in London. This is definitely my kind of plotline!

The novel could be described as a modern day telling of the Jack the Ripper story, but there is more than meets the eye and it ends up working really well. I’m excited to read the next two books in the trilogy, as I continue to really enjoy Maureen Johnson’s work.

This novel fits in with the increasing numbers of paranormal YA fiction that is being produced, but Maureen Johnson does a brilliant job with it and it does not seem overdone or tired. Instead we get a bright and fresh take on paranormal elements in a YA fiction novel that is well executed and intriguing. I really enjoyed The Name of the Star and would recommend it!

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The Fault in Our Stars [no spoilers]

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Published: 2012
Pages: 313
Category: fiction: young adult

When I finished John Green’s first novel, Looking For Alaska, I vividly remember  getting out of bed and writing at my desk for pages and pages. There was so much to think about, to reflect on, and I had to get it al on paper before falling asleep at 3am muddied my thoughts. My reaction to finished The Fault in Our Stars was similar, although I am not blogging at 3 in the morning. I’ve been thinking about the book since I finished it last night after dinner. Sitting by the fire in my apartment alone just thinking. Falling asleep thinking. Waking up thinking.

Like Looking for Alaska, I won’t say much here about the plot. The book was released on Tuesday and I want everyone I recommend TFiOS to to experience in their own way and their own time. But I needed to write this.

The novel is about teenagers with Cancer. As Hazel, the protagonist often remarks, stories about kids with Cancer usually follow the same tropes. John Green avoids this, he’s written a novel about teenagers with Cancer that is funny at the same time it is heartbreaking, he’s written characters that are so real. Teenagers that remind me of my friends who had Cancer in High School. Parents that remind me of their parents.

I won’t tell their stories here, except to remark that what this book gave to me was some sort of marginal insight into what they must have been going through. Answering some of the questions I didn’t know how to ask when I was in Grade 10. Grade 11. Or Grade 12.

Cancer is such a ubiquitous disease. We all know people who have fought it, who have been taken by it. Who have dealt with a loss. My mother lost her husband. Her friend lost a wife and their children lost their mother. Another friend lost her mom. There were surgeries and chemo for three of my friends from school. A family friend who we spent Christmases with for years and years fought it in University. And this year a work friend spent most of her time at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver with her one year old son.

John has spent much time talking about how this book is a work of fiction, not to see any one person in the pages. He notes in a page before the book begins that made up stories matter, and that this is one. In great books we can see so many people. But in this case many of John’s readers need this reminder.

It’s funny, this thing we have that is the Internet. I have met John Green twice, once in Chicago in August 2008, and once in Seattle in November 2008. But when I read John’s book, especially TFiOS, I am reading books written by a friend. You see, I’ve been watching John’s videos on Youtube since 2007.

Through this intangible thing of the Internet, a large part of John’s readership are also his friends. And when you talk to someone several times a week over a period of years, your experience of their books is necessarily different than your experience of any other book written by any other author. So yes, our community (The Nerdfighters) might need a little reminder, not to see, or assume they see people they know were/are important to John, and to us, in the characters of his books.

I would often hesitate to call myself an writer, but in what I have written, I have taken inspiration from the people around me, so of course they would see bits and pieces of my life in what I write. This understanding helps me to understand John’s position in all this.

The Fault in Our Stars is a work of fiction, but the beauty and realness John Green has imbued in his characters necessarily comes from his experiences. And since he has allowed us to become a part of his life through his Youtube videos as well as his novels, we see in his writing what friends would see in the writing of any author. Reflections of their lives, their conversations, their experiences.

At the same time I want to recommend this book to everyone I know, I am nervous about recommending it to certain people. I don’t want to intrude, but I think this book is special in its realness, and I think they should read it. So if you are reading this, you should pick up a copy of The Fault in Our Stars. It is a beautiful book.




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