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  • pink summer

    Jessica Felicity Kasiama writes to "rediscover its place in time through an origin story of womanhood found in the subconscious." The Red Summer, a season of blood and segregation, refers to the race riots that took place during the summer and early autumn in the United States in the year 1919. Haunted by our history, we live now in a pink summer: mending, breaking, remembering and forgetting. pink summer is a prose piece, trying to rediscover its place in time through an origin story of womanhood found in the subconscious. pink summer i. Girl is king: double edged sword with flesh pillow soft. She fixes her eyes on the sun as it bobs along the sky, floating between night and day. Girl moves serpentine, slithering into the dreamscape with a mouthful of barbed wire, possessed by a soft hunger. She focuses on the kill and crawls across its subconscious, oscillating from life to the fantasy woven in sleep. Girl slips away from her own body as many do. “I’ll be back soon, I promise.” Bewildered by the warmth of a newly born night, she becomes an instrument of the supernatural. The moon, suspended in an argument with gravity, examines the metamorphosis and smiles. She feels her youth and is comforted by a supercut of taste and noise: liquor slipping down the throat, a boy’s arm comfortably slung around her shoulders, their bodies creating a cocoon of sorts. Disembodied now, she remembers the hum of a white box fan that sat beneath the shut window. The room was hot, conversation buzzed: desire lived here and synced to her escaping pulse. Young people jammed into a forbidden basement, trading secrets over poison stolen from kitchen cupboards and medicine cabinets. Hovering over this memory, woman sparkles for a thin moment and breaks ties to it all. “I’ll be back soon, I promise. History will understand that I am not of this dimension.” ii. Girl is mutant: boiling beneath her own skin, an extension of a sharp nothingness. The colours peel away from themselves (first blue and then red, orange, yellow) until there is a grey wall. Four of them, enclosing around her. Her tender, whole body sighs as the vertigo slips away, giving her the opportunity to reclaim control and begin her investigation. She presses herself against the cool wall, searching for any indication of sound or action. The room she occupies is empty, save for a hairbrush and a lantern chandelier dangling from the ceiling. “What am I meant to see here?” The wall rumbles, as if troubled by an upset stomach. Something responds in many different voices, at first sounding motherly and then spiteful: “From afar, you were so beautiful, but I’m surprised to see that you are not.” “What am I meant to see here?” This time with a clenched jaw as the hairs on her neck stand fiercely tall. “I won’t be here long, I promise.” The voice squeals, hissing like her mother’s tea kettle on the desolate mornings that introduce the work day. “Greedy god-players are free to pass but cannot be saved from what they know. It is the purest form of illusion and hypnosis, when the door reveals what the ego will not show." iii. Girl is strangled/stirring: with a destroyed throat, surrendering to words that penetrate the exterior. Girl is called Sophia. The taste of metal on her tongue intensifies, consuming her in pain. She understands that she is not special although able to slip in and out of the projections of the subconscious minds that surround her. She peers through the eyes of the townies in her quiet slice of rural New England and holds onto their memories, secrets and wishes. It is a strange talent that appears inconsistently, but whenever she feels her body evaporating into the stars, she prepares for worlds to reveal themselves. It soothes her to recognize the fire in strangers. Rising from a bed of tall grass based in the stomach of a marigold field, she escapes her reflections. The yellow-orange stretch of land reminds her of the Sun’s eyes, carved into the Earth’s skin. The sticky young girl holds onto herself, comforted by the cotton ivory dress that hugs her body. She has entered the dream. There is a woman in the distance, shiny and new, carrying a small child on her back. She sees Sophia and raises her hand, waving carefully. There is something unnatural and almost wolverine about her physiognomy: with the palest skin and lips to match, she has icy blue eyes that approach Sophia with interrogation and delicate piano-player hands. The wolf-like woman puts down the child and encourages her to sit on the grass before her, facing the far thicket that surrounds the field. Sophia takes inventory of the child now: thinly-built with a crown of dark curls that fall to the ground behind her, acorn eyes and brown skin to match. She turns slowly, locking eyes with Sophia and gasps at their resemblance. Sophia brings a finger to her lips, telling the child to hush. The wolf woman begins to braid the child’s hair, carefully, as if it were a dance. Occasionally, her fingers crack with the urgency of an alarm clock, keeping Sophia on edge. The young one blinks away tears as the woman pulls back her shoulders, asking her to sit still, oscillating between kisses on the cheek and ear as a way to comfort the anxious child. It is peculiar but never out of place to see such extraordinary things in the dream realm: the woman experiences age rapidly, her own hair spilling into piles of grey on the grass beneath them. Age encloses around her and she becomes small, matching the child. Her fingers become frail but she continues to braid and finger brush with admirable athleticism, breathing cautiously now as if survival were a dance of its own too. The air gives birth to the sound of distant laughter, all while the sky hums with the vibrations of heat and together, they scream: red. iv. Woman is red: You see red, eating at your flesh and creeping beneath the bed. (The most violent shade of Father’s least favourite colour, gnawing at you). Red: You see red, staring into the mirror/staring into face of a girl disgusted. (I think of warped femininity: thin at the waist, light and penetrated). (I think of what I can and cannot not be) The way my voice tears beside Man’s inquisition. Red: You see red, falling out of love and you taste the glass buried beneath promise. With a female heart, you see red: self mythologizing/dissociating/unbecoming. Pandora. Eve. Jezebel. Artemis. Mary. Dworkin. Red: You see red and She follows you through the marigold field, flowers dying with each stroke of the chase. O Sophia’s eyes surrender, leaving her completely alone in the fantasy. History will understand that I am not of this dimension. Wings brush against the cheeks of bodies dangling. She slips into delirium. Her mind tries to race her body but it’s a loss as her arms steal the child from the hunched over woman, folding uncomfortably into her own age. The old woman stares up at the Girl, tears filling her eyes as she silently begs her to undo everything. The taste of metal is heavy on Sophia’s tongue now, almost slicing through the tissue. Red: you smell red and beneath your tongue, a pink and waning summer.

  • The Rise of the Memoir

    Madi Wong asks, "What’s so much more intriguing about memoirs than fiction books?" The idea of someone sharing a significant part of their life, or multiple moments that shaped who they are, has risen in popularity in literature through the memoir. “Memoirs tend to take a closer look at a life in relation to a specific moment, phase or event. The more focused the memoir, the more immediate it feels, to me at least,” says Dr. Kamal Al-Solaylee, a journalism professor at Ryerson University. Al-Solaylee is the author of his own memoir Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes. Intolerable is a memoir on Al-Solaylee’s family’s journey navigating Middle Eastern politics as they moved from Aden to Beirut to Cairo, and Al-Solaylee’s own journey as a gay man in an intolerant country. It contrasts his experience in Canada as a journalist and academic with the experiences of his family back home in Yemen, and it addresses how he handled the cultural differences. Some popular memoirs that have been adored worldwide include Piper Kerman’s Orange Is The New Black, Elie Wiesel’s Night and Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Another memoir that has caught the attention of the Canadian public is Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. Koul is currently a culture writer for BuzzFeed and is a Ryerson journalism alumni. Her memoir is filled with a collection of hilariously fierce essays that tell her story of growing up with Indian immigrant parents in Canada. Koul also addresses her experiences with love, self-image and culture. Koul’s book begins with her describing her experience growing up as a woman of colour with the unfair stereotypes and unrealistic images that negatively affected her body image. She writes about how she dressed in boyish clothes out of insecurity, about gaining weight at a young age and when she started to wish she dressed more femininely. Koul’s description of being cut out of a skirt that got caught on a zipper at a store she once worked at is so potent with its imagery that every reader will feel like it had happened to them. Although it was utterly embarrassing, she tells the tale so comically that it can’t help but remind you that insecurities about appearance are universal. “Clothes are ephemeral,” she writes. “They fall apart in the wash, you lose them at a friend’s house, they rip and crumble and go out of style. You’ll forget about them and buy new ones and then start the cycle again. But your insecurities, the ones that make you go hunting for something to make you feel better, to love yourself more, to give you a renewed sense of self or greater spirit — don’t you even worry. Those will last you a lifetime.” Koul also doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics and turns her personal experiences into teachable lessons. In her book, Koul also discusses the deactivation of her Twitter account due to harsh criticism and threats from both journalists and regular people on social media — mainly men. Koul writes about wanting to see more diversity in the media, specifically in books and films. In her memoir she says, “I remember being a little girl and wishing I read books or magazine articles or saw movies about people who even remotely looked like me… It changes you, when you see someone similar to you, doing the thing that you might want to do yourself. That kind of writing — writing by people who aren’t in the majority — it’s sheer visibility on your bookshelf or your television or your internet, and is sometimes received similarly to my call for more of that work. It’s responded to with racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia. We are deeply afraid of making marginalized voices stronger, because we think it makes privileged ones that much weaker.” Koul takes on rape culture and the normalization of sexual assault in television. In her book she tells us that men always watch women in an attempt to get closer to them, which leads back to her recurring question: why do we tell women to be more careful instead of teaching men to treat women properly? Her story about getting roofied for the first time at university leads into her thoughts on party culture. Koul’s explanation of the false connection between party culture and rape culture references Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer who raped a woman behind a dumpster. To illustrate her point that rape isn’t a lapse in judgement as a result of partying, Koul writes, “The mistake we make is in thinking rape isn’t premeditated, that it happens by accident somehow.” At the end of the chapter Koul says, “Rape culture isn’t a natural occurrence; it thrives thanks to the dedicated attention given to women in order to take away their security.” For every serious and heart-breaking topic Koul addresses, she also manages to keep the reader laughing and thinking “Me too!” the whole way through. Koul brings her experiences to life so vividly that it’s almost too easy for me to relate to them. One of those life experiences was Koul’s journey with puberty where she reminisces about going through those awkward stages. She describes that period of her life as “fast and ugly” in comparison to the other girls around her. Koul’s words about growing pubic hair and debating whether she should stay true to or rebel against the “hair norms” in society were so painfully honest and real that it was impossible not to laugh. It’s important to note that authors share their stories for many reasons, including education and self-therapy. What’s so much more intriguing about memoirs than fiction books? They drive individuals to learn about the truth. Al-Solaylee says he believes it has something to do with the evolution of the concept of privacy. “I think we’re at a time where personal stories are no longer as personal as they used to be,” says Al-Solaylee. “We understand privacy and sharing in quite different terms from how readers and writers from two or three generations ago understood them. Social media and reality TV upended the private and the public. And to some extent, voyeurism is not the social taboo it was once.” Koul’s stories are just some examples of how a memoir can produce eye-opening, educational and even relatable insight. They can make you feel close to the author, help a person discover something new about the world and inspire individuals; that is the inspiration behind these stories.

  • Living with PCOS and Accepting It

    Rhea Singh writes about being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and how she found her own beauty. ‘Abnormality’ is a word I am intimately familiar with. For most of my life, I saw abnormality in myself — with my irregular period cycle, skin discolorations and excessive hair growth. With these symptoms all so heavily entrenched in my daily routine, my abnormality was something I was forced to face every day when I looked in the mirror. I thought things took a turn for the worse when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). According to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that impacts approximately six to 10 per cent of women in Canada. Many of those who are affected are unaware of the condition despite it leading to miscarriages, diabetes, constant weight fluctuations, unwanted facial hair and patches of dark skin. Abnormalities, like an increase of body and facial hair — which I became more aware of over time — were completely out of my control; they reinforced my feelings of being damaged. But having PCOS is like a game of chance. You either have it, or you’re lucky enough not to. I felt as though life had played a practical joke on me and I was constantly comparing myself to my untouched friends, making me feel as though I wasn’t truly a woman at all. As I would stare at my reflection in the mirror, all I could think about were the changes I needed to make in order to fit my idea of beauty. Soon enough, my world became a revolving door of doctors' appointments, waxing sessions and thoughts of laser hair removal. As a second-generation Indian-Canadian, I often look at the social stigmas that are placed upon young Indian women and how a disorder like PCOS can make it difficult to conform to the norms. Gabrielle Lowe, a first-year performance dance student at Ryerson University was also diagnosed with PCOS. When discussing her experience, she told me about the pressures she felt society placed on her. “In [our] society, girls are told to be hairless all the time, and that makes me feel less confident if I compare myself to others,” says Lowe. “I was pressured into removing my hair because I got made fun of for it, and I felt because I was being called out for it, I had to remove it.” Lowe’s experience reminded me that self-acceptance leads to happiness. To achieve happiness, I needed to stop believing that PCOS controlled my life. Dr. Emily Bennett, my naturopath, told me that talking about my syndrome would eventually help me become more comfortable with myself, and it did. It helped me understand that living with PCOS didn’t need to stop me from feeling beautiful — I could find my own beauty. I found that moving from the United Arab Emirates to Toronto, specifically to Ryerson University, helped me cope with my condition. Ryerson’s diverse culture, which strives for inclusivity, has played an important role in changing my mindset that PCOS controlled my life. Events like the Body Positive Fashion Show held during orientation this year have helped to foster a positive environment for students struggling with body image. These events encourage people like myself to understand the different types of beauty in everyone. Parts of myself that I had once thought to be abnormal became less of a disorder and more of a learning experience. I slowly learned that comparing myself to women who didn’t suffer from PCOS was an additional symptom I had created for myself, and I consequently created an unhealthy perception of my self-image. I also realized that doctors, schools and communities should be more responsive and sensitive to PCOS and those who have it; there should be more groups and organizations to provide this aid. For young women at Ryerson, counselling at Ryerson’s Medical Centre is available as a resource. My weight group sessions hosted by Ryerson Student Health and Wellness provide both comprehensive care and assistance when directing women to improve physical and mental health. PCOS should not be a disorder that is simply ignored, nor should it be something that defines women who have it.

  • Sound and Soul

    Jessica Felicity Kasiama shares a personal essay about the power of musical storytelling. “If you ask me why representation is important, I will tell you that on days I don’t feel pretty, I hear the sweet voice of Missy [Elliot] singing to me: pop that pop that jiggle that fat / don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet...I will tell you that right now there are a million Black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them.” These are the words of Ashlee Haze, a poet and spoken word artist based in Atlanta, GA. The excerpt is pulled from her 2015 poem “For Coloured Girls (The Missy Elliot Poem)” which was sampled on “By Ourselves,” the opening track on Freetown Sound. This is an album by Blood Orange, which is Devonté Hynes’ stage name. It’s a letter of appreciation and a spirited nod to Missy Elliott for empowering the poet through her music and her feminist message. Hynes addresses a similar message of empowerment. Freetown Sound is both an investigation of a personal history and an investigation of roots. “[It’s an] album [for] everyone told they’re not Black enough, too Black, too queer, not queer the right way,” wrote Hynes in an Instagram post in 2016. As I listen to Hynes’ soft and triumphant voice, I understand something that’s impossible to confront most days. When faced with oppressive forces, expression tends to become insincere, performative and fearful. It becomes difficult to articulate the nuances of one’s identity, and difficult to claim oneself when considered an invalid as a whole. Postcolonial art forms are unapologetic, obscure and are remedies that bring me to the crux of myself and challenge those who misrepresent and silence my narrative. “I STILL SEE SANDRA’S SMILE.” “Sandra’s Smile” on Freetown Sound by Blood Orange. I live in my emotions. They are the raw and disgusting states of consciousnesses that slice through my body as a response to being alive. They often manifest in my own space, unheard and unseen. When I choose to make my emotions visible, they arrive in mutilated bodies as a way of catering to my surroundings. Feeling is a challenging pursuit: it is vulnerable and especially tiring when you are seen as a void. Words get caught in my throat when trying to explain how it feels to exist in the world as a young Black woman and to be seen as only this. My soul sinks when articulating how it feels to be a person. I know that I am limited, I fear that I am not allowed to feel everything. Responding to the death of Sandra Bland, feminist author Roxane Gay wrote in The New York Times, “Because Sandra Bland was driving while Black, because she was not subservient in the manner this trooper preferred, a routine traffic stop became a death sentence.” Despite her mistreatment, Bland wasn’t allowed to protest. Her emotions were censored. This is a chilling example of fearing to express one’s emotions, but it holds a heavy truth: there are limitations placed upon you and those limitations are informed by your identity. “Closed our eyes for a while / but I still see Sandra’s smile.” “Sandra’s Smile,” a song from Hynes’ Freetown Sound, hits every note of my discomfort as I feel myself becoming overwrought and troubled remembering Bland’s story. Everything in me unravels as I stare at a photo of her prior to the incident, glowing and bright. I can feel a sea of emotions bubbling beneath my skin, but I hold tight to what I know about the ways of the world and slip back into what is expected of me. “LET ME WALK TO THE TOP OF THE BIG NIGHT SKY.” “First love/late spring” on Bury Me At Makeout Creek by Mitski. Oppression has always been the disease: expression is the treatment that soothes me and coaxes my truths out. In a 2016 interview with The Line of Best Fit, an independent music website, musician Mitski Miyawaki explained: “I write personal stories about relationships, and living in this world and being a human being…but I happen to live in a world which views me as an Asian American. So my experiences are tainted by that, even if I’m not conscious of it. Someone said ‘the personal is political,’ where it seems like me just being honest about my experiences as a human being and as a person translates as being political about being an Asian American person. I’m not in this to be political or a social activist, it just happens that my being honest is a very political thing.” I remember when I lay on my bedroom floor, arms stretched out and decorated in pools of fading light from the window. I was unlearning the lessons that taught me I had to be silent. I was falling in love with myself and unlearning old ways of living inwardly. I watched the sun argue with time as it traded places with the night, against a cloudy pink backdrop. For a moment, everything was warm and I belonged to it: the present — the freedom of a summer’s night. I was tangled in music playing from a shattered iPod. I lay still as Miyawaki sang,“Wild women don't get the blues / but I find that lately I’ve been crying like a tall child.” I recognized myself in the gentle breeze of her song, an articulation of my depression. Miyawaki is a storyteller. She creates her own worlds through her work and affirms the worlds of others. When discussing editing with The Line of Best Fit, she observed that her lyrics “are unedited, or raw feelings,” and focuses more on composition and structure. Miyawaki says she shares herself with her listeners, knowing how she may be perceived. The lyrics pour from the Japanese American, singer-songwriter in a dreamy rock style. Emotions are noisy, sharp and unprepared. Miyawaki is a person who feels sensations and brings them to life. She’s a woman, crawling past patriarchal surveillance, so she may be herself. Like the night spent on my bedroom floor, as the song began to slip away, I curled into a ball and realized the power in my vulnerability and empathy as a listener. Years spent with my eyes hypnotized by glossy magazine pages that tried to tell me how I should be were years wasted. I do not regret my growth, but as I stared at the moon bobbing in the sky, I understood that my feelings were genuine. As a writer, I understood that they were meant to be received in their truest forms. “BUT IN OUR DARKEST HOURS, I STUMBLED ON A SECRET POWER.” “Writer in the dark” on Melodrama by Lorde. Ella Yelich-O’Connor creates art that stands tall. Yelich-O’Connor, more commonly referred to as Lorde, recently released her sophomore album Melodrama. The album is a self-examination and a documentation of the colours and conflicts of her youth. As she sings in “The Louvre,” with a “megaphone to [her] chest,” Lorde authors an intimate and supernatural peek into her beating heart. I am electrified by her lyrics and her kaleidoscopic-like storytelling. I feel myself at the party in Sober, with “liquor wet lime” caught between my teeth. I know her intensity all too well, the terror in her tone as she sings her way through Writer in the Dark and justifies the heat we feel in passion that is too often misunderstood as disorder. Lorde finds poetry in being young and destroyed, when you’re trying to collect the pieces of yourself. Female emotion is empowering. It isn’t frivolous or an object to delegitimize. Melodrama speaks to an audience of individuals. Lorde speaks to the liabilities; the outliers who bury their emotions. I am possessed by my feelings. They are alive and important. I have been wilting and blooming on Earth for 20 years beneath the sickening and syrupy heat of suppression. When music comes forward and floods me with solidarity, it becomes easy to see that we are the authors of our own stories. I am reminded of how much it hurts to jam my spirit into a small container, hidden away from everything out of shame and fear. Everything stands still and I become tender and open, absorbing the songs that sink beneath my bones and invite my soul to claim its place. Hear yourself feel in the songs that speak to you and never forget to just be you.

  • On The Basis of Sex: Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my Wonder Woman

    Madelyn Grace writes about the timeliness of the biopic On the Basis of Sex. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg The biopic On the Basis of Sex, set for release in 2018, follows the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a pivotal case in which she challenged the entire system of legal discrimination — on the basis of sex. The film’s cast includes Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, Armie Hammer as Ginsburg’s husband, Justin Theroux as Mel Wolf and Kathy Bates as Dorothy Kenyon. Mimi Leder, American director and producer known for the movie Pay It Forward and the TV show Shameless, is directing from a script written by Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman. Leder explains the necessity of films that speak to the heart of humanity in such tumultuous times as reminders of “what it means to lead with love and compassion as the way forward.” On the Basis of Sex is currently in production in Montreal and is set to premiere in 2018, coinciding with Ginsburg’s 25th year on the Supreme Court. The film follows a 1972 tax deduction case known as Moritz v. Commissioner. The case challenges the rejection of a dependent-care deduction granted to women, divorced men and widowers. The deduction is a credit on the federal income tax return for anyone who pays someone to care for their child, spouse or other dependant. Bachelor Charles Moritz, who was caring for his sick mother, wasn’t granted the deduction. This mundane case evolved into a gender discrimination trial. It made its way up to the Tenth Circuit, a tiny court of appeals in the U.S. with the power to reverse jurisdiction in the district courts of Colorado and Kansas, and was later tried unsuccessfully by the government to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The petition included a list of hundreds of additional statutes that discriminated on the basis of sex, which Ginsburg has continued to work through ever since. When Ginsburg took the tax deduction case in 1972 she had no idea it would shape the rest of her life. She didn’t go into it thinking she was going to court to fight for women’s rights and, if asked at the time, it’s doubtful she would have called herself a feminist. In fact, in On The Basis of Sex, it’s her 15-year-old daughter who is the feminist in the family — she skips school to hear Gloria Steinem speak. But that case led Ginsburg down a path she continued to pursue throughout her illustrious career. She went on to co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and became their general counsel. By 1974, the Women’s Rights Project and related ACLU projects participated in over 300 gender discrimination cases. By 1976, Ginsburg had won five of the six gender discrimination cases she had brought to the Supreme Court. She was clever in her pursuit of gender equality, sometimes using male plaintiffs to show that gender discrimination is damaging to both men and women. Her body of work prevented lawmakers from treating men and women differently under the law. In 2009, from her seat on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was instrumental in getting the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed: a law born from the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. case that allows workers to file equal-pay lawsuits based on the beginning of the discriminatory wage decision (the time of the original decision was to pay one employee less than another), instead of on the most recent paycheque. Presenting the wage gap as non-prejudicial is dangerous because it presents the problem as “solved,” when the wage gap is still attributed to gender-based discrepancies and discrimination. The wage gap extends past gender discrimination: in the United States, Black and Hispanic women earn less per hour than white men and women, at 65 per cent and 58 per cent of the median white man’s hourly earning, respectively. That leaves them earning 17 per cent and 24 per cent less than white women. Even Black and Hispanic men are still earning less than both white men and women — 27 per cent and 31 per cent less than white men, and nine per cent and 13 per cent less than white women. On the Basis of Sex will educate and remind the next generation of what had to be so rigorously fought for and that we, as a society, must all continue to fight for the complete, conceptual and substantive equality that everyone deserves. Even in a time where things might be considered “much better,” it is important to realize that this is an ongoing project. The burden still weighs heavily on women of colour; while white women are earning more, women of colour are still left to fight their own battles. Ginsburg may have made it easier for some women, but until all women can say gender discrimination isn’t a daily battle, the work isn’t over. Ginsburg brought her first gender discrimination case to the Supreme Court in the early 1970s. That was over 40 years ago and it is a discussion we are still having, and a battle we are still waging. The timeliness of this film is worth noting, with sexual harassment in Hollywood becoming a major topic in the news, and women's rights at the forefront of national discussion. It is important that this pioneer of women’s rights be applauded, and that we recognize there is still so much work to do. Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my Wonder Woman: 1. She was one of nine females out of 500 people in her Harvard class for law school in 1956. 2. She was the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony in 2013. 3. She is altogether too much: “The traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews…but to be woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot – that combination was a bit too much.”

  • Make no mistake. The niqab ban is not just Quebec’s problem. It’s Canada’s problem.

    Yusra Javed talked to former politician Farheen Khan, National Post columnist Barbara Kay, student Aima Warriach and former Ontario Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, to report on why the niqab ban is not only Quebec's problem, but Canada's problem. A simple piece of rectangular cloth — only slightly bigger than a handkerchief — has become the scapegoat for the Quebec government to conceive one of the biggest wars on religion in Canada since the banning of turbans on soccer fields (because wearing a turban on your head while kicking a ball with your feet is a “safety hazard”). Quite frankly, that’s how preposterous Bill 62 really sounds. The bill was passed in mid- October by the Liberal Majority National Assembly of Quebec to prohibit people who cover their faces from providing or receiving public services. Really, this is just a way of avoiding saying it “prohibits Muslim niqab-wearing women from giving or receiving any public services.” France had the courtesy of calling it a niqab ban. Anyone who calls it anything but a niqab ban is kidding themselves. Because what other Canadians would cover their faces while going to the hospital, riding a bus, dropping their child off at daycare or renewing their driver's licence? The fact that the previous title of the bill described it as “an act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality” is a dead giveaway to the province’s direct attack against the local niqabi. But former politician Farheen Khan, who ran for MP of Mississauga Centre in the 2015 federal election, emphasizes that the issues with Bill 62 are not just associated with Quebec. They are part of a rising national issue of Islamophobia which must be addressed. “We’ve seen this bill under different names…over the last ten years or so,” Khan says. “We saw...niqab banning during citizenship ceremonies introduced by our own Stephen Harper in 2015. So it's not a complete shock.” Khan has written and spoken out to the media about the impact of Islamophobia on the lives of women in Canada post-9/11. “There is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment in [Quebec],” says Khan. “That’s why we saw the shooting in Quebec happen, the Mosque [shooting]. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen elsewhere in Canada. It’s not to say that Islamophobia doesn’t exist or that there is no anti-Muslim sentiment [elsewhere].” The best case scenario for the Quebec government is for Bill 62 to spread across the whole country and “assimilate” all Canadians. And that’s exactly what supporters of the niqab ban like Barbara Kay, a National Post columnist, hope to achieve. After a series of aggressive tweets celebrating the passing of Bill 62, she caught the attention of many media outlets for her beliefs that face coverings are a form of oppression. In a recent interview, Kay asserted her hope that Quebec’s law might lead to the Supreme Court finding what she called “a social right, the right for free men and women to meet and greet each other in the public forum with open faces.” This would overrule Muslim women’s right to wear religious face coverings. “Muslim women who have been oppressed in Islamic countries and have come here precisely because they wish to get away from this kind of gender inequality, I would say this is a highly triggering thing for them,” says Kay. Many Québécois share the same values as Kay. An Angus Reid poll conducted in September found that 87 per cent of the province either strongly or moderately supported the legislation. “When you [are] giving a certain freedom to people who...are not using it to enhance their integration into society, but to withdraw from society...when critical masses start doing that, it becomes an issue of social cohesion,” says Kay. It’s important to note that Quebec has its own bill of rights known as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which is separate from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The two charters are largely analogous, but Quebec’s charter includes a line that states: "In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Quebec.” It adds: "In this respect, the scope of the freedoms and rights, and limits to their exercise, may be fixed by law." That, combined with their history of secularism, makes Quebec laws almost completely untouched by religious influence. In France, the right to ban niqabs was even upheld by the European Court of Human Rights after it was challenged by an unnamed woman, a French citizen and practicing Muslim. Belgium experienced a similar challenge for its ban on burqas and other full-face Islamic veils. In both cases, the court decided that banning the religious face covers was not discriminatory, and that cooperation among the whole state was more important than the rights to face cover in the public sector. However, Aima Warriach, a first-year political science student at Ryerson, believes these anti-niqab beliefs are emphasized by people who are ignorant to Islam. “[Kay’s position] clearly indicates she hasn’t met a Muslim woman observing niqab out of her own volition,” Warriach wrote in a Facebook message. “Canada praises itself for her multiculturalism yet forgoes the rights of her fellow Canadians for cheap votes.” Warriach, who wears the niqab, has been very vocal against Bill 62. Speaking out on her YouTube Channel Niqabae Chronicles, The Globe and Mail and many other Toronto-based media organizations, she emphasizes on the underlying themes of Islamophobia enacted with the law. “People are so focused on undressing Muslim women instead of addressing the real issues we face,” Warriach wrote. “It is equally inappropriate and hypocritical to say that to be Canadian means you have to embrace a standard of living that only privileges those at the centre of these systems of freedom.” In their arguments, Warriach and Kay bring up a similar point, confirming what the debate over Bill 62 is really about. They highlight that the controversy of this bill is not over public safety or identification issues, but assimilation. To put it simply, the Quebec government believes that wearing this extra layer of clothing is different, and therefore wrong for society. The Quebec government wants to legalize assimilation of everyone into one brand of French Canadian, while condemning “wrongness” based on indifference. Ontario Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, made it clear that the Ontario Liberal Party condemns Bill 62 and that it is a clear form of Islamophobia. “We have a very close working relationship with Quebec, but on this particular issue we fundamentally disagree,”Naqvi says in an interview. “Our view is that this legislation disproportionately would impact women who are sometimes already at the margins, and would push them into further isolation. In fact,” Naqvi added, “we took the opportunity to speak in our legislature the day after the Quebec bill was passed. [Premier Kathleen Wynne] spoke personally, very directly to the issue, making the point that we do not agree with this type of law. We will never bring such a law in Ontario. We recognize...that the work around making sure everybody is included in a society is not easy work,” Naqvi says. “But when we say that diversity is our strength, it has to be more than words, and we should be able and willing to do that difficult work.” The banning of a religious symbol integral to some Muslim women to practice their faith says a lot about the tolerance and beliefs of Canadians. Even if we’re assured that Ontario will never enact a law such as this, if we ignore the conversations of banning religious clothing and don’t stand up for our religious rights, we’re hypocrites for laughing at our friends south of the border. In the meantime, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims are taking Bill 62 to Quebec’s provincial court. But as turban-wearing soccer players had to be vigorously debated in Quebec before the ban was overturned, it will take a lot more time to see if Quebecois women will be able to keep their veils.

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