I have emerged from my fruitcake coma long enough to write this blog post.
As I was cleaning my apartment, I found this little guy underneath my dresser.
It’s a voodoo doll keychain I bought in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. West Africa is the source of juju, the old world equivalent of voodoo, so I am assured this keychain is legit.
As a reward to all my faithful blog readers (hi Mom!), I want to give away this keychain. To enter, leave a comment about what I should blog about next year.
I’m re-designing this site soon, so check back for changes!
In Ghana, I was married. My star-shaped wedding ring was purchased on La Rambla in Barcelona for two euro. In my wallet, I carried a photo of my husband reading our girls a book.
For those who know me, this may perplex you. I don’t, in fact, have a husband or kids.
But in Ghana, I felt that I needed to lie to get by. The reasons for this seem practical : to deflect attention from unwanted suitors, I wore a ring to deter persistent suitors. The fake ring trick is a old standby in travelers circles, but it always made me feel dishonest.
Travellers are often presented with these safe traveling tips. But a recent list in the Toronto Star makes an interesting addendum to the list:
Tight fitting clothes are always an invitation—any woman in form fitting clothes will attract attention both good and bad. Especially if you are traveling solo it is the negative that you should be guarding against. It’s not worth gambling with your safety for the sake of a wolf-whistle.
Suggesting that harassment will stop if you change your clothes shows a poor understanding of underlying problems of sexism.
I was constantly sexually harassed in my day-to-day life in Tamale. I was subject to come-ons, awkward comments and unconsensual touching. I was grabbed in the street by midday. I was harrassed for wearing a knee-length skirt; my assailants complaining of my “ugly legs”.
The street harassment didn’t vary according to my outfit or my demeanor; it was constant. And to suggest that men will only harass women because of their clothing, is frankly stupid. A misogynist is a misogynist regardless and is only looking for any target.
Unlike the assertions of the writer, my clothing should never be considered “an invitation”. I am a person and not an open offer.
Frustrated by the Toronto Star’s advice, I consulted a real authority: the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/
From their “Her Own Way” pamphlet:
Preventing Sexual Assault
There’s potential for sexual assault anywhere in the world. Taking precautions is your best defence against becoming a victim.
According to the bureaucrats of DFAIT, the onus is on women to prevent sexual assault. Like the advice from the Star, this shows a misunderstanding of core problem. If someone is determined to sexually assault a woman, they will find a way. No amount of precautions will help her.
Using this language in widely distributed government pamphlets is harmful to female survivors of sexual violence. Why would anyone come forward after an assault if governing bodies make it clear: “you need to precautions to protect yourself, if not, too bad for you”.
As we saw with the SlutWalk movement, advising women to dress a certain way or to take precautions doesn’t stop sexualized violence. Toronto Star and DFAIT you should know better; stop with the victim-blaming “advice”.
Alexis Ohanian is a feminist.
Or so the Reddit co-creator tells me, as he sips back an Olands beer at a Halifax watering hole under spinning disco lights.
Rewind four hours. Ohanian, a wunder-kid of entrepeurship, is in Halifax to speak at the Halifax Pop Explosion Digital conference. His presentation, “Internet FTW”, is meme-filled and has the audience enthralled. After talking about his open internet crusade, he moves on to the crux: entrepreneurs should just ‘DO IT’ and start businesses.
Now, I find this all very interesting, but what I really want to know about is the outing of “Violentacrez”. That’s the screenname of Michael Brutsch, a notorious internet troll who was recently outed by Gawker. Brutsch was responsible for moderating sub-forums called things like “creepshots”, “jailbait”, “chokeabitch”, “niggerjailbail” etc. As the names suggest, these forum featured un-consensual pictures of women and some straight up child porn.
While people may find this shocking, Reddit has never been considered a very welcoming for women. In the past, it has hosted rape apologia, victim blaming and a group so misogynistic they are considered a hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
Finally during the question period, someone addresses the elephant in the room and asks about Brutsch.
Acknowledging forums like “creepshots” are problematic, Ohanian maintains that taking down offensive material won’t solve the problem. I recorded some audio and wrote some tweets about Ohanian’s stance on the issue.
“This is reprehensible, but we’re leaving it up bc it’s the format people are using.” Talking abt approach of FB, Reddit etc #HPXDigital
— Gwyneth Dunsford (@gwynduns) October 19, 2012
“It’s frustrating to me because you can’t just actually reach into a computer … and slap someone,” he says to crowd of about 100 people. “But there are things that we can do proactively as an internet community to hopefully set some standards … for behaviour. But the fact of the matter is, I believe in the genuine goodness of the vast majority of people.”
— Gwyneth Dunsford (@gwynduns) October 19, 2012
I was impressed Ohanian recognized the problems of Reddit, but felt his explanation fell short. There is no excuse for a website that hosts content to harass and demean women or minorities.
So colour me surprised when Ohanian walked into the HPX Digital after-party.
We talked about how university students tried (unsuccessfully) to buy drugs from him at a dub step party and how Nova Scotia’s liquor laws are needlessly restrictive.
And then I attempted a joke, saying I couldn’t use Reddit because I’m a feminist.
Ohanian looked taken aback and said “I’m a feminist, too”.
This is what I like to call cognitive dissonance. How can man whose website is notoriously anti-woman be a feminist?
“Something that people don’t know, is that ‘a feminist’ means someone who wants equal rights,” he says matter-of-factly. “I think you would have hard time finding anyone who doesn’t believe in equality.”
And I’m apt to believe him.
We left at an impasse and I had no wherewithal to argue with the likeable Ohanian, especially on a Friday night in my growing tequila haze.
Ohanian is right about a few things. Closing online threads like “creepshots” won’t end the online harassment of women. A societal problem that big can’t be resolved by removing a web page. Influential netizens need to make it clear : posting un-consensual pictures of women, contributing to victim blaming and slut shaming AIN’T COOL.
Recognizing and condemning misogyny is the first step to ending online harassment for women.
In March of this year, Ohanian told the The Daily Dot “I’ve always tried to ‘make the world suck less’ … but neither [Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman] nor I started Reddit explicitly to do good in the world.”
Do more harm than good, Alexis Ohanian. Set an example and show the world how you’re a feminist.
Music festivals are my absolute favourite. When I decided to move to Halifax for school 2 years ago, academics were the least of my concern. The deciding factors? Picnicface and Halifax Pop Explosion.
Today, I’m feeling a mix of wistfulness, anticipation and glee at the prospect of this year’s line-up. I am also recalling the weird and wonderful things I have seen/experienced in past years. In no particular order:
Interviewing Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club in the freezing cold outside the Marquee
Meeting Chad vanGaalen at the secret show at Tribeca
Watching Isis perform “Work It” long after the break-up of Thunderheist
Witnessing the epic feat that was Rich Aucoin’s CD release
Getting introduced to the genius musical talents of The Gertrudes
Attempting music photography for the first time at The Handsome Furs concert
And all those experiences only happened in the space of 2 years! But don’t just revere my experiences; replicate them!
Wristbands for Halifax Pop Explosion are still available at TicketPro or at HPX ground zero, the Atlantica Hotel. If you can’t make it to Halifax, follow HPX’s social media channels. I will be covering HPX Digital on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google + as a member of HPX’s social media team. If you see me around the festival, please come say hi!
I saw Ama on my first day of work at Diamond FM in Tamale.
Everyday, the child sat near a pile of rubble, under the shade of the neighbouring building. Cradled in her arms was a whiny, newborn baby, swaddled in batik cloth.
Her eyes widened and she smiled brightly as I passed by.
“Hello! Hello! Hello!”
Those were her only words of English. In Tamale, it’s common to see Ghanaian girls absent from school, sitting by the roadside to sell mouldy tomatoes or sachets of water. I passed Ama and continuted with my day.
But day after day as I saw her, I became curious about her story. Why wasn’t she in school?
I attempted to talk to her, but my limited Dagbani and Twi wouldn’t do. After a week of passively waving and smiling at Ama, I enlisted a friend to translate for me.
Ama’s mother works for a food stall around the corner, washing dishes. The stall’s owner doesn’t allow children at work, so Ama hides nearby with the baby.
“I was attending school, but I had to take care of the small girl, so that Mama could work,” Ama says.
Ama doesn’t even know her own age or who Sabela’s mother is. I get the impression Ama isn’t allowed to ask many questions at home.
Our conversation is halting and painful. My translator is impatient, Sabela is terrified by my white skin and the sun is high overhead. I left Ama, to continue the interview on another day.
Weeks pass, Ama’s street-side schedule grows erratic and I see her less frequently. One day, she disappeared altogether.
I can only hope she’s in school now. Six months later, I am still struck by her determination to go to school.
“I don’t like coming here to take care of the baby,” Ama said, faltering. “I want to go to school. I want to go and learn.”
Ama has no favourite subject, no career aspirations. She only knows, she wants to learn.
I haven’t been blogging lately and I blame my new job. I am now working in public relations. The Dark Side. This career choice comes with a lot of soul searching.
In journalism school, our lessons about the role of public relations came with heaping helpings of scorn. We learned about the PR company tasked with stirring American sentiment in favour of the first Gulf War. We learned about PR companies employed by oil giants to refute climate change. I was not impressed.
I have documented my disdain for wily PR representatives before, so I am surprised to find myself becoming one. But let’s clarify: being a one-woman communication team promoting gender equality and access to sexual assault services is a little different than working for Dow Chemical.
I will be first to tell you it’s not an easy adjustment.
During meetings, my ears will perk up and I think “that would make a good story”. When someone is speaking, I scribble detailed notes and feel regret that I didn’t record it.
My journalist instinct reached their apex while I was observing a sexual assault trial three weeks ago.
I walked into courtroom 6 at the Halifax courthouse on Spring Garden Rd., iPhone clasped in hand. Using my cellphone in court was de rigeur as a journalist, so I was startled when the deputy waved me down.
He walked me outside to show me a sign posted on the door : “No cellphones”.
This is when I started my hissy fit.
I try my best to life adjust to life in public relations. I don’t do a very convincing job when I disagree with a court deputy about cellphone use in the courtroom.
I think I will always identify as a journalist; a fact that might get me into trouble.
My advice to journos considering a job switch? Though the trail from hack to flack is well-trod it is rocky nonetheless.
And don’t the let the title fool you, because I’m not dead yet. At the very least, I hope to continue to blogging.
Check this space soon for a re-design and new content.