How to Get Your Old Body Back

I was very late to the game in discovering just the other day that corsets are very popular again, thanks to Kim Kardashian. Only, they’re not called corsets, they’re called “waist trainers;” I suppose it’s to fool ourselves into thinking we aren’t just repeating the same archaic fashion trends over and over again. But it reminded me that there’s one element to our culture’s messed up beauty standards that particularly confounds me. That is the idea of “getting your old body back.”

This phrase came up a few times in the fluff article I read about waist trainers, with several celebrities claiming that the miracle tool helped them get their “pre-baby body back.” As if it were some object that had gone missing, or been stolen away, and they had now happily recovered it.

As if they had gone back in time and body-snatched their past selves.

But our bodies never go back. Our bodies keep living. Our bodies are the tapestries upon which our lives are laid out, the canvas our experiences are painted on. Our bodies are proof of our living; each stretch mark, scar, wrinkle, and sag broadcasting where we have come from and what we have gone through.

Our culture despises this proof of life. As our bodies show more experience, tell more stories, they become more abhorrent in the eyes of society’s beauty standards. We are convinced to constantly strive to erase the writing upon our own walls.

We do not have time machines. You can never have your pre-baby body back. You can never undo your life, or the lessons you have learned. Why do you want to pretend that you have not lived?

You are now post-baby, and will forever be post-baby, and that is something you neither can nor want to undo.

Losing weight and becoming a clothing size you once were is not “getting” that body “back”. It is the same body, an inextricable part of you, that has grown and shrunk along with you and will never be the same as it once was. You may be the same weight you were before, but your body is different. Your body has lived.

Sometimes I find myself regretting not being the same size and weight that I was five years ago. But I stop and remember – I was nineteen. I will never be nineteen again. I wasn’t done growing, and I was very much not done living. Nineteen was before I completed my degree, before I started medication, before I realised what was important to me, and before I had even actually finished puberty. Did you know that? – puberty actually lasts until your early-to-mid twenties. Think about all the women being told that they’ll never be as beautiful as they were when they were in their 20s, that their 20s was their peak, and if only they could get that old body back. Women are being convinced that they should strive to replicate a body that hadn’t even finished growing and had only just begun to live.

But I will never be nineteen again. And I have done so much living in those five years, how could my body have not grown and changed with me. My body is living, as am I, and I hope to be strong enough to never try to silence the stories it tells.

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Why “Her” Will Never Appeal to Me

Wow a blog post! That’s right! In the middle of a busy semester I figured I’d take a short break from thinking about important things and instead shower you with trivial and disjointed thoughts about movies! Yay! Buckle up, we’re going for a trip!

 

When I saw the trailer for Her in theatres before Catching Fire, I couldn’t help but sigh. My feelings for the admittedly brief glimpse of the film that the trailer provided are more than just the usual passing annoyance, disinterest, and general sense of disillusionment with a film about yet another straight white man. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly part of it; straight white men, I am sick of hearing your stories all the time. Sorry, not sorry. But no, it was more than that.

“Her” makes me angry.

That’s probably pretty confusing for a lot of people. Most people who are uninterested in the film are just that — uninterested. Not actively angered by it. Certainly not enough to write a blog post about it. So why is this particular film eliciting a reaction like that from me?

Well, in short, “Her” rubs me the wrong way because it presents a concept that goes against my core understanding of human relationships. Maybe that’s like a “yeah well duh but that’s what it’s about!!! It’s supposed to make you question what love truly is!!!” Yeah well no, let me tell you why. It’s a long road and there are many facets to my distaste for this film concept, so bear with me.

What, do YOU think, is the fundamental aspect of being human? Apparently someone was arguing that like, when AI can have “flaws” just like humans then “how is it so different” or whatever; I don’t know, the usual stuff that’s thrown around when talking about AI. So is it that, the presence of “flaws” (and whatever that entails exactly)? Is it the ability to love or feel emotions? Not in my opinion.

What really defines humans is free will. The 100% completely free ability to choose. Because what that entails is totally arbitrary, nonsensical decisions. We don’t understand what exactly free choice entails. Even for mundane things like “what makes us like music”. Boy I could talk about that all day, I’ve been doing my research. There are all sorts of theories from all sorts of fields as to what influences our tastes. And there are some damn good theories. But they only explain general trends in our taste. They are completely unable to account for each individual decision.

Each of those theories holds some solid arguments; maybe they are all right. The human brain is vastly complex, and our decisions are affected by vastly complex experiences. Emotions. Memories. Social context. Specific situations we happen to be in at the time. What makes us love someone but not someone else? If we can’t pinpoint exactly what influences our decisions and how much, how would we be able to duplicate that with AI?

Because free will sometimes makes no sense. Humans are not computers. Sure our brains seem like a big huge complex computer system, with neurons firing in specific patterns, etc etc. But we haven’t figured out exactly how our decisions are made, and I don’t think we ever will. The decisions humans make are sometimes arbitrary. Sometimes we will make one decision one day, and a completely contradictory decision the next. They do not follow a clear-cut pattern.

You can’t duplicate the way our brains work without understanding it first. And we clearly don’t understand it. So AI may seem to imitate free will, but I don’t believe they are or will ever be truly duplicating it. Our entire life’s experiences seem to go into each decision we make, along with our emotions at the time, and that’s something that’s hard to replicate. Throw in other factors that we’re not even entirely sure about, and there’s pretty much no way you can really, actually copy it.

So problem number 1 with these movies for me is that they go “imagine if robots become just like humans!” and I pretty much feel that just. No. Sorry.

Okay, we get it, shut up Jenn, why does that even matter? Did you hate every single sci-fi movie about AI as much as this one? No, definitely not. There’s more wrong with it.

When we love a human, (hopefully) we love them in part for their humanity. We love the essence of their being human. Part of loving someone is loving their ability to be 100% their own complete person who makes their own decisions and has their own life experience. I mean, people who want their partner to no longer have the ability/desire to make decisions is abusive, we can all agree on that. But if AI can’t fully replicate free will, their ability to make decisions the way humans do is lacking. So if someone loves an AI the way they would love a human (instead of, for example, a pet; in which the importance of complete human free will isn’t as much of an issue)… aren’t they missing something integral in a relationship?

And here we get to why the concept makes me angry: maybe that’s the point. If someone who otherwise is attracted to humans finds themselves in love with an AI instead of a human… is it because that AI is missing the essence of humanity? No offense to our imaginary future AI brethren, but I’m pretty sure with 7 billion people on the planet you can find a human who’s just as awesome as that AI (I mean, there isn’t even only one person on earth we find awesome, so there’s no way an AI replicating human-ness is going to be like so totally way more awesome than any human ever), so what makes the AI so attractive? I’m not talking about people like the woman who fell in love with and married a bridge, or the man who’s dating his car. That’s a different kettle of fish. I’m talking about the people who are convinced their one true love is this almost-but-not-quite-human. But it’s more than that. It’s the story that’s being sold to us.

It just seems too… convenient.

In a society where women are constantly dehumanized, objectified, belittled and attacked for having opinions, a man being in love with a woman who is quite literally objectified and not human hits a little too close to home. Wow you’ve happened to fall in love with the one woman who doesn’t quite have free will! You lucky bastard! Yeah, but this is a movie, not a true story.

Which kind of makes it worse for me. It’s a movie; it’s trying to sell us this idea. Everything about it just squicks me the fuck out.

There are far more men in movies than women (especially when it comes to white men vs. women of colour). The past three years have actually seen a decline in representation in blockbuster movies. This movie doesn’t even have to have a real female lead. Convenient!

We live in a society in which we see women turned into objects, and women are told constantly to be quiet, to be smaller, to take up less room, to not rock the boat, to not step out of line, that their “no”s and “yes”es (but especially “no”s) aren’t quite as important as men’s. And now hollywood is selling us a story all about a white man and his little computer girlfriend who literally isn’t quite human, in a way that is sort of weirdly the ideal for women? Convenient!

In a movie that is trying to sell us on relationship dynamics that I consider to be incredibly iffy at best, I can’t help but feel there’s a reason it’s about a man and not a woman.

The Quick Fix: Disability in Media

It’s July 2011 and the teaser trailer for the final instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy has just been released. Theories fly from every corner of the internet. There is a brief moment in the mini-trailer in which Bruce Wayne is seen with a limp and a cane. Are we seeing the after-effects of his back being broken on Bane’s leg? people wonder. Will the movie spend a portion of its screen-time focusing on Wayne’s life after his ordeal with Bane? Does he have a cane for a completely different reason, a mark of passing time and changing bodies that will complicate the plot arc of his return as Batman?

Now it’s 2013 and we all know that none of those theories were correct. We see Wayne limping around with his cane for a few scenes before Alfred tells him he needs to suck up all his angst (and mobility issues) and be Batman again. Wayne slaps on a ~~**MAGICAL KNEE BRACE**~~~, his mobility issues disappear, and are never mentioned again.

Oh, and then of course he gets his back broken. But don’t worry guys, he’s put in a prison-pit-thing and in a montage of working out and grunting and pained expressions, he’s all good again! But it was HARD! It did take WEEKS! Maybe even MONTHS! Wait, some of you were sort of expecting it to have some kind of lasting impact? Pfft, sure OKAY, yeah we’re going to make Batman disabled YEAH RIGHT GUYS THAT’D JUST BE STUPID.

Let’s go back in time a little more. Avatar was by no means a groundbreaking movie in any sense other than its computer generated imaging and special effects. But it most certainly was a very popular movie. A movie in which the main character is disabled, but spends the vast majority of screen-time trying to escape from his disabled body. Despite his disability, the main character still manages to spend most of the movie in not only a totally-abled body, but a super-abled body. As the main protagonist, we are of course meant to relate to him and be sympathetic to his feelings. If we were in his place, we think to ourselves, we would want to escape too. We don’t blame him for running off wearing his avatar. After all, we’d do the same, wouldn’t we? A whole lot of people saw that movie. A whole lot of people were supposed to sympathise with those sentiments.

In the fifth season of Supernatural, Bobby is paralysed from the waist down and becomes wheelchair-bound for basically the entire season. The fact that his disability wasn’t fixed by the end of the episode, or even the next one, gave me hope for the potential it presented. We got to watch Bobby coping with and working around the necessary changes in his life that came with being disabled, and at times it even made us think about accessibility as he struggled to do the things he used to be able to do and go places he used to go with ease. But in the end, with a wave of Crowley’s powerful demonic hand, Bobby literally gets up and walks out of his wheelchair, perfectly healed.

Supernatural does, of course, have a smaller audience than either of the aforementioned blockbusters. And in each case, the way the plot point of disability is dealt with and the way the character responds to their disability makes a lot of sense. After all, Batman is supposed to overcome anything, a soldier WOULD understandably hold a lot of resentment towards his body becoming wheelchair-bound, and Bobby is a similar personality type to that of a soldier. Many disabled people in the real world voice frustration with their bodies and even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies, etc. Those feelings are real, and they are valid, and they are legitimate.

But the fact is, these are not the only movies and TV shows portraying disability in this way, and they do not exist in a vacuum. Disability is repeatedly portrayed as an obstacle for the character to overcome, a burden for them to bear with great reluctance until the writers save them with a totally convenient magic cure. Characters are repeatedly portrayed as wanting to escape from their disabled bodies, and we are meant to sympathise with those feelings. When a type of body is constantly portrayed as being a disadvantage, as being something less-than-perfect, something that people strive to escape, that has real implications for people who have those bodies in the real world.

The use of the “quick fix” for disability in these media means that the long-term effects of living as a disabled person never have to be dealt with. It means TV show writers and movie makers can wash it off the whiteboard and carry on with the plot without a hiccup and without having to factor in a new aspect of plot or character. It means the makers of these shows and movies never really have to deal with the realities of having made a character disabled, they don’t have to deal with the complicated issue of yes there will be accessibility differences now and other uncomfortable, inconvenient, but totally important plot and character changes.

If Being Disabled isn’t like, totally the character’s entire identity and their entire point of existence, then it seems to be considered a barrier and an annoyance that should be swept away as soon as possible. But it severely limits the plot and character possibilities when we never get to see a person honestly and realistically portrayed as disabled. When disabled people are only ever either A Lesson to Be Learned or quickly fixed before it makes anything complicated, that’s an entire group of our population being completely erased and overlooked. And, as we should all know very well by now, that is a dangerous thing to do.

I am in no way an authority on disability rights and issues, and I in no way intend to be one. I have only recently started learning about disability; over the past year I have started following blogs and other online media regarding both mental and physical disability rights and justice. Because of my place of privilege as an able-bodied and neurotypical person, I have unfortunately had the option of not thinking about disability rights for the majority of my life. I am now making the effort to learn about my privilege, and share my awareness with other able-bodied people. I find that voicing my basic understandings of new concepts, flexing my writing muscles, giving a new topic some air-time in my writing, helps me to develop my understanding of said topic. Thus, this post is not meant as some Look I Know Everything About Disability Issues Aren’t I a Cool Ally kind of strutting, but as an exercise to help my little seedling of awareness sprout some more leaves.

If you want some help sprouting your own little seedling, here are some of the blogs I’ve been following (some are about physical disability, some are about being non-neurotypical) and of course a Scarleteen article for good measure:

http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/

http://blog.cripchick.com/

http://feministsonar.com/

also just this whole tag: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/disability+rights

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/no_big_deal_sex_disability

On Violence

Edit: Okay, this is just to make clear that I totally love Idle No More, and this is in no way a critique of what they’re doing or how they do it. I’m also not all like YO LET’S ALL START A VIOLENT REVOLUTION RIGHT NOW FUCK YES. I’m a big proponent of non-violent methods of protest. But I think it’s important not to immediately shoot down other kinds. I’m just trying to make people think a little bit before making grand, sweeping statements from some imagined moral high-ground. Now, with that in mind…

 

“I believe violence is NEVER the answer,” a girl announces proudly from the front row of desks.

We’re sitting in our squishy, height-adjustable, swivelling office chairs in the new building on campus, discussing decolonization and resistance movements in our Indigenous Studies class. Each desk has several electrical outlets installed, conveniently placed for our laptops (mostly MacBooks) to stay charged during the three-hour lecture. It’s minus twenty degrees Celsius outside, but we all have our jackets off in this comfortably-heated room with double-glaze windows.

“Non-violent methods are more productive.”

We read an article by Frantz Fanon, “On Violence”, about the decolonization movements in Algeria. Decolonization will always be violent, he says. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. But nobody seems to agree with him.

Non-violent methods are more productive?

That’s easy for you to say. That’s easy for any of us to say, sitting in our expensive room on our expensive computers completing our expensive undergraduate degrees. We’re cosy. We’re comfortable. Violent resistance is a theoretical abstract that is just so wonderfully easy to dismiss.

Don’t we need to consider the fact that maybe we can so self-assuredly say that “violence is never the answer” because we’ve never been put in a position where actually, maybe violence is the only answer we have left? Maybe deciding that “violence is never the answer” is much more straight-forward when we’re not faced with immediate, actual, physical violence? Maybe, just maybe, sitting in a university classroom in Canada and deciding that violence is never the answer is a bit different from the conclusion you might come to if you were living the experience of being actively, violently colonized.

Canada WAS actively and violently colonized, and the colonization of Indigenous peoples is ongoing and still violent, albeit in usually more covert, indirect, non-physically violent ways. I’m not dismissing that. But the idea that violence is never the answer — coming to that conclusion so easily and assuredly — often comes from a place of privilege. The privilege of thinking of state-endorsed violence as an abstract concept. We’re not faced with imminent physical danger as we sit in our classroom.

And it’s not that there aren’t people living in those situations who don’t still think that violence is not the answer. It’s not that thinking that violence is not the answer is only EVER a privileged opinion. It’s not that it’s a less legitimate opinion. It’s that those of us who live comfortable lives need to stop to wonder why that’s such an easy conclusion for us to come to, why we so immediately dismiss anyone suggesting violent resistance as “wrong” or “irrational” or somehow “behind the times”.

We value non-violent methods of protest so highly, and we consider them so much better than violent methods. If someone says “yeah actually, violence is sometimes called for,” we consider ourselves much more progressive and liberal and just nicer people than them. They’re advocating people KILLING people!!!!!!! Aren’t they?? HOW COULD ANYONE ADVOCATE THAT. They must be right-wing psychos! Or extremists! Why would they not see that sitting down and talking out our problems is just so much more civilized?

Civilized.

Another of the activists whose work we’ve been reading for this class, Taiaiake Alfred, talks a lot about resisting the colonialist framework; he says that trying to work within the framework, to try to get the government to recognise Indigenous people’s rights, is completely futile. To work within the colonialist framework (“Aboriginalism”) basically lends that framework legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. Trying to make a place for yourself in that framework helps to support it and ensure that it stays in place. So, Alfred suggests, to effectively decolonize, Indigenous people need to break away from that framework, create their own, to stop from depending on the colonial systems.

People in class didn’t argue with that. Taiaiake advocates for non-violent means of decolonization, and everyone likes that. Idle No More comes up in the discussion, of course, and people think that it’s great that the movement is non-violent because then the media has no ammo to discredit them. They have to be viewed as legitimate now!

Legitimate.

There’s something underlying this discussion that doesn’t come up, and it bothers me, but I don’t say anything because I can’t quite think of how to articulate the feeling of yuck. But as the conversation goes on, the idea starts to form and by the end of class I am uncomfortable and I can identify why that is.

The professor asks a question that brings my issue into sharp focus.

“Who defines violence?”

“The colonizer.” We all know the answer. Gosh, we’re so self-aware. But nobody takes this further, nobody applies this to the assumptions and claims that we’ve all been making throughout the three hours of class. Non-violent means of resistance are always better. Violence is never the answer. Is it a coincidence that all of us, brought up in the West, in a colonialist school system, in colonized countries, unanimously agree that violence is never the answer? Why do we all agree?

Maybe because that is exactly what we are taught. By the colonial system. The colonial system that gets to define even the meaning of violence. The colonial system gets to decide what counts as violence, who’s a terrorist. But not only that; it also gets to decide that “violence is never the answer”. Because why would a colonialist system want anyone to think otherwise? Non-violent means of resistance can be a lot easier for a colonialist state to ignore. Do I think that non-violent means are NEVER effective? No, of course not. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason we’re all taught that violent resistance groups are wrong and bad and irrational and taking things too far.

We learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and “I have a dream”. We’re taught that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi are peace-loving, non-violent leaders of protest movements. Look, they are good! They are just, and their movements are successful! They are how protest leaders and movements Should Be!

Martin Luther King Jr. made many more speeches than just that one. How many of them have you read or heard? A lot of them were just as — if not more — stirring, inspiring, and effective… and also a lot less white-colonialist-friendly. A lot less “non-violent”. Same goes for Mandela and Gandhi. There were also protest movements that were explicitly violent, or a lot less dedicated to being non-violent, that we are taught are BAD BAD BAD, WRONG. TERRIBLE. Maybe we’re only learning about certain resistance leaders, and very particular parts of their histories and opinions, for a reason.

Maybe the colonialist state is choosing how we define and think of “good” resistance and “bad” resistance.

As I said, people in my class like Idle No More because they are non-violent and thus can’t have their acts misrepresented by the media. So people acknowledge that the media has an agenda, that when a resistance movement can be discredited, it will.

But nobody points out that the whole idea that a protest movement MUST BE NON-VIOLENT to be considered legitimate, is in itself a colonialist system’s means of discrediting a portion of resistance movements.  Somebody pipes up and says that being non-violent means that the colonizer will be more likely to listen. Hence why violent resistance movements are unproductive.

Maybe those who advocate violent resistance don’t care about being misrepresented by the media. Maybe they don’t care about the colonizer being more likely to listen. Maybe that’s because so far, the colonial system has come up with an awfully large number of reasons not to listen. The media, as extension of the colonialist system, will always be able to find ways to discredit a resistance that is inconvenient. So maybe working within the colonial framework of non-violent-is-the-only-way-to-go is futile. Because the colonial system is defining how people are even allowed to resist it. We’ll only listen to you if you say it nicely. No shouting! Stop being so aggressive! Maybe we’ll start listening if you’re more polite! Say please! Say thank you! Say “sir”! It means the colonizers get to move the goalposts and forever decide that your resistance efforts aren’t legitimate enough. Aren’t civilized. And so they don’t have to listen to you.

So maybe those who advocate violent means of resistance are fed up with that and are choosing to ignore the framework that non-violent = good, legitimate, worth listening to and violent = bad and irrational.

After all that, it might sound kind of contradictory of me to say that I’m NOT arguing that violent resistance is the better or only way to go. I am just questioning the assumption that the opposite is always the case. Think about the major social revolutions that have occurred; there was a lot of non-violent protest. I have a dream, and all that. But, alongside it, there was ALSO a lot of violent protest going on. Maybe instead of looking at it as the violent resistance being wrong and unnecessary and it was the non-violent portion of the resistance that won people all those rights and recognition under the law, maybe it was both at once. Perhaps both methods of resistance are necessary to achieve decolonization?

Breaking News: Black Character Actually Played by Black Actor This Time!

I’m amazed.

I just watched the trailer for a new Wuthering Heights movie.

HEATHCLIFF IS ACTUALLY BLACK THIS TIME!

Except sadly, the only reason I think this happened is because it’s not a big-budget Hollywood production. So don’t worry, Hollywood is still as racist as ever, HURRAAAAYYYY.

When I read the book I had always thought it was pretty fucking obvious that he was a black guy, and that (along with the inevitable-because-yay-racist-society lower-class-ness) was why Cathy’s feelings for him were frowned upon. Although Emily never outright writes “he’s a black dude and everyone’s fucking racist”, but I thought it was pretty obvious from the description of his dark skin and the way everyone treated him like utter piss even when he’d been fancied up a bit. But in every big screen adaptation? Well, let’s have a look, shall we?

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m white as fuck!

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m also white as fuck.

Hey! Guess who I am! And guess what colour I am?!

Because god forbid there be an actual black actor on screen, as a MAIN CHARACTER? HEINOUS. And not only that, but as the MAIN LOVE INTEREST, too? That’s just out of the question.

Except now someone finally admits it — hey this book is about interracial relationships and how a racist society shunned people who had them!

(if the video doesn’t show up for you, here’s the link -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjdVKA1AuQ)

Hurray! Fucking FINALLY! THANK YOU! Now Hollywood, follow suit already!

Books That Shaped My Life

I was a pretty avid reader as a child. In fact, I still would be if it weren’t for good ol’ university getting in the way so much; now I just read avidly, when I get the chance. So, lately I was thinking about how my understanding of the world has been shaped by the books I’ve read. And I realised that a lot of my feminism and social-justice-ism has stemmed from the books I read when I was young.

The formative years for my ideology seems to have been when I was 13-17 years old. Which is when I read the most books, yay! And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the following books actually really shaped my life, they influenced who I have become today. This is not to say that they are all 100% awesome and don’t have any kind of problems in their portrayal of characters/etc; but there’s nothing major — or often, even minor — that I noticed, and they all have very positive messages overall. So here they are, in order of most influential! I have included the age at which I read each book, and a link to each amazon page so you can take a look inside :D

I call this my Pretty-Much-Mandatory Booklist for Raising a Social-Justice-Type Kid

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
Age: 12-13
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand out
Amazon: Linky!

This book was like my freaking Bible. I read it in 7th grade, it was actually a mandatory book to read for our English class. The teacher and class all agreed, during the group discussion, that I was very much like Stargirl; though I would actually say I’m more like her now than I was then. Stargirl is about being free to be who you are, about people needing to open their minds to people who are “different” or “whacky”. You know, typical “yay be yourself!” message, but it is a really well-written YA book with a character who may seem unbelievable to some, but to me it was like a shining beacon of “hey, being silly and whacky is actually awesome!” I also always loved that part of Stargirl’s fearlessness for being herself also included not being afraid to be incredibly kind. And I think that was a major point (if not THE major point) of the book; in all this conformity, this wanting to be cool, your humanity and kindness can sometimes get lost.

Fire’s Stone Tanya Huff
Age:14-15
The Lesson: You are all freaking awesome, no matter what.
Amazon: Linky!

I still go back and re-read this book. It’s one of my favourite EVER. It’s an older-YA book, so the messaging is a lot more subtle and underlying to an otherwise not-message-y storyline, unlike with Stargirl. This is a fantasy book (not sci-fi, shut up Amazon) about a sort-of-middle-ages-y-esque world with wizards and magic-ness and monsters and sword fights and YAY! The three main characters are: A woman of colour with shit tons of awesome attitude, a white gay(? though possibly bisexual or fluid-in-sexuality) man who has been exiled, and a white bisexual man who is the third son of a king so he sort-of-has-power-but-sort-of-doesn’t. And what’s awesome about this book is that they are all AWESOME. None of them are stereotypes even though at first they seem like they will be.

They are all fully-realised characters whom you grow to love equally, depicted as *gasp* HUMANS! And their “different”-ness is not portrayed as some kind of novelty; the relationship that develops between the two men is written just like a straight relationship is written in any other book. It’s not “LOL THEY’RE GAY FOR EACH OTHER LOL!” It’s “this is a human relationship developing! Yay!” And the WOC character rocks my socks. She’s powerful but flawed (as are all the characters), and although at first she’s considered to be the “bitchy” character, the reader and the other characters gain insight and realise that she’s not at all a bitch. She’s awesome. And the author is Canadian, by the way. SO READ IT :D

Whale Talk – Chris Crutcher
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Racism of all kinds and calibre is hurtful and damaging to people’s lives and society.
Amazon: Linky!

I only read this one once, and don’t remember much from it… but man, does it still haunt me. It deals with racism, and though if I recall correctly there maaaaay be a bit that could be taken as “White Saviour”-ness (though I took it, at the time, more as just the father wanting to protect his son), it deals with it really well. There’s this one scene, in which a little black girl, whose white father is a racist shithead, tries to scrub her blackness away with a brillo pad. I don’t think I will ever forget this scene, because of just the starkness, that this IS a reality for people. What I got from the book when I read it at age 14 was that even for people who don’t try to scrub away their skin, the ever-present racism in our society can make you fucking feel like doing it sometimes. And us white people don’t know the half of it.

You Don’t Know Me – David Klass
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Life can be really shitty, but it’s usually worth living. It gets better.
Amazon: Linky!

This is another book that I only read once, and a while ago, but I remember how it made me feel. It covers depression, abuse, thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It deals with the reality of many teenagers’ not-so-awesome lives. It made me consider that I actually had a pretty fabulous life, as well, with a good support system. The book deals with how important it is to have a support system of people who you can trust and who really love you, and that sometimes the people who you think don’t care really truly do. It’s written as if we were in the main character’s mind, a character with whom pretty much anyone can relate even if they’ve never suffered the abuse that he has. It was really eye-opening for me to think about the reality of some people’s lives, as well as to finally have a book that deals honestly with internal turmoil that teens can have, without blowing it off as hormones or just a phase.

Flipped – Wendelin Van Draanen
Age: 13-14
The Lesson: Don’t be an asshole.
Amazon: Linky!

This one is kind of surprising for me, and if you’ve read the book, you might find it surprising too. The main plot is about a girl obsessed with a boy who doesn’t like her back. It follows their lives growing up, and their interactions with each other. Each chapter alternates between characters’ narration, so you get each persons’ perception of the interactions between the two. And although it’s mainly a love story, this narrative style actually worked really well for the main lesson I learned from it. It was one particular scene and each characters’ feelings around it that taught me this lesson. The main female character has a developmentally disabled uncle whom she loves dearly and spends time with as much as possible. In the particular scene, she overhears the main male character laugh at some ableist joke that a friend of his made about her uncle. Seeing it from the two different characters’ perspectives, it becomes really clear that doing or saying things just to try to fit in — even if it is simply laughing at a joke nervously when you don’t know what else to do — can make people feel just as awful as saying those things totally earnestly. Being a bullying jerk is shitty even when you’re just laughing along. Enabling bigoted and prejudiced thought can be incredibly damaging and hurtful. So. Don’t be an asshole.

Extra Bonus Books That I Read Too Late But They Totally Would Have Shaped Me If I’d Read Them Earlier On!

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Age:18 (but suitable for 14-16 year olds, I’d say)
The Lesson: Rape is terrible and terrifying, and healing from it takes time, and just surviving with the reality of it every day takes incredible strength.
Amazon: Linky!

This is a pretty famous book that also got turned into a pretty decent movie (starring Kristen Stewart? Zomg no wai). It’s about a 14 year old girl who is raped by a schoolmate, and it deals with aaaaall the social SHIT around rape. It follows the beginning of her journey towards healing from her assault, and it’s a very real and honest story that is easy to relate to. It takes all the things we “know” about rape and brings it to us on a personal level, making the reader not only know, but understand.

When She Woke – Hillary Jordan
Age: 20 (but suitable for 15-17 year olds)
The Lesson: Autonomy is an incredibly important thing, and the reality of not having it would be horrifying.
Amazon: Linky!

I read this book just a few months ago, and I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s more politically-minded than any of the other books, so I think it’d be for an older age group than the others. The book is about a dystopian future (which is creepily similar to what’s going on in the states right now, actually) in which abortion is legally considered murder and people who have had abortions are socially exiled. It deals with what the reality of what taking away reproductive rights would mean for individual people. It shows how utterly important a person’s autonomy is, and how devastating it can be to have that taken away. It is, of course, wildly pro-choice, so yeah, some people would say it’s “political propaganda”. However, it’s about the personal relevance of the politics. It’s about how, if fundamentalist Christians were to really get what they want, individual people would be affected by their autonomy being taken away. It’s a reality that people who are pro-life often don’t seem to consider; I think it’s a reality that everyone NEEDS to think about, and this is a pretty well-written and interesting introduction to thinking about that reality.

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So, that’s my list! Even though I read the books when I was younger/I think the other two would be appropriate for younger readers, I’d still say everyone should read all of those books. Even though they will be a pretty easy read, they’re still really freaking awesome. And really freaking awesome books are great to read at ANY age! In fact, I’m going to go and re-read all of them RIGHT NOW.  You should go and read them too. DO IT.

I’d also really love to hear about books that other people have found to have the most impact on their ideology and mindset. What would YOU say is the book that influenced you most, and what about it was so influential?

A Quick Word On Hoodies and Trayvon Martin

Everyone’s doing it, I know. Buuuuuuuut sucks to be you, so am I :P Even though I know I’m a liiiittle late to the game. But still. Some quick thoughts on this:

So I’m sure many of you have already heard about the Fox News presenter’s opinion that wearing the hoodie was at least partly responsible for Trayvon Martin’s murder. And as you’re all awesome, I’m sure you all rolled your eyes at the utter stupidity of it all.

It’s just yet another case of victim blaming. That the conversation of whether hoodies count as “suspicious attire” or not is even taking place is completely ridiculous. Then again, the conversation about whether a short skirt means a woman “wanted” to be raped is fucking stupid too. It’s because it’s pretty much impossible to be a “perfect victim” — someone will always find a reason why something happened to YOU (and the implied — not THEM). Because YOU did something wrong. They come up with the clothing bullshit… but really the answer goes more like this.

This is what you did wrong:

1. You were black
(“he looked suspicious! In a hoodie on a dark night, anyone would have been scared by that. He should have known better!”)
or for rape:
2. You were a woman
(“She’s such a slut, she was drunk and practically begging him to! And did you see what she was wearing?? She obviously wanted the attention”)
in cases of rape of men:
3. You’re not manly enough
(mostly focusing on excuses about “he didn’t fight back (enough)!”, special focus if he were a gay or trans* victim — not-so-subtly pointing out all the ways the victim didn’t conform to [the ridiculous expectations of] society’s “masculinity”)

A crime will never be entirely the perpetrator’s fault in everyone’s eyes unless it’s like… a middle-class hard-working straight cis white man who never did anything bad (that anyone knows of), wasn’t down a dark alley or anywhere suspicious, wasn’t drunk, was wearing plain old jeans and a t-shirt, and fought back — extra points if he died doing what is considered to be a heroic job (police work, etc). And if he fills out all of those expectations, he is of course no longer a victim at all, he’s a tragic hero who lost his life far too soon in this unfair world.

Though middle-class straight-A-student innocent blondie prepubescent girls come very close in the hierarchy of the “perfect victim”. But she still remains a victim, not a hero — the tragic angel.

But Trayvon Martin was black. And apparently that makes it a little less bad. It makes his own murder a little bit his fault.

Oh wait no I mean HE WAS WEARING A HOODIE GUYS, WHAT A DELINQUENT.

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more reading:

Crunk Feminist Collective: On Appropriate Victims: More on Trayvon Martin and Others

The Angry Black Woman: Black in America

Tiger Beatdown: Obstructed Justice: The Death of Trayvon Martin