I was never a member of The Baby-Sitters Club

I’ve had The Baby-Sitters Club books on my mind recently. It might be because Roxane Gay wrote about the Sweet Valley High books in a few of the essays in her book Bad Feminist. I never got into Sweet Valley High, and I didn’t feel a strong need to identify with either twin (I probably would have picked Elizabeth), but for a few years, I really cared about which Baby-Sitters Club member I was.

I sometimes felt like Kristy, even though I didn’t play sports and I didn’t have a short temper and I don’t think I was bossy. I dressed kind of like her (although several of my classmates wore jeans, turtlenecks, and sweatshirts in grade three or whatever) and I sometimes felt more comfortable hanging out with boys than with other girls because boys weren’t socialized to tear each other apart.

I also sometimes felt like Mary Anne, because I had a lot invested in being well-behaved and I was kind of shy. But then I had a friend who I knew (or thought?) would always be better behaved than I was, and who was also very much into The Baby-Sitters Club, so I felt weird claiming the Mary Anne identity when it fit this other person so much better. But I guess we sometimes shared it.

I couldn’t be Claudia, because I was a good student and I got along well with my family and my fashion sense wasn’t as creative as hers. Or at least I thought it wasn’t. I actually did dress kind of weird.

I saw myself in Stacey a little bit. I was from a big city like she was, but that didn’t set me apart from anyone at school because we all lived in downtown Toronto. I wore a lot of black like she did, but I don’t think that ever made me look sophisticated, possibly because I was eight.

I definitely wasn’t California hippie tofu-loving Dawn, but maybe I’ve become more like her in recent years.

I didn’t think much about whether I would be a Jessi or a Mallory, and I wonder now if they were a bit low on personality. Their Wikipedia descriptions are on the short side. I think Jessi’s main traits were that fact that she was a ballerina (I danced too, but in Baby-Sitters Club land that meant you needed to always want to dance, which was not a thing in my world) and the fact that people were racist to her family (possibly to remind the reader that she was the black one). And Mallory just always seemed miserable with her huge family and not liking the way she looked, and that really wasn’t me at all.

And I stopped reading before I really got to know the other characters. But that’s probably enough about the characters (and me). My question now is, why do people need to do this? Why do we need to pick one character in a crowd to identify with? Because maybe some people don’t do this, but I know I’m not the only one who does, and I did it with other books and TV shows and movies, not just The Baby-Sitters Club. But it’s weird, because I’ve never met anyone whose personality actually matches up with a fictional character’s. And when someone in my life does remind me of a character it’s always in an unexpected and kind of weird way, not in a way that makes them an exact copy of that character. I mean, fictional characters are either too simple and archetypical to feel authentically like any real person, or so complex and rounded out that the likelihood of an actual person having their exact combination of personality traits and life experiences is way small.

I guess there’s something comforting about finding someone I can identify with and seeing how they interact with (and are loved and accepted by) people who are different from them, but since none of my friend groups ever really feels like the same mixture of people that I read about in The Baby-Sitters Club (or met in any other story), that identification often ends up feeling a bit hollow.

Also, I really wonder if it’s a coincidence that the two characters I identified with most were the two who had the same hair and eye colour as me. It probably isn’t, which just reinforces the fact that articles like this one (it says that the pendulum has now swung to far in the direction of diverse casts of television shows) are a load of crap. When I was a kid, I had enough white girl characters to pick from that I could sometimes narrow them down based on hair and eye colour, and maybe even height and body type, and still make choices based on personality. Diverse casts are important so that people can see characters that look like them AND act like them in multiple situations and at multiple stages in their lives, and it’s also important so that privileged white girls like me don’t think that the only characters that can really be like them are the ones who look like them.

(Also, Janet Mock and her Smart Ass Pop Culture Feminist Clique tore that article apart last week over here, and you should totally watch that video because her show is awesome.)

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Personal Responsibility

TW for sexual assault and mention of Dear Prudence’s awful advice

There are many things wrong with Emily Yoffe’s Dear Prudence article on how college women should stop drinking so as to prevent rapists from raping them (I’m not linking to it because it’s awful), but this is the part that really made me want to do something drastic. (Or just maybe want to write a blog post about it). The very last paragraph:

Lake [someone she quotes a bunch throughout the article] says that it is unrealistic to expect colleges will ever be great at catching and punishing sexual predators; that’s simply not their core mission. Colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. Lake says, “The biggest change in going to college is that you have to understand safety begins with you. For better or worse, fair or not, just or not, the consequences will fall on your head.” I’ll drink (one drink) to that.

(To put that last sentence in context, Prudie goes on a bit earlier about how she only drinks in moderation and still has lots of fun, I guess to imply that people who drink more than she does really have no excuse.)

Right. People go to college (or university, as they say in my country) to learn to be responsible for themselves. Except, I guess, for the people who actually commit any kind of sexual assault. Those people don’t need to learn any kind of responsibility. They don’t need to worry about anyone’s safety. They won’t ever have any consequences fall on their heads, or their toes, or anywhere near them, because we would all rather just blame victims of sexual assault for getting drunk.

This attitude of personal responsibility, the idea that we each need to look out for our own self, and not anyone around us, has screwed up this world so much. It lets us ignore centuries of oppression and structural inequalities. It lets us hold marginalized people responsible for getting themselves out of awful situations that they were forced into. It’s a ridiculous way of looking at the world that privileges the already privileged and screws over the already screwed over. No school should hold that as part of its core mission. We don’t need to teach people to be selfish. In fact, part of what students learn when they first start going to school, in kindergarten, is to recognize the effects that their actions have on other people in their community (at least in Ontario; I don’t know about other kindergarten curricula). It’s called empathy, and we could do with a whole lot more of it in this world. I absolutely agree that university should be one (of many) place(s) where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. But maybe they could try to build on the ideas that students learned in their kindergarten classrooms rather than contradict them.


Racism still exists.

Little tiny Hunger Games spoilers in some of the pieces I’ve linked to.

Several months ago, I wrote a piece complaining about the whiteness of the cast of the Hunger Games movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve been paying attention to the response it’s gotten online, and this one thing has pissed me right off. Apparently some people really don’t like the fact that some sympathetic characters are black.

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been stated. A part of me is actually really surprised. I guess I sort of thought that that kind of overt racism was generally understood to be Not Okay, and that even if people had thoughts like that, they would at least refrain from posting them on the public internet. Maybe it’s better that they’ve stated them outright, because at least that way people can respond to them. Tim Wise spoke on the Melissa Harris-Perry show last Sunday about overt and covert racism in the context of the Trayvon Martin’s case (starting at around the 10:40 mark). I guess it’s good to get a reminder that racism still exists and we need to keep working to get rid of it.

But it’s still gross.

Also, one little thing I do want to add: Many people have responded to these racist comments by pointing out that Suzanne Collins describes Rue and Thresh as having dark skin in the book. This is obviously true, and maybe a good way to trip up people who claim to be huge fans of the books but don’t want those characters to be black. But that really isn’t the point, and it actually helps to show just how insidious whitewashing is in Hollywood. If Collins hadn’t specified the colour of their skin, would those racist comments be more justified? Obviously not. But white people have grown accustomed to seeing the characters that they identify with onscreen also look like them, so, unless otherwise specified, they assume by default that the characters they identify with onscreen should look like them. And, even when it is otherwise specified, it seems like some of them still make that assumption.


Stylin’

I’m not sure what made me do it, but I bought a fashion magazine a couple weeks ago. I used to buy other magazines (lifestyle ones, I guess?), but that ended a few years ago and I really never missed them. But something compelled me to pick up this magazine. I saw it on the racks at Shopper’s a few times, and kept thinking I kind of wanted it but also knowing I didn’t want to spend any money on it. Then one day I just thought, fuck it, I want to waste money. I’m buying it.

I took it home and opened it for some easy bathroom reading. It sucked. It had nothing but ads. Ads for expensive clothes, ads for less expensive clothes that you could pretend were more expensive, ads for make-up, ads for skin-care products, ads for hair-care products, ads for accessories, ads for a bunch of things I never buy. I cursed my parents for introducing me to the evils of advertising when I was a young child.

But the problem wasn’t that the magazine had ads. The problem was that it only had ads. I wanted something I could read through after an exhausting day when my eyes were too tired to stare at a computer screen. I found one, maybe two articles that I could read. The rest of the pages were pictures of products with a tiny bit of text telling me where I could buy those products. I was amazed by how much I didn’t care.

I know that some people look at fashion as a form of art, appreciating it for its beauty, and others have an interest in where they might buy the products that a fashion magazine advertises. For those people, a fashion magazine might be a good thing to spend money on. I do neither of those things. For me, a fashion magazine is a waste of money. Lesson learned, I hope.


“Ten percent of teachers are bad”

Every time I see or hear a celeb say something awesome, I get warm tingly feelings inside. Actually, it doesn’t always have to be a celeb.

[Video of Matt Damon explaining that applying a paternalistic view to education policy – job security makes people lazy – ignores the fact that people go into teaching because they want to teach.]

I wouldn’t say that all teachers are amazing and no one’s allowed to criticize any of them. I’m sure there are many teachers who started teaching because they wanted summers off and really don’t put in the effort or care that their students need. And even the teachers who love teaching and want to be good teachers and are good teachers should be given constructive feedback so they can improve. Since the video seems to start in the middle of a conversation, I don’t know the entire context of what Matt Damon was saying, but the idea that not having job security is a good thing because it gives people an incentive to work harder is really problematic, and it looks to me like it’s mostly applied to people who work in the service industry or other industries that don’t make a huge amount of money. Didn’t BP’s executives get a bonus the year after the oil spill?

Anyway, a big part of me wants to go to Finland to investigate this. (I really have no idea how to go about doing this. I hope to figure it out before next summer.) Obviously they’re doing something right. The fact that all teachers need a masters degree that doesn’t just consist of “silly courses on education theory and history” (although I would argue that those courses can be useful sometimes) but actually learn things that “enable them to bring a higher level of intellectual preparation into the classroom” is pretty cool. I think that something should be done about teachers who don’t care about their job, but that comes from recognizing that teaching is a tough, time-consuming, often under appreciated job, and that people support and proper training to do it well.


Why we need to teach kids not to bully

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking inspired by this post by the awesome Captain Awkward about dealing with bullies in school. From what I’ve seen, people tend to think of bullying as mostly something that happens from kindergarten to grade 12. To a large extent, that might be true. People generally have a kind of independence after they leave high school that they didn’t have when they were in it. They might have more control over who they spend time with since they’re less likely to have teachers or parents telling them to just get along and work together, and if bullies find that every time they pick on someone, that person peaces out, they might stop picking on people. Plus, it seems that most people get better at dealing with bullies as they get older, likely because they have more life experience and that just makes you better at dealing with that kind of stuff. Or so I have found. I think it’s true that, in general, it does get better, or at least different.

But that doesn’t mean that bullying just goes away. Grown ups bully. I wouldn’t say they do it all the time, but they definitely do it, and I find it really awkward to deal with because how do you tell people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, or whatever to stop being mean? They should know by now that their behaviour is inappropriate. And what’s even worse is that when some adults bully, people call it doing their jobs. When I watched coverage of the New York State Senate’s vote on marriage equality, I kept thinking of the mean kids in the playground who somehow end up in charge of other kids, the ones who say things like, “You’re only allowed to play on the slide if I say you are,” not because they’re using the slide, but because it’s fun to tell other people that they can’t. It’s great that the senate voted for marriage equality, but in many ways it looked to me like a group of people saying, “Gay people can only marry the people they want to marry if we say they can.” It looked like bullying. When police officers abuse their power over people who annoy them or people who disagree with them, it’s bullying. Any time a person behaves in a way that serves no purpose other than to intimidate people or make them feel like crap, it’s bullying. And it’s definitely something that adults do.

It’s important to teach kids not to bully, for a few reasons. It’s important because kids are still learning to advocate for themselves, and they sometimes need help. They need to see grown ups sticking up for them so that they know it’s okay to stick up for themselves. But we also need to teach kids not to bully so that they know that bullying is not okay. So that they don’t grow up to be adults who bully. We need to tell them what all kinds bullying looks like, so that they can see it for what it is, and not do it. We need to make sure we don’t bully them, so that they don’t learn that it’s okay to bully people as long you have more power than them. We need to teach kids not to bully, because by the time they turn into grown ups, it might be a little too late.


Coming out as a bigot

Pride Week just ended in Toronto. The parts I was at were pretty awesome. Sweet hangouts, great weather, sore feet from walking, and by the end of the day I was covered in a coating of summer dust. Overall, it was a good time. Of course, Rob Ford, our mayor, decided he needed to skip all of that to spend time at his cottage with his family. I’m a little curious about what other major events in Toronto he’s planning on missing to hang out with his family. I’m guessing not too many, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

The way I see it, though, Rob Ford missing Pride isn’t the real problem. If he’s a homophobic bigot who only cares about taxpayers who engage in behaviour that he personally approves of, I’m much happier knowing that than thinking he might be kind of progressive. The real problem is that he’s a homophobic bigot who only cares about taxpayers who engage in behaviour that he personally approves of. The real problem is that a lot of people in Toronto decided that this was who they wanted to be the mayor of the city. Sure, none of them knew when they elected him that he would opt out of all of the Pride Week events. But was anyone really surprised to learn that gay rights are not one of his primary concerns?

If he runs for re-election, I hope people remember this. But more importantly, I hope they care about this. Because if the majority of people in Toronto really want the mayor to be the guy who doesn’t care enough about gay rights to even pretend he might care at least what the queer community thinks of him, then Rob Ford isn’t our biggest problem.