Daniela is a 17 year-old artist based in Brampton, Ontario.
This piece is dedicated to my mother, and her everchanging feelings surrounding her home country. It depicts the confusion that comes with immigrating from your mother country, and experiencing homesickness while knowing that you don't wish to return again.
The piece is an abstraction of her home. The fading quality of the acrylic conveys the fading of memories and the disconnect that comes with immigrating to a different country.
By Furqan Mohamed
Editor - Paola Duran
Upon stumbling across Tara Monfaredi's book on Instagram, I knew straight away that I had to pick her brain. She is a young woman of colour, whose prose is relevant and moving. Tara is a self-described writer, editor, researcher, and storyteller. Her collection of short stories, Seeds is a memoir published by Life Rattle Press. Canadian literature, especially in the genre of nonfiction, has struggled to reflect the rich diversity of this country and the deep ocean of talent available to us. In recent years, especially thanks to small and independent publishers like Life Rattle, there has been a rise in books that our culture is missing. These are the stories we deserve to hear, the ones that celebrate our unique cultural differences and highlight what we have in common.
Where are you from? (What culture do you belong to?) Where’s home for you?
I’m from Toronto, Ontario. I was born to an English mother and an Iranian father at Mount Sinai Hospital. I currently live in Brampton.
Your book, Seeds, a collection of short stories, explores "family, identity, and layered, intricate love". What do you mean by that?
All the stories in Seeds focus on people and my relationship with them. The first chapter is centered around my friend of fourteen years, Vanessa. The remainder of the stories are rooted in my biological family. I explore identity in the story “Hybridic Identity” in which I write about being a Canadian woman who is also half English and half Persian. I feel I have been socialized to be Western but there is still Iranian influence in who I am. My identity is often called into question because I don’t “look” Iranian and I don’t speak Farsi but being of Iranian descent is important to me and my identity.
I write about “layered, intricate love” by showing familial love. I write about grief and how love is at the basis of such an emotional state. Vanessa lost her father to gun violence and I write about visiting the mausoleum with her. I also write about visiting England when my Nanna died. Love is woven through all the stories and it comes through in subtle ways.
Does your family history and/or culture influence you? How?
Of course. I think about the odds of my existence being so slim. My father came to Canada to study and was forced to stay here because of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. He had no intention of staying in Canada. My mother came here to be a nanny. She didn’t have plans on staying here either. But my parents met each other, got married and had four children: me and my siblings. I feel I am headstrong because of my father. I have a great sense of right and wrong and duty to my family. Many lessons from my childhood my father taught me from his upbringing and his experience of being a diasporic person. I feel this has seeped into me and influenced who I am today.
What stories about your identity do you ever feel uncomfortable sharing (if ever)? Which are the ones you are most excited to share with readers?
I am a rather open person. You have to be, in order to be the kind of writer I am. I primarily write nonfiction about my life but there are darker aspects about my life that I have not yet shared. I lived under precarious circumstances as a child and my parents went through a lengthy divorce in which the courts were involved. The stories in Seeds do not tell the whole story. Perhaps my next book will cover the darker years. I am most excited to share stories that I think many people can relate to. I love hearing that readers connected to my work and reminded them of moments from their own life. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.
Which writers do you admire most? What books would you say shaped you/your writing style?
I admire Cormac McCarthy. The bare language he uses, it’s stripped down and beautiful. My style is rather simple. I show the story as it happened and do little to embellish it.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading Boys in Zinc. It’s an oral history of the Russian-Afghanistan War. I’m preparing to apply for my master’s at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.
What drew you to writing? When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
I have been writing since I was a pre-teen. I would write little poems and share them with my friends. I knew I wanted to be a writer after I had my first poem published in the school newspaper in high school. I was always drawn to it and always felt I had something to say.
Do you ever deal with imposter syndrome/the idea that your writing is not important or will not be received well? If so, how do you cope? What gives you the confidence to put your work out there?
Of course I do! I’m a writer! Having a great support system in my personal life helps. And having supporters of my work. I know I have a unique voice that no other writer has. It’s my stamp. It’s what makes me and my writing mine. There are many writers that I admire who I think their talent outweighs mine but I can’t compare myself to them. I just have to keep writing, reading, and working at it and one day maybe I can be among them.
What is the most difficult part about publishing a book? What is the most rewarding aspect?
The most difficult part about publishing a book is finding stories that fit together and are harmonious. I had a great body of stories and had to go through them and find not just the best ones, but the ones that made the most sense together.
The most rewarding part is having that physical, tangible copy in your hands for the first time. That’s the moment it really sinks in, I’m an author!
Is there any advice you would give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to read more. Read everything you can get your hands on. All great writers are avid readers.
What would you say to young writers who want to publish a book?
I would say read a lot and read the kind of work you want to write and publish. Get a good editor or two! They’re paramount. You can hire me if you’d like! And be prepared to work for it.
What writing would you like to do next?
I would like to write another book about the darker aspects of my life: living in government housing and my parent’s divorce, and my struggle with substance abuse. I would also like to write a novel. I have a few ideas in the works!
You can learn more about Tara Monfaredi at taramonfaredi.com
By Isabel Rodriguez
Editor- Michael Gillardo
As a member of Generation Z, I can wholeheartedly say my peers and I have seen it all. Born after 9/11/2001 and raised during the 2008 recession, the world of many my age has been a grim one. Political views are only further complicated by our concept of identity and individual experiences, as everything is intersectional. When it comes to the politics of me, labels are not my preference: because I do not care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Socialist or a Marxist. What I value is a willingness to bring about change in communities and amplifying the voices of the most marginalized.
My name is Isabel. I am 18 years old and I was born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles. I am a Latina woman currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree with hopes to go to graduate school. I like reading, writing, and watching documentaries. In other words, an ordinary young adult with goals and ambitions. However, that diminishes my experiences and identity.
I was always the only brown Latina in class. I struggle with mental health issues and chronic pain. I am a product of immigration. I am part of a working-class family. I attend a state school. All of these statements are facts of my life, my own truth if you will. However, what makes me political is the desire for a better future, for myself and those who are not being heard.
“Nobody's free until everybody's free.”- Fannie Lou Hamer
Shared knowledge propels me to advocate for others. The stories of our most vulnerable are often forgotten but affected most by political decisions. As a member of the Latine community, it pains me to see so many struggling with a path to citizenship in the United States and affordable healthcare, all while currently being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. As a woman, it hurts me to see the pain and suffering of BIPOC women in the United States. However, it is ultimately disappointing to see the negligence of intersectionality in our governing bodies, in the workplace, and amongst our peers.
The reason there is no change in policy for some of these issues is since everything is political, everything is subjective. As a society, and specifically on an individual level, we must not only hold accountable racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, we must amplify everyone’s story and remember everyone’s different struggles instead of just our own.
With that, I leave you today with a statement: in essence, if everything is political, we need dire reform and more engagement across all demographics. No one should worry about where their next meal should come from. No one should have to worry about student loan debt or affording healthcare. No one should have to worry about the air they breathe being harmful and the water they drink is clean. No one should have to worry about dying at school. These are the truths of the world we live in today, your politics should be more than just the economy and commodities, it should be worried about human life.
This is the politics of my life. It should be the politics of yours too.
By Charlotte McCollum
Photography by Manjot Arora
Charlotte is a student from the UK passionate about sustainable fashion who runs @bloggingwithbinks - a sustainable fashion page on Instagram.
If I’ve learnt anything from charity shopping, it's to buy the item's that you want as soon as you see them- because they won’t be there for long.
This zebra print puffer confirmed my unhealthy relationship with clothes. I've always known I have had a problem with buying clothes, but it was when I started dreaming about coats that I knew I had to address this.
I first saw the zebra print coat when browsing local charity shops in town. I locked eyes with the print and instantly fell in love with it, and it was mine until… I saw the price. It was £10! Now you may be thinking £10 is really not much and I’m aware that it isn’t … but as a student, every penny counts, and I didn’t need it anyways. I already had a puffer coat, it had a bold print that might not go with much in my wardrobe, and again, I didn’t need it. I walked away with my head held high, along with a newfound sense of self control.
This didn't last long.
I thought to myself: £10 is a good price for a puffer coat- and the money goes to charity! It would also look SO good with my black boots. Not only did I realize I need to work on the intensely materialistic part of me, but also that I needed that coat. Luckily, I was meeting my friend in town the next day. I confessed my fixation to her and raced to the charity shop, desperate to be reunited with the perfect zebra print coat. It was closed, and my heart sank. I genuinely could not stop thinking about this coat and had even told multiple people about my obsession. It was mine! No one else could have this coat but me.
This has happened to me so many times: the blessing of the charity shop is a curse in disguise. My favorite thing about charity shopping is finding items that no one else has, one offs that I can give a second chance and style into something unique to me. However, this means the good stuff GOES. I can’t count how many times I have told myself "no" only to go back and to discover it’s been snapped up. This was exactly the fate that I had feared for my zebra print coat. I should have just bought it when I saw it and saved myself rumination.
To make a long story short, I heard my housemate was in town, so I called her up and asked her to buy it for me before anyone else got their hands on it. (Thank you again Immie!) Yes, I am ashamed of this. It’s a coat. A COAT. But no one else could have it. I wanted to be unique, and to turn heads.
I saw two people in that same coat one week later. I had failed to consider is how trendy animal print is these days. It is originally from H&M and is currently on sale if any of you reading are interested, but just know that I got it for £13 less than the sale price.
Editor- Saif Khan
Nicolas Ruiz is a 19 year-old Columbian-American film student studying at Georgia State University. During the past few months, Ruiz wrote, recorded and produced a punk rock album under the name Nico! TOP Magazine had the chance to speak to Nico about his album (titled Garbage), and what his life is like as a young creative passionate about both film and music.
Nico, who started practicing music around four years ago, still considers himself “mediocre” in the craft. Growing up, he always had a passion for music- but could never see himself actually making it. Regardless, Nico found himself getting involved in music with the band he joined: BACKTOEARTH. When the pandemic struck and he found himself unable to record music with his bandmates, Nico began producing his first solo project- Garbage.
Nico and I started out our conversation by bonding over our interest in short films, and film in general. It’s something that Nico sees himself doing full time after graduating, which is why he chose to study film in university. Nico produced a short film recently that he’s submitted to a virtual student film festival. The artist’s love for film also manifests itself in his music projects, through the music videos for Garbage. Nico produced the video for his song Soft Sheets after he came across an interesting swinging bed in a vacation home that his family was staying at. Equipped with only an iPhone and his parents to assist him with filming, Nico shot and edited the video for the track. For his song Try Again!, Nico scripted, storyboarded and planned out the music video since he felt the song was an important one in the album. Nico’s father is a commercial filmmaker, so he used his equipment to shoot a good portion of the music video and plans to get the rest of it shot soon.
The album itself can’t be restricted to one genre: Nico says that his aim was to capture a mood rather than a specific sound, and the result of that was Garbage transcending any category of music. Instead, the album takes its listeners on an almost wild journey through the mind of a passionate and driven creative. The inconsistent nature of the album is like a roller coaster, giving you soft emotional ballads such as 6AM or Soft Sheets and punk rock-esq tunes like Egocheck all in one package. Garbage was curated over various bursts of inspiration and passion which, according to Nico, came at the “worst times.” The artist would get ideas while in the shower or in an online lecture, and he’d try to jot down his thoughts on his phone to refer to later. Eventually, this process turned into the fully fleshed out Garbage, which Nico released in late November.
Check out our Q & A with the musician below!
Who are some of your biggest inspirations for your music, and why? I get heavy early 2000’s soft rock vibes from your music- so I’m assuming that you draw tons of inspiration from that era!
That’s hard to say. I have different influences for every song. Most people I’ve talked to have pointed out how I’m basically trying to pull a The Garden by Beastie Boys thing with Egocheck, but other than that my 2000’s soft rock influences are spread out amongst the album with songs like Bright Pink, Soft Sheets, and Lost My Balance. Unlike Egocheck, I tried to pull a good mix (of inspiration) for the rest of the songs on the album. Bands I’ve drawn inspiration for Garbage include Pixies, The Strokes, Enjoy, Remo Drive, Twin Peaks, and even some early Weezer.
I’m in love with the cover for Garbage, and with your entire aesthetic in general. Where do you draw inspiration from for the visual aspects of your work?
I'm glad you like it! The album cover has had many versions, but I always knew I wanted it to capture the intentional inconsistency of the music. As far as visual aesthetics, I wanted it to have a really clean visual aesthetic while at the same time being really messy. My biggest inspiration for the visuals were these iSPY books that I loved as a kid, combined with the clean “perfect world” nature of a breakfast cereal commercial.
What’s your favorite track from the album, and why?
I don’t know. If I made a March madness bracket, Try Again! might win, but (all the songs) are special for different reasons. I think instrumentally and dynamically, my best song would be the combination of skiing on the back of a garbage truck and Egocheck (the two tracks play back to back to each other). I really don’t have a great reason for it, I just think it’s funny when a funky laid back instrumental turns into me throwing a tantrum on some drum and bass.
How long have you been doing music, and where do you hope to take it in the future?
I started learning guitar 4 years ago, and I didn’t think I would ever be capable of making my own project; it feels surreal. Wherever my music goes next, I hope I can spark someone’s love for music like my influences sparked it in me. To anyone reading this who wants to start making music: I’m a mediocre guitarist who made Garbage on an iPhone and learned how to sing from YouTube. You got this. As for the near future, I’m currently working on 3 personal EP’s and I’ll be releasing an EP with a new band soon too.
Check out Garbage here, and to stay updated with Nico’s work check out his Instagram!
By Millie Bevan
Editor- Ashleena Bilal
This piece isn’t trying to say that having autism in a neurotypical world is easy, because it’s not. It's to say that being autistic isn’t a bad thing. It’s difficult because, in general, the world isn’t made for us and proves to be confusing. But for anyone struggling with their diagnosis/symptoms (and any neurotypicals unclear on the individual nature of autism), I want to make it clear that having autism isn’t a defect. It can be a bonus in many situations, and when accommodated, autistic people can provide new perspectives and skills to the benefit of others. We have a place in society - no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum.
The following points are from my personal experience, but I hope they may enlighten you to the possible benefits of having autism:
1. It makes me a better actor
Girls with autism are often diagnosed later than boys, and I believe a part of this is to do with the fact that autistic girls are believed to ‘mask’ more than boys do (among other things). What this means is that we essentially make a huge effort to learn from other people’s behaviors, make sense of social rules, and fit in - masking many of our autistic traits and natural reactions. I think this is part of the reason why people say to me, ‘you don’t look autistic’ (not a helpful comment, by the way, there’s no way to ‘look’ autistic). While this can be exhausting, I believe it has also benefited me in certain situations.
Sometimes I know the social rules better than anyone else on account of having to learn them consciously. What this has done is make me a better actress - theatre being my passion. I have observed the reactions, and variations in them, of many different people. On stage, this translates to an insight into how my different characters might behave and has enhanced my acting ability.
Autistic people are capable of so many different careers. We are varied like the rest of society.
The topic of observation brings me to my next point. Autistic people experience a larger sensory input. This can become overwhelming - light seems too bright, sounds too loud, etc. - but when managed, it can also be to our benefit. My greater sensory input means that I tend to notice more than others around me; I observe more. When I am not overwhelmed, this can be useful in many situations. Some examples are:
And many more! Our traits are often deemed detrimental and can help other people when we are accommodated.
Like observation, my greater sensory input has always made me very sensitive to sounds. Researchers from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge have found that a higher proportion of autistic people experience synesthesia than the general population - that means that experiencing one sense triggers another. I experience this in a small way with sound; I might see colours when I hear music. I do not doubt that this, paired with my keen ear, helps me when I play instruments - I am very good at learning things by ear. Autistic people tend to also be very good at spotting patterns, in dates, shapes etc. For me, this translates to helping me when I’m playing piano as I can assess the patterns in the music, or when I’m learning vocal riffs as I see the notes in a sort of pattern. Pretty cool really, how my traits can transfer to some impressive real-life skills.
It is a complete misconception that autistic people don’t experience empathy. We may have difficulty working out exactly why or what you’re feeling, but when it comes to affective empathy, many of us are even more sensitive to changes in mood. We can be great people to be around when someone requires comfort or a space to be, because we truly do care. I know I care, especially due to the emotional dysregulation I experience as part of my autism, as I know how painful emotions can be and don’t want anyone else to experience such difficulty. Although we may not always be able to comfort someone in a traditional sense - because that’s simply not how our brains work - we can come up with some ideas for helping that are more unconventional, and this might be to someone else’s benefit. When people understand how intensely we can feel other people’s emotions sometimes, and take this into account, it can help us deal with it and use our incredible traits in other ways.
Stimming - also known as self-stimulatory behavior - is often considered a bit weird, but for me it’s a superpower of autism. Why? Because my stims can immediately make me feel better. For example, I used to hit my head when I was distressed, and over time this became a ‘hat phase’ when I would wear hats everyday as a way to feel comfortable. Now when I feel anxious, I only have to put on a hat to feel safer and be able to think more clearly. How many people have such a simple thing they can do to calm themselves? It’s so awesome! My stims can also help me express myself when I don’t know what to do, and even help me figure out what I am feeling. They are a tool to aid me in managing my emotions, and they feel so natural to me.
6. Special interests
Many autistic people will find themselves intensely focused or interested (some people may even say obsessed) with a particular topic or topics over the years. This has been of benefit to me as my various special interests over the years have provided me with a wealth of knowledge in a variety of subjects that can be useful at times. It also means that if I become interested in a particular project, I will pour my heart into it and work hard on it, which is to the benefit of everyone else involved. It’s also so enriching and rewarding for me when I find a new interest in this manner.
7. Being Neurodivergent
Simply being neurodivergent is a huge benefit. We think differently - that means we have different perspectives and ideas that may have been overlooked, but can add a great deal to the world. We can be innovative, finding solutions and expanding understanding for others in this wonderfully diverse world.
I hope this has revealed you to what can be some of the benefits of autism, and that you may see how wide this spectrum is in all of us. Once again, we have a place in society - and have so much to give in so many ways.
By Saif Khan
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
In the province of Ontario, Bill 168 is known as the “Combating Antisemitism Act,” which aimed to alter the legal definition of antisemitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliances views. According to Toronto’s BDS Network, the bill was first introduced in December of last year, and it passed it’s 2nd reading in the Ontario Legislature this February. Instead of a third reading taking place for the bill, the Ontario government unilaterally adopted the IHRA definition through an Order in Council on the 27th of October, due to the public outrage the bill was originally met with. On November 2nd, Ontario MPP Kaleed Rasheed stated that the controversial “illustrative examples'' of the IHRA definition, which equates criticism of Israel to antisemitism, had been excluded from Ontario’s adoption of the definition. However, on November 3rd, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) reported that statements from Ontario MPPs suggested that the examples remain in Ontario's adoption of the definition, leaving it unclear whether Ontario’s adopted definition equates criticism of Israel to antisemitism.
The definition in question is one that raises concern to Canadian academics and groups such as CJPME and Independent Jewish Voices Canada. In an open letter opposing the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, Canadian academics stated that they believed the definition “is worded in such a way as to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism.” The hundreds of academics who signed the letter believe that the implementations of the IHRA’s views undermine the Palestinian struggle against occupation, as well as the true global struggle against antisemitism. Antisemitism by definition is a form of racism, and according to the #noIHRA campaign’s official website “the real fight against antisemitism must be joined to the struggle for equality and human rights for all people in Canada, in (occupied Palestine) and around the world.”
Independent Jewish Voices Canada, along with other groups such as Toronto’s BDS Network, put on a digital panel to unpack the IHRA. I had the chance of attending the webinar, where I learned more about the speaker's thoughts on the IHRA’s definition, how it threatens academic freedom, and how it’s weaponized by right-wing zionists against pro-Palestinian speech.
The panel’s first speaker was Dr. Sheryl Nestel from IJV, who started by speaking about the rise of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. The definition was embraced by the IHRA in 2016, which then sparked a campaign for the definition to be embraced by institutions and governments. The IHRA is also heavily endorsed by the Israeli government, which only makes matters worse. Nestel spoke about an incident in the UK, where a fundraiser for Palestinian children was shut down due to the fundraiser being considered antisemitic under the IHRA definition. She also mentioned various incidents where universities in the US shut down pro-Palestinian initiatives, since the Trump administration also uses the definition, and how a conference in Germany was also almost shut down due to complaints backed by the definition. The original creator of the definition acknowledged that it’s being used in ways that were not of his intention, and though some people believe the IHRA definition is universal, there are tons of alternatives available by other organizations that challenge the definition. Nestel stated that by having special demands for antisemitism, the definition puts antisemitism over general racism, which is racist in itself. She believes that Palestinian hate is at the heart of the definition, since it focuses on defending Zionism rather than other issues such as white supremacy. Nestel also noted how the people that are often targeted by Zionists who use the definition are often racialized professionals, such as Angela Davis or Osgoode Hall Law School’s Faisal Bhabha.
Bhaba, who was also a panelist at the webinar, highlighted the fact that most right-wing free speech activists are silent on the topic of shutting down pro-Palestinian speech. Bhaba believes that the free speech of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims on the political left don't matter to said activists, and that institutions that value the IHRA definition practice selective free speech. The IHRA definition is used to distort the speech of the Palestinians in a way that is unique to the Palestinian people.
Other panelists, such as Dr. Greg Shupak and Dr. Nahla Abdo, elaborated on the points of the previous speakers. Shupak spoke about how use of the definition threatens the integrity of universities. The definition reinforces the pro-colonization narrative that many institutions aim to dismantle. He explained that the definition should not solely be framed under the context of threatening academic freedom and free speech, but as a threat to the educational and progressive environments of institutions as well. The professor believes that the definition’s use threatens students' education as well as collective anti-colonial liberation- which he believes is upsetting since universities are one of the last places where authentic understandings of truth and justice are fostered after neoliberalism has “hollowed out so much of our spaces”. The academic claims that this goes against educational institutions' mission of the truth and education.
Dr. Abdo reflected on the history of anti-Palestinian racism, and how the weaponization of the IHRA definition is in response to the increase of support for Palestine on campuses in North America and Europe. According the Abdo, the “unmasking” of Israel caused the Zionist lobby to retaliate, the IHRA definition being one of their strategies. The sociology professor went on to state that Palestinians aren’t policed solely by their local governments, but by the Zionist lobby as well. Various right-wing Zionist organizations work closely with institutions, and said organizations use the IHRA definition to police anything pro-Palestinian related on campuses. Abdo closed by speaking on Zionism itself, while connecting it to Canada’s own history as a settler colonial state. Zionism is an ideology that considers Jewish people entitled to their own state, which puts them above other people while racializing the Palestinians along with Jewish minorities. This isn’t different from many other settler colonial movements, such as the genocide of Indigenous people here in Canada. Settlers in Canada aimed to erase Indigenous culture and structure, and Israel hopes to do the same. This attempt to erase Palestinian history and struggle is supported by institutions who use the IHRA definition. If we can openly criticize our own nation without censorship, why can’t we do the same for Israel?
While it remains unclear what role the definition will play in suppressing pro-Palestinian speech in Ontario, it’s obvious that the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is a threat to Palestinian solidarity across the world. The IHRA’s definition goes against combating collective hate and racism, and that fact makes itself clear. Incidents such as the cancellation of a joint vigil for a bombing in Gaza and a synagogue shooting (due to claims that the event would portray Israel as a racist state), or a Holocaust survivor’s talk being censored by a Manchester university make this obvious. Both antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism are very serious and dangerous issues, and it’s important to fight against both collectively in a matter that doesn’t harm one or the other.
By Susan Moore
Editor - Saif Khan
Women, to the shock of many authors, exist as humans. They do not solely live as wives or mothers. Usually they take on many roles. They can be diligent businesswomen, protective sisters, loyal friends, caring daughters and devoted homebuilders; sometimes all of these at once. Similarly, rather than being the embodiment of a single trait; they are multifaceted. They may be intelligent, or perhaps frivolous. They have romantic longing, or they might be void of it. They may be naïve. They may be intelligent. They may be hurt. They may be downright crooked. They are as complex as (and if not more so than) any man. However, it is never easy to make a realistic character; let alone a woman. While it is easy to criticize a flat, disposable woman character; it must be admitted that not everyone is familiar with what a proper woman character looks like. It also must be admitted that women sometimes don’t know how to make women characters. After years of saint-like Cinderella's, tough YA Mary Janes, and many other damaging stereotypes (especially so for female characters of color) how can we really know what they are? However, there are some good examples that can give us a clear image.
Sometimes, an author feels that in order to make a strong female character, the character in question must be perfect. On the contrary, this is not only a poor decision but a damaging one. To make a woman perfect and all enduring is to make light of the struggles women in real life face. It is setting impossible expectations while also denying the right to be vulnerable. Therefore, the first and most obvious sign of a good character is that she is flawed. A beautiful example of this is Natasha Rostova from War and Peace (Or the musical adaption: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812). Yes she is youthful, beautiful, and vivacious; but she is also naïve. She is moody, she is impatient, she is impulsive. These flaws are not just present but they are active. These flaws hurt her and others to the point that is unbearable, and yet realistic. After all, if the ugly qualities do not rear their head; it is almost like they are not there. When a bold and brilliant heroine falls because of her own doings; we are struck by it. After all, we have been there too.
But imperfections in themselves do not promise a good character. After all, what good is it if she only lives for someone else? She must be able to stand on her own two feet, to live on her own. She should have interests, goals and desires. This seems very simple, but isn’t as common as we would think. After all, how many heroines’ lives have revolved around the ones of their male counterparts? A few excellent examples are the March sisters in Little Women. Jo writes, Amy paints, Beth plays piano. Meg wants to start a family, but it’s for herself. Aside from these hobbies, they have a complex web of interests and desires. Jo wishes for freedom and adventure. Amy wants beauty and comfort. Meg wants finery and romance. Beth is content to merely have her family around her. We do not have to guess at what they want, what they hate, what they need, which is how it should be. If real women have interests, there is no reason for them not to see that represented in their fictional counterparts.
Going further into the miraculous concept of a woman having her own interests, she should also have friends. Naturally, women have complex friendships, but sometimes there's not even a hint of their existence. Even worse, sometimes her only relationships with other women are hostile and filled with rivalry. However, a work of fiction that not only represents women friendships brilliantly but shows them in all their complex and sometimes messy glory is The Joy Luck Club. A masterclass in character relationships, we see mothers and daughters struggle to understand each other, we see women making friends and allies in a new country, we see tension and passive aggression as well as love and affection. The women in The Joy Luck Club don’t always get along, but at the end of the day they are friends. They interact in the way that real women do. Real women don’t always love each other, but they do not see each other as merely rivals either. If real women behave in this way, why shouldn’t fictional women behave that way also?
The fact is, there are many brilliantly written female characters. As time has gone on and we have progressed as a society, it has shown in our art as well. We, as an artistic culture, have almost started to expect that out of our writers. There is Christine from Ladybird, the women of Roma, Amy from Booksmart, all the women of Parasite, Juno from Juno, Mulan from Mulan, and Marjane from Persepolis. Of course, for every thinking, breathing, woman, there is a cardboard parody. But one day, hopefully, the parodies will be gone forever, and women will exist in fiction as they do in real life. They will be striking, as they are now, and they will represent us exactly as we should be.
By Furqan Mohamed
Editor - Paola Duran
When you hear the word "strike", you might think of the trades, like coal miners and construction workers. Or maybe, school teachers come to mind. In a capitalistic society, there are workers and owners. Workers, throughout history, have used strikes as a tool to remind owners that their labour is valuable and to negotiate things like better working conditions, salary, and benefits. The official dictionary definition of a "strike" is "a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer."
Earlier this month, we saw NBA players from the Milwaukee Bucks lead a strike during Game 5, in light of viral police violence against unarmed Black men and women, specifically Jacob Blake's attack. The Buck's, led by player George Hill, said deciding not to play was to demand "... the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform." Even though the strike didn't last that long, the mere idea that it's possible can be inspirational to workers wanting to demand justice for themselves and others everywhere. The NBA strike can also lead us to have a conversation about what it means for notable people to take action during tense political and social moments.
It can be weird or even confusing to consider basketball players as "labourers", but they are, albeit a unique kind. Remember, NBA players don't own the teams they play for; they are just employees of said teams. Unlike Amazon workers or grocery store cashiers, players' labour can't be replicated, and they can't be replaced, making them, essentially, the world's only kind of indispensable worker. NBA players are unionized labourers, they do produce a valuable good (their games, that we consume for entertainment), they are paid a salary, and have bosses who make a sizable profit from their labour. Basketball teams have owners, sponsors, and other stakeholders who gain a lot on the backs of basketball talent. Not to mention that dozens of corporations stand to make money from the advertisements. Challenging these authority figures and beneficiaries of labour by having strikes has been a tool used by workers everywhere, pushing economic and social change. The jarring nature of an NBA strike is the point, as it's the only way for unique workers like basketball players to have an impact is to have attention-grabbing, unprecedented actions.
This political action on the part of NBA players is different from other kinds of worker-led movements in two ways. One, many media outlets reported this to be a "boycott". However, that isn't what happened here. Workers can't "boycott" their place of work. And secondly, even if one does acknowledge the NBA players' action as a strike, it's a little inaccurate to call what happened simply a strike. The better term is "wildcat strike", sometimes referred to as a wildcat strike action, is an action taken by unionized workers without the permission and/or support of their union leadership. Wildcat strikes are a bold move, taken by workers when it's clear that those with authority, even those meant to represent them, will not support them in accomplishing their goals.
Wildcat strikes or any action taken by workers to achieve concessions has been a tool used since capitalism's inception. However, not all actions and activists are treated the same. So who exactly gets to lead a movement? There is a hierarchy of who is paid attention to when it comes to activism, even within celebrity culture. George Hill and Milwaukee Bucks players started the strike, and it gained momentum. Then, more famous and wealthier players LeBron James and Chris Paul met with former U.S. President Barack Obama, who essentially discouraged the strike in favour of "meaningful engagement", such as "establishing social justice coalitions". George Hill and the Miuakee Bucks started a strike that would, in theory, affect the economic viability of their team, which makes money for their state. No playing means no game, which means no advertising revenue for big companies who donate to political campaigns - all done in hopes of forcing their home state government officials to pursue justice for Jacob Blake.
In the whirlwind of celebrity voices, it's imperative that we do not miss the most important fact here: wildcat strikes happen when other methods of activism on the part of workers have been exhausted. Athletes have been on social media, taken knees, and worn face-masks with the names of those murdered by police. They have donated to multiple charities and encouraged their fans to register to vote. We have seen over the course this new moment of social consciousness that the politics of "we see you, and we're listening" does not cut it anymore. We are past the point of "establishing social justice coalitions". This strike was commiserate with this moment; because we're going through something significant, something big must happen in turn.
Mr. Obama enjoys a degree of acclaim and affection, but he does not hold any political office anymore and thus wields no legislative power. Nor is he in any capacity a labour activist or scholar. Why exactly was Mr. Obama consulted? The only reason that comes to mind is that he is a notable person, and beloved former president. Why did LeBron James suddenly become the point-person for thoughts on the strike? He is not a union representative for NBA players, and he did not start the strike either. He's simply an incredibly talented athlete with his heart in the right place. While one can admire both Obama and James, it is important to note that neither of them, not as a president or a player, has any skills or tools needed to meet this moment, only their popularity. We should have been hearing from George Hill and other lesser-known NBA players who started the strike, and from Black thinkers and activists involved in labour and worker's movements. Notable people can have an input on social justice issues: LeBrown James is a basketball player, so the strike would affect him, and both him and Barack Obama are Black men who are entitled to their opinions on policing and social justice. We just need to sincerely examine which voices are elevated and why.
While we should always interrogate celebrity activism, there is value in having workers as notable and unconventional as professional basketball players flex their power. It can inspire so many ordinary workers, such as fast-food employees and healthcare workers, to stand up for themselves and demand justice for themselves, their surrounding communities, and even their fellow workers around the world. Unions can be powerful forces for change, that can encourage people to work collectively and promote solidarity. In 2014, The Harvard University Press found that unions are often the first introduction to politics working-class people have. In Canada, about 30% of workers belong to unions, nurses, teachers, journalists and professional athletes, as well as the more traditionally unionized occupations like retail workers, miners, electricians and other construction trades workers. That's about four million Canadians who belong to a union, who have representation, job security, and can afford to pay taxes to support the growth of public services like schools, clean water, roads, electricity and health care, which benefit other citizens around them. This does not mean that all unions are automatically good, as police unions (as we are learning at this moment) for example, have historically protected members who have records of interacting violently with citizens.
Athletes have always had a role in our collective political imagination, from Muhammed Ali to Billie Jean King, and unions, as a means of attaining social justice, are having a new light shined on them in the wake of COVID-19. Both these facts combined lead us to appreciate just what NBA players did and didn't do, and what it means for future forms of activism. The NBA strikes have shined a light on the power of unions, and the power workers have with their labour. The wildcat strike could have been the start of a national strike, but instead the culture deferred to Barack Obama, and LeBron James. Celebrities can be useful in getting attention to movements, but there are limits to their power, and incidental consequences for only elevating their opinions, and not others. In this moment of profound social change, we should continue to assess the tools and tactics used to achieve justice, for everyone.
By Ellie Beaver
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
I strongly believe that the introduction of the meat industry into the US and the lack of education surrounding it are the reasons people still eat meat. I am confident that millions of Americans would change their diets to plant-based if they knew where their food was sourced. Since the start, the meat industry has sought out to promote their product as a strong, healthy, and vital necessity of our diet, when, in fact, it is not. The industrialized meat industry is a toxin that spreads far beyond animal cruelty, harming human function, and environmental sustainability as well.
The transition over the past century to plant-based diets has spread across the globe. However, the industrial meat industry, once a solution for the growing agricultural economy in the US, has turned into what seems like a horror film. "Ninety-nine percent of meat, dairy, and eggs in the US come from factory farms," so most people buying what they believe to be 'humane' animal products are wrong (Smith 1). The US was built on sustenance farming, but as we evolved into our consumerist lifestyle, factory farming was the only way farmers saw to keep up with the capitalist society. The invention of warehouses full of cages, assembly lines, and conveyor belts, helped the meat industry achieve maximum output while minimizing costs at the expense of animals. Due to these practices, "all animals raised for food, face violence despite regulations" (Smith 2). The animals are "often faced with castration, branding, and dehorning without anesthesia" (Smith 1). Just because a package of eggs is labeled 'cage-free', it is not necessarily cruelty-free. Shoppers should look for the boxes marked 'Free-range,' or even better: buy eggs from your local farmer's market or look into owning chickens in your backyard. Although factory farming does not only exist in the United States, we eat significantly more meat per capita compared to other countries around the world whose citizens’ diets are more similar to that of herbivores, as humans should be. There is "substantial research that proves humans were not meant to have a meat-based diet," take a look at the structure of our teeth (Smith 1). Studies have also shown "the irreversible health effects of animal protein" and, in some cases, the reversible effects due to transitioning to a vegan diet (Smith 1).
Some of the ethical questions surrounding the meat industry are rooted in its marketing and cruelty practices. In the Netflix documentary, The Game Changers, research and documentation show that the same marketing companies that helped promote the health benefits of cigarettes and cigarette sales in the 1960s were also involved with the mass marketing of the meat industry. Adds adorned by superheroes announce to young boys that eating meat will make them grow into manly men. The documentary shows a commercial for Burger King advertising that their smokehouse burger is a 'man's burger’. This type of marketing and the false idea that eating meat will make you big, strong, and perform better (which this documentary seeks to disprove) is what attracted many Americans to the product and helped ignite its appeal in the first place.
Animal agriculture brings not just animal rights and personal health factors to the table, but one of the main reasons the meat industry is causing such a fuss in today's society is due to its harmful environmental effects. In August of this year, "campaigners identified the world's largest-ever dead zone in the sea (van der Zee 2). Although many factors can contribute to the "pollutants that kill off or disperse marine life," the researchers "singled out the US's heavily industrialized factory farm system as a major cause" (van der Zee 2). The industrialization of farms has already taken a heavy toll on our world. Still, if we continue at this rate "it's a scientific impossibility that the 170 plus governments that have signed the Paris Agreement, which pledged to keep climate change to under 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, will meet that goal unless animal product consumption goes down" (Friedrich 2). Excessive antibiotic use is also a health risk that this industry presents: "in China, the farmers can freely prescribe and administer antibiotics [to the animals] themselves," creating an unregulated, uncontained form of GMO (van de Zee 2). It really makes you ask the question: do you know what you are putting into your body? This "false assumption that eating factory-farmed meat is 'natural'" is ignorant to the fact that these animals are "pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and they're raised in utterly perverse conditions" (Friedrich 2). We are voluntarily welcoming two existential threats into our world: climate change and an unsustainable food system.
As for those who recognize the harm, but are reluctant to give up meat, there are so many alternative solutions today. Non-dairy dairy products made with alternative kinds of milk and fats, plant-based "meat," and alternate sources of protein are all sustainable options. The hurdle of flavor for some Americans, has grown too tall to easily overcome. However, as more harmless products begin to fill shelves, I don't doubt that the trend will quickly catch on.
Right now, there is a tremendous "need to move away from industrial agriculture towards agroecological models" and phase-out of the moral and ecological horror that is factory farming (van de Zee 2). Year after year, this industry has proved to be "something that [goes] far beyond" just cruelty," and I believe that the more educated consumers become, the greater chance we will see for this industry (van der Zee 2).
Illing, Sean. “Ethical Arguments Won't End Factory Farming. Technology Might.” Vox, Vox, 11 Oct. 2016,
Smith, Kat. “99% Of All Animal Products in the U.S. Come From Factory Farms.” LIVEKINDLY, Publisher Name LIVEKINDLY Publisher Logo, 25 Apr. 2019, www.livekindly.co/99-animal-products-factory-farms/.
Zee, Bibi van der. “Why Factory Farming Is Not Just Cruel – but Also a Threat to All Life on the Planet.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Oct. 2017, www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/04/factory-farming-destructive-wasteful-cruel-says -philip-lymbery-farmageddon-author.