Fuck your “free speech”

Credit: FemmeThreads

To all the white dudes that think they’re so brave and strong and rational for shitting on safer spaces: your ignorance is showing. I know you think you’re breaking new ground and “fostering discussion,” but that’s only because you live in a bubble and have no idea what’s going on around you. You have no idea that we’ve heard these same, tired arguments a million times before. They’re not original, they’re not edgy, and they’re definitely not brave. All you’re doing is playing into the hands of people who have a whole lot more money and power than you do, and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Also, FYI, your defense is pitiful. You may not have noticed, but a lot of us got past “yay free speech!” a long time ago, mostly because we’ve never bought into the idea that your version of “free speech” ever existed in the first place. Only the most sheltered, coddled individuals could imagine that it’s not only desirable, but possible, to be able to speak freely without consequence. Only someone who has never had to fear being shunned by their friends and family, publicly humiliated, assaulted, or raped for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time could believe that this kind of “free speech” is something that exists on this planet for anyone but the most privileged. Only someone who has never been arrested, beaten, mauled by dogs, and pepper-sprayed for daring to join a public protest could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never been fired by their boss for suggesting that workers should unionize could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never had to directly interact with the criminal justice system as a sexual assault survivor could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never worked on a temporary visa and been threatened with deportation could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never been the only person of colour in a room full of white folks could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never been in the closet for their entire life because the alternative is too frightening to bear could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or protect their sources, or had their ideas butchered and thrown out by marketing and legal departments could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who has never heard of intellectual property rights and take-down notices could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who thinks that profit has nothing to do with what the media does and does not choose to cover could believe in “free speech.” Only someone who knows nothing about how power works in our society could believe in “free speech.” If you’re really that oblivious, then fine, go ahead, join the circle jerk. We know you’re insecure, we know you’re looking for validation, we know it feels good to be told that you’re right, to feel like you belong, to feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. Just don’t complain to us when you finally wake up and notice that history has left you behind. People are fighting to make things better, and you can either join that fight, or you can cling to an idealized past that never really existed in the first place.

And just a point of clarification, this rant isn’t for you, Mr. Anonymous White Man, because it’s not like you’d listen to me anyway (speaking has always been your strong suit, listening not so much). It’s for me and everyone else that’s sick and tired of dealing with your repetitive fucking bullshit. Because that’s all that it is, and all it will ever be. So do us all a favour, and drop it.

The 4 F’s- Feminism, Friendship, Filmmaking, and learning to not give a Fuck.

By Erin Rexe


Have you ever been watching a TV show that somehow speaks to your soul? Something that reflects your feelings and emotions, makes you laugh, or weep, or proclaim “THIS!” ? Believe it or not, this has only happened to me within the past few years. My experience in life is certainly not extraordinary, but as a girl growing up with incredibly funny friends, an occasionally bizarre sense of humour, and a penchant for both mischief and quiet observation, I never truly saw more than a brief glimmer of myself or my friends reflected in the female characters who dominated my TV screen.

I sat down with my dear friend Danielle Lapointe, who has created her own web series Shooting the Moon, which debuted this May on Youtube. I was very excited to ask her about bringing her ideas to life, especially in the form of a female created and fronted web series. As TV lovers, pop culture addicts, and feminists, we had a super fun discussion on what we’re watching and observing in the world of pop culture, social and digital media, and how to remain inspired in a world of constant (and instant) creation.

Erin: So Danielle, what are you watching right now?
Danielle: I’ve been watching The Mindy Project, I watch Catfish because I enjoy it, I watch Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City…oh, and Girls.
Erin: Have you watched the newest season of Broad City?
Danielle: Oh yeah.
Erin: I was talking to someone earlier about your series Shooting the Moon and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first season of Broad City, where Abbi and Ilana are just really doing their thing and navigating some hilarious and awkward social situations. Has Broad City been a source of inspiration for you?
Danielle: The cool thing is that when I was writing Shooting the Moon, it was 2014 and I was mostly watching The Mindy Project, which you had actually recommended to me–
Erin: Oh yeah, and I was totally late to the game on that one.
Danielle: …And I had heard about Broad City but my main exposure to it when I was writing the series was their 1-minute Youtube shorts. That’s how I had envisioned Shooting the Moon- these really simple Youtube videos that we could do in a week. Some of those Broad City shorts are just so good and well done, and revolve around these awkward situations created by young people being so connected to technology. So it’s totally possible they’ve influenced me– especially in the sense that our generation is becoming increasingly socially awkward because we’re online all the time, and so creators are becoming more in tune with these socially unstable situations that come from growing up in a digital era.
Erin: Yeah and I definitely think lots of things can exist at the same points in time without necessarily being aware of it, and like you said with digital culture there is this youthful awareness of what makes life hilarious and finding a way to communicate that to other people, especially peers.
Danielle: Totally, though I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people only believe that something is possible when they see it already existing—and I’ll admit that if none of these things already existed – The Mindy Project, Girls, Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, then it would have felt a lot less possible for me to make my webseries. I felt a sense that women were finally telling stories: about their bodies, periods, their sex lives, their dysfunctional job pursuits and people are watching and talking about them and we’re ready for it– women and men both. It’s crazy how this has felt like a new mainstream conversation in the past few years, but I definitely think that rubbed off on me and it made me feel like I could make a series about my life and that it wasn’t self indulgent. And I think Lena Dunham did a lot to be like “yeah, maybe it is a bit self-involved, but so what?” There are a ton of male centric comedies that revolves around a male protagonist. So it’s okay, you can make stuff about yourself and if it’s funny and it’s great quality, then people are gonna really appreciate it.
Erin: I think in general it’s kind of amazing how up until this point in time how as a young woman– a young person– how we haven’t been able to turn on the TV and actually feel it is reflective of your life or experience in the slightest, certainly sitcoms didn’t do that.
Danielle: You and I have had conversations when we were both going through breakups and you were like “you need to watch Mindy!” . That modern feeling of being heart broken has never been very well captured, or the emotions that really come with it, you know? So to me it’s not a coincidence that a woman is in charge of creating The Mindy Project, it’s important that we can watch this and be like “yeah, I totally get this.” Watching Dawson’s Creek or shows like that growing up I never felt any connection to it, or to the female characters.
Erin: Well and they’re so scripted it’s just not reflective of life at all– things just don’t happen the way things happened in Dawson’s Creek or Friends or other popular shows around that time. But to add to the point about Mindy, I think it also says something about how shows like that keep getting rescued when they’re on the chopping block of a major network, like maybe it didn’t appeal to a wide enough range of people or whatever the criteria is for keeping something on a major network, it’s not a police drama–
Danielle: Oh god, police dramas! Well and I think something they’ve clued into over the past 5 years or so is that you should forget about TV when you are considering a show’s popularity– that anyone who has cable or even owns a television is someone who is probably over 50. And therefore if you’re judging popularity of a television show by that demographic it’s like, my mom does not know who Mindy Kaling is. But if it’s me and my younger friends, they’re all streaming it online, and Netflix and other companies like that are starting to clue in that there is a huge viewership there of people who are watching it.
Erin: So you mentioned Catfish before, and now I will tell you that my shameful TV secret in my dark university days was watching The Hills and Gossip Girl.
Danielle: Oh that was a lot of people’s shameful secret!
Erin: Totally, and I think Gossip Girl was like The Young and The Restless for millennials, no one would admit to watching it but everyone knew what was happening.
Danielle: Have you ever watched or re-watched Laguna Beach or The Hills as an adult?
Erin: No, absolutely not.
Danielle: It’s pretty unwatchable. When we were teenagers and someone told me that it was a cool show to watch, and therefore I thought “this is the sort of life I should aspire to.” These 19 year old beautiful tanned Californians. They’re really nonchalant about the life they’re living, and I guess you might think that about whoever is financially a step ahead of you, but yeah…wow, I remember drinking that show down like a smooth sip of tea and now it burns like acid hahaha.
Erin: And I think it could be totally related to Keeping Up With the Kardashians in today’s world. Going back to watching kind of weird television while having a hard time in my personal experience, I watched this marathon of Keeping Up With the Kardashians while going through a breakup and I literally sat on the couch all day long and watched it because I didn’t have to think about it.
Danielle: If you ever watch a scene and take out what is actually being said, there is often no information at all. It’s a lot of speaking with no information. It’s a powerful thing and it makes it really enjoyable I think, and they’re smarter than many people give them credit for–
Erin: Oh, they are savvy business people those Kardashians, that’s for sure.
Danielle: I find Kim Kardashian really interesting– especially when it comes to her naked selfies– because it makes you wonder if she does have a feminist agenda. The sad part was that on Twitter, in front of 50 million followers or whatever, other celebrity women criticized her, and instead of her being body positive about her choice to take naked selfies, she insulted the women who criticized her, which in my opinion made it a lost opportunity for her to articulate what I suspect was in her case a bold feminist statement about owning your own body and owning your right to document and publish images of your own body.
Erin: Twitter is such an interesting tool. It’s pretty amazing how celebrities once seemed so completely untouchable or something and now with a few keystrokes you can reach out to them. Or in the case of Kim have other celebrities feud with you over a nude photo of yourself.
Danielle: Twitter is really super interesting with how it can actually turn celebrities into accessible people who will actually sometimes respond if you tweet at them. I was binge watching The People vs. OJ Simpson in a flu haze and decided I would tweet at some of the actors how great they were doing in their roles, and some of them were tweeting back at me, or maybe their social media handlers, i dont know haha. But yeah it’s a platform for giving people a microphone- and it goes both ways for positive and negative interactions with people. The negative parts of Twitter for women, and especially celebrity women is also pretty massive– Amy Schumer hit the nail on the head with a sketch in her show’s current season about a hypothetical Twitter button that says “I’m going to rape and kill you”. I won’t give too much away about it if you haven’t seen it, but watching it is a very concise and accurate depiction of what a lot of female entertainers have to deal with every single day on Twitter, and why some women like Lena Dunham or Iggy Azalea have had to step away from it.
Erin: So I wrote down only 5 questions to ask you, and most of them we have covered in a roundabout sort of way, but this one is actually my favourite: If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
Danielle: Oooh, I’ve always wanted to be an otter, I just feel a real kindred spirit with the otter. I think it’s how they go in and out of water with such ease, and I love swimming. Here I am justifying my connection with the otter, haha!
Erin: No no, you don’t have to justify it! Any animal you feel a connection with is important.
Danielle: What about you?
Erin: Well I think mine changes from year to year. For a long while it was a fox– I weirdly had never seen one before, living in the suburbs, and I went through this stage where I was staying out late at night and suddenly I was seeing them on a regular basis and it felt like it meant something. But right now I think it’s a bird of some kind, possibly a chickadee, one because they’re so darn cute and two because every time I look for a chickadee I will see one.
Danielle: Oh that’s really interesting. A young me might have said a lion. You really look to nature to signal out what your next thing is, huh?
Erin: Totally! I feel pretty driven by what I observe in the natural world, but I don’t know, maybe that’s because I can drive out to the country in 10 minutes and feel like I’m in not in a city at all anymore.
Danielle: Ugh, I miss that about Peterborough sometimes, just driving into the country and laying on the hood of my car and looking at the stars and the darkness. I don’t really think about that in my everyday life, but then I come home and do that.
Erin: Do you think you’ll stay in Montreal, and do you find the city influences you in certain ways?
Danielle: I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who can say “Oh I’ll definitely spend my whole life here” or “my home is Toronto or Peterborough or Montreal”. There are just so many different factors that come to play, so I have no idea if I will stay here or not. The farthest I can plan is for one year. But the other question is really interesting, does Montreal influence me as a person or as an artist?
Erin: Hmm, as a human being.
Danielle: I think it does, I’m just not exactly sure how. As a human being it’s so closely linked to the things I do and the things I create, and there are so many people creating things here that of course it’s inspiring but it also drives me. I see all my peers making stuff and I feel as though I’m in this environment that really fosters creativity. I think there are just so many people making really exciting things and doing exciting things that it keeps me on my toes.
Erin: I think it’s also great that you find inspiration in that too. For me, I can be a little weak willed or pacifistic or whatever and feel like too much competition could also be deterring sometimes from creating something.
Danielle: Well it can be, yeah. But that’s something I’m finding very freeing and I think it’s coming with age. Just in the past year even. I’m letting go of what this idea of success means. I was meeting people and being like “oh they have their own production company” or “oh they’re making this or that film” and that alone would make me feel jealous or lesser than or I would criticize myself. But today I can have a friend making something and be excited for them, and it could be something totally different than what I would make, and maybe this is naive or small town-ish, but I really do think there’s room for everyone. I made a comedy web series that’s lighthearted, it’s bilingual, it’s set in the indie film scene, and that isn’t going to be for everyone. Some of my friends are making experimental films or doing installations for galleries. There’s just no point in comparing because there is no comparing: everyone’s work is such a unique reflection of themselves. The only sense of competition is that we might be competing for grants or funding, and for example maybe their project gets funded and mine doesn’t, but it’s satisfying to feel finally that I’m going to make things that I feel are right and hopefully I can get money to do it, but if not I’ll find another way to make it happen because it means something to me. This mindset has only happened over the past few years, and the web series becoming reality has helped me feel more confident.
Erin: Right? Something that started off as just an idea is now a fully fleshed thing that is happening. That’s a super great point to make, not necessarily feeling a competitive edge that having so many people around you creating could have, but turning that into a drive, that is definitely something that comes with a mature viewpoint.
Danielle: Your creativity will be completely dissolved by you wanting and desiring things that other people have. The only important question to ask yourself is “What’s holding me back?”. When you’re really excited about a project and you’re going to make your best work, you need all your energy into that project alone.
Erin: It just seems like as long as you can bring an idea to life, that’s a pretty great thing.
Danielle: Absolutely, and while you wait for divine fictional inspiration to hit, there’s nothing stopping you from making a webseries about your life… Maybe we can make one about your life working at the library reference desk!
Erin: Haha, Hmm, I’ll think about that.

Danielle Lapointe is a Montreal based filmmaker whose web series Shooting the Moon is streaming now at http://www.shootingthemoon.ca

Erin Rexe is a pop-culture junkie, library lurker and worker, and freelance writer based in Peterborough, Ontario.

Five reasons I decided not to participate in Global Game Jam this year

ggjJust to start:
-If I had participated this year it would have been my fourth consecutive global game jam. -I’ve made some games I absolutely love at GGJ.
-I really didn’t want to ruin that streak.
-I am going to be jealous all weekend of my friends jamming back home.

All things considered, this is not a decision I have come to lightly.

I also want to acknowledge that I am a game designer by training and possess many skills and privileges that make game jams accessible to me. I know jams can be even more unwelcoming to other marginalized folk and there is a laundry list of points that I am not even touching on.

My decision not to attend this particular year has to do with my current knowledge of the only site that is geographically realistic for me to participate in and past experiences with jam culture. So lets get into my main reasons for not participating.

Sponsored Prizes
What could be wrong with prizes? Everyone likes the opportunity to be rewarded for the work they’re doing in their free time, right?  First of all, when the prizes are sponsored they can create or support a particular work culture. One of the sponsors this year is Red Bull. There is a pervasive machismo in games culture that often manifests itself in sleepless pissing matches. Bragging rights are won by the weight of the bags under your eyes. Having Red Bull sponsor a game jam, a particular sort of event that is known for replicating crunch culture, implicitly condones these unhealthy behaviours.

‘Merit-Based’ Prizes
Even ignoring the sponsors all together and pretending that there can be money with no strings attached (which this lovely talk by Carolyn Jong explains is impossible) going to an event that awards prizes has its own set of implications. Especially when there are prizes for the ‘best’ games. I’ll always be a fan of superlative awards (NYU’s ‘most ambitious disaster’ seems like it could be a good example—depending, of course, on its spirit) but the minute you have judges (and necessarily judgement) the creative process is impacted. Game jams are an amazing opportunity for collaboration, and it is sad to me that the only sites I can attend this year have an undertone of competition.

Lack of Resources and Support For Learning
One of the points that resonated with me the most from In a Jam Between Community and Capitalism: A Critical Look at Game Jams is that of the expectation to “take on the roles of teammate, teacher and student simultaneously” without the support of outside resources. The participants themselves are drained as resources. This means that to be a valued contributor, you must come to the jam already in possession of desirable skills. The jams that I will passionately describe as positive experiences in my life are ones that are just not one weekend. They are a journey of smaller experiences tied together that cumulate in a weekend. They expand over weeks or months with workshops, support, and community. The jam may last only 48 hours, but properly preparing participants for those jams makes them more accessible to people who may not have the training or skills or even confidence to try to make a game in a weekend. Conversely, lacking those resources will drastically cut the comfort level of first timers (more likely to be from marginalized populations).

Lack of Resources and Support for Safety
Not once, anywhere in any of the e-mails, was there a mention of the things that let me know that a space is being made safe for me to participate in. No mention of a safer spaces policy. No wording or actions that address any of the factors that systematically can make jams inaccessible. All of the pictures trying to show just how ‘happening’ this particular site is are crowded with people in a way that creates an anxious ball in the pit of my stomach. I have had sexist experiences at GGJ in the past, and it is important that spaces advertise that they won’t stand for those behaviours. If they don’t, they are enabling them. This total lack of any mention is probably why it irked me when their email claimed that they wanted to make “the most diverse and interesting jamsite on planet earth!”. Their diversity, of course, has nothing to do with marginalization. They want you to know that “artists, musicians, filmmakers, carpenters, architects, sandwich artisans and everyone else are all welcome.” I’m glad my skills have been welcomed (though even this claim seems to lack genuineness), but how can I feel safe when when my identity hasn’t been?

Focus on Results (the Biggest and the Best)
Often in emails about GGJ, there is discussion about the amazing games that have come out of jams past. How successful they have been. The not-so-subtle cries of “Look! You too can make a game that will end up on steam!”. The emphasis on this legacy of successful results puts pressure on the product not the process. I don’t jam because I want have critically successful games, and find that pressure a deterrent to the work I would like to do at a jam. This year I also got a couple emails about the push to make the site in my city the largest in North America. I’ve seen this before, and participated in jam sites with emphasis on being the biggest. That’s where my worst experiences have happened. It’s very rarely that being bigger actually makes you better. The ability for organizers to care for the well being of individual participants becomes exponentially harder the more participants there are. But this doesn’t seem to be a main concern. Having more people means your site it more desirable and successful.

This is not to say I hate jams. I love them, which is why sitting out this year is painful for me. There are ways to promote your jams in a way that would more people comfortable with the idea of attending. I have been to amazing jams. Jams that prioritize self care, learning, and the creative process. I want to go to jams like that in the future. This jam, sadly, just hasn’t led me to believe it will be one of those jams.

Laurels Monopoly

Sundance Film Festival has just announced the selected few filmmakers who will present their films this year. Sundance is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world and all filmmakers want to get their work into this particular festival lineup. I have heard wonderful things about the programmers there, and I know they are making real efforts towards showcasing diverse voices. This year, their program features an unprecedented 40% women-directed films.

To all those un-lucky filmmakers who weren’t chosen this year, Filmmaker Mitch McCabe wrote a heartwarming letter for the No Film School. While this letter is lovely, and I recommend you reread it every time you get a rejection, maybe it is also worth to have a discussion about the system itself.

It isn’t right that in 2015 we still measure ourselves as filmmakers by the decisions of a few chosen film festivals. A wonderful change has been taking place in filmmaking for the last decade. Anyone, anywhere around the world can make a film using very little or no money at all. You don’t need a production house to get you funding, big crew to take care of your 35mm camera, complex post production machinery to process and color your shots, or a company to distribute your film. You can crowdfund, shoot with your smart phone, edit on your computer, and distribute online.

This democratization of filmmaking is slowly but surely making it possible for anyone to make a film, and it is time that the way we award, measure, and critique films adapts to this changing landscape. While making your first film might be easier than ever, getting to the next, high budget filmmaking has possibly gotten more difficult than ever before. And, although the film production industry is finally being called to account for its lack of diversity, we are stuck with a very old-fashioned rewards system that is holding all the pursestrings.

The festival structure was set up for a different world, when there were less films made by less (type of) people, when there was no internet, when there was no digital anything. The best films were chosen, screened, the filmmakers awarded with prestige, and most importantly, investments for their future projects. Nowadays, when it is estimated that over 100 000 short films are made worldwide every year, festivals struggle to keep up with this volume as tens of thousands of filmmakers receive the letter: “Unfortunately…” Many films will never be screened in a theatre and it is getting more and more common, even for established filmmakers, to find it impossible to get into any festivals.


Filmmakers are obsessed with laurels. Laurels are the sign that your film was chosen to be in a festival’s official selection. Filmmakers put them on posters and promo materials signifying the superior quality of their film. It’s a proud moment and a stepping stone in a filmmaker’s life to receive such an accolade. It’s often short films that launch the careers of new filmmakers—but shorts are rarely distributed theatrically, or broadcasted on TV. The whole system is currently set up in such a way that upcoming an filmmakers’ merit is measured by which, and how many, festivals their films get into. Films, while in festival distribution, are not allowed to be available online, so even if your film is popular on youtube, it would not count towards IMDB credits, or with applications for loans from funding agencies. If your film doesn’t get into enough festivals, your chances of getting funding for your next project are incredibly slim. Laurels or nothing.

One of the first steps has to be changing the way festivals select their films. Programmers of film festivals are given tremendous power and responsibility within this structure. The pool of people who get to decide what is good, and what is bad, needs to be widened and diversified! Not just for the sake of filmmakers, but for the audience as well.

While in theory, we can all make films now with borrowed money while using Canon 5Ds, the chances awarded to filmmakers to step up and make the films that we really want to make is almost impossible. This credit and funding system was set up for different times and cannot cope with the number of films produced currently. The number of festivals has grown tremendously in the last few years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a higher chance of selection for your film. Smaller festivals will very often copy the list of selected films of bigger festivals to save money and time on programming. Which is understandable, when considering that a mid level festival can easily get thousands of film submissions.

The huge number of festivals might mean a higher chance for exposure for filmmakers, but it is also a tremendous financial stress. An average film festival will ask $30-50 for a single submission, while offering no guarantee that your film will actually be watched during the selection process. Maybe this is not so much for some, but if you have to submit to over a 100 festivals to get into even one or two, the financial constraints can eliminate a lot of talented, but financially strapped filmmakers.

We all think, write, shoot, and screen films within a context of a movie production system that was created for a different time. Made by and for one section of society, and made comfortable and easy for those people. When a system is not set up by you, it is really hard to perform well within it.

The monopoly of laurels needs to end. Beside the festivals we need other ways to prove ourselves and our films. It’s been overdue that the film industry invent a new way of validating filmmakers’ skills and merit. I am not sure if crowdfunding and youtubing are the answers, but for sure they are alternatives that are worth considering, when we think up a system that allows women, people of colour, genderqueer folks, emerging and established filmmakers at the same time to have an even field to compete. To have not only more agency over creation and distribution, but appraisal of their own films as well.

Oh… Canada: A Canadian Election Platformer

I have been spending a lot of my time panicking about the upcoming election. Living in the US, this has been without the support of numerous other Canadians in a similar panic. To cope I message my friends back home daily, and even bonded with an ex pat in a cafe when she overheard my Harper-directed rage. I’ve also spent a lot of time explaining Canadian politics to Americans who have kindly indulged me more than most people would.

Trying my best to be productive, I channelled this anxiety into making a game about the election. It is a platformer.

Enjoy the privilege of Harper, as you jump higher and farther to the right than anyone else. Take joy in Trudeau’s ability to switch directions on a dime, and his very pretty hair. Want a challenge? Scamper about as Elizabeth May, trying to garner as much attention as you can by live tweeting during the federal debates. Or, do nothing at all and watch the entire system drift slowly to the right.

Collect enough votes and see what your Canada looks like.

Play it here

Humorous Disruptions Colloquium: Laughter and Technologies of Disruption in Feminist Film and Media

Coming soon on Friday, October 16th and Saturday, October 18th, a colloquium called Humorous > Disruptions is taking place at Concordia University. The event is an in-depth exploration of the way humour is used within feminist media theories and practice, and it is open to the public – so if you’re in Montréal that weekend, do check this out.

The colloquium will explore the diverse possibilities humour offers as a technology, representational practice, and tool for renewing dialogues with feminisms in all their manifestations today.

In addition to the twelve artists and scholars who will be speaking during the colloquium (full schedule available here on their website), there will also be a public exhibition of works that bring together a diverse collection of videos, animated images, and online games, registering affective and humorous engagements with race, gender, cybernetics, and the body.

The exhibition will feature works by:

  • Copenhagen Game Collective (Ida Marie Toft, Andrea Hasselager, Sabine Harrer and Raimund Schumacher)
  • Erin Gee and Kai Cheng Thom
  • Kara Stone
  • Larose S. Larose
  • Peter Lu & Lea Schönfelder
  • Skawennati
  • Sophie Houser and Andrea Gonzales

The exhibition will take place on Friday 7:00pm – 9:00pm, October 16th 2015 in EV 6.735, SGW Campus, Concordia University, 1515 Ste Catherine Street, Montréal.

Concordia University’s downtown campus is accessible by metro (Guy-Concordia) and public bus (#24 Sherbrooke, #165 Côte-des-Neiges, #747 René-Lévesque).

Event Website & Schedule

A (partial) guide to treating women with respect and avoiding subtle sexism

This is a (partial) guide for any men who want to build considerate and respectful relationships with women. If you think you already know how to do that, you should probably read this anyway (especially point #11) since a) it never hurts to have a refresher, b) you might be surprised by some things and, c) you can then make an informed decision about whether or not to recommend this guide to other men. A lot of men who consider themselves to be feminists still unintentionally engage in behaviours that hurt and marginalize women. This may be due in part to the fact that a lot of feminist discussions assume that people already know “the basics”–they have to, or else we would spend all of our time repeating ourselves. However my experiences, which are based mostly on working in academic and game-related communities, suggest that a lot of things that seem basic on the surface tend to be overlooked, particularly when they’re expressed in a more subtle fashion.

Subtle sexism is, in some ways, harder to tackle than the obvious stuff–like the use of sexist slurs, sexual assault, or refusing to let women vote–because it’s almost invisible to people who aren’t on the receiving end. This “death by a thousand cuts” still has a huge effect, however, on women’s lives. It also impacts men, who often don’t understand why women react in the ways that they do to behaviour that seems perfectly harmless to them. This guide is intended to help address that gap in understanding, although it should be understood from the get-go that it’s very incomplete and not without lots of caveats, exceptions, and exclusions. With that in mind, the first step to creating respectful relationships with women is…

1. Give women space to talk and make sure you listen when they do

Listening is a highly under-appreciated skill. It’s also a skill that is absolutely crucial to building a more just and equal world, not just between men and women, but across other categories of difference and oppression. Listening involves two steps, the first of which is learning to recognize when you’re taking up too much space by talking over others and not giving people an opportunity to respond on their own time and in their own ways. Sometimes that means letting go of that really smart remark that you’ve been dying to share, but it also means opening yourself up to lots of amazing insights that you might never have encountered otherwise. Remember to keep in mind that traditional gender roles designate men as the speakers and women as the listeners (despite the “chatty woman” stereotype), so there’s a good chance you’re underestimating how much the men in the room are talking, and overestimating how often women talk.

The second part is actually listening, especially when the person is saying things you don’t really want to hear, either because you disagree or because they’re being critical of you or your actions. The moment you start to feel defensive in a conversation is the moment that you should be turning the “listening dial” all the way up, because that’s when you’re most likely to learn something new. Also keep an eye out for gestures, shifts in vocal tones, and other social cues. Is the person you’re talking to displaying any signs of discomfort around you, such as nervous laughter? Are they looking away frequently and avoiding eye contact, or shuffling and fidgeting? It’s ok if you have trouble reading these kinds of signs; staying attentive and checking in verbally if you’re unsure about something can still help to create a safer environment.

In some cases the safest way for women to deal with certain issues is to create a space of their own, outside the presence of men. If the idea of women meeting on their own is frightening or if it makes you feel angry or excluded, you might want to think long and hard about why you have so little trust in women operating outside the supervision of men. You might also want to think about why you feel entitled to that space, given that there are lots of spaces where women can’t go, either because of an explicit rule, or because the conditions in those spaces are unwelcoming and unsafe for them. Rather than challenging the need for such a space or accusing them of being “divisive,” allow women to make their own decisions about what they do or don’t need.

2. Be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

This is absolutely key, and something that a lot of people still struggle with. Rejection can be painful, and for a lot of folks the most “natural” response is to lash out against the person who rejected them. Unfortunately men are often encouraged to behave this way through subtle cultural signals and cues, which teach them that their masculinity, and thus their self-worth, hinges on their ability to assert dominance over others, to demonstrate persistence in the face of adversity, and to not take “no” for an answer. For example, think about the ways that male athletes, entrepreneurs, generals, and superheroes are often portrayed. Women, on the other hand, are taught to view persistent, non-consensual behaviour as “romantic,” and a sign of men’s dedication, confidence, strength, and overall superiority (Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are well-known examples). These gender norms are incredibly harmful, creating an environment where care and consideration for others are viewed as a sign of weakness–something to be avoided at all costs–while violence and domination are glorified and celebrated.

It also makes consent impossible, because it’s not consent unless the person giving it is free to say no, without repercussions. You may think you’re asking someone for their consent, but if your response to their “no” is to scream at them, shun them, insult them, fire them, or physically attack them, then you aren’t really giving them much of a choice in the matter. The fact that this sort of response is what many women expect when a straight man propositions them should give you an idea of just how common this sort of behaviour is, even among men who declare themselves feminists. It should also tell you something about why women will often give a noncommittal, half-hearted response rather than a direct no, because a direct no is too risky, especially if the woman is also poor, racialized, trans, dealing with a mental illness or disability, is a member of a stigmatized religious minority, or is otherwise disempowered. Which leads to the next point…

3. Don’t get mad at women for “failing to communicate” their needs or expectations.

The important thing to remember here is that women are often punished for communicating their needs. Sometimes the punishment is subtle, for example when a woman complains about how she’s being treated by her male colleague and is immediately told that she’s being “too sensitive,” or is questioned about minor details by people acting under the assumption that she’s unreliable, and is probably making things up. Sometimes it’s more overt, like when women talk about feminist issues online and receive death threats and doxings in return. In other cases, their concerns are heard, and then promptly ignored, which is disempowering and a form of punishment all on its own, since it’s the equivalent of saying that that women’s needs and safety are unimportant. Regardless, the result of this repeated punishment is that many women are either afraid to speak up or, perhaps even worse, are convinced that whatever problems they face are their own fault, a result of their personal failings rather than external factors that are outside of their control. In a lot of cases, women will simply “suck it up” and bear it, even when someone is being abusive towards them. When the behaviour becomes unbearable, they’ll leave the space (if they can), rather than raise a complaint and risk repercussions, sacrificing a lot of opportunities, and personal or professional connections, in the process.

If a woman isn’t communicating with you, there’s probably a reason. It may be because of your personal behaviour, or it may be because of the factors described above. In any case, the best way to deal with it isn’t to punish the woman for “misleading” you, but to think about how you can contribute to creating an environment where that woman feels comfortable being direct and upfront with you. No one owes you their trust, regardless of your relationship to them. Trust is something you have to earn, and insisting otherwise reveals a sense of entitlement to someone else’s time, as well as their private feelings and experiences. In other words, it’s just another way of asserting control and domination over others.

4. Don’t insist that women explain sexism to you.

There are lots of resources available online that will help you understand how sexism and other forms of oppression work. In many places there are also workshops and community organizations that are focused on educating people about these issues, and can help you find resources. If you see a woman talking about her personal experiences with sexism, don’t jump in and demand that she explain to you how and why it’s sexism. Chances are this is something she’s had to explain a hundred times before, and it’s exhausting having to repeat the same lines over and over and over again, especially when you suspect that the person asking isn’t really listening to you, but is instead looking for a way to prove you wrong. A lot of the time these questions about why something is or is not sexist are asked in bad faith, because the person asking has already made up their mind. This unfortunately impacts men who genuinely don’t understand what’s going on, since women are less likely to respond to them. This isn’t the fault of the women however, but rather of all the people that have tried to derail their conversations about sexism, questioned their personal experiences, and punished them for speaking up. Rather than forcing women to explain sexism to you and then getting angry at them when they refuse, try doing the research yourself.

5. Don’t make her responsible for the harm you cause.

It’s ok to make mistakes, everyone does. What matters is how you respond when someone calls you out. If you fuck up and hurt someone, take responsibility for your actions, rather than placing that burden on the person you’ve hurt. This applies toeveryone, but it’s particularly important when you’re in a position of power in relation to the person that you’ve hurt, and when the critique is specifically about how your actions reinforce that relation of power (for e.g. when a man is sexist towards a woman, when a white person is racist towards a non-white person, when a cisgender person is transphobic towards a trans person, etc.). Some general guidelines include:

Don’t make false apologies like “I’m sorry that you’re offended,” which shifts the blame and the focus of the conversation from your actions to their reactions.

Don’t insist that the person you’ve hurt is “overreacting,” or that they “misunderstood” your intentions. Your intentions aren’t what’s important—even the most well-intentioned people can cause a lot of harm. What’s important is the impact of your actions.

Don’t try to turn a critique into a personal attack on you and your morality. Again this is just another tactic for shifting responsibility onto the victim, while insisting that only people who can be proven to have “bad intentions” (i.e. virtually nobody) can be criticized. Chances are it was extremely difficult for the person criticizing your behaviour to even raise the issue in the first place. By arguing that they’re just trying to shame you or make you look bad, you’re actually implying that they’re the one at fault, making it more likely that they’ll keep silent the next time something bad happens to them.

6. Treat women as potential friends, colleagues, and fellow human beings first, everything else comes second.

Just because you’re attracted to a woman doesn’t mean this is the only way you can or should relate to her. Keep in mind that a lot of women are used to being treated as potential sexual partners, or “conquests,” first and foremost, while everything other than their physical appearance is either ignored, or else exploited in an effort to “win them over.” As soon as men discover that these women aren’t available for dating or sex, they suddenly lose interest in talking to them. This can be a pretty disheartening experience when it happens over and over again, particularly since women are taught–through everything from Snow White to cosmetic ads–that their main source of value lies in their ability to attract and please men, a lesson that is repeatedly reinforced by these sorts of experiences.

To avoid unintentionally playing into the sexual objectification of women, try to be conscious of how your level of attraction to a woman affects your behaviour. Are you more polite or friendly with women that you find attractive? Are you ignoring qualities about them that are more relevant to the given context, such as their professional background or technical skills, while paying undue attention to their physical appearance? Why? Would you be acting any differently if they were men? Note that casual sex and respect for women aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because you don’t want a long-term relationship, doesn’t mean they’re less deserving of your respect and consideration.

7. Don’t dismiss her just because she presents in a feminine way or likes “feminine” things.

Many of the things that are coded as “feminine” are also seen as less serious, frivolous, unprofessional, or juvenile. Sparkles, frills, ribbons, jewelry, the colour pink, cute stuffed animals, and cheerleading are all examples. The additional layers of meaning that these objects and activities have is partly a result of embedded sexism, and allowing those meanings to dominate your perception of the women who own or like them is essentially the same as viewing them through a sexist lens. The fact that a woman wears a lot of pink clothes with sparkles on them says absolutely nothing about her personal or professional accomplishments, her intelligence, or her ability to carry out “serious” tasks. The same goes for men and genderqueers who like feminine things or present in a feminine way.

8. Be careful with your compliments.

A lot of “compliments” that are directed at women aren’t really compliments, but rather a means of asserting control over them. They do this by making women feel obliged to show gratitude and acknowledge the person “complimenting” them, or else risk being punished by the man or their peers.

When the women suspects that the man complimenting them is attracted to them, but they don’t feel the same way, the simple question of if and how to respond can become a virtual minefield. On the one hand, they need to be extremely careful not to be too friendly with the guy, or they’ll be faced with more unwanted advances, and may be accused of “leading him on”–an interpretation that plays into the “seductress” and “slut” stereotypes. At the same time, they don’t want to be rude or come off as a “cold-hearted bitch,” another common stereotype, which could also escalate the situation or even lead to violence. As a result, women will sometimes feel trapped in situations that, from the outside, seem relatively harmless.

One way to avoid creating such a situation is to make sure that you get to know a woman before you compliment her. This will not only make your compliments more meaningful, since they’re more likely to be based on a real assessment of her strengths and interests than on some superficial feature of her appearance or her personality, but it will also give her a chance to assess where you’re coming from, and how you’re likely to respond to her actions.

Another possible way is to compare the compliment to one you would give a male friend or colleague. If the compliment sounds even slightly inappropriate to give a male friend or colleague, question why it seems appropriate to pay this compliment to the women you meet. Note that this thought experiment has its pitfalls, but is a good starting point when reflecting upon the comments and compliments you could make.

9. Don’t show up unannounced.

You might think that showing up at a women’s home or workplace is fun, casual, spontaneous, or “romantic,” but for many women this kind of behaviour is threatening and scary, particularly if they have been stalked, harassed, or abused in the past. By showing up without their permission, you’re signalling to them that they have no control over where or when they see you. If there is any uncertainty at all about whether or not it’s ok for you to come over without asking, even if you’re close friends and you’ve been to her place before, make sure you ask. Don’t assume it’s fine just because she “seems chill” or has been friendly with you in the past.

10. There’s no universal line for discomfort or distress.

These guidelines aren’t meant to apply equally to all women in all situations. Some women may be fine with you showing up at their place unannounced, while for others it could trigger a panic attack. The key is that you ask them first. Don’t assume they’re fine with it and then wait for them to tell you otherwise. Similarly, don’t assume that because one woman is ok with something, other women must feel the same way. Women all have different experiences and histories, and while there are definitely some common patterns that emerge, there are also countless variations and exceptions. Asking that someone spell out to you, in precise detail, a universal rule for when something is or is not ok is an impossible demand, since it depends both on the people involved and on the specific context. Power relations are tricky that way.

11. “Feminist” and “ally” aren’t badges for you to wear.

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching someone who claims to be a feminist or an ally use these words as a way to hog the spotlight or deflect criticism when they’re called out on oppressive behaviour. Ally isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card or a badge you can wear to signal that you’re part of “the feminist club” whenever it’s convenient; it’s an approach or a way of acting in a given situation that is about transferring power to, and operating in solidarity with, the marginalized and the oppressed. What this means is that you don’t get to decide when you are or are not being an ally. It also means you need to be accountable to the groups that you’re trying to support. Just because you did something helpful for someone that one time doesn’t mean that you have now been branded an ally-4-life and are free to do whatever you want. Taking on oppression requires constant effort and is a never-ending learning process. If you think that you’ve already got it all figured out and have nothing left to learn, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you love to talk about how you’re an ally but haven’t actually done anything to change your behaviour, you’re probably doing it wrong. If your response to being told that you’re doing it wrong is to shut down the discussion or “quit”… well you get the idea. Yes it can seem like a lot of work, but just remind yourself how much harder it must be for the people who are part of that oppressed group, because they don’t get to choose whether or not to care about their oppression, they live with it every day.

Thanks to everyone that helped me put this together.

Pockets are Feminist

Every year in the spring I see the city embark on a shopping spree for new clothes, new phones (!) and ice coffee. Just like everyone else, I also shed my spring coat and any other unnecessary clothing so I can float around freely in the warm, comforting summer weather. But hold on. Everything I’ve kept in my coat’s pockets are suddenly homeless. After an awkward moment at the local coffee shop and and a hurried trip home for the forgotten money I finally dig out a tote bag and throw my phone, subway pass, change and keys at the bottom. What a drag. Being able to afford not to carry a bag around all day is liberating and exhilarating. It’s empowering, and I feel robbed of that By the end of the summer I ache for the fall, when I can wear my rare, big-pocketed coat again.

Skirts, dresses, skinny pants, usual summer wear and feminine clothes all lack something that men’s clothes take for granted: usable-sized pockets. On a daily basis I ask myself: what is it with the tiny or fake pockets on jeans? What is this conspiracy against me living an efficient and functional life, where having functional pockets is not special treat? Sometimes I go as far as to think that it’s a conspiracy to ensure that women’s butts are unobscured for the enjoyment of bypassing men. But what I know for sure is that the lack of pockets is not feminist.

As far back as 1851, feminists have been speaking up for clothes that allow for free movement, independence and comfort as a significant part of gender equality. Pockets have been part of women’s clothing longer that you would think. In “Pockets of History: The Secret Life of an Everyday Object” fashion historian Barbara Burman explains that even in the 1600s dresses had inner bags that could be accessed through slits of the dress. These old half-bags/half-pockets were highly appreciated and often prepared with a lot of care and time.

LACMA/Wikimedia Commons
LACMA/Wikimedia Commons

On the turn of the 19th century most pockets on dresses disappeared. Women were not supposed to carry money and the sleeker silhouette of the time allowed for no under-clothes bag-pockets. As Burman says “the frustrations and limitations of women’s access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pockets.”

Pockets became a men’s thing. Portraits of the time often depict men with their hands in their pockets. As in many other ways it was World War II that out of necessity gave back some power, and pockets, to women. Women wore men’s pants, with men’s pockets, and although the pants stayed after the war too, the pockets magically disappeared, along with the jobs. And around this time handbags became a thing.

A lack of pockets pushed women to accessorize, a.k.a. purses, handbags, etc.. Of course bags can be a great accessory, but sometimes they just feel like a ball and chain. Mostly metaphorically, but sometimes for real:

altMaya Luz design on Project Runway

“I honestly believe the fashion industry is not helping women advance,” says Camilla Olson, creative director of a fashion firm. “We [women] know clearly we need pockets to carry technology and I think it’s expected we are going to carry a purse. When we’re working we don’t carry purses around. A pocket is a reasonable thing.” Olson shared with The Atlantic that she believes the industry is inherently misogynistic today. “Fashion looks selectively at who they let in and keeps women at a certain place. It’s not helping women move forward in the workplace.”

I usually wear a backpack, not because I like it, but because I could not survive my busy day as a working, running, on-my-feet life with something like a Birkin bag, not that I could afford one anyway. Women who dress feminine (which in this case often translates to clothes with zero pockets) sometimes have to carry 2-3 bags with them. What is that if not a disadvantage? Is it possible that women’s supposed obsession with bags is actually another twisted manifestation of sexism imposed upon us?

Masculine bags (i.e. briefcases) and unisex bags (laptop bags or backpacks) are usually well organized. Inside they have little compartments, places for everything. They are great for carrying around your important papers, because of course they assume the owner is a working person, with important things to do.

In contrast, most women’s bags are just a pit that dooms you to carry around your stuff entangled in a ball of chaos. Carrying paperwork? Forget about it. Feminine bags are not ergonomical. They are not good for your back, they often can’t hold a laptop and of course your paperwork will come out crumpled on the corners, humiliating you at work. I mean seriously, boyfriends are ashamed to even hold one.


Of course, everyone can carry around a briefcase or wear those military pants with the many pockets. The point is that there are tons of limitations and disadvantages paired with feminine clothing. Did you ever notice that women’s blazers don’t have an inner breast pocket? What is the reason beside making sure our boobs look appealing to others? Or maybe we should all wear our aprons, which have pockets, but then why even bother, since the kitchen has a lot of drawers, we can keep things in there.

Why does the fashion industry want us to carry around bags instead of putting pockets on our clothes? Why can’t we have pockets that our phones fit into? The industry’s answer is that it is “still being evaluated.” Probably they want to make sure the female figure is not obscured by bumpy keys or a wallet because pockets and feminine tailoring is just not compatible.

Of course not all clothes need to have pockets. But there needs to be a choice. It’s not the pockets that deforms the clothes, it’s what we could put in them. Please trust us women that we will not stuff our pockets till they burst (and even if we did, who cares? It’s our choice). Stop infantilizing us, it’s time give us the chance to make decisions about our own body, what we wear and where we put our iPhone 6.


What other things are baffling about women’s clothes?
Find out here!

Tin Can Telephone | Issue 1

Welcome to a brand new aspect of The Tree House, something somewhat inspired in part by the tradition of personal letters, blameful post-mortems and newsletters. News from the Tin Can Telephone is going to be something of a weekly or every-other-week blog post, filled with local and not-so-local tidbits about going-ons in the artistic universe (or sometimes other universes) that intrepid ambassadors from the Tree House (or sometimes just myself) want to bring attention to. As with everything from The Tree House, it is highly experimental and likely to morph whenever we need it to.

This week’s inaugural post on Tin Can Telephone features a beautiful illustration by Tara Ogaick. Thank you so much Tara! It’s a beauty.

Screen Shot on 2015-07-31 at 18-54-37

Pronouns, sexual attraction, bodies, parental acceptance, privilege and passing, these are some of the topics in the conversation between Quark and Lex in the videogameConversations We Have In My Head by Squinky. Quark and Lex are former lovers, who broke up over ten years ago, but Lex is also a figment of Quark’s imagination.

The first time I played Conversations I forgot about even checking if the game accepted user input. I had recently played Squinky’s game Interruption Junction at Princess of Arcade, and that game’s primary player mechanic is to allow the player to abruptly interrupt the ongoing dialogue. But unlike Interruption Junction, where the text of the game is too convoluted to really keep track of (think Simspeak), Conversations pulls the focus from the interruption mechanic to the content of the text itself.

It’s speaks to the quality of the writing and the concept that the game is greatly worth listening to at least once without trying to affect the outcome of the conversation. What really made the monologues and the back-and-forths compelling during my playthroughs was the intimacy of the conversation. The emotional closure available (and simultaneously unavailable) throughout the introspection of Conversations is paradoxical but also immensely desirable. That closure, which Quark finds in their conversation with Lex, can either feel like it is giving Quark a deeper understanding, and closeness, to Lex and Quark’s past (and present) selves, or it can feel distancing, the distance that becomes undeniable after ten years of silence post-breakup.

Squinky’s Interruption Junction and Conversations We Have In My Head rely on the player deciding to interrupt or not interrupt. Both games contain a character who gradually fades away, and both those characters are the self (or aspects of the self). Junction is a game about alienation while trying to participate in a social situation that may not have space for you, or what you have to say. Conversations takes that loneliness even further, exploring our need for closeness and closure within ourselves. With the same mechanic, Squinky is able to explore different emotional landscapes, as well as intimacy, loneliness and social interactions from two very different perspectives.

To find out more about Squinky and their games:

Screen Shot on 2015-08-02 at 11-28-55

Bloom by Caelyn Sandel is a serial fiction about a transwoman named Cordelia who comes to terms with her identity. Featuring illustrations by Kiva Bay and soft melodies on the piano (a few written by Caelyn herself), Bloom is striking, not only as an example of how beautiful Twine games can be, but also because of the sheer quality of the writing. Writing for Twine (and interactive fiction in general) is as unique a writing methodology as writing for the stage or for national radio – and Bloom delivers one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had with videogames writing.

Bloom is also technically superb. Betraying here my own admiration for aesthetically pleasing hypertext, it is often mesmerizing to watch Bloom‘s javascript deliver the lines (sometimes even taking them back for a moment).

Spoilers, and perhaps rampant speculation, ahead. If you have not playedBloom I highly recommend you go play it right now first.

Screen Shot on 2015-08-02 at 17-39-58

This apartment space becomes really familiar over the course of the prologue and five episodes. A large part of Bloom is played by investigating Cordelia’s most intimate and personal spaces – her apartment, her work – though we also follow Cordy to meet her family and on the metro.

I have to admit that last sentence on the page featured on the screenshot above – “The front door is intact and currently closed.” fills me with dread. The sentence is counterbalanced by the state of the kitchen door, but I look at that intact front door and still wonder what lies ahead.

Cordelia’s story, as Caelyn Sandel explains, is a “realistic depiction of midlife gender transition” and is extremely moving even if often distressing. I can’t wait for Episode 5.

To find out more about Caelyn Sandel and her work:

Some really good writing from Mattie Brice was published right at the end of July. I’ve always found Mattie Brice to be an incredibly thoughtful writer, and Passing and Self-Identification: Managing the Power and Visibility of the Closet is a very interesting piece on the difficulties of self-identification, power, and relationships, and some of the problems inherent in queer identitification.

I don’t think many people were ready for the messiness of queerness as a political identity. In effect, most people involved in the LGBT are fighting to be ‘normal,’ to be treated exactly as straight people are and to have those two groups live harmoniously with their owned houses, 2.5 children, and laberdoodle [sic]. Yet the pervasive adoption of queerness instead of LGBT is completely at odds with that vision, instead trying to move beyond straight vs gay, where straightness inherently contains queerness by the very virtue of defining them against each other. Heteronormativity is prevalent in LGBT communities, with straight- and cis-passing people being valued as inherently more attractive and sought-after. Queerness can’t hold a straight vs gay paradigm, but it will definitely let you get off to it.

Queerness is a concept in revolt – it always seeks to position itself as the “other” to any standard of normalcy. Queer itself is a word that was formed in retaliation (to a perceived, but some would argue very real) conservatism developing in gay communities, but for something that always defines itself as subverting heteronormativity, it can sure be easy to fall back into the pitfalls of the binary. Ideas like queerness are built to work as solutions – but we’re often unequipped to deal with the problems that these solutions create.

Embracing the messiness that queerness is means embracing what can go wrong, what has gone wrong, and taking responsibility for that. That’s part of the reason it’s messy.

To find out more about Mattie Brice’s website and Patreon.


by Gersande

Down The Trademark Rabbit Hole

Cover Image: Texture Under The Ice by Michelle Warren, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This is a blog post that was originally going to be much shorter, and part of a different post. But the more I read, the more I discovered that this story required more context, more nuance, and more space.

Investigating the trademark debacle surrounding Pride Toronto

Pride Toronto, after the outcry of gender and sexual minorities and organizations across Canada, released an announcement on the 21st of July when the public discovered that they were planning to trademark the terms trans* pride (where the asterisk can replace suffixes like -gender or -feminine) and dyke march.

To recap their blog post, the two trademark applications were made because the organization had discovered the intent of a Mysterious Individual who was trying to trademark the two names for their own purposes. Instead of publicly-shaming this person, Toronto Pride decided to quietly apply for the trademarks in order to protect the two terms.

As of this writing, it seems that Pride Toronto is going ahead with plans to withdraw their trademark applications, as they detail in their July 21 announcement:

Regardless of the original intention, we sincerely regret the misunderstanding and controversy that making this decision without engaging the broader dyke and trans* communities has created. In the weeks to come, we will work to engage partners and community leaders over the right way to ensure these events remain in the hands of the communities they serve. We will withdraw our applications to seek trademark protection.

Here are the links to the online Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), which still haven’t been taken down: the application for trans* pride and the application for dyke march.

Their claim of trademarking in order to defend LGBTQIA communities across Canada is complicated by further investigation into Pride Toronto’s past trademarking practices. This is not the first time that Pride Toronto has decided to trademark a common LGBTQ-related term, as documented by Vancouver Dykes March on July 18th:

Pride Toronto has a previous history of quietly trademarking generic terms and then using their trademark to generate revenue and eliminate independent competition. After they registered the “Pride” mark, we have been told they approached vendors – many of whom had been producing pride merchandise for years (some as long as Pride Toronto had been) and shutdown sales. To be clear, Pride Toronto could have simply sought trademark protection for a more specific mark, but chose not to.

Due to their previous behaviour, the lack of press releases or any communication with VDM on this matter, we are forced to conclude that their actions are a willful and overtly hostile attempt to demand licensing fees and impose conditions on Dyke Marches and other LGBTQIA organizations around the continent in exchange for the “privilege” of selling merchandise with these words on them.

Confirmation that Pride Toronto has trademarked the word “Pride” can be found here on the CIPO website. Toronto Pride’s habit of trademarking terms, especially for the purposes of merchandising, should be of concern to the LGBTQIA community. It is written explicitly on CIPO’s website that Pride Toronto is using the “Pride” trademark for the purpose of selling merchandise such as: “briefs, G-strings, bikinis, shorts, boxer shorts, clothing golf shirts, sweat shirts, tank tops, v-neck sweaters, baseball cap, sport bag, water bottle, poster”.

Pride Toronto is using trademark law for merchandising, but now there is also their claim that these later two applications were done to protect the community. Reading through CIPO’s rules and regulations for registering trademarks, there are legal procedures that exist to oppose in-progress trademark applications:

Any person with valid grounds for doing so may oppose a trademark application advertised in the Trademarks Journal. An opposition must be made within two months of the publication date by either filing a statement of opposition or requesting an extension of time to oppose. The prescribed fee must accompany the statement of opposition or request for extension. The Office of the Registrar of Trademarks will dismiss any opposition that it considers to be frivolous.

If your application is opposed and you do not already have an agent, you are urged to hire one at this point. The same holds true if you wish to oppose someone else’s application.Opposition is a complex and often lengthy process[emphasis mine]. Opposition proceedings are adversarial in nature and similar to court proceedings. Both parties may file evidence and counter-arguments, cross-examine the evidence of the other party, and make representations at an oral hearing. After a final decision is rendered, it may be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada.

There could have been a coordinated, public campaign appealing CIPO to refuse the trademark application, if what Pride Toronto says is true. While the anticipated legal battles that ensued would have been lengthy and expensive, it could have been par for the course for an organization that organizes one of the largest LGBT-related pride events in Canada. In acting quietly and moving to trademark the terms first, Pride Toronto unfortunately put themselves in a situation where they look like the villain.

Since July 21st, there has been no more word from Pride Toronto. CIPO still has the applications for trans* pride and dyke march listed on their website as linked above. Regardless if Pride Toronto is telling the truth, I am concerned about the ethical implications of defensive trademarking.

Defensive trademarking is apparently a practice that started so that one could be protected from “Trademark Trolls”. As reported by Vancouver Dykes March on the 21st of July follow-up of their Facebook statement in this document:

Despite our view that these terms should not be trademarked, “Trademark Trolls” have been on the rise in other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth (notably in the UK), and perhaps it is time to look at other options, such as having an organization that holds these marks defensively for community organizations, while being transparent, accountable, politically acceptable / politically neutral and bound by its own constitution / bylaws in what it can and cannot do.

The Mysterious Individual in Pride Toronto’s argument is one of these trademark trolls. I worry that somehow our legal system has made community organizations feel like their only recourse to avoid expensive legal battles is to trademark terms that should not be trademarked.

Wikipédia defines a trademark troll as someone who sits on trademarks in order to sue communities. If the only recourse to protect marginalized communities from trademark trolls is to rush to trademark terms first, it makes me question if governmental bodies such as CIPO are even equipped to deal with groups who want to use copyright law in order to commit hate crimes against communities. As Sarah Jeong, a legal expert on technology-enabled harassment and spam, writes in her latest book The Internet of Garbage, there are real structural problems in the legal and technological frameworks we currently use to deal with harassment, trolling, and spam. In the chapters “The Intersection of Copyright and Harassment” and “Turning Hate Crimes into Copyright Crimes”, Jeong breaks down the Garcia vs. Google case from December 15, 2014, a case which highlights how copyright law and harassment on the internet can become intertwined.

[…] mostly lawyers deeply familiar with copyright who had followed the case with great interest—were confused by it. Wasn’t Garcia a case about copyright law and preliminary injunctions? For Cindy Lee Garcia, of course it wasn’t. It was a case about her right to control her exposure on the Internet. But in her quest to end the barrage of hate aimed at her, she ended up in a messy collision with copyright doctrine, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and the First Amendment. (Sarah Jeong. “The Internet Of Garbage.”)

The Garcia case was notable for many reasons, but one reason was because it showed that when you try to appeal to copyright law to exert justice on your behalf as a victim of hate, the legal system will fail you. Laws that are meant to control intellectual property and the property of corporations are not equipped to deal with hate crimes. There are notable differences in copyright and trademarking procedures between Canada and the United States, but they seem to exist to give individuals and corporations the ability to control their property.

If Pride Toronto is being disingenuous, it worries me immensely that concepts such as “Pride” (as in “gay pride”) can belong to an organization that wants to secure merchandising licenses. Regardless, it seems like defensive trademarking is a common practice utilised to mitigate harm enabled by those exploiting the structures of copyright law. In the case of trademark trolls sitting on terms that belong to marginalized communities, it seems that CIPO is at risk of becoming a vector through which hate is dispensed.

Update 6:47PM

DailyXTra has released a longer investigative piece today on this matter: Who owns the Dyke March and Trans* Pride? Aaron Glynwilliams, one of the two co-chairs of Pride Toronto’s board, blames most of this scandal on “vicious” community in-fighting and on other internal issues unrelated to the trademark applications.

Further reading:


By Gersande