The Problems with “Brave the Shave”

As many know, there was a fairly large charity event on campus this week for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a pediatric cancer charity. Let me begin, I am not at all against advocacy or raising awareness for cancer charities. St. Baldrick’s deals with their money very ethically. All proceeds go into funding for pediatric cancer treatments. So, I do not mean this post as an attack against St. Baldrick’s or those who participated in the Brave the Shave event. However, I, and many others who have been diagnosed with cancer, find a serious problem with some of the methods used by cancer charities, including St. Baldrick’s. First, one of St. Baldrick’s main methods in fundraising is stating that pediatric cancer receives the lowest amount of funding from the greater cancer fund. While this is technically true, it is misleading. Yes, the pediatric fund is the smallest, but children diagnosed with cancer also receive funding from the specific diagnosis funds (e.g. Leukemia, lung cancer, etc.). This is not to say that the pediatric fund is not in need of support, but I believe it is misleading to market it the way that St. Baldrick’s does. My main issue is with the Brave the Shave event. While initially the event may seem to be in support and solidarity of and with those going through chemotherapy, it is viewed as insensitive and offensive by those in the cancer community. While I myself have not yet gone through chemotherapy (and hopefully never will), I must agree with this. Seeing people smiling and laughing while shaving their heads is deeply hurtful and seeing those who have shaved their heads everyday is just an additional, persistent reminder of what they have, are, or going to have to go through. Losing your hair while going through chemotherapy is not a choice you get to make; it is a symbol of the illness they are experiencing and symbol of their own mortality. The Sun did a story about an almost identical event hosted by the Macmillan’s foundation (https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/1725639/cancer-survivors-slam-macmillan-brave-the-shave-campaign-calling-it-disrespectful-and-offensive/). Here are some of the accounts they collected:

But people who have lost their hair to the condition have taken to Mumsnet in fury, accusing the cancer charity of being out of touch with patients.

One user wrote: ‘I can barely articulate how completely distasteful it is,’ while another added: ‘Completely agree about it being distasteful. I meet women suffering from cancer on a regular basis and none of them are happy about losing their hair from chemotherapy.’

Another shared her hair loss story and accused the charity of offending other cancer sufferers.

She wrote: ‘I hate these campaigns. I didn’t lose my hair with my previous chemo, but now I’m clinging to the last wispy bits covering my head.’

‘It is not just about ‘braving the shave’. It’s facing up to the reality that even if/when my hair starts to grow back, I’m unlikely to live long enough that it’ll ever be this length again.

‘My hair falls out everywhere. My scalp is all tingly and sore and flaky. The experience of just shaving off your hair for a laugh is just not comparable at all.

‘All the big cancer charities seem to have completely lost touch with the actual experience of cancer patients.

‘I know they need to make money, but why can’t they do it in ways that don’t upset or offend the people they want to support?

‘Though it’s partly about public demand I suppose.

‘Often the most vehement supporters have absolutely no cancer experience.”

Another sufferer made the point that shaving your head does not ‘make you brave’.

She wrote: ‘I try not to watch these adverts. It actually hurts my head – from the ghost pains of when my hair was coming out during chemo.’”

I want to make it clear that I do not believe that anyone who did shave their head as part of this event had any ill-intent nor am I claiming that this is the opinion of every person with cancer, but I do wish people would put more thought into how it might affect people. There are plenty of ways to show support and stand in solidarity with those going through something as tough as cancer, because ultimately, Brave the Shave is not support, but rather hurtful parody. 

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What Doctor Are You?

For this post, I decided to take a personality quiz to see which Doctor I match with the best. I found this on the BBC America website, link here: (http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2013/11/personality-quiz-doctor). With the rise of media companies BuzzFeed and PlayBuzz in the internet age, fans have no shortage of quizzes they can take to determine what characters they are most like. This particular quiz ask questions such as “What is your dream car?”, “What do you look for most in a companion?”, and what strategies I would use given a scenario where daleks take over my neighborhood. As I made my way through the quiz, I found some answers to questions that were obviously tied to a particular Doctor. At the same time, there were some where I had absolutely no clue what Doctor went with each answer. In the end, the quiz told me that I was the Eleventh Doctor. This is its description: “You’re truly one of a kind. They not only don’t make ’em like you any more, they never did in the first place! Somehow, even the most mundane of things can be transformed into a unique statement in your wayward hands. Your ability to raise eyebrows everywhere you go – while still somehow being entirely admirable – is unparalleled. OK, sometimes you make bad decisions and perhaps you’re too keen to let your reputation speak on your behalf, but you are a hard person to forget, and that is how you have come to have a reputation in the first place.” I have always thought personality tests are very much akin to the descriptions of horoscopes. The descriptions are always just vague enough that they can really apply to anyone. Spoilers, the way the stars happened to look when you were born does not contribute or shape your personality. I think this rise of personality tests and the revival of horoscopes is simply the need for people to be affirmed in some sort of identity by an outside source. Even with the Myers-Briggs test, which, admittedly is more specific and intensive than other personality tests, feeds into the ambiguity in identifying people. There are a lot of different personality types in Myers-Briggs, but it is still finite. I think the categorization of personality takes away from the nuance of individualism. When asked what my Myers-Briggs personality type is, I often respond with “Don’t put me in a box!” then eventually admit that I’m an ENTJ. So, do I think a Doctor Who personality test is harmful? No. However, I wish more people understood that though you may be categorized as a Cancer, or an ENTJ, or the Eleventh Doctor, that personality is not a concrete thing that can be categorized, no matter how questions you answer.

Return to Who

Note: This post was originally written in late January.

Since my early high school days, I have been a big Doctor Who fan. I have fond memories of bonding with my brother and sister as we worked our way through the New Who, doctor to doctor. I spent a lot of time reading and watching theories about the show, along with collecting memorabilia. When I graduated high school and left for college, I stopped keeping up with Doctor Who. This was around the time that the 12th Doctor was cast. So, after three years of college and not watching the show, I was excited for the opportunity to take an entire class centered around it.

As I have begun to rewatch the show, I have experienced a number of surprises. First, I was surprised at what I did and did not remember from the show. There were a number of key plot points that I completely forgot about, while at the same time, there were small details that I remembered with great clarity. It’s been nice to gain a sort of refresher as I go through these episodes.

An additional surprise has been how I am experiencing the show this time around. I am now looking at it through a new lense. The show was obviously not structured to teach a course about diversity, but it is an interesting perspective to use while watching the show. I have begun to notice things that I didn’t before. For example, in the earlier episodes, there is stunning lack of racial diversity. As a high schooler, I was not tuned into this type of focus, resulting in a new way of watching.

Having viewed these episodes already once before, I am able to focus more on the aspects of diversity rather than focusing on plot points. I believe that this familiarity will aid me in this class and how I should view the show.

I am very interested in how my view of the show will or will not change as I progress through the seasons. I am looking forward to how the show itself treats diversity as its seasons progress.

The Bees and the Bees

Most of us took sex education sometime between elementary and high school during the awkward years we call “the teen years”.  Most of us remember the class being uncomfortable, awkward, and even giggle worthy at times.  However, for some students the class was even more awkward and uncomfortable than for the rest.  

A lot of sex ed classrooms in the U.S. are very withholding and stingy about what information they give students concerning sex and reproduction.  Some schools refuse to teach it at all, while others give a short presentation over one class period.  Some do better, though.  They talk about the biology, consent, and how to use protection.  Still, almost all schools will only cover two topics when it comes to sex education: reproduction and heterosexuality.  And while it’s important that these subjects get covered, gay, bi, pan, ace, and trans students are largely left in the dark.  This often makes it extremely difficult for non-heterosexual/non-cis people to come to terms with their identity.  And important terms about sexuality and gender can go unknown for years, causing a lot of confusion and frustration both inside and out of the LGBT+ community.

Now, I’m not saying sex ed classrooms should introduce nsfw images and videos of different kinds of sexual situations in order to teach about these different subjects.  I am, however, saying that gay sex and straight sex should be talked about in the same manner, discussing the importance of consent and protection in both cases.  Many gay, bi, and pan relationships do not use protection during sex because they believe they don’t need it.  This is why the number of STDs in the LGBT+ community is so high.  Rape is also an underrated concern in the LGBT+ community.  Whether it’s non-consensual sex or “corrective rape” these types of sexual assaults often go unreported by LGBTQIA+ victims because they don’t understand what proper consent means for non-heterosexual relationships or situations.  These problems can help be corrected by discussing other types of sexual relationships in the sex ed classroom.  

It’s time to crush heteronormativity, and one way that can be achieved is by discussing other types of attraction the same way we talk about straight attraction in the classroom.  A half hour presentation over other forms of sexual and romantic attraction is all it would take to help normalize non-straight sexualities.  In the same way, a short presentation on the differences between gender and sex would help trans and nonbinary people come to terms with their identity, and help cis people understand what it means for someone to not identify with their assigned gender.  Simply acknowledging in the sex ed classroom that other sexual, romantic, and gender identities exist outside the cishet world we’re taught to live in can do wonders in helping achieve equality and understanding.   

Why Representation Matters

Too many times I see and hear people complain about diversity within a show, movie, or book.  Often times it goes something like this: “I don’t have a problem with (insert minority here), but I hate how (minority group) makes such a big deal about it” or “It’s fine if you’re (insert minority here), but I don’t get why it has to be in every single (movie, show, book) now days”.  Well, I’ll tell you why, and the answer really is quite simple: representation matters.

If you’re a minority, chances are you don’t see yourself represented a lot in movies, shows, books, video games, etc.  And being represented accurately or in a non harmful way is even rarer.  So for minorities, seeing themselves represented accurately in their favourite show is a big deal.  

And it’s especially important for children (minorities or not) to see all kinds of diversity on the screen from a young age.  A child who grows up watching shows with many different kinds of diversity is more likely to be more tolerant and understanding.  But the children it impacts the most are the ones who belong to minority groups.  A gay child watching a show with LGBT+ characters is taught that there’s nothing shameful about being gay.  A black child watching a show with POC characters is inspired to become whatever they want to be.  A young girl watching a show with female characters is strengthened and empowered.

For adult minorities it’s a bit different.  Often times seeing representation on television is a great reminder that there’s no reason to be ashamed of who you are.  Some groups of adult minorities though have never or very rarely see their respective group portrayed on television, so when a character does represent them it can be shocking and emotive.  For the first time, they finally see someone like them in their favourite show, book, movie, or video game.

If you still don’t understand why representation is so important, try thinking about it this way.  Think of the colour of your hair.  I’ll use brown as the example.  Imagine that only one or two of your friends have brown hair, maybe none of them do.  You hear and see a lot of comments that people with brown hair are mean, they say that people with brown hair are stuck up and only care about themselves.  Some people even say that people with brown hair don’t exist because they’ve never seen a brown-haired person.  But you know that’s not true.  At least you think so.  You’re not mean or stuck up, right?  You did stand up for yourself the other day, but that wasn’t being mean, right?  Maybe it was.  Maybe you are as stuck up as people say.  But you do exist.  When you think about yourself you think about your brown hair.  It’s really there, right?  Or maybe you’re just pretending to have brown hair.  Did something happen when you were younger that turned your hair brown?  Are you sure you aren’t mistaking your brown hair for black hair?   You probably just want to feel special so you say you have brown hair, but you really don’t.

Then, one day while you’re watching your favourite show, a brown-haired character is suddenly introduced.  And you’re in shock because that character is like you.  And they aren’t mean and they aren’t stuck up, and they aren’t faking having brown hair.  Can you imagine how happy you’d feel to finally see someone like you on tv, especially after hearing and seeing so many comments stereotyping who you are?  This character finally shows what it’s like to be a brown-haired person.  This character reminds you that you aren’t alone.  

This is what it feels like for many minorities to see themselves represented on the screen.  Hopefully you can imagine what a big deal this would be and why minorities demand that they see more of themselves on television.  

Lastly, diversity isn’t just about minorities.  Television shows, books, and movies that showcase minority groups help raise awareness among majorities.  For example, searches on Google that contained the word “asexuality” spiked to the highest it’s ever been after Todd from BoJack Horseman came out as asexual in September 2017.  Because BoJack Horseman decided to feature a minority many more people are now aware of a term they probably didn’t know before.  Like the asexual community, many other minority groups benefit from people actually knowing who they are and that they exist.  And all groups of minorities benefit greatly when a character representing them is not shown in a negative and harmful light.

In conclusion, representation matters.  Minority groups get so worked up because they often don’t have good representation to be satisfied with all the time.  What makes them a minority also makes them who they are.  It’s a lot easier to feel good about yourself when you’re given good representation.  

Asexuals on Television

i am asexual todd chavez

On September 8th, 2017 the hit animated TV series “BoJack Horseman” became the first ever television show to say the word asexual aloud.  At the same time, one of the leading characters, Todd, became the first ever confirmed asexual character on television.

Throughout the series, Todd seemed to struggle with his identity.  Several scenes showed Todd not picking up on sexualy or romantically suggestive situations, and in season four Todd is quoted as saying, “I’m not gay. I mean, I don’t think I am, but… I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”

i don't know what I am Todd Chavez

This line resonated with a lot of people in the asexual community who admitted they felt similarly before realizing they were asexual.  A lack of representation hits the asexual community especially hard.  Few characters on television or in movies have ever shown asexual characteristics, making it hard for a-spec people to find themselves in popular media.  Some characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Sheldon Cooper, and Jughead have been accepted into the asexual community as a-spec characters, but up until Todd Chavez, none have been confirmed as such, much less said the word out loud.

In a heteronormative world with next to zero representation in the media, asexuals and aromantics have an extra hard time coming to terms with their identity.  For some people, Todd exclaiming that he’s asexual on television may have been the first time they had heard the word, period.  And in a sex-obsessed world, it’s no wonder so many a-spec people take so long to realize who they are.

Todd Chavez coming out on television is especially important because of who he is as a character.  First of all, he’s lovable.  He has a quirky, likeable personality, and he’s interesting; someone you’d want to be friends with.  Second, he has several close and loving relationships on the show, and he’s got feelings.  He’s not an unfeeling robot and his lack of sexual attraction doesn’t make him any less human than his companion characters.  This can’t be said for almost all headcannoned asexual characters.  Both Sherlock Holmes and Sheldon Cooper have very stiff, stuffy personalities.  They lack almost any sort of affection whether it be toward friends or romantic partners.  And for the most part, they’re emotionless shells, barely human.  But very few headcannoned asexuals are protagonists in movies or television shows.  Most are cold, unfeeling villains such as Voldemort from Harry Potter, Moriarty from Sherlock, or Dexter Morgan from Dexter.  And if they’re not villains, they’re mentally insane, or both.  This creates a toxic image of asexual people as being less than human.  Todd is one of the very few characters to portray asexuality in a positive light.  

Todd’s asexual announcement has made asexual history, and will hopefully pave the way for even more positive a-spec representation in all forms of entertainment.  Todd Chavez has become an asexual television idol for a-spec people to see themselves represented in.  I have no doubt that by actually hearing the word asexual on television will help many non-asexual people understand the orientation, and many a-spec people come to better realize who they are.

Asexual meet-up todd chavez

Feminism’s Issues With River Song

Warning:

 River-Song-Spoilers

River Song first appeared on Doctor Who in 2008 in the episode “Silence in the Library”.  From the very beginning we realize that River Song has known the Doctor for a long time, and has gotten quite close with him, even though this is his first time meeting her.  It’s not too long after that we learn that River Song is the Doctor’s wife.  Fast forward a few seasons and a new Doctor and River Song’s backstory becomes even more complicated.  Before she even knows who the Doctor is she’s been trained to kill him.  Before that she’s in a different body and posing as her parents’ best friend back in high school.  And before even that, she isn’t River Song at all, but Melody Pond.  

You’d think such a complicated backstory would lead to a thoroughly complex character who’s interesting and emotive, and you’d be right… for the most part.  River Song is an extremely interesting character with several different storylines and plot points.  She’s strong and as intelligent, if not more intelligent and witty as the the Doctor.   She’s incredibly fierce, but not lacking in emotion either.  

Honestly, I could go on for hours about how great River Song is and delve for eternity into her backstory and timeline.  There’s just one thing about River that makes some feminist fans shake their heads.  And that is; why River Song is in Doctor Who at all.  Her appearance in “Silence in the Library” only creates more questions about the Doctor and who he really is.  In “The Impossible Astronaut” she’s there to kill the Doctor.  Her big role in “Let’s Kill Hitler” was to poison the Doctor then revive him again.  It might start to become clear: she’s there for the Doctor.  

Unlike the Doctor’s companions, River Song’s entire life revolves around and leads up to the Doctor.  She’s there to be the Doctor’s wife.  She’s there to kill the Doctor.  She’s there to save the Doctor.  She’s never in an episode where the Doctor’s fate or love interest isn’t her.  And that’s a problem.  No matter how complex her storyline is, or how interesting she is, we can’t ignore the fact that her sole purpose on the show is to be there as a plotpoint for the Doctor.  

I love River Song’s character.  I think she’s an absolutely brilliant character.  But what I, and many other feminist viewers of the show want is for River Song to be there for herself, not just so that the Doctor has someone to save, kill, or kiss him.  River Song’s already complicated backstory is a perfect opportunity to include plot points where River is there for herself.