This is a special week

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May 29 to June 4 is Victims and Survivors of Crime Week in Canada. This year’s theme is The Power of our Voices and will include projects and events to raise awareness across the country. As a Victim Service worker at Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre (WAVAW) we were asked to take this time to reflect on what this work means to us.

At WAVAW we believe we are the women we serve. Only circumstances differentiate us from the women we support. We live in a society where violence against women is persistent and normalized, and where I could very easily find myself in the same situation as the women I serve. That makes the work so much more personal. And the personal is political. My work in victim services has led me to work with other like-minded women, to channel my frustrations into being of service to survivors of crime by supporting women and advocating to hold perpetrators accountable.

The work can be challenging at times when the stories we hear are distressing or when we work all hours of the day. But what keeps me going is the immense strength, hope and bravery I witness in the women even in times of tremendous horror and suffering. As victim service workers we help women within hours of a sexual assault taking place, helping them on their healing journey from trauma to recovery. In 2015 alone, WAVAW support workers answered nearly 4000 crisis line calls, accompanied over 100 women to Sexual Assault Services at Vancouver General Hospital, and spent nearly 200 hours in police interviews and in court with women as they testified against their assailants.

We still live in a society where victim blaming after a sexual assault is almost customary, where a victim must defend their actions in the wake of an assault even when it’s never their fault. After an assault takes place a survivor can easily feel isolated. It is easy to self-blame, self-harm and feel disempowered. An assault is just that – it takes power away from a person. So my focus is solely on supporting the woman. I am there to ensure the woman is treated with respect and compassion while she navigates the various systems. I am there to remind her that I believe in her and that she can move past victimization and start healing. It makes a difference in the life of a survivor to know they are not alone in their journey to recovery.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where this type of work is unnecessary, to live in a world free from oppression and violence? Rape culture is so prevalent in our society, and it has been made so much more noticeable to me in this line of work. It has made me more aware of the struggles and injustices in the daily lives of women all over the world, while making me blatantly aware of my own privileges. It is a privilege to be working in a field that brings validation and significance in my life. It is a privilege to use the power of my voice to join the multitude of others who work tirelessly to end all forms of violence against women.

#victimsweek

Passion is so overrated; but how to do what you love, and love what you do

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This post was inspired by something that I noticed in my professional life as an academic adviser in a school for designers. We see students who start their careers in design thinking they are following their passion, only to have their zest sizzle out by the middle or even just weeks before the end of their chosen program. When asked why they chose a career in design it is usually followed by a saying like “Follow your dreams or you will spend the rest of your life working for someone who did”, or “Do what you love”, or even simply saying “Art is my passion”. And the reason for ending their education half way through is often due to a “loss of passion” in the field, or finding a different “passion”. I see the same effect on people around me, who dabble in so many different projects because they were so passionate about all of them when they started, but do not have enough motivation to keep going to the finish line.

So we are left asking ourselves why are they so miserable after they started following their passion. Should it not be exciting enough to keep them going?

I think Cal Newport, the author of So Good they Can’t Ignore you, described this phenomena the best when he explained that there is no such thing as a pre-existing passion that you identify and follow. In actuality, it is the systematic build-up towards something which would be considered a passion. In other words, the more you work towards something and the better you get, the more skills you develop, the more interest you accumulate to keep going. This snowballing effect is what would be considered as having found your passion.

In fact, this is what study after study had discovered about people who are so passionate about what they do. They do not have a pre-existing talent or a special calling. Rather, something along the way caught their interest, like a really great teacher or a group of like-minded peers, causing them to practice more – which boosted their confidence – and motivated them to continue their project. As they got more skilled their passion grew as well. This is how people ended up loving what they do.

When you make a commitment to something, like a new project or a relationship, promise yourself to endure it to the very end. Some would suggest even being willing to suffer for it, because the benefits of completing is so fulfilling and worth it. This is also where goal setting comes in handy. Instead of being dismissive of that initial desire ask yourself if this is worth pursuing over a long period of time. Does this help you achieve your goals in the end? Or is it just a passing fancy?

When I am not an academic adviser by day I follow my passion in women empowerment by volunteering my time for a cause that I strongly believe in, giving a voice to women who have been assaulted. In the past decade there have been major cuts in funding for women’s services in Canada. And in all honestly, with the ridiculous cost of living in Vancouver it would be easy to just give up as I am not being compensated for my time and the efforts seem overwhelming at times. Rather than getting worn out I find that it has the opposite effect on me. The more I learn, my interests and skills are enhanced. I am also fueled by other women who help me as well as my own anger about social injustice. Even with massive strides in feminism and human rights women are still asked to do free labor. So here we are. In solidarity. Following our passion of ending all types of violence against women.

Christmas, Angels and … Feminism? Reflections on body image

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It’s that time of the year again. I’m not talking about Christmas, I’m talking about the time for the annual Victoria Secret fashion show. Since I do not celebrate Christmas, watching the show and making new year’s resolutions to work out harder has been my ritual for the past few years. This video seems to capture it all Weird Things Girls Do After Watching Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I watched the show this year with so much apprehension. I am fresh out of a radical, feminist, anti-oppression support worker training, so at times it’s hard not to see oppression everywhere I look. I need to remind myself to shut it off before I go bat-shit cray cray. So one half of me saw these women who were being objectified and actually felt sick to my stomach. And the other half was totally cheering them as they strut those amazing works of art in front of the world with such power and grace. I never realized how much power a mere pair of underwear had until I started watching the show. I always liked how they show behind-the-scenes footage of how much work goes into creating these angels – the army of experts backed by a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s really a shame they don’t show how the costumes were conceptualized and created.  Last year when I watched the show I felt like a fat cow even when I was in kick-ass shape myself. This year I was still in pretty good shape, but still swore off cupcakes because I wanted to strive to look like the angels. Anyone who has actually seen the show you can testify how sexually charged the show is. The feminist in me would say go for it, women are the masters of their own experiences.Cupcake in hand, I started browsing for tips on how I can look like a VS angel. I was so happy when I found this post online with the before and after pictures of the VS angels (Click here to see the images.). It made me so happy to see the fresh, un-made faces of these women. Although I actually thought they looked worse than the normal women I always see on the streets, I still found them to be beautiful without the make up. And it also reminded me that any woman could easily enhance their own beauty and look that gorgeous with the proper make-up and techniques… and a team of special effects people.  I know how lingerie brands are being glamorized as empowering women and they are so good at making women feel as if they are in charge of their sexuality. But this only perpetuates the idea that men still define women as objects. With women flaunting their bodies and “inspiring” other women to do the same hoping men will see their worth through these outfits, It’s not a wonder why sex trafficking and prostitution has increased. The entire brand is based around an archetype of a women according to patriarchal sensibilities. Even though women are still aware of the pitfalls of embracing sexist ideals of female beauty we are still not creating alternatives to eliminate those dangers. Will the girls who are watching the show know how to love our bodies as ourselves? Poor body image generally starts from childhood, and that doesn’t stem from the way you look but by the way other people make you feel about your body and your self. The first time I became aware of this was when I was 8 years old, and someone commented on my body shape, telling me I need to stop eating so many sweets or I would get fatter. I was neither skinny nor was I planning to be, and I thought of myself as just perfect up until that point. But from that moment on I was very self conscious about what I wore and what I ate in front of other people. Calling someone “fat” does not always refer to a person’s physical appearance either. The word itself can be used as a weapon, because to the listener it can mean anything from “ugly”, “stupid”, “slow”, “lazy” or “unloved”. And it is a form of oppression that it is used to dehumanize certain groups of people. When was the first time you felt bad about yourself or your body?