Take Back the Night

Edit: This blog post was going to be about comparing the way stories are taken and changed. I was going to look at UBC and the sexual assaults as a case study, but I was stopped by the TBTN website. Perhaps later.

Recently, I was inspired by Makoto’s post on the “take back the night” campaign and the sexual assaults occurring at UBC, to write my own post on Take Back the Night and the commodification of the name and people’s stories at UBC.

On October 30 2013, 200 students took to the streets of UBC to demand that the university step up it’s game in protecting student safety and dealing with rape culture on campus. The group held a “take back the night” event, which is an internationally held protest and rally against sexual assault and rape:

“Take Back The Night has become internationally known, as a way to take a stand against sexual violence and speak out against these horrible crimes. The first documented Take Back The Night event in the United States took place in October of 1975 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Citizens rallied together after the murder of young microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed to death by a stranger no more than a block away from her home while walking the streets, alone.

The first international Take Back The Night event occurred at The International Tribunal on Crimes against Women. The Tribunal took place March 4-8, 1976 in Brussels, Belgium. Over 2000 women, representing 40 countries, attended the event. In other parts of Europe, Take Back The Night began under the name “Reclaim the Night“. In 1976 there were roughly 16,000 rapes reported in Rome which fueled the “Reclaim the Night” movement in Italy. The movement expanded from Rome to West Germany, where women were harassed and assaulted both day and night. Women in West Germany held their first “Reclaim the Night” on April 30, 1977.” – Take Back The Night Foundation

While I was doing research on this campaign and it’s roots, I came across the website for the Take Back The Night Foundation®. The group was founded in 1999, in the USA, and has subsequently trademarked the name that came 24 years before them. The website has links for people to buy TBTN apparel and kits that include banners. A majority of the website is dedicated for people to buy things. There is page for people to sign a pledge that says

“I believe in what the Take Back The Night ® Foundation stands for, and support their cause to end sexual violence.”

Additionally the website has 50 pages dedicated for survivors (read: not victims) to share their stories anonymously. The stories are of people who have sexually assaulted in some way or another. The only thing that identifies the person is their age and their location. The stories are brutal and honest, and they provide a big wow-factor. Their purpose however is lost in the website. Surrounded by sign to buy wristbands and shirts and to sponsor the foundation, the stories become something else that we can “buy” and “consume.”

I think it is interesting to see how an idea or movement can be comidified into a trademarked organization that sell’s products and merchandise as well as stories. I wonder who this relates to Whitlock…



Comparing and Contrasting PostSecret and Six-Word Memoir

PostSecret and Six-Word Memoir are both recent genres created within the past 10 years. They are part of the larger life narrative genre that can be argued to include the: novel, blogs, graphic novel, etc. However, both of these new genre’s a unique approach to life narrative, as they are bite sized and only show a glimpse of someone’s life. Perhaps this makes it more easier for us to relate to them, as we can identify with a part of a person without all the complicated backstory. I am interested in the differences and similarities in these two genres and how they can serve different purposes. I will look at specifically at the time frame in these genres and the voices that get published.

In PostSecret the posts are updated every seven days with 20 new ones. On Six-Word Memoir the writer can post any six words and they are uploaded instantaneously. Then while Six-Word Memoir keeps the posts up forever, PostSecret deletes them after a seven days. What this allows is for PostSecret readers to focus on a few posts for a week, almost like a blog, and Six-Word Memoir readers get instant updates like twitter. PostSecret readers get to meditate on the issues that people are presenting throughout their autobiographies, and Six-Word Memoir readers consume mass amounts on info and then respond individually to the writer as there is a username system in place.

Something that I hadn’t thought of before was that PostSecret is really biased and subjective. Frank Warren receives hundreds of PosSecrets every week, yet he some how chooses only twenty to go up to the site. This is problematic because he is constructing an identity for PostSecret unlike Six-Word Memoir which is user generated. By limiting what goes on to the site he creates a perception of what counts as real secret and what doesn’t. The impact of PostSecret is important on the writers of the published, but what happens to the other nine hundred and eighty writers? Do they get relief? Compare this to Six-Word Memoir that let’s everyone’s posts to go up, and they have a forum for people to engage with the writer.

To the question of: Which one is superior?

It depends on what the submitter’s goals are. If it is to confess and move forward than PostSecret is the ideal platform as individual’s posts are highlighted for seven days in an uncluttered form. Six-word memoir is more for self representation and sharing with a wider community. With it users can share stories that they create that can relate to their lives, but not necessarily as vidid and raw like post secret. It doesn’t have as strict of a mandate and therefore can be more creative and serve more purposes.

Six-Word Memoirs have become a powerful tool to catalyze conversation, spark imagination or simply break the ice. – About Six-Word Memoir

The last message from “reluctant oracle” bore the message, “You will find your answers in the secrets of strangers.” The next Sunday the PostSecret began. – Frank Warren

In the end its impossible to say that any genre is better than the other. They both serve different purposes, but they do have similarities by being online and (semi)anonymous. They both have pros and cons, and that is important to remember.


“I Was Just a Little Girl”

“I was just a little girl. I was just a little girl when I went there, and he took so much away from me.” – Margaret Commodore. September 18, 2013.

Those few words echo in my mind still, almost a week after hearing them. The words capture the story of a woman who was able to forgive everyone if in her life, but not her abuser. The words capture the heartbreak of cultural assimilation, experimentation and execution. They capture the story of Margaret Commodore. Unable to come to terms that she was abused by her educators, she has spent most of her life repressing her emotions and anger; passing on what she repressed to her children. On Wednesday September 18th, in front of a crowd of thousands, she choked out her story in perfect english. Like so many others, her story follows the common narrative of residential school survivors.  As a little girl she was stolen from her home and brought to Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. There she spent eight years under the watchful eyes of her oppressors before being spat into the unwelcoming world of Canadian society. She came from a good home originally and would have been fine if she had been left alone, but “someone thought they were much wiser than the rest of us and they took as away to try to make us a different person and it didn’t work.”

As a Canadian citizen I have a unique role in reconciliation. Unlike foreign students, I have a responsibility to be knowledgable of the residential school system. I grew up in this country and it is an embarrassment and an offense to the struggle of First Nations people to be ignorant to this day. Despite the fact that I am a first generation citizen, I have to embrace the bad and good of what it means to be Canadian. If what it means to be Canadian is too deal with horrors committed by my government then I have to accept that.

I am grateful for my upbringing in the alternative school system from grades one to eight. Unlike my peers in Ontario, where Indigenous culture is not as celebrated and well known, I have always known what our society has done to Native Americans and other peoples it has deemed to be unfit for civilized life. However nothing can prepare you to deal with an issue face on. Nothing can prepare you to look at our demon, as Canadians, in the eye and tell it that you’re ready.

On the day of the TRC I went to the UBC Longhouse to learn more. They streamed portions of the TRC and we participated in group discussions to talk about our role in reconciliation. I was intrigued by the thread of education. Having started this problem in the first place, education ought to be the tool the fix it. One man said that what he learned about the residential school system in his Canadian high school was a two paragraph blurb in a textbook.  Countless others confirmed his story to be true for them as well. There is a huge gap in the Canadian collective and it has affects down the line. Less educated people are prone to stereotyping and racist ideas which plagues Native communities across the country.  Why is it that until this day the horrors of a institutionalized cultural genocide is not known by every Canadian?  Why is it that TRC is only known in British Columbia? Why is it that Native Culture is so celebrated here rather than the rest of Canada? These question played at my mind and still do.

Every Canadian citizen, new and old has a role to play in reconciliation. Because like other speakers said during the day, cultural suppression was not limited to only Indigenous people. Through the Chinese Head Tax, the Japanese Internment, and the rejection of Jewish refugees, Canada had proven itself where it is possible and willing to go.

Education is the tool to fix this. UBC has taken a great first step, but look at the native studies classes it offers. Why are there so few courses available. Institutions, especially UBC in it’s connection of being on stolen land, have a responsibility to implement and execute campus wide reconciliation programs. Public schools have to educate the young. Kids grow up quick and it’s time that we’re frank on what happened. The only way forward is though education and it is a responsibility that all Canadians have to be part of.


You can watch Margaret Commodore’s testimony here.