The F-word could be heard all over Vanier – all over the world, in fact – during the Week of March 7th. Not the usual F-word of course (although that one too was likely used often within the halls of the college as students received their midterm grades). Feminism was the word of interest throughout the week, as countries across the globe celebrated International Women’s Day. Naturally, Vanier took part in the movement, hosting its annual Women’s Rights Symposium, this year called Defying Categories.
Thursday morning, both presentations discussed various platforms through which women are empowered to make a difference. The main idea revolved around individuality, and how female empowerment can be achieved through many different paths and outlets.
Hip Hop Feminism: Expanding and Embodying the Genre
Peggy Hogan, AKA Huan Li, is a performance artist currently based in Montreal. Her multi-disciplinary career aims to cultivate a sense of community built through the lyrical and aesthetic qualities of her music. As a hip hop artist, she explores many themes, notably touching on subjects of sexuality, race, feminism, and relationships. She treated a semi-full auditorium of Vanier students to a live performance of two of her songs, including her latest hit, Luxury, which touches on the nature of “sugar baby” relationships, and the dangers women face in the sex industry.
Hogan identifies as sex-positive, defining the term as meaning that she is “comfortable expressing her sexuality”, adding that her mother “is always telling me to put more clothes on”. She is also open about being queer, and points out that society has generally been accepting of that, but that it has caused friction between her and her parents. During her presentation, she laughed it off and reassured the young adults in the audience saying, “once your mothers go through menopause, they’ll chill out”, telling the students that they should assume their identity and their ambitions regardless of other people’s opinions.
The focal point of Hogan’s talk was, of course, women in the world of hip hop. She gave a brief history of the genre, a musical style that doubled as a social movement of “youth taking back their streets and fighting for their freedom amongst the chaos”. Hogan makes a similar connection between the genre and women’s use of it to raise awareness and fight for their place on the international scene. She adds to this, commenting that hip hop has repeatedly been used as a tool to fight doubly marginalized people, such as black women – victims of racial and sexual oppression.
Hogan noted that hip hop lyrics and dance are often contradictory to feminist views. However, she argues that, when used to denounce aggression towards women, or when women interpret a derogatory song in their own way, it becomes a whole other form of hip hop – it becomes percussive feminism. This type of feminism is based on shocking people in order to challenge them into taking action, saying that a “personal source of social change” is more valuable than relying solely on “social structures” to change oppressive situations.
The World Before Her
The World Before Her is a 90-minute documentary that bears witness to a paradox between traditional and modern life styles in India. Written and directed by the Indian-Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja, it mainly focuses on the role of women and examines their limited choices in a patriarchal country.
Pahuja travels from middle ground to two opposite extremes – coexisting in the same society. Throughout the factual film, the viewers visit a beauty boot camp for 20 girls competing for the Miss India title in a Mumbai hotel. She also stops by Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Durga Vahini Camp, in which teenage girls learn about Hindu traditions and history, as well as weapon training and military discipline. What makes this paradox original is that both camps believe that they’re creating the women of a new India, the world’s biggest democracy.
The World Before Her reaches inside the dreams and ambitions of middle-class teenagers, in which they all seek to raise their physical beauty to the best level reachable in society’s standards – where it seems their identity is only findable between make-up products and Botox. Sabira Merchant, the pageant diction coach in the Miss India training camp, defines it as “a little factory […] where the modern Indian woman is polished like a diamond.” With scant regard to other aspects that a young woman should develop to complete her personality, physical appearance consists of the only source of insurgency and activism in a patriarchal society.
On the other hand, girls in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Durga Vahini Camp are brainwashed of obsolete costumes that have been surpassed by thousands of new civilizations. They’re taught to consider their powers inferior to men’s, and not to dare exceed their limits as women in the society. “Knowing that I’m a girl child, he let me live …that’s the best part. In a traditional family, people don’t let a girl child live. They kill the child.” said Prachi, the alpha female trainer at the camp, to justify the violence her dad practices against her. Girls are obligated to give up their femininity (and often their childhood), to become warriors in order to worship their gods, without any consideration for their individuality and freedom of choice.
Two different events, holding various values fall under the same concept: women’s place in human societies. Many ‘ladies’ aim to express their femininity and dream about their personal success in many different ways – starting from even the most modern kinds of art (such as hip hop), where Peggy Hogan, all strong and confident, finds herself. It all comes down to women suffering from patriarchal ideologies, sometimes without the right or tools to define themselves, who still make of their physical uniqueness an arm to gain their identical revolution.
Written By: Zeina Maan and Katherine Willcocks
Originally Published: March 2016