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Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications


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October 05, 2020

Marina


The Bildungsroman and Robert Thomas Byrnes

By Marina Lee Koslock

marina lee koslock is a producer, journalist and audio artist based in winnipeg. she has a masters degree from new york university in literary reportage, with a specialty in audio documentary, narrative nonfiction and journalism. marina has worked both in the journalism and publishing departments at nyu, and outside the academy, she has worked for vice media, radiotopia, and the cbc. she is currently working on a middle years novel about lineage and magic, and a memoir on lost family histories. 

At the top of the hour, and not a moment sooner, Dr. Byrnes would whirl into the classroom, snow covering the shoulders of his trenchcoat, his black leather gloves starkly contrasting his impeccably white New Balance runners. As he hoisted his briefcase up on the table beside the podium, he took his place at the top of the room. This ritual, which began our lectures, would be finished with him stamping his hands on the wood, looking out into the room of young rhetoricians, and saying “OK TEAM”, before delving into the day’s readings of Wolfe, Didion, Baeurlein, or Paglia.

We had begun discussing the hero’s journey, or the bildungsroman, in detail: the call to adventure, meeting a threshold, going through transformation, the death and rebirth, and returning to the wasteland. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, Byrnes would say, we are in it, and in completing the journey, one is able to transcend into the hero role, and then become the elder, as the next generation embarks on their journeys.

I carried this model with me from the classroom into my real life experiences, as I graduated out of Dr. Byrnes’ classes and the Rhetoric Department, leaving Winnipeg for Toronto, beginning my own mythic quest.

Dr. Byrnes and I exchanged ideas on new journalism practices and mythology over the phone and email, and the occasional office hours when I would come home to visit. Challenging me and imploring me to go further within, he would hold up mirrors in our conversations to show me new realities in the mental, physical and ethereal.

“It’s wonderful,” he said (as we looked at grad schools for me to apply to) “to start a new life at your young age. Indeed, Dante did it at 33, then wrote the Divine Comedy, which begins in the middle of the path of our life...” After considering UCLA, Byrnes’ alma mater, as well as grad schools across Canada, I decided to apply to NYU for an MA in Journalism.

Before I left for New York City, Byrnes emphasized how important it was for me to come out of the program with some kind of intellectual identity that would energize my work, one that would set me apart from my peers, asserting that, as in the mythic quest, I had been through the tribulations, experienced the transformation, and that my life was my own. Too often, he explained, graduate students memorize and absorb critical theories, but forget to synthesize them in their lives. This was absolutely fundamental in forming my own personality and writing style, and thus truly stepping into my own selfhood. The point, he explained, was to come out of the program an entirely different person. He would always end these conversations reminding me that I was having too much fun, and that if he didn’t love his job so much, he would be jealous. Our conversations, whether weeks or months apart, would pick up where they left off, and again, we would discuss Paglia’s Sex, Art and American Culture, and he would tell me that by the sound of my voice, I was on the right path.

After I had published my first byline in New York, his response to my piece made me weep. “I’ve known you for years now,” he began. “It’s clear that you will soon be turned loose on a defenceless public, with all the power and finery of your training, your intuition and your strong voice… this is a happy day.” He celebrated all of my wins with me as if he were there beside me, reminding me that I was at the vectors of the Force, the Cosmic Suspiration Tones, and Destiny, all waiting for me to ask them for what I needed as I touched pen to paper.

“I saw the mystic moment when they conferred the Magistral degree upon you, and your story changed forever,” he wrote to me, after he had watched me cross the stage at NYU. “I’ve been delighted to witness your trajectory over the past several years, and I hope you’ll send me an update whenever you set the city on fire. What an adventure, to go to New York, and take on a new life. This way went Joan Didion, and now you!” This was the highest compliment that he could give me, for his admiration of Didion was paralleled only by the admiration he had for his students and their dreams. I had, as Estes had written in Women Who Run with the Wolves, found the wild woman, buried in my psyche, and created a whole life that was my own. It would have been challenging to find the mythical aspects of it had I not come in contact in my younger years with this mystical man.

When I found out about the passing of Dr. Robert Thomas Byrnes, it was an idle Tuesday evening. I was with my family and I received a short message from one of my peers from the department, “assuming you already heard”, with the obituary. I had not. I sat back against the seat of the car, exhaling, and then said out loud, to make it truth, “Dr. Byrnes is dead”.

I know that the world still lies all before me, as Byrnes had told me, and yet I cannot yet comprehend that I will not be able to talk to him. That every milestone in my life, regularly bookmarked with conversations with him, will be tinged with sadness that he is not there to hear about it. This is a monumental loss to the rhetoric department, and to our community. I will miss Bob Byrnes every day for the rest of my life.


September 28, 2020

Reshaping Our Narratives During a Global Pandemic

By Cassidy Rempel

Cassidy Rempel is in her fourth and final year of studying Rhetoric, Writing and Communications at The University of Winnipeg. Alongside studying, she works as a writing tutor and writes articles for a fashion company. This piece focuses on collective and individual narratives of those living through COVID-19, and it is intended to get people to think about the ways that the pandemic is affecting their stories.

In the midst of September 2020, it is strange to think back to a time when COVID-19 wasn’t narrating our lives. People were free to go to work and school, to gather with friends and family and to go out in public without wearing masks and carrying around multiple bottles of hand sanitizer. Because of the sudden presence of COVID-19, many people faced serious changes to their daily routines. Some people could no longer work, and those who could had to do so remotely. In the evenings, people were unable to go shopping, go out to eat, or go out with friends. This abrupt change to people’s schedules resulted in feelings of stress and anxiety to many individuals. This anxiety could partly be because of how much presence a capitalism narrative holds in our lives. People revolve their daily tasks around their work schedules, and rely on their work to give their life a purpose. After work, people often go out and practice consumerist habits. Without the ritual of making and spending money, people had no structure in their lives.

In their article, “Stakeholder Capitalism” (2007), Freeman, Martin, and Parmar define four different narratives of capitalism. The authors note that a similarity in each sub-narrative is that the capitalism narrative is built off “competition rather than cooperation” (2007, p. 308). This argument, in the light of the pandemic, was especially clear during the beginning stages when people were hoarding household necessities such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and baking needs. Through this capitalism narrative that most people unknowingly exist in, people were quick to compete against each other, hoarding supplies until stores ran out of common products and had to create signs in order to limit the amount of products that customers could purchase. This is an extreme example of what Freeman, Martin and Parmar (2007) mean when they say that the capitalism narrative has “winners, losers, and limited resources” (310). In this case, the winners were the people who had the most supplies—not the people who had enough supplies, but whoever had the most.

This ‘winner versus loser’ mentality was duplicated in some of the metaphors in the media regarding COVID-19. Specifically, the media used game metaphors that introduce an element of competition that segregates the public. As Dworkin (2020) accurately predicted in his article for The American Interest, once the economy opens, some people will “purposely ignore social distancing to test their luck” (“The power of explanation” section, para. 4). Dworkin (2020) says these people “have a passion for gambling . . . [and] deliberately search out games of chance” (“The power of explanation” section, para. 4). In fact, the metaphor of COVID-19 being a game is quite common. People have referred to the virus as a football team: “Just one person can let the whole 11-strong team down” (Nerlich, 2020, “Metaphors to explain what to do about the virus: Football” section), or as a game of whack-a-mole “supressing [COVID-19] until a vaccine can be produced” (Nerlich, 2020, “Metaphors to explain what to do about the virus: Playing whack-a-mole” section). With a combination of the capitalism narrative and game metaphors to describe COVID-19, we are creating a message that says the people who are able to increase their profit during the pandemic while not adhering to social distancing practices are winners. This is a dangerous message, not only because it places greater importance on the wellbeing of the economy than on individuals, but it also creates a narrative where society cannot win against COVID-19.

In his socio-narrative, Letting Stories Breathe (2010), Frank argues that a story based around fear is also a story based around desire because the two are “complementary aspects for a single whole, because each mirrors the other, albeit at a distance” (82). So while fear is an obvious feeling during the pandemic, it is important to try to desire something achievable. Using metaphors that suggest that the public is playing a game against COVID-19 is not necessarily a bad metaphor; however, it suggests that our desire is to beat COVID-19 at this game. As mentioned above, though, if we understand success through economic gain, as the capitalism narrative does, we cannot win. In her article, Sharfuddin (2020) says that “the overall impact of the pandemic on world economy is gloomy to say the least. . . . [and that the] overall global GDP is estimated to fall between 2.4 to 2.8% in 2020” (248). If we continue living through this capitalism narrative, COVID-19 will beat us at any game we play because even once obsolete, it will have drastically hurt the economy. Therefore, the success of our economy post COVID-19 should not be our desired victory, because if it is, we have already lost.

Finally, it is important to remember that although COVID-19 is affecting the entire world, it affects everyone on an individual level. Frank (2010) says that individuals’ personal stories are made up of a series of events. Whether or not we like it, COVID-19 is one of the events that will shape all of our stories. Like Sharfuddin (2020) says, “no one will come out of this crisis without losing something” (248). It is, however, up to us what kind of narrative we position ourselves in during the pandemic; it is up to us whether we let this pandemic strip away our freedom, seeing ourselves as victims to an unfair fate, or whether we re-define what brings meaning into our lives outside of work and consumerist habits.

References

Dworkin, R. W. (2020, May 22). To beat COVID-19, science needs the humanities. The American Interest. https://www.the-american-interest.com/2020/05/22/to-beat-covid-19-science-needs-the-humanities/

Frank, A. W. (2010) Letting stories breathe: A socio-narratology. The University of Chicago Press.

Freeman, R. E., Martin, K., & Parmar, B. (2007). Stakeholder capitalism. Journal of Business Ethics74(4), 303–314.

Nerlich, Brigitte. (2020, March 17). Metaphors in the time or coronavirus. University of Nottingham. https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2020/03/17/metaphors-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Sharfuddin, S. (2020). The world after covid-19. The Round Table109(3), 247–257.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00358533.2020.1760498


September 14, 2020

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Understanding Pro-State Media Biases in Minneapolis Riot Reporting
By Lily O’Donnell

Lily

Lily O'Donnell is currently in her fourth and final year at the University of Winnipeg. She is almost done completing her degree in Rhetoric and Communications with a minor in Indigenous Studies. She is originally from St. Paul, MN, but is enjoying the Canadian life. She enjoys writing creative non-fiction and academic work discussing the importance of community, with an emphasis on community building through DIY music genres and spaces.

George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers on 38th and Chicago in front of the Cup Foods Grocery Store in South Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020. The next night, Minneapolis was on flames. The city was angry. Police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets. A war began. The next night, protests followed in many American cities like Denver, Los Angeles, and Memphis. Later, protests followed in all 50 states and at least forty countries.[1] On May 28th, after a long ensuing battle between protestors and cops in full riot gear, the Minneapolis third precinct was burned to the ground. There was mass destruction. People were yelling and pleading for justice, for equity, for accountability. The chant, “No Justice, No Peace, Prosecute the Police” rattled within the crowd's bones. Across America, governors, mayors and other public officials went on live television pleading for people to “Go Home.” Local governments called the National Guard, threatened Martial Law, and most major cities enacted forced curfews. Amidst a devastating pandemic, and rising unemployment, this seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of American white supremacy, classism, and widespread oppression.

I am a native Minnesotan. My family lives about five miles from where George Floyd was killed. Due to the coronavirus, Canada has closed the U.S. border. So, I have been in Winnipeg since March. I was at a friend’s house the first night of the riots. I went home late in the night, checked social media, and watched the city on fire. I saw the places I used to frequent on fire. My hometown no longer looked like my hometown. I sat up that night until 4am on the phone with my Mom watching Facebook livestreams of people on the ground reporting what was happening. I watched two streams and she watched two other streams. We were constantly telling each other which one had the best footage at that moment. My mom said from her home she could hear constant helicopters. After the Facebook livestreams stopped for the night, my best friend called me. Her husband had gone out to riot and never came back. I was up until seven in the morning that first night of rioting.

The next morning, I woke up and my sister and I sat on our couch in Winnipeg and we watched four different Facebook livestreams on all our different screens. We were constantly on the phone, on our laptops, streaming things to the television. We were talking to our friends, to our mom, dad, and younger sister. Our little apartment had become a newsroom. We didn’t need coffee or food. Our jaws were clenched and our stomachs upturned watching our city begin a revolution. This is what the next six days of our lives were like, as we watched Atlanta follow, then Los Angeles, New York, etc.

It quickly became obvious that the mainstream media was not giving us the information we needed. Initially, the best way to receive footage was through our friends and friends of friends. Facebook livestreams were the only true way to get information. I watched my friends film themselves in Target parking lots while they were in stand offs with the police. I watched as they filmed cars driving into our local restaurants and whispered “Oh shit… oh shit” into the camera. My own mom had taken a livestream where she filmed and ran as tear gas was thrown in her direction. “I think I’m going home now, Lil!” she laughed into the camera knowing I was glued to the tv watching her livestream. I told everyone I knew to film, film, film. The only way I could tell what was happening was through their footage.

While I sat at home in Winnipeg, I forgot where I even was. My brain was so deeply enmeshed in watching. I became an expert in the best livestreams. I was sent livestreams of friends of friends, people like me who had now become the main reporters on a revolution. They were suddenly getting tens of thousands of views. They became the main voices of what was happening. The importance of everyday Minnesotans who just showed up with a charged phone can not be overstated.

The major news platforms brushed over the situation and our local smaller news stations like KTSP, WCCO, and others completely failed us. My sister and I watched horrified, as we saw our local, familiar anchors watch the on-the-ground reporter at the riots. The reporter would be in a blue plaid button up and khakis while those around him were wearing all black, with bandanas. The reporters looked uneasy and lost. We watched on multiple occasions as the reporters were threatened by police and protestors had to tell reporters where they could go safely. We watched the live footage of reporters being undoubtedly terrified and spoke openly about the solidarity and kindness of the protestors around him. Then the anchors would take the information and we watched as they twisted the story.

The anchors would take the terrifying accounts from the live on-the-ground coverage and say things like, “Looks like the police are doing a great job there!” or “Glad the police are there to keep everyone safe!” My sister and I would look at each other in shock. Were those anchors watching what I was watching? The mainstream news media showed its state-based biases in the ugliest forms during the riots. This shouldn’t be so surprising as mainstream media and police ties are notorious in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis Police Federation President and head of the Minneapolis Police Union, Bob Kroll is married to WCCO anchor Liz Collins.[2] This is an obvious conflict of interest and has led to much controversy as Collins has reported on many police investigations and police enquiry stories, yet her affiliation to Minneapolis Police Department is often overlooked, or hidden by WCCO. WCCO’s obvious police ties even led to protests outside the boarded up WCCO station early this June.[3] We cannot trust the media to accurately report on police matters when their biases are obvious. This ends up being dangerous. It’s dangerous for victims of police brutality, it’s dangerous for protestors, and it’s dangerous for those who want accurate reporting. To continue to hide police and anchor ties in the media means hiding the obvious barriers to accurate reporting. Local newspapers, local and public radio, social media livestreams and independent news media sources worked to do all the real reporting the main media outlets try to skew.

Local radio, newspapers, and one small independent news outlet, Unicorn Riot, did the main work on educating and portraying what was going on, and what the goals of the riots were. Where mainstream media focused on pro-state, pro-government responses, quoting Gov. Tim Waltz and heralding the words of Mayor Jacob Frey, other media stayed well connected to the voices of the insurgency. It’s these voices we need to lean on in times of crisis to voice the concerns of the masses and provide holistic solutions and work to stabilize and enhance community. Where the mainstream media was gaslighting and divisive, smaller news outlets were empathetic and revolutionary.

Adequate reporting is crucial. For me, in my comfy home in Winnipeg, the reporting was not as crucial as it was to my friends and family at home. Every night, most of the Central Twin Cities locked up at the 8pm curfew and sat at home. My parents sat at home, had the radio blasting, Unicorn Riot playing on the television, and the local news muted with aerial footage also on the television. All they could hear were constant sirens and helicopters. Through the riots, it became clear where we traditionally sought news coverage would no longer do. The narrative being promoted by mainstream news favoured police and military presence. It reduced protestors to looters, rioters. The message of the riots was lost over the blaring noise of pro-cop propaganda. If we wanted honest and in-depth understanding of what was going, the Twin Cities would have to do the reporting itself.

What the mainstream news media failed to cover were the street medics of colour and their essential nature to people being hurt en masse by rubber bullets being shot point blank by police.[4] The mainstream news media failed to discuss how inner city neighborhoods where the riots were taking place were suddenly without access to food or medication, due to the looting and burning of all the major grocery stores.[5] The solution to that was mass community outreach. Community groups fundraised and gathered mass amounts of foods and care packages so families could make it through the night.[6] The Sheraton Hotel near Lake Street became a safe haven for homeless people experiencing displacement during the riots.[7] In North Minneapolis, the “roughest” area of the Twin Cities, became a site for mass burnings and looting. So, local community groups went around all night with fire extinguishers from their homes to put out fires and stop people from perpetuating violence, as all the police and firemen were concentrated in South Minneapolis.[8] Minneapolis became autonomous. Community stepped up and cared for each other. Every morning, all of the twin cities went to the places where the riots had ensued the night before and swept the broken glass, painted murals over violent graffiti, and checked in on one another.[9] Mainstream media brushed over the impact and importance of community in the Minneapolis Uprising. I also don’t believe the Minneapolis Uprising is over, and I want viewers to recognize what narratives are being favoured. People live in Minneapolis. People live where the riots happened. People came together, supported the cause, helped each other and through this, through community, they changed the world.

The real fight against police brutality is an integrated fight against white supremacy, oligarchical government structures and a history of colonial corruption. People are sick of seeing state sanctioned murders on American streets. Mainstream media sources paint the picture that riots are disrupting the peace and police are there to protect. This is not true. When you see this dichotomy in reporting, question it. The truth is that America is dealing with a fight against corruption, equity, accountability, and a fight for new pathways of autonomy. The real situations in Minneapolis and other cities will tell a story of mutual aid and people working together to provide services the state has been neglecting. In mid-June, Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to defund the police. This has led to a new war cry for defunding and abolition of police forces across America and the world, including within our own Winnipeg community. As Police Defunding movements start gaining more traction and communities work more to rise up, pay attention to who you're listening to and the story they’re promoting. The key to defunding and the key to effective organizing is autonomy. Mainstream news media platforms that work to provide false, state backed narratives are just as violent and should be held accountable as much as police services.

As protests continue to break out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the next city, watch how the mainstream media reports. To those on the ground, they know and understand that the police will start attacking, and the media will praise them for protecting. Please watch for this, and when you see it, turn off the television, and turn on local radio, find an online local paper. Question and educate yourself on the affiliations and biases within the media your watching. These affiliations and skewed narratives can be deadly and continue to perpetuate anti-community oppressive agendas.

[1] Vanessa Taylor, “Street Medics of Color Are Keeping Minneapolis Protesters Safe,” Teen Vogue, July 8, 2020, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/minneapolis-protests-street-medics-of-color

[2] BringMeTheNews, “Protest held at WCCO over anchor's marriage to Bob Kroll”, Bring Me The News, June 3 2020, https://bringmethenews.com/minnesota-news/protest-held-at-wcco-over-anchors-marriage-to-bob-kroll

[3] Ibid.

[4] Taylor, “Street Medics of Color.”

[5] John Ewoldt, “Minneapolis Neighborhoods Face Food Desert after Looting Closes Multiple Stores,” Star Tribune (Star Tribune, June 2, 2020), https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-longfellow-neighborhood-almost-food-desert-after-riots/570928442/

[6] Jessie Van Berkel, “Need Help? Want to Help? Twin Cities Groups Offer Resources for Folks Hurt by Riots,” Star Tribune (Star Tribune, June 8, 2020), https://www.startribune.com/need-help-want-to-help-twin-cities-groups-offer-resources-for-folks-hurt-by-riots/570894392/

[7] Lauren Gurley, “200 Homeless Residents of Minneapolis Have Taken Over a Sheraton Hotel,” 200 Homeless Residents of Minneapolis Have Taken Over a Sheraton Hotel, June 3, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/jgxm84/200-homeless-residents-of-minneapolis-have-taken-over-a-sheraton-hotel

[8] Jared Goyette, “Citizen Patrols Organize across Minneapolis as Confidence in the Police Force Plummets,” The Washington Post (WP Company, June 7, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/citizen-patrols-make-statement-in-minneapolis/2020/06/06/cc1844d4-a78c-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html

[9] Lucien Formichella, “Minneapolis Volunteers Clean up Streets after Floyd Protests,” News | Al Jazeera, June 1, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/minneapolis-volunteers-clean-streets-floyd-protests-200601193014397.html


August 31, 2020

Learning amidst a Pandemic
By Valerie Chelangat

As a student who returned to the University of Winnipeg for a second degree, I feel that I have been given a second chance. I did okay when I pursued my Bachelor of Business Administration degree but it was never truly my passion. At the time, it felt like the more reasonable program to take to be employable (don’t ask me where I got that!). Last year I took a break from employment to focus on being a fulltime student. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that I sacrificed so much to follow my passion or maybe it’s about being more mature, I’m not sure but I am hungrier than ever before to learn. I love to research, read and talk about female empowerment. I wrote the piece on Menstruation because it is a cause that is close to my heart. In the patriarchal society will live in, being a woman is expensive and at times a source of limitation. I would like to see change. I want every woman to have easy access to high quality menstruation products without financial set back. I also want to see the stigma surrounding menstruation eliminated. I decided to also share my Covid-19 pandemic experience because every student faced this challenge. Sharing is one way of showing fellow students that we are in this together and there are ways to cope and to come out strong.

I am versatile and highly introverted. At the onset of the pandemic when many students seemed extremely concerned that classes might have to be moved online, I was only worried about two things. One, was (and still is) the possibility of infection. The idea of studying at home and attending zoom/pre-recorded video lectures was more than welcome. My second concern was the ease of slipping into a non-academic mind-set and losing my focus. In an effort to stay motivated I mapped out a routine in my Bullet Journal early into the university’s shift to a 'distant-learning' model and vowed to stick to it. It was not always easy to wake up at 8am even though my online class did not start until 10am. Since I did not have to shower, prepare snacks and lunch before starting my trek to school it often felt laughable that I put that much pressure on myself. In fact, occasionally some friends called it strange or odd but I know myself which is why I stuck to it regardless. I suppose I could have just rolled out of bed five minutes before class and it would have been just fine. But if I got too comfortable I would have struggled to study which might have affected my grades which was not an option. Sticking to a routine ensured that I remained in the zone. During those two hours I would shower, have some breakfast and then revisit the previous lecture notes because, memory.

As the winter term came to an end, the lectures were replaced by an incredible mountain of final research essays, most of which were due within days of each other. The routine that thank heavens I had managed to make a habit of, became my saving grace. By this time my energy was fizzling out. In addition to those conflicting final paper deadlines, I was now searching for a spring-summer job. My brain felt like it was in a constant spin much like Dom Cobb’s totem in Inception.

Asking questions from lecturers during the winter term had proved challenging for me. It was no longer simply a matter of coming to class early, staying behind after the lecture or walking to their office during office hours. I relied heavily on emails-emails that sometimes complicated the questions I was trying to ask.

In the spring I took two classes. By this time we were all beginning to accept the new state of things. One of my lecturers had a brilliant idea to have zoom office hours once a week. She would schedule the meeting and send a link to the class's email list. If a student had questions or needed to discuss, they would simply log in to the meeting and await their turn with the lecturer in the waiting room. That for me was a much needed solution. It was so easy to pop in for a five minute chat to clarify an assignment or ask a question I did not get a chance to bring up in class (or had not thought about until later).

Although 2020 proved to be a year so different from any school year before, it was not unbearable. It was a challenge that required flexibility and a positive attitude. While I hope that we are approaching the end of this insanity, I can confidently say that I am a better, stronger and more resilient person for this experience. I would like to think that my fellow Rhetoric students would agree with me, we are strengthened by the challenges we conquer. And so I walk into the fall term ready for whatever else 2020 has in its back pocket.


Menstrual Stigma: Understanding Gender Inequality as a Product of Patriarchy

By Valerie Chelangat

Patriarchy is not the only cause of gender inequality but in the context of menstruation, it is the main contributor. I refer to the shame and secrecy associated with the natural occurrences in the female body as menstrual stigma. It is experienced on a general level in society. It impacts all sexes. Females remain on edge as they preserve their ‘secret’, being cautious to avoid too much attention to their menstrual experiences. Males look the other way acting as though menstruation does not exist. Our patriarchal society diminishes the power of women by propagating stigma thus reinforcing patriarchy.

Menstrual stigma is embedded so deeply in our society that few are able to recognize the phallocentric society that propels it. Some examples of how stigma is enabled by phallocentrism include: the extent to which females go to hide their hygiene products, the fact that most buildings have the same size of bathrooms for men and women yet women require more time in the facilities, and the separation of boys and girls in classrooms for girls to learn about menstruation.

Patriarchy reinforces gender inequality by silencing this significant issue experienced by about half of the population. A ripple effect is created whereby women have little say over the manufacturing of products that only they use. Menstrual stigma encourages women to silently use the limited and costly sanitary products available. It leads men to fail to see that there is a problem. Therefore, little research is done on the raw materials that go into these products. Women are left to use products that may contain chemicals which could cause them harm. The environment also suffers because little effort is made to ensure that the materials in menstrual products are biodegradable.

This essay will look into the rhetorics of patriarchy in our society. My goal is to shed light on how phallocentric discourse reinforces gender inequality, menstrual stigma and indifference to our climate change problem. I will mostly use Michel Foucault’s Discourse theory and Nancy Fraser’s Feminism theory to build an analysis and produce an ideological critique of patriarchal rhetoric in today’s society.

A masters thesis written by Kathryn M. Lese titled “Padded Assumptions: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Patriarchal Menstruation Discourse” examines how menstruation discourse in public empowers or disempowers the female body. The author begins with a narrative about Instagram’s censorship of a menstruation project shared on the platform. It caused women to question what about menstruation is appropriate (or not) to discuss in public, and who makes those rules. By expurgating the user’s menstruation content, Instagram participates in the hegemonic discourse that silences women and creates shame. Lese argues that part of the problem is in the framing of menstruation as a medical problem (of the female body) needing management. The framing encourages communication to focus on managing this biological problem. It encourages shame which serves to silence those who experience menstruation (IV).

Lese contends that feminine issues are not discussed in male-dominated spaces. If these discussions are held, they are done quietly or through humour.  She gives an example of men joking about premenstrual symptoms and menstrual hygiene products (4). Lese’s argument reminds me of a commercial by Kortex which portrays a young woman walking to various places with tampons falling out of her backpack. The camera moves around to show groups of men pointing at her and laughing. Other females in the commercial quickly pick up the tampons and hand them back to her. Our phallocentric society normalizes men’s ridiculing of the idea of menstruating and encourages women to feel embarrassed at being discovered when on their menstrual cycle. Lese says that because menstruation talk is unwelcomed in masculine spaces it leads to discomfort in discussing it in dominant discourse.  

When women cry or express anger on television shows, movies and commercials, they are dismissed by the conclusion that they must be menstruating. This depiction suggests that women are irrational, unstable and unable to control themselves. Lese explains that birth control products are promoted as a method to enable women to control their bodies. She argues that in using birth control women support the dominant ideology, concealing the nature of the female body and causing it to perform in ways acceptable to patriarchy (17-18).

An interesting point that Lese raises is in the terms used to describe these products i.e. “sanitary” products or “feminine hygiene” products (19). These terms suggest that menstruation is dirty or filthy. There is also a level of vagueness in these terms because they are not specific as to what exactly fall under the category of feminine hygiene products. Do they include shower gels, deodorants and body mists? Or are they simply tampons and pads? What is unsanitary that these products help to clean? Lese writes that this language creates an avenue for manufacturers to market their products as solutions to the problem of filth. She discusses the promotion of products she deems unnecessary, that promise to improve the cleanliness of the vaginal area. Through all of this, society shapes the perception of what a clean female body is and how women should attain it.

Menstrual product commercials reinforce phallocentric discourse through the rhetoric of discreetness. The advert by Kortex mentioned above promotes resealable tampon bags promising to give users peace of mind as their tampons will not fall out to embarrass them. Another commercial boasts about their colourful and fun individual packaging assuring viewers that no one will know those are pads. A different tampon company emphasizes the compact size of their packaging that ensures no one knows a user is carrying one. Another example is that of television commercials opting to use blue dye instead of the more realistic red to test their products’ ability to absorb blood. Women rarely question any of these. In fact, we purchase the tampons that will easily be tucked into minute spaces. We also buy the colourful products that no one will know are pads. I am certain that we too would be made uncomfortable if commercials used red dye. A test commercial on YouTube that uses red dye to gauge the reaction of viewers is a case in point. Although a few women comment positively appreciating the realistic imagery finally being present, many argue that the bloodlike colour makes them uneasy. This is evidence that we are interpellated to reinforce ideological hegemony. By socializing women to keep menstruation private and avoid embarrassment, these marketing campaigns encourage women to purchase products that will ensure the comfort of men.

A quick search on Google for the definition of menstruation brought about various results. What struck me however was that “the curse” was one of the synonyms listed in a number of sources including the Oxford Online Dictionary and the Smart Lookup feature on Microsoft Word. Lese carried out a critical discourse analysis of the media’s response to Instagram’s censorship of the menstrual photograph. She identified that most media outlets used euphemisms in their publications in place of menstruation. The term “period” although now normalized, is also a euphemism, as Lese points out (41). The avoidance of directly using the word menstruation demonstrates a deep societal discomfort around the subject. It is a clear sign of the shame associated with it.

Michel Foucault’s discourse theory provides language through which meaning is formed. He argues that no real meaning is formed outside of discourse. Discourse produces knowledge through language. It influences how ideas are put into practice. It is the means through which power operates (Smart, 69). Foucault says that we are reified by power. Educators and medical professionals who produce menstrual knowledge and prepare educational material determine the framing of menstruation within the dominant patriarchal context. Because they hold the power, women are subjectified as clean or unclean and thus the need for discreet corrective measures.

Foucault uses Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the panopticon to explain how in society we self-regulate as if we are being watched. The panopticon is a building designed in a way that a single guard sits in a tower at the centre and is able to see every cell in the circular prison. The prisoners cannot see the guard therefore, they must behave as if they are being watched at all times (Smart, 83). Lese argues that the use of “decency language” about menstruation suggests the visibility of menstruation is immoral (61). Foucault uses the panopticon as a metaphor for society as our social prison. The idea of the panopticon encourages self-surveillance thus keeping menstruation from the public eye. Women are reformed into good citizens by accepting to be silenced and shamed on the topic of menstruation. Women follow the established hegemonic attitude towards menstruation by speaking in hushed tones amongst themselves, hiding tampons and pads from sight and by participating in the rhetoric that menstruation is embarrassing and inconveniencing.

Nancy Fraser, the Henry and Louise A. Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School for Social Research, advocates for socialist-feminist theorizing as the best tool for achieving gender justice, by aiming to end both economic and cultural oppression of women (98). She broadens Marxist feminism on the role of capitalism in the oppression of women and incorporates radical feminism theory on gender and patriarchy. Her article “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History” aims to integrate feminism theorizing with capitalism theorizing in her pursuit for a gender just society (99). In bringing marginalized groups together to support each other in their struggle, feminism efforts are then empowered to work towards a just society. Capitalism participates in the oppression of women as menstrual products are heavily taxed and also priced steeply. Menstrual product expenses are only incurred by women which creates gender inequality. Immigrants are often discriminated against at places of work and they wind up in low paying jobs. The LGBTQ+ community also faces discrimination for stepping out of the dominant ideals on gender and sexuality. In joining forces with these marginalized groups there is a greater possibility to end capitalism and phallocentrism and transform society in the direction of justice.  

Patriarchy enables menstrual stigma which creates gender inequality and gives room for climate decay. The silence around this subject has caused little research on the raw materials used in menstrual products to be carried out. Instagram’s removal of a fully clothed woman from the platform because her image portrayed blood with a caption on the stigma surrounding menstruation is evidence of the discomfort in dominant culture. The rhetoric of menstruation as a medical condition that requires discreet management and the name “sanitary products” and “menstrual hygiene products” portray it as a problem that needs fixing or cleaning. The media’s distasteful humour in suggesting that an emotion woman is showing premenstrual symptoms also create a negative image towards menstruation and the female body.

This rhetoric that has been applied through the years helps to reproduce existing forms of female oppression. Foucault tells us that when we internalize power we self-regulate. On the issue of menstruation, both men and women act in ways that have been established as the norm in hegemonic culture. The reproduction of the feeling of discomfort or embarrassment causes both genders to behave in a certain manner. For example, a man laughing nervously when a tampon falls by his feet or a woman diving in embarrassment to grab and put it back into her pocket in the hopes that no one sees her. We are monitored by the gaze of power which makes us subjects of a particular discourse, in this case phallocentrism.    

The good news is that many women are angry and ready for change. Nancy Fraser has written extensively about feminism. In her book Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, she and her coauthors rebuke other forms of feminism such as liberal feminism that seeks to rise to the same positions of power as men to oppress the poor and those without voices. Instead she proposes a more inclusive feminism that uphold all women (1-6). There are a number of countries including Scotland that are working towards providing free menstrual products to its women. A ‘period’ pop-up shop was opened in 2016 in New York city for the first time in the world. Commercials are also starting to incorporate men in their advertisements. All these actions are encouraging signs that we are advocating for change. If we can garner together and push past phallocentrism and capitalism towards a just society, then perhaps women will confidently carry a free and environment friendly tampon in their hand and walk into a bathroom without the precursor of a ridiculous line up.

Works Cited

“Faculty.” Nancy Fraser | The New School for Social Researchwww.newschool.edu/nssr/faculty/Nancy-Fraser/

Fraser N. “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History.” New Left Review, vol. 56, no. 56, 2009, pp. 97–117.

“If Maxi Pad Ads Used Red instead of Blue.” YouTube, uploaded by UCB Comedy, 7 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EufLuiy2ANc&feature=youtu.be

Lese, Kathryn, et al. “Padded Assumptions: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Patriarchal Menstruation Discourse.” James Madison University, James Madison University, 2016.

“Missile Moments.” YouTube, uploaded by U by Kortex, 6 February 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jbSdKvixS4&feature=youtu.be

Sharif, Farah Al. “Scotland May Soon Make Pads and Tampons Freely Available in Public Places.” Vox, Vox, 26 Feb. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/2/26/21154743/scotland-menstrual-products-period-poverty.

Smart, Barry. Michel Foucault, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Sveinsdóttir Herdís. “The Role of Menstruation in Women's Objectification: A Questionnaire Study.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 73, no. 6, 2017, pp. 1390–1402.

“U By Kortex Opens the World’s First Pop-Up Period Shop.” Youtube, uploaded by U by Kortex, 7 February 2020, https://youtube/Hc8nf9Yk84s


August 17, 2020

Looking Back: Canada’s Forgotten Universal Income Experiment and the New Potentials with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit
By Sharee Hochman

Author Photo

My name is Sharee Hochman and I am entering my final semester as a fourth-year student, double majoring in Rhetoric Writing and Communications and Sociology in the Fall. I initially wrote this piece for a non-profit organization called INKspire, an online publication platform for youth. I was drawn to the idea of a Canadian basic universal income after recognizing how financial limitations affect other social issues Canadians experience. The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged me to highlight these concerns. I have a strong passion for public policy, specifically within the European Union.

In the midst of widespread unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, systems of basic universal income have gained a new importance. Attention towards a basic universal income lays heavy on Nordic models, specifically Sweden’s and Finland’s. However, a successful (yet forgotten) Canadian basic universal income experiment could provide direction and bring light to new potentials with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Back in the 1970s a group of economists aimed to address poverty in rural areas. Their research designed a basic universal income system which was named “Mincome”, and was implemented in Dauphin, Manitoba. The program ran for four years, and families in Dauphin were guaranteed a yearly income of $16,000 Canadian dollars. The purpose of the experiment was to see if families who were positioned at or below the poverty line could experience an improved quality of life with a guaranteed basic income. In the course of implementing and executing Mincome, it was considered to be the “most ambitious social science experiment” to have ever taken place in Canada (Cox par. 12). The economists saw successful results indicating an improved quality of life such as low rates of hospitalizations, better mental health and a lower number of students dropping out of high school. Similar to CERB, Mincome came with the concerns of determining if the experiment would help residents of Dauphin or if it would discourage them from joining the workforce.

The experiment abruptly ended because of a series of oil price shocks led to inflation and a fast increase in unemployment rates. The effects of oil price shocks resulted in an increase of participants in Mincome, which the experiment did not anticipate or budget for. The rise of inflation also meant an increase in payments for the already existing participants. Consequently, both the federal and provinchel government decided the experiment was not longer feasible to support and ended the experiment immediately in 1979. Although the Mincome experiment had come to an end, it proposed a potential life changing approach for Canadians. The question would be, could a basic universal income work for Canadians across the country?

Why Isn’t a Universal Income Already in Place?

Critics argue that a basic universal income outside of Mincome would be associated with huge administrative costs. Critics’ main argument is that the idea of a basic universal income is a radically individualistic concept, meaning its unique and distinctive characteristics are too drastic. One drastic characteristic critics are concerned about is how households redistribute their income between members, such as providing payments to individuals with a lower to poor income who live in a well-off household. Critics claim this is an issue in the function of the family rather than the function of the nation. The amount of people who earn a small income who do not live in poor households but receive the basic universal income is a reasoning as to why it would be to expensive to execute.

As mentioned before, the Mincome experiment feared participants would be too discouraged to either join or rejoin the workforce while they received payments. However, employment rates in Dauphin remained the same throughout the four years of the experiment. Too, a new trial in Finland provided around 2,000 unemployed individuals a basic monthly income of 560 euros between 2017 and 2018 and found that this experiment helped more than half of participants find work to become more financially secure. Both of these examples point to the social limitations for individuals, which hinder their ability to become financially stable, rather than becoming strictly dependent on the basic universal income payments. 

Would a Basic Universal Income in Canada Be Possible?

According to the Huffington Post, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Canada to see the most distressed job crisis in 70 years. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough spoke on the CERB program and its benefits, adding “what we’re going to show through the CERB is that we can actually have a really straightforward income-support system at the federal level″ (Press par.8). Some may add that Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) is sufficient enough to assist individuals in financial aid. However, Qualtrough noted that the government decided to execute CERB because the decades-old employment insurance system was not created to cope with economic shock, and millions of workers who could not qualify for assistance. Qualtrough knew action had to be made and admitted that a basic universal income in Canada can be envisioned as “this could be the impetus to really, radically simplify how people access income support from the federal government” (Press par. 13).

What Would a Basic Universal Income in Canada Do?

It is important to observe current social factors before determining what requirements should be met for a Canadian basic universal income. To begin, the basic necessities for life are water, shelter, food, and medicine. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, it is estimated that at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness per year, and a total of 3.4 million Canadians live in poverty. The high poverty rate represents 9.5 per cent of Canada’s population. The unemployment rate before COVID-19 was about 6%, whereas the unemployment rate post COVID-19 rose to 13.7%.

A basic universal income could not only lower unemployment and poverty statistics, but help others thrive. In 2017, it was recorded that over 67% of Canadian university students graduated with some form of financial debt. Not only could university students pay off their debt while entering the workforce, especially in its current state, they could potentially pay for school during their studies and avoid debt and interest rates overall. A basic universal income could also help university students focus more on their studies while in school, as an estimate of 56% of undergraduate students work while studying. Too, one third of working students reported that working while in school had a “negative impact on their academic performance” (Serebrin par. 4). Additionally, 62% of Canadian students drop out of their programs to find work to support their education finances and avoid accumulating debt.

Health would be another area that could benefit from a basic universal income. According to CBC News, a study reported that 968,000 Canadians spared money on basic necessities to pay for prescriptions and medications in 2016. The two most common necessities that were cut back on to afford prescriptions and medications were food and heating. The most affected groups were reported to be individuals without insurance, individuals with a lower income and younger individuals. Indigenous people were twice as likely to report these challenges. The study additionally found that 8.2 percent of Canadians who have been prescribed medication did not fill prescriptions, skipped doses, or did not consume the medication because of financial difficulties. Not only does it mean the patient would continue to be sick without their medications, but they could also stress the healthcare system by having repeated visits to their doctors or an emergency room.

Overall, a handful of social issues limit Canadians’ quality of life, which could be improved with the benefits of a basic universal income. With the benefit individuals who are greatly affected by homelessness, poverty, student debt, unemployment and cost of medication would be more financially able to pay for necessities. Additionally, other individuals who are less effected by those factors could live a greater quality of life in other areas that may affect them, such as using the additional benefit for childcare, transportation, and internet access. The process of creating the requirements for a basic universal income is another detailed discussion of its own. However, as mentioned prior, Qualtrough sees CERB as momentum towards a drastic yet streamlined approach to receiving financial support from the federal government.

Works Cited

“Almost 1 Million Canadians Give up Food, Heat to Afford Prescriptions: Study.” Cbc.Ca, CBC News, 13 Feb. 2019. 

Cavalcanti Guerra, Lenin, and Ken S. Coates. “What Universities Can Do to Keep Students from Dropping Out.” University Affairs, 6 Nov. 2019.

Cox, David. “Canada’s Forgotten Universal Basic Income Experiment.” BBC Worklife, 24 June 2020.

Employment and Social Development Canada. “Canada Reaches Lowest Poverty Rate in History.” 7, Mar. 2019.

Kangas Olli, Jauhiainen Signe, Simanainen Miska, Ylikanno Minna. “The Basic Income Experiment 2017–2018 in Finland. Preliminary results.” Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Finland, 8 Feb. 2019.

Mollins, Carl. “The Stagnant 70s - Canadian Business.” Canadian Business - Your Source For Business News, 4 Aug. 2003. 

Niemietz, Kristian. “The Case against a Universal Basic Income (UBI).” Institute of Economic Affairs, 23 May 2018.

Palermo, Alex. “What Happens When You Can’t Afford to Be a Student?” The Journal, 2 Feb. 2018. 

Plecher, H. “Canada - Unemployment Rate 2021.” Statista, 28 Apr. 2020.

Press, Jordan. “HuffPost Is Now a Part of Verizon Media.” Huffington Post, 26 Mar. 2020. 

Rech, Natalie. “Homelessness in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 29 Apr. 2019.

Serebrin, Jacob. “More Students Balance School with Jobs.” Macleans.Ca, 25 Jan. 2012.

Staff. “Canada’s Unemployment Rate Reaches Record 13.7%.” Global News, 5 June 2020.

The Canadian Press. “Liberals Look Filling EI Gaps as Some Set to Exhaust CERB Aid, Qualtrough Says.” CP, 23 June 2020.


July 31, 2020

Gendered Algorithms in Spotify Music-Streaming Service
By Sophie Ashton

Sophie Ashton

My name is Sophie Ashton. I wrote this essay for the course Critical Studies of Social Media, taught by Dr. Matthew Flisfeder. I am heading into my fourth and final year of my Rhetoric, Writing and Communications degree at the University of Winnipeg. I spend much of my free time listening to music, and as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community the reproduction of dominant ideologies through algorithms within streaming services was of particular interest to me.

The intention of this research is to determine the cultural implications of biased ideologies on marginalized groups that are excluded by the binary oppositions inherent to algorithms. In studying the works of communications, technology and cultural scholars, new insights develop showing precisely how algorithms interact with ideology in contemporary culture, particularly in marginalized communities. In his book, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, Adam Greenfield stresses the grave importance of algorithms in contemporary culture; they are coded by binary oppositions and therefore generalize and essentialize people into limiting characterizations. Algorithms both collect and produce the content we consume, including our music interests if we use streaming services such as Spotify. If algorithms collect our data to determine the content a user is provided, they have the ability to reinforce and shape culture and ideology.

Since 2008, the Swedish music streaming service, Spotify, has provided avenue for musicians and listeners alike to engage in a social music experience online (Spotify). As of December 13th, 2019, Spotify had 124 million subscribers, and 271 million monthly users, making it the music industry’s largest source of revenue (Spotify). While the platform offers a free streaming service, they also offer a subscription-based service for users wishing to skip advertisements, download music to their device, and skip songs in playlists (Spotify). The platform has over 50 million tracks, upwards of 4 billion playlists, and more than 700, 000 podcasts available to stream in 79 countries (Spotify).

Spotify and Algorithms

Spotify uses The Echo Nest, a data analysis company which collects and analyzes data about each song’s aural factors such as pitch and tempo to recommend songs that have similar qualities. They also collect data about cultural factors from online discussions about music in blogs and tweets, as well as user generated data like favourites, skips, and ratings to curate playlists to each user’s musical taste (Prey 1090). Echo Nest refers to this data as a ‘Taste Profile’, which, along with non-user-specific information like general song and playlist popularity, curates a ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist for each subscriber every Monday morning (Prey 1091).

While the algorithm itself relies on cultural, and user-specific data for curating content rather than demographic data, algorithms are still mathematical equations, which require binary oppositions to categorize users (Finn 21). Algorithms are created to answer a specific question or questions, which are posed by humans with biases, making the results of the algorithm inherently biased (Finn 25). If the content we consume is decided by biased algorithms, then algorithms are capable of shaping culture and ideology. (Finn 26). Through this process, users become ‘data subjects’, or numerical representations of the self, defining and influencing our self-perception (Prey 1088).

Algorithms and Ideology

Jean Burgess of Queensland University of Technology and Frederik Dhaenens of Ghent University researched LGBTQ-specific Spotify playlists to discern precisely how algorithms both enable and inhibit specific cultural groups, and work to reinforce dominant ideologies. In a study considering thirty-seven LGBTQ+-specific playlists, Burgess and Dhaenens organized their findings using three considerations: (1) the amplification of LGBTQ+ issues, (2) the mediation of identity on algorithm-based platforms, and (3) the simultaneous adherence and resistance in ‘queer’ music-streaming (Burgess and Dhaenens 1193). Within this study, there were multiple factors that constituted ‘queer’ music, including music by artists that are publicly out as queer LGBTQ+, artists who actively seek to subvert heteronormativity, and artists who create music with relatable messages to the LGBTQ+ community (Burgess and Dhaenens 1199).

Within these categories of ‘queer’ music, there are numerous differing manifestations of ‘queerness’ and ‘queer’ culture. Many of the playlists, particularly the ones more closely related to Pride parades, and mainstream popular-culture, are situated at an intersection between identity politics and commodification (Burgess and Dhaenens 1203). These playlists work to reinforce a queer popular culture that is mostly decided by white, gay men, while other playlists with less mainstream artists, particularly artists who are transgender, or people of colour, are underrepresented in the recommendation software (Burgess and Dhaenens 1202). This music is less recommended sometimes because it has a lower stream-count, and music with more streams is recommended before music with less. More significantly, however, songs that are less simple to categorize into binary oppositions, or whose artists are more challenging to categorize are considered “difficult” to recommend to specific data-subjects, and therefore are recommended less (Burgess and Dhaenens 1202).

Maria Eriksson and Dr. Anna Johansson, researchers in communication studies at Umea University, used bots to perform a study on the gendered components of the Spotify algorithm. Particularly, they intended to assess whether those who self-identify as women, receive different recommendations to those who self-identify as men on the platform (Eriksson and Johansson 174). While the research found only marginal evidence that women and men receive different recommendations to one another, they did find that overall, music by men was recommended far more often than music by women to all users. Eriksson and Johansson found that Spotify in a few countries allows users to self-identify as non-binary upon registering for the service. However, the algorithm simply recodes the non-binary-identified users back into binary code, to gather more precise data for advertisers, making the option to not adhere to the gender binary only representational (Eriksson and Johansson 174). within genres.

Shaping Culture: Spotify and Identity

As one of the leading music streaming services, Spotify and its algorithm hold immeasurable power over popular culture, and cultural identity (Burgess and Dhaenens 1196). The interplay between human-defined problems and algorithmic solutions replicates already dominant ideologies that place white, straight, cis-gender men as the standard, with all identities falling outside of these categories as ‘other’ (Finn 18). Although hidden underneath the interfaces we browse every day, we must consider the underlying structures that generate the interface material (Finn 53). Spotify is only one of the many platforms through which we consume content in modern-day communications. All social media platforms use algorithmic technology to curate the content we are exposed to. To understand our culture, we must understand the algorithms on which it relies. To understand the algorithms, we must consider who is asking the questions for the algorithms to answer (Finn 55).

Algorithms, by nature, require binary oppositions to generate answers to the questions posed by programmers. For LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of colour, the this affects their ability to gain recognition on the Spotify platform. Although Spotify has created LGBTQ+ specific playlists, the underlying heteronormative ideologies remain inscribed into the platform’s structure. This could explain why Burgess and Dhaenens found many of the songs in their study were not by people who actually identified as LGBTQ+, but rather, popular artists whose music the algorithm could more easily categorize (Burgess and Dhaenens 1202).

Conclusion

Most of the LGBTQ+ playlists on Spotify reinforce ideologies that oppress people within the community the queer community, disadvantaging people of colour, and gender non-conforming people. Algorithms, which curate our entire social media experience, replicate the ideology of those who program them, making them effective in shaping and defining culture. With over 124 million subscribers and an extremely popular recommendation system, Spotify holds great power in their ability to create a specific reality. Spotify’s algorithm, inherent with gender-biased ideology, has an effect on the art of marginalized communities’ culture and self-perception

Works Cited

“Company Info.” Spotify, newsroom.spotify.com/company-info/.

Dhaenens, Frederik, and Jean Burgess. “‘Press Play for Pride’: The Cultural Logics of LGBTQ-Themed Playlists on Spotify.” New Media & Society, vol. 21, no. 6, June 2019, pp. 1192–1211, doi:10.1177/1461444818808094.

Eriksson, Maria and Anna Johansson. “Tracking Gendered Streams.” Culture Unbound, vol. 9, 2, 2017, pp. 163–183, http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se.

Finn, Ed. “What Algorithms Want.” Imagination in the Age of Computing, MIT Press, 2018, pp. 15–56.

Greenfield, Adam. Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life. Verso, 2018.

Werner, Ann. “Organizing music, organizing gender: algorithmic culture and Spotify recommendations.” Popular Communication, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, pp. 78-90, doi:10.1080/15405702.2020.1715980.


July 20, 2020

The Year of Remote Learning and Uncertainty: Graduating During a Pandemic
By Giordana Curatolo

GC Photograph

My name is Giordana Curatolo, and I recently graduated from The University of Winnipeg with a degree in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications. While writing this piece, I was able to reflect on the challenges of graduating in the time of coronavirus, but also celebrate my achievement and all other 2020 graduates.

Completing my undergraduate degree amid a pandemic posed a unique set of challenges beyond the already stressful realities of finishing a university degree. As an undergraduate student, I followed a strict daily routine that kept me sane. When the university cancelled classes and shut their doors, I quickly realized that the schedule I lived by was going to be disrupted. In-person interactions with students and faculty turned to stressful Zoom lectures, which at times resulted in ‘zoombombers’ and technical obstacles, and my daily Starbucks study set-up switched to a work from home scenario. Oh, and I purchased a Keurig to satisfy my iced coffee cravings. However, aside from adjusting to a new routine it felt like we lost the privilege of knowing it was our very last day. We missed the opportunity of a goodbye; a farewell to classmates, professors and faculty, and the environment where we spent numerous years dedicated to our work.

Regardless of the added academic challenges and the sadness of leaving our secure environment, we were all consumed with coronavirus stress, which made a usually demanding exam season more difficult. Many of us, myself included, were (and are still) fearful of contracting the virus, fearful for our loved ones, and fearful for our future. Yet, amid these stressful times I quickly recognized my privilege. I was not an international student miles away from family, a student who lost their job, or a student taking care of loved ones. Unlike many, I was fortunate to finish my studies with my professors’ support in the comfort of my newly designed study space (courtesy of Pinterest and lots of plants) surrounded by family and many Zoom dates with friends.

Despite the loss of an in-person convocation, my crisp 8" x 11" degree made the thousands of words written, the several all-nighters, the countless presentations, and a few (a ton of) tears worthwhile. But what is next for me? Well, leaving behind student life is undoubtedly stressful and uncertain, but the pandemic created new uncertainties. It feels like our life has been put on hold, not just us graduating students, but most of the world. As recent graduates, searching for work during this pandemic is entirely different. Internships are cancelled, seeking opportunities outside of your hometown is next to impossible (not to mention frightening), and building professional connections is challenging. However, it was vital for me to use my time appropriately. I updated my portfolio, improved my digital skills, and expanded on some freelance work. No, I do not think I will miss remote learning, but it will be weird not to open a textbook come the first week of September. Who knows, I might be back to the student life sooner than I think. Grad school anyone?


July 07, 2020

The Implications of Social Media on Communication During a Global Pandemic
By Daryn Arnott

Daryn Arnott

My name is Daryn Arnott, and my major is in English, Creative Writing. I wrote this essay for the course RHET-2131 Professional Style & Editing, taught by Dr. Jaqueline McLeod Rogers. It was for an assignment about voice; we wrote the same essay three different times, once using informal or colloquial voice, once using formal voice (hence this essay), and once in moderate voice.

The aftermath of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 is yet to be determined; regardless, it continues to affect how humans communicate amongst themselves. The situation is more dire in parts of the world other than in Canada, but it continues to have resounding impacts around the globe—its influence is far-reaching, as physical distancing measures prevent people from gathering with their friends and families. Due to these restrictions, social media platforms such as Facebook have seen their user activity increase dramatically; this is a direct result of the quarantine, which has restricted people to the insides of their homes and away from others. From restaurants to movie theaters, large public spaces have closed down to prevent the spread of the infectious COVID-19. As a result, social interactions have shifted almost entirely online. These changes affect the ways that humans contact one another, and restricted interaction and exposure have a deleterious affect on both their mental health and personal relationships.

Social media impacts academic performance; therefore, increased use of social media may hinder students’ abilities to perform well in an educational setting. This is further confounded by the fact that university closures have moved courses online, making the temptation to access social media platforms during class time incredibly enticing. For students to thrive in the post-COVID-19 world, they will need to practice stringent self-discipline when using the internet to properly comprehend educational resources. A study that measured students’ social media use and examined the effects on academic performance found that “student exposure to social media sites has found statistically significant as it does affect the Computer Science student’s academic performance” (Aqueel et al). There is an argument to be made for the benefits of social media, such as its ability to connect people and draw support in times of need, but this study found that “negative impact is more than positive effect on the students” (Aqueel et al). Addiction to social media is impeding students’ academic progress. Specifically, it was discovered that “addictiveness of social sites has a significant influence on academic performance of the students” (Aqueel et al). As more educational facilities are moving online to offer their resources to students, it raises concerns about how social media will interfere with this process.

Another intersection of social media and communication is its impact on the mental wellbeing of users. An advantage to social media during times of isolation is that it connects people who are physically restricted from contacting their friends and family. Isolation involves introversion and infrequent interactions.[1] Conversely, it has negative effects on the psychological health and strength of these users—it is difficult to discern if the positives outweigh the negatives. One study sought to examine how social media impacts mental health and the challenges it poses to individuals with anxiety. It found that “people who are socially anxious like to use social media to fight loneliness” (Ramezankhani et al). The pandemic has dissolved this distinction because not only the socially anxious rely on social media for interaction, but rather every individual that abides by social distancing measures does. The study found that “online communication could further isolate persons offline and decrease social wellbeing” (Ramezankhani et al). In an already isolated world, social media may exacerbate the effects of loneliness and isolation. Since the pandemic is such a recent phenomenon, it is difficult to study whether or not social media is enhancing loneliness or reducing it. Another effect of social media was discovered, which is that “occasional or chronic exposure to social media platforms could be a negative impact on people’s self-evaluation and self-esteem” (Ramezankhani et al). The implications of this effect are concerning. In an isolated world, more and more people are turning to social media for interactions and communication; does this mean that the negative impacts of these platforms on self-esteem will apply to an increasing number of individuals? COVID-19 may result in greater levels of loneliness, and reduced self-esteem around the globe. It is difficult to imagine how these circumstances would change without the presence of social media. Namely, would isolation increase tenfold without the ability to communicate online with friends and family? Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this pandemic, the answers are not yet clear.

Social media is like a double-edged sword[2]: for all its benefits, it also has negative impacts on the human psyche. Yet another troubling outcome of an increased reliance on social media for human contact is its effects on alcohol and drug use. The open nature of these platforms means that “alcohol and illicit drugs-related content is easily generated and consumed by young adults” (Ramezankhani et al). Similarly, due to stay-at-home mandates, more people are consuming drugs and alcohol throughout their days, due to relaxed responsibilities pertaining to education and employment. This study found that “teens and young people who used social media were more likely to used alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco than individuals who did not use social media frequently” (Ramezankhani et al). As activity rates for social media soar and the consumption of drugs and alcohol increases due to worldwide stress and uncertainty, these two factors may interact to produce a worrying effect on humanity as a whole. If social media leads to increased consumption of intoxicating substances, then the world may experience a greater surge of addictions to these substances, especially amongst younger age groups.

The same study acknowledges that social media has the potential to enhance social relationships. The authors write that social media provides “a fantastic opportunity for relationship expansion by enabling individuals to connect with others by sharing their opinions, beliefs, and experiences” (Ramezankhani et al). Although it comes with its own set of challenges and negative outcomes, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also allow users to connect with other people and share their experiences. They can seek support in especially troubling times, such as during a global pandemic. It allows people to contact and share information with those who they are physically restricted from seeing. As such, the negative and positive outcomes of social media must be weighed to determine whether or not it is an overall helpful or harmful addition to society. To certain people, social media is a blessing that provides the ability to connect and empathize; to others, a curse[3].

Social media is a landscape that is rapidly evolving and changing how people relate to and share information amongst themselves. Ideas are posted online, posts are consumed by relatives and friends, blogs are commented on by strangers, videos are uploaded by creators[4]—the possibilities for communication that these platforms provide are endless. There are numerous benefits of social media: it connects those who are isolated from their support networks, it gives a platform to share information and seek support, and it allows for the easy spread of vital information such as precautionary measures regarding the pandemic; conversely, social media has its downsides[5]: it can increase feelings of loneliness, isolation, exacerbate anxiety, and encourage the use of intoxicating substances. Whether or not social media has an overall positive or negative impact on the psyche of its users during the pandemic is yet to be determined.

Works Cited

Aqeel, Muslim Bin, et al. “Investigating the Effect of Social Media on the Students’ Academic Performance.” Gomal University Journal of Research, vol. 35, no. 2, Dec. 2019, pp. 66–78. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=142237285.

Ramezankhani, Ali, et al. “Impact of Social Media on Psychological Health: Challenges and Opportunities.” Novelty in Biomedicine, vol. 7, no. 3, Summer 2019, pp. 158–164. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=138267597.

Footnotes

Tropes:

Metaphor: “social media is like a double-edged sword…”

Antithesis: “There are numerous benefits … conversely, ….”

Schemes:

Ellipsis: “To some, social media is a blessing… to others, a curse”

Alliteration: “Isolation involves introversion and infrequent interactions.”

Parallelism: “Ideas are posted…videos are uploaded…”

[1] Alliteration

[2] Metaphor

[3] Ellipsis

[4] Parallelism

[5] Antithesis

To contribute, email: a.mcgillivray@uwinnipeg.ca