Blog 7: Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is a four part limited series on Netflix. It displays the life of Madam C.J. Walker, who was the first African American self-made millionaire. The series aired March 20th 2020 starring Octavia Spencer – who has played many gender defying roles like Hidden Figures and The Shape of Water. I first saw it when it premiered on my “Suggested for You”. The series takes place in 1910 America, a little bit over 40 years after the American civil war. Sarah Breedlove is an African American woman, born and raised in St. Louis, Louisiana, who was orphaned at the age of 7, married at the age of 14 pregnant at the age of 15 and to top it off widowed at the age of 20. She did remarry twice afterwards and gave herself the title Madam C. J. Walker after her last husband, Charles Joseph Walker. She had a dream to create a hair product for African American women as well as being suitable for their hair type. She suffered from hair loss due to stress while being a washerwoman for many years and could not take care of her hair due to the lack of hair grower on the market. As a result, she chose to fabricate and sell her own hair grower after another women had introduced it to her.

Sarah Breedlove was approached by a light skinned women who introduced her to the powers of hair growth. The light skinned woman, Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone, met Breedlove at a very dark time in her life. When African American women were using goose fat, heavy oils, soap, or bacon grease to grow and strengthen their hair, Annie had created a sulfur based hair-grower. History and movie tell it different, Breedlove and Malone had a disagreement over how the hair grower should be sold. This pushed Breedlove to make her own formula of hair grower and sell it as her as her own product and brand. To avoid living in Malone’s shadow, she moved to Indianapolis – with her husband C. J. Walker – to start her business there. At the time, many African American citizens moved to Indianapolis because the real estate was cheap and they had a lot of people from the same community as them settled in the city and its outskirts. At first, not many people believed in Breedlove because of her race and gender. However, she defied odds, by herself, by successfully selling her product and opening a hair salon. Contrary to what you would assume, she did have the full support of her husband. In the series, he is portrayed as a caring and loving husband. His father, on the other hand, did not appreciate the fact that it was his wife coming up with the bright ideas and acting upon her dreams. He says to his son, “What kind of self-respecting negro works for his wife?” then follows with “Never get your money where you get your honey”.

There are many obstacles that Madam C.J.Walker had to face in order to reach her goal. Nevertheless, she was determined. She lived in a society where African American people were still referred to as “colored” and “negro“. She was not respected and, you can even say, highly underestimated. What Madam C. J. Walker did was use all of these labels that society had placed on her and made herself a millionaire out of it. To be specific, she targeted what was missing in the market and sold the dream. She used herself as marketing by telling her story to the women who were willing to listen to her. If you think about it logically, a African American woman made a product for the millions of African American women and flourished from there. In the series, she’s seen telling her story to a crown of dark skinned women in order to sell her product. However, what could be seen is that she is reaching out to the women; by targeting their struggles and their insecurities and linking them to her own, she was able to make them believe her and in her.

Furthermore, the main antagonist, Addie Malone, claims that dark skinned women want to look like her and that is the idea she wants to sell with her product. Which can suggest that white is the beauty standard in early 1900 America. Frankly, it is still the case in multiple environments in 2020. When Sarah Breedlove offers to sell her product for her, Malone declines her request by saying “you don’t have the right look”, referring to her darker skin tone. This is a representation of how racial discrimination still plagued the United States of America and, in a way, shackled every dark skinned American with a dream. In fact, even in the famous movie Hidden Figures, which is based a lot later in time, 1961, there is still discrimination against dark skinned women. Not only is it hard for a women, even in this day and age, to make a name for herself without the help of a man; it’s even harder for a dark skinned woman. The same situation can be seen in the movies The Help and Daughters of the Dust.

To sum up, I really enjoyed watching the series. It tackles many subjects like racism, sexism, gender norms and business. The tale of Sarah Breedlove – Madam C. J. Walker – paved the way for many other dark skinned woman to create what they need and make a living out of it. When I watch movies with a leading woman, of any race, it gives me confidence to pursue any career I want. It also reminds me to be stand up for myself as well as be confident about who I am and where I’m from. As much as I want to say that we should not pay attention to gender or race, I cannot. All these inspiring stories are inspiring because the main characters embraced what made them different and left their mark on the world with those exacts differences. Madam C. J. Walker embraced the fact that she was a dark skinned woman, pushed through social and gender norms, worked hard, made a millionaire of herself and that’s why her story is, now, a four part series on the biggest streaming network of 2020. To add, I see a pattern of women who have been discriminated for their gender, as well as their race, have bigger breakthroughs than men and women who are more socially accept for their race.

Blog #6: What Men Fear more than Feminism

Masculinity is one of the main issues that men have and also one the main issues that is taboo for men to speak about. It is the double standard for men; how women have them. It’s acceptable for woman to cry but men cannot or else they are considered weak. It’s acceptable for woman to speak about their feeling but men aren’t encouraged to do so because it would make them look sensitive. The stigma around men and their masculinity has risen a fear within men; the fear of humiliation or the fear of failing to meet expectations, for example.

According to Michael S. Kimmel’s article “Masculinity as Homophobia”, manhood is equated with power over women or power over other men. Men are taught to thrive over this feeling of “power” or “dominance” from a young age. They are taught to prove themselves when someone challenges them. The majority conclude that violence is the way to go, as they use their peers as gender role models. It is said, in the article, that violence is a marker of manhood which is supported by the willingness and desire to fight. The need to express violence can be linked to men’s drive for domination or power, sort of in a way of conquering. An interesting conclusion was brought up in Kimmel’s article:

Men’s feelings are not the feelings of the powerful, but of those who see themselves as powerless. These are the feelings that come inevitably from the discontinuity between the social and psychological, between aggregate analysis that reveals how men are in power as a group and the psychological fact that they do not feel powerful as individuals. They are the feelings of men who were raised to believe themselves entitled to feel that power, but do not feel it. No wonder many men are frustrated and angry…

Masculinity as Homophobia by Michael S.Kimmel

I do find many factual points within this conclusion. First of all, I do believe that the root of men’s frustration comes from their upbringing and has been etched in their psyche. The pressure of always being the strongest emotionally and the physically, the breadwinner, the most responsible, the leader, can take its toll on any individual – men or women. Second of all, men are promised a feeling of power ever since they can remember. Also, it is all they’ve seen; within their own households, in movies, in books and it’s even what’s taught to them at school through history. In light of all of these points, the feelings of frustration and anger can now be justified in some ways. In addition, many exclude themselves or find an escape to keep the feelings of frustration, anger and fear at bay.

bell hooks links patriarchy with male dominance in her article “Understanding Patriarchy”. hooks believes in the dismantling of the patriarchal system and she believes its a job for both men and women. She defines patriarchy in her article as:

Patriarchy a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence

Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks

hooks’ article does not attack men for this system and way of thinking. She simply lays all the problems that both genders need to solve in order to find equality and equity.She shares her own stories on how patriarchy has presented itself in her personal life, among her family. She talks about various childhood memories and includes religion. bell hooks described patriarchy as to be a system that was leaving her out of things she wanted to be part of. She makes the link that her brothers wouldn’t be bothered by the patriarchal system because it privileged them. It privileges men and penalizes women. However, it is as much the women’s fault as it is men’s fault. In many parts of the article the author gives examples of how it is both genders responsibility to break the social norm; i.e. marriage and culture. In addition, she breaks down the system itself. She explains that the system needs male dominance in order for it to function. As a result, it leads and supports sexist violence. Which leads to the last point, the feminist view on patriarchy. Many feminist have been hurt and oppressed for many years by male domination encouraged by patriarchy. A resulting factor of that pain would be the misinterpretation of men by feminist work. Being fed up by the treatment they have received, they painted men to be the bad guy and that was the end of the story. Nonetheless, hooks did not stand for it. She highlighted a chapter named “” in her book “‘ by describing it as such:

I stressed that feminist advocates collude in the pain of men wounded by patriarchy when they falsely represent men as always and only powerful, as always and only gaining privileges from their blind obedience to patriarchy. I emphasized that patriarchal ideology brainwashes men to believe that their domination of women is beneficial when it is not…

Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks

bell hooks’ covers many diverse sub-subjects regarding patriarchy as well as calling out both genders.

How could men redefining the meaning of masculinity in their own lives have an impact on larger social issues such as sexism, racism and homophobia? After reading both articles, I believe if we take down the social norms that men must be the dominating gender or the most powerful gender; we leave room for emotional and psychological growth. If men were able to talk openly about their feelings in a safe environment – just like women can – we would not be in the same place. Men should not grow up with the pressure of having to be the absolute strongest and toughest nor should they grow up with a sense of entitlement that they’re are owed power and respect. It should be something earned for both men and women.

Blog 5: Speak Loudly!: Women in Activism

Dolores Chew, one of the speaker of this conference, is a founding member of Montreal’s South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC). She is also a history and humanities instructor at Marianopolis College and Research Associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute of Concordia University. She spoke about her life living in India as a mixed Christian middle-class woman. She developed on the fact that she has had to struggle with discrimination as well as intersectionality. She also touched on her participation in political activism events in Ottawa and Montreal.

May Chiu, the second speaker at the conference, is a racialized feminist activist who has been in the anti-racism struggle for decades and is currently engaged in the fight for climate justice with Extinction Rebellion. She spoke about racism, how women are racialized and the anti-apartheid movement. She also spoke about the inequality , intersectionality and women’s socioeconomic rights violation. It did related to the concepts of feminism inequality and intersectionality. Dolores Chew and May Chiu shared their knowledge on historical information and personal experiences on these concepts.

I really enjoyed that Mrs.Chew talked about her upbringing and linked it to her activism and accomplishments. It was very inspiring to learn about where she came from and how she believes that “staying silent is complicit“. This conference was relevant to our class because it addressed to social issues that women have to face on a daily basis. The conference sheds light on the struggles that women from racial minorities face everyday on a daily basis externally as much as internally. I went to the talk with a friend and, as we both come from ethnically diverse backgrounds, we could really relate on the same key aspects that both women talked about. I would recommend this event to all women who go to Vanier, and to also bring a friend, because there really is something for every women to relate to and find a piece of herself in. Every conference talks about a different subject and I really do feel like a lot of subjects are covered to keep all women informed and heard.

Blog 4: Amal Clooney

Born in Beirut, Amal Clooney had to move away to Buckinghamshire, at the age of 2, because of the Lebanese Civil War. She spent her whole life after that in that same city, completing her education and submitting to the bar. She attended  Dr Challoner’s High School, a girls’ grammar school. She then studied at St Hugh’s College, in Oxford, where she received an Exhibition and the Shrigley Award. In 2000, Clooney graduated with a BA degree in Jurisprudence. Next, she continued her education at New York University, where she obtained a masters in Jurisprudence. At NYU, Clooney received the Jack J. Katz Memorial Award for excellence in entertainment law. She is qualified to practice law in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Ten years later, Amal Clooney returned to Britain. There, she became a barrister in London (Bar of England & Wales, Inner Temple) at Doughty Street Chambers. In 2013, Clooney was appointed to a number of United Nations commissions, including as adviser to Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria and as Counsel to the 2013 Drone Inquiry by UN human rights rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC into the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations. Her passion for law has shone through her work. Clooney has been involved in high-profile cases representing the state of Cambodia, the former Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah Al Senussi, Yulia Tymoshenko and Julian Assange, as well as being an adviser to the King of Bahrain in connection with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry headed by Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni. Most recently, Clooney was appointed the special envoy on media freedom by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

As a human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney took on many notable cases. For example, Clooney began work on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in January of 2015. She was representing Armenia, on behalf of Doughty Street Chambers along with Geoffrey Robertson QC. Another example would be her work representing Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian Al Jazeera English journalist, who, along with other journalists, was being held in Egypt. He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison before finally being pardoned by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Amal Clooney took her career down a different road- in the spring of 2015- by becoming a visiting faculty member and a senior fellow with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. She was a co-professor with Sarah H. Cleveland in Cleveland’s course on human rights and taught a class on human rights litigation to students in the school’s Human Rights Clinic. She continued teaching for the spring 2018 semester. Clooney taught at Columbia Law School, again as a co-professor with Sarah H. Cleveland, on a core class on human rights. She has also lectured students on international criminal law at the Law School of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, The New School in New York City, The Hague Academy of International Law, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Aside from her career as a human rights and international law lawyer, Amal Clooney has other conquests. Born Amal Alamuddin, she married George Clooney in 2014. In June 2017, she gave birth to fraternal twins. Along with her husband, Amal Clooney founded Clooney Foundation for Justice, in late 2016, to advance justice in courtrooms, communities, and classrooms around the world. Not only that, she also partnered with the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in beginning the Amal Clooney Scholarship, which was created to send one female student from Lebanon to the United World College Dilijan each year, to be enrolled in a two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) program.


Blog 3: Pre-Western Gender Roles

What came before western culture gender norms? Were women always inferior to men? Did men always have total control over the household? It was always believed by the colonizers that Indigenous people were inferior to them because of their culture, traditions and beliefs. Many centuries later, we came to realize that what made the Indigenous people inferior actually makes them superior to the newcomers. Surprising? Not so much.

To start, women were not inferior to men! It is stated that Indigenous tribes were egalitarian and their governmental arrangement were focused on the group and not sole individual speaking for the rest of the population. Women are given responsibilities and authority. They take their place in their society and flourish. It’s the teamwork ,of both man and woman, that has gotten the Indigenous people this far. Their egalitarian mentality made both sexes important. It valued each of their strengths and, with that, used it to their advantage. Another aspect of their lifestyle, matrilineal and matrilocal, empowers women’s place in society by prioritizing their side of the family and their role in the family. Making the newly wed man move in to the women’s house and help her side of the family is something completely different from western culture, where women must take their husband’s name and move in with them. Now, it has changed where newly-weds just move out into a completely separate house. What western society can learn from their lifestyle is true equity and equality. If men and women truly worked together as equals, and were also viewed as complete equals, they could find their rightful place in society and then could our world move forward at a life-changing rate.

A fact that really struck me, while reading the text on Indigenous people’s gender relations, was that female homosexual relationships were very respected. They were seen as healers, seers and bearers of oral tradition. They had in inclusive sex-gender systems which was an experience called “two-spirit”. It basically means a female and male persona were accommodated in one body. Gender identity was expressed in various ways throughout Indigenous tribes. Natives that identified as “two-spirit” took on both female and male roles in society as well as female and male dressing habits. This identification resulted in many homosexual relationship and even female homosexual marriages. At that point of history, female homosexual relations, without the term “two-spirit”, was not included in their worldview. In addition, it was the European observers that rendered this way of life and self-identification a “sin”, of some sorts. Even though there were female and male homosexual relations, the Europeans really bashed the male homosexual relations in their transcripts.

Blog 2: The Dangers for Women in the Sex Industry

The subject of woman in the sex industry has always been a taboo. Whether they are forced or desperate, women are put in danger everyday by entering the world of sex industry. Sex workers are women at work — supporting children as single parents, trying to save money to go to school, surviving economically in a job market that underpays women at every economic level. As their acts are illegal, not regulated and not protected, they usually do not report the incidents they face and the culprits know that. The fact that they don’t puts the workers in even more danger. The victims of this vicious cycle have fallen in a series of traps set up by predators. Sex trafficking and prostitution are the two of the many problematics in the sex industry.

By definition, according to, human trafficking is a form of slavery. It happens when a person is forced or tricked into working in dangerous and illegal conditions or having sexual contact with others against their will. The victims are usually drugged, locked up, beaten, starved, or made to work for many hours a day. This form of modern day slavery generates an estimated $150 billion in annual profits. There are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. Of those, 4.5 million are trapped and forced into sexual exploitation. This treatment takes an emotional and physical toll on the body. It also strips away all the woman’s basic human rights. We’ve seen many ruses, including children and hysteric teens, that have been used to lure and trap young victims. These tricks have been passed around the internet by influencers and Once taken away, victims do not see their families for years at times and go though severe physical trauma. It is extremely hard for victims to re-adapt to a normal routine when rescued.

Prostitution has become a gateway for human trafficking. Prostitution is the the practice of engaging in relatively indiscriminate sexual activity, in exchange for immediate payment in money or other valuables. Prostitution generates an estimated annual revenue of over $100 billion worldwide. It is a game changing factor in today’s economy. Many people have seen sex work as a business venture. In some states in the United States of America, brothels have been legalized to make prostitution safer. Multiple countries have adopted the practice of a “red light district” in order to profit from the sex trade. A red light district is a designated part of an urban area where a concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses are found. Countries were pushed to create such spaces in light of research that has shown that many women have been killed and attacked by clients or their pimps. Many have been severely abused and raped but do not go report it in fear of getting arrested. Prostitution is now seen as an easy way to make money but it comes with a dangerous lifestyle. Moreover, girls are being tricked by pimps pretending to be their boyfriends. The predators first single out girls with low self esteem, then they spoil them and make them feel wanted. After they get attached to their “boyfriend”, he quickly removes his makes and puts in place his ruse to make her work for him under the pretext of “love”. There is a show on TVA called Fugueuse, which dives into the subject of prostitution and drug abuse.

Here’s a short documentary that explains risk of prostitution and the legalization of brothels:


Blog 1: The Definition of Feminism

Every human, who possesses critical thinking, has their own definition of feminism. Jessica Valenti and Bell Hooks had a definition of their own as well. However, the common misconception about feminism is that it’s an anti-men ideology-mostly misconceived by men. Both Valenti and Hooks targeted to demystify this misunderstanding. On one hand, Valenti used a much more modern approach to it. She used 21st century struggles to further explain her opinion. While reading the text, you feel light hearted because it’s relatable and, quite frankly, comedic. On the other hand, Hooks had a more old-school approach to it. She explores various aspects such as politics and religion. She also explains the struggles she faced in the 20th century. As you finish her text, you feel cultured. The subjects of racism, politics, sexism and oppression as well as the explanation of a “Christian” mindset sparks links readers for readers from Western culture,in some ways, educate you. It’s what differentiates the two authors approaches on the subject. The strongest link I could find between these two authors is that the ideology of feminism set them free. It opened their minds to the endless possibilities that the world could offer them. I strongly believe their new found mental freedom is what fuels their want to explain and teach people the idea of feminism in all its different shapes and sizes.

After a quick look at their Wikipedia pages, they come from different states and times, making Hooks 20 years older than Valenti. It explains the difference between the two essays. Hooks grew up in a segregated town in Kentucky when racial segregation was still in play and sexism was still highly popular. Being a African-American woman in America in the 60s, Hooks was shaped at an early age to fight for her rights as a woman and an African-American. Valenti faced struggles of her own. As she was received online abuse and threat, she still pushed through and published her work. Her work resulted in inspiring many young activist. Both of these woman went through many struggles, they both came through stronger and it is reflected in their work.

Now for my definition of feminism. As a child, boys and girls were at the same level. As a teenager, I was challenged everyday of my life by men and women who wouldn’t let me see both genders as equals. Through the years, I have seen a lot of inequality between genders. Living in a muslim conservative country, travelling to my country every two or three months, coming back to western society, I have seen inequality everywhere. Therefore, my definition of feminism has never changed from when I was a child, it’s as stated in the dictionary. Feminism (noun) : the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. The ideology that women and men are equal, are seen and approached as the same, are treated the same, are seen the same, along with all the aspects. In Bell Hooks’ essay, she says “Feminist politics are losing momentum because the feminist movement has lost clear definitions. We have those definitions.” It made me stop and think after reading her essay and she’s completely right! Women with privilege went into the work field and were just content. As a result, advocated less. This made the unprivileged women having to speak up twice as loud to make up for the loss. Some became radicals- as with every ideology- thus, creating the anti-men stereotypes.