All posts by Crystal Carswell

When is it OK to not be OK?

I’m not OK right now. And you know what? I’m dealing with it. I’ve found myself in a new place in my life, one of imbalance. Having worked full time for most of my 42 years, I’m finding the land of part time work a nearly unmanageable landscape. No, no, stick with me here…

Saying YES

I tend to be a person who says yes when I should say no, not because I’m weak, but because I love to say yes. Yes, I’d love to do that, yes I CAN do that, yes, let’s do that! Sometimes though, too many yeses mean taking away the quality of my experiences to replace them with quantity. When I find myself with perceived time on my hands, I tend to fill it, and I know I’m not alone in this.

When we work full-time we have rigid structures and routines in place to ensure (or increase the chances anyway) our lives go smoothly. We plan completely around working full time. Our children go into daycare, and we get sitters for the unexpected. We clean when we can, and enjoy our time off work. Now what if you’re only working part time? The cleaning, the laundry, the errands, the bill payments, the shuttling and the child minding all become yours, after all…you’re home more… right?

All the time in the world, right?

Now you’re also working 20 hours per week, but need to ensure you’re home by the end of the school day because childcare is no longer an expense you can afford. Oh, and no sitters ­­– also extra money. Speaking of extra money, friends you haven’t seen in ages will want to get together of course, because you FINALLY have the time…but…well you see where I’m going here? This is the place I found myself in recently. Feeling pulled in so many directions, and stretched so thin, that I finally broke.

Sitting there in my boss’ office as I felt a humiliating tear run down my face was my low point. I was trying to explain something that had happened on the weekend which resulted in the company laptop taking a nose dive while I was out. Love those pets.  But there I was. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not a crier (once that whole pregnancy thing cleared itself up), so I imagine having me crying across her desk was a bit of a shock.

The two Ps – People and Perspective

This month we’re supposed to be discussing how we cope. I think it very telling then, that the thing I needed most in this case was a person who cared about me enough to take me for tea and tell me to give my head a shake. This IS, indeed, how I cope, perspective and the love of the people in my life. In my heart, I knew this wasn’t a life threatening or altering issue, but all those little pieces had ballooned into one unaddressed weight that bore me into the ground.

I think it may be like that for many people. The weight of just existing can become such a burden some days. People need an outlet to turn to let some air out of that balloon. For some it’s art, or music, or sports, or any number of other things, for me it remains people and perspective. I look at the burdens of the women at the YWCA, or the women I know who skirt that edge.  I hold tighter to my loved ones and realize that for right now… it’s ok to be unbalanced.

Blogger Talk – Gratitude and Leadership

Each month, we give you the opportunity to get to know your bloggers a little bit better. During this month of Thanksgiving and of celebrating women in leadership here at the YW, our bloggers Crystal and Allison share some of the things and people they are grateful for in their lives.

Crystal Crystal Carswell

What female in a leadership role inspires you, and why?

Elisabeth Zimmermann, the Executive Director of the YWCA Niagara Region. I see inspiration in Elisabeth because too often, for women, taking a leadership role means having to put up a wall to be respected. It can mean setting aside the characteristics that make you fun, or likable, because we’re afraid they’ll be perceived as weaknesses.  Elisabeth demands respect through her passion, knowledge, and ability to do her job, but remains wholly herself.

With the Thanksgiving holiday being celebrated this month – share with us someone in your life that you are truly grateful for.

I am incredibly grateful for my mother; while my entire world may revolve around my son, my mom is the one who has ensured it keeps turning. She is the maker of dinner, the sitter of kid, and the cleaner of houses when I can’t be. She allows me to raise my child without intervention, but provides gentle reminders not to take anything for granted and to enjoy every moment of the life we’re living.

How do you find gratitude?  Or do you?

I find gratitude through volunteering. I have only really volunteered the last couple of years, but what a difference it has made in my perspective.  I used to turn away from people who had so little because it was uncomfortable for me. For ME! I shake my head now at my own ridiculousness, and gratefully go home to my own house every day.


allisonDo you think people are less or more grateful today than in the past?

I’m saddened to say that on a whole, I do find that people tend to be less grateful for what they have in their lives, although I can’t say I can accurately compare to gratitude levels in the past! What I notice is that people generally speak of their privileges as problems, difficulties, or sources of stress – and while I don’t mean to invalidate people’s feelings, I find that many people seem to be losing sight of the privileges and opportunities they have, and tend to colour those things as burdens. It is immensely frustrating to hear, but I do my best to recognize that everyone is different, and that people must go through experiences that will teach them how to cultivate gratitude, since I certainly did not learn how to do so until I was faced with many personal challenges in my own life. In a way, this helps me be grateful for being aware of the importance of gratitude!

If you could share three things you are grateful for – what would they be?

I am grateful for having a pet that greets me when I come home at the end of the day to give their unconditional love and comfort that always puts a smile on my face (or, you know, just wants food), the amazing sunset that serves to remind me that the day is coming to an end and I’ve made it through it, and for the people I have met throughout this past year who understand and support me in my goals!

How do you find gratitude?  Or do you?

I find gratitude by pushing myself out of my comfort zone to cultivate new experiences in my life – even if they scare me! – or to push myself to do things that I may not feel like doing at the time, since I find that doing so always leads me to discovering something new, whether it be about myself or the world around me. I also find gratitude by reflecting on each day and recalling the moments in which I found joy, whether it be through a brief interaction with an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while or the way the sky looks at sunset.

The Final Lesson


Last August I had the privilege of participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event. NFA-LOGO-rgb1-1024x305In the weeks leading up to my choice to sleep in my car, and try to relate better to those experiencing homelessness, I had posted a blog article about how close to the edge of poverty so many of us walk. I considered how many missed pay cheques it would take to go from being seen as a respectable, contributing member of society to someone burdening society’s wallets (which is all too often the perception). At the time, my number was six. I had calculated about three months of unemployment is what I could fare… I have now used up two.

This is it. This is the lesson in relatability I was trying so hard to convey a year ago. The irony that I am now living it is certainly not lost on me. I’m hoping, though, that perhaps by reading this, others will finally understand that the potential for homelessness exists in ALL of our lives. At this moment, I hold three diplomas in three separate fields-Public Relations, Culinary Arts, and Executive Office Administration. I am articulate. I interview well. I come with excellent references. Overall, I am a very employable individual; yet, here I sit, two months into unemployment, staring into that abyss.

My family and friends living in this region live with their own financial insecurity; if need be, we would certainly have a place to sleep, but we would still ultimately be homeless…the hidden homeless.

When my last employment ended- a paid work placement with an expiry date-it never occurred to me to consider applying for Unemployment, that’s how confident I was that I would have a job immediately. financial crisisFast-forward 60 days and my back-up plans have now been used. My family and friends living in this region live with their own financial insecurity; if need be, we would certainly have a place to sleep, but we would still ultimately be homeless…the hidden homeless.

As embarrassing as the topic of finances can be, I think we need to talk about it so much more, work harder on de-stigmatizing poverty…and we need to start with ourselves. Yes, us, the ones who subscribe to the YW’s social media, who raise funds, and fight for our personal cause. Those who feel compassion and understanding, and believe we are above judging others. I’ll go first…

I judge people on social assistance.Servi Can

Had you asked me this question before this week, you would have received an emphatic no, probably followed with a somewhat preachy explanation on how anyone could end up there (see above). But, this Monday I walked into Service Canada to inquire about how I might go about the process, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I had allowed myself to get to this position, and afraid that others would think me beneath them as they strolled past the door I was opening. I had a mantra on repeat in my head “this isn’t me; I’m not like this…please see that I’m different…” Guess what? I wasn’t. I wasn’t better than anyone else in that room with me. The two couples in their 50s, the well-dressed woman ahead of me in line, or the polite, slightly desperate-looking man waiting for his cheque. We were all human beings trying to get through a difficult time in our lives.

I learned my lesson. Check those corners of your mind and be honest with yourself. I hope you, whoever you are, will read this and consider not only how many missed cheques you are away from poverty yourself, but also how we can use our own identified misconceptions to make it more relatable to the rest of the world.

We’re all in this together.

Two Moms

Two Moms

(My View from the Peanut Gallery)
Once upon a time, there were two lovely damsels. Raised in separate, yet similar, worlds where the virtues of princes were extolled, they lived their lives waiting for their knights in shining armor. Knights were found, lives were pledged, and babies were made, all in the name of storybook endings.
I met Kymm and Jill seven years ago when I went to work for one of them. It doesn’t matter which one really, because when you have one, you simply have the other. They come as a package; a brazen, funny, loving package that makes you wonder why you can’t shake loose your heterosexuality if it means being THAT happy. Sixteen years after they first met, they still look at each other with the kind of devotion that makes me ache with envy.Cover Pic Kymm and Jill
Whenever I hear people discuss same-sex parents and speculate on the kind of life “those children” will have, I always come back to these beautiful women, and the beautiful women they’ve raised. It has always been my experience that the most interesting people in this world, the strongest, the most accomplished, are those who were raised in a less-than-traditional family. I’m not saying greatness can’t come from tradition, simply that it usually doesn’t, just as a potted tree will never become as magnificent as one that grows a little wild.
Time spent with these women is always full of amazing food and the kind of laughter that makes other people either envious or annoyed. Conversations with them are always open and enlightened; there are no boundaries about what’s an appropriate topic, no judgment, or fear that the choices you make, or the life you live, is somehow less-than… and trust me, there is enough talent in this family to justify being a little smug.

They are the barometer with which I measure my parenting. When they agree with choices I’ve made, I feel more confident that I’m on the right track.

Each of the four women is artistically inclined, whether it’s being a chef or a painter or a stylist, they all have a talent to call their own, and a view of the world that inspires you to open your own mind just a little more. They are the barometer with which I measure my parenting. When they agree with choices I’ve made, I feel more confident that I’m on the right track.Kymm and Jill
I often wonder what other same-sex parents go through when trying to raise their families. Do they try to be as close to ‘traditional’ as possible to avoid the appearance of being that much more different, or,  like Jill and Kymm, have they embraced that which makes them unique, and used it as a springboard into truly exceptional? It’s not my place to judge regardless, I simply hope that there are more people able to stand up to societal norms and fully realize the scope of influence they could have on a generation.
The children my friends have raised, in partnership with their father, are spectacular. Intelligent, articulate, strong, and uncompromising, they are what this next generation needs to lead it into unapologetic inclusivity. They are, ultimately, the answer to the question of “what kind of life will kids like those have?”…magnificent.
And they all lived happily ever after.




Getting to know you questions – What does Volunteering mean to you?

In April, we are blogging about Volunteering. Get to know your bloggers better and read their thoughts on this topic. They were given these eight questions to choose from:
  1. What does the word ‘volunteer’ mean to you?
  2. Are you an active volunteer? Can you share your top three motivators that get you to volunteer your time?
  3. Do you think volunteers take away from paid work?
  4. Where do you volunteer?  Why?
  5. Can you share one moment or comment that, as a volunteer, touched your heart or lightened your mood, and made your day.
  6. Have you had a life changing experience while volunteering?  Please share.
  7. Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?
  8. In a year, how many hours would you say are spent volunteering?  Would you like to see that increase or decrease?


CrystalCrystal Carswell

Where do you volunteer?  Why?

Yes, I volunteer with the YW in a several capacities. Why? That’s easy. Because I respect their mission, the women who work there tirelessly, and the people they try so hard to support. I’ve seen how respectfully they use their resources, and respect what they’ve accomplished with so little.

Have you had a life changing experience while volunteering?  Please share.

 What I didn’t expect from volunteering was how much it would affect the rest of my life. I’ve learned skills that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use, and made connections that are outside of circles I would otherwise travel in. Most importantly though, I didn’t realize how much passion I could put into something that didn’t come with a pay cheque.

Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?

Unfortunately, having spoken to students on just this topic, I have to say no. All too many of them falsified their hours. The current system seems to set them up for failure unless they are naturally inclined to volunteering. Without any guidance or check-ins in place throughout their high school years, the students in need of the shift in perspective that volunteering offers are slipping through the cracks.


What does the word volunteer mean to you?

To me, volunteers mean people who take time out of their life and give– for no other reason than the satisfaction of helping those less fortunate.

Do you think volunteers take away from paid work?

I do not believe volunteering takes away from paid work, as these people do jobs that would be very difficult to pay someone for. For example– how do you pay someone who helps in a soup kitchen, to cook or serve food for those in need, as you would be taking away the very money needed to fund this? It just doesn’t make sense.

Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?

I think mandatory volunteering for graduates is an amazing way for them to see the real world, whether it be a soup kitchen, a hostel, the Humane Society. All of these places could be totally out of the norm for students, and would give them a far better grasp of real life that many of us are ever exposed to.



So. Gender Norms…

When I first discovered I was having a boy, I was so grateful. Not being a ‘girly’ girl myself, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to raise one. A boy sounds easier, right? They’re rough and tumble. They fall down and get right back up. You don’t have to worry about their feelings quite as much. You don’t have to worry about having a conversation about periods or boobs, or getting pregnant. There’s no fear about their safety as they start to develop, you just have to teach them about consent and respect. This was going to be a breeze. Continue reading

Surviving Assumptions

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Labels. It’s amazing what they can do to people. The size on your clothing tag. The words others use to describe you… the ones in your internal monologue. FAT. A combination of letters. That’s all it is really, a descriptive word to characterize someone’s body shape. It is the feeling we imbue the words with that determine their power. Not the word itself. Continue reading

Letters to Santa-They Want What?

METhey’re heeeeeeere! The lists that so many parents face with equal parts interest and dread. The letters to Santa. As my seven-year-old son sat down to compose his this year, I watched him struggle with what to write. First, he couldn’t think of anything to ask for and then, after a little consideration, he just started listing things from a toy catalogue that had come in the mail.

That’s when I stepped in.

We had a chat about not abusing the privilege, and to perhaps just ask Santa to surprise him. But I realized the problem really lay with me. I have become so accustomed to doing what is considered traditional, that I never even considered telling him to not bother writing one. Why is that exactly? Why, when so many in this world can’t afford to buy their children the basics, never mind random material junk, do we, as a society, feel the need to perpetuate this ceremony? Continue reading

Getting To Know You-Public Shaming


Have you ever posted a comment, that you would not have said standing in front of the person?

The short answer is no. I believe the words I type are as important as the words I speak. If I want to be an example of ethics and morals to my son, then I need to behave responsibly in the medium where his generation lives.

What do you think needs to be done to change the wave of hate that is being openly displayed on social media these days?

I think one of the easiest ways to stem the tide would be to not allow anonymous accounts. The fact is, we tend to treat people more kindly when we can be held accountable for our actions. If employers, friends and family could search their responses, would people be as quick to openly display their hatred?

I am providing you with an opportunity to give a message to someone who is currently a target of public shaming – What is your message?

Don’t engage. State your feelings once publicly if you feel the need, then walk away. Interacting with hatred will only perpetuate the drama, which is what they are looking for. Live your life. Love your people. You can’t control the abyss.


Have you ever experienced or been the target of public shaming/defamation of character on social media?  What has been your reaction? 

Shaming in any circumstance isolates and diminishes one’s life .

Having been homeless , and making my life public about Poverty has brought into my life a silent shaming . No one comes to me personally, but I see it written in comments in response to articles I am in. It identifies me and others as being on the outskirts of society because of our circumstances.

I still see it in the faces of people who have misconceptions about Poverty. Pity and exclusion are forms of shaming.

The comments from people in general are positive but those few that had hurtful opinions  did damage to not only my dignity but to the dignity of every person finding themselves in Poverty, or being Homeless.

I had mentioned that getting a food voucher with my name on it to use in the grocery store that I used, was humiliating and very undignified. I could not use it, despite needing it. It brings an element of shame that my circumstance is one that is being made judgement on. It identified me by my circumstance, not by who I am.

I usually do not respond when comments are so negative, but felt a response on behalf of everyone living in Poverty was necessary to give a response not in anger but to provide a perspective that would perhaps not change those people that made the remarks , but to give power back to myself and others. Poverty is a circumstance. It does not define us .

Should someone targeted negatively on social media respond?  How?

Yes, absolutely. I have always felt that we need to speak out against injustice against any person .

People who target others can be violent. It has to be done with caution and support. If possible , privately , or in my case a response written in the paper. Not in a battle of who is right or wrong, but to give another perspective . Never respond in anger.

People  have misconceptions that they have embedded in them . Once you are able to change their perspective , there is understanding. We must stand up for every individual , it cannot only be about us. If someone is targeted it affects us all eventually. We are connected as a society .

Tolerance  for every person , it just simply means …This is who I am…just let me be.

I advocate for every person , it does not end with the issues that only affect me.

I am providing you with an opportunity to give a message to someone who is currently a target of public shaming – What is your message?

To first get support from someone you trust. Never engage with the person/s , If in a situation where it escalates , or can be  violent …report to authorities. Never engage in public verbal combat . It validates the person doing the shaming.


Have you ever posted a comment, that you would not have said standing in front of the person?

Yes and No.  Yes, because I write more eloquently than I speak. So I will often reply to someone’s Facebook post in a way that I simply would not have the ability to in person. That being stated, I do not post comments that I do not intend to fully stand behind when in person.

A few years ago, I am sure I was a lot quicker to post a comment than to speak. However, today I am constantly aware that what I type is forever. Most of my social media accounts are attached to my real name, and I know I can be held accountable for my public opinion. I am happy to put my thoughts and words behind my real name online, because I write without the intent to slander, perpetuate hate, or post opinion before fact.

What do you think needs to be done to change the wave of hate that is being openly displayed on social media these days?

I think that we as individuals need to understand that being hateful is not contributing to a more positive world. I think we, as individuals, need to make a choice to think on and rethink on everything we post online. I think that education needs to begin at home and in school. I think that authorities need to take what is posted online as just as seriously as what is said in person.

People need to understand that their actions have consequences, and hiding behind a screen is not an excuse for inhumane treatment of their peers. We, in our cushy society, have been conditioned to complain first and offer help second (or not at all). At some point, we need to understand how important it is to be educated about issues before proposing a solution. Hate should never be in the equation.

In your opinion, do today’s social views encourage public shaming/defamation of character on social media, and outside the cyber world as well?

It is very evident that public shaming is becoming an epidemic, and, due to its acceptance as a “just” form of “punishment” by a majority of people, I do believe that today’s social views are encouraging it.

But we should call “public shaming” what it really is: “mob justice.” And it’s dangerous.

More often than not, when people – like you and me – jump on one bandwagon or another to participate in public shaming, we do not look to the source for proof that what we are attacking is even real. It is the thrill of being able to publicly berate someone for their ignorance, poor judgment, illegal act, or even spelling mistake. It is to be able to say: We are better than him/her/them.

We can take a recent example of the dentist, Walter Palmer, who was publicly shamed after he “murdered” Cecil the Lion.  He has been a target of threats and protests since the discovery was made of his kill and had to close his dentistry and go into hiding.

“Good!” some of you may be thinking, but is this form of online-vigilante-justice appropriate? However much I dislike hunters for killing game for sport and trophy, I do not think that a human life becomes less valuable because the human has made mistakes or even committed a crime. It needs to be dealt with in an appropriate way. Asking for the support of authorities, and speaking with clear rationale and reason. Pointing the finger to only visible problems allows the invisible problems and underlying cause to grow and flourish. Now we have all attention pointed to one individual, while hundreds of people go out and commit the same crime without a target on their backs.

Also, this form of online harassment gets carried to those that have done nothing illegal or “wrong,” but are treated in much the same way by those intending to carry out their own vigilante agenda.   Laci Green was targeted in much the same way by people who opposed her views, and she had to go so far as to call the police and stay with some friends while being directly threatened that her apartment was being watched and she was in danger.

One final example (among millions), is parents using the internet as a place to publicly shame their children. Can you imagine growing up, making normal mistakes that kids do – as that is how we learn – only to be publicly shamed by our parents to potentially millions of people? That exposure of vulnerable people (children, etc) should be especially not tolerated by our society, yet often it is.

We use examples of public shaming, like Palmer’s slaying of Cecil, to say, “We’re doing right by singling out this individual for wrong!” But we’re not doing right.  It is quite clearly mob justice, and the people participating are often ill-informed and ignorant of not only the “real” reasons for the start of the harassment, but also how to actually make an impactful and powerful change in the world. Public shaming is an excuse to focus attention about small problems or people rather than big solutions.

Getting To Know You – Personal Safety


In your opinion, what would you consider a violation of a person’s personal safety?

Feeling safe might just be the most important human need. While it is nice to feel loved and appreciated, liked, admired, needed – it all loses its value to a degree if you don’t feel safe.


Violating somebody’s safety is to take advantage of a power imbalance. It can be a landlord threatening to take away your home if you cannot pay the rent. It can be a husband threatening to leave if you do not stop seeing your friends. It can be a man walking down the street, giving you as much as a dirty look. It can be a manager making you feel as though you can be replaced anytime.

To take advantage of a power imbalance, in even the smallest way, is to violate a person’s safety.

Have you experienced a time when you helped someone whose personal safety was at risk?  How did you handle the situation?  What would you do differently, if anything?

Having worked as a support worker for people with disabilities for many years, I was responsible for protecting my clients’ personal safety constantly. Studies indicate that people with intellectual disabilities are four to ten times more likely to have acts of violence committed against them. What that meant to me as a support worker was to basically not ever trust anybody, to always look for signs, especially with non-verbal clients, that might indicate that somebody has taken advantage of the power imbalance.

The scary part was that I could only ever do my best. And I will never know if that was enough. There are too many people out there who have to worry about their personal safety constantly. Every single moment of their lives.


From experience, what has been your reaction/or action to having your personal safety at risk?

Unfortunately, when I have the option of fight or flight, my fight instinct always kicks in. I don’t have an aggressive personality when dealing with day to day life, but when I feel threatened my first reaction has always been to be confrontational. Whether it’s advisable or not, I’m the person who turns around when I think someone’s following me.

Crystal Carswell

What precautions, if any do you put in place when going out for an evening by yourself, or traveling alone?

I am very self -aware in regards to my safety. When getting into my car I look in the back seat and pay attention to my surroundings. If I’m heading home, and someone has been following me for too long, I drive past my house first to see if they’ll turn off. If I’m traveling for a long period, I ensure my phone is charged and that someone knows when to expect me.

Ever have one of those funny feelings – when a situation doesn’t feel right? Do you listen to your instincts, or are you more prone to reasoning an uneasy feeling away? Can you share an experience and how you handled it?

I had a very upsetting situation years ago. I was living alone and someone tried to break into my bedroom window while I was sleeping. I called the police, and they fingerprinted the area. The next night a man showed up at my door asking to use my phone, saying his car had broken down and he needed to call CAA. Obviously, I was hyper-aware at the time, but I just knew it was him. I called the police while he stood there watching me, then he took off on foot. I watched him go into a house down the street, and it turned out I had a stalker in one of my neighbours. He was arrested, but a friend of mine who was a cop suggested I move, as he wouldn’t be in for long.

I ALWAYS trust my instincts when I feel unsettled



In your opinion, what would you consider a violation of a person’s personal safety?

I believe that violation of a person’s personal safety is anything where the person feels uneasy, unsafe or uncomfortable. It is a broad definition but every individual

will feel and handle a situation differently.

From experience, what has been your reaction/or action to having your personal safety at risk?

Sam Graves

Each experience is unique! I have quickly learned that each situation needs a different response. I used to find that my reaction was to quickly and aggressively respond. This seemed like a great idea but it led to the situations escalating quickly. I now know that it is better to remain calm and remove myself from the violation whenever possible. I still like to make the person/people aware that what they did is wrong but I remain calm and focused on my personal safety.

What precautions, if any do you put in place when going out for an evening by yourself, or traveling alone?

Criminal Minds, Law & Order, and basically every other crime show are top ten in my home. It’s completely unrealistic to think that every noise in darkness is going to make me the victim but I do. To make me feel safe when going out I always let my boyfriend know where I am going and when I plan to return. Another thing about me is when I got my first car my dad told me to keep my tire iron next my seat in case of emergency. It seemed like he was being paranoid but I listened. Now, I still to this day keep it there just because it gives me peace of mind. Luckily I have never had to use but I will continue to keep it there and recommend it my friends.

Are you prepared to protect your own personal safety when threatened? How do you plan to do this?

I think that we all like to believe we would know what to do when our personal safety was threatened. But after taking a hard look at my own life, I can’t be sure if I would know. We’ve heard of the fight or flight response, and I like to think that I am someone who would fight. Ideally to protect my own safety, I need to put safety measure into place such always making an effort to be aware of my surroundings (not just at night), checking in with someone about my whereabouts, and even taking a self- defense class. In my high school, we had 2 gym classes where an outside instructor came in and taught us self defense. My 15 year old self didn’t really care about the techniques and to retain any of the information. (Boy, was that a mistake)




By Ellen Rodger
I know I’m getting all “pop culture” here, but did anybody follow the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter exchange a few weeks ago? It started when Minaj noted that the MTV Video Music Awards nominations video of the year didn’t include her video Anaconda but perhaps would have if Minaj were a different “kind” of artist. What s
he meant is that her video celebrates “thicker” bodies, black bodies, and an overt female sexuality—and giving that a nod would play with the established standards of what is acceptable, lovely, and therefore “normal”.

The tweet wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular (beyond those who enforce and reward normative standards), but Minaj’s friend and fellow musician, Taylor Swift, whose video Bad Blood was nominated, took it as a personal insult. Swift tweeted: I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot. Minaj was taken aback, but responded thusly: “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this.” The “u should speak on this” is an equivalent to “check your privilege.” In turn, Swift responded, in a sweet (if unknowingly condescending manner): “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.” This is where Swift missed the boat, because she didn’t see her privilege and particularly didn’t see it fitting her systematically.

To me, this pop culture exchange, carried out on the public gossip arena of social media, is a perfect example of how privilege is intersectional but yet too often, that intersectionality is contested or ignored (as in it is a personal issue and not a systemic or societal issue). Swift is a young, talented, successful, wealthy, white, heterosexual musician. As a woman, she has had t
o work hard to earn respect in her industry. She understands that sexism and oppression affect her directly. What she doesn’t get is that in other areas of her life, she sits in a place of great privilege and her privileges (white, heterosexual, wealthy, etc.) trump others. It may not trump male privilege, but it does give her power.

“For the most part, she uses that power to support other women.”

So yeah, good for her. But the internalized domination is still there. When you assume others share your reality, you act as if your perspective is universal. It makes it difficult to see what someone who does not share your reality sees (or not entirely anyway, Minaj for example, is talented, wealthy successful, heterosexual, and black—her race lens is going to be different than Swift’s).

Minaj is rejecting the internalized oppression of pop culture and society that says thin white bodies are lovely and should be seen and admired in music videos. And she’s asking Swift, who like her, has economic privilege and the ability to say what she wants without being sanctioned, to speak to this—to say there is room for more than one or two standards in video awards nominations. For Swift, like most of us, it is easier to notice the oppression she has personally experienced (“maybe one of the men took your slot”) than the privileges she experiences. Often, those privileges are not recognized as such and are attributed to “hard work”, or talent and perseverance alone.

It is hard to acknowledge privilege. In my own life, I can recognize many of my privileges but it is difficult to see how they shift and how my history plays into a system that isn’t quite monolithic. That’s where intersectionality comes in. I’m a woman. But I am more than that. I am white, heterosexual, gender conforming, and able bodied. I grew up within (and ultimately rejected) an all-encompassing religious structure. That too influences and plays with my privilege. I’m not poor, although I have at various times in my life, struggled with income variances, and this has given me palpable understanding of the fear and anxiety of an insufficient income. I am healthy both physically and mentally but I am aware that these are variables that can and do change privilege—and quickly. I’ve never been a target of racism. I can go out in the street and talk to a stranger and not worry about them judging my sexuality (or fear a possible violent reaction to it). My privilege—my unearned advantages in life, even those that aren’t discriminatory, are many. I hope however, they don’t entirely prevent me from trying to understand power, how I benefit from it, where I have an easier ride.

The tricky part is determining what I can do to erase the systems of oppression that back privilege.




No Fixed Address – A Humbling Ride

Well, what do I say about my first time being involved with No Fixed Address? When I came on as a summer student, I had no idea what I was really in for. I had done research into the YWCA and their signaturKids playing in lote event of course, before beginning, but nothing can really prepare you for actually living it.

Coming into work every day at one of the shelters the YW runs grounded me from day one.

Every morning I walk past the ladies standing outside, talking together and starting their day. I say good morning and smile, stop and chat if they show an interest, before heading up to the loft to start the day. Through the social media management, the meetings, the donor relations, the planning and running around, I always have these ladies in the back of my mind.Niagara Roller Girls Chalk drawing
The day of NFA brought them screaming to the front.

When the sky opened up and soaked me through, I thought of them, and wondered how many had been caught in weather with nowhere to go. Those moments when I felt a little lost because I was aimless, I thought of them and wondered what it must feel like to not belong anywhere. Finally, when it came time to sleep in my car I thought of them.
With the windows open, and loud people around me; with no sense of privacy or personal space, with cramps in my back I thought of them. Then I cried. I sat there in the front seat trying to get comfortable and thought of these women I talk to every day, and the journey that brought them to us.

Please don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun throughout the day. I made new friends, laughed, and danced (badly). I enjoyed the games and the feeling of working together to make a difference. I will absolutely be back next year to help in any way I can.

Ultimately though, this amazing experience humbled me, and I am just so grateful for it.
on stage amount raised

Walking the Edge of Homelessness

-Six Cheques Before I’m Homeless-

As a single mom I am, sadly, one of a growing trend. There was no dramatic exit, no abuse, just a lack of love and an agreement to separate. But, likeCrystal Carswell many, this decision put me in a position of financial instability. As a woman in a partnership, I had made  choices to put my son before my career. I had turned down promotions or job opportunities that would have meant less time with my child, secure in the understanding that my husband and I were making the right choices together for our family. Unfortunately, when the ‘together’ ends, the only things left are the choices.

When I consider my life, I am so grateful for my support system and the opportunities it has allowed me to pursue. My mother moved in with us, and shares not only the bills, but the child care. My son’s father is very generous with his time and money. But, what always sits in the back of my mind, eroding my happiness, is the image of my life as a see-saw;  my ex on one end, my mother on the other, and the knowledge that all it would take to lose my stability is losing one of them. Realizing that you do not have the ability to support your son alone is a humbling and eye-opening revelation.

That fear was always an abstract idea before I came to work for the YWCA; the shadows that surrounded an impulse buy, or the twinge I felt at Christmas when I drove up my credit card balance. Meeting these women, and listening to their stories, has made me realize that the only thing that separates us, in many cases, is my good fortune and that see-saw.

When I sat down to consider how many pay cheques I could actually do without before I would be homeless, I came up with the number six. That’s two and a half months for me. Two and a half months before the debt would out-weigh my ability to pay. Two and a half months before people could stop seeing me as a person and start seeing me as a cautionary tale.

We are all these women. Separated by a little time or distance perhaps, but if you look closely enough you’ll see yourself reflected.

What’s your number?