Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Talking with Former Mayoral Candidate Morgan Baskin

Last year, Morgan Baskin made headlines when she campaigned for mayor just fresh out of high school. We interviewed her then and this summer, we caught up with her for an interesting conversation about city politics, women sexuality, male misogyny and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

TorontoVerve: How have things been for you since the election?

Morgan Baskin: Things have been great. It’s been nice not being “Morgan Baskin - Mayor Candidate” all the time. There are some things I miss, but for the most part, it’s been really nice to do other stuff and engage in other parts of my life with the same kind of passion that I had in the election.

TV: What was the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself after running for mayor?

MB: The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is probably that I can do things. When you run for mayor, you don’t necessarily believe that it’s something you can do, but to have other people believe in you and rally around you and give you their time and money, it's really humbling in a lot of ways. It also showed me that I can do what I set my mind out to do, and it’s possible to change the world and people’s mind if you’re willing to step up.

TV: How do you think Mayor John Tory is doing?

MB: If you asked me that question two months ago, I would have said, “Just fine.” No politician is perfect, but he did some impressive stuff — especially around homelessness. Regarding the cold snap we had and the homeless people dying, he really responded in a way that the people were calling for, but two months later, he made anti-fact decisions on both carding and the Gardiner. You want to spend 500 million dollars that we don’t have on 5000 people? That’s not taking care of a city. You want to continue to support a policy that’s racist and classist, and that’s targeting some of the most vulnerable populations in our city — even though there’s no indication that it actually works as an investigative tool? That's not a great decision — especially for a 65 year old White dude to make (coincidentally, on the same day as this interview, John Tory called for the end of carding).

Diversity in the movies

TV: In terms of diversity, Warner Bros made impressive moves. For their Justice League universe, they hired an openly gay actor (Ezra Miller) to be Flash, a Hawaiian (Jason Momoa) to be Aquaman and they were the first to announce a female superhero movie (Wonder Woman) and their intentions to hire a female director.

MB: Yeah, Marvel’s treatment of Black Widow in the recent Avengers movie was lacklustre to say the least. Aside from that scene where she said she was infertile, what I found most galling was that her new power was basically being able to calm a man. So [the Hulk] has rage issues and our single female character will be able to sing a lullaby to calm him down. It’s not impressive.

TV: At least with a female director, Wonder Woman won't be shot with the male gaze. The same way that George Miller shot Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. He never debased her character by making her sexy. I looked at her the same way I looked at Max.

MB: Which is impressive for a director to do. To make you see her as a full human being and not a sex object.

Young women and sexuality

MB: I think if a young woman wants to portray her body in a sexual light, what’s wrong with that? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s wrong when young men or men take her image and use it without her permission. That’s the problem. The problem is not that she took a picture of her naked body, but we don’t talk about it that way. The blame is always on the young woman who took the picture. Young women are sexual. We sexualize them all over in society so we shouldn’t find it shocking that young women can experience sexual feelings and want to take pictures of their bodies. We sexualize their nudity regardless of whether it’s sexual or not, and then we shame her for taking the photo. It’s like what happened to those celebrities whose nude photos were hacked on the Cloud. What we talked about was that Jennifer Lawrence took nude photos. The over arching narrative was not how wrong it was for her photos to be stolen, but that they existed. That's really problematic.

TV: Aren’t there laws in Canada against posting someone’s nude photos without their consent?

MB: I don’t know what the laws are regarding that in Canada. I think in Windsor, they’re charging teenagers using child porn laws, which I think is really wrong. When a female minor takes nude pictures of her own body and shares them, she could be charged with making and distributing child porn. That’s so incredibly wrong. We need to change the child porn laws to reflect the new reality of a young woman taking photos of her nude body. It makes sense to charge [adults] for taking nude photos of minors, but not when a minor takes her own photos. And the young men who distribute her photos without her permission shouldn’t be charged with child pornography either. They should be charged with something, but not child porn. It’s not the correct punishment and sends the wrong message. We need to be educating young men about consent and a woman's boundaries.

School dress codes

MB: Dress codes are so often framed around policing young women’s bodies in order to make young men more comfortable. That’s not right. You should be able to wear what you want to wear. Maybe we ban profanity on t-shirts. I could understand that, but I can't understand how a woman’s midriff can be that distracting to young men. Maybe those young men should figure out a way to pay more attention in class. I think it’s important to recognize that young women are exploring how they want to look and what they want to do with their bodies. Also, our conversations about dress codes have not acknowledged race and class. Dress codes are enforced more strictly with students who go to school in poorer neighbourhoods, and we so sexualize young Black women’s bodies in a way that we don’t do with White women. It comes back to that innocence thing. We see White children as more innocent than Black children. The language is so coded too. You’re not allowed to wear gang symbols or have unkept hair. That stuff happens and it’s not ok.

Street harassment 

MB: I’ve been hit on by guys who are 35 years of age and over since I was literally 12 years old. I remember when much older men would constantly sit close to me on a streetcar — even when there’s empty seats everywhere. They won't sit too close for you to call them out on it, but it’s close enough. Or when you’re standing on a crowded streetcar and someone rubs against you just a little bit. Not enough to call them out on it, but just enough to make you feel like an object. That’s uncomfortable and it happens all the time. If you’re a woman in this city, men will whistle at you, slap your ass, grab you and make sexually explicit comments about you. That's the reality for a lot of young women. You just want to go about your day. It’s a problem when men think they’re entitled to a woman’s time and attention because they’re not. “Look at that face. You’d be so pretty if you smiled.” Leave me alone. I just want to buy my groceries. The words are innocuous, but if someone has a 100 pounds on you and it’s eight o’clock at night and you're alone…I mean, there’s so many layered power dynamics that are not just about the words being said, but about physical presence and power. It's not ok.

TV: Aside from graduating university, what are your future goals right now? 

MB: I don’t know. I don’t have goals right now. I’ve been really goal-oriented for the last year and a half of my life. I’m just really excited to be 20 and take things as they come. I have goals like getting good grades, being happy and helping to make the world a better place. I’m really interested in urban studies and the anthropology and sociology side of how we build our communities, but in the next few years I want to actively do things that I thought I would never do. That’s what made me run [for mayor]. It wasn’t a calculated decision. I want to be able to do that again. Think less about every step and just walk through life.

TV: Will you run for mayor again? 

MB: We’ll see. I suspect that I will run for public office of some sort. When, how and why? I don’t know yet. It’s important to engage in elections in a capacity that you feel is the best for you. If an election arrives where I feel that I would be the best person for the job and I feel very passionate and fired up again, that’s when I’ll run. I really feel that we should frame politics around passion and ability because we’re not doing that right now. I would never want to run just to run. I’m happy to be a politician, but I want to be so many other things too.

Follow Morgan Baskin on Twitter and Facebook.

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