Erica Raley

Ottawa, Canada

Hi! I'm a first year university student attending Carleton University in Ottawa Ontario. As a passionate lover of art, writing, history and all things in between, I am currently enrolled in the Humanities (Great Books) program. I plan to pursue a career of writing, if I choose to be brave. If in fact I decide to be practical, I would like to teach. I love to read, to online shop and to travel. I hope to someday buy a dog with my boyfriend and move someplace far, far away from here.

I am passionate about social justice and would like to someday make a small difference in something big I believe in.


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I am a Girl AND I am Ambitious.

Oct 03, 2019 4 years ago

I felt the way you feel when you bury someone who's dead, or maybe I felt like the dead person. All over my body, flesh was raised into goosebumps and hair was standing on edge- caused in part by the stale conversation that was inevitably heading to a culminating point, but majorly caused by the air conditioning blasting in my mother's car. I was in the backseat, directly behind my aunt in the passenger's seat and diagonal from my mum. My stomach felt full, heavy, considering we had just eaten a large dinner, but my heart felt heavy too. “I didn't need any prompting to do any of that, right mum?” I asked, referring to my excellent academic standing come graduation, my full time job, my scholarship, and the early achievement of my class G driver's license. To be more specific, referring to how neither of my two older brothers had succeeded quite like I had at my age. And then she said them, the words I knew she was going to. My heart dropped even further. I felt like she had tossed the first handful of dirt onto my closed casket. “Yes well, that's because you're a girl,” she said, with a slight chuckle, no further thought, and a silent car ride home. I wanted anything but to be silent then. I wanted to scream and cry, to try and explain what she had just inadvertently done to me, to try and explain what has been inadvertently done to all young girls- what must be recognized and come to a well overdue ending. Instead, however, I held my tongue. I've heard the dreaded phrase, and many similar variants of it, throughout my entire childhood. Toxic phrases that cause harm to an entire gender, that perpetuate a system of archaic and outdated belief systems, that make my heart ache for all women and girls, past and present. If you can't quite picture it yet, allow me to give you another example: “well, girls mature faster than boys do…” This saying is only ever used to justify why it is acceptable for men and boys to be lacking in social skills that girls are forced to develop from a young age. This directly leads to other harmful behaviours, such as catcalling, locker room chat, and even criminal sentences that have been lessered for young, male, sex offenders, Phrases like these broaden the gap of acceptability in which men can choose to ignore obvious social cues of disinterest, and much much more. Teaching girls that they mature faster than boys is only ever used to encourage them to forgive their male counterparts for being behind in the world of young sociality. It is rarely used to encourage young boys that girls should be looked to as an example of leadership and guidance. The saying itself insinuates that women are “ahead,” somehow, and that men and boys have time to mess around before catching up; but women are not ahead because they mature faster, boys are behind because they do not mature fast enough. If you don't like how that sounds, chances are you benefit from the privilege this unequal use of language entails on a much larger scale. If the previous paragraph sounds much too harsh for you, than consider it hyperbolic, as I have a grander scheme in mind, allow me to assure you. Some may think it is unfair of me to state that boys must change the rate at which they must start accepting responsibility, some may combat me with the phrase “boys will be boys.” To this I then raise the proposition, should it not be “kids will be kids?” If it's unfair of me to ask boys to meet their female counterparts, why is it not unfair for me to suggest girls must grow up quicker? To put it simply, it is not fair that the unwarranted and predatory gaze of grown men forces young women to mature faster, and then continually excuses the unacceptable behaviour of young boys that will inevitably perpetuate the same vicious cycle. As if that's not enough, the successes of young girls are then directly invalidated because of it, through colloquialisms like the aforementioned two, and others like it. Do not dismiss the hard work of women by calling their exceptional ambition some sort of “gender prerequisite.” Men, too, can be mature, ambitious, and socially aware when they are young, they just aren't expected to be. That is where the seed of systematic flaw is planted, and our language, (the medium through which we engage in all relationships, public and private) is a large part of that perpetuation when it goes unchallenged. I am disgusted by the fact that my excellence and achievements are continually invalidated based solely on my gender. I don't care if it's supposed to be a compliment, my success should not be attributed to a trait I was forced to adopt from a young age, and then invalidated with the daunting prospect of “well he could do that too, if…” It should be this we are tossing our handfuls of dirt onto, but unless systematic oppression is challenged in seemingly trivial matters such as language, women will continue to be buried under it.

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In essence, Canada's objective in Kandahar, Afghanistan was to conduct operations in order to support the effort to create a secure, democratic and self-sustaining nation state. With this prospect as the foundation of their deployment, the concept that the military was simultaneously committing war crimes is nearly unthinkable. The mission was believed to be a brief peace-enforcement action that would eventually allow the new Islamic government to rebuild its war-torn country. Instead, Canadian soldiers became involved in the most extended period of conflict in Canadian history, of which all of their combat skills were needed to fight a determined and deadly insurgency; The unapologetic truth among this, is that there is a disconnect between the way they were expected to act, and the way they did act, during the war. The Canadians evidently had a more sweeping agenda than just fighting an insurgency: to bring a measure of calm, to improve lives, to establish law and order. Sometimes they succeeded: child mortality declined, more women survived childbirth. A new generation of Afghans now enjoys much greater access to education than its predecessor, despite the fact that many schools were burned down. A cascade of foreign aid brought some of the trappings of modernity to parts of the country that had never seen television, cellphones and the internet, however the Canadian combat mission unfortunately failed to meet the goal of establishing security. Eventually, it was revealed that Canada, alongside NATO forces, had been cycling their Taliban detainees into Afghan custody, during which about 30 percent of prisoners are regularly abused and mistreated: a war crime, forbidden by the Geneva Convention. All of this sparked controversy in Canada's parliament, prompting questions about whether the country was respecting international law; this is when most Canadians began to seriously doubt the nobility of the war. The fact that Canadians were transferring the detainees to the Afghans all the while being aware of the torture allegations is in direct violation of The General Protection of Prisoners of War. Military life does not usually reward curiosity; personnel are encouraged to ‘stay in their lane' or ‘watch their arcs' and often refer to problems as being ‘above their pay grade' Most soldiers are not experts in international law: they trust their commanders; and it's difficult to conclude that the commanders violated that trust. Somebody, however, had to make the call to deploy; they are unapologetically to blame In May of 2008, it was estimated that over 200 civilians had been killed by foreign forces during the first four months of the year, often in joint operations with Afghan security forces. So not only were the troops acting unlawfully towards members of the Taliban, the detainees just as one example, they were acting unlawfully towards the innocent civilians as well. This goes against all core Canadian values of peace and security and significantly altered the paradigm of the mission's purpose. The fact that 200 civilians had been killed in addition suggests the allegations that soldiers hadn't been following the ROE's properly were correct. I'm not foolish. I'm certain in the heat of the moment, it is likely not about following the rules, it is about saving the life of a fellow soldier; that victory is scribed into our human nature, consequently, above all else. The soldiers are not to blame: when the decision is made to deploy, it is absolutely vital that it is rooted into law that the ROEs will prevail against individuality. If patriotism or loyalty or morality is threatening those laws, troops must not be posted. That is where the true problem lies; it was never a question of if the troops had failed Canada, Canada had failed the troops by putting them in an endless ultimatum of morality versus instinct, the law versus the individual; of which of course, the overbearing prospect will always be the individual. The mission must be surrounding a conflict so justified, the soldiers would stop at nothing to end the injustices which first prompted them to act; going as far as to say, they'd put the law over saving a fellow soldier. The thing about Afghanistan is that Canada never should have been there. The moment the prospect shifted from “peacekeeping” to “peacemaking,” NATO forces should have known the war would not be over until there was a winner; a dilemma heavily weighted in favor of NATO troops to begin with. There must be an alternative, better judgement must be applied; judgement that will favor ending injustice by abiding the law over winning a war of individualism and falsely-promised victory. It is not “just-war,” it is the uncertainty of collaboration, social justice and human life, and the truth must surface from beyond the facade before the mistakes of Afghanistan are repeated.

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I've heard it, you've heard it, we all have. The words themselves cling heavily to the stale air of any conversation into which they are expelled; the underlying potential for further and warranted inquiry very rarely exercised and oh, what a shame that is. Dauntingly, yet inconspicuously, it looms above our heads, the threat of manipulation as evident as can be. When spoken, many women will draw in a breath of disfavor, only to be held, along with their tongues, until the conversation has well since moved beyond the dreaded phrase, “boys will be boys”. The phrase speaks for itself; boys will act according to socially constructed, preconceived notions of how a boy should act. Some women have resorted to teaching their girls to tentatively raise the question in response: “what do you mean by that?”. It is a subtle way of holding people accountable, but the subtlety of it is what pains me most. I'm certain that a covert, profound, widespread sort of rebellion is better than sitting in silence, a prospect which up until recently, seemed to be some sort of gender prerequisite. Fighting subtle oppression with subtle accountability, however, is not nearly enough. Now is the time we recognize phrases like these as harmful, and treat them as such. It seems like the actions excused by this phrase are specific to young people, as if it does not follow them well into adulthood. One of the reasons it's not questioned is because it sounds so temporary, it forces us to perceive it, whatever that “it” may be, as acceptable, because they won't be a boy forever; it is “boys will be boys”, after all, not “men will be men”. They say it as if impermanence means insignificance, but it doesn't; show me a permanent state of the self, I dare you. The very core of my anger is encapsulated in phrases just like “boys will be boys”, and here is why. The advanced language of humanity, to speak broadly, is a product of complex thought and thus can only encompass that quality as well as the speaker who wields it; our language reflects the values, however corrupt, of western society. It serves as a manipulation tactic to trick you into interpreting the message without questioning it, a prospect potentially more harmful than the idiomatic expression lets on. That's the evil nature of phrases like “boys will be boys”; it begs us not to inquire further. Language that goes unchallenged is one of the many ways we allow systematic oppression and internalized misogyny to stubbornly resist eradication. When people die, are refused healthcare, or suffer attacks as a result of gender, it seems trivial to gently challenge the unequal use of the phrase “boys will be boys”. It is the same system though, that perpetuates all behaviors; it is blind to severity, and it's all based on the same flawed logic. It's not rigid dichotomy between either and or; we can care simultaneously about the language we use and still fight human rights abuses around the world. Changing how we speak will help to dismantle rape culture. What that means, is sometimes we must look our fellow conversationalists in the face and tell them that “boys will be boys” is an unacceptable justification for an action, and a lazy one at that. This is no small task, it's likely they won't understand, they might tell you they “didn't mean anything by it”. Systematic discrimination is imposed onto us by society at a young age- nobody is inherently racist, inherently Islamophobic, inherently sexist- yet racism, Islamophobia and sexism still exist prominently because those notions in any form aren't being challenged. It's an uncomfortable thing to do, yet a necessary one. In Canada, we are fortunate to have the choice. I'm sorry if you mistake my open quest for equality as radical feminist extremism, but for the many people who would face death if they dared to exercise their own, we must act as a voice. The goal of speaking out against seemingly petty issues, is not to change the mind of those who surround you- for many, it is too late to reinstate a new way of thinking and speaking. The confrontation was never about them. It is for the people listening; it is for your youngest cousin at your Christmas gathering, who has grown up listening to your uncle spew sexist propaganda; it is for your classmate, a closeted rape victim who is overhearing a conversation between two boys a row behind her, sexualising the girls in your grade; it is for the eradication of misogynistic policies, the proposition of new and better perspectives, for women everywhere. You act as a microcosm for change, and when we begin to shift the foundations upon which the big issues lie, the whole system comes toppling down. So no, boys will not be boys- boys will be held accountable for their actions as moral and responsible beings- and we don't have to participate in the covert and subtle form of resistance any longer. The tides of change are coming, swift and imminent, and they cannot be stemmed.

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