Contributors Pick the Best of 2014

by | December 29, 2014
filed under Books, Pop Culture

Each year I ask the Gender Focus contributors about some of their highlights from the past year. Here’s what they picked for 2014:

Favourite Movie:

Belle movie posterMatilda Branson:  Is it allowed to be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I?  I love most dystopian movies, and I love Jennifer Lawrence, so it was a done deal.

Josey Ross: Obvious Child. Funny, thoughtful, provides three different women’s experiences with abortion including the financial hardship for (a lot of) American women, and portrays abortion as a sometimes-necessary, but rarely traumatic event in a woman’s life. I went near to opening night and the movie got a standing ovation at the end.

Sarah Sahagian: I absolutely adored Belle, directed by Amma Asante and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Loosely based on true events, it’s the story of Dido, the mixed race daughter of a Royal Naval Admiral living in 18th century Britain. While incredibly wealthy, Dido still deals with horrific racism every day in each aspect of her life. Over the course of the film, however, Dido uses her considerable intelligence and courage to convince her uncle (a high-ranking judge) to become an advocate for the abolition of slavery in Britain. Ultimately, it’s an inspirational tale of activism and social change. As a bonus, Belle also features a love story that won’t make you cringe. Honestly, it’s a romantic movie that didn’t give this feminist the dry heaves.

Roxanna Bennett: Interstellar. I’m a hard sci-fi fan and that’s about as close to a perfect hard sci-fi movie I think anyone has ever made.

Favourite Band/Song:

Sarah: Sure, Lana Del Rey may say she finds feminism “boring,” but despite myself, I find her interesting. Her songs have a cheeky sense of humour that is perfectly exemplified by my favourite song of the year, her parody of hipsterdom, “Brooklyn Baby.” What can I say? This satirical take on what it means to live in a hipster world speaks to me. I know I don’t actually live in Brooklyn, but the song may as well be about Toronto too. Yes, I DO know people who “get down to beat poetry.”

Josey:  That’s like asking me to pick a favourite child, but currently on my “repeat” playlist are Sia’s “Chandelier”, Hozier’s “In a Week” and Matt Corby’s “Brother.”

Jessica: I still can’t get enough of Beyonce’s latest album. I even saw her on tour. She’s fascinating, and she doesn’t have time for double standards, respectability politics, or haters of any kind. It’s a great soundtrack for daring deeds.

Roxanna: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push The Sky Away album. I am a die-hard fan and have been for over 20 years. There’s a film that accompanies the album called 20 000 Days on Earth that is my runner-up for favourite movie of last year. I did also catch Chelsea Wolfe on tour and if you love gorgeous haunting soaring discordant contemporary goth, you should buy her music and see her live, she’s fantastic.

Favourite Book Read in 2014:

Cover of Lazarus volume 1Jarrah Hodge: I read a ton of great graphic novels this year. I don’t know whether I’m more excited about the next installment of Saga by Brian K. Vaughn with art by Fiona Staples, or Greg Rucka’s new series Lazarus, with art by Michael Lark. Both are incredibly well-written and well-drawn exciting sci-fi series that feature strong, complicated women and creative environments that push the boundaries of your imagination.

Sarah: Elaine Lui’s memoir Listen to the Squawking Chicken. You may be familiar with Lui from her television gigs on CTV and from her wildly popular website, Yet in this memoir, she turns to a different topic – her experience as a daughter working through feelings of mother-blame and abandonment after her parents divorce. Eventually, Lui learns not just to stop blaming her mother for her parents’ divorce, but begins to see her mother as a strong, inspirational role-model. In the end, this book is a daughter’s poignant tribute to a mother who may not always have been there physically, but was always there in spirit.

Josey: An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. Every person who loves to cook or eat should read it. Full of love, inspiration, and small asides, it is just wonderful.

Matilda: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. A bizarre Japanese mock-detective story about an apathetic Japanese man with an intriguing female companion with seductive ears and a man dressed up as a sheep is involved… really weird, but just a cool novel.

Favourite TV Show:

Allison Tolman in Fargo

Allison Tolman in Fargo

Josey: The Walking Dead. It’s compelling and complicated and is finally starting to give us some bad-ass, fully-fleshed out women (Carol’s arc has been amazing, and Michonne only gets more amazing the more we learn about her).

Jessica: I re-watched every season of Farscape and then moved on to Xena: Warrior Princess to satisfy my need for complex, ass-kicking women in fantasy and sci-fi settings. I just want to kick apart the patriarchy like Xena.

Roxanna: Fargo is fantastic. I loved the nods the show made to the movie and I deeply love the character Molly Solverson played by Allison Tolman. I hadn’t been familiar with her work before the show and now I would watch anything she’s in just to see her. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is hands down the best news reporting on television today. His longer focus on issues that don’t make it into front page news and moral outrage are seriously necessary. And the show is also hilarious.

Jarrah: I binge-watched both Fringe and Orphan Black this year and loved them both for their gripping, mystery-filled sci-fi plots and amazing female characters. Can’t wait for more Orphan Black to come out soon.

Issue/Cause That Most Inspired You the Most

Matilda: Disabled Service Association is a very small NGO in Nepal for 44 children with disabilities, run by tiny staff with scarce resources. What they do for these kids in an environment that is not disability-friendly is truly inspiring.

Josey: The current movement against racism and police brutality in response to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the failure to indict their killers is incredibly moving. Seeing photos and hearing stories of protestors essentially shutting down cities and demanding to be seen and heard is phenomenally inspiring.

Sarah: I think everyone needs to care about the Black Lives Matter campaign. The murder of young black men by police officers is something that should profoundly upset everyone. Let us hope that in 2015, the police – and society as a whole – will get the message that black lives are not expendable.

Jessica: It warms my heart to see middle and high school feminists organizing around oppressive dress codes. It makes me feel like things are going to be okay.

Best Place You Travelled:

Roxanna: Montreal, Concordia University for the Summer Literary Seminars series that did not take place in summer. I went twice and had the chance to meet some fantastic poets in person. It was one of those surreal experiences where your Twitter feed is all real live people. They are much larger in person.

Jessica: I went to Bahrain for two weeks. It was awesome, especially the food.

Jarrah: I had an amazing vacation in New York in June that included seeing Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston in Macbeth as well as Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, meeting Michael C. Hall, and comic book shopping with Gender Focus contributor Jonathan Alexandratos.

Sarah: I was very fortunate to visit many cool places this year, but the most interesting one was Hong Kong. The skyline in Central is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen, and the view from the mountains is so gorgeous it just may stop your heart. It was a great trip where I ate a lot of glorious dim sum and learned a lot about how Hong Kong has changed since being returned to China. I also had the opportunity to see the Occupy Central protests up close, which were a poignant reminder of how many people in the world still live without democracy.

Best Experience of the Year for You Personally:

Cover of The Uncertainty Principle by Roxanna BennettJosey: Writing my Masters Research Paper and getting to do research on a topic that hasn’t been done before, on a topic I care about (the impact of empowerment-oriented exercise on PTSD symptomology for survivors of intimate partner violence).

Matilda: I spent over nine months working with the Government of Nepal, religious leaders, civil society, UN agencies and community-based organisations to come up with a truly multi-sectoral National Strategy to End Child Marriage in Nepal.

Jessica: I co-wrote a science fiction novel with my friend Katie Li, 35,000 words each. Oh, and we did it in less than a month. We haven’t quite worked up the nerve to edit it yet, but the basic premise is that only women can handle the stresses of deep space travel. Also there might be robots.

Roxanna: Launching my book, The Uncertainty Principle. It’s taken a long time to get it into print and it’s been really gratifying to see it as a three dimensional tangible object I can hold in my hand. It also makes an excellent holiday gift for those hard-to-buy for people on your list. It’s also a good thickness for holding up an uneven chair or table leg, can be used as a large coaster, and if the words offend you, drawing over them or tearing them out entirely can be quite satisfying. If there’s another ice storm and you need fuel, my book is made entirely of paper. It’s a very useful thing to own.

Other Favourite Blogs:

Sarah: I sort of worship Her Bad Mother, by Catherine Connors. It’s a parenting blog unlike many others, in that it’s raw. In the past, Connors has written bravely about everything from post-partum depression, to her experience with having an abortion when she was younger. It’s the blog that dares to show that mothering can be wonderful, but can also be a very complicated and trying experience. I highly recommend it.

Matilda: Architecture of Tiny Distinction – a bizarre blog of people who build miniature Victorian-era houses and buildings.  People spend weeks designing beautiful miniature chandeliers, or 70s retro furniture, for the sheer love of it. A really cool hobby I don’t completely understand but am completely intrigued by.

Jessica: One of my favorite Tumblrs is When Women Refuse. After the horrible USCB shootings in May, they started documenting stories of violence and intimidation directed at women for refusing men’s advances, both in the news and personal accounts.

Roxanna: Hood Feminism continues to be one of the most incisive, critical deconstruction of current events. Also The Toast, which is hilarious, and they’ve now added The Butter with Roxane Gay as editor. When they’re not doing straight up satire they cover feminist issues, conduct in-depth interviews, book reviews. And, surprisingly, Buzzfeed. I think that they’ve poached so many amazing writers that their level of reportage and response to current events is so on point. The second they hired poet Saeed Jones a few years ago they gained a deeper perspective and now that Ashley Ford is on board they’re unstoppable.


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