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Cancel Culture: Challenging Impunity or Threatening Free Speech?

Cancel culture enables people to call out injustices, but is it all good, or does it just make the internet a “vogue for public shaming and ostracism”?

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Artwork by Fernardine Hernandez

There are two reasons why a person could become the talk on social media. It’s either they did something noteworthy like donating to frontliners or delivering a superb performance in a movie or TV show or something terrible like spouting anti-poor and elitist comments on workers during quarantine like mocking tricycle drivers. If it is the latter, chances are that person is already “cancelled” on social media.

The situation mentioned above refers to cancel culture: the act of calling out and boycotting people on the internet because of a problematic act or statement. This includes boycotting a person or their works, which contributes to limiting their cultural influence. Cancel culture spares no one, from regular people posting racist views to big names like author J.K. Rowling and YouTuber Shane Dawson.

Cancel culture enables ordinary to call out injustices, but is it all good, or does it just make the internet a “vogue for public shaming and ostracism”?

Challenging a culture of impunity

Like many of the terms used in modern internet vernacular, the term “canceled” came from Black Culture.

After an episode of Love and Hip Hop: New York aired in 2014 wherein a cast member said “you’re cancelled,” the term quickly spread on social media, particularly on Black Twitter. After some time, the term evolved from a meme-able reaction to an act of mass boycott and call-out of an individual or group, particularly famous ones who did something unpleasant or unacceptable.

Today, being “cancelled” is in the vocabulary of every internet-savvy user. When someone made insensitive comments on social media, or was called out for being racist, it’s almost certain that they will be canceled. 

However, the effects of cancel culture goes beyond the confines of social media. Several “cancelled” individuals also face real-life consequences, from getting fired from their jobs to being thrown in jail. For example, YouTube confirmed that they demonetized vlogger Shane Dawson’s channels due to the resurfacing of his old videos that show racism and him sexualizing Willow Smith, who was 11 years old at that time.

Cancel culture enables ordinary people to make a powerful person with a huge cultural influence accountable for their wrongdoings. It challenges a culture of powerful people getting away with something using their money or power and a culture of passivity and impunity that the powerful exploits for their benefit.

Promoting a culture of censoriousness?

Cancel culture can help in making a powerful wrongdoer accountable, but does it also hinder a person’s free speech? 

Harper’s Magazine published an open letter on cancel culture and free speech entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” The letter was signed by 152 public personalities, including J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and others.

The letter laid issues such as the rise of illiberalism amidst the widespread protests on different social issues like gender equality, racism, police reform, and others. It also pointed out free speech as the “the lifeblood of a liberal society,” and the spread of “censoriousness,” citing examples such as “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

The letter also addressed cancel culture’s “swift severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought,” citing instances of “punishments” of several canceled individuals. Lastly, it called for dialogue, saying that for people to “defeat bad ideas,” one must practice “exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

While the arguments presented in the open letter seemed progressive, many pointed out that some of its signatories were more concerned about their own freedom to get away with doing something problematic than free speech in general. 

In 2016, The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood faced backlash after she signed an open letter asking the University of British Columbia for transparency over the firing of Steven Galloway due to sexual misconduct allegations. Atwood also wrote an op-ed criticizing the #MeToo movement in 2018. 

Author J.K. Rowling also drew ire due to her tweets and essay on trans people, as well as her continuous tweets promoting anti-trans views.

In essence, the letter did not capture the culture’s meaning, painting it like an Orwellian threat to free speech. It did, however, make some valid points such as the importance of free speech and the use of dialogue. But the letter, in their own words, just “dissolved a complex policy issue in a blinding moral certainty.” 

Cancel culture is not a threat to free speech, but a threat to a system of impunity long held by those in power. Painting cancel culture in that light is an insult to areas where free speech is threatened by things like media shutdowns and laws that can be weaponized to threaten dissenters. In short, there are more pressing matters to focus on, especially at these turbulent times.

Great power, greater responsibility

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Cancel culture is a tool against impunity. It lets ordinary people create a culture free of problematic and harmful individuals. It helps in making a powerful person be held accountable without them using their power and prestige to get away with their sins. However, it is not a quick fix for societal problems. It points out a problem for the world to see, but it does not magically make things like homophobia, racism, sexism, and the likes go away overnight. 

While it is good in holding people accountable for their wrongdoings, there are still dangers regarding its use.

If used incorrectly, cancel culture will be like the killer bee drones in the Black Mirror episode “Hated in the Nation,” where every hashtag has the possibility of killing someone. Anger towards people who preach bigotry and hate is valid, but it should never drive us to bully and harass someone. We must still practice basic human decency, especially on the internet where the world can see every post we make.

Apart from that, misusing cancel culture will just return someone into a cycle of problematic behavior. If we only cancel people without the aim to educate them about their problematic behavior, they’ll continue doing it until more people are hurt. Indeed, their wrong actions must be called out, but space for them to grow and learn should also be given.  

Cancel culture has sharp fangs and it lacks a heart and mind. Rather than condemning or isolating people, it should also aim to teach and transform. The world will not be a better place if we punish an individual without the intention to correct their mistakes. 

Cancel culture is a force that arose out of modern internet culture, a power that sprung from the collective rage of people towards powerful people who always get away with the consequences of their problematic actions. While it can hold people accountable for bad deeds, it can also educate and transform if used correctly. Just like any great power, it comes with greater responsibilities. We must wield this power accordingly, and use it to make the internet, and the world, in general, a better place—a place where no bad deed, no matter how big or small, goes unnoticed. Ian Gabriel Trinidad

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5 things you should know about breast cancer

How important is it really to be aware of the second most common cancer among women? Here are five things you must know about breast cancer.

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Photo by Angiola Harry from Unsplash

Along with hues of orange and black, the month of October is almost always stained in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. Through social media and offline campaigns, the perspective on women battling breast cancer has greatly improved. But all merch and aesthetics aside, how important is it really to be aware of the second most common cancer among women? 

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.1 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, making it the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. In the Philippines alone, breast cancer accounts for more than 17 percent of cancer-related cases in both sexes. This statistic puts the Philippines as the country with the highest prevalence of the disease in Asia and ninth globally. The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology reported that three out of 100 women will get breast cancer before age 75 and one out of 100 will die before reaching 75.

Despite the magnitude of the disease, its exact cause remains an enigma to many medical experts. We can still be on the winning end of the battle through breast self-exams that lead to the early detection of the disease. However, not many are aware of this advantage, which makes the awareness surrounding breast cancer even more important as it helps increase one’s chances of survival. 

1. Check your breasts once in a while

Photo courtesy of Queen V

Breast cancer is most often asymptomatic, but conducting breast self-exams a week after your menstrual period starts is key towards its early detection. Like relationships, breast cancer has red flags that one must not ignore. When examining yourself, check if there are unusual changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts such as dimpling or a rash on the nipple. Lumps and discomfort in one breast are also equally important symptoms that one must look out for. A list of other symptoms as well as a guide on how to properly examine your breasts are included here

If you see or feel one of these things on your breast, do not panic and, most importantly, do not self-diagnose. Instead, call or visit your doctor as they know how to deal with the situation better compared to your 10-minute Google search. 

2. Know and avoid the risk factors

Photo courtesy of Cape Breast Care Clinic

Although the causes are unknown, there are factors that increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer. Age and gender are among the most common with women aged 50 and above being at a greater risk. Family history is another factor since mutations in the genes that contribute to its pathogenesis can be inherited by one’s offspring. 

While these may be things beyond our control, there are other factors that we can control, such as weight, diet, and lifestyle habits. Maintaining your body weight within the healthy range through exercise and proper diet can help reduce the risks of breast cancer. As much as it can be a stress reliever, frequent alcohol consumption can drastically alter one’s estrogen levels and damage the DNA in cells.

3. Breast cancer can also affect men

Photo courtesy of WebMD

While this may come as a surprise to many, men can also develop breast cancer because they too have breast tissue. However, the odds are lower because male breast cancers account for less than one percent of reported diagnoses. Men are also advised to check their breasts while taking note of the same unusual signs and symptoms.

One in a thousand men are diagnosed with the disease not only because of the lower risks, but because its warning signs are often overlooked upon and only viewed as a cancer that exclusively affects women. When symptoms become apparent, men are encouraged to consult their doctors without hesitation. 

4. Screening saves lives

Photo courtesy of Getty Images via TIME Magazine

Screening saves lives as much as self-exams do.

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Modern technology and scientific methods, such as mammography screening and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have paved the way for improved diagnosis of breast cancer even in its early stages. Breast cancer detected in its early stages can be effectively treated and leads to higher chances of survival. Women at greater risk of developing it are advised to go for screenings, but the frequency often depends on the age group they belong in. Likewise, it is highly important to talk with your health care providers for the course of screening plans for you. 

5. Early treatment could save your life

Photo courtesy of Healthline

Do not hesitate to seek treatment! The most common course of treatment for early stages are done through a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy which help increase one’s survival rate over time. 

In cases wherein therapy may not be the best option considering the stage of the disease, a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery) or mastectomy (breast removal surgery) is done. However, a significant number of women choose to not undergo the latter in fear of being stigmatized by society. 

Indeed, the nature of the treatment has significant impacts on one’s body image, but it is also important to know that losing one’s breasts to cancer does not rid them of their femininity or masculinity.

Cancer is not often brought up because many see it as a death sentence. Although a silver bullet against cancer is yet to be found, research and medical advancements put the odds in our favor. It is possible to live with cancer, but it is more possible to overcome it. Part of that triumph lies within our willingness to educate ourselves and others about it so that we would be able to make the necessary health and lifestyle changes, and grant ourselves a better future. 

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Filipinx in your area: Should ‘Filipinx’ become the new Filipino?

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Fernardine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

One of the things which utterly makes the Filipino language endearing are words such as siya and ikaw as a manner of referring to a person outside the conversation. Likewise, we refer to the persons in our family as anak, kapatid, kabiyak, and the likes. These words fully realize that the Filipino language is peppered with gender-fluid words — a stark contrast from other languages with distinct genders. 

On this basis came, however, the confusion for using words such as “Filipinx” and “Pinxy”. These terms weigh a lot of meaning and none at all — depending on which lens a person perceives it that we begin to question: where do we draw the line of political correctness?

Understanding the “Filipinx” Movement

In a recent report, the term Filipinx and Pinxy have both been recognized by an English language platform, Dictionary.com, alongside Filipino/a, Pinoy, and Pinay. These terms have been dynamically integrated into the language, mostly by Filipino immigrants and members of the LGBTQIA+ community residing abroad. 

The emergence of the Filipinx term was heavily influenced by the “Latinx” movement. Introduced by progressive Hispanic youths, the term “Latinx” is widely used by media outlets to address the pan-ethnic groups and the spectrum of genders in the Hispanic population. Eventually, the term became acknowledged across the globe; however, it was met with certain clauses, such as the deliberate disregard of Spanish and its gender-specific language. 

This accentuates how people, whether involved in the discourse of “Latinx” or “Filipinx”, are met with the initial reactions of resistance, especially when familiarity is displaced. 

While “Filipinx” and “Pinxy” are names utilized by Filipino immigrants, the online dictionary’s definition of the term scopes all inhabitants of the country, which enrages most citizens in the Philippines. 

Social media discussions regarding the use of the term were echoed with confusion and displeasure as they argue that the “Filipinx” neology, as suggested by Filipino immigrants, seems to further put distance to their axes and the axes of social narratives of Filipinos here in the Philippines. Moreover, many argue that the whole conversation on “Filipinx” is believed to conjure only from the immigrants’ penchant for the glittering culture of the Philippines—an occasional cultural immersion with tangible quirks in form of adobo and Filipino moms—coupled with a distant understanding of the struggles of the people. 

On the other hand, the proponents of “Filipinx” seek to elaborate on the relevance of the term most importantly in a colonial-bred culture. Discussing the topic of Filipinx from the lens of an immigrant, AnneMarie shared in her blog how the Filipinx movement, like Filipino, came from the desire to be seen and not to be caged from oppressive systems hand-picked by Western ideologies.  

“Both the terms Filipino and Filipinx stem from this desire to carve out an identity and from a movement resisting oppressive systems,” the blogger said. 

The Filipinx movement also touches the discourse on gender-inclusivity as it acknowledges and respects the non-binary citizens of the Philippines both here and abroad who, for so long, struggled with identifying themselves from traditional impositions. 

The people who refuse to veer away from “Filipino”, however, were quick to point out that the term is a collective nomenclature for citizens born of Filipino parents, regardless of any distinctive factor such as gender and place of birth, thus a particularly irrelevant discussion. 

The Language of Colonialism

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Gender-neutral terms, nonetheless, do not wholly define the aspects of our language. As our history is interlaced with the colonial narrative, our culture exists as an amalgamated system of beliefs and traditions. Examples are the word “Filipina,” as a determiner of a Filipino woman, and a roster of professions that end in -o and -a, are all indicative of the influence of Spain’s gendered-language in our vernacular. 

Furthermore, the introduction of certain adjectives nitpicked from folklores such as maganda for babae and malakas for lalaki; looped phrases of “Kay babaeng tao” and “Kasi lalaki eh” all hold a subtle nuance of gender-exclusivity. Whether these were inherent or more likely imposed from the systems of patriarchy, there exist varying gender identifiers in our language—-which ultimately breathed life to terms such as Filipinx and Pinxy that challenges to disrupt them. 

The Middle Ground 

In an interview with Prof. Galileo Zafra Ph.D., the former director of Sentro ng Wikang Filipino of the University of the Philippines, he emphasized the emergence of Filipinx in today’s context. 

Ang pangangailangan ng paggamit ng wika o isang aspeto nito ay nakabatay sa kung may nakikitang pangangailangan dito ang lipunan o ang mga espesipikong grupo o sektor ng lipunan,” he said. (The emergence of a lexicon is based on a need from the society or a specific group in the society.)

Filipinx and Pinxy, regardless of its unfamiliarity and their weird roll-of-the-tongue sounds, encompasses the axial culture of the global diaspora spurred from the need to be recognized and seen. While it cannot be completely received, in essence, they are determiners of narratives that are as substantial as our narratives in the Philippines. Their existence does not mean invalidation of our history. These are not an erasure of Rizal’s revolutionary stance of owning the term Filipino from Spanish-bred citizens of the Philippines during the nineteenth-century; rather, these terms are taking space and planting themselves as part of the whole language and cultural dynamic—one which we are continuously writing and rewriting each day as our own, despite the vivid bouts of oppression from post-colonial systems. 

In the grand scheme of things, the core of the discourse is anchored not on the question of what we collectively call and identify ourselves as, but a question of how we craft our identities to become worthy narrators of the country’s story. One must fully understand that the Philippine narrative is composed not only of the plethora of quirks that we take pride in. More importantly, it  is composed of the grapples of each marginalized sector that ultimately tests the lengths we can go to, from the lenses of our privileges, to wrestle the systems that cease our identity.

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Enola Holmes: Effecting Change through Actions and Words

This take on the Sherlock story presented the adventures of Enola in between Fleabag style narration and the British suffragette movement in the 19th century. 

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Screengrab from 'Enola Holmes'

Change does not happen quietly. It is brought upon by the sound of a crowd marching on the streets, through the loudness of people’s unified cause, through a society’s collective action. Change arrives when people’s actions and voices are seen and heard.

The film Enola Holmes showed how one can effect change through its title character. Adapted from Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes Mysteries series, this Harry Bradbeer film features Sherlock Holmes’ (Henry Cavill) younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). This take on the Sherlock story presented the adventures of Enola in between Fleabag style narration and the British suffragette movement in the 19th century. 

Set in 1884 England, the film centered on Enola’s journey of finding her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who vanished on her 16th birthday. After leaving home to find her mother, Enola met Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a young lord who escaped from his estate. Soon after, Enola became entangled in a conspiracy concerning Tewkesbury, deciding to put her search mission on the backseat as she tried to protect this “lost soul” from his pursuers.

Enola is “unlike most well-bred ladies.” She does not conform to the standards for women in Victorian England society. Her mother taught her many skills from cryptography to martial arts. She scoffed at the idea of marriage as a woman’s life goal. She was also the one doing the saving instead of the man. Her loudness in action, her refusal to fit in society’s mold, and her blatant rejection of the “damsel in distress” trope emphasizes her fight for her independence. 

“[I] was never taught to embroider. I never molded wax roses, hemmed handkerchiefs,  or strung seashells. I was taught how to watch and listen. I was taught to fight. This is what my mother made me for.”

The changing British society was also highlighted, with a focus on British suffragette movement in the middle and  late 19th century. Back then, women were not allowed to vote and were only granted voting rights in 1918 for women over 30 and in 1928 for women over 21. Aside from Enola’s search for her mother, the women’s suffrage movement is one of the driving forces of the movie, with the movement prompting Eudoria to fight for Enola’s future. This heavy focus on women’s rights contextualizes Enola’s character arc as she navigates a society that puts women at a disadvantage. It also highlights the role of being vocal to change an unfair system. Suffragettes protested loudly, from chaining themselves to railings to storming the British Parliament and the Buckingham Palace. This loud protests eventually lead to women gaining the right to vote.

“You haven’t any hope of understanding any of this. You do know that?”

“Educate me as to why.”

“Because you don’t know what it is to be without power.”

The film questions neutrality in a political context, especially the detachment of the privileged to politics. The privileged “don’t know what it is to be without power,” refusing to change a society that suits them well. This is shown when Sherlock is confronted by Edith (Susie Wokoma)  on his notion of politics as “fatally boring.” Edith hit back, saying that he has “no interest in changing a system” that benefits the likes of Sherlock who can vote unlike Edith. It captures the notion that choosing to be detached from politics is a privilege itself.

“You have to make some noise if you want to be heard.”

Change happens when people take up space, when they act together  and start to raise their voices. Like what Enola Holmes said, “the future is up to us.” No one can bring change but us. Passivity only perpetuates uneven playing fields and double standards. Enola’s refusal to conform to harmful standards, as well as her act of “finding lost souls” who cannot fight for their own speaks volumes, is a reminder to be loud and to take up space–to make ourselves be seen and heard. It is a call for change through the loudness of both our  actions and words. After all, change does not arrive in whispers but in screams.

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