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Pink or Blue? – Students explore gender identity on National Day of Remembrance

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
On the heels of their Remembrance Day play, Vimy and the Boy Solider from Hillier, the senior drama class at Picton’s Prince Edward Collegiate Institute will recognize another important, and timely, anniversary.

Pink or Blue? is an original collective creation put together by students at PECI under the guidance of drama teacher Matthew Sheahan.

At the dress rehearsal Monday, the 35-minute production provided a glimpse into gender identity, gender stereotypes and pervasive misogyny in today’s society.

The production takes a look at controlling and abusive partner behaviour and what constitutes normal behaviour in any relationship. It is a reminder of what a healthy relationship should look like and how physical or verbal abuse is never acceptable. It examines how women are not to blame when a partner resorts to abuse of any kind.

“Love isn’t black eyes and late-night phone calls. Love isn’t tough, it’s gentle.”

Pink or Blue? takes a look at what gender is and how identity is shaped. Student Ruby Gaudett came up with the name for the play and says Pink or Blue? seemed to be a good fit.

“The root problem of stereotypes and gender roles comes from right when we are born,” said Gaudett, adding, “When you are in that hospital and they see that you are a boy or a girl, they’re quick to label you and I think that stems a lot of the problem.”

Gaudett spoke about gender stereotyping and identity, and while she acknowledges how far society has come, she says there is still a lot of work to do.

The topic, says Sheahan, is not easy to discuss.

“The play is not meant to be a pleasant experience on the whole. It’s meant to get people feeling a little uncomfortable because talking about issues around gender and domestic violence are uncomfortable topics,” said Sheahan.

The play is made up of a series of letters woven throughout the performance. The letters read aloud by individual students are written to their younger selves in some cases, and address the question of appropriate relationship behaviour and how abuse is perceived.

“Mr. Sheahan told us to write letters and he didn’t give us too much instruction, just a topic of stereotypes and gender roles,” said Gaudett. The letters were varied and included such topics as a letter to a toymaker company about why dolls are always geared toward girls, and not boys.

“Dear society, pink or blue? Right from the time you are born, you are assigned a colour. If you are a boy, then they put a blue cap on you, and if you are a girl, they put a pink cap on you. As if these two colours have a sway on who you must be as an individual. If you break out of these norms, you are seen as an anomaly, a misfit because God forbid a boy would wear pink – he’s gay. And God forbid a girl would wear blue – she’s a dyke.”

Sheahan said the writing doesn’t demonize anyone.

“It’s not about demonizing an entire half of a species; it’s talking about how do these things exist and how do they get created, so there was a lot of looking at how we have created these issues around gender identity that men can’t cry and boys must ‘man up’.”

“From the time we are born, we are given a role: pink or blue? What does it say about us and our personalities. Pink or blue? They are just colours, after all.”

The performance and the message are of awareness, education, inspiration and hope. It is about cultivating healthy relationships, changing attitudes and establishing equality.

Performances of the play recognize Dec. 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada.

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 marks 28 years since 14 young women, all engineering students, were murdered by a gunman at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. Ten women and four men were also injured in the 1989 attack, often referred to as the Montréal massacre, in which women were singled out and targeted.

Dec. 6 also commemorates the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and speaks to every woman in Ontario, in Canada and globally, whose lives have been harmed or lost to violence.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women takes place each Nov. 25 and marks the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which finishes on Dec. 10, with International Human Rights Day.

In recognition of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the day at PECI begins with a formal dress rehearsal of Pink or Blue? followed by two public off-site performances. The PECI senior drama students will also perform scenes from the play at the Arts’ Night Showcase at the school.

The public performances in particular are important to Gaudett because the play is about creating discussion and sparking conversation.

The first performance Wednesday takes place at Belleville’s Core Arts and Culture Centre at 11.30am as part of the day’s ceremony. That evening the students will perform at 5pm at an Alternatives for Women event at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Picton. A candlelight vigil follows the play prior to the commencement of the organization’s annual general meeting.

Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by their intimate partner. On any given day in Canada, more than 3,000 women are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence and 83 per cent of all police-reported domestic assaults are against women.

Dec. 6 is a day dedicated to the memory of the murdered students and a day to reflect and take action. Canadian flags on all federal buildings are flown at half-mast each Dec. 6 to remember those women who lost their lives in the massacre and all those following who have also been victims of violence.


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