Who Run the World?

Jax Irwin is a radio host from Halifax who moved to Toronto where she has now hosted for KiSS 92.5 for the past three years. (Courtesy Jax Irwin)

A new era of work place equality – women leading the way for change in media

By Julie Arounlasy

From Halifax to Toronto, Jaclyn “Jax” Irwin has been living her dream through broadcast radio. The midday KiSS 92.5 radio host got her first full-time paying job in Prince George, B.C. She graduated from Nova Scotia Community College for radio and television broadcasting in 2010 three months early after she landed her first gig at a Prince George rock station.

It all started when former host Moya Farrell would wake up Halifax every morning on the radio station, C100. Irwin remembers listening to Farrell in the mornings and thinking I want to be Moya.

“I don’t know how to do anything but talk so it’s handy that I get paid for it,” Irwin says.

News surrounding media in the past year has heavily surrounded the topic of sexual  misconduct against women in the workplace. Shining a spotlight on great work women have done in media is more important than ever at the moment. Because of what has been trending in the news, people might have created pre-conceived notions of women in media to play roles that are significantly less prominent than their male counterparts, whether those are producer roles or on-air roles.

As a woman in media herself, Irwin advises other women who are interested in working in broadcast media to just work their ass off.

“Don’t be afraid of hard work and always be kind. I think there’s a lot of room, especially in media, for negativity, and you can really make a career for yourself from being kind,” she says. “Take care of each other, it’s a small industry. Lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Especially for women, there’s no room for anything but taking care of each other right now.”

Irwin has worked on both the west and east coasts of Canada, but has always wanted to reach the Toronto demographic. After her position in Prince George, she went back to Halifax in 2011 and worked for a station called The Bounce for a couple years. After that, she landed a gig at C100 in 2013, and having grown up listening to the station, it was an honour for Irwin to work there. However, she still had her mind set on hosting in Toronto. After seeing an opening for Toronto’s KiSS in 2015, she sent in a demo tape of her work and the station’s program director at the time took her on the air where she has now hosted for three years.

“Radio isn’t easy, I think a lot of people in my program expected to get a job on air then move to L.A. Radio is incredibly hard work and it takes a lot of patience. I didn’t say no to anything and did a ton of volunteering throughout college. I just became hyper-focused,” she says.

Irwin says being a woman in general is incredibly empowering. “Definitely right now, 2017 and 2018 is such a tidal wave of change. Being a woman in media, we have so much room to do so much good right now,” she says. “But we’re kind of under-looked and undervalued sometimes and men are definitely still making more decisions, but things are changing. With that, I think it’s a wonderful time to be alive in general right now.”

Radio Regent’s program coordinator Judy Pham, right, interviews Head of Communications of Twitter Canada, Cameron Gordon, about Twitter’s role in how it affects Canadian politics. (Courtesy Regent Park Focus)

Judy Pham is a radio program coordinator for the Toronto radio station, Radio Regent. The station broadcasts out of the city’s neighbourhood of Regent Park under Regent Park Focus, a not-for-profit organization that was created by the community in 1990. The organization was created to counter negative stereotypes about Regent Park and give marginalized people in the area a voice.

Pham is also the creator and host for the hour-long Saturday morning show, The Women’s Hour, which has been on air on Radio Regent for a year. The show centres on topics that seek to inspire, motivate, and empower women, and those who hope to be an ally. Pham talks about stories that are often not mainstream because it gives a voice to marginalized communities. She has talked about sensitive topics on violence against women like the cultural practice of female genital mutilation, as well as her memories of growing up in Regent Park.

“Regent Park was what you would consider a ghetto. It was for very low-income families so a lot of the people who lived here were culturally diverse,” she says. “There was a lot of the black community here. There were a lot of refugees like my family. We didn’t have money so we came here.”

Pham says she remembers often hearing gunshots when she was a kid in Regent Park.

“That’s what this place was. And then around the 2000’s there was a revitalization. This place was just falling apart before that. I remember one time in my apartment building, it was Christmas Eve and one of the pipes burst and all this sewage water just burst into the living room,” she says. “There were a lot of corner’s cut when it came to building these apartments, but they house so many people. At a certain point they were going to fall apart and there was no government funding.”

The revitalization of Regent Park came into place in 1995 when tenants approached Toronto Community Housing about the change. The development was meant to generate more income to the community to sustain it. However, the stigma surrounding the neighbourhood remained.

“When you’re cast off as cockroaches or treated in a way that’s less than human, then you’re going to lash out and have violent tendencies. That’s why this community has experienced some violence, because life was not easy,” Pham says.

It wasn’t until 2012 until the first phase of the community’s revitalization development was completed. The third phase of the development process is expected to be finished next year. The past neighbourhood’s low socioeconomic status and lack of government funding perpetuated this negativity about the community that the media latched onto. Local media outlets would further stigmatize the community when covering stories on the violence that went on in the area. Regent Park Focus was created to have a counter-narrative, its own voice, and its own presence in media. Today the organization has been helping youth in the area learn media skills for free. They have programs that cover all types of media platforms from video editing, to music production, and even an all-girls media skills program called Divas Girls Group.

It’s a weekly young women’s program that gives young girls, ages 11 to 15 years of age, the skills to speak on the radio, produce music, videos and the ability to write for the organization’s Catch da Flava magazine on issues that they are interested in.

“Out of all the programs we have at Focus, the Divas Girls Group are the most fun, bubbly, and energetic,” Pham says.

According to Pham the girls in the Divas program haven’t been exposed to having power or a voice yet.

“When someone is actively teaching them certain terms and ideals of feminism and empowerment, then they start to have that foundation,” Pham says.

Adonis Huggins, Regent Park Focus Executive Director, says the Divas Girls Group is meant to give young women an opportunity to come together, go on trips and be educated around various issues that affect them.

A lot of the Divas are young Muslim girls so sometimes the group conversations revolve around what it means to wear their hijab. A lot of them have expressed their views on this topic through spoken word poetry. Pham says because of the growing issues with Islamophobia, these young girls are going to live in a world that’s going to fear them for the way they dress and they’re not going to understand why. The after-school program is giving them the tools through media skills training to defend themselves in this world.

“A lot of these kids don’t have that much money so they’re not going to have the resources to buy classes for media skills,” Pham says. “They can’t buy the software and they don’t have the computers so they come to Regent Park Focus after school hours and learn. Some of them go on to have careers in media professions.”

Because Regent Park had so much violence and hostility, the organization was a great place for kids to come hangout, build a community, and not be inclined to engage in criminal behaviour. “When you’re young, that’s when you’re most vulnerable to gang violence and gang recruitments because you don’t know what right or wrong is yet,” Pham says.

Diamond Bailey, youth coordinator and co-host at Radio Regent’s weekly Catch da Flava show. (Courtesy Regent Park Focus)

One of the organization’s youth members is 20-year-old Diamond Bailey. Pham started teaching Bailey how to write radio scripts in summer 2017. Now Bailey is a co-host and youth coordinator at Radio Regent for their weekly Catch da Flava radio show.

“She genuinely just enjoys achieving. I think she recognizes how fulfilling it is for her when she’s achieved these things,” Pham says about Bailey. “It’s not like hair, makeup, or appearance which can disappear over time, it’s her character, her work ethic, her achievements. These are things that she’ll always have. She knows that she’s able and she won’t sell herself short.”

Bailey initially heard of Regent Park Focus from her mother and brother who volunteered for the organization while growing up in Regent Park. “There’s more youth advocating for change than ever before,” she says. “I feel proud to be a part of an organization that helps people and youth have a voice on certain situations that affect them. We’re changing the mentality of how we’re stigmatized and how society sees youth as a whole, and especially people and youth from Regent Park.”

Bailey was more quiet and shy when she was a kid. Working for Regent Park Focus gave her the sense of being happy and accepting her identity and where she comes from.

“Whenever I tell people I work here, they’re surprised. I’m still surprised I work here. I never thought I would be able to do this and get this opportunity,” Bailey says.

Joining the organization started off as a summer job for Bailey, but the more she got involved with the programs, the more she fell in love with her work. She specifically recalls being in the organization’s game design program in the summer.

“There weren’t a lot of other females in the group. Then there was an actual female game designer who came in that I worked with so that was really empowering,” she says.

Bailey says growing up, she didn’t see a lot of women in media.

“Being black and a female, there wasn’t a lot of representation in media,” she says.

Bailey looked up to her mother a great deal because her mother is first generation Jamaican. She was raised in the same community with the same stigmas that Bailey was surrounded by.

“If it wasn’t my mother, then I would look up to famous Jamaican activists or Bob Marley. It’s sad to say there wasn’t a huge female influence when it came to media in my life at that time,” she says.

Bailey says young women and girls are still exposed to the negative stereotypes surrounding women through social media. These girls still see the beauty standards that are shared on platforms like Instagram that teach them how society wants them to look, act, and think.

“Kids use social media more and more every day,” Bailey says. “Having a sister 10 years younger than me, I see the way she and her friends act. They’re basically idolising the Instagram famous models they see and it’s sad. They’re afraid to be themselves, afraid to act smart, afraid to try.”

Bailey says there’s always going to be clashing views and negativity surrounding women in media, but it’s what you as a person choose to focus on that matters.

“Now there’s women like Michelle Obama. I didn’t have that growing up and I’m so happy to see someone with such grace and ambition as her in the media,” Bailey says. “I’m so happy to see my younger sister grow up in a time where there are women like Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai breaking the barriers for powerful women.”

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