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Brampton councillor’s song spotlights fight against harassment

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in Ethics, Women
April, 2024

“Makes me that much stronger; Makes me work a little bit harder; It makes me that much wiser; So thanks for making me a fighter.”

These lyrics were sung originally by pop music superstar Christina Aguilera in her 2002 hit, “Fighter.” But they also reflect the feelings of Brampton regional coun. Rowena Santos. Santos recently released her re-recording of “Fighter” to further spotlight the ongoing harassment and threats facing women leaders today.

“Things are getting unacceptable with the threats and deplorable personal attacks, death threats, online smears,” Santos said. “Here is how art and music help to transcend, to call [this harassing behaviour] out in an impactful way.”

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Standing Up to Harassment

Santos has been dealing with harassing behaviour – online and in person – since she was first elected in 2018. But with the level of harassment seemingly increasing, she and fellow councillor Navjit Kaur Brar addressed their colleagues ahead of International Women’s Day. Both women shared their experiences and called for an end to the harassment and intimidation of women.

Santos said the response to the comments she and Brar made that day have “been incredibly supportive.”

Those reactions have been personally satisfying to Santos. After all, even though she has often been considered someone with a “strong voice,” Santos has shied away from sharing the pain she and so many other women face every day.

But ever since that day, Santos said she feels like “a load has been lifted off my shoulders that I’ve been carrying for such a long time.”

Point of Order

Santos said she, along with her Point of Order bandmates, were attempting to deliver a musical tribute to the theme of inspiring inclusion. Through their rendition of Aguilera’s hit, Santos said she was aiming to ignite a sense of empowerment and solidarity among listeners. She also wanted to foster a community where all voices are heard and celebrated.

A point of order arises when an individual in a deliberative assembly highlights a violation of rules during a meeting. The band has taken this meaning to heart. Last year, for example, Point of Order recorded Sia’s 2016 hit, “Unstoppable,” in support of women’s groups who were supporting and fighting against gender-based violence. The recording was to serve as a tribute to all of those women who are being unstoppable and being there for victims.

And so, considering the comments Santos and Brar made at council, and with the positive public reaction behind them, “Fighter” seemed a natural choice. Still, Santos did have to revise a few of the lyrics to match the comments she and Brar made at council. Ultimately, the goal was to further amplify the conversation around ending harassment.

“Because there are so many women out there, we wanted to amplify it even further by using art and music as a way for us to further emphasize and express how we’re feeling,” Santos said. “But also to elevate the conversation. Get it out there to all the other women who are feeling this way as well. Arts and music are able to resonate and connect with a lot of people.”

Recording a Statement

The song was recorded over about four hours at Night Light Recordings in Brampton. But the idea itself, including the revision of the lyrics, changing the musical arrangement, and organizing the backing choir, took about a month and a half.

Standing in front of a microphone is nothing new for Santos. But this experience did hit her a little different.

Santos said some people were suggesting they should sing “Rise Up” or some other inspirational, albeit slower-tempo, song. But because of the pent-up frustration, anger, and emotion associated with the barrage of harassment, threats, and rumors – not just over the past couple of month but for many years – Santos knew she need a song that expressed the anger and frustration of an elected woman who is just trying to do their job but has all the internet trolls trying to hold them down.

So, when she finally listened to the completed song, a lot of emotions came to the surface.

“It felt so good. You’re not supposed to be seen as having emotion when you’re a politician because you might get criticized,” Santos said. “So art and music and performing and just being your authentic self and expressing what you’re feeling, it felt so good.”

Music Video Messaging

Woman singing into a microphone with headphones on her head.

The video to Rowena Santos’ re-recording of Christina Aguilera’s 2002 hit, “Fighter,” features many news articles spotlighting her call to end the harassment of women in leadership roles.

The song was a big part of the production, but it was also recorded for a music video. The video showed Point of Order but also included the accompanying choir members, clips of Santos and Brar speaking at council, and inserts of various news articles that were spotlighting the call to end the harassment.

Santos said when she watched the video, she was struck by seeing all the other women in the video really getting into it. They were all singing and clapping with a lot of joy on their faces. After all, for most of them, it was the first time they’ve been in a recording studio or ever experienced singing and being recorded.

As such, watching them made Santos feel “happy and proud.” That was especially so, she said, as the arts is often used to channel what is pent up inside of people that they haven’t been able to express.

“All those women in the room, every single one of them, they’ll know exactly what I mean, and women who are reading this, we’re always expected to be put together all the time,” Santos said. “Watching them in the video being themselves and enjoying the moment was so inspiring to me.”

The Power of Music

Santos has been singing and performing since high school – as she puts it, “I’m Filipino, so it’s kind of in my DNA.” Once she entered politics, being an elected official, she assumed she wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

But then she remembered the importance of owning her space and going back to being her authentic self. As such, using her platform as a politician to support the arts, to connect with the people in the artistic community, served as a way of showing the human side of being a politician.

“I’m certainly not a stereotypical robot politician that hides these different things about myself,” she said. “Talent is beautiful. It’s something that I believe is given to us to share, not to hide.”

Inspiration for the Future

Santos said she hopes people hear a clear message when they watch the video, listen to the song, or watch the recording of the comments she and Brar made for International Women’s Day.

That message, as the song “Fighter” attests, is that she plans to keep fighting and that women – with a nod to the 2016 cover – are unstoppable. She also wants other women to know that regardless of any animosity, jealousy, searing harassment, threats, or lies, they are not alone.

“We’re inspired by so many others who tell us to keep fighting. And so we are fighters,” Santos said. “So, those who are out there, who continue to troll or hate, you should maybe stop wasting your energy. We’re just going to keep going and rising above.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Executive and Essentials Plus Members: You might also be interested in the Sean Meyer article: Rowena Santos: Take your place and own it with style and grace.

Sean Meyer is digital content editor for Municipal World.

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