Archive | July, 2013

A Key Reminder

25 Jul

by Bethany Imondi

On my first day of work, I and two male new employees received a key ring with a fob to access our office suite. Excited that I had fob that signaled my permanent, full-time status and not simply a temporary intern accessory, I noticed something different about my key ring and those of the other new hires. Whereas theirs only had the fob attached to the ring, mine included a key.

At first I did not think anything of it beyond perhaps that it was a master key to different areas of the office that my position gave me privileges to access. But alas, when I inquired about the source for the key I learned it simply gave me access to the ladies’ room.

Within my office, all the female employees have a key on their fobs and any female guests must ask the front desk for a key to use the facilities. According to my supervisor, this is a security measure. To protect women from having someone stalk out or follow them into the bathroom, they must use their key. Apparently, the high risk of someone attacking the men does not apply as they can just walk in and do their business without a key.

Although I can understand the reasoning behind the ladies’ room keys, it also reminds me about the state of women in today’s society. While I have been warned about not walking home alone late at night, I did not think that I would need special security measures for me to go to the bathroom. As a tool for self-defense, the key represents how women must be always on guard and aware of their surroundings, even in the most seemingly secure places.

Admittedly, had it not been for my attendance at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in May, I may not have had as such strong reactions to receiving the key. At the conference, I participated in a women’s self-defense workshop. It began with the facilitator, a coordinator at a Maryland rape crisis center, asking the women in the room about simple methods of self-defense. A young woman mentioned carrying keys in her hands whenever walking alone so that she would be equipped with a mechanism for defending herself in case of attack.

Unfortunately, such need to carry any type of self-mechanism highlights women’s vulnerability in today’s society. Moreover, in a culture that slut-shames, victim blames and launches wars on women, the message seems to be that even if we carry keys, or pepper spray, or mace, women are the ones putting themselves at risk. By travelling alone, we become easy targets, and naïve thinking that nothing will happen is not helping.

I will admit to a sense of naivety and feelings of security that led to multiple instances of walking home alone from the Tomb’s to Burleith post-midnight. Fortunately, nothing ever happened, but there was always the thought in the back of my head of what could happen. Texts from concerned friends wanting me to ensure my safe arrival home reinforced this looming fear. Now, as I live outside of Georgetown and spend late nights at places way beyond a few blocks from home, my ability to walk freely is even more restricted.

Maybe it was the Georgetown bubble that gave me this false-sense of security, but an incident on the Fourth of July reminded me how much my sex subjects me to risks. Having just gotten off the metro and bypassing the buses crowded with tourists, I chose to walk the seven blocks to my apartment. With plenty of people still around on the holiday evening, I felt fine with my decision to go it alone—until, less than a block from home, a young man called out “Excuse me.” As I turning around, feeling all the color drain from my face and my heart rate speed up, the man asked if I would come over to the wall by the sidewalk. Responding that I had somewhere to be, I sprinted the next block while making sure I was not followed.

Although I arrived home safely, I felt violated and wronged. What’s more, I felt like my office’s concerns with the ladies’ room keys were justified. Plenty of people were around when that man “excused me,” but that did not stop him; he seemed to have no fears about approaching me, whereas I had every fear boiling up inside when his words stopped me cold. I have no idea his intentions, yet I can only think the worst. That, and the sense of risk that remains for being a woman, even if she just wants to powder her nose in the bathroom.

De-gendering Our Language

24 Jul

by Kat Kelley, Erin Riordan, and Mark Joseph Stern

This is an edited transcript of a discussion between Kat, Erin, and Mark on the topic of how gender is used in our language. The conversation began after a Facebook debate about whether or not “you guys” could be used in a gender-neutral context. 

Erin:  ‪Let’s talk gender, shall we?

Mark:  Yes please! I live to talk gender. ‪If I recall correctly, this conversation was sparked by a Facebook status in which Kat addressed her Facebook friends as “guys,” but noted she meant it in a gender-neutral way. ‪I, being a jerk, commented that I was skeptical that “guys” is ever truly gender neutral. Several courteous comment clashes later, here we are. So Kat—what exactly is your position on this topic?

Kat:  ‪Honestly, I reached out to Erin and was interested in hearing more from you, because I realize that language both creates and is created by our culture, and I want to learn to use language that creates a better culture. I want to learn to use culture that doesn’t oppress people based on their gender identity, but I am wholly ignorant on the topic. My “position” would be that I’m ignorant. And I want to be able to change the way I speak, but at the same time, not speak in a way that alienates certain people from willingness to engage or listen.

Mark:  ‪An admirable goal! There are really two separate issues, I think, when it comes to the “you guys” issue, and they need to be considered independently. One, which isn’t really that fraught, is that our language lacks a second-person plural address—our vosotros, if you will. That leaves various dialects to pick up the slack, hence “y’all” and “you guys.” ‪But “guys” of course was traditionally used to describe men. Which leads to the second issue. How comfortable are we repurposing a word like “guys” in this manner? I’d posit that it’s unique from words like “actor” or “poet,” which were once gender-dichotomized but for which we now use the once-male form for everyone.

Erin:  ‪Yes. I think as much as guys is used in “gender-neutral” contexts, it is still a very gendered term and reasserts “male” and “men” as the gender dominant norm.

Mark:  ‪I would tend to agree.

Kat:  ‪That makes sense. And also it isn’t a title/position the way actor/poet is. It doesn’t tell us anything but the gender of the population. So the repurposing would be more transformative.

Mark:  ‪It’s worth asking at this point, though, why transforming a word like “guys” to mean “everybody” reinforces male norms. I have a gut feeling that it does, but I find it a little tricky to articulate.

Erin:  ‪It seems related to the idea of referring to people as “cis men” and “cis women” rather than “men” and “women.” Using cis de-centers gender norms and gender assumptions, and I think trying to transform “guys” to gender neutral still has issues with re-centering men and cis men as the gender norm.

Mark:  ‪Does our language need a gender norm?

Kat:  ‪I don’t believe it does, however I’m not sure how deep we’d have to go to remove a gender norm.

Erin:  ‪Our language should be more inclusive of all identities, which involves reexamining language and assumptions and norms reinforced by language.

Kat:  ‪I mean, we’d have to refashion the connotations of just ‪about everything. Although there are plenty of intermediary steps before we are achieving that. ‪I mean I think our entire society needs to be de-gendered. We think of everything in terms of gender. And that creates an inherent dichotomy, an inherent inequality between genders and sexes.

Erin:  ‪That said, I think there is a balance between de-gendering society and finding other solutions, because ultimately, gender, like race and class and anything else, exists.

Mark:  ‪Right. Even if the stereotypes we attribute to it are fabricated.

Erin:  ‪Pretending that we can de-gender or de-racialize society also invalidates the fact that these things are all parts of our identities and experiences.

Kat:  ‪However, there are lots of aspects of our lives when gender doesn’t need to be relevant. And yet it is present everywhere.

Erin:  ‪So that is what I struggle with actually. I think that gender is a huge part of our identities and to pretend it is just a social construct is also really problematic.

Mark:  ‪So is it okay to just start with the obvious, and work our way down?  ‪Or will effective change need to be more subtle and comprehensive?

Kat:  ‪Re: Mark- I think we need to do both. We need to have the “radical” side of it (I use radical in quotes because I don’t think that wanting things like equality should be considered radical) to ‪chip away at the underlying causes. But we also need to make ambitious immediate change, and that requires working our way down.

Mark:  ‪Kat, I agree, but I wonder if taking some relatively simple steps—gender-neutral pronouns, non-gendered normative nouns—might not be a more radical move than we realize. It seems to me that a lot of the language that ends up reinforcing gender norms (and more perniciously gender stereotypes) could be very easily screened out with a little awareness.

Kat:  ‪Sure seems pretty radical every time I try to speak English hah.

Mark:  ‪I’m a strong believer in the ground rule ‪that we shouldn’t specify gender unless it’s apposite to context. The example I use is, “My friends and I went to the bar,” vs. “My male friends don’t like Christine Quinn, probably because they’re sexist.” Unnecessary gendering is actually really common.

Erin:  ‪It is in almost every conversation and almost every part of our language.

Mark:  ‪Indeed. I think that after all the theory and abstractions we produce on this topic, we still need to have a rule, an ask, for the general population. And I think that ask should be that we only ever mention gender when it’s relevant to context.

Kat:  ‪Okay, so how can we, and ideally everyone, make the change? And how do we literally get people to care, and to be able to develop that awareness? I mean this is the most literal sense- like do we need fact sheets on examples of gendered language?

Erin: I think just using the appropriate language ourselves creates a fair amount of awareness, and challenging people in safe contexts when relevant.

Mark:  ‪I agree—the first and best thing you can do is change the way you yourself speak. If it’s a cause I believe in, I can also bring up the practice with friends and encourage them to do the same.

Erin: I think in the times when I make conscious efforts to change my language or to introduce myself and my preferred gender pronouns I usually explain myself afterwards since there is a fair amount of confusion. My own practice ends up leading to some level of raised awareness and education.

Mark:  ‪I think the conversation should be based around modeling your own de-gendered language. If someone asks you why you don’t say “you guys,” or request a preferred gender pronoun, explain away! It’s not pedantic. And if your friends don’t ask, explain anyway. They’re your friends. They signed up to hear your views.

Erin:  Yeah, most people who are my friends know what they’ve gotten into.

Mark:  ‪I try to explain from both a personal and a philosophical angle. In practice, it’s not toooo different from teaching people proper grammar. You use language a certain way, you encourage others to as well. This just happens to be infinitely more important than lay vs. lie.

Erin:  ‪And I think doing it in a way that isn’t blame-y, because a lot of people are sensitive to being told their language is oppressive.

Mark:  ‪It’s not something anybody likes to be told.

Kat:  ‪Yeah. I mean even if people are defensive, they are still learning. You are still planting seeds. But there is a lot of resistance.

Erin:  ‪And I think we too in examining gender and language need to be very ready and willing to be corrected and to reexamine our assumptions.

Kat:  ‪Admitting you fuck up, that it isn’t easy, that you are working on it. Not like “get on my level, oppressor.”

Erin:  Exactly. ‪I think it’s the response of acknowledging the mistake, apologizing, reflecting on it and making an effort to be more conscious in the future. And that we all fuck up both by nature of being human and by nature of the world we live in.

Mark:  ‪Agreed entirely. Okay, so have we reached a consensus?

Erin:  ‪I consent.

Mark:  ‪I consent, and hereby swear to reach out to my friends in an effort to further remove gender-reinforcing norms from my language. Kat?

Kat:  ‪I consent. Enthusiastically.

Mark:  ‪Excellent!


23 Jul

by Irene Koo

The George Zimmerman trial, particularly the widespread and vocal response post-verdict, has left me more than uneasy. I am disappointed and angered, although perhaps not for the reasons one might expect.

As equal parts disclaimer and explanation, I don’t disagree with the verdict itself. I am unwilling to discount our country’s judicial tradition because of this decision alone. I feel that I have to acknowledge my own bias and judgment, and the fact that I did not, by any means, listen to every testimony and view every piece of evidence throughout the trial. As such, I can’t fairly criticize the jury for its decision when I have little knowledge of the details and nuances of the case in comparison. While some may consider my faith in the justice system naively idealistic, I just can’t bring myself to believe that our system is truly broken despite my own disappointment and conflicted feelings. As expressed by William Blackstone, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.” If anything, the verdict validated the standards of reasonable doubt and innocent until proven guilty, and if only for that, I respect the decision.

That being said, I think my personal thoughts on the Zimmerman trial can be summed up quite simply: The law was served, but justice was not. Regardless of the verdict, a seventeen-year-old child is dead, and that will never change.

Even with the knowledge that this is such a contentious, emotionally charged issue, I have a lot of problems with the degree to which the case was sensationalized and callously debated over social media. The media latched onto Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, touting the tragedy as a modern-day Emmett Till, fueling a debate that arguably should never have begun. What I’ve learned from the multitude of tweets and Facebook posts I’ve read over the past few days is that we are by no means a post-racial society, and that societal colorblindness has been taken to mean “pretend that race doesn’t exist.” It is 2013, and we still have so far to go.

I have no doubt that if the color of my skin were a few shades darker, I would be writing from a far different perspective. I cannot even begin to claim that I understand the implications of this decision on the black community. “This has nothing to do with race” is said far too often about things that are about race, and ignoring the systemic bias and inherent inequality in our country does not make the problem disappear. It breaks my heart that Rachel Jeantal was mocked and discounted before she even began to speak; that she was dismissed for failing to adopt the “right” dress or the “right” language, when she had every right to be heard as herself.  I am hurt that many of my friends and peers now believe that the justice system was never meant to protect them, and that their lives mean nothing in the eyes of the country they love. I am angered that the sweet, perceptive fifth graders I teach in a predominately black school asked me on Friday why George Zimmerman might walk free, and why that could ever be seen as fair. I am upset because I don’t know how to answer them in a way that makes sense, in a way that validates their worth and intelligence when everything they know is telling them the exact opposite.

Yet, the problem that angers me most is relatively independent of race and instead has to do with how we approach violence in our culture. The defense claimed Martin’s martial arts experience as an indicator of violent tendencies; they noted that Martin was wearing a black hoodie; they cited evidence of drug use and his tattoos as a means to defame his character.

It is all too familiar.

I’m reminded instantly of victim blaming in cases of sexual assault, a phenomenon that eerily mirrors the rhetoric in the Zimmerman trial. Why do we focus on what Martin was wearing? Does it really matter that he had tattoos? Is it the same reason we ask what a rape victim was wearing, and whether or not he or she was intoxicated? The most difficult part to stomach about this trial, for me, is not that Zimmerman was found innocent – it is why the court and the public insist on placing the blame on the victim. Martin’s death was supposedly his own doing, because the language in the trial and in debates on social media became what Martin should have done differently, how he should have walked away, and why dressing the way he did gave a threatening impression – essentially stating that it is Martin’s fault that he was racially profiled and ultimately killed.

I want to know why Zimmerman felt the need to disregard the dispatcher on the phone who told him to remain in his car and not follow Martin. I want to know why wearing a black hoodie suddenly makes you a hoodlum, and when that would ever justify instigating a fight. I am fed up because I can’t reconcile the idea that in effect, we are blaming Martin for his own murder; and that by the same language and attitude, we are blaming assault victims for being assaulted. How different is it to accuse a rape victim of “asking for it” by citing her revealing clothing? Why do we send the message to victims of violence that their suffering is their fault? I have to wonder when we will reach the point where we ask not what the victims should have done, but how to hold perpetrators accountable for what should never have been committed in the first place.

My heart hurts for Trayvon Martin and for his family and friends. But I also ache for the countless, unnamed homicide victims whose murderers’ happen to share their skin tone, and will therefore only manage to make the local news. I worry for the victims of rape and abuse who are too ashamed to report, and will suffer in silence without an outpouring of public support and solidarity. This is not singularly about Trayvon Martin. It is not just a race problem or about rape culture alone, but a general need for real accountability. Victim blaming is so deeply rooted in all aspects of our society, and the most disheartening thing is that we have become desensitized to it. Tomorrow it will be another Trayvon Martin, or another Steubenville, and people will still ask, “But what was she wearing?” or justify murder with, “He was wearing a hoodie.”

As Macklemore so aptly put, “No law’s gonna change us, we have to change us” – it’s time to stop asking the wrong questions and blaming the ones who, at least in this case, can no longer defend themselves.

My thoughts and prayers go out to both the Martin and Zimmerman family, and all those affected by the tragedy.

Feminists-At-Large: Six-Month Anniversary Newsletter

22 Jul

In six months, we’ve published 143 posts by 60 authors, and have had 58,000 views in 144 countries!

And we want to send a huge Thank You to all of our authors and readers, our promoters, commenters, retweeters, facebook sharers, and all of our personal cheerleaders!  Your support is the backbone of this blog. While we do get immense personal joy from reading these posts, it wouldn’t be anything without you, our readers and Feminists-at-Large community.

We have been blown away by the depth, sincerity, intellect and raw intimacy of the posts. Our authors frequently challenge us to push the bounds of our feminism, explore new topics, and to consider new perspectives.

We are also excited to announce that we are launching Feministas-en-General, a Spanish language version of FAL! We are always looking to expand our accessibility and inclusivity, and we are so grateful to Verónica Hojman for this idea and her work to make Feministas-en-General a reality! Check it out here!

Thanks for writing, reading, promoting, listening, thinking, engaging in dialogue, and fighting the patriarchy. Additionally, while we think that all of you are absolutely flawless, we know our blog is not. We’d love your honest feedback! Please let us know your thoughts, suggestions, and random musings for making this blog an ever better space at this link


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Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault: The Basics

17 Jul

by Kat Kelley

It happens here. One in four Georgetown women and one in thirty three Georgetown men will experience sexual assault before they graduate.*

It happens here. It happens to Hoyas. Hoyas are perpetrators, bystanders, allies, and survivors of sexual assault.

Look around you. Look around you as you stand in the pasta line at Leo’s, in your Econ recitation, browsing Facebook in Lau 2, or on the treadmill at Yates. It happens here. Can you really afford to ignore it any longer? Are you prepared to support your friend-teammate-lab partner-neighbor if they turn to you for help?

As a society we consistently fail to adequately support survivors of sexual assault and to hold perpetrators accountable. Of college women who experience sexual assault, 42% tell no one about the assault, and only 5% report to the police. The problem is not the survivors who aren’t reporting. Survivors are not responsible for preventing sexual assault, only perpetrators can do that. Reporting is traumatic, survivors often say they feel “re-victimized” by the reporting process.

We are the problem. We need to change the equation. We need to change the way we respond to survivors.

So how can we be allies? First, don’t underestimate the power of your words. I have had survivors tell me that just hearing me talk about sexual assault, seeing what I post on Facebook, subtly showing support, all makes a difference. Sharing your story is hard. Survivors often don’t know who they can trust, or how people will respond. It’s important to show the world that you are an ally.

Okay, so your roommate-classmate-brother-coworker discloses. What do you do? Start by believing. Survivors are blamed and chastised, they are asked if it was “a misunderstanding” or told that its a “gray area.” We need to start by believing.

Next, listen. Don’t underestimate the power of listening. Listen- don’t ask a million questions, don’t probe for more information than a survivor is ready to give. Actively listen, and show your unconditional support.

One of the most important things a survivor needs to hear is “this wasn’t your fault.” Sexual assault is never warranted. No matter what they were wearing, who they were with, where they were, or what they were drinking.  And certainly don’t invalidate their experience by calling it a “gray area.” Consent is affirmative, not implied. You don’t need to push and shove to “prove” you aren’t consenting. Consent must be continuous- it cannot be assumed just because you’ve been involved with someone before, or because you have consented to other actions building up to that moment. And if someone isn’t consenting- you can tell, if someone is lying there still and terrified, its probably a good time to check-in. There are no gray areas, and it is never the survivors fault.

Validate their experience and their emotions. Survivors may feel shame, guilt, depression, dirty, angry, afraid, unable to sleep or focus, or they may be unresponsive, or show no emotions. There is no “right” way to respond. Whatever a survivor feels, that’s okay- that is understandable, and they have every right to feel that way. Validate their emotions, and show empathy.

Finally, empower and support survivors. Survivors have had their control, their bodily autonomy taken from them. Don’t tell them what to do, or what is right for them. Allow them to explore their options, provide them with resources, but don’t tell them how to proceed. They need to do what is best for them, and as an ally, their healing process is your first priority.

And finally, supporting a survivor isn’t easy, and it is important for allies, friends, and loved-ones to practice self-care as well. You aren’t an expert, you can’t do everything for a survivor. Show your support, but know and respect your limits.

If you find this post in any way triggering, please know that a wide range of resources are available.


*Information not available for trans and gender-queer students.

If you find this post in any way triggering, please know that a wide range of resources are available.

This piece was written as a follow-up to an Ignite Georgetown talk given by Kat Kelley in March, 2013.

“They’ve Got to Find Men to Marry!”

16 Jul

by Claire McDaniel

Boris Johnson, yes, the floppy haired Mayor of London who got himself stuck on a zip line during the Olympics, surprised no one this week by saying something sexist.  Representing the UK at the World Islamic Economic Forum, he supposedly joked that women go to university to find husbands. Reportedly, he was the only one at the forum to find it funny. As a woman, I just have one thing to say. Who the hell forgot to tell me?

If I had known that the $50,000 dollars a year in tuition wasn’t for education but was instead a modern day dowry for my husband, well then I would have spent a good deal less time in the library. What on Earth is the point of being pre-med if I’m only here to get hitched ASAP? Now I just feel silly.

Some say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I say I reserve it for the lowest of wits. If Boris truly thinks that women are only at university to be on the prowl for a husband, then he deserves more sarcasm than I think possible in a single blog post.

Leaving aside the rampant heteronormativity of the comment, let’s talk a little bit more about Boris. He is a politician, so gaffes are par for the course. But, he is no Todd Akin, who needs to brush up on his basic biology. No, Boris is a good old boy. He went to Eton then on to Cambridge, some of the best schools in the world. Ignorance, then, is probably not the basis of his sexism.

If you haven’t seen the blog Everyday Sexism, or if you don’t follow them on Twitter, you should. Founded in England as an attempt to shine a light on the rampant street harassment and daily sexism present in British society. Go ahead and take a break from reading this post to read some of the stories from Everyday Sexism. When you feel your skin beginning to crawl, or you simply can’t stand the banality of it all, come on back and let’s chat.

That is the culture in which Boris was raised, in which he lives, in which he serves as Mayor of its most populous city. Maybe it’s an Imperial thing, that a third culture kid like myself can’t understand, but the entrenched patriarchy is absurd. Yes, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister years before I was even born. But what about now? The Conservative Party, Thatcher’s own, has a Cabinet that has four women out of twenty-two people. Oh, and if you were looking for anyone that wasn’t white, wrong place. At least they’re consistent.

Boris Johnson is only one man. But, he is one of the most powerful men in the UK. That is no inconsequential thing, no matter how much the British Empire has shrunk since Victoria’s reign. It is terrifying to think that Boris can be so nonchalantly paternalistic towards women. How many of his actions, of his policies, then are influenced by this patriarchal paradigm?

Yes, that one time he saved a woman from being mugged by riding down the muggers with his bicycle was nice. But “The Knight on the Shining Bicycle” needs to get off his sexist high horse and get a reality check. He thinks women are flocking towards university because of this unconquerable need to find a husband? I’m struggling to think of something he could have said that would be more antiquated. We go to university because we make less than our male counterparts, so we need that degree to get an equal footing with the men around us. We go to university because we are passionate for what we are studying. We go to university because we crave the freedom of living away from our parents. If we do find a husband or a wife, because to hell with heteronormativity, it’s highly unlikely that we set off to university with that as our sole motivation.

It doesn’t matter if what Boris said was simply an off the cuff joke, in fact that might be worse. It shows that the Mayor of London gave no second thought to being sexist, to belittling women. Because it is belittling to say that women’s only motivation for going to university has to do with men. It makes it so that female students have less pure scholastic intentions than their male counterparts, reinforcing the belief of women’s duplicity. My name is not Eve, and I’m none too fond of snakes, so let’s leave that age-old ridiculousness behind.

There is a reason I wake up every morning to thirty new tweets from Everyday Sexism in my Twitter feed. There is a reason why I’ve experienced sexism myself, on several occasions. There is a reason why rape culture is alive and well. Consciously or not, maliciously or not, men, and sometimes women, promulgate this paradigm of female inferiority. And it’s about damn time that stopped, Mr. Mayor.

The Pitfalls of a Pet Name

15 Jul

by Kathryn Douglass

In attempting to initiate some playfulness and intimacy with my long-time friend and more recent girlfriend, I played my hand at the pet-name game.  Some may scoff at this whimsical expression of affection and write it off as juvenile, which it may be, but it can also liven up a long-distance relationship that is devoid of the nonverbal communication which was a substantial component of our livelihood.  I am persistently looking for new ways to make her smile from hundreds of miles away and if acting silly once in a while does it, well I respect her and myself enough to try anything.

I began to recognize a conflict in the practice of using pet-names, however, almost immediately as I began to include little compliments in my texts or greeting her with nicknames like: “Good morning gorgeous” or calling her “my love”.  It quickly occurred to me that the entire exercise is riddled with possessiveness and the praise of physical characteristics.  Although I desperately fantasize about caressing those perfectly sculpted almond-butter thighs, what I love about her has nothing to do with how biologically astounding she is.  She inspires me with her selflessness, her value of commitments, and her unwavering friendship.  She manages to see the good in even the most seemingly shitty situations and has an adorable sense of humor.  Despite the fact that when I say “beautiful” the translation pertains not merely to that of aesthetics, I have since sought out to find pet-names that more fully encompass her attributes that I so admire.

But it wasn’t all that easy to make this realization.  Previously, I had only ever dated men and that’s how they always treated me– complimenting my physical qualities.  Appreciation of my looks can be sometimes flattering, but it often tended to leave me feeling my prized qualities were underappreciated. I then considered the notion that she may not want to be identified with such gender-binary adjectives at all.  It may be a stretch, but some of these terms of affection (baby, little girl, etc.) echo remarks my father and other authoritative men have directed towards me which I feel are ways for them to elevate themselves as a patriarch.  If I get degrading vibes from these names, then the last thing I want to do is further their demeaning reach on another woman.

Further complicating the situation, I recognized that I shouldn’t be reinforcing this idea of possession while trying to be sweet on her, and even now it is unsettling introducing her as my girlfriend.  As far as I’m concerned she is an autonomous being and although I’m not dating anyone else, I have no right to consider myself as monopolizing her affections; in fact I consider it a privilege to receive her attention at all.  And so my quest continues for a more effective verbal method of celebrating her as a significant person in my life without using labels that exert possessiveness and gender-binary assumptions about what it is to be in an intimate relationship.

Where Is the New Buffy?

11 Jul

by Amy Wiggington

It’s summer and there’s a lot of tv to watch. If you’re looking for something with a sci fi twist, you have a wide variety of options. Vampires, demons, and time-travel are all readily available.

Almost all of these shows, however, have a male lead or have an exclusively male main cast. Supernatural revolves around brothers Sam and Dean who, occasionally assisted by other male characters, fight- you guessed it- supernatural creatures. Women are often portrayed as helpless and/or victimized. In Doctor Who, the Doctor (always male) gallivants through space and time. He has many diverse adventures, but he’s generally just getting his female companions out of trouble. The deadly creatures in Being Human are male, while the woman in the trio is a ghost, literally invisible to ordinary humans.

The few shows on tv that do showcase a female lead tend to hyper-sexualize them. Elena of Vampire Diaries is pursued for her looks and the past, present, and future of her sexual relations are a main turning point of the show. Lost Girl Bo, while able to seriously kick some butt, is a succubus, putting her sexuality and sexual prowess at the forefront of the show. Her ability to dominate and overcome her foes comes directly from her sexual exploits. Other strong lead women who are not objectified and over-sexualized are surprisingly absent from sci-fi television.

This isn’t a problem in other genres. Sitcoms, law dramas, crime dramas, and soap operas all include shows that feature women in main or recurring roles that are depicted as cunning, witty, kind, cruel, nerdy, and/or funny. In many shows, women’s actions and personalities are valued over their overt sexuality, but this is not the case for today’s sci-fi shows.

This hasn’t always been the case either. The X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are powerhouse sci-fi shows with leading ladies that kick butt and take names. Melinda of Ghost Whisperer and the sisters of Charmed are also recent tv regulars in the sci-fi genre. It obviously isn’t impossible or even undesirable to keep women out of the front lines of the supernatural and fantastic. We just have to make it happen.

Open Letter to Principal McEvoy, in Regards to School Dress Code

9 Jul

This is a letter sent from two high school students, Sabina Young and Julie Ugoretz, to their principal in regards to their school’s dress code and its enforcement. 

Principal McEvoy,

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, writes, “There are still countries that deny women basic civil rights. Worldwide, about 4.4 million women and girls are trapped in the sex trade. In places like Afghanistan and Sudan, girls receive little or no education, wives are treated as property of their husbands, and women who are raped are routinely cast out of their homes for disgracing their families. Some rape victims are even sent to jail for committing a ‘moral crime.’ We are centuries ahead of the unacceptable treatment of women in these countries. But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.”

Though the education we have received at Millennium has been excellent, and though we are incredibly grateful to have the chance to learn in such an open and engaging environment, there are aspects of Millennium, especially its treatment of female students, which must change. In recent months, we have witnessed countless peers being shamed, humiliated, and embarrassed for the way they dress. Personally, we have been victims of this as well.

Teachers have cited the idea that a woman’s dress is “distracting” to peers, often solely male peers, many times. The first problem with this is that it is heteronormative. Not everyone at Millennium has the same sexual orientation. The administration should respect this.

The second problem is that this places total blame on the wearer of the clothing and no blame on the person actually being distracted. When we get dressed in the morning, we should not be expected to ask ourselves, “Could I turn someone on by wearing this?” The idea of this disgusts me. It is unfair to assume that the length of a girl’s dress is the source of these so called “distractions.” It is even more unfair to assume that the dress should be changed because of it. 28% of girls in college are sexually assaulted. Only 5% report the crime. Perhaps, this tragic disparity comes from the fact that these victims feel as though they deserved what they got. We are all well aware that this could not be farther from the truth, and yet Millennium’s administration portrays similar ideas.

The third issue with referring to dress as “distracting” is that it avoids a major issue. Perhaps, we should be talking to our female students about how to be powerful, successful and confident females in the face of a culture that often values physical attributes over knowledge. The broader problem is that there can be real-life benefits to wearing revealing clothing. Instead of ignoring this problem, let’s talk about it.

If we may, we’d like to share some personal examples of being publicly shamed for our dress by Millennium teachers. Once, I was told that boys would think I was dumb for dressing “the way I did.” Somehow, this was my fault. Another time, I overheard a teacher making a comment about a peer’s body type and how it influenced what clothing she had to wear. Somehow, this was her fault. I have seen peers sent home from school, forced to miss valuable instruction time, for a pair of shorts that were no shorter than my own. Somehow, this was her fault. These comments are made loudly, publicly and with very little respect. And yet, we have seen boys ogle, touch, and harass female students without consequence. Is this also the fault of the victims?

Let us be clear, we fully understand the need for a dress code and we are not advocating for a mere amendment. It’s not about wanting to wear spaghetti straps and mini-skirts. It’s about the emotional health and communal strength of the student body, both male and female. School is a place for learning and it should be treated that way. We are, however, arguing that there be a visible change in the way the dress code is approached and enforced. Shaming female students is not the way to do so. Perhaps, we should have broader conversations. Conversations about consent, safety, gender roles, rape culture, respect and honesty. Perhaps, you should have these same conversations with your administration. A harmful culture has taken root in Millennium. We encourage you to address it before your actions have broader consequences and take further tolls on the emotional health of the student body.

We are very lucky to have the rights we do. We are thankful for our educations, especially because it has taught us how to dream of a better future. This letter is the first part of that dream.

We only hope that our words do not fall on deaf ears.

Best wishes and thank you for your time,

Julie Ugoretz and Sabina Young



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I Was First Called a Slut at Age 13

8 Jul

by Kat Kelley

There are still moments, as I linger in front of the mirror for a few extra seconds,

Not quite sure what those high cheekbones or scarred knees have to do with that passion for healthcare policy or appetite for travel,

Or as I return home, heels in hand, and eyes on my toes, avoiding the gaze of families in pastels filing into the Holy Trinity Church on Sunday morning,

In which I still value myself, still derive my self-worth from my appearance and the value assigned to me by men.

And this, I do, because I was first called a slut at age 13.

They called me a slut, Chloe* and Morgan*, because I kissed a boy at a bonfire, amidst a game of a truth or dare. Chloe thought he was cute, and he kept up with the big kids at the skatepark, but I didn’t know of her crush. I just knew that he was in fact cute, and was in fact a talented skateboarder, and that I certainly wasn’t going to chicken out of truth or dare. They called me a slut and didn’t talk to me until backstage at the drama production, when Chloe and him entered into an intimate relationship of not acknowledging each other in the cafeteria, but staying up late at night on AOL instant messenger.

They called me a slut and I learned that women will just as soon impose double standards upon one another, just as soon slut shame as men. They called me a slut and I learned that “bros before hoes” meant something entirely different for women, that Morgan and Chloe would drop this “hoe” over envy of a “bro.”

They called me a “heartbreaker,” at age 8, as I leaned against my mother, tired from a day at the pool. “She’ll be a heartbreaker. And that one,” he grinned at my sister, “she’ll be a headbreaker.” At age 8, I already knew that I was the enviable one, deemed a conforming  heartbreaker, not an audacious headbreaker. My brother later teased me for my buck teeth, but I was a heartbreaker, and when his friend Ryan* said my freckles were cute, I nearly swooned.

They called me a heartbreaker, and I learned that my relationship with men, my image to men, even grown-ups, smiling down at me as if I were their own daughter, even professionals, briefcase in hand, would always be tainted by the value of beauty and the tragedy of uneven complexion, bad hair days, and the dreaded scale.

They called me a whore at age 14, and they institutionalized my title. A code word developed amongst our class, KIAW, which was shouted spontaneously in the hallways, mimicking the meow of a cat, for the last three weeks of eighth grade. Jake* and Mark*, whose prowess on the basketball court had propelled them to popularity,  hollered “KIAW” at me as I entered the classroom, or as I got onto the school bus. “That means they like you,” Hannah* said knowingly, but after a full day of signing yearbooks, I learned just what it really meant. ‘I’m real sorry,’ Jake looked down at his feet. “Kathleen Is A Whore, we thought it’d be funny, just between me and Jake, but then everyone started to say it.” Does everyone know what it means? I asked, holding my breath. “Yeahhhh,” eyes glued to his Vans, yes, each of these students with whom you’ve gone to school for the past 9 years, all think you are a whore.

They called me a whore, and I learned that my “sexual” history was infinitely more socially relevant and defining than the Valedictorian speech I gave that night, even though I quoted really smart people we had read about in History class and my teachers told my parents I had a lot of potential. They called me a whore because I snuck out of my parents house one night and met my high school boyfriend on the beach, and I wore spaghetti strapped tank tops, and I learned that the key to both enemies and admirers, and more importantly, attention as a woman, was not success but sex.

They called me a slut on an anonymous Facebook page, they counted my sexual exploits while singing the lyrics of their team’s traditional songs, they begged for stories during drinking games. Women joined in when they discovered my involvement with a romantic interest of theirs, and men dropped me as a “friend”  when I wasn’t DTF.

And so I still struggle to guard my self-worth from the influence of beauty and size, from who I’ve slept with, and who thinks I’m worth their time, because they first called me a slut at age 13, and they have yet to show me I’m worth anything more to them.


*All names have been changed.

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