Archive | September, 2013

Feminist Mulan

30 Sep

by Tucker Cholvin, re-posted from Tucker’s Blog 37th and O

Just imagine: since our birth, a major studio motion picture has been conspiring to inculcate the radical feminist agenda into our nation’s young people. It’s an animated feature, so it naturally appeals to children. It’s even a musical, for the love of God. With Donny Osmond. And at the same time, it’s pumping fringe feminist theory into our boys and girls like steroids into Alex Rodriguez. What evil plot could this be? Feminazis? Another assault in the Fox News-exposed War on Men?

Or could it be…Mulan?

Yes, friends, if Mulan is one thing, it is a work of feminism. Let me tell you why.

Right off the bat, Mulan encourages the idea that a woman can do all the work that a man can. Even the idea that a woman is entitled to do all the work a man does. The insanity! Consider Mulan as we meet her: helping her father to run the home and manage the estate. At the same time, she appears the ideal form of femininity: graceful, lithe, elegant. Nothing about Mulan’s appearance suggests that she has to be butch or masculine to do a man’s work, and do it well. She just does.

And then, about five minutes in, Mulan decides to blow patriarchy to hell. Consider this: in about the space of five minutes, Mulan gets literally struck by the government for speaking out (symbolism!), fails her appointment with the Matchmaker to make her entrance into society as a traditional debutante, and steals her father’s sword and armor to join the army. BAM. If that’s not the makings of a great experiment in gender theory, I don’t know what is.

And in Mulan, as in life, things only get interesting when the cross-dressing starts. Enter Drag-Mulan, dressed and working in society as a man, 24/7. If anyone has any problems with what this movie says about the potential role of women in society, I won’t start with the implications for transgender people. But Mulan definitely implies that women, and people in general, can dress however they want, work the jobs they like, and define their gender however they want and society will not collapse. In fact, the direct implication of Mulan seems to be that gender freedom and equality will prevent the collapse of society. Hopefully we can strive to be as advanced culturally as 10th century China.

The implications continue: When Mulan straps on the Big Golden Weight-Thingies and climbs the big ol’ Pole of Masculinity to get the Arrow of Toughness (or whatever), do you think that kids are led to believe that women should earn 70 cents on the dollar? When Mulan singlehandedly wins the battle in the mountains against the huns, is a woman’s place in the home? At the climax, when five of China’s greatest warriors put on dresses and save the country, do traditional gender roles really matter in the preservation of national greatness? I allow you to decide, dear reader.

Naturally, there are some criticisms that can be lobbed at Mulan. The song “A Girl Worth Fighting For” does not 100% avoid objectification of women. But hey, at least they’re trying to impress women and not get them drunk at parties. More seriously, it’s true that Mulan spends most of the film ‘passing’ as a woman and not acknowledging her true identity. But in the end, when she saves the country and is decorated by the Emperor? Definitely wearing a dress. Visible breasts. I think she’s alright.

There are a lot of movies, Disney or otherwise, that spend a lot of time, energy and money telling women and girls what they can do, and more often what they can’t do. Mulan tells girls that they can do whatever the hell they want, and win. That’s worth watching.

An Open Letter to Raylan Alleman

25 Sep

Dear Raylan Alleman,

Yes, I am in fact responding because I’m one of those pesky feminists that went off to college, forgetting my proper place as a woman. You wrote an article last week called “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College.” [n.b. I’m sure it’s been a while since you’ve been at college, but 6+2=8 and split infinitives are grammatically incorrect—just for future reference] Normally I ignore articles like yours, but somehow it’s gotten quite a bit of attention, so I thought I would take the time to respond and further advance “the feminist agenda.” I’ll try to use that masculine logic concept to examine your “practical wisdom.”

First, let’s look at the common objections to your argument that you presented.

  • You don’t believe in educating women. You assert that college and education have very little to do with each other, despite colleges being the bastions of higher education and the liberal arts—the foundation of a strong education. So we women can obviously just go to the library and learn what we could have learned in a classroom. I see. I’d like to ask if you’ve read Beowulf in old English on your own. Have you? I read it with a professor and had the opportunity to examine ways it’s been translated. That was great. Unfortunately, I can’t do that alone in the library. But I see now—that’s inappropriate for my gender. I should just study Catholic doctrine at home. It’s funny that I actually attend a Catholic university where I’ve taken classes that involved reading the Catechism, the Bible, and papal encyclicals—but I’m sure I would have gotten just as much out of them alone in my room without any sort of discussion. Plus, if I did opt for pre-professional training, that might convince me that I could try to have a career…what a shame.
  •  You believe in oppressing women. No, no, no—we’re clearly misconstruing the argument that a woman’s duty lies in her maternal and domestic duties, which don’t require “learning.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of admiration for those women who choose to have families, but to state that having a career is the work of evil feminists and Satan…are we really going to play the devil card this early? Let’s just allow society and our economic structure to collapse as we remove half the workforce so that “the terrorists devil doesn’t win!”
  • God calls women to use their talents. Of course these talents are limited to child rearing and homeschooling, and if one feels an aversion to children, she should be immediately directed toward the single life or that of a religious sister, which, by your standards, means she also has no appropriate talent. (Awkward…)
  • A woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled, or leaves her. Obviously in a world with high rates of violent crime, dangerous jobs, and fatal illnesses, death is incredibly unlikely. Becoming disabled is also clearly not a possibility for anyone who might be working a blue-collar “manly” job. And leaving a spouse? In a world where the divorce rate is near 50%? Crazy. Impossible! So remote! Just get that super affordable insurance… Plus, let’s just remind women that they throw their “COMPLETE trust and future on a man” because it’s always smart to become completely dependent on someone else.

So now, after suffering along through that superb display of logic, we get to the promised 6 8 points.

  1. She will attract the wrong types of men. Right. Education couldn’t possibly provide her with the foresight or maturity needed to avoid marrying a lazy man who doesn’t value her. No. The way to attract the “right type of man” is to have no college degree or work experience and go looking for someone who won’t let her work and insists she stay home, have children, then homeschool them while doing all the household tasks. I don’t know about anyone else, but support of the patriarchy is my favorite character trait in a man.
  2. She will be in a near occasion of sin. Now, I’m Catholic, so let’s look at it from a Catholic perspective. There’s no place we’ve ever seen living amid sin while resisting temptation as a positive life choice that actually teaches one how to be virtuous. In fact, we should probably condemn Jesus for spending those forty days and nights in the desert when he let the devil come tempt him day in and day out because living in a state of temptation is just wrong. And all those times he interacted with beggars and corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes? Those were mistakes. Clearly we shouldn’t learn anything from those stories, though we should make sure to take books like Leviticus at face value.
  3. She will not learn to be a wife and mother. “Nothing that is taught in a college curriculum is geared toward domestic homemaking.” For those who want to have a family, I’m sure there’s nothing helpful about the skills of multitasking or person-to-person interaction in different situations. Those pesky colleges just keep insisting on giving women skills for professional careers, tempting them to be manly and to have careers. And for those of us who don’t want children, giving us the ability to have a career is just double-temptation!
  4. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup. I’ll give you that, though I’m going to help advance your point even further by pointing out that even in those “masculine fields,” women make less than their male counterparts. Though, I’ll go so far as to say the cost of a degree is actually becoming crazy high for everyone. As an English major, I’ll almost give you this point. Luckily my husbandless, childless life will suit the salary of a barista quite well.
  5. You don’t have to prove anything to the world. I’ll admit, I think our society does assume everyone will go to college and we’ve devalued blue-collar work to an unacceptable level. However, I’m not at college to prove anything to the world. In fact, I don’t think most people are paying $60,000 per year to prove something to the world—that’s the most expensive way to win an argument ever. My economics class would also suggest that the cost-benefit analysis of that amount of debt to pride in having “shown the world up” shows one side to be far more rational. The reasons I’m in college have everything to do with preparing myself for future professional success, pursuing my academic passions, and making myself into a better person who can truly contribute to the world.
  6. It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents. Oh man, I’m an only child and my parents don’t pay for my education? You mean they chose to make an economically sound decision for them and they’re teaching me responsibility while I work and educate myself? I feel gypped…thanks a lot.
  7. She will regret it. Spot on, truly, spot on. Those feminists—they’ll get you every time! I let them talk me into packing my bags, heading down to our nation’s capital, and receiving a first-rate liberal arts education. I’ve read Shakespeare with renowned scholars, met Nancy Pelosi at President Obama’s speech, and made friends I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. If that’s not the definition of regret, I don’t know what is.
  8. It could interfere with a religious vocation. You’re so right. Those Jesuit ideals of discernment and introspection couldn’t possibly inspire anyone to consider what God might be calling them to do in life. And those IHM sisters who ran my high school and Immaculata University—well they were just preaching up the wrong tree.

Well, as wonderfully compelling as your logic has been, I have to remain adamant about being an “evil feminist.” I just cannot bring myself to refute the value of a college degree in my life. Your rhetoric was compelling and your reasoning flawless, yet somehow, I remain staunch in my choice to attend college. I remain staunch in my right to female independence, of my right to not marry or have children if I so choose, of my right to pursue a career in any field I see fit, of my right to have the tools and resources to function in an increasingly educated society, of my right to stand up and tell people like you, Mr. Alleman, that we will not be treated as distinctly “other” citizens, forced to fit neatly into the boxes you’ve carved out for us, left at home to be obedient and submissive to our husbands, and deprived of formative life experiences that have the potential to shape us into the best people we can be.


Emily Coccia

Queer Men Should Be Concerned About the Patriarchy

23 Sep

I have been a member of the queer community for most of my life and have been a vocal member now for some time. Though I may not participate that often by doing things like going to the LGBTQ resource center or volunteering at the HRC, I identify as a member of the queer community. I feel as if I have interacted with enough of my own community to point out some things that I have noticed.

The queer community is pretty great. It allows a voice for those who have been voiceless for generations. It provides a safe space for those who are otherwise ostracized, psychologically tormented, or physically abused. It allows people to interact with others who share their identifiers in a world filled with oppression.

However, the queer community is not perfect. Despite being a place that tends to question and blur gender, there are many aspects of the queer community that enforce gender very heavily. For example, I have heard in safe spaces like queer clubs, “I’m gay, boobs are gross, so why are those girls wearing clothes that show them off?”

Unless these girls are completely oblivious and did not notice the drag show that was occuring, I’m pretty sure they were fully aware of the clientele of the establishment. And because they are aware of the clientele, they are aware that you are not interested in them sexually. I know it’s difficult to understand, and it has been stated by many feminists many times, but there is a possibility that the women dressed that way for themselves and not for male attention. If they were going to a queer club, they in fact probably want no male attention. In fact, they may have dressed that way to get female attention. Just because you are male and they are female does not mean that they dressed themselves sexually for you.

I understand that straight people in your safe space are annoying. People don’t go to a place heavily populated by queer people to meet straight people. Fetishization of a community should not be tolerated.At the same time, you cannot disregard allies. Allies are still members of the queer community and if an ally is not helping but wants to, then tell them how to help. Pushing ignorant people out of your life will not end ignorance.

Another thing I have heard from several men in the queer community is that they don’t care about feminism because they are not women and it does not affect them. But feminism isn’t a “woman issue,” it’s a gender issue. Self-identifying men, I know it’s crazy, but you are a member of society, so therefore you have a gender. What’s ridiculous is that I have heard these same people use the argument: “Don’t ask me who the woman is in this relationship because we’re both men.” Is that argument not about gender? Does this argument not identify the problems with traditional gender roles in society? There is no woman in this relationship because it is not a heteronormative relationship. If you use that argument then you are a feminist because you are concerned with the destruction of the patriarchy.

Gay men, just because you are attracted to men does not mean that women are inferior. Just because you are not interested in women sexually does not mean that you should disregard them or their struggles. Just because you do not want to have sex with women does not mean you are allowed to touch a woman without her consent. Based on your sexual orientation, you defy your gender role. If you want equality in the world, you need to help feminists in dismantling the patriarchy. It is the patriarchy, not allies, that are oppressing you.

Fabulous Feminist Fridays: Favorite Feminist Moment in History?

20 Sep

In honor of Fabulous Feminist Fridays, we present responses to the question: What is your favorite feminist moment in history?

Tucker Cholvin: Despite its status as a work of fiction, the scene in Mary Poppins where the mother marshals the household staff around the house to suffragette anthems remains the zenith of the feminist movement for me. I think that big-ass hats with birds and flowers and shit on them are what’s really missing from the modern feminist movement. A sunglasses-wearing Hillary Clinton texting on a C-17 remains a close second.

Kayla Corcoran: 1920 was a historic moment for women in the United States, especially because the government finally got with the times (way overdue) and gave women the right to vote by passing the Nineteenth Amendment. 1920 isn’t my favorite feminist moment in history because of the voting rights it allows me, but because of Charlotte Woodward. Woodward herself never voted, but she was the only woman present at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 who lived to see the Amendment pass. She was 91 years old.

I see this moment as a tremendous example for the long-reaching effects of not just feminism, but of social justice efforts. Out of the sixty-eight women who signed the Declaration in 1848, only one lived to see the results of her work. One.

But one is all it takes to keep the fight going.

Fighting Rape Culture is a Healthy Part of Capitalism

18 Sep

by Kat Kelley

Whenever some high profile figure makes an insensitive comment about sexual violence- whether it be the dismissive “legitimate rape” of former Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), Daniel Tosh’s rape joke in which he targeted a specific audience member, or a lyric off of Kanye West’s Yeezus, the blogosphere erupts with related content.

However, despite the proliferation of tweets and blogs, there is rarely any actual dialogue. In the case of sexual violence, self-identified feminists read, write, and share content discussing rape culture, while the rape apologists and freedom fighters of the internet read, write, and share content highlighting the ‘rights’ of comedians, DJs, musicians, et al. to offend whomever they damn well please.

While it is quite American to value individual rights above all, including the betterment of society or the wellbeing of other individuals, it is a wholly irrelevant argument. As far as I’m aware, no (well-respected) thought leader has ever called on Congress to make rape jokes, lyrics, or commentary illegal. No one is calling for government censorship. Rather, these journalists, bloggers, or anyone with a social media account, are just acting as socially conscious consumers. They are just playing their role in the machine that is capitalism.

We are all consumers. Corporations are constantly making money off of us, and not just when we purchase an album or tickets to a show. Every time you log into Facebook, read an article online, or listen to the radio, someone is paying for advertisement space.

Thus, while comedians certainly have the ‘right’ to tell a rape joke, as a consumer of their product, you have the ‘right’ to your opinion of the joke, and providing consumer feedback is a healthy part of capitalism.

As consumers, we have the power. A public figure has the ‘right’ to brand themselves as they choose, but they are not exempt from the consequences. It is their prerogative to decide whether to appease or forfeit their consumers. However, it is not just the public figure who must be aware of their brand. Media outlets, concert halls or comedy clubs, record companies, and advertisers have brands to be conscious of as well, and it is their prerogative whether or not they want to be responsible for at worst, promoting, and at best, tolerating, rape culture.


Want to hear more? You can find Kat Kelley’s piece “Why Rape Jokes Are Never Funny” here.

Hey, Pretty Girl, I’m a Sexist Lover

12 Sep

by Kayla Corcoran

“You can bet you make this ol’ boy’s day, hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way,” Kip Moore croons out of my headphones, singing about the “long and winding ride” of life with his “pretty girl.” Moore advises us in his chorus that during this ride, you “better have the right one by your side” because “time moves faster than you think.”

Over the course of the song, Moore spots a “pretty girl” at a bar somewhere and flashes forward through their entire life together, right from the first dance to the day he dies (yes, this moment in the song is just as morbid as you’re imagining it to be). This “long and winding road” is full of defining moments: bringing the “pretty girl” home to meet his momma, buying a house, having a baby, etc. The only thing that remains stable in the life that Moore constructs for him and the girl is her prettiness—over the course of three and a half minutes, Moore sings the phrase “pretty girl” fourteen times.

The song might be titled “Hey Pretty Girl,” but there’s something else going on here that deserves to be noticed: yes, pretty girl, you guessed it—sexism!

There’s no denying that Moore employs the phrase “hey pretty girl” to appeal to all women. After all, had he chosen to sing, “Hey Amanda, won’t you look my way?” only women named Amanda could imagine “build[ing] some dreams” with Kip Moore. The vagueness allows Moore to pursue individual connections with each of his listeners, and you might even find yourself thinking, “Yeah, cool, I could be that pretty girl. I like apple trees.

You don’t want to be that girl. Here’s why:

“Pretty” is pretty much the only characteristic that Moore attributes to this woman.  This woman, apparently, who does nothing on her own except to give birth to their baby, for which Moore gives her his highest praise: “Hey pretty girl, you did so good.” That woman just gave birth to your child, Kip! Might you want to try being a little less patronizing? Not even in the moment of childbirth is Moore’s love referred to as a “woman.”

The only time the woman is referred to as anything other than a “pretty girl” is during the last stanza—the moment of death that I mentioned earlier. “Hey pretty girl, when I see the light, and it’s my time to go, I’ll thank the Lord for a real good life, a pretty little girl and a beautiful wife.” In the culmination of this song, the “pretty girl” goes from being a “pretty girl” to “a beautiful wife.” What a move!

The woman in this song is presented only as two things: a girl and a wife.  There is nothing wrong with the life choices presented in this song, and there is certainly no reason to say that this woman is unaccomplished because there’s no mention of a career. The problem is that this woman is presented as so one-dimensional that she has no interests or talents other than being pretty, falling in love with Kip Moore, and having his baby. Come on, Kip, give your fictional wife some credit. She must have hobbies.

Moore’s not the only country artist to invoke seriously problematic gender stereotypes in his songs. People often complain about rap music’s objectification of women, but I see an equally disturbing image of womanhood presented in country music.

Here’s a quick catalog of my favorite sexist lyrics in my favorite country songs:

  • “Back down a country road, the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold.” I see what you did there, Jake Owen. Clever juxtaposition of temperatures between girls and alcoholic beverages. Women love nothing more than to be compared to inanimate objects.
  • “Crazy girl, don’t you know that I love you?… Silly woman, come here, let me hold you. Have I told you lately? I love you like crazy, girl.” I’m not sure, Eli Young Band, why she doesn’t know that you love her. Maybe it’s because you repeatedly call her crazy and silly? Let me know how that works out for you. Don’t even get me started about how this music video exploits the very serious issue of mental illness.
  • “All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out, out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat.” Aside from the fact that “row, row my boat” is a terrible euphemism for who-knows-what, I really like the part when Luke Bryan disses all those other guys for having no idea what this girl wants, only to make his own assumptions about what she desires based on not talking to her even a little bit. The whole song is actually a clever exercise in Luke Bryan convincing the girl that she wants what he wants. Bravo, friend!
  • “Hey girl, what’s your name girl, I’ve been lookin’ at you, and every guy here’s doin’ the same girl…I know you don’t know me but I can’t leave here lonely.” Hey, Billy Currington, next time you try to pick up a girl at a bar, you might want to start by not insinuating that you’re not taking no for an answer when you ask her to go home with you. She does have to say “yes,” you know.
  • “And all the angels up in Heaven started singing, ‘All it’s missing is a pretty thing,’… let there be cowgirls for every cowboy.”  Obviously Chris Cagle and I have different interpretations of the Old Testament, but the suggestion here that women’s sole reason for existence is so that every cowboy can have a cowgirl is blatantly offensive. Kip Moore’s over here like, “At least I referred to her as a ‘girl’ and not a ‘thing’!”

It’s an old joke that you get a lot of things back when you play a country music song backwards: according to Rascal Flatts, “Ya get your house back, ya get your dog back, ya get your best friend Jack back…” and so on. I’m beginning to think that we should add “female agency” to that list, since it seems to keep disappearing in a lot of these songs.

Of course, all generalizations have plenty of exceptions. There are country music artists, both men and women, whose songs don’t fall into a misogynistic trap of what women are supposed to look like or how they are supposed to act. My fear is that there’s a perception that country music as a genre is somehow more “wholesome” or “nicer” than other types of music, when that’s not always the case.

How Should a Feminist React to Miley Cyrus?

10 Sep

by Johan Clarke

This past summer has seen Miley Cyrus fall into infamy as she tries to pull herself away from her clean image and give herself a new identity. In our Madonna-whore complex obsessed world, this is incredibly difficult for a woman, especially a child star. The question is: has Miley crossed a line this summer or are we as a society just enforcing the patriarchy?

I had problems with her music video for “We Can’t Stop,” but not because of her sexual energy or the weird direction that the music video took. I am fine with someone trying something new, and if Miley wants to go up there and show off her body, we as a society have no right to tell her otherwise. It is her body, and she can do what she likes with it. Society sexualizes her body. Just because she wants to wear less clothing when she dances does not mean she is a slut, though there is nothing wrong with her having as much sex as she wants.

No, my problem with that music video is her cultural appropriation. Amy LaCount put it very well in her article when she said to Miley, “you grew up steeped in white privilege; with your father’s name, you’ve been wealthy your entire life. Because your simultaneous appropriation and stereotypying of black culture is harmful and oppressive. You can twerk and pretend to be ‘ratchet’ but it only lasts for the three minutes and 34 seconds that you’re on screen, and then you can take it all off and live life as the privileged white girl that you are. Other people of color can’t do that. They have to deal with the awful stereotypes, the racism, the discrimination that comes attached to their non-whiteness.” Miley is using this dance not to promote a part of her culture but to “rebel,” which garners much attention and therefore more money. She is selling out something she has no right to sell out because it does not belong to her.

Now Miley has come out with another music video for her latest song “Wrecking Ball,” which is a lot less racist but possibly more risqué. The music video begins with a close-up of just her face and a tear rolling down her cheek, setting the tone for the rest of the video. The song is very personal and about heartbreak, which is even sadder when you think about the constant torment she must get from America’s obsession with knowing everything about celebrities. For her, she does not get to grieve any loss by herself. Her tragedy simultaneously becomes a show that she must tip-toe through as the entire world watches, waiting for any “mistakes”.

This could explain why by the end of the first minute we see her swinging on a giant wrecking ball completely naked. Male sex organ symbolism aside (we will discuss that soon enough), Miley’s naked body could symbolize her nakedness in front of the American public. Any time she has suffered heartbreak, she has had to do it with everyone watching her. Not to mention, in this video, Miley shows off her tan lines, her creases, her tummy, her everything. Nothing seems overtly airbrushed as Miley only hides her nipples and her shoes (she oddly wears a large pair of boots, possibly to protect her feet from the large piles of cement). Her body, like her private life, is out there for your consumption. As I stated earlier, if Miley wants to show off her body, it is her body to show off, not society’s. She can do with it as she likes, and it is not society’s job to sexualize it or demean it.

However, the overt phallic images in this video cannot be ignored. In between nude shots of her hanging from a giant ball, she licks the head of a sledge hammer, something that seems incredibly out of place for a song about heartbreak. If Miley were trying to show her sadness like she was at the beginning of the video, then why does she now sensuously lick the end of a dirty tool? Terry Richardson, the director of the video, has faced much controversy in the past with things like this, notably in his GQ photoshoot with one clothed male and two scantily clothed females from Glee.  Could this be a continuation in his misogyny? It does fit with the aesthetic of many of his other works.

Could the fact that this was filmed by a notorious sexist and not by someone trying to promote female positivity hinder its power? Should Miley be allowed to portray her sexuality, empowering white women while not allowing a dialogue for the unfair sexualization and fetishization of women of color who would be scorned much more severely? If Miley fits into the westernized ideal for beauty, will this video harm notions of body positivity and enforce more fat shaming?

This video highlights the difficulties of what it means to be a feminist in this day and age. It is hard to make an opinion and stick to it when there are so many sides and so many different ways to be a woman. At this point in time, there is no right answer, and there may never be a right answer. There is no right way as a feminist to respond to Miley’s sudden character change. The only thing we can do is to start a discussion about it.

Learning to Own My Trauma

9 Sep

by Kat Kelley

**Trigger Warning**

It has taken me one year to write this.

I write all of the time. I open Untitled google docs, I scribble in the margins of everything from syllabi to take-out menus, I have countless notebooks and post-its (digital and print), I write and write as my mind threatens explosion. My head races and if I don’t write, it circles the track, lap after lap, thoughts and musings, demanding that I reflect, express, and act.

Yet, it has taken me one year to write this.

First, I entered a period of denial. I flourished in denial. I looked back on my summer in India fondly. I remembered the curried shrimp of Goa, teaching Ubuntu-At-Work’s female employees to use a power saw, clambering atop an elephant in Mysore.

But then there was the man who told me I was beautiful and asked me for change every single time I entered the CVS on Dupont Circle. And for a second I would cringe, but I was in power now. I was in power, here, in my city. My blazer, my Georgetown education, my assured and effortless gait gave me power over this homeless man. I did not have to give him change. And he certainly did not get to call me beautiful.

I did this so many times, it became routine. Until one day I realized that every time I walked into that CVS I was in survival mode. I was tense. I was not engaging. I became cold to a homeless man, merely because he called me beautiful. I became cold to a beggar, merely because I was triggered. I used classism and my confident stride to assert my power over a homeless man because he had the audacity to call me beautiful.

No, I am not a survivor, I told myself. I am not a survivor. A survivor is someone who experiences, well, realsexual assault. I catch myself again. This is absurd. All sexual assault is real. And in working with survivors of sexual assault, I frequently aim to validate their emotions, remind them that what they experienced is realsexual assault, and that their reactions are normal, perfectly acceptable.

No, I am not a survivor, I told myself. Survivors must self-identify as such. Survivors have had their power taken away from them, their control, their bodily autonomy.

But my power was taken from me. Time and again. The male gaze, my god. For 10 weeks I felt unsafe, objectified, sexualized. I felt the stares, the leers, I felt nearly every man in my path take my power away from me. He knew, that in his culture, he was entitled to my body. He was entitled to look, to enjoy, to imagine. He had the power, and no matter how I did or did not respond, he still had the power.

My power was taken from me on a bus. When the man next to me slyly stuck his hand down my dress. He cupped my breasts and when I told him to remove his hand, he informed me, “It is okay. I do this. No problem,” in punctuated, broken english. And I pushed his hand away, as his other hand found its way onto my thigh and I pleaded with him to leave me alone. I pleaded until I could take no more. I stood up, and climbed over him, cursing myself for choosing the window seat. I felt his hands attempt to explore further as I climbed over him, and I stood in the aisle, where I had to inch away, through the crowded aisle, from another set of wandering hands.

My power was taken from me by a child. He was maybe 7 or 8. He showed me his homework. This boy was learning English in school, and he showed me his neat cursive. I smiled broadly, signaling that I was impressed, despite the language barrier. He noticed my necklace and touched it lightly, murmuring “ahni” or “elephant.” His hand moved from my elephant pendant down my shirt, and lightly squeezed. I stood up abruptly and shouted at him. He stared blankly and I pointed at the door, he ran to the door, feigning confusion, but then he leered, that leer I had yet to see on such a young face, as he walked through the door frame. He was merely 7 or 8, and yet for a moment, just for a moment, he challenged my bodily autonomy, he took my power from me. He knew, at the age of just 7 or 8, that his Y chromosome gave him an irrefutable power over me.

My power was taken from me, just like this, countless times every day, every week. Hands, stares, caresses, squeezes, all inescapable.

Yet, I was not a survivor. No. What happened to me was not sexual assault.

If everyone woman who was groped, who felt fingers slide deep down their pants, who were held up against a wall, were all survivors of sexual assault, then literally 100% of women would be survivors.

One in four women experience sexual assault. It seems that statistic is a bit limited in scope.

I could not own what happened to me.

I could not admit that someone had taken my power from me. I could not acknowledge my loss of power because I was afraid. I was afraid- not of another hand, another caress, but of myself. I was afraid, because in acknowledging the countless experiences of sexual harassment and assault that I had experienced, I had to admit that I was not always in control.

And I was afraid of my own judgement, my own disgust with this rampant aspect of Indian life. Was I racist? Was I judgmental? Maybe I just needed a good dose of cultural relativism. I was so used to telling myself to see things in the context of their own culture, to not passing judgement upon another culture, that I was unwilling to call my experiences what they were: sexual harassment and assault.

It has taken me one year to write this. I write this on a plane to Manila, as I swallow an itsy white anti-anxiety pill. I feel my chest grow taut, I feel like there is something pushing on my chest. I feel the panic coming on, as it has ebbed and flowed over the past week. The pill is so tiny that I imagine it sliding straight into my stomach, but I know it will take at least 30 minutes to help. I breathe slowly, staving off hyperventilation.

And I am forced to acknowledge my trauma.

I breathe slowly and remind myself I am not returning to India.

The land of nearly one billion people- who am I to feel traumatized? Who am I to feel so terrified and disgusted?

My assault, my harassment, my trauma and yet I feel guilty.

The Philippines is not India, I remind myself. You love traveling, you love exploration, you love being challenged as you discover new landscapes, new cultures.

And yet it seems that everything threatens to trigger my trauma, my fear, my loss of power and control.


To hear more from Kat Kelley while she’s abroad, visit Reclaiming Vagabond.