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Got 99 problems and one-percent feminism is all of them

24 Apr

This post originally appeared in the Georgetown Voice.

by Erin Riordan

On April 12, Georgetown University’s Women in Leadership hosted their inaugural Own It Summit. Tickets for the event sold out within 24 hours, hundreds of students and community members attended and a host of impressive speakers participated in panels and workshops. Despite these remarkable achievements, I would not call the Own It Summit a complete success. While this event certainly did empower female leaders, it also left out a significant number of voices in promoting a narrow view of what kind of woman we talk about when we discuss female leadership and success.

It needs to be acknowledged that this event had several barriers to entry that prevented the summit from being accessible to everyone. The $20 entry fee was an economic barrier for many lower-income students and women, and while there were scholarships offered, it is still likely that this fee was a deterrent for some. The entry fee also sent the message, whether intentional or otherwise, that this was an event for women with the means to pay an entrance fee.

The racial makeup of both the event organizers and panelists was also strongly biased towards the perspectives of white women. While women of color did participate, eight of the ten student organizers were white, and 17 out of the 24 panelists were white. It is possible that the event planners made a conscious effort to include a diverse array of voices, but when a space is so dominated by the perspectives of white women, it reinforces the larger structural dynamic that white voices matter more than voices of color.

These dynamics of race and class impacted the perception of the event, as well as those who felt comfortable attending and participating. I spoke with many friends who decided not to attend the summit because they felt their voices and perspectives would not be adequately represented. One friend, who did attend, left after the first hour, saying, “I didn’t feel that a lot of the topics I engage with when I talk about feminism, like class struggles that affect women, labor rights, and race in particular, were being addressed at all.” She went on to say, ”I sensed that the conference would be talking about your more typical ‘Lean In’ and one-percent feminism, which in my opinion is inherently oppressive and exclusive of the large percentage of women who really do need to be talked about when we talk about gender discrimination.” “One-percent feminism” is generally defined as feminism that focuses mainly on the needs of white, socioeconomically privileged women pursuing more traditional kinds of success.

Any event on campus that aims to further women’s leadership and empowerment needs to better represent the voices of all women. While I am a white woman, racism and racial politics in the workplace matter to me because dismantling racism and supporting my fellow women matters to me. An optional session during the summit on “Women of Color” is not sufficient because everyone should hear the voices of women of color, not just the few who choose to listen.

Similarly, focusing on traditional ideas of high-powered success is not sufficient, as it does not include or acknowledge the realities and struggles of working class and poor women. In the fight for gender justice we cannot just be concerned with the struggles of women who occupy space within mainstream, socioeconomically privileged feminism. Fighting for a national living wage and fair conditions in the workplace is as important to me as fighting for my own fair pay, and that should be reflected in all feminist spaces.

Transwomen also need to be engaged in these conversations, as they face unique struggles in the workplace that should be of concern to every person who claims to support the empowerment of women. Any event that supports women’s leadership needs to include the varied perspectives of women of color, poor and working class women, transwomen, and all the other women whose voices were not heard or adequately represented by the Own It Summit. Without these voices, our movement will only support women who are already privileged in many other areas of their lives. To achieve true justice and support all women, we need to engage and listen to voices that the GUWIL Own It Summit did not represent.

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Queera Personalis: My Journey From Rejection to Reconciliation to Celebration

9 Oct

by Thomas Lloyd

The last few months have been a whirlwind for the LGBTQ community at Georgetown.

We elected our first openly gay student body president and had our LGBTQ history pushed in to the spotlight by outlets like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and my personal favorite, The Cardinal Newman Society Blog. Those who oppose our advance deride our community as Catholics and Catholic institutions abandoning their values.

I’ve had to answer the same question in dozens of conversations: how has this change come about despite Catholic doctrine?

Having been at Georgetown for over two years now, and having been a gay Catholic my whole life, my answer is simple: It doesn’t. Advancement of LGBTQ issues is critical to the fulfillment of the Catholic mission. These changes are necessary because of Catholic doctrine.

I’ve made this argument before, citing Catholic social teaching, the catechism of the Church, and (unsurprisingly) the Jesuit concept of Cura Peronalis.

But to be honest, I formulated those arguments well after I had made up my mind on how Catholic doctrine fits in with the LGBTQ rights movement. The real game changer for me is my experience. In a way, this is the ultimate form of Catholic argument. As the Universal Church, Catholicism is ultimately about its people and their stories. So for this Coming Out Week, rather than rehash theological arguments I’ve made here and here, I’m going to out myself again, but by sharing my personal faith journey.

Growing up, before I knew that my limp wrist and love of offering my aunt fashion advice meant that I’d be labeled “gay” or “homosexual” (or anything “sexual” for that matter), I never thought that what made me “different” would somehow negatively affect my relationship with God or with the Church. My high voice and flair for the dramatics actually made me an asset at many a church basement musical production of Jesus Christ: A Life (no Jesus since has been able to give Judas the appropriate one-eyebrow raise during the last supper scene).

The Church was the way I connected to my neighborhood. I never went to school near my house. So I made local friends through Sunday school. I joined our boy scouts chapter (however briefly) and taught Sunday school for years. My supervisor, a nun who I affectionately referred to as Sister Gene the Dancing Machine (in a reference to the campy 80’s Gong Show) seemingly embraced my “unconventional” personality.

It wasn’t until I was at the most vulnerable moment in my life that the Church became an “obstacle” to be “overcome”. In high school, my gay mental dam of cognitive dissonance began to break down. My heterosexual identity, built up by years of bullying and abuse from other students, was crumbling under the weight of my real sexual orientation. I starting to think that I might just be “gay,” or that thing that I’d denied being for years because people laughed at me, excluded me, and fought with me.

These conversations with myself about my identity were conducted in the deepest segments of my person. I could feel them as series of tugs in my chest, right next to where I had (usually joyful and joking) conversations with God. There, in my most private and sacred space, I never felt a tension from God related to my identity. If anything, God was a central player in that discussion. I remember the first night that I asked God to change me, to hide the thing that made me a target. I lay awake and silently begged as my eyes burned up. But I never thought God disapproved, just that a bunch of assholes did. God was on my side, right?

Unfortunately, at the same time that I grew increasingly conscious of my sexuality, I also grew increasingly aware of the American political attitudes towards gay people. The debates over LGBT issues were, and still are, imbued with religious arguments against the acceptance or inclusion of gays and lesbians, with almost no religious (let alone Catholic) voices on the other side. Even more unfortunately, the increasingly insecure and paranoid closeted me was very prone to internalize those voices. These included voices of my family members, whose political discussions I began to understand more. I let them pollute my personal and longstanding relationship with my faith.

I would go through what was a painful coming out process, thinking that I couldn’t lean on the support system that had given me community, confidence, and meaning. Further, I was afraid to engage some individuals closest to me because of their association with that same community. At first, this just made me anti-social. But becoming more and more alone in ever-more profound ways led me to moments where I considered and planned suicide.

It was with the support of very loving (and sometimes pushy) friends and teachers that I emerged from my coming out process unscathed. By the time I felt comfortable to come out to my parents and school, I had all but given up on trying to bring together my LGBTQ and Catholic identities. In the same way that I lived with a mental wall between my “heterosexual identity” and obvious homosexual orientation, I erected a new wall between my values and my private life. For some, this could prove dangerous. (un)Luckily for me, I was high school debater with acne, so this didn’t become a concern.

I would go on for years with a simple answer to “How can you be gay and Catholic?”  I would answer with a pithy cop-out, “The Church is about more than sexual orientation.”

At Georgetown, the Jesuit education lived up to its reputation and called me out on my bullshit. My (at the time) conservative roommate lived up to his political affiliation, ordering me to tear down the wall between my identities and engage the questions I had effectively been postponing. There was no getting around the fact that if I wanted to keep identifying as Catholic, I had better get a damn good reason. After all, I would be engaging my orientation (and others’ orientations…) with an octogenarian Priest down the hall.

My reason came as I started to re-understand Catholicism in the way I had as a child: as a sum of individuals from all backgrounds, working together to achieve spiritual fulfillment and salvation by living a life of service, advocacy, and love, just as Christ did. I was a part of that equation, as are a whole host of queers, commies, radicals, republicans, democrats, feminists, NRA members, whatever, even if I had been told for years that we all fell on opposing “sides.”

How did I come back to this understanding? Simply by engaging all of those people that truly make the Catholic Church Universal. Was the Jesuit who told me masturbation made one not a virgin more Catholic than the one who affectionately nicknamed me “a wonderfully irksome shit” because of my work with Pride? Are the ministers behind Love Saxa more Catholic than those who show up at the LGBTQ Resource Center open house or who run the LGBTQ prayer group? Who is anyone, any human being, to answer these questions?

When one lives in a Universal Church, it becomes impossible to view someone’s unchangeable and loving identity as disordered.  It’s impossible to think that there is one ideal Catholic, or any set of absolutes that can apply to a universal institution. Its impossible to do anything but CELEBRATE the fact that such diversity exists.

To those that disagree, say an alum who graduated 10, 20, 30 or more years ago (Hi, William Blatty, Class of 1950!), I have this to say:

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students no longer live in the same fear of being the victims of hate crimes when walking to their dorms.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students needn’t feel like their faith tradition is against them.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because through being more welcoming, our community saves more students from self-harm.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because we are finally “universal” enough to encourage multiple trans* students to make themselves visible.

Georgetown is more Catholic today than ever before because LGBTQ students, with or without faith traditions, have made this university truer to its Jesuit commitment to community in diversity, to social justice, and to Universality.

In the same way that I stopped letting those who didn’t understand the LGBTQ experience pollute my relationship with God, I refuse to let similarly antiquated beliefs taint the conversation of what makes us a Catholic University.

I am gay and I am Catholic. Accepting my identity enabled me to be more Catholic. My University is Catholic, and it is only becoming more LGBTQ-friendly, making it all the more Catholic. This is more than acceptable—this is our motto: Utraque Unum.

An Open Letter to Todd Olson, Georgetown Vice President for Student Affairs

2 Oct

Dear Dr. Olson,

On September 19, 2013, The Georgetown Voice featured an article about LGBT+ life here at Georgetown University. The feature did a great job of contextualizing the experiences of queer Hoyas, but I was stopped in my tracks when I reached your statement.

“Todd Olson, Vice President for Student Affairs, articulates that in dealing with gender identity, the University stands firm on its view of gender as binary. ‘There is an emerging view that gender identity is sort of something you play with. I think that it is quite a different view than the Catholic view of identity and of human sexuality.’

There are many words to describe this statement: binarism, cissexism, gender essentialism. These are all descriptions of the idea that gender and sex must exist in certain ways, and describe the social structures that reward and punish people accordingly. All of these descriptions are specific types of oppression, and your statement, along with current Georgetown policies, is oppressive.

Gender is certainly something people can and do play with. Some days I wear makeup, some days I don’t. Some days I shave my legs but not my face. Some days I cry, some days I am affectionate, some days I feel particularly athletic. I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who were accepting of how I expressed my gender. I would often wear dresses, I played soccer on the girls’ team at recess, I cried often. My parents themselves modeled how our lives need not be defined in strict gendered terms: my dad usually cooks and washes dishes; my mom throws a football better than I can. They both tell me they love me anytime I call or Skype. It was honestly not until I came to Georgetown that I realized that I was differently gendered than other people—and that this was somehow wrong. Here on the Hilltop I am constantly confronted by others’ incorrect perceptions of me: that I am a man, that I am wealthy or at least middle class, that I am Catholic, that I am (hetero)sexual, that I am completely healthy and neurotypical. With each of these assumptions comes a sort of privilege, but I am still systematically oppressed.

You see, the thing about gender is that it’s not just all about fun. One can certainly play with gender, but oppression of any sort—including that based on gender—is not a playful matter. In an incredibly visible example, DC has one of the highest rates of violence in the country against trans* folk. While I sincerely doubt you have been out committing hate crimes in your spare time, your statement reflects the fact that there is a general ignorance around trans* and non-binary issues.

How could I not expect you to be ignorant though? I doubt you have ever experienced terror at having to use a public restroom. I doubt you ever have existential crises when you wake up because you can’t stand to gender yourself every morning. I doubt you’ve ever had people openly scowl at you or yell slurs like “tranny” or “faggot.” I doubt you’ve ever been discriminated against by your physician based on your gender. I doubt your sexual education—no matter what form it took—was completely irrelevant to your body and your desires. I doubt people ask you “what” you are before they even know your name. I doubt that people ever use the wrong pronouns to describe you, and especially that you have ever been called an “it.” I doubt your emotional wellbeing has been seriously impacted by body dysmorphia. I doubt any of your ID’s are inaccurate, and that you are prevented from correcting them. I doubt you have ever experienced any sort of violence from family, friends, or relatives based on your gender.

These are all real problems that trans* and gender-nonconforming people face. This is not to say that every trans*/gender-nonconforming person experiences these things, nor that you or other cisgender people necessarily haven’t. However, on a systematic level, these are problems that I and others confront on a regular basis. When you write off issues of binarism as “play,” you are merely perpetuating this oppression. Now, I don’t think that you are a horrible person—far from—nor that you mean any malice. In fact, it may even be that you despise binarism, but due to the politics of your office you are forced into certain positions. Regardless, it is unacceptable to allow this binarism to endure.

You may claim that I am scapegoating you, and this is more than fair. Your statement was not necessarily personal, but it did illuminate Georgetown’s institutional position and American culture at large. I am not asking you to immediately grant gender-neutral housing, as you seem to fear, but I demand that at the very least you stop actively oppressing us. There are both cultural and policy changes to be made here at Georgetown (and nationally), and you have the ability to aid in both. By definition, I am not a “Woman or Man for Others,” but you can choose to be a man for others—all others, not just cismen and ciswomen. I sincerely hope that your ears and mind and heart are open, because my voice will not be silenced until these issues of oppression have been addressed. I know that there is only so much you can do as an individual, but I am more than happy to work alongside you to improve Georgetown and work for our collective liberation.

Sincerely,

J Capecchi

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.

“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.

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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Career Advice for College Women

28 May

by Alissa Orlando 

There’s a major deficit of career advice for college women.  There are plenty of quality resources like the Daily Muse and 40:20 Vision for recent grads and young professional women.  But the most popularized piece of advice to college women, even at a place like Princeton, is to find a good husband before graduating.  So as I move onto the next chapter of my life, I want to share some advice with the incredibly talented young women of Georgetown:

1)   Establish a “central theme” and support it with diverse experiences

When someone asks you “tell me about yourself” (an introductory question in many interviews) you should be able to give a succinct answer.  Your activities should be tied together by a central theme rooted in a sincere passion.  For examples of people who have effectively explored their “central passions,” check out the profiles of Rhodes and Marshall scholars (and note the gender disparity especially for the Marshall).

A mistake that I see a lot of young college women making is having their personal brand be too broad.  “Economic development in Africa” is too broad.  “China” is too broad.  Another problem that I see is that people will claim to be passionate/ knowledgeable about a topic that they have no formal experience in.  You cannot claim to be an education policy expert if you have never worked in a school or on education policy.  Tutoring with DC Reads or DC Schools is not enough. You need a variety of meaningful and diverse experiences for this theme to be convincing.

For the majority of my undergraduate experience, my “central theme” was financial access and literacy, which borders on being too broad.    I worked at a large international microfinance NGO in DC, interned at a locally-run microfinance institution in Tanzania, coordinated the youth delegation to the Global Microcredit Summit, and managed a student-run microfinance institution for low-income DC small business owners.  By the time I entered consulting interviews, I could convincingly say that I was passionate about financial inclusion, which made me a memorable and competitive candidate.   Other examples of young women who have done this well include Joanna Foote (SFS ’13) with immigration and Emily Oehlsen (SFS ’13) with labor economics.

2)   Tell everyone you know what you care about

After you think long and hard about what your central theme will be, tell EVERYONE you know.  Drop it to your professors during office hours.  Mention it to your friends when dining at Leo’s.  Post articles about the topic on Facebook.  Be honest about what you’re looking for and, all of a sudden, you’ve turned your social network into personal opportunity hunters.  And do the same for others – it’s all about reciprocity.  I’ve forwarded opportunities to friends who are interested in subjects like security studies in Central Asia, healthcare policy for low-income families in the U.S., and women’s health in the developing world.  These are memorable “central themes,” so when something shows up in my inbox through listservs or other friends, it’s so easy to just forward the opportunity to the relevant person with the hope (but not expectation) that they will do the same for me. (P.S. – I am now looking for part-time/volunteer opportunities to address the digital divide in the United States).

3)   Don’t look for opportunities. Create them.

Okay – now you have your central passion and everyone knows about it. The next step is to be honest about where your gaps or weaknesses lie and think of innovative ways to address them.  This is especially important when you have just created or shifted your central passion.

What a lot of young college women do it scan the available opportunities and settle if they can’t find something that they want.  A perfect example is studying abroad.  Many will just accept whatever program Georgetown offers rather than critically thinking what they want out of the experience and then crafting an experience that will fulfill that need.  Yes, this is more work, but it’s worth it if an independent study or even dropping out for the semester better suits your professional and personal needs.

When looking for internships, try to optimize for the individual or organization that you want to work with rather than scanning for publically listed opportunities on sites like Idealist. Once you identify the sector leader that you want to mentor you, send a cold email or ideally have someone introduce you.  Briefly state your experience (attach a resume if relevant), why you want to work for that person, and what you bring to the table.  The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond after one or two follow up emails.  For those interested in international development opportunities, I recommend that students reach out to Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, Ashoka Fellows, government ministries, and investments of impact investors like Acumen Fund and Grey Ghost Ventures.

4)   Demonstrate transformational leadership

When McKinsey is asked what they look for in applicants, the answer is “transformational leadership.”  What does this really mean?  It means that you can point out ways that the organization is better when you leave than it was when you joined.  It is not just about reaching the highest levels of leadership; it’s about how you specifically affected the established role.  There are a few easy ways to get transformational leadership experience at a young age: 1) entrepreneurial activity (you can start something yourself or join a young startup) and 2) involvement in low-skill, under-served regions.  If you are in an established role or organization, ASK for the opportunity to lead a project.  If the project already exists, pitch why you are the best person for the job.  If the project is your idea, pitch how it fits into the broader strategy of the organization.  The objective is for you to credit yourself with a specific deliverable that will continue to better the entire organization after you leave.

It is clear that college women need to be better at defining and proactively pursuing what we want.  Do not settle and do not sit down.  Act deliberately and actively seek challenges that feed into your broader narrative.   If you have any questions, would like any help, or care to discuss these ideas further, please feel free to reach out to me directly (Net ID: ao298).