March 9, 2014

The Starting Pistol: Running to Take a Stand

Alessandra Powell

The gun fell. The policeman bent to pick it up. He cursed me and yelled, “Kunte Yuserfli. Eredt mlbsi. You distracted me. Put on some clothes!” His angry shouts faded into the dust as I turned the corner and stopped at the small white and green house where I was staying. When I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, Jen asked, “You went running outside in that?” Her reaction surprised me. I guess she hadn’t noticed that for the past two weeks I had swapped my previous long black tights and long sleeved shirt for cooler clothes, ones more suitable to the sweltering desert climate. Even though I was only renting a room, Jen’s motherly instincts often set in. She had spent the past eight years trying to raise three young boys with American values while conforming to the necessary Islamic and traditional norms. The fact that I ran in Amman surprised her.

Running is rare in Amman. I did not see anyone, certainly no lone women, running outside during the two months that I was there. In fact, lone women walking were rare. I still remember one of the only lone walking women that I ever saw. Young, she looked professional, and nodded her head at me as I ran by.

This is how people usually treated runners in my hometown, New York. There, runners make up such a predominant part of the backdrop, that I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a new line of post-cards with photos of them. I can even tell you the prototypes; there’s the working mom who runs five miles by five AM. There’s the male CEO who’s done the same three miles for the past ten years. There’s the teen girl training for track. There’s the male college athlete keeping in shape out of season. Women and men run all day long, especially in the park. It’s a cathartic release, a way to deal with the stress of the city, work, and life. But it’s also a way to move, and it might be a New York thing, but at the Reservoir you get the sense that these runners can get anywhere that they want to go in life.

And they have a distinct corporal language between each other, and the rest of the city. Runners nod, smile or respectfully ignore each other matching each other’s expression. Non- runners make room for them on the path, sometimes make eye contact, but rarely say anything. For his intense efforts, his motivation, the runner deserves respect. No one would dare sideline or distract her. Tourists take cue from the locals and make way, with reverence, for this special species called runners, and are often surprised that more of them are women than men. And these women, with grace and cadence in their step, seemed like goddesses of the modern era. The lady runner juggles everything; she is healthy, she is strong, she works hard, she benefits society. Like the women whose portraits hang in newsstands and on the television screen, these women cast a spell. No one stops them as they stride through the city. No one stops them as they stride through life. Her streets and her life become her territory.

I quickly learned, that running in Amman would be a different experience. July 2nd, my nineteenth birthday, I arrived. It was 36 degrees Celsius. From the hotel lobby, all I saw were cars uplifting dust and dust nearly uplifting cars. No one walked, and there were no other buildings in view. The hotel gym called: Aching for the familiar, I started to run on the treadmill. It was an uncomfortable space, no larger than an American sedan, and several men passed through it to go to the “massage” room. One man stopped. He came over, looked at the stats on the machine, and said, “You… very good runner. How old are you?” I politely said thanks, and somewhat resentfully, said that I was thirty, hoping the man would sense my blatant lie and leave me alone. He continued, “Where are you from? What are you doing here?” He took my phone from the treadmill’s cup-holder, as if to put his number in it. I stopped running. He asked, “Are you married?” “Put my phone down. I don’t want to marry. I want to run.”

I saw, from the get-go, that this concept of respecting women runners, the whole culture built around them in the States, did exist everywhere. I asked the two Russian women working in the gym if they ever ran outside. One answered poignantly: “I can’t. I’ve been here eight years, but I can’t take the men— nasty— they just shout at you. If I even go to market alone, they bother. They think women belong to men. We cannot be alone.”

By the time I moved into Jennifer’s house, this attitude had gotten under my skin. There was something itching, crawling inside of me, making me want to run, but not the usual restless leg syndrome or spring fever, something else — a curiosity. Could it really be that hard to run here? So with a few days remaining before my internship was supposed to begin, I went for a run.

The weather burned, especially since I wore leggings and a long-sleeved shirt to respect cultural customs. I followed a swerving road down the hill from the house. The Ramada Hotel on the left had a line of policemen standing shoulder to shoulder. As I passed, the orderly line broke into frantic motion and speech, none of which I understood (at first, that is). Mixed expressions of disgust and awe spread across their faces. As they shouted after me, I was not sure who was more startled, they or I. Continuing, the smaller road merged onto a larger one filled with cars. One slowed down. Another slowed down. There was no stoplight, or crosswalk, but they kept slowing down. Then a window rolled open. A head, with bulging, capricious black eyes popped out: “Ente jemila ekthr. hayatii. sharifah.” I did not know what he was saying, but it sounded unpleasant. I kept running, thinking that I would get ahead of this moronically slow car, or it would drive off. It did drive off, but another came. And another. And another. As they endlessly shouted unintelligible phrases at me, I realized that I had run straight into culture clash.

But this experience did not stop me. Just as I could not, initially understand what observers shouted at me, I could not understand why they seemed to disprove of my running. So I kept going.

I started watching my “watchers”: Who exactly noticed me running by? Who shouted? Who didn’t? First I saw the men, the ones whose deep voices carried across streets that were four cars wide, the men in the front seat who would pull over the car, the men who sold Quran’s on the street corner every day. Men filled the streets.

And then, I noticed the others. From the back seats of the cars, from window shutters peeping open, from front doors propped to let out the steam from the kitchen, I saw many beautiful black eyes. With quiet mouths, their eyes seemed to listen. It was like my footsteps were a ring at the doorbell, someone coming by whom they had never expected. Some women seemed as offended by my runs as the men, but others, looked with nonjudgmental wonder, as if they never knew it had done before on the streets of Amman. It was these looks, the looks of other women that made me continue.

I wanted them to see me. I wanted them to know that now, in Amman, it is possible to move freely, to dress comfortably and as you wish. Religion dictates what many of them wear, but still, now, under Jordanian law, women can choose what to wear. They can choose what they believe. I wore shorts and tee shirts, and they were all bright (my mother had recently handed down all her too-bright-for-a-fifty-year-old clothing). The contrast was stark; their bodies and heads covered, voices demure, eyes soft and my skin bare to the chaffing desert win, eyes intense with anger and persistence, and my voice loud with the comeback phrases I had learned in Arabic. “You have a sister too” and “Watch it, I’ll run over and tell your mother” were among my favorites. The men’s comments built up, and I ran around the city fuming.

Amani society was moving away from its conservative past in many ways; public strip clubs had appeared all over the city (in the past these were kept more hush-hush), drinking alcohol was a norm though banned by Shari’ah, men gambled while playing cards and smoking shisha all through the night no matter what day of the week. If society could move away from Shari’ah law in these ways, ones that catered, almost exclusively to hedonistic males, what was wrong with a little running? It was progressive, for sure, but beneficial for society— healthy, happy mothers lead to healthy, happy families.

I never came to fully understand Amani disproval of my running, but I can theorize. Maybe it was simply that my clothes made people uncomfortable. Maybe the values of female independence and strength challenged conservative Muslim traditions of patriarchal protection. Maybe I made them think too much of “westernization” and “American culture”. Regardless, I only cared that women saw me, that women saw that we too, can run.

On one of my last days, I remember running by the Ramada Hotel. The police were used to me at this point. They didn’t bow down, or cheer me on, but they didn’t freak out either. They stood, respectfully. The one at the end of the line tipped his hat.

At the end of my run, as I neared home, a little girl who looked about seven, started to run with me, dry dust spewing from under her bare, tiny feet till we got to the next crosswalk.

The finish line was far, maybe some would say impossible, but I had found another member of my relay team, and passing on the baton was all that mattered.

March 9, 2014

Once Latent Feminism Now Realized: Why I Identify as a Feminist

Demetra Hufnagel

I haven’t always identified as a feminist, despite being the daughter of a women’s rights activist at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s and the product of an all girl’s school education that required reading of foundational texts like Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In fact, despite this feminist “pedigree” it wasn’t until I came to Yale that I found a feminist voice, and that I began to realize the importance in actively identifying as a feminist in a world that is so often thought to be post-sexist. 

In high school, I actively engaged in feminist discourse. I avidly read Sharon Olds and Margaret Atwood, and debated issues of reproductive rights between AP Biology and Anatomy. But, despite my clear belief in the concept that sex and gender should not be grounds for inequality in rights and opportunities amongst peoples, I declined to call myself a feminist. I felt that the term was outdated, one-dimensional, and frankly almost anachronistic. The vast strides in women’s rights made through the first and second waves of feminism seemed to indicate that “Feminism” had become irrelevant. Third wave feminism didn’t seem to have a unifying cause—a real reason to fight—and as such I didn’t feel an urgent need to subscribe. 

Flash-forward a few years and you’ll find that coming to Yale wasn’t easy for me. I had a pretty difficult transition for a variety of reasons, and it wasn’t until I became a staff writer for Broad Recognition—honestly mostly out of desperation to find something to do with long and lonely idle hours—that I began to feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

Broad Recognition, as a feminist organization, gave me a space to rediscover my voice, myself, and the vast inequalities still rampant in the world. While I didn’t yet feel that I had a place on the Yale campus to express myself as a student and a young woman, Broads gave me the room to prove those self-doubts wrong. The guidance of my editors reassured me that my perspective was valid and important. And it’s the drastic change in me that such validation facilitated that makes me confidently identify as a feminist today. 

While in high school I turned away from the “F word” because feminism felt stagnant, I now understand that I can define my own feminism. Today I understand my feminism to be deeply intersectional. My feminism encompasses a desire to end oppression based on sex, gender, race, socioeconomic status, orientation, age, ethnicity, disability, or any other factor. I strive for the kind of feminism that links together the oppressed and makes them stronger by reaching out to other communities; the kind of feminism that calls attention to current issues and works to educate those in positions of privilege; the kind of feminism that endeavors to recognize the dynamic nature of privilege and oppression, which might favor some in a given kyriarchal context while discriminating against the same group in another.

I am a feminist because a belief in gender and sex equality reminds me every day to live out my progressive ideals with kindness and compassion. I am a feminist because being a feminist gives me the strength to push forward as a biotechnology concentrator in field in which women do not yet have an equal voice. I am a feminist because it makes me a better ally to those in need and a better friend and source of support. I am a feminist because I believe any true commitment to social justice hinges upon an understanding of how oppressive structures work in tandem. I am a feminist because with my voice, and the voices of others, I believe we can fight against all-too-often-silent systematic violence.

March 9, 2014

Why Do You Identify As A Feminist

Christian Soler

I am a feminist because I’m a man. Now, it sounds a little weird, a bit fake as though I’m a “sympathizer”, yet detached by an inability to relate: I’m not a woman, and I won’t ever really know precisely what that’s like, but what’s stranger still is that I, or anyone, should fear the word “feminist” at all. Feminism is a personal issue for everyone involved; make it a part of your life and it impacts— becomes impacted by— your own experiences until it becomes a part of your identity. I was once intimidated by that intimacy and I once thought feminism was left for someone else. Well, once.

A friend and I were wandering about the city. It was summer; both of us were studying abroad and amid everything foreign, walking without the weight of new language and new people made the transition easier. We found ourselves along La Ría, talking in a way that was freer for not having a destination. So, I started with something that had been bothering me, about my host mom and how her sons and brother treated her. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I’m awful at Spanish, but I found it a bit unsettling how demanding they always seemed to be, how her only job, her only responsibility, was to “tend to the house”. Sure, she was allowed to be happy in that way if that’s what she wanted, but what bothered me most was that I felt like she would never be taken seriously if she ever chose to be happy doing something else. Well one statement led to another until she asked me whether I consider myself a feminist. The only thing I could say was, “Am I allowed to call myself that? I mean I don’t want to trivialize actual feminists or anything.” Her smile was the puzzled kind, the kind that you use when you know what someone is trying to say despite the clumsy words that sprawl out of their mouth. In this case, it was my mouth, my gawky perception of what I was supposed to say. The response was simple, but I think it reflects how simple this issue can be sometimes, “It is totally valid for you to call yourself a feminist.”

Men do not need to sympathize with feminism as though it were the plight of someone else, as though we are spectators, invested in the outcome but not involved in the fight. Fearing the term “feminist”, how it might make you look, how you might be judged for that belief by feminists and non-feminists alike, shows that you simply don’t understand it. Feminism would not divide when it could unify, exclude when it could embrace. It’s true, I don’t know what it is like to be a woman, but I do know what it’s like to be a person. I’m a feminist because I’m a man, not in spite of that fact. I’m a feminist because I’m a person, because we are people, different in ways that deserve to be celebrated. To me, it just seems right that we should all be people, cognizant not intolerant of that fact. 

March 9, 2014

Hurting Women for their Own Good

Selin Isguven

There is no denying that feminism has come a long way, especially in the recent past. We are now at a point where we have the luxury to be bothered by the phrase “women’s rights” because it is in fact human rights, of women. Not that this is an unnecessary distinction to be made per se, but this type of dialogue is arguably less frustrating than having to earn the right to go to school, for instance. There are even some premature optimists who therefore claim that feminism is over and/or has completed its mission because women are now equal with men.

Let me stop you right there. As much as the developments in and the intellectual discussion of issues surrounding women are worth celebrating, legal equality (which is also not as perfect as some people think anyways, given the loopholes that still allow for harm to be inflicted upon women) does not mean women experience an equal treatment on a day-to-day basis. Legal quasi-equality does not mean social equality.

Evidence is all around us. Successful women are widely perceived as threats by the society. I say society and not men because women also see successful women as “too much,” whatever that is supposed to mean. There are unwritten rules about what is appropriate for a woman and women who do not fall within the range of permissible behaviors are punished in various ways. Working mothers are accused of being negligent with their children, outspoken women are labeled “hysterical,” and so on.

Of course, women are not the first group of people in history who have not attained equality in social spheres despite official regulations. There are countless countries, including the U.S., where minorities face discrimination by the dominant race or class although the law forbids such an attitude. It will inevitably take time and more effort to make progress, which may not reach an impeccable state of equality anytime soon.

What is astonishing to me, then, is not so much the current state of things as the lack of dialogue about one of the most important reasons why we are still far from achieving social equality between women and men, namely the irony in some habits we have about “protecting” women. The extent of this protection may vary depending where in the world you reside as well as your socioeconomic status; however, almost everywhere in the world women are seen more in need of guardianship then their male counterparts. Women are the collective and eternal children of the society, which is precisely why they can’t “grow”.

The fact that the harm in these protective actions goes unrecognized makes them even more harmful; hence the irony. For example, think of all the times women were told to dress more modestly in order to not “distract” men, as if those men’s perverted perceptions were the women’s fault or as if dressing more modestly would actually change the sexist mindset of these people. Safety is of course very important; this is not a call for women to get themselves into dangerous situations. This is actually why I give these watchful sentiments the benefit of the doubt and accept them as good-willed. Nevertheless, I have very little sympathy for people who claim that women should conform to such degrading standards as a protection mechanism. 

This guardianship perpetuates the adverse situations women are trying to be protected from by the members of the society; it normalizes the sexist actions against women since they are presented as unchangeable facts that women should adjust to. Our energy should instead be spent towards fixing these sexist environments, not towards vehemently teaching women to be afraid of them.

Interestingly enough, the people who make these claims are frequently people who, in themselves, do not believe these unequal standards in the first place. But the bottom line is that one simply can’t ask women to conform in a way that limits their freedom as well as conflicts their status as equals with men while at the same time hoping to have a better, more equal present and future for women. Merely hoping does not cut it; this is no way to create change. We should not nurture women with undue cowardice like this. For all I can say, that does not make us necessarily better than the “male chauvinist pigs” we are trying to keep women protected from- at least they are consistent in their actions; they are not hypocrites. 

March 9, 2014

Feminism at Yale

anonymous

I gave details as vague as possible. I apologized for possibly overreacting, for maybe ruining someone’s career, for taking up his precious professorial time on what might have been a feminist crusade against shame and discomfort. But still I asked, please, if it’s not too much trouble, can you allow me to eat in my college dining hall without feeling like I’m walking through Toad’s on a Saturday night? My master encouraged me to submit a formal complaint if I wanted any hope of relief from the bothersome staff members. I could do this. It was harassment, for certain. But not as difficult as other situations I’ve been through. It was bad enough to affect my functioning as a student, but not so painful I couldn’t formally address it to strangers and superiors alike, I told myself. I’m a feminist. I’ve read Bell Hooks and Angela Davis and I know it is my right to be free of this behavior. Maybe there were pains that I might not be able to articulate, but I could talk about this.

I bailed. I bailed hard. By three am the day before I was scheduled to meet with the Sexual Harassment and Misconduct representative, I was speeding up Interstate 90, getting as far away from Yale as quickly as possible. Fueled by coffee and adrenaline, I spent the five-hour drive reflecting on my years at Yale and wondering why I ever thought speaking up would be anything close to easy.

We constantly belittle one another’s struggles. Issues like sexism, homophobia, poverty and racism are so opaque that it becomes our instinct to only address them through humor, to only think of them as abstract concepts that affect people far away. When political correctness is constantly shoved down our throats, when it becomes a symbol of straight-laced authority, it is easy to make your frat bros laugh with an off color joke. Those are just jokes you say. I don’t really think all women belong in the kitchen. I don’t really take rape so lightly. I don’t really think you were only allowed in this institution because of a box you checked. But as a person who must always inhabit a body bound by complex social constraints, these sentiments are alienating reinforcements of our inferiority. And if something goes drastically wrong, we feel hopelessly buried under indifference.

We get the message from peers that these issues are too uncomfortable to take seriously as a constant presence in our lives. Believe me, they are constant. I can’t grow a penis so my professor will foster discussion instead of simply telling me to “use my feminine wiles” to understand Wordsworth. I can’t decide to wear a flattering dress and only let the nice, respectful gentlemen notice. I can’t turn into a white man when my friends tell an offensive joke, so that my intellectual opposition will be taken seriously instead of brushed off as overly sensitive. All these micro-aggressions accumulate in a social problem that isn’t little at all, and to speak up against them would only further isolation. Speaking up means admitting you can be hurt, putting down, no matter how briefly, the armor of skin we spend a lifetime thickening. When your peers are brave enough to protest, on behalf of groups they personally identify with or not, consider how hard it is to do so in the face of herd mentality. Think about how it affects a person coping with assault to constantly be reminded that everyone around them is complacent, even supportive, of the mentality that allows this violence to thrive.

Speaking up about sexual misconduct is hard. No number of CCE videos or WGSS classes is going to change that. I survived. Not everyone does. Speaking up against your tired “women make sandwiches” joke is easier. It might be all I have strength to chip away at on a given day, between keeping my GPA on life support and trying to have a social life. So before you let stupidity flow unabashedly from your mouth, take a few seconds to ponder whether what you say is making life harder for the student across the table. Even in private with close friends don’t hide from the deep implications of your words. Realize that there are no easy solutions to problems so complex, but there are easy ways to support, or discourage one another as we all fight our own battles.

March 9, 2014

Feminism Is About Building

Shayna Otis

Feminism is about building, nurturing, and recharging the woman.  It is about getting in touch with our heritage as women and transforming the dark past of misogyny into a new image that is sacred, powerful, and beautiful.  It is not being afraid to say “I am feeling vulnerable”, not being afraid to say “I want to nurture”, and not being afraid to say, “I am powerful and can change the world the way I want to do it.”  Sometimes, it seems as though society forces women to alternate between these three personas: there is the beautiful damsel in distress, the loving mother who can give a big hug and wipe away tears, and the immaculately polished, effortlessly excellent businesswoman.   In reality, women make vulnerability, loving kindness, and power harmonious.  But this ideal is not fully understood, even on Yale’s campus.

Women on Yale’s campus need space.  They need a space just for women, where men cannot trespass, where they can talk about challenges and joys that men simply cannot understand, and where they can just have a good time together. Women need a place where they are told, “You are a woman, and that is so special.  Being a woman—even eventually being a wife and mother—and changing the world are not conflicting ideals.  Because you accomplish so much, because you want to change the world, you are a woman.  You do not need to do anything to change yourself in order to be womanly, and you certainly should not dumb yourself down, because you are already very feminine.  Take each day slowly, and enjoy every new opportunity.  Build up the world.”  They need a space dedicated to femininity, where they can just be women and love it.

Some women need to learn to value their character over their curves.  They need to stop objectifying the body and acknowledge the breasts for their nurturing quality and the womb for its supernatural power to create life.   They need to learn about feminine self-expression beyond exposed skin. They need to learn what a healthy relationship looks like.    Women need to hear that the physical and emotional investment they place into romantic relationships has deep significance, and that when they are hurt they are allowed to cry.  If women know what intimacy could be when it spans the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual, then they can command respect and dignity.  They need a place where they can learn about all of these things with open and supportive friends.

This space should not just be at the Women’s center.  Women can create that space mentally wherever they are.  They can create that space in independent women’s gatherings on campus.  That is why a few friends and I have created Jewish learning programs and events for women through a new subcommunity called the Sisterhood.  It is just a way to chill and enjoy our femininity.

When women have their space, they feel safe.  Then they can afford to be powerful, nurturing and vulnerable.   Then they can accomplish.  They know that there is a space inside of them and a space in their community where they can visit when they need it, where they can just be women.  That is true feminism, and the only people who can make it a reality are women.

March 9, 2014
First Place

The Latina Feminist Perspective

Jack  Mejía-Cuéllar

The first stage is repetition. “Jack?”

“Yeah, short for Jaqueline,” I always explain.

The second stage is disbelief.

I quickly grow tired of having to explain why I’m Jack, not Jackie or Jaqueline, and hearing confused listeners twist name in awkward pronunciations (Jock or Jaqué).  Can’t it just be Jack?

The third state is acknowledgement. “That’s a nice nickname…for a girl.”

My name is always a small struggle, and a reminder that there is a tension between language and gender. Why is a girl named Jack such a hard thing to grasp? And why is it such a big deal at Yale?

It is easy to say my feminism started with my mother. She has always been the strongest woman in my life. A Mexican immigrant that came to America with my oldest brother, Uriel, at roughly my age today, my mother Maria has been a force to be reckoned with. No matter the circumstances, she never gave up.

If I had to describe my mother’s attitude in a sentence, it would be “No se dejen.” That roughly translates into defend yourself. Growing up, my mother taught me to advocate for myself. No one should ever tell me what to do, what to wear, or who I was. She always reminded me to stay true to myself and to never fear voicing my opinions. This has been a mantra I have followed my entire life.

Feminism, to my diverse East Oakland community, was always a white issue. It was something that was dated and a struggle that persisted in suburbs, but not reflected in the city where your race was the primary marker. Looking back at it now, this was a deeply flawed idea. Admittedly, I shared that naïve conception of feminism. When you live in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, your race made susceptible to discrimination and was something that was clearly visible to everyone. Class was the second largest issue that divided East Oakland’s under resourced public schools and contrasted with Oakland hills’ private prep schools. The predominantly white and upper class community lived secluded from the rest of the Oakland reality you see in the headlines and news reports.

No one talked about feminism or accepted the inequalities between Oakland’s men and women or transgender folk. In Oakland, sexism did not seem to be a big issue and in the activist circles I was involved in, it was not the most pressing one at hand. There was a disconnect between feminism and me; it did not completely explain my reality.

I never identified with the white feminist movement. I never identified with many of the feminists at Yale. This may seem like an extreme statement, but middle/upper class feminism is not my reality. My first impression was that this group was narrow-minded and only focused on gender as an isolated issue.

This view of feminism was quickly challenged by two of the most inspirational peers I have had at Yale: Jazzmin Estebane and Natalia Thompson. Active in the Latino and queer community, these two Yalies were not afraid to openly question the gender stereotypes embedded in American culture or explain complex feminist theory to those who would never consider themselves feminists. They understood the correlation between systems of oppression and actively worked to tell these stories of women.

Jazzmin and Natalia awakened me to feminism for women of color. Writers like Cherríe Moraga, Jamaica Kincaid, and Gloria Anzaldúa had the courage to share their lived experiences.

I exercise my feminism through my intersectionality; it is impossible to look at gender without looking at class or considering race. A feminism that forces you to pick one issue isn’t feminism at all.

I am first and foremost an Oakland Latina and now a Yale student. I fought for immigrant rights and fair labor practices but the label of feminism never crossed my mind until I took courses with Inderpal Grewal and Alicia Camacho. These classes were spaces that explored that intersectionality and highlighted the achievements and struggles of feminists of color. My unconventional Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies majors encourage me to bring this critical perspective to my activism and future career in policy making.

 

March 9, 2014
Third Place

The Dishonest Feminist

Olivia Klevorn

It took me a long time to realize the truth about my mother.  I was born, perhaps as all daughters are born, with thoroughly shallow maternal comparisons to history’s greatest heroines running through my veins, and the inability to separate the preparation of dinner from the sanctified, the holy, the mysterious beauty that follows deities. I was born in love with my mother.

The only black girl in a suburb of St. Louis, my mother did not fight prejudice so much as transcend it. Born to teenaged parents, one a secretary, the other a marine turned oil executive, adolescence was tough. Grandpa emphasized excellence and refused to show any sign of faltering. They were the first black family to move into the neighborhood and with that came expectations and a certain way of doing things.

She told me once that my grandfather aligned himself with the Republican Party in order to curry favor with his white co-workers. Upon reaching 18 my mother also helped elect Ronald Regan. She explains that she “let her father make the decision for her.” Wanting to be an actress, she applied to and was accepted by USC, but her father recommended she get a business degree close to home, which at that time was Virgina. She has an MBA from George Washington University and explains college as vaguely and unenthusiastically as I used to recount my cafeteria lunches.

My mother was married by thirty, pregnant at thirty-four. No career. No great American novel. Dinner on the table every night.

If you met my mother, you’d think this narrative incongruous. I promise. Erudite, articulate, well coiffed, she holds the coffee table books, expensively eccentric jewelry, and extensive knowledge of Netflix documentaries that characterizes members of the “urban intelligentsia.” My family is almost illogically liberal— my father refuses to allow us Oberweiss due to its conservative ownership. Agency has never been an issue. If mom didn’t want to cook, she didn’t have to. “My mother is a woman, but to me that has always seemed a fact of nature rather than one of life.

My parents have a wonderful marriage. Often PDA between the two has plagued Sunday morning breakfasts. But my mother has never stopped cautioning, “Make your own money,” “Never settle,” “Make sure he doesn’t love his mother more than you.” I ask her why she doesn’t make her own money and she responds that “He doesn’t’ really mean what he’s saying,” or in other words, if she worked dinner would not be on the table, the bed would not be full, the laundry would not be taken care of. I ask her if she settled and she says, “Your father is the most wonderful man in the world,” assuming I am asking about the marriage, the union, when I am asking about her, the individual, something which seems to have vanished in a mess of place settings and marital bliss. I ask if my dad loves his mother more than her. She smiles, “Not anymore,” and a look of accomplishment winds its way across her face. The look is not common to her features. I see it at the ends of Christmas parties or when a piece of art is liberated from within the confines of my father’s wallet. I’ve seen the look on my sister’s face and my own almost weekly. But for her it is rare and fleeting.

My mother, believes being put together is as important for a woman as anything else, she believes women with masculine faces are unattractive and she believes a hosts of other things that belong in the pocket’s of June Cleaver’s apron. She believes these things secretly. She carries the look of enlightenment and the motion of an empowered individual. The look. The motion. That is all.

My mother believes in everything except for herself. She has whispered and written and exclaimed to me that she believes, the she has faith in me. But it is hollow. It is a principle that she has made of paper and left to fight against the wind. The gust of my self-doubt is easily enough to dismantle it.

It took me a long time to realize the truth about my mother. To see past what she was and understand what she became. I have seen my future without feminism and it is hers. I have spent my life being sad for my mother and loving her in spite. But unlike her, I will not survive doing the same for myself.

March 9, 2014
Second Place

There’s a Lot to Learn from Armpits

Lydia Keating

“Do you want to know why I f***ing hate feminism?” No one said anything. Suddenly everyone seemed to be interested in the details of our dinner plates. Despite the obvious uneasiness caused by her sudden anger and intensity, Julia continued, “because as long as people keep bringing it up, the longer it will be a problem.” She then went on about how there is no such thing as sexism and that women who keep talking about it are the one’s who are making it real.

When she finished there was silence. I sat there trying to figure out where to begin and whether it was even worth trying to show her how wrong she was. She was convinced that sexism no longer existed, that there was no longer a fight to be had. As I looked at her from across the table in astonishment, trying to figure out what I could possibly say to her, I caught myself. Suddenly, I felt like a total hypocrite.

                                                       ~

It was one of the first warm days of spring. My classmates and I sat with our desks arranged in a circle discussing the novel Frankenstein. Becca raised her hand to speak. Her dark tufts of underarm hair pulled my attention away. I can’t even remember what she said. I felt an involuntary fixation on her armpits, my vision narrowed in as I tried to see whether her hair was still visible with her arms now resting by her sides as she spoke. I became completely disengaged from the conversation. The worst part about all of this is that not only did I respect Becca for defying gender norms in such a potent way but also that this was nothing new to me. She had been letting her armpit hair grow out for over two years now. I had been aware of it all the while and yet still, by my senior year in high school, after having had at least two classes with Becca every semester for the past six semesters, I was, without fail, uncontrollably shocked by the sight of her armpit hair. 

                                                    ~

Now, a year later, I look at Julia across the table; Julia, the division 1 rower, Julia, the high achieving academic, Julia, who believes in the power and strength of women but Julia who also claiming that sexism is contrived. Can I blame Julia for not paying enough attention to note that the YDN consistently reports on the women’s rowing team on Tuesdays, the day after the men’s team receives their press attention? Or is it fair of me call her out on not noticing how on January Saturday nights girls will line up outside of Toads wearing next to nothing while all the men are appropriately wearing jeans and a jacket? Or can I really get mad at her for saying that it is gross when women who don’t shave their armpits when, although I disagree with her, deep in my subconscious I feel the same way? Am I really all that better than her if my subconscious is perpetuating a system that she is denying even exists?

            More than anything I think that Julia and I are demonstrating that there is a lot of work to be done. That fighting sexism requires active opposition. It is not something that can be passively done. People like Julia cannot go on thinking that ignoring it will dissolve it. And people like me can’t go on thinking that claiming to oppose sexist constructs will fix the situation either. It is not a battle between the individual and society but rather one between the individual and him or herself. Sexist ideas are deeply ingrained within all of us whether we admit it or not.

Ultimately I answer the question, “why do I identify as a feminist?” with that it is the least I can do. Claiming to be a feminist is what I must do in order to get anywhere. I must consciously decide to be a feminist, signifying my relationship to society, to subsequently be able to identify what my relationship is to myself. That will be the hardest part for all of us. I hope that one day I will be able to see the underarm hair of a woman and react in the same way that I do when I see that of a man: void of any significant acknowledgment. I have a lot of work to do.

March 9, 2014

We Can (Still) Do It: The Necessity of Contemporary Feminism

Jess McHugh

“We did it!” read the front page of the Economist from late 2008, flanked by the iconic WWII image of Rosie the Riveter flexing her biceps.  The series of articles which accompanied this sensational headline went on to announce something like the achievement of gender equality, almost over-night it seemed.  In other words, our mothers and grandmothers – along with some more progressive fathers and grandfathers – fought the good fight and won.  The series of strikingly similar articles all pointed to optimistic statistics concerning the closing pay gap between men and women in Occidental countries or the number (though small) of women in leadership roles.  Statistics, however, are like bible passages or Wikipedia entries (to take a more modern example):  you can find evidence for just about any argument as well as its counter-argument depending on which page you turn to.

I would like to see feminism(s), especially among the students at Yale, which continue to take the active and urgent approach which is needed to make true gender equality a reality.  To me, a “feminist” is simply someone who believes in equality between women and men and recognizes that there is still work to be done.   For even just in my personal observations, the examples of gender inequality abound whether at Yale or abroad, and the necessity for feminists and feminism is still an imperative.  Particularly the situation concerning women in leadership roles continues to progress at a glacial pace.  There persist many aspects of political discourse which undermine women when they attempt to advocate for themselves or for others.

In France, for example, women in leadership roles often experience an infantilizing objectification by journalists and citizens of all stripes.  Only this fall, I picked up a newspaper with an article describing how a female representative of the Assemblée Nationale (French national congress) was unable to finish a speech because her voice was drowned out by male congressmen whistling at her from the chambers.  In 2013! Though the cat-calling was an extreme case, the situation of women leaders in America is simply different rather than more-evolved.  Where Frenchwomen are sexualized, American women are often un-sexed, to borrow a Lady MacBeth expression.  They are demonized or masculinized for actions that would be lauded as “assertive” or even “risk-taking” if taken by their male counterparts.  The most obvious personification of this “bitch-ification” is Hilary Clinton, who can hardly appear in public without a comment being made about her lack of femininity (whatever that means); but everyone from Michelle Obama (or more specifically her toned arms) to the handful of female CEOs are often described in such gendered terms.

The problem of feminine caricature is that it resists the nuance afforded most male leaders, and allows even intelligent people to resort to lazy clichés.  I am continually surprised to hear some well-educated people say they would vote for a woman because women leaders would bring more peace and maternal understanding, or that they would not vote for a woman candidate because she would be too emotional in her decision-making.  Such gender stereo-typing is hardly visible with male leaders.  To take the example of a beloved white male dynasty, President Kennedy, along with Bob and Ted, committed a range of follies from numerous public mistresses to a several full-blown diplomatic disasters, such as the Bay of Pigs.  One is hard-pressed, however, to find a scholarly criticism of the Bay of Pigs which cites the aggressiveness innate to all men or a Freudian drive to dominate as a root cause of the debacle…

So I dream of a world where everyone is free to be cruel or considerate or annoying or greedy – without being funneled into one gendered archetype or another.  For women to become affective and respected leaders, we are all responsible for changing the gendered discourse which remains in both subtle and more obvious ways.  For as philosopher Roland Quillot wrote: “There is often a veritable lagbetween what we live and what we believe to be living, what we think of ourselves, and what others believe us to be, what we hope from life and the lot life has reserved for us.”  To those who have retired feminism to the 1970’s, I would hope we can all redouble our efforts to eliminate this gap between what we expect from the 21st century  as women and what is still to be done.

March 9, 2014

The Pregnant Girl

Tao Tao Holmes

I wonder what it’d be like to be pregnant senior year. Not in the sense of — hm, would it be difficult to take a midterm with a fetus kicking in my stomach — but more in terms of life around campus. I’d hear strangers say in horror-struck tones, “The Pregnant Girl is in my section,” or “Did you see that The Pregnant Girl was at Box?” I would no longer be seen as a soccer player, a FOOT leader, a Branfordian, a writer. Instead, I would assume the all-consuming identity of The Pregnant Girl at Yale.

Don’t worry — I’m not pregnant. Nor do I plan to be until I probably discover I’m infertile. I can barely look after my own toenails, not to mention a baby. But what if that weren’t the case? What if a baby was what I wanted — right here, right now? Would it be a sign of senility, a fiery red flag of failure, or The Worst Decision I Could Possibly Make in a life ostensibly geared towards future success?

I used to think it was all three. But it’s funny, because you know who actually had a big baby belly when she was my age? Senior United States Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 Elizabeth Warren is known for teaching at Harvard Law School. What she’s less known for is dropping out of college after two years to marry her high school boyfriend at the age of 19. She started George Washington University on a debate scholarship at age 16, but after moving with the young hubby to Texas, she enrolled in the University of Houston and earned a degree in speech pathology and audiology. For a year, she taught children with disabilities at a public school, but she got pregnant and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, just around the age I am now: in the last months of my first year of legal drinking.

Young, Tao Tao-aged Liz — future first female Senator of Massachusetts Liz — dedicated two whole years to being a full-time mom to her first daughter. Then, she enrolled at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark. She received her JD while pregnant with baby number two.

In order to look after both jurisprudence and her tots, Warren started by practicing law out of her living room. This is what I will envision from now on when I hear the term working mom: 29-year-old Warren closing real estate deals and diaper straps at the kitchen table while simultaneously constructing both a property will and a cardboard fort.

After a while of diapers and forts, deals and wills, Warren took up teaching positions at a number of universities before landing her gig at Harvard, where she focused on contracts, commercial law and bankruptcy. She divorced her high school boyfriend, got remarried, became a grandmother to some adorable half-Indian grandchildren, wrote a few books and then ran against a former underwear model for the Massachusetts Senate.

In fall 2013, I find myself at late-night sushi with my seven-member suite discussing a punny theme for our next party. In fall 1971, 22-year-old Elizabeth Warren was at home taking care of a living, breathing, drooling baby. Maybe she had learned that prime baby-bearing age, evolutionary-biologically speaking, is between 20 and 24 or so. (In other words, I’m in the smack dab middle of it slash it’s almost over.) Maybe the condom broke. Or maybe, she was just doing what she knew she needed to do to be happy.

So as for The Pregnant Girl? None of us should rule her out. She might just end up a state’s first female senator, or even our first female president. She might have no problems simultaneously defying both traditional and new-age gender norms. For the Pregnant Girl, being a strong, successful woman doesn’t rule out the option of being a young mother, and being a young mother doesn’t rule out the ambition of being a strong, successful woman.

As a young and independent woman who has always planned to marry late in life, I once saw young motherhood as peril to my own stubborn notions of feminism. But today, I am a feminist because I believe in stories like Senator Warren’s; I believe that there are no proper timelines or “correct” priorities to being an empowered woman. I simply believe in the right of any woman to feel comfortable seizing and capitalizing on opportunities at the time that is right for her.

March 9, 2014

We Too Can Slay Dragons: The Importance of Feminism in Popular Media

Darcy Tuttle

We become the stories we tell. Like it or not, fiction is the lens through which people evaluate reality. If fiction is biased, the real world will certainly remain so, because stories are how we learn empathy.

Divorce the individual from her story and we divorce her from her humanity. The welfare queen, the slut, the bitch—she’s a state of being, not a narrative. We don’t have to feel empathy because we tell ourselves we already know who she is. Even her name becomes subordinate to her label. We don’t have to think about the pies she bakes when she’s had a really bad day, or the fact that she carries groceries up five flights of stairs for the old man next door, or that she loves her five-year-old nephew more than anything. She’s just a slut, a bitch, a whore. And if we don’t see her as a person, how can we possibly treat her as an equal?

Feminists won’t see the end of sexism until we change the pervasive and poisonous cultural narrative that fosters it. If we write books where the only damsels are in distress, we teach would-be adventurers to wait for rescue. If we make movies where the only female characters are love interests, girls will learn to base their success on their relationship status. If all our super heroines are willowy blonds with 32Ds, we instruct teens that we only value them for their BMI. Women make up 50% of the population, but they don’t make up anywhere near 50% of film and television roles.[1] If we can’t even achieve fictional gender parity, how can real women possibly expect to hold half the seats in Congress?

The stories we tell need to be more representative of the diversity in our society. Not all women are skinny, blond, and easily kidnapped, just as not all men have chiseled jaws, muscled abs, and a certification in ass kicking. Our culture is rich and varied, but our pop culture isn’t. Real women aren’t just girlfriends and sex objects, so why can’t our fictional women live up to reality? I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be romances or that there can’t be weak female characters, but these tropes shouldn’t be the norm. Our narratives draw from a limited sample size and that is simply a waste of good material. We can all do with fewer movies about a heterosexual white man so out of touch with his emotions they might as well be in another galaxy.

While there has been progress, an empowered and diverse female narrative is still the exception rather than the rule. We need more books about shameless old women and awkward girls and complicated mothers. We need movies where the happily ever after doesn’t necessarily include a wedding. We need comic books with women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and beliefs. We need political dialogue that respects women who don’t occupy traditional gender roles. Feminism needs to have a greater presence in popular media, because little girls everywhere deserve to have heroines who refuse to let anything, even destiny, tell them what to do. Because when this is the case, they will finally be able to achieve everything they imagine.

Sources:

Zurko, Nicholas. “Gender Inequality in Film - An Infographic.” Film School Blog. New York Film Academy, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <http://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film/>.



[1] Only 10.7% of major films from 2007-2012 had casts that weren’t disproportionately male (Zurko).

March 9, 2014

Singing Subjects of Sexuality

Daniel Dangaran

After numerous conversations with Yale students and professors, I feel confident saying there is a widely held belief about all-male a capella groups: the men are viewed as predominantly, assumedly gay.  As a gay member of an all-male a capella group that currently (and contrarily) hosts only three of fourteen members who identify as gay, I thought this was an opportunity to turn a feminist lens onto this sub-community to shed some light on this false stereotypes, and to gain a better understanding of how these group members are subjectified in terms of sexual orientation.

For many, a capella is an outlet for the passion for performance that developed in high school. If some behaviors that we bring to audiences – singing, dancing, and remembering to smile – can be learned, practiced, and imitated, what else can be? Group behaviors such as “snapplause” –which is given from the audience during performances to praise a singer or set of singers without cheering and thereby drowning out the sound of the music – are not “taught” directly, like choreography, but they’re definitely a part of the culture of a capella. This action, too, should be seen as a “performance.”

Three arguments from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble have helped me to think about this in a feminist framework. First, the action of gender requires a repeated performance that is at once a reenactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established. It is both the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation. Second, these performative actions are public; even if individuals are enacting these forms of signification, they must be seen as collective because they particularly and strategically aim to maintain gender within a binary frame shared and understood by a larger community. Finally, because of the way gender is produced through acts, it is an unstable construction constituted in time. The appearance of substance or stability is itself a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment, which the mundane social audience (including the actors) comes to believe. The next logical step of that argument is that those actors start to perform in the mode of belief.

Is there a space for feminist critique of an all-male a capella group? Obviously, my answer is yes. In an all-male setting, gender and sexual orientation are both constructed frameworks in which individual members must navigate their own experiences. Applying Butler’s “gender performativity” to what I will call “sexual orientation performativity” in the community of my a capella group can make all Yale undergrads more aware of the way we participate in producing Yale-specific constructions that can too easily be taken for granted. Sometimes these constructions are assumed to be positive. For example, the widespread belief that a capella groups are safe spaces for gay young men seems like it would create nothing but an affirmative, open-minded, accepting subculture. However, such sweeping generalizations do not necessarily capture honest lived experiences.

In my group, there have been instantiations of homophobic comments delivered as self-aware jokes, and dismissive awkward silences or sideway glances in response to homosexual-desire-driven comments or anecdotes by gay members. Using a Foucauldian discourse analysis, this use of disciplinary power regulates what can be talked about openly. While heterosexist humor is condoned, if a comment or joke is at all homonormative, especially when made tongue-in-cheek by a heterosexual group member, some members will react strongly and pressure the humor to stop. This is a form of negative stigmatization of homosexuality, and normalization of the performance of heterosexuality. This forced disengagement of homosexually performative behavior clashes with the campus-wide assumption about a capella with which I opened this essay. Though explicitly anti-gay comments are rarely made, there is a clear disparity in the accepted discourse, which can have a long-lasting impact on the culture of this tightly knit community.

This analysis can serve as a reminder for everyone at Yale: we don’t live in a post-sexist, post-racial, post-homophobic, post-classist, or post-any-other-form-of-oppression society, even if we do live in a bubble. Yale’s reputation as the “gay Ivy,” and the popular belief that the a capella community is a gay-friendly enclave therein, can shroud whatever heterosexist behavior persists on this campus. We can make Yale a more authentic place by shooting down these stereotypes when they arise in daily conversation. Only then will we be able to have productive discussions about viewing our identities and behaviors through self-determination, and to strive to deconstruct the performativity of gender and sexual orientation alike.

February 27, 2014
First Place

"What is it about white girls

That make them more missing than black girls?

See I assume TV time correlates with how much you’re missing

With how much you’re missed

Society is a utilitarian entity

And they miss you if you have value

But maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, and it isn’t racist, 

It’s practical.

See, white girls are hard to see in daylight because we’re so light – that’s the common stereotype, right? So we need more time on the screen, so people can etch out our outlines should they see us in the daytime when kidnappers are most likely to reappear?

Maybe their effort is sincere, but if it is, it’s ignorant, blissful, depraved, and somehow,

representative.

See we see on television only what we ask for, and in the same way that in 2011, only 13% of actors on television were black, less than 0% of missing black girls were less missing than their white counterparts.

But we still watch TVs like mirrors, looking for a pale reflection

Never mind that the average black TV watcher watches 2/5 more television than the white watcher, 1/5 short of being 3/5 more of person

To the same networks that disregard them

See in this country we learn racism by immersion.

Glued to screens that teach us we are the same as the famous, as the missing, as the wanted, and as the wanters, and those who are not like us, are not worth being at all.

When a missing white girl gets more screen time than a missing black girl

They call it white woman syndrome.

Like it’s the fault of the white women

When the CEOs of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox News are all white men.

But the title is appropriate in that it is an epidemic

Localized in America, who celebrates her forefathers

And declares outrage at the fact that they owned people

Without putting the two images together

A stubborn child

Who refuses to piece together a small puzzle

Because the picture would suffocate their patriotism

Put uncle Sam in a muzzle and his emasculated whimpers

Would traumatize a nation of arrogance.

We are not living in a post-racial America

There will never be a post-racial America

Because when you have a problem you have to acknowledge it

And our news is our voice to the world

And we are lying through our LCD screens

Tooth-like, in the way they bite through bullshit

And lay our ignorance bare

Like how LaToyia Figueroa lay bare with a child unborn and already dead sucking away her life and releasing it into the thin air, see she suffocated, alone, comparatively forgotten

By a country that literally searched the bottom of the Ocean for Natalee Holloway and her unborn son, equally unable to breath.

The names are unimportant, because the people are important

And if I walk out of here and don’t return to anywhere recognizable in twenty-four hours you bet your ass I want to be on your TV.   

And If there is a black girl who hasn’t returned to anywhere recognizable in twenty-four hours, you bet your ass, I want her next to me.”

-White Woman Syndrome by Joey Lew

February 25, 2014

From The Sons Of Single Mothers by Dave Harris

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