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Toxic masculinity sucks

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Toxic masculinity sucks. It sucks because our patriarchal society creates and encourages the male to be unemotional, sexually aggressive, and dominant; where strength is everything and emotions are weakness, where sex and domination are yardsticks by which men are measured, and where “feminine” traits are the means and standards by which the status of a “man” can be taken away. Toxic masculinity sucks — not just because I am a woman, but because it sucks if you’re a man too. It doesn’t matter if you have a dick or not, or what gender you identify as, because at the end of the day, it’s about what we allow the definition of what it means to be a “man.”

Something I find very interesting is the language that surrounds the topic of success in the male world. Insults such as “pussy” or “mangina” are used often when a man is scared or nervous — god forbid he be human! He is called this when he has “no balls,” and at this point, he might as well be a woman. And that is exactly the point I am trying to make. Boys, it is okay to have feelings, it is okay for you to be on the same level as a woman, it is okay to want something deep and meaningful. This message, however, is not what is preached to boys. Young boys as early as the age of 3 begin to internalize the concept that masculinity must be reached in order to become a man as they start to hide their feelings. Boys are more likely to have used drugs than girls at the age of 12, which could be a replacement for their feelings. Teaching boys to be more controlling and violent is evident in the statistic that men are more likely to kill as they commit 90.5% of all murders. These statistics were taken from Kali Holloway’s piece Toxic Masculinity is Killing Men: The Roots of Male Trauma, where she explicitly shows that toxic masculinity does more harm than good!

In the world of toxic masculinity, sex— both heterosexual and homosexual — is used to determine the worth of the man just as it is used as a measurement of a good night. If you got your dick wet, good for you, you’re a man! If you didn’t cum too easily or if you didn’t take forever to cum, good for you, you’re a man! If you knew what you wanted and got it from your partner, good for you, you’re a man!

False, false, and false. All of that is extremely and utterly false.

Some men are not interested in casual sex. Some men like emotions, some men want a connection. That does not make the man more feminine, it just makes them human! Some men, just like some women, cum very easily or sometimes not at all, but either or does not make you less of a man, it, again, just makes you human. Some straight men are inexperienced and don’t know what to do and some men need women to lead–that is fine, that is normal, that is still “manly”! Also, side note. It is not enough for an individual to just know what he or she wants because it is just as important to know what your partner wants and doesn’t want as well. Communication is the most important characteristic between interactions. Don’t take it for granted.

Toxic masculinity is real, and you know what, it’s scary as hell. It is a structure that allows violent and aggressive thoughts that lead to violent and aggressive actions. You may be reading this and think that you are not affected by toxic masculinity or may think that you don’t contribute to it, but honestly, we all do because it’s a game that we are all forced to play–whether you know it or not. It’s a dangerous game that  suppresses emotion, a game that creates violence, a game that encourages rape culture, a game that restores and strengthens homophobia, and a game that is played here at Swarthmore College. The frats play it, the sports teams play it, and the person you are sitting next to right now probably plays it too. These are problems that deserve attention and change, they deserve a damn to be given about and a fuck to shed. It’s about creating an environment that accepts all. No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no body shaming, no transphobia, no ableism. But saying and doing are two completely different things. If we cannot change on our own and learn how to act and treat others with respect, then changes within our structure and social life need to change. It is not enough to say, we must do.

A conversation with Laila Hzaineh ’20: viral Arab feminist

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Laila Hzaineh ’20 made her first online video in response to a Jordanian public figure blaming the way women dress for their own harassment.

“He pissed me off a lot, and his video went viral and so many people were agreeing with him, praising him, and sharing him. I mean it’s not something new to me, especially coming from Jordanians, but I don’t know at that time I was like, this is it. So I immediately opened my camera and started recording,” she said.

That first video, posted on November 20, got 76,665 views. Since then, Hzaineh, an international student from Jordan, has continued making viral videos about feminism in the Arab world.

“My main goal is to change mentalities and mostly women’s mentalities. I’m not expecting things to actually change, like culture and laws … at least in my lifetime, but I’m really targeting women … I just want to give women the courage to speak and think for themselves, to know their rights and fight for them,” Hzaineh said.

Despite some pushback since her first and subsequent videos have gone viral, many women living in the Arab world have reached out to Hzaineh, telling her their personal stories and asking for advice.

“It gives a purpose to my life … they tell me that they want to do this certain thing but they don’t feel like they have the power to do it, and then they actually do something that empowers them or that they didn’t think they were able to. Personally that makes me feel like I’ve done something. Even if I end up helping one woman, for me, that’s a huge thing,” Hzaineh said.

One of her videos, specifically on the topic of the female hymen, is particularly contentious because it addresses a centuries-long belief about female bleeding during first intercourse to determine her virginity.

“I wanted to do [the video] because for the first time I thought about the name for the Hymen in Arabic, which translates literally to ‘virginity membrane’ … this name is not scientific. It’s just a cultural thing, it’s a social thing. And for the first time I’ve realized that wow I’ve been using this name for so long, like that’s the name in books, that’s the name we use, and it has nothing to do with science,” Hzaineh said.

She believes that the hymen is an incredibly pressing issue in the Arab world because a lot of women actually die because of misconceptions and cultural standards surrounding it.

“If a women doesn’t bleed during her wedding night, or if there’s no hymen, in some conservative families, they would kill the girl because she would stain the honor of the family. Not to mention that even if you have a hymen, you don’t necessarily have to bleed, in many cases you shouldn’t bleed.”

This ties back to sexual aggression and rape, which can be blamed on the honor of the woman who was victimized.

“If a girl loses her hymen because of rape, that doesn’t matter for her family — like if she lost it, she lost it. That honor is gone basically. So for me it’s very ridiculous that our definition of honor is tied to this membrane that sometimes doesn’t even exist … when it comes to this issue a lot of people are not like inherently evil, or like misogynistic, they just don’t know. We don’t talk about it, not even in school, we just never talk about it,” Hzaineh said.

Some of Hzaineh’s critics have accused her of “going against God,” but she does not believe this is the case.

“I’m not interested in making people stop believing in Islam, but there are things that I think Islam normalizes that shouldn’t be normalized. I’m not going against the whole religion, I’m kind of defining the lines that religion shouldn’t pass,” she said.

One thing Hzaineh emphasized was the sometimes salient disconnect between feminism on Swarthmore’s campus and feminism in the Arab world.  

“I mean feminism here and feminism in the Arab world, are completely different, because in the Arab world we’re still fighting for basic rights. Like here there are movements like free the nipple, and things like that. We’re not even there yet. We’re still fighting for women to not get killed when they get raped, you know, so it’s a whole other world,” she believes.

Although awareness is important, Hzaineh believes that change in the Arab world must come from within.

“What people need to understand … [is that] we don’t want anyone to come and like change things. We want to change it on our own … A lot of Arabs kind of hate the idea of feminism because they think it’s a western thing that’s coming into our world to ruin whatever or go against Islam, but that’s not true,” Hzaineh said

In the future, Hzaineh is planning on highlighting feminist histories within the Middle East and North African region.

“I’m actually thinking of doing a video about feminism, how it’s not exclusively a western thing, how we’ve always had empowered women throughout history in our region, so it’s not something that we’re bringing from the West, we’ve always had it, but we need to work on it and work on ourselves and the way we view women,” she said.

To feminists in the West, Hzaineh wants to stress that these issues are not always clear-cut.

“The West shouldn’t look at every woman who wears a hijab as an oppressed woman, because indeed a lot of women do choose it — even though personally I don’t like the concept of it — if I know that a woman actually chose it, [then] she knows she has a right to take it off. But she chose not to, [and] I should respect that. And that doesn’t mean that she’s oppressed in any way,” Hzaineh said.

As her online following has increased, Hzaineh warns against the West looking down on the Arab world.

“The reason I have English subtitles on my videos is that I want people to know that there are Arab women speaking up, and that there are women who are aware of their rights, of the feminism movement, and that. So I don’t want the West to undermine us, or look down on us, because we have a lot of great achievement and we have a lot of great people, but we’re still trying to create a platform for them to speak out,” she said.

Women’s History Month Plans Emphasize Intersectionality

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If you’re like me,  all you’re doing right now is waiting for spring break — and perhaps already dreading your return to the hectic schedule that the second half of a semester brings. However, instead of starting to feel sad about coming back to Swat, get excited because Women’s History Month is happening in March right after break! Going to the preparations meeting alone got me super psyched about the cool events coming our way.

When I walked to the Women’s Resource Center on Wednesday night for the Women’s History Month planning meeting, I will admit I was feeling slightly nervous. I did not think I would know anyone there and was worried I would intrude. But when I walked in, my apprehension melted away. I was instantly greeted with the warm atmosphere of the house, a tray of cookies, and friendly faces. Irene Kwon ’17, a WRC Associate leading the meeting, invited me to sit down on the cozy couches and chairs loosely arranged in a circle as ten people trickled in for the planning.

The meeting started off with a discussion on the purpose of Women’s History Month: why women? The WRC’s intention is to challenge the everyday discrimination of women and other marginalized genders.

“We don’t have a men’s history month because that’s every history textbook ever,” Kwon pointed out.

However, it was very important to the WRC and everyone at the meeting that “women” included more than just white, cisgendered women. This intention is reflected in the theme this year: “creating and celebrating intersectional leadership for gender equity.” Kwon emphasized that this year’s Month will be different from previous years because of its specific focus on intersectionality — something she admitted the WRC has had difficulty incorporating in the past.

“We too, as a center, take issue with carving a space just for women. There’s a lot of baggage there about other genders, like non-cis women, being excluded from spaces like this and events like this. We wanted to challenge that,” Kwon explained.

For this theme of intersectionality, collaboration with other student organizations is one of the WRC’s goal for the month. Many of the people who came to the meeting came as representatives of other student groups, from Swarthmore Asian Organization to Swarthmore Queer Union to Student Government Organization. Indeed, most of the events are in collaboration with other student groups. Events to look forward to include:

Thank-a-Woman Campaign: Write a note to any woman who you want to appreciate!

Intersectional Feminist Politics: A facilitated community discussion around the question, “What does intersectionality mean?”

WRC x SAMs x Pride : Gender Dynamics in the Classroom: A panel discussion with Swarthmore professors and students.

WRC x WOCKA : Feminista Jones: A guest speaker identifying as “a postmodern, sex-positive, Black feminist woman.”

WRC x CIL : Women’s Leadership Retreat: Features workshops and alumni speakers.

Lecture: Professor Gayle Salamon: A Princeton Professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies who works in works in queer and trans theory, feminist philosophy, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and disability studies.  

Pubnite Takeover!: A “de-bro’ed” Pubnite with only all gender-positive music.

Hidden Figures Movie Screening: A possible collaboration with Movie Committee.

While excitedly planning what these events would look like, many at the meeting worried about making it clear that everyone is invited to Women’s History Month (WHM) events.

On one hand, some thought there may be Swatties who wouldn’t come to WHM events because they would be worried about intruding.

“There’s also a whole crew of people who may not be showing up to this type of event because they’re like, I’m not a woman, and I don’t want to invade a safe space,” said Margaret Hughes ’17 from SQU, reflecting on her own experience hearing from people about why they don’t attend queer events.

On the other hand, being respectful at these events, especially if you do not identify as a woman, is key.

“When you’re in a space to learn, it’s okay to just show up and listen. But it is good to show up,” Elizabeth Tolley ’17 expressed. “We want you to be here,” Hughes echoed.

 

Indeed, showing up is the whole point. “Come to events!” Kwon encouraged. “The only way we can achieve intersectional events and dialogue is if people show up for the convo.”

So whoever you are, don’t be afraid to just go and show up. Women’s History Month is going to be celebratory, intersectional, and open to all genders — so come through and join the conversation.

Kyriarchy – everything that we hate

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cw: rape culture

While this word is frequently at the forefront of my mind, rarely do I ever use this word in conversation with others. In short, the feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza describes it as “a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.”

The term initially arose (c.1990) as a modifier for patriarchy, recognizing that feminism had historically been a movement for economically-privileged white women and needed an intersectional rebranding (re: third wave feminism). Even if we restricted the scope of our discussion to ‘feminist’ topics, the vast importance of this intersectional approach cannot be understated. For example, it is important for us to identify and abolish rape culture, but we cannot ignore how rape culture largely privileges middle upper-class white men. There is a reason why vile creatures like Brock Turner, David Becker and John Enochs are on the streets today while Cory Batey and Brian Banks were given much harsher sentences and sent to jail (the latter of whom never even committed the crime and was acquitted after spending five years in jail).

We often hear allusions to this in Swarthmore classrooms: when the person of color reminds us in history class to remember the effects of colonialism on the country that is being discussed, when the LGBTQ+ activist points out how police brutality specifically affects transgender individuals, or when one of the rare female-identifying students in male-dominated philosophy classes puts us in our place for being patriarchal mental masturbators.

All of the above examples feature people from marginalized communities as instigators of intersectional discussions, and I believe this is problematic. The kyriarchy affects all of us, whether we like it or not, and we must create more discursive platforms to analyze and deconstruct it. This is not to say, however, that everyone or every issue should be a part of every single discussion out there. It would be a little weird for an able-bodied middle-class white man to talk about accessibility needs within low-income communities during a discussion about terrorism. What I am suggesting is that we need to consistently listen and engage with the world around us and to recognize that it is something that we can, and sometimes have a duty to, change. Anna Julia Cooper, a prominent African American scholar, puts it perhaps a little more beautifully when she says: “As individuals, we are constantly and inevitably, whether we are conscious of it or not, giving out our real selves into our several little worlds, inexorably adding our own true ray to the flood of starlight, quite independently of our professions and our masquerading.”

Humans are not single-identity people, and privilege or oppression is not a single-identity issue. After all, oppressive relationships are not created in the vacuum of singular identities that we can move through: they are socially constructed within interlocking webs of oppressive relationships that are hard to disentangle. Privilege and oppression are absolute in that oppressive systems are firmly rooted in society to favor some over others, but experiencing privilege and/or oppression can be flexible within certain situations. One can be privileged and oppressed at the same time and we must be cognizant of the multitude of our positionalities. For example, it is absolute bullshit that I am consistently asked, “Where are you really from?” and have my educational experience described as “exotic” by white people when I give tours on campus. Yet, my often sarcastic and pointed retort is permitted by my privileged educational background and the confidence granted to me as a man.

Again, some discussions are simply more relevant than others and must be focused on within certain topics (i.e. talking about racism alongside xenophobia and immigration policy). But within conversations in which we speak as the oppressed, we do not simply shake off all of our other identities that privilege us in other instances. Likewise, we do not simply become politically neutral when others are speaking of their oppression. Liberation is not simply about removing institutions that oppress us – it is the expulsion of all relationships defined by the oppression of another. Some voices deserve to be heard a little more than others in certain situations, but in the end we must engage with one another in a way that seeks to end all forms of oppression.

I speak with a utopian fervor, but remembering who you are as a multifaceted human being is not that hard. Perhaps then we may begin to see each other as human beings whose endless complexities all deserve to be acknowledged. Perhaps then we may begin to recognize our collective goal:

Fuck the kyriarchy.

Women’s March Floods Capitol with those who Refuse to be Silenced

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On Saturday morning, I woke up to a blaring iPhone alarm and a pitch-black sky that stretched over campus.  Ambling down the Wharton stairs, I made my way to Magill Walk where a smattering of stars was more visible than the thinning tree branches arching overhead. I arrived at the train station where six of my friends and I caught the 5:56am SEPTA to Jefferson Station. Once there, we picked up a Greyhound to D.C. that was filled exclusively with people attending the march.

In total, the Washington march required one thousand more buses than Trump’s inauguration, and over one million people flocked to the capitol to protest the new administration. Across the United States, over three million attended marches, and the protest spanned six continents, totalling to over five million marchers worldwide. This extraordinary turnout exemplifies so clearly how a substantial portion of people across the globe understand the dangers that stem from complicity towards the discriminatory policies—policies America’s new administration has promised to enact.

It is important to acknowledge that both the original name for this march—The Million Woman March—and its current title—The Women’s March on Washington—were taken from Civil Rights marches, initially without proper acknowledgment of that fact. Further, at the initial organizational stages, the march’s founders were not as inclusive of People of Color and members of the LGBTQA+ community as they should have been, adding those women to the planning process retroactively instead of including them from the beginning.  It is for these reasons that I was initially hesitant to come to D.C. Even after deciding to go, I was ready to approach the event with a severely critical eye.

But when I arrived at the intersection of 4th and Independence, the crowd was a beautiful conglomeration of Black, Non-binary, White, Brown, and Transgender women that formed a breathtakingly heterogeneous sea of femininity. There were men too—both old and young—who were protesting alongside their sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends.  This march would not have achieved the success it did without participants from every race and gender. Feminism doesn’t work unless it is intersectional, and I sincerely hope future organizers of protest movements will take that fact into account.  I hope that the white women who showed up Saturday will understand how important it is for all of us to be at the next Black Lives Matter protest; we don’t win unless we ensure that none of us get left behind.   

One aspect of the march I would like to critique is the personal attacks the event spurred on the Trump family.  While I admittedly laughed a bit at the “Free Melania” signs littering the crowd, in actuality, they are extremely counterproductive.  Personally, I would not marry Donald Trump, but we cannot simply assume that the woman who chose to do so is being held hostage by her husband. Statements like those, and the SNL writer’s words concerning Trump’s son Bannon, are neither productive nor mature. Sinking our cause to the level of petty, presumptive statements only renders it less worthy of serious attention.

Swarthmore was well-represented at both the D.C. and Philadelphia protests. The Lang Center sponsored three buses filled with 144 students and faculty members to the capital. They also provided 225 round trip SEPTA tickets to students attending the march in Philly. Many who were not able to get a seat on one of the Swat buses went anyways via car, bus, train, or van. Even some Swatties currently abroad attended marches in their respective locations, such as Paris and London.

Eliza Wainwright ’19, who attended the march in Philly, thought that the protest left something to be desired.

“While it was really exciting to see so many people out there, I noticed the crowd wasn’t very diverse. The speakers were a lot of white, cis women. Overall I think [the march] was a good experience but it’s hard to have a provoking inclusive dialogue with people from all the same backgrounds. It didn’t necessarily spur any new dialogue,” she notes.  

While Shivani Chinnappan ’18, who attended the D.C. protest, acknowledges that the march was not perfect, she decidedly affirms that its successes should be the greatest takeaway.

“When people thought the march wasn’t being very intersectional, the organizers took steps to make it more intersectional, and that was huge. There was definitely diversity amongst the groups, and there is always room for more, but the fact that the organizers made motions to correct their mistake and increase inclusivity is enough for me to be fully behind the cause,” she said.  

Chinnappan also stresses that in addition to being exciting and energizing, the march sparked important, educational dialogues.

“Even for the people who didn’t think about intersectionality, you were there and you saw the signs. I saw that first hand when someone asked our group what ‘intersectionality and feminism’ meant. And we were happy to explain,” she confirms.  

Overall, Chinnappan found her march experience to be both positive and productive, despite the jam-packed crowds and inability to move.

“The turnout was unreal, and the expanse was global. It would have been nice to hear the speakers, but I was there, showing my support, and I was happy to do that,” she states.

Sometimes, all you have to do is show up. Sometimes, that’s enough. On Saturday, enough people showed up to pack the streets of DC so tightly they nearly called off the march. I felt a surge of pride when they informed us the crowds had flooded the streets, providing nowhere to walk. It didn’t matter that we were hundreds of yards from the stage. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t see the screen. It didn’t matter that we went hours without moving. We were there.

Notwithstanding, as incredible as the march was, it cannot serve as the culmination of activism concerning the Trump administration. Simply showing up was everything on Saturday, but it is imperative that we continue to do so and begin to do more. It is critical that all of us resist governmental decisions with which we disagree by way of writing letters, signing petitions, campaigning for 2018 Congressional candidates, and getting to the polls at every possible opportunity.

It was past 2:30am on Sunday morning when my friends and I finally returned to Swat. Campus was as dark as we left it, the sky a deep blue crosshatched with streaks of black. We could barely keep our eyes open, yawning frequently while shuffling sluggishly back to our dorms. We had been gone 21 hours and were exhausted. Still, climbing the stairs to the third floor, my smudged, tattered sign dragging listlessly behind me, I couldn’t help but smile. It was a glorious exhaustion stemming from hours of exhilaration.

Regardless of whether those presiding over the buildings around which we marched take our protest into account, January 21, 2017 will be a day that over three million Americans will remember and one that will, undoubtedly, go down in history. Maybe it will change minds, maybe it won’t, but it will be noticed, and that is a fact of which each participant should be proud.

As Audre Lorde reminds us, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

The words of many are not welcome in our new president’s administration.  On Saturday, we spoke.  And that was just the beginning.

Going braless: the consumption of women’s bodies

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Recently, I made the decision to do the unfathomable: to occasionally wear an outfit without a bra. Now, what spurred me to make this decision wasn’t necessarily some bold political statement, though that is a perfectly valid reason to go braless too. Rather, what motivated me to free my chest from the clasps of the patriarchy was simply that bras can be pretty fucking uncomfortable. An especially annoying piece of clothing, as I’m sure many of my readers may understand, is the heinous strapless bra. Personally, I like not having to pull my bra up from underneath me every five seconds. After one occasion at a party where my bra literally slipped all the way down to my waist while I was dancing, I had to stop and think, “Do I really have to do this?” The clear answer in my head was, “No! Of course not! I’m an empowered female student at an unapologetically progressive liberal arts college. Who needs bras? Fuck the patriarchy!” From then on, I have gone braless in lieu of strapless bras.

My first time not wearing a bra felt pretty freeing, though perhaps a bit awkward. However, at the end of the day, I knew I definitely wanted to try going braless again. I told myself I’d get used to it. While this point was true to some extent, a breaking point for me was on a day I decided to wear a thin off-white dress—no bra. Being in a class taught by a male professor, sitting across from two straight guys was… excruciatingly awkward. I kept thinking about the distraction I might have been posing and the discomfort I might well have been giving my professor. I tried to battle these thoughts with, “So what? They’re just nipples, and if they’re looking that’s inappropriate, that’s not my fault.” However, I attended an all-girls school for seven years, during which we were lectured countless times to be ladies and always close our legs when in our school uniforms, the reason most often being that some of us had male teachers. Why? I couldn’t say. Perhaps it was to avoid presenting the temptation of under-aged girls to these apparently morally weak-willed men. Maybe it was to preserve the precious gift of our bodies from any form of male gaze. Why were our male teachers looking anyway? Was I always being watched by males who just couldn’t help themselves? Who knows.

What is clear, however, is that this frame of mind is hard to unlearn in the span of a few months. Experiencing those uncomfortable moments in my class had me feeling watched, exposed, and self-conscious. Was I being paranoid? Quite possibly, but perhaps justifiably so. As you can see by the example of my school, more often than not, female-bodied persons are made to feel as if they are always being watched, evaluated, and preyed upon. What usually comes to mind when one speaks of the objectification of women is cat-calling, and with good reason. I remember being around 16 years old and terrified to exit my mother’s car due to the fact that a group of men sat outside. I assumed that they were lying in wait to reach deep inside of me with callous words and take a part of whatever childhood innocence I was forced to leave behind after growing breasts.

However, creepy boogey men on the side of the road are not the only people who make women feel as if their bodies are constantly on display for male consumption. The words that more frequently have me feeling subhuman come out of the mouths of men whom I know personally, some of whom even consider themselves progressive. Many micro-aggressions occur in our daily lives that men may not even consider as “objectification.” I think of the times guys have been congratulated for “scoring” with me or with other women. I think back to my high school boyfriend and his friend comparing me and my friends to cars—I was supposed to take it as a compliment when I was referred to as a “Mercedes Benz” rather than an actual person. “That’s just how guys talk,” he would assure me. “You wouldn’t understand.” It all comes back to the good old excuse of “boys being boys” and that’s right, “locker room talk.” Men talk about women like conquests, rating them on scales of one to ten, voting on which hot girl they’d rather conquer—inserting a metaphorical white flag of victory into her skin once the deed is done. In the wake of the comments made by Donald Trump, men, even those who consider themselves to be “the good guys” need to evaluate their speech, within which sexism has been so deeply entrenched. Revelations like the Trump video confirm the fear that many women have: that men are always watching them, evaluating them, and preying upon them; that nowhere is safe, not even their own bodies. The way men converse with each other in private, stems from systemic sexism and misogyny. Men have been taught that women exist solely for them to lust after, to have sex with, to conquer and pillage and come out with a sense of victory. No, it’s not “just locker room talk,” it’s not “just how guys talk.” It’s just how women are objectified, and it needs to stop.

Corporate environment contorts feminism

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We live in an idyllic haven of equality here at Swarthmore. On a daily basis, we are surrounded by extremely accepting and intelligent peers, who generally do not discriminate against one another on the basis of characteristics inherited by birth. More often than not, we are judged on our merits and our hard work, not on our physical appearance or surface-level traits. When we think of graduating and stepping out into the real world, we expect that the world outside will be just as tolerant and openminded; as a woman, I expect that I will be taken seriously. Perhaps this is just too presumptuous.

Earlier this week, I attended J.P. Morgan’s Winning Women program, a recruiting event geared towards undergraduate women interested in pursuing finance-related careers. The purpose of these events, in my view, is twofold. Such a program gives a company the opportunity to improve their image by showcasing the female leadership in their firm and the progressivism in their hiring and employment practices, given that women continue to be vastly underrepresented in the corporate world. In addition, these events allow the company to effectively groom the next generation of businesswomen by providing them with exposure to the industry and the foundation for a set of skills that can equip them for future success in finance.

The event began with some of the top executives giving us an overview of the work they do, followed by a series of panels, the second of which was titled, “Personal Branding.” The moderator, a campus recruiter, was female, as were all the panelists who were speaking and all of the undergraduate students attending the event. Three questions into the panel, the moderator approached the subject of emotions in the workplace, asking the female employees how they overcame balancing their feelings with their work. The next few questions and their subsequent responses seemed to imply that there was some truth to the notion that female employees are more emotionally unstable than their male counterparts, and as such a conscious effort needs to constantly be made to put aside feelings in order to perform their duties.

I hoped that despite the fact that this line of questioning had rubbed me the wrong way, the remaining responses could still redeem the corporate culture of these firms. That was the case until the moderator asked if the way in which these female employees dressed and spoke affected their personal brand in the workplace. The panelist to respond delved into an anecdote to illustrate her point, citing the example of an intern who had worked at the office during a previous summer. The intern had supposedly worn the same outfit to work two days in a row, which caused her supervisor—the panelist who was answering the question—to assume that she had gone out with her friends and stayed over at someone else’s place. The outfit-repeater seemed to slightly underperform at work on the second day, causing all other employees that she interacted with to lose respect for her and her work ethic. As I heard this high ranking employee of J.P. Morgan directly attack the character and diligence of a girl, I looked around to see if any of the girls around me were as concerned about the implications of this as I was. These girls, mostly accounting and finance majors from various local universities, were just shaking their heads in apparent agreement. These girls may go on to one day inhabit the very same seats that these panelists were currently in; the deeply rooted misogyny that these responses seemed to exude was becoming further perpetuated by brainwashing the next generation of corporate women to think that the stereotypes women face must be accepted rather than vehemently combatted.

It was disheartening to me to see that the women who are in the best possible position to uproot the prejudice faced by women were the very same women to appear most complacent. Instead of using their position of power to reject dated notions and gender roles, they were instead furthering the same misconceptions that have oppressed women for centuries. The idea that women are indisputably affected by feelings more so than men, and that these sentiments indubitably hinder their work, is not only demeaning and horribly offensive, but also just downright inaccurate. Condoning the practice of judging the capability and caliber of an individual due to their presumed actions outside of the workplace, actions which are neither morally nor legally reprehensible, further embeds the impression that a woman’s actions ought to be judged in the first place; quite frankly, it is no one’s business. Would anyone insinuate that when the boys go out for a round of drinks after a long day at work, they are proving themselves to be less worthy or competent as employees? Are men eternally emotionless and unfaltering workhorses? Would either of these issues have even been broached if this event wasn’t supposed to prepare women for the corporate environment?

These employees were provided with an invaluable platform to play a significant role in inspiring and shaping the lives of young women; instead of empowering my peers and I to break through the glass ceiling that is sexism in the corporate environment, these corporate leading ladies reinforced these twisted stereotypes and encouraged acquiescence. Conflict aversion through concession is not what we women must strive for; if we are being deprived of opportunities and fair treatment, we must look at oppression square in the face, acknowledge it as a problem, and then work to systematically dismantle it.

Womyn problems and womyn powers

in Campus Journal/Columns/People Watching at Swat by

 

“Defining myself”

 

It is very easy to locate Lila Weitzner ’19 in the bustling crowd of Sharples at 6:30 p.m.. Her splendid head wrap, colorful crop tops, high rise leggings, and heels separate her from most of her fellow Swatties. People have described Weitzner’s style as “grandma prostitute chic”. A lot of clothes she wears are like dance clothes — items that show the shape of her body. She also loves bold colors and embellishments like embroidery or beads. When asked about how she developed her style, Weitzner said that it largely came from her need to define herself before people defined her. Weitzner lost her hair and one eyebrow in 3rd grade because of an autoimmune disorder called alopecia. Her hair came back a little bit during 6th grade and has been “on-and-off” since then.

 

“I felt like I was floating for most of the time. There’s no partially bald girl in the media, and barely any in the real world. I had nothing to hold on to to tell me what I should look like. There’s no beauty standard I can aspire to. So the burden is completely on me—I need to rely on myself to figure out what it means for me to be beautiful”, Weitzner said.

 

Growing up in Washington D.C., Weitzner spent a lot of time taking public transportation and being watched by strangers.

 

“I’m always perceived by the world. People make decisions about me”, Weitzner said. She can’t remember how many times people assumed that she had cancer or she was a member of a punk rock band who wanted to look different for the sake of looking different. “But first of all, I’m perfectly healthy. Second of all, I’m more ‘normal’ than people think — I do hate the system we live in and all the oppression, but I’m not necessarily anti-establishment,” said Weitzner with a little chagrin. The reactions she received from people were not always negative. Instead, Weitzner said walking around partially bald made her “the subject of so much kindness.” She remembers that people always came to her and praised her for her braveness because they mistakenly assumed that she had cancer. However, Weitzner said such kind gestures somehow placed her in a tricky position.

 

“If I just simply accept their kindness, I’m being dishonest. But if I correct them and tell them the truth, they might think that I feel very insecure for not having hair, and then they feel bad for calling attention to it, even though I recognize the good intention behind their actions,” she explained.

Colorful head wraps and clothing allow Weitzner to present herself the best way she can. She loves the fact that people see courage and triumph in her, but she doesn’t want people to make incorrect assumptions. Instead of being “hardcore” or someone’s “inspiration,” she wants her outfit to be able to brighten someone’s day. To Weitzner, her distinctive style is a way to celebrate her body, one that might not be conventionally beautiful and thus may not be celebrated. She feels good about her body, and she wants people to know it.

“It’s totally okay if some women don’t celebrate themselves this way. But I see a lot of women trying to do that but lacking the audacity to actually dress to be proud of their bodies! I really want to help them! They might just need to fold their shirt in a little bit or wear a belt!” Weitzner’s pitch got higher as she got excited when talking about offering fashion advice.

 

“Am I feminine enough?”

 

Like most of us, Weitzner has not always been satisfied with her body. She has mixed feelings towards many aspects of her body: when she first hit puberty, she found it difficult to find bottoms that could fit both her hips and her waist. While her wide hips gave her a classically-feminine figure,  Weitzner was frustrated by the fact that she didn’t have large boobs or long hair, two other elements closely associated with femininity. In middle school, she was confused by the unsolicited attention from men complimenting her on her body. Unaware of any standards of femininity that lay outside of the mainstream, Weitzner said she couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm.

 

Weitzner said she only learned to fall in love with her own body around 9th grade. She went to Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a school with a majority Black student body. Weitzner said this was the first time that her body type, and more specifically her curves, had been close to the beauty standard. Around the same time, White American culture started adapting and appropriating the predominantly Black beauty standard valuing female bodies with big butts and hips.

 

“Girls switched from asking ‘Does my butt look fat in this?’ to “Does my butt look fat enough in this?’”, Weitzner joked.

 

Weitzner said this was when she realized that there was no single beauty standard. Different body types are celebrated more or less in particular times and places, but the reality is that there are limitless ways to be beautiful.

 

As Weitzner started college at Swarthmore, she sometimes felt disconnected from her body. Weitzner said her busy schedule makes it impossible for her to dance in her room in front of the mirror or put on body lotion after she showers.

 

“My body has been changing so much all the time. That’s why I really want to feel my present body. Appreciating my skin and knowing someone else will also appreciate it makes me so satisfied. When choosing my outfit, I feel more expressive and more beautiful if I have a little part of my stomach or back exposed. It’s not even about look. I just want to touch my skin and have more control over my body. I want to see my food baby after a big meal,” Weitzner explained.

 

At the same time that Weitzner has been on a journey to happiness with her body, she has gotten older and been exposed to more catcalling based on her appearance. Weitzner says she finds some irony in the fact that her body, which she used to worry about not being feminine enough, is consistently considered by strangers to be attractive. But the incidents of catcalling themselves, Weitzner finds problematic.

 

“Am I feminist enough?”

 

Yes, we all hate the over-sexualization of the female body. Yes, we hate catcalling as it reinforces the notion of male entitlement to female bodies, and the oppressive rape culture that this supports. But if a woman feels good when someone tells her she looks hot, is she somehow not feminist enough? Is sexism already deeply coded in the way we think? Are we being “vain” and trying to please men when we dress up? And, most importantly, how do we navigate ourselves through all these moments of self-questioning?

 

When I raised these questions to Lila, she sighed and paused for a few seconds.

 

“So many forms of oppression have been telling me that I shouldn’t feel good about myself. I don’t identify with the kind of feminism that makes me turn my back on things that make me happy. Dressing up and being pretty is my way of celebrating myself. Who created the idea that valuing my appearance means I want to please men? I want to have control over how people perceive me. Knowing that the way I look has impact on people is empowering.

 

“There’s an idea that caring so much about my appearance means I’m not confident enough of my natural beauty, and that always makes me feel not sure about wearing makeup. But the fact is that the shame around makeup is just the world trying to make me feel less powerful.

“How are you going to tell women that if they care about how they look, they are not ready for serious business, but at the same time pour all the bullshit on women about the right body type? Are we just going to accept that we’re not beautiful and we can’t redefine beauty? Discovering my natural beauty doesn’t mean not putting any effort in it. ‘Natural’ is to listen to myself and to be authentic to myself. Celebrating myself is celebrating so many versions of me. Fashion is what allows me to do so.”

 

Weitzner expressed similar thoughts on the topic of women’s bodies. Weitzner believes that with the cultural fascination with the idea of a “strong woman” comes a push for women to have more muscular bodies. She finds this a little bit unsettling.

 

“My body is very flexible. Recently, a doctor told me that hyper-flexibility will give me limitless athletic ability once I get stronger. No one had ever told me this before! People don’t tell me that I’m strong and athletic just because I’m curvy and I don’t run very fast.” To Weitzner, it doesn’t make much sense that women are told to get stronger by acquiring stereotypically masculine qualities instead of being told to recognize the qualities they already have as strengths.

 

Weitzner suggested that we think about these topics a lot so with the ultimate goal of thinking about them less. She hopes that in the future, when she chooses to wear something pretty and ‘revealing’, she won’t have to go through the process of thinking, as she says,  “People are going to yell, but do I care?” She wishes she could simply look good and feel good without shame.

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