To the Food Police in My Life



Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major graduating in May 2019.  



Eating around other people has become the bane of my existence. I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten in peace without the “food police” (family, friends, strangers, etc) hitting me with a microaggression about my food choices. Receiving these microaggressions day in and day out has made the simple task of eating daunting and anxiety-ridden.

Here are just SOME of the scenarios that I have been in:

Whenever I order a salad: “What, are you on a diet?”

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Family members when they see me eating only a salad.

Whenever I order anything other than a salad: “Do you really need that?”

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What these situations demonstrate is that it doesn’t actually matter what I’m eating when I get these microaggressions. In fact, it demonstrates that food policing has nothing to do with the food itself. Food policing is really about policing women’s bodies, sizeism, and buying into the economics of diet culture.

Policing Women’s Bodies: The Feminine Ideal

Our patriarchal society begins policing women’s bodies in early childhood. Women are taught from an early age that our appearances define our sense of worth in society, and that thinness directly correlates to value. Furthermore, because we live in a heterosexist world, we’re taught that the judges of our appearances are essentially men. Thus, we’re indoctrinated early on to strive towards a beauty standard that is both largely rooted in the male gaze and is entirely unattainable. This message is constantly reinforced by the institutions in our lives: from schools, the media, and even from our own families sometimes. We’re constantly told that we should pay attention to our appearances and maintain the right body size. But what exactly encompasses this beauty standard regarding body size?

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Historically, the American beauty standard favored plumper bodiesPrior to the mid-20th century, robust bodies were considered to be the feminine ideal. Larger body size was considered indicative of fertility and wealth. Famous beauty icons even into the 20th century, like Marilyn Monroe, were heavy set. Advertisements at the time sold products meant to help women gain weight, not lose weight (seems almost impossible to imagine, I know). Full stomachs, thick thighs, and fat (in the “right” places) were considered healthy & desirable.

Since the mid-20th century, we’ve seen a shift in the beauty ideal from larger bodies to thinner bodies. By the 1960s, the feminine ideal was slender and wispy. In just 10 years, the ideal body size shifted immensely from women with bodies like Marilyn Monroe to bodies like Twiggy. This trend of willowy and thin bodies (like that of Kate Moss) continued to be the feminine ideal throughout the 90s.

Today, the ideal body size still favors thin bodies. American society idealizes an hourglass figure with measurements of about 36-26-36 inch measurements (bust-waist-hips). As you can see, the waist measurement is significantly smaller than the chest and hip measurements.

The current beauty standard presents American women with a conundrum (in the way unrealistic beauty standards always do). As the measurements listed above and current beauty icons such as the Kardashians demonstrate, the ideal body is simultaneously curvy and thin at the same time. While heavy-set busts and hips are considered ideal, so are small waists, thin arms and slender legs. The ideal weight for American women is around 128 pounds, yet the average weight for American women aged 20+ is 168.5 pounds.

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The Kardashians


This beauty standard has real-life consequences for American women. This is because we have associated body size with women’s sense of worth in American society; such that those who are closer to the beauty standard, have higher social value in our society. Therefore, women who have or are close to this ideal body size are considered more worthy. We associate positive values with women who meet the ideal body size.

This phenomenon is called thin privilege. Thin privilege means that individuals who move through the world in a thin body are granted certain advantages and immunities over people who are not thin. What’s important to remember is that it doesn’t matter whether you actually “feel thin” or not to have thin privilege. If other people perceive you as thin, then you maintain an advantage.

On the other hand, women who do not meet this ideal body size and are larger often deal with sizeism. Sizeism is the prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s size (aka: “body shaming,” “fat shaming”). Sizeism is rooted in fatphobia, which is the fear and dislike of obese people and/or obesity.

Sizeism can have severe consequences: one consequence is fat discrimination such as verbal and physical aggression, increased scrutiny of eating habits and extreme pressure to go on dangerous diets, increased health insurance premiums, being provided inferior medical care or being denied certain medical procedures, and/or being judged as “lazy,” “stupid,” and/or “weak.”

Fundamental to our sizeist culture is the notion that being overweight or obese is the result of diminished morality; being heavy is seen as the embodiment of gluttony, sloth, etc. Additionally, because of the deep-rooted belief in self-reliance in American culture, body size is regarded as completely under the control of the individual. Therefore, being heavy or obese is considered to be caused by destructive individual behavior. Ironically, however, we often engage in destructive individual behavior because of the constant and toxic societal pressure to be unattainably thin (e.g. skipping meals). 

Here is an advertisement that a shampoo company ran which I think perfectly exemplifies the attainability of the ideal body:

Your breasts may be too big, too saggy, too pert, too flat, too full, too far apart, too close together, too A cup, too lopsided, too jiggly, too pale, too padded, too pointy, too pendulous or just two mosquito bites. But with Dep styling products, at least you can have your hair the way you want it. Make the most of what you’ve got.”

As this ad demonstrates, no matter how you look, even if you’re the closest to the ideal body size, it’s still not enough. Despite this, we still strive incredibly as a society to meet a body size that for many of us is simply not possible. Why?

Diet Culture

pasted image 0 (12)One of the main driving forces of this unrealistic female body ideal is the diet industry. The diet industry is worth $66.3 billion; selling everything and anything from diet pills to meal plans to member-based fitness clubs.

The diet industry’s primary target? Women. The diet industry, for all the good it may or may not do, profits off of women feeling insecure about their bodies.

Many of the products being peddled can contain harmful ingredients. These products are often advertised by famous artists and celebrity influencers. For-example, many celebrities have endorsed the newest trend in diet products: diet teas. Many diet teas contain senna, which has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as a laxative. Although senna can be helpful to combat occasional constipation, the FDA has warned that prolonged use (like in a diet tea) could cause liver, kidney, and colon problems. Despite this, many celebrity influencers still promote diet teas. 

The pervasiveness of diet culture makes it nearly impossible to “just ignore it.” As a result, eradicating it is bound to be a long and difficult process. Truthfully, it would probably require an overhaul of the entire system, but through certain steps, we can begin to diminish its effects.


pasted image 0 (13)One way is to actively support and be a proponent of body diversity. The body diversity or body positive movement is the acceptance of all human body types. It is rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others. It also understands that body size is not the same thing as health.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “bikini bodies.” You may have also at some point fretted over the idea of wearing a bathing suit to the pool or beach (lord knows I have).  The diet industry would have you believe that, in order to have a good bikini body, you must go on a diet in order to be the right size in the right areas. With a body positivity lens, we would say that ALL bodies are bikini bodies if there’s a bikini on your body!

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Continuing to raise awareness and celebrate body diversity is essential to disrupting the diet industry. There are so many people already doing this amazing work:  

  • Sonalee Rashatwar, a social worker and an activist sex therapist based in Philadelphia, works with clients to raise self-esteem regarding body image.
  • Tess Holiday is a plus-sized model who continues to challenge the fashion industry on body size.
  • Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga instructor based in Durham, North Carolina who uses yoga to encourage body positivity in her students.
  • Last, but not least, Imogen Fox gives us a very raw, often vulnerable, and eye-opening glimpse of what it means to be body positive as a disabled person, challenging our perceptions of disabilities.

Not only should individuals adopt a body positivity outlook, companies should also do so through cause marketing. Cause marketing refers to marketing strategies that promote a social cause instead of a product. This can be especially potent when the cause is relevant for the brand and has meaning for the brand’s customers. Perfect examples of cause marketing include Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign or American Eagle’s Inclusive Aerie Real lingerie line. When cause marketing is successful, companies are able to expand their customer-base and increase sales. Since American Eagle adopted its Aerie Real campaign, it has continuously reported growths in their profits.

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In fact, we can see how refusing to adopt a body positivity lens can hurt a company. Victoria’s Secret is an extremely famous lingerie brand and has been known for its famous Victoria’s Secret Fashion show. However, it is also known for its severely limited sizing range. The company has overtly declined to be inclusive; most recently, its execs declared that they aren’t willing to hire Trans or Plus-Size Models in their VS Fashion Show because, in their own words, “the show is a fantasy. ” (*rolls eyes*).

In the last few years, Victoria’s Secret has consistently reported that its sales have been in decline. Understandably so, considering that new brands supporting body diversity are popping up: lingerie brands like Savage X Fenty, Torrid, Universal Standard, and more. Additionally, when beauty conglomerates like Dove openly adopt a body diversity message and increase their already high sales, there really is no way for Victoria’s Secret to keep up. As these companies demonstrate, adopting a body positivity campaign can only help increase profits and visibility.

Adopting a body diversity outlook could only help us, not hurt us. If my food popo adopted a body positive mindset, they’d understand that I know what’s best for me, my body, and my health. They’d also understand that my body size is not the same as my health. Ultimately, sizeism and unattainable beauty standards only exist to point out the obvious: we are all unique, different people; beautiful in our own ways.





Pointe-ing Towards Change: Inclusive Practices in Ballet


alexia-e1535562782603.jpg   Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

This past year, I went to see the San Francisco Ballet at the Kennedy Center for the premiere of new works from various choreographers in the nation. The show consisted of around eight separate dances; some solos, duets, and quartets. The dancers held my attention throughout the lengthy, three-program show as they moved with strength and elegance.

However, I quickly noticed the lack of racial/ethnic diversity on the stage. Under-representation is not a recent problem in the realm of classical or even contemporary ballet. This issue dates back to the 17th century when ballet first became popularized in the courts of European nobility and was, as one can imagine, plagued with discrimination and racism. Unfortunately, the whiteness that engulfed ballet back in those days still exists today, around 400 years later.

Admittedly, I can only speak about this issue from a privileged perspective. I always loved the style of ballet, but I question if my love for it is also correlated in part because I saw others who looked like me doing it. Even from the beginning of my dance training when I was 7 years old, I never believed ballet was an unattainable style of dance for me. The standard attire that is worn for ballet class are pink tights and pink ballet slippers; and though no one has “pink” skin, it is meant to represent closely the skin of white folks, once again perpetuating the notion that people of color are not even considered within this art form. (Significantly, while writing this blog, the New York Times released an article stating that Freed of London released new pointe shoes for black, Asian, and mixed raced dancers.)


Misty Copeland garnered the attention of the media and the dance community by being the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer (one who dances at the highest rank) for the American Ballet Theatre. Yet, the fact that she is still the only African-American woman in the nation to hold a principal role sheds light on the issue of the overwhelmingly large number of white ballet dancers and how they are given priority within this community. Nonetheless, Copeland is setting the stage and creating a path for other dancers of color to feel as though they, too, can do ballet.

In addition to the groundbreaking leadership of Misty Copeland, I wanted to uplift some companies and programs that are prioritizing racial and ethnic representation into the world of ballet.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, who had previously been the first black male dancer in the New York City ballet. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. he realized that there was still work to be done in America in making a difference for black individuals. Mitchell created DTH to, “present a ballet company of African-American and other racially diverse artists who perform the most demanding repertory at the highest level of quality.” The Dance Theatre of Harlem is trying to bring down barriers between Harlem and the world of ballet and extend the art to communities that have been predominantly ignored within the field. Doing this requires that opportunities reach out to individuals who are also of different social classes to make ballet classes available and affordable. To do this, DTH started the initiative of Dancing Through Barriers to bring people of all ages from the community to learn about the arts through an inclusive and equitable arts education program.


Another example is Project Plié an initiative started by the American Ballet Theatre to create a community within the world of ballet where the talent of people of color could be nurtured. The company, “grant[s] merit-based training scholarships to talented children of color; provides teacher training scholarships to teachers of color [and] grants intern scholarships to young arts administrators of color.” American Ballet Theatre’s CEO, Rachel Moore emphasizes the importance of diversity both on stage and behind the scenes.

With both these initiatives working to bring more black dancers to the stages, there remains still the need to share the history and the stories of black dancers in America. MoBBallet makes it their mission to “preserve, present, and promote the contributions and stories of Black artists in the field of ballet, reinstating a legacy that has been muted.” Their website features a timeline of the various schools, performances, and companies that have provided opportunities for black dancers as well as access to an e-zine, or electronic magazine, to preserve the history and progress made thus far. Organizations such as these are integral to the preserving and showcasing the strides of black individuals in an accessible way.


As a Women’s Center intern, I see many parallels between the work that is being done at the Women’s Center toward advancing gender equity and the work that is being done by these companies and programs to advance racial and ethnic representation in the ballet community. Their approach is similar to that of the Women’s Center, as they acknowledge that to enact change, we need to prioritize and center the voices of those who have been marginalized to create an inclusive campus climate. At the Women’s Center, we see and acknowledge the harm that is done to the communities of people that are underrepresented and whose voices are repeatedly silenced. Many other articles written about this issue speak on the economic inequalities, racial prejudice, and racism that are foundations for the discrimination in ballet. (see links below)

In writing this blog, I urge my dance friends to look around their classroom the next time they are in ballet class and see where the privilege still lies. I hope that we continue to work on expanding the number of people of color in the classroom, both as teachers and students, to nurture a more inclusive generation of ballet artists. We should prioritize representation of individuals on stage and continue to work towards creating an inclusive ballet community off-stage as well, as ballet educators and choreographers.

We will only begin to see ballet transform when we acknowledge that this lack of representation is still so pervasive in Western society and encourage the next generation of choreographers to cast more diverse dancers. Everyone should have equal opportunities and equal access to be a part of this art form. As an aspiring choreographer and teacher, I will do my part in seeing that change through.

Additional Readings:


B-I-N-G-O spells SCOUT…with the Women’s Center

Last semester we launched everybody’s fave, the Women’s Center Scouts! And it was really, really popular.


Like really popular and if you missed out you’re probably feeling a little sad right now. Well, don’t be because we’re rolling out the Women’s Center Scouts Spring Challenge!



We still have the Women’s Center Scouts, but this semester it’ll be a little different. If you haven’t already, start by joining the Women’s Center myUMBC page and following at least one of our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). If you’re already a member and following one of our pages, great! You’re one step closer.

Now, instead of completing three different Women’s Center events throughout the semester, you’ll be racing to get a Connect 5 on our brand new bingo board (aka Punch the Patriarchy Card)!

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  • Attend any one Women’s Center event
  • Bring a friend to the lounge and give them a tour
  • Donate paper towels, tissues, or food to the Women’s Center
  • Attend one program before Spring Break Attend one Women’s Center workshop
  • Color a coloring page in the Women’s Center
  • Bring a friend to a Women’s Center event or group
  • Fill out the question of the week on the whiteboard
  • Attend one Knowledge Exchange
  • Make a ~new~ friend in the Women’s Center!
  • Read a Women’s Center blog on and ask the author a question
  • Introduce yourself to a Women’s Center student staff member and learn about their astrological sign
  • Free Space (Because We Love You)
  • Share a Women’s Center post or event on your social media and tag or mention us!
  • Follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter Instagram) and comment on one of our posts!
  • Attend a Women’s Center Pop Culture Pop-Up (look out for when they’re announced but they’ll always fall on Wednesdays at noon)
  • Attend one discussion group (i.e. Between Women, Women of Color Coalition, Returning Women Students, or We Believe You. Not sure if the discussion group is for you? Check out our website to learn more about each group’s purpose and community).
  • Attend one Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) event (calendar coming later this semester. All SAAM events will take place in April)
  • Celebrate Galentine’s Day with the Women’s Center on 2/13/19
  • Donate coffee or tea!
  • Check out a book from the Women’s Center Library
  • Bring back a book from the Women’s Center library
  • Make a Take Back the Night rally sign
  • Go to the Clothesline Project Display on 4/8/19 on Main Street
  • Attend Trans Day of Visibility film screening on 3/27/19

A few rules! It is completely up to you to track your progress. The Punch the Patriarchy Cards are already printed and ready for you to claim in the Women’s Center. Each person’s card will stay with us at the Women’s Center front desk, but you’re welcome to take a picture to help map your moves and keep track of your progress. When you complete a square, it’s up to you to “punch” it with a pen or marker of your choice. Don’t forget to date the square when it is completed. And finally, we’ll trust you to keep a scouts honor and mark challenges you ~actually~ did complete.

Any UMBC community member who completes the challenge by May 1st gets a Women’s Center T-shirt! If you already have one, you’ll get a shout-out on our social media pages for being a stellar scout (or maybe, just maybe you might be able to get one of our awesome Take Back the Night t-shirts).


All UMBC students, faculty, and staff are welcome to participate!


For questions, stop by the Women’s Center or email us at

Celebrating our Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.


Returning Women Student Scholars celebrating the end of the semester and our December graduates at the pinning celebration.

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. It is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Happy Graduation!!!

Ariel Poirier


Ariel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I became a full-time student at UMBC in the fall of 2016. Before this I was working through my associates at AACC and completed that with a degree in general studies and photography. My major at UMBC and what I’ll be graduating with is environmental studies and geography! I’m so excited to finally end this long journey to my Bachelor’s degree.

My future plans are to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I had a great experience interning with them last summer in Jacksonville, Florida. I also plan on returning to school within the next few years to earn my Masters degree in ecology.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with your professors! I had such great relationships with my professors and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been bold and introduced myself. This goes a long way with building a rapport and establishing trust. Another thing I would say is to try not to become discouraged! You’re here for a reason!

Laura Newman


Laura and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I was a UMBC dropout in 2004 when I could not continue as a student. I spent years struggling with mental health issues and my family has told me how they had thought I would never be capable of going to school again. A genetic test called GeneSight helped determine what medicine to take and I quickly began to recover. I went to communtiy college for a semester and got As and gained confidence to return to UMBC. My grades have been above 3.5 my whole time here. I am proud to be graduating and already employed full time. I hope to be an inspiration to anyone who has struggled with the balance of mental health and school.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with the Women’s Center which provided me amazing professional development support for me as I began to transition into a full career. Additionally, the scholarship program provided me additional financial support and helped me work an internship that led to an awesome job. The Women’s Center had helpful workshops, including salary negotiation and helpful tips on Google apps. I was surprised how much I learned!

Lauren Hall


Lauren and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Stay tuned for more from Lauren in her own words. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Lauren who is graduating with a degree in English Literature. We’re excited that Lauren will be staying on campus as she pursues a Masters in the Art of Teaching for secondary education beginning this spring. Happiest of birthdays to her son who is very excited to be celebrating his birthday on Lauren’s graduation day!


For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

No, You’re Not “So OCD”

Harini Harini is a student staff member at the Women’s Center and is also the co-facilitator of Between Women.


You have entered a chat with: Friend

1 message from: Friend

Did you hear what happened in class today?


1 message to: Friend

Yes! That girl just had a complete breakdown during her final, I can’t believe it!


2 messages from: Friend

Yes, oh my God!

What a schizo. I swear, she’s does this kind of stuff just to get out of taking tests.


2 messages to: Friend

I mean, she was upset, but do you think you should call her that?

I think she was just stressed out. You’re being kind of mean, don’t you think?


1 message from: Friend

Why are you being so sensitive? I was just expressing my opinion. Stop being lame.

Friend has left the chat.


Language policing is a heightened issue in the age of social media; communication has never been so accessible, but what can accompany the blend of different identities on one interface is thoughtlessness. All people seem alike on the internet, so it can be all too easy to subconsciously adopt the vocabulary of others, whether on the internet or in spoken word.

Those with mental illnesses and learning disabilities forge their own subculture among peers in person and the internet. A shared experience that dramatically impacts daily life is definitely something to bond over; but as with any marginalized group, there is a group with privilege that, knowingly or otherwise, co-opts the culture of the target group. Specifically, neurotypical people have a tendency to hijack mental illnesses and disabilities and use them as adjectives to describe themselves, more commonly described as ableism. Examples of this include claiming that you’re “so OCD” when your room is messy, or that having lots of energy makes you, “so ADHD.”

Do you know what makes you “so OCD?” Having obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Using mental illnesses and learning disabilities to describe traits and actions of neurotypical people only furthers stigma of already marginalized groups. People who seek professional help for very real issues can feel invalidated by their neurotypical peers, who portray mental illness, learning disabilities, and quirks as interchangeable. Neurotypical people regard mental illnesses and learning disabilities as an open buffet, where they can claim whichever parts are most appealing and leave behind the rest. Neurodivergent people do not have such a luxury: they are forced to live with all aspects of their identity.

Another way in which disabled culture is infringed upon is through “inspiration porn,” a concept in which a disability is exploited for the sake of inspiring able-bodied people. People with actual disabilities aren’t any different from those without, apart from that one aspect, but they seem to be the prime target for starring in any sort of inspirational campaign, as if saying, “if a person with prosthetics can be an athlete, why can’t you?” When the meaning of this sentiment is dissected, it appears to offer a challenge for able-bodied people, stating that anything a disabled person does, an able-bodied person should be able to match, if not surpass. The perceptions toward neurodivergent and disabled people are paradoxical in that able-bodied/neurotypical people view the former as a tragic form of inspiration, but also have no qualms about encroaching on their culture and needs.

People without ADD/ADHD take Adderall, a stimulant, to pull all-nighters when they forget to study for a test or finish an essay. Their abuse of the drug led to restrictions in attainment for those who really need it; a paper needs to be signed by the primary physician, which is delivered to the pharmacy, processed by the pharmacist, and finally the prescription is refilled. This has to happen every single time the medication needs a refill, all because neurotypical people claimed something intended to help those with a disadvantage they never experienced. What neurotypical people use to give themselves an extra edge in school, neurodivergents require to function on a level akin to them.

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No, please. Stop.

Those with very real mental health issues and learning disabilities are given accommodations to level the playing field; so when neurotypical people steal elements of neurodivergent culture, those accommodations are essentially nullified. Stigma increases, illnesses are invalidated, and no progress is made in furthering mental health awareness.

Saying you’re, “so OCD,” to describe being a neat person demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of what OCD really is. Substituting “OCD” with a physical ailment demonstrates just how nonsensical this is. “Oh, I’m out of breath from running. I’m so asthmatic!” Unless you have asthma, this just sounds ridiculous. So why say it with mental illnesses?

Having a mental illness isn’t a quirky personality trait; emulating a mentally ill or disabled person doesn’t make you a Manic Pixie Dreamboat (because infringement isn’t gender-exclusive). Being mentally ill simply means your brain chemistry is altered in a way that affects your daily life. The Women’s Center’s own Jess wrote a blog about why she vowed to stop casually using the word “crazy,” which has both ableist and sexist implications. The common use of the word “crazy” in labels is usually in conjunction with some aspect of femininity: Crazy Cat Lady, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, etc. The same goes for words like “insane,” “lame,” “crippled,” and countless other words that are believed to be innocently used because they’re not being used to describe a disabled or mentally ill person. The connotation still remains, and so does the implied meaning that these negative adjectives are traits describing or indicative of a differently-abled person.


If you’re neurotypical and an ally to those who are neurodiverse, you have a responsibility to stop doing this. Police your own ableist language and catch yourself if you’re about to say something along these lines. Using schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. as an adjective to describe personality traits is harmful for myriad reasons. However, allyship is not limited to just fixing your own behavior. If a friend or family member speaks like this, use your privilege to correct them and explain the toxicity of their actions. Change begins on an individual level, but its effects can run deeper than imaginable.


For more information about ableist language and neurodivergent culture, feel free to check out these resources!

Too Busy Being Black


Briscoe Turner is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. She is a sophomore Psychology major and Writing minor and a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center. 


Author’s note: This blog is a reflection of my constantly evolving thought process on how intersectionality unveils itself in my life, specifically in regards to my racial and gender identities. Hearing Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan’s, insights helped me more clearly articulate my thoughts.

I recently came across a Huffington Post interview where Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan, stated, “I Don’t Have Time To Be A Woman, I’m Too Busy Being Black.” Her words resonated with me because she so boldly and clearly laid out a sentiment that I had been trying to articulate for years. I first began to wrestle with this idea– that I was too busy dealing with the social implications of my Blackness to fully address the oppression I face as a woman–when I came across the term intersectionality in high school.

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Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the overlap of our oppressed identities that result in multiple levels of social injustice. I understand that my race and gender operate together, one having an effect on the other, but for some reason, I have felt a greater need to defend my worth as a Black person before I get a chance to defend my worth as a woman. I so vividly remember the various racial microaggressions and slurs I have had to endure throughout the years, but many of my memories surrounding sexism are limited to holding my own against boys during middle school recess basketball games and correcting the occasional uniformed “period jokes.” This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in predominantly White suburbs where my gender stood out less than my Blackness.

In my classes, there were plenty of other girls, but I was normally one of the few, if not only, Black students. This left me constantly feeling the need to prove that I was just as smart and articulate as everyone else, while also asserting the fact that intelligence runs deep in the Black community to avoid tokenism. I also had to defend my Blackness to members of the Black community to avoid being labeled White. Growing up, there were various internal and external battles that I fought in terms of validating my racial identity, that I did not as intensely experience when forming my gender identity. This is not to say that I don’t value my womanhood and understand that there are numerous systems working against me because of it. I just believe that I am often unfairly held back from fully reaping the rewards of feminist victories due to my Blackness.

My experiences have led me to believe that my race is the aspect of my identity that brings me the most joy as well as the most hardship, but I seldom give as much weight to how my gender factors into this strange mixture of pride and oppression.

In a context greater than the neighborhood that I grew up in, I think that this thought process stemmed from my feelings of division and exclusion within the Feminist Movement. In her essay “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde presents the idea that, “There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.” In conversations about the goals of the feminist movement, I have had to assert the fact that Women of Color are impacted by sexism differently than White woman.Image result for black woman respect gifs

Yes, I can relate to daily instances of sexism, but because I am Black, these instances become intensified. For example, if I am passionate about a topic or asserting myself, I am not only acting on emotional impulses associated with femininity, but I am somehow now the “angry Black girl.” Additionally, Black women are often left out of major dialogues relating to gender equality. In fact, there are many instances where our contributions to the Feminist Movement have been left unacknowledged. Our experiences simply are not the same, and until that is understood, the Feminist Movement will continue to exclude a wide array of women who would be a great asset to the furthering of the cause. Not feeling validated in a group that is supposed to be fighting for your equality is discouraging.

In comparison, I have found a sense of understanding and unity within the Black Lives Matter Movement that makes me believe that my experiences are validated in the fight for justice. Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, with the intent of “placing those at the margins closer to the center.” They realized that most Black liberation movements are led by Black, cis-gender, heterosexual men and wanted to make space for the experiences of Black women and Black queer and trans people. A movement with Black women at the core is something that is reaffirming to me.

With that being said, no movement is perfect, and I should look at how other movements approach the issue of diversity. Based on my experiences with the Feminist Movement, I can imagine that there are many movements where people feel stifled or unheard.

The disconnect between wanting to be more involved in the Feminist Movement and not feeling entirely welcomed is something that I struggle with but am actively trying to reconcile. I am a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center, where I am able to have open dialogues with other Women of Color about our diverse experiences and how we fit into the fight for gender equality. I find that this group has allowed me to connect with people who have similar sentiments as myself. It is spaces like this where I feel that my voice is not only heard but valued. I have come to realize that although my gender is not always at the forefront of my personal understanding of how I am perceived socially, it is a part of my identity that is essential to understanding the impact systemic structures of oppression have on me as a whole.

For more information about the ideas discussed in this blog, check out these resources:

Audre Lorde: “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”

Black Lives Matter: Herstory



After Pittsburgh: Hate Crimes, Gun Violence, and Toxic Masculinity

Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding writing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to read any of the numerous articles that were shared, I didn’t want to engage with the flood of posts on social media, and I didn’t want to talk. Except it’s more than not wanting to do any of those things; I felt that I couldn’t. I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because I was scared I would fall apart. I couldn’t read my friends’ posts because every time I saw them, I was hit with a pang of fear for their safety and for my own. I couldn’t afford to make this tragedy real, because doing so meant grappling with the hard questions.

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

How do we stop it from happening again and again and again?

Who’s next?

In the back of my mind, I knew that I would eventually have to face these fears and questions. I chose the Women’s Center blog as the forum to struggle with them because I recognized the capacity of the people around me to support me as I do so. That said, I don’t intend for this to merely be a personal reflection. There are larger societal factors which continue to influence the culture of violence in this country, and those need to be addressed.


Baseline Information

First things first, let’s look at the numbers. There is no specified definition of the term “mass shooting” nor is there a government agency that keeps track of them. This makes data collection difficult, so many activists have had to rely on media outlets or nonprofits that have taken on the task. As a result, it is easier to identify trends. Here is a really useful video explaining several of them.

Despite this gap in the data, we do know that America has more guns than any other developed country–even when adjusted for population size–and, consequently, more gun deaths. It is important to note that a very small proportion of gun deaths occur from mass shootings, even though they happen so frequently. This is because the leading cause of gun deaths is suicide, followed by homicide (which is defined separately from mass shooting). The specifics are even harder to pin down when it comes to the shooter’s identity, but there are two key trends: the first is that a majority of the shooters are white, and the second is that all but three of these shooters in the last few decades have been men.


Masculinity and Violence

It’s no coincidence that nearly every mass shooter has been a man; it’s a symptom of how society teaches gender. From an early age, we’re taught that men are supposed to be strong, physically aggressive, and that roughhousing is just what boys do. For example, if a boy chases a girl around the playground and pulls her hair, we say that he likes her. This dismissal of boy’s actions teaches them that violence is natural and an acceptable outlet for negative emotions. Think about the playground scenario from a different perspective: what I see is not a little boy expressing positive feelings about a girl, but rather him acting on the negative feeling of frustration that he can’t have her. We don’t just teach boys violence; we teach them a desire to control everything except their emotions.

When we get older, and these actions become more serious (such as sexual violence), we as a society still focus on women as victims. We do not, however, focus on men as perpetrators of this violence. As one of my friends put it, “we teach women not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.” At the Women’s Center, we recognize that sexual violence affects a multitude of people, and that there is no one way a survivor should look; however, this is still a heavily gendered issue, and much of that has to do with patriarchy. With this in mind, we need to consider how we as a society teach and reinforce masculinity. Arguments like “men can’t help themselves” and “boys will be boys” are endemic of both toxic masculinity and rape culture–which often reinforce one another.

Within this context, let’s return to the issue of mass violence. A key piece of the conversation that often gets left out in the media is the history of the perpetrator. For white shooters in particular, people are quick to search their past for mental illness or redeeming qualities, but they often gloss over a common thread, which is a history of commiting domestic violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), and/or sexual violence. For example, it came out that the man who killed over 50 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in October 2017 had abused his ex-girlfriend when they were together. Closer to home, the boy who shot and killed a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County had expressed anger that she had rejected his unwanted advances

Conceptually, this link makes sense. Much of these acts come not from a place of desire, but a place of needing to have power. We teach men that to be masculine means having control and authority over others, so many men view these violent acts as a means of maintaining control over their partners. It’s horrible, but when we don’t teach men a socially acceptable way of expressing negative emotions (and tell them that to be emasculated is to lose status in society) they often turn to violence. Furthermore, if a man views his partner as an object to be controlled, it’s unsurprising that he could view groups of people he’s prejudiced against or feels have wronged him the same way.

Moreover, we continue to normalize and stoke this misogynistic anger in online communities and forums where many men who feel entitled to have a sexual partner, and cheated that they do not, blame women for their problems and often celebrate men who hurt women. In fact, several of these men have used guns against women they do not know, and explicitly stated this misogynistic reasoning. It’s important to be mindful of the way we interpret the numbers here. Because mass shootings make up such a small portion of the gun violence in America, there are very few abusers that actually go on to commit those atrocities. On the flip side, many mass shooters have a history of violence, and it is necessary to understand that correlation. Their possession of assault weapons only makes their acts of violence all the more deadly.


Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

Hate crimes have been on the rise over the last few years, across lots of different marginalized groups. An FBI report indicates that overall hate crimes have increased by 17% and that anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 37%. Based on data collected by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Semitic hate crimes comprise about 11% of hate crimes overall, and 58% of hate crimes against religious groups. For comparison, Jewish people make up about 2% of the United States population, and 0.2% of the world’s population. So why are we so targeted?

It would take an entirely separate post to delineate the long history of violence and persecution against the Jewish people, but it is practically as old as the religion itself. Even in modern history, there are countless examples of anti-Semitic violence, many of which have been forgotten (this article lists just a few over the last hundred years). Many people who commit these acts are fueled by hateful rhetoric they see online.

Most of this anti-Semitic rhetoric stems from ancient stereotypes that still persist today. From Shakespearean villains to old movies to today’s political campaigns, anti-Semitic tropes have a long and ugly history. Samantha Bee did an amazing job of explaining that history and how it’s connected to today’s politics in a segment on her show. Essentially, the use of dog-whistle politics is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but its implications and allusions to deep-rooted stereotypes are like a language that sends a clear signal to those who already speak it.


Where do we go from here?

I really wish that I could conclude this piece on a positive note. I wish I could point to some positive trends that indicate understanding and acceptance are on the rise, while fear and violence are fading away. I wish I could, but I have nothing to point to. Instead, as I finish writing this blog, I get an email notification from the UMBC Police Department alerting the community of yet another display of anti-Semitism on this campus.

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I’m tired of this. I’m tired of anti-Semitism being dismissed in progressive movements that advocate for diversity and acceptance. I’m tired of Nazis being referred to as “very fine people” and of free speech being used to defend them. I’m tired of centrists trying to hear “both sides of the story,” as though hate should be treated as a valid political ideology. I’m tired of social media executives bending over backwards to promote community guidelines, but doing nothing about literal neo-Nazis using their platforms. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’ve heard too many Holocaust jokes, had too many stereotypes hurled in my face, and seen too many concerns about anti-Semitism get brushed aside.

I don’t want to see any more swastikas drawn on bathroom walls. I don’t want to be scared for my safety when I go to see one of my favorite shows, and I don’t want to see people–especially people on this campus–use anti-Semitism as the punchline of a joke. Jewish people cannot and should not be the only ones fighting this bigotry. We need people who aren’t Jewish to step up and show some support. Find organizations that combat anti-Semitism, educate yourself on Jewish history and culture, and confront this hatred when you see it. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, but we can’t take any more of your silence.


Sources/Further Reading