So I Hear You Care?

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about the work that creates empathy.

As a social work major, I spend a lot of time thinking about empathy. Social work is a profession centered around the idea of empathy when working with individuals in need. Social workers are encouraged to find the strengths of a person and empower them to use them, while being understanding of their life experiences and point of view.

The concept of empathy is often gendered as a feminine trait, and perhaps that’s why the field is dominated by women. According to Wendy Chin-Taner, a writer for Cultural Weekly, “Empathy hinges on emotional labor. To have empathy, we have to be able to practice active listening, be reflexive, self-critical, and be able to act on constructive criticism. In our culture, women are more readily expected to practice these skills and are socialized to do more emotional labor, which is why intersectional feminism is at the forefront of social justice allyship.”

Personally, I agree with Wendy, I believe that the amount of women in social work has to do with the history of women being socialized and encouraged to be the caregivers and show intense emotions, like empathy. There have been countless passionate and driven women throughout the history of civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice movements. What sets apart these women, though, is their use of radical empathy, a topic I’ll discuss later.

Empathy & Emotional Labor

According to Suzannah Weiss from Everyday Feminism emotional labor is defined as theexertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations.” While, social workers are not the only ones that have to use emotional labor in their profession, they do understand the drain that comes from emotional labor and it is discussed frequently in classes and professional development.

As someone who works in the food industry, I know the necessity there is for servers or those working in retail need to have extreme control over their emotions when working with guests, in order to make sure the guest feel welcomed and taken care of during their time at the restaurant especially when they have a concern or complaint. Having empathy for another person (especially during a busy night at a restaurant!) can be challenging because you have to connect with someone else’s feelings and experiences, causing yourself  to have deeper understanding of your own feelings. It’s important to note that societal and gendered expectations often place a greater burden on women to do the work of emotional labor. As FEM author, Anya Bayerle states, Women are also frequently expected to appear empathetic and concerned for others while simultaneously suppressing any emotion that could be used to dismiss them as irrational or hormonal.” Often the emotional labor I practice at work is not just an industry survival skill but one that is expected of me because of my gender.

But, I want to move beyond just expectations and that’s what brings me to radical empathy.

Radical Empathy

While emotional labor is something that people often already have experience with, managing emotions in a classroom, workplace, or family setting; a newer concept is radical empathy. The first time I heard about “radical empathy,” I was confused, and oh so curious.

In recent years, I have lived my life following one tweet… yes you read that right. A tweet! I know what you are thinking… “but Sheila you don’t even have a Twitter!” ( it’s a confusing story about tumblr and screenshots, that’s not the point).

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This tweet, by this person I don’t know, changed my life.  “Don’t become who hurt you.” Based on some of my personal experience, I would have liked to become a hardened person, but I decided I wanted to be the person to lift up others. My hurt and pain does not need to become someone else’s trauma. It took a lot of emotional labor out of me to remember that in moments where I feel like I am being attacked or hurt personally, that the person doing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable might not be doing it knowingly harming me.

That they might be a person, just like me, who has dealt with trauma, has things about themselves they do not like, and has never had someone ask them “what is wrong?” instead of “what is wrong with you?”

Radical empathy is tough to define. At Stomping Ground, a summer camp that focuses on radical empathy, they define it as “actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.” There are a few Ted Talks (see the links below) about what empathy is and how it impacts our ability to make connections with other human beings.

Radical empathy has had a huge impact on my life, shifted how I view the world, and how I interact with others. In the future, when I am a social worker, I believe it will allow me to better connect with my clients. It is not so much about putting yourself in the shoes of another person because you will never truly understand that person’s life. Radical empathy is more about striving to be with a person while they feel the feels, making sure that we understand our own judgement and challenging them so that we might accept everyone, actually where they are.

The real point is… Do you care?

 


Additional Resources for Learning about Radical Empathy:

Peter Laughter’s – Radical Empathy Ted Talk Video

Paul Parkin’s – Reimaging Empathy Ted Talk Video

Brene Brown’s Empathy Bear – Empathy Video

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Who You Came to Be Along the Way: Celebrating Our Returning Women Student Graduates

“As you journey through life, choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there. You will arrive soon enough.

Wander the back roads and forgotten paths, keeping your destination in your heart like the fixed point of a compass. Seek out new voices, strange sights, and ideas foreign to your own. Such things are riches for the soul.

And, if upon arrival, you find that your destination is not exactly as you had dreamed, do not be disappointed. Think of all you would have missed but for the journey there, and know that the true worth of your travels lies not in where you come to be at the journey’s end, but who you came to be along the way.”

 

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As students across the country prepare for graduation, the above quote is one that deeply resonates with me. In fact, this quote was a constant presence in my own undergraduate journey. Once I heard it, I typed it up and printed it out to tape to the mirror in my residence hall room. It moved from room to room with me during my undergraduate journey, ragged and worn, reminding me to enjoy the journey as much as the final destination of graduation.

I stumbled upon this very worn paper last week and immediately knew I wanted to read it at the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates graduation celebration. 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 the 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.

And, while the quote above spoke to me as a traditionally-aged student going to college right after high school, I felt that this quote would even more so resonate with the non-traditional and often non-linear path of an adult learner. So I read the quote after the graduating scholars received their scholars pin to commemorate their time as a scholarship recipient. As I assumed, the quote did resonate with them and their journey to get to this week’s undergraduate commencement and it felt important to share it again in this post intended to highlight and celebrate these graduating students. As you read some of their stories I know, you too, will also understand why this quote about one’s personal journey to reach the final destination is one fitting of the returning women student’s experience.

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Returning Women Students at this year’s end of the year celebration and graduation event.

It is a joy and honor to work with these students and in my role as director of the Women’s Center, I want to 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!!!

 

 

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Cynthia Colon

My first semester at UMBC was in the Spring of 2015, and I admit I did not see a finish line in sight since I was only taking two classes. None the less I knew I would get there in time. In beginning the Social Work program, I knew the day would come where I would have to be in field two days a week but told myself I would cross that bridge when I got there. I was worried how I would be able to work to support myself and my family and attend field. In the fall of 2016, I met my boyfriend who has supported me in my journey and has been a great help with my children. In the summer of 2017, it was time to notify my supervisor that I would only be able to work three days a week. The prior year I had also passed my certified medical coder exam and thought if worse came to worse I would look for a medical coder job. To my surprise, my job worked with me and I agreed to work three ten-hour days in order to keep my benefits. I was relieved. At the end of July my family and I went on vacation to my home, Puerto Rico. A vacation I was looking forward to before starting my fall semester and my rigorous work schedule.

A few days after we returned from Puerto Rico I was not feeling myself and knew that something was not right. I took a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant. So many things ran through my mind. Here I was, two semesters shy of graduating, something I had worked so hard for in the past two years and I was pregnant! How would I get through field, working three ten-hour days and taking a class? But I did it, and I will graduate Magna Cum Laude!! My son Aayan was born on April 9th, 2018 and I only missed that week of class. [italics are Jess’ emphasis because wow wow wow!!]

During my time at UMBC- USG campus I was part of the Social Work Student Association. I held the title as secretary for two semesters and then was elected vice president last semester. In addition, I was also a Phi Alpha Honor Society member. My plans after graduation are to continue working at my current job as a surgical scheduler. In the fall I will apply to the advanced standing Social Work program at the USG campus and go from there. As a Newcombe Scholar in the Returning Women Student Scholars program and a Kendall Scholar, I am proud to have shown my older children ages 14, 19, and 20, that it’s never too late to return to college and graduate.

Sage advice –  It is never too late to return to school and graduate. As long as you have the drive and determination you will succeed!

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Marie Pessagno

My name is Marie Pessagno, and I transferred into UMBC as a full time student in 2015. I will graduate as a double major in Social Work and Gender and Women Studies, and have been accepted as a Title IV-E student in the Advanced Standing program at UMB School of Social Work. I hope to combine the two modalities that I have had the opportunity to study, as a social worker in the field of family and children with an emphasis on trauma-based recovery.

As a full-time single mother of two small girls, the thought of quitting my job and returning to school was daunting, to say the least. Through the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students program, I have been able to successfully complete my undergraduate program with an abundance of support from so many levels. I have been able to find a home within the UMBC campus that allowed me to feel as if I were a part of the college community. I have had the privilege of working for the Women’s Center this past year, helping with the Returning Women Students program which allowed me to form connections and friendships that will last outside of UMBC.

My sage advice would be to become involved on campus. There really is something here for everyone. The Women’s Center and the events hosted by the Women’s Center, are great ways to become involved and to meet and make friends on campus. The connections that I have made through the Women’s Center has totally changed my college experience, and has given me an opportunity to meet a group of diverse people that I am honored to call “lifelong friends!”

Marie was featured in UMBC’s Class of 2018 student profiles. You can read her featured profile here

Marjan Beikzadeh

As a returning woman early on in my college experience, I endured many hardships. Being far away from my home and living in this country all alone, there were times that these circumstances made it difficult for me to go on, and days when I thought that I would not make it another day, let alone to graduation. Graduation from UMBC was a huge challenge for me and I wanted to quit and take the easy way out. It was at this time, my second year at UMBC that I found out about Returning Women Students programming, and in their meetings I encountered other returning women students and heard about their life stories. Some of them had to work full time while attending college. Others had families to attend to while they still were responsible for their studies. And then there were those very strong women that had families to raise and jobs to work and school all at the same time. It was not until I witnessed their amazing courage and strong character that I found in myself the will and determination to go on. I realized that being so focused on myself and my situation prevented me from paying attention to the way that those women are going through the struggles that I was experiencing, in addition to holding multiple other responsibilities outside of the college.

Being in this program helped me stay motivated and appreciate the hardships and sacrifices of all the women who went through this path, and were brave enough to endure these strenuous circumstances to provide better lives for themselves and for their families. My advice would be for other returning women students to take advantage of this program while at UMBC.

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Whitney Pomeroy 

When I applied to UMBC, my husband and I had a four year old daughter and a one year old son. We were trying to figure out how long it would take for me to complete my degree plus certification to get my bachelor degree and become a teacher. We were struggling to find ways to pay for everything, including tuition, on one income as I commuted almost an hour to campus. However, I knew I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a stronger role model for my kids. I started my first semester at UMBC in fall 2014, and though it’s been a long and bumpy road personally, I’m graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies, a Certificate in Elementary Education, and a GPA of 3.87! On my journey I was lucky to find the Women’s Center and the support they provided to returning women students (really to anyone who visits), in the form of encouragement, an out-of-the-way place to study or sit for a few minutes, and also financially. Now that I have completed my internship student teaching, graduation is next week and more big things lie ahead for me. We’re expecting baby number three at the beginning of July and I’m so excited to have been hired in my home county as a third grade teacher!

Looking back, my advice to returning women students is to let your challenges be your fuel and a reason to push harder toward your goals; and when you haven’t had enough sleep in weeks, stop by the Women’s Center for a cup of coffee to help compensate. As much as I hate to hear it, it applies to both good things and bad things, ‘this too shall pass’ and you’ll be better than okay.

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Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars graduating this May:

Christina Allen
Samantha Bushee
Desiree Porquet
Mariah Rivera
Emily Wolfe

 

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.

 

Feeling Like a Fraud

They’re going to find out I’m a fake

“It’s all just dumb luck” “Why would they choose me for the job?” “I don’t deserve this; I didn’t earn this. This has to be a mistake!” “God, if they only knew … “ These are some of the things that have gone through our minds after getting a job, achieving a goal, being praised for a job well done, or even just being complimented on a nice outfit.  No matter how talented we are, no matter how hard we worked to get there, there’s a part of us that feel undeserving. What’s more, it’s not just an evil voice that whisper these ugly things in our heads, but a feeling. A sick feeling in the pit of our gut that just won’t go away, despite our achievements. No, it’s not just you. I’ve been there, too. Yes, there is a term for it: imposter syndrome.

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Scientific American imposter syndrome is “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” In other words, you feel like you’re a phony, you’re constantly doubting and second-guessing yourself, and think everything you do is a sham. You are unable to accept your accomplishment, let alone enjoy it.

The term, imposter phenomenon, was first used by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978 to describe the feeling often felt by high-functioning women who felt their accomplishments were more from luck than their own hard work and ability. These women felt as if they were fakes, that they would be revealed as frauds.

When first “discovered,” health professionals thought this syndrome affected predominantly women, but now, after much research, they have found it affects men and women equally. It affects people of all genders who are high functioning and high achieving. Now, having said that,  women also deal with pronounced sexism plus internalized sexism which makes this an important topic for us to dig into here on the Women’s Center blog.

Why are women more susceptible to imposter syndrome than men? Perhaps it’s the conditioning of countless generations of women to be “modest,” to be “humble,” to be the caretakers and caregivers and to melt into the background while allowing the men to stand in front, to take charge, to shine. Perhaps it’s the millenia or more of telling our daughters and sisters and nieces that boys are “smarter than girls,” that we are “less than” our male counter parts, that we weren’t meant to be their equals. In Kate Bahn’s piece Faking It: Women, Academia, and Imposter Syndrome she writes: “a recent survey of undergraduates at Boston College, which showed that female students finished college with lower self-esteem than they started with. Male students, on the other hand, graduated with greater self-confidence (albeit lower GPAs) than their female peers.” No matter how much education we acquire, no matter how much more qualified we become, the feeling of inadequacy never leaves, instead, it just gets stronger.

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Famous people who struggle with imposter syndrome

Here is a quote by Maya Angelou from the website theHUSTLE. Would you think she struggled with imposter syndrome?

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

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Michelle Pfeiffer (multiple nominee for Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, successful actor, producer), Chris Martin (lead singer of the popular band Cold Play, song writer, producer), Sheryl Sandburg (COO of Facebook, former vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, named one of 2012 Time 100 most influential people, wife, mother) … the list goes on. What’s the one thing they all have in common? They all feel they’ve been putting on an act, that they are frauds, none of their accolades are earned.

How do you handle imposter syndrome?

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There’s power in naming so now that you know about imposter syndrome, how can you fix it? Well, there aren’t any magic pills that will make imposter syndrome go away. No genie in a bottle and a wish or o magic wand to wave over yourself. In other words there are no easy fixes that will make you feel gloriously confident and deserving of it all. There are, however, ways of coping and overcoming the relentless, self-damaging, at times, debilitating taunts.

There are the usual go-to tips: meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, healthy eating and lifestyle, and of course, that elusive ingredient, sleep. Yes, in a perfect world this would solve the problem, but for most of us stress and lack of sleep is the norm, so here are some other tips on how to manage your imposter syndrome. 

  1.  Don’t sell yourself short. The website Personal Excellence states: “Maybe you feel like a fraud because you don’t think you have anything good to offer … know that whatever place you are at in life now, you are here because you are ready for it.” Know that your being who you are is what’s going to give this job the uniqueness that only you can bring to the position. You are the only apple in a sea of oranges.  Or the only orange in the sea of apples.  Or the kiwi … or the grapes …  you get the picture.
  2. “Stop comparing yourself to that person”. As I’ve stated in #1 you are unique. Your accomplishments are unique. Thinking your way is not as good as someone else’s is not only self-sabotaging, it’s futile. You are different people, therefore, your way of doing things are different. You are not them; they are not you. End of story.
  3. Allow yourself to make mistakes. We don’t learn from our successes, we learn from our mistakes. Being wrong, making mistakes, is not a waste of time, merely lessons learned. Get upset, get angry, then get back up and use those lessons. Only you can turn the “wrongs” into valuable “rights”.

 

Self-doubt, anxiety, panic, fear, stress …    

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 Everyone has moments of self-doubt and anxiety. We are juggling school, work, for some, family, and many more issues daily. The world is full of things that bring on stress and anxiety, every minute, every hour, every day. The Women’s Center at UMBC is one of the places you can come and share with other women who are struggling with similar issues, experiences, and solutions and options with each other. If you feel you need to speak to someone on a one-on-one basis the professional staff members along with our student staff members, and those who utilize the Center regularly. Know that there are people who understand when you say “I don’t deserve this” or “It was a mistake” or “I’m a fake.” We are journeying, experiencing, and dealing with this very common issue. Please, don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through, even if it’s just with a pen on a sheet of paper. And if it’s keeping you from functioning in your daily life, please, seek counseling. We at the Women’s Center will help connect you with the resources you may need. Know that you are not alone in struggling with imposter syndrome. We are here to listen, and we will help any way we can.

 

Even More Resources:

From AAUW’s Being a Woman in STEM Isn’t Easy

Check out Feminist Fight Club from the Women’s Center library

From Everyday Feminism – a way to tackle imposter syndrome with an intersectional lens

 

The Danger of Not Being Like “Other Girls”

Harini Narayan Harini Narayan is a student intern at the Women’s Center.

My childhood was marked by internal conflict. I struggled to understand my ethnic identity and sexual orientation, all the while facing the usual struggles of adolescence. In intermediate school, I was a self-declared tomboy and made friends mostly with the boys in my class. I identified with them more than the girls, and the validation I received in being “one of the boys” only fueled my need to further distance myself from my own gender. I was proud to say I didn’t wear makeup or wear dresses and loved to brag that I was never so shallow as to have a boyfriend (little did I know there was a very different reason for not wanting to date boys, but that’s a realization I wouldn’t come to for a few years). Thankfully, I grew out of that phase before I became an adult.

In retrospect, I recognize the toxicity of my behavior. I put down other girls to feel better about myself, as if wearing pants instead of a dress somehow made me superior. It’s almost laughable how much I’ve changed, but my childhood personality opens the bigger issue of those who do not change, and enter adulthood as a woman that sets herself apart from the rest of her gender on the sole belief that she is somehow better for not conforming to the societal mold for femininity.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with not being feminine. Toxicity lies in not being able to accept a woman’s personal choice may align with societal norms. For example, I still prefer pants to dresses, but I know there is nothing wrong with dresses. Femininity is not a weakness, but a choice that should be respected. Declaring oneself as “not like other girls” shouldn’t be acceptable, unless the one in question is a) not wholly female-identifying (like genderfluid people), or b) a mermaid, werewolf, or other partially supernatural entity that identifies as female, but not human. Even those two instances, what makes someone “different” from other girls is either not completely identifying as female (hence unlike other girls, because they are not always a girl), or not being fully human-identifying (in this case, the “other” girls are human, and therefore biologically unlike a hybrid species).

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Furthermore, toxic gender culture isn’t limited to women; men face the same issue though it’s presented differently. Toxic masculinity takes the form of repressed emotions. It’s hearing “men can’t get raped,” and shaming those who aren’t interested in sex, sports, or beer. It’s assuming a man is gay because he dresses a certain way, or watches certain television shows. It’s microaggressions that people don’t realize they’ve normalized until it’s almost too late.

Toxicity stems from society, but manifests itself within a gender identity group over time.

Internalized misogyny can be blamed on several things, notably the stereotypes surrounding the different ways in which girls present themselves. When a girl grows up hearing she can either be pretty or smart, she is trapped in a binary that restricts her personality. If you want to be smart, no one will find you attractive; but if you want to wear makeup and date, no one will perceive you as intelligent. She can be a Madonna/whore, a domestic goddess, or a bossy spinster—“or” being the operative word. Only one option is acceptable, but still leaves the woman with enough flaws to be criticized by society. The bimbo is an airhead, an object for men’s entertainment; the domestic goddess is submissive and lacks any sort of worldly knowledge; the bossy spinster is a prude that doesn’t know how to have a good time.

What isn’t considered here is how there is no one-size-fits-all for what a “good woman” is. Society wants a woman that is smart, but always yields to men to ensure she never appears more intelligent than them; she must be attractive but can’t flaunt her sexuality or dislike the notion of sex either; and she must be well-versed in domesticity, able to cook, clean, and tend to the family. Unfortunately for those with such counter-intuitive/competing? expectations, this kind of woman does not exist.

Women are powerful, and they are also multifaceted: a single characteristic does not define them. Women know this about themselves, so why do some hold fellow women to a different standard?

This is the power of misogyny in a patriarchal society. Social constructs form barriers on the personalities of women, which is oppressive to its core. To be taken seriously (read: worthy of a man’s approval), women must confine themselves to the task of boosting men’s self-esteem. If you’re a woman reading this, I want you to think about your own experiences in public with men: how many times have you been interrupted by a man in conversation? How many times have you laughed at a joke you found unfunny, or even offensive? How many times have you been cat called on the street? And how many times have you seen men cat called? The first step to breaking free of that is being conscious of any sort of thinking or behavior that demonizes other women for doing something completely unproblematic. Is her makeup messy? That’s okay, because maybe she’s practicing improving her skills or maybe she doesn’t care how others perceive her. Is her outfit totally unflattering to that body shape? That’s none of your business because the clothes aren’t on your body! Being constructive isn’t the same as being judgmental: telling someone she has lipstick on her teeth isn’t the same as pointing out her makeup is cakey. Women need to respect each other and help each other succeed. In a society designed to put women down, we must rely on each other to lift ourselves back up and stand strong.

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A chart dictating some examples of gender stereotypes

It’s hard work to filter our thoughts for all of the toxic things we internalize, but we need to recognize that acknowledgement of sexist thoughts is important. Respect is learned, and people can change for the better if they first admit they need to do so. Years ago, I represented everything that is wrong with the ways society views gender toxicity. Now, I can say that I have educated myself and recognize when I’m engaging in toxic behavior. Nobody is perfect or all-knowing, but it is the effort and willingness to be a better person that makes the world a better place.

Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

Reflections

 

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A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

 

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Three years ago, my life changed drastically.  Three years ago this week, I became a mother. Besides the birth of my second daughter (almost 15 months later), this was my single most amazing accomplishment of my entire life.  Around the same time, almost exactly three years ago, I made the decision to take charge of my life. I decided to go back to school to finish my undergraduate degree. I was determined to be someone, to make something out of my life and returning to school was how I wanted to do that.  I was set on becoming the kind of mother that my children could look up to, the kind of person that they would want to emulate.kiddos

When I decided to return to school, I had a plan.  Not only did I have a plan, but I had a partner, and someone who was willing to share the financial responsibility of being a single income family for a period of time.  I was nervous, but I was ready. However, as soon as my plan started to come into fruition, everything started falling apart. I found myself suddenly: jobless, partner-less, a newly pregnant single mother taking 19 credit hours, and moving back into my parents’ home.  This was not the way that I had envisioned my return to college to be.

I tell you this, not for pity, but to show you how a little bit of hard work, “true grit,” and determination go a long way.  I came onto this UMBC campus eager to learn, and even more eager to graduate.  What I found was, that in between the learning and the pursuit of graduation, I found a lot of “greatness” in between.  (add image) I remember clear as day, where I was, (Dr. O’s Human Behavior class), and who I was talking to (Erin), when I first found out about the magical place on campus that would alter my college experience- The Women’s Center.  I was told about a program that I had never heard of, called the Returning Women Students Scholars and Affiliates Program.  Erin was currently a member of the program, and she persuaded me to look into the scholarship that is offered to “non-traditional students over the age of 25” and to check out the Women’s Center.  I didn’t think much of this conversation at the time, but looking back now, I am eternally grateful to Erin for this nudge in the right direction.  Not only did this amazing program help me out financially, it helped to secure a place on campus where I finally felt like I belonged.IMG_4322

Finding the Women’s Center on campus was somewhat comparable (to me) as finding a hidden treasure chest.  Because that’s kind of what it is really like. (When you go visit the Center yourself, you’ll know what I am talking about)  Are you interested in Critical Social Justice?!?  Well, there’s an entire week devoted to it.  Discussion-based programs? Yup, they’ve got those too.  Then there is Take Back the Night, which always serves to unite the campus of UMBC together to support the survivors of sexual violence and to protest sexual misconduct of any shape or form.  This semester, there are even Pop Culture Pop Up’s to address current issues that are prevalent “today.”

The idea of having an available Women’s Center here on campus got me thinking about the importance of Women’s Centers on college campuses and why they really matter.  I spent a little bit of time reading up on the start of campus-based women’s centers in general (the first campus-based center was founded at the University of Minnesota in 1960) and the undeniable need for a place to support and empower women in higher education.  I read about how in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, women began to re-enter into the field of academe. However, at this time, there were no departments or offices that were solely dedicated to women students, and many needs of this population were being unmet. The beginning women centers that were established to promote and support the re-entry of women back into higher education, while at the same time allowed for women to find “like minded others and build a radical, forward-looking community that worked for women’s equity (Devi, 2015).

Additionally, women’s centers were spaces that were open and available to all students, not just a fraction of the campus.  This allowed and encouraged participation in these spaces to encompass a broader range of people that collectively share the same ideals, beliefs, and values.  The founding centers focused primarily on raising and examining new questions about women’s lives, roles and expectations; helped to grow and develop feminist consciousness, aimed at combating isolation, and developed a sense of community.Credit Jaedon Huie25

What I found to be a common theme within women’s centers that I was able to research, was the shared common denominator of alternative resources and programming that are readily available and are not necessarily found anywhere else on campus.  Information on such topics such as: pamphlets and newsletters about rape crisis intervention; self-defense; coming-out information; lesbian support groups; women of color coalitions; contraceptive options for women; healthcare; feminist and lesbian literature; women’s music; alternative scholarship programming; feminist mythology; and other progressive and unconventional ideas were on display or easily accessible in each center.  These spaces also promote expect respectful interactions and conversations between all those who choose to participate in either discussions, or in the spaces in general.

Since the creation of the first women’s center in the 1960s, the evolution of these centers has continued to evolve around the issues  of women and gender and to address discrimination and dismantle sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic organizational structures.  Centers have been able to accomplish these issues by the continuing evolution of programming that includes tackling large scale issues, such as Title IX, salary equity, reproductive rights, violence against women, and issues of equity, diversity and intersectionality within the campus community as well as looking at society as a whole.belonging

At the Women’s Center at UMBC, there is always something going on.  More importantly, there is always someone in the Women’s Center.  This small, but cozy, space houses some of the most intellectual conversations, stimulating interactions, learning experiences, and belly laughs that cannot be compared to. The space itself welcomes and promotes all aspects of campus life and “real life” that a women’s center was designed to encompass.  The staff is beyond friendly and approachable (I may be a bit biased), and the atmosphere is beyond welcoming. I highly recommend stopping by to say hi, to grab some coffee, or to meet a new friend. Why not, take a chance! That’s what I did, and I walked away with friendships, something that connected me to campus that I had never felt before, and experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

When I look back at my time spent at UMBC, I am certainly going to remember the superior education that I received.  I truly believe that I will excel and flourish as a social worker because of the exceptional professors who guided me through the program.  I will also be able to stand up and fight to empower the women and mothers that I encounter with the knowledge that I have gained through the immeasurable teachings from the professors in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.  But what I am going to remember and miss the most, is the place that I call home on campus, and the family that came along with it.

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Take Back the Night 2018 Roundup!

On April 12th 2017, UMBC hosted Take Back the Night. The night began with an introduction by the emcees and march leaders, Morgan, Ellie, and Autumn, and Women’s Center staff member, Samiksha.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart and soul of Take Back the Night. Survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to acknowledge your experience with others who believe and support you.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

We then moved on to the march portion of the night, where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence. We Believe You, an activist group dedicated to ending sexual violence, led the march, the survivor circle of care, and a private discussion in the Women’s Center following the march.

The survival circle is a new addition to Take Back the Night. At the peak of the march, everyone formed a circle around True Grit. Survivors were invited to the middle of the circle, while supporters chanted the refrain, “We see you. We believe you. You matter.” After the survival circle, the march back to Main Street commenced.

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 Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the march, community members got back together for some craftivism! This part of the night is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community-building between survivors and supporters alike. 

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors, and a special thank you to all the volunteers and We Believe You members who made TBTN possible!

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If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is all of April and we still have many events happening throughout the month. Check out the SAAM calendar for other upcoming events you can attend!