Inclusive Excellence Means Inclusive Access: A Treatise on All-Gender Restrooms at UMBC (and Beyond)

Written by Women’s Center Coordinator Amelia Meman, ’15.

A pink toilet on a rainbow gradient. Text reads

With the recent opening of UMBC’s first ever multi-user/stall all-gender restroom, I have become incensed to finally publish this very argumentative blog on all-gender restrooms. In this piece, I’m trying to deconstruct all of the myths, misgivings, and misinformation surrounding all-gender restrooms, and offer some ways of seeing (and potentially peeing) differently.

The MYTH of All-Gender Restrooms: Creating all-gender restrooms is dangerous because it provides an opportunity for sexual predators to attack vulnerable populations (women and children).

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms: They exist and have existed for a while through anti-discrimination protections and there is literally no evidence that these policies and the creation of all-gender restrooms lead to more attacks on anyone.

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms, Pt. 2: In creating and actualizing discriminatory policies that relegate particular people to particular bathrooms, we increase the likelihood of violence against vulnerable populations–in this case, trans and gender non-conforming folks.

We’re a STEM-heavy school, so let me put it this way: there is absolutely no empirical evidence that would support the hypothesis that increasing access to all-gender restrooms also increases violence against vulnerable populations like women and children.

Fine, done, end of blog.

Just kidding.

I want to continue deconstructing this myth and how damaging it is to the transgender folks in our world—and subsequently, how the perpetuation of this myth is totally antithetical to UMBC’s values of inclusive excellence, diversity, and social justice. So let’s dive in:

The myth of all-gender bathroom bills promoting violence against women and children implies two other dangerous notions that need be dispelled:

  1. Trans people = sexual predators
  2. Transgender people do not have the “correct genitalia” to use with their respective gender’s restroom (“if you have a penis, you need to use the men’s restroom”)

First: Who are the “sexual predators” we keep referring to?

Let’s take this first one apart, “trans people = sexual predators.” This line of thinking stems from the (not so distant) historical pathologization of people who don’t conform to socially constructed gender roles; AKA “trans people are crazy and dangerous.”

Not to totally historicize this issue because it is still a present challenge, but in the past, any and all people with non-heterosexual, non-traditional gender conforming identities were considered sexual deviants. In the early 20th century, a sexual revolution in Europe was pushing the boundaries of the way these “sexual deviants” were understood, especially through a medicalized and scientific lens. A cure to deviancy was no longer about keeping problematic individuals away from the public, but around diagnosis and treatment.  

Time rolls on and we move through many sexual revolutions, progress, trans and LGB icons, marches, revolutions, etc.. If you were transgender in this time, then you had “gender identity disorder,” a mental illness through all of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders through the Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; AKA the Bible of psychiatry and other mental health practitioners). Thus, the idea of transgender people as those who are mentally ill is cemented by The Experts.

Fast forward to 2013: the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the DSM published by the APA in 2013) now uses the term “gender dysphoria” to describe the distress associated with not being able to be the gender we are. The difference here is very nuanced but important. To quote the APA, “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” In other words, it’s not that being trans or non-binary is crazy. It’s that not being able to be the gender you are (and the barriers society constantly throws up) results in gender dysphoria.

We need to dislodge the synonymity between “transgender” and “problem,” because people are not problems; gender is not a problem. The barriers that we have put up between people accessing (or even just experimenting with being) our truest selves, is the problem.

A group of people hold signs at a protest against military ban on transgender people. Two signs in focus read

Second: “But what if a man in a dress uses a women’s restroom”

This is the token visual that opponents of all-gender restrooms look towards. We’ve all seen and experienced this joke: a big burly masculine man is in a hyper-feminine outfit. We’re made to laugh at how these two things don’t go together—but this “joke” is founded on the idea that people who look particular ways have to also act and present themselves in a way that matches our assumptions. This is what we like to call “gender essentialism.”

Gender essentialism/biological essentialism is the idea that there is a particular set of female or male genitalia that indicates your gender (e.g. penis = man; vagina = woman), and therefore should be the criteria by which people act, dress, use a bathroom, etc. The insistence that people with certain biological criteria or physical characteristics are particular genders is an essentialist way of thinking–and it’s also a restrictive way of thinking.

Most of us grow up learning to think as biological essentialists. We’re often taught about sex/gender binaries in our health class or with our parents, right? We’re taught that women, girls, females have vaginas, breasts, hips, higher voices, XX chromosomes; men, boys, males have penises, testes, facial hair, lower voices, XY chromosomes.

Biological essentialism rules the rhetorical roost of how we think about gender and sex; however, a different way of seeing gender and sex is to understand both as “socially constructed.” This is not to say that gender or sex is something we, as a society, have made up; rather, the meanings we ascribe to each of these things has been made through social patterns, behavior, etc. that are continually repeated until they read as fact. Fact becomes synonymous with objectivity and truth. I’m not trying to get into a philosophical discussion of what social constructionism is and how we should unlearn the meanings we learned about in school (if you want to get into that, see my office hours), but what I’m trying to get to is that biological essentialism is not the only way of seeing the world. We can see through a lens of social constructionism which enables us to do more questioning about the conclusions that we come to.

A line of 8 people icons, each a different color with different male, female, transgender symbols overlaid on their faces.A conclusion you could (should) question (always) is how we police gender and sex by creating rules around what each of these is defined as. Not every woman has a vagina. Not every person with a penis is male. People with XY chromosomes can be any gender in their lifetime. People can have a variety of different biological sex characteristics that do not align with the sex or gender they were prescribed at birth.

To go all the way back to that initial worry that a “man in a dress” will pee next to your daughter or your grandma or you, we can use a more inclusive lens for thinking about this scenario: three people have to pee. There are three private stalls in which they can do their business. These three people pee however it is they do so, and they simultaneously respect each other’s privacy. These three people might look all different sorts of ways, but it doesn’t matter because they came into the bathroom with the same goals–and having completed those goals, wash their hands, and exit in peace and respect.

My final word on this (as if I haven’t had enough already): If you dream of world peace, consider also dreaming of world where all people pee in peace. 

Fact Sharing

Okay, so I hope my mythbusting was validating, revelatory, or rote for you. Either way, here’s a fact that I want to share to displace the ugliness above that many opponents like to spread.

FACT: All-gender restrooms are an issue of discrimination and access.

Let’s break this down the same way we did the myth:

First: All gender-restrooms undoing discrimination

When we tell particular people that they are too different to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using, we are ultimately telling people that they are not, in some way, worthy of being in the space they deserve. This is discrimination.

Some folks in this world believe that by pressing for progress in trans rights, we are, among other misguided notions, setting a bad example for our children. But here’s the thing—the more we repress gender fluidity and multiple ways of being, the more undue violence we are perpetrating against children as they understand themselves as individuals. The tangible effects of discrimination do not come in the form of less trans people; rather, trans people will always exist, have always existed, but they will continue to meet a negative message that causes mental, psychological, and social distress. Not allowing transgender children to live their gender identity is harmful and potentially deadly. When you’re constantly met with the message that you’re too different to belong, you begin to face the alternative of belonging… which is shame and isolation.

We combat discrimination and its effects through inclusive access and affirming care. Hence, the importance of all-gender restrooms and ensuring their creation.

Second: All-gender restrooms as practical solutions to access issues

I want to bring this back to UMBC for a second with a little test: Do you know where the closest all gender restroom is?

If you do, congratulations. If you don’t, you’re not alone.

In total, there are almost 60 all-gender restrooms on our campus.

In the Commons? Two.

In the University Center? One.

And these are all just single-use restrooms.

Regardless of what you think in terms of trans rights or issues of identity, it’s a fact that UMBC is home to folks who live outside of the binary and those who are not cisgender. Whether they identify as trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc., they should be able to use a bathroom without having to search an entire building for the one restroom that exists.

The Williams Institute performed research on how transgender students with limited public restroom access were impacted by these restrictions. In their study, they found that those who experience problems accessing restrooms consistent with their gender identity report greater absenteeism, poorer school performance, withdrawing from public spaces and events, physical and mental health impacts (such as bladder infections, discomfort, and anxiety), having to change schools, or dropping out.

Wrapping Up

Did you read Everyone Poops? Truly a seminal piece of children’s literature, the message rings true even in today’s modern world. Everyone poops. Everyone needs bathrooms. As teachers, workers, students, people living in this world in the soft fleshy body we call Homo sapien—we need to have an efficient, clean, accessible method for disposing of our waste. We have actually found the key in publicly available toilets and bathrooms. As a frequent user, I endorse that they’re pretty fantastic in a pinch, even if they’re stinky or crowded or awkward.

The cover of the book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.

If I’m dreaming, I believe that one day, maybe we will find the technology that allows all people on this earth to shirk public restrooms, but until that day… please just let people use the toilet in peace—and if you’re feeling fired up about ensuring other people’s access, see the resources below for ways you can help out.

Finally, if you don’t like all-gender restrooms, you don’t have to use them. But as our campus and many other places progress in ensuring broader access to all-gender restrooms, it might be a nice experiment in perspective building to go in search for that rare one gender bathroom all the way across campus that affirms your identity, that you feel totally safe in, and in which you can use the bathroom however you need to.

See what I did there?

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC's first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC’s first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Resources and further reading:

UMBC All-Gender Restroom Map (2019)

UMBC Community News Message on All-Gender Restrooms from President Hrabowski and Provost Rous

GLAAD Report: Debunking the Bathroom Bill Myth (2017) 

Williams Institute Study – Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Laws in Public Accommodations: a Review of Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms

Transgender Rights: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Breakdown of Transgender bathroom laws in the United States

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Celebrating our May 2019 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.

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Many members of the 2018-19 Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates celebrate their accomplishments whether it’s finishing up another semester or making it to graduation day!

At this special “pinning” ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation along with a yellow rose. Each scholar was invited to share a short reflection, many of which included joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer exhaustion. “I finally made it!” rang through the Women’s Center lounge walls along with laughter and tears.

Students not graduating were also invited to share their reflections on the year and one scholar asked to read a poem her friend recently shared with her as a note of encouragement. As the poem was read aloud, the group of students present became captivated by the reality this poem had in their own lives. At its conclusion almost everyone said “you will you please share that?!” (we’ll share with you too… a condensed version is below). For a non-traditional adult learner who often feels like they are taking on the weight of the world, this poem is a powerful testament to their strength and determination.

“…I’ve hated this woman. I’ve not loved her at full capacity. I’ve fed her lies & told her she wasn’t good enough and have allowed others to tell her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken. I’ve allowed others to treat her disrespectfully. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls & battle for others who won’t even stand for her. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her get up and stand to be a light to the world & love others despite all that. I have stood paralyzed by fear while she fought battles in her mind, heart and soul….She is who she is. Every mistake, failure, trial, disappointment, success, joy, and achievement has made her the woman she is today…. This Woman is a WARRIOR. She’s not perfect but God calls her WORTHY! She’s UNSTOPPABLE. Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. She is love. She is life. She is transformation. She is ME and She is BRAVE!”

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. At a University which celebrates, grit and greatness, no other student cohort exhibits both with such deep grace and humility. As individuals and as a community, they are brave and unstoppable. So, 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!!!

Lex Ashcroft, Newcombe Scholar 

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Lex and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

I started my journey at UMBC as a transfer student from AACC in the fall of 2016 as a psychology major. My first semester at UMBC was rough to say the least, being a single mom working full time in addition to taking evening classes. I didn’t have time to take part in any extracurricular activities or campus groups. I remember feeling very disconnected and discouraged at times. Thankfully, I came across the Parents Club in my second semester and connected with other student parents. Through them, I was introduced to the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students (RWS) program. The RWS scholarship fully covered the rest of my tuition costs, and took such a burden off of my shoulders. Not only that, it allowed me to connect with other “nontraditional students” and women who had similar challenges as mine. The support that the RWS program (and the Women’s Center as a whole) offers is so important, especially for students who have competing responsibilities outside of school.

To say I am excited for graduation is an understatement, I’m eager to get started on the next lap of my educational journey. I will be applying to doctorate programs at the end of this year, and hope to enter a program in the Fall of 2020. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing professors here at UMBC, and through them I further explored areas of study that I hadn’t considered before. I hope to combine my love of psychology and education into a career as a behavioral health policy analyst.

My advice to returning women students, don’t be afraid to explore. Your time here will pass much faster than you think. Join clubs, service based or professional orgs. Get familiar with our awesome resources like the Women’s Center, the Mosaic Center, and Off Campus Student Services. You will find your tribe within the UMBC community, and it will make your college experience so much more fulfilling.

You can also read more about Lex’s story which is featured in one of UMBC’s graduation news stories

Giovanna Carbonaro, Newcombe Scholar 

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Giovanna and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Graduation has been the front and the center of my ultimate goal since I began going to school. I still remember walking to my classes pregnant, postpartum and walking around the halls with my little guys. Yes, it was hard, difficult and exhausting; however every time I reminded myself all the reasons I am getting an education. My best gift of all! That has helped me to focus. There have been countless times where I felt despair and I didn’t know how to find school resources. Here is where Returning Women Students community has been the backbone to my success by not only offering me a safe place to rest, but also to connect with other students/adults like me. Their staff were always ready to help with a big smile which made me feel so welcome and put me at ease; for which I am SO thankful. Thank you!!!

As for my career path, I am looking into part time teaching positions so I can be around my young boys who are under 5 years old. The thought that I will be walking to receive my undergrad diploma in Multicultural Linguistics Communication has proved to me once more that if we set our minds to do it….anything is possible.

Jaime Engrum, Newcombe Scholar 

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Jaime and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I started my journey at UMBC 4 years ago after spending 4 years completing my associate’s degree. I knew that a career in social work was what I wanted and I was willing to do another 4 years of college to achieve my bachelors. Taking only 2 classes a semester, I felt it was going to take forever to finish. The time went by faster than I expected and I was 2 semesters away from graduating and an internship I felt I was prepared for was about to begin. My professors at UMBC prepared me with the knowledge I needed to enter by internship, however I was not financially prepared. I had met the limits to all my loans and I saved as much vacation time I could to help with the hours I would lose going from working full-time to part time, however it wasn’t enough. I feared all my hard work was not going to end with a degree. My advisor recommended I apply for the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship the semester before my internship. She said I have a story and it should be shared!

The short version to my story is I didn’t decide to go to college until 10 years after graduating high school. I was a teenage mother raising my son on my own. College to me was not an option at that time. Once he was older and I had more family support close by, I decided to go to college. It has taken a tremendous amount of time away from time spent with my family to have my degrees; however, I have shown my son the value of a college education. During my 8 years of college I have married and my son is preparing himself for college.

As my internship approached, I received a notification that I was a recipient of the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship. It brought tears of joy that I received an award that allowed me to finish my senior year at UMBC and earn my degree in social work. Not only did this scholarship help me financially, but it allowed me to connect with women, like myself, and have a support system to encourage me to keep going when I couldn’t find balance in my life.

I now am about to walk across the stage next week with thanks to the amazing professors at UMBC and the amazing support of the Returning Women’s Program. The following week I then get to sit and watch my son graduate from high school! It may have been a long 8 years, but the reward at the end is priceless. I plan to begin my Master’s in Social Work this fall!

Rachel Mansir, Newcombe Scholar 

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Rachel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Sitting here, looking at the calendar, I am in utter disbelief. Thinking about graduating unleashes a torrent of mixed emotions. Chipping away one class at a time, this twenty-year endeavor has proven to be more than merely pursuing a piece of paper. This has become a personal journey. My diploma will contain the blood, sweat, and tears not only from me, but of my family. Returning to school as a non-traditional, older student is scary stuff. The college environment had become unfamiliar and was foreign ground for me. The Returning Women Students program created a place for me where I felt like I belonged. I connected with other single-mothers and found a brave, supportive place where I could spread my wings. Without the Women’s Center, their dedicated staff, and their financial support, I am not sure I would have been able to finish my degree. Of course, the support of my wonderful parents and daughters helped me persevere through the rough patches.

I am very much looking forward to the next stage of this grand adventure, graduate school. I have been accepted into the Advanced Standing Master’s program at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work where I will continue studying under the Title IV-E program, which is preparing me for a career as a public child welfare social worker.

I would love to tell you that going back to school was fun and has been a breeze. I can’t, because it is not easy. It’s just not. There are (many) days where you want to throw up your hands and quit. The late nights and bleary-eyed mornings can drive you to the brink of madness. The continual sacrifices and trying to balance work, raise children, juggle their activities and school is truly a struggle even on the best of days. Returning to school to finish my degree was the first thing I have ever really done for myself. But this has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It’s worth it. My children are worth it. I am worth it.

Tenier Simms, AEGON Scholar 

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At the age of 39, my journey began in Fall 2015 at UMBC. Undecided on whether I wanted to do nursing or social work, I ask myself who was I fooling to think I had four long years in me to do it. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be a lot harder than community college. It was a rough start. Throughout the semesters I contemplated quitting, but my passion was to help others so giving up wasn’t an option. I remember meeting with my social work advisor and she was a little concerned. I reassured her I was going to do better, and after that first semester, I maintained A’s and B’s. As the years went on it, seem to get easier, and now that I am just days away from graduation, I can say I’m glad I stayed the course. On May 23rd, 2019 I will walk across that stage in front of my friends, family,  but most importantly my kids. My journey will show them and others that no matter how old you are, no matter how many obstacles come up against you, KEEP PUSHING! Push through the tears, doubts, and frustration because, in the end, I promise you it will be all worth it!

Being a Returning Women Student Scholar has meant so much to me it has allowed me to connect with a group of women from all ages, races, and backgrounds. The last few semesters I have had a few hardships, but because of the support I have received from Jess and the staff at the Women’s Center, it has given me the encouragement and motivation to get through. We as women make so many sacrifices in our personal and professional lives and to have a support system here at UMBC has been amazing.
My plans after graduation are to work at a local hospital as a Medical Social Worker as well as attend grad school at Morgan State University.

My advice to returning women students is don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of your dreams. Take full advantage of the Women’s Center and all that it has to offer; you will thank yourself later. Remember you have what it takes to be a victorious, independent, fearless woman!

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

Briana Graves, Newcombe Scholar 
Kiona Hines,
Newcombe Scholar 

Laura Popp, Newcombe Scholar 
Estelle Ra, Affiliate
Jenny Sage, Newcombe Scholar 
Ellen Tippet, Newcombe Scholar 

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Graduating Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pose together with their graduation pins.

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.

Parental Guidance Necessary: Gender Equity in Parental Leave

Alexia.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.

Originally with this blog I wanted to to explore the ways in which the gender wage gap could be mitigated by giving fathers the same parental leave policies as new mothers. However, as I started researching I found that there many more benefits than pay equity; more equitable parental leave policies have the capacity to end the traditional gendered division of labor.

In order to talk about this issue through an intersectional feminist lens, I want to add a disclaimer about the language I use in this blog post. I will be referring to mothers as those who give birth and fathers as those who co-parent with mothers; however, this is a heteronormative and cisgender-centered assumption. There are many different people who give birth who may or may not identify with the label of “mother.” In spite of this, our language for parental leave policies has remained stagnant which is a problem in and of itself. I will be dividing my conversation among “maternal” and “paternal” conceptions of leave as they are articulated by policy, but I hope that I can also offer space to challenge those conceptions and show the diversity in sets of parents that exist in the world.

Let me start with explaining what paid paternity and maternity leave is and what our policies are here in the United States. Paid paternity and maternity leave is when new parents have access to a select amount of paid time off after having children. Obviously, the time given off for new mothers or those who give birth fluctuates based on their employment and which state they live. On average, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), maternity leave can ensure up to 12 unpaid weeks off. In the United States, we currently do not have any policies in place to give mothers paid time off or fathers any time off, paid or unpaid. This discourages new parents from taking any time off work after having a child. Having only the mother stay at home with the new-born child perpetuates the stereotype that the father is the breadwinner of the family (this is further complicated when we think about lesbian and gay couples raising children). Mothers might only take a limited period of time off, they might take off and then stay home for a while and rejoin the workforce, but regardless there are usually consequences to any time off they take. Women in the workforce also face pregnancy discrimination, which results in being fired, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to being pregnant or intending to become pregnant.

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To give some context to how this is related to eliminating the wage gap, experts argue that the wage gap is not only due to women getting paid less on the dollar than men, but because of the “motherhood penalty.” This penalty is the effect of the time women take off from their work after having children and the negative impact it has on their ability to get promotions, get raises, or gain more years of professional experience. While there are plenty of women that go back to work soon after they have children, women are often still the ones who engage in childcare work or unpaid domestic labor while still doing professional work, known as the “second-shift.”  

For an issue as complex as this one seems, it actually is not too hard to see how gender norms are deeply ingrained in us growing up and how the policies then reflect that. For example, growing up I am sure you were relegated to play with certain types of toys based on your assigned gender. For me, that meant playing the stay-at-home mom with the very realistic baby doll I had, being gifted an ironing board playset, and spending my free time pretending to be an elementary school teacher. Clearly, all these toys and pretend games had a theme; they were all things I had seen the women in my life doing. They were tasks that involved staying in the home, taking up childcare responsibilities, and embodying the caring and nurturing traits that women were expected to hone and perfect.  In contrast, my brother had a range of different Superman, Batman, and Spiderman costumes he would dress-up with alongside a collection of hot-wheels race cars. Now, if we think about the gendered division of toys and play, we can understand what society expects out of us solely based on our gender.

Reflecting on this dichotomy as a 21-year-old, I cannot help but also note the irony of how I have grown into an adult woman:  the fields in which I have the most work experience are babysitting and teaching.

I use this as an example to demonstrate the harm that arises when we grow up thinking our talents, abilities, and traits are determined by our gender and the expectations that we believe we have to abide by when wanting to have a family. I’d also like to bring up the hetero-normative structure of these policies since the expectation is having a mom and dad, but the reality could be having two moms, two dads, a single parent, or two non-binary parents. Instead of the division of labor being equal and both parents being confident in their ability to stay at home and raise a child, that responsibility is socially cemented as women’s work. In doing so, men stay at their job and advance their career while moms face the consequences of their time off, and those fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus.”

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Regardless of whether the mom stays home for a bit, goes right back to work, or the parents hire a nanny, working mothers almost always engage in the second shift, something  I have seen in my countless years of babysitting. Mothers and fathers might work the same amount of hours a week but whereas a father is only expected to work and then come home, the mother makes sure dinner is made, the house is cleaned, the kids are picked up, and everyone in the family and home is in order (which often involves a heavy emotional and mental burden).

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Paid paternity leave policies would not only benefit new-fathers in hetero-sexual relationships it also benefits new fathers in non-heterosexual relationships, where both parents are fathers and in relationships where the father is the one giving birth. In Soraya Chemaly’s book, “Rage Becomes Her:The Power of Women’s Anger” she discusses how in LGBTQ relationships, parenting relationships are usually more egalitarian unless there’s a stronger butch/femme expression of gender, in which case the disparity of parental duties begins to resemble heterosexual partnerships more clearly. Giving all new parents paid leave, no matter their relationship to their partner, could result in cultural shifts that give space for all types of parents to be present in the beginning of their children’s lives.

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I was motivated to write this piece as a personal way to reflect on parental relationships that I have seen who did not divide childcare responsibilities equally and observed the unfair expectations for mothers to “do-it-all.” I wanted to tie in how that mentality hinders any progress for an equitable home and workforce.To do so, I had to look back on how my gender shaped so many aspects of my personality and how I always thought the traits of caring and nurturing just came easily for me. This realization pushes me to consider how I will raise my children in a way that rejects this gendered expectations of emotional labor, childcare, and professional work. Moving forward, my hopes are that an equitable parenting relationship is respected by my partner and my workplaces.

This gets me back to my main point. In order to create equality in the workforce and at home, policies should ensure that both mothers and fathers receive equal paid time off after having children. This would reward and motivate parents to take their time off and engage in the responsibilities of being parents. It would also mitigate the motherhood penalty and pregnancy discrimination as now both men and women would be expected to leave their place of work when they have a child. Furthermore, it would create a new generation of men that will not shy away from care-taking and embrace their abilities to be nurturing.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-daddy-track/355746/

Take Back the Night 2019 Round-Up

On April 18th 2019, the Women’s Center hosted the seventh annual Take Back the Night at UMBC. The night began with an introduction by the emcees Autumn, Calista and Women’s Center staff members, Samiksha and Morgan.

IMG_0024.JPGPhoto credit: Samiksha Manjani

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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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.

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The survivor 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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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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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!

If you’ve joined us this Thursday and you haven’t already, please fill out the survey by April 26, 2019.

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

Honoring stories/Consuming tragedy: Covering Take Back The Night as a photographer

Amelia

Amelia Meman, ’15, is the program coordinator in the Women’s Center. She has worked in the Women’s Center as an intern, a student staff member, a volunteer, a part-time coordinator, and now as a full-time staff member. Throughout this tenure, Amelia has attended every Take Back the Night (and is looking forward to attending many more).

Among the fraught ethical tensions that anyone negotiates in their lives, there is one that the Women’s Center constantly must work through:

Are we honoring stories of trauma or are we passively consuming tragedy?

This is a conflict that comes up most often when we begin planning and setting up for our sexual violence-related events. We have to ask ourselves during Take Back the Night (TBTN): is this an event that is empowering for survivors and victims? Or is it spotlighting stories that are shocking and uncomfortable for an eager audience? Are we listeners observing moments of healing or are we spectators in awe of what trauma can be?

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Now, we realize that we can’t control how participants are taking in the material we offer, but we can try like hell to build a context to our event that encourages folks to act as witnesses to a difficult and powerful process. Hence this blogpost.

Take Back the Night is an emotional and incredible event. As a staff member and an alumna, I have been to every TBTN since it was renewed in 2014, and every year, I am aware of the way the survivor speak out shifts the gravity in the room. I know there are tears and tense muscles and people holding one another–partially because I’ve been in that same position. I know that in the march that follows the speak out, I yell so so loud with this big chorus of powerful people and it is the closest I come to righteousness. The catharsis of shifting the emotional weight in my heart to my lungs and into the night air, it’s a feeling that you don’t soon forget.

That said, I’ve also been behind the camera for many of my TBTN’s and I know, as an artist, what lengths we can go to in order to get that shot that distills the moment as if the chant could echo through whatever gelatin or pixel displaying utility you’re using. Get that shot. Capture that moment. Frame it. Click. Shutter. Stop.

I get it.

But just as the Women’s Center frets about building a moment of witnessing rather than consumption, we must also ask our photographers and our artists to consider how they’re documenting this world.

As we get ready for another Take Back the Night, we meet and Jess is beleaguered: “Just please don’t be that guy running and hanging off of light posts with a camera in my face,” referring to the antics of some eager photojournalists who took the 2018 Take Back the Night march by storm. People with cameras ran in and out and through and about the march, and it led us as organizers to question whether or not this was the sort of event we wanted to organize.

Were we getting people together simply for the right Instagram grid?

Were those who were brave enough to tell their stories being minimized to the portrait of tears and traumatization?

Did these folks weaving and mending their way through the march even know what it was that brought us all together and why our voices were high with urgency?

Are we staging tragedy for people to consume? Are survivor stories a tragic movie montage–to feel things that we aren’t typically used to feeling?

There’s a responsibility here, as a narrator or a creator, to honor the folks whose stories we are trying to enliven. We teeter on that tension I spoke of earlier, between exploitation and empowerment. So as we move into another TBTN and another year of difficult publicly told truths, I hope that we can learn how to honor and respect the stories that are shared among us.

 

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Some simple questions for all of the photographers out there, looking to document things like Take Back the Night and other important movements in our world:

Why are you taking pictures?

Where are you posting them?

If you had to write a caption, what would it say?

Who are you taking a picture of? Are they in a state you would want to be captured in?

Do you understand what this event is about and the goals?

How can you ensure that your creative work builds off of organizer goals?

Did you ask to take the picture? If you didn’t, should you?

Ultimately, this issue is one of exploitative objectification versus humanizing empowerment/embodiment. Viewing real human conflict, sadness, trauma does things to us. It might help us through our own shit. It might provoke a piece of ourselves we’ve never been in touch with. Either way, let’s make sure that in our reception, we are viewing, listening, etc. from a place of equal footing, rather than from the top down. Reach out, not down to the folks who have different experiences from you, and if you plan on taking their picture–hold up your mirror first.

This year, for Take Back the Night, the Women’s Center is assigning press passes to photographers. We hope this is a way to hold artists and journalists accountable to our mission, and create a firmer understanding of the context that brings us all together. If you’re interested in acquiring a press pass, email us at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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Further reading/viewing/listening:

7 with VII: Ethics in Photojournalism, Q&A with photojournalists Ron Haviv, Maciek Nabrdalik, Stefano De Luigi, Davide Monteleone, Ashley Gilbertson, Ed Kashi and Arthur Bondar

A Thousand Stakes: Photojournalism and Exploitation, Teresa Mathew

The Colonialism of Photojournalism, Clary Estes

Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability, Stella Young at TEDxSydney 2014

What Does a Leader Look Like?

 

Briscoe

 

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. 

 

Do you know whether you are an introvert or extrovert? If not, take this quiz to find out!

Myers-Briggs: Are You Extroverted Or Introverted?

Here is a more in-depth version of the personality test:

16 Personalities Test

Before taking the quiz, you probably had distinct ideas of what introversion and extroversion were and the perceptions that come along with them. Often in movies, books, and even leadership conferences, the image of a leader is painted as an extrovert with a loud, commanding voice who enjoys being the center of attention. Introverts are normally depicted as the shy outcast who is more of a follower than a leader. Right off the bat, this narrative perpetuates a misconstrued idea of the terms introvert, extrovert, and ambivert. To clear it up, here is a basic breakdown of the terms:

Introvert: Drained by social encounters and energized by solitary

Extrovert: Finds energy in interactions with others

Ambivert: Exhibits a blend of introverted and extroverted tendencies

Although introvert simply means that you need time to yourself to recharge, many introverts do happen to be shy and quiet. We are capable of navigating social situations, but often we prefer not to for extended periods of time. With that being said, every introvert is different and has varying levels of comfortability in social settings.

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As a quiet introvert myself, I have felt pressured to “come out of my shell” to the point where I would not be authentically acting as myself. I always wonder why people can’t accept me for who I am rather than trying to fit me into a fixed image of what they imagine a leader to be. For example, when I facilitate discussion groups, I welcome moments of silence because I know that silence isn’t always empty.  Some may view this as my inability to engage the group, but I see it as time for group members to take in what has been said and process their thoughts.

I simply do not fit the mold of the outspoken and energetic leader, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The way I make contributions in group settings is unique to me. I do not like small talk, and I prefer to engage in conversations when I feel that I have something important to say. I hold the belief that it’s not always about the amount you say and how loudly you can say it. Making your point louder or with more bravado does not make it more valid or persuasive. Sometimes fewer words said by a quieter presence is more impactful.

Image result for perks of being an introvertSusan McCain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, introduces the concept of the The Extrovert Ideal which describes “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” In her book, she also talks about how introverts are forced into thinking that their natural, quiet demeanor is only holding them back.

Contrary to popular belief, many introverts do not look to extroversion as an ideal that they hope to achieve during their lifetime. We due aim to grow and push ourselves out of our comfort zones from time to time, but that doesn’t have to be at the expense of the essence of who we are.

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This same issue unveils itself in the way that society has defined gender roles. Typically, men are expected to be assertive leaders, while women are expected to be quiet, submissive followers. Due to this, leadership has been associated with extroverted personalities to reflect patriarchal ideals. In reality, leadership is not a fixed concept that can be attributed to a particular gender. It is flexible and can change regardless of what gender someone identifies as.

McCain says she has “seen young women with these [introverted] styles exhorted to be louder, bolder, more uninhibited, when a more nuanced approach would have suited them better.”

If we look at some famous women, past and present, we will find many powerful women who have led revolutions or dominated their professional arenas that identify as soft-spoken introverts. For example, in Rosa Parks’s obituary, she was described as soft-spoken and sweet with radical humility and quiet fortitude. She was able to make such a powerful statement using few words.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is a self-proclaimed introvert who feels that the media paints her as an extrovert. Other examples include: Martha Minow, the Dean of Harvard Law School, who McCain describes as the “ultimate quiet leader”; founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp; and actress Emma Watson. These are just a few of the many women who have gotten where they are because they are authentic to themselves.

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A common thread among all these women is that society has made the assumption that they must be extroverted to be as successful as they are. There’s no way that someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight or is more calculated about how much they speak could hold the positions that they do.

The truth is, introversion and quietness are personality traits that are an asset. Introverts are comfortable with silence and introspection; this allows us to assess a situation and take a thoughtful approach in our response. We understand that we don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be heard because often times we command attention just by our presence. People often wonder what we have to say, and when the the time is right, we’ll let you know.

You wouldn’t force a fish out of water and expect them to swim, so why would you try to diminish defining aspects of a person’s personality and expect them to thrive? It is important to remember that there is room for both extroverted and introverted leadership styles. I would encourage people to make space for introverts, without assuming that we are fearful to speak or participate. Sometimes we simply don’t want to, but we definitely have the ability to. I would also suggest instead of trying to get us to speak louder (unless we are completely inaudible), try and listen more and be patient.

Yes, our calmer, quieter demeanor can provide a sense of ease to a room, but don’t be fooled into thinking that we do not have a fire burning inside of us to achieve our goals and help address the world’s most pressing problems. Don’t mistake our silence as passive agreement. Change is only possible through the mobilization of all different types of people, so there’s space for all personalities.

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Check Out These Resources Below:

10 Successful Women for Introverts to Look Up to

Does Feminism Make Room for Shy or Introverted Girls?

Meyer Briggs Extraversion or Introversion

 

Saree not Sorry!

Shrijana

 

Shrijana is a Student Staff Member at the Women’s Center. She is a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition and co-leading the Telling Our Stories Project. 

 

 

Before starting my statistics class this semester, I was feeling apprehensive due to the fact that I’ve never taken a statistics course before, not even in high school like most students do. However, today, I can say that I thoroughly enjoy my statistics class (nerd alert!). The numbers make sense to me, the formulas light up a bulb in my brain. As an Economics major, I am fascinated by how economists use statistics. But the factor that makes STAT 351 an influential course for me goes beyond the content of the class. This influence is embodied by my STAT 351 professor, Dr. Nandita Dasgupta.

She is an Indian woman, who comes into class every day wearing a silk or cotton saree, a traditional article of clothing typically worn by South Asian women.

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The first day I saw her attire, I was shocked; my jaw dropped to the floor. I have never witnessed a person of color, teacher or professor, show up to class in traditional cultural wear in all my years of schooling in the American educational system. I was so moved by what seemed normal to her.

Growing up, I was ashamed to share my background of being Nepalese because I felt like I stood out in a negative way as an outcast. I just wanted to be accepted, and I was too afraid to truly be myself.  When I was little, I was so anxious and embarrassed to walk around in public in the United States with my grandmother because she would be wearing a saree. I would think: will people criticize, are they staring at me, are they being racist in their minds, am I seen as weird? But seeing Dr. Dasgupta has inspired me, she was there to teach statistics, her race and gender did not matter.

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Upon this realization, I became sorrowful for my grandmother because she was not given the same educational opportunities as I was. My grandmother was married at the age of sixteen and become a stay at home mom in Nepal. If she was presented with the same academic opportunities as me, I am sure she would have been a very successful woman, possibly a professor like Dr. Dasgupta.

STAT 351 has proven two points to me: math is an intriguing subject and all girls and women should have the right to an education.

After seeing Dr. Dasgupta in an empowering light and reading about her work as an economist and statistician (and to ask her permission to publish this blog), I met with her to get to know her more and explore my own identity.

On a warm, bright Thursday afternoon, we sat outside the RAC at the black tables. Dr. Dasgupta started off the conversation by asking me, “What does Shrijana mean?” And I told her, “Creation.”

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Smiling, she replied, “Good. Most people are not even aware what their name symbolizes.” From there, our personal connection was set and the conversation kicked off.

What does the saree symbolize for you?

The saree is a part of me. I have grown up with the saree and have been inseparable from it. I have never worn anything else before. I would love to wear something else; but, somehow, I feel like my personality would be compromised.

Have you had others comment about your saree before? What was it like?

No. No one has made a bad comment. If they have commented, it was always good, never a derogatory comment.

What made you want to pursue economics/statistics? What do you like most about it?

In high school, I took economics and I loved it. I also loved math; therefore, using math was my priority. Economics and math combined really well. Growing up, English was also my favorite subject, I wanted to be an English major. But, my mother who was also a professor influenced me to pursue economics. She said that it was a more economically sound field.

If you feel comfortable sharing, have you experienced any racism or sexism in the academic world?

No. To my knowledge, I have not felt any sort of discrimination. I do not know why I have not felt it, I like to believe that people are good, kind, and open.

What advice would you give young women of color out there? What about women of color economists/mathematicians?

First of all, I do not look at women of color differently from non-color or Caucasian women.

I do not like the idea of one gender being inferior or superior. I am a human being and I look at everyone else as human beings too. I do not believe in any sort of bias or question of bias. I want individuals to be their best selves. But, there must be some bias somewhere, because we still have gender inequality. To everyone and women of color, I would say have dignity, integrity, honesty, and perseverance. Be proud of your culture, embrace the world and try to develop the world. Women are not an end; they are the means to an end. At the end of the day, be a good human being.

After meeting with Dr. Dasgupta, I felt empowered in my confidence as a woman. My conversation with her served as reassurance that I am enough in my abilities and skills. Talking to her also reminded me that I should not run away from my culture, but embrace it with pride. I went to talk to her about her choice of an article of clothing, but I walked away with wisdom about life.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

A dispiriting survey of women’s lot in university economics

A Brief History of India’s Traditional Saree