No, You’re Not “So OCD”

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

 

You have entered a chat with: Friend

1 message from: Friend

Did you hear what happened in class today?

 

1 message to: Friend

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

 

2 messages from: Friend

Yes, oh my God!

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

 

2 messages to: Friend

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

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

 

1 message from: Friend

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

Friend has left the chat.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

giphy (1)

No, please. Stop.

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

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

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

giphy

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

 

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

Advertisements

Too Busy Being Black

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. 

 

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

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

Image result for dulce sloan daily show gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Lives Matter: Herstory

 

 

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

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

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

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

Who’s next?

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

 

Baseline Information

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

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

 

Masculinity and Violence

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

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

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

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

 

Where do we go from here?

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

tumblr stupid

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

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

 

Sources/Further Reading

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stephen-paddock-las-vegas-domestic-violence-fantasy-boston-bomber-orlando-shooting-a7993186.html

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/07/556405489/the-relationship-between-domestic-violence-and-mass-shootings

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/searching-for-motives-in-mass-shootings

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/oct/06/newsweek/are-white-males-responsible-more-mass-shootings-an/

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/majority-of-mass-shootings-carried-out-by-white-men/article_8b8b0145-c512-525a-8a7d-256bfb3a959f.html

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a23088401/domestic-violence-coercive-control/

Self Care: An Activists Survival Guide

AlexiaAlexia Petasis is an INDS intern on the Women’s Center student staff team. Alexia studies social justice and dance. In the following blog post, she runs through a list of crucial self-care survival strategies for activists. 

Every week, the Women’s Center asks a “question of the week” available for anyone to respond to. One week our question was, “what do you do for self-care?” This question was one I have heard many times, but this time it led me to ponder all the ways I have, or have not, practiced self-care as well as what tips I can offer everyone else. I’ve seen many people around campus this semester look drained, fatigued and overwhelmed by our campus climate. For some, this exhaustion was due to the various articles and subsequent student rallies that came about after allegations that UMBC mishandled sexual assault claims.

I’ve gathered some self care tips from my own experiences, the advice my friends find helpful, and others I’ve found online while on a quest to live my best social justice activist life, while not drowning carelessly into the pit of despair that social justice work sometimes feels like. As we head into Thanksgiving, let’s use the next few days off to reflect on ways we can practice self-care….

Take the Time to be Mad:

Over the past semester, many of our campus community members have experienced feelings of  anger. Anger at our institution and anger at the fact that this issue was more than an isolated incident. Being mad allows us to feel what we rightfully should feel and allows us to push ourselves to see what we can do about it. If we weren’t mad or bothered about issues like these, then there would be no driving force to pursue change. On that note, I’ve noticed it is equally important to be aware of how much “bad news” you consume.

During the semester, while UMBC was exploding with its own bad news about the alleged mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault, the news was overwhelmingly reminiscent of how the roots of injustice are so deeply ingrained in our society. Survivors of sexual assault nationwide have had to revisit their past trauma with the news pertaining to Supreme Court Judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. An article published on CNN states, “the day Ford testified in front of senators and the whole country, the sex assault hotline saw a 201% increase in calls compared with a typical day”. It was almost like our school and the federal government were in a parallel universe and the influx of bad news was overwhelming.

So, be mad, but also be careful to balance out time to also think about the good things. As hard as it is, try not to allow yourself to stay so up-to-date with everything that you bombard your mind with all the bad in the world. This can cause opposite results and paralyze your abilities as an activist since it feels as though nothing is getting better. This leads me to my next point.

Surround Yourself with Other Activists:

This one is IMPORTANT! I didn’t realize just how draining it was to be around those who truly don’t give a sh*t about the injustices many face in our world. Therefore, I would first say, have conversations and meet individuals whose views align with yours and who want to help the world become a better place too. At the Women’s Center, I have seen so many bonds created in the lounge area of the Women’s Center and have been part of many conversations empowering us to speak our truths. We Believe You, a student organization on campus, holds weekly discussion group and general body meetings for survivors of sexuals assualt and allies. In the wake of campus conversations around sexual violence, it can sometimes feel good to be with people who are doing the work and also feel similar frustrations.

But, along with meeting activists in person, there are many podcasts out there that can make us feel hopeful of all the other activists we have doing amazing work and raising our consciousness about issues that are all around us.

One of my favorites is called “Transforming Together” by two staff members at HopeWorks, a domestic violence shelter in Howard County. Brittany Eltringham and Heidi Griswold shed light on issues happening in our country with an intersectional feminist perspective. They describe their podcasts as, “a blend of pop culture and social justice, the show is hosted by two queer folks who are committed to healing, laughing, and loving their way to a world free from exploitation, oppression, and violence.” Another resource called Know Your IX mentions various tips for self care on their website as well.

IMG_7218.jpg

 

Express Gratitude:

Express gratitude when it’s easy, but more importantly, make the conscious decision and effort to express gratitude when the world feels as if it’s a dumpster fire. Even if it is as simple as I woke up on time today, I made an extra good cup of coffee this morning, or I had a good conversation with someone. Try to start each day or end each night writing five things that you are grateful for that day. Every little bit of positivity you offer to yourself trains your mind to escape this bubble of pessimism towards the world (which frankly I do often too, but I am working on it).

Another cool way to bring in more optimism among all the dreariness that comes with social justice activism is to sign up for The Good Trade email notifications. The Good Trade describes their daily newsletter as, “Everyday Inspiration For The Informed Woman: A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.” Their mission statement at the bottom of the newsletter states that the inspiration of the day leaves you “informed + inspired about the good things that rise above the clutter”. To say the least, waking up and reading the good work that others are doing around the world can help to ground us and recenter our views of the world.

Embody Self Preservation:

IMG_7219.jpg

Finally, the infamous quote by Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Viewing self-care as an inherent part of any activism effort and a duty you owe yourself is crucial to taking good care of yourself while you are busy trying to take care of everyone else. As we head into finals and holidays and reasons for activism always continue to exist what will you do to practice self-care? Feel free to share your ideas or comments with us on the Women’s Center social media pages!

The Character that Never Left Me

Shrijana

 

Shrijana Khanal is a Student Staff member at the Women’s Center. She is an Economics major with minors in Computer Science and International Relations. Shrijana is a co-facilitator of Pop Culture Pop-Ups at the Women’s Center. 

 

 

As my fingers traced the glazed, gold-plated title of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the seventh time, I felt the same rush of euphoria, nostalgia, and bittersweetness that I did when I read the books for the first time as an eager seven-year-old girl. The Harry Potter series became my refuge during the dark times in my life: an escape from reality and sad thoughts. At the quick turn of a page, I would be transported into another world: a place filled with adventure, love, and friendship. One of my favorite parts of reading the series was my quick attachment to  the characters. The character that stuck with me the most was Hermione, the fearless, smart, and empathetic female member of the golden trio. She became my fictional shero at a young age, and remained this way as I grew up. Hermione taught me that girls can be studious, warriors, and social activists all at once.

1464670938122

How many times did Hermione save Harry and Ron’s lives? Without her, they would have been slaughtered in the first book. There would be no story to tell about the Boy Who Lived without Hermione. I always admired her for her bravery and wit, whether in the classroom or the battlefield. She was not afraid to be herself. Despite being labeled a “bookworm,” “bossy,” and a “nightmare,” Hermione never abandoned her true qualities. She fought for herself and others along with what she believed in. As a young girl trying to maneuver through a harsh world, Hermione gave me the power to stay true to my values. She taught me that reading books and being the highest-achieving student in your class is cool, and something to be proud of. Hermione gave me the courage to take a stand for issues that were dear to me. She showed me that having emotions is not a bad thing. Most importantly, in a world that is always trying to tear you down, deter you from following your goals, or even presumptuously label you, being an unapologetic girl was the most positive, life-changing thing that could happen to me. For me, Hermione was the best friend and role model I needed.

I saw myself in her; she gave me the confidence to be who I am, a young outspoken, nerdy, and caring woman. Unknown to me at the time, she also gave me the confidence to be a feminist.

Being a woman of color, Harry Potter made it difficult for me to connect with the characters based on race alone, since the series only contained the bare minimum of diversity. However, I did not need race to feel a connection with Hermione. I felt connected with her through her qualities of being studious, kind, and brave. I could easily identify with Hermione because she was not perfect to begin with: she had to go through awkward transitions and transformative setbacks to fully grow. Her development from an “insufferable know-it-all” to a brilliant heroine made her an authentic character.

hermione

However, others may have not have felt this connection with Hermione as I did. Rowling shared that she made the character racially ambiguous on purpose after people were angry that a black actress was cast as Hermione in a London stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Rowling supported her claim by referencing Hermione’s frizzy hair and ambiguous skin color. The concept of a minority playing Hermione is something that makes me immensely happy, but why did it take so long for Rowling to highlight this fact, and for others to accept it? Is the concept of a female lead being played by a woman of color too absurd to digest? For me, this is not feminism. A white girl is not the only person with the power to possess the positive characteristics I saw in Hermione. It is important to see color, because not seeing race devalues what women of color have to offer.

1b3a3b45-6c8b-4af1-8958-edcabaa9ff05

Although the series was published 10 years ago, it is still relevant to my life and the lives of others (even with its sometimes problematic stances). Personally, I still revisit the books whenever I go through a tough change in my life, as a coping mechanism. Discussing the issues of the series forces me to grow from the innocence I had in my childhood while reading it for the first time. But through everything, Hogwarts will always be there not only to teach you to see the magical and real world differently, but to welcome you home each time.

Click on the links below to learn more about the topics discussed in this blog!

Importance of intersectional feminism

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

How many times Hermione saved Harry and Ron’s lives

http://booksandchardonnay.com/19-times-hermione-granger-saved-the-day-so-harry-potter-could-prevail-in-the-end/

JK Rowling Loves Black Hermione Casting In ‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’

https://bust.com/books/15328-jk-rowling-loves-black-hermione-in-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child.html

 

Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

giphy

At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**