On Makeup and #nomakeup

Two faces. Both feminist.

Two faces. Both feminist.

With last week’s No Makeup Day Reflection, I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with makeup and beauty culture as a femme feminist. I’m trying to push past my initial defensiveness and come to a self-reflexive and nuanced analysis. There are a hundred directions to take such an analysis, but right now I’m most troubled by what I see as the frequent conflation of barefacedness and authenticity.

A few years ago, Jessica Simpson appeared without makeup or airbrushing on the cover of Marie Claire under the headline “The Real Jessica.” Several other critiques aside, I take issue with the implication that the lack of makeup and retouching of her image is directly related to the realness of her selfhood, at least as she’s conveyed. In the same vein, the #nomakeup selfie has exploded on social media recently and there seems to be a similar sentiment behind it. Browsing that particular hashtag yields few unflattering images of the mostly young women posting their faces to Instagram and Facebook. No, overwhelmingly the photos are flattering and filtered, similar to the purportedly makeup-free celebrity photoshoots. The message doesn’t seem to be one that resists the compulsory and Eurocentric standard of conventional beauty. Mainly these #nomakeup selfies seem to be an effort to showcase how closely young women conform to our beauty ideals while also conveying a sense of down-to-earth realness. Because while women are expected to be attractive at all times, they’re not supposed to ever admit that they either care about or put effort into their physical appearance because to do so is to be vain and somehow inauthentic. And they’re certainly never supposed to acknowledge feeling any satisfaction or pride in their appearance.

Be pretty, but don't dare be confident.

Be pretty, but don’t dare be confident.

It’s important to understand and critique how and why society remains invested in keeping women preoccupied with their perpetual perceived failure to live up to traditional beauty standards. And I don’t think a simplistic choice feminist approach to makeup and beauty culture holds up to much analysis. However, I do think it’s essential to keep in mind that for some people, makeup can actually be a strategic tool for self-expression. Nothing operates in a vacuum, of course, but alternative narratives for conventional femininity and makeup do exist.

As much as makeup can be a form of armor or a burden for some, it can also be source of genuine pleasure or self-care. For me, an unapologetically bold red lip and five coats of mascara can be part of a calculated expression of my femininity and femme-ininity. It’s a conscious rejection of the pervasive devaluing of femininity as artificial or inferior, a move that is rooted in sexism yet also often occurs in feminist and queer circles. Regardless of the paint on my face, I’m no less my authentic self and no less a feminist.

White Out at the 65th Emmys

Last night, after I finished all of my homework, I heard my roommates change the channel. My background noise changed from the constant crowd fuzz of football to the sparkling laughter of celebrities. I heard my boyfriend and my roommate groan, and I heard them curse, and I heard Kerrin cry, “It’s not even a good show!”

Oh, the Emmys.

Normally, I love award shows. In high school, I loved the pageantry of fashion and celebrity and parading about on a glowing, interactive stage. The Emmys were a time to stay up late with my mom and talk about how much we admire Jon Hamm’s slick dark hair and despise Cameron Diaz’ dress. I would complain about the snubbing of my favorite shows, and stay silent at the schmaltzy memorials.

But now, with a couple years of critical feminist study under my belt, the floodgates are open, and my eyes and ears were assaulted with problematic materials. While a lot of the show was entertaining and innocent enough, there was a complete lack of diversity represented in this year’s nominees. Yeah, I’m complaining (much like Ellen Pompeo) about the giant lack of racial diversity, and yeah, I’m going to complain in even more depth further down in this post. Are you ready? Because I’m ready.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 65th Emmys

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A New Way to Connect: The Returning Women Mentoring Program

KellyMartinBroderickHeadshotThis fall, the Women’s Center will be launching a new program for women who are a part of the Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship program, .  Today, adult students comprise a large portion of the enrollment at most colleges and universities, with a majority of these non-traditional students being mature women. In 1981, the Newcombe Foundation created scholarship programs for returning or second-career women which enable recipients to avoid excessive reliance on loans as they manage the costs of tuition, housing, and caring for family members. This year, 12 women at UMBC received scholarships, including myself.

When I first transferred to UMBC from Howard Community College in the spring of 2012, I faced a huge adjustment.  Not only was I a decade older than most of my classmates, but I felt as if everyone was speaking a different language.  UMBC sure likes an acronym! For that entire semester, I only knew how to get from my car to my classes.  I rarely ventured beyond that path, not even once entering the library.   I remember trying to google ‘mainstreet’ and ‘breezeway’ because they weren’t on the campus map!  I could see how it would be possible to finish my degree and graduate without ever engaging in any community activities, but that wasn’t the experience I wanted for myself.

My own experiences as a transfer student made me realize that we needed a better way for non-traditional students to create their own community and support systems.  My second semester at UMBC, I became an Honors College Intern for the Women’s Center.  Through this position I started working with the Returning Women’s Group at the Center and tried to figure out new ways to create a community for us.  After much research and talking to other students and staff about mentor programs on campus, I asked Jess if I could work on designing a Mentor Program for Returning Women.  She gave me the green light and the Returning Women Mentoring Program was born.

The program will match women who have returned to college with other women facing similar situations.  The Women’s Center will host several events for the group throughout the semester, inviting mentor pairs to come together as a larger group for activities.

Rebuilding Manhood: Yes, Masculinity is a Social Construction

1001924_10101876367780783_916671846_nAs a man who has been involved with the fight for women’s equality for almost fifteen years, I have never felt uncomfortable calling myself a feminist or critically examining the way that our systems of patriarchy have long created oppression for women, and how they continue to do so to this day. What was not as clear to me at the time, at least not as obviously, was how masculinity, and the norms surrounding it, are just as much a social construction as those relating to femininity.

My interest in the development of masculine identities began to grow as I found myself noticing how the roles of stereotypical masculinity were being played out among men in the gay community. While often placed outside of traditional masculinity by society at large, and while often open to challenging some concepts of traditional masculine culture,  gay men still grow up in a society that conveys very specific ideas about how men are supposed to act and what they are supposed to value.  While some gay men may be willing to adopt characteristics that are more traditionally “feminine”, there are many other traits that all too clearly bespeak the cultural training that we all learn from a young age. Many of these, I started to believe, cause issues of conflict in both friendships and intimate relationships between men. When males are taught that they are to be more powerful than women, to be the breadwinners, and to be emotionally stoic, how does that play out when there is a relationship with two men who have similar views of power? How do we have honest conversations about sex when both partners in a relationship are taught the same monolithic view that sex is purely a physical act, all about performance, dominance and one’s own pleasure? How do we discuss relationship violence when we learn that only women are the victims of aggression and spousal abuse, and that if a man is beaten up, it is something to be ashamed of?

As I started to examine these questions more, and started critically reading things written by members of the LGBT community, I started to realize that so many of the conversations we were having were, at their roots, informed by an unexamined, hegemonic view of masculinity. While it is true that gay men have often been victims of prejudice and violence because of this dominant masculinity, many have also absorbed much of what it teaches about the proper way to “be a man.”
These early thoughts and questions began to take more form as I started reading the book Guyland by the pioneering sociologist and critical masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel. I began to see the wider ways that men are taught, encouraged and celebrated for adhering to a certain kind of masculinity, and how this happens through a process that also teaches men to accept it as entirely natural and separate from cultural ideals and values. We may understand, for example, that our system of patriarchy has relegated women to the private/domestic sphere, but how often do we think about how that same system has relegated men to a public sphere where their identity is so intertwined with their ability to make money and achieve other forms of measurable success, keeping them on a treadmill of insecurity, constantly afraid that it will all collapse? We can see that our culture has denied women the right to express anger and sexual desire, but how often do we see that this same culture has denied men the right to express anything but anger and sexual desire, causing great damage, both emotionally and physically, to both parties?

Thinking about all of these questions, and how all of us are influenced to become a certain type of man or woman (while also ignoring the spectrum that is found outside of the male/female binary), I was very excited to learn about the Rebuilding Manhood program that was launching in the fall of 2012 at UMBC. I was a participant during that inaugural semester, and I benefited enormously from taking part, learning a great deal about myself, as well as the larger culture of which I am inextricably bound. When the opportunity arose for me to work at the Women’s Center, and to participate as co-facilitator of Rebuilding Manhood for the upcoming academic year, I jumped at the chance. Not only do I feel that it is crucial for us to discuss these issues relating to masculinity and what it means to “be a man” in our society, but I also love taking part in those conversations and learning from the experiences that all the participants bring with them. I look forward to another great year of the program, and continuing to do what I can to create a culture at UMBC and beyond where we are willing to have these conversations and critically examine what it means to be a man, and how to build positive and healthy versions of masculinity.

Fall 2013 Women’s Center Staff Introductions

Fall 2013 Staff

Fall 2013 Staff

The Women’s Center is excited to have an excellent team of student staff members this year.

Narges Ershad

I am Narges Fekri Ershad, currently a junior and I am majoring in Gender and Women’s studies and Sociology.  I am a first year Resident Assistant this year, a co-leader in Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), and also the president of Persian Student Association (PSA). I am an active volunteer for a foundation in Iran called “Omid-e-Mehr” Foundation, and they work to empower disadvantage young women in Iran. I have visited the center in Iran two times and worked closely with the girls in and outside of the center. Working with them and working toward the goal of the foundation is one of my passions.  I am interested in equality of gender, human rights, and so many other topics.  This is my first year working at Women’s Center, and I am hoping to meet new people, bring new ideas to center, and learn about various topics.

Michael Fell

My name is Michael Fell, and I am a senior Psychology major.  I am interested in issues relating to the development of healthy masculinities and I’ll be working with Rebuilding Manhood, our 11-week men’s discussion group, in an effort to create a safe space for male-identified students to discuss what this means.  I am very excited to be a part of this great opportunity, and am looking forward to helping out with other areas of programming in the Women’s Center as well.  I feel lucky that I am able to work in a space that is welcoming and comfortable for so many UMBC students, and where such a variety of interesting, thought-provoking conversations take place.

Emily Krause

Hi! My name is Emily Krause and I am a senior at River Hill High School in Howard County. This year I am interning at the Women’s Center, focusing on both day/child care and sexual assault. As a senior I am trying to figure out what I am doing with the rest of my life, and I welcome any and all advice. At the moment, my main career goal is to work in public health, but I’m known to change my mind every week. I am a ballet dancer, beginner cook, yogi, tea-drinker, and avid poker player. Look for me Tuesday and Thursday afternoons!

Alina Lightchaser

My name is Alina Lightchaser. I am proud and honored to be a part of the Women’s Center student staff. I am a non-traditional student, in my junior year, majoring in psychology and minoring in management of aging services. I am also a mother of three beautiful daughters. I have been a children’s music entertainer and teacher for the past 9 years and have played hundreds of shows and taught at two preschools all around Baltimore City, where I reside. My love and pursuit for psychology developed from the observation that human behavior is a macrocosm of mystery, enchantment and variety; always exciting and stimulating, awaiting discovery!

Kelly Martin Broderick

Hey! I am Kelly and I am a senior studying Gender & Women’s Studies.  This is my second year working at the Women’s Center, last year I was an Honors College Intern and had such a great time working in the Center I came back as a student staff member!  I’m a co-leader of WILL (Women Involved in Learning & Leadership) and also a Transfer & Established Student Leader for the Honors College.  This year, I am working on the brand new Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program we have developed for the Women’s Centers Returning Woman Community. I am excited to see the group grow as a community!

Amelia Meman

As of now, introductions are at the forefront of my mind. With the  the advent of a new semester and the influx of new people in my life, I am constantly spewing out the same old spiel about how I am a transfer student from art school, how I don’t actually know whether to consider myself a sophomore or a junior, and the same self-deprecating joke about how I decided to pursue women’s studies for the money. While knowing the facts about my life is all well and good, I figured a quick and much more interesting breakdown of who I am would be a little easier to digest. Here we go:

  • My name is Amelia Meman.
  • I am the Women’s Center’s Grants and Marketing Intern! I can be seen at the Women’s Center researching programs and grants, talking with my super stellar colleagues and bosses, and typing furiously on a very noisy keyboard.
  • I am the only child of really rad and supportive parents who always listen to my political anger with open ears.
  • I enjoy quiet nights with a couple of friends watching Bob’s Burgers or playing the newest board game or just reading comics and eating cookie dough.
  • I really do not like (read: loathe) mascots, Santa Clause impersonators, Easter Bunnys or anybody in a full body costume; it’s nothing against the people inside, really.
  • My birthday is a palindrome.
  • Right now, I am really into narrative-heavy video games like The Walking Dead and L.A. Noire.
  • I love staying up to date on pop culture.
  • At the same time, no, I have not ever actually listened to “Blurred Lines”.
  • Current favorite musical artists: Marina & The Diamonds, Azealia Banks, M.I.A., Tegan and Sara, Flight of the Conchords, Glen Hansard, and Cole Porter.
  • I love having deep conversations about women’s studies, and queer studies, but I’m generally open to talking about anything.
  • I have a cat named Yohsimi, and if you understand that reference, major kudos!
  • I am partial to using ellipses, because they signify, to me at least, that I’m thinking…
  • Rainbow sprinkle donuts are the way to my heart.

So if you see me in the center, please come say hello, and maybe talk with me about cats and feminism, or something!

Madison Miller

Hello! My name is Madison, and I am currently a senior studying Psychology and Elementary Education here at UMBC. I started working at the Women’s Center during the fall semester of my junior year, and since then I have come to love everything that the Center offers at UMBC. The Women’s Center has given me so many enriching opportunities to interact with and learn from diverse walks of life, and it has taught me to use my own privileges to stand up for those who may not have a voice. Additionally, the Center has allowed me to further explore and develop both my own passions and my voice as a leader on campus. In addition to working at the Women’s Center, I am also employed as a Resident Assistant in Erickson Hall, a Summer Conference Manager, and an Undergraduate Research Assistant. After graduating from UMBC, I either hope to begin teaching in a high need school or enroll in a graduate program to study School Psychology. I am excited to return to the Center as a student staff member this semester, and I am looking forward to all of the programs that the Center will be hosting this semester!

Cliffs Notes to Megan

Feminist Love TBTNI’m Megan and I’m the new coordinator for the Women’s Center. While an opening blog post will of course be insufficient in exploring how my feminist politics have been informed by my history and identity, I do hope this introduction will offer a little insight into how and why I approach my work at the Center the way I do.

Growing up I was very much an “I’m not a feminist, but [insert feminist politics here]” type of person. Like so many others, I came to feminism through Women’s Studies, where the readings and class discussions led to many small “click” moments and helped me find the language to describe the sexist, racist, and heterosexist microaggressions I’d experienced.

My time spent in the university’s Women’s Center introduced me to the campus feminist activist organization and my involvement with the group was critical in transforming my political outlook. By planning events and participating in a safe space for consciousness-raising among an incredibly diverse and passionate group of women, this initiation to social justice activism got me thinking more about translating theory into praxis. I’d been regarding feminism as something static to theorize in the abstract, as a political ideology to believe in and an identity to claim. Finally I started focusing on the meaning of advocating and doing feminism.

This more dynamic approach of doing feminism has remained central to my politics. I became more self-reflexive and contemplative in examining how dedication to feminist activism manifests differently for people. While I reject the apolitical simplicity of “choice feminism,” I’ve also come to value the complexity of feminisms rather than a singular Feminism.

I’m glad that the Women’s Center is moving toward a timely and interactive blog format. Although my academic education in women’s and gender studies has been fantastic, I can say without a doubt that my politics have evolved much more as a result of my own compulsive blog reading. While online feminism is often dismissed as “slacktivism,” I’m indebted to the many feminist blogs that have helped me to engage with topics and perspectives that I’d have never encountered in the classroom. With the Center now offering virtual space in addition to our physical space for ongoing conversations about women and feminism to unfold, I hope that this blog will provide another opportunity for our community to become and stay involved. I know I have much more to say and I’m looking forward to hearing from other Women’s Center community members as well.

A New Year, A New Us!

jess fem shirtWelcome to the Women’s Center at UMBC Community Blog! This is a new adventure for the Women’s Center and we are excited about the new opportunities it will create for our community to engage with each other, learn new things, and gain new perspectives.

For those of you have been a part of the community for a while, you may remember the monthly newsletter you received updating you on Women’s Center happenings. Over the course of its history, it evolved from black and white hardcopies, to a Publisher format that included photos, and finally to a pdf version that found itself in your inbox and online over at our myUMBC group page. One of the things I love about UMBC and the Women’s Center is our ability to explore new options, adapt quickly, and find more effective ways to reach out to students, faculty, and staff. There is not the mentality of well, we’ve always done it this way, so this is the way it is. With the creation of myUMBC, there is less need for a newsletter. We have an amazing format to get out event and news items to you on a daily basis. So, more recently the newsletter had become more of a way to share our voices in a personal way and explore current events and perspectives related to feminism and social justice. The only problem was there was never enough space and we could only share once a month. Hence, out with the old newsletter and in with our new blog!

This venue of communication has been envisioned as a Women’s Center community space that will expand on conversations happening in our area, unpack issues showing up for us in our lives and work, and to connect you to the Women’s Center resources, events, and programs. Each staff member has ownership over Women’s Center at UMBC Community Blog so you will see posts from all of us. Additionally, guest bloggers from the Women’s Center Advisory Board and other campus partners will be featured. If you have something you’d like to contribute or an idea for a blog, let us know by emailing us at womens.center@umbc.edu.

Cheers to a fabulous year of learning and growing bought to you by the Women’s Center!