Why I’m Dropping Crazy from My Vocabulary

Thoughts from Women’s Center director, Jess Myers

As I dig deeper into my own social identities, I’ve been exploring more of what it means to be able-bodied and able-minded and consequently, what unearned privileges come with these identities. I have specifically noticed the language I use often (and at times unknowingly) that reinforces my ability status and undermines the experiences of those living with disabilities. So I’ve been unpacking words like crazy, lame, and blind just to name a few. For me, it’s not about being politically correct. I’m not out to run for political office (though, Leslie Knope may change my mind one day… but that’s a different blog post) so I don’t need to watch what I say to ensure I get your vote… to me, that’s the only reason to be politically correct. Rather, I want to be inclusive, welcoming, and respecting. It is about relationships and creating positive, affirming, and trusting connections with those around me that encourages me to use words that are inclusive and inviting. Instead of using words that only reinforce able-bodied and able-minded persons and experiences as the norm, I want to use words that tell a different story and bring others away from the margins.

(For more examples and  information related to abelism and inclusive language, I’ve shared some links to resources and articles at the end of the post)

Knowing that there were plans in the works to create a Women’s Center staff development around abelism and inclusive language, I was eager to listen to “Crazy Women” at the top of my Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast playlist last week. I knew it would be another resource to add to the discussion on abelism and inclusive language. Funny enough, though, the term abelism doesn’t even come up until the last few minutes of the podcast. Rather, I was taken on a historical journey on how the word crazy is used specifically to pathologize or dismiss women and our experiences. Boy crazy. Crazy cat lady. B!tches be crazy. References were made to gaslighting and I couldn’t help but recall the images of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper as the podcast explored the way women’s unexplained behaviors were attributed to hysteria (which by the way, the etymology of hysteria is that it is the Greek word for uterus) was used to remove them from society and into sanatoriums and asylums. Time and time again, the word crazy is used throughout history and through current day when girls and women are not “living up” to their prescribed gender roles or violating sexual expectations.

As I listened to example after example, I’ll admit it. I was disappointed in myself for not seeing the word crazy in a more intersectional context. I had been so focused over breaking the habit of using it from my privilege of ability that I wasn’t able to see its harm from the view point of gender and more specifically, how it also reinforced internalized oppression in myself as woman. I sat in my car thinking about all the most recent times I’ve used the word (habits are hard to break) and every single time, I used it in the context of describing a woman or a situation involving woman. On the other hand, every time I could have used crazy to describe my interactions with men or situations involving men, I used words that really described what I meant. Men were mean. Women were crazy. The way my male cousin acted was messed up but the way my aunt acted was crazy. I felt crazy for feeling a certain way while I came up with reason after reason why the male in the situation had to be acting with rationality. Why had I never seen it before?

Women’s Center Director Fail.

As I began to have conversations in the Women’s Center about my recent revelation, I started thinking about all the other ways I perhaps only hadn’t seen the intersectionality in the word crazy. Does the word crazy get used more often to describe People of Color? Are we more inclined to use crazy when referring to underrepresented sexual orientations or sexualities? Do we use crazy to dismiss a person’s lower socioeconomic status? I’m not sure but I’m going to start being more observant and asking more questions. What do you think? Feel free to share your experiences with the word crazy and your thoughts on its intersectionality.

Self-work is integral to individuals engaged in social justice and diversity work. Want to learn more about abelist and abelism language? Not sure how to speak up or share your concerns when you hear others use abelist language? Here’s a few resources to get you started:

More on Abelism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism or http://inclusivityzone.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/unlearning-ableism/

Doing Social Justice: Thoughts on Ableist Language and Why It Matters: http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2013/09/14/ableist-language/

Replacing “crazy” for ableism and preciseness of language: http://whatprivilege.com/replacing-crazy-for-ableism-and-preciseness-of-language/

Also check out University of Maryland’s Inclusive Language Campaign: http://thestamp.umd.edu/multicultural_involvement_community_advocacy/inclusive_language/about

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Men: You Are Better Than This!

With the recent leak of yet another email from a Georgia Tech fraternity member to his brothers regarding the best ways to take advantage of women and, for all intents and purposes, sexually assault them, I want to offer a response of my own, as well.  While much of the attention (rightfully so) has focused on the misogyny and underlying aggression and violence towards women that this email exhibits, I think it is also important to think about what emails like this say about the view that men have towards themselves and towards other men.  I would be offended if a fraternity brother sent this to me, not just because of the total disregard for the humanity of women, but also because of what that message assumes about me as a man.  If I could give a response to the author, and to those who received the message, and to so many millions more young men in the world who get these messages every day, it would be as follows:

Dear Fellow Men,

You’re so much more than this, and you’re so much better than this.  You are more than your ability to seduce and sexually assault women with copious amounts of alcohol.  You are more than a walking sexual predator-to-be, who just needs the right encouragement and methods to take advantage of others.  You are more than your ability to have sex, or to “score” with multiple women, or to get them drunk or high in order to take advantage of them. You are more than a drunk peddler of alcohol, biding your time between parties so that you can again go through the process of numbing yourself to engage in behavior that you most likely find morally degrading, or at least highly questionable.  You are more than a robot programmed to think only about sex, alcohol, video games and sports.  You are more than a robot who has been programmed without emotions or the ability to show them.

Not only are you more than all of this, you are better than all of this.  You are a complex human being, with a wide range of interests and a wide range of emotions.  You have sadness, you have pain, you have love, you have compassion, and empathy, and kindness, and you have hopes and dreams inside of you.  You have the ability to share these emotions with others, and the need to do so in order to fully function as a healthy human being.  You have the ability to help others, and ensure that they are safe, and ensure that you are doing everything you can to make sure that, at the end of the day, the humanity and dignity of every human being is affirmed.

And, I bet if you look inside of yourself, you realize that not only do you have these abilities, but there is a part of you that really wants to be able to do all of these things, to be free from the self-repression, and the expectations of never-ending toughness, and the day-in, day-out competition that never allows you to relate to another man as anything more than a challenge to overcome.  You want to be able to say that you love your friends and family. You want to be able to say no to sex when you aren’t interested, because there are going to be times when you aren’t interested, and that’s okay.  You want to be a human being, and not a one-dimensional walking stereotype, someone who has to do everything to hide who you really are and what you really feel, numbing yourself with alcohol, drugs, sex and violence.

And the truth of the matter is that you can be that person.  It is not easy, and it takes courage and a willingness to stand against the mainstream, but it can be done.  Because the fact is that there are so many others just like you who are yearning for the same thing, but everyone is terrified that they are the only ones.   So please, stand up and let go of these destructive ideas.  Realize the potential you have to truly be a whole human being, instead of letting yourself be so narrowly defined by people who really don’t care about you outside of the mold they are trying to fit you into.  Doing this may make you different from others around you, but I imagine that you will be a hell of a lot happier, and the world will be a better place for it.

With Brotherly Love,

Michael

Domestic Violence: Why women stay. A guest post by a Women’s Center community member.

This anonymous guest post was written by a member of the Women’s Center community.

Yes, this is a very complicated and broad topic for a blog, perhaps not so ideal for a short blog since this topic delves deep inside the psychological interplay of the domestic relationship. However, I’d like to share my two cents, how I feel and what I know. It’s very unusual for people to spend the time and energy seeking to be in love with people who will abuse them–psychologically, physically and even verbally. For example, when the good times happened, we were on Cloud 9! Never had I found myself waiting, in anticipation, for bad times. Not just rough times, I mean BAD times. Am I just naive to think my partner would never want to hurt me? After all the love we shared and experienced together, was I not valuable in his eyes? I thought we were creating a relationship built on trust, an investment for the future.

One always poses the question: why (did I) stay for so long? I absolutely loved him and I thought he would change. I thought love would heal all things (a delusion?). I believed him when he said he was sorry and would never hurt me again. After some time, I grew silent and succumbed to the notion that he was right and I was not. Strictly avoidance behavior. Avoiding the beatings, the yelling, the trauma. I was under his spell. He broke me.

Like a mother to an over-grown toddler, I put up with his tantrums, his tirades, and his anxiety, which was usually the culprit which threw him into a rage. I did the best I could to understand this man. I thought that’s what any good lover would do. I lost much materialistically, as he desperately (as if there was no other means of communication) destroyed my possessions on a whim, to intimidate and/or put me in my place. I allowed this behavior to continue for a while, still patiently hoping for the best. It never came. I became his outlet for all his pent up anger towards the world. He was fiercely protective of his reputation while he enjoyed leading the oppressed people of the world into “enlightenment” with the help of his medicinal cocktail of psychedelics. Sounds strange, right? Here is a man that speaks to the world with a mouth like Jesus Christ. He exudes an air of understanding, compassion, equality and genuine concern for those oppressed. Yet, in his inner world, to the people closest to him, he plays the role of the oppressor.

In the name of cognitive dissonance, this dance spun my head into confusion. How could this person actually behave like this? As an innocent, well-meaning person who simply got caught in a spider’s web, today, I would call this pronounced deception. Sometimes it helps me to think of him as a person with antisocial personality disorder. With the help and therapy from The House of Ruth, I’m clear now on the characteristics of an abuser/predator. Supported by empirical evidence, there is actually a list of criteria and a well-defined persona pertaining to this category. Women have been in oppressive domestic violence situations for eons. As the research has been collected, especially since the dawn of the women’s lib movement, more education, awareness and prevention has been applied to the general public.

It is meaningless to blame the victim when intentions for happiness apply to one’s decisions in staying in toxic relations with another. Until one can truly understand, define and communicate the process (of the relationship) by which one is caught up in, one is respectfully innocent. There are predators in any society looking to prey upon the innocent. There is no shame in falling into a violent intimate relationship . This can happen to anyone. The important part of the journey is to recognize the symptoms of an oppressive relationship, such as alienation, low-self-esteem, and general anxiety. There is a way out. There is a way to peace, safety and satisfaction.

It’s that time of year again! Halloween Costumes! by Narges Fekri Ershad, Student Staff

2004_10202146841581348_1327051636_nIt is that time of the year again! Pumpkins are out in the fields and costumes are back in the stores! It is the time of the year that people can wear anything, be anyone or any object and they won’t be judged!

While searching the internet I came across many points about Halloween that just shocked me! Did you know how much money Americans spend during Halloween? Americans spend between $6.5-6.86 billion dollars on costumes, candy, and decorations!

Fruit-Costumes-Sexy

On the other hand pictures of costumes was another “wow” experience for me, like always. During Halloween you can see many different costumes, many of which are problematic costumes. They can be sexist, culturally appropriative, and have many more problems — but most people think there is nothing is wrong with them!

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For the past several weeks I have been looking online and in magazines for Halloween costumes. Many of them have made me stop and think. Try it yourself, think of ANY object or character… search for it on Google and you can probably find the sexy version of it! Be a sexy carrot, a sexy watermelon, and of course, a sexy nurse!

It seems like sexy and offensive costumes are now the norm in our society. Halloween is that one day a year that people can be anyone and anything, with an emphasis on women being a sexual object, and most people will be fine with it!

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Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought that something might be wrong here? That maybe we need to rethink this issue, talk and think about it a little more?!

Come to the Women’s Center this Wednesday, October 23rd, during free hour and let’s talk about Halloween Costumes!

My Body and Me: The Original Arranged Marriage. A guest post by Ashley Sweet.

This was originally posted on Unruly Bodies a group blog for UMBC’s Gender and Women’s Studies course, Unruly Bodies. 

As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been some version of overweight. I was my mom’s biggest baby. There was the “baby fat” phase (which I tried to ride to middle school, much to my embarrassment); the “I’m gaining weight because of puberty but it hasn’t decided where to live yet” phase of middle and early high school; the “I may not actually be overweight but I’m so disgusted with that tiny bit of belly fat that I’m pretty sure I’m obese” phase that seems pretty rampant in American high schools; the “shit, now I really AM overweight because I decided to take birth control and I put on 50 pounds in 3 months” phase of panic, terror and depression; the “I’ve stopped trying to stop gaining weight” phase where I saw numbers over 200; the “I had a baby and despite gaining hardly any weight with pregnancy I’ve managed to get even bigger postpartum” phase that’s pretty popular with new moms; and my personal favorite, the “oh my god, this is the biggest I’ve ever been ever in my life and I’m completely freaking out” phase of morbid obesity that has consumed my adult life.

Basically. Though my scale isn’t this clever. And I have better toes.

Basically. Though my scale isn’t this clever. And I have better toes.

Sensing a trend? My image, my self-esteem, my worth, my life, has always been wrapped around fat and weight. And don’t think that a comment of “there’s more to life than that” will magically change the way I’ve always thought about myself. Despite my Gender and Women’s studies major that’s been diligently trying to help me see myself as more than “fat”, I regularly struggle with seeing beyond my size. And that’s just how I see myself. We haven’t even begun thinking about how other people see me, how they’ve always seen me. And so, allow me to demonstrate where the idea that my identity is a number came from.

As a toddler, the clothes that didn’t fit were pretty popular topics of conversation; I was the “third-born” that didn’t get hand-me-downs because I wasn’t the same size my sisters had been. By middle school, how I was supposed to look (THIN) and how I looked (immensely curvy by 12) was a constant source of inner turmoil, fueled by the boys that didn’t like me (hello, I looked like a woman, not a kid) and my family who, for whatever reasons, couldn’t help themselves from talking about my weight. There were lots of ways my body showed up in conversations; “you’re fat” from my sisters when they were angry; “do you really need that bowl of ice cream?” from my step-dad who convinced himself that shame was a parenting tool; my personal favorite was the time my dad took me out for ice cream and bought me this monstrous sundae and, half way through, began a lecture about how “concerned” he was that I’d put on MORE weight. I’ve never since consumed ice cream that tasted as badly as that shame-sundae that I finished, teary-eyed, because I’d been taught not to be wasteful.

Oh yeah, because that’s the only definition of healthy.

Oh yeah, because that’s the only definition of healthy.

By high school, there was a lot of self-loathing. Most assuredly my body, that had somehow taken on a life of her own (she showed up in conversations that didn’t mention “Ashley” and she’d somehow gained priority in all of my relationships), was the primary root of my self-hatred. I hated her; not necessarily me- my depression, however intense, never morphed into a desire to have no life, just the desire to have someone else’s. I was sure that she made it to every interaction before me; that my “first” impressions were always snagged by her rolls and chubby cheeks and heavy breasts and voluminous thighs. She was what people knew about me. I was “that fat girl,” “Oh, the one with the big tits,” and “her face is OK.” When I somehow found the logic to see myself beyond “her,” I knew I was smart, I was passionate, I was considerate, I was helpful, I could sing, I could write, and I was funny. But that wasn’t what people saw. Because you really can’t see those things, you see bodies. And I resented being “seen” as nothing more than a body.

We didn’t get along, my body and I. I would cut her when I was consumed by pain or loneliness or hatred. Sometimes (often) I overfed her in sorrow, sometimes I starved her in despair. I hid her in clothes that made me look bigger, and when high school taught me that grown men, at least, saw her as sexy, I subjected her to a lot of physical contact that neither of us liked. And as much as I thought all of those things would make me feel better, they didn’t. We were disconnected.

Um… yes.

Um… yes.

By now, I’m sure I’ve made you sad. Fat stories are, by nature, really really depressing. And I want to console you (because I’m also kind) by telling you that I sporadically found some amazing body acceptance lying around. But I didn’t, not entirely. What happened was harder: I married the first man thatconvinced me I was beautiful (and to be clear, I love him more than I could ever express, but my self-esteem must be credited for at least part of why I married so soon). I spent a time disconnected from my body, believing that no one could like me if they didn’t like her. And how could I test her likability? By pimping her out to guys that said she was sexy (again, to be clear, my maturation since then has confirmed that that was a really bad idea). I blamed her for my sadness, my pain, and my failures. After all, she was the root of it all. She was all the credit I ever got and I kid you not, year by year she EXPANDED.

As an adult, my family STILL talked about her, but it was different. Adulthood had meant that I could pass the overt criticisms and painful remarks about my size and instead could skip right to passive aggressive “concern for my health” and sarcastic jokes that no one “really meant.” Now my fat-shaming (oh yeah, adulthood taught me that my every interaction could be summed into an experiential phrase) came in forms like moving me to the back of a picture, worry that I’d die by 30, and the time my step-dad’s mom just KNEW I’d have gestational diabetes (hey, I’m obese, how could I not?)

Alright, alright, let’s show some respect. This body is having an apple.

Alright, alright, let’s show some respect. This body is having an apple.

There was never a moment when something, a conversation with a real friend, an article too logical to ignore, my husband’s insistent adoration, convinced me that I wasn’t my body (or maybe, I wasn’t just my body, I’m still not sure). I just got older. I got smarter. I grew up. I began to think like the adult I’d been posing as for years. And after a while, I began to see things differently. It’s been a slow, oh painfully slow, transition. Most days my body is my body and mybody. We are both one thing and separate things. I am her and somehow more than her. And the parts of me that aren’t her, the smart, funny, caring Ashley I mentioned before, they’ve become increasingly more significant to my identity. She’s still important. She is a bigger concern in having another baby than my mental stability, finances or two-bedroom house. She’s sometimes the reason I don’t have the courage to go out. She’s at least 75% of why I don’t like school, when I don’t like school (those tiny desks). She is sometimes the reason I cry.

Our relationship has been slowly progressing; sometimes I love her. Sometimes those rolls (oh my goodness there are so many) and stretch marks are just “character”. Sometimes my now enormous breasts are actually pretty incredible. Sometimes I’m pretty impressed with how well she’s survived the years of abuse, torture and hatred I’ve dumped on her when no one else was there to help me out. Oh yes, part of my maturation has been taking responsibility for what she’s become, the role I’ve played in making her the monster I’ve been afraid of. And my developing love for her has helped me take an interest in self-care that’s healthy. I’m not interested in starving her or leaving her to rot or abusing her anymore. Adulthood has given me the gift of knowing that this body is the only one I get, and if I keep being mean to her, she might quit on me.

And now I know.

And now I know.

It’s like a marriage, the relationship we have with our bodies. Some people see it as “oneness,” as two halves of a whole; sometimes it’s just two pieces, separate but interdependent. I think of my marriage as arranged; I may not have chosen this body, had I a choice, with a genetic predisposition to obesity, as my “partner for life.” But we’re in this thing. I’ve spent too long hating her, pushing her away, rejecting her; we’ve been in couple’s therapy for a while now. Sometimes I still say mean things to her. Arranged or not, we’re married. For better or worse we’re committed. And I like to think of this “turning of a new leaf” as a kind of vow renewal. I vow to be nicer to you, body, if you vow not to quit on me until I’m treating you with the respect you’ve been missing. And hey, since this is a marriage, give us some gifts. We like cake and pedicures.

To read more about bodies and what they do and refuse to do, how they are represented and how they represent, the ways they are disciplined and the ways they resist – in other words – the political, social, and economic lives of bodies, visit Unruly Bodies.

Shopping for a Cure? Why We Should “Re-Think Pink”

IMG_0540After opening up my inbox to an email from a restaurant promoting the sale of bagels in the shape of breast cancer ribbons, I quickly realized that it’s that time of the year again. If you step foot into any grocery store or shopping mall over the next few weeks, you’ll most likely notice an abundance of pink ribbons plastered on a variety of commercial products that boast companies’ support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The month of October has become a commercial holiday for these corporations who claim that the sale of their “pinkwashed” products will help find a cure. But are they doing more harm than good?

It seems that this month of awareness has turned breast cancer into a passive, pink celebration of sisterhood and strength, shying away from the undeniable truth that it’s a terrible and deadly epidemic that still lacks a cure after thirty years of “awareness.” Not to mention the fact that any company can slap a pink ribbon on their products, despite the fact that their proceeds may not even directly benefit the search for a cure. In fact some companies claim to donate a proportion of their proceeds from each and every product sold to research, yet in reality, they fail to inform consumers that they simply discontinue their donations once their maximum cap has been met. Even if these companies consistently donate to research, their contributions are small and divided amongst many organizations. Are we really making a difference by supporting their products?  Continue reading

Women’s Center Staff Video Contest Submission

For the kick-off of UMBC’s Relationship Violence Awareness Month: Creating Healthy Intimacy, the Women’s Center and University Health Services are hosting a video contest. From October 1st through 9th, students are invited to create videos that answer the question “What does a healthy relationship look like to you?” Videos can then be posted to social media with hashtag #umbcaware for a chance to win prizes.

Here is the video that the Women’s Center student staff members created to emphasize the importance of communication and consent.