A Beginner’s Guide to Privilege

IMG_0540In addition to working at the Women’s Center as a student staff member, I also serve as a Resident Assistant in a first-year residential hall on campus. Recently, my paraprofessional staff and I have been exploring the topic of privilege by participating in meaningful discussions about the different forms that it can take on in our society. These conversations and shared experiences of my fellow staff members have encouraged me to dive into a deeper, more personal investigation of privilege and how it relates to my identity and my unique life experiences.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of privilege, a dictionary definition classifies it as a unique benefit or immunity available only to a particular community or group of people. Yet what the dictionary definition fails to mention is that privilege is neither earned nor deserved by any specific group that reaps its benefits.

In reality, privilege is innate; it is a birthright that is automatically given to those who hold membership in a certain group or community. Privilege takes on several forms in society relating to identities such as gender, ability, class, race, and sexuality. It should be mentioned that one may simultaneously experience a certain level of privilege in one area of their identity while also experiencing a lack of privilege in another area.

Privilege, or the lack thereof, isn’t also always necessarily visible to the eye of a passerby. Yet these privileges are often at the root of social inequalities that exist in our society today. They may also cloud and bias our viewpoints of who don’t share the same privileges as ourselves, causing us to make unwarranted assumptions and conclusions about others. Therefore, it is important that we have conversations with each other in order to better recognize and effectively deal with our own unique privileges. Continue reading

Thoughts on a Gay NFL Player

Note:  This blog entry was originally posted in my personal blog, “A Cornucopia of Michael.”

I was recently reading the comments on a post about Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end expected to be a top draft choice in the NFL and who recently came out as gay.  One of the comments stood out to me in particular, because it might be read (and said) by many as a sign of progress and acceptance.  The individual responded “Really? Who the hell cares about athlete’s [sic] sexual orientation?”  While I think the general message he is trying to convey is that sexual orientation should not affect the way we rate or view an athlete, the problem lies in that it completely ignores the historical situation in which such an event as this occurs.  The truth of the matter is that a LOT of people care about an athlete’s sexual orientation, as can be seen in the comments of mangers and players in a recent Sports Illustrated article on the subject.  A few of the more bold statements found in the article:

“This is going to drop him down,” a veteran NFL scout said in the SI.com article. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”

An assistant head coach said in the SI.com article that coming out right now was “not a smart move” because it “legitimately affects [his] potential earnings.”

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

Clearly, all of these quotes are from people who care about an athlete’s sexual orientation.  What strikes me about most of these comments is how much they are based in the argument that we should live our lives and make our decisions based on how other people might react to us.  If there are players who are uncomfortable with a gay man being in the locker room with them, it is not that player who has a problem, it is the man who is gay and had to screw it all up by coming out of the closet.

All of these comments are also based in cowardice.  To say that Sam will be dropped lower in the draft because a team doesn’t want to “break that barrier” is not only sad, it’s shameful. Putting aside the BS statement about human nature (there are very few things that we can safely call ‘human nature,’ but that’s a post for another day), the fact that no one sees a problem with a team NOT wanting to break that barrier is pathetic.  It’s putting politics above humanity, and shows a distinct lack of foresight, as that team will be remembered in the future as the team brave enough to break that barrier.  No one looks back on the Brooklyn Dodgers and says “how sad that they were willing to stand up for what was right and allow the first African-American man to play in Major League Baseball.”  While it is Jackie Robinson, rightly so, who is remembered for his courage and strength, the Brooklyn Dodgers also deserve a nod for being willing to take a chance.  The same will be true for Michael Sam, and the team that drafts him.  I think of a quote from singer-songwriter Derek Webb, from his song “Black Eye”:  ”Time looks the same at the ones who hate and the ones that do nothing.”  Time will not look fondly on those who rejected a player because of his sexual orientation, and then tried to justify it any way they could.

The final quote I listed is perhaps the saddest.  The argument that a group or organization isn’t ready to advance “just yet” is the tactic of choice for those who wish to delay progress indefinitely, or at least want to delay it until someone braver comes along who is willing to do the right thing.  The insinuation that football is still a “man’s-man” game is also thoroughly insulting to gay men everywhere, especially when followed by the statement that calling somebody a fag (i’m assuming this is the deleted gay slur) is still commonplace, implying a clear connection between the two.  Gay men, this individual is saying, cannot be manly-men who are able to keep up with the heterosexual “men’s-men” of the NFL.  While I have major issues with the way that we culturally define manhood, it is ridiculous to say that all gay men are incapable of meeting the same standards of the heterosexual men in the NFL.

A final thought about “who cares about an athlete’s sexual orientation?”  There is one very important group that cares: the gay community, especially gay youth, who have so few role models to look up to, especially in the world of sports.  The fact that Michael Sam is a man of color is also immensely important for gay youth of color, who have even fewer role models than white youth.  Whether his actions in the NFL continue to make him worthy of being a role model remain to be seen, but his courage in coming out to the world before being drafted will serve as an inspiration for thousands of gay youth struggling to simply come out to themselves and those around them.

An additional and related question to “who cares about an athlete’s sexual orientation” is another that is frequently heard: ”why do we even need to talk about an athlete’s sexual orientation?  It doesn’t matter what you do in the privacy of your home when you are on the field.”  Sure, but what about when a player talks about his wife and kids?  Or when a player is seen on a date with a famous actress or model or musician, and it’s all over the gossip magazines?  Like it or not, this is talking about that player’s sexual orientation, but we don’t see it that way, because that is how privilege works.  Heterosexuality is normal and natural, and therefore a man talking about his wife or dating a woman is simply par for the course.  If a man talks about his husband or dating a man, he is forced , by that very action that everyone else takes for granted, to come out as gay.

I wanted to address this question briefly, as well, as it is something that is frequently brought up when this subject is discussed.

What does the overlap of art and activism look like?

Kelly Martin Broderick with her Self(ie) Portrait

A year ago, I was working at the Howard County Arts Center when Diana Marta, one of the resident artists,  bought an antique dress form.  While looking at the mannequin in her studio,  she wondered what an ordinary women’s wardrobe would look like through time.”  I remember talking to her after she purchased the form and discussing this topic with her.  Diana decided that she wanted to curate a show exploring the topic of “ordinary women” and the clothing they would wear. Each artist was asked to create a garment that could be worn by the dress form and to also create a self portrait to be displayed along with the dress. It was 2012 when she asked me and 13 other women  to participate in the show and that’s when I started to think about what the phrase “Ordinary Woman” meant to me.

I knew I wanted to do something that challenged our expectations of womanhood and how we’ve constructed being a woman in our society. First, I needed to find a garment.  I don’t sew, so I would have to find a dress.  I wanted something that was the epitome of femininity, to give me a starting point to disrupt that expectation. I found the perfect dress in a thrift shop in Baltimore; it was pink, satin, long, and once upon a time had been a bridesmaids dress.  It said everything I wanted it to say.

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Next, I had to figure out what I was going to do with the dress.  At first, I thought I would be gluing or sewing different objects or embellishments onto the dress.  Like a giant collage of objects that defined womanhood to me.  But the longer I thought about the project, I realized how difficult it would be to find these objects, so I started to think about covering the dress with words.

As children we are told that “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you” but in reality, words DO hurt us.  If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a rash of kids committing suicide because of bullying or the pain of microaggressions that so many people experience daily.  For women, many of the words that define our lived lives are double edged — tell a girl she’s pretty and that’s a good thing, but only as long as she isn’t too pretty.  Almost all of the descriptors written on the dress create a world of expectations that keep women in their “place,” or so distracted as we try to meet every expectation that we don’t have a chance to question the treatment we receive in society. The bottom of my dress is stained black, to symbolize how these expectations drag women down. 

Self(ie) Portrait, 2014 – Kelly Martin Broderick

For my self portrait, I was inspired by the backlash and support of “selfies” that has been unfolding in the online feminist community these last few months.  It seems like every time you turn around there is another article disparaging selfies as vain, objectification,  a cry for help, or singing their praises as political, radicalempowering, as good for girls, or as a revolution. Veronica I. Arreola at Viva La Feminista called for a #365feministselfie project, stating “Women of Color rarely see themselves reflected in media, people over a size 4 are told to hide themselves, transgender persons want to be seen…hell, a lot of people responded to anti-selfie moments by saying, “I do not see myself represented in the media, so I’m making my own!”  This project brings attention and visibility to feminists and helps to garner the political power of the selfie.  I’m participating over on Instagram (follow me! @artsykelly) and I am loving the new community of feminists I’m meeting through it.  I used the selfies I had taken throughout the last year and created a collage of images representing myself.

Ordinary Woman at the Howard County Arts Council through Friday, February 21st.

This is where that overlap of art and activism is created for me.  I knew how I wanted my dress to look and I knew that the visual of a typical bridesmaids dress covered in words that can be positive or negative would be impactful.  I wanted people to walk away from my dress disturbed.  I wanted to jar them and make them think, while also creating something that was visually interesting.  It isn’t art just for art’s sake, it’s art with a message, open to interpretation by the viewer.

monument quilt 2This March, as a part of Critical Social Justice and UMBC’s Art Week 2014, the Women’s Center will be presenting a Feminist Art Show on the Mezzanine Gallery in the Commons.  We will be featuring pieces of the Monument Quilt, an art project being curated by FORCE, an art activist effort to upset the dominant culture of rape and promote a counter-culture of consent.   The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of thousands of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. We are also asking for students, staff, and community members to submit feminist art of their own.

Call For Art

To submit art, please email your images to kelly23@umbc.edu

How MY Feminism Intersects Body Consciousness With Health Benefits

Freshman 15?

The first time I heard of this it hit me hard. I was complaining that my eating habits changed drastically since I stated college and I put on some weight. My caring friend said, “Yeah, that’s freshman 15.”

I said, “What does that mean?”

She said, “It’s when you put on 15 pounds in your freshman year. It happens to everyone!”

So does this really happen to everyone? I know how to eat healthy. I’ve been a steady weight all my life, how could college do this to me? I found myself craving more carbs and more food in general. Even now, if I don’t pack a lunch from home, I am always tempted by the cheesy pizza, the beautiful burritos, the salty lo-mien, the long and wide packed sandwiches, and as many sugary treats anyone could asked for, all on display in our wonderful Commons. The days when I don’t pack a lunch, I have to literally put blinders on and make a b-line for the salad area. It takes so much discipline for me not to get that pizza, my favorite food!

I guess I wasn’t ready for this smorgasbord of delicious, unhealthy (in large doses) food appealing to all my senses when most vulnerable to the pains of hunger.  It’s generally up to us to choose what goes into our bodies even when put to the test.  I remember my reaction when I went to an appointment at a local hospital and discovered a McDonald’s inside the building, serving both patients and staff alike. I was amazed. At this point, after the viral documentary, Supersize Me, it seems like at the very least a McDonald’s probably isn’t suited for a hospital.

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It seems like I’m in a constant battle between corporate messages infiltrating my higher consciousness. I’m saturated with tons of health facts while bombarded with fast food restaurants & commercials everywhere I look. To top it all off there is no end to the highly idealized image of the perfect body, the perfect woman. All this is happening simultaneously. So, what am I supposed to do with all this information that is making me doubt everything about myself and my intuition?

Recently I found studies showing that a healthy brain needs a healthy body to operate. Significant studies have found that the failing health of the body correlates to the decline in cognitive ability in older adults. With poor lifestyle choices in diet and emotional management, one is more likely to develop hypertension and/or Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) which is the #1 killer in the US. Along with this burden, come impaired cognitive abilities, most noted in executive functioning and memory.  Research has also indicated a relationship between obesity and dementia; however this link is diminished when exercise is incorporated.

After I took a long, hard look at the lifestyles, eating habits, and emotional regulation habits, of this great country, I came to some concerns about the overall state of health in the U.S. While I noticed that we are blessed with an abundance of resources, especially food, I noticed myself and many of my friends were stressed out and stretched too thin, in order to compete in this very competitive environment. I definitely need those calories, and fast! Not only do I need the energy, but I also feel a sense of relaxation when it comes to eating. Eating certainly feels good! But I know that if this is my only coping mechanism in this topsy turvy world, then I might find myself in a catch 22. I’ve realized that it is incredibly important to find other, healthy coping mechanisms to maintain a balanced emotional state.

I speak to this in the name of my lived feminism. While the messages of yearly mammograms have paved the way for breast health, so it is also important to be concerned with our cholesterol/triglyceride levels, heart rate and blood pressure for the maintenance of our vascular systems and our hearts. Our bodies are our strongest assets to move through this world! I take it very seriously to treat my body with respect and dignity. For example, I feel every ache and tension and listen to what they have to say. I make sure not to overwork my body and get plenty of sleep at night.  I fuel my body with wholesome and nutritious foods which I know will support my lifestyle. I want to live long with a strong body so I can continue my passion for equality and social justice. I want to watch my kids grow up and visualize a bright future.  I am a feminist who is in tune with my body and wish to share my perspective on why and how. As a woman, I know how much space ‘body image’ takes up in the brain. However, after analyzing this much closer, the image I really want for my body is to be healthy, strong, and reliable.

Maybe scientists need to find a way to genetically modify dark leafy greens to taste like ice cream. Or maybe it just needs to be totally cool to eat veggies and whole grains and totally uncool to eat pizza and fried foods. Perhaps the social stigma of eating unhealthy is the greatest motivator, e.g. what has become of smoking cigarettes. Though I highly doubt this will ever happen.

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Emotional coping mechanisms are plentiful but they do take time out of the day. For example, at the Women’s Center, the Peace@UMBC group meets every Friday from 1-2pm. This is a great skill to carry through life. Meditation is capable of training the monkey mind to work at its optimal level. The potential of the human brain is beyond comprehension and is always yours to discover.

The Women’s Center also facilitates numerous social affinity groups that provide support for the variety of UMBC community members. We also have a convenient library which has an extensive section on health and eating. Additionally, the RAC offers a plethora of yoga, Zumba, and daily workout programs.

With the ideal blend of a healthy diet & emotional regulation including stress management and self-care, would it be possible to live well into the hundreds? Science seems to always be searching for ways to encourage well-being. Of course, some genetic variability will dictate our personal processes and tragedy is bound to touch our lives; it’s how we cope which dictates our personalities. And the elastic quality of our brains allows us to be whatever and whoever we wish to be, e.g. freshman 15… or not.