The Danger of Not Being Like “Other Girls”

Harini Narayan Harini Narayan is a student intern at the Women’s Center.

My childhood was marked by internal conflict. I struggled to understand my ethnic identity and sexual orientation, all the while facing the usual struggles of adolescence. In intermediate school, I was a self-declared tomboy and made friends mostly with the boys in my class. I identified with them more than the girls, and the validation I received in being “one of the boys” only fueled my need to further distance myself from my own gender. I was proud to say I didn’t wear makeup or wear dresses and loved to brag that I was never so shallow as to have a boyfriend (little did I know there was a very different reason for not wanting to date boys, but that’s a realization I wouldn’t come to for a few years). Thankfully, I grew out of that phase before I became an adult.

In retrospect, I recognize the toxicity of my behavior. I put down other girls to feel better about myself, as if wearing pants instead of a dress somehow made me superior. It’s almost laughable how much I’ve changed, but my childhood personality opens the bigger issue of those who do not change, and enter adulthood as a woman that sets herself apart from the rest of her gender on the sole belief that she is somehow better for not conforming to the societal mold for femininity.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with not being feminine. Toxicity lies in not being able to accept a woman’s personal choice may align with societal norms. For example, I still prefer pants to dresses, but I know there is nothing wrong with dresses. Femininity is not a weakness, but a choice that should be respected. Declaring oneself as “not like other girls” shouldn’t be acceptable, unless the one in question is a) not wholly female-identifying (like genderfluid people), or b) a mermaid, werewolf, or other partially supernatural entity that identifies as female, but not human. Even those two instances, what makes someone “different” from other girls is either not completely identifying as female (hence unlike other girls, because they are not always a girl), or not being fully human-identifying (in this case, the “other” girls are human, and therefore biologically unlike a hybrid species).

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 10.58.12 PM

Furthermore, toxic gender culture isn’t limited to women; men face the same issue though it’s presented differently. Toxic masculinity takes the form of repressed emotions. It’s hearing “men can’t get raped,” and shaming those who aren’t interested in sex, sports, or beer. It’s assuming a man is gay because he dresses a certain way, or watches certain television shows. It’s microaggressions that people don’t realize they’ve normalized until it’s almost too late.

Toxicity stems from society, but manifests itself within a gender identity group over time.

Internalized misogyny can be blamed on several things, notably the stereotypes surrounding the different ways in which girls present themselves. When a girl grows up hearing she can either be pretty or smart, she is trapped in a binary that restricts her personality. If you want to be smart, no one will find you attractive; but if you want to wear makeup and date, no one will perceive you as intelligent. She can be a Madonna/whore, a domestic goddess, or a bossy spinster—“or” being the operative word. Only one option is acceptable, but still leaves the woman with enough flaws to be criticized by society. The bimbo is an airhead, an object for men’s entertainment; the domestic goddess is submissive and lacks any sort of worldly knowledge; the bossy spinster is a prude that doesn’t know how to have a good time.

What isn’t considered here is how there is no one-size-fits-all for what a “good woman” is. Society wants a woman that is smart, but always yields to men to ensure she never appears more intelligent than them; she must be attractive but can’t flaunt her sexuality or dislike the notion of sex either; and she must be well-versed in domesticity, able to cook, clean, and tend to the family. Unfortunately for those with such counter-intuitive/competing? expectations, this kind of woman does not exist.

Women are powerful, and they are also multifaceted: a single characteristic does not define them. Women know this about themselves, so why do some hold fellow women to a different standard?

This is the power of misogyny in a patriarchal society. Social constructs form barriers on the personalities of women, which is oppressive to its core. To be taken seriously (read: worthy of a man’s approval), women must confine themselves to the task of boosting men’s self-esteem. If you’re a woman reading this, I want you to think about your own experiences in public with men: how many times have you been interrupted by a man in conversation? How many times have you laughed at a joke you found unfunny, or even offensive? How many times have you been cat called on the street? And how many times have you seen men cat called? The first step to breaking free of that is being conscious of any sort of thinking or behavior that demonizes other women for doing something completely unproblematic. Is her makeup messy? That’s okay, because maybe she’s practicing improving her skills or maybe she doesn’t care how others perceive her. Is her outfit totally unflattering to that body shape? That’s none of your business because the clothes aren’t on your body! Being constructive isn’t the same as being judgmental: telling someone she has lipstick on her teeth isn’t the same as pointing out her makeup is cakey. Women need to respect each other and help each other succeed. In a society designed to put women down, we must rely on each other to lift ourselves back up and stand strong.

980x

A chart dictating some examples of gender stereotypes

It’s hard work to filter our thoughts for all of the toxic things we internalize, but we need to recognize that acknowledgement of sexist thoughts is important. Respect is learned, and people can change for the better if they first admit they need to do so. Years ago, I represented everything that is wrong with the ways society views gender toxicity. Now, I can say that I have educated myself and recognize when I’m engaging in toxic behavior. Nobody is perfect or all-knowing, but it is the effort and willingness to be a better person that makes the world a better place.

Advertisements

Take Back the Night 2018 Roundup!

On April 12th 2017, UMBC hosted Take Back the Night. The night began with an introduction by the emcees and march leaders, Morgan, Ellie, and Autumn, and Women’s Center staff member, Samiksha.

0679

Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart and soul of Take Back the Night. Survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to acknowledge your experience with others who believe and support you.

07150724

Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

We then moved on to the march portion of the night, where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence. We Believe You, an activist group dedicated to ending sexual violence, led the march, the survivor circle of care, and a private discussion in the Women’s Center following the march.

The survival circle is a new addition to Take Back the Night. At the peak of the march, everyone formed a circle around True Grit. Survivors were invited to the middle of the circle, while supporters chanted the refrain, “We see you. We believe you. You matter.” After the survival circle, the march back to Main Street commenced.

0823.jpg0989

 Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the march, community members got back together for some craftivism! This part of the night is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community-building between survivors and supporters alike. 

 1121   11231135

Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors, and a special thank you to all the volunteers and We Believe You members who made TBTN possible!

0635

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

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is all of April and we still have many events happening throughout the month. Check out the SAAM calendar for other upcoming events you can attend!

 

Stop Wearing My Clothes

 

Harini Narayan Educating yourself and being yourself: the dangers of cultural appropriation by Harini, a student intern. 

I was the only brown kid at my school until ninth grade. Growing up in a town I once described as “never realized the Union won the Civil War,” it was no surprise that all my friends were white. I was careful to conceal any aspects of me that did not mirror their own personalities, effectively whitewashing myself. I laughed along with their mockery of desi culture, its gaudy outfits and pungent foods, all the while ignoring the guilt and defiance that part of me felt at hearing my own culture ripped apart by people who had none of their own.

Once I reached high school and began making friends with people from similar backgrounds to me, I realized the error in my ways and embraced my heritage with a group of people who respected and shared my culture. I packed the foods I liked to school, and posted pictures of me, donned in traditional clothes, to social media for the world to see.

Around that time, American culture began to shift. Suddenly, the ingredients in our foods that were once considered ugly and smelly were now labelled “superfoods,” and they were all the rage. Our jewelry was considered the epitome of fashion, despite being practically taboo not too long ago. This led me to the question: why is something considered acceptable only after Western cultures adopt it? People have been wearing naths and eating turmeric for centuries, so why was it suddenly considered a trend? Moreover, why was it a trend to begin with, when the sole reason the elements of our culture exist with a meaning and value that was being completely disregarded by Western culture?

harini_blogpost

Actress Sonam Kapoor wears a nath on the red carpet.

I grew angry each time I would see someone that once made fun of desi culture wearing bindis for Instagram. This was a piece of Hindu culture that was symbolic, and it was being reduced to a costume. For these people, this was an expression of appreciation, because apparently there was no better compliment to a culture than the validation of a westernized person. There was no consideration that disregarding the meaning behind these things (whether they are intended for brides, as a mark of celebration, etc.) was offensive.

However, white people are not the only ones guilty of doing this. Non-desi people of color often see their non-whiteness as a free pass to appropriating cultures outside their own. Desis are guilty of appropriating other cultures as well, so no ethnic group is entirely free of this offense. The entertainment industry is the worst offender, with a history of using blackface to depict villains and demons unscrupulously.

Of course, appreciation of a culture is acceptable. For example, eating ethnic food, consuming media, and learning a new language are all forms of appreciation that are inoffensive.

When a person uses an element of a culture they do not belong to as a costume while ignoring the ethnic, national, or religious significance of said element, they are appropriating a culture. Appropriation is not just about material items. It can take different forms, like stealing opportunities that should belong to people of an ethnic group or religion. This is seen too often in Hollywood, with white actors playing roles that represent people of color, with (see Matt Damon playing a Chinese general in The Great Wall). White actors find themselves under fire for accepting roles depicting Asian characters that are heroic and central to the story, while actual Asian actors are too often offered minor roles that exist for comedic effect or to create a backdrop for the important white characters. The way in which the West regards Eastern culture is dubbed “Orientalism,” a concept that has come to possess a negative connotation only because it reflects said perception.

Furthermore, brown actors are used interchangeably, regardless of their ethnicity. A recent example of this is the casting for the live-action Aladdin movie, in which Naomi Scott, a biracial actress of Indian descent, is playing Jasmine, the princess of the fictional Agrabah, which is canonically located in the Middle East. So, why are brown people seen as transposable? Why is our culture regarded as easy?

Bridging the gap between Western ideals and pride in one’s heritage is in the hands of brown peoples’ white peers and the media. Looking back on my journey as a brown girl growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, I can see my growth from someone who tried too hard to imitate her white friends, to someone who is unashamed of who she is. Much of that personal development came from being receptive and open to criticism. Often, people don’t realize their actions are offensive because of how common appropriation is. Ignorance is a slippery slope, so being informed is vital, as is holding others accountable for their actions. Learning the difference between appreciation and appropriation is the first step to respecting all cultures and regarding them as equal.

 

Below are some articles about recent instances of brown culture appropriation and orientalism:

American Orientalism

What is Orientalism, and how is it also racism?

Gucci accused of culturally appropriating Sikh turban

People Are Seriously Pissed That “Vogue India” Got Kendall Jenner For Their 10-Year Anniversary Shoot

Coachella Queen Vanessa Hudgens Loves Cultural Appropriation

Zara comes under fire for cultural appropriation

In ‘The Problem With Apu,’ Hari Kondabolu Discusses South Asian Representation