Fatness. Fitness. Feminism.

Sydney Phillips

A reflection by student staff member, Sydney, about her experiences with body image, working out, and how these things connect with her feminism and self love.

Trigger Warning: This blog deals with body image, body dysmorphia, and unhealthy eating practices. Please use self-care.
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We live in a day where thick (curvy, slim-thick) is in but what this really means is women with thick thighs/large butts/ big boobs and a TINY waist. One thing thick still doesn’t seem to mean is fat. The media, men, and other women are still always critical of unwanted fat/cellulite/stretch marks and ways to get rid of them… especially in a time where “Fitspo”  has become popular. Let me start off by saying I’m a feminist who believes in radical self love… I’m also a feminist who has a love-hate relationship with working out. I grew up being a year round competitive athlete, basketball, cross country, track, soccer (you name it!), so any time outside of school was spent in gyms or outside practicing skills. I never thought about my body much as an athlete- let me rephrase that… I never thought about the good my body was doing when I was an athlete. I knew I was strong but I thought it was because I was large. “I’m bigger than my friends therefore I have to be stronger than my friends”. Was I actually bigger than my friends though? The photos say no. It never occurred to me that my perception of my body was completely warped. I saw myself as overweight, much bigger than my friends, and was constantly aware of what I was wearing and how people perceived me. And as a young girl who was in Catholic School (Catholic guilt is the real deal), didn’t know much about feminism , and had a mother with body image issues, I was stuck in the perfect storm. My body was always at the front of my mind. I binge ate, starved at some points (why did I throw away so many lunches when I LOVE food?), and was just overall unaware of how toxic my mentality was.

CaptureWhen I graduated high school, I stopped playing sports and focused on school. I turned to feminism and activism to help me understand myself and the world, and I still worked out pretty regularly… I also gained 40 pounds. But guess what else happened? I learned to love my body. Now don’t get me wrong, I still look at my stretchmarks or fat rolls and sometimes feel like a “lazy loser” but I also know that my body does amazing things just to keep me alive, that I am strong, and that all bodies are good bodies. Here’s an important disclaimer though- I’m overweight, my doctors bring it up, my friends notice it, my parents comment on it, and guys tend to tell me “I love bigger women” but overall I’m still seen as “normal” by society. I can still find clothes in most stores, my fat is distributed pretty equally over my body, and I can still move throughout space with ease. I realize that due to this I experience both thin privilege and fat shame at different times. I have come to understand that my experience is a privilege because I CAN find a break from the constant judging in certain spaces.

Like I said, I still like to workout. I like the discipline of it that I learned through sports, and I think I always will. There are major benefits to working out. I like to go into the gym and lift weights or kickbox or do something that makes my muscles scream afterwards. For me, this is a form of radical self love, but it isn’t for everyone, and moreso this love can turn to hate really easily. I workout to feel strong, not skinny, but those two are easy to conflate and I often find myself walking the fine line, and falling on the toxic side if I’m not careful. What is supposed to be about strength and love can turn into weight and fat in the blink of an eye, and it is a constant game of checks and balances (going to the gym…but not twice a day… appreciating my body…but not weighing myself) to make sure I don’t go there. So just as much as I workout to get in a good mental space, I also often have to stop working out to remain in that good space. Even when doing this, I constantly struggle with the guilt over not working out or the guilt of working out for the wrong reasons. Let me just say this- deciding to love your body does not mean your body issues disappear.

bgfI found Bikram Yoga to be a very healthy way to workout and feel strong- I was feeling confident and in touch with my body while not worrying about weight. The problem- Bikram Yoga as well as fitness classes are EXPENSIVE (I’m talking over $100 a month here), which leads me to my next point. Fitness is a feminist issue AND an intersectional one. Some women don’t want to workout to feel self love. Some do and can’t afford it, and some aren’t represented in the fitness world at all. Sidenote, if you hate running, don’t do it! Hate the gym? Don’t go! What works for some and what some see as self love isn’t for all and it would be pretty antifeminist to try and insist it does.

We know poor women are more likely to be overweight and that curvy figures are more accepted by women of color, but what does this mean for women who want to workout or engage in health related activities but don’t have the funds or don’t see themselves represented? If you search “fit woman” on the internet what do you get? White women. White women with muscles. White women with no body fat. Now that, in itself, is an issue, but add in that these women are all able bodied (Inspiration Porn is real too yall, don’t even get me started), they are feminine, and they have all the trendy gear and equipment they need.

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Let’s be real here, I haven’t worked out in months. I’m a grad student taking a full course load and working two jobs- when that’s done, I just want to go to bed. I still miss it… specifically lifting… but right now self care means something different. I also still feel guilty about it- especially when my clothes don’t fit or I’m “feeling fat”, but I’ve also been better about putting things in perspective and keeping a healthy mindset. I don’t have all the answers here. Fitness and feminism is a hard issue and not everyone has a healthy relationship with working out, (like I said, sometimes I don’t either) but I needed a space to discuss the fact that this is a conflicting issue with me, that I struggle, and that I’m trying my best. I think other women could use this space as well. So here’s to figuring it out together,

“All bodies are good bodies. You do not need to lose weight to have a good body. All bodies are real bodies. You are perfect at whatever size you like best. I preach this loud and proud to my friends, to my niece, to my mother, to my girlfriend. Honestly, I truly believe it. I also believe in giving a big middle finger to society’s standards of beauty, and I think it’s completely true that anyone can be healthy at whatever size they are.” – Sarah Hansen

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Note: I purposefully left my weight out of this blog. I went back and forth on this decision but ultimately decided it would not do any good or help my point by just adding numbers in.

Links for further reading:

The complicated relationship between feminism and fitness
How to work exercise out of self love not fat shaming

Intersectionality of fitness

About how you don’t always have to love your body

Some other blog posts about bodies:

Making my body a brave space

How my feminism intersects body consciousness with health benefits

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Me too. And now what?

The following is a guest post from UMBC alumna Juliette Seymour, MCS and GWST ’14, who was both inspired and incensed by the recent “Me Too” campaign. Although this widespread social media initiative has shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence and assault in our communities, Juliette writes about follow-through and next steps. 

Content note: Sexual abuse, rape, trauma

Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too.

Me too.

It’s endless. I cannot count the number of the “Me too” Facebook status I have seen since Sunday night. If you are not on Facebook, to provide some backstory, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted (a co-opted message from activist, Tarana Burke):

Screen shot from Alyssa Milano’s twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Inset text reads: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Since then, my Facebook feed (and everyone else’s) has been nothing but “Me too’s.”

I posted one, deleted it. Then sat with a rock in my stomach. I’m used to this rock. It’s been with me since I was a child. This rock varies in size and weight, sometimes it’s small and manageable. Other times it’s large, growing past my stomach into my chest and throat making it nearly impossible for me to take deep breaths or speak. It’s grown as I have; the seemingly constant sexual abuse and rape that has happened throughout my life adding weight to this rock. You know this rock if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse/trauma. It sucks.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

I sat with this rock in my stomach for a while. My overactive mind weighing the pros and cons of this campaign (I don’t know if that is the proper term, but honestly, I’m not here to overanalyze that aspect). Should I repost? Why did I delete it? Why did I hesitate to post in the first place? Why did it feel wrong?

Then it clicked.

We’ve already stood up. We’ve already put a mark on our backs. We’ve already gone to the police to be dismissed. We’ve already sat through questioning from everyone, and I mean, everyone – how long was your skirt, did you drink, have you had sex before, why were you out at night, why did you let them, why didn’t you say no, have you had sex with them before, aren’t you married, why didn’t you fight back, didn’t you want it at first, why didn’t you say something sooner – to be told it was our fault. Even though it is never EVER our fault.

We’ve been through this motion before.

Think of all the people who have stood up and said “Hey, Bill Cosby/Woody Allen/Donald Trump/Harvey Weinstein/Sean Penn/Dr. Luke/My friend/My family/Your friend/Your family/etc., has raped/sexually abused me.”

What happened to the survivor? Now, what happened to the abuser in these situations? If you don’t already know the answer, take a moment, think about it. What happened to Trump? Cosby?

The answer is nothing. Nothing happened to them. Hell, one of them is sitting in the oval office.

Where are the Facebook statuses of abusers/rapist saying “I did it” so we can understand the severity of this? Where are my supposed ‘allied’ cis men standing up to their friends when they make rape jokes, or catcall? Or rape. When are we going to start holding abusers accountable? When are we going to refer to our brothers and fathers as rapists, instead of our sisters and mothers as victims? When are we going to ask why did you rape instead of why were you raped? When are we going to teach how not to rape instead of how not to get raped?

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

When are we going to actually listen to survivors? And then when are we going to do more than just…listen?

I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did.

But what I do have is this:

First, and most importantly –  If you posted a Me Too status, if you didn’t, if you don’t believe that your story is “real” enough, if you are not safe or comfortable enough to post; I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And I love you.

Second, and almost as important – Now what?

I’m not going to post a Facebook status, sit back, and pretend it did something. I’m not going to do that, and I’m asking you to do the same. And I know it hurts, it’s painful, uncomfortable, and seems impossible. Trust me. I know what it feels like to not be able to speak the things that happened to you (and very slowly getting to a point where you can kind of talk about it in therapy). I know what it feels like to be retraumatized with panic attacks and sleepless nights following. I know what it feels like to have to live with your abuser. I know what it feels like to question, “Was it rape? Was it my fault?” (and accepting that yes, it was rape, and no, it’s not my fault).

I know.

But, we have to be uncomfortable, we have to work through the pain, we have to support each other in our respective journeys to healing.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

So here is my action plan. To hold myself accountable, and to provide a possible road map for you. I do not know what your story is, how your healing will come, or what will happen. Hell, I don’t even know if my plan will work. But for right now, it’s all that I got:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. Delete Facebook off my phone (at least for a few days)
  3. Check-in with myself (you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first) and then friends
  4. Start volunteering with the Monument Quilt again (the studio is close to my house, and I made myself email them before finishing this post to ensure I followed through)
  5. Look into support groups for survivors

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I cannot stress this enough to my fellow survivors: This is in no way to shame or put down those who have found comfort/strength/healing through this hashtag Facebook thing (I still don’t know what to call it). I hope with all of my heart that this creates a sense of community, love, healing, and will do the thing it’s supposed to do. This is not directed towards those who find healing through these means, I’m happy you have that. I am SO happy you have that.

This is me wanting more from society. Not you.

And, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: ABUSE/RAPE HAPPENS ACROSS ALL GENDER LINES. WOMAN, MAN, TRANS, GENDERQUEER, NO GENDER, ALL GENDER. IT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE.

And, an important note on race: I am white. This is my white perspective. Race obviously plays a role in this. I do not feel adept to write about that. I do not want to assume/overpower or write for POC because their voices should be raised.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

 


  • For more information and resources related to sexual assault and gender-based violence, visit our website or contact the Women’s Center at 410.455.2714.
  • For more information about reporting at UMBC, the sexual misconduct policy, or Title IX, visit UMBC’s Human Relations website
  • The photos above are from the Monument Quilt. For more information, visit their website.

 

The Socialization of Women in Math: Who’s aware?

Sydney PhillipsStudent staff member Sydney has had a rocky relationship with math throughout her life. As a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program at UMBC she began to rethink her relationship with math through her statistics courses and with the support of her (Women!) professor and TA.

On Thursday September 14, the Women’s Center hosted their first fall roundtable on the topic of Women in Tech. I was there to listen and also write the roundup for the Women’s Center.

Women in Tech Flyer - printAlthough I am not a woman in the STEM field, a lot of what was shared really resonated with me and led to a reflection about my relationship with math. Let me start by saying it’s not a positive relationship. I’ve always struggled with math, I feel like it takes me longer than others, my professors (read: male professors) have always seen me as a burden, and now just thinking about it gives me anxiety. I’m talking “I don’t understand anything on this page, I’m going to fail this test, I’m going to fail this class, and I’m never going to get a job and my life is over” types of anxiety.

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I used to say I hated math because I thought I was bad at it, but the roundtable really made me reflect on if this is true or if I’ve just been socialized to believe this. I never thought I was a person who was bad at math; I thought I was bad at math because I was a woman.

https://xkcd.com/385/

Comic from XKCD

Even as a graduate student who passed all of her undergraduate math classes and received an A in graduate level statistics (make note, I had women professors), I still think I’m inherently bad at math, which makes NO sense. This problem exists outside of my experiences as well and is reflected in the disparities between men and women in the STEM fields. For example, although more women are awarded bachelor’s degrees than men, only 17% of computer science graduates are women.

My reflection made me want to reach out to other women to see what their experiences with math were and if this socialization process affected their relationship with math at all. Like many other quests into knowledge, this one did not go quite as planned, but still I received a lot of feedback that included some key themes I think are important.

The first theme is that those who struggled with math or felt as if they were being told they were bad at math, began to feel this way from a VERY early age (most respondents reported between first grade and early middle school). Young girls who were working out math problems were told that if they didn’t understand it right away that they never would and they should basically give up.

The other theme was that most of these comments (or in some cases just dirty looks) came from male teachers. Not only were women being socialized through verbal interactions to believe they were bad at match, they were also aware of the nonverbal interactions between themselves and their male teachers that added to this thought. The patriarchy is alive and well in the classroom y’all.

Here are some responses:

I was talking with a classmate trying to figure out what a problem meant when the teacher came up to us, yelled at us for distracting our classmates, and that if we didn’t understand it – we wouldn’t ever get it. – Rachel (22).

2nd grade, the teacher said I just wasn’t up to it -Jamie (24)

A college professor told me before the class even started that I was either going to fail or drop out of the class, I ended up passing the class with a high B just to prove him wrong -Jill (23)

Most of the women who wrote about these negative experiences also expressed that their negative relationship with math has continue throughout their lives. In terms of their current feelings, they expressed feelings of doubt and anxiety when doing math, or even a complete avoidance of math in life altogether.

I hate it. I’m super intimidated by it. The thought of having to help my daughters with their math homework in the future, terrifies me! -Marie (38)

Some of the women who had negative experiences early on did end up having a good relationship with math later on. Some women have always had good experiences with math. The one common denominator between these positive math women was: a support system, and most of the time this support system was made up of other women (women teachers, Mom’s who worked in the field, etc.).

I had a teacher, Ms. Raden… I don’t know if it was her approach or the fact that she was a woman that made me more comfortable.  I took more advanced classes and eventually got a degree where match and equations are big.- Darcy (31).

My algebra 1 teacher went out her way to encourage girls. -Debbie (55)

I think the support I’ve had from my parents encouraging me to pursue math and science in my career has helped me to not feel inadequate in my mathematical abilities. -Caitlin (25).

Most of the responses I gleaned seemed to be aware of the stereotype of women being bad at math and science. Thus, while I expected emotional answers, I was not prepared for the amount of angry responses I received… which were directed at the survey itself and me. A lot of women took offense that I would “assume” they were bad at math or that their experiences were negative. They had never encountered the problem I was bringing up and therefore didn’t think it was an issue on a larger scale either. I have pretty thick skin, but to be honest, shifting through 30 responses with a large amount being very passionate about why I was wrong hit me hard. I immediately wanted to defend myself but also didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to move forward with the blog or get out the message I was originally trying to convey. At first I just wanted to ignore these responses and focus on my original goal, but after reflecting (again) and getting input from coworkers and an amazing supervisor (Thanks Amelia!) I decided I needed to face what was making me uncomfortable head on.

I think it is important to note that women have a variety of experiences, and all of them are valid. While a lot of women have great experiences with math it is also a fact that there are large disparities in the gender makeup of people in STEM fields and that many women have had negative experiences. I want to foster a space as well as a society where all women’s voices are heard but also not at the expense of women with differing stories. Some experiences are good and some are bad but the consequences of a society that largely labels women at a disadvantage are very real. Although women’s involvement is on the rise, there are still barriers that need to be addressed in order for a more equitable field (and society) to emerge.

To the women in STEM fighting against these barriers, I thank you! To the women who feel comfortable in their own skin around math, I envy you! To the women who avoid math at all costs, I understand you! And to the women who can feel their blood pressure rising just when the word is uttered, I am with you!

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On Campus Resources:

UMBC Center for Women in Technology

More about the issue:

Women and Math: The Gender Gap Bridged

Women in Math, Science, & Medicine: Still Work to be Done

The Truth About Gender and Math

Women in Politics: No Way to Win

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Having grown up right outside of D.C., Women’s Center student staff member Hannah has spent most of her life following politics, and uses that passion here to reflect on its lack of gender parity.

 

Did you know that if you say “women in politics” three times while looking in a mirror, Hillary Clinton appears behind you? Okay, maybe that theory isn’t 100% accurate, but she is the first person many people think of when hearing that phrase, and it’s easy to see why: as a former Senator, First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate, she has had a long career in the public eye, and with that has come the added burden of being one of a few successful women in a male-dominated field. With the release of her new book about what happened in the 2016 election (aptly named What Happened), this seemed like the perfect time to reflect on how we talk about women in politics and why it matters. From blatant sexism to the demonization of women’s ambition, the double standards and stereotypes these women face all serve to perpetuate misogyny and exclude women from some of the highest leadership positions our country has to offer.

~Disclaimer: This post is not a commentary on or endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s (or any other politician’s) stances. People on both sides of the aisle have perpetuated sexism in politics, and we are all responsible for taking steps to combat it.~

 

The Biggest Red Flag

It’s easy to see blatant sexism being used against Hillary in many parts of the 2016 election,  the most obvious of which being pro-Trump merchandise. Slogans like “Trump that bitch,” “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica,” and “Life’s a bitch; don’t vote for one” were worn proudly by many Trump supporters. Now, attacking one’s opposition–no matter what side of the aisle they are on–has been a part of campaigning since this country began, but criticism of policy ideas, voting records, and political experience is entirely different from pointedly gendered attacks. What’s troubling about this kind of rhetoric is the way it normalizes harmful gender stereotypes and makes people believe that this is an acceptable way of talking about others.

When I mentioned one of these slogans to someone I knew, he laughed and said that he “hates Trump,” but the slogan was funny. In my opinion, if you claim to hate a man who brags about sexual assault, you should also hate the misogyny that many of his supporters have no problem perpetuating.

 

The Demonization of Women’s Ambition

Men–especially those in positions of authority–are rarely pigeonholed as sex objects or domestic figures and then labeled as too aggressive or domineering when they seek positions that don’t fit those labels. There are lots of examples of male actors who have ran for or contemplated running for high-level elected office (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne The Rock Johnson), and very few people have said that they’re too shallow or inexperienced to hold these executive positions, nor have I seen commentary This is not the case with women. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s openness about her ambition caused such a backlash that it spawned a cookie-baking contest between the two potential First Ladies. Seriously. During the 1992 primary race, California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his time in office as Arkansas’ governor to help his wife’s legal practice. Hillary Clinton then fired back by saying “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” This struck such a chord with the American public–among both men who viewed her comment as “bitchy” and women who took offense to the notion that she viewed herself as being above domestic work–that the magazine Family Circle saw a way to capitalize off the controversy. Thus began a cookie-baking contest that has survived the last 25 years of politics. Oh, and another fun fact: Even though Hillary Clinton was the candidate in the 2016 election, she was still the one competing against Melania Trump. While I have nothing but respect for those who bring cookies into this world, we’re not living in the 1950s; domestic work should not be the only option available to women.

Most of the men I know would probably agree with that stance, but there is still a pervasive fear of powerful women. Many social psychologists attribute this to a phenomenon called precarious manhood. Essentially, men are afraid of being emasculated and consequently losing their manhood, and ambitious women can invoke such fears. Case in point: Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has historically always been lower when she runs for office and demonstrates this ambition compared to when she is in office and less in the public eye.

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What’s more important: Hillary Clinton’s policies or her appearance?

 

Finding a Solution

If you’re reading this and thinking “I voted for Hillary Clinton so I can’t be sexist” or “I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s not because I secretly hate women!” then slow your roll. The point of this post is not to call all Hillary supporters perfect advocates for women or to claim that everyone who voted against her did so because of misogyny. In fact, people on the left are just as capable of perpetuating sexism as people on the right. Take Sarah Palin: while many people during her 2008 candidacy for Vice President had concerns about her experience and choices as Alaska’s governor, their criticism quickly blended with misogynistic commentary about her appearance and her more typically feminine persona (I wouldn’t recommend spending too long looking at google image results for “Caribou Barbie”). The point is to raise awareness about the way we as a society view women in politics, and why they are treated so differently than men. Double standards are everywhere: If a woman is too traditionally feminine, then she is too stupid to do the job, but if she demonstrates such capacity, then she is too aggressive. If she isn’t  domestic enough, then she is forced to release a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but once she does, then she is seen as fake and trying too hard to be likeable. If she shows emotion, then she is too sensitive, but if she doesn’t, then she’s too robotic. If she doesn’t have much political experience, then she should let someone more qualified do the job, but if she has the experience, then she should step back because her time in politics has gone on too long. With all of these sentiments weighing so heavily on the conversation, it’s hard for a woman winning an election to feel like much of a victory.

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Even SNL recognizes that there are women all along the political spectrum: maybe their ideas aren’t the reason why there are so few women in politics

If we want to improve representation in politics and promote women’s empowerment, then we have to improve the way we talk about the few women who are already in the public eye. This is about more than just “girl power.” Representation in politics–and in every other institution–does more than just make a prettier picture; it allows for everyone to feel that their voices are heard and their experiences matter. The Women’s Center here was founded in part to meet the unique needs that many women in college have, and the same principle applies in government. By listening to women’s voices, the UMBC community was able to better provide services that had been previously overlooked. If women are heard in local, state, and federal governments, imagine what can be accomplished. There is no one ideology held by all women in elected office, just as there is no one monolithic voice of all American women: when I talk about wanting equal representation in politics, I don’t want people to vote for a candidate simply because she’s a woman; I want there to be enough women running so that they don’t have to.
Further Reading:

At UMBC:

Feminist Road Tripping

A reflection written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers, tag-teamed with friend, Priscilla.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, Priscilla, and I headed out on a road trip of a lifetime through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. And, because we both solidly identify as feminists, this, my friends, was a Feminist Road Trip™. We had a blast hiking through four national parks, camping under the stars, and being amazed by the vast beauty of nature.

As the mileage left on our trip got smaller and smaller, in addition to reflecting on our favorite moments, we began to reflect on our journey and what specifically made it feminist. We compiled quite a long list and what we each uniquely brought to our trip as intersectional feminists. For example, I wasn’t as conscientious about ensuring we were making an investment in the local economy when we booked our lodging and Priscilla wasn’t aware about the $5 a day campaign to ensure hotel workers are being fairly compensated for their efforts. We challenged each other along the way to think more critically about our feminist values and what that looks like in practice. For example, getting your truck stuck in the mud doesn’t have to be a women-only experience in getting un-stuck and accepting help from men doesn’t have to be un-feminist (even if you have to “uuuuggggh” it out together when you get back to the safety of your un-stuck truck – which by the way, we affectionately named Carol).

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Here we are in Fort Collins, Colorado on Day 1 of our road trip with Carol!

Most importantly, though, this was a feminist road trip to me because it provided a special opportunity for me to be with my friend. A friend who helped me cultivate my feminist and social justice identities. A friend who marched by my side at Take Back the Nights and took me to my first feminist collective art performance (shout out Vox Feminsta). A friend who helped mend my broken heart and stood by me as my coming out story unfolded. So, how lucky was I to realize that this trip fell during the same month we met ten years ago and became instant friends. Not only was this a Feminist Road Trip but it was our 10 Year Anniversary Feminist Road Trip! The way we remember our first meeting was as if it was love at first sight – and it was! Only, I don’t think the culture we live in always provides the space to talk about friendships in that way. I am thankful that our days of traveling together was our unapologetic way of honoring and celebrating each other and our rad feminist ladies friendship.

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At the Grand Canyon taking our official 10 year anniversary celebration photo complete with a handmade heart.

So, in no particular order, here’s the highlights from our list:

♥ Learn the history of the place and space you’re traveling through… and then dig deeper. Honor who came before you and learn about the native and indigenous people who first called these places home. Where the story of women are not present, ask why, and when their stories are present, pause to read and reflect with each other. We particularly enjoyed the story of Sharlot Hall and the Vermillion Cliffs in AZ.

♥ Support local businesses. Tip your guides and servers generously and leave at least $5 a day for your housekeeper for each day you stay in your hotel/motel.

♥ Encourage other women on the trail and on the road.

♥ Share your growing edges with each other and then keep reflecting and constructing a counter-narrative. For example, a theme throughout our trip as women traveling without our significant others was being mindful of saying “I” instead of “we” when recounting personal stories, goals, and hopes and the importance we hold in maintaining our individuality in a long-term relationship.

♥ Gracefully accept help as needed.

♥ Be body positive and affirming. Don’t judge other women for taking selfies. You never know what it may have taken for another woman to get to that summit.

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Four Corners selfie with a selfie stick!

♥ Travel! It was amazing how many people were surprised before we set on our trip that we were traveling “alone” or with “just the two of you??” That was followed by a sense of fear that two women shouldn’t be out on the road alone *gasp* without a man. Prove them wrong. Make space for your experiences.

♥ Play excellent women-empowered playlists and sing your hearts out (for some great ideas, check out NPR’s Turning Tables: 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women)

♥ Honor your friendships with women and celebrate your milestones. Friendships can be just as valid and important as our romantic and/or blood-family relationships.

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Here we are at Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. We had the best the guide who took this awesome photo of us.

What would you add to our list? Leave your comments below or on the Women’s Center social media pages where you find the link to this blog.

For those planning your next feminist road trip, here’s some of our favorite travel blogs and hashtags (links do not represent endorsements) we used to prepare for our road trip state of mind:

  • On She Goes: Travel Stories for All Women of Color
  • Bearfoot Theory: Outdoor Adventure for the Everyday Adventurer
  • #brownpeoplecamping
  • #FatGirlsHiking
  • Field Tripping – a bi-weekly column in Baltimore’s City Paper written by UMBC’s very own Dr. Kate Drabinski

Happy traveling to all our feminist wanderlusts out there!

Co-Opting the Message: How Companies Are Not Our Friends

shira-spring-headshotA reflection by student staff member Shira Devorah 

 

By now, many of us have heard of that Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement.

Immediately after the ad debuted, the internet blew up in opposition to it. Activists were not complacent with the whitewashed, safe, and commercialized rip-off of Black Lives Matter. Pepsi eventually issued a half-baked apology to the public (but mostly to Kendall Jenner).

kendal jenner pepsi

I’m writing specifically about this advertisement as a sort of jumping-off point. I want to acknowledge, before moving forward into a broader discussion, the racism embedded in this ad. Kendall Jenner, a white woman, used black men (and the movement demanding justice for their lives) as props to support her image as an activist who could quell police brutality with a Pepsi. This is an example of overt racism in advertising.

 

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A real- life example from the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015. 

Racism in advertisements is not new.  Soda companies have had a lot to do with this brand of racism. While this blog post is not entirely about racism, I think it is important to point out its presence before discussing other issues I have with this kind of ad.

What issues, you ask?

Co-existing with the obvious racism we can see in this advertisement,  I want to talk about  a different problem that this ad also brings up. I’m sick of seeing the way companies twist activist and feminist messages to sell products.  

Companies appropriate feminist-ish narratives to make them seem like friendly, trustworthy, and progressive institutions.

Take the example of Dove’s body positivity campaign. Dove, the popular soap company, launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004. This campaign has portrayed models for Dove products as more “realistic” depictions of women, as opposed to over- photoshopped, thin white models.

On the surface, this campaign looks pretty awesome. A company that’s not buying into sexist beauty standards? It absolutely sounds like a step in the right direction.

Yet there is a certain cognitive dissonance that accompanies the message Dove is presenting. On one hand, they’re telling me, “I’m beautiful just the way I am.”  

On the other hand, I am being sold a beauty product specifically designed to make my body conform more to the beauty standards.

If Dove tells me I’m beautiful with my stretch marks while simultaneously selling me a skin-firming lotion, what message am I really supposed to be taking away from these advertisements?

Additionally, Dove is a company under the corporation Unilever- the same conglomerate that owns Axe.

Axe is another soap product, but it is marketed in the completely opposite direction. Axe’s body sprays and hair gels are aimed towards teenage boys, and tend to use women as hyper- sexualized props to sell their products.

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Screen capture from a recent Axe marketing campaign. 

How can one company that espouses the empowerment of women be so closely tied to a another that uses sexist tactics to sell their product?

At the end of the day, major corporations like Dove, Axe, and their parent company, Unilever, aren’t people. They aren’t your friend, and they aren’t a magical way to get girls to like you. They are marketing teams targeting your passions and weaknesses in order to get you to buy their products.

At least with (many) small businesses, the stances that they take are likely the real positions that the founders have.

Take, for example, feminist owned bookstores in Baltimore, like Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road and Red Emma’s on North Avenue. These are small, independent businesses that are locally owned and operated. They actively employ Baltimore-based activists and provide space for discussion and performance.

When I go to Red Emma’s, I feel like I can have a legitimate conversation about body positivity with an employee and not be sold an answer. These are actually my fellow community members making a living in a broken system, selling an item with an actual meaning attached. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. But I feel more comfortable buying from them, knowing that they aren’t faking their commitment to a cause I care about.

This, of course, comes with another layer of complication. Buying from businesses who aren’t faking the activist narrative isn’t always possible (we learned that from the recent issues happening over at Thinx). There is a certain privilege that comes along with purchasing power. I wish I had the money to buy all of my books at Red Emma’s or soap from small businesses, but the companies that can afford to make/sell cheaper products are usually the ones I can afford.

So what am I getting at with this?

More than anything, I just want to bring awareness to the ways we are being used as consumers. If we realize how much power we have in our wallets, we can begin to be more aware of how our money is being spent.

Companies will always pander to us, but we can work to change the culture that companies are trying to appropriate. Maybe if we work to build a world that doesn’t rely on racist imagery or women’s bodies to sell products, we’ll be sold to in a way that is more on our terms as consumers. At the very least, being woke to capitalist agendas running our lives may help us maneuver the ways that we are sold to into a more positive light.

Want to learn more?

The Representation Project: Using film and media as catalysts for cultural transformation, The Representation Project inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone – regardless of gender, race, class, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance – can fulfill their human potential.

Check out some documentaries exploring women in the media & advertising. Some recommendations include Miss Representation and Killing Me Softly (both available at the AOK Library!).   

Here is a list of Black-owned businesses in Maryland.

Here’s how you can use SNAP at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market and Bazaar.

Making Space for Faith in Feminism

michael-headshot A reflection by Michael Jalloh-Jamboria, Women’s Center student staff member

Saturday, February 12th was the 59th Grammy awards show. The show featured many musical performances and winners, most notably,Beyoncé. At the time of her performance, not only was she pregnant, but she delivered a kickass performance, defied gravity, all the while channeling some major West African, Latin American, and Christian spiritual imagery during her performance. 

In both Santeria and West African spirituality, the Goddess Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters–the embodiment of love, fertility, and sensuality. Her love and guidance were instrumental to the creation of the world, so much so that other Orisha (gods and goddesses) were unable to complete their work on earth without Oshun.  After Beyonce’s amazing performance, Twitter was going wild with the comparisons between Beyoncé and the goddess Oshun.

child-of-oshun

Beyoncé’s performance, her golden outfit, the fact that she was very pregnant, and the influx of Twitter comparisons reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about my journey of religion and its intersections with my identities. Growing up, my parents loved to tell me stories of the Orisha, or gods and goddesses, and how they created the earth. While I was raised Muslim, my parents never separated our West African spirituality from our Muslim religion. Beyoncé’s performance got me thinking about how different my religion is from my spirituality. While it can be a strange balance, both my religion and my spirituality are important aspects of my identity. But I realized, within the social spaces I occupy, I don’t really talk about those parts of my identity. From there, I began to think about whether or not religion has a place in feminism. Continue reading