Navigating the Women’s Restroom: An Open Letter

KayThis post is written by Kay, a student staff at the Women’s Center. Kay is a senior Psychology major.

This letter is addressed to a long slew of people. Who, you might ask? Well, that’s a loaded question, but in the interest of time, it’s primarily addressed to the cisgender women (women who identify with the gender that corresponds with their biological sex) who very clearly don’t want me in the women’s bathroom and are visibly uncomfortable or uncertain if I belong. 

These women have created so much space in women’s bathrooms for themselves that they have hindered how safe I feel. This letter is not addressed to all cis women, as many of you do accept me for how I present myself, and know that me entering the women’s bathroom shouldn’t be their concern. Even if this letter doesn’t apply directly to you, there is still a lot of important information here to make you a better ally and understand more of the position I and people similar to me are coming from.

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I decided to write this letter because I’m tired. It’s exhausting navigating the world as a tall, black, androgynous nonbinary individual, even in a women’s bathroom. In many cases, my mere existence in a women’s bathroom is perceived as a danger to cisgender women. My identities, the essence of my being, are assumed as a threat through the racist, homophobic and transphobic lens of society. Many of my identities come into play in these situations, and they all work interconnectedly and simultaneously: I am black, and have many masculine physical traits; I have short hair, I’m 6’ tall, and I often don’t wear clothes that are associated with femininity. The black masculinity stereotype is portrayed in the media as aggressive and violent, so me being a black person who has identified with masculinity can cause discomfort, especially in a women’s bathroom (link). Queerness and transness also comes with many preconceived notions. Queer and trans folk have been typecasted as perverted and/or as sexual predators. But, cis women, try to remember that I just need to use the restroom and that’s all there is to it. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. 

When cis women gatekeep the women’s bathroom, many concepts regarding gender policing come up in discussions about bathrooms. Gender policing can be defined as the act of imposing or enforcing gender roles based on an individual’s perceived sex. This can be done overtly as well as covertly, whether it’s someone saying “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom directly to you” (yes, this has happened), or someone looking confused or worried (see GIF below). 

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Gender policing can turn violent and endanger people who defy gender norms. These actions and many others tell me and people like me that we are not welcome to exist outside of the gender binary and traditional heteronormative gender roles. This reinforces stereotypes and expectations of gender presentation. Nobody should have to subscribe to some sort of gender standard. Everyone should be able to express themselves without being judged or subjugated against.

Because of these constant negative experiences in the women’s bathroom, I’ve reached the point where running to a public restroom during a road trip, at the mall, even at the movies, becomes an emotional task. So many things go through my head before entering the bathroom:

Will I be stared at? 

Will people wonder why I’m entering the women’s bathroom? 

Will I face confrontation?

Should I ask my friend to go with me?

People often stare at me when I enter the women’s bathroom and wait for an open stall. Some are visibly uncomfortable with me who up until recently identified as a cisgender woman, and that makes me feel exposed and self-conscious of the way in which I present myself. 

One might say that you are all uncomfortable too, and I acknowledge that. I want you to feel as though the bathroom is a safe space for you. But the person who is keeping the bathroom from being a safe space for either of us is you and the stereotypes you have placed on me. 

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You are, in fact, exhibiting implicit biases based on how I present myself and the assumptions you make of me because of that (see my previous blog for more information regarding microaggressions). How can you be a victim based on the stereotypes you decided to put on me?

In no way do I want anyone to be uncomfortable in the bathroom they decide to go into. I definitely don’t enjoy the discomfort of a bathroom not being presented as a safe space. There are many times I feel as though the women’s bathroom is not for me anymore. Though I was assigned female at birth I don’t identify as a woman. I identify as nonbinary, and for me I don’t feel like I belong in either a woman’s or men’s restroom. But sometimes there’s no other choice. Sometimes the single-stalled all-gender restrooms are dirty, far away, occupied or non-existent. Multi-stall all gender bathrooms are not very common. Even on the UMBC campus, all gender multi-stall bathrooms weren’t available until 2019! Outside of college campuses, they become even less common.

So, to all the people this may apply to, whether you’ve experienced similar instances to me or are one of the many who give people the side eye when they enter the bathroom, I hope you are able to at the very least understand the two concepts listed below:

  1. My gender identity is none of your concern. There’s no need for you to figure me out. The ways in which I identify shouldn’t matter; no matter how I identify, it doesn’t change the fact that the most comfortable option for me at the time is the women’s bathroom. I’m just using the loo like the rest of you.
  2. If you are uncomfortable with me, ask yourself why. Your gender policing is showing. Why do I cause you to be uncomfortable? Do those reasons relate to assumptions about me based on how I look and the ways in which I express my identities?

Further Resources:

Article on Black Masculinity Portrayals

Gender Policing

Fast Facts about Trans Bathroom Access

Inclusive Access of All Gender Restrooms at UMBC

UMBC All Gender Restroom Map

Do Better: From A Non-Disabled Person’s Perspective

My hopes are that the following is both a call out and a call in.

I am a non-disabled, white, college-educated, young adult and I’ve had a difficult time vouching for myself in many environments such as in the classroom, workforce, and even day to day moments in life. I am among a majority privileged group who are more readily given a platform from others within the privileged and majority group. As a social work major, I have been taught to use my power to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Today, I want to use this platform to talk about accessibility.

What is a “disability?”

According to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), a disability is defined as, “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” However, a truly accurate definition of a disability is difficult to produce. There are many variations of what type of disability, or disabilities, a person may experience such as:

  • Visual disabilities
  • Auditory disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Neurological disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Speech disabilities
  • Sensory disabilities 
  • Psychological disabilities

There are as many differences between the experiences of each person with a disability as the differences between people who are non-disabled. Every person is different and it’s important to be as inclusive as possible to these differences.

What is the ADA? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that was passed by Congress in 1990. Its goal is to provide protections for people with disabilities against discriminatory behavior. It is divided into 5 Titles: I. Employment, II. State and Local Government, III. Public Accommodations, IV. Telecommunications, and V. Miscellaneous Provisions. Each of these titles attempts to ensure that people with disabilities are provided the same opportunities and rights as everyone else. There have been amendments to the ADA to clarify the definition of a disability. Even so, the revisions made over the past 30 years have not been expansive enough to fully include all those who experience a disability. 

Though the ADA exists and applies to all entities in the US, many environments believe they do not need to comply with ADA requirements. Some people believe that folks who report ADA violations are purely looking to gain money from a lawsuit. Others believe that it’s too expensive to create accommodations for their facilities. There are many other reasons for this, but ultimately each one is ableist. 

For example, rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft have been known to deny people with disabilities service. This mistreatment of people with disabilities is harmful to say the least. 

over it smh GIF by iOne Digital

What is “ableism?”

The Merriam-Webster definition of ableism is “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.” However, ableism is more complex than this. Think of it this way

“Structural ableism assumes that there is an ideal body and mind that is better than all others, and ableists build a world in which this ideal can thrive and others cannot.” –Hanna Thomas & Anna Hirsch

Ableism is a mindset. Non-disabled people have set a norm that there is a right and wrong way to be as a person. The language we use to discuss people with disabilities is often harmful and has been created without folks with disabilities in mind. 

Some people are intentional about their ableist actions whereas others do so while unaware. Beyond individual actions, though, are the systemic inequities that do harm at structural levels and trickle down to individuals.

To undo these harmful patterns, it is imperative to be aware and intentional when talking about people with disabilities. Not all people with disabilities have a visible disability nor are they required to disclose their disability status with anyone. In fact, almost 20% of the U.S. population reported having a disability in the 2010 census

It is imperative for folks to shift their perspective when thinking of giving accommodations to people who are different than them. Rather than viewing differences as a challenge, know that every person has value and should be treated as such.

go team fist bump GIF by Cartoon Hangover

How is the ADA enforced?

Through lawsuits and settlements. This means that many establishments can get away with not being ADA compliant until someone reports them. Once an individual reports an establishment for an ADA violation, they are first interviewed to determine if the discrimination is evident before any action is taken. Only those who have thorough proof are considered when attempting to get justice. 

Additionally, the ADA requirements are not widely taught in architecture school. This furthers the creation of spaces that are not ADA compliant. 

There are gaps in our legal and education systems. People with marginalized identities are often left behind. Statistically, there is a high rate of intimate partner violence and sexual violence among people with disabilities. Our services must be welcoming and inclusive to vulnerable communities.

What does all of this mean?

When in a position of power, it’s essential to keep all of this in mind. Advocates must acknowledge the aspects of their identities that are privileged and learn how to properly understand folks who are different from them. You can follow the ADA requirements and still be exclusive. If you are a professional, you hold a position of power and it should be in your best interest to hold an inclusive and accommodating space for all potential patients, clients, students, or whoever you work with. 

“A completely accessible group does not exist. The important thing is that groups keep learning and keep thinking about how people might be excluded.” -Liz Kessler

Listen to people with disabilities and be sure that they are a part of the conversation. It’s better to ask someone what they may need from you than for you to make assumptions or ignore them. Your actions do have consequences and the people you work with deserve the most accommodating and inclusive version of yourself. 

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Resources

If you are considering filing a complaint the following are some resources: 

Maryland State Level Complaint Process

Federal Level Complaint Process

Someone’s First-hand Experience Filing 

Advice When Filing

To learn more information as a non-disabled person:

Do These 39 Simple Things to Make Your Student Life Opportunities More Accessible

Increasing Neurodiversity in Disability and Social Justice Advocacy Groups

Create an Inclusive Movement

Microsoft Accessible Events Guide

Accessible Syllabus Guide

UMBC Specific Information:

Connect with Student Disability Services

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Note: This is from an non-disabled person’s perspective. Please reach out to the Women’s Center email with any recommendations or requests for revisions at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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Parental Guidance Necessary: Gender Equity in Parental Leave

Alexia.JPG  Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

Originally with this blog I wanted to to explore the ways in which the gender wage gap could be mitigated by giving fathers the same parental leave policies as new mothers. However, as I started researching I found that there many more benefits than pay equity; more equitable parental leave policies have the capacity to end the traditional gendered division of labor.

In order to talk about this issue through an intersectional feminist lens, I want to add a disclaimer about the language I use in this blog post. I will be referring to mothers as those who give birth and fathers as those who co-parent with mothers; however, this is a heteronormative and cisgender-centered assumption. There are many different people who give birth who may or may not identify with the label of “mother.” In spite of this, our language for parental leave policies has remained stagnant which is a problem in and of itself. I will be dividing my conversation among “maternal” and “paternal” conceptions of leave as they are articulated by policy, but I hope that I can also offer space to challenge those conceptions and show the diversity in sets of parents that exist in the world.

Let me start with explaining what paid paternity and maternity leave is and what our policies are here in the United States. Paid paternity and maternity leave is when new parents have access to a select amount of paid time off after having children. Obviously, the time given off for new mothers or those who give birth fluctuates based on their employment and which state they live. On average, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), maternity leave can ensure up to 12 unpaid weeks off. In the United States, we currently do not have any policies in place to give mothers paid time off or fathers any time off, paid or unpaid. This discourages new parents from taking any time off work after having a child. Having only the mother stay at home with the new-born child perpetuates the stereotype that the father is the breadwinner of the family (this is further complicated when we think about lesbian and gay couples raising children). Mothers might only take a limited period of time off, they might take off and then stay home for a while and rejoin the workforce, but regardless there are usually consequences to any time off they take. Women in the workforce also face pregnancy discrimination, which results in being fired, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to being pregnant or intending to become pregnant.

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To give some context to how this is related to eliminating the wage gap, experts argue that the wage gap is not only due to women getting paid less on the dollar than men, but because of the “motherhood penalty.” This penalty is the effect of the time women take off from their work after having children and the negative impact it has on their ability to get promotions, get raises, or gain more years of professional experience. While there are plenty of women that go back to work soon after they have children, women are often still the ones who engage in childcare work or unpaid domestic labor while still doing professional work, known as the “second-shift.”  

For an issue as complex as this one seems, it actually is not too hard to see how gender norms are deeply ingrained in us growing up and how the policies then reflect that. For example, growing up I am sure you were relegated to play with certain types of toys based on your assigned gender. For me, that meant playing the stay-at-home mom with the very realistic baby doll I had, being gifted an ironing board playset, and spending my free time pretending to be an elementary school teacher. Clearly, all these toys and pretend games had a theme; they were all things I had seen the women in my life doing. They were tasks that involved staying in the home, taking up childcare responsibilities, and embodying the caring and nurturing traits that women were expected to hone and perfect.  In contrast, my brother had a range of different Superman, Batman, and Spiderman costumes he would dress-up with alongside a collection of hot-wheels race cars. Now, if we think about the gendered division of toys and play, we can understand what society expects out of us solely based on our gender.

Reflecting on this dichotomy as a 21-year-old, I cannot help but also note the irony of how I have grown into an adult woman:  the fields in which I have the most work experience are babysitting and teaching.

I use this as an example to demonstrate the harm that arises when we grow up thinking our talents, abilities, and traits are determined by our gender and the expectations that we believe we have to abide by when wanting to have a family. I’d also like to bring up the hetero-normative structure of these policies since the expectation is having a mom and dad, but the reality could be having two moms, two dads, a single parent, or two non-binary parents. Instead of the division of labor being equal and both parents being confident in their ability to stay at home and raise a child, that responsibility is socially cemented as women’s work. In doing so, men stay at their job and advance their career while moms face the consequences of their time off, and those fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus.”

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Regardless of whether the mom stays home for a bit, goes right back to work, or the parents hire a nanny, working mothers almost always engage in the second shift, something  I have seen in my countless years of babysitting. Mothers and fathers might work the same amount of hours a week but whereas a father is only expected to work and then come home, the mother makes sure dinner is made, the house is cleaned, the kids are picked up, and everyone in the family and home is in order (which often involves a heavy emotional and mental burden).

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Paid paternity leave policies would not only benefit new-fathers in hetero-sexual relationships it also benefits new fathers in non-heterosexual relationships, where both parents are fathers and in relationships where the father is the one giving birth. In Soraya Chemaly’s book, “Rage Becomes Her:The Power of Women’s Anger” she discusses how in LGBTQ relationships, parenting relationships are usually more egalitarian unless there’s a stronger butch/femme expression of gender, in which case the disparity of parental duties begins to resemble heterosexual partnerships more clearly. Giving all new parents paid leave, no matter their relationship to their partner, could result in cultural shifts that give space for all types of parents to be present in the beginning of their children’s lives.

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I was motivated to write this piece as a personal way to reflect on parental relationships that I have seen who did not divide childcare responsibilities equally and observed the unfair expectations for mothers to “do-it-all.” I wanted to tie in how that mentality hinders any progress for an equitable home and workforce.To do so, I had to look back on how my gender shaped so many aspects of my personality and how I always thought the traits of caring and nurturing just came easily for me. This realization pushes me to consider how I will raise my children in a way that rejects this gendered expectations of emotional labor, childcare, and professional work. Moving forward, my hopes are that an equitable parenting relationship is respected by my partner and my workplaces.

This gets me back to my main point. In order to create equality in the workforce and at home, policies should ensure that both mothers and fathers receive equal paid time off after having children. This would reward and motivate parents to take their time off and engage in the responsibilities of being parents. It would also mitigate the motherhood penalty and pregnancy discrimination as now both men and women would be expected to leave their place of work when they have a child. Furthermore, it would create a new generation of men that will not shy away from care-taking and embrace their abilities to be nurturing.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-daddy-track/355746/

Honoring stories/Consuming tragedy: Covering Take Back The Night as a photographer

Amelia

Amelia Meman, ’15, is the program coordinator in the Women’s Center. She has worked in the Women’s Center as an intern, a student staff member, a volunteer, a part-time coordinator, and now as a full-time staff member. Throughout this tenure, Amelia has attended every Take Back the Night (and is looking forward to attending many more).

Among the fraught ethical tensions that anyone negotiates in their lives, there is one that the Women’s Center constantly must work through:

Are we honoring stories of trauma or are we passively consuming tragedy?

This is a conflict that comes up most often when we begin planning and setting up for our sexual violence-related events. We have to ask ourselves during Take Back the Night (TBTN): is this an event that is empowering for survivors and victims? Or is it spotlighting stories that are shocking and uncomfortable for an eager audience? Are we listeners observing moments of healing or are we spectators in awe of what trauma can be?

Credit Jaedon Huie26

Now, we realize that we can’t control how participants are taking in the material we offer, but we can try like hell to build a context to our event that encourages folks to act as witnesses to a difficult and powerful process. Hence this blogpost.

Take Back the Night is an emotional and incredible event. As a staff member and an alumna, I have been to every TBTN since it was renewed in 2014, and every year, I am aware of the way the survivor speak out shifts the gravity in the room. I know there are tears and tense muscles and people holding one another–partially because I’ve been in that same position. I know that in the march that follows the speak out, I yell so so loud with this big chorus of powerful people and it is the closest I come to righteousness. The catharsis of shifting the emotional weight in my heart to my lungs and into the night air, it’s a feeling that you don’t soon forget.

That said, I’ve also been behind the camera for many of my TBTN’s and I know, as an artist, what lengths we can go to in order to get that shot that distills the moment as if the chant could echo through whatever gelatin or pixel displaying utility you’re using. Get that shot. Capture that moment. Frame it. Click. Shutter. Stop.

I get it.

But just as the Women’s Center frets about building a moment of witnessing rather than consumption, we must also ask our photographers and our artists to consider how they’re documenting this world.

As we get ready for another Take Back the Night, we meet and Jess is beleaguered: “Just please don’t be that guy running and hanging off of light posts with a camera in my face,” referring to the antics of some eager photojournalists who took the 2018 Take Back the Night march by storm. People with cameras ran in and out and through and about the march, and it led us as organizers to question whether or not this was the sort of event we wanted to organize.

Were we getting people together simply for the right Instagram grid?

Were those who were brave enough to tell their stories being minimized to the portrait of tears and traumatization?

Did these folks weaving and mending their way through the march even know what it was that brought us all together and why our voices were high with urgency?

Are we staging tragedy for people to consume? Are survivor stories a tragic movie montage–to feel things that we aren’t typically used to feeling?

There’s a responsibility here, as a narrator or a creator, to honor the folks whose stories we are trying to enliven. We teeter on that tension I spoke of earlier, between exploitation and empowerment. So as we move into another TBTN and another year of difficult publicly told truths, I hope that we can learn how to honor and respect the stories that are shared among us.

 

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Some simple questions for all of the photographers out there, looking to document things like Take Back the Night and other important movements in our world:

Why are you taking pictures?

Where are you posting them?

If you had to write a caption, what would it say?

Who are you taking a picture of? Are they in a state you would want to be captured in?

Do you understand what this event is about and the goals?

How can you ensure that your creative work builds off of organizer goals?

Did you ask to take the picture? If you didn’t, should you?

Ultimately, this issue is one of exploitative objectification versus humanizing empowerment/embodiment. Viewing real human conflict, sadness, trauma does things to us. It might help us through our own shit. It might provoke a piece of ourselves we’ve never been in touch with. Either way, let’s make sure that in our reception, we are viewing, listening, etc. from a place of equal footing, rather than from the top down. Reach out, not down to the folks who have different experiences from you, and if you plan on taking their picture–hold up your mirror first.

This year, for Take Back the Night, the Women’s Center is assigning press passes to photographers. We hope this is a way to hold artists and journalists accountable to our mission, and create a firmer understanding of the context that brings us all together. If you’re interested in acquiring a press pass, email us at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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Further reading/viewing/listening:

7 with VII: Ethics in Photojournalism, Q&A with photojournalists Ron Haviv, Maciek Nabrdalik, Stefano De Luigi, Davide Monteleone, Ashley Gilbertson, Ed Kashi and Arthur Bondar

A Thousand Stakes: Photojournalism and Exploitation, Teresa Mathew

The Colonialism of Photojournalism, Clary Estes

Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability, Stella Young at TEDxSydney 2014

What Does a Leader Look Like?

 

Briscoe

 

Briscoe Turner is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. She is a sophomore Psychology major and Writing minor and a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s  Center. 

 

Do you know whether you are an introvert or extrovert? If not, take this quiz to find out!

Myers-Briggs: Are You Extroverted Or Introverted?

Here is a more in-depth version of the personality test:

16 Personalities Test

Before taking the quiz, you probably had distinct ideas of what introversion and extroversion were and the perceptions that come along with them. Often in movies, books, and even leadership conferences, the image of a leader is painted as an extrovert with a loud, commanding voice who enjoys being the center of attention. Introverts are normally depicted as the shy outcast who is more of a follower than a leader. Right off the bat, this narrative perpetuates a misconstrued idea of the terms introvert, extrovert, and ambivert. To clear it up, here is a basic breakdown of the terms:

Introvert: Drained by social encounters and energized by solitary

Extrovert: Finds energy in interactions with others

Ambivert: Exhibits a blend of introverted and extroverted tendencies

Although introvert simply means that you need time to yourself to recharge, many introverts do happen to be shy and quiet. We are capable of navigating social situations, but often we prefer not to for extended periods of time. With that being said, every introvert is different and has varying levels of comfortability in social settings.

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As a quiet introvert myself, I have felt pressured to “come out of my shell” to the point where I would not be authentically acting as myself. I always wonder why people can’t accept me for who I am rather than trying to fit me into a fixed image of what they imagine a leader to be. For example, when I facilitate discussion groups, I welcome moments of silence because I know that silence isn’t always empty.  Some may view this as my inability to engage the group, but I see it as time for group members to take in what has been said and process their thoughts.

I simply do not fit the mold of the outspoken and energetic leader, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The way I make contributions in group settings is unique to me. I do not like small talk, and I prefer to engage in conversations when I feel that I have something important to say. I hold the belief that it’s not always about the amount you say and how loudly you can say it. Making your point louder or with more bravado does not make it more valid or persuasive. Sometimes fewer words said by a quieter presence is more impactful.

Image result for perks of being an introvertSusan McCain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, introduces the concept of the The Extrovert Ideal which describes “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” In her book, she also talks about how introverts are forced into thinking that their natural, quiet demeanor is only holding them back.

Contrary to popular belief, many introverts do not look to extroversion as an ideal that they hope to achieve during their lifetime. We due aim to grow and push ourselves out of our comfort zones from time to time, but that doesn’t have to be at the expense of the essence of who we are.

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This same issue unveils itself in the way that society has defined gender roles. Typically, men are expected to be assertive leaders, while women are expected to be quiet, submissive followers. Due to this, leadership has been associated with extroverted personalities to reflect patriarchal ideals. In reality, leadership is not a fixed concept that can be attributed to a particular gender. It is flexible and can change regardless of what gender someone identifies as.

McCain says she has “seen young women with these [introverted] styles exhorted to be louder, bolder, more uninhibited, when a more nuanced approach would have suited them better.”

If we look at some famous women, past and present, we will find many powerful women who have led revolutions or dominated their professional arenas that identify as soft-spoken introverts. For example, in Rosa Parks’s obituary, she was described as soft-spoken and sweet with radical humility and quiet fortitude. She was able to make such a powerful statement using few words.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is a self-proclaimed introvert who feels that the media paints her as an extrovert. Other examples include: Martha Minow, the Dean of Harvard Law School, who McCain describes as the “ultimate quiet leader”; founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp; and actress Emma Watson. These are just a few of the many women who have gotten where they are because they are authentic to themselves.

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A common thread among all these women is that society has made the assumption that they must be extroverted to be as successful as they are. There’s no way that someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight or is more calculated about how much they speak could hold the positions that they do.

The truth is, introversion and quietness are personality traits that are an asset. Introverts are comfortable with silence and introspection; this allows us to assess a situation and take a thoughtful approach in our response. We understand that we don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be heard because often times we command attention just by our presence. People often wonder what we have to say, and when the the time is right, we’ll let you know.

You wouldn’t force a fish out of water and expect them to swim, so why would you try to diminish defining aspects of a person’s personality and expect them to thrive? It is important to remember that there is room for both extroverted and introverted leadership styles. I would encourage people to make space for introverts, without assuming that we are fearful to speak or participate. Sometimes we simply don’t want to, but we definitely have the ability to. I would also suggest instead of trying to get us to speak louder (unless we are completely inaudible), try and listen more and be patient.

Yes, our calmer, quieter demeanor can provide a sense of ease to a room, but don’t be fooled into thinking that we do not have a fire burning inside of us to achieve our goals and help address the world’s most pressing problems. Don’t mistake our silence as passive agreement. Change is only possible through the mobilization of all different types of people, so there’s space for all personalities.

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Check Out These Resources Below:

10 Successful Women for Introverts to Look Up to

Does Feminism Make Room for Shy or Introverted Girls?

Meyer Briggs Extraversion or Introversion

 

After Pittsburgh: Hate Crimes, Gun Violence, and Toxic Masculinity

Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding writing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to read any of the numerous articles that were shared, I didn’t want to engage with the flood of posts on social media, and I didn’t want to talk. Except it’s more than not wanting to do any of those things; I felt that I couldn’t. I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because I was scared I would fall apart. I couldn’t read my friends’ posts because every time I saw them, I was hit with a pang of fear for their safety and for my own. I couldn’t afford to make this tragedy real, because doing so meant grappling with the hard questions.

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

How do we stop it from happening again and again and again?

Who’s next?

In the back of my mind, I knew that I would eventually have to face these fears and questions. I chose the Women’s Center blog as the forum to struggle with them because I recognized the capacity of the people around me to support me as I do so. That said, I don’t intend for this to merely be a personal reflection. There are larger societal factors which continue to influence the culture of violence in this country, and those need to be addressed.

 

Baseline Information

First things first, let’s look at the numbers. There is no specified definition of the term “mass shooting” nor is there a government agency that keeps track of them. This makes data collection difficult, so many activists have had to rely on media outlets or nonprofits that have taken on the task. As a result, it is easier to identify trends. Here is a really useful video explaining several of them.

Despite this gap in the data, we do know that America has more guns than any other developed country–even when adjusted for population size–and, consequently, more gun deaths. It is important to note that a very small proportion of gun deaths occur from mass shootings, even though they happen so frequently. This is because the leading cause of gun deaths is suicide, followed by homicide (which is defined separately from mass shooting). The specifics are even harder to pin down when it comes to the shooter’s identity, but there are two key trends: the first is that a majority of the shooters are white, and the second is that all but three of these shooters in the last few decades have been men.

 

Masculinity and Violence

It’s no coincidence that nearly every mass shooter has been a man; it’s a symptom of how society teaches gender. From an early age, we’re taught that men are supposed to be strong, physically aggressive, and that roughhousing is just what boys do. For example, if a boy chases a girl around the playground and pulls her hair, we say that he likes her. This dismissal of boy’s actions teaches them that violence is natural and an acceptable outlet for negative emotions. Think about the playground scenario from a different perspective: what I see is not a little boy expressing positive feelings about a girl, but rather him acting on the negative feeling of frustration that he can’t have her. We don’t just teach boys violence; we teach them a desire to control everything except their emotions.

When we get older, and these actions become more serious (such as sexual violence), we as a society still focus on women as victims. We do not, however, focus on men as perpetrators of this violence. As one of my friends put it, “we teach women not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.” At the Women’s Center, we recognize that sexual violence affects a multitude of people, and that there is no one way a survivor should look; however, this is still a heavily gendered issue, and much of that has to do with patriarchy. With this in mind, we need to consider how we as a society teach and reinforce masculinity. Arguments like “men can’t help themselves” and “boys will be boys” are endemic of both toxic masculinity and rape culture–which often reinforce one another.

Within this context, let’s return to the issue of mass violence. A key piece of the conversation that often gets left out in the media is the history of the perpetrator. For white shooters in particular, people are quick to search their past for mental illness or redeeming qualities, but they often gloss over a common thread, which is a history of commiting domestic violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), and/or sexual violence. For example, it came out that the man who killed over 50 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in October 2017 had abused his ex-girlfriend when they were together. Closer to home, the boy who shot and killed a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County had expressed anger that she had rejected his unwanted advances

Conceptually, this link makes sense. Much of these acts come not from a place of desire, but a place of needing to have power. We teach men that to be masculine means having control and authority over others, so many men view these violent acts as a means of maintaining control over their partners. It’s horrible, but when we don’t teach men a socially acceptable way of expressing negative emotions (and tell them that to be emasculated is to lose status in society) they often turn to violence. Furthermore, if a man views his partner as an object to be controlled, it’s unsurprising that he could view groups of people he’s prejudiced against or feels have wronged him the same way.

Moreover, we continue to normalize and stoke this misogynistic anger in online communities and forums where many men who feel entitled to have a sexual partner, and cheated that they do not, blame women for their problems and often celebrate men who hurt women. In fact, several of these men have used guns against women they do not know, and explicitly stated this misogynistic reasoning. It’s important to be mindful of the way we interpret the numbers here. Because mass shootings make up such a small portion of the gun violence in America, there are very few abusers that actually go on to commit those atrocities. On the flip side, many mass shooters have a history of violence, and it is necessary to understand that correlation. Their possession of assault weapons only makes their acts of violence all the more deadly.

 

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

Hate crimes have been on the rise over the last few years, across lots of different marginalized groups. An FBI report indicates that overall hate crimes have increased by 17% and that anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 37%. Based on data collected by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Semitic hate crimes comprise about 11% of hate crimes overall, and 58% of hate crimes against religious groups. For comparison, Jewish people make up about 2% of the United States population, and 0.2% of the world’s population. So why are we so targeted?

It would take an entirely separate post to delineate the long history of violence and persecution against the Jewish people, but it is practically as old as the religion itself. Even in modern history, there are countless examples of anti-Semitic violence, many of which have been forgotten (this article lists just a few over the last hundred years). Many people who commit these acts are fueled by hateful rhetoric they see online.

Most of this anti-Semitic rhetoric stems from ancient stereotypes that still persist today. From Shakespearean villains to old movies to today’s political campaigns, anti-Semitic tropes have a long and ugly history. Samantha Bee did an amazing job of explaining that history and how it’s connected to today’s politics in a segment on her show. Essentially, the use of dog-whistle politics is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but its implications and allusions to deep-rooted stereotypes are like a language that sends a clear signal to those who already speak it.

 

Where do we go from here?

I really wish that I could conclude this piece on a positive note. I wish I could point to some positive trends that indicate understanding and acceptance are on the rise, while fear and violence are fading away. I wish I could, but I have nothing to point to. Instead, as I finish writing this blog, I get an email notification from the UMBC Police Department alerting the community of yet another display of anti-Semitism on this campus.

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I’m tired of this. I’m tired of anti-Semitism being dismissed in progressive movements that advocate for diversity and acceptance. I’m tired of Nazis being referred to as “very fine people” and of free speech being used to defend them. I’m tired of centrists trying to hear “both sides of the story,” as though hate should be treated as a valid political ideology. I’m tired of social media executives bending over backwards to promote community guidelines, but doing nothing about literal neo-Nazis using their platforms. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’ve heard too many Holocaust jokes, had too many stereotypes hurled in my face, and seen too many concerns about anti-Semitism get brushed aside.

I don’t want to see any more swastikas drawn on bathroom walls. I don’t want to be scared for my safety when I go to see one of my favorite shows, and I don’t want to see people–especially people on this campus–use anti-Semitism as the punchline of a joke. Jewish people cannot and should not be the only ones fighting this bigotry. We need people who aren’t Jewish to step up and show some support. Find organizations that combat anti-Semitism, educate yourself on Jewish history and culture, and confront this hatred when you see it. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, but we can’t take any more of your silence.

 

Sources/Further Reading

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stephen-paddock-las-vegas-domestic-violence-fantasy-boston-bomber-orlando-shooting-a7993186.html

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/07/556405489/the-relationship-between-domestic-violence-and-mass-shootings

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/searching-for-motives-in-mass-shootings

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/oct/06/newsweek/are-white-males-responsible-more-mass-shootings-an/

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/majority-of-mass-shootings-carried-out-by-white-men/article_8b8b0145-c512-525a-8a7d-256bfb3a959f.html

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a23088401/domestic-violence-coercive-control/

Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

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At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**

So I Hear You Care?

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about the work that creates empathy.

As a social work major, I spend a lot of time thinking about empathy. Social work is a profession centered around the idea of empathy when working with individuals in need. Social workers are encouraged to find the strengths of a person and empower them to use them, while being understanding of their life experiences and point of view.

The concept of empathy is often gendered as a feminine trait, and perhaps that’s why the field is dominated by women. According to Wendy Chin-Taner, a writer for Cultural Weekly, “Empathy hinges on emotional labor. To have empathy, we have to be able to practice active listening, be reflexive, self-critical, and be able to act on constructive criticism. In our culture, women are more readily expected to practice these skills and are socialized to do more emotional labor, which is why intersectional feminism is at the forefront of social justice allyship.”

Personally, I agree with Wendy, I believe that the amount of women in social work has to do with the history of women being socialized and encouraged to be the caregivers and show intense emotions, like empathy. There have been countless passionate and driven women throughout the history of civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice movements. What sets apart these women, though, is their use of radical empathy, a topic I’ll discuss later.

Empathy & Emotional Labor

According to Suzannah Weiss from Everyday Feminism emotional labor is defined as theexertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations.” While, social workers are not the only ones that have to use emotional labor in their profession, they do understand the drain that comes from emotional labor and it is discussed frequently in classes and professional development.

As someone who works in the food industry, I know the necessity there is for servers or those working in retail need to have extreme control over their emotions when working with guests, in order to make sure the guest feel welcomed and taken care of during their time at the restaurant especially when they have a concern or complaint. Having empathy for another person (especially during a busy night at a restaurant!) can be challenging because you have to connect with someone else’s feelings and experiences, causing yourself  to have deeper understanding of your own feelings. It’s important to note that societal and gendered expectations often place a greater burden on women to do the work of emotional labor. As FEM author, Anya Bayerle states, Women are also frequently expected to appear empathetic and concerned for others while simultaneously suppressing any emotion that could be used to dismiss them as irrational or hormonal.” Often the emotional labor I practice at work is not just an industry survival skill but one that is expected of me because of my gender.

But, I want to move beyond just expectations and that’s what brings me to radical empathy.

Radical Empathy

While emotional labor is something that people often already have experience with, managing emotions in a classroom, workplace, or family setting; a newer concept is radical empathy. The first time I heard about “radical empathy,” I was confused, and oh so curious.

In recent years, I have lived my life following one tweet… yes you read that right. A tweet! I know what you are thinking… “but Sheila you don’t even have a Twitter!” ( it’s a confusing story about tumblr and screenshots, that’s not the point).

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This tweet, by this person I don’t know, changed my life.  “Don’t become who hurt you.” Based on some of my personal experience, I would have liked to become a hardened person, but I decided I wanted to be the person to lift up others. My hurt and pain does not need to become someone else’s trauma. It took a lot of emotional labor out of me to remember that in moments where I feel like I am being attacked or hurt personally, that the person doing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable might not be doing it knowingly harming me.

That they might be a person, just like me, who has dealt with trauma, has things about themselves they do not like, and has never had someone ask them “what is wrong?” instead of “what is wrong with you?”

Radical empathy is tough to define. At Stomping Ground, a summer camp that focuses on radical empathy, they define it as “actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.” There are a few Ted Talks (see the links below) about what empathy is and how it impacts our ability to make connections with other human beings.

Radical empathy has had a huge impact on my life, shifted how I view the world, and how I interact with others. In the future, when I am a social worker, I believe it will allow me to better connect with my clients. It is not so much about putting yourself in the shoes of another person because you will never truly understand that person’s life. Radical empathy is more about striving to be with a person while they feel the feels, making sure that we understand our own judgement and challenging them so that we might accept everyone, actually where they are.

The real point is… Do you care?

 


Additional Resources for Learning about Radical Empathy:

Peter Laughter’s – Radical Empathy Ted Talk Video

Paul Parkin’s – Reimaging Empathy Ted Talk Video

Brene Brown’s Empathy Bear – Empathy Video