Failing Feminism

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A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

I am not usually one to make excuses for myself. However, there is a first time for everything, and I am about to give my excuse.  I am extremely behind the times when it comes to being a feminist and knowing everything there is to know about feminism.  

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Why is this, you might be asking?  Well, I can think of two reasons.  The first is because I am old.  It is hard to keep up with the constant evolution of feminism in this day and age when you have had a preconceived notion of feminism instilled into your brain for decades.  The second reason, which directly correlates with the first, is because of the circumstances surrounding my early education.  I was (un)fortunate to attend a private, catholic school from the time that I was in kindergarten all the way up until my senior year in high school.  I was an honored member of my school’s thirteen year club.  It felt so prestigious at the time.

During my thirteen year sentence, I can vividly remember taking the ONE class that spent a nanosecond talking about reproductive health.  This class, which was mandatory, was not even offered until our junior year in high school.  We literally looked at outdated (even for back then) pictures of both the female and male anatomy.  This lasted for about the amount of time in which the nervously sweating nun, teaching our class, could utter the phrase, “Abstinence only!”  I remember vaguely learning about menstruation, but by that time it was too late, I’d already gotten my own period.  And let me tell you the amount of time we spent on contraception, birth control, or even (gasp) abortion.  Hold on, wait for it…absolutely none.  I guess there was never any thought or consideration put into the fact that half of our class was already having sex.  Or maybe the nuns  really didn’t know, or they just chose to ignore it.

I tell you all this because my catholic education was the start of my lack of education that I was given in regards to women that had any sort of affiliation with the word feminism.  Here’s what I did know about feminism back in the late 1990’s.  It basically followed this particular guideline:feministblog1

  1. Feminists hate men.
  2. Feminists are angry.
  3. Feminists are unattractive and not feminine.
  4. All feminists are lesbians.
  5. Feminists are all pro-choice.
  6. If you are a feminist, you cannot be religious.
  7. All feminists are career women and do not support stay-at-home moms.
  8. Feminists are Bra- Burners who hate sex.
  9. Feminists can only be women.
  10. Feminists don’t believe in marriage.

I’m being 100% serious…this is what I thought.  This is what my girlfriends thought.   The idea that feminists were man hating, hairy arm pitted, bull-dykes was the epitome of the picture that came to mind if or when I ever even remotely thought about feminism.  Do you hear the problem in that last sentence??  There was a period in my life where I never even thought about feminism!  Now, you are probably thinking that this Gender and Women’s Studies double major who works at the Women’s center at UMBC, (which is centered around women and their experiences, stories, and potential) has been, since the late 90s, immersing herself in feminist theory and the constant evolution of feminism.  I am here to tell you that this has not been the case. Until recently.

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I started UMBC in fall of 2014.  My intention was to get in and to get out of school.  I am 38 years old (I did it, I aged myself) and a single parent to two young, adorable children.  Going back to school was supposed to be the big catalyst that advanced my earning potential as a social worker.  It was not supposed to be this eye-opening journey down the ins and outs of a society in which there is an ever present need for the fight for equality and equity amongst genders, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, the LGBTQ community, etc.

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But that is exactly what happened!  I came here as a Social Work (SOWK) major with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST).  To be completely honest, I was required as a SOWK major to have a minor.  I thought that GWST was going to be my “easy out.”  Little did I know that it would literally change the way I thought, parented, lived, and experienced my day to day life.  I’m leaving here this coming May with a double major and a greater appreciation for the word feminism and all that it represents.  I owe it all to this school, in particular the Women’s Center and the Gender and Women’s Studies program.  

Summer session of 2015 was my first experience with GWST classes.  I took two “obligatory” online classes in order to expedite my graduation status.  The two classes seemed simple enough: Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies and Gender and Sitcoms.  I mean, how hard could it be to watch TV and write papers about the differences between Lucille Ball and Roseanne Arnold?  As for Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies??  I am a woman, duh.  That class was a “no brainer.”  Except neither of them turned out to be what I expected.

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I wanted more.  I needed to have interactions with “real” people.  Discussion boards were not enough.  I was dying to have feminist theories explained to me, (which I later regretted wishing as I was knee deep into Feminist Theory!)  I hated that I had boring gen ed requirements that I had to take because they took the place of GWST classes.  I began to LEARN what feminism meant, not only from my own personal perspective, but from a broader point of view.  

I have been so fortunate to have had some of the best teachers along the way who have challenged me, excited me, frustrated me, and really pushed me to think outside the box.  (Thank you Dr. Kate, Dr. Bhatt, and Dr. McCann…you all have changed me!!)  In addition to these amazing classes, I started meeting people who LIVED this way of life both inside and outside of the classroom.  These theories were ways of life and not just classroom rhetoric.  I learned about activism, and feminism on a global level.  I learned what feminism is, and most importantly, what feminism is not.

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AND…. I found the Women’s Center.  I found a home on this campus that incorporated everything that I was learning, and smooshed it all into a cozy center with amazing bean-bag chairs (seriously, come check them out, you won’t regret it) and a loving, safe, and colorful space.  I became part of a community that, as a non-traditional student, I struggled to fit into.  Not only that, but I could talk and ask questions about everything that I was learning  or struggling to comprehend with people who wanted to engage in this type of conversation.

Basically, what I am trying to say with all of this, is that coming to UMBC and having the engagement with the Women’s Center and the GWST program that I have been fortunate to have, has changed my perspective and my outlook on life.  I am now profoundly committed to being a better feminist on a daily basis.  I am passionate about carrying my knowledge outside of this institution and making a change in the world…or at least trying to.  I am confident in my ability to speak about feminism and am open and willing to expand my knowledge.  I am lucky to have learned what I have, even though it is considered to be “late in the game.” Feminism is an ever evolving concept, and I know that there is so much in this world that I still need to learn, and so much more that I am going to have to know how to teach…. Especially to the two little girls at home that call me “mama.”

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Fatness. Fitness. Feminism.

Sydney PhillipsA 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

Let’s hear that one more time…

 

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A reflection from student intern, Sheila, about the subtle moments of life, both good and bad. 

 

A little while ago I asked someone for their life story. This is a random thing I do whenever someone new starts working at my restaurant (#serverlife), to see if they can stay on their toes. The response I got back was that this person was only 18 years old, and that they were too young to have a life story. I proudly said, “I am not too young for anything…. Only to rent a car for a good price … and I can’t run for president.”

Someone asked why I couldn’t run for president, and if you didn’t already know, it’s because you have to be 35 years old to run for the president of the United States.

Overhearing the question, my boss turned around and started laughing. He thought I couldn’t run for president because I wasn’t born in this country. For those who don’t know, you have to be a natural born citizen of the United 

 

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My “Bro!… seriously?!” face

States to run for president. I was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland…  (aka in this country).

He laughed and asked me if that was racist.…

I said, “Kinda…”

If you didn’t know what a microaggression is, that was one.  

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”

Some people do not see microaggressions happening because it can be so subtle. These are statements/actions that we hear or see every day– but no matter how common, microaggressions still have underlying meanings attached to them.

Another Example!

“Shalia. Sheyla. Chalia. Shayla. Sheila.”

These are the ways my name has been spelled and/or pronounced over my 22 years of life.

If you know me, saying my name wrong is one of the most hurtful things you can do to me.

On my first day of class, I walked in five minutes late because I had to go to the bathroom. When I finally walked in my professor yelled out “Sanchez!” as I confusedly looked for a seat. I realized the professor was speaking to me, hoping that I was the person that missed attendance and that their class wasn’t going to be only the 12 people currently seated.

Now, back to my original point, people have called me a bunch of different things in my life but I had never gotten “Sanchez” before. I corrected my professor, as I always do with my first name, and took my seat.

It wasn’t until 2 hours into our 2 and half hour class, I realized there was no one named Sanchez in my class. There was no one else with an “S” sounding last name in the whole class, actually.

Why in the world did my professor call me Sanchez?

Why would people continue to pronounce my name wrong after me correcting them for months?

Why do people continue to tell me I am pronouncing my own name wrong?

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My reaction when some tells me I am pronouncing my own name wrong. Like… what?

Recently I have noticed when these things happen more and more often.

When I face microaggressions, I challenge them! I fight for myself! I question why people believe these things to be true of me but the real question is… why I constantly have to fight these things? Some folks will tell me not to bother, that people don’t know better and I can’t let these tiny moments in my life impact me as much as they do.

I want you to know: I hear you. I don’t want these tiny moments to hurt. But it doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have to deal with these things, I shouldn’t have to correct my professor or my boss, I shouldn’t have to waste my energy worrying about someone seeing me in a different light because of how I look. It gets tiring, sticking up for myself and challenging people.

While writing this blog, I spent my free time thinking about two moments. Knowing that these people did not intend anything negative by their words but it still filled this week with many headaches and moments of disheartening doubt. Why would anyone care what a queer latina women would have to say? Would they even believe what I wrote?

With all the personal demands I face during a week, I needed to take care of myself after thinking about why these moments in my life deeply impacted me repeatedly for the past week. This is where I talk about one of my favorite things in da world!

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Self-care!

I actually wrote another blog about it last year. If you like to read it, here is the link 🙂

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Me getting my hair did 🙂

Self-care sounds simple, it is taking time to care for yourself but often times folks have a hard time finding that time. This is very important for people who have marginalized identities, the energy it takes to live in a world that sees you as the other box is tough and annoying. Personally for me, trying to make the world a better place for me, people who share the same identities as me, and those who don’t; without any self-care makes me tired and an overall meanie.

I have been lucky enough to be in the Social Work department, were often professors remind us of self-care and work in the Women’s Center, which was one of my self-care spots on campus long before I started interning here. The Counseling Center also offers many resources to handle academic and personal stresses, as well as the Peer Health Educators from the Health Education Program at the University Health Services. The Mosaic Center has been great about supporting me after I talked about the microaggressions I faced.

If you are reading this and think you need support, please reach out. There are people reaching out to help you too.

Making myself feel awesome and unstoppable is powerful always helps me feel better.

Self-care looks different for everyone. There is no one way to do self-care.

Watching Netflix, taking a long shower, going dancing with your friends, being alone with a good book or eating those tacos you have been thinking about all week.Those tiny moments of self-care can keep you from feeling burnt out and help motivate you throughout your day.

This is how I deal with microaggressions, I take care of myself! That hour of Netflix comedies is enough for me recharge and continue to ask people, “what did you mean by that?”. *evil laugh*.

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Women are Funny, TOO or “Why do we have to keep writing these posts?”

A team effort by some of the Women’s Center staff!

So in 2015, UMBC brought Hannibal Buress to campus as our homecoming comedian. We rejoiced. We love him as Lincoln in Broad City, we appreciate his stalwart bend toward social justice, and he’s hella funny.

We were ALSO frustrated. For every UMBC Homecoming comedy event, we have invited men. Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak. Bo Burnham. Donald Glover. Lewis Black.  Hannibal Burress. All funny folk, but also male folk. And we’re not trying to pretend this is an issue isolated to UMBC. The general global representation of women in comedy is dismal. So at the time, we wrote it out and we compiled a list of awesome women in comedy with the hopes that someone at UMBC would say, “Oh wow. Sexism. It exists here, too. You know what would exemplify our campus values of inclusive excellence and commitment to diversity? A lady!”

Unfortunately, our naive hopes were dashed again this year. Trevor Noah is coming.

Don’t get us wrong, Trevor Noah is a cool dude. But he’s a cis male dude.

A dude who is critical of oppression and injustice, but also one who has a past that includes some disturbing episodes of sexism.

So again, the Women’s Center is dusting off its trusty soapbox and presents our dear readers with a humble compilation of awesome comedians who also just so happen to be women. ❤


Aparna Nancherla – Amelia’s Pick

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Maybe she’s born with it, maybe she’s born into a societal prison of impossible standards.

– Aparna Nancherla,  “Just Putting It Out There”

Aparna is a comic that has been all up in my social media feeds, podcasts, and Netflix-ing, so I decided to check her out—and now I love her and am a huge fan.

Aparna is a stand-up comedian. She recently released her debut album, “Just Putting It Out There” (the first release on Tig Notaro’s new comedy label Bentzen Ball Records), which I can’t recommend enough. Her subject matter is dry, observational stuff, but she’s also just goofy and off-kilter. She talks a lot about being a woman, a woman of color, a woman with anxiety and depression, and all of these things at once (that’s called intersectional humor, friends). At one point she describes her anxiety as a really bad, but enthusiastic improv group who keep taking suggestions from a sadistic audience—and that description is the closest anyone has ever come to defining what my anxiety is.

Aparna is a writer and performer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, has done work on Master of None and Bojack Horseman, can be heard on a whole bunch of big popular podcasts, has features in really notable papers and magazines, and has opened for numerous big names like John Oliver, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal, and Hari Kondabolu (just to name some of my favorite folks).

Her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are LI-HIT. She is very awesome, and I hope you also check out the video below.

Kristen Becker – Marie’s Pick

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In 2006, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Kristen Becker while she was performing in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a Dykes of Hazard Tour.  She has been named “One of America’s Funniest Lesbians” by CURVE magazine, and has opened for national comedy acts, and even for Ani DiFranco.

Not only is Becker hilarious, she works extremely hard as an LGBTQ activist and supporter of social justice.  While touring with her current project “Loosen the Bible Belt,” she was able to successfully complete her first “Summer of Sam” endeavor in her hometown of Providence Rhode Island.  If you have a few minutes to check out her comedy…do it..it will be worth your time!

Samantha Bee – Hannah’s Pick

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The first version of this post pointed to a gender disparity in comedy on a level greater than UMBC—there were no female late-night talk show hosts. But even though we are still writing this article, progress is being made; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee broke that glass ceiling in February 2016 with Bee as the creator, writer, executive producer, and host. Before that, she was the longest tenured correspondent for The Daily Show, and was the only woman for five years before being joined by Kristen Schaal (who is another great woman in comedy you should definitely check out).

In addition to her humor, I love the fact that she uses her platform as a woman in a male-dominated field to do good for others. In hiring writers, she and the producers set up a blind process which hid the gender, race, and experience level of the applicants. As a result, the writing staff is about 50% female and 30% non-white. Additionally, proceeds from the show’s merchandise go to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Karam Foundation, Distributing Dignity, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Hispanic Federation

Negin Farsad – Sydney’s Pick

negin20farsad20promo20photoI first came across Negin when researching many, many women for this post. I was instantly intrigued with the short clip I saw in which she made jokes about dating while being Muslim and her mother’s expectations of her as a Muslim woman. Negin considers herself a social justice comedian who uses her platform to discuss pressing issues in a way that makes them easier to talk about and get a dialogue started. She was named one of the Funniest Women of 2015 by the Huffington Post and one of the 10 Best Feminist Comedians by Paper Magazine. Due to her work in social justice through comedy she was also named a TEDFellow (watch her TED talk here), has written for major networks, published a book, and hosts a podcast. She also has a documentary, The Muslims are Coming, which follows comedians across America as they try to combat issues of Islamaphobia while facing backlash from both non-Muslims and Muslims throughout.

 

Leslie Knope (AKA Amy Poehler) – Jess’s Pick

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Okay, I know Leslie Knope isn’t a real person. Amy Poehler is the real person who makes Leslie Knope come alive on a regular basis in my living room via Parks and Rec. This show makes me laugh and rejuvenates my soul after a long work day. Leslie is also present in the Women’s Center, because she makes me giggle in my office when I’m looking for the perfect reaction gif (almost always from Parks and Rec) to send in an email.

Thank you, Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler.

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Ellen DeGeneres – Samiksha’s Pick

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I really struggled to think of female comedians when I was asked to write about them, my mind was blank. That is until I watched an episode of Ellen interviewing Michelle Obama, and it clicked. Ellen is definitely a female comedian, but sometimes we forget because she’s become so ingrained in our lives. She’s the funny best friend we’ve always wanted and the big sister that always makes us feel better when we’re down.

The Ellen show has been airing new episodes since September of 2003 and still going strong. That’s 14 years, and most of my life.  What’s great about her humor, in the words of Barack Obama, is that it “has a way of making you laugh about something, rather than at someone.” Ellen’s humor doesn’t need to put anyone down to get a laugh out of you, and trust me, she will have you laughing till you cry. After watching her show, I guarantee you will have a smile on your face as I always have.

On top of that, Ellen is a prominent humanitarian. Ellen has used her show as a major platform to do humanitarian work; she has given away more than $50 million dollars on her show to various causes. She has been involved with causes like fighting breast cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster effort, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, and for families struggling economically. It’s hard not to find something to love about Ellen!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Who are the funny women you would add to the list? Let us know by commenting on our social media pages.

 

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.

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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’s Center Student Staff 2017-2018

We are excited to introduce the new Women’s Center 2017-18 team! In no particular order . . .

Hannah Wilcove

Hannah Wilcovestudent staff/Honors College Intern (she/her)

Hi! My name is Hannah Wilcove and I’m currently a junior with a double major in Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology and a minor in Statistics. This is my first year working here at the Women’s Center and I’m super excited to become even more involved with all of the great work being done. While I love studying any and all issues pertaining to feminism and social justice, I’m most passionate about reproductive justice, representation, and increasing political participation.

When I’m not at the Women’s Center, you can probably find me doing work for various student theater groups on campus, be it in rehearsal or as an executive board member of both TheatreCOM and AF Theatre Company. If that’s not the case, then I’m probably in my bed watching Parks and Recreation and wondering how I can become Leslie Knope.

Marie Pessagno

Marie Pessagno, student staff (she/her)

Hi everyone!!  My name is Marie and I am really excited to begin my final year at UMBC and my first year as a new staff member in the Women’s Center! I am a Social Work and Women and Gender Studies double major, and hope to continue on to grad school next year at UMB School of Social Work.  I really feel like combining these particular majors will be a tremendous advantage to my professional success in the future!  I am currently a second year Returning Woman’s Scholar, a member of the Phi Alpha Honors Society, and a first year Title IV-E student.

When I am not at UMBC, I am a (happily) single mother of two little girls that are two and one.  Between taking care of them and juggling my school work and personal life, saying that I stay busy is an extreme understatement.  However, it is because of my girls that I am able to be as committed to my education as I am.  I am psyched to have more of a presence in the Women’s Center this year, and hope to be able to showcase my passion for feminism, social justice, and the LGBTQ community.

Samiksha Manjani

Samiksha Manjani, student staff (she/her)

Hi! My name is Samiksha Manjani and I am a junior here at UMBC. This is my first year 
as a Women’s Center Staff member, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to be a par
t of the community! I’m a double-major in Political Science  and Sociology, and am currently on the pre-law track. I hope to one day use my law degree to combat violence against women and children. During my time at the Women’s Center, I hope to create a diverse, empowering and safe environment for everyone.
On a side note, I love learning about people’s backgrounds, cultures, histories, and politics. I love fitness, soccer, and yoga. I’m all about self-care (i.e. art, journaling, meditation) and being positive! I love baking and cooking. I’m a crime show nut (i.e. Law & Order, Criminal Minds), and I try to keep up with the news. Feel free to stop by for a chat or to say “Hi!” to me if you see me around campus! 

Sheila Suarez

Sheila Suarez, student staff/GWST Intern (she/her)
Hey! I am Sheila! I am double majoring in Social Work and Gender and Women’s Studies with a minor in Critical Sexuality Studies, hoping to make a career out of sexual health and LGBTQ+ advocacy, with a focus on counseling. This will be my second year at UMBC but my first year at the Women’s Center as an intern, and I am super excited to be part of this great space.

I am always running around campus, I am a member of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Incorporated, as well as the president of the Multicultural Greek Council. I also work at the new UMBC Arena and Event Center.

I love talking about politics, eating anything that has raspberries, and having conversations that are filled with witty sarcastic humor. I am loud, opinionated, and like talking about feminism and sexuality in crowded spaces… and not even remotely sorry about it. If you ever see me around campus, feel free to stop me just to chat.

Sydney Phillips

Sydney Phillips, student staff (she/her)
Hi everyone! My name is Sydney and I am currently a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program here at UMBC. My research surrounds social inequality and social justice based on intersectional identities such as race, class, and gender. I am also a teaching assistant on campus for Sociology 101 and love working with students! After graduating with my Master’s, I hope to become an adjunct professor in the Sociology department and become more involved in activism and advocacy, both on campus and in local non-profits. I hope to help foster a more open and accepting community for sexual assault survivors by working on the Supporting Survivors Workshop offered through the Women’s Center. I’m excited for my skills and knowledge to grow while working on issues that I am passionate about on campus! I cannot wait to work more closely with students, faculty, and staff so don’t be afraid to come say hi!


Chloe Thomas, SUCCESS Intern (she/her)

What I am doing at the SUCCESS Program:

  • I am a 4 year student (senior!) and I go to classes everyday
  • I love coming to school and seeing my friends

What I am doing at the Women’s Center:

  • Helping out the community members
  • Helping out my coworkers

And I’m NOT a stereotype! I’m not a “dumb blonde.” I’m smart and kind!

In 2007 I was on Good Morning America for Special Olympics cheerleading.

We got a call at our gym asking us to come on and they paid for our hotel and we got fancy buses to travel to New York and we got to be on TV in front of millions of people and afterwards when we were in New York people would come up to me and ask me for my autograph.

When I played basketball, my team got 2nd and 3rd place in Special Olympics and in the awards ceremony I got the sportsmanship award for being a good captain. We got to use our high school basketball uniforms. We did really well! We played against the best teams in the championship. We kept getting 3rd not 2nd but I’m not complaining.     

I went to the Montgomery County Fair’s Got Talent and I got 5th place in it. The song I did was, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. Everyone liked the song and I got lots of people saying good job.

Amelia Meman, Special Projects Coordinator (she/her)

Hello, folks! I’ve been at the Women’s Center in some capacity since I was an intern in 2013 and now I’m here as a professional staff member–dreams do come true! I love the Women’s Center because it takes all of the cool, abstract, out there ideas in feminist theory and puts them into action, whether that’s in creating workshops for our community members or offering 1-1 support to people who need it. I graduated from UMBC in 2015 with my B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies and a minor in Writing, and have been eager to go full throttle into social justice and feminist work ever since. I’m currently pursuing my Masters of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

On a more personal note, I am the funniest feminist killjoy you’ll ever meet! I’m really proud to identify as a queer woman of color and I am eager to continue really testing the ways we can think about activism and pedagogy through a critical social justice lens. I love art and design, music, pop culture, and comics. My love language is gift-giving, and I’m a ~pisces~. Looking forward to meeting y’all in the Women’s Center!

Melissa Smith, Coordinator (she/her)

Hey hey hey! I am a new Coordinator at the Women’s Center. I am a UMBC graduate student pursuing a masters in Instructional Systems Development. I hope to use my degree to consult with schools and provide innovative social justice and arts integration curriculum. Over the past few years, I have worked with the UMBC Women’s Center in a number of ways, facilitating Between Women discussions, working alongside other speakers for the Telling Our Stories workshops, and as a performer at B’More Proud. For me, brave spaces like the women’s center help to create opportunities where our differences can be celebrated and communicated. Working here will make me an even better educator!

When I am not studying or in the Women’s Center, I enjoy cooking, walking around Baltimore neighborhoods, traveling, and performing my music. I use my music to give visibility to stories for folks like me; queer, black, weird, and everything in between.  I am so excited to work with the awesome WC staff and to meet the students that come in to hangout.


jessJess Myers, Director (she/her)

If you’ve gotten to me on this blog post and you’ve read all the cool bios above, you must be thinking, “Jess has the coolest job ever” – and I do! I’ve been working at UMBC in the Women’s Center since January 2011 and I couldn’t be more happier to work every day in what has always, and still is, a dream job for me. I love being able to live out my personal values centered in feminism, anti-racism, and social justice through my job as director in the Women’s Center. I approach my work from my collegiate background in social work and identify as a student affairs professional, and as an introvert (INFJ!!), I thrive on building personal and authentic relationships with students and colleagues. I love being silly. I relish in the opportunity to use Leslie Knope gifs as a mode of communication. I recommit to social justice and feminist values each day and deserve medals for my fierceness in spin class (I’m also secretly, not so secretly, pretty competitive). I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., Kingston, Jamaica, and Fort Collins, Colorado and Baltimore is my hometown and my forever home. I’m looking forward to another great year in the Women’s Center and can’t wait to co-create it with you!

 

 

To my feminist mentor, Megan Tagle Adams

A reflection by Amelia Meman on her feminist mentoring relationship with Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams.

Megan and I in the NWSA photobooth.

Megan (right) and I in the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) photobooth.

With Megan’s departure from UMBC (today!), I feel the Women’s Center is saying goodbye to a real social justice champion on our campus. Someone who was constantly striving for excellence in our institution. More than this, though, I feel I am saying goodbye to someone who has taught me what feminist mentorship—in its best iteration—can be.

Traditional models of mentorship are often paternalistic and hierarchical. Relationships are based on a transactional relationship between a mentor–older, more experienced in a particular professional setting, more “successful”—and their mentee—a younger novice looking for their niche, to expand their professional network, and to build on their skills. Continue reading