Feeling Like a Fraud

They’re going to find out I’m a fake

“It’s all just dumb luck” “Why would they choose me for the job?” “I don’t deserve this; I didn’t earn this. This has to be a mistake!” “God, if they only knew … “ These are some of the things that have gone through our minds after getting a job, achieving a goal, being praised for a job well done, or even just being complimented on a nice outfit.  No matter how talented we are, no matter how hard we worked to get there, there’s a part of us that feel undeserving. What’s more, it’s not just an evil voice that whisper these ugly things in our heads, but a feeling. A sick feeling in the pit of our gut that just won’t go away, despite our achievements. No, it’s not just you. I’ve been there, too. Yes, there is a term for it: imposter syndrome.

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Scientific American imposter syndrome is “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” In other words, you feel like you’re a phony, you’re constantly doubting and second-guessing yourself, and think everything you do is a sham. You are unable to accept your accomplishment, let alone enjoy it.

The term, imposter phenomenon, was first used by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978 to describe the feeling often felt by high-functioning women who felt their accomplishments were more from luck than their own hard work and ability. These women felt as if they were fakes, that they would be revealed as frauds.

When first “discovered,” health professionals thought this syndrome affected predominantly women, but now, after much research, they have found it affects men and women equally. It affects people of all genders who are high functioning and high achieving. Now, having said that,  women also deal with pronounced sexism plus internalized sexism which makes this an important topic for us to dig into here on the Women’s Center blog.

Why are women more susceptible to imposter syndrome than men? Perhaps it’s the conditioning of countless generations of women to be “modest,” to be “humble,” to be the caretakers and caregivers and to melt into the background while allowing the men to stand in front, to take charge, to shine. Perhaps it’s the millenia or more of telling our daughters and sisters and nieces that boys are “smarter than girls,” that we are “less than” our male counter parts, that we weren’t meant to be their equals. In Kate Bahn’s piece Faking It: Women, Academia, and Imposter Syndrome she writes: “a recent survey of undergraduates at Boston College, which showed that female students finished college with lower self-esteem than they started with. Male students, on the other hand, graduated with greater self-confidence (albeit lower GPAs) than their female peers.” No matter how much education we acquire, no matter how much more qualified we become, the feeling of inadequacy never leaves, instead, it just gets stronger.

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Famous people who struggle with imposter syndrome

Here is a quote by Maya Angelou from the website theHUSTLE. Would you think she struggled with imposter syndrome?

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

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Michelle Pfeiffer (multiple nominee for Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, successful actor, producer), Chris Martin (lead singer of the popular band Cold Play, song writer, producer), Sheryl Sandburg (COO of Facebook, former vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, named one of 2012 Time 100 most influential people, wife, mother) … the list goes on. What’s the one thing they all have in common? They all feel they’ve been putting on an act, that they are frauds, none of their accolades are earned.

How do you handle imposter syndrome?

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There’s power in naming so now that you know about imposter syndrome, how can you fix it? Well, there aren’t any magic pills that will make imposter syndrome go away. No genie in a bottle and a wish or o magic wand to wave over yourself. In other words there are no easy fixes that will make you feel gloriously confident and deserving of it all. There are, however, ways of coping and overcoming the relentless, self-damaging, at times, debilitating taunts.

There are the usual go-to tips: meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, healthy eating and lifestyle, and of course, that elusive ingredient, sleep. Yes, in a perfect world this would solve the problem, but for most of us stress and lack of sleep is the norm, so here are some other tips on how to manage your imposter syndrome. 

  1.  Don’t sell yourself short. The website Personal Excellence states: “Maybe you feel like a fraud because you don’t think you have anything good to offer … know that whatever place you are at in life now, you are here because you are ready for it.” Know that your being who you are is what’s going to give this job the uniqueness that only you can bring to the position. You are the only apple in a sea of oranges.  Or the only orange in the sea of apples.  Or the kiwi … or the grapes …  you get the picture.
  2. “Stop comparing yourself to that person”. As I’ve stated in #1 you are unique. Your accomplishments are unique. Thinking your way is not as good as someone else’s is not only self-sabotaging, it’s futile. You are different people, therefore, your way of doing things are different. You are not them; they are not you. End of story.
  3. Allow yourself to make mistakes. We don’t learn from our successes, we learn from our mistakes. Being wrong, making mistakes, is not a waste of time, merely lessons learned. Get upset, get angry, then get back up and use those lessons. Only you can turn the “wrongs” into valuable “rights”.

 

Self-doubt, anxiety, panic, fear, stress …    

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 Everyone has moments of self-doubt and anxiety. We are juggling school, work, for some, family, and many more issues daily. The world is full of things that bring on stress and anxiety, every minute, every hour, every day. The Women’s Center at UMBC is one of the places you can come and share with other women who are struggling with similar issues, experiences, and solutions and options with each other. If you feel you need to speak to someone on a one-on-one basis the professional staff members along with our student staff members, and those who utilize the Center regularly. Know that there are people who understand when you say “I don’t deserve this” or “It was a mistake” or “I’m a fake.” We are journeying, experiencing, and dealing with this very common issue. Please, don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through, even if it’s just with a pen on a sheet of paper. And if it’s keeping you from functioning in your daily life, please, seek counseling. We at the Women’s Center will help connect you with the resources you may need. Know that you are not alone in struggling with imposter syndrome. We are here to listen, and we will help any way we can.

 

Even More Resources:

From AAUW’s Being a Woman in STEM Isn’t Easy

Check out Feminist Fight Club from the Women’s Center library

From Everyday Feminism – a way to tackle imposter syndrome with an intersectional lens

 

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The Danger of Not Being Like “Other Girls”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A chart dictating some examples of gender stereotypes

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

Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

Reflections

 

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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.

 

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Three years ago, my life changed drastically.  Three years ago this week, I became a mother. Besides the birth of my second daughter (almost 15 months later), this was my single most amazing accomplishment of my entire life.  Around the same time, almost exactly three years ago, I made the decision to take charge of my life. I decided to go back to school to finish my undergraduate degree. I was determined to be someone, to make something out of my life and returning to school was how I wanted to do that.  I was set on becoming the kind of mother that my children could look up to, the kind of person that they would want to emulate.kiddos

When I decided to return to school, I had a plan.  Not only did I have a plan, but I had a partner, and someone who was willing to share the financial responsibility of being a single income family for a period of time.  I was nervous, but I was ready. However, as soon as my plan started to come into fruition, everything started falling apart. I found myself suddenly: jobless, partner-less, a newly pregnant single mother taking 19 credit hours, and moving back into my parents’ home.  This was not the way that I had envisioned my return to college to be.

I tell you this, not for pity, but to show you how a little bit of hard work, “true grit,” and determination go a long way.  I came onto this UMBC campus eager to learn, and even more eager to graduate.  What I found was, that in between the learning and the pursuit of graduation, I found a lot of “greatness” in between.  (add image) I remember clear as day, where I was, (Dr. O’s Human Behavior class), and who I was talking to (Erin), when I first found out about the magical place on campus that would alter my college experience- The Women’s Center.  I was told about a program that I had never heard of, called the Returning Women Students Scholars and Affiliates Program.  Erin was currently a member of the program, and she persuaded me to look into the scholarship that is offered to “non-traditional students over the age of 25” and to check out the Women’s Center.  I didn’t think much of this conversation at the time, but looking back now, I am eternally grateful to Erin for this nudge in the right direction.  Not only did this amazing program help me out financially, it helped to secure a place on campus where I finally felt like I belonged.IMG_4322

Finding the Women’s Center on campus was somewhat comparable (to me) as finding a hidden treasure chest.  Because that’s kind of what it is really like. (When you go visit the Center yourself, you’ll know what I am talking about)  Are you interested in Critical Social Justice?!?  Well, there’s an entire week devoted to it.  Discussion-based programs? Yup, they’ve got those too.  Then there is Take Back the Night, which always serves to unite the campus of UMBC together to support the survivors of sexual violence and to protest sexual misconduct of any shape or form.  This semester, there are even Pop Culture Pop Up’s to address current issues that are prevalent “today.”

The idea of having an available Women’s Center here on campus got me thinking about the importance of Women’s Centers on college campuses and why they really matter.  I spent a little bit of time reading up on the start of campus-based women’s centers in general (the first campus-based center was founded at the University of Minnesota in 1960) and the undeniable need for a place to support and empower women in higher education.  I read about how in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, women began to re-enter into the field of academe. However, at this time, there were no departments or offices that were solely dedicated to women students, and many needs of this population were being unmet. The beginning women centers that were established to promote and support the re-entry of women back into higher education, while at the same time allowed for women to find “like minded others and build a radical, forward-looking community that worked for women’s equity (Devi, 2015).

Additionally, women’s centers were spaces that were open and available to all students, not just a fraction of the campus.  This allowed and encouraged participation in these spaces to encompass a broader range of people that collectively share the same ideals, beliefs, and values.  The founding centers focused primarily on raising and examining new questions about women’s lives, roles and expectations; helped to grow and develop feminist consciousness, aimed at combating isolation, and developed a sense of community.Credit Jaedon Huie25

What I found to be a common theme within women’s centers that I was able to research, was the shared common denominator of alternative resources and programming that are readily available and are not necessarily found anywhere else on campus.  Information on such topics such as: pamphlets and newsletters about rape crisis intervention; self-defense; coming-out information; lesbian support groups; women of color coalitions; contraceptive options for women; healthcare; feminist and lesbian literature; women’s music; alternative scholarship programming; feminist mythology; and other progressive and unconventional ideas were on display or easily accessible in each center.  These spaces also promote expect respectful interactions and conversations between all those who choose to participate in either discussions, or in the spaces in general.

Since the creation of the first women’s center in the 1960s, the evolution of these centers has continued to evolve around the issues  of women and gender and to address discrimination and dismantle sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic organizational structures.  Centers have been able to accomplish these issues by the continuing evolution of programming that includes tackling large scale issues, such as Title IX, salary equity, reproductive rights, violence against women, and issues of equity, diversity and intersectionality within the campus community as well as looking at society as a whole.belonging

At the Women’s Center at UMBC, there is always something going on.  More importantly, there is always someone in the Women’s Center.  This small, but cozy, space houses some of the most intellectual conversations, stimulating interactions, learning experiences, and belly laughs that cannot be compared to. The space itself welcomes and promotes all aspects of campus life and “real life” that a women’s center was designed to encompass.  The staff is beyond friendly and approachable (I may be a bit biased), and the atmosphere is beyond welcoming. I highly recommend stopping by to say hi, to grab some coffee, or to meet a new friend. Why not, take a chance! That’s what I did, and I walked away with friendships, something that connected me to campus that I had never felt before, and experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

When I look back at my time spent at UMBC, I am certainly going to remember the superior education that I received.  I truly believe that I will excel and flourish as a social worker because of the exceptional professors who guided me through the program.  I will also be able to stand up and fight to empower the women and mothers that I encounter with the knowledge that I have gained through the immeasurable teachings from the professors in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.  But what I am going to remember and miss the most, is the place that I call home on campus, and the family that came along with it.

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Makeup Microaggressions: Let Me Wear My Full-Face Makeup in Peace

Samiksha Manjani Student staff member, Samiksha Manjani, takes a deeper look at the impact of makeup microaggressions.

I normally hate getting ready to go out with girls; or well, I hate putting on my makeup in front of other girls. Instead, I’ll put it on in my own house and then go to my friend’s house to “get ready” aka just to put on a dress. I started to do this after having the same interaction time after time with various friends. It goes something like this:

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Me standing in front of the mirror, happily doing my sparkly silver smokey eye, tongue out (because you can never put mascara on with a closed mouth).

“Wow! your eyeshadow looks amazing!”

“Thank you!! I really like smokey eyeshadow looks.” At this point, I’m feeling super awesome about how I’m looking and my makeup when…

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know how to put on makeup. I just do whatever, you know. I don’t even wear makeup,” she says dismissively.

Aaaaaand there it is.

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Her comment may seem like an honest admission of not knowing how to put on makeup, but it’s not that simple; especially when I’ve gotten similar responses from other girls. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: this “compliment” implies that she is somehow better than me because she doesn’t wear or know how to put on makeup; this insinuates that I need makeup because I’m not confident enough to go without it. Simply put, if I wear makeup, I’m not naturally attractive enough.

What makes the situation worse is that, at that moment, I can feel the need to justify myself building up. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I also know that my decision to wear or not to wear makeup doesn’t make me any more or less of a woman, but instead I say,  

“Oh, yeah I mean I don’t really know how to put on makeup either. I barely wear it…”

Knowing damn well I’m lying. I didn’t watch countless MUA (“makeup artist”) Instagram and Youtube videos to act like I didn’t know how to put on makeup. Plus, my friend had the sharpest winged eye I had ever seen. How could she say she didn’t know how to put on makeup?

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Other times, especially when I’m talking to guys about makeup, they’ll say, “Oh! I like you better without makeup” or “You look better than girls who wear makeup, I don’t like girls that cake on.”

Am I supposed to say thanks?

To be clear, I’m perfectly happy with the way I look when I wear makeup and when I don’t. I don’t think my value is somehow better or worse depending on whether I wear makeup. Likewise, I don’t think I’m suddenly better than other girls because of my decision to wear or not to wear makeup. Some days I just want to sparkle (literally)!

After having the same exact encounter time after time, and being inadvertently shamed for knowing how to do my makeup… I stopped going to get ready at my girlfriends. I stopped feeling comfortable in what was supposed to be an empowering environment.

Why couldn’t I enjoy putting on a full face some days and having a fresh face on others?

It may seem really small or that I’m being overly sensitive, but that’s exactly how microaggressions make you feel. A microaggression is a negative statement directed at a subordinated group; it can be intentional or unintentional. Although microaggressions are essentially micro, their accumulated impact can be quite large (here’s a video to better explain). At the Women’s Center, we like to refer to the impact of microaggressions as a “death by a thousand cuts.” The first time you experience a microaggression, it may not get you down too much, but after hearing either the same one or similar ones so many times, it’ll get to you.

It’s not just the microaggression itself that hurt, the hurt doubled because it was coming from other women. Women that should have been allies. I couldn’t understand,

Why were women perpetuating these unrealistic dichotomies onto each other? Why couldn’t we both be great in whatever we were doing?

I realized that these microaggressions between women were essentially internalized sexism caused by heterosexist patriarchy. Under patriarchal norms, women’s value is dependent on their attractiveness to men. As feminist theorists suggest, when women internalize heterosexist patriarchy and associate their source of worth, identity, and strength with men, they’re compelled to compete with each other for the attention of men. Essentially, we turn on each other when our value is tied to men.

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However, we don’t have succumb to it.  Maybe instead of feeling intimidated by women who inspire us, we could feel empowered by them.

I recently came upon Shine Theory at the Women’s Center and think it’s a phenomenal way to reframe female competitiveness. Created by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Shine Theory prescribes that “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.”’ Friedman and Sow contest that “surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

When we apply Shine Theory to the makeup debacle, we can acknowledge if our friend is better at something than us, but also that it doesn’t reflect a deficit in ourselves. Maybe I did know how to do a smokey eyeshadow look when my friend didn’t, and that doesn’t mean I have to use makeup to feel more attractive. Likewise, her decision to not wear makeup doesn’t mean that she is inherently more attractive, valuable, or confident than me. Wearing makeup skillfully doesn’t add or detract value from a person. It just means you wear makeup. 

So the next time you’re around a powerful woman that you perceive is rocking something better than you, befriend them instead of feeling self-conscious.

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Feminist Friendships

Program coordinator Amelia Meman reminisces about her feminist friendships and analyzes how these relationships foster empowerment and powerful networks.

This Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center was inspired by feminism’s legacy of collective action. While feminism is very much based in the personal and individual, it is also a movement built through the camaraderie, collective consciousness, compassion, and connections between people. That’s why, this March, the Women’s Center is celebrating feminist friendships. That’s also why I’m writing this blog post.

Every time I come to think about this theme, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I immediately think of the bonds I made at UMBC that have continued on. More on this later, but I’ll tell you this much: nothing brings you together, like the hot crucible of simultaneous existential crises via The Patriarchy. Our angst-ridden mental toil aside, describing a friendship as “feminist” might feel weird to some people, but I wonder what it means to those it resonates with.

For me, it’s not about the friends who encourage me to burn my bra and always validate my decision to not shave–although they also do that. It’s also the friends who affirm me and remind me that I am a person with power who deserves good things in the world. My feminist friends go to rallies with me and talk Butler with me, but they also are the first to watch Neighbors 2 and they’re the best at recommending sci-fi and fantasy novels.

The personal is political… and the political is personal

I think that all of my relationships are political. This is probably by virtue of being a feminist and a philosophical thinker, but it’s also because my friends are my political allies. We are constantly thinking about the political power that comes with being women, being queer (AF), being trauma survivors, being white and/or people of color, being (dis)abled, etc. and being radically together. We’re friends who empower each other to live when so many other things in this world act to kill us. We’re constantly navigating privilege and oppression, and we get a lot of things wrong. We teach other, call each other in. We are committed to the process of constantly learning how to be better humans to one another and all of the people we interact with.

Does anything scream friendship more than this group shot of the Great British Baking Show judges?

So when I say that the personal is political, I mean that things we like to keep in private (i.e. whether or not we’re having sex, what kind of sex we’re having, birth control, abortions, survivor status, etc.) are personal experiences that are also–with feminism–political. Rather than continue to make the prudish world of vanilla, purely procreative sex comfortable, feminists talk reproductive justice, use the words “vagina,” “penis,” “vulva,” “anus,” etc. Those things that people would rather sweep under the rug? We dig those out and we burn the rug.

Just so, the political is personal. This, for me, is feminist friendship. My unity and belonging with other feminists is tied, not just to our affinity for one another as funny weirdos, but also to our political mindset. As we dance, we move toward liberation. As we laugh, we banish the silence pressed into us as women and femmes. As we eat together, we feed each other the love and power we deserve.

The political is personal, because my liberation is tied to theirs, and we both know that as we watch the latest season of The Great British Baking Show.

Shine theory

So as we move throughout Women’s History Month and think about all of our herstorical sheroes who give us life (often literally), think about those friends that are around you who make you shine brighter. Whether that’s your mom, your professor, Oprah, think about the women who inspire you.

Take a breath, and think about your best memory with that person. How did you become friends? What do you all do best together? How do you feel when you’re around each other?

Seriously take like 15 seconds to meditate on that.

Alright, now you can come back to me.

Didn’t that make you feel shiny?

In the Women’s Center, we like to talk about shine theory. Jess is the one who introduced me to this concept a while ago (see her awesome UMBC Women Who Rock series), but basically, shine theory is a lens through which we can think about friendship. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow (of Call Your Girlfriend) coined the term “shine theory” in an article on powerful women as best friends. Friedman wrote: “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

Friedman and Sow add that in its simplest form, shine theory is this: “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”

Feminist friends, to me, push you and support you so that you can shine as bright, if not brighter, than them and we all get a little better for it.

GWST-ers 4 Life

I would be remiss to not note that the thing that brought some of my best, most steady feminist friends together was our journey through the UMBC Gender and Women’s Studies Department. We were knit together through a shared affinity for feminist politics, and I know I was able to find myself through them. Not because they showed me a self I wanted to be, but because they allowed me to actually BE the person I always wanted to be.

It wasn’t all hearts and rainbows and radical self-care quotes from Audre Lorde. It was a lot of shit. We went through heartbreak together, we grieved together, we powered through classes like beleaguered Weather-people in a hurricane. In queer theory, we read Michel Foucault’s interview, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” in which he lays out this idea of queer community:

The notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a “way of life”? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the bisible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life. (p. 137-138)

Being “gay” or “queer” or, in our case, “feminists,” is not about defining who we are, but about creating a way of life that suits our needs and that is, potentially, radical. When the institution is so often your oppressor, molding new culture and ethics through friendship becomes a way of also creating new futures and pathways that the institution did not initially have open to you. For example, I don’t know where my self-confidence would be without my therapist and the power of my friends, but I know that the impacts of sexism, racism, ableism, etc. were limiting my self-confidence, and when I learned about myself as someone who was strong and capable of loosing that sort of weight, I was able to achieve more and better. I have a job, I’m pursuing my (very high) educational goals, I’m publishing this blogpost; this is all enabled through this alternative way of life that teaches me that I have power, I am power, and that my friends and I disrupt oppression.

Feminist friendship, shine theory, all that glorious glowing goodness that brought us together–it created power.

So the next time you think about your friends, your shiny people, your feminist sheroes, think about the power you all cultivate and bring forth by being your badass selves together. Think about how that power can grow with you and the friendships you share. Think about what your perfect world would look like for you and your feminist friends–and then make it. 

More resources, if you’re interested:

Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”

Dan Willey, “Gay Hair”

Gaby Dunn, “It’s A War Out There: How Queer Female Friendships Can Save Us All”

Cori Wong, “Feminist Friendship” TEDxCSU

Make feminist friends and build up your network at our Women’s History Month celebration on March 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm in the Skylight Room! RSVP via myUMBC!

 

Finding Community & Fostering It

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about why finding and fostering community is important on a college campus.

What does perfect community look like?

Let’s be honest. We might never reach anything close to perfect. But I do wonder, what can we do to continually create and build better community? Something that is always on my mind is wondering where we can find community, and what makes it feel as good as home. I remember when I first got to UMBC, settling in to my dorm, my roommate saying the bare minimum to me, and not knowing anyone who understood the culture where I came from. I felt alone. I did not know that in a few weeks, I would learn about clubs and events at Involvement Fest. During Involvement Fest, I was able to find organizations on campus and meet active student leaders. There, I was able to start to build my UMBC community. 

giphy (2)According to U.S. News, there are several reasons why being active on your college campus is important. U.S. News reports that involvement helps students to feel connected to the school, feel as though they have a community, discover their passions, and it gives them opportunities to build their resume with experiences. After all, we are all here to get a job in the future. 

These factors are all important, and students know they need them to be successful, especially first-generation college students. According to Cia Verschelden, the author of Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization, “when students belong in a place, they have, or begin to build, social capital, defined as the connections, often informal, that they need to get inside information and to gain access to resources, such as tutoring or on-campus jobs.” By having these connections, relationships, and communities, all an important part of a college experience, we have access to valuable resources. One of the biggest reasons I want to foster community is because I do not want anyone to feel alone here. No one has to experience that feeling on this campus.

On UMBC’s campus, the Women’s Center is my home. Since last semester, it has been one of the places where I have tried to foster community. The Women’s Center is that older next door neighbor who asks you to cut their grass but will teach you life lessons you can not get anywhere else… and give you snacks. The Women’s Center has fostered my self-love and a sense of belonging. I’m not sure I can thank them enough. Also, the people here help me gain a sense of community and challenge me to be a better advocate for everyone.

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The Hispanic Latino Student Union (HLSU) had their third meeting of the semester this past Wednesday. As a Hispanic student, a group that makes up 7% of the campus community, I have been going to their meetings for over a year now. HLSU is also a place where I feel at home on campus. HLSU is like being with my favorite cousins that I see during holidays. They really know how to get the fun going, and their mom always lets me sleepover. HLSU is always my reminder that there are people who share my same cultural background. With them, I can be understood.

facebook_1520368691470I joined Lambda Theta Alpha, Latin Sorority Incorporated (LTA), initially because I wanted to meet others who understand what it is like to be a first-generation Latina college student. LTA are my sisters. We fight about why no one washed the dishes, but when someone makes popcorn, we are all down for spending a Sunday watching Disney movies. With the help of this organization, I have learned how to use my voice to be a leader in the community.  

If you want to build community during your college experience here are some pro-tips!

  1. Reach out! UMBC has this handy dandy spreadsheet with the e-mail address for every member of student organizations’ executive boards. You can get in touch with the group leaders, and from my experience, most groups are always welcoming to new members and would love to hear from you.
  2. Go to those meetings. Most groups have a set time they meet (i.e. bi-weekly, monthly). Head on to myUMBC and follow them to check out the meeting times. If you can’t make it, I am sure someone will reach out and let you know when they are just hanging out.
  3. Stay in touch. I know, us younglings love our technological things. How hard is it to stay in touch? Sometimes, very. Just do your best with your busy schedule to let others group leaders know you are interested in joining in on whatever events they have planned!
  4. Follow your passions! Do something because you want to! Not because that is where your friends hang out, not because someone told you this is the spot, but because you feel passion towards it.
  5. Know when the space isn’t for you. I mean this with straight respect. Sometimes places are not the fit for you, or sometimes the space wasn’t created for someone like you in the first place. Know which spaces are for you, know which spaces are not. Respect group members enough to let them have their space and continue searching for your best fit.
  6. Be yourself! Know that when you find the right community for you, that people will care and want to be around you, your authentic self. Do not allow who you really are to hide behind who you think people want you to be because if want real strong community, you have to be willing to show yourself.

Finally, remember fostering community is work. Let me say it again. Fostering community is work! That is why all my meetings go on forever!

While, the Women’s Center, HLSU, and LTA are the places I found my community at UMBC, these spaces are not for everyone as they try to fulfill what they want from a community but there are many groups and clubs on campus. To help you get started, here is a list of over 300 clubs and organizations that are active on UMBC’s main campus.