To the Food Police in My Life

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major graduating in May 2019.  

 

 

Eating around other people has become the bane of my existence. I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten in peace without the “food police” (family, friends, strangers, etc) hitting me with a microaggression about my food choices. Receiving these microaggressions day in and day out has made the simple task of eating daunting and anxiety-ridden.

Here are just SOME of the scenarios that I have been in:

Whenever I order a salad: “What, are you on a diet?”

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Family members when they see me eating only a salad.

Whenever I order anything other than a salad: “Do you really need that?”

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What these situations demonstrate is that it doesn’t actually matter what I’m eating when I get these microaggressions. In fact, it demonstrates that food policing has nothing to do with the food itself. Food policing is really about policing women’s bodies, sizeism, and buying into the economics of diet culture.

Policing Women’s Bodies: The Feminine Ideal

Our patriarchal society begins policing women’s bodies in early childhood. Women are taught from an early age that our appearances define our sense of worth in society, and that thinness directly correlates to value. Furthermore, because we live in a heterosexist world, we’re taught that the judges of our appearances are essentially men. Thus, we’re indoctrinated early on to strive towards a beauty standard that is both largely rooted in the male gaze and is entirely unattainable. This message is constantly reinforced by the institutions in our lives: from schools, the media, and even from our own families sometimes. We’re constantly told that we should pay attention to our appearances and maintain the right body size. But what exactly encompasses this beauty standard regarding body size?

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Historically, the American beauty standard favored plumper bodiesPrior to the mid-20th century, robust bodies were considered to be the feminine ideal. Larger body size was considered indicative of fertility and wealth. Famous beauty icons even into the 20th century, like Marilyn Monroe, were heavy set. Advertisements at the time sold products meant to help women gain weight, not lose weight (seems almost impossible to imagine, I know). Full stomachs, thick thighs, and fat (in the “right” places) were considered healthy & desirable.

Since the mid-20th century, we’ve seen a shift in the beauty ideal from larger bodies to thinner bodies. By the 1960s, the feminine ideal was slender and wispy. In just 10 years, the ideal body size shifted immensely from women with bodies like Marilyn Monroe to bodies like Twiggy. This trend of willowy and thin bodies (like that of Kate Moss) continued to be the feminine ideal throughout the 90s.

Today, the ideal body size still favors thin bodies. American society idealizes an hourglass figure with measurements of about 36-26-36 inch measurements (bust-waist-hips). As you can see, the waist measurement is significantly smaller than the chest and hip measurements.

The current beauty standard presents American women with a conundrum (in the way unrealistic beauty standards always do). As the measurements listed above and current beauty icons such as the Kardashians demonstrate, the ideal body is simultaneously curvy and thin at the same time. While heavy-set busts and hips are considered ideal, so are small waists, thin arms and slender legs. The ideal weight for American women is around 128 pounds, yet the average weight for American women aged 20+ is 168.5 pounds.

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The Kardashians

Sizeism

This beauty standard has real-life consequences for American women. This is because we have associated body size with women’s sense of worth in American society; such that those who are closer to the beauty standard, have higher social value in our society. Therefore, women who have or are close to this ideal body size are considered more worthy. We associate positive values with women who meet the ideal body size.

This phenomenon is called thin privilege. Thin privilege means that individuals who move through the world in a thin body are granted certain advantages and immunities over people who are not thin. What’s important to remember is that it doesn’t matter whether you actually “feel thin” or not to have thin privilege. If other people perceive you as thin, then you maintain an advantage.

On the other hand, women who do not meet this ideal body size and are larger often deal with sizeism. Sizeism is the prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s size (aka: “body shaming,” “fat shaming”). Sizeism is rooted in fatphobia, which is the fear and dislike of obese people and/or obesity.

Sizeism can have severe consequences: one consequence is fat discrimination such as verbal and physical aggression, increased scrutiny of eating habits and extreme pressure to go on dangerous diets, increased health insurance premiums, being provided inferior medical care or being denied certain medical procedures, and/or being judged as “lazy,” “stupid,” and/or “weak.”

Fundamental to our sizeist culture is the notion that being overweight or obese is the result of diminished morality; being heavy is seen as the embodiment of gluttony, sloth, etc. Additionally, because of the deep-rooted belief in self-reliance in American culture, body size is regarded as completely under the control of the individual. Therefore, being heavy or obese is considered to be caused by destructive individual behavior. Ironically, however, we often engage in destructive individual behavior because of the constant and toxic societal pressure to be unattainably thin (e.g. skipping meals). 

Here is an advertisement that a shampoo company ran which I think perfectly exemplifies the attainability of the ideal body:

Your breasts may be too big, too saggy, too pert, too flat, too full, too far apart, too close together, too A cup, too lopsided, too jiggly, too pale, too padded, too pointy, too pendulous or just two mosquito bites. But with Dep styling products, at least you can have your hair the way you want it. Make the most of what you’ve got.”

As this ad demonstrates, no matter how you look, even if you’re the closest to the ideal body size, it’s still not enough. Despite this, we still strive incredibly as a society to meet a body size that for many of us is simply not possible. Why?

Diet Culture

pasted image 0 (12)One of the main driving forces of this unrealistic female body ideal is the diet industry. The diet industry is worth $66.3 billion; selling everything and anything from diet pills to meal plans to member-based fitness clubs.

The diet industry’s primary target? Women. The diet industry, for all the good it may or may not do, profits off of women feeling insecure about their bodies.

Many of the products being peddled can contain harmful ingredients. These products are often advertised by famous artists and celebrity influencers. For-example, many celebrities have endorsed the newest trend in diet products: diet teas. Many diet teas contain senna, which has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as a laxative. Although senna can be helpful to combat occasional constipation, the FDA has warned that prolonged use (like in a diet tea) could cause liver, kidney, and colon problems. Despite this, many celebrity influencers still promote diet teas. 

The pervasiveness of diet culture makes it nearly impossible to “just ignore it.” As a result, eradicating it is bound to be a long and difficult process. Truthfully, it would probably require an overhaul of the entire system, but through certain steps, we can begin to diminish its effects.

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pasted image 0 (13)One way is to actively support and be a proponent of body diversity. The body diversity or body positive movement is the acceptance of all human body types. It is rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others. It also understands that body size is not the same thing as health.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “bikini bodies.” You may have also at some point fretted over the idea of wearing a bathing suit to the pool or beach (lord knows I have).  The diet industry would have you believe that, in order to have a good bikini body, you must go on a diet in order to be the right size in the right areas. With a body positivity lens, we would say that ALL bodies are bikini bodies if there’s a bikini on your body!

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Continuing to raise awareness and celebrate body diversity is essential to disrupting the diet industry. There are so many people already doing this amazing work:  

  • Sonalee Rashatwar, a social worker and an activist sex therapist based in Philadelphia, works with clients to raise self-esteem regarding body image.
  • Tess Holiday is a plus-sized model who continues to challenge the fashion industry on body size.
  • Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga instructor based in Durham, North Carolina who uses yoga to encourage body positivity in her students.
  • Last, but not least, Imogen Fox gives us a very raw, often vulnerable, and eye-opening glimpse of what it means to be body positive as a disabled person, challenging our perceptions of disabilities.

Not only should individuals adopt a body positivity outlook, companies should also do so through cause marketing. Cause marketing refers to marketing strategies that promote a social cause instead of a product. This can be especially potent when the cause is relevant for the brand and has meaning for the brand’s customers. Perfect examples of cause marketing include Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign or American Eagle’s Inclusive Aerie Real lingerie line. When cause marketing is successful, companies are able to expand their customer-base and increase sales. Since American Eagle adopted its Aerie Real campaign, it has continuously reported growths in their profits.

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In fact, we can see how refusing to adopt a body positivity lens can hurt a company. Victoria’s Secret is an extremely famous lingerie brand and has been known for its famous Victoria’s Secret Fashion show. However, it is also known for its severely limited sizing range. The company has overtly declined to be inclusive; most recently, its execs declared that they aren’t willing to hire Trans or Plus-Size Models in their VS Fashion Show because, in their own words, “the show is a fantasy. ” (*rolls eyes*).

In the last few years, Victoria’s Secret has consistently reported that its sales have been in decline. Understandably so, considering that new brands supporting body diversity are popping up: lingerie brands like Savage X Fenty, Torrid, Universal Standard, and more. Additionally, when beauty conglomerates like Dove openly adopt a body diversity message and increase their already high sales, there really is no way for Victoria’s Secret to keep up. As these companies demonstrate, adopting a body positivity campaign can only help increase profits and visibility.

Adopting a body diversity outlook could only help us, not hurt us. If my food popo adopted a body positive mindset, they’d understand that I know what’s best for me, my body, and my health. They’d also understand that my body size is not the same as my health. Ultimately, sizeism and unattainable beauty standards only exist to point out the obvious: we are all unique, different people; beautiful in our own ways.

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B-I-N-G-O spells SCOUT…with the Women’s Center

Last semester we launched everybody’s fave, the Women’s Center Scouts! And it was really, really popular.

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Like really popular and if you missed out you’re probably feeling a little sad right now. Well, don’t be because we’re rolling out the Women’s Center Scouts Spring Challenge!

BINGO!!!!

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We still have the Women’s Center Scouts, but this semester it’ll be a little different. If you haven’t already, start by joining the Women’s Center myUMBC page and following at least one of our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). If you’re already a member and following one of our pages, great! You’re one step closer.

Now, instead of completing three different Women’s Center events throughout the semester, you’ll be racing to get a Connect 5 on our brand new bingo board (aka Punch the Patriarchy Card)!

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  • Attend any one Women’s Center event
  • Bring a friend to the lounge and give them a tour
  • Donate paper towels, tissues, or food to the Women’s Center
  • Attend one program before Spring Break Attend one Women’s Center workshop
  • Color a coloring page in the Women’s Center
  • Bring a friend to a Women’s Center event or group
  • Fill out the question of the week on the whiteboard
  • Attend one Knowledge Exchange
  • Make a ~new~ friend in the Women’s Center!
  • Read a Women’s Center blog on womenscenteratumbc.wordpress.com and ask the author a question
  • Introduce yourself to a Women’s Center student staff member and learn about their astrological sign
  • Free Space (Because We Love You)
  • Share a Women’s Center post or event on your social media and tag or mention us!
  • Follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter Instagram) and comment on one of our posts!
  • Attend a Women’s Center Pop Culture Pop-Up (look out for when they’re announced but they’ll always fall on Wednesdays at noon)
  • Attend one discussion group (i.e. Between Women, Women of Color Coalition, Returning Women Students, or We Believe You. Not sure if the discussion group is for you? Check out our website to learn more about each group’s purpose and community).
  • Attend one Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) event (calendar coming later this semester. All SAAM events will take place in April)
  • Celebrate Galentine’s Day with the Women’s Center on 2/13/19
  • Donate coffee or tea!
  • Check out a book from the Women’s Center Library
  • Bring back a book from the Women’s Center library
  • Make a Take Back the Night rally sign
  • Go to the Clothesline Project Display on 4/8/19 on Main Street
  • Attend Trans Day of Visibility film screening on 3/27/19

A few rules! It is completely up to you to track your progress. The Punch the Patriarchy Cards are already printed and ready for you to claim in the Women’s Center. Each person’s card will stay with us at the Women’s Center front desk, but you’re welcome to take a picture to help map your moves and keep track of your progress. When you complete a square, it’s up to you to “punch” it with a pen or marker of your choice. Don’t forget to date the square when it is completed. And finally, we’ll trust you to keep a scouts honor and mark challenges you ~actually~ did complete.

Any UMBC community member who completes the challenge by May 1st gets a Women’s Center T-shirt! If you already have one, you’ll get a shout-out on our social media pages for being a stellar scout (or maybe, just maybe you might be able to get one of our awesome Take Back the Night t-shirts).

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All UMBC students, faculty, and staff are welcome to participate!

IT’S BINGO TIME WOMEN’S CENTER STYLE!

For questions, stop by the Women’s Center or email us at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

Announcing the Women’s Center Scouts!

Girl Scouts. Radical Monarchs. Lumberjanes. Pawnee Goddess.
And now… Women’s Center Scouts!

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Time and time again, Women’s Center staff get the question, “How do you join the Women’s Center?”

Our response is “Easy! Come and hang out in our lounge! Come to events. You don’t have to join.”

To which we get an “Oh. Okay.”

We get it. Being a part of something is special. Showing your loyalty and commitment to a cause is empowering. Finding home and belonging in a space that means something to you, means something to us.

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So, now, you can “join” the Women’s Center by being one of our fearless and loyal Scouts!

Here’s the deal. To become a Women’s Center Scout, first start by joining the Women’s Center myUMBC page and following at least one of our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). If you’re already a member and following one of our pages, great! You’re one step closer.

Next, it’s time to save the dates! Each Scout must meet the challenge of attending at least 3 different Women’s Center events throughout the fall semester. The 3 different events must meet the following criteria:

From the above challenges, your duty as a Women’s Center Scout is to ensure that you attend 1 event during first 8 weeks of the semester and attend 1 event during second 8 weeks of semester. This will require planning and strategy, Scouts!

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Okay…. you don’t need to keep swiping, but do keep reading! 

Over the course of the semester, we may also announce bonus Scout challenges to enhance the experience so do stay tuned to our social media pages!

Any UMBC community member who completes the challenge by December 1st gets a Women’s Center T-shirt and a shout-out on our social media pages (any maybe some badges – we’re still working on those details).

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This is the front of the cool Women’s Center shirt you’ll get after you complete your Scout Challenges!

 

All UMBC students, faculty, and staff are welcome to participate!

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For questions, stop by the Women’s Center or email us at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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)

 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & the Survivor Speak-Out 2018

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 6th consecutive Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 12th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered we started the “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN last year and are continuing on the tradition, so stay tuned for more posts over the next week. This is an updated post to last year’s information focusing on the survivor speak-out.

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View from the survivor speak-out at Take Back the Night 2015. 

The survivor speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

Kayla Smith, UMBC Class of 2017, started the speak out in previous years and cherished that moment as a time where she could share her experience with people who she knew wouldn’t judge her. She could look out into a crowd of people who wouldn’t tell her its her fault, ask what she was wearing, ask if she was drinking, or tell her that she was responsible for her assault. “Speaking out about my assault empowers me to talk about my experience with confidence.”

This year we want to focus on dispelling the myth of the “perfect victim” that often times dominates sexual violence discourse. There are a variety of stories and experiences that are shared during the speak- out. Some may share stories or healing while others are still angry, sad, or scared. Many stories may come from women-identified folks and/but male survivors are also invited to share their stories at the speak-out. All of our stories and experiences are valid. And, no matter where you are at in your experience as a survivor (i.e. your assault happened 10 years ago or just last week) or what your identities may be, you’re welcomed to share your story.   

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Former Women’s Center Student Staff Member Kayla Smith speaking to the crowd at TBTN 2017. (Photo Credit: Jaedon Huie)

If you’re thinking about speaking at Take Back the Night, feel free to reach out to Women’s Center staff ahead of time if you feel like it would be helpful to talk to someone ahead of time about your story and how you may want to share it. Of course, we know many survivors may not plan on speaking at TBTN and then feel called to do so once the speak-out begins and that’s okay! If you feel uncomfortable sharing during the speak-out, that’s also 100% okay! There will be a chance to be recognized during the March at the Survivor Circle (which will be a new part of this year’s march – stay tuned for our updated What You Need to Know about the March post for more details!) or discuss your experience in a more intimate setting at We Believe You’s survivor discussion group post march.

It’s also totally okay if don’t feel ready to share your story at Take Back the Night there’s many other ways you can share your story in less public ways throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month (like making a t-shirt for the Clothesline Project or attending the Monument Quilt workshop or the other ways at TBTN we mentioned in the above paragraph) and Take Back the Night (counselors will be available throughout the event and there will be the self-care station). Survivors or anyone impacted by sexual violence can also always schedule a time to talk to Women’s Center staff – we’re quasi-confidential resources on campus and can link you to additional support and resources.

Here’s some helpful information about the speak-out we think is helpful for everyone to know whether they’re speaking or listening:

  • Any one can be a survivor of sexual violence. Any survivor regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation is welcomed to share their story at the speak-out. At the beginning of TBTN’s creation the speak out was only for women, but we welcome men and all others who may have differing gender identities to speak out. We wish for the speak out to be an inclusive space of healing and representation of different identities can help dispel the dangerous “perfect victim” narrative.
  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence. Thank you in advanced for respecting this request. Allies are also encouraged to attend the Women’s Center workshop on Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence on 4/26. A faculty and staff version of the workshop will be held on 4/3. 
  • Since TBTN functions as a public forum, normal reporting procedures look a bit different. If you choose to share your story, and want to go no further in the reporting process, we encourage you not to disclose any names or other specific identifying information, such as locations or familial relationships, as those details may prompt staff to follow up with you for reporting matters. Staff are available at the event for those who do want additional resources and want to report their experience through UMBC’s Title IX reporting process or police.
  • We ask that you try to limit your story to about 3 minutes. We know it may be hard to do so but we want to make sure as many survivors as possible can speak during the allotted speak out time which is one hour long. If you’d like to continue sharing your story, you may want to go to the We Believe You discussion group after the Take Back the Night march.
  • Speakers will have the option to identify their story as confidential by placing a sign marked “confidential” on the microphone. Speaking from the “confidential” microphone prohibits anyone from taking pictures, quotes, or recording of any kind.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

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.

IMG_4322

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.