Fatness. Fitness. Feminism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links for further reading:

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

Intersectionality of fitness

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

Some other blog posts about bodies:

Making my body a brave space

How my feminism intersects body consciousness with health benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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Comic from XKCD

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

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

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

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

Here are some responses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Campus Resources:

UMBC Center for Women in Technology

More about the issue:

Women and Math: The Gender Gap Bridged

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

The Truth About Gender and Math

Supporting survivors past April

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This past April was our most powerful yet. In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Women’s Center coordinated the annual Take Back the Night event, which 265 UMBC community members attended (click here for a photo round-up). The Clothesline Project reached another 183 people, and 10 new shirts were created by survivors of interpersonal violence.

 

 

The Women’s Center’s mission to support survivors extends beyond April. This year, the Women’s Center has trained 103 students, faculty, and staff in our supporting survivors workshops. Jess and Megan have also devoted over 25 hours of 1-1 support meetings for survivors and those dedicated to supporting them.

As this school year ends, please help us continue cultivating a survivor-responsive campus. We are only $450 away from making our 25th Anniversary GiveCorps goal for the 2016-2017 school year!
Give today and help a survivor access the support they need. 

Writing as a woman: A conversation

In recognition of the other month-long celebration that is April’s National Poetry Month, Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator Amelia Meman recorded a discussion on writing as a woman with her two best friends. Check out the video below, and join the conversation!

Writing as a woman.

It’s something I think about fairly often, because it brings up issues of worthiness, knowledge-making, developing identities, creating dialogues and rhetorical communities, and communicating experience. Writing is, in many ways, the convergence of the private becoming public–y’know, that old feminist maxim. Writing as an act and later as a product contains multitudes, especially in its intersections with identity.

That said, I was eager to talk with two of my best friends, Susie Hinz and Kerrin Smith, about their experiences as writers, as woman, and as women writers (or alternatively writerly women?). A video of our conversation is below. We talk about the intersections of identity and writing, getting over feelings of unworthiness, working through writer’s block, and many other writing-related things.

Susie is a UMBC alum who is working at Maryland Humanities and is also curating a fantastic blog (and possibly publishing a novel in the future). Kerrin is a poet in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program, and you can catch updates on her published work (and her life) on her Twitter.

BMO - I hope Im good at this

This is how we generally feel about writing. (Thanks to Susie for this picture.)

A note: Our discussion is extremely limited in terms of “what it means to be a woman writer,” and we want to acknowledge this. We all have particular aspects of privilege and oppression that affect our identities (gender, creative, and otherwise), and this conversation stems from a particular place of privilege. It’s my hope that this discussion, though limited in terms of perspective, is still insightful and helpful to those watching.

Women in Politics Roundtable Round-Up

16665235_1240042186074587_3406555264375312519_oThe Women’s Center’s Spring Roundtable series has begun! On February 14th, we hosted the first of our three-part roundtable “Underrepresentation of Women in…” series. This roundtable was on “Women in Politics” and focused on the lack of women in the political sphere and the establishment.

For this discussion, our panelists were Political Science professor Lisa Vetter, Language Literacy and Culture student Colonel Ingrid Parker, and student staff member Kayla Smith.

The discussion opened with a question about gendered communication and how to express femininity in a workspace that’s male dominated. Kayla and Colonel Parker both agreed that being a “chameleon,” or being fluid in how they present themselves based on their audience, has worked for them in the past. 

The conversation then turned to Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss. The suggestion was made that the glass ceiling was now higher than it had previously been as a result of someone as qualified as Clinton losing to someone as seemingly unqualified as President Trump. People in politics may be more scared to back women running for office because women don’t seem to get the votes to take office. Therefore the goal of making a woman president is even more elusive. Furthermore, after learning that some women need to be asked more than five times to run for office, there was some concern that Clinton’s loss would discourage more women from entering the political sphere for fear of disappointment; however, Colonel Parker reminded everyone that the next step should be to stay hopeful and push forward no matter what happens. 

When Jess Myers asked about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kayla pointed out that the silencing of Elizabeth Warren was really the silencing of Coretta Scott King. Kayla went on to explain that, because her feminism is intrinsically connected to her race, it’s impossible for her to ignore the ramifications she faces in the establishment due to being a black woman. 

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, a student asked a question about coping with the effects of mental health when looking at barriers to women in politics. Colonel Parker spoke about the benefits of finding coping mechanisms like eating well, spending time with family, and working out. Kayla suggested finding supportive groups of women to help and uplift you in the face of adversity. Women’s Center Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams added that it isn’t always enough for their to be more women in a space but that they should also be supportive of women excelling instead of engaging in “mean girl” tactics.

Another audience member asked Kayla what her opinion was on changing the establishment to include women and people of color to which she responded, “It’s important for people to be educated. They need to learn that our government and political system is built on white supremacy, racism, and sexism. Nothing will change until people understand where we started and that those things still play a major role in our system.”

Overall, the subject of women’s underrepresentation in politics is vast and complicated and while we barely scratched the surface in this hour long discussion, we did our best to open the dialogue and get people talking and thinking.

Want more information? Below are some links further discussing women, the establishment, and politics.

So has this discussion fired you up? Are you interested in running for office (public, school, or otherwise)? Have you heard about Elect Her? Elect Her is a leadership program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office

There is an an Elect Her workshop on March 11th from 10:30-3:30 in Fine Arts 011. You will learn how to figure out what your message and platform is, how to craft a communication strategy that works, and you’ll hear from campus and community leaders about what it takes to win. It is going to be a great day!

If you have questions or want to RSVP, contact Dr. Kate. (drabinsk@umbc.edu.)

 

A Time to Resist + A Time to Take Care

amelia-meman-headshotA reflection written by Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman

So here we are. Another day in this brave new world.

Are you exhausted yet? Emotionally, physically, psychologically?

If you’re not–congratulations! That’s really good and you are a sweet glowing angel.

If you are, though, you’re not alone and you are also a sweet glowing angel.

deadI’m tired, too. For all of us feminists, social justice warriors, and snowflakes, this is a tough time. The stream of executive actions and questionable cabinet appointments have rocked our communities and have malignantly affected some of the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. The fights we’ve been engaging in throughout every administration have been exacerbated and fear is alive more than ever. 

Seeing the reaction from social justice activists has been heartening for me in many ways. The women’s march was awesome and huge (though not without its fair share of criticism from Black women, the trans community, and many others). Other demonstrations against the refugee ban and the massive uptick in people contacting their elected representatives to demand accountability has shown us that massive swathes of the public have been activated to resist in a great variety of ways.

This work is both vital and neverending. Making an impact is difficult, exhausting work. It involves massive amounts of human energy. What I’m ultimately getting to is this: are you taking care of yourself right now? 
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Across Worlds and Identities: The Spaces in Between


Prachi KocharA reflection by Women’s Center staff member Prachi Kochar on identity and “fitting in”. How do we navigate identities that can fit into multiple categories of nationality, ability, race, etc. at once? Or identities that do not perfectly fit into these categories, spilling out and crashing into each other? 

This summer, I went to India for my cousin’s wedding, and it was a long trip both physically (twenty-four hours of traveling, with a layover!) and mentally. Even though it has technically been over for months, it continues to affect the way that I think and view the world. It has deepened my understanding of how I navigate the world, both in terms of my physical location and in terms of social situations and relationships.

Before this trip, I had assumed that India was nothing more or less than a second home to my parents, that it was their equivalent of me coming home from school for winter or summer vacation. However, after an interaction with some distant relatives, my mother turned to me and shook her head, saying “They act like we’re not even Indian!” Continue reading