Colorado Middle School trip to Mosque gets My Seal of Approval

Maybe I’m jumping on this a little too quickly, but I think that this is 100% worth talking about as soon as possible.

Yesterday, on January 13th, a middle school in the Douglas County School District sent a class of students studying world religions to a mosque in the area to learn about Islamic tradition. Part of the mandatory dress code for the trip was that females had to wear a headscarf, in keeping with the traditions of the culture. Naturally, some people didn’t like this, and it resulted in a community-wide aneurysm. Most parents had four things to say about this:

  1. The school district is forcing students to abide to sharia law, which should not be tolerated in a public school in America.
  2. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack last week, this trip should have been cancelled.
  3. It is a travesty that the school district appears to ignore Christianity in other school activities, and
  4. Feminists should be outraged by this decision for the young women to wear hijabs.

 

I don’t agree with how this event has been reported. Mostly because (and I say this being very aware of my political bias) one of the first articles I read was from the Tea Party News Network, and I haven’t heard of them being entirely moderate with their politics as of late. There are other reports as well that are equally as unhappy about the proceedings, and make it very clear to their online audience.

A picture of students at the mosque in Colorado.

 

So let me be clear, in response.

Religious tolerance is not a bad thing. This trip could not have better timing, in my opinion. If the school district had decided to cancel the trip to the mosque in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack that occurred last week, it would have perpetuated the misconception that Islam is an inherently dangerous religion. Instead, this school trip introduces the reality of the world to its students: Islamic terrorists are the minority of practicing Muslims in the world, and the traditions of Islam are unique and representative of a culture that is beautiful and peaceful. We cannot continue living in a country paralyzed by the foreign. Do you remember World War II, when Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps because they were Japanese? We may not have done that to Islamic traditions in such a tangible way, but Anti-Muslim sentiments are just as good at creating division within American society. Educating America’s youth is a brilliant step in the right direction.

Wearing a headscarf in a mosque is no different from wearing a modest dress to a Conservative Jewish synagogue (which I have done on multiple occasions).  Participating in communion at a Christian service without being a baptized believer is a pretty not okay thing to do, either. There are rules in each of these religions, and as a guest in their sacred place, it is our responsibility to follow them. If you can’t follow the rules, then you get in trouble, as you would in any other social situation that demands an ounce of social awareness and respect.

As for the absence of Christianity in the school curriculum? According to a report from the PewResearch Religion & Public Life Project, 78.4% of American adults are Christian in some way, shape or form. This doesn’t mean that everyone practices on a regular basis, or that every person is an expert at their religion. But it does mean that the majority of the adult American population already has some background in Christianity. Taking the time to talk to children about other religions that they may not experience at home or in their communities is crucial to creating an informed and respectful society. I can respect the frustration that the adult community may have felt, but I fail to see the harm in focusing on other religions as a means to understand their importance in a larger social context.

Speaking as a feminist, I do not feel threatened by this mandatory dress code at all. This is cultural appreciation, not a brainwashing exercise designed to rewire the brains of the young women attending the mosque.  In fact, in other parts of the world, the hijab is being used as a symbol for the Muslim feminist movement. I think that it is about time that everyone, including feminists, should sit and try to understand these traditions from the perspective of someone who lives it everyday, and not just apply our moral code and standards to their lives. It can be enlightening, entertaining, and an opportunity to  connect to women and their struggles around the world.

So, she decided to have fun with it, and started tweeting out some very sassy Snapchats.

Yasmeen, 18, posts selfies online to chronicle her life as a hijabi in America.

 

Advertisements

Finding a Purpose, or “Does the name still fit?”

So.

Y’all ready for this?

I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads with this blog and also the rest of my life. This really shouldn’t come as a shock to me, since  a) I decided to pursue medical school after college, b) I started this year as a resident assistant, or RA, at school, and c) I managed to become so busy that even Netflix lost its appeal as a procrastinative crutch in my life. Perhaps crossroads is the wrong word — maybe “four-way-intersection-with-two-lanes-of traffic-in-every-direction” is a more apt (albeit exhausting) phrase. I think it’s a more accurate representation of the cognitive racquetball game I’ve played against myself for these past few months, anyway.

My life described by automobile.

 

The halting progress that I have made on this blog since I completed my Keystone project is an excellent example of what I feel as an overwhelming lack of purpose in my life. Writing in this medium helped me contribute to the big picture of public opinion in American society, but I reached a point rather recently that made me question how I fit into the public opinion in real time. Originally, this blog was designed to point out underlying social and cultural norms that impact and are influenced by women. It was once a space that exposed the design flaws in society that most people take for granted and accept as fact. I have not lost that interest in studying society and the people that help shape the public consciousness, but I feel that in many ways, my past focus has become somewhat obsolete.

This is primarily due to the fact that, at least in my life, women’s issues are becoming far more prominent and important in the news than they have been in a long time. It seems that every day I see a news article that immediately receives coverage and opinions from big names and bigger personalities scattered across the internet. Most of the time, I can’t keep up with the news — every time I think that there is something worth writing about, it appears that approximately 90 people have already done so, whether it is as a video or an opinions page or a Buzzfeed article. (That’s hallowed ground, right there — to see a news story you saw briefly become permanently fixed in the annals of a Buzzfeed article.) It’s like the internet has a personal vendetta against my desire to say something.

That is a borderline paranoia of mine, and it isn’t true. The only thing preventing me from writing about what I see is my perceived lack of new ideas or thoughts on a subject. That, and the fact that there is a lot on my plate already. However, I have also realized that part of what is making me feel so unproductive and purposeless is that I am falling prey to my own inertia. I’m not exactly in motion with anything at the moment, and it is easier to stay that way than to pick myself up and get things done ASAP. This inertia is also bound to pitch me off the deep end like a homemade slingshot in the hands of a sadistic 7 year old, if I allow it to happen. And that doesn’t sound like very much fun for anyone except said hypothetical kid.

I am going to  make some changes to the site and see what I can do to remodel it to what I want it to be: a source of information and commentary on news and subjects that I find relevant to everyone, women most especially.  The woman’s image in society won’t be abandoned as subject matter, but new areas of information will be provided as well. It’s like unhemming a pair of pants once you’ve hit your first growth spurt — it’s going to look odd and feel weird at first, but eventually you realize that it works even better than before.

To new pants!

Let’s Talk About the Nude Photo Leak

I know, I know, I may be a little late with this one — Jennifer Lawrence has already popped up multiple times on my newsfeed because she spoke out about the nude photo leak that occurred more than a month ago. Lawrence and other young celebrities were forced to watch their private lives become deliberately public, and not by their own choice.

Several celebrities, including Kate Upton (above), Jennifer Lawrence, and Kirsten Dunst fell victim to the nude photo leaks that began in August 2014

Why do I want to talk about this? Because I have had the opportunity to watch how people respond to this event, and it seems that there are many different camps. Both sides believe that what happened was a gross breach of privacy, and that it was not fair to see Lawrence and other young actresses become sexual objects at the hand of computer hackers.

The difference, however, lies in the perception and interpretation of our social atmosphere. There are just as many people who are encouraged by Lawrence’s very public and vocal response to the nude photo leak as there are people who blame the inherently sexualized culture of America for Lawrence’s decision to even take those photos. Still others find it hard to support Lawrence’s public outrage because she appeared on the front of Vanity Fair in what many considered a “suggestive” and “steamy” photo (opinions seen here).

Jennifer Lawrence on Vanity Fair cover

The aforementioned Vanity Fair cover

Usually, this is usually the part where I swoop in and provide my own decidedly strong and intriguing argument about the topic. But I don’t know if I can do that this time. There is lot being said out there, and the only way that I can think of even enumerating and disseminating all of my thoughts is to go one by one. So if you are fond of BuzzFeed and their proclivity to list everything, you just might get a kick out of this.

  1. The nude photo leak is a crime. Whether of not it can be considered a sex crime is still being debated, but hackers breached the privacy of very public figures and eliminated their ability to choose who sees these photos. They stole the property of these individuals and benefitted from the exposure of this footage. This is not stealing your sister’s diary, this is theft on a much larger scale, and I hope that there will be justice for all of the celebrities affected.
  2. The victim-blaming has to stop. I acknowledge the fact that it may not have been in the best interest of these celebrities to take nude photos of themselves, but I would have said that to anyone — celebrity, athlete, even friend or family member. To say that they should “expect things like this to happen” because they are public figures, or that the way that Lawrence was photographed on the cover of Vanity Fair does not support her outrage sounds preeettttyyyy close to what you would find in rape culture .  “She was asking for it.” “Did you see what she was wearing?” Women should not have to prepare for an onslaught of unwanted sexual harrassment for their entire lives — that is the part of culture and society that needs to change.
  3. Female sexuality — and how it is defined — is always changing. The male gaze is a thing, people — sorry to burst your bubble or whatever. So is sexuality in culture. How far do we go as members of society to dictate how female sexuality should be expressed and explored? Should sexuality be embraced in all of its forms? Are nude photos of yourself affirmation of your sexuality, or the perpetuation of the male gaze? Where do females find the balance between embracing our sexual beings and also preventing sexual objectivity? Think about it for me, because I don’t have an answer right now, either.
  4. The human body is a fascinating and beautiful work of nature. Jack painted French girls in Titanic, Greek statues in the nude abound, and nude photography has a history that is over 150 years old. I do not support or condone the theft, exposure, or consumption of these nude photos by the masses, and I do not have an established opinion of the impact of nude photos in intimate relationships. And I definitely do not support the voyeurism that these women fell victim to, not in any way, shape of form. But to blame them for taking pictures of themselves is a mistake. Humans are beautiful, and acknowledging that for oneself can be a really difficult thing for some people to do.

I hope that the scum that leaked those photos are brought to justice, and that this little piece was useful in your consideration of this unfortunate event and any others in which women are denied the right to their bodies, in any medium and in any manner.

Reinventing “Like a Girl”

I have been practicing the martial arts for more than ten years of my life. When I was nine years old, I received a flier for lessons in karate from my folder at school and thought, “well, this sounds WAY better than soccer or basketball. I want to try it!”  Thus begins my greatest “sports love affair” with the martial arts. The focus, control, and independence that I gained from embracing this lifestyle has carried me through my uncomfortable middle school years and up to my stressful high school and college years.

Aside from me baring my soul and my personal life to the internet, I have a reason for introducing this blog post in such a way. It surrounds the meaning of the phrase “like a girl“. As many of the culturally-aware readers might guess, the phrase bears a pejorative connotation in which any action performed in the manner of a girl is a sorry imitation for what is considered correct and efficient. We all know what “running like a girl” and “throwing like a girl” looks like, am I right? Body mechanics and coordination take a sudden downhill turn, and all concepts of effectiveness are abandoned for excessive clumsiness and embarrassment.

Nothing to see here. Just me on the right, breaking a board and all.

One Saturday morning during my seventh grade year, I was training at my karate dojo and we were practicing hand-to-hand sparring. It is a very physical activity and the fighting is co-ed; that morning I fought all boys, ranging in both age and size. It was after an exceptionally interesting sparring match (in which I used one of my larger, heavier male opponents as a human pinata), that my Sensei roared with laughter and said,

“You boys aren’t sparring at all! There’s no point in saying that you all punch like girls, because they are doing better than ALL of you put together!” He looked at me and said, “I don’t think they deserve that compliment today, do you?” He smiled, and I felt the satisfaction of knowing that I impressed my 8th-degree-black-belt of a sensei when I was only a little middle schooler. Now, as a teacher of martial arts, I have noticed that those girls who stick with the sport and make a commitment to it can match and surpass the boys in agility, body mechanics, and fighting strategy. I was not the exception to a rule — there was no rule to begin with!

Girl on the left is me, receiving my black belt as a candidate for my first degree. The man in the center is my sensei, David Franza.

An intriguing video posted by the company Always talks about the distinction made between doing things “like a girl”, with young girls and older young women show what they think it means to do things “like a girl”. Regardless of one’s opinion on the company’s campaign for girl’s confidence, I feel that everything they say bears witness to the truth behind what young girls face as they grow up in a culture that has a vice-grip on what defines acting like a girl and the efficiency and purpose of their bodies.

The Like a Girl Campaign by Always

Keep the expectations of young girls alive, and let’s make “like a girl” neither insult nor compliment, but an old and ill-fitting phrase that belongs anywhere but in our modern vernacular.

Don’t Forget to Be Awesome — PSA from vlogbrother Hank Green

I woke up this morning feeling extraordinarily good. There is little to explain it, but I simply feel awesome today. I feel so alive, so wonderful, so significant and powerful, and nothing is going to change that. And sure enough, it has been a whole day, and I still feel awesome! To top it off, the stars were aligning as I was getting dressed today and I realized that I thought I looked pretty awesome too! My physical appearance doesn’t define every fiber of my being, but it certainly helps make me feel a little bit more confident when my inner confidence and joy for life is present for all to see.

Why yes, yes I am! And so are you!

You’re first question is probably “Gee, you would think she would have been done with this feeling awesome thing a lot sooner.” And no, Negative Nancys, I can’t think of a reason to want to stop feeling awesome.

The next question is probably something along the lines of “What’s with all the awesome? There are at least 40 synonyms for awesome, and she is clearly having a mental breakdown if she can’t use any of them. Why am I still reading this?”

Calm down. I have a point.

John and Hank Green, creators of the online identity the vlogbrothers, have proceeded to take the internet by storm with their incredible sense of adventure, fun, and non-stop wit and humor. I happened across their videos because I was strongly encouraged to read John Green’s Paper Towns last year by a fellow Honors Humanitarian when I was a freshman in college. (Shout out to Casey Patterson, who spoke at University of Maryland’s first TED talk, TEDxUMD, this past spring!)

The vlogbrothers John and Hank Green, in cartoon form

I’ve read basically all of John Green’s books since then, and can’t get enough of the videos because each one, regardless of its creator, carries with it a sense of self-identity and knowledge-seeking. They cover topics ranging from the oldest song in the history of mankind to explanations of the conflict in Egypt, from the subject of deserving to awesome books you probably haven’t read. It’s procrastination on a whole new level, with the added bonus of leaving you with the feeling of intellectual accomplishment or general love of life and all that is a part of life.

I love the world and everything on it. Even if it is the shape of a heart.

There are a number of their videos that discuss very relevant subjects to my blog, but this one stuck out to me the most. John’s brother, Hank, posted this video about “What Boys Look For in Girls” and it is nothing like other videos with similar titles. His insight into culture and the impact that it has upon a woman’s perception of self-worth hits the nail right on the head. One of my favorite lines is his exclamation that “Girls are not the photons that hit the corneas of boys!” It may sound over the top, but that’s the point. Women are not, and should not be, assessed for their value based on the expectations of the men — or women, for that matter — in their lives.

Hank Green, the author of the above-mentioned video.

A woman’s personal value ought to come from the fulfillment of that which she deems important in her own eyes, not in the eyes of the male gaze. We look at so many people on a regular basis without actually seeing them, without really considering how multifaceted they are beneath the surface and what their dreams and personal pursuits may be. Rather than make surface assumptions about surface elements like someone’s appearance, I think it is important to think deeper and look for the value in a person’s life from within them.

Don’t forget that being awesome is more than just being physically attractive or appealing to any man or any woman. It is more than catching the eye of that person that makes you feel special. You alone define your value and the expectations for your life.

Don’t be a photon on a cornea. Be the eye that sees the world and the wonderful people in it.

Oh, and Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

 

 

 

The Santa Barbara Shooting and What It Means to Me

The shooting spree at the University of California, Santa Barbera campus by Elliot Rodger has captured the attention of Americans everywhere this Memorial Day weekend. Rodger, a 22 year old student at the neighboring Santa Barbera City College, stabbed three people — George Chen, Chen Yuang Hong, and Weihan Wong, the former two being his roommates —  in his apartment complex and killed three more students — Katherine Cooper, Veronika Weiss, and Christopher Martinez — on the Santa Barbara campus before taking his own life. It’s a tragedy in every sense of the word, and the lives of the six victims will not be forgotten.

People gather at a park for a candlelight vigil on May 24 to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting in Isla Vista, California. Sheriff's officials say Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a nearby neighborhood.

People gather at a park for a candlelight vigil on May 24 to honor the victims of Friday night’s mass shooting in Isla Vista, California.

As a college student myself, I feel personally connected to this devastating event because it has impacted a group of my peers, and those students pursuing their futures at UCSB will no longer have that opportunity. And on another level, I feel connected to this because Rodger claimed that his shooting spree was the result of countless rejections from attractive women throughout the course of his life. The implication of his 137-page manifesto outlines how attractive and popular women have denied him the chance of having sex and forced him to be lonely and unfulfilled.  It only made sense to him to “make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.” And this sickens me.

It would not surprise me if those of you reading this have also seen the response on social media surrounding this tragedy. One of the most outspoken areas is Twitter, using #YesAllWomen as a vehicle to criticize the misogynistic social norms that are impressed upon men in modern society. Rodger felt entitled to sex and, therefore, to female bodies, and he believed that being denied this was an unpardonable crime. While we cannot blame every aspect of his person upon society, I would be hard-pressed to find evidence that it wasn’t a part of his upbringing in some way. We see in movies, music videos, magazines, and other media that women are constantly objectified and stripped of all other parts of their identity save their body. Women may see these things and learn that this is what the world wants, but men may see these things and learn that this is what I deserve to have.

Flowers are placed in a bullet hole in the window of a delicatessen in Isla Vista, California.

Flowers are placed in a bullet hole in the I.V. delicatessen where the shooting continued on Friday.

The repercussions of this kind of behavior negatively impacts both men and women struggling to navigate a world that harbors unreasonable expectations and leads to uncomfortable situations for all parties involved. You may be a strong and confident adult and still feel threatened enough to comply with an uncomfortable situation. I have had at least one encounter with a man where I felt that I had to take his phone number because I would be harrassed until I did so, and I suspect that it will not be the last time.

Examples of the #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter

Examples of the #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter

Bear in mind, I do not speak for all women, and I cannot accuse all men for embracing this thinking, because not all men have done so. I have had the good fortune of meeting excellent role models in the form of friends, family, coaches, and teachers. Then again, I have also had the good fortune to meet some real dirtbags in my life that put it all into perspective for me. Misogyny is no joke, and it is about time that pushing back against it becomes a more powerful social movement.  This social culture is REAL, and it is not going away until all of us acknowledge its existence and take steps to educate all of humanity about the rights and responsibilities of every member in this world.

The families and friends of those victims of the Santa Barbara shooting are in my prayers.

Disney and the Case of the Sexual Shoulders

In my overwheming enthusiasm to challenge my readers to watch a fascinating documentary about beauty and the struggle of being a fashion model, I neglected to realize that the end of the semester is now upon us, and setting aside an hour plus to watch Netflix gives me a small amount of heartburn. I cannot imagine, therefore, putting any academic person reading this blog through that kind of anxiety. In the interim, then, I would like to talk about a fascinating observation that a friend of mine had surrounding two seemingly unrelated things: Shoulders and Disney.

Elsa from Frozen in her shoulderless super dress.

Elsa from Frozen in her shoulderless super dress.

If you take a look at the majority of Disney’s princesses, there is a surprising proportion of bare shoulders and wide necklines associated with the beautiful princesses. Ranging from some the earliest princesses — Ariel and Aurora — to the most recent additions of Elsa and Anna, there is always some point in the movies where their shoulders are bare, or at the very least they have a wide and open neckline to their dresses.

 

Cinderella before and after the Fairy Godmother works her magic

Cinderella before and after the Fairy Godmother works her magic

Take Princess Aurora. She first appears to Prince Phillip dressed in a simple dress, but when she returns to the castle and is put in her deep spindle-related sleep, the dress bares her shoulders. Princess Jasmine’s outfit also exposes most of her shoulders with a wide neckline. Princess Anna is a beautiful young woman, but the first time that she bumps into an eligible male, she is wearing a beautiful green dress — a dress that also bares her shoulders. And I don’t think we need to go into much detail about Ariel, do we?

Pocahontas' one-shouldered number.

Pocahontas’ one-shouldered number.

Who knew that this would be such an important element of the definition of beauty in the Disney movie industry? Actually, the real question that I have is why is this a thing? I’m probably just being dense at this point, but when did the whole “sexy shoulder” thing begin? Is this why so many schools have ridiculous rules that revolved around covering “distracting shoulders”. Where does the responsibility lie, with the women or with the men who are looking at them?

belle

The closest that I can get to a reasonable explanation is that early in the production of animated movies, Disney was taking some liberties in the costume department during social eras where norms did not permit clothing that was so revealing. They made an effort to reasonably push the boundaries with the small neckline of Snow White in 1938, expanded the neckline for Cinderella’s ball gown in 1950, and by 1959 had introduced Princess Aurora’s sleeveless gown to the general public. By the time the next Disney princess arrived on screen in 1989, Ariel was wearing a bra.

Snow-White

Snow White’s dress marks the beginning of the neckline change…

arielrock

…and Ariel is the result of more than 40 years in the Disney princess costume alterations.

Made out of shells.

Ariel-disney-princess-15839856-1024-576

What a well-cropped screenshot, internet! Now she looks naked. Bravo.

That’s it.

I’m glad that my friend mentioned this to me. It hasn’t left me disillusioned about the movies that Disney produces for the general public, but I am more aware of the undercurrents of body consciousness that each of these films carries with it. It is unclear whether or not this Disney’s purpose — perhaps the subtle wardrobe changes are due to changing societal norms, and they tagged along to make their movies more accessible to the general public.

What is clear is that an informed public is a good public, even if it is about cartoon women’s shoulders. While it may seem fun to relate to each Disney princess and fantasize about which prince you want to sweep you off of your feet, it is important to remember that what is represented on screen is merely one concept of beauty. Bare shoulders do not always make an outfit pretty, and exploring your own definition of beauty beyond what the media shows you is a process that will take your whole life. What better place to start than here?