Senioritis Is a First World Problem

Senior to Senioritis in 60 Seconds (or 60 Semesters)

Last weekend, on Mother’s Day, I graduated from a master’s program. I walked across another stage in another cap and gown to shake another president’s hand and receive another piece of paper emblazoned with my and the university’s names.

I’ve spent practically my whole life in school, studious existence structured by spring and fall semesters and pleasantly interrupted with winter, spring, and summer breaks. Preschool at three/four and five. Elementary school at six through ten. Middle school at eleven through thirteen. High school at fourteen through seventeen. College at eighteen through twenty-one. More voluntary college at twenty-two through twenty-three. I love learning, but sometimes this institution can feel like imprisonment impeding me from real life. At every stage of my life, from childhood to adulthood, there’s been school. And at every pre-graduation, there’s always been senioritis, or the nonmedical condition of being tired of homework and classes. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, and general IDGAF about anything anymore. It’s highly contagious, but treatable by prescribed vacations.

This graduation was no exception. I mentally checked out months before the school year ended. With educational enrollment as the most constant certainty in my life, the amount of times I’ve experienced senioritis outnumbers my romantic relationships.

And so we study (studying = student + dying) and suffer through the malady until school’s over, when we then joke about continuing higher education to acquire another advanced degree when job prospects are zero.

I’ve always been fortunate to have the ability to attend school with a backpack full of supplies and a lunchbox full of food—and the financial and emotional support of my parents enabling me to pursue my dreams without accruing debt out of college. To not go to school, to not be able to learn in a classroom setting, is unfathomable to me.

But what about those who don’t even have access to education, who don’t have the luxury of experiencing senioritis? What’s all this pomp and circumstance about when over 72 million children (in 2007) in developing countries and of primary/elementary school age aren’t enrolled? Just in the US, “40% of children living in poverty aren’t prepared for primary schooling” and they have higher absenteeism or leave school because they’re “more likely to have to work or care for family members.” And the statistics pile up.

The Importance of Being Educated

(Punning The Importance of Being Earnest, and referring to “educated” as the verb of going through the matriculation process, rather than the adjective of being a pretentious snob who thinks they’re better than everyone.)

Poverty and a general lack of resources (classrooms, teachers, etc.) are major barriers to education. Surprisingly, so is gender. Despite the paradoxical gender gap in K–12 and higher education in the US, where women earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, more than half of the estimated 101 million children not in school worldwide (taken from a different source) are girls. In Pakistan, for example, “58.7 percent of women and girls over 15 are illiterate,” as educating women is taboo. See the Global Education Monitoring Report for the bottom ten countries for educating females.

Instead of learning their alphabet and mathematical formulas, these girls are (or can be):

  • Relegated to the periphery in favor of male relatives. Due to “strong cultural norms favouring boys’ education when a family has limited resources,” girls often don’t have the same academic opportunities as boys.
  • Subject to gender-based violence. Over 200 million girls and women in 30 countries are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM, or cutting). Cutting can cause severe complications with urination, sexual intercourse, and pregnancy. Aside from this horrendous practice, even at school there may be “negative classroom environments” in which girls face “exploitation or corporal punishment” just because they’re the “wrong” gender.
  • Menstruating. Ridiculous, right? Due to social stigma and a dearth of safe and sanitary bathrooms and feminine products, “more than a fifth of girls [in Sierra Leone] miss school because of their periods. In Afghanistan and Nepal, three out of 10 girls miss school for the same reason…The issue is widespread–particularly in rural, remote areas, where it can lead to girls dropping out of school entirely.”
  • Performing marital and maternal duties. “Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before age 20.” This inevitably prioritizes childrearing and household duties over learning and school attendance.

If these girls had access to primary and secondary education, “child marriage would fall by 64 per cent, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.”

In the inspirational words of education activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and straight up g who survived a gunshot wound from the Taliban on her way to school) Malala Yousafzai,

“I didn’t want my future to be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth.”

We need girls in school: “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”

We senioritis sufferers take for granted our fancy degrees and highfalutin credentials when millions are deprived of this basic human right from a young age. It’s difficult not to want to be finished with school when that’s all I’ve known, but our #FirstWorld senioritis only mocks this. Let’s quit this mentality and do something useful with our education by helping others. When every girl and boy in the world knows senioritis, then the world will be a better, more educated place.

Organizations fighting for girls’ education in the US and abroad:
Stand #withMalala
Let Girls Learn
Global Citizen Girls & Women
World Bank Group
Because I Am a Girl
Girl Effect Accelerator
World Vision Gender
United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
Free the Children

Photograph: banner at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

 

Politeness ≠ Flirtation: Being Friendly Doesn’t Mean I’m DTF

Things He Says:

[Insert an omnipresent interpretation of my non-flirtatious behavior as flirtatious. There are too many things to name just one.]

Thing She Says:

My parents raised me to be polite. Call adults Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Say please and thank you. Don’t use profanity and don’t put your elbows on the table (ok, those last two rules remind me of a Victorian governess that I would gladly disobey).

Having these values ingrained into my identity dictates my interactions with others. I’ve taken pride in being known as a “sweet” girl throughout childhood and still being kind as an adult in a world full of rude assholes.

But too often this friendly behavior is misconstrued as flirtation.

NEWSFLASH! Just because I’m polite doesn’t mean I want anything to do with your genitals.

Here’s a helpful equation to remember this, easier than the quadratic formula:

Politeness ≠ Flirtation

See, more memorable than  quadratic

I can’t tell you how many unwanted comments, winks, numbers, inappropriate texts I’ve received from guys who I was only being a nice human being to.

There’s a middle-aged mailman friend who dropped off mail at the office I used to work in. He’s good company, a funny conversation break from the monotony of administrative tasks. When I left, I gave him my number so we could keep in touch and meet for lunch sometime. This past week we were supposed to have lunch, which we’ve had twice in six months—not often enough to show I’m interested in anything more than that. I offer to pay for my meal because it’s cheap food, but he always does. He always calls me “cute,” and I brush it off and change the subject. I’ve always kept it friendly—because I’m not interested—though he’s said things that have made me uncomfortable despite him being a nice person.

Though we were supposed to meet for lunch this week, I sent him a text asking for a raincheck because I’m sick. His reply angered me, made me feel even worse than whatever sickness I have. It made my stomach churn and probably caused my diarrhea (or maybe that was the virus—sorry, TMI). Before I had the chance to respond “Was that a joke? Because I’m not laughing,” he threw in an LOL and apologized.

rob text conversation

Like the other things he says, I let it go. He’s harmless, I tell myself.

Until he’s not. I don’t know if he would actually try anything, but I don’t want to find out. This time I shouldn’t have forgiven him. I hope my silence was enough to make that clear.

Chelsea Fagan explains why mistaking friendliness for flirtation isn’t always harmless, even when no harm is intended:

“I will give the men who have engaged in these kinds of uncomfortable, inappropriate acts the benefit of the doubt in assuming that most do not intend to hurt the woman they’re pursuing. But what is clear is that a boundary that has been set in body language, in tone, in clipped responses, is not being respected. A woman being polite and outgoing is perceived, at least on some level, as a wide-open door into which you are free to walk and behave yourself however you choose. If she clams up when you begin following her or insisting on continuing the exchange, you are somehow free to ignore that because of the initial friendliness she showed you. This is not okay.”

To the guys who think I’m flirting with them when I’m just trying to make friends, I’m sorry if you think I’m leading you on. But if I’ve told you that I’ve felt uncomfortable with something you’ve said before, then why do you keep doing it? If you know you’re going to apologize again, then don’t fucking do it. It makes my day turn sour and ruins our beautiful platonic relationship. It makes me afraid of what might happen next, from a come-on to a hard on—neither of which I want to encounter.

But the unwanted flirtation goes both ways, with men in the same predicament. There’s nothing wrong with flirting or being flirted with. But when that trespasses on someone’s comfort level then that’s not ok.

Was it too forward to give Mr. Mailman my number? I don’t give my number out too much, only to people who I plan to meet again. My friends sometimes think I’m flirting, but I’m not trying to get in anyone’s pants. What am I doing wrong?

Yes, I’ll make it clear if I am flirting. You’ll know if I’m DTF. I will touch you if I’m hitting on you, and will apologize for accidentally touching you if I’m not. I need to check myself and see how I come across to people, and make it explicitly known how I feel about them and what my intentions are.

Is politeness so uncommon that “society has reached a point where everyday greetings and helping hands are so rare, they’re now mistaken for flirtation”? Does it take being a bitch for the message to come across that I’m not flirting? But then that might put me in the “woman’s paradox where if you aren’t friendly you’re considered rude and if you are then they think you’re flirting or leading them on.” I’m not being a coquette—I’m just being kind!

Casper the Friendly Ghost isn’t tryna get his invisible dick wet. Can’t we all just be polite to each other without it meaning something more

casper frightened

Casper image credit: Polyvore/I-Love-Cartoons
Quadratic formula taken from Wikipedia.

Have you had similar experiences? How do you combat the friendly vs. flirting dilemma?

How to tell if someone is actually flirting:
SIRC Guide to Flirting
Ask Dr. NerdLove: What’s the Difference Between Flirting and Just Being Friendly?
Flirting, Or Just Being Friendly? How to Tell, In Person and Online

AWP 2016 Recap: Searching for a Feminist Utopia

Last week, from March 31 through April 2, I attended the annual conference presented by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in Los Angeles.

Though I was most excited about escaping New England’s frigid winter-spring for warmer climes, I was also eager to attend panels and events integral to the current literary landscape and publishing industry. My first and previous AWP conference was three years ago in Boston (where I took an inverse journey from my last, leaving the humid heat of Florida for snowy scenery during sprang brake). I don’t remember so many panels on women in literature then, so I’m glad to see the conversation has progressed in a relatively short amount of time.

This conference, I attended three panels speaking to social issues in this context (though there were many more!):

  • An Office of One’s Own: Literary Agents on Equality, Gender, and the Business of Creating Books. Four literary agents (Duvall Osteen, Sarah Smith, Monika Woods, Melissa Flashman, and Lisa Lucas, paying homage to Virginia Woolf) shared their perspectives on the current publishing industry as women, critically looking at successful books by women; the literary marketplace; and women’s roles as writers, agents, editors and how they must collaborate with and support each other. What I found interesting and a little misguided was that the panelists’ (all white) conversations were primarily guided by their own experiences, devoid of the issues that women of color face, until the moderator (Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation) addressed this.
  • Guerrilla Girl Marketing. The creators (Katherine Towler, Ann Wertz Garvin, Brandi Granett, Erin Celello, Diane Haeger) of Tall Poppy Writers, a venerable online forum for women writers, spoke about marketing novels and connecting to readers with this marketing collective. From accruing resources to establishing their branded social media presence, the panelists emphasized the importance of working together with women writers to expand the reach of their writing.
  • Visions of a Feminist Utopia: The Feminist Press and the Future. Contributors and editors (Jennifer Baumgardner, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Yumi Sakugawa) of the 2015 anthology The Feminist Utopia Project questioned beyond the publishing climate to women’s lived lives: “What is this future we say we believe in? What does it look like and what are we like within it?” Readings from Nalebuff and Sakugawa opened the floor to issues surrounding feminist theory, like sex work and activism.

Basically, these panels taught me that:

  1. Women need to work together to succeed in a man’s world. The “classic” literary canon has long been dominated by old white males (read: Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc.). Women have made strides to be recognized in literature, yet we’re still relegated to the periphery. Even though women read more than men (except in history and biography categories), books written by men receive more reviews and awards than those written by women. As the VIDA count revealed in 2014, men get more ink across the globe: That year the London Review of Books featured 527 male authors but only 151 women, the New York Review of Books had a ratio of 677 men to 242 women, The New York Times book review featured 909 male but 792 women contributors, and The Nation had a ratio of 469 men to 193 women. The words of one panelist stuck with me: as readers, “we have the power here. We should buy books by and about women.” Not to mention, women are also sorely underrepresented in executive positions, though 80% of literary agents are white women and there are more women in editorial positions according to Publishers Weekly. Both on the page and behind the page, women are continuously sidelined.

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Books written by women are often unjustly branded as “women’s fiction.” With this sexist label comes a stigma about the writer and the work itself. Women’s fiction is chick lit. It’s Nicholas Sparks. It’s beach reads and pink covers. It’s fluffy romances and frilly emotional characters. But books written by (and/or for women) are much more than that. Two of the panels highlighted the negative effects of this umbrella classification, citing “women’s fiction” as an obstacle in being taken seriously in academia or other careers. “Serious novels can have pink jackets and be about women,” said one literary agent. Women authors are writing compelling stories not just for a female market, yet their work is absorbed by that gendered classification. All panelists unanimously called for getting rid of “women’s fiction” or calling books written by men as “men’s fiction.” Now that’s not a genre you see at a bookstore.

Other panels I wanted to attend but couldn’t fit into my schedule included: The Active Politics of Queer/Feminist of Color and Indigenous Feminist Publishing Movements, From the Margins: Literary Magazines Supporting Writers of Color, Women Who Edit: Literary Journals, Diversity Integrated: The Literary Art of Inclusion, Rewriting the Hollywood Gender Gap, Unsung Epics: Women Veterans’ Voices, Two Sides of the Mirror: Writing About Body Image Across Gender, Women Writing Fiction in a Postfeminist Era, When I Was Latina: Navigating Privilege in the Publishing and Writing World, Women’s Caucus, and Women Publishing Women: The (Under)representation of Women in Print and in Publishing.

Overall, these panels were generally focused on women, but I would’ve liked more discussion about how trans*, nonbinary genders/gender nonconforming/genderqueer individuals, as well as people of color, are represented in literature and publishing.

As editor Ron Charles says on VIDA’s website, “we have a long way to go.” The Tall Poppy Writers panel put it well: “The need to support writers cuts across gender lines.” Gender parity is vital if we wish to change the conversation and acknowledge women’s and other’s lives and voices. After all, how are we ever going to progress if we hear the same stories over and over again?

What conferences or talks on social issues have you been to? What books by women writers have you read recently?

Share your thoughts about these topics below!

“Twinkle twinkle little slut, name one guy you haven’t fucked.”: Slut Shaming Is More Than Just Sticks and Stones

I apologize if the title is too brash or crude. I don’t like it either. Thanks for the “joke,” Kickass Humor!

With the recent controversy surrounding Kim Kardashian’s latest nude selfie, conversation about slut shaming has once again bubbled to the surface on social media.

Things He Says:

I don’t go around sending nude pics and having lots of sex like you.

Thing She Says:

For being a city, my Florida home is a somewhat small place—“someplace special.” It’s hot, cramped, and overpopulated, yet most people know each other or their relatives as we all trickled through the same public school system.

There was a girl in middle school who everyone talked about as being notoriously loose. At my best friend’s twelfth birthday party, I heard that she lost her virginity when she was eleven with a high schooler or college aged dude. As an eleven-year-old myself, I didn’t know anything about sex except that it was an adult thing, a dirty little secret. That experience shaped my perception of this girl from then on, although I did community service with her as a freshman and my opinion of her didn’t change. I thought she was a slut—because that’s what others thought of her—in high school. She wore short skirts to class (probably as short as the too-small, cheeky swim shorts I still wear around the house) and navigated the popular social circles as easily as she opened her legs. How could a bimbo who slept with everyone get into a good college? I’d wonder. I didn’t like her because she was annoying and gross.

This was all speculation, all rumor. I didn’t actually know who she was as a person or if any of this was happening.

But does it even matter? I didn’t like her because I was naïve and alien to the mysterious world of teenage sexuality. We’re conditioned to believe that a female (no matter her age) who has and enjoys sex is somehow flawed—she’s a whore, a slut, a harlot. Like the word “bitch,” these terms are all gendered. While a woman with several sexual partners is condemned, a man under the same circumstances is hailed as a stud or a pimp. The closest equivalent I can think of to an outrageously sexually active/constant Tinder user is “manwhore.” But even then, semantics adds the male to what’s become an inherently female characterization. When females are the ones criticized for their behavior while males are praised, shaming a woman for her sexual activity is sexist and creates a double standard.

It’s the twenty-first century! We’re not in the Victorian era, when women were valued for their chastity and virtue. Yet still men slut shame women. Women slut shame other women (read last week’s post about Kim Kardashian shutting her haters down). But why?

Slut shaming is a form of body policing, or controlling what a person should do with their body and harassing them if they disobey. Jessica Valenti’s book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut discusses how policing manifests in slut shaming:

“But it makes sense when you think about what the purpose of the word ‘slut’ is: controlling women through shame and humiliation. Women’s bodies are always the ones that are being vied over for control—whether it’s rape, reproductive rights, or violence against women, it’s our bodies that are the battleground, not men’s.”

Her book was published in 2008. Slut shaming existed long before this, and it still exists today. Criticizing another for what they choose to do with their body has more harmful repercussions than just sticks and stones.

Why We Need to Stop Slut Shaming

No, slut shaming isn’t a “feminist-coined term used as an excuse to screw anything that moves.” Slut shaming is bullying that can and often does:

  • Ruin someone’s reputation. Victims of slut shaming are stigmatized for their perceived sexual behavior, whether or not it’s true.
  • Result in physical and psychological harm. Even being called a slut inflicts emotional damage on the victim, not to mention that her peers may even physically bully her.
  • Trivialize rape or sexual assault. “Slut shaming gives the false impression that the person was asking for any sexual encounter that came along her way.”

Just in the US, so many bright, young girls have taken their lives because they were relentlessly slut shamed: Alyssa Funke, nineteen years old and a straight-A student, was bullied after making an amateur porn film; fifteen-year-old Felicia Garcia was shamed for having sex with the football team; Jesse Logan was eighteen when her ex-boyfriend shared their sexts to girls who harassed her; and there are so many others.

In response to this kind of bullying, a group of women dressed in “slutty” clothes, marched to their local police station, and the SlutWalk was formed. What started as a protest of slut shaming and victim blaming (blaming the victim for being sexually assaulted based on how they’re dressed) in Toronto in 2001, the SlutWalk has become an international movement to end misogyny and rape culture, where the word “slut” is reclaimed and transformed into empowerment.

***

I was slut shamed recently by a not-so-nice guy (the same guy I talk about here). I refused to meet up with him after he stood me up and wasted my time—because that’s just not how anyone should treat another human being. He didn’t outright call me a slut, but he pretty said as much.

manuel

I’m all for doing what you want with your body, whether that’s covering up or sending nudes. I love my body! I’m stuck with it, so I might as well build a healthy relationship with it. I don’t really like wearing clothes (as I mentioned in my last post, that’s definitely true for shoes), and I’d like to join or visit a nudist colony at some point in my life. That being said, I’m not ashamed of being naked around people, and that extends to pictures. Like it or not, it’s the twenty-first century (like I said), and people share nudes of themselves. I’m guilty of that. Who isn’t? But only what’s comfortable to me and if I’m not being pressured by the other person. (People are also really dumb and think that a picture of the crease your folded arm makes is cleavage, or the curve of your knees is your bosom.)

I sent this guy Manuel a very unsexy picture of me reading a book before he turned out to be jerk. When I told him I wasn’t interested any more, he insulted me. Although he wasn’t getting laid, he was hypocritically condemning me for what he believed I did with others. He’s shaming me for something he knows nothing about. The picture wasn’t anything that could’ve been used against me, but I guess it could’ve been worse—he didn’t relentlessly bully me. I stopped talking to him before he initiated the above conversation, but I definitely didn’t talk to him afterward. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but he made me feel awful about myself. I quickly got over it, but so many women experience this kind of harassment all the time.

***

As this title says, “If You Want A World That Respects Women, Stop Slut-Shaming Them.” It should be a thought crime to think about calling someone a thot (or “That Ho Over There”). To the girl I judged for her perceived promiscuity in middle and high school—I’m sorry. I didn’t give her the chance to see her as a human being, and instead wrote her off as a slut.

It’s your body and you do what you want, as long as you’re not chastising others. There isn’t anything wrong with not having sex or having sex. Consensual sex is awesome! Why can’t we just enjoy it and stop harassing others for and about it?

Further food for thought:
Slut-shamed to death for saying yes to sex, murdered for saying no
Slut-Shaming Is Bad But the Overreaction Against It Also Hurts Women
Gender: Is slut shaming necessarily bad?
When did slut shaming become a bad thing?
Stop slut-shaming Kim Kardashian: It’s a false sisterhood that insists success has to come at the cost of our sexual freedom
‘Slut shaming’ has more to do with social standing than sex, study says
Slut-Shaming Hurts Every Woman—Including Mean Girls

Some writers who lament how difficult it is to get their dicks wet/who think slut shaming is justified:
Skill Vs. Serendipity: Why Men Are Studs And Women Are Sluts
On studs and sluts
Why do people think slut-shaming is a bad thing?
Is slut-shaming a good thing?

Have you had any experiences with shut shaming? How do you feel about slut shaming?

Things He Says: A Womanifesto for Thing She Says

What are things he says?

Things He Says are universal, inescapable, all at once here and everywhere—before a young girl becomes a woman and throughout her lifetime. They aren’t only the hey babys or oye mamis shouted across sidewalks. They’re the thoughtless remarks that might sound innocent on the surface, but veil a deeper hostility toward women (a.k.a. misogyny). When a woman decides what to with her body—shave or not shave, take birth control or not, have sex with whomever she wants—she doesn’t ask for a man’s commentary. She doesn’t ask for a man to tell her she’s pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, fat/thin, or anything in between. These things he says make her feel unsafe, dirty, ashamed: “After days, weeks, months, and years of being objectified, shamed, policed, and stereotyped, women grow to feel inferior…”

Would a woman tell a man to shave his legs? No. Would she call him a slut for sleeping around? No. Then why do men say these things to women? It’s these remarks that reflect and perpetuate a patriarchal system in which men hold power and dominate while women are objectified and powerless. Thing She Says aims to make men aware of the things they say and their loaded meanings.

You’re not the things he says. You’re not alone. A collection of images and words said to women, Things He Says aims to create a safe space for women looking for a supportive community with whom to share their things he says.

Why do we question things he says? (Or, Why do we need feminism?)

Violence against women isn’t only physical; it’s the unchecked jabs, joking jeers, and off-hand comments that sear and scar. Unapologetic and uncensored, this blog interrogates the threatening compliments and criticisms that illustrate misogyny:

  • Street harassment: By the age of 14, 67% of girls have already been a victim of street harassment, with that number rising to 85% in the span of three years of her life (by the age of 17).
  • Slut-shaming: In 2010, two teen girls, Hope Witsell and Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after being relentlessly called “sluts” in their high schools. In 2012 and 2013, Rehtaeh Parsons (age 17), Audrie Pott (15), and Felicia Garcia (15) were shamed by peers and committed suicide. Their stories are mirrored in the countless girls and women victimized by the mentality that “Boys will be boys, and girls will be sluts,” regardless of their sexual activity.
  • Policing: Telling women what to do, say, wear, and think are all forms of policing, of asserting dominance over a powerless individual. When women resist this policing, we are regarded as bitchy, aggressive, unfeminine.
  • Gender stereotypes: The belief that women are supposed to be docile, passive, feminine, submissive, prude. If we’re not, we’re considered bitches, sluts, butch. Cultural archetypes (like Batman’s Harley Quinn, who embodies the seductive, murderous femme fatale archetype) enforce these stereotypes.
  • Body image: Women are surrounded by media that dictate what’s beautiful and attractive; young, thin, airbrushed models without body hair are plastered on billboards and magazines left and right. These ideals teach women how they should look—often to the detriment of their mental and physical health—and train men to desire certain physical attributes in a woman.

No matter if she’s wearing pants, wearing shorts, wearing nothing, he says the thing. On a plane and on a train, over here and over there, he says the thing. No, we do not want these things he says—here or there or anywhere.

Disclaimer: While the same issues also affect men, this blog specifically targets the things men say to women as expressions of systemic sexism.