Tell Me I’m Empowered

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A few weeks ago, after the whole Kim Kardashian nude photo internet explosion of 2016, my mother sent me a Facebook message linking to an article about it and asked me what I thought. The article, titled “Dear Kim. Please stop using the term ’empowerment’ when you really mean marketing” is a scathing and sarcastic attack on KK and her selfie by Jacqueline Lunn, who insists:

“Kim’s nude selfies are not about feminism. They are not about liberation or empowerment. They are not about female inclusion.”

I’ve seen any number of angry, hate-filled blog posts skewering Kim as an enemy of feminism, someone who plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty for her own sick enjoyment and monetary rewards, so I was familiar with the whole cycle already. Feminist sees skinny, surgically enhanced woman, is unable to acknowledge the latent internalized misogyny within themselves, begins to hate the skinny woman, and begins to loudly and publicly bash the woman. Rinse and repeat.

Knowing that my mother has an intense hatred for all things Kardashian, I approached the situation cautiously because I wanted to avoid another drawn out argument about what it means to be empowered. What followed, however, was actually a really constructive conversation where I felt we really go to the heart of what makes me so angry about all these people attacking a woman for something so insignificant and harmless as a nude photo.

Continue reading Tell Me I’m Empowered

I lied about being sick, but not in the way you think

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When I was a kid, my mother used to take ‘mental health days’, as she would call them. On those days, she would call in sick to work, sit on the couch, eat crisps, watch bad TV, and basically treat herself. When I was a kid I never knew quite what she meant, but to me it seemed clear that she was unwell, that she needed those days in order to function as an adult human. I loved those days with my mom, because I really felt like I was experiencing someone recuperate themselves, and this taught me a lot about what mental illness is and what it looks like and how to deal with it. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like I can really see where she was coming from. This article is kind of about that, and kind of about me.

Continue reading I lied about being sick, but not in the way you think

On Gratefulness, and Working for Minimum Wage

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Gratefulness is a concept I’m pretty familiar with, and something I try to practice every day. As a former Buddhist, practicer of mindfulness meditation, and mental health service volunteer, I find myself constantly discussing the concept of being grateful for what we have and trying to make the most out of what we are given. I often tell people that, in my travels, I have seen people who have less than nothing, who live in what many would consider unlivable circumstances. I remind myself, and others, that we should be grateful for any beauty and happiness we can experience. When one of the people I volunteer with tells me about a negative experience, I make a point to try and tell them how strong they are for surviving it, how resilient I think they are, and how grateful I am that they have come through the other side. This is in the hope that they, too, will come to see the silver lining, no matter how small, to understand their own power, and to be grateful that they are alive.

Recently, I was reminded of this by a snarky friend(?) of mine whilst complaining about my day job. This person felt it necessary to remind me to ‘practice what I preach’, that I shouldn’t complain about my job because so many people would be happy to have any job at all, and that ‘it’s better than being out on the street’. This is not the first time this friend(?) has made a similar comment, and since I have had a difficult past two years it only gets more frustrating every time. This particular unwanted, sarcastic, and frankly infuriating response to what I saw as legitimate complaints, however, really got me thinking. Perhaps, I thought, I should stop complaining so much. But the thing is, I do hate my job and I do feel sometimes that life has dealt me a crap hand. I do not feel that I am being, as the friend(?) put it, ‘melodramatic’ and ‘overemotional’. I started to wonder where the line is – that is, how grateful am I expected to be for things which do not make me happy, and which I do not enjoy? Is it being ungrateful to expect more for myself, to hope for more out of my life? Where is the line between gratefulness and lowered expectations? Continue reading On Gratefulness, and Working for Minimum Wage

Cultural Appropriation or Representation? An Exploration.

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So the other day I was having a conversation with my Dad about films (one of the only things we ever talk about), and he asked me if I would like to watch The Lone Ranger. Forgetting momentarily, as I often do, that my dad is an aggressive racist (Yes, I’ve tried to tell him. No, it hasn’t stuck.), I said that I felt funny about watching that film because they cast Johnny Depp as a Native American and I think, isn’t it bad enough we committed a genocide against them? Now we have to have Willy Wonka/Captain Jack Sparrow/Hot Gypsy from Chocolat essentially in blackface in a Hollywood film as a hideous parody of their dying culture? Or something along those lines. Realizing that I was going all social justice warrior and that this conversation usually ends with me fuming and him becoming even more smug in his blatant racism (like a microcosmic lampoon of American politics) I quickly changed the subject*. I thought that the problem would end there, but little did I know that the argument was far from over. I soon received a snarky email with something along the lines of: ‘Dahling. Understand perfectly how you felt about the Johnny Depp flick. I felt exactly the same way when they cast a black guy as Heimdall in Thor.’
Now if you’re currently engulfed in flames, screaming ‘WHAAAAAT’ and flipping every table in sight, fear not. I too, have been there. If it was just my dad who felt this way, I would be happy to let it go, but unfortunately I repeatedly read and hear very similar opinions ALL THE TIME, and it’s driving me mad. If, in contrast, you are wondering why the hell anyone would get mad about that, or even worse wondering the same thing about Fantastic Four or any film that has cast a black actor in a ‘white’ role, don’t worry because I’m going to break this down for you. We are, together, going to explore the line between representation and appropriation until we can all be screaming angrily about institutionalized racism. And for those of you who need a definition of either, I will give you helpful links here and here.

Continue reading Cultural Appropriation or Representation? An Exploration.

‘Englishness’

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Some days, I talk to my co-workers about mundane things like the weather or what I had for dinner. Other days, it seems, the conversation is doomed to descend into a racist, xenophobic, and often factually incorrect rant about immigrants, the EU, and the ‘destruction of England’. This seems to be inevitable in a country which, until recently, I considered to be part of Europe (my American education never disputed that idea and it is, you know, right there next to it). Men carry bags, people go to cafes for lunch and tea, they have a queen: Europe! Many of the residents, though, would be strongly opposed to that assumption, and would likely voice their opposition very loudly. Central to all these conversations is the assertion that ‘Some day, there will be no one truly “English” left in England’, an assertion I find really laughable. After all, the government deemed me to be ‘English’ enough for it to say so on my passport, and I still get confused by the difference between ‘chips’ and ‘crisps’ sometimes.

As a person who hails from a country often referred to as ‘the melting pot’, and specifically from a state where white, English-speaking Americans (‘real Americans’ as many unabashed bigots would happily tell you) are often in the minority, I find this strange conversation to have heavily racist undertones. The same person who will tell you that ‘Englishness’ is under threat will start the next statement with ‘I don’t mean to be racist, but…’, leading me to roll my eyes and immediately exit the conversation. (If you don’t mean to be racist, I think, you should probably just not say what ever it is you are about to say). After all, no one has ever confronted me about my easy citizenship, granted to me simply because my biological father happens to be from England. And, if you wanted to be really pedantic about it, you could point out that my fathers family is actually from Scotland originally, and therefore isn’t really even English at all. I may very well have distant cousins who recently marched in the streets for their independence from the British Parliament.

But what really strikes me as interesting in all this is the idea of ‘Englishness’. What, I find myself asking the speaker, does it mean to be ‘English’? What is this ‘Englishness’, and how exactly is it threatened by immigrants and refugees? Once, in the US, we had this crazy idea that all you had to do to be ‘American’ was to live in America. People came from all over the world simply to become American, and once they were granted that privilege they took great pride in their new titles. However, in England, this doesn’t seem to be the case. People who immigrate to England, it seems, often still identify as whatever they were before they arrived. I remember my confusion is university when a girl introduced herself to me as ‘from New Delhi but grew up in Islington’. I though, if you grew up in Islington, aren’t you English? After all, I’m from Nottingham but I grew up in Alabama, and despite my issues with the title I still identify myself as American most of the time. It seems, then, that ‘Englishness’ isn’t something people particularly want. Why then are we defending it with so much anger and vitriol?

Continue reading ‘Englishness’

Bra-fessions (Bra Confessions. Confessions about my Bras.)

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A little while ago, I remember a friend being absolutely terrified that I, a 22 year old adult woman, own only one bra. It is a black, plain, flat t-shirt bra from Primark which I bought 2 years ago. I wear it constantly and I wash it once a week, or every two weeks if it passes a sniff test. My friend, another 22 year old adult woman, was completely horrified, attesting that this was unhygienic and that I should buy another one right away. Over and over, I’ve found this weird disconnect between women when it comes to how they care for their lady lumps. Whether it be a Buzzfeed video comparing different ways to clip them, or a terrifying Chinese woman screaming at me in a Shanghai fitting room that my (carefully fitted) bra does not fit correctly, there seems to be a veritable chasm of disagreement over how bras work. Needless to say, this all really got me thinking. And then I got really confused and scared that I may be doing the bra thing ‘wrong’, and therefore failing utterly at being a woman. Then I got all feminist about it and felt really angry about the patriarchal emphasis on female appearance which forces me to waste valuable time thinking about this shit. Finally, I decided to document some of my own bra experiences, so that just maybe another woman like me, reading this article, might think ‘Hey, I thought I was the only one who did that! I’m not a freak! Hooray’. But most likely you’re probably just thinking ‘For God’s sake woman, buy another bra!’. Either way, here are my bra-fessions.

A Foreigner at Home: When Your Accent Works Against You

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Growing up in the American south, I was always acutely aware of accents. I can remember clearly my mother scolding me for adding extra syllables to words, an unmistakable twang that betrayed me as an Alabama girl. “The word is ‘bat’!” she would say. “Not ‘bah-yat’!”

I went to an expensive prep school, well known in part because of the eloquent, well-spoken young men and women it produces. I knew from a young age that the way I spoke sounded more like the people on CNN than the people down my street. I wore this as a badge of honor.

When I decided to come to England for university, it seemed like my accent would only prove to be an advantage. I assumed, somewhat correctly, that an American accent here has the same effect as a British one in the US. I assumed, completely falsely, that everyone in my university would be intelligent, well-spoken, and sound like a BBC News presenter. What I found, instead, that I was hit with a tidal wave of accents that I was in no way prepared to face, much less interpret. I had grown up with two accents: well-spoken and country. How, I asked myself, could there be so many accents in a country so small that it would fit easily inside Texas (with room to spare)? I was flooded with accents that somehow, were all British, and were all distinctly different from my own American-speak.

Continue reading A Foreigner at Home: When Your Accent Works Against You

People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore

The Baltimore riots have caused a lot of controversy in the media in the last few days over how they should be covered. The President has been alternatively criticized for his characterization of the people in the riots as ‘criminals and thugs’, and praised for his sympathy towards poor black Americans. Most people now seem to agree on and understand that the people are rioting because of institutionalized poverty and systematic racism, and it is good that these things are finally being addressed in the mainstream conversation. However, the size, scale, and violence of the riots seems to have people scared and confused. There seems to be a disconnect between understanding the causes and understanding the emotions of the black Americans who are actually living this reality.

Continue reading People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore

The Cycle of Female Incompetence

Original by Chelsea Francis for stocksnap.io
Original by Chelsea Francis for stocksnap.io

I am at work one day in the pub kitchen where I used to work, and I have just washed a huge plastic container full of cutlery. Three times I try and fail to lift the heavy box, gritting my teeth, determined that I can do this myself. My back gives a loud pop, and I drop what ever weight I had lifted and turn, defeated, to my male coworker.

“Could you please help me with this?” I ask, gesturing to the plastic box full of utensils.

He lifts it with ease, carrying it to the other room and leaving it for the floor staff to take to the dining area. I am embarrassed again, a frequent moment in my life, by my smallness, my weakness. Continue reading The Cycle of Female Incompetence

Bill Cosby and the myth of the lurking rapist

Image from tvweek.com

Jezebel has a new article today about three more victims have come forward to allege that comedian Bill Cosby raped or sexually assaulted them in the 70s and 80s, bringing the number of alleged victims to over 40. Each time a new victim comes forward, I am horrified again not just by the actions of this clearly very sick individual, but by the reactions to the continuing allegations. So far, the Cosby camp still hasn’t really issued a response to any of the allegations, with Cosby continuing to make public appearances and posts on his website. Celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Cosby’s daughter have spoken in his defense, leading to no small amount of backlash for their perceived victim-blaming.

Continue reading Bill Cosby and the myth of the lurking rapist