Tell Me I’m Empowered

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

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On Gratefulness, and Working for Minimum Wage

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

‘Englishness’

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’

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