I Want to Always Remember

9/11
here

When I was in my sophomore year of high-school, 6 years after 9/11, I waited the entire school day for someone – a teacher, a classmate, the principal – the say something about the anniversary.  By 7th period, after hours of discussing isosceles triangles, Hamlet, and World War II, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen.  That somehow, we manage to remember our birthdays and how many days till the next party, and where and when and how we met our boyfriends, but 9/11 somehow seems to slip our collective minds.

This year, somehow, I forgot to write a post about it.  I scheduled photos I took over the weekend and didn’t realize until I woke up this morning that photos weren’t what I wanted to be sharing today.

Thirteen years ago means that this tragedy happened while most of us were alive.  I was in fourth grade, on my way to typing class when every adult in the small school building was called immediately to the principal’s office and we were all left waiting in the hallway, arguing about who had cooties.

I’ve never had a chance to see Ground Zero, which I guess seems fitting since I also never had a chance to see the World Trade Center before that day.  But the image of them is printed into my mind as though I’d seen them a thousand times, walked past them on my way to school and work for more years than I can count.  And I guess I have because as much as people neglect to say anything on this day each year, more photos and articles pointing to conspiracy theories, blaming Bush, blaming Obama, blaming religious people who had nothing to do with that day, claiming freedom and happiness for America…they crop up everywhere.

What I don’t see, what I think a lot of people forget even as they distinctly remember the numbers, are the thousands of people who died that day – in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, in those planes.  The firefighters and rescue workers who lost their lives in the aftermath, trying to save whoever they could.  The terrified men and women who were as old as I am now, who looked up and realized that their only option was to jump.

Those are the people I want to remember today, because as thankful as I am for the people who have risked their lives since then, who have lost their lives since then, all because of this day, these people never knew what was coming.  They woke up that morning with no idea how their days would be ending, and their lives are the reason we are in this place that we are in now.  I want to never stop remembering them, and their families, and what was lost that day.

Words Can Hurt Me: Why We Need to Stop Glorifying Childhood Bullying

I can remember being eight-years-old, having my grandmother tell me “sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.”  It’s a mantra that I’ve heard hundreds of times since then, in lectures from well-meaning family members, in after-school specials, and from guest speakers in my high-school.  At times – after school-yard games of tag and sleepovers I wasn’t invited to – the phrase was one I repeated to myself in an attempt to feel better.

As well-intended as the phrase is though, somewhere along the road, it crossed a line from productive to harmful.  Somewhere along the way between pretending bullying doesn’t exist and trying to make it’s victims feel better, our society has glorified the concept; as though being ostracized for years of your life makes you an inherently better person, stronger and more well-adjusted than those people who didn’t spend years handing their lunch money over to the class bullies or cowering down from a girl who knew all the right buttons to push.

I can honestly say that I’m a different person now than I was nine years ago, when I had my parents buy me a new outfit and drive me to a school dance that wasn’t happening, only to find ourselves walking into the middle of a high-school basketball game instead.  In more ways than one, being told that my being the “new girl” meant I had no rights to friends and that that was something I needed to adjust to did make me stronger, more willing to stand up for myself and what I believe in.

But if I could, it’s something I’d take back in a heartbeat – that eighth-grade year when I spent Friday nights alone with my parents, and the beginning of high-school when I couldn’t wait to be finished with Catholic school and the hell my last year there had been.

Our world already provides plenty of chances to grow up, hold your own, and find strength in yourself and your opinions.  What we don’t need is one more chance to be pushed down, told that we are somehow wrong, and forced to make it through.

Coming from a person who’s dealt with a year of having no friends, of being told that I am somehow wrong: words do hurt, and being bullied has not made me an inherently better person.  It’s nothing to glorify, and the pain it put not only me through, but also my brother and parents is nothing I’d wish on anybody else – regardless of how “strong” it may have made me.

Start a Revolution

 
 
 
 

I can remember the first time I realized how self-deprecating I was capable of being.  I was 14-years-old, sitting in my parents’ basement on the computer IMing my then-boyfriend and my cousin.  My boyfriend had told me I was beautiful, and my immediate reaction was to say “OMG im ttly NOT hahahahahaha” (because yes, I absolutely talked like that on the Internet).

It was a completely ridiculous reaction, and my cousin wasted no time in telling me that according to Cosmo, I’d have been better of thanking him because if you contradict a person often enough, they’ll start to feel bad about themselves and you.  
 
Well Cosmo, I gotta hand it to you – you got one thing right after all these years of reading your magazines.  Somehow though, despite a licensed sex doctor’s thoughts on the matter, it’s become an ingrained part of female culture to put ourselves down, as though accepting a compliment or not responding to our friends’ self-deprecation with some of our own is a cardinal sin we’re too terrified to commit.  They weren’t kidding when they told us that we’re our own worst enemies, because I can’t imagine ever taking that kind of shit from the bitchiest girls I’ve ever known, let alone from a person who’s supposed to be my best friend.
 
Saying “I hate” rather than “I love” is a pretty negative statement if ever I heard one.  Somehow though, it’s become a part of our cultural rules of etiquette that you don’t respond to a person’s self-hate with “Sarah, you’re gorgeous!” rather than “oh my God NO WAY, have you even seen my hips?”  As though loving yourself and your body is rude, and self-hate is not only the polite thing to do, but also the expected thing.
 
Here’s the thing though – as many things about myself as I may hate about myself (and trust me, my closest friends can point out that I regularly tell them I’ve got Saturn wrapped around my waist), what you say about yourself has got to make a difference.
 
So this week, I’m challenging myself – and you, if you’ll accept it – to stop the self-hate.  Next time you look in the mirror and want to think “ughh those bags under my eyes are HUGE,” think “wow, my hair looks pretty great today.”  

On Still Needing Feminism in 2014

feminism in 2014

In the couple of years since I’ve become more outspoken about feminism and equality, I’ve dealt with a lot of negative comments; a lot of insults, suggestions that I need a boyfriend, and just plain ridiculous arguments.

There’s one comment that seems to come up more than others though, and to me it’s the most worrisome because it’s not a hurled insult or an illogical argument.  It’s a quiet statement; something that the person actually believes.  And the fact that so many people do feel this way is both sad and terrifying – “Why do we even need this anymore! We’re all equal already!”

This is something that the person truly believes when they say it – stated bluntly and as fact, as though I’ve suggested that women still aren’t allowed to vote and how could I truly believe such a thing.  As though voting was the only inequality women have had to overcome, and now that this particular wrong has been righted, there’s no longer anything to worry about.

It worries me because this delusion – this belief that things are equal when in fact they aren’t, or at least that the way things are is the right way, is why inequality exists.  This inaction because of the belief that nothing needs to be acted upon is why women still make $.77 for every $1.00 a man makes.  Why after ten sexual assaults on my college campus in one semester, the overwhelming response was still a warning directed solely at women: “please be careful about how much you drink and make sure you don’t walk home alone at night.” It’s the reason why, in four years of college, I was given three tubes of pepper spray and a taser, and my self-defense class junior year did not have a single male student.  It’s the cause of cases like Steubenville, which I can promise you was not an isolated incident.

This bizarre ignorance about the inequality in America is why, at nearly 23 years old, I am still told that “one day you’ll change your mind” every time I say I don’t want children.  Because despite being a fully-functioning adult, my “feminine obligation” to have children and dedicate my life to them still trumps my actual plans and desires.  In 2014, nearly every romantic comedy or “female” oriented television show, book, or movie deals with the question of whether or not women can have it all, because for men, it is expected that they will have it “all”.

Saying feminism isn’t necessary is like suggesting that despite the flickering lamp in your bedroom, you don’t need a new lightbulb.  It’s suggesting that over half the human population isn’t important enough to need or want equal rights and fair treatment, because this false sense of equality has been built into our media, our news, our religions to the point that it becomes difficult to separate reality from fiction anymore.

So why do you think Feminism is still important?  Or if you don’t think we need it anymore, why?

What’s Your Letters?*

No, not your number – the somewhat insulting question we’ve all heard whether it was directed at us, or depicted in the media.  What I want to know is, what are your letters according to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?

By the time I took that test (for the first time), I wasn’t even slightly surprised to find it tell me I am an INFJ.  Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging.  I don’t think any personality test could define me better, and I guess that was the point.

I’ve known from a young age that I’m what most would describe as “shy,” and for years, that’s how I defined it too.  Until I realized that I’m not the slightest bit shy.  In fact, if you were to suggest to some of my closest friends that I’m a shy person, they’d probably laugh at you as they recall how loud and talkative I can be with them.  What I am is introverted, and this test put it into words for me.

All through college, I went to probably 10 or 20 parties, and I stayed friends with the group of 10 wonderful people I met in my first month living in my freshman year dorm.  To this day, I’ve only been to a few of the bars in my town, and I tend to only want to go to one of them.  I have a better time with a group of three people than I ever will in a crowd.  And by senior year, I was pretty upset about that – if there was any one thing I could change in an instant, that was it.  I wanted to want to go out on Friday night, to go to parties at frat houses and spend hours getting to know people I’d never met before.  But for me, it was exhausting – I had fun while I was there, spending time with my friends and meeting new people.  And it wasn’t as though I was quiet or somehow on the edge.  But by the end of the night, I wanted to go home.  I couldn’t spend one more minute at that party, and all I wanted was to sleep.

But do you know what else my INFJ personality says about me?  It’s not a one-sided definition, and that’s one of the things I love about it (you know, apart from the Quizilla tests we all took back in middle-school that told me, point blank, “you are Ariel” or a cat, or the color orange, or any number of other outcomes that was intended to suggest my personality).  INFJs are multi-dimensional, and they’re difficult to classify as one or the other.  We are both creative and responsible, artistic and logical, holistic and analytic, at least according to this pretty in-depth description of my “type”.

I am intuitive, in that I’d rather focus on the whole picture, rather than each detail of it (maybe this is why I’m awful at puzzles?).  I prefer my personal experiences and feelings over fact and proven logic (does this explain why I absolutely never plan anything, and would rather fly by the seat of my pants, as they say?).

As it turns out, INFJs make pretty good bloggers (and teachers, ministers, counselors, journalists, team leaders….), so maybe that explains why I couldn’t let this piece of the Internet go, and why so many of us here in the Blogosphere say we’re introverted.  For all the things I sometimes wish I could change about myself (my lack of decision-making skills, my disposition towards introversion and the occasional, ever so quiet and ridiculous fear that this may lead to my ending up alone piled over in cats one day), there are things about this personality type – my personality type – that I love (my forever being in the gray of life, between creative and responsible, spiritual and scientific, artistic and logical).

So…what are your letters? Of the 16 personality types, which are you?

*Yes, I realize that title is grammatically incorrect.  Yes, it was on purpose.

On Defining Feminism

I can’t remember the first time I heard the word “feminist,” whether it was in a history textbook chapter about women fighting for the right to vote, or whether it was an insult shouted on a playground.  I do know I’ve heard it in both contexts, and in a thousand others as well.  From my mother, telling me about how she marched in Washington for equal rights.  From books I’ve read over the years, loving every page.  From television shows, and blog articles, and friends and classmates.

But even though I’ve grown up with the word being a part of my vocabulary, I don’t know if I could easily define it.  If you were to Google “feminism,” I’m sure you’d find a hundred different definitions – plenty of them not so positive.  Urban Dictionary would probably have more, and I’m sure that if you asked 50 different people to tell you, you’d get 50 different definitions because the word means something different to everyone, and the only definitions I’m willing to reject are the cruel ones.  The kind that say feminists are man-hating bra-burning psychos.  That is a definition I can quickly and easily disregard.

But the rest?  For me, there’s so much that goes into feminism.  It’s the whole-hearted belief that we all deserve equal rights – not just women and men, as two separate categories.  But the LGBTQA community as well.  Every race, every color, every country.  It’s why the idea of the men’s rights movement makes me laugh because, well, isn’t that repetitive?  Because isn’t feminism the idea that everyone deserves equal rights, and simply pointing out that some groups already have those rights while others don’t?

For me, feminism is an ongoing process.  A verb, not a noun.  It is the act of continually fighting so that this world is good and fair and safe for everyone, not just a select few.  It is the whole-hearted and never-ending belief that – God or no God – we were all created equal.  Or that if we weren’t, we became equal in the thousands of years since we first stepped foot on this planet, and that it is our one absolute duty in life to ensure that we treat one another as such.

Feminism is a belief system, one that I choose over Catholicism or Buddhism or Judaism or anything else.  It is the faith that humanity is good, and completely worth fighting for.  That starting a fight is not a bad thing if you’re arguing for a good reason.  That there are good fights out there, and feminism is one of them.  And it needs to be fought in every corner of the world, because as much as we’ve worked, there’s still more work to be done.

So what is feminism to you?  I want to know.  I want to have a conversation, and hear how you define a word that we’ve all heard a thousand explanations for.

On Rape Culture and What You Can Do About It

Last week, I linked to a post I really loved from [Witty Title Here], and I promised I’d have more to say on that later. The thing is, I really do love that post. I love the conversation it starts, and (almost) everything she has to say about feminism. The problem is, I’ve been struggling to write this post for a while now. I don’t know how to say what I need to without the anger I feel about it shining through.

rape culture

This conversation is one that’s been had before. I’ve been a part of it more times than I can count, having been raised by a mother and father who constantly reminded me how important my rights are and how important I am.

When I started preparing to take the SATs four years ago, I looked at more colleges than I can count. I probably couldn’t even tell you all of the ones I applied to because since my parents had never gone to college themselves, they insisted I apply everywhere. We drove all over Pennsylvania looking at potential schools before eventually deciding on one that had never been on my radar (that’s not to say I’m not happy here. I absolutely love this school, and in fact plan on staying in this town after I graduate this weekend. It just wasn’t my plan).

One of the biggest factors in my choosing this school over one my mom really wanted me to go to was safety. That other school just did not feel safe, even with a hundred cops all over the place (or maybe because of that). This one though? This one felt perfect. And for three years, I was never scared here. I would walk home from work at 2AM alone if none of the bouncers were able to leave for 20 minutes; and maybe that was naive, but it’s a testament to how safe I felt here – not just on campus, but in this town. On nights I couldn’t sleep or when a big test had me stressed, I would head down to a playground right off campus and sit on the swings.

This year though, that changed. This year, if you know my school, you know there have been problems. I can’t even count how many assaults I’ve received e-mails and texts about, and it got so bad my little town made it onto the 6o’clock news one night. My campus is covered in “TIMELY WARNING”s, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing them. I’m sick of reading about how not safe the women on this campus are (because while I realize sexual assault is a gender neutral issue, the ones being reported on a weekly basis at my campus are strictly female victims). I’m sick of hearing that the men they knew and trusted did this to them.

I lose my ability to communicate effectively when I hear someone say that she had any part in what happened. I can’t think straight enough to formulate a response when someone says “well, she was drinking. And girls these days…their skirts are just a bit shorter than I should think is appropriate.” You know what? That has nothing to do with it. And that simple fact seems like basic common sense to me, because if you can acknowledge that the men and women who do these things are mentally ill, then you surely can’t believe that the outfit she was wearing had anything to do with it.

It frankly doesn’t matter if she was topless because we are not animals incapable of thought. We do not have a rape instinct that kicks in at the mere sight of skin. We are human beings who need to be taught “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped.”

The only thing that makes her skirt or her blood alcohol content relevant is us. We make these things important because by pointing them out, we tell the predators exactly who they should go after. We tell them that if they pick a woman who’s had a few drinks, or who is wearing a lot of make-up, or who is walking home alone it might be only sort of their fault. We tell them that these are the victims they should choose, because a jury might say she was asking for it; might suggest she said yes and regretted it in the morning.

As a society we need to stop excusing this behavior. Even if you don’t think you are, even “well I’m just pointing out that certain behaviors can attract unwanted attention,” you are still perpetuating rape culture. Because in the end, you’re absolutely right: a short skirt does attract unwanted attention.  But not because they wouldn’t do the same thing to a woman in baggy jeans and an old t-shirt. They wouldThey picked that woman, because we told them they should, and we need to stop telling criminals which victims are the most vulnerable.