Category: Social Justice

Happiness and the Nature of Winging It

Happiness is the easiest thing in the world, and also the hardest. It’s sunshine on your face. It’s battling brain chemistry. It’s as complicated as being in the right place at the right time to see the right person, and as easy as making yourself get in the shower after an anxiety attack.

This weekend, I celebrated happiness in the most tangible sense of the word. I decided on a whim to tag along with two friends to St. Louis Pride, which has been one of the best spur-of-the-moment decisions I’ve made in a long time. We gathered beads and beer, danced with friends and strangers, cheered on drag queens and yelled “Love Wins” at the top of our lungs. People were so happy. This ruling is a triumph in every sense of the word, but it’s a first step. A monumental one, but a first step nonetheless. There is so much more fighting to be done for LGBTQ+ rights: You can get fired for being not straight, and you can be even be evicted from your apartment. But there we all were, filling St. Louis with color and kissing and battle cries and selfies and hope and stickers and tears and smiling, celebrating a happy, happy victory.

Spontaneity has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s something I haven’t been able to indulge in for quite a while. I had to work. I procrastinated too much and needed to stay up super late to finish a project. I was broke. Usually, summer is my adventure time. After freshman year, I explored Austin with my sister. After sophomore, I ran away to Alaska to work as a camp counselor. Last summer, I hopped the pond to spend a summer in Belgium. This year, I’m off to a slower start. It’s been mostly work, Netflix and going to my favorite bars with friends.

But things are about to pick back up. When your life path is largely “I don’t know,” things are equal parts scary and exhilarating In two weeks, I’m moving out of my apartment and out of Columbia. For good. Which, initially, is terrifying and very, very sad and anxiety inducing in the extreme. It’s also exciting and thrilling and cause for celebration. I get to move on to a new adventure in Austin (which will hopefully soon include full-time employment if y’all could cross your fingers for me). I get to change and grow and go do new things. Meet new people. Find new coffee shops. Find new favorite bartenders. But to do that, I have to be willing to put myself out there.

This is my public declaration and internal plea to let myself take more chances. I’m a people pleaser and also a nervous sort of person. I worry about what people think of me. I don’t like to leave the house without triple-checking my hair or doing my eyebrows. I am also a person who loves adventures and eating at late night diners and exploring where there isn’t cell service. I want the next chapter of my life to focus on soothing this cognitive dissonance.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s way better than it has been. I feel more like myself than I have in ages. My good body image days far outweigh my bad ones. I’m not really afraid of shorts. I’m not afraid to dance in the grocery store. My hair is half blue-teal-teal-whatever.  I am realizing parts of my identity that are exciting and freeing and wonderful. I have a couple ridiculous crushes that make my life so wacky. Things have been really good recently.

Maybe it’s the fact that I won’t have to endure another finals week for more than five years (assuming I ever go to grad school). Maybe it’s the fact that my research project is done and submitted and out of my hair. Maybe it’s the fact that I feel validated in my physical presence. Maybe it’s the fact that people are proud of me. I’m not sure, but I feel more less like a pile of sludge and more like a sunbeam every day.

Portraits of a War: In Defense of the Selfie

“All identities have been created with war.”

The international news reporting guest professor said this last week in regards to Europe’s war-riddled past, but I immediately scribbled it in the margins of my legal pad.

All identities have been created with war.
And my war is ending.

For a long time, I wanted to be one of the boys. I shunned the color pink and curling my hair. I watched football every Sunday with my dad, begging the Cowboys to “please, please make this happen.” I went to hockey games and ate with my hands and didn’t care about dirt; I thought girls who piled on makeup and Abercrombie were fake or desperate or stupid.

Mostly, it was because I was small enough to fit into Abercrombie for about three months of my life. Then my body changed and stretched and expanded beyond what that coveted moose logo could fit. When I wore a lot of makeup, I felt like an impostor, like a child who got into her mother’s vanity. So, my not-quite-pretty-enough, not-quite-small-enough self rebelled against womanhood, against all things girly.

“Being a man would be so much easier,” I would whine, tugging at the bits of my swimsuit I couldn’t quite get to cover up my body. I wasn’t having a gender crisis — I was just tired of feeling the pressures of a patriarchal society that told me I wasn’t worth boys’ time if I didn’t look vaguely like a Barbie.

Except I didn’t know it as “the patriarchy” when I was 13. I knew it as girls looking at me like I wasn’t good enough. I knew it was cool to not like other girls, to have more guys friends than girl friends, to say “guys are just so much more fun to hang out with because they’re drama free!!!”

That’s not a phase girls should go through. That’s not girls being girls. That, my friends, is called internalized misogyny.

My desire to be a “cool girl” continued through most of high school. I took pride in my sweatpants-and-Birkenstocks outfits. I looked down on girls who wore makeup while I left home with a clean face. I lived to talk sports with the boys, reveling in their shock when I could form complete opinions on why Jason Witten is a truly exceptional tight end or why Ronnie O’Brien was FC Dallas’ best offensive asset. I hated on Kristen Stewart and Megan Fox, calling them boring or slutty.

It was exhausting, though, to constantly be checking over your shoulder. To make sure you were the girl in the room who cared the least about being a girl.

Things are changing, folks.

Sometime in the last couple years, women started learning to love each other again. Slowly, young women realized it was more fulfilling to compliment another girl’s shoes or smile than it was to sneer after she walked past. We began to see that another woman’s fashion choices had nothing to do with our own lives and therefore didn’t need to be addressed. We found comfort in the inherent strength of being a woman in a society that wants to treat you like everything but a human. Our war against each other was turned on its head into a war against the forces trying to separate us.

And I turned the corner and began to love my sisters. I tucked everyone into my heart: the women in coffee shops and the funny friends of friends and young girls playing kickball at recess. When men (or other women) speak badly of women, I have become a feminist lioness — no-nonsense and strong and protective. I have called out classmates more times than I can count on calling anyone, including celebrities, a slut. When I feel the conversation start to head down the path of misogynistic prattling, I simply say “She can do her thing. It’s her life.” ever so casually. When someone stands up, the group will usually reroute conversations.

I am not the only one doing this, either. I learned the bravery to speak out against classmates’ remarks by watching strong women in my life boldly speak their minds. Other humans I know, across a broad spectrum of sexualities and genders, shared their experiences and gently checked my white-cis privilege. My friend group has become a mass of young people tired of putting up with sexist, racists, ableist, misogynistic bullshit, for lack of a better word.

I’ve written about how destructive girl hate can be before, but I think I left out a key part: the key to loving others is loving yourself.
And that’s where selfies come in.

I’ve been through a pretty terrible year, self-love-wise. I’ve been in the dark of the woods, unsure how to get back to loving myself for more than 15 minutes a day when I’m laughing with my friends. I wanted to remember how to love my freckles and my fat fingers and my knobby knees and my brown hair. But when you can’t get out of your own head, it’s hard to look into the mirror and decide that you like what you see.

Recently, I’ve turned a corner yet again. I’ve made it to the window of my mental health fortress and realized that I needed to teach myself to love myself again.
So I started journaling. And not being afraid to be proud of work I had done. And to acknowledge both my shortcomings and my accomplishments. And to remember it was my own body that got me through the worst experiences of my life. And that I was cute, darn it.

So let’s stop shaming selfies. If you feel cute or goofy or just need to remind yourself that you are here and present and okay, take a selfie. If you want to remember a moment with friends, take a selfie. If you had an amazing hair day and felt the need to document, take a selfie. If your makeup looks incredibly good because you somehow managed to get your winged eyeliner even on both sides, by all means take a selfie and then teach me your ways.

Take selfies in full length mirrors when your outfit is worth remembering, for which ever reason. Right after you wake up, makeup free and groggy. On the middle of a dance floor, warm with beer and pop music. With friends, all beaming and pulling faces. Keep them on your phone infinitely or post the best ones to Facebook or save them for a friend’s birthday PicStitch. Comment on your friends’ selfies, reminding them that they’re cute and that you definitely should set up a coffee date soon.

Don’t forget that just as you are worthy of the love and respect of others, you are even more worthy of the love and respect of yourself.
In the always wise words of  Eleanor Roosevelt, “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

Because identities are forged by war. When you start coming out of the woods, remember to snap a photo of your warpaint. I will stand by you and support every single selfie you Instagram. Together, like women marching into battle, we will learn to love thy selfie.

If loving yourself is a revolution, put me on the front lines.

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Earning Tiger Stripes

You do not earn your stripes by eating sugary cereal, winning bowl games or wearing black and gold. You earn your stripes by taking a stand. By doing what is right.

Michael Sam came out a week ago today. Even if you don’t go to MU, you have probably seen the news, as it is coming from outlets like Human Rights Campaign, the New York Times, ESPNOutSports and Deadspin. Even Jon Stewart had a thing or two to say about sexuality in the NFL.

Atta boy, Mikey.

And the reactions have been amazing. My entire Twitter feed was filled with #StandBySam and #OneMizzou tweets. Every post I’ve seen has been ecstatic.  A t-shirt shop downtown made dozens of shirts emblazoned with a new motto: “We Are All ComoSexuals.” There is an immense amount of love and support coming from every direction toward this charismatic, talented campus leader.

Westboro Baptist Church, that awful bastardization of corrupted worship, protested Saturday before the Mizzou basketball game. I was a link in the human wall that lined the road between WBC and campus. My toes froze, my nose froze and I got to sing the alma mater with people I had never seen before, all of ours faces smiling: breathless and happy. As WBC packed their signs back into their cars, a student started a rousing rendition of “We Are the Champions.” It was a magical experience.

It’s all great and fantastic, and I am naïvely hopeful about the future of LGBTQ culture in professional sports (especially the NFL).

And, still, I think of Sasha Menu Courey.

Menu Courey, if you missed the ESPN story last month, was a swimmer at MU before she took her own life in 2011. There is a huge controversy over her alleged rape by MU football players and the university’s response to her reports. The Columbia Missourian has kept up with the story as developments come out, and it has been on our minds and discussions, in case you wanted to learn more.

Practically back-to-back, we have two very opposite public images of MU. A woman failed by authority figures and a man lifted up by his peers. I know that these are very different stories, and therefore lend themselves to very different public reactions. Menu Courey’s story is one of shame, violence and rape culture. Sam’s is one of bravery, equality and LGBTQ culture.

I think what I’m most afraid of, honestly, is either of the stories being invalidated by the other. Sam coming out is not a ploy for the world to forget about Menu Courey. Menu Courey’s tragedy should not be a reason to not celebrate Sam’s coming out. Both story worthy of its own attention, but there is definitely a conversation to be had: How do we balance an ultimate high and an ultimate low from the same university department?

We balance it with education and awareness. Rape and sexual assault are heinously underreported at MU. Statistically, it’s likely that 5,000 sexual assaults happened on campus last year. Only 102 were reported to campus police and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, but of those 102, only two reports were filed with the Office of Student Conduct. Two out of 5,000, in case you were wondering, is .04 percent. Are you horrified? Because I’m horrified.

I love and believe in the One Mizzou concept as much as the next social-justice-minded undergrad, but if students are still calling each other “faggot,” does it matter that Michael Sam is the first out Division I athlete? If people are making false rape accusations or, even worse, not reporting rapes, does it matter that Menu Courey’s story matter?

Giving resources to victims and potential victims is incredibly crucial, as is supporting victims when they decide to tell their stories of violence and survival.

Arguably more important is prevention. Not preventing victims, but preventing those who create victims. This is my desperate cry: We must not stand for exclusivity. When someone uses the word “retarded,” “slut” or “faggot,” speak up — then and there. Do not indulge those who make rape jokes. Do not let language use its power for anything less than good. Educate yourself about how social justice influences your daily life, then pass the torch of knowledge onto friends, classmates and strangers.

This is not a job for resource center staffs alone. This requires the entire student body. Your presence is mandatory. Attendance will be taken.

I can promise you, the discomfort of calling someone out is trivial compared to the shame a victim feels with every slur. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I hope that campus gets that much more inclusive because of Sam’s coming out.

I hope that MU faculty and students alike take sexual assault allegations much more seriously because of Menu Courey.

I hope that powerful stories can be guiding lights toward change, not repeated history.

A Few Ignorant Men (And Women)

I almost flipped tables over today. Not because of my French midterm or my low bank accounts. Not even because I haven’t felt truly awake in a really long time.

But because a handful of humans continue to beat against the walls of my “everyone is good” heart.

A blog post by Matt Forney called The Case Against Female Self-Esteem has been circulating widely on my Facebook, and probably on yours too. I encourage you to go read it. Warning: you will be fuming afterwards. I gave myself a stress headache and a racing heart. If you don’t want to infuriate yourself, I’ll give you a play-by-play.

Forney states that women should be insecure, that female confidence is a plague on our nation. He gives a three-part argument:

  1. “Most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem.”
  2. “Insecurity is integral to femininity.”
  3. “Women don’t want self-esteem.”

As if the subheads weren’t already infuriating, it only gets worse.

  • “A woman with excessive confidence is like a man with a vagina. It’s an attribute that is at best superfluous and at worst prevents women from fulfilling their natural biological and social functions.”
  • “If girls want to play in our world, they’ll have to obey our rules. Otherwise, they know where the kitchen is.”
  • “Confidence doesn’t give men erections; vulnerability does.”
  • “Sorry, but homie don’t play that game. If I’m not the center of a girl’s world, I’m not going to be in her world period.”
  • “So-called confident women are as threatening as a pile of dog turds. Sure, you can scrape them off your boots when you get home, but it’s better to not step in dog shit to begin with.”
  • “Why do you think the average urban slut machine is downing enough Prozac to poison the water supply?”

The worst thing is the last paragraph.

At the end of the day, there are no Strong, Independent Women™. There are only shrews pleading for a taming. All the posturing, the pill-popping, the whining and demands for “equality”; they’re a cry for help. Girls don’t want the six-figure cubicle job, the shiny Brooklyn 2BR, the master’s degree, the sexual liberation, none of it. They want to becollectively led back to the kitchen, told to make a nice big tuna sandwich with extra mayo and lettuce, then swatted on the ass as we walk out the door.

I say we give them what they want.

 

Okay. The cordial, “don’t-get-too-loud-about-you-feelings” gloves are coming off… ARE YOU KIDDING ME. ARE YOU JOKING. IS THIS REAL.

The idea that there is a person out there who can, in good consciousness, type and publish a piece like this is horrifying to me. An even bigger problem is that it’s not only Forney who holds these views: Commenters are voicing agreement from the void of the Internet. Women, even, are nodding their anonymous heads, telling Forney how attractive they find him, how they want to sleep with him, make him happy.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 4.41.53 PM
I want this to be a sarcastic comment, but I just can’t tell.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 4.40.58 PMIt doesn’t end there either. Forney has posted other inflammatory posts, such as  “Why Fat Girls Don’t Deserve To Be Love.” This posts hits especially close to home, as an overweight woman, and I was nearly naseous when he referred to overweight and obese women as “warpigs,” “cows,” “sluts” and “vermin.” This post includes quotes just as choice as the piece on insecurity:

“Women, regardless of size, crave one thing above all else: attention. Starve the heifers of it. Don’t speak to them if you don’t have to and don’t acknowledge their existence. Treat them like you would treat a child molester or a card-carrying Nazi. This includes your family; if your sisters, cousins or aunts insist on being losers, treat them like losers.”

I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I want to believe that people are good underneath all of our pettiness and wacky behavior. I want to believe there is a golden streak through the heart of every human, that wants to bring good into the world. I want to believe.

And then people like Forney and his followers open their Internet mouths and destroy that hope.

I know the people I surround myself with in my personal life are not the types to ever read a Forney post without screaming at the feminist goddesses, asking why a few ignorant men insist on ruining the reputations of good men everywhere.

For all of the goodness of my family and friends, and their sincere desire for me to succeed, there are people (with Internet connections and blogs) who think I am worth nothing if I am not cowering in a corner, waiting for a man’s approval.

How do we move on from here? How do I move past the fact that there is a group (not an individual, but a group) that thinks it’s okay to call me a vermin? That my career aspirations and educational pursuits are all fluff? That my place is in the kitchen not because I make really delicious oven-roasted veggies or turkey chili, but because that is all my tiny female brain can handle?

One of these days, I won’t get upset by the toxic words of others. I will do what I can to educate and forgive those who have spoken out of hate or naïveté, but I won’t let the negativity of others impact my life. I will live with respect and compassion, and do my best to be light in the lives of others.

Not today. Today, I am angry.

(note: I wish I had a solution to offer you, dear readers. But I am simply fuming and needed to get this post out of my system.)

A word from Hanna Jacunski

Here’s a thing I wrote today for my anti-bullying organization, Peer to Peer.

Peer to Peer MU

Bullying sucks. Feeling like a victim sucks. Being nervous about every subtle move of your awkward knees or if your brand-new reading glasses look dumb on your acne-ridden nose sucks. Your nose that you’ve never liked (thank you, genetics).
Bullying is based in shame. It can escalate to violence (cue that really terrifying scene of Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story), but is usually quiet. It is a sly comment, just under the hearing radar of every teacher, parent, firefighter, adult do-gooder in the vicinity.
Bullying is repetitive. It is every day. It is every encounter. It is every attempt to change.
“You’re fat.”
“You’re fat.”
“You’re fat.”
Bullying is permanent. It is never quite feeling good enough because some boy who’s name you will never forget didn’t think you were good enough. A boy who thought he was better than you got the best of you. You weren’t…

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