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I’m a Girls State alum, and the sexism at Texas Boys State 2014 is not OK

by Annemarie McDaniel

What do astronaut Neil Armstrong, President Bill Clinton, basketball star Michael Jordan, and singer Bon Jovi all have in common? When they were juniors in high school, they all attended a prestigious but little-known program called Boys State. That’s just the beginning of the incredibly long list of famous Boys State alumni, and alumnae from its sister program, Girls State, are just as impressive.

In just a few days at the summer Boys State and Girls State program, high school students run for office, write legislation, draft court opinions, publish newspapers, and more. Usually this is a very fulfilling experience, but this year, at Texas’ Boys State, one delegate’s entire campaign speech was just the words “Cold beer and titties.” Campaign photos featured swimsuit models with the political party’s name, “Feds,” on the model’s breast.  Another party’s platform cruelly shamed teen mothers. Boys State creates and fosters incredible future world leaders, and it’s terrifying to see such sexism being allowed by councilors and encouraged other attendees.

I am, in fact, a Girls State alumna, and my time at the California Girls State conference in 2011 shaped who I am today.

When I ran for the position of California governor, the other candidates and I took our race seriously, writing and rewriting our speeches to make sure we hit all of the key issues we wanted to address if elected. That doesn’t mean we weren’t also silly occasionally. One girl whose nickname was Par or Par-Par made golf jokes throughout her campaign; I personally told a hilarious anecdote or two (or five) while running; and there were definitely dance breaks both during our free time in the dorms and even during session occasionally. The conference is exhausting, and being funny is a great way to lighten the mood and have a good time.

Some people say Texas Boys’ State was just young guys having a good time together, but a speech where a candidate stands up, goes to the podium, says “Cold beer and titties,” and sits down, is not lighthearted fun that I’m talking about. If something similar happened my year at Girls State, a counselor or delegate would call out on stage how that is unacceptable. Because it is. “Titties” don’t just exist in their own little vacuum, they’re on women’s bodies, like my own. When a man reduces a value of women to just being her breasts, that mentality leads to the objectification and violence against women we see and hear so often in our media.

It’s the same problem with the campaign logo for the Boys State Federalist Party, or “Feds” for short this year. The Federalist Party chose an image of a swimsuit model from a magazine, wrote “Feds” on her breast, and decided this would be an excellent campaign photo to show other delegates. Sadly, if the Federalist Party was looking to capture boys’ attention, sexualized images do a good job of that. That’s what these boys are seeing at home when they turn on their TV or go online: companies trying to sell a product by using women’s bodies as a canvas. But Boys State is meant to be a place for the state’s best leaders to come together and create the best government and best selves that they can. Sexualizing women for the sake of campaign materials is just the opposite.

The sexism came from both political parties. The Nationalist Party included the following in their party platform: “In the case of teen pregnancies, three years of optional welfare can be provided as long as the person raises the child themselves and notifies their community that they are receiving welfare.” My jaw dropped when I read that bullet point. Teen mothers face incredible societal stigma already, and the leaders of this political party want to publicly shame them by perhaps making them walk door-to-door or put a sign in front of their house, telling the neighborhood that, yes, they are a teen mother, and yes, they are on welfare. This is even more sexist if one remembers that there also would be a man who helped create the child, but the guys at Texas Boys’ State didn’t think those men were truly responsible for the pregnancy and didn’t need to go around telling their neighbors they were a young fathers on welfare, unlike the young mother. If the Nationalist Party hoped to reduce the number of young mothers, their platform could have offered comprehensive sex education and contraception available in schools or more local Planned Parenthood funding. They could have supported young mothers by offering more flexible graduation options or on-campus childcare. But instead of strengthening the community by providing support for young pregnancies, the Nationalist Party chose sexism and targeted teen mothers. Not to mention their platform also outlaws all abortions except in the case of rape, so even if a teenager wanted to terminate a pregnancy, they would be forced to keep the child.

It’s easy to see all of this as being an isolated incident. It’s “just one camp” and “a few young boys” who didn’t realize they were crossing a line. Except this kind of sexism at this year’s Boys State in Texas reflects the sexism we have seen so often in grown-up politics recently. Just last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that buffer zones around Planned Parenthood clinics violate the constitution and that it is legal for Hobby Lobby to deny their employees birth control and other contraception, despite being medical benefits they are entitled to receive. How are these boys going to work around women politicians, or women in any career field, if they run for office in a few decades? Even in our day-to-day lives, this is the same sexism that fuels the sexualizing and policing of women’s bodies we experience when we walk down the street and see billboards of nearly-naked models selling a product, but are simultaneously slut-shamed for wearing “too short of shorts” in public.

In fifty years, a boy at Texas’ Boys State this year could be serving on the court, in Congress writing our nation’s legislation, interviewing political candidates on television, or even just serving on your local school board. No matter where the boys from this year of Texas’ Boys State go, they will have witnessed how there aren’t always repercussions for sexism in politics. This isn’t to blame the Boys State, American Legion, or Texas; this could’ve happened at any kind of conference in any state. But we need to be teaching our boys better. We need our young men who are councilors at these kinds of conferences to step in when that happens, our friends and other attendees to not be afraid to call out sexism publicly, and our future leaders to not say such statements in the first place.

The stakes are too high. When we justify this action by saying “boys will be boys,” we need to remember these boys become men, and accepting their sexism now means we may be forced to accept it for life.

 

Belle encourages us to look at the world in new ways

by Montgomery Jones

Sometimes it feels like films and television shows think biracial or mixed children are mythical creatures. More often than not, multiracial actors play whichever ethnicity they “look like” most, and as a mixxie myself, this has always saddened me. Because it’s 2014 and we lack representation of interracial couples and their kin, I never even thought to want see multiracial characters. Maybe I, too, thought they were mythological. Representation matters. So when I first found out there was a film about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate biracial daughter of British Royal Navy officer John Lindsay, I was very interested. The film Belle is based off of Dido’s life and is one I quite enjoyed.

The story begins as Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay, picks her up after the death of her mother and takes her to his uncle’s house. John clearly loves his daughter, but tells her right away that he is to leave again for the navy. He asks his aunt and uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lady Mary Murray, if they can raise her. The couple is hesitant when they realize that Dido is black, but eventually they come around to it.

Dido is raised with her cousin Elizabeth of the same age, and the two are inseparable growing up, closed off from the small-minded outside world. From a very young age, Dido is intelligent and observant. One of the things she picks up on right away is that the paintings in the house always show the black people in the background while their white counterparts take front and center—if there are any black people in the paintings at all. The close ups of these paintings are phenomenal visuals from the director, showcasing the contrast between the white aristocrat at the center of it all and the slave/servant in the background .

Dido’s place is never clearly defined. She tows the line between a member of the family and “other,” a guest in her own house.    Dido only eats dinner with her family when the setting is informal (i.e., no guests). She holds her head high, as though she is resigned to the fact that this is the way things “just are” or must work. At one point, a black maid helps her with her hair, something no one else in the house ever did. Dido tries to distance herself from the maid, to establish that they’re in different classes. It feels safe to assume that that’s how she feels about many black people. Only after meeting John Daviner, a lawyer who works for William Murray, does she start to question things.

I relate to Dido in so many ways. As a newer feminist, I am still opening my eyes to how the world works. There are things that are deep seeded in me, like saying “oh, that’s something women simply don’t do.” I still struggle with seeing that things aren’t true just because society tells me they are. That’s a hard lesson to learn. Dido simply didn’t question her treatment in the house because that is the way things always were for her. Then, she meets John Daviner, a lawyer who works for William Murray. Daviner insists that Murray is turning a blind eye to a recent case in which hundreds of slaves died for the insurance claim. Murray is irate and forbids the two from any further contact.

Dido is then betrothed to Oliver Ashton, a white man with a racist family. His mother only insists that they marry because Dido had recently inherited quite a fortune. Oliver himself is just enamored with her looks; he tells Dido that it’s not her fault she had the “misfortune” of being born that color. Realizing that he saw her race as an unfortunate circumstance (luckily he said she was still beautiful), she left him, perhaps realizing that moving up in society and having titles is no match for self-respect. All the while, Dido and Daviner are uncovering that William Murray is presiding over the insurance case about the murdered slaves. Dido, ever the astute student, finds evidence that the ship passed several ports where they could have stopped to feed and give water to the starved and dehydrated slaves, who later died. She asks her uncle how he would feel if she were on that ship, because those people are just like her. This is the film’s big moment, Dido standing up to her uncle and recognizing that these are her people.

I relate to Dido in more ways than one, and I think most mixed people can.  Often times it feels like society is telling us we need to be either one race or another, whether it is on standardized testing (which is getting better at the “select one” option), TV shows, or just kids on the playground telling you that you’re lying about your ethnicity. Often times we put ourselves in one box and inadvertently close off a huge part of our ethnic make up in order to fit in or fit the mold we are told to be. Period films are always intriguing because they give an inside peak in to a world we will never experience, but there are so many more stories to be told than the rich, white, aristocrat. We pride ourselves on not repeating history yet here we are, telling the same stories over and over. Belle is proof that we can tell different stories that are just as intriguing.

#NoShaveForever: how to get your hairiest summer bod

by Lilinaz Evans

It’s that time of year again: the sun has got her hat on and it’s time to get your legs summer ready to show off on the beach! We all know the horror of being the only babe on the beach with no luscious locks of leg hair, so today we have some tips from beauty experts, our summer body hair crushes, and some ahead-of-time style tips so you can be the hairiest you can be this summer.

Let’s start off with some basic background on body hair care for those newbies just starting out. Now if you have ever shaved in the past (ew! So unhygienic) you know those evil spiky hairs that catch on your tights and scratch your bae’s skin, but worry not! Those spiky baby hairs grow out in 3-4 weeks, and by your second month you will be left with the sleek and smooth pins you always dreamed of. Everyone is different and it may take a bit longer, for some of you slow growers, but just keep at it and be proud of your baby hair!

Leg hair has so many advantages! Apart from the fashionable aesthetic of course, longer leg hair is smooth and soft. It keeps the moisture locked in your skin and it keeps you cool in the summer. There is no better feeling than a summer breeze flowing through your hair. And we cannot forget of course, if you spend less on scraping the hair off your skin, there’s more money for shoes!

Leg hair gets so much attention, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of cute hair possibilities. Your underarm hair (or pit kittens) can be a sophisticated peak of glossy hair or super cute fluff to show off with your sleeveless dresses. So versatile, so cute; I know my wardrobe would not be the same without them! Arm hair, your bikini line, and our summer 2014 fave, the unibrow, must also not be forgotten.

But let’s get serious, girls. We all think about how dreadful it must be to have blonde hair that doesn’t show up,  that has no volume or colour. Not everyone can have that thick, dark, gorgeous body hair that we all dream of, and it can be embarrassing for the girls who aren’t blessed with the right genes, but we mustn’t be cruel to them. Everyone deserves to feel like a babe! Here are some tips for those unfortunates:

  • If you are a slow grower or have lighter hair, it’s important to start you summer hair regime as early as possible. Stop shaving in January/February to give you hair and skin time to recover and fill out a bit more!
  • Using shampoo and conditioner like you would on your head hair keeps your body hair healthier and more resistant to damage. This is especially important if you have thinner hair.
  • Spray a little dry shampoo for dark hair at a distance and it will cling to the blonde baby hairs and make them pop! This is not ideal at the beach as it will wash off in the sea but great for an everyday style fix.
  • Dye it!

The best was to stay effortlessly on trend and keep that hair in line is to dye it! Last seasons’ deep maroons and forest greens are out for good, and 2k14 is all about the NEON. A brightly contrasting orange and blue seems to be the best bet this season, with the paps snapping Honoria McDonald (daughter of restaurant tycoon Ronald McDonald) with radioactive orange pit kittens in May, and supermodel Persephone Amethyst sporting blue and green leg hair stripes in Malibu. But you don’t need to take advice from celebs! Here are our 2014 real girl body hair crushes:

Yas Necati suggests going bold: “Neon colors really suits the summer festival theme!” But she’s into the more natural look, too: “I like to brush my leg hair in the sunlight. Sometimes I shave my leg hair into butterfly shapes and pretend I’m in the forest.”

Sinead Westwood suggests a “playful, confident look–wear tiny vest tops to really turn heads with your fabulous underarm fluff this summer!”

Emily Miller recently ditched shaving: “I like to tell myself I’m being more sustainable! Wanna save the environment? Shave once a month and recycle all your razors! You’ll feel like an eco-warrior in no time!”

#ReadWomen2014: Emma

This post is part of #ReadWomen2014.

by Alisha Pavelites

People often gauge the validity of a female character’s experience in a story by how “strong” she is. We hear “more strong female leads!” all the time. To be honest, saying “we need strong female leads” takes away from the real issue: we just need more women. Women and girls don’t just need “empowered” women in their stories, we need realistic women. Women we can relate to. The issue with reading literature about women written by men is that it exists in the male fantasy of what they believe women to be. A lot of our heroines come from the male imagination, often as sidekicks or romantic interests.

Think of Sherlock Holmes. Not just brilliant, but moody, addicted to drugs, sometimes funny (always witty), sometimes angry, a lot of the times cool and collected. Now turn him into a watery half-human half-invertebrate who is incomplete without romance. Erase all his dimensions and complexity. You’re left with a flat, uninteresting character who’s annoying to read, because Sherlock Holmes without all the dimensions of Sherlock is just a guy who likes to solve mysteries.

It’s not like women haven’t taken up their pen and paper since the dawn of literature and started writing realistic women. But instead, we hear about John Green and how “realistically” he portrays the teenage girl experience with “brutal honesty.” The Fault in Our Stars is Green’s debut novel centered on Hazel Grace Lancaster, a female protagonist who reads as a secondary character in her own story about living with cancer and falling in love. She’s the “main character,” but she doesn’t really exist without cancer or her love interest.

Jane Austen’s Emma is a fine starting point, or middle point, for venturing into the world of the female lead written by a woman. Emma Woodhouse is the protagonist of her story, and the narration follows her life in detail as she tries to play matchmaker for her friends and family. What makes Emma so interesting is that Jane Austen didn’t really write her to be likeable or relatable to anyone. Emma is rich, “handsome,” and pretty smart (according to Emma). She’s a snob, and though she does good deeds, she often does them out of believing she’s on a moral high ground or doing good for the poor souls beneath her status. The book reveals Emma’s faults in an ambiguous way. Austen never emphasizes whether Emma is “good” or “bad.” She’s a person; she’s a human being who doesn’t exist to prove some point about how women are strong and capable—but still can be interpreted as a very capable and intelligent woman.

Emma leaves such an impression on me because among classics written by men, there’s so much categorizing women into either “that bitch that won’t date me” or “that slut who dates everyone” or “my mom” (albeit in more formal and flowery terms–see The Great Gatsby); it’s refreshing to read a girl from a girl’s point of view. It wears on a young woman’s soul to read shallow female characters in literature written by men who if they don’t have some sappy love interest for their hulking hero—girl’s just cease to exist for Some Mysterious Reason.

In Emma, seventeen year old Harriet Smith lives in a local boarding school and is introduced in the story as “the natural daughter of somebody.” Emma takes it upon herself to treat her as an improvement project (out of love and selflessness, of course), and thus intervenes when a farmer proposes to Harriet. Emma had plans for Harriet to be married to someone of a higher social status. Since nobody knows Harriet’s parents, Emma is free to make up stories about Harriet’s noble place in society.

Emma writes the rejection letter to the farmer who proposes to Harriet, and is later very humbled when she finds out that Mr. Elton, the man who she wanted Harriet to marry, has intentions of marrying Emma. Therefore, she had ruined a pretty good match between Harriet and the farmer because of her own sense of superiority. She realizes this later, and apologizes to Harriet.

Jane Austen is clever, funny, and honest. It shines through in Emma Woodhouse, one of the finest literary heroines. And yeah, you may have to have a dictionary beside you to get through Emma. It’s totally worth it though, it’s cute in a refined way and has some lovely, non-sappy romance dabbled throughout. Emma embarrasses herself, she falls in love, she makes me mistakes and she is unapologetically human.

You can read it here.

On being a good person

by Dee Putri

Recently, I watched Where the Wild Things Are. This is a children’s movie, but I really love it. You know that in children’s movies, there are always protagonists and antagonists that kids can tell apart easily. The protagonist is the kind person who smiles a lot, helps a lot, and is too kind to be true, while the antagonist is the angry and selfish person. But in this movie, it’s not like that. This is way more real, with the kinds of people that maybe we’ll encounter in our life.

My idea of good person is still something like the protagonist of Disney cartoons, since I watched Disney a lot when I was a kid. I wanted to be like them at the time. But as I grow up, I know that I’m not as kind as these characters. Of course I want to be a good person, but sometimes it is just hard to be kind all the time for me. I realize that I’m not an angel.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m a good or bad person. Until now, I’m not sure. I don’t have the exact answer. Maybe none of us do. When I asked my friends whether they consider themselves good or bad people, they didn’t answer right away. It’s a tricky question when you ask it directly: are you a good person? But when we we’re asked about other people, we can easily answer it right away. We judge ourseves by what we think, not by what we do, while we judge others by what they do, and not what they think. Kinda complicated right? But sometimes, we judge other people wrong, because we don’t know what’s happening in their mind. I tell myself that everyone has their own issues, so I just try to be more understanding. I have this idea that actually everyone is good person. What we see in them is just a reaction to previous events. Sometimes we don’t know the story behind something that they do.

Deep down, I want to be considered as a good person. Well, no matter how people are, almost all the time they want to be on the protagonist’s side. They always want to be known as good person. But then I think of this character, April Ludgate of Parks and Recreation. She’s sarcastic, kinda evil, but funny! I adore her! I always try not to say mean things to people, but when I see April do it, it’s so funny! Maybe she is saying just the right amount of evilness, so it becomes so funny. This is a hard thing to do. But she is a kind person actually. She does help people. She is not 100% evil. I think nobody in this world is 100% evil or 100% kind. I just accept the fact that nobody is perfect.

I think one of my problems is maintaining my emotions. I don’t know how to maintain my emotions to be acceptable enough, not annoying. Sometimes I think that I tend to annoy people with my emotion bombs (I’m not proud of this). Sometimes I’ll feel super happy, but worry that maybe my happiness is annoying to other people. Sometimes I feel sad and I’ll stay quiet, because maybe my sadness would make others feel awkward. Also, sometimes I feel bad that I’m not helpful enough. I feel like a bad person for my laziness, for my selfishness, for my bad timing, for my bad manners. I’m afraid that I’ve become a bad person. I feel sorry for people who need to deal with this, because maybe it takes a lot to understand what’s going on in my mind.  I actually told my sister that I need a therapist for these feeling, but I got busy so I can’t see one now. But I know this website, 7 cups of tea, that helps. You find a listener there and you can just talk to them. I think I prefer this way because I stay anonymous, you know? So I can be 100% honest with my listener. Also, I met this amazing listener who helps me a lot. She is super understanding. It feels good to know that there are people out there who would help you, even for free.

Since I was a child people have always told me that I should be a good person. But sometimes that also means that we should meet their expectation of us to be considered as a good person, not our own. Sometimes there are misunderstandings here or there that makepeople think that we’re cruel or selfish. Actually, I always try my best to make everyone around me to be happy. But it’s hard to do all the time. So, no matter who you are, I’ll try to always judge you as a good person. I know that everyone is always just trying to function as a member of society, whcih is the best thing that everyone could do. Thank you for trying. :)

 

 

Losing a legend: how we should honor Dr. Angelou

by Sam Holmes

What is the best way to honor a revolutionary? Should one raise her firsts to the heavens in a moment of somber solidarity? Are candlelight vigils the best way to express one’s gratitude for all that her idol has done for the world? Or maybe one will once again open her biography and use the trail the revolutionary blazed as a path down memory lane. There is more than one answer. Losing someone who has opened our eyes, enlightened our minds, and soothed our souls will cause different responses in everyone. Personally, I take comfort in old recordings: hearing the voice of a visionary takes me back to the time when I first heard of her. Therefore, I’ve been spending the past weeks scouring the internet for Dr. Maya Angelou’s speeches, interviews, and poetry recitations. The rhythm and tone of her speech has helped me come to terms with the loss of one of my heroes.

I’ve had less than seven years to shape my method of grieving. I’m fairly new to this. So I’m not exactly an authority of how the most appropriate ways to pay respects to Dr. Angelou and her peers. I subscribe to the ‘there’s no wrong way to grieve’ belief. But mourning and commemoration are not exactly the same. After losing Maya Angelou, I am beginning to realize that there are definitely wrong ways to observe her activism.

In the weeks since Dr. Angelou’s passing, I have heard her name in more conversations than I had before. People who had never said a word about her were suddenly expressing grief and respect. I was thrilled. In my mind, she cannot receive enough praise for the ways in which she elevated, educated, and empowered others.

But, as the discussions and whispers of mourning continued, I became alarmed with the resounding consensus: the world lost a kind, maternal, respectable woman. Without a doubt, those traits were parts of Dr. Angelou’s multifaceted identity. Yet, the new dialogue is using her revolutionary legacy to belittle women. “Girls nowadays could learn a serious lesson from her. Today’s young women should emulate her and be more cultured and less coquettish. Business should be the topic of discussion instead of Beyonce.” To pay proper respect to the amazing artist, everyone must acknowledge every aspect of her identity.

I have heard that people should focus on Dr. Angelou as a universal figure. Apparently, mentioning her specific dedication to black women would be too polarizing. That is wrong.  Dr. Angelou was an ardent advocate of black womanhood in its entirety.  Noting the resilience of this community, she said in an interview, “There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It’s as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet.” Being a famous feminist and a capable communicator, the wordsmith appealed to a variety of demographics. But she was, and still is, such an important figure for black women. People cannot ignore that reality. She was not one to wait around idly and keep her fingers crossed that someone would celebrate women of color. Realizing that women of color were majorly ignored in mainstream literature, Maya Angelou carved out a sacred and safe place for us.

There have been people who view Dr. Angelou as a symbol for being a ‘respectable black woman’ because of her supposed calm demeanor. Girls posting selfies on social media should learn to be as demure as she was, apparently. I have a theory that this version of Dr. Angelou only exists in an alternate universe. By scanning her body of work, it’s evident that she would not belittle anyone for posting pictures of themselves having fun or enjoying life.

Her amazing piece Phenomenal Woman is a 258-word guide for self love. The first two lines state, “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies/I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” Right from the start, there’s body positivity. Young girls from a variety of backgrounds can be confident in themselves. Any young woman who walks this earth has every right to navigate life with her head held high. People should appreciate ‘the fire in their eyes’, ‘the stride of their steps’, ‘the sun of their smiles’, and all the traits that yield confidence in such a complex and unpredictable world. Let’s follow Dr. Angelou’s example. Build up phenomenal women and girls instead of tearing them down.

Here’s another important truth: Dr. Angelou was open about sexuality. In fact, she celebrated sexuality and bodily autonomy. Still I Rise is another work of art that embraces sexuality. Lines 26-30 famously address the topic head on. The piece asks, “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise/ That I dance like I’ve got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs?” Judging by media, the answer is a resounding yes. Mainstream media love to place black women into one of two categories: there are the Maya Angelous of the world, and then the others. The Maya Angelous are supposedly refined and respectable, while the others are too sexy and lack dignity. This is a ridiculous idea. Dr. Angelou clearly disapproved of such a dichotomy. She should not be used as a litmus test for slut-shaming. Deriding female sexuality in the name of Dr. Angelou is unacceptable.

Dr. Angelou, like many of us, lived a life of victories and disappointments. Both affected her. Not every detail will be as palatable as the one before. However, tearing away pieces of her identity to fit the mold of a sweet old wise woman archetype is not okay. Tragedy and obstacles riddled Dr. Angelou’s life. She was a survivor of sexual abuse. She had her struggles as a teenage mother. Racism and sexism haunted her steps. These details may not be as marketable as the persona that other people try to construct. Nevertheless, these were the words that comprised her story. Erasing pieces of her fascinating existence is not doing anyone any favors.