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New year, new semester: 4 ways to take care of yourself

by Alice Wilder

This time of year is really hard for me. Between a new year and new semester, I truly hate social media this time of year. It’s all bombastic goals and quotes about grinding, slugging through and coming up. And I just want to take a nap.

When the year starts it can seem like everyone is following through on their resolutions but you. A new year takes breaking in, and as school starts up again the blisters start to appear. It’s not comfortable yet. Here are some things that work for me to get oriented and truly into the groove.

Set aside a day to get your life together.

Whatever that means for you. For me it means a trip to Family Dollar to get a calender, new pens and post-its. There’s nothing that makes me happier than sitting on the floor, surrounded by syllabuses and highlighters. I love color coding a calendar for the semester. This way, deadlines don’t sneak up on me, I can get a picture of which weeks will be hellish and plan accordingly. For you it could mean calling your parents, making a budget, vacuuming or folding all your clothes. If it makes you feel “together” and prepped to take on the world, then it counts.

Don’t get swept up in saying yes to everything

At the start of the new semester all the orgs in your school are probably trying to build momentum and recruit a ton of new members. I get it, that’s great, and important to building a sustainable club–but you don’t have to join things! I promise. If a club or activity feels like it will feed your soul and sustain your energy, then go for it. But it’s okay to say “I’ll get back to you” when someone asks you to join a new campaign or organization.

Find something to listen to

This is one of the most important things for me, and helps me with my anxiety a ton. I spend a lot of time rushing around alone during the day. Most of that time alone is walking from class to class or grabbing a quick lunch/dinner before a meeting. It can all be rushed and it’s difficult to stay present and thoughtful during those in between times, so I listen to podcasts. There are the classics, This American Life, Serial, Radiolab, all of which are on heavy rotation on my walks to class. But I’d especially recommend Criminal, a podcast about crime (duh) that isn’t sensationalized. Plus it’s created out of my home state! I also love comedy podcasts like Call Chelsea Peretti and Comedy Bang Bang. Snap Judgement is so good I can’t handle it.

If podcasts aren’t your thing, jump out of your comfort zone with music. Sites like 8tracks are a great way to try new genres. Or explore the world of spoken word poetry on Spotify!


This one is hard. I read somewhere that it’s helpful to replace the thought “I don’t have time” with “it’s not a priority,” because this time of year is really all about choices. Prioritizing is really hard for me because I’m definitely the type of girl who still believes she can “have it all,” but nothing is more clarifying than sitting down and listing out priorities. Here’s a sample of my list:

  1. Mental health, basic health (eating, sleeping enough)

  2. Family (calling my parents regularly, spending time with my sisters, calling my grandparents whenever possible)

  3. School (Ugh yes, I do have to do Spanish homework)

  4. SPARK and other extracurricular passions

  5. My Fraternity

  6. On-Campus activism

  7. Friends near and far

This list doesn’t mean that I never talk to my friends. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t weeks when I can’t make the time to call my parents. It’s not a stagnant list, it reshuffles and shifts as the semesters moves along. Once exams come along I put school over family, unless there’s some sort of family emergency. Sorry Mom. I promise I’ll call soon.

This is just a short list, and self-care looks different for everyone! It doesn’t have to be one moment or a bubble bath once a week. Self-care can also look like saying no to commitment you really want to do, but know you don’t have time for. What does it mean for you? How are you caring for yourself in the new year? Tell us in the comments!

‘Big Hero 6′ is the kind of kids’ movie we need

by Anya Josephs

I’m going to admit that, although Big Hero 6 is technically aimed more at the kid set and I’m a college junior, I’ve seen the animated movie three times already. My friend Alison dragged me along during finals week because she heard there were women scientist characters (she’s a chemistry major). By the second viewing, I was the one dragging my brother and 11-year old cousin along. Finally, I watched it again with my boyfriend, with whom I then discussed the feminist successes, and shortcomings, of the movie at length.

Lately, more and more attention has been paid to the way girls are treated in children’s movies. With the astronomical success of Disney’s Frozen, many have tried to make the case that this story of two sisters is a feminist tale. You can see some criticisms of this idea here at feministdisney.  But where Frozen’s success is limited— only two women characters, both in the classic, feminine princess role, and with basically identical faces, as well as an overall lack of diversity— Big Hero 6 shatters the mold without explicitly trying to.

It doesn’t need to- Big Hero 6 is a movie where the central characters are a boy and a robot, and the central relationship between that boy and his brother. Like so many other kid’s movies marketed to boys, (I’m thinking particularly of the beloved and wonderful Toy Story series), it would have been easy to sideline female characters. Instead, of the titular team of six, there are two women, three men, and one genderless robot.

The team: from left to right Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Hiro, Baymax, Gogo, and Fred.

The group is diverse in a number of ways. While kids’ movies have the unfortunate tendency to either feature all-white casts or odd stereotypes when set in non-white cultures (like Aladdin, Mulan, or Pocahontas), Big Hero 6 features a multi-ethnic group of friends. It’s set in a fictional city that mixes elements of San Francisco and Tokyo, but unlike so many movies and TV shows doesn’t whitewash its setting.

Hiro, the central, yes, hero, and his brother seem to be mixed-race, since they’re both of Asian descent but their aunt Cass, who serves as the principal parent figure in the movie, doesn’t seem to be. Gogo is also Asian, while Fred is white. Honey Lemon is Latina, although there’s been some valid criticism that the character design might represent whitewashing. These characters show a much broader spectrum of different backgrounds than any other kid’s movie I can think of.

To me, though, the most important example of diversity in terms of race is the character of Wasabi. In a cultural climate where black boys (and maybe especially someone like Wasabi, who is significantly physically bigger than the other characters and drawn to look muscular and strong) are often treated with suspicion and fear, it’s awesome to have kids see a character like Wasabi. Like all the team, he’s a hero because of his intelligence, even his nerdiness. He’s gentle-hearted and rule-abiding to a fault, and definitely won me over easily.

All of the team members are just as richly characterized, though we don’t get to see as much of any of them as I might want. Gogo, for example, regularly uses the phrase “woman up!” to encourage herself or her teammates— quietly subverting the gendered language of the expression “man up”. This isn’t played for a joke— we aren’t meant to laugh at this girl-power statement. Gogo, her tough attitude, and her pride in being a woman, are treated with respect by the other characters and the movie.

Honey Lemon is the other girl on the team- and it’s awesome that there are two girls in this movie who both get to be superheroes, when so often superhero teams seem to have a one-woman limit. Furthermore, she’s a really unique character. She’s very feminine in terms of her presentation, she has the kinds of hobbies girls get made fun of for, like taking selfies with her friends, and her superhero costume includes a pink purse. And none of this is mocked or belittled at all by the film- she’s just as serious as a scientist, a genius, and a superhero as all the other characters. She and Gogo, the “tougher” female character, are never played off against each other— instead, they’re all part of the same supportive group of friends.

Even Fred, the privileged, wealthy character who isn’t a genius robotics student, and who is characterized as something of a ridiculous slacker, never treats his female teammates with any disrespect.

They’re all friends and equals. They support Hiro, but don’t make excuses for his sometimes-terrible behavior. The only woman who unconditionally nurtures him when he acts like a child is his aunt Cass— and notably, unlike many other movie superheroes and their leading ladies, he acts like a child because he’s actually fourteen years old, and she takes care of him because she’s actually his caregiver. None of his female friends are made responsible for his feelings.

Finally, the really unique member of the team is Baymax, the robot designed by Hiro’s brother. After seeing the movie, I spent a long time talking with my boyfriend over whether or not the character is gendered at all— and finally, we decided that Baymax isn’t. Although Hiro calls Baymax the distinctively masculine nickname “buddy,” that seems like it might be more of a reflection of Hiro’s need for a father figure than the robot’s gender. The character’s design is gender neutral, the “huggable” design Hiro’s brother invented making Baymax’s role as a caregiver more important than a clear gender.

Again, this is an amazing step forward for kid’s movies. Very often, even non-human characters are anthropomorphized in a clearly gendered way. Check out Toy Story again, where all the non-human-looking toys— from the T-rex to the Slinky dog— are clearly male. In Monsters Inc., the monsters also seem to be men by default— even though there’s no reason a secret group of scare-producing monsters would even have the same understanding of gender as we do. When there are girl characters, they’re often and unnecessarily depicted as different than the male default. Minnie Mouse has long eyelashes and pink hair, I guess so everyone can tell she’s a girl mouse.

Baymax is the first character I can think of that really is genderless— the filmmakers don’t need to construct this character as male or female. Baymax is also the real heart of this movie— a character that teaches love and care for others as the only way to be in the world.

It’s a great message, one that even my cynical older self found genuinely touching. Big Hero 6 is moving, hilarious, and clever. It offers something truly new to the world of animated film, and it does it while respecting and representing a diverse range of characters. It’s far from a perfect film— for example, it still falls into the trap that all the female animated characters have heads bigger than their waists and are no bigger than the 14-year-old Hiro. However, it does lay the groundwork for how all movies— even action movies, even superhero movies, even movies that have male main characters, even movies that may be marketed for boys— can represent women in an interesting, honest, and empowered way. I’m happy that I was able to share this movie with my young cousin, and I hope as he grows up he will always expect to see women represented at least this well in the media.

Why it’s a problem we only see 2 types of lesbians on TV (and why I watch anyway)

by Maya Brown

I’ll be the first to admit that if there are lesbians on a TV show, I will be all over that TV show. I’ll have seen all the episodes, be watching it right now, or at least have read the Autostraddle recaps to see if it’s any good. If you asked me right now, I could list almost every show that has a main female character (or even recurring character) who’s into ladies—especially if there’s a lesbian couple that lasts any length of time. I watch these shows because they make me feel seen. I watch them for the same reason I watched The L-Word under my covers when I was 16, because in a world where 99% of the time the guy gets the girl, I like to see it happen the way I want it to. I like these shows because they remind me that other people like me exist in the world. It is important for girls of all shapes, sizes, races, and sexual orientations to be able to see themselves on TV, to feel a little less alone.

But here’s the problem: even though there are more and more lesbians on TV, it is nowhere near enough. Take The L-Word for example. While I watched it when I was first coming out in high school, now it’s the last show I would recommend to any other babygay. Not only does it paint lesbians’ lives as drama filled, it also shows a very specific image of lesbians, one that is mirrored in many other TV shows. It is the male fantasy version of lesbians, the ones that appear mostly in porn designed for men. the characters  are feminine and hypersexualized. They are upper-class and fashionable with long hair, short pencil skirts and male characters who catch them having sex. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing characters in The L-Word, and it is an important show in the queer community, but the characters still play into stereotypes about women that are meant to appeal to men.

If you look around, you’ll see a lot of these kinds of lesbians on TV. There are super feminine lesbians in Glee, Faking It, Pretty Little Liars, Gone Girl, Jane the Virgin, Degrassi, The Good Wife, even Grey’s Anatomy. I love a lot of these shows, I really do, but I am also sick of seeing two extremely femme women fall for each other. Sick might be the wrong word; really, I’m just bored. The issue isn’t in the portrayal of femme lesbians—it’s great that some girls can look up to characters like Santana from Glee or Emily from Pretty Little Liars (although not great that they’re used too often to appeal to men). The real issue is that if I, or countless other girls, turn on a TV, we would never see anyone who looks like us.

The closest I get to people who look like me, besides Ellen, are the really butch women—the few that show up on popular TV anyways. The issue is that I can’t even list names for these women: they show up as caricatures of themselves, as truck drivers and gym teachers. They send a message that lesbians, if they are not pleasing to men, are disgusting and wrong. They are a warning. Other lesbians, feminine lesbians, are appropriate because they are still attractive, they can still be sexualized. If women dare to be anything other than feminine, they suddenly become aggressive and undesirable. They are not meant to be relatable.

According to the media there is either super feminine or super masculine, either a male fantasy or a stone butch, with no in-between. But there is an in-between. There are lesbians who wear bowties and skirts, have short hair and still wear make-up when they feel like it. Who have real personalities outside of the fast that they are queer.

And there are queer women of color, something that is almost always ignored except for a few choice characters. There are far too few women of color in TV to begin with, let alone characters that are developed enough to really have a complex identity or sexuality. While a few characters stand out, like Poussey from Orange is the New Black, Callie from Grey’s Anatomy, or Lena from Meet the Fosters, the numbers pale in comparison to white queer women (check out what Brittani Nichol is doing to change this here).

I want to see lesbian characters like me, whose entire personality is not based around the fact that I like girls and whether or not that storyline will appeal to a male audience. And I want to know that queer women of color have characters to look up to too, because their representation is just as important as my own. At the end of the day, we all just want to have someone to identify with, we all just want to be seen, everyone deserves that. And for me, that means being able to turn on the TV and see someone who looks and acts like me, who validates my identity and who gives me access to a community I might not otherwise have access to. That’s what queer representation is all about.

SPARK book club: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

by Madeleine Nesbitt

It’s a new year, which means it’s time for new reading lists, and, in our case, the kick-off of the 2015 SPARK Book Club. Each month, we’ll be posting a review of a book (fiction or nonfiction, prose or poetry). This year, we’ll be joining the #ReadPOC2015 campaign, reading and reviewing books exclusively by authors of color.

Last year was a big year for diversity in literature: Ellen Oh and other authors founded We Need Diverse Books, which held a “Diversify Your Shelves” event in May to encourage readers to read more inclusive literature, and drew attention across social media to the fact that statistics on diversity in literature are depressingly low. In 2012, Roxane Gay found that only 22% of the books reviewed by the New York Times that year were by authors of color.

At the 2014 National Book Awards, Daniel Handler made racist jokes as he presented the award for Young People’s Literature to Jacqueline Woodson for Brown Girl Dreaming.  Woodson spoke out about the experience in her essay “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.” Handler later apologized, but the event served as a painful reminder of how entrenched racism is in our culture. With this year’s book club, SPARK aims to challenge the marginalization of people of color within publishing.

For January, I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first novel in a new YA series by Jenny Han (you may recognize her name from The Summer I Turned Pretty). It’s a romance about Lara Jean Covey, a mixed-race teenager who, when she wants to get over a crush, writes a letter to said crush, explaining all of her feelings. Then she seals and addresses the letters and puts them away in a hatbox. When (gasp!) the letters are somehow sent out, Lara Jean finds herself in the middle of a conflict that’s about more than just old crushes.

Without giving too much away, I have to say, I was surprised by how much I liked the book. Usually I shy away from romances because they assume that girls and women need a boyfriend, and that a romantic partner has to be male (boys are gross!). With Lara Jean, though, we see a lot more than just romance. She has to deal with the new responsibility of being a big sister, since her older sister, Margot, leaves for college overseas. That means learning not to be so nervous when she’s driving (“My hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles are white.”), and dealing with her white dad’s disconnection with her mother’s side of the family, which is Korean (one particularly funny scene has him trying to cook bo ssam. It doesn’t go well).

The romance is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always dramatic– but it felt real. I was reading while driving down to DC over winter break, slowly getting closer to the Virginia town where Lara Jean lives, and thinking, Lara Jean is so me, everything about this book is so perfectly high school. “Perfectly high school” is, in this case, a good thing. The cliques, makeup advice and weird school skiing trips, all fit perfectly into Lara Jean’s (and my) world.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a light, funny read that got my year of reading off to a great start. Whether it’s her sisters, her dad, girls at school or crushes, Lara Jean is smart and real. I laughed and cried, and though I do both of these rather easily, Jenny Han’s writing left me and her characters on a high note, refreshed and ready to face a new year.

Research Blog: What are the consequences of kicking butt in high heels?

by Stephanie M. Anderson

Over the holidays, I spent time in Michigan in my childhood home. When I wasn’t preparing food, napping, or indulging in too much TV, I found myself rummaging through closets full of keepsakes from my adolescence: personal diaries, pictures from dances, artwork that only my mother could love. And then I saw it: my old video gaming system. The days upon days I spent with animated hedgehogs, running at super-sonic speeds, swinging from treetop to treetop and bopping on the bad guys suddenly flooded back to me. I was entirely jazzed when I hooked it up and found it still worked!

You might be thinking that these games sound pretty lame. Perhaps. But growing up, my mom had very strict rules for video game playing: no blood splattering, guts spilling, or heads rolling. Furry cute characters? Check. Ultimate Fighter? Keep dreaming. Mom hated player-to-player combat games not only because you could literally rip off your opponent’s head with his spine still attached, but also because all the few female characters in the game wore leather bikinis to the battle field. “But Mom, it’s not real life!” I argued at the time. “It’s not like I’m going to imitate everything I see!”

Fast forward to 2015. Video games today are way more realistic. Almost all of them are in 3D, and create more of a feeling of “being there,” instead of watching like an outsider. New technologies haven’t changed some things, though. Despite the fact that over half of video game players are girls and women,[1] most female avatars are pretty freaking misogynistic because of how sexualized they are (avatars are the characters you control in a game). Since these games make you feel like you’re doing things from the perspective of your avatar, I find myself feeling like the avatar IS me, in a way the animated fur balls I controlled never did. Now, instead of simply observing a big-breasted cartoon gal cut down her opponents, I’m more likely to be dropping bows with “my own” cleavage in view.

So the question arises: if we female gamers are more likely to feel that our avatars are an extension of ourselves, how do our avatar’s hypersexualized appearances make us feel about our own bodies? Or about how we see other women more generally?

Psychologists Fox, Ralston, Cooper, and Jones wanted to find out.[2] They did a series of experiments in which female college students participated in Second Life as either a sexualized avatar or a non-sexualized avatar (Second Life is a virtual world where you can socialize with friends, go shopping, travel – basically anything you want because it’s your own alternative universe!). In the experiments, after playing, the participants answered a bunch of questions about how they feel about their own bodies and on their thoughts about Second Life. They also answered questions about their views on sexual assault, such as how and why they believe women experience rape.

What did they find?

As we might expect, women who participated in Second Life as a sexualized avatar were more likely to self-objectify – or see their bodies as objects – than women who played as a non-sexualized avatar. This makes sense considering what we know about the bad consequences of looking at sexualized images of women. They also found that the women who self-objectify were more likely to endorse false beliefs about rape and rape victims. For example, women who self-objectified were more likely to agree with ideas like, “Only strangers rape” or “Girls who go to parties in “slutty” clothes are asking to get raped.”

But the biggest question still remains – why? Why would self-objectification lead us to believe that women are to blame if they are raped?

Well, seeing ourselves as objects makes us more likely to see others as objects too. And because objects are not fully human (they don’t have feelings, after all), they are less worthy of our moral consideration. So it makes sense that seeing other women as objects makes us more likely to believe dehumanizing ideas like “Women who get drunk deserve to be raped.”

Think about that. By embodying sexualized avatars, will we inevitably see ourselves – and other women – as objects? Will we be more likely to believe that women who dress a certain way are responsible for their rapes?

Many cheered when the Lara Croft, Tomb Raider video game series became a popular mainstream game and continue to celebrate the protagonist, Lara Croft, as a “feminist icon.”[3] Yet, in the video game, Lara Croft was always wearing daisy dukes (hello thigh gap!) and a low cut top with cleavage abounding (I don’t know about you, but if I were about to fend off some mummies, fly down a zip line, or outsmart bounty hunters, I’d want my clothes to at least cover my midriff).

The good news is that change is possible. Because of the public outcry against Lara Croft’s hypersexualized image, more recent releases of the game show her as less sexualized. (Although once could argue there is still room for improvement). So there is hope!

While I think my mom might have gone a little overboard with her rules at times when I was growing up (I also wasn’t allowed to watch more than one hour of TV a day), she saw what I at the time couldn’t. Namely, that violent and sexualized images are not neutral (even if we know they are not real), and they can affect us in ways outside of our conscious awareness.

[1] Entertainment Software Association. (2013). 2013 sales, demographic and usage data: Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. Washington, DC: Authors

[2] Fox, J., Ralston, R. A., Cooper, C. K., & Jones, K. A. (2014). Sexualized Avatars Lead to Women’s Self-Objectification and Acceptance of Rape Myths. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 0361684314553578.


[3] Kennedy, H. W. (2002). Lara Croft: Feminist icon or cyberbimbo? On the limits of textual

analysis. Game Studies: International Journal of Computer Games Research, 2(2).


In Solidarity

As a multiracial, intergenerational group of activists fighting for the rights, health, and safety of girls and women, we are outraged by the deaths of Black men, women, and children at the hands of police. We recognize that though police violence is currently having a “media moment,” it is not new. American policing was founded on violence against Black bodies. We send our condolences, our love, and our strength to those who have lost loved ones at the hands of systemic anti-Black violence, and we condemn systemic violence against Black communities.

We also recognize that systemic anti-Black violence isn’t just police violence. Systemic anti-Black violence is 40-60% of Black women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Systemic anti-Black violence is Black children being expelled and suspended at higher rates than their white peers for the same offenses. Systemic anti-Black violence is Marissa Alexander and CeCe McDonald being jailed for protecting themselves from abuse. Systemic anti-Black violence is the overwhelming number of Black trans women murdered every year in the United States.

We stand in solidarity with everyone fighting this violence. We send our love and support to the organizers of ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ and all other organizations and initiatives who have been and continue to dedicate their time and lives around the clock to resistance work, many of whom are Black women whose work goes unrecognized. We acknowledge and celebrate the powerful work of Synead Nichols and Umaara Elliot, organizers of ‪#‎MillionsMarchNYC‬. We also celebrate and recognize the relentless work being done by Carmen Perez and Cherrell Brown of Justice League NYC, leading direct actions to #SHUTITDOWN on the ground, with political leaders, and in the media. We are in solidarity with Dream Defenders, YO SOS, and other youth-fueled organizations leading the fight in their own communities. We stand with young activists across this country who have had enough of this system, and who are remaking it in their own image.


In memory of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnson, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, Pearlie Smith, Rekia Boyd, Vonderrit Myers, Deshawnda Sanchez, Tanisha Anderson, Jonathan Ferrell, John Crawford, Darrien Hunt, Sharon Mosely, Nizah Morris, Oscar Grant, Yvette Smith, Tarika Wilson, Amidou Diallo, Yvette Smith, Eleanor Bumpurs, Tyisha Miller, and all others who have lost their lives to police violence.