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Research Blog: Objects don’t object, or, how objectification discourages activism

by Christin Bowman

Here at SPARK, if there’s one thing we all love, it’s activism. We protest and picket and petition for change.  We struggle to take sexy back with a fiery passion that burns deep within all of us – a SPARK that ignites us (pun very much intended).

Being an activist isn’t always easy. In fact, it usually isn’t easy. Every day, we fight against a world in which sexualization is rampant and nobody seems to care about it. As activists, we expect certain things to get in our way – it’s par for the course. A petition we start never really takes off. The editor-in-chief of a magazine refuses to meet with us. We can’t decide whether to ignore those street harassers or to give them a piece of our minds. These are barriers we know we will face, and we prepare ourselves to keep pushing anyway.

But not all barriers are so predictable. Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more women and girls protesting the sexualization they face in our society? You might think (at least I did) that being subjected to sexual objectification on a regular basis would be more than enough friction to light that spark to do something about it. Why wouldn’t everyone want to get on board?

Dr. Rachel Calogero, a researcher at the University of Kent, wondered about this too. But Calogero had a trick up her sleeve. She believed that the reason women didn’t sign up in droves to tear down the system is because they see the system as inevitable, and therefore good enough. This idea, known as system-justification theory, suggests that women come to see themselves the way society sees them, and so they justify the status quo.

What if, Calogero wondered, self-objectification (or seeing ourselves as objects) leads women to justify the system? In other words, maybe what’s going on with so many women is they’re looking at themselves from this outsider perspective, and that makes them empathize with that perspective and then makes them more likely to justify it.

Calogero took this idea one step further. In her recent study[1], she asked first, whether self-objectification leads women to justify the system, and second, whether justifying the system leads women to engage in less activism. After all, if you convince yourself that the system is just the way things are, why would you try to change it?

To test this hypothesis, Calogero did an experiment. She put women into two groups: one group was asked to write about a time in which they felt sexually objectified; the other group was asked to write about what they would do if they won $50. In this kind of study, the first group is called the experimental group and the second group is called the control group. We know that writing about being sexually objectified causes women to think about themselves as sexual objects, so being in the experimental group caused the women in that group to self-objectify more than the women in the control group. The women in both groups then answered questions about system-justification and their intentions to engage in feminist activism. By comparing these two groups, Calogero was able to find out whether self-objectification led women to justify the system more, which in turn led women to engage in less activism.

I’ll be blunt: her findings are depressing. In my activist haze, I had figured that women exposed to our damaging sexualized world would sooner or later end up right there next to me in the picket line. It’s only a matter of time, I thought. It turns out – oh the bitter irony – that our sexualized culture may do the exact opposite. Rather than create activists, the constant sexualization of women in our society actually discourages them.

Calogero’s study provides evidence that living in a world that sexualizes women and causes us to self-objectify may in fact put a psychological damper on fighting back. She argues, “Self-objectification guides women’s attention to their appearance and leads them to comply with traditional gender roles, thereby garnering their participation in the very system that maintains their disadvantaged status” (p. 317). In other words, when we focus on our appearances instead of how we feel or what we are capable of, we are using our energy to strengthen a system that harms us when we could be fighting against it! As much as I hate to say it, it makes sense. I mean, my brain freezes when I’m being ogled by random guys. Rather than being outraged that the sexualization of women in our society is teaching these men that they can stare at my body all they want, I feel like running away to hide. And sometimes, I don’t just feel bad for a minute or two – I feel bad for weeks or months, constantly thinking about how I appear to others, rather than focusing on how unacceptable it is to be sexually objectified on the regular.

Lucky for us, there is some good news. As activists, we are living, breathing proof that existing in a sexualized world doesn’t keep all of us from fighting back. But let’s be clear: being activists doesn’t make us immune to sexual objectification. After all, we are only human; I’d be lying to myself (and you, dear reader) if I said I never worried about my appearance or looked at myself from an outsider perspective. But somehow we SPARKers have still managed to find the strength and the passion to resist that oppression. Now that we know what a struggle that really is for so many girls and women who are not fighting alongside us, I think Calogero’s research should be a call for us to support each other even more. Every little piece of activism adds fuel to our fire, and every girl can be an activist stoking the flames. A friend who signs a petition is an ally in our cause. A classmate who speaks up against sexually harassing language is a champion for us. Our activist allies are all around us, just waiting to be encouraged. Our culture may be like a blanket of ash on our psyches, but when that little fire inside of me meets that little fire inside of you – inside of all activists and activists-to-be – we together can SPARK a change.


[1] Calogero, R. M. (2013). Objects don’t object: Evidence that self-objectification disrupts women’s social activism. Psychological Science, 24(3), 312-318.

Say it loud! Tips for successful public speaking

by Julia Bluhm, Montgomery Jones, and Izzy Labbe

There are few people who enjoy public speaking. From the stress of writing a speech to the nerves of the big day, it may seem like public speaking leaves little to be desired–but it’s not true! By sharing your voice with others, you can teach them something new, maybe make them laugh, and even inspire your audience (and yourself!) to take action. Don’t let the groans of kids in your English class convince you that public speaking is stupid or embarrassing. We’ve put together some advice to help you succeed at public speaking and enjoy it! With enough preparation, practice, and the right mindset, public speaking can be extremely rewarding and empowering.

Preparation and Practice

Julia’s advice: when you start planning what you want to say in your presentation or speech, think about ways to make it engaging to your audience. Do this in a way that seems natural to you: a lot of people use visuals like photos and videos media to supplement their presentations and keep their audience interested, others tell jokes or use humor, some do both. I like telling brief stories to keep the audience interested, whether they’re from my own life or are stories that I have heard from others. I recently spoke at my school about the issue of digital retouching in the media, and I told a story that a professional digital retoucher once told me about his experiences. If you personalize your speech using tools that you feel comfortable with, it will feel more natural to you, which will in turn make you feel less awkward.

Also, plan whether you want to write your speech word for word, or have bullet points to outline what you’ll say. I always memorize at least some parts of my speech, because I feel a lot more comfortable and prepared that way. This just consists me saying the same few sentences over and over again in my room, until I remember it. You definitely don’t have to memorize your presentation or talk! Often times speeches that aren’t memorized sound more casual and less rehearsed. Just do whatever feels more natural for you! Once you start running through your speech, practice it in front of someone and have them time you. Most people talk faster when speaking in front of someone.

Dealing with Nerves

Izzy says: every time I have to give a speech or present something, which is a lot, I feel this sort of bubbly mix of nerves and excitement. My objectives differ depending on what I’m presenting, but no matter what, I always want to leave the audience satisfied and thinking, “Wow. That girl knows what she’s talking about, and how to present it in a way that really resonates with me. Also, her dress is adorable and she looks like a movie starlette.” Anyway.

I think this is a common goal of all presenters–well, maybe not the starlette part. But every speech should have a goal, and I think that all presenters have the capacity to do well and really make their audience respond and get the desired effect. But nerves get in the way! When you want people to like you and get your message, it’s hard not to feel the pressure. Here is what I would suggest: Think about your audience. Who are you presenting to? Are they your age, younger, older, or a mix? Do you know them personally? I always use humor to curb my nerves, starting with a little joke or just a cute, awkward laugh that’s probably more awkward than cute, but let me live that fantasy. When the audience sees you relax, they relax. No matter how formal the event- I don’t care if you’re talking to pre-schoolers at daycare or meeting the Queen- you need to remember that people are not judgmental robots who exist only to criticize you. They want to be moved by you.

Montgomery offers this: people say “what’s the worst that can happen?” Well, the worst thing is that you are embarrassed in front of your audience, right? But what if you take the sting out of the fear?  Before you even step to the podium, build your confidence up so high that no one can tear you down! Think of an ‘A’ you got in history or how cool your new shirt is. I like to pretend my confidence is almost like a shield, deflecting any negative energy and surrounding myself with love. I create a mantra to repeat so as to maintain that forcefield during the actual talk. Again, this should be before you even go up there.  But it’s imperative that you have a positive mindset before presenting!  That alone can completely change the atmosphere.

Giving the Presentation

Montgomery says: I usually stand up as straight as possible! And I don’t see the audience naked, but rather as friends that are hanging on to my every word. Quickly scan over the audience before you speak.  If looking up from your notes is difficult or if you have no notes and just wish to look down, I suggest finding three eye points to land on in the audience.  One in the middle, one on the right side, and one on the left.  Everyone will think you are looking at them, and engaging with the audience is essential to productive speech.

One thing I always forget to do is smile! Try to look like you’re enjoying yourself if even for a moment. Perhaps remember a small joke before you start, something to lighten the mood!  We tend to get very serious when we present, which is important, but you want to look like you’re happy to be there because then the audience will be happy to be there!  If you lose your train of thought, I suggest you either skip over the part that is giving you trouble (they will never notice) or do a slight chuckle and a nod of the head. I call this the “cheesy politician.” It’s that “aw shucks” thing that is endearing but also allows you to keep your cool and buys you a few seconds to collect yourself.  I do that sometimes so as to say “whoops, onward I go and I’ll have a good time while doing it!”

Remember, everyone occasionally has some bumps in their performance. The important thing is to just keep on moving. You will feel really proud of yourself afterwards. Just be yourself. Relax. Chill out. And remember: presenting is fun! (Really!)

How I lost my voice

by Angela Batuure

I went to a weird elementary school. It was a hybrid between co-educational and single sex classrooms. The idea was that as children grow older, the differences between the ways boys and girls learned beomce more distinct: kindergartners and first graders had co-ed classes, but from second grade to 8th grade, the classes were split into single sex classrooms. At seven and eight this never seemed strange to me, and I assumed all schools followed this model, until at soccer practice a girl on my team was telling a story about how a boy in her class was trying to convince everyone that Spiderman was the best superhero. I asked her what a boy was doing in her classroom, earning laughter from my teammates and a concerned glance from my male coach.

A benefit of this single sex environment, especially at a young age, was that there were no boundaries in the classroom. I was outgoing and opinionated and I had a comment about everything. I wasn’t the exception; all my peers were like this. Class lectures were more of a discussion and when a student didn’t understand something, she didn’t have a problem asking the teacher six times to explain it again. The idea of leadership wasn’t a concept because everyone was an equal contributor, so when in 7th grade my school tried to implement presidents, all eighteen girls in my class ran.

When we were in 8th grade however, the school decided to mix classes only for math, separating students based on math level rather than gender. I remember all the girls huddling with excitement at what this new change would mean and planning out all the new jewelry we would wear on the first day of integrated classes.

In my new hoop earrings (stolen from my mother’s jewelry box that morning),  I sat in the front of the classroom with my best friends, excited to show the boys how smart we were being the only four girls in the advanced section of the integrated classes. That day, our teacher handed out a pre-test to gauge the class level. With the excitement of having the boys in our class, and the excitement from the earrings I swiped from my mother (which I decided made me look very mature), I breezed through the pre-test and finished first. When I returned to my seat after turning in my test I felt something hit my back and saw a crumpled note lying on the floor next to me.

I picked it up, sure it was a compliment of my intelligence and speed, a marriage proposal, or whatever else 8th grade girls thought 8th grade boys could provide. Not wanting to get caught with the note, I kept it in my pocket until five minutes before class was out when my teacher had her back to the board.

I goofily smiled as I unraveled the note, planning how I would tell my mother about my new boyfriend and hoping she wouldn’t be too mad about the earrings.


I felt the room spinning and my smile fade as I repeatedly read the words on the page. Show-off. Show-off. Showw-offf. Showwwofffff. My tears hit the paper, blurring the letters in my eyes and the words on the note. I sat in my seat motionless, not even realizing class had let out and all my friends had left. I heard a chair scoot up next to me and my teacher whisper “what’s wrong?”

I silently handed her the note and dug my head into my arms on the table, wondering where I had gone wrong in my life.

After a few moments she laughed softly and I raised my head, confused.

“What? Are you really going to let a stupid boy tell you who you are and how you life your life? Angela, never let a boy–or anyone for that matte–justify your existence. ”

I took her words to heart and continued participating as much as I always did in class, deciding boys were just a big stupid disappointment anyway. When I switched to an all-girls high school in 9th grade, I realized I was surrounded by other girls who didn’t mind showing off that they were intelligent or arguing with each other in class discussions or even running for leadership positions because they thought they were the best candidate no matter what anyone else told them.

When I transferred to a co-educational boarding school at the start of 10th grade I quickly learned, just like I had on the soccer field in second grade, that my educational environment was not the norm. I tried to apply my comfort in a single sex classroom in the coed classroom and quickly learned society wasn’t okay with this.

A few weeks into my first term at my new school, a teacher pulled me aside after class and told me that I needed to “participate less and give others a chance to talk.” What?  I left the classroom confused and not understanding what she meant by participate less. But I had things to say! Did she mean just not say them? Why would I do that? In class the next day when we were discussing our reading, my teacher asked a question and by instinct, my hand shot up. Her eyes met mine, she gave the smallest shake of her head and I slowly dropped my hand down. She gave a small nod and called on a boy.

I couldn’t understand my teacher’s request for me to contribute less in class. I thought back to the moment in 7th grade when my teacher told me I should never justify my existence based on what other people, especially boys, thought about me. Did she mean teachers too?

I slowly began to realize however that what my English teacher said was true. In comparison to the other students, especially the other girls in my classes, I talked in class five times as much. I convinced myself to talk less, telling myself that it would give others the opportunity to participate more. But  by junior year I learned that I had taken my teachers’ advice too much to heart.

During midterm reports, my Junior year English teacher commented that, “Angela writes well. She needs to participate more in class.” I stood in my dorm not understanding how things had changed so much in just a year, from going from someone who participates too much to someone who participates not enough. When had I decided to let society change who I was? I promised myself I would change that.

In English class the next day, I tried to force myself to participate. I would raise my hand then drop it down, reminding myself that what I had to say was probably stupid and wouldn’t contribute to the conversation. When, after the third time of backing out of participating, my teacher called on my before I dropped my hand, I mumbled something related to the text. Immediately I could feel my blood rushing and my face reddening. My palms began to sweat and I grabbed my pen, drawing a large, thick circle on my notebook and wishing I could escape into it. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I carved into the wooden desks, reminding anyone who sat there next of who I was.

It was a painful process trying to teach myself how to speak in class again.  I found myself clinging on to the responses of my peers. If someone said they agreed with what I had said, my confidence soared and I would try and raise my hand more. The few times people disagreed, I would hide my head and draw circles on my page.

In college with large lecture halls filled with 200+ students, the idea of speaking up is intimidating. While I can’t say I participate nearly as much as I did when I attended an all girl’s school, I try to be a voice in the classroom. Every now and then, I still draw circles on the page, but I try and remind myself that I am the only person who can ever justify my own existence and the way other people perceive my intelligence most definitely does not.

#ReadWomen in school and beyond

by Madeleine Nesbitt

Despite the fact that the first known novel was penned by a woman, the devaluation of female-produced literature has presided over the literary arts since they came to exist. Women continue to go by initials in hopes of being taken for a man (example a: J.K. Rowling), and the 2013 VIDA Count points out that women are only 29% of book reviewers in Harper’s, and a notably awful 21% of authors reviewed in The New York Times Book Review.

In January, the hashtag #ReadWomen2014 called for recognition of the merits of women’s writing, and since then, other movements, like We Need Diverse Books, have noted further flaws in the publishing industry.

The fact remains, however, that the majority of books deemed ‘classic’ are written by men, and that female writers have a long way to go before the supposed meritocracy of the literary arts actually becomes one.

Take, for example, my English curriculum. I have been reading books for school since seventh grade, which gives me a solid four years of experience. In that time, it’s no struggle to count the number of women’s voices included in that mix: two. That’s right, besides Harper Lee and Mary Ann Evans, women authors are nonexistent.

So: the texts that teenagers are compulsed to read are rarely written by women. These are the books that teens are most likely to be exposed to, the books that we are forced to take in whether we like it or not. These are the books that supposedly have academic merit.

What this means for students, and especially girls, is that women’s voices aren’t necessary or wanted in academics. It means that women’s writing is seen as less valid, and that if you are woman who writes, you can never be as good as a man.

The omission of women authors is not based on how much well-written, academically appropriate material by women is available– while there may not be as much female-authored literature as there is male, there is plenty enough that having an English curriculum completely devoid of any women’s voices, as I did this year (my sophomore year of high school) is incomprehensible.

Every book by a woman read in school validates a teenage girl who might have thought her writing wasn’t good enough, and that is exactly what is needed. At a time where publishers complain that the disparity between published works by male and female authors is due to a lack of female writing, representation of female writing in high school curriculums is necessary to validate and inspire the next generation of female authors.

A woman’s voice is incredibly important to girls in the classroom– and even though we didn’t read any books by women in class this year, I saw the change that a woman can effect– it’s just that she was within the text, and not writing it.

There are a total of three boys in my English class, which means our many of our class discussions a feminist slant, and never was this more evident than when we read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. At this point in the year, we had been starved completely of female characters– we had read three books about groups of teenage boys, which had probably had a grand total of five female characters combined, none of whom had come anywhere near to being “main.” We didn’t all love Hawthorne’s style, but everyone wanted to talk about Hester Prynne, the stubborn protagonist.

Our discussions about Hester and her on-and-off beau, Arthur Dimmesdale, were probably the best we had all year. We talked about slut-shaming and the stigma of female sexuality (albeit in less overt terms), about the trials of being a single mother, and about now Arthur Dimmesdale is a man-pain jerkbag. The presence of this one well-developed female character lit up the classroom for a few weeks– imagine what more women’s voices could do for a room full of teenage girls.

This is why we need to #readwomen– not just 2014, but every year. I need, and my peers need to hear from female authors, need to know that women’s writing will and should be taken just as seriously as men’s. We need to see our future in writing, and that future comes with an understanding that recognition is not solely for men.

What girls are learning from the firing of Jill Abramson

by Maya Brown, Sam Holmes, and Madeleine Nesbitt

In the past couple of weeks, the media has blown up about why the first female executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, was fired. Some sources claimed that she was fired because she brought in a lawyer to talk with her boss, Arthur Sulzberger, because she found out that she wasn’t getting paid as much as the previous male executive editors. Others suggested she was fired because of how she did her job, saying that staff saw her as too temperamental or pushy. Either way, we had a lot of feeling about this at SPARK, so I sat down with Madeleine and Sam to talk about what happened, as well as how the media handled all of it and how it’s making us think about ourselves and our futures.

Maya: Ok so, lets get started, does someone want to first just recap what happened? A lot of [the sources I read] told different stories.

Sam: I can take a shot at it! So, I believe that over two years ago, the New York Times hired Jill Abramson as executive editor. I believe that recently Arthur Sulzberger, NYT’s publisher, fired her because he claimed that she was too erratic, but now it’s coming out that she was treated super unfairly. Like people who worked under her supposedly had better benefits and salary than she did. It also sounds to me like she was just as assertive and had similar styles to her predecessors, yet she is being attacked for her managing style. And a lot of the media claims that gender has nothing to do with it, but come on. He’s using classic words to put down women like bossy and that she complained too much.

Maya: Exactly, and the first story the press told was that Abramson found out that she was being paid less, so she brought in a lawyer, which the Times allegedly saw as too combative, so they fired her, but now Sulzberger is saying there were other problems, and kind of backing away from any claims that it could have been sexism.

Madeleine: To me, bringing in a lawyer to politely investigate salary differences is a completely legitimate and reasonable thing to do, especially for a woman who has prided herself in bringing more female leadership to the times. It’s definitely sketchy to me that she was fired a little more/less than a month after bringing a lawyer in.

Maya: Yeah, and it also kind of shows that she knew she might not be taken seriously if she asked about her salary herself, like she knows she’s working in a male-dominated workplace, and she has fought or a higher salary in the past and kind of just had it bumped up minimally–this wasn’t out of the blue. Clearly it’s been an issue ever since she started working there, and an issue that was ignored in the past.

Madeleine: And she wasn’t just investigating her current salary but also her salary compared to a male managing editor– so, definitely.

Maya: Also, all the adjectives that the media have been using as the justification for firing her are all so sexist, in the articles I read I found words like “temperamental” “pushy” “insensitive” and even “bitchy” as other reasons they fired her, but those all feel really gendered to me.

Madeleine: I read articles from the Times and the New Yorker, and they seemed relatively business-like, but what was really interesting was to read the announcement of Abramson’s hiring versus the announcement of her firing. The tone was definitely more combative and tense in the second one; it was very clear that she did not go out without pushing back. What I think is really true about this situation is that women are forced to toughen up in the newsroom to even be considered for a job like executive editor, and then everyone complains about how pushy and tough they are if they get the job. It’s a ridiculous double standard.

Sam: It’s a lose lose situation. You have to conform, but once you do, you become threatening

Madeleine: Every article I read talked about how much her replacement, Dean Baquet, is liked in the newsroom, and that really isn’t an option for women in the workplace if they want to move up. If they seem nice, they are viewed as “soft” and unsuitable for the job.

Sam: EXACTLY!!!!

Maya: It’s also just such a loss, I read a really great Slate article that talked about how many women in media and journalism really looked up to Abramson. Whatever the real cause for her being fired, I think because she was a woman she didn’t have a safety net, and it’s awful because in the years she was editor she hired even more women as editors and in other positions, who then increased the representation of women overall on the paper, which is so important.

Madeleine: I also feel like the top male executives where talking behind Abramson’s back a lot? Sulzberger and Baquet specifically seemed very ready to not cooperate with Abramson and discuss decisions that should have involved her without her.

Maya: Yeah I could see that. I just really think it goes to show how we need more women in higher positions, because otherwise the ones there don’t always have people to turn to–like it just sounds like Abramson just didn’t have a lot of support where she was, while the men in charge really looked out for each other.

Madeleine: From what I read, Abramson was trying to hire a female co-managing editor (Julie Gideon?), and even though Gideon turned down the position, she said she would never have even considered it if she had known that Abramson was about to be fired. I think this really shows is that if women are in powerful positions, more women will look for and accept better positions in the workplace.

Maya: Exactly! I just feel like Ambramson was such a good example of why we need women leaders, and it’s such a loss having her gone. How does all this make you guys feel about your future careers?

Sam: It definitely makes me nervous, because it seems nearly impossible to get to the top, and once you do, you’re still in a precarious position. Also, I can easily imagine this replaying itself within smaller communities or microcosms as I go on to college, for example. I’m going to a school that has its fair share of sexism scandals. I can imagine going out for a club and having to navigate a rally male dominated structure to achieve a leadership position.

Maya: Totally. I feel really lucky because I go to a women’s college, that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen so much, but it’s definitely something I think about when I think about future jobs. It’s just really interesting to be in an environment where sexism, at least in terms of leadership isn’t as much of a problem, and I think because of it, so many more women feel comfortable stepping up and getting involved.

Sam: That’s incredible. This whole event was eye opening in the most unfortunate way, because the Times is supposedly progressive 

Maya: Right, like if something like this could happen at NYT, it makes me even more worried about other types of jobs

Madeleine: Definitely! I have no idea where I’m going to end up, college or beyond that at this point, but this entire affair puts me off from even wanting to go for a top position, even though I don’t really want to feel that way. This story makes the workplace seem so, so dangerous for women. It makes the idea of having any kind of high pressure job terrifying to me.

Sam: Exactly. They have removed a major figure, and it speaks volumes about women in the workplace in general. She wasn’t quiet and docile, so she was punished. It shows that attitudes about women pursuing careers that they love has made much less progress than I had previously hoped.

Maya: The whole thing just sends overarching message that “women don’t belong here.” And I think it’s especially hard because it makes it dangerous for women to not only have high power jobs, but high profile jobs, because of how the media is treating it.

Sam: Exactly, that’s the message that they’re sending.

Madeleine: Especially with high publicity jobs, media coverage makes women feel incredibly unwelcome no matter the situation.

Maya: Have any of you guys experienced something like this in your lives already? I’m trying to think if I have.

Madeleine: Not really, I mean obviously on different scales I can definitely get a LOT of pushback when I take charge of a group project at school, and really disappointingly this kind of poking and prodding is from girls most of the time.

Sam: Very true, Madeleine. We have had debates in class about whether America could have a female president, and A LOT of my classmates, male and female, said no, because they don’t think that women are ‘tough enough’ to lead a nation.

Madeleine: I think that’s EXACTLY what we’ve been talking about here! Like, women have to prove themselves where men are just accepted as capable.

Maya: Wow yeah, that mentality is definitely really related, because then the women who are tough are seen as less feminine and like pushy and bossy.

Sam: I know personally, I have lost many opportunities because I’m not ‘tough’ or ‘aggressive’ enough, and when I do try to display those traits, I’m called bossy, mean, pushy, naggy, so I withdraw, because it takes a toll on my self esteem, and I’m more hesitant to pursue these opportunities.

Maya: Exactly, girls and women are given such a thin line to walk, and I think that’s why so many girls get discouraged.

Sam: I feel that it’s not just a thin line, I feel like it’s essentially non existent. Like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In rhetoric isn’t really helping and then the whole be calm and sweet and don’t be too pushy mentality isn’t especially productive either. So it’s like lose-lose-lose all around.

Maya: I agree, and this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I know in high school there was always issues with boys raising their hands more and dominating classroom conversations, and even in an all women’s college there are girls that get labeled a “that girl” which is basically when you talk too much in class, and I think this comes from the same place of women being expected to act a certain way, a way that means basically not talking, while guys get more of a free pass.

Sam: I’M IN A SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM AS AN INTERN AND I’VE NOTICED THAT. Like the boys get much more attention / support / reinforcement.

Maya: It starts soooo young! I really think it’s all related, it all comes down to how gender is socialized, and girls just aren’t taught to be leaders and boys are, and what we’re taught when we’re little stays with us.

Madeleine: That’s definitely true, although I also notice that when I am in a female-dominated period (for example, my English class has 3 boys in it), boys get really really positive feedback for raising their hands, but girls don’t.

Maya: Yeah that happens at my school, because we have a few guys in some classes from other colleges.

Madeleine: Like the boys need encouragement to participate, but the girls get glared at if they talk too much. It’s awful.

Maya: Yeah, like the boys get rewarded, but in a similar situation, when girls are the minority, girls who participate a lot are looked down on and seen as pushy.

Sam: And then people think that boys are natural leaders. In reality, society has shaped them to be more dominant and confident

Madeleine: Exactly, like, all they years that there has been a student council president for my glass, the position has been filled by a girl, and she, every election time, is targeted by boys with hateful language, but the boys always drop out and she always wins. Most of the student council is girls, too– and yet most of these positions, when they get to a more “official” level than high school, will be expected to be filled by men.


From one Holmes to another: thank you

by Sam Holmes

Dear Linda Holmes,

via NPR

My Aunt first showed me one of your blogs over a year ago. That introduction has been, without a doubt, one of the greatest gifts that she has given me in the past 18 years. First and foremost, I have to say thank you. I am one of many people who love your blogs. The topics that you’ve written about, with their honesty and variety, have resonated with me. Through articles such as “Hey, Kid: Thoughts For The Young Oddballs We Need So Badly you have reminded me that it’s important to embrace the quirks and imperfections that I have been conditioned to hide. True Love, Book Fights, And Why Ugly Stories Matter encourages complete honesty in storytelling. I try to incorporate this quality into my own writing. Beams of positivity emanates from every word that you write. Retta,  Quvenzhané Wallis, Lupita Nyong’o and other talented women of color have been featured in your works.

At the same time, you confront important issues. Writing openly, you shed light on the unfortunate realities that tend to get swept beneath the rug. It’s no secret that fat shaming, colorism, sexism, and stigmatized mental health widely omitted from the pages of pop culture.  However, you have used your position as a pop-culture journalist to bring these societal problems to the forefront of our collective consciousness. You hold an entire culture accountable for bullying people. The ideas in Chris Christie And Pulling The Red Handle are a firm reminder that we are all deserving of fundamental human decency. We all have certain topics that trigger us. Red handles, the insecurities or events that are the most upsetting, must never be used against us.  Whether it’s weight, socio-economic identity, or personal background, there is always a topic that is off-limits.  I have thought about red handles and how to avoid them when interacting with people on a day to day basis. Everyone from high school students to United States governors should be treated with respect. You reinforce this vital truth.

At this point I realize that I may be summarizing your achievements.  While I have a deep admiration for the pieces of your writing that appear on NPR every so often, my appreciation for your contributions goes beyond the official pieces of your portfolio. After reading one of your entries, I usually scroll down the page to see how other people reacted to your thoughts. Enthusiasm saturates the comments section. People are thrilled, enlightened, and moved by your newest creation. At the same time, however, there are commenters whose words are seared with hate. I’ve witnessed condescending readers attempt to install contempt in a space that should be used for discussion and reflection. Derogatory language, ad hominem attacks, and unfiltered ignorance draw a stark contrast to the thoughtful articles that precede them. Hidden behind the tin veil of anonymity, spiteful internet users sometimes become virtual monsters. Their words are horrific. They’re dehumanizing and acceptable. Reading through them can be painful for me. When I first saw these comments on your pieces, I could only imagine the strength that it took to continue writing.

A few months later, I experienced a similar response from anonymous internet users. I have made my foray into the wonderful world of internet activism during the past year. Receiving positive feedback on my first few pieces, I built up enough confidence to explore topics that are not always easy to talk about. Your work inspired me. Sexualization, race relations, and gender dynamics, topics that I had previously been too scared to write about, began to make appearances in my portfolio. At the same time, disapproving comments surfaced as well. After a few claims that I “gallantly” ignore intergender problems, I was prepared to scale back the frequency of my pieces. Then I remembered you. Honesty and fearlessness can attract some critics. But, it also ensures that your voice is heard. Hatred cannot silence me. Candor creates change. Thank you for being a reminder of that beautiful truth.

Linda, your experiences never fail to encourage me. I hope to pass on this inspiration. To the other girls who are trying to discover their journalistic bravery: I know how you’re feeling right now. I’ve been in your shoes. You’ve spent the past few days, weeks, or months putting your soul into a blog post or online article. Caffeinated spurts of creation, piles of rough drafts, and all-nighters have accompanied you on the journey to perfect this piece.  After it’s published, you find that some less-than-pleased visitors have decided to belittle your work. Remember Linda Holmes. Be brave, honor authenticity, and speak the truth.