No, I’m not going to smile.

Today, I was harassed and catcalled twice by men on the street while on my college campus. While this isn’t the first time this has happened to me (unfortunately), today was different in a few ways. First, both occurrences happened before 1pm in broad daylight. Second, it happened two separate times in a relatively short time span. Third, these incidents were much more severe and frightening than previous experiences I’ve had.

Going to school on an urban campus, it’s almost to be expected that things like this would happen. But just because it’s a normal occurrence, doesn’t mean it’s ok. All of my female friends here can tell at least one story about being made uncomfortable while walking up the street due to catcalling or harassment. I’ve had my fair share of “Hello Beautiful” and “Where are you going in such a hurry” over my years here, and I usually just stare straight ahead and keep walking. It unsettles me, but I power through and try to look ahead. But today I got angry.

Today I was working move-out on campus, and I was harassed twice, once specifically while I was working.

This morning, after finishing a shift and starting a 30 minute break, I was walking to Dunkin Donuts when two men passed me and said “Oh hey beautiful… damn look at you! Smile for us. C’mon, smile for us!!” While I usually look away, today I glared back at them as I continued to walk past. The men stopped and turned around shouting after me, “That’s not a smile, where’s the smile! C’mon just smile for us. Where’s that beautiful smile.” They didn’t stop yelling until I rounded the corner and was out of sight. I was practically running. 

While catcalling usually makes me feel pretty gross, this specific instance completely unnerved me. While men who catcall in the first place tend to be pretty aggressive, these guys literally stopped walking to yell at me as I walked away just because I didn’t do what they wanted. It seemed like a scene out of a movie, but in the worst possible way. I’m not a confrontational person, so I’d never yell back at them or say any of the things in my head out loud. I wish I was that type of person. Instead, I just stormed away feeling angry, upset and a little anxious.

When I started working again at around noon, I was still thinking about what had happened earlier, because I was genuinely still upset.

About 45 minutes into my next shift, a guy approached me and the two other girls I was working with. He very clearly seemed “off,” and I’m almost certain he was drunk at 1pm on a Thursday.

We were assigned as “Street Monitors,” so we helped direct parents who were picking up their kids into street parking and made sure the traffic kept moving. This meant we were posted on the sidewalk outside of one of the residence halls for the entirety of our shift.

This man approached us and started asking us if it was move-out. He asked it over and over again because none of us wanted to answer him. If he looked around, it was very clearly move-out. We all just silently nodded and tried to look away to get him to leave, because it was obvious he wasn’t a student or a parent. We were hoping he’d pick up on the body language and lack of communication, but he didn’t leave.

Instead, he moved closer, leaving very little space between us and him, and talked to us inches from our faces, trying to get us to engage. One of the girls had a Bernie Sanders button on her jacket and he started to go on a rant about politics, trying to get us involved in the conversation even though all of us were clearly uncomfortable.

Then he noticed our nametag stickers that we had on and he started addressing us by name, making it very difficult to ignore him. I’d never been in a situation where the person harassing me knew any more information than what I looked like, but it made the experience much more unsettling when he knew such personal details. Because we were posted outside and wearing a nametag for our job, the girls and I were stuck in an uncomfortable situation, left to find a way out.

He tried to ask about our relationship situations, whether or not we had boyfriends; he commented our eyes and our general appearance. At one point  one of the girls tried to tell him we were working, in an attempt to get him to leave, but all he said was “You are? I don’t see you doing anything.” 

At one point, I remember grimacing, and the guy pointed it out. He mimicked the face I had made and laughed. “What are you making that face for,” he asked.

Eventually one of us was able to slip away and contact someone in our building, who came out and was able to make him leave, even though he went slowly. He hit on her as he slowly retreated because the person who came out of our building to help was also a woman. Before she came to the rescue he was lingering around us for about 15 minutes. The Campus Police were notified and an officer got him off of campus, but he said he couldn’t really do much besides intimidate him away because the guy technically hadn’t broken any laws. He hadn’t made any verbal threats, as if his lingering presence wasn’t threatening enough. I was glad that he was gone, but that really didn’t make me feel any better about what happened.

Honestly, in almost all situations, I’m happy to be a girl. I think women are amazing and powerful and inspirational, and I am motivated by the amazing ladies in my life every day. But this is a situation where I often wish I wasn’t a girl, because this is almost exclusively a female problem. Of course there are always exceptions, and I don’t mean to ostracize anyone who doesn’t fit this description, but as I’ve said before, all of my female friends have experienced something like this. I don’t know of any of my guy friends who have.

I’ve never understood catcalling because I don’t understand what the expected outcome is supposed to be. All it does is make women angry, upset, uncomfortable and afraid. No good can come of it. When I started going to school in the city, my parents gave me a little pepper spray to use for emergencies. Most of the time I think I’ll never have to use it, but days like today make me glad I have it, just in case.

It’s not fair that this is something we have to deal with when we’re just trying to live our lives and exist. This morning, I was on my way to get a coffee for myself and my friends. This afternoon, I was literally working. I was dressed way down because I was working all day, and both instances happened in broad daylight. I’m not saying that this kind of behavior is okay ever, under any circumstances, but I was shocked that it happened twice in one day and in these specific situations.

I feel like I was punished today just for existing as a woman in the city. I should be able to go about my day in peace without having to constantly survey my surroundings and look over my shoulder, but that’s just not the case and I think that’s sad.

Today, I’m angry. And I’m sure I’ll be angry again.

Boy Bands & Fandom: Let The Girls Love Things In Peace

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It’s just me, you’re boy band loving blogger.

In the social media/One Direction era, conversations about fan mania have shifted. While there remains the unwelcoming ideology that boy band fandom is uncool, unhealthy, excessive, and something for only young women to enjoy (and if you are not a young women and enjoying it, something must be diagnosably wrong with you), the people within it are dedicated to writing their own stories.” 

After having it bookmarked on my laptop for two days, I finally got around to reading an article called  Truly, Madly Deeply: The Relationship Between Fandom & Mental Health, written by Fuse TV’s Maria Sherman. The article was something that immediately caught my interest, due to my own history of boy band love and the discovery of communities that form around it. The quote I pulled from the article above largely sums up my experience.

The article discusses hysteria, lisztomania, and Beatlemania as a historical framework to move the conversation toward where we’re at with today’s teens and the bands they love. The one thing that these instances have in common throughout the years is the devaluation of the music, the bands, and the fandom that these girls are excited over. As it says above, there is an “unwelcoming ideology that boy band fandom is uncool, unhealthy, excessive, and something for only young women to enjoy.” From the way I see it, there has always been a patronizing, condescending tone taken toward young women who find themselves a part of one of these fandoms. And I don’t think that’s fair.

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We forced a Nick Jonas photo bomb. I may look calm but I was freaking out inside.

 

As a former Jonas Brothers fan, a One Direction fan, and a 5 Seconds of Summer fan, I’ve seen a lot of online communities form around bands, and I’ve seen what the fans can do. Anyone who thinks these fandoms are silly, unintelligent or uncool are so completely off-base it’s laughable.

When One Direction fans were irritated that fan-favorite song, “No Control,” was never made a single for radio-play, they took matters into their own hands and made it one. They called into radio stations, created social media campaigns, and gained so much traction that top radio stations all around the world actually started playing it. They created the No Control Project and organized themselves across the globe to ensure that it didn’t fail. How many groups of people can you think of that could actually pull that off? I honestly can’t think of any other situation.

Locally, fans collaborate on projects too. Last summer on 5SOS’s tour date in Massachusetts, multiple fans made and distributed orange hearts to the majority of the arena to hold up during a particular song at the concert. The same thing happened at the One Direction show in September, except with “Happy Birthday Niall” signs, and they were distributed to most of Gillette Stadium. Being present at both of those shows and seeing these girls’ work come to life is absolutely incredible.

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When I first discovered the Jonas Brothers, I was 12. When I first discovered One Direction, I was 16. In both cases, I was dealing with all of that fun adolescent stuff that everyone unfortunately has to go through. For me, and for a lot of other girls out there, these bands and these fandoms were an escape. The bands were easy to love, and they arrived at a time I needed them.

My sophomore year of college, I wrote a research paper about boy bands for my gender studies class. One thing I really remember from my writing was the fact that part of the reason boy bands are so successful is because they give the girls an outlet to express desire at an awkward age. They’re ideal because they’re distant from you. You can love them boundlessly, but the chances of you ever meeting your favorite boy band are slim, so it’s “safe.” They’re also ideal because they’re saying what you want to hear, and are most likely better groomed and better mannered than the boys in your real life. I’m going to just keep it simple and say that I think this was definitely true for me.

And more importantly than the band itself, especially in the One Direction era, the thing I found so compelling about being a fan was the online community. For many years, Tumblr became a go-to place for me, because it made you feel like you were a part of something. These girls support each other, compliment each other and become friends online through this common bond of loving the same band. I’ll be honest and say I had a pretty intense One Direction Tumblr at one point, and I had more followers on that blog than any other social platform I’ve ever used. I don’t really see how this is any different than dudes loving their favorite football team or online communities based around video games, but for some reason it’s the teenage girls who are portrayed in the “hysterical,” irrational light.

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Sometimes you see 1D’s drummer at Panera and would hate yourself if you didn’t ask for a pic.

 

It’s something that has always made me feel uncomfortable, and a little embarrassed, as I went through high school years loving boy bands. I felt like I couldn’t share too much with my peers because I was afraid of judgement, which looking back on just makes me sad. The music you like and the communities you choose to participate in do not dictate your maturity level or your intelligence. I’ve consistently been at the top of my class, in high school and college, and I’ve been in the boy band world for 7 or 8 years now. If anything, I’d argue that participating in these fandoms can make you a better person. And if someone wants to make fun of you for something as trivial as your music taste, is that someone you want to hang out with anyways?

I’m 20 years old now, and I don’t think I love boy bands for the same reasons I used to. I don’t feel that same need to belong to the community as I did when I was a teenager. I feel like I have a better understanding of myself, and participate in different communities in different ways now. Don’t get me wrong here, I still look at the Tumblr blogs to read up on what the fans are saying- I just don’t actively participate anymore, and I think that just comes along with getting older.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop loving boy bands, because I know what they can give people during some of the strangest transitional times of their lives. Plus, boy band music is some of the best pop music out there, and I will fight anyone on this point if you try to disagree. I’ll never stop having full-blown dance parties to “No Control,” and I’ll probably never stop finding Harry Styles to be one of the most beautiful men on this planet (Harry, if you stumble across this I am available). And if One Direction goes on a reunion tour 20 years from now, you know I’ll be there (hopefully) in the front row. Because, once you’re part of the fandom, you never really leave.

So, let’s all stop shaming girls for liking things, and stop pretending that you don’t like those things too. It’s ok to like a boy band. It’s 2016, people.

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Please read the rest of Maria Sherman’s article, because it was a great read! I only expanded on one tiny bit of info presented in her writing and there’s so many other interesting things she discusses. You can read the full piece here.

 

“Return Of Kings” is the most terrifying thing I’ve seen in a long time

Over the past couple days, you may have seen news articles shared about a website called “Return of Kings” and it’s supporters.

But before I get into current events, and why this is in the news, let’s get some context.

Return Of Kings is a website for men who believe in “neomasculinity”- basically the concept that promotes men displaying “traditional” traits of masculinity such as dominance, while females should be submissive. The website also explicitly states that they believe men to be more intelligent than women, and simply “better” in almost all respects.

This excerpt from their About page sums things up pretty well:

Return Of Kings is a blog for heterosexual, masculine men. It’s meant for a small but vocal collection of men in America today who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine.

ROK aims to usher the return of the masculine man in a world where masculinity is being increasingly punished and shamed in favor of creating an androgynous and politically-correct society that allows women to assert superiority and control over men. Sadly, yesterday’s masculinity is today’s misogyny. The site intends to be a safe space on the web for those men who don’t agree with the direction that Western culture is headed. If you are new, check out our top 35 posts of all time.

Women and homosexuals are strongly discouraged from commenting here.

Since, I’m “strongly discouraged” from leaving my comments on their website, and I would never dare to do so, I am going to write about my thoughts here.

I am a feminist.

I think that feminism in general still has a lot of stigma attached to it in this day and age, with people often associating it with “man-hating,” or just listing off reasons why it’s unnecessary.

The literal definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Not that hard to understand, right? It is something I have always assumed was easy to support, but every day I am shocked at how wrong that assumption is.

People often argue that women nowadays are treated equally and fairly to men in pretty much all cases. While it’s true that we have come a long way, I think that there is still a long way to go. For example, the pay gap– yes it does exist, and no I am not getting into it, because it’s not really what this blog post is about. However, if you’re interested, this video explains it (and does so pretty well):

And while people may argue over the real extent of a gender pay gap along with other similar issues, it’s clear that there is a bigger issue at hand: there are still people out there who strongly and hatefully believe women are lesser than men, and should be treated as such in every respect (and significantly so). Those are the kinds of people who are flocking to this website, and they are more than willing to share their opinions.

Just a few of the articles on Return of Kings include: “5 Reasons Not To Have A Breadwinner Wife,” “Men Benefit From Acting Potentially Violent and Explosive Around Women,” “Always Subtract 40% From Every Woman’s Appearance,” and “3 Ways To Survive (And Exploit) The Slutification Of America.”

There are plenty of other articles (on every subject from politics to professional life to dating) and I’m sure that looking deeper into the contents of the website, I could find even worse things. However, the more time I spent on this website, the angrier I got.

The reason I ended up writing this post in the first place was because members from this website were planning official “meet-ups” for this Saturday, February 6th in practically every state in the US and multiple countries.

Being an internet troll and writing horrible things is one thing, but mobilizing a small army of entitled, misguided, dangerous men is another. That is what sets this “community” apart from other ignorant dudes writing things on the internet. I have seen plenty of “meninist” social media posts and blog posts in the past. I have always thought that “meninist” Twitter accounts and other things of that nature have been in poor taste. However, their comments (while still offensive) are less of a call to action and more so a way to crack sexist jokes and gain followers.  This group of people who talk in the comments sections on Return of Kings seem more aggressive, more dangerous, more hateful, and more willing to meet in a public space to display their beliefs.

The thought of so many of these people meeting in one place is one of the most horrifying things I could think of. Mob mentality is real, and who knows what kind of harm these people could cause when they feel they are being backed up by their peers.

 

Seeing The North End in Boston on that list of meet-up locations made me feel sick to my stomach.

As a young woman living in the city, I have always been told by people to “be careful” and to “be safe” when I’m out. Girls are taught from a pretty young age that we always need to be on the defensive and keep an eye out for any threats, because it’s typically us who get targeted and attacked.

With this already in the back of my mind, at all times, learning about this event filled me with the purest form of terror. A group full of the exact people you should be afraid of is not something I’d like to imagine in a hypothetical situation, and it’s certainly not something I’d ever like to experience. After discussing this event with friends at school, they said they might change their plans for the weekend because this was supposedly happening. Because they were genuinely scared.

And people may argue “Oh, well that’s what these people want, you shouldn’t let it dictate your life.” But, why would you risk being out when the members of this website have already made it clear that they don’t care about women, and don’t value us as human beings. If they are looking at this website every day, reading about how women are “sluts” who are less intelligent and less important than them, then it becomes pretty easy to justify treating women poorly. These “values” (I use this term very loosely here) could be exhibited differently by different people, but what if one of those people at the meet-up acted on those “values” violently or aggressively? Does it only take that one person to set off a horrible chain reaction?

These men don’t believe rape is real. They believe “a woman’s value depends on her fertility and beauty.” They view women as an opposing team, an enemy.

Knowing these things, why would I ever risk putting myself anywhere near a place I knew these people may be.

As more mainstream news outlets picked up this story, the pressure and threats to members of this group grew.

Just three days before this meet-up was supposed to take place, the founder of Return of Kings (and the organizer of this event) made a post to the website that the official February 6th meet-up had been cancelled:

I can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend on February 6, especially since most of the meetups can not be made private in time. While I can’t stop men who want to continue meeting in private groups, there will be no official Return Of Kings meetups. The listing page has been scrubbed of all locations. I apologize to all the supporters who are let down by my decision.

I cannot express how angry it makes me that the “safety” of these men was discussed, because it was never their safety that was at stake. I truly believe someone could have gotten hurt at one of these meet-ups, and it wouldn’t have been a man in the group.

And while I’m glad that these events got cancelled, I would still advise people who live near the areas they were scheduled for to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Like the post said above, people could still meet unofficially, and they will probably be angry if they do so. Just reading the comments section on that specific post was proof enough. I plan to stay far away this weekend.

 

It’s very obvious that this group of people is an extreme case. I don’t know a single person who I think would be a user of this website. However, it does demonstrate why feminism is so important in today’s society– there are people out there who disagree with the idea of feminism so much that they have literally created online communities designed to oppress women and disrespect them on a regular basis. I’m not sure if it’s out of pure hatred or feeling threatened, but it’s clear in a lot of small ways and a lot of large ways (like this case) that we still have a long way to go before true equality is reached.

Finally, in regard to arguments made about the intellectual inferiority of women on Return Of Kings, I’m just going to laugh. Because that belief is laughable. A vast majority of the best, most successful professors I have had in college have been women. A vast majority of people I look up to due to their knowledge and drive are women. A vast majority of the most brilliant people I know are women. 

So, you guys can have your stupid website for now. The joke’s on you, though. Because I, a woman, could very well be your boss one day.

 

 

 

 

Barbie Gets A Makeover

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Photo: Barbie.com

Last semester, I worked on a semester-long project analyzing Barbie as a brand. We looked at problems they were having, things they were doing well, and opportunities for growth.

The obvious issue we saw with the brand right away was the negative perception of the Barbie doll in today’s society, whether that be the issue of unrealistic body proportions, or the stereotypical (and sexist) career choices for Barbie. The lack of Barbies in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) careers was a specific criticism presented by consumer advocacy groups.

However, in October Barbie launch this campaign, the “You Can Be Anything” campaign, which was supported by the video below (it went viral within days).

This campaign encouraged a move away form those stereotypical “female” occupations and showcased an emphasis careers like: professor,  soccer coach, and a high-power businesswoman. And because it was such a sweet video presenting such an up-to-date perspective from Barbie, it was received with rave reviews (AND this very same campaign introduced a wildly popular Computer Engineer Barbie).

In our analysis of Barbie, we saw this as a huge step in the right direction for the brand in dealing with those negative association regarding the portrayal of Barbie in the professional world. However, by the end of the semester when we presented our project there was still the issue of body image. We still saw it as a huge obstacle Barbie needed to tackle, and recommended that Barbie begin to produce more realistic dolls.

So, you can imagine my excitement today when I saw the news that Barbie was releasing new dolls with different body types- something brand new for them!

The new dolls come in a variety of hair colors, cuts, and textures, as well as with a variety of facial features and skin tones. But, most newsworthy was the introduction of the “tall,” “petite,” and “curvy dolls.”

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Photo: Mattel

The goal of these new dolls is for girls to be able to find Barbie dolls that they can see some of themselves in.

While I do think this is a great, long overdue, step in the right direction, I do have a few problems with this new line.

My main issue I have is that the “curvy” Barbie isn’t so much “curvy” proportions as much as the doll simply portrays a woman with an average weight. The original Barbie is still being portrayed as the “norm,” while the new curvy Barbie is seen as a heavier Barbie, which I think could still negatively impact a young girl’s body image.

In my opinion, the “curvy” Barbie should be rendered the norm, and the old, “original,” Barbie should be retired from the shelves. That would truly be a Barbie revolution.

Not to mention, from what it looks like, the tall and petite Barbies still have the classic unrealistic Barbie proportions. What’s the point in attempting to represent different body types and heights  if most dolls still portray the same unrealistic weight?

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Photo: Barbie.com

I do think it’s fantastic that Barbie is implementing different facial features and hair textures, however. Better representing different cultures across Barbie dolls is a great way to include more girls and allow them to see themselves in the doll, rather than the blue-eyed, platinum hair model that has dominated for so long.

And while the height and weight additions to the dolls definitely need more tweaking before we can applaud Barbie, the attempt at representing more body types is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Barbie has such a powerful position in pop culture, and more importantly an influence on so many young girls spanning the globe. Let’s try to do right by those girls and get dolls on the shelf that don’t sell them a narrative of beauty that isn’t attainable.

The “curvy” doll is the first step. Keep it going.