NYC to BA

6 days after I returned from NYC I boarded a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina, hardly pausing to register the fact that I was going to embark on a new adventure and immerse myself in a new culture. I had hardly gotten used to the fast-pace of New York before I had to leave, so I was a bit nervous about adjusting to a city in which I didn´t know the language or the customs.

I have to admit, since arriving in Buenos Aires I have been more focused on learning the language than worrying about systemic oppression. Although I´m still getting to know my host family, I have made it clear that I did NOT vote for Trump, which was a priority for sure. They seemed relieved.

As I continue to take my classes, meet local students, and learn about the culture and Buenos Aires, I will be curious to see how social and economic relations work within this huge city.

The Myth of the “girly-girl”

Less than a week after leaving my city life in the concrete jungle, I find myself in the piney woods of east Texas — no cell service or wifi, 100 degree Texas heat, and the sweet soundtrack of nature. Within hours or arriving, I’ve already removed 1 scorpion and 3 spiders from the midst of high pitches screams in a cramped cabin, courtesy of my 11 preteen campers. They applaud my bravery in handling the bugs, something that they say they themselves could have “never” done. I tell them that this is not true. They could have done the same thing.

During introductions the first night, I have 3 girls specify that they are “girly-girls” — meaning their favorite color is pink, they like to do hair and make up, make bracelets, and they don’t touch bugs. I cringe a little.

I had never thought about this during my time in Moxie, but I really hate that the idea of a girly-girl and a tomboy even exist. The traits for a girly-girl represent everything that patriarchy wishes to enforce and police in women, focusing on appearance and perception and trapping women into a position of submission to the man. Girly-girls grow up to be damsels in distress, reliant on men for their survival. Girly-girls are told to value how they look and how other people perceive them rather than self-love and acceptance and rather than considering any other life-skills. And girls are either forced into joining the ranks of girly-girls or told to renouncing their womanhood all together, as they deviate to the label “tomboy”. Because, of course, a girl could never be good at sports, or choose to wear basketball shorts because they are comfortable, or like science because it is cool, or wear her hair in a ponytail because it just makes sense. No no, those types of girls are not girls at all. Because boy is good and girl is less, boy is power and girl is pretty, boy can be president and girl can be president’s wife.

We are teaching our girls exactly how they are valued in society. Limiting their potential by allowing their predestination as secondary. Letting them know early on which skill they should work on perfecting to reach success. Even to just survive.

I reject this. I reject the myth of the girly-girl and refuse to let patriarchy continue oppressing our girls.

I told my girls that they are not girly-girls, they’re just girls. Because girl is great. Girl is strong and passionate and driven. Because anything boys can do, girls can do better.

Stop Judging Women’s Bodies

After 36 hours of traveling, I finally made it back to Beijing. Although I am on a different continent, I never escaped the patriarchy and all the sexist remarks women face on a daily basis, even from my own family.

Don’t get my wrong. I am so excited to reunite with my family and friends after two months. However, I am bothered by how I am constantly greeted with comments of my body. All the deprecatory comments about my weight and the way my body looks reaffirmed how “socially acceptable” it has become for others, especially men, to make these comments with impunity.

Yesterday on my cab ride home, the taxi driver pointed at this woman crossing the street and said to me, “Her thighs are literally the same size as my waist!” and looked at me seeking approval. The whole situation made me extremely uncomfortable but I didn’t say anything or call him out.

There is an unreasonable and unattainable standard for beauty created by our patriarchal society that women are subjected to from the cradle onward. As a society, we promote the idea that women’s bodies are works of art and can be commented on by any spectator who happens to like or dislike what they see, men and women alike. Every time we comment on a woman’s “belly fat,” “flat chest,” “thigh gap,” we are contributing to a vicious culture that values women for the size of their jeans instead of their content. One might say, we also comment on men’s appearances, which is true. Nevertheless, women’s bodies are way more scrutinized than men’s. For example, our society is so caught up with this unrealistic beauty standard that tabloids obsess over female celebrities’ perceived weight gain, cellulite, and stretch marks. The media focuses on female politician’s clothing choices and appearance almost as often as their actual politics, which is very evident in our last presidential election.

As a society, we need to stop body shaming. We all need to make it socially unacceptable to comment on women’s bodies. Resist the urge to scrutinize women’s bodies in the way we’ve been taught by the patriarchal system. Remember that a person is so much more than a body. A person is human and lives with all sorts of troubles and pain and beauty that you can’t even begin to imagine. Last but not least, remind yourself that you are so much more than a body, and that judging yourself or others only fosters more fear, hatred and insecurity.

Calling All Men

As the Moxie project is coming to an end, I have begun to reflect on my experience living in New York City for the past two months. I am very excited to share my journey with my friends. However, the conversations have not been easy so far, especially with guys.

For example: Recently I brought up, to my friend Henry, the fact that women often add verbal qualifiers or present themselves as more hesitant through indirect statements. To my surprise, Henry responded by telling me he never noticed this.

 

Initially, I was frustrated. I thought to myself: If someone, like Henry, who is well-educated and actually believes in feminism doesn’t get it, how would other men understand the frustration women have to go through every single day, just for being women? I continued to share with Henry some specific difficulties that I’ve experienced, like going into the weight room and taking up physical space, or allowing myself to take up intellectual space in the classroom. As I shared, I slowly began to realize that Henry not only never noticed this trend in women’s behavior, he had also never had this kind of conversation with a woman. What I was sharing was new to him.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Most men do not actively choose to be ignorant or sexist. It is socialization perpetuated by our patriarchal system. It is masculine socialization that has ingrained in men from a very young age the idea that they are entitled to public space around them. When male entitlement is compounded with white privilege, socio-economic privilege, and other forms of privilege, an amplification of this privilege and entitlement is formed. Therefore, we often see men taking up more space than women in different settings without even noticing it.

If you are a man and reading this, take a second and reflect: Do you manspread on the bus? Have you ever dominated a classroom discussion or taken up a lot of physical space at a party? Call on other men to listen when you notice that they are interrupting or talking over. Pick up a feminist book, educate yourself on these issues.

I understand that it is not women’s job to teach men to recognize their privilege. Nonetheless, sharing your personal struggles with your male friends could expose them to how we live in a patriarchal society.

Black + Woman

With approximately 8 followers, 3 tweets, and 1 like – I am proud to announce that yesterday I officially joined Twitter! Well, rejoined. Technically, this is my third Twitter account in 5 years… But my first account is overcrowded with my conservative former classmates (thanks Texas) and my second account follows every celebrity I’ve ever loved (I had a phase). So really, creating this account was a declaration of my existence as a woke, educated, black feminist ready to officially join the world of Black Twitter.

Preparing to be empowered and inspired, I spent the evening researching recommended Twitter accounts for news, music, black feminism, activism, healthcare, black comedians, sports updates, politics, and small puppies (childish, but look how cute he is).

So, this morning I logged on to my twitter to scroll my feed. Ready to be inundated by black women, liberal news sources, and cute puppy memes. I was not disappointed.

Scrolling my feed, one of the first thing that came up was an image of a black man and his daughter. I loved it already! The post was for a start up short film about a black dad and his daughter. I read the reply tweets, which praise this short film for the strides that it takes towards representation, self-pride, hair positivity, visibility of black fathers, etc.

And I am so here for it! In a society that promotes Eurocentric beauty standards and whitewashed mainstream media, many young people of color struggle in their own affirmation. When I was young, I believed that my hair was most beautiful when it was pin-straight. Many black people are working to shift that narrative so that black girls and black boys see real images of themselves in the media. This cartoon is definitely doing that.

But as I watched the video my feelings for the film became a bit more conflicted. The creator of the film explains that “the short film tells the story about a young, African American father who has never done his daughter’s hair before. And he tries to do his daughter’s hair for the first time.” Mind you, the girl looks to be about 5 years old. Now, hold on…

So you mean to tell me, this baby girl has been around for a least 4 years (if I’m being generous) and this is the first time her daddy is touching her hair…

4 years …

 

So, while we are praising this man for finally tending to his child, are we going to talk about the tireless hours that some other parental (presumably female) figure has spent toiling with the daughter’s beautifully managed afro?

The thing is, I am in no way criticizing this film because I think it reflects a very real narrative not only in black household, but in all households. A narrative in which women are responsible for the reproductive labor, the children and the home, and men are held almost entirely unaccountable (so long as they are “bringing home the bacon”). This expectation generally holds true regardless of if the mother has her own career, dreams, goals, aspirations.

This is not a criticism of men and the effort that they do or don’t put into raising their children, but I want to call to attention the subtlety of misogyny in our daily lives that perpetuates and reinforces our existing patriarchal system. If we continue to accept the societal expectation that reproductive labor falls on the backs of women, we will never reach the liberation and equity that we seek.

I wanted to reply to the post on Twitter, but I didn’t because I did not want to offend the creator of this film or any black men with similar experiences. But I am glad that I decided to write this post. This week we discussed intersectionality in Moxie, and this for me epitomizes my intersectionality as a black woman. I will continue to champion and applaud efforts to liberate black people from the oppression of racism, but in doing so I cannot abandon my existence as a woman and my duty to fight against sexism. Approaching social justice from a black feminist framework affirms my identity and existence and condemns not just one but all forms of structural oppression.

And for the record, it is my every intention to see and share this short film when it is released.

Brief Words of Retrospection

The Moxies have officially approached the final week of the program. We survived, y’all. We survived the mind-bending, self-reflecting, radically-charged summer that we were all eagerly waiting to begin. I say “survived” not because this program was painstakingly difficult, but rather because we were on a non-stop rollercoaster ride that consisted of thorough confrontation with issues that are not always talked about in the oftentimes, impermeable Duke bubble. We discussed many, many things.

And if you’ve been keeping up with this year’s Moxie blogs, you’d know that we were consistently questioning the status quo and invited to acknowledge how:

  1. Our choices as consumers are leading to health issues amongst young adults on the other side of the world.
  2. Gender-based violence is fostered by a patriarchal system that socializes boys to be boys.
  3. Our negligence towards identity acceptance is killing queer people.
  4. Our justice system criminalizes poverty and race in the name of justice.

I can go on and on with this list, but in an effort to avoid laundry listing every single issue present on the face of planet earth, I’m keeping it brief. I was relatively familiar with these issues prior to beginning this program. However, I was not yet convinced that I could help in moving the world towards a more socially just future. Just when I was ready to watch the world burn (theoretically speaking), my acceptance to the Moxie program gave me that glimmer of hope that I needed to keep fighting the good fight. From reading feminist and social justice frameworks that are crucial to understanding our society, to working alongside resilient, and inspiring individuals at National Domestic Workers Alliance, my experiences this summer have provided me with yet more tools to critique the status quo and to see how I can do my part in practicing social justice in my life.

It’s a bit bittersweet to see our summer as Moxies coming to an end. But while our adventures end here, the knowledge we gathered this summer will be ever-present. And like every other cliché ending, I am inspired to say that this is not the end. It is simply the beginning to seeing the world with a fresh pair of eyes that -thanks to the Moxie Project- have been trained to re-examine what we think we know about the world and keep questioning the information we take as truth.

Movie night with Jenn

On Sunday night, Jenn and I watched the 1999 teen film called 10 Things I Hate About You starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. After researching the film, I learned that it was loosely based on the Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew (I haven’t read the play so I won’t be discussing it). Throughout the movie, I was interested in the comparison between the two main women characters, Kat and Bianca. Kat is a strong, independent, and confident woman who doesn’t like to do what people expect of her. In contrast, her sister Bianca is self-absorbed and “girly”, and beautiful. The two are basically polar opposites.

Girls who don’t conform to norms, whether it be through clothing or style, are seen as crazy and weird. Kat is the one everyone hates, but throughout the movie she is just being herself. She is not trying to be controlled by patriarchal forces that try and hold her back. A good example of this force would be her father. Kat finds out she gets accepted to Sarah Lawrence and her father immediately tells her she is not going because it is too far and he would be unable to keep an eye on her. What I find interesting is that Kat has such strong actions against these patriarchal forces, but in the end the forces seem to win. In typical romantic movie fashion, the guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after. In the beginning, I liked how adamant she was about her beliefs, but then she got hypocritical towards the end. This movie had so much potential to highlight feminism to a young teen audience, but instead men won once again.

Before Moxie, I believe I would not have noticed the influence of the patriarchy. Pre-moxie Taylor would have watched the movie, shut off her computer and fell asleep without giving it a second thought. I know my basic analysis is not as deep as it could be, but it shows the improvement I have made in identifying and analyzing issues in feminism.

(I hope I didn’t spoil the movie so that, if you’re interested, you’ll check it out on Netflix!)

So this is goodbye…

Well folks, it’s been real. In just 3 days, my entire Moxie summer will be coming to an end.

Crazy, right? It’s been a wild summer, filled with feminist theory, stress, hard work, empowerment, some more stress, and a lot of self-reflection. I’ve learned so much from my site, Queens Family Justice Center, on what it means to be, or provide services that are, “trauma informed”. I also got to work with an AMAZING team at QFJC (if you all are reading this, I’m going to miss you!). In addition to this, I got to brush up on some feminist theory and was able to be in a group of wonderful women who took the time to challenge me and the theories I’m so used to reading as a part of my major. Outside of this, living in a diverse, fast-paced place like New York really allowed me to engage with my work and my academics on a personal level that I will always find valuable. Leaving this place, this program, this group is going to be tough.

Now that I’ll be going back to Durham, and in a short month start school all over again, I wonder how I could transfer all that I’ve learned back to North Carolina. I guess I’ll figure it out slowly, day by day as school gets closer and closer on my radar. What Moxie has taught me won’t go unremembered. If anything, it’ll make my Duke experience so much more meaningful and fulfilling. Hopefully, I’ve been able to provide the same positive experiences for my sites, and for the people I’ve worked with.

So long, farewell

I can’t believe that it is almost time to say goodbye to all of my Moxies, New York, and Sanctuary for Families. The summer has absolutely flown by, just as I was starting to get used to the constant noise that can be heard from my 12th floor apartment, the phrase “on line” instead of “in line,” and the non-stop references to Manhattan as “the” city (as if there were no other cities of importance).

Image result for new york meme

My time with the Moxies has reaffirmed that it is not easy to talk about race, gender, sexuality, or any aspects of systematic oppression. I think it will always be hard. But, the act of practicing these dialogues can go a long way in allowing yourself to try to sort through issues that you might otherwise suppress in your mind. Moxie will give you the vocabulary, space, and time to do so. Although at times I just wanted to talk about what I had for breakfast rather than the prison industrial complex, I appreciated the way in which this program pushed me to be more comfortable discussing – and pushing back against – unfamiliar or difficult subjects. For me, the most frustrating part of the program was not this initial discomfort, but rather the absence of solutions. At times, this absence made me feel that maybe no solutions existed, and I had to encourage myself to see past the initial pessimism.

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I think what I’ll miss the most is the common language that the Moxies all speak. When attempting to explain to my family and friends the difference between solidarity and charity, I realized that these conversations are so hard to have outside of Moxie because people are coming at these different issues from such different backgrounds, level of exposure, experiences, etc without the same base. It can often be daunting to even graze the surface of deeper conversation, but I’m excited to see how I’ll apply what I’ve learned this summer to the rest of my time at Duke.

In Loving Memory of (TBD)

Link

On Monday, July 10th, my Moxie group attended a screening of the documentary film, Whose Streets?, a film that provides an inside look into the Ferguson, MO Riots. First and foremost, I’d like to state that this documentary is coming to theaters August 11th, 2017, and that it is well worth the watch (regardless of your opinion of Ferguson, MO, Michael Brown Jr, or the Black Lives Matter movement). The film provides an inside-look into the riots from the Ferguson citizens’ perspective, and highlights how the death of Michael Brown Jr. (may he rest in peace) catalyzed the Ferguson community to fight for their rights. Whose Streets? does an incredible job of removing the media-biased information from the riots, while showcasing the positive change that the riots incited, not only in the Ferguson community, but across the United States.

 

Edward Crawford

What makes Whose Streets? so special, is its ability and willingness to listen to the community’s perspective. Rather than criticizing or condemning the community for their activistic actions (whether peaceful or violent), the directors make the effort to question what brought the community to exhibit those actions in the first place. This is a lesson we ALL need to learn, regardless of the situation. As a tutor in Durham, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that, if children are being difficult in the classroom, it’s not because they don’t want to learn, it’s because they can’t learn. Children might be facing difficulties at home (abuse, neglect, stress, anxiety, lack of food, general worries, etc.) or difficulties in the classroom (anxiety, lack of sleep, learning barriers, etc.) that cause them to act out, in an effort to avoid learning. As a DukeEngage participant, and a Moxie, the same rules apply. If you’re trying to engage in service work (perhaps building schools in rural areas) and the target community isn’t responding, you shouldn’t assume the target community isn’t interested. Rather, you should be wondering what’s preventing them from either being able to respond or wanting to respond. This is solidarity. This is positive change. This is what we need to apply to every interaction we face, every service we provide, and every civil unrest we see.

Darren Seals

The Ferguson riots were not about the burning or the stealing that the media liked to portray, just like an inability to learn is not a disinterest in learning. Instead, this is about a cycle of behavior that reproduces violence. Over and over, we see an overstepping of police enforcement in targeted communities, that results in the abuse and death. In response, targeted communities speak up and fight back, which insights (unfortunately) more police enforcement, and starts the cycle all over again. Whose Streets highlights the importance of how attitudes and perspectives can really change if we dare to take a step back and see the entire picture. If we want to make any difference, claim that we’re an activist, or believe ourselves to be good people, the first thing we need to do is take a step back, educate ourselves, and listen.

Deandre Joshua 

In loving memory of Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, Manuel Loggins Jr, Ronald Madison, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, those who I failed to mention, and those who I cannot mention yet.