The Privilege of Memorial

The other week, I visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. As I walked through the 110,000 square feet of museum, I was struck by the grandeur of our national commemoration. Nearly 3,000 individuals were killed on September 11th, 2001; some were as young as four years old and some were as old as 81. They were husbands, wives, siblings, parents, and children. Walking through the museum, in which every individual’s face was on display along with his or her name and story, I understood this in a more concrete fashion than ever before. As I walked outside into the muggy evening, walking over to the reflection pool, I was struck by its magnitude – and then by the immense waste of water in a world where countless go without the hydration they need.

The Memorial Pool

The Memorial Pool

On the subway over to the museum, I had started a new book. The introduction described Belgian plunder and terror in the Congo, reporting that these brutalities took between 8 and 10 million lives. The author then goes on to point out that even if these numbers are exaggerated – even if only half as many lives were lost – this was still a cruelty of immense proportions, and yet it has been relegated to the outskirts of history. I remember learning about King Leopold’s cruelty in 10th grade history; we read a primary source and discussed it, perhaps using half of a class. As I stood by the pool, I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the immortality of 9/11 and the fleetingness of the Congo.
What draws us to remember an atrocity? Why is the Holocaust indelibly etched into our collective memories, while Stalin’s starvation policies and purges slip our minds? Why does 9/11 get an enormous memorial, while the massacre of Native Americans and the disposability of slaves’ lives goes unnoticed? When we speak about privilege, we rarely speak about the privilege of memorial. The opportunity to commemorate our tragedies – to treat them as more than just bad luck or the way the world is – is one offered to very few in this world. Shaping the world’s collective memory requires clout and resources, something which the United States – particularly the trade sector, to which the World Trade Center was linked – has plenty of.

Even on a more individualized scale, we see this hierarchy in the way that murders and deaths are publicized. How is the murder of a teenager in a school shooting any more tragic than the murder of a teenager in a drive-by shooting? Why are women killed by domestic violence consistently overlooked and ignored? Even in death and tragedy, our society perpetuates the idea that certain lives are more valuable than others – and this valuation is largely based off of the construct of “potential.” A white middle-class student is seen as having more potential than a black or brown inner-city peer, yet nobody talks about the prison-industrial complex and white supremacy that actively work to steal this potential. When a white male commits murder, it is an aberration and an anomaly, but when a black or brown man commits murder it is normalized. Victims of domestic violence are viewed by society as poor and weak, and thus subjected to patriarchal, classist devaluations – to say nothing of racist or nationalistic ones.

To discuss the commemoration of tragedies and atrocities in such terms seems uncouth and unnecessarily politicized; I admit that I feel uncomfortable framing genocides and terrorist attacks in the context of privilege rather than in tragedy. Innocent human lives were lost, families were left bereaved, and potential was cut short on a mass scale. This cannot be denied, and must not be denied. In an ideal world, all victims would receive equal representation – a display for all those killed by the designs of murderers. But the world is far from ideal, and provides nothing close to equal representation. This is clear while we are alive, and it is often clear in the way that we die. It extends far beyond the grave, into our individual memorials and the marks we leave on history. It’s been said that death is the great equalizer, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

Beyoncé: Terrorist or Visionary?

Thanks to Girls for Gender Equity, my fellow Moxies and I had the chance to see Beyoncé in perform live on her On the Run Tour!

Ironically, Beyoncé and her self-proclaimed feminism have actively been on my mind for a solid 6 months. In the April 2013 edition of British Vogue magazine, Beyoncé admitted, “I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman”. Subsequently 8 months later, Queen Bey released her fifth album, self-titled Beyoncé, and popularly referred to as the Visual Album due to its complete suite of accompanying music videos.

As tensions arose around the sexual content of her new album, Beyoncé’s self-proclaimed feminism came into question. I would contend that Beyoncé is merely another subject in an image, and although she may gain individual empowerment from her sexual expression, she alone is not able to reconstruct feminism for modern times. Instead, her audience, made up of both fans and critics, has the agency to determine what the album symbolizes and how it reflects the perspectives of women, particularly those traditionally left within the margins of “white” feminism. The BeyHive, feminists, and all of society have developed a viral discussion about Beyoncé which may be shaping the reconfiguration of modern, intersectional feminism. So although her image and recent album invite critical analysis of feminism, Beyonce, solely the subject of her work, is not responsible for the sense of empowerment that women may or may not interpret from her music. Beyoncé does not possess the agency to decide how her sexually-loaded music and images will be understood by you, by me, by society.

Immediately before the concert, I believed that Beyoncé had been co-opted by the interests of the patriarchal-capitalist system. Then and now I wonder how long we will continue to confuse her exploitation of female sexuality with empowerment? I have found particular lines and songs irreconcilable with my own emerging feminist framework. Her song “Run the World (Girls)” is incredibly inaccurate and misleading for women and young girls across the globe because we still live in a world in which women are abused, exploited and disempowered by systems of oppression. Similarly yet perhaps a bit extreme, belle hooks has even gone so far to argue that Beyoncé “is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls”.










I think many women’s idea of patriarchy and capitalism involves rich white men. We do not have amental schema for corruption coming from wealthy women of color (and men – just look at her husband’s lyrics, “Eat the cake Anna Mae”/lol domestic violence). Look at “Pretty Hurts” – a line goes “Blonder hair, flat chest, TV says bigger is better, South beach, sugar free, Vogue says thinner is better” – does Beyoncé really think her own blonde weaves and wigs do not contribute to the self-esteem issues she is highlighting. Or when was the last time Beyoncé protested Vogue and other magazines for airbrushing and editing women’s bodies?

Nonetheless, despite her controversial image, Beyonce’s performance felt empowering. In that moment, her sexuality, provocative lyrics and powerful choreography created the illusion of a world in which sexism, racism and the patriarchy do not exist. As I danced along to her performance of “Run the World (Girls)” I could actually imagine a world in which women were on top and winning! Even as she sang “Partition” and fully embraced her sexuality I briefly felt as though I could do the same at Duke and feel both empowered within myself and praised by my fellow students. However, these illusions were always smashed when the performance transitioned to Jay Z. I found many of his lyrics and song themes to be derogatory to women. The juxtaposition of their performances sharply re-centered me back to reality and back to an awareness of all the work that still must happen if we wish to achieve true gender equity.

Ultimately, I think that Beyoncé has carefully crafted her music and image to provide women, particularly black women, an escape from a reality in which both their confidence and sexuality are too often not considered positive. So within this world she has invented, yes, women are empowered and perhaps girls do run the world. However I think it can become rather dangerous for young women when they are not able to recognize the difference between Beyoncé-world and the real-world, the BeyHive and the patriarchy.

With this double takeaway, I am left still wondering what the best way is for me and other women and girls to embrace Beyoncé. Is it possible for the women’s movement to leverage her empowerment capabilities in order to advance equality efforts?




“Romanticizing the Struggle”


Here in the United States we have this thing called the “American Dream,” that no matter who you are if you work hard enough, you can work your way out of poverty, from rags to riches. Many Americans have bought into this idea even with countless evidence proving that wealth hardly moves and that structural inequalities such as race, gender, and national origin disproportionately hinder certain people while advantaging others in this rat race we call life. What’s wrong with the American Dream is not only is it a big fat LIE!  but it also romanticizes the struggle, so to speak.

A few weeks ago, my co-workers at GGE and I were having a conversation when one of them used the phrase “romanticizing the struggle” to describe society’s expectation of people in dire situations to miraculously  overcome all obstacles and achieve monetary success (which is the paramount definition of success in our society). This phrase really resonated with me because I feel that’s what many people do in order to make excuses for why they have privilege over others. “Well, my great-grandfather was an Irish immigrant so even though I’m now a rich white kid that goes to Duke, my family and I are somehow exempt from white privilege.” Yes, on a conscious level we may acknowledge all the oppression and inequality in the world, but deep inside we use our own experiences as proof that “I made it! So anyone should be able to!” Which is the definition of romanticizing the struggle. This tactic also serves to end any conversation about ending the systemic inequalities that still exist today. “How can I get rid of my privilege if I technically don’t have any?”

I never understood how this logic was so ingrained in people’s understanding of American history and systemic inequality until after the seminar the Moxies had on Friday. We were discussing some of these issues and many people felt it necessary to share anecdote after anecdote about their families’ struggles to get to America, to climb out of poverty, blah, blah blah. That was really surprising to me, how ingrained these narratives of struggle were for each individual, as if they themselves had lived through the experiences they were describing. It seemed to me that no wonder some of these same people (other people, not necessarily the Moxies) could not understand their privilege when they had been taught their whole lives to think themselves quite UN-privileged and to internalize a narrative of struggle they had never themselves experienced.

How can you tell someone that “Yeah, your Irish great-grandfather  fought in WWII and was able to use the GI Bill to go to college and buy a home, but many people of color who also fought in WWII were systematically denied the benefits of the GI Bill and therefore excluded from the white middle class America built in the 1950s?” Or, “Yes, you’re family had to flee their country as refugees and come to America with nothing, but imagine the many people who have fled their countries just to arrive in America and realize that they were going to face even more discrimination based on the color of their skin.” Yeah, people don’t take that well.

It seems as if we as Americans have internalized the American dream narrative as well as this idea of our own exceptionalism, and we’ve also internalized this hierarchy of suffering that we each have somehow won, that we and our families have suffered exceptionally. But everyone’s families have suffered and been through stuff. That’s all that history is, people going through stuff.

What many Americans don’t realize is that it’s a privilege to even remember. To even know your family history and who you are. Many people in the world have no memories of the trauma they’ve experienced. No museums, monuments, or chapters in history textbooks devoted to the trauma we’ve lived through and continue to carry as a tribe, as a people, as a nation. Our history is written by our conquerors, who distort the facts to hide the brutality and violence that they’ve enacted on us. They don’t want us to remember, to know the truth so that we can never resolve our trauma. We continue to live with it as we continue to live in a world that devalues our culture, our history, and us as a people.

All we have is disillusioned grandmothers and stoic fathers and pessimistic mothers as the proof that we definitely have it better now than they did when they were our age. They don’t romanticize their struggle. “It was rough. It sucked. Now, we’re past it.” is usually the brief summary I get whenever I try to squeeze personal stories about historical events out of any relative or family friend. “Why do you want to know about something like that? You should just be happy you know nothing about that” is another response I usually get.

Many people I know don’t romanticize their struggle because they realize there’s nothing glamorous or exceptional about it. And it doesn’t excuse the suffering that their people and many other people all over the world continue to suffer through till this day. They haven’t internalized this ideal of American “exceptionalism” that, when you think about it only serves to further an imperialist, racist, and oppressive ideology by convincing a bunch of privileged Americans that they actually have it pretty bad (when they don’t) and therefore do not need to care much about the wellbeing of others.

So, stop romanticizing your struggle. Acknowledge your privilege and move on so that the rest of us can move on, too.


Bow Down, Bitches

“This is not real life.”

This was my immediate reaction when I found out that I would be going to the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert last Saturday. I couldn’t fathom that in a few short hours, I would be in the presence of the Queen herself. I can’t say I’m quite to Bey-Hive status with my Beyoncé devotion, but between watching countless videos from past shows and upsetting myself over her dancing capabilities, I never imagined I would have the chance to see one of the biggest stars of my generation live.

To my surprise, as I sat in my seat jittery with anticipation, I noticed these very same words on the screen onstage. “This is not real life.”

I can’t be sure of the intention behind this opening message. Was it an acknowledgement of the surreal excitement fans felt leading up to the show? Beyoncé’s cocky nod to the fact that people dream about seeing her live? An indulgent reflection from Bey and Jay on how perfect their lives are? I can’t be sure. But by the end of the show, I came to realize that the main thing that seemed unreal was Beyoncé herself.

We all know Beyoncé’s thing is feminism–Beyoncé feminism, to be specific. Her brand seems to revolve around empowering young women to express themselves sexually without shame, develop a work-life balance, and live independently. All of which are fairly accessible when you’re Beyoncé, but not quite so easy as just another mortal.

Beyoncé can be as overtly sexual as she wants onstage–I don’t care if she wants to twerk in a thong alongside her backup dancers or slide up and down a weirdly ergonomic sex bench. Whatever, it’s her body and her choice. Hell, if I looked like Beyoncé I’d probably never wear pants either…but that’s just the point. Most of us don’t look like Beyoncé, and we don’t all want to express our sexuality overtly. And when so many of her fans are young and looking for an empowering female role model, she should consider this truth.

Look at the juxtaposition between Beyoncé’s choreography and costumes and that of Les twins. All three of them are inhumanly good dancers, but the Les twins’ choreography is much more sexually subtle. It was undeniably sexy when they flipped all around amidst blue-green smoke with their silk garments trailing. The way they move has a definite, understated sexiness. Meanwhile, Beyoncé is sliding up and down a pole pants-less and literally bearing her entire backside to the audience. What is this sharp contrast teaching young girls? To me, this performance is just another affirmation of the different ways men and women are supposed to show their sexuality. Women are supposed to disrobe and move their hips in circles, but men can be sexy in a subtle way. And again, looking like Beyoncé makes it a hell of a lot easier to express your sexuality by grinding up and down a pole. This is a confident and unabashed expression a lot of women will never be comfortable with for themselves. For the millions of young fans admiring her, are they realizing that there are other ways to express their sexuality? And that Beyoncé’s appearance makes this expression not only easier personally but also societally?

She almost seems to acknowledge this inaccessibility in her song “***Flawless.” Sure, everyone swoons over her inclusion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech and the definition of feminism, but then she proceeds to sing a ridiculously self-glorifying song that excludes basically all other women. Yes, it’s a song about how she overcame the standards society places on women to become incredibly successful, but it’s done with an air of superiority and intangibility. Okay yeah she says, “we flawless, ladies tell ’em” and has the rousing feminist speech… but come on, one of the most prominent lines in the whole song is “bow down, bitches.” Excuse me, but where’s the solidarity? Shouldn’t you be telling women that they too have the strength to be mega-successful rather than reminding them that they’re just dreaming of having your life? Seems pretty individualistic to me.

And then hilariously, right after this so-called feminist anthem Jay-Z reappears and replaces the “bitches” and “hos” in his song with “ma.” For the one song right after “***Flawless.” And subsequently continues to demean women in his lyrics. It was like they realized the paradox they’d created with their music but felt the need to create a brief buffer zone. You didn’t fool anyone, Mr. and Mrs. Carter. Especially when the part of Drunk in Love they encouraged the audience to join in on was “Eat the cake, Anna Mae.” Of all the memorable, sexy lines in that song, why did they have to get the crowd pumped up to sing the lines that glorify domestic violence? Not cool.

After seeing Beyoncé live, I’ve realized that her image truly is not realistic nor is it practical, and she even admits it herself. Her expression of feminism is full of contradictions. Beyoncé is in a world of her own. Maybe she’s trying to communicate this truth to us through her extravagant shows and larger than life image, and I think it’s important to remember that she IS a public figure, a businesswomen selling her product. So, if you’re ever watching Beyoncé and begin to ask yourself why you too can’t drop it low in a golden leotard and five inch heels while hitting a high note, just step out of the Bey-Hive for a minute and remind yourself…

“This is not real life.” (And like she’s probably in the Illuminati, anyway, and who can compete with that?)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Ally and Intersectionality

This Sunday we went to an awesome off Broadway Show titled Sistas, which was about the journey of Black female musicians from Billie Holiday to Beyoncé. In addition to having five absolutely amazing singers and quality music, the play also delved into the majority of the themes we’ve addressed in the this program, to the point where all of us were jokingly wondering if they had read our calendar and seen all of our weekly themes. But of the topics they talked about, which ranged from the New Jim Crow to black women’s experience with their hair, the one that was most brought up was the exclusionary nature of 2nd wave feminism. Whenever the black characters were talking to their white sister-in-law, who obviously meant well but was not well versed in intersectionality, they would mention how while 2nd wave feminism accomplished a lot, it only acknowledged the struggles of upper-middle class, straight white women. And it made me think about feminism today; as far as the movement has gone in including more identities and being active allies, it still has so much work to do, especially after the results of last week’s SCOTUS rulings.

To start off, I think that there are three degrees  of incorporating marginalized identities in the movement. The first  is being an active ally in fighting against systems of oppression; for example, being actively anti-racist means that instead of sticking the word “intersectionality” on yourself and patting yourself on the back for not using the n-word, you try to address why it is that despite white people being the majority of drug users, those who are most jailed are Latino and black men. Or can understand why it’s completely unnecessary for white women to insert themselves into certain women of color centered discussions on beauty standards. It also means that when a person from a marginalized identity is speaking about their experience, it’s time to step back, listen, and shut up. You want people to know you’re creating a safe space, but you aren’t making everything about how kind you are for meeting the bare minimum of being a decent human being.

The second is being a passive ally, or what can easily lapse into a superficial ally. It means that you say you’re intersectional, but when talking about the wage gap, you say “women earn $.72 to every man’s dollar,” ignoring that it’s only white women in comparison to white men. Or it looks like putting yourself to the face of a movement you might not belong to. Like Ally Week, which is an enormous self congratulatory event that puts the “identity” of being an ally over that of being an LGBTQ  student and patting yourself on the back for not being a bigot.  But to avoid being disingenuous, that’s an enormous issue with allies for the LGBTQ community in general and how we act as though we’re Mother Teresas for being allies and totally voting for marriage equality, especially given that most people only want to acknowledge the white, male G and ignore the L,B, and T as well as the presence of LGBTQ people of color.  It’s about wanting to say you’re inclusive without doing the work to actually include people or, even worse, talk over them and make it about you.

And the final is being a “me” activist. Meaning that you only give a damn about a topic when it applies to you and only care about a message when it comes from someone who looks like you or has the same educational level as you. Intesectionality is a foreign concept, you don’t take any other identities into consideration when talking about certain issues, you don’t care about how you perpetuate oppression through the privileges you possess, and openly show disdain towards anyone who dares to look at a movement you belong to through a critical or alternate lens. It looks like calling Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus or Lily Allen’s terrible song “feminist” but calling Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé or Rihanna terrible role models (oops, your racism and respectability politics are showing).

So what does any of that have to do with SCOTUS? Well if you happened to have no Internet or access to news or television last week, the Supreme Court decided that making up your own facts and hiding under the guise of being Christian means that you can make health decisions for the people you employ. Of course this entire case is unspeakably awful (it’s good to know I can ignore science and have the Supreme Court support me), but the way it was framed completely ignore any intersectionality. Will it have a huge impact on all people who use birth control? Totally. But will it really affect everyone similarly? God no. The people who were the talking heads about the case are not the same people who will be most impacted by this. The women this ruling does a disservice to are the one who have no choice but to work at the Hobby Lobbys of the world and don’t get the privilege of paying for the Pill or an IUD at a doctors office out of pocket; they have to chose between getting birth control or getting a job. There’s no reason for most of the images about the case to have predominantly white women; a significant portion of women most impacted are working class Latina and black women. And in the same vein of ignoring working class Latina and black women, the justified outrage over the Hobby Lobby decision completely overshadowed the decision on unions the court made on the same day. I’m not going to lie and say I totally understand what happened in Harris v. Quinn, which made fees for unions not mandatory, or even how it’ll impact the future of unions. But a decision that impacts unions, which despite being much maligned still have an enormous presence in American society, should’ve had more attention. Especially given how the case involved home care workers, which is a predominantly female, low wage occupation. Why should a working class woman impacted by both decisions care about a movement that drowns out her voice from the public discussion? Can we really say that the mainstream feminist movement is inclusive and that we’re active allies when we ignore a case that will negative impact a marginalized group?

Like I said in my post about representation, feminism means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t represent the interests of all women. We (hey, I’m guilty of it too) can act superior about not being the “me” activist, but it’s really important that we strive to be active allies rather than passive when a topic might not address an aspect of our identity and make genuine attempt to include the voices of those who are most impacted by something. It means stepping back and not making a topic just about ourselves and how we are impacted, but how others will be affected and be aware of the varying severity. If we ignore how colonialism, ableism, racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia increase vulnerability, then are we really addressing misogyny and the patriarchy? Feminism is nothing without a lot of i-n-t-e-r-s-e-c-t-i-o-n-a-l-i-t-y.

Feminism and Social Psychology, Part 1: Pairing Research with Revolution

It’s our Identity and Activism Week – woot woot! As we’ve been talking about identity, particularly racial and gender identity, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how I can incorporate my awareness of issues like racism and classism into  my chosen area of study and plans for the future.

When I discovered social psychology first semester freshman year, I thought I had found my academic calling.  I  began to stay up late in my dorm room reading Steven Pinker and Robert Cialdini.  I watched footage of the 1960s Milgram experiment and listened to Philip Zimbardo talk about his terrifying Stanford Prison Experiment.  I started to peruse the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in my (limited) free time.

Nerd Alert

Social psychology grabbed me because it provided me with an entirely new, analytical lens through which to view my everyday social interactions.  Learning about social psychology provided me with the vocabulary to conceptualize and understand phenomena I’d already identified  in the world around me.  I loved the idea of looking at things like friendships and romantic relationships through the eyes of a scientist.

Unfortunately, the more I learned and read, the more I began to pick up on some of the serious shortcomings of the field.  Like most fields within academia, social psychology is dominated by white men, and it shows.  They may be the “best and the brightest,” but university faculty aren’t immune to gender and racial biases.  I started to perceive serious problems in the way the field of psychology presents research on topics like gender, class, and especially race.  Voices of women, LGBT people, people of color, and other marginalized groups are silenced. Too often, the research presents an oversimplified description of social trends without ever addressing the systems that have brought about these trends.  I’ve seen too much research essentialize characteristics of groups of people without examining the complex cultural factors at play.

In one of my courses, the teacher presented research about parenting styles of different races like this: “Research shows that White parents use a more authoritative style, while other racial groups tend to use a more authoritarian style.  The authoritative style has been shown to produce the best outcomes.”  She then moved to the next slide, essentially leaving us with: “White parents are the best parents, end of discussion.”  Uh…WHAT?!

Harry Potter

Any discussion of the sociocultural or socioeconomic factors that might create these disparities? Of the larger systematic forces – community violence, police brutality, mass incarceration – that might compel some racial groups to be most strict with their children? Of the inappropriateness of lumping all non-White groups together? Of course not.

And that incident wasn’t an anomaly.  At least in my experience, in psych intro or survey courses where professors feel compelled to give broad overviews of a domain, research about topics like race is hastily presented without room for discussion, reflection, or reaction.  I was taught to worship Raymond Cattell, “Father of Trait Psychology” – never once was I taught about his staunch segregationist attitudes or connections with neo-Nazism.  When my teachers briefly tried to explain the evolution of sex differences or race differences, I became uncomfortable with how this research was being used to confirm certain stereotypes. I saw evolutionary psychology research pseudo-scientific bullshit published in magazines like Psychology Today positing to answer explicitly racist questions (e.g., “Why are black women less attractive?”)

That's So Raven


In this way, I began to see how research can be used not as a tool, but as a weapon.  The more I encountered this, the more I began to wonder, How has a field with so much promise to explain social behavior and enact social change become so problematic? It seemed that no field was immune to this, and certain fields that sought to measure and analyze human behavior – psychology, public policy, sociology – were particularly at risk.  This got me thinking, are academia and activism even compatible? I thought I had found my academic calling, but as I developed in my feminism and engaged in more serious reflection, I felt less and less sure.

Dog in space

After doing more reading and examining nuanced areas of the field, I’ve realized that social psychology doesn’t have to be this way.  Looked at in conjunction with feminism and other social justice movements, social psychology has so much promise.  An understanding of how our brains work and how we make decisions is absolutely critical for feminists.  If we want to change people’s thoughts, mobilize groups, and bring about social change, we must first have a picture of why people think the things they do.  Thankfully, some of this work is already being done.  In Bertrand and Mullainathan’s now-infamous field study, they found very convincing evidence of racial biases in hiring.  Psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson have revolutionized the way we think about gender and race-based achievement gaps with their research on stereotype threat.  In what I consider some of the most creative  psychology research ever conducted, social psychologists at Harvard have developed a procedure for measuring people’s biases, even if test subjects don’t know they have them.  They address not only racial biases and gender biases, but also religious prejudice, ageism, sexuality biases, obesity bias, and a variety of other types of bias. And in my own experience working in a behavioral economics and social psychology lab, I’ve had wonderful discussions about race, gender, and politics, and we’ve studied how identity shapes behavior.

I truly believe that social psychology can offer answers to questions about stereotypes, biases, and prejudice, and only by understanding how these phenomena operate will we be able to change them.  This could be a beautiful two-way street: psychology could gain so much by viewing research through a feminist lens, and movements like feminism should be seriously thinking about how psychology could be of benefit by them. If we as feminists truly want to bring about widespread social change, we must pair research with revolution by partnering with diverse academic fields, striving to remove discrimination and prejudice from academia and research in the process.

(If you agree that there is a need for a partnership between social psychology and feminism, check back in a few weeks – I will post the second part of this two-part series, identifying five social psychological concepts that feminists should be aware of.)

It’s Censorship, Annie

cameronThis past month, a school board in Delaware decided to ban the book, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post,’ from it’s Blue Hen reading list for it’s ‘deplorable’ use of the f-word.However, out of all the books on the list including John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ which also uses the f-word and Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor and Park’ which also uses many a f-word, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is the only one to be banned, and not so coincidentally, also the only book whose protagonist is a lesbian.

Well fuck.

The banning of books is nothing new. However, this is the era where laws and actions promote oppression through the rhetoric that it’s protecting the public when in actuality it’s sinisterly keeping those that are disfranchised even more disfranchised. So, a book that deals with homosexuality can be banned under the guise that it contains too crude language to expose to high school students, and when called out, those in charge can say it’s not homophobic to ban the book since the homosexual nature of it was ‘never discussed.’ That of course they can’t be homophobic since one of their favorite books is gay! (My guess is The Great Gatsby) This sort of rhetoric, this sort of internalized homophobia is hard to argue with people who deeply believe this sort of thing because they can linguistically create and manipulate mazes of rhetoric that have no inkling of sane logic.      giphy-1

Obviously, these school board members have frankly never walked the halls of any high school or have never been exposed to the same crude language laced media students are constantly expose to today or perhaps they have yet to met an actual high school student. Who knows? These kids have heard and said worst than the f-word, and it wasn’t from exposure to a lesbian novel I can assure you. While these school board members are supposedly protecting the minds of the youth from such obscene language, in the long run, they’re doing more harm than they could ever do good.

You would think that with nineteen states allowing same-sex marriage and over half of the population in favor of it that it’s becoming out of style to be homophobic, but terrifyingly, homophobia is taking on a different guise that’s hidden in supposed tolerance and distorted by practicality. We don’t burn books because of their homosexual content; we ban them for their crude language.What’s even more troublesome is that even with the success of the Trevor Project in which the nation gained exposure to the horrors and trauma that LGBT youth experience while existing as LGBT, the school board can still find it in themselves to take away this precious boon of gayness in a sea of heterosexual literature to a student who’s dealing with these new and scary feelings in a society that tells them those new, exhilarating feelings are a sin.

Stories matter. Representation matters. It’s difficult to understand this when the media is crafted to tell the stories of certain relationships, of certain races, of certain classes, and of giphycertain genders in order to appease the upper class, white heterosexual males in power that want to see themselves reflected in media. However, when there are amazing portrayals of minorities in the media it does wonders for those it reflects. When Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura in the Star Trek series not only did she inspire Whoopi Goldberg to go into acting (who then in turned inspired Lupita Nyong’o to pursue acting as well), but she also inspired Mae Jemison, the first African American astronaut, to go into the sciences and the exploration of space, who then in turn is inspiring thousands of young girls to pursue the sciences. When you see someone that looks like you doing the impossible, you start to believe that you can do the impossible too.

And for most of the LGBT community that meant seeing someone like you not only living a happy life with someone of the same gender but also having your sexuality be normalized and NancyGarden_AnnieOnMyMindnot considered taboo. When the recently deceased Nancy Garden wrote ‘Annie on My Mind’  in 1982, it was revolutionary. With the famed introduction of “It’s raining, Annie” to the loving, beautiful portrayal of Annie and Liza’s relationship, sometimes hard, sometimes wonderful, always young, it was the first time that lesbian teens were shown in a positive light in any sort of media. For every closeted youth, for every closeted adult, for those who ached to see themselves reflected in a positive manner, for those who wept for their younger selves who needed that sort of validation and never received it, for my fourteen year old self who agonized over my feelings for a girl with pretty green eyes, to my twenty-one year old self who wants to see my parents at my wedding, ‘Annie on My Mind’ and books like it were a godsend in the most desperate fashion. It’s not a stretch to say that not only did it give LGBT people hope, but it also helped save people’s lives.

Now, this hoity-toity school board wants to deny the same students they’re serving, they’re protecting that sort of validation, that subtle and necessary acceptance to push whatever homophobic agenda they want? To tell them that diversity matters as long as you don’t want to fraternize with people of the same gender in a sexual manner? There’s more harm in denying these students that sort of validation than them reading a few f-words here and there. What possible logic can they give?

The scary thing, the most hurtful thing about all of this is that the school board members aren’t evil. It’s easy to peg them as bigoted monsters, but most school board members genuinely want to help and protect children. But the fact they want to save children from the queers, from the lavender menace, from the oh so scary gay agenda, is disheartening becausetumblr_m43cvkiiM11qmhhd0o1_500 it means that we’re still seen as monsters in the nooks and crannies of society despite all the progress we’ve made. These school board members passed judgment on ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ without ever reading it, and it seems that they could have benefited themselves by reading a narrative different from what they’ve ever experienced. Had they, then, maybe then, could this scary thing called homosexuality not be seen as so scary, and instead, be viewed as a normal part of life and treated as such. Then maybe we, the LGBT community, wouldn’t be scared to live in a world with people who’ve been taught to fear us as well.

Scout Finch once said “There’s only one type of folks. Folks.” And folks, for the most part, aren’t monsters.

Do You Want To Rebuild Society?


Today I had a conversation with a six-year-old about what she wanted to be when she grows up. Recalling my youth I remembered that about 90% of my friends would answer with “mom” when asked this question. She answered that she wanted to be a therapist, and help people. The fact that I was surprised about her answer saddens me for many reasons, but mostly because our heteronormative system entrenches the distinction between boys and girls in all our minds.

Watching Frozen ten bazillion times in the last two weeks has helped me learn all the lyrics by heart, and also aided me in analyzing what messages we send into the world for children these days. Frozen in many ways forms one of the most progressive Disney movies so far in terms of the number of messages of misogyny and heteronormativity, guised under the glitter of snow queens and princes (overlooking all the issues with race and class it still has).



I have had so many conversations already in two weeks with young boys about what is considered “girly”, and why they refuse to participate in any activities that would associate them with anything feminine. I have tried to pinpoint where exactly children pick up the binary messages, and the reason I have failed is that they are everywhere. The reality is that movies like Frozen are NOT the only ones that send messages of gender binaries; schools, movies, books, families, and laws all reinforce these gender stereotypes for children. I sometimes hear some of my colleagues inadvertently affirming children’s beliefs about gender because we fall into easy habits of confirming the binaries that make the world more palatable for young children and ourselves.

This made me wonder when gender becomes pertinent to a child’s identity.

When an infant comes into this world their first phase in life, according to Margaret Mahler, forms one of blending the inside and outside world. Mommy/Daddy, the infant, and the outside are tethered to one another, and the baby usually cannot distinguish between the three. As a child matures individuation occurs, the child separates itself to form its own self (or ego). Gender socialization forms an important part of this individuation.

Many theories explain gender socialization: Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, social learning theories and cognitive developmental theories. I can never really get behind on Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, which focus on a child’s genitals. His theories contain some elements of truth, and formed the foundation for many contemporary theories. Social learning theorists contend that the environment can affect a child’s socialization where they learn through reinforcement and behaviors. Meanwhile cognitive developmental theories posit that children learn about their gender “through mental efforts to organize their social world”. All of these theories ignore race, class, family structure, sexuality of parents, and cultural constructions of gender embedded in certain languages and cultures. People think development is universal for all children; NEWSFLASH, no, just no…

A child’s behavior and how the outside world relates to her/him have become predominately defined by their gender. To a child gender identity forms a crucial part of their development. Furthermore they could even develop mental illnesses if they never reach these realizations (mental illnesses and their treatment have also been universalized by Western cultural constructions for the past 60 years, but that’s a whole other issue). According to the “theories” and the “experts”, at the age of five, children should have acquired “gender stability”; they know the permanency of their gender, and realize that certain colors and clothes define gender. Not until the age of seven do children fully understand that people cannot change their outward physical appearance to change their underlying gender (termed gender constancy).

Frozen reflects how we as a society (parents, teachers, sisters, brothers, policy makers, counselors, etc.) have come to accept and reinforce the binaries that will influence the decisions children make in life. What messages we send our children may seem like the tip of an enormously large iceberg, but living in their world every day makes me wonder if a shift in mindset in time could allow for broader systemic change.

(Gay) Christmas Every Day

If you’ve ever been to a Pride March, then you’ll understand why we consider this annual celebration of all things queer to be “gay Christmas.” Everything is covered in glitter, nobody feels judged, and everyone is a good dancer (yes, even we lesbians too, okay?) Can you imagine if the whole world were like this every day? Literally nothing could be happier.

The Monday morning tragedy of realizing life is no longer like a fabulous episode of Queer as Folk manifests in multiple layers. LGBTQ individuals wake up to a world that is not only a lot less colorful and chiseled, but a world that is a lot less safe and tolerant. Walking around the day of Pride surrounded by rainbow everything and same-sex couples holding hands is an experience of solidarity and safety that is so lamentably absent from everyday life. It’s the one day that I don’t feel like everyone I pass notices that I’m holding hands with a girl, and it’s the one day that we truly celebrate people in all their forms.

So why isn’t every day like Pride? Why do we feel that we should confine the fullest expression of our identities to just one day?

It’s because tolerance is conditional.

The tradition of setting aside a day for LGBTQ folks to rally, party, and reflect in honor and remembrance of the Stonewall Riots is vital for celebrating how far the gay rights movement has come. However, it also makes us saliently aware that this fabricated reality isn’t representative of everyday freedoms. Every other day, we’re supposed to suppress our LGBTQ identities in an effort to protect ourselves, blend in. And this, in part, is because people only fully accept those outside of the norm when they try to conform to societal standards.

After all, where has the gay rights movement been focused? MARRIAGE EQUALITY. I take issue with this emphasis both politically and socially. Politically speaking, this emphasis seems like just another effort to encourage conformity to patriarchal systems. The idea that marriage is the institution that gives relationships validity—not to mention rights—sounds like yet another way for the government to control who receives rights and when.


Socially, however, my issues lie with when, where, and why heterosexual people breeders join the gay rights movement. Malcolm Gladwell articulated this issue absolutely beautifully in a recent interview as a part of the LIVE from the NYPL series:

“What we call tolerance in this country is when people who are unlike us want to be like us, and when we decide to accept someone who is not like us and wants to be like us, we pat ourselves on the back…

Sorry — you don’t get points for accepting someone who wants to be just like you. You get points for accepting someone who doesn’t want to be like you — that’s where the difficulty lies.”

Yes, I want the freedom to marry a woman one day. BUT, I deserve rights, respect, and equality regardless of whether I want to marry and regardless of the identities that might prevent me from such a marriage. This is the challenge of accepting people who really do lie outside of societal norms.

So yes, I love Pride. I love the flashy displays and the insane costumes and, yes, the go-go dancers. And if it weren’t for the occasional AIDS awareness or political activist banner, you may even forget for a moment that you’re among one of the most marginalized groups of people in the entire world. There’s still a long way to go.

Pride is comparable to safe spaces for people of color. They’re awesome and totally necessary, but we need to critically examine why they need to exist and how we can integrate their existence into the greater social culture.

I mean, does this not look like a perfect world?


Through the Lens of a Black Woman

This past Wednesday was my grandmother’s 78th birthday. As a called her I slowly took in the magnitude of that number, of all the decades she witnessed, of all the changes she felt in her country. Because of Moxie, feminism was, of course, casually on my mind and I started to ask Aaron Coulter about her experiences as a woman from the 1950s to today. She responded a bit puzzled and explained how the color of her skin was always the dominant issue in her experiences navigating society. Many of the social advances for women were specifically aimed at white women, while black women like herself were often left still oppressed. For example, when my grandma applied to a fashion school in New York City she was quickly disappointed to learn that it did not accept Negro women. Furthermore, Aaron had felt that the women’s movement during the 1960s was out of touch with her reality as a black woman. How could The Feminine Mystique address her experiences as one of the first black female supervisors at General Motors in Middle America?


Although her personal life recounting does not clearly speak to her “womanhood”, my grandma certainly possesses strong opinions on female education and empowerment. Aaron’s graduation from Lincoln University signified the fulfillment of a legacy of educational excellence, which she would maintain in the generation to follow her. She recalled her own mother instilling the value of education in her mind from an early age. As she raised my mom, she continued to stress the importance of education, and additionally self-confidence. During my mom’s 6th grade year, my grandma spearheaded the school’s first trip to the nation’s capital.


In later years, my grandma would be both an ally and source of encouragement for my mom as she navigated a recently integrated high school that recurrently attempted to stymie the ambitious spirits of black students. After a month of having her raised hand ignored in the classroom, the moxie my mom inherited from Aaron naturally kicked in and she got into an argument with her teacher and principal. When my mom told my grandma about the incident, Aaron swiftly had a meeting with the school administration. The following day, the school principal chastised my mother and told her to not tell her parents what happened in school. Upon learning this, my grandmother became extremely heated – how could the school tell her daughter what to do? How dare they try to rob her of her personal agency? And furthermore, what right did they have to impede on her daughter’s education?

This story, among many others, sticks out in my understanding of my grandma’s unconscious feminism. Whether historically viewed as “pushiness” or “bossiness”, my grandma’s self-assertion and ambition have been integral forces in the development of my identity. She has passed her moxie on to my mom, my aunt, my sister and myself.

Despite this, my mom (along with many other black women her age) still reluctantly, if at all, claims to be a feminist. After our many conversations about modern-day female oppression, my mom usually wraps up by disconnecting herself from feminism, choosing to separate her opinions from “all that feminism stuff”. It is clear that she is hesitant to claim being a feminist, despite her obvious accordance with feminist values. Although I have repeatedly explained to her the rising importance of intersectional feminism, my mom still finds it necessary to qualify my feminist rants with a quick, “, but make sure you’re viewing all these things through the lens of a black woman”.


Although not as much as my grandma, my mom still seems to consider race a heavier factor than gender in society – and I don’t blame her. I shared a rather similar race-focused outlook on social issues before I attended Common Ground, a diversity-immersion retreat held by Duke’s Center for Race Relations. It took serious reflection and contemplation for me to realize the importance of BOTH gender and race in my life. I felt so naïve! As the white girls explained their gendered life perspectives, I felt so far behind and unaware. However, I soon recognized that my dual identity as a black woman was unique from that of the white women of Common Ground. How could I have ever fully recognized my gender identity when I was taught by my family that the color of my skin would always matter the most?

No matter its current trendiness, my feminism must always be intersectional. The experiences of black women cannot be reduced to the theories of academic feminism or the politically-correct musings of a feministing blogger. Although society has definitely progressed, from my grandma’s 1950s-1960s experiences, through my mom’s 1980s-1990s reality, to my own 21st century life, I will never be able to view my gender in the absence of my race. This intersectional twist is real life for me, Aaron, Leah, Erin, Nia and countless other reluctant/active black feministas.