You Say You Want a Revolution

Much to my chagrin, I’ve left the city that never sleeps (or smells nice or slows down or leaves you alone…) and returned home to a much different atmosphere. And I’m not just talking about the pace or the hospitality. Being away from the other Moxies, the nonprofits, and the radically awesome events (read: FEMINISTS) has forced me back to reality—not everyone is willing to engage in conversation about systematic oppression. Shocking.

Not only are most people unwilling to talk about the issues we constantly discussed during Moxie, but they react to the mention of these social inequalities with doubt and anger. Thus, I am becoming the “humorless feminist” in the eyes of many…a title I am reluctant to accept. After being surrounded by people who expanded my mind and views for a full two months, I’m finding it difficult to translate all that I have learned into everyday life and interactions.

40 Things Only Internet Feminists Will Understand

Perhaps my biggest struggle since Moxie has been patience. I came into Moxie a self-identified, albeit rather uninformed, feminist who had been lucky enough to see the light after a regrettably conservative, Catholic educational experience. This journey from Republican ignorance to understanding was tough every step of the way—nobody wants to confront her privilege, nobody wants to admit that she benefits from an oppressive system, and nobody wants to realize that she has an obligation to participate in improving our world. BUT I worked through it, and I’m still working through it. It’s something that needs to happen if anything is going to improve. Therefore, I’m having a bit of a rough time dealing with people who just refuse to open their eyes and work through this shit.

40 Things Only Internet Feminists Will Understand

However, it’s important to remind myself that I DEFINITELY do not have all the answers, and I am DEFINITELY still trying to figure out how to respond the fucked up system we live in. Feminist thought is a method of looking at the world completely antithetical to the way we have been conditioned to see things. I can’t really expect people to be so eager to see things in a way that turns their world totally upside down. I’m realizing that changing people’s minds is a very s l o w and resistant process, and it often isn’t my place to argue someone into thinking the way I do.

Cognitive dissonance, people. It’s science.

Moving forward from Moxie, I hope to take the lessons from my summer and apply them in a more active way than just flapping my gums. Sitting around talking about how much everything sucks accomplishes absolutely no good for the people who actually need it. While it’s a lot easier to complain about the evil patriarchal mentality that’s ruining our world, we’re totally complicit in it if we too do nothing to change it. As I embark on my semester abroad in Copenhagen, I hope to reflect on the lessons about social justice, movement building, and activism that I gained this summer in order to move from passive to active feminist.

Maybe a semester away is just the thing I need to kick off the revolution.

These Little Town Blues

New-York-Skyline-mit-Freiheitsstatue I’ve felt a quiet void ever sense I’ve left New York, and I’m not quite sure what shape it’s in and what could possibly fill it. I’ve been asked several times from friends and family and acquaintances how New York was, and all I can say is “it was great.” Then their expectant eyes look at me for more, and I start spewing things I’ve done and things I’ve learned in this weirdly condensed form because I can’t fathom a way to articulate what this summer was for me. “I learned about the necessity of feminism. I learned how the system is broken and how people knowingly and unknowingly walk over the glass and do not see a problem with it. I toured an abortion clinic, and though I learned the necessity in choice, it took days for the tension in my chest to finally unclench itself. I saw Cabaret on Broadway, and while it was sexual and speculator and grand, it showed me that we popularize the things that can destroy us. I used to feel guilty when I passed by people asking for change without acknowledging their existence, and by the end, I stopped feeling one sort of guilty and completely felt another. I worked for a nonprofit that dealt with street harassment and learned how the lewd policing of bodies has been so normalized in our culture that we’ve trivialized the same fear that a mouse senses when it sees a cat jusgrammys-beyoncet because of gender and orientation. Oh, and I got to see the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert for free.”


But this isn’t what they want to hear.


They want to hear a watered down version of how rewarding the summer was for me with a sprinkle of internship rhetoric and a dash of the New York-y tasks I’ve completed. They want to hear about my struggles on the subway system because the prison industrial complex doesn’t contain adorable anecdotes of my taking the wrong train. They want to hear about how expensive every thing is without acknowledging the people who work for over forty hours a week in the city and who can’t afford the luxury of a daily bagel. They want to hear if I saw the Statue of Liberty but don’t want to hear about the immigrants in the city who hide in fear and wait and wait for the promises of freedom the Statue of Liberty represents to save them from deportation.

They want to hear a pluck of a string and called it Beethoven.

And with enough repetitions, I’ll have a neat answer that appeases the curiosity of those who ask, while feeling a frustration of not expressing myself in the capacity I want because timing and etiquette triumph over rocking the boat. And with enough time and repetitions, I won’t feel this frustration at all. But that’s okay, because what I’ve learned this summer will manifest itself in more natural ways than being shoe horned in a response about how much I liked The Moxie Project. It’ll manifest itself in ways that I can and cannot pinpoint. I can already see it in the ways that I hold conversations with people, in the ways that I’ve become critical and sometimes pleasantly surprised by the television shows I marathon on Netflix, and I can see it in the diva like way I say “Bye” whenever I’m fed up with a person.


While I might forget the details of some the group discussions we’ve had (like what are the complexities in the relationship among neoliberalism, capitalism, and sexual violence?) and the events we went to (like what exactly happened during the Private Violence screening reception?), the experiences I’ve had this summer will always be with me in some shape or fashion.

Sometimes, New York seems like faraway dream, and I go about my day with the residue of it clinging to my skin, telling me that it’s a sin to have learned what I have learned and not do anything profound with it. Asking me constantly what I’m going to do to contribute to the movement in both action and solidarity. That something grand happened while I was in New York, and I’ll never experience that same spark again.

I’m back at the Duke, and it feels jarring being back in the Gothic Wonderland. The students haven’t moved back in yet, and I’m sure it’ll feel even stranger when they do. However, when I saw the familiar buildings of East Campus yesterday, I felt a challenge in the air. That now that I’m back, how can I help change Duke for the better in however small or grand a way? I’m not sure how yet, but I know I have developed enough moxie this summer to find out.

Super Heroes 09

That’s (Not Quite) All, Folks

This summer’s intensity – a full-time job compounded with supplementary activities, many of which involved frustrating realities and high emotions – left me simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted. I was sad to leave New York but ready to unplug, to sleep late and read a novel. I couldn’t wait to sit outside, to walk down the street without weaving around hordes of people, and to taste home cooking. But within five minutes of leaving the airport, I found myself in a dead-end political debate with my mother. We agreed to disagree, but something had clearly shifted this summer. For the past ten days I have been unable to disconnect entirely, increasingly noticing and bringing up everyday discriminations and oppressions.

When I discuss these things with my family and friends, I find myself more direct and confident than ever before. Accustomed to honest conversations with my fellow Moxies, I am perhaps too frank at times. Most of the time I remember to phrase my arguments gently, but at other times I forget myself in frustration.



It’s difficult to recall a time before the group accountability of this summer, and I struggle to remember the reality that most people are not accustomed to such bluntness – and that until two months ago, I was not either. This is something I must keep in mind when I return to Duke, a campus on which direct and honest conversation can be difficult to come across. I believe strongly in the importance of maintaining friendships across fundamental differences of thought and belief, and so have no desire to alienate anyone by seeming dismissive. I have struggled, as have friends of mine, with when to accept and respect these differences; when to gently bring them up, in the hopes of fostering further tolerance; and when to ease out of friendships with those whose beliefs I find toxic or hateful.

These are difficult decisions that everyone has to make, whether these fundamental differences are on topics regarding equality and justice or others. But as I look ahead at my remaining time at Duke, they loom even larger. Coalition building depends upon bringing in new voices and perspectives, and in this vein it seems that I would try to bring every single friend and acquaintance along with me as we delve collectively into fighting for social justice on campus. But in reality, there is just no convincing some folks. There are some battles that are just not worth fighting, and there are some battles that are simply misplaced. Mass denunciation of the Republican Party or conservatism is disheartening and only serves to isolate a huge swath of the population, yet it is constant. I am a staunch liberal, but discussions with close conservative friends have taught me that conservatism does not necessitate a lessened belief in equality and justice for all. Part of coalition building is bringing in those who may be unexpected participants in the struggle, and Duke’s culture of judgment and holier-than-thou attitudes surrounding social justice is perhaps a key reason why so many steer clear of it.

I was more impressed by the activism that I saw at NDWA leadership and board retreats, coming from women often overlooked by our society, than by any speech or action I have ever seen at Duke. Campaigns such as #DukeOpen and the Asia Prime protests created a brief uproar, but no long-lasting mobilization. They were intended to stir things up, making noise rather than doing the hard work necessary to empower and organize individuals. No wonder so little gets done at Duke – we are all so focused on making a name for ourselves, getting published in the Chronicle or a line for our resume, that we don’t want to humble ourselves to lay the groundwork for lasting movement. The movement is not about individuals, and it never has been. The community needs the individual to move forward, but the individual is nothing without the community. When we place our own needs and desires above movement sustainability and community inclusivity, activism becomes stagnant and selfish. When we exclude others from the movement due to snap judgments or our own preconceived notions, we only weaken our collective power. As I move on from Moxie to a semester in Morocco and then back to Durham, I hope to combat the exceptionalism that I have been taught as a Duke student and the millennial desire for instant gratification and publicity. I must remain grounded in the knowledge that social change is difficult and slow; it can only be accomplished with full investment in, solidarity with, and love for the community.


Feminism and Social Psychology, Part 2: Five Important Concepts

I’d like to start this post with a puzzle:

A young boy and his father are in a car accident.  The father dies at the scene. The boy is transported to the hospital, taken immediately into surgery… but the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, “I can’t operate on this boy – he is my son!” How is this possible?

(Please don’t continue reading until you have an answer or conclude that no answer exists. Enjoy these gifs of Jon Stewart in the meantime.)


I’ll wait.


If you’re in a very small minority of readers, you immediately realized that the surgeon was the boy’s mother. (The proportion of solvers may actually be higher than in normal circumstances.  If you’re reading this blog, you’ve been primed to be thinking about feminism and women’s rights).

giphy (1)

However, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ve fallen victim to one of the many associations that our society instills in us from an early age.  The surgeon = male association is one of many “implicit biases” identified by Social Psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald in their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

The above puzzle and seemingly obvious solution, which I borrowed from Banaji and Greenwald’s book, can be quite alarming to those of us who consider ourselves feminists.  I’ve grown up surrounded by female professionals – my doctor is female, my neighborhood is full of female surgeons, and my mother is a lawyer!  Even so, reading the puzzle I found myself thinking, How can this be?! Maybe the dad survived? Or the kid is adopted? When I shared this puzzle at a dinner party, one person concluded that the only possible answer was that the son had two gay dads.  Possible, yes, but the ratio of gay male fathers to mothers would make this much less likely.

This brings up an important question, one which you, if you failed to solve the puzzle, might be asking yourself: Am I sexist? Well, yes and no.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to go ahead and say you’re probably not someone with openly sexist beliefs and attitudes.  In fact, you’re probably one of those amazing people who actively work to combat sexism.  That said, people are products of their societies.  We live in a world that tells us women can’t be surgeons, and, over time, our subconscious minds have absorbed this bias.  The attitudes we are exposed to and the media we encounter every day affect how we see the world, whether we like it or not.


In my last post, I wrote about the importance of bringing together intersectional feminism with social psychology research, and I promised to follow up with five ideas from social psychology that apply to feminist activism.  I’ll try to keep it short (and I will continue punctuating with Jon Stewart gifs because, well, he’s beautiful), but feel free to comment if you’d like to learn more! Here goes:

1.  Implicit Biases: We all have prejudices, but we aren’t likely aware of them.

Over the last century, as we’ve begun to emphasize the importance of being politically correct and unbiased, most people have become much more reserved about admitting their biases. While this is obviously a step in the right direction, it’s made it much harder for social psychologists to test people’s biases.  In the 1930s, restaurant owners throughout the country were more than willing to admit to researchers that they would not serve Asian customers.  Now, even when assured that survey answers are anonymous, people are much less forthcoming.  More than that, they may not even be aware (or willing to admit) their prejudices, since being openly prejudiced is not socially acceptable. That’s why Banaji and Greenwald’s work is so instrumental – they developed an innovative way (using time-sensitive computer matching tasks) to test for implicit biases, whether or not the research subject is aware of those biases.  On their website, you can test yourself for biases on the basis of race, age, weight, religion, sexuality, and others.

A word of warning, however: don’t take the test unless you really want to know the results.  You may (in fact, you likely will) find yourself biased against groups that may be dear to you, maybe even groups you belong to.  Tread carefully, and use whatever information you glean to help you correct for your biases in whatever way you can.

Jon Stewart Hiding Gif

2. Internalized Oppression: We absorb the inaccurate stereotypes surrounding groups we belong to.

We often picture prejudice as a member of the ingroup openly disliking a member of the outgroup.  It’s not always that easy.  We all internalize prejudicial beliefs before we’re even old enough to realize it, which can be particularly damaging to those harmed by biases and stereotypes.  In their infamous 1940s doll experiment, which was instrumental in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Kenneth and Mamie Clark discovered that, when given a choice between playing with a black doll and a white doll, the vast majority of children, black or white, chose the white doll.  This experiment was later recreated in the film A Girl Like Me, as evidence of the sense of inferiority that African-American children absorb from the media and from larger social attitudes.


3. Stereotype Threat: The mere awareness of stereotypes about our group can actually change our behavior or performance. 

Think back to the last time you took a standardized test – the SAT, the ACT, some state testing from the ‘No Child Left Behind’ era maybe?  It is likely that before you took the test, you were asked some basic demographic questions: name, address, age, race, and gender.  Well, if you are female, Black, or a member another group that is believed to do poorly on tests (particularly math), simply being primed to think about that demographic information, and the stereotypes accompanying it, may have negatively impacted your performance.  In this way, stereotypes, when activated, can act as self-fulfilling prophecies, usually with harmful consequences.  This idea of stereotype threat, developed by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, has the potential to revolutionize how we understand equality in education, including high-stakes testing, which has been shown to be biased against minorities in a variety of ways.


4. Attritional Ambiguity: Negative feedback can affect members of stigmatized groups differently.

In psychology, an attribution is defined as the way someone explains events and behaviors.  The attributions we make and the patterns we display when we make attributions, particularly attributions about events and behavior that influence us, can affect our mental health.  How does this relate to feminism?  The research shows that members of stigmatized groups may be affected differently by feedback.  When a member of an underprivileged or stigmatized group receives feedback, whether positive or negative,  they often do not know whether to attribute that feedback to their behavior or their membership in a given group.  For members of stereotype-vulnerable groups, this can be cognitively taxing and can lead to reduced self-worth.  For example, if an woman doesn’t know whether she didn’t get a job due to her qualifications or her gender, she may feel helpless out of fear that she was disadvantaged by an identity she cannot control.  And, because she doesn’t know why she didn’t get the job, she may have trouble adjusting her behavior to better position herself for future jobs.


5. Schemas and Stereotypes: We need to understand why we have biases in order to overcome them.

A “schema” is a pattern of knowledge that organizes information and can be used to predict behavior.  Schemas are necessary as they reduce our cognitive load and provide a way for us to process and apply information about the world around us.  For example, when we think of school, our schema may prompt us to think about books, teachers, classes, desks, school supplies, etc.  Schemas are often useful and unproblematic.  However, when schemas become stereotypes, they’re less innocuous. Stereotypes are schemas that apply to specific groups.  These often give rise to prejudice and bias.  While our aforementioned school-related schema is unproblematic, another schema might cause us to associate female with and being bad at math.  It’s important to look at stereotypes within the larger realm of schemas.  If we understand schemas as serving to reduce the cognitive load, we can begin to understand how to combat whatever stereotypes we might have.  Doing so requires more cognitive effort and a conscious decision to reject the stereotypes that society has instilled in us.


Final Thoughts:

I’m a big believer in the importance of research and evidence when attempting to bring about social change.  I think that the research like that being conducted by the authors of Blindspot has great potential to change the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world we live in.  Ultimately, education and knowledge are essential vehicles of social change.  I plan to continue to learn, contribute ideas, and share knowledge for the rest of my education and beyond.



I feel like it’s only appropriate to conclude my blog posts of the Moxie Project by talking about my very first introduction to feminism. While my nana, my mother, and my own sense of stubborn teenage rebellion undoubtedly had the most influential impact on my perspective of feminism, I wouldn’t be totally truthful if I said it started with any one of those. No, my first introduction to the very bare basics of feminism came in the very pink, verycontroversial, and very stylish package that is Barbie. 

When I admit this mildly mortifying fact, most people are somewhat surprised that I was one of those girls, especially given my somewhat radical views, but let me explain.  To start off, despite being born and raised in Arizona, (the typical response to that being “There are black people in Arizona?!”), whenever I asked  for a Barbie or Barbie related item for Christmas or my birthday, my parents somehow managed to get a black doll. Now they’re obviously not without their faults (their bodies being the most obvious one and, hello, you can’t just keep the mold of a white doll, paint it brown, and call it “diversity,” Mattel), but looking back at that small action, I realize that I was lucky enough to not have a sense of self loathing come from a white doll that reinforced the idea that I needed to be blonde and blue eyed in order to be considered physically attractive. Maybe have the proportions of a Victoria’s Secret model and be 7’0″, but at least I wouldn’t be ashamed of who I am. In addition to having a doll that somewhat resembled me, my parents also strongly stressed the more ambitious aspect of Barbie. So while I might have gotten the Dreamhouse, it was accompanied with a poster of all the careers she (again, the black version of the doll) had in her many years of production. That poster sat at a very prominent place in my room and I would spend some time looking at it; one day, four year old me came to the conclusion that, hey, I’m awesome and there’s nothing stopping me from being a nurse or an astronaut or whatever my heart desired and who cared if I was a girl and wore impractical heels doing it? There was no reason for me to be limited to the typical occupations that four and five year old girls are fed by well meaning, but very misguided adults. That somewhat narrow idea drove me to be fairly competitive as a child and enabled me to think outside the box when it came to thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. While I’m pretty critical of the doll today, it had a huge impact on my perception of my abilities and just how much I thought I could really accomplish. So what does this trip down the pink brick road have to do with Moxie? Well on my way to one of our outings, I saw this poster in all of the Moxies’ favorite location, Time Square:

The ad says "Barbie: If you can do it, you can be it. #Unapologetic. " I almost thought it was a joke until I realized that Mattel would've sued by now.

The ad says “Barbie: If you can dream it, you can be it. #Unapologetic. ” I almost thought it was a joke until I realized that Mattel would’ve sued by now.

My first reaction was to laugh at how obnoxious Mattel is for being so completely off the mark in addressing the criticisms people have with Barbie. My second reaction was to laugh even harder because they failed to do the most basic job of highlighting their “diversity” by whitewashing the crap out of Barbie’s ethnic friends. But as I thought about what my last post would be, I realized that I could apply it to my Moxie journey in identifying with the label “feminist.”

Coming into the summer, as I settled into my job and started seriously analyzing the readings, one of my unofficial goals was to determine what type of feminist I wanted to be. In the past two years, I’ve struggled to identify with only the label of “feminist.” In conversations with, say, a random Duke student, I would be willing to use the label, but I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with simply the title “feminist.” While the mainstream movement has done some effective change, I feel that, despite getting much better than their second wave predecessors, the present feminist movement doesn’t really give a damn about my identity as a black woman. For example, representation; while the mainstream movement petitions DC and Marvel to have Wonder Women and Black Widow films, I’m forced to find a decent representation of myself in a show that takes place in a women’s federal prison. I’m not reaching for the stars, people, I’d just like to see a character who’s personality trait doesn’t only include finger waving. Even discussions on working women is sorely lacking and has a very narrow concentration on who the mainstream movement is trying to help; it tends to over-focus on the Sheryl Sandbergs and the Marissa Mayers of the world rather than on, say, domestic workers. For example pregnancy discrimination has become a big deal recently, but the conversation often neglects working class women despite, as I learned researching for Legal Momentum, that working class women are more likely to not work during their pregnancy due to harder, less accommodating positions or working in places that aren’t willing to provide adequate help. Additionally, I twitch whenever I hear about the wage gap being $0.77 to a man’s dollar, because that’s true only if you’re a white woman compared to a white man’s dollar (also, I can’t stand the unending “having it all” discussion because working class white women and women of color have had to balance families and working for quite some time, but I digress).

“No, Barbie, my hair is not ‘weaved.'”

As much as I try to rally behind mainstream feminism (hey, something is better than nothing and most of use fight for the same things), I feel like the ad and its oblivious hashtag mirrors my persistent annoyance with the movement. I commend effort and acknowledging when you aren’t the greatest ally; it’s difficult to swallow your on privilege in order to shut up and listen.  However, as the summer unfolded, I started to realize that too many visible faces of the movement are entirely unwilling to step aside or even talk about intersectionality and, frankly, I’m out of patience. As a movement, we can’t pat ourselves on the back for moving one step forward because, in the process, we’ve moved three steps back. With Barbie, it’s not enough that she’s introduced a myriad of careers because she still does it in a Eurocentric and thin package. With feminism, it’s not revolution that Lena Dunham is able to be naked on television because she still presents a very narrow narrative. There’s a difference between meeting someone where they are and the meeting lowest common denominator. I’m all for educating people about feminism and meeting people where they are, but I’m not going to support a movement who still considers the default woman to be white, heterosexual, and upper middle class. I am not in the mood to hear about how #unapologetic you are about loving Lily Allen, Iggy Azalea, or the movie Lucy because that just shows that you care about women who are willing to step on marginalized identities. Fun fact: that ambiguous “people of color” group happens to include women and I would appreciate being included in a conversation about representation without it going back to the tired discussion on body image and barely acknowledging the role racialized misogyny plays in Hollywood. I’d like to have a discussion about role that highly sexualized and exoticisized portrayals  of women of color and LGBT folks in the media (especially porn) impact  sexual assault, fetishization, and abuse.

That was one of the great and unexpected things about Moxie; I wasn’t sure what to anticipate content-wise and I was thrilled that, while Nicole and Ada didn’t chuck us into the deep end, they expected us to step outside our comfort zones and realize that, hey, feminism isn’t just about you. Don’t only focus on the issues that directly impact your identity because that type of individualism doesn’t benefit those who benefit from changes brought by the movement the most. You have to have room to learn, but you cannot do your learning at the expense of someone’s dignity. It’s important to explore the history of how one aspect of your identity has been oppressed, but it’s also important to acknowledge how your privileges can perpetuate oppression. There’s going to be a feeling a guilt, but don’t let it hinder your ability to make change because otherwise, it’s going to do more harm than good. Change isn’t an individual thing, it’s a group effort and if I want to see a change, I should step up when I can, shut up when it’s time to listen, and actually do something outside of talking about what’s wrong with the world. I’ll never disassociate myself from the mainstream movement because while I have criticisms, I am also able to see the good it’s done and continues to do at  many different levels. But it’s really important that I’m a part of a movement that is willing to go outside its comfort zone and talk about comfortable truths. As for the feminist I want to be? Well, the list of adjectives describing my political ideology would make this post even longer than it already is, so for now, I think I’ll stick with media-obsessed intersectional black feminist. How’s that for #unapologetic?

How to Not Be an Academic Feminist Asshole Pt. 2

Since returning from my eight week Moxie Project experience, I feel inspired, energized and ready to dismantle the white supremacist heteropatriarchy! This summer I’ve been equipped with the theoretical knowledge of systems of oppression, personal stories of those at the intersections of identity and the margins of our society, and the tools to effectively organize and counter the oppressor. While the summer left me with many moments of feeling hopelessly entangled in these larger systems of human oppression and suffering, it also revitalized my faith that a few committed individuals fighting for justice could change the status quo. With my new intersectional lens and revolutionary zeal, I feel ready for Duke this fall and for any obstacle that comes my way in life!

In my few weeks returning home, I’m starting to see EVERYTHING in a new way. I see how all issues in society are interrelated and connected to the larger system trying to keep us all down. I’ve become increasingly critical of everything I experience, participate in, and hear of, pointing out what’s problematic about this, what’s heteronormative about that, and what’s culturally/racially insensitive about EVERYTHING! From the White Savior Complex inherent in my church’s mission trips abroad to Iggy Azalea’s appropriation of the language of southern black women to mainstream white feminism’s co-option of the reproductive justice movement from women of color to the demise of public education and the extension of the school-to-prison pipeline, everything deserves close scrutiny and criticism.

One night, my mother and I were having a conversation about domestic abuse and the societal and cultural perceptions that perpetuate this form of violence. All of a sudden, my mother, who has had a personal experience successfully escaping an abusive relationship, became irrationally upset with our conversation.

“Well, since you know everything, we can just end this discussion!” she yelled.

I was taken aback. My mother felt like me saying that there wasn’t enough support for people trying to escape abuse was somehow an invalidation of her own success doing just that many years ago. She, too, was an immigrant single mother of two small children (one of whom had special needs) with very little family and financial support. She wasn’t sure what the point of my argument was if not to say that what she did must be impossible for any other woman to do. I honestly didn’t understand her anger. I wasn’t trying to invalidate her experience with my new found “knowledge” on intimate partner violence. And I also wasn’t trying to invalidate her experience by bringing up the “larger systems” that prevent other people from leaving their abusive relationships. What I thought was a two way conversation with my mom sharing lessons she had learned from lived experiences and me sharing what I had learned through my eight week Moxie experience, turned into a heated argument, which it shouldn’t have been, considering I agreed with everything my mother said and I was surprised that she didn’t see my point of view.

It was really frustrated to feel like I’d come back with all of this understanding, but that other people didn’t always seem to share my understanding. In my quest to over-analyze, critique, and label everything with the appropriate –ism, I had forgotten how to meet people where they were and truly listen in order to understand their experiences (not thinking about what I was going to say next that would challenge/destroy their way of thinking). I had become the dreaded academic feminist asshole.

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends sent me the article circulating around, entitled “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” She wanted to know what I thought of the piece. I responded with three paragraphs describing what I thought was wrong with elite universities and in particular, student culture at Duke University, stating that elite circles usually perpetuate elitism by bonding members through the constructed “struggle” of the elite and the intentional alienation of elites from less privileged groups. She didn’t respond right away. But a few days ago, she sent me 15 texts, describing a revelation she had about everything wrong with Duke culture, citing many of the same points I had shared with her.

It was an interesting moment for me – to see someone else be able to come to their own conclusions but knowing I had influenced them somehow by introducing them to a different way of thinking about a situation. Being introduced to different ways of thinking is what I enjoyed most about this summer. Between our Moxie reflections and excursions, my conversations with my co-workers at GGE, and even our introduction to transnational feminism at Af3irm’s school of summer activism, I’ve been introduced to so many different angles to approach questions in life that I’ve always grappled with. While I’m not sure how much closer I am to answering some of these questions, I know I am ever closer to understanding my role in this larger movement. The people I’ve gotten to know this summer in New York City through the Moxie Project were able to meet me where I was and lead me to a greater understanding of the feminist movement, myself, and who I want to be in life. Hopefully, as I continue to learn and grow in this understanding, I can learn to meet others where they are and also guide them through that same journey of self-discovery.

And I’ll try NOT to be an academic feminist asshole in the process.

Coming Down From My Balloon House

Thirty friendship bracelets, 1,489 pictures, and oodles of city blocks later I’ve been trying to unpack all that I have learned this summer. Moxie made me experience an American culture shock other than I had ever seen before. Culture shocks on Moxie come out of nowhere, but can sometimes hit you in more profound ways than any foreign country potentially could. Recently I have been thinking about how any non-profit can conduct any ethical service work abroad, and how the feminist movement can become transnational.

There is this great scene in Up! that really sums up how I feel about the “white savior complex”. Although a little white boy scout, little Russel basically assumes that Carl needs help because he is old. In kind of the same way, any first-world country/non-profit/individual will come in making assumptions about the needs/poverty/barbarity of a third-world country.

After I saw little Russel engage in some age-old ageism I really wondered what ethical service actually looks like in practice. If a community does not want your help, how can one feel comfortable trying to provide service there regardless of its outcome? The same thing holds true when a community does not see what adverse effects your service can have for their economy, culture, and autonomy.

The most important thing overlooked by most of non-profit organizations abroad is very simply LISTENING to the voices of a community. And NO, I do NOT mean selectively listening, and using or co-opting the voices of victims of oppression or poverty for your own personal agenda. Giving women of color abroad our mangled western version of a white woman’s “freedom” is downright a form of modern imperialism, and completely culturally insensitive (this article really sums it up).

Going beyond listening means meeting people where they are at. Hearing children’s stories all summer in particular really prepared me for this, whether for a conversation about feminism or thinking about any future service work abroad. Children come in to the children’s room, and we basically assess their mental state right off the bat. We look to see what type of art activities would potentially overwhelm them, and take out toys that are not only age appropriate but also based on their presented state. Some children can handle more freedom, and others shut down when presented with too many media because of their age, trauma, or other factors.

This summer experience of working with survivors and children allowed me to feel empowered to make change, and made me view my experience as rewarding. I felt my personal transformation, and I definitely struggled how to reconcile my hopeful personality with all the knowledge I acquired about the world. I went through phases of “I wish I had known this sooner”, and hopelessness about what I could do with this new knowledge. At the same time I saw small changes in the children I saw every day, which gives me hope that the services the center provides will help them build healthy sustainable relationships.

A week after this summer I wonder how to translate what I learned into something bigger than my personal transformation. Writing from my fancy summer vacation in Portugal, how do I reconcile that I get to leave. The children I worked with every day live the actual life of domestic violence, and I use their narratives every day to feel empowered. How can I take my experience and transform it into service that is bigger than myself, and remain ethical. How can I use my new lens for ethical and productive purposes?

In two weeks I embark on a journey abroad for a Global Health program where I will study the social constraints to health care in Washington DC, India, South Africa, and Brazil. I’m not there to conduct service work, but rather research health care systems. I’m coming in with my Western perspective, and my new knowledge about the non-profit industrial complex and feminism. I hope to engage in one of my interests, photography. One practical issue for myself that comes to mind is the matter of consent when photographing people. How can photographing a community member ever be ethical if factors of race, class, poverty, and overall literacy play into ethical consent? How will photographing people in India “give them a platform from which they can reach a wider audience, and use our platforms to help amplify their voice”. How can I avoid outside people viewing my pictures not engage in the romanticization of poverty? How can I turn photography into activism? Photography targets people’s basic emotions and sense of morality, and has been used to raise donations for “good causes”. A crying child amidst a pile of rubble raises more money and empathy than any happy adult in a picture. Although well intended dehumanizes an entire population rendering them a “marketable commodity”; a product of the non-profit industrial complex.

My next goals for my journey abroad entail incorporating a feminist issue in my research proposal (for women around the world), talking to my host family about ethical forms of consent for photographing, and discovering the few (if any?) ethical and culturally sensitive non-profits that I could see myself working for. I wish I had more answers to all these great questions, but I am waiting to listen to all the people I will meet, and perhaps photograph, to tackle the answers.

I’ll close with a great quote from one of my favorite shows, Friends: “there is no such thing as a selfless good deed.”


Thank you to all of my fellow Moxies, Nicole, Ada, and my supervisors at the Bronx Family Justice Center for challenging me to think in entirely new ways.


Moving Forward

It seemed that as soon as I left New York City the social justice thoughts that had churned in my brain throughout Moxie began to slip my mind. I instantly became focused on my end of summer plans and the upcoming fall semester. I’ve met some turbulence juxtaposing my everyday life with the ideas and theories I learned during Moxie. It has sometimes seemed unrealistic to totally address and stay in tune with my life and society through a feminist lens at all times. Perhaps during this time I have even lost my critical understanding of Beyoncé – or I have just altered it.

This week Beyoncé released a remix of her song Flawless featuring the Queen of Rap herself, Nicki Minaj. Without thinking too hard about it, I listened to the song and almost immediately understood it to be feminist in my mind. I viewed the two leading music artist’s collaboration emblematic of the girl power/female unity themes of feminism. Next, I felt that their ultimate message of self acceptance and confidence were clear and palpable. And although in its communication this message was laced with sexual references it occurred to me that the two female artists were not necessarily sexually objectifying themselves. Normally I have viewed many pop songs with a clear-cut knowledge of what sexual objectification looks like. However, now it seems to me that Beyoncé and Minaj actively and purposefully skew and utilize their sexuality in order to explain exactly what they mean. Does that make their message any less valuable or relevant or feminist? Nope. When Beyoncé says “you wish I was your poundcake” is she sexually objectifying her body or subjectively expressing her own sexuality with stylish arrogance?


I’m starting to realize and appreciate that the work of feminism cannot be done in a vacuum and will almost never be neatly accomplished to everyone’s liking. As TIME contributor Sarah Miller argued, I think that feminism should recognize the chaos and ambiguity present in our world. Feminism, like all other forms of thought, must consider the world holistically and appreciate peoples intersecting perspectives. We must realize that taking the good with the bad is not giving up, but that it is at least moving forward.

I love you, Bachelorette, but it’s time to change

I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend at least a little time on the Moxie blog discussing what is quite possibly my favorite topic in the world: The Bachelorette and The Bachelor.  Since this is the last opportunity I’ll have to contribute to this space–brace yourself.


My roommates grew accustomed to my Monday night routine over the last eight weeks: my door is shut by 8pm sharp, and, for two hours, it was just me, Andi Dorfman (this season’s Bachelorette), and her 25 suitors.  For those of you who somehow haven’t heard me talk obsessively about the show at one point or another (aka those of you who have never met me), the show works in this way: the Bachelorette goes on a series of one-on-one or group dates each week until she eliminates all of them except for one, to whom (the producers of the show pray) she will get engaged.  Andi’s season worked out accordingly: she is currently engaged to Josh Murray, a financial advisor the show preferred to label as a “former pro baseball player.”

See, the Bachelorette is all about reducing things down to labels–isn’t that what the show is built around, reducing the idea of “love” to a collective 20 hours spent with a person leading up to a proposal in an exotic locale, all filmed on camera?  It’s easier that way, isn’t it; easier for viewers to buy into this idea of “love” when it’s shoved down our throat as such, and also easier to buy into our “heroes,” the Bachelors and Bachelorettes, when they’re characterized in a similar fashion as Josh was: by their career (or even a former career), family, or past appearances on another Bachelor/ette franchise, since every lead “hero” is a contestant from a past season.  Emily Maynard, the Bachelorette two seasons ago, for example, was the sweet Southern blonde whose former fiancé tragically passed in a plane crash while she was pregnant with her daughter.  Desiree Hartsock, last season’s Bachelorette, was the wholesome, fan-favorite wedding dress designer who was tragically dumped by previous Bachelor Sean Lowe after he met her family.

Let me make this clear right now: I will ALWAYS watch this show.  It’s reality TV at it’s best and I’m addicted.  However, I couldn’t necessarily identify with Emily and Desiree.  Sure, I liked watching their “journeys,” the “drama” that ensued, and yes, their proposals–but I do think that, if I were the Bachelorette (one of my backup plans in life, shhhh), I would’ve played the role differently than Emily and Desiree.  There was something missing–some kind of fire, drive, and passion that these two didn’t seem to possess.  Or maybe they did; there were certainly glimpses (Emily calling out a contestant for calling her daughter “baggage” was a plus), but the editing of their seasons seemed to conceal most of their personalities, extraneous from the label ABC placed on them from the start.  Don’t get me wrong–I still rooted for them, but reality TV often makes characters (or caricatures) of its contestants.

But Andi was different–or, maybe just her label was.  She was my favorite Bachelor contestant ever, even before she called out her season’s Bachelor, Juan Pablo, on the terrible, sexist, homophobic person he is (that even his “label” on the show as loving, romantic, soccer-playing Venezuelan single parent couldn’t conceal in the end).  Andi telling Juan Pablo that his narcism, selfishness, and pompousness was unacceptable to her was something I could identify with from my own past, and she communicated her feelings to him in a manner in which I hope to conduct myself in the future.  From her boldness to her career (I want to be a lawyer, she’s an assistant district attorney); from her religion (both Andi and I are Jewish) to even the letters that compose her name (A-N-D-I and D-A-N-I–far-fetched, but bear with me)…Andi has been the closest thing I could find to myself on TV.

Yet aren’t I Emily and Desiree too?  Despite me not necessarily identifying with their exact lifestyles, I look just like Emily and Desiree–we compose the majority of the Bachelor/ette’s contestants, and (as a result) its audience.  The Bachelor/ette has consisted of approximately 90% Caucasian contestants and 100% Caucasian leads.  The demographic that watches the Bachelor/ette with the same vigor that I do will definitely watch the show because it’s wonderful reality TV, but deep down inside I also know it’s because every season, although we may not be as long-lost-sister-esque as Andi and me, there will be some version of us on TV at 8pm on Mondays.

There’s nothing wrong with liking seeing a version of yourself on TV–but there’s something wrong when that’s all there is.

From the beginning, Moxie’s goal was to discuss those aren’t discussed enough, aka those who aren’t represented on the Bachelor/ette.  The show is immune to change.  As host Chris Harrison has said: “Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, ‘Hey, you should make hamburgers.’ Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell.”  And later: “Is [the show’s] job to break barriers, or is it a business? That’s not for me to answer.”

I do think Andi began chipping at the “barriers” Chris Harrison mentioned in that interview.  She was intelligent, headstrong, and unapologetic –and of course, she was called a “brat,” “weird,” “defensive,” “fake,” “hypocritical,” “aggressive,” and “not strong.”  Sound familiar, feminist movement?  Andi, in my opinion, set the bar for the way in which a Bachelorette will be “labeled” by ABC from now on.

But that’s only the first step.

I’ve struggled with the idea of privilege during Moxie, but that–the ability to watch myself travel the world, fall in “love”, and get my heart broken every Monday–is privilege.  Pizza’s delicious, Chris, but hopefully the menu will change soon.