I’ve been a flaming liberal for as long I can remember. The more I try to figure out the origins of my views, the more I realize that I’ve been leaning left since I was old enough to lean. Even in Coach K’s 6th grade social studies class (Keathly, not Krzyzewski – the GOAT never taught at my middle school), I had trouble understanding why everybody seemed to see socialism as an evil form of governance. My brace-faced self proudly supported Obama in 2008 and even more vehemently in 2012, on the basis of social issues and a belief in the power of bottom-up economics. Since coming to Duke, my views have only solidified as I’ve become more informed. I’m not only a registered Democrat, but a staunch radical feminist.

(I know what you’re thinking.)

But I used to downplay that. I’ll enthusiastically engage in debates with my public policy classmates and fellow Moxies, but rarely, if ever, would I have expressed my views on gay marriage or abortion – or god forbid, tax cuts – to an acquaintance from high school. I pretended like it didn’t bother me that some of my best friends were entirely uninformed about politics because they found it simply uninteresting or “irrelevant” to their lives, and refused to pay attention to the social issues that I’ve always felt passionate about. I acted as though politics were simply an entertaining sideshow to me, when in reality I was consumed by the moral and practical implications of the philosophies that drive the different parties. I wanted to be “moderate.”

News flash – I’m not moderate. I’ve never been moderate. I’ll (probably) never be a moderate. And acting as if I don’t care about the things I care about, doesn’t make me care about them less – it just makes me uncomfortable with myself for something that I shouldn’t ashamed of.

A friend told me that she’d spent her entire life wondering when was the best point in a relationship to divulge that she has two moms – how well should you know a person before you drop that piece of info? – until she finally figured: As. Soon. As. Possible.

There’s no point in trying to become very close with somebody whose views are entirely incongruous with your own. My political beliefs are informed by my worldview, which are intimately influenced by my values and my life experiences – and they’re important to me. Being a radical feminist, and being a Democrat(ic socialist) are cornerstones of my identity, and anybody who isn’t going to accept that part of me is somebody that I don’t need in my life. Sure, I can be friends with somebody who’s planning to vote for Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz (just not D-Trump, please), but I should never hide my own support for Bernie Sanders in order to make myself more palatable to somebody else. A friendship that began with the assumption that I’m conservative (not too much of a stretch, considering that I’m from Texas) would be built on a foundation that would undoubtedly crumble as soon as we became closer. Recently, a boy I’d been talking to told me that SCOTUS made a “huge mistake” legalizing gay marriage – and I only wish he’d said that before I started to become interested in him, because upon having a conversation about our  views, I realized that he was against everything I stand for as a feminist. More importantly, his surprise at my own strongly held views on gender roles, sexuality, and the patriarchy, made me realize how much I’d downplayed my passions at the cost of misrepresenting myself completely.

I’m done waiting until I’m close to somebody before I expose my feminist/socialist side to them. I’ll campaign for Bernie,  I’ll introduce myself as part of a radical non-profit, I’ll wear my left-ist badge loud and proud because it’s an accurate representation of me. An affinity based on a fib is worse than no affinity at all, so I’d rather be my honest self from the get-go. No more hiding who I am.


Brace yourselves, folks. This one is going to be long.

I’ve known for the last few days that my blog tonight was going to be about sexual harassment. My current project at work is addressing the issue at a NYC high school, and we experience it plenty on the city streets, so it seemed to be appropriate.

Then, about an hour ago, I experienced the worst harassment since I’ve been in the Big Apple, and I’m practically exploding with angst, anger, frustration, and (sadly) fear.

It’s the fear that I’m most surprised about. It’s the fear that’s most troubling – I’ve felt annoyed, irritated, inconvenienced before – but never scared, until just now.

I was sitting in Union Square Park, trying to enjoy a nice night while getting some Moxie readings done. It was about 11 PM, but the park was still bustling with people. Guys on skateboards, couples sneaking in kisses, groups of friends laughing loudly, and solitary individuals like myself listening to music. It was a lively place to be, and I didn’t feel unsafe in the slightest.

A man, maybe around 27 or 28 years old, came and sat down a couple of feet away from me on the steps. I had looked up when he approached me, which apparently was an invitation for him to make me pull out my headphones and engage in conversation. “Is that your real hair, or are those extensions?” he asked me, pointing to my auburn tips with the same finger he’d used to pantomime to get my attention in the first place. I told him they were real, and tried to put my headphones back in and get back to my reading, but he kept talking to me. First, he brought up Elvis Presley (whose natural hair was blonde, apparently. Who knew?), asked for advice on giving a gift to his friend’s new girlfriend, and then finally, asked me if I was old enough to smoke. At this point, I had gone from vaguely annoyed, to uncomfortable, to actually worried. When I looked down at my phone to check a  text from my mom, asking if I was home, he snidely commented, “Wow, can’t check your messages and listen to me at the same time, can you?” I found myself apologizing – not because I was in the wrong, but because I didn’t want to upset him. I deflected the question about my age, and joked that I was young enough for my parents to still check up on what time I’d make it home. When I refused to give him my number but politely told him to have a nice night, he snapped at me and said I shouldn’t tell him what to do. I’d already stood up and grabbed my stuff at this point, and felt brave enough to retort, “Alright, it’s your choice. Nice meeting you,” to which “Have a nice night!” was his final response – whether he meant it sincerely or sarcastically, I was too frazzled to register.

The whole interaction lasted all of 5 minutes, but managed to ruin my evening. I walked home nervous and paranoid, jumping at every human being who came up behind me because I was scared he had followed me. When I called my mom and told her about the incident, she pleaded with me to stop going out at night so I could avoid these kinds of scary situations. There are few things I love more than New York City in the evening with its millions of lights and streets teeming with people, but now I’m compelled to listen to her, sacrificing one of my greatest pleasures just in order to maintain my own safety.

Now, let me tell you what’s wrong with this situation:


  • This man walked up and started talking to me when I was reading an essay and had headphones in my ears. I showed no interest in engaging with him, and yet he demanded my attention. What I wanted – to read, and to listen to my music – was irrelevant. Would he have walked up to a man in my posture and tried to pull him away from what he was doing? Doubtful. When I got distracted, he was offended – despite the fact that he interrupted me in the first place, I’m now obligated to focus on him. As a young woman, I’m hardly capable of making my own decisions, right?? It’s what he thinks I should be doing – talking to him – that takes precedence over my own preferences or needs.
  • He asked me if I was old enough to smoke. Whether this was a sly way to gauge if I was legal, or if he was offering me a smoke, I can’t be sure, but it’s inappropriate regardless. I was obviously hovering around the adult line – whether I was above it or below shouldn’t matter. 18 isn’t some magic age at which females become sexual creatures, ready for men to prey on. I’m not saying it’s in any way okay for an adult to pursue a minor – but it’s not okay to pursue an adult woman either, if she’s obviously unwilling and uninterested.

    I might look a little older than her, but still

  • When I rejected his advances, he got angry. Went from cheerful and pleasant to rude and bitter in seconds, as soon as I made it clear I wouldn’t play along. This isn’t because he’s actually sad at a potential missed connection here – he hardly knows me – but because I hurt his ego. Sexual harassment, as I’ve been researching at GGE, isn’t ever about the woman. It’s about overt displays of masculinity, it’s about showing off your manliness, and it’s about feeling powerful. My rejection skewed that power dynamic, and he wasn’t happy about it. Yelling at me for wishing him a good night is the perfect illustration: even in niceties, I can’t have any sort of power or control over him.

    Masculinity is so fragile

  • My mom (understandably) wishes I wouldn’t go out by myself in the evening, because I’m likely to get harassed. I’d gotten cat-called a couple of times tonight before this incident, but that’s so routine, it hardly felt worth stressing about. The other night, I spent almost 40 minutes walking home from Chelsea around 10 PM, and spent the entire time on the phone with my parents, which served as a great strategy to keep men from hollering at me – I got the occasional whistle or up-down, but apparently being occupied by somebody else is a valid reason to be left alone. That night, I walked down a couple of streets that were mostly empty, and after tonight, I feel so incredibly lucky to have been incident free, because if a man had decided to come after me then, I really don’t know what I would have done. Being surrounded by people didn’t keep me from being bothered, but it kept my physical body safe, and kept the situation from escalating. As much as I adore taking leisurely nighttime walks, I’m not so sure I can keep doing it – despite the fact that this is just as much my space as anybody else’s, the public sphere (especially at night) is not made for young women to enjoy. We either stay inside, or we pay the price of unwanted attention.

The scariest part is that I doubt that man saw any of that as harassment. He was simply trying to get my number, what’s the harm in that? Inviting yourself into my space and then getting angry when I don’t embrace your presence is just as bad, if not worse, than hollering at me from an alleyway. He thinks he’s just a “good guy” who unfairly got rejected by me for absolutely no reason (as if my lack of interest requires justification). Truth be told, he was friendly (even charming) at the beginning, so he’s probably a very “good guy” in the eyes of his friends and family too. Guys who harass women aren’t evil guys with 0 redeeming qualities. They’re not total creeps whose sole intentions are to make women as scared and uncomfortable as possible. They’re just normal guys who mistakenly think that “being a man” means women owe them something – sexual pleasure, affection, attention, a date, or their number – simply because they wanted it.

Sexual harassment may not seem like a “big deal” – it’s just flirting, it’s casual, it’s part of every day life, it’s just boys being boys, it’s a host of excuses that point to the same conclusion – that women must simply accept that harassment is part of their lot in life, because why should men stop? Simply because women ask them to? Please. We don’t know what we’re talking about. We’re hysterical. We’re irrational. We’re overreacting. We’re probably at fault.

I didn’t get harassed because of what I was wearing, or where I was, or what I was doing – it wasn’t about me. It was about that man, and his assertion of control onto me. He wanted to flirt with me, and whether or not I was interested was irrelevant. The common theme in every issue here is entitlement. Entitlement to my space, to my attention, to my phone number, to my acceptance, to my body. This is a world in which men are taught to express their masculinity by conquering females. When women reject that notion, and they reject the men who attempt to enforce that notion, we are met with anger and violence. I’m blessed to have never been subjected to physical violence for my femininity, but this is purely a matter of luck. Many women are not so fortunate. A culture that disempowers women (and oversexualizes our bodies while simultaneously judging us for our sexual choices) is going to lead to harassment, and a culture that accepts harassment is never going to stop sexual assaults, and is never going to end rape. We need be allowed to own our bodies. We are entitled to our own damn space.


I’ve never lived in a city before. Sure, Duke is *technically* an urban campus because it’s in the middle of Durham, but let’s be real here – we’re in such a bubble that the city might as well be miles away. My hometown is a friendly suburb near Dallas, home to about 40,000 people and 1 large public high school (technically 2, but the smaller one shared so many facilities with us and has such small graduating class that we don’t take it seriously). Living in Manhattan, less than a few minutes away from Union Square, is such a change. Somehow, this borough manages to house 1.6 million people in about twice the area that my town holds literally 40 times fewer. The entire population of my town equals about half of the students who graduate from New York City’s school system every single year. It’s hard for me to even comprehend that quantity of humanity clustered in such a small space, but it’s obvious basically every time I step out the door. I’ve always been an extrovert, and I’ve always been a complete night owl, so being let loose in the city that never sleeps is basically a dream – I take so much joy in walking back from the gym late at night, just amazed at the number of people I pass on my 5 block walk home, all busily headed somewhere, undaunted by the darkness interrupted by the bright lights of the seemingly infinite buildings around us. It’s majestic. I doubt I’ll ever be less stunned by it.

How lucky are we to live right here?!

But I have to say, it’s also given me a new perspective on my little hometown. I spent my entire life waiting to get out of it, and it’s only once I’ve left that I realize how much of myself I owe to the place I grew up – how much the circumstances of your childhood shape the person you are, and how vital that understanding those circumstances are to understanding a person – and especially a community. My fully grown, adult co-workers at GGE lack licenses, but have probably been fluent in the language of the subway since they were tweens. (Middle school students have no difficulty switching between subway lines and buses to get where they’re going, whereas I accidentally went all the way uptown instead of downtown on my second day of work…) I’m so comfortable with the leisurely small talk typical of a Southerners that I’m totally thrown off by New Yorkers always in a rush to get everywhere. I’m still adjusting to having to be on guard constantly, to the idea of always being surrounded by strangers, and I realize that my general lack of awareness and carefree, naive attitude comes from having grown up in a place where I never felt remotely worried for my safety. This whole idea of applying to high schools, or going through a metal detector every morning to enter the building, or being “pushed out” of school by harsh discipline policies are entirely foreign to me. I might have spent my entire life in public school, but it was a reputable district in which I was academically challenged and felt almost stifled by the care of my administrators, unlike many NYC public school kids who have the opposite problem.

Not to say that my experiences in some way make me superior (despite clearly having grown up with considerable privilege) but that my background is vastly different from that of the people I’m surrounded by at GGE, and the girls that I’m working with. This summer, I’ll be heading up a project to bring anti-harassment workshops to a Brooklyn high school, so I’ve been talking to recent alums of the school to get a sense of their school culture and policies, and I was stunned to realize how different it was from my own. Working in a context so different from the one I’m used to means that I’ll have to listen a lot more than I speak, and address this community according to its own self-defined needs rather than my perception of it. I’m a foreigner in this big, wild city and I can’t expect to understand it or its people unless I really rely on the natives here who know it better than I probably ever will. I’m starting to get comfortable in everything that I don’t know, and accepting that I’m a newbie around here, and that I’ve got a lot to learn. If any of these New Yorkers show up in Dallas, I can show them around my home turf – but as long as I’m here, I’m going to soak up as much of Big Apple as I can, and hopefully I’ll come out of this summer a little less suburban and a little more versed in the life of a city kid.

Passing on the Power

Sai is a junior working at Girls for Gender Equity this summer with their Community Organizing programs.

Hello, people of the inter-webs! I’m Sai, a rising junior majoring in public policy and history, with a minor in economics – so basically, I love learning about the ways in which our past shapes our present, and how societal norms both influence and are affected by policy. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I have basically no idea what I want to do with those degrees, but I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out (I think) and I know that the Moxie Project is a great place to start.

Parvati Devi riding a tiger. She literally radiates power. So. Freaking. Cool.

The bad reputation of sati, an barbaric ritual in which women were burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyres, or the antiquated concept of dowries, are not representative of India. Some aspects of Indian culture continue to be oppressive to women, but these don’t overshadow the ways in which women are valued as the center of life in a family-oriented culture. In fact, in Hinduism, power is embodied by the goddess Parvati and her incarnations. My parents always point out that shakti is a feminine concept – talk about girl power!




The seeds of my feminism were planted by my strong, intelligent, mother, who raised me in a foreign country while my dad had to work out-of-state for weeks at a time. Although my mother was a housewife and my father the sole breadwinner, they act as equals in every part of life, making decisions together and treating each other with the utmost respect, always. They taught me to channel my natural stubbornness and competitiveness into determination. Teachers throughout my years in public school rewarded my boldness encouraged my curiosity. As an only child, this translated into a fierce independent streak and a sense of empowerment – if I set my mind to something, nothing was going to stop me.

Then, I came to Duke, and for the first time, discovered the concept of “privilege.” Add layers to it, and you get intersectionality – and my world was basically shattered. #YesAllWomen presented the ways in which all women in every society are suppressed by virtue of their gender, and I realized that it was privilege which had allowed me to escape the pitfalls that so many other women face as a result of this oppression. Sure, I’d been disgusted by cat-callers before, but I’d never had to change a route or quit a job because of it. I’d seen teachers favor male classmates over myself, but I’d never been denied opportunities because of my gender. I’d felt frustrated that I couldn’t go out and travel as freely as my male friends, but I’d never felt unsafe in my own community. My tolerance of these “innocuous” transgressions were facilitating the injustices that torment so many women less fortunate than myself. That’s when I realized I couldn’t just sit back and accept the patriarchy that abuses us all.

The Moxie Project drew me in with its spotlight on feminism and empowerment, and Girls for Gender Equity specifically attracted me because of its focus on minorities. As a “racially ambiguous” non-white immigrant, the discrimination I face as a woman in this country is compounded by the color of my skin, and I am passionate about helping girls who deal with the same issue. Not every girl gets to have the supportive upbringing that I did, but every girl deserves to feel powerful and capable of dealing with whatever the world throws at us. We’re the ones who have to change our world, and I’m so excited to work with an organization that wants to teach young girls how to take charge of their own lives and communities. The way I see it, GGE is a chance to help me exercise my shakti and help a group of girls embrace their own – and I can’t wait.