Take me back to Moxie…

Writing this last blog was incredibly difficult. I am still struggling to come to terms with how much the Moxie Program (quite frankly) changed my life. The Summer of 2015 was definitely the best one so far.   My intense, 8-week long packed schedule of enriching activities, the discussions about gender and identity, and just the experience of living in the city, completely contrasts with my now (well boring) routine at home before school begins.


This may sound cliché, but words really can’t describe how incredible my summer was. I can’t believe that I was able to have the opportunity to work with and talk to extremely distinguished individuals, have a great internship experience, and also be surrounded by such a positive, inspiring, and fun group of girls. My parents laugh at the fact that I start every other sentence with either “Well, in New York…” or “Actually, we are socialized to believe that…”. I must admit, I probably do sound pretty annoying.


I say that the Moxie Program changed my life because I think about everything in a new light and that I did not just develop one “feminist lens,” but many different  ways of thinking about how society works and the structures that govern our everyday interactions.  I love that the Moxie program sharpened (but still a work in progress) my ability to think critically about social structures, but at the same time, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to constantly be thinking about colossal issues that are inconceivable to solve. For example, it’s impossible for me to go without thinking for less than five minutes about capitalism, patriarchy or privilege. I have also been struggling with how to express what I learned during Moxie to the members of my family and to my friends. How does one explain that we express gender as a result of the patriarchy? I was even more surprised by how difficult it is to get people to understand that street harassment is a form of power and control over women’s bodies and yet another example of how men choose to invade space. To me, the problems with systemic issues such as, street harassment, identity categories, and homelessness are almost common sense. For those who I have spoken to, however, it is, well exasperating, trying to sway their steadfast beliefs.


I feel very satisfied that the Moxie program enabled me to articulate my own “lens(es)” for viewing the oppression in the world, however, my next goal will be to help others develop a lens as well.  Although my fellow Moxie girls and those who have taken a women’s studies class or two know what I am talking about, it is shocking to know that the vast majority of the population is ill informed on issues regarding social justice. What is most exciting and (perhaps scary!) to me is that I am not sure to what extent the experiences and knowledge that I gained during Moxie will shape my future decisions and choices. But, I look forward to it.


Gentrification: How to Make the Poor Poorer

As our time in Moxie and New York is sadly coming to an end, I’ve realized that I needed to cross many things off my “to do” list.  Surprisingly, even though we have been here for nearly 8 weeks, I realized that I had yet to go uptown to the museum area and walk around.  So, on Sunday I decided to make it my Metropolitan day.  After about a fifteen minute ride, I, now drenched in sweat and practically make-up less, thank-you New York 95 degree weather, get off the train at 111 Street and proceed to walk down to 86 Street to cross the Met off my list.  As I am walking, however, I realize that I am conveniently right next to Central Park and according to Google maps, I even need to walk through it in order to get to my destination.   While walking down the blocks, I also notice the apparent shift in scenery from more decrepit buildings to newer, nicer apartment buildings and museums. The dilapidated convenience store with the broken, flickering “Open” sign is only three blocks behind the brand new, glistening Starbucks.  I also noticed the change in demographic, from a majority of black pedestrians, to a whiter populace.  In fact, just walking about twenty blocks, about five songs on my iPhone later, I find myself in an entirely new neighborhood than the one I arrived at after emerging from the dark abyss of the subway tunnel.  Although I had planned to go to the Met, I realize that, typical me, only had about two hours until reflection dinner and I did not want to be late, so I decided to keep walking down the Park and several blocks later it is not long until I find myself on Madison Avenue.


Now, about five more songs later, I’m strolling down the Upper East Side, along with moms pushing their baby strollers all while walking in four digit priced shoes and where a sales lady, handing out samples of 24 karat gold – infused hand cream, is posed outside a luxury cosmetics store.


Yes, New York and Moxie program, you never fail to amaze me as I realized that I had just witnessed and physically walked through gentrification. The socioeconomic 360 is so stark and abrupt that I am still shocked as to how in a twenty minute walk I can travel through almost destitute poverty to overwhelming exorbitance.   I just walked through an area with a median income of $30,000 to one of $200,000. One with a .8% white population to one with a 98% white population.


So what is gentrification? It is a term that we certainly hear and throw around a lot.  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of gentrification is:  the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.  While gentrification certainly brings a lot of wealth, jobs, and opportunity into a previously poor region, the resources that follow the arrival of a wealthy populace do not benefit those in need.  Of course, some job creation for previous residents, such as cashiers or sales associates, may accompany gentrification, but more often than not, previous residents of an underprivileged area will not be able to afford the now sky-rocketed rents that accompany a gentrified area.  In fact, changing rent is one of the most indicative factors that an area is undergoing gentrification. In 2014, Harlem rents were up by 90%. Bed-Stuy rents rose by 63%.  Only three areas in New York have not experienced rent increases.  In some areas of the Upper East Side, rent can be $7,000 to $8,000 per EACH square foot of space a month.  Also, many shops and businesses that are owned and operated by local residents are driven out by the outrageous rents as well and are replaced by chain stores and high end restaurants.  If underprivileged residents can not even afford to live in areas that are experiencing a wave of wealth and resources, then how are they expected to reap any benefits? As a result of gentrification, families are forced to move to more distant and often poorer areas.  Parents need to commute long distances to get to work each day and children end up switching schools.  Rather than improving the lives of low-income residents, gentrification makes them even worse off than before.   New York is not an isolated example – many major cities, Boston, New Orleans, and even Durham, to name a few, that experience an influx of wealthier and typically white residents will undergo some level of gentrification.



While our society sets expectations for people to be self-supporting, we continuously create obstacles that prevent low-income citizens and people of color from growing out of poverty and becoming successful.  How can these citizens possibly achieve the American Dream if they are forced to move from their homes, find new jobs, and place their children in a different school?  Gentrification may be unavoidable as businesses and developers continue to look for new places to grow and expand.  The question is: how can we turn gentrification into a positive prospect for a marginalized community?


Money or Morality?

An expose in the New York Times earlier this summer revealed the horrifying reality that hundreds of immigrant Asian and Latina women endure each day as forced laborers in some of New York’s nail salons.  Many of these women make well below the minimum wage and some don’t get paid at all.  The article explained that many of the women are trafficked from overseas and forced to work in debilitating conditions with barely enough money to survive.  Are you surprised though? How can “employees” possibly be making even minimum wage off of the $19.99 mani/pedi that is advertised in many salon windows? Thousands of women and especially immigrant women or women of color are trafficked either within the United States or brought in from abroad to perform multiple forms of exploitative labor for little or no pay.  The average age that a girl is trafficked is just twelve years old. At Legal Momentum last week, we attended a seminar in which we learned about the shocking prevalence of human trafficking within the country and especially in the New York area.

On the hood of nearly every taxi (and trust me taxis are all over New York), there is an advertisement for a strip club.  We never stop to think that the women on these advertisements may actually be victims of trafficking and forced to perform degrading and physically damaging sexual acts.  Many clubs, massage parlors, and escort services have workforces of trafficked girls.  While New York may be progressive in addressing human trafficking, even passing a law in 2007 which treated traffickers as felons, other states, not so much. In fact, in several jurisdictions, judges will actually refer to girls, some even younger than twelve years old, who have been coerced into performing horrific sexual acts, as “prostitutes” and even criminalize their behavior.


Although trafficked women are arguably subjected to the most exploitative and dangerous forms of labor, millions of women across the globe work in conditions that are, in some cases, just as bad.   As a result of globalization, poor women and especially women of color are forced to labor at factories on their feet for sometimes eighteen hours a day. Many of these women are deceived into thinking that factory work will be their gateway to freedom and mobility outside the home, but instead find that they are indebted to their employers and forced to work until they suffer from life-crippling health conditions.

Being in New York, its hard not to do a little retail therapy and living right next to Fifth Avenue is extremely dangerous, especially given the fact that we live two blocks away from a two-story Forever 21…


Browsing through the stacks and piles of tank-tops, sweaters, jeans, and dresses, I do not even register the massive amount of labor that went into producing each article of clothing. The cheap, disposability of the clothes completely contrasts with the long, back-breaking hours that women spend manufacturing them.  We have distanced ourselves quite literally (the women making these clothes are thousands of miles away) from the exploitation that goes into creating that $10 t-shirt, so that we can shop without any moral reservations and continue to feed this system of excessive consumption.


It is unfair to just blame Forever 21 for contributing to the exploitation of women overseas, now every time I use my iPhone to navigate the city, bend down to tie my shoes, or throwaway an empty coffee cup, I realize that I am benefitting from another woman’s exploitation. How many hours were spent making my shoes? And why did I pay $50 for a pair of sneakers when the women making them were paid less than two dollars for the entire day? How many fumes did the women working at plastic factories inhale just to create cups to supply my coffee habit?  Most women in technology factories lose their eyesight at age twenty-five from spending fourteen hours a day staring through a microscope connecting wires for microchips. These microchips will only be broken, lost, or disposed of within a few months since we constantly damage or upgrade our technological devices. Cheap, exploitative labor is so entrenched into our nation’s economy that we do not even realize the horrific consequences to our excessive consumption and instead turn a blind eye to the working conditions behind that “made in china” or “made in mexico” label.

During the industrial revolution in America, immigrant women received minimal pay and were responsible for laboring in dangerous sweatshops for long hours.  The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York demonstrates the terrible working conditions that were a daily reality for most women. And before the turn of 19th century, enslaved women were responsible for creating garments. Our nation has always relied upon cheap labor and exploitative practices to fuel our economy.  Today, we simply export that labor overseas and traffik individuals illegally to provide goods and services.  Stopping the age-old practice of cheap, exploitative labor will require extensive and dramatic shifts in policy. Since both witnessing and experiencing the massive consumer culture present in New York, I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that I may never fully be able to escape contributing to another woman’s exploitation.

I want to make change.

What I really can’t get over is how NYC is really the perfect backdrop for the Moxie program.  The broad issues that we discuss – oppression, poverty, capitalism – and the more specific issues – racism, sexism, and homophobia – all manifest themselves into everyday interactions and encounters more clearly in the city.   Since the eye-opening Moxie seminars, it’s difficult for me to walk anywhere without having at least one reminder of either my privilege or my lack of privilege.  I have become increasingly, almost hyper-aware, of my identity, or should I say, the label that society posts on me – white, female and heterosexual –  as I have maneuvered throughout the city.


While I’m sure we could discuss these issues anywhere (I mean we do in the oh so exciting city of Durham haha), I love how we are both discussing and living them at the same time in New York – the birthplace of so much culture.  When the Supreme Court announced that gay marriage would finally be legal in all fifty states, two days later I was marching down Fifth Avenue wearing a flower in my hair and waving a rainbow flag. When Ada assigned us an excerpt to read from Merle Hoffman’s Intimate Wars, a few days later we took the train down to Jamaica Queens and visited Merle’s revolutionary and life-changing reproductive clinic, Choices, and we even got to meet Merle herself!  And finally, just when the newest season of Orange is the New Black came out, we went to see a Broadway play in which one of the actresses from the show was in it!  While the last one was definitely just a pure coincidence, it still illustrates how the city and the Moxie program itself never fail to amaze and surprise me.


Although the city is exhilarating, it is also daunting.  Every day on my five minute walk back home from Union Square, I always see new people, a new protest, or a new street performance. Each subway ride serves as almost a microcosm for the world as people from all different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities, suffer together in that ten minute ride.  I am struggling to comprehend the enormity and complexity of New York and thus humankind as a whole.  During the Moxie program, I have finally been awakened to so many systemic issues that need to be addressed. I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with many individuals who are dedicating their lives to helping those who need assistance advocating for themselves. My supervisor Lynn spends countless hours away at different conferences educating the legal community about domestic violence.  She has written groundbreaking articles that have exposed the horrific effects that domestic violence has on the neurology of a child.  In her office, she also has a picture standing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg…like what? And then I met Merle Hoffman, who gave women reproductive autonomy when she opened up Choices, which is the largest women’s medical facility in the United States.  She has tirelessly provided women with much needed reproductive care and has fought against much opposition, including several death threats! And we also met Tim, who advocates for elderly members of New York’s LGBTQ community through his work at SAGE, which is a LGBTQ retirement center. These are just three of the many activists and amazing people I have met so far during Moxie and they have inspired me to want to make a change as well.  I want to give a voice to the voiceless and I want to fix the system, but as I have realized since coming to New York, I have become cognizant of my relative insignificance so far on this Earth. It is one thing to be educated about the issues and another to actually do something. Like those who I have met so far during Moxie, I too want to be significant.


Oh, and shout out to our fearless leaders Ada and Shannan!


We’re Not In Durham Anymore…

I’m going to start this first blog post out by summarizing my DukeEngage experience so far in ten activities:

  1. Saw a Broadway show, Fun Home
  2. Walked 12 miles in 1 day
  3. Read through 100+ articles on domestic violence and intimate partner violence
  4. Went to Toys R Us (twice)
  5. Rode a subway by myself for the first time
  6. Visited a Women’s Reproductive Health Clinic (Choices) and met Merle Hoffman
  7. Went to the Museum of Sex (didn’t even know this existed!)
  8. Got Ice-cream/ Fro-yo from 4 different places
  9. Walked around Bryant Park
  10.  Saw Laverne Cox

And we’ve only been here for less than two weeks…


While I am still in culture shock and in complete awe of the fact that I am in New York City and because of this I am often slowing down our pack of Moxies (sorry girls!) as we travel around, taking my time looking at everything and everyone I see, I have also grown more aware of my identity as a woman and have viewed many of my experiences through my ever-developing feminist lens.

I am going to begin with what you probably weren’t expecting me to write: I’ve had many encounters so far in the city that I initially thought to myself “hey, it’s not so bad being a woman!”


I open my wallet to pull out my credit card to pay for my Starbucks, searching frantically, I realize I left it in my other bag. Oh shit. And as I look up to apologize profusely to the cashier because she already rang up my order and sharpied up my cup for the drink, she nods to the guy behind me and says “he got it – don’t worry”.  Wow. That was really nice. Would he have spotted me if I were a man? Don’t think so… On the Moxie scavenger hunt, we needed to take a picture in front of the Feminist Press, but the office was closed. Batting our lashes at the security guard, he let us into the building and guided us upstairs to our prized landmark and even took the picture for us (we really wanted to win).  I kept thinking that if we were men and not cute, college girls would he have been so nice as to help us score those extra four scavenger hunt points? Probably not.  And finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the random nice guy who was walking next to me and offered to help me carry my five whole foods shopping bags right before I wrote this blog.  After each of these instances I thought: “hey, being a woman isn’t so bad!”


Although the simple, almost normalized gesture for a man to hold open a door for me is certainly very considerate and much appreciated, it is interesting to wonder where that act of consideration stems from.  Why are women considered incapable of holding open a door? Why do men feel like they need to assist women with well, everything?


Yes, there are certainly “perks” from being considered the weaker sex – free coffee, help on a scavenger hunt, and a seat on the subway –  but if these “perks” stem from an ideology in which men should control women and regard them as lesser, then are they really perks at all? Perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical and just accept and appreciate these acts of kindness, but what if the motive for this unasked-for “kindness” stems from the very same reasoning that is preventing millions upon millions of women from being able to make decisions about their own reproductive choices?  Why are primarily male-controlled legislatures creating laws that are prohibiting women from determining when or if they want to carry their children?


While being offered a seat on the subway or walking through an opened door may seem like petty examples of male dominance that are not worth lamenting over, as I have learned through both the Moxie seminars and working as an intern for the National Judicial Education Program at Legal Momentum, the male desire for power, control, and the objectification of women tragically manifests most clearly in domestic violence.  In just my first week and a half interning, I have already spent hours pouring over materials discussing intimate partner violence, teen dating violence and domestic violence.  I’m excited to continue to expand my knowledge on domestic violence and to advocate for battered women by writing materials about intimate partner violence for judges to read and hopefully apply in the courtroom.

I have never had such an amazingly packed week!  I can’t wait to see what other experiences await us Moxies – who have become like my sisters in less than two weeks. So, in addition to all the enriching and exciting activities that will help me to sharpen and develop my feminist lens, I will end with just ten of the MANY things that I want to do before August and hopefully I can get to all of them:

  1. Visit the Statue of Liberty
  2. March in a Gay Pride Parade
  3. Wake up everyday at 7 am for my Barre class
  4. Try EVERY dish of ice cream at the Big Gay Ice Cream Parlor
  5. Walk around Central Park
  6. Be able to navigate the city (google-map free)
  7. Eat at the Hardrock Cafe
  8. Go to the top of the Empire State Building
  9. Ride on the Staten Island Ferry
  10. Meet a NJB haha 🙂

The Feminist Lens

Lauren is a junior at Duke who will be working with Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program.

Hi, my name is Lauren Katz and ever since I decided to take a women’s studies class, I have never stopped thinking about how the patriarchy is so pervasive and how women need to take over the world.  Ok, I’m slightly over exaggerating of course, but in all seriousness, deciding tomen's studies add a women’s studies minor (and hopefully a major) to my already crowded academic schedule at Duke has been both a blessing and a curse because it has caused me to look at the world through my newly acquired “feminist lens” that I hope to further develop over the summer as a Moxie.

What is this “feminist lens” you may ask? Let me give you some examples. Since I’ve been at home in Chapel Hell (I mean Hill hehe), I’ve spent a lot of time with my little sister Helena who is 10 (and the cutest kid in the entire world). Anyways, the other day, while we were acting out scenes with Barbie dolls using our “valley girl” impersonations, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of several articles I had read about how Barbie ingrains stereotypes of femininity into young girls.

Then, as I am dribeyving her to a play-date,  the first song to come on the radio is Beyonce’s Partition.  But wait… as I listen closely to the lyrics, I am disappointed. How can Beyonce, hailed world wide as a “feminist,” have a song with explicit lyrics that maintain that a woman’s sole purpose is to “please her man.”  Yes. I apologize America, I did just criticize the Queen B herself.   Of course Beyonce has songs that encourage female empowerment such as Flawless and Run the World, but some of her other music seems to completely go against her feminist agenda.

Alright, the next song is Robin Thicke’s thickeBlurred Lines.  Song? More like rape anthem.  Thicke basically advocates for men to take advantage of intoxicated women. Extremely popular songs like these that are constantly played on the radio help to objectify and sexualize women as “lesser”. Perhaps one in five college aged women is sexually assaulted because society encourages men to be sexually aggressive. Ugh. These are songs I use to like too, blessing and a curse, I told you.

Even though feminism, at its core, is the belief that women should be treated equal to men, there are SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES of feminism and I don’t know which one is right and which one I want to identify with.  I mean, there’s liberal feminism, radical feminism, sex-radical feminism, the list goes on and on.  Of course I believe that men shouldn’t control the choices that women make.  But I also love fashion and putting on make-up! Does this somehow make me a lesser feminist?  And yes, I want to be treated as an equal, but if he doesn’t pay on the first date, no way am I calling him again.  Do I only like dressing up and believe that the man should “treat” because I personally think that is proper behavior or because society tells me that it is? I am pulling-hair-out-of-my head conflicted and I hope that this summer helps to clarify all of the questions I have about the society that I live in.

In order to create equality between men and women, it begins with changing the laws that govern our society.  That is why I wanted to intern at Legal Momentum, the oldest non-profit legal defense fund for women.  Legal Momentum has been at the forefront of many legal and policy changes that have greatly advanced female equality, such as the Violence Against Women Act, which was a landmark piece of legislation that brought crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault into the national spotlight.  Over the summer,  I will be drafting materials to educate judges about sexual assault, teen dating violence, and intimate partner violence, all extremely pertinent and tragically prevalent issues that I care deeply about.  This summer I hope to better articulate my definition of feminism, learn more about gender issues, and gain experience working at a law firm…it’s going to be a challenge and I can’t wait!