Closing Time

My train home to Philadelphia was scheduled to leave Penn Station at 8 pm. I planned to hop on the subway two blocks from the NYU dorm and take the 2 or 3 train two stops uptown to the station—it would take me about 10 minutes. I left the dorm at 7:30 pm and was walking toward the subway and I realized it would be difficult to maneuver my 50-pound luggage down multiple flights of stairs. So, I decided to take a cab to get me 20 blocks north of where I was. In the thick New York traffic on 6th Ave, I arrived to 33rd street in the cab at 7:47 pm. I was cutting it very close. The cab turned left onto 33rd to get to the station on 7th Ave, and the street looked like a parking lot.

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I learned on Day 1 of being in New York to never underestimate the amount of time it takes to get somewhere. I didn’t, I just had a sudden change of plans when I realized the subway wouldn’t be feasible. Maybe I should have thought it through a little better.

At 7:50 pm, I quickly paid the cab driver, jumped out of the car and sprinted the final two blocks to the station with my luggage trailing behind me. I apologize to whomever I may have run over with my barreling suitcase in my wake.

I arrived to the Amtrak board at 7:58 pm to see that my 8 pm train was the only train delayed 15 minutes.

Exhale. Deep inhale. Exhale.

I chugged a bottle of water and wiped the sweat from the back of my neck. I had just completed my last New York task. Next stop: Philadelphia.

When it was time to board the train (which actually was 25 minutes late, just to poke fun at me), I rolled my luggage onto the escalator. I rolled it a bit too far and it started to fall forward, off the escalator step. The man behind me reached in front and grabbed my bag to help me. I thanked him, and he insisted he hold it for the next 20 seconds down the escalator. I told him it wasn’t necessary, that I could hold my bag now that it was actually on the step, and he asked me if I was sure. I said yes.

I wondered how I should react to this. Should I be outraged that a man doesn’t think I’m capable of standing next to my own suitcase on an escalator scale? Is that too extreme? He was just trying to help. In this moment, I thought back to the Moxie reading on chivalry that we discussed on the day we arrived in New York. That man was conditioned by society to help a woman carrying a heavy object. I can’t blame him for wanting to help me when my bag was clearly falling—I actually really appreciated it— but once it was back on the step, I was fine. I would have also appreciated him recognizing that rather than insisting he carry it for me. The most frustrating part is, he didn’t even realize he was implying I was incapable of handling it myself.

Structural oppression is everywhere. I knew this before I spent two months living and working in New York. What I didn’t realize though was how structural oppression sneaks up on you. It’s concealed in gestures, words, street corners, school curricula and governmental policies. It often hides from those who are oppressed, and even sometimes from its oppressors.

As the communications intern at Hollaback!, I read the many personal accounts of street harassment victims. Many of these victims are aware of the deep-rooted sexism, racism, classism and homophobia of their oppressors’ words and actions. But some are not, and are simply angry that someone bothered them on the street.

Not everyone has the language and skills I gained from Moxie this summer to speak about oppression. If you can’t pinpoint it, how do you recognize that it’s even there? And if you don’t know it’s there, how can it be changed?

These are a few questions I’ve been left to think about.

On the 90-minute train ride home, I felt I was being transported from one world to another. To pass the time, I mindlessly listened to Beyoncé’s newest album. However, I became more alert while I was listening to “***Flawless.” Beyoncé uses a clip from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk in her song, “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” I’ve listened to the song dozens of times, but this was the first time this line the words sunk in.

I thought back to the feminism chart we created when we visited the group of high school girls who were studying social activism. We had a lot more words and phrases to define feminism than just “social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” A few the phrases on our list that resonated with me were analysis of power, uplifting the marginalized and intersectionality. Chimamanda’s definition of feminist is just one of many interpretations of the word.

Just a few things I was thinking about during my uneventful train ride home.

I reflected on my summer in New York. I remembered getting out of the car on W. 13th Street on June 7th, unable to find the door to my dorm (in my defense, NYU dorms are very poorly marked for security reasons). Within the first few days, people on the street started asking me for directions. It was nice to know I looked the part, but I had to admit my secret of being a newcomer when I couldn’t be of service. During my last week in New York, a man stopped me in the Nevins subway station to ask how far Fulton Street was. Without blinking, I told him it was four stops on the 4 or 5 train. The next day, at Union Square Station, someone asked me for directions to Bryant Park and I told them how to get to the correct subway station, which train to take and where to get off. And my favorite story: during my last weekend in New York, someone asked me which side of the subway to get off. I’m really glad I was there to point the person in the correct direction, because the side with the doors opening wouldn’t have been a clear enough indicator.

Here are just a few of many things I will take away from this summer:

  1. The Moxie Project reinforced many of my pre-existing beliefs. It shed light on the importance of the relationship between feminism and social activism.
  2. I can confidently say I no longer feel as new in New York as when I first arrived.
  3. My ability to verbally communicate my thoughts and opinions has definitely improved. I have a voice and I’m not afraid to use it in an outspoken group.
  4. After participating in Moxie, I find myself being much more analytical and critical of both my personal world and the global world.
  5. I have started to think about how I want to incorporate social activism into my life beyond New York City.
  6. I have been learning how to be a better ally to many marginalized communities.
  7. I’m heading into my junior year at Duke with some new friendships, built on the foundations of common interests, honesty and respect.

Thankyou DukeEngage, Hollaback!, and the Moxie Project leaders and participants for an incredible and unforgettable summer in the Big Apple. To the Moxies—can’t wait to see all of you back on campus! Until then, I’ll be passing the time reading The Sexual Politics of Meat.



Listen Up

I’ve never been the loudest one in the group. My parents joke about the time my older brother went away to summer camp for the first time when I was 8 and they found out I could speak. In discussions with the Moxies, I sometimes feel like I just can’t get a word in. It’s not natural for me to speak without thinking through what I’m about to say, and in the time I take to pause, someone else is already speaking.
Whether it’s in a conversation with three people or a large discussion, I tend to take a back seat and listen. I can go 15 minutes in a conversation without realizing that I haven’t actually said anything. But it doesn’t feel that way to me. I’m hardly a passive participant. It doesn’t feel like I’m not contributing to the conversation because I am getting so much out of simply listening to others and internalizing. This is how I learn and process.
I learned how to listen at an early age to my talkative brother.

I learned how to listen at an early age to my talkative brother.

As a college student, you are constantly hearing that you need to find your passion. You should be passionate about what you study and you should be passionate about the work that you choose to go into. When half of the class comes into the first year pre-med and is dead set on their life plans (although of course this quickly changes for many), it’s difficult to be the one to admit that you don’t quite have it figured out yet. I’ve had people ask me what my passion is and I’m not quite sure how to answer. Once, I came up with the best answer I could think of at the time and have since been sticking with it. My passion is people.
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What does that mean? Is that even a passion? When I say my passion is people, I mean I love listening to people. Getting to know a person is one of the most exciting and intriguing things to me. Everyone has a different story and perspective. I want to take note of the names they mention so I know who they are in a future story. I listen to the way they pronounce certain words that I’m not familiar with and learn what they mean. From each person I listen to, I am able to better understand others and myself. I am able to analyze, assess, and learn. If a person chooses to seek me out and asks me to listen to them, I value this and take it as an opportunity to grow.
I owe a lot of what I know about intersectionality to listening to my friends’ experiences. Coming from a predominantly white neighborhood, I was exposed to much more difference than I had ever been used to upon coming to Duke. I immediately befriended people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, and financial statuses. I must admit, I didn’t quite understand how much of a post-racial society we don’t live in until I started hearing what my POC friends had to say. I’ve listened to quite a few rants about “white people” and am able to better understand how the intricacies of race play into everyday life.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people don’t take the time or put in the effort to pronounce words or names from different languages and/or cultures correctly. Because I have an American name, I don’t have to deal with people constantly mispronouncing my name, but a lot of friends at Duke deal with this on a daily basis. I have several friends who go by nicknames that they don’t particularly like but it’s just easier for people to pronounce. Others go by the “white” pronunciation of their name. This is so frustrating to me. In my experience, if you listen to the pronunciation of the name just a few times and say it to yourself, you will learn it! It’s not that difficult, and it makes all the difference for the person whose name you are no longer butchering.
Why is this relevant?
Because through listening to someone, you can understand their experience and change your actions. Because you have the power to be a more culturally aware and mindful person. Because you have the ability to learn and expose yourself to difference if you choose.

Yes, I’m quiet, but I’m going to apply what I learn one day to create change.

Listening is so important, but that’s just the beginning. What I listen to drives my actions and motivates me to be a conscientious person. This is critical in the advocacy work many of us are doing this summer, especially when the target population is so diverse. You cannot begin to understand someone else’s experience unless you pay attention and listen. Sometimes, even the smallest amount of effort can make a world’s difference.

Through a Critical Lens

While I have been trying my best to keep my head down and act like I know what I’m doing in this city, I went on the ultimate touristy excursion last week to the Empire State Building. I must say, the $32 I paid to get to the 86th floor was definitely worth it. The view was nothing short of incredible–each side of the outdoor observatory deck offered a different perspective on the wondrous and vast New York City.

From my view about 1,000 feet up in the air, I gazed in awe at the thousands of buildings and millions of lights. The tall skyscrapers of course jumped out at me and were easy to focus on; the people and cars were tiny specks that quickly disappeared into the night.

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Please bear with me as I extrapolate this experience to come up with a forced metaphor. A special shout out to Abby for encouraging my creativity.

Let’s relate this to capitalist patriarchy. The perspective from the observatory deck of the Empire State Building was a zoomed out view of the entire system. Everything seems very impressive and overwhelming. It looks like money and power. Of course, there are problems with this system, but you can’t pinpoint them from so far away. You cannot see what’s happening on an individual level and how what’s happening is contributing to the system. It’s very easy to look at the big picture, recognize that it is very clearly functioning (because we would not have such an incredible view of capital America) and to keep moving. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Thus, these issues continue to infiltrate society.

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I had the opportunity to meet up with a friend the other day. I visited her in Central Park in the Upper West side where she was born and raised. Now that I have been in New York for a month, I had several questions for her regarding her experience growing up here. I asked her when she first experienced street harassment. She said she was catcalled starting at a very young age and it didn’t make much sense to her. I then asked her how she handled this, and she said she just shrugged it off and always ignored it. She even said it was never really a big deal, although it happened frequently. My friend also told me never to respond to street harassment because it could result in violence.

I didn’t know how to respond to this. I’ve found it difficult to speak to people in my life about the work I’ve been doing because most are not as engrossed in the feminist and structural issues we have been discussing for the past few weeks. Do I go on a rant about why street harassment is a form of sexual harassment and how this perpetuates rape culture in our society? If you haven’t met me, rants aren’t really my style. Do I explain how street harassment is a way men control us? To most, I would probably sound like a crazy feminist.

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In this specific situation, I simply told my friend about the work I’ve been doing at Hollaback! and how our organization hopes to end street harassment. I briefly told her about our discussions about sexual terrorism and how when we step out on the street, we have an expectation that no one will bother us. I said you can respond to street harassment if you feel so inclined, as long as you feel safe in the particular situation.

My friend found some validity in what I was saying and the conversation continued. However, I realized that her trivial mentality with regards to street harassment is one that I admittedly had just a few years ago. I didn’t understand how the man on the street telling me I’m sexy perpetuates our patriarchical society.

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Every day that I walk around the city, or even campus, I am witnessing examples of injustice, whether it be harassment on a subway platform or discrimination in a classroom. As I become more aware of these issues, I am able to recognize them more and more and realize why they are a problem. In my everyday life, I am zoomed in on the sexism I experience and other forms of discrimination I witness. To fully understand how these examples are microcosms of what’s actually going on in society at large, I have realized that I need zoom out. I must (metaphorically, of course) head to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. I need to take what I have experienced at ground level with me to connect the different vantage points. While it feels like such a long way down, it’s just a quick elevator ride up. You’ll see it too–just don’t let the millions of lights blind you.


It’s An Emergency

I’m glad to say I’ve been settling into NYC life fairly easily and seamlessly. Things are starting to feel familiar. The hundreds of people packed into a narroHudsonw subway car reminds me of the C1 ride during a class change. Running along the Hudson make me feel like I’m running on path along the river at home. The screeching and bustling of 14th Street that my apartment overlooks is becoming background noise. I’ve learned I can only buy at the grocery store what I am able to carry back five blocks to my apartment (which means I need to make special trips for watermelon, but it’s worth it). I even cracked the code that is the laundry payment system.

Yesterday morning was a typical one: April and Raissa knocked on my and Sai’s door a few minutes before we were actually ready to leave, we rushed out the door and into the concrete jungle and were on our way to Union Square Station. On the walk to the station, I chatted with Raissa while April and Sai trailed a few feet behind. Our conversation was briefly interrupted by ear-piercing sirens as an ambulance zoomed by, weaving through the dense traffic on 14th Street. Raissa looked at me and said, “I find the sight of cars moving out of the way for an ambulance so beautiful.”

I paused for a few moments to think about what she had said to me. I responded with a question, asking if it was because she knew someone who was suffering was about to be helped. Raissa answered my question and the conversation switched to a different topic.

I had never thought about a loud, bustling ambulance as a beautiful sight, but I understand it now. An ambulance is sent to someone who immediately needs help. For the vehicle to get to where it has to go, it requires the compliance of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to stop what they are doing for just a brief moment and to clear a path. These people are unaffected by the situation to which the ambulance is answering and have no personal connection to it. They may think to themselves “someone is hurt” or “someone may be dying” and move out of the way. Regardless, they create a route that potentially will give someone an opportunity to be helped.

As I volunteered as Choices this past Saturday, I witnessed the stark contrast between the situation described above and what occurs when the protestors come. Each Saturday, people who are anti-abortion, known as “antis,” arrive outside the clinic in Queens by about 6:40 a.m. in anticipation of the women who will be arriving when the doors open at 7 a.m. As a Choices escort, I threw on a white coat and joined the protestors in lining the streets, awaiting the patients. My responsibility as an escort was to ensure the safety of the women as they entered the building. It sounds like a simple task, but it took some self-control, courage and the willingness to be slightly physical with the antis who were forcefully trying to hand women pamphlets and restrain them from entering the clinic. My years of experience playing basketball and lacrosse came in handy as I was playing defense on the antis, inserting myself between them and the patients.

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Just as thousands of Americans create a path daily for an ambulance to reach a person in need, I helped create a path for women to have safe access to healthcare. However, no one is physically restraining the drivers from clearing the way for someone in need. While these women entering the clinic were not necessarily emergency cases, the oppressive conditions in which they are entering urgently needs to be addressed and changed.

Due to these circumstances worldwide, women are hurt. Women are dying.

Who is going to help clear a path for them?

First Impressions

I stepped out of the car after my two-hour drive to New York and could not believe that it would be my home for the next two months. I have never been the hugest fan of cities, but after just three days in the city, I am glad to say I really like living in New York so far. Everything feels reachable and accessible. Everyone seems to be walking the streets with a purpose. While I feel like a fish out of water, I’m trying not to make it too obvious that I’m from out of town.

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My first commute to work was surprisingly eventful. The Moxie who is interning with me at Hollaback!, April, and I were walking to Union Square Station where we passed someone who I knew from home (it’s quite a small world) and then we spotted Brooke Shields. Not bad for the first day in the Big Apple.

What also occurred on this short walk to the station was unsurprising. April and I passed two construction workers on the sidewalk. One looked at us, moving his eyes up and down our bodies, and said “hi there,” while the other one said “las guapas” in a taunting voice. We ignored the comments and kept walking, but I was thinking to myself, “just because you’re harassing us in another language doesn’t mean we can’t understand it.” This catcalling experience was certainly not the first, nor the last, that I will encounter during my time in New York and beyond. An experience like this makes me angry, and also makes me thankful that I will have the opportunity to intern at Hollaback! this summer.

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In my past three days at Hollaback!, I have been in awe of how a small idea grew into such a successful, meaningful and massive project. Founded by seven individuals in 2005, Hollaback! was originally not a non-profit organizations, but was an outlet for women and LGBTQ individuals to share their street harassment stories. However, the executive director, Emily May, decided to take her initiative to the next level and start a non-profit. The organization has since grown immensely, with many national and international chapters.

Today at Hollaback!, we went to the Father’s Day Pledge to End Domestic Violence. A small group of about 75 people gathered outside Manhattan’s City Hall, many holding signs from their organizations that promote an end to gender-based violence. While I held the Hollaback! sign in the hot sun for about an hour, I observed the crowd of people—primarily black and latino men—who were fighting for gender equity. Attending this rally reinforced for me that feminists come in all different genders, races, ethnicities and walks of life.

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Here I Am

Julia is a rising junior at Duke who will be interning at Hollaback! this summer.

I never considered myself a feminist. Feminism was not a topic that was regularly talked about amongst my family and friends from my suburb of Philadelphia. I remember listening to a conversation my peers were having about feminism in high school where one asked the other if he was a feminist. He replied, “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equal rights activist.” I was content with his answer, and I decided to deem myself an “equal rights activist” as well. After all, the made-up term seemed to encompass more than just equal rights for women, which I appreciated.

During the first week of class in my first year at Duke, I remember attending Women’s Collective, an all-women discussion group that meets at the Women’s Center once a week to discuss gender inequities on campus. I decided to go to the meeting because two of my friends from my pre-orientation program were also going. Well before I was subjected to my first round of midterms, I was exposed to the gender inequities that permeate every aspect of campus life. I admittedly became pretty nervous about Duke after listening to the stories these women told about feeling uncomfortable in the classroom, social scene and beyond. However, I decided to remain positive and told myself I would have to experience Duke for myself before I formed any opinions on these gender-related issues.

Two years later, I’m a rising junior majoring in psychology and minoring in global health, and I’m participating in the Moxie project this summer in New York City. I’ll be working for Hollaback!, an organization whose mission is to end street harassment. While it may seem trivial to some, street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that affects millions of women and LGBTQ people.

As a Philadelphia native, I’ve made the two-hour drive up to NYC dozens of times. Most of these were day trips, and I don’t think I’ve ever stayed for more than 48 hours. The noise, the pollution, the people, the cars, the lights – I’ve always liked to take them in small doses. This summer, I’ll be putting my love of the serene Duke Forest behind me and embracing the concrete jungle for two months. I’m eager to finally get to know the city that never sleeps and navigate the grid. And I’ll be sure to learn the quickest route to my workplace and to Central Park!

How did I get here?

As a pre-health student, I always desire the opportunity to take a break from the chemistry textbooks. After spending two years in college, I have become enraged that Duke students are not surprised when they hear the story of the latest sexual harassment or assault victim. When I am in a room full of my 90 sorority sisters, I am terrified by the prospect that about 22 of these women will experience gender violence before they graduate. As women’s issues are becoming more and more present in my life, my determination to take action increases exponentially. I am ready to truly understand complex feminist issues by learning from experts in the field and partaking in social activism.

My name is Julia Carp and I think I’m a feminist.