Finding my inner Moxie

After reading an article almost a year ago about what it’s really like to escort at an abortion clinic, I started to believe two things: Escorting is the noblest act that one can do for another person, and I could never do it. I based the former conviction on the selflessness and courage that I gleaned from the article’s account of clinic escorting; I based the latter conviction on the softheartedness and sensitivity that have comprised my personality for as long as I can remember. As luck would have it, both convictions were wrong (or perhaps, slightly mislead).

The Moxies visited Choices Women’s Medical Center during our first week in NYC, and some of us escorted the following day. The decision-making process that I underwent before opting to set my alarm for 5 a.m. the next morning was nothing short of grueling. I questioned and re-questioned whether I was “ready” to escort, whether I had the chops, and honestly, whether I would burst into tears at my first confrontation with a pro-life protester. These concerns rested on long-standing beliefs about myself, the implications of which The Moxie Project has helped me understand. This particular lack of confidence, coupled with the certainty that I’d eschew logical reasoning and respond to a difference of opinion with tears, stems from the gendered qualities I was socialized to have—care, tact, poise—as well as the qualities I wasn’t socialized to have—nerve, audacity, strength. I needed moxie, and Moxie delivered.

The protesters had beaten us to the clinic, and Un-empowered Lauren immediately felt the shock and anxiety that she had expected. I observed the protesters’ lack of consideration for the patients’ comfort with disbelief; the care I mentioned earlier transformed from gendered sensitivity to resolute anger. With the encouragement of the other Moxies, Empowered Lauren offered patients smiles and support. I felt like a strong individual gaining even more strength from the community of escorts who were doing the same thing.

all you need is love

Having explained why the latter conviction was mislead, you might be wondering why I feel now that the former was, too. I chose to focus this blog post on my escorting experience more than two months later because I have done quite a bit of reflecting on the meaning of “empowerment” since returning home from NYC. If you had asked me to pinpoint a volunteer experience that signified empowerment prior to The Moxie Project, I would have answered clinic escorting. But you can’t reduce empowerment to a single action, just like you can’t reduce feminism to a single shift in mindset. I left Moxie feeling empowered, but that feeling developed over the course of two months of reading, living on my own (with seven friends), and learning the importance of incremental change from my supervisors at NJEP. Moreover, harnessing strength in your beliefs and using them as a shield against others’ opinions can feel a lot like empowerment, but “true empowerment” (if such a thing exists) is a more collaborative and trying process than I could have ever imagined.

For what it’s worth, escorting at Choices was one of my favorite Moxie experiences. I felt that I was truly giving something back to the community that hosted me for two months. This brief foray into clinic escorting opened a door for me, showing me the myriad ways that I had the potential to serve both as an individual and as part of a community of people who care. I sincerely hope that more people experience this empowerment and work to create these experiences for others.

Nude or Naked?

In the West, the white female body simultaneously symbolizes promiscuity and purity, Liberty and docility. It is the body at the foreground of the women’s suffrage movement (due to middle class white women’s exclusion of other bodies) and in the background of Fortune-500 companies. It is equality in the books and inequality in the real world. It is my body and it isn’t my body.

Half-Western European, half-Cuban, I am sexualized as a white female with “Latin spice”. I have smiled shyly at burly strangers on airplanes when they have offered to lift my carry-on suitcase into the overhead bin. I have kept my cool as men have asked me to “prove” I have a Spanish accent. I have heard my peers question both my merit and my ethnicity when they told friends of mine that I only got into Duke because I am a Hispanic female. I experience the world as a female first, a Hispanic second, and a ~transcendent human being~ third, while my male peers experience it in the reverse order.

Representations of the white female body are inescapable. I went to four museums this week, and each represented the female body in a slightly different way. The Museum of Sex offered mostly heterosexual portrayals of nineteenth-century pornography, animal sex, and a history of sexual objects, all of which related the (mostly white) female body-as-sex-object to another sexual object or a male sexual partner. The first floor of the museum, a “sex shop” that almost exclusively sold embellishments to the female body-as-sex-object, was no better.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I saw three distinct portrayals of nude white female bodies that I will describe below.

  1. The Demure Enchantress

Lehmann’s “Study of a Female Nude”

In Henri Lehmann’s Study of a Female Nude, a white woman bends over her partially covered legs to conceal her nude body, revealing the curvature of her back and one of her breasts while gazing directly at the spectator. The female body is portrayed as an object of shame, to be hidden as much as possible, but it shames only her; the spectator and the artist can enjoy it as a sexual object. It is difficult to glean much from her facial expression other than her outward gaze because she covers most of her face with her arm. Lehmann has deprived her of internality by shielding her expression and rendering her as a subject vulnerable to the spectator’s gaze.

Fun fact: Lehmann described the subject of this painting in a letter to his mistress as one of the “four most beautiful girls you could have as a model in Rome.” Thanks for your input, Lehmann. We don’t really care what you think.

  1. The Hairy Venus
Courbet's "The Woman in the Waves"

Courbet’s “The Woman in the Waves”

Gustave Courbet’s The Woman in the Waves invokes Cabanel’s Birth of Venus and adds a little bit of armpit hair, subverting the image of the hairless nubile woman and representing the subject of the painting as more “human” than other nude subjects I have seen. Courbet’s attention to detail in his portrayal of the white female body is another refreshing departure from the way white females used to be painted.

Fun fact: Keeping one’s body hair might be an act of feminist resistance and power for some (white) women, but not all of them. Check out this article about what shaving means for women of color.

  1. The Apathetic Bather

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Edgar Degas represented nude female women in their performance of daily activities, like bathing. The comparison between Degas’s Woman Drying Her Foot and the nude representations I’ve already mentioned is just laughable—the female body is not made to symbolize anything except what it is, at least on the surface.

Fun fact: Degas produced a series of brothel scenes in the 1870s that portrayed the female workers as apathetic and the male clients as unsure of themselves, returning some of the power that male dominance has taken away to the sex workers.

Degas's "Woman Drying Her Foot"

Degas’s “Woman Drying Her Foot”

In his book Ways of Seeing, John Berger says that “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.” I couldn’t agree more with his analysis in the context of Western art. Degas embraces the physicality of the white female body while maintaining the humanity of his subjects. His sketches show a deep attention to the study of the characters his paintings and sculptures portray. In his nude studies of some of his sculptures, he stripped his subjects down to better understand them, not to simplify them as sexual objects. While Lehmann and Courbet appropriate the white female body for their art, Degas appreciates the white female body and explores it in motion.


Framing is everything

Content Warning: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault

Searching “female perpetrators of intimate partner sexual assault male victim” on Google yields pages of results, most of which prove to be dead ends. They enclose information about male-perpetrated sexual assault or female-perpetrated child abuse, but sexual assault/abuse perpetrated by a female against her male partner doesn’t exist in Google’s foreground. If it doesn’t exist on Google, how can organizations like NJEP at Legal Momentum prove that it exists in real life? The cyber-invisibility of these crimes mirrors their societal invisibility, which results in significant underreporting, victim-blaming, and incredulity. If hours of Google-searching will not suffice to convince Google that intimate partner sexual abuse/assault (IPSA) can be perpetrated by and harm anyone, then it’s no wonder humans struggle to figure it out, too.

I have never seen more clearly before interning at NJEP this summer that framing is everything.

After submitting my search, Google most likely picked up on these key terms: “female” and “male”, “perpetrators,” “intimate partner sexual assault,” and “victim.” It presented an array of articles, cases, and resource links about IPSA, a crime involving females and males, perpetrators and victims, in multiple configurations. The results certainly emphasized one configuration in particular, though. To understand why, let’s take a moment to think like Google.

Let's think like Google.


What comes to mind when you hear the words “sexual assault”? Who commits sexual assault most frequently? Who is most frequently sexually assaulted?


If “campus” or “stranger in the bushes” comes to mind in response to the first question, you’re not alone. If you answer “straight men” or “men of color” to the second question, you’re not alone. If you answer “straight women” or “white women” to the third question, you’re not alone. These stereotypes can’t sustain themselves on their own—they need help from the media and commercial advertising to perpetuate inaccurate notions of sexual assault and how it is perpetrated. Even our syntax can influence how and onto whom readers cast blame. I am tempted to blame Google for my many fruitless searches, but I know deep down that like stereotypes, Google can’t sustain itself or think on its own—it requires complex algorithms and a vast scope of online material to operate the way it does. Humans create the frames through which we understand our world; technology only helps us do it more quickly and widely.

Non-profit organizations do a great deal to replace this widespread ignorance with knowledge about the realities of IPSA and domestic violence, but they are tasked with finding truths among the societal perceptions to which they, too, are privy. Their findings inform the work they do and for whom they do it, bearing significant repercussions for groups underserved as a result of our misconceptions.

Don't be like this cat.

Don’t be like this cat.

If Legal Momentum has taught me anything about the law, it’s that it can be used in wildly creative ways that enable non-profits to think outside the box and design something new from the materials already there. A group of interns collaborated on a short article this past week that made the judgment of Voisine v. United States accessible to the population at large, especially youth. While I wonder sometimes if empowerment is simply clearing the road for some people and dumping the debris on somebody else’s driveway, anything is possible when we restructure the road itself.

Passing through the cracks

Mother in her forties or fifties, Black, middle class. Spanish man in his eighties who reminds me of my grandpa. Heterosexual white male with a job on Wall Street. Queer college student, female, might be Latina, might be white.

Some might call “people-watching” the ordinary activity of documenting the observable traits of passers-by, but this is something we all do, regardless of whether we’re aware of it. I people-watch on trains and park benches, inventing personal histories and relationships with minimal regard for the lives I’m rewriting and erasing.

All around me are familiar faces...

All around me are familiar faces…

In reality, there’s nothing objective about these “observable traits.” When we slip non-strangers into ready-made categories, we ease ourselves of the burden of actually listening to the stories they share. When we slip strangers into these categories, we replace the fear of uncertainty with the pleasure of self-proclaimed knowledge. This allows us to “identify” who we’re walking next to on the sidewalk, who is standing in front of us on the train, who we socialize with at work, and who we ask on dates. This enables feminists to advocate on behalf of some women and girls, but let LGBTQ folks and people of color slip through the cracks. This permits us to question the veracity of a person’s sexual orientation if it doesn’t align with our own. This frames our vision so that women who have been sexually assaulted are “sexually assaulted women,” “battered women,” “women victims” or “women survivors,” but never just women. They are seldom women adorned with the specificity they see in themselves.

To quote Sonia Sanchez, a remarkable poet whom the Moxies heard last week, “we are what we are what we never think we are.”  This week, I was struck by a young woman’s account of how biphobia has impacted her in the wake of the Orlando shooting. In the article, she describes the benefits and shortcomings of “passing” as a bisexual. Although she avoids discrimination when holding her male spouse’s hand in public, the very assumption that underlies others’ indifference to this show of affection is that she is heterosexual; her actions are sexually permissible for this reason only. The erasure perpetrated by those assumptions, disguised as “passing privilege,” slips through the cracks with a collection of others. She is invisible, and her invisibility causes me to question how many passers-by I am not really seeing.

Let’s talk about sexual violence

Content warning: sexual assault, domestic violence

Once you’ve seen something through a different lens or in a unique light, there’s no turning back. That’s the power of education; everything you read, see, talk about, and say becomes colored by the knowledge you’ve gained, for better or for worse. For me, this experience meant feeling angry on multiple occasions this week about events and media portrayals that might have passed under the radar. It’s no secret to me that society often silences victims’ voices, blames them for the most heinous of crimes perpetrated against them, and discredits their experiences. But how we think about sexual assault and domestic violence (and thus, how we talk about them) is so normalized that I had lacked the terminology to discuss them properly without even realizing it.


My first assignment as an intern for Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) was to read its publication about the language used to describe sexual assault and domestic violence (found here). The text highlights 3 problems with our word choice that have serious implications for victims/survivors whose voices lack adequate representation in the media and judicial system because of how language perpetuates false myths and stereotypes about sexual violence.

1. Using the language of consensual sex to describe acts of sexual violence.
You might have read an article or viewed a trending post this week about a Houston middle school teacher who was arrested because she “had sex” with one of her students. This language doesn’t seem unusual because it isn’t. The media frequently employs eroticized language (“they hugged and kissed”) or language that otherwise implies consent (“she performed oral sex” or “they had vaginal intercourse”) because in minimizing the violence and coerciveness of assaultive acts, readers find ways to rationalize and even justify the violence without confronting it in its actuality.

2. Using language that blames the victim/survivor.
A billboard ad for the movie X-Men: Apocalypse has been criticized for trivializing violence against women through its depiction of the villain Apocalypse strangling Mystique. As if the image doesn’t say enough, sometimes it is joined with the tagline “Only the strong will survive.” In a society that lauds strength, power and control as virtues while questioning victims/survivors about what they wore, how much they had to drink, and who they were with when they were sexually assaulted, our language frequently blames the victim/survivor for acts committed by a perpetrator who seldom bears responsibility for them.

*Did nobody find this problematic?*

*Did nobody find this problematic?*

3. Using language that makes the perpetrator “invisible.”
The media coverage surrounding Brock Turner’s conviction for sexual assault brought on a tornado of emotions for me. I was incredibly moved by the letter that the victim/survivor read to him because she confronted Turner so directly, depicting his violence for exactly what it was and hiding none of the pain he caused her. But shortly after it went viral, so did a statement from Turner’s father that claims his son’s dream to become an Olympic swimmer was ruined by “20 minutes of action,” a phrase so distant from reality that I don’t quite know what more to say about it. To further erase Turner’s culpability, his father also refers to the sexual assault that Turner perpetrated as “the events.” When we say a rape “occurred” or employ passive voice to describe how a person “was raped,” we remove the perpetrator from the picture. When we make the perpetrator “invisible,” we make the victim/survivor invisible, too.

It’s much easier to sit with the idea that maybe “it was just a misunderstanding” than it is to believe not only that people perpetrate sexual violence constantly, but also that perpetrators can look like anyone. Dinner-table conversation can continue at its typical cadence without somebody feeling uncomfortable.

I challenge you to feel uncomfortable. What if we all stopped representing non-consensual sex acts as normal, expected, deserved, or natural? What if our dinner-table conversation reflected the prevalence of sexual violence instead of euphemizing it or avoiding its existence altogether? To live in a world where everyone’s voice is heard, we must first be willing to listen. Despite my recent anger, disillusionment, and sadness, I wouldn’t trade this newfound knowledge for anything.

One more diversion…

This evening, I almost took a risk. One of my greatest apprehensions about living “on my own” for two months in NYC is that I will be challenged to cook my own dinner (or, to up the ante, dinner for another unfortunate soul’s consumption) and will indubitably burn NYU to the ground. At 10 p.m. on a weeknight, I found myself in an unlikely situation—my mom left for work later than usual, my brother went to sleep earlier than usual, and neither of them had cooked anything today. Thoughts plopped into my head one by one as I considered each and put it aside: I could microwave some vegetables, but I earned my health points already by walking around some; I could make another grilled cheese (my first culinary success), but what are the chances that I’ll keep the kitchen safe yet again?; I could order something, but that’s really setting the bar low. I grabbed my familiar cereal box and ate in bed, slightly disappointed by my risk aversion but far more satisfied that the dinner I “made” myself contained antioxidant vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.


And just like that, you have read approximately 200 words that might not say much about Me. Capital-M Me, a double-major in English and Women’s Studies, is incredibly thrilled to embark on an Urban Adventure, educating members of the judicial system about gender bias with Legal Momentum, incorporating theory and peer discussion into my already hectic mass of feminist viewpoints, and achieving Personal Growth in the process. These three components of my Urban Adventure are what I have told my friends and family that I am doing this summer, and in my own reflection, these three points serve to pin down my otherwise divergent thoughts and expectations. Do educatory approaches to gender issues defy or employ patriarchal tools in Audre Lorde’s sense? Am I the only introvert in New York City? Do they sell Smart Start at Trader Joe’s? I consider some of these concerns with more gravity than others, but the common thread between these divergent thoughts is the uncertainty that derives from an unexpected outcome.


*Am I the only introvert in New York City?*

*Am I the only introvert in New York City?*





You were probably expecting to get to The Point by now, but I present you with yet another diversion. (Me would not be happy about this.) In high school, the only poetry that crossed my field of vision was on an AP English Literature practice test. For some odd reason, my twelfth-grade English teacher singled me out as a good writer and asked me to write a poem for the upcoming Youth Empowerment Summit, an event my school district hoped would portray some sense of “what troubles the youth these days” to an audience of parents, teachers, students, and county officials. She gave me a packet of handouts that tried to answer that question, and I decided that I would write a poem about relationship violence, feeling slightly overwhelmed because only by reading fiction and familiarizing myself with others’ lived experiences could I grasp what the issue really was. My favorite stanza of the poem is below, and it captures the open-mindedness and willingness to take risks that I hope will characterize my time in NYC:


I needed a new face, with wider eyes to recognize,

Round, glee with space

For a nose of heightened sense and lips spread across both cheeks–

Oh, how they hold back.

Let the borrowers become creators,

The consumption aesthetic become novel innovation,

The thoughts become speech.

Shape yourself.


I couldn’t be more grateful that poetry has stumbled into my life (or rather, that I stumbled into it) because it has offered me countless opportunities to turn calculated risks into bona fide works of art. I love my bowls of cereal, but relish the moments and ideas that surprise me and allow me to grow. Every women’s studies class, domestic violence hotline training, or other educational foray into the world of gender has altered my feminist worldview and provided me with a different lens through which I converse, write, read, and interact with others. Diversions from the foreseen, the tried-and-true, and the expected confront me with learning moments that I hope will fill my Moxie experience from start to finish.