Honestly, I never used to be a fan of writing. It was a weak skill set of mine, and no matter how much I tried, I could never get my words to flow off the tongue like a soothing flurry of hot summer wind. The combination of being unable to craft beautifully descriptive sentences and growing up in a family where writing skills were not prized led me to never make an effort to practice the art of authorship. Luckily though, throughout the summer, I was forced to step up to writing, in which I was about as unsuccessful as a table lamp. The result? Probably not mind blowing linguistic artistry, but rather a much deeper understanding of the power of words.

In my department at Sanctuary, I’ve watched my team string together words in order to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in support for our cause. Through the Moxie program, I’ve read novels – just collections of words – that rallied the nation behind movements, such as the cry for reproductive justice. I’ve watched Sanctuary lawyers fight for the freedom of bound women using just words. Words are powerful, and if we learn to harness them just right, we can make positive change.

But who decides what is positive change?

The problem with governance and deciding between right and wrong is that the choice isn’t very black and white. Morality can generally be held as a set standard. Certain things are good, some are bad, and these delineations are widely accepted. Killing is bad, and helping your neighbor is good. However, issues in agreement come in when we start to look into how to achieve the outcomes. It is impossible to definitively say that one policy option is better than another. Even if we look into statistical analyses and try to scientifically select the best policies based on proven success, how do we define the standards for success? The subjectivity of governance makes it very difficult to create legislation that could keep an entire population happy. Throughout the summer, I, myself, pendulumed between phases of loving anarchism and then believing the government’s ability to achieve justice, as is clear in my blogs.

This is where words come in. The perfect leader would campaign, advertise, speak, and write in such a way that she would create an inner motivation for every single citizen to believe in her policies. A unanimous passion and drive to achieve the vision of the governing group or individual would lead to a greater success rate of policies. This is true even in a smaller, corporate setting. Overarching inner passion driven by powerful words can lead to larger impacts.

Disabling the patriarchy by focusing on boys

Is it better for schools to be co-ed or gender specific? I used to think co-ed schools could make better and more equal future citizens because students grow up with the opposite sex, and the hope would be to neutralize differences between genders. Co-ed environments also expose students to a wider and more diverse network of teachers and peers from a young age. Outside K-12 education, universities and the workforce are all gender-neutral. Therefore, allowing students to appreciate the intermingling of genders that they will face after high school may be beneficial and a better learning opportunity than only going to school with one sex. However, by prioritizing co-ed schools, we may miss out on an invaluable opportunity to achieve gender equality – focusing on boys.

Jack Myers, the author of The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century, argues that the women’s movement cannot move forward without the active support of men who accept gender equality. Myers advocates for societal changes and a shift in how we view traditional male roles or “brotherhoods.” These harmful notions about a “real man” are largely entrenched in the minds of boys from birth. A “real man” can’t show emotion; he can’t cry or ask for help; he shouldn’t enter traditionally more “feminine” careers such as teaching or nursing. As Myers says,

“Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into what I’m calling a “Lean Out” generation of young, discouraged and angry men—men who are feeling abandoned by the thousands of years of history that defined what it meant to be a real man: to be strong; to be a provider; to be in authority; to be the ultimate decision maker; and to be economically, educationally, physically and politically dominant. A growing percentage of young men are being out-earned by young women, as women capture 60% of the higher education degrees required for success in today’s economy.”

These masculine goals create an environment where boys are left out at school, in the job market, and in relationships. For a male, feeling a loss of power or being unable to feel like a “real man” can lead to not only an unwillingness to support female movements, but also an attempt to regain control within relationships, through the use of violence or power imbalances. Domestic violence is rooted in displays of power and strength. Many times, the only acceptable “male” emotion is anger, depicted as violence – all other emotions detract from masculinity.                         

Single gender schools have the power to change difficult and harmful masculine ideals. Boys can be exposed to role models of responsible, competent and caring husbands, sons and fathers. They could be encouraged to take part in more “feminine” classes – such as art, dance, and cooking.     

Gaming and online learning can be introduced to classes and physical education can be expanded. We need to allow boys to step out of the path towards becoming a hard, emotionless real man, and to explore their other interests and facets, making them more comfortable with showing signs of “femininity.”

By prioritizing and focusing on boys through single-gender school systems, there could be a very powerful shift in not only the treatment of women, but also in the support of women’s movements.

Don’t just abolish the police

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve slowly come to realize something –  the government is a pointless entity. These people in positions of power are not only a waste of taxpayer money, but they also are a huge source of harm. The government’s net value to society is negative – not even net neutral, which would have been more acceptable. The reasons I am going to lay out in a bit are both shocking and depressing because if being ruled by a government is wrong, what is the right way to live? I know if my dad were to read this blog, he would say, “Government systems have prevailed for a long time. That definitely means there is some form of benefit to them. People are not dumb. Can you even imagine a world without laws and regulations?” To this I say, we have never been able to break free of the bounds of the status quo. We all go through life riding the system, rarely ever questioning if everything we know is truly right. Thinking of an alternative, and on top of that, executing this alternative, persuading people, and instituting change is far too much effort. We just learn to suck up our fears and feelings of injustice because the system in question is much too large and ingrained in the human psyche to change. 

In “The Color of Choice – White Supremacy and Reproductive Justice” from The Color of Violence, Loretta J. Ross makes a powerful statement:

“Fears of being numerically and politically overwhelmed by people of color bleach meaning from any alternative interpretations of the constellation of population control policies that restrict immigration by people of color, encourage sterilization and contraceptive abuse by people of color, and incarcerate upwards of 2 million people, the vast majority of whom are people of color.”

Ross forwards the argument that people of color are intentionally excluded from the population. Commonly read authors and activists emphasize the exclusion of POC from decision-making seats, and their writing makes the exclusion appear as an unfortunate consequence of uninformed choices. However, Ross’ text is striking because she explicitly highlights the intentional attempt to decrease the numbers of POC bodies in our country. She pushes the idea that non-POC crave a nation without people unlike them. 

Immigration, sterilization/contraceptive use, and incarceration – who is in charge of these things? Individuals making decisions for the rest of the population – the government. I used to have a very idealistic mindset that every decision the government makes is a good one. Every law is for the best of the people, and the government can never cause harm. These optimistic thoughts were a result of our school system’s teachings, including that the government is divided into 3 branches to avoid abuses of power and to make sure decisions are made with the people’s best interest in mind. Our K-12 schooling never bothered to teach us about voices that don’t get a say in these 3 branches.

The priorities of our country are misnumbered. We focus on things like trade wars, creating/scaling conflicts outside our country, and building an economy supporting the top 1%. What about building better school systems, economic empowerment programs, and healthcare systems for the rest 99%? What about helping the woman who is battered every night by her husband and continues going to work with bruises to feed her family? Who is helping them? This is the problem with a decision-making body that isn’t composed of people that know what it’s like to be on the outside, to not have a piece of the pie that keeps them healthy. Especially in a democratic system, only individuals with access to resources, campaign managers, sufficient capital, and a relatively privileged lifestyle will be able to successfully run for office. Growing up poor means you don’t have the same capital that your competitors have, so no one hears your name nor votes you in. The damning outcome of this is that low income people have no representation, leading to laws which are never made with their interests in mind. Other interests are prioritized. What is the message of this system? Not only are your wants as a poor person discardable, but so is your life (highlighted even more by the current pandemic – low-income minorities are the ones disproportionately affected). 

The central issue with any form of governance is that some people are deemed more worthy than others. If we take the most basic example, the president’s extensive security system, this becomes abundantly clear. The value of the president’s life is greater than any civilian. His security force is expected to lay down their lives for his safety. This level of a strict hierarchy in living importance is abhorrent. The idea dictating that the president deserves to live more than someone else has no natural basis. Unsurprisingly, the starting point for this system is that one human life is greater than another. Not only is this framework morally arbitrary, but it is created by those at the top. 

The homogeneous demographic of our governing system – from

Our ruling party decides on the basis of the birth lottery who deserves a better quality of life. If you are born poor or are an immigrant, no one cares that your neighborhood doesn’t have a proper education system. No one cares that the rate of students that dropout of high school is triple that of a wealthy district. But your government does care about spending time on crafting and discarding immigration laws every couple years, giving reproductive rights then rolling it back, and constantly debating the cost of healthcare. These useless discussions and debates do nothing positive for the general well being of the population.

The general lack of purpose of the extensive legal system became clear to me through my time with Sanctuary. I’ve been attending the orientations for legal interns at Sanctuary for a couple weeks. In these presentations, everyday there are new topics and their legal backgrounds discussed. Sessions explained things such as the laws governing divorce, child custody, immigration rights, and cybersexual safety. It bothers me a little more everyday that the laws behind these subjects are so complex. There are loopholes and difficult, unclear language that a lay person would never understand. The difference in utility between legal standards such as “clear and convincing evidence” and “preponderance of the evidence” appear randomly assigned and even change from time to time. The entire basis of the legal industry was created to leave out everyone except those who spend years learning law. This is problematic for two reasons: first, we once again make it near impossible for people to defend themselves properly, they are dependent on a third party, and if they can’t afford a skilled third party, they are already behind; second, the purpose of these legalities and specificities are self-assigned. There is no purpose to keep an extensive legal system that people have to swim through to, for example, achieve citizenship or be allowed to live in a country. 

The social contract dictates that we give up some rights and liberties for the protection of the government. If the government fails to provide this protection to a large body of individuals, they are not fulfilling their duty, and therefore, we have no reason to submit to a ruling party. 

\Stay tuned for next week’s blog which will include the moral reasoning to select a world without rulers and what this alternative looks like!

Creating a Culture of Fear

For some time now, our political and social climate has been transforming into one of outspoken voices creating change in diversity and inclusion. This shift recently gained fierce momentum with the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer. The gruesome video, which has now circulated all over social media and news outlets, shows Floyd pleading with the officer to breathe and calling out to his mother, knowing he is at death’s door. The officer abuses his position of power and kills Floyd amidst onlookers begging him to let the man breathe. The reality we face today of cruel racism is jarring and bone-chilling for people within communities of color. However, the reactionary anger is just as frightening when trying to imagine a future devoid of racism. 

Recently, the organization I’m working with, Sanctuary for Families, started a lot of discussion on how to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace and throughout the work of the organization. In these meetings, orientations, and even conversations with other Duke organizations I’m a part of, I’ve noticed an obvious fear – the fear of being wrong. The fear of saying something potentially offensive, of being on the wrong side of the argument, of causing harm when there is zero intention to hurt. 

I was in the legal intern orientation meeting today, and the law students present brought up their own experiences with concepts of diversity and inclusion. One common ground between many of them was that they repeatedly prefaced their thoughts by statements of, “I don’t mean this offensively” or “I’m not sure if this is correct, but..”. 

I couldn’t have been more surprised. These were students of law, working for a domestic violence nonprofit. In order to get into law school and develop an active interest in a social issue such as domestic violence and the patriarchy fueling the injustice, they would have had to undergo significant learning along the lines of classes about social justice or in-depth discussions with mentors passionate about prevalent inequalities. Most definitely (or you would hope), they would understand underlying structures and prejudices better than the average American or even a STEM student uninterested in class and structure issues. These law students should feel confident in their discussions of discrimination and inequality because they have undergone such in-depth and oftentimes intensive training on how our society fails people in the lowest brackets. Why, then, are they afraid of giving their opinion, telling their story? If someone who is knowledgeable on social problems is reluctant to speak on social issues for fear of being wrong, what does this say about individuals who may feel even less socially aware or be slightly more introverted and terrified of saying something insensitive?

In the meeting, students raised in Spain, Mexico, and Peru all questioned their thoughts and whether it was right for them to be thinking the way they thought. They were afraid of being wrong about a social problem because oftentimes the outcomes of speaking insensitively, even without intention, can be dire, including public call outs, negative opinions, and punitive correcting words. The issue is – you can’t fault someone for their way of thinking; it’s a consequence of where they grew up and the beliefs of the people closest to them. 

The battle for social change often includes harsh, scathing criticism that is given by people striving for a more just system. It’s not fair for us to demean or insult someone in any way because of how they think. This can in turn be counterproductive because it turns individuals away from the side of a debate that is not welcoming or kind and willing to teach. There is going to be a constant fear, especially for people that are more reserved in nature, of being wrong, being spoken down to, or being thought less of. 

from leadership

Therefore, someone has two options: either don’t join a fight for social change because you are not good enough and don’t understand the underlying issues well, or just keep all thoughts to yourself. Both options are detrimental to the general wellbeing of society. Rather, individuals who are more knowledgeable on matters of social work should attempt to meet others in their headspace. Explain to them that it is okay they aren’t aware, it’s not their fault, you can’t be born knowing what is right to say and what is wrong, but the effort that they show to be more aware is what is crucial, and from there attempt to alter a more racist/sexist/etc way of thinking. 

My fear is that one day, only a singular portion of the population will speak out about social wrongs, and the other half will be silent or fearful of voicing their opinions. Not only will this create echo chambers, in which individuals seek out like-minded peers to avoid embarrassing interactions and, resultantly, have their ideas parroted out to them, but we won’t ever be able to have the power and strength of minds working together. Our current culture alienates people and ideas that could be our biggest allies. Fear is a dangerous thing.

A new world

Am I a feminist? I’m not really sure. The word in my mind, unfortunately, has a negative connotation. I hear feminist, and I see images of third wave feminism – movements like #freethenipple, the idea that being in a relationship is anti-female, and women being told not to wear a hijab because it’s oppressive. These feminist objectives work to disenfranchise a large population of women. Many females at even liberal colleges and universities feel uncomfortable when faced with these highly left-leaning feminist ideals. It can be argued that women who are uncomfortable with these movements are only so because their upbringing and environment deeply ingrains notions that girls should act a certain way. 

On the other hand, a movement that serves to free women from a patriarchal society ought to be one that a majority of the female population can support. Examples include equality focused rights, such as the right to vote, abolishment of the wage gap, gender violence termination, and issues of self-esteem (such as if a girl feels more afraid to speak up with boys in the room because she feels inferior/unequal). If a woman is okay with a man holding open a door for her, this etiquette shouldn’t be an issue. Some feminists might criticize her for allowing a man to help her, but if the woman in question feels no loss of power, she shouldn’t be told that the right way to act is to open the door herself. 

Rachel Hatzipanagos

None of this is to say that I don’t believe in equality, in the fair and equal treatment of men and women. A woman can’t be denied a job because of her gender. She shouldn’t feel unsafe in leaving the house after dark because of her gender. I hate that in India, being outdoors alone at night as a female is deadly, and in many rural districts, widows are still burned at the pyre along with her dead husband. I am a woman. I want women to be treated with the same respect and dignity that men don’t even have to bat an eyelash to receive. However, some of the current ways of achieving this respect are only making the movement harder to support. Who knows, though? This summer might change a lot of my opinions. I hope it does. I know there are inspirational, passionate, and intelligent women behind the current feminist movement. Gaining a better grasp of the logic behind certain individual fights under the push for feminism might better help me get an understanding of why feminism has evolved to where it is today.

I’m working with Sanctuary for Families this summer, a non-profit directed at primarily reducing gender violence and helping survivors of domestic violence. I don’t know too much about the organization yet, but from my short first impressions, every single member that I talked to are some of the most passionate, down-to-earth, kind, and helpful people I have ever met. I love asking them questions about how things work and why they work that way, and every question I ask gets at least a half hour detailed response. The teams I’m working with never get tired of answering. They genuinely care about the work they do, the organization they work for, and passing on crucial knowledge to a later generation. I might be wrong, but I can’t see this as being the case for an intern at a for-profit company. If the intern asks too many questions, I feel like the supervisor might try to start speeding up replies and finishing up their job because they aren’t paid to be a teacher.

This kind of care can be expected of non-profits (although, my experience is super limited, I just rationally deduced that in my head). The employees are not working at a non-profit for the sake of money. They could probably care less about their monthly paycheck. It seems like the work they do, in these large non-profits with more administrational duties, is pretty similar to the work they would do in the corporate sphere, but, with the nature of the non-profit, they likely earn much less. This difference is interesting because a lot of times, America is characterized as this cutthroat, capitalist, profit-seeking, individualist country. But if you dig a little deeper, people like the Sanctuary staff probably could not care less about their own profits. Their sole purpose, joy, and contentment from life comes from genuinely helping other people, even if they aren’t directly involved. They know their work, whether fundraising or communications, further down the line will help someone fleeing an abusive relationship.

That is so beautiful.

The non-profit sphere astounds me. Altruism is something that, in my life, I have been very scarcely exposed to. If someone was helping their community, it was for volunteer hours that they could log and report to get into a top college. However, genuinely helping just for the sake of helping, with no personal benefit in mind, besides the satisfaction of living a fulfilled life in the service of others is (honestly, I am embarrassed to say this) so foreign, but so darn refreshing. We live in a world filled with other people. What is the point of just living for yourself and making the most money possible? Making someone’s life a little less difficult has so much more meaning.