Black, Feminist…Groupie?

**TRIGGER WARNING: contains information about consensual sexual activity, sexual assault and discussion of discriminatory attitudes and actions**

It started when I landed on vh1 Classic while channel surfing and caught the sight of a man throwing his black mane back, eyes wild, black paint smeared on his cheeks, and rep-lipsticked mouth contorted into a snarl at the camera. It was love at first sight.

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(In the beginning…)

Who was this man? Who was this band, running around in leather, studs and platform boots through fire and smoke? The music sounded vaguely, sort of, kind of like the Beatles, a bit like the groups I had adored in my “scene/emo” phase, but it was different. Louder, flashier, harder, nastier. Exactly what a preteen with hormones in overdrive and an overactive imagination was looking for.

 

You could argue my glam metal “phase” has persisted well into my adulthood and I would probably agree with you. After hearing those crucial first few songs from Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt and many more of that ilk, I was hooked. Before I had my nose in the works of bell hooks and Frantz Fanon, I read every rock star biography I could get my hands on. Before I knew a thing about black revolutionaries beyond Malcolm X, white men who had gone through the throes of troubled childhoods, lines of coke and divorces with Playboy Playmates were my heroes. These men understood what it was like to be “different”, and as someone who had suffered from crippling feelings of isolation from a fairly young age I found solace in knowing these “freaks” had gone on to be successful many times over. Classic hard rock and heavy metal was full of people telling me to buck authority (which at the time mostly meant my parents, not the white capitalist heterosexist patriarchy) and do my own thing (usually with sex, motorcycles, or drugs involved, but not always). The men of these genres were my everything when it felt like I had nothing.

Classic hard rock and heavy metal intertwined with my life just as I was beginning to explore my sexuality and see where my boundaries lie. Because most of my experiences with black boys (and men) usually involved being cat-called, followed or otherwise creeped on from a young age, white boys appealed tremendously to me. Whereas it appeared black boys felt that they had the right to my mind and my body simply because we shared the same skin color, I was somewhat delighted that white boys never gave me the time of day. I could fantasize about them (usually skater types in eyeliner) in peace. As I became older and bought into the idea that boys my age were not going to cut it because I was more mature physically, psychologically and emotionally, I began to project my yearnings onto the 80s versions of rock stars. The (black, curvaceous) video vixens I thought of as lewd and not respecting themselves in hip hop videos were not on the same level as the (white, thin) models in 80s music videos and on the arms of my favorite rock stars. Nelly swiping a credit card through a dancer’s buttocks in the “Tip Drill” video was vile and degrading. A slice of cherry pie landing in Bobbie Brown’s lap in the “Cherry Pie” video was silly and funny.

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(Glam metal musicians are the kings of subtlety.)

 

I was so enamored with everything hard rock and heavy metal, particularly glam metal, that I consistently pushed my cognitive dissonance aside and refused to try to even begin to reconcile what it meant for me as a black young girl to idolize primarily white men in their ranging from 20s to 60s.

 

Tackling this dissonance did not really begin in earnest until I began to become more are of kyriarchy around 17 or 18, ironically coinciding with my new freedom to actually attend concerts and try to mimic the models, wives, girlfriends and groupies I had admired for so long. Topics I investigated – fetishization, tokenism, respectability politics, objectification, power dynamics, code-switching – were setting my wheels spinning and I began to reflect on my personal experiences as a black woman actively seeking white male attention in predominantly white communities. Often in these moments of self-reflection, I felt like a fraud or a traitor to other black women. How could I call myself a feminist or a womanist one moment and the next desperately seeking ways to make myself more appealing to white men – the zenith of all oppressors – through the way I dressed, spoke and carried myself, often to fit into the predefined rules of heteronormativity within the rock music space? Did all these rock stars really understand what it was like to be me? Did they care what it was like to be me? Unfortunately, the more I researched the men I had loved for so many years, the more I saw that they often did not. Even beloved Nikki Sixx, the man on the TV screen that had lit my world aflame years ago, does not have clean hands, as exemplified in this article

(http://www.mtv.com/news/1432411/mtley-cres-sixx-clashes-with-carolina-security-guard/)

 

So, what is a groupie to do? Do I denounce all those ridiculous poodle rockers and listen only to Prince (my other favorite genre)? Do I swear off of white men and get over my childhood trauma to begin dating black men (who around this time of self-discovery had begun to cast me as a “Nubian Queen” archetype because of my afro and “au-natural beauty”)? Could I still call myself a black, intersectional feminist and also want to be front-row at the Steel Panther concert, getting ogled by the dashing, middle-aged guitarist?

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(This Axeslinger Adonis has written many odes such as “Asian Hooker” and “Handicapped Slut”)

 

Frankly, out of my teenage years and into my 20s, I am still not sure. I am still in the midst of self-discovery in all realms of my life; as such I am deciding how I want to fit into a multitude of identities. I have somewhat outgrown looking to celebrities for guidance for a few different reasons. A primary cause because I have come to see the infallible icons of my adolescence because often the entire role of celebrity in society is they reinforce and normalize systems of oppression. When it comes to critically thinking about people, music, movies or other media that I enjoy, I always try to recognize and analyze a work and how it relates to the “-isms”. I find the five key questions of media literacy (outlined here: http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/five-key-questions-form-foundation-media-inquiry) to be a great starting point:

 

  • Who created this message? (By extension, who is saying it?)
  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  • How might different people understand this message differently from me?
  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
  • Why is this message being sent?

 

 

From this collection of questions and ensuing answers, I determine how much I am willing to support something, and to what degree does my collusion potentially harm others. Because I have become more assured in myself as a feminist black woman and no longer seek large amounts of direction and validation from without, I am more comfortable within identities that do not centralize the music I listen to. With detachment comes the ability to see things a bit more objectively, so I no longer the impulse to defend people like Nikki Sixx, Axl Rose or more recently David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister of Mötorhead in the wake of their deaths when others bring up great points about how these men, and many others, have supported white supremacy, sexual assault, and more. My growing confidence in my identity from lived experience, voracious information collection and personal growth as aided by WILL enables me to draw more fitting boundaries for myself as a music fan who paradoxically does not separate musician from music, but can enjoy music without being limited by an musician’s personal beliefs or even their intent with a piece. Similarly, I’m fine being described as a “groupie” I know the history of the that appellation, comprehend how it is used and understood in a variety of contexts, and at the end of the day decide through self-determination how I want that title to represent me. I’ve used similar processes to wrestle with other pieces of myself, including what it means to be “black” and what it means to be “feminist”.

 

Existing as an amorphous conglomeration of all these pieces is not always easy. Sometimes I feel pangs of self-consciousness when I go to concerts and a woman who is the pinnacle of glam metal (and often white beauty in general) with blonde tresses, light eyes, a large bosom and thin frame gets more attention from a band member than I do. In those moments, however, I try my best to step back and remind myself that staring enviously at other women should not be my main concern. First and foremost I am there for the music, often to get my first-time chance to belt out a power ballad or similar with a band I adore. Aside from interacting with a band as an audience member, concerts are also a chance to alleviate remnants of my preteen isolation by meeting other fans. Something as simple as humanizing that “metal chick” ideal by complimenting her handmade jacket, and in turn receiving glowing praise for my (shoddy) make-up application, makes my concert experience less about being judgmental and “sizing up” and more about having fun and creating a cherished memory. While interactions such as this are not an magic solution to ending oppressive attitudes in hard rock and heavy metal among bands and fans, they help motivate me to continue delineating the right times to ask questions, be critical, and gather “receipts” if you will; to close my laptop, throw on a pink leopard-print dress, and party hard; and when it’s optimal to do all of them simultaneously.

 

El-Asa Crawford is a 5th year Graphic Communication Design major and Information Technology minor. This is her first and last year with WILL. She looks forward to finally having a safe space to dissect the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy while building her feminist leadership capabilities.

What Self Care Means to Me

 

This semester has been an uphill battle for me. I’ve been taking eighteen credit hours of classes, while co-oping and completing two honors experiences, all at the same time. All of this just so I can graduate a year early. Now, this might seem like a lot of work, but we’re not done yet. Let me just go ahead and insert positional leadership on campus, volunteering at a senior citizen’s center and a scholarship to uphold. Now THAT is a lot of work.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love going to school to learn and I love my job. I love my organizations and I love the amount of love I get to spread at the senior center, I also love that UC gave me a small chunk of money when compared to the hills of $$$ that I’m investing in the institution. I am just very overwhelmed with being this occupied. Now, you may have a question: why am I this occupied? You see, it’s all a part of a master plan. Living 8000+ miles away from home kinda punches a hole through your heart and to fill it up you gotta try to keep your mind occupied by biting off a lot more than you can chew.

 

How am I staying calm and composed through all of this, you may ask? I am not. Everyday starts off with me battling sweet, sweet sleep and getting reluctantly out of bed to attend a mind-numbingly boring class at 8AM. After waddling around campus like a teletubby for about five hours everyday, I roll myself to work to sit at a desk to bust out some serious code to build a kickass application (JK, I just click send on a bunch of emails most times, though I do code from time-to-time, I’m also not very good at it). Then comes WILL every Monday night from five to seven. The only solid chunk of time I actually sit down amongst positive souls to evaluate my thoughts and reconnect with myself. WILL has been my main source of self-care this past semester.

 

I got into WILL thinking “Hey! Feminism. I’m really into that, let’s do it!” Little did I know that WILL would help me accept who I was and help me be a better person. I’m not saying I’m the best person I can possibly be, but I definitely like myself a lot more now. I don’t know what it was, but something about the two hours on every Monday kept me going. Self care is the high’s and low’s that I share with the community every week. Self care is the impromptu meditation that we break into. Self care is me venting about the peanut that I managed to get stuck in my windpipe a hundred times while people listen patiently. Self care is learning about social change. Self care is going to a Muse concert and being blown away by those angelic voices. Self care is going home from the meeting every Monday night, tired and procrastinating homework, going to bed with a smile on my face knowing that there are good people in the world, after all.

 

 

Vineela Kunapareddi is an Information Technology Major expected to graduate May of 2019. She is a first year WILLer and despite her hectic schedule, finds time for self-care.

How Not to Do It All

I always want to do so much: take on every request that people email me, complete my never-ending list of errands and projects, travel everywhere, learn a ton of new skills, watch every trashy reality show, all while being be the “perfect” friend, sister, and daughter. And yet, I realize that I can’t possibly do it all. There isn’t enough time in the day, nor do I have the attention bandwidth to devote to everything. Even if I were perfectly disciplined, I couldn’t possibly get to even half of what I want to do. Even within the WILL community, a group of amazing individuals that are extremely involved on campus and actively apart of several different communities. Through weekly highs and lows it’s clear to see that many of you are overwhelmed with everything going on.

Some aggressively applying to grad schools while others are planning fundraising events for Syrian refugees all while doing a million other things. So I challenge you to give up on trying to do it all. Simplify. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t try to have the most perfect life you can create.

Instead, make your days count.

Even though that’s a pretty vague statement, I came up with a list of ideas that I think can achieve this.

 

  1. Realize that we’re not really in control. The reality is that your day will never go as planned. You can try, but there will always be the unexpected, the unplanned. That’s just how things go. If we want to be in control, and things don’t go our way, it’s frustrating. I know I personally internalize my feelings and blame myself, when it’s not my fault. If instead we realize we’re not really in control, but just experiencing what comes at us, we can learn to appreciate that experience as it comes, whatever it may be.

 

  1. Be OK with imperfection. Even if you filter everything in you’re life you’ll never create the “perfect” life. You’ll never be “perfect.” Those ideals don’t exist in reality. This took me awhile to realize, especially with the false portrayals social media creates. In this messy life, the reality is that what we experience will never fit with an ideal, and will always be imperfect. We can either accept that, or be dissatisfied. I decided to embrace imperfection, and be OK with what I am, and the messiness that finds its way into my life.

 

  1. Pay attention. Whenever I occasionally slay in the kitchen and cook myself a bomb meal I find myself getting on my phone and scrolling through social media instead of enjoying my food. It’s an amazing meal only if you really savor it. In this way, even in life if we savor each moment, they really matter. I know, deep shit.

 

  1. Be ruthless. You need to filter out the things trying to overwhelm your life. More things try to get into your attention bandwidth than you can possibly handle. So filter them out: say no to most requests, don’t make it your job to respond to everything, don’t just read everything possible, turn off your phone for awhile. Each day, take a step back and think about what you want to fit in it.

 

  1. Be satisfied. This is my last, and in my opinion most important point I brainstormed. We always want to do more, be more, and experience more. I continued to find myself constantly comparing my skills, appearance, and achievements to others around me. But what I realized is that if I’m grateful for what’s actually in front of me, for the experiences I am given, rather than always wanting the greener grass that someone else is experiencing, I will be a much more happier person.

 

Saachi Neki is an Information Technology major expected to graduate in the Spring of 2018. She is a 2nd year WILLer and reminds us how not to do it all.

Why I left WILL

A couple of months ago, I came to the realization that I wasn’t sure about my involvement with WILL anymore. At first, this felt like an absolute betrayal of self, but over time, I realized WILL is part of what taught me to challenge and question the system in the first place. I know that since I’m not a part of WILL this semester, I’m not required to write a blog post, but I think it’s important that I do. I’ve also heard whispers that my Facebook post saying I’m leaving was “really weird”, so I wanted to see if I could clear things up.

 

I struggle sometimes with reading long posts that aren’t broken up into sections (which is why I love BuzzFeed), so I broke it down into reasons:

 

Reason 1: I felt that I didn’t have space within WILL to teach or learn.

 

When I’m in a group focused on social justice, activism, and learning through community, I feel a need to learn by sharing my own experiences and listening when other people share theirs. In WILL, I had an overwhelming feeling that there wasn’t space for me to do that. Two hours a week certainly isn’t a long time, but I think that not enough of those two hours was devoted to learning from each other.

 

The learning I’ve done through WILL this year has been through my conversations with the community outside of our meetings. Whether it’s talking about the privileges of marriage with Jack or relationships and kittens with Raquel, I’ve learned a lot from conversations unrelated to WILL’s programming. I believe that when you have a community of activists, the learning fuels itself as long as there is space for it.

 

Reason 2: It seems like we’re the only ones willing to represent ourselves.

 

Within this point, I first want to acknowledge the amazing work Brandy has been doing as program coordinator for the Women’s Center. However, she shouldn’t be expected to do it all. The Women’s Center is running on a skeleton crew, and it seems like some of the bones are missing.

 

Sara and Raquel have been doing an amazing job facilitating and keeping WILL going, but this is a program that really needs someone working full-time. It’s such a vital part of the Women’s Center that there should undoubtedly be someone with the title “WILL Coordinator” in their email signature. I really appreciate the work Sara and Raquel have been putting in, but my issue is that they shouldn’t have to be.

 

With the Women’s Center losing so much of its staff and RECLAIM shutting down, student activism is extremely important, now more than ever. However, it gets really taxing on the students. I simply can’t handle the struggle of trying to support the Center during this time of absolute crisis. It’s for my own self-care that I need to move back for a while so I can come back when I’m ready to.

 

Reason 3: I wasn’t being challenged enough.

 

I love the fact that WILL brings together people from different stages in their feminist journeys. It’s beautiful to see people actively learning from the community, and it’s so powerful to see those changes within yourself as well. I think that this year, I haven’t been seeing as much of that change within myself. I need to be challenged more.

 

When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean people telling me I’m wrong, although that is welcome. I want to share an example of a time someone in RAPP challenged me and made me think about the way I had conversations about social justice. I casually said the phrase “Men are awful” and someone “#notallmen”-ed me immediately, asking “Why all men?” and “What did I personally do wrong?”

 

While these questions were definitely irritating and I don’t believe anyone should have to answer them, I think I was able to give a decent reply. I explained that by saying “all men” instead of “some men” when of course I mean “some men”, it makes people check themselves. Of course, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” A true ally would realize the emotion behind a statement like “men are awful” and understand that it comes from a place of hurt, anger, and oppression.

 

I think that’s what I mean when I say I want to be challenged. I want people to question me, even if they do it indignantly. I learn from challenging and introspective conversations. When people tell me I’m wrong, I want to either be able to defend my beliefs or listen to why they feel that way, and learn from it.

 

Finally…

 

I love WILL. I really, really do. It’s a great community, and I learn so much every day from everyone in it. Ultimately, my decision to step back isn’t because of the people in WILL or the programming, but the fact that it’s so hard to run a program like WILL without full-time staff. While I love learning from my peers, I prefer to do so in a setting without inherent hierarchy. I hope I’ll be able to come back to WILL in the future, and I miss being a part of it, but it’s important for me to prioritize my mental health and self-care. That being said, it’s even more important for me to see my leaving as a form of activism: it’s radical to move back when you need to. Maybe me leaving could be a clear sign that the Women’s Center needs more from UC…

 

Anahita Sharma is an Early Childhood Education major expected to graduate in the Winter of 2017. She is a 2nd year WILLer and a vital component to our WILL community. We thank Anahita and celebrate her in her courage to be transparent and authentic in her feminism. “It’s radical to move back when you need to.” Here’s to Anahita’s radical activism.

StrengthsFinder 2.0

A few Mondays ago during our WILL meeting, Dr. Susie Mahoney went through StrengthsQuest with us. Prior to the meeting we were instructed to take a strengths assessment. We each were given a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 by New York Times Bestselling author, Tom Rath. In the back of each book is a unique code to the strengths test. The test took about 45 minutes to complete, with various personality and behavior questions. Upon completing the test you receive five strengths. Initially, I was surprised with my results. I was eager to learn what these strengths meant.

During the WILL meeting Dr. Susie started off StrengthsQuest with asking us the importance of strengths. It is important to know your strengths to know what sets you apart from everyone else and gives you a chance to further develop what you already know and even boost your confidence. Next, we moved on to everyone’s results of the strengths test. My strengths are Restorative, Relator, Communication, Significance, and Arranger. Originally, I thought my strengths were just ordinary in comparison to the other WILLers who received results such as WOO, positivity, harmony and discipline. Later, I found the benefits of my results; I saw that they really did reflect who I am.

No matter what career path I choose I know that I’ll have to build relationships and know how to communicate effectively. According to the test, “People strong in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.” I would have to agree. People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a common goal. People strong in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. Whether this is a gift or a curse, I definitely have no problem communicating how I feel. People strong in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized. In any type or relationship, I want the other person to feel that I’m just as important to them as they are to me. People strong in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.   As an RA, I have learned how to work as a member on a staff and make collective efforts for the group as a whole.

The StrengthsQuest further reaffirmed my decision to change my major. This semester I made the decision to switch from Special Education to Communications due to loop-holes in the major requirements. Teaching is still my passion and hopefully my end result, I’ve accepted that it will just have to be obtained an alternative way. I was a bit hesitant to make the change but it has been a great fit. I love building interpersonal relationships. It has been said that I make great first and lasting impressions on people. I take my relationships very seriously whether they’re intimate or friendships. I love helping people and I’ve also been told that I’m gifted at learning and remembering names. Despite what I end up doing in the future, I feel more prepared now that I know my strengths. I also really enjoyed this assessment compared to the others I have taken before.

 

Tazia Segar is a Communications major and 1st year WILLer. Her self-awareness and unique combination of strengths have helped prepare her for her future.