It was the Monday night after the Oscars and I can remember browsing through my Twitter feed to see what interesting information about the world I could learn about on this particular night.  I can vividly remember coming across a tweet of a video of Giuliana Rancic, a reporter from the television channel E! on the infamous style show Fashion Police. Now I love everything about fashion and try to keep as up to date as possible on the latest styles and trends. I used to be a loyal fan of the show Fashion Police as well, but the comments that Giuliana Rancic made about Zendaya Coleman, an 18-year-old actress who is known for her strong fashion sense, boiled my blood to say the least. In the tweeted out video, Rancic is seen making a comment about Zendaya’s outfit of choice and hair for the Oscars. Rancic makes the joke that Zendaya’s hair (which were faux locs) probably “smells like patchouli oil or weed.”  Dreadlocks is a hairstyle that can be worn as an expression of deep religious or spiritual conviction, ethnic pride or fashion preference. mica blog post photo 2The first example of dreadlocks has been dated back to North Africa and the North Africa. In America, this is one of the many hairstyles of the African American community and is normally not an acceptable style in a professional setting. So when I heard the comments uttered by Giuliana Rancic, I would be lying if I said I was shocked and surprised. However, I was still deeply offended, as was Zendaya. Oftentimes, Black people are told that our hair isn’t good enough and that in order for it to be good enough, we have to chemically modify it. It is rare that you see a Black celebrity wearing her natural hair. She often has some type of extensions in and her hair is always straight even though Black people’s hair is naturally curly.  Rancic’s comments were also completely ignorant. She made reference to weed and patchouli oil when critiquing Zendaya’s hair.  These two references are common stereotypes of Black people. The patchouli oil reference refers to the common notion that all Black people carry some type of odor. The weed reference refers to the stereotype that young Black people often smoke weed, particularly those with dreadlocks. I think the lesson from this incident that is to be learned is not only the importance of intent vs. impact but also on how uneducated public figures are about different cultures. Rancic had no idea how offensive and ignorant her statement was and even tried to defend it initially after it blew up on social media. I think this example shows just a small part of the struggle Black women have to go through in a public space.  There are so many things about a Black woman that are not seen as good enough. This is just one example of that. I think the best part of this whole incident is Zendaya’s response. She perfectly sums up the feelings of most Black women and the ridicule we face just for displaying our hair in all of its natural glory. And of course, this still isn’t good enough. Here is her statement:

Mica blog post photo 3There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful. Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe. Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect. To say that an 18 year old young woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or “weed” is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked.  I’ll have you know my father, brother, best childhood friend and little cousins all have have locs. Do you want to know what Ava DuVernay (direct of the Oscar nominated film Selma), Ledisi (9t time Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and actress), Terry McMillan (author), Vincent Brown (Professor of African American studies at Harvard University), Heather Andrea Williams (Historian who also possesses a  JD from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from Yale University) as well as many other men, women and children of all races have in common? Locs. None of which smell of marijuana. There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair.  My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.  To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane. I suggest some people should listen to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and contemplate a little before opening your mouth so quickly to judge.” If I was faced with the same criticism as Zendaya about my hair, I honestly couldn’t have said it more eloquently. She perfectly responds respectfully and graciously to such offensive comments. 

This post encouraged me to keep being proud of my hair and make no apologies of how different it is from society’s standard of beauty.  It definitely reminded me that “I Am Not My Hair.” This incident serves as an example as to the importance of intent vs. impact. Black Hair is beautiful.   mica blog post pgoto   Mica Cunningham is a 3rd year Chemistry/Pre major and a Medical Sciences Minor and a 2nd year WILL participant.


Truth and Dare

Last week, Jalisa, a member of WILL, shared a powerful blog post on how she was attempting to “navigate race through gender” in her WILL experience.  She wrote,

“…my experiences of racism are being invalidated… The fact that you identify with being a woman takes precedence over my identity as a person of color, and that gender biased is somehow worse than any other form of oppression.   The intersectionality of race and gender are messy, but this act of completely ignoring race as a factor of oppression reinforces the cycle of oppression.  In a group that I look to for liberation in having that shared experience of fighting a system of oppression, it is very disheartening.”

This was both difficult and inspirational to hear.

Not surprisingly, reading Jalisa’s post was tough. First, I heard this criticism on a personal level, as someone who cares.  I care about Jalisa, WILL, and the feminist movement.  To know that despite our best intentions in the group (and in feminism!) we continue to perpetuate racism and oppression was, as Jalisa expressed, “disheartening”. I also heard this criticism as the staff person who coordinates this program and who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that our work aligns with our mission and purpose.  It was challenging to hear this because it meant I/we failed.  It meant I/we let one of us down.  It meant I/we were oppressive and silencing and marginalizing, even as we were working actively not to be.    Even still.

Jalisa’s sharing her personal experience and telling her truth holds us all accountable to confront that which is so difficult to acknowledge: my/our privilege.

bell hooks breaks it down: “The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.”  (hooks, 2000; p.23)

In order to dismantle interlocking systems of oppression, we must tell our truths.   The work of feminism, of social change, is to continuously tell our individual and collective truths.  It is an everlasting story, a perpetual narrative.

And it ain’t easy.

According to the Social Change Model of Leadership (SCM), which grounds our work in WILL, there are seven principles that enable social change, that facilitate truth-telling. These principles are based in three different, interrelated, and dynamic systems: individual, group, and community.  To tell our own individual truth requires consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment.  Truth-telling in a group calls for collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility.  On a community level, citizenship is necessary to practice truth-telling.  WILL intentionally and strategically fosters these principles—this is the work of WILL.

Here’s where the “inspirational” comes in:

Jalisa’s brave act of truth-telling demonstrates that we have created a culture in WILL where we do hold ourselves accountable to this truth-telling and to the principles that foster this practice.  It is inspiring because it means that we are doing something right, even as we’re not.  Even still.

Racism is ugly.  Revealing it is a beautiful and revolutionary thing.  Only then might we overcome it.

WILL is not alone in confronting these truths.  Just yesterday, in response to recent expressions of racism on campus and a subsequent newspaper Staff Editorial calling for truth-telling, the campus paper ran an article in which campus leaders  challenge the campus community to “Engage More, Not Less” .   Although WILL (nor any other feminist leadership program, for that matter) was not among those cited as examples of how to “engage”, WILL does stand as a model of “engaging more”.   This is precisely what WILL does–intentionally, deliberately, and with care.

Our development as feminist leaders challenges us to call out oppression and to always be looking and listening for ways in which we operate out of privilege.  We are compelled to confront this privilege so that we can dismantle it, and in doing so, challenge systems of oppression and create social change.

Always both difficult and inspirational work.   This is the work of WILL.  This is the work of feminism.

Amy Howton is the Associate Director of the Women’s Center and Program Coordinator of WILL. She can be reached at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

Too many thoughts in my head: A feminist analysis on, well, Feminism.

“Did I just say something that was non-inclusive?” “Am I performing my gender TOO much?” “Did I just forget to use the proper gender pronoun for that person?” “Why do I care about shaving my legs?!” “I should love my body, I should love my body, I SHOULD love my body!” “I can’t believe that person just said that about [insert minority group here]! Don’t they know better?” “Sexuality is a spectrum.” “Cocktails are on sale for Ladies’ Night at this bar? What, do ‘ladies’ not drink beer? Huh? Huh?!?!?!

These are just a tiny fraction of the questions/statements/comments/criticisms that run through my head every moment of my waking existence and sometimes in my sleep on a daily basis. I am constantly critiquing myself and those around me for not being feminist enough.

I am a second year Master’s student in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. And I love it. I love feminism. I love the fact that there are multiple types of feminism. I love to have deep, thought-provoking dialogue about silly TV shows like Pretty Little Liars (which I am kind of obsessed with… don’t judge). I also love the fact that I am surrounded by feminist-identifying friends on a constant basis. But there is one big problem: I AM EXHAUSTED by feminism.

As a grad student, I learn SO many things about feminism. And, also as a grad student, I learn how to critique feminism and find out faults about everything every author had to say about feminism ever. My life has turned into one big critique. My weekly response papers, my final essays, and my class discussions all include finding a fault, a gap in literature, something not right. And I have now realized that this type of critique is leeching over into my daily life, and is beginning to influence the way I view myself and others.

Now, this can be a great thing. Critiquing yourself—critically examining your beliefs, ideas, actions, and values—can allow for positive growth to occur. It can help people become more well-rounded, open, and knowledgeable individuals. But too much self-critiquing can also be very destructive—not to mention overwhelming.

That is the point I’ve gotten to. This is my problem. I want to be a perfect feminist. I feel that if I am not a perfect feminist, then I am a failure.

Feminist Ryan Gosling is a great blog that helps lighten up heavy feminist theories and issues.

I have struggled with this problem for years, but now I find it’s getting worse. Sometimes, I find myself losing sleep at night thinking about what I did wrong today and how I can be better tomorrow. I get increasingly disappointed in myself when I make a mistake, no matter how big or small. Recently, I came to the realization that this seriously needs to stop. I am exhausted.

I need to stop critiquing myself, and I need to stop critiquing others. YOU—the person reading this post—are also not a perfect feminist (sorry to burst your bubble). And that’s okay. Who wants to be perfect, anyway? You would just be conforming to some idealized standard that mitigates individual differences and eventually you’d melt into an abyss of homogeneity. So there’s your feminist critique of that situation.

But, really, my point is this: I CAN fail. I cannot be perfect. I am me. You are you. You cannot be perfect. You can fail. And, as long as we are trying to be better—just a little, tiny bit at a time—that’s all that really matters. I can make mistakes. You can make mistakes. And everything’s going to be okay.

And, for that to happen—for us to be able to make mistakes together—I have to be forgiving of you and forgiving of myself. You have be forgiving of me and forgiving of yourself. We are in this together, and we all want to be perfect. But we can’t be. So let’s just give ourselves a break and be okay with it.

My participation in WILL this past year has played a crucial role in helping me come to this imperfect realization. I would always worry—and still do—about the activities I choose to facilitate in WILL as the graduate assistant of the program. Are they feminist enough? Are they inclusive? Do they relate to feminist leadership? What will people think of this—and of me—if this activity fails?

I have facilitated activities that have crashed and burned to the ground. But you know what? I think that’s okay. And I need people to be able to forgive me and to be okay with it as well. I need to be able to forgive myself. I can’t be perfect. I am a human being that makes mistakes but always wants to learn, to grow, and to be a better person.

I learned this in WILL. It’s a hard truth to deal with, because when I make a mistake I always want to go hide under my covers and ball up into a pile of self-pitying failure. But I can’t. And I don’t need other people to make me feel that way. I don’t need to make myself feel that way. What I do need are friends who are willing to forgive. Fellow feminists who can tell me, “You’re not perfect, and that’s okay—we’ll get through this together.”

I hope that WILL becomes that space for people for many years to come. We are all on different stages of our journey with feminism. We can all help each other learn and grow and become better people. But we all need to be forgiving of ourselves and of each other—because absolutely no one in this world is perfect. Not you, and certainly not me.

Mercedes Katis is a 2nd year Master’s student in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She also serves the role of Graduate Assistant to the WILL program. She can be reached at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

On the Outside of “Normal”

I’m standing in the elevator on the UC campus with my partner. A professional looking man gets on the elevator and says to my partner “Oh, you brought your son to work today?” I am reluctant to say anything, but their conversation continues.

My partner: No, she’s a girl.

Man: Oh you brought your daughter to work today.

My partner: No she’s my girlfriend.

Man: Oh, okay cool, your daughter, uh…I mean, your daughter…

This was an awkward moment of about five seconds of this guy stumbling over his own words, but was saved by the elevator doors opening through which he quickly escaped.

About a year ago I was shopping in a local Kroger. My eye for all the sweet, sugary treats had me in some sort of daze as I stood there glaring at the assorted donuts, cookies, and cakes being unable to make the right decision. A grandmotherly woman approached me thinking that I was much younger than my 26-year-old self. Our conversation went something like this:

Strange woman: Does your mother know where you’re at?

Me: Well, she knows that I live in Cincinnati, but I don’t think she knows I’m standing in a grocery store if that’s what you mean.

Strange woman: Come with me. You can’t be in here all alone. We’ll find somebody to help you.

Me: Look lady, I’m 27 years old. I can be in in the donut aisle if I want.

She couldn’t believe I was a day over 11.

More recently, I was shopping at Sam’s club in Illinois on a Saturday afternoon when the aisles are filled with employees serving up free samples of various food items. I went up to the stand in which an employee was serving small slices of pizza. This is what happened:

Me: Hi can I have a sample?

Employee: I’m sorry no. You’ll have to come back with a parent.

Me: I’m not a kid. I’m 27 years old.

Employee: Um, No your not.

Me: Hey Dad, can I have some piiizza?! (I yelled, in the best kid’s voice I could muster to my partner’s father who was at this point too far away to hear me anyway.)

By this time there is somewhat of a small crowd building. I take off the beanie hat I was wearing thinking that I could look a little older without it (not that it makes any difference). Another employee in the crowd says, “oh she looks old enough, I think it’s okay to give her a sample.” I get to have a sample and the employee says, “So, what’s your secret?” I replied, “I don’t know. I just look young.”

More often than not, I have experiences like these. I do realize at some point in my life, I will begin to look aged and will relish in the memories of today. While some stories that I share do give my friends and family a bit of a chuckle, navigating today’s social world looking like an adolescent but carrying the responsibilities of an adult has a real impact on my daily life. Ageism and heteronormativity quite literally limits my choices and actions.Image

When people pick me up as they hug me, all I can think is put me down; I’m not four years old dammit!! When I go car shopping or apartment hunting, not being taken seriously completely rules over the interactions I have with people. Often, people comment on my weight. “Is everything okay?” “Are you eating?” Even the health professional at the UC clinic said to me multiple times, “If you’re having trouble, or you feel the need to throw up when you eat, it’s okay to tell me. You won’t be in trouble.” At a military veteran’s service I was told, “Oh, I’m sorry but these pins are for veterans only” because I looked far to young to have ever possibly worked with bombs and missiles as an USAF ammo troop for eight years.

People are people. We come with various shapes and sizes. We have our own thoughts, desires, and experiences. This blog is a space for me to share some of my stories. I encourage you to truly see and listen to those around you before claiming your personal assumptions as somebody else’s truth.

Niki Dorsett is a 3rd year student majoring in Communication and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She can be contacted at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

Bounce dat A*s Girl!

So I went to a party last night and I must say I am conflicted because:

1)      Dancing at parties is awkward for me and more importantly….

2)       I have a problem with singing and dancing to music that degrades me

Now the music that was played at this event was popular rap music. I am sure you don’t have to search very hard to find a song that objectifies the female body in any genre, and especially not in rap.

What I find interesting is my reaction to the music when I hear it played. When I am in the car, I try to sub in my own funny ad-libs to make the song make sense for me. I joke with the obvious illogical statements made by the artist that involve parts of my anatomy detaching itself from my body and walking across the dance floor to the artist that is rapping. When I am at parties, I have a really hard time dancing to the music because I disagree with the message, so I look like a stick in the mud with my back against the wall a majority of the evening.

Blog Post #3 Image

You may be asking by now, so why do I even listen to this music or go to parties that play it? The conflict I am having can be explained in the Individual aspect of the social change model. Being conscious of myself and where my values lie and being congruent and consistent in them has proven most difficult especially when I want  to fit in, to feel like I belong to an integral part of my culture surrounding music, to be around people who are having a good time, and just to stay current with my peers. I am working out the kinks of growing into a socially responsible individual that can serve as a role model while still supporting my community. I also struggle with the societal and community values in relating to individuals being a part of something larger then themselves. How can I even address this issue I am having for the betterment of others? (Hopefully sharing my thoughts in blog form is a start)

I care that these messages are reinforcing oppression and are damaging to all who participate in them. There are popular artist who are successful and make a good name for themselves by not producing damaging music and the images that come with it. At the same time I understand (and appreciate) the need for self-expression through music. I also know that selling these images make a lot of money, and people will do whatever it takes to sustain themselves.

This year I will reframe my thoughts around this popular music. I know it makes me uncomfortable (the beats are terribly catchy though) and I know there is better music out there and venues that I can go to, and I have always wanted to learn ballroom dance. I will try to find ways to identify with my peers, who really do like these songs, in a different way and I will try not to beat myself up when I do catch myself singing some oppressive lyrics.

Music is powerful and it really influences the way people think, act and feel.  I don’t yet know how to address a culture that thrives off of sexist, violent and oppressive music. All this may make for an interesting action research project………

Jalisa Holifield is an undergraduate student in the WILL Program at the University of Cincinnati. She can be contacted at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.