How I became a feminist

I was not born a feminist. I was not even raised a feminist. I did not become a feminist by proxy in my tender early college years. It took me a while to learn what feminism was. Now that I know, I embrace it.

Stage One – Ignorance

…Is not actually bliss.

Freshman year of college was rough because of: distance from home, demographic transition, half-hearted emergence from my timid shell in an effort to make friends. It was also rough because I was a journalism major, but had never written what could be called an article. My first was for “The Maneater,” a campus publication at Mizzou. When I got a column for “Move,” its accompanying magazine, I was thrilled.

The column’s angle was “a fresh take on classic literature.” I’d take one of my favorite books from high school English lit—“The Picture of Dorian Grey” or “The Great Gatsby,”—and compare it to college life. Dorian joined a fraternity. Gatsby’s parties went 21st century.

My first disastrous failure was a column about “Jane Eyre.” The subtitle was “Prude and proud.” (Looking back I am not, in fact, proud. It literally pained me to copy and paste the link. The things we do in the name of transparency.) In the column, I talk at length about hemlines and heels. The post was meant to suggest that more conservative women could still capture and hold the attention of men.

(Full disclosure: I had a major crush on a fraternity man at the time. He preferred the flocks of decked-out freshman that swarmed his house every weekend to me. I was jealous. I don’t think he even read the column.)

When the column was published, “Move” was flooded with negative feedback. I was attacked and so was my editor (sorry about that, Brandon). The consensus was that I was a female-hating slut-shamer. Me? I didn’t even know what slut shaming was.

I didn’t bother to find out, either. I tried to shut it out. Instead of educating myself, I retreated as far from the issue as possible.

Stage Two – Education

I can’t remember where I first heard about feminism. At the time the article came out, I had only just followed Jezebel on twitter. I think it must have been my friend Hanna Jacunski who first introduced me to the concept of feminism—its basic principles via assertions that women should be proud of their bodies, that there’s no such thing as a slut, that inequality is inherent in the system. These concepts made sense to me.

Then came Kari Paul. She was another of my first editors, and I thought she was the coolest. I followed her on twitter too, and started reading the articles she tweeted. I guess twitter was instrumental to my education.

I met Hilary Weaver shortly afterward—another feminist role model. She invited me to Mizzou’s Vagina Monologues, and I learned about the struggles of women and the battles we (and our bodies) encounter every day.

Along the way I read stats, learned about Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s street art project, and about artists such as Judy Chicago and Frida Kahlo in art history class. I formed my own ideas about street harassment when it happened to me for the first time. I took my first gender studies class abroad, and learned about the skewed representation of women in media.

I met Alicia Tan, Celia Ampel and Mary Kay Blakely. I read this article about motherhood, and this article about the term ‘feminism,’ and this one about abortion clinics closing in Texas. I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s entire TED Talk when that one Beyoncé song came out. As I got older, women’s issues became real to me; this is our lives they’re talking about.

By the time I registered for the Women’s Leadership Conference at Mizzou, I was educated enough to contribute to discussions. Subjects such as the wage gap and sexual harassment at work were talked about openly, and so were their possible solutions. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow were guest speakers there. Afterward, I spent hours online creeping their work.

I was inspired. The conference was my shining moment of realization—my pivotal point. My climax.

Stage Three – Transformation

Now, I am a feminist.

A few months ago, shortly before my college graduation, I looked up the “Jane Eyre” article. I read it and cringed. God. I can’t believe I wrote that.

But I’m living proof that the difference between damaging ignorance and productive activism is education.

Yesterday, I got a call from my friend Katie*, who’s an intern at a consulting firm. A few weeks ago, she missed a deadline. She’d agreed to go to a fellow intern’s house for dinner. She worked in her hotel room until it was time to leave, popped over to the friend’s house for a quick bite, and was back at her computer two hours later, but the next day her report was late.

Her manager called her into his office to express his displeasure that she’d chosen to “hang out with her friend, go on a shopping spree and have a sleepover” instead of getting shit done. He falsely assumed, based on his internalized female stereotypes, that she’d wasted the entire evening gossiping and chirping with another woman.

He could use some education.

On 4th of July weekend, I floated the Guadalupe River with some friends. My dear friend Megan* worried out loud that her swimsuit was “too slutty.” I told her that ‘slutty’ was a term coined by men to make women uncomfortable with their sexuality. Nothing was ‘slutty,’ and the only thing that mattered about her suit was whether or not she felt good in it.

The guys with us looked bemused. “Wait,” they said, “there’s no such thing as a slut?” No, I told them. They gaped. I laughed.

They could use some education.

Plenty of people start where I did freshman year. Plenty of people are ignorant. I hope there are too many resources out in The Universe for them to remain so for long.

‘Cause we should probably all be feminists.

*Names have been changed

How I became a feminist

Shine on, you crazy diamond

It’s a cutthroat world out there, kids. At least, that’s what we’ve been taught. And that’s what we journalism majors have especially been taught.

Here at the Missouri School of Journalism we don’t even attempt to hide the ugly truth. Professors drill into our heads the bleak facts: There are a finite number of journalism majors. There a finite number of journalism jobs. The number of jobs is significantly smaller than the number of people who want them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected percent change in employment for reporters and correspondents is -13 percent. (Yes, percents can be negative.)

A rash of internship program closures, led by Condé Nast, means that summer and school year internships are even harder to come by. Remaining programs are flooded with applications from journo-hopefuls. Competition is fierce.

In this corner, weighing in at 115 lbs, is trendy magazine writer number one. Her wits are sharp as her Mirado Black Warrior pencils and she’s cranked out more story ideas in a week than you will in your career. In this corner, at 127 lbs, trendy magazine writer number two gnashes her teeth and rips out her notebook. Its spiral edges are ripe for opening gashes in human flesh. 

Ready, set, fight! 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

So says Ann Friedman, writer and public speaker extraordinaire, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during her campus visit this week. She and Aminatou Sow spoke at the Women’s Leadership Conference. What they had to say changed my perception of the journalism industry.

It’s called Shine Theory. It means that, if someone around you such as a friend or colleague succeeds wildly, you succeed wildly, too. You can be *gasp* genuinely happy for them because you know that they are an extension of your ideas and you’re an extension of theirs.

Shine Theory means that you build a community of awesome people. These people bounce ideas around, are in constant communication, and have deep, meaningful relationships with each other. They vie for each others’ success and communally promote each others’ reputations. They root for each other because if one of them shines, they all shine.

Here are the three key tactics to Shine Theory:

1.) Kiss down, not up. It’s great to build relationships with older, respected journalists and editors, but it’s even greater to befriend young up-and-comers. They have fresh ideas and fresh ways to implement them. Keep an eye on the younglings. Promote them. When you’re old and irrelevant, they might offer you a job. 

2.) Ask and offer. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors, but always offer something in return. At the conference, Ann and Amina had us turn to the person next to us and implement this. I got some more sources for a story I’m writing. My friend Ciara got a ride home to Chicago for spring break. It’s a give-and-take, people.

3.) Share the wealth. If you turn down an opportunity, recommend a friend instead. If you hear of a job that would be perfect for someone you know, tell them about it. This can be as simple as making introductions or hitting the ‘forward’ button on an email.

Imagine, just for a second, that we all did this. Imagine that we built our peers up instead of competing with them for limited resources. (This ties into the theory of horizontal loyalty, which is also worth imbibing.) Imagine if, like Ann, we each had a tab on our blog promoting our friends.

What a brave new journo world it would be.

Shine on, you crazy diamond

Anything you can share I can share better

I scroll through my Instagram feed and stop at a picture. Two girls at a party. Strobe lights flash in the background, dramatically lighting their laughing faces. Their outfits are killer, the angle is just right, the chosen filter highlights their best features. They are rock goddesses. They’re having the time of their lives. Their Saturday night is lightyears and eons beyond any Saturday night I could ever hope to dream about having myself.

The picture says all this without a word.

Some people are good at posting to social media. Not only that, they are good at posting to social media in a way which makes everyone else feel inferior. It is no longer enough to overshare. Now, I have to overshare better than you.

As human beings we have a natural instinct to one-up each other. It comes with the whole “evolution, survival of the fittest” package and is bred in us as we mature. You kicked a ball? I’ll kick it farther. You built a house? I’ll build it bigger. You ran a mile? I’ll run it faster.

The instinct, thanks to the 21st century, has spread to social media. Your tweets must be snarkier, your posts more impressive (“I’m going abroad next semester! Look at my happy relationship! My new car! My swanky job!”), your Instas more vibrant. Through online presence you can build an aura of fulfillment, contentment and superiority that emanates to all those who wish to discover it.

Look at me! I’m so lucky! Aren’t you jealous? #blessed

And the instinct is contagious. Every party, every event, every gathering of two or more people must be documented. Everyone most know what a wonderful time you had, what a beautiful meal you ate, how fabulous the concert was.

At a Neighbourhood concert last August, I stood behind a girl who watched the entire thing on her phone screen. She was recording the songs, you see, and couldn’t stop.

And therein lies the problem. We are so wrapped up in sharing that we forget to live. Melodramatic? Maybe. But how can you enjoy a night out when so much of it is snapping pics to chronicle that night? Heaven forbid something significant occurs and you’ve missed the Kodak moment. If there’s no record of it, did it even happen? Did you even have fun?

Some of the most interesting people I know keep almost no record of their lives. No, they’re not on Facebook. You can find their tweets spaced about a month apart. Instagrams are occasional and, when they do happen, mysterious: A swatch of pavement. A book jacket. The occasional cat.

The oversharing complex is a cry for approval. Most of us answer. I answer. But what if we didn’t? In this day and age, would that still count as living?

Anything you can share I can share better

Debate debacles

Disclaimer: This is not by any means a political blog, but writing about the most recent campaign happenings is a rare treat. A debate airs, political reactionaries go haywire and take to their social media accounts, and all hell breaks loose (Exhibit A).

Last Tuesday, unless you actively took refuge to avoid it (some do), you caught wind of the Presidential debate hosted a Hofstra University in New York.

I myself watched the spectacle on Youtube Politics’s livestream from my sickbed. What was open in the neighboring tab? Twitter, of course.

One of the many accounts I follow put it best when he posted this tweet: “Having more fun laughing about tweets about the #debate…than actually watching the debate”.

Truer words were never spoken.

Hardly had words left the mouth of a candidate than they were being responded to on twitter. Within minutes of either candidate making a factual statement there were accounts checking them against published truths and comparing (and tweeting) the results. (Check out this fact check page by the New York Times, full of useful tidbits.)

On the other end of the spectrum, all gaffes and slip-ups by either candidate were immediately seized by the opposing side and monopolized upon. The most unfortunate of these may have been Romney’s now-infamious “binders full of women” comment (to see the video clip click here).

The result? Memes such as this:


and this:


and, unfortunately, this:


Last Tuesday’s debate marks another victory for rapid-fire social media.

Debate debacles

CreepShots vs. Predditors

Granted this post has very little to do with “news” and much more to do with social media.

I’m speaking, of course, about the recent drama involving Reddit users and a subreddit called “CreepShots.” If that name isn’t enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, the page’s content certainly is.

CreepShots is a subreddit in which candid pictures of women are posted because, for one reason or another the (usually male) photographer found a woman to be *ahem* attractive (the page’s complete creepy credence can be viewed here).

Yep, a few million casual internet addicts posting photos of women’s bodies to which they have no right. The usual.

Here’s where the real newsworthiness comes in: a female blogger, sick of moderators failing to take action, began collecting the offending posters’ personal information and publishing it on a tumblr she named Predditors. The purpose? To oust the creepers before they did anything really dangerous (read: sexual harassment and rape).

Predditors has now been shut down, as has CreepShot (though the reign of internet creeps continues on rubreddits like CreepSquad).

The real question in interweb wars such as this one is: who has the right? Neither side was technically doing anything illegal, but in this internet age how long are we willing to look the other way?

Social media is a great journalistic tool, but it also shines an unfortunate light on the cringe-worthy underbelly of the internet. In this day and age, with new technologies springing up virtually overnight, we need rules and regulations that evolve at an equal pace.

Someone’s got to decide: How creepy is too creepy?

(For more info on the issue Jezebel has some enlightening articles: click here and here.)

CreepShots vs. Predditors

Jim Lehrer for president

As the wider public is aware (unless they’ve taken refuge under a rock or someplace similar), the first round of Presidential debates took place last night.

President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney spoke at the University of Denver. Spoke… and spoke… and spoke…

…and, at several instances, refused to stop. While Romney came off with a “win” over Obama, the real loser (as ABC News so correctly quips) was Jim Lehrer, the debate moderator.

Lehrer, who got his Bachelor’s in Journalism from Mizzou in 1956 (see his full profile here), was meant to keep the debate moving with 15-minute segments on six different topics. By the time the final segment rolled around, there were only 3 minutes left.

Numerous analyses of the candidates’ answers has been conducted (NPR’s “Five Takeaways” is a personal favorite), but I couldn’t help but be distracted by the way both candidates – Romney in particular – stepped continually on Lehrer’s toes.

As journalists, how can we serve as the watchdogs of power when we can’t get power to shut its mouth?

Heres’s the (somewhat obvious) solution as I see it: ask more pointed questions, demand answers, and command the candidates’ respect and attention.

It will be interesting to see what cues the remaining moderators take from Lehrer’s lackluster performance.

Jim Lehrer for president

National Empty Chair Day

In light of recent events (namely Clint Eastwood’s unorthodox monologue at the Republican National Convention), Monday, September 3rd was declared National Empty Chair Day by social medi-ites across the nation.

Websites such as “Legal Insurrection” accumulated massive backlogs of ’empty chair’ pictures sent in my users, each with a unique message. Some are in support of Obama, some are for Romney, and some simply bash governmental authority of every sort. (See “Legal Insurrection”‘s lengthy NECD post here.)

President Obama’s response to the speech was perhaps even more buzz-worthy than the thousands of empty chair pictures flooding the internet.

On Thursday, August 30 his reelection team tweeted a picture of the president seated in his designated Oval Office chair with the caption “This seat’s taken.”

Personally, I condone Obama’s staff for taking initiative and for interacting with the digital masses in a humorous way that nonetheless conveyed an appropriate message to the Republican party: I’m still here.

His team knows what it’s doing. They took the social media tool and used it successfully to create internet buzz… buzz, once again, over empty chairs.

President Obama’s jab at Eastwood’s ’empty chair’ speech had thousands of re-tweets within minutes of posting.
National Empty Chair Day