For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my gender role. Heteronormative relationships are difficult for me, because gender conformity can be suffocating and exhausting. Indeed, my feminist outlook has created longstanding tension in relationships, both past and present. This leaves me fighting for a voice in decisions that namely affect me, not my partner.
Still, I’ve found myself in a committed relationship with a man I love wholly. We’re 30, and have been dating off and on for over a decade, so you can imagine what happens when people ask about our future. Regardless, he and I talk about it openly and casually as if to say, we’re in this for the long-haul, so onto the next thing.
Yet, when my commitment is framed as marital, I feel icky. Marriage makes me uncomfortable, in part because of my own parents’ dissolution. More often, though, marriage appears to be a pretense for commitment. It lacks reality, which is readily masked by the ceremonious traditions of gender.
So unsurprisingly, when I find myself in a position to entertain marriage, it is hard for me to swallow. I recognize marriage as an institution of power. The central part of many hetero-marriages, taking the man’s name, incites a fury inside me. Forfeiting my identity seems far from a romantic concession.
The procedural formalities make marriage an even ickier concept. In traditional hetero-relationships, the man decides if and when the couple marries, tipping the scale in favor of male agency. I have never been okay with someone else making a decision for me, especially one that can transform my life. If we want to call marriage a partnership, then both parties should participate in the conversation.
Then, there’s the ring as a means to lay claim to a woman. While the ring serves to signal the woman’s impending nuptials, no physical symbol (at least in American culture) denotes a man’s relationship status. This seems to be the most controversial of my protestations. In an age where engagement rings are plastered on social media to be compared, ridiculed or glorified, the mere thought of refusing one seems obscene.
For all of its flaws, the worst may be that marriage’s arrogance assumes infallibility. Our society focuses on the performance: the ring, the engagement, the shower, the ceremony, the honeymoon. Fleeting past us is the essential point: marriage takes work. Living, growing, and changing do not happen seamlessly between two people. Yet marriage boasts that anything less than forever is a failure. Seems a lofty expectation from an institution created when the average lifespan was less than half what it is today.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I also worry that men, not women, are much happier when they marry. Women still carry out more than their fair share of the housework, and I have an inclination the same will hold true for my relationship. Women, not men, have to wrestle with the dual responsibility of raising children and pursuing their careers. To think of throwing that to the wayside when I started my career only a few months ago, terrifies me. And yet, it seems the jury is already out on “having it all.”
Marriage comes loaded with relics unfavorable to women. These beliefs are hard to overcome, no matter how educated or aware of them we are. The societal expectations for a “wife” coincide neatly with the unpaid, underappreciated work of the home. Most importantly, the responsibility of the marriage’s emotional health falls to the wife, which makes any failure hers alone. As poet Jill Bialosky once wrote, “I had wanted to get married, but I realized now that I had never wanted to be a wife.” Husbands simply are not held up to the same standards as wives.
So why would I willingly add to the roles I already feel pressed to fulfill?
I guess it goes without saying that I’m nowhere near the dance floor when the bride throws her bouquet. Sure, I’m on board with sharing my life with the person I love when it’s a decision we make together. I want to celebrate our union with our family and friends, just as I would celebrate other happy moments in life. I’m just not okay with calling it marriage.
 The fact that I can even sit here and debate about the choice to marry or not to marry—a privilege that many people here and around the world do not have? Well, that makes me feel pretty icky too.
 I concede that I battle gender roles in my own relationship; even though my role is arbitrary and socially conceived.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback RICHARD SHERMAN, calling out the racist idiocy spread like wildfire online following his postgame interview with Erin Andrews last Sunday.
This is the hockey game he’s referring to; on CNN’s The Lead earlier today, a sports columnist pointed out that in hockey, players who regularly get into skirmishes on the ice aren’t regularly referred to as “thugs,” but “enforcers.”
Hmmmm. And yep.
(via Business Insider)
Food for thought
I’m not the type of friend who will tell you “I love you” after hanging out three times. I don’t throw that word around, I don’t say it often, and I choose to say it only when it means something to me. I may share a number of beers with you on an innocuous Sunday Funday, because I enjoy meeting new people and hearing others’ perspectives. I do. But I am careful when it comes to who receives my care and attention. I like to earn the words “I love you,” and I don’t trust you when you speak them too quickly or too widely.
I expend energy; I share my life with you as equally as you share your life with me. I do not discard you for intimate relationships or temporary partners. I work hard to maintain a healthy balance between friends and lovers, and I stay weary of codependents.
I am opinionated and I argue. Just as with any meaningful relationship, arguments often reveal differences. But this also shields from the “fakeness” that is epidemic in many friendships. Disagreement stimulates growth, it exposes problems. Disagreement can lead to compromise and reconciliation, or it can alert one to toxicity. I do not swallow my thoughts just to maintain an illusion.
I’m sarcastic and I joke. I enjoy joshing around, and avoid people who take their lives too seriously.
I am a loyal friend. I will go to bat for you. I will stick up for you; I will help you get out of a rut if you ask for it. I will make sure to be there for you whenever you need me in whatever capacity I can be. Even if that means answering the phone.
I enjoy stimulating, intellectual conversation; I fail miserably at small talk. I adore people who are their truest selves rather than a reflection of their surroundings.
I’m an open book with close friends. I am unapologetically candid with my mistakes and emotions, and I steer clear of glossing over pain and sadness.
I let go if I need to. You and I, if we’re doing this thing correctly, should make each other better, not worse.
A lot of tears and Facebook deactivations went into the printing of this piece of paper.
I completed my dissertation and received my PhD in August of this year. I have yet to fully digest the seven years of graduate school that led me to the finish line, and am currently in the process of decompressing from academia’s vice. Thus, any “words of wisdom” that follow should be taken as “words of the weary-minded, freshly-minted PhD.”
All that being said, there was a ubiquitous set of themes experienced by my self and those colleagues around me. If after mulling over the cost/benefit of receiving a PhD you still wish to obtain one, I recommend chewing on these five caveats first.
1) You are not as smart as you think you are. Much of my frustration stems from slowly and painfully realizing this fact. As a straight-A student and a scholastic achiever who thrived on the adulations of her teachers, accepting criticism was (and still is) the hardest part of my career. Every time a professor has ripped my research apart, he/she has taken my identity with it. Being smart is sort of my thing, and it is extremely agonizing to be told with rhythmic regularity that my abilities do not measure up. Okay, if I’m not smart, then what am I? Who am I? Any student who has passed through the hoops, and I emphasize the plurality, has surely encountered this identity crisis. A PhD program is a continually sobering experience, and academics never tire of stuffing you full of humble pie. I find an immense amount of solace in Hemmingway’s sage advice:
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
Being broken is okay, and you will do well if you learn quickly how to build upon your weaknesses. Never allow these inadequacies to define you for too long though, or they will most certainly swallow you whole. And I say that in an effort to abstain from hyperbole.
2) Getting a PhD can be an isolating experience. I try to emphasize this piece as gently as I can, because I do not want friends and family to feel as though their support means nothing. It does, and these networks will help you push through your darkest moments. All that notwithstanding, unless your friends, family, or partner are all pursuing doctorates, they have no idea what you are going through. When you’re crying over your laptop at 2 in the morning, feeling helpless and confused, like no one on your committee understands you, like you don’t even understand you, do not expect non-PhD students to get this feeling. This expectation is unfair to them and disappointing to you. Lean on a fellow grad student for strength in these situations. Finding a confidant with whom you may commiserate will not only make you feel normal, but it will also keep you sane. Sometimes all you need to hear is, “I totally understand, that exact thing has happened to me too,” rather than, “You’re so smart, I know you can do it.” If you’re not sure why the latter affirmation fails to help, refer back to tip 1.
3) Creative writing is not academic writing. If you’re good at one, it’s hardly indicative of your talent for the other. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that they are one in the same. I am here to tell you that while creative writing comes quite naturally to me, academic writing is an arduous, mind-numbing, elusive skill that I fight daily to harness. You must write regularly to keep this skill. Binge writing is hard, stressful, angst-filled, and hardly ever rewarding. Wendy Belcher’s book (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Journal-Article-Twelve-Weeks/dp/141295701X) got me to stick to a writing schedule with which I produced more fruitful work in six months than I had in the previous twelve.
4) A thirst for knowledge does not a dissertation writer make. This should be self-explanatory. A voraciousness for knowledge does not equal a capacity to complete a dissertation. In actuality, this can serve as a huge impediment to your process. The name of the game is to create knowledge, after having already absorbed it. If the vast depth of Google Scholar’s search engine easily distracts you, don’t worry. The problem comes after you hunker down. It takes mountain-moving motivation to stay in and rewrite passages that conform to the committee’s demands. “Wikipedia wander” often caught the best of me while I struggled with the monotony that is editing. Stick to your topic, stick to your sources, and unless absolutely necessary, resist the temptation to stray into research databases.
If you own a Mac, the app “self-control” helped with my urge to find out everything there was to know about an extraneous, “somewhat related but not necessary to know at this very moment in time” research tangent. Other PC applications are available and can temporarily block learned procrastinators from their favorite websites.
Another tip, passed down to me from Professor Goyette, requires you to write for twenty minutes without interruption. Don’t know a source? Use a place-holder and come back to it. Can’t think of the exact quotation? Place-holder. This helped me to stay in the writing flow, which is a PhD student’s “happy place.”
5) Passion for a topic does not readily produce motivation for your research. Once you are writing (and re-writing and re-writing…), it is easy to lose sight of the inspiration that drew you to your topic in the first place. I found it helpful to read well-written research that ignited my initial interest in the subject. Re-reading passages worthy of committee approval also confirmed my ability to carry out the work. Be wary that feeling passionately for or against a topic cannot alone carry you through this process. It takes a strong will to finish, especially when a committee’s feedback often makes dissertation writing seem like you’re flailing upstream with a ton of weight strapped to your back. Even something as small as a student mistakenly addressing an email to “Dr. [YOUR NAME HERE]” can be that little push you need to dig out your flash drive and get to work.
Just be quick to realize that you can draw from your passion in multiple ways. Writing a dissertation is but one option, and perhaps the least creative among them. Find whichever route is suitable for you, all other advisors be damned!
So now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
Now what does that say about me
It seems that most of my rants these days spring from some sociologically induced knee-jerk reaction in which I tend to overanalyze anything my friends send me about singlehood. In my latest of these, a few girlfriends and I discussed, over email, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s newest introspective piece about being 40 and single. My reflection was thus:
This makes me sad, because it’s so rooted in the sociological significance of what “makes” your life important.
"Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis. If you don’t have the imposition of family to remind you of what is at stake, something else will. I was alone in a lonely apartment with only a stalker to show for my accomplishments and my years."
Notice how she doesn’t talk about her best selling books or her fame, or her educational achievement. Instead, she notes that she doesn’t have a family, and that is what is supposed to define you as both accomplished and an adult. Moreover, she points to all the classic indicators of this: owning a home, having a husband, having kids… as if this would suddenly bring some sort of happiness to her life.
I love EW, because she is so raw and candid, but I’m disappointed that she didn’t reflect on any of this to find that her wants and needs were constructed for her by a society that places way too much value on nuclear families. I think this line is profound: “And now I am just quarreling with normal.” …Because by her just identifying what normal is, she is intrinsically submitting to societal standards.
Then I got to thinking about my own happiness. Despite it being mine, the shape it takes and the gratification I receive from the things I do are still deeply embedded in collective approval. I thought about the very things for which my life will be celebrated. I thought about the posts on my mini-feed that seem to garner the most “likes”: engagement announcements gone FBO, wedding photos attempting to capture love in its most artificial environment, the birth of a couple’s first child… or second, or third. All of these life events are accompanied by a very strict set of social conventions: how to celebrate these milestones is as much ingrained in us as how to react to them. I’m 29, and I have none of these, and I have comforted myself with knowing I don’t want any of these. Yet, it still hurts that my choices are overshadowed by the choices of others. It hurts to live with the knowledge that being a mom outranks being a doctor on the list of lifetime achievements.
In fact, the choice to get married, to have children, to buy a home… all of these are choices, which our government rewards. But the government is not the only body heralding these choices as the peak of the “free-will” hierarchy. My choices seem to condemn me to “Never-never land,” a childish relic trapped in an adult’s body, someone worthy of the kind of judgmental disparagement that comes with not settling down. I am not serious about my life, because I fall outside of societal boundaries of being taken seriously. That is not to say that individuals in my life have not lauded my academic pursuit… but rather this achievement is but a stepping stone in the direction of what should be my ultimate life goal: marriage, kids, a house in the suburbs. The pursuit of a family is the most widely celebrated symbol of happiness.
Still, as I paddle upstream, I can’t help but sympathize with Wurtzel as she questions her stilted analysis of marital bliss.
“I know that people who do these things are happy because happiness is the untruths we tell each other and ourselves or it would be unbearable. But I would rather not. I would rather be sad, and sometimes lonely, but at least not suffering the silly. Or is that my untruth?”
Could it be that my own denigration of “happily ever after” is in fact an untruth…a diversion from failing to attain what society has taught me is worthy of attainment?
In her writing, Wurtzel’s boldness should be celebrated, for it is within this piece that a committed feminist makes a very anti-feminist admission: conventional standards of happiness still taint her unconventional life choices. That in some ways, happiness is not so much an individual achievement as it is a nod from society: you are allowed to be happy, because you have the things for which people should strive. The marriage, the children, the mortgage, the American Dream in all of its glory. And it is not until we realize this dream that we understand how empty and shallow society’s imagination can be.
So here I am again: Friday night of a dissertation weekend watching the cursor pulse before me, the only sign of life on a blank white page. Every time I try to concentrate, a nagging tug inside my brain forces my concentration elsewhere… to the future. To what kind of life I wish to lead once my incarceration in formal education has finally ended. The possibility for parole has passed me by on three occasions: high school, bachelors, masters… and now, the only thing left for me to do is to finish my time.
With all this consideration paid to the unknown, I begin to think about the years I have spent in some sort of limbo. As my friends have begun careers—some having started and stopped a handful of positions in the past 7 years—I idly wait for my release. Perhaps I am being a bit hyperbolic with this metaphor, but even my 24-year-old self felt a little trapped.
Journal Entry 05/13/2009: “I feel this intense pressure to succeed and to receive my doctorate, but without any of the creative motivation needed to bring it to fruition. Every time I come to the end of something, I begin to reevaluate everything. I can’t pause to feel anything but complete and utter suffocation.”
So here I am again: nearly four years later, starring blankly at my life choices and trying to evaluate them on a cost-benefit basis. The end is near, and I anxiously scan the four walls of my studio for a panic room.
My little sister was born on November 3, 1986, 16 days before my third birthday. I don’t remember her being born, of course.
My first memories of my sister revolve around the three of us, my baby sister, our middle brother, and me. None of my earliest memories include her; I relive these only through the miracle of VHS. But when we moved into our house on Harvest Bend, a small development in the suburb of Erie, PA, I remember the three of us scrunched together, coloring in books twice our size, drinking red slushies from Hills and ignoring our parents’ heavy-lifting filtering in and out behind us.
I remember, too, sharing a room with my little sister. On Sunday nights, the two of us would huddle in our spacious pop up tent, strategically positioned on top of one of our twin beds, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. When we got a little more rebellious, the two of us would prop open our window, climb onto the roof, walk over to the top of our motor home and escape down the ladder to play with kids who didn’t have to be home once the street lights turned on. Sure, we had our fights too. Plenty of them involving a technique employed by my brother and me. Step 1. Chase Jessica and corner her into a bedroom. Once cornered, Jessica assumed a turtle on its shell position and kicked ferociously to fend off her predators. Step 2. Lee takes her kicking left leg, I take the kicking right. Step 3. Beat down. Step 4. Anticipated shrill scream escapes from Jessica. Step 5. Beat down of Lee and me commences via one of our parents. Kids have short-term memories, so steps 1 through 5 were repeated often, always to be followed up by reactionary measures. The alliance between our kid sister and our parents seemed more like the Axis of Evil than a warranted punishment for kicking the crap out of our baby sibling.
But as we got older, and our personalities began to grow, sharing a room with my sister literally turned into sharing a room with the enemy. In our house on Zuck Road, I drew lines (with duct tape) down the center of our battlefield. Naturally, as with any little sister, J blatantly ignored my geographic boundaries. She pillaged my wardrobe, she brought chaos to my (somewhat anal) tidiness, and she encroached upon my desire for teenage agency. We were what any teenage girl rendition of the Odd Couple might have looked like. I, the bookworm who spent meticulous hours cleaning and cataloging my belongings. She, the messy, charming manipulator of clothing thievery.
At night though, when we both lay in our beds, it was all we could do to stop from confiding in one another, many minutes past our bedtime. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know exactly what it was we talked about. All I remember is laughing uncontrollably with my enemy, while making two more in the bedroom downstairs.
I love my sister with every single shred of my being. I love her with all of the complexities you can feel when deeply loving someone. She has disappointed me, hurt me, cursed my name as if I were the only person worthy of her disdain… but like any other subconscious motor function, I have only loved her more. She has taken the burden of my darkness and cried for me when I was too numb to deal with the pain for myself; she has birthed three tiny human beings whom I love so much I can hardly fathom a love greater than this; she has made me laugh when I didn’t think smiling was possible; and she has cracked the whip and wound up sleeping on the couch some nights.
I don’t care if it’s a cliché: to me, my sister is my rock. We fight like sisters, because we are. We protect each other like sisters, because we are. She and I have gone through so much together, shared so much of our lives together, experienced things only children who occupy the same room for 14 years can ever experience. I’ll admit, at times I loathed cohabiting with my kid sister. But anyone who didn’t grow up sharing a room misses out on so much. We shared a room when I lost my first tooth, and when she lost hers. We shared a room when I had my first crush, and when she had hers. We shared a room when I went off to middle school, and left her behind in grade school.We shared a room and now we share experiences of which no one else on this entire planet will ever know—experiences only brought up when the two of us share a room now. I would do anything for her, and she for me, and god help you if you ever cross either of our Scorpio paths.
Tomorrow, my “lil’ sisser” turns 26, 16 days before my 29th birthday. I don’t remember her being born, of course. And I don’t remember anything before her, either.
 You didn’t think I would write a whole piece about you and not mention that, did you?
“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” -Albert Einstein
These days, there’s a lot to be sad about in Cleveland.
Last week, a video capturing a physical altercation on a Cleveland bus went viral. The amateur footage featured a young, disruptive black female cursing at an older, black male bus driver. During the exchange, the woman verbally taunts the bus driver, slinging venomous insults in his direction. Minutes into the recording, the bus driver, possibly having been shoved by the young woman , gets up from his seat, throws a devastating uppercut into her jaw, and tosses her off of the bus.
I will not speculate as to what escalated the argument, since I, as with almost everyone who has seen the video, was not riding that bus. However, the sight of a young woman’s head slinging back from the force of a grown man’s fist sickened me. A desperate scream from the back of the bus calls, “She’s a girl!” That’s all I could think of, this is a female being hit by a male. My feelings of disgust for the bus driver’s reaction were magnified by the social commentary that follows:
A) He should’ve shot her. You can just see her head bob hand in the face thingy. Bleh… And female or not.. you act like a man you get punched like one! Lesson learned?
B) From the other comments, SHE did hit him first. She got what she deserved, a swift uppercut to her big mouth.
C) This is my take on the situation: If you are a woman offering to fight a man, then you better bring your game to the fight. He should have waited until she hit him first, then defended himself. You talk the talk, you better fight the fight. I do not think men should hit women, but times are changed, I am a woman and I have personally witnessed more than one incident where a woman was so insulting and verbally abusive to a complete stranger, that I applauded their decision to walk away. Women getting hit by men always looks bad, BUT sometimes the woman is just being a giant pain. Let’s see what happens.
These were not rogue dissenters. These quotes represent what seems to be the general consensus.
After scouring the Internet for articles which might have addressed the gendered and racial implications of the video and its popularity, I found only two. That makes only two authors willing to say that the physical conflict in the video was egregious and that the societal reflection is abhorrent.
And here’s the thing, people on social media are openly laughing about the situation. These are people who see a man punching a young woman and think: This is comedic gold. In fact, fan pages have sprung up to support the Cleveland bus driver. The “about” section of the page The Cleveland Bus Driver aka Uppercut OG reads, “I star in the HIT documentary “Get off My Bus: Driver Uppercuts The Sh*t Outta Teen Girl In Cleveland!” Over 7,000 likes. Another page, In defense of Cleveland RTA Driver not being fired, boasts nearly 9,000 likes. One fan rhetorically asks, “Fired for what??? Being awesome?”
But I’m not laughing. I don’t quite understand how someone can be. And it’s not because I don’t have a good sense of humor—anyone close to me will attest to that.
I think of the implications the video has for gendered identities and violence against women. That somehow subjectivity factors into whether society deems the violence as unacceptable or not… that the opinion of the masses matters in cases of physical violence. Unprovoked male-on-female violence is deplorable, but provoked violence somehow levels the playing field? Suddenly, the biological generalities about the male sex have flown out of the window.
To illustrate the gravity of the matter, to explain to people who may be whispering to themselves “lighten up,” here are cold, hard facts about our own city. A University of Pennsylvania research study found, “[D]omestic violence  is the leading cause of injury to low-income, inner-city Philadelphia women between the ages of 15 to 44 - more common than automobile accidents, mugging and rapes combined” (my emphasis). Are we to believe that the lesson to be learned here is this: If she had it coming, it should be condoned? In this case it seems that the general public follows that line of reasoning. I may be outnumbered in thinking a man hitting a woman is never okay, and I’m okay with that.
The bus driver and scores of commentators also highlight the performance of masculinity. As one Facebook user so inarticulately stated, “If her butt can grow a set of nuts and hit on a man then she can be hit back like a man.” I don’t know of many men who would appreciate this association. Quite frankly, deplorable and belligerent behavior, whether coming from a male or a female, should never be heralded as a gendered ideal. And lest we forget, acting like a man implies that masculinity is a social construct which can be performed by either sex—not to be confused with a sex change.
And then, I think of the implications it has for racialized identities and the status of black men in our society. Specifically, the identity which assumes black men are inherently violent. The stereotype of the “black brute” created during Reconstruction, which falsely paints black men as the only race genetically wired for pugnaciousness. What does this video going viral mean for that identity construction? What does this video’s popularity (among whites and blacks alike) do for the perception of black men?
I’d be remiss not to mention bell hooks here, and although this passage is long, it is a worthwhile read:
Within neo-colonial white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the black male body continues to be perceived as an embodiment of bestial, violent, penis-as-weapon hypermasculine assertion. Psychohistories of white racism have always called attention to the tension between the construction of black male body as danger and the underlying eroticization that always then imagines that body as a location for transgressive pleasure. It has taken contemporary commodification of blackness to teach the world that this perceived threat, whether real or symbolic, can be diffused by a process of fetishization that renders the black masculine ‘menace’ feminine through a process of patriarchal objectification.” 
Put simply, this video’s widespread attention only serves to realize and preserve the assertion of black male as violent aggressor.
Let me just say, that in no way does this post justify the abusive behavior of the young female passenger, no matter the situation. I have ridden my fair share of buses, and I too have witnessed acrimonious verbal assaults spewed toward drivers. Something must be done to protect the safety of both drivers and riders. That being said, the popularity of this video and its repugnant content are things with which I take issue.
Americans exalting a video of this nature? I guess, these days, there’s a lot to be sad about everywhere.
 People disagree about whether the female shoved and/or hit the bus driver. Needless to say, the video footage does not fully support the claim that the young woman physically attacked the driver, though many seem to assume it does.
 Included in the definition of “domestic violence” were injuries caused by street crime. To read other facts about violence against women, please see: http://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html
 bell hooks. 2003. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.