Some books find you at a perfect time—they become like a friend or even a mentor. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, spoke to us, as both.
We were initially inclined to read Hillbilly Elegy, because we desired and needed to develop an understanding of the discussed area of our country, a region often belonging to a very different political ideology and way of life. We wanted to comprehend the reason behind people's’ decisions. To do that, you need to uncover how they arrived at that conclusion by looking at what has influenced them. This means hearing their stories. Hillbilly Elegy offers a look into a world different from ours, yet one that shares the same leader.
Jospehine’s Note: While I have familial ties in some of these states, my roots are primarily based in touristic mountain towns whose populations are staunchly liberal, avid environment advocates. Growing up amongst the western mountain ranges of the United States, the destinations for many vacations, is my greatest privilege. I grew up amongst my some of country’s most breathtaking backdrops that allowed me to develop a healthy lifestyle and environmental consciousness and appreciation. I include this because there exists a stark contrast between my childhood and the author, J.D. Vance, who also grew up amongst mountains.
J.D. Vance grew up in the Appalachian region between Kentucky and Ohio, also known as the Rust Belt. In many ways the Appalachian hills were his life-long safe haven, so much so that he recently went and purchased his grandparents’ land. This is where he grew up and where he escaped as well as faced his struggles, common to the average hill person. This part of the world is built on a lost generation of families who once moved here for economic prosperity—they moved to work in the coal and steel industries, with the hope to build a life for their families. For a while, this worked, but as factories and the industry moved out of the country, these people were left in the dust.
The epidemic that is now present across the Midwest, starts at the core—the family. As Vance notes and experiences, being raised by a nuclear family is not the norm, rather grandparents step in as parents for their grandchildren. This is the common byproduct due to high rates of alcoholism and opioid use, and an educational system with little to no community support. It is a system that unfortunately perpetuates itself. Vance describes Jacksonville as a place where you make it, but only if you have someone looking out for and encouraging you, like his grandparents did for him. Otherwise there is little hope for another way out. Vance didn’t even realize this until much later in his life - that he could escape the cycle of drugs, abuse, and poverty that plagues the Rust Belt. Vance explains that a person’s lack or perception of a lack of possibilities lies within each individual and where they point their blame. For some, the government is solely to blame. This is a contradictory statement by those who misuse their food stamps to buy cheap products at a grocery store, then resell the items on the street at a higher price, so as to spend the majority of the money on alcohol. Others point their blame on an America at large that no longer depends on them, and no longer sees them as a crucial aspect of modern America. The white underclass may have thought they were forgotten, but in 2016’s presidential election, they were heard.
Today, Vance’s resume screams privilege —he is a white male, who graduated from Yale Law, and married the woman of his dreams. He resides in Cincinnati where he practices as a malpractice lawyer, but his current life deeply contrasts his roots. He is the American Dream. Hard work got Vance to high places; however, without his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, his older sister, and aunts and uncles who stepped up throughout his life, he could have easily been another kid with barely a G.E.D. and an hourly job. Vance acknowledges that he was up against the odds, and he managed through his unique support system, to come out on top. His Mamaw believed deeply as education being the ticket out and she was correct. She sacrificed so much, to ensure he had the best shot at an education. From raising Vance and giving him as stable of a home as possible to redirecting money for her own prescription meds to buy Vance a calculator, Mamaw was Vance’s backbone. These moments defined and served as a catalyst to a better life.
Throughout his memoir, Vance explores the root causes of the hillbilly states. He candidly relives his childhood on paper, but moreover, he questions it. He dives into the cultural nuances that impact the white lower class more than economic opportunities present. He believes that way-of-life choices have been passed down and while they offer comfort and familiarity, they aren’t necessarily beneficial. The hillbillies are making their own fate—and it is not a hopeful one. This poses the question: who should fix it? Is the epidemic across the hillbilly states one that is structural, and can be mended through governmental reform? Or, is it one that can only change through intrinsic nature where people hold themselves accountable?
Vance describes the epidemic in the following way: imagine a kid coming to school every day and telling his teacher “I can’t,” when in fact the kid truly can, and has done so many times before. However, at home the parents do the work for the student instead of investing time into watching the child succeed. Much is the same in the dried up steel towns spotted across the center of the United States—the people have “learned helplessness,” and decide that the situation they are in far outweighs their capacities to improve their own lives.
The fact is if you are raised in this region of the world, born to parents that are ill-equipped to parent, your likelihood of making it out of this corner of the country is slim to none. Children raised here score very high on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a series of ten questions outlining traumas most upper-class families never endure. Children who experience abuse, have a single parent, and are exposed to drugs and alcohol during early childhood are more likely to have depression and anxiety, to develop chronic heart disease, to live shorter lives, and also to continue the cycle. Kids who have experiences ACEs “are more likely to underperform in schools and suffer from relationship instability as adults.” Harvard has found that constant stress during development actually changes the chemistry makeup of the brain. Although the conditions are hard, and Vance contributes much of his success to having his grandparents and other family members support him, he states, “no person’s childhood gives him or her a perpetual moral get-out-of-jail-free card…”Ideally, individuals change, they raise better families, and in turn future generations are made successful.
Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of a lost generation that is need of a better future. That future will come from strong families, and individuals committing to better their own lives. Change starts from the inside, but it can extend out, culturally reshaping communities at large.
Josephine's Takeaway: After reading Vance’s take on adversity and experience of ACEs, I have never felt more sure of that our actions pave our own future. In the end, situations or rather our reactions to such, are opportunities for change. Despite the trials that children suffer, it has been my experience that people are extended olive branches throughout their lives by way of coaches, teachers, a wonderful grandparent, etc. If such branches are received with grace, people truly do have the ability to make it out on the other side in order to forge forward and create a life that they desire, not that they were born into.
Jessica's Reflections: This memoir opened my eyes and my heart. As a New Yorker, I am surrounded primarily by those who think and act the same way as I do. To be able to learn about another American’s drastically different way of life, is truly a gift and a lesson I strongly recommend that others divulge in, especially given this highly polarized political context. Familiarizing oneself with the values and challenges that others are up against is key to fostering understanding and empathy. I thank J.D. Vance for sharing his story and I encourage others, across the political and geopolitical map, to do the same.
During the latest U.S. Open women's singles final match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was first given a code violation warning followed by a point penalty and game penalty. She was later fined $17,000 for these three violations prompting Ms. Williams to call out the empire and the entire regime of tennis as sexist. We at Sub-Stances were interested in this event and wanted to share our individual thoughts with you, as women.
In almost every realm, women face some sort of double standard. People blame them for their partner’s use of drugs, most recently the case of Mac Miller and Ariana Grande. People declare that women cannot pursue their dream job while also being a rockstar of a mother. On the court, that also plays a role. Men are allowed to take off their shirts while Mia Hamm got bad press for years for her celebratory shirt take-off. This past weekend, Serena Williams was confronted with a variety of double standards, but does it justify her actions? While it is true that she may have been penalized more than her male counterparts, should she stoop lower or to their level to prove her point? I think not. While in many ways this world is shaped in a ‘men on top’ (man)ner, equality in or out of sports will only be won if women rise above those seeking to push them down. That means instead of criticizing an umpire for a questionable call, choose to take a deep breath over splitting a racket. It means winning with profound class. That is only way to make it to the top of society —to be so good they can’t deny you.
It is unfortunately not surprising that events like this still occur in many kinds of environments, particularly when it comes to sports. Despite advances being made to help give women equality in the workplace, sexism is still an ever-present challenge. It is in instances like the one faced by Serena Williams that such displays of sexism come out of the closet and into the light. However, in choosing to respond in the way she did, Serena Williams made a mistake. Losing control of her emotions has led to many pigeonholing her into the ‘hysterical women’ bracket rather than taking her complaints at the sexism seriously. The fact of the matter is that often men treat women differently. In sports, this can mean a different call or even a losing one. By remaining in control and not giving into urge to scream, women are better served by taking the high road. It may be a challenging route, but ultimately, it is the right one.
As a tennis player and tennis lover, I admire Serena Williams for the exceptional player that she is. She is a force to be reckoned with and is perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time. She breaks records and stereotypes. She fights racism, sexism, and the enormous pressure to remain on top. Not to mention, she nearly died giving birth to her daughter Olympia and then rose to play in this year's Grand Slam final, so soon after such a traumatic experience. So yes, I admire Serena for all that she is and achieves, as a woman and as a player.
Thus, my take on the incidents that unraveled at the U.S. Open women’s final is in support of Serena — to a degree. I do not think that the player should be penalized for her coach’s actions. She had no control over his actions, yet she was penalized for such. Not to mention, how much can a coach actually influence the game? After all, it only comes down to the player actually being capable to defeat his or her opponent. Plus, this is one of if not the only sport to prohibit such coaching. So, I think that the first code violation was on top of being subjective and difficult to enforce, unfair. However, I do believe that breaking or slamming a racquet is cause for penalty. When it came to Serena’s verbal response of calling umpire Ramos a thief, I do think that it was an overreaction by the umpire. A warning would have sufficed, not a game dock. This response by the umpire was not just unfair to Serena, but also to her opponent Naomi Osaka. No player wishes to win on an unfair technicality. This was a disservice to both women.
Despite all the controversy surrounding Serena’s actions and reactions, one thing is clear —how she addressed the crowd and her opponent, Naomi is laudable. She alone had the capacity to quell her supportive, angry crowd. She redirected their as well as her own frustration towards celebrating Naomi and her major achievement as the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam event. With the whole world watching, Serena used her platform to build her fellow female tennis player up, and not put down the umpire. For that, Serena is a champion to me.
On Sunday August 5, 2018, I had the pleasure of being able to attend the Interfaith Commemoration of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. It was held at Judson church located adjacent to Washington Square Park in New York City. The day marked the 73rd anniversary of the bombing.
At this beautiful event, religious leaders from all faiths spoke to the need for humans coming together, regardless of faith, to prevent such another traumatic event from rocking this earth. Given the political field today, their pleas had serious weight.
From the Japanese-American youth choir to the dancers, the night was truly a night of beauty and of hope. The individual who left the greatest impact, however, was a Hiroshima survivor, Tomiko Morimoto West. She was thirteen years old when the bomb dropped on her city. Her whole family was killed immediately except for her grandfather. He died soon after from his injuries and she reflected on her strength at such a young age. Japanese soldiers were collecting bodies and she stood up to them, refusing to let them take him, for she wanted to burn him as per tradition, herself. She recounted, “If I could muster the strength to do that, I could do anything.” And here I sat in the audience, in utter and complete awe of this woman. She was standing in a room in the country which dropped the bomb on her own city, wiping out her whole world. Instead of calling for vengeance or any notion of the sort, here she stood asking everyone in the room, to always remember to love and to treat your family members with kindness. Her strength and her poise was unparalleled and humbling.
In today’s world, where nuclear buttons are boasted and threatened ever so casually over twitter, I couldn’t imagine what these survivors and descendants of survivors from the only nuclear weapons dropped, are feeling. The effects of such weaponry are still felt today and yet, the world seems to not take such devastation seriously.
Overall, I couldn’t have spent a Sunday night better. I encourage anyone reading this to heed Tomiko’s message about reaching for love and kindness. Moreover, I urge people to research the widespread effects of nuclear warfare, before entering rather casual conversations about dropping nukes. Nuclear warfare is the farthest thing from a joke and it must be taken and addressed in an appropriate, grave manner. There is a reason they have only been used in one war; let us work towards keeping it that way.
There is no denying that we often bend or at least are more accepting of bending the rules for the ones we care about. Our siblings borrow things and sometimes break them, without asking. Our parents make mistakes, our distant relatives may break the law, our friends may test your trust. Nevertheless, you love these people and so, you let the transgressions slide.
However, it begs the question: when someone we trust continuously breaks promises, at what point do you draw the line – the one that makes or breaks the relationship?
Take for instance that boyfriend. The one that says all of the right things – things you maybe have never heard before. You are finally being seen, heard and appreciated just for being you. It’s refreshing and validating. In a word, it’s nice.
You like what he’s said and what he has promised about your future, together. The promises he makes directly correlate with what you believe in and hope for. It’s as if he’s speaking directly to your heart. Not only is he promising, but he is also powerful, in fact he was just promoted to President of his global company.
Unfortunately, not all of your friends and family approve – an issue, but not a deal-breaker. It causes rifts and arguments and even the end of some relationships, but he’s your man. And if they can’t see how good he is for you and how he can provide for you– well then, forget them.
Gradually however, he begins to lose people who are closest to him. One by one, they disassociate with him. The little voice inside your head starts to chirp a warning. But then you hear him charismatically assure you and his remaining friends that there is nothing to worry about and that voice goes away.
Time passes. More talks about what he is planning to do for you. He follows through on the smaller promises, but when it comes to the bigger goals, it surprises you how long its taking him to commit and follow through. But he’s at least trying right? Plus, you love him and have chosen to stand by him. A relationship takes work, right? So you press on.
Then scandals begin to emerge. One by one, they begin to leak out. Your man doubles down to refute such claims. His enemies are at it again. They’ll do anything to destroy him and you. So you join in and dig in to defend him, vehemently. You are closer now more than ever - united and committed to each other. It’s you and him against the world.
While you enjoy how bonded this has made you, deep down you begin to wonder how long that this backlash will last. You’re hoping that these scandals will blow over, eventually.
They don’t. More and more continue to come out, and more of his close friends leave his side. Meanwhile, his enemies only seem to grow. Instead of proving them wrong, he continues to dig in and verbally defend these scandals. That voice inside your head begins to reemerge… “A lot of talk and no action, despite their being a lot of alleged bad action.” You begin to doubt . . .
Then he does something monumental. He accepts his rival’s invitation to a round of poker on foreign soil. This is huge. No one has met with this rival before in many decades. Your man’s actions are inspiring; there may even be an end to this decades-long rivalry. The photos say it all: friendship over adversity. This is a momentous day – a huge win indeed. He returns home and you celebrate his mighty achievement. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
All the while you are celebrating, you are drowning out his loud critics. You ponder – why can’t we celebrate or at least acknowledge his achievement without bashing him? Can’t they see what he has accomplished – the end to an infamous rivalry – a laying down of weapons if you will. One of his critics gets to you when they ask “What has he accomplished?” You respond “He is talking in order to prevent and to end fighting. He has made a peace deal.” They retort “Yes, but the deal is currently being broken.” You sit there in disbelief. They continue, “He made your man look like a fool.” And that hit home. How dare they.
So, you do research to investigate how to prove this critic wrong and all of his haters, for that matter. You research and stomach reading all of the hate. You filter the bashings from the seemingly more factual based, more objective arguments. You still don’t like it, but you do begin to wonder – does this have merit? If so, how much? Doubt starts to trickle in.
His critics and scandals only seem to grow with time and fervor. How much longer will this go on? Can you both survive this?
None are more concerning to you than his alleged affair with Peter S. Burg, former spy and now president of rival company, RSA Federation. Not too long ago, he went to Peter’s headquarters and met privately with him only to then publicly state that Peter is not the threat that your man’s friends and trusted colleagues have said. You are watching this, agape. How could he negate what his own company and his own people have to say in favor of his rival? This is not helping his case in the slightest. Since he was promoted to president 2 years ago, the police have opened an investigation to see if there was any collective fraud being committed by both sides. Your man has and continues to publicly deny these claims, but the investigation is ongoing and people are being indicted and sent to jail. So for him to meet privately with this former secret agent with whom there is a lot of controversy around, for him to then speak out against his own company and people, and then proceeded to invite Peter, home, well it’s unwise to say the least. This puts not only your future together in jeopardy, but your safety as well. To reassure you, he has asserted that he has the best lawyers and is so powerful, that he won’t end up in jail. You know an innocent person does not state that.
That warning voice inside your head has never been louder.
So what now? Stay in this abusive relationship or muster the courage to leave?
Do you have a line? And will you stick to it?
Whether you're a thrill seeker or someone in search of a relaxing vacay, Byron Bay has it all!
Begin your day with a sunrise hike to the Byron Bay Lighthouse. You will be surrounded by locals and visitors alike as you watch the sun rise over the ocean, from the most easterly tip of mainland Australia. This is something you do not want to miss!
On your walk back to town, grab some brekkie (breakfast) at one of the cafes in town. If you walk back along the water, the place to stop is The Pass Cafe. Here you can enjoy some of the best views that Byr has to offer.
Other breakfast hot spots include: Dip, Byron Fresh Cafe and Bay Leaf Cafe. If you're a fellow coffee-lover, do not miss trying a Flat White. Seriously, they're the best.
If you haven't already, midday is the time to hit the beach and ensure you grab yourself a spot. Byron is no Copacabana in terms of crowd size, but it does get fairly crowded in summer time. Remember to bring sunblock and your shades - the strength of the Aussie sun is no joke. The red and yellow flags mark the swimming area, so if you plan to swim or even boogie board - be sure to abide by the flags and lifesavers' instructions and/or whistles. If you plan to surf, you should head outside this area. Boards of all shapes and sizes can be rented at many places in town, for the 1/2 day, day, multiple days, etc.
Other beach activities in Byron include snorkeling as well as paddle boarding and kayaking with the local dolphins. For those seeking some adrenaline, you can go hang gliding and sky-diving, weather permitting. There is also the possibility of a day trip to Nimbin, a rather notorious, freedom-loving, hippie town that offers the opportunity for a very green experience - for those seeking it.
For lunch, there are several options. For Mexican: Chihuahua, Seafood lovers: Beach Byron Bay, Asian/Vegetarian: Foxy Luu's, American: BayGer, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean: Orgasmic.
We suggest you welcome that post-lunch siesta under some shade. If you're not used to it, the heat and sun can catch you off guard and wipe you out. So it's best to stay hydrated and rested.
As it nears sunset, head to the beach or another lookout - if you're super adventurous, the lighthouse again, for some of mother earth's most spectacular performances. I have journeyed to many places in this world and I have seen innumerable sunsets - alas, none compare to those found in the Australian sky. So, kick back and toast to another glorious day around the sun.
When your stomach starts to grumble again, you can usually hit any of the lunch spots, for dinner in addition to: Miss Margarita, The Sticky Wicket Bar and Bay Kebabs.
Night life is always what you make of it. Are you a backpacker in search of your fellow travellers or maybe just on a budget? Most if not all hostels will be offering unbeatable drink and dinner deals. For those seeking a club, you have La La Land or Cheeky Monkeys, the former being more upscale than the latter. Railway Friendly Bar is more laid back and offers live music and outdoor seating. Desiring craft beer? Byron Bay Brewery is the place. And of course there's also the chance to stargaze while listening to the sounds of the ocean.
Whatever you are looking for, we guarantee Byron Bay will leave an imprint on your heart.
They say some places never leave you - for me, Byron Bay is one of them. Located in the state of New South Wales, Byr offers those beaches – you know the ones you picture when you hear “Australia.” Not only does Byr offer some of the most gorgeous beaches, but it’s home to a plethora of activities – from kayaking with dolphins to surfing, from skydiving to paragliding to whale watching – this town has something for nearly everyone.
Byron Bay lives and breathes the Aussie motto of “No Worries.” Everyone does their own thing and frankly, no one cares. All different kinds of music can be heard while walking down the beach or streets – from techno to reggae. Walking barefoot in your bathing suit is the unspoken dress code. You will also be greeted with the sounds and smells of blenders whipping up fresh and fruity smoothies, grills sizzling up burgers, that “pssh” of beers being opened. Sure, you’ll hear that sexy Aussie accent, but Byron is quickly becoming a hot destination for people around the world. So, you’ll be sure to hear Spanish, Portuguese, German, and so on.
Whether you party all night or choose to rise early, there is one thing that brings everyone together – and that is the magnificent sunrise. The lighthouse of Byron Bay offers the most easterly tip of continental Australia. So what’s the big deal? This means that you catch the sunrise before the rest of the country. It’s practically a sacred ritual that locals and tourists alike partake in. The unspoken, but understood silence as people wait for the sun to peak its way over the ocean is only broken with the hoots and hollers when it does finally rise.This routine may seem small in nature, but the idea and practice of celebrating the gift of another day here on earth is humbling and meaningful.
If the beauty and contagiously happy vibe of Byron Bay doesn’t get you there, perhaps the town’s way of reminding you to never take a day for granted will.
P.S. Chris Hemsworth and his family just moved there, so that’s an added bonus.
Every two years, the world is joined together in what is known as Olympism. And every two years, this universal symbol reemerges: five interlinked rings with one each in blue, black, red, yellow, and green on a white background.
So what does this exactly represent? According to the Olympic Charter, “The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.” (Source)
Despite there being seven continents, according to the Olympics - the five rings represent the five inhabitable continents: the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Though creator of the symbol and co-founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, appears to have intended the rings to represent the five participating continents. However post-1951, the official handbook does not assign one color to be representative of a specific continent.
The white background also has significance. In combination with the five rings, these six colors are “those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time” - Pierre de Coubertin (1931).
So what are your thoughts on this iconic symbol? Should it change to include six rings representing the six inhabitable continents? Should the colors change every year, remain the same, become monochromatic?
Let us know!
Take a moment out of your day to read about the devastating impact of climate change on the Lake Chad area.
Throughout the fall of 2017 the hashtag #metoo exploded on social media. It started as small scale hashtag where women noted how they too had been affected by sexual harassment— unnecessary comment and unwarranted attention based off of objectifying women and classifying them as merely sexual beings, rather than considering their intellectual capacity, and their innate abilities, whether it be athletic or artistic. Throughout history women consistently have been disregarded when it comes to their worth as individuals and instead singled out based solely on their sexual attributes. This has most commonly come in the form of unwanted comments, mansplaining, women not being respected and listened to, but the problems correlated with sexist commentary and actions go much deeper than this. Sexual harassment is the basis to all sexual assault as it is the normalizing factor to deeper societal concerns.
The #MeToo hashtag started with actress Alyssa Milano who tweeted:
According to the Atlantic, within 24 hours, it already had been retweeted a half-million times. Women were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, these comments and acts of sexual harassment, along with the sexual assault, have become so normalized that they are often overlooked and disregarded. Women learn to blow comments off, to walk by with their head down when a group of men are gathered on the streets, and sadly, often learn that their sexuality is the manner in which to get ahead
Background of Sexual Harassment
The way in which our culture defines sexual harassment has changed fundamentally over the past decade. The situation often comes down to what has been allowed or tolerated societally at a given time .Just look at the situation involving Harvey Weinstein or any of the other named predators in the United States Congress. Many have simply stated that they had acted in ways that were socially acceptable at the time. Although the idea of harassing a woman will always be “wrong,” there was a pervasive culture of it throughout much of the past. Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was no legal standing for a woman to make a claim against their employer for discrimination based on sex. And if you consider that to be “coming late to the party,” it should be noted that India didn’t establish sexual harassment as being illegal until 1997, in the case of Vishakha v State of Rajasthan. Even worse? Kuwait and Djibouti still do not have laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
Each country and correspondingly, each culture handles sexual harassment differently. Currently, there is an enormous American revolution involving men from every end of the spectrum - from Roy Moore to Senator Al Franken - being outed for sexually harassing women. However, there is still a pervasive culture of the concept of women “asking for it” in India. The 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter” showed some of the underlying attitudes towards rape and sexual harassment in India that go on even today. Jyoti Singh was a 23-year-old medical student who was killed following a gang rape on a bus, and the documentary follows the trial of the men who are alleged to have committed the crime. In one scene, one of these men nonchalantly says that if the woman had just gone along with the men, she wouldn’t have died. Shocking in its content, it isn’t surprising that the documentary was banned in India after the Foreign Minister claimed that it “disrespected women.”
The harassment of women is a global pandemic. Within the current context of the United States,, women need to continue to speak out, to confidently pursue their dreams and advocate for themselves. Ultimately then, a large part of the change will be rooted in men beginning to make changes. According to Mashable, five ways men can help be a part of the end of sexual harassment will be: listening to women, men speaking to other men, for men to practice consent-every step of the way, and advocate for better education and prevention. In a world where women have long been sexualized products within a society, it comes down to all members of society to make the change— it is a change for respect, a change for status.
What follows is a selection of personal scenarios that each member of the Sub Stances team has faced in their daily lives
It is a testament to the fact that sexual harassment is so common in our society that at least for me, personally, I often have to consider whether or not I’m normalizing situations where men sexually harass me. The insidious part about sexual harassment is that it happens all the time, and that one particular moment does not, in fact, stick out to me.
Being objectified has come in ways that work their way into everyday habit. In the workplace, a man can treat a female coworker differently than a man, act invasively to impede her own advancement with snide remarks or full-out assault. In daily life, there’s catcalling, inappropriate touching in clubs and unasked for lecherous words thrown at you on the street. For each of us, it happens differently and has its own pitfalls and insecurities that follow.
The first step of initiating change is acknowledging that these situations and scenarios happen to each of us, whether or not we have simply shunted it into the category of ‘these things happen.’ For me, that’s where I am. There are so many things in my past that I can think of as men causing me to feel uncomfortable because of how I was dressed or how I look, but I have difficulty qualifying those as “harassment,” sexual or otherwise. But naming something gives you power over it - and saying that you have been sexually assaulted is not confirming you are a victim, rather it is saying “me too” to the millions of other women so that none of us feel as alone, ever again.
Even now, as a 24 year old, I still hesitate to disclose my experience with sexual harassment. But then I think, what about those young girls who are becoming in the process of becoming a woman? What is supposed to be a time to be celebrated in a woman’s life is likely to be marred with negative commentary, unwanted advances, gross gestures and so forth.
As a daughter raised by a fiercely protective mother and a proudly feminist father, I do believe I grew up in the best environment a girl could. They supported all my endeavors and my education - no matter the societal barriers. If girls weren’t allowed to play a sport, I became the first and my dad stepped up as my coach. I was the only girl on my block growing up, and I was always welcome to participate not because of my sexuality - but because of my skill. I grew up knowing I was valued as a human being.
And as I slowly transformed into a woman, so did my interactions with the outside world. I started becoming valued for what I looked like as opposed to how I could perform. This was further perpetuated by society’s image of what a preteen/teen/young woman should look and act like. And after time, I hate to admit it, I allowed it to become normal. I grew to expect the unwanted looks, the comments, the gestures, etc. I learned how to be both proactive and reactive to these words and actions in order to protect myself. I had to change, not them. This was the reality.
But now, this Me Too movement and The Silence Breakers as Time’s Person of the Year, has the potential to change that. And to be completely honest, I find this movement to be both debilitating, but also empowering. When I realized just how far-reaching sexual harassment extended, it was a crushing blow. It did not matter whether a person was famous or not or even male or female - sexual harassment was an pandemic. That being said, now people are listening and perhaps more importantly, taking action against the accused and not the accuser.
This all has been a whirlwind and I hope it does not enervate nor lose its value as more and more people begin to speak up, and more people step down from their (usually powerful) positions. MeToo has highlighted the inequality that still exists and the very large need for societal improvement.
After Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual assaults by many actresses, the hashtag MeToo started to spread over social media. The magical world of Hollywood suddenly shook. And more and more allegations of sexual violence followed. Voices have started to be heard on the web, with every day, more women sharing their stories or simply tweeting #MeToo.
I find this MeToo thing to be very positive, but none of this is new, so why now? Why now, and not earlier? I was not surprised at all by the flood of messages I read on Facebook. Of course, women are victims of sexual assaults on an everyday basis. I am, my friends are. And many courageous women have been talking about it for ages. So, was it because of the Hollywood scandals, this girl taking selfies with her catcallers, the launch of the Me Too hashtag, or the election of Donald Trump? I don’t know, but all of this encouraged women to talk and they started to verbalize everything. Finally, voices were being heard. And “now” is better than “later”.
I thought it was just common knowledge but it obviously was not. And it is good that people started to realize how the reality is. I have never been sexually assaulted strictly speaking, but I am objectified far too often. And the saddest part is that I got used to it.
As a woman, you start to be objectified at an early age. Maybe 12. Then it never really stops. You get catcalled in the streets, looked at in really nasty ways, touched inappropriately in clubs, talked to badly if you’re not nice enough, and more. And it is something you learn to live with.
I find it unbelievable that I got “used to it”. I wish I could just not care about it. But I have to admit, I adapt my behaviour in certain situations because I feel uncomfortable, or because I know there is a risk. I consider myself free, free to dress as I wish, free to say what I want, and it is what I often do, but not always. I have developed reactional behaviours to certain situations. I don’t wear short clothes in some neighbourhoods, I try to never walk home alone after a night out, I am extra careful when I travel, I avoid eye contact when being catcalled and I don’t trust strangers too quickly.
What really frustrates me is that there is no instant solution. I am so glad that this Me Too hashtag got so popular, and that no one can ‘ignore’ the reality anymore, but I don’t think things will change that fast. This is all rooted in our societies, and it will take a long time to really, actually change. I see a long-term solution in education, in a change of mindset and attitude; and for women, to stop ‘normalizing’ it, to keep talking and saying things out loud. Sexual harassment is not normal.
The natural state of my body has always drawn attention—being that it falls into the box of sexual aesthetics society pushes into our everyday lives through the media, marketing, and in recent years, social media. During my years of early womanhood there was a part of me that found it complimentary— comments and sexuality validated my own self-confidence and sense of womanhood. Unnecessary comments walking down the street, flirtatious texts from boys I would never pursue were band-aids to my own insecurities. My identity throughout my teenage years became largely tied to how those around me thought of my body, and while it was athletics that largely kept me looking a certain way, I was also fond of attention that the world around me gave me. Undoubtedly, it was not rooted in authenticity but rather my own self confidence being based on externalities, outside thoughts, and was certainly not built internally. My world, like many young people, was largely shaped by what outsiders thought of me, how attractive people thought I was, and what status I held in their eyes. Ultimately, a part too large, of my own identity became tied to my ability to sexually appeal, my athletic performances, and external achievements. Sadly, a large quantity of these achievements were marked when I felt validated by sexual comments, inappropriate glances, and being objectified.
As I entered my first year of undergraduate schooling, my father sat me down and praised me for my academic successes, my work ethic, but then commented on my choice of attire. It is a conversation I will never forget. I remember feeling livid. How could I be victimized, yet also be at fault for the times when a man commented on the shape of my body or the attire I wore? I was aggravated at my father for calling it a lack of respect, when I indeed had thought I did respect my body (far more than people shoving McDonald’s down their throats), and I certainly did respect myself when it came to how I confidently carried myself in school and in my sports. However, along with this agitated feeling of guilt, even though I was not at fault for being a women, I had also realized that too much of my self “confidence” was vested in what other people thought about me. At 18, I was a product of the media, a product built from the world around me, and so much that I believed it too.
To this day this is a struggle I have both with myself, but also with society—because I should be able to acquire respect as a woman regardless of how I dress, but then again, where did this societal pressure for women to adhere to a set of norms even appear? Why did I feel obligated as a 14 year old to wear pencil skirts that accentuated by waist and buttocks? Why did I feel obligated to wear heels and a shirt that exposed part of my chest? Throughout my years of developing who I am as a woman I have come to deeply respect, and cherish myself for everything I am, from my thoughts and opinions as well as my love for health and exercise.
Six years later, my dad visited me, this fall while working in the Southern Bronx. He came to see where I work as a teacher, and because I run to and from work, as we left, I was clad in my running shorts. As we were walking my dad had noticed people looking at me, occasionally people saying things about my legs, and similar to years former, my dad said I should watch what I wear, especially in the area I am working in. This time, my response was different. I said “no.” I am a woman. I am dressed in running shorts because I usually run home, but regardless of what I am wearing, that is for me. This time it was not a me problem, it is a them problem. I am not asking for this attention. It is not validating, but rather unwanted, and destructive. I told my dad no because I will run in what I want to run in, because it is not a clothing problem, it is a lens problem. The problem lies in the lens of how men see women and women see other women.
It dawned on me that my 18 year old self, like many teenagers are fueled by what the world around us thinks, how men, and other women fuel the notion that women must be sexual looking beings and that is our objective. Women buy into this. Men buy into it. And sadly, young women, teenagers constructing their identity, buy into this. Women, are beautiful by nature— but we are also smart, artistic, loving, and gifted beyond measure. The problem has never been the clothing, rather the problem has always been what other people think they can say to women, and that first and foremost women are looked at as sexual beings, rather than ones of depth. The problem, more than anything, is that women come to believe it. We come without real conscience believing that we are first figures that must portray ourselves sexually before we are anything else. Womanhood itself is defined in our society by two parallels, yet distinct narratives—sexuality and motherhood, both of which should never be sole definers of what is means to be a woman.
My 18 year old self was part of this spinning wheel that silently fueled the problem by application and letting men say unwarranted comments. It was not my attire that changed, but the respect I had for myself. My 24 year old self respects me, and all woman too much to not say anything. The only way this changes is by women lifting women, and men valuing women for more than what is on the surface. When society is constructed not by a man, or not by a woman, but rather by those looking to delve deeper, by those looking for a world built on a foundation of respect, that is when this world will be a better place.
Being a 24 year old who has put in the time to build my intrinsic values and esteem, my worry again is casted out into society. I live in New York City. There is not a day I do not experience catcalls. But contrary, and parallel to this notion, I am surrounded by women who are thinkers, who are doers, and who are not here on behalf of men, but on behalf of themselves and making this place a better one for each generation (regardless of their sex) to come. The problem will never be how a woman carries herself, but the answer will always be in how we as individuals—men, women, and citizens lift one another, how we stop people from catcalling, how we listen fully, and how we choose consent. After all, this world cannot be its best world, unless all citizens are empowered and respected as their full entities —mind and body.
We hope that this MeToo movement does not lose momentum. As women hailing from all over the world, we demand better. We are entitled to the same rights as our male counterparts. We deserve to be treated equally as human beings and to be able to live and to work without fear of being harassed. Our voices matter - they are not to be silenced. Let us make this, the new normal.
Did you know that within the United States there exist sovereign nations? That’s right – they are the Native American Reservations. But just how sovereign are they? Before we delve into life on reservations, let’s cover the basics.
First, what is a reservation?
According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “A federal Indian reservation is an area of land reserved for a tribe or tribes under treaty or other agreement with the United States, executive order, or federal statute or administrative action as permanent tribal homelands, and where the federal governmtient holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe” (BIA).
How many are there?
On the BIA’s website, it states that “there are approximately 326 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as federal Indian reservations” (BIA). However, there are over there are over 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States. (Scholar Harvard). This equates to some tribes having no land of their own and others having to share.
Where are they?
In regards to the land itself, about 56 million acres have been allotted for reservations (BIA). The BIA explains that “some reservations are the remnants of a tribe’s original land base. Others were created by the federal government for the resettling of Indian people forcibly relocated from their homelands.”
This map indicates how many and the location of the federally recognized reservations within the United States.
How do tribes become federally recognized?
The BIA explains that “most of today’s federally recognized tribes received federal recognition status through treaties, acts of Congress, presidential executive orders or other federal administrative actions, or federal court decisions” (BIA).
Now, let’s consider tribal sovereignty – a continued controversial topic. Tribal sovereignty, plainly put, is the inherent right of each tribe to govern itself (Legal Dictionary). However, sovereignty is more than that - “it is the life-blood of Indian nations. . . sovereignty is a key lever that provides American Indian communities with institutions and practices that can protect and promote their citizens’ interests and wellbeing” (Scholar Harvard).
That being said, the current policy of the United States, and has been so for forty years – "to recognize tribes’ sovereignty and to ensure its continued existence” (Scholar Harvard). However, “When it has wanted to, the United States has conscripted citizens of tribes into its armies, terminated the legal status of tribes and their property holdings, provided for law and order in communities of Native individuals, protected tribes from the exercise of sovereignty over tribal citizens by other sovereigns within its borders (i.e., states and municipalities), authorized the exercise of sovereignty over tribal citizens by other sovereigns within its borders (i.e., states and municipalities); unilaterally determined the applicability of its tax levies on individual Indians and tribes” (Scholar Harvard). So though reservations may be called sovereign, it is still up to the U.S. government to decide whether or not a tribe is federally recognized, thereby determining a tribe’s right to sovereignty.
And even if a tribe is federally recognized, then what?
Many reservations have been “compared to the developing world” (World Atlas). Common health problems found amongst reservations include: “malnutrition, diabetes, high infant mortality, and alcoholism” (World Atlas). All of which are “driven by the rampant poverty and lack of economic opportunities available on tribal lands” (World Atlas). This is not a trivial matter - 22% of the country’s 5.2 million Native Americans live on tribal lands and 28.2% are living below the federal poverty line (Native Partnership). Depending on the reservation, job scarcity leads to “four to eight of ten adults on reservations being unemployed”(Native Partnership). This leads to many adults seeking jobs off of the reservation, leaving the grandparents to raise the children (Native Partnership). There is also a housing crisis and consequent, homelessness due to lack of not just homes, but inadequate ones according to the US Commission on Civil Rights (Native Partnership).
So, where does this leave Native Americans today?
The answer varies, depending on the reservation, the tribe, and the individual. However, it must be highlighted that while some tribes hold sovereignty, not all do. And for those that do hold federally recognized sovereignty, there still exist societal walls that confine their livelihood.
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