THE SIREN FEMINIST MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SOPHIE ALBANIS
SOPHIE ALBANIS HANNAH LEWMAN
ELISE SEDEY ALEXA VILLANUEVA ANNA RITCHIE WILL VANROON SOPHIE ALBANIS
ELOISE ERICKSON EMMA CHRIST
DOMINIQUE EHMIG KYLA OVERBAY HANNAH LEWMAN MONICA NUNAN MEGAN LITTLE ZACH LUSBY MARINA CLAVERIA HALEY MUDRICK VIVIAN KIM ALEXA VILLANUEVA HELENA MANVILLE MADISON WIEGAND-BROWN NATALIE PEARSON SYDNEY FOURNIER NAYANTARA JOHNSON JACK ROLOW SOPHIE ALBANIS
PUBLISHERS ASUO WOMEN’S CENTER
SIRENMAG.TUMBLR.COM TWITTER @SIRENMAGAZINE1 INSTAGRAM @SIRENMAGAZINE Illustration by Anna Ritchie
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The Siren is published and produced by the ASUO Women’s Center. It is the only student-led feminist publication on campus. It is our mission to cover contemporary feminist issues and act as an outlet for the creative and intellectual development of women. Our staff consists of an editorial board of Women’s Center staff who solicit contributions from volunteer writers and artists.
COVER ILLUSTRATION BY ELISE SEDEY
Illustration by Anna Ritchie
TABLE OF CONTENTS - WINTER 2015 CONTRIBUTORS EDITOR’S LETTER NEAT OR NOT? VISUALS ESSAYS WELL ARTICLE FEMINIST MENTALITY DO-IT-YOURSELF MOMENTUM MOMENTUM OUR BODIES, OUR HEALTH OUR BODIES, OUR HEALTH BLURBS ESSAYS ESSAYS REVIEWS POETRY FEMINIST FUN REAL TALK
04 05 06 08 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 21 22 26 30 31
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, TWITTER, KIM KARDASHIAN, & MORE! PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMMA CHRIST FAMILY FEUD LET’S TALK ABOUT “DADDY ISSUES” MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MENTAL ILLNESS HOW TO BE THERE WHEN IT REALLY COUNTS GAL PALS, UNITE! VANITY AS RADICALISM ROCK YOUR BODY MODS TAKING CARE “DOWN THERE” THE SACRED ACT OF SWIPING YOUR V-CARD A TREATISE ON “BEING ONE OF THE GUYS” A LETTER TO MY FIRST LOVE MYKKI BLANCO, LENA DUNHAM, & THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2014 WE’VE GOT LOADS OF IT PUT ON YOUR THINKING CAP FOR THIS CROSSWORD PUZZLE THE NAKED TRUTH
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Zach is a freshman studying English and Creative Writing. Hailing from Central Oregon, he currently serves as co-chair for UO Students for Choice and is a representative on the Fraternity & Sorority Life Sexual Assault Taskforce. Passionate about feminism and queer activism, he hopes he can utilize his privilege to obliterate the patriarchy one fuckboi at a time. He is incredibly thankful to be writing for THE SIREN and thrilled to be a part of the stellar social justice scene on campus. Zach spends 100% of his free time listening to Kanye West, worrying about his Instagram aesthetic, whining about his gay problems, and aggressively tweeting at literally everyone. He recently spent 45 minutes deliberating in his diary if he is more of a Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, or Samantha. He is more of a Carrie.
Marina is a senior studying Comparative Literature, with some Spanish and Women’s and Gender Studies thrown in. She gets upset when people ask if her journal is a “diary,” because it’s really not that juicy. It might be one day, but for now it’s mostly to-do lists and random jottings. Favorite pastimes include lazy Sunday morning breakfasts, Belle & Sebastian, and searching for queer subtext in The Golden Girls. She’s on the hunt for the best burrito joint in Eugene and more poets to fall in love with. If you’ve recently met a burrito or a book you can’t put down, let her know. THE SIREN has been good to her over the past few years. It’s encouraged her to keep writing and fighting the patriarchy. She’s sad to say goodbye, but excited for what the future holds.
Hannah is a writer, designer, and photographer from the Portland area who is currently majoring in journalism and Spanish at the University of Oregon’s Robert D. Clark Honors College. Her professional interests include public speaking and editing everything from photos to copy. When she’s not busy publishing or studying, you can find her reading Haruki Murakami novels, hiking, or losing at Yahtzee. If you were to look for her in a largecrowd, she would be the one with a notebook in her hand and her shoelaces untied. Hannah hopes to travel the world, immersing herself in new cultures and pursuing the discovery of the perfect taco. Eventually, she would like the opportunity to publish words that matter to people, a goal that she believes starts here at THE SIREN.
WRITE FOR THE SIREN. EMAIL SUBMISSIONS TO SIRENWC@GMAIL.COM LIKE ‘THE SIREN MAGAZINE’ ON FACEBOOK STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH SIRENMAG.TUMBLR.COM TWEET AT US @SIRENMAG FOLLOW OUR INSTAGRAM FOR FEMINIST GOODIES @SIRENMAGAZINE THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 4
POLITICAL PHOTO BY ELOISE ERICKSON
eminism is, in so many ways, intrinsically linked to relationships—relationships in which women are subordinated, relationships in which they may find and exercise agency, and relationships that work on a systematic scale to necessitate the continuation of the feminist cause. For centuries, women’s identities have been both enriched and limited by their relationships as mothers, wives, daughters, and friends. Here, in what we at the SIREN like to call THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE, we aim to explore these interpersonal ties in their many complex forms. It seems only fitting that some of the first pieces in THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE should focus on familial ties. Kyla Overbay’s article, “Let’s Talk About Daddy Issues,” details the ways that the Daddy Issues trope works to effectively shirk the blame of poor parenting onto daughters, examining the fatherly role as it relates to feminism (page 11). Of course, it’s equally important that we discuss romantic relationships, which Claire Johnson does in her essay, “A Letter to My First Love” (page 21). Yet some of the relationships explored here are far more abstract than others. In “The Virgin Diaries,” for instance, five SIREN contributors anonymously explore the nuances of their relationship to virginity and sexual exploration (page 18). “(In)Vulnerability,” by Sydney Fournier, on the other hand, describes the author’s journey as she struggles to find solid ground in her relationship with depression (page 12). These pieces offer poignant insight into the many forms of relationships that shape a feminist mentality. And how could we forget the most significant relationship of all— that which we have with ourselves? Monica Nunan’s article, “Body Mods: A New Brand of Self-Care” highlights tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications as a method of improving one’s relationship with their
own physical existence (page 16). Dominique Ehmig’s article, aptly titled “You are Beautiful Because You are Alive,” serves as a similar celebration of vanity as a form of radical self-love (page 15). And keep an eye out for the feminist goodies sprinkled throughout THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE, including a series of album and book reviews, and a feminist crossword puzzle. This issue also represents a milestone in the SIREN’s creative writing repertoire. Turn to page 26 to find the SIREN’s longest poetry section yet—four whole pages of poems that are as perceptive as they are powerful. One of modern feminism’s greatest criticisms is that its proponents focus too much on bashing what is wrong, rather than celebrating what is right. I am sure that I’m not the first feminist to be told that my interest in discussing real-world issues is, well, a bummer. But what I’ve come to know about feminism—and radicalism in general—is that it does not stem from hatred. Feminism is not pessimism, it is not hopelessness, and it is not depression. On the contrary, I believe it is an overwhelming sense of pride in and undying love for the world we live in and the possibilities it holds. It is the knowledge that the world is full of good, although we could certainly do better, and it is an effort to preserve those precious golden nuggets of goodness. It seems to me that feminists, as well as all other social justice activists who are often criticized for focusing too much on the negative, possess what is perhaps a deeper relationship to the world and the beings that inhabit it. The condition of being silenced forces us to think harder about our relationships—relationships both interpersonal and larger-than-life—more so than those who do the silencing. But do not allow yourself to be silenced. Speak up, and if you cannot, I hope you write about it. Write it down so it cannot be forgotten. Make a record of it. Your words are important.
SOPHIE ALBANIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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NEAT OR NOT?
WORDS BY HALEY MUDRICK Since when did it become acceptable for men to dictate what women should be allowed to wear? Dear Dudebro, you are not and never have been a fashion expert; you wear sweatshirts, camo-patterned shorts, and long Nike socks every single day. Regardless of your own gender and/or whatever gender you’re attracted to, there will always be trends that some people won’t find appealing or fashionable. Yet men repeatedly feel obligated to offer up their own two-cents on how women must not look “basic”—God help us, never look basic!—or how they should stand out in a crowd. Yet it seems to me that men all dress exactly the same. Their stylistic demands, then, are completely ridiculous. Women should partake in whatever fashion trends they choose, for no reason other than the fact that they like them. More importantly, they should feel confident and attractive when they’re wearing them. Last time I checked, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good about yourself and expressing that identity through the aesthetic of your choice! For guys to think that they have a right to make any woman feel bad about herself for what she wears—whether it’s a mini skirt while at a party, or harem pants while lounging around—makes no sense whatsoever. It makes one wonder how those same dudebros might feel if women began critiquing their sense of style, deciding they hold authority on what clothes are worth wearing. The fact of the matter is, women don’t dress to impress men. We dress for ourselves in what makes us feel good and comfortable. The quest for individuality is at the core of our stylistic decisions. Thus, a man thinking that his own whims and preferences can or should dictates a woman’s self-expression is downright ridiculous. Ladies, next time you embark on that epic journey of deciding what to wear, don’t let some basic dudebro get in your head.
...OR NOT: Twitter Parody Accounts
WORDS BY HANNAH LEWMAN With the word feminism now a part of the popular vernacular and the movement’s awareness on the rise (albeit gradually), casually oblivious sexists and diehard misogynists alike are looking for new and “acceptable” outlets for their backward-yet-obstinate ideals. That is not to say that these folks have entirely stopped making jokes about female drivers or sharing Fox News articles on Facebook, but the truly determined amongst them have turned to more subtle channels of communication. The method of misogyny in reference here is Twitter parody accounts. These accounts range from feeds that use a celebrity’s name and face to occasionally throw around some offensive tweets, to ones like @Meninist, which spout “jokes” about gender roles, slurs, and abuse. The account is horrific in every sense; even its name, if you THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 6
NEAT: Wearing Whatever the Fuck You Want
ue lan Vil xa Ale by hic
In which we pay homage to that which makes us feel empowered, and call out that which does the opposite.
didn’t already catch that, serves as a stab at the feminist movement. What’s scary, though, is that this is not merely some shrine to sexism that exists in the dark recesses of the internet. This is a popular account that I unwillingly find on my Twitter Timeline many times a day. The weirdest part is that when I look to see who retweeted these sexist jokes, it is always people who I would never expect to make a joke like that, at least not on the internet. But because these offensive posts come from accounts with a degree of anonymity, the retweeters feel detached from the words; they feel like they can get away with it. It is time to tell them that they can’t. Slipping into the shadows to peddle misogynistic garbage is cowardly and horrible, and people who do it need to be held responsible. Direct Message the retweeter, text them, call them out publicly if you are a brave internet warrior, but do not let them slink away thinking their offensive beliefs can go unquestioned just because the words did not come originally from their mouths—or, rather, their keyboards. The face of misogyny is changing constantly, and when given the chance, it is vital that we rip off its mask and show everyone the monster underneath.
NEAT: Friends with Benefits
WORDS BY GABBY URENDA All women want is a “real” relationship, right? Wrong. I can see how it might be difficult for some people to understand the free sexual nature of women when our culture’s current stigmas categorize women as beings that associate sex with emotion—and this equation, as our culture sees it, is an annoyance. Yet when a woman doesn’t automatically fit this mold, she’s perceived as a “slut” because the fulfillment she seeks is sexual, rather than emotional. Her actions intimidate others because they cannot classify her as a “typical” woman. The fact that she owns her behavior is something that people immediately invalidate because it’s seen, for some reason, as unordinary. As college students, the last thing on most people’s minds is anticipating the path of a potential relationship. That is exactly why our generation is attracted to a Friends-with-Benefits relationship: because we’re too preoccupied with getting through the term to focus on making another person happy. It’s a somewhat selfish cycle, but it makes sense for our age group. Yet we also face the constant need to fill the enigmatic Relationship Void. But does the Void stem from a genuine desire for companionship, or does it come from society’s ideas of what a person “needs” to be fulfilled? Our lives should feel complete without the presence of another person. If a woman is not ready for commitment, she shouldn’t be forced to take that step just because it’s expected. The norm should be for a person of any gender to be happy in whatever form of a relationship they choose without any external pressure to take the “next step.”Most people don’t, in fact, have time to be in a committed relationship, and a Friends-with-Benefits agreement is, well, beneficial. It’s symbiosis, if you will. This is the stuff of biology!
NEAT OR NOT?
THE ART OF BREAKING THE INTERNET NEAT: Kim Kardashian in Paper Magazine
WORDS BY ZACH LUSBY People probably thought they were being really clever tweeting about Kim Kardashian’s Paper Magazine cover shoot with the hashtag #FixTheInternet. They probably thought they were so smart, so counter-culture for rejecting Kim K. With this meme, they whispered, stroking their neckbeards while superimposing a horse onto Kim Kardashian’s body, I will change the world. News flash: hating on Kim is mainstream as fuck. Look, she’s a big deal. We know it. She knows it. Jesus-Christ-incarnate Kanye West knows it. Her cover shoot for Paper, is her reminder to us mere mortals; Planet Earth is simply Kim Kardahsian’s Queendom, and you should consider yourself lucky to inhabit it. For a woman of such cultural importance, we rarely see Kim K as anything but an object. It’s almost as if she doesn’t exist as a real human being, only the vague cultural concept that countless media outlets have created. Occasionally, we may gather inferences of her character from Instagram and Twitter, or the occasional sound bite that mainstream media outlets dare to pick up. Never do we hear about her genuinely intelligent essays on racism, or her comments on the social pressures faced by women and mothers. Everyone seems to focus on a manufactured image of this woman, rather than the real life form known as “Kim Kardashian.” Paper Magazine’s “Break the Internet” photo spread, on the other hand, gives Kardashian full rights to her own body and her own image. Whereas her body is normally the subject of gendered scrutiny (“Is her butt real?” “Is she fat?” “Is she Photoshopped?”), Kardashian engages with these commentaries to evoke a real sense of empowerment. The photographs featuring her naked, greased-up body are entirely a product of her own agency; she did not, after all, receive payment for any of the photos. The viewer encounters a woman who is comfortable and excited about her body on a global, internet-breaking scale. In a world where Kim Kardashian’s body is constantly the subject of uninvited commodification by male consumers, a photo evocative of her own sexuality—rather than that of male readers—is a show of agency unlike anything else. Not only has Kardashian inspired an enormous amount of Internet trash-talk with these photos, she’s also burned down practically every upstanding journalistic institution with dozens of think-pieces and op-eds about a photo of her world-famous ass. Her photos function as a sort of practical joke on American pop culture; if Kim Kardashian can upset you to the point of a Twitter tirade over a nude pic, just imagine what havoc she could wreak if you only took her seriously. Thus, every time some online asshole tweets that Kim can’t be naked in public because “SHE’S A MOM!!!!!!” they’re playing
right into the very objective of the “Break the Internet” campaign: forcing us to realize that we all care about Kim Kardashian more than we even know.
...OR NOT: Jean-Paul Goude’s Photography
WORDS BY ZACH LUSBY Where Kim K’s photos go from empowering to problematic is in the photography of resident French racist Jean-Paul Goude. The stuff only a creepy, white, straight dude could produce, Goude’s photography and illustrations sit somewhere between the icky eroticism of Jeff Koons and the racial objectification of Aunt Jemima. In the 1970’s, he published a book called Jungle Fever (no, this is not a joke) that featured stomach-turning images of black, nude women snarling in cages, riding on fucking elephants and, most famously, balancing champagne glasses on their behinds. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what Goude recreated in Kardashian’s cover shoot for Paper Magazine. Goude’s disturbing sense of white entitlement goes far beyond basic fantasies of “exotic” women and reaches into the complete appropriation of what he believes to be “black culture.” Of course, his perception is that all black women are wild, big-bootied animals possessed by an inherently sexual nature. In an interview with People magazine, Goude said, “Blacks are the premise of my work. I have jungle fever.” His photography of black women casts them in an inarguably racist light that extends itself into the “Break the Internet” spread. Though any other photographer could have taken three of the four “Break the Internet” pictures, the shot of Kardashian propping a champagne glass on her butt is a deliberate evocation of Goude’s horrifying piece, “The Champagne Incident.” Goude has casted Kardashian in a racialized role, transforming her sexual agency into an instrument of his disgustingly self-proclaimed “jungle fever.” It’s shocking that in 2014 we still have to tell people—correction: white people—that objectification is not acceptable, especially when it enforces gruesome racial stereotypes perpetuated by privileged white “artists.” In the case of Kim Kardashian, we must take into account context and connotation before writing anything off as “good” or “not good.” In these photographs, we see both the “good” of sexual agency and liberation, as well as the radically “not good” of racist stereotypes and iconography that color the spread. How this dichotomy affects the status of the piece as a whole presents us with an interesting dialogue, but as consumers we can’t dismiss something’s negative qualities just because any one portion of it is progressive or appealing. We must always take this kind of context into account, especially when it deals so radically with gross oppression and stereotypes. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 7
VISUALS PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMMA CHRIST
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where art thou?
You can’t choose your family members. Even worse, you can’t choose your family members’ morals. What’s a young feminist to do when ethics drive loved ones apart? WORDS BY JACK ROLOW
ere are a couple things that I know to be true: First of all, a lot of people suck. The dude who called me a faggot as I was walking down the street is a person, just as I am, and he sucks. The Texas Legislature that is so keen on passing anti-reproductive laws? It’s comprised entirely of people, and many of them suck. We like to think that people “mean well.” I’ve learned, however, that sometimes people don’t mean well at all, and they’re just bound by an archaic system of values and morals that don’t reflect the changing world we live in today. The second bit of knowledge is even more crucial—parents are people, too. Parents can suck. They can suck so, so bad. My father is dying. Everyone is dying all the time, of course, but he’s dying faster. His heart only functions about forty-percent as well as it should, he’s a full-blown diabetic that doesn’t pay attention to what he eats, and he lost his job, resulting in high amounts of stress in his life. He probably won’t die tomorrow, but he’s not going be around to get pissed when I name my first son Icarus, or to tell me how dumb America is for electing Hillary Clinton two terms in a row. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 10
Illustration by Alexa Villanueva
He’s also disappointed in me. I called him about a month ago because we hadn’t spoken in a while. I’d recently sent my grandmother a postcard with a picture of my freshly-dyed, fire-engine-red hair, and she’d expressed that she didn’t like how it looked. “Your mother’s a bully. She doesn’t like my hair,” I said, laughing. His response was joyless. “I can’t say I disagree with her. You look fucking ridiculous.” In hindsight, I recognize it was wishful thinking that we could mutually find this funny. The debate that followed was not productive. He was (and is) upset about all my “life choices,” more specifically that I dye my hair, have piercings, and left the Midwest while secretly skirting the larger issues of my homosexuality and lack of religion. I was—and am— upset that he’s upset, so we went around in circles until he said it. “I’m so disappointed in you.” And that was when I realized that my dad sucks, truly. I knew about homophobia and transphobia, and racism and misogyny, but it wasn’t until then that I realized a man who’s aware of his mortality and still willing to let his legacy be one of disapproval probably just sucks, period. He knows he is dying, and still he cannot accept me, his son, for what I am. I still love him. I think it’s important that I do. My father has said and done some vile things in his life. He grew up in a different time, which doesn’t excuse any of his behavior or beliefs, but it gives them context. My father dropped out of school at 16 because he was a “bad boy” and wound up making an incredibly decent living doing backbreaking physical labor all around the country. He wanted my life to be different, so he taught me to value education. That education allowed me to gain a basic understanding of the intermingling effects of globalization, Christianity, capitalism, and patriarchy; it has reached the point where I can understand what has led so many people to be ignorant of their biases without hating them for it. Toxic relationships are a great equalizer. The nature of modern society dictates that it isn’t always our choice whether or not we must interact with someone—and, more importantly, whether or not that person will treat us poorly. As they say, you can’t choose your family. You do, however, have some control in how you deal with them. I’ve spent years of my life feeling embittered toward my father for how he felt about me, toward every aggressively straight, cisgendered male that made me feel uncomfortable and awkward in his presence, toward every politician that dared to stand up on a stage and proudly claim that my friend should not be able to get an abortion even if she were raped, or that I should not be allowed to marry because I would like it to be with a man and not a woman. I spent years feeling this way, and all it did was tire me out. The most freedom I’ve ever felt was on a cold Saturday morning as I lay in bed, realizing that whatever the hell happens, I can and will roll with the punches. Some people in your life are going to suck. Some people are going to be great for you. I believe it’s the imperative of every individual to fill their life with as many of the latter as they can, and to avoid the former as much as possible. There are a lot of things people can take from you, but resolve is not one of them. Resolve to be happy. And if not that, resolve to try.
let’s talk about
Seen as an explanation for women’s undesirable traits, the “Daddy Issues” trope is an archaic and offensive form of bigotry. WORDS BY KYLA OVERBAY
urn on the TV. In the first few shows you click through, how many characters have problems related to an absent or abusive father? Here’s a hint: try ABC Family. The point is, deadbeat dads are scorned and shamed so much that paternal abandonment and abuse have become tropes in television and fiction, where male characters whose struggles stem from cruel fathers are objects of sympathy. Any less-than-ideal behavior on the part of these men is considered understandable or even excusable. To these men, their fathers are often the antithesis to themselves, and there is a constant struggle to alter and monitor their behavior to either gain their father’s approval or reject any seemingly inherited behavior. When we change this central character from a man to a woman, however, it’s an entirely different story. While these problems are often seen as completely understandable for men—“Poor thing, he never had a positive male influence in his life!”—women are universally mocked for their “Daddy Issues.” It’s become a sort of running joke; when interactions with a woman go south, it’s easy for a man to shirk any responsibility by attributing the incident to the female’s Daddy Issues. The trope of a woman struggling against her father’s overbearing influence is common, as well. Yet instead of suffering from unwelcome parental influence and eventually earning acceptance, these women are often used as mere plot devices and are regularly viewed as vapid, needy, or crazy. While men are excused for behavior that was influenced in one way or another by their parents, women in both reality and the media are critiqued for it. It seems that a woman can never be independent from her parents—she either “becomes her mother” or suffers from Daddy Issues. Her identity is never entirely her own. Any behavior that women might exhibit is up for mockery and analysis, and any real reasoning for it is simply ignored. For centuries, women’s issues have been routinely and systematically dismissed, written off as the products of hysteria or unreasonable emotions. There is no male understanding of the underlying reasons for these desires and behaviors. This is especially apparent when witnessing the mockery of any woman who suffers from Daddy Issues, whether she is a fictional character or a real person. It doesn’t seem to matter how she may have actually come to acquire and suffer from these problems; rather, what matters to men is that she is “damaged goods.” The Daddy Issues trope, however, doesn’t just apply to one specific behavior or one “type” of woman. While there are a series of commonly cited traits—such as dating older men or engaging in overtly sexual or male-dependent behavior—the Daddy Issues label is an insult that can be used to describe any woman who does not meet the unattainable standards men have devised. Any behavior or habit that doesn’t align with the narrow view of a “nice, normal girl” may be used as evidence for a woman’s Daddy Issues. Whether a
woman is sexual versus prudish, or slightly masculine versus overtly feminine, the male gaze will find something wrong with her. The decision to alter one’s appearance with a new haircut, tattoos, or piercings is often seen as a method of exacting revenge upon one’s father, rather than a highly personal form of self-expression. With just enough twisted logic, almost anything a woman does can be falsely attributed to Daddy Issues. Many men’s websites publish lists of “signs” that a woman may have Daddy Issues; these lists overanalyze women’s sex lives, appearances, self-esteem, and mental states in a misogynistic show of oversimplification and disparagement. Even seemingly random traits—such as the use of profanity, or a dislike for cooking at home—are seen as products of a father’s negative influence. There is no denying that our lives are influenced a great deal by our parents and the childhood they provide us. But it is naïve to believe that a woman’s entire outlook and personality are the products of her relationship with her father—one singular human on a planet of seven billion. Fathers are important; there is no denying this. But they are not so important that their daughters’ lives are based entirely on their authority. In humanitarian terms, a daughter is equal to a father. To say so ignores other issues that may need addressing. In fact, it’s insulting and belittling to assume that any woman’s feelings, actions, or thoughts are not her own. Even if these sentiments are related to a paternal influence, it’s undeniable that a myriad of other experiences play a part in them, as well.
It seems that a woman can never be independent from her parents—she either “becomes her mother” or suffers from Daddy Issues. Of course, there are some people who struggle immensely with issues relating to their fathers. The point of this piece is not to belittle those people or their suffering. Even so, why does the emotional weight of the relationship fall entirely on these women’s shoulders? Women who truly struggle with their fathers are shamed for the outcomes, while the father is not even considered. If Daddy Issues were actually a cause for real concern, we wouldn’t blame the victim of the father-child relationship; we would admonish the father for his shitty parenting. Instead, we have devised yet another method of insulting and alienating women for unconventional or “unladylike” behavior. Both males and females alike use the label to mock women who they deem unworthy of understanding or empathy. If someone’s behavior seems unreasonable, it’s much easier to blame it on some haunting childhood issues, rather than making the effort to understand the truth. This trope provides a perfect excuse to mock promiscuity, mental disabilities, and non-conforming behavior without doing so directly and suffering the consequences. The result is the centralization of a woman’s behavior and identity on her relationships to men. Using the logic of Daddy Issues, women are not people at all, but merely the products of their interactions with men. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 11
One SIREN contributor shares an open letter on I struggle to articulate a conversation about suicidal mothers, young boys her relationship with mental illness. WORDS BY SYDNEY FOURNIER
y sister and I debate whether our family’s chronic depression is genetic or environmental. I say it’s the latter, but with three generations of women in my family on antidepressants, my argument is weak. My grandma, my mother, my sister. Our family history repeats itself. I am the product of generations marked by disappointments, “cannots,” and “too lates,” generations of suicidal thoughts and prescriptions. I am hyper-aware of the feelings of the past, and I feel them influencing my life in the present. Each woman is shattered, and each woman reconstructs herself. I’ve felt myself crumble under the overwhelming pressure of depression. The females in my family have made a hobby of being repairwomen. We are nurses, desperately trying to revive others. As a child, my sister wanted to be a trauma surgeon, but not anymore; she realized she would never be able to save anyone if she couldn’t even begin to save herself. My grandmother forcefully tries to build a perfect family, reeling from the disappoint of imperfect men—a father who walked out on her, an abusive husband she walked out on, a son that committed suicide. My mother carefully constructs the woman she was meant to be after her life was derailed by losing a brother, dropping out of high school, and becoming pregnant at 19. The women in my family pour themselves wholeheartedly into bettering others until there is nothing left with which to better themselves. When I think of my female relatives, I often think of the men Illu that influenced them, left them, and stra tion supported them. Specifically, I think of my by Ale xa uncle, David. He is in my thoughts daily, despite Vil never having met him. At fourteen, he committed suicide lanuev a by setting himself on fire. His act ripples through the generations of my family and influences the choices I make today. Men commit suicide more often then women. I wonder if this is because society emboldens men to commit violence towards others, making it easier to commit violence against themselves. My father, a police officer, told me that he often sees women shoot themselves in the heart, rather than the temple; pushed to the point, I wonder what I would do. Some days, I’m scared and vulnerable. Some days, friends come to me, burning. I tried to extinguish the fire with affection, strong words in delicately-constructed dialogue. Some days, I gave them so much love that I dried up and had none left for myself. Some days, we burned together. When I try to talk about my relationship with THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 12
setting themselves on fire, my own perpetual fear that it will be me someday—or, maybe, my own daughter. depression and suicide, the words weigh down my tongue and render it immobile. I don’t know how to tell friends, how to casually slip in the topic during a date. I struggle to articulate a conversation about suicidal mothers, young boys setting themselves on fire, my own perpetual fear that it will be me someday—or, maybe, my own daughter. The cyclical nature of my family history made me feel desperate. For two years, I was engulfed in hopelessness, depression, and guilt for continuing the pattern. Then—one unremarkable day, like every other day—I resurfaced. I don’t know how. I don’t know what switched inside of me. Suddenly, mixed in with the fear and the fire, I felt anger. I was angry to be pulled back by a disease, angry at how it had affected my mother. I was outraged that I denied myself the opportunity to live. It was this consuming rage that propelled me out of my depression. Every morning, I fought, and my rage began to make me invulnerable. I fought fire with fire, pushing my suicidal nightmares aside and replacing them with a new passion for living. It was rage that made me ask for help from friends, rage that filled out those college applications, rage that pushed me towards a happier future. Rage, which later evolved into a genuine desire to live. I am making my future. I am changing this cycle. I am in control; my illness is not. It’s been three years since that breakthrough. I’m living a life I never thought I’d have, because sometimes I doubted I’d live this long. College. Teaching. Dating. Dancing. I have made myself too strong, too focused, too BIG to be held down by anybody—even myself. Every day I resolve to be happy. Every day I wake with the passion to keep living. I know there might be a day when I crumble, but for now, I do everything in my power to live this day. Concerned about relapsing, I ask for support from friends and family; I am powerful in my vulnerability and I gain strength by sharing it. I am not my past. I am here. Now. I am not my mother, or my sister, or my grandma. I am a little bit of each of them, but I am always myself. Knowing this gives me hope and strength—for my family, for myself, and, perhaps, for my some-day daughter.
HOW TO REALLY
FOR SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS
Please note: This is not a definitive list of advice. This was created as a result of my own personal experiences, which may be different or the same as another’s. Everyone experiences mental illness differently, and I am not an expert on psychiatric/psychosocial disabilities or relationships.. On another note, some people who experience such disorders do not like the terminology of “mentally ill.” It is my own personal preference to refer to my disorders as mental illnesses and to refer to myself as neurodivergent. WORDS BY DOMINIQUE EHMIG
ne of the most crippling aspects of mental illness is the strain that such illnesses put on relationships, be it with friends, family, or romantic partners. Sometimes the difficulties and nuances that accompany mental illnesses are new territory for friends, causing conflict or even ending the relationship entirely. As someone with several mental illnesses (OCD, clinical depression, and generalized anxiety disorder), when I was first diagnosed and learning to handle these disorders, I lost many important relationships. Fortunately, I did not lose everyone, but I would give anything to reverse the hurtful fights that came as a result of the murky state that is neurodivergent behavior. To those who have friends or partners with mental illnesses, know that it is not impossible to be a loving and supportive resource. Speaking from the other side, here are several ways to be a positive partner to a friend or significant other who struggles with mental illness. Do not always try and offer a solution to their problems. Do not always try and relate. Sometimes the best thing to do is listen. When explaining thoughts, feelings, or experiences—especially personal ones—it is very frustrating for someone else to attempt to relate them to their own life. Telling a person who is struggling with depression that you also get really sad sometimes eliminates the severity of the problem and removes the focus from the person who is hurting. That is not to say that everyone doesn’t have problems and issues, but when someone feels ready to open up to you, do not try and take the focus away from them. Relating it to a different issue can make one feel trivialized or spoken over. Instead, just listen, be there, and don’t try to relate. Be present, both physically and emotionally, but do not overwhelm or attack them. Certain behaviors can be tricky to handle, and sometimes there is no correct way of dealing with them. For instance, if you are suspicious or aware that your friend is participating in dangerous and destructive behaviors, it is critical that you do not attack or berate them for such actions. Going to a counselor, parent, or police officer may seem like the right thing to do in the moment, but if your friend is using these behaviors as a coping mecha-
nism, chances are they understand the risks and will feel attacked if they are told that their method of coping is “wrong.” Of course, you should definitely intervene if you know your friend is in danger, but do so gently and face-to-face. Understand that if these actions are being used as coping mechanisms, taking them away from a person altogether will cause more harm then good. Instead, aid them in the process of moving away from these behaviors slowly, and be aware that it is a journey that they must undertake on their own terms. Likewise, if you find out your friend has relapsed on destructive behaviors, be gentle in your response. Finding out that your friend has returned to drug abuse or self-harm must be absolutely terrifying; after all, you love and care about them. Being a person that has relapsed, however, is even more terrifying, and it’s likely that your friend already feels guilty enough about these behaviors. Do not guilt them, shame them, or tell them they’ve made a mistake. They know this already. Learn to put sensitivities aside. Mental illness is terrifying and can be detrimental to your partner. They may become reclusive or volatile, or you may sense radical shifts in their behavior and feel personally attacked. Know that it is most likely an effect of the illness and not a direct response to you. From my own experience, I hardly left my bed during depressed period, creating a habit of canceling plans and ignoring text messages. I regret these actions now, but at the time, it was unavoidable. Your friend is not trying to hurt you; on the contrary, your friend is hurting. Of course, do not disregard abuse, but don’t make your friend feel worse about canceling an event or feeling morose. They need time to heal. They need your presence—or your absence—as they see fit. Sometimes, your friend won’t be emotionally present. Their mind is fighting a war; they can’t always be expected to focus on you as much as you wholeheartedly focus on them. The love is there, of course, but it can be buried under the weight of what they are experiencing. Forgive them, and love even harder. Don’t expect a pat on the back. If you are an awesome friend, your reward is the knowledge that you are an awesome friend. No one is going to give you a gold star because your friend is dealing with bipolar disorder and you were there for them. Whatever problems you’ve had with someone who is mentally ill, they have experienced tenfold. Expecting praise for being supportive is the opposite of supportive. It’s not always easy, but it becomes more manageable. There is nothing more rewarding than being part of a healthy relationship. If you care for this person, and you’ve truly been there for them, the relationship itself should be reward enough. Talk to them, be there for them, and support them. This is simple advice, but it is the best I can give. The most effective way to be a good partner is to ask the person what they need from you. Sometimes they may need space, and sometimes they might need a shoulder on which to cry. The best method of being there for them might change as time goes on and your friend’s struggle evolves. Each person’s experience with mental illness is different, and each person is different, too. Be understanding, be caring, and listen. There is no joy greater than love, especially when it overcomes. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 13
Illustration by Alexa Villanueva
Why girls hanging out with other girls is one of the most vital and effective weapons in dismantling the patriarchy. Gal Pals, unite! WORDS BY SOPHIE ALBANIS
have a friend—a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-upper class male whose view of social justice reads something like, “Why can’t everybody just get along? Good vibes only.” Last I heard, he does not read the SIREN. At first, this frustrated me. In this case, it’s probably for the best. I don’t try to talk to him about feminism anymore. I don’t have the emotional energy for it. Gender, sexuality, race, class—it was all far too heavy for him to discuss. It bummed him out, brought him down, made him aware of his privilege, reminded him of his whiteness and his wealth and the innumerous times he’d inevitably been an unknowing oppressor. He felt that environments in which feminism was discussed were not safe spaces for him, that there was nothing redeeming for him to find there. He felt that it was his female friends’ responsibility to make him feel welcome, to make sure that he felt safe. Hence, not reading the SIREN. But I do not resent him for this, because he does not understand. How could he? The world is his safe space, and he is just a fish who does not notice the metaphorical water in which he swims. But it is my belief that if you feel attacked in a space that is created to empower, you must know deep down that you have done something to harm those who need empowering. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 14
But this piece is not about men. There are far too many of them who believe that feminism is a form of bullying and that they are the targets—effectively shifting the focus of feminism onto men themselves—when us gals are only trying to live a little. It seems so obvious, so very fundamental to make the assertion that the key to stress-free feminism lies in surrounding yourself with lady friends that make you feel good. Yet the importance of this phenomenon seems to be lost on so many college-aged feminists. If our university’s campus vibe has taught me one thing, it is that you will not find feminist spaces at college parties. Do not go looking for them there. The University of Oregon and most conventional colleges in this country are not feminist institutions. First and foremost, they are athletic enterprises, reinforcements of class stratification, and champions of capitalism. In other words, they are anything but paragons of the feminist agenda, and they do not exist to make fighting for it any easier. Consequently, if you are seeking a truly feminist space amidst the patriarchal setting of a university, you must create it yourself. It is not enough to merely be known as the Girl Who Talks About Feminism in each of your college classes, where your peers and professors still possess the manpower—quite literally—to discourage you into silence. I suppose what this all boils down to is a theoretical discussion of space. White male capitalists remain the dominant voices in most contemporary public spaces; I am sure I don’t need to remind anyone that despite large gains for women in both the personal and professional spheres, we need feminism as much as ever and blah blah blah… You’ve heard this before. When you think of feminism not as a style of disrupting conventional spaces, but as an outlet for creating new and better spaces, the whole process seems so much more productive. Therein lies the power to not only take up space, but to use that space for a constructive purpose, to personalize it, to build it from the ground up and claim it as your own. As Riot Grrrl founder Kathleen Hanna wrote in the movement’s manifesto, “We are interested in creating non-hierarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.” When you surround yourself with people who share your views, yet challenge you to improve them, who genuinely care about your thoughts and words and ideas, who sometimes make you feel so appreciative of their friendship that you can’t verbally express it— that is where growth occurs, where feminist discourse takes place. A space full of feminists is, I would argue, far more effective than a space in which feminists are at odds just to make their voices heard. In what Oakland rapper Kreayshawn would call “One big room full of bad bitches,” there is no opportunity for the male perspective to silence that of the female. In contrast to the frustrations of trying to explain feminism to a privileged male friend, a space full of gal pals offers that most precious luxury of being understood. So let this piece serve as a formal shout-out to all the kickass Girl Gangs swapping anthologies of feminist lit, pushing their way to the front at concerts, and refusing to placate the superficial desires of hopelessly out-of-touch white dudes. Because I have never felt more empowered than I did this past New Year’s Eve, as I sat in my living room, surrounded by my best lady friends, reading back-issues of the SIREN and listening to FKA twigs. Because, as the Riot Grrrl Manifesto reads, “I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.” Because feminists do not exclude, and they do not bully. They care about each other, and they make friends—not enemies—because friends matter, and girls matter.
“YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL because you are alive.”
In the midst of a culture that shames women for caring too much about appearances, there is perhaps no better act of revolution than taking part in radical vanity. Ladies, love thyself. WORDS BY DOMINIQUE EHMIG
don’t remember the first time I labeled myself as ugly, but I know it was before my 10th birthday. I know this specifically because one of my favorite stories to recount in accordance with convincing people of my status as an adolescent outcast is that of my tenth birthday gift wish list, in which I printed proudly in pink ink “to be beautiful.” In hindsight, it’s pretty funny—not only that nine-year-old me believed that beauty was something I could receive from my mother wrapped up with a bow, but that this was my first introduction to the male gaze. At an early age, I was worried about males’ opinions of me to the point of wanting to change myself. I was acutely aware of the fact that some other girls received kisses from boys on the playground, while I was pushed in the dirt for my crooked teeth and knocked knees. Little nineyear-old me had no idea what journey I had just begun: one of self-hatred, self-deprecation and, eventually, self-love. Loving yourself is not easy. It may be the most difficult endeavor you ever undertake. Hating yourself is easy; it’s too easy. We have been coached into hating ourselves, made to believe that any shred of vanity is stigmatic. Eurocentric beauty ideals flood our minds from birth onward, so any person who does not fit the white, thin, able-bodied “norm” is considered an outsider by mainstream beauty ideologies. It is ingrained into young girls at a very early age that humility is the most attractive feature, that we must deny any compliments we receive, that if you’re going to take a selfie you must caption it with some bullshit self-deprecation so the world doesn’t think that you’re taking yourself too seriously. We are told that our existence can only be validated by the approval of men. We are shamed for caring about our appearances, called shallow for taking interest in this aspect of our identities that we are simultaneously told is the most important. Yet we are shamed for not taking interest in our appearances. We are shamed for feeling good, and we’re told to stop whining when we feel bad. I’ve spent the larger part of 18 years hating myself, and let me tell you, I’m done.
I’m done with poking and prodding and pulling at myself, wishing to be thinner or curvier, wishing to mold my face like clay into something that could be worthy of love. I am through with disguising the rare occurrence of self-love behind a surface layer of comical deprecation so I don’t come off as vain or self-absorbed. It is my utmost belief that vanity is an entirely non-existent notion—a concept, like the word “slut,” invented to keep female agency in check—and that there is no reason for women to be ashamed of their vanity. The idea of self-hatred was invented by corporations to sell beauty products, training young girls to spend their lives hoping and praying for a man’s love, thinking that the love of another is more important than the love of one’s self. To love ourselves is the most radical revolution in which we can take part. I used to believe that self-love meant thinking one’s self was perfect, renouncing makeup and modification in a proud statement of “I woke up like dis.” If that’s you, that’s awesome! More power to you. But that’s not everyone, and it’s certainly not me (it’s impossible to look nice in the morning with bangs. It just does not work). I have learned recently that you can love yourself with makeup and modification and all the trimmings, and that these trimmings can, in fact, aid in one’s journey to self-love. Yes, my naked face is glorious, but I love putting on a full face of makeup. I love the process; I love feeling in-control of my own appearance and using my face as a palette for what I consider an art form. Liking makeup does not signify any lesser degree of self-acceptance, and the same goes with wearing no makeup of any kind! There are no rights or wrongs in self-love. Makeup, body modifications, and clothing are just a few ways that I have radicalized my self-love journey. Yet each individual will go about their own journey in a different way, satisfying their own unique needs as they see fit. There are, however a few mantras that I like to use to remind myself that my existence is important and special. Look in the mirror at least once a day. Tell yourself that you’re a bad bitch. They can’t touch this. I’m not kidding—you tell yourself something often enough, and you’ll start to believe it. Tell yourself you’re a bad bitch. Tell yourself that there is no amount of physical space that is not worthy of your body filling it. Tell yourself that you look damn good every day. You are a goddess. Finally, look in the mirror. Look yourself right in the eyes, and remind yourself that you are alive, and because you are alive you are beautiful, and you are worthy, and that will always be enough. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 15
“ LOOK IN THE mirror AT
LEAST ONCE A DAY. Tell yourself THAT YOU’RE A bad bitch. THEY CAN’T touch THIS.”
OUR BODIES, OUR HEALTH
Regarded as “degenerate art” for decades, body modifications are on the rise—as an industry, an art form, and a method of self-love. WORDS BY MONICA NUNAN
ost anyone with a visible tattoo can attest to the shared experience of being bombarded by an onslaught of ever-curious and often-creative questions as a result of the particular piece of body art. Without fail, given the slightest glimpse at my tattoo, anyone—including coworkers, cashiers, classmates, complete strangers, even the pizza delivery dude—will ask for a lengthy explanation of my personal body modification. The exchange usually ensues as follows. Complete Stranger asks, “Wow, you have a tattoo?” I respond, having done this before, “Yes, several.” My acknowledgment of their interest in the tattoo apparently makes it alright to open up the floodgates of personal questions. “So, what is it supposed to be? It kind of looks like… What does it mean? Is it for a dead family member? Are you worried it might sag with age? Did it hurt?” I realize that it not possible to place artwork on one’s body and not expect some attention as a result. The questions and comments that I have received on behalf of my tattoos and piercings, however, THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 16
leave me feeling exposed and vulnerable. I must attempt to defend and explain each aspect of my intensely personal body modification to an audience that is often only looking for enough surface-level symbolism to validate the permanence of tattoo ink. I cannot and will not explain how to someone who does not even know my first name that the piece on my upper arm encourages my ongoing journey to self-love and finding comfort in my own skin. From a feminist perspective, body modifications represent the individual’s ability to decorate and modify their personal and bodily appearance in order to explore their own identity and existence. It seems that our cultural understanding of body modifications is one that views tattoos—and, by extension, the bodies they inhabit—as public domain. As I was asked by a classmate, “If you didn’t want people to see it or ask about it, why did you put it on your forearm for everyone to notice?” I do not speak for the entire modified community, but my personal relationship with my tattoos and piercings has been one of body acceptance. Body modifications have been my greatest tool in learning to love myself emotionally and physically. Through modifying my body—the body I may have once seen as a burden—I have transformed my physicality into something that I can customize and design to my own suiting. It is a living and imperfect canvas. Certain parts of my physical self that I dislike can be expertly painted and bedazzled so that I may come to find beauty, rather than embarrassment in my stocky arms or cauliflower ears. I am the sole master of my own fleshy domain, and I may add whatever brushstroke or hole-punch I see fit. In many ways, body modification allows me to exercise some small degree of craftsmanship unto the body I was randomly dealt. Body modification provides us with total agency over our bodies—an increasingly difficult accomplishment when one considers the extent to which our culture encourages the consumption of the human body. What my classmate failed to realize when he asked such an insensitive question is that my body and the ink it contains are not public property for him to scrutiny and questioning. This tattoo exists on my forearm because it is aesthetically pleasing to me, and it represents the way I have chosen to adorn the body I inhabit each and every day. Dear boy—pitiful, ignorant, unenlightened boy—I did not spend money, creativity, and pain on this expression of self-love and acceptance in the hopes that you would notice it. You are not entitled to ogle it or to receive an explanation that you feel validates its permanence. The truth of the matter is that my body modifications exist for the sole purpose of allowing me to express and explore my own appearance, finding comfort in my own physical existence. This body is completely and utterly mine, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You’re just looking at it. I appreciate your concern, but my tattoos are not a conversation between the two of us. Rather they are an ongoing explorative discussion of agency between my body and my soul. So, please, just tell me they look nice, Illustrations and then leave it at that. by Will Vanr oo n
OUR BODIES, OUR HEALTH
“DOWN THERE” It’s time that we set the record straight on vaginal sanitation. What are the do’s and don’ts? Which products should we trust and which should we avoid? WORDS BY NAYANTARA JOHNSON
omen receive a variety of conflicting messages—from the media, from our male partners, and from socialization—regarding how to keep our genitalia clean. For obvious reasons, our relationships with our bodies are paramount, especially in this organ that contains the second-highest amount of natural bacteria in the body. Yet for many women, this is also the part of our bodies that we understand the least. In light of the astonishing difficulty women face in finding accurate information regarding reproductive cleanliness, here are the SIREN’s conclusions. While visiting a reproductive health clinic in Haiti, I encountered many women and girls who had vaginal infections. The doctor prescribed a mixture of water and vinegar to treat their ailments, but I was taken aback at the thought of vinegar and the burning sensation it would cause. It’s best to keep a daily routine of cleanliness. Avoid wearing damp underwear; keep yourself dry. Do not wear wet swimsuit bottoms or sweaty workout clothes after your activity is finished. When washing in the shower, don’t use strong or scented soaps; leave the fragrance to your neck and wrists. Bland soaps are preferred when cleaning the vulva and vagina. Nature did not intend for you to smell like a rose bouquet below the waist. A vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina. Recently, it seems that a new market has sprung up in scented wipes and sprays for women. These products are more and more frequently appearing in advertisements and on drug store shelves. In reality, however, they would only serve to irritate the vagina, instead of keeping it clean. An artificial floral scent should never be equated with tangible cleanliness. When it comes to cleaning “down there,” keep it simple; no deodorants, sprays, or scented wipes, please. The vagina is actually a self-cleaning organ. We’ve all heard the “good bacteria” vs. “bad bacteria” distinction, and the vagina contains many forms of good bacteria that produce natural antibiotics to reduce or eliminate bad bacteria. Vaginal secretions are our bodies’ way of washing themselves, and changes in discharge levels are often related to hormones, rather than STI’s, as most people believe. If you do notice changes, however, refer to your doctor. Pubic hair also contains natural oils that act as cleansers for the area. Gynecologists agree that using a vaginal douche does not keep the vagina clean. In fact, they can change the pH level and get rid of naturally-occurring bacteria, thereby increasing the risk of contracting an STI. It also might cover up the smell of an infection, which would hamper a speedy identification by you or a medical professional. Eating yogurt and drinking cranberry juice are just a few things you can do to increase the good bacteria in your body. Of course, like with any other part of the body, daily exercise and an overall healthy
diet will help with vaginal health. As we all know, using a condom during sex will prevent the transmission of STI’s. Keep in mind, however, that it is also necessary to change condoms when switching from oral or anal sex to vaginal sex, in order to prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria into the vagina. Avoid using petroleum jelly-based products like Vaseline, which can break the latex of condoms. Water-based lubricants are generally better for you, anyways. Health Canada recommends that women have their first Pap smear as soon as they become sexually active, have a second test within a year, and then have one every three years thereafter if there are no abnormalities. Making sure your partner stays clean is equally important. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important to remember that your partner’s reproductive health affects yours, as well. Your relationship with your own genitalia may be difficult to research or discuss, but it is a health issue from which you should not shy away. Vaginas are just body parts; it’s no big deal to seek out information—in fact, it’s important to do so, because more often than not, these are body parts you share with others, as well. Heterosexual women are so often pressured by their uneducated male partners to change something about their vaginas, yet this is ultimately unhealthy and harmful. It’s a double standard, because we’re made to believe that something is wrong if we don’t smell like roses, but the chemicals in scented products are harmful for the vagina. Using those products might be seen as an admission that the vagina is something to be improved, that its natural smell is not good enough to present to a partner. Some men prefer that women shave their pubic hair, arguing that it’s dirty or “gets in the way.” But there is an evolutionary purpose for pubic hair. Vaginas have identities; as women, we have a say in determining those identities. I’ve spoken with some college-aged men who contend that women are expected to smell good, no matter the circumstances. This is an entirely unreasonable expectation. The media portrays women as effortlessly poised and perfect, but we’re all human—we all need to be cleaned, and we all have body odor. Yet penises are never expected to smell of floral or musk, hence the double standard. When it comes down to it, it’s about confidence. If a man cannot accept your vagina in all its natural glory—if he says you’d be hotter with less public hair, if he doesn’t want to perform oral sex because you don’t smell like daisies, whatever—tell him he needs to wake up and smell the pussy.
Please note: The following article presents a cisgendered, heterosexual idea of womanhood. The SIREN recognizes that not all women are straight or have vaginas. The SIREN is a space created to uplift a diverse selection of women’s voices. This article, specifically, was written to speak to cisgendered straight women. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 17
VIRGIN DIARIES What does it really mean to be a virgin, anyways? Who or what has a say in determining what makes or breaks that most precious of societal contructs, the Virginity? Five SIREN contributors compiled their thoughts on the nature of virginity and the sacred act of Losing It. “JUST BECAUSE I HAVEN’T HAD SEX YET DOESN’T MEAN THAT I AM A SAINT OR THE INNOCENT GIRL-NEXT-DOOR.” The concept of virginity means absolutely nothing to me. In fact, I don’t believe in it at all. When you break it down, all “virginity” really means is that you haven’t had sexual intercourse, yet it doesn’t actually define anything beyond that. What should abstinence have to do with how others perceive you, or how you view yourself as a person? That’s just it—it shouldn’t at all. Yet when you look at virginity through the larger lens of society, it changes everything, because the mere concept invokes countless meanings and connotations. Nevertheless, I consider myself a virgin by definition, because I have not had sex yet. My relationship with my virginity is a personal one; it is a relationship that I have chosen to keep intact until I decide that I am ready and comfortable to have sex. My virginity does not define me; I do not view myself as being “pure” or “clean” as a result of my virginity, as society might encourage me to feel. Yet even if I were not a virgin, I would not label myself as “dirty” or “promiscuous.” Just because I haven’t had sex yet doesn’t mean that I am a saint or the innocent girl-next-door, because when it comes down to it, virginity is not an indicator of what kind of person I am. With that being said, I believe that the whole concept of virginity was purely created to control female sexuality. Whether or not I choose to have sex has nothing to do with my identity as a woman. My relationship with my virginity is unique. It is not the same as anyone else’s. But most importantly, it is a relationship in which I will never allow society to become involved. My virginity doesn’t define who I am; rather, it is just one tiny fraction of what informs my relationship with myself.
the gay people with whom I actually have sex. But if there was one moment where I could distinctly identify a sexual shift, it would be when I gave my first blowjob. For a lot of straight people, oral isn’t really considered sex; “sex” for them is the act of putting a penis into a vagina. But for me, sex was when I connected most intimately with my partner, both physically and emotionally. It didn’t matter to me what I was doing so long as it was a consensual act that my partner and I both found appealing. Eventually, I decided to take on the title of “non-virgin.” As irritating as I find the concept of virginity, I also wanted to fit neatly into one label; my sense of gender and sexuality was warped enough already that belonging to one category of anything felt good. What didn’t feel good was my straight friends’ response. Nearly all of them insisted that for a queer person to lose their virginity, they had to participate in specific sexual acts. No one ever gave me consistent answers; I was told I had to do everything from “full-on anal” to “sixty-nining at the very least” if I ever wanted to actually lose my mythical, enigmatic v-card. My relationship with virginity was immediately strained. I began to question my own sense of sexuality while simultaneously defending it. I had to justify my experiences to every inquisitive person, and then argue with them until they’d shut up. It’s not fair that straight people feel entitled to stick their noses into my personal life, telling me what I am and what I’m not. My public life is already governed and appropriated by legions of heterosexuals; I don’t need them in my sex life as well. If I tell you that I am not a virgin, you will acknowledge my choice, and you will respect it. And you will stop talking. My relationship with my virginity is my own—and no, straight people, you are not invited to interpret it.
“IF I TELL YOU THAT I AM NOT A VIRGIN, YOU WILL ACKNOWLEDGE MY CHOICE, AND YOU WILL RESPECT IT. AND YOU WILL STOP TALKING.” There was never one singular moment in which I “lost” my virginity. If there had been, it wouldn’t have fit in with the heteronormative standards we face every day. As a queer person, I don’t engage in the penis/ vagina kind of sex that typically establishes who is and isn’t a virgin. Yet my virginity has been affected almost as much by straight people as it has been by
“I STARTED SECOND GUESSING MYSELF. IF THERE HADN’T BEEN A PENIS INVOLVED, DID IT REALLY COUNT?” Growing up, virginity always seemed like a pretty straightforward concept to me. I already knew the story: I had my virginity, and one day I would meet the right guy and sleep with him, and then my virginity would be no more. Plain and simple. Things got complicated, however, when I realized I was gay. The whole story became a lot more confusing. In fact, it wasn’t until months after I had sex for the first time that I asked myself the question, “Did I really lose my virginity?” My
THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 18
Illustrations by Alexa Villanueva
immediate answer was yes, obviously I did. But then I started second guessing myself. If there hadn’t been a penis involved, did it really count? I hadn’t met the most basic definition of virginity as I had always known it. But then again, having no interest in sleeping with men it seemed unlikely that I would ever meet the heteronormative standard with which I had grown up. After a bit of internal debate, I finally started asking myself the right question, the important question: does it matter? Virginity is an entirely made-up social construct. It is a construct that doesn’t even take my own sexual orientation into account, so why should I care? Whoever came up with the conventional idea of virginity was someone who thought that penises are so important that they literally change women forever, and I firmly reject that idea. It’s a narrow-minded, non-inclusive concept, and quite honestly I’m too busy having rad gay sex to care about a bullshit construct like virginity. “I WASN’T SO READILY ABLE TO ADMIT IT AT THE TIME, BUT I THINK I KNEW EVEN THEN TAHT THIS BOY DIDN’T MATTER TO ME AT ALL. I’M SURE I DIDN’T MATTER MUCH TO HIM, EITHER.” The first word that comes to mind when I recall my first time having sex is squat. It was with my boyfriend of several months, midway through our junior year of high school. His dick, to be blunt, was not normal. When hard, it curved downwards, rather than up, making most conventional sex positions—you know, the positions you attempt in the beginning because you don’t know how to do anything else—nearly impossible. So there we were, my boyfriend lying on his back, and me, squatting on top of him, trying my hardest to make it work with his mediocre dick. He had never done this before, either, but he had some tips for me, some ways that I could make it feel better for him. Never mind the fact that my leg muscles were screaming in pain as I attempted to rock back and forth, mid-squat, while keeping both feet planted firmly on the ground. I shudder at the mental image that this description must bring to mind. After it was over, we went to Village Inn. We ate breakfast food in the middle of the day. At the time, I thought it was cute and quirky. I thought we had this glow about us. In hindsight, we were probably just sweaty. The next day, his mother found the Walgreens receipt for the condoms crumpled up at the bottom of his wastebasket. They had what he described as “a long and serious talk” about our decision to have sex. He informed me that we would not be doing it again.
I thought I was okay with that. I told my best friend that I was. I told myself that I was, too. I didn’t really care about him all that much; I wasn’t so readily able to admit that at the time, but I think I knew even then that this boy didn’t matter to me at all. I’m sure I didn’t matter much to him, either, and that doesn’t really bother me. We broke up a few weeks later. It was an entirely unremarkable relationship, and if it hadn’t been the harbinger of my first time having sex, I probably wouldn’t think about it much. These days, the whole ordeal is sort of funny to me. I don’t mind telling people that my first time having sex was a small-scale disaster. It could have been worse. In the long run, it’s merely the first of many times. The way I see it, I’ve gotten the worst out of the way. I see great sex in my future, and I see shitty sex, too. It’s all a matter of perspective. “MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WOMEN ARE FACED WITH THE REALITY THAT VIRGINITY IS A CONCEPT, RATHER THAN A CONDITION.” The concept of virginity is manmade—literally. We, as humans, have constructed a way to make people feel superior or inferior depending on whether or not they act upon their sexual desires. Even though I don’t consider myself a virgin anymore, I still feel like one. I wanted to get my virginity done and over with, so I found someone who wanted to do the same. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and I stand by my decision, but sometimes I wish I had something more. I wish I could have shared my insecurities regarding what to do or how to feel with a partner who felt the same way. I wanted that person to be there for me, rather than a one-night-stand I will never see again. The meaning of “losing” one’s virginity is murky at best. I’m not even sure how I feel about my own virginity, so I cannot understand how someone else could construct such a specific definition for me. Hearing how others define the topic leaves me feeling confused and judged. On a physical level, I’ve had sex—but on an emotional level, I don’t think I’m a different person for it. I still feel like the person I was before it happened, with the same personality and habits and values. It seems that we teach women to expect a grand transformation after losing their virginities, but more often than not, women are faced with the reality that virginity is a concept, rather than a condition. Don’t get me wrong—sex can change a person. But what makes this occur is experience and adventure with a meaningful partner, rather than merely having sex for the first time. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 19
WORDS BY ZACH LUSBY
have weird habits when it comes to men. I don’t make eye contact. I exaggerate my laugh. I obsessively reorganize the things in my pockets. I also touch my face a lot. I’ll rub my nose, scrape at where my sideburns should be, and press the fat around my face as if my cheeks were made of Play-Doh. During particularly tense conversations, I’ll violently chew on my fingers until they’re a bleeding, pulpy mess and someone tells me I need a Band-Aid. If I wanted to psychoanalyze myself, I’d tell you all these awful little mannerisms come from an extraneous history of rejection and violence as a result of my sexuality. Like every other gay guy in the good ‘ol conservative USA, nobody really wanted my kind to be around. Kids—male kids—would follow me home from school and throw rocks at me. One boy came up to me in Algebra and struck me across the face; another pushed me down a flight of stairs when the teachers weren’t looking. The boys on my basketball team pelted me with balls and called me a faggot when I didn’t want to take off my shirt during practice. If I were still down to try and diagnose myself, I’d probably go on to tell you what it was like when I actually came out. I’d tell you about how it strained my relationship with my Dad, forced me out of my high school, and led to a general alienation from any and all male-centered and male-dominated spaces. My teenage interactions with men consisted exclusively of the non-conversations I had with my crushes—mostly unassuming straight boys who I wrote feverishly about in my diary. At one point, I did have an actual boyfriend. And for a while, it was all overwhelmingly saccharine; we went to movies and got dinner and wrote each other letters. We held hands all the time, constantly showing each other off to our friends. We listened to music together and sent each other thousands of Facebook messages. I felt like I had made a connection. For the first time, I was ready to engage with another man on a real, personal level. What happened next wasn’t easy. As I discussed in the last issue of the SIREN in my article, The First Time, my boyfriend sexually assaulted me. All the trust I had managed to place in another man was dashed in a matter of minutes, and I became even more withdrawn from guys than ever before. It was beyond discomfort. It was turning into fear. And that brings me to my next mannerism: I flinch. Around men, even a simple hand movement startles me. Someone offers me a high five or reaches their hand out to shake mine too quickly, and I’ll often jump back in fear or reach up to protect my face. At its most embarrassing, my flinching is also accompanied by a painfully audible wince. There is no doubt that my history has instilled in me a significant distrust of men. If you watch me try to communicate with other males, you can pinpoint each of my quirks come alive in full force, as if on cue. While I am usually a very vocal person—almost obnoxiously so—I get quiet around men, far more focused on biting my fingers or keeping my eyes averted than actually engaging in whatever THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 20
CAN’T LIVE WITH ‘EM,
CAN’T BE FRIENDS WITH ‘EM? “As a feminist, a queer activist, and a gay man, I have found a place in which I can understand my relationship with other men...”
conversation is taking place. So, long story short: I don’t really know how to connect with men. I don’t blame it on any one event or person specifically, just the continual maltreatment I’ve received at the hand of patriarchy. It beat me into a stupor that has left me unable to communicate with my fellow men without feeling radically self-conscious. Of course, I have tried to resolve this. I have forced myself into male friendships by any means possible—inviting my barely-acquaintances from school to parties, sitting with boys in class, whatever. Conversations went almost nowhere, and when they did, it usually wasn’t good; nine out of ten times they ended with eye-rolls or yelling, and sometimes both. This is because in high school I started to develop my next and most effective behavioral tactic: aggressive hostility. It’s the one habit of which I am not embarrassed. Nothing feels better than calling someone out for behaving like shit. There were plenty of racist/sexist/transphobic/homophobic men at my high school, and after being so viciously rejected by them in my youth, I completely abandoned my conversation filter. No longer did I fake a laugh when someone flippantly tried to call me “fag”; no longer did I overlook the endless jokes about rape and sexual violence; no longer did I put up with anything. If someone said something awful, I let them know as vocally as possible. My voice is a privilege and I do not plan on wasting it for the sake of preserving male feelings. With that state of mind, I never really expected to be part of any male communities in college. I was still awkward, hostile and, most of all, unwilling to be a part of any predominately male-identifying organization. Why would I have been, when there are so many activism opportunities on campus? Literally, the last thing I ever thought I would care about was a men’s organization. Yet somehow—and to this to this day I still don’t fully understand how it happened—I was recruited into a fraternity. It started as an almost-joke between me and a friend back home; I’d go visit the house or whatever and leave laughing. But when I actually took the walk across campus to meet these guys, I realized something powerful: I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. And that has changed me. I am now lucky enough to have a group of supportive men who listen to me when I speak, respect my sexuality, and include me in friendship—brotherhood, I suppose I should say—something I never thought I would have. I understand all of the unfavorable aspects of Greek life on our campus, and I am ready and willing to listen to criticism, just as all my brothers should be. But as a feminist, a queer activist, and a gay man, I have found a place in which I can understand my relationship with other men, masculinity, and myself. All these concepts are new to me. I still flinch. I’m not great with eye contact or keeping my fingers out of my mouth, but I know they don’t mind. All these guys want to do is support me, even if it’s requires some learning. All I know is that one year ago, the last thing I’d expect to say is that I have male friends. And look where we are now.
ou were a living example of how not to love somebody. Yet despite everything you did to me, I’m grateful for our relationship, because I learned what love is and, more importantly, what it isn’t. It took me two and a half years to realize that what we had wasn’t real. I can’t blame myself, though—we were only fifteen, sometimes eighteen. Even though it took me too long to stand up for myself, I couldn’t be more proud that I eventually did. You slipped off my amour, held a dagger behind the curve of my back, looked into the glossy eyes of a scared teenage girl, and promised not to hurt, never to hurt. It was not a typical high school relationship; you weren’t the stud of the school that took advantage of the naïve damsel. I told you I was not going to be the girl crying to Taylor Swift songs in the bathroom between classes. Once we started dating, I made you promise one thing: that no matter what would happen at the end, we could be friends. I never wanted gifts, and I never received any. I asked for promises instead. We made a promise for open communication. You went to Switzerland for two weeks, and without warning, returned and said you did not love me anymore. That night I found myself on the concrete of an empty parking lot, sobbing amidst the utter emptiness you made me feel. I’ll never forget scratching my knees on the damp gravel, as you pretended not to notice. Within the same hour, you took it back and begged forgiveness. Real love isn’t so questionable. I didn’t realize then, but we both just wanted to have somebody. I asked you to promise that I would not regret losing my virginity to you. I wanted to be ready and comfortable, with someone I trusted. As a seventeen-year-old who had given up saving herself until marriage, I asked for a promise ring—something to symbolize that you genuinely loved me. You never even asked me my ring size. I asked you to promise me your loyalty. On our first-year anniversary, I made you a scrapbook. You bought us nachos. At some point in our conversation, you admitted you would be unfaithful to me if given the chance. But according to you, that could never happen, because who else would hook up with you—except Claire Johnson, right? For our second-year anniversary, you promised five months in advance to take me to the zoo to celebrate. When the day came, you went to San Francisco to visit a friend. That evening, after I’d waited all day for your return, you picked me up and we sat in his car on an empty suburban street. I gave you the updated, now 20-page scrapbook I had toiled over, tied with a bow. In return, you handed me a brown, hand-me-down hoodie with that annoying, classic yellow smiley face plastered front and center. I couldn’t tell which smile mocked me more: the cheesy, pathetic grin on your face, or the blank, meaningless one on that ugly jacket. But I was under the illusion that we were in love, and that concept alone was enough to convince me to sacrifice myself in exchange for your feeble affection. When we broke up, I asked if we could be friends. You lied through your teeth, and purposely provoked misery upon me for months thereafter. Knowing all of my weak spots, you emotionally
WORDS BY CLAIRE JOHNSON
str ati on by S
A LETTER TO MY
manipulated me in an attempt to get what you wanted. You wanted to be friends with benefits; you didn’t want me to find another love; if you couldn’t have me, no one could. You invited me over one day to catch up. I went. Comfortable in your apartment, I didn’t think anything weird of us talking in your room. We were not on the same page. We never had been. You sexually assaulted me, and I was too shocked to ever say anything to you—or anyone else—about it. I used to believe that it one was ever assaulted, they would surely be upset enough to at least say something to try to stop it. I quickly learned that this is not always the case. When it was with someone I trusted, someone to whom I had previously consented—as it has been for many other survivors—I froze. The rest of the evening was a hazy blur until I reached the refuge of my car. I sobbed, my chest crumpled over the steering wheel, completely shocked and confused over what had just happened. I’m lucky to have had friends to help me through the pain you inflicted upon me. I learned to turn away from the emotionally abusive messages, looking instead to those who I know truly care for my wellbeing. I found the courage to finally address you when I felt ready. You’ll never know how satisfying it felt to scream at you in that empty creek bed. The bright colors of spring lined our skinny bodies like an Easter portrait, but there was nothing sweet about that afternoon. With hot tears rolling down our faces, mine twisted in anger and yours sunken with intimidation, we laid out our weapons. I finally proved that I am not a naïve, malleable little girl—not just to you, but to myself. A year later, this past summer, you reached out to me, apparently ready for a sincere friendship after all this time. I wasn’t about to jump the gun as easily as I had before, but I was secure enough to comfortably humor the idea. So I say thank-you for entertaining me with awkward small-talk over pearl tea, and buying me munchies in San Francisco. I could tell how nervous you were around me, and I loved it. The way your hands trembled over book spines on the shelf next to me; how your words stuttered over your subtle compliments; when you gave in and admitted you were anxious. Gaining some degree of power over someone who had manipulated me into misery felt rewarding in a self-serving way. It was my overdue redemption. From the depths of my belly came a hefty, full-hearted laugh when you asked me to be friends with benefits. You always had an insatiable desire for something more. Well, I was never there to serve you. You didn’t love me. I probably didn’t love you, either. Maybe we just didn’t want to be alone during those two years. Nevertheless, genuine love is not self-centered. It includes caring for another’s needs and desires in addition to your own. What we had wasn’t healthy because both of us put your priorities first. As a result, I sacrificed myself far too many times in my attempts to please you. You taught me how to be selfish. It’s a beautiful thing. You taught me how to love myself first, and you didn’t even realize it. I’m satisfied with that afternoon in San Francisco being the last I will ever see of you; I have far better lessons to learn without your help. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 21
DOG FOOD Rapper Mykki Blanco’s new mixtape is brash, brazen, and boundary-pushing—not to mention feminist as fuck.
WORDS BY MARINA CLAVERIA
ne part spoken word, two parts performance art, equal parts Lil’ Kim and GG Allin: Mykki Blanco, the moniker and feminine alter-ego of New York-based artist, Michael Quattlebaum Jr., might best be described by a series of seemingly unrelated, one-off comparisons. Blanco’s new mixtape, Gay Dog Food embodies this. Raw, disorienting, and disconcerting, in whatever it lacks, it’s interesting. You won’t find the lyrical stomach punches and almost-club tracks heard on Blanco’s previous endavors, Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss and last year’s Betty Rubble: The Initiation. Gay Dog Food is a new take on Mykki Blanco. It’s Blanco dragging us under to Hell (meaning a grimy industrial warehouse), and pumping it through a soundboard, only this time a little more heavy metal. “I’m at the edge of the world, who the fuck can touch me?” Blanco yells for the opening line on “Moshin’ In The Front”. Over the blare of an industrial synth soundscape, Blanco reminds us that his only constant state involves existing on the fringe. This song is one of a very few on the album containing any real “verses.” If Gay Dog Food is a project in fabrication, the lines rapped by Blanco, as well as by featured Memphis rapper Cities Aviv, act as layers in the album’s apocalyptic, gender-bending milieu. Other featured artists on the mixtape include Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hanna, often considered the face of the feminist punk movement. On “A Moment With Kathleen,” Blanco is heard fan-girling Hanna in a valley-girl intonation: “Oh my god Gabby, last night I met Kathleen Hanna. She was so cool! She was so sweet.” Almost in response to Blanco, Hanna begins chanting “The archive of the archive,” over and over again, until her voice is subsumed in the song’s contorted beat. Picking back up on her pseudo-monologue, Hanna rambles about a history that’s only “the past when it gets compressed.” Earlier this year Fader magazine had Blanco and Hanna interview each other and talk about their collaborative process. From living in Olympia to moving away, Hanna talked about “this notion of how being so historicized—being fetishized—is exactly the opposite you’re going for when you’re asking for participation.” Our THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 22
Gay Dog Food is a new take on Mykki Blanco. It’s Blanco dragging us under to Hell (meaning a grimy industrial warehouse), and pumping it through a soundboard, only this time a little more heavy metal.
consumerist culture is possessed by this tendency to box artists in by their politics and identities, especially when those identities do not fit the norm—for example, this gay rapper, that feminist band. Blanco’s continual evolution demonstrates the rare desire to embrace this, to occupy the specificity of an artistic moment. At least for the time being, it seems that Blanco is okay with being recognized for his gender-bending. After all, it’s what got him attention in the first place. Repurposing the past, “Baby’s Got Big Plans” is Blanco’s take on the blues. “My baby plans to marry rich / Yeah, she’s got her eye, on a guy,” Blanco sings. The outdated sentiment of the song only works to Blanco’s advantage, later proclaiming herself an “international showgirl.” It’s subversive and a little bit humorous, a simultaneous rewriting of—and writing into—a musical history. In a way, Blanco has created a new genre for himself; there are virtually no other similar acts for consumers to compare him to. It’s as if he’s challenging us to dislike him, knowing full well that there’s no way we ever could. The internet is changing our temporalities. Getting the media’s attention and being subsequently forgotten means something different than it did twenty years ago. The turnover is faster, but the archive is more permanent. If you’re looking for an easy-listener, Gay Dog Food isn’t your go-to mixtape. In all honesty, it’s a little bit trying, but it seems like that’s the point. Mykki Blanco isn’t planning on letting down, but he certainly won’t go easy on you. LISTEN TO: “Fulani,” feat. Ian Isaiah, and “Lukas,” feat. No Bra.
NOT THAT KIND OF FEMINIST A REVIEW OF LENA DUNHAM’S LITERARY DEBUT WORDS BY NATALIE PEARSON
alienates queer and trans women. Dunham presents her femininity as something that is intrinsically tied to her relationship with men, and that is troubling to homosexual women, as well as those who simply don’t fit this traditional and misogynistic definition of femininity. Indeed, Not That Kind of Girl contains several problematic depictions of queer women; this includes the chapter title “Girl Crush: That Time I Was Almost a Lesbian, Then Vomited,” and the following reaction to her college dorm-mate beginning a relationship with another woman: “To me, it seemed sudden and rash, a response to trendy political correctness rather than basic human desire… I told people, ‘She broke up with her boyfriend like two weeks ago! All she cares about are shoes and dresses.’” It is appalling to read a self-proclaimed feminist illegitimatize another woman’s sexual choices and identity. Dunham also describes being pleased that having a queer sister added to her “embarrassing image of [herself] as the quirkiest girl on the block.” Even as a straight woman, these passages make me cringe—at Dunham’s clear insensitivity, at the discomfort she must have caused her sister and every queer woman who picked up this book, and at the fact that someone heralded as a leader of feminism could be so exclusive. What Dunham ignores is that feminism is not restricted to straight, white women. It is intersectional; it relies upon the intersections of identity—race, gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.—yet Dunham’s version of “feminism” does not. For these reasons and more, Dunham has recently become a very controversial figure, garnering criticism from viewers and journalists alike. Part of me is incredibly reluctant to jump onto any bandwagon that actively puts down a powerful woman; she is, after all, a woman. Yet most of Dunham’s criticisms, such as her lack of representation for queer women and women of color, are well-founded. Writer Andrea Ayres-Deets has labeled Dunham’s brand of activism as “white girl feminism,” defining it as “the belief that showing smart, intelligent white women is somehow enough—that it should be applauded; that women everywhere should be proud that these types of characters are even on TV at all… But that’s not enough for me.” And it should not be enough for any of us. The point of this review is not to put down Dunham as an individual or as a creative talent, but to call into question her self-proclaimed feminism and her value as a “leader” of the feminist movement. The point is to question the messages Dunham presents, and to propose that we uplift women whose feminism, unlike Dunham’s, is about inclusion and empowerment. str ati
ena Dunham’s name is one that has become almost entirely unavoidable in both the entertainment industry and feminist circles. As someone who doesn’t have a TV—let alone access to HBO shows—even I am familiar with Dunham’s wild success on her show, Girls. I’ve also become aware of Dunham’s classification (both by herself and by others) as a feminist and a radical. Given this background, I was curious to see what Dunham had to offer in her new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the work is how completely absorbed in herself Dunham is throughout its entirety. This in itself is not a criticism, given that the point of a memoir is to share personal experiences—and, of course, I am in full support of women believing in the importance of their own stories. The way Dunham writes about herself, however, is highly troubling, from a feminist perspective. From cover to cover, the book is chock-full of Dunham’s self-depreciating accounts of her own lack of self-esteem and self-respect. True, she introduces the memoir as an outlet to bare all and admit faults, and this goal appeared at first to jive with Dunham’s self-proclaimed feminism; after all, it is true that women in the public eye are often held to impossible standards and ridiculed when they fail to achieve perfection. Yet rather than communicating messages of self-respect in spite of imperfection, Not That Kind of Girl is more about Dunham’s wallowing in her own insecurities. While I recognize that everyone experiences imperfection, feminism is about emboldening ourselves in ways that others have not, by rejecting societal expectations of what it means to “be a woman.” On the other hand, Dunham’s book consists largely of, in her own words, “stories about waking up to my adult female body and being disgusted and terrified”—stories that not only lack messages of empowerment in self-image, but enforce those expectations of how women should look, act, and have sex. Equally as evident and worrisome is the fact that Dunham searches for self-worth almost exclusively through her relationships with men. The entire first third of the book, as well as numerous essays that come later, are dedicated to recounting Dunham’s long and unfortunate romantic history. It is clear that Dunham equates self-respect with the respect that she receives—or, rather, does not receive—from the men with whom she becomes involved. This focus detracts even more from Dunham’s supposed feminism when we look at how much it
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Graphic by Zach Lusby
The SIREN counts down the top ten albums released by female artists in 2014. In an industry that discredits and objectifies women, it’s vital that we give praise where it’s due. Good work, ladies. WORDS BY ZACH LUSBY
10) TAYLOR SWIFT - 1989
I know what you’re thinking. But bear with me. This is a modern pop record with the emotional pallet of an eighties banger, Taylor Swift effortlessly transitions into her post-country period with poise and charisma on 1989. It’s an album full of scalding pop culture mockery (“Blank Space”) and dramatic he-loves-me-not anthems (“Bad Blood”) that are both instantly satisfying and intensely personal. Intelligent, empirical, and massively relatable, 1989 is 2014’s most accessible album by far. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Out of the Woods”
9) CHARLI XCX – SUCKER
At 22, Charli XCX already has quite a handle on the music world. In 2013 alone, she crafted the irresistible hook for “Fancy” and salvaged The Fault in Our Stars’ soundtrack from complete mediocrity with the compulsively listenable “Boom Clap.” With Sucker, her second major label album, Charli has stepped out of the featured artist spotlight to a place all her own. The album screams Girl Power with its killer girl-gang rocker “Break the Rules” and the uproarious “Sucker,” in which she screams at the top of her lungs, “You said you wanna bang, well / fuck you, sucker!” She celebrates self-pleasure on “Body of My Own” and then takes over the world on “London Queen.” She’s an entity of pop culture genius, rebellious and spirited unlike any other musician on the market. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Sucker”
8) tUnE-yArDs – NIKKI NACK
For an album featuring a spoken word track about tater tots, tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack is an incredibly bright commentary on consumer culture and American racism. Merrill Garbus sings with astonishing wit and range on issues as sensitive as white guilt and urban sprawl, all set to sounds that feel more at home in a daycare than on a social justice record. The aesthetics of tUnE-yArDs are just as rewarding as the insightful and resonant cultural critique Garbus articulates so proficiently. The result is a supremely gratifying piece of art that is as fun to listen to as it is challenging. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Real Thing”
7) AZEALIA BANKS – BROKE WITH EXPENSIVE TASTE
Important note: Azealia Banks is not Iggy Azalea—the two rappers couldn’t be more different. Where Igloo Australia is racist, annoying, and poorly produced, Banks is confident, dangerous, and totally inventive. Though Banks’s debut album Broke With Expensive Taste has been gathering dust on record label shelves for two years, the Harlem rapper’s slick mash-up of house, jazz, and almost theatrical vocals makes it one of the most innovative rap albums in years. Banks may be known for her hostile Twitter presence—she’s had more than her fair share of justified online beefs—but what really stands out is her unique, totally out-there music. Broke With Expensive Taste is an addictively assertive entrance for what may be one of the best rap acts out of Harlem in years. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Gimme a Chance” THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 24
6) PHARMAKON – BESTIAL BURDEN
As some of my favorite Youtube commenters have put it, Pharmakon’s sophomore album Bestial Burden can be “unlistenable,” “literally disturbing,” and “like standing next to a grenade.” As dark and demanding as it gets for modern music, Pharmakon’s Margaret Chardiet pushes serious emotional limits in an album about hospitalization, death, and the alienation and hatred we can feel for our own bodies. Though it clocks in at just 34 minutes flat, Bestial Burden is an exhilarating experience that invades a listener’s sense of security in a fashion unlike any other album has done in recent memory. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Body Betrays Itself”
5) NICKI MINAJ – THE PINKPRINT
The Pinkprint is a massive undertaking—seventeen whole tracks of unadulterated emotion on the standard edition alone. In a move nobody was expecting, Minaj gives us her most intimate and personal album yet, in which guilt, heartbreak, and sexuality are all explored within the span of a few songs. We hear her at her most vulnerable on the remarkably powerful “All Things Go,” singing to slick, thin beats, “And that’s the reflection of me, yes I get it, I get it, it was all me / I pop a pill and remember the look in his eyes, the last day he saw me.” Then, just a few moments later on “Feeling Myself (feat. Beyoncé),” she snips “Heard he thinks about me when whacks off / Whacks on? Wax off.” The entire album, though, is tied together by a sense of power and ownership no rapper can compete with. On every track, Minaj reveals her vulnerability, her status, and her sexuality with unquestioned confidence. The Pinkprint is victim to some largely terrible moments on the part of slimy male features by Lil’ Wayne and Drake, but at its best, the album is a massive success, addressing the unseen emotional depth that Minaj expertly expresses throughout. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Four Door Aventador”
4) MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND – THIS IS MY HAND
On This Is My Hand, Shara Worden (a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond) is as whimsical as she is mythic. Embracing titanic orchestration and intimate vocals, Worden’s skill as a multi-instrumentalist and powerful songwriter makes This Is My Hand a distinctive record that can be almost overwhelming in its range. Tracks like the titular “This Is My Hand” are subdued but commanding while others like lead single “Pressure” are explosively loud and showy. Worden’s wide variety of styles and sounds makes the surprisingly cohesive album a masterful effort in personality and character. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Lover Killer”
3) CIBO MATTO – HOTEL VALENTINE
A short-winded concept album that fleshes out towering ideas in just a half hour, Cibo Matto’s first album in over a decade is as hip as ever. Slapping hip hop with heavy jazz and easy listening influences, Hotel Valentine gives birth to wondrous songs like “MFN,” where aggression can easily be mistaken for allure. It’s a wholly involving album that sweeps listeners into its big-concept narrative of a haunted hotel, pinning them down with a sound that is simultaneously spacy and heavily confrontational. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Empty Pool”
2) GAZELLE TWIN – UNFLESH
Like Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden, Gazelle Twin’s phenomenal Unflesh describes an experience in which bodies are estranged from their emotional owner. Here, producer, performer, songwriter, and singer Elizabeth Bernholz expresses the intrinsic self-loathing that brought her to attempt suicide. Much of the album’s texture comes from the hatred of one’s body, creating a genuinely unnerving aesthetic where one’s own skin, blood, and flesh is rancorous and menacing. The production on these tracks is genuinely moving, switching from breakneck tension on “Anti Body” to fearful agony on “I Feel Blood.” Every track rings with gendered discomfort from Bernholz’s specific experience, crafting an album that blinks not in the face of horror. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Exorcise”
1) FKA TWIGS – LP1
When I reviewed LP1 for the SIREN several months ago, I called it “one of the most groundbreaking, fascinating, and emotional albums of the year.” At the end of 2014, that still holds monumentally true. What FKA twigs has done on LP1 is a reevaluation of the way we look at sexuality and identity within modern music. If only we lived in a sort of post-Fka twigs universe where us male critics paid more attention to the dynamics of identity than the face value material so many of us examine exclusively. She is fluid throughout the album, both empowered and vulnerable, confident and terrified. She is uncharacteristically a human being—a role we rarely let women fill in modern music. We need artists like FKA twigs—female artists fully responsible for their art, their identity, and their culture. Sure, LP1 is sticky and sensual, but it’s all for the purpose of explicating something deeper, and that something deeper is precisely what makes FKA twigs such a unique artist. LP1 sounds beautiful, feels challenging, and engages with audiences in an entirely new way. It’s truly the most important album of the year and one that I believe has blurred the lines of genre for good. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Video Girl” HONORABLE MENTIONS: Tacocat – NVM , St. Vincent – St. Vincent, Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear, Mariah Carey – Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 25
Here is Home
It is easy to forget to clean up the dust from your glasses if your Eyes have grown too accustomed to viewing the world this way. It is easier to run away the second An open hand lends itself toward yours But try to allow yourself to see clearly. You don’t want to miss out on any more beauty this earth has to offer. Open a window. Taste the air. Slowly, waking up doesn’t hurt so bad You finished a meal and you can feel proud of Your tummy for it is no longer empty Your dusty glasses have been thrown into the river and you celebrate this moment By dancing in the rain until it tangles your hair in twenty-seven knots You never thought you would get to this point of bravery Now you are able to stand in front of reflected glass with open eyes And laugh around the oak table with souls you call friends You just might meet someone who suddenly makes your heart feel the way The ocean rushes to kiss the shore Spinning heads and spaghetti legs. Once, twice, three times You may find your visitor is fooling you like funhouse mirrors But try not to let it. Instead let yourself breath. Be still. You know things get better. You come to find over time it all gets better. This is when you realize how far you have come. This is when you realize home has been here all along Helping shed old skin in order for new seeds to grow Both hands wide open, you can see the beauty now —Alexa Villanueva
here is a history lesson 1. all historians are liars. death is not a feat, you are not ghandi because you protest it. you breathe, just like everyone else. all historians are liars. their meanings are built on the bones of others. 2. warfare is not synonymous with victory. napoleon was not van gogh with two armies, THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 26
Illustration by Alexa Villanueva
tactics, operational strategies and the brush of foreign countries. 3. it does not have to battle between two separate entities. you do not need a machine gun to kill it can be done with a machete it can still hurt. 4. you are not walking into uncharted territory but a home that holds a family in its hands. tell your soldiers to walk in like this is the white house tread lightly. —Helena Manville
Mind to Body
Chamber of my Soul, holder of my mind, My thoughts for you deeper than love no doubt. I can never part from you, nor you me. Yet why, when many eyes fall upon you I cannot help but want to mutilate, To starve, shave, dye, break, and even paint your Imperfections of which I cannot love. “I died for Beauty” can only be Truth. Not as a tomb for Thoughts, but a flower, Picked under the Watch of ceaseless beliefs. Subliminal polishing from first Light, Failed, —gem never shined—forced to sacrifice. Our self: dirtied, innocent; broken, fixed. Never accepted by all, but loved by One.
to anyone who
who can feel a series of knots roll down their backs and tie securely in their stomach who make themselves sick trying to untie it who get themselves tied up in it to anyone who determines their worth by the love of someone else who thinks, “if they love me, i’m worth something” if they don’t we don’t
to anyone who learns from everything and anything, now changed signifigantly from six to sixteen grew up lonely and stayed that way
you are out. fucking other girls. at midnight. their bodies probably glow real nice under the moonlight. i am alone. fucking myself. at midnight. this is how virginity works. this is how. it is taken, manipulated, and formed into art. i wonder where the light hits on the thigh or above. or not at all. what are your eyes seeing. everything anything. or nothing at all. do you wish you could see me? i don’t even know where I would be. it’s too late for me to care. i’m not too far gone. but i’m wrecked and its certainly for you. —Helena Manville
to anyone who watched their dad get stuck with needles watched their mother cry for months straight watched their family fall apart and tried to pick it back up
you’ll find someone more interesting and willing// and I will find that my body is minethough i suspect this has always been true// and it is not a garden of lily and peony and orchid tulips on the tip of tongue with Dutch men to bid// or the soil overturned during the dust bowl and the displacement of life and love that lead the way// my body is not a historical event that they will write about it is just that and it will run it’s course// in the same manner repeating ideologies and fears of the flesh// but do not worry you will find someone more ready and willing and// it will be good// for both of us —Helena Manville
to anyone who lives a little, every once in a while has their feelings, written on their face is trusted, trusts, and doubts, everything has faith in themselves, now
to anyone who has a bucket of boiling tears behind their eyes but does not let themselves cry anymore to anyone who isn’t just the depressed friend, anymore is happy, is happier then they used to be
in Barcelona, cigarettes burnt thru to our nimble fingers that barely even touch anymore you chain yourself to me and we kiss some the sum of our pain transmitted thru our tongues you taste like failure of home of honey of longing to be with me
—Helena Manville THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 27
A Nice Greek Girl
This is how to fry an egg, with a little bit of water in the pan so it steams up. This is how to build a rock wall from the ground up; you can watch me do it, but the big rocks are too heavy for you to try. Water the orchids rarely and the cacti even less. Don’t be so bossy to your friends. Be a good big sister. She just wants to be like you. Play us something nice on the piano. Come set the table. Would you get my bottle of wine for me? What do you think you’re doing? Don’t put the Kalamata brine in the salad! It’s salty enough with the feta. Come say “yasou” to your Yia Yia on the phone. She wants to hear your voice. Keep it down, then! Your laugh is so shrill. I’m trying to drive. Use olive oil instead of butter. It’s better for you. Take your fish oil capsule every day. You know, when I was little, Yia Yia used to give me a spoonful of real fish oil instead of a capsule, and an orange slice afterwards to get rid of the taste. Don’t push his buttons, even if he’s mean to you. Stop looking in the mirror so much. You think you’re hot shit or something? Don’t be so vain. It’s not a good trait. Don’t you want to go out and get some exercise? You’re really just going to sit in front of a screen all day? You could really use the exercise, you know. Are you really going to eat all of that? Yes, Dad, I’m hungry. What are you doing? I’m swinging! Well, be careful, then. You don’t want to break the swing-set. It’s not polite to be shy. I know you don’t want to go, but just come show your face for a little bit. Why was your door closed when he was over here earlier? If I find out you’re having sex, you’re going to be sorry. You want to watch A Clockwork Orange? Come on, there’s more to it than just the rape scenes. Hmm, it needs salt. Here. I don’t want more salt. No, here. It’ll be better. Let me just do it for y— Dad, I don’t want any. Well, Jesus, honey, sorry. That’s how we show our love in Greece. With food. I just want you to enjoy it. You’re not really Greek. You never learned the language. You won’t even eat the food. You think you’re healthier for being a vegetarian, don’t you? What’s this about a boy? What the fuck are you wearing? That’s the style, Dad. Well, you look like a homeless person. You keep smoking pot and you’ll end up losing all that ambition. You want that to happen? Have you been taking your iron? You’re still seeing him? I always thought he was a little bit too THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 28
big for you. He never seemed like your type. But, Dad, I don’t care about his weight. Well, in my opinion, appearance is very important. I need someone really physically attractive. You know, when we heard how much you were radicalizing down there in Eugene, we thought you must be a lesbian, too. And what if I was, Dad? Let’s only talk about that if we have to. God, that ring in your nose looks ridiculous. Every time I look at it, I think it’s a booger hanging out of your nostril. You want to watch a movie? Okay. I’ve got to show you this Dutch film, The Hairdresser. Look at this scene. What a great scene… Jesus Christ! Look at those things. Oh, God. Imagine living with those attached to your chest. Why are you doing this, Dad? Doing what? Showing me this. This is really fucking sexist. Honey! Hey! Honey! Don’t cry, honey. Please don’t cry. Come back, honey! Come on! I’m sorry! Do you think you’re a feminist, Dad? Well, of course. Is that only because you have daughters? Mmm, no. I’d feel that way regardless. Good. Your mom mentioned something about a boy. You shouldn’t start taking antidepressants. You’ll end up like your mother. If she weren’t medicated, she’d be institutionalized. You don’t want to be like that. You’ll get addicted. Don’t let a boy control your happiness. Why are you crying, Daddy? Because I don’t want to see you sad.
E by on
t tra us
For a Black Girl, OR Things I’ve Actually Heard in Real Life and No, I Am Not the Exception, OR Not Your Fucking Fetish High school party. “You’re like, the hottest non-white girl at our school.” Light beer sloshes from his cup. Dark beer is too strong. I smile, white teeth. I know what a compliment means for someone like me. “BLACK GIRL BOOTY!!!” I hear. I do not look back. Someone messily rubs against me. I arch my back, bend over, twerk. I know what a compliment means for someone like me. “You’ve gotta feel this girl’s hair.” Go for it. Really. I don’t mind. It feels good. It feels good.
Sophomore year. Age 15. “I never thought I’d be with a black girl.” I find the courage to ask why. Just out of curiosity, of course. “Well you know, their vaginas are deeper. I didn’t know if I could satisfy one.” I actually don’t know. Deeper than what, I wonder? That night I show him pink nipples, brown vagina. Summer job. Age 16. They are in their 20’s, but that doesn’t matter for girls like me. “See I’d like a girl like, her color. Not too dark.” “Sad thing is some of ‘em are so ghetto.” Nods of agreement. I wonder what my manager would say if I reported this. Barbeque. “Feel honored. You’re the only black person I thought was worth inviting.” Honored. I stand on the podium and wonder what I would sell for.
Freshman year. College. Stranger’s bed. “Yeah I’d like a nice red bone like you.” I am thankful that I am facing away from him.
Freshman year. College. Dinner. Giggling, “this pork is pink on the inside, brown on the outside. Like black pussy.” I go home early. They assure me it really wasn’t a race thing. I accept. Freshman year. Crush. Instagram. #WCW caption: “WE LOVE THE WHITE WOMEN” I feel sick. Jungle Fever. Mud shark. Knight Rider. Thot. Jezebel. House nigger. “Dark skinned bitch knows how to take it.” Dark skinned bitch has taken far worse pain. Light skinned bitch tired of being the creamer in your coffee. Tired of being your guilty pleasure. You cannot hide under the cloak of my darkness. Only to kick me out in the morning, When the light returns and your eyes adjust. Black girl. Too loud. Too angry. Too obnoxious. Black girl why are you so mad? So sassy? Black girl feels penis at the back of her throat. She gasps for air. Hard to smile when your mouth is full. Hard to see tears behind all that hair. Hard to feel happy when your only valuable trait Is the white bone inside of you.
D O N‘T J U ST G ET T H E W O R D O UT .
GET YOUR WORD OUT. WRITE POETRY. WRITE FICTION. W E‘ L L P U B L I S H IT .
SUBMIT TO SIRENWC AT GMAIL DOT COM. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 29
W Put on your thinking cap and test your feminist chops with this tricky crossword puzzle! CREATED BY MEGAN LITTLE
4. Belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes. 5. Photographer and activist, ____ Collins. 6. Oregon organization that provides women and men with free contraceptive care, for short. 9. A gender identity or performance that does not fit with cultural norms related to one’s assigned sex at birth. 11. Editor of Rookie Magazine, Tavi ____. 13. Term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual. 14. The prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by medical and allied health professions. 15. Research into understanding who we are as men and women. 16. A socially recognized relationship that may involve physical and emotional intimacy as well as legal rights to property and inheritance. 17. The advantages acquired by being a male in a patriarchal society. 18. Attraction to and sexual relations with people of the same sex. 20. Gender ____; an unequal distribution of power in which gender shapes who has access to a group’s resources, opportunities, rights, and privileges. 21. Professor at University of Oregon, specializing in feminist philosophy, ____ Mann. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 30
1. Feminist activist, Gloria ____. 2. Fight for women’s voting rights. 3. The expectations of thought and behavior that each culture assigns to people of different sexes. 7. The belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. 8. ____ dimorphism; the phenotypic difference between males and females of the same species. 10. Proven to be the least effective form of teenage birth control. 12. Full voting rights for women were achieved when the _____ Amendment was ratified in 1920. 19. Can be manifested as discrimination, objectification, or denigration of women. 20. Discrimination based on gender.
THE NAKED TRUTH
A long-time sufferer of disastrously low self esteem, one SIREN contributor eventually sought out and found solace in the most unlikely of places—on a pedestal, as a nude model. WORDS BY ALEXA VILLANUEVA
he room is quiet. The only sounds I can detect are the soft classical music playing from an old CD player and rough pieces of charcoal dancing against paper. A spotlight warms my body, and I try to avoid the bright light hitting me directly in the pupils as eight pairs of eyes survey every inch of my body. I am naked. Yes, completely naked. No, this is not one of those dreams where you unknowingly strike into a crowded room, naked, having no idea whatsoever how you got there or why you happen to be bearing all for everyone to gawk at. I knew exactly why I was there, and it was entirely my choice. Naturally, being a nude model for an art workshop is not the most appealing job to everyone. In fact, if you’d asked me a year ago if I’d be interested in such a position, I would have said no in a heartbeat. Being an art model was never on my agenda, and even now I’m not sure how long I’ll keep at it. But what I am 100% certain of is the fact that it has contributed to my personal journey of growth that I will never forget. My life has been plagued by insecurities that have stemmed from both relationships and personal traumas. If I were to describe my relationship with my body, it could be neatly and metaphorically summarized as the “Extreme Scream” ride, where you are blasted up twenty stories into the air and then plunged from the highest point until you feel like as though your heart might shoot out of your mouth. It took me years to finally accept my body and find the power to look in the mirror without cringing. If looking at myself through my own eyes was so difficult back then, asking me to strip off all my clothes in a well-lit room full of scrutinizing strangers was completely out of the question. No, thank you. Struggling with my own self-image was stressful enough; on top of all that, I didn’t have the energy to worry about what others might think of my body. When seeking help seemed impossible, I found solace in making art. I’d previously taken a few drawing classes, and in each of them there’d always been several nude models who’d come in to work with us for the day. Sizes and looks always varied, and as drawing students we were always grateful that these people were willing to let us use them as inspiration for our pieces. It’s always more fun to capture the human essence, rather than the typical piece of fruit in a bowl. I admired the bravery of these models—how comfortable they were in
ng . awi e e-dr is piec r u fig in th y b d ion tione trat n Illus ent me d u t s
their own skin, the ability to display their bodies in full form, stretch marks and bruises in all their glory. I found it inspiring to seek out the beauty in the natural human form, rather than the airbrushed version the media shows us. Sometimes, opportunity knocks. Sometimes, it scares you a little. Sometimes, that means it’s in your best interest to welcome it. That’s how I stumbled upon this gig; I called a local art center, inquiring about part-time jobs. When the receptionist matter-of-factly said that they were searching for nude models, my mind immediately jumped to the bravery of the models that’d come to my own classes. I thought about my body and the growing positivity in my attitude towards it. My heart skipped a beat, and before I knew it, I was in, a regular model at the art center. My first modeling session approached quickly, and I looked forward to it with anticipation and excitement. When I told my boyfriend of my plans, I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction to expect. As someone who’d taken figure-drawing classes as well, he knew what type of environment it would be, but admitted that he wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea. Of course, he is my boyfriend; he supports me, and I love him for that. He gave me one piece of simple advice: to remember that if I ever found myself in any remotely uncomfortable position, I had the right and the power to run away. I kept this in mind, and later on, he and my best friend helped me figure out a few poses that felt easy and natural. The first time it happened, I was surprised in the best of ways. Beforehand, I could hardly contain my nerves. The instructor provided me with a screen, so I could change out of my clothes in privacy; while doing so, I applauded myself for no longer being afraid of my own body. The students in the class ranged in age, most of them middle-aged to elderly. The environment was carefree and non-judgmental, the students commenting on how well I was doing, offering me praise with each new pose. I felt like a goddess. Nothing—not even my own self-doubt—could take that feeling away from me. In this fast-paced world where we students are constantly bombarded with homework, technology, and more, it’s nice to sit sometimes in a quiet room for a few hours and partake in the creation of art. When I model, I am giving the opportunity to assist with that very creative process, dictating what they will paint or draw, but never how. That’s part of the beauty of it—getting to see the finished product, in which your own body is transformed and manifested according to the imagination of another human being. It is a wonderful feeling to be thanked for my time after every session. But I often feel as though I should be thanking them instead. THE RELATIONSHIPS ISSUE | 31