The Race and Gender Issue In this issue:
Interview with Head of School Than Healy
Poems by Loweyi Miessi
Editorials by Amanda McFarland, Riya Mirchandaney, and more!
Editor-in-Chief: Maya Singhal Photo Editor: Katelyn Weingart Content Editor: Pooja Kathail Blog Editor-in-Chief: Hunter Brown Chief Reporter: Helena Ong
The Race and Gender Issue
Staff Reporters: Danya Adib Avalon Edwards Samantha Frenkel-Popell Lauren Jacques Amanda McFarland Riya Mirchandaney Scott Stevens Maya Varma Alumni Writer: Loweyi Miessi
Contents 4 9
Letter from the Editor Interview with Head of School Than Healy Hide and Seek: Embracing My Hidden Diversity By Hunter Brown
“Pretty for a Black Girl”
“If there is one thing I learned from Menlo” Poems by Loweyi Miessi Feminism: The Radical Notion that Women are People By Danya Adib and Maya Singhal
The Story of My Body By Amanda McFarland
Girlish Gay: A Coming Out Dilemma By Scott Stevens Double, Double Toil and Trouble: On Sexuality and Double-Standards By Danya Adib and Maya Singhal
Interview with Race and Womanhood Teacher Megan Downey
“Move, Bitch” By Riya Mirchandaney
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
In the course of working on this issue of The Bard, I have heard from many incredible young women of color in the Menlo community. While each of their experiences is distinctly their own, for many of these girls, their time here at Menlo has been both wonderfully educational and deeply troubling. When I pitched the idea for a race and gender issue at a Bard meeting, many of the girls in the group expressed feelings that they felt at least subtly discriminated against at Menlo for their race and gender. They said they felt less valued in the community than their white and/or male peers, and I think in discussing these feelings, there was a certain relief. We were all thinking: it’s not just me. While it is true that Menlo is not generally an openly discriminatory community, prejudice still manifests itself through microaggressions. According to a study by Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. and David Rivera, M.S., racial microaggressions are “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messagessent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.” (Beyond race, microaggressions can be aimed at people for gender, sexuality, class, etc.) At Menlo, these microaggressions can take the form of comments about certain girls being less pretty or less able to “get a guy” than others. They can take the form of questions about someone’s financial aid status or how smart they are. They can also take the form of expectations about a person’s expressions of masculinity or femininity based on their sexual orientation. Regardless, Sue and Rivera discovered that “[t]he invisibility of racial microaggressions may be more harmful to people of color than hate crimes or the overt and deliberate acts of White supremacists,” affecting the victims’ mental and physical health, lowering their work productivity and problem solving abilities, creating “hostile and invalidating” social climates and more. Ultimately, my goals for this issue are to bring awareness to some of the issues around microaggressions at Menlo, explore the intersections of race and gender in the community, and continue The Bard’s tradition of telling the stories of students whose lives and talents are often overlooked by the other campus publications. This issue is packed with fascinating facts (read about the history of the word “bitch” on page 28), powerful poetry (page 9) and a load of interviews and stories from people around the community. I hope this issue makes you think and maybe even prompts you to start conversations around the topics of race and gender. In any case, I also hope you enjoy! Maya Singhal
Than Healy Menlo Head of School By Pooja Kathail Head of School Than Healy has had a remarkably multiracial upbringing. Growing up in Hawaii, many of his friends were of mixed race and what are traditionally considered to be minority cultures. “The interesting thing about Hawaii is that […] a predominant population is of mixed ancestry,” Healy said. Therefore, minority races were actually in a majority and Healy began to view race as a “richness” that adds to a community. “Race for me was something that was rich and […] the way that it manifested itself was all these really cool traditions that blended,” Healy said. Healy didn’t realize that his view on race was different from the norm until going to college on the east coast. Still his perception of race never changed dramatically. “I guess when race and ethnicity and cultural differences start out as assets and as a richness then it’s hard to give up that orientation,” Healy said. This orientation is something that continues to influence Healy even here at Menlo. “I definitely still hold onto the bias of […] difference being something that enriches a community, an education, a discussion,” Healy said. This view is something that even affected Healy’s decision to come to Menlo in the first place. “I seek out places that have the potential to be heterogeneous and have lots of different influences in part because it’s more interesting,” Healy said. “One of the things that brought us to this school, one of the things that I head loud and clear and actually mostly from the students […] was that [Menlo] could be more diverse.” Healy sees this as a challenge the community faces that has the potential to enrich the overall community. In his words, “More is better. I think we’re doing students a disservice if we’re sending you out into the world without experiences with all kinds of different people in a place where you can be who you are.”
Hide and Seek: Embracing My Hidden Diversity By Hunter Brown I find it awkward to refer to myself as “mixed race,” and even more awkward to hear the laughs and speculation of other people if I ever tell them this truth about myself. So naturally, given my past experiences, it is with hesitation that I attempt to make a statement about growing up one-quarter Mexican. There are many reasons why I can write a piece such as this about growing up one-quarter Mexican but would be unable to do so writing about my one-quarter Russian or my one-quarter Norwegian heritage (the other quarter is German and Irish for the record). Essentially it boils down to the fact that the Mexican ethnicity is “different;” it is unlike the European ethnicities that represent the heritage of many of my peers. However, the ways that my race has affected me have been more indirect than direct. The appearance of a white person has sheltered me from prejudice and immediate stereotyping. I do not face many challenges that other Latino people face daily: I am not followed around stores or thought of as less educated or deemed a gang member simply because of the color of my skin. Two generations of “bleaching” of my Mexican heritage has given me these privileges. Yet, I still do feel some of the disadvantages of my ethnicity. I am the result of an escape from Mexico, two generations growing up along the border and three generations of growing up poor. I am not someone whose family lineage traces back through three generations of Yale graduates, but instead traces back three generations of being told “you aren’t college material,” despite the merit of my ancestors. From this side of my family, I do not have the same set of resources that many Menlo students are accustomed to having. Having both white ancestors and Latino ancestors has allowed me to see how exactly race can be a factor in a person’s life. I feel that I have a much better understanding of how race can limit a person than people without my experience, and thus I have been more sympathetic. Additionally, growing up in a world where white is seen as “the norm” has led to me embracing some parts of my Mexican heritage. I like the story of my heritage and I do not want it to be forgotten. This was one of my main motivations for taking Spanish throughout middle school and high school. While it may sound cheesy, I was proud of myself that time my sixth grade Spanish class went out to Una Más! and I was able to say quisiera un burrito con pollo, por favor. In that instance, I felt like I was making sure that my race would never be lost again.
“She’s Pretty for a Black Girl” By Loweyi Miessi
All I remember was him turning around, laughing, and saying, “Ha! Ha! That’s right, that’s right. You ugly! You ugly! Get out my face cuz you ugly!”
One day after a concert, I was standing with one of my white friends waiting for our ride. A black male of a slightly lighter complexion than my own walked up to When I was a child us and asked, People told my mother to her face “What’s your name?” That I was pretty for a black girl. I looked at him and asked, Thank you for the compliment, “Me?” But who says that? He hastily said, Does that mean that black girls “No. Why would I be talking to your tend to be ugly? dark black ass when I could be talkBut me, I am the special one, the ing to her?” lucky one Now whether or not that friend That turned out to be pretty. heard, she proceeded to engage in playful conversation with him. Well to be honest with you, I don’t But I said nothing. feel very pretty. In fourth grade, my friend Deontae and I got into argument. Forgive me for I don’t remember what the argument began as, but I do remember that it ended with us comparing skin tone. I remember him asking all 40 students in the class whether or not I was darker. Most of the Hispanic kids ignored us, but all the black kids shouted out, “Lolo’s darker!”
I went out with my friends on my birthday one year. We ran into a group of guys They started talking to us. My friends were smiling and laughing for a few minutes But me, The birthday girl, Was standing there, Silent. Waiting for someone to realize that I existed. How do you think it feels for me to
only be noticed for how dark and subsequently imperfect, unwanted, and unpleasant I am? And when someone finally finds even an inkling of beauty that exists on my dark façade, They can’t help but point out that I’m black as if it’s not thrown in my face enough And worse, They can’t help but imply I’m only beautiful in comparison to other black girls. So clearly when you tell me I’m pretty unlike many girls of my race You have been scarred by society’s racist view of darker people That dates back many more generations than we would like to admit This subconscious racism has fueled our society since the Civil Rights movement And now I’m the one left feeling like maybe Just maybe I’d be a little prettier if my hair looked more like my white friends. Just maybe I’d be a little prettier if my body was less curvy. Just maybe I’d be a little prettier if I was lighter. Cuz even on black TV and in black magazines, kinky hair is bad and good hair is straight. Stick figures are beautiful and curvy is just fat. Light skin is the right skin and dark is not worth looking at. I can’t stand it anymore. I don’t want to hear it anymore. So the next time you tell me I’m pretty for a black girl, Just tell me I’m pretty Or do not speak at all.
If there is one thing that I learned from Menlo Itâ€™s how to expect to be unwanted. By Loweyi Miessi
ure I learned how to solve complicated quadratic equations, Write concise five paragraph essays, And construct 15 page research papers. I learned how to write a thorough lab report, How to cite my sources, And the correct use of the infamous semicolon. But when anyone asks what I took away from my experience at Menlo I always want to say that Menlo has helped me perfect the skill of… Standing out like a fly in a glass of milk While being as invisible as the wind. See I was noticed for my ability to move my body to a rhythm And for my big, flamboyant earrings. People knew me as “the hip-hop dancer” or football team manager, Yet those same people who claimed they knew me so well, called me by the name of every other black girl in the school. And as if that weren’t bad enough, They then proceeded to excuse themselves with, “You guys look so much alike! You could practically be sisters!” And I sat there, asking myself if I really look like them Or if they just confused us because we have a similar
complexion. Not just at Menlo, For that’s just a microcosm of the bubble. Yes, a bubble. And this white, upper class bubble that we live in Has raised most Menlo students And conditioned me to being overlooked. I went to Starbucks every day for four months straight. The same Starbucks every day. The same time every day. The same drink every day. I walked in. They said hi. My drink was made before I even paid. Yet about half the time, my little red holiday cup had Malia written on it as if it were a daily guessing game. Because I stood out enough for them to memorize my order, But not enough for them to memorize my name. Maybe if I was in this Menlo School, high class bubble all the time I wouldn’t notice the lack of noticing. But every day, I cross the 101 ramp to go home. And there, People see me. And some weekends, I cross the bridge and travel north to hang out with family. And there,
People notice me. And the only reason that over the ramp or over the bridge is so different Is because people over there Know what it is like to walk down the street and no one makes eye contact with you And when they do, they look away faster than my mind can tell me to smile.
People over there Know what it is like to be sitting in a restaurant And everyone around you, even the people who came in after you are being served better and faster than you And you wonder if it is because my waiter is simply busy Or is just simply ignoring me. People over there Know what it is like to walk into a room, where no one says hi to you And you have to wonder if it is because there is something wrong with you. And yes! There is something wrong with you. There is something wrong with me. It’s those dark freckles that devour my face That is what’s wrong with me. They may not tell you that to your face, They may not even know that is why, But my complexion is what keeps me standing out And because they are so awkward and uncomfortable in my presence, Not knowing what to do with themselves They find that it’s just easier for me to be invisible. And the ones whose parents never taught them The common sense of What is inappropriate to say, do, or think around black people like Do not touch my hair without asking. Do not laugh when my hair bounces. Do not assume that my hair is fake. Do not ask what part of Africa I’m from. Do not laugh at my dance moves. Do not change the way you speak when you speak to me.
Do not ask me the name of every hip-hop song. Do not assume that I listen to hip-hop. Do not assume that I am going to prom alone. Do not say nigga around me. Do not address me as your homie, bro, bruh, brotha, or sista. Do not ask me if I’ve ever been shot. Do not ask if the other black kid’s parents are my parents. Do not call me Shaniqua, LaTeisha, LaToya, or Tyreisha. Do not assume I will vote for Obama. Do not ask me to twerk. But do care about my well-being. Do understand how some of the things you say can be offensive. Do ask me questions in math class. Do ask me what music I listen to. Do ask me who I’d like to go to prom with. Do ask me if you can help in any way to get me a date to prom like you do all our other friends. Oh would you please Just ask me all the normal questions for once. If you can notice me for my hair and the fact that I can dance, You can notice that there is more to me than the melanin in my skin. When someone asks me what I took away from my experience at Menlo, I want to say all of these things. But instead I say the cliché, Let them praise every person, glass building, and piece of turf in this school, Then I smile, Affirm their beliefs And disappear.
gender, yet they took offense to our sign because it references the dehumanization of women only. What they failed to realize was that the feminism we were supporting in our signs was also addressing their concerns. The feminism we were supporting was not some misandristic movement, but one that sought to recognize the belittling effects patriarchal society has on all individuals. If women were not used to represent weakness, men would not be forced to perform their gender in order to be considered masculine rather than feminine. Surprisingly, the negative reactions to our signs came not only from males, but also females. Some Menlo girls thought that the signs disempowered them by suggesting that women were disempowered in the first place; after all, their personal experience at Menlo had never been disenfranchising, so why would any other girls feel otherwise? However, these generally rich and/or white girls didn’t take into account the empowerment
By Maya Singhal and Danya Adib
When we put up the feminism signs around campus, we said to each other, “These are going to make people inordinately angry for absolutely no reason.” Spoiler alert: they did. We intended the signs to broaden people’s perspectives of feminism and to show that feminists really just believe that women should be treated like people, which is something most people can support. Calling it a “radical notion” was merely intended to play on people’s perceptions of feminism as a radical ideology, rather than to suggest that people think the fact that women are people is actually radical. Instead, people found the signs embarrassingly sarcastic, accusatory, and disempowering. Boys claimed that the signs were targeting them for sexist acts they had not committed. After all, they respected girls at Menlo. Moreover, they claimed to be as oppressed as women. Why did they have to ask out dates and pay for meals? Clearly they were exposed to social pressures to perform their
that their wealth and/or white privilege gives them. For girls in the community who don’t have the privilege of money or being in the racial majority, female empowerment and spreading awareness of women’s issues could be the difference between discovering a passion for engineering (thanks to the non-judgmental space of MBEST) and struggling in a “safe,” traditionally female job in another field. Journalist Helen Lewis noted that “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.” This observation, known as Lewis’s law, can also be applied to the situation within the Menlo community. The criticisms from both genders outlined here only further prove that discussion about privilege should be facilitated. The only way to broaden people’s perspectives is to deconstruct their preconceived, rigid definitions about both traditional systems such as gender expectations and counterculture movements such as feminism- we need to deconstruct hierarchies. In the meantime, the signs will stay up, and so will our persistence.
The Story of My Body
By Amanda McFarland I was born into the most normative of circumstances. The first, planned child of two white, middle-class, thirty-year old, Catholic parents, I was—at least at birth— expected to see nothing but the best side of the world. And I knew that. From a young age, I was taught that the world owed me respect for being “normal.” I had no sense of identity, but I thought I was bland and that made me perfect. But I wasn’t bland to other people, and it took being told who I’m not for me to realize who I am.
I was first made acutely aware of my differences at age 6. A fiercely competitive, creative child, I was at the height of my popularity arc. Yet to become interested in flirting, boys wanted to play with me, and already aware of societal gender rules, the girls wanted me to play with them. The diplomat in me saw compromise: Mondays and Wednesdays were for the boys- long games of basketball, tag, and warand Tuesdays and Thursdays were for the girls- hanging upside-down on monkey bars and pretending to go to the beach in our wedding-cake play structure
not be my decision. My conception of myself as a bridge between the genders was meaningless if others were intent on burning it. With no one to validate my sense of self, I limply waited for the game to be over. I don’t remember what side I walked to after. All I know is Matt and I didn’t have play dates any more.
car. Fridays I chose who gave the best offer (sharing lunch treats always gave one group a leg up in my decision). For me it was simple: I wanted to do both, so I did it. Admittedly, I wanted to play basketball on Tuesdays and Thursdays too, so sometimes I made exceptions, garnering the withering looks of my female classmates. I guess I skipped too many trips to the beach. One day I began to run to the hoops with my best friend Matt, only to be yanked back by Haley. “You played with him yesterday,” she complained. “But it’s Wednesday!” Matt said. The other boys and girls arrived. Blacktop rules declared I would be won in a contest of human tug-of-war. As I was literally, physically torn between two groups, I realized for the first time that my gender identity would
n sixth grade, I hit my all time low. My passion for reading and listening to NPR had graced me with an unparalleled vocabulary and a freakishly acute sense of perception. Consequently, I was one of the few kids at school who was completely aware of my own peculiarity. While other girls were hypnotizing the boys with their new bodies, I was trying to hold on to my former tomboy status despite the myriad of changes my body was undergoing. I wanted to look like my guy friends, who
were tall, thin, and growing muscles, but I could never be that. Stuck in a labyrinth of emotions, I ate my anger and confusion rather than facing it and gained weight. It was easier to look in the mirror and hate myself for being rotund from fat than curved from estrogen. This solved more problems than I’d like to admit. One: I was no longer unattractive because I was lost somewhere in between genders, I was unattractive because I was a size 12. Two: It meant I didn’t have to have an existential gender crisis every time I looked in the mirror. Three: now I could wear my favorite baggy clothes and put my hair up because it was already assumed I wasn’t trying to impress anybody. All that said, I was not happy in any sense of the word. I hated feeling slow, unwanted, and shameful. I refused to be in photos or movies, hoping there would be no documentation of this awkward phase of my life. I vowed that everything would change when I changed schools. A high school where I knew no one offered me the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself. I continued to wear my favorite baggy t-shirts and shorts, but started seeing an athletic trainer. It was a step in the right direction, but I could never become my lanky, androgynous heroes. To this day, I find my perception of myself clashes with what others see simply because my genetics do not allow me to be both healthy and a size two.
HAIR I hated my hair as a kid. It was long, curly, and unruly no matter what I did. I refused to do anything with it besides pull it straight back into a tight, low ponytail that no one but me understood. “Why don’t you put it down? It’s so pretty,” my mom would coo. Girls would steal my hair bands at lunch trying to convince me life was better without them. But my love for my shadow trumped all their requests. As a kid, I would stand staring at my shadow for hours. The beauty of it lay in its twodimensional simplicity, devoid of the size and shape I so hated about myself. With my hair straight back, I would pretend my head was shaved like Lalo’s and would imagine a shadow life filled with shadow friends, the simplicity of shapes translating into the simplicity of emotions and relationships. I was myself in that land, and everyone loved me for that. If the mirror couldn’t show me what I wanted to see, at least my shadow could. As I grew, I learned I would never have my shadow world. That ‘growth spurt’ would put me at a meager 5’3”, and all my work with a trainer could never undo my genetics. But with self-confidence and independence that comes with age, I was at least able to solve the argument with my hair. For months ahead of time, I planned what I wanted the cut to look like: short on the sides, longer on the top, with a huge ringlet resting on my forehead— something not to masculine, but not quite a pixie cut. I ended up getting something pretty close. My hair would never form that one, beautiful ringlet, but smaller curls were OK too. I wish I could say something as trivial as my haircut would not have a profound effect on me. But something happened once I got the cut. I started spending time
in the morning looking in the mirror actually caring about how I looked. I held my head higher and laughed a little louder. I made more daring jokes and looked everyone in the eye. I engaged with people and felt like they could see the person I wanted to be, regardless if I had actually become that or not. With short hair, people looked at me and immediately validated my tomboy identity instead of questioning my lack of feminine interests.
“As I grew, I learned I would never have my shadow world.”
loathe buying clothes. That’s something my mom passed down to me. It started when I was seven and was told I couldn’t buy a pair of jeans because they looked like “boys’ pants.” It continued into the time I had to pretend I was buying shirts for my father instead of myself. Then all the times I have been called “sir” as I wandered through the men’s department. And the time I went to five different stores, tried on about 30 pairs of jeans, and went home empty handed and humiliated. I expect it never to end. Every time I walk in to a store I am confronted with gender stereotypes that do not cater to people like me. First, stores are arbitrarily divided in half regardless of how “progressive” the store is. Then, on either side, they generalize body types into mere numbers and code letters that rarely accommodate an individual’s body in the way they are supposed to. All I want is a men’s items with feminine flair and cut, but I cannot walk the men’s or the women’s aisles without feeling like I am betraying a part of myself. Not to mention, neither style of clothing truly fits or gives off the aesthetic I am looking for. With no ‘middle aisles’ for me to peruse, I am told by the fashion industry that I do not exist. Despite where this may seem to be going, I am not transgendered. I do not consider myself to be born of
the wrong sex, and further, I do not believe in the gender binary that this term propagates. I am instead the gray area; the land society only acknowledges in youth and offensive language, and certainly not in commercial clothing. It is impossible for me to accurately convey the line in the sand I draw between feminine and masculine, as so many people wish me to do (and I wish I could, believe me). I would love nothing more than for my identity to be validated by society, because then I could truly become it. I wouldn’t have to soften or harden my voice at certain times, dig out my more feminine clothes for family functions, or be stared at in public bathrooms. I wouldn’t have to accept and navigate the prejudice of others who fear what they do not know and seek to obliterate it as if to deny that the world is any different from the way they believe it to be. But society and culture are what they are. I cannot change it passively or actively so long as I am alone. And so I do my best to control others’ perceptions; carefully sculpting my size, hair, and clothes to run the fine line between public and private comfort and hope that the world will come around some day.
REFLECTION “Our culture would prefer me to consider my gender a sob story”
Upon writing this piece, I am disappointed that I have focused on the negativity in my life. Yet, I cannot think of another way to convey my story to the public. Our culture would prefer me to consider my gender a sob story, despite the fact that it is one of the greatest joys of my life. My satisfaction in wearing a suit for the first time must be erased by the injustice and humiliation I experience on a daily basis because it is easier for others to swallow my narrative in a one-dimensional form rather than acknowledging that the same facet of my life can bring me to my highest and lowest emotions. So for the record, my experience, much like my gender, does not fall on the extremes of a spectrum. I’m more complex than any label, and I’m tired of choosing one out of consideration for those inconsiderate fools who prefer their simplistic happiness at the expense of my complicated self-expression. So next time I wear a tie and a bittersweet smile, don’t ask me what the occasion is. I’m wearing them for me.
Girlish Gay: A Com
By Scott S
7th Grade served me my first “oh dear, he’s attractive” moment. It wasn’t until the end of 8th Grade that I entertained the idea of being bisexual, and after a sexually frustrated introspection of three years, I decided to make official the public pulsar for gaydar. Society views “feminine” behavior in males as “gay.” The gender behavior pattern dubbed “feminine” conjures character tropes from graceful Gibsons to salacious sluts. Emotions and charm, artistic ability and sociability – in our interactions, these assume themselves mostly in those born with female sex parts. The problem with coming out is that we associate these feminine characteristics with a subset of gay guys, attaching to the gay image an overly artsy, valley girl lisped neat-freak who’s “always there for” his gal friends. If, like a girl, a guy likes guys, we surmise he’s like a girl. Rather than worry about what is “normal” gender behavior, I focus on “Scott” behavior. Although I climbed into high heels when I was little, I’m obviously not a drag queen, bless their gorgeous hearts. Still, I fall under quite a few of the gay stereotypes. Girls tend to be my choice friend group, I groove a bit flamboyantly on the dance floor, and my voice isn’t the “straightest.” However, I was hesitant to come out for fear I’d fail a personality complex of mine. Always hating machismo, I thought defying gender norms as a straight boy was heroic and titillating. Being gay would flatten my character into an archetype, not to mention reinforce the stereotype that only feisty boys can be gay. I growl at anybody who finds straight looking/acting gay males to be shocking, whatever “straight” means. So I set out to be the “gay friend that wasn’t gay.” This idea tanked, but I learned the effect of categorizing behaviors. Imagining stereotypes, one
ming Out Dilemma
often thinks of people defined solely by their stereotype, their other offerings to the world ignored. For example, some feel racial identity clouds the focus away from the more significant sides to a person’s personality. However, I learned the inverse to also be true: trying to wriggle out of stereotypes can make a person ignore an important part of their identity. For some, it can be cultural heritage; for me, I forgot that I need love – physical expression of love with a boy. I found it is not the belief in stereotypes, but their existence that threatens diversity, truth, and the pursuit of identity. We need to expand our image of homosexuality, of sexuality and gender in general, to encompass a more accurate representation of all those for whom the arrow doesn’t fly so straight. Your tablemate in Spanish may long for a girl one day, pine for a boy the next. Your little sister may struggle with the confines of femininity. Learn from transgender people (those holy humans!) – bend your worldview and realize that presumptions on gender behavior and sexuality, presumptions of any kind, blur your understanding of true identity.
DOUBLE DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE On Sexuality and Double Standards By Maya Singhal and Danya Adib
After the freshman orientation in August, the seniors had a meeting with Senior Dean Cathy Chen about the first day of school. She talked about hazing (or really the lack thereof), and then the boys were told that they could leave and the girls stayed to have a discussion about dressing appropriately. We were told that girls in younger grades look up to the senior girls for how to be and dress “cool,” and while it is one thing for an 18 year old to be wearing tiny shorts, it is quite another for a 14 year old to be doing so. However, if the concern was creating a climate in which girls are hypersexualized from a young age, we think Menlo needs to be taking a broader approach rather than simply telling older girls to dress more appropriately. We want to pause here for a moment to talk about Miley Cyrus before we bring this discussion back to Menlo. Especially after her questionable twerk performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs, Cyrus was bashed for misappropriating Black culture and for her overly sexual presentation (especially since she and Thicke, who is married, were grinding). Many people who tuned in to watch the VMAs with their kids were shocked and offended by what they considered an inappropriate performance, and articles sprung up around the Internet about Cyrus’s poor behavior. They were particularly enraged because Cyrus began her career playing the very family-friendly Hannah Montana on the Disney Chanel, which made her a role model for many young girls. Critics argued that her suddenly sexual transformation sent a message to young girls that their power and value in adult society is inextricably tied to their sexuality. In many ways, we agree. It’s not that we believe that Cyrus should be ashamed of her body or lose all of her risqué attire, but we wish she would also add some less sexualized ensembles to her public image to show girls that they can be considered grown up and popular without being hypersexualized.
Photo via Huffington Post
However, very few of these critiques analyzed Thicke’s part in the performance. Arguably, Thicke behaved just as inappropriately as Cyrus. He denied this in an interview with Oprah Winfrey saying, “I’m the twerkee. I don’t twerk. I’m just twerked upon.” However, although he was not overtly sexual in his performance, he was clearly complicit in the interaction. The entire performance seemed to put Cyrus in the position of performing sexually in order to garner the male (Thicke’s) attention and the audiences’ attention, while Thicke merely had to sing onstage to gain the female (Cyrus’s) attention and that of the audience. As Cyrus later said, “No one cares about the man behind the booty.You only care about the one that’s shaking it. Double standard.” After all, it takes two to tango and Thicke certainly did not seem to have any problems with the action while he was onstage. Putting the blame on Cyrus for the sexual interaction revealed a disappointing double standard in which females are always to blame for uncomfortable sexuality while males get off unscathed by pointing fingers at the females. So let’s bring this back to Menlo. Cathy Chen did have a reasonable point in wishing that the older girls at Menlo would dress appropriately in order to be good role models for the younger girls. However, singling out the girls denies the older Menlo boys’ part in creating sexualized roles for the young girls in the community. For years, there has been a bench or a pile of backpacks on the quad “reserved” for senior boys who have the intention of watching hot freshman girls. We have heard girls say that some of the boys would yell
numbers as they walked by. Girls at Menlo are often either shamed as sluts for having encounters with boys (sexual or non-) or as prudes for not wanting these encounters. While the shaming comes from girls as well as boys, the fact that boys are rarely judged poorly for multiple encounters with different girls illustrates a discouraging patriarchal double standard. We don’t ask boys to address these lascivious behaviors because we allow them to be portrayed as victims, acted upon, as Thicke claims he was, and this isn’t just a contemporary theme. This backwards thinking has been around for centuries, evidenced in the myths of sirens luring men to their deaths because their bodies were too beautiful and accusations of witchcraft toward powerful women who must have cast a spell to captivate local men. These disappointing social structures create a culture in which female students feel that their value and popularity is contingent on the opinions of their male counterparts. More dangerously, it contributes to an underlying rape culture prevalent in high school and beyond, where men expect that women will and should always comply with their wishes and that any opposition by women should be punished. Although, luckily, rapes are rare (though not unheard of) in the Menlo community, perpetuation of this patriarchal culture is hugely detrimental to the social interactions of females and males going further into the rest of their lives. To us, it is important that both males and females actively work to change the roles they play in sexualizing young girls. And to Menlo’s faculty, we would just like to say: when talking about appropriateness, let’s include the boys.
By Riya Mirc
“...man is defined as a human being and woman is defined as a female. Whenever she tries to behave as a human being she is accused of trying to emulate the male...”
There are few words in the English language that have as much power as the word “bitch”. While its literal meaning is associated with “the female of the dog or other carnivorous mammals” (Merriam-Webster), today, the word has as many distinct and perhaps contradictory uses as Ryan Gosling has teenage fans. For many, to be called a bitch implies that one is “a malicious, spiteful, and overbearing woman” (Merriam-Webster), but to others it is a sym-Simone de Beauvoir bol of endearment - the trademark of a strong woman. Somewhat straying away from the original definitions are phrases you would find on Urban Dictionary instead of Merriam-Webster. The phrase “bitchin” applies to someone cool, while “bitching” means to whine. “Son of a bitch” is directed towards rude men, and to be someone’s “bitch” means to be their slave. Although referring to a woman as a female dog predates the existence of “bitch”, this word, which can both empower and demean, has a vast and complex history begging to be explored.
The graph is from Google’s Ngram Viewer, and displays the prevalence of the word in Google’s Book Database.1
Clare Bayley, “Bitch: A HIstory,” Clare Bayley (blog), entry posted June 2, 2011, accessed January 18, 2014, http://clarebayley. com/2011/06/bitch-a-history/. 1
rchandaney The first major spike in the usage of the word “bitch” occurs in 1920, the same year as the milestone of women’s suffrage. With the first wave of feminists, women were gaining representation in America, and “bitch” began to form as a common insult for women perceived as either “1. malicious or consciously attempting to harm, 2. difficult, annoying, or interfering, or 3. sexually brazen or overly vulgar”.2 These characteristics seemed to symbolize the antithesis of ladylike women; mothers who were gentle, kind, and never publicly exposed their ankles. The suffragettes got women the vote, broke the status quo, and made America reevaluate its predetermined gender roles. The vast majority of society was not ready for such a dramatic transformation, resulting in the popularization of this scathing and inherently misogynistic insult. In the 1960’s, the tables began to turn. The second wave of feminists started reclaiming “bitch” for themselves. It was their title, their pride, their token of honor. The most groundbreaking feminist document from the 60’s, BITCH Manifesto by Jo Freeman, embodied this paradigm shift.
“Like the term ‘nigger,’ ‘bitch’ serves the social function of isolating and discrediting a class of people who do not conform to the socially accepted patterns of behavior. BITCH does not use this word in the negative sense. A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful. It should be an act of affirmation by self and not negation by others.”
Bayley, “Bitch: A HIstory,” Clare Bayley (blog).
Thus began the reclamation; the trend of women self-identifying as “bitches”. This is a highly debated concept, as many believe that “as women are eager to reclaim, embrace and redistribute a word that is so often used to insult them, [it] often backfires and reinforces the initial intention of the expression”. Is it possible to escape the notoriety of a word so prevalent in our society? Or will there always be a nagging presence of doubt while we attempt to hold our heads high and transcend the limits of etymology? These are a few of the many questions the second wave of feminists brought to light. The third wave of feminists characterized the next drastic climb of “bitch” in popular culture. This was the 1990’s, and t-shirts with “You Messed With The Wrong Bitch!” were available in children’s sizes across the nation. With the help of certain explicit forms of hip-hop, “bitch” became inescapably ingrained in American culture, as it is today. So what is the point of all of this? I suppose a considerable takeaway is that watching YouTube videos titled “Jesse Pinkman’s Bitch Compilation” is not the most effective form of inspiration for a feminist editorial. Or perhaps a more significant takeaway is an understanding of the intricate and complex history of one of the most common swear words in the English language. It is, fundamentally, my choice to reclaim an insult. Am I a bitch? I wouldn’t call myself one, no. Is there anything inherently wrong with proudly identifying as a bitch? Not at all. But I find “woman” much more empowering.
What made you choose [Representations of Race and American Womanhood] to teach? That’s actually what my background is in. I, as an undergrad, majored in African American studies and American Studies and Anthropology and then I started---but didn’t finish a doctoral program in African American Studies at Berkley. [...] So in general, other than that having that be my background, I also think it was something was missing from from the curriculum, and it was something I could offer in particular. How do you think these sort of issues in race and gender, affect our lives today? I think they are fundamental to our identity. What is challenging about these issues is that after the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s, we sort of think that these issues are solved in some way. And so it has become somewhat tabooed to talk about it openly---at least in California, I don’t that is as true in the South, because people talk about it, ironically, a little more honestly. But I think that the power structures that created these differences haven’t acTeacher for Representations of tually changed, rather, they just absorbed these Race and American Womanhood revolutions and resistance movements and have English Electives been able to maintain the same kind of power dynamic while just celebrating these quote-onInterview by Helena Ong quote differences in a nominal way[, so] now it feels harder to talk about it. Your English classes deal with these sort of things, so what do you hope is the main takeaway for your students after they leave that class? I hope people feel more comfortable talking about these issues. [...] My goal is to give them the language to use. So they learn a lot of seemingly annoying academic terms that help us understand what is going on around us. And usually these sort of power differentials are made normal so it’s hard to describe. It seems intangible, so it’s hard to put words around it. So I try to give students words to describe what is actually going on. And in that way I think once we recognize it, we can start to change it, but I think we are still at the beginning stages as for how we need to recognize how power manifests like in our own world.
These are sensitive topics, how do you think we should approach them to make them a more prevalent topic to be talked about? [...D]irectly and relentlessly. I see where the fear comes from talking about these issues, but I think it can be used to hold us back from having these conversations, [...] And there is not really a way to do it halfway. When you’re being really honest about what is going on, it’s like ripping off a bandage. You just have to look at what is in front of you and talk about it. Outside of the classroom, looking forwards to 5 or 10 years down the road, do you think there will be a change in society towards race and gender? There will be progress, there will be changes. It will be slower than we what want and it requires everyone to participate. [...T]here will be changes and Menlo is a good microcosm of that. I think there might be changes that are not as much as all of us would want. They are slow [but] they’re substantial, they’re meaningful.
Winter 2014 issue of Menlo School's exclusively online arts and lifestyle magazine: the race and gender issue