the bitch diaries: on mental health and progress

I used to believe that progress was a destination. Take this medication, and you won’t be depressed anymore. Prepare your meals in advance, and you won’t be tempted to skip them. If you’re really dedicated (which you have to be if you really do want to get better. That’s what you want, isn’t it?), you could even plan your meals weeks in advance. The narrative we’re fed, as the recovering mentally ill, is that if you really want to get better, there’s a list of steps you must follow exactly, and if you don’t seem to get better, it has got to be your fault. You, as a person with a mental illness, must not act like you have a mental illness, so as to not alarm those around you. The perceived end goal is not, in the treatment of mental illness, to find comfort and love for yourself while coping with the ups and downs of an augmented emotional state, but to appease those around you who’ve been left feeling wary around you and your acceptance of your reality.

At the age of 18, when I reached my peak of instability, I placed my trust in those around me who assured me they knew what was best for me, and followed their advice, with the only end goal to be “normal,” both psychologically and physically following my 25-pound weight gain. I payed close attention to their reactions to my actions and rewarded and/or punished myself based on what I observed. When I dropped 30 pounds in four months, I saw the family I trusted and the friends I loved congratulate me on what they thought was new-found health, and rewarded myself with another skipped meal and a thinner pair of jeans. When those around me remarked that I hadn’t seemed sad in a long time and that it made me so much easier to be around, I learned to hold my tongue when I did feel sad or scared, because I couldn’t bear the thought of being the disappointment and drag I thought I used to be. I learned to shave away my physical presence in the space I once occupied, and also that my vocal presence was unnecessary, too. I thought that I was helping myself by making myself easier to swallow, smaller and dumber and nice. I thought that my place in the world was that of a barbie doll who speaks only when her string is pulled. These are the lessons I learned while trying to seem neurotypical for the comfort of those around me.

This fall will mark three years of struggle with my weight and my brain. I’ve planned the meals and I’ve taken the pills. I’ve learned to cope with who I am, and maybe even love myself for it and see silver linings in my heightened ability to empathize with others and connect to the raw emotions of children. Despite all of this, I’m still just as mentally ill. Some days I don’t allow myself to eat, and some days I’m too sad to even get out of bed. Some days I feel like I’m on top of the world. I’m still the same girl, I just love myself infinitely more, and that didn’t come from a doctor or a gym. Progress has not meant being a perfect young adult, but being flawed as I am while trying my hardest.

Mental illness is not comfortable; it isn’t a paper cut that heals, or a curling iron burn that leaves a barely-there scar. Mental illness isn’t a virus cured in a twelve-day process with little white pills. I am not ashamed of who I am and what I go through every day, and “normal” isn’t something I feel pressured into wanting anymore. I have fought to be here today, and I won’t shut my mouth to appease you.

the bitch diaries: i don’t like what feminism has become, you know?

“I love feminists…not.”

She tips her head back as she runs her perfectly manicured fingers through her shoulder-length blonde hair, laughing as if her boyfriend’s words were novel and hilarious instead of status quo.

“I don’t hate feminists,” she adds, eyes sparkling in the Cuban moonlight. “I hate what feminism has become, you know?”

“Yes!” I want to scream. I want to know her least favorite part of the movement and how we can get better. Is it how we tend to ignore issues that don’t matter to upper-class white women? Is it how we don’t believe male victims of rape? Is it how we infantilize sex workers? Is it the “womyn-born-womyn” position of radical feminism that is so dangerous to our trans sisters, especially black trans women?

“It’s just like, not equality anymore. Like why should you get payed more than a man?”

I sigh. Why do I ever open my mouth?

Feminism framed as men’s oppression isn’t the newest, or most efficient, silencing tactic I’ve faced, but it’s definitely my least favorite. Maybe it’s the holier-than-thou assurance that other people understand a movement I’ve passionately thrown myself into since, well, the day I was born better than I do. Maybe it’s the “well that’s my opinion!” accusation of censorship I get when I attempt to explain that they, in fact, have no idea what they’re talking about. After all, freedom of speech protects us from getting thrown into jail for our opinions, not from being told that what we think is absurd.

Mostly, I think, I’m sick of how the excuse to be unsupportive of marginalized people around the world and a movement that has historically fought for their rights keeps mutating instead of dying out. In the age of the Internet, accusations of bra-burning (a historically inaccurate phenomenon) and emasculation of men into submissive and inferior roles are, to be perfectly honest, absolute bullshit.

Average days in this girl's house, obviously.

Average days in this girl’s house, obviously.

numba 2

My favorite activity.

From political cartoons depicting suffragettes as evil overlords who force their husbands into servility by asking to be part of the democratic process to the modern-day “but aren’t you going too far?,” this favorite tired excuse does literally nothing to further any cause except for shutting women up. It doesn’t help men escape harmful gender roles, make the streets safer for women at night, and it sure as hell doesn’t work for creating an environment in which actual criticisms of the feminist movement can be improved on. It has one real meaning: shut up. We don’t want to hear what you have to say.

I’m ashamed to say in this situation, and in many others, I did give in and I did shut up. I don’t know if there will ever be a day where I’ll be comfortable enough with myself and my opinions to look someone trying to silence me straight in the face and tell them to shut up themselves, but I do know this: I will never stop fighting for the women who fought for me. I will never stop fighting for a better tomorrow. Most importantly, I’ll never stop fighting for a better feminism.

dear meghan trainor, let’s talk about unfair ideals of masculinity and relationships

Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t start watching Meghan Trainor’s new music video with much optimism. I have never, even for a minute, called myself a Meghan Trainor fan. Ever since All About That Bass started making a splash, I’ve been pretty vocal about my disgust for her double standards and fake feminism, but her newest video and single, “Dear Future Husband,” has got to take the cake.

The song is catchy enough, hiding behind a wonderful beat and perfect pop vocals, but the lyrics automatically set me off.

Beyond “if you’ll treat me right/I’ll be the perfect wife/Buying groceries,” a set of lyrics gross enough in itself, I found the song framed men as inherently hypersexual, incompetent partners, who owe their women shiny things in exchange for sexual favors.

Uhm, excuse me?

First off, the song completely frames human sexuality in a male context, as if women should never (gasp!) be sexual beings. “Dear future husband,” she sings, “If you wanna get that special loving/Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night.” “After every fight/Just apologize/And maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right.” Oh, don’t listen to what I have to say, future husband! Don’t even listen to yourself if you think I’m wrong and you’re hurt. All you care about is sex, right? Men don’t have feelings!

The song also tips into borderline-abusive relationship zone, as Trainor insists that he should “know we’ll never see your family more than mine.” After all, “why disagree” when she’s clearly right in every fight? If she knows better, he should just let her do what she wants, because that’s how you treat your wife right.

Ideals of manhood, masculinity and chivalry, and how they affect men and relationships is really rarely discussed. Hypersexualization hurts all men, but especially asexual men and men who have been victims of child abuse and rape. It hurts teenage boys who think they have to have wildly high sex drives, and learn that sex is some sort of heteronormative currency that you win by giving a woman what she wants. It teaches men that sex is a necessity, and a prize to be won and showed off. That, in itself, is dangerous.

The relationship that Trainor discusses in this song does not value openness or healthy sexuality. It is a system of bartering to get what one is supposed to want. This isn’t the type of relationship I could ever survive.

Dear future husband, can’t we just treat each other like real people?

If you’d like to watch the music video yourself, you can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShlW5plD_40

the bitch diaries: nobody will ever love you

I’ve always been terribly outspoken. When you’re a smaller-than-average child with the voice of a cartoon character, people tend to applaud your opinions just to hear you speak more, as if they’ve watching a cute little circus act. Growing up, out of my voice and into a body that fit the anger I found leaking from my every pore, I found that people became less accepting of my ideas, expecting me to talk less than I had before, accepting me only in a smiling, vapid state.

I became terribly obsessed with changing myself into a version that everyone not only could love, but would be absolutely enamored with. As my friends often reminded me, nobody could ever love me as I was. I felt helpless, trying to be smart as my family expected, as cute as I had been in the past, and as cool as I craved all at the same time. I struggled with finding an identity that honored who I was, what I believed in, and still let me fit in.

I felt myself start to drown in self-criticism, convincing myself every day that what they told me was true; if I could not love myself how could anyone else? If everyone hates me how could I ever be good enough to love?

I found myself in a cycle of self-hate and self-pity, crying myself to sleep over people whose importance was completely made up in my mind. I would still fake confidence in my walk and the way that I’d speak in class and to my peers, but I found my belief in myself and my values dwindling, questioning every word I said and every move I made. Life became a struggle to just survive.

The past two and a half years since I’ve graduated high school, what I then considered my own personal hell, have been years of self-discovery, pain, and recovery. They have been hard, but eye-opening. Maybe it’s true that no one else could ever truly love me, but I’ve discovered that no matter what I’ve been told, in the end I love myself. I think there are tons of reasons why I deserve to love myself. In the end, nobody else but me matters.

the bitch diaries: what about age differences?

I try my best to stay away from celebrity culture. It’s often vapid, fabricated, and, to be perfectly honest, bad for my brain cell count. Despite my best efforts, I stumbled upon the recent feud between Amber Rose, and what seems to be the entire Kardashian-Jenner clan, including of course Rose’s ex, the always classy Kanye West, over the youngest Jenner, 17-year-old Kylie, and her relationship with Tyga, a man who is seven years older than her at the age of 25.

I try to stay away from celebrity culture, but this isn’t a celebrity issue for me. Age differences are a feminist issue- one especially personal to me.

I am nineteen years old, only two years older than Kylie. I’ve had my fair share of older guys pop into my life, men who had much more life experience than me, and the sentence “You’re 18, right?” (as if the only thing in the way of them and a minor was a pesky law, not being in totally different developmental stages) is so familiar, it makes me want to hurl.

See, at 17, I didn’t know how to say no to a man 6 years my senior asking me when I was going to be legal, so I kissed my friend to make him leave me alone.

At 18, I didn’t know how to tell a man 9 years my senior that his sexual messages and attention made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know why him telling me how young and foolish I was made me feel like I owed him something. I was legal, right?

Laws aside, girls don’t stop being teenage girls by reaching a milestone in the number of years they’ve been alive. Minors and barely-legal girls are often hypersexualized and viewed as fresh meat- even Kanye, who should be protecting his sister-in-law, applauded Tyga for being smart, and “going in early,” as if Kylie would be useless once another man has been done with her.

Rose, commenting that Tyga should be “ashamed of himself” for dating a 17-year-old, has been attacked the past few days for noting what is right: no 25-year-old man should be dating a high schooler. Her past, from working at a strip club at the age of 15 to feed her family, to West feeling as though he had to take “30 showers” to cleanse himself from Rose to be clean enough for Kim, has been brought up as ways to humiliate her. The entire clan and its fans have turned to criticize Rose and her reaction to the alleged relationship, while praising the relationship as the perfect example of a love story. Rose not once blamed Jenner for her participation in the clearly unhealthy relationship, placing the blame completely on Tyga for going after a child, and on Jenner’s family for not protecting her.

Fuck anything that has to do with the law. Jenner is a child, and a relationship with a child has more than just legal repercussions. It is a relationship with an innate power imbalance, in which any sexual act isn’t just questionable, but is immoral. How much control over her body does she really have with someone who is seven years older than her? How little pressure do we expect to be placed on a child in the public eye? How can we allow the teenage girls who are viewing this conflict learn to think of themselves as fresh meat for men’s consumption?

Age differences aren’t innocent. Can two people with a large age difference fall in love? I’m sure it’s possible, but it is irresponsible to refuse to acknowledge that relationships in which there are big age differences have a higher chance of power imbalances, abuse, and psychological damage, beyond the objectification and hypersexualization of teenage girls as fresh meat for men to use.

the bitch diaries: on voluntourism

I found myself walking through a hall in my new school. How lost could I be on my first week?

As I wandered what seemed to be a hallway of professor’s offices, I let my eyes take in the messages tacked onto their doors, and found one that caught my eye. Voluntourism? That was a term I had never heard of. The only time I had really read into volunteer trips was a Princess Diaries book in the fourth grade where Princess Mia went on some Habitat for Humanities trip, a trip I thought then that I would have loved to take myself, even though at 5″1 (and a half) I am less than impressive as a construction worker.

The article was very clear: voluntourism trips are not helpful to the communities they impact. In fact, they harm the very communities they are supposed to be supporting.

I was appalled. How could anyone think that? These trips are full of wonderful, caring, selfless people who go to countries that must desperately need our help.

Well, so I thought then.

This past winter break I had the most amazing opportunity to go to Nepal on a school Eastern Religions trip. On the trip, we visited Next Generation Nepal, an organization that brings home children who have been trafficked into for-profit orphanages that are used as inspiration porn and scams for westerners to throw their money at.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. Though sex trafficking is a commonly known issue in all parts of the world, I had never heard of this type of child trafficking before. A trafficker travels outside of Kathmandu, the capital and biggest city in Nepal, and finds villages in which there are very difficult living conditions. The trafficker then tells a family that they can send their child with the trafficker to Kathmandu to get an education in a boarding school, ensuring that the child will have a better life, for a cost. The parents then pay the trafficker, believing that their child is going to a boarding school, and the child goes off with the trafficker. These children then end up in run-down children’s homes, labeled orphans, often having their legal papers destroyed.

These homes are then used as scams for westerner tourists, who will come volunteer for a certain period of time, form bonds with the children, and keep supplying the orphanage with funds once they go back to their country, thinking that they are saving poor brown orphans.

The emotional and psychological toll this takes on the children is heartbreaking. In the words of Karjit, a child who was trafficked and sent to a series of orphanages despite having a family,

“There were so many volunteers… Sometimes they organize program and I don’t want to go. Children sometimes feel angry because they want to do what they want. There is a nice movie and children they want to watch, but volunteers organize a football program and house managers say you have to go. And all children were angry … Why foreigners come to Nepal? Why do they go in orphanage? That time they come for short time and they give love to us, but then they leave, and when I write they don’t reply. I say to a volunteer, ‘Sister, I am very lonely’, and they say, ‘No problem I am here’, but then they go their country and I write but they don’t reply. When I was little everyone can love me, now I am big and I need love.”

These children, who are stripped from their families for traffickers to make money, are in a constant cycle of meeting new volunteers, bonding, and then never being able to see them again. While we go back to our heated homes, patting ourselves on the back, and uploading pictures of ourselves with a small brown child in tattered clothes, they wonder why they weren’t good enough for us to keep loving them.

Next Generation Nepal saves these children from these children’s homes, tracks down any relatives they have, and reunites and monitors the families until they’ve properly integrated. After all, these children don’t need our hand-me-down clothing, or a short stay with a stranger who barely speaks their language. They need their families, voluntourism only encourages the continuation of this industry. It encourages traffickers making money off of these children’s pain.

Before booking a trip to a developing country to volunteer, evaluate the end goal of the trip. Who are you going to help? What is the purpose of you being there? Could a paid worker in that country do the job better? Are you harming the stimulation of their economy by trying to help them? Are you harming any locals- financially, psychologically- by being there?

Are you doing this to make yourself feel good, or do you want to make a difference?

For more on Next Generation Nepal: http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/index.php

For more on the effects of voluntourism in Nepal: http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/File/The-Paradox-of-Orphanage-Volunteering.pdf

For more on Habitat for Humanity-type trips: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pippa-biddle/little-white-girls-voluntourism_b_4834574.html

feminism and other words no one knows the definitions of

Dictionaries were invented for a reason, right? Definitions should be an easy way to understand social terms- or so I’ve been told. Recently, TIME magazine added “feminism” to its poll of words that should be banned in 2014. Also included on the list of words that are usually cringe-inducing are “bae,” “turnt,” and “basic.”

Important journalism, I agree!

This raises the question: is the term “feminism” outdated? Even when speaking about gender equality, should we be retiring “feminism” in exchange for “humanism?”

Let’s consult our friend, The Dictionary for a moment.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

fem·i·nism

noun \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\

  •  the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
  •  organized activity in support of women’s rights and interest

hu·man·ism

noun \ˈhyü-mə-ˌni-zəm, ˈyü-\

  • a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion

Well, well.

Here’s the thing about humanism; not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with equality, it does not cover the myriad of ideologies that feminism covers. Feminism has evolved to be so much more than white, middle-class women fighting for the right to vote. Feminists are not a monolith. Some of us fight to abolish gender altogether, and some of us fight to find freedom in our gender expression. Some of us protest for racial equality, and some of us protest class warfare. Some of us want more rights for people who are disabled. Some of us want greater LGBT representation, some of us want more safety for sex workers. These groups often intersect in a million different ways, creating individual people with individual dreams, feminists who stand together to fight for safety and equity.

There is no other word that can represent our history and our struggles. To ask us to claim another term and another movement isn’t only insulting, it’s preposterous. We have fought for this term with our sweat and blood. Our feminist sisters who have come before us have done so much to ensure our freedom.

Our future, social change, and solidarity starts with us- and we are not giving up anything.