Somebody's gotta wear a pretty skirt,
Somebody's gotta be the one to flirt,
Somebody's gotta wanna hold his hand so God Made Girls
These lines begin probably one of the more sexist songs I’ve heard in my lifetime of 19 years. “God Made Girls” has a great tune and will get stuck in your head - fast - but the message underlying its lyrics is quite outdated. Throughout the song it is implied that God created women to provide for, care for, and love men. I mean, what would men do without women when “Somebody’s gotta be the one to cry”? A blogger on Jezebel made a rant about this song, declaring “the term ‘retrograde’ doesn’t do this song justice - it’s downright Victorian.” Feminists everywhere, I know you, too, are probably seething with rage as you Google this song and read through its lyrics.
But just know that it doesn’t stop there.
With country music being less popular with the millennials - who are coincidentally (or not?) the most progressive, open-minded and inclusive generation - the many sexist lyrics that are basically characteristic of this genre have gone overlooked or ignored.
Take the recently-released song “Different for Girls” by Dierks Bentley for example.
It's different for girls when their hearts get broke
They can't tape it back together with a whiskey and coke
They don't take someone home and act like it's nothing
They can't just switch it off every time they feel something
A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up
Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on
But it's different for girls
Hold up… so you’re telling me that girls post-breakup don’t have a GNO at the club and sip on their Skinny Girl vodka and trash talk the newest ex-boyfriend of the squad?! Dierks, I’m sorry dear, but you are sadly mistaken. This song is obviously a little less overtly sexist than the last one, but it nonetheless promotes gender-stereotyped behavior. It promotes the idea that girls are emotional creatures who become introverted and fragile when they experience heartbreak. The song even goes on to say, “nobody said it was fair,” further implying that gender stereotypes portray an inescapable destiny; when us girls get our hearts broken, we have no choice in how we can handle it.
I’ve been submerging myself in country music ever since I applied to Vanderbilt University, which I now attend. Listening to the slow guitar and Southern twang of the singers made rides to school so much better. But as time went on, the Southern charm and excitement about moving to Tennessee faded to the background as I began to listen more closely to the words coming out of my radio.
One of my favorite country songs actually addresses some of the sexism present in country music (and it’s catchy!), called “Girl in a Country Song” by Maddie & Tae. Just to give you a taste of it…
Bein' the girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we're good for
Is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend
We used to get a little respect
Now we're lucky if we even get
To climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along
And be the girl in a country song
YES, Maddie & Tae, PREACH IT! So often I hear these male country singers swooning over their woman “riding shotgun” with her “seat laid back” ready for him to charm and please her. I am so thrilled that women like Maddie & Tae have begun to challenge the Country Music Patriarchy - it’s about time. These themes of pretty, soft, fragile women being charmed by brawny, sex-hungry country men dates back many decades. However, as we move towards a more progressive society, I see songs like Maddie & Tae’s becoming more popular.
Although I still listen to country music literally anytime I’m behind the wheel (“they’re always singing about driving anyways!” is what I use to justify it to my friends), I am still aware of the messages that are being conveyed through the music. I am hoping, along with many female country artists, that country music begins its own “catch-up” with the rest of pop-culture and starts treating women with respect. Someday I hope to turn my windows down in the summer air as I drive down a highway and hear love songs that don’t say “If you’ll be my soft and sweet, I’ll be your strong and steady” or “Love the way you’re wearin’ those jeans so tight.” Instead, I hope to relax to some respectful man (or woman; who knows how progressive Country might become?) singing about a girl in the most charming yet least objectifying way possible. Now that’s what I call a good love song.
Often times, we are judgmental about the impact of an annual awareness holiday. They appear as one-time commitments to advancing an issue that many struggle with on a daily basis. It may feel like a cop-out; a limited engagement is the easy route to participating in a movement, yet it ignores an ongoing conflict that we have the privilege of not experiencing. Of course, one person cannot involve their daily life to several campaigns -- that, of course, leads to activist burnout.
However, we must constantly underscore movements if we wish to see tangible change. “Orange Day,” for example, does not stop at preventing gender violence by asking supporters to wear orange one day out of the year. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon initiated this holiday in tandem with the UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women. Together, they have declared the 25th of every month “Orange Day” as as an extension of the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” on November 25th.
This month, UN Women for Youth (among others) are celebrating Orange Day to End Honor Killings. This is especially urgent as we remember Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media mogul who fell victim to an honor killing. She was often touted as the “Pakistani Kim Kardashian” for the ways in which she displayed her body. However, many conservatives believed exposing her legs, chest, and even performing a strip tease were all abominable, obscene ways for a Pakistani woman to act. Her sexy cleavage shots and makeup-covered face were indecent and a poor representation of Pakistani women.
Unfortunately, her media presence was so shameful that her brother, Waseem, drugged and asphyxiated her while she was asleep in her family’s home. Waseem reportedly feels no shame or regret for having executed what is commonly known as an “honor killing” - a means of restoring the honor, pride, and reputation of a family by killing whoever threatened that honor. The “crime” is then forgiven with the death and the case is dropped, successfully rebuilding the family’s image. However, women and girls are disproportionately targeted as the victims of these killings in patriarchal societies. In Pakistan alone, more than 1000 women died at the hands of honor killings in 2015. However, this only includes documented cases, and organizations such as Honor Based Violence Awareness Network, warn that these numbers are “severe underestimates” as there is little reporting and women are often discouraged to report cases out of fear for challenging the status quo.
Qandeel’s suffering did not begin with this honor killing, however. She grew up in an impoverished, conservative neighborhood in Punjab where she worked as a bus hostess. Baloch was married off in her late teens. After later giving birth to her first child, her husband became increasingly abusive to the point where Baloch ended the relationship and left.
She rose to fame after appearing on television, posting racy videos on YouTube, and showing revealing images on Instagram. However, she became a true threat when she vocalized her criticisms of patriarchy. She tweeted such messages as, “As a women we must stand up for ourselves..As a women we must stand up for each other…” as well as “Life has taught me lessons in a early age...My journey from a girl to a SELF DEPENDENT WOMEN was not easy. #Qandeel.”
Unfortunately, violent messages amassed to the point where Baloch began receiving death threats. She requested government protection multiple times, however, she was turned down as the gravity of her issue was not considered urgent or serious enough. Due to government neglect and performing the “crime” of daring to be a public figure and “unapologetically Qandeel,” she suffered at the hands of Waseem, who assumed the family name was restored.
“I will fight for it. I will not give up. I will reach my goal. & absolutely nothing will stop me.#qandeelbaloch
Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend the City and State NY Conference on Diversity, courtesy of One Girl! The conference featured ways to ensure the inclusion of marginalized groups in the private and public sector. The panels featured important figures as Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from the 8th Congressional District of NY and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito from the New York City Council. The panelists offered some crucial insight on how to uplift people of color in business and STEM, particularly through supporting M/WBEs: Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises.
Much of the language and discussion was geared towards pushing for diversity in corporations and businesses by enforcing existing state legislations. This was especially apparent in the “Creating a Culture of Belonging, Inclusion, and Diversity” panel. However, one of the key issues brought forth by Jeanne Mullgrav, Executive Vice President of Capalino & Company, was that she does not want to stop at feeling “tolerated” or “invited” in a company’s diversity campaign to meet a quota. Rather, she wants to feel respected and integrated as a meaningful member of the team. According to Letitia James, Public Advocate for the City of New York, private and public sectors have a responsibility to promote diversity and create opportunities for W/MBEs. The key to diverse recruitment, then, is retention - creating a hospitable atmosphere in which women and minorities do not feel encouraged to leave the workplace due to discrimination.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing discussions unfolded during the panel, “Breaking Through: Women in Government, Advocacy, and Public Affairs.” As a young woman looking to engage in international politics, seeing panelists like Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of District 25 elucidated the issues women face in this field. Upon election, Rozic was the youngest woman in state legislature. She is also currently the first female to represent District 25 in Queens.
While she has many accomplishments, Rozic recalled many instances of ageism and sexism in Albany. She was assumed to be a staffer or another assemblyman’s girlfriend because, by no fault of her own, she was concurrently young and a woman. The discussion on paternalism also highlighted work atmospheres in which men will impose themselves onto their female colleagues as a father or boyfriend figure - even though they were never invited to play such a role.
This was a clear indication of what my future may entail (or rather, currently entails). Women experience discrimination on racial, class, and gendered lines in and out of the workplace, and it is crucial to center these stories and voices. These experiences are valid and worthy of recognition. They reflect a culture in which women (and women of color in particular) are assigned subordinate gender roles - remain demure, compliant, in the background, and aim high, but not high enough to threaten a man’s success.
The panelists did, however, offer some respite from these troubling experiences. When asked what women can do going forward, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker at New York City Council, responded that we must continue to challenge a patriarchal system. Vocalizing our opposition to sexism is an uphill battle, of course, considering many are accused of “playing the race/sex card.” However, as Viverito stated, “we as women must engage in the struggle.”
Our bodies were built to move. That is the simple, scientific fact. But somewhere along the line, getting our bodies to move has become a burden. For many people (young women especially), exercise can become a black cloud of anxiety and failure to meet expectations. Think about it- how many of us are sitting at our desks, dreading the pain of an hour long spin class or coming up with reasons why we “don’t have time” to go to the gym? We praise each other when we work out, and give ourselves an internal beating when we don’t.
I know I have been there. Growing up, my family was exercise-crazy. Many times I would wake up to find that my siblings had already run six miles together and my parents were on a 50 mile bike ride. Throughout middle school and high school, I felt constantly inadequate around these athletic super- humans. I was plagued by shin splints and despised the elliptical. Partially due to the family attitude towards exercise, I suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression throughout high school and the beginning of college.
And then I discovered the world- literally. Sophomore year of high school, I signed up to participate in a trip through a student adventure travel company. Over the next three years, I ended up going on several trips. Each one involved constant movement- hiking, swimming, surfing, manual labor- you name it. I came to many realizations over the course of these trips. However, one realization changed my life in a very tangible way: exercise does not have to suck. The catch? I needed to change my definition of exercise, expand it from the restrictive definition used by my family and society. Hiking is slow, rhythmic, and contemplative. Surfing consists of fits and spurts of activity, interspersed with long periods of waiting. Manual labor involves lots of walking and bending over, heavy lifting and dragging. You wouldn’t believe how many calories you can burn just by walking around for a whole day.
I am here to argue that there is no “should” and “shouldn’t,” no “bad” “good” or “better” exercise. It is all just movement. Find out what kind of movement makes you happy and keep doing it. For instance, I hate the unnatural positioning of a stationary bike, so I don’t make myself go to SoulCycle. I much prefer the natural movements of running and walking, so I do so on alternate days. I’ve learned to let myself fully enjoy a good power walk without feeling guilty that it’s not “enough.” Whenever I have the opportunity to hike, I take it. Learn what feels good to your body, and learn to listen when it says, “nope, this hurts.” If the elliptical makes you feel like you want to cry, try racket ball or rock climbing. Invite a friend to play tennis. Unless your goal in life is to win a triathlon or the Tour de France, there is no need to make something so necessary so uncomfortable.
Here is the ultimate irony I’ve stumbled upon: the higher the expectations that we impose upon ourselves, the less productive we will be towards that goal. Throughout high school and college, I have slowly let go of my lofty goals for a perfect “fat-burning” workout that will result in a toned, tan, and beautiful body. Focus on the process, not the results. Because in my experience, if you find a physical process that you actually enjoy on its own merit, the results will follow. But by then, they will be irrelevant.
Building on the fantastic blog post Jaslin created about Social Wellness Month, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the specifics of mental health, since this is an area of particular interest and importance to me. This past year, I took a class at Vanderbilt University called “Fundamental Issues of Medicine, Health, and Society.” While the course provided me with an immense amount of knowledge on all aspects of health, the beginning activity that my class completed turned out to be the most important thing I learned. Our professor handed out an anonymous survey with a list of mental disorders: depression, anxiety, various types of eating disorders, drug addictions, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. We were asked to check a box next to the disorder if we 1. Had the disorder ourselves, 2. Had a family member with the disorder, 3. Knew a friend with the disorder, or 4. Had no experience with the disorder at all. The results were shocking; in a class of forty students, each and every person had some connection to a mental illness. 70% of the class had a friend with depression; 38% of the class had a family member with anxiety, while 20% of the class had an anxiety disorder themselves (Muse, Vanderbilt University, 2016). It can be easy to discount mental health because someone “looks fine” or “acts normal,” but seeing these staggering statistics really opened my eyes to the epidemic of poor mental health, especially among young college students.
Since that class, I have made it my mission to advocate for better mental health for students on my campus. Mental health issues are deeply stigmatized since mental health problems are truly invisible illnesses. This can prohibit many individuals from seeking the help that they desperately need. Additionally, other factors, like socioeconomic status, gender, level of education, and urban vs. rural location can also determine whether an individual seeks and/or has access to sufficient treatment.
At this point, you may be wondering why someone with a mental disorder even needs treatment. A huge misconception is that diseases affecting our mental health don’t need help, since they are not physical illnesses. “Why can’t someone with depression just ‘be happy’?” “Why can’t someone with anxiety just ‘calm down’?” And the truth is, these disorders are far more complex than simply changing the way someone acts; someone who prescribes to the previous line of thinking is only helping to contribute to the misconception that mental illnesses are not as serious as physical ones.
But, taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. According to the U.S. Department of health and human services, our mental health “affects how we think, feel, and act.” Additionally, it helps to “determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices” (mentalhealth.gov). Taking care of our mental health is important because it allows us to keep track of our stress levels and feelings before they can spiral into a disorder. How can we do this? For one, as Jaslin mentioned in the Social Wellness blog post, keeping a good group of friends around you is key. Being able to talk through issues and negative feelings you may be having is extremely helpful in lowering stress levels. Secondly, alternative stress treatments like exercise, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are all helpful in maintaining positive mental health. Third, speaking to a therapist and seeking professional treatment, possibly with medication, have proven very successful for many people. While this option can often be stigmatized, there is absolutely no reason for that; taking care of our minds is just as important as taking care of our bodies.
And, if you are still wary, I will leave you with a quote from a psychologist friend of mine: “Treating mental illness with medication is no different from treating a physical illness. You wouldn’t deny a diabetic of their insulin, would you? Why should medications for a mental disorder be any different?”
Congratulations to the Class of June 2016 for completing One Girl’s first Leadership Retreat! During a weekend in June, young women gathered in the Upper East Side to learn about activism, share stories, and break bread. This therapeutic and empowering event was undoubtedly crucial towards engaging women in public action. I happened to be one of those women.
While meeting the group of folks with whom I would spend my weekend was unnerving at first, we quite literally coalesced into a circle of sisters ready to learn about ourselves and each other. Sitting on the floor surrounded by each other created an equalizing factor - a means of seeing each other eye-to-eye. A safe space indeed, we introduced ourselves by honoring each other’s gender pronouns. We set some guidelines too, such as keeping the discussion confidential. As if the cushions and blankets were not comfortable enough, I felt even more secure in the One Girl space.
Reading along with the training packet never made me feel like a student in a classroom, either. Each person had the choice to read a section of the stories, definitions, and excerpts, creating an equal opportunity to share our voices. We did not have a lecture on the different types of activism and how to be nonviolent; rather, we engaged in dialogue by sharing our personal experiences.
Sharing those stories came with emotional baggage, but of course, sharing was not made mandatory. I recall feeling how divulging parts of my life to a group of folks I only knew for a few hours seemed unnatural and invasive. After all, how could I air out my most vulnerable parts to a group I had only recently met? But after hearing other folks in the room, I felt compelled to let my story be heard as well. Speaking my struggle happened to be the cleansing and healing experience I did not know I needed.
The room felt heavy. While the pain was apparent, the surprising similarities in our stories made the pain more bearable; more so with Meaghan Barakett (One Girl Founder) leading the yoga and meditation. The techniques helped me ease my breathing and release the tension of revisiting trauma. My first time experiencing yoga was facilitated by her professional direction, with her reminding us to “do whatever is comfortable.” While my first downward-facing dog was no easy feat and I struggled to feel “grounded” and calm, there is of course a first time for everything.
Most importantly, the full two-day session helped me achieve a greater, more positive outlook on my activist mission. The events above will only offer a peek into what you can expect if you enroll in the next Leadership Retreat, so stay tuned for details on what you can do to join! You may even solidify your purpose in this world by writing it down like I did: “I am here to build sisterhood, strength, and ability. I am here to use my knowledge and capability to keep my fellow women safe.”
Leadership Retreat Class of June 2016
Happy Social Wellness Month! One Girl wants to celebrate July’s theme with you so we can all learn how to heal ourselves, support each other, and treat ourselves at the same time. While this is central to how we engage ourselves this month, we must remember to practice self-care daily to ensure long-term results in health and happiness.
Social Wellness Month is a reminder to take care of yourself, seek social support, and promote general wellness. So often do we train ourselves to employ the “lone wolf” mentality - believing we can achieve everything alone and that all our strength lies within. Finding inner strength is an important part of self-sufficiency and one of the many ways to cope with loss, grief, or struggle. However, did you know that intense feelings of loneliness or isolation can take a toll on your health? In fact, according to the Center for Spirituality and Health (CSH) at University of Minnesota, the risks are “comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and obesity.”
To prevent these risks, the CSH recommends nurturing your relationships. That means making educated and honest commitments. If a friend wants to go see a movie and you have a deadline for school or work, you may feel more stressed and anxious at the theatre. However, being honest with yourself and knowing that you cannot commit to the invite can help you reduce your stress levels to achieve your goals in a timely manner.
You can also make a commitment to be more positive. If you know someone going through a particularly rough patch in their lives, you may feel “secondhand stress” and a need to “fix” the situation. However, you can start small by using more positive language. You can give the person regular phone calls instead of texts to check in on how they are doing. Try some exercise, yoga, or meditation techniques to calm down.
CSH recommends growing your social network, too. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone a bit, but can also result in a larger network of folks who support each other, care for each other, and maintain positive relationships amongst themselves. You can join your local gym, share a hobby with a group of friends, or volunteer for a cause. All of these are excellent ways to help you heal by staying active and engaged in your community.
Remember that wellness is an ongoing journey. Try not to feel as if you must be fully healed by the end of July, but set realistic goals for yourself! Check our calendar for some opportunities coming up with One Girl so we can strive towards wellness.
Happy International Day of Yoga from One Girl! Proposed by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his 2014 address to the United Nations, this day does not celebrate, exercise, but helps “discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world, and the nature.” Here at One Girl, we link yoga and activism. We celebrate the healing powers of meditation to help us remain “present in the moment” as we continue our advocacy.
We must remember the importance of raising our social consciousness as we work tirelessly in advocating for women-specific work. We must engage in research, actively participate in grassroots organizing, and strive to provide educational tools and resources for our communities. However, many activists in this line of work suffer from “burnout”, increased anxiety, and overwhelming feelings of trauma or hopelessness when fighting for a cause.
In response, we strongly encourage yoga as a holistic, accessible means of addressing these side-effects. Through conscious breathing techniques, calm environments, and healing spaces, we can more effectively walk on our paths towards personal growth and development. Practicing mindfulness can help us all understand our parts in a greater whole, learning how to give back to our communities through service and volunteerism.
Yoga not only helps our activists at the frontlines, but also the women we advocate for. Survivors of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence in particular have sought yoga to heal from physical, emotional, psychological, and economical abuse. According to Exhale to Inhale, an organization using yoga to assist survivors in healing, “The body remembers neglect, abuse, and terror.” However, by going through the motions of yoga in a “trauma-informed” manner, survivors can regain a sense of safety. I had the privilege to hear Tara Tonini, Exhale to Inhale’s Program Director speak at the NGO Committee on the Status of Women June meeting panel. According to her, women can “reclaim their lives - mind, body, and spirit.”
Let’s try something I learned from Blanche Manago, a yoga/meditation teacher and panelist at the NGO meeting. While standing or sitting, hug your body and feel your rib cage. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. What do you notice? Try closing your eyes, repeating this breathing technique 4-5 times. Be mindful of how your body changes, how your shoulders relax, and where your mind wanders.
Remember that your experiences are valid and worthy. Continue on your paths to healing from trauma, exhaustion, and physical or mental manipulation. Healing takes time, but I, along with everyone here at One Girl, support you on your journey.
Pictured here: Exhale to Inhale Directors, NGO CSW Directors, and Yoga Panelists
Happy Pride Month! Every June, we celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer folks. It is a time to highlight diverse expressions of sexuality and gender identity. We speak on equality, education, and visibility for LGBTQ+ folks. While we do celebrate with colorful flags, parades, and parties, what are we actually celebrating?
Let’s throw back to New York City in the 1960s, the site of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ population. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York opened its doors as a safe-haven for the community with drinks and dance, even though the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a mental disorder. Local law enforcement made sure to oust queer folks to uphold the stigma, with NYC police squads frequently raiding gay bars (the Stonewall Inn included). Bar-goers and police see-sawed between shutting down the Inn and reopening again.
Fast forward to the morning of June 28th, 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn. What was meant to be the usual altercation quickly escalated into violent arrests and police brutality. Crowds amassed, protests erupted, and police lost control. This sparked weeklong resistance during what we now know as the Stonewall Riots: the impetus for the Gay Liberation Movement and one of the core reasons to celebrate Pride Month.
The riots and uprisings gained traction across the United States, creating a grassroots revolution for gay rights. We must remember the marginalized queer folks who resisted and suffered at the hands of violence, even though they were considered sub-human at best. Let us thank the brave fighters who struggled for liberation and visibility.
Clearly, the work towards equality is still not done. While SCOTUS passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage, this cannot and should not undermine the continuous violence against queer folks (especially queer people of color). In the wake of the shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, we stand in solidarity with the victims of this recent shooting. We remember their names and continue to fight.
So let’s celebrate Pride Month however we can - whether by attending a parade, a protest, or even drag bingo at the Stonewall Inn that still stands today. Let’s understand what this community has faced, and hope for greater revolutions in the future.