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A World for Humanity

By: Sarah Ansari

Humanity: the human race; human beings collectively.

Scan the world around you, and evidence of human presence entrenches you. Humanity begs for the cosmos to take notice of it. We build boats to traverse the oceans and skyscrapers to touch the clouds. Satellites and rockets move through the stars, telling the vastness of the universe that humans are here, that we exist. Our curiosity has revealed to us the wonders of the Earth, but it has also riddled her with scars.

To be human is a beautiful thing, but our success as a species has imbued us with an acute case of egocentrism. Were it not for Copernicus and Galileo’s discoveries that the universe is heliocentric, we might have thought that everything revolved around us. We are of the Earth, yet we fancy ourselves separate and superior to the other life forms that inhabit it.

When I began drafting this article, I had no idea what direction I wished to take it in. I knew I wanted to talk about the environment and perhaps animals, but the subject felt too broad to compress into a single issue. The news is riddled with horrific tales of tortured creatures; we’ve heard of elephants ripped from their mothers and used as tourist attractions, the ivory trade, trophy hunting. The climate crisis infuses itself into all our political discourse (as it should), but a majority of the stories we hear are not triumphs– they are tragedies. Time and again, we see reports on legislations shot down, polar bears clinging to icebergs, and coral reef bleaching. We hear about brutality, apathy, and human selfishness so often, we have, to some degree, become desensitized to it.

I’m going to call myself out right now: I see these stories and sometimes I shed tears, but in the end, I click away, feeling powerless in my own capacity to change the world. Perhaps that’s selfish of me. Perhaps I’m a hypocrite for advocating so emphatically for animal rights and sustainable living when I’m nothing more than a self-interested bystander. But my admittance of those faults is the first step towards betterment, both for myself and the world we live in. The truth is, people like me– those who are willfully ignorant– are the reasons why the world remains stagnant. Acknowledgement is the stepping stone to change. Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking that we can’t change anything–ourselves included– that we fail to realize we never even made an attempt.

Last summer, my cousin went on a trip to Alaska. She told me about how beautiful the land was, but when I asked her what memory stuck out to her the most, her face fell. Ingrained in her mind were images of glaciers calving, making sounds like thunder as they fell apart. She told me that many of the people around her erupted into cheers while a steady stream of tears poured from her eyes.

The Earth is not a vessel for our entertainment. Humans profit off the exploitation of natural resources and animals, telling ourselves that it’s okay because we’re an intelligent species. But is that truly the case if we express jubilation at our home falling apart before our eyes? If we make a spectacle of the land as it bleeds out?

It’s not just flora and fauna that will meet their end if we continue down a destructive course. If we recklessly exploit nature for the sake of profit, one day our resources will dry out and we’ll be the next to go. Humans fancy themselves superior to animals because we are self-conscious and seek out purpose in life; we have souls, depending on your beliefs. Regardless if it’s in the form of fame or the memory of family, we want to live on. We build temples and cathedrals, write books, sing ballads, paint, and take pictures because we thrive on remembrance– on leaving an impact. But set as we are on a course for extinction, one day, no one will be left to remember anything. The Louvre will be another pile of rubble on Earth. Shakespeare’s words will fade to time. Even without us, Earth will heal. It may be unrecognizable, but it will still exist. The collateral damage to environmental apathy is our own destruction.

Perhaps, like I mentioned earlier, we are resigned to our fate. It’s too late now to undo the effects of climate change, so why should we bother trying, especially when the majority of us will be long gone before we begin to see its major effects? But the truth is that it’s our responsibility as inheritors of the planet to make the earth a better place for those who come after us. The future is directly impacted by our actions in the present; it is not a separate sphere of time that we have no jurisdiction over.

Scientists have created RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) depicting four possible scenarios for Earth’s future, depending upon the types of global policies enforced today. We can’t eliminate the taint of carbon emissions, but we can curve it. The argument that our change will be meaningless is directly contrasted by the evidence of the RCPs. In the best case scenario, our carbon emissions peak, but then they begin a decline. Any efforts we make to spare the planet will not be in vain. We still have a chance, but change has to start now.

Let’s go back to the Google definition I gave at the beginning of this article.

“Humanity” in the way I used it there simply refers to our species, just like “animal” typically refers to something outside of our species. We are humans. Humans are us. Earth and its systems are dominated by our people, so much so that we fancy ourselves its possessors.
But “humanity” is also synonymous with benevolence, kindness, and compassion, traits which nowadays, we are sorely lacking. We must find a way to return to those ideals, to live up to the descriptors we gave ourselves. We must show love towards the systems that give us life and all the creatures that call this little planet home. We must stop seeing Earth as solely for humans and begin to move towards a world for humanity.

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Tortured Artist

By: Sarah Ansari

TW: mental health, depression

I was seventeen when I decided I wanted to become a writer — the same year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

It felt as though the world had decided to play some kind of sick joke on me and inject me with a slew of mental health issues at the precise moment I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the creative field. I spent days and nights, unwilling to move or breath or live, but I was the epitome of every romanticized trope.

There was only one problem: during the bouts of depression, I could never actually bring myself to create anything.

My sadness was never a catalyst for the birth of my magnum opus. The only thing I managed to create during those times were never-before-seen levels of grease on my unwashed face. My most remarkable moments were not frenzies of genius and flurries of paper; they were the times I managed to get out of bed.

Every day, I would feel as though I were deteriorating — both mentally and physically — as my hair thinned, the circles under my eyes grew hollow, and my memory dulled. With the moon waned my interest in day-to-day activities I had once adored. That spark of passion that told me I wanted to write flickered, and then burnt away. My thoughts were consumed with an overbearing need to sleep, but the crushing fear of time passing prevented me from even that relief.

One of the most popular stories about Vincent van Gogh involves his consumption of yellow paint in hopes that the sunny colour would impart some happiness upon him. The rumour is circulated in solemn tones whenever he comes up in conversation. Whether true or not, it makes for a good piece of gossip. Suddenly, the swirls of deep blue paint embracing the shocking radiance of yellow are valued by the mass public not because of their inherent beauty, but because they emblemize the figure of the tortured artist.

But depression is not beauty, nor does it lead to anything remotely resembling beauty. Though romanticized, mental health conversations are also stigmatized, so those suffering are afraid to speak out about the pain we feel, wondering if we’ve been faking it all along. Depression for me was bouts of anger– lashing out at my family, saying unforgivable things that I’ll spend my whole life repenting for. When I filled out my college applications, I omitted all awards and half of my extracurriculars, drowning in the feeling that I deserved nothing. I hardly deserved to live, much less to prosper. I’m not particularly religious, but every evening, I would pray for death and every morning, I would curse the heavens when it never came.

In public, to my friends and classmates, I remained as jovial as ever. I think I never made so many new acquaintances as I did in that last year of high school. My grades remained in the A-range in all classes but one despite my unwillingness to study. Sometimes I even managed to laugh, though my smiles were accompanied by pangs of guilt and the wrenching fear that I was falsifying my mental health. In class, I would respond to questions more often, hoping that nobody noticed the way I covered the wrist of my raised arm with my other hand when I did. When my friends wanted me to look something up on my phone afterschool, attempting to peer over my shoulder, I would hunch over for a minute, covering the screen while I closed out search pages I had long-since memorized on the easiest ways to die.

That ambition of being a writer — that tantalizing dream — slid from my grasp until all my hopes for the future culminated in the wish that I would die before I reached twenty-two.

Once I began to see a therapist, the obtrusive feeling of a hot iron pressing on my brain began to subside. A few months into my new routine, I was placed on antidepressants and the fog became a thin mist.

I used to be deathly afraid of good things happening to me, paralyzed with the nagging worry that misfortune in the tenfold would occur as a result of my happiness. One day, I noticed myself having fun — no strings attached — and I took that as my first triumph.

Recovery was never — is never — linear, however. Somehow, as I got better, I felt that I was becoming a stranger to myself. The first stirrings of passion began once more in my gut, but amidst stories of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Kurt Cobain (all amazing artists, but people tend to romanticize their mental health struggles, similar to van Gogh), I wondered whether my writing became worse as I got better. The toxic perceptions of those in the creative industry — a field already undervalued and stigmatized– made me want to exploit myself, ignoring all the progress I had made to fill the ideals of the starving artist and the tortured artist.

But here’s the thing– here’s the thing I wished someone would tell me in the moments I felt myself spiraling down that rabbit hole. While creation can be an outlet for pain, the equation of suffering and beauty is flawed. I’ve already discussed my experiences — while at the mercy of my low days, I could barely bring myself to eat, much less craft an exquisite story. My best material — my only material — came on the good days. Those were the moments I felt most proud of myself for having the strength to allow for happiness. When I write about my pain, it is not to celebrate the beauty of it, but to celebrate the beauty of overcoming it. I am not a tortured artist. Those words contradict one another, cancel each other out. The artistic spirit withers in such conditions. I am undefined by my depression, undefined by my anxiety, tempered by the resilience, strength, and bravery it takes to move forward in the creative field. I am a conduit of worlds, creator of life. 

I’m now nineteen, two years older than I once hoped to live, and against all odds, I’m still alive. I’m nineteen and I’ve rediscovered a passion for writing, found a new reason to look to the future. I’m nineteen and I am an artist.

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Other

By: Sarah Ansari

I am a stranger to the girl that once was me. They tell me she was shy, but vibrant. She scurried around speaking so many languages and was in-tune with her identity, at peace with it. That girl, which my relatives describe to me with such care in their eyes, is someone who I do not recognize, and yet I feel a shame twisting into my heart like a dagger because once upon a time, I was her. 

Sometimes I am frustrated. It happens in those moments that I hear my mother on the phone, speaking in the bubbling words of Tagalog, and I am straining, straining, trying to pick up anything at all, celebrating over one understood word. When the Indian kids at school clustered together and talked about their heritage, I would hover nearby. I wanted to join them, but I was– I am a fraud. 

When I mustered up the courage to tell them I was also Indian, they offered me blank stares and then continued talking as if I had never spoken.

Later, a girl from the group would come up to me and ask, “Did you mean Indian, Indian? Because I thought you meant American Indian?”

My ethnic ambiguity is a marvel to some. They like playing guessing games about who I am. My brown skin and dark hair give them little in the way of a clue. They offer me suggestions about my identity: Spanish, Hawaiian, Native– and when I tell them the truth– that I am half-Filipino and half-Indian (yes, Indian-Indian, not Native American), their eyes grow wide and they delightedly tell me that they’ve never heard of that mix before.

I do not mind their words so much, despite the fact that sometimes they make me feel like a dog, whose pedigree is on display for people to gawk at. I know the people who say these things do not mean it like that, I know that they mean well, and so I smile and shrug and brush the comment off.

It’s worse when they tell me how exotic I am. The term erases the struggles I have had as a mixed-race American, and I become an object, a strange anomaly of culture to be enjoyed by others because of how “unique” I am. It reminds me that, despite the fact that I have spent a large majority of my life in the United States, I am other.

But if I am other here, in a country where I grew up, where do I find my place?

The comments follow me wherever I go.

In the Philippines, my mother is stopped constantly by curious strangers who want to know if my father is a foreigner. I largely inherited Filipino genes, and to the American eye, I might pass as a full Filipino, but here they know that I am not quite right– that I do not fit in.

Once I went to the Taj Mahal. My family in India had secured us some tickets at a discounted rate made available to local people. I was excited– until I reached the front of the line. The man working there took one look at my ticket, then at me, and declared I was not Indian. Defenseless against a language I did not speak despite having been born in the country, I was cast aside, made to buy a new ticket simply because I did not look the part. In spite of the salwar kameez that I wore– in spite of the fact that my dad readily argued with the guy in Hindi that I am his daughter, I was not Indian enough.

There are times that I lash out against my parents for not teaching me of my culture. I think at night of my inability to communicate with some members of my extended family, of my ostracization from the countries to which I have a connection, and I fall asleep with an unreasonable hatred in my heart and with tears stinging my eyes.

But still, I know it is not their fault. 

In elementary school, my mother would lovingly pack me meals of chicken adobo or tandoori to eat at lunch. At first, I enjoyed them. Then I began to notice the looks of disgust kids cast towards me, and the first time a girl, glancing over my shoulder, said Ew, I stopped bringing food to school. I got anxious about eating anything in front of anybody, because my brain told me that the girl’s disgust at my culture extended to myself, and I was ashamed of my very existence.

Another time, the girls sitting clustered near me gossiped about what they thought of people from other countries. They were all in agreement that the people of India were gross and smelly, and I was silent, too afraid to voice my dissent. 

They turned their gazes onto me, and asked in honeyed tongues,

 “Sarah, isn’t your dad from India?”

My face flushed at this, I remember growing hot– not knowing how to respond. Their mocking grins loomed in my mind, teeth flashing white like fangs about to rip me apart. All I managed to stutter out was,

“I don’t know.”

I don’t know. But how could I not? I denied my identity in the space of a second because I was embarrassed to even be associated with it.

Whenever I ask my mother why she and my dad did not continue teaching me Tagalog or Hindi, she tells me that it was because I would often confuse the languages when I spoke– that she was afraid that allowing me to retain them would impact my English, and give the kids at school another reason to hate me.

Although I am proud of my culture now, there was a time where I readily hid it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. I would hide my parents’ accented English behind my own, ask them to speak as little as possible. Instead of seeing their words as a sign of strength– a marker of their hard work and perseverance, building a life in a country ready to cast them aside– instead of admiring them for achieving the “American dream” despite having poor upbringings and the odds stacked against them– I thought their words must be hidden away because they were foreign.

And then I wonder– if my parents had taught their languages to me, had immersed me in my roots, would I even have cared? Would I feel gratitude, or would I feel anger as I tried to whitewash myself and hide who I am? Although my heart yearns to connect with my cultures now, perhaps back then, I would have still cast aside my identity with reckless abandon, trying to fit into a society that, to this day, insists upon seeing me as other.

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Stitched into Silence

By: Sarah Ansari

Yawning, I curl up in bed, clutching the story I need to read for homework to my chest. My eyes are blurry and dry from wearing contacts all day, and now that I’ve switched to my glasses, I am ready to fall asleep, already having decided to just skim the day’s reading.

Eyes half-lidded, I zero in my focus on the page in front of me, waiting for the letters to stop swimming long enough for me to decipher the title of the piece:

“The Husband Stitch”

I do not think much about the words– all they offer me is the faintest brush of a preconceived story in my mind. I’m thinking something wholesome, maybe with a twinge of sadness. I see a faded quilt– the collaborative art of a family– missing a father figure. I see someone unable to open themselves up to another, finally finding a confidant in their husband. I see a single mother, sifting through whatever troubles she’s facing, and building her life anew–

In every case that I imagine, “stitching” is a good thing. It repairs, puts things together once more. It heals.

But the story is not what I am expecting.

The main character is cast with a green ribbon around her neck, a nod to the old horror story from “In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories”. As the tale goes, a man and a woman love each other dearly, and live happily with one another. There is but one restriction in their marriage: the husband is not allowed to untie the green ribbon that encircles his wife’s throat. But one day (because, ‘ya know– horror anthology), curiosity gets the best of him and the husband unwraps the ribbon as his wife sleeps. Her severed head, which the ribbon concealed, topples to the ground.

So, no quilts, then.

At first, I try to imagine that this story is secretly a happy one (Maybe in the version I’m reading, the husband will sew her head back on!), but I watch, terrified as the man who claims to love the narrator continuously violates her wishes, ignoring her cries of indignation when his fingers venture to tease the ribbon at her throat, offering the slightest of tugs.

In another instance– the same one that lends the story its moniker– the main character has just given birth, having experienced a small amount of tearing in the process (an occurrence that happens in 44-70% of all births). She lies, half-conscious and exhausted on the hospital bed, waiting for the doctor to sew the tear and to hold her newborn. She should feel safe– happy– in this moment, but instead, she overhears a conversation the doctor is having with her husband.

The man she has married– trusted herself with– asks the doctor how much it would cost for an extra stitch. The doctor, rather than reprimanding him, laughs along– all while the narrator tries to protest, finding herself too drugged and tired to make anything more than feeble noises which are ignored by both the men in the room. 

Whatever sleepiness had pressed upon me before is gone. I am wide awake. I feel as though I’ve been carefully creeping across thin ice, and that I have just stepped on a pressure point. The world around me begins to crack, etching its way from my epicenter, and then–

I shatter.


The sick feeling in my stomach drives me to the internet, searching, searching, praying that this can’t be– is anything but– true. But was it that they say? Life imitates art? Art borrows from life? Either way, heart-in-throat, salted tears stinging my eyes, I scroll. I scroll through pages and pages, and by the end of it all, I am trembling, shaking from the cold realization that the horrific experiences of this fictional character are not grounded in fiction at all.

The Husband Stitch is an actual practice, often disregarded as a myth due to the lack of discussion surrounding the topic. Many patients are unaware they’ve even had it done to them until told by another medical professional during an examination. They live on, unaware of the cause behind the excruciating pain during intercourse, running, biking, etc. 

Assuming a heterosexual, cisgender relationship, the motives behind the husband stitch entirely rely upon the objectification of the female body. By sewing the opening of the vagina “tighter”, the man supposedly enjoys sex more (this is false; “tightness” doesn’t come from the vaginal opening, but from the pelvic floor muscles). Medical professionals, therefore, modify people’s bodies (and inadvertently, their lifestyles) in order to make them of greater “use” to another. Tattered ribbons fall to hospital floors as people have their self-agency torn away from them– another price to be paid for having dared to be born with a vagina and for thinking that surviving birth complications was the only thing to be afraid of in the delivery clinic.

Let’s go back to the moment where I shattered. For a while, I couldn’t pinpoint what the cause of that feeling was. I knew how horrible all these articles I read were, but what I didn’t quite understand was the underlying feeling of dread that permeated my thoughts.

But thinking back, I realize it has to do with the fact that so many people defend the actions of the medical professionals who perform these procedures without consent. Another common practice in the medical field has doctors-in-training perform pelvic exams on women under anesthesia. Despite stipulations that dictate the necessity of informed consent in the medical field, a majority of states still allow for the procedure to take place, fighting against the backlash under the guise of education.As early as May 2018, only four states had issued out-right bans on the exams: California, Hawaii, Illinois, and Virginia. Many people maintain that those practiced upon are already naked (because they are often surgery patients), and have consented to have their body cut open in a process that is arguably more invasive than the pelvic exam. Hiding beneath the veneer of this argument is the logic of rape culture. Consent to one thing does not equate to consent to another, and the future generation of medical professionals should be taught that, rather than treating humans as though they are lab experiments, taking their voice, and stitching them into silence.

Other Instances of Non-Consensual Medical Practices for further reading (summarized): 

People with vaginas from poor backgrounds, who have mental disorders, or who are non-white are often forcefully sterilized:

  •  Immigrant women in the 60’s and 70’s. 
    • Cases such as these incited lawsuits such as Madrigal v. Quilligan, wherein Mexican women of working class were forced or tricked into signing documents that allowed their tubes to be cut.
  • Buck v. Bell.


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Placed into a Prophecy: An Examination of the Social and Psychological Roots of Gender Roles

By: Sarah Ansari

Let’s conduct an experiment; I’m going to list some words, and I want you to tell me what gender you associate them with: 

PHONE. BLANKET. CARD. BOTTLE. WHISPER. LAMP. BUNGALOW.

Now, I’m going to tell you a secret: these words were random– just things in my immediate vicinity or which came to mind. At least in English, there are no nomanatives attached to give the words “gender”, yet there’s a large chance that you were able to classify them anyways.

The examples I chose are fairly neutral, but when gender is subconsciously attached to words with negative connotations, we open up room for bias. When heard often enough, these bits of language hold a unique power to create a base set of expectations (also referred to as heuristics in psychology). Heuristics bleed into toxicity when we allow them to shape our implicit attitudes towards particular demographics, and in turn, grant prejudice and discrimination the ability to fester. 

This isn’t to say that words alone are the source of the social division between genders. If anything, they are symptoms of a long-running conflict of millions of factors that are difficult to boil down to any single instigator. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the history of gender roles and their impacts, and this article seeks to examine them from a psychological/social perspective.

Here’s the part where I bring in a super smart philosopher to make me seem more qualified: Judith Butler. Perhaps the most succinct summary of her discussion of gender occurs on the first page of her essay, “Performativity and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology”. A quote from Simone de Beauvoir reads, “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman”. In other words, gender is performative, rather than solely biological.

And this is where someone jumps in to tell me that there are distinct physiological differences between [cisgender] males and females– and there definitely are! However, biology explains little of the divide between genders, and has become more of an excuse for the existence of sexism. (If you’re interested in data regarding the correlation between biology and the wage gap, here’s a resource: xxx.) 

Gender, according to Butler, is a “constructed identity” (like an actor playing a role) where the audience consists of society. An explicit comparison of gender roles to a theatre performance indicates that a pre-existing script must exist to dictate how a “cast member” should act. If the audience is not pleased with the performance, the actor is subject to social ostracization. 

In the previously linked article about biology and the wage gap, a chart displays the damage gender roles can have on a child’s future. In India, areas with access to shows that depict women in positions of authority displayed a sharp decrease in automatic preference for a son rather than a daughter. While this study focuses more on parental attitude, the portrayals of gender can just as easily affect a child’s perceptions of themselves and their capabilities.

For example, several studies (summed up in this report) show that children tend to be aware of gender only on a base level, but are free from stereotypes. As they learn more about expectations assigned to the male/female label, they gravitate towards gender-assigned objects and activities (such as girls to dolls, boys to trucks) more than children who did not see as much exposure. 

Flash forward a few years, and the internalized beliefs about what one should like or be good at impacts not only perceptions about one’s own capabilities, but also future career paths. This ties into another psychological phenomenon, known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. When people are repeatedly told that they are less capable of accomplishing something, they subconsciously turn to destructive behaviours that validate their self-perception. A boy who is told that nursing is a woman’s career, for example, might begin to feel anxiety when placed into a nursing class, or otherwise not bother to study for it (believing that he’ll be terrible anyways), and as a result, do poorly, thus fulfilling his self-expectations. Suddenly, we have a system where a man feels he must meet the ideals of the “strong provider” who rarely expresses emotion, and a woman thinks that there’s something wrong with her if she doesn’t want children. 

Many solutions have been proposed to combat gender roles, such as the abolition of gender itself. However, simply erasing the concept casts aside years of struggles and history experienced by both men, women, and nonbinary people. Perhaps the best starting point to enable future generations to overcome the stigma of gender would be to let them choose. When young, don’t tell kids what they should play with, or what careers they can have. Don’t tell them that “boys will be boys” or that they need to “man up”. Let them express themselves early on, and expose them to strong, gender role-defying characters, so that when they grow up, they are more certain in their own identity and less likely to fall into psychological traps. Social norms and culture always have the ability to change, provided that people are aware of them and take active steps to shift them, rather than turning society into a self-fulfilling prophecy of its own right.