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Why We Dislike the Idea of Being Girly

By: Sindura Vuppu

I watch my thirteen year-old cousin grow into an incredible young woman. She is mature, opinionated, and kind-hearted, with morals so great that I learn something from her everyday. Not long after, my proud smile falters. “I’m not like the other girls,” she says, “No offense, but the girls I know are…too girly.” I’m immediately reminded of my thirteen year-old self. 

I called myself a feminist at a very young age, and held so many strong opinions about issues like gender discrimination and misogyny. What I failed to recognize was my own hypocrisy. Books and movies made me believe that being a “regular” girl was scornful. I had to be different, so I hid my Barbie dolls and started watching Power Rangers because I believed that it was cool and tomboyish. I wore makeup in secret as if makeup were a ridiculous thing to do. I said I disliked “typical” girls who wore pink and talked about boys all day. Instead, I idealized the “girl next door,” who, as One Direction once put it, doesn’t know she’s beautiful and needs help recognizing her beauty. She reads books instead of partying, pays no attention to boys, has high morale, and is intelligent unlike the other girls.  

Pop culture played an important role in defining idealistic standards and contrasting archetypal girls to me. In Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong With Me,” Swift sings, “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers, she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers,” which I believed meant that all girls fit into two binary categories; they were either sweet and innocent or mean and callous, depending on how “feminine” they are.  This depiction is a reinforcement of the famous Madonna-wh*re complex that was first identified by Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic literature, this concept explains that men view women as either “tainted” and “impure,” or as saintly “Madonnas” who are worthy of love and respect. To live up to this bizarre dichotomy, literature and cinema have often brought up contrasting characters to glorify the Madonnas. Now known as the “girl next door” trope, these “good girl” characters have been idealized for generations, tracing back to Lizzy from Jane Austen’s famous love story Pride and Prejudice (1813). Lizzy is presented as a contrasting alternative to her glamorous rival Miss Bingley who competes with her over their love interest, Darcy.  Lizzy is tomboyish, intelligent, and rugged in her ways, while Miss Bingley is more stereotypically feminine. Similar to Regina George’s character in Mean Girls (2004), Miss Bingley is portrayed as “the bitch” who is pretentious, manipulative, and sabotaging. Because she differs from Miss Bingley in that she does not publicly vie for Darcy’s attention, Lizzy’s character is glorified for being different from other young women of her time. Her individuality is focused upon in a more positive light, while Miss Bingley is degraded as the “typical” girl, as if it was inferior to be one; she is dismissed and ignored by Darcy for not being his “Madonna.” The girl next door trope in such stories mainly serves as the good alternative for the male protagonist to choose. Her individuality bears no significance if it does not align with what our patriarchal society expects from a respectable woman. Today, these Madonnas have a different role to play. Often paired with “bad boys” with a traumatic past, these “good girls” heal and transform them into better men. The character of Jamie from A Walk to Remember (2002), and Tessa from the popular fan-fiction inspired movie After (2019), serve as perfect examples of these angelic life-changers. These characters exist solely to contribute to the character development of the male protagonist. 

Perhaps one of the most popular female archetypes is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, first coined by film critic Nathan Robin to explain the character of Kirsten Dunst from Elizabethtown (2005). Unlike the soft-spoken and composed girl next door, the manic pixie dream girl is impulsive and spontaneous. As described by Robin, the manic pixie dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The manic pixie dream girl approaches the depressed and gloomy man in order to “help” him recover and open up to life’s infinite possibilities. This highly stereotypical depiction of  a free-spirited and quirky girl has been celebrated in several movies, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and 500 Days of Summer (2009). Once again, this “dream girl” is associated with a man and is assumed to serve as his life-changer. But this type of girl is being challenged more recently; the character of Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) calls out the ridiculous assumptions about her character: “I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to ‘make them alive’…but I’m just a f*cked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.” The coining of fearless and self-reliant girls like Clementine as “manic” is sexist by itself, and to make it worse, we get too busy focusing on her role in the man’s life and often ignore what she means to herself.  The breakdown of female characters into rigid categories, and the glorification of some of these as “ideal” stems from generations of misogyny. Both young girls and grown women are made to believe that the stereotypes associated with their gender are somewhat contemptuous. By portraying some of these categories in a negative light, literature and cinema have normalized the attitude of these characters as derisive. While we laugh at Mean Girls’ Karen Smith for being ditzy and gullible, we don’t recognize the degradation of what is considered the “girly” girl trope. Society has defined the characteristics and roles of men and women and has asked women to fit the “feminine” standard. The portrayal of the same femininity as manipulative and toxic, or as shallow and dim-witted, influences young girls to dislike the idea of being girly or feminine. This double-standard often leads to girls being torn between following the stereotype and being different at the same time. As a result, they start an unhealthy competition to be respected. Eventually, each girl’s originality is compromised as she chases a different kind of “originality”. On the other hand, young boys lose their perception of girls as they are, and instead place them into discrete and dichotomous categories. A set of unrealistic expectations follow, often ending up in disappointment. Girls come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Every person’s priorities and interests differ and sets them apart in their own unique way. I like to think of these personality types as a bunch of Venn diagrams; some traits overlap with a couple of others’ and create a unique product. Glorifying some of these and degrading the others only damages the already fragile perception of women in society.

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LGBTQ+ Themes in Hindu Mythology and Indian History

By: Sindura Vuppu

It was not until I turned sixteen that I stepped into the world of political and social issues. I grew up in ignorance and indifference with limited exposure. My friends and I were clueless about issues like the marginalization of certain groups. When I finally educated myself, I recognized the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated in India. I felt ashamed of our ignorance. Was it always like this? One day, I discussed this with my mother.  She mentioned the “Hijras”, transgender women, whom I’ve seen beg for money in groups. Many people, mostly young men, get uncomfortable and feel sexually victimized by the Hijras. These Hijras are disowned by their parents at a young age, after which it is almost impossible for them to find a decent job. Some become sex-workers to men who cannot afford a cis woman, and most generally choose to stay within the transgender community and earn a living by begging in groups. When their requests for money are met, the Hijras give us their blessing since they are thought to have the “power to bless or curse fertility”(Biswas). They show up at auspicious ceremonies like the celebration of the birth of a child, and lovingly hold the baby in their arms to bless them. The same people who treat them as “untouchables” rejoice over their blessing. If this is an age-old tradition, the discrimination does not make sense. To learn more about the LGBTQ+ involvement in Indian history and Hindu mythology, I went online. 

Hindu mythology is a major source of ancient India’s attitude towards gender fluidity and sexual identity. Ardhanarishvara, a form of Lord Shiva that I grew up worshipping, is a mix of Shiva and his wife Parvati. The form has both male and female elements divided equally, therefore creating a genderless deity. “Parvati wished to share Shiva’s experiences,” says Kavita Kane in her article on LGBT themes in Hindu mythology, “and thus wanted their physical forms literally to be joined to show that the inner masculine and feminine coexist and can coalesce” (Kane). This non-binary form was and still is revered for the powerful message is conveys. This isn’t the only instance where Lord Shiva exhibited gender and sexual fluidity. Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe, takes on the “feminine” form called Mohini, who Shiva, the destroyer, falls in love and procreates with. Although the mythological texts say that Mohini was a female form, many scholars interpret their relationship as a same-sex one.  Mahabharata, which is considered one of the greatest epics of all time, narrated the story of the great warrior Arjuna, who took refuge in the harem of a king’s court for a year as an eunuch teaching singing and dancing. Even as someone who is considered a tough and masculine war hero, Arjuna’s “feminine” eunuch form is one of the most significant facets of his character in the epic. I grew up listening to these stories and marveling over their greatness. They act as moral stories that children are encouraged to read. These deities are revered as examples of dharma and righteousness. 

 Hindu mythology isn’t the only source of LGBT significance in Indian history and culture. In her article on LGBT themes in Indian history, Amy Bhatt notes, “Indeed, in India’s 16th-century Mughal courts, hijras and eunuchs often held positions of high esteem as advisers or emissaries between men and women.”(Bhatt).  Eunuchs were accepted and even revered by the common folk. They were important and trusted caretakers of the harems of the kings, as we can see in warrior Arjuna’s case.  Homoeroticism has also been celebrated in ancient Indian literature. “In the Kama Sutra, India’s famed erotic guidebook,” Bhatt writes, “the character Svairini is described as as a liberated woman who lives either alone or in union with another woman.” (Bhatt).The Khajuraho group of Temples in Madhya Pradesh, The Sun Temple of Konark, and several other monuments in India also have homoerotic sculptures engraved on their walls. After finding so many inclusions of the LGBT+ community in ancient India, one cannot help but wonder where the respect and tolerance went. When did the Indian people start marginalizing them and calling their existence “unnatural”? There is an answer to this question: the British colonization. 

In 1860, Lord Macaulay, the President of the Indian Law Commission authored section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (Biswas), therefore imposing Victorian values on its biggest colony. Under the British Raj, homosexuality was criminalized.  In addition, they described eunuchs that served in royal palaces as “ungovernable”. “Commentators said they evoked images of “filth, disease, contagion and contamination,” writes Soutik Biswas in his article titled “How Britain tried to ‘erase’ India’s third gender” (Biswas). The British also had the conception that the “Orient” were “Overly erotic and over-sexed” and would “corrupt” young colonial officers (Han). The two hundred years of rule which left India in great economic and cultural depression is believed to have been the primary cause of the conservative and marginalizing shift in Indian societies. So, how is India recovering from this and reforming its social, political, and judicial system on this particular issue?

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India declared Section 377 unconstitutional, therefore overturning a 157-year old ban, and decriminalizing consensual homosexual sex, after the government’s first recognition of the law’s barbaric nature in 2009.  The Court stated that “the inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone… Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised”(Misra). There has been enormous LGBT activism in the sex-workers community as well, “to change perceptions of sexuality, embracing diversity among the ranks of members of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (the largest Sex Workers’ union in India)” (Misra). Under a legislation that was recently passed in India, transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery and have a constitutional right to register themselves under a third gender. However, this law has not been received well for various reasons: lack of medical benefits, addition of bureaucratic layers and red-tapism for legal recognition, and the lack of detail on matters such as marriage, adoption, and social security benefits (Pathak). Activists are pushing for amendments to this bill, and for additions and improvements to other LGBTQ+ laws. But such issues don’t get resolved easily. Along with the fight for change comes the fight to stay the same. 

Many Indians, mostly middle-aged and elderly Hindus, believe in a fundamentalist interpretation of Hinduism that portrays homosexuality as a “reprehensible Western import”(Bhatt). But on exploring some great Hindu mythological epics, it is quite clear that Hinduism is more liberal than the “western” (or Victorian) beliefs. Moreover, the significance of the community can be seen throughout Indian history and culture. I think it is time we revisit our history and re-interpret some of the lessons it teaches. It is time we recognize the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated, and join the fight against injustice and for reform. 

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A Few Thoughts on Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Anti-Feminists’ Feminist Icon

By: Shellsea Lomeli

Watching Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the highest court in the land in 2018, despite the sexual assault allegations against him, crushed me. I am sure it crushed a lot of people, especially sexual assault survivors who had finally started to see the significant impact of sharing their stories and holding aggressors accountable through the Me Too Movement. In a TedTalk given a month after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, described this feeling of numbness in the face of defeat. “Numbness,” she said, “is not always the absence of feeling. Sometimes it’s an accumulation of feelings.” I felt this numbness when Kavanaugh took his seat next to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a feminist trailblazer, and I felt it again when Amy Coney Barrett replaced her. 

Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice was not just a slap in the face for survivors. It was an example of how men in power step on the necks of women everywhere and society just lets them. When Congress confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination, they also confirmed to women everywhere that their voices do not matter. What women think, say, and feel is not as important as what a man does. And it made me numb as a feminist — as a woman. 

It took me a while to build myself back up to the “raging” feminist that I was before my country’s government allowed a rapist to decide what I get to do with my body. But I did. Because a woman’s fight is never over, especially when facing setbacks like this one. 

It was easy for me to see Kavanaugh as a villain and to understand his abuse of privilege as a straight, white, affluent man. But it is also easy to make the mistake of believing that men are more likely to be against you but women will always be on your side. This error in thought is probably why this year’s Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, just a month after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, brought me back to that feeling of numbness. 

In theory, the confirmation of another woman to the Supreme Court is a huge step for feminists. All but four Justices have been men with Barrett being only the fifth woman to serve at the highest court. However, this is absolutely not the case when the woman confirmed goes against everything that feminists stand for and have worked tirelessly to accomplish. 

First off, Amy Coney Barrett is pro-life. While she may not have openly stated her stance on the controversial subject in such clear wording, her recurring comments on the topic align with the ideology of those who are against a woman’s right to choose. During a discussion in 2013, Barrett stated that “supporting poor, single mothers would be the best way to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.” Supporting mothers as an alternative to allowing women to choose whether they want to be a mother is a common strategy that the pro-life community takes. During her confirmation hearing, Barrett would not comment on Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that granted women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, but she has previously said that “Republicans are heavily invested in getting judges who will overturn Roe [v. Wade].” As a Justice nominated by a Republican administration, it is not a far stretch to assume that she will try to strip women of the right to choose what happens to their bodies. 

Barrett’s stance on Roe v. Wade is not the only component of her confirmation that poses a threat to women and the feminist movement. There is also the fact that anti-feminist people everywhere are idolizing Barrett’s accomplishment as an accomplishment for all women. Another woman has been appointed to the Supreme Court which must mean that the divide between men and women in American society is not as dramatic as the feminist movement claims it is. But we, as a collective, must understand that Amy Coney Barrett is not all women. She belongs to the percentage of women who are privileged in incredible ways. She is a white, heterosexual woman who was born into a well-off family. She went to private school. She has access to childcare. The list goes on. Of course, I am not saying there is anything wrong with being privileged. What is wrong, however, is allowing the continuation of the false narrative that Barrett represents all women. 

The truth of the matter is this. Not all women with only three years of experience as a judge would have been confirmed to the Supreme Court. They probably would not have even gotten a nomination. 

In the past few weeks, I have seen a recurring post on social media. The wording is different each time but the message remains the same: Amy Coney Barrett is a perfect example of an under-qualified white woman getting the job before a person of color has a chance. We cannot ignore that. 

Overall, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court poses a threat, both directly and indirectly to the past and future accomplishments of the feminist movement. There is a lot to be wary of in the coming years as she serves as a Justice. But, just as we persevered through the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, we will persevere once more. 

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A Brief Discussion on the Neglect of Mental Health Education in Schools

By: Shellsea Lomeli

The importance of physical health has been drilled into us since we were children. From being forced to run laps in elementary school P.E. classes to sitting through a lecture about STDs in the eighth grade, schools have prioritized the promotion of a physically “healthy” lifestyle for students. Based on my personal experiences in public school, the same agenda was not given to another vital component of students’ health : mental wellbeing. 

The point of this article is not to depict physical education and health as being unimportant. Clearly, keeping your body strong and well should be a priority. Having physical education classes throughout grade school is, in theory, a good thing. However, P.E. classes should not be the extent to which health is discussed with students. Nor should they be operated in a way that puts young people at risk of developing body image issues that can become detrimental to one’s mental health.

While the concept of mental health encompasses a lot of different things, I want to specifically discuss the way in which physical health is prioritized in school can be detrimental to mental and emotional wellness. My experience with P.E. in middle school was surrounded with numbers and measurements of my body and it’s ability. How long did it take you to run the mile? How much do you weigh? What is your BMI? These were all measurements of ourselves that we were forced to expose in a very public setting where anyone in class could see and use to compare bodies and abilities with one another. 

For many, the days students had to weigh themselves and record it was just another Tuesday. But for people like myself who have struggled with body image issues for years, stepping on a scale while an entire line of classmates watched and waited, was absolute hell. If schools still want to collect students’ Body Mass Index (BMI) scores for surveillance and screening purposes, although there is great controversy on whether this measurement accurately measures physical health, this collection must be done in a better way. There should be a way that promotes privacy and decreases the likelihood of young people becoming at risk of developing weight related mental illnesses such as eating disorders. 

Making changes to how physical education is conducted in schools is just the beginning of promoting mental health among students. If mental health is just as important as physical health, which I argue it is, then shouldn’t there also be some sort of educational platform that is geared towards mental health education in particular? In the same way that we are taught how to take care of our bodies through eating well and exercising, students should be taught how to take care of their minds. 

In my twenty-one years of life, I have learned so much about how to lose weight and strengthen my muscles but I still struggle on figuring what to do to maintain or improve my mental health. Searching up a ten minute abs video on youtube is something I do without a second thought yet watching a meditation video seems almost taboo to me. While I cannot blame the entirety of this issue on my grade school education, I strongly believe that my hesitation to discover ways to better my mental and emotional wellbeing stem from not being introduced to these essential activities in my youth. 

Obviously, it has been years since I have taken a grade school P.E. class so I cannot attest to how schools approach mental health education now. I hope educators are beginning to realize the importance of familiarizing students with taking care of all parts of themselves, not just their physical being. I hope improving mental wellbeing becomes something that is easy and less stigmatized for this new generation. Finally, when we were not exposed to it at a younger age, I hope that my own peers are beginning to realize the importance of taking care of your mind just as I am. 

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Why is London’s New Mary Wollstonecraft Statue so Divisive?

By: Claire Armstrong

Most feminists can agree that men of history are disproportionately memorialized in public and private spaces, and that the women who have shaped our world deserve more recognition than they get. So one might think that erecting a new statue dedicated to philosopher, writer, and women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft in a London park could only be a good thing. Unfortunately, for many feminists, artist Maggi Hambling’s work was not the emblem of empowerment they were hoping for. 

The statue, which stands in Newington Green, cost £143,000, and took ten years to create, depicts a nude female figure rising out of a swirly silver mass. Hambling describes the piece as “[involving] this tower of intermingling female forms culminating in the figure of the woman at the top who is challenging, and ready to challenge, the world.” However, critics see it in a different light, and feel that it is disrespectful to Wollstonecraft, who was outspoken against society’s focus on women’s bodies rather than their minds. Regarding the damaging effect this can have on women, Wollstonecraft once said, “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” That is to say, when women are told all their lives that their bodies and their beauty are all that matter, they themselves only invest in their bodies and their beauty, rather than cultivating their minds. 

As such, some question why a statue meant to commemorate Wollstonecraft places such a focus on the female body. The campaign for the statue, called Mary on the Green, has clarified that the sculpted figure is not meant to be Wollstonecraft herself, but “an everywoman” who “emerges out of organic matter, almost like a birth.” However, this sentiment, too, has been criticized, for the woman depicted is very conventionally attractive, with European features, and, as such, may not be the best representative for “the everywoman.” Additionally, Caroline Criado-Perez argues that instead of trying to encapsulate all women in a single statue, we should erect more statues memorializing specific women. “We’ve celebrated so few women from the past that the temptation is to attempt [to represent] all of womanhood, which is never an issue when it’s a male statue,” she says. 

The conversation surrounding the sculpture is a complex one, and is evidence that the feminist movement is vast and nuanced, with plenty of room for differing opinions within it. The controversy surrounding this particular work of art does not diminish the need for more representation and recognition of the work women have put in to make their mark on the world.