We’ve all seen it in at least one movie. The awkward, nerdy girl realizes the lack of attention towards her, especially from the men in her life, and decides to drastically change her looks. She takes off her glasses, puts on more makeup, and suddenly, everyone around her notices how gorgeous she is.
Listen, I love the Princess Diaries movies, but Mia’s iconic makeover by Paolo in the first film is the epitome of this problematic trope. Paolo breaks her glasses (after Mia mentions that she doesn’t enjoy wearing contacts) and Mia’s curly hair is straightened during her transition from unlikeable geek to a gorgeous princess. A turning point for her character in the film, Mia’s new looks quickly catch the attention of her crush Josh and eventual love interest Michael, sending the message that Mia’s looks were what was standing in the way of her and the men she wanted to be with.
Now, discussing the issues with naturally curly hair being labelled as ugly compared to straight hair could take up its own article; straight hair tends to be associated with Eurocentric beauty standards, and though Mia and other curly-haired protagonists may be white, young BIPOC girls will still see scenes like this and start to feel that their ethnic hair texture is less beautiful than straight hair. I certainly thought so when I was a child watching these movies. But let’s look towards the role of the glasses in these scenes and how girls who wear them, according to certain pieces of media, become less attractive because of their desire to see clearly.
The Princess Diaries is certainly not the only example of this trope; women in movies are constantly changing their looks in order to better appeal to the men in their stories. And while many times, the made-over woman realizes in the end that she didn’t need the man to be happy after all, she still retains her new look throughout the course of the film. So even though this character decides that she isn’t going to focus on adjusting her looks to look attractive for a man in the film, she must still look appealing to the audience, and that includes keeping her glasses off. These makeover scenes are a clear illustration of Laura Mulvey’s cinematic theory of the male gaze: essentially, the camera itself takes on the perspective of a heterosexual man, leading to the sexualization of the women on-screen. Even in movies marketed towards young girls, such as The Princess Diaries, the male gaze promotes beauty standards that the characters must follow, and when those standards include ditching a pair of glasses, young girls who wear glasses start to associate the objects that help them see with being less beautiful.
Taking a Closer Look at Glasses
In 2018, the Vision Council reported that an estimated 164 million adults wore glasses in the United States, and even more wore some type of corrective vision. So why is removing glasses such a common movie trope? Despite how frequently you’d see someone wearing glasses in your daily life, it’s not very common for film or television protagonists to have them on.
It’s worth noting that oftentimes, glasses can be seen as a sign of intelligence. So what does it say about the message of these films when a woman removes her glasses to become more beautiful? Teen movies especially end up typecasting characters who are women as either smart and unattractive or attractive and unintelligent. There shouldn’t be an expectation for women to choose between being attractive and being intelligent; really, someone’s appearance shouldn’t comment on their intelligence at all. But if movies continue to utilize tropes and archetypes that reinforce imagined dichotomies, the danger of these tropes will grow.
Blurring The Lines Between Cinema and Reality
When movies targeted towards younger audiences use these tropes, they promote ideas that could impact how children see themselves. As someone who started wearing glasses in first grade and had characteristically bushy hair for most of my life, seeing this nerd-girl-turned-gorgeous trope—in which a girl whose appearance wasn’t too different from mine was constantly the one in the ugly “before” photo—certainly impacted my self esteem. If I had seen more characters who didn’t have to take their glasses off or otherwise change their appearance to become well-lied by their peers, it’s likely that I would have felt a little better about myself back then.
We shouldn’t be sending the message to young girls that they need to change aspects of their appearance to be considered beautiful, especially when the metric of beauty is set at male attention. Sadly, this is exactly the message sent when the makeover trope appears yet again and has a woman on-screen remove her glasses in an attempt to become more attractive. It’s no secret that the characters we see in our favorite movies or television shows have an impact on us, especially when we’re young and impressionable. Therefore, it’s essential for popular media to ensure that women on-screen removing their glasses isn’t associated with a significant change in their attractiveness.
Looking to The Future, Is There Hope?
As opposed to the simple archetypes of the past, more women in films today are written as complex, interesting characters. Still, I could not tell you the last time I saw a woman who was a main character in a popular movie wearing glasses. Fortunately, there does appear to be change in sight: when I saw the trailer for Encanto, an animated film in which the main character Mirabelle is wearing glasses, I was thrilled to finally see a woman on-screen who keeps her glasses on. Let’s hope this change also continues with live action films in the near future.
As a girl who has struggled with cystic jawline acne for years, I have collected a small pile of unwarranted advice on how to “fix” my face. Society’s expectations for how women should look, coupled with general misconceptions about acne, resulted in a rather painful personal experience for me. My acne journey made me question what it means for a woman to look “presentable” and how harmful “helpful” advice can be.
Not Always Your Period
Growing up, the general notion was that my acne must have something to do with estrogen and my period. Now, there is some basis behind this. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, testosterone levels initially increase, which in turn increases sebum (the oil on your skin) production. Sebum is a breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria, and the immune system responds by sending white blood cells that eventually die and become pus. Ultimately, a pimple is formed.
Testosterone, though, isn’t the cause of hormonal acne in all women. A different hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), can also be responsible. For all people, IGF-1 spikes during adolescence and young adulthood to aid in bodily growth, maintenance, and development. Besides this, IGF-1 also leads to sebum production, and sebum leads to acne. This is part of the reason why many people suddenly develop acne in their teenage years: because of increased IGF-1.
However, I was never told this. People only made some vague reference to “the hormones,” as if each of them had identical functions, and how to “fix” my hormones: not eat milk chocolate while on my period, drink more water, and so on. I only learned about testosterone and IGF-1’s impact on acne years into my acne journey through extensive online research. Additionally, cystic acne can be a symptom of hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so it is best to discuss acne with a general practitioner and/or dermatologist if possible.
Ignoring the Problem
Society’s consensus is that acne is a purely cosmetic issue, but in reality, acne digs deep into one’s personal life and mental health. No one seemed to understand what I was experiencing as a result of my acne: it hurt to wash my face, I became obsessive over changing my pillowcase, and I was adamant about never reusing a face mask in fear that it was contaminated.
I was told to “just cover it up with makeup” but this was problematic for so many reasons. Firstly, it would only irritate and infect my broken skin. Furthermore, acne is not a purely cosmetic condition, therefore it is illogical to treat it solely through a cosmetic approach. It would be nonsensical to tell someone to put concealer over a paper cut, so why would we tell a woman to put it on her acne? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone tell a man to put concealer over his acne. Then again, society deems it unacceptable for men to wear makeup in any capacity. Nevertheless, for women, acne is treated as an urgent problem that must be covered up to look “presentable.”
What to Tell Someone with Acne
If someone you know is experiencing acne, the best thing to say to them would be nothing at all. If they ask you for skincare tips, go right ahead, but in all other situations, their skin is none of your business. Just as it is rude to give unsolicited advice and commentary on how one “should” dress, style their hair, or otherwise present themselves, we must learn to refrain from commenting on another person’s skin.
You were the worst decision I ever made. I ignored every red flag as soon as you mentioned childhood trauma. I told you that I had a habit of being a people fixer and letting people walk all over me. You took advantage of that. You knew exactly what to say and how to manipulate me. You said just enough vulnerable things to make me think that you were just a broken person trying to heal and become a better person. But you are the worst kind of person.
You took everything you experienced and channeled it into damaging others. You bragged about how you broke people and counted off the girls you’ve ‘broken’ on your fingers. You smiled when you recounted the worst stories. One girl became so ill because of you that she was admitted into the hospital. Another went through horrible depression. I should’ve run then. I did think about it as every alarm went off inside my head, but then you started crying about how horrible things were for you growing up. I was hooked.
You took advantage of my kindness. I did everything for you because you manipulated me into thinking that you needed me. After everything, you were still so horrible to me. I told you when I was at my limit, but you took that as your sign to push until I cracked. You yelled and terrorized me until I had panic attacks, and you loved to keep yelling while I shook in front of you. There was no soul to be found in your eyes. Night after night, it was the same thing. It was one horrible fight after another. I told you I was breaking and begged you to stop trying to hurt me. I told you that I didn’t know who I was anymore because I started to believe all of the horrible things you said about me. I told you that I was scared of you and that you made me want to die. I was high-functioning until I met you, but you dragged me into the depths of despair with you. You wanted to make me as miserable as you made yourself.
Things progressed so slowly at first. I didn’t notice what you were trying to do. Then, my depression peaked and you rejoiced. You chipped away at every bit of my spirit until there was nothing left. You made pointed comments about my body over and over again until my eating disorder hit me like a tidal wave. You wouldn’t let me eat without you. I couldn’t sleep when I needed to sleep. I cried and begged you to let me go to sleep but you just laughed at me. You told me I was selfish for going to class and doing homework. You started fights when I was trying to study for prelims or turn in assignments so that my grades suffered too. I couldn’t tell anyone what was really happening, though. I felt bad enough asking for a single extension so I just missed everything. You deprived me of basic needs, which I later found out is a torture technique used by militaries. You made it all seem like my fault, like I didn’t deserve to sleep.
You told me that what happened to me was my fault. If I was drunk and something happened, it’d be my fault. You screamed at me and called me a “pompous, cheating b*tch” when something did happen. You berated me and demanded to see my face because you wanted to see the pain you were inflicting. You are sadistic. You told me that I was lucky that you loved me and that no one would ever love me again, but you were the lucky one. You didn’t deserve me. You didn’t deserve my love. You said that I would never have a family because you knew that was the one thing I wanted more than anything. You said that my dad was going to think it was my fault, too, and that he would never forgive me. You threatened to post everything and contact everyone I knew with your version of the story. You demanded that I go through every detail of the assault with you and convinced me that it was my fault. You put me in the hospital after you made me suicidal and left me all alone. You lied to my dad and said that you would take me to the hospital right away when I was in the middle of a breakdown, then told me that this wasn’t fair to you because you were sleeping. You woke up multiple times and yelled at me when I said I needed help until I started crying and left the room. You watched YouTube as I sat on the bed waiting for you to drive me.
I should’ve let my parents call the cops. The hospital staff even told my parents that it seemed like something was wrong. You told me I was being selfish for trying to call you when I had access to the public phone and that it didn’t work with your schedule. You said it would just be a ‘surprise’ if you showed up to visiting hours after you said that you would come. You told my dad that you would be there for me, but you lied. You promised that you would pick me up from the hospital on time then showed up two hours late. Then you yelled at me as soon as we got back to your apartment and said that you hope I enjoyed my ‘little vacation’. Then you got drunk and threatened to drink yourself to death when I said I just needed to sleep because I was exhausted. I had to hide every bottle of alcohol and pill bottle in the house because you threatened to hurt yourself like it was a game. You threw a fit and laid on top of me while I was having a panic attack, then complained about me not being able to stay awake the entire night. You almost put me back in the hospital because I couldn’t handle everything. You knew what you were doing to me and you loved it.
You are the worst person I have ever met in my entire life. You don’t have any integrity or sense of morality. You are merely a cold and heartless tormentor. I believe that everyone is capable of changing but you don’t want to change. You act like someone is forcing you to behave this way when it’s all you. You know how you’ve impacted people but you don’t care to change so you will probably always be this way.
I let you convince me to stay every time I tried to leave. It got so bad that my friend offered to let me stay in their dorm room and buy me a toothbrush, shampoo, and everything, just to get me out of there. I should’ve accepted their help but I underestimated how strong a trauma bond could be and how good at manipulating me you were.
But it didn’t take much more time for me to grow to hate and loathe you. I tried to slowly put space in between us so I could get away but you were incapable of respecting any of my boundaries. I asked for a break and you wouldn’t leave me alone. Then when I got angry enough to forgo my slow and steady plan for space and explicitly broke up with you, you replied, “We can talk about it on Thursday”, like it never happened. I could never escape you. I blocked you on every platform you harassed me on just for you to find another avenue. You told me that I couldn’t block you on everything because I needed to get my stuff back. I held my breath the entire summer waiting for the moment that I could get my stuff from your apartment and finally be free of you.
I never want to see you again. I never want to speak to you again. But I can’t seem to escape you. You enrolled in the class that you knew I was taking, even though you told me that you’d already taken it. Have you been watching me this entire time? I shouldn’t have to leave class in tears because you traumatized me and then show up everywhere I am. If anyone should leave, it’s you.
Every sign was there that you were a narcissist, but I didn’t know what to look for. I don’t think anything good came out of my time with you. I learned what to look out for to identify dangerous people, but I don’t know if that is necessarily a good thing. You knew the weight of the trauma I already carried and decided to double it. If you genuinely cared about me at any point, then the least you can do is pay me back for the NYC trip that I paid for and the extra years of therapy I need because of the hell you put me through.
I have wanted to confront you about everything you did to me, but I know that it wouldn’t be safe to do that. I will not be gaslighted anymore. I will not be manipulated into thinking I am crazy and that I’m making things up in my head. I know what you did to me, and so do you. I hope that what you did to me haunts you for the rest of your life. If I have to be burdened with it, then so do you. You can’t plead ignorance this time.
This is my version of closure. You refused to let me speak or be heard, but I will not be silenced now. I am done with you forever. I do not deserve to be alone. I did not deserve anything that has happened to me. I do deserve love and happiness, and I have found it. I will have my family, and I will be successful. You took me down to the lowest point in my life but I refused to let you win. You made me an empty shell of a person that no one in my life recognized, but I am not that person anymore. I was never weak. I have always been stronger than you, which is probably why you tried to tear me down so desperately. You made the mistake of confusing cruelty for strength and power. Everything you did and everything you are only shows how pathetic and weak you really are. Your despicable actions were never a reflection of me; they were a reflection of the ugly, dead heart that lies within you. I will live the life I have always desired and deserved. You cannot take credit for the person that I have become either.
I am the one who picked myself up and tried, again and again, every day until it wasn’t as painful anymore. I did the work to start healing. I continued fighting when everything in me wanted to give up. I found my voice and finally decided to use it.
Sex work as a profession is widely misunderstood in the United States. Many stereotypes that surround the sex trade are harmful and inaccurate. For example, people tend to imagine women when they imagine a sex worker, but all gender and sexual identities are represented in sex work. Moreover, sex workers are often stereotyped as immoral, dirty, unintelligent, drug addicts who can’t get a “real” job. In other words, sex work is associated with immorality resulting in moral blame being placed on sex workers. Conversely, society also tends to simultaneously victimize these individuals, stripping them of their own bodily autonomy.
It is true that people with marginalized identities (such as women, the LGBTQ+, and BIPOC) may have more difficulty finding jobs in the US, so they may feel that making a living from sex work is a more viable career option. However, people fail to recognize the differences between sex work and human trafficking. Sex workers can have agency just as anyone can, and to reduce sex workers to be mere victims of some oppressive circumstance and nothing else denies them that agency. Some individuals may “pursue sex work to explore or express their sexuality,” as Open Society Foundationsastutely points out. Not everyone’s reasoning for working in the sex trade is the same.
We have a lot of educating to do on the nuances of sex work in America and around the world. A good starting point is examining current bills in the New York State Legislature that could decriminalize sex work.
Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades Bill
This bill is sponsored by New York State Senator Julia Salazar. What is distinguishable about this bill is that it aspires to decriminalize not just sex workers but their clients and managers as well. These specifications—including clients and managers in decriminalization—are vital for the protection of sex workers. If clients, for example, could still be held criminal for hiring a sex worker, sex workers would have less clients and lower wages. This would inevitably lead to harsher working conditions. Specifically, as Open Society Foundations publishes in “Understanding Sex Work in an Open Society,”
Decriminalizing sex work and all consenting individuals involved is essential for protecting these individuals and promoting a safe, sex positive environment.
Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act
New York State Senator Liz Kreuger is promoting the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act. In contrast to the Salazar bill, this one would only decriminalize sex workers, excluding managers and clients from this protection.
For the reasons mentioned above, this bill is inadequate, considering how it would not successfully protect sex workers as it supposedly intends to do. The New York State Legislature should also consider how this bill would disproportionately endanger sex workers of various identities, as BIPOC, the LGBTQ+, and undocumented individuals would be particularly vulnerable to the stigma and violence that would continue if this bill were passed. Supposed “activism” in favor of sex workers can sometimes actually life harder for sex workers. That is why it is so important to understand the nuances of the sex trade in America.
Sex Work During the Time of COVID
Since we saw the first cases of COVID-19 in the US, the unique vulnerabilities that sex workers experience in this country became apparent. Like most of the country, sex workers were put under financial stress as things became uncertain. During lockdown, many sex workers had to stop any in-person work, because if they chose to continue working in person, the legal and health risks increased exponentially. Not only did they risk catching COVID-19 but it also became more difficult to get regular STI testing as hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients. These reasons help explain why so many sex workers relied on online platforms to continue work. However, the criminalization and stigma surrounding the sex trade continued to make life especially difficult for sex workers during pandemic.
In August 2021, OnlyFans announced that they would be banning pornography on their website. This came as a blow to many sex workers who found some financial stability through their posts on OnlyFans. The website reversed this decision only a few weeks later, assuring that they would still allow porn on their websites, but online platforms can still be unstable for sex workers. Social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter constantly take down the posts of sex workers despite allowing similar content from other users.
It is no question that sex workers deserve respect and safe working conditions. But some believe the question still remains of whether or not the sex trade can be an empowering profession within the patriarchy. Cecilia Gentili’s testament below outlines some of the more positive aspects of her experience as a sex worker.
An Empowering Service Industry
Cecilia Gentili, who wrote the guest essay “This Is What Will Make Sex Work in New York Safer” in the New York Times, shares her former experiences as a trans woman in the sex trade. Her eloquent and honest testimony sheds light on how the sex trade can be an empowering industry—not just for workers but clients as well:
“Sex work is a service industry. We often help people with social anxiety or a disability and those who are figuring out their sexuality or gender identity. Clients and co-workers (who are often prosecuted as traffickers) very often provide care to sex workers as well. It was a sex worker who helped me escape from a trafficking situation, not the police. It was a client who encouraged and helped me get into a drug treatment program, and it was a client who gave me my first immigration legal advice and helped me open my first bank account.”
Gentili and many others appreciate how the sex trade holds the opportunity to empower the individuals involved. On the other hand, some believe that sex work can only be oppressive in a patriarchal society, while others fall somwhere in the middle.
Regardless, sex work can be a viable and respectable way to make a living. Some enter the sex trade to empower themselves. Some do it to empower others. Some because they feel they need to. But no matter the reason, all sex workers deserve respect, understanding, and safe working conditions.
Click here to read further about how you can be an ally to sex workers.
Trigger Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and sexual violence.
Across the United States, college students are facing a daunting threat: sexual assault and sexual violence. According to the Rape and Sexual Victimization Among College-Aged Female study conducted by the United States Justice Department, 26.4% of undergraduate women and 6.8% of undergraduate men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. As demonstrated by this statistics, undergraduate women are almost four times more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault. Additionally, The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network found that undergraduate students are at the highest risk of sexual assault and rape during their first few months of their first and second semesters in college, which tells us that most instances of sexual assault and rape occur during a student’s freshman year of college.
The trend of freshman facing an increased risk of sexual assault and violence is furthered by the prevalance of party culture across college campuses nationwide. College freshmen often face intense social pressure from their peers to participate in party culture, in which underage drinking is commonplace. Some freshmen may also desire to participate in such activities due to their newfound independence and freedom.
Regardless of whether freshmen participate in party culture and alcohol usage because of their own desires or peer pressure, the use of alcohol poses a grave threat to college freshman. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 52.5% of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and 33% of students engaged in binge drinking in the past month. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also reports that sexual assaults are more likely to occur in environments where alcohol is being consumed and that half of the incidents of sexual assault that occur on college campuses involve the victim, perpetrator, or both consuming alcohol. However, it should be noted that alcohol consumption is neither a valid excuse for the perpetrator nor a reason for blaming the survivor.
Given these statistics, party culture and the alcohol usage that is prominent within it are putting college freshman, especially freshmen that identify as women, at increased risk for sexual assault. This phenomenon is becoming more and more likely because sexual predators are using parties or events in which alcoholic drinks are being consumed as a hunting ground for drunk and incapacitated young women. Since these college parties typically occur at fraternity houses, the face of the sexual predator is most often that of a frat boy.
Sexual Predation of College Freshman
Freshman girls are going out with their friends to parties in hopes of de-stressing from a hectic school week but instead are falling victim to instances of sexual assault and sexual violence. Groups of freshman girls are being looked at like prize ponies, and frat boys are placing bets on who can win the prize, whatever the price. If you look closely enough at the party dynamics at most fraternity houses, you can see the frat boys giving girls drink after drink in hopes of getting them drunk enough to “get them into bed.” In many cases, sexual predators at the parties look for girls who look drunk so that they can try to sleep with them.
However, these interactions cannot be consensual by nature, because if you are incapacitated or lacking the mental facultities to give consent (like someone who has been drinking),then any sexual activity that occurs is defined as sexual assault. The men who are taking advantage of this situation are well aware of this dynamic. It has been screamed from the rooftop that if someone is drunk or passed out, then they cannot consent; however, many men have adopted the mindset that if she doesn’t say “no” then they can’t be held accountable for sexual assault. Even in cases when the incapacitated person says “no,” sexual assault perpetrators often claim that they didn’t think that they really meant “no” or that they knew that the victim actually wanted it to happen, which is far from the truth.
The party culture that exists within fraternities is perpetuating rape culture, defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused.” Rape culture blames the victim and encourages behaviors of sexual assault and harassment, which is making sexual assault and sexual violence all too prevalent on college campuses.
Sexual Predation at Cornell University
Cornell University, which prides itself on providing excellent education and resources for its students, is riddled with sexual predation and sexual violence. The New York State Department of Education reported in 2018 that Cornell University has the highest number of reported sexual assaults out of every college and university in the state of New York, and little has changed since then.
Cornell University is very much aware of the issue of sexual assaults occurring at fraternities on campus, especially since a case involving the Fraternity President of Psi Upsilon’s Chi Chapter, Wolfgang Ballinger, made headlines in 2016. Ballinger was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sexual act, and first-degree sexual abuse after he sexually assaulted a woman in a bedroom at the frat house. He initially pled not guilty but changed his plea to guilty and received six years of probation on a misdemeanor sex offense charge, which was the maximum sentence possible under the plea deal made between the prosecutor’s office and Ballinger.
Speaking from firsthand experience, the dynamic in which upperclassman frat boys intentionally take advantage of incoming freshman girls still persists today. However, some frat boys have taken their strategy to a new extreme by dating or seeing freshman girls and then repeatedly sexually assaulting them. When you are drinking with a guy that you like and trust, then what reason would you have to think that they are intentionally getting you drunk so that they can sexually assault you when you’re blacked out?
Situations like these are becoming more and more common, especially at Cornell. As I found out a couple of months after I was no longer in a similar situation, entire fraternities are covering for their frat brothers that they know have sexually assaulted women in the past. It seems that the “guy code” has persisted into college and is being used to protect known sexual predators. No one told me that the guy that I was seeing had sexually assaulted at least one girl the summer before I started college. No one stopped the situation when they saw the frat president walk me upstairs drunk and stumbling to “go to bed” night after night and week after week. These situations are not as easy to recognize as you might think, especially because no one talks about sexual assaults that are committed by your partner in a romantic relationship. It is extremely difficult to pull yourself out of denial and come to terms with the difficult reality that occurred.
Most Assaults Are Not Reported
After sexual assault victims realize that they were in a sexually abusive situation, especially those who found themselves in the situation described above, reporting doesn’t always seem like an option. The Department of Justice reports that only 20% of female undergraduate students report their assault. The trend of female students not reporting their assault occurs for a wide array of students. However, rape culture likely contributes to this trend because it encourages victim blaming. After a traumatic event like sexual assault occurs, the last thing a survivor wants is to be blamed for their assault, especially since many victims already struggle with deep-seeded guilt and tend to blame themselves.
However, even with all the preparation and “preventative measures” in the world, instances of sexual assault and sexual violence are still possible. You can bring your own drink, limit the amount you drink, stay with friends, etc. and still find yourself in a dangerous situation, because sexual assault and sexual violence are the fault of the perpetrator, not the victim. Even if a sexual assault survivor does not take any “preventative measures,” an instance of sexual assault and/or sexual violence will never be their fault. The truth of the matter is, you never know what you will do in those situations until it happens to you, and most people tend to freeze in fear, if they are even conscious during the assault.
At Cornell University, many students have parents that have tremendous social influence and make enough income to afford good lawyers. So what do you do when you cannot afford a good lawyer, especially when your rapist has already been accused and not faced any consequences? What do you do when your rapist’s parents have enough money to seemingly make any problem go away? Most sexual survivors tend to not report their assaults, but can you blame them given the statistics and society we find ourselves in today?
Lack of Accommodations
Although there are resources available at Cornell University for sexual assault survivors, these resources still cannot provide accommodations to cover all of the adverse issues that impact sexual assault survivors. Organizations, such as CAPS, cannot always help survivors academically because professors typically have the final say for accommodations. In my experience, most professors and facility members are extremely accommodating and empathetic to sexual assault survivors. However, this unfortunately cannot be said for all professors.
When I saw my rapist for the first time in person after I realized what happened, I quickly found myself in a downward spiral that prevented me from being able to properly function and take care of myself. Academics were certainly not my first priority—how could they be? Fortunately, most of my professors and teaching assistants provided me with an outpouring of support and tried to make sure I was okay. I received accommodations that allowed me to turn in assignments and catch up after I had time to process and move past this trigger. However, I was not provided adequate accommodations by the Chemistry department and have since found out that a lack of proper accommodations from the Chemistry department is fairly common.
Sexual assault survivors deserve better. I deserved better. Proper accomodations for sexual assault survivors should be required at Cornell University, because, although a majority of professors genuinely care about their students and do their best to support them, this cannot be said of all professors.
The Time For Change Is Now
Cornell University, as a whole, also needs to do better. Sexual assault and sexual violence have found a happy home on campus and have continued to grow as rape culture within fraternities persists. There is only so much that resources about consent can do when they are not reaching the target audience of fraternity members. Although singular investigations have been conducted into specific frats, like Psi Upsilon and Zeta Beta Tau, these occurrences are not isolated events concerning just one or two fraternities. Sexual assaults are occurring in a multitude of frats across campus. The perpetrator of the assault committed against me isn’t in either of the fraternities lifted above, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been assaulted by someone in a fraternity. Something needs to be done to even the scales and address the atmosphere of party culture within fraternities that is enabling this behavior. The chapters that are knowingly enabling and facilitating these assaults do not deserve a foothold on campus to victimize more individuals. It’s time for a real, comprehensive investigation into the fraternities on campus. It’s time for change.
Here are some resources that have been helpful and beneficial to do during my journey in the aftermath of sexual assault:
Capitalism is defined as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
But do you know what capitalism also is? It is a global system of oppression. It is a system that is amplified by the patriarchy. It is a system that actively works to devalue the contributions of women, especially women of color, and under-represented communities.
Women are especially urged to be dressed up but not glammed up, sexy but not slutty, youthful but not plastic, whereas men are naturally allowed to just be. Social media and the marketing industry inevitably create these unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards but do so in a way that makes us feel inadequate and leads us to vie for the product that will magically change our appearance.
Many companies use our physical appearance as a source of identity, value, and power and market it under the guise of “women’s empowerment,” when in reality the message is focused on reaping profits. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, Kellogg’s “What will you gain when you lose” campaign, Tesco’s razor blades costing twice as much for women as they do for men, Cover Girl’s “your personality needs layers, your face doesn’t” message are just some examples of problematic marketing strategies using “feminist buzz words” as a way to attract more customers. This perpetuates an exploitative cycle, passing down a harmful message to younger generations. Instead of targeting our physical insecurities, companies should be directing their resources to tackle systemic issues such as the gender pay gap, reproductive healthcare rights, access to higher education, workplace discrimination, and human trafficking.
In capitalist marketing, the easiest way to sell a product is to exploit the vulnerable: “This part of you is broken, but don’t worry, our product can fix it!”For example, companies target body hair as something that women should be ashamed of and get rid of immediately. In 1915, there were a burst of advertisements using the tagline, “an assault on the underarm” to spread the message that women with underarm hair were unfeminine and that the area must be shaved to look “as smooth as the face.” Following these, there was another explosion of advertisements claiming that women should shave their legs, calling women with leg hair “disturbing.”
Intersectional feminism strives to always advocate for the well-being of everyone and champions the needs and rights of all: of the poor and working-class women, of racialized and migrant women, of queer, trans, and disabled women, of women encouraged to see themselves as women, of women encouraged to see themselves as middle class even as capital exploits them. But this feminism is not just limited to women’s issues. It also stands up for those who are exploited, dominated, and oppressed around the world. So, can we imagine a world where the liberation of all women exists under a capitalist system?
Patriarchy in the economic form may be summarized as “the collective exploitation of the female sex by the male sex, and the exploitation of the female sex by ruling-class men for the ruling class’s economic and social benefit”. Let’s break down this definition to further understand the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. Under a capitalist system, women are overexploited in their household and in the workplace. While more women are entering the workforce, bearing fewer children than they were a century ago, and engaged in wage labour, they are still expected to carry out domestic responsibilities. With the increase in women in the workforce, people may think that this is a sign of a decline in patriarchal influence on our economic system. However, taking a closer look at the trends of societal expectation and women’s roles in the economy shows that there is simply a shift from a family-centered exploitation of women to an industrial-centered exploitation of women.
Thanks to feminism, there is a clear separation between household chores and family responsibilities in terms of a social order based on the distributive tasks of men and women, which holds that women are supposed to devote themselves to the domestic sphere of work. This distribution has wrongly established that there is a hierarchy of tasks where “masculine” ones are valued higher than the “feminine” ones. In reality, there has never been a sense of equality because women have almost always performed within the labor force as well as the household.
Another issue is that oppression is a necessary catalyst to the capitalist system. The truth is that capitalism is an inherently exploitative system which means that someone will always be exploited. Capitalism demands an aggressive mode of production that permeates into all aspects of society. It allows for the profiteering of cheap female labor, child labor, migrant labor, and the manipulation of marginalized groups. Since the beginning of capitalism, its quest for the maximization of profits has relied on undermining these marginalized groups.
This is not to say that not a single woman has benefited from capitalism. As established, capitalism works in a way where people benefit at the expense of others. Women who are positioned at the highest levels of the production and supply chain naturally bear greater bargaining power, higher wages, and overall economic freedom. However, the vast majority of women face barriers that relegate them to the bottom levels of the supply chain, where they hold the least power. Capitalism depends on its system of structural oppression —racism, sexism, ableism, casteism— to uphold and normalize unequal power structures.
The 2020 edition of the United Nations report commented on the current state of gender equality around the world: “women are disproportionately being affected by economic oppression through forced labour, meagre wages, triple burden of work, lack of access to resources and opportunities. As feminists, amidst this political turmoil, we cannot be naive to believe that capitalist institutions will reimagine their oppressive structures. Instead, they will only work to strengthen their means”. It has become clear that our economic system permeates into all areas of our life, from day-to-day work up to the national level, where governmental institutions continue to permit flagrant inequities.
Using an intersectionalist feminist lens, one can dissect many of the ways capitalism perpetuates an unequal society. This article is just a brief introduction to the complexities of feminist theory and for those who want to educate themselves more on the topic, there are dozens of scholarly articles published that discuss, in great detail, the intersection between capitalism and feminism. To start, here are some resources.
Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattachartya, and Nancy Fraser
Capitalism, For and Against: A Feminist Debate by Ann E. cudd and Nancy Holmstrom
Power and Feminist Agency in Capitalism: Toward a New Theory of the Political Subject by Claudia Leeb
The Liberation of Women: A Study of Patriarchy and Capitalism by Roberta Hamilton
“Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives” by Akeia A. F. Bernard
“Capitalism and Freedom– For Whom Feminist Legal Theory and Progressive Corporate Law” by Kellye Y. Testy
“Capitalism and the (il)Logics of Higher Education’s COVID-19 Response: A Black Feminist Critique” by Terah J. Stewart
“The Sexual Division of Labor, Sexuality, and Lesbian/Gay Liberation: Toward a Marxist-Feminist Analysis of Sexuality in US Capitalism” by Julie Mattaei
Do you ever find yourself needing advice from the nearest man? Do you often wonder just how to appeal more to the male-gaze? Oh, but it is so hard to get any sort of advice from a man ever! Have you noticed just how incredibly hard it is to get their attention, and that accidentally looking at them, walking by them, or doing absolutely nothing at all often does not cut it?
Thankfully, you don’t even have to be looking for advice for it to be given to you. This was fortunately my case, as I returned from a day of studying at the Arts Library. Everything about my demeanor seemed incredibly approachable: whether it was the bags under my eyes, my backpack weighing down my shoulders, or my desire to take the world’s best nap. But of course, the one thought on my mind was how to appear more desirable to the next guy that enters my life. If you aren’t considering your own desirability and its relation to your worth throughout the day, here’s your reminder to worry about it more!
Returning to my dorm on this certain eve of a study session, I was more than delighted to find an unknown friend of a friend lounging around. I was even more delighted to hear him ask me if I had ever been to a fraternity house on campus. I was afraid that this question would result in nothing but small talk, so I of course did not try to escape to my room to avoid being asked any more questions about my weekend activities. I answered him honestly, and regretfully, that no, I had never been.
“But you’re a girl. Come with a group of you and you’ll always be let in.”
How interesting! I had, of course, never heard of any sort of ratio ideology before at these sorts of social events, and was hanging onto every word he was telling me. I appreciated the fashion advice he gave me too, sort of a “less is more” mentality. This was good because I never actually dress for myself, and only dress specifically to appeal to the male gaze. I’m glad he caught onto that. I informed him of my usual party attire, prioritizing my comfort, and then did not try to make a dash for the stairs to my room.
“Just be genuine. That’s how you pick up guys. Talk to them, a lot, and be genuine.”
REALLY? Was that the answer to this age old problem the whole time? Just be genuine? My mind had never been so blown open. How did he read my mind like that? I didn’t even have to tell him, and he knew exactly the question I was asking, the question that we all are wondering every second of the day. I just had to be genuine to appeal to men. What a piece of advice! This was so convenient, as of course my next move that night was to attend the nearest frat party, with all intentions now of being completely genuine.
I couldn’t thank him enough, nor did I have the words to express all of my gratitude, so I just silently walked up to my room, awestruck. It’s not everyday that you’re given such solid advice like that from a guy, unprovoked, while minding your own business! It’s certainly not a universal experience for any non-men out there. But I can’t help thinking of his advice any time I’m getting ready for any sort of function now. Just be genuine. Who could have thought of that one? I only wish I could have given him some advice in return.
Did anyone else read American Girl’s The Care & Keeping of You? When I was twelve, I knew that becoming a teenager equaled entering puberty, which meant some big changes were about to happen to my body. I credit The Care & Keeping of You with teaching me about the basics about what I should expect, especially in regards to my period. However, there were aspects of my health related to my menstrual cycle that were altered in ways that I was not anticipating or aware could happen, and I soon realized that they were seldom talked about and considered taboo.
So, let’s learn a little more about PMS and its more severe form, PMDD. Too often women are labelled as “moody” or “monsters” during “that time of month,” when in reality, PMS/PMDD are real medical conditions that impact menstruating women, and in the case of PMDD, can be extremely disabling and debilitating. The exact cause of premenstrual syndrome is unknown, but researchers have suggested that cyclic changes in hormones, chemical changes in the brain, and depression are possible sources.
Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
As many as 3 out of 4 menstruating women have encountered some type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It consists of a long list of signs and symptoms, although menstruating women who have PMS usually experience a few of the issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are both emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms as well as physical signs and symptoms:
Emotional and Behavioral
Tension or anxiety Depressed mood Crying spells Mood swings and irritability or anger Appetite changes and food cravings Trouble falling asleep (insomnia) Social withdrawal Poor concentration Change in libido
Joint or muscle pain Headache Fatigue Weight gain related to fluid retention Abdominal bloating Breast tenderness Acne flare-ups Constipation or diarrhea Alcohol intolerance
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is an extension of premenstrual syndrome that is severe and chronic, and it affects between 5-8% of the menstruating women population. While both PMS and PMDD have emotional and physical symptoms, PMDD is a much more severe extension of PMS. Researchers think that PMDD could stem from an abnormal reaction to hormone changes that occur with each menstrual cycle, which can cause a serotonin deficiency and in turn affect mood and result in physical symptoms.
Hopkins Medicine says that the following symptoms must be present to diagnose PMDD:
During most menstrual cycles over the course of a year, at least five of the following symptoms must be present in order for PMDD to be diagnosed:
Anger or irritability
Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
Insomnia or the need for more sleep
Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
Other physical symptoms, the most common being belly bloating, breast tenderness, and headache
Symptoms that disturb your ability to function in social, work, or other situations
Symptoms that are not related to, or exaggerated by, another medical condition
The symptoms of PMDD are “so severe that women have trouble functioning at home, at work, and in relationships during this time” and it “does need treatment that may include lifestyle changes and sometimes medicines.” To learn more about PMDD, Mind.org is a useful site for further understanding the disorder, and has guides for what to do if you or someone you know has PMDD.
More than “Just Being Moody”
There is much research to be done to demystify the scientific causal factors behind PMS and PMDD, but in all circumstances, PMS and PMDD should be taken seriously. Like the title of a Harvard Health article states, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, as well as premenstrual syndrome, are biology, not a behavior choice. Unfortunately, this is not universally recognized, and women are frequently shamed for this natural aspect of their health.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by THINX, 58% of women have felt embarrassment from being on their period, 42% have experienced period shaming, 71% of women have hidden a feminine product from view on their way to the bathroom, 1 in 5 women have felt period shame because of comments made by a male friend, and 51% of men believe it’s inappropriate for women to refer to their period in the workplace.
Spreading awareness about menstruation and understanding the science behind it can help make talking about periods less of a taboo, and it’s important to discourage period shaming talk and encourage a safe environment where menstruating women can feel comfortable discussing their health without judgement. Ultimately, menstruating women with PMS and PMDD should know that they are not alone and that their emotions and symptoms are legitimate and valid.
NOTE: Some people with PMDD find that they have suicidal ideation, which can be especially distressing. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation and are worried you may act on them, you can refer to the following services:
24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
24/7 National Crisis Text Line: text “HELLO” to 741741
24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat Service: Visit Here
If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University.
Cornell Health 24/7 Phone Consultation Line: 607-255-5155 and press 2
I was brought up in a house headed by a matriarch. I learned to be a feminist before I could tie my shoes. I have been surrounded by smart, kind, strong women my entire life. This served me to be confident in myself as a young woman; I am assertive in my conversations, I defend myself, I believe in myself. I am a feminist.
And yet, I walk to class every morning bumping along to Kanye West. I watched the Dave Chappelle special (which was uniquely offensive, even for him). Kanye West is not the only rapper who says “bitch” too regularly. A lot of rap culture belittles women. Dave Chappelle is not the first comedian to joke about rape or undermine transwomen. I used to cringe a little when songs would so explicitly objectify women, but I’ve begun to notice that I don’t flinch at all anymore. I’ve just accepted that this is what men sing about.
And so the debate ensues: Do I belong in a club that practices intersectional feminism if I leave listening to Kanye West? What about R. Kelly? Or Chris Brown? Or Tupac? Can we separate the art from the artist? It gets complicated. Maybe there’s a moral boundary that distinguishes listening to the artist that says “bitch” too much from listening to rapists. But what if your favorite artist gets accused of rape?
By listening to that music, by watching that special, we’re directly supporting people who don’t believe in women. And the conclusion seems obvious: stop giving money to people who are abusing women, belittling women, raping women.
But sometimes the music is good. And sometimes it’s really unique. If we found no separation between art and artist then the allegations against Michael Jackson would have made it nearly impossible to listen to “Who’s Lovin’ You.” So much of our musical canon is composed of problematic individuals. If we ruled out every rap song that objectified women, we would have substantially smaller playlists. But by continuing to listen to artists who have been exposed as sexual assault offenders or even just artists whose songs disempower women, we are perpetuating a culture that not only excuses these demeanors but almost encourages them. Not to mention that streaming the music of an abuser is directly profiting them.
Kanye West is a misogynist. And a musical genius. I am a feminist, but his songs are pretty good. What do I do?
Have you ever found yourself crying in the Kohl’s dressing room? Or trying on a heap of clothing and none of it works? These seem to be common struggles, but buying clothes as a woman is really easy. I really don’t see what people are complaining about. Let’s go over some aspects of the fashion industry and I’ll explain why what people are saying is nonsense:
We Don’t Need Pockets
For one thing, I am not at all bothered by the lack of functional pockets in women’s pants. Sometimes the pockets will be completely fake — just stitching to emulate a pocket — or the pockets will be so minuscule that they can’t hold anything except maybe one penny. As prestigious fashion designer Christian Dior once said, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration,” and he couldn’t have been more right. As women, we are far too fragile and dainty to carry our personal belongings ourselves– we need men to carry them for us.
Sizing Makes so much Sense
Sizing is so consistent and logical across all brands and stores. Sure, you may be a size small in one store, a 26 in another, and some stores have absolutely nothing that fits you properly. However, this, of course, is not a problem with the stores but with women instead. We are all made to be the same size; nothing beyond or in between. However, if you are on the hunt for an on-trend brand with a diverse range of sizes, Brandy Melville is your one-stop-shop. With sizes like “one size,” “oversized,” and absolutely nothing else, Brandy Melville accommodates all sizes and shapes of women and girls.
Pleasing Men, Pleasing Men, and Pleasing Men
Last but certainly not least, are you worried about how other people will judge what you are wearing? Sure, that plain T-shirt and jeans may be comfy, but, most importantly, will it cater to the male gaze? Pleasing men in what we wear is very important; the male gaze must be satisfied. Women, of course, should never choose what they want to wear, whether that be a dress and heels, sweats with coffee stains on them, or a “Damn I look good” T-shirt because women’s opinions don’t matter.
Not So Easy After All?
In sum, with all these complicated rules, sizes, and expectations, finding clothes really is a cinch! The problem is, however, it’s only a cinch when you can completely change the meaning of “cinch” to something more like “arduous and simultaneously embarrassing.” Everyone needs clothes, so why does finding the right clothing have to be so difficult? If only the fashion industry could see that, then maybe clothes shopping would become less of a hardship and more of a delight.