This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Every generation grows up with a new set of generational issues. My great-great-grandmother used to tightly wrap my great-grandmother’s feet with cloth bandages to stunt the growth of her daughter’s feet. Apparently, large feet for young girls during the time of my great-grandmother’s youth were not a huge selling point for male suitors. My great-grandmother was the living definition of a matriarch. Since the eighties, she lived mostly alone (by choice), in an apartment in San Francisco until she passed at 103 years old. My great-grandmother’s son (my paternal grandfather), escaped on a boat from China to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war. My grandfather was the oldest of three siblings. On a day to day basis during the war, he struggled to find food and clean water for his younger siblings. My grandfather became a diplomat. Because of my grandfather’s job, my dad grew up in Spain, Bolivia, and Columbia. His first language was Spanish. In case you don’t believe me, my little sister’s name is Marisol.
I grew up the eldest of four sisters. I was born and raised in Silicon Valley where kids speak in Java, college drop-outs are inventing flying cars in their moms’ garages, and CEOs are getting sued on a daily basis. My mom graduated Berkeley Econ, and my dad graduated Berkeley Computer Science (shocker, I couldn’t believe it either).
My dad and I were never very close. One of my three younger sisters, Natalie, was born with Asperger’s Syndrome. Understandably, Natalie’s needs were more dire than mine. She had weekly occupational therapy, behavioral therapy… you get the gist. But as Natalie’s only older sister, I carried the grunt weight of Natalie’s responsibilities. When caretakers and therapists took breaks during the week, I spent my weekends caring for her. My parents, who were still learning how to parent during this time, were often upset at me when I couldn’t manage Natalie’s needs. I was diagnosed with panic disorder at 17 years old. In hindsight, the panic attacks started around 4th grade. I came out as part B of the LGBTQ+ community in the seventh grade to my dearest middle school friend (PS, if you’re reading this, I haven’t talked to you in years, but I miss you!). My first love, a girlfriend from early high school, revolutionized my second coming out after I started attending a private Christian high school.
I didn’t tell my parents until the last couple of years. I resented my parents for most of high school. We had a tumultuous relationship. They’re trying to make amends now, especially my dad, who I love dearly. I came home drunk from a frat party and admitted to him on the phone that I once hotboxed his Tesla. He didn’t mind too much I don’t think. He sent me this the other day.
I’ll share some things in the hopes that it’s useful to you. None of these stories are likely to be what you are experiencing, but hopefully they help.
My college friend Oliver told me once that a boy in his high school asked Oliver to go out on a date. It was never clear to me whether Oliver was gay or bisexual. It was also unclear why he told me that story, but he never brought it up again. You met Oliver once. Oliver is blonde with blue eyes, athletic, tall, a good student and generally considered good looking during our generation. He dated a number of girls that were very good looking. But he ended up marrying a girl that is less conventionally attractive in terms of looks but is super nice, fun and very competent. I’ve never spoken to him about this, but I think if you’d ask him, he would feel that he’s had a very good life and made good choices. He’s the one that was on the Berkeley tennis team and used to do crazy things. He doesn’t do anything crazy anymore. If he was bisexual or gay, he definitely ended up taking the “safe” path when it comes to what society was willing to accept but he also didn’t take the path that was “expected” of him.
I don’t have anything similar in experience to you.
When we were about to leave Taiwan, I was 15 finishing my first semester in high school. I was doing well in school. I attended an allboys school (with Uncle Connor) and we would arrange hangouts with other girls’ schools. I started dating a girl a few months before leaving Taiwan. It was weird as I meant to date her friend but I can’t really remember what happened. At the time I fell deeply in love, but afterward, I realized I barely knew her and that I really liked her friend better. When I was leaving, I fought with my dad because I wanted to stay in Taiwan. I asked around about what it would take to get an apartment for myself and all. Not for the girlfriend, but because I felt I liked Taiwan and was doing well. My dad forced me to leave with him. In hindsight, opportunities in the US were vastly superior to those in Taiwan and that was a good decision. Leaving was the “safer path.”
Once in Spain, I had very good grades and was very good at soccer. I attended an American school and the kids were generally nice. I never dated anyone in Spain, as I wanted to be loyal to my girlfriend in Taiwan. That was generally stupid as I barely knew her, and later we stopped writing letters to each other. I stopped thinking that I had a girlfriend after a few months, but I never dated in Spain. Then my dad got a stroke and spent every dollar he had on medical care so I had to leave, as the school in Spain was very expensive. Same tuition as Berkeley.
In sharing all this, I think what I’m hoping to do here is that you go and discover yourself and find your own path. We all have what we think are things we must do when we are young. Figuring out which of those feelings we must act on is a difficult thing to do. I think as humans, we are wired to want to feel that we have conviction for everything. But the choices lead us to very different paths and outcomes. Regrets about one’s choices are the hardest on us later on in life. So I would advise you to be flexible when you can be and pick the battles very carefully one way or another. And be flexible with the people around you that may not share your convictions. It’s hard for everyone, especially when we are young. Every path seems like we should die for it. Every relationship feels like one we will stay in for the rest of our lives. Be patient and honest in figuring that out.
Now, I must admit this is an excerpt of a very long essay that he drafted for me one day. It took 19 years for my dad to open up to me, and when he did, I did too. I’m not sure why. I still need to ask my therapist about that, but this is my theory: there are secrets hidden between every generation. Secrets that are devastating to tell, secrets that are just for a mother and son to know… But for my dad, I think he felt it was time for him to tell me his secrets as I left for college. And perhaps that is exactly the point of secrets—to be revealed when they need to be. And maybe the timing of my dad’s revelation was what mattered most.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Social media has always been a place for people to share memories, post memes or interact with friends and family. You can have heartfelt captions to remember a found moment or silly inside jokes or puns that your group chat helped you come up with. In general, social media has been a space for creators—famous or not—to let us into their personal lives. Over the years social media has gone through phases with new platforms falling and rising, like Vine, Musically, Snapchat, and TikTok. We’ve seen posts go from just sharing vacation photos or graduation pictures, to posing for pictures with our food, random days we feel good and inspiration quotes. The most recent trend across all social media platforms is to be more intimate with the people who see your content—using your accounts as a virtual diary. The most fascinating, to me, are trends within the different platforms to create secret accounts or private stories. I wanted to find out more about how female-identifying people used these secret accounts and what it meant for them. Rather than passively observing the content, I set out to interview people who were active participants in this culture of finstas.
Katherine: Why did you make your private account to begin with?
Molly: The first private account I made was with 4 of my friends where we collectively posted dumps from our lives. We made it as a fun way to show the more casual pictures we take to a smaller group of people. A place where we didn’t have family members or near strangers viewing our posts.
Katherine: How long have you had your secret account or private story? Has the content you share changed over time?
Molly: I think I have had my private account for about a year. I’m not sure if the content has changed much. Maybe it has just gotten a little less cringe over time. In my opinion at least, others might not think so…
Katherine: What kind of content do you post and how does it differ from your main account/story content?
Molly: I never really post on my main page, I felt like I never had anything to post, just occasional vacation photos. I guess I could post my private account content on my main page but I just find it more fun to post on my ‘finsta’ with different captions. It’s normally just pictures of me.
Katherine: How differently do you interact with people on your private account than on your main?
Molly: As far as interacting I think I communicate similarly in comment sections as far as what I say. I think I just comment more frequently on the private account because it’s stuff that pertains to me and my friends and things that I find funny. On Instagram I don’t really interact with people aside from sending posts or liking.
Katherine: Since having a secret account or private Snapchat story how do you feel your self-expression has changed? Are you more open? Reserved?
Molly: My expression on social media is probably more open but that’s just because I post more—not that much more but more—than I did before. I think I still like to portray myself a certain way even on secret accounts as far as being intentionally cringe, unfunny or crusty.
As Molly describes, the use of these secret accounts and stories is a way to freely express how you experience the world, by posting the half-drunk coffee you had this morning or giving length captions that better resemble a chaotic journal entry. Some things that may seem a little odd if you decided to share on your more public accounts.
We’ve seen social media go through so many different versions, evolving as the definition of the “IT Girl” changed. Young girls look to these IT Girls for how they should live their lives, trying to emulate Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid or Emma Chamberlain from their fashion, to their diet and even their mannerisms. The IT Girls have varied from the extremely posed, well dressed and full face of makeup “Baddies”—to the most prominent IT Girl surfacing the internet at the moment—the clean girl or That Girl. This type of girl on social media exudes “model off duty” and is always “fresh-faced.” They tend to share random moments from their lives in visually perfect posts.
In this next portion of our interview, I wanted to ask Molly how she felt about these different trends and see how they might affect the private account experience. How do these notions of the most desirable girl change how we use social media? How much of this seeps into our real lives?
Katherine: How do you feel about “casual Instagram,” a trend that seeks to make posting on your personal account more casual, as though your secret account merges with your personal account? Does it take away from your secret account or private story?
Molly: I actually listened to Emma Chamberlain’s podcast, and I agreed with most of what she said. Casual Instagram often does even more harm than regular Instagram. I think this is because when people are viewing high glamor shots, they know that they’re false and therefore don’t compare themselves. I think casual Instagram is a fallacy, that the pictures people post casually are just as calculated as the rest of the pictures they post. People want to make it look like their day-to-day life is aesthetic and goofy but they’re still only showing the highlights. And that’s when people compare themselves because they’re like “damn my days don’t look like this.” I think the posts on people’s secret accounts are much different than “casual” posts on their main accounts. It’s in that comparison that you can see how staged “casual” Instagram is.
Molly mentioned Emma Chamberlain, society’s quintessential IT Girl who brought back flare yoga pants, UGGs and so much more. On her podcast “Anything Goes” she talks about casual Instagram and how much our social media presence is a part of our identity. She goes on to say that “Instagram is an extension of [people’s] personality” and that you can easily curate your Instagram any way that you want people to perceive you. Instagram has become some sort of a creative outlet, says Chamberlain, where we can share our favorite books, favorite meals. She goes on to explain that casual posting is less about posing and planning and more about raw moments and that this way of posting takes the pressure off. However, Emma says that there is also a fake casual Instagram, where it’s not just random photos you took in the moment, but it took you 10 minutes to take the best photo.
Katherine: I’m sure you’ve noticed the different trends of the “most desirable girl” on social media. Currently we are living in the age of “That Girls” and the clean girl aesthetic. Do you think this newly popular aesthetic is a result of this more calculated “casual Instagram”?
Molly: I would agree that casual instagram is calculated, making it appear as though people’s lives are fun and quirky and flawless. Casual Instagram posts often show more of a person’s personality, or maybe just the personality they want to be perceived as. Even casual Instagrams where people intend to look funny/ goofy or artfully aesthetic are still the very highlights of a person’s humor or artsiness. The new version of an IT Girl doesn’t just consist of her appearance but also her ability to appear humble and funny.
Katherine: Do you see yourself adapting this set of trendy behaviors and actions seen by the it girls of the time? Do you feel any pressure to do so?
Molly: I think on my private accounts I still do try to be as funny or pretty as possible because those are traits I hold to be important. I personally am not interested in makeup, fashion, or Pinterest vibe aesthetic so I don’t adapt to those behaviors. I’m more concerned with appearing funny and attractive which is one element of this new age IT Girl. I don’t necessarily feel pressure to act a certain way, but sometimes I aspire to post similar to some of my friends whose accounts I find appealing.
Katherine: How would you describe your own relationship with social media? How about for women in general?
Molly: For me, I low-key don’t care about social media as far as comparison. Like I know that my feed is filled with attractive people and that’s why they’re famous so I know not to compare myself. The reason I might not post is probably more concerned with what my aunts, uncles, or cousins would think and not my other followers. I think that women in general post far more than men on social media, at least non-famous ones. I think that’s because of the stylistic aspects of social media. Girls get more creative with their posts.
Katherine: Do you think that social media platforms could be changed or created in some way to exemplify the best parts of finsta or casual Instagram?
Molly: To be honest I think that human nature will always take hold when it comes to portraying ourselves to others. We will always want to be perceived in an idealized way and taking away likes or comments isn’t necessarily gonna fix that. Because even if a comment section is disabled, people are still going to screenshot and share posts and discuss amongst their friends. By putting yourself on the internet you are volunteering to be judged and perceived and I don’t think there’s any way that the app itself could change that. It would have to be a cultural change toward acceptance. I think an interesting app would be one where you can’t upload anything from your camera roll.You have to post live and real! Also things like followers, likes, and comments would not be publicly displayed/not be a thing.
While this is only one person’s experience it’s clear there is growing conversation about this topic with new terms being coined all the time! News channels have picked up the well-known “finsta” stories and even the senate, where they begged the question… “Will you commit to ending finsta?” – Senator Richard Blumenthal. But what do I think? Regardless of how some may feel about the phenomena, these secret Instagram accounts and stories have given people a space to think and post freely. No one would stop you in class to ask “why don’t I follow your finsta?” the same way they would be offended if you hadn’t added them to your main accounts.You can write a 200 word caption and no one would bat an eye, or post photos of you having a mental breakdown without someone thinking you are insane.
I have always used my social media accounts as a way to express myself freely and felt that multiple accounts would become a hassle at some point to separate my life. I try to be the most authentic I can be on my accounts and keeping my following small allows me to do that. Of course it’s always a more polished version of myself but I guess I prefer sharing my highlight reels to the world instead. There is a shared knowledge that these secret accounts and stories are meant to something more—secret, personal and completely unhinged.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Another swipe of mascara and her lashes look voluminous and flirty. Another flick of black eyeliner and her eyes look bigger and more striking. Another line of light gloss and her lips look full and alluring. She’s beautiful to look at but as she tilts her head, a flash of contemplation and dissatisfaction crossing her face. Does she look good enough? Pretty enough? Should she add more eyeliner to make her eyes look bigger; wear a red lip to look sexier? What will people think of her—what will the guys think of her?
Wait – back up. Who is she? And who is describing her? Well, that girl is me. I am the one imaging myself this way, viewing myself from another perspective, and having an inner debate about the “looked-at-ness” factor—does she look good enough to be looked at? Admired? To be found attractive? It is a misogynistic, objectifying, male perspective, and to be honest, this feels like a dirty confession. I mean, I consider myself an unapologetic, passionate, capable feminist. How can these thoughts be mine? How can I think like this?
For a long time, I felt embarrassed, disgusted, and alone. It was just me and this unwanted male voice inside my head. And then, I stumbled across Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” an essay that first introduced the world to the concept of the male gaze in cinema. According to Mulvey, in terms of traditional narrative film, we identify the active protagonist (male actors) and desire the passive objects (female actors). Consequently, this puts viewers “in the position of men looking at women, identifying as male and desiring the female.” Unfortunately, this holds true for perspectives outside of film as well. The reality is that many girls are subconsciously performing for an audience that does not exist.
Self-Commodification and Social Media Under the Patriarchy
According to Mulvey, the male gaze enables the commodification of womens’ bodies. Our external and internal value weighs in the amount of our “looked-at-ness,” and we view each part of our body through a value system assembled by men. Another similar concept is “thingification,” which is the making of ourselves into “things”: commodities for others’ consumption. In a famous quote by Margaret Atwood, she explains how we not only are subject to the male gaze around us, but also an internalized form of the male gaze. In other words, we unconsciously objectify ourselves based on a male’s perspective.
Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur. (Margaret Atwood)
Social media is a prime example of self-commodification. For example, when we post selfies or pictures of ourselves, we desire all the likes we can get, because we associate the amount of likes with our desirability. Here, there is a transaction between women and the price they are willing to pay for attention. When we are wired from a young age to engage in social media and this type of toxic transaction, we find it hard not to find validity from others. The constant societal conditioning of looking pleasing to others, and being likable and desirable, largely induces these attitudes. When we grow up with the harsh influence of social media and society, it is nearly impossible to escape self-commodification and objectification of our bodies. According to objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) many users choose to construct their online personas through photo selection of their profiles. These photos are not chosen at random; female users “wish to present themselves as ‘affiliate and attractive’ and have been shown to regard presenting aesthetically pleasing photographs as more important than male users.” As a result of these predominantly image-based apps, “our society has been given a new arena in which appearance evaluation, appearance comparison, and sexual objectification have the potential to occur,” thus endorsing the idea that one’s value is placed in their outward appearance.
The Male Gaze in Cinema
White men have created the majority of films we have ever seen in American mainstream cinema, which means that they have made all the decisions related to the shots, framing, lighting, sound design, the intended audience—all of it—including the way characters are written and perceived. This means that we consume, learn, and form the perspectives of white men, practically eliminating the facets of gender, race, economic, social, cultural and political rights of all people and the agency of people of color in the film industry. Ultimately, this means that we have all been conditioned to adopt the male gaze because that is the way we were raised by traditional cinema.
Considering that almost all films are written and directed by white men, there are countless examples of the male gaze in films. Let’s look at Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). It follows the life of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he secures a high-powered job on Wall Street and transforms into a sex, drug-fueled, and money obsessed stockbroker. From the beginning, we can see the objectification of women and the misogyny that carries out throughout the rest of the movie: Belfort passionately says, “Money doesn’t just buy you a better life, better food, better car, better pussy, it also makes you a better person.” Besides the derogatory commentary, the cinematography of this film reinforces the normalization of demeaning women; the camera angles capture women in a way that is pleasurable to the viewers. The exact scene introduces us to Naomi by showing us the back of her head as she performs oral sex on her husband, followed by a montage of her in lingerie, posing on the bed as Belfort brags about her. While the montage shows her face, she looks seductively at the camera while Belfort says, “she was the one with my cock in her mouth in the Ferrari so put your dick back in your pants.” This is the gaze.
What to Do When Feminism Fails Us?
So, how do we cope with our deep-set hypocritical desires? Is it possible to stop commodifying ourselves and live through our own eyes and not a man’s? I am not going to lie, sometimes I still have thoughts like “do I look pretty enough today?” or “Should I wear something more feminine, something that looks better?” and I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame because of it. However, as Atwood made clear—we are all victims.
Women grow up and are conditioned to view themselves as a man might. Women grow up and are taught to be looked at and exist as if we are always on display. Thus, it does not make sense to blame young girls and women for being absorbed into this sexualized economy. It is not abnormal to want attention or to be desired. And yet when it comes to the commodification of girls’ bodies in particular, we find that there is a restrictive framework surrounding the idea of “my body, my choice.” From an outside perspective, it can be argued that women want to be a part of this transaction, that it is empowering to post a selfie where you feel confident. This framework, centered around the language of “choice,” holds that young women “can and should be able to project themselves across a variety of social media platforms in whatever way they please—their body, their selfie.” However, as Nancy Jo Sales describes in “American Girls,” our agency is “circumscribed by a patriarchal power structure that equates women’s value with sex appeal.”
Perhaps empowerment has been overused and turned into an empty phrase—one that does not give power to women, but distracts from the real lack of power held by women and girls around the world. In this sense, empowerment is “apparently not about the equitable allocation of resources, or influence in politics or policy, or really power at all. It is shorthand for ‘I wanted to do this and it made me feel good.’”
Subversion and Understanding Power Dynamics
If movies, tv shows, and media in general teach us to live through the male gaze, then this is the type of industry we should challenge. In Duke Mwedzi’s piece The Critical Assessment of the Male Gaze in Contemporary Film and Video Games, he argues for subversion as a creative technique. Subversion is “a method of creating culture that critiques dominant norms and promotes radical ideas.” If we take this idea into the world of cinema, it means that first, filmmakers can choose not to use the male gaze and second, we should critique the male gaze at the cultural level. According to Mwedzi, by creating a film that resists the male gaze, they can also resist the dominant ideals that are reinforced by it, such as male activity and female passivity.
Interpreting the male gaze from a cultural perspective requires an understanding of power dynamics between men and women. The male gaze portrays women as objects of vision. Put in other words, men act and women appear. For women, there is a constant struggle in forming our own identities. A woman’s self can be described as “split into two” because she must “consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.” Recognizing this conflicting binary as the heart of the internalized male gaze can help us better navigate relationships with ourselves in order to restructure our consciousness to stop surveying our own femininity and to stop turning ourselves into objects of vision.
While I have come a long way, I am still working on blinding my internalized male gaze. Sometimes I still catch myself objectifying my own body. The reality is that we live in a fucked up society that is sill largely dominated by the principles of the patriarchy. However, we are slowly but surely unlearning these principles and re-learning our value, finding our voice, and advocating for intersectional equality. As we continue to learn and internalize feminism, I believe it is possible to find ourselves in a state of awareness and empowerment. Understanding that our insecurities regarding the way we view ourselves is significantly influenced by the patriarchy is the first step in learning how to reject the internalized male gaze. Once we can see how pervasive the gaze is and notice when we engage in it, we will be able to see how the male gaze exists everywhere outside of us. Sharing our experiences can be helpful in knowing that you are not alone in your insecurities. While it may take some time, subverting the internalized male gaze is possible. We do not exist for men’s pleasure, and we are not objects to be viewed like we are on display.
Austin , Andrew. “Understanding the Male Gaze and Hegemonic Masculinity in the Wolf of Wall Street.” RTF Gender and Media Culture, 2 July 2020.
Feltman, Chandra. “Instagram Use and Self-Objectification: The Roles of Internalization, Comparison, Appearance Commentary, and Feminism.” Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange, 2018.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
A few weeks ago, news broke out about a sexual harassment scandal occurring at Harvard University. John Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University has been accused of the sexual harassment of three women: Margaret G. Czerwienski, Lilia M. Kilburn, and Amulya Mandava. These women had been graduate advisees of his and had been subject to his harassment for years prior, even reporting his actions multiple times, yet Harvard had done nothing in response to them.
The harassment from Comaroff toward Kilburn, Mandava, and Czerwienski has been going on since 2017; however, there was a “decade of sexual harassment” and professional misconduct allegations against Comaroff” before then. After the lawsuit was filed, Comaroff was placed on unpaid leave from the school, a consequence that is objectively not harsh enough and does not truly express how atrocious an act he committed and has been committing for years now. As a man at a top tier institution, Comaroff was able to get away with countless offenses with no such kind of backlash. This move to file the lawsuit came five years after these three women had started reporting harassment by him, so, in every sense of the manner, it was their last ditch effort to receive some sort of justice.
One aspect of this story that is quite disheartening is how Comaroff’s peers and other professionals from Harvard reacted to his punishment and to the news that he is a sexual predator and has violated handfuls of women. Many of the other faculty and staff members at Harvard University did not simply stay silent on the matter. However, they actually openly supported Comaroff despite his alleged actions. The day after Comaroff was placed on unpaid leave, a riot ensued among many faculty members at Harvard going against the school, saying that he did not deserve the punishments that he was receiving and these allegations against him were false. This is just one other example of how, often, in cases such as these, if the perpetrator is a well-known and respected man, he has no problem gaining supporters in defense of him.
A letter was written in support of him and his character in which thirty eight other faculty members signed. The letter displayed him as an upstanding member of the community and called him an “excellent colleague.” It was stated in the letter that these faculty members were “dismayed by Harvard’s sanctions against him and concerned about its effects on our ability to advise our own.” This outspokenness came from a place of ignorance and naivety, as was shown that, after more specific details came out in the report against Comaroff, thirty-five of the thirty-eight original signatories removed their signatures. They were quick to blindly defend their colleague before knowing or having all of the information presented, which proves how, in privileged institutions like Harvard, those who have built a name for themselves tend to evade any malice placed against them, no matter the background of the situation or what they may have done. Although the faculty members at Harvard did not prove to show any support to these three women, the students at Harvard had a different response.
After the lawsuit was filed where all of Comaroff’s disgusting actions came to light and after Harvard had shown their response to the situation, the students at Harvard University took part in one of the biggest demonstrations on the school’s campus in years. Hundreds of students banded together and walked out of classes in order to protest Harvard’s role in the entire situation. A student who was a part of the protest proclaimed that “this case is about Harvard’s failure to provide the prompt and equitable process for dealing with claims of harassment and discrimination that’s required by law.” As I mentioned earlier, this was not Comaroffs first, second, or even third time being reported for sexual misconduct, however it was the first time that any type of action was taken against him, and that was only because an official lawsuit was filed.
Harvard knew that Comaroff had a history of sexual harassment and failed to take action. They did not do anything within the university to combat any of these allegations, which places the victims of his assault in a terrible situation where they feel that their own institution does not support or care about their wellbeing. By refusing to condemn Comaroff, Harvard positions itself as perpetuating the violence of victim blaming. Further, after the lawsuit was filed, they even continued to deny claims about the specific actions that took place. For example, he was not found guilty of unwanted sexual contact, even though, in the lawsuit, the women specifically stated that he “kissed and groped students without their consent, made unwelcome sexual advances, and threatened to sabotage students’ careers if they complained.” These are clear examples of sexual abuse, however, Comaroff was only found guilty on the claim of verbal harassment.
What is Harvard going to do about it? Are they going to change their policies? Are they going to be more receptive to sexual harassment suits? Sexual assault is an ongoing issue in our society; it occurs all to time with rarely any consequences taking place. Women who are subject of sexual harassment are reluctant to come forward and report their assaults in fear of the backlash they may receive. Too many times the blame of harassment is placed on the victim with them being told that they shouldn’t have worn this, shouldn’t have said that, shouldn’t have drank as much, and countless other excuses as to why the perpetrator didn’t really do anything wrong. Because of this, women rarely feel satisfied and never truly recover from their traumatic experiences. They never receive the justice they deserve, as the law does not support them in any way. We have to change the feeling around sexual assault in a way that supports victims and makes them feel heard. From the Harvard example, we see the prevalence of this and the dire need to change the way society thinks about sexual harassment and the seriousness of it. Although the issue took much longer to be unearthed and discussed, the way that most of Harvard’s students reacted to the problem shows that change will come if we keep coming together and pushing back.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Many people imagine a person getting an abortion as a teenage girl. She is young, reckless, selfish, and not ready to have a child (think Cassie Howard from Euphoria, or Maeve Wiley in Sex Education). However, people of various ages and genders terminate their pregnancies for many reasons. Some of these reasons include:
Not financially prepared
Don’t want to be a single parent
Their partner is abusive
Their partner isn’t “the one”
Interferes with career plans
Want to focus on their marriage
Already have children and do not want more
There will always be someone in need of an abortion, no matter their gender, race, or financial status.
Before the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, abortion was illegal almost everywhere in the United States. People who wanted to terminate their pregnancies were hard-pressed to find safe means of doing so, but that didn’t necessarily deter them from seeking an abortion. As Nina Liss-Schultz writes in Mother Jones, “As long as women have had unwanted pregnancies, other women have helped them resolve the problem.”
Enter the underground abortion clinic.
What is an underground abortion clinic?
Since the mid 19th century, people, mainly women, have banded together to help others end their unwanted pregnancies. One of the more famous underground abortion networks dubbed “Jane” was founded about 50 years ago. The Jane Collective operated from 1969-1973 in Chicago, Illinois helping thousands of people terminate their pregnancies. They advertised their services in smaller newspapers—usually student or alternative papers. They kept their ads short and sweet:
‘Pregnant? Don’t Want to Be? Call Jane.’
Groups met discreetly, learning how to conduct pelvic exams, administer drugs, or any other medical practices necessary for an abortion. These groups provided underground healthcare to countless pregnant people, usually without the help of cis-men. Bingham in Vanity Fair helps paint a picture of the underground abortion clinic:
Martha Scott, a 30-year-old mother of four, was preparing for a procedure when she heard the doorbell ring. Moments later, five Chicago homicide detectives were barging into a living room full of startled, wide-eyed women. “It’s the cops!” someone shouted, as if on cue. Scott leapt into action. “You don’t have a search warrant,” she screamed. “You can’t come in!” One of them handcuffed her. After searching the apartment and finding it filled with women, the cops demanded: “Where is he? Where’s the doctor?” It turned out the police didn’t know exactly who Pildes and the other women were. Acting on a tip, they had expected to find a male doctor operating an illegal abortion clinic. Instead, they found women in surgical gloves.
Why are these women in surgical gloves necessary?
Underground abortion networks did not cease to exist in 1973 with the ruling of Roe v. Wade. They still pervade today around the globe. For example, Mexico has many underground networks that provide essential healthcare to people with unwanted pregnancies. And these networks cross borders. With the enactment of SB 8 in Texas, Mexican networks near the US border have been preparing for an influx of patients seeking treatment.
Since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18th, 2020 and the nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, pro-choice people have been anxious to see if Roe v. Wade will be called into question yet again. And it has. Most notably in Texas and Mississippi, two consistently conservative states.
On May 19th, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that would prohibit abortions 6 weeks into pregnancy. This bill attempted to give private citizens the power of suing providers of banned abortions. SB 8 is unique from other abortion restrictions, because most abortion restrictions are normally enforced by states. Thus, the Texas government wanted to reduce protection for abortion providers, making it more difficult to defend themselves in court.
Then, on December 1st, 2021, the Supreme Court heard arguments on a Mississippi abortion law, one that challenged Roe v. Wade. This law makes abortion illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Roe v. Wade allows for an additional 2 months for any termination decisions to be made. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court agreed to review this law, reconsidering the 50 year precedent that Roe v. Wade has set. Will our country regress 50 years? We are likely to find out later this spring, when the Supreme Court is set to give their decision.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, what will that mean for the US?
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, people’s lives and well-being will be in danger. The safest way to have an abortion is with the help of a trained medical doctor. However, people are not always granted that option, but that does not stop them from seeking pregnancy termination. People may resort to self-managed abortions.
The history of unsafe abortion is marked by dangerous methods—including the use of sharp sticks inserted through the vagina and cervix into the uterus; ingestion of toxic substances such as bleach; herbal preparations inserted into the vagina; infliction of trauma, such as hitting the abdomen or falling. Many of these methods are not even effective in terminating the pregnancy, but can leave lasting damage. (Doctors Without Borders)
Criminalizing people seeking abortions or their healthcare provides protects no living person. In fact, restricting a person’s right to an abortion puts many lives at risk, including the fetus. The World Health Organization reports that “around 5 million women are admitted to hospital as a result of unsafe abortion every year,” and “almost every abortion death and disability could be prevented through sexuality education, use of effective contraception, provision of safe, legal induced abortion, and timely care for complications.” Restricting access to legal and safe abortions only adds to the number of people at risk to injury and death.
Additionally, overturning Roe v. Wade would disproportionately affect marginalized groups, such as BIPOC, the LGBTQ+, and low-income communities. Individuals within these groups may experience additional barriers to accessing reproductive health care. Black women have a higher maternity mortality rate than white women in the US; they are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, according to Amnesty USA.
Additionally, “poverty rates on average are higher among lesbian and bisexual women, young people, and African Americans within our community,” as outlined by the National LGBTQ Task Force. Low-income individuals may have a harder time paying for proper health care or taking time off work to get the care they need.
A Tribute to Underground Networks
Underground abortion networks have provided necessary healthcare to countless women and pregnant people around the world. These volunteers step up when a government falls short in its support of reproductive rights. If the US government chooses to revoke our rights, millions will mourn the overturn of Roe v. Wade. But the Supreme Court should know that as long as people have had unwanted pregnancies, there will always be others to help them solve the problem.
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.