My Eggs, My Body, My Choice

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When I was in kindergarten, someone started a rumor that if you eat the black watermelon seed, you will grow one in your stomach. I remember frantically looking around the classroom, trying to recall every bite I had taken, worried that I was going to grow my very own pink and green baby. I didn’t think that my bones could house another body, I didn’t think I could do right by that kind of responsibility.

Four months ago, I sat on the cold bathroom tiles at a local Starbucks, after abruptly leaving class because my body had been identifying all the signs of pregnancy. After riding the bus alone, and buying a pregnancy test alone, I set a timer and patiently waited as my thoughts raced for what felt like the longest three minutes of my life.

Two minutes and forty-three seconds,

how can I harbor another life? I can barely survive myself, I don’t even have meals on a regular basis and I swear to god the only thing I know how to cook are eggs. Eggs. Hard boiled eggs, yellow and white, and eggs that I’ve fried, the eggs that travel and live inside of me. These are my eggs and this is my choice.

Two minutes and ten seconds,

is the father going to stick around? Should he be here with me, should I have told him about this possibility? This is not the next nine months of my life, this is the next eighteen years.

One minute and thirty-four seconds,

the debate on abortion is not about religion, regardless of all the different belief systems, you cannot revoke a person’s right to their own flesh and bones despite your own personal moral code. The United States supports not only the freedom of religion, but the freedom from religion; and because it has the separation of church and state, you should not get to dictate what I do with my body.

One minute and three seconds,

I believe that if you do not have a period, do not ovulate or go through menopause, if you do not nourish a being that lives and grows, then you should not get to take away the rights of those that do.

Thirty seconds,

abortions are going to happen regardless of the laws we make, so I think we should focus on keeping it safe. If cis men could get pregnant, birth control would be in vending machines, but instead we have women who have to march for the rights to their own body.

Two seconds,

I have never been more excited to see that single pink bar, to know that I didn’t consume the wrong seed, that there is nothing fostering a world inside of me.

I believe that the debate on abortion is not about anybody other than those directly involved. A person should always have complete say over what happens to their own body. And although I’m not sure what I would have done, had that one pink bar became two, these are my eggs, this is my body, and it is my choice.


Sydney Bagnall

Layout Editor, What the F Magazine

Art by Paige Wilson, Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

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On Activism, Allyhood, and Trump

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Early last year, photos of my good friend’s birthday party were posted on Facebookone that I had to miss, as I had been sick. Wanting to fully indulge my feelings of #FOMO and a reprieve from discrete math homework, I clicked through them. One photo had a comment. My friend had said something to the effect of, “Omg, why are my eyes so Asian in all these pictures?”

My heartbeat quickened. I reread her words again and again.

(For what it’s worth: what I heard, what I understood, from her words was that Asian eyes are and have been seen as undesirable. Intentionally or notand I do not believe she intended to hurt me, but nonethelessshe drew on a history of upholding whiteness as the single barometer for beauty, a barometer that I myself learned to use early on. I have hated my eyes for awhilemono-lidded, without so much as a single crease, framed by short and sparse eyelashes. I am still unlearning this hatred. I know what the expectations are. And even as I know that these expectations come from a place of exclusion and xenophobia, I also know all the ways I fail to meet them.)

So, I went back to discrete math. I kept losing my train of thought, though, and thinking back to my friend’s words. I returned to the comment periodically, to see if anyone had responded. A couple iterations into this exercise, it dawned on me that it might be up to me to say something. It seemed important that someone acknowledge the comment, the harmful message of it.

My heart raced again as I flipped through various responses in my head. I worried about coming off as angry, as irrational, as hostile, as being that person. Eventually I settled on something exceedingly simple: “there’s nothing wrong with asian eyes :-).”

I sent it with the constricted feeling in my chest that occurs every time I send a risky text.

My comment received support in the form of ‘likes’ from various friends; relief flooded through me. A conversation occurred, my friend deleted her comment. But I also wondered: why hadn’t anyone else spoken up? I brought up the comment with another friend and she responded, “Yeah, it was terrible, I didn’t even want to think about it.” I was struck with how it had been hard, impossible, for me not to think about it. And yet my own first reaction, too, was to try to ignore iteven in a situation like this, with the lowest of stakes, where the only action I really took was saying something.

Look: this is not about trauma. This is not about moral superiority. This is not about creating villains. But allyhood is more than agreeing that oppression is bad; it requires action.

***

I thought about this again after November 8th.

Wellfirst, I cried on and off for about a week, thinking about the little girls who had just seen misogyny prevail, the bigots who had just had seen their racism and xenophobia affirmed. And then I thought about myself. In all likelihood, I will basically be “fine” under a Trump Administration (unless the nuclear codes are used, or we become an increasingly authoritarian state, or the healthcare industry collapses, in which case most all of us will not be fine) (also, you know, global warming). Yes, I identify as a woman of color, but I am cisgender and heterosexual, among other privileges: a culture that insists I am somehow a “model minority,” an education at this very university, a relatively securely middle-class family.

So, I thought about allyhooda privilege in itself. I thought about my own tendencies to wait and see what happens rather than immediately push for action, my own instincts of being aggressively non-confrontational. I have slipped up with my words, I have made non-constructive and sloppy arguments, and then I have all too often been silent.

Activism is not any more necessary now than it was before the inauguration of our new president; things were far from perfect then, too. But for some, the past election has certainly put a spotlight on the necessity of activism. Though the arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, this bending does not happen passively. The fact is, in the meantime, injustice continuesnot everything ends up “just fine” for everyone.

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I saw Junot Díaz last week; he spoke about his own activism and art and politics. During the question and answer session, two (honestly, two, this happened twice) white cishet boys asked him how they, carrying the privilege of being white and being men, could help dismantle oppression. Díaz’s answers had two main themes: looking inward at what you yourself must unlearn, and vigilance. Our education system rarely equips us with the tools to examine our own internalized misogyny, heteronormativity, racism, all the ways we ourselves are oppressors. And it is so easy to regress. It is all too easy to ignore a problem which does not impact you. I was especially struck when Díaz said, “You don’t transcend hegemonic narratives—you manage them.” (The point about backsliding was made painfully clear by an old white man, who asked Díaz why the left was so “obsessed” with race, who insisted white supremacy was clearly “a fantasy,” who felt it necessary to defend this with the claim that he had “fought for civil rights” in the 60s.)

In the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, someone recently said, “Love is a lifetime of decisions.” I believe activism, too, is about a lifetime of decisions. Deciding to constantly, systematically confront your own biases, learn from others, invest in others. Deciding to examine the impacts of your (in)actions, deciding to take action.

I have been thinking about what actions I can takemust takebeyond sharing articles on Facebook (although I personally believe I have excellent taste in articles). I am putting thought into how the sign I brought to Women’s March on Lansing, with the slogan “MY PUSSY, MY CHOICE,” was not inclusive of all women. Inspired by the Parks and Recreation episode where Leslie Knope picks up her phone and says, “Dear Congress, it’s Leslie again,” I have put my elected representatives in my phonebook (Mike Bishop, WYA). I plan to devote more time to volunteering for political campaigns, not just in 2020, but in 2018, in 2017. I look forward to reading widely and deeply, having conversations which make me uncomfortable, listening to voices which have been marginalized, showing up for people whose oppressions may be different from my own, speaking out.

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Here are a few tweets, podcasts, and articles that I have found helpful in thinking about intersectionality, activism, choices, and optimism:

@KHandozo, “Low arrest numbers aren’t proof that the women’s marches were virtuous. They’re proof of a different mode of policing.” (Thread)

@KandyLanae, “There are white Mizzou alumni all down my timeline at marches across the country who stayed silent about racism on their own campus.”

@nikkealexis, “Where.The.Fuck.Have Y’all. Been?…It takes white women feeling personally scared to turn out these crowds…Remember…you came late.”

The Ezra Klein Show, Ta-Nehisi Coates: “There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story”

Call Your Girlfriend, #72: Giving and Gifting

Fresh Air, How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “My President Was Black,” The Atlantic

Vann R. Newkirk II, “Sometimes There Are More Important Goals Than Civility,” The Atlantic

“The only form of productive debate that people of color can engage in, it seems, is the gentle persuasion of white people who may or may not hold retrograde views. That advice is of course probably most appealing to white Americans, for whom the social cost of being called racist may loom larger than the effects of racism itself.”

Toni Morrison, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” The Nation


Erica Liao

Art Director, What the F Magazine

“Life goes irrelevantly on”: some things I want to say about 2017

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Hello from 2017, everyone. Aren’t you glad everything’s all better now?

One of my professors, a member of the American Dialect Society, recently traveled to a conference where she voted on the ADS’s Word of the Year. The 2016 winner? “Dumpster fire.” “Dumpster fire” is used “as a metaphor for a situation that is out of control or poorly handled,” said the organization’s press release, quoted in a Time article about words of the year. That same article notes that other Words of the Year, chosen by other language resources based on factors like increased usage and frequency of searches, were things like “post-truth,” and “xenophobia,” and that these words were emblematic of “how the year will be remembered, as a time of turmoil and disbelief.”

Hmm. Yes, 2016 was a bad year for many, personally and politically, but the cutesy “fuck you, 2016” attitudes that phrases like “dumpster fire” and all of those New Years videos seem to suggest are troubling to me for several reasons:

  1. The fire is still burning, hotter and scarier every day. It didn’t flame out because we clinked our glasses and halfheartedly blew into some noisemakers.
  2. 2016 wasn’t all bad. 2016 gave birth to some beautiful, heartbreaking works of art, from people like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Beyonce and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 2016 saw the nomination of a female presidential candidate in a major political party for the first time in history. For every voice of hatred and intolerance, I, for one, heard a chorus of opposition, of radical love. There had to be.

But this article isn’t really about 2016. It’s about 2017, and beyond, sort of. There are a couple things I want to say, as I sit here typing and watching President Obama’s farewell address:

  1. don’t despair, and
  2. please don’t dismiss 2016 as a dumpster fire and move on.

My literary idol, Nora Ephron, once wrote about an experience she had on during a radio interview. She was about to begin speaking about Helen Gurley Brown (editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 32 years) and another guest interrupted her to say: “I can’t believe we’re talking about Helen Gurley Brown when there’s a war going on in Vietnam.” Ephron wrote: “Well, I care that there’s a war in Indochina, and I demonstrate against it; and I care that there’s a women’s liberation movement, and I demonstrate for it. But I also go to the movies incessantly, and have my hair done once a week, and cook dinner every night, and spend hours in front of the mirror trying to make my eyes look symmetrical, and I care about those things, too. Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events.” This why they tell you that in college you have to kill your darlings: I disagree with Nora Ephron here.

I don’t disagree that we have to let our lives go on. We have to do the things that make us happy, and we have to engage in self-care wherever possible. It’s more that I disagree with the idea that there is demonstrating, and there is your irrelevant life, and they are two disparate worlds. I believe, maybe now more than I ever have, that there has to be a way to marry them. That for a lot of people, these things are already inextricable. Here’s what I think, taking Ephron’s things she likes to do:

  1. Go to the movies, but make a special effort to support independent films written, directed by, and starring women and people of color and trans folks and every person struggling to get their narrative projected on the big screen. Go to movies that challenge you to think about our country’s past, and our country’s future. Go to movies that make you uncomfortable. Go to movies, and donate to crowdfunding campaigns so that more movies can be made.
  2. Cook dinner every night, but try to eat vegetarian a couple nights a week. Research sustainable farming; buy local ingredients. Educate yourself about how to cook in a way that is kind to your body and our planet.
  3. Maybe don’t spend hours in front of the mirror. Maybe spend a little less time every day, if being in front of the mirror causes you to catalogue your flaws or asymmetricalities. Instead, hold a mirror up to your inner self: where have you faltered in your activism? When didn’t you listen to someone who needed your ear? When were you unwilling to acknowledge your own privilege? When didn’t you use your voice to speak, or your platform to amplify the voices of others? When were you wrong?

In 2017, I am determined that my life not go “irrelevantly” on. I want my life to be relevant, in the small ways and the big ways. I want to graduate college. I want to really try my hand at this writing thing. I want to call my representatives in Congress and let them know what I think. I want to vote in every election, however seemingly minor. I want to go to sleep at the end of each day knowing that after I put my makeup on, I did some good.

Will I fail? Definitely. But will I succumb to the “turmoil and disbelief” that plagued me – plagued everyone –last year? I hope not.

I really, really hope not.


Hannah Engler

Editor-in-Chief, What the F Magazine

Art by Paige Wilson, Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

How Female Politicians Changed Me

Kirsten Gillibrand. Debbie Dingell. Nikki Haley. Michelle Obama. Kamala Harris. Hillary Clinton.

These are just a few of the amazing female politicians who have forever shaped my life and helped me discover feminism. I’ve always loved politics–it has enthralled me since I was very young. When I was 17 years old, we started talking about feminism in our AP English class. I had never really deeply thought about how I would be treated differently as a woman, and I started thinking. My mind drifted to politics, this thing I had always loved, and I  wondered why there really weren’t that many people like me represented.

I started to ask a lot of questions. Some of the smartest people I knew were women, so why were there so few in my government? Why did the news always talk about female politicians’ outfits, but not necessarily their policies? Why did it matter how Secretary Clinton was wearing her hair? Why is it that female representatives constantly getting talked over? Why do mothers get asked if elected office takes away time from their children, but the fathers don’t?

Disheartened by the answers to these questions, I looked to these female politicians for hope. I followed almost every one of the on Facebook, I bought and read most of the books they wrote, I watched their speeches, and I started having real discussions about women representatives. I listened to their advice, and I thought about what their lives might be like. These women showed me how to stand up against sexism, and how to wield my own privilege to try and help others. They took on topics of discrimination and put out heartfelt and data-driven arguments to try to help people just like us. They stood up when men tried to tell them what to do with their own bodies. They called out sexist comments and policies and didn’t stand down. They demanded a seat at the table, and accepted nothing less. They were my warriors, going off every single day to fight, for not just white women like me, but minorities, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and many other marginalized communities. I realized, if they can help make a difference, then I can too.

I spoke up when I was scared, I donated to great causes, and I joined the team behind an amazing magazine, What the F. I stopped caring so much about what people would think of me for being a feminist, and when I was intimidated or worn down, I channeled my inner female politician.

When I read Off the Sidelines by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, her words changed me. Not only is she one of my favorite female politicians, and someone I deeply admire, she gave me the strength to admit something that I had been afraid to say for a very long time:

I will one day run for political office.

I had always felt afraid that saying something like this would be looked at as cocky, or a childish dream. I want to run in Michigan, not only because I love this State, but to fight some of the gender and racial disparities still lurking in our local society. Senator Gillibrand, and all of the other amazing women representatives in the US empowered me to get involved, to speak up, and to share my dream. These women helped me define feminism. Representation in our government is so important. We need diverse leaders who represent all of the amazing viewpoints from voters in the United States. Women leaders push to give everyone a seat at the table, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other disadvantaged group status. These women push for intersectionality, and that’s another reason why I really love them. They showed me that no matter what some people may say, I do have a place in running our government. We all do.

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Nikki Yadon

Social Media Manager, What the F Magazine

Do My Shoulders Turn You On?

“Show your mind, not your behind.” A faculty member said these words to the student body at my high school about a dress code incident that occurred earlier that day. Countless girls, including myself, were forced to change, or even miss class in order to go home and get “appropriate” pants because teachers sent them to the office on dress code violation, telling them that they were distracting other classmates. I came to school that day in a respectable outfit: black pants, a blouse, and a cardigan, but was told to go down to the office, even before I made it to first hour. They told me my pants were too tight but that I could keep them on as long as I put on a longer sweater that covered my butt. I had to miss the first part of my class, walk out to my car in 30-something degree weather (luckily I had a long sweater in my trunk). Other girls had to call home, call parents at work, drive home, or even put on baggy pants that the office provided for them. I just happened to luck out that day, but other girls were frustrated and even embarrassed, especially the ones who had to walk around for a grueling 7 hours in a pair of baggy men’s pants most likely from the lost and found.

When does dress code go too far, degrading young women and also hindering their education? Which is worse: that these young women supposedly distract young men, or that women are taught that their bodies are sexual objects and that they must cover them up? Dress codes can be conductive in certain workplaces to promote professionalism or a uniform look. But it seems like nowadays principals, teachers, and other staff in schools are using them to police young women’s bodies and shame them.

I first noticed this when I was around the age of 12, the age when young girls are entering puberty and start to become self-conscious about their bodies. This is also a prime age to teach young women about positive body image and self-confidence. This becomes extremely difficult when they live in a world where they want to dress in a way that’s comfortable and makes them feel confident but where authority figures are degrading them, telling them that their butts, legs, shoulders, and breasts are dirty and shameful. After trying to argue this point so many times in middle school and high school, I heard the same excuses over and over – there’s a male section of the dress code too, girls clothes makes it harder to follow the dress code, it’s easier to have the girls cover themselves up than to stop the boys from fantasizing – all excuses that seem pathetic and goddamn sexist. As a student, I never felt like I could defend myself in these situations because whenever I tried to argue my case, the teachers and faculty members always got their way. They had all the power in their hands, and the students were powerless. No one wants to fight a battle they know they cannot win, and at the end of the battle I either ended up with a detention or a trip to the office to call home in order to get appropriate clothes.  Dress codes are so inherently female oriented, stating things like no midriff, no sleeveless tops, no leggings or skinny jeans. We used to always joke about it, saying things like “do my shoulders turn you on?” but, now that I think about it, this was a very valid point. If my shoulders were to cause sexual arousal in a young male or, god forbid, a male teacher, that is not in my control and would be a bit concerning. What is so bad about showing shoulders or wearing skirts above the knee? If a male is distracted or has a problem with it, he should be the one to leave the room or receive the detention, not the hardworking female student that is trying to get an education.

A year ago today I would have been only half confident in these convictions but now, as a college freshman, my convictions have been strengthened. There’s no defined dress code in college but yet, magically, the males aren’t distracted in class. The girl to the right of me wearing leggings and the girl to the left of me wearing baggy sweatpants are both respectable young women, both learning the same thing regardless of the tightness of the fabric covering their legs. They come to class comfortably dressed in clothes that make them feel good, just like those middle and high school students, and yet aren’t forced to change their clothes, call home, or get a detention for it. I think we as teachers, students, mothers, fathers, or anyone with a relationship to a young woman, need to take a stand against this unnecessary body policing. We can start by contacting school staff and also publicizing these incidents among the community to raise awareness of this issue. We need to teach young women and men that this sort of shaming is not acceptable, not now, not ever. If we take these steps we can create a comfortable and fair environment in schools for young women and also destroy this cycle of body sexualizing and shaming.


Josephine Brown

University of Michigan

Reprinted from print issue 9 of What the F Magazine

Defacing a Generational Understanding

My grandmother used to tell me that “they can take your house, they can take your money, they can take your family, but they can’t take your education.” And now that I enter my last semester of college, nostalgic for something that hasn’t yet ended, I reflect on her words.

Last July my grandmother turned 90, her life colored with change and tainted by destruction. At her age she has a tendency to criticize more than she compliments, but this day was especially remarkable as she began to reflect on the beautiful memories that were to come from the events she expected to be present for—a granddaughter’s wedding, a trip to New York, a great-grandson’s birthday, and lastly my graduation. It was then that I realized these milestone moments served as a sort of motivation, that life had so much to hold, that “G-d willing” she’d be present to see them.

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I understand that a woman, who had suffered great loss in the Holocaust, fled the Castro regime in Cuba, survived breast cancer, and had raised two children as a single working mother was bound to have been hardened by life’s experiences. Yet despite hardship, the success and happiness that she celebrated on her 90th she attributed to her education, teaching me that even when you have nothing, you have what you learned. Even as she escaped and survived persecution or disease, her education as a female college graduate gave her the tools to overcome adversity.

I can’t begin to describe how much I respect and honor my grandmother, as both my family and a college graduate. Her confidence and faith in an education is unwavering. In her eyes, while the institutions of higher learning may be flawed, they are not to be questioned. Maybe due to her past strife or her current day fortune, education holds a sort of respect that is earned and unquestioned.

There is one-stall women’s bathroom in the second floor of Weiser Hall covered in graffiti; messages of all sorts frame the interior walls. My grandmother would shudder at the sight—the vandalism would be seen as a sort of disrespect to the University and an aggressive expression of hostility toward education.

But to me, the dialogue and conversation covering the walls is inspiring. As I sit there with the echo of a sage woman who has lived and seen what I can only hope to understand or experience, I read these tags—some more prolific than other, some written in a thread-like manner, some rants and irrational frustrations, and some words of encouragement for facing the drudgery that comes with attending an institution for higher learning.

It is here, in the most unlikely of places, that I begin to recognize the weight of my education as I start to transition completely into adulthood. My grandmother has lead a life carrying the logic bestowed upon her, but her criticism came to halt as she confronted her educational past. I understand that she has spent her life battling, that her source of strength came from what she’d been taught.

However, the powerful nature of learning doesn’t stop at application, that’s where it begins. In the stall of Weiser Hall’s gendered bathroom, looking at the remarks and commentary surrounding me, I came to recognize that only through questioning, criticizing, and critically thinking will I really come to learning what I am taught.

The cultural complacency demonstrated—this is the education my grandmother, and people before us, without privilege or resources had endured, and as feminists in this new world, it is our duty to reject that. It, at times, may appear like vandalism or unwarranted, but with all due respect, my function as a student at this university is not to cover up its blemishes, it is to point them out for repair.

My grandmother is a fountain of insight and I love her dearly; she will forever be accredited for my never-ending desire to learn. Although she is so vital to my being, it is pertinent to acknowledge that her words don’t define me (or the many like me struggling to understand how to apply their degrees outside the confines of this school), they motivate me.

As President of this incredible organization, I have been so lucky to have the power and ability to vocalize what others before me, such as my Grandmother, may have not. Hence, I urge you to not simply accept the knowledge imparted upon you, but rather to challenge its significance and application during this time of shifting political climate, cultural adaptation, and social oppression. I hope that as feminists we can understand the vitality of our learning process at Michigan, embrace its benefits, while also using these same educational tools (or permanent markers) to critique and reshape it.

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Jacqueline Saplicki

President, What the F Magazine