What the F I’ve Been Reading

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Listed below are some of my favorite feminist reads (mostly novels and poetry collections), lovingly labeled so because of their exploration of intersecting identities, admiration for women, and ability to emotionally affect me.

  1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith: What I liked about this book was its in-depth look into multiple characters’ minds through different generations. I personally felt like this book had a lot of feminist relevancy because of its exploration into multiple cultures and how they intertwine. Because it focuses on two families and is set in a modern-ish London (the book was published in 2001), readers get to see the perspectives of many different characters who are unique in their personalities, thoughts, and experiences. White Teeth is one of my favorites because Zadie Smith so excellently weaves the families together without anything feeling like a convenient artifice.
  2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: This book is a series of poems, often in prose style, that focus on the different kinds of racial aggressions experienced by black Americans. Often accompanied by startling images and pieces of art, the poems highlight the omnipresence of racism in everyday situations. Its attention to race is particularly important because of its emphasis on the need for intersectionality. The line that sticks out to me the most is “Because white men can’t/police their imagination/black men are dying.”
  3. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates: I just really like this book because it’s centered around a bunch of badass teens weaponizing their femininity in order to be independent in the 1950’s. I thought the relationships between the women in this book and how they work together to be a new kind of family was powerful, even though many problems occur because of it.
  4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This book is one of my absolute favorites. As a heartbreaking portrait of a family struck by tragedy, it tells the story of a Chinese American family whose oldest daughter has just been found drowned in the local lake. The way in which Ng writes allows her to flawlessly switch perspectives, detailing the family’s history and each character’s struggle with their multipole identities.
  5. Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson: This is a hybrid poetry/prose/diary book that explores the murder of the author’s aunt in 1969 Ann Arbor. While the topic is a brutal one, the feeling that pervades the book is one of important woman-ness and the love between women and family members.
  6. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar: This is another amazing book that explores sexuality, religion, and the intersection of identity. It’s a great “coming of age story” that follows Nidali, who is born to an Egyptian-Greek mother and Palestinian father, as she moves from Kuwait to Egypt to America and discovers herself along the way. While it has some heavy topics spread throughout, its tone is lighthearted, which is a combination that makes it difficult to put down.
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: A classic feminist manifesto. Goodreads describes the essay as “noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.” Originally published in 1929, it discusses how women have been systematically excluded from writing spaces because they were denied the same educational exposure as men.
  8. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire: This novel, written in the form of letters, feels steeped in the love between a mother and daughter across time. The chapters focus on different things ranging from gender inequality to colonialism and Zimbabwean freedom fighters to relationships within the family. The author is able to weave present-written letters with stories of the past and wrap them up as small lessons or anecdotes that are still relevant even though this book was written over twenty years ago.

Miranda Hency

Blog Editor, What the F Magazine

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Overstimulation

IMG_0434Overstimulated

by people and noise and faces and smells

and suddenly he appears,

drowning out the fast paced blur with his

Sharpness.

 

Overstimulated once more

but now all her senses are him.

As he leads her away,

she is unfazed and stumbles along.

After all, this is just a dream,

Right?

 

Wrong.

 

Because it was real and it happened.

And it was not nice and pleasant as imagined

in girlish fantasies of true love.

And it was not sexy and passionate as described

in cheesy romance novels read at the beach.

 

But it was real and it happened.

Though she tried to protest

though she wishes it hadn’t

though she will try to forget.

 

Wrong.


Sareena Kamath

Art by Erica Liao, Art Director, What the F Magazine 

When Queer Inclusion Becomes All Inclusive: Thoughts and Takeaways from the 2017 MBLGTACC Conference

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A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being chosen by the Residence Hall Association (RHA) to attend the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC, affectionately pronounced mum-bul-tech) in Chicago, Illinois. This was a trip of many firsts for me—my first conference as a student at U of M, my first time in Chicago, my first road trip with friends (as opposed to family).

The conference itself was informative and inspiring. The first keynote speaker, Patrisse Cullors (yes, the Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement), set the mood for the conference with her moving words, “Our resistance has always been queer.” Peter Staley and Jannicet Gutierrez were also keynotes for the conferences. I will not deny shedding a few tears during Staley’s powerful speech, or when Gutierrez shared her story. All the speakers were empowering and emotional, giving everyone hope for a brighter tomorrow, and the strength to continue resistance and existence during these hard times. One of the most poignant quotes that remained with me even weeks after the event was “Mi Existir es Resistir”—“My Existence is Resistance.” There was a very powerful moment at the conclusion of Jannicet’s speech, where she had the crowd repeat those very words after her.

But the conference wasn’t only filled with powerful words and emotional moments. Throughout the weekend, participants attended workshops oriented towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Some were more fun and visual (such as the Kink 101 workshop which I actually attended), and others were more serious and mission-oriented (like the Direct Action 101 workshop), but all were very informative. The entire weekend was filled with action, knowledge, and history; it was an amazing opportunity and experience for me and many others.

However, the MBLGTACC made me realize two very important things. One, that contemporary curriculums are still lacking in LGBTQIA+ education, as well as representation. Of course, this is a fairly apparent realization. Because of the marginalization and oppression of the community, especially in regards to intersecting identities (fun fact: despite what popular culture and mainstream media might have told you, the first stone at Stonewall was not thrown by a white gay man, but by a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson), it’s fairly easy for even the most liberal of college campuses to assume heteronormativity and gloss over people and movements crucial to not only the community, but to US history as a whole. While U of M does offer a Introduction to LGBTQ Studies class, there is only so much a professor can teach within a 4 credit course. And on top of that, isolating all that knowledge into one queer studies class assures that only those seeking that knowledge will find it. The histories and needs of the LGBT community and their contributions to society should be the focus of not just Women’s Studies classes; they should be included within topics such as English, History, and Political Science. Medical students should be aware that not everyone fits the neat little boxes the medical community loves to sort people into, and it’s about time we start to find ways to make medical care easier and more accessible to transgender, nonbinary, and intersex folks. Those studying politics and public policy should be aware of the innate and multidimensional struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community to properly advocate on its behalf. Students of history and anthropology should be made aware of the historical social constructs of sexuality, and how these impacted the identities of many historical figures, and shaped cultures around the world. It’s 2017, it’s time schools recognize these changes need to made, and started taking action to make them, rather than just giving the issue lip-service.

Another thing this conference made me realize, is just how inaccessible conferences are to so many others. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the RHA, and so I basically only had to pay for food and souvenirs. But the conference, even though it was one of the more inclusive I’ve attended, also had its faults. Not even considering the obvious factors such as travel and boarding expenses, there were still so many obstacles standing in participants’ way. As lovely as the city is, Chicago is expensive as hell. I know of a few people who were forced to stay at the hotel because they couldn’t afford to eat out. And the conference itself was about a 15 minute walk away from the hotel, which might pose a serious problem for those who who deal with chronic pain, or have issues with mobility due to disability. And while, granted, these are not issues everyone has to face, I believe it is important to not generalize participants’ experiences and stories for the sake of having a nice backdrop for your conference. And I don’t mean to single MBLGTACC out here, because this is an issue I see at virtually every conference I’ve ever been to. It takes more than trigger warnings in the program booklet, or gender inclusive restrooms to make a conference truly accessible.

But I digress, and will take a step down from the soapbox now. I truly had an amazing time in Chicago (even though I somehow managed to spend $30 on candy), and I learned many important things at the conference (from how to properly use ropes in a sex scene to femme history). And if I seem passionate over minuscule things (although I would argue that these are not minuscule issues at all) such as a lack of queer tidbits in classes, or a 15 minute walk, it’s because I truly believe it to be important to have takeaway points and criticisms of even the most inclusive environments so we can strive to do better in all aspects. I sincerely encourage anyone, from all walks of life and who embodies any identities to participate in next year’s MBLGTACC. I know I’ll be there for sure.


Alexandra Paradowski

Event Coordinator, What the F Magazine

My Carefree World

image1The problem with being a feminist is that I assume all my friends are feminists. By surrounding myself with open-minded, liberal people, I often forget that any opinion outside of my bubble of goodness exists. Going to a fairly liberal school, I really forget that anyone else other than those who think like me exist. The election was a big wake-up call. I felt like I was being told that my existence didn’t matter. I couldn’t wrap my head around the thought that people actually still see women as less than men. I know that sexism still exists in statistics and news, but it is easy to remain in my happy-going mindset where sexism happens somewhere else and not here, in my home. Yet, all of a sudden, Trump is our president, and I assume everyone I see is sexist, racist, and a giant bigot. But, after time, I slowly crept back into my carefree head space.

Last week, my friends and I went to Toronto for a weekend away. We were merry in our vacation bliss: eating at fancy restaurants, having expensive drinks, and walking around downtown. Before we knew it, Monday rolled around and, with a solemn disposition, we packed up our bags and began our four-hour trek back to Ann Arbor.

An hour into the drive, we pulled over to get gas and stretch our legs. We were talking and laughing, waiting for the tank to be full. I sat back in the car and couldn’t see exactly what my friend (who is a man) did, but it prompted my other friend (who is a woman) to ask, “Why can all guys move their cheeks like that?” I can only assume he must’ve moved his face in a funny way.

We laughed it off and were about to leave the station, when a middle-aged white man in a pick-up truck drove from behind us to next to us. “Why do you guys always do that?” he asked. I immediately thought this man was going to say something quite racist, as we were a group of six Indians. “Sorry, what?” my friend asked, confused. The man repeated himself, and then proceeded to say, “That girl said, ‘Why do guys always do something.’ I didn’t hear the rest, but why do you girls always say stuff like that?” “Oh shit, this is a sex thing,” I realized, as I remained frozen in thought. He then turned to my male friend and said, “If you want to sue her in court, I will support you.” My friend politely forced a smile and rejected his advice. The man drove off and we all laughed in disbelief.

My male friend who the man had talked to was in a different car; my car consisted of my two female friends and my boyfriend. I sat there thinking about all of the things I wished I had said to that man. I grew angrier and angrier at myself for not saying anything at the time. After about ten minutes of driving in the car, I blurted out, “I’m sorry, I’m just still so offended by what that guy said.” Both my friends vehemently agreed saying how they thought it was odd and rude. However, my boyfriend was confused. He agreed the guy was weird, but he did not understand why I was personally offended. To which I replied how what he said was incredibly sexist. “No it wasn’t,” my boyfriend responded, “I mean it was weird, but it wasn’t sexist.” I immediately turned to my friends, hoping they would be as shocked as I was, because I need others to feel like me being offended is validated. And, luckily, they were just as surprised.

I, as calmly as I could, explained to my boyfriend that the reason it was offensive was because, as a woman, I have to brush off so much sexism that I face every day, and meanwhile, a man can get so offended from the slightest preconception. It hurts because a man was making a big deal about facing sexism when I have been programmed to smile, touch my hair, and laugh it off, saying it was “sooo crazy.”

My boyfriend completely agrees that sexism exists, and it is a problem, but he could not understand why it hurt me personally. As amazing and kind as he is, he is a man, and to no fault of his own, he has male privilege. We are told we must be educated about the privilege we have in order to acknowledge it and fight for those who don’t have our privilege, so it made me sad when somebody so close to me did not understand that the man in the pick-up truck was speaking from a place of male privilege. He didn’t end up understanding how I felt, but he did eventually have blind sympathy for me. Even though he did not know why I was offended, he still ended up trusting that I was upset and sympathized with me, regardless of the reason.

There I was, suddenly back in Trump’s America, although I ironically was in Canada during this whole occurrence. But Trump’s America is represented by that feeling I had, when I think the way I feel and the person I am does not have as much value in the world. And now it has been almost a week, and I have slowly snuck back into my own world, where everyone values my existence, believes what I say is something to be heard, where I can behave however I want and dream to accomplish all my goals. Here, I am, and here I’ll stay, silently, until my women need me again.


Nandini Chakrabarty

Finance Rep, What the F Magazine

Can feminism be fashionable?

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Chanel Runway 2014 (VOGUE)

It’s not a secret that the fashion industry is pretty messed up and we are all affected by it, whether we love fashion or aren’t interested in it at all.

With fashion show after fashion show, we see the feminist movement creeping up on today’s catwalks. As models walk down wearing feminist t-shirts it’s hard for me to decide whether I’m into it or not. With more people talking about feminism nowadays, I question: Is the attention on this movement is only happening because it has become more popular and cool? If designers are treating feminism as a trend to sell clothes, make money, and gain customers, do they really mean what they are promoting on the runways? It brings about this idea of “light hearted feminism” instead of promoting activism and raising awareness about the seriousness and complexity of the women’s rights movement. Feminism is nothing without true ACTION. By having models walk down the runway with posters and feminist slogans it brings attention to the issue, but doesn’t really do much more. However, the exposure can be positively influential and those who may have not cared about it all may begin to pay attention to it now.

Many designers are doing it right. All of the proceeds from designer Jonathon Simkhai’s “Feminist AF” t-shirts go to Planned Parenthood. Designers are raising awareness, and showing their support and political views, which could be very influential to their customers. The industry came together in the record-breaking Women’s March and helped make #NastyWomen and #ImWithHer hashtags that more people were willing to use. We saw brands feature models of different ethnicities, body types, skin color, etc. Some fashion magazines and advertisements are becoming more diverse and representative of different types of women. But, if the brand doesn’t actually sell clothes for women of all sizes, but is promoting it, what do we do with that? If the brand claims to support feminism but uses it to make money and wears feminist words lightly, then what is their real intention? When a designer like Christian Siriano who has been focusing on diversity and realistic representation of women throughout his career makes a political statement with a “People are People” t-shirt, it makes sense. But when a brand does it to gain popularity or “fit in”, it’s questionable. It’s the nature of the industry to move from one trend to the next. Fashion trends die out. Let’s make sure feminism doesn’t.

So, can feminism be fashionable?

It comes down to the individual. When you look at t-shirts with feminist sayings, does that make you feel good? If promoting that movement does, then fill your wardrobe with Simkhai’s shirts! Feminism in the fashion industry should be all about making women feel good about themselves. A lot of the industry’s problems lie in how they express beauty ideals. Women are taught to hate their hair, their stomach, their legs, their dark skin, their light skin, their boobs and butt, and the list goes on forever. If fashion designers can first teach us to love our selves and how we look, then we can move forward and support the industry in its activism. By seeing that on the runway, in ads, or in magazines, we can incorporate it into our own lives and use fashion to embrace the people we are as well as those around us. Don’t do it for the brand—do it for yourself. You don’t have to do your make-up or hair everyday. Or, you can do a full face of makeup and wear heels to class. You don’t have to wear a bra all the time and you should wear your bathing suit proudly! Of course this is not easy because of what the industry focuses on, but as feminist individuals we can turn that around. Use fashion to make YOURSELF feel good. If the industry moves forward with this attitude and is sure to truly and realistically portray genders, bodies, class, ethnicities in the right way, then we will begin to feel better about supporting brands that claim to be raising awareness. If you focus on what you love about yourself and use what you wear to show it off, then that is how feminism can be fashionable.


Got my inspo from this article I absolutely loved by Olivia Muenter!

Also check out this youtube video “ON FEMINISM IN FASHION”


Adrianna Kusmierczyk

Social Media Assistant, What the F Magazine

Meet Bob

bob

Have you met my new boyfriend?

Probably not. Silly question. See, I keep him a secret. I keep him in a drawer, in a Ziplock bag, in the hopes that no one will find him. I keep him away from prying judgmental eyes. I keep him to myself.

Why, you ask? I’m not exactly sure. I’d like to think that I’m past being ashamed for pursuing sexual pleasure. Sometimes I fancy that I’m beyond the type of narrow mindset that plagued me in my younger years. I’d like to think I’m a liberated woman. But despite my assurance in the strength and beauty of other women, and my unwavering commitment to not denying them their sexuality, there are corners of my mind that have reservations when it comes to ME. These corners have pressing, pestering questions.

Like:

  • What would your mother think?
  • What would your baby sister think?
  • How about how BOB changed your own perception of yourself.
  • Are you an indulgent girl now? This is not a girl I recognize.

But maybe that’s because I’ve suppressed that part of me for so long. Scratch that. I’ve suppressed, ignored, and misunderstood my own body and its needs for so long that I don’t recognize a version of myself that doesn’t neglect my own sexuality. No doubt.

But BOB has helped me with that. Despite what some traditionalists might argue, ordering my boyfriend off Amazon was the best decision for my love life. Not because BOB is special, but because when I’m with him I actively seek it, nourish it. It being my own happiness, my pleasure. It seems wrong to deny anyone these emotions, so how can it not be wrong to deny myself them? Am I not human, too? Why should such a good thing be a sin, if it makes me happy and hurts no one else?

And yet knowing this in my brain is different than accepting it as truth and in practice. My brain believes in the logic, but my body often rebels against it. This has not been erased by BOB’s presence, but it has been helped. The fact that I don’t own up to him is proof enough of that.

Nothing is completely fixed. Besides, me being happy isn’t tied to any notion of fixedness. I just want to accept, embrace, and enjoy my own sexuality without lingering guilt. BOB is not my soul mate, he’s not even human, but he’s been instrumental in my self-discovery and self-appreciation.

Now I at least have that off my chest. It’s another step towards the end that is being who I want to be. And now you’ve met my boyfriend. My first, as it were. His name is BOB, short for Battery Operated Boyfriend. Don’t tell anyone about him though, alright? This is just between friends.


Sadie Quinn

Staff Writer, What the F Magazine

Art by Kate Johnson