How to be a feminist who reads Cosmopolitan

IMG_0508When anyone asks me to tell them about myself, describe hobbies I like to pursue, or what I’m passionate about, my response always involves stating that I am a feminist. I am fighting the fight for gender equality–the fight which one day I hope will close gender gaps across occupations, give everyone equal pay, give women the right to their own bodies, and lastly, empower women to know they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

However, every morning Monday through Friday I wake up at 7:45am and get ready for the day. Brush my teeth, wash my face, get dressed, fix my hair. I walk to the nearest dining hall, where I fix my bowl of honey nut cheerios with some peanut butter on the side for protein. Sitting down at a table, I pull out my phone, open Snapchat, and scroll over to the “Discover” page, and open the Cosmopolitan Magazine section. I spend my breakfast reading through the articles Cosmopolitan is featuring that day. While reading articles entitled, “19 Celeb Engagement Pics That Are Cute AF” and “What Experts Know About Getting Lip Injections,” I don’t think too much of it. But then I come across the next article entitled “How to Please Your Man in Bed” or “The Hair Style That Your Man Will Love.” Maybe I roll my eyes a little or look up to see if anyone’s looking over my shoulder at my phone, before I click on it, but then I go ahead and read the article. Smiling and laughing, most of these types of articles are my favorite to read. Sometimes because they are so ridiculous, but a lot of the time because they are so relatable. I finish the articles with five minutes left to finish my breakfast before class, and that is when I become irritated with myself. I am a feminist. I am all about empowering women to believe in themselves and have confidence. Yet I am thoroughly entertained by these articles about how a woman should change her behavior in a certain way to please a man, articles that make men the priority. So here is where my question lies: Can I be a truly devoted feminist if I read and enjoy articles that are against my feminist values?

Initially, I think to myself that the answer to this question is “No”–that I should stop reading Cosmopolitan Magazine on Snapchat and completely boycott it. But then I slow down and think about the question further. Okay, so maybe some of the articles I read are not representative of my values, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t still choose to read them, especially if it makes my 7:45am breakfast more enjoyable. I have concluded that feminism is about supporting women and their individual choices, even if their choices or their brand of feminism do not always align with yours. As long as I promote my core feminist beliefs, it is absolutely okay for me to enjoy a guilty pleasure like reading Cosmopolitan. Feminism is not a one size fits all mentality, because feminism serves a different role for everyone. Feminism should be about doing what makes you happy and empowering one another as women, and I can still do that and enjoy reading the Cosmopolitan articles.

**Note: For the purposes of this article, the word “women” is meant to be inclusive of everyone but specifically those who identify as women.


Hannah Saghir

Marketing Manager, What the F Magazine 

Advertisements

“You’re cute when you’re angry”

Recently, I was at home working on homework when one of my roommates told me that one of her friends from class would be coming over soon. She told me a little bit about him beforehand–just that they became friends from a lab section they were both in, hitting it off well from their ability to engage in banter and a mutual distaste for the class. Twenty minutes later, he arrived. Sitting in our living room, he also narrated their experience in the class together and claimed that he mostly enjoyed talking to my roommate because it was “funny as fuck” when she got mad.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I think it can be fun to enjoy a mutual teasing, but this guy seemed to be implying that his main form of entertainment is to make the girls he interacts with angry–only saying things to get a rise out of them or spark emotion. Not only is this sentiment all too common in popular culture, but it’s also common in real life. Turn on a television, and you’ll be sure to find a girl displaying some form of anger toward a male counterpart, only to be followed by the response, “You’re so cute when you’re mad.”

giphy (3).gif

John Bender (Judd Nelson) in The Breakfast Club (1985)

A classic example of this can be seen in the John Hughes 1985 film, The Breakfast Club. After Claire (Molly Ringwald) shows some form of anger to John Bender’s (Judd Nelson) egging on, he responds with, “You’re pretty sexy when you’re angry.” This pairing has always bothered me since their primary interactions seem to be Bender taunting Claire and doing anything for her to show some negative emotion towards him. While, of course, a lot of his personality can be attributed to his socialization and bad home life, his treatment of Claire is seriously problematic. However, since I’m not trying to do an analysis of the characters in The Breakfast Club here, the point is, his character consistently discounts Claire’s natural reactions to his provoking comments. Feeling things is an essential part to our humanity, and by treating her reactions as some form of entertainment, he belittles her experiences in the world. By making fun of her, he dehumanizes her.

This example enforces the idea that women’s emotions are something that only exist for male entertainment. In this case, not only is Claire’s response a form of entertainment to him, but he also sexualizes her in the process, too. A quick Google search relating to the “cute when you’re angry” trope also results in comments on articles with men saying how sexy they find it when women display anger. Sexualizing women’s emotions is another way of discrediting the way a woman might be feeling and reduces her to an object for entertainment–something existing solely for men’s pleasure.

In addition to this belittling and sexualization, the underlying aspect to this feeling towards women’s anger is the idea that it can’t be taken seriously because women aren’t intimidating. Aggressiveness and anger are often associated as masculine traits. Because women are socialized to be always empathetic and cheerful, they’re limited to the gender roles prescribed to them. When we break these perceptions of what a woman should be, it causes this reaction that suggests the invalidity of our anger. Or even once our voices are finally heard, if we’re angry it’s because we’re “crazy”.
When someone gets angry, it’s usually because they have a reason to be. People are entitled to their feelings, and our gender shouldn’t limit us in our ability to express what we’re experiencing emotionally. If something makes us uncomfortable, we should be able to discuss what incites that reaction without feeling like our emotions aren’t valid. We should be encouraging honest discussions about emotion and fostering open spaces for everyone to feel like what they’re experiencing is valid.


Miranda Hency

Social Chair, What the F

 

If It’s Not Intersectional, It’s Not Feminism

Before I came to the University of Michigan, back when I was just a naive, little high schooler, I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling–anger at being belittled, looked down upon, a burning passion to change the small minds of others. You see, I went to a private Christian school (I promise I’m not that weird because of it) where it was constantly reinforced that men were above women, that women should aspire to serve their husbands, that women should remain pure until marriage, that women were homemakers, mothers, etc. This infuriated me while it boosted the egos of my male classmates. I knew that my worth, as a woman, was in no way lesser than that of a man’s simply because a teacher said so. I wasn’t going to just be someone’s wife or someone’s mother. Additionally, I knew that serious problems faced women, plagued us, even, besides just the bigoted, misogynistic views of my narrow-minded school.

I discovered what I was looking for when I arrived at the University of Michigan. The word I was looking for was feminism. I was a feminist! It suddenly all made sense.

I took a Women’s Studies class during my freshmen year of college, and let me tell you, I was a feminist newb for sure. I didn’t know the correct terms or jargon to express what I was feeling. I was learning, though, and I was trying to do so quickly, to make up for lost time. The person I was in high school was a naive girl misinformed by delusions created to belittle and impel. The person I am in college, however, is the feminist that has always been inside of me.

But feminism is so much more than what my preconceived notions told me. I remember, very clearly, our first lesson on intersectional feminism. I had absolutely no idea what the word meant. I’d just assumed, naively so, that feminism meant the same to me that it meant to other women, because we were all fighting for equality, right?

And I remember feeling like a real jerk after that lesson. Because it had never occurred to me, a very privileged white girl, that other women experience vastly more inequality than I do, and they experience our shared inequality in ways I don’t.

Intersectionality means looking at how the–you guessed it–intersections of a person’s life can lead to “varying configurations and degrees of oppression.”

A really good essay on intersectional feminism was written by 14-year-old Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard back in August of 2015. Even though she is young, she is vastly wiser than I am, and I’m not afraid to admit that. I’ve really looked up to Ms. Blanchard ever since she penned the piece on her Tumblr:

“White feminism” forgets all about intersectional feminism. The way a black woman experiences sexism and inequality is different from the way a white woman experiences sexism and inequality. Likewise with trans-women and Hispanic women. While white women are making 78 cents to the dollar, Native American women are making 65 cents, black women are making 64 cents, and Hispanic women are making 54 cents. Kimberlé Crenshaw said it perfectly in 1989 when she said “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” This includes trans women especially, who have been robbed of their souls when they are told they are not “real women” It is SO important to protect trans women and trans youth as they are incredibly at risk when it comes to sexual assault and hate crimes. People also seem to forget that black women are victims of police violence too- from Sandra Bland to India Clarke- a trans woman who was beaten to death in Florida just a month ago.

After Ms. Blanchard posted this, the piece received a lot of attention, and rightly so. The essay gets straight to the point: white feminism is not enough, and ultimately, it is not feminism at all. Because if we see feminism from our own, small viewpoint, we’re really not getting it. Because what led me to feminism–the constricting views of my high school–might not be how woman of color, a lesbian woman, or a trans woman was led to feminism. While we all fight for equality of the sexes, we do so coming from a very different background, a very different point of view. And, if done right, this can lead to a very rich and diverse feminism. Unfortunately, the feminist movement is not perfect (surprise!).

Overcoming white feminism has been a conscious effort, and I have to catch myself often to make sure I’m seeing the bigger picture and not just my own pinpointed view of it. Intersectional feminism is really dependent upon empathy. Because while I cannot first-handedly understand the experiences of other women, I can be empathetic to their experiences, and I can try my absolute hardest to help them eradicate the inequalities they face.

A good way to think about empathy comes from Leslie Jamison’s book of essays, The Empathy Exams (which I encourage all of you to read). Says Ms. Jamison:

Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must be really hard–it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see (p. 5).

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us… it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves… The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations (p. 23).

That is, ultimately, what I must do to have a more inclusive, intersectional feminism: I must extend myself. I must listen, and I must ask questions. Change won’t come any other way.

I recently read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and this idea that others face more layers of inequality is echoed in his words, as he says that women’s bodies are “set out for pillage” in ways in which his is not.

Coates, a black man writing about the injustices faced by the black community every day, recognizes that black women experience that inequality and fear in very different ways than he does. Like Coates, I, too, now recognize that many, many women experience inequality and fear in very different ways than I do.

But just like Coates says this not to belittle his own experience, but rather to bring to light that inequality wears many faces, I too must remember that it is okay that I fight the inequalities that I, myself, face. I just also must be empathetic and ready to fight against the inequalities that plague others.

I believe that feminism, like life, is a constant educational experience. I am always learning new ways to be better, to do more, to achieve more. I am learning from books, like The Empathy Exams and Between the World and Me. I am learning from 14-year-old TV actresses. I am learning from my own What the F colleagues–fearless, inspiring women who dare to challenge the status quo, the minds of others, and even my own perceptions.

I do not have all the answers. I am full of contradictions, and I make so many mistakes. But I am learning.


Hannah Gordon 

Blog Editor, What the F

 

Communications and Creative Writing

LSA, 2016

9 Podcast Recommendations for Fab Feminists

I got into listening to podcasts three or four years ago, and it was life changing. By which I basically mean that I say “Oh, in this podcast I was listening to …” at least once a week.

So, look. The podcast world is full of the voices of white men (because, honestly, what isn’t?). That’s not to say that Ira Glass isn’t great, but if you were looking for some non-white-man podcasts, here are some badass womyn-led ones you should be listening to (plus some episodes I just really enjoyed).

  1. Another Round

 

enhanced-19448-1453482795-1.jpg

“Another Round” via Buzzfeed.

“Another Round” is basically listening in on the conversation of two brilliant, hilarious women you wish you were friends with. BuzzFeed writers Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton down drinks (hence the name “Another Round”) while tackling issues like gender, mental health, race, and squirrels (yes, squirrels!). They feature guests ranging from HRC to Margaret Cho, with segments like “White Women Gotta Do Better” (with Lena Dunham) and fantastic advice like, “Have the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Entertaining and insightful, I look forward to it every Tuesday.

  1. Call Your Girlfriend

 

Another conversational podcast between two kickass women, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, in which they talk pop culture, periods, and shine theory (aka, why women shine brighter when they support one another). There has been some extensive talk on the pros and cons of menstrual cups on this podcast, and I especially enjoyed Episode 37’s discussion with Rebecca Traister on how gender plays into the public perception of Hillary and her candidacy.

  1. Stuff Mom Never Told You

Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin educate the public on topics from lube to pinup girls to female urinary devices and create a thoughtful overview on every topic under the sun through a feminist lens. Surprise: the patriarchy is everywhere!

  1. Mystery Show
mystery_logo_small.jpg

via “Mystery Show

It’s in the vein of shows like “Serial”, but rather than dealing with mysteries like ambiguous deaths and maybe-treason, Starlee Kine tries to figure out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal really is and the meaning behind an ambiguous license plate. Like a feel-good indie movie, it’s rather twee and a bit self-indulgent, and I love it for that. (My favorites: “Belt Buckle” is magical and “Source Code” is pure joy.)

  1. Chicks Who Script

 

Okay, maybe this is a little niche. But if you’re into film and scriptwriting, “Chicks Who Script” brings in a new guest every week (mostly women, some not) to discuss topics from ageism in Hollywood to promoting your own work and above all the experiences of women in the industry.

  1. Pushing Hoops With Sticks

There is literally one episode you can listen to of this podcast, and I’m guessing there won’t be more, but the one episode that does exist is simply amazing. Ayesha Siddiqi talks to Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend about cultural appropriation in music, the prep aesthetic and class, and more in one incredibly interesting, insightful conversation on American culture. Kanye is, of course, mentioned several times.

  1. This American Life” episode “The Problem We All Live With Part 1

I’ve seen this episode on every single “Best Podcasts of 2015” list (and no list is accurate without it), and even though TAL is the most podcast-y of all podcasts, whatever, it bears repeating. Nikole Hannah-Jones does some investigative reporting on America’s education system and racial segregation. It’s moving, thought-provoking, and a must-listen, and it just might make you cry (I did). Already listened to it? You might enjoy “PostBourgieepisode #34, where Hannah-Jones further discusses racial segregation, or “Another Round” episode #24, where she discusses the process of reporting this story as well as being a Black woman in journalism.

  1. Reply All” episode #27 The Fever

Also known as, another reason why I’m scared of the internet/men/the world. Stephanie Foo tells the story of several Asian women’s experiences on dating sites like OKCupid and the very real threat of “yellow fever”.

  1. Planet Money” episodes #576 When Women Stopped Coding + #615 A 12-Year-Old Girl Takes On The Video Game Industry

I’m a huge fan of “Planet Money” – they’re great at framing and discussing economic problems in a way that is relevant, accessible, and engaging – and these are some especially gender-focused episodes. In these episodes you’ll find an interesting and engaging look into the history of how and why women stopped coding and an adorable story of powerful activism.


Erica Liao

Art Director, What the F Magazine

B.A. Political Science, Minor in German and Law, Justice & Social Change

University of Michigan 2017, LSA Honors Program

 

 

Why I Don’t Use The Word “Douchebag”

*E-Board Member of the Week post

tumblr_mhci8v6hQC1rj5coso2_1280

The word “douchebag” never bothered me until recently–that is, until I really thought about it. I was at Beanster’s getting a coffee when I overheard an exchange between two individuals, where one person was describing their significant other as a “douchebag” for not having attended an event with them. I have to admit, they were right to be upset- homie should have taken them to said event, no argument there. But why the word “douchebag”? In order to understand why I, as a feminist, was so vexed with the trivial nature of this matter, I got cooking (a metaphor you will soon come to appreciate).

First off: it’s useless. Douching, that is. The act of douching was established as a “necessary” (read: unnecessary) act of female hygiene. It relied on the false idea that the female genitalia was unclean, and, therefore, in need of a good douche.  Douching at one point was thought to be a form of birth control, a manner in which to rid yourself of those nasty little sperms–just wash them right on out! (Laughs hysterically.) Don’t we all wish? Washing out your vagina is actually associated with higher risk of sexually transmitted infections and other numerous health problems.

Ironically, the vagina–besides being the most amazing, versatile organ one could ask for–also self-cleans! Making the act of douching completely obsolete! In fact, douching is actually harmful.  The completely unwarranted act wrecks havoc on the female vagina and body. Hence, the adoption of “douche” and “douchebag” as a slang term for “jerk” or “useless”.

Despite knowing, as a feminist, that using “douchebag” as an insult accomplishes nothing, the word still manages to irk me. It somehow gets under my skin and repulses me. And it’s not because I’m disgusted by the act of douching. In fact, I know several individuals who, for reasons of their own, douche regularly. I just have a strong distaste for any word whose etymology is gendered, meaning that it’s distasteful definition is directly derived from an object created to “clean” the female body. It further proliferates the idea that female genitalia is gross and in need of a good spritz. When the vagina, as I mentioned earlier, is pretty fucking fabulous. When we continue to use “insults” like these inherently gendered ones, we further the idea that to be female is to be dirty, bad, or wrong–whether we do so knowingly or not.

Even though douching is medically problematic, dangerous, and downright unfriendly to the female body, it still doesn’t justify the slang word as being politically correct or socially acceptable.

Maybe I have a hard time believing that individuals using the words “douche” and “douchebag” really understand the context of the word. More likely, though, I think it is a classic case of equating the female genitalia with socially defined “unfavorable qualities”. I can’t imagine that the majority of the general population understand the harmful nature of douching. If they did, would Summer’s Eve still have shelf space at your local pharmacy?

Yet, still it is highly contested as to whether or not feminists should use the insult. That somehow the use of “douche” and “douchebag”, in modern feminist vernacular, indicates a reclaiming of a term that once was degrading, as if to say, “Gotcha suckers! You thought it was offensive because our vaginas were unclean? Joke’s on you! Turns out douching is useless, and our vaginas self-clean, like my family’s boss-ass KitchenAid Oven. Yeah, you heard me, douchebag! I’m talking convection and shit.” You see people engage in the same argument in regards to “pussy” as being a slang word for “pusillanimous”. If that’s the case, then why is my vagina being described as showing a lack of courage or determination? My menstrual cycle passionately dissents.
Maybe this is a petty over-examination of a silly slang word. But maybe it’s not. I can’t help but think that, under investigation, we can begin to not only improve our arsenal of vocabulary but also do so without degrading an entire population of individuals. Regardless, the use of these highly gendered terms, besides being offensive, is super banal. If your amigo is being a jerk, I get it–call them out! Just don’t do so at someone else’s expense. That would make you a real used Kleenex.

392550838386d76d46c87a07a6ad6631


Jacqueline Saplicki

President, What the F Magazine

University of Michigan 2017

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

“Orange is the New Black” Author’s Talk Falls Short

piper-kerman

In case you were wondering, I can confidently report that Orange is the New Black is still the new black. I thought that because of the supbar third season of OITNB, that the crowd at Piper Kerman’s (i.e. “Piper Chapman”) talk last Tuesday (10/13) in Rackham auditorium would be moderately light. However, tons of OINTB fans and Piper enthusiasts alike filled the foyer of Rackham as the anxiously awaited Piper Kerman–the woman, the myth and legend.

Having read Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (and by read I mean having listened to the audiobook), I went into Kerman’s talk with high hopes. The book, a poignant collection of one woman’s personal experiences within the prison system, explores complex social, political, racial and emotional issues. And while the Netflix series can go off the rails a bit, it does an adequate job bringing these issues to light as well. It would seem,then, that Piper Kerman’s speech would cover these important issues.She could have chosen to relate her speech to the issues of race plaguing the nation and how that has a unique representation in prisons. She could have related her experience in the Danbury Correctional facility to the overcrowding happening at Women’s Huron Valley, a prison only 25 miles from where Kerman stood that day. Piper Kerman had the fucking buffet of social issues to talk about and instead produced a brief and shallow synopsis of her story and the prison system.

Kerman opened her talk by relaying the basics of her story. Granted, from listening to the audiobook multiple times, I had every minute of this intro memorized, but still it was quite amazing to have the real person telling it 10 feet away from me. Kerman explained her lesbian affair (with euphemisms, of course) that led her into the world of drugs and eventually forced her into carrying a bag of drug money from Chicago to Switzerland. Kerman told us that she was from Boston, the offspring of two teachers and a graduate of Smith College. When referencing Smith she called it “the first women’s institution she would be held at.” On the surface the joke is funny. I’ll admit it, I laughed. But come on, Piper, you’re really going to compare college to prison? From what I read of the book–of all the abuses and human rights violations that happen in prison–it seems demeaning to the experiences of prisoners to compare them to my pampered life as a college student. Look, I know you were just trying to lighten the talk with a joke but strike one, Kerman. Strike one.

Strike two, came at about one hour into her talk. Piper began speaking at 5:10 P.M., and she did not bring up the word “race” until 6:01 pm (yes, I did indeed record these numbers). She spoke about race and class together, with a powerpoint slide that had an image of an two hands of different races embracing in cultural connectivity. Because of course, right? Kerman stopped talking about race and changed the slide at 6:07 P.M. Six minutes. She dedicated a mere six minutes to talking about race. I’ve read (read: listened) to her book. She intimately and beautifully talks about race and the way it shaped her prison time. She breaks down her assumptions about her new friends and the racial stereotypes that used to occupy space in her brain. Instead Kerman only mentioned race once more when she compared “ConAir”–prison flight transit–to “modern day slave ships.” At that moment Kerman threw out a powerful image and didn’t give any more evidence to back it up. From reading her book, I know about the shackling of prisoners tightly for hours at a time, how one is often refused access to a bathroom, and how food service is seen as a luxury, not a necessity. I have read how prisoners are treated like the cattle of the Bureau of Prisons, unwanted extra baggage of the federal government. I encourage you to read her book, or others like it. The prison system in the United States is atrocious. Incarcerated people are the victims of a broken system that collects every bias and corruption imaginable. As a public figure, Piper Kerman literally has the stage to make change. In this talk, someone I had admired for a clever delivery of a revolutionary topic gave a puff piece covering just enough, yet barely anything at all.

Don’t get me wrong Kerman’s talk was enjoyable. She made other jokes that were funny and showed us pictures of her and the ‘real’ Larry which, let’s face it, every Netflix binge watcher wanted to see. She filled her hour well, kept a good pace, and delivered decent material, but she didn’t do anything meaningful. So while enjoyable, it was not at all impactful. That was strike three for me. I left the talk excited that I was in the same room as someone who has met Laverne Cox, but I was not moved in any way. When I put down her book (paused the recording), when I walked away uncomfortable, festering with ideas about what we do with the incarcerated. I walked away from her talk, however, unfulfilled.

For those of you who wanted more than Kerman gave and haven’t read the book, I urge you to read it. Or even better, buy the audiobook–you won’t regret it. For those of you who can’t commit to the book, stick to the show. However, do this for me: watch it with a skeptical eye. Parse every representation, understand that Piper Chapman the character may not exist, but the system of Litchfield does. Remember that what we are using as entertainment is actually someone’s reality. One thing Kerman said at her talk that I agreed with is that the show is making people think and talk about prisons. So please, keep reading, keep watching, keep thinking, and keep talking.


Rebecca Langsam

What the F Campus Coordinator

The Case for Visibility and Intersectionality in College Student Domestic Violence Survivorhood

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not representative of any organization that I am affiliated with.

Content warning: discussions of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, domestic violence.

9559244-large

During the past five years, media coverage of sexual assault and rape on college campuses nationwide has exploded. Thanks to grassroots student-led movements, such as Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry that Weight” project and “End Rape on Campus,” led by then-students Annie Clark and Andrea Pino (who were also featured in the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground), local campus movements advocating for the rights of survivors and better campus policies have gained momentum. Solidarity within the movement has drastically expanded, and certain schools (such as the University of Michigan) have started primary prevention programs that teach about healthy relationships and consent, with the hope of creating a safer and more respectful culture on campus.

As a fourth-year student at U of M and an advocate for sexual violence prevention, I am amazed every day at what my friends and fellow students have accomplished through ground-up activism: the changes they have been making within school policy, working with various communities through workshops, and changing the general campus climate around sexual misconduct. However, one thing I have noticed through my own work around this issue is the surprising lack of awareness and visibility of intimate partner violence (IPV) in college students and young people as a whole.

It’s worth acknowledging that IPV is an umbrella term in itself; interpersonal violence within intimate relationships – romantic, sexual, or both –  takes many forms. Some of the most commonly reported forms of abuse within intimate relationships include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or any combination. Furthermore, IPV is complex; sometimes it goes unrecognized by family or friends of the survivor or the perpetrator, sometimes the abuse is not constant and is instead cyclical where the perpetrator is loving and respectful at times and then abusive at others, and sometimes the person experiencing IPV does not even recognize it as abuse. The list goes on and on. Factors such as these create barriers and complexities for survivors hoping to seek services.

Sexual assault and rape on campus is an issue that needs to be addressed. However, abusive relationships have not gotten enough visibility in both national and local movements, and I hope to change that through my research. For my undergraduate honors thesis, I am attempting to get a better idea of why IPV in young people has not received as much attention as isolated incidents of sexual assault or rape, and whether or not services on individual campuses that serve survivors are accessible to students who have specifically experienced IPV. Through interviews with college students in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti who have experienced any forms of interpersonal violence or abuse within an intimate relationship (whatever they define that to be), I hope to better understand their experiences with or impressions of services and organizations on their campus and if they perceive them to be accessible or not to them and their specific needs. By speaking with the people directly affected by services’ accessibility, I will gain a more direct perspective. I hope to approach this research from an intersectional lens, and reach out to different communities in order to recruit participants. With the data I collect, I then hope to distribute the data widely to school administrators at the University of Michigan so that services may then make the necessary changes to reach this population.

So what does it mean for a service to be accessible? In the context of IPV, I define accessible to be services, organizations, or people that survivors with varying social identities feel comfortable coming forward and discussing their experiences and seeking help without fear of judgement, exclusion, or any type of microaggressions related to the survivor’s race, gender identity, sexuality, or more. The connection between social identity and intimate partner violence is a crucial one that must always be addressed in sexual violence prevention work, as well as all social justice work in general. Although I cannot speak to others’ identities that I do not hold, students may face different barriers to coming forward and seeking the help that they want if they do not feel that certain services adequately serve people with their identities or have heard negative things about these organizations. The purpose of this study is to learn what schools are doing well and what they are not doing well when addressing IPV in diverse communities and to make change with the research findings to make services more accessible to students who have experienced IPV in the future. Intersectionality and identity politics and their role in sexual violence prevention are important; safety depends on it.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating in this confidential research, I am very much interested in speaking with you and hearing about your experiences. I am looking specifically for college or graduate students ages 18-24 who are enrolled in a college or university in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and who have experienced any forms of interpersonal violence or abuse within an intimate relationship. If you are interested, I am recruiting participants all semester. Participation involves a 1-hour interview, and participants will be compensated for their time. I can be reached at kirani@umich.edu or by call/text at 734-892-7211. Participants do not have to use their real name to be part of the study.


Katherine Irani

University of Michigan Honors College and Residential College Class of 2016
Departments of Women’s Studies and Romance Languages and Literatures