Helpful Links on This Week’s Horrible News

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I’m still not over all of this week’s terrible events. Rolling Stone retracted their article about rape at the University of Virginia, blaming a victim instead of their own journalistic integrity. My despair over police brutality was exacerbated when I saw a heated thread on a family member’s Facebook page fizzle out when someone wrote that the events “[affect] none of us personally.”

I’m really sad.

Here are some links about all of these topics, though I know I’m forgetting many. They are helpful. Share them. Content warning for all.

On Institutional Racism:

The Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People by Luvvie

My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK by Kiese Laymon

The New Rules for Black People in America by Carvell Wallace

This photograph by Josh Davis

Ijeoma Oluo’s tweets following the grand jury announcement. Her handle is @IjeomaOluo.

#AliveWhileBlack

On Rape:

Our Stories by Roxane Gay

Checklist. by Genevieve Valentine

What to do when your partner is sexually assaulted

Lindy West believes Shia LaBeouf.

This infographic from Vox

A rebuttal to UVA Phi Psi’s rebuttal from Sam Biddle

. . .

My only goal right now is to be here for victims/survivors.

A WriteGirl Giving Tuesday Plug!

WriteGirl alum Janel, from WriteGirl's Facebook page

WriteGirl alum Janel, from WriteGirl’s Facebook page

igive2writegirl

Why I give to WriteGirl!

It’s officially The Holidays, you guys!

Even though the weather can be iffy (even in SoCal!), there’s a bit of a financial pinch, and family gatherings/memories bring up complicated feelings for most of us, the time between American Thanksgiving and January 6th is still my favorite time of the year. A few reasons why:

  • As a child, I was always fortunate to have fun Christmases with delicious food, beautiful music, loud family, and surprises under the tree. The holidays bring up happy memories and make me excited to start my own traditions with my baby family.
  • The holidays are full of ritual, a thing which I’ve always loved and I think is very important. American society really wants for ritual.
  • People get to be giving and kind to each other, even people who are not normally into being giving and kind.

Regarding the latter bullet point: this year, there is a thing called Giving Tuesday, as an afterthought to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The fact that Americans need a special day to remind them to be charitable and giving is problematic, but regardless–I’ve seen a lot of people on my news feeds asking which organizations are worth their donations. It’s good that so many people want to give, and this post is to put in a good word for WriteGirl.

WriteGirl is a creative writing mentoring organization for Los Angeles teen girls. Girls are paired up with professional women writers, and they meet one-on-one just to chat and write. It’s not about grammar, spelling, grades or tutoring–it’s just a way to connect girls with their own creative energy, and with another female role model. WriteGirl also hosts monthly workshops that tackle each a different genre, so girls get to explore all kinds of fun writing styles (journalism! songwriting!) that they’d never get to experience in school. At the end of each school year, the girls’ work is published in an anthology, and girls also have the opportunity to give public readings throughout the year. Throughout their time in the program, mentees receive specialized college information and  application help, and 100% of alumnae from the WriteGirl core program enroll in college. WriteGirl also has an in-schools program for incarcerated, pregnant and parenting teens.

When I first learned about WriteGirl, I was suspicious. I wondered how I hadn’t heard of the organization before, if it was so great and was sending all these girls to college year after year after year. Now I know: It’s because WriteGirl does not waste a dollar. They have a teensy-weensy staff, a volunteer army, and a tight mission statement from which they never deviate: “Within a community of women writers, WriteGirl promotes creativity and self-expression to empower girls.” That’s it! And it really is one of the greatest feminist organizations I know. Both the mentor and mentee populations are truly diverse, and the workshops are pretty strictly all-female spaces. I never feel like I’m giving charity to Underprivileged Youths at a WriteGirl workshop–I feel like I’m part of the revolution, because a couple hundred women and girls are in a room together, speaking out, and nobody is telling them to be quiet.

You can donate at WriteGirl.org. Happy holidays.

Friday Things.

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  • In a move that would have totes freaked out my mom 10 years ago, I purchased a deck of tarot cards. I’ve been reading Beth Maiden‘s tarot column on Autostraddle for a little while, and I couldn’t resist those pretty, mysterious pictures anymore! I’m casually learning the meanings of the different cards, but right now my favorite thing to do with them is use them as writing prompts. I’ve been drawing a card each morning and just journaling about it. The pictures are super evocative and detailed, so it’s fantastic to fill in the stories yourself. Also, there’s this thing called a birth card, and mine is the Empress and Zac’s is the Emperor!

    bagelsforbreakfast.org

    bagelsforbreakfast.org

  • I still have “Too Many Cooks” in my head, and each time it dies down, I think “Maybe it would be fun to watch ‘Too Many Cooks’ again. It’s never as good an idea as I think it is. “Interesting Ball”, on the other hand.   
  • In terrible things: Rehtaeh Parsons’ death remains unavenged, while a misguided revenge porn law in Arizona makes it illegal for “…a mother [to share] with her sister, in the privacy of her home, a nude image of her infant child.” Cultural attitudes toward gendered sexuality and consent: still the worst.
  • I would like to see thisthis and this!
  • This piece by Tova Benjamin at Rookie, about using friends as therapists, is very lovely and hit close to home.

#DearDePauw

Students of color at my alma mater, DePauw University, are organizing for visibility under the hashtag #DearDePauw. If you are reading this, I urge you to check it out and support them.

I attended DePauw from 2007 to 2012. I was a student in the School of Music and the College of Liberal Arts, and I earned two degrees there. I also met my best friends and my husband there. I loved most of my professors and learned from all of them.

No campus is perfect, but DePauw, especially the College of Liberal Arts, needs to acknowledge and scrutinize its flaws. Some bullet points from my own experience:

  • White students and students of color are separated. In my CLA classes, I do not recall having more than one student of color in a class, and I only had three professors of color (one of whom was a visiting professor). Students of color and international students are often placed in different campus housing, whether that’s due to historically Black or white Greek letter organizations, special-interest housing, or substance-free housing. The result is de facto segregation on campus, and the distinct vibe that there is “Black DePauw” and “white DePauw”.
  • Sexual/gender diversity is largely ignored.  When I was at DePauw, there was one smallish blanket student organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy. It was a nice group of people, but it generally lacked intersectionality, as well as solid, vocal representation of bisexual, trans, intersex and asexual students. I hope this has improved.
  • Binge drinking and underage drinking are ubiquitous. DePauw requires students to take an online alcohol safety course before arriving on campus, but abstract statistics mean little to most incoming freshmen. Group activities that could be fun (e.g. campus clubs, intramural sports) are either dominated by Greek organizations or largely ignored, which can make finding friends in a risk-free setting tricky. When I had my first big struggles with depression and anxiety during my first years at DePauw, I had way more visible opportunities to self-medicate with alcohol than I did to seek help in a nonjudgmental space.
  • Hazy consent is common in sexual encounters at DePauw, as it is at many residential colleges in America. When so many 18-23 year-olds are intoxicated on any given night, and our culture does not freely give people (especially women, but really any people) the vocabulary to directly discuss consent and desire with others, the issue of consent is bound to be a mess on all sides. However, the administrations of other colleges are at least paying lip service to sexual assault on campus. I haven’t found this to be the case at DePauw. Several months ago The DePauw published an article about the issue–the author interviewed victims, saying that s/he was working on an assignment for a journalism class, then published the piece in the paper, including the victims’ names. To my knowledge, the university never made a public statement about this violation or penalized the writer, though it appears that the piece was removed from The DePauw’s archives.

These are mostly problems that are common at American schools, but DePauw’s administration is not giving marginalized students the support they deserve, that they have paid for. When my husband and I receive our quarterly issues of DePauw magazine, we read articles touting alumni successes (these alumni are usually white dudes) and new construction projects on campus. We hear nothing of campus controversies or the university’s efforts to address them. Recently, DePauw celebrated the crowning of its first WOC Old Gold Queen at that festive annual homecoming celebration. I know that the student who received the honor is deserving, but DePauw has been around for 177 years. That a woman of color hadn’t been crowned before 2014 is embarrassing, but DePauw pats itself on the back. Instead of fretting that students can’t fill an auditorium to hear speeches by social justice activists or celebrities from marginalized groups, DePauw high-fives Twitter when students line up to see Jimmy Kimmel. Instead of making a visible effort to increase multicultural and/or consent education on campus, DePauw wants to make sure we know about the new gym they built.

I had a lot of fun at DePauw. I learned a lot from my professors. But I’m deeply ashamed and embarrassed that it took me until after graduation, until moving to a large coastal city, to find feminism. To learn what “intersectionality” means.  To fully understand my sexual identity. To recognize my privilege and examine my microaggressions. To take stock of the ways in which I was marginalized/victimized as a woman on campus, and the ways in which I personally was destructive to myself and others when I engaged in DePauw’s dominant culture. Most of these things are on me, but I also believe that they are things liberal arts students should learn by virtue of being on liberal arts campuses. I could have learned them at DePauw, but I didn’t know where to look.

But that’s just me. I’m lucky. To the students who are the true victims of DePauw’s campus climate, the students who have started #DearDePauw, know this: I stand with DePauw because you are DePauw. I am sorry I didn’t see you when I was there. Stay angry. Stay loud. Tiger Pride.

Update 11/12: DePauw senior Ashton Johnston (who wrote a powerful piece for HuffPo on the #DearDePauw conversation) informed me that University President Brian Casey sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff today, expressing solidarity for marginalized students and advocating for a multicultural education requirement. Casey said he would be holding a faculty meeting next Wednesday to discuss setting aside a school day for a campus-wide discussion of DePauw’s othering culture, as well as the possibility of implementing a multicultural requirement. Casey closed his e-mail with this excellent sentiment:

Some of you may find yourself thinking that the reported examples of racism, bias and insensitivity do not involve or represent you, that the DePauw described in these reports is not the DePauw that you know. It is precisely this disconnection that, I believe, presents us with a challenge and with real opportunity. That is the work ahead for us.

I am committed to the work that lies ahead, and I look forward to the university we can become.

Note to DePauw alumni: The Office of Alumni Engagement is currently hosting a massive drive for donations targeting GOLD alumni (Graduates Of the Last Decade). I threw them a few bucks today on behalf of Zac and me. When asked where I’d like my money to go, I checked the box labeled “student experience”. My hope is that my measly donation will go toward the creation of safe, intersectional spaces on campus. If you give, make it clear why you’re giving. When I speak with my alumni friends, we remember our time at DePauw fondly, but with the understanding (sometimes verbalized, often not), that things were amiss. It doesn’t need to be that way anymore. Vote with your dollars and add some of your own noise.

I Love ‘Whip It!’, But You Probably Shouldn’t: A Roller Derby Athlete Reflects

Note: I originally wrote this piece to submit to Women In Sports Week at Bitch Flicks, but I screwed up on the deadline. That’s why I’m writing about this when I guess I should be writing about Miley Cyrus.

Image

Photo: You Are Doing That Wrong

Whenever I meet a fellow skater and they ask me how I got into roller derby, I get a little sheepish.

“I was in college and I saw Whip It! and I decided I wanted to do that,” I say every time, hoping for a nonjudgmental reaction. Joining the sport post-Whip It! is not the coolest thing for a derby athlete to cop to. Unfortunately for me, my simple derby origin story is true. I walked into a movie theater expecting to see a frothy girl-power flick with my friend, and I did—but I also walked out figuring starter skates into my college budget. For at least the first year and a half of my derby career, until I was well past the point of knowing better, I’d watch Whip It! the night before every bout while I painted my nails in my team colors and sipped on a healthy, nonalcoholic beverage. And while I know that Whip It! Is not the best roller derby film out there, when I sat down a few nights ago to re-watch it for the first time in over a year, I cried at the same parts that always made me weepy. I love Whip It!, but I’m a sucker for it.

Whip It! Was Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. Based on a young adult novel by Shauna Cross, the screenplay centers around a seventeen-year-old misfit named Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), who spends a lot of time screwing up at the beauty pageants her mom (Marcia Gay Harding) makes her do, until she discovers roller derby while on a shopping trip to Austin. Without permission from her mom or her sports-loving dad, Bliss lies about her age, joins the 21+ league, and becomes star jammer Babe Ruthless. Problems arise when she starts dating an indie rocker she meets at a bout, when she clashes with a member of an opposing team, and when her parents find out about her secret double life. While the plot is heavy on teen and sports movie cliches, it’s also generously sprinkled with esoteric cultural references and cameos. Jimmy Fallon has a minor role as Hot Tub Johnny Rockets, a perpetually hungover announcer who just wants to get laid and Andrew Wilson (the elusive third Wilson brother!) faces off against opposing coach Har Mar Superstar. Many of the extras, skaters and non-speaking roles are respected real-life derby skaters, including one of my coaches, who plays the deaf Manson Sister #1—hi, Krissy!

It barely broke even at the box office and drew mixed reviews. Mainstream critics were on point about the film’s predictability; however, their reviews lose credibility when they make uneducated comments about derby aspects of the film. For example, one critic questioned Page’s casting in the lead role, saying she seemed too small to play roller derby. Never mind the fact that Bliss is a jammer, a position traditionally (though certainly not always) assigned to small, agile skaters. More interesting criticism came from within the roller derby community. If you ask a skater about Whip It!, she’ll probably complain about the “Play #3” scene, when Wilson’s character fields a strategy combining an elbow and a 180-degree turn. In real-life regulation play, this move is grounds for immediate ejection from a bout.

illegal

Not okay. Photo: DVDactive.com

However, the biggest problem with Whip It! isn’t the punches and elbows—if you watch closely, you’ll notice that Barrymore’s Smashley Simpson is always ejected, anyway—it’s the erasure of certain people and philosophies that make roller derby unique among modern sports. No visibly queer characters are included in the film, which is unrealistic for a sport known for its LGBTQ superstars and being relatively trans-inclusive a few years before anyone had ever heard of Fallon Fox. The grown women who drive both the skating and business aspects of competitive roller derby are weirdly two-dimensional. A big reveal happens when Bliss learns that her team captain, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), skips afterparties because she needs to be with her young son, and another occurs when league bully Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) snarls that she’s earned her derby stardom at age thirty-six—but after that, the film lets those characters return to the background. A large part of the criticism Whip It! received from the roller derby community regarded the age of its protagonist. Roller derby is so transformative and special for women who find it in their 20s, 30s and 40s, the criticism goes. Why make teenage Bliss the heroine, when Maggie’s and Maven’s stories are much more compelling?

This is where I begin to get soft on Whip It! When I started playing roller derby at twenty-one (not quite a grown-ass woman, to be fair), I became a teenager again. My body changed and I was hungry all the time. I worried about what to wear to practice. My new passion worried my mom, and I had to be a little bit sneaky to keep everybody happy. I had to make choices about relationships and priorities that I’d never had to make before. And I could think of nothing but roller derby: after class, I’d sit in my room ogling gear, watching and re-watching league promo videos. In class, I’d doodle pictures of skates and myself wearing a jammer star on my helmet. I felt about roller derby the way I felt about my crushes in middle and high school. Maybe it’s easier to translate that giddy feeling to non-skaters if you just make the main character a typical teenage girl who is still figuring things out.

Don’t give up on film depictions of roller derby if you’re less sentimental than I am. There are better representations of derby in film, but you have to go looking for them. Brutal Beauty, a documentary which follows Portland’s Rose City Rollers through their 2010 home and travel seasons, is a great introduction to the sport, and is available for streaming on Netflix.

 

An upcoming documentary that promises to take a different approach to the topic of derby is Erica Tremblay’s The Vagine Regime, which will profile the titular pan-derby LGBTQ all-star team.

 

 Finally, my current favorite roller derby film is Turner Van Ryn’s dialogue-free short film Skater 26, which follows San Francisco skater Chantilly Mace through the weekend leading up to a high-stakes home bout. It’s breathtaking to watch, and does an incredible job of quietly creating a detailed narrative out of what is still a niche subject. Best of all, it’s available in full on YouTube.

Personal reasons for loving Whip It! aside, I’ve sat in the penalty box on delicate technical fouls enough times to scoff at “Play #3”. I can detect the tense, rehearsed quality of a new skater in many of the actors’ jumps and sprints. Johnny Rockets’s announcing places a little too much emphasis on the fishnet stockings the players wear, a trope that still crops up in mainstream coverage of derby. The underwater sex scene is truly unnecessary–so unnecessary that I won’t link to it. I cringe when Page’s Bliss tells her mom to “stop shoving your psychotic idea of ’50s womanhood down my throat,” because who actually says that?

But right after that, she throws out her hands and says, “I am in love with this.” I believe you, Bliss. I just understand why a lot of us don’t. Fortunately, there are just enough film options out there for the derby-curious.