Opening the shade

IMG_0963Every morning, I open the blinds for my cat. He used to be an outdoor kind of guy, who loved to romp in the grass, rub himself feverishly over concrete, and bring small animals, usually still wriggling, into the house. But now we live in the city, and though I have seen a few cats around the neighborhood, I have also seen one too many feline “Missing” posters to feel comfortable with letting the furry love of my life out into the streets.

So every morning, I open the blinds for him.

Some mornings, he is already at his post by the window even though the blinds are closed. I wonder what he thinks in those moments. Is he frustrated that I haven’t gotten out of bed yet when such an amazing world is moving and swaying beyond the pane? Or is he content in the momentary darkness? I admit that he could just be a cat, thinking nothing at all.

But then again, when I forget to open the window shade, he yowls with mournful emotion until I rush over from wherever I am. Sometimes he yowls just because he can’t go outside. When my boyfriend leaves the apartment, for example, the cat hollers while he is gone, not just like he misses him, but like he is so upset that someone else is outside —in that forbidden place.

Today was like any other. I opened the shade and he hopped up to peer around for any new changes that occurred overnight. But I’m starting to wonder if my cat’s relationship with the window, the shade, and the outside world speaks to some of the greater themes of life.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about awareness and connection. For several months now, I have been battling a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks that have made most aspects of daily life pretty hard. So I have necessarily become more aware of my body, my surroundings, and my interactions with others. I have really delved into this concept of my identity in an attempt to connect with my brain, heart, soul (if we have one) and soothe the damaging thought processes that perpetuate my anxiety disorder. Basically, I have been in observer mode.

What I’ve noticed is that many of us go through our lives with the window shade down and we hardly even notice. We don’t see the beautiful minutia of life that makes it so meaningful. We no longer stop to smell the roses. Instead, more and more people seem content to look at their tiny screens instead of looking up at the world around them. Sure we’ll look at pictures with the #earthporn hashtag all day, marveling at the natural wonders gleaming up from our laptops or tablets, but how many times do we actually get out there, go exploring, and experience natural beauty for ourselves?

There’s also this mentality of “I have to be doing something” all the time. We rush from the cafe, to work, to the gym, maybe to the bar (Instagramming the whole way), without taking some time to stop and give our minds a break.  Without looking inward to our thoughts and emotions. We carry on just with a sense that these greater things are at work, that our life is meaningful because it is ours without truly exploring what it means to be a human. In other words, we have faith that meaning is behind the curtain and will always be, but we are content without knowing about or interacting with it. Maybe we plan on opening the curtain later but get too caught up in what’s happening right now. We need to post that selfie from last night on Twitter. We need to watch the latest episode of The Bachelor. We need to get our freaking hair done.

I mean think of all the industries out there whose business is to distract us from our own lives or throw our attention over to meaningless pursuits.

In short—we rarely take time to see the world or interact with our inner selves.

But then, one day, someone leaves. And just like my cat’s reaction to my boyfriend walking out the door, we yowl. Because all of sudden, someone who was just there has now gone to a place we can’t follow. We ignore death until it stares us in the face.

So there is really only one question: Are you content living with the shade down?

I’m not. In fact, I think that my old lifestyle of GO GO GO contributed to the development of my anxiety. It may have always been there underneath the surface, but the pressures of my lifestyle certainly played their part in triggering it. Though I felt like I was on a successful path, it was always about getting somewhere, never appreciating where I was in the moment. Suddenly, I found myself at this age wondering where the time has gone and why I don’t feel like I really know myself.

So.

I’ve been working on opening the shade by seeking deeper interactions with the world. IMG_0965

Now, I take walks around my neighborhood everyday, I practice yoga, I try to make more time for mindfulness exercises, and I’ve given myself permission to try new creative pursuits.  I’ve also begun cutting out the distractions, asking myself when I watch tv or a movie if this is really going to add to my life experience. Same with books and articles. It has become a practice of lowering the quantity and increasing the quality. These may seem like small changes, but they make a huge difference.

I think I might always have a few guilty pleasures, but in the end, I’m just trying to be more aware of how I spend the precious, precious time I have.

How do you stay in the moment?

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5 positive commercials I love

So, I feel like I’ve been hating on the media lately. Ads have become a big part of our culture, and though their greater goal is to always promote a product or service, they also end up representing society and promoting certain ideals. Yes, many commercials and ads continue to feature negative stereotypes, but there are a few gems out there that work against the tide by showcasing diversity or promoting positive messages.  Lately, some companies have taken strides to be more mindful in their advertising and have made some pretty great commercials.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Always: Like a Girl

I love this ad for showing how stereotypes are learned as we get older. The older subjects have already equated the words “like a girl” as an insult while the young girls simply demonstrate their skills, unfazed. The #likeagirl campaign is a great way to use social media to fight against gender stereotypes.

2. Honey Maid: Love

After Honey Maid ran an ad featuring a gay couple and their growing family, they got a lot of hate mail. But instead of bowing to the pressure and changing their approach, they stuck with the message of love and created a beautiful commercial to address the controversy.

3. Coca-Cola: America is Beautiful

I remember watching this ad during the SuperBowl last year and getting chills. I love how it shows the many different cultures, communities, languages, and families that make up our nation.

4. Cheerios: Gracie

When this family first debuted in Cheerios’ “Just Checking” commercial, so many people responded with racist comments that it sparked a national conversation and was featured on the news everywhere. But Cheerios brushed off the controversy with this comeback commercial, sticking with their desire to represent all types of families.

5. Dove: Love Your Curls

Sure, accepting your hair may seem like a small issue compared to the greater problems of our society, but the message of accepting yourself and embracing your identity shines through the curly vs. straight hair dilemma. As a curly-haired woman who woke up at 5 am everyday to straighten my hair before high school, I would’ve loved seeing this commercial as a kid. And the happiness of the girls at the end of the commercial is just so adorable.

Have any other personal favorites? Feel free to add them in the comments below!

“We’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings…” Oyelowo on the treatment of black narratives

Wow. David Oyelowo just said it. While my recent post about the Oscar snubs focused on the lack of recognition toward females in the industry, the controversy this year has also been about the racial diversity of the nominees. Sitting down for an interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, discusses why he believes he was snubbed and challenges the industry to look at how they treat black narratives.

As we start Black History Month, his message is especially meaningful and worth thinking about–why do we tolerate so many movies that depict blacks as subservient while rarely acknowledging (or even creating!) films that show them in leadership positions? As he points out, movies are typically told from the white character’s point of view. He argues that authentic narratives told from the perspective of black characters are important because “You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to reform from them.”

I have to agree.

And I wonder what role the media plays when I see such disparities between how white and black people perceive society. In a PEW research study, vastly different responses between white and black citizens were found in issues of equality and racial tension.  In answer to “How much needs to be done in order to achieve racial equality?” 79% of blacks said “A lot,” while only 46% of whites answered in this way. The poll indicates that blacks feel that they are not experiencing equal treatment in almost every aspect of life, while whites do not see blacks being discriminated against. Are we really living in different worlds here or is there a serious discrepancy in what messages we are exposed to?

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Elena–Disney’s newest princess.

I hope we see and hear more diversity in our culture’s stories. Stories help build empathy and break down barriers between different groups of people. As a culture who generally loves storytelling, wouldn’t we all benefit from diverse narratives? Shouldn’t the films/tv/books we consume more closely mirror the demographics of our society?

I work in public schools and rejoice when I see children’s a book starring a character of color or featuring cultural diversity because there are still so few examples out there. I hope that the upcoming Disney film featuring a new Latina princess will do her culture and identity justice. I also hope to see more movies like Selma and Dear White People hit theaters, films that give empowered black characters the multi-faceted identities they deserve. I hope to see more women and people of color as writers and directors. Let’s continue to demand better representation of diversity across genders and races in our media while also challenging ourselves to reflect on the messages of the things we watch.

What do Kim Kardashian, the Oscars, and the State of the Union have in common?

This week, gender bias has been on my mind.

I guess it started when I (FINALLY) picked up Margaret At38447wood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that begins in our present culture and devolves into a dystopian society where women are once again treated as objects. They can serve one of two purposes: A) provide men sexual pleasure or B) become vessels of childbirth. I was riveted, fascinated, horrified, and yet it also made me reflect on our own culture, which still pretty much portrays women in these roles. Despite whatever Alanis Morissette sang about female identity, on TV and in movies a woman is typically still either the wife or the femme fatale.

So, this book really got me thinking. And then other recent events seemed to echo the issue of gender discrimination: the Oscar nominations, the State of the Union address, and HeForShe’s launch of a new initiative called ACTION 10X10X10 all, in their own way, highlighted the challenges women face both in America and abroad.

On Monday, I found myself glued to the TV screen for the State of the Union address. To be completely honest, I felt heartbroken when half of our nation’s representatives refused to applaud or stand for President Obama’s following statement: “Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.”

Watching not only Speaker John Boehner, but most (if not all) of our Republican representatives* refuse to acknowledge this statement infuriated me. It spoke volumes to how women are still perceived and what roles many people believe they should follow.

To me, it said “we don’t think you deserve it.” It said that men are better than women. It said that boys rule, girls drool. The end.

Dramatic? Yes, but so was their gesture.

Naturally, this gave me an itch to parade. So I spent the rest of the week exploring the social injustices that women still experience, on a grand scale, in America today.

I found a few:

  1. There is a huge disparity in how women’s opinions are valued in the workplace.
  2. Women make up 51% of the US population… but make up only 20% of Congress.
  3. Women earn less than their male counterparts in almost every occupation.
  4. Women make up 3% of leadership positions in the mainstream media.
  5. Women make up only 30% of speaking roles in movies and on television (see also here and here).
  6. Despite the fact that 60% of US working women are mothers, we have no national policy towards paid maternity leave, and that of the 185 countries and territories analyzed by the International Labor Organization, only one other country didn’t offer benefits to women having children (Papua New Guinea, in case you were wondering).

Let’s just say I found more discrimination than could be easily put into a list. What I began to wonder was, why do we, as a society, put up with this? Just like in The Handmaid’s Tale, it seems that our culture has taken this mantra of “this is the way it is.” But it doesn’t have to be.

Yep, her.

Yep, her.

I began to think about the systems of power over our culture. I began to think about Kim Kardashian.

Stay with me.

We live in a world bombarded with media. Young girls have to make sense of the 500 air-brushed-to-perfection advertisements they come across every day. To them, the cat-fights of reality tv and the superficial woes of Kim Kardashian provide a model for behavior. The Girl Scout Research Institute conducted a study that showed that 75% of teen girls believe reality tv to be unscripted, real-world experiences. To me, reality tv is something to laugh at and occasionally indulge in to turn my brain off. The idea that young girls take it seriously is frightening, especially considering the other ways that women are represented on tv and in film.

Our culture gets most of its assumptions from the media; Movies, television, the news, and even commercials, provide a model for the world—but it just so happens to be an inaccurate one when it comes to female representation.

According to the study “Gender Bias Without Borders,” only 30.9% of speaking roles in movies and television are women—despite the fact that, you know, women make up half of our world’s population. The study also revealed that female characters were twice as likely as male characters to wear sexually revealing clothing, five times as likely to receive on-screen comments about their appearance, and were less likely to portray a person with job. Real women are literally missing from the scenes. The stirring documentary, Missrepresentation, (available on Netflix!) reveals that only 16% of film protagonists are female. Translation? Stories about women are not worth telling.

And let’s go ahead and think about the protagonists we are given. I can think of two types of characters: the woman looking for love and the sexy but bad-ass female warrior. Make no mistake–both of these characterizations continue to show that the purpose of woman is to find and please a man. Don’t get me wrong. As a girl who grew up very much a tomboy, I tend to like badass female characters, but to me, most of them seem just as one-dimensional as the damsel in distress. Just an excuse to have a girl in some tight leather–a dominatrix of sorts. I mean, for every Brienne on Game of Thrones it seems like we have ten of Halle Berry’s Catwoman.

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

This message even continues into cartoon movies, where it is especially harmful to young girls. As Geena Davis reminds us, “Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies. All of them, except one, had the aspiration of finding romance.”

Is that one in thirteen Mulan (my favorite Disney girl)? I don’t know, but thankfully, in the past ten years since this comment, animated roles have shown progress for girls. Brave’s Merida rejected the men who came to court her and competed for her own independence, while Frozen’s Elsa struggled to understand her identity (though admittedly, her sister, Anna, was boy-craaaazy). Both movies, by the way, had female directors. Hmm…female directors create well-rounded female characters, who knew? And it’s true that we are seeing more women featured in big box office movies roles that attempt to defy female stereotypes—most recently Katniss of The Hunger Games, who is both vulnerable and strong.

But overall, movies continue to leave out women. Every movie I watch, I measure up to the Bechdel Test, which is just about as basic as it could possibly be in recognizing that women are humans. All a movie has to do to pass is have two women talk to each other about something other than men.

Pretty easy right?5540832_orig

Wrong (according to Hollywood). I’d like to say that more movies have passed this year, but out of this year’s Best Picture Oscar noms, only TWO pass the Bechdel Test (SelmaBoyhood). TWO. But is this surprising when every nominated film this year is male-centric? Let that sink in.

In my opinion, Gone Girl and Wild more than deserve a nod, but with a 76% male Academy, I guess this is what happens.

“Hollywood is based on the assumption that women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women.”

—Geena Davis.

So what about the women behind the camera?

Well, let’s just say that recognized female film directors remain as rare as Melville’s white whale. Which brings me back to the Oscars. Am I surprised that no female directors or writers received Oscar nominations this year? Sadly, no.

Most people know that the Academy is mostly men but what is lesser known is that the individual categories can only be voted on by Academy members that are also peers in that category. Looking at it this way, the likelihood of a female nomination diminishes even further: the screenwriting branch is 81% male while the directors branch is 91%. With those blindingly unbalanced figures, it would be more newsworthy if they had recognized Ava DuVerny (Director, Selma) or Gillian Flynn (Writer, Gone Girl). After all, only four women have ever been nominated in the category of Best Director, and only one, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), has ever taken home the statue. 

The snubs reflect the reality of Hollywood, where women continue to struggle to achieve parity on a daily basis. And it’s not that women aren’t interested in directing. According to the New York Times, they are “well represented” in film schools percentages across the country. So what happens?

Sexism and money, plain and simple.

Though female directors fare pretty well in independent movies, as the amount of money needed for a film rises, it becomes more likely that it will be put into the hands of a man. According to Martha M. Lauzen’s research in “The Celluloid Ceiling,” a data-analysis of 2012’s top 250 domestic grossing films, women directors represented only 9%.

“Their [the six major studios] refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.”

—Manohla Dargis, “Lights, Camera, Taking Action,” New York Times

Again, in Missrepresentation, director Catherine Hardwicke described the many times she has been turned down for the job because she was told the content needed a man’s vision. So she turned to female-driven narratives instead, ultimately directing Twilight, which proved that audiences would come in droves to see a movie with a female protagonist. But when the movie became a blockbuster and smashed box office records—SURPRISE—the sequel films were immediately put in the hands of male directors.

Hardwicke bitterly reflects that even though Hollywood deems women unequipped to direct male-driven movies, males often direct films about women. When I looked into this statement, I found she was right. All of the following movies were directed by men: Sex and the City, Eat Pray Love, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bridesmaids, Easy A, The Hunger Games, Divergent . . . the list goes on.

And for the record, let’s put the “women-can’t-direct-male-movies” idea to rest. I MEAN—Stop-Loss, Big, Zero Dark Thirty, Point Break, American Pyscho—ANYONE? But, I digress.

The point is: if more women were at the helm in movies and television, as directors and writers, our media would get closer to projecting reality and could create a healthier view of gender for young women and men to follow. It would show a world closer to our own. Perhaps it would even lead some voices to wonder why women are so underrepresented in politics.

The good news?

thelma-and-louise

Geena Davis: our hero.

Women are fighting back in Hollywood. Fed up with the way Hollywood showcases gender roles to young children, Geena Davis created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which provides research-based efforts that educate the world on gender bias occurring in the media and fight for the need to reduce gender stereotyping. Gamechanger Films also works to put out more female-driven stories by providing the funding that nearly every female director struggles to find from studios. Women in Film works to promote equal opportunities for women in media through education, scholarships, and grants. And of course, the HeForShe movement, championed by Emma Watson, is gaining ground with their campaign for both genders to embrace feminism.

And we can help too. Knowing the issue is the first step. But you can act to help accurate female representation in the media become a reality. Check back soon under the “Action” tab to find out how.

*Please Note: This was my observation during the speech and that I do not wish this blog to to be a place of Democrats vs. Republicans, but rather an exploration into the aspects of identity, diversity, and injustice in our culture, open to anyone, regardless of their political party affiliation.

Je suis tout le monde

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

Walt Whitman

So says much of France and people across the world this week with the declaration “Je Suis Charlie.”

“Je Suis Charlie” has become the uniting phrase that the French have clung to in the wake of the terrorist attacks that began in the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. These three words have been splashed across signs, newspapers, Twitter, and have even been taken up by George Clooney, who solemnly spoke them during the Golden Globes.

Why is this statement so powerful?

Just like the quote from Whitman, “Je Suis Charlie” expresses the idea that an attack on one person is felt by aje_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencilll. It is at once an expression of empathy and defiance, mourning those lost while also defending free speech and expressing patriotism. This past Sunday, over a million people marched together in Paris to show their unity and strength, while about 3.7 marched countrywide. “Je Suis Charlie” was the cry of the day.

However, some fear that the phrase is more divisive than it is unifying. After all, it is no secret that Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that offended many people. Does that justify the staff’s brutal murder?–of course not. But it does create complicated feelings for those who did not support the magazine before the shootings now that “Je Suis Charlie” has become the slogan associated with the terrorist acts.

In his op-ed, “I am not Charlie” David Brooks claims that the magazine would have never been tolerated in the U.S. because of its “hate speech.”  Indeed, Anthony Faiola, reporting for The Washington Post,  reveals that many French Muslims have felt ostracized by the phrase, “By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.”

It is a catch-22 for French Muslims–either embrace the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, despite the fact that the magazine regularly made fun of their religion, or remain silent and risk being seen as sympathetic towards the extremists.

Instead, many have found comfort in the story of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered when responding to the initial scene at the magazine’s office. He was also a Muslim and died at the hands of those who “share” his religion. His death illustrates the vast differences between the majority of practicing Muslims, who are just regular citizens interacting positively with society, and the extremists at the fringe, who interpret Islam’s teachings in ways that justify murder and terrorist acts. “Je Suis Ahmed” is now heard alongside Charlie, telling the story of a Muslim who not only worked to defend his country but who also died trying to protect those who had insulted his own religion.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Voltaire

Whether you use #JeSuisCharlie” or #JeSuisAhmed, it remains clear that people everywhere must continue to come together against terrorism and push back against stereotyping or alienating others.

Even as I write this, reports of a foiled terrorist plot in Belgium and a cyber attack on more than 19,000 French websites rule the news outlets. And then there is the lack of media coverage of Boko Haram’s devastating attacks in Nigeria. Some reports claim that the terrorist group massacred over 2,000 people last week, though the Nigerian government has downplayed the event, reporting the death toll at 150. The difficulties that the media faces when covering the area are frustrating, but there is no excuse for how little this horrific event was covered.

Even last weekend, as the French were preparing to march in their solidarity against terrorism, a ten year old girl was used to deploy a suicide bomb, killing 19 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of central Nigeria has asked those in the West to show his country solidarity as they did for France, “We need that spirit to be spread around.”

Though Baga is a not a place where we can march, the least we can do is give this tragedy the same attention as events that occur closer to home. Many people have tried to raise awareness of the attack with the hashtags #BagaTogether or #WeAreAllBaga.

We live in a global society and can no longer ignore atrocities that occur, even if we feel helpless. Even if we are separated by distance, nationality, or race.  Knowledge is empowerment–it is taking ownership of your role on this earth by engaging with current events.

Je suis tout le monde.

Though I initially cringed at the hashtag trend of raising awareness for causes or tragic events, I now see it as just another way to share our knowledge with others and show our solidarity via social media. Parade when you can but listen, observe, share, and remember when you cannot.

Why Parade?

I recently came across this amazing article from the beautiful mind over at Brain Pickings about Mark Twain. It chronicles his views of slavery as a young, impressionable child and how just a few words from his  soft-spoken mother changed his mind forever towards those around him.

In the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, he writes,

“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind–and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”

Twain would have gone on accepting slavery without a thought had his mother not one day shown sincere empathy towards a young slave boy, Sandy, making Twain suddenly recognize that Sandy was a young boy like himself, a human with joys and sorrows and the innate impulse to sing.

All it takes is one voice to tear down the ideology of an entire culture.

Nowadays I hear often that you should keep your views to yourself–vote in their favor come election time, yes–but otherwise do not cause trouble by bringing up politics in presence of others. I shudder to think what our society would be like if people throughout time conformed to this rule. And I shudder to imagine a future unchanged from the present because those with opinions are too afraid to offend.

Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. As does homophobia, educational inequality, and religious (and nonreligious) persecution.  And not just in pockets here and there, but on a national and global scale.

Like young Mark Twain, it is easy to be oblivious to the faults of the culture around you. After all, it is all you know, all you have ever known. But we can all purposefully become more conscious of the issues embedded in the daily life surrounding us. And then, we must act.

Whether with bells and whistles down a city sidewalk or a soft voice over a dinner table, we must parade by marching out our alternate opinions and revealing the human face behind our society’s prejudices. Twain’s mother was a soft-spoken woman, but in that moment with her son, she defied everything that her society triumphed as truth, inspiring him to realize that he could form his own judgments concerning the worth of others.

Without speaking out or taking action we perpetuate the biases around us. Find a way to make your own parade.