Why You Should Be Supporting Bernie Sanders

I am a staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders. Even though I will not be able to vote in the next election (sadly), I am hoping and praying that the rest of America have the good sense to vote for Sanders.

As others have pointed out, Bernie Sanders is not perfect. But he is the best option. He is a progressive Democrat, adamant in his stances on race, education, women’s rights, and healthcare. He is actually talking about hot-button issues like climate change, help for veterans and immigration. He is not just saying things in order to gain popularity with voters- these are views he has held for decades. What other candidate can say that?

Bernie Sanders is not a perfect ally to people of color, but he is adamant in his beliefs in equality. He frequently tweets statements such as “People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin” and “Let’s stop the racism. Sanders acknowledges that people of color suffer from four central types of violence: physical, political, legal, and economic. He acknowledges that we are allowing a system of oppression to continue in our society. But more than talking about these issues, he is proposing solutions: Give everyone a fair shot at attending college. Ban prisons for profit. Re-enfranchise the more than two million African Americans who have had their right to vote taken away by a felony conviction. Demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies. These ideas are radical, but he is willing to promote radical change to get our society moving in the right way.

One of the more controversial parts of Bernie Sander’s campaign is his proposal to eliminate tuition fees for undergraduates at all public colleges and universities. Many are railing against this proposal, saying that it will cost American taxpayers too much, that we shouldn’t be giving away education for free. But why shouldn’t education be a universal right? Why are some people more deserving of higher education than others? Who decides that distinction?

News recently broke that the Republican-led House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to promoting women’s health. We are at risk of going back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy. Women’s bodies are being policed by the government, and this should not stand. If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he will not let gender inequality continue. He has already advocated for years on these issues, and has been a staunch supporter of feminism and women’s rights since he was a college student. We should want a president that will stand up for birth control rights, for the rights of domestic abuse survivors.

Bernie Sanders will not lead our country into ruin, like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina or Mike Huckabee would. He is the candidate who will help solve some of our most pressing issues right now. If you’re not planning on voting for him, I ask you to seriously question what you value in your life, and #FeeltheBern.

A Global Education Problem- For Girls

Millions of girls don’t go to school. Globally, 77.6 million girls are currently not enrolled in either primary or secondary education. Almost half of these girls are in Sub-Saharan Asia, with a quarter in South Asia. Furthermore, of the 163 million illiterate youth in the world, more than half- 63%- are female. Girls are disproportionately affected by poverty, with 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty around the world. When international development funds are allocated, less than two cents of every dollar is directed specifically to girls.

This is a major problem. Girls around the world are not guaranteed an education. They are losing out on opportunities that could give them a chance at a better life. They are kept in poverty, in turn keeping their communities and countries in poverty. By not educating girls, we are doing half of the world’s population a disservice.

Still not convinced that educating girls should be made a priority? By not educating girls, sixty-five low- and middle-income countries are losing approximately $92 billion per year by failing to educate girls to the same standards as boys. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10-20%. An extra year of secondary school will boost girl’s wages 15 to 25%. If we increase the number of girls in one country who go to school by just 10%, that country’s GDP will increase approximately 3%.

Furthermore, when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. By educating young girls, we teach them that they are worth more than what a man sees in them. We empower young women to strive for something other than marriage. But, when an educated woman does want to have a family, her children will have a better chance of surviving past the age of five: almost twice as likely. Her children will also be more healthy; a young woman who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV, and women who are educated are 50% more likely to immunize their children.

By choosing to not educate young women in developing countries, we do them and the entire world a disservice. Everyone deserves to have an education- especially young women.

What Prince Charming Teaches Women

Most of us grew up watching the classic Disney movies: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lion King, Mulan, etc. As young children, these fairytales were fun to watch, entertaining us for hours. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly become aware of just how sexist most of these Disney movies actually are.

In nearly every Disney movie (although, the company is making some improvements with more recent films), there is a Prince Charming. He does not get a name- he is simply Charming. This shows you just how shallow this character really is. In none of the movies does the Prince develop a complex character, or think for himself; rather, he sees a woman that he desires and decides that she must belong to him.

While that is certainly problematic, the main issue with Disney’s films is that the main female character’s sole purpose in the story is to find a man. Let’s take Cinderella. She slaves away in the house all day, but instead of dreaming of getting out and running her own business, for example, she dreams of finding a prince. Another case: Sleeping Beauty literally will never get to live out the rest of her life unless her “true love” finds her.

What this is teaching young, impressionable girls is that they should strive to get a man’s attention. Very few Disney movies focus on the female character’s brain, or personality. In my evaluation, nearly all of these characters are horrifically vapid; they have no personality, and the sole point of their story is to find their prince and live happily ever after. We tell girls that they should work hard, not to do well in life and be successful on their own merit, but to get a prince to marry her. These stories continue to reinforce the message that a woman needs a man in order to have a “happy ending.”

Now, there are some Disney movies with redeeming qualities. One example that comes to mind is Mulan. She dresses up as a man (incredibly progressive for the time the movie was made), and fights in the army. She saves her country, and gets national recognition. While certainly an inspiring role model, even SHE ends up seeking the approval of a man.

I’m not saying no one should watch Disney movies. There are certainly appealing qualities to them- they are fun, they make us believe in magic, etc. But while watching them, especially when our children are the viewers, we have to be aware of this inherent sexism at play. We want to make sure that young women know they have more to aspire to than to be the wife of some “prince.” They are not required to get their happy ending the Disney way; any ending is happy, as long as the woman is satisfied.

#BlackLivesMatter 101

#BlackLivesMatter has been popping up a lot on Twitter and other social media recently, but a lot of people don’t know the meaning behind the words.

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement co-founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It was created in the wake of the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting (and subsequent death) of Trayvon Martin. The movement campaigns against police brutality in the United States against African Americans. While it began with the death of Trayvon Martin, it has also fought for justice for the countless other victims of police brutality: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, to name just a few.

This movement is a way for people of color to publicly shout that their lives matter. Their lives are valuable. Though they still suffer the horrible injustice of racism, Black Lives Matter acknowledges their worth. It tells the world that they have a place here too.

This movement isn’t denying the worth of other lives. A common response to #BlackLivesMatter is to reply #AllLivesMatter, or even worse, #WhiteLivesMatter. Often, this hashtag is thrown around by whites who are uncomfortable discussing the realities people of color face. We already know that white lives matter- history has proven that point time and time again. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is an opportunity for a marginalized, oppressed group to stand up and have their voices heard.

We need the #BlackLivesMatter movement because racism is an institution in this country. We read about protest after protest after protest because black children, men and women are continuing to be murdered by the people sworn to protect them. People of color are disproportionately the victims of traffic stops, random searches, etc. Prison populations are have disproportionately more black inmates than white. We need #BLM because, in the current state of affairs, black lives are not treated as if they matter. And that needs to be changed.

In Defense of Being an Unlikeable Woman

I’ll admit it: I can be a rather un-likeable person. At least, that’s what some of my peers have told me. Since “un-likeable” is such an ambiguous term, I’ve pressed some of these aforementioned peers to clarify what exactly about me they don’t like (simply to satisfy my own morbid curiosity). The answers usually go something like this: “You’re too opinionated.” “You’re too loud.” “You talk too much.” “You’re too aggressive in your beliefs.”

Essentially, what my peers are telling me is that being a woman, and daring to have an opinion, and *gasp* sharing that opinion, makes me unlikeable. This speaks to a troubling trend in society: when women share their opinions, or express their anger at something that should make them angry (racism, sexism, harassment, etc) they are labeled as “bitches”, or other derogatory terms. On the other hand, men who share their opinions publicly are often lauded for speaking out or having the courage to share their beliefs. See the double standard here?

Furthermore, the fact that being a feminist makes me inherently unlikeable worries me. Feminism is such an integral part of who I am, and to have that be inherently unlikeable upsets me. I want people to understand the movement, and adopt it as part of their lives too. I want it to be inclusive and intersectional. I think the problem is that, because I believe so deeply in the movement, and I care so intensely about it, is that it colors everything I say. I truly have changed since becoming aware of social issues and feminism. I know more about the world now, and have changed my dialogue and everyday manner to fit this new awareness. Some people might have a problem with this change, because I’m no longer a timid little girl, afraid to share her opinion. Feminism has given me a voice. It’s given me a megaphone to share the things I have always believed in, but have never had a unifying name for.

Truthfully, I used to care what people thought of me. I still do, to some extent (I don’t want to unnecessarily offend or hurt someone), but since becoming a feminist and educating myself (becoming #woke, as many like to say) I have realized that being unlikeable means I have a voice. It means I’m voicing my opinion. I’m standing up and being counted. I am never going to sit back down, now that I’ve found my voice. So, call me unlikeable. I don’t see it as an insult- to me, it’s a compliment. I’m daring to speak out. And that’s pretty awesome.

The Ashley Madison Hack & The Bloodsport of Online Humiliation

On July 15, 2015, the Ashley Madison website was hacked, stealing all of the customer data- the emails, names, home addresses, credit  card numbers and sexual fantasies of the users of the site. They threatened to release this information to the public, and in August, they made good on that threat. Suddenly, everyone knew who had been cheating. Instead of being a quiet, behind-doors, affair, it was available for the entire world to see.

Let’s back up a little bit. Ashley Madison is a “Canada-based online dating service and social networking service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. Its slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair.'” Millions of people, men and women, used the website to commit infidelity. It seemed perfect- a place where everyone wanted to cheat? An easy way to hide it? That came crashing down when hackers got a hold of all the customer’s private information.

The public’s fascination with seeing who has been cheating and who hasn’t speaks to a larger problem that Monica Lewinsky identified in this eloquent TedTalk: Online humiliation has become a bloodsport. It’s this morbid fascination that we have- we know that we shouldn’t be taking pleasure in someone else’s shame, but we can’t stop ourselves from looking.

It truly isn’t any of our business who was on the Ashley Madison site, unless they were someone that we were romantically involved with. Infidelity is a very personal matter, meant to be handled between the people affected. Using other people’s infidelity to gain “clicks”, or likes on an article, isn’t fair to them. It’s further humiliating someone who is already embarrassed. It can lead to disastrous consequences- like two men taking their own lives.

Now, I am not advocating for infidelity to be excused. It’s beyond hurtful to the person that was cheated on, and each partnership has to navigate the aftermath in the way they feel is most beneficial to them. But it’s not up to us to comment on and discuss these cases of infidelity. We don’t know these people, or their relationship. We can’t know how they are feeling, and to try to garner “clicks” or “likes” at their expense shows a level of insensitivity that frankly we should be embarrassed to possess.

When you’re on the other side of the computer screen, it’s hard to remember that that person that is the headline in a newspaper article or in a compromising video is a person. They have families, friends, goals, dreams. But they are more than their mistake. It’s time to stop using other’s public humiliation for our personal amusement.

The Importance of Pronouns

Ok, truth time. Before this summer, I was really confused about this whole pronouns thing. I thought they were really simple- males are he, females are she, there are grammar rules, and so on. During a workshop on sexual orientation at Brown University, the leader asked us to go around and say our name, where we are from, and our preferred pronoun. I thought “um, ok, I mean I can see who’s a guy and who’s a girl…” But as people went around the table, some people who appeared to be female were saying “he”, while others were saying they preferred “they/them.” I was mentally scratching my head, curious as to this usage of pronouns. Like some of you, I had no idea what these people were talking about.

Let’s start at the beginning. Gender identity is a person’s sense of being a man, a woman, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Cisgender individuals like myself are lucky to have been born into a body that we identify with and feel comfortable in. However, others are not as fortunate.

Transgender individuals are those people that weren’t so lucky. Their gender identity, what they feel on the inside, does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Many of these individuals are dehumanized and invalidated for not conforming to the social norms of a cis-dominated society. To respect them, we have to use the pronouns they want others to refer to them by. For some, this may be “they”/”them”, as this pronoun is gender neutral (and, contrary to popular belief, it is grammatically correct to use they/them as singular pronouns. and even if it wasn’t isn’t making someone feel safe and supported more important than being grammatically correct?) For others, individuals either pre- or post-transition, it may be “he” or “she”. The point is to use the pronoun the individual asks you to use.

It is not ignorant to use the incorrect pronoun if you DO NOT KNOW. However, it is ignorant to continue to use the incorrect pronoun when YOU DO KNOW. The act of purposefully misgendering someone is an act of violence. Transgender people face immense verbal and physical abuse, as well as severe discrimination in employment, housing, and social events. Cisgender individuals often fail to comprehend just how dangerous everyday activities can be for transgender individuals, like using the bathroom. Just look at this case from May: a transgender woman was escorted from the women’s bathroom. Simply for using the bathroom designated for the gender she identified with, she was humiliated in public.

The reason pronouns are being talked about a lot is because we have a lot to learn when it comes to identity. But the major goal we should be interested in achieving is for all individuals, regardless of whether they are cis, trans, or genderfluid, or intersex, or any other identity, to feel comfortable in society. It’s really that simple.