Sexual Harassment Online

“Your beautiful body hot as fuck Mmmm I need you and them hips an ass in my life I bet you taste real sweet and just delicious.” 

Uncomfortable? So was I when I opened this Instagram direct message. I get at least five of these messages a week, and I only have around 2,190 followers. This is in addition to several weird comments on photos, and less sexual pestering in my DMs (see below). 

In growing my Instagram account, I often follow a number of accounts that I don’t know. I’d estimate that 70% of the random dudes I follow end up sending me a DM trying to start up a conversation. News flash — just because I follow you does not mean that I’m asking for a conversation, and I’m definitely not asking for a comment on how beautiful I am etc. 

You. Have. Just. Been. Unfollowed, sir. 

Virtual Voyeurism

Instagram has popularized voyeurism. In doing so, I don’t think that they thought about the dangers that it posed. Now, I have chosen to open up my life to the public, but that does not mean I’m “asking for it.” In no situation is a woman “asking for it.” 

Instagram has done its fair share to protect people against bullies, and even just made a landmark decision to prohibit anyone under the age of eighteen to see posts advertising diet products. But it hasn’t done much to stop its sexual harassment problem. In the twenty-five paged PDF, “How to Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide,” there is no mention of sexual harassment. 

There are numerous stories of photographers exploiting Instagram models, or companies preying on influencers’ financial insecurity. And while many proclaim that they’re smarter than that, I can say that it’s tempting. I have a miniscule following, but get offers constantly. And, I regularly get solicited by men labeling themselves as “sugar daddies.” 

What’s worse is that as someone who has been harassed, you can actually get in trouble for calling our your harasser by name on Instagram’s platform. Why you ask? Well, because of their Harassment Policy – isn’t that ironic? Further, Instagram’s “Help Center,” makes no mention of sexual harassment or predatory behavior. They just mention ways to report registered sex offenders. A simple search of related terms comes up with nothing. 

There are many accounts that publicize DMs and comments in which women have been harassed. Often, they poke fun at the issue. As women, we know that to deal with this sort of constant stream of harassment. A bit of levity is needed for us to feel both sane and safe. The account @chossyDMs posted such content… And guess what? it was REMOVED by Instagram. No worries though, you can be added to its new private account, @chossydms2.0

The Downside of Dating Apps

This experience isn’t unique to Instagram. I’ve heard of women experiencing harassment through LinkedIn. Boys, “connecting” on LinkedIn means growing your professional network… not connecting emotionally or sexually. Outside of these platforms, there’s also the obvious — dating apps. These apps do more than Instagram does. I know from experience that Bumble has a no tolerance policy for harassment or predatory behavior. I had my rapist removed from the platform. 

As someone who was assaulted by a connection through a dating app, in the short interm after this happened, I tried to use them again. For obvious reasons, I was hesitant about meeting up with anyone too soon, and refused to go to anyone’s home. Especially not after a few minutes of messaging. I can’t tell you how many guys got angry at that – or even how many unmatched me. This was even after I explained that I had been assaulted in the past and would prefer to get a drink first, or just talk a little more. Matches continually took offense to my fear, or were just outright annoyed at me. 

Boys, let me ask you a question. If your sister, or cousin, or mother, or friend was assaulted in the past, and exercised similar caution on these apps… would you be mad at her

After continual disappointment by men on these apps, and even just on Instagram, I decided to ask my followers if they have had similar experiences. The results were staggering.

Survey Results

Can’t Escape Harassment

When asked how the inappropriate DM made them feel, respondents had reactions ranging from feeling taken aback, to feeling disturbed, violated, and objectified. 

When asked how they responded to dick pics, some ignored them, some replied something snarky or angry, but the majority blocked them. Not a single respondent reported the message. One individual said the following about the message she received, “I was fourteen and never had seen an adult penis. It made me feel SO ashamed and disgusted.” 

This is the world that women live in. We are never free from harassment, not even in our own homes because of the digital world we hold in our hands. 50.3% of active Instagram users are female. And while the majority are 18-24, a significant portion fall into the 57 million portion that are ages 13-17. Instagram SHOULD take responsibility for the safety of these users. If they truly want to create a safe and positive environment for its users, it can not ignore this problem. 

Let’s Demand Change

I created a petition on change.org about this issue to demand that Instagram create policies around sexual harassment and predatory behavior, as well as mechanisms to report such incidences. Today I ask you to #bebossy with me and sign this petition. After signing, please share the petition to you social media platforms with the hashtag #EndInstaHarassment. Our voices matter.

What is consent?

What is consent? By now, I would hope that most of us have come to understand the parameters of this concept — especially given recent media and news coverage, and the ongoing #metoo movement. But unfortunately, I had to learn first hand that that wasn’t the case. 

This isn’t my first #metoo story, or even my second. But this is the most recent, involves online dating apps, and because of how old I am now and aware I am of the world around me, and the situation itself — it is the scariest. The reason that I am sharing this because I want to talk about the nuances of consent, and underscore that as the victim – there is no right response in this sort of situation. I’m not looking for sympathy — but instead hope that my story can bring comfort to someone else.

The first thing I’ve been kicking myself in the butt for is allowing myself to take the dating app seriously, after I had already given up using dating apps. If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know that I still have my accounts, and just entertain myself by identifying creeps that use fake photos and then report them to the app. Just your regular, low-key catfish detective. But I landed on someone that was real, despite their fishy looking photos — and the hopeless romantic, and frankly, the loneliness in me swiped right. 

**Trigger warning: sexual assault

instincts

The details in-between that are inconsequential, but trust was built. And because of that trust, I eventually accepted an invitation to hangout at his apartment. Now, in my own personal interest, I do not wish to go into specifics – what matters is this: I was sexually assaulted by this man and his roommate. 

Out of fear of encountering further physically harm, by two men that could easily overpower me, I let it happen. When it was over, they offered me a glass of wine. I refused, despite their begging. Part of me was scared that there was something in the drink. 

When the opportunity presented itself I quickly dressed, they began to beg me to stay, and it started to come off a bit aggressively. On my feet with my bag in hand, I smiled and insisted I was tired and needed to get home. I didn’t want to appear afraid or upset, so that they would just let me leave peacefully. I let myself out, and then found myself running down the stairs and to my car. 

I drove home. I took a long, hot shower. But I didn’t react. I didn’t reach out to anyone. Instead I was angry at myself. I consider myself an advocate of women’s rights, I’ve written about related topics before, I’ve told myself that I would verbally say ‘no,’ and that I would fight back if I ever found myself here. But I hadn’t done that. It’s really hard for me to take my own advice, or consider what I know to rationally be true – to be applicable to me. So in writing this, I am also writing to myself, to let me know that I did nothing wrong. 

Defining consent

First things, first. Consent. At its simplest, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Here are some important tenets of consent: 

  • Giving consent for one activity, does not mean giving consent to another, or to recurring sexual contact
  • You can change your mind at any time if you want to stop
  • Clothing, flirting, or kissing is not an invitation for anything more
  • If you are under the legal age of consent defined by the state, you cannot consent
  • Consent can not be obtained if someone is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol or if they are passed out
  • Consent after insistent pressuring using fear or intimidation is not consent – this also comes into play when power dynamics are involved
  • Saying yes or giving into something because of any form of fear is not consent
  • Having an existing relationship does not imply consent
  • Silence is not consent

Now this is not exhaustive. But at its core, consent is not implied or assumed, and it can not be obtained through pressure or force. 

I will also say that consent can also apply to simply being touched. I once found myself in a bar, just trying to hang out with my girlfriends – and this man came up to talk to me. I told him I was here to have fun with my friends. At this point, he started touching my arm and the small of my back. I immediately said, “did I say you can touch me?” To which he responded, “you know you like it.” I had to literally get in his face and yell at him to get him to back-off. He then proceeded to tell my friends that I was a bitch. Cream of the crop, huh? 

The fact of the matter is this. This is my body, and no one is entitled to it other than me. No one gets to have power over it except me. 

You did nothing wrong

But I froze this past weekend. I evaluated the situation, and I felt the best thing I could do was just let it happen. And here’s the thing. You get to do whatever you need to do to get out of and survive an assault. You have done nothing wrong. There is no “correct,” or “better” response. This should have never happened to you, and if it does I am sorry. Truly sorry. But I am proud of you. I am proud of you if you survived, and I am proud of you if tragically you did not. And too often, the latter happens. 

I am still processing this. And I am not looking for sympathy. And I will also offer this — there is no correct way to process this either. You may feel angry, or sad, or scared, or just numb. You may be in shock. You may cry, you may not cry. You may get law enforcement involved, you may not. You may tell someone, and you may not. You have every permission to process this how you need to. 

Please, if this does ever  happen, or has happened to you — I encourage you to use some of the resources below, when you are ready. Thanks for listening. 

Resources

Columbus, Ohio Specific resources

Gaslighting

So I got a wake up call this weekend, all thanks to a quote that I saw posted on Instagram. It read, “you gotta start being sick and tired of your own shit, sis. That’s when you’ll start making the changes that need to be made in your life.” 

And it hit me. I find myself again and again in dating situations where I am not treated with respect, or ultimately am used. And while that is not entirely my fault, I also know the following about myself: 

  • I’m a giver, and I will do almost anything for people that I care about, even if I just care a little
  • I often take responsibility for things that are not my fault
  • I care what people think of me, even when that person is disrespectful to me

What’s worse, is when I express my frustration, I find myself gas-lighted… and then somehow I end up being the one to apologize, and made to feel as if I did something wrong. A.K.A I get gaslighted.

A recent example

I recently started talking to someone. At the outset, it felt so different. He said that he wanted to get to know me, and when I asked how we’d do that since he lived in another state – he said he wanted to talk to me every day. Woah, every day! In my last relationship I was criticized for wanting to talk even every other day. Imagine my surprise. Someone who is interested in my daily life. 

It was great. And I was comfortable talking to him right off the bat. I usually describe myself as shy, but this time that wasn’t the case. That made me feel excited. And I felt even more excited when he told me he was coming to Ohio and wanted to come see me. Me? You want to come see me? Hell it’s usually like pulling teeth to get a guy to make a plan. 

Here’s where I started to misstep. Out of my excitement, I made a dinner reservation for the night he was coming because it was Pride weekend in Columbus, and I knew it would be hard to find a place to eat. I cleaned my apartment, and I got all done up. And then I sat. Hours passed, the reservation passed. And then I found out he was finally in Columbus by seeing from his social media that he was at a party. I was upset, and this first time he was apologetic. I let it go because he had been at a friend’s birthday party, and I was just some new girl. 

Red Flags

Did it register as a red flag for me? No not at all. Instead I blamed myself for having high expectations. 

He’d be in Cleveland for a month, and though not for a good reason, serendipitously I would be in Cleveland the next couple of weekends to take care of my mom. We hung out that first weekend. I got ready to go out, and was dressed and ready to go by 10 PM. It was 12:30 AM before I heard from him. But nonetheless, I ubered downtown and we had a fun night. But,, here’s a list of things that I’ve apologized for since: 

  • Being upset he wasn’t replying to me the following weekend, and didn’t make an effort to make plans even though he said he wanted to see me
  • Driving to his neighborhood because we were going to meet up, but then sitting there for hours and finally hearing from him that he forgot
  • Picking him up at 4 AM to go get his car, being promised breakfast / hanging out that day, and then being upset because that didn’t happen and I was ignored 
  • Being sarcastic, him not understanding my sarcasm and thus accusing me of it not being sarcasm

Self Reflection

Why was I apologizing for my feelings in reaction to his mess-ups? Should I be apologizing for asking to have my time respected and for there to be open and clear communication? Why am I feeling bad about myself right now after he posted that when he sees one “flaw,” he backs away from a person. Am I really flawed for wanting those things? 

I had a total flashback to my past relationships at that moment. I was letting myself get walked all over, and I was seeing that as a reflection of me and not as a reflection of that person. 

My number one issue is the gaslighting. So let me tell you a bit more about what gaslighting is, and how you can deal with it. 

Gaslighting 101

Gaslighting occurs when a person engages in certain behaviors or says certain things that make you question your reality – ultimately allowing them to maintain control. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • Denying that they’ve said something or done something even though you have tangible proof otherwise
  • Their actions don’t match their words
  • They tell you or others that you’re crazy 
  • They project. For example they’re a cheater, but they constantly accuse you of cheating
  • They tell blatant lies, so that your constantly forced to question whether something is true or not
  • They tell you that everyone else is a liar, and that they’re the only one with correct information
  • Even though they constantly tell you that you don’t add value, they randomly throw in a compliment. And what they normally compliment you on is something that serves them. 
  • They will advantageously forget any of their past negative behavior
  • They will disengage from listening to you and claim that they don’t understand what you are trying to say 

These are just a few examples. Some common things that gaslighters will say to you are: 

  • “You’re just over-sensitive”
  • “You always jump to the wrong conclusion”
  • “Stop taking everything I say so seriously”
  • “You’re reading too much into this”
  • “Why would you think that? What does that say about you?”
  • “You are just paranoid”

GASLIGHTING – IS IT HAPPENING TO YOU?

So how do you know if you’re being gaslighted? Besides some of these behaviors and phrases, a big part of it is how that person makes you feel as a consequence. Consider the following: 

  • Do you often ask yourself if you’re being too sensitive?
  • Do you make a lot of excuses for that person’s behavior?
  • Are you always apologizing?
  • Are you often made to feel like you’re crazy in the relationship?
  • Do you always wonder if you are good enough for them?

For me. This comes up as me always apologizing. Always. And then making excuses for that person. It was never their fault, somehow it was always mine. 

how to deal with it

Personally, I will say that if you feel like something isn’t right. It probably isn’t. In a past relationship I continually made excuses for why I wasn’t allowed to see my significant other consecutive days in a week, or for them being extremely late, or blowing me off. In that relationship, it turned out that I was being cheated on. Now it isn’t always that severe of a reality, but at the end of the day, being gaslighted is extremely bad for your mental health. Here’s what you can do. 

  1. Identify that there is a problem. Trust your gut. Answer those questions above for yourself. Just by doing that, you’re taking a huge step. 
  2. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. You cannot control what you feel, and your emotions should always be respected by another individual. Their actions have an effect that they are responsible for, even if they didn’t intend them to have that effect. 
  3. Sort out the truth. One thing that is helpful for me is to replay or even rewrite a discussion I have had with a gaslighter, and the discussion that got us there. Where do you start to abandon your own perceptions and begin to take on theirs? How did you feel during the conversation? 
  4. Take a minute to visualize the situation. How would it have gone ideally? Do you feel like it is possible with that person? If not, envision yourself without the relationship, feeling positively and having a strong support system. 
  5. Talk to your close friends. Ask them for an objective, brutally honest opinion on the gaslighter, and if being in that relationship has changed you. 
  6. Give yourself the permission to let go, or stop interacting with that person in your life. Identify all the other people that you would consider as a part of your support system. 
  7. Abandon trying to decipher who was right and who was wrong. Focus instead on how you feel. Emotional well-being is always more important. 
  8. Remind yourself that even if you are right, you can’t control anyone’s opinion of you or of the situation. The only opinion you can control is your own. Do you like the person that the gaslighter makes you become?
  9. Consider what you would tell a friend in this situation. Write it out, but address the letter to yourself, and read it back when you’re finished. 
  10. Make a list of all the totally awesome things about you. 

Their GASLIGHTING ISN’T about you

One thing that is important is that there is a distinction between a real disagreement and gaslighting. What makes gaslighting distinct is that only one of you is actually listening and considering what the other person is saying and the other is simply insisting you are wrong and calling you crazy. Conflict is important in relationships. But this sort of conflict is unhealthy. 

I’m never going to make this guy understand that he did anything wrong. But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me. Remember that how someone treats you is more reflective of them, than it is of you. 

I’ve Been Stuck

So I’ve been stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it a depressive episode, call it what you want. I can’t describe how I feel more accurately than the word “stuck.”

But what I’ve realized is that feeling stuck, or like you’ve reached a plateau, doesn’t mean that you aren’t still making progress. I think that these days, with the presence of social media, there exists this pressure to always be doing something. You have to have something “interesting” to add to your Instagram story – and binge watching bad superhero shows on Netflix in your underwear doesn’t always cut it. The things that you do just to get by each day doesn’t cut it.

But isn’t that sort of messed up? Everyday of our lives should cut it. The nitty, the gritty, the seemingly boring and uneventful.

On a Personal note

I’ve been on this road of self-improvement and self-care for a little over a year-and-a-half now. There have been marked ups and downs. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the times of neutrality. The times where there’s nothing remarkably good happening and nothing disappointingly bad. Everything seems to have gone into slow motion. And that’s felt frustrating. Frustrating because I can’t identify the progress that I am making as easily as I would like to.

I’ve never felt like this in my life. And it sounds crazy to say — but I feel stable. Sure, there are days or spans of days where I can sink into a dark, depressive hole… But more often than not, I’ve just been floating in calm waters.

But what is important that I’ve realized is that that progress has not stopped. I’m just in a period where the changes are more incremental. And maybe that means I need to put in more work — but it could also mean that I need to be truly present in the person I am at this moment.

Socially Prescribed perfectionism

A study by a writer and activist from Inc. found that 67% of millennials feel extreme pressure to succeed, compared to 40% of GenXers and 23% of Baby Boomers. Millennials have this profound feeling that they “haven’t done enough yet,” and that time is running out.

I can definitely relate to that. With social media, you see so many more examples of young people accomplishing amazing things as artists, entrepreneurs, and even CEOs. Meanwhile, I struggle to pay my bills every month and make just enough to stay afloat.

A recent American Psychological Association (APA) study found that in comparison to prior generations, millennials are harder on themselves, and report higher levels of social pressure to be perfect. This has reached the point where the desire for perfection has become unhealthy. I often feel like I’m stuck in some sort of rat race. I couldn’t put it better than a writer from The Cut:

“And yet there is obvious risk to feeling trapped in an endless cycle of unreachable expectations and overly critical self-evaluation. Tying one’s sense of self-worth to achievement can make a person unable to hold on to the sense of satisfaction that comes with success, and has been associated with clinical depression, anorexia, and early death.”

don’t get distracted

Sorry – don’t mean to scare anyone with the “early death” part — but we all need to take a collective deep breath. And also we need to pause to recognize that we’ve already done some pretty great things in our life — even if there isn’t a trending BuzzFeed article out there about us.

That same APA study showed that this pressure can be even more damaging when we feel like that pressure to be perfect is coming from others. We’ve all become the victims of self-comparison. We live in a meritocracy that places huge importance on self-success – and then we’ve gone and made matters worse by comparing where we are in life to the highlight reels that everyone else is sharing to their social media. And heaven-forbid we have a day that isn’t worthy of sharing to our feeds. Because to us that means we haven’t accomplished anything that day.

So remember this. Progress is slow and life moves fast. Don’t waste the days you have worrying about if you’ve done enough, if you’ve accomplished enough, if you’ve made enough money, or lost enough weight. Be here now, even if that feels uncomfortable. Take that weight off your shoulders, and have a goddamn drink or a piece of chocolate. True progress is made through experience and interaction, and I think you’re doing pretty fucking great already.

My Body isn’t Your News Story

I have a simple request. Can we please stop using women’s bodies as topics of news? My body isn’t your news story.

This past week, I had been traveling in Dubai for work. When I travel, in the mornings while I get ready I like to watch the news. Usually CNN or BBC. To my dismay, those channels were not available. The only channels available in English were National Geographic, Discovery, and E! Network.

As I prepared to hit the pool one early morning, and pulled on my one-piece I suddenly tuned into my chosen background chatter. The subject: Beyoncé’s post-baby diet. When I looked up to the visual, it was an extremely grainy, zoomed in paparazzi shot of Bey’s half-eaten apple. I’m guessing Golden Delicious. 

Yes. What you just heard is correct. A zoomed in shot of the apple carcass left over from the Queen B’s afternoon snack. The anchors proclaimed that Bey had revealed the secret to her weight-loss. Zero carbs, zero sugar, zero red meat, zero, zero, zero. 

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

I shook my head and proceeded to order waffles to my room. But then I heard one of the hosts question if it was, “too much too fast?” Now, I missed exactly what it was referencing, but whatever it was… it shouldn’t have been something that the public needs to weigh in on. Were they saying she had she returned to work too fast after having her baby? In that case, we should not be promoting mommy guilt, or judging mothers for their choice to or to not go back to work.

If they were talking about her weight-loss… again, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. Nor are these hosts certified medical professionals who get to have an opinion. 

Using Women’s Bodies as News Subjects

This is definitely not the first instance of women’s bodies or appearance being the subject of media coverage and attention. Half of most awards shows are just about how “well-dressed,” actors are, and if they have “pulled off” their look. And let’s not even begin to talk about how female politicians and nobility have their outfits discussed instead of their accolades. Then there’s the history of makeover and weight loss shows that “right wrongs,” or “unhealthy behavior.” And I’ll give a final shout out to shows like America’s Next Top Model. 

Then there’s the countless editorial content in magazines and online news media about the weight-loss or gain of celebrities, the diets that they’ve used, or spreads that pit women against each other to see who “wore it best.” 

I often wonder how those in the media can talk about women’s bodies so much, when I can guess that most would not want to undergo the same scrutiny. Yet, this practice seems to be tireless.  To be perfectly honest, though I don’t often watch E! Network, I had hoped that this is something that they had grown past. E! News, I challenge you to find other things to talk about besides women’s bodies. 

Affects of Observing Anti-Fat Behavior

Recently, a group of psychologists at McGill University found that celebrity fat shaming is associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes. UK Magazine, Stylist, says the following, “Implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, instinctive reactions as to whether something – such as fatness or weight gain – is inherently good or bad. Explicit attitudes, in contrast, are those beliefs that people consciously and openly endorse. In other words, we might never say out loud that we think bigger bodies are bad. But thanks in part to celebrity fat-shaming in the media, we may also find it hard to internally shake off negative ideas about weight gain.”

Specifically, researchers found that after witnessing a celebrity fat shaming, women experience a dramatic increase in anti-fat attitudes. Further, the more notorious or critical the fat shaming, the higher the increase. 

I’m going to take you back to some research that I’ve discussed before in my blog. The Girls’ Index, a report from Columbus non-profit Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), found that by ninth grade the percentage of young girls who wish to change their appearance dramatically increases. Simultaneously, the percentage of girls who say they are confident declines sharply. 

Today, women’s bodies are not only criticized and made the topic of conversation by Magazines and TV hosts, but by everyday people through social media. The same anti-fat attitudes are translated through social media as they are through TV and print. ROX found that the more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likelyto want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

I ask again, why is this still happening today. A common practice in the 40s to the early 60s was listing a women’s weight and physical characteristics in newspapers. This was done even when the information was totally irrelevant to the story. History professor Michelle Moravec says, “The practice of including women’s weight — or any other physical observations — in the news has been a way, consciously or not, of “putting women into their proper place,” by giving more value to their appearances. For men, on the other hand, with the exception of athletes, characteristics like weight or attractiveness weren’t important, “Nobody’s describing like, ‘The male candidate in the gray suit got up to deliver a powerful speech,’” she adds. “That’s how you know it’s a gender dynamic: It sounds absurd when you apply it to men.”

Hell, we learned Condoleezza Rice wore a dress size between a 6 and an 8 before we could actually get into the article that talked about her security expertise in a 2000s New York Times article. What does this teach women about their worth? Why aren’t we applauding Beyoncé for her athletic prowess and commitment to her artistry? Would you want your dress size to be the headline of a story about you and your life’s work? 

I sure don’t, but to get it out of the way. I’m between a size 10 and 12, and if that changes how you feel about anything I just said, thank you for your time but kindly leave my page. 

Setting Boundaries in Toxic Relationships

I’m going to get straight to the point today. Let’s talk about setting boundaries in toxic relationships.

Whether it is at work, in your dating life, or with family and friends – we’ve all had to set boundaries before. I think that this is one of the hardest things to do in any sort of a relationship, because there is no exact way to do it. And, not to mention, nine times out of ten these aren’t physical, visible boundaries. They’re abstract, and the bounds tend to change day to day – or as our moods fluctuate.

But, some are easier to set than others.  We tend to feel more obligated to maintaining certain kinds of relationships than others. It is a lot harder to deal with a toxic family member, than it is to deal with a toxic friend. We feel as greater sense of responsibility and commitment to certain roles. And family in particular, has been defined by society as something that is always going to be a constant. Whether tied by blood or family history, these relationships seem more permanent. And when you decide that you need to distance yourself from a family member, you are often met with criticism for doing so.

One thing needs to be made clear. Disrespect and harmful behavior does not discriminate based on what kind of relationship it is. You can be mistreated and abused by a family member – and in fact are more likely to be in a familial relationship than in any other kind of relationship. But we put up with the abuse because, “they’re family.”

This is incredibly unhealthy, and only serves, in some instances, to continue the cycle of abuse. As a society we have interjected a degree of power dynamics into the structure and institution of family. We weight these relationships much heavier than those between friends. This can make it all the more hard to establish boundaries when you need to.

My Experience with Boundaries

A year ago I had to establish a firm boundary with a family member. In fact, my mental health depended on it. But I will not pretend that it has been easy. I still struggle with it today. I feel a sense of obligation to this person, and because of the norms and values of our society I often feel like I am being a bad daughter, or just plainly, a bad person for establishing a boundary between myself and my father.

But the fact of the matter is, I have been vastly more mentally stable and happy since I have created that line. I continually have the conversation with my therapist where I debate tearing that wall down, and using the concept of wise-mind, come to the conclusion that that would be extremely unhealthy for me. I have to work everyday to love myself despite that decision.

Now, this does not mean that I do not love my father. It means that because I love him, I too often allow his mistreatment and poor behavior to affect me at a really deep, and harmful level. And for a long time I justified that for him. I allowed the relationship to continue because I thought that I had to. But after I tried to confront the behavior to no avail or understanding, I eventually reached a limit that I did not know that I had.

I had gotten to a point in my mental health journey where I was a lot stronger than I had been in over a decade – and I saw that if I put my emotion mind aside, and considered some of what my rational mind was telling me – I needed to set a boundary. Here are some things to consider if you think that you may need to do something similar.

How are the person’s behaviors affecting you?

A landmark study found that there is a very real link between toxic relationships, stress, and your health. In fact, those in unhealthy relationships were at greater risk of developing heart problems, including dying from strokes or heart attacks, than those who weren’t in negative relationships. Our brains have a gene expression called conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), that is associated with inflammation and low immunity. Originally a part of our flight-or-fight response, CTRA provides short-term benefits such as increased healing, physical recovery and the increased likelihood of survival. But, long-term activation of CTRA can cause chronic inflammation, which increases our risk for a multitude of health problems.

Outside of the biological effects of toxic relationships, how else are they affecting you? Do they constantly make you feel bad about yourself? Do you feel like there is an unequal amount of give and take? Are you constantly drained from interacting with this person? Do you feel emotionally or physically unsafe?

If so, there are a couple of options: (1) feel hopeless and drained constantly,  (2) accept the relationship for what it is, (3) create boundaries, or (4) end the relationship.

Boundaries

Shoes of two people with a line separating them.

Step One

I suggest that you sit down and define for yourself what you want your relationship NOT to be. This will help you to identify what behaviors are of issue for you, as well as how the toxic person is making you feel. By knowing what you will not tolerate, you are priming your brain to recognize and avoid those behaviors and situations in the future.

Step Two

Envision what the ideal relationship with this person would be. When I say ideal, I mean imagine what it would be like if it was perfect and healthy. Then take that image and identify the stuck points – the things that the individual does not seem to be able or want to change. This really helped me to see that it was rational to set a boundary with my dad. I had tried many times to express what I needed from him and what made me upset, but he refused to take responsibility, made abusive comments, and continually lied to and gas-lighted me. Unfortunately, I knew that he didn’t have the desire to stop those things. But that made setting the boundary justifiable. I was able to define what a healthy, respectful relationship should look like, and I knew that this relationship wasn’t that.

Step Three

Decide the bounds. This is where there is a plethora of options, that truly depends on the individual situation. For me, I had to completely cut off communication. I had to engage the “block” function. Every interaction disappointed and drained me. And my mental health took a severe blow when it came to anything that had to do with him.

But this can look like many different things. Maybe you just can’t hang out with this person alone, or you need to decrease the frequency. Maybe you need to make it clear that you cannot constantly be available over phone or text. This could also take the form of setting ground rules about topics that you are not willing to discuss. At a recent event I attended, a woman spoke about how she had to tell her family that her body and weight were not to be topics of discussion, and nor did she want to talk about other people’s bodies. Instead she challenged them to have different conversations.

Step Four

Decide if you need to communicate to the other person what the boundary is. In some situations, cutting off communication is the boundary that needs to be formed. If that is the case, you may not want to communicate what the boundary is going to be. I knew that my dad would not understand, respect, or agree with the boundary I was setting, and I knew that that conversation would not be a healthy one.

But if you are in a situation that you need to make the boundary verbally clear – stay clear, calm and consistent. Don’t feel the need to over-explain yourself, don’t place blame, and don’t become defensive. Be a broken record, and stick up for yourself. If you know that you can’t easily do that in person, send a text or a letter. You are in charge here.

Step Five

Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. People that support you and respect you. Keep close the people that make you feel safe, and that help you to grow. In the past year, I learned that even family can be toxic, and even family can make their love for you conditional. But I also learned that I could find family in other people. By surrounding myself with positive and healthy relationships, I have been able to maintain my mental health and overall grow as a person.

You Are Worthy

Now I want to be clear, this isn’t an expansive step-by-step process – and I’m not a licensed, health-care professional. This is just a brief overview of how I set boundaries. Be aware that there may be situations where the individual doesn’t respect those boundaries, and at that time you may need to consider other options. If you, or a loved one, is in any sort of abusive relationship and need help, reach out to a local women’s organization or utilize the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (1-800-787-3224).

If you take anything away from this, remember that anyone can be a toxic person: a parent, a sibling, a boss, coworker, or friend. Know that you have choices, and that there are people who will support you – whether that support comes from close friends or community organizations. You are worthy of healthy, respectful, positive relationships.

A Blog About Not Blogging

So I didn’t blog last week. Who noticed? After seven consecutive weeks of sharing my thoughts and opinions, I didn’t post. So today I give you a blog about not blogging.

Starting this project has been a whirlwind for me. And as an over-thinker, I ran myself through the gamut of devil’s advocate questions: why are you doing this? Do you think that you’re this important? Are people going to think you just want attention? Will people talk about what you’re doing behind your back?

I think we often ask ourselves questions like these when faced with pursing something that we are passionate about. There is a fear that our level of excitement and interest might actually become something to be embarrassed about. Truthfully, how many times have we heard people poking fun at someone for being “too into” something? How many times have we done so ourselves?

I didn’t post for a couple of reasons. One was that I couldn’t choose between a number of topics. Another was that I didn’t have any accompanying photos to use. Now both of these were silly reasons because what I was really worried about was what people would be most interested in me posting about, and that I needed some trendy picture that I liked of myself (since I had exhausted all my faux-fur coat pics).

I think in the back of my head I decided that if it wasn’t going to be up to my standards, and to some degree of perfection, it wasn’t worth posting. Reflecting on this I know that I wasn’t thinking rationally.

The Confidence Gap

Several pieces of research have shown that as compared to men, women don’t consider themselves ready for promotions, qualified enough for new jobs, think that they will perform worse on tests, and in general they underestimate their abilities.

This can have very real consequences for women. More and more studies show that confidence correlates to success just as closely as competence. For example, research conducted by Hewlett-Packard showed that women applying for promotions will only do so if they believe that they fit 100% of the job qualifications. Conversely, men feel confident to apply if they fit at least 60% of the qualifications.

As one article states, “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”

The confidence gap is formed very early in life. The Girls’ Index, published by Ruling our Experiences, is the largest national study of young girls in the United States. The report found the following:

  • Confidence declines sharply between 5th and 9th grade (over 20% drop in girls who say that they are confident)
  • 46% of high school girls do not believe they are smart enough for their dream career
  • 1 in 2 girls don’t disagree with others nor say what they are thinking because they want to be liked
  • 1 in 3 girls with a GPA above 4.0 do not think they are smart enough for their dream career

No wonder women like myself struggle today with lack of confidence and belief in their abilities. Starting in just 5th grade our confidence declines – and confidence is a huge determinant of success later in life.

Imposter Syndrome

Another concept that comes into play is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a deep-seated feeling of insecurity or self-doubt that makes one feel like they are a fake, despite there being substantial evidence to the contrary. These feelings are frequently activated after some sort of accomplishment.

Psychologists have shown that those who experience imposter syndrome often convince themselves that they don’t deserve their successes – and that they instead arose from luck or from other’s believing that they are better at something than they really are. This usually manifests through someone not wanting to talk about their successes, or not wanting to claim that they are an “expert.” It makes it hard to own titles like “artist,” “musician,” “scientist,” etc.

For example, I don’t really feel like I can say that I’m a blogger. This is only my eighth post, and I don’t have a substantial following. I could come up with a plethora of reasons to disqualify myself. A lot of times I feel like people probably think I’m trying to be an “influencer,” when in reality I’m just trying to be true to myself and learn something new. And for this I feel like a fraud. What authority to I have to put my ideas and opinions out there in the world?

Questions Answered

So I return to the questions that I posed to myself.

Why are you doing this? I’m doing this for me. For the little girl that made-believe that she was a magazine editor and who wrote chapters of books that she never finished. I’m doing this to learn and to find my voice. And finally, I’m doing this because I have seen time and time again that the things that I do give voice to, resonate with people. For me life is about human connection, and finding ways to relate with others based upon our shared humanity. So if I can connect with someone in even a small way, I feel that both of us see benefit.

Do you think that you’re this important? No, I don’t. Which I need to work on. But I do know that I need to remind myself that I am worthy, and that my voice matters.

Are people going to think you just want attention? Yes and no. I’ve had people who have expressed support, or thanked me for what I am trying to do. But I also do know people, even some that are close to me, that believe that I share too much for no reason. But what those people don’t realize, is that it isn’t about me. It’s about giving a voice to those who may not feel as empowered to speak up.

Will people talk about what you’re doing behind your back? Yes. Ironically, I’ve seen time and time again that as an individual comes into their own, and starts to feel comfortable in their own skin, someone has something to say about it. People will make fun of you because you make them uncomfortable in some way.

I think that’s just another test of faith in yourself. You gotta just keep doing you through the shade, because being true to yourself will always pay off in the long run. And if anything, at least I’m giving people something to talk about, and connect over, instead of staring at their phones.

Should I say “you’re welcome?”

What’s The Big Mystery?

Truth-be-told, I have been watching a lot of Sex and the City lately. And by, “a lot,” I mean that I binged about six seasons in under a month. So, I’m going to have a little Carrie Bradshaw moment here.

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Now, if you didn’t agree with my last post – than me writing this will most definitely make you shift my name into the category of “slut.” Truth-be-told again, I don’t care.

Let’s start with the facts.

  • A 2011 study found that about 80% of women fake orgasms at least half the time
  • 25% of women fake it 90% of the time
  • Women generally orgasm 69% of the time they have sex, compared to 95% for men
  • 62% of women are not satisfied with their sex lives
  • 30% report pain during intercourse, and a “large proportion” don’t tell their partners

There is an obvious trend, and therefore an obvious problem. There is a plethora of benefits when it comes to sex. Some are incredibly un-obvious. Here’s just a few:

  • boosts your immunity
  • decreases stress levels
  • the release of oxytocin and endorphins increase relaxation, which helps fight pain and depression
  • those same feel good hormones lead to feelings of warmth and closeness

So when we talk about gender inequality in the bedroom, we are talking about real benefits that women disproportionately are not able to access.

Now let me throw a real doozy at you.

More than half of men aren’t comfortable discussing gynecological health with their female partners. (Sorry for the heteronormative example) In one study, only half of the men could identify the vagina on a diagram, and two-thirds mixed up the different parts.

Now the article I read was discussing how your partner could potentially be the first person to notice a change that could be a warning of gynecological cancer and other sexual health issues – but I think that this also bodes poorly for women’s sexual satisfaction. Especially because men in the study, aged 18-44 years old, said it was too embarrassing to talk about the vagina. Yet I’d argue over 50% are comfortable sending an unsolicited picture of their private parts – ironic.

People, ladies. Let’s talk about sex.

In my life, I have been lucky enough to have a mother that once said to me – “if you aren’t satisfied, either say something, or leave him.” (You go girl, am I right?) She never made my sexuality negative, and simply allowed for open discussion. I think that that is why I have felt comfortable engaging in discussion with partners. Full disclosure, I have felt the most satisfied in relationships in which my partner and I shared full disclosure about our sexual experiences together. We established boundaries, shared what we liked and what we didn’t, respected the word “no” when something was painful, and prioritized each other’s pleasure. Mine was equally important, and not an afterthought – as it seems it typically is. Nothing is more unattractive than a man who views the bedroom as a race to complete a task for himself. It’s objectifying, boring, and frankly, sad.

“if you aren’t satisfied, either say something, or leave him.”

If you don’t want to take my word for it. Listen to the research:

  • in a study of 293 married individuals, it was found that disclosing sexual information was positively linked to relationship satisfaction and closeness
  • another found that open sexual communication was a predictor of not only sexual satisfaction, but overall relationship satisfaction

We grow up with this weird myth that communicating about sex is inappropriate, and “un-ladylike.” Think about all the movies and TV shows you’ve seen where it just comes naturally to everyone, and both parties are completely fulfilled. No discussion, just background music and a couple grunts and moans. A Psychology Today article posits that the three biggest myths are: “great sex comes naturally; your partner should know intuitively what you want and like; and good sex must be spontaneous.” I love the analogy that they give following this list as well:

“In reality, more often than not, great sex, much like a great meal, does not just happen—it needs to be carried out with skill, thoughtfulness, and the right mix of selfish abandon and mutual attentiveness. People’s tastes, preferences and values with regard to sex—as with food—differ greatly. You’re better off knowing something about your partner’s tastes before you start cooking.”

Psychology Today

In reality, no one knows what they’re really doing. And all bodies are different. Communication is essential. And ladies – we work just as hard, if not harder than men, we deserve to be just as satisfied.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask what someone is and isn’t into before you engage in intercourse.
  2. When something hurts, SAY SOMETHING.
  3. It’s okay to do some research. Find positions that are comfortable, or techniques you want to try. (boys, I think it’s about time you go look at a diagram of the vagina)
  4. Do a recap when you’re finished. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Give high-fives where needed.
  5. It’s okay to need a little help. Use some of your sex tech!
  6. Make it fun and flirty, or draw up a PowerPoint – whatever floats your boat.
  7. It’s okay to ask about the last time someone was tested, or if they have any Sexually Transmitted Infections. 1 in 8 people in the U.S. have herpes.
  8. If someone does have an STD or STI, learn about the risks and what you can do to protect yourself.
  9. As always, be vocal about using protection if you need to be.

I would have loved to have a number 10 to make it even, but in 2019 I’m working on letting go of a portion of my perfectionism.

Now, I love Carrie, but I’m going to leave you with a quote from Miranda to send this post home. When in doubt,

“What’s the big mystery? It’s my clitoris, not the sphinx.”

Slut Shaming

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness seems to have progressed to understand that this shaming of young girls is wrong. Yet, we haven’t evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

Shame on You

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family specifically called out old pictures from parties early in college. Frustrated at this, she said that she was just a, “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

example of slut shaming image of girl lifting skirt. her thigh is marked at different points to connote that her skirt length makes her: flirty, cheeky, provocative, asking for it, slut, whore.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Why do we do this?

Here lies the problem. As a society, when we sexualize women, we’ve also connected that to their intelligence. We say things like, “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that a woman receives, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here)

Further, and I can admit my own bias here. On social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence. And this is wrong.

Image of Diana Muzina as a kid in a halloween costume giving a condescending look.
This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society reinforces traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I watched play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who is intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as, “inappropriate” and, “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed. I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience. It also maintains current power structures we have in place. But, on a slightly different note, we cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

Body Talk

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness has seemed to progress to understand that such shaming of young girls is wrong. But we haven’t yet evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family was specifically calling out old pictures from parties early in college. She was frustrated at this, saying that she had been a “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Here lies the problem. When we sexualize women, we’ve also as a society connected that to their intelligence. We say things like “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that they receive, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here) Further, and I can admit my own bias here, on social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence.

This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society serves to reinforce traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I saw play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who was intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as “inappropriate” and “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed, and I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience and maintain current power structures we have in place. But, we also cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!