Diversity in Demand

The best thing about the Trump Presidency is that it served as a wake up call. The resurgence of organized White Supremacy we all kind of thought wasn’t a thing anymore, and the tolerance of the misogynist slang publicized by our new world leader disturbed everyone enough to step up. Women and men of different backgrounds, races, religions, and sexualities, stood together in protest. We are becoming the change we want to see, and naturally commercial industries have followed.

But how do we know when a company pioneers for change, and when they just want profit from embracing trends? Does it matter? Are we falling like “snowflakes” down the path of over-political-correctness by caring? Is it ridiculous to bitch about this when I should just be grateful for any progressive shifts regardless of motive?

I write this from Salt Lake City, Utah, where outdoor activity remains pretty white-washed. It is refreshing to see non-caucasian enthusiasts on the trails and in climbing gyms. A close friend of mine fits this minority. Every time we venture downtown together she is approached by some guy at the bar, asking casually if she climbs at The Front. It doesn’t surprise me. She is strikingly beautiful, an impressively strong climber, and her dark skin sets her apart from the majority of the crowd, of course she turns heads. What did surprise me, were her dismissive responses to what I perceived as a poor guy’s brave attempt at striking up conversation. It irritates her, being approached this way, a reminder that she stands out. I have asked her about it, but I wonder if I will ever truly understand, as I have yet to live in a place where my skin tone categorizes me into a minority.

A few  months ago a local outdoor brand scouted this friend via social media for a photo shoot. They told her they loved her authentic look. One gig developed into regular modeling sessions throughout the season. It felt wonderful to hear someone I care about relay details of this opportunity that had seemed to fall into her life at a time when it was perfectly needed. These gigs gave her a spotlight and confidence in her appearance within an industry that she had felt marginalized in, and it made my heart soar. This subtle shift we are experiencing in commercial content to be more inclusive has been long awaited and fought for. But a piece of her story gave me pause. She complained of how shallow modeling can be, explaining how the second shoot she did was a re-shoot. The photographer casually mentioned that the photos from the previous shoot were not useable because the model had a little bit of a gut, and it ruined the pictures.

Let that sink in.

The more I have thought of this the more bothered I have become. A small inside comment from one professional in a company to an other has up-ended my respect for a brand that has succeeded via obnoxious bright colors and altruistic humanitarian aid. I can’t help but wonder if I am over-reacting. Am I too sensitive, or am I just fed up? Fed up that industry has the power to make one woman feel validated, but at the expense of an other whose body was too “authentic.” Has that model ever noticed her absence in that company’s marketing content? Does it affect her? I am tried of never feeling good enough in my own body. I am tired of listening to my friends express their most vulnerable insecurities as I feel completely shocked and powerless to convince them of the beauty and power they hold in my eyes. I am tired of endless and inescapable marketing tactics that sell product by manipulating our self worth.

I want to tell this story because if we stay silent, we stay complacent. Continuously hoodwinked into thinking one kind of authentic is desired, and an other is still not good enough. Are companies fighting a status quo, or just fooling us by trading around their stigmas? Is diversity really appreciated when there are specific parameters to the type of diversity that is marketable? When do people get to be models because they embody the brand regardless of skin color or body type? When does an LBGTQ+ writer get to just be a writer, a muslim actor just an actor? When will a notable female athlete just be a notable athlete? I find myself wondering when I ponder this, if I am creating the problem. If I refortify walls of the boxes we have been socially trained to place people in, by criticizing the restriction of those boxes. I want to celebrate diversity, and at the same time I feel like we will have succeeded when we no longer see differences as categories anymore. When we all just get to be humans, being. I want to live in a world where women perceive their individuality with jubilation rather than compare it in despair.  Is it too much to expect the outdoor industry to sincerely assist this journey? If they want to profit on our passions, they need to see we are passionate about real diversity.

 

 

Do


 Spew and Do

An other trip around the Sun, an other ski season upon us.

Somehow, as I file through the events of my adulthood since returning from tasting life in New Zealand in 2015, I realize each memory is marked on a timeline that ties its relevance to the winters it took place during or between. I am not sure what prompted this shift, but I suspect when I came home I needed something to hold onto, something to build my identity around after all the shape shifting it had been through. Skiing housed my oldest and dearest memories. It was a natural thing to grasp with complete, pure, life-enhancing enthusiasm. 

All of our stories that got us here are different, but we are all here together. We are people who live for winter. We tie the events of our lives to how many inches were had that season, its a point of reference that keeps everything straight. As we anticipate the coming season, we wonder what is in store for us. How will we shift with the storms and dry spells? What adventures will greet us? What challenges and turn-arounds are going to test our character? Who will come into our lives as new partners? What will we learn from them, and what will we uncover about ourselves in that process? 

I want to offer a challenge. I feel that are losing ourselves. We are losing sight of the reason we are drawn to the mountains, allured by the journey, and in need of the solitude. We have become obsessed with talking about what we can do… so caught up in shoving it in faces, we forget to just experience the endeavor. We forget that simple happiness and exhilaration we felt the first time we found these wild spaces, before so many distractions lived in our pocket.  We envision how the audience is going to react to our showing and telling of it before returning to the car. I want to raise awareness to this issue, because I am tired of turning these extremely healing experiences into social media content. I am tired of being surrounded by others who are also trapped beneath presentation pressure. I want to set us free. 

This prompting came early this summer. In Utah there are a few chutes that are perfectly guarded from the warm desert sun. They offer a low quality return for a high physical investment into late July. I met with a friend to ski one of these chutes with two new partners. One of which managed to fill the entire time driving up the canyon with his stories of how fast his times were in his guiding course, what mountains he had climbed, where he had traveled to, how many different knots he could tie, you know the type. The only time his steady spew remotely resembled a conversation was when he had the nerve to ask my friend about what she learned in a bad ass all-women’s mountaineering course she had just completed. It became apparent shortly after the elicited response, that the question was a calculated opportunity to grill her on the technical terms of the rescue systems and display how much  more he knew on the topic than she did.

There is a funny irony in spewing. The more you spew, the more insecure you appear. I felt relief getting out of the car. I hiked the bare crests of the mountain above the snow fields. I had left my skins at home which created cause for concern when everyone else turned up with theirs, but as it turned out I could move faster hiking efficient lines in my trail shoes, than they could skinning the meandering snow patches. As I moved farther up the mountain and further into seclusion, I heard the advice I received from an old Kiwi I shared a New Zealand hut with years ago, “You know what they say, never brag about how fast you did something. Because there is always going to be someone out there who did it faster.” 

This humility is instilled in New Zealand culture. As a member of American society where everything is a competition, it was so refreshing to live somewhere where just being is more important than being the best. One of the most admirable men in history was Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest. In a time where parties from different countries raced to the top, Hillary was a mountaineer from New Zealand in a team of Englishmen. The team had no plan or expectation for him to summit. When he returned after more accomplished members of the team had gone before him and failed, he simply and causally said, “We knocked the Bastard off”. I don’t know anything more Kiwi than that. What I adore even more about this story, is that Hilary did not get a picture of himself on the summit. He took a picture of his partner, the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. He didn’t want to bother teaching Tenzing how to use the camera, it was too cold. Can you imagine, achieving the greatest mountaineering feat known to man and not taking a picture of yourself doing it? In our selfie-obsessed society, we could all benefit from channeling a little more Hillary into our lives. 

The problem we currently find ourselves in is how much technology has altered our culture and thought process. Social media has not only normalized a continuous stream of self-promoting, it has created a system that rewards braggarts and ironically dismisses the people who are actually living in the way we seek to achieve. Platforms like Instagram offer so much opportunity in making connections with people and sponsors, that we are all kind of trapped in forced compliance with it. The general mindset of mountain people has shifted so drastically, that the phrase “Photos or it didn’t happen!” went from being a sarcastic snide to a statement followed by “…but really, can you take one from that angle too?” Additionally, due to the collaboration of everyone creating similar content at a rapid rate, and the algorithms that are used to offer us more of the same feed we have already seen, everyone is actually bored of social media. They look at it mindlessly, they post mindlessly… we are trapped in this machine of habit. We are chasing that passion in a hamster wheel and wondering why everything feels so empty and redundant these days. 

Lets change this. I know it is not realistic to do away with social media and other modern technologies completely, and I know so many positive connections and messages can be born from these platforms. But we can at least harness it’s power rather than feel controlled and driven by it. This season, do what you are doing because you love doing it. Not because you want to tell someone about it or show 1,000 people you will never really know. I challenge you be present this season. I challenge you watch every minute of the sunrise without putting it on your story. I challenge you to be in the moment. I challenge you to ski your best run in a place where no camera angle can capture you, linking perfect turn after perfect turn until you are in complete euphoria from the exhilaration, unaware of how out of breath or how fired your legs are until you come to a stop at the end, gasping, laughing, and choking all at once. Pursue the adventures you seek because you want to. Not because you have anything to prove to other people. Focus on doing the things you set yourself to. Do them humbly, do them thoughtfully, and ask yourself if it was a better experience than all the times you only focused on spewing. 

#liveauthentic

How many pieces of myself can I give to others, before there is just nothing left?

It is amazing to me how our emotions shut off to send us into survival mode. We can go about the day, completely numb, to breaking open the second we get to the door of our homes. Maybe the body is just regenerating from water loss. I will never know.

Equally amazing, is the daunting thought of publishing this, even though few will ever find it. It makes me want to scream, how we must oppressed our negative emotions in the face of society. I just want to state that I am not ok, not today. Why is it unprofessional to say, “Hey guys, I am sorry I am not performing my best today. I am hurt, and so distracted by all the different scenarios constantly running through my head of what I could have changed. Thanks for your patience.”

Would our society be completely different, if vulnerability was acceptable? Or is the epitome of vulnerability that it needs to be contained? We are only allotted a couple people to open ourselves up to. It is not possible to be vulnerable for everyone, that would be excessive, selfish… uncomfortable for your audience.

Why do we tolerate a social format where everyone is flaunting the best of their life? We dehumanize the experience of living to a drastic extent. It is not only acceptable, but expected that we should post to complete strangers that we are in love, excited, or accomplished. Oh you feel so happy today that there isn’t room for any other emotion in your tiny body right now? Better post about it. And yet when the opposite feeling takes over, leaving us crumpled on the ground, we need to hide. It would be completely inappropriate to share that we are hurting. It would be attention seeking, too much information. I am tired of this discrepancy.

I am tired of the lies we are fed everyday through omission. Omission of what the days that take us between our posted peaks look like. Yes, I know I can opt out of those lies at any time, all I would have to do is delete the apps. But I don’t think thats enough for me. I want a conversation. I want to know if it is possible to find a balance. We praise people for their honesty about their hardships, but only when they are out on the other side of the tunnel. Then it is no longer a story of pain, it is a story of success. The heroism dramatically distances the story teller from anyone who may still be hiding their pain, pain we aren’t allowed to show.

I just couldn’t help but wonder all day how many people I encountered who knew I was not ok. How many people did I fool? How many fooled me? And if I had known they were hurting, what could I have said? How do I know if they wanted help? I  know that if someone asked me if I was ok today, really asked me because they could tell I was not, I would have instantly burst into tears. I didn’t want that. I assume they wouldn’t either. But is that a trained reaction because we are taught to be embarrassed by such a raw display of feeling?

My intention in writing this, in posting it, is not in hope that as many people as possible tell me they love me and want me to feel better. I have close friends and family who are already doing that. I just need to express it. I want to take a stab at balancing the playing field, even if it’s only an imperceptible fraction. As an elementary school art specialist, I tell my students that expression is the most powerful thing we have as individuals, as humans. It is what sets us apart from everyone else. Art is synonymous with expression. It changes the world when we utilize this magic. How much of the world has shifted because of social media? Our expressing has become dangerously biased toward only the positive end of the spectrum. I think we do ourselves a disservice by hiding the valleys that gave our mountains their high summits in the first place. It would be nice to stop hiding the lows. Maybe it would make us realize that its ok to be struggling. It’s ok to be confused in life, to have to put effort into relationships, to be strapped for cash, to feel lonely sometimes. Not just ok, but necessary. These pieces of us aren’t post-able because they aren’t glamorous. But they are worth so much more than the perfect days because they shape us… isn’t that also worth celebrating?

 

Journey.

Red Castle #26-7020

“Was it worth it?”

I actively try not to cringe when I hear this question. I know it is coming before anyone vocalizes it. I can feel the tension between us heighten. My skin tingles as the anticipation grows in the milliseconds of their hesitation, as they weigh which is more important: avoiding sensitivities or satisfying curiosity. Then I answer with feigned confidence, but the truth is, I still have no idea if it was worth it or not.

The first weekend of February, two partners and myself set off to snag the North Couloir of the Red Castle in the Uinta Wilderness of Utah. I am not sure if it has been skied before. Given the notable athleticism of a high percentage of backcountry skiers in the Salt Lake City area, I would not be surprised if it had. The tricky part is that the couloir rarely fills enough to ski. With the healthy amount of snowfall Utah was blessed with early in the year, we decided to take the gamble and check it out. The trip would require driving 3 hours to the trailhead, traveling 8 miles by sled to the wilderness boundary, and 11 miles on foot to the base of the Red Castle. We planned to hike as far in as daylight would allow and set up camp, ski the couloir the next day, camp again, and head home. This would be my first time winter camping. I kind of questioned if jumping into a two night, remote camp in the middle of winter as opposed to to a single night, few miles off the highway in late March camp was a bad idea, but I wanted to do this trip, and you have to learn sometime right?

Here is what I learned: It. Was. Hard.

Winter camping in the coldest time of year, in the high Uintas on extremely faceted sugary snow is just consistently a little less than comfortable. Flat skinning for miles upon miles is surprisingly more endless than skiing uphill for miles. And the weight of knowing how far you are from civilization or even cell service had more of an affect on my usually up-beat backcountry persona than I expected. But we carried on.

The Red Castle stood small in the distance, steadily growing as we pressed forward. I would watch my feet and count steps by the hundreds. With each glance up, the mountain became more striking. Red jagged cliff faces covered in snow, rising above all the surrounding rolling domes of the Uintas. The dramatic contrast suggests the peak was divinely placed.

Red Castle #4-6670 (2)

At the base of the mountain, it was clear the snow had not settled and filled the couloir  like we had hoped. So much work for a non-continuous line. We discussed turning around, we discussed skiing something else, and then we began the ascent. A monotonous cycle of kicking, in steps and pushing the earth below you. I climbed in a body I hardly recognized it felt so tired. Questioning again and again why we do these things. What is the point, are we simply crazy? And yet something keeps us moving, some indescribable passion.

Red Castle #8-6761

The snow pack changed consistency before we reached the top. An established and unstable windslab sat between us and the victory we had envisioned for months, a gate keeper we had no way of manipulating. My stomach twisted. We came so far, and now whether or not we could achieve our objective was out of our control. That small voice returns, the one that taunts you in your darker moments, telling you it was all a waste.

As we rearranged and transitioned our gear into ski mode in the middle of the steep couloir, (a process I am getting a knack for) I thought a lot about societal constructs of success and failure, of all or nothing. Looking over the serene landscape, lit by the golden late afternoon hour, I felt a renewed understanding of the importance of journey. Through trial and error we grow and revisit our deepest selves. I felt proud and satisfied for coming as far as we did and the new skills I learned. I felt intimidated by the journey back that still laid stretched before my eyes, camp was far enough away we would be hiking well after dark. I skied the mediocre snow to the base and put the skins back on my skis for the endless flat hike out. We were never here for the turns anyway, it was always about the adventure. Little did I know then, turning around early would not be the devastating part of this trip.

Red Castle #20-6925

People do not ask me if it was worth it because we only got 75% of the line. They ask if it was worth it because after defeat, after the endless haul back, after sleeping a second night in frigid temperatures, I forced my frozen boots on and headed home. As I pulled off my socks at the end of the day to get into the steaming shower, my heart sank at the grey-purple color of the toes on my right foot. Shocked but optimistic, I felt sure it would recover quickly.

Turns out frostbite is a pretty significant injury. My foot swelled for weeks. It blistered. It turned black. It gradually shed all the dead skin. And the new skin is still gaining resiliency each day. I watched storm after storm roll through the rest of February and into March and waited. Waited for the day I could weight my foot. Waited for the day I could walk on it. Waited for the day I could fit it into a shoe, and finally the day I could get it into a ski boot again.

It is now late March.

I hit the corn harvest this weekend, and just left my final doctor appointment at the University Burn Center. They expressed awe at how fast my foot healed and mentioned again and again that I don’t know how lucky I am. They are right, I don’t know. With my “tough it out” mentality, I still simply feel petty about being stupid enough to freeze my foot in the first place. The real dagger was the severity of their tone when I was instructed to never expose my foot to cold temperatures for the next 6 months. The doctor didn’t bother hiding the wide eyes they tend to make when they are giving instructions to someone they think is crazy, who they doubt will listen.  For the third time, at the third appointment,  I was told my plans to ski Denali this summer were no longer possible.

I walked back to the parking garage. In the privacy of my car I let it settle in. I knew my chances of a significant ski expedition were cut extremely slim in February, but I had to keep hoping for something. I thought maybe if I healed quickly, if I looked into technologies to keep my foot warm, I could still go for it. I just did not want to accept defeat. I cried. I thought of how scared and excited I was to take this chance to push myself in elements I have always dreamed of testing. I reminisced on how stories of mountaineers in movies or on the discovery channel griped my imagination as a young girl. About how my parents, who often question where I came from, never took their child’s desire seriously, about how I stubbornly determined to do it anyway. I toyed with the possibility that this injury just goes to show I am not cut out for the kind of adventuring I always longed for, and then put those thoughts away. I thought about what a loop my season was thrown into by one night of ski boots in sub freezing temperatures. And I still wondered if that trip to the Red Castle was worth it.

Here is the conclusion I have found peace with. If I had not gone that weekend, I would have been able to chase all the lines I wanted this year. I would not have sat in solitude for weeks with feeble attempts to distract myself with reading, writing, and creating art. Failing because my body was too restless to allow my mind to focus. I would not have slipped in and out of depressive states, because the remedy I have learned to cope with these states was no longer available to me. I would still be trying to think of every possible way I could raise money for Denali, and dreaming about my first trip to Alaska, a place that has always been quietly but persistently waiting for me. I have missed so many experiences because of nothing more than a frozen boot liner. There is still more I will miss, because my foot is now forever susceptible to refreezing. I do not have the power to change what happened, but I do not regret it anymore. Perhaps it was a small step backwards that was necessary for progression. Perhaps it was my body’s way to knock my soul back into check. A single trial endured make us stronger athletes than the combination of all the successful lines we have completed. These hard days are the ones that stimulate our growth, that make us question why we are drawn to an alpinist lifestyle. The time forced away from those spiritually charged settings nurtures our desire to return, and the appreciation for the life we lead. I did not grow physically stronger this season, and my dreams of pushing those physical limits were broken. But I have grown mentally stronger and developed a greater confidence in myself, my abilities, and my identity. These personal revelations are building blocks in my journey as a mountain adventurist, and I feel more drive to push my passion than ever before. That is worth everything.

*All images by Michael Aasheim Photography

fear.

Yesterday I was listening to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour (One of my favorites). This episode was about fear. They discussed the fear factor of being a professional astronaut, the way we have evolved with fear hardwired in our makeup, a folk artist’s method for getting over stage fright, and more. What they didn’t speak of is the most common form of fear that almost every single person faces. The fear of pursuing what we truly love. The fear of failing if we try.

I am so susceptible to this. The only things I have done with bravery in my life are the events I was thrown into unplanned and unprepared. As soon as I start to map out what I want, I begin to doubt myself. What I want is complicated. It feels unachievable. I want to live in so many different countries, I want to work as an artist, I want to impact the world in a positive way, I want to be happy more often, I want fulfillment.

Artist. The word carries feelings of inspiration, freedom, and risk. It seems as though Art History in a nutshell, with the exception of Andy Worhol, is a collection of beautiful minds of wonderful and troubled people who struggled throughout life to support themselves. Their million dollar works held no value until years after their deaths. The term Starving Artist is this commonly used, romantic way to describe young adults today who are pursuing the creation of their dreams for a living. It sounds fun, it sounds cheap, and it sounds adventurous. But it also sounds very scary, especially for someone who would want the security of a humble home one day and the ability to raise a couple little ones in our increasingly expensive world.

There is something about ceramics that sings to my soul. The smell of the clay, the way it gently pulls beneath my fingertips, its abilities that magically change at different stages of dryness. When I am creating with my own two hands I am happy. Happy in the purist most simple form. Happy just because with ease, I am present. When I work with clay I feel complete, and I know it is the professional pursuit that fits who I am. I clean up, I leave the studio, and everything slowly changes. As I walk outside and head home I pass people, houses, cars, advertisments, and businesses. The blissful feeling begins to fade, and I begin to question my confidence. I begin to fear. I fear that my work wont be good enough to support me. I fear the world will not care for what I can create when there are so many other options out there to assist in coffee drinking. I fear I wont be able to work enough hours independent of a pushy boss. I fear all the investments that would lie ahead of me if I choose this path in life, and the risks that come with them. I look at instagram feeds of other wonderful ceramic artists, and inspiration blackens into intimidation. Will I ever be as good as they are?

This morning I believe I hit rock bottom. I woke up in a hurry to get tasks finished and arrange what I needed for the market in town, where I have set up a couple times to sell my work in the past. Nothing was coming together. Mind you, this was largely in part because I left everything to the last possible second. I blame my busy week, OK and myself. I suddenly filled with a despairing rage of frustration. I simply could not do it. I could not go. Completely overwhelmed by the fear of not selling anything I opened the boxes holding my work,  nicely packed, awaiting transport. I reached in and grabbed a very average tumbler and examined it, criticizing its ugly glaze that did not turn out the way I wanted. I remembered a time back in school when a graduate student told me that some of the best ceramic therapy was to take his failed pieces out to the shooting range. I walked outside to the edge of our balcony, and slammed the piece down onto the drive below. The shatters flew in all different directions with a satisfying ping. It felt so good. I went and got an other piece and did it again. Release. I let the shards sit there as their shame wafted away. I swept the drive. As I cleaned I thought back to those artists from history. I thought of stories my dad told me of his favorite composers who reportedly burned scores of work in manic frenzies. Perhaps they were getting over their fears too.

I have decided I am not going to be afraid anymore. OK, I will probably always be slightly afraid, but I will no longer let it immobilize me. I will take the steps I know I need to take but have been delaying. I am going to start toward what I want out of this life.

Too many people are in my situation. They know what they want, but are not sure how to get there. They feel too afraid to try. Somewhere we have been convinced that job security with benefits and salary is more valuable and desirable than a job that is secure simply because we love doing the work. Isn’t it more frightning to think of what life will be like if we are forever too scared to pursue what we really want?

unexpected lessons in living abroad

I returned  from my trip to Wellington after living for 7 months in Queenstown. Seeing it again at the begining of an other summer has brought me full circle. I have been here for one year. I believe a flaw of mine that causes more grief than any other is my knack at conjuring the most idealized, unrealistic expectations for every big experience I anticipate. Some would call it optimisim. But it would be more accurately identified as a horrible habit that damns me into a constant sense of under-achievement. This is what New Zealand was supposed to be: An amazing adventure where I would fly in, flash my extravagant post-graduate, experience-less CV at any employers, and choose from a plethura of professions. I would impress everyone my boyfriend introduced me to. We would lavish in our young professionalism, taking regular holidays and want for nothing, oh and be engaged soon enough. I would know in a years time what master’s degree I wished to pursue, and be sorting through which countries would be the best to study in. Then we would be applying for visas and taking language courses, all while my mother and sister, happily problem solved the best way to tackle an international wedding in the next 12 months. The ridiculousness of this “casual” plan would be made more humorous if I could only portray to complete stangers over the internet how terribly unorganized I am by nature. I should never plan. Never. Especially since they tend to come out this incredibly ostentatious… It has been a Year. And none of the above happened. Not one thing! This reflection is what really happened, and what I learned instead- photo(5) Living abroad is hard. Yes, we all knew it would be, but it turns out it is actually really hard. I never thought courage was one of the essentials that day at the airport, along with my passport, visa, and boarding pass. In hindsight, it did take a lot to uproot from a place of extreme comfort in order to try out a new life in a completely foreign place. Steering wheels are on the wrong side of the cars, and you don’t have your friends or family available for dinner or coffee. But the truth is when you make this move, you collect rich experiences, met wonderful people, and learn the real stuff that sticks with you for life.

My first lesson: The less money you make, the less money you need. Working abroad, I have skipped to and from seasonal jobs that pay close to minimun wage. In the beginning, my fear of not being able to live so frugally felt like a shadow stalking me, just to rest her chin on my shoulder and deliver perpetual mutterings of my short-comings. I envied peers who also recently graduated, and were working entry level jobs in the feilds they studied. I felt embarrassed I was not doing the same, not earning more money in a “qualified” position. The pay I earned in a new currency, far away from the Mom and Dad Rescue Bank, became my first true test in budgeting. And… It turned out to be so easy! Every other week I transfer most of my check to my savings (aka travel fund), a few hundred to living expenses, and whatever small amount left is for guilt-free spending throughout the next two weeks. After a few months of this I felt financially comfortable and happy the majority of the time, much more often infact, than the same peers who were earning more than I was. I listened to my flatemate’s complaints about financial stress one morning, and came home to package on the door step that afternoon from yet an other one of her favorite clothing companies. This phenomeon happens simply because money is relative. The more you earn the more you spend. Our society is driven by corporations feeding messages to the public to perk up our economy through mindless spending. We perpetually assume we need more and more stuff. When you simply can’t afford that stuff because you would rather save your money for a plane ticket, and wont have room in your suitcase for more crap anyway, you break free from the cycle. You wake up to realize that materials do not assist you in achieving lasting happiness. To have found this revelation through practice rather than theory is liberating, and has drasitically altered the way I perceive needs, wants, money, and work oriented life-styles.

Second Lesson: People who focus their lives on travel are the most admirable people in the world. Yes, we love their instagram feeds, their blog posts, and facebook pages. But it goes deeper than what they portray on social media, because we all know social media is a lie that only shows the 5% most perfect moments of our lives 100% of the time. Remeber, I have already disclaimed that living abroad is FLIPPING hard at times. People who travel are amazing role models because they are optimisitic, they are problem solvers, they are dreamers, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Never before have I been surrounded by as many inspirational people as I am in Queenstown. There are people here from all over the world who are truly living and acknowledging each individual day. When they are ready for a change they pick the next destination and work out how to get there. And they will get there, regardless of visa issues or job insecurity. They achieve hundreds of life goals every single year, while most “normal” people are still in the area they grew up in, working on that one goal: the car, or house, or marriage. It is the small events that make a traveler’s life rich in moments instead of materials. The walk on the beach, the multipitch climb, the meditation course, the excitment of exploration. I love talking to people about where they have been and where they are going. To hear about adventures articulated in various accents. It motivates me to map anything I can imagine into my life, knowing I can achieve it. These people are easy to talk to, because they are genuine and friendly. When you are transient you have to make friends quickly. I love how open-minded and accepting so many of these people are. Regardless of history, race, interests, or culture, they all seem so eager to spend time with eachother, so welcoming of new faces. That is a beautiful thing, something we should all strive a little more for. I have learned to judge less, accept more, and spawn better adventures.

Lesson Three: Luck has nothing to do with it. An outdoor shop in town arranges a few days in the season for women to ski tour in the backcountry together. There was of course a wide variation of background and personality amongst these women, and we enjoyed a day of chatting and getting to know eachother as we skinned and skied. One woman, who has worked on and off on yachts for several years was recently offered a job on a boat heading to Antartica this summer. The job sounded adventurous and glorious. One of the other women in the group, equally impressive, said, “Wow you are so lucky you get to do that–wait no, let me take that back. Good job, you make good choices.” She continued to explain how people often tell her she is so lucky to be in Queenstown working as a rafting guide. “I didn’t just magically appear here with this lifestyle,” She explained, “I chose to be here. You could do it too if you wanted.” It is so true, and I feel as though I notice this occurance all the time now. People always dream of living somewhere completely new, they talk of how lucky an old friend is that they got to go there, they talk of how they could never do it themselves. The truth is you can. But you have to chose it, and you have to make sacrifices rather than excuses. It seems big, if feels daunting, but it is amazing to make that leap, to taste that sweetness that comes only from living outside of your comfort zone. We are all lucky, because we all have the tools we need to create a life we want. Knowing that it is a choice, not a chance makes me feel empowered. I know I can be anywhere I want to be, doing what I love, I just have to be brave enough to choose it.

So no, in the end, the big things I thought I would tackle this past year remain untackled. And I have figured out that I am ok with that. What did happen this year, although unplanned, is so much more important than that. What I wanted was generic, predictable, and indefinate. Those things are still to come… But I am happy this year has added a spice to my life that I would never have receieved any other way. I feel as though I have broken from a mold I needed to escape, and now I can move forward in my own unique way, and how exciting does that future sound? Dont worry, I am not jumping to exquisite expectations, not just yet.

advice from a birthmother

Three years later.

It is funny how quickly life expands, bends, and molds, until events that completely altered our world become a small detour on the path behind us. Today my life consists of all different struggles and triumphs. I sometimes wonder where I would be if I chose differently back then. I am aimless right now. I chose to apply for a visa over a masters program, and day by day I don’t know what will come next. The lack of direction almost makes me crazy at times, and yet, somehow deep down I know I am right where I am supposed to be. Part of why I am here is because when I got pregnant at 20 years old in my second year at University, I made the best decision for me: Adoption. I look back on that experience today with a sweet fondness. I look back on that experience with pride. I look back on that experience and remember wishing there was someone I could talk to for guidance. If someone came to me today and asked for the best advice I could offer to a birth mother this would be it.

1. Love yourself. You made a mistake, and every judgmental eye is looking right at it. The stares and the gossip could easily be the hardest part of carrying a baby as a young single woman. But it will only be hard if you acknowledge their negative energy. My pregnancy was the best lesson on self worth I have ever received. I truly became one of those rare people who is unconcerned with the perceptions of others. Their judgements could no longer affect my self esteem because I knew their judgements were inaccurate. I was forced to learn this because I had exhausted all my emotional reserves in other departments, and had none left for the “how to fix people judging you” aisle. So many people are fabricating their own story about you, but only you know your story. Only you know how terrifying taking that test was, the sinking feeling of regret as the life you knew falls out of reach, the strength it takes to rise each morning and keep going, and the physical pain of grief as you try to sleep each night. Love yourself, and you will float through this process gracefully.  Walk around with pride in every step, because you have a lot to show off. You are amazing. You are selfless. You are beautiful. You have sacrificed what life was to make a life for someone else, to create a family for someone who has been waiting so long for it. Not many women will get the chance to do something so spectacular.

2. It’s Not About You. There are so many more pieces to adoption than the birthmom (even though you are kind of the star of the show with all the work you are doing). While I was pregnant I interacted a bit with birthmom support groups through my adoption agency, and I found it interesting how much birthmoms were catered to. It seemed to make many feel quite entitled in demanding terms for placements. This claim may rub some the wrong way, but bear with me. I know how you feel, I have been there. This is the hardest nine months you will ever go through in your life. I would not wish such a thing on the worst of enemies, but something happened to me early in my pregnancy that changed the entire process for me. When I contacted the woman who would later become my child’s mother, I held nothing back. I told her I was scared, I was exhausted, I was unsure of what to do. She told me of the heartache, the struggle, the nine years of trying so hard for a baby, that there is a perpetual, painful void in daily life. I learned that for her to be so honest with me is actually discouraged by adoption agencies, which I find strange, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. I had to understand the constant pain infertile couples endure for years, to know what a beautiful blessing I had been given. My pregnancy then became less of a colossal trial in my life, and more of an opportunity to give the greatest gift of happiness to an other person. Once I realized this my attitude completely changed, and I was no longer pitying myself and my situation. I couldn’t wait to heal this couple’s pain, and having a true empathy for them became the foundation for a beautiful relationship as we moved through the adoption process.

3. Space and Honesty. Post-adoption relationships are a scary unknown for many birthmoms and adopting mothers. But I highly encourage birthmoms to give themselves space. Honestly, it sounds insensitive, but think of placement as a breakup. If you break up with someone you love deeply because you know its best for both of you, do you really think it’s a good idea to visit them every week? I know some girls look for families that live in the same area so they can have regular interaction. Everyone is different, adoptions are extremely personal, and what worked for me might not work for others. However, in my experience, the girls I knew who saw their babies regularly were unhappy and regretful when I checked in with them later down the road. I fully believe this is because they were not allowing themselves the space they needed to find closure. I also feel as though this arrangment is quite unfair to adopting mothers who finally get to step into parenthood. Let them be the parent, they have waited so long for it. Whatever your arrangement is though, be honest. Post-placement relationships only go sour when there is a lack of honesty in the beginning. Tell your family exactly what kind of contact you would love to have, and be welcoming and understanding if your couple’s needs are slightly different so they don’t promise what they physically or emotionally cannot deliever. My adoptive family lives in New York and I was living in Utah. I chose someone who lived far away because I believed it would be healthier for me. Lucky for me though, most of their family live in Utah as well,  so we often meet once or twice a year when they visit Utah. I have visited them once in New York, and other than that we casually connect through facebook, skype, and the occasional letter. I would say our relationship feels most like extended family, and its quite fun to get more family members.

4. Treat Yourself. Have a recovery plan that is all about you. Seriously. It made me feel so selfish, but I placed my baby because I was nowhere near ready to provide for an other person. I didn’t want to sacrifice this precious time in my life as a single young adult by jumping into motherhood prematurely and unprepared. You chose not to have the responsibility of motherhood YET, so do all the things that mothers can’t do. Plan a trip, work full-time at a fun job, hang out late, live with a bunch of friends. The list goes on and on. I was back at school almost 8 weeks after the placement, enrolled to study abroad that summer, I have graduated, and now live in a foreign country. It is strange to go through something so tramatic, and then back to life as it used to be. When I was pregant my life every morning was so much about getting that little peanut to her due date, that post-placement I struggled a bit with going back to normal-people-life. You will have hard days, sad days, days where no one can relate to what you are going through, but always having something to look forward to that is just a little bit selfish will balance the hard days out until you know that you have healed.

*Attn Dog People: PUPPY! Seriously one of the best idea’s my non-animal-loving mother has ever had. I believe that having my dog satisfied an instinct to nurture once my pregnancy was over, and really helped me heal. Plus, looking after a hyper-active border collie puppy was enough work to make me grateful I didn’t have more responsibilites.

5. Be Vulnerable- Accept Help. You are strong, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry this load alone. During pregnancy and after, tune into how you are feeling. Surround yourself with friends and family who love and support you. Although I am so happy with my placement and my current state in life, November is now an emotionally volatile month for me. Example: Two days ago at the grocery store I found red kale and exclaimed my excitement for how rich the color was to my boyfriend. He made a sarcastic jype because my love of produce is a bit ridiculous, and my eyes welled up with tears, I could not help it! It’s embarassing, but just letting people know you are fragile will invite them to love and support you. I wonder what people thought about the guy consoling the girl in the refigerated section with a bag of kale and teary eyes. An adoption is a weird, unique, highly emotional, life changing experience. People who haven’t experienced it aren’t going to know what to say, and they will be terrified of saying the wrong thing. Help them help you. Be appreciative of their care and forgiving if they stumble on their words or unknowingly say something slightly offensive. Be honest about how you feel even if it seems irrational.

6. You Will Never Be Forgotten. You may not be a parent. But you will always be a birth mother. You will always have a connection with this child. Today Lillian turns 3 years old. I talked to her on skype about her birthday party and the art she has been making. I know she doesn’t really understand who I am and why I ask so many questions. That is ok. It can be so hard to realize you don’t have a mother-child relationship with your biological child, but you need to know that does not mean you don’t have an extremely special place in one another’s lives. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that she is in the best situation she could ever be in. I do not hear from their family as often as I did immediately after placement, but that does not mean they are no longer grateful for what I did. I find so much joy in knowing I created a beautiful family for three lucky people. Life goes on, but what you did will never loose its immense value.

Keep your chin up. This process is unique to you, but be the best you can, only good will come of it.

a hitch-hiker’s heartbreak

I have hitch-hiked myself only a handful of times, but I can boast of a record of extremely short waiting time with my thumb in the air before getting picked up. Of course the usual response is something like, “Well duh, you’re a cute girl of course you get picked up right away…” This however is not the case. The truth is simple: Karma. I pick up hitch hikers whenever I can. I love it. One of the great things about the South Island of New Zealand is that it is rich with humble hitch-hikers from all over the world. And if you chose, you can share that extra seat in your car with someone in exchange for a short story, their story.  It belongs only to them, and you only get to hear because you delayed your travel time by 3 minutes to help out a fellow wanderer.

Today I learned Rosa’s story. This morning on our way through Wanaka there was a young woman walking along the side of the road with her arm out. Her mustard coloured ski bib gave away that she intended to get to the same place we were. My adorably introvertered Kiwi partner, well familiar by now with my love of hitch hikers, slowed to the side of the road.

Rosa is originally from Holland. However she hasn’t lived there for a while now. She has been in Austria, Australia, Canada, and now New Zealand. She is chasing her passions. Learning to surf each summer, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, taking life as it comes, seeing more of the world than most people I have ever met, and that is because I am American.

There is a wonderful thing that happens between more developed countries all over the world that the States chooses to miss out on: The Working Holiday Visa. This visa allows young adults to move to an other country to find work and travel for one year. I am fortunate enough to be on a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand, especially since the USA does not offer this Visa to Kiwis. There is this funny thing about foreign relations I have realized during my time in New Zealand, and that is if you treat other nations nicely, other nations will return that kindness. When it comes to visas, it is well known that the USA doesn’t play nice. And we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Because the States does not give working holiday visas to anyone, I can get a working holiday visa in four forgiving countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Singapore. Not too bad… until your Partner talks about working a ski season in the French Alps and you realize you can’t tag along. But because he is from New Zealand, he can chose to go just about anywhere. As a matter of fact he has, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lativa, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Phillipines, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, OR Vietnam to choose from. My list doesn’t feel so generous anymore does it?

The United States, more than any other country in the world, needs this program, for the same reason they chose to neglect it: The USA (excuse the generalization) is a narcisstic, xenophobic, nation, that is still riding on the high that once being a super-power offered them. We choose to deny these young people like Rosa access for 12 months to our country, and it is a big loss for us. The people who are traveling on this visa are our generation’s thinkers, doers, adventurers, wanderers, and problem solvers. They are not just dreaming, they are making it happen. Regardless of where they came from, these men and women are inspirational, and we need to learn from them. At the same time, they can learn from us. We American’s need to represent our nation and break down our negative stereotypes while learning about other cultures in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in Oceania. We need life experiences in new places imbedded into our culture if we want to succeed in the evolving challenges of our globalized world.

Rosa’s story was not exclusively about fun and adventure. She had an American boyfriend she traveled with for sometime. They intended to be together long term, until his Mother became sick. He returned home to help his mother and she couldn’t follow. This part of the story stayed vague, and I couldn’t bring myself to pry for detail as her somber tone told of the frustration she felt at a circumstance that puts being with someone beyond her power. I couldn’t help but feel especially angry about this. About how unfair it is that someone as sweet and hard working as Rosa is not welcome into my country because she was not born there. It almost makes me more angry when people like Rosa talk about how much they would love to see the wonderful landscapes and cities we have in the States, because they are so forgiving and accepting of the fact that they will never be able to do it. Most can not afford to travel there if they are not earning an income simultaneously. It is ridiculous and we need to demand change.

We live in a world where traveling is easier than ever before. Multi-culture is imbedded in New Zealand’s culture. This small little island state is so well aware of the rest of the world it would blow most Americans away. They can distinguish different regions of accents from various countries without a second thought, they know about politics and history of other places, and they welcome all different nationalities who want to enjoy the amazing scenic landscapes they call home. Kiwis grow up expecting to spend a significant amount of their lives traveling. They save more money for plane tickets than materialistic waste. Its a beautiful way to live. I wish America could try to be a little more like this. We have so much to learn from one an other. Nothing is better than learning about and experiencing a place through someone who calls it home.

In the States we live with so much fear of forgien immigrants. It is pumped into our system through the media and politicians. Yes, I wont dishonor horrible events such as the Boston marathon. Many would argue is a reason to tighten our boarders and restrict young immigrants. But the truth is we do more harm than good when we stop millions of amazing, loving, diverse people from living in our boarders for a year in hopes of preventing just one potentially dangerous person. Have faith. Relax. Know that all people are inherently good. I wish I had the power to convince our country to make this change. Would it be overwhelming? Maybe initially as visa applications flood the system. Would it be startling for your barista to have a thick Dutch accent? For some, possibly. Would it be worth it? Absolutely. We forget that ours is a nation of immigrants. Why do we feel like we have the right to stop our own distant families from sharing the new world with us (and just for a year!)? Imagine the country we would become if young Americans spent more time learning and engaging with others overseas. Imagine the world we would become as our generation becomes congressmen, business owners, doctors, professors, artists, designers, envrionmentalists, etc. with education and life experiences rich in influence of various cultures.

Please. Have this discussion. Share these thoughts. Lets get our people out amongst the world. Lets get Rosa to the United States she so longs to see, to her love she was forced from. We need more Americans in the world, hitch-hiking, sharing stories, and making change.

15 misinformed anti-feminists

It is possible, that I am only a reactive writer. I have not had a drive to write until this week when a popular post ended up on my facebook news feed, and I realized what I really wanted to say about it would be too many words for a facebook comment.

The link for the post is here: http://www.ijreview.com/2014/07/156463-15-women-share-reasons-dont-need-empowered-feminist-movement/

15 Sassy Photos Show Why Thes Women are Rejecting the Feminist Movement

The posts lists women holding up their written reasons why they do not need Feminism. Their reasons where confusing and shocking to me. Some reasons were so ignorant, that I felt embarrassed that women were saying this about a movement that arguably earned them the right to post a picture of themselves and their opinion decades before the internet came into existance.

To avoid ignorance. What is feminism? What is the feminist movement? One definition I found on our trusty ol’ wikipedia states: “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending a state of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.” However, the more muddled a definition, the more room there is for error, so lets simplify. We could pull from that definition that feminism is “defending a state of equal rights for women”. In the most simple explaination, a feminist is a person, (man or woman) who believes that women and men should have equal rights and oppurtunity. Therefore feminism, which is commonly mistaken as being all about gender, is truly about achieving a world where we don’t acknowledge gender.

The only way I can imagine really getting my point across is to state 15 sassy reasons why they are so misinformed, and why the world needs feminism. Lets start with lovely anti-feminist lady number 1.

She states: “I don’t need feminism because I don’t want to politicize my gender.” Tell me about it. I hate politics. They are corrupt, they are sneaky, they are power hungry, and over 80% of people in political positions are men. If gender inequailty isn’t present in politics, why aren’t these numbers closer to 50%? Can women really feel like they receive full representation in government decisions when they are less than 20% of the voice? I can tell you I don’t. I have a firm belief that women and men naturally approach and critically think through problems differently, and I have an even more firm belief that we need some more diverse methods of problem solving in D.C. so I am happy to politicize my gender, because that is what politics are about, represntation, an women are still greatly lacking the representation they deserve when it comes to state and federal decisions.

Anti-feminist Lady number 2: “I don’t need feminism because I am not a Victim”  If I just so happened to be eating something when I read this you could have imagined a perfect shock-induced choke. What? Since when is feminism about becoming a victim? Feminism is about gaining women the respect they inherently deserve so that they are no longer victims by default. Maybe I read this wrong, maybe you don’t need feminism because you haven’t ever been a victim. You have never been sexually assulted or verbally abused, denied a job because of your gender, or told you couldn’t play with someone or do something because you were a girl. We’ll you are so lucky! Extremes aside, I remember growing up in my religious community feeling frustrated every summer that the “Young Men” were going on camping, boating, and back-packing trips, and I was excluded from these things simply because I was a girl, and the “Young Women” didn’t pursue such activities. It’s true, looking at it this way makes me a pity-party victimizer. But if they recognized that young girls could enjoy those activities too, I would have probably enjoyed my religion a bit more growing up. Feminism isn’t about making women realize they are victims. Its about achieving equal opportunity for people regardless of their sex.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 3- “I don’t need feminism, I don’t need something that demonizes men, I don’t need something that tells me the actions of a slut are ok and that the possible evidence of those actions can be thrown away like they were nothing but a clump of tissue, and I sure as hell don’t need anything that makes playing the victim out to be empowering.”  Woah, thats a long list of loud, offensive, arrogant judgements. So… lets start with the first one. Yes, women have been surpressed by men since the beginning of existence. It would be understandable that some women would try to lash back at those hundreds of years of supression. But those women aren’t what feminism is. Feminism is equality for men and women. Not women demonizing men. I am a feminist, and I believe a small percentage men are complete sexist assholes. But I just avoid these men. I don’t teach my children and society that they are the spawn of satan. Moving on to the slut business. Every single person is entitled by their right of exsitence to their own concept and practice of sexuality. To call an other woman a slut is one of the most pathetic and disempowering things we can do as  fellow women who want men to take us seriously. The truth of the matter is that in our society men are praised for lewd behaviour and sexual promiscuity, but a woman is shamed for the same behaviour. No, sexuality is not going to earn us equality. But slut-shaming must stop. There is no excuse for it, you have no right to tell someone else how to live their life. And most importantly an other woman’s sex life has absolutely nothing to do with Feminism, or at least I can’t comprehend how the people you have sex with affects my rights. About the allusion to abortion. I am not going to go far into this but again. An other women’s body is none of your business. I can’t say if abortion is murder, I have no idea if it is or not. No one knows, everyone just believes what they want. Freedom and equality is about choice. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one. End of story. We’ve already gone through the victim line so lets move on, I can tell this is going to be a long post.

Anti-feminist lady number 4- Lets just cut to her last statement because its astonishing, “As a woman in the western world I am not opressed and neither are you” OK. As already stated I come from a religious background and if my mother or grandmother reads my next three words they will be so mad I swore publically but I can’t help it: OH MY GOD! Are you serious? You think women in the western world aren’t Opressed? Lets just skip over Rapeculture and the fact that I can’t walk home from work in the dark without my heartrate in flight mode the whole time incase a man attacks me (because we are programed to think that from the time we are young girls) and talk about Work. (Because of course we’ll get back to rape culture) Just yesterday I met someone who is studying Aerospace engineering and told him all about my awesome friend back home we’ll call her Mary, who did the same degree. She is one of probably 20 girls in the engineering college. But do you know what she told me she really wanted to do for a career? Helicopter pilot. Remember how we are told we can do anything we want if we put our minds to it. We’ll we can’t. Mary chose something other than flying helicopters for a living for one reason. She has spent years working in the helicopter-tourism industry with a company in Alaska that books tours onto glaciers. Shas has a great relationship with her work mates and her boss. But this great boss told her he would never hire her as a Pilot. Never. And this was his reason: It is bad for business because many clients refuse to get in a helicopter with a female pilot. If you think I am making this up I don’t blame you. I didn’t think it was real either when she told me. How heartbreaking for her. So yes. That is actually oppression. Not having the freedom to pursue what you want because you have been told by someone who knows that you are a hard, smart, and reliable worker that there is no job security due to your sex is opression. Thats my story, I bet there are over a million girls out there with similar ones. If you don’t feel opressed then that is great you are happy and comfortable. But the fact is you probably don’t feel opressed because you aren’t challenging traditional societal gender roles and you are doing exactly what men expect of you.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 5- “I don’t need feminism because I am capable of Critical Thinking and I do not need other women representing me” OK thats great. Lets do some critical thinking. Do you think without the work of centuries of feminists before you, the teenage girl that you are would be capable of representing yourself? No, probably not so you should be thankful for that. Also, lets think critically about what feminism is again: movement for equality. Yes. There has been a lot of back-lash to extreme feminsim. But could we possibly think critically enough to realize that extreme feminists might actually be a very small number of people who are acting in a way that is not true to the simple fact that feminism is about obtaining equality to the point that reconigtion of gender is obsolete? Because one man a few months ago shot and killed several people after releasing an angry manifesto that women owed him sex do we now assume all men are misogynists killers? Because we always see stories of muslim extremists bombing innocent people in the name of religion do we now assume all people in the middle east or of muslim faith are suicide killers? No, we don’t assume this. Because we think critically. Yes. Thinking is encouraged, especially when it comes to societal issues. But to say feminists are women who want to be victims to obtain power over men and have lots of sex, and that you dont need them speaking for you, isn’t critical thinking. That is believing the few issues extremists have caused and assuming they are the movement.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 6- “I don’t need feminism because I actually am courageous and strong. And I actually have awards, commendations, medals, and scars to prove it. I don’t need to belittle a man in order to lift myself up.” Ok so this is the first lady that I was like, ok you’re right, you’re the shit, keeping doing what you are doing. Because we do need more women like you. You are leading by example. You don’t identify as a feminist, but you are the ultimate feminist because you are out there pursuing one of the most traditionally male dominant roles our society knows, all while acting like the concept of gender doesn’t exist! This is exactly what we need and I applaud you. I just wish you recognized that feminism is not about be-littling men and its not about pitying women. It is about helping soceity recognize that we have strong women like yourself. It is about creating a society that doesn’t look twice at a female marine because mixed gender roles will no longer be an extreme idea. Maybe then you would be proud of feminism.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 7- “I don’t need feminism because I don’t choose to ignore the fact that men have issues too.” Yes. Men have issues. Lets awknowledge this fact. Lets also awknowledge the term RapeCulture. A term coined to explain the phenomeon of our society to normalize hyper-sexualization and objectification of women. If you are unfamilar with this phenomeon turn on MTV, or YouTube a few commercials, maybe try a Carls Jr one for starters. A big issue for our men, more importantly our young sweet innocent boys, is that they are being raised in a world of media that passively and directly down-plays inequality of women to the point that a woman becomes an object to use rather than a person to know and respect.  And this is normal. So normal infact that most girls seek attention by focusing on their body and appearance rather than their personalities and intellect. This is a big issue. And if it is not turned around it will lead to more issues. As person who understands that  feminism is a movement that seeks to obtain gender equality, I think it is extremely important that we do not ignore this issue.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 8- “I don’t need Feminism because my choice is to not be associated with it [as it is patronizing and condensending]” .. I think this is what she wrote, or meant to write, I honestly can’t read it, happy to stand corrected by someone who can. Once again, to go into this would be redundant.  You dont have to associate with feminism that is fine of course. But that doesn’t mean you do not need it. As women we all need feminism, because by default men recieve more oppurtunity than us… and you don’t even need to do research, you could just go to a general history class to find backing to my claim.  If shouting at the top of the world that you are sick of boys getting more repect or opportunity makes you feel like a victim, then stay silent, but you are still a victim. At least the people who are striving for change are doing something. They aren’t even attacking you for not helping them help you. Even when you attack all the work they have done for you.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 9- “I need a feminist like a fish needs a bicycle” I wonder if you would have the courage to say that to the women at the Seneca Falls Convention. Or actually you must not know what was if you dont need feminism. Oh man and thats just the most obvious thing feminist gave to women in America today! Imagine all the other things you must not know about!

Anti-Feminist Lady number 10- “I need feminism because I like to blame men for my unjustifiable slutty actions!” I have to say, if I posted something like that I would have held the poster in front of my face so that no one would know it was me. This goes back to rape culture, to never feeling safe, to how obscene it is for women to call eachother slutty. All I can say is that researchers estimate that of all girls who attend college 1 out of 5 will be raped. And that is just the extreme. There are all levels of verbal and sexual assault that women endure because rapeculture normalizes crude behavior and disrespect of women. 20% ! And honestly I think that is a low-ball guess. Do you know why? Because the vast majority of victims are ashamed to report the abuse. They are ashamed because they think there must have been something they did to invite an other person to force themselves on them. Why? Why would you think you passively did something to deserve a consequence as horrific as rape?! Oh wait. Its because of people like you, anti-feminist number 10, people who blame victims of a horrible personal crime for “asking for it” because they have “unjustifiable sluttly actions” Based on those statistics, if you have ten friends (just to get personal) it is possible that two of them are victims of sexual violence. And no. It wasn’t because they were slutty.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 11- “I don’t need femisim because it has turned from a movement about equality, to a hateful, sexist, corrupt group, that disregard’s people’s issues due to priveledge.”  Well actually, the only correct set of words on your poster is that feminism is a movement about equality. It just so happens that it is still a movement about equality. Once again, I won’t deny that there are sexist extremists out there claiming to be feminists, but it is impossible to be sexist and feminist. Therefore I am capable of recognizing that they are not the movement. Infact the vast majority of people who believe in this movement are normal, peaceful, rational, and intelligent men and women who simply believe that there should be equality for all people regardless of gender.

Anti-Feminist Lady number 12- “I do not need feminism because society does not objectify me, feminists are the ones that tell me that! Do I look opressed to you?” Oh dear. You may not look opressed but you definitely sound opressed to the point that its making me second guess if you look opressed, infact I am looking at the background to see if there are bars on the windows of your house. To say that women-objectification is a conspiracy made by feminists… the only explaination I have is that you don’t own a tv, or computer,and  don’t recieve any magazines or newspaper, and you have never been let out of the house. We will talk after you read your first magazine because I don’t know how we can have a proper conversation until then.

Anti-feminist Lady number 13- “I don’t need feminism because I am an adult who is capable of taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I define myself and derive my value by my own standards, I don’t need to be empowered. I am not a target for violence and there is no war against me. I respect men, I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems.” Good argument. But once again it falls amongst the fallacy of misinformation. Feminsim is not about demonizing men. It is about equality. You are very lucky that you have never been a target of sexual violence and that you have never been told you couldn’t do an activity or have a job because you are a woman, but you are the minority. Most of us, regardless of being adults with responsibilty know what it feels like to be told we can’t do something because of our gender. I am happy that you know your value, feminism is about teaching worth to girls who have been raised in an environment that kept them from knowing their value, and giving them a strong sense of identity.

Anti-feminist Lady number 14- “I dont need feminism because I believe in equality not entitlements and supremacy.” Because I am sick of typing it, and anyone else who has read this far is sick of hearing it rewritten a million different ways, I am going to ask you to just scroll to the top and get an idea of what feminism means. Whats funny is that I totally believe in entitlements! I believe that because I am a human being, I am entitled to the same opportunity of success as an other human being regardless of our gender. I believe that when I walk into an interview, I am entitled to the same amount of respect the male applicant before me got. Feminism is about equality. And we are entitled to that equality because we exist, its simple.

Anti-feminist Lady number 15- “This is what an anti-feminist looks like” I have to say, I have no idea why they saved you for last, as you had no argument, it was a huge let down. I can’t help but think of the irony in how much this image plays on the objectification of women. Thats right. I am going there, its a stretch but I am reaching. And this is why: Because by just stating you are anti feminist with a picture of your face, with nothing intelligent to say.. its ironically just exactly what an overbarring patriarchical society wants from you, just sit there and look pretty. This last picture for me strongly weakend the credibility of the whole page.

So there. That was my reaction to all of your posts. And more than ever I want to say that I am a feminist and I need feminism. I need it because I believe women are more than their bodies and faces. I need to surround myself with strong, powerful, truly beautiful, diverse, intelligent women in a world where media bombards me with images of full chested women with tiny waists and big hair and flawless skin, while the men in media have all different looks and body types. I need to be reminded that my appearance is not everything that I am. I need men who respect me as a person. I need to know I can pursue whatever qualitifcations I want, and that when it comes to obtaining a career position, my employer will consider my personality, skills, and work ethic. Not my sex. I know feminism is still needed because I notice when I am in a work or social environment where my gender is irrelvant. And it shouldn’t be a stark realization. It should be the norm.  I am grateful to the feminists that came before me. I am grateful for the doors they opened for me. I am grateful for the women who attended universities when it was against the norm, and women who are still trying to be helicopter pilots even after being told not to. I am grateful to the feminist who raised the man I love, because he respects me and loves me as a person, not his property.  I do feel empowered by feminists, and I love that feeling. I am grateful for that feeling because I know it took sacrifice from others for me to have it, and I live in a world now where I can do just about anything. So lets rejoice at the success feminism has been so far, and continue defending our right to equality.

p.s. my feature photo is an example of women objectification in normal society for number 12 😉

what I hope you might understand now

About a week ago my mom mentioned during our weekly phone call that you were expecting a baby. She told me about when you came up in a conversation with one of her friends, she said, “Oh that is so fun for Diane she gets to be the first girl out of that group of friends to have a baby!” The friend’s puzzled look prompted the realization, and my mom followed with, “Oh wait no, that was my daughter!” and they laughed and laughed. I laughed too when she told me the story, and I felt so much excitement for you.

Later that night I could not sleep. I lay awake in bed turning about, full of feeling, full of memories, full of words I wished I could some how say to you, words I wanted to say to every woman who might have looked at an other young pregnant woman with a naked left finger. It is possible these women may not have judged, they just may not have known how to help, so they did nothing because they could not relate. But now that you know for yourself what it means to carry someone within you, someone who is apart of you and yet a complete individual, someone you love beyond words, maybe you can understand better than before what that year was like for me.

I knew. I had a feeling, a fear. I knew before that stupid test from the grocery store told me, that I was pregnant. I sobbed all night. I have never felt more alone in my life. I texted one friend, one of our friends, I dont know why she was the one. – I dont know what to do, I need help, I really messed up- she didn’t respond, she was asleep, I was alone. The next morning, I woke up in a daze. You have that small instant the morning after something drastic happens, like maybe a break up for example, where for a moment everything is ok.  But as you lie there, you sort the confusion, and remember why you feel physically weak and weighed down. It is because your life as you knew it yesterday, is gone.

I would imagine it was different for you. You were probably trying. You were probably so excited. You probably got to run and show your husband who loves you so much and he hugged you so tight that even that tiny embryo felt a squeeze of happiness. I had to call a guy I hardly knew. A guy I impulsively slept with one night to get over the only person I had ever fallen in love with because I was desparate enough to hope that sleeping with someone else would help me move on emotionally, since he had moved on physically and emotionally months before.

I am sure within a few weeks everyone in your neighborhood knew and was so happy for you, anxiously calling and visiting you to hear about how you were coming along. For a few weeks I basically got up to go to class, stayed awake long enough to study and went back to bed. When our friend got my text and called me back asking if everything was ok I lied. I said something stupid like -I just got too drunk and sent weird texts- so that she wouldn’t be able to pry it out of me. My friends at school knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t say. I physically could not  form the sounds that combine to announce “I am pregnant” because I felt too ashamed. Too ashamed I had sex before marriage or too ashamed that my birth control method failed depending on who I was talking to. My mind was constantly occupied with who I would let down if I followed through with the pregnancy, and whether or not I would suffer if I terminated it. I fled to Washington, because I knew living in my Aunt’s neighborhood when I started to show would be easier than living in ours.

While you began the “nesting” period, figuring out where the baby would sleep, and buying clothes in baby botiques, I was making phone calls. I had to tell the river guiding company I landed a job with I couldn’t be there this summer, my university advisor I had to postpone fall semester, and my friends at school I had to pull out of our housing contract. I was rebuilding the way my life would be with this detour that knocked me off my feet. I was emailing an amazing couple almost daily who where my lifeline and hope, the direction, the light at the end of the tunnel. I was scared, I was lost, and I just knew I had to wake up each  morning and keep going.

By now you must know how hard sleeping when you are pregnant is. It starts to feel awkward having this large mass on your stomach. You toss and turn and lay awake. But as least you got to sleep (or not) every night next to a man who loves you. You got to share the changes in your body with someone who adored them, someone so excited for the end to draw near. I always strived to stay cheerful and positive throughout my pregnancy because I had a firm belief that my baby deserved to be surrounded by positive engergy before entering the world. But I will admit there were times at night were I couldn’t be strong any longer. Where I clutched at my stomach both for comfort and out of despair. Where I wished more than anything that there was someone there for me. Someone who loved me, who loved us. Someone who could raise this baby with me. But there wasn’t. I would cry silently until I fell asleep, then wake up, look at the ceiling while I encouraged myself to be strong for an other day, an climb out of bed.

While you were very pregnant you were probably praised and congratulated everywhere you went being the cute pregnant mom-to-be I know you were. When I was very pregnant, I felt stares and judgements from every angle. Of the people who did show love and support, I could tell some were actually terrified of saying the wrong thing. I could count the number of “Congratulations” I got in nine months on one hand. Most people either thought I was a trashy girl or felt sorry for me. But this taught me how to sincerely be proud of myself. This was the first time in my life I truly didn’t give a damn about what people thought of me. I didn’t care about their assumptions of who I was. I knew me. I knew I was an amazing strong young woman. I knew I made the difficult choice of carrying a baby, because I wanted her to have a life with a family that needs her, a family that is ready for her, a family that has been waiting for her for nine years. And even when the word blazed through the neighborhood, and you and so many of the people we know loved talking about the scandal that my pregnancy was, I held my head high. So many of you spread the word and framed the story in a manner than showed that you meant to support me. However, the people I got support from are the few people I am still friends with. They are the people who supported me by coming to me, laughing with me, loving me. Not the ones who only supported the spread of my story. And alas, I was blessed with a premature lesson in quanity vs quality of friends. I will also always know from example what being a true friend to someone during a hard time means.

And lastly and most importantly. When you have that sweet baby, when you bring her into the world and hold her for the first time you will be changed forever. You will be amazed your body made something so perfect, so beautiful and so pure. You will hold her and share her with your family and dear friends for weeks and months and years. You get to be her mentor and you get to watch her grow. You get to be a family. With the man you love and the perfect being your love created. When I had my sweet baby I was so excited to share her with her parents I asked them to be there the night she was born. I held my flawless baby. My little girl. My companion of nine months who I nurished and created,  who would have my bleach blonde toddler hair and blue eyes. She unknowingly taught me how to be better, she changed who I would be forever. I held her and loved her and watched her face for hours, knowing that she wasn’t going to be mine. The night came to sign my right as her guardian away. I looked down at this precious being in my lap and wept. The world around me evaporated, the concerned, sad looks of those who loved me and wanted to be there for me through this. All that existed was a beautiful, new person in my lap who went in and out of focus as the tears washed my face. In those moments as I memorized her face, I gave her all the unconditional love I could give her, a lifetime’s worth of love from a mother, packed into those few minutes.  Then I wiped my cheeks, signed the paperwork, and hugged my family. Her wonderful parents then entered the room. We spent some time together before they bundled her up, and took her away, holding hands, and their first baby. As I watched them walk down the hallway of the hospital, I beamed. I did that. I made that family. I gave something immeasurably precious to two people who lived in fear for years that they would never have it because they could not acquire it on their own.

I have no regret. I did something trumendious, and I know I did it well and with grace. Because of the choice I made I am not a mother, not yet. But I got to finish school, meet someone I love so dearly, and travel to places I would not have been able to go with a child. I get to visit with my baby and her family a couple times a year and love to see what a wonderful, fulfilling, and secure life she has. I feel like adoption was a situation where everyone got the best. And what began as a life changing trial was an amazing blessing in diguise. I do not feel like I lost anything, but I gained an other family, an impeccably strong sense of self, a more compassionate personality, and a gratitude for my friends and family that I can not even explain with words.

Congratulations! I am so happy for you, because I can truly understand how exciting and loving and serreal this time is.  I write this not out of resentment towards you and all the others who didn’t care to know my story from me, but wanted to hear it from anyone else. I write this because I hoped that maybe now you might be able to relate, to understand what that experience was like for me, just a little be more than you could before. Yes, our pregnancies were as different as could be. But there are emotions and feelings and experiences that every woman goes through during pregnancy and maybe you can try to relate this way. This message isn’t just for you. This message is for everyone. For anyone who ever looked at a young woman with-child, and chose to turn her nose up or point her out to a friend so they could scoff at or pity the girl together. You dont know what that woman is going through, or who she really is. But you do know pregnancy is freaking hard, and you can bet its at least 100 times harder for her. And yet there she stands, as brave and admirable as can be, and for that, maybe she should be congratulated.