On Becoming My Own Boss

I’ve never worked a real job in my life. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The minute I graduated college, I started applying for jobs with furor. Writing gigs, editing, blogging – anything and everything creative I could find. Looking back now, I realize that I had no idea what I was doing. I was given little career advice from my college, other than a few meetings at the career development office where a friendly well-dressed woman named Meredith gave me a few pointers. I would spend hours crafting “the perfect cover letter” then would ask more experienced friends and family to edit them for me before sending them off and crossing my fingers. In return for my hard work, I was rejected – constantly. Applying for jobs is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Half of the time I just wanted to write:

I’m applying to this because I need the money and I’m currently using my degree to write blog posts on topics such as, “20 of the Weirdest Etsy Items.” So please hire me NOW.  

Weird Etsy
20 Weirdest Things on Etsy

I hated every minute of it – the struggle to find the rights words to encapsulate why you were the perfect person for this job and how you just knew you would love working there. Then emailing your letter off into the internet abyss and waiting. Waiting was the worst. It could be a few weeks, it could be months. I tried to follow up by email or even phone calls if I was desperate. Most of the time, I felt like I was shouting into a cave, my voice echoing back at me in the face of this invisible company that was aloof and stony-faced.

Meanwhile, I was bouncing from internship to internship, while also working part-time jobs on the side. Despite feeling like I was wasting my college degree, I felt lucky to work in a beautiful tiny tea shop, with earthy wooden counters, surrounded by iron teapots and huge canisters of pungent tea. The shop’s mission was to focus on the art of tea, with food that was made with care and organic ingredients. Most of the customers were wonderful and intriguing. I also discovered my love of event planning and rediscovered my love of poetry there. My second job was in retail, which I mostly hated because, despite the quirky, beautiful atmosphere, the company culture was catty and all the managers played favorites. But it did help me make friends in my austere isolated suburban town. I also now have plenty of fuel for writing if I ever need to write about rich white women and their attitudes towards sales people.

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Sip Tea Lounge

Long story short, one and a half years go by and I’m pretty much in the same place. I don’t know what I want, but I find jobs I want. So I apply, but I just don’t quite have the ‘thing’ they’re looking for. Part of it is that I’m terrible in interviews. I hate being put on the spot and talking myself up. I turn into a nervous stammering wreck, who loses track of what I’m saying and then ends up trailing off.

At the time, I was in a long-distance relationship. Every time I visited my boyfriend, I felt so sad to leave him in a city that was actually affordable, where there were a million things going on and the possibilities seemed endless. Part of this was because we were still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. But part of it was also the fact that I was returning to a place where I spent most of my time at work or home, where I was working so hard to pay my student loans and save money but I still just seemed to be treading water. I found myself sinking lower and lower into a funk. I started applying to jobs in Baltimore, hoping for a change. I went on a few interviews and continued to be my messy self. It was like stepping into the room turned the interviewers into demons and my inner self-doubt emerged to dance around the room, taunting me.

I didn’t have a job waiting for me, but I had a loving, supportive boyfriend, so I took a leap and transferred stores to a Maryland location of the store where I was already working. I quickly discovered that being in Baltimore was different and exciting. I suddenly had a big group of friends. There were things to do. Cheap things – sometimes free things. It helped lift my funk.

But moving locations doesn’t necessarily mean anything changes. You can’t escape your problems. Two years went by and I still didn’t have the full-time job I longed for. I felt incredibly guilty for moving from one support system (my parents) to another (my boyfriend). I felt like I had tried to make a change but I had reverted to my old patterns.

When I was let go from a contracted job after just three months, I decided I was done. Frustrated and fed up. I decided that it was time to take my career into my own hands. I would try freelancing. I was already managing a family friend’s Twitter account, so I listed this on my resume. I started applying for freelance gigs. Through a connection (funnily enough through the job I was let go from), I managed to get a marketing and social media part-time position at an organization that focused on women business owners. I attended a happy hour hosted by the organization and met tons of interesting women. Through that, I got another gig. It didn’t pan out. But still, I’m getting work and I’m doing work that is relevant to my skills.Through a list serve, I got another gig. I feel confident and capable. I thought it was going to be an uphill battle, just like applying for jobs, but for the first time, I feel like I’ve taken my life into my hands and created something, instead of ending up in tears over rejection.

Freelancing is a whole different game. Being my own boss is incredibly hard and sometimes lonely. There’s no office chit chat, no one to explain things to me when I’m confused and no one to complain to when another coworker (or in my case, client) is being a pain in the butt. If I don’t know how to do something, I have to either commit to researching how to do it or reach out to ask for help from someone else who might know. As a woman, I find my skills second-guessed and questioned constantly by male clients who are more experienced (or at least think they are), consistently interrupt me and have a certain idea of how things should look.

Freelancing becomes a lesson in standing up for myself. I have to learn what to charge people and how to value my worth. As a writer, a woman and someone who has low self-confidence, this is a huge deal. But, I’ve learned how to look objectively at what I know I’m good at and what I think I could do better at. Sometimes, I have to explain when I’m out of my depth and know that this is ok. It doesn’t make me weak or inferior. It just means that it’s a chance to learn something new. This is something that most people learn in their office and then are taught by someone who has done it before. I don’t have that, so I am figuring it out on my own. Sometimes, I have no choice and I have to figure out how to complete a task, even if I’ve never tried it before. It’s hard – really hard – and it’s terrifying but it also makes me feel so proud of myself when I can manage to untangle a problem.

I have to learn how to advocate for myself and not be afraid to insert my opinion. I’m slowly learning how to convince myself that I have a lot of experience and I DO know what I’m talking about! At least once a day, my inner voice tells me that I’m a fake and I will never succeed. I am a constant victim of imposter syndrome. In an office, there’s someone to give you feedback, which is at least some assurance that you are on the right track whereas here, I’m my own worst critic and it’s like I have my very own Miranda Priestly living in my head. It gets so bad that sometimes I almost want to cry. My imposter demon will sneak up behind me and whisper, “You are a f**king joke. What do you think you’re doing?” If I’m struggling with a problem, it will smirk and say, “Why are you even trying?” I’ve started writing down these thoughts in the hopes that I will look back on them in a few months, realize how horrible they are and understand that it’s all in my head, that I’m doing the best I can.

Becoming my own boss has its pros and cons. It’s a many-headed beast that I sometimes tame and sometimes it tries to devour me. But in many ways, it’s freeing. If I don’t like the work I’m doing, I can always walk away and find something else. I can make my own schedule, work where I want and travel where I want, as long as I get it done. Whenever I tell people that I work for myself the usual response is how lucky I am. I think that they imagine me as a character from Girls, spending my days watching tv, baking cupcakes, working on art projects and meeting people for coffee in the middle of the day, while occasionally working. It’s not like that. That is a glamorized Martha Stewart version of what I do. My job is hard in many ways that are different from a 9 to 5 office job. If I don’t get work done, if I can’t complete a project, it’s on me. I have to learn to get along with clients because even if we don’t work together in the future, they can be the key to my next job. I have to know my worth and be completely unafraid to tell people that I have to work for a certain amount and no I can’t go any lower. I need to make a living and my work is valuable. This is my career. It’s empowering, it’s terrifying and it’s mine.

20 Must-Read Power Books for 2017

2016 has been a hurricane of emotions. When I’m feeling like I need some me-time or need to be inspired, I often read a book. Diving into a good story can help me escape, understand the world more or just get my groove back. If you’re looking for some books that will help you get through the funk that is 2016 (going on 17), here are some suggestions:

  1. “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead: Set during the time of The Underground Railroad, Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, who lives a horrifying, yet all too familiar life. Urged by Caesar, a newly arrived slave from Virgina, the two set out to escape. In her journey, Cora sees many different types of worlds, all touched by slavery in some way.  This book will make you think about the past, present and the future.
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  2. “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly: Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, this is a must-see for anyone interested in black people’s role in math and NASA.
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  3. “The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher: Pay tribute to this queen by reading the diaries that Fisher kept while filming the first Star Wars movie. With humor and honesty, Fisher discusses what happened behind the scenes, the ups and downs of celebrity life and growing up among Hollywood royalty.
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  4. “You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things
    I Still Have to Explain” by Phoebe Robinson: If you love 2 Dope Queens, you will love this book. Robinson talks about what it means to be a black woman in America, where the personal is political.
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  5. “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson: Woodson weaves a beautiful story told through poetry about her life, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, during the Civil Rights Movement. Though written for younger readers, there’s probably a little bit of something for everyone here.
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  6. “Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson: Another need-to-read by Jacqueline Woodson! August and her friends grow up in Brooklyn, a place where they thought the future belonged to them. But they soon discover another Brooklyn that is dangerous and frightening. This is a story about growing up.
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  7. “The Queen of Katwe” by Tim Crothers: In a slum of Uganda, known as Katwe, life is excruciatingly hard. One day, nine-year-old Phiona Mutesi follows her brother to a dusty veranda to meet Robert Katende. Katende is a war refugee turned missionary who hopes to empower the local children by teaching them chess. Using just the dirt around him to create a chessboard, he begins to teach them. Though many come for the free food, many stay because of the love of the game. Phiona becomes a junior champion by age eleven, then a national champion. Even if you don’t like chess, you’ll enjoy her story as she overcomes challenges both on the board and off.
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  8. “Poor Your Soul ” by Mira Ptacin: This book is beautifully written and is full of love, pain, strength and loss. The author, Mira Ptacin, combines her story of her pregnancy and the loss that follows with her mother’s story -of emigrating from Poland to the US and losing her son to a drunk driver. The tragedies they face help them find strength within themselves and each other.
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  9. “The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian
    Enslavement in America” by Andrés Reséndez: There are stories devoted to African slavery, but very few on Native American slavery. This is a history of a slave system that was practiced in secret for centuries.

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  10. “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith: A novel about two brown girls who want to be dancers but while one has the talent, the other has “ideas”. Their friendship ends abruptly and the two go on to live entirely different, but complex lives.
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  11. “Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey” by Elena Ferrante: If you don’t know Elena Ferrante, you should! She writes beautiful, rich stories with complex characters. This book reflects on her own writing, her choice to let her books live “autonomous lives” (possibly as she writes under a pen name?), her relationship with her family, feminism and much more.
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  12. “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” by Lindy WestThis highly empowering, sharp-witted and thought-provoking book is about Lindy West’s life as a fat acceptance activist. Shrill is part call-to-action, part memoir, and part informational. It will make you laugh out loud, and change the way you look at yourself and the world around you.

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  13. “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls: An intimate look into the life of a dysfunctional family and how one women escaped this turbulent life.
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  14. “Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue: Jende Jonga is an immigrant from Cameroon, who comes with this wife and son to America in search of a better life. He soon finds a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy client who works for a global financial firm. Though the job presents plenty of opportunities, it also gives him and his wife a view into the troubling secrets behind power and privilege. Set against the backdrop of a real financial crisis, this story gives a glimpse into one immigrant families’ life.
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  15. “The Wangs vs. The World” by Jade Chang: A funny story about a rich Chinese-American family who lose everything and decide to take a road trip across the United States. A great book about family and what it means to belong to America.
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  16. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi: Two sisters are separated. One is sold into slavery, the other is married to a British slaver. What follows is the story of their families, where they travel and the role slavery plays in our history.
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  17. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern: A fantastical tale about a circus that arrives unannounced and only performs at night, two magicians in competition and how they fall in love.
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  18. “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion: This gripping memoir is a testament to the resiliency of the human body, mind and soul.Renowned writer Joan Didion walks readers through a tragically and unimaginably difficult year of loss and uncertainty in her life, sparing no gritty detail.
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  19. “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit: This book of essays is full of mansplaining, feminism and hilariousness.
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  20. “Salt” by nayyirah waheed: Even if you’re not poetry fan, this book will hit you straight in the heart. Her poems are short, but to the point and beautiful, yet powerful in their simplicity.
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How to Keep that New Year Motivation Going

We all make plans for the new year. We’re going to go to the gym more, eat better, watch more documentaries, read more, be nicer to our siblings and so on. A new year is a great way to start over. But for many of us, after a few days (or a few months if you’re really good), things start to slide and we lose our momentum. We get caught up with work or whatever’s going on in our life and we forget to try to keep it up. We all do it – we’re human. If you want to get back on track, here are a few little things you can do to try to get back to the new, improved you:

  1. When creating your resolutions, start small. Make one big one, then one or two small ones. You’re more likely to succeed when you have one big goal to focus on and you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed.mzx2uowz-o0-luis-llerena
  2. Make a goal group. Sometimes, it’s easier to stick to goals when you’re doing it with someone. Pick a friend or two and ask them to meet you once a month. Write down one or two short-term goals and a couple of long-term goals, too. Get together and go over your goals, then try to offer suggestions of concrete ways you can accomplish them. I’ve done this in the past and having other people offer insight into how to get shit done is illuminating and helpful. Plus, you can hold each other accountable. Next month, review how you did. If you succeeded, make some new goals! If you didn’t, talk about how you can do better or what’s holding you back.
  3. Plan it out. Sometimes, writing everything down can organize a cluttered brain. A planner is a great way to organize yourself and the steps you can take to get there. I love Passion Planners because they have space to map out ideas and projects. They also have lots of inspirational quotes and spaces for work, as well as personal goals.

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    Passionplanner.com
  4. If you’re trying to start a new hobby, learn a new language or start a new exercise plan, make yourself a challenge. Plan to devote a little time to your practice either first thing in the morning or right before bed. Try to do it for 30 days straight. It’s a good way to challenge yourself and it gets you into a routine. Get friends on it too. That way you can reflect on your progress with each other.
  5. If you’ve lost your resolve, try something new. Take an Intro to Beekeeping course, go to a cooking class or learn a new instrument. Attend a book reading or lecture about a topic you know nothing about. You’ll learn something new and you might have fun!ihovd7yjfwe-david-schap
  6. Meditate on it. Meditation is a great way to get centered and focused. It can also make you happier and healthier, according to science! It’s also an easy habit because all you need is a clock or timer and a place to sit quietly. If you’re like me and you need some guiding, you can also use an app like Calm or Headspace.
  7. Get offline. Sometimes all that continuous scrolling can take away from time better spent reading, writing, exercising or just being. Power down from reading the news, fighting back against the trolls or reading Buzzfeed articles. Go for a walk, read a good book, talk to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Break your routine!3_dlnp__pfu-john-towner.jpg
  8. Take some time for self-care. We’re all human and we’re not perfect. Most of us are doing the best we can. Whether or not you’re doing well, take some time to care for yourself. Whether you like taking baths with cool bath bombs, painting your nails, watching a cheesy movie, or eating some ice cream – you do you. Taking that time can recharge and re-center you.
  9. Make a vision board. Get out your scissors, glue, glitter and magazines and make a collage that’s focused on who you want to be in 2017. It sounds silly, but having a visual reminder that you put up in your room somewhere can be really motivating!
  10. Inspire future you and make a rememberlutions jar! Write down one good thing that happened every day to you in 2017. Then when you reach the new year in 2018, even if you didn’t keep your resolutions, you’ll have a year of good things to congratulate yourself on doing.

The Eagle Huntress: A Review

In the remote Mongolian steppe, one girl is dreaming of becoming an eagle huntress. Directed by Otto Bell, this documentary tells the story of 13-year-old Aisholpan, who wants to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. This century-old tradition has been passed down from father to son, but the idea of a young woman taking part is rejected by many of the Kazakh eagle hunters. Despite their criticism and resistance, Aisholpan’s father, Nurgaiv, agrees to train her.

The expansive shots of the Mongolian plains and mountainside are enough to make you enjoy this movie, let alone the story. After training with her father’s eagle, Aisholpan goes on to capture her own eagle by scaling a cliff and taking a fledgling eagle from its nest. She will raise, train and hunt with her eagle, then release it back into the wild after some years, to continue the cycle of life.

The film opens with another hunter releasing his eagle back into the wild, explaining that this ancient tradition is as much about the human-animal relationship as it is about respecting the cycle of life. The film then goes on to show Aisholpan training for the renowned Golden Eagle Festival, where she faces off against 70 of the greatest Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia. The training is difficult, but we never see the eagle huntress doubt herself for a minute. It’s clear that she believes her gender has nothing to do with her ability. Small snapshots of her life, such as when Aisholpan painting her and her sister’s fingernails outside their ger, or her daily life at school, illustrates how a young girl can believe in her abilities, be strong and be herself, all at the same time. She can teach her eagle how to hunt, while wearing flowers in her hair!

Throughout the interviews with older male eagle hunters, it’s clear that they have a certain idea of women, explaining that they can’t hunt because they are weak and will get cold. They believe this tradition should be learned only amongst men. The film’s website explains that “there is a long history of patriarchal ideas and customs among Kazakhs, many of which exist today in the average ger.” Scholar Dennis Keen explains, “Household labor is rigidly split between men and women. Men herd cattle, take care of finances, and have a greater luxury of recreation and hunting, women herd children, take care of guests, and when free, sew or shop. The left side of the ger is the domain of women; the right for men. It’s easy to see why the older eagle hunters would reflexively object to the idea of a girl hunting eagles, even though there is no set rule against it.” Even so, it’s refreshing to see that though Aisholpan’s family are traditional in their culture, they break with some of these practices. Both her parents fully support their daughter and her choices.

Even if you have never seen an eagle festival before, there’s a palpable excitement to the whole event. From watching Aisholpan perform in a timed contest in which she must call her eagle to her, or showing off its hunting ability, you’ll find yourself getting caught up and sitting closer to the edge of your seat.

No spoilers, but rest assured that Aisholpan wins hearts and prizes at the contest. It seems to surprise everyone – even her father who, at the end of the contest, is surprised by the results, so much so that one of the other contestants has to remind him, “Go hug your daughter!”

The narration by Star War’s Daisy Ridley and the fantastic soundtrack are just an added bonus. This is a movie, you need to see for yourself.

Aisholpan plans to become a doctor. Her father, Nurgaiv, a master eagle hunter, who has won the annual Eagle Festival himself twice, plans to teach the eagle hunting tradition to his daughter’s younger sister and brother.

This story is in many ways an ancient and modern one – ancient because it represents breaking down barriers of an old tradition, but modern because it shows young girls that if they are determined enough, they can fulfill their dreams.

 

Letting My Arm Hair Grow On Me

The moment I hit puberty, I remember the birth of my dark, thick, long arm hair. I thought it was unsightly, unattractive and made me look like a monkey. All around me, girls were becoming young women and we were changing. Some of us grew taller, thinner and curvier. Some grew breasts and some didn’t. Very few girls I noticed had arm hair as long as mine. Whether it was my Jewish roots or just my luck, I wasn’t sure, but I felt incredibly self-conscious about it.

From a young age, I was an awkward person with low-self esteem. Since the first grade, I was an easy target for bullying. My strong reaction to being teased made it even more rewarding for my tormentors. Once, when our teacher stepped out of the room, a boy pulled a chair out from under me when I went to sit down after I’d just stood up. I burst into tears. When both the girls and boys called me names, I would get upset and shout at them to leave me alone. At the first sign of meanness, I turned to mush. I didn’t know how to show that they didn’t bother me or pretend I was made of stone. I’ve always been someone who relies on others for recognition and praise.

When I got older and entered teenagerdom, I continued to be bullied, but in a different way. High school bullying is a whole other ballgame. Teenagers, especially girls, use words and whispers to get back at you. It’s much more subtle and cuts deeper. I was never sure if they were whispering and laughing about me or at some inside joke. Luckily, my arms were never a topic they chose. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because there was nothing about my body that stood out too much as an obvious fault. I was skinny and fairly average looking. Maybe it was because they never got physically close enough to see. Instead, they just stood at a distance judging me. Or maybe it’s because I was so self-conscious and therefore was imagining that I had more hair than there actually was. Either way, it was just another thing I worried about.

However, in high school I started to worry less about my arm hair, and, more about other things. No one else in my class had arms like mine. When I hit puberty, it started to show up more and more. I felt like a freak. It was bad enough I wasn’t well-liked, but now I felt unattractive. Not that I had many prospects to begin with. From age 14-17, I continued to be extremely awkward and self-conscious around boys. I imagined that I would always be alone, always be the girl who liked a boy that only liked her best friend.

During my freshman year, the last period was a time where students attended extracurriculars of their choosing. I chose creative writing, which was led by my male English teacher and a female staff member from the development office. I vividly remember a day that she wore a black three quarter sleeve length shirt paired with a cute patterned skirt. Right away, I noticed that her arms were just as hairy as mine, if not more so. It shocked and thrilled me that I wasn’t the only female person I knew to have such hairy arms. None of my friends or other classmates seemed to have the amount I did. I had felt freakish, as if I was intensely unattractive with this new addition. But catching a glance of Miss Dorman’s arms made me feel more confident in myself. If she was an adult and walked around normally with that amount of hair, then so could I.

When I brought up my concerns to my mother, her suggestion was to bleach it or wax it off if I was so worried. I had seen women bleach their mustaches before. There was a particular brand that came in a teal and pink packaging in a small square box and came with a little scooper. You used the scooper to dig out a white cream and spread it wherever you wanted the hair to become sunkissed and invisible. Though it would be easy to do, the idea of putting bleach on my hair continuously seemed hazardous and tedious. I wouldn’t even consider waxing it off because of the pain factor. I used to have a low pain threshold. It seemed that I couldn’t handle pain emotionally, let alone physically. As women, it seems we’re expected to handle physical pain like it’s no big deal, whether it be child birth, waxing and more. But, when it comes to emotional pain, it’s understood that most women should crumble and be the overemotional woman. But, what was I supposed to do when one was connected to the other? My physical appearance was causing me emotional trauma, thanks to gender norms. The funny thing was that all along, I was teased for other aspects of my personhood, but never my arms. I just expected it to be a part of the bullying package. So, I sucked up the fact that I would have hairy arms and dealt with it.

For a while, I just blocked the arm hair out of my consciousness, pretending that my arms were hairless. But, when I got to college, I started noticing more and more female people with arm hair. Forget arm hair – at my small liberal arts school, there were cis women who walked around with hairy legs and armpits! I was astonished. My arms seemed like nothing in comparison. Coincidentally, this is when I became aware of the feminist movement and became a feminist myself. I realized that the idea I was supposed to be completely hairless like a child was utterly ridiculous. We are all human, if hair grew and I didn’t feel like shaving, waxing or bleaching it off, that should be my own personal choice. To this day, I still wax my legs and arm hair, but I do it because I’ve noticed how much more I smell when my hair is long. It makes me self-conscious and doesn’t feel attractive to me. But it’s my choice now. There are times when I feel lazy or just don’t have time to wax, so I let it grow. I’ve evolved from thinking my arm hair was extremely ugly, to enjoying all my hair, whether it be on my arms, legs or anywhere else. It means I’m alive. I’m human and  I’m constantly changing. That’s completely fine with me.

Gray

It’s a grey, heavy day,

not quite warm

but not yet raining,

uncertain.

A few drops fall,

one by one,

across your back,

past your cheek

and the curve of your hand,

The wind picks up,

swirling dead leaves,

left over from winter.

It howls through trees

and surrounds bright tulips.

They stand tall and proud,

hopeful and lively.

The wind shoots them down,

pulling off brilliant petals,

which now lay still,

circling skinny forlorn stems,

nothing left.

I’m walking in a park,

beneath a steel grey sky,

hear police sirens in the wind

and wonder

what tulip is being shaken down

next.

White Out: How Disney Discontinued Their Discussion on Race

I was recently listening to one of my new favorite podcasts, Another Round, and they started reminiscing about how The Proud Family was such a solid show for its time.

(Side note: if you don’t already listen to Another Round, you should check it out! Tracy and Heben will fill your earbuds with contagious laughter, as well as smart critiques revolving around race, gender, pop culture and media).

The Proud Family was a really empowering show, but thinking about it now, back when I was little and didn’t know anything about feminism, I realize that I took shows like this for granted. I started thinking more about the shows and the made-for-tv movies the Disney Channel had created when I was growing up. Many of these were empowering and diverse in a way that you just don’t see in mainstream media today. One movie that will always stand out in my memory is one called The Color of Friendship.

Set in 1977, the movie is loosely based on the short story “Simunye” by Piper Dellums, written about real events that occurred during apartheid South Africa. The movie portrays the story of how Mahree Bok, a white South African, and Piper, a black American from DC, form a strong bond despite their differences. Mahree decides to study abroad for a year but is met with surprise when she arrives in DC, as she is expecting to stay with a white family, while Piper’s family, the Dellums, who are black, expected to have a black student staying with them.

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Mahree arrives with a lot of assumptions and stereotypical views, mostly from her upbringing. She and her family benefit from the apartheid as a wealthy white family in South Africa. When Mahree arrives in the US, both she and Piper are taken aback by the disparity between their cultural norms and their expectations. Mahree doesn’t understand that there can be black politicians and Piper doesn’t understand that there are white South Africans.

After activist Steve Biko is killed, protests break out all over the world. Mahree makes an ignorant comment about Biko’s death and Piper rips her a new one, explaining how she has no idea of the racial struggle happening in South Africa. Piper’s father Ron, who is a very outspoken opponent of the apartheid, teaches Mahree about the book Roots. Both girls learn to put their judgements aside and figure out how to bridge the gap between them. Together, the Dellums help Mahree understand the damaging aspects of the apartheid. One of my favorite scenes is when Mahree tells Ron a story that her maid Flora told her, about a weaver bird which built communal nests that many other birds lived in, symbolizing the possibility of racial harmony. In the end, Mahree returns home, understanding the world a little better. She even sews a flag inside her jacket, showing it to Flora, as a way of rebelling against her family.

In terms of tv shows on Disney Channel, The Proud Family was one of the most empowering ones. Each character has a personality and there are few (if any) racially based stereotypes. If you didn’t grow up watching this show, it premiered in 2001 and tells the story of teenager Penny Proud, along with all the funny, difficult moments that come with trying to find her independence. Penny is a normal girl with a diverse set of friends, like Dijonay, Sticky, LaCienega, and Zoey (one of the few white people in the show). She comes from a middle class family and often has to take care of her twin siblings.

Shout out to Suga Mama, who is the most bad-ass grandma ever. She watches wrestling and is all about attracting the men, which defies ageist ideas about elderly ladies being less sexual than young women. There’s something for everyone in this show.

The Prouds star in ``The Proud Family'' Thursday on Family Channel.

One of the most personally memorable episodes was the one called, “She’s Got Game. ” During a game of boys vs girls football, Penny’s friend Frankie bets the girls can’t win. When Penny does, he doesn’t take it well. The next day, he teases Penny, saying he could have beat her if he wanted to. Feeling challenged, Penny decides to try out for the football team but isn’t allowed because she’s a girl. When Penny shows up for try outs, the coach is refuses to let her on the field, calling her “baby doll” and telling her to “go home and bake a cake.” Penny convinces him to let her try and she catches every throw (or something like that – I know nothing about football). However, at the end of the practice, the coach still won’t let her be on the team. Frankie approaches her and tells her to just accept it, since “girls can’t play.” Then he explains how he’s glad she didn’t make it since he wants to take her to homecoming and it would be “weird” to go to homecoming with a teammate.

With some help from Zoey’s lawyer aunt, Penny petitions the school to let her play and her petition is accepted. In her first game, the coach refuses to put her in the game until he is forced to after too many of their players get knocked out. Penny proves that she can play when she gets tackled by almost the entire opposing team, but gets right back up again, then catches ball after ball. In the last few minutes, she’s about to score a touchdown, but the ball slips out of her hand, causing them to lose the game. She’s understandably upset, but what’s so rewarding about the episode is that no one blames her for losing because she’s a girl. At the homecoming dance, everyone supports her, even her teammates. Her friend Frankie gets over his sexist ideas and they dance together at homecoming.

Another important episode, called “I Had a Dream” focuses on Black History Month. Penny’s history class is learning about Black History Month and are each assigned someone important to black history.  Penny and many of our classmates don’t see the point of learning about the past. In an effort to make it more interesting, their teacher, Mr Webb has them dress up as their assignment. Penny dresses as Angela Davis, activist, teacher and writer. Big plus, Zoey dresses as Madame Walker, the first black millionaire and inventor of the world’s first hair straightening product. No black face in sight whatsoever.

Penny slips and gets knocked out, then is transported back to the year 1955. She comes face-to-face with segregation and a time before Black History Month, before many inventions were created (like dishwashers), as well as a time before many black people got recognition for their inventions, such as Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic light. She sees her fellow black classmates placed at the black of the classroom with textbooks that are falling apart. Her friend Zoey refuses to talk to her because white kids and black kids “can’t be friends.” The white janitor and Mr. Webb (a black man) have swapped places. When Penny tries to explain that Mr. Webb was their teacher, the idea of a black teacher is laughed at. Penny manages to unite her fellow classmates and defy racial barriers. She gets up in front of the press, her fellow students, her family and friends, repeating Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “I Had a Dream.” She realizes how important this was to the civil rights movement. Penny comes to appreciate why the past is so important to understand and how it’s relevant to her present life. She learns, as her teacher says, that a person who doesn’t understand their past, doesn’t have a future.

The reason shows and movies like are so important is because when you’re growing up, the media you consume  makes you reflect on yourself and others (whether subconsciously or not). The Proud Family, The Color of Friendship, and other series or movies like these show young people of color that they should be treated equally to white people, their entire race should not stereotyped in media. Yes, they are black, but they are so much more than that. By showing intelligent black figures in media, it empowers black teenagers. There’s a lot of good media out today combating racial prejudices, yet in a way, media for children and teenagers isn’t as varied and outspoken as channels like Disney used to be. We need more movies that talk about important issues like race, apartheids and gender discrimination. We can all stand to learn something from them.

Scanning through a list of current Disney shows, the lack of diversity is almost painful. There’s Girl Meets World, a throwback to Boy Meets World. Though it was one of my faves, it had a predominately white cast, until Angela entered the show in season five. Girl Meets World seems to following the same trend.

Jesse is a about a small town Texas girl who moves to New York City to try to become an actress, but ends up being a nanny instead to a wealthy family. The mother, Christina, is a supermodel and her husband is a movie director. They have four children: Emma, Luke, Ravi and Zuri. Zuri is adopted from Uganda and is sweet, but sometimes very sarcastic. Luke is a white boy adopted from Michigan. He’s a good athlete but doesn’t get good grades. Ravi is a fifteen year old boy from India who was also adopted by the Ross family. Hindi is his primary language but he can also speak English. So, basically if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had a Disney show. Even though it has some secondary characters of color, the main protagonist is still a white girl. This is yet another example of how people of color, whether children or adults, are only used in media to support and empower the main role, often played by a white person. Roles for people of color are used to push the plot forward, but are no more than that. By having a rich white family adopt children from places like Uganda and India, it screams, “Look at us, we’re so charitable, we’re ‘helping’ people who aren’t white.”

The only potential for diversity that I found was a show called K.C. Undercover, starring Zendaya, who is currently one of the most famous black female teenagers in the media and recently appeared in Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album. Zendaya has been in the spotlight for a while.  In addition to appearing in Lemonade and writing a book about tween style, she is also an ambassador for Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit organization that works on children’s feeding initiatives, community outreach and disaster response. Talk about a great teen role model. She was also in another Disney show previously from 2010 to 2013 called Shake It Up. K.C. Undercover is about K.C., a  high school student who is training to be a spy. She is a math genius who discovers her parents are undercover spies and is recruited to become one as well.

The family works together to continuously fight against a criminal organization called The Other Side. Besides being a spy, K.C. is a basketball player and skilled in karate. Her brother Ernie is a computer genius, who is often ignored by his parents. It’s refreshing to see a show for younger audiences that features black families that are intelligent and play powerful roles. Another bonus is K.C.’s ex-boyfriend Brett, who is an enemy spy, played by Asian-American actor, Ross Butler. Interracial topics are another issue that doesn’t get explored enough in media. It’s nice to see a show that features this. The fact that they’re enemies has a lot of potential. Here’s hoping Disney uses it.  

Lastly, there’s A.N.T Farm, a show about Chyna Parks, an 11-year old musical prodigy who has just become the newest A.N.T, a high school program in California for gifted students. This is really hopeful, as the star of the show Chyna, is played by 18-year-old African-American, China Anne McClain. Her best friend in the show, Olive, has an eidetic memory, meaning she can remember images, sounds or objects after only a few seconds of exposure. Her other friends include Fletcher Quimby (weirdest name ever) who in love with her (more interracial relationships!) Other stars include Gibson, the counselor, tutor and therapist at A.N.T. Farm, who is a strange, goofy guy that isn’t very bright. The “it” girl (is that what kids are calling them these days?) is Lexi Reed who considers the A.N.Ts students to be immature.

Disney seems to have gone backwards in many ways. There just isn’t the range of shows that I remember growing up with. However, kids and teenagers these days have an advantage I didn’t. In an age where Netflix is producing better shows than cable tv and anyone can become a Youtube star, there’s access to better shows in other places. If you look, you can find media that represents you and makes you feel appreciated and heard. If only channels like Disney was willing to feature more content like this, maybe we would all grow up more aware.

Other 90s/2000s Disney shows and movies worth mentioning are:

  • The Famous Jett Jackson: Jett Jackson is an actor playing a secret agent who decides he wants to move back to North Carolina from LA to have a normal life
  • That’s So Raven: Raven is able to see the future, complications ensue. Need I say more?
  • Up, Up and Away: Scott Marshall is the only one in his family without any superpowers until he has to save his parents’ from an evil genius
  • Gotta Kick It Up!: Starring a pre-Traveling Pants America Ferrera, the movie tells the story of a teacher who helps a group of girls start a dance team at their school
  • Smart Guy: Ten-year-old boy genius Taj Mowhry has skipped six grades and is now in high school, battling the idea that white people are the only one who can be smart

The Power of Home Births

Art by Amanda Greavette
Art by Amanda Greavette

When my friends and I reminisce, the talk often turns to births. They talk about the hospital they were born at or where they grew up. I usually wait to go last when I say, “Actually, I was born at home.” It’s usually met with shock, awe and confusion. Why would anyone decide to give birth at home without painkillers or a wing of doctors and nurses by your side? Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t it frightening? Isn’t it outdated? 

This year, I turned 26 and though I’m nowhere near having children yet, I’m pondering these questions myself. For me, I’m asking, “Why not?” I’ve always grown up in a very hands-off household when it came to illness. If you had a cold or a cough, you had tea, food with vitamins, plenty of rest and some alternative medicine. Antibiotics were an extreme last resource. Of course, we still took things seriously. In college I had a kidney disease and I went straight to antibiotics. You don’t mess around with that. 

I’ve always wondered why my mother had decided to have home birth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. When my parents met, they were both macrobiotics (though that ended pretty quickly) and my mother was a vegetarian. They were health conscious people. Having a home birth is a brave thing to decide to do all on your own. “Wasn’t she nervous or worried?” I often wondered. My inner voice shuddered at the idea of all that unmedicated pain. “But, women have been giving birth naturally for years!” said the other voice in my head. “Surely I could handle it.” Should we have to though, when we no longer need to? For some reason, I never really thought to ask these questions until now.

I’ve started thinking about this more and more for a few reasons. The first and main one that got me thinking was when I saw the documentary, called The Business of Being Born. After a disappointing birth experience with her first child, Ricki Lake takes a look at the maternity care system in America. Together with filmmaker, Abby Epstein, they investigate the conventional wisdom obstetricians use to deal with childbirth. While, with any documentary, there’s a bias, with many interviews proving their point and a dearth of interviews to balance out their argument, there is a rationality to this type of thinking.

While C-sections are necessary, doctors often use them as as a resource, maybe more than necessary. C-sections help deliver babies more swiftly, saving doctors time and hospitals the worry over a potential lawsuit. Then there’s the overmedication. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain, if possible? When doing research on home births, I found that having unmedicated labor allows for hormones that help mother and child bond. Unmedicated births in hospital are rare nowadays. Lastly, there is an empowerment factor that mothers don’t find in hospitals. Sometimes their decisions are taken out of their hands, very quickly. With home births the mother is more in control. These are some of the things that make natural births seem more sensible.

On the other hand, C-sections can be vital and life saving. Some mothers even chose to have a C-section from the start, while some mothers go into labor, then find they need a C-section. However, there may be implications to an (elective or necessary) C-section that many mothers don’t realize.

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that over a third of C-sections are performed too early (before 39 weeks), putting newborns at a higher risk for all kinds of health problems. Having a C-section creates the possibility for the twice the risk of infant mortality and a slightly higher mortality rate for the mother. The amount of recovery time increases, as well. With a vaginal birth, mothers were able to leave one to three days after, whereas, with a C-section, this can mean three to five days. Another problem are the issues related to internal scar tissue. If not taken care of completely, scar tissue can cause lower back and pelvic pain, a need to pee more often (sometimes continuing even 10-15 years after surgery), pelvic pain, pain during intercourse and sometimes even infertility issues. Massaging the scar after it has healed can help, but many mothers are never told this.

One other major implication of having a C-section is the cost. Not everyone can afford to have such an expensive procedure. Those with good health insurance may pay over $5,000 in hospital bills, while mothers who are uninsured may wind up paying $30,000 for a vaginal birth to $50,000 for a C-section. This puts mothers who are from low-income situations in a hard place because they are left with limited options.

During an unmedicated labor, there are a number of hormones that benefit both a mother and the baby. Oxytocin, which is secreted during sex, after ovulation, during labor, birth and when breastfeeding creates loving and nurturing feelings. They also induce contractions and help move the birth process along. Endorphins, which are created in response to pain and stress create natural and pain-relieving effects. As the labor continues and the pain grows, so does endorphins, creating morphine-like effects. The pain decreases and the woman is able to shift into an instinctive mindset and focus on the work of labor. Lastly, adrenaline, which we know as the “flight or fight” response, is created when a mother feels threatened or afraid during labor, she can produce too much adrenaline, which can prevent labor. However, in an unmedicated birth, right before delivery, the woman receives a rush of adrenaline, which gives them a rush of energy, stimulating contractions activating a fetal ejection reflex.

While it’s important to have a hospital or doctor on call, giving birth naturally can not only be less stressful, but more empowering for the mother. When I asked my own mother more about her decision, she said that, while in her heart, she always knew she wanted to have a home birth because she was 34 when she was pregnant, she decided to go with the more conventional birth method in a hospital setting. However, leading up to my birth, she was working with a midwife practice. When she was five months pregnant, she realized that she wanted to have a home birth and began searching for a midwife who would do home births.

When I  asked her what had changed her mind, she explained that she just went back to her original feeling. She had been listening to this societal belief that it was better to give birth in a hospital. She felt that when giving birth in hospital, your power is taken away from you, and often decisions are made for you. Mothers are in a vulnerable position while giving birth. They may find themselves getting a C-section or getting talked into decisions that they didn’t really want. Usually in a hospital setting, the baby is taken from the mother as soon as they’re born and they don’t see each other for some time.

Lastly, there are the considerable bills, whether you choose to have a home or hospital birth. Many women from low-income households can’t afford prenatal care, let alone the numerous expenses from giving birth in a hospital. Not to mention the number of undocumented mothers without healthcare coverage. These are commonly women from poor backgrounds, but women of color are not treated with the same respect that white middle (and upper) class women are given.

There’s a history of this in the United States, as well as throughout the world. Right-wing activists have always attacked women who consider abortions, no matter their race or background. However, when it comes to birth, their reasoning changes. During the 1990s, conservative activists were big proponents of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, also known as the “welfare reform” bill. They essentially tried to discourage women on welfare from getting pregnant by introducing a “family cap” that denied an increase in payments to women who became pregnant or gave birth to a child while on welfare. Another policy that the right practice is to encourage or mandant low-income women to use long-term birth control, such as Depo-Provera.

Then there’s the long history of sterilization abuse. In the past, doctors would often try to dissuade white women, especially of the middle-class to think more about sterilization. Often they would make it difficult for these women, trying to convince them to come back the next day, after thinking about it. However, when it came to people of color and poor white women, these doctor’s attitudes would shift dramatically. They would encourage these women to be sterilized, often going so far as to manipulating them into having the procedure. In one case, during 1968, private agencies and the Puerto Rican government led a campaign that resulted in one-third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age to be sterilized. Another campaign during the ’70s resulted in the sterilization of 25% of Native American women living on reservations. Most recently, in 2013, the Center for Investigtive Reporting found that numerous female inmates in California had been illegally sterilized.

This isn’t just an issue for the United States either. Recently, the University of Bristol and Chaka Studio collaborated to create the Quipu project, which revealed that from the mid-to-late 1990s, as many as 300,000 women in rural areas of Peru may have been tricked into being sterilized to help “bring an end to poverty.” They initially planned to make a film, but  they found a better way to educate people about this issue by letting the women who had experienced this speak for themselves. Their solution was to create an online archive of women’s voices, telling their story in their native tongue. This would be the basis for a multimedia documentary that focused on the women. This method was empowering because women could others, like them speaking first-hand (often in Quechua, instead of Spanish, which is the government’s language). Women can also call in and record their own story.

On top of trying to have a safe birth, women should never have to worry about being coerced (or in some cases forced) to have a doctor prevent them from ever having children again. Miriam Zoila Pérez, a writer, doula and reproductive justice activist, writes the blog Radical Doula. Through her practice, she noted that,

“I experienced resistance from Latina immigrant women to midwifery care because of the stigma toward parteras (midwives) in their home countries. In many places in Latin America, midwives and home birth are seen as the option used by women who can’t afford to go to hospital for birth–basically an option only for those who have no other option. That creates class and race stigma on home birth and midwifery care.This stigma is no accident. Global socioeconomic policy in Latin America (and I assume elsewhere as well) has long promoted hospital-based childbirth as a marker of development, and encouraged this move with foreign aid dollars and other development initiatives. The medical students I observed in Ecuador were clear that their obstetrical training and guidance came from US practice.”

She goes on to explain that a lack of access to emergency obstetrical care and trained birth attendants often leads to increased maternal and infant mortality. In the US, 98% of births happen in the hospital, but the maternal and infant morality rates fall behind 48 other countries. Some midwives try to meet these needs in various ways. In Florida, there is an Easy Access Prenatal Clinic that takes all pregnant women, regardless of one’s ability to pay, insurance status, citizenship or crisis. Many, like Mariah Valenzuela Farrell try to make their services more accessibly to low-income women who need prenatal services can’t reach out to hospitals due to their citizenship status. Midwives can be a resource and when hospitals can’t. They are not the only answer, but it’s important to remember there’s more than one way to have a healthy delivery.

Just last year, I considered becoming a doula, also known as a birth coach. Though I later decided that my career lay in another direction, through my research, I came to understand how exactly having a home birth can be empowering for mothers. I’m not (completely) trying to discredit hospital births. You want to make sure that whatever decision you’re making will be the safest for you and your baby. I understand that. Nevertheless, considering a natural birth or home birth could actually be very rewarding. You can have a birth coach or midwife with you in the hospital. If you know you won’t be able to make decisions while in labor, you can discuss beforehand your choices with the midwife, who will make sure that your wishes are respected.

In the end, a mother’s birth decision should be the one that is best for her and the child. While I’m a huge fan of home births and natural births, if it’s a question of either one’s life being in danger, the hospital is key. However, I think natural or home births should factor more into the birthing decision. My mother did and she never regretted it. “It just seemed to me that having a baby at home would be a more peaceful, gentle and nurturing experience.” She said.  “And it totally was the best decision I made in my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Split The Bill Fairly – Using Affirmative Fractions

A new app called Equipay that was recently presented at a Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco promises to help you fairly split the bill when you’re out with friends— using gender and racial income inequality. How exactly? Using “affirmative fractions” (and real Bureau of Labor Statistics data). Even though the app is meant as a joke, team member Luna Malbroux explained that the app is meant as a social commentary, which will hopefully help start a conversation between friends.

Equipay offers options to input your race and a sliding scale between male and female genders. “We acknowledge that gender is a spectrum,” said Lambroux as she presented the app. When splitting the bill, a diversity tracker keeps tabs on your friends, who may fit into the ‘Oscar’ category, ‘San Francisco startup’ or even ‘college brochure.’ If the payer doesn’t like the total, they can “protest,” at which point the app will ask for an excuse. Options include, “I pulled myself up from by bootstraps,” “I’m aware of my privilege” and “this isn’t an issue anymore.” But, the app will argue with you. If your friend group is not so diverse (read: white), the app has a solution for that too.

Equipay wound up winning the Comedy Hack. Best part? It will actually be made into an app. Coming soon.

What’s so refreshing about this is that it uses comedy to educate people in a way that’s empowering. “You can reach people a lot quicker through comedy,” said Malbroux, “because their defenses are down.”

Kesha: A Bridge to Truth

*Trigger Warning: descriptions of sexual abuse

On Friday, February 19th, a New York judge denied pop singer Kesha’s injunction against former music producer Dr. Luke. Part of an ongoing legal battle since October 2014, Kesha is suing Lukasz Gottwald, known as “Dr. Luke,” for a decade of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, which allegedly began when she was just a teenager and left high school to begin a music career in Los Angeles.

The injunction would have made it possible for Kesha to continue recording with Sony, but not with Kemosabe Records (Dr. Luke’s label). Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, had originally asked for the injunction because her career had been hold for a while (since the lawsuit began) and, if she didn’t return to record soon, her career could be irreparably damaged. NY Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied the injunction, saying,“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry.” Because Dr. Luke had invested 60 million dollars in her career and had agreed to allow her to let her record without his involvement, the judge stated that this decimated her argument, adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

Sony has refused to produce her music unless she agreed to work with Dr. Luke. Thanks to the judge’s decision, Kesha will be required to continue working with the music producer. However, Sony and Dr. Luke have argued that the agreement allows her to create more records without Dr. Luke’s input or presence in the studio, while maintaining her original contract. In their eyes, that should be good enough for her.

kesha

When Kesha first began her lawsuit, Dr. Luke responded with a counter lawsuit, saying that the singer was just trying to extort him in order to get out of her contract and defame him. Dr. Luke has worked with other big names in the past, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. Kesha said that during their ten-year relationship, she allegedly suffered a number of incidents. In one occasion, he made her snort a substance before getting on a plane, where he then assaulted her while in the air. Another time, he drugged her with GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, known as a date rape drug) and she woke up hours later in his bed, naked with no memory of what had occurred.

Dr. Luke has denied all charges of sexual abuse and says that Kesha is suing because she is frustrated with her stalled career. “His attorneys have argued that Kesha’s claims came too late and are too vague, the harm is overstated and that she’s not likely to prevail on her discrimination, harassment and hate crime claims nor beat his ones for allegedly breaching a contract and committing defamation.”

In an Instagram post on February 18th, Kesha wrote, “I have nothing left to hide. I did this because the truth was eating away my soul and killing me from the inside. this is not just for me. this is for every woman, every human who has ever been abused. sexually. emotionally. mentally. I had to tell the truth. so the outcome will be what it will be. there’s nothing left I can do. it’s just so scary to have zero control in your fate. but this is my path this life for whatever reason.”

Kesha’s fans have been publicly behind her every step of the way. After the judge’s decisions, fans and fellow musicians, including Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Lorde and Lady Gaga, posted messages of support using the hashtag “FreeKesha.” Even Taylor Swift is stepping up, by donating $250,000 to Kesha to help her with any of her financial needs.

Since the decision, Kesha made a public statement saying, “”All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused,” Kesha wrote. “This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract – it was never about getting a bigger, or a better deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser.”

The fact that this story is only now just making major headlines is astonishing. Firstly, why, after almost a year and a half, are people only now starting to pay attention? Secondly, what kind of judge—yet alone human being—would decide that a working relationship in which the employer regularly abuses their employee must be maintained?

Taking away Lukasz Gottwald’s rights and allowing Kesha to break her contract with him would acknowledge that this was overlooked, damaging not only his reputation, but Sony’s as well. Sony doesn’t want to dirty its hands trying to save Kesha. It seems that Shirley Kornreich has decided that when a famous music producer invests in you, you’re supposed to be grateful. Sure, he may try to take advantage of you, but because he spent his time and money on you, continuing to work with him, rather than trying to pull away to salvage the rest of your career and peace of mind, is “the commercially sound thing to do.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. There are the many women who have come forward as victims of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, the numerous victims, including Amber Coffman (of Dirty Projectors), accusing music publicist, Heathcliff Berru of sexual harassment,  the story of R. Kelly preying on teenage girls that broke 17 years ago, not to mention Jackie Fox’s (of the Runaways) heartwrenching story involving her manager, Kim Fowley. The music industry is rampant with cases of men in power taking advantage of female musicians. Most recently, Michael Gira of the experimental rock band, Swans, was accused of sexual assault by singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm. Grimm described Gira as her “beloved, trusted mentor, really my guru.” Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance that spoke to her own experience of being raped, early on in her career, is the latest of these many stories. But it may not be the end, unfortunately.

Why are male producers and musicians given a pass when it comes to these situations? What this and other stories like this have in common is that they all involve a man in power. Is it the fame, reputation and prestige that they carry? The fact that because they’re producing quality work, they should be respected, no matter their actions? We can’t keep idolizing these perpetrators for the fame if they aren’t good people at heart. The Hollywood world has become a strange universe, where we analyze everything from what celebrities eat, to what they wear, how they do their hair or even how they’re “just like us!” Somewhere along the line, we forget that they are just people, just like us. Just because someone (especially a man) is creating brilliant work, doesn’t mean that they can treat people however they want. We need to make the personal political and vice versa. Kesha’s story matters. Larkin Grimm’s story matters. The stories of the women who are sexually assaulted every day matter. We need to stop saying, “Yeah, what he did was awful, but he’s such a good musician/producer/artist though…”

By allowing women in the spotlight to have their stories heard and considered part of a much bigger problematic trend, we open the gateway towards preventing future assaults. If a white musician like Kesha can have her experience as a victim of sexual abuse be negated, imagine how much harder it must be for women of color. As the journalist who broke the story of R. Kelly’s sexual assault stated, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” By allowing Kesha’s story to be heard and have her experiences be considered important, not just be a “part of the industry,” it gives other women hope. The fact that Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and many others are stepping forward to support Kesha is a step in the right direction. Let’s learn from this and try to be an ally for victims, let them tell their stories and allow them to be validated, not shut down.