…about those two words

Baili

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I was 11 years old the first time I felt “that”.

I still hadn’t quite grown into my front teeth, weighed a scant 65 lbs, and wore my mom’s oversized cable-knit turtleneck fisherman sweaters that I pulled from a shelf I could hardly reach.

He was in his late 20’s or early 30’s, tall, attractive, and my substitute teacher.

New in town and stuck in a book more often than not, I welcomed his warm demeanor and friendly approach. I thought he paid so much attention to me because we were friends. When he insisted I hug him before I could leave class, I thought it was because he valued me and believed me to be smarter, or somehow better than my classmates.

My best friend’s mom was singing at at a pub the night things went too far. It was early in the evening, and minors were still allowed in. My best friend and I laughed to one another when we told the greeter that we were “with the band.” As we mingled in the packed venue, we spotted him and a friend at a table. He lit up when we walked over, and knocked a glass of water over as he got off his stool to give me one of his classic long hugs that I’d now learned to expect.

“Sorry he smells like Rainier” his friend, another tall, young man joked.

It was then that the bass guitar went to work, followed by light drums, then the singer. Before I knew what was happening, I was pulled out onto the floor in front of the band that was soon filled with drunken adults dancing in their Birkenstocks and Patagonia zip-off pants. He grinned lazily as he spun me around in circles, not so much dancing as he swinging around a girl one-third his size. The music slowed into a sultry blues ballad, and he pulled me toward him. His hand slid from my waist to my lower back, then over what would [much] later develop into an actual ass. I smelled the beer his friend had joked about, and couldn’t even make out the words his gravelly voice purred into my ear.

I was glad when the song ended. I pulled away hurriedly, said goodbye, and found my friend at a table across the room. I never saw him again.

“That.” I can’t even label it correctly. I don’t think there is a word or term that really encompasses the varied emotions and sensations that occur when someone is sexually assaulted. Humiliation, confusion, guilt, and shock are just a few that surface at the moment.

It takes a lot of courage to talk about these things. We hear that 1 in 4 women report being sexually assaulted, but know that the actual rate is significantly higher. What about all the other instances that don’t get reported? We don’t report cat-calls, which many people sadly believe are earnest compliments; we don’t report our teachers or parents’ friends or coaches or friends’ dads when they are just a little too nice; we don’t report the pathetic dudes who brush their hands across your ass in crowded streetcars…

Which is why you’re seeing those two words splashed across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this week.

“Me too.”

The two syllables, seemingly innocuous in any other context, represent a lifetime of struggles for men, women, and everyone in between.

Activist Tarana Burke spoke about the weight of the phrase when she recounted a story in which a young girl reached out to her for help, but ultimately left her speechless and flustered. The young girl, visibly shattered from being denied support so blatantly, silently urged Burke to consider the ways in which we interact with survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. The two words she did not speak are the very instruments she now uses to inspire others to support one another, including actress Alyssa Milano who resurrected the term via Twitter:

“Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

People have reacted in many different ways to this movement. I’m not here to say which response is right: to vocalize one’s experiences and support the movement is honorable and welcomed; to remain silent or unsure is also completely respectable.

You see, when a person is made to feel like they no longer have control in their life (which is, typically, what the end result of a sexual assault looks like) it is so important to restore that control to the survivor. Telling a survivor what they should or shouldn’t do is actually quite damaging, intentional or not. They are likely already feeling so much guilt over the incident. It is wrong to inspire more guilt in them by saying that their silence is detrimental to the cause.

If you truly want to help a survivor, allow them to make their own choices, free of judgment. Having been subjected to a crime or traumatic experience does not in any way make them less able to make their own decisions. Let them have power over their life.

On the other hand, there have been so many wonderful humans who have come forward and shared the phrase. I want everyone who hasn’t knowingly experienced sexual assault to know this one thing, if anything: this is huge. It’s “coming out.” It’s difficult, terrifying, and oftentimes dangerous to do so. When you “out” yourself as a survivor, you are opening up an incredibly private facet of your life that the inherently curious human population wants to dissect. You are putting yourself in a position to be mocked, blamed, accused, and judged.

So when you see a Facebook status with the words, “me too,” PLEASE oh please do not comment these things:

  • “OMG what happened?!”
  • “wtf who assaulted you??”
  • “when did that happen?”

You get the idea.

Nobody wants to have an open forum and relive that traumatic experience, so please don’t make them. A simple “like” will do.

Finally, there are the ones who simply aren’t sure if they can/should post it. You, my dears, are the ones at which the whole campaign is aimed.

Sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are manifested in so many ways that it is impossible to effectively “diagnose” someone as having experienced it. You yourself may have absolutely experienced sexual harassment and not even realized it.

The ways in which this particular type of hatred thrives are typically, like most of the “-isms”, disguised cleverly as compliments, traditions, cultural norms, beliefs, values, etc.

If you’re unsure whether or not you “qualify,” I challenge you to look at your interactions with other people and think critically about your place in the world. But also, don’t feel like you need to have experienced something as damaging as getting felt up by a teacher in a bar. It’s all about how the experience made you feel.

Were you ever made to feel like you were worth less because of your status as a woman? Have you ever walked past a group of men who shouted inappropriate things at you? Did you ever feel like you had to sleep with your boyfriend because it was your anniversary and you “owed it to him”? Did you ever feel like you were being stared at by a strange man on the subway? These count.

Perhaps you’re one of the [very] few lucky ones who really, truly haven’t felt like you’ve been there too. If you’re seeing your friends posting this status, then clearly someone you know/care about has. Be there for them. Thank them for sharing.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you choose not to share, thank you for empowering yourself to make that decision on your own. If you do choose to share, thank you for educating yourself and the ones around you.

I know you want sexual violence to stop. Me too.

 

 

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Emmy style

Baili

It’s that time of year. Fall has… fallen. Summer’s heat is excusing itself and making way for chunky knits, hot beverages, and comfort. A cold-blooded Washingtonian, I spend all summer looking forward to rainy days like this.

After weeks of wildfire smoke, merciless heat waves, and back-of-the-knee sweat (we all have it, shut up), today was also the kickoff of awards show season. Obviously, I brewed an alarmingly strong pot of coffee, slipped into some fuzzy socks, and got right to sketching my favorite looks from this year’s Emmy Awards. Without further ado, here they are:

 

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Natalia Dyer in Vera Wang

I had no idea who Natalia Dyer was when I saw her photo from the red carpet. A quick Google search told me she was an actress in the Netflix original, Stranger Things. I have yet to watch it. I KNOW I KNOW. Anyway, this generation’s Rory Gilmore (who is only 20 by the way) rolls up in this bright green taffeta ballgown and shuts the place DOWN. Read that again: bright green taffeta ballgown. The girl that my first boyfriend cheated on me with wore a bright green taffeta ballgown to prom. She looked like a piece of shit, as most of us likely would. Natalia, however, wins this round of Emmys fashion.

 

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Rashida Jones in J. Mendel

I studied fashion design in college and spent my whole life trying to perfect the art that is couture dressmaking. I’m not sure everyone out there understands how much effort it takes to make the little pleats that covered Rashida Jones’ dress… but let me just say it takes more patience than I have ever possessed in my entire life, combined. J. Mendel– this is exquisite. Keep doin’ you.

 

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Thandie Newton in Jason Wu

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a slight girl-crush on Thandie Newton, despite the fact that it took me years to figure out that it was pronounced “Tan-dee.” She is so elegant always, even as a robot-prostitute-murderer like her character on HBO’s Westworld. This classic Jason Wu ballgown hits all my favorite notes– a little bit of sparkle, beautiful fit, and my all-time favorite color.

Stay tuned for more fall fashion blurbs and be sure to catch my sketches on November 8th when I decide to go hard on the hard cider [again] and sketch my way through the Country Music Association Awards! Cheers!

of equality and eradication: thoughts on National Women’s Equality Day

Baili
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The girl who is sick of gender inequality (above). Photo by Kristin Coffman.

Last night I spent an hour curled up in the driver’s seat of my car in the shade of my local Rite Aid, bawling.

I had intended to make a quick trip of it– walk in, pick up my birth control, and get on with the rest of my errands. A young man at the pharmacy counter greeted me pleasantly and asked for my information. He hesitated before sheepishly explaining that my insurance wasn’t going to cover my medication.

“It won’t be covered until September 1st,” he explained nervously.

This was a problem for me. I needed it now if I wanted to skip my period and forgo the excruciating pain, nausea, and headaches that have plagued me for years.

“You can pay out of pocket, but it’s going to be $39 for one month,” he continued.

Here’s the thing: I already paid for this medication when my insurance payment was deducted from my paycheck. It is legally mine. Yet here I was, listening to some male stranger tell me that another complete stranger had decided that I was due for my period, that I didn’t get to skip the placebo pills this month. Some unknown person was sitting at a desk somewhere out there, saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to have more than one month’s supply at a time. Heaven forbid that I, a woman, would want to go more than one month without getting pregnant. The notion that a 25-year-old woman wants to have a career and her own life is so absurd to my insurance company that they can’t justify the cost to provide me with more than one month at a time.

In college, our university pharmacy let us take home an entire years’ worth at a time. Plan B was as accessible as ibuprofen, and paid for with our tuition. It made sense– we were in college to learn and to become functioning members of society and tax-paying citizens. Childbearing and homemaking were not on the university’s agenda. Everyone, male and female, was on the same spectrum for the first time, if only for a moment. We had everything we needed.

Exit college, and we are once again introduced to the “play like a boy” mindset. Women are asked to dress like men if they want to be taken seriously. We are paid less for the same work. We are hired less because we may someday require maternity leave. We are encouraged to flirt our way into success. We are largely pressured by the male population to deny these things, because agreeing with our oppressors yields more rewards than ruffling feathers.

What consistently baffles me is the amount of pushback I get on these topics from people whom I believe to be quite intelligent otherwise. These outspoken woman-haters don’t seem to realize that they are arguing against equal rights for their female loved ones.

The very fact that National Women’s Equality Day exists necessitates change.

It is very seldom when I experience a single day without having to modify my life in a way men will never have to.

Men will never know how uncomfortable and frightened I felt last month when I was gassing up my car, the attendant leaning inside my car, violating my space. These days, I crack the window only enough to slide my card through it.

Men will never have to feel like they cannot go on a hike alone, or even on a walk around their block alone at night, without putting theirselves in harm’s way. Should I do something like that and danger befalls me, they would say that “I asked for it,” or that “I should have known better than to do it.” If a man is harmed, the blame is on the perpetrator. If a woman is harmed, she lacked common sense.

Men will never have to know what it is like to lose ownership of their own body simply by existing. My body has been used for another man’s pleasure without my consent more times than I can count–both physically and mentally. Women–if you’ve ever been catcalled, groped, or even stared at, this applies to you too. It is my belief that every woman has, at least once in her life, been utilized without consent in a sexual nature.

Cisgender men will never feel victimized by the government or by people who hold power, simply because they host certain body parts. They will never feel the burning humiliation of being objectified by an authority figure or law enforcer.

Men will never need to create a national holiday recognizing their systematic oppression.

I want to say “happy National Women’s Equality Day” but the fact is that, because it exists, it is not a happy day at all.

I encourage women and men who support the happiness and well-being of women to do one thing today. It’s easy. If you want to participate in this day, all I ask is that you recognize the lack of equality we live with. It sounds easy, but most men that I know will instinctually contradict me.

If you want a woman to hate, go ahead. Hate the living shit out of me. I can hold my own.

But take this time to think about your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, or female friend who is being hurt by the perpetual aggression towards women. Think about how they’re living in my world too. Someday, a man may grab her or cat-call her or turn her down for a job or rape her or tell her she doesn’t matter. I guarantee you, it has already happened. Acknowledgment is the first step.

 

 

 

 

take-backsies: my body, not yours.

Baili

Hi all, it’s me, Baili. If you know me personally, you know I love my white wine (sponsor of this very post) my cat Rosie/Baby/HoneyGirl/Sweetie, and just about any book that my hero Rory Gilmore has mentioned in passing. You are also acutely aware of how much I love a good, old-fashioned rant about women’s rights. If you don’t know me personally, and have just read this and are now thinking I’m absolutely insane, hear me out.

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All photos by Kristin Coffman

I, like an alarmingly vast amount of you, have been subjected to sexual assault my entire pubescent life, and then some. From the creepy substitute teacher in 6th grade who insisted I hug him before he would let me leave class (whom I later that year ran into at a restaurant in the midst of his 6th Rainier) to the teenage boys who think it’s funny to yell obscenities at a girl trying to buy tampons (seriously) I’ve had it. It’s a wonder I haven’t morphed into some bra-burning vigilante on the hunt for predatory cat-callers (“V for Vagina, a Memoir”).

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There are absolutely days where I feel angry. Angry because I don’t feel safe enough to take a walk by myself when I can’t sleep at night. Angry because I guarantee there is a guy out there somewhere reading this, probably one I’ve even known intimately, who is seriously thinking that I’m mentally unstable because of my outward frustration. Yeah, being an intelligent, articulate, and passionate woman really sucks sometimes.

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But most days I actually feel very insecure. I moved far away from the convenience and excitement of downtown so that I could live in a neighborhood that was safe enough for a young, small (albeit feisty) woman to live independently. I sleep with pepper spray nearby (a habit I developed before I even had my first real period, no less). I never take Ubers alone. I turned down a promotion at a previous job knowing I’d be subjected to daily sexual harassment by my potential boss. I have to *practice* my resting bitch face, because resting smiling face has earned me several cat-calls, solicitations, and, in one instance, a threat to be gang-raped on my walk to work (sorry if you’re reading this, mom. I promise I’m okay).

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So here I am ranting about how unfair the world is. The truth is, if you’re a woman and you’re paying attention, you already know this. What took me a long time to figure out was that you can’t live in fear. You can’t go to work wearing clothes that you think will protect you from the losers with big mouths (and tiny you-know-whats, most likely) out there. You can’t let male or female antagonists determine your worth based on how much leg you show.

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Some years ago I somehow grew a butt that now has its own orbit. Try as I might to hide it, it’s not going anywhere. While I worshipped loose-fitting sweatshirts in the past, I now prefer tops that are, I don’t know, cute? I shamelessly wear booty shorts out in public. The skirt I wore to this photo shoot warranted the saddest pickup line I’ve ever heard (“Leaving me already?” “Yes.” “Oh… okay”). But I’m taking my body back, I’m rocking what I am, and the rest of the stone-aged world can just deal with it. Ladies, I encourage you to do the same.

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Let your style be your shield against ignorant, predatory boys who think they’re hot shit. You’re a worthy individual who is more than a walking porno for the drunk dude at the bar. I realize this is cliche, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you cannot control what happens to you. Ignore the victim-blaming dunces in the peanut gallery. There are things we can’t control. But we can learn from them. I now have more confidence in my body than I’ve ever had. It’s my body. Mine and only mine. Take your body back and flaunt it, babe. And if anyone gives you shit, send ’em to the big-booty psycho Khaleesi wannabe and I’ll teach ’em a thing or two about objectifying women. 😉

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your quarter life crisis playlist

Baili

This is it guys. The big 2-5. Suddenly you find yourself Instagram stalking your younger pledge classes’ house dance outfits and reminiscing about the days when you could stay up until 2 am without feeling like you got hugged by a falling tree. Rent, car payments, electricity, groceries, anxiety meds…they all add up. In addition to having absolutely no money, it’s so easy to get caught up in the demands of life. I’m turning a quarter of a century old on the 31st of this month and have been having one existential crisis after another. Luckily I’m surrounded by amazing girlfriends who love and support me. Kristin, the genius behind the photos you’re about to enjoy, decided we needed a much-needed trip to Cape Kiawanda. If you’re like me and you’ve got mid-twenties blues, here’s a playlist to help you get through it all. While I’m still struggling in life, I’m proud of who I am today, and these songs helped shape me into the woman I am today.

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all photos by Kristin Coffman

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. This song is so classic and so relevant to any woman who has struggled to find her purpose in life. I’ve been so many people in my 25 years, and I’m still figuring out who I am. This is a big one.

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“Belle of the Boulevard” by Dashboard Confessional. Sometimes life is just downright hard. It is so important to remember that the struggles you experience make you the beautiful person you are. Never, never let yourself think that you are only worth what certain people think of you.

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“Swing Life Away” by Rise Against. When I was a little kid I thought by 25 I’d be married, have a house full of kittens and puppies, and be a successful paleontologist. Today I’m, well, not. That’s just life, and I’m okay with it. Enjoy the simple things in life. You will miss them later on.

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“Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. I tragically lost my first love a few years back. This song has preserved every happy memory we ever shared. Whether it’s a person, a place, a song, a smell, or an idea–it’s okay to hold on to things. Nobody is immune to tragedy, but it takes a great deal of strength to hold on to the happy times in spite of it all.

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“Feel the Silence” by Goo Goo Dolls. The part in this song that always gives me chills goes, “we’re drowning in the water that goes under this bridge/when you’re fighting the current you forget how to live.” Pretty explanatory. We are a highly-intelligent species that have emotions in spades. Listen to them. If you spend your life hiding your hurt, you will always feel pain.

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“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. This song was my Gramma’s absolute favorite song, and for good reason. The point of this song, this blog, and my objective in life, is to offer love and support to those who need it. We hear so much sad news every day, and this song beautifully acknowledges that all of life’s hardships can be overcome with the support of a good friend. You don’t need a ton of friends, just one or two solid ride-or-dies. Most importantly, be the friend that you need in your life.

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“Love” by Lana Del Rey. I’ve mentioned this before here on V+V but this song is just. So. Good. It takes me back to the days when all we needed was a 6-pack of PBR, a smooth hill to skate down, and a sunset to cheers to. Watch the video and you will understand. The years go by but we will always have that summer that ignited our souls.

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“Your Song” by Elton John. Oh Elton. This song has no particular meaning other than it is simply the best song ever written and I will never stop loving it. Absolute genius.

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“Wheels” by Foo Fighters. Easily the most under-rated FF hit. Central thesis is that life will never stop being hard. Your challenges will change, but life will never be easy. That being said–there’s no reason to not enjoy the ride.

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“For the First Time” by the Script. Does anyone still listen to them? I love them. Shamelessly. Keep making music, guys. All of their songs are so real and so relevant but this one specifically has helped me calm down when I’m sitting on my couch with my roomie and her cat, telling them about how stressfully my apartment hunt is going/how difficult work is/how much I wish I was Lauren Conrad. It’s so good to know you’re not alone in the struggle. Related: watch St. Elmo’s Fire.

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Lastly, “I Want to Break Free” by Queen. In addition to having arguably the most interesting music video ever created, this song is so empowering. Whether you’re struggling to accept your identity, or if you hate your job, or if you’re in a bad relationship–this song will get you through just about anything. And will also make you want to vacuum in a leather mini skirt. Or is that just me? Anyway–cheers to 25 years! Through good times and bad, I love you all and wish you all the best in your life. Take charge and be the lady boss we all know you are!

 

WHITE OUT: THE MODERN-DAY SUFFRAGETTES

Baili

I’ll be honest, I don’t go out and see movies very often. I’m more of the wait-until-it-comes-out-on-DVD-so-I-don’t-have-to-put-on-pants kind of girl. That doesn’t mean I don’t obsess over the Oscars. And by “the Oscars” I mostly mean the part before the awards ceremony where you’d normally find Joan Rivers (God rest her silicone soul) making some ridiculous and would-be insulting commentary  on the celebrities we love the most. Karlie Kloss, Hailee Steinfeld, Isabelle Huppert, Emma Roberts, Michelle Williams, Chrissy Teigen, Felicity Jones, Auli’i Cravalho specifically caught my eye this year. The 2017 Oscars were a flurry of white. This was no accident. We saw it when Hillary Clinton won the Democratic candidacy, and again at Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s no secret that our favorite pantsuit-rocking badass ladyboss has taken it upon herself to remind us just how far we’ve come as women, and how much farther we’ve yet to go. I felt it only appropriate that I, being the outspoken, annoying feminist that I am, should take a page from her book and dedicate my first post to the official color of the OG suffragettes.

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photos by kristin coffman

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