by Maia Wheeler
Birth of a Nation is known as one of the most racist films ever created. It was produced in 1915 by director D.W. Griffith. Birth of a Nation, originally named The Clansman is an epic silent film taking place in a time of divided ease of a nation, the civil war.
There has been debate to say if this should even be shown to a public audience. The film shows graphic actions portrayed by the Klu Klux Klan, which familiarizes hateful acts toward African American men and women. Some say it shouldn’t be shown, as it is tragic to see the actions of the time, but others believe that it is a form of education towards historic racism in the United States.
It isn’t just racially wrong in the sense of the actions in the story, but also behind the scenes. The actors when portraying an African American would blackface themselves. Blackface is a form of theatre makeup, when a non American American person portrays an African American. It was not thought of as wrong at the time in history when this movie was made, but similar instances of racial misconduct have made news headlines as racist and offensive towards certain groups of people today.
This is a piece of history wrapped inside another piece of history. It is not only the foundation of silent films, but also the documentation of a fresh perspective on a horrific time in history. History should not be repeated for the better or worse and even though certain topics can be uncomfortable, they need to be talked about. Change happens from awareness of issues and understanding current and past issues. Hard history should be understood even if it makes a group uncomfortable, that is how history won’t be repeated and the future won’t have to revolve around issues that are recurring.
“Asking people for their pronouns first is more inclusive,” they say, ‘they’ being a cisgender (cis) person in a cis-dominated space, and I consider for just a moment voicing concern. “What if that ‘outs’ someone or something like that?” But I know that doing so would raise certain ideas. “Just choose one, it's not that hard, right, (fellow cis)”—the last part unsaid but clearly implied: optional doesn’t mean inclusive.
Odd way to come out. A school paper (and a creative nonfiction one at that), “performative,” one might say, “for a grade.” Considering the fear of being outed, this would be a pretty ridiculous move. Being outed means being othered, becoming the “Trans Kid,” the token queer used as an example or being expected to answer questions about being trans.
When someone refers to me as he or him, I don’t wince or frown, I learned how not to, before even I knew I wanted to do so. “They,” I think to myself, feeling as though it works best, at my core still unsure, but it still hurts, the he’s and his, the weight and obligation that comes along with them.
So, hi! Whomever it may concern, I’m Marrion. A name I chose for myself. Feel free to just call me ‘M.’ I use they/them/theirs pronouns. The title or set of words for my identity currently is trans non-binary; put simply, that means I don’t identify with my assigned gender at birth (AGAB), but also that I don’t necessarily identify as male or female.
That weight, the obligation, socially, to fit a norm. No one falls perfectly to the sides of the hegemonic binary, but it’s so often used as a judge of character. These ideas of femininity and masculinity don’t leave or escape from the trans community. Trans women or men showing aspects of their agab are often invalidated or shunned, this of course is getting better with time. Even as a nonbinary person I am occasionally asked which way I “lean” a discreet way of trying to ask which side of the binary i identify with. So much is broken down into the binary that displaying characteristics of masculinity or femininity, be them aesthetic or behavioural, gets you shoved into these “blue” or “pink” boxes.
I talk a lot, which on the surface isn’t that gendered, but in the context of such masculine academics, or this fact that men talk more in academic conversations, may gender me more masculine. These traits, the way people walk, talk or interact, that while not inherently overt in their prescriptive nature give so much to how we view people in the context of gender.
Gender is such an odd thing.
Societal / Personal
Society at large is rarely an indication of the views of an individual. This is true in pertinence to the I view gender. My belief is that society’s views on gender are changing, but by and large, gender is viewed as binary: two polar extremes dictated by your sex at birth. People who stray from these expectations are publicly ridiculed by those that adhere to their involuntary assignment as a tongue to a frozen flagpole.
I view gender as a spectrum marked incrementally by pronouns that can be best described as mile markers. Traditionally, a person’s conformity to these pronouns is based on sex. However, I view these mile markers as a social roadmap to describe the internal and personal identity that is gender. Everyone falls somewhere on this spectrum and the closest mile marker is picked accordingly in order to allow the people around you to address you in a quick manner.
I disagree with some of the views that fall closer to extremist liberal side that push such concepts of ditching the idea of gender, making up words for gender that aren’t in the english language (ze, zer, hir). Ideally, gender should not define anything about a person whether it be personality, preferences, or sexuality. Although we haven’t universally reached the point where this is the case, the more we create categories for people to conform to, the more likely it is that norms and stereotypes relating to these categories will become true. Rather, labels have already been laid out. If a more diverse crowd identifies with a certain label, it is harder to hold ‘she,’ ‘he’ or ‘they’ to a certain expectation.
Pronouns were created solely for ease of language, not as a conspiracy to control or confine people to a specific social role. It is only recently that pronouns have been attached with the meaning they bear today. Of course, it is only respectful to address someone by their preferred pronouns, but if we were able to tear down the expectations that we hold pronouns to, we would consequently tear down the gender based social infrastructure that they support.
She / He
At probably what was far too young an age, I first watched Pulp Fiction. I remember instantaneously falling in love with Uma Thurman’s depiction of Mia Wallace. She encapsulated this beautiful agglomerate of personality traits I had always viewed as isolate from one another. Mia Wallace is, in my eyes, a role model. She is the embodiment of a progressive definition of femininity. Her drug use, swearing, confidence, and sub par dancing helped to validate the unfeminine parts of me that I am still working to stop considering flaws.
On the daily, Mia Wallace is merely the trophy wife to a much more traditionally powerful and successful man. However, when her personality is allowed to shine in lieu of a night spent with her husband’s employee, she comes off as confident and self-reliant. Before this, I never had come to realize that a woman could be both. Part of privilege is having the choice to fall into a successive role or a dominant one and not being confined to either. A woman is allowed to have the desire to dress up, wear makeup, or please a man. After seeing Mia Wallace conduct herself in varying situations, I finally understood that adopting this role is empowering if a women is presented it as an option, not a given.
Most suburban Boulder kids don’t grow up idolizing fictional characters that overdose on heroin or marry a mob boss, but there is an undeniably empowering aspect to this caricature that shaped the way I view femininity from a young age. This was the first time growing up that I truly saw a confident woman in the media that I looked up to. There was no need for Mia Wallace to validate these unfeminine aspects of her personality, rather, she embraced them and flaunted them without shame. Everyday, I only hope that I can grow to share this mentality.
The first time I listened to Young Thug, I found the lyrics and delivery of them amusing yet catchy. Although I had heard some of his music, I was entirely unfamiliar with the bizzarity of Young Thugs compatibility with traditional gender roles. The content of his music is often raunchy and offensive to many. However, his outward appearance and mannerisms seem more offensive the heteronormality hidden behind his lilting vocals. It’s as if two people with two seperate normative gender identities are waging a war in Young Thug, each manifesting itself in different parts of his image and craft. However, no matter how fluid or non-conforming Thugger seems to be, all of this seems to be abridged on a surface level by the pronouns preferred by the artist: he, him, his.
Listening and viewing Thugger’s disposition as a female, I am more confused than shocked or upset. Although the content of his songs reflect a toxic view of masculinity, every other aspect of his personality contradicts this. It is easy for me to naively see men as falling into one of two categories: toxic and offensive, or overtly feminine and liberal. It isn’t everyday that you see a figure in the media display these two polarized traits simultaneously. Young Thug is a constant reminder that nothing gender related is black and white or binary.
Of course inseparable from this polarization of expression comes the socially hegemonic side of Young Thug that his lyrics display. I have found myself numb to the messages about women that rap music often sports and this case is no different. Deep down, I know that supporting and streaming this music is perpetuating a misogynistic view of females that we have tried so hard to shake, but I can’t help but take the bait of allowing Thugger’s garb to cloud the moral voice alerting me that something is off. It has become far too easy to desensitize myself to shocking lyrics and themes in Young Thug’s music because he comes off as ‘woke.’ If this method of fogging more sinister themes is adopted on a wider scale to appeal to a more liberal audience, much of the work that has been historically exerted to reverse traditional gender roles may be in danger.
by Dani Cooke
At My Most Feminine
I. Pretty Please
A man walks in, sweat and the residue of cooking grease settling where my mascara once was.
"What can I get you?" I ask, but he does not answer.
"How old are you girls?" He gestures toward the grill, where another high-school girl preps the steak. I know these things: always answer the customers' questions, politely, and always keep a smile on your pretty makeup-ed face, if you don't want a two-percent tip and a bad Yelp review.
"Seventeen," I answer. "Now, what can I get started for you?"
Again, he does not reply, but winks at my manager, a man more than twice my age, and says, "Seventeen's the age of consent in Colorado, you know."
This is not the most inappropriate thing we might hear as young women in food service, and so the shift ends in relief. At least he didn't try to stay, we think. At least he didn't try to cross the counter. At least those weren't our manager's words.
At least we weren't alone.
II. Mixed Signals
I’d been jumpy as I walked the four blocks from University Hill to the downtown bus station — any rustling or misplaced shadow as I passed the frat houses set my heart to rattling — but this was normal, even foolish, and dismissed as the product of my own anxious nature. I’m not used to walking alone this late — 10:00 pm — but the mid-July air cultivates a sense of security after an easy summer day.
A man in his late twenties approaches on a bicycle, skims his foot against the asphalt to come to a stop, and leans in toward where I'm sitting. It doesn't matter that I have my earbuds in, that I'm not looking in his direction, that I have somewhere else to be. "Hey, baby — where are you headed?"
I know that answering might be seen as an invitation, that not answering will be seen as a sign of frigidity. "To a friend's," I reply. (It doesn't feel safe to say home.)
"You're beautiful," he says as he looks me up and down, eyes lingering.
"Thank you," I say, though suddenly I don't feel beautiful. Instead, I hesitate at the tightness of my tank top, the tilt of my heels, and the fall of my skirt. "But I don't really feel like talking right now."
For a brief moment, he pushes his body forwards, and I think he might become aggressive. Then, he strikes his foot against the pavement and speeds into the dark.
I am a young woman alone at a bus stop. It is night, and (left alone) I consider myself lucky. At least he didn't try to touch me, I think. At least he left when he could've moved closer. At least the buses are still running and I know where I'm going next.
At least nobody was around to see my rudeness.
III. The Angry Feminist
"My body, my choice!" I shout, feel the punch of my voice and the weight of my step. Male voices echo back: "Her body, her choice!"
This march is not the most revolutionary possible act. (I could strike hungrily in jail, as the most powerful women before me have done. I could shelter refugees in my home or picket on the steps of government buildings. I could shout louder, walk further, stand taller.)
At least we're doing something, I think. At least we aren't silent. At least somebody's filling the space that's being made here.
At least mine is not the only voice that's shouting.
Poems on Gender & Self
by Allie Corradino
by Grace Kelly
To Be A Woman
To be a woman is to be sexual, to be revealing but still leave something for the imagination. To fold myself into an inverted and twisted reflection of whatever the male gaze sees fit. To carry myself with enough confidence to draw the attention of a man, but not enough to threaten a man's facade of being the one in control. I shove these thoughts away, telling myself I am strong in my stance as a new age woman who turns the mirror onto the men themselves. I tell myself these things like I am a wise woman who has seen behind the curtain of toxic masculinity, but it is a lie. I lean into the submissive role of being an object, of being a pool of water for people to look at and call to however they want. I am a woman.
I was twelve when I confidently walked down a dim street in November, feeling beautiful and feminine in my knee-high boots and tight sweater dress. They were uncomfortable and itchy, but I wanted to be a woman. I wanted to be like my mother, my sister, my aunt and cousin. I wanted to be a woman like them. Pretty and grown up. To giggle and blush and catch the attention of a man on the street. To receive a “compliment” from them. No one had told me it was wrong, that being cat-called was not a compliment. They never told me it was demeaning or dangerous. They never told me the difference between a compliment and harassment. Ignorance was supposed to be bliss, but all it brought was danger. From all these small things, I learned that I should seek this: recognition as a “real” woman, or what I was taught to see as a true woman.
Leaves blew down the street as a black car full of loud frat guys began to slow next to me. They whistled and yelled, calling me sexy and beautiful. I was twelve. I had always wanted to be beautiful, so I smiled. Basking in what my innocent mind had seen as a compliment. I remember being so happy to be seen, to be treated like a woman, to be a woman. This continued on for some time whenever a man noticed me in this way until I heard about sexual assault, rape, abuse, and everything else my parents wouldn’t be able to protect me from.
Sometimes I think about that first time I was viewed as something sexual. I wasn’t viewed as a girl, a teen, or even a woman. I was viewed as an object. It wasn’t a compliment like I had thought all those years ago.
The more I experienced and heard, the more I began to have fear in my heart. I anxiously take precautions against looking weak or becoming a victim. I fear what could happen if an encounter didn’t end with just the odd remarks and catcalls.
To be a woman is to fear dark streets, and carry keys between your fingers. To be a woman is to be strong and collected when you face the toxic dominance of a man who views you as nothing more than an object. To be a woman is to ignore uncomfortable comments in order to get a tip and do your job like you have to.
I try to be strong, to be confident, and everything a woman today should be. I have made strides in become more, but there is still more growth left. I learn and struggle and fall back into my old thoughts but I am no longer an object. I am a woman.
A single shriveled date.
Placed on the table to the left
of a shadow of jagged leaves,
cast by a small rose.
Contrasting in scale
to the excessive thorns that came to a razor-sharp point.
I felt his eyes dig deep into me at that point.
Just one date.
Cold eyes weighing me like a scale.
The night darkened as the moon and stars left.
My heartbeat rose
as all the luminous light leaves.
A bitter wind toys with the leaves.
A sharp point
collided with me as I rose,
reminding me of the date
with the man to the left.
Like the thorns to the rose, he was too large in scale.
Unbalanced was the scale,
but ignored like the dead dry leaves
that were pushed aside to be Left.
That wasn’t the Point
Of this one Date.
To him, a thorn was equal to a rose.
shifting the scale
by reaching for the long forgotten and withered date.
He turns and leaves,
but makes one final Point.
“You are the one who will always be left”.
The moon glowed towards the left,
illuminating the weakening rose
and each of its thorns that came to a minuscule point,
casting a shadow three times its scale.
The unaware jagged leaves
casted sharp and irregular shards of light onto the sole date.
All that was left was that lone date.
The rose had wilted and blown away just like the leaves,
finally understanding the point of the years spent balancing that unseen scale.
by Titan Mikuta
RHYME + REFLECTION
SELF + GENDER
by Peter Laffin
In recent months, major corporations have made efforts to co-opt social justice movements in order to sell products made by brown children in third world sweatshops. The ¨woke¨ left, a designation given to the subset of American liberals primarily focused on the politics of identity, has swallowed corporate America’s efforts whole. They praise, share, and retweet their advertisements while proudly donning their logos.
In late December, Nike began to run a television commercial called, ¨Just Do It,¨ featuring Colin Kaepernick, whose story came to prominence in social justice circles during the 2017 NFL season. Kaepernick led the widely-discussed ¨kneeling¨ protest during the national anthem before games, protesting police brutality against African Americans. This captured the imagination of social progressives and the ire of military members and their families. (It also resulted in one of the least productive national conversations of my lifetime, as President Trump took advantage of the tension by manipulating us into having a conversation about him instead of the real concerns on both sides.) The ad features Kaepernick in street clothes, as he has yet to be re-signed by an NFL team since the protest, and it ends with a close up of his face set behind the words, ¨Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
It's difficult for me to remain straight-faced at the notion of Kaepernick sacrificing everything for his beliefs, given the millions Nike paid him for the TV spot; but this irony must have dropped the jaws of Nike's third-world slave laborers. While Nike has publicly proclaimed to have cleaned up its grotesque business practices (at the turn of the century, Nike finally had to own up to its well-documented child labor practices in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Pakistan), evidence suggests there is still plenty to be done. Reports as recent as 2017 indicate that Nike factories in Vietnam force workers to labor in temperatures well over the labor limit of ninety degrees, to the point where workers regularly faint. Nike has also recently been accused of closing factories in third world countries with ascendant labor movements, such as Honduras. Further, Nike refuses to allow independent monitoring of their labor practices, which would put suspicion to an end if their nose was clean.
But all of this is cool, and Nike is awesome, because it’s, like, woke, or something. So long as it continues to signal the correct virtues in its advertising campaigns, the American social justice left is happy and proud to brandish the ¨swoosh¨ as it marches on like good little corporatists. Child labor be damned.
As recently as this month, Procter and Gamble´s razor company, Gillette, released a ¨correct think¨ ad targeted at the woke crowd that instructs its male customers how to behave in the world. Seeing the wave of the ¨Me Too¨ movement, these corporateers hopped on in hopes of signaling proper virtues to people who would be horrified to find out about their animal testing practices. (Oh, and they have a teeny child labor problem, too). Much like with the Nike Kaepernick ad, the Gillette spot flourished on social media, cheered on by the social justice left, which should sue for some of that sweet child labor money, as they were the ones who really made the commercial successful.
The incongruence of the New Left Morality is confusing, dispiriting, and indicative of a laziness the type of which allows true evil to thrive. It champions easy virtue while ignoring complex injustice. It favors symbolic victory over actual victory: the end of American corporate malfeasance. You better believe it makes me angry.
by Emily Graf
Finally, it’s evening in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We have spent this late spring day sweating. Chris and I worked with our haphazard crew of 8th graders to build walls from splintered, bowing 2x4s. We did our best to stack firewood by the sheet-metal trailer, alongside a rusted bathtub that floats like a capsized lifeboat amidst the yard’s detritus. With only hand tools and flimsy masks, our students demolished a burnt-out house so that the carpenters could get in to rebuild.
Service work on the Pine Ridge Reservation is frustrating, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once, and by the end of the day, we’re pretty damn tired.
Maybe that’s why, during this particular evening meeting, I’m not able to “keep my cool.” Chris and I sit down with our service partner. Let’s call him Dave. The room is sticky. We perch on cheap polyester chairs and periodically swig from our Nalgenes, while dust and wind trouble the handmade curtains. Dave is a white man from suburban Colorado. He wears a leather cowboy hat, a beard, an austerely deep voice. He knows some Lakota words. He chastises our students for being “rambunctious,” and they find him intimidating. On day three, I have begun to notice in our “team meetings” that Dave mostly addresses Chris, makes eye contact with Chris, and has no trouble interrupting me when I voice an idea. For this reason, I’m not paying close attention to the conversation. But then Dave says, “Tomorrow we’ll be running power tools and chainsaws, so let’s make sure Chris or Adam is there to supervise.”
Rapidly, some realizations hit me. Adam is this man’s fifteen-year-old son. He has not yet graduated from high school, and I’ve seen him run a table saw without eye-protection or gloves, spraying himself in the eyes with sawdust. But by virtue of his maleness alone, Adam is more qualified than I to supervise 8th graders with power tools.
Next: what Dave doesn’t know. What Dave doesn’t know is that I worked for a season as a sawyer on a backcountry chainsaw crew in Southern Colorado. I completed a chainsaw safety certification course, and learned to fell teetering ponderosa pines that shake the ground when they crash-land. My saw weighed 18 lbs when fully fueled, and I carried it for close to 9 hours a day, kneeling, standing, wading through the Colorado River, hiking in the dark through moonlit sagebrush. Each morning I woke with sawdust in my ears, nostrils, and eyelids. I slept every night on the ground under clear desert stars. My hands were always brown and dirty, nails choked with black grease, and after one particular hitch, when we returned to Durango, I won my first arm-wrestling match. My story is winding and messy; it involves overcoming my fear of machines and sharp dangerous tools; sometimes I wanted to quit due to sheer exhaustion and frayed nerves; and you bet I was aware, every day I carried that saw, that I was a woman elbowing my way into a male profession.
But when Dave looks at me, he doesn’t see this story.
Perhaps some readers will think, “He just made a mistake. Cut him some slack. Why are you so upset?” Well, imagine you endure little brush-offs like this every day. Imagine your former boss points out that “as a young woman,” you need to be extra sure to maintain boundaries with your teenage students. Imagine, when you tell a group of Wyoming ranch hands that you guided backpacking trips, they say, “They let girls do that?” Imagine you have worked with male colleagues who call women well into their 30s “girls,” but would never refer to men of the same age as “boys.” Or that your former outdoor instructor, who you think is mentoring you in mountaineering, writes in a Facebook message that he “always thought you were more beautiful” than his other students and he’s “jealous” of your partner, throwing two years of mentorship into question. All of these, in aggregate, are a version of death by 1,000 cuts. Journalist Rebecca Traister calls this “the banality of daily diminution.”
Comments like Dave’s are complex. It’s possible that he thought he was doing me a favor, saving me the embarrassment of admitting my fear or incompetence. To that I say: let me speak for myself. Let me voice my fears, let me voice my strengths, and let that be a choice I get to make. Women are damn good at self-awareness (maybe too good.) Women are capable of saying “No,” although unfortunately at times that “No” isn’t met with respect. Rest assured, I am capable of letting you know if I don’t want to run a chainsaw. I want Dave to ask me, as he might ask his son, “What do you want to do?” then wait for my answer with patience and compassion.
What I said on that South Dakota night was: “Wait a second. I know how to run a chainsaw.”
by Jacob Wolhandler