Bombshell Convert

I am a feminist. That means that I believe that a system exists in which men and women are judged and oppressed based 

on their gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, being a feminist means actively doing something about it, be it protesting, educating the public, writing letters to my representatives, staying informed, and donating time, energy, and funds that go towards exposing and breaking down this system. I love this part of my identity: shedding the blinders of ignorance has not made me angry or depressed by reality, but only fires me up when I see injustice after injustice and all the opportunities that can be taken to end this oppression. Do I believe it can end? You betchya. Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel? Not today, but I believe that someday the gender binary will break down, gay weddings won’t be an affair “separate but equal” to straight weddings, and women and men will not be judged by their sexual prowess or lack thereof.

Alright, now that I have defined a huge part of my identity, I have a confession to make. I bought a bra a few weeks ago from Victoria Secret. That’s not the secret–I think that Victoria Secret is a great tool for empowerment, with a grain of salt. I did not walk into VS, ask a woman to size me, and then buy a bra that fits me that I like and feel confident in. My friend and I went to the semi-annual sale for one reason: to buy myself a Bombshell bra.

The Bombshell adds TWO WHOLE CUPS SIZES to your natural measurements.  Not only that, but you can buy this bra in the classic colors, making them simple and unadorned for work. They also come in outrageous designs : mine happens to be red with gold glitz all over it. Oh-ho, and I don’t hide this bra out of shame and embarrassment. In fact, I’m sure to pair it with low-cut shirts that are a little thin so that I can see the glimmer of the gold thread in certain lights. (Read: any light). I’m not ashamed of my Bombshell, but I’m also aware that I should be.

When I put this bra on, I feel, if only for a few seconds, in proportion. Desirable. Pretty. Like a smoking hot babe that any individual should hesitate to speak to because my beauty makes them nervous. I get over that feeling quickly, though, and move on with my day, but when I catch my reflection in a window or find a second to breath in the elevator that thought flashes through my head and I have a new source of confidence in my next step.

Now, I think to myself Girl, how much more shallow can you get?

This is part of the problem that weighs women against men: products that inspire you to take confidence and pride in physical assets that won’t bring you any savory benefit. I am not aspiring to be a historian because I believe I’m a solid 7. But if I think so highly of myself, why should I wear a bra that maybe helps me up the rankings? When I work so hard to talk to my younger girl cousins about how brave, smart, or wise the Disney Princesses were instead of how pretty and dainty, am I contradicting that lesson by wearing this piece of clothing that, literally, restricts my movement but also plays into a patriarchal society that demands its women to be bountiful in all the right places? What’s the point in declaring my feminism, now? It’s like taking two cup sizes up, and one cup size from my real source of confidence: my competence and intelligence.

For now, I’ve convinced myself that, because I am not in the dark about gender and sexual oppression in this country and because I believe that we all partake in perpetuating this system simply by existing in it, wearing this bra and continuing  my plans to live a feminist life do not contradict. Really, it doesn’t matter if I wear an enhancing bra right now while I read my favorite feminist blogs (feministing.com and jezebel.com). And it really shouldn’t matter that I feel good about how I look in a wireless, padded, or heavily lined bra while I take signatures for a petition or register people to vote. Because for now, I think there are bigger fish to fry than my choice to look feminine and wear the Bombshell.

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The real world or The Real World

This is my first semester in 18 years in which I am not taking a class. Not a single one. The next five months are dedicated to finishing my thesis (read: glorified research paper) and studying for my comprehension exams so I can graduate in the summer. And then…and then…

Several of the people in and around my life have asked me what I am going to do in the “real world” once I graduate. For a while, I went along with this question and gave some very satisfying answers about job prospects, traveling, and purchasing at least five more cats within the next two years. But I’m becoming irked by this question, not because I don’t have a solid plan, but because of its implication. Since when was being in school not a “real” thing? Will my Master’s degree be imaginary, some mathematical equivalent to non-existence, i? I certainly hope not, seeing as the time, money, and brain-space sacrificed has a definite value of 18 years—no more and no less.

Imaginary Kate posing at Imaginary undergrad graduation, posing with Real Grandma. What a headache.

Without a doubt, we’ve all talked about, dreamed about, wondered and skirted around this “Real World” concept, so I pose the question to you: what in the flying f*ck is the Real World and how do I become a Real Person in order to live within its space? If am on the cusp of entering this place, then I feel like I need some clarification in order to avoid becoming a nonentity. It is my understanding that this is a place where a body is not in school, has its own job, pays it bills, and has a few more responsibilities that make it a commendable part of a working society (Note: professional students CLEARLY do not meet these qualifications).

Barf

Do this for the Real World and you’re an automatic IN.

It’s not like this is something I can look up and research, either, seeing as MTV has a monopoly on the Real World and has occupied it since 1992. But if I take my lessons from this Real World, then there are certain themes for my new life to be on the look-out for:

  1. Prejudice
  2. Politics & religion
  3. Romance
  4. Sexuality
  5. Unrequited love
  6. Departed house-mates
  7. On-screen marriage
  8. Coping with illness

Interesting how I never experienced any of this in the last 18 years (well,  “On-screen marriage” might be tricky to argue, but my sass is on a roll). Maybe the point of school is to prepare myself for these “recurring themes.” Maybe the purpose of my Latin America seminars in 2011 and 2012 was to teach me that there are some fiercely homophobic bros out there who love to hate on AIDS-ridden gays. I’m certain that my Marine Biology class from 2008 amply provided the life-skills for when my roommate moved out and we scrambled to find a new one. And the most important lesson, one that was a tough learn in the History of Revolutions course I took in 2009, was that of unrequited love…for immediate and radical change brought on by the people for the benefit of the whole and not the few…oh, wait, that has nothing to do with MTV’s Real World, because that might have actual, long-term, and significant change as opposed to the “longest running reality TV show” claim to fame. THAT must be part of Non-Real World.

I am so not prepared for the Real World if this is what it takes. But if my hunch about “reality” is right, that finding a job, paying my bills, and interacting with a larger community that is outside of (but not necessarily separate or far from) academia, then I’m certain I will do just find and y’all can stop saying Welcome to the Real World!

Of Condoms, Gravity, and Love

Editor’s note: This post is from a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

Losing my virginity was an incredibly normal event. My Mom taking me to church to tell me that Santa Clause wasn’t real was a more traumatic affair (“WHAT ABOUT THE TOOTH FAIRY?!” was my overly-loud response from the back of the pews). Getting Beanie Babies as gifts after I scored goals in my childhood soccer games was more fulfilling than my first bedpost notch—Scottie the Scottish Terrier was my first (Beanie Baby, that is). In fact, I anticipated writing the follow-up romantic email to my boyfriend MORE than the sex that necessitated the email.

Losing my virginity was, in a word, boring. I was at my boyfriend’s house and it was summer time. At that point, we’d been together maybe about eight months and were, of course, in love. I didn’t know anything about anything when it came to sex except that there should be a condom, the girl goes on top (because gravity “helps keep those suckers down”), and that you have to be in love. We didn’t know to check the expiration date of the condom (a moot issue in the end, as even if wasn’t expired, the latex was probably warped from sitting in the glove box of his car during Phoenix summers). I was 15 and had seen enough in my Cosmo magazines about the wiley ways of the “cowgirl.” And we were, of course, eversomuch in love.

Anyway, it was summer, we had a condom, we were in love, and I got on top. I knew it would hurt because I had done my research. It always hurt the girl and it was always ecstatic for the boy (thank you, Cosmo). I didn’t expect it to hurt the way it did, though. I felt nauseated: no sharp pain, no hemorrhaging, no ripping. In fact, I became very nervous that I might throw up on him and my palms got very, very clammy. So clammy that I slipped and nearly cracked his chest open with my skull. Risking physics, we switched positions and he got on top. That’s when I learned that methodical, rocking movements also nauseate me.

Suffice it to say, it was a very short affair and I am now the victim of motion sickness and varying degrees of vertigo. I don’t know if having sex during high school, having sex when I was young, or having sex when I wasn’t mature enough messed around with my relationships. I have always wondered how my boyfriend remembers it—how any of the boyfriends whose V-cards I swiped remembered their first times with me. I wonder if it hurt for them, if they wanted to throw up.

I am proud to say that the sexy times has turned into a much more pleasant experience, and continues to be so as I learn more facts about keeping my body healthy. I delight in having “the talk” with my partners about what our game plan would be if the shit hits the fan (embryo-formation wise). I like learning about new contraceptives (someday, male BCP, someday), ways to detect STD’s (did you know that trichomoniasis looks like the foam from your Starbucks lattes?), and being so completely comfortable with someone that we can talk about preventative measures, testing dates, and sexual health.

You will never look at this the same way

I wish I had known – REALLY known – what sex appeal meant when I was 15, but I guess I needed the adventures to experience the follow-up.

On Being a Chicken Vegetarian

Much like this pokemon, I trained to be a vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now. It’s been a long 2-year struggle, where I evolved from a weekend vegetarian, to weekday, to full time. Even now, I go weak at the knees for tuna fish and sushi. I decided to make this lifestyle change, at first because I had a partner who encouraged me, and then, when I moved to Atlanta, I committed 100% (give or take 30%) to no-meat meals.

There are loads of reasons why I changed my diet: to prove that I could, to eat consciously, to be healthy, to lose weight, to be Green, for animal rights, because obesity runs in the family, for my well being, to stave off cancer/heart disease/diabetes, to save money, to protest animal factory farms, because vegetarians have higher IQs, and more…

Oh, there’s that reason, too.

When people ask me why I chose to be a vegetarian, my brain lights up. I pull any one of those answers from a hat and sell my story. Then the meat-headed investigation: How do you get your protein? I hear that’s really unhealthy. I love meat too much! I’m a natural meat-eater. Are you healthy? How can you do that? Do you eat turkey? No… I’m serious… can you eat turkey? I answer these questions to the best of my ability and cross my fingers that said individuals don’t ask me about my thoughts on Vegan lifestyles. If you think the intolerance for vegetarians is judgmental, I pity the soft-hearted vegans.

I DARE you to call him a hippie…

Regardless of how prepared I am for these questions, my face will always flush, I feel flustered and frustrated, and stutter my way through a response. I have no confidence, whatsoever, when it comes to defending my choice. This insecurity is a little unfamiliar to me, an active, queer, feminist, liberal arts graduate student. Where’s my pride? Where’s my fire? Why am I so anxious about being judged for my diet, of all things?

Eating, in general, makes me nervous. What I eat, the amount I eat, how long I eat, how I make my food, what I make my food with, snacking, gorging, nomming, starving…the whole process makes me hands so clammy that I can hardly hold my cutlery. These feelings come from my parents, for the most part: my mother is a picky eater and my father has been on every diet that was ever published in a book, all of which he owns. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, though, my diet has made me feel less like a loser: I only eat ONE sleeve of oreos, I cook and bake most of my foods, switched from canola/vegetable oil to slighter amounts of olive oil, discovered the beauty of tofu and shallots. I love cooking now like I had never loved it before.

My favorite vegetarian bible book thus far, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, is home to favorite food-quote: “Stories about food are stories about us—our history and our values.” This puts me at ease, because I feel as if I’ve begun a new chapter. I want to write a meaningful story with my food, and the past year was filled with a lot of french fry fights, drive-by cheese shootings, cookiebrowniecupcake craves, and plenty, PLENTY of cheeseburger desires. I can’t shake off my intense want for certain meat foods. Lately, all I can think about is diving into a pool of corndogs. But that can be part of my food-story, where I approach a carnival-feast mountain and choose to go around it instead of climbing up and sinking in.

A Night at the Opera

Thanks for the parking lot pizzas

A few nights ago, I woke up at 3.30 in the morning to chants of “USA! USA! USA!,” a fight about a spilled drink, and the sound of voices that all together hummed like a swarm of tracker jackers. Wednesday night was College Night at the ever-so-famous Opera club; this being the week before the universities start up again, the club was packed with 18+ -year-olds. On the one hand, these nights are the hellacious reason why I never get a full night’s sleep Wednesday through Saturday. The fights, the shouts, the traffic, and the police lights all add up at about 3.00 in the morning and do not release me to sleep until 4.30, when the garbage truck makes its daily rumble through the ally.

On the other hand, club culture fascinates me. I am not really one to go clubbing unless it’s with my friends—I’m known for my wild and choreographed fits of fist bumps combined with bunny hops. But the clubs here in Atlanta are serious business and not the place to run your shopping cart moves or “Working on the farm” dance routine. No, the women get dressed up in outfits that must be stitched into their legs to keep them from riding up and the men never really seemed interested in dancing, only watching. The drinks are beyond expensive, the cover charge only applies to the modestly dressed women and every single man, and the music at one club competes with the music from another as if their respective DJ are kickboxing each other in the very street that divides them.

After a quick search on my library’s website, I realized that clubbing is far more complex than going out and dancing your woes away. Gender, race, sexuality, and class constructs are being built, challenged, then re-built, even as the clubbers wait in line. Men and women are expected to act a certain way, agreeing to a kind of unspoken exchange: that if a woman prepares herself in such a way that pleases the men, she gets the opportunity to have her night paid for. The men, in turn, vie for the distinction of being the least creepy guy there (an academic term, I’m sure) and entertain the women with dancing, anecdotes, treats, etc.

Several of the articles go on to discuss female subjugation and the degradation to women in this exchange; but if anything, it might be an uneven deal in favor of women. Since the early 1900s, women went to dance clubs dressed in the best their pitiful wages could afford them and sought out men to buy them food, drinks, and tickets with their still-pitiful-but-at-least-twice-as-much-wages, so that they could all participate in a popular culture.* They drew inspiration for their outfits, hairstyles and make-up, dance moves, and attitudes from a variety of sources, including the high-Victorian ladies, brothel houses, or across class lines. Over 100 years later, this is still a tradition perpetuated by this club culture. “Ladies Free of Charge,” “Ladies Nights,” and an atmosphere that encourages women to hook up with men were as typical of clubs in 1903 as in 2012, even though women now are making significantly more money (let’s compare the $.16 made in CA in 1916 to the $8.00 in 2008… you can’t even buy a caramel at the Walgreen’s with $.16). This implies that they are more capable than ever of buying their own drinks, covering their own admissions; they no longer need to rely on their partners to finance a night of booty shaking and regrettable facebook pictures.

Drop it, drop it low, ladies

I know this is probably a fantastically over-optimistic way of looking at a culture that puts the female body on display, reduced to a piece of curvacious meat; that encourages sexual abuse and rape (BFD, right Todd Akin?!); promotes hetero-norm social laws, slut shaming, and a generally distorted and big-bosomed image of what femininity ought to look and act like. I am still amazed that these age-old traditions persist. While we seek to close the pay-gap between men and women in the work force, social behavior still seems to be leaps and bounds behind rhetoric when it comes to gender equity. “Anything you can do, I can pay for, too” appears as an unlikely slogan for the next pussy riot.

The Three-Year-Old Graduate Student

I moved to Atlanta one year ago to study for my master’s in history. I packed my dresses, crammed my cat into a kennel, and as soon as I squirreled as many books as possible into every nook and cranny of the car, my Pa and I headed east on the I-10 for 2000 miles and never looked back. We traveled across the country and saw some of the best roadkill this beautiful nation has to offer, and when we arrived in Atlanta, I found the most perfect apartment with the most affordable rent with the most glorious view of the most beautiful city.

Could have found this in my apartment search, but did I? I did not.

Well, at least this is how I wish it had went. While the roadkill was very diverse and of the utmost quality, I looked back over my shoulder where I imagined my southwestern home might be. When we arrived in Atlanta, I picked the second apartment complex that we visited because it was too hot and humid for me to care to look anywhere else. The rent was affordable, but the neuron that was meant to fire signals about getting exactly what you pay for must have died from heat stroke or dehydration. And it turns out that Atlanta is neither the most glorious or the most beautiful city. When people ask me why I chose Atlanta over the other schools that accepted me, I tell them “because I’m too poor for anything better.”

Then people ask me how I like Atlanta, and I never know how to answer. I live in the middle of Atlanta proper, which I imagine is a great place for the young, club-seeking, drinking divas that  HBO and magazines tell me that I should be loving. I’m not that diva, though. I go to sleep at 11.00 so I can get up at 6.00 in order to be ready for my day by 8.00. Initially, I told people, “I’m not here to have fun, I’m here to get my degree.” I started hating Atlanta about a month into my program for that attitude. I hated the smells and sights of the city. I hated the selfish, urban dwelling people. I started to hate my apartment and how small and lonely it was. Worst of all, I started to hate what I was studying. I just hated everything about everything and nothing could make me feel good.

I’m in Phoenix right now for my three weeks of summer break, and I’ve had an epiphany about my dislike for that ugly, nasty, wet, smelly city: I am, probably, severely over reacting. Once this thought crossed my mind, I felt very silly immediately. The image of a three-year-old with my face, sitting at the kitchen table screaming “I HATE VEGETABLES!” flashed through my mind. Of course you can’t hate every vegetable. Maybe a few are very icky,  and maybe some others taste a little better than others, but for the most part every single vegetable tastes great in a big, fat, greasy pot of stir fry. I’ve been fighting Atlanta, fiercely and with the whole of my self, determined not to find anything to love in that city. There’s absolutely no reason for it, especially when I have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of. I can volunteer at any number of the non-profits around me, or pick up a hobby at one of the hundreds of clubs at one of the hundreds of cafes, or combine the two and achieve a life-long goal of volunteering at the Humane Shelter, collect all the cats I want, and create a club called “Cat Ladies UNITE.” I’ve seen enough cat-carriages go around the block to know that there is a crazy cat interest and need.

I never want to find myself  in any one place of my life for a single reason alone, existing for one purpose, striving for one goal alone. It sounds very one dimensional and close-minded, doesn’t it? I want to make sure that I am always in motion, and not only propelling forward, but stretching out in all directions, like the noodles and vegetables in a big, greasy pot of stir fry. No one can hate a good batch of stir fry. And while I still feel anxious when people ask how I like Atlanta or why I picked the capital of the South as my new stomping grounds, I’ve decided that it’s alright not to know and it’s alright to go on an Appalachia adventure finding my answers.