Fuck The Community Guidelines

When I was in high school I took AP Studio art, creating a concentration that focused on the connection the female body had to the natural world. I combined nudity with soft flowers and dancing butterflies to show the contradiction women face daily regarding their bodies. We are told by magazines, ads and billboards to look a certain way and have a certain sex appeal, yet when women embrace that we are condemned and humiliated, slut shamed and called whores. I wanted to show this contradiction through art and so I spent hours painting a large full body portrait of a nude woman, her face concealed by delicate blue flowers. Once I was finally finished with the oil on canvas painting I proudly posted a photo to Instagram. A few hours later I turned on my phone and as the screen lit up, I was greeted with the message, “We’ve removed your post because it doesn’t follow our community guidelines.” When I read this I almost burst out laughing because I found it incredibly humorous that Instagram thought my AP Studio Art oil painting was a threat to the “community.” Had society sexualized the female body so much that a faceless painting was now considered pornography?

Over the next few months I started to see this happen more and more. I saw it happening to myself, to celebrities and to my friends. We were all greeted with the same message stating that we had somehow violated community guidelines. When I looked through these guidelines to try and get some clarity, I ended up getting more confused. Some forms of nudity were okay, such as pictures of nude sculptures and paintings, just as long as it wasn’t pornographic. Was this actually the code they were enforcing? They specifically removed paintings and artwork of mine but seemed to have no problem with accounts that actually post PORN.  There are accounts out there that blatantly objectify women, accounts that show women in demeaning ways and accounts that violently support rape culture.

I have had so many pictures and videos deleted and my account has even been deactivated. These posts aren’t blatantly sexual, but rather empowering and encouraging body positivity or they are merely just pictures of women existing in their natural form. Getting a picture removed from social media seems like an insignificant problem to be upset and annoyed over, but it’s not really about the fact that pictures get deleted or our accounts get deactivated, it’s about why they are deleted. Posting a photo of a female body is not and should not be inherently pornographic. That concept just further perpetuates rape culture and supports the idea that women’s bodies are meant to be consumed and they are meant for the male gaze. Not only is that sexist and heteronormative, but it also shatters the self-confidence of women who were trying to be empowered. A woman expressing her natural form in a non-sexualized manner, showing her outer-self as she actually lives is extremely important because society only allows the female form to exist for consumption sexual satisfaction.

By deleting sex educators, body positive accounts, women who have curvier body types, women who choose to dress a certain way, and women just merely existing and showing their natural form is silencing and censoring only a certain population. The female body shouldn’t be considered pornographic by default. Having a certain body and existing in a certain form does not make that person more or less sexual. Sexuality and one’s body are in no way related and the longer we believe that one’s body defines one’s sexual worth and sexual tendencies, the longer women will be slut shamed and the longer rape culture will exist. We cannot blame women for being “pornographic” when they merely exist. We must start looking at the oppressive structures that view women as inherently pornographic as the problem. These guidelines claim to be trying to “keep Instagram safe” but silencing a group of women who empower others and promote self-love is not keeping Instagram safe, it just excludes half of the users. How do you call these “community guidelines” when you’ve just divided the very community that exists on your site? 

*Paintings also by Caroline Iaffaldano

 

Dress Codes

Dress codes have been denounced for slut shaming and perpetuating misogynistic attitudes. As our society works towards a future accepting  all identities, people have gained the courage to express themselves as they wish, resulting in a much more nuanced political landscape than just male vs. female conventions. I argue that enforcing sartorial rules negatively affect everyone now more than ever. I am lucky to live in New York City and attend a liberal university inclusive of all races, genders, sexual orientations and beliefs. At the beginning of each class, it is common for professors to ask students what their preferred pronouns are to facilitate a comfortable environment for everyone. Of course, policing what students wear based on assumptions of their genders is out of the question. I recognize that this is a bubble and that the majority of the world isn’t as progressive.. In fact, I myself attended a high school with a strict dress code.

        I attended Christian school, meaning we had chapel service once a week and teachers shamed girls for wearing shirts that didn’t cover their collarbones or skirts that went past their fingertips. A dress code violation meant detention. The main qualm amongst students regarding these rules arose from the fact that girls’ rules were stricter than boys’. By setting particular conventions that separated girls from boys, young men were conditioned to believe that hypermasculinity was natural, and not a product of environment (they were not to grow out their hair or wear skirts/dresses). Meanwhile, young women were subject to greater scrutiny among peers. My school went from kindergarten to 12th grade, meaning the institution embedded this problematic ideology on impressionable minds.

        I did not adhere to the dress code throughout high school, and people talked. My friends would jokingly tell me that I needed to invest in longer skirts and more conservative shirts. They didn’t make these comments maliciously, but their remarks showed how ingrained my private school’s culture was. The perpetrators made no attempts to hide their intent to foster this type of community. At one point during my junior year, a male teacher stuck his fingers into a knit top that I was wearing, pulling me towards him as he told me I wasn’t to wear that article of clothing again. This occurrence was not rare. I witnessed teachers strategically standing in crowded hallways during passing periods like soldiers at their posts. Some went as far as asking young women clutching textbooks to move them so teachers could determine whether their chests were covered. Although my high school made the hackneyed argument that dress code promoted a learning environment free of distractions, by actively seeking out what the rules deemed as “offenses,” the administration promoted an environment where women were merely objects of the male gaze.

        The male gaze is a term coined in the 1970’s by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey to describe the way the media depicted women merely as objects to be looked at by men. Mulvey took her observation of cinema and applied it to the patriarchal society. Unfortunately, her theory is still relevant in many real-life contemporary settings, especially those that enforce sartorial rules. In the case of my high school, the administration projected what the male gaze would find sexually appealing and banned all forms of it from young women. Not only does this enforce the idea that women are obligated to cater to men’s needs, but it also tells cis-gender, heterosexual men that it’s natural to see women’s bodies as sexual, and nothing more than that. Men who don’t identify as such are not even considered in this problematic model. The issue here is that cis-gender heterosexual men are not even considered to be part of the issue, instead the blame is shifted onto their female counterparts.  

By deeming articles of clothing as “inappropriate,” adults overtly sexualize children. This allows us to pose the question of how has this issue gotten so out of control that women subject each other to this system? It is easy to see how twisted it can be when a male teacher corrects a female student on their attire. But what about women teachers who are supposed to be role models for these young children? This creates a never ending cycle of shame. Female teachers who support this intolerance are those who have become conditioned to accept it because society has normalized it. Normalization of sexist dress code is a slippery slope that ultimately promotes rape culture. By policing what women put on their bodies and promoting “modesty,” we strip women and young girls of the ownership of their bodies. When you teach young women and girls that their bodies don’t belong to them, you strip them of their agency to say no. And men become more accustomed to women’s bodies than women are of their own. In a school setting, this model is even more disconcerting because young people are more subject to environmental influences.

I’ve been a victim of slut shaming as early as elementary school, when the school counsellor told my mother that I needed to stop wearing a denim skirt because “boys were talking.” I felt indecent for exposing my legs. As a ten-year-old, I didn’t realize the implications of the situation. Instead, I just felt ashamed to have elicited such indecent thoughts. The boys who were caught talking about my body in such a way weren’t punished. The double standard shows how men are valued over women; institutions recognize men’s desires while putting the blame on women. Thanks to the progressiveness of my generation, I’ve come to my own conclusions that I was never at fault, but rather my teachers and the institutions they were apart of, were to blame for seeing my undeveloped and even developed body as inherently sexual.

       

I Will Never Get Over This

“I will never get over this.”

When people were ripped from my life, when my heart was broken, when my dream job slipped through my fingers – I sat before my mother, my brother, my friends, and with tear-filled eyes exclaimed:

“I will never get over this!”

Deep pain is void of foresight; the only tense it knows is the present. We, its victims, forget past times when we persevered through struggle and are blind to the possibility of a happier future. The pain overwhelms the body, flooding our eyes and wrenching our guts. It isolates us–no one can understand our pain because no one who has felt this way could have survived it.

The first time I experienced my emotional mortality was when my grandmother passed away. She was more than the woman who gave me cookies and spoiled me when my mother wasn’t around, she was someone I saw almost every day for most of my childhood. She was a second mother to me, which was reflected in the name I called her, “nënë,” which means “mother” in Albanian.

Up until her final second on earth I believed she wouldn’t leave me. Even as the machines surrounding her hospital bedside cried out with grief and the faces of my family members grew hollow, I remained in a comforting sense of denial. It wasn’t until my cousin squeezed my hand, confirming my inevitable heartache, that I even allowed myself to cry. As the tears fell, I felt a pang in my chest and an etching scrape across my heart which read:

“I will never get over this.”

These words ached in me for a long time, weighing on me heavily in the sort of way that slows breathing – that slows living. However, as time went on, the pain began to dull in a way I could not have predicted. It changed not because I missed my grandmother any less, or because she was any less important to me, but because time gave me perspective. As the pages of the calendar turned, I was able to think of my grandmother outside of my grief at her loss. My beautiful memories of moments we shared came forward. My bitterness dissipated and was replaced by gratitude for the long love-filled life she lived, and for how many people I love are alive and well.                                                                                             

When my heart was broken for the first time, it felt like I stepped into emotional quicksand. I didn’t know how to pull myself out of my hurt because I didn’t think it was possible. I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into helplessness. I slept to avoid thoughts and feelings but they were always there in the morning to greet me with the sunrise. I was desperate for the pain to dissolve, and begged those around me to share stories of their first heartbreaks: How did you cope? Did it get better? How long did it take?

I sought an expiration date for my pain, but nobody could provide one because everyone is different and all of our pains are unique. Not that it would have mattered anyway – I ignored everything that anyone said to me about how my life would go on. When people pulled out the time heals all wounds card, I rolled my eyes and buried the cliché under piles of sand. They were prescribing a placebo, an empty sugar pill to trick me into feeling better. Maybe that worked for some people, but I was immune to time…

Or so I thought.

I woke up one day to find optimism greeting me with the sunrise. I discovered that my heartbreak had expired, and it was time to throw it out and make room for the happiness I was now able to feel.

Pain doesn’t last forever.

Read that again.

Pain does not last forever.

Thoughts that once had me bedridden, no longer make me even bat an eye. Things once too painful to speak of, are now stories that I openly share.  I found healing catharsis in opening up about my pain. The support of family and friends, setting new goals to work towards, and shifting focus from the sadness of the past to the good in the present can all help to speed up the healing power of time.

And for the pain that can’t ever be fully erased – for the pain that once stabbed me so brutally that the scar can never fully heal – maybe the mark will always remain, but the  skin underneath the scar is thicker. Pain helped me grow stronger. It forced me to confront new obstacles and over time, pushed me to overcome them.

Time helps us discover new ways of thinking and feeling, and  allows for new opportunities at happiness.

I have learned that pain is not quicksand, it is the sand in the hourglass. It needs time to run out, but when it does, happiness will inevitably be found again.  

Your Mom and Dad Were Dirty Sluts, Too

Meet, fuck, repeat. Meet, fuck, text a little bit… decide that’s too much work, fuck someone else — it’s the millennial MO, right?

After all, we’re emotionally stunted sex machines incapable of intimacy whose greatest generational contribution (other than reality television) will be the final nail in the coffin of modern dating. Darn Grand Theft Auto and rap music!

One of many stigmas pinned to everyone born in the past twenty-five years is that of rabid promiscuity. Whether it’s the judgey CVS checkout lady eyeing our hickeys or the unsubstantiated articles proclaiming the death of intimacy at our hands, outsiders are continually making judgments about the private lives of millennials.

Articles with incendiary titles like, 9 Ways The Hook-Up Culture is Ruining Love As We Know It” surface on the blogosphere every other week, and what’s worse, they enjoy a steady circulation via Facebook shares.

The gist of these opinion pieces is that Generations Y and Z are ditching monogamy in favor of sleeping around, and by doing so, not only have we forgotten how to date, but we are losing the ability to foster intimacy altogether. Adding insult to injury, these essays often go on to state that everyone having intercourse outside of a serious partnership is having bad sex — assumably because they lack a substantive connection. Ouch.

The aforementioned article even went as far as to claim that “hook-up culture”, through its close ties with the bar and nightclub scene, encourages drug and alcohol abuse. Every 20-something should add “addict” to emotionless sex zombie. 

Naturally, the authors of these “think” pieces don’t bother to include any statistics to back up their claims, because why bother with good journalism when you’re the supreme authoritarian on the sex lives of millennials everywhere?

As it turns out, science is on our side. Dr. Sandra L. Caron has been administering the same 100 question sexual survey to students at the University of Maine from 1990 to 2015, publishing her findings in her book, The Sex of Lives of College Students: A Quarter Century of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Contrary to popular belief, her results indicate that the average number of sex partners among college students has consistently remained between two and four for the past 25 years

An additional study found that only 15% of college students surveyed hook-up more than twice a year, with a loose definition of a “hookup” ranging anywhere from kissing to actual intercourse.  And wait for it — sex surveys reported similar results in the 1960s and 1970s. That’s right, your mom and dad were dirty, dirty sluts too.

So why does Gen Y get all this bad press? Well, to be fair, on the surface it does appear like millennials are bedding more randos, but it’s only because we’re not afraid to tell you about it.

Gen Y didn’t invent hooking up. Humans have been having casual sex since the dawn of time (e.g. Roman bathhouses) and odds are they’ll continue having it. The difference is that now they’re less ashamed of it. The illusion of a more prevalent hookup culture comes from the fading stigma surrounding casual sex. Having multiple non-serious partners is no longer taboo in the way it was 40 years ago.

By unapologetically discussing our sex lives, millennials have shed some much needed light on the reality of casual encounters. This is a good thing, and a far cry from the slut shaming of yesterday. By doing so, we inevitably take some heat from social conservatives, but let’s not pretend this is a “culture” unique to our generation.

We should be celebrating our newfound societal ability to stomach open discussion about sex, rather than inventing false tales of promiscuity. Let’s not confuse progress on the social front with widespread shifts in behavioral patterns.

If casual sex isn’t your thing, rock on. Engage in a dialogue with your partner beforehand, because not every millennial uses Sex and the City as a dating playbook. The proof is in the numbers; the majority of our generation isn’t kicking people out of bed in the morning.

As for the millennials who share these “hook-up culture” articles, you’re perpetuating fiction that makes your peers feel like they’re not getting laid as much as everyone else. If you buy into the notion that love is dead, I’d challenge you to consider the possibility that last weekend’s one-night stand isn’t ignoring your texts due to a generational shortcoming, but rather a genuine desire to not commit to anyone at this time in their life. A personal choice that should be equally as respected as monogamy. Or maybe you suck… the problem is sometimes within. 

Listen.

The generations before were hardly virginal, and like them, when the time is right, we’ll hang up our condoms, cuddle up on our frameless mattresses on the floor, and binge watch HBO with that special someone.

Until then, there is nothing wrong with Gen Y exploring what they like and what they want with several different partners. As long as one is safe, happy, and healthy — there is no problem.

Intimacy has many faces, and they don’t need qualification. With the world going to shit, millennials fucking their brains out should be our last concern.

Swipe on, whores.

 

Living Breathing Nightmares

* Names have been changed 

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would reencounter my rapist. Only in my nightmares. But sometimes dreams that you have come true, whether they are good ones or not.

Perhaps I should explain why I never thought  I’d run into *Ernest again. Let me begin:

He was in the train station, emerging from the public restroom and it was as if time stood still. His black curly tendrils still in all the same places, his eyes wide like a doll–suspended in time. He was wearing the same ironically pretentious literary joke shirt that he was when he abandoned me in a Gregory’s in midtown two years prior. Over a deflated Americano he told me that he was leaving for Ireland to take some time to himself because “our relationship had deteriorated his motivations to write, see his family, and do the things he wanted to do”. I remember thinking, ‘funny how the tables have turned—he told me in the beginning I was encouraging him to write again, see his family, and do things he wanted to do.’ Throughout the conversation, he invented reasons for why he could not apologize and accept the effects of his actions, building a pile of excuses for why he couldn’t “work through” my claim that he had taken advantage of me.

So seeing him on American soil was jarring to say the least. I said hello, compelled when he tried to escape after our eyes met. I wouldn’t let him get away without acknowledging me again. He told me he was sick with Lyme disease and some chronic digestive issue where he couldn’t eat, and his trip to Ireland “didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped.” After all the trouble of trying to escape his life, he was reapplying to school and returning to the scene of the crime: his queens apartment and his former barista job.

When we met, the whole situation was charming. It was like two lights on separate ends of the earth had turned on in perfect synchronization. From behind the marble counter he asked if I had a boyfriend and I smiled knowing I had just left a difficult one behind. Ernest was a childhood alcoholic who had beaten the odds and was now trying to become a writer. I read his work and thought it was brilliant. He used the bathroom about seven times on our first date, which I thought was peculiar until I read about a character in his short story who used restrooms as a confessional where he faced his reflection. He was a gregarious vegetarian and would take me out to show me off to his friends. He spoke sweet words to me in his native Czech tongue before I felt I deserved them.

We had been dating for a few months and I really liked him. I had already met his family and we were exclusive. On this particular day I was feeling unwell, and he was feeling warmed up. The afternoon passed with the haze of a fever dream. We had gone to see his alma mater’s campus and afterward I had wanted to go home so I could eat dinner with my family; E and I had been spending so much time together I hadn’t seen my parents in what felt like a lifetime. When we returned to his apartment, I reclined supine on his mattress resting on his oak floor. I was only interested in keeping my sickness at bay when he started to put a belt around my neck. I laid there, in my fugue of sickness, not realizing until he was almost an inch from constricting me. I objected: “what the hell are you doing?” He answered something like, ‘just screwing around I wouldn’t have tightened it.’

That was the first strange thing.

Then he began to remove my pants.

Please not right now, I begged, I really don’t feel well. He said something like, come on, and the pants came off. ‘I just want you to be comfortable’.

Not wanting to start a fight or seem difficult, I conceded. As a woman with interesting and compelling things to say, I’ve been told again and again that it’s not nice to argue.

He got close to me, endeavoring to start a flame with soggy matches.

Lying beside me, he traced his hands down the shape of my back. They continued to slither until they found where they could remove my underwear. I said again, I had to go home…that I didn’t feel well. I pushed him gently aside. He proceeded to move his full shape over me, eclipse me until there were no words left to say.  He had already overpowered me and I retreated into my dark dry place where no light or sound is transmitted. A place I knew too well. A place where no one should go twice let alone ever.

When it was over I asked if he was happy with himself. He didn’t understand how I could conceive of what had just happened as ‘rape’.

I left.

Days later, still disagreeing, we met to talk. He said he couldn’t take responsibility for doing something he wasn’t ‘capable of doing’. That he ‘couldn’t have done it’ because he ‘wouldn’t do something like that’. He told me I had made things up. I was the girl who cried rape.

The night before he left me—like the miraculous but false hope that a sick man will get better just before he dies—he wrote me a letter about how he wanted to support me. He said he wanted to help me escape the sea of glass I felt I was swimming in; an ocean composed of promises, broken into a million shards after the lesser men I’ve known grew fed up and violently discarded them.

He wanted it to work, he wrote. But then he left.

And now, two years later, he was still not willing to meet me in the deep dark place. He said, “take care of yourself” in the secret hope that we wouldn’t meet a third time. He was on his way.

No matter if he’s (or she’s) introduced you to his family, if he tells you he’s in love, if he buys you presents and makes you laugh—even if he listens to you cry and holds you in his arms—the words “NO” “PLEASE STOP” and “DON’T” may not reach him. And he may deny ever being a participant in a non-consensual act, because it can be easier to put oceans between you and another person than it is to atone for actions you are scared to admit are your own.

Not all villains wear masks. They don’t all cackle. Sometimes they are the people that are closest to you. If they do not find the ability to empathize and agree to meet you in their mess, they will compile evidence against you. And they will name these bits of evidence, one by one, bringing your world to a firm halt word-by-word, sip-by-sip from their paper cup in a noisy midtown coffee shop.

Be firm. Defend yourself. And despite the naysayers, whoever they think they are, I believe you. They may rest on their pedestals, but I will meet you in the mess. Your voice and your opinion matter, and you will find empathy in me.