I’ve been very lucky, but…me too

At first, I was hesitant to re-post “Me Too.”

I wondered if the fact that I’ve never been sexually assaulted might mean that I shouldn’t post. I figured that the small amount of harassment and bullying I’ve experienced, in the grand scheme of things, is not shout-worthy. I thought about all of my friends, both women and men, who have endured much, much worse.

But…the #MeToo movement is about awareness. It’s about defining the spectrum of abuse. It’s about showing people just how widespread a problem can be.

When it comes to my female friends in particular, all of us have gone through it. It’s like some screwed up initiation ritual. A rite of passage into womanhood.

Everyone’s definition of what’s considered wanted vs. unwanted attention is different, so I know it’s hard to pinpoint what is acceptable across the board. However, experiencing that “special” feeling of discomfort and humiliation due to sexual harassment/bullying and sexual assault, is completely unacceptable. It’s important to have an ongoing conversation about it. This is both for the benefit of victims (so they don’t feel alone or as if they are overreacting) and to prevent future perpetration (so that would-be bullies or predators will know what is considered wrong and might even go so far as to stop themselves from partaking in such behavior—if they are capable of self-reflection).

So with that in mind, I wanted to share some details on a few notable run-ins I’ve had with sexual harassment over the years (which includes being bullied about things of a sexual nature).

Fourth grade

One day at lunchtime, when we were all supposed to be in the cafeteria, I realized that my friend (a boy that everyone probably knew I had a crush on) hadn’t left the classroom. He was there by himself, crying about something. So I left the lunchroom and went to our empty classroom to see if he was ok. Within a few minutes, our teacher walked in a got really angry that we were in the room alone together. One kid caught wind of it, and suddenly I had to endure the obscene rumors spreading like wildfire around the school. “Mrs. Durniak caught them having sex!” “She found them with their clothes off!” “Stephanie is a slut!”

There I was—a fourth grader, innocent in both action and in mind (I didn’t even truly know what sex was at the time)—being talked about if it were a verified fact that I’d done something to “deserve” those rumors.

Sixth grade

It was April and it was starting to get warm out. I’d gone through a growth spurt that winter, and so my parents hadn’t bought me new summer clothes yet. I wore a pair of shorts from the year before that still fit, though they were a little tight. That was enough to bother people, apparently.

One girl and one guy were particularly bothered, so they got a bunch of other kids to sing (to the tune of the Nair commercials) “who wears short shorts?” every time I passed in the hallway. It went on long enough to the point that a few other girls in the grade thought this bullying was extremely upsetting and went to the principal about it on my behalf (if any of you are reading this, thank you for that). Unfortunately, the bullying continued, and it wasn’t until I took the high road and sung back, agreeing that “I wear short shorts” that the harassment finally stopped.

Ninth grade

I was at my first ever part-time job, working in the bakery section of a deli. I was the youngest person there, and most of the other employees were junior and senior guys from a neighboring high school. I was pretty shy, and so didn’t go out my way to talk to the guys, even though I thought all of them were pretty cute and I would have welcomed the attention of getting asked out. I did not welcome the type of attention I ended up actually receiving.

One guy decided, for some reason, that he needed to make me feel like the lowest of the low. He started barking at me every time I passed him, which got a few of the other guys to do that too. This guy would also ask me things of a sexual nature like, “Are you a freak?” (as in, freak in the sheets), and would sort of “pretend” to hit on me and then laugh about it with the other guys. When he wasn’t around, the other guys were “normal,” but this one dude-bro’s presence always changed their demeanor from sweet/helpful to rude/predatory.

I started to get paranoid, thinking I must be super unattractive for these guys to go out of their way to be nasty to me. In my teenage brain, I couldn’t comprehend any other reason why they’d treat me this way. I now realize that the dynamic at play here was the same one featured in the tired cliches of construction workers cat-calling on a sidewalk. They wanted attention—and I wasn’t giving it to them.

College

I was in a serious relationship throughout all of college, and so besides flirting with and dancing with guys at parties, everyone pretty much knew I wasn’t available. I was certainly guilty of leading people on at times, but everything was good-natured and people understood. That didn’t necessarily stop this one guy, one night in my senior year, from trying to put his hand up my skirt. I kept swatting it away and saying that, “I have a boyfriend,” but we were also with a group of people and I didn’t want to ruin the fun we were having. After enough times, I moved away from him, and one of my friends who noticed wedged herself in between us so he wouldn’t keep trying to touch me.

Later that night, he text messaged me, talking about how turned on he was, but also apologized for his behavior. I reiterated that though I was flattered, I wasn’t looking to date him—I had a boyfriend! The next day, we met up in person, and he officially apologized. We hugged, and I thought everything was good. Then he said, “But, you know, if you are ever on the market…hit me up.”

Witnessing harassment in the workplace

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve never felt sexually harassed at work by colleagues or higher-ups. There was only this one time at one of my previous jobs, when a mail guy who had been moved to my floor (for dubious reasons) asked me what my plans were for the long weekend. I said I was going to hang out with my boyfriend, to which he responded, “Oh, so are you guys gonna drink some wine? Make love? Not make love?” And then when I didn’t answer he said, “Come on, we’re all adults here.” I didn’t end up reporting him because he’d already been reported for other behavior and I was pretty sure he was on his way out.

I wanted to include this other anecdote of harassment. This time it’s about behavior I witnessed, behavior that shows men can be victims too. And that women can be perpetrators:

I once witnessed a female colleague at a previous company inappropriately touch one of our clients. We were all drinking together, so at first I didn’t think anything of it, but when she left the room, the guy said he was very uncomfortable. A few other people commented that “she does this all the time.” A few years later, I found out from a male boss at a completely different company that he’d received unwanted physical advances from this same woman (“she put her hand where she wasn’t supposed to”), and that this was a pattern of behavior that many of his male friends had also endured from her.

I’m keeping all of these stories anonymous because I don’t feel comfortable spreading things about these people, even if they’ve wronged me or others. I also know that many of them have already received some form of repercussions over time, in one way or another.

Still, I’m nervous to be sharing these details (there’s a part of me that fears my honesty will somehow be turned around on me). But I think that’s the type of fear this tidal wave of “me too’s” on social media is trying to assuage. No matter how you slice it, our cultural norms won’t improve until our stories are told.

Until then, the response will always be “me too.”

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What’s Wrong With Liking Starbucks?

'Starbucks'_sign,_Botanic_Avenue_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1569202

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fall is just around the corner, which means Starbucks will have its pumpkin spice latte in stores again. It also means the curmudgeons will start wagging their fingers at the Starbucks lovers.

Don’t worry, Starbucks isn’t in any danger. We Americans still love our Starbucks (well, except for the Americans who believe Starbucks has declared war on Christmas).

But as a young person living in New York City, I’ve also heard people starting to chastise it. Namely because it’s a chain. They get annoyed that there’s one in just about every town in the U.S., and on just about every street corner in cities. They hate that it puts indie coffee shops out of business. To them, Starbucks represents the corporatization of our lives. Oh, and of course the coffee “isn’t that great.”

starbucksmeme

I say this is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

Don’t get me wrong, I love indie coffee shops. And I’m all for local businesses having a fair shot. I also dislike many things about the corporate world. But when it comes down to it, is Starbucks really so bad?

Here are the reasons I like it.

1. Hours. It’s open late. Most indie coffee shops close early or are only open at weird hours (like only on Mondays, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., closed on Sundays). As someone who works full-time and values the chance to unwind after the day or maybe get some writing done while sipping on a latte, there’s only so many places that will let me do that after 8:00 p.m. Besides Starbucks.

2. Ambiance. Despite the fact that almost every Starbucks looks the same, you have to admit that their interior design is relaxing. I once took an interior design course in high school where we learned about how color affects our emotions. It turned out that rooms painted bright colors like orange, red, and yellow (think McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Burger King), raise people’s adrenaline, leading them to feel like they’re in a rush. Whereas browns, greens, and blues helped people calm down and relax. I know Starbucks may not look as hip as your local shop that just opened last year, but their green and brown color scheme at least signals that we should come in and stay a while.

3. Locations, locations, locations. Also, Starbucks is practically everywhere. But do you know how many times that’s saved me? I remember this one particular time when I was coming home late from a bookstore event, when it suddenly started down pouring. I was cold and wet and tired and starving, but through the big fat rain drops falling down around me, I saw the glow of a Starbucks sign in the distance. It was like a lighthouse leading me through to a warm, dry place that I knew would be open at such an hour.

It’s things like the above that make me thankful for places like Starbucks. I know they don’t have the greatest coffee. And I know they definitely put more sugar in their food than necessary. But overall, I find Starbucks to be a comfortable, comforting place (with free WiFi and pumpkin spice lattes) where I know I’ll always be welcome.

I Made a GIF!

puppies_my_life (2)
(*Big thanks to Ryan Meitzler for the video editing.)

What’s Your Biggest Regret?

Photo Credit: aplus.com

Photo Credit: A Plus

I want to share the below video with you—a video I found extremely touching and motivating.

In New York City, A Plus asked people to write their biggest regret on a chalkboard. Some of the regrets written were the type that couldn’t be changed—regrets like not spending time with a family member before they died. However, if you watch the video, you’ll see that so many of the answers were things that each person could have the chance to pursue or change now. Regrets like “not getting my MBA,” “not saying I love you,” and “not following my artistic passions,” can be reversed if you have enough motivation.

There have been a couple of studies done on deathbed regrets, and it’s striking how many people regret things they had the power to change when they were younger. The very regrets that the presumably young and healthy people in the video wrote on the chalkboard are the same types of regrets that people at the end of their lives share.

So what does this mean?

Well, it could mean that it’s just human nature to feel that way—to feel like we haven’t done enough even when we’ve tried our best. And while that’s definitely true, I also think that contemplating our regrets periodically can show us what we really need to make time for in our hectic 21st century lives.

And that brings me to 2016. What better time to focus on reversing our regrets than the onset of a new year?

I’ll share my biggest regret thus far: I regret not taking the opportunity to study abroad for a full semester while I was in college. I may not be able to change that one entirely, but I am going to try and make damn sure my next regret won’t ever be “not pursuing my writing and creative dreams.”

What’s your biggest regret?

Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People–But Guns Make It Too Damn Easy

Credit: CNN

I know that I haven’t blogged in a while, and I wish I were coming out of the woodwork to comment on a more uplifting subject. But today, I feel I need to talk about my views on gun control. In fact, I don’t just feel a need—I feel it’s my duty as a person and as a writer to use my voice, and my blog, to share how I and so many others are feeling about guns in the wake of yet another senseless tragedy.

In “Say No to ‘The New Normal’–Five Things You Can Do About Gun Violence,” Daily Beast columnist Cliff Schecter writes that individuals can make a difference when it comes to gun violence and gun control, even by simply talking about it. He reminds us: “You are consequential. You have a voice. You have reading clubs, Facebook friends, bridge parties, etc. Make sure everyone knows your feelings on this issue.” And maybe Schecter’s case is even more applicable to writers over anyone else. Last week, author Nick Sweeney called for us writers to remember that we are the voice of the people in his Atticus Review op-ed, “Changing the Narrative: The Responsibilities of Writers in a Time of Crisis.

As a response to both of these reminders, here are my unbridled views:

1. I don’t know what to think exactly, but there are other countries in the world that don’t have this problem.

I am so saddened to hear of the shooting in Oregon, and the subsequent unrelated shootings at Texas Southern University, and at myriad other locations throughout the United States. Though at this point, I don’t even know what to think anymore. After watching Obama’s first remarks about the Oregon tragedy, I was glad that our president gave voice to my opinion on this matter.

At this point, I support responsible gun owners who use them for hunting, sport, or a sense of protection, and feel they should be able to continue that. But there needs to be stricter gun laws to prevent the wrong types of people from easily getting a gun. I’m not sure what that will look like in the United States, but other countries have done it successfully.

2. Guns don’t kill people, but guns make it that much easier for people to kill people.

Yes, it IS people who make the choice to harm others, so we may never be able to prevent that. But what we need to focus on is reducing the CHANCES of innocent people being killed, especially en masse. Maybe guns themselves don’t kill others (except when those all-too-frequent accidents occur while cleaning a gun or when a child finds one and plays with it), but I have 100% certainty that without guns, people wouldn’t be physically able to kill as many people in short periods of time.

Of course, gun enthusiasts will say that a person who wants to kill others will just use something else. A knife, perhaps. They’ll probably cite the recent Kunming attack that occurred in 2014 at a Chinese train station where 29 people lost their lives to eight knife-wielding terrorists. They’ll say, “See? It’s not just guns we have to worry about. Are we going to need background checks to buy kitchen knives next?” But guess what? It took eight of those disgusting people to kill 29 others. That’s 3-4 victims per psycho. Do you think the death toll would have been the same if the eight of them had guns? Stricter gun laws will likely result in a mentally ill potential killer—or in the case of terrorism, a mentally misled and brainwashed potential killer–only hurting a few people with a knife, rather than 10, 20, or more with a gun.

3. State by state, stricter guns laws = less gun violence

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between stricter gun laws and decreased gun violence/death by gun. According to this State by State gun law graphic from National Journal, states with the strictest gun laws (which includes things like background checks, lack of “stand your ground” laws, and required permits/registrations) have the least occurrences of gun violence. We’ve got a truly promising answer right here!

Credit: Politifact

4. Do we really need to live like this?

I also need to admit that ever since the Aurora, Colorado tragedy, I can’t comfortably sit in a movie theater anymore. I get extremely nervous when someone walks across the floor in front of the screen just a little too slowly. I also get nervous, sometimes, on public transportation and in public places where I know someone could bring a gun quite easily—trains, buses, subways (and if I were a student, classrooms)—all because these things have been happening, and keep happening. Because the current gun laws don’t fully prevent a person with bad intentions from getting their hands on a gun. Because I know that someone planning something like this can just walk into a local Wal-mart in some states and buy a gun without a background check or mental health check that would at least raise some red flags.

I’m also sick of the mental health stigmatization that is often reinforced in the wake of shootings. What makes someone perform an act of violence is very complex, and often isn’t only a result of brain chemicals, but also their upbringing, the culture they live in, life events, and a host of other things (most importantly, a disregard for the preciousness of human life, which is not exactly a mental health issue). People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators, and this has been proven over and over again. Pretty much everyone I know, including myself, has dealt with some type of mental health issue at some point in their life, especially things like anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to go through something like that, and many people who deal with it are not a danger to others or even themselves for that matter.

I would like to live in a country where my worries about someone randomly using a gun to kill people are unfounded. Let’s make it so that my or anyone else’s fears of gun violence are nothing to worry about. We need to do everything we can to keep people from harming others. End of story.

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