7 steps for critical reflection
Whatever my feelings towards Invisible Children’s work on Uganda, I can’t deny the remarkable splash the organization has made with Kony 2012, its recent awareness-raising video. The numbers say it all: it was viewed by over 55 million people worldwide…
Intersectionality is not optional. It is not something you can take off and put back on again at will, when you feel like it. An intersectional lens should inform any critical evaluation of a subject, because these connections are key to understanding the web of oppression that weighs down on us all. These interconnections, too, are very weblike in their nature, because when you tweak one string, all the rest vibrate with it. There is no way to separate these things out from each other.
People complain that people keep dragging ‘side issues’ into ‘their movement’ and they don’t understand that these issues are the movement. Because a movement that commits oppression in the name of liberation is not a good movement, to put it bluntly. We are more vocal about these issues because we have learned the cost of shutting up, because we constantly have to remind people, because the minute we stop, everything returns to the way it was, the status quo is reestablished, and the real structural and institutional problems that create inequality go, once again, uninterrogated.
This is all connected. To misquote Patrick Henry for a moment, give me intersectionality, or give me death. This is not hyperbole: The current system, as it stands, is killing me. It is killing my people. It is killing the people I work in solidarity with. It is killing you. If you do not give me intersectionality, if you will not commit to being intersectional in your deeds, your thinking, your doing, all the time, no matter how you identify your politics, you are killing me."
Flowers are a great, romantic sign of showing someone that you care about them. Whether it’s your first anniversary, Valentine’s Day, a wedding, or a birthday fifteen years into a marriage, flowers show your loved ones that, well, you love them. And, sometimes, that display of love is reciprocated by the recipient of the flowers with a little physical affection. But not every display of affection should result in a pregnancy, right? Let’s look at a scenario:
Meg is a sophomore at Princeton. She and her boyfriend of two years met during freshman orientation, and have been infatuated with each other since. Meg and her boyfriend, Carlos, are both biology students, with hopes of attending med school upon their graduation. Meg and Carlos are also sexually active.
For her birthday, Carlos buys Meg a bouquet of daisies from Proflowers, along with a poster of some Leucanthemum vulgare cells undergoing mitosis (he likes to theme his gifts). Meg is flattered and, after studying for her upcoming Organic Chemistry exam, invites him over to her dorm to thank him.
Meg’s father works as a janitor for a Catholic hospital, and does not receive birth control coverage in his insurance plan. As a result, Meg and Carlos rely on the free condoms given out at the university hospital for contraception. The night of Meg’s birthday, Carlos’ condom breaks. The two rush to the university hospital in the morning to take a morning after pill, which, in Meg’s case, successfully prevented her fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterine lining. Conflict avoided.
However, there is a bit of a catch in the story. Although Meg and Carlos acted in their collective interest by dating, being affectionate towards each other, giving and reciprocating gifts, using contraception and, when it failed, taking further steps to prevent a pregnancy that could have derailed one or both of their futures, they did take one action that worked against them. You see, Carlos bought flowers from a company that actively works against his and Meg’s interest by running commercials on, and thereby supporting, a program that works against the rights of people like Meg. When he gave money to Proflowers, he unknowingly gave money to Rush Limbaugh, who called women like Meg, who want to have their place of work (or that of their parents) cover contraception, regardless of that workplace’s religious affiliation (it should be mentioned that, while Meg’s father works at a Catholic hospital, he himself is not Catholic, and therefore does not necessarily share the viewpoints of his employers, nor does he support their stance on his wife and daughter’s reproductive rights) sluts. This whole conflict of interest could have been avoided if Carlos had, instead, bought his flowers from a small, less political flower shop, or if Proflowers had decided not to endorse polemicists who are responsible for influencing voters and elected officials to create policies that are anti-woman.
Carlos enjoyed his experience at Proflowers, and Meg liked the daisies. However, if the aforementioned business does not change its marketing strategy, the two students will have to take their business to a company that is more in line with their interests, and does not sponsor a man who calls sexually responsible women who want fair healthcare “feminazis” who should only receive contraception in their insurance plans if they post sexual “videos online so we can all watch.”
When I was fourteen, I had a deep mental discord between enjoying myself where I was and being where I enjoyed being myself. I spent a month outside London and realized how vitalized I felt living in a city, with all the people and sights and activities that correspond with city living. I came home to subrural New Jersey, with no visible neighbors, no ambient traffic noise to put me to sleep, and no friends to interact with (they were either in England still or away on vacation/working/at their dad’s for the summer). That month between England and school beginning was the dullest, loneliest month of my life. I passed the time having anxiety attacks. Every time I saw an open field instead of rowhouses, or forests green with summer leaves instead of the brown and red colors of fall (which I associated with friends and schoolwork to occupy my hours with), I would hyperventilate and be set into hours (about five to six a day) of on-and-off panic. It was living hell.
When I went away to college, the dissonance between enjoying where I was and being where I enjoyed began again. I couldn’t find a rhythm that fit in New Brunswick. Everything felt wrong; everything was wrong. My major was wrong, the new connections I made weren’t deep, and, if it weren’t for my good friend from high school, Sikandar, I would have relived that August. As it was, I only had a watered-down version: about four attacks, each lasting about thirty minutes to an hour, a week. They went on for three months, from my first day on College Ave on August 26 to my last day there around December 23. When I went home for Christmas break, they completely stopped. I felt tranquil for the first time since the summer. It was beautiful.
Then I went back for the Spring Semester. The first night in my dorm, I had an attack from when my boyfriend dropped me off around 8 to when I fell asleep out of exhaustion around 2. When I woke up, it started again. I left New Brunswick around noon the next day and took a leave of absence for the semester. Sometimes staying on a perfect schedule towards graduation and a master’s degree has to be interrupted to maintain mental health. Sometimes you need to introspect, to find out what was wrong and why, and how you can fix it, rather than continue soullessly on the path you’re supposed to take. Do I feel guilty about spending eight months working shit jobs in my hometown, painting, playing TF2 with my boyfriend, and going to punk shows? Of course. Has it provided me the time I need to see my life more clearly and take the steps I need to take to make myself happy, to plan a major that will lead to a fulfilling career and future? You bet.
So now I’m home. And I’m happy. I’m actually really happy. And I’m thinking of majors that will stimulate my brain as well as prepare me for a life of serving others and tangibly improving, if nothing else, my immediate community. I’m thinking of turning my passion for reproductive rights and sensible sex education into a career by getting my BSN (Bachelor’s of Nursing) and my Master’s in either Public Health or OB/GYN care. Then I want to work somewhere (or start my own practice) that provides gynecological care to women who can’t otherwise obtain it. My brother and I talked about what I’m doing with my life and he said the most tangible way to change society isn’t by political action or elections. It’s by providing people with services they need to live more productively and actualize their goals. People need medical care. Women need contraception and quality gynecological care to reach the career and life goals they would be barred from obtaining, were it for an unfortunate pregnancy or life-threatening disease. If I really want to ensure that gender equality might one day be obtained, I shouldn’t just picket CPAC and read bell hooks. I should get out there and ensure that women have the living conditions that will enable them to reach for parity.
So I’m probably going to go to school close to home, at least for a bit. Then, I’m going to go pursue my bachelor’s or master’s at a tinier school and kick some ass building my resume and caring for people in my clinicals. I feel optimistic about this.
Which is a nice change from last semester.