Book Review of “Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics”

In exchange for an honest review, I received an advanced reader copy of the book being discussed. Thanks NetGalley!

As reported by The New York Times, the Trump Administration is seeking to eliminate the protections of Title IX for transgender individuals. As a Massachusetts resident, this news comes amid a state campaign to repeal the Commonwealth’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination Law, which was enacted in 2016. Especially due the overly-negative political climate towards transgender individuals, I felt lucky to get my hands on an advanced copy “Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics,” written by Rachel Anne Williams.

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The over of the forthcoming book from NetGalley.

Williams’ book is comprised of a series of essays sharing her personal transition to being female, feminist musings, gender and politics, as well as a deep exploration into gender identity. Even if you are familiar with transgender issues, as I was when I ventured into this book, there is still plenty to learn from. I personally did not know much about the fetishization of transgenders (largely from the porn industry), nor did I know much about the dating scene as a transgender.

The section I found particularly touching is when Williams discusses how by transitioning into a woman, she was giving up the patriarchal freedoms she had as a man. In the essay “Giving Up My Male Privilege” she writes, “I had the privilege to speak up in class and dominate class discussions. I had the privilege to go through grad school in philosophy without people assuming I wasn’t ‘cut out’ for philosophy, rational thought, or argumentation….I had the privilege of mansplaining.” The list goes on about the privileges she gave up as a male, in order to be the person that she wants to be.

In a world where we are told to “be ourselves,” our society tends to draw the line at being transgendered. It is stunning to me how people can be mistreated, and even killed, for being different. Who a person is and who they choose to love is entirely their business. That’s why I think Williams’ book is a powerful testament to those who dare to be themselves, as well as those who failed. We need more people like this author to share their stories and their beliefs because as a society, we will only be strong if we are supporting and accepting our differences.

Rachel Anne Williams’ book will be on sale beginning May 2019. The book is not yet available for pre-order, but you can read more about this author on her blog.

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The Overconsumption of Cosmetics

There is one thing that I never seem to get enough of: lipstick. I love how it instantly makes me look more awake, more feminine, and is compact. Also, it doesn’t have to be costly. Lately however, I have been taking a better look at all that I own. Whether it’s lipstick or sweater, I wonder “how many times have I used this?” and “how long have I had this?” If you have read the Marie Kondo book aptly called The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, you are likely familiar with the need to de-clutter and opt for pieces that you truly need.

Makeup is not a necessity. Yet, Leslie Camhi in October 2018’s Vogue reports that women shell out around $300,000 on makeup during their lifetime. In Camhi’s article “Apply and Demand,” she discusses how beauty follows the “fast fashion” model (much like clothing, which I discussed a few weeks ago). This calls to mind Kylie Jenner’s and Kim Kardashian’s makeup drops. Camhi also discusses how when a makeup line is advertised as “Limited Edition,” it triggers consumers to want to get the product, for fear that they will miss out on it in the future.

For female readers I wonder how often you are using those makeup palettes that you “just had to have” because it had a special feature such as smelling like chocolate, being shaped like a seashell, or having “new” sparkly colors. Personally, I find it so easy to fall into the trap of wanting the latest product and I know I am not alone.

It may seem strange to get news on the overconsumption of makeup from Vogue, which features advertisements like no other. As a loyal Vogue reader, I want to make the case that the actual writing on culture and politics is top notch. The advertisements keep the magazine running, like with the majority of other publications. Though the pages beckon you to buy, I think that our solution as consumers is to to buy smarter.

Volunteering: 2018 in Review

In the past, I have discussed my experiences with taking a Volunteer Day. I have been fortunate to work for a company that genuinely cares for the community and is best-in-class with their sustainability efforts! This is something that I am personally very passionate about, both inside and out of the office.

For about a year now, I have been volunteering on Saturday morning’s at my local library and I absolutely love it! I understand that volunteering outside of work time is isn’t feasible for many – I work and am in graduate school so I definitely feel the pressures of time management. However, if you are able to dedicate a few days a year, I highly recommend it. With more and more companies encouraging employees to take off time each quarter to volunteer, it makes it easy for any schedule.

Here are some of my achievements this year, with reflections on volunteerism:

  • I raised money for education. When volunteering at the library, I was able to sort books for their Annual Used Book sale in which all proceeds go to charities that promote education. Last week, our sale raised $4,200 (I also snagged a lot of great books in the process too!)
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  • I helped a local nonprofit using skills I already use on the job. I recently volunteered the Nordic Bites 2018 Food Festival to promote Scandinavian culture in the Boston area. My uncle is the Director of a nonprofit which promotes Scandinavian culture and he has always taught me the importance of learning about other cultures, because it promotes the acceptance of others. While at the festival, I captured content that the nonprofit can use throughout the year to promote their cultural center.

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    Classic Nordic tunes music were featured at the Nordic Food Festival.
  • I was the Team Leader for my company’s Walk for Alzheimer’s this past weekend, in honor of my grandmother. My grandmother (“Nona”) was truly special and to watch her lose her memory was heartbreaking. By having my company rally with me to raise money and to promote the cure for Alzheimer’s, it was personally touching. And think about how many lives the cure will save! My company has a general matching program which allowed me to raise close to $1,000!
  • I made connections with people who have similar interests. You truly never know who you will meet when you are volunteering but no matter what the person’s background, you are brought together for the same cause. That is so powerful!

Being able to collaborate and connect with others translates directly back into your work environments, since working together leads to success.

This year was filled with great volunteer opportunities, so my hope is that more people will feel empowered to create change in their communities.

That said, which social causes are you interested in?

Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Book Review)

“I bought a ton of cute clothes today and guess what I spent!” This is a phrase that my sisters and I have said dozens of times to each other over the years. The few times I directed my fashion purchases towards my father however, the first thing he would say was, “What’s it made out of? Polyester? They don’t make clothes the way they used to.” This echoed a comment a customer made to me one day when I worked at an Ann Taylor store in college.

Years ago, my customer remarked how she had shopped at the original Ann Taylor store when they first opened in Connecticut and as she felt the material on the sleeve of a blouse, said “Boy, how the times have changed.” Though I could nod my head and accept what they were saying as true, it wasn’t until I read Elizabeth L. Cline’s 2012 book, “Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” that I truly understood what my dad and this customer understood.

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Book jacket image by Tom Schierlitz. Courtesy of Amazon.

Today, we can go out on a lunch break and instead of opt for a coffee, we could elect to purchase a $10 dress instead. This is a phenomenon that would never had been imaginable in the early 20th century. With retailers such as Forever 21, H&M, and Walmart, bringing new clothes to market at a faster-than-ever speed, we have gone from a generation that treasures clothing, to one that throws it away each season.

Cline’s book was exceptionally shocking so I want to share a few quotes from the book that resonate:

  1. “Carbon monoxide and other pollutants from Asia have been documents on the West Coast since the late 1990s are are actually affecting weather patterns there as well. Global climate change as a result of global industrialization is now a reality no matter where we live (124)”.
  2. “It’s a natural assumption that a book about cheap fashion will cover the grim issues of sweatshops and child labor. A common refrain is that garment workers should be glad to have jobs. Our expectations and standards for ethics in the fashion industry are embarrassingly low, but the potential for change is also grossly underestimated” (159).
  3. “China’s garment industry operates on an intimidating scale. It’s several times bigger than any garment industry…they have more than forty thousand clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs [and there are 1.45 million garment and textile industry jobs that United States had at peak employment some forty years ago” (169).
  4. “Not shopping was not a total solution….human beings have been sewing for thousands of years; some peg it to the last Ice Age” (191).
  5. “Localism and more thoughtful, slow approach to eating [like with farmer’s markets] the movement has a huge following, and slowly but surely the movement is spreading to fashion” (208).

Though taking down the whole fashion industry is not a feasible goal, making more educated choices about the fabric and craftsmanship of our clothing is what this book advocates. The above quotes are just the tip of the iceberg for what Cline’s book delves into. She thoroughly investigates the Chinese textile markets, working conditions in mills domestically and abroad, and deeply delves into the ramifications of having so many clothes thrown away. Alternatively, the book discusses how we choose to re-use, mend, and place more thought into pieces that are meant to last.

To learn more about this book, visit overdressedthebook.com.

My Best Advice for Being Happy

Someone once told me, “let go of what does not serve you.” In other words, let go of negativity. If you’re like me, you will try to find the flaw in logic in just about anything (a year of law school did this to me). It’s true that we cannot drop everything (or people) from our lives because they do not agree with us. I think running from every negative situation that comes our way actually does the opposite of help us! However, we can choose to not be affected by negative situations or people, and that has been some of best advice I have received to date.

In order to stop negativity in its track, I had to self-correct my own thinking, in addition to “letting things go,” there were some changes I made to my everyday life that made big differences.

My largest moments of growth – and subsequent peace of mind- came when:

1) I learned to embrace criticism. Recently, I heard that a family member of mine did not like me – not for any real reason other than the fact that they don’t. Despite them not knowing that I know, I forgive them and still love them. In addition, I know that not everyone is going to like me or agree with me. Criticism can help us BE better. If it is truly unwarranted and people feel *gasp* jealous, I feel like I am doing something right.

2) I learned to say “no.” I would consider myself a do-er: I work full-time, get up early to exercise, study for class, go to salsa lessons, and the list goes on…However, there are times where I have reached my bandwidth. Knowing when to say no to drinks after work or an upcoming party is OK, but the key is to be upfront and honest. I personally like to keep my promises and dislike flakiness.

3) I helped others in negative situations. Look, I’m not here to tell you I am the next Dalai Lama or a therapist, but helping others when they are in need has always been an important part of my life. After training my own brain to be positive, looking out for the well-being of my friends and family has been paramount. Plus, I think we all know we need to practice what we preach. The next time you help a friend, let your own advice sink in.

I continue to learn ways to be happier, and to juggle work, school, and a million other things that come my way. Do you have a quote or saying that helps you?

My Experience with Mental Illness

As you may have seen from my last blog, I was hard at work on a Library Science course for school these past few months. I have filled my evenings with schoolwork after the work days, and blogging was on the back burner. However, in the midst of it all, I was undergoing a major life transformation. In early May, I revealed to my family that I was suffering from depression. Though it is an incredibly common mental illness, my family did not understand how badly it was affecting my life. I had to teach them about what I was suffering from them and adjust to this truth. Again, I know how common it is but it turned my life upside down.

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As a youngster, I knew how to be myself. It took therapy and medication to feel this way again.

I had a traumatic breakup in January of this year and I think my whole brain went on airplane mode. I accepted my circumstances and felt empowered to move on. It wasn’t until a few months later that I began crying at work and could not control it. Why? I couldn’t tell you. It was a swell of emotions fueled by anxiety over the fact that I could not stop crying. My patterns of sadness and anxiety were circular, one always leading to the other but I wouldn’t know where one started and stopped – it reminded me of the chicken and the egg dilemma: which came first? It became abundantly clear that even with all that I loved and appreciated about my life, I was seeing the world in black and white. I found joy in nothing. I made myself do activities that I knew that I used to love, just for the sake of doing them to maintain a sense of normality. I later learned from my therapist that by choosing to take part in hobbies I normally love, it was a positive choice. But it wasn’t enough.

I later went to a psychiatrist. Though many people take antidepressants, the choice to discuss these options were a last resort. I hardly even take Tylenol! When I was prescribed Prozac, I was skeptical but was willing to try anything. Side note: I once tried a birth control that gave me anxiety so badly that I was scared to leave the house! These drugs are powerful but I was clearly desperate.

In addition to medication, I joined a support group that met every other week in Salem, MA after work. Nothing I learned was Earth shattering, but it definitely showed me what I should be focusing on my life. Most importantly, it showed me that I was not alone with my struggles. I have had to put these sessions off for about a month due to travel, but I think in a future blog post, they would be beneficial to discuss.

Lately, what I have noticed is that I have had an amazing transformation and I think it has to do with the Prozac.* At first, the effects were subtle. It was like every time I had an anxious thought surface, Prozac would keep me calm and not allow it to manifest. Over the course of months though, I feel like I have discovered my genuine self for the first time…in a long time! I used to love reading and would lock myself in a room with books when I was little but I think anxiety plagued my reading skills (in all seriousness). I would get to anxious to even start a book. Let me remind you I have a B.A. in English and am almost finished with my M.A. in English. This is a huge deal!

Most days, I can’t wait to lock myself in my room with a book, just like I used to. Is this very social? No. Do I care? No (and I’m not anxious about that fact). For me, I am catching up with what I lost due to depression, and re-discovering my joy for learning. When you do not constantly have a cloud looming ahead, it changes a lot. For me, this is a start and I look forward to the journey ahead.

*A disclaimer: I know this medication work for everyone who has depression (cue “ask your doctor if Prozac is right for you”).

Top 10 Things Educators Should Know about Technology

The following is an assignment for a course I am taking called “Emerging Technologies in Libraries,” a library science course I am taking as an elective for my M.A. in English program. 

On the weekends, I spend time volunteering at my local library. Volunteering there makes me feel engaged with the local community, and I like giving back to the institution (I also ran a 5k recently to raise money for the library). What makes my library extraordinary is that they do a lot to integrate themselves into the daily lives of the residents. For instance, they have a diverse range of programs (“Learn to Bellydance” and “Learn the Ukulele,” for instance) and their web catalog is exceptionally easy to use.

Likewise, when educators utilize technology to the best of their advantage, it can be quickly integrated into the daily lives of students. Here are 10 important things educators should know about technology:

  1. It changes the mediums in which we learn. Gone are the days of index card file systems and spending hours in a dusty library. More and more schools are embracing “learning commons” where e-readers and tech devices are embraced, so that books can be accessed anywhere. One school in Chelmsford, MA had a big revamp to make their library digital back in 2008.
  2. It changes how we learn. In an age of obtaining information quickly, having online classroom resources and knowledge on how to use them -including an online library catalogue- is a critical skill for learners.
  3. Blogs, in addition to giving a voice to people all over the world, is a tool that can help students collaborate through commentary and peer review.
  4. Online tools like blogs improve creativity, enforce social interaction, and promote critical and analytical thinking.
  5. Blogs and other e-tools can assist students in creating an online portfolio. By having information stored online, students can track progress throughout the course of time, and reflect on their work.
  6. Students can use online skills to translate to career success. Many times, successful blogs have attracted the attention of preeminent though leaders, and has helped launch careers on the blog’s topic.
  7. Online tools have helped educators stay in touch with parents, so that parents can quickly learn what their children are working on.
  8. Though blogs are known to not always be authoritative, blogs can serve lessons to students on what sources are actually authoritative. Sometimes blogs CAN be as such, based on the background of the writer.
  9. Electronic tools such as blogs can help educators and students connect with other schools, should other institutions have similar web pages.
  10. Having new technology is an overall new opportunity to learn something new! Learning how to adapt will help students in the long run in their careers, as new technology is inevitable during the course of our lives.