Documentary Treatment: Monster Within

Monster Within

Concept Word: Joy

Log Line: After years of struggling with depression a straight edge, college student, takes a sharp turn in life and starts to experiment with other methods in a pursuit of happiness. This hunt for short bursts of joy lead our protagonist deeper into the abyss of her own mind.

Framework: Drama

Treatment:

We meet our “faceless” protagonist during a late evening googling session. As we dolly-zoom in over their shoulder towards the computer screen in front of them the search term is revealed: Am I depressed? As the screen lights up with different articles and tests, all giving the same conclusion, the imagery speeds up, till we cut to black and jump cut to another scene the day after. Showing the protagonist sleeping in bed, the alarm clock goes off. We are taken on a walk to Goddard. Another day the protagonist leaves Goddard with a bag from the pharmacy. The next morning the pill box is sitting on the table. Now a series of different shots of everyday life show up, waking up, popping the pills, eating and studying, the pace going up by each scene; portion sizes becoming smaller, room messier, alarm clock showing a later time. This is occasionally broken up by scenes of the protagonist trying methods to “heal”: running, meditating, going outside and sit by the duck pond.

This is when it becomes clear that our protagonist is not “healing” as quickly or as well as they would have hoped. One day they wake up at 4pm in the day, put on a pair of messy sweatpants, a shirt with holes in and shoes that are falling apart. This is the day they buy their first pack of cigarettes. We see the protagonist smoke a cigarette at the duck pond. This is the first scene in a series of un healthy behavior. We see the protagonist acquire liquor from a person in a black car in exchange for a $20 bill, walk to a park and sip on the bottle there. They walk home, stumbling over their own feet. Finally making it home. We see a shot of them hugging the toilet. This seemingly repeats itself multiple nights, as we see different outfits appear and the same scene play out in different manners. We get the same repetition of waking up, eating, popping pills, in between these scenes.

The protagonist is seen laying in an unmade bed, with empty alcohol bottles and cigarette packs laying around them. We are taken out in the dark again, this time another car pulls up, our protagonist enters. We see another scene, a close up of a cigarette/joint being rolled up. The camera moves up as the protagonist licks the paper to close the cigarette/joint. This scene repeats itself, differentiations made with clothes and background objects. We are taken into scene of smoke going up in the air in the dark. We are in the protagonist’s room again. On the night stand we see a knife covered in blood, along with used bandages, next to the alarm clock and an exposed arm, covered in cuts and blood dripping down. We fade to black.

 

Western Enticement: Cultural Ignorance or Heroic Deeds

Mansplaining: the act of a man explaining something to a woman in a degrading manner. Is Western feminism “mansplaining” how equality functions to non-Western countries? Is the act of forcing our cultural norms onto others indeed not an act of colonization? Have we not induced enough pain onto the people of non-western countries: forcing them to take up our religions, forcing our ideals down their throats and now taking those same ideals and trying to pull them out of their culture again[1]?

Now, I was raised in a “Western cultured” European country, perhaps not the first one that comes to mind, and most definitely not the one that induced most of the pain Africans lived through during the colonization period; nevertheless, I feel guilty for my generations colonization. The colonization of culture. The term Cultural Appropriation is being thrown around a lot these days; a term that tackles these matters. Through globalization, it tends to be Western culture that is praised whilst every other culture is degraded. Despite degrading other cultures there seems to be an, not often spoken of, appreciation for some elements within these same cultures.  These elements often get claimed as our own, often as a fashion statement[2]: cornrows, Native American head dresses, the Indian third eye, etc.

I sense these cultural challenges in my own home, Iceland. Our language is under siege, English slang is making its way into the language, making us lose some of the culture we have held on too so strongly for hundreds of years. The fashion is changing, family values, and the younger generations do not care to get to know their own culture and country as much as my parents did and their parents before them. Rather, my generation is hooked on the Kardashians and snapchat superstars. These things, our involvement in the Western bubble of thinking that we are the greatest, makes me want to take a part in this conversation. As important home and my culture is for me, for this essay, I choose to venture further. I choose to do this as Iceland is still considered a part of the Western world and a country that is leading the world in its quest for full equality; being the most equal country in the world (Nowakowski). Hence, one of those Western countries “equalitysplaining”. Also, if my own country and culture is getting lost, not through globalization, but rather westernization[3], how can I claim that “equalitysplaining” other cultures just because I disagree with them is alright?

I am going to be mainly focusing on Sub-Sharan Africa and Sudan. These are the places/countries/regions where a controversial “surgical” procedure is in many cases practiced on young females and the West’s perhaps negative impact. These surgeries are what we in the West have come to know as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM[4]. FGC, you might have heard the term before, but what is it? According to anthropologist Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum there are three different forms of genital cutting: sunna, pharaonic and infibulation (Gruenbaum). These three forms differ in result and invasiveness: Sunna, the least drastic of the three includes only the hood of the clitoris being removed, infibulation involves cutting the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora off and then sewing them shut together leaving only a small hole for both menstruation and urine to go through, and pharaonic places somewhere in between the two[5].

The Western world main exposure to these practices have been through media: TV-shows, interviews, news-articles and so on. This means that the media has a strong influence on how we think of FGC. When media chooses to refer to FGC as Female Circumcision (FC) rather than FGM, sunna might be what people think of. This is the procedure that is the most relatable to the word circumcision in the Western world; circumcision on males is for example widely practiced, culturally and religiously throughout the United States. While if the media speaks of FGM, forms such as infibulation will rather come into people’s minds. This automatically gives an idea of a more “savage” lifestyle than the generally accepted way of living in the Western world. This leads to Western feminists – feminists who are ignorant of the cultural significance that FGM has in these societies – feel as if they need to step in and stop this “barbaric” behavior. This on the other hand might have more of a backlash to the fight for equality and to stop the procedures than they might expect. This in my opinion is what could be called a form of cultural colonization; even though the land is no longer being taken away from African Natives, their culture is still being questioned without any thought given to try and understand it.

Through Western media we are taught that these practices are wrong. I have never seen anything written on FGM that did not only focus on the women’s lack of choice and the pain that the procedures puts them through. This is very apparent from the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) informative website on the matter. Under their “key facts”, they state how the surgeries have only negative impacts on a girl’s health. A statement that cannot be undermined, but they choose to ignore the cultural impact that not going through with the surgeries might have. How the girls might be exiled form their own communities if they choose to not go through with the procedure. This is by no means to state that the surgeries should continue; but perhaps, as Dr. Gruenbaum mentions, this is not the most pressing issue that is on the Sub-Saharan-African-feminist’s minds (Gruenbaum), and who can blame them? This exact argument is seen within various other scholar’s works, such as sociologist Dr. Lisa Wade who sates

…for many women who are part of communities where cutting occurs, FGCs are far from their most challenging problem. Some resent Westerners who focus on sex while ignoring widespread poverty and disease (often a direct result of contemporary and historical Western exploitation). (Wade)

 

This is further supported by Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya – a Kenyan woman who was circumcised as a teenager – who spoke of her experiences with FGM with the Marc Fennel, an interviewer for The Feed SBS Viceland. She tells him of how deciding to adhere to her cultural norms gave her a platform to make a contract[6] with her father. This led to her receiving an education – becoming the first Maasai woman to receive a PhD – and later return and establish a school for girls in her village (Ntaiya). Through this, along with Dr. Gruenbaum and Dr. Wade’s arguments, we might assume that education might be more important to these women at this point in history than stopping FGC.

Looking through the timeline (Wade) of Western feminist scholar’s work and their mentions of FGC we can see how thoughts have developed on the issue here in the West. 1976 is when the term FGM was coined by sociologist Frank Hosken (Wade), as he believed it described the procedure better than Female Circumcision, a term used up till then. She also believed that all women should join together and form a global sisterhood (where my thoughts on cultural colonization come to mind). Firm beliefs about how African women were not able to protect themselves from FGC, and that Western influence was needed to support them started coming up between some sociologist scholars.  Meanwhile anthropologists believed that an alliance between Western and non-Western women needed to be established to support the women and educate them on their choices rather than telling them that their culture was barbaric and wrong (Wade). These thoughts have developed further today, and we can find both views in scholarly articles. Nevertheless, only one discussed in the media today, the one that teaches us that the practice is barbaric and unnecessary.

Even though popular media chooses to only focus on the health risks that the procedure has on the young girls, anthropologist scholars work give different ideas. If you choose to dig deeper you will be able to see more culturally sensitive descriptions of the reasoning behind the surgeries. Through books such as the Female Genital Circumcision Controversy by Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum one can reach a different understanding of the procedures. Not only do works such as Dr. Gruenbaum’s focus on the health implications; they also try and consider the cultural significance that the procedure has. Dr. Gruenbaum, who focused most of her research in Sudan reaches deep into the community of the tribes she lives amongst during her ethnographic research. Reading through her material, one can see that these women – who are often portrayed as weak and not able to fend for themselves – are fighting the system from within, on their own terms. Why are these not the stories we see in the popular media? If we are to support these women, would this not be the stories we should see? Stories such as the one told by Dr. Ntaiya? Stories of women making changes within their own communities because they believe these changes should happen not because someone else comes and tells them how they should lead their lives. I believe that we do not see these stories because we, as Western self-proclaimed heroes cannot place ourselves in the “heroic shoes” of going on trips to Africa – notice how I use the continent as a whole, not individual countries – on mission trips to save these “poor” girls. Because of the Western believe that our culture is superior we feel a need to go out and “integrate” other cultures through “globalization”; those are the words we choose to use, but perhaps words such as “destroy” and “appropriation” would be more fitting, as globalization is on Western terms. In a modern society, at least the one we live in today, there are few ways we can prevent this. One of the best ways would be to educate ourselves, to understand where people different from ourselves are coming from and how we might support them in their own fights and how they might support us in ours. Rather than believing that only we can help them and that they have nothing to offer us.

Despite our thoughts on the procedures being harmful and barbaric – my own thoughts included – is it really our place to comment? Communities where these practices are common the procedures are seen as a rite of passage, a preparation for a girl to become a woman and to prepare her for marriage.  These procedures are, not surprisingly, most common in patriarchal communities and the procedure is seen as a way of controlling a woman’s sexual activity later in life; it is an encouragement to not cheat on your husband as sex will not be pleasurable for you as a woman. This is extremely unfair. Why is a woman’s sexuality something that should be under the control of first her mother or father that choose to allow the procedure to be done and then later her husband? (Gruenbaum) Well, believe it or not, it is not only here in the West that these thoughts come up, many African women – women that have gone through these procedures and understand the cultural significance they have – are constantly working to abolish these traditions and have been doing so for longer than you might think. Different groups around Sub-Saharan-Africa have been finding ways to battle FGC, both politically and also through education, such as the organization Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, where education and new traditions are taught and offered by local women.

You might think – like me – what can I do? According to most of the research I have seen unfortunately there is not much we can do except leaving culture to reshape itself or offer financial support to organizations such as Maendeleo Ya Wanawake. Western scholars have been trying to analyze why Western efforts to end such practices are often unsuccessful and both Dr. Frances A. Althaus and Dr. Gruenbaum come up with the same argument: cultural imperialism, or as I have been referring to it, cultural colonization.

Efforts to eliminate female circumcision have often been unsuccessful because opponents of the practice ignored its social and economic context. In some cases, external intervention has strengthened the resolve of communities to continue their genital cutting rituals as a way of resisting what they perceive as cultural imperialism. (Althaus)

 

If you are not satisfied by this answer, then maybe, just maybe, it is time for you to look at your own action. Are you guilty of some form of cultural appropriation or believes of your culture being superior? Neither which is horrible, I am guilty of both myself. Perhaps you might just want to change how you express these things: do not get a Native American headdress tattooed on your forearm without understanding the significance, do not claim to know more about someone’s culture than they do, do explore other cultures, do appreciate them and celebrate them, but do so in as respectful manner as you can. Let us try and do the same with serious matters such as FGC. Let us not try and educate someone on the best way for them to change their culture, let us not claim to understand it if we have not researched it or lived with it, let us educate ourselves before we speak. And hopefully by educating ourselves, we might become a force for change, we might be the one publishing a new article, conducting an interview, doing ethnographic research. As we say in Icelandic, “batnandi manni er best að lifa” or “a man who chooses to better themselves leads a better life”.

 

Works Cited

Althaus, Frances A. “Female Circumcision: Rite of Passage or Violation of Rights?” International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (1997): 130. Online Article.

Grey, Sam. “Decolonising Feminism: Aboriginal Women and the Global ‘Sisterhood’.” Enweyin: The Way We Speak Vol. III (2004). online document.

Gruenbaum, Ellen. The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Print.

Nowakowski, Kelsey. “Where in the World are Women and Men Most – and Least – Equal?” National Geographic January 2017: 28-29. Article.

Ntaiya, Kakenya. The Feed SBS Viceland; genital circumcision Marc Fennell. 9 MArch 2017. Video Interview.

Wade, Lisa. “The Evolution of Feminst Thought About Female Genital Cutting.” 2009. socwomen.org. Fact Sheet. 10 April 2017.

World Health Organization. Female Genital Mutilation. February 2017. Fact Sheet. 10 April 2017.

[1] Here I am referring to countries where homosexuality was once allowed if not embraced, but during the colonization period, Christian gospel that was spread taught that it was wrong and punished people for it, making it socially harmful to act out on your homosexuality. Today many of these countries, flex. Uganda have a strong anti-gay agenda; proofing my argument that this force of colonization has changed their culture. The same people that sparked these changes are now telling them that these believes – believes that they were taught to embrace – are wrong.

[2] “Festival wear,” look up Coachella if you want to see examples of this.

[3] Globalization on Western terms.

[4] I will try to use the more neutral term Female Genital Cutting or FGC despite my own biases and tendency to want to use Female Genital Cutting.

[5] These are the definitions given by one woman, not all tribes will use these nor are they fully agreed upon by all, Gruenbaum herself not being able to expand on her definitions being used for the same procedures between 2 or more tribes.

[6]  if she went through the surgery her father was going to allow her to continue her schooling.

Merkurker; the Cave That is Not

Merkurker, Þórsmörk, Iceland: a place full of wonders, a place full of myths and lore, a place created by some of nature’s strongest forces. Þórsmörk is a national park that has been under the protection of the government run Icelandic Forest Service (Skógræktin) since the year 1924 (Skógræktin, 2017). This is a place that has strong cultural ties and is today one of the most frequented natural preserves in the country, be it for camping, hiking or taking pictures. Internationally this place is perhaps the most known for the 2010 volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull which stopped air traffic around the globe for days (Haraldsson, 2010). I have been lucky enough to get to visit this place for at least one night every year; this night is midsummer night, or as we call it Jónsmessa. A night where “cows develop the capacity of speech and seals take on human form” (Iceland Magazine, 2016); a night where we believe the elves come out to dance with us and we sing songs and celebrate in “true” Viking fashion with mead (if you are off age, of course) and a big campfire. But this is a great big place and there are a couple of more treasured spots within the national park; Merkurker is one of them.

As you drive south from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, after about an hour and a half’s drive you will reach a tall waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, surrounded by green grass, plenty of tourist busses and a campsite. When you reach the waterfall, take a left turn, you have now reached the boundaries of Goðaland, or the land of the Gods. Drive on for around 30 more minutes, be careful, you will now have to pass numerous streams of a braided river along with smaller meandering rivers. Depending on the season they might be deep and hard to cross, do not attempt this unless you are driving an SUV. As you drive further along the road you will start to see the river paths that Markarfljót has created to the left, this is a braided glacier river, a river that is ever changing. A river that has created great devastation for the local communities and just recently carved out new paths destroying archaeological remains. The sudden changes in the river has created stories of a river monster hiding within its midst. As you continue your drive you will see more rivers and how they have impacted the surrounding areas, leaving behind only sand and the scarce large stone. You will also see a couple of mountains, Stóri-Dímon and Litli-Dímon, mountains that were the scene of battle for one of the most renowned Icelandic Sagas (Ólafsdóttir, 1994). On your right, you will see mountains start to form, it is by one of these mountain cliffs, Sauðhamrar, that you will stop by a river named after them, Sauðá. Park your car on the gravel by the river, step out of it and now walk up the river until you reach the cliffs (Picture 1 in Appendix). There will you find a path which will lead you into a valley with a river going through its midst.

You have now entered Merkurker. Looking down you can see two “islands” of gravels separated by a river, a river that leads into what seems to be a cave (Picture 2 in Appendix). This is the main attraction of Merkurker. As you walk down from the end of the path, towards the gravel island closer to you, you will notice various species of moss growing in the hills surrounding the small valley, along with grasses and smaller flowering plants. As you walk down, what takes your interest will most likely be the river, where does it lead? Does it just stop as it reaches a wall in the cave? Here is to hoping that you brought a flashlight, a good pair of wading shoes and a travel partner, as this should not be explored on your own. As you step into the water, even in the midst of July, you feel that it is freezing cold (around 5°C), as it is a springfed river and keeps around the same temperature all year round (Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands, Unknown). The cold makes you want to start to immediately move so you start carefully making your way down the river. As you walk down the river — over the time of approximately 10 minutes, but what seems like an eternity — you can feel how the rocks in the bottom have been rounded by the force of the river and how the water has been given more resistance at some places and less at others, creating deeper pools where the water will reach your waist and shallow spots where the water will only reach your ankles. You can now see that you have found what seems like the solution to the mystery, this was indeed not a cave, this was a tunnel created by the force of the water, a force that has been there for hundreds of years, slowly breaking its way through the rock. As you make the last dip into a deep pool of water after having climbed over a couple of large rocks you have entered what is now the end of the tunnel. Here you have reached the second small valley, just like the one you walked down into before you entered the river. As your eyes trace the rest of the way of the river you can see how it goes through a small crack in the cliff in front of you, joining what you assume is Sauðá.

You have now experienced one of the wonders of Iceland, walked through many of the naturally created river tunnels, in the area and in the country. You have found a solution to your mystery, you now know that a river can seemingly create a tunnel. But how does it do it? Why is this plant life here and what other elements might have worked with the water to create this wonder of nature?

Iceland is an island formed by volcanic activity on the divergent border of the North-American tectonic plate and the Euro-Asian tectonic plate (Iceland on the Web, Unknown). As the plates moved apart the lava created an island, a process which is still in process today and the island expands a couple of centimetres each year. As the island was created by volcanic activity most of the rock found there is igneous rock. A rock type which is clearly eminent in Merkurker, the main cliff formation that Sauðá has cut through is a big chunk of an igneous rock by the name Tuff. This is on the mother tongue of the country called Móberg, which refers to the plant life often found growing on and near the rock. Þórsmörk is all covered in tuff, which is found in layers upon layers after different volcanic eruptions, which built up till the ice age. During the ice age Þórsmörk, as well as the rest of the country got covered by a thick ice sheet. As the ice sheet melted and moved across the landscape the rocks got shaped by the shear pressure of the weight and the rivers and streams that came from the glaciers (Ólafsson, 2001). This is very apparent in the landscape of Þórsmörk. When you enter Merkurker you can see this on a smaller scale. Here you can see how the river has slowly made its way through the cliff and expanded what was once a small crack into a tunnel you can now walk through. As mentioned earlier the rocks on the bottom of the river are now rounded by the endless stream of water passing over them.

On the outer sides of the cliffs and down by the river banks you can see various types of grasses, mosses and heathers that will be full of berries in the fall. These plants are found all over Þórsmörk and have especially grown well after the nutritious ash fell in the 2010 volcanic eruption. These berries and grasses are then feasted on by, especially sheep and human beings. The humans that pick them for teas and dry them and use for spices on their lamb meat – the lambs – which sarcastically feasted on the same plants when they were living the summer before; Talking about being spiced in and out. As this area is well known amongst Icelanders it has now become a major tourist attraction for tourist agencies to point out. This means that there is a lot more erosion today than there was 10 years earlier. This means that there is also fewer opportunities to catch a glimpse of the wild animals, such as foxes that lurch around the area, but are hostile towards humans.

Merkurker is a little speckle of natural wonder in the midst of Iceland. The geological significance of the country perhaps makes it seem insignificant. However, it displays and makes it easier to understand on a smaller scale how the natural forces work with and against each other. Such as how water weathers down the rock and always finds a way to get where it “feels a need to go”. The travel to the spot is in my opinion just as important as the spot itself. When you drive out of the city, you can see the variation in the landscape, you can see the valleys and mountains that have been created by thousands of years of weathering. Coming to Merkurker where you can see it on a smaller scale, right in front of you makes you understand how powerful the force of water is. Iceland is the country of fire and ice. And it is through the means of spots such as this one that you really start to understand how the two work together to create something as beautiful as Merkurker.

 

References

Haraldsson, Ó. (2010, Maí). Eyjafjallajökull. Retrieved from Eldgos: http://eldgos.is/eyjafjallajokull/

Iceland Magazine. (2016, June 24). Jónsmessa. Retrieved from Iceland Magazine: http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/jonsmessa-cows-develop-capacity-speech-and-seals-take-human-form

Iceland on the Web. (Unknown). Volcanism. Retrieved from Iceland on the Web: http://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/geology/volcanism

Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands. (Unknown). Ár og Vötn. Retrieved from Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands: http://www.ni.is/jord/vatn/ar-og-votn

Ólafsdóttir, R. (1994). Leiðarlýsing Inn Á Goðaland. Retrieved from Útivist: http://www.utivist.is/skalar/basar-a-godalandi/sogur/leidarlysing-inn-a-godaland/

Ólafsson, G. P. (2001). Hálendið í Náttúru Íslands. Reykjavík: Mál og Menning.

Skógræktin. (2017). Skógræktin. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from Suðurland: Þórsmörk: http://www.skogur.is/thjodskogarnir/sudurland/nr/7

Sverrisdóttir, A. M. (n.d.). Merkurker. 2015. Þórsmörk.

 

Appendix

Picture 1

View from the edge of Sauðhamrar (Sverrisdóttir)

Picture 2

Looking down into the rift valley, Merkurker (Sverrisdóttir)

A Construct of Culture

An Expository Essay on Riki Anne Wilchins 1993 speech “What Does it Cost to Tell the Truth”

Man, woman or something in-between? Gender is a complicated term, one loaded with as many different interpretations as there are cultures. However, there seems to be one theme that dictates how we think of gender; our overall appearance. Riki Anne Wilchins argues that this learned behaviour of assigning a person a gender as soon as we see them is harmful. Our need to take in everything about a person’s appearance, place it into boxes, and find imperfections is ingrained in us. But as a trans* person how does one tackle this? Is this any different today than it was in 1993? have we reached another period or phase in fashion as Wilchins chooses to word it, and what implications might that have?

Wilchins relies on being able to create a strong emotional bond with their[1] listeners, to do this they use pathos, a linguistic tool used by many speakers before them and after. It simplifies their mission that they are speaking at a “transsexual[2] speak-out held at New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center in 1993; in honor of the forty-year anniversary of Christine Jorgensen’s sex-change[3]” (Whilchins). Wilchins venue, where they speak to a group of their peers, gives them a platform to speak of things lightly and without going into terminology. It is likely that there will be at least one person in this crowd, if not more, that has had similar experiences. It is even likelier that most of their audience members did have some knowledge of the gender spectrum and what is by society considered abnormalities in gender expressions.

Wilchins uses strong and descriptive language when they talk about their experiences, the very opening line — “I was twenty-six when I learned I was very tall” (Whilchins)– sets the theme for the coming speech. The use of the word “very” places an emphasis on the fact that this is an abnormal treat, something that is not desired. Wilchins also tries to explain to their readers what impact this emotional ‘bullying’ might have on someone: “She will wake one day to find herself lost within the unknown landmarks and inhabited by those whose alien features, and distant ways, she can no longer recognize” (Whilchins). This quote especially, comments on how our bodies do not seem to be our property. Our bodies have rather become the property of our culture and society. This leads our bodies, which we should be familiar with, becoming alien because of the expectations that others have for it.

In their speech, Wilchins offers what is seemingly not only their own opinions but also the opinions of great philosophers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler. This not only provides ethos for the reader – displaying that the speaker has researched what they are speaking off – but perhaps also a sense of relief. If there is anyone in the audience that has experienced similar thoughts, there is more than one, and more than two people that feel or have felt the same, this offers validation. A validation, as Wilchins quotes their friend, must come from others as she doesn’t “know how to see” (Whilchins) herself. “She must know how others see her so she can know how to see herself; otherwise, she enters a society at her peril” (Whilchins). We do not feel as if this validation can come from ourselves as it is not us but others that often offer us the hardest critique, or at least this is what we choose to believe (Thornton). We have become so obsessed with the idea that everyone’s eyes are constantly on us. This results in us forgetting to think of our own believes and present us as we ourselves choose without others influence. Our society, and we, as the product of the media, are so obsessed with looks that we have created unreachable goals for ourselves and our peers. This is what Wilchins chooses to refer to as “social truths” (Whilchins) about our bodies; and if we do not fit these norms and standards we set ourselves up for others mocking us or even worse, assaulting. With recent reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs this is still a big issue and truth (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs).

Despite the speech being written and given in 1993, 24 years ago, it still teaches the modern reader a valuable lesson. It tries to give a pure account of a person’s experience as a transgender individual in the 20th century, an experience which has in many cases not changed at all. Nevertheless, it also holds great value for a cisgender individual, as there are various things in Wilchins speech that relates to us all as humans. Which might lead the cisgender community to empathize with those who are transgender. We have all felt like we didn’t belong; we have all felt a sense of mismatch between our own views of ourselves and others’ views of us. As Wilchins friend, we have probably all looked in a mirror and thought too ourselves a version of this: “when I first look at myself in the mirror, I look fine. I think, Well, all right! But I look once again, harder, imagining how people must see me, and then I see only the fat and wrinkles and I feel just awful” (Whilchins). What Wilchins is trying to tell us is that the ‘fashion’ of looks changes through time. We should not be too hard on ourselves nor others and not hold each other to these social norms that our cultures have constructed for us. They rather try and urge us to take a stand and support each other by bringing to the surface the mistakes in communication we are making, be it verbally or physically. Both talking badly about our own appearance or commenting on an aspect of someone’s look absentmindedly that might be taken the wrong way. Even worse is when we know that our comments will hurt another individual but we still go through with it.

Wilchins communicates her speech with a strong sense of ethos and pathos. These techniques give the audience a reassurance that they have some form of authority and relevance to speak to them. The fact that they are speaking to an audience that can relate to their experiences gives them leeway to speak of the issues their community is facing, rather than just terminology, such as might have been needed at another conference. Despite a lot of the terminology having changed and that there is more freedom of gender expression in today’s world, a transgender individual is likely to run into some of the same issues as Wilchins touches upon in their speech. The issue of violence has perhaps not even dwindled with reports on trans* violence rather increasing than decreasing in the last few years. This makes me wonder, have we reached another “wave” in fashion? If we have reached a new wave will it benefit the trans* community or is the media’s obsession with beauty making it even harder to “pass” in today’s community. This might be solved by more speakers like Wilchins that can speak and stay relevant to both the cisgender and trans* communities. A culture is strong but with stronger people and stronger words it can be changed. A change in culture creates a different perspective on various things, and a change in our perspective on gender might solve some of the issues raised in this speech.

Works Cited

Goldberg, Carey. The New York TImes. 11 June 1999. Article. 11 January 2017.

National Center for Transgender Equality. Transgender Terminology. 15 January 2014. Encyclopedia. 30 January 2017.

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. “Hate Violence: Agains Transgender Communities.” 2013. http://www.apv.org/storage/documents/ncavp_transhvfactsheet.pdf. Flier. 20 February 2017.

Thornton, Elizabeth R. Do You Have an External Validation Mental Model? Pshychology today, 13 June 2015.

Unknown. A Gender Variance Who’s Who. 27 March 2014. Article. 30 January 2017.

What Does it Cost to Tell the Truth? By Riki Anne Whilchins. New York. 1993.

[1] They/them/their pronouns will be used for the author as different sources display different prefered pronouns for the author (Unknown) (Goldberg).

[2] Will be referred to as transgender or trans* from now on and not transsexual because of the stigma related to the word (National Center for Transgender Equality).

[3] Will be referred too as sex reassignment surgery but not sex-change as it is today seen as a derogatory term by many (National Center for Transgender Equality).

Finding Your Box

An Expository Essay on Greek Life and Gender Identity

Google People of Greek Life and press images, what do you see? Images of people, but more importantly: girls with long flowing hair and flawless makeup, guys with athletic bodies and charming smiles, and the ever-present Greek letters across the chest of their shirts. The uniformity of these individuals, no matter where in the country they are from is striking. Now that you have googled this, what comes to mind? The first thing that comes to my mind, not only through this image search, but also through my limited knowledge of the Greek system, is how they are embracing the stereotypical gender roles. Something that for some is comforting, but for others, is a draining task. For individuals, such as myself an AFAB (assigned female at birth) with a shaved head, wearing androgynous clothing and gender non-conforming, this seems as the epitome of what we have tried to fight being placed within our whole life, these gendered boxes. Despite this I want to know: If I had a will to join a Greek Philanthropic movement would that opportunity be out there for me? As a gender ambiguous individual that does not lay within the traditional feminine and/or masculine borders is there any representation within the Greek life for me? And if I had a will to become this representation for others, could I?

According to the sorting system of Greek Life, because of my genitalia, I should join a sorority, but would I really fit in there? I do not have long flowing hair, I do not often wear makeup and I certainly do not feel comfortable in a group where differences are not embraced but rather frowned upon. But are these only stereotypes or is there some change within the system that I am not familiar with? Could I be missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime?

As an alien to the United State my ideas of Greek Life have been painted pop culture. This includes movies such as Animal House, Neighbors, Legally Blond 1 & 2 and American Pie. This has created some stereotypes not only in my head but probably in others as well. When I first stepped onto the OU campus the rushing period had already started. I saw girls running around in “uniforms”, what I can imagine that they had been told to wear that day. These girls were different individuals but by wearing the same type of clothing they came this entity of Greek Life. Their individuality was slowly drained away from them in this week-long progress and if they made it through it these same girls could easily be spotted for the first few months of the semester. They were wearing what I came to know as the “sorority uniform”: a t-shirt so long that you wondered if they were wearing anything underneath and a pair of tennis shoes. But it was not only the girls that could be seen wearing “uniforms”. The guys that joined fraternities had a similar dress code, a polo shirt or a shirt with the Greek Letters on and a pair of khaki or jean shorts, as well as the trusted paddle in their bag – what purpose that paddle has, I don’t even want to imagine. This uniformity scared me. To see what is around 25% (US News Higher Education) of the student body all dressed the same way was too me abnormal. This is not something you see at the University of Iceland, the university I had learned about higher education from, here individuality was encouraged and people from all walks of life could be seen displaying their personalities through their appearance.

But why were these “uniforms so important to the individuals of the Greek System? Perhaps it is not much of an option, at least not during the initial rushing process and the first weeks of lectures. Per an article published in the OU Daily by a former Alpha Phi member she and her fellow rushing freshmen sisters were required to wear specific brands of clothing, as well as styles and colors, during their rushing week (Ellisor). This seems to be echoed around the United States as similar rules are seen for other chapters, such as the Alpha Chi Omega chapter at University of Southern California. Here they had strict rules for appearance which lead to the sorority members losing the power to control how they looked. Rules such as keeping your natural hair color, trimming your eyebrows, wearing spanx and keeping a full face of makeup on at all times. But not any old makeup, no, they all must look the same, same lip tints, same eyeshadows and so on (Merlan). So, the question is, are the uniforms really something that is important to each individual member or is it important for the sororities public image?

Personally, speaking to my peers and thinking of this myself, we find fashion, such as clothes, haircuts and makeup, important ways of defining ourselves and presenting to the world. I will not wear the same clothes to class that I would wear to a meeting with the CEO of Apple or a dinner at a nice restaurant. Each of these cases allow me to present myself in a certain way, but these choices seem to have been taken away from the sorority girls. From what I have heard about the sororities dressing policies from members of them, they really do not have a lot of opportunities for any official events to express themselves, making them a part of the crowd. This is good for the image of the sorority in the sense that it shows a uniformity and that all the girls are equals. Similar ideas have been applied elsewhere. I have been a scout for countless years as well as being raised within the Lutheran Protestant Church. In both associations, we wore uniforms. In the scouts, we wore them to important events to show that we were a group and that we were proud of it, but on an everyday basis for meetings and trips we could wear whatever we chose to wear. For my church confirmation, we all wore confirmation gowns. They were originally put into use by the church as to show that we were all God’s children and that no matter our financial status or how fancy our own clothes were that we were all essentially the same. Sororities are going for this same uniformity, but differently than the confirmation gowns that I and my peers wore. The members of the sororities have to pay high amounts of money to follow their “sisters” trends. This comes not only through joining fees but also individual event fees, payment for different shirts as well as the pampering such as getting a manicure, makeup and hair products. This uniformity also ensures that not one of the “sisters” ever stands out, which is in my opinion not ideal, especially when you are trying to network at your chapter’s events.

This need for a uniform look not only breaks down the individuality each girl has, but it also creates a base for a binary to exist. Everyone is pushed so far to a stereotypical feminine role that even if they wanted to stray away from it, they would not be able to do that for more than a couple of days a week where dress codes are not enforced. These girls lose what is essentially their “I” as Judith Butler puts it. They lose their means to express themselves on a daily basis.

Not only can these dress codes and strict rules pose issues to those who fall within the cisgender category on the gender spectrum, they can seem terrifying for trans* people that want to join them. The fear of “passing” becomes more prominent. Within the Greek community there has been a move to become more accepting to trans students. Just recently Alpha Chi Omega — yes, the same sorority I spoke of with the harsh rule packet — came out as the first nationwide sorority to accept transgender women (Marusic). Before that they had had a flat out ban on trans women. Before they took this move other individual chapters around the nation had been doing this, as well as few “LGBT-specific Greek social organizations, like Gamma Rho Lambda and Delta Lambda Phi” (Marusic). This is a big step for Greek life as Alpha Chi Omega is one of the oldest sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference and might open up for other chapters to feel secure in their position to do the same. This same move has been echoed at the fraternities. One of the nations, oldest fraternities, Chi Phi, recently voted to allow trans men to pledge. The only issue with their new policy is the need for proof by a piece of official and legal documentation (Avery), something that is not very easy to produce as a trans person depending on where you live and how far you have gone in the transitioning process. As great as this move is and the wonders that it will hopefully do for trans acceptance, it still focuses on the gender binary that we as a society have created. This still excludes gender non-conforming individuals, such as myself. Fair enough because of my gender marker I could rush for a sorority but as I stated earlier I am not certain about how comfortable that would make me. Having to adhere to my sex’s stereotypes every day, with makeup, dresses, short-shorts and so on would only add on to my gender-dysphoria, preventing me from focusing on my academics, what to me should be one of the major aspects of the university experience. But the first step has been taken, justice has been done to part of the trans* community and one can only hope that more will be done.

Because of the strict rules many sororities and fraternities set for their members regarding their clothing, hairstyles and basically every other aspect of their appearance, it might be tough for a trans* individual to fit within the community. If you are not positive in your “passing” capability you might not even dare to rush as you might feel too “different” from the other guys and girls. Despite what seems to be a move by the Greek community to become more open to trans* individuals they still only look at those who fall within their ideal binary. This leaves no space for people such as myself to be a part of it. Thankfully for me, I have little interest in joining one of these organizations, but that is me, and I cannot talk for everyone. Justice is slowly being done to FMT (female to male) and MTF (male to female) trans individuals but those who are on different spots of the spectrum are left in the dust. The push for change has been started and now we need to trust on other individuals to get behind the bus and push it further. Pushing it towards justice, one inch at a time.

Works Cited

Avery, Dan. One Of The Country’s Oldest Fraternities Just Voted To Accept Trans Men. 7 July 2016. Article. 22 March 2017.

Butler, Judith. “Doing Justice to Somone.” Essay. 2004.

Ellisor, Laney. Are You Sure Joining the Greek System is Right for You? Online article. Norman: OU Daily, 2011. Online Newspaper.

Marusic, Kristina. Sorority Becomes First To Accept Transgender Women Nationwide. 3 March 2017. Article. 15 March 2017.

Merlan, Anna. Jezebel. 16 January 2016. Article. 20 March 2017.

US News Higher Education. University of Oklahoma. 2017. Article. 22 March 2017.

Spotlight Reflections

Spotlight is a film directed by Tom McCarthy that comments on the Boston Globe’s coverage of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese and the cover-up.

Spotlight tells the story of Spotlight, an investigative journalist team that works for the Boston Globe, and how they covered and exposed a child molestation scandal within the Catholic church. The film comments on real life events and the characters are based on journalists still alive and working today in their respective fields. The viewer slowly gets to know the team of investigators and how they uncover the case, the viewer also gets to see the emotional impact these cases have on the journalists.

Viewing the film one gets a feeling for how much work goes into a story and how complicated it can be to get one published. This case especially is complicated as many of the victims have grown up, some don’t want to speak up and others have committed suicide. The story touches upon very strong believes just as the news story did at the time. This touches on some cases that many people feel uncomfortable talking about, child molestation and their religion.

Use of close up shots and focus on individuals as they speak give intimacy with the actor and makes the viewer feel as they are having a conversation with the actor themselves, making them feel involved in the story. To get a realistic account of how a journalist gets their work done might influence more people to believe that there is indeed a use for investigative journalists and more money needs to flow through news agencies for high quality news. It is also shown how emotionally difficult it can be to be a journalist in this situation, to work on a case that might deeply affect you and your family’s believe but not to be able to share it with them.

After the viewing we had the opportunity to listen to a reporters own views of a reporter that worked on the case that the film was based on. It was interesting to hear his perspectives on how the case and been taken and turned into a dramatization of the real life events. It was in a sense relieving that he believed that the film was quite an accurate portrayal of the real world events as that gives me hope that even though we do often consume our information through “infotainment” that we are still getting quite an accurate description of various events. It is always interesting to gain different perspectives on a film, piece of writing, as it can challenge your own views. Getting to hear especially the views of a person involved in a case turned into a fictional version of a story becomes an important part of ones understanding of the usage of fiction too describe real world cases.

Snowden Reflections

Snowden is a dramatization of Edward Snowden’s decision of leaking classified documents from the government into the hands of the public. The film is directed by Oliver Stone and was first released in September 2016.

The film starts out when Snowden meets up with the journalist and documentary makers that will later become his main support in the leaking of documents. The viewer then gains an understanding of Snowden’s backstory and how he came to became part of the CIA and how he came to meet his wife. The past then mixes into the future when the filming of the documentary and the journalists interviews where we learn about Snowden’s thoughts behind the leak. The view then continues to jump back and forth between the two time periods.

The film display’s the excitement that Snowden went through when he was testing to become a member of the NSA team as well as when he was building up a relationship with his wife, Lindsey. This plays on various emotions of the viewers, make them feel a personal connection to the character, Ed Snowden, both his romantic life, the friendships he builds and the excitement he finds in his job. The film romanticizes the story behind the leaks and makes in interesting for a crowd that would not normally pursue this type of knowledge.

After watching the documentary Citizen Four it is clear to me that they used the same sources and used by documentary makers Laura Poitras, potentially using her a source for their filming as well as most likely interviewing Snowden and the journalist’s that were in direct contact with Snowden. If a person chose to only view this film as a basis for their knowledge on this case despite having more sources available they would gain a quite accurate understanding on the case and Snowden’s decisions to publicize the documents.

Michael Quintanilla: Confessions of a Disco Maniac

Michael Quintanilla’s lecture on his work was inspiring. The type of work he has done, especially his story and perspective on the LGBT+ community and Aids hit close to home, as these are things I have a great interest in and would want to work with in the future.
I found his lecture very genuine and I felt that he was extremely true to himself and his stories. The little challenges he placed in front of himself during his careers such as the disco photo story was hilarious, yet inspiring, to me it meant that you should not always listen to other peoples criticism but rather to your own heart and your own believes.

Quintanilla’s view on writing “writing is about seduction” was especially interesting to me as I believe the same, you have to drag in your audience and make them want more, that is how you can keep your job in this field. If others do not find you “sexy” or interesting how can you expect them to go through, read or watch, what you produce.

One of the biggest lessons that I gained from this lecture is that it is important to stay true to yourself and do what you believe in. To not fall under the pressure that others might place on you to fit in a specific box, but if needed create your own, and do what you need to do to stay true to yourself.

My hopes are to keep this passion I saw in Quintanilla when he spoke of his work, within myself when I work on my own productions, and to be able to display it just as easily as he did on that stage. My goals are to, even though I might have to go into the commercial business to sustain a family in the future, is to always do something that I believe in. Today that means that I want to work with Non-profits, support groups and refugee support and to lend them a hand with my work. I believe in education as a force for change and I believe journalism is a great way to educate people. Just as through Quintanilla’s story’s of his friend dying from aids, I want to display the humanity in people that we might believe are different from ourselves but are indeed not as different as we might think.

Citizen Four Reflection

Citizen Four is a documentary about Edward Snowden and his life after he decided to give journalists access to secret documents that he acquired through his work for the NSA. In the documentary an insight is given into how he got in touch with journalists and how they together with him work to publicize the documents and keep him safe at the same time.

Within the documentary clips from different sources and emails are shown, these clips range from court room hearings, construction work, TV-interviews and clips filmed from when the journalists first met Snowden in Hong Kong and their interview process and conversations. In between these clips a black screen with email and instant messaging conversations are shown. These different sources are given to give more credibility to the information given, displaying that the same views come from people of different standing in the society. The documentary maker, Laura Poitras, also plays on the viewers emotional experience by displaying the struggle that Snowden goes through not being able to contact his wife or explain to her what is going on. When he then contacts her and sees how his decisions are affecting her he breaks down. This gives the viewer a basis for connecting to him personally. This is done as almost everyone will understand the effect that your own decisions can have on your loved ones and to show that Snowden was just a “normal” citizen, with a family and a job, that decided that he was going to do something about the corruption he saw in the world.

Despite the various different perspectives shown there is a strong bias in the documentary. It is very clear that the documentary makers and the journalists involved supported Snowdens decisions and they do not show counterarguments in a very positive light. The only counter arguments that we see are short clips, one comes from Obama at a press conference, but these arguments are not given much back up information nor are they given the time nor the exploration needed for the viewers to understand the governments stand on the national security threat they believe these documents behold. The rapid camera movements in the hand held shots from Snowden’s hotel room and the talk of how he is now a political refugee and how they are going to keep him safe also makes the viewer see Snowden as the victim and that there is a danger hanging over him at all times.

Over all I believe this was a very good documentary but I would have liked to see the opposing sides more clearly. This would lead me into thinking that the documentary displayed less bias towards one side than I do believe now.