On Chivalry (or as I like to call it, Sexist Microaggressions)

For the most part, I do not encounter active, conscious sexism on a regular basis. Most people will acquiesce that social equality is a pretty good idea. It’s rare for me to encounter folks (especially in my age group) who voice or act on obvious and explicit sexist attitudes.

But I still experience sexism all the damn time. Which means it’s the nasty, hidden, pervasive kind. The kind that perpetrators (and victims) usually don’t recognize, name, or give credence to. Now, I’m grateful that I don’t have people explicitly telling me that I’m intellectually inferior because of my womanness. The problem is that they unwittingly act out those attitudes, and when I point it out, I usually get treated like I’m irrational and hysterical. Note: Some people do actually REALLY get it and I tend to cling to those people like little life savers in the high seas of sexism.

I often have the experience of explaining that I am a feminist and  that social equity is very important to me. Men (particularly men who have some type of potential romantic interest in me), will frequently respond by affirming their approval of gender equity and then, IN THE SAME BREATH, will say something patently sexist.

It goes like this:

Me: “I’m a feminist and social justice advocate. Social equity is really important to me and social justice education is one of my passions.”

Man: “Yeah, that’s cool. Equality is great. I totally believe in that. As long as you’re okay with me holding doors for you/me paying for your dinner/taking a guy’s name when you get married/you shave your armpits/ you are not always talking about feminist stuff.”

What I hear: “I don’t know what feminism is. I’m going to tell you that it’s okay so I don’t look like an asshole, but I still expect you to submit to small acts of condescension and injustice in your daily life so I don’t have to be made uncomfortable with reckoning with you as my true social, economic, and intellectual equal and so I can feel like I’m a good guy.”

Many of these acts that annoy the living hell out of me are commonly referred to as “chivalry.” Some of you may be familiar with the concept because some men frequently like to proclaim that it is not dead. In my opinion, chivalry equates to microaggressions: small acts of condescension, steeped in implicit and explicit assumptions that women are delicate, incapable, and need to be tended to.

I consistently experience significant backlash when calling attention to the fact that I find these actions to be sexist. The common response is that men are “just trying to be nice.” I am all about acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill. However, it is naive and, more importantly, privileged, to ignore the fact that insistence upon door holding, chair pulling-out, bill-paying, name-changing, asking for hands in marriage, and guiding women toward the inside of the sidewalk are all steeped in a socio-cultural history that is based in the idea that women are biologically, intellectually, socially, and economically inferior to men. A history in which women were treated as property. A history in which you asked to marry a woman because you were basically buying her. A history in which women couldn’t pay for things because we were not permitted to work outside of the home, hold bank accounts, or own property. A history in which women were seen as being physically and biologically inferior, in which our brains and bodies were believed to be less than those of men. A history in which my sisters chained themselves to the front gates of the White House and went on hunger strikes for the right to have their voices heard in the democratic process of this nation.

I am an independent, educated woman. Make no mistake that my success has been earned on the backs of women who came before me and fought for equality. My own grandmother was pulled out of school at age 13 to work in a thread factory, financially supporting a family in which the boys were encouraged to continue their education and earn college degrees. So you’ll have to excuse me when I insist on paying for my own panini on a first date. Because I do not take for granted for a single day that I am financially independent. You’ll have to excuse me when I exercise my rights as a citizen to openly talk about politics and social issues that are important and impact me, because it is not lost on me for a moment that I have the right to vote and still see far too few women in elected positions of leadership. And you’ll have to excuse me if I think I can open a door for myself or sit my dainty behind in a chair without having a fainting spell.

Men of the world, if you want to be nice, genuine, or kind, stop relying on outdated social conventions rooted in assumptions of women’s inferiority. If you want to be kind, talk to me, listen to what I have to say, take an interest in my interests, defend my opinions instead of my honor, and do your part to ensure that I and other women have access, opportunities, and equal treatment in our society.  When you hold a door, actively interrogate why you are holding that door and who you are holding it for. I’m not saying to start slamming doors in women’s faces, but kindness means taking an extra moment to go out of your way for everyone and anyone, in a way that does not suggest that you are exerting power or control over someone, that you are the keeper of the door. Men have decided for far too long which doors women get to have opened for us. We can open them ourselves.


There’s More to Life Than Work (I Think)

You should work to live, not live to work.

I have, in very recent history, openly scoffed at this adage. I have thought to myself, “My work is not just work…it is life. My work is meaningful and important, so I don’t need to worry about keeping my work time under control. Everything just blends together and it’s okay!”

I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

These days, I’m starting to reconsider my stance on what a good life looks like. I’m on something of a journey of self-discovery (that sounds much better than “existential crisis,” doesn’t it?) As I try to determine the next steps in my career, I am reexamining my work-related values. As I previously alluded to, those values used to be something along the lines of: “Be everything to everyone all the time, and be the best at it.”

There are many contributing factors that led to my work ethic, including perfectionism, gendered achievement expectations (I can’t just be successful, I also have to be selfless), and endless positive reinforcement for my burgeoning workaholism. I believe that these factors are tied into the culture of student affairs and in larger part, to societal factors that conflate being busy or stressed with vocational success.

Here are some of my thoughts about redefining “success” and valuing a holistic life:

Free time is where creativity and potential exist. 

All work and no play make Ashley a dull person. Seriously. Not just for the obvious reason that free time is enjoyable, but because when your mind is allowed to have space to breathe without constant attentiveness to already-determined tasks, you have the chance to dream, imagine, and think deeply about a whole variety of things.

“I don’t have anything else to do” is a crappy reason to work more. 

How many times have you said some variety of this? “I’m not doing anything else…so I might as well just go to the office on the weekend/check my email/work on a work-related project after hours.” Maybe you don’t have anything else to do because all you ever do is work. Have you thought of that?

Know when you’re at your peak performance. Don’t go beyond that. 

Listen to your body. Pay attention to how clear your mind is. Know what it feels like to be productive, energized, and “in the zone.” And if you’re not there, take breaks, take care of yourself, take a walk. We are not robots or machines. We are humans.

Being healthy and well is more important. 

I frequently tell my students that they do not get a new body to trade in upon completion of college, and this admonition goes for all of us. We don’t get to trade in our abused, uncared for bodies and minds. These are the ones we have. What better use of our time is there than to make sure that we are in good condition? I will admit that there are many times that I have said “I don’t feel well, but I don’t have time to go to the doctor; I don’t have time to be sick.” Illness doesn’t, it turns out, just go away if you ignore it. And once you are really sick and have to take days out at inopportune times, your workload and stress level is not going to get any better. Prevention and maintenance matter.

Volunteering might be working dressed up in a disguise.

I’m just saying…I’m a master of this one. If you work in student affairs, there’s a good chance that almost everything you do is for other people. There’s also a good chance that your selflessness, positive attitude, and event planning skills make you a great volunteer. Be careful how many things you sign up for (on and off campus). Though every opportunity is likely a wonderful cause, you can only be spread so thin. Before you take the next volunteer opportunity, ask yourself these questions: Will doing this provide personal/professional benefits to me as well as to others? Am I actually going to enjoy doing this or see it as a burden or stress? Are there other people who are equally qualified and able to do this?

I know that I am more than my job and that my life is more than my job. It’s time to start acting that way and passing along a new work ethic. One that values dedication, hard work, self-care, kindness, intentionality, and living well.

What Not To Do: Online Dating

I’ve been trying my hand at online dating for quite a while now. Even after a couple of years (it’s obviously going REALLY well) I continue to be amazed by deal-breaking actions of potential mates. For a while, I thought I was being too picky or that my standards were too high, however my friends, family, and even a licensed family and marriage counselor have assured me that is not the case. So I offer up the following advice on online dating, to be considered for your entertainment, self-improvement, or otherwise.

  1. “Hi” is not a message. “Hi” is what you say to the cashier at the grocery store as you put your bananas down on the counter. In fact, it’s usually followed by “How are you?” One word messages don’t deserve responses. I spent a crapload of time writing interesting stuff about myself in this profile, and all you can come up with is “hi?” Try harder.
  2. Please spare me the microagressions (and not-so-micro-aggressions). I wrote a profile to provide information about myself, with the idea that you might comment on something other than my appearance. I wrote in my profile that I’m a feminist so that misogynistic, sexist pigs know better than to contact me. Don’t spend your time spewing hatred at me via message. I’m just going to report your profile. Maybe you should invest yourself in thinking about your irrational fear of strong women, instead (preferably through psychotherapy).
  3. Don’t talk about your other online dates. Obviously, everyone who is online dating is looking at plenty of fish, so to speak. Don’t bring it up, though! I’m sorry that someone else stood you up, bro. Oh, you have another online date tomorrow? Maybe you’ll like her more than you like me? Online dating is an experience that we share, but maybe we can find something else to talk about?
  4. Do not bring up your ex. Or exes. This is just a dating no-no in general. If a relationship progresses with someone, you are probably going to eventually get to talking about past relationships. But that is not first date (or pre-first date) conversation. What are you trying to tell me? That other people have actually dated you in the past? Okay…good for you? This doesn’t really come across as proof that you’re not a violent sociopath. It just makes it seem like you’ve got baggage and you’re not over your ex.
  5. No means no. Sometimes I don’t message people back. Don’t keep messaging me until I have to block you. That is stalkerish and absolutely guarantees that I’m never going to talk to you. And if I politely inform you that I’m not interested, I am not opening it up for bargaining or negotiation. Accept the rejection. Move on. I already decided the outcome, you don’t get to re-decide it for me.
  6. Don’t ever tell anyone that you are going to make a voodoo doll of them. This should go without saying, right?
  7. Don’t start by putting yourself down. Humility is a wonderful trait. Being self-deprecating is not. Do not start a message (or your profile) with “I’m not very good at this online dating thing” or “I’m not very good at writing messages” or “I hope I’m not too short, or too far away, or too [whatever].” I’m out here looking for the future father of my children, folks. If my first interaction with you suggests that you completely lack self-confidence, think you’re pathetic, or see yourself as a loser, you are not getting past square one.
  8. Don’t lie. Just don’t. I’m like an online dating ninja. I’ll discover the truth. Besides that, if you actually get to meet me/date me and I find out that you lied, I will unceremoniously excise you from my life.

The one upside of constantly dealing with these ridiculous online dating follies is that it provides endless entertainment for me and my friends. So, potential suitors, if you do commit any of these no-nos, know that I’m doing a dramatic reading of your messages over a glass of wine and sending screenshots to everyone. Thanks for the laughs. It’s not me; it’s you.

Fall Is Not Just for White Girls

I continue to be annoyed with the deluge of references to how much white girls allegedly love pumpkin spice and “all things fall.” Why?

Everyone experiences autumn (depending on your geographic location), last time I checked. Constantly making the assertion that there is some inextricable link between “fall things” (like pumpkin flavored food and beverages, cool-weather appropriate attire, apples, baking, appreciation of nature, etc) and whiteness is RACIST. Suggesting that these activities are exclusive to white people is exclusionary, stupid, and let me say it again, racist.

Furthermore, many of the alleged “basic white girl” activities frequently alluded to in these references involve the use of leisure time or purchasing of items that are not considered necessities (like a $4 latte). This adds the layer of race-related-classism implicit in this conversation. Why aren’t you talking about POCs loving PSLs, folks? Because you don’t think that POCs go to Starbucks, perhaps? Why’s that? Maybe examine the assumptions in that.

White people already own most of the stuff in this country. Stop acting like we own seasons, too. It’s not cute, or funny. It’s unexamined white privilege and supremacy.

Lest we think that this little trend is exclusively racist, let’s take a look at the sexism implicit in the “white girls love fall” idea. For starters, grown women are not girls. Let’s just put that on record. Buying canned pumpkin does not make me childlike. Being a woman should not make me childlike, either. No one ever refers to young male adults as “boys,” do they? Please stop perpetuating this “girls” thing.

Also implicit in this trend is the idea that somehow, being female renders one completely unable to act like an intelligent and rational human being when faced with something that calls to mind an emotional response. Does the smell of pumpkin spice and the crunch of fallen leaves remind me of fond memories of childhood holidays? Yes. When I smell pumpkin spice, am I suddenly a blabbering idiot who can only speak in OMG and LOL because my ovaries have flooded my brain with sappy “girl” hormones? No.

So please just stop. Fall is for everyone.

The Real Life of Student Affairs Professionals

October is upon us. That means it’s Careers in Student Affairs Month! The annual occasion when we turn our attention to doing our darndest to indoctrinate bright-eyed student leaders into the cult of Student Affairs. Or perhaps more accurately put, a time when we reflect on our own career paths, our professional aspirations and goals, and the future of our profession.

Earlier today, I was thinking about my own career thus far, and considering how drastically I have changed as a professional, even since I began my current job just over two years ago. I decided relatively early in my college career (as a sophomore) that I was going to pursue a career in student affairs. So I wouldn’t say that I just “happened on to” the field, but rather spent 3 years of college researching, attending conferences, trying to gain experiences, and starting to shape my student affairs career. I was sold on student affairs at age 19.

My experience since my student leader days has been rewarding, challenging, and enlightening. But there have been a whole slew of experiences that I could have never anticipated, understood, or prepared for. Perhaps this is true of all careers, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for when I embarked on this path. I have embraced it and generally thrived. But I sometimes worry that we portray our field as a rainbows and sunshine kind of situation, without having frank discussions about how emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding this work is.

In my opinion, the demands of student affairs life don’t make this career not worth it. The difference I feel I’m making, the ability to have life-changing moments with students, the ability to be part of a higher education institution, to be a change agent, to work in an environment where I can be myself, where social justice is valued, and where I generally have a ton of fun at work all easily outweigh the negatives. However, we need to talk openly about the negatives and accept them in order to improve our own experiences as educational professionals and to set up future professionals for success in this field.

If we sugar coat the realities of dealing with human emotion, negotiating institutional politics, addressing trauma, or working long hours, we discount our own ability to deal with and overcome these vocational struggles. We also set up future professionals to feel like absolute shit when they run head first into those professional challenges. I think that we (especially new professionals and graduate students) have a big complex in our field about admitting that not everything is rainbows and sunshine. Maybe we feel like we were tricked a little bit. Maybe we thought that working in student affairs was just going to be an extension of our student leadership glory days. Maybe we didn’t anticipate that the work-life balance struggle is so very real. But most of us feel deeply passionate, inspired, and energized by our work. I do not hesitate for a moment in saying that embarking on a career in student affairs has absolutely changed my life.

Which is why I am going to do my best this month to post some very real reflections on the nature of student affairs work in recognition of Careers in Student Affairs Month. I hope that through honest reflections of the lessons I have learned as a new professional, I can inspire others to consider a career in student affairs, armed with a full knowledge of what that career means.