Ambition

I can’t stop singing the word “ambition” in my head to the tune of “tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof as I write this, but that’s actually completely okay with me.

A few years ago, Reese Witherspoon declared that “ambition” shouldn’t be a dirty word. Too often the idea of “ambition” for women is associated with being cold, selfish, and unlikeable. It’s strange that a word that holds so much promise can be twisted with negative connotations: oh, you have big goals and are going to work hard on them? Must be a bi—

I love ambition. The very word is full of potential, a taste of the dreams that have yet to be realized. This may be connected to the fact that I’ve never concerned myself much with being likable. Do I want people to like me? Sure. Do I want to be the kind of person everyone likes? I know some people like that, and I like them (unsurprisingly), but I just don’t have it in me. I’m way too focused and way too mean for that.

Still, this continues to be a huge problem for women. Witherspoon wrote again about the gaps in careers and salaries, noting especially the abysmal disparity in media production. Only one woman has ever won an Academy Award for Best Director. One. Only three have ever won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, and six have earned a Tony for Best Direction of a Play. The gaps are even worse for women of color: every single one of those winners is white.

As a student surrounded by female classmates of all colors, the lack of representation is particularly contentious. I know that women are in training for these positions, because I’m working alongside them. Why, then, do they rarely reach the top accolades? Call me silly, but I suspect the answer isn’t that 99% of women are worse at directing than 99% of men.

On the other side of this coin, there’s the mounting problem of millennial women’s disillusionment with ambition. Growing up, we were told that wanting a spouse and children was oppressive, and a great career would make us happy. Now, women reaching their 30’s are discovering that a career (great or otherwise) is not enough to fulfill them. They should have never been taught that lie in the first place. Life satisfaction looks different for everyone, and turning off women from long careers by pitting them against spouses and children is just another form of oppression. I am primarily career focused, and I’d also like to have a spouse and fulfilling social life as an adult. The idea these are mutually exclusive has never been forced on men, so why is it implied that it’s a choice women must make?

These issues are huge, but there is progress being made. I’m heartened by the positive direction Witherspoon described in her article, as well as my experiences with my classmates. Ambition isn’t a dirty word, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be soft or kind or hard or angry or any particular dot on the human experience—it just means you’re going to do something extraordinary.

And if all else fails, I gladly bow to our new ruler.

Masculinity in Friendships

“The Big Bang Theory is the most popular show on television…” starts off the video “The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory,” a visual essay currently making waves around the internet. It’s a 21-minute breakdown of the way geek masculinity is used to excuse the sexism exhibited by the four lead characters. I was so impressed with the video that I started exploring some more of the channel, discovering that the creator (Jonathan McIntosh) focuses primarily on depictions of masculinity in pop culture. One of his most popular videos is “The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander,” which appreciates the way Newt Scamander is defined by his empathy and kindness, a rare decision for a leading man in a fantasy film.

As frustrated as I am by the portrayal of women in popular culture, I am still grateful that it is accepted and encouraged for women to demonstrate the full range of human emotion. Men are denied that right, told to be “strong” and “man up.” They continually get the message that vulnerability, pain, and even sensitivity to others invalidate their gender and make them less of a “man.”

There are some men who feel the need to cry extremely rarely, or who are naturally less prone to vulnerable conversations. However, they do not represent the entire range of male experience, and it’s sad that one version of masculinity is imposed on everyone else. This has a lot of terrible consequences, including a strain on male-male friendships.

I’ve had many deeply personal conversations with close male friends over the years. All of them found it possible to have a sensitive and meaningful conversation with me, and then lamented the difficulty in having the same kind of friendship with another man. There are certainly men who do have relationships in which they can express deep hopes, fears, and pain, but it’s striking how many times I’ve heard someone remark on how it’s “easier” to talk about that kind of thing with a woman. Beyond the implications that has for the amount of emotional labor shouldered by women, it’s just sad to witness cultural restraints on friendship.

I missed a few days of this writing project because I was spending time with a close friend who was going through a hard time. I live in a room with seven other women, a space that can turn into a group therapy/advice session in one text flat. The joy and affirmation of female friendship is something I appreciate more and more every day, as I lean on and provide support for a full network of women who feel comfortable being vulnerable with each other.

At the same time that I’ve learned to appreciate female friendship, I’ve grown more cautious of close friendships with men. While I value the deep connection I have with some men, I’ve learned that the barriers in male-male friendship mean they’re more likely to lean on me for emotional support early in the relationship, searching for a connection that they assume I can supply but other men can’t. Sometimes that’s a reciprocal relationship, and sometimes that’s an unfair burden. I hope that toxic masculinity in friendships can be broken down for the benefit of everyone.

International Women's Day 2017

Happy International Women's Day, everyone!

To celebrate, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite lady YouTubers and podcasts. I really encourage you to check them all out because they are all incredible.

YouTube:

Dodie Clark. Beautiful music, incredible videos ranging from the silly to the heartbreakingly vulnerable, and my total queer crush.

Just Between Us. Speaking of queer crushes, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin's comedy sketch channel is one of my watch-every-single-one channels.

Tessa Violet. Another musician (I highly recommend her video for Not Over You, it makes me so happy) and delightful vlogger.

Rosianna Halse Rojas: One of the backbones of the YouTube community, and a quietly brilliant vlogger.

Sabrina Cruz. Absolutely hilarious. I'm amazed at how consistently she makes quality entertaining and educational videos.

Anna Akana. Speaking of consistent quality, no one inspires me to make better videos like Anna does. Unbelievably creative and hard-working.

Hannah Witton. Sex education, advice (some to follow, some to definitely not), and an unbelievably charming video maker.

Taylor Behnke. I'm inspired by her every word. One of the strongest people out there.

Akilah Hughes. Brilliant social commentary and hilarious sketch comedy.

Alison. I just think she's so funny. I want to hang out with her.

Kat Blaque. Absolutely fearless with fantastic educational social justice videos.

Kelly Kitagawa. Again, please hang out with me. I feel like she's going to be huge someday.

Podcasts!

Call Your Girlfriend. My forever fave, the original inspiration for Mixed Feelings, and just fantastic conversations about news and pop culture.

Another Round. Who doesn't love Another Round? Another brilliant show that tackles contemporary issues.

Buffering the Vampire Slayer. I love Buffy so much, and I love this rewatch show that features an adorable couple and an original song every episode.

Friendshipping. This show is so helpful and so cheerful! Ultimate pick-me-up with genuine advice.

The Ladycast. Alex Laughlin (an inspiration herself) interviewing different cool women every episode and encouraging you to #dothething

Bad With Money. Gaby Dunn hosts a brilliant show all about money, featuring interesting guests on every episode.

Roboism. Robots and feminism! This is my brand!

Rocket. Smart, enthusiastic tech show that's not afraid to tackle tough topics.

Bonus! Writers:

Roxane Gay. My favorite writer, just read her books, please read them.

Felicia Day. Huge role model in my life and her memoir is precious to me.

Maureen Johnson: Insanely talented, bizarre, creative, and dedicated YA author/twitter personality.

International Women's Day

I want to write a more comprehensive post about Women's History Month, but today I have exams to study for, so instead for International Women's Day I decided to make a list of my favorite female podcasters and YouTube creators. All of these ladies are making fantastic content, and I'm looking every day to increase the breadth of voices I'm hearing. (Read: I want to start following more creators who aren't white... Luckily a lot of creators put up their own recommendation lists today, so I have some new people to check out!)

In no particular order:

YouTube!

Akilah Hughes // youtube.com/user/smoothiefreak

Candice // youtube.com/user/candysomething

Sanne // youtube.com/user/booksandquills

Dodie Clark // youtube.com/user/doddleoddle and youtube.com/user/doddlevloggle

Hannah Witton // youtube.com/user/hannahgirasol

Linda Barsi // youtube.com/user/openellbey

Jona // youtube.com/user/JonasAlmostFamous

Sabrina // youtube.com/user/NerdyAndQuirky

Savannah Brown // youtube.com/user/savanamazing

Carrie Hope Fletcher // youtube.com/user/ItsWayPastMyBedTime

 

Podcasts!

Aleen Simms, Less Than or Equal // relay.fm/ltoe

Brianna Wu, Christina Warren, and Simone de Rochefort, Rocket // relay.fm/rocket

Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Call Your Girlfriend // callyourgirlfriend.com

The Incomparable // theincomparable.com  (The Incomparable is usually hosted by Jason Snell, but there are some great regular female guests, including Serenity Caldwell, Erika Ensign, and Lisa Schmeiser)

Quinn Rose, Solidly Mediocre // https://soundcloud.com/aspiringrobot (cough cough shamelessselfpromotion cough cough)