Monday, October 23, 2017

A Sincere Thank-You to Women Who Make Us Proud to be Women [Contributors: Jenn, Alisa Williams, Jen W., Ashvini, Erin, Rebecca, and Chelsea]

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Well, it's been a week, hasn't it? The sad thing is that there are likely multiple things this could be in reference to. #metoo trended on Twitter as a way for women to acknowledged that they were sexually harassed or assaulted. (Something to note: The movement itself was actually started over ten years ago by a Black activist named Tarana Burke, even though many are crediting Alyssa Milano with it.)

As I watched tweet after tweet and post after post roll in, I felt a lot of things — anger, sadness, empathy, and ultimately an overwhelming sense to do something about what I was reading. But how do you combat misogyny and hate and assault? Well, I don't know the right answer to this. Or even if there is one specific right answer. But I can tell you what our next step as a team at Just About Write was: to elevate women and, in particular, women of color this week.

A woman of color began the #metoo movement, and her name isn't associated with it. That's intensely maddening. And unfortunately it is also all-too commonplace. So instead of erasing women of color from our world's narratives like so many do, we're elevating them. (There are a few white women in this article who have impacted and inspired us recently as well, but you'll mostly find women of color who are shining lights into their communities and using their talents to make the world a better place.)

Most of us here are white, and we recognize that we are privileged. And that means we can step aside and use our platform to make sure that others are elevated. That's what #LadiesSupportingLadies is all about: a way for us to give the mic we have been handed by society over to someone else who deserves to be heard. We are not perfect. I'm the first to admit that I am constantly trying to approach life from a posture that is willing to learn. And I'm thankful for women of color, queer women, trans women, disabled women, and more for continuing to tell their stories. We need them. We need you.

So join us as we discuss women who have changed our lives and are changing countless others' around the world.

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Jenn's MVP: Gina Rodriguez

Why she's the MVP: Where do I even begin with Gina Rodriguez? As an actress, she portrays the titular heroine on Jane the Virgin. And that role is one that landed Gina a Golden Globe award in 2015. When she accepted, she gave an incredibly heartfelt speech that left me crying because of how sincere and well-deserved her win was. But I know it left many Latinas around the world, including Gina herself, emotional for another reason — this win allowed these young women to see themselves as heroines, represented and rewarded. They were told they were valuable. They were celebrated. Their families — their friends and communities and abuelas — were portrayed in a comedy that won an award because people saw it as something worth celebrating.

I'm a white woman who has never really had to endure much in the way of suffering. I've been pretty privileged, and because of that, I can turn on any television show and see myself or family represented. But I know that not everyone gets the chance to see that — especially women of color. I hear their frustration and sadness when one more white character usurps a person of color. So when Gina steps onto set every day as Jane Villanueva, some young woman in the world is looking at her and saying, "She looks like me. She has the same struggles as me. Her family looks the same as mine. Jane matters. I matter." And that gives that young woman value, showing her that she does not have to change who she is in order to be noticed and respected and valued and important.

Gina Rodriguez takes this role seriously — and not just the role of actress. She's an incredible advocate for people of color, and all it takes is a look at her Instagram to know that she uses her voice to amplify the causes she believes in and celebrate the people who are making a difference in the world. She is an incredibly compassionate, well-spoken young woman who has touched so many of us. (Plus, she I constantly see Gina as someone who is motivated to do whatever she can to make the world a better, more accepting place. I've literally never met her (some day, I hope to get the chance to rectify that), but I know that she must be an incredibly kind human being. She deserves to be a role model that we look up to, and I am continually inspired by the ways she improves the world around her.

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Jenn's MVPs: Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom

Why they're the MVPs: When I began watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I thought about how polarizing the title of the show was. That, of course, was the whole point. Ever since the pilot, Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom have made it their goal to challenge the way that we think and talk about women — especially if we're women.

The premise of the show is that Rebecca Bunch who, by the world's standards, is successful and has it all together doesn't actually have it all together. People use the word "crazy" to define her. And as a result, Rebecca spends the entire series fighting her insecurities, mental illness, and love. McKenna and Bloom always make their show smart and funny, but what constantly impresses me is that they make it relevant. Every episode challenges some stigma about women, or it encourages us to think about the way we talk about ourselves and each other. I mean, this is a show that has covered topics ranging from abortion to mental illness to abandonment to female friendships and everything possible in between.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn't need to have a "message of the week" though in order to be important. In fact, the messages are almost always understood between the show and its audience without being incredibly overt (unless it's for comedic effect). Rachel Bloom plays a wonderfully complex character who is the protagonist of her story, but is — quite often — the villain in it too. Her actions can be understood, but the show never seeks to excuse her behavior away. Women on the show are never portrayed as black-and-white heroes or villains. And I think it's incredibly refreshing and important that Rebecca Bunch is a character who acts irrationally and screws up, but sometimes has good reasons. Sometimes she doesn't. And sometimes even we are confused as to what those reasons are.

There is no subject that Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom are afraid to tackle. They're able to use their senses of humor in order to make us laugh, and also think seriously about the subjects we're laughing at. As someone who has been called "crazy" as an insult by exes, watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes me think (and want to write) about the stigmas placed on women and the expectations we place on ourselves and the people around us. The show is absolutely brilliant and funny, and I'm grateful that it exists during this particular point in time in history.

Alisa's MVP: Yaa Gyasi

Why she's the MVP: There are some books that stay with you long after you’ve read the final page. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is one of those books for me. I read it last year after watching an interview she did with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. I’m not a fast reader, but I think I finished the book within a day or two of starting it. Its power, elegance, and beauty swept me away from the very first page. I am so thankful for Yaa Gyasi and her gift for storytelling. I laughed, I sobbed, and I learned so much from this story of family, of love, and of loss. Gyasi’s ability to show the deeply personal effect slavery had (and still has) on individuals and families was eye-opening for me. I have recommended Homegoing to every friend and family member I have, and each one that has read it has remarked on their awe and gratitude toward Gyasi and the characters she has crafted. The power of story to change lives and open hearts is real, and Gyasi’s Homegoing is evidence of that.

Jen W.'s MVP: Gabrielle Union

Why she's the MVP: Somehow the right words for Gabrielle Union don't quite exist for me. Instead of thinking of her as simply a “strong woman,” I think of her as one who has allowed for greater complexities of black women and black womanhood in the current cultural zeitgeist. I'm currently reading her autobiography, We’re Going to Need More Wine, and reveling in her passion, heart, and strength, while also praising her for allowing us to see her pain.

Union is smart and doesn't keep the painful things in her life to herself, even though she has every right in the world to do just that. Her harrowing experiences with assault and the painful openness of her struggles with infertility have turned the idea of black women being without vulnerability on its ear. We are strong as powerful, we are impressive women, but we’re also women who experience every range of emotion there is not just the ones prescribed to us.

I am grateful for Gabrielle Union — for her testimony and her light. And I'm so grateful that she's used her voice and power to help others do the same.


Ashvini 's MVP: Cassey Ho

Why she's the MVP: Being positive day in and day out isn’t easy. It’s so difficult, in fact, that it’s akin to a superpower. But no matter what a struggle it can be, being positive and having the ability to brightly greet the day without looking down on yourself are things that Cassey Ho encourages in spades.

Cassey is a popular YouTuber and Internet personality, known for her Blogilates channel where she posts various workout, body positive, and mental health-positive tutorials for her fans and others interested to watch. Starting around 2009, she gained popularity through a unique workout style she developed called “Pop Pilates,” which featured the immersion of pop music into the method of Pilates for a more fun and accessible appeal.

She has since created an empire and garnered a huge following from her fans, or “Popsters,” and others interested in her journey and encouragements. She was on Time’s third annual list of “The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet” and has made it on the covers of magazines like Shape and Health. Really to me, Cassey is an inspiration. Through videos and social media, I’ve learned that despite how fit she is, she is still harassed online by trolls who love to point out her flaws.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Cassey. She’s such a force of nature; it seems that no matter how much people try to tear her down, her positivity and her love are just so much stronger and her message to the world encourages people of all backgrounds to find their strength and capability in movement — whatever that physical activity may be.

The point of her platform is not to encourage people to lose weight — unless that’s something you want — but instead to feel good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished, no matter how small you deem it to be. That message is not only rare coming from someone in her profession, but wholly radical and willfully brilliant.

Erin’s MVP: Roxane Gay

Why she’s the MVP: Roxane Gay is a best-selling author, a fierce Scrabble competitor, and an engaging Twitter presence. She speaks out on intersectional feminist issues, live-tweets The Bachelor, and writes op-ed pieces for The New York Times. She is an educator, a public speaker, and an unabashed truth-teller. All of these things that she is and much more inspire me and empower me as a writer, woman, and human being.

Gay’s written works are powerful, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a review, or even a tweet. Her voice is no-holds-barred honest and direct. There is no mincing of words or pussy-footing around the issues. Bad Feminist and the vastly growing list of essays in print and online are raw and forthright; frequently entertaining, at times emotionally captivating, and often shocking in their simplicity. Her level of eloquent candor is refreshing, and something for which I am eternally grateful. Gay can lay out something that, to me, is a complex issue and put it into words in such a way that I’m surprised I got it twisted in my mind in the first place. Hunger is a moving memoir that examines self-examination and the fat-phobic world at large.

Her fiction writing is so beautiful. You know that feeling when you’re reading something and you have to pause and hold the book to your chest and stare off into the distance? That happens a lot when reading Gay’s stories. Her characters are so richly developed — even within a limited amount of time in her short stories. They are easy to connect to and understandable even if sometimes their circumstances are unrelatable. Difficult Women is a collection of such stories. Some are real, like, really real. Some are fantastical. Her first novel, An Untamed State, is a devastatingly fractured fairy-tale.   

I was fortunate enough to hear her speak earlier this year when she was promoting Difficult Women. She was so personable, and spoke with a down-to-earth grace which is a quality that makes you feel like you’re chatting with a friend, but at the same time has you awestruck that you’re in her presence. She is adept to talk about such a wide range of topics, from books to films to television to race to feminism to bad air travel experiences to the History Channel’s Forged In Fire. I imagine it’s difficult to find a topic she wouldn’t be able to engage upon. She is incredibly smart, but humble. Gay’s voice is unique, and one that I want and need to hear.


Chelsea’s MVP: Betty White

Why she's the MVP: My favorite show to this day is The Golden Girls. Growing up, it shaped a lot of my comedic sensibilities and gave me the dream of having adventures with my friends and eating cheesecake in our old age. As I grew up, I learned more and more about who the women on my screen were and how they were more than just some funny old ladies.

Betty White is an animal activist, supported LGBTQ+ rights her entire career, and was the first woman credited with producing her own television program, Life with Elizabeth. Her first of many Emmy nominations came in 1951, the third year of the awards and the first time they distinguished women in a category. She’s a television icon in comedy from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Golden Girls and every game show to ever hit daytime. For seven decades, she’s paved the way for women on screen and behind-the-scenes to have creative control, and took on the industry’s ageism by being the funniest woman in the room.

Her broad brand of humor is sharp and biting but never mean-spirited. More than anything, she’s always a positive and kind person, and the world needs more of that. If I can have a third of the career of Betty White, I’ll have achieved more than my wildest dreams.


Chelsea’s MVPs: Tegan and Sara

Why they're the MVPs: It’s hard out there for a queer kid looking for anybody in the media that remotely resembles them growing up. Luckily, queer people were blessed with Tegan and Sara, the musical duo that has always been out and proud. These twin sisters from Calgary have been making music for 20 years, and have had the blessing and burden of being some of the few LGBTQ+ performers for queer kids to look up to. That’s a lot of pressure to put on kids that started releasing music in their late teens, but these two took on the task with humor and grace.

For the bulk of their career, they’ve been known as an indie band and boxed into the “lesbian folk music” section of the record store, but all the queer kids know they’ve been making some great pop/rock music since the mid-2000s. Their album So Jealous pushed them closer to the mainstream when it caught the attention of many television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and musical acts like Jack White. This year marks the ten-year anniversary of The Con, an emotional mash-up of breakup songs, loss of family members, and trying to make love work. They got more mainstream attention with their 2013 album, Heartthrob — and every track on that is a legit bop.

Their concerts are a real treat, with them being part music, part stand-up. They talk about everything from growing up together and making fun of one another to social issues and how kids need to get out and vote. They always pick intimate venues so everyone can have a personalized and comfortable experience. The best part about their music is that there’s an album for everyone and that each record has it’s own unique sound and personality. It’s been a pleasure growing up with these ladies and for having them create the soundtrack to my life. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.


Chelsea’s last MVP: Jenn Stasak

Why she's the MVP: I know, I’m bending the rules of MVP. You don’t have to be famous or have a huge platform to inspire a person, and Mama Jenn inspires me every single day with her strength, patience, and grace. In the last few years working for her, she’s made me a kinder, more thoughtful individual, and been one of the best people in my life. Thanks for all the fun opportunities and all these years of friendship. May we one day be Golden Girls, eating cheesecake after having our crazy adventures.

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Rebecca's MVP: Michelle Alexander

Why she's the MVP: I had friends, professors, and classmates telling me to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for several years before I finally got around to reading it. It was the first book I read post-grad, and I wish I had read it while I was still in school and access to folks with whom I could discuss the book.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness explores the dangerous history behind the American prison system and mass incarceration. Using studies and anecdotes, Alexander discusses everything from racial profiling to how the War on Drugs served as the catalyst for the mass incarceration of Black Americans — a.k.a., the new Jim Crow laws.

Alexander’s book opened my eyes to an issue I have never had to think about. As a white woman, I will never have to fear calling the cops for protection and finding myself getting arrested. I will never have to fear being murdered for something as simple as holding a BB gun or not using my turn signal. I will never have to worry about getting pulled over for “fitting the description” of a criminal. I was aware of white privilege before, but thinking about my privilege in context of the law and criminal justice system was completely eye-opening.

Personally, I think The New Jim Crow is a must-read for everyone, especially white folks. Alexander is a fabulous, engaging, and thoughtful writer who words will leave you at the edge of your seat, wondering how we could have let our country get to this point. She really opened my eyes to a lot of issues and helped me become a better intersectional feminist. The prison industrial complex is nothing I’d ever have to think about, and her words and stories challenged and inspired me to find ways to combat such a dangerous and prevalent system.

Sound off in the comments below and continue to celebrate some of YOUR favorite, inspirational women!


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