Why Intersectionality Matters In Ethical & Environmental Movements

intersectionality and environmental and ethical activism

This piece was written by Francesca Willow and was originally published on

Ethical Unicorn


Well, this week has certainly seen some interesting developments in the environmental community.

Here’s a brief TLDR

if you missed the online drama in the zero waste world: Package Free Shop, a zero waste shop run by Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers, stated on Instagram that anyone can go zero waste. Some followers questioned this assertion politely, and were promptly blocked and had their comments deleted. Now I’m not usually one to weigh in on things such as this, but I did feel like I wanted to write something about this as it symbolises a much larger issue that I believe we need to maintain awareness of and sensitivity to. Intersectionality.

You may have never heard this term before, and if you have you’ve probably heard it in relation to the feminist movement. Well today let’s take a closer look at what intersectionality actually is, why it’s important, and why it’s vital that the environmental movement is intersectional (and yes, we’ll be returning to the Package Free Insta-drama in this discussion).

What is intersectionality?

While the theory of intersectionality was officially created in 1989, the concept has existed since at least the 1800s, and its core idea it pretty simple. Intersectionality argues that there are multiple aspects to humanity including race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, body type and many more, and these aspects don’t exist separately from each other. They are inextricably linked, meaning that individuals whose identities overlap with a number of these minority classes will face many more threats of discrimination in their life. For example, I experience oppression because I’m a woman, but I also don’t experience many other forms of oppression because I’m privileged in other areas of my life. I’m white, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied and pretty middle class, which means there are a whole ton of ways that my life and experiences are much easier than those of many others.

Essentially, it can be simplified down to the following: everyone has multiple, overlapping aspects of their identities, and all of these connect together to shape how we experience the world and are treated within it. For many, this means that multiple forms of discrimination intersect, and we have to address all of them to create true change.

Seems pretty easy right, where’s the problem?

Well, we start getting issues as soon as we disregard complex thinking. To be honest, often the people at the forefront of justice movements tend to be a variation of me – white, able bodied, cisgender etc – because it’s easier for us to get our voices heard in society. Yes I may have had some barriers as a woman, but I also have more access to technology, finances, education and societal acceptance that have made it much easier for me to have a voice than say, a disabled woman of colour. This doesn’t invalidate my personal struggle in any way, but simply recognises that there are certain elements that are more accessible to me than others. But if the majority of people fronting a movement, whatever it may be, are in a similar spot to me, it’s also very easy to disregard all the other elements that are at play for everyone else. Because I’ve never been personally affected by certain considerations, it would be incredibly easy for it to never even occur to me to think about trans people, older people, disabled people, queer people or immigrants (to name a few), when I’m talking about justice and progress in the world.

Why white feminism sucks

And this is where we often end up with white feminism. Check out this video, which breaks down the concept simply and easily:

So if you’re white and a feminist, that isn’t a bad thing, not all white people are white feminists. We do, however, have a problem when someone’s activism ignores intersectionality. Often times this is unintentional (because, hello, we live in a society created to favour the privileged) but, if we don’t identify it and work to change our activism, we do serious damage. Not only do huge numbers of people feel completely excluded from activist movements, but these movements strive for goals that only help white, cis and straight people. Activists may think they’re moving towards important social change, but they’re really only creating progress for a very small, very limited number of people.

If your activism isn’t intersectional, you aren’t actually doing good in the world. You’re just helping those who already hold privilege.

Why white environmentalism is also a problem...

Read the rest at Ethical Unicorn

The Moral Wardrobe: Feminist Frump

Ethical Details: Carmela Apron Dress - c/o Conrado; Tee - Elegantees; Sandals - Betula

Last week, my friend Catherine sent me this tongue-in-cheek post about female frumpiness as a feminist statement:

The dominant sensibility of femininity, which we will call Sexy Adult Woman (SAW), values flattering-ness, attractiveness above all else—pleasing the eye. In common parlance, “frump” is the defective result when a feminine person tries and fails to achieve SAW. Frump is not. Frump is a whole sensibility in and of itself, entirely distinct from, and in valid alternative to, SAW... 
Frump is a way of being feminine. The way of Frump is not in terms of attractiveness but in terms of freedom, comfort, and self-delight. It can be observed in objects, structures, and people of any sex, but because it was born of the machine of patriarchy and male domination as a way to shame the feminine for failing to subscribe to SAW values, it is a sensibility most fundamentally of and for the feminine.

As a teenager, I realized pretty quickly I wasn't going to win at the attractive-to-teenage-boys game. For one, I could tell it was unfair, and that a variety of factors, including family income and socialization, impacted the kind of social capital I could build based on looks. So I dressed for other girls, the girls who read Teen Vogue and appreciated a bit of eccentricity.

I embrace the sack dresses of this current age because I think they defy expectations. They say that we don't exist to please others, we exist to build our identities however we want. So tight dresses and apron dresses are both right.

On Body Image + Personal Modesty

on christianity, purity culture and personal modesty
I wrote this piece 4 years ago for my friend's blog on womanhood and rediscovered it recently via Facebook Memories. It still holds true, and I think it's pertinent as we look toward another fashion season. 

I was steeped good and long in American evangelical culture, though not one that held too tightly to ideals of traditional gender spheres. As a result, I was both encouraged to join the worship team and participate in co-ed theological discussions and discouraged from flaunting my sexuality (along lines of thought very specific to Protestant Christian tradition).

I was told that the boys in youth group would lust after me and sin in their hearts if I didn’t wear a shirt over my swimsuit on beach excursions. I was told to be mindful of cleavage and short skirts and too much makeup. Obsessed as a child (and still) with ideals of fairness and personal responsibility, this didn’t sit well with me. In my view, the boys were given a free pass to lust. I asked a youth leader once if boys would cover up, too, so as not to cause women to stumble. I was immediately dismissed with a laugh and the subject was never brought up again.

But the notion of blaming the inactive party for the thoughts and behaviors of the aggressor is simply nonsensical. The person to blame is the person who did the thing, whether that thing is something as seemingly innocent as adolescent lust or as devastating as sexual assault.

So I come to the traditional modesty discussion, as an adult, with a fair amount of cynicism and, I hope, with a helpful dose of moderation and practicality. I believe that men and women must take equal ownership over their bodies and their thoughts. If I walk out in public naked, that’s no excuse for rape. On the other hand, I recognize that I live in a society with specific modesty codes that apply not only to sexual expectations but to daily interactions, and that it’s within my best interest as a member of my social system to, say, wear a suit to an interview and save the swimsuit for the beach.

Modesty is inevitably political, and from that broad perspective I think people should dress as they please (within a reasonable distance from their society’s expectations) and not be harassed for it.

But modesty is also personal. For instance, I never worried much about showing too much cleavage because I’m an almost-A cup. When other girls took comfort in the appearance of fuller figured celebrities and lauded Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, I was busy taking solace in the appearance of thin, pale super models, who more closely resembled my body type and weren’t bullied for it. At 16, I was 5’5” and 96 pounds; I ate but couldn’t put on weight. People, my doctor included, thought I was anorexic. My body image issues weren’t talked about because I, apparently, fit the socially accepted standard of beauty (no one told the boys that).

Teen Vogue was a beacon of confidence for me, and I delved happily into the world of high fashion. Twelve years later and I’m still enamored by fashion spreads, new novelty prints, and the season’s best shoes. I didn’t realize at 16 that this thing I clung to for comfort and body acceptance would have such a hold on me.

When I get dressed in the morning, or when I buy a new garment, I can see how I adapted and combined my experiences to suit my needs. I like to cover my shoulders because people tell me they’re bony. I flaunt my clavicles because I think they’re pretty. I won’t wear a skirt higher than mid-thigh because it just feels inappropriate. There are some things you carry for so long they become a part of you. I’d like to feel so comfortable in my body that I can wear anything and feel confident. But I think it’s ok that I’ve reached these compromises with myself and with the modesty/sexuality obsessed culture that exists both within and outside of the church.

Through fashion, and even through the modesty culture I grew up within, I’ve come to appreciate my body both as flesh and blood and as art. When blogging, I like the distance a self portrait can provide, the harsh objectivity. I can look at myself through the lens of a photographer interested in imperfection, angles, and shadows. It’s easier, too, when I know I contribute more than just my appearance to the world – when I can write, hug, listen, laugh, work – and know that these things are acknowledged, that these things make a considerable difference.

But I’d still like to think that God doesn’t just think I have potential on the inside. I’d like to think he thinks I look pretty awesome, too.


More than 5 years of fashion blogging has been healing for me, because it's helped me see my body in new ways, to experiment with silhouette and style and to embrace my flaws. This sounds counter intuitive in a niche that can also cultivate unhealthy comparison and competition, but for the most part, I find this space freeing. And the community of thoughtful women (and occasionally men) I've found here has helped me believe in my abilities and challenge my assumptions. I believe I'm better for it. Thank you. 

What the Women's March Taught Me

What the Women's March Taught Me

Before I went to the Women's March, I have to admit I was scared. 

I did not grow up in an activist home. I grew up in a "hunker-down" home with monthly fire safety talks. I knew where the hand gun was and how to use it if an intruder threatened my life.

I grew up in a home where the doors were always locked.

This was not all paranoia. Someone did break into my house when I was 12. Fortunately, my mother was at the grocery store that morning and they left the family cat alone (we found her smelling roses in our back yard). But the man who entered our house and stole my $5 allowance, family videos, and the hand gun took more than our possessions. He took my sense of childhood security. I was afraid of shadows and noises outside my window for months, often choosing my parents' floor over my bed. For awhile, I was convinced someone was trying to get in my room, but we eventually found out it was an armadillo who'd made his home in the bushes by the side of the house. I was so thankful for that guardian armadillo, offering some semblance of security.

I mention all of this to give you a sense of how brave I am (hint: not at all). 

My dad messaged me in the days leading up to the march concerned about rioting and arrests. He told me to bring my pepper spray and take care of myself. I steeled myself for the worst case scenario.

But then I arrived to a sea of pink cat hats at the Metro, women handing out Kind bars for sustenance and offering up extra hats to bring back to our loved ones who couldn't march. The atmosphere was celebratory and open-armed. Like a reunion, or a town festival.

Several stops into our train ride, one of the doors got stuck and we were forced - several hundred of us - to exit the Metro train and stand on the already-full platform. We couldn't get back on the now-full trains, so we exited the station and pondered next steps. While waiting, we saw cat hat-bedazzled women on city bike shares, breezing through the quiet morning streets and stopping to talk to other marchers at crosswalks. We eventually settled on an overpriced Uber and got the march site. Cheers, signs, laughter. Pink hats everywhere.

One sign read: The last time I marched there was a wall in Berlin.

Friendly march volunteers directed us to jumbotrons as an Indigenous woman began singing a haunting piece, mostly unaccompanied, that sounded to my ears like a new, more inclusive, national anthem.

By 10:30, we could no longer see the road we'd walked in on. The crowds were too dense. We stood behind a mom and her daughter and next to a group of young guys who'd driven over from Nashville, excited to learn.

By 11:00, we were packed like sardines. You couldn't move without bumping into someone. Incredibly, no one was bothered by this. The counter protesters (the kind wearing "Jesus loves you" sweatshirts and carrying "You're going to hell" posters) got ahold of a megaphone and started chanting something barely discernible. Nearby marchers countered, calmly and exuberantly, with "Love trumps hate."

I am so badly trying to find a way to describe for you the serene, utopian calm that washed over me as I stood there among hundreds of thousands of strangers. The paradox of feeling safer here than anywhere else at any other time. At some point in the day, I tried to sum it up for myself and this is what echoed through my head:

I saw a glimpse of paradise today. 

I felt God. I felt peace on earth. A long awaited glimpse of the world, perfected. All the prophecies come true.

It wasn't about the specifics of what was said. It wasn't about righteous anger. It wasn't about protest. It was about being present with people on a day that we'd collectively determined we would be our best selves.

I am not naive. I know there were people there who in their regular lives are grumpy, un-self aware, even narcissistic, but we were, maybe for the first time, trying - and succeeding at - practicing what we preach.

The Women's March showed me what we're all fighting for, after all.

We're fighting for a world where people are free to be their best selves. 

Where we can put our guards down, knit each other hats, listen to radical ideas without getting defensive, and understand that we are all welcome at the table.

As a scared white woman, I am grateful for being brought into ongoing conversations on immigration, religious freedom, Black lives, and Indigenous rights. I am grateful that I could listen and learn from people I don't have the opportunity to bump up against in my everyday life.

I am grateful that the voices that told me that I would be unsafe were proven wrong.

There is work to do. 

An endless amount of work to do. We can never stop working. I realize that now, that I've been letting "good enough" serve as my activism for the bulk of my adult life. I've been hiding behind words and my computer screen.

But the community of the Women's March not only inspired hope in me to press on, it reminded me that strong communities change the world. I am excited to get started writing letters, making phone calls, and paying attention with my fellow Charlottesvillians.

I am ready now.


Here are some resources and articles that helped me get a grip this emotional rollercoaster of a week:

How to Prepare for the Women's March on Washington

Women's March Preparation and Resources
"Hear Our Voice" by Liza Donovan - Download here.

I'm attending the Women's March!


Over the last several months, I've spent a lot of time stewing over the best way to make a difference in a country that has been and remains a threatening and degrading space for thousands of people. While local and state activism, including making phone calls to representatives, is vital, what's become apparent to me is that most of the policies we promote on both sides of the political spectrum have a glaring tendency toward embracing the "good enough" short term fixes instead of long term solutions.

Defending policies like the ACA matters, but putting pressure on politicians only goes so far. For long term change, we need to mobilize and befriend.

On a personal scale, I've been trying to cultivate attentiveness and intention, reaching out to friends, coworkers, and customers who seem like they need someone to talk to, or just need a compliment or a reminder that they matter to someone.

I believe the Women's March can serve as a large scale version of this frame of mind. For me, it's less about what policy change happens as a direct result of the march and more about showing solidarity. It's about being in one place with the women and men I admire, from priests to bloggers to old friends.

There's power in community, as I've learned from participating in a healthy church, and you don't have to be completely unified to stand together.

I am marching because women, and particularly women of color, still need feminism. I am marching because strong women and men in my life are going, and they are showing me that it's good to overcome fear and make a move. I am marching because my friend from middle school who grew up under the same patriarchal structure as me is going, and there's something beautiful and full circle about marching next to her.

I march because I believe that it matters to look into the faces of strangers of all ages, people who do and do not look like me, and say together that we will keep moving forward.

Getting Prepared

This is only the second march I've ever attended, and the only one with real security requirements, so I've been reading up as much as I can on how I can best prepare for the day.

In terms of security, the Women's March outlines what you can and cannot bring. I've copied the full text below (read more FAQs here).

All backpacks and bags may be subject to search at the March, and those not conforming to the standards set here may be confiscated or asked to be left behind. Backpacks are not permitted unless they are clear and no larger than 17"x12"x6" (colored transparent bags are not permitted).

  • Bags/totes/purses for small personal items should be no larger than 8”x6”x4”.  
  • Specifically for people who would like to bring meals, each marcher is permitted one additional 12”x12”x6” plastic or gallon bag.  
  • For marchers who have medical needs or for mothers who need baby bags or breast pumps, please ensure that your supplies fit into the above clear backpack. You can have one backpack per individual in your group, as long as they abide by the above guidelines.
  • If you are a member of the press, covering the event officially, and have equipment that will not fit into bags of the above dimensions: please contact the National Communications Team to get press credentials in advance in order for your equipment to be allowed into the rally site.
  • If you require disability accommodations or related equipment, that will not fit into the above bags, please enter via the ADA Accessible route: 4th St. SW from C St. to Independence Ave.  For anyone using Metro, please get off at Federal Center SW and use 4th St. to enter the rally area.
  • Canes, walking sticks, walkers, and portable seats are allowed for individuals who require them for mobility and accessibility on a regular basis.
  • Do not bring anything that can be construed as a weapon, including signage with any kind of handle (e.g. a sharpened wooden stick). We recommend also checking with your bus company if your bus will be secured during the march and if you can leave larger belongings in the bus, rather than carrying them all day.

Note that you are not permitted to bring large handbags or backpacks. Additional Inauguration Week security requirements restrict metal containers (like Klean Kanteen water bottles).

The March organizers also recommend checking the forecast frequently throughout the week and preparing for very cold weather. It may rain, so make sure shoes and coats are water proof, and wear comfortable shoes.

Here are some suggestions for what to bring from Detroit Free Press:

  • Thermal underwear beneath your clothes
  • Winter gear such as a scarf, gloves, balaclava and hat
  •  A coat that is insulated comfortable and waterproof with a hood 
  • Waterproof shoes or boots that have been broken in and are suitable for walking long distances. 
  • Travel-sized wet wipes and/or tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • A paper map of Washington, D.C.

An official Inauguration Security list can be found here. One can assume Women's March security will be nearly identical.

Know Your Rights

Read up on your rights on the ACLU website.

Other Resources:

Due to some circulation issues I have in my extremities, if the forecast takes a turn toward incredibly cold, I will likely attend Charlottesville's sister event instead. 


Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Also, let me know if you're going!!

The Moral Wardrobe: My Sister "Feminist" Tee Fights Sex Trafficking

My Sister Feminist Tee review - TraffickingMy Sister Feminist Tee review - Trafficking
This piece was produced in partnership with My Sister.

I was born a feminist, against all odds. 

I grew up in a conservative household, attended conservative churches, and didn't think of myself as a feminist until late high school or early college. But from a very young age, I bristled against gendered expectations on principle. I didn't like that people expected me to wear pink, be sweet, smile constantly, and volunteer in the church nursery. I didn't like that people just expected me to be cute. I didn't like that my particular faith tradition thought that the only way to keep me from having sex was to convince me that Jesus was my boyfriend.

In middle school, my whole PE class was amazed that I could beat the boys in King's Court (I'd shoot hoops with my dad at home every week). In high school PE, the boys were amazed I could catch a baseball. As a picture framer, I can't tell you how many people sized me up before asking for the "man framer," assuming that I couldn't meet their needs like a man could. One time I borrowed a drill from my boss and my coworker asked me if my husband was making something. I informed her that, in fact, I was the one planning on using the drill. And it gets darker than that. I was sexually harassed on a daily basis at several of my jobs, typically by my boss or close male coworkers. It took me months after I left those jobs to understand why I felt anxious and depressed on my way to work each day.

Women can't catch a break! I never tried to make myself attractive to men. I was never "asking for it." On the flip side, I was never intentionally antagonistic. I was, for the most part, just trying to be a person.

  My Sister Feminist Tee review - Trafficking

The fact is that no matter what women do or don't do, we're bound to be targets of bias and harassment. That's why it's important for me to call myself a feminist, loud and clear. We still need feminism.

I really like this t-shirt because it associates the feminist movement with anti-trafficking efforts. As I discussed in my post about Dressember, I think it's incredibly important that we view trafficking, first and foremost, as a human rights issue, not as a purity issue. Trafficking of all stripes is a feminist issue because it denies the full equality of fellow human beings. It strips people of their rights, their autonomy, their sense of self, and their futures. And sex trafficking disproportionately affects women. Between 4-5 million women are sold into sex trafficking each year and human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world.

We need to rise up in solidarity with our sisters who are trafficked.

That's the premise behind My Sister...

MY SISTER's mission is to prevent sex trafficking, educate communities, empower the population, provide after-care for survivors and offer growth opportunities to at-risk women through the sales of our statement-making, ethically-sourced apparel and accessories.
My Sister sells clothing and accessories with inspiring messages about equality and gives a portion of proceeds to programs that offer care and opportunities for women taken out of trafficking. To date, they've raised $77,500 for their charities. As a registered B-Corp, they are beholden to a certain set of social good standards, and all of their designs are printed on ethical and/or domestically produced t-shirts. They also produce my favorite lip balm.

My Sister Feminist Tee review - Trafficking Ethical Details: Tee - c/o My Sister; Dress - c/o Synergy Organic Clothing; Tights - PACT; Sneakers - Etiko; Cardigan - old

In light of an uncertain political future, it's important to declare and live out our values and to seek communities that share them. Wearing this tank top makes me feel strong. Scratch that. It reminds me that I am strong, and that I have the power to speak out against injustice.

You can read more about My Sister on their Press Page


Shop My Sister here. 

Follow along: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

On Trafficking, and Why I'm Participating in Dressember

Dressember Challenge, Trafficking Facts
One of this year's Dressember Dresses produced in collaboration with Elegantees.

If your Instagram feed is filled with social enterprises and fair trade bloggers like mine is, you've likely heard about Dressember.

Founded in 2013 by Blythe Hill (I followed her personal style blog when I was in college), the Dressember Foundation is a fundraising nonprofit that benefits anti-trafficking agencies.

But it's markedly different from most fundraising agencies in that it centers around an unusual challenge: wear a dress every day in December. 

Like marathons and charity walks, the idea is that you pledge to follow the guidelines of the challenge and, in return, friends and family donate to the cause on your behalf. 

Now, I like a sundress when the weather is warm, but I shove all my dresses to the dark corners of my closet as soon as it gets nippy outside. I could layer leggings and sweaters and long sleeve shirts over, under, and around my dresses, but it takes a lot of pre-planning to end up with something that resembles an actual outfit, so I lean heavily on jeans in the fall and winter. 

In my case, then, the Dressember Challenge is appropriately named. I didn't get involved for the last couple of years in part because I was still trying to learn how to dress for real winters and I thought I would die of hypothermia if I had to throw dresses into the mix. This year, I'm ready to take it on, and beyond that, I strongly support the work of International Justice Mission, one of the charities Dressember benefits.

According to IJM...

  • There are over 45 million people enslaved today.
  • Children as young as 4 are exploited.
  • People are exploited in both labor and sex industries, with some crossover.
  • Key Industries: internet sexual exploitation, brick kilns, brothels, mines and quarries, tree-cutting facilities, and fishing boats.

Additional Data:

  • Children are heavily exploited in the chocolate industry. Nestle even admitted to it.
  • High demand for steel by the auto industry has increased labor trafficking in Brazil and destroyed parts of the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Trafficking is hard to track because many cases go unreported, but every country, even the US, is affected by it.
  • Trafficking is a 32 billion dollar a year industry. 
  • Approximately 20% of reported trafficking cases relate to labor trafficking (with labor trafficking primarily affecting men) and 80% relate to sex trafficking (with sex trafficking primarily affecting women).
  • The New York Times reported that wage slavery is rampant in the nail salon industry.

I often feel uneasy talking about trafficking because it's been highly politicized and tied into other ideologies, like American Evangelicalism, which can make it hard to get real answers and determine best practices outside of these hyper-biased frameworks. If you're not familiar with typical Christian trafficking rhetoric, it's often tied to "traditional" (read patriarchal) ideas about male and female roles and sexual purity culture, juxtaposing the feminine ideal of chastity with the jarring violation of women's bodies in the sex trafficking industry. In my mind, this rhetoric only further objectifies women, because in both cases, women are merely bodies who do or do not have sex, bodies that need to be protected by "savior" men, bodies that have value only in their relationship to men's needs. 

A more ethical approach to the trafficking conversation would speak to a broader ideal of women's equality and freedom that doesn't seek to shame them for the sex they are or aren't having, and in what context they're having it. 

Women don't need to be "rescued" from trafficking because trafficking makes them impure. They need to be brought out of trafficking because they are humans, and slavery is an egregious human rights violation. 

I was initially on edge about getting involved with Dressember because I didn't want to perpetuate this idea that trafficking must be linked to femininity. Trafficking has nothing to do with being pretty and wearing dresses. It has to do with power and money and moral degradation and systemic failures that cause a sort of societal hemorrhaging. But I decided that the best way forward is to use this unifying and relatively simple challenge to have a conversation about words while also supporting the good work of anti-trafficking agencies.

Because no matter what I think about the language of the movement, it's just a fact that if we consume things, our lives touch on slavery and those enslaved. We eat slave-produced chocolate, wear slave-produced clothing, drive cars made with slave-produced steel, and likely engage with people - at nail salons, food banks, airports, social service agencies, schools, and stores - who are enslaved by the labor and sex trafficking industries. 

So, all that to say that I'm excited about the sartorial and personal challenge of the Dressember Challenge and hope you will find ways to have hard conversations about trafficking this month, whether you choose to participate or not. 

I'll be posting outfits on Instagram as often as possible, so follow along there

Additional Reading from StyleWise:


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The Problem with Telling Women and Girls to "Be Brave"

feminism be brave
Don’t tell me
to Be Brave,
as if courage
is instinct for
half of us and
Learned Behavior
for XX chromosomes
alone. As if
my going
out is not its own
defiant act
And my speaking:
Bold, Direct
is not akin
to wielding
the sword.

Don’t tell me
Courage is:
holding my tongue
and the serving tray
at a 3rd wave feminist
Dinner Party
thrown for strangers with
pasted on grins

I am no one’s
I am already


I've been dealing with ongoing sexual harassment from an older customer at work the past couple weeks. Though he swears his comments are innocent, I feel more and more agitated every time he comes in because I don't know what the correct - but really, the safe - response is. I read an article once that said women at bars tend to treat the creepers more nicely than the regular guys because they're afraid to set them off. The creepers interpret this as romantic interest rather than terror, and freak out anyway when the women finally refuse their advances.

I feel like those women at the bar. I work in a customer service field and it's generally my responsibility to be nice. But when that generosity of spirit is interpreted as genuine interest by people who ask if they can work there "just to look at you," I'm left without a clear exit strategy. On the one hand, I absolutely have the right to tell him to bug off. On the other hand, what if that makes him angry and he parks his car next to mine at closing then kidnaps me?

That might sound crazy, but it isn't really. Even if women aren't naturally aware of our surroundings, we're told from childhood not to walk alone or stay outside when it's dark. We're told to keep our phones and our keys in our hands, and our finger on the pepper spray. We have to be vigilant if we want to avoid harassment, assault, and death.

But let's say this man's behavior will never escalate to violence. I'm still left dealing with the discomfort of having to publicly assert my right to not be sexually harassed at a potential cost to my shop's reputation. Will other customers think I'm overreacting? Will he post a negative review on Yelp? I've been pushed into a corner I have to get out of without kicking and biting and saying nasty things. Because I have a reputation to uphold. It all falls on me, and I hate him for it.


In the past year or so, I've seen the phrase, "Be Brave," tacked onto everything from posters to t-shirts to devotionals. It's a recurring marketing theme for a couple of women-centered social enterprises I follow, as well. However well meaning the call-to-action may be, I've found myself rolling my eyes every time I come across it.

Frankly, I don't think women need to be told to "be brave." Women are forced to navigate an impossible set of expectations every day, straddling harmful patriarchal values and an increasingly rigid form of feminism that leaves little room for personal expression. The last thing we need to be told is to be brave.

We're already sorting out the details of identity formation in the context of societal and relational expectations, and I think we're doing a pretty good job. We're already advocating for ourselves when we feel we have the space to do so. If we're silent, it's for our own protection. If we're too nice, it's because we know that sometimes that's what it takes to have our voices heard.


I'm also disturbed by the adulteration of the word, brave, in the context of female "empowerment." Male bravery conjures images of knights, soldiers, and public figures. Female bravery as its contextualized in the circles I'm in only serves to reinforce traditional female virtues like hospitality, generosity, and meekness. We're told that it's brave to say sorry and write letters. We're told that bravery is being nice when no one's watching.

I'm here to tell you that none of that is bravery! Lovely qualities to have, to be sure, but we might as well adopt the coercive, polygamist-Mormon phrase, "Keep sweet," if we're really only concerned with women staying in their place. I'm not interested in "reclaiming my femininity" or discovering "authentic womanhood." These terms only serve to further limit acceptable ways of being a woman. I want more space, not nicer throw pillows!

I'm ready to keep being whatever I am in the world. Sometimes sweet, sometimes confrontational, sometimes fearful. But always brave.

We are brave by default. We have to be.

This post still feels unfinished, but I'm publishing it anyway because I want to hear your stories. What's your take on the "Be Brave" trend?

Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. - Rebecca Solnit

Underneath It All: Larkspur Offers Confidence-Inspiring Lingerie

larkspur ethical bralette review

When Amanda, owner and designer of Larkspur, and I first started talking about a collaboration, I let her know I wasn't sure about modeling her beautiful selection of bralettes and panties for all the world to see. I'm modest - by nature and nurture - and I didn't want to do anything I'd be embarrassed about later on.

But I was intrigued by her suggestion that Larkspur garments are made to be worn - flattering real bodies* - rather than strategically arranged in a flatlay, and I decided it was a good time to challenge myself to create something artful. Something that felt like me. Not exposed or gaudy, just confident and comfortable.

larkspur luella bra review

I think we need to challenge the idea that women, and female bodies, have value only through objectification and sexual gratification. We can do this by encouraging women to dress, and live, according to their values, beliefs, and aspirations.

It's not selfish, slutty, or prudish, to know - and live by - your limits. 

On the other hand, it's important that we simultaneously grapple with our collective tendency to downplay women's sexuality. We are full people with complex narratives. Let's try not to oversimplify our humanity.

larkspur ethical sustainable lingerie

I love that Amanda and the Larkspur brand appreciate the full humanity of women and honor it. 

Larkspur focuses on comfortable, wearable pieces that make you feel empowered:
At Larkspur, we want to find the place between fantasy and reality, to make a place where women can be more comfortable with their bodies, and be more comfortable with expressing their true selves and their own fantasies. We are exhausted of society pressuring us to be a different person or a different shape than we are, especially while wearing our underwear.

This ethos expands into materials sourcing, as well. Larkspur uses organic cotton, sustainable modal, and high quality factory remnants for the health of the wearer and the planet. Items are handmade in Los Angeles.

Amanda suggested the Luella bra for me, because my skin is sensitive and I've had comfort issues with underwire bras in the past. I love the gray and navy tones and the subtly patterned straps, plus the bra actually fits, unlike the vast majority of conventional bras on the market (it's hard out there for an A cup!).

I'm glad I got the chance to review something with a mission and a style that I love and I'm looking forward to spending my days feeling comfortable and confident in my own skin.

Clothes (and underwear) don't make the woman, but they certainly help us live into the people we want to be.


Shop Larkspur here. Follow along on facebook, instagram, and twitter.

*A point of clarification on my use of the term, "real bodies": Speaking as someone who was so thin in high school that people regularly asked if I had an eating disorder, I generally avoid using terms like "real bodies" and "real women," because they tend to imply that models and conventionally attractive women aren't, in fact, real. When I use it here, I mean that Larkspur doesn't feel beholden to traditional silhouettes, measurements, or contours, because they realize that real women (meaning all women) prefer garments that move with them over garments that merely look good on the hanger. 

UVA, Greek Life, and Institutionalized Inequality

uva rotunda at stylewiseblog.blogspot.com

On Wednesday, Rolling Stone (the article is quite disturbing, so proceed with caution) published an exposé on the gang rape of an undergraduate student by fraternity members at the University of Virginia.

Then the sh*t hit the fan: the frat house involved was vandalized on Wednesday night, professors organized protests, students organized a slutwalk, and the President released several (mostly inadequately forceful) statements before finally shutting down Greek activities for the remainder of the fall semester.

When someone is violently sexually assaulted and told by her peers (and potentially by the administration) that it's not okay to report it, there is no easy fix because the blame doesn't fall on one person. The particular students involved must be held accountable, but so should the fraternities, sororities, administration, local police force, and the (far less tangible) culture at large. 30% of UVA students are members of Greek organizations and a significant number of undergraduates attend frat parties as their primary source of socializing on the weekends. Students here may study hard, but they party harder, and many of them come from money and privilege that shelter them from significant repercussions. This extreme entitlement paired with Type A perfectionism and reputation above all else has created a perfect storm for persistent, unpunished sexual violence. Greek life is inherently, fundamentally discriminatory and exclusionary; the system preys on the lonely, desperate, and inexperienced. And, though the administration may know something needs to change, they are limited either by pride or by fear of legal action. As a result, they are part of the problem.

My experience with undergraduate students here is that they're often ill equipped to properly respond to violence or injustice in the lives of their friends and peers. They seem to lack a sense of self-reflection and independence that would allow them to speak up when it's necessary. To add insult to injury, their support networks are often superficial and therefore unable to withstand the type of vulnerability that comes with admitting you or a friend has been harassed or assaulted. Though I'm sure emotionally mature, justice-oriented undergraduates exist here, they don't exist in large enough numbers to change the culture.

But I believe the culture can change. I believe it is my responsibility to listen to the concerns of the undergraduates I interact with on a regular basis and to help them find a way to take a stand against unjust sorority codes, biased administrators, and the implicit expectations of the rape culture that exists here. I believe that change means more than just talking things out until we feel better, and I know we have to work together - and risk being disliked - for real and lasting progress to be made. The important thing is that we don't just allow news like this to blow over. We don't get to forget it. We must remember: for the sake of assault survivors and for the sake of prevention. No one should live in the hopelessness of feeling that their trauma has gone or will go unnoticed.

Update 11/24: Students, faculty, and community members have started a group called Alliance for Social Change. If you live in the area and are interested in participating in local events, feel free to like the page. You can also sign a petition to permanently suspend Phi Kappa Psi from UVA's campus. Personally, I believe that it would better to suspend all Greek programs on a temporary basis during which the university can dramatically restructure them (e.g. require them to move to on-campus housing, change policies, make rush more inclusive, affirmative action, etc.). I don't know that a permanent removal of one fraternity will change things long term.