Are you ready? October is almost here! There are so many things I love about this time of year.
I can finally drink pumpkin spice lattes, because well, pumpkin spice.
I can stop sweeping the front porch so the leaves and spiders can accumulate in preparation for Halloween.
I can start wearing longer sleeves. Scratch that. It’s still in the 90s around here. But cooler air is on its way.
Anyway, I can’t help but to get excited when the seasons start to change and the air begins to chill and costumes begin to take over the stores.
So what’s the big deal?
#PINKWASHING SEASON IS ALSO HERE
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a little background according to Urban Dictionary.
“Pinkwashing – The act of using breast cancer to guilt consumers into buying a product which, if it had not been for the advent of aiding the cure for cancer, they would not have bought.”
October is also the month of my breast cancerversary so maybe that’s why I’m super sensitive. I’ll write about that later.
For now, can we all agree to chill on the money grubbing? While breast cancer awareness is a multibillion-dollar industry, women are losing their jobs, going bankrupt, and losing their homes. I mean, how do you honestly think buying a pink lightbulb, or some leggings covered in pink ribbons, or a pink pen is going to help a woman who is grappling with the realization she has a critical illness?
Newsflash: they won’t.
Seriously, we need to stop with the awareness campaigns and start with the support campaigns. All the pink crap you spend your hard-earned cash on will not do a thing to help us. I mean, really help us.
So, what can you do? Plenty! Here are some suggestions that will make a real difference:
Do us and your wallet a favor. Think before you pink.
Self-doubt is a bitch to deal with. No matter how much you study, how hard you work, how many words you write, how many articles and books you read, that nagging sense of self-doubt persists in the back of your mind.
It whispers, “You don’t belong here” in your ear as you’re sitting in class. It taunts, “You’re not good enough” as you’re trying to complete your next assignment. It murmurs, “You’re a fraud” repeatedly as you toss and turn desperate for a good night’s sleep.
As I hit the mid-point of Year 2 of my PhD program, the struggle is real. Imposter syndrome is real. And I know I’m not alone. The American Psychological Association writes imposter syndrome was first described in the 1970s as a phenomenon that occurs “among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” Well if that doesn’t hit the nail right on the head.
The APA goes on to say it’s not uncommon, but we just tend to suffer in silence. We don’t talk about it because we’re afraid we’ll be found out. This is exactly why I decided to write about it today. The first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one right? Now, like a good student, let’s do some research.
Apparently, imposter syndrome hits minorities the worst. This is no surprise. Whenever you are different from most of your peers, it’s easier to fall into a sense of not belonging. And that’s where the self-doubt comes in. Interestingly, the APA cited a study conducted in 2013 at the University of Texas at Austin and found Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience imposter syndrome and women are more likely than men to experience it. Embarking on a huge endeavor such as a PhD program is definitely something that can trigger it.
So how do we deal with this? I mean, before it becomes a serious mental health issue? I certainly don’t want to continue to spiral downward into the pit of depression and I’m sure you don’t want to either. This is where I depend on my strengths as a teacher and give myself the same pep talk I give my students.
First, I’m going to give myself permission to be human. I acknowledge the fact that humans are imperfect beings and I am no different. A rough draft is exactly that, a rough draft. It’s a work in progress, so of course it’s not going to be perfect. Just hit the damn submit button and wait for the feedback.
Second, I’m going to continue to work on reframing how I view myself in the academic world. My background is in communication, but I decided to enter the strange and wondrous world of linguistics. I am a complete novice here. But, as my PhD supervisor told me just yesterday, the advantage of coming from a communication background is it gives me the ability to take a step back and look at everything from afar so that I can answer the question “so what” about my study. In this case, being different is a complete advantage.
Third, I’m going to remember to keep a sense of humor and not take myself so seriously. (Enter Twizzlers commercial here). Honestly, I can do this. I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for goodness sakes. I am a cancer survivor. I did a TEDx Talk. Now that was scary. I mean, really, how many people will be able to say they are a former Marine cancer survivor TEDx Talker with a PhD in English Language & Applied Linguistics? I just may put that on a business card.
Lastly, I’m not going to let this PhD define me. It’s an absolute bitch of an undertaking. I spend a lot of time reading and writing and staring at data. But there is still much more to life than what I’m looking at on the computer screen. It’s important to acknowledge the other parts of me that are equally as awesome as, but even more important than the nerd part. I’m a mom and a wife and a friend (note to self: my people will not love me any more or any less whether I have the title “Dr” in front of my name). I have found getting up from the desk and spending time with them does more for the soul than anything else.
In the end, my goal for writing this is twofold: 1) to remind myself that imposter syndrome is not uncommon and that I’m likely going to struggle with it for a while longer and 2) to remind you that imposter syndrome is not uncommon and that you can get through it too. We can do this.
Mini-Handbook for Jackasses: Communication & Relationships (Paperback)
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I am appalled at the behavior of some professors. Should we not hold ourselves to higher standards? Case in point. If you haven’t heard about Fresno State English professor Randa Jarrar by now, you’ve been hiding under a rock. She’s the professor who tweeted detestable remarks in response to the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush. Acting like a class bully, she resorted to name-calling. And like an irresponsible, immature child, handed out the phone number to a suicide hotline. I’m not going to debate whether or not her tweets were out of line or crass. Clearly, they were. Just see for yourself.
I’m not even going to debate if the university should punish her. That’s up to the administration. But if they decide to dole out any type of punishment, I won’t lose any sleep over it.
Queue the “I-can-say-whatever-I-want-because-of-free-speech-and-if-you-don’t-agree-with-me-you’re-anti-free-speech” crowd. Hold the fuck up.
Of course I support free speech. It’s why I’m able to write the word “fuck” on my blog. Jarrar’s observation about being American and saying what she wants is correct. You go girl. Say whatever the hell you want. But please don’t get it twisted.
Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from judgment or reprisal.
Yes, Jarrar, I’m now speaking directly to you. I personally don’t care if you’re a representative of your school or simply a citizen whenever you decide to vomit your degrading, demeaning, and derogatory statements all over the Internet. As a human being I find your lack of empathy disturbing and your overall point of view completely short-sighted. You are the perfect example of how decent human beings should not behave. Your negative attitude is a disease that unfortunately, seems to be eating away at our society.
As professors, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are supposed to be role models. It surprises me that as an English professor, you lack the ability to express yourself in a more constructive way.
I’m not delusional. I know you you’ll continue to think you’re a bad-ass, when in fact, you’re just an ass. You’ll likely continue to spew venom whenever you open your mouth and your laptop.
In the end, you’ve managed to fool yourself into believing you stand for something. In reality, you’re nothing but a bully with an over-sized ego who likes to throw virtual rocks at old people.
Monday, October 9, 2017 will forever be burned into my memory as the day I found out I have breast cancer. Fast forward almost 5 months later, past the surgeries, the radiation, the tears, the frustration, the fear. I’m so ready to move on.
When I finished 29 of 30 treatments yesterday, I pulled out of the hospital parking lot and noticed the plethora of pink stickers all over the back of the car in front of me. I found myself wondering why was I not as motivated as many of these other women to wear pink pins on my clothes, or pink ribbons around my wrists, or a pink hat on my head, or get a pink tattoo, or place pink magnets and stickers on the back of my car? Why am I so timid about making my battle public in such a visual way? As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve blogged about my cancer. Is there something wrong with me? Am I still in denial? Am I still hoping the oncologist will call me and say, “Guess what? We got it all wrong. Turns out, you don’t have cancer. How ‘bout that?” Perhaps.
Then, another woman posted the same question to a breast cancer support group’s social media page this morning. She felt the same as I and was genuinely curious. Why so much pink everywhere? I felt relief I wasn’t alone in my confusion and in my complete apathy for pink and the ribbons that almost always accompany it.
The responses were heartfelt and moving. Some were even defensive. For some, this is the single most difficult thing they’ve ever had to try to overcome in their whole life. All the pink served as a reminder they are a fighter. They were proud of their survivor status. Others were not only battling cancer, but also had already lost loved ones to the cursed disease, so all the pink was in memory of those loved ones who died. Their answers make sense. I feel the same way; yet, I still find myself recoiling from most things that are cancer-related and pink. It’s been so confusing because pink is one of my favorite colors, but despite that fact, some days I avoid wearing a pink sweater or a pink blouse (even though they have nothing to do with breast cancer) because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m wearing that color because I have breast cancer. I know. It’s weird.
After reading all the responses and seeing I’m not alone in my feelings, I felt somewhat better, but still needed to explore why I feel so differently from many of my brave, pink sisters. So naturally, I decided to think about it out loud by writing about it. I hope others who feel the same way will get some type of comfort from this admission.
The reasons why I don’t openly wear pink ribbons or put pink stuff on my car and most likely won’t ever, ever, ever, get a pink tattoo:
After spending way more time thinking about this topic than I should have this morning, here’s my conclusion. Having cancer is one of many bumps in the road some of us will have to navigate around in this drag race we call life. Like any other obstacle, I plan to drive right through it and stick my middle finger out the window at it as I watch it fade away in the rear-view mirror. I don’t need or want pink ribbons all over my possessions to remind me of my battle with cancer; nor do I want cancer to be the focal point of my existence while I’m still existing. Full disclosure - I do have some pink ribbon socks and a t-shirt. Most of the time I wear them to bed.
Finally, I have no delusions this battle is over. I have one more radiation treatment to go followed by at least five years of the medication, tamoxifen, and the knowledge that it’s possible for the cancer to come back at any time while I live out the rest of my days. But while I’m living out the rest of my days, I want to focus on other things besides cancer.
I was engaged in an interesting debate online regarding the concepts of racism and sexism. It all started with this comment posted by a Facebook friend:
Annnnnnnd queue the keyboard warriors. This debate is interesting for many reasons. First, it clearly shows that people have vastly different ideas of what the terms racism and sexism mean. A few (including myself) even provided definitions from external sources. I’m not going to post all of the different definitions here. You can easily look them up for yourself. Suffice it to say, just as with any word, there are multiple meanings, so everyone in this debate arguing over the definition wasn’t entirely wrong.
I’m writing today to focus on the concept of sexism and power. We’ll save racism for another day. Because I believe there is a myth being perpetuated that is a danger to all women everywhere. Sexism is not the myth I’m talking about. Yes, sexism absolutely exists. That’s not even up for debate. I’m talking about the myth that sexism is based on power and that women do not have power; therefore, they cannot be sexist. Let’s drill down further, to this concept of power, where I believe, underscores our differing perceptions. Look at the following responses to the above comment:
I want to focus on the idea that women are not in power. Can women have power? If you go by the response here, “Because she is not in power,” the answer must be no. The default presumption is a man has power and a woman doesn’t. Before continuing, it’s important to note the person who posted this comment is female. It’s an important factor because it made me realize just how completely different two women’s mindsets can be regarding the idea of power and how it pertains to us as women.
In her mind, women automatically do not have power. I take this to mean, regardless the situation, regardless the people involved, regardless of the professional / social role, a woman is powerless. No ma'am. Not me. Not ever. Not in 2018.
My jaw drops at this bleak outlook of our sex. I think it’s completely wrong. Women, listen up, please.
WE. ARE. NOT. POWERLESS.
Even systemically. Hear me out.
The most blatant form of sexism I have ever personally encountered was when I made the decision at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Marine Corps. I’ll give you two examples. Example 1 involves sexism demonstrated by a black male. Example 2 involves sexism demonstrated by a white female.
Example 1: I walked into the recruiting station and declared I wanted to be a Marine. The recruiter told me to sit down at his desk and wait so that he could walk down the hall to an office located in the back of the recruiting station to talk to his superior. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them. Here’s what I remember the conversation sounding like:
Gunny, this girl is here and says she wants to be a Marine. What do I gotta do to get rid of her?
Give her the tests, and when she fails them, get rid of her.
Blatant sexism, right? Easy one to spot. And on the surface, you might even think they were able to be sexist because they were in power. You’d be wrong though. I was not powerless.
If I were powerless, I would not have had the option to become a Marine in the first place. The option was still there. If I were powerless, I would not have played their game and maxed out on all the tests. If I were powerless, I would not have made it to Parris Island. If I were powerless, I would not have been a graduating member of the Honor Platoon at Parris Island. If I were powerless, I would never have worn that uniform.
Going back to that critical moment in time, facing the blatant sexism, I realize it had NOTHING to do with power, systemic or otherwise. It had everything to do with PERCEIVED power. Truly, in that moment in time, I was the one with all the power because I was the one with the choice. I was the only one who could make the decision to stay or run.
I’m going to move on to the next part of this myth, that women cannot be sexist, and go ahead and call bullshit on that idea.
Example 2: My mother brought one of her biker buddies home from the bar as a scare tactic to convince me to not join the service. He was an older Vietnam vet who served in the Army. He yelled at me for quite some time, telling me I’d never make it as a Marine, and if I did, they would just send me to Guam where I would be raped repeatedly every day. Yes. That happened. Thanks, mom. No really. Thanks. Because that experience only strengthened my resolve.
Let’s focus on my mother and how this is an example of how a woman can be sexist. Merriam-Webster online defines sexism as:
As you can see, the definitions include nothing about power, but they do define sexism in relation to attitudes and behaviors that promulgate discrimination based on sex. It also points out sexism tends to happen especially against women. But that doesn’t mean women can’t be sexist. My mother didn’t think I could make it as a Marine because I’m a girl. Plain and simple. Whether her actions were based on fear and wanting to protect her daughter doesn’t matter. It’s a moot point. At the end of the day, her actions were based on her belief in a stereotype that women (especially her daughter) should not, and could not, make it in the Marine Corps. That, by all standards of the actual definition according to Merriam-Webster, is sexism. So, yes, a woman can be sexist (whether she is fostering stereotypes of men or women).
Let’s shift the focus again back to the concept of power and the belief that women don’t have any. Even in the second example, I was not powerless. Again, because I was the one with the power of choice.
I was the only one who had any real power in both of those situations where I experienced sexism. I had the power, because I had the power of choice. Regardless of what I overheard in the recruiter’s office, I had a choice to run and cry about it or to stay and prove them wrong. Regardless of my mother’s attempts, I had a choice to fall in line or to move forward and prove her wrong.
In the end, my main goal in writing this is to leave a clear and loud message to all the young women out there trying to figure out where you stand in this crazy world. Don’t you ever let anyone (your mother, father, friends, teachers, or politicians) tell you just because you’re a woman that you don’t have power.
THAT IS UTTER BULLSHIT. It’s condescending. It’s patronizing. And it’s a completely dangerous mindset that only serves to undermine and undo your belief in yourself and in your ability to achieve your goals. FUCK THAT.
You have all the power in the world! Yes, sexism exists, and it can be expressed by anyone and everyone, regardless of status and their perceived power. The ONLY time a sexist can have power over you is if you allow it. So, don’t.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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