Back In Philly!

My adopted city is gritty, underdeveloped and dangerous in parts, artsy and hipster in all the right ways, and capable of being so much more than it is.

View from 30th Street Station

View from 30th Street Station

Philadelphia, I’ve missed you.

There are many reasons why I chose to move back to Philly from my hometown of NYC. But one of the main reasons for my return to Philly is that, unlike NYC which has systematically pushed me–and many other natives and aspiring young folks–out of its reach, Philly has made space for all our millenial seekers and dreamers.

Instead of being overrun with Starbucks and generic imitations of character, Philly is chock full of mom and pop cafes, innovative restaurants and hidden artistic gems. Walking down its streets and alleyways, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve been transported back to this nation’s birth, to a time of unbridled potential. And it’s all a much more affordable experience than in many of the other big cities.

I’ll always have a place in my heart for NYC. But right now, my feelings towards that grand city are love-hate. The city has surely become a subject of jokes; according to The Onion, all 8.4 million New Yorkers left the city in a mass exodus because they needed to, “get the hell out of this sewer.”

NOT IN MY BACKYARD!

Columbus Circle during the winter.

The article was certainly worth a chuckle. But then I saw that the New York Daily News published a story just yesterday about how and why various people chose to leave the “huge expensive prison.”

As a cab driver once told me, Philadelphia is “the largest small town.” It’s easy to see why he felt this way. Subjectively, I’ve noticed a sizeable number of community non-profits that focus on the betterment of specific neighborhoods and the city as a whole. Philadelphians are very proud of their city and all that it has to offer. Many of its buildings and homes have remained intact for over a hundred years. And at a micro-level, the Philly accent is so unique that it has been credited as changing the language more, at a faster rate, than anywhere else in the English speaking world.

It’s “Cheesesteak” speech, according to writer and native Philadelphian Jim Quinn.

Unlike in New York City, in Philadelphia you’re allowed to smile at people, and talk to shop clerks and cab drivers. The city is a constantly changing, user-friendly interface that is a beautiful amalgam of DIY, Handyman special and old world charm.

Ultimately, I think one of the main aspects that differentiates Philly from my hometown is its local authenticity. It’s not trying to be anything else–at least, not from what I’ve seen. Sure, it ebbs and flows like any other city, morphing and regenerating, improving and taking steps back.

But while New York City residents wear their city like a title, Philly residents wear it like a nickname.

Philly is undergoing a glorious renaissance, carving a new niche for itself while maintaining a very universal appeal. I’m excited to continue growing with the city where I went to college, where I came of age and became a person.

Philly, thanks for welcoming back.

Rittenhouse Neighborhood

Rittenhouse Neighborhood

The Real Middle Eastern Controversy

When I was a student writer for USA Today back in 2012, I wrote a story about the violence in Gaza. My angle was college students; namely, I wanted to know how both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian youngsters felt about the attacks. Let me be perfectly clear that the University of Pennsylvania is a hotbed for debates regarding Middle Eastern affairs. The campus is about a third Jewish (a demographic that tends to favor Israel) and is the home of a very popular JStreet chapter. It also happened to be a prime site for the BDS movement.

I expected a fiery article that would either end or jumpstart my fledgling journalistic career. I felt that this article would get me blacklisted, or at least make me famous. I thought this was going to be one heck of a controversial piece. 

Surprisingly, every student I spoke with had the same response: they wanted peace in the Middle East. Regardless of their own opinions of which side was right or wrong, they were all seemingly willing to make certain concessions to get their families out of harm’s way, and to get soldiers off the field. This generation of Israelis and Palestinians don’t want fighting.

Today, it’s my turn to take a stand on one of the most controversial topics of our time. And no, it’s not war or the Middle East, but rather something more gruesome yet unconscionably politicized.

Today, I want to talk about the murder of four children.

After the recent tragedies in the Middle East, both the Twitterverse and geopolitical demagogues have been taking sides and arguing incessantly about Israeli legitimacy and Palestinian rights, or visa versa. Regardless of your opinion on who’s right, we need to all agree, once and for all, that murdering children, for any reason, is wrong.

I also want to stress that neither side’s government sanctioned these killings. Just like how the VAST majority of Muslims in the US have no desire to become suicide bombers, much of the violence between the two sides seems to be coming from extremist groups, like Hamas. These extremists do not characterize Israel or Palestine, much like how the orchestrators of the US’s recent spate of mass shootings are in no way representative of our nation as a whole.

It’s sickening that these poor souls are now becoming poster children for war, and that their own tragic ends may well foster further, unbridled violence from a generation that’s no longer even in the field. 

Furthermore, just because you support Israel doesn’t mean you support its politics. Likewise, supporting Palestine doesn’t mean you condone all its actions. Even as someone who has a well-defined opinion on the matter, I will be the first to admit that the feud is historically, politically, and culturally complex and that it deserves dialogue, support, and open-mindedness.

As intelligent world citizens, we owe it to the people living in these war zones to do our research and learn to separate our ideologies from their troubling realities, before spitting out cruel catchphrases like the oft-repeated belief that Israel needs to be bombed out of existence, or Golda Meir’s famous quotation: “We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” 

(Although, as a side note, I’d like to point out that Meir’s phrase is often misquoted. The complete statement starts off with: “… We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children…”)

Have your wars and your conflicts. Have your geopolitically-fraught opinions, but keep the children out of this. The four children in question weren’t political entities. They were innocent. Let’s keep them that way.

Small Ways In Which We Attack Ourselves

If I had a nickel for every person who has told me that I’d be “so pretty” if I wore more makeup…

…Or that I should eat less because otherwise I might get fat…

…Then I’d actually be able to afford my Chipotle addiction.

As women, we really do a job both on our own and on other women’s self esteems. We carry around this idea that we “can’t be pretty unless [FILL IN THE BLANK].”

And that [FILL IN THE BLANK] is constantly changing.

I’m not just talking about the oft-mentioned complaint that women think they’d look perfect if only they could lose those last ten pounds (those bastards!). What we’re dealing with is an attack that’s not only hiring us emotionally, but also physically.

For instance, have you ever heard the phrase All Women Should Color Their Hair? No? I’ve heard this piece of advice spouted like the secret to happiness on several TV shows, including Millionaire Matchmaker.

How about the intense pressure we have to forego open-toed shoes if our nails aren’t polished? The mani-pedi is so ingrained into our study that, even though many of the chemicals in nail polished are highly carcinogenic, we hold man-pedi fundraisers for breast cancer research, and bond with our daughters at the nail salons.

In fact, many cosmetics are untested or believed to be quite toxic. But don’t even think about going au naturale, because that’s a revolutionary new movement, and you still want to fit in and get dates and jobs, right?

And then there’s clothing. Apparently, to be a proper lady, you need to go broke buying shoes and bags. My apologies, but maybe I’d prefer to have one good pair of shoes and purse and save the rest of that money for rent and travel.

Every time I walk down the Upper East Side, my bare face and casual outfit get looked up and down. I have been raised to never go on a date or to a job interview without makeup (though nixing makeup for interviews may indeed be a don’t in today’s society). And I can’t tell you how many times people have told me: “You’d look so nice if only you wore MAKE UP!”

Another phrase I hate? She looks like she doesn’t take care of herself.

And stranger, how do you know she doesn’t take care of herself? Would plastering carcinogens on her face and going broke on designer clothes mean that she actually is taking care of herself? Are we going with the old, outdated motto that red lipstick brings confidence and that beauty means self love? Sorry, but this is something we can’t completely blame on the media.

Let’s all try something. It’s kind of radical, but it’s pretty fun. Let’s just Not Pay Attention To Our Looks.

Instead of spending hours on hair, makeup, and clothes every morning, take the time to read the newspaper before work over a nice mug of tea or coffee. Or engage in new hobbies, now that you’re not worrying about the state of your hair or tummy.

And put down the fashion mags. One of the things I miss about Europe was the paucity of ads and media targeting female insecurities. The less you look and buy, the more likely that these companies will get the picture.

Ladies, let’s stop adding the qualifiers already. In fact, let’s stop talking about beauty in general. Get out of the salons and go live!

Missing College? It’s Kinda Our Faults

“College will be the best time of your life!”–Every obnoxious person ever

The time we spend in college really is a very unique period in our lives. Never again will we have such freedom, such passion, such abandon. If we make a mistake, that’s okay! we’re learning.

If we run out of money, our parents will just flush our bank accounts with cash.

College is just a big, drunken, sex-filled party that’s some work and all play.

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Except that’s not accurate for all of us. Some of us are poor and have to budget even more when we’re paying for skyrocketing tuition. And many of us struggle to find our niches among the hordes of newly independent, overgrown teenagers.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun times in college. But have you ever wondered why we can’t seem to recreate those wonderful moments? Why does the fun seem to stop after college?

A picture I took of my campus after the rain

A picture I took of my campus after the rain

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually our fault if our lives go downhill after college.

Let me explain:

In college, it’s expected that your neighbors will barge in at odd hours to play video games. It’s almost a ritual to get McDonalds with your best friends several times a week at 1am. And we’re told to use doorstops so we can, you know, make new friends and welcome the old ones back into our roach-infested bedroom-closet hybrids.

Unlikely friendships--like some of the ones that happen in the college--can be the best kinds of friendships!

Unlikely friendships–like some of the ones that happen in the college–can be the best kinds of friendships!

As adults, we lock our doors. We don’t talk to the person living next door, or invite the lady upstairs to coffee. And at the actual coffee shop, there’s a 99.99% chance you won’t talk to any strangers. We have “meet up groups” which are these artificial “clubs” that kind of force you to make friends, and we join these instead of legit organizations that we never had time for at school because sh*t’s scary, man. And that’s if we join anything at all: why drunkenly meet a new boy(friend) at a party or soberly meet a future spouse in a library when you can drink vodka on OKCupid or, better yet, Tinder or Grindr? Frankly, I get the feeling that we forget how to bond post-college.

I also feel like we get less spontaneous and that we lose our passion as we age. Sure, we have things to worry about now, like taxes and bills and enlarged prostates. But that doesn’t mean we need to forget how to live life to the fullest. I think there actually is a benefit to out-of-control hormones and poorly formed frontal cortexes because as college students we’re more willing to go backpacking for months on end, or stay out until 5am at a concert, or study something useless for four years just because it seemed like a good idea at the time (like English *cough*).

Don't let life pass you by!

Don’t let life pass you by!

As college students, we get close because we’re scared. There’s safety in numbers when we’re first learning the ropes, and after that the extra company just makes life more comfortable.

Post-college, as we take on adult jobs and mortgages, the fear sets in again. Only this time, instead of causing us to embrace the happy-awkward-awful soup of emotions and insane but lovable characters that populate our campuses, fear paralyzes us.

We could extend college through old age, if we wanted to. Imagine a world where we continued to take classes, hang out with our neighbors on a daily basis, and go on irresponsible road trips just because we wanted to try authentic chicken with waffles and someone just happened to have a car? What if we could schedule “study dates” with that cute guy in anthro who will never, ever know about your crush on him unless he, like, texts you ON A WEEKEND?

What if we got really involved in things because we were cock-eyed optimists or going through a phase and we protested things like fossil fuels and random wars that were due for a backlash anyway?

And let’s not forget the care packages from parents (I’m sure our parents and/or older relatives are dying to send us cookies) and experimenting with poor lifestyle choices like leggings as pants and going after our dreams because a disgruntled professor or boss hasn’t gotten to us yet.

Junk food in care packages = lots of caring <3

Junk food in care packages = lots of caring <3

Does this sound like college? No? Well, this is what nostalgia can do. These are the best parts of college, and now that we’re old enough to realize that, why settle for adulthood? We’re old, not dead. We are in the best possible position because we now have the indpendence to pick and choose which parts of college to keep, and which ones to nix forever, such as exams and bad dating prospects.

These are the best years of your life. Don’t let them pass you by.

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#LiesToldByFemales Answers #WhyINeedFeminism

I love Twitter.

Twitter is a great tool for getting quick news updates, finding out about sales, and sharing snarky jokes in just 140 brisk characters.

But, unfortunately, it also seems to be a place where misogynists feel free to say whatever they want and even receive support from the Twitterverse.

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One of the more troubling hashtags to trend–possibly taking a page from the #WhyIDontNeedFeminism hashtag–is #LiesToldByFemales. Not only has it been trending HARD for the past 24 hours or so, but it’s also been perpetuating some of the uglier aspects of slut shaming and rape culture.

Take for instance the above tweet, which reads: “#LiesToldByFemales – This is my first time.” What troubles me about this specific line–and trust me, MANY people have tweeted this exact same sentiment–is that it gives men the authority to decide whether or not to believe us and if they should move forward with a sexual act we might not actually want.

But we’re female, so we lie about everything. No point in listening to us!

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And when we’re not lying or trying to navigate the virgin/whore dichotomy which makes us out to be either prudes or subhuman, depending on how often we have sex, we’re too drunk to be responsible for our actions. Whoops!

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Or we’re “hoes.” And “girls.” We don’t even get to be human or adult. And if we say we hate this classification, we’re just whiny hoes.

Let me clarify something right now: when a woman says it’s “her first time” or that she “normally doesn’t do this,” regardless of whether or not it’s true (and yes, these phrases are sometimes true) she actually might be trying to tell you something a bit deeper: she feels uncomfortable.

Maybe she feels uncomfortable with her sexuality, or maybe she’s feeling some kind of pressure, either externally or within. Or maybe she feels uncomfortable because her partner is pressuring her. Either way, we need to always assume that these phrases are true because women have the right to say “no” to sexual advances, regardless of how many times we say “yes.” Call us crazy, but women consider each partner and sexual encounter a unique experience, and we like being able to choose who we do what with.

Because, you know, the “female” part of that hashtag is referring to a female “person,” not a female “dog.”

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And the fact that this awful hashtag is trending is only one reason #WhyINeedFeminism. I also need feminism because, even though science has actually proven that sexual assault in bars has nothing to do with alcohol or sexual desire and everything to do with power, women are still blamed for it.

I need feminism because sexual violence is not only an issue at bars and clubs, but also on college campuses where one in four women survive rape. Not only that, but the assailants are often given better treatment than the victims.

I need feminism because despite all that, no one mentions that the vast majority of rapes happen on dates.

I need feminism because revenge porn is a thing, and can be devastating to victims. Women who are unfortunate enough to find their pictures on revenge porn sites have trouble finding employment and maintaining relationships. They are also regularly harassed by coworkers and neighbors. As for women who choose to (legally) enter the sex industry, they can expect similar vitriol.

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I need feminism because one in three women are assaulted in the EU. The number seem to be slightly better in the US, where it’s closer to one in five.

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I need feminism because there is still a pay gap. Depending on who you ask, we make either 91 cents on the dollar, or 77. Part of this is because we’re less likely to work full-time and take on lower-paying jobs, but hey, it’s not like we’re getting help on the child care front.

I need feminism because my body is being legislated by men who, arguable, don’t know how it works.

Lastly, I need feminism because this system is also failing men. It’s stigmatized for a man to come forward if he’s raped–which does occasionally happen–and society still doesn’t fully accept stay-at-home dads or men with unconventional interests, like fashion.

This list is far from exhaustive, but I can’t spend the whole night writing because I have a lifetime to try and combat these inequalities. So please, if someone ever goes into a monologue about why they don’t need feminism, feel free to attack them (with facts).

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Global Climate Change: the Misunderstood Teenager

Let’s play the word associations game! When someone starts talking to you about “global warming” or “global climate change,” what normally comes to mind? Penguins? Storms? Palm trees?

While I couldn’t find much research on this point, I’ve noticed that most of the articles about global climate change either show pictures of polar bears or of chimneys emitting reams of what we can only assume is CO2. And when I spoke with my friends about this topic, I got every response from “we need to recycle more” and “I don’t know much about it” to “it’s been too cold this winter for this to still be an issue.”

This is what some people think global warming means...

This is what some people think global warming means…

A recent APA study found that, while most people believe in human-induced warming, we tend to under-value or ignore its possible, devastating effects. Let’s be clear: most people believe that global warming is human-induced and dangerous. But we don’t seem to really care to fix the situation.

This struck me as a bit odd: we were all pretty on top of it when research indicated that obesity was dangerous. But for something that can and will harm the entire world, we’re more like meh.

Here’s my take on why no one really cares about global climate change: the issue has a serious marketing and outreach problem.

Let me be very clear about this: global climate change poses a clear and present danger to civilizationIt will affect all of us.

If you don’t believe me, read one of the many links above from such trustworthy sources as The New York Times, World Bank, ABC News and PLOS. The fact that scientists have seen the need to get out from behind the microscope to rant and rave to the media about the issue should be a clear sign that things are about to get real.

But it’s also a very abstract issue. Do these scientists really think that someone in Miami or Buenos Aires is going to care if a glacier in the arctic melts? Or if a polar bear gets stranded? Or, maybe a bit more sickeningly: if residents of a small village across the world die from starvation or flooding?

I’m in communications/marketing. One of the first things I learned was that people will only be drawn in by universals, things that affect them and/or interest them. You might donate money to people in the destroyed village, or feel bad for the polar bear who’s trapped on a solo piece of ice. But for most of us, that’s just not our fight.

This isn’t like smoking or obesity that can be dangerous to an individual–possibly YOU–and that has a seemingly less complicated answer (although I’d argue smoking and obesity can be very complex, but that’s not for this post). These issues are easier to target and understand.

Stop smoking and wear a patch. Don’t start at all. Smoking can kill you.

Eat a healthy diet, and take up running. Obesity can cause illnesses that can harm or kill you.

So what’s the best way to get people to care about global climate change? And how can we make our votes count so that the next round of elected officials work to solve this problem?

Change the outreach. Make environmental education a default in schools, and stop pretending this 25-page mess is readable for the average person.

Nothing incites me to actions like a good graph

Nothing incites me to action like a good graph

In fact, maybe Sesame Street and other fun, interactive children’s entertainment should consider taking on this worthy cause. And for the love of humanity, simplify!

Advertise to the selfish people we truly are. There are a lot of rules about how to create engaging content, and, frankly, the people who are trying to draw attention to global climate change aren’t following a single one. Put us in the victims’ shoes and show how each and every one of us will be affected. Frankly, I don’t give a d*mn about polar bears. But I do care if I have to leave NYC–where I was born and still live–because it will be totally flooded out.

NOT IN MY BACKYARD!

NOT IN MY BACKYARD!

A couple of solid marketing and media campaigns can help.

Be honest with us about how we can solve the problem. Yes, recycling and using renewable shopping bags is important. But you’re infantilizing us and taking the onus off the big polluters by making these our only real options. I’ve tried joining several environmental and political groups, hoping to address the bigger issues, but all they can talk about is composting. Even those of us who care are totally misinformed.

For my part, I’ve been trying to figure out how to start a lobby, or get a marketing campaign off the ground. So far, I haven’t figured it out. It’s unfortunate that this is such an inaccessible issue. But maybe, after all, ego is what’s going to really kill us.

Beautiful, Successful…And Feminist

Somehow, it’s still a common misconception that all feminists are ugly, unsuccessful women. And the Twitterverse supports this belief:

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Although this belongs to a joke Twitter account, it exposed some serious anti-feminist commenters and followers

The above screenshot is only one example of the “only ugly failures are feminists” trope. I’ve seen and heard many other examples.

There is no “gray area” in feminism. Since “feminism” is literally the, “belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” you can only really fit into two categories: feminist, or sexist. There is no “other” that you can check off to fit in with everyone. Anyone can be a feminist, regardless of race, religion, social status, sex, and sexual orientation.

I’ve gotten sick of this “feminists are inferior” garbage. I’d love to have an academic debate–or even an ethics discussion on why it’s inappropriate to deny rights on the basis of looks or job status. But I’ve hit my breaking point, and have decided to fight fire with fire.

Below is a list of six beautiful, successful starlets who somehow didn’t get the memo that they can’t be feminists. Oops!

Jennifer Aniston

Best known for her role as the ever-so-quirky Rachel on Friends, this award-winning actress is also the face of many St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital commercials, an LGBT ally, and a big-time supporter of Doctors Without Borders. Recently, she’s been quoted as saying: “Feminism is about being strong. It’s about being confident and able to say, ‘I can do just a good a job as any man.'”

Taken from Wikipedia

Between this, and her amazing interview with Gloria Steinem, Aniston is showing another generation of women that being a feminist kicks *ss.

Beyonce Knowles-Carter

Bow down to Queen Bey! Beyonce is, by far, one of the most talented artists in the music industry. In fact, several of her songs–including “Single Ladies” and “Halo”–are listed as some of the best-selling singles of all time. She’s a serial Grammy-winning artist, philanthropist, entrepreneur, wife, mother…and proud feminist.

Source: Handbag.com

In fact, she wrote a whole essay on the Shriver Report website bemoaning the fact that gender equality is still only a myth. She is a self-defined, “modern-day feminist.”

Natalie Portman

Portman is arguably the definition of success. This Harvard graduate co-authored two scientific studies, supports myriad political causes, and has serious acting credentials. The winner of numerous awards for her bone-chilling role in Black Swan, Portman once made a beautiful critique of women in movies: “The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist; that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”

Source: Wikimedia

Olivia Wilde

We loved Wilde in HouseHer, and Cowboys and Aliens. But Wilde doesn’t just limit herself to acting. She’s also a model, screenwriter, director, producer…and expectant mother. She’s advocated for many noble causes, including healthcare, anti-poverty initiatives, and voting, and we’re thrilled that she’s adding female empowerment to that list. In fact, she gave a moving speech at a panel on the “State of Female Justice.”

Source: Wikipedia

Mila Kunis 

We loved her as Jackie in That 70’s Show, hated her in Black Swan and sympathized with her in Friends with Benefits. Named “sexiest woman alive” by Esquire in 2012, Kunis also has a hot feminist streak. Not only has she been quoted complaining about sexism in Hollywood, but she is currently producing a decidedly feminist drama for the CW.

Source: Wikimedia

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley is best known for her roles in period pieces like Pride and PrejudiceAnna Karenina,  and Silk. However, her repertoire encompasses multiple genres, and even the non-history buffs among us were enchanted by her roles in Love Actually and Never Let Me Go.

Source: Wikimedia

But Knightley, who has also been noted for her support of humanitarian causes and her role in the controversial anti-domestic abuse film, Cut, hopes to further the conversation on feminism: “I think it’s great that the discussions are finally being allowed to be had [about feminism], as opposed to anybody mentioning feminism and everybody going, ‘Oh, f**king shut up.’ Somehow, it became a dirty word. I thought it was really weird for a long time, and I think it’s great that we’re coming out of that.” 

I’m so glad these successful beauties are fighting for such a wonderful cause! Which other starlets belong on this list?