Thank You. Fairwell.

Nearly exactly three years ago, I was walking into my very first classroom, my very first day of teaching at the University of Akron, my very first day of teaching Women’s Studies. Though I cannot remember what I was wearing, I remember sweating through every layer. I remember how badly my hands shook and how thankful I was that there was a portable podium in the classroom for my notes to rest on. (I couldn’t let those undergraduates see my shaking hands and know I was scared shitless.) I remember deliberately being firm, laying down the law, while I went over class policy. This was a first-day tip that had been drilled into all the graduate teaching assistants, campus-wide, at the orientation the week before. I remember thinking: “What if they suspect I just graduated in the spring and I’m the same age as them? Or younger? What about my students who are older than me by decades! What will they think?” “What if they know I know nothing?” “What if they eat me alive?”

This anxiety was nearly the same everyday for the first eight weeks of the semester, not lessening until after midterm time. And even on the days I felt confident that I knew what I was talking about, I still sweat and I still wondered if today would be the day they would realize I was really just one of them parading around in teacher’s clothing, doing a really good impression of a women’s studies scholar and instructor. Even in my last semester of teaching, this spring of 2010, there were days where I sweat through my clothes and wondered who would find me out. Which student was the mole?   

Despite my anxiety about teaching, I’ve loved (nearly) everything about it. Despite knowing little (in comparison to so many other real-deal scholars) about women’s studies as a discipline, I’ve loved everything about that, too.  So behind the scenes, I’ve spent countless hours in my office waiting for students to come in with questions, concerns, needing extra assistance. (I’ve spent so much time here I’m on first-name basis with the janitorial and maintenance staff around the building, evidence that I’m not exaggerating.) Of course, hardly anyone ever stopped in without being required and so while I waited for students to (not) show up, I worked tirelessly on lesson plans and on grading, often bringing these things home with me.  I made up games and new activities to supplement their textbooks, tried to find other texts that would interest them and be accessible and relatable to them as people and to classroom content. This too came home. I hosted extra credit movie nights and I encouraged their participation or attendance at campus events. I got involved with The UA Annual Benefit Performane of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and other various women-centered activities. I went to conferences, presented at symposiums, wrote for the blog. In short, I have eaten, slept, and breathed women’s studies since August 2007. It has been nearly my full time job and my entire life (regardless of my full-time graduate status in a Masters program, of course. Yes, I’m an overachiever.)  

And over these last few years my passion and enthusiasm for teaching and for the field of women’s studies has grown, changed, and intensified. It has integrated itself into my way of life and my way of thinking and seeing, feeling and acting. Women’s studies, for me, has become some kind of invisible cloak, matching everything else in my wardrobe, fitting for every occasion—school, work, parties, formal wear—and is always the in-thing, changing with the times, changing as our society and culture does, changing as our laws and politics (including personal ones) ebb and flow. (And it makes my ass look great. Just kidding.) Honestly, this entire experience is one of my most valuable possessions. But tomorrow will be my last day in the office and my last day as a graduate assistant. This is my last post for the blog.

I hardly end anything I do without some form of closure and, being a writer, this seems the most appropriate way to try to execute even a small amount of that. I’m not entirely sure that closure is what I’m after since I have no intention of forgetting these last three years of incredible growth and opportunity, of self-discovery and self-definition. I don’t know that I’ll never teach women’s studies again but I don’t know if I will either. Who knows what life has to offer or where it may lead. I guess, then, I’m leaving this particular location, this particular office, this particular group of people, but I’m not leaving women’s studies, or the things it has given me. I’m taking all of that with me.

Perhaps this post is more a thankyou and fairwell to the University of Akron’s women’s studies program.  Perhaps it is a goodbye to this stage of life. Whatever it is, this is my way of saying it, even if doing it poorly. There are no real words to offer here. There is no real way of showing my gratitude for the things I have gained or even a way of listing all the things that have been. So, before this post gets any longer or continues to ramble anymore, I will end by saying:

Women’s studies, you have given me more than imaginable, all of which will not be forgotten, and all of which will be taken and used wherever I go.  I hope you continue to succeed in reaching people’s lives. Remember, as the poster in my office used to say, “You’re in the world to change the world.” You’ve certainly changed mine. Thank you.  Fairwell.

Writing “On the Inside,” Working with Women in Prison

My professor asked me if I would be interested in working with the women in prison, who were taking his Introduction to Literature course through the YSU system, as I portion of my independent study. I’ve worked with domestic violence victims, individuals with persistent mental health diagnoses, the geriatric population in rehabilitation and assisted living centers, elementary and middle school aged students at summer camps and programs, and of course, college undergraduates. But women in the prison system would be the first. Being that I am almost always excited about meeting new people and having new and unique opportunities such as this, I accepted immediately.

“What do you want me to do?”

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

I thought about it for days, keeping it in the back of my mind as I read selections from their assigned anthology, following along in the class syllabus. How could I contribute to this course while giving something useful and meaningful to these women? How could I contribute my own background in writing and teaching? How could I incorporate my women’s studies orientation and my feminist principles? The project, whatever it would it be, was already turning out to be massive if it was to meet all these objectives. This, of course, shouldn’t have surprised me.  I jump long before anyone says to and typically much higher and longer than anyone ever really expects.

When I met with my professor two weeks later, I had decided I wanted to engage the women in a project that would aim to compile their creative works into a final anthology. The only requirement being that their work had to focus on some aspect of their personal experiences as a woman and was not limited to being a woman inside the prison system. They had ownership over what experience to write, how to write it, how many pieces to submit, etc. I would merely point them in a direction, provide some deadlines, offer some feedback, and type. A lot.  It was the perfect way (in my mind) to keep the project reading-inspired and writing-focused, incorporate my skills as a teacher, writer, and feminist, and to include feminist philosophies and pedagogical theories.

The following week I was hooked up to a microphone and standing in front of a giant screen, several women, of all ages and various races, all dressed in uniform, sat watching me. Teaching has come naturally to me the last few years, but this was stiff and awkward. There were bodies and faces, but they weren’t three dimensional and it was hard to engage with normal energy and enthusiasm when I felt like I was nothing more than a dull, afternoon special. My professor assured me he would set up site visits at each facility and instruction would be much easier.  

After a brief introduction and some reading of my own work, I pitched the project to them hoping it might liven things up, get some energy going.

“You want us to write whatever we want?” one asked repeatedly.

“Yeah, whatever you want as long as it’s got something to do with being a woman.”

“And you don’t care how it’s written?” another asked, not buying it.

“Well, I want to be able to read it and understand it, but I don’t care if it’s poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. And it can be of any style or form.”

“Whatever we want? For real?”


“And then you’re gonna put it together for us?”


“And give us each a copy?”


They kind of looked around at each other, back to me on screen, and then whispered among themselves.

“That sounds cool,” a couple of them finally said and many of them even smiled.

I was in.

So much of their days are scheduled for them: when they eat, when they shower, what they wear, when and if they can go outside, they had difficulty grasping this project that had few restrictions. Here, they had a chance to make the rules, to share their stories and be heard as a person not as an inmate. Here they got be recognized as an individual, not just another number in the system, by telling particular experiences significant in their own histories, experiences that have shaped the women they are now. True that some of them echoed one another, but they were individual stories and experiences nonetheless.

A few weeks later I was on my couch, sicker than a dog with some flu-like thing going around, transcribing their written words onto my computer, and crying in between nose blows. These women bared their souls in these lined sheets of paper. They told me about their drug addictions that led them to lose children or family. There were stories of their children’s deaths while they were locked away.  They wrote of the men who beat and raped them repeatedly.

One woman in particular told her story through poetry, constantly repeating the line, “I deserved it, that’s what [insert person here] said.”  The order of her story going something like this: her brother molested her, her husband beat her, her husband raped her, she killed her husband, and then the legal system gave her forty to life.

There were stories and poems about loss, death, fear, regret, pain.  But there were just as many that included love, forgiveness, survival, empowerment, hope, and faith. I wondered where this inner strength and perseverance came from. How did these women have the will to make differences in their own lives from inside a system that potentially failed them? Some of these women had been abused, driven to commit terrible crimes because of it. Some of these women didn’t have a chance to begin with because of socio-economic status, race, low educational attainment, or a combination of these.

The more I read their stories, the more the lines between victim and perpetrator became blurred and confusing. They seemed to be both the victim and perpetrator and our system did, too. I began to think that there was no truly innocent or guilty party, yet, their they all were, living out their terms, taking all the responsibility. I just wasn’t sure that was fair. Or right. Or just. I wasn’t sure what I thought but I knew it made me feel for them. And so I read. I cried. I wanted to rush to these women and hug them.  Ask them what more I could do. Who did I need to write to, where did I need to picket. Find out if this project was doing any good.   

Shortly before going into either prison to work face-to-face with them, several people asked me if I was nervous. Several people told me to be safe, to keep my eyes peeled, etc. I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t nervous. I was more bothered by people’s immediate assumption that because they were inmates they were automatically dangerous, hardened criminals who couldn’t be trusted and would want to do me harm for no apparent reason. These women had shared some of the most painful experiences of their lives with me, with poise and integrity. They felt like distant friends.  

Both visits were successful. The women were engaged with me. They were open and respectful, enthusiastic, exhibiting qualities of star students. We laughed and joked, discussed their work seriously. And while I was there, I felt such fulfillment in being a part of the project and working with them. There was something different about teaching there with them than one of my typical days at The University of Akron. It’s not that UA students are not engaged or enthusiastic, or that I don’t have a good time teaching them, but this was different.

This reached new levels. It was a new kind of teaching high. It wasn’t just instructing. It was touching. It was both, I guess. The project was one that both served to educate but also to heal, to share, to empower. Both them and me, as I read and looked to women with far worse stories than my own, still finding joy and hope in each coming day. Some of this combination of teaching and touching does occur in my Intro to Women’s Studies classroom, but not to the same extent. Maybe it was simply because I entered their world and met them at their pace rather than my UA students and myself walking common ground, sharing similar location and culture. Whatever it was, it was powerful and transforming.

They decided that the title of their anthology would be, On the Inside. Though they had very clear literal and figurative meanings, and thus, reasons for choosing this title, I don’t think they realized that I found double meaning in it, too. Not only did they welcome me to ‘the inside’ but that’s where they touched me. Way down, deep in there.

I Survived the Cleveland Women’s Show 2009 With a Little Help From My Friends: Thank You Tomboy Tools and Rose Guardian

Listening to my radio one morning as I drove around (and around and around- you University of Akron students know what I’m talking about) the Exchange parking deck desperately searching for a space and hoping the day’s parking-time would be clocked in under an hour, I heard an advertisement for the Cleveland Women’s Show. Excited for an excuse to leave all my academic responsibilities aside and hang with a friend, I checked it out online (poorly I might add, had I done a better job researching I would have already known what awaited me. But who wants to do more research when you’re already doing a ton of research? Not this gal. Sorry, I digressed), purchased a ticket, invited a friend, and anxiously awaited Sunday when I could leave all my cares, worries, homework, and grading behind. Who didn’t want to spend a day perusing Cleveland’s I-X center full of exhibits and watching little shows specifically designed for a female audience? Unfortunately, my feminist-altered mindset had created a very different expectation of the women’s show.

I had conjured up ideas of booths regarding women’s health, careers, business ventures, and protective shelters (rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters specifically). I had pictured women-centered paraphernalia spouting “girl power” ideologies. I imagined clothing, jewelry, and accessories created, designed, and made by women entrepreneurs in the arts. Or, even better, made by women in third world countries trying to make a living. I was thinking sisterhood and empowerment. I was thinking, it’s about (bleepin’) time we get some ladies together to pamper ourselves and help the rest of our sisters out there in the big scary world.

Unfortunately, “I was thinking” turned into, “what was I thinking?” Seriously, had I actually thought this expo would be about sisterhood and empowerment? About women taking control of their lives? I am one of few individuals who are consciously aware of today’s patriarchy and sexism. I know that most people are not aware of either of these things. In fact, I know most people couldn’t even define them if they wanted to. So, how did I let my expectations get so high? Lets call it hope. And lets not have that again (just kidding).

My friend and I spent the afternoon wandering up and down repetitious aisles of stereotypical female junk. Don’t get me wrong, I like a new handbag or a new sparkly piece of jewelry as much as any other girl. And I’m not against making my skin smooth or my teeth white. But come on, just how many handbags or pieces of jewelry does a woman need? Enough for, let’s say, more than ten booths worth of merchandise? And just how many different teeth- whitening, weight-loss inducing, “natural-looking” make-up (side note, all of the women who demonstrated their “natural-looking” products on me were hiding their real faces behind an orange-multilayer mask of foundation. Natural, I suppose, if you’re an Oompa Loompa.) products can a woman buy before she finally reaches “perfection”?

There were a few valid booths sprinkled throughout which addressed women’s health (Breast Cancer, Heart Disease, and Diabetes), but on a grand scheme of things, there just wasn’t much aside from the everyday commercialized femininity. It seemed that our (me and my friend) definition of “woman” was entirely different than what was being sold to us here, leaving us with an “us” (the consciously- aware chicks) versus “them” (the not-so-aware chicks) attitude. To top it off, when my friend and I were finished looking through bags, pretending to be interested; and picking up and trying on jewelry we couldn’t afford; and testing out various beauty products that were guaranteed to enhance our natural beauty; and forcing smiles through gritted jaw-clenched teeth, feeling like we were being reduced to nothing more than an object to be gazed at and adored for its wonderfully superficial aesthetic qualities, we discovered the other parts of ourselves that were being commercialized in booths: our domestic selves. Oh, goody!

A whole other section of the exhibit hall featured small stages for cooking shows and various venues for redecorating your kitchens. Once again, I’m not down on some home-cooking. I actually love to cook and bake and try new recipes. But, what exactly was this “show” trying to tell me and all the other women there? Was it that when I was done adhering to today’s beauty standards, I could go and perfect my culinary abilities and innate feminine sense of home décor? I realize that most women are still the ones positioned in the kitchen behind the stove, either by choice (and if this is your choice I don’t knock it, I’ve already identified myself as a lover of food preparation) or force, and so it seems somewhat fitting to have these types of venues present. But, by that point in the day, I was up to my ears in the bullshit, stereotyped gender roles and identities that perpetuate contemporary images of femininity and womanhood. Yes, some women do want handbags, makeup, jewelry, softer skin, less cellulite, redecorated kitchens, and a juicy steak with homemade marinades, but what about everything else? What about hobbies? Education? Professionalism? Advocacy? Equality, anyone? Where were those exhibits?

Teetering on boredom, passed disappointment and close to outrage, we went to find ourselves something to eat. I was half surprised to see venues for pizza and burgers. What, no side salads with crushed nuts sprinkled across the top and bottles of water hyped up on vitamins and minerals? How disappointing.Was I really supposed to eat a greasy, fattening cheeseburger that was going to go right to my thighs? *&$% yes! And I loved every bite. “Get thee to thy hips you delicious piece of meat.”

Following our much-needed eating break, we made our way to one of the stages in preparation for the “highlight” of the day’s festivities: the firefighter’s fashion (apparently, when they say fashion they really mean strip) show. I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see afire![1] bunch of men objectified by a huge crowd of women. I like it when the tables turn (insert evil diabolical laughter here). Unfortunately, it was only somewhat entertaining considering they were volunteering to be objectified and doing so for a worthy cause: child burn victims. To add to my disappointment, I was not  impressed with the floods of women rushing the stage to stuff dollar bills down a firefighter’s pants as he stripped to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.” It was all very primal and I found myself sadly laughing at how pathetic it all was.

We had a few more rows to get to before we’d call it a day. I think we both were hoping to be saved. “Please, let there be at least one booth in here that is worth a damn.” Miraculously, we didn’t find just one. We found two!

Tucked away in the back of the hall, virtually unnoticed, overlooked, and underappreciated, was the first saving grace: Tomboy Tools, an exhibit that glowed pink and was showered with a plethora of tools. tomboy_tools[1]Awesome, right?! I walked right up to the women running the booth. “God bless it! Thank you. Finally, a booth that actually wants women to do something other than put on their makeup and strap on a handbag.” These women were friendly and outgoing and they asked us things like, “Do you do your own home repairs?” Did she really just ask me something other than, “What make-up do you use currently?” or “Do you have problems with your skin?” Yes. Yes, they did. I loved these women. They cared that women were capable and independent. They cared that women were more than just another pretty thing. We talked shop, literally, as we gleamed over pink hammers, screwdrivers, exact-o knives, helmets, and tool belts imagining all the wonderful things we could create. Build, with our own two hands, manicured or not. And if I had a reason to buy myself a whole damn tool box, complete with tools and also serving as a stepping stool, I would have without batting a mascara-painted eyelash. I became even more impressed when I snatched their catalog, flipped it open and found the company’s mission: “To build confidence and empower women through education, quality tools and an independent business opportunity” (Tomboy Tools Product Catalog, Fall 2009, p. 2). It gets better. The tools are “pink for a purpose” (p.12). tools2[1]Tomboy Tools donates money from certain sales items to support the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer which raises money to fight breast cancer and bring awareness and education about the disease up front and center. How cool is this company? I mean, really. Their tagline: “Women. Tools. Knowledge. Pass it on.” Seriously, I am thinking about booking a Tool Party asap and you should, too. Check these ladies out at

The second saving  grace came from the Rose Guardian’s booth, a new store opening in Cleveland dedicated to self-defense and protection products for today’s women. This exhibit was totally kick-ass and provided you with everything you needed to really do so. There was so much cool stuff we had a hard time deciding which self-defense weapon to purchase. Every product looked like a harmless daily accessory, a hairbrush, comb, lipstick, etc., but in reality they were all artillery. The lipstick, dubbed Lipstick Surprise, was of particular interest to us. It looks like a real lipstick applicator, but twist that ruby- red rouge up and instead, you’ll find yourself lip locking with a Captain Hook- style blade. Unfortunately, they were sold out of those. As they should be since they rockshank[1]! No matter though, I had a love- at- first- sight moment with a navy blue pen with a gold pinstripe around the bottom of the cap (there’s my little darling to the right). I was instantly attracted to it because one, I’m a writer and as a writer I love any instrument used in the craft of writing; two, I knew it had to be a weapon and since its weaponry wasn’t visible to the naked eye, I was instantly intrigued. The very helpful Carlos ripped the beautiful pen’s cap off and voila: an incredible shanking blade (for those of you not down with the lingo, ‘to shank’ is to stab). This pen is my one true love, both crafty and deadly. Seriously, don’t mess with the girl with the pen. She’ll write you off (pun totally intended).  I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve shown since purchasing it yesterday, this is how taken I am with my little master weapon of disguise and surprise. My friend and I are already planning a trip up to Cleveland once the store actually gets up and running, which should be within the week. Until then, check them out at and see how you can outfit your purse and your person with nifty gadgets guaranteed to serve and protect. And a personal shout-out to Carlos who answered all our questions and helped us with the purchasing of our products: “Shank-you very much for such cool products designed to protect today’s women. You and the company really do kick some ass!”

And so our day at the Cleveland Women’s Show took a one-hundred-eighty degree turn for the better. We left feeling strong, mighty and capable of activating change in both our own lives and the lives of others. I guess, in some ways, I got what I went for; my expectations were met on even the smallest scale. But the credit can only be given to Tomboy Tools and Rose Guardian for making women feel empowered and ever so much more than just another pretty face.

Two dicks with pianos on spring break

pianoMy friend Ryan and I decided to head to Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach for a round of drinks and one last hoorah before spring break came to a close and it was time to treck back to cold Ohio.

Sporting sunburns and an air of relaxation, we headed to Celebrity Circle, a corner of the outdoor shopping plaza completely dedicated to drinking and dancing pleasures. We heard pianos pounding out familiar songs, accompanied by loud, out-of-tune vocals.

We poked our heads in. On stage were two pianos facing each other, two men dueling one another on the keyboards, and a huge crowd drinking and singing along. Ryan and I paid our cover charge and went to join in. What could be better than drinks and sing-a-longs?

The first hour was a riot. Sipping on Amaretto Sours, we watched drunk strangers pass up song requests on napkins and watched these same strangers slur the words and/or get up and dance to them awkwardly, while two talented pianists danced across keyboards, sang into microphones, occasionally played the harmonica or climbed onto their piano benches, their fingers never leaving the keyboard.

Unfortunately, the tune changed entirely when these first two piano players — charismatic, clean and charming entertainers — ended their shift and the next two pianists went on stage to take over.

After a few notable songs and loud collective singing from the customers, a bartender brought up two giant plastic syringe shaped holders for Jello shots. I immediately assumed that someone in the audience had bought them for the pianists. I was waiting to see the players consume their beverages, wondering if the Jello would get stuck in the tube as they pushed it forward.

Instead, they asked for two wild and willing women from the audience to ___. I didn’t hear the rest. Seconds later the two pianists were standing at the edge of the stage holding the syringes at their pelvic bones like penises. Two women approached and put their mouths over each as the pianists thrust their hips forward, the whole scene resembling the giving/getting of a blow job. 

The entire room erupted in cheers and laughter. I sat stunned.

Strike one.

A handful of songs later, Larry and Laurie were called up onto stage for their birthdays. A middle-aged man, completely obliterated and unaware of personal boundaries, and a middle-aged woman, horrified and uncomfortable, walked to the center and faced the crowd.

Larry was uncontrollable and had to be (repeatedly) told to not touch Laurie. It was unclear if the two even knew each other. What was clear was that Laurie did not want to be touched.

They were instructed that they would dance to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” for reasons I am unaware of. Since Larry couldn’t seem to manage touching his own body parts and preferred getting a grab at Laurie when he could, the pianists so nicely changed the words to “Head, Shoulders, Tits, and Ass.”

Larry got on his knees, and grabbing at Laurie’s butt, pulled her forward as he moved his head and wagged his tongue like a thirsty dog, pretending to give her head.The entire room erupted in cheers and laughter.

I wanted to yell and scream. I wanted to kick Larry in the nuts and save Laurie. I wanted Laurie’s friends to save her. I wanted Laurie to kick him in the nuts and save herself. I wanted the pianists to stop being so degrading and disgusting. I wanted to slam their faces into those shiny keys until they were red. I wanted the bar to wake up and stop being ignorant. I wanted someone to try and explain to me what was so fucking hilarious.

Strike two.

I didn’t have time to recover. The bartender brought up two extremely tall — maybe a couple of feet — red glasses filled to their brims with Margaritas. This time I knew they would be given away, but I was hoping for some kind of “who can be the loudest” challenge to determine the winner. Women were targeted again. These two glasses will go to the women with the perkiest breasts that are rubbed in our faces.”

I was shocked when four women, three middle-aged and one celebrating her last night of singlehood, rushed to the stage, grabbed the pianists’ faces, smothered them between their breasts, and then shook from side to side with all their might…over and over and over and over again. The entire room was louder than the times before.

Strike three.

I tossed back the remaining Amoretto Sour and looked at Ryan, who had been watching me the entire time, probably measuring the steam coming out of my ears.

“I’m done.”

I grabbed my clutch, threw back my chair, and felt eyes on me as I stormed out of the bar, the only person having a problem with the perky-breasted women waiting to claim their prize for objectifying their own bodies, the pianists initiating degrading and sexist behavior, and everyone else encouraging it without thought or care.

How I experienced Menopause for the first time

I just witnessed  Menopause..…a musical. I have never sat through something so predominantly feminine, so outrageously funny and so deeply honest.With a cast of four middle-aged women belting out new words to old but familiar tunes all about the unfortunate affects of menopause, I was lost in a theater of women whose laughter and tears gave me goosebumps. From hot flashes to cellulite, mood swings to low libido, I got Menopause 101.

Has the theatric experience made me excited to approach that stage in life? Not in the least, but to witness a crowd of women so obviously sharing in the same experience, one identifying you as a woman, was truly liberating and empowering.

In the final number, “This is Your Day,” the cast came busting through the set in black dresses with sparkling diamonds hanging from their ears, their necks and their hands. Another round of goose bumps. These women were beautiful, confident and caring. They sang to the women in the crowd pulling up all those who had experienced menopause and were ready to celebrate what it meant to be a woman. Rows of women piled onto the stage to can-can while others sat in their seats clapping to the rhythm smiling, laughing and crying as they watched their sisters, friends and peers up on stage.

Everyone in the theater came to share the experience and the laughter in what it means to be a woman of middle-age. And in a culture where we promote youthfulness and degrade aging, Menopause put the focus on the beauty in aging, the beauty in changing, the beauty in growth, and the beauty in womanhood and sisterhood. It was truly phenomenal.

As a young woman who looks up to the older women in my life for support, guidance, and love, I felt closer to them, whether they were there with me or not. Somewhere on that stage someone represented the women who have the largest impact on me, and those women are beautiful regardless of their age and regardless of their bodies. I want them to embrace themselves as I embrace them, and as this cast and audience also embraced themselves and this experience that is so tragically and wonderfully feminine.    

If you’re interested:

UA Women’s Basketball, up close and personal

I was asked to be a guest coach at a UA’s Women’s Basketball game. Honored to be invited, I accepted and picked my game, showing up exactly when I was supposed to. As I approached the JAR I was overwhelmed with the number of people crammed into the gymnasium watching the men’s game. My anxiety grew. I couldn’t believe the amount of people inside.

All of a sudden I wondered just what had I gotten myself into?! What would be expected of me? Would I have to do something in front of this huge crowd? Be photographed? Taped? I didn’t know anything about basketball. The last time I had sat on a bench I was a freshman in high school and was only the manager; whatever I had known then, I didn’t know now. Whatever I knew then wasn’t much to begin with. I actually considered leaving, wondering what would happen to my reputation if I did. Of course I didn’t, reminding myself this whole thing was not about me but about those student-women athletes who appreciated me.

Eventually I found where I was supposed to be and who I was supposed to be with. I tried not to think about the anxiety I felt. To my disappointment my student walked out of the locker room in her warm-up gear and unable to play; she had torn her ACL before Christmas break and would be out the rest of the season.Feeling really out of place now, knowing I missed the introductions and knew none of the other players, I remained silent and followed those I thought I should and acted as I thought I should, too, invisible and silent. I didn’t want to be in the way on a game day.  But there is a lot to be said about observation.

Sitting on the bench is a far different experience than sitting in the stands surrounded by fans who may or may not know the players personally. You are practically on the court with them. You see from the coach’s seat while also hearing from the players. You smell the sweat and the intensity. You notice the interaction between players on the court and off, between the coaches, between the players and coaches. You see everything.

The first thing I noticed was how small the crowd had become. Only minutes before this game every seat had been packed with cheering fans. Now there were gaping holes in the rows where bodies used to be. The cheerleaders and dance team were present, but there was barely anyone to cheer and dance for.

Were women’s athletics not as important? Not as entertaining? Didn’t the same amount of effort, energy, enthusiasm, blood, sweat and tears go into this game than any other game played by men? I was both disappointed and angry. Why was this team any different? Why wouldn’t they get the same attention? The same fervor? The same enthusiastic fans? I wondered if the small crowds ever depressed the team or made them feel inferior. Did they sit in the locker room listening to the sounds of large crowds crammed into the gymnasium for the boys’ game, only to come out and see three-fourths of the crowd left? How shitty.

The next thing I noticed were bodies. As I watched these women run up and down the court I looked at their hair, their faces, their arms and legs. I noticed the muscle, the sweat, the blood pumping into their cheeks. I looked at how they ran, how they shot, how they passed, watching their bodies in amazement.How many hours a week were they devoting to this? How much sweat? They pounded up and down the court and I wondered what did they look like on their off-days? Were they still in sports attire? Where they in jeans? More importantly, who were these girls off the court? And how were they treated?

All of this made me thinking of my Intro to Women’s Studies classes. When we talk about gender roles and constructions we always stumble upon the stereotypes and expectations of women athletes. They are considered masculine or thought to be lesbians. They are assumed to have no “feminine” interests.  So many of my women athletes have complained of these things. My first semester of teaching I had two basketball players come dolled up to class just to prove that workout gear wasn’t the only thing they enjoyed wearing. They did their hair and makeup to show that they also wore beauty products that were in the tradition of femininity.

But why did they need to be ‘feminine?’ They didn’t have to prove to me that they were or were not feminine by our culture’s standards. They shouldn’t have to feel that they have to prove their femininity or sexuality to anyone. Obviously there are still people who make it difficult to be both feminine AND athletic. I continued to watch these women play, admiring them for their strength to defy the still persisting traditional gender norms.  

Then came yelling from the coach, capturing my attention and diverting it away from the physical capabilities of her players. Plays were being called, strategies discussed during time-outs. Circles and lines being drawn on a white board. Tactics being revised, summarized, analyzed. I listened but had no comprehension. What the hell was she talking about? The players listened without interruption, nodding, and only answering questions she asked of them. All of a sudden I realized just how much these women athletes were responsible for while also having to physically move. I’m one for multitasking, but this seemed unreal to me.

I watched their faces, trying to determine what they were thinking. Did they want to kick their coach in the face? Did they agree with her? Were they confident in what they were doing? Were they tired? Were they thinking about homework to do later? What was on their minds as the coach stomped, hollered, and ordered them around? Was there this much pressure to be perfect in a boy’s game? Or was there more because as women we often have to prove ourselves ‘worthy’ of doing something that is traditionally masculine? Would they have to win every game in order to prove they were just as good as the guys? Would they each have to play a perfect game, no fouls, no double-dribbles, no travelling, only smart passes and shots that make it, in order to prove their skill and capability at the sport?  

I thought about the pressure. Just what would it entail to be a student and an athlete?  What would I have to give up? What would I gain? And how would my being a woman play into the equation?

I became aware as I looked at the crowd, looked at the bodies, looked at the faces, listened to the calls, comments, complaints, that thirty-some years ago this wasn’t possible. Women on a basketball court wasn’t happening. I’ve always taken this for granted, always living in a time where women athletes were a reality. But I also realize that just because I’ve always lived when women playing sports has been possible, doesn’t mean I live in a time where it’s 100 percent acceptable. Or easy. Or EQUALized.

I looked at the crowd again, more upset than before.  It was obvious that these women deserved support. And they deserved a celebration every time they step out on that court. If we celebrate the men who play-every game gracing them with a packed house- simply because they are men and have always played sports, then what are we saying? These women players are equal to their male counterparts, if not better, having to not just struggle with being a student and an athlete, but also a woman.  They are strong academic students, intelligent, motivated, successful, and they are athletes, skilled and disciplined.

Within them, between them, and among them they have developed a world that allows for both femininity and athleticism despite the traditional patriarchal ideas that still find women athletes to be “too masculine” and not feminine enough. What they are doing, despite it being more common in today’s society, is still something that is not equitable to men’s sports and athleticism, or the ideas or values that surround it. Despite it being less taboo, it’s still something that needs attention and contemplation and support.

There is still work to be done in the field of women’s sports. This experience has opened my eyes. I am so grateful for the chance I had to share in the sweat and hard work that these women athletes tirelessly shed. They represent that it is possible and that is time for women to be present in a sporting world and to be recognized and celebrated for it.

Apply to be part of The Vagina Monologues at UA

vday09-logo-webThe Vagina Monologues is a V-Day benefit event from The University of Akron presented by the UA Women’s Studies Program.

 Download the Vagina Monologues Volunteer Application.
Dates: Friday, Feb. 13, and Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Knights Auditorium in Leigh Hall on The University of Akron campus

Eve EnslerThe Vagina Monologues is the Women’s Studies Program’s annual production of Eve Ensler’s world-renowned play. The event is held as part of V-Day to raise awareness about the global issue of violence against women and to raise money to support the end of this misogynistic epidemic that confronts the entire world. We need your help!

 We are looking for volunteers to help with the following:

  • ACTING! Auditions will be held 1-4 p.m., Nov. 20, and 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m., Nov. 21, in the Women’s Studies office, Schrank Hall North Room 58. They will be held on a first-come, first-served basis. All actors are required to audition regardless of previous involvement in this production. Each audition will last about 10 minutes. To receive a script, contact one of the numbers below.
  • Posting fliers
  • Lights & sound
  • Publicity
  • Ushers
  • Ticket Takers
  • Set-up/Take-down

Download the Vagina Monologues Volunteer Application.

Contact us at any of the following numbers to show your interest:

Women’s Studies Program:
Kameka at 
L.I.P. Service
Alyssa and/or Cassie at 330-972-7464