#YesAllWomen endure sexism abroad, at home

Saturday marked my fifth day in London, and it was bound to be a pleasant one. I was ecstatic to have a familiar face, my friend Chelsea, accompany me for a few days of my 110-day journey through Europe, during which I will mostly be by myself.

We spent the afternoon at Tower Bridge, and as cliché as it might be, it is one of my favorite spots to head to on a warm day. But the tourist hangout also brings with it one of my least favorite parts about the city: the rude, pushy men dressed in costumes who try to get you take pictures with them and then demand payment.

While living here, you develop a certain skill set in avoiding these men. Put on a stone cold face, don’t make eye contact, become intensely aware of the whereabouts of your belongings and ignore, ignore, ignore. If they get too close, tell them to back off.

I’m very familiar of the game, but what one performer did to me Saturday was beyond anything I could have prepared myself for.

As Chelsea and I headed over to the Tower of London, a man in black and white face paint, who was masquerading as Charlie Chaplin took his prop cane and lewdly smacked it across my backside and smirked at me while he did so.

By the time I was able to process what had happened in order to speak up, he was gone, but I was left to deal with the humiliation that comes with being sexually harassed.

When I told others of the opportunity I landed to travel this summer, I was greeted with excited faces. But when adding that I, a woman, would be doing it alone, eyebrows would raise skeptically.

I’ve heard the question “Are you really going to do this?” more times than I can count. Upon arriving in London, a woman who noticed my backpack approached me on the Tube, and warned me to “watch my back.” Some friends have called me brave for what I’m doing.

Most mean well when they say these things, but I don’t like to be called brave for being a female solo-traveler. It only reinforces the notion that traveling alone as a woman is — and should remain — the exception, not the rule.

Women can read maps just as easily as men. Men find themselves lost as often as women. When we’re abroad, we all fumble over the same messy pronunciations of words our tongues just don’t seem to be built for.

I know there are tons of women who would love to be in my position, and if I didn’t receive this scholarship, I would only be daydreaming, too. But I fear that even if all women were offered this same opportunity, many would still turn it down due to the threat of violence against our gender that pervades our consciousness every single day.

And though it did require a bit of bravery to get on that plane, I do live in fear here. All these “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moments come along with the terrifying reality that I might be harassed or assaulted while I’m just pursuing what I love.

I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated my time here — but to the fullest? I don’t know if I ever will be able to due to the fear I feel as a female solo-traveler, but I try my hardest. While travel brings with it certain anxieties about lost passports and missed trains, the daily fear of being raped or killed shouldn’t be one of them.

I want to be able to take a late-night stroll alongside Westminster Pier by myself.

I’d like to not have to worry about whether I’ll be the only woman staying in my 12-person hostel room.

And when a friendly man asked me out on a date after a warm 45-minute conversation, I wish I had felt comfortable enough to say yes and trust that his intentions were innocent.

But here’s the thing: Though I’ve become hypervigilant of my safety as a woman in unfamiliar Europe, I still live in fear about sexual violence when I’m back home in the United States.

We tend to blame rape on “the other.” We conjure up these images of rapists being strange men who don’t speak the same language as us and lure us into an alleyway of a foreign city.

But if it’s other countries with the gender-based violence problems, talk to me about how the United States has the highest rate of spousal homicide of any developed nation.

Tell me why consent doesn’t even become a talking point in educational programs until college.

How do you explain a man could go on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., leaving six people dead because “girls have never been attracted to (him)” and he felt he should punish them for it?

We’re good at pointing out what we find to be misogynistic in other cultures, but we rarely recognize our own failures. We flippantly dismiss the use of headscarves among Muslim women as blatant oppression, but we’re dumbfounded as to how alcohol-facilitated sexual assault could get so out of control on our hallowed college campuses, as if our culture doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Statistics demonstrate a small percentage of men are repeat perpetrators of gender-based violence. So, most men are good people, but the bottom line is that men are most often the perpetrators of sexual assault, and this type of violence occurs all the time and to so many women.

Just as a female survivor of sexual violence is somebody’s sister, daughter or mother, a male perpetrator of violence is somebody’s brother, son or father. These men live among us, speaking the same language, strolling along the same familiar streets of our hometowns. We bear the responsibility of teaching them about decency, respect and equality.

It’s time we stop dismissing gender-based violence as someone else’s issue. How many other terrible events need to occur before we recognize it is a problem and it is ours?

Ending the violence starts with us, no matter where we’re located on the map. And when women do travel by themselves, we shouldn’t be questioning them but instead questioning those who hurt them and — perhaps, most importantly — ourselves for giving rise to a culture that makes it OK for gender-based violence to exist in the first place.

For the love of weirdness

I believe love is a choice. We actively decide who we keep in our lives and who we let go. Though we don’t have control over every circumstance life throws our way, we have a choice to love what we’re doing or stop doing it, a choice to love the place we’re in or leave it.

It’s a beautiful yet terrifying notion, choice. It demands we be uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable while reckoning with the fears of what could go wrong. Then we’re perhaps unsettled when something does go wrong on the rare occasion. With this lack of comfort comes weirdness.

We don’t just shy away from weirdness, we vehemently avoid it. We’re told to. How else would we have survived our middle school hallways?

When we try to avoid being weird, we lose ourselves in translation. Recently, I’ve wondered what would happen if we were to always actively pursue the weird.

This summer, I’ve made the choice to go on international quest for weirdness. Thanks to a travel scholarship from UNC, a pipe dream of mine is actually happening.

I will be traveling to about a dozen countries to attend some of Europe’s craziest and most unusual festivals and to ask people about what is on their bucket lists.

While in Spain, I can be found at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, Buñol’s La Tomatina and Castrillo de Murcia’s El Colacho, a festival in which men dressed as the devil jump over mattresses filled with babies in the hopes of purifying their souls.

Later, I’ll be in the Netherlands, which became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 1999, as others celebrate love simply being love at Amsterdam’s gay pride festival.

But first, come Monday, I’ll be in Gloucester, England for Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake at which competitors chase an 8-pound roll of cheese down a 600-foot hill.

I don’t know much about these people who wake up in the morning and say without pause, “Hey, I think I’m going to go chase some cheese or be chased by a bull today.” But I think I’ll be in good company.

You see, love and weirdness aren’t mutually exclusive.

When we connect with someone, our synapses spark and make us subconsciously say, “Hey, I like this human.” We call them friends even though they have knobby knees and pronounce certain words weirdly and fart about 14 times a day, statistics show. (Except you, right? Because you personally don’t fart.)

The same can be said about places. How else do we fall in love with cities without first embracing them for their weird, messy worth? I don’t really think we can truly love without first getting a little weird.

How appropriate that I kick off this quest for silliness in the city I first learned to love when studying abroad here last spring.

London is a city that is dreadfully rain-prone but also where I learned to embrace umbrella-less walks to class, drenched shoes, frozen fingers and all.

This is the city where people gather to hear weird people talk about weird things at Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner every Sunday.

As I learned while visiting the Museum of London Wednesday, London is also the place where pious citizens once believed the Great Fire of 1666 must have been caused by sinful gluttony because the fire ironically started at Pudding Lane and allegedly went out at Pye (or Pie) Corner.

A bunch of people erected a statue of a “prodigiously fat” boy warning of such gluttony, and it is known as The Golden Boy of Pye Corner. Naturally, I spent a greater portion of my Wednesday afternoon being the strange, lost woman in London searching for this pudgy little guy.

The Golden Boy at Pye Corner
The Pye Corner statue recognizes one of most catastrophic events to ever occur in the city.

Basically, I think if the statue were created with today’s obesity rate in mind, he’d be a lot fatter because his belly looked my post-dinner food baby after it’s had a couple of hours to settle. Oh well.

I love this city.

Here’s to hoping I fall in love with more cities. Here’s to believing that fortune favors the weird. (And I’m going to need a lot of fortune because I don’t really know how to get around most of these cities or how to speak any language including my own or how to not trip on any of Europe’s old staircases.)

Let’s get weird,
Katie

The thought process behind ‘In a Blink’ video

Every day of senior year from the start of classes to graduation, I filmed 1-second clips capturing my experiences, emotions and the people and place I love. All clips have been compiled into a bigger video I’d like to call “Senior Year: In a Blink.” I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the project, so I thought I’d answer some of the most common ones.

Where did you get the idea from to film one second of every day?

Someone had tipped me off about a TED Talk in which Cesar Kuriyama spoke about what he learned from filming one second of every day of his 30th year of life.

When you’re filming days both good and bad, there’s this bit of emotional vulnerability, and to me, that is what is most moving. Is my life worth remembering? Will I be remembered by others? What do I value?

I thought if I could pull it off, I would love to create my own twist to the one-second-a-day concept by honoring a time in my life and a place I love so much.

Was it hard to remember to film every day?

Initially, yes. It took a good month to get into the habit of landing footage every day. I did have a few close calls, only remembering that I needed to film something when it was 11:30 p.m.

What I’ve loved about this project though is that it has made me more presently focused. When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself “What will I do or experience today that is worth remembering?” If I don’t really have anything that is necessarily worthy of filming or that is going to break the monotony of the day, am I really living?

It’s been a huge reality check, even for someone who prides herself on her bucket list.

How did you choose what to film?

Each day, I’ve had a general idea of what would be cool to film, but that footage doesn’t always make the final cut. Sometimes my best days are the ones that feature spontaneous footage where the result was unexpected.

Also, as Kuriyama mentioned in his TED Talk, if there is a day you have a bunch of things you’d like to film, it’s OK if that doesn’t all make it into the final video. You’d be surprised how much you can remember about any given day after seeing just a 1-second snippet.

Not all days can be good days. What about filming those days that weren’t so great?

This past year has been the most transformative of my life, so this project came at the right time to capture the changes. But with growth comes challenges, setbacks and pain. For instance, I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s disease in November and had a health scare of my own in April, which were both documented in the video.

On bad days, my gut reaction was to not film anything at all, and in many ways, it really gets down to our collective unwillingness to present ourselves to others as anything less than constantly happy and perfect.

Take a look at your Facebook and Instagram feeds. How often do you see people write about their fears and flaws? Publishing footage on the bad days allowed me to step away from this dominant, and oftentimes destructive, narrative.

How did you choose U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” as the song for the video?

Picking the music to go along with the video was probably one of the more challenging aspects of this project. I wanted a strong song to reflect the sentiment of the piece, and there were a lot of contenders. I had considered Bastille’s “Pompeii,” We Were Promised Jetpacks’ “Keeping Warm” and Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World.”

But then I as I began to think about the message of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a longtime favorite of mine, the more it seemed to embody my experience at UNC. Bono has said he wrote this song about Belfast, Northern Ireland, where people could tell a lot about you just based on the name of the street you lived on given the gaping wealth disparities and religious tension in the region. But the song speaks of paradise, a place where the streets have no name.

There are a lot of competing interests that exist on college campuses  and you’ll figure that out really quickly working on the university desk of your college paper  but at the end of the day, we all are fortunate enough to call this beautiful, beautiful place home. There’s a reason why UNC is referred to as the southern part of heaven, and in my mind, it’s the closet place you can get to what U2 sings about in the song. Now if Bono would just pay a visit…

What’s been your biggest take-away?

There have been so many things I’ve learned. As a former social media editor, I’m really interested in how we use technology to mediate our day-to-day lives. And as a restaurant server, I’ve recently noticed so many of my customers plopping their earphone-wearing children down in front of a tablet playing a movie while everyone else eats dinner. That terrifies me.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pervasiveness and even evilness of technology, and I hate parts of it too, but it isn’t something that’s going to go away. We just have to reteach ourselves to use it in a constructive way.

Prior to starting this project, I was fearful that my iPhone I used to record my videos on would dominate my life as I aimed for that perfect shot, as many do for the elusive perfect selfie or 6-second nugget of Vine gold.

What I found, however, is that the sentimentality of the piece did not come from the quality of the shots but from the memories that prompted them. It wasn’t long after I published the video Tuesday that I received an series of messages from UNC alumni sharing their experiences as students. I even had some who told me it made them cry. It’s been really humbling to realize that the documented experiences of someone you don’t know can stir up such strong memories of one’s own past. To me, that’s just the greatest, and I’m incredibly thankful.

Journalism and its stories to be thankful for

Note: This post originally appeared on my previous blog on Nov. 27, 2013 before I switched platforms. Though it is well past Thanksgiving, I don’t think the importance and beauty of the themes presented in these stories will ever lose their timeliness.

I love that journalism allows people to question a world they thought they once knew. At its best, journalism knocks both the reader and writer breathless but still somehow makes them reach for more. If that doesn’t happen to you at least every once in a while when you pick up a paper or magazine, you’re not reading the good stuff. And if you don’t like what you’re reading, write it yourself. From the front pages to the letters to the editor, there’s room for everybody.

Journalism calls upon those it covers to be better people, but it should also make its reporters not only be better people but want to be better people. Sure, any reporter can crank out stories quickly, know AP Style says it’s “all right” and not “alright” and interview some really cool sources. But the kind of reporters doing the most good are the ones who question more, read more and accept the radical notion that they, too, are human. Reading the stories I’ve included at the end of this post make me want to be that kind of reporter. I hope these stories make you, journalist or not, feel as alive as I do when I read them. And if they don’t, write your own. Write, write, write.

In the current state of affairs in the world, the nation and even within ourselves, we become listless, discouraged and morose. But there’s this hope. I believe it’s in (good) journalism. “Isn’t being a journalist kinda depressing?” asks the world. X politician is corrupt. Nothing’s being done about Y. I just don’t understand how a tragedy like Z could happen. But the way I see it, being a journalist provides you just as much of an opportunity to restore your faith in humanity as it does to destroy it. Because there’s someone writing about these problems. And there’s someone reading about them. And someone cares. And for that, I am so thankful.

Now, the stories I’m thankful for:

“The trucker bought me lunch and didn’t even try to have sex with me, which made him a prince in my world. Several days later, though, heading south on I-95 through the Carolinas, I got picked up by another trucker who was not fine.” The Truck Stop Killer. This long read about hitchhiking girls’ encounters with sexual violence on the road is enthralling and demonstrates the problematic nature of pointing fingers when rape is a societal problem.

“The date was March 14, 2011. At 10:54 a.m., she Googled: when+someone+gets+knocked+out. She spent another four hours on the computer before she took David to the hospital.” A young mother tries to save two sons and loses everything. The imagery is hard to swallow, but the piece is incredibly humanizing of a woman pegged as “FloriDUH’s Worst Mom.”

Holding everyone accountable: a fantastic look at charities, the for-profit telemarketers they use and the man defending them both.

“‘We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.’” Why you didn’t hear about Dr. Kermit Gosnell before.

Challenging the status quo is essential — let’s do more of it. British royal born in fanciest ward: $15,000. Average birth in the United States: billed $30,000.

“If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” La fin.

And on the subject of our preoccupation with how much room we occupy in the minds of others, a single op-ed made me, a longtime waitress, entirely rethink my position on American service culture after many frustrations with restaurants while studying abroad. “We are subject to enough delusions in this life without adding to them the belief that the girl with the name tag is secretly in love with us.”

Why nostalgia isn’t a disease as its nomenclature suggests. Stories about research can be tiresome to read, but this one captures the attention (and hearts of those who love UNC with its nice, little shout-out). Also, let’s talk more about mental health — just not alongside “black and white photographs of mystical emaciated women who stare off into the distance” plz.

Due to my own persisting nostalgia (seven months post-London) and out of self-indulgence, here’s the closest I’ve felt to the city since I left.

Sorry America, the United Kingdom one-ups you with its cheeky tabloid headlines.

“From another, Miranda Lambert was stomping in, full of vitriol and skepticism, an alpha answering to no beta.” The ladies of country can kick ass, too. But still, Taylor Swift should be a part of your feminist manifesta, and brilliant 17-year-old Rookie editor, Tavi Gevinson, tells you exactly why.

A damning narrative of Matt Lauer’s decline on NBC’s “Today” … so maybe I won’t be a talk show host? Yeah, I really like being a writer. I really, really do.