Austin

Photos taken on my phone over the past few years at local spots around Austin, Tx.

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A Love Letter to Austin

When planning for a city, you don’t expect it to become the 11th most populated and fastest growing city in the country, 182 years after its founding. You also don’t expect it to be among the top ten best places to live year after year but that’s exactly what’s happened in Austin, Texas.

Austin is a city of contrasts. Intertwined with tall brown buildings and traffic-filled paved roads sits a winding blue lake separating one half of the city from the other and large, lush grassy areas like Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores.

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At night down on 6th street, you’ll find twenty-somethings bar-hopping through dance-music filled hole in the walls while over on Rainey Street, thirty-somethings are too busy discussing world politics and sipping their craft beer or local vodka to notice. If you go too far to the south end of downtown, you hit “South Congress”, a world all it’s own full of knick-knack shops, vintage stores and legendary local restaurants. If you go too far north, you enter the world of the University of Texas and all its collegiate glory, frat houses and all.

This city is ever expanding and changing. What once was home to the state’s most eclectic of hippy’s during the 70s is now shared with technology executives and more millionaire than you could count, although you’d never know it. A running joke in Austin is that if you’re trying to find the richest guy in the room, just look for the one in jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt. Status is determined not by what clothes you wear or what car you drive but by how ethical your company is and how beautiful the view from your backyard looks.

This is thanks to the fact that through the years, as Austin’s population has skyrocketed, it hasn’t forgotten its history or its culture. In between the ever present construction of new residential towers, like The Austonian, which recently overtook the 360 Condominiums as the tallest building in town thus breaking the record for tallest residential building west of the Mississippi river, there lay secret nods to its history, only obvious to those who know where to look.

Down MLK, on the “local” side of town, in between college coffee bars and upscale boutique restaurants, is a tall metal tower that one might mistake for just another piece of construction clutter. This narrow, thin metal frame holds a circle of large lights on its top, which at night illuminates the entire block on which it sits. This tower, and the 16 others that remain scattered throughout the city are all that remain of America’s moonlight towers, an invention brought on by the high cost of street lamps in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they could shed light on up to 1500 feet. These 17 towers are the sole survivors of their kind, as all other cities have taken theirs down in favor of expansion.

Hawk on a Moon Tower

Austin not only still has standing towers that turn on nightly, the locals are proud of them and consider them an integral part of the city’s culture. At Austin City Limits Music Festival, one of the city’s biggest outdoor music events, the sides of the stages are covered with photos different city landmarks, like the capitol building and longhorn statue. One stage every year is covered with pictures of the moonlight towers, an incredible honor for something that went out of fashion over a century ago.

Along with towers from the past, there are other historical sights sitting right alongside the newest and most modern of constructions. On Embassy Road on the east side of town, near the Texas State Cemetery is a small house surrounded by, you guessed it, residential construction. This house once was the home of the French Embassy, back when Texas was its own country. It is also, coincidentally, the oldest home in the city, celebrating 175 years, and is now a museum.

With artifacts like these and others like the Treaty Oak (which has a long history filled with Native Americans, protest, attempted tree murder and much more), it’s obvious that Austin is set on preserving as much of its rich and unique history as possible. It also stands as an example to other major cities that its is possible to expand at a rate of nearly 50 people per day and still have the ability to preserve the essence that made the city great.

Ask me about this in another decade, however, and you may get a different response. With the extreme growth and booming economy comes a need for  newer, more upscale attractions and with this comes higher rent. Higher rent means that the original hippies and hipsters no longer can afford the town they helped to shape. With more and more of them being pushed out, it will be up to the city to continue to stay true to their roots and not let the growth overtake the culture and help preserve the people who make the city great in the same way they have preserved its landmarks.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Feminists Don’t Have Time for Your Masculinity Crisis

Men are angry, horrible creatures whose main goal in life is to suppress women’s rights and step over people on the fight to the top. Right?

At least that’s what certain sects of fourth wave feminism wants you to think.

Why? Because it’s easier to vilify men and blame them personally for the perpetuation of the patriarchy than to look deeper at the real issues.

The fact is that men commit suicide at a rate of nearly four times that of women and represent 77.5% of all suicides, according to the CDC. Additionally, boys are four times more likely to be kicked out of school and two times more likely to receive special education, primarily for things like ADD and dyslexia.

They make up 93.3% of America’s prisoners and nearly 1 in 20 of all prisoners report being raped or sexually assaulted while locked up.

But who cares, right? They’ve got the patriarchy! They have fair wages! Women have real issues to deal with.

Wrong.

These are real issues and they’re issues that every feminist should care deeply about. When we get it into our heads that men are the enemy, we’re doing everyone a disservice. No man alive today created the patriarchy or is responsible for the way their society raised them.

“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he is a boy is when he’s told to be a man.” – JOE EHRMANN 

Men are taught from childhood that they must learn to “be a man” and to not be a sissy. They’re told that to be emotional and vulnerable is to be weak and so they learn how to suppress it. They learn to play the role of “MAN”.

The gender boxes we, men and women and everyone in between, live in and the roles we’re taught to play are something that become second nature to us as we grow. They become so inherent that many of us don’t know where the mask ends and our true selves begin.

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This is almost undoubtedly harder on men and it’s nearly impossible to step out of the masculinity box without major losses.

That’s not to say that women have it easy but they do have more flexibility in the modern definition of “WOMAN”.

The consequences of strict masculinity is that men never learn to deal with their emotions and they usually end up surfacing in the form of aggression. There’s a reason that the majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by men. You can only suppress so much before something sets you off. Also, are taught through sports that aggressive competition results in reward.

Men are also cut off from real human connection. How often have you heard a group of men sitting around sharing feelings and talking about their deepest secrets? I’m guessing a hell of a lot less than hearing them talk about which girl from work they’d rather bang.

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This is all due to gender conditioning and if you think that this has nothing to do with the patriarchy and the suppression of women’s rights then you’re fooling yourself.

Basically, we give men all the neccessary tools to oppress women and act violently and then we yell at them when they do.

Bottom line: Feminism is about fighting for gender equality and to leave half the population out of the battle is to do a disservice to everyone.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Citations:

“US: Federal Statistics Show Widespread Prison Rape.” Human Rights Watch. N.p., 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
“Federal Bureau of Prisons.” BOP Statistics: Inmate Gender. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
CDC. Suicide Facts at a Glance 2015 (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
“The Issue.” The Representation Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
 “The Mask You Live In.” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2015

Wait, Minorities Exist?

This is my second post on representation in the media but there are just so many facets to this issue that I felt it deserved two separate postings.

Firstly, let me just say that its rare that a day goes by that I don’t feel like standing up in the middle of class or campus or a freaking Target and screaming REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

I have had countless arguments with my white boyfriend and white friends that basically consist of me telling them why it’s important to see people that look like you achieving tremendous things and their response being “but of course you can do that stuff, why do you need a TV character to tell you that?”

This is why:

Growing up as a minority in our culture means that you are taught a history that is only partially yours. In America, we learn about the white settlers who “discovered” our land and the white men who wrote our constitution and have governed us for the last 200 years. We learn that Africans were brought over as slaves and Native Americans were pushed off their land. We learn that Mexico wanted Texas really badly but ultimately, America won.

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The issue with this history is that it is told from a Euro-centric (or white) point of view.

This “white” point of view is prevalent in every form of storytelling we have. Children’s books? White character. Newscasts? White victims and minority aggressors. Textbooks? White male heroes. TV Shows? All white (plus the token gay or Black friend and their Hispanic housekeeper).

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Obviously there are exceptions to this like NBC’s Black-ish or The CW’s Jane the Virgin but overall, we are flooded with images of happy, successful white people and this is what our view of American society is formed by.

In a study called “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” it was found that only 28.3% of television characters with dialogue were non-white. That’s nearly 10% below the percentage of non-whites living in America.

Now you may still be wondering “yeah, but why does any of that matter?”

It matters because from the time white people are born they are flooded with images of people who look like them, talk like them and are from similar backgrounds as them achieving monumental and historic things.

Our history is told through people like George Washington, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Albert Einstein never mind the achievements of people like Angela Davis, Willie Velazquez and Mae Jemison. When this symbolic annihilation of entire ethnicities occurs on such a huge scale, it isn’t hard to see how young boys and girls of color can grow up not understanding that success isn’t just for white people.

We need characters like Elena of Avalor and Olivia Pope to show us that we can be strong, intelligent, successful, multidimensional people with the same hopes and dreams as our white friends.

Not caring about representation is a privilege reserved only for non-minorities and to ignore underrespresentation’s effects is to ignore the stories of minorities in America.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Citations:

Smith, Stacy L., Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Piper. “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment.” USC Annenberg, n.d. Web.

Healthy Tastes Better Than Skinny Feels

It’s hard to differentiate between what we think and what we are conditioned to think and this is very clear when it comes to body image and the convention of women’s beauty.

Our society is flooded with images of beautiful, thin, young and light-skinned girls in every form of media. We use these images as a standard of which to judge ourselves. Even though we are all aware that even the models themselves don’t look like the girls on the covers of magazines, we feel inadequate until we reach that level of “beauty”.

“I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”  – Cindy Crawford

In the film Killing Us Softly 4 and the Ted Talk from model Cameron Russel, they analyzed the impact that these expectations are having on girls and young women. In advertising, girls are increasingly getting skinnier and younger which leads to girls striving for this image, many times at the cost of their health.

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We forget that what we see in Calvin Klein ads and in on the runways of New York Fashion Week is not a cross section of society but rather a look in at a very small percentage of it. Some girls are predisposed to be tall and thin with no hips and perky breasts. Most of us, though, are not and that’s perfectly okay.

When we are bombarded with these images paired with the message that we must look that way to be loved and accepted, we seise to view ourselves through our own eyes and instead view it through the filter of societal expectations.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” – Kate Moss

It’s important to remember this when we look in the mirror and start critiquing our bodies but it’s even more important to remember when going out into the world.

These types of expectations are not only damaging to our own view of ourselves but to the way men and society view us. They too, are seeing those images and instead of realizing those aren’t examples of all women, they begin to expect that from their partners. Hyper-sexualization of products being sold by bikini-wearing supermodels warps their impression of women in regards to their sexuality. No, not all women are a size zero and no we are not sexually attracted to our shampoo..or candy..or kitchen sink.

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Jim Crow Didn’t Die, We’re Just Ignoring Him

During class this week, we watched the film “13th” which discussed the system of mass incarceration in America and its effects on African-Americans.

Watching this film was not the first time I had cried during that class (if I’m honest, thats sort of become a weekly thing) but it was one of the most significant. Sitting down to write this post is difficult because it’s hard to form full thoughts on the film, I’m filled more with emotion rather than intellectualized ideas.

The film chronicled the treatment of blacks in America from the time the first slave ship arrived. It showed the effects of slavery, durning and after, and the struggles of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. These were all things we learned about extensively in school although this film didn’t sugarcoat it.

It wasn’t until it began discussing current issues that it really took on new life. From Clinton’s first reference to “super-predators” to Reagan’s war on drugs, the documentary showed how America’s prison system is quite frankly out to get African-Americans. According to the film, 1 in 3 black men will spend time in jail.

And this isn’t the most shocking part. This has been the case for decades. The documentary shows how after the civil war and the abolition of slavery, there was a need to for laborers to fill the positions vacated by former slaves. This fell onto unpaid prisoners and guess what color most of them were. Some call this “legal slavery” and I would have to agree.

One woman in the film discussed how the prison system is just a new version of Jim Crow. Since felons lose many rights when convicted, such as their right to vote, own a gun and live in government housing and with so many of these criminals being African-American, it sounds an awful lot like slavery if you ask me.

This film highlighted the issues with our prison system and our American society in general. My main takeaway was that even when we ignore it and tell ourselves we’ve grown and moved on, racism is still an integral part of our society and to continue sweeping it under the rug and claiming it was overcome along with Jim Crow is to fool ourselves into ignoring the damage it is still causing.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Citation: Ava DuVernay, 13th, Kandoo Films, October 7, 2016

Misrepresentation is Worse than No Representation

In order to talk about gender representation in the media, you first have to understand what their relationship is and the difference between accurate representation and that which can be harmful.

In class, we watched videos where African-American’s were shown as characters on the nightly news. Videos like “Bed Intruder” -which became a popular comedy video- portray African-Americans in a way that garners little respect or concern from viewers of the newscast. The video originally showed a woman and her brother testifying about an intruder who broke into their apartment.

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Instead of showing a family scared from a horrific break in, they showed a man who aligned with the “black stereotype”. African-Americans are almost always shown as perpetrators, victims or black stereotype like single poor mother rather than a police officer or someone of authority. While this is representation technically as it is African-Americans on the news, it doesn’t show any accurate or respectful representation at all of that community. Representation like that only leads to the continuation of harmful stereotypes.

While in class watching this video, it struck me how many people were still amused by this video, even with knowing the whole story. People laughed out loud, mimicked the man, and were still amused by the “joke”. In a class where we had just discussed the importance of accurate media representation and looked into the effects of misrepresentation, it was shocking to see my classmates still not really care. Yes, we all laughed the first time we saw the video years ago but for people who are studying the impact of videos like this to still find it comical was very disheartening.

It’s easy to sit around and say “yeah, minorities are misrepresented and someone should do something about it” and its a completely different thing to turn that judgement onto yourself and allow you to see your own prejudices. And its even more difficult to actively work at changing your preconceptions in order to go out and make a difference in your line of work. To all the journalism students in my class who still find that video funny, I hope that you will realize the issue with those types or portrayals and work to change them once in the industry.

Yours Politely, Natalie