Thinking of Riding Really (Really) Far on Your Bike? Read This Zine!

If you’ve ever thought of trading in stale AC and cramping legs for fresh air, maybe bike-touring is for you.

by Frida Oskarsdottir

The first thought that comes to mind when someone says “cross-country road trip” is probably not a bicycle. But if you’ve ever thought of trading in stale AC and cramping legs for fresh air…and cramping legs, maybe bike-touring is for you. For stories from all types of people embarking on the open road with nothing but what’s strapped to their backs and in their panniers, check out “Must Be Nice,” a zine compiled by Jessica Garcia, a social worker and jack of all trades living in the Pacific Northwest. Contributions include funny stories about flat tires and one-horse towns and real advice for newbies. Among the hot tips for someone considering his or her first bike tour: “Don’t overthink it. Just go.”

For your own copy, email mustbenicezine@gmail.com.

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A Cryin’ Shame

Why are tears a symbol of weakness?

by Gabrielle Sierra

You are frustrated during an argument and suddenly find yourself crying. Now you feel an added layer of emotion: shame. You are angry at your body for betraying your inner angst and furious with yourself for looking fragile. All the while a male counterpart is awkwardly attempting to console you and just making the whole thing worse.

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We have all been there time and time again. Because guess what? Women cry more than men. In fact, according to science we cry a lot more than men. In the book Why Only Humans Weep, scientist Ad Vingerhoets writes that women cry an average of 30 to 64 times a year, while men cry about 6 to 17 times a year. That is a big difference, and one that would seemingly imply that it isn’t super out of the ordinary to see a woman shed a tear or two.

So if we all do it, why do we still feel like there is a shame in crying? The answer is undeniably built into our social interactions from a very young age.

As children we are taught to associate crying with weakness and the need for help. Babies cry when they are uncomfortable or hungry: basic needs that cannot be satisfied without help from adults. As we get older we learn to satiate our own needs; we get water when we are thirsty, we wear a coat if we are cold. Crying becomes something that is seen as an option, rather than an impulse, and the people we see crying in films and on television are women. Women in distress, women who have been scorned, women who are afraid.

As a result we associate not crying with strength and masculinity. People who cry a lot are told to “man-up” and those who show fear or distress are told to have some “balls.” This generalization stretches so far that it goes in the opposite direction as well; women or girls who don’t cry at sad films or during emotional life moments are often deemed to be cold or robotic..

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Ultimately it is a very confusing message to receive from a very young age. We are expected to cry, but when we do cry we are deemed to be weak. We are expected to be the emotional ones in relationships, yet expected to control these same emotions at work, the place where we spend a large portion of our days.

Most of all it is confusing and frustrating to have to defy the biological factors that cause women to cry more often than men.

One of these biological elements is a pretty simple one; the size and depth of female tear ducts. Multiple studies have shown that women’s tear ducts are actually shorter and shallower than men’s tear ducts, and are therefore more likely to overflow. This would mean that although men may well up, the chances of them actually showing any tears are smaller.

And as with many of our body-related woes, we can also thank our hormones. Dr. Jodi J. De Luca, a licensed clinical psychologist whose research focuses on emotion, behavior, and relationships, says that since our female bodies are “genetically programmed to give life,” we are chock full of extra hormones. Hormones men do not have.  

“These hormones also affect our thought, emotion, and behavior,” says De Luca. “So, whether we like it or accept it or not, many women would report that they are more emotionally vulnerable – and cry more – for a certain period of time before their period.”

(Not to mention during your period, or while pregnant or going through menopause.)

Testosterone, on the other hand, may actually inhibit crying, giving men the chance to feel sadness or frustration but not have it manifest itself in large drops rolling down their cheeks. In this way men can sidestep being called “emotional”.  

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In the end the only way our feelings of shame associated with crying will change is when we see tears as a normal biological function. Much like someone sweating when they get nervous or shaking when they are afraid, crying is something normal and (for the most part) healthy.

So next time you run to cry in a bathroom stall at work, or fight back tears during an emotional argument with a coworker, consider the upside of female tears: women feel more comfortable crying in front of friends and loved ones, an intimacy and experience most men do not share. Additionally, a “good cry” can not only be therapeutic and cathartic, but it can be healthy. Lastly, more tears for frustration or sadness also means more tears for joy, and crying because you are happy is one of the best feelings.

Most importantly of all, consider the power of your tears and attempt to harness this embarrassment for good. As our human compass Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants, “Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

Unbound Is Changing the Way Women Buy Sex Toys, One Box at a Time

Most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in.

By Saira Khan

Polly Rodriguez was 21 years old when, after undergoing treatment for Stage III colon cancer and being kicked into early menopause, she went to a sex shop to buy a vibrator. “It was a horrible experience,” she told me. The store she went to in St. Louis, Missouri was full of older men perusing pornographic magazines. There were bright sex toys displayed on shelves, with no information on how to use them or even why to use them. Polly found a void wherever she looked. “It’s one thing to be in New York City, but I was in St. Louis, and we just didn’t have any information for us out there,” she told me. The experience stayed with her.

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Polly Rodriguez (left) with the Unbound team at a Sex Expo in Brooklyn, NY

Now, nine years later, Polly is the co-founder and chief executive of Unbound, which she bills as “an online sex shop for rebellious women.” It’s a way for her to rescue other women from going through what she did: feeling embarrassed about wanting to learn about and explore her sexuality.

Unbound has a quarterly subscription box, in which people receive a number of sex toys and products. The company also offers themed boxes for different events in a person’s life: a Period Box, a Menopause Box, a Pregnancy Box, and there’s even a Rebound Box for people who are going through a breakup. The point of all of this is to give women the information they’re seeking about their sexuality and wellness, in a way that isn’t embarrassing for them.

 

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Cards, necklaces, and cuffs, oh my!

It’s only in recent years that sex toy companies have started considering women’s needs, and the reason for this is clear: most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in: CEOs like Polly are working hard to fill this void that has existed for far too long. And while she’s seen success with Unbound, getting there hasn’t been easy.

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The Pregnancy Box (Image from Unbound)

The same problem that exists in sex-toy companies exists in venture capitalism: men. “There’s an image of what a startup CEO should look like, and it isn’t usually a woman,” Polly said. “You walk into those investor meetings feeling like you don’t belong. I had to learn quickly how to be resilient.” To add to this, listening to conversations about sex can be awkward and often people’s first instinct is to laugh. “I’ve been laughed out of rooms and it ends up creating this sense of imposter syndrome where you feel like you aren’t good enough,” Polly said. “But you are good enough and you should be there! It’s just easy to forget when you’re in that environment.”

I asked Polly if she could go back in time and give her 16-year-old self some advice, what would it be? “Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s fine if you go to a state school. What really matters is that you do well and work hard,” she said. Oh, also, “Go to the doctor early because you have cancer in the butt!”

 

 

Knowing Two Languages Is a Forked Road

I am the best English speaker in my family.

By Monica Torres

Chicana feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa said that for Latinos who have no other recourse but to create a new language —one neither español ni inglés— our bodies shapeshift, we grow a “forked tongue.”

I hear that snake’s rattle when men in suits talk to me as if my mother wasn’t there, telling me that they cannot understand her. A snake’s forked tongue gifts you with two different perspectives to create a more complete, three-dimensional whole. I see and hear things clearly through mine. My mother’s English is a lilting cadence of song, the easiest language I know, full of clear colors and unexpected metaphors. My own is Standardized and boring, a Grade-A product of the American education system.

All my years of fancy book learning have made me the best English speaker in my family, but I would happily forfeit my fluency in ski lodge capitalism and human boatshoes and forget the meaning of structured analyses if I could sound more like my mother.

She is the only person in my world who can switch between Spanish and English at a rapid clip of “did you put on desodorante” and “porque no me has llamado.” I can understand her judgment at any speed. With everyone else, Spanish sounds like a mouth full of cotton, at least to me. I’m muy Americana. I garble tenses, fuck up the accents, and reach for words that do not come. I love hearing my name in Spanish, but I’m afraid that if I use it and you ask harder questions, I won’t be able to follow through. I sign my name Monica, not Mónica.

Here’s a grammar lesson that’s taken me too long to learn: knowing the right words doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know how to say them. I have failed too many people with my agreeable silence. The unspoken truth is that we judge people narrowly by their accents and dress and skin just as much as what comes out of their mouths. That’s why nothing makes me swipe left faster than a man who mentions good grammar as a criteria. We wouldn’t be able to speak the same language. How could I tell him that when my mother tells me what “Rachel Maddox” said on TV today, it makes me homesick.

The last time I visited my mom in Florida, she waited until my last days to tell me about a request to help her. Over the last few weeks, she had spent hours translating and typing up letters in English to a company that had mismanaged her request, only for these painstakingly-worded complaints to go unanswered. Would I please figure out a way to get them to answer her? The letters were not in perfect Standardized English but they were full of clear actionable demands. Reading through them, I felt a hissing anger rise within me and tighten my throat. This was not the first time this has happened to her.

My mother read the look on my face for helplessness. It was that and more, a two-forked thing. All it took me was one stern phone call to resolve the issue that had been bothering her for weeks.

My father wanted to name me after my mother, but recognizing her new chosen world of Tropicana, my mother gifted me a name that would sound easier in English and Spanish. Muy Americana.

Then and now, this is how she reasoned her decision to name me, her request for my help: I know they will listen to her more than me. When she tells me this, it’s in a voice full of pride and more.

11 Moms in NYC Share Their Advice on Motherhood

We hit the streets of New York City and asked eleven women to share their best advice about being a mom.

Photographs by Sara Afzal, Introduction by Gabrielle Sierra

As six women who have yet to embark on the incredible journey that is motherhood, we wanted to capture some of the extraordinary moms we see around the city every day. Whether they are taking their kids to the park, consoling them after a tumble or dragging them along to get groceries at Trader Joe’s, these mothers impress and amaze us with their ability to guide, love, teach and protect another human being.

We hit the streets and asked eleven women to offer the best advice they could about being a mom.

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Marsha McGogney 44 | Occupational Therapist | West Village, Manhattan, NY| Josephine, 2 

“You need a ‘village’ because ‘it takes a village.’ Giving our daughter as much time as possible around other kids every day, I think, is working for her. My husband’s native culture of staying connected to community is the driving force behind keeping her connected to other kids. I think…that accessing her village of kids makes her happy.”

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Rahna Jalashgar | 33 | Administrative assistant | Tribeca, Manhattan, NY | Leo, 2.5 months

“I kind of had a difficult pregnancy and had a lot of anxiety. My mom told me this is your first test as a mother. Every time you are upset and anxious it affects the baby and your first test is how to take care of that and smooth it over. Being a parent isn’t just feeding a child, you have to be mentally healthy as well. You don’t know what kind of parent you’re going to be until the baby comes.”

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Gem Stone | 32 | Construction project manager | East Village, Manhattan, NY | Sofie, 7 weeks

“The advice I got from my mom was ‘don’t look at the baby’s diapers (as in don’t focus too much on the poop or number of pees), look at the baby’s face.’ If the baby seems happy, she’s healthy.”

“I would say to pregnant women, birthing is a very human experience, learn as much as you can about what your body will go through beforehand so you can be present during the labor and birth. Also keep your core tight- pushing a baby out is like doing the most intense sit ups EVER.”

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Alisha Bhagat (8.5 months pregnant) | 34 | Brooklyn, NY | Senior sustainability advisor and futurist | Shirin, 2 

“With kids everything is a phase that will eventually pass. This is a reminder to enjoy the good times as morning snuggles and unfiltered toddler joy won’t last forever. It also means that tantrums, sleepless nights, and potty training will also someday pass.”

“Sometimes women feel that they need to spend every second of their free time with their kids. There is no need to sacrifice your own hobbies, interests, and identity for your children – you will be miserable. The happiest mothers I know are those who are able to make time for their own personal lives outside of parenting. Children are such a blessing, but they should integrate into your life, not take it over.”

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Pakiza Rassoul | 36 | Community outreach liaison for a nonprofit | Nolita, Manhattan, NY | Frankie, 9 months

“Not every child is the same. I tell everyone to have patience. When you are pregnant you get a hell of a lot of advice more than you know what to do with.”

“We live in New York City so you got to use your surroundings. Nolita is our oyster. Take in what the city has to offer and don’t feel like because you’re a mom you have to stay home and be held captive. “

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Titi Michelich (6 months pregnant) | 40 | Head of operations for a creative agency | Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY | Rita, 3, Dante, 5 

“I’ve been a working mom the whole time. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to manage my job while having kids since I have more flexibility to work part time if I need to. An aunt of mine told me when you’re at home it’s good to put your work to rest and more important to focus on your children –not to try to do both things at the same time.”

“Even if we live in a city and urban environment, we can spend lots of time outside. Whether going to parks and playgrounds, or walking around the city. We also go to museums and theaters. There is so much to do with kids and you can still enjoy the cultural movement here.”

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Chrissy Shrider | 37 | Artist | Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY | Nora and Ruby, 2-year old twins (not pictured: Lucia, 5) 

“I’d say, pay attention to how you spend your time and really be present. I think it’s important to make time in between all the things that need to get done everyday and just really focus on being with your kids and bonding. It’s those little moments in the day to day routine that you may not think much of at the time but they turn out to be cherished memories that stick.”

“Enjoy your surroundings and stop to soak in the little things. This city is filled with amazing adventures for kids to explore. There’s always something to do but I find it really special when we move slowly and enjoy our journey of the day, whatever it may be. Sometimes just stopping to look at a worm on the sidewalk turns into a silly moment that we’ll never forget.”

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Kathy Fusco | 41 | Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY | Creative Director| Lila, 1.5

“The first few months are hard. People don’t always talk about that. You might have some shower cries and question whether you can do this. YOU CAN. The beginning is all about survival. It gets easier and way more fun!”

“In New York City, Buy your neighbors bottles of wine when sleep training!”

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Amanda Banks | 3Former preschool teacher Manhattan, NY | Jack 2.5, Alexander, 6 months

“My aunt told me the days are long and the years are short. You want to really enjoy every moment with your kids and get through the day by being present in the moment and not being too busy.”

“I am trying to be a ‘minimalist mom.’ It can be tough bc here in NYC we are constantly exposed to so much, stores full of baby gear and toys, ‘the best’ schools and classes for our children.’ It can feel like too much at times. I try to keep things simple, keeping a small amount of toys in our apartment and utilizing the city (with its museums and parks) as much as possible for learning opportunities and playtime.”

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Shadean Runyen 44 | Risk Management Director and CPA | Santa Barbara, CA (visiting NYC) | Sasha, 14 (not pictured: Gabe, 11, Noah, 9, Zachary, 8) 

“I think the best advice has been to remind your kids that they need to always love each other and support each other. Siblings need to take care of each other and always have each other’s back. It’s easy for sibling relationships to drift apart and disconnect. For my husband and I, one of the most important things we want for our kids is to know that they will always have each other.”

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Nina Costantino | 40 | Vintage Reseller | Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York | Nicholas, 9 months

“Don’t be afraid to be silly; laugh at yourself and clown around with your baby, just go all out and be willing to make a fool out of yourself. I think a lot of people might feel self-conscious or embarrassed. Maybe it’s done behind closed doors so we don’t always see it. Don’t take yourself or the situation too seriously. Take a deep breath and laugh. It’s not the end of the world.”

“The best advice I’ve ever received was from a friend my age and mother of a 3 and 4 year old her name is Loury. As a mother you come first even if the baby is crying hysterically take care of your needs first. You can’t take care of them unless you care for yourself. Before you step away, make sure your baby is in a safe and secure area.”

Lady Boss: 13 Tips From 4 Powerful Women

We talked to these women to learn from their individual experiences, benefit from their advice, and (ultimately) to greedily absorb their successful vibes.

By Gabrielle Sierra

 

We sent a series of 10 questions to four female entrepreneurs, each representing a different career path, background, and industry. Our goal was to learn from their individual experiences, benefit from their advice, and (ultimately) to greedily absorb their successful vibes as they discussed what makes a person professionally powerful.

The Women:

Robyn Streisand, 54, Founder & CEO of The Mixx + Titanium Worldwide. Has worked for 25+ years to achieve her position. Currently manages 20 people at The Mixx and 17 agencies from Titanium Worldwide.

Brenda*, 32, a managing director in the field of architecture/design. Has worked for approximately 10 years to achieve her position. Currently manages 22 people.

CL*, 44, a director in the field of education. Has worked for 18 years to achieve her position. Currently manages 12 people.

Debra*, 32, Director of Catering in the hospitality industry. Has worked for 11 years to achieve her position. Manages 14 people.

*Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.

What we learned:

1. Power means gaining the respect of your coworkers.

“Power is when the people you work with respect you and rely heavily on you for business decisions, because they know you can make the appropriate decisions and provide the necessary tools to excel, succeed and get the job done. When they need your opinion in any given situation in order to move forward, that’s when you become powerful.”

– Debra

2. Don’t expect everyone to like you along the way.   

“Work your hardest at every project that comes your way to prove yourself and not to come in feeling entitled. Nothing will get handed to you, you will and should always expect to have to earn people’s respect and to show why you should be the one running the show. Do not take things personally and realize you do not have to be friends with everyone. Not everyone will like you and you may not like everyone but you will need to learn to work with various personalities in order to make your program run well.”

– CL

3. Focus on yourself and learn to grow through feedback.  

Try to take care of yourself first, you need to be the best you in order to support your staff and make critical decisions. Also, expect criticism and accept criticism. Let it help guide your self evaluation to make you a better person.”

– Brenda

4. Understand the b-word.

“I think the word ‘bossy’ may sometimes get confused with attention to detail or wanting something done a specific way.  I find myself correcting people to revise their actions or change their tactics because I know that it isn’t the most successful way or best course of action.  When wanting to make sure you maximize profits, increase revenue, instill the best policies and procedures, and make appropriate business decisions, ensuring things are done perfectly is a vital role of your job.  Being able to think that way is what makes you be that successful person.  So perhaps I have been called bossy in style, but again I think of it as being a perfectionist and expecting that from others.”

– Debra

5. Go after what you want.  

“I define success as having freedom to make decisions on what business to pursue or not, having freedom to do things ‘my’ way, freedom to evolve and grow as a true entrepreneur.”

– Robyn

6. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear at moments of frustration…

Yes, I have cried at work. But if you want to be taken seriously you shouldn’t…wait till you get home.”

– Brenda

7. …and don’t shrug it off as just a side-effect of being a female.

“I have probably cried at work, yes. But it was certainly not because I am a woman. It was just because something frustrated or annoyed me that much that I just needed a release.”

– Debra

8. Sometimes sacrifices must be made on the path to success…

There are always consequences. I’m sure that throughout my career, I have consciously chosen work over my partner, my family and friends as well. Never meant to hurt anyone, and never to get back at someone. But there are always situations where you have to make a choice in the moment, and it’s at someone else’s expense. Sucks.”

– Robyn

9. …but in some cases they may be worth it.

“I think for the first 8 years after college, I gave up my personal life completely. I did nothing but work for years following college, working my way up. And it was completely worth it. Having professional success gave me the confidence to do other things, outside of work even, contributing to a happier life with the right balance between my professional and personal sides.”

– Debra

10. Know that not every choice you make will be greeted with warmth.

“Yes, (I have been called cold,) when I make decisions based on the needs of the program and college regardless of subordinates’ individual concerns.”

– CL

11. At some points in your career you may be treated differently as a woman.

“Earlier in my career it was very difficult to be taken seriously by clients and especially their contractors. But I don’t feel that way now. The owners of my company have always been very supportive of me and have given me the tools I need to the best of their ability.”

– Brenda

12. At some points in your career you may be treated differently for other reasons.

“Over the years, I have occasionally felt like I was treated differently because I was a manager at such a young age. I had plenty of experience, and led a team of employees that might include someone 20 years my senior.  That is what was more uncomfortable for me.”

– Debra

13. Above all, always remember to go with your instincts.

“Do business with integrity, stand for yourself, don’t be afraid to say no, and trust your gut.”

– Robyn

Revisiting the Sex Scenes of Our Pasts

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better?

By the Editors

 

As we get older it’s only natural that we ask ourselves important questions. Am I the person I thought I would be? What can I do to make this world a better place? Do the sex scenes I loved as a teenager hold up if I watch them today? We at High-Strung place great value on our ability to address all vital questions in order of importance, so naturally we started with the sex scenes.

There is no doubt that as any red-blooded human you know the scenes we mean. That one moment of a movie you watched over and over, rewinding the tape with anticipation or viciously tapping the arrows on your DVD player until you got it just right. The scene you watched alone in your basement or every weekend with a best friend because it gave you a glimpse into the wonderful and mysterious world of sex.

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better? We decided to revisit our all-time favorite sex scenes and reevaluate them with our now adult eyes. To double down on our reviews we asked our resident youth correspondent and millennial tastemaker, Monica Torres, to pass her judgment on the scenes as well, since she timidly admitted that she had not actually seen most of them in the first place.

The clips are not included, just a screenshot, but beware what you scroll through at work.  This is x-rated, NSFW content. 

Gabrielle

“Fear” (1996) starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg

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Gabrielle: Leave it to a horror film fanatic to focus her teen lust on a moment in a bad movie about a crazed murdering stalker boyfriend who decapitates a dog. At the time I felt like this scene had everything I loved most: a roller coaster, Mark Wahlberg, and a sexual act that seemed really mysterious and confusing and exciting. Watching it now all I can see is how young they both look and how dangerous and potentially painful it would be to perform this act on a freaking roller coaster. Additionally, the adult in me must insist that they are at an amusement park and therefore there must be children around. Children! I do have to give bonus points for the fact that this is clearly a moment of sexual pleasure and discovery for the female, with most of the focus on her face. Minus points for the creepy pairing of a public teen sex act with a sappy rendition of “Wild Horses” by The Sundays.

Monica: I only watched the trailer to prepare, and I have no plans to watch this movie after seeing this scene of unbelievable sexual acrobatics. The tunes of “Wild Horses” are supposed to make this scene feel romantic, but I felt like there should’ve been horror strings playing for Reese’s vagina. I was deeply concerned for Reese’s cervix on that roller coaster. How could a finger bang on a roller coaster not end badly?! I also don’t buy that she would orgasm in a minute-long ride. Puh-lease.

“Secretary” (2002) starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader
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Gabrielle: I was already eighteen when this movie was released, but my level of fascination with it was still on par with the sex scenes that entranced me as a naive pre-teen. Sadomasochism was certainly not something anyone had gone over in sex education, and Cosmopolitan really dropped the ball on giving us a cohesive “Top Ten Ways to Ask Your Boyfriend to Spank You” list. It helped that I was (and still am) in love with James Spader, so even though I felt slightly confused by the eroticism of “Secretary”, I still swooned every time he was on screen. I would watch this movie late at night because that was the only time it would air on TV, but I never really discussed it with people. Nowadays, with the success of crap books like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it would seem that sadomasochism is a bit more mainstream, so going back and watching “Secretary” feels a bit less scandalous. I still find it incredibly enjoyable, sexy, and intriguing. But to be fair I never really stopped watching it.

Monica: I wanted to watch the rest of the movie! The spanking scene was hawt and intense, and I noticed that unlike every other sex scene the High-Strung ladies and I watched, we did not talk through this one. His hand possessively cupping her butt over her pencil skirt as she’s bent over a desk is an arresting image. Like, arrest me for my impure thoughts! As a literary nerd, I first learned about this movie from a journal’s article that got nominated for an award this year. “Ladies in Waiting” uses the protagonist of “Secretary” as an example of the lover’s fatal identity: “I am the one who waits.” The article’s author Becca Rothfeld argues that waiting, erotic and otherwise, has long been defined as a feminine activity: Maggie Gyllenhaal as “[t]he figure at the desk, with her tattered wedding dress, her throbbing hunger, her clenched hands, could only have been a woman.” Just giving you all some academic thots to chew over as you watch this scene.

As a child of burgeoning social networks, my introduction to BDSM and orgasm denial was not through this 2002 indie film, but through the more nefarious means of creating a fake username, so I could read explicit stories on adultfanfiction.net that were way above my grade level. Ah, the things we do to discreetly learn about sex!

Frida

“Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) starring Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Ana López Mercado 

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Frida: Rewatching these scenes again (five altogether – Gael and girlfriend, Diego and girlfriend, Gael and Ana, Diego and Ana, Gael, Diego, and Ana – WHEW) makes me wonder how this movie had time to develop any plot at all considering they take up so much time having sex. I love this movie for so many reasons, not least because it was my first introduction to the work of art that is Gael Garcia Bernal. The sex itself is so integral to the story – you can practically see the hormones oozing out of these two young men and their sexual interactions with women showcase how little control over themselves they have. When they fuck their girlfriends early in the movie – pardon my language but there really isn’t another word for what they’re doing – they can barely get their pants off before they finish, it’s so frenetic and animalistic. Ana tries to get them to slow down a little bit on their own but ultimately it’s the final scene where all three of them come together that actually feels like sex. For me it still completely holds up as a powerful cinematic feat, but as a teenager I just remember feeling VERY HOT AND BOTHERED whenever I put it on (which I did many times).

Monica: Um, I LOVE how Diego and Gael kiss at the end. Only seeing this film through explicit gifsets on Tumblr, I didn’t know the relationships of the film and I am happily surprised that their queerness was not just subtext. Watching Diego Luna in the cinematic masterpiece on sweaty teen dancing, “Dirty Dancing: Habana Nights,” was my introduction to his beauty as a lusty preteen. I’m going to go immediately correct the fact that I haven’t watched this film. Also, unsurprisingly, I’m noticing that all of the clips Gabi, Frida and Saira have chosen focus on female pleasure and I love that.

“Jerry Maguire” (1996) starring Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston 

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Frida: Watching this as an adult I can see the scene actually has an underlying meaning and even humor – it’s supposed to be outrageous and a way to show how unhappy Jerry Maguire was in his fast-paced 90’s power agent life, giving weight to why he ended up with sweet, purse-lipped, cute-kid-having Renee Zellweger. But BOY OH BOY let me tell you when this baby first came out I was SCANDALIZED – they are seriously humping. I’m pretty sure I saw “Jerry Maguire” in theaters and then ended up watching it again at a friend’s house when her progressive parents rented it and invited us to watch it with them (what the fuck, guys?) As I already knew what was coming I calculated my trip to the bathroom at just the right time to ensure that I missed having to sit next to Mr. and Mrs. Whoever while watching the titillation unfold. Still pretty hot though.

Monica: I’m the dog with my head cocked, watching two humans make loud noises. I have seen “Jerry Maguire” multiple times and I have NO recollection of this sex scene. Maybe I only watched the parent-approved censored version? Maybe if I watched this back when it came out, I would’ve thought of Tom Cruise as hot, but now all I see is a fervent scientologist jumping on Oprah’s couch. His soon-to-be-ex in this sex scene is supposed to be a villain, because she’s not always stroking Jerry’s ego: “Jerry, there is a ‘sensitivity’ thing that some people have. I don’t have it. I don’t cry at movies. I don’t gush over babies. I don’t start celebrating Christmas five months early, and I don’t tell a man who just screwed up both of our lives‘oh, poor baby.’” What a hero. Boy bye.

Saira

“Blown Away” (1993) starring Corey Haim and Nicole Eggert

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Saira: My best friend and I obsessively watched the sex scenes in this horrible movie, starring both the Coreys, which she had on VHS, when we were teens. It took us four years to actually get through the entire film–normally we’d just forward to the “good parts.” Rewatching this for the first time in over 10 years I’m realizing that this is straight up softcore porn, and is probably why we were so obsessed with it. In fact, the only place where I was able to find a clip was on PornHub. From the music to the clothes, the cheap lingerie to the slow-motion thrusting, these sex scenes absolutely do not stand the rest of time. No one has sex like this. No one wants to have sex like this. Also what’s with the dangerous music? And how the hell did my friend have this on VHS?   

Monica: I can’t get over the slo-mo thrusting. It feels like the directors just discovered PowerPoint transitions. I do like how he starts out by focusing on her and giving her oral, but he literally licks her vagina for seconds before moving on.

“Cruel Intentions” (1999) starring Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe

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Saira: In stark contrast to the sex scenes in “Blown Away,” Annette and Sebastian (Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe)’s scene always got to me because it’s so sweet and, in my head, felt real. Also the build up to this “lovemaking” was intense. Would they? Wouldn’t they? By the time they finally do it, I felt just as frustrated as Sebastian! Revisiting this with Monica and the team, I have to admit, it still holds up. Sure, no one’s first time is as perfect as this film makes it seem, but hey, it’s Hollywood and decades later Annette and Sebastian’s romantic love-making still makes my heart flutter (just a little). Too bad Ryan turned out to be kind of a jerk in real life though.  

Monica: This is another popular movie I haven’t gotten around to fully watching. But for the record: I was eight when it came out. Later, as a teen who had never been kissed, I definitely remember doing a deep analysis of the kissing scene between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair, slightly perturbed at how much spit was being exchanged. It didn’t look fun! This scene of sepia-toned lovemaking between Annette and Sebastian does seem like a relatively realistic depiction of how first times usually go: a little pain, a lot of nerves and anticipation into the leadup, and then you’re done with the act itself, but not with how long you’ll be obsessing over it. 

The Bonds of Motherhood

An adopted woman’s journey into adulthood, and whether she wants to meet her birth mom.

By Sara Afzal

 

It was taco night at the Angulo family’s home, and my best friend Tessa, 14, and her mother, Teresa, were gathered around the kitchen island. They had the same soft features that fell easily into glowing smiles and laughter. The two of them looked so much alike. I was shocked when I first found out Tessa was adopted. “We get that all the time. No one ever believed me when I would say I was adopted,” Tessa Gardner, née Angulo, said.

One night during one of our many sleepovers, Tessa showed me a stuffed teddy bear. She pressed a button on its stomach, and the jovial sing-song voices of two small girls rang out “Happy Birthday Tessa!” She told me they were her two half sisters from her birth mother, Cindy, who had remarried and started a new family. Although Tessa received gifts and letters from Cindy, she has never met her.

Over the years, their correspondence was sporadic, and Tessa’s mom tended to correspond directly with Cindy more often than Tessa did. After a lapse in communication, Cindy wrote a letter to Teresa in 2009 implying the possibility of a meeting. “As Tessa neared 18; I was nervous that she would be interested in meeting me and on the other hand nervous she wouldn’t. I didn’t want to be torn on your side or hers if I kept in contact. If anything should have transpired; I wanted it to be a decision she made,” Cindy wrote.

Tessa chose not to pursue a meeting at that time.

“Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to meet her. I kind of went back and forth with it, but I just wasn’t ready. It’s a big thing… to meet your biological mom. You never know what could happen,” Tessa said later.

Tessa’s parents, Teresa and Tim, pursued adopting children after it became apparent that Teresa couldn’t become pregnant easily. “They didn’t really have a diagnosis,” she said after going through fertility testing. In her early 30s, she considered trying the in vitro process, but she decided against it. Teresa turned her focus on going back to school and furthering her career as a nurse, but realized at age 36 that she had to be a mother. “It wasn’t so important that I have a birth child. I just wanted to raise a child, so that’s when we started looking at adoption.”

Tessa was their first child. She was born premature after 16-year-old Cindy unexpectedly went into labor six weeks early. Tessa had a breathing tube when she was first born, and only weighed about four pounds. She spent 10 days in the hospital before going home. As a nurse, Teresa persuaded the hospital to let her take the baby home, where she fed her every two hours. “For me, from the moment I saw and held Tess, I was in love with her. My bond to her was instant and complete and I still feel that bond,” Teresa said.

Teresa and Tim decided from the beginning to have an open adoption with full communication and identifying information from the birth mother. Although Tessa decided not to initiate a meeting with Cindy, letters went back and forth throughout her life. About 55 percent of families initiate open adoptions and 40 percent are semi-open adoptions with mediators, according to a Donaldson Adoption Institute survey of 100 adoption agencies. The survey also found that 95 percent of agencies offer open adoptions. 

Tessa’s adopted sister Tori decided to meet her own biological mom, who had Tori at 17. Tori came out of the experience realizing how different her childhood would have been with her birth family, and grateful for her current circumstances. Tessa said Tori came home, gave their mom a big hug, and immediately thanked their adopted parents for the life they had given her.

According to psychology professor Abbie Goldberg, whose research focuses on adopted families, “Adopted individuals are not confused by contact with their birth parents. They benefit from the increased understanding that their birth parents gave them life but their ‘forever families’ take care of and nurture them.”

The Angulo family maintained open communication with their children’s biological parents, but also allowed Tessa and Tori to make their own decision with meeting them. “I wanted our kids to know their birth parents. What a huge hole in your life if you had no information. I know Tessa has never met her birth parents, but she got all of their information, she’s gotten letters from them, she knows of them, where they are, what they do, what they look like…I think that’s important,” Teresa said.

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Tessa and Teresa

Teresa said she would constantly tell Tessa about her birth mother as a baby, and read her bedtime stories about adopted families. Tessa remembers knowing from a very early age that she was adopted, but despite the open communication throughout her life with her birth mother–she didn’t feel ready to meet her.

“I really didn’t think about being adopted too often unless it came up in conversation or I got a letter from my birth mother. I felt so comfortable with my family. They just never made me question anything. My mom and dad were super supportive,” Tessa said. “I see a lot of people not having a close relationship with their parents and it’s really sad to me. My mom and I have always been really really close. She’s my go to person and always has been,” Tessa said.

At 29, Tessa is now married and a mother to a two-year-old daughter named Ava. They live in Santa Barbara near her parents, who are active in their granddaughter’s life. To Ava, Teresa is known as Nan (short for Nana), the one that takes her to the library for story time, picks flowers with her, or helps her feed the koi fish in their small front pond. “I love being part of Ava’s life. I’m thankful Tessa is here. You connect with your child when they have a child of their own,” Teresa said.

Tessa says she is fascinated by discovering her own biological traits in her daughter. Whether making the same “hangry face” or getting a spell of the giggles. “Her mannerisms are similar. Certain faces she makes my mom says she looks just like me,” Tessa said.

Recently, Tessa discovered that her birth mom, Cindy, named one of her daughters Ava as well, a coincidence that immediately gave Tessa goosebumps. Cindy was just 16 years old when she had Tessa. A high school cheerleader, was dating a football player, Ernie, when she became pregnant. According to Teresa, he was never involved in the pregnancy or adoption process.

“I honestly can’t believe what my birth mother went through. When you are pregnant you have this bond with your baby and go through this whole pregnancy journey,” Tessa said.

“I think now that I’m older, I would totally would love to meet her. I think my mindset is different, and I can handle the situation better,” Tessa said. “I feel like I owe her. She did such a selfless thing. I would like to just hug her and tell her thank you.”

 

Our Hair, Ourselves

For some women, losing their hair can mean losing a piece of who they are. I talked to a friend about how that feels.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

For many women, hair is a significant facet of public and personal identity. From a young age, women are categorized socially by hair color and length, texture and style, reduced to features acquired genetically or at the price of a straightener or bottle of dye. The gendered imbalance of the importance of hair is evident in our language; referring to “the blonde over there” still conjures for most an image of a female-bodied person. In black culture, the phrase “good hair,” described by Lauren Walker as a reference to to hair that is naturally wavy, not kinkyis mostly reserved for women. The existence of the term itself exemplifies the complicated politics of hair within different realms, often a confluence of gender, race, class, and power dynamics.

For these reasons, discussing female hair loss remains taboo despite women making up 40% of the 50 million Americans experiencing it. Academic research supports the idea that hair weighs more heavily on feminine identities. In her studies on the subject, Priya Dua defines “hair work” as 

a technology of the self and/or the body wherein hair is a tool that women use to construct identity in everyday social interaction. These processes are located at the interstices of femininity, gender, normality, health, and beauty. Hair work is something that women are socialized into…hair loss is something that women need to be more concerned with than men.

In order to explore these ideas I spoke with a close friend about her own experiences with hair loss and identity. Michelle* is a 30-year-old nurse whose thinning hair has impacted her self-image in different ways over the last decade. “I feel like I was always aware of my hair being flat and fine,” she says, over drinks in Brooklyn. “It just wasn’t thick. In my early twenties, in the midst of nursing school I became more conscious of it. I’d start noticing that I could see my scalp in certain angles, or that I could see the ridge of my head through my hair.”

After doing research online and finding few options, she decided to see a doctor. She recalls that “he basically dismissed my claims and came off as incredibly insensitive. He was bald himself and made the joke that, ‘Hey it’s hard for men, too!’ I left just devastated thinking this was my fate, that this was happening and I couldn’t do anything.”

When asked what was most upsetting about noticing her hair thinning, she responds, “It’s just another part of the aging process that makes you feel like you’re losing yourself. This is the face I’ve looked at my whole life, this is the hair I’ve had, and it’s going away.” Hair is also a big part of her personal fashion. “It’s kind of your everyday, permanent persona. I wear a lot of black, I like my boots. My hair and shorter bangs are kind of goth, kind of edgy. It definitely influences my style.” Being a nurse means having to wear a uniform, and she finds that just having a slightly out of the ordinary hairstyle makes her stand out to her patients. “At work my hair draws attention – mostly because of my bangs which are kind of Betty Page-esque-and people comment and say it’s different.” She laughs, “People tell me every week that I look like the girl from NCIS.”

“This is the face I’ve looked at my whole life, this is the hair I’ve had, and it’s going away.”

The physical differences between male and female hair loss contribute to varying societal perceptions of the condition. NYU Langone Medical Center reports that for men the most common form of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia, can start anytime after puberty and the likelihood of going bald as a result is high. For women, the same condition typically begins later, and while it may cause hair to thin dramatically it rarely leads to baldness. Michelle says, “the way my doctor explained it to me that it’s like trees in a forest. You have the same amount of trees but instead of thick tree trunks they’re skinnier.”

Because of the pattern of female hair loss, dealing with thinning hair can be a performance steeped in disguise. Although most people likely wouldn’t notice that Michelle’s long dark hair is thinning when they meet her, she explains that the uncertainty of how noticeable it is leads to anxiety and precautionary behavior. “There’s certain ways I won’t wear my hair and certain things I don’t do which I think would draw attention to it. I’ll see pictures of myself and think how obvious it must be.”

In a time of changing norms, new pronouns, and fluid gender, experimenting with personal identity often begins with hair. However, the element of control is lost when it comes to naturally thinning hair.   “I see women all the time who are bald or with super short hair who are beautiful. But most of time it’s a choice to have a short haircut, they have the right head shape and it’s a whole look,” Michelle notes.  

Her concerns about her hair lead to issues of intimacy, even in non-romantic relationships. “I remember a few years ago I was goofing off with my friend,” Michelle recalls.“She was being funny and pretending to pick stuff out of my hair like a monkey and she goes, ‘Oh my god I can see your scalp!’ And she said it so innocently and she was genuinely surprised and didn’t mean anything by it but I jerked my head back and snapped at her and walked away. I was surprised by how much it affected me.” This fear of naming the issue is echoed in Dua’s studies, which found women often only bringing up the subject to “safe people,” indicating how far-reaching the taboo is.  

“I’d like to think that I will be this badass woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks but I do now, I care about how people see me.”

One of Michelle’s “safe people” was an ex-boyfriend, the first romantic partner she ever opened up to about her concerns. According to her it made it easier to talk to him because his hair was also thinning. “We were even able to joke about it. We broke up on good terms and during one of our final conversations it felt like there was closure and I said ‘Maybe one day down the road I’ll turn and see your bald head and you’ll turn and see mine,’ and we both laughed really hard.”

At this stage in her life Michelle feels more equipped to deal with her hair concerns. “Since it’s been over the course of many years I think more and more I’m coming to terms with it and treating it like any other aspect of my personal care.” But insecurities still crop up, particularly about the future. “I think about it because I’m not in a relationship right now and it makes me think about when I find someone that loves me, are they going to love me if I lose my hair? More importantly, I have to love myself, and this issue can impact that. I’d like to think that I will be this badass woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks but I do now, I care about how people see me.”
*Michelle requested we not use her real name due to the sensitive nature of this interview

New Phone, Who Dis?

A woman’s journey, told through cell phones.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

The child of an engineer and a computer programmer, I was the first one of my friends to get my very own personal computer: a blue iMaclike from the commercialscementing my friendship with at least three girls who were way more popular than I was. While my parents likely hoped I’d use the computer as an encyclopedia and to print out my schoolwork, for me it was another way to keep in constant conversation with any humanor botI could find. Before AOL Instant Messenger existed the Internet was basically the Wild West; my friends and I would log into chat rooms and delight in the ability to have banal conversations online, with what we assumed were toothsome boys our age and not, as it is more statistically likely, 45-year-old basement dwellers.

When I wasn’t skirting predators on the World Wide Web, I was chatting on my lime-green cordless phone on my own private line. If it sounds like I was spoiled, it’s because I was. In 1998, having a private line was basically the gold standard of pre-teendom. I didn’t think life could get any better than being able to call people from the comfort of my bedroom. And then, in 2001, at the age of 14, I got my first cell phone and the world opened up even more.

In the sixteen years that have followed, mobile technology has expanded in ways few people could have imagined. Our smartphones have replaced countless devices and appliances and razed entire industries. They answer our questions in seconds and guide us when we’re lost, geographically or existentially. Seventy-seven percent  of Americans now own smartphones, up from 66% last year, and 35% in 2011. Their rapid evolution continues to change the ways we think about connection and convenience, and also makes it easy to forget how recently we walked through life without the immediacy these devices afford us. 

I wanted to see where looking back through the flip phones and sliders of my past would take me. Each of the clunky, outdated behemoths below was a notch in my timeline, radical in its own way.

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Model: V-Tech 9111 // The Non-Cell Phone

Year: 1998

While not technically a mobile phone, it was attached to my body via the back pocket of my hip huggers, and I carried it into every room of the house as well as outdoors into our yard, testing the limits of its connectivity.

One time the mom of a boy I liked called my parents and told them we had to keep our phone conversations to a minimum of two hours a day so that he could do his homework. My unfettered access to call time also enabled me to attempt to steal not one, but two of my friends’ boyfriends by calling them under the guise of discussing their “relationships.” Woof.

siemensModel: Siemens C45 // The First

Year: 2001

My friends teased me mercilessly about this phone because Siemens sounds like semen and we were 14. When you turned the phone on, the screen glowed orange and a smiley face would pop up to greet you. It was a frowny face when you turned it off. Because you had to charge it basically 23 hours a day and the only outlet in my room was on the other side from my bed, I remember getting out of bed to see if anyone had sent me an “SMS” at random hours of the night (they hadn’t).

nokia-3310Model: Nokia 3310 // The Classic

Year: 2003

Who didn’t have this sturdy Nokia phone? Rumor has it this baby is set to re-release in 2017, to the delight of Snake enthusiasts everywhere. I’m pretty sure I owe the C I got in Chemistry my sophomore year of high school to this piece of plastic, but I also got a very high score in Snake. So..

I also recall having to push my nails into the buttons to dial after a few months, the physicality of the structure so obviously the sum of its parts.

Model: Nokia 3200 with interchangeable covers // Feat of Visual Engineering

nokia-cover

Year: 2005

I tried desperately to find a picture of the actual interchangeable cover I had for this upgraded version of the basic Nokia phone but I couldn’t, probably because it was an unauthorized cover I bought at a boardwalk stand in Ocean City. I’ve got one word for you though: FLAMES. Fun fact: constantly changing the cover on this phone led to debris accumulation; it basically became a dirt factory that I held up to my face all day.

The biggest differenceoutside of the unbelievable aestheticwas that this phone came with its very own camera. As a seasoned photographer after a year of high school photography that I spent outside smoking cigarettes, I was ready to explore this new medium. The pictures I took included, but were not limited to, my feet, my hands, and an eyeball. That’s it. Because 3 pictures was all the storage it could handle.

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Model: Motorola Razr // This phone came in pink

Year: 2007

I know you were waiting for this one. This phone was a game-changer. I was thrilled when I finally got this sleek design but also knew that my excitement had to be partially ironic in order to continue being as cool as I thought I was. I perfected the one hand flip and relished clicking it shut. I was Paris Hilton.

Incidentally, 2007 was the first year that Americans sent and received more text messages than phone calls each month. Perhaps that’s why this is the phone I remember sending them from for the first time, which begs the question, what the hell was I using all those other phones for?

jest

Model: Verizon Pantech Jest // I was eligible for an upgrade

Year: 2009

I genuinely thought this was the coolest phone ever, until it arrived and I realized how crappy it was. Nevertheless, since this was when I got my first “real” job out of college; I’d slip this little pebble into my stiff Target-bought khakis with grit and determination. While the home screen boasted “Email” access and something called a “Social Beat,” you needed a stable internet connection and 20-25 minutes just to log on to www.google.com and type in “beer store.”

env

Model: Verizon LG ENV //Groundhog Computer

Year: 2010

The folks who designed this phone clearly thought they were onto something, envisioning a groundhog-sized person cracking it open to type at his groundhog-sized desk. Oh look, a shift key! In my memory this weighed 8 pounds.

Model: iPhone 4//The Futurescreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-03-27-pm

Year: 2012

And here we are. When I finally made the transition to the iPhone I felt like I’d been launched into outer space. My first grainy Instagram photos are all in Kelvin, i.e. orange and terrible, and this was when my private selfie habit really reared its ugly head. I accidentally smashed the screen on this after having it for approximately one month, wanted to commit harakiri, and have since protected my phone with industrial strength covers and screen protectors like it’s going out of style. So here’s where it ends, because I refuse to include the subsequent iPhones I’ve owned because they are all essentially the same.