Culture 23 March 2018
All my life, I thought I wanted to do one big thing. Kind of like Harper E. Lee: up until Go Set a Watchman, she was known for one big thing – To Kill a Mockingbird. One book. One bestseller. A perfect 1.00 batting average. There is something so tantalizing about one big thing: You get to dart into the national spotlight, do one perfect thing, then run away before you mess up that “perfect” performance, your spotless reputation. It’s the equivalent of a mic drop. Or how a stand-up comedian strives to leave on a high note.
When my invention of the Pussyhat took the world by storm – creating a Sea of Pink at the Women’s Marches, landing on the covers of Time magazine and The New Yorker, I thought that was my To Kill a Mockingbird, my One Big Thing.
I thought, maybe like you, that once I had a big success, I would be satisfied and everything I produced afterward would be easier. This was largely wrong. I found myself petrified to release my second project. But when the March for Our Lives was announced for March 24th, I was so moved by the bravery of these high school student activists, and I knew that it was time to launch my second craftivist project: The Evil Eye Glove. The four tips I share below are applicable whether you’re working on your first “freshman” project, your second “sophomore” project, or your 100th project and need some inspo.
1. Gather Your Friends
As I talk about in Chapter 1 of my book DIY Rules for a WTF World: How to Speak Up, Get Creative, and Change the World – everything changes. You are constantly shifting. Sometimes you will vibe big and powerful and sometimes you will be small and intimate and cozy, and sometimes, you will be in between- medium-sized, curious. Identify your friends who love you whether you are big or small. And seek them out.
At the time the Pussyhat spread like pink wildfire, my best friend MILCK sang her song “Quiet” and it went viral at the March. I was a lucky duck who had a fellow artist friend to talk to who was going through the same thing! We check in with each other all the time, and early on, she shared with me some advice she had gotten, which I will paraphrase here:
A man who has just succeeded at the peak of the mountain and a man who has just failed at the bottom of a ditch are in the same place – “What to do next?”
So whether you’re feeling on top of the world or feeling rock bottom, take solace in that you’re not alone. Seek out friends and let them remind you how valuable you are even without your accomplishments, whether it is One Big Thing or Several Pretty Good Things – it doesn’t matter, because your accomplishments are not you.
2. Separate Yourself from Your Reputation – Then Destroy It
Get to know the “you” that is not your accomplishments. If you don’t know what I mean, that means you’re really tied to your accomplishments. Gently unravel yourself from your accomplishments by taking “personal inventory.” Check out Chapter 15 in DIY Rules for a WTF World called “Find Yourself Fascinating: A Personal Inventory.” One of my favorite Personal Inventory exercises is the “Chick Lit Heroine Exercise” in which you fill in a Mad Libs-like form to get the synopsis of the thrilling adventure story that is you. You’ll find that what makes the storybook character of you interesting is not your accomplishments but your personality, your drive, your foibles, your quirks.
Once you get reacquainted with this fascinating REAL You, take a look at the Reputed You – the one with all the accomplishments, and know you get to play with it, you can mold the Reputed You however you want, for fun and you can always start again when you get bored. A woman’s right to choose goes far beyond just reproductive rights.
We have the right to choose how we look at ourselves, and how we want to play with our reputations. Our reputations are our playthings, we are not the playthings of our reputations.
Run from what's comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. -Rumi
Take a page out of Rumi’s book and Destroy Your Reputation.
3. Dance with the One Who Brung Ya
When I nurtured the Pussyhat into being, I followed my intuition, which led me to make surprising choices. The Pussyhat became a big success. My intuition was like my hot date who brought me (and the Pussyhat) to a grand ball! Why would I dance with someone else, like say, Patriarchal “Take the Hard Way” Rationality, when Hot Intuition was my date?
When it came time to launch my second craftivist project The Evil Eye Glove, the tug of Patriarchy “Take the Hard Way” Rationality was strong, and I almost gave in, but I’m so glad that it didn’t feel right, and I immediately understood that I needed to trust the intuition that brought me success in the first place.
Like the Pussyhat, the Evil Eye Glove was born of intuition – it came to me in a dream – a huge peaceful gathering of women with their hands raised – on each hand was a painted eye – it was a Sea of Eyes. Just as the Pussyhat created a sea of pink, the evil eye gloves create a sea of eyes.
After the Pussyhat debuted at the Women’s March, I put the step by step instructions on how to make the Evil Eye Glove into my book DIY Rules, ready to go. I was waiting for the right moment to launch the Evil Eye Glove into full craftivist action, and I got nervous and antsy. I chided myself for sitting on it, for being “lazy” but ultimately, I am so glad I waited because when the March for Our Lives was announced, my intuition knew it was time.
So wherever you are in your career, look back on the successes you’ve had and honor what brought you to those successes. And if intuition is a key ingredient to what brought you those successes, I suggest you keep dancing with it.
Look at the that “success ingredient list” and decide which ingredients you still want to use – perhaps you had a vendor who helped make you successful but your heart thuds to your stomach when you imagine working with them again – feel free to take that ingredient out! But also let yourself be inspired by the ingredients that worked and still excite you. For example, with the Evil Eye Glove, I worked again with Kat Coyle who made the pattern for the Pussyhat, and I worked with Aurora Lady who did all the drawings for the Pussyhat manifesto. Kat made a new pattern for the Evil Eye Glove, and Aurora Lady did gorgeous drawings in less than 24 hours. I also reached out to the people behind the Pussyhat success – the knitters and women’s rights supporters across the land who knitted up a storm! - and asked them to get behind my sophomore project if it was something they believed in. They responded hugely! Check out the hashtag #evileyeglove on Instagram to see what I mean – a huge diversity of gloves. You can also check out the map of evil eye glove makers across the world on my website – people are making them in Maine and in Morocco, Boise and Bangkok, it’s phenomenal! And you can join in by making a custom commitment on the website and then making some super easy evil eye gloves solo or with your besties.
4. Don’t Rank Your Children – Connect with Them
Your creations are like your children, and you’ll probably have many in your life. Just like with real kids, don’t set them against each other in competition. Can you imagine having 2 adorable young daughters, dressing them alike, and doing a “Who Wore It Better” Poll on Instagram? So hurtful! So why do you do that with your projects? Instead of comparing and ranking your children, connect with them, find what makes them tick, what they love, where they thrive. And nurture them.
Whenever I compared the Pussyhat and the Evil Eye Glove, I got really freaked out and totally unproductive. But when I loved each project like my children, I got SO excited for them. They are sisters and they love each other, but they’re also different beings with different life plans. And that’s exciting! The Pussyhat is the sassy welcoming older sister who blares her personality out wherever she goes and creates community – she loves a good party! The Evil Eye Glove is the younger sister who is wry and mysterious, and chooses when to show herself, she is super expressive because she is on the hands (all the gestures the evil eye glove can make! For example, put out your hand in a “stop” gesture and with a slight bend, your hand is then in a gesture of blessings) – she is flexible and her goal is to be watchful and protective (the evil eye is ancient symbol of protection).
Try anthropomorphizing your projects into human beings that are your children. Describe their personalities. What they’re good at, how they like to have a good time. You’ll find that you are proud of them, and want to brainstorm ways for each of your projects to have a good time, each in their own way! Listen to each project and see what they need; just like with children, a younger project might not thrive with the same treatment of an older project, listen and find out!
Now, instead of chasing after One Big Thing (and then feeling tied down preserving and memorializing it), I think of my life’s work as One Big Happy Growing Family. Try thinking of your projects the same way. And remember, you’re the head of this One Big Happy Growing Family, so be sure to be kind to yourself along the way, Mama needs nurturing too! Good luck!
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.