Metamorphosis

As a twenty-something graduate student, I never imagined teaching. The prize that I kept my eye on at that time was research, ideally in a position related to policy in some way, shape or form. At that time, as an arrogant graduate student rather myopically focused on her own research, I thought landing a teaching gig would be the worst possible outcome of all those hours and years spent as a graduate student.

Oh, the irony. Life has a way of reminding us of just how foolish we can be as young (or, even, older) idealists.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and here I am lecturing to graduate students. What’s weirder still, I love it. After three full academic years of teaching at the University of Helsinki, I cannot imagine not teaching.

Part of my enthusiasm for teaching lies within the topics I teach: academic writing, conference presentations and presentations in general, and grant writing, along with a few other transferrable skills courses. I was fortunate as a graduate student to have incredible mentors, professors-turned-friends who I still rely on for their wisdom and guidance, even if I don’t constantly pester them or hover in their doorways. The lessons they taught me years ago remain with me even now, and often echo in my own lectures. I can only hope that I do these incredible minds and kind souls justice. Because they shaped me in so many ways and helped me to become a more dedicated member of the academic community I now feel duty-bound to serve.

As exhausting as the academic calendar is and as much as I look forward to summer and winter breaks, being an instructor never ceases to provide further inspiration and immeasurable rewards. This most likely reflects the immense privilege it is to guide the pool of students that grace my classrooms. These brilliant, dedicated individuals, wise beyond their years, amaze me. They are, quite simply and, as one professor referred to me, indefatigable. As I sift through my inbox sending reviews and feedback to those who worked incredibly hard throughout whichever course they took with me, some of these bright young minds provide feedback to me. I welcome these moments because they help me do better in future. But, this, this I wasn’t expecting and it has moved me in ways I can’t begin to describe:

…. [O]ne thing that I found particularly inspiring was that you seemed to let your personality bubble through your professional instructor role. I have noticed that especially women often somehow suppress or flatten their personality when acting in an expert position, which is maybe because they are afraid of not to be taken seriously otherwise. I don’t want to end up falling into this pit, so I also want to thank you for showing an empowering example that it is possible to be a professional without burying yourself under a role.

For whatever reason, this feedback from an incredibly bright young student represents one of the most powerful indicators that I’m doing what I should be doing. What I was intended to do. And, perhaps, something I’m truly good at. If my classroom example encourages young women scholars to be themselves regardless of stereotypes and expectations, all the better.

Indeed. As a graduate student, as a young career professional and later as a mid-career professional, I didn’t always feel sufficiently empowered to be me. Perhaps the greatest gift this gig has offered me is a way to find my own voice and to apply that voice to providing guidance to others. Without consciously realising it, my own voice appears more genuine and more authentic than it’s ever been before. And, oddly, more confident.

I love my job. Truly. But, this personal metamorphosis was so entirely unintended, yet I completely welcome it. And, can only hope that it continues. At the very least, I hope my own metamorphosis allows others to transform as well…

 

 

Giving voice to survivors of sexual assault

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You’d have to be living under a rock this year to avoid stories of entitled, young male athletes sexually assaulting young women and serving little or no jail time for such crimes.

Missoula, Montana may not be unique in the number of young women who are vilified or simply not believed when they step forward naming their assailants. Jon Krakauer gives those young women who’ve survived rape a powerful voice, one we should all listen and respond to.

Whatever we are teaching young men, it shouldn’t be that they can get away with rape. From prosecutors to communities, we all have a responsibility to clearly and definitively say, ‘this is not okay’. Perhaps, we’ve woken up in the wake of cases like Brock Turner’s outrageously light sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman. Judging by the reactions and words of his father — diminishing rape to a mere ‘20 minutes of action‘ — as well as some of the reactions and character assassinations all too common in Missoula and elsewhere, we have a long way to go.

Whilst Krakauer pens a particularly difficult book to read given the understandably horrendous descriptions and details throughout, it’s an incredibly important read. We need to listen to those who come forward after being sexually assaulted. We need to approach their assaults from a place of belief and seeking truth and justice rather than giving their attackers the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, the shame and guilt and fear each woman experienced in the immediate aftermath of their living nightmares will never heal. They will never find peace.

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Phenomenal Women (Day 66: Proekt 365)

Day 66: Proekt 365 International Women's Day

Day 66: Proekt 365
International Women’s Day

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. During my time in Russia, it was a time of year when all of the men and most women celebrated the ladies in their lives. Men showered women with flowers and raised their glasses to toast the fabulousness that is women. Women, much like every other day, celebrated and supported one another, but with just a bit more sense of sisterhood and infinitely more booze.

As a woman and as a feminist, I’d rather not just have one day when the work, worth, beauty and burdens faced by all women are given the spotlight. I’d rather we applaud ourselves and are celebrated every day. I’d rather we were equally rewarded, equally valued and equally represented in all aspects of life and in every corner. I’d rather we worked towards righting the injustices and eliminating the gender-specific barriers which make life more difficult for women every single day until they were a distant memory.

Still, the fact that I’m admittedly privileged is not lost on me—my husband is a feminist (and at times more so than I am!), I live in a society which places great value on the work of women domestically and beyond the home and I am afforded specific protections which prohibit discrimination against me based solely on my private parts. These are all great things, and for them I am grateful.

That isn’t the case for all women. Far, far too many women. And, not just those who live in lesser developed places, but also women who live in my own society. Whether it is allowing women and girls to attend school, work outside the home, drive, vote, voice their opinions, marry whom they love / wish, choose when and under what conditions to have children or when and with whom to have sex, every day should be an opportunity to make gender equity and justice a reality. For all women. Because all women are of value. All women are beautiful. And, all women should be celebrated. In all our diversity.

On this International Women’s Day, the words of the brilliant Maya Angelou come to mind. Whilst recognising and grieving for the difficulties and outright horrific conditions in which some women are forced to live, I am mindful today (and everyday) of just how amazing women are. Here’s to all of the truly phenomenal women in the world, particularly those who have enriched my life so, so much.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou, ‘Phenomenal Woman’ from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

A tribute to moms everywhere

One of the best kids and moms I know: Mackenzie & Jennifer

In the US on the second Sunday in May each year, we celebrate our moms.

For me, this means paying tribute to all of the women in my family who helped shape who I’ve become. Thanks to my mother, Mary Fuller; my great aunt, Lora B Thomas; my beloved aunt and fantastic friend, Tandy Harlan Fuller; and my grandmother, Katherine Louise Baring Fuller.

Even now, I’m not sure that I’ll be a biological or adoptive to mother to my own children. It’s such an amazing act of selflessness and I’m continually in awe of all women who are mothers. In an era when it is a given that women will work and take care of children, those who do combine professional success with a stable and healthy family life deserve even further awe.

I grew up in a single-parent household at a time when it was exceedingly rare and perhaps unacceptable. How she managed it, I’ll probably never understand. The rest of the women in my family helped, of course. But, what a task.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. And, thank you, ladies, particularly to those who helped raise me.