Shattering the Myth of the “Other Girl”

There is this myth about the “other girl” that both men and women use to assert a woman’s uniqueness and to establish herself as different than all the rest. It is the same myth that gives rise to scores of passive aggressive declarations like “I hate girls” by girls desperately trying to convince others that they are indeed unlike other girls. Girls who are just “one of the guys” use this myth to highlight their laid-back attitudes and low-maintenance lifestyles, because “other girls” are catty, vapid, and have lives filled with drama.

The myth of the “other girl” has roots in a long-standing misogynistic stereotype which describes women as superficial, bitchy, fickle people that gossip and relish drama. It is a stereotype that takes femininity and reduces it to characteristics connoted with negativity, thereby reinforcing traditional gender roles. When men profess, “You’re not like any other girl I’ve met before,” they essentially propagate the stereotype because his statement implies that other girls are inferior. 

It is the existence of this myth that makes the likes of Anne Hathaway or Taylor Swift so easy to hate while celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone remain loveable. They’re all beautiful women, but while Lawrence and Stone demonstrate a tomboy insouciance to their lifestyles, Hathaway and Swift are almost picture-perfect girly. Take Swift for example: tall, blonde, and thin, she likes sparkles and writes songs on boys, love, and heartbreak. She embodies traditional femininity from the way she dresses to the topic of her music. And maybe that’s why so many of us hate her; Swift and Hathaway are too “girly”, which must mean they’re frivolous, catty, and stuck-up. On the other hand, J.Law talks about wearing t-shirts and jeans while eating whatever she wants. She admits to being goofy and boisterous and to being all the other traditionally male traits. So we love to love her because we think, “she’s just like us – she’s not like other girls!”

The danger of the myth of the “other girl” is that it makes girls see other girls as the enemy. It makes femininity inferior and leads women down a self-destructive path. Not only does it perpetuate traditional gender roles, but this myth forces women to validate their own lifestyles and characteristics. Girls who are girly feel they need to apologize or justify their being that way, while girls who do display more masculine traits automatically feel superior. The “other girl” is a demeaning stereotype that belittles women empowerment and demonizes women overall. In order to shatter this myth, women everywhere have to get rid of the notion that being girly must mean you are shallow and spiteful. Whether a girl loves pink and heels or wouldn’t be caught dead in either, she should be entitled to expressing herself in whatever way she feels most comfortable without needing to defend herself from her own gender. The right step toward female empowerment is not to reject femininity but to stop discrediting our own gender and reaffirm the belief that we are all unique.

In Defense of Dating

Being single can be simultaneously liberating and downright confusing. Some days, it’s great to revel in your freedom during which you can stroll through a museum, watch hours of Girls in bed, and spend time doing the things you love at your own pace. Other days, you can’t help but want a cuddle-buddy, a dinner partner, or someone who simply wants to be a part of your life. These are very opposite desires of the heart: one is completely at peace with independence while the other craves a more intimate partnership. One way we try to remedy this tension is by finding someone new and jumping into relationships, only to make a quick exit when we realize there’s little substance beyond initial curiosity and attraction.

As a Millennial I’m part of a generation that is accustomed to instant gratification. Most of what we want and need are at our fingertips, thanks to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix. I’m also part of a generation that doesn’t handle being alone very well. When you couple the two traits together, you end up with what is often called “hookup culture.” Granted “hooking up” has an ambiguous definition, but whether it is for physical satisfaction or emotional fulfillment, it feels as though such a trend has made it harder for dating to take place. Nowadays, most of my friends say they’re “seeing someone” or “hooking up” or that they’re “a thing.” Rarely does anyone use the word dating to describe two people getting to know each other. Too many times I see one-night stands turn into casual flings which turn into relationships. Call me old fashioned, but I miss when college-aged people used to actually date.

Dating. It’s an archaic word, and some would say its meaning is also rather antiquated. Dating is a form of courtship, referring to two people engaging in activities together to see if they’re compatible as a precursor to a potential romantic relationship. Historically speaking, it is a relatively recent phenomenon (think of all those arranged marriages and staid formal courtships complete with chaperones in every Jane Austen novel!). Dating offers a newfound freedom to explore and determine the qualities you value in a significant other.

As a college student, it’s rare to find peers that understand, much less partake in the act of dating. Logically speaking, dating does require a lot more effort and with hookup culture abound, it’s less likely that a twentysomething-year old would prefer to take someone out on a date over a Friday night with a friend with benefits. Because it requires patience and a willingness to be vulnerable for another person, dating can be a lot harder and definitely a bit scarier. However as a twenty-one year old, it just might be the most valuable thing I can do for myself.

Throughout our late teens and early twenties, we do a lot of growing up. I’m definitely not the same wide-eyed freshman I was at age eighteen, but I’m no wise sage when it comes to life. Despite plenty of aspirations and ideas of what I want in the future, I’m open to exploring what else may come my way. So when it comes to romance, I’m a big proponent of dating because it offers the chance to really flesh out what attracts us to another person. Instead of caving into an initial physical attraction, there’s a lot more to be gained by getting to know that person. We all have this mental checklist of the qualities we think we want in the ideal significant other: tall, a sense of humour, soulful eyes, athletic, etc. However, those qualities may evolve with time as we change, and going on dates with different people is a great way to determine whether or not those characteristics remain invaluable. We eschew from dating because we see it as something formal and stuffy when they don’t have to be. A conversation over coffee with an interesting classmate or an afternoon rock climbing with someone you were recently introduced to constitute dates. As we get older and leave behind our adolescence, knowing what we want versus what we don’t want is vital and empowering. So don’t be afraid to date. Along the way you might make a special connection, but even if you don’t, it will still provide an opportunity to learn more about what you want for yourself and in a partner. 

The Pursuit of Pretty

I attend a university where a vast majority of the student population is unnervingly attractive. Despite a respectable sense of self-worth, my inner self-critic can’t help but face insecurity when surrounded by beautiful, put-together men and women. Society’s standard of physical perfection seems to rise year after year, but it’s even harder to maintain satisfaction with your reflection when real, tangible people around you seem to fulfill all the physical attributes society deems ideal.

For women in particular, the pursuit of pretty can be an endless addiction. From an early age, we are reminded of the importance of being presentable and looking attractive. This idea is reinforced by the the bombardment of countless images showing stunning, long-limbed models in various states of airbrushed perfection. Everyone’s New Year resolution usually involves one intention that deals with carbs (or lack thereof). Ads detailing the many ways a revolutionary serum can reduce fine lines or reverse aging convey the implicit societal view that pretty belongs to the youthful. With all that scrutiny on our exteriors, it’s no wonder that more and more people suffer from eating disorders with each year.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a consumer of fashion and beauty, and I love dressing up and looking pretty. However, I also recognize that our looks fade with time and that basing our self-worth on our appearances can lead us down a dangerous path. It’s an ongoing struggle to look into a mirror without criticizing or wanting to change some part of me, but taking the brave step to invest in inner beauty produces the greatest return that no make-up can provide.

Feeding our inner beauty results in an inner radiance that spills over to enhance our outer beauty. Whether that means we partake in a new dance class, engage in healthier eating habits, or read an interesting novel, these actions make us more beautiful. They build confidence which fosters a newfound self-worth that can’t be faked like being pretty can. Pretty isn’t sustainable, and endeavoring to be pretty will only provide finite gratification. So in lieu of looking at our reflections and figuring out ways to look prettier, let’s focus on what makes us beautiful. Let’s identify the things that bring us joy, the experiences that fulfill us, and make choices to feed our inner beauty. 

The Root of Chivalry’s Demise

It’s a Saturday morning. You’re at brunch with your girlfriends recounting the scandalous events of the previous evening. With mimosas in hand and a slew of hazy memories, we vow to forget about the guy who never called the morning after and harden our hearts against another potential relationship mishap. These days, it feels like women are often bemoaning the belief that chivalry is dead. Moreover, we tend to blame its demise on men, all the while failing to see the unfortunate truth that men did not kill chivalry; women did.

When it comes to dating, chivalry stumbled to myth as we women lowered the standards for both ourselves and the men we date. It’s one thing to don a miniskirt to feel sexy and powerful for yourself, but an entirely different thing to wear that miniskirt in hopes of attracting attention from a future one-night-stand. By dressing provocatively with that intent, we invite men to stare at our assets and objectify us. When we forget that we have genuine personalities, aspirations, and thoughtful opinions, our conversations at the bar revolve around what drink we’re having and how pretty we look. Adopting a vapid and meaningless persona only invites conversations devoid of much substance. Such actions convey to women that it’s okay to be indecent or air-headed in order to get men while sending men the message that we are easy. If we don’t uphold ourselves as worthy recipients of gentlemanly behavior, then is it fair to expect such behavior from the men we desire? Chivalry isn’t dead; women killed it when we collectively decided to act as if we aren’t deserving of it.

However, chivalry’s demise isn’t just unfortunate for women, it poses a catch-22 for men too. If a guy spies a girl at the bar and everything about her screams come hither, it isn’t out of the question that he’ll approach her. His first tactic may be of the sensible, polite variety. Perhaps a, “Hi, I’m (insert name here). Can I buy you a drink?” or a, “Hey, how’s it going?” Perfectly reasonable and fairly gentlemanly, but for some reason, she’s not buying it. At this point another guy, one with a little more swagger and far less inhibition, approaches the same girl and this time, she’s met with, “Hey, babe. You look hot tonight. Let me buy you a drink.” To him, the girl smiles and nods only to leave her first suitor incredulous and dumbfounded. Now the nice guy is convinced that the only surefire way to pick up a girl at the bar is to become an ultra-alpha male and assert himself onto a woman. Thing is, most men are capable of chivalry, but this sort of interaction understandably confuses them. If approaching a woman with etiquette and courteous curiosity leads to rejection while a slightly misogynistic and tactless manner helps you score, then it further solidifies the male belief that boorish tendencies are more successful in attracting a woman.

By settling for men without chivalry, women behave with all the provocation and inhibition that is underserving of chivalry, convincing men that we can be wooed without it. And in turn, when men behave gracelessly, it only reaffirms the female belief that men are incapable of chivalry. Now this is beginning to feel a lot like a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” paradigm. Alas, all hope is not lost. Chivalry may feel like its dead, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Chivalry isn’t meant to exist because women always expect chocolates and flowers and for men to always pay for dinner. As gender roles shifted to create more equitable and balanced relationships, chivalry faced a similar evolution. It is no longer about catering to every woman’s whim or fulfilling archaic expectations; it’s more a notion that involves mutual respect and courtesy. In order for women to see chivalry’s revival, we need to learn to treat ourselves with self-respect. Once we do that, men will recognize that not all women can be won with trite compliments or superficial admiration. Admittedly, this sounds like a lot more effort for both parties. But that’s the point. Chivalry demands patience, confidence, and a healthy regard for both the self and the other person, and until we roll up our sleeves and own up to putting in the work to resurrect it, chivalry will remain dead.

Practicing Mindfulness

It’s easy to get caught up in the pessimistic, fatalistic tendencies of today. With all the news coverage on natural disasters, political strife, and international conflicts, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of silver lining. Despite the challenge, it’s important to keep perspective and be mindful for all we should be thankful. Especially with Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the corner, I’m reminded to be grateful for all I do have and to do my best in sharing my blessings.

Everyday, small acts of kindness make an enormous impact, and practicing mindfulness is paramount to making those small daily adjustments that can not only enrich your life but the lives of those around you. They can be as simple as saying thank you to the barista who makes your morning coffee or holding the door open for someone even if they’re a little out of the way. With our hectic schedules, we’re all apt to go on autopilot and make excuses for not being genuinely present in our own lives. By doing so, we cheat ourselves from enjoying every moment and experiencing life as it is. We become accustomed to the routines and daily responsibilities that we don’t even notice the beautiful day or that someone needs our care. We’re so busy with tasks and stresses that we are literally absent from our own lives.

I’ve found that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be difficult, or even something that takes enormous effort. Mindfulness is the ability to enjoy a moment with awareness and without prejudice. There are various methods of achieving this, but these are a few small changes I’ve implemented in my own life that have brought about some eye-opening rewards.

1. Smile.
It’s the most simple, yet often forgotten gesture that is enormously influential. You never know what kind of day the other person may be having, but your offering a smile can brighten both yours and their day. There’s even scientific evidence to back the claim that smiling makes you happier, better looking, and more likely to put others in a better mood. 

2. Listen to music and do nothing else. 
Let it be whatever genre you love – just don’t do anything but enjoy the music. We’re usually working out to music or studying to it, but rarely do we take the time to simply listen to the verses, the instruments, and the harmonies that comprise the music. I grew up as a pianist and violinist, so I listen to a lot of classical pieces when I need a break from all the hubbub and noise in life. Letting yourself mentally wander to your favorite tunes can help center and de-stress your mind.

3. Take a break from multi-tasking.
As the Multitasking Generation, or genM, we’re often found emailing, texting, skimming the news, and doing our homework simultaneously. Despite our belief that our brains are capable of concentrating on all those activities at once, the truth is that we’re not one hundred percent focused on any of them; instead, we’re toggling back and forth from one to another. So close the laptop and give your full attention when your friend is talking to you, or put down the phone at dinner and be mindful of engaging in the present. This is my greatest personal challenge, but by focusing on one task at a time, I am a better listener and am able to take a more active role in my life.

Stop Stalking, Start Talking

We live in an age where face-to-face communication has been replaced by email and texting conversations. Social media and the Internet, albeit a great resource to stay in touch with long-lost friends or family far away, fuels our need for instant correspondence and inevitably affects our abilities to partake in a true, in person conversation.

Ironically, all our technology savvy makes getting to know someone that much harder. The use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social media outlets allows us to gain intimate insight into the lives of basically anyone we are “friends with” or “follow,” yet simultaneously poses a veneer of impenetrability. It also makes us prone to some stalker-like tendencies. That cute guy you saw at the bars last weekend? Give it a few clicks and you’ll know which high school he attended, what he’s doing now, and who his friends are all before you’ve even introduced yourself.

These habits feed our incessant need for control and instant gratification; we want to know where that person of interest is from and what he’s up to because we’re trying to figure out if he fits our criterion for that all elusive “ideal person.” Problem is, by judging an individual from his online presence, we cheat ourselves from actually getting to know someone and learning of their interests, passions, and backgrounds.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’m guilty of this habit. I tend to want to know all these details about someone I’m interested in even before I’ve expressed any sort of interest in him. It’s understandable; the information is readily available and we want to know if that person fits the bill and would be “worth” our time. And sure, becoming Facebook friends with your crush can give you a glimpse into snippets of his life: that summer trip to China, Christmas with his grandparents, or his older sister’s college graduation. But that’s all they are – snippets.  In order to see if there is a genuine connection, it’s important to have conversations and build a rapport. That way, when it is time to decide whether or not your person of interest is someone worth investing your emotions into, you can be confident in your decision. So as terrifying as it may be to suggest coffee with the guy whose only correspondence with you has been through text, one face-to-face conversation can tell you more about where your relationship (or non-relationship) is headed than a hundred text messages.

Less is More

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Donate the twelve pairs of shoes lying in your closet, unworn for god-knows-how-long.
Stop getting a new phone every few years.
Recycle the newspapers, magazines, gift wrap, old notebooks that you swore you needed as keepsakes.

Strip away all the unnecessities, and you may be surprised to find yourself feeling cleaner, more free, and ultimately happier. In this consumerist economy, we forget that less can really be more. We buy without regard, thoroughly believing that the more stuff we acquire, the better off we will be. Our hedonist tendencies encourage us to buy, buy, buy. But instead of feeling elated amidst a sea of possessions, we’re finding ourselves in debt, stressed, and not at all happy in the long-run.

So how can we live with less while pursuing happiness?

1. Think before you buy.
I like to treat myself to nice things here and there, but with most of my purchases, even the most mundane ones like a specific toothpaste brand or type of tea bags, I ask myself, “Is this really worth it, and will it truly make me happy?”
This way, the things I buy become items I will love and take care of and not simply things that take up space.

2. Refine ruthlessly.
Edit and edit and edit again. Watch all the excess disappear and trust me, you won’t miss any of the old sweaters or paperback books you decide to give away to the local shelter or library.

3. Increase functionality.
We live in a time where our phones double as our laptops or our electronic books double as a gaming device. So buy things that have multiple uses. Sure, at first glance they may seem more expensive, but if they are gadgets that you’ll use every day or often enough, they’ll come in handy and you’ll save money in the long run. If anything, at least you’ll be saving some space by buying an iPod speaker that works as a radio nightlight, and alarm clock all in one!

So, ask yourself, “can my life use a little editing?”
Because once you admit that and act upon it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that less really is more.

Like Brother, Like Sister

Friends are those whom you choose to be family. Some of them were instantaneous, while others took more courting. When I was 16, I had the misconception that my best friend at the time would be my best friend for the rest of my life. Then when we drifted apart, I was inevitably devastated. It felt as if I had lost some integral organ in my life. We had gotten very close very quickly and had been so inseparable that when we were no longer best friends, it almost felt as if I didn’t know how to be me without her. For some time, I wondered what I had done wrong. Had I said something to put her off? Had I been too busy and had not been a good friend? Questions were on a continual loop in my head until I finally figured out that we had simply outgrown each other and had not put in the effort to grow as friends together.

Unlike with family, whom we basically have to grow up with, with friends we have the choice to develop and adapt to each others’ character changes. We all have our own personal milestones, and our friends are those with whom we share such experiences and those who still accept us, not in spite of, but because of our maturation and growth. In turn, we demonstrate the same courtesy to them knowing that changes are inevitable and what matters is how we adjust to them.

This isn’t to say that even the best of friends can’t have their ups and downs. My best friend of four years and I had our first ever quarrel just a few weeks ago. Yes, it was uncomfortable and yes, we were both upset. However, we knew holding onto the negativity wasn’t going to do anything but widen a rift convenient for a nasty thing called resentment. So we both chose to listen to each other and move forward, and it’s allowed both our selves and our friendship to mature.

My personal struggle is maintaining perspective that we are not stagnant beings and that we all mature at different rates. Therefore, it’s even more important that we reserve the utmost compassion to the people we hold dear. For the individuals we want to maintain positive friendships with, we have to make the conscious decision to grow up with them because they’re our brothers and sisters from other mothers and misters.

A Degree Does Not an Education Make

When I was growing up, going to college was never even a question. Working hard in high school to ensure admittance into a university that would foster my growth, intelligence, and ultimately raise my chances of acquiring a respectable post-graduate job wasn’t just an expectation, it was the norm. And statistics would show that this sentiment resonates with a lot of people since in Fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the U.S..

I’m thrilled that more students can partake in the unique experience we call our “college years.” But looking back on my undergraduate years, I also distinctly remember too many times where my professors and classes were not sufficiently challenging, mentally stimulating, or were truly educating me. I listened to lectures, took my notes, and simply regurgitated information, and as students, we were no better; we sought the “easy-A” courses, in hopes that we’d churn out good GPA’s for those elusive high-paying jobs. College today, feels more like a training ground for the ideal employee and not a place of true learning and intellectual challenge. What’s more, we rarely seem to question this status quo and collectively groan at the prospect of 8:30 classes or the notoriously demanding professors because who were we kidding, we were here to pick the “right” major and get a degree for that lucrative job – applying oneself and learning, optional.

Call it idyllic, but my idea of a college education is about more than getting 4.0’s, choosing the major with greatest job security, and then finding employment.  I see it as an opportunity for engagement, critical thought, and innovation, yet sometimes it feels as though our universities have forgotten how to provide that kind of creative environment while students  have become complacent in seeking one. There is so much more to an education than what can be taught out of a textbook. There needs to be dialogue and intrigue and even some adventure because amazing things come to fruition when individuals are inspired to communicate and share ideas. Undoubtedly, academia is important. There needs to be some standardized method to gauge how much effort a student has input to learn and retain the appropriate material. The application of the knowledge our degrees provide us is also important. However, I would love to see our universities and students try harder in upholding the integrity of a true education with the reminder that it’s not just about the degree.

Our college years are some of the most uninhibited and wondrously selfish years of our lives, yet many of us are so busy cramming for exams with our eyes glued to powerpoint lectures that we completely forget there exists is an entire world at our fingertips. There are books to be read, exotic foods to try, cities to explore, and interesting people to meet. Such experiences provide character, depth, compassion, and a wealth of cultural knowledge that exists outside our narrow bubbles of thought. A true education equips us with, not only facts and figures, but also the willingness to ask questions and seek answers that can’t be found on a multiple choice exam.

So with my remaining few months as an undergrad, I plan on maximizing my education. I’ll be honest, some days I do wish I could re-do it all. As much as I have no regrets, I would definitely do some things differently. I would have told myself to be more confident, more motivated, and more inquisitive than I have been the last three years. And here’s to hoping that when the time comes to put on my cap and gown and walk side by side with the friends that made college a home, I can truly say I had the best education possible.