Category Archives: Guest Posts

An Abortion Story: Robin

This is not a blog about abortion, per se, but I try to make it a blog that is sometimes able to put faces and stories to political dialogue that floats so far from the surface of most people’s reality. Abortion is one topic for which that is particularly important; without real stories it is just a line of text on a bill that disempowers women to control their bodies, disempowers doctors from doing right by their patients, and replaces the complicated realities of imperfect birth control and sexuality with hyperbolic dogma. We need the stories.

So today, Robin has graciously shared hers. Remember, 1 in 3. You are not alone. If not your mother, sister, daughter, than your classmate, friend, or colleague. You can’t pretend it is those women, because it’s not; it’s everywoman. From Robin:

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I knew the moment it happened. This was spring break my freshman year in college. I was in a committed relationship with a long term boyfriend who I thought I would marry, Tom. When we noticed the failed choice of contraception, I immediately knew. I tried not to let my anxiety over the situation color my life while I waited the 4 long weeks to take a pregnancy test. I went back to college, went to class and went about my life, all the while with this knowledge plaguing me. The more I thought about it the more anxious I became.

Before knowing for sure, I made the decision that if I was pregnant I would have an abortion. I didn’t tell anyone that I thought I might be pregnant but I thought Tom might know. I asked him, if I were pregnant, would he want to know? He thought about it and said yes. When the day came, when I just couldn’t stand it any longer, I told my best friend what was going on and asked her to take me to the store to buy a pregnancy test. This was something I had never done before. Up until that moment, I had been super careful, never even having a scare. I bought the one that is supposed to tell you a week early. It came with 3 tests. We went back to the dorm and I took 2.

Both came back negative.

But I didn’t feel relieved. I still hadn’t gotten my period and I still had the weird sensation. A week went by and still, no period. So I took the last of the 3 tests.

Positive. Pregnant.

And so I did what any freaked out girl would do. I went and bought more tests to make ABSOLUTELY SURE. I had done my research into a clinic. Those 4 weeks of anxious thought had brought about research into my options. I made an appointment first thing in the morning 3 weeks later. I then made the hardest phone call of my life; I called and told my mom. I didn’t have enough money and insurance wouldn’t cover it. She was really quiet and then asked me if I was ok, and if I was sure that this was what I wanted. Through tears I told her yes, it was. After telling me everything would be ok and that she loved me, she asked me if I wanted her to come. In the end, her own health issues prevented her from being there.

Then I called Tom. Another tearful conversation later, he told me he had guessed. I told him what my decision was and he agreed. Tom came with me to the clinic. We spent all day there. Initial visit including an ultrasound, a session with a psychiatrist, paperwork, blood work, etc. Everyone asking “is this what you want?” They came and got me from the packed waiting room about 6 hours after we arrived. I was awake for the whole procedure. I cried for the entirety while the nurse tried to get me to talk about anything else. It took all of 5 minutes. They put me in a recovery room with other women, all of us in recliners.

I remember the oddest things. They pointed out a speck on a monitor I was told was my baby. They had put covers on the lights in the procedure room that resembled blue sky and clouds and after the doctor gave me the meds, they seemed to move. The psychiatrist gave me a small yellow rock to keep. The brown leather recliner was heated for comfort. I remember a woman barely older than I who told me she had 4 other children at home and couldn’t afford another.

I left recovery and the clinic. I went home. And life went on. February 22 is a day that always makes me second guess, even now, 7 and a half years later.

But I know I made the right decision. I also know that were I to become pregnant today, I would choose to have the child. I am in a different place in my life. But that’s the point. It’s my choice to make.

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As a reminder, this is just one woman’s story. It’s not representative of anything except that reproductive rights are intensely personal.

Related Post: An abortion story from K.

Related Post: 40 years after Roe

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What to do when you have a bucket full of wine corks…

So my friend Jessica got married this past weekend, and yet somehow during her wedding day she found time to like the Instagram of my new jewelry rack and ask me to write a guest post for her craft blog, Nest at Home. Annnnnd, within two days of wedding, she had it up and posted. Rock star.

Check out my post and her many other lovely craft projects, including her Bride on a Budget posts.

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Follow Jessica on Twitter!

Related Post: That time I interviewed Jessica about her work at Parents magazine.

Related Post: Guest blogging on Anna’s food blog!

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Guest Post: The Problem With “Blurred Lines”

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Guest post today from my girl Bri, a fellow Chicago friend who had an epiphany about the controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”

Background: Thicke’s song received a lot of attention for being a tad rape-y and coercive with lyrics like, “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/I know you want it” and for his GQ interview in which he said, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.'” Other people claimed that “we” were reading too much into a damn catchy beat and looking to get upset (which, yes, sometimes we do).

Bri wrote an awesome post today on FB about a street harassment incident where a group of guys used these lyrics to intimidate and objectify. She makes some excellent points about how the “blurred” space between good times and sexual assault can be the most dangerous space because of the erosion of boundaries and the expectations that some people have about “good times.”  With her permission:

“I was walking from the red line stop to the green line stop. And, as feels inevitable at this point when walking anywhere, a group of guys verbally harassed me along the way, even following me for a bit at one point. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t really nervous/scared per se, since there were a ton of other people around, but it was still obviously obnoxious and embarrassing and shitty. So they’re yelling things like “that’s it, bitch! that’s my bitch!” which, whatever. (For men [or women I suppose] who maybe haven’t experienced this… it’s really not super out-of-the-ordinary for a lot of women in a lot of places… keep that in mind through the rest of this.)

But then they started singing Blurred Lines. Now, I understand that there’s both been a lot of people offended by Blurred Lines, as well as a lot of people totally confused by and antagonistic towards people who are offended by Blurred Lines. I was pretty offended when I first saw/heard the video/song. But as I talked through it with people, it was really hard for me to actually pinpoint a concrete reason that it made me so uncomfortable. It’s about a guy seducing a girl, and he’s using sexy language to do it – what’s so bad about that? I wondered what it was that made me uncomfortable. I read articles depicting the terms “good girl” and “I know you want it” as rape-y, which didn’t really seem fair. Sexually dominant? Sure. But that’s not a negative thing, people are entitled to be into whatever they’re into. So I set my discomfort aside and tried to enjoy this song that the rest of the world seems to love.

Until this event last week. 8-10 guys singing “you’re a good girl, you know you want it” at me cleared up very quickly why this song makes me, and many other women, uncomfortable, and why that’s totally justified, and why much of the world and Robin Thicke probably don’t get it.

It’s a trigger. Those words immediately trigger horrifying memories for a lot of women, myself included. A group of men singing those words at me brought back the EXACT sensation that I’ve had during horribly traumatic points of my life. “You’re a good girl” – instant horrible flashback. “You know you want it” – another horrible flashback, and the memory of someone justifying a terrible act they’re committing by convincing themselves that I want it.

And I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to say that not just mine, but a SIGNIFICANT number of cases of sexual assault occur when people are having a good time – at a party, being flirty, etc, after which things take a dark turn. So for Blurred Lines to be doing just that – blurring the line between a fun, upbeat, sing-a-long-style song that’s flirtacious and dirty and whatever, and a song that triggers such horrible, dark memories for me, is another trigger in itself. It totally mirrors some fun times that quickly turned into awful experiences.

The purpose of this post is really just to say: I understand more fully now why people are offended by this song, and I also get why people think people who are offended are totally overreacting. Because “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it” should just be sexy, dirty, fun, with-a-wink language. In a perfect world, Blurred Lines would be a fun, dirty, sexy song, and that’s it. But it’s not. To a lot of women, those words (and consequently that video too) don’t just mean that. That’s not Robin Thicke’s fault, and I understand why he and most men and a lot of women can honestly and thoroughly enjoy the song. I’m just saying that it’s okay, too, to not be able to enjoy the song. I get it now. And I’d hope that everyone might understand a little better why being offended isn’t necessarily an overreaction – it’s a reaction to something that really has little/nothing to do with Thicke and has everything to do with words that trigger memories of horrible things that people do to other people.”

If you want more of Bri, follow her on Twitter here

One other thing, the video for Blurred Lines has been “gender swapped” by  Mod Carousel. How do we feel about fully clothed ladies and gyrating naked men? NSFW:

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment and “Real Men”

Related Post: Guest Post: Dude, I Don’t Know If You’re a Player or a Slut

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Raising Your Hand: An Abortion Story

The responses to my piece about speaking up about abortion have been amazing. Friends and friends of friends and strangers have been reaching out to say, “Hey! I’m one of those women they keep talking about.” Many of them have written about shame and stigma, about regret, resignation, relief. These stories are important because they push us out of rhetorical hamster wheels and into the real world of lived experience.

With her permission, here’s part of an email from K. Let’s all remember that this is exactly one woman’s story and she speaks only for herself. Her reaction is not everyone’s reaction, nor should it be.

I’ve been processing that very difficult thing these past few months. I don’t know how I feel about all of it, but what I do know is that it is significantly harder – physically and emotionally – than I ever imagined this would be. It changes your life, even if you have the choice to make to not let it change your life in one particular way, by having a kid. Things still change. Forever. 
 
Several years back I had a scare while abroad during which a friend wrote me this: “If you are pregnant, I don’t think having an abortion is selfish.  Atoms come together and they come apart.  If anything, abortion is an actualization of your rights.  That said, it seems that abortion is tragic and awful and sad no matter what.  Abortion speaks to the spaces in between, the gray area, the inexplicable.  No one knows anything concrete when it comes to creation of human beings.  No one knows what’s right and what’s wrong.  One thing that I might find reassuring if I were in the same position would be the knowledge that pregnancy and abortion is an age-old part of women’s experience on earth.  In abortion, one is joining the countless ranks of amazingly strong women who have made a difficult decision, perhaps the most difficult decision.  In one sense, you will be far from alone.”
 
When it happened for real, I was luckily to be flooded by an immense amount of love and support.  And it’s amazing how many people I’ve discovered  close to me that have also been through this. Yet I still felt / feel alone. I think part of what is so shocking is how I always have felt like I had a voice and have stood up for those who didn’t, yet suddenly it’s like my voice is gone or I worry about what people will say, think or judge if I can find it again.
 
P.S. I recently read this phenomenal book, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. Ironically, I stopped reading when I suddenly was exhausted and sick all the time and could barely keep up with school/work. Months after I found out what that was and went through all this, I picked it up again. The book fell open to the last page I read, marked with a passage about how the right books at the right times can change our lives. Two pages later…well, see attached.  
Click to Enlarge.
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Guest Post: What Indian Girls Don’t Learn

Hila-MehrIt’s Friday and it’s been a long week and I’m thrilled to share with you a guest post from my dear friend Hila.  She lives and works with students in Hyderabad, India, and wrote a fascinating essay on some of the challenges specifically facing girls and teenagers:

With the media spotlight on the issue of rape, the taboo of menstruation, and the lack of women’s rights in India, I’m reminded of two unique conversations I’ve had during my time in Hyderabad, India, where I work in a low-income private school as a social enterprise fellow.

While working on a project with 8th class students, I bonded with several girls in the class. One day, I saw a girl rushed from the classroom, flanked by friends, fear on her face and those of her peers, and girls whispering with each other and the school’s administrative assistant. A former 8th grader myself, I figured I knew what was going on, but I decided to ask the girls anyways. “Why did she leave in the middle of the school day in a rush?” I whispered to them. At first they didn’t want to say, but then they finally told me: “Because of her function, Madam.” The girls in India call their period’s “functions.” This led to a long, enlightening discussion on menstruation.

At first these girls were in shock that I too have “a function.” It’s not only common among women in India, I explained; it’s something women all over the world have. The girls, I realized, had no idea what periods are, that it related to child-bearing, or what was happening physically to their bodies. While my progressive middle school started teaching about periods in fifth grade, these 13-year-old girls were clueless. I explained to them what menstruation is and means, and how girls in the United States manage them. They shared how their periods were painful; how they have to sit isolated in their home and not be touched; and how they have to take special baths with spices, and others who touch them while they are menstruating have to do the same. After a girl gets her period, her family hosts a party for her where pictures are taken and she wears a half-sari. One girl took me to her home, and proudly showed me the large photos and the half-sari she wore for her function ceremony. Most stressful, however, is that they have to stay home and miss school. The girl ranked first in the class, yet to start her period, is terrified of it because she doesn’t want to have to miss school.

One of the reasons these girls miss school, beyond superstitious and pain reasons, is because the nature of India’s sanitation infrastructure makes periods difficult to manage. While it’s fairly easy to find pads and some menstrual cups in India, tampons are virtually non-existent. Making matters more difficult, traditional Indian bathrooms aren’t designed for women dealing with periods. There are usually no trashcans or toilet paper, and in schools like the one I work in, where the toilet is a hole in the ground, water from a bucket is used to “flush” the contents. For my school of 530 students, approximately half of which are girls, there is only one girl’s bathroom on an upper floor with only a couple of stalls. The bathroom is so dark and dank, with a safety hazard of leftover construction pieces on the floor, that I refuse to step foot in it, too scared to see the inside of the stalls. And I’ve been to some disgusting pit stop bathrooms in India. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for these young girls to handle their periods during school hours.

A few weeks after my discussion with the girls, I had an interesting conversation with my school’s principal about a recent incident at school. The principal was watching the classroom TV monitors when she noticed a girl and boy in 10th class touching—either consensually holding hands or leaning into each other. When she informed them that their conduct was inappropriate for the classroom, the girl, not wanting to get in trouble, immediately claimed that the boy’s approaches were unwanted, and called her mother. Her mother arrived at the school and chastised the boy in public, enough for him to cry. He was also punished by the school with daily lunch-time detention. When I asked the principal about the incident, she said that she knew that the boy and girl had an interest in each other, but the girl didn’t want to get punished by the school or her mother, so claimed otherwise. On the one hand, we should be grateful that a young woman was acknowledged, believed, and protected, as has sadly not been the case in many instances of sexual assault in India. On the other hand, this boy and girl were just being teenagers in lust, but their public display of affection is essentially forbidden in their community. Regardless of this specific situation, more troublesome is that the school cannot discuss issues of dating, sex, or sexual protection, unlike sexual education courses in many American high schools. It’s considered taboo, and many parents would not allow it, and don’t educate at home either.

Crushes are natural emotions by 10th class—these students are 15 and 16 years old. But in India arranged marriage is still very much the norm; a marriage that is not arranged is called a “love marriage.” And a 14-year-old girl dropping out of school for marriage is all too common, and not just in rural areas. Another fellow in my program attended such a wedding for a young girl from her school. Besides what is shown in Bollywood movies—which can be surprisingly sexual and at times disturbing in their male-female dynamics—dating and sex are unspoken topics, leaving little awareness for protection and much to the imagination and naiveté. Since internet access is still uncommon in low-income communities in India, it is an unused resource for awareness and exploration. My school’s principal, an open-minded and educated Indian woman, agreed that discussions on such topics as dating, sex, and sexually-transmitted disease prevention are important, but that she was restricted by community practice and expectations.

I don’t share these stories to judge Indian culture or any parent’s decision to not share information about menstruation, sex, and dating. I decided to share these stories given their relevance to the on-going, important discussion regarding women and India. More importantly, I want to encourage more discussion about strategies for Indian youth to safely and freely learn about issues such as menstruation and sex. It’s very difficult to do, requiring immense community buy-in and trust. One beacon of hope is Voice for Girls, which is rapidly scaling across India. They teach English and girl’s empowerment through learning about topics such as menstruation and nutrition. Their program is definitely a step in the right direction towards raising awareness and knowledge for young girls and boys, whom are otherwise left in the dark about these life-changing issues.

If you’d like to read more of Hila’s writing on social entrepreneurship, gender, education, and innovation, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter

Related Post: Guest Post from Kim Green in Nashville on trust in unlikely places.

Related Post: Guest Post from Bryn on “sluts” and “players” in the queer world.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? T-Shirt Edition

215999_375576289179966_1238002614_n.jpgThis is my friend Jasmine Basci and she is the latest interview subject of my jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly? She just launched her very own apparel company, TobyLou (named for her two cats), selling original screen printed t-shirts and bags.

How did you get started designing t-shirts? Well, it was sort of just grew from a Christmas gift for my brother. I used one of those online “build your own!” t-shirt websites to put a very specific image he wanted on a shirt and have it made. It was there that I started to play around with all the clipart they had, adding clip art on top of clip art, to create a whole design. I also really enjoy animal t-shirts, but had been finding it harder and harder to just find simple, uncomplicated designs, so that is when I thought “Maybe I can just do my own?”

How did you learn how to screen print? It was very “DIY”, printing using a sheer curtain, an embroidery  loop, glue, paint, and a spatula—that’s a whole other story. After about a week of that I thought maybe it would be worth it to take a class, which I did at Spudnik Press.

How does a t-shirt get made? The process is actually quite simple, but it’s the little things that can trip you up. It all starts with getting a high-res image in black and white and then burning it, with light, onto a screen with dried photo emulsion on it. The parts of your design that are black will wash out with water and the rest of the emulsion will have dried onto the screen from the light. This process is what makes the stencil, which you then put on top of the shirt, plop some paint on there, and push it through with a squeegee. BAM! A shirt with a design on it.

It’s the little things like aligning your screen straight, little holes popping up in the screen where they aren’t supposed to, pulling the squeegee at the wrong angle, etc, that can cause tiny imperfections. I typically go to the studio for a 4 hour block, where I can get about 15-25 shirts done (but it also depends on how many colors are on the design). The longest part is setting up and preparing your screen, which takes about an hour or so.

Do you have your own studio?  I currently became a member at Spudnik Press and they are amazing. For a reasonable price, I can go in and use their studio space, equipment, etc to print shirts. They have open studio hours, staff on hand to help you out if you run into any problems, and they also play some nice jams. It’s actually very relaxing to just go into the studio to create things while being surrounded by creative/talented people. On Thursday, December 6th, they are having an art sale, where I will be there selling TobyLou shirts alongside other artists.

regalrabbit1Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Any animal really, but I love cats……like, love them. I have two (which the company is named after): Toby and Louie. Cats are just weird, odd, and mysterious creatures, which is why I like to use cats, more so than any other animal, as my main inspiration for any design. However, I will also incorporate some other aspect of life, objects, or ideas that I think look neat. I like to keep all designs simple and off-beat.

zooey1How’s business? Any success stories? Has Oprah worn your shirt yet? I think the greatest success I feel right now is just officially opening up for business and making some sales. The fact that someone wants to buy something you created is rewarding. On that note, Oprah has not rewarded me….get with it OPRAH. I actually have a design that I created called the Zooey Deschanmeow which slightly resembles the look of Zooey Deschanel. I’m going to send her a shirt soon in hopes that she may wear it one day.

If you dream big, what does TobyLou look like down the line? A store? A television channel? T-shirts for dogs? Down the line, I want to see TobyLou look like it does now, but everything is 100 times bigger.  More designs, a bigger selection of different styles of shirts for all ages, and maybe a shirt for cats……maybe, MAYBE one for dogs, too.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Mishmash Edition.

Related Post: So What Do You Exactly? Photography Edition.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Mishmash Edition

This is kind of an unconventional addition to the So What Do You Do Exactly? interview project. Normally, I focus on the tangible content of “work” that people do, but in Leslie’s case, I think her career path is where the real meat is. From Chile to China and back, I think she epitomizes the very millennial idea of stitching together a “job” out of a wide range of passions and skills.
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Leslie lives in Santiago, Chile where she splits her time between a variety of teaching, translation, and entrepreneurial projects:
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What are you working on these days? Which pots do you have fingers in? These days, I’m teaching a social entrepreneurship course at a Chilean university, teaching English to environmental attorneys, doing some website and training projects for a consultancy in the north of Chile, and doing pitch and presentation training for a Chilean biotech startup.
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I’ve also created a free online course called How to Create Your International Career and am thinking about writing a book on this topic in the future. The mix of projects shifts around from month to month, and (as you can probably tell) I’ve been really busy lately!
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How did you decide you wanted to live and work abroad? I always knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied in Germany and my dad studied in Brazil. One of the reasons I chose UC Berkeley was because of its study abroad programs. I studied here in Santiago, Chile for all of 2005. This was half of my junior year and half my senior year, The history, business, and mountaineering classes I took all counted towards my degree in Latin American Studies.
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When I graduated in 2006, I didn’t know what to do. About a week after graduation, I pored through my well-worn copy of Colleen Kinder’s Delaying the Real World. This book lists about 1000 ideas of things to do after college, all of which don’t involve law school or cubicles. A section on teaching English overseas mentioned CIEE Teach in China. The program required being a native speaker with a college degree, and the deadline was one week later. I began contacting program alums who were listed as references. And a few days later I FedEx’d in my passport and application.
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I’d never studied Chinese, never visited China, and never been particularly interested in mooncakes or Mao Zedong. So I spent the summer volunteering in ESL classes and studying basic Mandarin with a listen-and-repeat Pimsleur Language Program. Less than three months later, I was on a plane to China.
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What did you do in China? At first I taught English at a university about an hour from Shanghai. Then I interned at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. After a year and a half in China, I got homesick and decided to go back to San Francisco.
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I had major culture shock. (I found myself saying things like, “Wow, there’s free coffee at Bank of America, and you can understand exactly what I need and help me in five minutes! I fully expected to be here all afternoon” and “Wow, Trader Joe’s has so many choices. And I can read *all* the labels!”) Soon I found a job at a startup in SF and settled in. But six months later, the financial crisis hit, the company went under, and I decided to move back to China, this time to Beijing.
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In Beijing I worked in a number of fields — advertising, consulting, non-profits, etc. — and studied Chinese with a wonderful tutor and in small classes with trailing spouses from France, Thailand, and other countries. I eventually got burned out, and left China in June of 2011. I explained this decision in more detail in this letter :Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever.
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What brought you back to Chile, so many years after studying there? I came to Chile as part of Start-Up Chile, a program of the Chilean government to attract world-class early-stage entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses in Chile. A woman I’d met when I was in Chile in 2005 emailed me in early 2011 to invite me to join her visionary solar energy project. I arrived in July. Start-Up Chile brought me in to contact with dozens of entrepreneurs from all over the world, and soon I was invited to freelance on several other projects. I did Spanish-English and Spanish-Chinese translation for meetings about iron ore investment. I did writing and editing work for a handful of startups.
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These days I’m part of a co-working space that’s filled with mostly Chilean entrepreneurs, and these friends and colleagues have given me countless opportunities to get involved in cool projects.
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How do you actually spend your time? Is there such thing as an average day?
8:00:Get up, get dressed, make tea.

9:00-10:00: Teach an English class to an environmental attorney. Normally there are three but only one shows up. We talk about the many definitions of “file” and how to use the subjunctive.
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After class I go back to my apartment to make brunch and respond to a bunch of emails. Then, I take the metro and then a micro (local bus) to the university where I teach social entrepreneurship.
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2:30-4:30: My students give midterm presentations about how a social enterprise called Living Goods can partner with Nestlé or Unilever to sell healthcare products door-to-door in Uganda using the “Avon Lady” model. Half the students are business majors from Chile and the other half are exchange students from Europe. The presentations are awesome! I wish the companies were there to see it.
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6:00-9:00: I meet with a biotech startup to coach them on their pitch for the upcoming Start-Up Chile demo day. The product is a film about the amniotic membrane that can regenerate eye tissue. We revise the presentation. The new version starts with a before-and-after story of a middle-aged man named José. Before, he couldn’t see much. After his surgery, he could see kids’ faces, and even drive. I coach the team on how to explain this clearly in English, to deliver maximum impact in a 3-minute presentation. The guys order sushi. We eat together.
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10:00: I get home. Exhausted. My boyfriend made macaroni and cheese! There’s some left for me. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly?: Model UN Edition
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Turkey Edition

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Why This Emmy Season Rocked for Ladies

Anybody else watch the Emmy’s over the weekend? Too busy watching the Patriots game get fumbled by the newbie refs? TOUGH CHOICES. If you did watch the first of the major awards shows, you may have caught my favorite moment, the Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus swapped speech gag.

It got me thinking about how pleased I’ve been with the range of ladies on the TV these days. Between Poehler, Louis-Dreyfus, Juliana Margulies, Christine Baranski, Anna Gunn, Khandi Alexander, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Archie Punjabi, Claire Danes, I have even more excuses than ever to tube it up. Plus, these women are having seriously interesting conversations about what it means to be a 21st century gal (the bimbo comedy debate on 30 Rock? the 2nd wave/3rd wave feminism debate on The Good Wife?).

For Role/Reboot this week I discuss why its important to have complex, substantial, nuanced portraits of womanhood displayed in the mainstream:

Related Post: Louie addresses sexual double standards in my favorite two minutes of tv this year.

Related Post: I tally the lady-presence in Golden Globe nominees for Jezebel.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Social Strategy Edition

Welcome back to my jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly?  Today’s guest, Ambika, is social strategist at the big NYC advertising agency BBH. She works on megabrands (rhymes with “schmoogle”), up-and-coming products, and non-profits to help them design and execute a 21st century strategy for connecting with their consumers.

What’s your actual job title? Social Media Strategist.

What would your job title be if it actually described what you do? Brand planner, helping brands find their most articulate, clever, effective digital and social selves.

What does a sample day look like? Since my job is to be well versed on all things social, I spend my mornings perusing Facebook and Twitter. I follow a ton of great digital guru sites (Mashable, PSFK, TechCrunch, Gawker, College Humor, BuzzFeed) that keep me in the know. I spend a good amount of time reading.

I am the only specialized social media strategist at my agency, so I get pulled into a lot of different projects. At the moment I’m working on two alcohol brands, a big non-profit, a personal care brand, a new business pitch for an e-commerce company, and some general thinking on how to make our agency more digital/social. Phew – I guess I never usually list it all out! I love that I’m empowered to think strategically and creatively and that my opinion is as valued as anyone else’s (despite my young age!).

In terms of actual work, I spend a lot of time prepping ideas for creative development, learning about target markets and their digital/social behaviors, adding texture to creative ideas, and mulling over word choice. Geek attack!
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Do you think data drives the world forward these days? Totally. I’m a data girl by nature and planning puffery kills me. BBH is a traditional, creative ad shop, which means in the past, beautiful, qualitative insights have been tantamount (versus starting a process using data points). Think back for a second – did Don Draper or Peggy Olsen ever use syndicated survey data? Nottt really. But as the advertising industry shifts from serving solely a creative function to more of a consultative function, being able to validate initiatives and efforts is becoming increasingly important.

I always use qualitative research–consumer truths, behaviors, trends–at the beginning of my projects.  But on the back end, especially with social initiatives, quantitative results are absolutely necessary. Social is so new as a creative avenue that sometimes people simply don’t understand the ROI [return on investment]. Data is crucial in showing them that social is big.

You’re uber creative/artistic, how do you find the creative space in the work that you do? I am so lucky that my role at BBH is wonderfully creative. I’m always being challenged to come up with new ideas. People are evolving rapidly and changing everyday (especially on social!), and there are so many amazing ways that a brand can talk to them.
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Strategists are often known for their way with words. And as a writer, this is totally up my alley. I find myself approaching client presentations in the same way I approach personal writing. I always aim to use beautiful, articulate, and succinct language. This, to me, is one of the truest exercises in creativity!

What does “brand management” mean? How does it apply to the average person? Do have a brand I need to manage? Absolutely. And interestingly enough, this is a very current, very emerging trend as of late.

To fill you in on a hilarious truth, I just finished writing a social media strategy for an individual. It was such an eye-opening exercise. I sat down and had him tell me his life story. What he loved, what his childhood was like, who his parents were, how he ended up where he was. It was totally and utterly fascinating (he’s a seriously interesting man in the process of launching a new brand – pretty badass). My job from there was to figure out how to express all of his brilliance/eccentricities through social media. It was actually really fun.
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There’s a really interesting division emerging between one’s offline and online identities. People are very vocal (and mocking) when they feel that your online self is super hyperbolized. To best manage your brand, think through who makes you you – what do you talk about after a few glasses of wine. What do you really love? What’s your true voice? And embrace it, girlfriend! [Ambika has written on this very subject at her blog.]
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Is advertising just manipulation in pretty colors, or is it helping people find what they need? Or both? Advertising just has a bad rap, plain and simple. All of the advertising I’ve done in my life has been based on some human truth.
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At my last job, as a Customer Intelligence gal, we used a lot of data. This made for a really unique offering, and gave us hard, fast numbers to support everything we put on the table. Although my role now is not rooted in data, we still use numbers/insights/trends to confirm what we’re thinking. Being smart about your advertising is table stakes these days. If you can’t show that it’ll work (and how you landed up where you did), no one’s going to buy it!
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I have never sent something out the door before giving it a conscience check, and I take a lot of pride in that.
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In this day and age we all share so much info, are we making it too easy to be tricked? Or are we making it easy for companies to find exactly the right products for us? We’re making it easier define ourselves, and helping the world serve us content that we’ll love. Social media has helped people discover different sides of themselves. It has helped us refund who we are, figure out what’s most important to us, and serve that version of ourselves up to the world. This is really powerful! This is how some of the smartest people in the world, who happen to be super introverted too, build their chops!
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And when people are open about who they are and the things they love, the web makes it easier for them to find what they’re looking for. Take Google’s social search for instance – it can be a little scary to see articles/posts/content suggested by friends when you search in Google. How does Google know this is your friend? Why does it matter who your friends are? You just want a damn recipe! But, wouldn’t you rather use a recipe that’s been used and approved by someone you trust?
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Privacy can be a scary issue, but being open on the web only makes your experience better. I may be a Google Chrome nerd, but the web really is what you make of it. 
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To read more about Ambika and her social strategy brilliance, check out her blog Whole Creativity and follow her on Twitter/Instagram (@ambika_g). And, for those of you who want to really dig in, Ambika would love to hear from you, so shoot her a note at ambika dot gautam @ bartleboglehegarty.com.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Social Work Edition.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Photography Edition.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Think Tank Edition

Hearty welcome to Michaela, today’s interviewee in the ongoing jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly? Michaela works at a think tank in D.C., doing think-tanky things. Actually, a big portion of this interview was trying to understand how think tanks work and why. Read on!

What’s your actual title? Program Associate at a conflict and research non-profit (aka “Think Tank”)

What would your title be if it actually encompassed what you do? I think “Program Associate” works for its very non-description. Maybe “Director of Things Analysis-ful and General Manager of Internal Resources”.
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When I picture “think tank,” I always envision people strapped up Matrix-style to an actual tank. What exactly is a think tank? That is exactly what happens at a think tank. We’re waiting on a shipment of upgraded pods right now.
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Think tanks are usually a bunch of people who had fun researching and writing papers in school, and have now found an excuse to keep on doing that professionally. However, we pick topics that have “so-what” value and make an effort to say something new, which is a lot more than I can say for the papers I wrote in college…
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Who hires your organization? Do you choose a topic and then write? Or do you get a commissioned study? We’ve been hired by a pretty broad range of clients, but in general they’re looking to better understand the conflict dynamics active in a given region. So for example, we’ve emerged in the past couple of years as one of the best DC sources on Somalia – so we’ve written a chapter on Somali piracy report for a major INGO, consulted for other research organizations looking for more complete data or context on the situation, provided policy recommendations to US stakeholders, etc. When we’re not maxed out by paid work (or I guess even when we are…), we also pursue projects that are just of interest to us internally, like this incredible genealogy of Somali clan lineages going back to Qureish.
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Somalia is definitely our bread and butter right now, but we also have a little niche doing original-language research on Chinese foreign policy perspectives and internal political dynamics, and we’re expanding our capabilities in West Africa as well, since that’s a powder keg no one knows a whole lot about. We focus on sort of “emerging and nontraditional conflicts” and try to stay out of the crowded big-money topics like Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Where do you get your information? What kinds of sources go into your research? It depends on the project, but as a general rule we use original language, local media, and local people as our sources to whatever degree possible. It’s time-consuming and intimidating but totally worth it to learn an area like crazy. Information can seem credible, but what are the interests of the source? Who might have a different perspective on that information? If I keep hearing a consistent narrative about an event, even if it’s unverified, how do I understand its underlying implications? It’s also really important not to ignore big boring datasets – there’s a lot of exciting stuff hidden away in those if you know how to look at them.
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How do you measure the success of a project? Persuasion metrics? I guess it’s hard to measure success, particularly since the market for information and analysis is so heavily dependent on the mood swings of so many different budgets. Our Somalia project generated interest but not contracts until fairly recently, but we knew we were doing some pretty unique work.
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How does a think tank like yours–security and conflict–negotiate the partisanship of DC? I guess we just try not to play that game. As long as you’re faithful to reality you can mostly avoid overlap with the political narratives of a conflict…
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Give me a sample day in your life. The more specific the better: Get in about 9, go over my to-do lists. I have a like master list in a notebook with everything, and a smaller pad for today’s tasks that I keep in front of me in lieu of an actual attention span.
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A normal day might mean creeping toward a target word count for a report, reviewing internship apps (ohmygod please proofread your stuff), tinkering with software, reading the new UN Monitoring Group report. Checking in with the interns on their projects. Catching up on my Google Reader and news while I eat lunch at my desk. Trying not to fall asleep at my desk after lunch. A quick trip out for coffee with a colleague or intern. Pretending I don’t have to respond to emails and gchatting while I wait for the caffeine to hit. Getting my shit back together eventually. Probably a conference call. Going back over my outline, realizing it’s all wrong, drawing up something better on the whiteboard. Heading home around 6:30 or 7 after having finally worked the new structure into the damn draft.
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Do enjoy the broad range of subject matter in your job? Or do you look forward to focusing on a more narrow expertise? I like to be able to sink my teeth into something and get a really solid grip on it. Nothing like being able to call an expert out on his bullshit to make life worth living! That said, I do think it’s valuable to be forced to expand your competencies; there’s overlap where you might not have expected it, and the injection of fresh material to your perspective can do some good things to it.
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Should there be more think tanks or less? Different ones? I think a lot of the organizations that exist need to raise the bar on the quality of their work. There are people doing some pretty fantastic stuff out there, but it’s disappointing to realize how many scholars and experts just aren’t. I certainly understand the compromises that have to be made – when a client pays for a 15pp report, you really can’t write a dissertation. But you can have higher standards for the rigor of that report.
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If it were up to you, how do we get Americans more invested in global affairs, instead of the latest sex scandal? It seems like people simply don’t understand how to go about tackling complex problems – sex scandals don’t require much from you intellectually, and nobody actually cares about these things so they’re much less intimidating. For this balance to change, I think critical thinking should be the ultimate goal of education. Math, reading, writing, science, art – all of these are, in my opinion, different and valuable tools for teaching children how to think critically and intelligently about the world
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Model UN edition.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Photography edition.

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Filed under Education, Guest Posts, Politics