Today’s Dame of the Day is Tove Jansson (August 9, 1914 – June 27, 2001). This author, illustrator, and cartoonist started writing stories at the age of 14. After World War II, Jansson developed Moomin, a classic book series celebrated across Sweden and around the world. Jansson received the Hans Christian Anderson Award for the series and her characters have their own museum.
In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with writer, baker, editor, creator, and producer Jenn Baker.
Jennifer Baker is an African American writer of fiction & nonfiction; a native New Yorker with a penchant for baking (and eating desserts), writing about relationships, seeing new parts of the world, and biking. She spends her days working as a production editor and freelances as a copy editor/proofreader and reviewer of restaurants. In addition, Jennifer volunteers with the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and is the creator & producer of the podcast Minorities in Publishing.
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
Funny enough, I had a “checklist.”
- Get married. (Done!)
- Go to grad school. (Done!)
- Establish a career. (Done!)
- Write a book & get published. (Sounded easier when I wrote it down.)
Achieve the greatness I think many expect for you, or you really expect for yourself, when you’re an overachiever. I did the marriage and grad school thing, which I now regret for various reasons of it being too soon and not the right choices (in mate & school). I started my career in publishing. I wrote a half-assed book with obnoxious characters before starting one that would kick my ass for several years (still working on it). I sincerely thought that I was doing everything I was “supposed” to do in my 20s by following a methodical path that really wasn’t the right one for me.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
I’m lucky that I always had a supportive family. So what stood out for me was that many of the women in my family held things down and got things done while the men were more sideline characters. So even if I wasn’t seeing strong women, particularly strong Black women in media and in books, I was raised by them. And I noticed that the way they handled things by themselves, whether they had a spouse or not, that I couldn’t always count on anyone besides myself which lead me to have a very independent, must-get-this-done mindset leading to the overachieving (and overly naive) ideology of “If I do everything, right things will turn out well for me. The reason things didn’t turn out well for others is because of bad choices.” Don’t you know that mindset got fixed real quick as I got older and entered collegiate and then professional life.
So many aspects of life are unpredictable and no matter how many “rules” you follow, there’s no set guide on how things will turn up. The way I’ve been received by others in society took away the shield I had as a kid/teen of having family always looking out for you and protecting you from the larger ugliness of the world. Mind you, NYC is not the cesspool some may think it is. I’ve encountered lots more kindness than anything, but that’s not to say that living in this city and building a thick skin because of the way you’re treated as a young female of color means others may not be as receptive to you as you’d think. So while I always expected the best from myself, be hardworking, do right always, put others before yourself, but rarely ask for help, I saw that these were also hampering how I felt the world would (and should) return on my investment.
What was your first job like?
My first real job out of college was for a literary agent and I had to quit that one due to a family emergency. After that I became an editorial assistant at an academic publisher and the person who hired me left soon after I started. The new boss and I didn’t have a great rapport which I think hampered my first job experience.
All the assistants and I worked in what people called “cubeville.” We were all recent graduates. We were all trying to satisfy our bosses. We were all overachievers who got really upset when we made mistakes big and small. We ate lunch together often and some of us cried on occasion. We also looked out for each other by over-ordering food whenever we had thankless tasks (e.g., stuffing CDs into envelopes and sticking said envelopes into workbooks for hundreds of books) so we could get ourselves (and each other) free breakfast/lunch from the nicest places on our bosses’ tab.
I made great friends at that job who I’m still in contact with today. The job itself didn’t lead to any upward movement for me and was the first of several assistant jobs I’d take on before finding my fit outside of editorial and in the production department.
Did you experience any big life changes?
I lost my virginity. I got married. Had a miscarriage. Initiated my career. I found the stories I wanted to tell while finding my voice as a writer (and I’m continually finding that voice). But in terms of big personal losses or catastrophic/life-altering changes I can’t think of many. I think emotionally I was still developing and perhaps achieved a lot of personal reflection that was very necessary so that the growing unhappiness I felt in my 20s would potentially be rectified in my 30s.
In what ways did your friendships change?
I was the first of my friends to get married. And I think I may have felt a bit of hierarchy in that. I would later become the first of my friends to get divorced which shed light on how they pursued and grew in their relationships and I how I had pursued mine.
What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I finally owned up to the fact that the reason I wasn’t happy in my marriage wasn’t solely because something was wrong with me. Even after going to couple’s therapy I figured that my periods of fluctuation in feelings for my mate, and in some instances was encouraged to think, that I was running from a problem when the fact was the marriage was the problem. I chose to remain in a relationship that was no good for me purely because of perception. I forced myself to really pay attention to the bad signs and no longer ignore them at the end stage of my 20s to the point that I pulled the trigger in my early 30s.
The biggest thing for me was acknowledging my fear of being alone and starting over and not knowing everything I thought I did as a married woman. At some point it hit: I already felt alone in my marriage; it would be less stressful, and perhaps somewhat redemptive, to feel alone and be alone.
In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
I became less concerned with making other people happy and focused on me. It’s freeing but can also lead to misunderstandings because I went from being a very timid, silent person to a direct person. One thing I came to understand when I think on the independence aspect of the women I was raised by is that they often did more for others than themselves. They were single mothers who worked long hours and multiple jobs for their children. These were women who remained unhappily married until later in life. And when I got into my first relationship which resulted in marriage and I also got my jobs I did whatever it took to get people to like me and make them comfortable.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to be a comfort to others or to try and help others or to do the job you’re paid to do. But when you’re losing aspects of yourself, when you’re making compromises that don’t sit well with you, when you’re unhappy on a deep level something has to change and often times that’s an inside-out change not always an outside-in one. So instead of taking what others thought all the time I formed and spoke of my opinions. I also needed to be a better listener so as not to barrage with my opinions while not hearing others.
On the relationship front I owned myself more and when my partner kept saying I was “naive” and “young” I took it for what it was rather than considering who I was. In my 20s my insecurity of being wanted romantically was full out on display. I threw myself (not a joke, I actually did that one time at age 20) at men which makes me cringe thinking back on it. I didn’t know much about relationships but I readily knew the body could be a key attractor and I used it in an attempt to get what I wanted, which was companionship that I hoped transformed into love. I was not aware or didn’t wholly understand that I should be enough for someone.
That I should be wanting to be better for myself but also to be with someone who made me want to be better. And it’s when that realization struck, and I mean really struck, that I felt strong enough to realize who I was as a young woman and embrace my body in a way that I had more control over it and who I shared it with.
How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
The big thing was becoming more attentive to politics and social issues. The more I paid attention to what was happening in the real world the less enamored I became with celebrities and the life of riches paraded on TV. My insecurities weren’t simply because there was something wrong with me in all instances but because the world viewed women and/or black women and/or vocal black women in a certain way. I had to comprehend that my behavior spoke volumes, that perception was constant and that people may very well prejudge me before I walked in the door or opened my mouth based on whatever information (be it banal or not) they had of me.
Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?
To me a major turning point for the 2000s was the Gore/Bush election. I continually wonder what would have happened if Gore had won. Would 9/11 have taken place? Would there have been a war and mass killings? Would this have lead to the latest recession as well as so much dissension in the U.S.? That one election seems to have set the stage for a whole new way of life and a real need to see things differently for those in my generation specifically.
In 2003, straight out of college I attempted to get a full-time job, yet I saw many people were being laid off due to the repercussions of 9/11 and the impending war creating a lot of concern in various industries. It was as though a continuous spotlight had been cast on corruption taking place in all areas of government and corporations. When the situation arose where I was the sole means of support for my husband and I, there was very little around to help us because even though my salary in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. helped me skid by it still wasn’t enough to require any kind of subsidy to help us not struggle.
The growing financial concerns and visible discrepancies between those who worked hard and those with expectations made it clear that we all needed to pay more attention to the world around us. The “War on Terror” made me face the fact that those older than me, those in office, those with power, were not always looking out for others.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
My biggest regret was being too cautious. I took fewer chances and always worried: about money, about pleasing my partner, about being alone, about doing the wrong thing (and wrong was really society’s expectation of what a woman should do: be married, have kids, maybe work as well). This hesitation meant I didn’t do more traveling. That people I was attracted to and who may have been better matches that crossed my path were people I distanced myself from when I flashed my engagement and later wedding ring out of resigned loyalty, not devotion. My thoughts on pleasing my partner had me consider conceiving a child I knew full well I was not ready to have.
I wish I had paused more to think about the larger things I wanted from life, or consider what to explore sexually or otherwise. I did things that didn’t make me happy because I thought that’s what you should do. You should get married even if you have concerns about the person you may be marrying. You should get a job even if it’s not one you want simply because you have to pay rent. You should move in with said partner even though he snores extremely loud and constantly reminds you he has more life experience. You should get a graduate degree and take on some debt because you already have a bachelor’s. I think my quest for success and to “check” all my boxes stifled me more than I would have liked. And seeing that I had more money to burn in my 20s when I was splitting all my expenses with a partner than I do now supporting myself I do wish that I’d traveled more, risked more, just did more than be a “good girl.”
There’s no doing it right, and even when you aim to be a good person you can, and may very well, get screwed time and time again. So the aim should be to be happy with yourself before making others happy with you.
In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet author, illustrator and graphic designer Cecilia Ruiz.
Who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?
I am a 32 year-old author, illustrator and graphic designer from Mexico City. I moved to NYC in 2010 with the purpose of getting an MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts and ended up staying. I now live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with my husband and no pets.
I like sad stories that make me laugh and I spend my days working (or trying to) from home while drinking strong coffee. You can see my work here.
What expectations did you have yourself over the coming decade?
I don’t really remember having any clear ones. I think I was just (pathetically) excited to feel more like a grown up even though I pretty much still looked and behaved like I was 14.
What was your first job like?
My first job was what I had always thought would be my dream job. It turned out it wasn’t.
Right after graduating from college, me and some close friends decided to start our own design studio in Mexico City. Without any upfront capital or the slightest clue on how to run a business (for some reason, we didn’t consider any of those things as that important), we managed to survive three years at a shared office that, among other things, had a ping-pong table on the roof top.
I think we all had a very romantic and idealized idea of what it would be like to have our own company, but that was soon overshadowed by millions of decisions we had to make on things that had nothing to do with design/art making—which was what we were really interested in.
Looking back, I feel nostalgic of that era. It was exciting, unstable, stressful, but most of all, it was FUN. It was a complete mix of very contrasting things: being able to come in at noon wearing pajamas if we wanted to, going to business meetings at fancy intelligent buildings, with fancy non-intelligent clients. Working non-stop without sleeping for 48 hours, designing beautiful websites for clients like Coca Cola, talking to lawyers and accountants, implementing rules that we didn’t follow, and having ping-pong breaks that would turn into day-long tournaments was all part of the experience.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed way more than design skills to run a successful business, but three years of daily struggles had to pass before we came to the conclusion that what we didn’t really want, was to own that kind of business.
I still consider that first job a success story; we learned a lot, we didn’t lose any money and most important, we remained good friends.
What was my first apartment like?
In Mexico, in your twenties, you don’t usually leave your parents house until you get married or move to a different state/country. That was my case. I went to Barcelona to do one year of college and that was the first time I rented an apartment (with my parents’ money, of course). I shared a three-bedroom apartment with other four Mexican friends and I was the lucky one who didn’t have to share the room. My room was tiny and so incredible dark, that if I didn’t set my alarm, I would wake up at 2 pm feeling extremely guilty and confused.
Did you experience any big life changes?
I think the biggest life change I experienced was leaving Mexico City in 2010.
When I was 27, I moved to NYC to pursue an MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts.
At that point of my life, I was pretty settled and comfortable with myself . I had a full time job that I was happy and good at, and family and friends that would laugh at my jokes.
Moving to a different country put me in touch with parts of myself that I had forgotten were there. It reminded me how painful shyness and self awareness can be, especially when you have to interact with strangers in a different language.
That first year in NYC was the most intense of my life. It is the year when I can say I became an illustrator and it is the year when I met the love of my life.
In what ways did your friendships change?
My old Mexican friendships, the important ones, survived the distance. Even though we don’t see each other that often, technology has helped us to stay close.
What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
One of many things I learned is that being in a relationship where you fear to say something stupid or make a fool of yourself is not a good place to be.
How did your relationships with your family change?
I feel like being away from my family brought us closer in a way. I don’t know if it is just growing older, or if it has to do with the distance. I just feel like I share more with them now and I feel like we have more meaningful conversations. I am more open to take advice from my parents now, too. We fight less and we are more appreciative of each other when we get to visit.
How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I have always been emotional but, from the second half of my twenties up until now, it has just gotten out control. I used to make fun of my teary mom and aunts, but now I am just one of them.
How did you changed intellectually?
I think most of my intellectual growth (if there’s such a thing) has been through literature and film. More through film than books, though – I am a better watcher than I am a reader. I think a lot of the books and movies that I was exposed to in my twenties; they really shaped the way i think and have been a huge influence and inspiration in my artwork.
In what ways your identity changed?
I don’t think there were major changes. I just think I have gotten to know myself better hence it has become so much easier to identify what I like, think and believe in and I what don’t. And most important, I’m able to articulate why.
What was the most embarrassing moment?
This one happened in my mid-twenties, in a time when having multiple chat windows opened while working was common practice. I wrote something pretty horrible about a person, clicked SEND, and realized that I had just sent it to that very person. I then crowned my stupidity by saying: hahaha, just kidding! I felt so terribly ashamed, that later that day, I drove to the person’s office just so I could apologize to her face.
What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?
One big disappointment was getting a rejection letter from the University of the Arts London when I applied for their Master’s degree in Illustration. Even though I was pretty bummed when that happened, just a couple of months later I was in New York realizing that that rejection letter was the best thing that had happened to me.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
Not really, though I know there are plenty of times that I wished I had listened to myself earlier.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Naziha al-Dulaimi (1923-2007). As a student, al-Dulaimi was one of a few women who studied medicine at Baghdad’s Royal College of Medicine. When the government transferred her to Kurdistan, al-Dulaimi wrote about her patients’ living conditions in a pamphlet called The Iraqi Woman. Later in her career, she founded the League for Defending Iraqi Woman’s Rights and became a leader in the country’s women’s rights movement.
I’ll be honest, guys: I didn’t write a post today. A lot is changing really fast over here and, while I planned out the rest of the week, Wednesday fell through the cracks. I promise to reveal all in due time, but right now the best I can do is provide a roundup of what I’m reading today.
Brit and Co.: Why this kid will inspire you to throw like a girl
Brit and Co.: What Kerry Washington just said will change the way you talk about your body
The Everygirl: CEO/Founder of The Giving Keys Caitlin Crosby
Vice: The FDA finally approves female Viagra
Salon: The war on unlikeable women, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, and the brazen misogyny we choose to ignore
Refinery29: Hey, remember those Disney movies about periods and STDs?
Refinery29: Two women made it through this insanely grueling army school
Today’s Dame of the Day is Hawa Abdi (May 17, 1947-). Following her high school graduation, a scholarship from the Women’s Committee of the Soviet Union allowed her to study medicine. After she became a mother, Abdi practiced medicine during the day and studied for her law degree at night. Today, Abdi puts both her credentials to use as founder of the Rural Health Development Organization and the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. These organizations offer free and low-cost medical care to Somalian women and children.
Since their early inception, women’s magazines have dramatically evolved. Back in the day, publications like Family Circle or Woman’s Day peddled recipes, new products, and weigh loss regimes to stay at home moms. But over time, the magazine world woke up to the fact that, in addition to being a portal to the American family, women also have interests of their own. During the 90s resurgence of feminism, magazines like Jane, Bust, and Bitch burst onto the scene and shook up the Cosmopolitan status quo. While it’s unlikely that one publication can cater to everyone woman, the digital age ushered in more opportunities to reach a larger audience.
Image courtesy of Christian Montone
Back in February, I caught wind of Vice’s new feminist media channel, Broadly, and I admit I was intrigued. I have a hit or miss relationship with Vice. Some of their reporting, like their presence in Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray, feels critical; their team explores stories that other major news outlets won’t touch. On the flip side, I tend to roll my eyes at some of their fluffier content; how many headlines that begin “I Took a Lot of Drugs at…” does one media outlet really need?
Photo courtesy of WWD
However, I’m optimistic about Broadly because it’s perfectly positioned to go in on the women’s issues that make mainstream media uncomfortable. Nobody on CNN is talking about rape, abortion, or even vaginas in the abstract. With editor in chief Tracie Egan Morrissey at the helm, Broadly’s team aims to balance hard-hitting journalism with arts and culture reporting. Based on the channel’s trailer, they’ve already generated a decent body of work. Take a look at what’s new at Broadly and follow them on social media for future updates.
We live in a data-driven society: to address a given problem, you first have to prove it exists. In the past year, organizations like Hollaback have drawn attention to street harassment through videos and social media campaigns. But statistically speaking, how prevalent is the problem? Who’s logging complaints? Sometimes, street harassment takes the form of an annoying catcall or a demand that a woman smile. But other times, it can be downright dangerous: United Nations Women estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, one in three women experience sexual assault.
Elsa D’Silva. Image courtesy of Impact Hub
Safecity founder Elsa D’Silva wants to change this statistic. In her native India, it is estimated that a rape occurs every 20 minutes. But with the guilt, fear, and shame often associated with street harassment, it is believed that many cases go unreported. D’Silva conceived of Safecity as a way for victims to anonymously report incidents and shed light on previously invisible crimes.
Image courtesy of Rising Voices
In addition to collecting reports, Safecity aggregates the data and highlight trends on a map. This visual reporting style helps women take precautions in high-harassment areas and provides evidence of the problem to lawmakers. Outside of the app, D’Silva and her team run sexual harassment awareness workshops to empower victims and shift the attitudes of men and boys. As D’Silva points out, India does not teach sex education, so Safecity also aims to change attitudes about sex, gender, and relationships.
Image courtesy of Tech in Asia
Currently, Safecity collects reports in two forms: on the web and via phone callback. However, the team is working on an app to allow more detailed documentation. Follow Safecity on social media to track their progress and learn about future initiatives.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Sunitha Krishnan (1972-). During her field work as a social worker, Krishnan developed relationships with sex workers in and around Bangalore. These relationships, along with her own history as a rape survivor, laid the groundwork for Krishnan’s career as an anti-human trafficking advocate. Krishnan co-founded Prajwala, an organization that rescues and supports sex trafficking victims and their children. She also lobbies the Indian government to shift their policies to a more victim-friendly focus. In addition to her hands-on work, Krishnan has also written 14 documentaries shedding light on AIDS, incest, and other social issues impacting the region.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Rosemary Nyirumbe. While a video condemning Ugandan dictator Joseph Kony went viral in 2012, Sister Nyirumbe has spent her life dedicated to the victims left in his wake. As Director of the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Centre, Nyirumbe provides a safe space for girls to recover and teaches them tailoring skills so they can support themselves. To date, Nyirumbe’s program and sister program have helped 2,000 girls work through past traumas and lay the groundwork for more promising futures.