[Insert Ironic Title Here]

Written in the summer of 2014

We were all different in the same way.

We rebelled against our parents, the fashion industry and pop music by finding the most unlikely things and romanticizing them. We loved thrift stores, the non-chain coffee shop around the corner, the smell of books that we never bought but read multiple times, the sounds of the farmers’ markets each weekend. Most of all, we romanticized individuality, criticizing the hive mind of cliques and cheerleaders, while being a collective – but enlightened – intelligence ourselves. We voted for the same people. Sometimes we went to the art museum, but we preferred the art crawls. Documentaries made us go vegan, and most of us stuck to it, while others ironically ate steaks, highlighting the flaws in society. We dressed the same, outfits composed of gender neutral skinny jeans, band t-shirts, ironic slogans, and Converse shoes. A girl got a short, sideswept haircut one week, a guy got the same cut the next. Why would we confine ourselves to some gender label? We loved the word, “edgy.”

The liberal, urban centers of the U.S. called to us, beckoning with great music festivals and local agriculture.

We loved the idea of an indie band. We wanted to be special, to discover a new philosophy. The musicality of some bands lacked depth or talent, a fact we detested. The balance of the tones and bass notes reeked, the electric guitar wasn’t too bad. She could have used some work on her riffs and fingerstyle, but the chords were pretty strong. The vocals had the right amount of breathy screaming to be nice sounding, though they couldn’t carry the show on stage presence only. Are they mainstream yet? We knew them first. You could’ve said they were a good band, but we bought their first album from a live show in Portland. We used to play it on our iPods all the time, though it was replaced for better bands with more diverse instrumentation.

We dreamt of working in a bookstore, of writing our own poetry, of starting a garage band with an acoustic guitar. On weekends we went to a thrift store to find the clothes your mom donated, but then we sewed them by hand and made something really trendy. We liked clothes with floral print and a faded, “I couldn’t care less” kind of look. We put a bird applique on it, god why do we feel so trapped. We say “god” ironically, we don’t know the answers of the universe, we’re still figuring out what our life wants to become, in the same way that a poem won’t know what it wants to be until it’s nearly written, or you never know how the organic, gluten-free, vegan pumpkin pie will taste until it’s finished. Those days, we took photographs, cataloguing our transition years, the time between graduation and success.

We pierced our own ears.

The flower boxes hanging outside our apartment windows were converted. We discovered a way to grow tomatoes and peppers in them. Maybe for dinner we’d have a salad, with dressing made from the herbs grown near the kitchen window. We could taste the difference between grocery store lettuce and the lettuce we bought from the vegetable stand. It was fresher and cleaner, like the plants were happy to grow for us. Who would want to be doused in chemicals and fertilizers? Not us. We preferred the natural route.

The roots of our hair grew out in four weeks rather than six, and we complained to our friends over a cup of fair trade coffee. We covered our shame with beanies and ironic hats. We took public transportation to save the earth.

We dated men and women who thought like us, who dressed like us, who ate and lived like us, who were different in the same way that we were. We looked for strength of character, rather than the strength of wealth or status. Our soul mates fell in love with the music we loved, paid for half of the rent, and complimented our hair and guitar playing. Like a dog splashed with water, we shook it off nonchalantly but marveled at the way it made us feel. We ran together in the morning and applied homeopathic medicines to the blisters on our feet.

Our grandmothers sent us knitted socks in the mail, and we wore them. Later, we knitted her a blanket from homespun wool. We planned on learning another language because it tasted good in our mouths. We hoped to make it big someday, through our trumpet playing, through our natural lifestyle tips, through our article in the local newspaper, or maybe our small business would finally break through.

An unlikely combination of things we love: vintage movies, unusual modes of transportation, atypical instruments, and the wonder of the circus. We tried to learn how to unicycle and play the bagpipes, only succeeding in our mothers’ eyes. We hoped to come across famous people in the street. We’d hand them a signed copy of our first solo CD and take a picture with them. We’d hang it up on a wall and show it to our grandchildren, how amazing our lives were in our transition years.

We’d show them the mainstream bands that we loved when we were in our transition years. They had found themselves in the stage lights and the crowds, and then we could no longer relate because we were still finding our stage lights and our crowds. We looked for jobs online, jobs that allowed us to think independently and not be a part of this consumerist wave pool. Maybe we’d understand this existence when we get older, maybe we wouldn’t care anymore.

God, why do we feel so trapped?

Coming of Age in a Time of Religious Transformation and Global Religious Violence: Religious Life at Northwestern University

alice-millar

TIME Magazine asked, “Is God Dead?” on the cover of its April 1966 issue. The article argued that religion was no longer necessary in society and that understanding of science would replace religious belief. Yet, almost 50 years later, religion still thrives, though faced with new challenges.

Crises such as 9/11, the recent attacks in Paris, and the increasing hostility against minority religions around the world put religion and the people who practice religion under pressure. Furthermore, the Millennial Generation is moving away from formal religious practice and participating far less than previous generations.

At the same time, spiritual consumerism is a growing trend among Millennials, in which people adopt certain beliefs or practices from a variety of religions but not strictly conforming to any single tradition. Tahera Ahmad, an associate chaplain at Northwestern University, said, “from our campus climate surveys, we know that students are interested in spirituality, they’re interested in questions about what everything means, and they’re searching for that. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to find that in a particular religious tradition.”

Religion is not in decline, but in a period of transformation.

A study conducted in 2014 by the Pew Research Center discovered that fewer people in the United States are religious or follow religious practices than they did in 2007. The survey, which reached 35,000 adults, asked participants if they believed in God, prayed, or attended religious services. It found that the percent of adults who describe themselves as religiously affiliated fell from 84 percent in 2007 to 77 percent in 2014. Across generations, religious participation has decreased. The percent of survey participants who believe in God decreases with each generation, first slowly, then much faster.

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According to the Higher Education Research Institute, 27.5 percent of American college freshmen in 2014 were religious “nones”, meaning that they did not identify with any religion. This number has been increasing since the 1980’s, when less than ten percent of freshmen did not identify with a religion.

However, simply because Millennials choose to participate less in religion does not mean that they are less interested in religion or spiritual questions. Rabbi Brandon Bernstein, Northwestern’s campus rabbi, said, “When we say the word ‘religion’, I’m not sure I always know what we mean. A lot of times ‘religion’ becomes a stand-in for ‘institutions of religion.’ When someone says ‘I’m not religious,’ what they really mean is ‘I’m not going to these standard institutions that represent religious practice.’ But they have a sense of spirituality, they have a sense of wonder with the world.”

Several factors may turn religious “nones” away from religion and organized practice. For some, it can be bad experiences in the religious group, a lack of emotional connection to the ritual practice or feeling misunderstood by the religious leaders.

“Maybe they grew up in a church, and for whatever reason, they feel distanced from it,” said Timothy Stevens, the university chaplain. “Other people, there’s more hostility, or some students will say, ‘I feel damaged by my experience in church,’ or they know somebody who has been a victim of abuse… But in my reading and my experience talking to people, they’ll say that ‘I still feel spiritual. Yeah, I believe in God, I just don’t believe in the teachings of this church or that church, or I have problems with their policy.’”

The greatest issue for religious leaders trying to appeal to Millennials is finding new ways to talk to young adults. “Religious institutions are speaking in a voice and a language that was appealing to past generations, but doesn’t speak to present needs or present desires, or where students and people really are. So the struggle is figuring out how to speak to them where they are in a way that’s appealing and understanding,” Bernstein said.

One of the best ways to answer spiritual questions is in experimenting with different religious ideas. Spiritual consumerism is becoming more common, especially where people have access to a wide variety of religious resources. This allows people to find new vocabulary to understand their own lives.

“Because we’re exposed to so many different religious and spiritual traditions, and things that aren’t even really traditions in a sense, there is some spiritual consumerism where people experiment with a few things in a sort of disconnected way,” said Jonathan Schild, the student leader of Northwestern’s Zen Society.

In the next years or decades, there is going to be a change in how spiritual questions are approached and the extent to which non-traditional religious views are considered, but religion will never disappear completely. Ahmad said, “I would argue that we are still a nation that cares deeply about spirituality and questions of meaning and purpose. We have more conversations about the role of religion in secular society.”

1850, 1950, and 2015: Women’s Magazines and the Changing Sphere of Woman

Originally published December 14, 2015 by Hunny Magazine

Comparing women’s magazines from 1850, 1950, and now, the “sphere of woman” has changed – though not as much as you’d think.

Women’s magazines have been a part of the female community since the late 1600’s with the publication of Lady’s Mercury. Since then, hundreds of magazines and periodicals have come and gone, influencing the way women view the world along the way. A publication that focused on women’s issues and interests made a forum for women, and educated them in a time when education for women was neither common nor sufficient. However, because publications had this unchallenged influence, they were also used as a type of propaganda encouraging stereotypes and allowing women to shut themselves up at home, telling them that’s where they belong.

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Images of women in their one and only socially acceptable role. How heartwarming. Godey’s Lady’s Book, March 1850

1850

In the 1800’s, Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the  widest-read publications for women. Reaching a pre-civil war readership of 150,000, Godey’s became one of the biggest influences on American culture during the 1800’s. A frequent topic in Godey’s is the idea of a “sphere of woman”  – the parts of life that women dominate.

In the 1850’s, the sphere of woman was focused around the family, the home, and religion. Many of the articles in Godey’s were about homemaking, literature reviews, poetry and short stories, fashion, and religious life. There were intellectual topics as well, such as art history, female education, and foreign places around the world. Women were able to write to the magazine, ask questions, request topics, and submit articles.

The editor, Sarah J. Hale, brought early feminist ideas to the publication, but it’s clear that the social context of the 1850’s was not the most lady-friendly of times:

“I SPEAK THUS IN THE SPIRIT OF DEVOUT THANKSGIVING TO OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, WHO, IN THE CROWNING WORK OF HIS CREATION, GAVE WOMAN TO MAN, MADE WEAKNESS HER STRENGTH, MODESTY HER CITADEL, GRACE AND GENTLENESS HER ATTRIBUTES, AFFECTION HER DOWER, AND THE HEART OF MAN HER THRONE… BUT NEVER DOES IT UNFOLD ITSELF SO FINELY AS WHEN EDUCATION, INSTINCT WITH RELIGION, HAS ACCOMPLISHED ITS MOST SUCCESSFUL WORK. IT IS ONLY THEN THAT SHE REVEALS ALL HER VARIED EXCELLENCE AND DEVELOPS HER HIGH CAPACITIES.”

SAMUEL W. FISHER, GODEY’S LADY’S BOOK, 1850

Though he is promoting women’s education, and admitting that women have redeeming qualities beyond their uteri, Samuel Fisher still thinks that women are supposed to be graceful and modest and weak, and that they belong to men. An educated woman is better than an uneducated woman, as long as she remembers to fulfill her womanly duties of housework and pleasing her husband first. It’s a complicated form of progress that isn’t really progress. But, no matter how progressive or regressive, themes and social commentary such as Fisher’s have undoubtedly influenced how women’s publications changed over the following century.

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Clickbait before clicking was a thing. Good Housekeeping, August 1950

1950

Good Housekeeping is a familiar name: It started in 1885, and by the mid 1950’s it had a readership of 3,500,000. Female readership aside, both the editor and the president were men, and would publish articles that men thought women wanted (something Betty Friedan makes frequent note of – if you haven’t read The Feminine Mystique yet, add it to your winter break reading list). She blamed women’s magazines in many ways for the “problem that cannot be named,” when women with perfect homes and perfect families were dissatisfied with their lives, while everything around them is telling them that they are leading the perfect life and they should be perfectly happy. The focus of women’s magazines did not extend outside of the suburb. In her book, she mentions male editors that would not publish articles about global topics because they thought that women couldn’t handle them, or just weren’t interested.

One of the biggest differences between Godey’s and Good Housekeeping is the advertisements. Godey’s didn’t have any, whereas Good Housekeeping is full of gendered marketing, trying to make women conform to shallow and materialistic standards. Basically:

“YOU CAN’T BE CONFIDENT OR INDEPENDENT / YOUR HUSBAND WON’T LOVE YOU / YOUR FIANCE WON’T PROPOSE / YOUR CHILDREN WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU / YOU WON’T CONFORM TO SOCIETAL BEAUTY STANDARDS / YOU’LL HAVE SO MUCH MORE WORK TO DO / ETC. UNLESS YOU BUY _________!!!1!”

SOMEONE AT ONE POINT, PROBABLY

A soap advertisement disguised as a wedding announcement described a couple’s wedding day in St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Patricia was pale and beautiful in her lace and tulle wedding dress. James was so in love with her and her pale, clear skin. James’s father was so happy with his son’s beautiful bride. Her beauty secret? Washing her face with soap. Not just ANY soap, but Woodbury soap, because it really makes a difference, and genetics has nothing to do with beauty whatsoever.

But then Palmolive Soap says the exact same thing a few pages later.

… And Ivory Soap, too.

This type of advertisement is used for everything: furniture, appliances, cleaning products, recipes, movies, clothing patterns… everything. The materials that make up a woman’s life are there expressly to make her a better wife.

The few serious articles in Good Housekeeping they mixed in between the ads were mostly about how to raise a family, prevent tooth decay and polio, how to arrange your furniture to make the most of a small house, and psychoneurosis. There was a poetry page and a small collection of short stories, consistent with Godey’s.

Life in suburbia in the 1950’s was marked by conformity. The content of the articles isn’t bad, per se, but they assume that women are only interested in homemaking and childcare, things within the “sphere of woman,” and few things outside it. If a woman is not happy doing these things, she becomes an outsider to the community.

Beyond that, the magazine was out to make money, not to create a forum for women, and not to lead women to become independent and self-reliant.

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OMG ICE BEAR CUPCAKES! Woman’s Day Big Holiday Issue, 2015

2015

Some things about women’s magazines have changed, some have not. Advertisements have been toned down a lot since the 1950’s, except there are a lot more for prescription medications which take up two to three whole pages. In one copy of Woman’s Day, you can find out which drugs to take for your rheumatoid arthritis, metastatic breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes, more type 2 diabetes, and heartburn.

The sphere of woman, based on Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan, and Good Housekeeping, hasn’t moved out of the home. It still focuses on children, keeping a clean home, and keeping your man happy. However, fewer people are absorbing that message, and more women are able to opt out of the idea of the sphere of woman altogether.

Because of the presence of the Internet, social media and a wider array of magazines to choose from, magazines do not play the same role in society that they used to. If a someone does not like or identify with the ideas that the magazine publishes, they can cancel their subscription, ignore it, or pick up something else for that five hour flight.

Many women’s magazines today are not about creating a community or a forum, but about selling advertising space and making money. Headlines are clickbait, and pictures of celebrities and ice bear cupcakes on the cover beckon readers at the grocery store. Magazines don’t have an obligation to publish for any reason but to make money. They have a lot of changes to make, if they want to become a supportive community for women’s voices to be heard.

In many ways, social media and forum websites have taken over for print magazines. The readership for print magazines has gone down, circulation having decreased by almost 2 percent in 2014, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. At the same time, more and more people are finding their news and their ice bear cupcake recipes on social media and dedicated websites.

The vast openness of the Internet gives women a space to publish their ideas. Women can empower each other and advocate for rights and equality, no matter where they come from, instead of restricting themselves to the pages of a magazine.