Nostalgia

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A year ago, today, I boarded a plane to France for the summer. My summer experience studying abroad was life changing but this year after returning has proven to be pretty insightful as well. It seems like every day I learn something new about myself. I know it is a lot to put on a small chapter of my life but I give France most of the credit for this.

In one of my previous posts I wrote about how Paris helped me get over some of my body and eating issues that I had developed earlier that year. Now that I have had more time to ruminate about this, I have come to a few realizations.

I do believe I had an undiagnosed eating disorder. I would give it the name orthorexia but I also struggled with anorexic and bulimic thoughts. I say this went undiagnosed because I never went to a doctor to speak about it, but it wasn’t like I wasn’t aware of it. And, even though the only people I spoke to about it was my mom and my sister, I know others had to have noticed too. Anything that consumes that much of your thoughts and that much of your time is a real disorder. I don’t wish to talk about the details of what I dealt with, but if anyone has questions concerning this I will gladly speak to you about it. But, I do believe this experience made me a lot stronger and made my study abroad experience even more powerful.

Someone asked me once, before I left for France, if I was running away and I quickly responded with, “No, it’s always been my dream to go to Paris and I want to do it now while I have the chance.” This was true. But, I think that person knew that part of my intentions was to run away. Yes, I wanted to go to Paris and I wanted to study abroad while in school, but really, I could’ve waited until I graduated. Over the course of that winter and spring there was so much build up and a lot of struggles. I gave my struggles an expiration date that matched the date of my plane ticket to France. I wasn’t running away from my problems, but I was packing up, leaving them at home and making a change.

The second I landed in Charles de Gaulle airport, I had re-established myself.

I emerged the airplane with a groggy and unfamiliar confidence, which disappeared the second I turned on my phone and it didn’t work. Then came the tears. Then came the waiting, and waiting, and getting really anxious that my suitcase didn’t arrive. Then I was hungry and jet lagged and confused and scared. This all past quickly but I will say this: Travel is not all luxury. It is dirty, sweaty, messy, groggy, jumbled and disorganized. That is what makes it magical. The beautiful, romantic parts and the complicated, grimy parts all make it what it is.

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I miss a lot about traveling and about Europe. I miss the sweet smell of hydrangeas and the tangled streets. I miss the distant accordion echoing off the Seine.  I miss the dirty corners of the streets and the rats that would scurry by our picnics at a park. The sound of a conversation in French is my favorite sound. I loved sitting at a café in the morning, soaking in the sun and a cappuccino before beginning by day of classes and being serenaded by conversations that I couldn’t understand. It was peaceful, yet it was never quiet.

I also miss the connections I made while traveling. When you travel, you connect with people differently. When you are traveling in a foreign country, anyone who speaks to you becomes your companion. And when you meet someone who is also traveling, it is even better! Something I try to do now is to connect with strangers like how I did when I was traveling.

Lately, I have been feeling like everything is moving very quickly. Since returning from studying abroad, I have been on autopilot. I delved into a busy, fulfilling semester in the fall, began a new internship and a new relationship in the spring, got my first “big girl” job offer, and came to the decision that I would be graduating a semester earlier. Long-term, this all looks great. I am on the right path to being a wise, powerful woman. I was enjoying short-term things as well. I’ve made some cool friends; I’ve gotten to do a lot of dancing, and I’ve done well in my courses. The question I keep asking myself though is “How did this happen so fast?” I think everyone at this stage in college is in the same boat. Big questions are arising. We aren’t immature and naïve anymore. We have important decisions to make. It is too early. There is not enough time. These are all thoughts that people are having right now.

On the reunion of my travels, I have been feeling the need to be doing more. I am always looking forward at what my next goal is and how I can achieve it. What is the next thing I can learn? I feel like I need to constantly be learning and teaching myself new things and experiencing more. Yeah, it is exhausting, I know. Sitting still does not come easy to me. I’m still trying to learn (see, learn…) some strategies on how to be okay with doing nothing. If you know the secret, please share.

Things I learned this year:

  1. Try, try again.
  2. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice leads to growth.
  3. You are capable of accomplishing anything but you have to work for it.
  4. Get to know people as if you are travelers, only crossing paths briefly.
  5. Ask questions, tell stories, make a joke, don’t sensor yourself.
  6. This is all I know, now, and that is okay.
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Drink Like a Lady: The Results of the Temperance Movement on Gender-Shaped Drinking Habits

A lot of people have been requesting to read my research paper that I worked on this semester for my critical writing class.  If anyone talked to me this semester they probably knew that I was quite involved in this research project because it was so interesting of a topic to me.  The only guidelines on this project was that it needed to relate to alcohol consumption and be scholarly.  After reading countless books on the Temperance Movement, Suffrage Movement, and researching the history of gender roles and feminism, I came up with this research paper (plus a brain over flowing with even more questions).  Not sure if this is an appropriate platform to use for sharing this, but it will do the job.

Drink Like a Lady: The Results of the Temperance Movement on Gender-Shaped Drinking Habits

The Temperance Movement, the most popular and longest social cause of the nineteenth century, promoted moderation of consumption of alcoholic beverages and eventually urged for complete abstinence. Beginning in the early 1700’s and coinciding with the American Revolution, the Temperance Movement gained popularity among East Coast states and spread through the United States. The Temperance and Women’s Suffrage Movement (arguably the start of the feminist movement) of the nineteenth century has had an overwhelming impact historically. The Temperance Movement provided women a relatively safe means to enter the public political life and was important in shaping the middle class. Organizations including the Martha Washington Society and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) were dominant in historical development of the Temperance Movement. In order to understand the shift that has taken place in American attitudes toward alcohol consumption it is necessary to analyze the changes in the composition of American drinking.

This presentation examines how gender identification and gender role has shaped the drinking habits of men and women historically and currently in the context of the relationship between feminism and the Temperance Movement of the nineteenth century. Traditionally defined gender roles such as natural self control on the part of women have shaped women’s drinking habits by establishing definitions of excessive drinking narrower than those imposed on men. Binge drinking, in this historical context, could be the result of unreasonable gender-based drinking norms. Alternatively, it could be an expression of liberation, which raises questions about how values and perceptions of morality in turn shape perceptions of drinking. Is drinking an expression of women’s freedom and subjugation? How has women’s exercise of power changed and how have past norms and events affected women’s contemporary drinking behaviors?

Sobriety is a feminine quality that fulfills a women’s natural role of self-control. A women’s role in the Temperance Movement was to rehabilitate, nurture and protect her family and children from the effects of alcoholism. Alcoholic men were viewed as unfit to support or properly care for their families and therefore it was a woman’s duty to establish order and stability in a domestic setting. The Martha Washington Women, arguably the first women of low rank in America to play an important role in reform, had seen that “the use of all intoxicating drinking has caused, and is causing, incalculable evils to individuals and families, and has a tendency to prostrate all means adapted to the moral, social, and eternal happiness of the whole human family” (Alexander, p. 770). The Washingtonian women took drastic measures to rehabilitate and reform alcoholic men and women and claimed large numbers of formerly alcoholic women as members of their society.

The common belief that women should be contained and dignified has given women’s drinking a negative stigma. Historically, alcoholic women were viewed as promiscuous and abandoning their responsibilities as a wife or mother. Heavy drinking is not condoned as acceptable feminine behavior as it is linked to unwomanly behavior such as sexual disinhibition and impairment of nurturing and maternal behavior. Drinking and drunkenness is viewed as more socially acceptable for males than females because females are more vulnerable to negative interpersonal consequences of alcohol and to stronger disapproval of intoxication. This could be explained by the concerns of female sexual virtue and nurturing role obligations pervaded throughout history and that still pertain today.

The lack of control caused by drunkenness in men results in women fulfilling their traditional roles of establishing control.  Epstein states in The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America (1981) that a women’s main interest in temperance arose from the fact that they were “obliged to suffer so much from intemperance of those with whom they are connected in life” (p. 92). Temperance literature points out that women were often victims of men’s drinking. Women and children depended on husbands and fathers for sustenance and protection because men controlled engagement in business, politics and social interaction. A husband’s failure to fulfill their masculine roles within the family consequently forced their wives to move in.   This inversion of gender roles, as Parsons (2003) describes it, in the drunkard’s household in the 19th century was a “female invasion” or “womanhood as a moral force powerful enough to sway choice” (Parsons, p. 173).   Women temperance advocates relied on ideas of feminine virtue and domestic responsibilities to create a public role for themselves. Parsons states that, women, although lacking apparent forms of political and social power, had the power to shape their own environments through guiding their husbands and children. By proscribing general alcohol, women participated in traditionally masculine roles of power. This poses the paradox that seizing political power coincidentally reinforces a gender stereotype.

Gender plays an important role in the engagement in public and private social spheres. Historically, women were naturally private and therefore were more drawn to domestic spaces where sobriety, seclusion and comfort were important. Paradoxically, women involved in the WCTU would voluntarily enter male spaces like saloons and rescue “manhood” while temporarily immersing themselves in “sinful and unwholesome” environments. The Midwestern saloon, with its culture of rough male competition and camaraderie as well as an escape from women’s influence, played an important role in the construction of masculinity.

Nineteenth century culture promoted alcohol consumption as a primarily masculine trait with only 20% of the drinking population being female (Murdock, 1998). Drinking for men meant expressing traditionally defined masculine traits, such as stamina, taking risks and power. Beer drinking, binge drinking, public drunkenness and being able to hold one’s drink tend to be perceived as masculine traits. Males who identify with traditionally masculine attributes would be expected to drink more heavily than women. Nineteenth century culture promoted alcohol consumption as masculine yet “masculinity demanded financial success, emotional stability and restraint,” (Murdock, p. 15) traits that drinking would impair.

In the late nineteenth century, conflict between the sexes as well as class conflict helped to shaped the perspective of middle-class women. The Temperance Movement raised issues of individual morality and self-control that seemed to be the avenue towards upward mobility (Epstein).  Frances Willard, second president of the WCTU and leading Temperance advocate of the 19th century, fought for a linkage between temperance and woman suffrage, arguing that only the vote could give women the power necessary to eradicate alcohol. The Temperance and suffrage movement provided women a way to enter the political life while still fulfilling traditional responsibilities as wives and mothers. The middle class was inevitably more vulnerable to the destructive power of drinking. The WCTU believed that women who drank where either “working class degeneracy or upper-class snobbery.” Those who abstained from drinking defined themselves as respectable members of the middle class, where values define standing. Contradictory, affluent women who participated in drinking were not held to the same standards as class trumps gender.

The erosion of strict gender roles in recent decades has lead to relaxed gender stereotypes and gender convergence and thus more acceptance of female alcohol consumption.   Recently, there has been an increase in frequent binge drinking among female graduate students (Plant, 2008). According to reports published in the popular press, the most current generation of college women (enrolled the beginning of the 21st century) fully endorse equality in gender roles and believes that they should have full access to any opportunity offered to men, including the opportunity to engage in the “alcohol rite of passage” on college campuses (Morse and Bower qtd in Young, 2005).

Plant, in his article on alcohol in women’s lives, states that changing social roles, feminism, gender stereotypes, occupation and advertising relate to the shift in women’s drinking patterns and suggests that women’s drinking will be “most similar to men’s in societies in which women’s social, political and economic empowerment is most developed” (Plant, p. 155). The fact that women reported that they feel pressure to drink “heavily” to make a favorable impression on their male peers might not support this theory. “Drinking like a guy” has more to do with emphasizing women’s sexuality than gender equality. Heavy alcohol consumption gives college women positive attention from their male peers, but likely increases their vulnerability to sexual assault and alcohol use related health problems.

Drinking has always been a way to identify members of a subculture. The Temperance Movement was the attempt of moral people (abstainers of alcohol) to correct the behavior of the immoral people (users of alcohol). The radical changes from the attitudes of 19th century towards alcoholism shows that today it is viewed as a disease rather than a moral failing. In his book, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement, Gusfield (1986) implies that the same behavior that once brought rewards and self-assurance to the abstainer today brings contempt and rejection. “Drinking has become so prevalent that one who would cry out against it is regarded as a fanatic” (Gusfield, p. 134). In today’s society, abstinent behavior is not a respected position and is no longer a symbol of prestige. Americans are less work-minded, more urban, and less theological and put more importance on teamwork, interpersonal relations and the ability to relax, qualities that alcohol is likely to magnify.   These new sets of values on self-control, discipline and sobriety have caused a shift in attitude on alcohol consumption.

Contemporary drinking behaviors of men and women have been influenced by the gender norms and events that took place during the Temperance Movement of the nineteenth century. Sobriety is viewed as a feminine quality that fulfills a women’s natural role of self-control, morality and dignity. By proscribing general alcohol during the Temperance Movement, women participated in traditionally masculine roles of power, posing the paradox that seizing political power reinforces a gender stereotype. In a culture where masculine traits such as power, strength, competition and aggressive behavior hold more value and results in more power, the question of drinking as an expression of women’s freedom is raised. The feminine connotations attached to sobriety parallel the negative connotations attached to abstainers of alcohol today. Because of the recent convergence of gender roles and the shift of attitudes on alcoholism, alcohol is less of a moral women’s issue and is more of a cultural convention.

Bibliography

Alexander, R. M., (1988). We Are Engaged as a Band of Sisters: Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850. The Journal of American History, Vol. 75(3), 763-785.

Epstein, B.L. (1981). The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

 Huselid, R. F., & Cooper M. L. (1992). Gender Roles as Mediators of Sex Differences in Adolescent Alcohol Use and Abuse. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 33(4), 348-362.

Kyvig, D. E. (1976). Women Against Prohibition. American Quarterly, 28(4), 465-482.

Parsons, E. F. (2003). Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

Plant, M. (2008). The role of alcohol in women’s lives: a review of issues and responses. Journal of Substance Use, 13(3), 155-191.

Regan, D., & Morrison, T. G. (2011). Development and Validation of a Scale Measuring Attitudes Toward Non-Drinkers. Substance Use & Misuse, 46(5), 580-590.

Robbins, C. A., & Martin, S. S. (1993). Gender, Styles of Deviance and Drinking Problems. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 34(4), 302-321.

de Visser, R.O., & McDonnell, E. J. (2012). “That’s OK. He’s a guy”: A mixed-methods study of gender double-standards for alcohol use. Psychology & Health, 27(5), 618-639.

Young, A.M., Morales, M., McCabe, S., Boyd, C.J., & D’Arcy, H. (2005). Drinking Like a Guy: Frequent Binge Drinking Among Undergraduate Women. Substance Use & Misuse, 40(2), 241-267.

Gratitude

I’ve been neglecting this blog for some time but I think this day deserves some attention. I have come a long way since a year ago and have so much to be thankful for.  Last Thanksgiving coincides with when I began struggling with disordered eating.  Last year I was so worried and guilty about the food I was consuming that I made myself physically ill.  Things only got more severe from that point.  That is why I put so much gratitude on my summer abroad where I completely abandoned my disordered eating.  When I say that Paris was life-changing, I mean it.  Along with that, I made amazing relationships with people around the world, gained a new perspective on life and came home revitalized, healthy and happy.  I really don’t want this post to be mushy or cliche so I will keep it simple.  What I am thankful for:

1. My beautiful sister, Amy, who is recently engaged

2. My family (especially my mom and dad) for being so supportive and accepting

3. My friends all around the world who I met this summer and who taught me so much

4. My friends back home and at school who I feel I have become much closer with and who make me laugh

5. The ability to be able to travel–I am extremely gracious for my time spent traveling this summer

6. My education which has become increasingly important to me

7. Music and dance and the freedom it gives me to express myself and create bonds with others

“The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.”

I Ate Bread, Cheese, and Gelato and I’m Okay

The first meal I had in Paris was at a boulangerie. I had what was probably the equivalent of a whole baguette with gooey, melted mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I realized as I took that first bite that I hadn’t had this combination of food for months.  I was living off a diet of kale, quinoa, protein shakes (hemp, of course), almonds, avocados and bananas.  After a nine hour flight I was starving and I ate the whole damn thing and enjoyed every bit of it.  For the next five weeks I ate pain au chocolate and chocolate chaud every morning, paninis with cheese and salted butter gelato without feeling any guilt. It was amazing. And guess what, I didn’t get sick, I didn’t break out, I didn’t even gained weight. Before my trip to Paris I was nervous about what I would be eating there in fear of gaining weight, breaking out, being out of control and diverting from my usual menu.  I was scared and I didn’t trust that my body could handle what I considered “bad food.” But, I swore to myself that I would enjoy the food and not get hung up on what I was eating.  I found that it was amazingly easy to do.  I didn’t keep track of what I was eating.   I didn’t even flinch at eating bread with every meal. I even began craving food again! (This is seriously something that stopped when I was so restrictive about what I ate.) I wanted to try new foods because along with food there was the social interaction that took place. I meet great friends and we socialized over food. I ate butter croissants, chocolat chaud (one day I had three cups just at breakfast), the most amazing crepes and macaroons.  I ate duck in Luxembourg, devoured an entire pizza in the Loire Valley, loaded up on Italian food in Amsterdam and tried Belgium waffles and feasted on mussels in Brussels.  I’m home now from my incredible five weeks traveling in Europe and I am so proud of myself.  I didn’t gain any weight, but if I would have, it would be okay.  I lost a bit of definition and feel a bit soft but so what, I am happy with my body.  I trust my body, I understand it and I am able to forgive and let go.  I realized that I really like food, I always have, and I really ought to enjoy it instead of being afraid of it.

White wine and olive oil and garlic mussels in Brussels
Flakiest pain au chocolate at a tiny cafe somewhere in Paris.
Pizza in the Loire Valley with mushrooms, onions and ham. Yes, I ate the entire thing.
Lunch in Luxembourg after hiking and castle-exploring was this HUGE brat.

 

Things I need to remind myself more often

1.) Have more faith in others.

2.) Not all the actions of others directly relate to me.

3.) Ask more questions before jumping to conclusions.

4.) Be open minded to people who are less open minded than I am.

5.) Accept that I cannot change others but I can change how I respond to them.

6.) Everything is temporary and will change eventually.

7.) Be patient because it is a slow process. 

8.) Talk to others and try to understand their response.

9.) Help yourself.

10.) Listen to yourself and to what others are telling you and what they are not. 

11.) Stop making assumptions.  Just stop.