Don’t tell me to smile

smiling faces

By Tara Cavanaugh

Let me first say that I have a serious-looking face. In photos where I’m not smiling, people ask me what’s wrong. In my passport photo, for which I was instructed not to smile, I look like a terrorist.

I’ll also say that I’m expressive, the kind of person who talks with her hands, and my moods are easily read on my face.

All that being said: Do not tell me to smile.

I hear it often. Brushing past a colleague in the hall: Smile! Rushing out the door late to an appointment: Smile!

There’s a whole bunch of reasons I hate being told to Smile. One, it assumes I’m going to be happy all the time. Two, it assumes that even if I’m feeling something slightly negative, I better not show it. Three, it’s a judgment that says: if you’re feeling something negative, well it can’t be that bad, so get over it.

Of course I won’t be happy all the time. And it’s my own face, dammit. So who is this stranger to judge whether or not I should be feeling something negative?

I’d much prefer for someone to say, “Hey, you OK?” When that happens, I usually snap out of whatever thing I’m scrutinizing in my head and I go, “Oh golly gee willikers, I’m great!” or something to that effect. Because whatever frown I’m wearing is probably due to the fact that I just realized I’m wearing my underwear backwards and they’re riding up. Continue reading

My Love Letter to Tina and Amy

By Lindsay Ray

Taylor Swift may not have had a lot of love for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler recently, but that’s OK, I have more than enough. It’s easy to sum up why I adore these two so very much: they’re smart, they’re funny, and they support other women.

The first two parts of my list go hand-in-hand. They write funny jokes and they have the hutzpah to pull them off. I’m not saying all the jokes are a win, but they’re going to make you laugh, they’re not mean-spirited, and sometimes they’re going to make you think. If you don’t believe me (and if you do but just need an extra dose of Tina ‘n Amy), just watch the above. Continue reading

My Feminist Hero: Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

By Emma Kat Richardson

My feminist hero isn’t really a hero. At least not in casual popular estimation. Many would likely call her a villain; “adultress,” “slut,” and “bitch” are equally oft-used labels. Nor is she feminist, simply by virtue of having missed the first wave by more than 300 years. But she has, in time, come to stand as a figurehead of not only historical importance, but the more modern concept of feminine empowerment as well. Continue reading

Why all the hate on Zooey Deschanel?

So I was watching Glee this week (mostly out of habit and partly because who doesn’t love a hot mess), and I tuned into New Girl afterward because, as viewers of the show are aware, Schmidt is hilarious and says the darnedest things plus it promised me the oh-so-sarcastic Lizzie Caplan. I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed the episode and the central theme—how women relate to one another.

But then I made a mistake. I read a review of the most recent show, and I went ballistic. Why? Because people were dissing Zooey Deschanel and her character, saying she was infantilizing womanhood. Continue reading

My Grandmother’s Ring

Left, Anne Homkes on July 4, 1944, on the beach at Lake Makatawa in Holland, Michigan. Right, the ring Anne's granddaugher, Erin K. O'Neill, inherited.

It’s small and gold and is set with precious green stones. I doubt they are real emeralds. It catches on all my T-shirts. But despite its destructive power it almost never leaves my right ring finger.

I wear my grandmother’s ring every day.

My grandmother, Anne Homkes (née Anna Kooistra), was awesome. She was born in 1920 on a farm in Iowa. The oldest of eight children, her father gave her the option of going to high school or getting married. Anna Kooistra decided to go to high school and boarded with an old woman who only spoke Dutch.

My grandmother put herself through college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She read Hemingway. She graduated from Calvin College in 1942. She taught elementary school and got married in Holland, Michigan. An ambitious woman with a career and a family right after World War II was almost unheard of.

Anne Homkes would have never identified as a feminist.

As progressive as my grandmother was for her time, she stopped progressing after about 1958. When I was younger she seemed horribly conservative and backwards. She could be close-minded about social issues, and she really hated that my mom and I didn’t go to church every Sunday. I never actually told her I’m an atheist. I didn’t understand why she was the way she was. Sometimes her disapproval was more than my sarcastic middle school self could stand. I thought she lived in a bubble, and I was disdainful of it.

When I started college I began to understand the sacrifices she made for her education. She wrote me letters. I occasionally responded.  But, it took being on my own to really learn to respect her.

In a letter dated Nov. 24, 2007, I wrote:

“I wanted you to know how very much I admire you and your accomplishments. To be a woman who is smart, ambitious and successful is difficult enough today – to go to college and have a career and a family when you did 60 years ago must have been much harder and required more fortitude and bravery . . . I find strength in the history of the women in my family – from you and what you gave your daughters and the values of education and strength you have installed in them, and by proxy, myself.”

I sent it weeks after I started it, and she never read it.

She died of a series of strokes following knee replacement surgery before my letter arrived. It was Finals Week and I presented my senior capstone project on the day of her funeral.

I wear her ring to remember that there are strong women in my family who, despite differences in religion, politics and lifestyle, I aspire to emulate. These heirlooms come from Anne Homkes, née Anna Kooistra – the farm girl who became a college graduate and teacher – my grandmother.

– By Erin K. O’Neill

Erin’s story is a part of our series called “My Favorite Things,” in which writers identify an item they love to wear.