Category Archives: WTF

University of Michigan College of Engineering Dean David Munson on Cyberstalking on Campus

The Robert H. Lurie tower, University of Michigan College of Engineering campus. Photo via Khürt Williams/Flickr/CC.

Following the publication of my last blog post on Gizmodo yesterday, I received a lot of comments from women and men who said they had experienced cyberstalking situations similar to mine, some not as bad and some far worse.

So I decided to email the Dean of my alma mater’s College of Engineering this FYI:

Dear Dean Munson,

I attended the College of Engineering from 2004-2006 and ended up transferring to LS&A. I thought you may be interested as to why. I recently published this article on Gizmodo about an experience with cyber stalking that I unfortunately had my freshman year, and I thought you may be interested to know this kind of thing is happening on your campus, and how it affects the targets. I strongly feel that incidents like this are one cause of the enormous gender disparity that exists within the engineering school. I hope you find some value to this, and please feel free to contact me if you would like advice on ways the college could do more to stop harassment against women.

http://gizmodo.com/5867785/my-first-cyberstalker

Best,

Arikia Millikan

I was surprised to receive the following response about four hours later:

Erika,
  I am sorry to hear about your experience.  Actually, this is the first such experience I’ve heard of in Engineering at U-M.  Although I think that cyberstalking is a really bad thing, I have to disagree with your conclusion that incidents like yours “cause the enormous gender disparity that exists within the engineering school.”  Our problem regarding gender is that not enough women students from high school apply to study engineering in the first place.  This is true nationwide.  At U-M, our retention rates for women and men students in engineering are nearly the same.  So, once a woman enters CoE, she is very likely to stay and complete an engineering degree.
   Thank you for sharing your story.  I meet with undergraduates often in CoE (including lots of women) and I will be on the alert for the type of misbehavior you endured.
–David Munson

Today I sent my reply:

Dean Munson, thank you for your prompt response.

With all due respect though, sir, why would you have heard about such an experience before? When I went to DPS, I was told nothing could be done and was dismissed. With such an “oh well, deal with it” response to my — and any woman in a similar position’s — first impulse in seeking intervention regarding such a matter, why then would a student take the issue up with the dean? When I was a freshman, I never realized that was an appropriate plan of action or even an option. In fact, I never received any kind of notice of a campus resource for addressing instances of harassment in the College Engineering — information that is readily distributed in LS&A. While you are on the alert for this kind of misconduct in the future, I would urge you to also have conversations with the north campus Department of Public Safety in addition to female students. Perhaps they could provide you with statistics about how much this kind of incident is reported so that, rather than citing a lack of anecdotal evidence as evidence that something isn’t occurring, you could cite hard information.

To clarify, I didn’t say incidents like my specific stalking incident cause the gender disparity. I said that incidents like mine (which if you read or even skimmed the essay to the point where I explain why I dropped out you would understand was a reference to the persistent sexual objectification from male students and even once a professor I endured) are *one* of the many reasons I *believe* contribute to the gender disparity. For you to tell me that it’s not is, frankly, offensive. Furthermore, noting that the retention rates are nearly the same for men and women says nothing about the causes of the dropping out. I would be willing to bet that the breakdown of dropout causes are very different for women than what they are for men.

The problem that you cite as being the reason for gender disparity in the College of Engineering — that female high schoolers do not apply to engineering school — is a problem that is often caused by the same factor I cited in my essay that you dismissed: sexism. Unless you think that women are not inherently as good in science and math as men are, in which case I’d urge you to remember the Larry Summers incident, explore and the volumes of research that indicate the contrary, and revisit this hypothesis.

Thank you again for your response. In addition to my own experience in the University of Michigan College of Engineering, I now understand an additional factor that sustains the gender imbalance on your campus: your denialism. Thank you also for making me the most happy I have ever been that I did not pursue a career in engineering.

Regards,

ARIKIA

(not Erika)

I also sent it to Kelley Adams, my college friend I reference briefly in the story who is now a Project Manager at MIT’s Violence Prevention Response Center. She linked me to the CDC’s recently-released findings from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) which contains statistics on many different forms of violence, including stalking.

From the report’s Executive Summary:

Stalking Victimization by Any Perpetrator

  • One in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner or an acquaintance, 41.4% and 40.0%, respectively.
  • Repeatedly receiving unwanted telephone calls, voice, or text messages was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking (78.8% for women and 75.9% for men).
  • More than half of female victims and more than one-third of male victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25; about 1 in 5 female victims and 1 in 14 male victims experienced stalking between the ages of 11 and 17.

Thanks for the stats, Kelley. Hopefully when the University’s PR team finds this via Google Alert, they’ll be nice enough to forward this to Dean Munson so he can consider it while he is on the alert.

FOUND at the Internet Garage: WTF is in that bag?

Shortly after I started this blog a little over a year ago, I started the FOUND at the Internet Garage series to share all the amazing crap I find at the charmingly dysfunctional Internet cafe where I work on the weekends.

This one takes the cake.

Today I was sitting at the help desk, Internetting and stuff, while my coworker Mike dug around in the shelves behind me looking for a part for the laptop he was fixing.

“Yo, need any birth control pills?”

“Probably.” I said, turning around to find him holding two months worth of Yaz. “Oh, nevermind. That stuff makes people crazy. Why do you have that?”

“I don’t know, someone left this bag here the other day,” he said, holding up an Urban Outfitters tote bag.

I got up to examine the contents and found the most perplexing combination of items I have encountered at the Internet Garage to date. I immediately went to the scanner to document the contents, as I usually do when I find strange things in that place.

Continue reading

Fashion magazines can be hazardous to your health

The advertisements in fashion magazines have long been accused of harming women, lowering their self esteem by creating unrealistic expectations that lead to self-image problems and self-destructive behaviors like bulimia and anorexia. I don’t know about the validity of those claims, but my cousin recently encountered one serious and bizarre danger between the pages of a fashion magazine that required medical attention.

This is my cousin Heather in all her usual gorgeousness:

Heather Cushing

Now here’s a picture of Heather after flipping through the December issue of Elle Magazine:

Alien, Thierry Mugler

Yes, that’s really the same person and no, there was no photo editing in this picture.

What you’re seeing is an extreme allergic reaction caused by a sprayable perfume sample of a fragrance called (no joke) Alien, by Thierry Mugler. On the Sephora website it is described as “Radiant and mysterious, the elixir of absolute femininity.” That’s funny, last time I checked, embracing one’s feminity didn’t involve acquiring contact dermititis with severe edema of the upper eyelids — symptoms that appeared within 20 minutes of Heather’s contact with the ad.

“I played with the thing trying to open it and must’ve gotten it on my hands. Then because the smell bothered me so much it made my eyes itch and I rubbed them with my soiled fingers,” Heather told me in an email. Luckily, she works at a hospital and was able to take Benadryl within five minutes of the onset of symptoms and a PA there gave her a shot of prednisone when it got worse. “I couldn’t see that whole first night and could only open my right eye a slit the next 24 hours. After continued Benadryl use every 4 hours, I had a full recovery after 4 1/2 days.”

She still doesn’t know what specific ingredient in the perfume caused the reaction, but she’s going to tell me when she figures it out (right??). In the mean while, I am going to steer clear of Alien. Probably fashion magazines in general, for good measure.

Thoughts on predatory males and safety in the ‘hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened Monday night (when a psychotic man tried to follow me home). The encounter really shook me to the core of my being. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I handled the situation, and how other women could diffuse a potentially violent encounter.

I think one of the reasons the situation didn’t escalate to anything physical is because I did this:

When I turned around and fiercely asked “Are you following me?” instead of looking afraid and continuing to walk forward, it no doubt threw him off-guard and caused him to re-think his initial plan of simply tailing me. He was way bigger than me, and my doing that was the equivalent of what the little puffer fish puffing up to say, “Don’t even TRY to eat me or I will fuck your day up.”

Some other examples of this in nature are:

Continue reading

In which the Millikan thinks on her feet

Woo. I almost just got mugged. Or worse.

After a night of baking pumpkin bread (well, consuming pumpkin bread. I didn’t actually take part in the baking) and watching the original version of Beauty and the Beast with one of my lady friends, I stopped in to have a margarita at my favorite bar. I tutored the bartender’s daughter in chemistry this spring, and he wants me to help his other daughter pass a test now. I’m not good with little kids but I’m great with teenagers. I still remember what it was like to be one and can relate. I took a car service there, $6 to anywhere in your neighborhood, and the driver told me how he used to live on my block, and how it used to be dangerous. “Is it better now?” I asked, knowing that many people are restful towards the gentrification. “Oh yes, no crime is always better than crime.”

After a rousing conversation with Charlie, the bartender, I began to walk home, the same route I’ve treaded hundreds of times since I moved to this apartment about a year ago. Not that I have gone to that bar hundreds of times, but it’s on the way to lots of stuff, and from it.

Anyway, I was about to turn onto my block when i noticed a man in front of me. He appeared to be in a daze, like he was tipsy or on drugs or something. But when he saw me, something in him kind of… changed courses. He perked up, slowed his step and turned his posture to address me when I walked past.

“Hey, do you have an extra cigarette?” he asked, smiling congenially.

“No, sorry,” I said and kept walking. There was nobody else on the street but the two of us.

“Has anybody ever told you how beautiful you are?” he called after me.

It’s lame when people use those kind of crap lines on women in the middle of the day, to impress their friends or something; it’s scary for it to be communicated in isolation in the middle of the night. “Yeah, they have,” I muttered, quickening my pace. After I’d gone about five steps I heard the man’s footsteps slow to a halt. A few more steps and I realized that he had actually turned around and was walking behind me, following me, going in the complete opposite direction from which he’d come. I felt my sympathetic nervous system activate as I turned onto my street.

I walked passed the corner bodega, and looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, the man had followed my onto my street and was moving faster.

I think this must the point where some people freak out. Or where women don’t freak out like they should and second guess themselves out of the instinctual distrust they feel towards certain individuals, and keep walking — and eventually running towards their apartment. Because they’re so close, almost there, even though they’re moving away from potential help. It’s the horror-movie scenario that was mocked in Scream: Why are women always running upstairs when they should be running out the front door?

Well, I’ve scoffed at enough dumb broads in horror movies to not let myself become one of them. My mind was racing, and with every step I took forward, I felt my options being eliminated. So I stopped walking. I turned around, looked the guy in the face, and started walking toward him.

“Are you following me?” I demanded to know.

“What’s your name?” He asked. He leered creepily at me.

“Because it really looks like you’re following me, and that’s not a good idea.”

I was completely talking our of my ass, of course. Probably. I’ve gone to one Kung Fu class and one Krav Maga class, and between the two I feel like I could’ve landed a solid punch if I needed to — I was ready to — but obviously I didn’t want to have any physical contact.

“I just wanted to know what your name is, so I could tell you how pretty you are,” he continued, stepping to the side to intercept my path. But he was too slow, and I darted past him.

“I’m not interested,” I said, making a go for the bodega. When I reached it, my momentum was met firmly by the resistance of the locked door.

“They’re closed,” he said, smiling turning and walking toward me again. “There’s nobody there.”

Neighborhood secret: The bodega is open 24 hours. And while the worker may lock the door at night, someone is still there to make sales through the bullet-proof window.

“Habeeb!” I yelled, banging on the glass. It’s a term of endearment in Arabic that my roommate and I refer to the bodega guy as. My roommate doesn’t know Arabic, she just heard me say it and started calling him that one day, like it was his name. It was funny and it stuck, and he’s come to know that it’s us behind the glass when we call through it to get beers at 4am or whatever. And tonight he knew it was me at the door, and he rushed around to open it.

As he fumbled to find the right key, I turned around and looked at my potential attacker, who was backing away, and I glared triumphantly at him. Not this time. And when Habeeb opened the bodega door, I collapsed inside, and he locked it behind us. Bodegas may not be stocked with tampons when I need them, but they sure do come in handy sometimes.

I stayed in there for about 10 minutes, called my roommate to see if she was home and tell her what happened. She was at her boyfriend’s, so Habeeb went outside first to make sure the guy was gone and stood on the corner and waited for me to walk down the street to my apartment.

Disaster averted.

I don’t know what would have happened if I had handled the situation differently. And I’m glad that I don’t have to know, to have to bear the memory of an attack for the rest of my life. But it could have been bad, I think. Generally, I try to think the best of people, but there are alot of fucked up individuals in the world, and for that reason I will never let my guard down. Not completely.

And I will definitely keep going to Krav Maga classes.

Advertisers acknowledge the primary purpose of the Facebook is indeed stalking…

… and adjust their strategies accordingly:

facebookad-booyfriend

It was creepy enough when companies annouced products for parents to keep tabs on their teenage children via GPS. This is just over the top….

Luckily, there’s one for reverse-stalking as well:

facebookad-reverse stalking

I know advertising models are falling apart at the seams, but do they really have to resort to giving people the willies to secure click-throughs? This image haunts my dreams.

Tampon scarcity in Brooklyn

I have been inspired recently by one Naomi MC of Vagina Dentata. Besides being an awesome writer in general, she chooses to tackle some topics that are somewhat hush hush, nay taboo, in the blogosphere and society at large. Namely, she has written one whomper of a post about periods, encouraging the discussion of them. Not the punctuation, but women’s monthly reminder of our fertility.

Right on, Naomi.

Now I’m going to tell you about a major problem* with the perception — specifically, the MALE perception — of periods as taboo: It makes things really bloody inconvenient for women when they have them.

Image 1: A man in a vagina with a tampon in it. This is symbolic of the way menstrual products are distributed in Brooklyn.

Image 1: A man in a vagina with a tampon in it. This is symbolic of the way menstrual products are distributed in Brooklyn.

You see, in Brooklyn, we have to deal with the problem of tampon scarcity. How, you may be wondering, can a product be scarce when it is a necessity of approximately half the population in any given area? Why wouldn’t a commodity always be readily available when it is something that this large consumer base will never NOT need — barring a Village-of-the-Damned style mass impregnation of women??

I have no idea, and but it is one of the most ridiculous things I have encountered living here.

In Brooklyn, there are no Walmart Superstores. No Targets, no K-Marts, no Meijer. Even major pharmacies are rare in the more recently gentrified areas. Where I live, in Williamsburg, the nearest Duane Read (the equivalent of a Rite Aide or Walgreens) is about 15 blocks from my apartment and just opened last month.

So we Brooklyn-dwellers get our necessities via bodegas. For those unfamiliar with the concept, they’re small, abundant corner stores fully-stocked with your typical New York necessities: Beer, snacks, toothbrushes, batteries, toilet paper – you name it. They have everything. EXCEPT TAMPONS.

Ok that’s not completely true. Some of them do have tampons. However, it is a complete crap shoot as to which bodegas they will be stocked in at any given time. And they only have one kind: Generic Tampax with CARDBOARD APPLICATORS. I’m going to go ahead and be graphic here and say that shoving a piece of cardboard up your vag is the opposite of comfortable. I’m pretty sure this brand is the absolute cheapest kind of tampon that Tampax has ever made, yet they are RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. A pack of 20, which won’t even get me halfway through my cycle, is about $7. Furthermore, why someone ever thought a cardboard applicator was a good idea in the first place is FAR beyond me. It had to have been a man’s idea prompted by an attempt to cut costs. For the men out there who are reading this, baffled by the thought of what would be an appropriate vector of tampon insertion, I assure you that tampon technology has come a long way since the cardboard applicator: Plastic makes it possible — possible to not cringe every time you put a tampon in.

Aside from the lack of selection, perhaps the weirdest part of the Brooklyn tampon situation is that the tampons are always kept behind the counter. I DON’T GET IT. Is this some kind of highly shoplifted commodity?? Because of all the things a bodega sells, tampons are pretty low on the monetary value list. Yet they are kept securely behind the counter so that a customer must verbally request them from the clerks who are almost always Hispanic or Arabic males.

Is this because these men, the bodega clerks, want to discourage women from purchasing tampons by making us feel awkward asking them for them? Listen: If I’m on my rag, I am going to purchase tampons one way or another, and I guarantee you that of the two people involved in the transaction, *I* am not the one who is going to feel the most awkward. Furthermore, the fact that I had to ask to be handed one of the boxes of shitty generic tampons, and you didn’t understand that I said “Super” and gave me the regular ones, and I had to correct you, thereby revealing to you and everyone in line behind me that it is a heavy flow time, is just going to piss me off. It might even prompt me to start a conversation with you about tampons, which you probably won’t enjoy participating in. “Why is it, habeeb, that you keep these behind the counter if you can’t differentiate between the kinds?”

“La arif, habeebee,” I don’t know my dear. “That’s how we do it.”

It also sucks because I like my bodega guys. I like speaking Arabic with them and going in at night to buy beer and cigarettes from them and having pleasant conversations. I don’t want to make them feel awkward by forcing them to think about the current state of my menstrual cycle. But there is no other way. Even the local grocery store keeps their tampons — the same two crappy kinds — behind the counter of the express checkout lane, creating an even more awkward scenario. That is, if you’re at the grocery store to buy groceries (more than 12 of them), and you need tampons, the message must be relayed across however many lanes you are away from the express lane, where the box is then transported to you, clerk to clerk, like a hot potato.

Another weird thing about this set-up is that there are always pads on the shelves. Dozens of different kinds of pads. WHO WEARS PADS ALL THE TIME???????? Let me tell you: NO ONE DOES. Maybe Amish people do. It feels squishy, and you can’t do anything athletic or wear tight clothing. Sorry, but I think women are entitled to still work out and dress hot when they are on their periods. I just don’t understand why pads would be readily available for selection, but tampons are stowed away with the Stackers and blunt wraps.

Let me just state for the record – I have very little shame. Acquiring tampons is rarely awkward for me, personally. But I’m sure there are PLENTY of women who this situation is extremely awkward for. For example, there is a high concentration of Puerto Ricans in my neighborhood and it is a very tight-knit community. Just speculation here, but I think there are plenty of women who actually regularly pay $5 to commute back and forth to Manhattan so they can go to the Duane Read in Union Square and buy a nice multi-pack of plastic applicator tampons so they don’t have to inform everyone they know that they’re vaginally bleeding.

Actually, searching “Why do they only sell tampons behind the counter in Brooklyn” returned this forum post on the Brooklynian:

I went to no less than 6 bodegas and a grocery store (the Bravo on bedford) yesterday looking for tampons and NO ONE carried as much as a small travel box. there were always pads ALL OVER the damn place, but not a single crappy generic tampon was anywhere to be found.

WHY IS THIS?! Am I missing something? Was there a PSA about TSS running rampant in the newly gentrified neighborhoods of brooklyn?

I had to take the damn train to walgreens. Am i delirious?

And so I conclude by saying: WHAT THE FUCK BROOKLYN??? If someone can make some sense out of this practice to me, I would really appreciate the explanation. Maybe I’ll go and conduct a survey, both to contribute to the public knowledge back and out of spite, to make bodega-owners feel like chauvinist assholes. Until then, I will assume that, like medicalized childbirth and sex, this is just another example of men controlling female processes to control the females who have them.

_______________________________________

Image1 from TamponFrank.com.

*FYI – this complaint has been internally festering since July 2008.

No dental insurance? No problem [FOUND @ the IG]

dentalThis was found on the Wall of Flyers at the Internet Garage. I looked up from my laptop to see a customer standing on the back of the couch examining this. “Hey can I take this poster down?” he asked. I squinted to read it. “Uh, why? Do you have something against cheap dental care?” I asked. “No, it’s hilarious, look at it,” he responded. And I got up to go examine it. So I told him he could have the poster if I could scan it first.

I’m actually extremely curious about this — assuming this is not legit, what would motivate someone to go to the trouble of designing and printing out this poster and placing it in a public computer lab in Williamsburg? I guess the way to find out would be to call the number…

Any volunteers? No, I dare you to call the number and ask whoever picks up if they are aware they spelled “courteous” wrong on their dental poster. First to post the outcome in the comments below might possibly get a prize.

R.I.P. Zanzibar

I am in serious mourning right now. Earlier tonight, one of my best friends from college (you might call him my partner in crime) sent me a g-talk message to deliver “urgent, terrible news.” It is with great sadness and regret I must announce, that Zanzibar, the pan South American bistro in Ann Arbor that hosts my absolute, #1, hands-down FAVORITE happy hour in the entire world is CLOSING — for EVER!!!!!

TO which I responded,

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

You will always be open for happy hour in my heart, Zanzibar.

You will always be open for happy hour in my heart, Zanzibar.

You see, Zanzibar is where I developed my refined palate for fine cocktails. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 4:00 after my Philosophy of Science course, I would walk from down State Street, my mind spiraling with thoughts on demarcation criteria and evidence and predictive power, and I would collapse into my favorite booth, ready for one hour of beverage bliss. Never fail, my partner in crime would saunter in five minutes later with an expression of bored pretension and sit down across from me, ready to gossip about the dramatics of being editors at our college newspaper.

And then Julie would walk up and smile at me. She was tall and sultry with a no-nonsense attitude, and she took every one of my classic cocktail v-cards. She was my first gin martini, up, with blue cheese olives; my first side car with finely-ground cane sugar on the rim, of which I would lick every particle while my friend grimaced and told me I needed to get laid; my first Caipirinha, Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge and Smoky Martini – which will kick your ass and make you feel like you could breath fire if you had a match. And best of all, Julie made me dozens of the most amazing mojitos in the world. They were swampy with mint, pieces of which I would carefully extract with two straws as if they were chopsticks and eat. No bartender in New York City has ever even come close to replicating Julie’s mojito to my liking but I present an open challange if any would like to try ;)

But the most amazing thing about Zanzibar’s happy hour was that ALL of the drinks on the menu were half off. It was none of this $15 a cocktail bullshit. They were $4 a piece, max. I can honestly say that if it was not for Zanzibar, I would probably still be drinking Vodka Redbull and Sex on the Beach.

After happy hour, my friend would stumble off to his 5:30 English course to critique documentaries and I would head to Edit Board and deliver choice opinionated remarks that would eventually be transformed into “The voice of the Daily”. Zanzibar was a place that transformed inspiration into influence. We always planned to go back there when we were in our ’30s and reminisce, but now we never will.

So you see what a true tragedy this is.

Rest in peace, Zanzibar. Every time I think of you, it will be happy hour in my heart.