Category: Opinion

This piece is in response to a piece published in “The Columbia Beacon,” which in turn was published in response to an op-ed in the “Columbia Daily Spectator.”

I hated showing my work in math class.

No, seriously, I hated it.

Take 3(4x +7) = 45. I’m sure all of you remember how to prove that this obviously is true. You have to rewrite the equation to distribute the 3 into 4x+7 to get 12x + 21 equals 45. Then, you have to subtract 21 from both sides to get 12x=24. And finally, you divide both sides by 12 to get the answer, x =2. This, again, being obvious, I would just write the answer, x=2. It wasn’t as if math stopped working if I didn’t write out the three steps on my homework along with the answer. The answer would always be two, so why did I have to waste what little energy I had on one of 46 questions I had every evening for homework?

That argument did not save me from losing points on my assignments in 7th grade.

While I love questions about how a government operates and how we justify government action much more than I loved my algebra proofs, I can see why it’s tedious. Sure, prosecutors should focus on true threats to the community and not otherwise law-abiding citizens, the executive branch in the modern era is given significant discretion on how to enforce legislation; it’s fine if the de facto result of prosecutorial discretion means that a certain group of people already determined as safe have some guarantee of safety; and amnesty through this understanding is not the worst thing that has happened to the American rule of law. But did saying any of that make it truer? Would not saying that make it falser? Life, like math, doesn’t change absent the work that went into it. And while proving these complex questions of political theory makes one a better debater, debating the validity of one’s life to everyone who asks is an exhausting exercise of existentialism.

So sure, Joey, we should show our work to the teacher. Maybe it should be in op-ed form, or The Lion, or re:claim, for the sake of posterity. But I think, to stay in math class a moment longer, Undocu is tired of algebra and wants to move on to Accelerated Multivariable Calculus, and would be happy to debate Accelerated Multivariable Calculus, but you insist on debating algebra, and there’s only so many times they can write x=2 before 800,000 pencils snap in unison. I think that’s what they mean by “reconstructed.” Most people don’t question the virtue of DACA recipients. Most Trump-reluctant Republicans prefer to look like they’re being helpful on the issue as is.

And I’m sure you could make a wonderful argument in Accelerated Multivariable Calculus without writing MS minus 13.

 

If you’d like to submit an op-ed to The Lion, email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

I can be problematic.

These words aren’t easy to get out. They’re a string of words I have to drag out slowly past my teeth, but it’s true: I can be problematic.

I often excuse my emotions with the misogynistic idea that my emotions are just a result of that time of the month during which I’m shark bait. 

I’m talking about during my period, if that wasn’t clear. 

Ever since I was young, I’ve been a fairly emotional being, and it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m sensitive to people’s tone of voice and the way they phrase their words. While it’s something I understand about myself, it’s not something I ever like people to witness. 

I prefer, like any mature adult, to cry in the shower.

It’s inevitable, though, that sometimes the waterworks come at inconvenient and public moments, and this is when my problematic behavior arises.

The first time I can recall it happening was in seventh grade. I was at a leadership seminar for middle school students working on a group project when one student and I got into a heated argument and exchanged not-so-kind words. Me, with my sensitive nature, immediately began to feel tears forming. I tried to contain them, but the girl next to me noticed how tense I was and asked the fatal question: “Are you okay?”

The dams opened wide, and I sat against the wall and cried. People tried to ask me what exactly made me cry, but I didn’t want to tell them. I was ashamed of myself and my reaction. I thought that I should’ve been more reasonable and that I was just overreacting. Embarrassed, I didn’t want to have to explain myself, so I dug through my mind for an excuse and grasped at the first one I found: my period.

Not a single person questioned me. They simply let me be, which was exactly what I wanted. And so, it became a habit. When my eighth-grade math teacher reprimanded me in class for talking to a friend about a question, I was on my period. When my mother yelled at me for not answering my phone, I was on my period. When I got back less-than-ideal test grades in pre-calculus, I was on my period. 

I perpetuated the stereotype that women are emotional and irrational, especially when they’re shark bait. 

Granted if we were actually shark bait and were constantly threatened with being devoured, perhaps it would be understandable if we were a bit irrational. 

But we’re not. We’re just on our menstrual cycles.

The problem with blaming women’s emotions on periods is that it is a harmful generalization that’s used as a way to deem women irrational and unfit for certain professions. It’s used as a way for people to dismiss the thoughts and actions of women they disagree with, and it’s used as a way to invalidate what a woman is feeling as a real emotion, no matter what time of the month it is.

Hillary Clinton had to face this in her campaign, and I’m ashamed to say it’s a generalization I’ve taken advantage of, especially as someone who identifies as a feminist. 

All of this shame over a stereotype I took advantage of made me wonder where the shame that lead to me perpetuating this stereotype came from.

The answer I arrived at, surprisingly, was misogyny.

As a child, I can remember numerous occasions where adults told me to stop crying, to stop trying to attract attention, to stop freaking out over nothing.

There was this expectation, even when I was young, to always be happy. To be flexible and let problems roll off my back. To not be hysterical, because that’s what unintelligent girls are, and I was to be intelligent and reasonable, happy and accommodating.

These are the words society want and expect us, as women, to be. These are the traits of the ideal woman of today: she is always smiling, never lets gender inequality make her angry or upset, and goes with the flow because she is reasonable and charming.

I was taught to smile because it is only with a smile people will truly hear me out. I was taught to keep my voice level and be prepared to concede because it is the only way to even partially get what I want. I was taught how to be a woman in a world where men can yell and react viscerally without being labeled as delusional. I was told how to be a woman in a world where men can be firm and commended for standing for what they believe in, but a woman is just being stubborn when she does the same. I was taught how to be a woman in the context of patriarchal gender roles.

For too long I’ve followed these rules, buying into the myth that my period made me weaker due to the emotions that came with it, believing I needed to behave in a certain way to make up for it, and using this myth as an excuse for myself when I failed to live up to the pleasant standard of behavior expected of me as a woman.

Well, no more.

My feelings and reactions, whether they happen when I am on my period or not, are valid. I’m not being over sensitive; I am just reacting like any other human does, like the men in our society are allowed to do to a certain extent. I am not crazy, and my voice does count, even when it’s heard through tears. 

I am a woman, and when I cry it’s not just because of my period. I’m attuned to the way people speak and phrase their words, leading me to sometimes see meanings the speaker may or may not intend to convey. But that’s okay because I’m no longer shark bait whenever my tears fall. Instead I’m a girl who does not fear expressing her emotions. 

This year marked the 30th Anniversary of the arrival of Columbia College’s first class of women. It was celebrated in an event called CCW30, which brought together graduates and undergraduates from all years and walks of life; there were even outsiders, including a young woman from NYU, who registered to join the celebration.

As a woman in Columbia College, I find this hard to contemplate (not referencing that NYU students would want to cross the line to join Columbia, of course; that’s endearing, not surprising). I arrived in a time when 47% of the incoming class to CC and SEAS identified as female (according to the incoming class statistics provided by Columbia University). I arrived in a time when we were represented.

The women who surrounded me during CCW30 came into a Columbia College that was structured and indoctrinated under the ideology of women being different, not belonging, and thirty years ago Columbia College took its first steps to completely reimagine what it means to be a Columbia College student— paving the way for myself and others.

What I hear most often on campus about the transition is “SEAS did it first.” Indeed, SEAS had its first woman undergraduate in 1943.

The truth is, that Yale is going on 48 years of allowing women in as undergrads, and Princeton’s first class containing women graduated in 1973.

We were a bit late on the uptake.

Should I be ashamed that Columbia College took as long as it did, as some statements seem to imply?

Listening to the CCW30 stories from other Ivy League women who graduated in the early days of the co-ed movement, I hear about slut-shaming in the streets, Deans suggesting instead of dorms, schools build brothels for the incoming women; I hear about the pain and abuse suffered by women in the incoming classes of colleges and universities that I have long respected.

When I ask the first class of CC women what the worst struggle they faced was, I hear about a dozen variations of “getting the boys to shower.” It sounds like living with teenage brothers, and it makes me laugh.

A part of me is incredibly pleased that these women can say that.

And yes, they still had to fight. Sports teams, amenities, all of the things we share now didn’t come easily to them, but I’m glad that jumping in a bit later in the game seems to have meant our women didn’t face the same degree of malice others faced in the rights movement.

It’s a bitter-sweet realization, especially for a campus that identifies so strongly with activism.

And it doesn’t change how proud we should be of these women, who showed us that a couple hundred years of tradition is still a breakable wall.

Raucous singing took over Low Library’s entrance hall at one point during CCW30 as 30 years of CC women began to belt Columbia’s anthems as one (though not all in one key).

The thing is, these women are not just remarkable for taking their place as the first class of women in CC history. These women are remarkable because they have created a lasting community. They still reach out with open arms to support the Columbia College sisters that came after them.

Within a day after the event, I was receiving emails about grabbing coffee and getting feedback (“How can we continue to support the women of Columbia College?”), and suddenly it was like I stepped into the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron and pressed the right brick.

This is the point where the lesson of the day comes into play:

Honestly, until CCW30 opened my eyes, the place I felt most comfortable as myself, as a woman, was sitting with my friends in Diana, adopting Barnard culture. I didn’t actively seek out “fuckboy” free CC or try to build a place for the women around me; why would I need to? There was one next door.

The 30th anniversary of women in Columbia College has changed that for me. I recognize that I can’t continue to step away from the spot these women opened up for me in Columbia’s halls. I can love the safety of having a haven of strong, independent women down the street (SO: Jennifer Kaplan), but I can also work to maintain the same thing here in CC. More than maintaining that space, I can work to improve it.

The first class of women in Columbia College didn’t stop their efforts just because the doors opened or because there was a precedence that allowed them basic human rights. Deans not slut-shaming them from podiums didn’t mean they would stop before making themselves Deans as well— they kept reaching: they appealed to have time on the sports fields, getting up for 5 a.m. practices when Baker was always already booked, they set up an alumni network that remains active in our lives with events like CCW30, and they brought us to the point where we could fight for things like free tampons and pads (though to be quite honest, I’m still crossing my fingers for Always Infinity to appear [with the wings]).

Right now they’re out in the world fighting for women as well. Lilly Burns (CC’09) of Jax Media produces “Broad City,” revolutionizing the portrayal of women in the media. When was the last time you heard someone on a male-dominated network break the period-talk taboo to do anything but suggest that women are incapable of handling emotions during “their time of the month,” after all? Instead, Lilly Burn’s work is fresh and honest, breaking those unspoken barriers.

 

She is not the only one.

I am including a link below to the Alumni Association’s list of speakers from the CCW30 event in the hope that they help you think about who you want to be, understand what CCW30 was, and understand why this 30th Anniversary is so important.

https://www.college.columbia.edu/alumni/events/ccw30/speakers

Take this summer to think about who you want to be in the coming year, and what doors you want to be remembered for opening.

 

womens movement history

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

“So beautiful,” whispered a captivated concertgoer behind me. Normally, any talking—or sound for that matter—is hurriedly and aggressively shushed by a “serious” audience member at the Met. Renée Fleming, however, seemed to provoke an admissible exception.

Fleming’s whirlwind return to the Met Opera’s season premiere of Der Rosenkavalier (music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal) electrified the opera community. Last week, Fleming scared many by announcing that she would soon be leaving the opera stage. Fleming has since nixed the retirement idea, but the effect of the buzz was obvious: fans came in large numbers just in case this would be the last time that they could do so. In attendance as well were some of Fleming’s collaborators, who have sung with her over the years–coming to support her previously-presumed last run at the Met.

Fleming, for her part, plays the Marschallin: a middle-aged member of the Viennese aristocracy who sighs in anguish over the cruelness of aging. Fleming knows—and loves—the role. In her first solo at the end of Act 1, Fleming smartly addressed the silver rose—a symbol of youth and forthcoming happiness—with an imploring, wistful tone quality. Shortly after, her sweet, yet innerly despairing voice seized the audience’s empathy.

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Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

However, notwithstanding the positive aspects of Fleming’s work tonight, I do prefer her 2010 performance of the same role (Columbia faculty and students can find it through CLIO under the keyword “Met Opera on Demand”). In that performance, she lived the Marschallin: solemn tears slowly streamed down her face at the end of the “Mein schöner Schatz” duet in Act 1. Her phrasing and sepulchral tone made for an unforgettable moment.

Tonight’s conductor, Sebastian Weigle, again chose problematic tempos. The prelude, for example, was much too fast. Here, the music is declarative, demonstrative—overly confident and grandiose. Yet, Weigle seemed incredibly anxious, gesturing with extremely quick circular motions (so fast that his arms were just a blur to my eyes). By taking a quicker tempo, the music sounded too hectic and lost its appropriate gusto.

Weigle made a similarly poor decision in the last minutes of Act 3. Here, silvery chords in the high strings, winds, and percussion flutter downward. The descent should be reflective—it is the end of the opera!—and ethereal. However, it felt tossed-off, illy cared for–herky-jerky and uneven. I recognize that I was critical of Weigle’s lethargic tempo decisions for Fidelio, yet here he seems to have gone in the opposite direction. I do admit however, that future runs of the production might produce better results.

The Met orchestra impressed me —as it routinely does—with its stamina. In the middle of the third act, I heard a clarinetist–presumably either Inn-Hyuck Cho or Anton Rist–flawlessly execute a rapid lick that flickered between the clarion and altissimo registers. The passage was followed by a sustained, pianissimo high note. Both of these sections are incredibly difficult to play when with fresh energy. They’re almost a miracle after two and a half hours of continuous music.

Robert Carsen, the producer of the Met’s new take on Der Rosenkavalier, replaces the dusty, Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque setting with a bawdy production set when the opera was written (1911). Topless prostitutes pursue and are pursued by lustful Viennese men; Octavian, the Marschallin’s young lover, grabs his partner’s behind (what a great way to say, “Welcome back, Renée!”); and Sophie, Octavian’s new love, carelessly dances across one of her father’s howitzer (oddly placed in the living room of their modern palace).

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The playfulness of Octavian–performed by Elīna Garanča–and the Marschallin–sung by Renée Fleming–on display in Act 1. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Admittedly, I was skeptical when I learned about Carsen’s decision to set the third act in a brothel. Typically, it is staged in an inn, a “house of ill repute.” However, the text—the same one used for the inn setting—actually translates well in the new environs: it is believable that Sophie’s dad Faninal calls Octavian, who is disguised as Mariandel, a slut and it makes sense that Octavian assumes a baser dialect as a working-class Viennese woman (some funny lines include “Whad’ya mean?” and “I ain’t gonna drink no wine.”)

The one aspect of the brothel that felt most uncomfortable, however, was the onstage jazz quartet. Prostitutes pantomimed and synchronized fake playing on the clarinet, saxophone, double bass, and accordion. Not only was their supposed music not like the orchestra’s actual performance, but also the quartet implied 1920s Europe more than the 1910s. The production had a 1920s feel to it elsewhere as well, Octavian’s flapper-like costume in Act 1 being another example.  

I found Carsen’s incorporation of the Zeitgeist—especially Freudian ideas—rather compelling. When Sophie sings about her upcoming marriage, dreamlike clones of Sophie and her groom-to-be waltz behind her. Sophie is bathed in a yellow spotlight—the light of the real world—while the dancers behind her are enveloped in purple—a hue of the inner, thought world. Carsen’s decision illustrates how an individual’s inner thoughts and desires are experienced as real, even while awake.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Although this was seemingly The Renée Fleming Show, there are, of course, more singers in Der Rosenkavalier. Elīna Garanča as Octavian embodied the wide range of conflicting emotions of her character. At the end of the last act, Octavian is caught between the Marschallin and Sophie, unsure of who he should turn to. Here, Garanča’s expressions and voice illustrated Octavian’s distress well.

Erin Morley as Sophie sounded quite warm in the upper register, especially when she built up toward it. Unfortunately, she was sometimes overpowered by the orchestra, especially during a fast, staccato passage in Act 2. Overall, I found that her diction was unintelligible at times, but balance could be to blame.

Günther Groissböck–a holdover from Fidelio–swaggered with pride, aggression, and self-absorption as the predatorial Baron Ochs. In Act 2, he engaged with Sophie in a vocal battle of sorts, his crescendoing vocal presence overpowering his soon-to-be wife (who he caustically likened to an “unbroken foal”). The Ochs is easily one of the easiest-to-hate characters in opera.

But the night was Fleming’s. At curtain call, the audience enthusiastically expressed joy for her return and relief for her operatic stay. It was her voice—combined with the prowess of the Met orchestra—that led my fellow concertgoer to exclaim, “So beautiful.” It is for these cherished musical moments that we go to the opera and for which you should let yourself come too.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier runs through May 13, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live May 13, at 12:30 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org.

 

 

Graphic made by Laura Elizabeth Hand, CC’19

“I’m just too busy.”

“Can’t; got to go to Butler.”

“Just because you want me to come doesn’t mean I will.”

For most Columbia students, keeping track of the number of times their friends and classmates have “flaked” on them or turned down their offers to hang out because of their “busyness” is an impossible task. This can easily be seen in both conversations with peers and the stark difference between the number of people who sign up for events at Columbia versus the number of people who actually show up. As a student body, we are each obsessed with the idea that we do not have downtime. You always need to be working and getting ahead while also espousing the idea that you’re failing all your classes and cannot find enough hours in the day to sleep, let alone let loose and fun. Despite the constant Spec op-eds and Facebook rants bemoaning Columbia’s stress culture and lacking mental health resources, when it comes to us individually doing our parts to remedy the problems we continue to critique, we don’t because we value our own reasons for being stressed above others’ reasons.

“I need to get into medical school.”

“I care about my education.”

“I have to get a 4.0; I’m trying to get into a good law school.”

In each one of these sentiments, we create a metaphorical barrier, an us versus them mentality. We perpetuate the idea that there is a goal we need to constantly struggle to capture and that to a certain extent, those around us are trying to distract us from it.

But what does it mean to be busy? How can we both enjoy the benefits of being students living and learning in America’s busiest city while also capturing these goals? In many ways, we should look to the message encapsulated in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, “Sunday in the Park with George.”

For those who have not heard of the show before, it follows the artistic process of famous artist Georges Seurat as he creates and develops the painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Throughout the first act, Seurat is completely fixated on drawing sketches of the people who are ultimately portrayed in his famous painting. As he works on the piece and obsesses over “Finishing the Hat”, he fails to consider the lives and feelings of those around him.

“Finishing the Hat” performed by Jake Gyllenhaal

 

In particular, the audience is exposed to the romantic relationship between Seurat and Dot, the latter being the role played by Ashford. Gyllenhaal who plays his role perfectly as he time and time again dismisses and chides Dot as she complains about having to stand still under the hot sun while Seurat sketches her. Seurat’s goal is to develop a work of art completely like no other. He has had the idea and now is steadfast in achieving its completion. Despite listening to complaints from his love Dot, Seurat does not truly hear and process them as they conflict with his direct desires. Dot even tells him:

Yes, George, run to your work.
Hide behind your painting.
I have come to tell you I am leaving because I thought you might
care to know-foolish of me, because you care about nothing-

In being so passionate about his goal, he forgets the people in his own life. As the plot develops and Dot eventually moves on, after realizing she cannot stay with Seurat, he still fails to address it, instead retreating further into his work.

Like a Columbia student dedicating so much time to their specific craft, they lean on it as their excuse and crutch. Just as Seurat in the production cannot escape his work, we too cannot see beyond our work: our looming deadlines, upcoming exams, next club/board/committee/council meetings, impending fellowship and scholarship applications, and imminent job and internship interviews. The list of work we each have goes on and on, adding to our lists of reasons to skip that food truck fair in Brooklyn we talked with our friends about for months, or miss seeing that old friend who is visiting NYC over break, or cancel plans to go to that free (or extremely cheap) event that we RSVP’d to as going on Facebook. We look at the world and people around us in the same manner that Dot describes as being characteristic of George:

As if he sees you and he doesn’t all at once.

Instead of fully valuing those around us and the opportunities we have, we simply ignore them — out of sight out of mind — and obsess over our work. And while we did come here to learn, we need to really understand that there is more to a Columbia education than just mentally locking ourselves into libraries and priding ourselves in unhealthy sleep habits.

As students, we need to break out of using our work and goals as an excuse. Dedicate more time to trying something new, leaving Butler and going off-campus, finding the color and lights that can brighten our days rather than groveling. As much as having dreams and passions is great, so is being able to explore new topics and brighten the day of others by just listening to them and putting in the effort to get to know more about them and their passions.

Tickets to “Sunday in the Park with George” can be purchased here. Performances run until April 23rd, 2017.