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The Writing Contest Showcase

Well, as we're drawing to a close -- we have our Grand Prize winner, and you guys have chosen the Community Grand Prize winner, both of whom we'll announce shortly in news with all due public props -- we have one thing left to go: the showcase submissions. These are essays from people who were ineligible for the prize-winning contest for one reason or another; we've selected five to share with you.

This entire process has been awesome. We received over a hundred submissions, and it just served to reinforce what I've been saying for years: LiveJournal users are incredibly talented, smart, passionate, articulate people. It may sound cheesy, but I'm proud to be a part of this community, and I hope you guys are too.

Without further ado, I present to you: our showcase choices!


By Kristyn Maslog-Levis:

The Hymen is There For a Purpose

The hymen.

It is not just a piece of tissue, thank you very much.

It is there for a purpose.

It is there to protect the woman, to let her know that, hey, I'm supposed to be taken gently, not roughly. You don't have to break me down like breaking the barriers of a castle door using a ramming rod. I am supposed to be touched, felt, smelled...kissed.

Take me slow.

Enter me gently.

If my vagina was a road, it would say, “Slow Down/Slippery When Wet.”

I was sixteen.

It was a cheap motel.

It was his birthday.

He said we were going to a cottage, somewhere near the beach perhaps. I don't know what his definition of a cottage was, but to me it looked like it meant a "motel."

We've only been going out for two weeks. He was the Class Bad Boy. I was the Class Genius. Bottles of beer were there in the dingy little room, but so was fear. And the more I got scared, the more that excited him.

The pain was excruciating.

Like a knife was being pushed up my vagina and wiggled around. I heard myself cry.

I heard myself say no. I felt myself pulling away, to avoid the pain of his rough ramming.

And then it was all over.

And I was bleeding.

He looked at me, confused. "You're a virgin?" he said, like it was impossible.

"Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin?"

As if I had the time to tell him in between the pushing and groping, and the ripping of the clothes.

He smiled, proud of his trophy for that birthday.

He carved our names on the cabinet top as a remembrance of that night.

I still haven't gotten around to burning that place down.

Maybe one of these days, I will.

I felt humiliated, violated, and mostly confused.

It hurt, but should I really feel bad? Why should I feel violated and hurt when he was my boyfriend?

Wasn't I supposed to be happy that I've shared something special with him?

That was the start of a year-and-a-half of sleepless, tear-filled nights.

I've always thought that non-virgins were sluts. Thus, I was one.

I was used goods-tainted, battered, bruised, and will never be worthy of love by another man again.

I had to cling on to him. He had taken my special gift.

Michael acted like he owned me. I was his cow, marked by his semen. Abused by his prick. I had no choice but to let him do whatever he pleased.

Although I was battling societal pressure to be "clean," inside I knew I was tied to him.

Escaping the city was the best thing I had ever done. And slowly I saw different points of view. I swore to myself that I will never be a victim of pricks, that I will never listen to norms and that I will always be the predator and never the prey again. And since then, I've spat on what society has to say about women and virginity.

He was a slut. Michael was a whore. He just didn't know it.

But now, looking back at that dreadful memory, I feel bad, yet grateful. Bad that I wasted all those times acting like I was enjoying sex just so I won't be victimised anymore.

But I also feel grateful for the liberation that night brought me. The anger gave way to strength, and the strength to dominance, and dominance to wisdom, until I found love.

I am grateful that although my vagina was abused, it has survived to tell the tale and teach younger vaginas some lessons in life, while Michael's dick still hangs around somewhere, probably filled with puss from being a whore.

Virginity is nothing more than a mind-frame. It is not just the hymen.






By Sarah Chenoweth:

On a seasonably steamy day in the summer of 1995, my chemistry professor and I hopped into his Jeep and drove to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus just outside of Washington, D.C. A colleague of his from Stanford was speaking on ab initio quantum chemistry methods, a subject at the heart of my professor's research and one of immediate concern to myself: as an undergraduate, I spent my summers as his research assistant.

When first encountered, computational chemistry seems an oxymoronic subject. How can chemistry, which is all about adding this substance to that one and watching things fizz and hiss and change state, be done on a computer? Doesn't that eliminate all the chemistry?

What you need to remember is that all chemical reactions are, at the most basic level, ruled by mathematics. Things may not appear orderly from our macroscopic point of view, but on the quantum level, the universe is a logical and systematic place. Quantum mechanics provides the equations that describe the motion of electrons; all chemical reactions are the result of atoms and molecules swapping electrons until they reach a stable configuration. Theoretically, there's nothing in the world that doesn't boil down to fidgety, excitable electrons trying to find a calm, low-energy place to exist.

This is a gross oversimplification, of course. Even in the simplest of molecules, the quantum chemistry is so complex it requires a supercomputer or other massively parallel computational setup for the calculations to be run in a reasonable amount of time. On those summer mornings, I'd let myself into the science building, take a look at the jobs that'd finished overnight, and submit a new batch to run during the next 24 hours. Then I'd kick back and futz around on the then-novel internet. As far as summer jobs go, it was an excellent one.

The NIST complex itself is rather university-like: it's a warren of buildings, each devoted to a particular specialty. That day's lecture was held in a small conference room stuffed with bookshelves and mismatched chairs. There were two dozen researchers, post-docs, and graduate students in attendance.

I was the only woman.

In retrospect, I don't know why this surprised me. Chemistry is still a male-dominated field; computational science is overwhelmingly a boys' club. But the afternoon is very clear in my memory. It was the first time in my sheltered, white, middle-class existence I'd ever felt truly conspicuous. I'd never before felt like the member of the minority.

(Everyone in a privileged position should feel like this on occasion. It's good for you.)

Over the next few years, I'd regularly reprise of my role as the Only Woman in the Room: at a computational chemistry conference at the National Cancer Institute-Frederick; on another trip down to NIST; in my Quantum Mechanics and in my Advanced Inorganic classes. Fast forward a few years to my search for a graduate program and the feeling was much the same as I visited a handful of chemistry departments across the country. I was rarely the only woman, but I was certainly one of a very few in each laboratory.

I settled on the Ph.D. program at Columbia University. Unfortunately, my decision was based less on how the program suited me and more on my instantaneous and complete infatuation with the city of New York. I soon found myself spending little time on my coursework, choosing instead to wander around Manhattan for hours on end. New York lends itself well to aimless exploration: just hop on the subway, get off when you're tired of riding, and explore whatever neighborhood you find yourself in.

Columbia's graduate chemistry program, however, was not for the aimless explorer. It was designed for the person who knew what they wanted to study and with whom; it was for the person who'd already selected a specialty as an undergraduate and was now ready to plunge into the world of research. During my first semester, I met with several professors regarding the possibility of joining their research groups. They found it astounding that I'd not yet decided between inorganic, physical, or theoretical computational chemistry as my specialty. In turn, I was baffled to learn not one professor in the department actually lectured: they devoted their time exclusively to research. My liberal arts education hadn't taught me what it meant to be in a graduate program at a top-tier university: you are there to be an apprentice in the workshop of a master for the next six years.

Did I mention I was one of three women in a group of twenty-five first-year graduate students?

Columbia was the wrong place for me at the wrong time. I didn't last a year before I crawled home with my tail between my legs and my B.A., though nicely framed, not doing much good hanging on the wall.

Desperation led me to forensic science. I had a degree, but no full-time paycheck. Nearly every job opening I found either required a graduate degree or was a simple lab tech job, and I couldn't stomach the idea of washing dishes in a lab full of Ph.D.'s when I'd given up on becoming one myself. In short, I was wallowing in self-pity. I'd always been "the smart girl," always been a straight-A student. I didn't know what to do when I wasn't being graded.

A late-night documentary on forensic chemistry caught my attention. Forensics seemed the antithesis of academia: the results were immediate and concrete. Sending a perpetrator to prison was a far cry from academic debate. I called my local police departments, begging for a volunteer position. After three months of hanging around with an evidence unit, I knew I'd found a job I would love, bodybags and maggots and defense attorneys included.

After a few years in a drug analysis laboratory, I got into DNA testing and have stayed in that specialty for the past six years. The DNA lab is the intersection of biochemistry and police work, where evidence is sorted, examined, and analyzed. Bloodstains, condoms, cigarette butts, handguns: each one will end up with a small, neatly labeled tube, which will be subjected to a series of procedures until the unique genetic code of the person who discarded it can be determined. Each case is a new puzzle to be picked over and manipulated until the picture becomes clear.

I tend to wax poetic about my career. That's because I love what I do.

It's interesting, too, to discover the forensic DNA lab is one of the few female-dominated areas of a police department. I can think of a couple others, including many dispatch and records divisions. But the overwhelming majority of sworn officers, be they local police, state troopers, or federal agents, are male. This holds true for firearms examiners (many of whom began their careers as sworn officers), crime scene technicians (ditto), and digital evidence examiners (computer cops: two heavily male fileds). It should not come as a shock to find most crime laboratory directors are male as well.

Yet you only need to attend a forensic DNA conference to see a dramatic shift in gender disparity. Of all the natural sciences, biology (and thus biochemistry) has enjoyed the greatest number of female students; when forensic DNA technology skyrocketed to attention in the 90's, there were more women in the biological sciences than ever. It's common for those in the field to joke about the "token Y chromosome" who works in their lab. As I sit here, I'm counting the DNA analysts working in the local crime labs in Maryland. I can think of three men in a population of about thirty women.

This pattern holds as you consider the remainder of the United States. Its ramifications on forensic science, however, are more difficult to quantify. DNA testing is still a young field: will we see more women heading crime laboratories in coming years? I certainly hope so. Will DNA become the open window for women interested in forensics, police investigation, and criminal justice as a whole? Again, it seems likely. If a girl watching an episode of Cold Case Files sees a male detective and a male prosecutor discussing a homicide with a female DNA analyst, might that girl go on to consider the police academy? To attend law school?

I occasionally wonder if I was playing it safe when I got into this field. That I should find the one corner of the average police department, and one of the few niches in science where women are already well-represented: was it a coincidence, or was I taking the easiest path? I like to think it doesn't much signify, so long as I'm making a difference, having a positive effect on the world, and am enjoying myself in the process.

I am.






By Jennifer Miller:

“Boy or Girl?”

While I have many other things in my life that are more worthy of my time, this one little question at McDonalds grates my nerves on each visit-and it would be so simple for them to change.

Happy Meals come with toys. Sometimes, those toys are all from a particular product line, like toys from the movie Cars. Other times, they have two different sets of toys from two different product lines, like Hot Wheels and Barbie. When they have two different lines, the order-taker asks, “boy or girl?”

Obviously, asking “boy or girl?” is simple and easy for them. The problem is, it isn't simple and easy for me. Sometimes my son wants the toy designated for girls. The exchange generally goes something like this:

Order Drone: (garbled) Can I take order?
Me: (yelling as if the person is a football field away) I'd like a cheeseburger Happy Meal with apple slices and chocolate milk.
Order Drone: Boy or girl?
Me: I'd like the Littlest Pet Shop toy.
Order Drone: Boy or girl?
Me: The Littlest Pet Shop animal, please.
Order Drone: Boy?
Me: No, the animal toy.
Order Drone: $x.xx at the first window.

As I get my order, I check the bag and find a Yu-gi-oh toy. I hand it back and ask for the Littlest Pet Shop toy. The Bag Drone looks confused and walks away. A long time later he or she comes back with a handful of toys that I choose from.

I don't really think this is a conspiracy by McDonalds to force my son into a gender role. Most of society does that on a regular basis no matter how hard I try to give him dolls and pink things. He generally prefers “boy” toys like racecars and construction vehicles. However, when he does want the toy that McDonalds has determined is for girls, I can't correctly answer their question and get what I want. Why should I bear the burden of annoyance in this situation? I am paying for this thing-the damned toy isn't free.

Employees at McDonalds are not that well paid and sometimes don't speak English well. The toys in the meals also change on a near-monthly basis. While I understand that making them memorize two different toy styles could be a little challenging, I think it is insulting to the workers at McDonalds to say that they are incapable of this. I could be more forgiving if I was asking them to perform rocket science. I'm asking them to memorize two different styles of toy once a month and add 2-4 words to their order-taking spiel.

For those who might argue that I don't go to McDonalds for whatever reason, that is not the issue. I will go there a few times a month and my son with get a cheeseburger, apple slices, and chocolate milk. Yes, the food isn't that healthy. Neither is much of the food purchased in grocery stores and made in homes across America. Let's not confuse my annoyance with the “boy or girl?” question with the much larger issue of food quality and childhood obesity in America. These are two completely separate things. I can't solve childhood obesity with a simple, color-coded chart.

In My Perfect World® the order taker would have a sign in front of them with the names of the two types of toy. They could ask “Hot Wheels or Barbie?” If the person ordering says, “whatever is for a girl” the order drone could select the Barbie using a few problem-solving brain cells. If it is really that confusing, the sign could be made with pink and blue sides. I would think that Mattel and other companies paying for their toys to appear in the Happy Meal would be willing to pay for this. It promotes brand recognition!

Until McDonalds changes its training processes, I will refuse to answer the “boy or girl?” question. I will look at the clearly posted Happy Meal advertisement and state which type of toy I want. When Order Drone gets pissed-off, he or she will at least be as pissed as I am. I encourage each of you to be just as annoying. While we won't solve any of the burning, important issues in the country, if we all work together, we can remove one small stressor from our lives. Even if nothing changes, at least we will all be equally annoyed. Isn't that what customer service is all about?






By Judy Berginnis:

The year was 1970 and I was at my first duty station in Newport, Rhode Island. I had earned the station of my choice due to my high grades received at A school. Why the most expensive duty station at the time instead of Hawaii or Germany or a somewhere exotic location? I was fascinated by the Revolution period of our nation and I thought Rhode Island would be near to what all I wanted to see and further learn about.

Shortly after I had settled in, one of the WAVES I worked with invited me to go see a guest speaker, Gloria Steinem, at Salve Regina College. Salve Regina was an exclusive, expensive woman's college. Of course I wanted to hear what Ms. Steinem would say as she was one of the fast rising feminist leaders of my era.

Her speech was riveting. Perhaps it was more meant for the more college, white collar mindset - not for someone as an enlisted dental tech like me. What she said was stirring and motivational as it was intended to be. Woman of many ages were seated and sat transfixed by this slight, vivacious woman. It was a small gathering as I recall of perhaps fifty or so women.

“Woman could and should do anything they want to be. There is nothing that we can't do. We should be equals in this world with men.”

All fine and good sentiments I had thought. We really should be able to do anything we could and get equally compensated as men did. I thought of my own situation in the Navy. I had the grades for college, but not the money. I had applied to various places for grants, awards and scholarships. I thought the military was my best bet for eventually getting a college education. The irony of it all was while in boot camp, I received an Air Force full ride scholarship. I would have been an officer instead of an enlisted person. Ah well, such was my luck! I would have to wait until my enlisted term was up.

Ms, Steinem was looking at her small audience and zeroed in on my sitting there in my uniform. For some reason, she decided to use me as an example that night.

After she exchanged pleasantries with me and asked what my job was in the service, she asked if I really got to choose what I wanted to do and to explain how that process worked. I figured that she really wanted to show all how I had been exploited in this “man's world.”

Our conversation went as follows:

“Did you get to choose what field you wanted to be in?”

I had 3 choices in boot camp to make. My 1st choice was air traffic controller, 2nd was dental tech and 3rd was - I really didn't have the chance to reply.

“Ah hah! See this poor girl here didn't get what she wanted. Any and all field should have been open to her. It's blatant discrimination by our military to the women in our country.”
She would have gone on and on, but I really had to interrupt her. I was quite perturbed where she was taking this conversation, and me and all the other people sitting there.

“Um, Ms. Steinem? I do need to get something straight with you. Yes, I really wanted to be an air traffic controller. You see though, without my glasses, I could be declared legally blind. Now I don't know about you, but I know beyond a shadow of doubt, I wouldn't want someone like me with my vision to see to my safety and guide a plane I would be on.”

“Yes, I had to take my 2nd choice, but it is really ok. Women, and men for that matter, do get choices. I was able to get my number one pick for duty station due to my grades. That choice was available to anyone regardless of their gender. Grades are what mattered in my case. Not that I was a woman.”

She still wanted to use me as a scapegoat for her cause though. I could tell she was not pleased with me or my answers.

“But, there are areas in the Navy you can not have a chance in getting into. Isn't that so? There are hardly any female officers at all.” I saw as well as heard the smirk in her voice. It did not take me but a second to form a reply.

Remember, this is 1970. There were not many choices a woman could choose in the services. In the Navy, a WAVE did not get ship duty, except the hospital ships that I knew of. Nothing very hazardous for the women at that particular time was given.

“It is true that there are not very many women who are officers in the service. Most commissioned officers that I know are in the medical field - most being nurses. There are a few doctors and there was one dentist that I knew of who was a woman. You had to have a college degree to be an officer, which I don't have.”

“It's true that I didn't get my choice to be what I wanted. It would have been stupid if I had. The lives of people's safety would have been on my shoulders if I had made a mistake due to my poor vision. I am glad that someone had the good sense to make this judgment call.”

“You seemed to think that all areas of the service should be opened equally to all men and woman without pause. I do not. I am very glad this is so. The lousiest job in the Navy to me is a boatswain's mate. They are the ones that clean up the garbage and mess. They scrap the the ships of barnacles and paint them. I for one am very happy that this job is closed to my sister WAVES.”

With that and the smattering of applause, I left that meeting. I felt good as I went one on one with a very educated woman. She made her point, yet I did too. I might not have been a militant feminist, but I left my mark with my short military career. I did fight for and win for housing allowance for married military personnel and I was the 1st woman in the Navy to legally stay in until my 8th month of pregnancy. But those are other stories.






By Samira Nainja:

A wise woman once told me that the two hardest things in the world were being awake and alive. She also said that if you were inclined to have both of the conditions that you can make them infinitely better if you dance. Ten years later when she was dying, she concluded the statement finally by saying that the most beautiful thing in the world is to be awake and alive, and if it wasn't so hard it wouldn't be a beautiful disaster. She was 93, a Holocaust survivor, adventurer, mother, wife, grandmother, great-grandmother, author, healer, and one of the most amazing women the world will ever know. This story is not a giant of Greek fame, in fact is entirely true.


Ten years ago, we were living in Oklahoma; it was a particularly hot and humid day that was made even worse by the lack of air conditioner in our small apartment off Wilshire Lane and Cain Rd. I remember that I would step outside our screen door and onto the small two person bench and watch the people walk by, people watching was always fun to be because you can see what people are really like when they don't know anyone is looking. They are more real that way. As the woman walked towards me, she was tired having worked all day, but she never complained. She loved her job as much as she loved her cigars and Brandi. "If a woman isn't allowed to smoke her cigars and drink her Brandi with out being called less of a woman, then my job is done" and she mean's it. Having smoked since the age of 13 and drank since the age of 20 people assumed her not only to be less of a woman, less of a Jew, and less of a mother, but also that she wouldn't live to be more then 45.


Nechama was born in 1914, and by the time, she was 30, she had done more then most women would ever be able to do. On her wedding day in 1944, the German Nazi party took her and her family. They shot her mother and father, her husband escaped after promising to find her, and she was taken to a workhouse in France where she stayed until the Allied forces won Normandy, and she returned to her husband who had thought she had died. She would tell people that they hadn't shot her at her wedding, not because she was but a feeble woman and would be good for labor, but because the SS man saw fire in her eyes, a fire that she would not go down with out a fight. After that, she spent a great deal of time in Africa, India, Canada, and she finally settled in California to have a family with her second husband. The neighbors and women at her Synagogue would call her the Stranger, partly for her amazingly liberal views for a woman of the time, and partly because she was not anything like anyone had ever seen before. She was not above fighting for what she believed in, and she thought those that did not should give up their right to live because they certainly were not doing it from her point of view.


In the year 2007 right at the beginning of it, Nechama passed away of failed liver and cancer of the lungs. She was 93 and never let anyone treat her as less then she was. A strong person. If someone tried to tell her that she was but a feeble woman, she would look them right in the eye and say "Doesn't it just steam your boots that I could still beat you at chess?", and as she laid in her hospital bed after throwing pudding cups at her attendants to get a better room she would still email her grand-daughter on her black berry that she bullied the attendants into letting her keep with her, and she would tell her grand-daughter little stories. That is what the world was, she would say. Many little stories. It is because of her strength, and her unmoving self that created the woman I am, she changed people and helped people and every man that met her, including the sexist bigots would tell the story of the strongest most determined woman they knew, and that she would probably live to be a hundred. Almost. It is because of strong incredible women like her that make me smile and thing that being awake and alive might not be as hard as she had once said. Nechama battled the idea that she could not work, smoke, drink, gamble, and spar intellectually with people. She won the battle.



Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
dagain
May. 3rd, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)
Well Done!
Each of these were simply beautiful. Thank you to the authors for their well written words, and to LJ, for providing the competition. Well done!
abbismom
May. 3rd, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)
Boy or Girl?
Jennifer, this is fantastic. I ran into the same thing (for the first time) in Houston, Texas. Being young and naive, I tried to engage the Drone in a philosophical conversation about gender roles, which left her confused. I wrote to McDonald's complaining, saying the same thing you did: why can't the Drone just ask which toy you'd like? instead of assigning a gender-specific toy to a child? Now, feeling somewhat defeated because 10 years later nothing's changed, I simply say "boy" if the toy my little girl wants is under that label or "girl." Anyway, well-done! Feels good that someone else feels the same way!
nitamcgrew
May. 3rd, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
Wow, these were spectacular! Well done writers. Indeed a showcase.
lacey
May. 4th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
Every one of those was fantastic. Great job, everyone!
takemeback
May. 5th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
To Jennifer Miller:
Read McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer -- the chapter about predictability and how the interactions between employees and customers are scripted. Then you will understand why it's so difficult for them to abide by your request. Furthermore, while I understand what it is that upsets you, I think it's unfair to place any blame on the McDonald's employees. You talk about the toys changing every month -- well, most McDonald's employees don't last much longer. McDonald's has a 400% employee turnover rate, meaning that most quit after 3 months. Cut them a little slack!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )