In the next year, I will be working on a feature-length documentary chronicling the lives of female undergraduates. In preparation, my good friend Annelise Hagar, an executive Board Member of the Organization of Latin American Affairs and Creative Director/Actress in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s production of the Vagina Monologues, sat down with me to answer some of my questions on womanhood, feminism, sexuality and more.
Jasmine: As women we are often not celebrated for our convictions or beliefs. When we enforce our beliefs, we’re commonly told ‘Oh she’s just being too assertive.’ I think it’s important that we, especially as college women coming into our own identities, celebrate our beliefs. So, what was your earliest conviction?
Annelise: The first thing that comes to mind is my mom…My mom really emphasized being myself all the time. I went to an all-girls school for junior high and high school and I just felt very comfortable there and very much in my own skin. [I also felt] strong because I didn’t have additional pressures of being something else. By the time I came to college I was so set in my ways that having men around didn’t bother me which I think would’ve been different had I gone to high school with guys. Being who you are has been really important to me as an individual and as a woman in general. I do identify myself as being quirky and different and I got more comfortable with the idea of being weird but not even weird just being unique and different and not mainstream. It was something that was really hard to accept when I was in elementary school where if you’re weird and different it’s the hardest thing. As I got older I learned to embrace it about myself and make it a positive. I was really fortunate that I had a strong peson in my life like my mom telling me the whole time you’re different, you’re unique, you’re special but that’s okay. I feel like that’s something that a lot of people struggle with but also in particular women in certain regards. I realized that I started to get really comfortable with that idea during high school and towards the end in college. It was a challenge again being in a new place, but I feel much more secure. Everyday, I get more and more secure with being me which is really cool. I feel like everyone should be comfortable with being themselves but no one is. That was one of my strongest convictions as a person and as a female and getting that from my mom who’s also very strong in her way [was great]. So, just be yourself. I worked so hard to improve and I am still improving every day.
Jasmine: As a person who happens to be a woman, and I phrased it that way because I feel like a lot of times when we talk about feminism and what it really means, we forget it really is just that believing that the sexes are equal. And people forget that women are people first and then the issue of being female comes up. So as a person who happens to be a woman, what has been your greatest challenge and how do you feel like you’ve triumphed or struggled in that challenge?
Annelise: It does point out to your fact really well because we are all humans. We are all individuals yet we have all these other labels and categories that we throw onto ourselves: being a woman, a man, a student, a girlfriend. I guess the challenge there would be to hone in on what you are essentially as a person. You have so many pressures around you to be something different, but how do you find the middle ground? How do you grow based off the positive things that you see around you and want to change about yourself versus not being affected by what everyone else tells you have to be? Personally, body image was always a big one. I was, well I’m still overweight. Yes, [laughs] I was a chubster, but that was something when I was younger that was really hard for me. [It was hard] being heavier than most people my age, not fitting into clothes, being too short for adult sizes, but being too wide for adult sizes, convincing myself it was all my fault. [But] my mom told me that it’s not just me, it’s a combination of society and the fact that cloths are made a certain way. Then people are telling me I have to be skinnier than I am [was contradicted with] not wanting to get down to a weight that is disgustingly thin. But, I got to a place where I’m healthy and happy which was really challenging. Being satisfied with your visual is so hard. If you ever just stop and think about how people look at you when you feel like you’re a disaster [you to remember] they’re not judging you for the details and the small things. Like, I’m worried about how some guy I think is cute sees me and he tells me he thinks that I’m attractive and then I think ‘how can he think I’m attractive, I’m not this, I’m not that. I have to stop and realize that there’s something from his perspective that he likes and that’s not going to change from one day to the next. People see me how they want and I don’t need to over think everything. Just let it be. It sound so cliché but it’s so relevant that it becomes cliché.
Jasmine: Can you identify a woman in your personal life or in the media who is a hero ofher own story? What makes her the hero of her story and how is her story told in relation to a woman who doesn’t have a full portrait of herself painted in the media?
Annelise: It’s a little archaic but there is a female poet who is from Spain and she was a nun. Her name is Sor. Juana Inez de la Cruz. I remember when I learned about her. I was ecstatic because I thought she was this brilliant poet. Basically, she was this child prodigy and had all this knowledge and wisdom from little experience and wrote poems about the contradictions of male expectations of women. Like how at her time, men accused women of certain things. She;s writing a long time ago, but I just felt she ended up going to become a nun because that was the only way she could get an education. In the convent she could write and learn and could speak several languages. In addition to that she had these incredible poems. When I hear of historical figures like that who were so beyond their years it means a lot to me because we have advance a lot with women’s rights and individual development, but the people that I feel like surpassed their times are the ones that are most inspirational. Besides from being a brilliant writer, she was just so knowledgeable. She was incredible and she pretty much took her life into her hands and decided to go into a system that would allow her to advance herself. She’s always been someone that I admire and enjoy reading about when I come across her.
Jasmine: Why do you think Boston College woman undergraduates, or college women in general, have a reported lower self-esteem upon graduating than when they entered college? Has this been true for you? Why? How?
Annelise: Having been here for four years I do see the kind of pressure people get here. I’ve heard people think that it has to do with male expectation, but I’ve also heard people say that a lot of it has to do with female expectations. You do spend enough time with groups of people who think a certain way and that does rub off on you. And I feel like I have met certain girls here that are concerned with how they look, how they act, what they say, what they don’t say. I’m always confused by the fact that some girls really dumb themselves down around guys when I know they’re brilliant. In terms of why, I want to say that it’s just become part of the culture and that it has become a bubble of influences. The culture just got perpetuated within the bubble and it’s not just a part of being here. How do you rectify that? But I think it’s partially due to the influences we have on one another within girlfriend groups because we really do listen to each other more than we realize we do. It’s good and bad. Interactions with men here or boys, whatever you want to call them, are not usually positive. Having good, positive relationships with the opposite sex or with the gender of interest really does make you feel better about yourself, even if that just means having a really awesome group of guy friends. I don’t feel that happens as often as it should here. I’ve met a lot of people who don’t. Culture influences from home play a role as well. I meet a lot of people who are coming from backgrounds different from mine and feel pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way. That kind of gets heightened when you’re here. I think it’s some kind of evil combination of everything. But those are some of the major ones.
Jasmine: “Feminist.” What are the first words that come to mind upon hearing this word?
Annelise: Radical. I think that radical always pops into my head because I always meet people who have negative perceptions of feminists. I use to define myself easily as a feminist and then took a course in it and realized that I have a very unique or different approach to it. What was labeled in class as a socialist feminist which basically means that I identify feminism as an additional social issue that needs to be addressed but I don’t necessarily think it’s the end all be all. I don’t think that’s the only problem we’re facing. It’s more than that. French is typically associated with radical feminism but I’m more of a fan of socialist feminism. I do think that feminism is very relevant to the countries that you’re in. that was one of the big things that turned me off to western feminism, this typical US getting too involved in other countries politics. Why should women in the Middle East wear veils? Are they oppressed? Being someone who’s traveled to the Middle East and has had conversations with women who have the option of wearing veils who are Muslim, I have a very different insight on it. Within countries that people are in if the U.S.A needs to assist, let them be asked not jumping in.
Jasmine: What brings you joy in your bleakest moment?
Annelise: Good music. Always. And support from friends. Good music always makes me feel good. Chocolate is a good physical remedy. And talking to a friend and having them genuinely hear you out. Reminding you that you are a smart person who will figure it out once the issue is resolved. I have people who love me and care about me and that is such a blessing. I think that’s very uplifting.
Jasmine: What issues can you identify as being the most plaguing for women of the age 18-24 bracket? Have these issues affected you in your personal life? How?
Annelise: This pressure to be in relationships or dating causes a lot of problems. Self-esteem problems, social problems. Women should be comfortable without it but also open to it to have the best advantage, I feel. I finally got to a good place with it. I don’t know why that’s such a big thing. It’s just like, why don’t you have a boyfriend, why aren’t you dating? Why haven’t you met anybody? Pressure to succeed in an academic setting. They tell you that the further you go up in academics, the less women there are. I think that women our age need to trust their achievements more and go for it and not worry so much about negative outcomes. Focus on the positive outcomes. And pursue things that will make them happy whether that be a career, a family, etc. Just follow through and do your best not to be affected by other people’s opinions. Sexuality is another thing, You know this because you’ve worked with me in the Vagina Monologues but I’m a big advocate for being okay with yourself and open and honest with yourself with regards to sexuality. It is so accepted for men, if a guy doesn’t do that [sex, masturbation, etc] what’s wrong with him. Guys aren’t judging girls. But girls judge each other so much and they judge themselves even worse. That’s the benefit of being an open person or having different perspectives. I really think it’s an issue because no one talks about it. That’s why I think doing vagina monologues is important because you start having these conversations with small groups and then you start hoping they’ll start having conversations with larger groups. It’s a chain of reactions. Be comfortable and open with your sexuality. If you feel like you’re hypersexual that’s okay too. Accept that it’s a part of who you are, that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t have to be an end all be all. You’re not a horrible person if you’re a sexual person. It’s just another facet of who you are. These are what I feel are problems for the 18-24 age bracket. You have a better chance of rethinking things at 18-24 than trying to fix it later. So much of an issue that people don’t know it’s an issue. It is a part of who we are and it is human nature.And also, women being called whores. Who has the right to define what a whore is and what a slut is? You have to choose these words carefully because they really have an impact. I consider myself to be very open and maybe more sexual than a lot of people I meet. And on some level, I could be like ‘crap what’s wrong with me but that’s not a healthy attitude. There’s nothing wrong with me. What I do with it is really what’s important. When a guy sleeps with a lot of women he’s hot stuff. When a girl sleeps with a lot of men, she’s a problem. The best way to combat that is to have conversations about it and really know yourself and be able to clearly express who you are. I feel like you can put a person down for that and they won’t fight back. They’re not going to turn around and say actually ‘yeah I do like sex and I’m okay with that’ because people don’t stand up for themselves. I feel like I could give a whole lecture on that. I’d love to have a talk on this but I don’t think BC would like that.
Jasmine: Tell me about a time when it all changed. ‘All ‘and ‘change’ means anything or everything.
Annelise: I think a big change for me, and I hate making it about men, but he actually was big deal in my life, was my first boyfriend and meeting him and having a very decently mature long- term relationship. Before I had met him, I had a romantic relationship with someone else but I wasn’t treated well. By the time I met my ex, I was kind of confused about what female and male relationships were and didn’t think that I liked men. I was also a very typical ‘ra ra’ feminist at the time. But then he really changed my perspective on a lot of things. Romantically, he showed me relationships do exist and that they’re not perfect but that you have to work on them with honesty and communication. It is so important to life. He taught me about myself and my interactions with others. He brought me down because I was too optimistic all the time and he made me realize the world is not as easy as it could be. He showed me insight into other things I never dealt with. He helped me to work on my patience. He encouraged me to do what I wanted and be happy. He also became a big change because I learned about being independent. I didn’t let him decide my life and I didn’t plan my life around him. When it came down to go to college, he wanted to go to a school in NY just so he could be close to me and I said no. It was one of the most heavily filled decisions I had ever made because I realized then that I was not at a point in my life to make changes for someone else, that I needed to make a path for myself first. And I didn’t want to have someone in my life that was going to put me as their number one because I do not think that’s fair. At some point when I’m older, I’ll want someone but, right now, that’s not what I want. So that’s what I was dealing with. Being interdependent, going to college with a lot of baggage that ended a relationship that lasted for so long. It was a big challenge but it taught me so much. I learned to be strong again and I learned to do my own thing no matter what. Learning to be single again made me feel so much stronger and in my own about life and about men. I’m really happy that it led to something positive. He was undocumented from Mexico so he had a lot of struggles going on that I ended up being apart of when it ended so it felt like a part of me had gone when we ended things. It was definitely loaded and heavy but I’m a large part of who I am because of him and because of his lack of presence in my life. I feel like I reclaimed myself and who I am and I don’t feel like it’s something I’ll misplace again.
Jasmine: Is there anything else you feel is important to your story?
Annelise: I’m a person that is very affected by the people she meets. I like hearing people’s stories. It helps me be able to shape myself as a person. Like figuring out if I’m a feminist or not. Learning how to define and explain my beliefs. Helping other girls become more comfortable in their skin and being able to first help myself. Pure actual happiness comes from having balance and inner-peace. One of the mantras Buddhism has is “you wish for them to be free from other suffering and then you wish for you to help them be freed from their suffering.” Help them be free, then you wish for them to obtain everlasting peace. If you know you’re someone who’s confident in a certain way, give it back. If you know there’s parts of you that you need to work on, then find people who can help you and bring that out in you. There are so many people who need it, who need to talk about things and figure it out. You need to be solid and help yourselves first before you can help others. That’s not to say you need to be perfect. I know there so many things about my life that I’m working on but there’s a good place to start. I know who I can go to talk about these things and ask for advice. I know there would be at least one sentence in what they tell me that will change my life. That speaks to the power of people’s words and experiences. You never know when what you say affects someone or who it’s going to effect.