AFH Photo // Adam Nguyen
As a member of the Engaging Men Committee, I teach youth how masculinity plays out in our society and why masculinity is important to understand if we want to change ourselves and the social rules. As it is, many of the youth I teach too often ask, “Why can’t we just let everyone be who they want to be?” 
It’s more complicated than that. Society can seek to destroy you if you do not follow the rules of your gender. Being different can cause people to belittle your existence, wanting to change you as if something is naturally wrong with you. 
First of all, let’s talk about masculinity. According to Ayana Murakami-Freeberg, a gender, sexuality and women's studies major at University of California, Davis, masculinity is a societal understanding of characteristics that are usually associated to men. It is socially constructed and portrays what traits every male should have.
Let’s take the saying “to be a man,” as an example. Society says you have to act tough, strong, and  emotionless in order to be considered a man. Boston Latin Academy junior, Tyler Vantha, notes that men are generally characterized as “Strong, large, and violent. They usually take action [rather than] speak words and are biologically stronger.”
But, not all of us can act “like a man.” Not everyone who identifies as a man has these traits or characteristics. On the other hand, others take this idea of masculinity to a toxic level. 
What is toxic masculinity? Murakami-Freeberg describes toxic masculinity as when “masculine traits are used to control and gain power over others.” Women can be mistreated due to toxic masculinity. Often, the media portrays women as “sex objects,” lesser, or even submissive, while men are portrayed as superior and dominant. Both women and men are affected by toxic masculinity, as men are taught to stick with society's rules of what it means “to be a man.” Men have to show no emotion whatsoever, wearing a form of “mask.” As a result, men are less able to seek and receive emotional support. 
While gender in general is a very complicated idea, we should not let society control us. Decide what you want to be, rather than be shaped by what others think. Jonathan Duque, a junior at the John D. O’Bryant said, “We should treat everyone the same and incorporate everyone by who they are, instead of their gender roles.”
It is okay to follow the path of masculinity, but not to take on traits that are toxic and oppressive to others. If males do not act as they are expected, we should accept them for who they choose to be - not make assumptions based on the way they act. This is a new generation and we need to change the way that society views gender roles. We can make the change if we are willing and educated. 
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AFH Photo // Mariana Melara
Today, women all around the world are fighting for equal pay, promotion, and professional opportunities. The problem stems from a long history of women being perceived as being inferior to men. In the past, women were not allowed to vote, go to school in some areas, and their roles in society were limited.
In 2015, women in the United States were earning 80 cents for every dollar a man earned. Many acts and amendments have been proposed to ensure that men and women get equal pay for equal work. Due to limited enforcement and opposition to the idea, the acts and amendments were either never enforced or never passed. 
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which stated that it would be “illegal to pay women and men working in the same place different salaries for similar work,” didn’t achieve its goal due to limitations on enforcement.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), passed by Congress in 1972, was never ratified by enough states to become part of the Constitution. The amendment would have given women the right to equal pay for doing the same amount of work as men. 
The pay gap among women and men is due to many different reasons. In the Atlantic article “Why Are Women Paid Less?” Jordan Weissman cites a Cornell economist who argues that “Discrimination, the careers women choose, and the burdens of motherhood could all play a role [in creating the pay gap].” Historically, and even today, women often have to leave their jobs to take care of their children. This affects women when they return to work because they may get less work hours or even face demotion. 
Boston Voices and Experiences on Pay Inequality
Many people have distinct opinions on pay inequality. Jessie Gerson, Deputy Director of WriteBoston, says, “Our executive director takes feminism and gender equality seriously. But I know that is not always the case. I have friends who work in situations where their race, sexuality, or gender impacts the treatment they receive professionally.”
Gerson reflected that discrimination can come in many different forms. “I have a dear friend who is an African-American woman,” Gerson says. “She received a work evaluation stating that she was too ‘aggressive’ in the workplace and it made people uncomfortable. I firmly believe that had she been a white man she would not have received this feedback. Instead, she would have been perceived as a ‘go-getter.’ This kind of thing keeps minorities and women from rising to positions of power professionally and so the discrimination becomes self-perpetuating.” 
Gerson gives her opinion on why females get paid unequally and says, “I find it extremely distressing that in 2016 we still need to fight for equal pay for equal work. I also believe that we need to stop undervaluing traditionally female-dominated fields like nursing and education. Basically, I think that sexism and lack of respect for emotional labor create and perpetuate pay inequities.”
Motherhood can also be more burdensome on the female than the male. Gerson says from experience, “I have a two-year old daughter. When she was born, I was working for the Boston Public Schools. I only got 3 months, unpaid maternity leave. That’s not acceptable.”
Her solution to the problem would be to “organize society so that everyone, men and women, the affluent and the non-affluent, all have the ability to make choices around their family life that work for them.”
Mageney Omar, a junior from the John D. O’Bryant, says that she started working at the age of 15 and now works at “Turn It Around.” She comments, “My boss treats me equally like everyone else that I work with.” Omar believes “it’s unfair that women get paid less and unequally compared to men.” She thinks the reason for the problem is that “bosses and employers feel that men perform better in certain professions than women.”
Rayven Frierson, also a junior at the O’Bryant, says that she started working at 14 and is currently working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Pathology department. Of her workplace, she says, “My boss does treat everyone equally. Everyone is considered a person in the workplace. We are not looked at based on our ethnicity or gender since my department is pretty diverse.” 
Frierson states that she has no idea why women get paid less than men. “I was raised in a female dominant environment,” she said. “My mother raised me on her own without my father. The world has changed from women being inferior to men, to women standing on their own two feet.”

*Full disclosure: WriteBoston is the parent organization of Teens in Print.

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AFH Photo // Jiayin Zhou
When I moved to the United States from Bangladesh, I was shocked to see how different the houses are here than in my country. Often times, the architecture of houses in Bangladesh represents the type of people that live in them. In Bangladesh, the houses are made of brick, rock, stone, and other similar materials. 
Homes in Bangladesh have four or five floors in just one house. Houses have a lot of space in the front and back yard. Usually, we have a lot of furniture like couches, beds, and decorative mirrors throughout the house. The kitchens are built with tin roofs and the stoves are made of sand. The stoves are underground with holes in them. They are used by putting wood and oil in the hole and lighting it on fire. Also, there are many windows in every room so the sunlight comes directly into our houses. Temperatures get really hot because the brick walls never let air come in. Fans rarely work because most of the time electricity goes away.
Before I moved to America, I thought houses here would be made by rock and brick like the houses in my country. I also thought they would be big and strong because the United States is a rich country so I thought the houses would be nicer. But when I came here I was shocked seeing the houses. The architecture, the shape of the houses, the floors and the rooms are all the complete opposite of my country. 
In the U.S. houses are mostly made of wood and are insulated. Even the stairs inside the house are made of wood. When I walk on the stairs, the wood creaks and makes so much noise. The weirdest thing to me is that most houses generally do not have more than three floors. Also, the kitchens are really modern with stoves. It is strange to me that most houses only have one kitchen. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like if more than 10 people lived in a house here, like in Bangladesh. 
My house in Bangladesh had three floors, 13 bedrooms and four bathrooms. I loved it because in that house, wherever you go, there is a lot of light because of the many windows. Twenty-six people in my family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents -- all lived together in my house. It was fun because it was always loud. Most of the time we all went outside and had fun playing in the rain. 
So when I visited my aunt’s house in the United States for the first time I was really surprised to see the stories, rooms and even furniture. The furniture seems like it is built-in and connected to the walls, like the closets and some shelves. In my country, furniture is separated from the wall. 
I prefer my country’s houses because that is what I was born and raised in. I experienced many birthdays and holidays in that house, and it’s what I am used to. 
In my country, most of the houses are designed the same so you don’t really have to tell the architect what you want; he already knows what to build. I prefer to live in the style of Bangladesh because the things I care about, I got from my house. I was loved by family and all my cousins and even friends in that house. In our houses we experience much of our lives and our houses help to shape those lives and experiences. 
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Dear 9th grade Jada,
Can you believe you made it? Freshman year is essential in deciding whether a student drops out or stays in school. At this point, you have developed lots of integrity and grit. Why? Because, you’ve made it to high school! How do you feel? I bet you thought you were the stuff when you walked into high school, trying to act all tough because you heard people were going to try and punk you, but don't worry about them.
You probably have realized that things are different now. The work is harder, teachers are strict, and the deadlines for assignments are short. Because of this, you are often stressed about your grades. Freshmen year is not an easy game to play. You need to prepare yourself for challenges in life and learn to always have a growth mindset. 
You and your peers might think freshmen year is a joke. You think you have time to play around with your friends and that your work does not really count. It does! I bet you have heard your teachers say, “Freshman year is very important, like the rest of your journey in high school, so make sure you're up to date because you can fall behind.” Colleges look at your ninth grade year because they want to see how you start off. You have to put all those bad habits from middle school behind you and make your actions speak louder than your words. Be a leader because it makes you a very powerful and strong young woman. Show your teachers you got this.
My first piece of advice to you is always stay positive! Being positive can get you a long way. Trust me! If you come to school every day and say “I don’t want to be here,” or “why do we have to do this?” then you are not going to enjoy the journey of freshman year. Don't be a Negative Nancy. It will get you nowhere. If you're negative most likely you're going to hate your classes which is not beneficial for you or your teacher. On the other hand, if you go into class with a positive attitude, you actually might end up enjoying it.
My second piece of advice is to set goals. This is the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable outcomes and timeframes. This can help you get good grades. For example if you have to do an essay due a certain day, try to finish it a day early and then maybe show your teacher so he or she can offer you feedback. On the day it is due it will be even better. You might just ace that essay. 
My last piece of advice is to always be respectful. Treat people the way you like to be treated. When you want to be respectful, try to put yourself in someone else's shoes and behave in a way that shows you care. At its heart, being respectful means showing that you value other people's perspectives, time and space. Show kindness and courtesy because it is good manners. Being respectful starts with a basic consideration of other people's feelings. Ask yourself how you'd want to be treated in a given situation and make an effort to treat other people that way. Treat everyone you encounter this way: strangers on the street, coworkers, classmates and family members. Being polite is a good way to make friends. It is also a matter of etiquette; it's about being considerate of people's feelings, culture, and values. It does not seem difficult, but for many people it remains a challenge. If you're reading this you're probably wondering how you can improve your etiquette. At the very least, you might want to know how to avoid being rude, which can put off the people around you. Try not to discriminate or be judgemental. Be respectful to everyone and not just people you know or those you perceive as having a higher status than you. Many people save their respect for people upon whom they want to make a good impression, and they're less respectful  to everyone else. But there is truth in the saying, "You can judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.” In other words, be a nice human.
Let’s review: the three most important actions you can take in surviving your freshman year of high school is stay positive, set attainable goals, and be respectful to others! It’s really as simple as that. People make high school look all big and bad, but it really isn’t. I was scared and nervous entering my first year of high school. I had no idea what to expect, but once I made a couple friends and started to get to know my school, I got comfortable, and I actually enjoyed the experience. So don’t let high school get you down, be proud, because the next place you go to is college! If you've made it this far… you’ve got this! Just work on these small improvements and you will see the results!
Have fun and be yourself.

Sincerely,
Jada Robinson 
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Dear 9th grade Brian,
Ignorance was truly bliss for you, but now that you are starting high school, a lot of information is being blasted in your direction. High school is way too much to process on your first day. From class to class, your bookbag is filled with consent waivers, syllabi, and just three more binders more than recommended in the list of school supplies. It took you three hours to get home from school because learning the T was hard ( don't worry, we got that down to an hour and a half!). High school is intimidating. It is such a large building, everyone stuck with their friends from middle school. It took you a while to find your niche in the jungle.
Like always, you maintained high expectations for yourself in order to succeed, but were unaware of the unhealthy repercussions of focusing on your flaws. Your mom would tell you that God does everything for a reason. At the time, you saw being at Urban Science Academy and moving to Boston as more of a curse than a blessing. Trust me, that ideology will change by the time freshman year ends.
Accepting how unfair the world can be is hard. Just like how it's hard to find out that you didn't get accepted into the technical trade school of your dreams and that you are moving to Boston, a city hundreds of miles away from all of your family.
Once you made your peace with your situation, you ended up being presented with an astounding amount of options at USA. Available was an array of sports - especially with the school having built a new sports field. There were after school clubs and programs from every corner of Boston also available. It was quite overwhelming at first. 
One day, in computer science class, you met someone who you felt a peculiar familiarity with, and agreed that we had met somewhere before, but could not recall where. This strange familiarity instilled a quick friendship. This new friend invited you to her robotics team at Northeastern University. The invitation spiked your interest as you always loved technology. You ended up joining the the team. Then, your humanities teacher would call your mom at least once a week asking if you could join the debate team as well. Ultimately, you said yes. But, you had barely any time for yourself with prior obligations and other school commitments. Your week was always jam-packed, and during the weekends, you were either at your father's house or catching up on work/studying. This led to the last thing you need in high school: stres. Stress can normal, but it ended up getting to a point where you couldn't manage time well. 
You were stressed about being ready for robotics, having time to study debate notes, getting work done, and having time to be with friends and family. Despite the stress, you felt you were in too deep into activities to stop, so you continued on without trying anything different, or finding a solution. This was seriously the worst thing you could do to yourself. It lead to you being a disorganized person. You suffered from a lot of headaches and never felt good at all. It's always important to set time aside for yourself to get organized and to relax, which is the one thing you never did, and suffered immensely because of it. It’s okay sometimes to miss a meeting  in order to recuperate and get back together. It's important to be organized and to prioritize yourself. If you always put yourself last, nothing good will come of that. 
Think of failure like a spider. Spiders are mostly harmless unless it's poisonous. Failure, in most cases, is blown out of proportion. If you fail, you should be fine, as long as you make an attempt to improve yourself.
Every time you made a mistake your mind would flood with pessimism: “Why can't I ever do anything right?” or “I'm honestly not normal, what is wrong with me?” You  couldn't live with yourself because your obsession with success was creating unrealistically high expectations, which led to more stress. You ended up being constantly angry. With time, you learned to control your thoughts and become satisfied with yourself. 
I don't want you to think that you shouldn't set high expectations for yourself. But, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren't good enough, nor tell yourself that. As a freshman, all the work may seem overwhelming. Seek improvement within yourself but also think realistically.
Like animals, we either adapt to situations, or we don't. In the case of this analogy, your experiences were near-death but at least you’re alive! Coming soon will be the end of freshman year. You have hopefully made friends that you can confide in for the rest of high school. 
Ponder on how not only you adapted, but how you thrived within your freshman experience and what opportunities have come to fruition because of it. Keep in mind to take advantage of opportunities presented to you, manage your time well, stay organized, and keep realistic goals for yourself. In short, never be afraid to make mistakes despite your ambitious attempts at success.

Sincerely,
Brian Estevez
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