Cultural Criticism
Toxic Masculinity Is Plain And Simply Toxic
I have thought about getting acrylic nails plenty of times, but I would never go through with it out of the fear of judgment. I think it hurts more when the idea is brought up within the topic of gay men “taking away womanly things.” I was unaware that certain desires and lifestyle choices are for women and men should stick to short nails and maybe, just maybe, paint their nails black. The same was said about makeup.
Men don’t cry, women do housework, men cannot wear makeup, boys will be boys. It's almost as if men are supposed to be stone-cold heartless robots, but that sounds far fetched and absurd, right?
Toxic masculinity is adherence to traditional male gender roles that consequently stigmatizes and limits the emotions boys and men may comfortably express while suppressing other emotions with anger. It is a socially destructive learned trait.
Societal norms and traditional gender roles could be an incredibly long article of their own. Society expects men to be problem solvers and to have a mindset of getting money and supporting the household. Women are supposed to be caring and nurturing to men and children.
There are several aspects of toxic masculinity that are deemed socially destructive, some of these being misogyny, homophobia, greed and violent domination. Today, I’m going to tackle homophobia.
Homophobia is the dislike or prejudice of homosexuals. A lot of men are pressured by society to be masculine and straight in order to be accepted. Being seen as anything but straight puts a bright red sticker labeled “feminine” or “unacceptable” on their forehead.

Straight men will put gay men down in order to raise their own low self-esteem. Teens my age will hit each other’s butts or they'll hump each other, then disguise that behavior with the words “no homo.” The same words are used when they discuss their feelings because that could be considered “gay” too. Everything goes sideways when a gay man does the same things. That’s when he’s called a f----t, because “no homo” doesn’t apply to him.
These straight men internalize society’s rules and expectations and form insecurities and anxieties that center around breaking these rules or not living up to these expectations. Peter S. Theodore and Susan A. Basow, researchers at Lafayette College, described this anxiety in their research article on masculinity and homophobia.

“This anxiety leads many males to reject gay men as a means to reaffirming their sense of masculinity,” they wrote. “While the rejection can range anywhere from covert expressions of disgust and disapproval to overt forms of physical and verbal abuse, each form of homophobia ‘’defines who one is by identifying gay people as a symbol of what one is not.’’’

This rejection of sorts causes ruptures in the lives of both LGBTQ men and straight men. Men consider emotion and expression to be feminine qualities and because of that, they learn to be cold and abrasive. They hold back fear, sadness, lust, and too many other emotions and give it back as anger, anger towards the men that aren’t doing the same as them. These pent up emotions aren’t dealt with so men never heal from the trauma that they hold and they never gain the necessary coping mechanisms. This causes them to live in an “if you can’t beat ‘em, make ‘em join” mindset. Bisexual and pansexual men who are attracted to more than one gender are stuck in a loop of thinking that they have to choose a side because society thinks they're confused.

Society as a whole is actively fighting itself. One one side, there are the people that want to teach boys to be more emotionally open and intelligent. On the other, there are people that stick to these toxic and unhealthy ideals and this only causes a war as the children of tomorrow are pitted against each other. A controversial Gillette ad points the finger at men and the atrocities that have been accepted for far too long with the saying “Boys will be boys.” They point the finger at the men of the past and instruct them on how to right their wrongs in order to turn the men of tomorrow into real men, men that respect women and don’t harass and bully other boys for not being rambunctious as them.

Men in the LGBTQ+ community are forced into living lives that are untrue to themselves. They are living in households that force them to live in fear of the people they love finding out about the lifestyle that they want to live. This is where internalized homophobia is born. (You can read my article about internalized homophobia here.) They were raised to dislike the way they want to live. Because of this, they grow to fear the community they are a part of and may live unaccepted within the straight community while remaining skeptical of the LGBTQ+ people and community. 
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Cultural Criticism
One Day at a Time Brings Vital Representation to TV
Hyde watched as a group of friends made their way through the halls of a high school in the TV show she was watching. She couldn’t help but hear the voice in the back of her head question why in this group of six, not one looked like her. This was something she hadn’t noticed as a kid, but as she got older and continued watching movies and TV shows, she couldn’t help but wonder why she wasn’t being represented on the screens she was watching.
In 2020, there are still certain groups of people who are underrepresented or misrepresented in the media. As reported by Los Angeles Times, a study found that among 1,200 popular films released between 2007 and 2018, out of 47,000 roles, only 4.5% went to Latinx actors. That’s what makes show One Day at a Time so special. The show, with a full main cast of Latinx actors, continues to make headlines for its effortless portrayal of a lovable family and the things they all go through.
The show, a reboot of a show from the 70s with the same title, first aired Jan. 6, 2017 on the streaming network Netflix. The original show, airing on CBS from Dec. 16, 1975 to May 28, 1984, was about a divorced mother who moves from her home with her daughters to give her daughters the life and freedoms she didn’t have when she was a young woman. 
The reboot explores the story of the Alvarez’s, a Cuban family living in Echo Park, California. Lydia (Rita Morena), the charming grandmother, immigrated from Cuba, a story she often tells in the show. Penelope (Justina Machado), her daughter, works as a nurse practitioner and is veteran and single mother of two children, battling PTSD during the show. Elena (Isabella Gomez), Penelope’s daughter, comes to terms with her sexuality and explores a story of independence, love and self-acceptance. Alex (Marcel Ruiz), Elena’s sister, learns what it means to be a young Latinx boy in California and Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the family’s landlord and neighbor, learns the importance of friendship and family during the show. The show also introduces Syd (Sheridan Pierce), a non-binary character who begins a relationship with Elena. Through these characters this show is able to show topics audiences face everyday and shine a light on each story. 
“I think before working on this show, I may have taken for granted how extraordinarily well as a cisgender white guy...I was represented on television.” Todd Grinnell, who plays the landlord Schneider, said. “And to see the amount of people who come to see our shows and contact us on social media and say ‘I’ve never seen myself on television until One Day at a Time’ has been staggering for us and really touches me and really makes me feel like we’re doing something important.”
After the show was cancelled by Netflix following its 3rd season (the streaming platform claimed the show did not have enough viewership), fans took to social media to express their feelings. The hashtags #SaveODAT, #saveodaat, and #RenewODAAT trended worldwide as fans and the cast alike shared their feelings online. The show’s renewal was later announced as picked up by PopTV, where new episodes now air every Tuesday at 9:30ET/5:30PT.
Based on conversations by fans on Twitter, almost every character on the show is dearly loved; the audience has been able to watch the characters’ stories from the first season and now to the fourth, watching them grow as individuals and as a family at large. One particular character much of the audience adores is Schnieder, the landlord, who’s story of sobriety is explored on the show.
“Schnieder and I are both sober people, so that’s interesting to me [...] First I felt a little vulnerable talking about that and bringing that to the character but really it’s been pretty amazing to share that and share that experience with Schnieder.” Grinnell remarked. 
The topic of sobriety is one the audience is first introduced to when we learn about Schnieder’s sobriety chip.
“It’s incredibly important.” Grinnell states about Schnieder’s sobriety chip. “We have a responsibility in making this show that all the communities we represent, we represent them accurately. And because I am a member of a group of sober people at large, it's incredibly important to me that we represent that storyline accurately and fairly, and with honor and respect.”
One Day at a Time was the first show I watched where I felt such an emotional connection to the stories being told and to the characters themselves. A single episode can bring me to tears and have me laughing the next scene. The dialogue and dynamics between different characters is another thing I love. There are relationships like those of Elena and Alex, two siblings who learn over the course of the show to understand each other; or the relationship between Penelope and Schnieder who are best friends, always sticking by each other and learning important lessons from each other; or the relationship of Penelope with herself, where she goes on a journey of self acceptance and learns to do what’s best for herself. 
“What really drew me in about this show was not only the comedy and Rita Moreno’s dancing skills, but also the message and portrayal of the importance of family whether that be biological or more personal.” Jedida Santana, a fan of the show expressed.
This sentiment of loving the show because of its representation and messages is one that resonates with many fans of the show as well.
“I think I consider One Day at a Time one of my favorite shows because I love the fact that I'm able to watch a show that feels relatable to me in a sense.” Santana shared. “Not only being a growing teenager and being Latino, but also experiencing life with my own family in my own small apartment.” 
So far the new season has been nothing short of amazing. The first episode of season 4 does a great job of introducing all the characters to new fans and reintroducing them to the old ones, with a jab at Netflix slipped in as the cherry on top. Though the iconic theme song is no longer present in full, the show still has the same charisma it had while on Netflix, the only change being Alex’s hair. One Day at a Time is a show that reaches all people and audiences in a way not many shows today are able to.
“I think this show really tries to portray a story that not only highlights or ‘mentions’ issues or individual differences, but tries to create a deeper understanding that these things are a part of life, a part of who we are but also knowing that understanding doesn’t just stop there, it’s a continuous process and form of life.” said Santana.
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Cultural Criticism
To stop toxic masculinity, we need to change the way we raise boys
In January of 2019, the razor company Gillette put out an ad that called out toxic masculinity in our society. It asked the question “is this the best a man can be?” which is similar to Gillette’s catch phrase “the best a man can be. '' They criticized toxic masculinity by showing men degrading women and boys fighting. They showed us that a man could be better by showing how to correctly handle these situations. Their youtube video version of the ad gathered a whopping 33 million views, 1 million dislikes, 811 thousand likes and opened a lot of debate. The feedback on the video was ranging. Some appreciated the conversation that it brought and the problem it addressed. Others hated it and said it wasn’t an accurate depiction of men and the way they acted, and they thought it was an unneeded conversation. 
According to The New York Times, “toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can't express emotions openly, that they have to be ‘tough all the time.’ That anything other makes them weak and ‘feminine’ or weak.” Not all men are toxic. Some men realize they can express themselves in the way they choose to and grow out of that teaching. Teaching and raising young boys that they have to be aggressive and physically strong to be considered a man is the wrong way to show a boy how to be a man. It was never okay to teach them this because this type of teaching has damaged their outlook on themselves and everyone around them.  
This teaching starts early. The American Psychological Association says, “Gender identity development begins before birth, shaped by the expectations that parents and other significant adults have for how a boy should be treated and how he should behave.” Adults set expectations on the unborn child. Let's say he didn't live up to these expectations, then he's not a disappointment but he's just not what they expected. This is sad because he’s going to feel this disappointment and he's going to try to live up to that expectation to make his family happy. However, at the same time, he’s making himself unhappy because that’s not who he truly is and in doing that he is damaging his self image. 
This toxic masculinity outlook is teaching young boys that they have to be aggressive to validate themselves as a man and bottle up their feelings, pushing them to the side, and not addressing them. Also this outlook leads to men believing that they have to provide for their families non-stop and even if it hurts, they need to keep going because giving up isn't an option. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach boys the value of hardwork, but we should let them know that taking a break and feeling emotionally weak is okay and nothing to be ashamed of. 
Jonathan Garrasteguy, a freshman student at Walpole High said, “I think men are misunderstanding their feelings and aren’t able to express them in a healthy way because of the way they were taught to be stronger than women, and they [women] are the only ones who should show their feelings when in reality men are totally entitled to [show their feelings].” Men lack knowing how to deal with their feelings because they were raised thinking they should keep feelings bottled up when in actuality that is damaging to mental health. They could be feeling alone and unable to feel like they matter. 
Men are raised to be aggressive and to fight back at anything necessary to prove their manhood. A writer on the conversation.com wrote, “there’s no need for anyone to prove their masculinity through aggression.” The way men are being raised shows that they aren't in touch with their feelings and they feel the need to act out just to show that they are “manly.” They think they have to fit a certain physical criteria to be a man but there's so much more that defines a man than physical characteristics. 
The way I define a man is a person who is compassionate, takes care of business and their family, behaves cool under pressure and is secure in themselves and their feelings. Notice how my explanation of a man did not include anything about their appearance. Appearance means nothing—it never has and never will—but, unfortunately, societal norms have made them believe that the way they look and how aggressive they are is all that matters when in reality there's so much more than that. When we decide as a society that men’s feelings are more valid than we make them out to be, we will see generations becoming more aware of feelings and see how men will feel better with themselves. 
Raising a boy in the way we do is harmful not only for him but also for the people that he builds intimate relationships with. If men don't know how to be truly loved, then they won't know how to truly share their feelings and won't be able to build that emotional bond. 
To the men out there: you and your feelings are valid. I'm sorry on behalf of society as a whole that we haven't made you feel that way. We can stop toxic masculinity. We can nip it in the bud with our boys and halt the behavior in our men. We can teach our boys to be strong and that showing and sharing their feelings is okay. I say “our boys” because we all have that moral responsibility to be kind to one another and they are the men of the future—the ones that are going to mold the way the world works for generations. We can teach them that there are different ways to be a man and we can continue to teach them the value of hard work. We can let all the men and boys in our life know that they are worth more than society leads them to believe. 
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Local
Despite plagues through the years, we were still not prepared for COVID-19
Panic swept the nation, no — the world! — as the COVID-19 pandemic spread its fingers into every nook and cranny of the world. Our communities are under great stress as we struggle to reduce the spread of the virus. From social distancing to wearing masks, people are eager to end the pandemic. However, many Americans feel like the initial response from the government was slow and that we could have reacted much sooner and with greater efficiency.
But could we have? What ability does the American government have to handle pandemics? By examining the frameworks currently in place as well as reflecting on past handling, we will grade the performance of the United States’ handling of COVID-19. Before we make any judgments about the government’s response, we should ask, “what is the government’s premade plan for pandemics?” 
In 2005, the United States rolled out a new “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” Although influenza differs greatly from COVID-19, the general framework behind government preparedness and response to pandemics applies to both. The 2005 plan is fairly robust for being disclosed to the public, indicating the various phases handling a pandemic will take as well as advice for the entire country on how to proceed. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website provides access to its “Pandemic Intervals Framework (PIF).” The PIF names and defines six phases of a pandemic and what the government’s role is in each phase at both a local and federal level. The six phases in order are “Investigation, Recognition, Initiation, Acceleration, Deceleration, [and] Preparation.” The CDC evaluates the risks a potential strain of influenza poses to society. If and when the strain becomes a pandemic, the CDC will then work to minimize loss of life while preparing for future pandemic waves.
These existing systems were put to the test due to the high level of activity and severe number of cases during the 2017-2018 flu season. This Influenza epidemic was a recent warning to the government that we would not be prepared for something more serious. Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, the US government has poured funding into public health to protect the country against bioterrorism and pandemics. However, over the years, much of this funding has been allocated toward other ventures, taking a focus away from pandemic preparedness. 
Even with this plan in place, there are other social factors that chokehold the country’s ability to deal with novel viruses. Doctor Jonathan D. Quick, a professor of global health  at Duke University and physician who specializes in public health management, has spread awareness for the advancement of public health and pandemic preparedness in many of his publications. In a 2018 TIME magazine article, Dr. Quick discusses how Americans can grow complacent when pandemic waves subside, using flu outbreaks as an example. Dr. Quick said, “as soon as headlines about the flu are gone, hospitals are emptied of flu patients, schools are back in session and workplace absenteeism declines, we go back to business as usual.”
Throughout February, when the coronavirus began its march to the Western Hemisphere, many people were unafraid of the “flu-like” symptoms and believed the virus would act out like another familiar strain of the flu. With news that COVID-19 had a low mortality rate for children, teens and young adults, entire generations of people were emboldened with confidence that this would be a low threat to our health. My classmates were no exception and while we saw the news of the virus ever-encroaching toward us we brushed it off because we would be less affected. 
With multiple countries shutting down entire cities, a pandemic became likely. The naive confidence of many Americans even persisted in government officials which only made the general population less afraid. Because of this error in judgment, the virus exploded in the US. Many Americans don’t take the flu very seriously, and initial talk of COVID-19 seeming similar to the flu may be one factor that prevented us from tackling COVID-19 in its earlier stages. Unfortunately, we haven’t learned from past mistakes. When the infamous 1918 flu pandemic reached the American continent, it ravaged naval and army bases and installations. 
One city particularly affected was Philadelphia. Wilmer Krusen, Philadelphia’s public health director, was unaware of the flu’s severity. On Sept. 19, the flu arrived via sick soldiers coming back from Europe and entering the Philadelphia Navy Yard. While many physicians were wary of the disease reaching the city, Krusen decided to allow business as usual. On Sept. 28, 9 days after the arrival of the flu to Philadelphia, the Liberty Loans Parade was held to support war efforts. At the time, it was the largest parade in Philadephia’s history, amassing large crowds of up to 200,000 spectators. Unfortunately, a day later, every hospital in Philadelphia was completely packed with flu patients. Many thousands more would continue to get infected and die. Even still, politicians clamored for the end of stay-at-home orders and didn’t take the virus seriously despite new cases and a growing death toll.
The results of this behavior are self-evident. An almost complete opposite response to Philadelphia was the city of St. Louis, MO. When signs of the flu pandemic first showed, the St. Louis administration enforced stay-at-home orders. Led by health commissioner Dr. Max Starkoff, the city banned public gatherings and closed all public buildings, especially schools. Thousands of patients were treated by volunteer nurses in their own homes and St. Louis’ infection curve was successfully flattened. Even under fire from small business owners, the administration held its ground. The results were exactly what anyone could ever hope for. 
This type of action was not present in America’s response to COVID-19. Setting aside the sheer delay it took to take the virus seriously, the response was lackluster. Swift, decisive, and accurate action is needed to combat the lack of funding and cultural inaction but of course the actual virus itself. Of course, COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, which requires much more equipment than influenza, however, the response time and effect of the response is what is under scrutiny. 
Researching responses to pandemics in history has been eye-opening. Despite the championing of an education in world and American history to learn from past mistakes, the country is proving itself to be forgetful and naive, continuing to fall into the same pits as before. 
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Local
A sledgehammer for workers’ rights:’ Sitting down with labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan
Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash
As I sat in my home office preparing for my second interview with Shannon Liss-Riordan, I couldn’t help but reflect on how drastically things had changed over the past couple of months. I thought back to my first interview with her in February and I  remembered climbing up the stairs to the second floor of an office building in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. I noticed how new and modern everything looked as I walked through the large glass doors leading me into the spacious waiting area adorned with artwork and leather furniture. 
Fast forward to April, the city of Boston is under stay at home orders and I am preparing to conduct a follow up interview with Liss-Riordan via Zoom. I reviewed my notes from our previous interview, looked up to the computer screen and said “I have to ask this question first: How did you get the nickname The Sledgehammer?” 
Before I explain that awesome nickname, it's important to know who exactly this hero is. Liss-Riordan is an American labor attorney who is well known for her dedication to protecting women, families and workers. Originally from Texas, she moved to Boston to study science but later learned that her passion was law and went on to attend and graduate from Harvard Law School. Since then she has started her own law practice in Boston called  Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C. and has argued cases across the country. 
“Big corporations and the rich and powerful have so much power in so many ways over regular working people who go to work for a living. If we don't have laws that are enforced to try and keep some balance then the working people can really be taken advantage of and I've just seen that in so many different ways.”
After graduating Harvard Law School, Liss-Riordan moved to New York and worked with ex-congress woman Bella Abzug. She was inspired by Abzug’s passion for the women's rights movement. She knew that she wanted to represent people without a voice and help regular working people who have been taken advantage of. After realizing her dreams of becoming a labor attorney it didn't take long for her to find success and acquire such a legendary nickname.
Shannon smiled and began telling me the story of how she got the nickname “The Sledgehammer” from her former clients at SkyCaps. Skycaps are the people who check in your bags for you at the airport so you don't have to wait in a long line. They are the first friendly face that a lot of people see when they fly out of Logan Airport and they make most of their money through tips. Liss-Riordan initiated a lawsuit against American Airlines because they were looking for a way to raise fees when they realised that passengers were giving a lot of cash to SkyCaps. They decided to put up a sign at the airport that said “Curbside check in $2 per bag”. The SkyCaps were very upset about this because it destroyed the income they were earning from tips.
Basically, these big corporations were attempting to increase their profits at the expense of low paid Skycaps employees. As Liss Riordan put it: “Everyone thought that the two dollars a bag was the tip and so the SkyCaps were no longer getting tips. So we brought this case to trial and we proved to the jury that people thought they were tipping the Skycaps when they paid this two dollar fee. It was this big victory and first we got American Airlines and then United Airlines and then US Airways to stop the two dollar per bag charge.” It was during the celebration following the victory that she was dubbed “Sledgehammer Shannon” by her clients. 
If you're still not a believer in her dedication to helping the underdog, Liss-Riordan also reflected upon a number of other cases she worked on in defense of workers rights during the interview. She told me the story of how she ended up investing in a local pizza franchise, the Upper Crust, who’s employees she represented in a case against the former owners. After the Upper Crust owners filed for bankruptcy Liss-Riordan and her husband went to an auction and bought one of the stores and re-named it the Just Crust. “We turned it into a pizza shop focused on justice for the workers and based it on a fair employment model where the workers were treated well.” Stories like this one made it clear that she was truly invested in her community. 
Upon wrapping up our interview, I began to understand the importance of having professionals like Liss-Riordan in the community who stand up for employees and protect their rights. I imagine myself working as a SkyCap or at a pizzeria and how frustrating and powerless someone can feel when they don´t have a voice that will represent them. Even though the world is on pause she hasn't stopped serving justice. Today, Liss-Riordan continues to bring justice to people in need via Zoom. The world would certainly be a better place with more lawyers like her.
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