In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.
"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.
"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."
Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.
"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."
Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."
"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."
This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.
"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."
What helped them during this time was having the support of others.
"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.
"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."
"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.
Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.
"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."
So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.
"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.
In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.
While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.
For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.
"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."
To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!
Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.
On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?
In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.
Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.
First Basic Law
"Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation."
Cipolla believes that the mind can hardly comprehend the sheer amount of stupid people that exist in the world. In his first law he asserts that "any numerical assumption would turn out to be an underestimate."
Second Basic Law
"The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person."
This is what I was getting at in the introduction. A person may have the characteristics of intelligence, but don't be fooled; stupidity is equally distributed among all groups of people.
"Whether one frequents elegant circles or takes refuge among cannibals, whether they lock themselves up in a monastery or decide to spend the rest of their life in the company of a beautiful partner, the fact remains that they will always have to deal with the same percentage of stupid people," he concluded.
Third Basic Law
"A stupid person is one who causes losses to another person or a group of people while they gain nothing or may even suffer losses."
Cipolla believes that true stupidity isn't a reflection of someone's IQ, but their behavior. We all know people who present themselves as being intelligent but may believe in wacky conspiracy theories or make terrible decisions with their money because they fall for get-rich-quick schemes.
In other words, you are what you do. Not what you say or think. Truly intelligent people take smart actions and care about the well-being of others.
Fourth Basic Law
"Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that in any time and place and circumstance dealing and/or hanging out with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake."
Ever have that friend who made a lot of bad decisions but you still hung around them because they were a lot of fun? Eventually, no matter how hard you try to keep their drama at distance, it'll infect your life.
Fifth Basic Law
"Stupid people are the most dangerous type of people."
Intelligent people are predictable and are concerned for the well-being of others. The stupid are unpredictable creators of mayhem and don't care who their actions affect.
Cipolla created a matrix that describes the four types of people: stupid, helpless, bandits and the intelligent.
Cipolla's matrix.via Wikimedia Commons
Stupid people's actions are counterproductive to themselves and others.
Helpless people contribute to society and can be altruistic or moral. But they're often taken advantage of or give much more than they receive.
Bandits are opportunists that pursue their own self-interest even if it harms others.
Intelligent people contribute to society and leverage their contributions into reciprocal benefits.
Cipolla's basic laws may not be backed up by hundreds of pages of psychological research, but they help explain why seemingly intelligent people can make terrible decisions and why people who may not appear to be so bright can be beacons of wisdom.
The underlying truth of the matter is that intelligent people take smart actions and stupid people make dumb decisions. It doesn't matter how many books you've read or your social status. As Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does."
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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.
Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.
Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:
Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug
Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."
Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.
Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.
Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates
According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.
Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."
She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.
Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.
To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.
Image courtesy of Julie Tarman
Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.
The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.
Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.
To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.
Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.
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A few years ago, the midwives of the Royal Oldham hospital in England decided to illustrate the horrors of childbirth using the whimsy of Halloween pumpkin art. The maternity ward became a zone of terror, as the "dilation pumpkins" were lined up in ascendant order, matching how the cervix dilates during labor, from a harmless 1cm to a terrifying 10cm.
The first pumpkin looks adorably surprised. Nothing too scary about that, right? Kind of like it just had an unexpected visit from a cute puppy.
Then take a look at that last pumpkin, apparently at the optimum dilation for giving birth, mouth fully agape, with an expression that can't help but convey "OUCH!" No amount of fun googly eyes are gonna make that image less frightening. Yikes.
A few years ago, midwives at the Royal Oldham Hospital in Lancashire created "dilation pumpkins" - and I don't think I've ever seen anything scarier in my life.* 😂😩
*Posted with apologies to anyone who is pregnant. pic.twitter.com/VbvLh9ikUD
— Lindsey Fitzharris (@DrLindseyFitz) October 20, 2021
I think one twitterer put it best: "I like how they go from mildly surprised to utterly baffled," along with an appropriate yet disturbing GIF.
I like how they go from mildly surprised to utterly baffled pic.twitter.com/bf4NBfX8MG
— Isabel Ordoñez (@iopordonez) October 20, 2021
Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian at the University of Oxford, reposted the ghastly gourds on her Twitter, saying "I don't think I've ever seen anything scarier in my life." And now, with more than 10,000 likes and 1,500 retweets, the image is viral yet again.
This year, there were more pregnant pumpkin contributions. One twitterer shared an image of a pumpkin actually giving birth. Yep, this was from the same hospital. They really know how to express their creativity in a very acute way over there.
I did a placement as a med student on labour ward at Royal Oldham a couple of years ago and they had this one 🎃 pic.twitter.com/ekNs5S9YZy
— Katie (@KatieeeSpencer) October 21, 2021
Another person commented on the original photo, observing that "3 and 9 appear to be wearing condoms for hats which I would suggest is a bit late to be thinking about!" By the look on the pumpkins' faces, I'd say they wish they had thought about using those condom hats.
3 and 9 appear to be wearing condoms for hats which I would suggest is a bit late to be thinking about! pic.twitter.com/hezYi8p8Js
— Steven 🎃 this 🦕 says trans rights (@SteveItBe) October 21, 2021
Speaking of birth control, one suggestion was to show these pumpkins in a sex ed class, saying it would "stop the birth rate in no time!" So hey, if you're looking to kill two birds—scare teenagers and promote the use of contraceptives—there's a way to do it!
Apparently it had a visceral effect on mothers and non-mothers alike. One person wrote "23 years ago I went from 2 to 10 centimeters in 45 minutes, without anesthetic. Those pumpkins don't look nearly terrified enough," while another replied, "I'm assuredly not pregnant and this is still distressing."
23 years ago I went from 2 to 10 centimeters in 45 minutes, without anesthetic. Those pumpkins don't look nearly terrified enough. 🎃
— Jonté's Inferno (@LJonte) October 21, 2021
I'm assuredly not pregnant and this is still distressing.
— Emily (@OtherPens) October 20, 2021
Many were at a loss for words and resorted to using memes that sent a clear message. I think this one pretty much sums the general group reaction:
But at least it made some a little more appreciative of mom. One daughter is gonna go bake some "thanks for enduring incredible pain to birth me" brownies. That almost makes it worth it, right?
I gotta go make my mom some brownies or something.
— Emily (@OtherPens) October 22, 2021
Kudos to the dark humor of the Royal Oldham midwives. When it comes to conveying the nightmare otherwise known as the miracle of life, they've really squashed it.
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In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?
As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.
A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:
"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"
And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:
"Answer: I have been precisely where you are, right now. In fact, we were just talking about this a few days ago, as it relates to a guy who wrote a ton of music that was PROFOUND to me when I was a teenager. He wrote about being lonely and feeling unloved, and all the things I was feeling as a teenager.
He grew up to be a reprehensible bigot, and for years I couldn't listen to one of the most important bands in my life anymore.
But this week, someone pointed out that he was one member of a group that all worked together to make that thing that was so important to me. And the person he was when he wrote those lyrics is not the person he is today. And the person I was when I heard those lyrics doesn't deserve to be shoved into a box and put away, because that guy is a shit.
This is a long way of saying that Joss sure turned out to be garbage. Because of who my friends are, I know stuff that isn't in the public, and it's pretty horrible. He's just not a good person, and apparently never was a good person.
BUT! Buffy is more than him. It's all the actors and crew who made it. It's all the writers who aren't Joss. Joss is part of it, sure, and some of the episodes he wrote are terrific.
At least one of the episodes he wrote was deeply meaningful to you at a moment in your life when you'd experienced a loss I can only imagine. The person you are now, and the 16 year-old you were who just lost their dad, are more important than the piece of shit Joss Whedon revealed himself to be.
His bad behavior is on him. He has to live with it, and the consequences of it.
16-year-old you, who just lost their dad, shouldn't have to think about what a shit Joss Whedon is for even a second. That kid, and you, deserve to have that place to revisit when you need to go there.
I can't speak for the other actors, even the ones I know. But I will tell you, as an abuse survivor myself who never wanted to be in front of the camera when he was a kid: it's really okay for you to enjoy the work. The work is good and meaningful, and if nobody is going to watch it because of what one piece of shit did two decades ago, what was it all for?
I'm not the pope of chilitown, so take this for what it's worth: I believe that when some piece of art is deeply meaningful to a person, for whatever reason, that art doesn't belong to the person who created it, if it ever did. It belongs to the person who found something meaningful in the art.
If it feels right to you to put it away and never look at it again, that's totally valid. But if it brings you comfort, or joy, or healing, or just warm familiarity to bring it out and spend some time with it, that's totally valid, too.
I've written a lot of words. I hope some of them make sense and are helpful to you."
As with practically everything in this world, the question of whether art can or should be separated from the artist is complex. It involves philosophical questions about the nature of art—where it comes from and who it belongs to—as well as questions about how imperfect a person has to be for us to reject everything they create. Wheaton's response feels right, especially when we're regarding art that is collaboratively created.
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