All posts by jzehrer

SHEroes Deserve Better

It wasn’t until recently in American history that women were allowed to serve in the military. Even more recent is their ability to be promoted to high-ranking positions. However, there are still a multitude of people that are against the idea of these women having a place in the defense system that is known as the United States armed forces.

In an opinion article posted to the Wall Street Journal, Heather Mac Donald argues that women should not be allowed to serve, specifically in combat units. She states that in 2015, the Marine Corps released a study regarding their attempts at gender-integration that showed that the male-only teams that existed prior to the gender-integration of women were better at performing tasks such as evacuation and shooting drills.

I know what you’re thinking, here comes that age-old argument of “men are stronger than women,” and you’re absolutely right… Except that you’re not.

Genetically speaking, men are more likely to possess physical strength than their female counterparts. This may be the very reason why only three of the thirty-eight women who have attempted the Marines Corps Infantry Officer Course (IOC) have ever completed it to date. However, women have a strength science has yet to understand: Their survivability.

Steven Austad, an international expert on ageing, and chair of the biology department at the University of Alabama, has been studying this very phenomenon for almost two decades. He states that “pretty much at every age, women seem to survive better than men;” something he attributes to their general “robustness” or pure power. Historically the idea that women are weaker is also proved to be inaccurate as our ancestors show signs that women did the same amount of physical tasks as the men, and they did so while carrying, delivering and caring for children.

What about endurance? Surely men can handle that more so than women. According to Mac Donald, a conservative political commentator who also wrote two pieces of kindling titled The Myth of the Racist Cop and The Myth of Systematic Police Racism, the Marines had to lower their scores in endurance for women to be able to reach them. According to Marlene Zuk, a woman who runs a lab at the University of Minnesota where evolutionary biology is studied, it’s highly unlikely that the women were the reason the endurance standards were lowered as women in particular are good at endurance running. Just to circle back to my above argument of ‘women doing everything men can do but with kids,’ multiple women across the globe have even trained for marathons while pregnant.

That being said, are we sure it wasn’t because the men couldn’t reach the standards anymore and we are trying to pass the blame to women? I mean, it’s no secret that the military favors those who identify as male to the point where the phrase “hypermasculine culture” has become a common way of referring to the experience of serving.

Then again, we women have had to get used to taking the blame that we didn’t deserve, like with our sexuality. Another argument Mac Donald makes about why women should not be allowed in combat positions is that women affect discipline, they undermine the bonding of the unit, and they will be the reason we have a sexually active military.

Yes, the women who are statistically more likely to be sexually assaulted in the military than they are likely to be killed in combat are the ones to blame for this. Thank you to my fellow feminist, Heather Mac Donald, for pointing that one out.

Thank you from the bottom of my progressive, liberal, egalitarian heart for telling me about how it was the female servicemembers fault that the males on the team had to do handstands and peacock around like a bunch of children at an “eighth-grade dance.” Thank you for presenting skewed statistics that say that half of the unmarried women staying on a base in Iceland were pregnant because of their promiscuity; not because they were assaulted or raped by someone else on the base and could either not report it out of fear of retaliation, or could report it and be discharged as a result.

Thank you for also saying that Trump “unfortunately” banned trans individuals from the military instead of women, and for justifying that perspective by saying that trans people are sexually less attractive to the male members of the military. That’s not transphobic or homophobic or sexist or bigoted at all.

Finally, Mrs. Mac Donald, let me say thank you for undermining the minorities of this country. Thank you for saying things like women are less lethal; I think for some of us that’s exactly the point. However, for others, you’ve got it all wrong. Our survivability, our anger, our oppression, our frustration with being objectified and made to feel wrong has done nothing but fuel us to be better.

To be so much better than people like you.

Getting Vaccinated? Here’s How to Prepare

As of this week, approximately 33% of all adults in the State of Minnesota are considered to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and an additional 46% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That means that by the end of June, at least 79% of the state will be vaccinated against COVID-19; just in time for summer!

However, if you’re anything like me, you might not be fully vaccinated yet.

There are a lot of reasons people have chosen to wait; ranging from a lack of information as these vaccines are under emergency order to the fact that some people, such as myself, aren’t even leaving their homes so they chose to wait for others. Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccination appointments are now available to all adults over the age of 16 in the State of Minnesota ,so now is the time to get yourself scheduled.

Appointments can be found just about anywhere across the state, and you don’t need insurance to be eligible to receive the vaccine. The appointments take around an hour as the distributors of the vaccine want to monitor you to make sure you don’t have a strong reaction, and the shot itself is literally a pinch.

However, a lot of people are still extremely nervous about receiving one or both doses of the vaccine due to how little research was conducted prior to the emergency rollout. If you are one of those people, or even if you’re not, let me assure you that it’s okay to feel a little nervous. But I also want you to know that there’s lot of ways you can prepare for your appointment that might help you feel better about going:

Prior to Booking your Appointment:

  • Get to know the types of vaccines that are available to you: Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. As I said before, there are a multitude of vaccination sites across the state, but not all offer every type of vaccine. If you have a preference, make sure to book at a site that has that particular type.
  • Professionals at the University of Maryland Medical Center also note that, if you have had any severe allergic reactions in the past, make sure you consult your doctor prior to booking.
  • Also, if you are really nervous, it might be best to read up on the myths about the COVID-19 vaccination as explained by medical professionals.
  • Schedule your vaccine! Some places may even allow you to schedule your second dose at the same time as your first so be aware.
  • Add the appointment(s) to your calendar and isolate yourself prior to getting your vaccine! This is very important because the last thing you want is to get COVID right before you are vaccinated for COVID

Before Your Vaccination Appointment:

  • A few days or so prior to the vaccination, try to do a small stock up: Grab easy food, like canned soup and crackers, and painkillers such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
  • Prepare all of the documents you may need (again, insurance is not required, but having some of this documentation may help speed up the paperwork part of the process): State issued photo ID and a copy of your insurance card. When in doubt, read up on the site you are scheduled to visit and read about what they require.
  • Plan your day with enough time and try to arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment. Like I said before, the appointment only takes about an hour but that does not include drive time or extra waiting times at the sites.
  • If you have one, pack your EpiPen. It never hurts to be prepared.
  • Along those same lines, be aware of any and all allergic reactions you have had in the past as there may be questions from the vaccine distributor.
  • Drink A LOT of water. Being hydrated will help combat the icky flu-like symptoms you have likely read about and is generally just good for you.
  • Do NOT take any anti-inflammatory drugs such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen prior to getting the shot as these can inhibit your immune system from working with the vaccine.
  • Make yourself a ‘post-vaccine’ self-care plan, and make sure that it is mellow. Some people say that mildly using their arm throughout the day both prior to and after getting the vaccine helped combat some of the second-day soreness, others were rather fluish and preferred to stay in bed and watch movies. Whatever counts as your favorite way to relax, schedule that in for after your vaccination appointment.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and try to wear something with short sleeves as the shot is administered to the upper arm of your choosing. And don’t forget your mask!
  • Before you head out to the appointment, try to eat a small snack.
  • Finally, when you arrive, express any concerns or fears you still have to the professional you are receiving the vaccine from. They are trained to work with you, and they will do what they can to make you feel comfortable.

After You Receive Your Vaccine:

  • If you have only gotten one dose, and are getting the Moderna or Pfizer types, make sure you are scheduled to receive a second dose. For those who get the Pfizer vaccine, this does needs to be scheduled out a minimum of three weeks after the first. For Moderna, the minimum distance between the two appointments is four weeks.
  • Start chugging even more water. Again, hydration is immaculate in helping our bodies function properly.
  • Avoid any rigorous workouts you have scheduled; arm pain is the most prevalent symptom reported and being mid-plank when you find that out might not be the most fun you’ve had this week.
  • Before you start partying with your friends, try to avoid alcohol for a day or two to let the vaccine settle into your system.
  • Finally, wait the entire two week period after receiving your second dose of the vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated. Yes, that’s right, you still have to stay home for two weeks after your second dose to make sure the vaccine has taken effect and you can consider yourself to be fully vaccinated.

The bottom line, it’s time for our society to return to a semblance of normality, and the best way to do that is to eliminate the threat of getting severely ill from COVID-19. As I said before, there are many reasons why people have waited and even more as to why they may never get the vaccine, but I hope this blog at least makes you feel more comfortable and confident in your decision to get vaccinated.

Stay safe, Minnesota!

Why You Need to Get a Minnesota State Park Pass

Have you been to one of Minnesota’s 66 different state parks?

If the answer is no, or even if it is a yes, I’m here to tell you why you need to start planning visits to as many as possible right now.

No matter where you live in the state of Minnesota, there is likely a state park located not too far from you. In the Twin Cities area alone, there are at least three parks located within a half an hour you can drive to: Fort Snelling, Afton, and William O’Brien. The map provided below shows that these three particular parks are located in the deciduous forest section of the state, which means that the trees in these areas lose their leaves every year (hello fall!). There are also prairie and coniferous forest sections, which are breathtaking in the spring and winter months respectively.

But what awaits you at a state park? Why are they better than a free local park?

I want to start with a fact you may already find convincing due to the global pandemic: These parks are quiet. I don’t just mean quiet in the sense of seeing fewer people due to the entry fee – the reality is they accumulatively get over 9 million visitors a year – I mean quiet in the sense that a small herd of deer will cross your path without even blinking; quiet as in you can hear the trickling of waterfalls and the wind as it winds its way through the trees. It’s a stillness that can be found even in the more metropolitan areas of the state due to the large acreage each park has managed to secure.

If that’s still not enough to convince you, let’s talk amenities. Many if not all of these state parks have paved and non-paved trails for hiking, interpretive trails for informational walks, picnic shelters, and water access since we are the state with over 10,000 lakes.

The parks also have varying degrees of camping available: Backpack campsites, drive-in sites, RV sites and camper cabins are all available to reserve between the months of May and November. Every park has restrooms, some have both portable toilets and restrooms with plumbing, and a few even have showers for their reserved guests.

These parks also have many rentals available to guests, from kayaks to snowshoes, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put these rentals on hold.

And let’s not forget to mention that these parks possess spectacular views and work to protect parts of Minnesota’s native wildlife that you may not be able to find outside of the park limits.

Within the boundaries of the various parks located across the state, the DNR reports that there are 205 different species of flora and 84 different species of fauna considered state endangered or threatened. These parks serve as not only a place of solace for these threatened and endangered species, but also as an environment that can be utilized to foster the species’ growth.

Each park can be found to possess a plethora of information on the specific species they are focusing on. For example, Lake Maria State Park focuses efforts on revitalizing the presence of the Blanding’s Turtle; one of Minnesota’s most threatened species. Likewise, Wild River State Park is working simultaneously on prairie restoration and the bolstering of white pines within the park limits.

At this point, you’ve likely decided you are in fact going to head out to a state park sometime soon. While you begin planning your trip to one of these beautiful Midwestern utopias, take my advice and buy yourself a year-round state park vehicle permit pass.

The cost of a year-round vehicle pass is only $35 and the profits from the sale go towards helping these parks maintain and improve the natural resources, facilities, and education and outreach programs that exist within them. Essentially that means that just by buying the pass, you’re helping save endangered species that are native to your home state. And, considering your other option is to buy a $7 daily pass each time you visit a park, it really only takes five visits a year to get your money’s worth.

So, which park are you going to visit first? Share your favorite Minnesota State Park in comments below!

Respect ASL

Have you ever been at a concert or speaking event where you were absolutely fascinated not by the presenter themselves, but rather by the interpreter who was translating for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing (HOH)?

Take for example this interpreter you see below. She is signing one of Eminem’s fastest rap songs while it is being performed in real time at one of his concerts. She signs so quickly and with such determination to keep up with the rapper, it’s almost hard to avoid recognizing the amount of talent that she is portraying.

But, this isn’t necessarily a talent: It’s a language and a form of communication that is being socially promoted as performance art.

Like oral languages, American Sign Language (ASL) is a beautiful and complex form of communication that takes a high level of dedication to learn. Many of us likely know how to sign a word or two, but could never carry on a conversation using only ASL. This hasn’t stopped some individuals from trying to make up their own signs for the words and, even worse, promote their efforts as inclusive.

One of our classmates, Ly, wrote about this in the blog post Hearing people – your fascination with ASL is a problem. In the post, Ly talks about how social media, specifically TikTok, has become a growing problem in combating ableism. Many TikTok creators have decided to forgo the structural accuracy required for the communication to make sense, and have instead chosen to saturate their material with visually appealing gestures.

Take for example @rosaliee_ospina on TikTok. Ly mentions her in the original blog post, but this girl is such a strong example of ablest culture that it’s hard not to bring her up again. After posting multiple videos in which she incorrectly signs along to the likes of popular songs and being called out for it by the deaf community-who also have reached out and offered to teach her proper ASL only to be blocked-she still had the audacity to say that the ASL community was bullying her and other similar creators for posting their extremely incorrect content.

So, why is she posting this content? If she is signing incorrectly and getting backlash for doing so, why would she keep posting these videos on her account?

She claims that she signs as a way to help her deal with her anxiety.

Now, I should note, I have struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since I was five years old, and I’m not trying to judge how someone might handle their own anxiety in the context of their own life. That being said, for me, attempting to post videos where I have no idea what I am doing to a platform that gets over a billion visitors a day would actually cause me severe anxiety. Even right now, I have anxiety over this very blog; putting your creative work out into the world where it could be critiqued is rather intimidating.

There is a difference, however, that it appears creators like Ospina have yet to realize: Dancing with your hands as a way to manage your anxiety is different than American Sign Language.

It is absolutely fine if you chose to use your hands for dancing, in fact it is one of the various popular ways people participate in dance challenges on TikTok. The video below is an example of a recent dance trend on the platform, and it uses emojis as a way to “translate” what actions people are supposed to do.

Could these types of dance videos get confused with the likes of ASL if you are unfamiliar with the language? Absolutely. But tagging the video as ASL is creating the façade that you know what you’re doing, and therefore you are participating in ablest culture. Frankly, it’s also a form of cultural appropriation to bastardize a language for entertainment purposes as culture is not solely defined by race and geographic location, but mainly by language.

Would we be okay with a content creator butchering Spanish or Mandarin or French on their videos under the pretense they know what they are saying? No. Someone signing incorrectly is no different.

Again, I recognize I am part of this problem as I just called out the fact that I believe interpreters are extremely intriguing to watch, and the way they can flow between signs so effortlessly is absolutely extraordinary. But I respect this language the same way I respect all languages: I may not understand what is being said in the moment, nor do I fully grasp the vast history of the language, but it is insanely cool to me that the world is full of so many different and unique cultures. Me being fascinated with ASL is the same as me being fascinated when someone can switch between Hmong and English in the same sentence; it is the same as me being fascinated by the development of language as a whole from the beginning of human existence. I am a communications major after all.

But, as Ly points out, the difference lies in the respect for the culture. You can respect a culture without making it more appealing to the homogenous masses. You can respect a culture even if you chose not to learn about it. And, finally, you can respect a culture without exploiting it for your own social clout.

Food Waste: A Forgotten Climate Change Contributor

Did you know that, according to the EPA, on average you throw away over 200 pounds of perfectly good food every year? Think about that, you throw away the food equivalent of a six and a half foot male every single year under the guise that this food is no longer usable.

What if I told you that majority of that food was still usable? Allow me to explain.

What is food waste?

Food waste is the food we buy from grocery stores and order at restaurants that ends up in landfills, therefore releasing methane gas into the environment and contributing to global warming. It currently accounts for approximately 30-40% of the total food supply in the United States and about 21% of all of our landfills.

Some of this food waste is unavoidable as spoilage can occur during any phase of production and supply: Equipment malfunction, insects, rodents, birds, molds, over-ordering, bacteria, and the culling of blemished produce can all contribute in their own way. However, some of it can be utilized in different ways.

So, what can you do?

There are a TON of options you have when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint through food waste: Buying less, using your scraps, and donating unopened or unused food are all simple yet effective ways to lessening the impact of food waste. Below some suggestions have been broken down by actions you can take now, things you can do in the next week, and some simple habits you can add in before your next grocery trip.

Right now

  • Clean out your fridge, reducing the clutter helps you better understand what food you have and what you need, and remember to FIFO (First In, First Out).
  • Make sure your food is being stored properly. If you don’t know how to store something to avoid it spoiling prematurely, try this website as a guide or use Google.
  • Drink more water! Studies show that this can help curb your hunger and therefore reduce how much food you buy and consume. And, if you have some fruit that looks less than perfect, try adding that into your water for more flavor!
  • Learn the difference in “use by,” “sell by” and “best buy” dates when it comes to your food; as it turns out these are astronomically different. Read more about it here.

This Week

  • Learn how to pickle, dry, can, ferment and freeze your food to save it longer.
  • Save your leftovers and invest in some reusable food storage containers. I prefer Pyrex due to their wonderful versatility.
  • Be creative with your cooking! There are always new ways you can utilize yesterday’s leftovers for today’s meals. Pinterest is the best place to see what unique ways others have repurposed their leftovers!
  • Start saving your scraps! This link here can show you how to use the scraps from bananas, citrus fruits, avocados, potatoes and coffee grounds for your regular beauty routine. Or, save scraps to make homemade broth for a simple crockpot soup.
  • Save your yolks because they’re excellent for a hair mask! Just don’t rinse it out using hot water or your egg will cook.
  • Eat the skins, they’re shockingly good for you.
  • Try the seeds! Pumpkin and squash both have delicious seeds that can be roasted to make an excellent and easy weekly snack!

Before Your Next Grocery Trip

  • Try composting! There are multiple locations across the state that will take your scraps and compost them for you.
  • Before you head out to get your groceries, try meal planning for the week. Making a list of what you need from the grocery store rather than going with your gut can not only save you money, but it will prevent you from buying things you don’t need.
  • Shop smart by sticking to your list and, if you can swing it, try making multiple trips to the store each week.
  • If you plan to make smoothies or freezer meals, buy some of the “ugly” food. It’s still edible and you can help reduce the environmental impact of your local grocer.
  • Just in case, try making a weekly food shelf trip prior to getting new groceries. This will help reduce clutter in your home and it could help someone who is struggling with food insecurity.

Have other suggestions for using food scraps? Please share in the comments below!

The Dark Reason Women Love Murder Shows

Murder show, murder show, I’m gonna watch a murder show.”

I don’t know about you, but this little ditty was stuck in my head for weeks after Nick Jonas hosted Saturday Night Live on February 27th.

In case you missed it, female members of the SNL cast took some time on the episode to make fun of the growing popularity of true crime documentaries, especially with women. Although there is a comedic spin in just about everything SNL puts out there, do you know the dark reason behind women’s love for true crime and murder documentaries?

I’ll tell you, but first I would like to post a trigger warning. This blog post contains information about sensitive topics; nothing in-depth or detailed will be shared, but I want to give you all a warning that you are to proceed reading at your own risk.

The truth is, the reason most women find true crime and murder documentaries so interesting is due to their own personal past experiences, specifically with situations of abuse.

Sara Burton writes about this in her article Ted Bundy, True Crime, and Why Women Obsess Over Serial Killers. In the article, Burton discusses a book written by Sheila Isenberg titled Women Who Love Men Who KillThe book itself is a nonfiction piece about the women who fall in love with convicted killers. In the book, Isenberg states that many of these women had lives, jobs, and families, but they would willingly throw it all away to be in a relationship with a convicted killer. There was almost nothing in common between these women, except for the fact that they had all been abused in their past.

And, dare I say it, the psychology behind the attraction these women had towards convicted killers actually makes a lot of sense.

According to Isenberg, the reason these women begin and maintain relationships with these convicts is because it finally allows them to be in control of the relationship. Being stuck in prison meant that these men had to be reliant on the women in their lives and therefore they could not take advantage of them. It’s a reclaiming of power in the relationship for these women, and it’s probably the first time many of them have felt this way.

Lack of power is also nothing new for women as we have been outspoken and taken advantage of since the beginning of recorded history. Statistics show that one in four women in the United States has been a victim of some form of abuse from their partner. I want to note, that’s just partners: not strangers, not family members, and not people of authority. If we take into account all aspects of abuse,  there is no woman on Earth who can say they’ve been unaffected by this nightmare.

And so enters true crime into mass media: Documentaries, podcasts, interviews, live-streamed court rulings, and even movies loosely based on the real-life murders of some of these people literally flood mainstream media.

Netflix, Showtime, HBO and Daylight….

YouTube, Hulu, that’s my favorite thing to do.”

It doesn’t take much for one to realize that the popularity of this genre is growing as a result of the horrible societal trend of women being abused. However, manipulating the problems of society for entertainment value is actually a very common trend for mainstream media. Comedy is usually where we find it, but I guess murder shows work as well.

So the next time a women in your life wants to talk to you about the true crime documentary they are listening to, or about the murder documentary that was just released on Netflix, try to remember that this outlet may be a good thing for these women as analyzing these situations it gives them a sense of control in their life. Just don’t let them go too far down the rabbit hole…

“And as soon as I’m done I listen to a podcast about the same guy as the show I just watched because now I’m fully down the rabbit hole.”