Mean for a Good Reason

By Kayla Brizzell

The memoir Mean, written by Myriam Gurba, has a prominent theme of feminism and self-empowerment. Ever since she can recall, Gurba has been an “early-onset feminist” (15). Throughout the book, the reader is told different stories about Gurba’s life that support this self-identification. She likes to boss other people around, and says whatever she wants to whomever she wants. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself or others in order to get what she wants… in certain situations. 

Gurba also explains instances where she was unable to help herself in the memoir. These often include times when she is being treated unfairly or wrongly because of who she is. One example of this is when there is a “race war” in Gurba’s fifth grade class. When the teacher asks Gurba what happened she explains that the white girls were making racist comments towards her and the other Mexican girls. After she makes this claim, however, the “white girls burst into tears” and Gurba was forced by the teacher to “‘apologize for making them cry’” (20). The way that the white girls had treated the Mexican girls on the playground was easily dismissed by the teacher, and Gurba was the one forced to face the consequences. This taught her from a young age that there are not always good consequences for telling the truth. 

Another time something like this occurred was when Gurba was molested by Macaulay during history class. Everyday the same thing happened where he put his hands down her pants, yet she was afraid to speak up out of fear of being “call[ed] a ho” by her classmates (26). Because of what happened in fifth grade, Gurba was sure that nothing beneficial to her would come out of reporting Macaulay. She had to endure his molestation in class everyday just because she thought that she would be the one to face the repercussions for his actions. 

A third example, one that disturbed me the most when I read it, happened right after she got raped. Gurba walked into her mom’s classroom, told her what happened, and was taken to the principal’s then the nurse’s office. Gurba began to tell the nurse what horrible thing had happened to her, but, obviously upset about it, she started to cry. In which the nurse reacted to by screaming at her to “STOP CRYING!”, and followed up by saying, “These kinds of things happen. You’re going to have to get over this” (122). Just like Gurba, I was shocked after reading this. I couldn’t believe that the school nurse would say this to a young woman who had just gotten raped. She was treating her as if she was overreacting to this traumatizing event. This is just another instance in which Gurba is shut down and silenced in a time of need. 

All of these events, and more mentioned in the memoir, shaped Gurba into who she is today. She was forced to grow up quickly because of all of the trauma she went through at such a young age. She learned a very important lesson: “…the nicer you were…the meaner the world was” (16). At this moment, Gurba realized that she would stop being so nice to everyone. The only way to get what you want is to be mean, which was more fun anyway. While progressing through the book, the reader can see how Gurba changes and matures. She gets meaner and uses more humor to help her cope with all that has happened to her. She emphasizes in her ways of telling these stories how important being a feminist is because it has helped her overcome her obstacles. She shows us the importance of speaking up even when it seems like the world is against you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think Gurba would be different if these horrible things never happened to her?
  2. What scene shocked you the most in the book?

Works Cited 
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Meanness, the Most Effective Form of Self Defense.

By Lauren Cupelli

Throughout the novel Mean by Myriam Gurba, the author tells various stories about her childhood all revolving around this idea of being “mean.” Most children, including myself, have been taught to be nice to everyone no matter what yet she learned at a young age the complete opposite idea and in hindsight that may not be such a bad thing. Being mean has such a negative connotation when most of the time it is used as a method of self defense.

 It seems that the nicer you are, the more people feel obligated to take advantage of that kindness and walk all over you. Being mean is the only way to make sure everyone knows they can’t treat you like that. Gurba states, “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second wave feminists duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular” (17). This is such an important quote because it just goes to show you that meanness can in fact be a good thing. If you don’t stand up to people who are blatantly rude to you then they will feel perfectly fine treating you like that all over again. The world can be a cruel place, especially today with social media. 

Sexual harassment comes in many forms such as disturbing comments left on Instagram. We see celebrities receiving comments like these daily and it has been so normalized that nobody even talks about it. Some of our favorite singers can’t post a decent picture without having some old man comment about how hot they look in the most derogatory manner. These are the type of people that won’t stop unless meanness is applied. I find it ironic that even people who are looked up to and are so important in society still live with harassment like this. This in a way reminds me of Gurba considering she has such a loud personality and has no trouble speaking her mind, yet once she begins to get sexually harassed by Macauly she refuses to open her mouth. Gurba states, “I looked at Macaulay with caution. This trepidation was knew but felt natural. Instinctual. I knew that what was happening under the table shouldn’t have been happening, but my impulses did not command me to fight. I froze. Many animals do this. Deer. Possum. My mother” (25). She knew she didn’t want that to continue but she didn’t know what to do about it. That is truly a traumatic experience and it is difficult to say something in that moment since you’re in shock and afraid. This would’ve been the perfect time for her to be mean and insure that he never lays his hands on her again but she couldn’t get any words out. This could go hand in hand with the fact that he was once her friend. Statistics show that eight out of ten victims of sexual assault knew the perpotraitor. This could also have to do with the fact that she is Mexican and maybe felt hopeless, even to go up to the teacher and ask for help. 

In conclusion, being mean is important and a way to defend yourself from the creeps of the world. It portrays you as being someone who is strong and someone that nobody should mess with. Nice people are easy targets and it is unfortunate that is what our world has come to. Gurba does an excellent job providing us with examples that support this claim, showing how brutal life can be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt like you were being disrespected because of how kind you were?
  2. Would you consider meanness a form of self defense? 

Work Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Giving the word ‘mean’ a new definition

By: Pilar Paez

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, the definition of mean states to “be unkind, for example, by not letting anybody have or do something (OED). As children, we are told to behave nicely to everybody and treat people with nothing but kindness and respect. We are taught to realize that being mean makes somebody a bad person. Being mean is villainized and is often associated with cases of bullying and harassment. This is a common theme that is reinforced by pop culture and characters designed to fit this trait. However, in her memoir Mean, Myriam Gurba manages to overthrow the trope of the classic mean girl into something more powerful, more respectable, and more relevant to the society we live in. This book provides readers with a different perspective about what being mean can really do and how it can be used as a form of self-preservation.

The classic movie cliché of having a mean girl often involves the girl being selfish, petty, relentless, and spiteful. They often bully or harass others based on a deeper insecurity of theirs or they are simply jealous. This pop culture trope isn’t anywhere near uncommon, as it has been used as an ongoing character idea for ages in various types of genres. Characters such as Regina George from Mean Girls, Sharpay Evans from High School Musical, or Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl best exemplify the typical mean girl in media. As viewers, we are often prone to hating these characters but loving their melodramatic actions and dramatic responses to ridiculous situations. 

In her memoir, Gurba presents a different approach to the mean girl by exposing herself reacting to different situations throughout her life. Her reactions to different experiences are what people may claim to be ‘mean,’ but Gurba proudly recounts these moments. They are precious to her in a way that she is unapologetic for, despite the experiences not going the way she would like them to. While the typical mean girl’s reason for her behavior is usually trivial or even by nature, Gurba urges the reader to see that her meanness stems from issues of oppression and violence against women, people of color, and the queer community. Gurba identifies this approach when she admits that “mean is good too. Being mean makes us feel alive. It’s fun and exciting. Sometimes, it keeps us alive” (16). On my first read of this line, I was super distraught by Gurba’s perspective. I felt it was too dark and a bit unsettling after reading a conversation between Gurba as an innocent child and her father. However, the more I read the book, the more I understand what she means. 

Society is smitten with instances of oppression against people like Myriam Gurba. She recounts on times even dating back to the fifth grade where a ‘Race War’ was happening between the White girls and the Mexican girls. Slurs were thrown around and beatings were sometimes a form a retaliation. And instead of being kind and respectful, Gurba chooses to fight fire with fire and refuse to back down. Unfortunately, the teacher chose to believe the white students over the Mexican students and forced Gurba to apologize to them when they begin to cry. Despite the teachers’ inevitable loyalty to the White girls, Gurba still chooses to retaliate. Another instance of Gurba reacting to her surroundings is on the playground during recess. She has established a club for girls only and refuses to let anybody join in. When a few boys beg to join the club and be included, she is quick to reject them unless they climb to the top of the fence and jump. Looking back at her actions, Gurba is visibly unapologetic when she admits, “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation” (15). Gurba rationalizes her brutality and hardness by explaining her aggressiveness towards the opposite gender as a form of self-defense. She indicates that her meanness is an act of retaliating against the world for its more serious, more violent crimes.

Gurba’s take on the word ‘mean’ offers a new perspective than what we might be used to seeing in literacy, pop culture, or even the media. Her nearly callous self has some similarities with the typical mean girl––such as being relentless––but each of them have their own reasons for behaving the way they do. In Mean, Gurba responds to the attacks of sexism, violence, and oppression against women and reveals her unapologetically brutal self in the process.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think that at times Gurba went too far with her actions?
  2. What are some similarities between Gurba and the typical mean girl in pop culture?

Works Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2019. Web. 21 October 2019.

Break up, I’m bored

I chose the song “Break up with your Girlfriend” by Ariana Grande. I found this song about a year ago and found it very off putting to tell her audience basically that it is okay to cheat on their significant others. While writing this poem I thought about how young children are listening to this song and the messages that are being sent through this song. I used a method of blacking out the words that I did not want used in my found poem and keep the words I did want used visible. I did not change the word order around because I wanted people who really know and love her songs to be able to still recognize it.

Injustice.

I chose a girl’s assault incident for my found poem. This specific case against Jacob Anderson, caused outrage among people because he received no jail time for his actions. Anderson only had to pay a four hundred dollar fine and serve three years probation for nearly killing a nineteen- year old and stripping her of her rights. I read this article from The Washington Post and was shocked when reading about the girl’s words towards her attacker. She said to him, “It must be horrible to be you” “To know what you did to me. To know you are a rapist. To know that you almost killed me. To know that you ruined my life, stole my virginity, and stole many other things from me.” When I read this, I could only imagine the pain that she spoke those words with. The trama that Anderson caused her is repulsive.

I chose to put the victims words in the center of my found poem to emphasize the monster that Anderson is and the magnitude of his actions that did not receive penalization. I was compelled to ensure his actions were exposed since the judge failed to do so. I placed his punishment at the top right of this poem to encapsulate how Anderson’s victim did not get justice. I felt the need to show a glimpse of her suffering in the bottom left of the paper to display the degree of her pain. The injustice that transpired during this case was unfathomable since it gives Anderson the opportunity to traumatize other innocent women for life. No one should have ever gone through what that innocent girl was forced to so the fact that there’s a chance that other innocent women could experience what she unfortunately had to is sickening.

“20 minutes of action”

My found poem is derived from the article where Brock Turner’s father considers the crime his son committed a mere 20 minutes of action. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar, Brock Turner was a student at Stanford University, after a night of drinking he had raped a girl who was unconscious and unable to fight for herself and tell him no. This article enraged me because they made the victim feel small as if she didn’t matter, as if the crime Brock Turner committed wasn’t a crime at all. We here more and more of rape charges and sexual assaults every week it seems. In fact, every month our school sends out the crime statistic there is almost always a sexual assault. That should enrage you too, because not only is happening all over the world, but it is happening at our school. To give you a better visual, 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of sexual assault, that could be your sister, your mother, your cousin, your best friend, or even just your classmate. 

  I created this poem because not only did it enrage me but I want everyone to be aware of how scary it really is. The way I organized my poem it truly highlights all the instances of how poorly the case was handled and just how small he made her feel. I ended my found poem with her saying what he took away from her and it ended with her saying until today, in which she meant he can’t take them away from her anymore. Channel Miller you are strong, you are beautiful, and you are so brave, and he will never be able to take that from you.

                 

“Blurred Lines”

For my found poem, I took lyrics from the song “Blurred Lines”, by Robin Thicke and rearranged them to tell the story from the woman’s point of view. I chose this song because I remember there being a lot of backlash towards it when it first came out due to its derogatory and disturbing lyrics. The story in the song is told from a man’s perspective where he’s talking to a girl who he is trying to have sex with, but when you realize what he is saying it really makes you uncomfortable (at least that’s what happened when I read the lyrics).

I decided to pick apart the song and cut out lyrics that I could put into the point of view of a woman who is being sexually harassed or assaulted. In the first half, I told the story of the man approaching the woman and then assaulting her. However, half way through the page I shifted the arrangement of the words to be more empowering for the woman. She wants to tell her story so that she no longer has to live with the secret of what happened to her. Throughout the song the words “get up” are repeated. I also did this throughout my poem, but I utilized them as if the woman was encouraging herself to get out of the situation.

While creating this found poem I felt proud of myself because I was able to turn such a lyrically awful song into something that can help to empower women. I wanted to show that even though these things may happen, women are able to get through it.

An Invasion (of people? or of privacy?)

By Pilar Paez

I wanted to base my found poem after the constantly growing overextension of the U.S. government. My found poem is based off of an article from The New York Times, titled “U.S. Government Plans to Collect DNA From Detained Immigrants,” where it describes actions taken by the government. The administrators of this act, namely Donald Trump, base these actions off of the thought that having the DNA of detained immigrants can help them link together other criminals. As if detaining real people wasn’t enough deterioration the U.S. government plans to use these humans as a tool for investigation and therefore, steal a piece of their humanity.

I picked out significant parts of the article that focused on the infringement of civil liberties in the United States. I wanted to place emphasis on the abuse of authoritative power taken by the government as they are essentially collecting DNA from endangered groups. The government claims they are enforcing the nation’s immigration laws and protecting native-born citizens. However, they are attempting to do this by diminishing the rights of other people, who do not even pose a danger to society. Furthermore, there is no research to support that crime rates are higher among immigrants than native-born citizens. It is groundless to claim that these people are a threat to American society. Ending my poem with the word ‘abuse’ sums up this act by the government, as they are misusing their power for something that does not deserve it.  

Devil Winds

My poem is about the fires raging in California, amplified by the Santa Ana winds. My thought process behind drawing the poem was that it would give me the opportunity to emphasize certain words and phrases, ensuring that the feeling I was trying to emulate translated clearly to the people reading my poem. My choice to include the time lapse of the drawing being created simulated the rapid creation and destruction done by the fires in California. It’s also an opportunity viewers are so rarely given to see what exactly what went into the creation of the poem.

When I found the article about the fires in California I felt very inspired by the almost poetic language used by the author to describe what was being done to help stop the fires. The overwhelming feeling I had as I first read the article was fear; fear for my family living in California, and fear for what the record-breaking fires mean for our planet. The second time reading the article I felt angry that this is only one of many man made events threatening the well-being of the planet and the people residing on it. These two emotions are what I kept in mind as I sifted through the article and crafted the poem. Enjoy!

Dear Mr. Thicke

By Lindsay Czechowski

I created my found poem with the lyrics of my least favorite song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I have always hated this song, however only because I thought it was overplayed not realizing what the message was. After listening to “Blurred Lines”, I realized this song was offensive towards women. I then watched the music video and it made me sick seeing how the women in the video were treated like animals and the men in the video were just carelessly taking advantage of them. From that point on I had a new hatred for this song for its dehumanization of women.

Starting this explanation with the paper I taped the lyrics on. I purposefully chose to distort the lines on a normal loose leaf piece of paper. I used water to blur the lines so that the poem itself would pop on a kind of washed away, blurred background. This also speaks to the title of the song I used. The structure of the poem is like a letter, hence the title addressing Mr. Thicke, a co-writer and main singer of the song. I wanted to use the song lyrics themselves in an attempt to “clap back” or respond to Robin Thicke and his audacity to produce such an absurd song. I then blacked out some of the words in certain lines throughout the poem. I chose to black out words rather than white them out because I wanted the audience to know that I was changing the lines. I did not want to hide the alterations I made. At the end, I repeated the lyric “I hate these blurred lines” and it seems to fade. This effect hammers home the entire point of this “letter”. Ultimately, this poem straightens out the “blurred lines” to make them more clear.

I really enjoyed this project because it was fun to play around with other people’s language. To be able to change a perspective and goal of a work to have a completely different meaning made me feel powerful. This helped me feel better about this song because the project allows me to have a response to it. This project reinforces the topic of language and how it can impact people.